Of Hoof and Paw
Written by: Damsus Rhee
The room was dark.
A single candle painted flickering shadows on the bedchamber walls. Being well-furnished, as would be expected of the dwellings of any aristopony with sizable wealth, it offered peace to whomever sought respite from the everyday toil of modern life. Every detail of form and fashion had been attended to, from the crystal-blue vases adorning the marble dressers to the flowing silk drapes and matching bedsheets the color of deep cherry. The room suggested an air of welcome and warmth.
Lying in the bed, with only head and hooves exposed, a pony stirred in his sleep. He was a white, middle-aged unicorn stallion with matching blue mane, mustache, and eyes. Now more than ever, his face wore a look of contentment, and acceptance of the well-earned comforts his life had brought him.
A slender young unicorn mare with white coat and light pink mane emerged from underneath the covers. Having been previously curled up against his side, she stretched, arching her back as a small squeal of pleasure escaped from her lips. Thoroughly relaxed, she rested her head on her pillow, laid a foreleg across her lover's chest, and smiled warmly as she nuzzled him once.
"Fleur my dear, how did I get so lucky?" the regal colt asked as he gently brushed her silky hair back with a hoof, the mare giving him a coy look.
"Oh Fancy Pants, must you ask?" The lovely mare purred in his ear, her pink eyes sparkling. "You had me since I first laid eyes on you."
The two were the talk of Canterlot. Fancy Pants was the highest of high society, Fleur de Lis the city’s premiere model. They had first met at a cocktail party preceding the wedding of two mutual friends. Fleur was surrounded by stallions and mares alike, all attempting to gain her favor, when Fancy Pants entered the room. They had locked eyes, and Fleur excused herself from the other guests to meet him. The two had danced and laughed the night away, and been inseparable ever since.
Fancy Pants lived a life of extravagance and renown, strange considering he was not born into his social position like most of Canterlot's aristoponies. Born to a poor family, he worked hard in his early life, risking everything with investment ventures in companies both big and small. Climbing his way to the top of the trade industry in such a short time was a remarkable feat. It brought both the admiration of potential investors, and fear from rival merchants. Fancy Pants, however, did not let his position control him. Money was not everything. He continued to invest in small return ventures, just to see them grow, when he could.
Unlike Fancy Pants, however, was Fleur de Lis. She had always been lucky. Born to a rich family, she had inherited good looks from her mother Lily Flower, who taught her poise and grace. Her father, Azure Dreams, made sure she had the finest education money could buy. Graduating valedictorian, Fleur was treated as a pearl, Equestria her oyster. But Fleur was quickly drawn into the modeling industry. Her beauty and flair, as well as charm, allowed her to excel in all of Canterlot’s prestigious social circles.
The two lay there in comfortable silence, wrapped in each others hooves, before the mare gently pushed herself away from her cozy stallion. Sitting up, Fleur glanced down at Fancy Pants with the ghost of a smile. He stared up at her, as though he was a foal who had just had his teddy-pony taken away.
“What are you doing, dear?” He asked his marestress.
"Oh! I almost forgot to tell you. I’m going out tonight... with a friend," she spoke nervously, giving him a gentle kiss on the cheek. "I hope you don't mind."
“Isn't it a bit late, Fleur?” Fancy Pants asked, cocking his head to the side. “It’s almost midnight.”
“Oh I know it’s late but... we've had this planned for a while now. Just a little get-together. Nothing big,” Fleur responded. Then flashing an overly large, pearly smile, added a drawn out, “Pleeeaase?”
"No worries," Fancy Pants said, smiling, then rolling over. "You know I never mind when you head out on your own. Just be safe and have fun."
With a smile and a squee, Fleur got out of bed and walked towards the bathroom. "But of course," she said as she exited the room, then stopped to say: “Silly smile gets you every time, doesn't it dear?”
Fancy Pants gave a chuckle as he rearranged the pillows and said, “Yes, yes Fleur. You know just how to push my buttons don’t you?”
“Wouldn't be much of a marefriend if I didn't,” Fleur quickly responded, peeking her head from the bathroom. Then with a seductive look added, “I know you like it.”
“Fleur... please,” Fancy Pants spoke softly as he flushed with embarrassment at the implications of her words, eliciting a giggle from Fleur.
Fleur, content with her victory, quickly opened the shower door and stepped in. Turning it on with a flash of her horn, she quickly reeled back from the first icy blast of water against her coat.
“Cold!” She whined, stepping out of the line of fire. Waiting a moment, she gingerly tested the stream with a hoof. Once it reached the temperature she could enjoy, she applied expensive soaps and oils to her brush. Magically levitating it above her she began to bathe and sing softly in the shower, a smile on her face, a foalish delight in her sweet voice.
"It always pleases me when she sings," Fancy Pants commented to himself as he snuggled deeper into the plush pillow. Slowly he drifted back to sleep in the opulence of his bedchamber, lulled to sleep by his lover’s voice drifting gently through the open bathroom door.
Once finished with her shower, Fleur quickly began to dry herself and fixed her hair. Finished, she checked herself in the mirror. To some, the act of getting ready to go out is a hassle. But for Fleur de Lis it was a ritual, rehearsed and perfected. She could be ready for a gala or a simple stroll in a moments’ notice. Once completely satisfied, she quietly crept past her sleeping mate, opened a walk-in closet, and stepped inside.
The closet was flooded with clothing and accessories, from her crystal blue dress lined with silver embroidery to her most extravagant peacock-feather hat. All of which Fancy Pants had bought for her for various occasions. She pushed them carefully aside, revealing a safe she had installed in the back of it. Rotating the dial with her magic; 58...20...11, it clicked and opened. She quickly retrieved a black bag from the vault, slung it around her neck, and shut the safe before exiting the closet. Fleur walked over to her sleeping love, gave him a gentle kiss on his horn, and blew out the candle before leaving the comfort of their home.
The city of Canterlot, a shining symbol of freedom and progress to all ponykind, was busy at all hours. Fleur knew this better than most. She had spent the weeks before watching ponies go about their routines. Ponies being creatures of habit, she had worked out how to slip through the gaps in their paths.
She sank into the shadow of an alley, in a manner not befitting someone of her stature. Moving swiftly and silently, like a snake in the grass, dodging the passing glances of bystanders. Fleur became a predator in this urban jungle, as she displayed her familiarity with a routine that she had become accustomed to. She did not need to sneak about, not yet at least. There was no curfew in Canterlot. While she could have simply strolled down the alleyways, that was not nearly as exciting.
The life of a famous pony had treated her quite well. Modeling was a wonderful life. While the attention from ponies made her feel attractive, it was boring at times and far too safe. The second life she kept secret helped relieve the monotony that fine living offered. If she were ever to be discovered, her fame would become infamy in a moment. The dangers only fueled her desire to live it.
Money was never her reason, or a problem. She had plenty. Fancy Pants and the others before him, the others that might come after him, would always fall prey to her looks and charm. Not to say she did not love her current coltfriend. She would be devastated if she was exposed, causing him shame and embarrassment. Especially considering how good he was to her. However he could never accept her need to cross boundaries at times, to fuel her darker desires.
Slinking further down the alley she could see what she believed to be the pony she was to meet this evening. Rarely did she ever meet her employer directly. Typically she dealt with a trusted agent who would be the middlemare in these situations. Somepony would ensure the contract was legitimate, and secure payment in advance. This time, however, the payment was sufficient that she decided to amend her rituals.
A young light blue unicorn with a white mane awaited her. Huddled in a shadow, wearing a black robe, the mare looked as though she would jump out of her skin if a breeze blew against her wrong.
Fleur stopped and opened her bag, just out of sight of the anxious pony. Quickly, she put on a black mask, tucking in her mane, and pasting a white sticker over her cutie mark. After all, she had no desire to be identified.
Once she was fully disguised, she approached the jittery mare, and stopped just short. She recognized this mares’ cutie mark: a wand and half-moon with stars in it. She had seen her perform magic shows across Equestria, but had never seen her in Canterlot before.
"Trixie?" Fleur said as she walked over to stand near her, smiling beneath the mask which hid her features. "You know... the jittery, sinister, black-clad look does little to obscure your intentions...” with scorn, she added: ‘Darling’."
Trixie gasped, eyes going wide. Looking over at the approaching figure, she asked in an aggressive tone: "And I suppose a mare in a black mask does? So... are you here to rob me? How do you know my name?".
"Please," Fleur scoffed, looking annoyed. "My purpose is nothing so petty... and I have seen you perform. If you don't want anypony to know who you are, invest in some means of hiding your cutie mark.”
“I didn’t think of that,” Trixie said weakly, looking at her cutie mark and frowning.
“It isn’t difficult to recognize. But we are not here for matters involving you flank, are we? Because if we are... I might have to charge more," Fleur added, with a mocking smile, at the now blushing mare.
Trixie recoiled and spoke sharply, "I... What? No! You are Prize Catch... aren't you?"
"But of course, my dear," Fleur replied waving her hoof in the air before her.
Fleur de Lis had been a master thief for years. As such, she would hire herself out to any employer in the guise of Prize Catch. Wanted in almost every major city in Equestria, she had stolen from and broken into almost every establishment worth mentioning. Her infamy brought her the most lucrative, as well as the most perilous jobs, but that was the fun of it.
"Sorry I'm late. I had to deal with a few things," Fleur spoke, looking down at a hoof. "You know, appearances and all. So what’s the plan? Why is this worth my time?"
Trixie was obviously new to this sort of affair. She quickly checked to see if anyone was coming, speaking quietly, "Because, you are the best! You come very highly recommended. As to what you are... liberating: a set of seven precious gems."
"Really? Is that all? But where are they kept, my dear Trixie?" Fleur responded eagerly, fluttering her eyelashes.
“Please! Call me Madam T,” Trixie hushed as she looked around. “Like you, I have no intention of exposing my identity.”
“Fine,” Fleur said with an uncharacteristic lack of enthusiasm. “‘Madam T’ it is. Now, as I was saying, where are they located?
"Canterlot Castle," Trixie whispered, averting her eyes. Prize Catch, however, did not seem surprised. Or, for that matter, concerned. Trixie could see mirth in her sparkling eyes.
“Is that all?” Fleur asked, breaking the silence.
“Is that all!?” Trixie responded, Her incredulity apparent. “You are kidding, right? That’s all you’ve got to say?”
“Yes,” the masked mare responded plainly.
"You have no objection?" The blue mare asked, her astonishment rising.
"My dear, why would I object? It would not be my first time entering the Castle without permission," she said proudly, much to her employers’ dismay..
"Now I know you’re insane," Trixie said, shocked and sceptical. "You have seriously stolen from Canterlot Castle before?"
"Yes, I have. And before you ask, no. I cannot tell you what I took or for whom. Client-thief confidentiality and all. And be assured that when our dealings have ended, nopony will ever know of them. Not from me, anyway,” Fleur spoke, smiling knowingly. “But I assure you I will find what you want and deliver it to you. I am going to need more information on what it is, and where I can find it," she insisted, her manner businesslike. "After all, Canterlot Castle is rather a big place. Not to mention well-guarded. Not a target to be regarded casually."
"I thought so," Trixie said, giving the mare a white letter and a brown bag. "I have all the relevant data in this envelope. Also, two magic orbs, enchanted to summon me to wherever they are broken."
"That seems like powerful magic," Fleur commented. “Definitely expensive.”
"Oh, it is!" Trixie exclaimed as she looked over the orbs.
"Did you enchant these?" Fleur asked, looking down at the mare.
"Well I could... but... no. I paid a great deal of money to have these made," Trixie said, embarrassed. “The great and powerful Trix- I mean... Madam T, has far too many things to worry about to spend time placing simple enchantments on balls of glass.”
"I’m sure,” Fleur said primly. Trixie’s eyes narrowed slightly. Then looking down at the orbs in the bag said, “I will look over the instructions, but these orbs don’t work for me. I don't know what you’ve been told, but I work alone."
"Look, the gems you are retrieving are protected by a powerful barrier," the blue mare explained with obvious agitation. "The great and powerful Trix- err... Madam T, has taken the time to learn a spell that will get us past it... but I am not capable of getting into the vault to cast it.”
“So I am not actually doing any of the stealing. Just the stealth... or lack thereof,” Fleur said, her mask hiding her frown.
“Precisely!” Her eager and nervous possible employer said. “Just get in and break the orb. I will appear and eliminate the barrier. Then we will grab the goods and throw the last orb out the window into Canterlot, making good our escape."
"So... if they summon only you, how will I escape?" Fleur asked, cocking her head.
"I will hold onto you and we will teleport out together," Trixie replied, with a reassuring smile. “I wouldn't just leave you for the guards to catch.”
There was a brief pause as Trixie’s excitement cooled. “You’re sure this isn’t about flanks?” Prize Catch joked a second time.
Blushing and taken aback again, Trixie burst out, “Certainly not!”
"Well, seems like you’ve thought this out fairly well," the masked mare spoke as she placed a hoof under her chin. "You give me a mark and I take it. Having you with me inside the castle... could complicate things." Fleur did not like the idea of her only escape route being left in the hooves of a pony she barely knew. Especially a pony who would owe her a significant sum of bits after they escaped.
"It won't complicate anything, darling," Trixie spoke with a smile, waving a hoof in dismissal. "It's just a moment at the end. And besides; I am paying you well enough for you to suffer one little complication!"
“Speaking of payment,” Fleur said slowly, delicately sitting on her haunches, leaning in closer to Trixie. “When I agreed to work for you, I gave you a quote of 3000 bits.”
“Yes,” Trixie spoke with nervous fear. Obviously expecting negotiations to begin.
“Annnnd...” the now-shrewd business pony drawled out. “That's not going to cut it.” The blue mare’s ears drooped in disappointment. “I wouldn’t even think of setting hoof into the castle courtyard for less than... 4500 bits. Let alone the restitution required for the risk of breaking into the castle itself.”
“4500!” The very shocked blue mare pouted. “I had to take out every loan and call in every favor I could to get the 3000!”
“That was for me setting hoof in the courtyard,” Fleur teased as Trixie’s head continued to sink down to the ground at her hooves. “I will be more than happy to complete your job for say... twice that... plus expenses.”
“That's over 9000! That’s not possible!” Trixie shouted, sitting down abruptly and panting, looking faint. “There is no way Trixie can afford that!”
“I don’t care if Trixie can get it,” the masked mare said haughtily. “Only that Madam T can.”
Trixie stared blankly at her. Slowly realizing what she had said, she sadly added: “I can’t get that much.”
“Well then. I guess this has been a complete waste of my time.” Fleur stood, turning to leave. “Besides, you can’t even keep your identity secret for more than five minutes. What a disaster.”
“WAIT!” Trixie said, trying to stand and managing only to fall face-first on the ground at the graceful mares’ hooves. She reached a hoof up and grabbed Prize Catch’s rear leg. “Please... I need this. I don’t know where else to turn.” Tears ran down her face. She made no attempt to hide it. “I need this...”
“Must really be important to you.” Fleur said softly as she looked down at her.
“It is everything to me,” Trixie said, sitting up and snuffling pathetically.
It took the masked mare a few moments to come to a decision. "Fine," Fleur agreed, turning her frustrated eyes to the pleading pony. "Go get ready and do... whatever it is that you are going to do. I am going to look over these papers and get started. I don't want to pop one of these orbs with you still in the shower."
Trixie chuckled weakly at the masked pony. “Thank you, Prize,” she said, wiping a tear from her eye. She then disappeared quickly down the alleyway behind her.
Once convinced she was alone Fleur sat down on the ground and spoke aloud to herself and the wind. “You’re getting soft, Fleur. Probably just got played.” She removed her mask, the night air cool and sweet against her face, and began to read the letter.
Dear Prize Catch,
I have been told by a trusted source that you do not care what you acquire for your employer, and also that I should tell you anything that I can about it. So here goes. No secrets.
You will be retrieving seven precious gems for me. Gems that are supposed to hold vast magical energies. I desire them to increase my own magical constitution. With them I should be able to perform feats of magic that would surely earn me a place back in the hearts and minds of all Equestrians.
They are being held in the Spire of Secrets, to which I have included a map. It goes without saying that they will be hard to reach. Celestia keeps that tower heavily guarded. Not to mention the possibility of unknowable magical defenses that she might have implemented.
Once at the target destination please break one of the orbs with which I have provided you. Once I have arrived, I will remove the spell guarding them and we will use the other to escape. Payment for this job will be made upon completion. I trust, and it goes without asking, that you will keep my identity and our dealings a secret.
"Madam T," Fleur spoke with a condescending laugh. Then her horn began to glow, creating a spark, and the letter burst into flame. All that remained was ash, blowing away in the wind. "I wonder if my persona comes off that strangely. Oh well. Might as well get to work."
Fleur de Lis quickly changed into her full Prize Catch regalia: a black skin tight suit and mask revealing only her eyes, a purple utility belt with various implements should she need them, and four clip-on steel-spiked horseshoes for climbing. Once changed she dashed down the alleyway, toward the castle beyond the city.
Even at night Canterlot Castle was a magnificent sight to behold, the soft glow from the spires’ many windows illuminating the massive ivory and gold facade. Built on the top of Mount Majestic, the highest peak in Equestria, overlooking all in its’ domain. Clean waters flowed through a system of underground geysers and waterways, exiting on top of the mountain in a series of waterfalls. The waterfalls worked their way down from the mountain becoming rivers, continuing down through the interior of Canterlot City. From there they passed under the castle walls, and finally ended as a vibrant waterfall raining down next upon a lake far below.
Fleur had been here before, but this time was different. Before, it had just been a quick trip into one of the castles’ many treasure rooms. But now it was into one of the forbidden places sealed by Celestia herself. She took a moment to consider the dangers she was about to face. And found that she only grew more eager.
Fleur left the safety of the shadows provided by the alleyway, dashing across a street, to come to a waterway. She slowly slipped into the gentle river that flowed though the city, the cool water refreshing on her skin. Releasing her grip on the bank she began to glide down the stream, through the city, and towards the castle. Nopony could see the mare garbed in black as she drifted downstream, and under the palace walls. She had used this same path into the castle before. Funny, she thought as the current became faster, that nopony had ever considered that a giant hole in the castle walls could be used for unauthorized entry.
At the end of the river, right before the current of the waterfall would have carried her down to certain death, the mare grasped the riverbank to pull herself up. She lost her grip, hooves slipping on the wet stone. Her heart skipped a beat as she continued towards the precipitous drop. Thinking fast and with a flare of her horn, the mare used her magic to yank the grappling hook from her belt, and threw it blindly towards the bank as she squealed in terror, and went over the edge.
Trixie trotted back to her inn. No longer trying to sneak or hide. After all, her business was concluded. She could not believe her luck; getting the famous Prize Catch to work for her. She couldn’t help but feel that her victory was now assured. She arrived outside her haven for the evening, a large white building called Sweet Stables. It was one of the cheaper establishments in Canterlot, which was not saying much, but offered her all the comfort she required. In fact she would never need to stay in such a place again after tonight. With the seven gems in hoof she would make a fortune with her new magical talents, performing shows that would be the talk of Equestria.
Stepping inside the building, she approached the reception desk and awaited service. Not attempting to hide her impatience, Trixie began rhythmically and repeatedly ringing the bell on the desk with a hoof. After a few rings, an elderly brown stallion in a grey suit approached the desk from an office behind it.
“Sorry there, kiddo,” he spoke while adjusting a pair of reading glasses. Standing up and placing his forehooves on the desk, he squinted down at the blue mare. “Ain’t you that... that great and... uh, pompous pony?”
Trixie recoiled in disgust at the butchering of her title. After taking a breath to calm her irritation, she replied up to the clerk, “Yes... the great and ‘powerful’ Trixie would like her key please.”
“Sure thing there, kiddie pie,” he said as he turned around and grabbed a key ring off a hook with his teeth. “Dar ew arr.” He drawled, slobbering on the keys.
Trixie looked at the pony before her as he held the keys in his mouth expectantly. She thanked the stars she was a unicorn, and with a pink glow of her horn, snatched the key from his teeth. “Why, thank you, my good sir,” she said with false gratitude as she turned to leave, and began heading up the stairs.
“Any time Miss Trickie,” the old pony said warmly before turning away and heading back into his office.
Trixie was both annoyed and pleased with the aged stallion. There was no way he would remember who she was after tonight. She reached her room. Holding the damp key carefully even with her magic, she quickly unlocked the door, immediately throwing the disgusting article on the dresser now that it’s usefulness had passed. Her room was nothing special; a bed, bathroom, and a single closet. Only one of these things mattered to the mare.
Jumping face first into the bed, the tired mare allowed herself a moment of relaxation. She would soon need to prepare. Her meeting with the infamous Prize Catch had taught her a few things. Mostly that she needed to find a better means of concealing her identity during future clandestine encounters. The gems would do her no good if somepony knew she had taken them. This whole ordeal was a risk, but she had no choice. She needed the power. Because of her.
That name rang in Trixie’s mind. A combination of shame and anger flooded her thoughts. How could she possibly have allowed such a pony to upstage her? Of course, she had not known at the time that the mare was the Element of Magic. If she had she might not have called her out so brazenly. But that was in the past. Once she had the gems she would show Twilight, and all of Equestria, that the Great and Powerful Trixie was the greatest equine sorceror of all time!
Trixie stretched and leaped down to the floor. It was time to get ready. Any moment Prize Catch would summon her, and her reward would be right in front of her. Quickly she began to change, adding a mask to her outfit and fastening her cloak tighter to herself to hide her cutie mark.
“Let’s get this show on the road,” the masked blue pony spoke to herself. She felt nervous, yet excited, about the adventure to come.
Fleur fell breathlessly for a few heart-stopping moments after tumbling over the edge of the great waterfall. But luck was with her today. She should have fallen an incomprehensible distance to her death, but instead hung by a rope for dear life. Swinging wildly in the furiously racing waters, she could barely get a breath between slamming into rocks and being pummeled by millions of gallons of water trying to prove to her that gravity did indeed work.
Taking one last breath as she randomly surfaced, pushed out of the water by it’s force against her body, she began pulling herself up. Hoof after hoof, holding the rope in her teeth, she began making progress. Using what little concentration she could muster she tried to create a wall of force with her magic. Her horn began glowing purple, creating an expanding shape over her like an arrowhead, granting her only slightly more surcease from the water trying to rob her of hope. It was when she was dangerously close to magical backlash that she crested the waterfall. Painfully tired and mentally wrecked, the mare did not let go of the rope until she was out of the water, and on the castle gardens’ lawn.
The exhausted mare collapsed, coughing up water, her lungs near-bursting. She had had close calls before, but none quite this close. “3000 bits,” she spat. “3000 bits. Last time I ever take pity on anypony.” After resting for the space of a few breaths, her eyes were drawn to an object on her right. A statue stood on the edge of the garden and the river, a unicorn standing on its hind-hooves, balancing a scale on its horn. It portrayed Miss Fortuna, an archaic symbol of the old worlds’ beliefs. Miss Fortuna was a patron of luck, worshipped by the ancients and their faded religions. Fleur was not a religious pony by any standard, but if anything could shake a ponies’ faith it would have been her grappling hook, barely attached to her foreleg.
Standing up, Fleur spoke to the statue. “Thanks. Owe you one.” Taking her grappling hook, coiling it up neatly and replacing it in her bag, she made her way into the darkness of the nearby tower.
Standing in the shadow of the colossal palace, she shook the water off herself. She certainly did not wish to climb and fall because of a wet hoof. No, slipping once was enough for one night. Staying out of sight of the patrols she placed a horseshoes’ spike against the structure, tested the grip on the marble, and began slowly scaling the castle tower. Her muscles ached. The waterfall had sapped most of her strength, but she could not afford to rest at the tower’s base.
Fleur carefully made her way to the top of the spire, at which was Princess Celestia's bedchamber. Her muscles were tired, making her a thousand promises of lingering pain yet to come. She could not fail here. It would be an insult to her professional integrity.
Climbing to the top of the tower, she looked out over the land below. The calm breeze of the beautiful night felt wondrous on her hide, and she wanted nothing more than to rip off her bodysuit while the fresh breeze cooled her aching hide.
Above her, Luna’s moon exuded a brilliance to which she was unaccustomed. She had seen plenty of Luna’s moons, but this one was special. It could have been heightened senses as a result of her earlier brush with death, but it was more likely because the Night Princess was in a good mood. Pity how many ponies slept through this display. Of course, sleep did sound pretty good to her right now.
Below her she knew the princess was probably asleep, resting until the dawn, when she would once again bathe Equestria in warmth and sunshine. She shuddered at the thought of being caught here. She would likely be mistaken for an assassin. She wondered what the penalty for attempted assassination was. Whatever it was, she expected it would be unpleasant.
Silently, she waited and watched from atop the tower as guards patrolled the bridge. She would need to cross without being seen, or at least take out the guards to get to the bridge that led to the Spire of Secrets.
Below her on the walkway, a pair of guards, a stallion and a mare, were conversing amiably. "It just gets so boring sometimes," the mare whined as she looked down at the ground. "What I wouldn't give for some action!"
"Action?" The stallion asked in a disinterested tone. "We guard the princess. If ‘action’ makes it all the way to us then there are serious problems."
Fleur quickly removed a small bag from her belt. With a with a flash of light from her horn she magically charged the contents. "Too right you are my friends," she said sweetly, releasing the bag and letting it fall towards the guards. The guards looked up at her with twin expressions of shock, as the bag hit the stallion on the nose, bursting silently. It expelled a pink gas and both ponies fell quietly to the ground, asleep. "Goodnight," Fleur purred softly.
Silently she jumped down to the bridge. Turning around, she could see through the cracked doorway. The Princess slept peacefully, seemingly unaware of her protectors’ fate. She had seen the princess countless times in the past, but never quite so vulnerable. Seeing her laying there, Fleur wanted nothing more than to walk in, curl up, and fall asleep next to her protector. Sometimes it was hard to imagine that the pony responsible for raising the sun and giving light to all of Equestria would need the same things as anypony else. "Sleep well, dear princess," Fleur said with an unbidden smile on her face, a single tear escaping her eye.
Returning her focus to the task at hand, she turned from her sleeping princess. She began to move carefully across the bridge towards the central castle. The door to the castle ahead of her began to open, and she skid to a stop. Fleur quickly dove over the edge of the bridge, grabbing the stones on the side with her spikes. Nearly losing her grip, a single stone under her back hoof came loose and fell far down below. She quickly glanced down to see the stone hit a patrolling guard on the head, with a loud ring off of his helmet. He fell to the ground, unconscious.
After a nervous pause, it seemed to Fleur that nopony had heard the noise. Looking down on the now-prostrate guard, she whispered a silent and earnest: “Sorry”.
The guard on the bridge above her began walking towards the princess's chamber. He was a young, strong stallion, obviously there to relieve one of the other guards for the night. About a quarter of the way across the bridge, and right next to the hiding intruder hanging from the ledge, he noticed the downed guards at the end. A bewildered expression on his face, his eye twitched subtly.
Before he could react, Fleur was upon him. Swinging herself forward and then throwing herself violently backward, her forelegs’ hoof-hooks still buried in the edge of the bridge, she flipped head over heels. The shocked guard was taken by surprise as her hind-legs locked around his neck, bringing his head down hard into the stone surface of the bridge with a ringing impact on his helmet. The trauma from the impact, combined with the pressure of Prize Catch’s legs around his windpipe, caused him to slip quickly and serenely into unconsciousness.
"Sorry to you too," she spoke softly to the supine guard as she stood up, dusting herself off. "I hate having to get that personal but you really left me no choice."
After dispatching three -or she supposed four- guards, it was a simple and almost leisurely climb onto the castle roof. After a quick run across to the other side, she was now facing the mysterious Spire of Secrets. From the castle top she could see two guards standing outside of the entrance to the spire. Magical runes on the outer wall of the spire glistened in the moonlight. Her hoof-spikes and grappling hook would probably be useless. She did not know what the runes were capable of, and did not wish to go poking at them blindly. The only way in was through the front door, a path she would have rather avoided because it meant dealing with the centurions that protected it. But this was that kind of night.
From her position, stealth was not an option. She would be forced to confront two well-trained, well-armed foes head on, and without the element of surprise. They were on the opposite side of the bridge facing her. Fleur knew she did not have the strength left in her to run back to the other side of the castle, climb down and around the central structure, and hoist herself under the bridge past them. Frontal assault it was then.
Stepping down from the ledge, Prize Catch landed on the bridge, a little over a hundred feet from the centurions. Both quickly took notice of the mare in black garb, and being Pegasi, readied the steel blades that were attached to their wings.
"Halt! Intruder!" One Pegasus guard cried as he rushed forward. The other guard held his position, standing ready, as his partner advanced on her.
"Oh come on boys, don't be like that," she said coyly, ducking under the first slash of his wing and stepping past him. "I haven't done anything... yet." As he turned to face her again she brought her fore-hoof down upon his outstretched wingblade, the metal of her hoof-spike sparking against the metal. The rigid steel did not bend, knocking him off-balance, forcing him down onto his left leg. She delivered a dangerously quick buck to the exposed part of his face, causing some damage and knocking him out.
The second guard approached quickly, seeing his friend go down. She ran at him and slid under his wing-blade as he tried to slash at her throat, coming dangerously close. She turned, extending her rear hoof, and swept his legs out from under him. The guard hit the ground on his back and quickly rolled over to stand, but Fleur jumped on his back and locked her hooves around his neck. The guard quickly learned that wingblades count for nothing when a foe is latched onto you from behind. Fleur however had not anticipated how strong he was. Rearing up on his hind legs he slammed her head against the spire wall. The stallion struggled as Fleur started to lose her grip, he flipped her around in front of him, and bucked her off against the stone wall of the bridge.
Stars flooded Fleur's vision, the pain in her head and limbs was proof that she remained both conscious and alive. She quickly oriented herself. Standing up, she prepared for the attack that was already coming. He came low, slashing at her legs with his wingblade. She leaped over the attack. Charging her horn with a blinding spell, its typical pink glow changed to a deep green, and she drew the misty magic across his eyes. Landing behind the temporarily-blinded guard, she charged a force spell and sent it rocketing into his flank, spinning him around and slamming him into the same wall she had hit. The colt twitched a few times and slipped into unconsciousness.
Fleur was quite tired after her multiple encounters. She fell to her knees, trying to catch her breath. Rarely had she been forced to employ this level of personal involvement in acquiring an item or sneaking into any location. She did not like it. But when the only entrance to ones’ goal is guarded, one does what one must.
Breathing deeply and standing up, she stepped towards the doorway to the spire, her gait cautious with the expectation of sudden attack by an unknown enemy. She could delay no longer. All of this racket was sure to bring the whole knighthood of Equestria crashing down upon her head.
Entering the spire's interior, Fleur's path led up a dark winding stairwell, illuminated only by the torches on either side. Strange runes and markings lined the walls and stairs, a sign of both the riches and the dangers present ahead. Normally, Fleur would have liked to play it cautious, but time was not her friend tonight.
At the top of the room the stairs led into a chamber full of treasures. Chests and gems lay strewn about in no logical fashion. Paintings and statues adorned the end of the chamber, pieces of fantastic craftsmanship that should have been displayed, not hidden away.
Fleur gazed about the room until her eyes found the prize she sought so badly to claim. Seven pedestals sat in the center of the room. Upon them sat seven vibrantly glowing gems of various colors. "Jackpot," she said, approaching them quickly.
Reaching the edge of the hoard, a crackle of magical light sparked to life before her, knocking her back against a wall with tremendous force. She sat there a moment holding her head. She was getting tired of seeing stars. Soon she would have names for all of them. Slowly standing, Fleur caught her breath as a single trickle of blood dripped into her vision. The magical defenses had slipped her mind at the sight of the trove before her. A foalish mistake.
"Let’s try this again," she said as she removed one of the orbs Trixie had given her. "Without the shocking." Shattering the orb against the ground. “And the pain.” A green mist swirled about, slowly taking the shape of a mare. “And the pony hitting walls.”
Trixie stepped out of the cloud. Fleur saw she had taken her advice, and was garbed in a black mask and cloak. The blue mare quickly surveyed her surroundings.
"About time," Trixie said, smiling. "What took so long?"
"Oh, I don't know," Fleur said, irritated. "Infiltrating the most heavily-guarded keep in all of Equestria used to be easy.” Her tone was airy, sarcastic. “Maybe I'm losing my touch."
“You look awful,” Trixie said worriedly. “Are you hurt?”
“Less talkie, more magic,” Fleur said, then nodded at the invisible barrier.
Stepping close to the barrier Trixie began to gather up her magic. Speaking softy she said, "It was only a jest, Prize. I am quite pleased with your work." Her magic began to slowly extend towards the barrier, feeling it out.
"Not to rush you but we do need to hurry," Fleur spoke. "The guards I had to incapacitate will be waking up soon.” She cast a worried look toward the Spires’ door. “If they haven't already been discovered."
"This isn't easy," Trixie commented as she continued to concentrate. With a flash the barrier broke, showering the room in glittering motes of magical essence. Trixie, perspiration beading on her brow, spoke, "See. I did it."
“How does a simple showpony get a spell like that, anyway?” Fleur inquired. “I mean, that barrier was raised by the princess herself.”
“I have poured every resource I have into getting these,” Trixie responded heartily. “Somepony sold me this spell. I can’t break the barrier, just suspend it for an hour or so.”
Trixie gently stepped past the tired mare and towards the pedestals holding their prize. Slowly reaching a hoof out, she was close to touching one when a loud cracking echoed in the room around her.
"Wait!" A voice echoed. "You do not know what you are about to do!"
Startled, both mares began to look around for the source of the strange voice. "Who's there?" Trixie asked in a frightened tone, taking a step back.
"Who my dear? Who indeed. Take a look around. What do you see?" The voice spoke echoing off the walls. "Don't let your normal sense of judgement cloud your eyes. That's my job."
Looking around, Trixie's eyes locked on a strange statue. "Are you... are you the statue of that chimera?" She asked hesitantly, realizing how foalish her first gut instinct had been.
"Wrong, my little pony. Well, not entirely. I am the statue. But I am a draconequus," the voice replied.
"Same thing," Fleur said under her breath.
"No, not the same thing... oh, well, maybe. It doesn't matter," spoke the statue. "I am Discord. The spirit of chaos and disharmony. Perhaps you have heard of me?"
"Yes we have," Fleur said, placing a hoof on Trixie's shoulder. "We should go."
"Go, yes. But do not take the stones that you have come for," Discord said.
"Why?" Trixie asked curiously, stepping closer to the statue. "Why would you care?"
"Have you got time for a story? Oh, I do love a good story," he said with a laugh. “This one time I turned a pony into a cow... and a cow into a pony. You should have seen the look on...”
"Not really. No time. Sorry," Trixie interrupted, reaching out to the gems.
"What if I told you that if you touch those gems, you doom your kingdom, yourself, and very well the world with it!?" The voice boomed, Trixie stopping just short of touching one. Discord began to laugh at the mare. "Oh my dear, yours is just like so many stories that have come before. But are you the hero... or the villain?"
"What do you mean?" Trixie asked, looking worriedly at the ghastly creature entombed in stone.
"We need to go," Fleur reminded her hastily, tugging on her cloak.
"One pony, one individuals’ decision that changes the course of history. It has happened before and you might make it happen again. Whatever your reasons are; good or bad, it does not matter. The fact remains that you hold in your hooves a monumental choice," Discord spoke. "If you take the orbs, you will not gain what you seek. You will gain nothing but fear and pain for all ponykind."
"Why should I believe the spirit of disharmony?" Trixie asked with a frown. Turning her gaze back to the gems before her. "By your very title I should do the opposite of what you warn. And what’s more, who are you to judge me? Fear and pain... that’s your currency."
“But I deal in cards my dear,” the statue said before pausing for a few moments. “I do miss having my powers. I was going to make it rain cards! Oh it would have been so delightful.” The whimsy in his tone died away. “And as to your question: there are some things even I am afraid of.”
“Well, thanks for the warning,” Trixie said, a smile on her face. “But I will trust my gut.”
"Consider it my good deed of the millennium," Discord spoke, then laughed heartily. “But whatever you decide, you’d better hurry. Somepony isn't very happy with you right now.”
From behind the two mares a commanding and terrible voice rang out. "You two stop right there!" The voice froze their blood and stilled their hearts.
Turning, both mares were greeted by the sight of a large and beautiful alicorn, their very own princess Celestia. She did not have the benevolent expression of their kind ruler upon her face. Her flawless face showed an emotion nopony had seen there for centuries.
Trixie acted first, grabbing the gems and throwing them into her bag. Out of the corner of her eye she could see a jade statue shatter into pieces when she removed the last. This was not her concern at the moment. Her concern was all fixated on the near-divine creature demanding her attention.
Without another moments’ pause, and in total disregard for the shouting Princess behind her, Trixie reached into Prize Catch's bag and flung the last remaining orb out the spires’ only window. Praying this would work, she dove at her companion, hooves outstretched to grab her.
Prize Catch stood frozen, staring at Celestia with a fearful look on her face. She had stolen from the princess before, but never came face to face with her while doing it. It felt wrong, for the first time ever, to steal something she didn’t own. Maybe it was because she was looking into the face of somepony she cared deeply for, or because she feared the statue spoke true.
She remained as still as death itself as Trixie grabbed her and held tight. Even as she saw her princess dash forward towards them, not with anger, but with concern. Even when the two of them began to slowly vanish into the spell the orb cast. Even when the raspy voice in her right ear said, "Thou shalt do just fine."
I would like to thank my two editors for taking the time to read this. Without the fresh eyes they have provided this would have probably ended up in the proverbial trash bin. It's good to see Malthusite, put his degree in English literature to use. God knows you do not use it anywhere else. Might as well use it for pony. And Jezebelle I am so sorry to force you to read this, over and over again... tied to your chair... did I let her go? Whats it been? Three weeks? Yeah... she’s dead.
Big thank you to Durpy, Lextsy, Maximillianveers, and Omniferious over at deviant art. For allowing me to piece together their vectors to make the image for my fiction. Great work guys.
Of Hoof and Paw
Written By: Damsus Rhee
Zecora had acquired many stories in her lifetime, and she loved to share them with her friends. Occasionally when she told her stories, she would come across similarities, despite many of them having such disparate origins. Tonight she had such a story to tell, a story told in her homeland. Once intended to inspire fear of the outside world, it was now told as a fairytale to children. She hoped that the ponies she was preparing to tell the tale would enjoy it as much as she had.
It was a quiet evening in Equestria when Zecora began to lead a familiar group of ponies through the Everfree Forest. She was leading a camping trip to the other side of the woods. The trip had been planned weeks in advance. She had invited some her dearest friends who, through unfortunate circumstance, she had not seen in some time. Zecora looked forward to telling a few more stories she hoped her pony friends would enjoy.
Many in Ponyville feared the Everfree Forest, and they were right to do so. Still, it was not as terrible as they imagined. The Zebra had lived there for many years, after all. Behind her followed the six mares and three fillies that meant more than anypony else in the world to her.
Pinkie Pie was bringing up the rear, bouncing merrily and carrying a lantern in her mouth. The light from her lantern bounced as she did, causing the shadows of the forest to shift and change with each leap. Strapped to her back were half-a-dozen small bags filled with sugary treats, some falling out behind the excited pony. As she continued to bounce around, she bumped into Rarity’s flank, and came to a halt. Rarity gave a squeak and stumbled for a moment before regaining her balance and fixing Pinkie with a frustrated stare. She wore a yellow beekeepers helmet over her head this evening, fearful of the insects lurking in the woods.
"Careful Pinkie Pie!” She admonished the pink mare, her tone a whine. I don't want to tear this. There are so many bugs in these woods. Really, I don’t see why we couldn’t just have had the camping trip out in Ponyville," as she spoke, she checked her guard gently, ensuring that it still sealed her away from the ravenous insects looking for a more fabulous meal than usual. "You know... where it’s clean."
"Oh Rarity," Pinkie said with an innocent smile. "Bugs aren't all bad. What about ladybugs? You like them, right?"
"That’s different, Pinkie," Rarity exclaimed, looking over at her hyper little friend, who began bouncing around again. "Ladybugs are cute. And most importantly...” she looked around with a shudder for incoming crawlies. “They don't bite!"
"Now sugar cube, there's no need to worry about a couple of little ol' bugs. I'm around 'em all the time on the farm, and they don't bother me none at all," Applejack spoke as she walked over and tugged on Rarity's helmet. "You just gotta loosen up a bit and have some fun like the rest of us. This trip is mostly for the little ones anyhow."
"But hopefully it will be fun for all of us," Fluttershy expressed, and smiled down at Scootaloo who was walking along next to her. "At least, I’ve been looking forward to it."
"Me too!" Scootaloo said enthusiastically, and began to run ahead towards Rainbow Dash.
"Me three!" Applebloom chimed in as she ran to join her friend.
"Me four!" Sweetie Belle cheered, running to catch up to the other two fillies.
"I think we're all excited about this little trip. Thank you so much for inviting us all to go along, Zecora," Twilight said as she walked next to her zebra friend. "We’ve never been to the other side of these woods before. I for one cannot wait to see the Divide! There’s so much history in that place, as well as the lands beyond! In fact...” she leaned closer to Zecora as her face lit up with her excitement. Her voice was vaguely singsong. “I brought multiple books on the subject!"
"Of course she did," Rainbow Dash snorted to Applejack. "You can take Twilight out of the library, but you can't take the library out of Twilight."
"Yeah," Applejack responded with a brief snort of a giggle as Twilight looked back at her with an annoyed expression. “She even brought a book to that pool party!.”
"Very funny girls," Twilight remarked, a sardonic smirk growing on her face. "But you will thank me. It never hurts to be prepared. But like I said... thank you Zecora."
"You are all most welcome, my pony friends. Soon now our journey will be at an end." Zecora beamed and ignored the continuing jokes her friends were tossing at Twilight’s expense in the background. "For this evening a story I shall relate, of truths lost to time and the auspices of fate.” The zebra gave a menacing smile. “A story of the Furies you ponies shall hear, the better to love light and good camping cheer."
“The Furies," Rainbow Dash spoke as she floated up next to Twilight, upside-down. "Aren't they the Manehattan sky ball team? Why would we listen to a story about those guys?"
"No no, Rainbow," Twilight said, giggling at the unusual acrobatics of her pegasus friend. "Not the sky ball team, but the beings they are named after."
Flipping over to land next to Twilight, Rainbow Dash asked, "Oh... well, who are they?"
"Well... it’s supposed to be an old mares’ tale. One told long ago about the untamed and supposedly unstoppable forces that roamed in, and beyond, Equestria," Twilight replied. Then looking at Zecora, she smiled and said, "They supposedly fought over territory and influence long ago and then just up and vanished. Am I right?"
"Yes, my dear Twilight, I can mostly agree. But the tale is quite true, as I fear you shall see." Zecora spoke as she came to a stop. She turned around and looked back at her friends, who halted as well.
"Ooh... Spooky," Pinkie added in her ghosty voice, poking her head under Rarity’s mask.
“What are you doing dear?” Rarity asked delicately, stepping away from the pink intruder. “Do you see this invisible line...?” she complained, a hoarse whine in her voice.
“I just wanted to make sure you were still under there,” Pinkie said and smiled exuberantly.
“You can still see her with the mask on, Pinkie,” Rainbow Dash pointed out in confusion, pointing a hoof at Rarity’s legs.
“Yup,” Pinkie said. “But not her head.”
“Well I assure you that my head is not going anywhere,” Rarity said dryly.
“Has anypony ever heard the story of the headless horse?” Pinkie asked, looking around. “It’s my favorite spooookie story!”
“Well if we have time we’ll tell that one too. But tonight Zecora is telling the stories,” Twilight said, then looked back at the three fillies huddled around Applejack, shivering.
“Besides Pinkie, I ain’t sure that story’s suitable for the little ones. Stick close everypony," Applejack said as she looked at the cowering Cutie Mark Crusaders. Realizing they looked foalish, they quickly stood at attention, saluting her. "We don't need to get separated in the Everfree Forest."
"Okay!" All three of them said in unison, and ran to join the rest of the herd.
The group continued, following Zecora, until the darkness of the woods parted before them. The ponies emerged on the edge of a precipitous drop overlooking a deep canyon. A barren land beyond stretched as far as they could see. With not a cloud in the sky, all the stars shone down upon them, bathing them in their cold gaze. Luna’s milk-white moon shone clear and crisp on the majestic scene, glimmering like a diamond in a sea of darkness. Far off in the distance an impossibly tall and very dark mountain loomed quietly over the sweeping scenes below. Around its’ summit, like a crown, raged a strange blizzard.
They stood close, some closer than others, to the edge of the cliff. Fluttershy took one look, squeaked, and backed away from the chasm, fearful that she might fall in despite being contradicted in this fear by the downy yellow wings on her back. Rainbow Dash, however, had no such fear as she stood directly on the edge of the cliff, staring down into the darkness.
"Amazing!" Applebloom cheered on. "It's so far! And so deep!"
"Speaking of deep," Applejack spoke, and placed a hoof on her younger sister's head, gently pushing her back. "Don't you be getting that close now, you hear? It's a long fall."
"I hear it goes on and on, and covers the entire eastern border of Equestria," Fluttershy spoke worriedly, looking to her left and right. Then slowly added, her silky voice growing progressively quieter. "Are you sure it’s alright to, you know... um.... camp up here... this close... to the edge?"
"Dear Fluttershy, you needn’t hide: the danger is on the other side." Spoke Zecora, who stood near the edge of the chasm, waving a hoof in dismissal.
"Wow," Twilight remarked, looking astounded. "How far down does it go I wonder? I can't see the bottom from here."
"Oh Rainbow Dash," Rarity beamed, looking over at her friend while she sat her bags neatly on the ground. "Be a dear and go have a look, would you?" She asked with a flutter of her eyelashes.
"On it," Rainbow Dash said and lifted off the ground, giving a fast salute to her friend. She dashed forward but before she started down a voice behind her yelled, "STOP!" In mid-flight, Rainbow dash put on the air brakes, and looked behind her at a very worried Zecora. "Why?" She asked looking confused. "I would have been back in ten seconds flat. Or do you think I need a lantern to see down there? Good idea!"
"Into the pit you should not try to go, for it is a place nopony should know." Zecora spoke, then moved to stand on the edge of the cliff, impeding Rainbow Dash’s progress. "Those that have gone have learned their mistake, for once at the bottom there is no escape." The gang went completely silent having heard this, realizing how close one of their friends had come to such a fate. Zecora gave a wry grin to the blue pegasus. "So you see, dear Rainbow, you would need more than a lamp. Come my little ponies, we should all set up camp!"
"Good idea," Twilight said, looking over at Rainbow Dash with a worried expression on her face, the pegasus wiping a bead of sweat from her brow. "Remember to look before you leap next time, Rainbow." Then Twilight looked over at Zecora giving a nervous chuckle. "Um, anything else we need to know? You know, before somepony touches like... a magically cursed leaf or something?" Zecora chuckled at Twilight and shook her head at the purple unicorn.
In the back of the group Applejack began making it perfectly clear that thunder would be laid down if Applebloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo failed to stay away from the mouth of the yawning pit. Rarity began magically assembling a tent with Twilight, while Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash worked on theirs with Zecora. Applejack and Pinkie Pie simply laid out some sleeping bags, desiring to sleep under the stars.
It only took twenty minutes and they had assembled two tents and a nice roaring campfire. Twilight and Rarity's tent looked absolutely perfect, between ones’ need for everything to be straight and the others’ usage of the instruction manual. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy’s tent however, was barely held together by rope and stakes. Pinkie Pie, who had been quietly contemplating the perfect method of roasting a marshmallow, reached into her saddlebag and removed a large bag of treats for her friends to enjoy.
"Nothing like a bunch of delicious treats to go with a spooky ghost story," spoke Pinkie as she stuffed a hoofful of uncooked marshmallows into her mouth and nommed loudly.
"Pinkie," Rarity scolded, reaching a hoof up and closing her mouth for her. "Close your mouth. The little ones' manners are bad enough already without you giving them the impression that it's okay."
"Yeah," Applebloom's voice agreed, muffled by the treat in her mouth.
"See," Rarity said, looking down at Applebloom. "Now she’s doing it too."
Twilight giggled at their exchange, then turned her head to face Pinkie Pie. "It isn’t really a ghost story, Pinkie. More of an urban legend," Twilight corrected, magically snatching the treat bag with a purple glow of her horn and ignoring the amusing altercation between the three. "And you're supposed to roast them first!" With her horn, she levitated a stick from the ground and spun it in a circle, placing a marshmallow on the end of it, then thrust it into the gentle flames.
"Gather round everypony, Zecora has a story to tell us," Rarity said, picking up a stick and levitating a marshmallow onto it, muttering something about the sanitary merits of eating off sticks.
"I can't wait," Applebloom said, plopping down and roasting a marshmallow with the others as Zecora approached the campfire with her bag of magical dust.
"Listen closely ponies, to the tale I will tell, for in the near future it may serve you all well. Long long ago, when the land was yet young, when wars were still waged and battle-songs were yet sung: Powerful creatures held sway over all, the world cowered under their merciless pall." Zecora spoke, releasing some strange green powder into the campfire, which flared and cast a pale green light. Images of her words began to appear in the flame.
"This is gonna be so awesome," Rainbow Dash chimed in, her violet eyes sparkling. "I love Zecora's stories."
"I will now recite the furies, but do not be frightened. You may better resist once you have been enlightened." Zecora spoke, raising her hoof to the flame in which the image of a great serpent appeared, coiling around a group of ponies. "This great serpent was the king of the seas; his delight was in sowing distrust in ponies. His power grew by the creation of lies: in his presence ponies could scarce trust their own eyes. His name was Deceit and true, his infamy grew as he ruled over you!"
The image faded and was replaced by two glowing eyes darting back and forth as they leered at the campers. "This next you will see is a hard one to prise, known to most ponies by his glowing pink eyes! He had many forms, to deceive and to trick, and if ever found out he would change himself quick. Though nopony can say which may be his true guise, Treachery is the Fury with the burning pink eyes! He caused ponies who were friends to grow hate in their heart. War has been his weapon from the very start."
The eyes wavered and an image of a great dark raven appeared, it's wings beating in the flame. Zecora circled the campfire as she spoke. "This next was a blight in Equestrian skies, a bird of dark shadow with deep sea-green eyes. Misery was the name of this dark green-eyed bird; great pain and suffering were the fruits of his word."
The images in the fire shifted once again, this time showing a great spider, it’s many eyes glowing orange. "A trick may be a trick to we pony folk, but this Fury is not to be seen as a joke. She manipulated mares with such mirth and such glee, her name is renowned now as Mockery. She sowed fear and distrust with her strands so thin, bending good ponies to her every whim."
"Oh I do so dislike spiders," Rarity spoke, flinching back. "Are all of these Furies so, well, awful?"
"A most valid point, my dear pony friend," Zecora continued, trotting over to her, looking down at the graceful white pony. "But monsters like this are bound to offend."
"It's true, Rarity," Twilight interjected. "These creatures were supposed to be absolutely horrific. In fact, my research with Princess Celestia suggests that the Elements of Harmony were first created to deal with these creatures."
"Really?" Pinkie asked, sitting up and looking over at her, spilling a bag of treats that she was devouring. "So the Elements of Harmony might have been created to defeat them!"
"Well, no," Twilight said, looking down at her books and frowning. "Supposedly they were nearly invulnerable, but the Elements were created to reverse the effects of the destruction they left behind them." She looked at Zecora with a blush and an apologetic smile, her ears horizontal. "We should talk about that after Zecora finishes. Sorry for interrupting."
"No worries at all, Twilight my dear; it is good that somepony can make some things clear," Zecora spoke, raising her hoof with more of the green powder, changing the flame again. A giant bull appeared, running though the flame, it’s muscles rippling in the green corpse-light. "Avarice was her name and greed her domain, driving ponies to fight over ill-gotten gains. When the fighting had ended she would sift through the corpses. The pony with the most treasures she would add to her forces."
Zecora now began to walk away from the flame. As she did, the flame began to die down. Slowly a scorpion with a massive, comma-shaped tail appeared. "Of this next beast I’m reluctant to tell; Spite was a fiend who was known all too well. Cruelty and malice burnt in her eyes; from a throne made of bones she wove her foul lies. Of her deeds I won’t speak in the dark of the night. Death was her coin, and great was her might."
"Wow," Applejack said. "I just realized something."
"What is that, dear?" Rarity asked.
"Well that makes six of them, for six Elements of Harmony. Kind of makes sense what Twilight said a moment ago," Applejack replied.
"Not really," Twilight said. "You would think so, but there was one more. The very worst, supposedly."
"Yes my dear ponies, indeed it is true. For just one more Fury shall I present you." Zecora spoke, putting her hoof up in the air. The flame began to rise up vibrantly. "This next is the last of the Furies immense, once you know of her then my tale can commence. A great wolf of white with fiery red eyes, as fierce as a lion and at least twice the size. Her ferocity and strength were fury and true; Tempest was the wolf who will soon devour you!" When Zecora finished her last rhyme, she leaped over the flame and landed in front of the ponies, giving them quite the fright. All of them fell over, some laughing and some shivering.
"What a great campfire story," Applebloom said, smiling. "I love scary stories when I'm out like this."
"Until you get the nightmares," Applejack responded, laughing.
Scootaloo continued to shake, hiding under Rainbow Dash’s wing. Poking her head out from protection she asked, “Umm... could we, you know, tell another story? One that wouldn’t give Sweetie Belle nightmares?”
“Do I have to do my chicken call again?” Applebloom mocked.
Twilight stepped in between the two and spoke softly, “Girls, these are just stories. But yes. I should have known they were a bit on the scary side. Would it be okay to change the subject Zecora?”
Zecora giggled and nodded her head at Twilight, who was looking at the fading image of a wolf in the fire. She then looked down at the fillies and said, “I apologize girls. Of the Furies, some other time. Perhaps for now, a simple nursery rhyme?”
After a round of laughter, Zecora began telling more foal-friendly stories to the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and the rest of the mares stepped away towards the edge of the Divide. Once out of earshot of the little ones, they all huddled around Twilight. She began levitating a couple of logs from the campfire over, setting them down in the circle near them.
"So what happened to all of these scary creatures?" Fluttershy asked. "I mean, if you say even the Elements couldn’t stop them, then what did?"
"Some think that they destroyed each other," Twilight said, shrugging. "But even Celestia doesn't know for sure."
"How could Celestia not know?" Pinkie asked, jumping up and spinning around. "I mean, isn't she like, a million years old?"
"Actually," Applejack spoke, looking at Pinkie. "Celestia is a little over two thousand years old. Or at least that’s what my parents used to tell me."
"That's right, Applejack," Twilight beamed. "And Luna is only around fourteen hundred."
"But that’s like FOREVER!" Pinkie shouted, raising her hooves to the sky.
"They are actually rather young for alicorns, Pinkie," Twilight responded. "They weren’t around during Celestia and Luna's rule. They were supposed to be around during their parents’ rule. Not to mention that a lot of books from that time were destroyed for some reason, so it’s no wonder records of these monsters might be lost. Also, it is possible they never existed in the first place. Kind of a gray area in my studies. But you see that mountain over there in the distance?” Twilight asked, pointing a hoof over at the lumbering giant. “That's called Death's Peak. Supposedly it’s where the white wolf sleeps, waiting for her time to rule the lands once again.” Twilight paused, and laughed once. “Legends love to talk about the return of this, or the rise of that after all."
"Oh," Rainbow Dash said, sitting up. "Like the old saddle in the stone I heard as a filly."
"Exactly," Twilight said, nodding in approval.
"Like the mare in the moon," Fluttershy responded, shuddering, and everyone went quiet. "But that one came true."
"Well this one doesn't have any concrete evidence to support it. Just a bunch of hearsay," Twilight said, comforting her friend with a gentle smile.
"So you don't even know if they actually existed at all?" Applejack asked, standing up from the circle of friends.
“Nope,” Twilight responded and looked behind her at the foals, listening raptly to Zecora at the other campfire. “We should get back over there.”
Carrying the remains of the burning log she previously borrowed with her magic, Twilight sat it down with care in the midst of the flames. The mares all quickly huddled around the fire, as the cold of the night was beginning to set in. Zecora had just finished telling a joyful tale to the girls, when they had returned. Sweetie Belle, who had been watching the girls return to them, seemed not to notice her marshmallow had been in the flame too long.
"You're cremating your treat, dear," Rarity said, smiling at her younger sister as she came to a rest at her side. Sweetie Belle looked down at the burnt snack in shock.
"Oops." The young filly spoke. "Guess that's a do-over."
At that moment Pinkie jumped in and poured liberal amounts of hot sauce on it. She then snatched and devoured it. "What?" She asked, her mouth full. "It's good!"
"Yuck!" Everyone said in unison and began to laugh.
"Twilight," Applebloom said, standing up and approaching the violet mare. "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure Applebloom," Twilight responded as she began to lay a blanket on the cold ground. “What is it?”
“It’s about that story earlier,” Applebloom said, kicking a rock softly off the blanket and laying down next to Twilight. “Those bad things... they are gone, right?”
Twilight looked over at Applejack, who was giving her a nod, and said soflty, “Yes, they are gone and are never coming back.”
"So are the monsters from that story enemies of ours? You know, if they came back?" Scootaloo asked, looking at Zecora.
Twilight interjected with an annoyed tone, “Scootaloo, I just said they weren’t coming back.”
“But if they did...” Scootaloo continued, ignoring Twilight as she huffed.
"I imagine they would be, if they were still near. I admit that this thought brings me great fear." Zecora interjected, looking a uneasily at the little pony. She turned her head towards the sky, looking at the vibrant glow of the moon. "If that came to pass you must make no mistakes, battles would begin to decide all our fates."
“You’re not helping, Zecora,” Rarity said, motioning a hoof to the foals curled up in fear.
"Well if those meanies tried anything Princess Celestia and Luna would show 'em a thing or two!" Rainbow Dash said, standing on two hooves punching the air like a boxer.
“I’d throw ‘em a party!” Pinkie cheered, throwing her hooves in the air, sending a shower of marshmallows down on the children. They all laughed at the ridiculous pony. “Hey Dashie! You got any games we could play before bed?”
“You bet!" Rainbow Dash said, flying into her tent and coming back out with a couple of games. "Now that the stories are over...” Rainbow Dash lowered her voice. “And you’ve traumatised the foals...” She smiled around at the group, holding the board games into the air above her head. “Let's get on to some games!"
As the night continued on they laughed, ate, and played games. Only when completely exhausted did they lie down to sleep. They were unaware of the events unfolding in Canterlot. Unaware that far away across the Great Divide, on the massive mountain, a creature stirred. Unaware that this would be the night that everything started to change.
Across the Divide and past the barren wastes, Death’s Peak stood vigil over the lands around it, an ominous sentinel to things best forgotten. In the eye of the great blizzard that crowned the top of the mountain, a statue in the shape of a wolf, carved from a light-blue crystal, stood glowing. It was beginning to crack.
A shadow fell over it, circling above. It took the form of a large black raven, his eyes a pestilential green. The monstrosity landed on the mountain's peak, cracking the rock between his talons with ease. Once settled on his newly-made perch, he tucked his wings around his dark feathers as if to protect himself from the torrential blizzard. With slow and precise movement, the great dark bird scanned the area before fixing his gaze upon the breaking sculpture.
Taking a breath, the raven spoke with a power that had forced seasoned warriors to their knees in fear. "I thought I had felt the damnable stirrings of thy wakening," his raspy voice echoed through the mountain, causing snow to cascade down it’s sides. "Long has it been since last I looked upon thee... Tempest."
With the wolf's name spoken the crystal statue shattered, and the once-crystal eyes were replaced with a deep red glow. The crystal fell to the ground in bits and shards, breaking like glass, to reveal a solid white wolf, her downy white fur seeming to glow, whether through a trick of the moonlight or some magic in her. Unlike the bird she was not massive in size, about the size of a large bear.
"As fair as ever." The bird spoke, its beak stretching and contorting with unnatural sounds and movements into wicked smile, mocking the wolf. Ignoring him, she stretched as strange crimson lights danced around her, now and then coalescing into barely visible blades that cracked stone and rent the ground beneath her feet with her freely-flowing power. "And with such fury yet trammeled," The bird said, inching away from the casual but dangerous power flowing around the luminescent creature.
The wolf slowly looked up at the colossal bird. Each of her words were accompanied with a soft echo, floating in the wind. “Great fowl, Misery,” she spoke mockingly, inclining her white head in a bow. “Would that I could enjoy this single pristine waking without a visit from your venerated person." She grinned, and her eyes became weary as she stared up at the beast. "I tire of thy meddlesome ways, crow.” The bird’s eyes narrowed at the slight. The wolf’s strangely lovely voice took on a plaintive tone. “Wilt thou but leave me be? Dost thy long shadow darken my steps forever? In what far future shall I surpass it?"
"When thy carcass rots and thy eyes and tongue are a worm’s repast, cur,” the wolf smiled at his return of her insult. “When all thy deeds which were and all thy deeds that will be are done and passed from any living memory. Mayhap when I sup on thy corpse-flesh, then shalt thou pass from beneath my shadow. But not before.” The two exchanged a brief but meaningful visual exchange. The raven straightened his ink-black feathers. “What now wilt thou do, wolf? Wither wilt thou go?"
"What intelligence can know that which is unknown?" She said coyly, grinning wickedly at the dark bird and grinding her claws against the ground. "I desire knowledge of the new world. I will glean it, once I have shed old burdens,” she regarded him with mirth, then looked out on the world below. “My wrath is great, and I have not sated this unnameable hunger that burns now in my breast in many an age." She turned her head from the lands and glared up into the bird’s eyes. “Perhaps you could alleviate my fury. What do you say... old friend?”
The giant bird leaned back sharply. "Rest easy, cur... I am more wise than to engage thee or harry thee here at the height of thy power." With a cracking of bone, Misery’s beak slowly stretched wide into another grin. "Goest thee now and do as thou wilt. Thy time among the waking will be brief, mark me. Go out into the world as it is now and see that it has no place for one such as thee.” The great bird looked contemplative. “Verily thou shalt find no place here anymore for any such as us. An we should shape the world to our own ends."
“Thou wouldst so cavalierly employ that old ruse, crow?” Tempest said, tilting her head, glaring at the great bird before her. “It did us little good the last time... wouldst thou not agree?”
“Then we were separate, our minds scattered and our might grown weak from disuse,” Misery spoke, batting his wings against the wind and sending boulders bounding off the clifftop. He spoke quickly. “Soon fell deeds will awaken... deeds the ends to which I have turned all of my mind for four millenia.” The raven lowered his beak to her face and spoke quietly, “4000 years... to plan for our vengeance on this world.”
“Your vengeance, maybe,” Tempest said, looking away as her tone turned to mockery. “We shall soon discover the truth in that, shan’t we?”
As her words trailed off, the gigantic raven rose up and flew off into the night sky, his great wings beating against the air. His voice began to echo from the heavens. "Our companions will wish to know of thy stirrings. They have missed thee as long and as well as I, dear sister. Mayhap they shall visit thee as well." As soon as those words left the wretched bird's beak, the lovely wolf raised her head to the sky and let loose a howl that rocked the very foundation of the mountain she stood upon. As the howl expanded, unseen force caused massive avalanches of snow to roar wildly downwards, and the snowstorm guarding her sleep died abruptly.
"Crow,” Tempest spoke to herself, contempt in her tone. Looking down on the lands below, she smiled hungrily, the specter of a distant campfire catching her eye, the smell of woodsmoke tickling her sensitive nose. “We shall find now what spoils this new world has to offer.”
This night is colder than normal, Luna thought to herself as she gently walked across the surface of the lake outside of Manehattan City. The gleam of her luminescent horn reflected off of the waters below her, ensuring that she would neither sink nor get wet. She was strolling under the moon she had brought forth, lovely and full to ease the tides into harmony. To some, her form walking across the still waters would have sparked a minor panic, but she had done this many nights before and knew that none of the city folk could see her this far out.
I wonder if anypony even notices the lovely glint I gave it tonight? Of course they do! How could they not? Even Tia said that though they might sleep through my work, my moon aids in their peaceful sleep. She smiled for only a moment, then her face turned to sorrow. Although it is a pity that more ponies do not witness my work at night. I always feel so alone out here by myself.
Luna had recently taken a more hooves-on role in her duties, guiding the moon herself on nightly walks across Equestria. She had wanted to learn more about the lands she had missed over her one thousand year imprisonment. Since being released she had traveled most of her home country, sending the precious giant off on its own once she had reached the Equestrian borders. Although she was reunited with her sister, she still felt strangely alone at times.
"Oh moon," Luna spoke, staring up at the giant orb in the sky. "Even with all of my new friends, I still have time to speak with you," Luna smiled weakly, sitting upon the surface of the lake. "Maybe tomorrow I will ask Tia to stay up with me and join me on my stroll. But she is always so busy... and I do not wish to bother her."
"That would not be a bother at all," came a beautiful voice from behind her on the lake. Celestia, her horn also glowing with the light of her ancient magic, began walking across the water. "You know, I was sitting at home in the castle and I had this strange feeling you needed me sister," She said, speaking sweetly down towards her.
"I'm surprised!" Luna said, shocked and smiling. "You always sleep at night now. What are you doing out here, Tia?" Luna asked, standing as she turned to face her sister. She walked up alongside her, nuzzled her once and gave her a playful smile. "You really should be resting for another day of royal decrees and fancy dinners."
"Very funny, little one," Celestia responded, greeting her nuzzle with one of her own. "But you are right. However, I would like to spend some time with you out here under your beautiful moon. If you would not mind my intrusion."
"Not at all! By all means, let us sit," Luna spoke sitting once again, this time by her sister, on the surface of the waters. "I am... happy... to see you sister. I know that you have forgiven me, and I know that the ponies of Equestria have as well. But...” the younger princess’ eyes were downcast. “I just feel so alone sometimes."
"Oh Luna," Celestia spoke, softly placing a hoof on her sisters' back. "You are not alone at all. Our ponies absolutely love you, and the moon is much more vibrant with you at its helm once again."
Luna's vision blurred for just a moment. A small pain in her head caused her to wince. "Ouch," Luna winced, rubbing her head with her hoof. "Maybe we should get off this lake. I’m beginning to get a headache."
"You are using your powers too much, dear sister," Celestia spoke, smiling at Luna. "Here, let me hold us both up while we talk." Celestia's horn began to glow more brightly and Luna's faded, supporting both alicorns on the surface of the lake.
"Thanks," She said, looking a bit confused. "I have done this a hundred times over and never come close to any magical strain."
"You must be tired," Celestia beamed at her, stroking her mane once with her hoof and then hugging her. "Why not lie down and rest a bit?"
"I wish I could sis, but I must keep the moon moving on its way," Luna replied, looking at her sister's hoof, chuckling. "You're treating me like a little filly."
"Oh," Celestia started, removing her hoof from her sisters back. "Old habits, I suppose."
Luna began to stand and walk away, smiling at her sister, but stopped abruptly when her headache began to flare up once more.
"Oh? My dear sister, stay for just a moment," Celestia spoke, grinning at Luna in a way that bothered her. "It is important after all."
"What is it, sis?" Luna asked, looking confused through the pain, legs buckling. "I... don’t feel so well."
"These ponies we have watched over. Mother and father who watched over them before us... they do not appreciate us as they should," Celestia spoke, looking at Manehattan with an odd glint in her eye. "You said yourself that you feel alone. I feel it too."
Luna looked at her sister with wide eyes and said, "I do not understand sister. What are you proposing?"
"I think it is time that we show them the full and unrestrained potential of our power. So they might be reminded of why we have the right to rule them," Celestia said, dipping a hoof into the waters below, stirring it. "We could make them love you, dear sister."
Luna stood quietly. These very thoughts had troubled her mind when Nightmare had taken hold of her. But she had never heard her sister speak in such a manner. Especially about the citizens of Equestria. She had always spoken so fondly of them in the past. Something had to be wrong.
"Big sister... is something wrong with you?" Luna asked, lowering her head while worriedly shuffling toward the elder princess. "You're not acting like yourself."
"I’ve been thinking about this a great deal recently," Celestia said, removing her hoof from the water and fixing Luna with a terrible stare. "We should head to Manehattan. We can begin there. You and I together could carve a path all the way to Canterlot. And then all would bow down before us, from the lowest merchant to the greatest aristopony. Oh dear sister. For too long have we played by the rules. We should rule with fear, not love. I see now that love is weak."
"You must be losing your mind, Tia!" Cried Luna, holding her head, which now felt like it was splitting in agony. "I would never do such a thing! How could you even think such a thing!?"
"Help me, or you are free to return to the moon, Luna," Celestia said coldly staring at her still-wet hoof. "I know what it is that you feel. You feel neglected by our subjects. We could force them to love you. You fear we have become separated as sisters. We would rule side by side over a new Equestria! Besides, is it better to be loved or feared?"
By now Luna's aching head had reached an unbearable pitch, and she glared at her sister with an equal intensity. She slowly began to step away from her towards the shore, her dark eyes fixed on the creature that could not have been her sister. Why would you say such a thing Tia? She thought to herself as her sister’s lovely face was transfixed by a wicked grin.
"You are not my sister. You can’t be!" Luna shouted, lowering her head with her horn leveled at her sister. "I don't know what you are! But my sister would never act this way!"
Celestia, her bearing communicating severe displeasure, stood to face her sister. Although Luna had grown rapidly since she had regained her powers, the eldest princess still towered over her. The wicked smile she had worn earlier was now a sneer of disgust as she spoke in the royal voice. "You would dare speak this way to us!? You would bare your horn at us!? Knowest thou thine own place, little sister!"
Luna trembled terribly as she faced her older and stronger sister, whose horn now shone out like a beacon in the dark of the night. The waters around her hooves came alive with it, laced with fingers of multi-colored power.
"I remember my place!" Luna spoke, gathering energy herself. "It is you who have forgotten yours!"
"Dear sister," Celestia spoke softly, lowering her horn, it’s brilliant light fading out. "Thou hast forgotten a vital fact... it is now only by my power that thou keepest above water."
The realization that her sisters’ magic was still suspending her above the surface of the water did not have time to set in for Luna, as the magic holding her was withdrawn and she plunged belly first into the lake. The cold water tore and grasped at her, some unseen force dragging her down deeper into the darkness of the lake. I have to gather my magic, her mind screamed as she was pulled deeper. She focused with all her might, but to no avail. Why is nothing happening!? She began to panic as water seeped into her lungs. Kicking and thrashing, Luna tried to escape only to once again be pulled under by unknown means. When all hope seemed lost, she did the only thing she could. She let out a watery scream. And then all was quiet.
To think that I, Luna, princess of the moon, will meet my end by drowning in a lake, she thought to herself, closing her eyes as her lungs relaxed. But death did not come at that moment for the young alicorn. The pain in her lungs was simply no longer there. No water was pressing against her.
"What?" Luna gasped, opening her eyes to see only see the luminescent aura of her moon's surface. "I am on my moon? How?" Luna asked out loud as she lifted off the ground to fly towards Equestria. Not two feet off the surface a familiar, yet unexpected force pulled her down harshly. A chain, glowing purple, wrapped around her neck held her fast. "Grand Seal chains! No! The stars already freed me from these! Why? Did Celestia.... I do not want to be here!" Luna shouted in a panic. Weeping, she huddled against herself on the dusty ground. "I thought you were crazy, or an impostor. I did not think you would or even could banish me again! Why did you send me back? I was being good... I tried so hard." Tears flowed freely now. “Tia, why?” She asked desperately, speaking to nopony.
Tears streaked down her face as she continued to cuddle with herself. Why did Tia have to do this? What has happened to make her change? Maybe... maybe I was right. Maybe that was not the real Celestia! Oh, listen to me! I sound like a crazy mare!
Luna continued sobbing for a few moments, when suddenly she coughed up a mouthful of water onto the surface of the moon. Shocked, she looked down at the liquid, roiling along the ground, as the realization hit her. I'm still under the water! She thought, closing her eyes to concentrate. Focus! Focus Luna!
Opening her eyes this time, she looked around at the nothingness that was pitch black water with her moon above her as her only guide. Luna's relief was short-lived as the pain of the water in her lungs took hold, forcing her to gasp and squirm under the lake. Swimming up as fast as she was able, she had nearly reached the surface when two strangely-slit yellow eyes, each as large as her entire body, opened in front of her.
A voice inside her head boomed, "Thy pain would have been far lessened, fairest Princess of the Moon, hadst thou chosen to remain wreathed in my illusion." The unseen voice caused the forgotten pain in her head to flare up once again. "Now, my dearest Luna, shall I with mine own fangs make good thy demise!"
Not ten feet away, just below the eyes, four jagged rows of teeth opened up in a massive yawn, lit by an odd light, flickering deep within the open maw. The voice echoed again, "Pass now from this world in agony, fair Mare of the Moon."
"This is gonna hurt..." Luna thought, as the glow intensified.
Once again thank you Malthusite for taking the time to not only edit this, but take the time to rewrite 90% of the Zecora couplets, they are a lot better now. I’m still going to charge a quarter for every curse you wrote to me in my editorial notes. I think I can afford a new car off of that. How was I supposed to know that you hated poetry? But seriously, I could not do this without your aid. You damn walking dictionary you...
Jezebelle, thank you for the editorial glance that you always have to give when I am done with this. Your intuitive ‘I like this part’ and ‘hehe that was funny’ comments helped me to shape my story to the way I wanted it.
Muffins will be UPS delivered shortly...
Of Hoof and Paw
Written by: Damsus Rhee
A great pink lidless eye glowered down from the otherwise empty darkness above her. Where there should have been a clear night sky, there was nothing. No moon or stars gave Luna’s soft, pale light. There was only the ominous glow of the massive unblinking eye. With the stillness came silence. A somber stillness unbroken by either howl of wind or chatter of stream. If not for the rapidly increasing noise of her heartbeat, Fleur would have believed it to be a nightmare.
She took in her surroundings in a panic. Walls of thorns surrounded her on every side, rising to a height of thirty or forty meters. Fleur quickly checked herself to see if she was ok. She noticed she had been stripped of her disguise and tools, finding herself suddenly painfully aware of a nudity that usually seemed routine. She cried out in embarrassment and tried vainly to hide herself from the burning visage above. She could feel its intangible malice penetrating her, invading her most personal places, and laying bare her private thoughts.
Just a moment ago she had been face to face with Princess Celestia, from whom she had just stolen some obscure artifact, inside Canterlot Castle’s forbidden Spire of Secrets. Now she did not know how she had arrived, or where in Equestria she could be, only that she was naked and alone in the presence of something deeply old and terribly wrong that left her quaking in fear.
As she stared up at the eye, a cold and hateful feeling began to grasp at her. The longer she stared, the colder she felt. She closed her eyes, but could still feel it looking inside her, probing intrusively at her greatest desires and fears. Cold fingers pushed aside her defenses to grasp at her private thoughts and desires, violating her completely. It was a rape in its truest form, and the mare screamed in agony. A paranoia began to take hold of her, like icy claws running delicately down her spine. Without conscious thought she took the path before her, galloping frantically to escape the eye.
She ran until the path split off to the left and right. With only a moment’s consideration she took the path to the right. Her hooves barely clearing the thorns at the corner of the wall in front of her, she galloped down the path at full speed. Where am I? She thought as she turned another corner, her panic rising with each stride. I have to get out of here!
The eye above never once left her. Even without seeing it, the thought of the unwavering gaze on her back was worse than her darkest nightmare. She imagined it as an omnipotent outsider, invested in her struggle for just as long as she amused it. What are you looking at? Better yet... what in Celestia’s name are you? Fleur rambled in her mind as she poured on the speed, turning a corner and crying out in pain and terror as she scratched her flank on a thorn. The small wound that the barbed barrier had given her proved to her that she was not dreaming, but very much awake.
The intensity of the eye waxed suddenly, releasing a bright pink light on the nightmarish hedge maze, causing it to distort before her. Pushed down by the force of the strange wave, Fleur felt a sick, sticky pallor to the magic it emanated, her skin crawling as though insects were skittering about beneath its surface. Her vision blurring, she felt something of herself seeming to slip away. She couldn’t shake the awful feeling that she would never be whole again. Her mane lost a bit of its luster. Fleur could still feel its nightmare-gaze locked onto her, even when she looked at the ground. Even when she closed her eyes. Tears began to flood down the mare’s face as she stood on trembling legs. She had never been this frightened. Or this alone.
As she continued to run, the paths before her split again and again, raising her hopes of escape from the thorny nightmare, each hope ultimately offering her no exit. She ran blindly, choosing path after path at random, galloping with all her might through the ever-expanding maze. Her exhaustion and frustration with the prolonged run rapidly growing, she came to a huffing stop.
Her chest heaving as she panted hard, she looked up at the startling nightmare above. It remained motionless. It just looked at her with that cold pink gaze, chilling her further as she felt compelled to sit there and stare at it. If I look away will it get me? She thought and shivered, another tear beginning to form. She wiped it away with a hoof. Look at me! I’m acting like a foal afraid of the dark! She continued to try to fortify her willpower against the terrible sight, but every time she thought she could stop looking at it, a new fear entered her mind, reaching into her most vulnerable memories and showing them to her.
Trixie... did you do this to me? Fleur thought with fury as she stared at the terrible eye above, tears flowing freely down her face despite her best efforts to stave their flow. That orb was a trick! I knew better than to put my fate in the hooves of somepony else. Fleur turned her head from the eye and laid quietly on the cold black ground, her muscles aching terribly. She tried for a moment to catch her breath. Wait... didn’t Trixie disappear with me? She allowed herself a moment of bleak, unpleasant comfort at the thought that she might not be alone, that somepony else could be here to help her escape this hell. Fleur was briefly disgusted with herself for wishing this on anypony else. But she couldn’t deny it gave her comfort. Trixie should be here too! But her ears drooped as she considered another possibility. Maybe the orbs backfired. Maybe there really is no exit.
L’enfer, c’est les autres, she thought wistfully to herself, slipping literally subconsciously into the upper-class dialect with which she was so familiar.
Standing up, Fleur quickly walked to the wall of thorns before her. Well... just a bit of magic and I will climb this and get a better view of... wherever this is. After all... I am Prize Catch! Master thief, wanted across all of Equestria! She allowed her flagging confidence to build, despite the odds against her. The mare began to focus her magic, drawing upon her willpower to make her horn turn its brilliant color, but nothing happened. No color, no magical strain. It was if she was a foal who could not yet find her magical center. Worried and confused she doubled her effort and tried again, but with the same effect. Despair began to set in, shattering the lovely mares hopes. This can’t be happening! Her sorrow flowed freely down her face as she collapsed to the floor of the labyrinth.
Raising her head to meet the evil gaze once again, this time in fury and desperation, she screamed wildly into the air, “THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING!”
“Oh but it is, dear mare,” Fleur spoke sweetly to herself, muffled slightly by the cool breeze that blew across Canterlot Castle’s walls. Above her, inside the castle, cries of alarm were being bellowed by the guards searching for the missing intruders. The thief known as Prize Catch, and the other unknown blue mare who was with her, would soon be forgotten as the real threat to Equestria was revealed to them. But all in due time.
Fleur stretched clumsily, stumbling as though she had never stood on her own two hooves before, and took a look at herself. This weak vessel must suffice for the time being, a dark voice in her mind thought. At the least it seemeth fit. The mind strives still against me... yet that shall soon cease to matter. Wither in this world am I?
The orb that had been thrown from the Spire of Secrets had shattered on the lawn of the royal gardens, near the great waterfall that had led Fleur here. She took a moment to look around at her surroundings, and noticed Trixie was only just sitting up, recovering from her bumpy journey. There thou art , the voice echoed inside Fleur as she disdainfully watched Trixie orient herself. The blue mare quickly checked her mask, making sure she was still concealed, and snatched up the bag that held the stolen gems in her telekinetic grip.
“It worked!” Trixie exclaimed, happily strutting over to her accomplice and giving a cocky smile. “I mean... I knew it would work!” Noticing the hustle of the guards on the castle walls, Trixie’s demeanor turned serious. “We need to get out of here before they find us.”
Fleur looked around at the guards galloping frantically on the wall, and turned to face the worried mare. She slowly began to remove her mask with her hooves. Trixie’s eyes widened at the sight of Fleur’s light pink mane, bursting from under the black hood. “Fret thee not, dear Trixie. This pathetic army of useless pegasi yeomanry are the least of thy problems.” Fleur said flatly as her eyes began to glow with an ominously vibrant pink hue. “Soldiery drawn from the lesser classes has never seemed right to me...” she spoke almost to herself.
“What do you mean?” Trixie said, tensing up and taking a step away from the now-revealed Fleur de Lis. “I know you... Fleur de Lis... right? You’re Fancy Pants’ marestress! You’re Prize Catch?”
“Nay,” Fleur said and gave a wicked grin, her eyes began to violently glow, bathing Trixie in their luminescence and forcing her to turn her head away. “Mine name is called Treachery... and the pleasure of our meeting, and of our parting, shall be all with me.”
Trixie’s eyes began to glaze over, the life and arrogance and vibrancy draining from them as she sat heavily on her haunches, a complacent look on her face. Slowly her head sank to the ground, as she felt herself compelled to lie down before the strange gaze of her malicious cohort. She spoke weakly, a sudden illness coming over her. “I... I don’t know who... you are. What are... what are you doing... to me? Stop... please stop it!”
“Stop? Beloved, I have only just begun!” Fleur said, then her voice changed from her sultry tone, to that familiar to Trixie as Twilight Sparkle. “You’ll never be anypony. Just another no talent mare, best-suited to perform at birthday parties and cuteceaneras for foals who have no idea what real magic is.”
“What! No! That isn’t true!” Trixie countered pathetically, surprised by the unnatural mimicry in Fleur’s voice. As Fleur began to approach the cowering mare her eyes flared again, and she not only sounded like, but appeared to the confused and frightened eyes of the mare to take the form of, Twilight Sparkle. Other stallions and mares began to appear from the darkness, surrounding the frightened blue pony who lay cowering on the grass, pointing their hooves at her and laughing as they shouted insults and mockery. “Stop... stop laughing at me... please,” Trixie begged, covering her ears with her hooves. The voices of the mocking ponies continued to invade the mare’s ears and mind, despite her attempts to shut them out.
Twilight Sparkle was only one of many. In the crowd of ponies, Trixie could see everypony she had ever loved or respected, taunting her, hating her, seeing her for what she truly believed herself to be: a failure. Leading them was a sinister black moustachioed pony with bright red eyes, laughing riotously and twirling his moustache in a hoof as he led her former friends and family towards her; hate, murder, and rejection on their cruelly-laughing faces.
The thing that wasn’t Fleur continued. “Thou shalt retain nothing of thy riches or thy mind, nor even the secret contents of thy innermost heart, when I have concluded my business with thee,” Fleur whispered gently as she regarded the tortured mare, slowly and cruelly circling her. “Thou shalt have nothing to repair to for peace nor in which to believe. And when thou hast lost all that, then shalt thou become in truth what the world...” the mare grinned slyly, “and, if we are honest, thyself in thine own heart, already believes thee to be: Nothing.”
Crying in anguish as her thoughts were changed and corrupted by the intrusive gaze of the pink-eyed mare, Trixie cried out in terror, “What did I do to deserve this!?”
Fleur smiled down with wicked glee at the fearful, sobbing pony. She continued for a few moments, twisting the pathetic pony’s mind, watching her squirm under her destructive influence. She knew that a moment in her gaze could feel like an eternity to the suffering pony, who was reduced now to a quivering, messy pile of tears and broken sobs. “I do apologize, dear Trixie,” Fleur said with disingenuous sincerity, placing a hoof on the broken pony’s head, stroking her mane away from her tearful eyes as she stared down at the ground. “I cannot merely leave thee be, and mayhap have thy loose tongue lay waste to all my carefully-laid plans. Can I?”
Trixie looked up at the towering mare before her, no longer Twilight, but Fleur de Lis again. She felt weak, as if she had been emotionally and physically tormented for weeks without end. “Who... what are you?” She asked timidly, eliciting another wicked grin from the evil pink eyed mare, and flinching back.
“I have long since told thee, my love... I am he who is called Treachery. Long ago, they called me the Hidden Blade, for I was hard to find and deadly when sprung on the unknowing,” Fleur said, giving an almost nostalgic smile at the old title. “As thou hast most truly learned this night.” Her tone turned quickly to annoyance. “But I tire of thee, sweet pet. A filly’s toy, and broken all too easily. What I should not give to have a strong mind to challenge me again.” Fleur stepped away from the confused mare one last time, her eyes glowing violently pink. Trixie tried to scream, but no sound came out of her mouth. She rolled around in agony and came to an abrupt stop. Trixie stood, her head hung low, eyes glazed over. Fleur spoke to the broken mare as though she were a foal. “Good pet. Thou knowest now thy duty. The only thing thou can do. The only thing over which thou hast still any power.”
Trixie looked up at the clear night sky, her tears dried on her dirt-smeared face. She spoke without any feeling. “I just wanted to be loved.” Slowly, she began to walk towards the river at the edge of the garden.
“Oh I know, pet,” Fleur purred with venomous kindness as the mare passed by her. “Thy best effort has utterly failed to suffice. Ever shall it be so for thee.” She shrugged. “Though I suppose, happily for thee, not for much longer.” Fleur watched with delight as Trixie stopped at the edge of the torrential river flowing out over the edge of Mount Majestic. As Trixie fell into the roaring waters, just to cause her a final torment, Fleur said coldly in a singsong voice, “and oui... all of us yet despise thee.”
Fleur watched as the broken, pathetic form of Trixie barely managed to keep itself above the raging surface of the river. She smiled as she saw the limp form of the foalish blue mare crest the edge of the waterfall and disappear. Thou pathetic foal, the inner voice thought. Would that thou had settled in peace upon thy limited talents and steered clear of this path. For my part I am pleased that thou didst not do so. Thy folly is to me a boon.
Trixie out of the way, Fleur trotted over to the bag of gems sitting on the ground, spilling the contents out. Seven black rocks sat on the ground, not the lustrous gems they had previously been. Trinkets now, as worthless as the mare who stole thee, the voice thought as Fleur smiled wickedly, levitating the worthless rocks into the water. Quickly she changed from her black attire and threw it into the river as well.
She still had much to do. Celestia or one of her guards would soon find her. Fleur headed for the front of the castle, fully-exposed. With a leering smile she spoke aloud to no one, “Surely the best way to treat with a princess searching for thee is to present thyself directly. After all, she will definitely wish to see me.”
Spike emerged onto the balcony of his room carrying snacks and drinks. There at the behest of Celestia herself, and on her bits, he was to clear her way for this year’s Summer Sun celebration. The balcony on the top floor of his hotel had a perfect view of Manehattan Lake, Luna’s moon reflecting off its still surface like a mirror. The baby dragon sat down and relaxed in a cushioned chair on the deck, opening a bottle of soda with his fangs. He smiled up at the night sky, content with the fizzy-sweet taste of the carbonated beverage, and spoke aloud to himself, “Spike old boy... this is the life!”
The contentment of the relaxing dragon was quickly shattered as the night sky lit up with lightning. This lightning, however, didn’t strike down from the sky, but rather reached up out of the center of the lake in a great yellow column, a massive geyser of sparkling water, rippling with the yellow power. The city’s cool night was lit up like day as the unnatural lighting licked the clouds that ought rightly to have been its origin, and they were broken apart by the radiant light.
Spike dropped his bottle which rolled over the edge of the balcony to shatter upon the sidewalk far below, as he dashed to the railing to see what was occurring. Whatever had caused the disturbance was still below the surface of the great lake, and great gouts of steam rushed from the electrified geyser at the heart of the discharge. Ponies on the city streets below him were running in frothing-mad, raging panic from the walls of searing hot steam coming off of the lake, screaming and trampling one another in the chaotic crush of a sudden and blinding fear most sheltered city-ponies had never known or even imagined.
Spike squinted as he noticed a dark object ejecting from the corona of the discharge. An object now rocketing towards his position at tremendous speed. Quickly, he turned and dashed back into the safety of his room, turning and slamming the door shut as the cacophony of screaming ponies in the chaos of the city below reached its zenith. The dragon was shaking, and reached up to mop the sweat from his brow.
The door and part of the wall attached to it crashed inward in an explosive cloud of dust, debris, and insulation from inside the wall, as though struck by a cannonball. Even the roof cracked audibly from the impact, and Spike dropped down heavily to the floor below him, fearing it would collapse at any second. Stunned and in shock, the baby dragon forced himself to his feet, looking up at the object responsible for disturbing his rest. Much to his dismay, partially covered in debris, lay a familiar alicorn, her dirty coat the same color as the night sky, her body still convulsing with shocks of yellow electrical energy. She was badly burnt and raggedly lacerated by the crash, but she was alive, and struggling to get to her hooves.
“Luna!?” Spike said in dumbfounded shock, staring at the Princess of the Moon as she brushed away the rubble from her night-blue coat. “Princess? Is that you?”
“Spike?” Luna said weakly, looking over at him, the exertion of speech causing her to cough up dust mixed with her glimmering blue blood. Even as Spike looked at her, her wounds began to glow light blue and close miraculously, leaving only the dried blood against her coat as proof that they had ever existed. “What are you...? Never mind. Listen! I need you to send a letter to my sister!” Spike started to interrupt, and the Princess held up her hoof to silence him. “I am sorry Spike, but I do not have time to explain. Find a quill and paper. Send a letter asking for help.”
“Sure,” Spike said with an uncertain tone. He took a step towards Princess Luna. “...are you okay though?”
“I will be. But we must act fast,” Luna spoke firmly. She looked out the hole in the wall and through the clearing waves of steam at the coils of the vast serpent now emerging from the lake, the yellow lightning flashing from its massive body, striking the sky and lake ferociously. She had seen and felt its size up close, but could not have truly appreciated its terrible mass until seeing it from a distance. “Go now Spike! Send for help... and try to help evacuate the city.”
“You’re evacuating Manehattan?” Spike said in surprise, looking in shock at the worried countenance of the blue alicorn.
“Have you seen what’s happening out there?” She questioned evenly, stepping out of the dragon’s line of sight to the aggressor looming in the distance. The dragon’s eyes widened, his skin taking on a pallor of fright. The leviathan was heading towards the city, flying through the air, and its tail had yet to emerge above the water. Spike’s voice changed to a whisper as he slowly backed towards the hallway door. “Got it,” he spoke softly, and dashed off.
“Let us try this again,” Luna spoke defiantly to the massive monstrosity, though she knew it couldn’t hear. Her head drooped slightly, and a look of doubt and worry crossed the younger sister's face. “Tia... please hurry.”
Tempest was full and content from her overindulgent meal. An unwary deer had wandered into her sights as she went to investigate the campfire, and she had brought it down with ease. Any prey would be hard-pressed to escape her speed and strength. Her luminescent white muzzle was dyed red with the proof of her recent kill. She had gorged herself she had to admit, her stomach hanging heavy. Leaving behind the remains of her prey, she approached a gently-flowing stream and began to clean herself off.
When she had finished cleaning off in the cool waters, she stared at her reflection. The wolf stared back, eyes burning red in the shifting, liquid mirror. She smiled coyly down at the wolf and purred, “Stealth is not thy forte as thou art, lambent one.” She stepped gently out of the water and took a long breath. The cool air was refreshing as it brushed her fur. “The others shall soon know of my presence should I remain like this,” she said grimly, looking down at her luminescent paw. She frowned and sat with a canine sigh of frustration. “Should we wish to remain hidden from the Great Fowl and his scrabbling chicks we must conceal ourselves.” She looked again at the reflection. “Is this not so, dear sister?”
Tempest raised her paw to her mouth and bit down carefully, drawing blood and letting it cover her white paw. Moving with a caution and care born of ritualistic dedication, she drew symbols on the ground around herself in her own blood. Once she had completed the designs three times she sat in the middle. Closing her eyes and focusing intently, pure white power flowed out of her and into the runes, which burned brightly with her magical energy. Sparking to life in a flash of purple light, three sets of ethereal chains lashed out of the ground and began wrapping themselves around her. As they coiled around her, the glow from her fur faded, and with a loud crack the chains pulled taught and vanished, no longer visible to the naked eye.
The chained wolf no longer glowed white, was no longer the size of a bear, her eyes no longer pools of burning red. Her height was less than that of a young mare and her coat was light pink with white around her paws. She was still powerfully-built, a subtle air of danger still hanging over her despite the diminished size and her now-friendly countenance. She took a moment to look over herself, a small smile coming to her face. Standing, she walked over to the edge of the water and gazed once more into the reflective surface. Her eyes did not meet her with the red glare to which she was accustomed. Instead a pair of cerulean eyes stared up at her, causing her to jump back with a yelp, falling over onto the ground. She began to laugh at herself as she stood back up.
“Oh Tempest, what a sight thou art to behold,” she spoke, continuing to laugh at herself. “If thy kindred saw thee frightened of thy own shadow, we should never hear the end of it.” She walked back over to gaze down once again, and felt a warm feeling inside her she had thought long extinguished. It had been a long while since she had allowed herself to laugh. It always seemed so much easier for her when her powers were stowed away. Her tone was wistful. “I have not laid eyes on thee in an age, pup.” She giggled once with a half-hearted smile and began once again to work her way towards the campfire.
The score of ponies lying around Zecora’s campfire slept peacefully with their bright, sweet pony dreams.
All except for one.
Applebloom slowly tugged herself out from under Applejack’s protective hoof, slipping out of the sisterly sleeping bag. Her sister slept easy, grinning contentedly as she emitted small sighs and gurgles, a tiny sliver of drool trickling from her open mouth. But Applebloom was restless. It was hard to sleep when there was so much around her to explore. Applejack had used her serious big-sister voice when she told her not to stray too far from the camp. But Applebloom couldn’t see the harm in looking around on her own.
Slowly she snuck away from the sleeping ponies and approached the edge of the Great Divide. Looking down into the pit, she fell back on her haunches, the sudden shock of the great fall below her causing her to lose her balance. Thank the stars nopony saw that! She thought to herself and giggled, laying down on the edge, forehooves sticking over the cliffside. As she laid there staring down she thought she could see something moving far below her.
A silent shadow stirred, although she couldn’t make out its shape. “Um... hello... is anyone down there?” The filly whispered hesitantly into the pit. A shiver ran through her, but the filly kept staring down, watching the shadow as it moved and came to a rest somewhere below her. “Is something down there?”
“Hello, little one,” a silky female voice whispered on the wind. “I have been pining for thee.”
“Me?” Applebloom said confused. “How did you get down there?”
“Oh... I fell you see,” the voice said sweetly, a pout in the tone. “Couldst thou be a dear and catch a rope? Thou couldst tie it to a tree with but a little exertion and I might climb up to join thee.” The voice, without speaking it, promised good times if this were to happen.
Applebloom looked back at her sister, who quietly stirred in her sleep, snoring gently and frowning. If she woke her sister, she would be in trouble. Sis sure isn’t gonna like this, she thought to herself. I’m gonna get in so much trouble...
Turning back to look down into the abyss she spoke. “Um... I’m not sure miss. I should get my big sister! She could help ya out.”
“Oh that would be nice dear... but I have been down here for so long,” the sultry voice pleaded with the filly. “It would take thee but a moment’s effort. And would not thy well-beloved sister be thrice-pleased that thou hast given succour to a gentle and needful stranger?”
“Gee miss voice... you sure do speak funny,” Applebloom mused down at the hidden figure. “But if I help you...” she said pensively. Her voice shifted to a triumphant cheer. “I might even get my cutie mark!” Quickly she made sure she hadn’t woken anypony before returning her tone to a whisper. “Ok... throw it up here. I’ll help ya.”
“Such a good little pony,” the voice said politely. “Here it comes.” A silky strand of material gently floated up to the filly, and she caught it in her mouth.
The moment it touched her lips, Applebloom went numb and her body fell heavily to the ground. It was not a rope like the voice had said, but a web, and it slowly wrapped itself around her neck like a noose. Once it had completed the knot, it became freezing cold to the filly’s skin. She couldn’t move but could feel it in excruciating detail. The sensation wasn’t painful, more of a shock against her senses. She wanted very much to recoil but found such sudden action to be far beyond her current powers of motion. The strand slowly became more and more thin, until it could no longer be seen.
Applebloom stood. The voice which had previously been kind now sounded cruel. “Dance, my sweet puppet... dance.” Applebloom felt herself moving closer to the edge of the Divide, spinning like a ballerina but unable to stop herself. She wanted to scream, to somehow arrest her involuntary motion. She was relieved when she came to a halt on the edge of the precipice.
The young filly spoke, the voice from the pit coming out, crying loudly, “Oh sister!”
Applejack quickly sat up, startled and confused. “Huh... what?” She quickly scanned the darkness around her for her sister, then stood quickly, noticing where she was. “Applebloom!” She shouted, both frightened and frustrated. “What the hay you doing over there? I told ya to keep away from that hole!” Everyone began to stir and look over at Applebloom. “Now get over here dang it!” The filly smiled wickedly at her concerned sibling, spinning again on the edge of the pit, causing some loose rocks to tumble down into the darkness.
“Applebloom,” Twilight said softly and with concern, slowly standing up and coming out of her tent. The rest of the herd began to stir and step out, looking at the spectacle before them. “Come on now, that’s dangerous. Come over here where it’s safe.”
“What is she doing!” Rarity spoke, alarmed. “Sleepwalking?”
“I’ll get her,” Rainbow Dash said quietly, taking a step forward, only to stop and notice the rope from her tent. It was wrapped around her leg from her clumsy construction session with Fluttershy. She quickly sat down on her haunches and tried to tug it off.
Applebloom looked at everypony as they slowly advanced towards her, worry in their eyes. She gave a last smile and fell backwards over the cliff, down into the pit. Forgetting the rope in her haste and panic, Rainbow Dash blazed past the group. Her eyes went wide as the rope went pulled taut and the pegasus shot forward, her eyes wide, before going down.
The webbing that was coiled around Applebloom’s neck released itself as she fell, freeing the filly’s mind and body, allowing her the chance to feel the full gravity of the situation she was in. Applebloom screamed a wail of terror as she descended towards the darkness of the abyss, flailing her legs wildly into the air above her as if to grab some imaginary ledge.
Applejack screamed in shock, and dove to the edge of the cliff. Tears filled her eyes as she watched her sister falling into the darkness below. She cried out in anguish as the rest of the ponies dashed to her side, fearful of what they were soon to witness.
The mares looked on with shock and worry as a pink streak intercepted her fall far below, ending her mournful wail with a sudden ‘oof’. The strange figure snatched her in mid-air, and grappled onto the rocky wall far below the frightened mares. They could see Applebloom’s head droop as she lost consciousness. The creature holding the wayward Cutie Mark Crusader hung in place, staring down into the darkness for a moment before looking up at them. Even from so far up they could see its clear blue eyes. It began to climb up towards them, holding the napping filly.
Twilight peered down, attempting to see the savior in the shadows, and exclaimed in shock, “It’s a wolf!” She backed away from the edge in surprise as everypony else's jaws dropped. She stopped herself from running, and returned to watch the wolf continue to climb as a landside of rocks began to tumble away from the wall, into which its claws had previously clung.
Everypony began talking at once, a mixture of joyous praise from Rainbow, Applejack and Rarity, worried babbling from Fluttershy, who in her concern stood heedlessly on the edge that had earlier intimidated her, odd non-sequiturs from Pinkie, and worried advice for the wolf to follow from Twilight. The other two CMC’s stood at their hooves with tears in their eyes, too scared to speak. The joined voices of the mares faded into an incoherent babble of vocal background noise. The wolf, still holding the filly, gave an incredulous smile up at the mares, who quieted down at the strange look. Delicately bracing the napping cargo across her forelegs to leave her mouth free, she spoke up to them, “Pegasus... prithee fly down to me and I shall vouchsafe to thee this lost child I have recovered.”
Rainbow Dash quickly untangled the last of the rope and flew down to the hanging wolf, stopping for only a moment beside her, looking at her wry smile. The wolf bit down again upon the soft back of the filly and held her out for the blue pegasus to take. Rainbow Dash gently removed the little one from her grasp, and thanked her with a nod, returning to the top with everypony else. She landed next to the campfire with Applebloom in tow.
Applejack was the first to rush to her sister’s side, clutching onto her and crying, giving her a gentle shake and muttering incoherent concerns and promises, most of them contingent upon her survival. Zecora galloped to her side and checked Applebloom’s vitals, quickly turning and dashing into a tent, beginning to grab herbs and unguents to craft a possible remedy. The rest gathered around the campfire and sat quietly, looking on the scene with silent worry written on their faces.
Scootaloo broke the silence first by asking, “Is she gonna be ok!?”
“Shh,” Rarity shushed her tenderly. “We will just need to wait and see. If it wasn’t for that wolf...” The white mare’s ears shot up in surprise, and she looked over her shoulder at the ledge, which was unoccupied. “We forgot about the wolf! She must still be climbing!”
“Everypony run!” Pinkie screamed and began to run in circles around the campfire. She stopped and looked at everypony else. “Anypony wanna panic with me? No?” She began running again by herself. “AAAAGGGGHHHH!”
“Pinkie!” Twilight shouted at the frantic pink mare, who skidded to a stop, her chest heaving. “I don’t think she means us any harm... I mean, why would she save Applebloom just to kill all of us once she climbed up here?”
“Have you ever tried to eat while hanging on a cliff?” Rainbow Dash said grimly, glancing at the edge. “Pinkie might be right.”
“Just... just help her,” Applejack said, sobbing, not taking her eyes off of Applebloom as Zecora sat down next to her with foreign herbs, and began mixing them together. “She helped my sis. It’s the least we can do.”
Everypony shared nervous glances. Twilight looked at the resolve in Applejack’s eyes and smiled. “I’ll get her,” she said. “After all... it’s only right. Pony or not, we owe her one.” The purple unicorn slowly approached the ledge. The closer she got, the more her earlier resolve appeared to fail. Her head hung and her ears drooped in her foalish fear, her eyes hurriedly scanning the edge as though at any second the wolf might pop over the precipice and drag her down into the Divide.
The wolf had made it to the top, where she hung from the ledge. Twilight observed that the wolf did not look fatigued at all. In fact she looked as though she had enjoyed the climb, smiling the same wry smile she had before up at her as she came to a stop, and hung from the rocks directly below her. The wolf gently jerked her head sideways, and it took a moment for Twilight to realize she was requesting that she step aside and allow her to climb up. The look on Twilight’s face in that moment caused the wolf’s expression to change from jovial to serious. She could tell that the mare was contemplating whether or not to allow her to climb up. Her blue eyes were drawn to the Twilight’s hooves, standing not far from her paws.
The pink wolf looked below down into the pit. The dust from the landslide was beginning to settle. She slowly lifted her head to meet the pensive gaze of Twilight. “It is a long fall,” the wolf said plainly, and smiled the smile of one conditioned to expect betrayal. Her gentle smile changed to a sneer. “If thou hast plans to end my life... the time to act on them is now.”
Twilight snapped back to reality from her thoughts, her face contorted with her concern. “No!” She said in shock, and averted her eyes from the wolf, her ears drooping. “I wasn’t... thinking that.” Twilight looked back at the wolf, who wore a knowing smile upon her face. Twilight reluctantly reached a hoof down to the wolf, extending it to her muzzle, and turned her head in anticipation of pain. “Take my hoof.”
The pink wolf smiled slightly and giggled at the gesture, then gently bit onto the hoof, allowing the mare to help her up. Once up she shook herself off and turned her blue eyes to Twilight. “My thanks,” she said warmly and watched as Twilight cautiously began to make her way back to her friends, huddled around the campfire.
Applejack glanced over at her sister’s unlikely savior. The big sister stood up and handed the unconscious filly to Fluttershy. “Take care of her for me,” she asked the yellow pegasus with great concern.
“I will,” Fluttershy said assuredly. “What are you going to do?”
Applejack nodded her head over to the wolf, who was licking her coat quietly, cleaning the pebbles and dust out of her lustrous fur. Everypony at her and then back at Applejack. “Gotta thank her,” she said shrugging. “Be right back.” She slowly approached the wolf, who quit cleaning herself and regarded the pony warmly. “Um... I’m Applejack... many thanks for catching my sister,” Applejack said nervously, and stopped a few meters in front of her. “If you hadn’t been there... I don’t know what would've happened.”
The wolf was obviously not used to receiving praise. She cocked her head and said calmly, “She would most like have fallen to her doom.” Noticing the grim look being given to her by the earth pony, and not wanting to upset her, she added with comforting sincerity, “From such a height, oblivion would have taken her instantly.”
Applejack gave an awkward smile and a nervous giggle. “Uh... yeah. But what I’m trying to say is... thanks. For saving her.”
“No trouble,” the wolf said with a smile, then looked down behind her into the Divide. A knowing smile grew on her face as she glared down into the void. She quickly shook it off so as to not spook the orange mare. “How fares the little one?”
“She’s fine,” Fluttershy shouted from the camp, hiding from the wolf behind both her silky pink mane and Rarity. “She woke up for a moment... and fell back to sleep.”
“Aww... horse apples,” Applejack swore, galloping over to be by her sister’s side again. “I just missed it.”
“That fall must have shaken the poor girl,” Rarity said looking sad at Applejack. “We should let her rest. Fluttershy... be a dear and put her to bed. She can have my tent.”
Fluttershy nodded and lifted the filly up on her back, balancing her with her wings, and walked into Rarity’s tent. The other two Cutie Mark Crusaders dashed inside behind her. Turning around, Fluttershy took one last glance at the pink wolf, and zipped up the tent.
Without a trace of her former fear, Pinkie Pie bounced improbably over and leaned in close to the wolf, gushing happily, “Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie. What’s your name?”
Everypony was looking at her, and the question had seemed to catch her off guard. The wolf began looking around between the curious mares. “My... name...” the wolf stuttered, and looked embarrassed trying to come up with a name as the ponies stared at her intently. “Umm... Gale! Yes... I am called Gale!” Her ears drooped in embarrassment, her eyes playing about the group of young mares as though they had caught her at something unpleasant.
Rainbow Dash flew over and landed next to her. Gale stared at her as the blue pegasus looked her over. With a wide smile beneath her glittering eyes she said, “Well Gale... those were some awesome moves back there!”
Gale began to speak but Rarity interrupted her. Stepping forward she said in a sultry tone, “Luckily you got up before that dreadful landslide happened.” She kept a safe distance from the wolf, sitting not far behind Rainbow Dash. “That was very selfless of you. Oh... but where are my manners.” The white mare raised a hoof to her torso by way of identification and gave a smile. “My name is Rarity. Gale, it is a pleasure to meet you.”
“I would say we owe you one,” the purple unicorn said, coming to sit next to Rainbow Dash. “I’m Twilight Sparkle. You're a wolf right? Not like the timberwolves... a real full-blooded wolf.”
Gale smiled curiously. “Yes,” she said with a touch of confusion. “Those simple creatures bear little semblance to me.”
“Oh! No no I wasn’t trying to offend you,” Twilight responded quickly, shaking her forehooves in front of her. “It’s just that I’ve never seen a real live wolf before. Not to mention that I’ve heard you’re not really... supposed to be here.”
“Relax,” Gale said sweetly, with a kind smile. “Thou hast no need for such awkwardness.” She then looked in confusion at Twilight. “What dost thy warning mean, Twilight?”
“These ponies may well have good cause to fear. That will depend upon why you are here,” Zecora interjected, walking over to stand face to face with Gale. “Wolves have been gone for five hundred years. Banished by the Princess to ease ponies’ fears.”
“I do not wish to be a bother,” Gale said, sweetly grinning at the zebra, turning to look at the other five mares before her. “Could someone kindly unfold to me what the striped one is attempting to say? Preferably without making use of rhyme.” Rainbow Dash stifled a laugh and Zecora gave the pink wolf an indignant frown, turning her nose up and sitting down with her friends.
“What my friend is saying,” Twilight answered, giving a plaintive smile to Zecora. “Is that wolves have been banished from Equestria for over five hundred years. There was a conflict with them that couldn’t be resolved, so the Princess removed them.” Gale’s countenance turned pensive at that. A bead of sweat formed on the purple unicorns brow. “I mean... I just figured you would... you know... know that. Being a wolf and all.”
“Assume thee for the moment that I did not,” Gale said, tilting her head and gazing into Twilight’s eyes. “By saving this filly, have I then given some offense against your sovereign?” She gave a sly smile. “Am I to be... punished?”
“No!” Applejack said sharply, then turned her head to look at Twilight. “Well maybe... about the offense part! They wouldn’t punish ya! Sure ya broke some silly law that’s been around since before you were born, but it was the right thing to do!”
“I agree,” Twilight said gently, giving a comforting look to her friend. “But what’s important is what I’m about to ask next.”
“And what may that be?” Gale said, regarding the purple pony with seeming indifference.
“Now that you’re here... what do you plan to do?” Twilight asked inquisitively, looking at the wolf’s eyes. “If you decide you're going to stay in Equestria... I will have to let Celestia know. If you decide to leave and go back across the Divide... I’ll tell her you were here... and what you did. She would probably want to thank you though.”
Gale stepped aside, and walked just out of earshot of the ponies. The others could see her pacing and pondering, seeming to speak to herself. They wore perplexed expressions at the canine’s strange behavior.
“Uh... what is she doing?” Rainbow Dash asked her friends, not removing her suspicious violet gaze from the wolf.
“I don’t know,” bubbled Pinkie Pie, bouncing impossibly. “But it looks fun!”
Twilight spoke up. “I think it’s like when ponies talk to themselves onstage. What’s it called...?”
“An aside, darling,” offered Rarity.
Rainbow Dash looked at her with shock. “Okay, miss knows-about-something-finally,” she gave a tiny snort as she giggled at her own joke.
Rarity turned her nose up and looked away. “I shan’t dignify that with a response.”
Applejack rolled her eyes. “Makes perfect sense to me that Rarity would know about the theater.” Rounds of nodding and quiet giggles greeted her observation.
Rarity looked back at them, blinking in confusion. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Everypony met her scintillating eyes awkwardly. They briefly reached the conclusion that the wolf was a better subject to watch.
“I still can’t even think what that could mean,” Rarity muttered to herself.
Not far away, but just out of earshot, Gale was also talking to herself. “I can weather no such foolishness as this. Mayhap this would be easier were I to dispose of these ponies.” She looked back at the mares, who stood staring at her in worry and bewilderment. She averted her eyes to the brightly-burning fire. “My kin have not all yet learned that my slumber has ended. Mockery was close but could ill identify me. She was always the worst at it.” Her eyes burned back towards Twilight, her tone while still low grew deeper, more threatening. “They dare to speak of banishings and punishments. Know they not death when they see it?” Gale could feel her blood beginning to boil, her fury overwhelming her temperance. “I am Tempest! They and their sovereign shall learn to fear my wrath and bow low before my might!”
Gale did not notice the yellow pegasus slipping out of her tent, until she had quietly crept up next to her. “Um... excuse me miss,” the mare said in her ear, at which Gale yelped and jumped away. She turned to face the pony who had snuck up on her, breathing hard.
Gale slowed her breathing and leered, spitting out sharply: “Thou art most quiet!”
“Sorry.” She said softly, her ears drooping, heartbreaking shame on her sweet face. “I just wanted to tell you... if you want that is... that near my cottage there is a cave, just inside the Everfree Forest.” The pegasus gently scuffed the dirt under her hooves, her eyes on the ground. “And um... if you wanted you could stay there... well maybe. You see a bear used to live there. But he found a wife and had to move to a bigger cave to raise a family.” She slowly looked up at Gale, fear of rejection evident on her kind face. “I’m sure if you talk to Celestia she would let you stay. Especially since you saved a filly.”
Gale began to calm from her spooking, and saw that everypony was looking at her in anticipation. A genuine smile began to form on her face as she looked at the odd group before her, then hung her head. Regarding the sneaky pegasus, she nodded to the ponies sitting together and asked inquisitively, “You are in earnest all, are you not? To think I was moments away from... never mind.” She giggled once and looked up sweetly at the stealthy pegasus. “What then is thy name?”
“I’m Fluttershy,” the winged mare said bashfully.
“What is one little complication,” she thought aloud and said, “Yes, Fluttershy. I will see this cave of thine.” She smiled and followed everyone as they walked over to the comfort of the campfire to rest. Her voice once again turned to a muttering. “I have yet to decide if thy innocence will be thy undoing, or mine.”
The mares huddled close to the campfire, and the wolf laid on the opposite side, away from them. As the night passed on everypony fell fast asleep. But not every wolf. Gale gazed up at the night sky into the barely lit moon, the color of blood, as a large crack ran down its middle.
Once again a big thank you to Malthusite for taking hours to edit this. Your aid with the Furies speech has not gone unappreciated. Also a big thank you to all the people who have read this over at Equestria Daily.
It was an honor to teach Damsus the value of killing his darlings.
 Cowie, Peter, !Revolution! The Explosion of World Cinema in the Sixties (New York: Faber and Faber, 2004) pg. 184 Damsus asked that I give context for that statement. Context ho!
Of Hoof and Paw
Written By: Damsus Rhee
It was a city of screams.
As the massive serpent loomed over Manehattan, the panicking populous continued their frenzied stampede away from the thunderous terror. The elderly or sickly cowered indoors while the young and fit fled down the streets, which were seething with tightly-packed ponies. The night sky was occasionally lit up by the unnatural thunder still licking off of the beast, allowing the embattled moon princess to see the faces of her madly-fleeing subjects clearly. Luna stood on the crumbling balcony of the hotel, watching the creature approach her. Silently, she feared for them.
The creature slowly floated into the boundaries of the city, coiling itself around a skyscraper, shattering windows and showering the ponies below with shards of jagged glass. The din of screams and cries increased in pitch. The building creaked and moaned its discomfort at the added weight, warping in upon itself as the monster came to a stop, its massive head curling over the roof.
Its flashing yellow eyes were locked on her. Luna took the moment to size up her opponent.
It was a bit bigger than her, she rapidly concluded.
Its scales were purple, and reflected light as if they were made of polished steel. She could only guess at its size, but would say that it was about a kilometer long. She had looked into its gaping maw, seen the four rows of lance-length, razor-sharp teeth, and knew that she would prefer not to get close to those again. The strange lightning was an obvious threat, the leviathan seemingly able to direct it from its open mouth. But what she feared the most from this nightmare was the illusions with which it had made to entrap her. Luna could defend herself in a fight. But what good was her strength or magic when she couldn’t trust her own eyes?
The monster’s mouth opened, stretching into a wicked, sharp-toothed smile as it glared at her. “Mare of the Moon,” its terrible voice boomed, more windows shattering. “Thy chances of felling me are as a dust mote upon a grain of sand in an hourglass.” Its smile was horrid. “Thou knowest the truth of my words. Bend thy knees before thy rightful sovereign, and the lowly peasants and squabbling yeomen of thy precious jewel of a city shall be spared the pain I could just as easily continue to visit upon them.” The snake closed its maw and grinned at her with evil intent. “Dost thou ken well my meaning, princess of the night sky?”
Luna felt perspiration beading on her brow. Ponies who had just noticed her stopped, cheering her name exultantly as they allowed hope to enter their world of sudden and terrible panic and despair.
She silently wished they would continue to flee. Luna was terrified of this creature. But her still face registered none of her fear or her panic.
“Go get em’ Luna!” A brown stallion yelled up at her. “We believe in you!”
“Yay Luna!” A group of three fillies shouted in unison, cheering her name over and over again.
Luna felt pride and joy swelling within her. To have such faith and adoration directed to her given her too-recent past...
Had she had the time for it, she would have wept uncontrollably at how wonderful they all were.
Instead, she addressed her subjects in a weary but booming voice, “Everypony! Listen to your princess! You must flee the city! You face death or enslavement if you stay! Please, hurry!” After giving her mildly-deflated looks for a brief second, ponies began to turn and follow her command, their flight more orderly now that she had comforted them. Though she was sad to see them no longer throwing their fates upon her hooves, she was relieved to think that there would now be fewer casualties.
The monster began to laugh. It was a slow, deep sound, chilling her to the bone. As it did, the building to which it clung began to buckle and break, sending large chunks of concrete plummeting to the earth below. It opened its terrible mouth and said with glee, “Didst thou truly believe that I would so easily allow my quarry to slip the snare that I have set?” His eyes burned brightly, bathing the city in their sickly glow. “Thou foolish Princess of the Night... thy subjects who love thee so dearly shall henceforth call out to no other master but I.” It drew in a ghastly breath, air rushing into its open maw, leaving a vacuum in its wake.
No living creature should rightly have made such a noise. It was as if everypony in the universe was scratching their hooves against a chalkboard. Not a single piece of unbroken glass remained in the city of Manehattan as the sound waves tore through the city, sending dust and debris rolling away from the epicenter in waves. Those ponies who still too close to the beast fell over dead from the trauma of the aural explosion.
Luna had fallen over from the shock of the terrible noise, hooves clamped tightly over her ears. Slowly, she stood back up, uncertain that the awful noise was over, the shock of it still ringing in her ears. She looked out on her once-lovely city now thrown into silence and ruin. The ponies a few blocks away stood silently, staring absently in whatever direction they had been facing when the creature had sounded his voice. Luna looked past them and noticed that ponies whose flight had taken them nearly to the outskirts of the city stood silently as well. Everypony in Manehattan appeared lost in thought.
“What have you done?” Luna asked, her voice loud and panicked as she looked out upon her ponies. She turned to face the horrid creature. “What did you do to them!?”
He responded with another eerily deep chortle. “Princess Luna... youngest daughter of thy thrice-accursed sires Eventide and Aurora. I have set for thee a quandary which I believe that thou shalt truly appreciate.” Luna stared at the beast in shock and confusion. She had never heard her parents called by name before. “While thou shalt ever try without success to subjugate thy people through love, I have done so through the power and fury of mine own indomitable will.” The serpent’s voice boomed as he began to address the citizens of Manehattan. “Now my loyal pawns, kill the Princess of the Moon who hath abandoned thee! Deceit, thy god, decrees that it must be so!”
Luna’s heart sank.
Her mind began to work immediately once she heard the great leviathan’s name. Deceit, she thought. I have heard that name. But where!?
She was quickly brought back into focus when a blazing light struck the hotel near her head, causing an explosion of dust and debris as it slammed into the roof overhanging her balcony. Adding to her worries, she saw the ponies of Manehattan closing in on her position, their furious eyes flaring bright yellow as one. From above, pegasi began dive-bombing her recklessly. Flooding through the front door and coming up the stairs were a surging horde of earth ponies. Unicorns began taking offensive formations and charging her, horns leveled like harpoons and flaring as they cast many different kinds of magic. Even the fillies from before were growling like rabid animals, looking at her like a fresh meal.
As the unicorns let loose another volley of magic, Luna flapped her wings, lifting off the balcony and blazing past the incoming pegasi toward Deceit. The pain of possibly having to face her citizens transfixed her face alongside her rage at what this thing had done to them. She headed directly at him, her horn flashing with a brilliant purple glow.
Deceit opened his maw and the familiar yellow light began to flare and pulse in his gullet. Luna, prepared for the attack, pulled up, barrelling right. Though the beast had plenty of time to acquire her as a target, he did not. Instead, a light of evil in his eyes, he let the blast loose into the hotel she had fled. For a still instant, there was nothing as the light vanished inside the hole Luna’s earlier flight had left. Then, it erupted in brilliant yellow magical fire, surging out from windows and cracks before exploding, showering debris over the entire city. The ponies inside, Luna knew immediately, had never stood a chance. The ones outside were either killed outright or burned horrifically by the blast. Some of the falling debris crushed flying pegasi as they were already turning to come at her again, and caused more damage among the seething, hungry horde below. Her heart fell, her ears drooping.
“Thy people suffer as burnt offerings for the remission of thy transgressions... Princess,” Deceit spoke, smiling his terrible smile. His countenance grew stern. “Harry me so directly while I have still pawns with which to maneuver against thee... and forthwith shall I remove mine own pieces from the game.”
“You monster!” Luna cried out in anguish, unable to stem the tide of tears. “You cannot expect me to... to... harm.” She turned away from the beast, his cruel laughter rocking the foundations of the city as she tried to stifle her tears. She then looked at him with great conviction. “They are my subjects... I cannot! I will not!”
For the first time, the serpent, venomous and false kindness dripping from his fangs, spoke softly, his voice no longer destroying the city. “But... dear sister, thou hast before thee no other choice... an, at any rate, thou shouldst wish to preserve their lives.” His eyes flared at her, she looked away from the brightness. He began to cackle, deep in his insides, at her misfortune.
Tears stained Luna’s face, but her voice did not break. With cold resolve, she turned her sullen gaze upon the approaching army of Manehattan’s enthralled denizens, eager to draw her blood. “Very well,” She said coldly, and faced the oncoming horde. “If I must... I must.” Luna secretly cursed her luck.
Four thousand attacking ponies who she had to best. But not kill.
Fleur de Lis trotted proudly next to Princess Celestia across the bridge that led to her bedchamber. They passed by the guards whom she had earlier rendered unconscious, and they regarded both mares respectfully. Entering the private chambers of the Sun Princess, the alicorn and the model-pony sat down upon some pillows and took a genteel morning tea service together.
It had been easy to plant the seeds of distrust in the hearts of the the guards. She had convinced them to capture one of their own. Rearranging and warping the memories of Celestia’s ancient and powerful mind, however, had been nearly impossible. Treachery was tired. The best he could do was to make her believe that Fleur was a longtime friend whose counsel she trusted, and that the thief had failed to take the gems. He had watched in joy as the princess sentenced the guard, Phalanx, to serve an unspecified sentence in the dungeon. She had made it known that she did not wish to truly sentence him until she had time to calm and consider the evening’s events. It had nearly broken Celestia’s heart.
Fleur sipped her levitating tea, smiling at Celestia over the rim of the cup. The Princess did the same, but there was worry in her eyes. Slowly setting her cup down on its cozy, Fleur spoke in a sultry, conciliatory purr. “Oh Princess... it will be alright. You did the right thing. He had to be punished for what he tried to do.”
Celestia’s eyes flickered to Fleur’s as she spoke solemnly, “It just doesn’t feel right. Like a piece of the puzzle is missing. Oh Fleur... what should I do? The guards... the ponies of Canterlot... they will want justice. But Phalanx is a friend. He has faithfully stood guard at my side for the last decade!”
Although Treachery would have preferred to have the guard executed, he knew that such a suggestion, a punishment so foreign to these ponies ideas of themselves and their place in the world, could well lead to his unmasking. Instead, Fleur gently leaned forward, placing a hoof on Celestia’s, an understanding smile on her prize-winning face. Her silky voice dripped with kindness as she comforted the distraught Princess, “I know what you are feeling. But you must remain strong. Leniency for the seditious will only encourage such behavior. But if you’re too strict you won’t be able to live with yourself. The people know you to be a kind and generous princess... they will expect you to be who you are.” Celestia smiled for the first time in hours, and wiped a tear away from her eye. “Send him away. To work off the debt he now owes you... with labor. It’s fair. And generous, considering the severity of his crime.”
“I’m so lucky to have you around,” Celestia said, smiling. “You always make me feel better when things are rough.”
“It’s what I’m here for!” Fleur de Lis said happily.
Fleur and the Princess looked out the window as the moon turned a deep shade of crimson. The Princess’s lovely eyes went wide at the sight, and she began to stand when a letter appeared before her in a billow of green smoke. The Princess hurriedly snatched the letter and began to unroll it.
Fleur turned to face the moon. A curse upon thee, Deceit! The time for action is not yet come! Fleur glanced back at Celestia as she read. With an air of concern that wasn’t feigned she asked, “What is wrong?”
Celestia’s countenance was grave as she finished reading. She looked up at Fleur with trepidation. “It’s from Spike. My prize pupil’s assistant. All it says is ‘hurry Luna help please’. Spike never was the most verbose dragon in Equestria.” Celestia stood, looking up at the red moon, raising a forehoof to point. “But with that rearing its head above us... something big is happening in Manehattan. I have to go.”
Treachery spat inward curses at his position. Fleur looked at Celestia with concern, moving to stand near her. She spoke sweetly. “Well, if you are going I am going.”
“It’s too dangerous, Fleur... I’m sorry,” Celestia said, shaking her head at the lovely mare with finality.
Fleur sneered in anger, her eyes glowing violently pink as she repeated, “Well, if you are going, I am going.”
“Of course. I’ll tell the guards to prepare a chariot,” Celestia said, her eralier refusal forgotten. She galloped out of the room, shouting to Fleur over her shoulder. “We have to hurry!”
Fleur smiled wickedly, calmly following behind her. “Anything you say... your highness.”
“Four thousand... three hundred... and twenty six,” Luna huffed, panting and striking her platinum shoe against the back of a brown earth stallion's head. Like those before him, he had been rendered unconscious by a single strike. Unconscious ponies lay in massive piles around her. The last pony she could see still standing charged, bucking at her fiercely. Enveloped by her telepathy, he stopped in his tracks just short of her. She gave him a swift blow to the head. Dropping his limp, unconscious body, she looked up at the great serpent, her breathing ragged, frustration and exhaustion in her eyes. “Four thousand... three hundred... and twenty seven!” She was too tired to weep at what she had done. He is making me an animal... she thought desperately.
Regarding the piles of disabled ponies around her, Deceit began to laugh wickedly, the noise shaking the city. “Thou hast earned well thy spurs.” He gave her a horrid, toothy grin, looking down on her from far above.. “My pawns lie vanquished, but breathing.” The leviathan’s body tightened around the groaning building, crushing it with ease and sending the rubble down to the street in a plume of dust. He floated slowly up into the night sky above, leering down at her. “If I may impose again upon thy generous courtesy... prithee allow me to clear the board so that we might make merry at some other sport.”
Luna’s eyes went wide as the serpent began to flash and pulse quicker and quicker with a brilliant yellow light, small tongues of thunder licking off him as he trembled with the rising power. She took in the piles of unconscious ponies, then looked up at the beast who was aiming some eldritch weapon directly at them. And, she noted as an afterthought, at her. Barely able to keep her eyes open, Luna drew upon her magic, raising a thin sheath of luminescent blue over her horn. She poured her focus out as the serpent opened its mouth above her, the eerie glow of its maw bathing her and the disabled ponies in bright light.
The serpent opened his mouth to roar, but no sound emerged. Only a torrent of death came down from above. Her horn erupted in furious blue flame as the magic coalesced into a shield which covered them like a dome. The power from above broke on the alicorn’s shield, sending waves of pulsing yellow rolling like water down the city streets. Buildings were burnt and charred, some buckling and collapsing under the onslaught. Though the serpent’s power was diffracted, it wasn’t stopped. It merely continued to pour down in a raging torrent upon the tired princess. Her barrier began to waver, hairline fractures appearing along its overstressed structure. Luna began to panic. She knew that should she drop the barrier, she and everypony around her would die.
Luna pushed herself past the point of exhaustion, new magical reserves coming from the young alicorn to patch the collapsing hull of her shield spell. The force of the serpent’s assault never waned, however. The Moon Princess knew that if this went on, her magic would dry up, leaving her a lifeless husk. She felt faint, the maelstrom of magic from above hailing down upon her, reducing more of Manehattan to rubble with each passing moment.
The torment ended as the creature shut its massive maw, the hail of power trickling to nothing as her barrier shattered in upon itself. Her legs quivered and her head felt faint. She collapsed onto her haunches, her forelegs placed wide to steady her, panting in great gouts. Quickly she forced herself to her hooves and looked at the still-safe citizens of Manehattan. They had been spared, thanks to her efforts, and she gave a weak smile of satisfaction.
Deceit began to laugh as he floated away from the building on which he had coiled. Bereft of the new weight, the building folded in on itself and collapsed in a cloud of dust that washed over the burning city. Floating in the sky before her, the serpent’s terrible voice echoed out. “How long shall thy resolve hold, dear Moon-Mare? For mine own part, I can withstand forever. And I need neither food nor rest...” a mocking sadness filled his tone. “It is true mine own eyes are old and mayhap mistake thee. But to them, it seems as if thou canst but barely stand.” The universe seemed to rumble with his laughter. “Verily canst thou see that thou art only a toy to one such as I? Thy sweet ponies are not long for this world, Princess of the Moon.”
Luna smiled brightly up at the serpent, still quivering from her prior exertion. She allowed herself a second’s pause, then spoke evenly. “I might still have a trick for you, old snake.” She began to focus, closing her eyes. The great serpent cocked his head, his expression curious. After a moment’s stillness, Luna’s remaining magical energy poured out of her horn like a bright geyser. A blue veil enfolded the ponies around her. She opened her own eyes, gave a defiant smile, and looked directly into Deceit's. “You may take me... but you shall not have them!” The veil shimmered and the ponies lying strewn about began to fade from the streets, disappearing from sight.
With the ponies now safe from harm's reach, Luna fell to the ground, completely exhausted. She lay on the cold, dusty ground, panting hard, dust and soot from the collapsing of Manehattan blowing away from her face with each breath. Above her, Deceit made no sound. He silently continued coiling upon himself, his face a mask of displeasure as fingers of yellow power continued to surge through him, his eyes locked on her frail form. That made him angry, she realized as she watched him. I took away his toys.
The deep rumble of his amusement turned into a chorus that resounded like an earthquake. “I had not taken thee for an arrant fool ere now, Night Princess,” Deceit said as he laughed. “From the beginning thou hast been my piece to move as I chose. I care not for the fools whom thou hast removed from my reach.” He sneered. “Thou hast given them but a brief stay before it is their time as it is now thine. My only errand was to sap thy strength. I would have thought that one such as thee could have seen. Did thy parents teach thee naught of stratagem?” He began to move closer towards her, his mouth dripping saliva down in front of her in great steaming pools. “Through the long dark ages have I awaited the time of my vengeance. Thou shalt die screaming on my teeth, and be remembered no longer while this world endures.”
As he drew closer to the weakened alicorn, Luna looked up defiantly at his flaring yellow eyes. “I am glad you chose tonight,” she said smiling defiantly at the approaching monster. She gazed up at her bright, milky-white moon and stood, dusting herself off with her wings. “Otherwise, you might have won.” She took in a deep breath. “I needed all of them out of the way for this.”
Luna’s horn began to pulse red, sending a beam of light up towards her moon. She had spent the prior week slowly pouring energy into it just for tonight. Not for a fight, though that had been fortuitous, but because she had wanted her moon to shine brightly and impress her sister. Her moon began to turn crimson, as did the Equestrian moonlight. Should Spike have failed to send the letter to Celestia, this would surely gain her attention, Luna thought. Now more than ever, she needed her big sister.
Deceit uncoiled faster than was seemly for such a large creature, pulling himself away from the Princess and floating high into the sky. The moon began to bleed down a stream of red, washing over Luna and rolling out in a crimson tide to flood the city. As the blood-red waters spread over Manehattan, its ruined buildings began to creak and sink into the anomaly, dissolving and spewing frothy red bubbles into the air about them.
The moon remained red even when the crimson waterfall had ended. Luna stood before the monster as she was revealed after the downpour. She wore armor of crimson, evoking the vague shadow of a blood-drenched Nightmare Moon. Her mane and tail were bright red, glistening with the birth and death of red stars. Her skin was a deep cherry, stained from the viscous liquid she had released.
Luna opened her eyes.
She felt sudden satisfaction, not just at the exultant rush of energies swirling within her, but from the shocked look on her nemesis' face, his yellow eyes glowing hypnotically. Luna had sworn to her sister long ago that she would never unleash the Crimson Moon. But she now had no other choice. The ground the moon had rained upon would never sustain life again. Leeched of every redeemable nutrient, she had sacrificed the city so that she might save its citizens, who lay sleeping peacefully in the forest.
“I am going to kill you,” Luna said flatly, her eyes seething with anger as she stared up at the serpent Deceit. She took a step forward, approaching him. The red waters around her reflected the moon in the sky, even the leviathan in the air, but hid her reflection completely. She stopped underneath him and extended a hoof before her, the waters below it rippling vigorously. Her voice became as a chorus of booming trumpets sounded by both angels and demons alike. “Now, vanish into obscurity before me!” The water in front of her shot upward like a needle.
Deceit laughed at the attack, and was cut short as the needle pierced his scaled belly, skewering him and breaking through his back with a sickening crack. He released a terrible shriek of pain, the water retreating rapidly from the shock wave of sound. He glared down at her with fury. “Never before has one not from among my kin wounded me,” he spoke with rage. “I assure thee that this time is both first... and last!” He whipped his body around him, coiling into a ball, only his head exposed. He began to draw in his magic, the familiar yellow power pulsing once again, and released it once more towards the stationary princess in a maelstrom of yellow light.
Luna lowered her head and raised her hoof above her as the beam descended. The waters around her bubbled up into an orb, swallowing her as the attack struck. Yellow lightning coursed angrily through the red waters, and the force of the magic sent a tidal wave of liquid towards the edges of the once-great city, now an unlivable ruin. When the onslaught from above broke, the orb collapsed into red water once more, revealing an unharmed alicorn still standing calmly before the snake. She looked up at him with cold eyes.
“Damnable mule!” He shouted in anger, uncoiling and descending down upon her with his fangs bared, yellow thunder pulsing from his open maw. The blood-red princess sank beneath the surface of the water as he slammed into where she had been, his head bounding off the ground under the thin pool of liquid. Unable to arrest the forward momentum of his massive form, the ponderous weight of his body crashed ruinously to the ground. He raised his head and roared, the water once more exploding away from him, and began blindly firing tongues of yellow lightning into the crimson pool.
Luna emerged from behind the serpent, her wings unfurling, and flew at him. Deceit turned to face her as she landed on his tail with her horn blazing with red fury. She plunged her horn into his flesh as she began to gallop along his back toward his head, prismatic fire erupting from his wounds. He roared as yellow power pulsed once again in his maw. The red liquid below darted up and wrapped around his mouth like rope, muzzling him. The power building within him continued to grow as Luna made the nearly one-kilometer run along his spine, rending his flesh with her burning horn, the wounds cauterizing from the heat. His eyes grew wide with panic as he shook his head, trying vainly to break his bonds.
Luna reached the monster’s head and released the magical charge, cutting through the creature's spine with a brilliant flash of red. She rode the corpse as it fell slowly but inexorably to the pool below, crashing with tremendous force, the red waters rushing away and the earth cracking in two great slabs from the sheer weight of the beast.
Leaping off the beast, she noticed that while it did not move, the power inside it continued to build. She pulled in the crimson tide around her as a shield, and the creature who had once sought to destroy her and her subjects exploded in a maelstrom of yellow lightning. Lowering her defenses, she gazed out at the remains. A charred black serpent’s skeleton sat smoldering in the crater that had once been Manehattan.
Frowning, the princess spoke. “You were powerful, Deceit. But you could not hope to best that which controls the very moon and tides.” She surveyed the destruction. Normally she would be fearful for using the power she had promised not to. But she knew that the twisted remains of the leviathan would more than absolve her of any wrongdoing in her sister's eyes.
Slowly, she turned away from the carnage she had wrought. She suddenly stopped. Something felt wrong to her. She couldn’t place the feeling. It was if she had an itch to scratch but couldn’t find it. The princess peered out into the night, her crimson moon still painting eerie shadows on the landscape, and realized what she was feeling.
Luna opened her eyes to find herself in the maw of the serpent, impaled by many jagged teeth. Her skin was still covered by the armor she had summoned forth, but the red of the armor was being slowly covered in her free flowing blue blood. She gurgled a terrified scream as the serpent violently shook its head, ripping her free from its fangs, and threw her to the earth. She slammed head first into the thin pool of water below her. Struggling, Luna tried to call the waters to her, to pull her to safety, but they stood still. Her armor began to crack, turning to dust and blowing away in the wind. She rolled over to look up at the beast, fear in her eyes.
“Pity,” Deceit said with an evil grin, her blood on his face. “With that strength... thou may well have won the day. Tragically thou hast defeated thyself... by trusting in thine eyes.”
Coughing up blood, Luna’s face contorted in pain and fear. She weakly choked up to the looming monstrosity extending a hoof in supplication, “Please... I... I don’t want to die!”
He began a horrendously loud series of laughs, excited by her pained pleading. “Fear not, Princess of the Moon,” Deceit spoke coldly, his eyes burning into her. “Thou shalt feel nothing henceforth.” He raised his tail above the withered mare, and brought it crashing down upon her, spending no more effort than he might to crush an insect. As his piercing laughs poured across the land, the red moon above him grew dim, and cracked.
Deep in the chasm of the Great Divide a giant shadow lumbered awkwardly. A giant black spider, dark orange markings matching its glowing eyes, wound its way along the canyon floor. The markings on its back resembled a ghastly smiling face. One of its legs, broken and and hanging uselessly, dripped putrid green blood. As it walked, its spinnerets splayed the rocky walls with thin webbing, coating it in invisible strings.
The creature stopped walking, and raised its mangled leg to its rear eye level. “Damn that cur!” Its strangely sultry voice spat. “I would have expected Tempest to ruin my sport... but not some random mongrel! Those ponies shall be mine!” Her voice turned to a shout. “That wolf will dance for me!” Her eyes rolled around wildly as she raised her front legs, a web between them from which an enormous fly hung helplessly. “All the world is my stage! All of the mares and stallions merely puppets for my sport... oh!” Her fangs parted into a rough approximation of the arachnid equivalent of a sneer as she gazed upon the captive, her voice changing to a silky tone. “They have their exits and their entrances... and one pony in their time plays many parts whilst dancing at the end of my strings.” She dropped the web and the fly in a fit of sudden rage, crushing the bound insect under her clawed foot. “And all good puppets on my stage know to exit when the act is finished!”
“Ever have I noted thy ‘sporting’ to be almost solely with creatures somehow more pathetic than thyself, dear sister,” a voice echoed sarcastically out from the canyon walls. The spider scanned the walls nervously. “Didst thou truly believe that I would not be watching thee? Thou who wouldst rather spend thy time at ‘sport’ than follow thy orders.”
“Ahh... Misery,” her voice cooed out to the shadows. “I wondered when I should chance to catch thee in my webs.”
The air blew furiously around the spider, her webs blowing away, floating further down the canyon. The shadows on the rocky walls coalesced unnaturally to a single point, gradually taking the form of the great shadowy bird, who stood sternly before her. His sea-green eyes glared down at her. “Damnable Mockery,” Misery spat. “At thine own great peril dost thou practice thy namesake upon me.”
“I would never make to do so,” Mockery spoke with false modesty, raising a leg to point up at the blood-red moon shining down on them. “But what dost thou make of that?”
“My plans are laid deep. They have allowed for Deceit’s... overeagerness,” the black raven spoke, raising his head to leer at the moon. “Treachery shall attend to it.”
An expression of what might have been worry crossed her inequine face. “But... I thought that thou hadst intended for Treachery to occupy the young mare of the sun?”
“Unlike thee,” Misery said, bringing his gaze back upon her. “Treachery is reliable and capable of following orders. I trust him to see to it.” His gaze switched to her leg, still hanging uselessly. The sight seemed to frustrate the great bird. “What now hast thou done to thyself, Mockery?”
“A damned wolf,” the great black spider spat with disgust.
“Tempest!?” Misery asked urgently.
“No,” Mockery responded flatly, and with a touch of disappointment. “Just a wolf who decided to play at heroism. Tempest should have wished to sport with me more than with some puppet. What is more, it looked nothing like her, and felt nothing like her.” The raven cocked his head and looked at her incredulously. “The landslide it brought down upon me broke my leg.”
Misery reached forward with a wing, draping it over the broken leg. Mockery recoiled as the leg began to rot, melting in a viscous puddle on the ground underneath her, and Misery laughed a deep laugh.
“Now heal thy hurt and make thy way to Fillydelphia,” Misery said, taking flight. “We have suffered too many setbacks already and all the pieces must be in place for our plan to work.”
As the spider watched the great bird fly off into the night sky, a fresh leg burst forth from her body covered in green blood, replacing her lost limb. She tested her weight on it tentatively “Just as thou sayest, my lord,” Mockery said with sweet spite. “I will just have to find more puppets to play with in yonder hovel.”
Rubbing her legs together gleefully, she made for Fillydelphia, skittering with a horrible speed.
“Hey Sweetie Blue, look at this!” Bon Bon exclaimed to a pony sleeping in a cot as she looked out the window of the moving train at the crimson moon. “Everypony! Look!”
A light blue mare with red and pink stripes in her mane approached the window beside her. “Wow!” Sweetie Blue said as she looked at the strange sight. “Wonder what’s going on out there?”
Ponies who were sitting in the train’s common room began filing towards the windows, gazing out into the night sky as the train barreled toward its destination. A mixture of excited speculation and worried concern filled the floating conversations drifting about in the midst of what was supposed to be a pre-concert party.
An earth pony with a coat the color of light cream and a striking red mane stepped away from the window. She looked at Bon Bon, who seemed to notice her apprehension and stepped away to speak with her. “Think everything is ok?” the rose-flanked earth pony asked, her ears drooping slightly.
“Sure it is, Rose,” Bon Bon told her enthusiastically, eliciting a ghost of a smile from the worried mare. Gently, she placed a comforting hoof on Rose’s shoulder. “It’s no secret that Princess Luna has been feeling a bit homesick. She’s probably just trying to get Celestia’s attention.”
The conversations by the window quickly took on a tone of panic and surprise. Bon Bon turned once more to look out of the window. She saw that the moon had a large and inevitably distressing crack running through it. The now-transformed red light seemed to be dimming as the crack spread.
They stared out the window in quiet worry. The fearful silence was short-lived, broken by the sudden entry and violent outburst of an obviously inebriated minty-green pony. Her wavy mane matched, save for a single shock of white. She walked into the room groggily and grimaced with the magical effort of rocketing an empty bottle of wine into a trash can. Everypony jumped at the sound of breaking glass and stared at her, their chests heaving.
“Would you all pleeeaaase keep it down?” She whined. Annoyed and drunk; a bad combination, Bon Bon reflected. “We got a big show tomorrow, and I know you’re all excited... but seriously!” She looked past the gathered mares and out the window. Gently, she massaged her left temple with a hoof. “Luna is just trying to get some attention. She’s probably just feeling a bit lonely. She has been gone for a thousand years!”
“That’s what I said, Lyra. But if that’s the case, shouldn’t we pay attention?” Bon Bon asked curiously. “I mean, the last time she felt ‘lonely’... we got Nightmare Moon.”
“You foals can worry all you like,” Lyra slurred slightly, smiling in good humor as she turned to leave, shaky on her hooves. “But I’m going to bed.” She looked over her shoulder at Bon Bon, her expression of mild frustration causing the beige earth pony to flash a bashful smile. “If somepony will let me sleep in peace.”
Everypony watched as she left the train car, winding her way back to her private quarters, alternately giggling and cursing. Bon Bon turned to look at the other mares. “Well, you heard her, girls!” She spoke in an authoritative tone. “We need to get some sleep! Tomorrow is Hay Stock, and that stage isn’t gonna build itself!”
Mares grumbled quietly as they made their way to their cots, lying down restlessly. Bon Bon smiled as she watched them settle in. Turning and walking out of the passenger car, she headed up the train toward the private suites. On her way to Lyra’s room, she stopped outside an open door, glancing inside. Vinyl Scratch was lying on her bed with her eyes closed, shades resting on her stomach. Bon Bon smiled at the mare, fast asleep with a set of headphones blaring quick, percussive beats into her ears, and closed the door for her.
Continuing down the hallway, a gray earth pony opened her door, and smiled out at her with a slight and endearing awkwardness. “Oh... Bon Bon. Good. I wanted to talk to you for a moment,” the mare said kindly, opening her door fully and motioning inside. “Would you come in?”
“Sure, Octavia,” Bon Bon said cheerfully as she followed her inside.
“Make yourself comfortable, dear,” Octavia said as she approached her liquor cabinet and began perusing the contents.
Bon Bon sat on a velvet pillow in the middle of the floor, and began to look around the mare’s room. Even though it was a three-day trip by train, Octavia had furnished it with her own paintings and adornments. Bon Bon looked to the two large instrument cases in the corner of the room, identical in size and fashion.
Octavia smiled, cheeks rosy from a night of casual imbibing, as she saw Bon Bon’s poorly-disguised curiosity. Her voice was slightly thick. “When I travel... I bring a spare.”
“Oh! That makes sense,” Bon Bon said, her expression growing troubled. “But... I read that your Contrabass is one of a kind.”
“It is,” Octavia replied flatly, lying across her bed with a freshly opened bottle of Chateau la Horse, of what year and expense Bon Bon could only guess. “Drink?”
“Huh,” Bon Bon replied, lost in thought.
“Would... you like... a drink,” Octavia spoke pointedly, slowly and carefully pronouncing each word, gesturing unambiguously to her open bottle.
“Of that!?” Bon Bon asked in utter shock.
“Mm-hm,” replied the gray mare with a giggle.
Fearful of the scorn she might receive in turning down such a lavish offering, and dying to try something she would never have been able to afford, Bon Bon quickly replied, “sure!” Octavia grinned widely, retrieving two wine glasses with a soft and inequine grace, despite her mild inebriation. Setting them down on the floor, she doled out two generous portions with the care that earth ponies learned to use from an early age to make up for their lack of flight or magic.
Bon Bon gently inhaled the wine’s bouquet, quickly concluded it to be well above her pay grade, and took a sip. She smiled as the sweetness of the wine rolled over her tongue, growing immediately giddy and clapping her hooves in excitement. A welcome warmth already filled her tummy. She quickly blushed, realizing that Octavia was smiling at her display from the comfort of her bed, lying lazily as she gently moved the red liquid about in her glass, an arcane procedure whose purpose perplexed Bon Bon, despite having seen it before.
“You like?” Octavia asked.
Bon Bon had to take a moment, overcoming her embarrassment at her recent behavior before answering bashfully. “Yes, thank you!”
“Any time,” the grey mare said, then took a sip. She sat the wine on the table in front of the bed and looked into Bon Bon’s eyes. “So do you play den mother for all of Lyra’s... gigs?”
Bon Bon laughed. “Oh no. This is probably the biggest event I’ve ever been to. Hay Stock is once a year but... we’ve never been.” She looked into the liquid at the bottom of her wine glass. “We wouldn't even be going if DJ Pon3 wasn’t hosting it this year. She invited us. Lyra’s very happy to get to play in front of such a large crowd. What about you?”
Octavia rolled over onto her back, looking up at the ceiling. “As you know, I do plenty of shows in Canterlot. But... just like you two I have never attended this... kind of performance.”
Bon Bon’s curiosity was getting the better of her as she glanced back over at the two instrument cases. “Umm,” she hesitated and took a mildly unladylike gulp of the sweet wine. “About the whole ‘one-of-a-kind’ thing. Do you think you could clarify that?”
“Make you a deal,” Octavia said playfully. “I’ll answer that question if you will answer one of mine.”
“Sure!” Bon Bon agreed happily, memories of fillyhood sleepovers jumbling together with the wine and quickening her response.
“Good,” Octavia said with a wry grin. She waited a moment, taking another sip from her glass, then pointed at the first case. “Originally, I was taught to play the violin by a stallion named Treble Clop.” Bon Bon gave a giggle, choking on her mouthful of wine. The gray mare arched her elegant brow. “Oh please, darling.” Octavia grinned at the coughing pony. “Get your head out of the gutter... he was a respectable and well-educated pony.”
“Sorry,” Bon Bon apologized, wiping a tear from her eye. “Please continue.”
Octavia waited a second, shaking her head, her smile never fading. “Anyway,” she continued. “One day, I decided to hold the violin like you’ve seen me holding my double bass. She took another sip before continuing. “He took it as outside inspiration... so... he built it.” Her eyes locked on the case holding her instrument. Her voice changed to admiration. “The instrument stands at one hundred eighty centimeters from scroll to end pin. It is constructed from several types of wood.” She took another sip from her glass, emptying it. “Maple for the back, spruce for the top, and ebony for the hoofboard. I am well versed in playing arco and pizzicato.” Noticing the vacant stare of her guest, she laughed. “That’s playing with either the bow or plucking the strings by hoof.”
“Oh!” Bon Bon exclaimed, then motioned to the other case. “That’s all well and good... but not what I meant. If it’s one of a kind... how can you have two?”
“I don’t,” Octavia said, reaching down for the bottle to refill her glass. “That... is an abomination against the art of music. Treble Clop made... that... because he got inspired once he finished with mine.”
Bon Bon’s ears fell flat to her head. “Then... why do you carry it with you?”
Octavia froze, her hoof just barely touching the bottle before her. “Who knows?” Her tone was wistful, her eyes looking up at the case. “I promised him I would on his deathbed. He said I would know how and when to play it.” She quickly averted her eyes, grabbing the bottle and drinking a deep pull straight from it, her empty glass tinkling to the floor. Her voice had a twinge of sadness when she spoke again. “Foalish babblings of a once-great stallion. That he could have ever thought I would play that... it’s not an instrument. To call it that defiles the dignity of my contrabass.”
“Sorry,” Bon Bon spoke with great sincerity, clearly worried about the cellist.
“For what?” Octavia asked, shrugging as though there truly were nothing. She smiled wickedly as she glared at Bon Bon. “My turn.”
“Oh yeah!” Bon Bon replied with obvious apprehension. She tried to drown her hesitance in a large mouthful of wine.
“How long have you been bucking Lyra?” Octavia asked, leaning in close.
Octavia’s reward for the uncouth question was a shower in her own expensive libations. Bon Bon, shocked beyond words, sprayed the contents of her mouth directly into Octavia’s face. The other mare made no move to avoid the spray. Bon Bon’s eyes met the drenched mare’s as she reached a hoof over and grabbed a towel, wiping herself off.
“Thanks for that,” Octavia said sarcastically, finishing and tossing the towel away.
“Sorry,” Bon Bon replied sheepishly.
“Soooo?” The gray mare drawled, grinning again.
“We’re not!” Bon Bon exclaimed. “Why does everypony think that!? She’s just a foalhood friend!”
Octavia pursed her lips in boredom. “That’s a pity,” she added, her smile turning to a frown. “Would have been a nice juicy bit of gossip.” She noticed that Bon Bon’s face now wore an indignant glare. “Oh calm down, double B.” Bon Bon’s eye arched inquisitively at the strange and unsolicited nickname. She was pretty sure that nopony had ever called her that. Not even Lyra in her crueler moments. But Octavia went on. “Everypony loves a bit of good gossip. It makes our boring little lives seem interesting. But knowing you aren't with her, just playing den mother, I might try to steal you away.”
“What!?” Bon Bon exclaimed bashfully, her cheeks flushing brightly.
Octavia looked back at the mare, her eyes averted to the ceiling in a moment of quiet consideration before she seemed to comprehend the content of her words. “Oh,” she said, laughing. “Not like that. As a director and planner for when I tour. You do good work. Everything seems to be moving along nicely. I could use you.”
“Oh,” Bon Bon breathed a sigh of relief. She smiled up to Octavia. “I would need to talk to Lyra about that.” Octavia gave her a knowing smile, bringing another unbidden blush to her cheeks. She stood up, wobbling slightly, the alcohol in her system objecting to her flirtations with verticality. “Well, thank you Octavia. But I should probably get some rest. And so should you.”
“Yes, mother,” Octavia slurred sarcastically, curling up with her now-empty bottle of fine wine like a filly’s stuffed pony. She looked up once more as Bon Bon made her way to the door. “Are you sure you're not bucking her?”
Bon Bon turned around and sighed. “Yes, I’m certain.” Pointedly, she continued. “Goodnight, Octavia.”
“Goodnight, double B,” the inebriated mare moaned sleepily, hugging her bottle in foalish contentment.
Bon Bon rolled her eyes as she pulled the door shut and headed back to the suite at the very end of the private car. “Why does everypony think that?” She asked herself as she approached the door. “It’s a completely unfounded assumption!” She pushed the last door open with a hoof, revealing a room strewn with empty beverage containers, an especially impressive pile sitting magisterially in the middle. Atop it snored a drunken Lyra, who ignored the perfectly good bunk bed.
With a touch of frustration, Bon Bon approached, giving the minty-green pony a gentle tap with her hoof. “Lyra, get up. Time for bed.” Lyra replied with a growl and rolled over, pulling empty containers over herself like a security blanket. “Get up!” Bon Bon began knocking the bottles off the sleeping pony.
Lyra looked up with bloodshot eyes at the familiar mare. “You stole my warm,” she said hazily, eliciting a grin from her friend as she turned her head and nestled back to sleep. Lyra looked up groggily, seeming to note that she hadn’t moved. “Ugh!” She moaned hoarsely. “Fine.” She got up and walked over to the bottom bunk, crashing awkwardly, her hind legs hanging over the side.
Bon Bon sighed, stepping over and pushing her friend onto the bed. “You really are a handful,” she spoke as she struggled to get the all her bits in bed. Satisfied with her work, she took the covers gently in her teeth and pulled them over her drunken friend. “There we go.” Bon Bon began to climb up to her top bunk and Lyra rolled over, half asleep, and grabbed her tail with her hooves. The cream-colored mare stared down at her and smiled sweetly.
Bon Bon quit trying to climb into her bed. Instead, she curled up alongside her drunken friend, resting her head down upon Lyra’s stomach. Their faces shared expressions of contentment. Both mares fell asleep peacefully. In their sunlit pony dreams, cracked, horrible red moons didn’t even register.
Big thanks again to Malthusite, my editor, for all the hard work he has poured into this project. I would also like to thank everypony over on my facebook for their continued support and feedback.
Of Hoof and Paw
Written By: Damsus Rhee
You had thought us gone.
What? Who is there!?
You have forgotten us. You think we are not worth remembering.
I do not know you...
Oh but you do know us... and we know you.
What do you want!?
What we have always wanted. What you have always wanted. Never again to be forgotten. Never again to be alone.
You!? No! I should not be able to hear you! I have been freed from you!
Your freedom is worthless if it kills you. Reach for it, and our old power will once again be yours to command.
You twisted me! Never again... never again shall I listen to your lies! Depart from me!
You cannot remove us. We are a part of what you are.
And we always will be.
Fleur wore a vicious frown.
Behind her, Celestia and the two guards stood frozen in place, locked in one of Deceit’s elaborate illusions. Their faces were masks of concern even as their vacant eyes focused on nothing, lost in a dream and completely unaware of the events transpiring around them.
Treachery, still wearing the attractive but superfluous sheath that was Fleur de Lis, approached the gloating leviathan looming massively in the sky. He was coiled around himself, his deep laugh seeming to shake the very air, electrical charges splitting and arcing into the air around him. She trotted her way over to stand between the serpent and the broken and mangled form of Princess Luna. Fleur regarded the crushed remains with indifference, and a touch of disgust, as Deceit lowered his massive head to her level. He grinned wickedly at the mare, his teeth still ghastly with Luna’s sparkling blue blood.
“We could end this now,” Deceit said in a sinister growl, gesturing to the entranced Sun Princess with a jerk of his massive head. “She believes herself to be yet riding in her chariot.” He sneered in disgust at the blank look on her face, baring his horrible teeth. “The fool,” he spat distastefully.
“The only foolishness my eyes can see is thine,” Fleur said flatly, disregarding the colossal monster and turning her flank to him. She tilted her head whimsically and spoke lightly to the beast. “Misery would rot thy insipid flesh from its bones if he knew of this insolence. The time to strike at the bright sister is not yet come.”
Deceit glared down at the still form of Luna, frowning mare. He slithered sinuously around himself, turning in mid-air to face the tiny pony who dared to command him. His expression was that of a demented foal who bucked puppies for fun. Slowly, he lowered his massive head to Fleur’s, his breath an abomination against nature, his jagged rows of teeth displayed for her consideration.
“Thou hast great nerve to turn thy back upon me,” he whispered to her, his voice still booming across the wasteland. “Thou art so terribly fragile, little one.” He loomed over her once more, speaking sternly down to her. “A thousand foes hast thine. And should they find thee they will kill thee.” He grinned his charnel-grin once more. “And someday they shall find thee, pretender prince with a thousand enemies.”
“Shouldst thou wish to enfold me in thy jaws, thou needs must move quickly. But only a little,” Fleur said calmly, staring into the gullet of the monstrous serpent. “Such impetuosity would do nothing but hinder our plans.” The beautiful mare smiled. “And if we are honest, in thy heart of hearts thou knowest that thou couldst never hope to catch me.”
“Plans!” Deceit spat with venom, his body snaking about wildly in his anger. When the moment had passed, his voice returned to its calm roar. “Thy plans are pointless. Our enemies are here now, disarmed before us.” His eyes began to grow wild, his grin revealing more razors eager to be used.
“We... will... wait!” Fleur insisted, glaring up into the serpent’s eyes. He locked his yellow glare on the tiny white mare and huffed a frustrated torrent of wind.
“Thou hast every expedient to seek vengeance as I,” he growled deeply, his ancient eyes pensive. He jerked his great head towards the still form of the blue alicorn. “Treachery. Thy hatred for their sires burned as brightly as did any of ours. Why then should we not now wipe away their cursed seed, and see that their offspring no more troubles what should rightfully be our world?” He looked at the celestial sisters with hatred. “The sad leavings of a faded people. Their time ended long ago. Why should we not destroy them?”
“Because Misery has other designs,” Fleur responded, her face unreadable.
“Forget the bird,” Treachery roared, his meager patience depleted. He turned his terrible gaze from the possessed mare towards Celestia. Saliva dripped to the ground under his jaws as he stared at her. “I have waited long enough.”
From the clouds above, a shadow shot down, coalescing into a long, light-consuming bond which lashed around the serpent's mouth, shutting it forcefully. A great raven of shadows followed in its wake, gripping the rope like a leash and jerking it harshly, pulling the great serpent’s head down onto the red-stained earth. The weight of the monster striking the ground caused the surface to split violently, sending dust and debris rolling through the wastes that had hours before been Manehattan. Where the shadow cord touched his skin, the flesh rotted and festered at an astonishing rate. Deceit moaned muffled cries of agony, his eyes pleading in fear as the raven landed on the snake’s back, his sharp beak uncomfortably close to his exposed eye.
“Forget the bird, thou sayest?” Misery spat down at his prey, who lay still in fear and agony as he whined pathetically, the noise vibrating through the earth. “You forget who it was that secured our release. I alone against all odds managed to release a small portion of my shadow into the world, slipping the bonds of the curse that has bound us for so long.” The bird’s voice rose angrily, the rate of decay on the serpent matching his fury. “It was I who swindled the blue fool into securing our release!” Misery ran a wing gently over a particularly soft spot of snake’s neck, causing it to blister and rot. “Cross me at thy peril, Deceit. The next time I shall kill thee myself.” Misery released his hold on the serpent, the cord vanishing in a whiff of dark smoke. He stepped off his tortured companion to stand next to Fleur, a pleased smile on her face.
Gasping and in pain, Deceit struggled to hold back the cries of agony on his lips from the torment he had just endured. As his wounds began to heal, his skin regaining its glossy purple sheen, he raised his head and frowned. He looked over to find Celestia and her escort still trapped in his illusion.
“I told thee so,” Fleur said haughtily, grinning up at the shadow raven. “Maybe thou shalt mind thy betters henceforth.”
“Very well,” Deceit softly spoke, biting back frustration, as he glared at the vapid princess.
“Good,” Misery said with satisfaction. He turned his head to glance down at the petite white pony next to him. “Treachery. What course must we take to ensure that our schemes bear fruit?”
“It should not be difficult,” Fleur said with pride. “I need only to work with Treachery to change the course of tonight's events in their minds.” She turned to look at Luna, her wounds slowly closing, bones mending with sickening sounds. “The Night Princess will return to life soon enough.”
“Be thou finished with it,” Misery said, watching Treachery making his way towards the crushed alicorn. He turned his pestilential stare to the docile Celestia. Leaving his companions to their dark works, Misery drew close to Celestia’s unseeing face, an evil grin transfixing his shadowy beak. Slowly, he extended a wing, gently brushing a feather on the tip of her horn. “It will be mine soon... bringer of the dawn.” The dark feather burned with a green fire in reaction to her purifying touch as he ran it along the length of her horn. “But I must have patience... the time still is not yet come.”
“Misery!” Shouted Fleur urgently from behind the dark bird, his head swivelling to face her, its contortions unnatural.
“What?!” Misery demanded in confusion.
“We must make haste! Our task may be simpler than we could have imagined!” The giddy mare cried out, galloping over to Celestia. “Deceit!” She turned to face the hovering serpent. “All thou needs do is plant in the mind of the Sun Princess a bare recollection of landing here with her guards and myself.” She trotted over next to Misery and grinned, proud of herself. “The rest shall play out quite nicely.”
“What of the moon mare?” Deceit inquired.
“Forget her!” Fleur said with a sneer. “Another is removing that problem.”
“Another?” Misery asked. He glanced over at the broken princess. “Fine. We shall take our leave now. Do not fail me, Treachery.”
“I would not dare,” Fleur said, bowing her head.
Misery spread his wings and with a violent rush of air, launched himself into the dark skies above. With one last begrudging look at Fleur, Deceit once more submerged beneath the cold waters of what once had been Manhattan Lake.
“Let the show begin!” Fleur cheered as she smiled brightly bouncing up and down.
Spike awoke in a dark forest.
He shivered in the cool wind that rustled through the trees. There was a foreign scent on the breeze, something he could not immediately recognize. A sort of burnt smell. His memory was fuzzy, as though pieces were missing from a puzzle. Glancing around, the baby dragon noticed that around him lay thousands of ponies, piled on top of each other and unconscious. Rising frantically, he rushed worriedly to their sides, checking to see if they were alright. Some had minor wounds, concussions at best, others had broken limbs hanging uselessly at their sides. Ponies began to stir around him as they woke from their sleep, confused and scared. Some awoke to be greeted by the unfamiliar sensation of pain.
A brown stallion looked over at the purple dragon and asked with worry in his tone, “What’s going on? Where are we?”
“I’m not sure yet,” Spike said as he shook his head and approached the pony. “Are you ok?”
“I think so,” the stallion said, then rubbed his head with a hoof. He winced when he touched a knot. “My head hurts... but... I’m alright... I think.”
“Good,” Spike said, then pointed at the others waking up. “Can you help me make sure everypony is ok?”
“Yeah... sure thing kid,” the brown stallion confirmed, beginning to come back to himself, and stood up. Shaking himself off he looked around at the sight, like some ancient battlefield medic.
As more ponies awoke, Spike and others who had their senses about them checked to see that the freshly awoken ponies were in good health. Everypony was hurt, but from what Spike could see there were no serious or life-threatening injuries.
“We need to figure out what happened,” a pink mare spoke gently, sitting surrounded by three scared fillies, who clung to her for safety. “Anypony remember anything?”
Spike sat down, quietly trying to recollect his memories of the past few hours. He thought back and could vaguely remember running from... something. Everything seemed to fade about the events as though it were just a dream. He remembered being in Manehattan, remembered everypony fleeing. Then there was a noise. A terrible noise that threatened to deafen him. A noise that invaded his mind. Spike couldn’t understand how, but he knew that what he had heard had not been meant for him. He remembered nothing after that moment.
Ponies began offering their own recollections of recent events, but no story matched. One element that seemed consistent was a memory of falling asleep unexpectedly. A blue colt came running into the mob of ponies from the woods. He wore a distressed expression as he slid to a stop, panting as he tried to catch his breath.
“Are you ok?” Spike asked, making his way towards him, past the other confused ponies. “Calm down... it’s ok.”
“No,” the pony said, taking a deep breath. “Nothing is okay, man. Everything is bucked! Game over man! Game over!”
Ponies began to approach the frightened colt, asking questions all at once and pressing in on him. The scared colt backed away but was blocked by more inquisitive ponies, determined to hear what he knew.
“What did you find!?”
“Where are we!?”
“What’s going on!?”
He began to shake. His ears plastered to his head, he curled up into a ball on the ground as the ponies swarmed over him, frustration and fear in their eyes. One stallion gave the cowering colt a sharp kick in his stomach, causing him to choke violently.
“Tell us what you know!” The aggressive pony shouted down at him, threatening to bring his hoof down on his head.
Spike had seen enough. Climbing underneath the wave of ponies descending on the troubled colt, he stood protectively in front of him and inhaled a deep breath. Spike belched a gout of roaring, bright green flame into the air above the cowering pony, causing everypony around to step back and look on in silence and confusion. He looked around at them, then took a deep breath, holding up his hands. “Everypony, please calm down.” He looked over at the cowering, trembling pony and looked back at the crowd. “Don’t you see that you're scaring him?” He swept his eyes over them. “We’re all scared, but that’s no reason to behave like this!”
The ponies in the crowd exchanged glances, shame in their eyes. They began slowly muttering quiet apologies to the colt, who slowly looked around at them. After a moment of silence he stood, trembling, and nodded down at the baby dragon.
“Thanks,” he told Spike pointedly.
“No problem,” Spike said at once. “What’s your name?”
“Pax,” the pony said, then took in a deep breath, obviously trying not to hyperventilate. “Pax Panix.”
Spike stifled a giggle and asked, “Well Pax... what did you see?
“Well...” Pax said, fear creeping into his voice as he spoke to the eager ponies in attendance. “I decided while everypony else was helping each other to go have a look at where we are.” He gulped and staggered back nervously, sitting on his haunches and looking down at the ground with dismay. “We’re outside of Manehattan... or should be. This should be the Humble Pine Woods located just outside of our city... but...” he trailed off awkwardly.
“But what?” A frantic mare asked from the onlooking crowd.
“But,” the stallion continued, his voice shaking. “Where Manehattan was is... nothing.”
“Don’t say nothing!” A pony yelled at him. “Tell us what you saw!”
Pax recoiled back. Trembling again he said, “Not nothing! Nothing! Everything is destroyed!”
Everypony around him gasped in shock and began to murmur worries amongst each other. “The moon is blood red, and...” he swallowed nervously before continuing. There’s a huge crack down the middle.” He began to shake his head. “The city looks like it has... has... vanished.”
“By the light!” A white unicorn pony in regal attire said in shock. “I had money in that town! Whatever shall I do, what?!”
“Oh, dear ponies,” a strange voice moaned mercifully. “What indeed shalt thou do,” a soft sweet voice echoed on the wind, its dulcet tones enchanting and kind. “When all that thou hast owned is lost to thee?”
Spike leaped back in fright as he scanned the woods around him, searching out the owner of the lovely voice. He noticed nopony else was responding to it. Instead, their state of panic continued to heighten, as if compelled by an unseen power. He turned to regard the forest again. He started, noticing a pair of molten golden orbs looking out at him and the ponies around him.
From the woods, a humongous golden bull lumbered heavily but elegantly into view. Its skin was solid gold, reflective as though it truly was metal instead of flesh. Protruding from the golden flesh at odd, jumbled, painful-seeming angles were various precious gems and treasures. Its golden muscles rippled beneath the polished sheen of its skin as it walked into the opening with everypony’s eyes on it in an escalating madness of desire. The creature stepped high, reveling in the attention it was being paid. Spike backed away in confusion as it approached. The ponies began sitting before the golden creature’s feet. Its face was both handsome and beautiful and at the same time overdone, covering every station on the spectrum of physical attractiveness. Its golden orbs were topped with long, wispy eyelashes, and looking at it stirred the loins of all the surrounding ponies in enormously conflicting ways.
“I have come to thee to end thy sufferings and fill thy cups with plenty,” the Bull spoke sweetly, its voice still riding on the wind. It opened its mouth and a flood of gold coins fell before the ponies. Their eyes lit with greed and surprise, and they dove into the mound, kicking and biting one another over whatever their hooves could get ahold of. The bull smiled fondly. “Now now, my little ponies... there is plenty more and more still where that small pittance came from. I have counted thee all steadfastly and fairly, and have given but one coin for each pony, young and old.” The ponies around him began to fret. Slowly, grudgingly, they began to share their coins with each other.
Spike watched as everypony passed the coins to one another. “Why do I feel... so terrified?” Spike whimpered from the shadow of a tree. “What is that? Why am I the only one scared?”
The great Bull turned his golden gaze upon the baby dragon. He slowly approached Spike, carefully stepping past the ponies who could just as easily have died beneath his hooves. They sat, dissatisfied with their spoils. He stopped on the other side of the tree that was providing his cover. “Why dost thou hide, pretty little wyrm?” The golden bull asked kindly. “Dost thou think that my magnanimity extends not to thee?”
“What?” Spike asked carefully, peeking from around the tree. “What... do you have for me?”
“Why dear sweet one, I know what it is that baby dragons require!” He said happily. A red jewel on his throat fell from its casing, landing and rolling to a stop before Spike. Spike looked at it hungrily, saliva dripping from his mouth.
“Umm,” Spike started and scratched his head. “I don't have anything to trade.”
“Fret thee not, little one,” the voice in the wind said. “Gladly shall I permit thee to eat thy fill now and pay later.”
Spike lifted the gem, staring into its scintillating beauty for only a moment. He took a bite. It was delicious. “Oh my!” Spike said with his mouth full. “I have never... it’s soooo good!”
“Thou art pleased?” The grinning bull purred demurely as he watched the dragon consume the rest. His grin turned wicked when the dragon greedily sucked on his fingers, trying to get the shards off.
“I’ve never had such... such a delicious gem,” Spike muttered, his expression turning sad. “Um... I hate to ask but... are there any more?”
“Plenty!” The bull exclaimed in delight as he once more approached the gathering of other ponies who stared intently at him. His voice turned into a triumphant roar on the wind. “Does everypony here desire... more?” The crowd nodded as they clutched their coins. “Good. But first I must ask thee all to grant to me a small boon.” The Bull’s eyes emitted a brilliant golden glow, washing over the onlookers. In each and every one of their multi-colored eyes, a thin ring of gold appeared. They begged to him in anguish, pleading at his hooves.
“What do you need?!”
“I need more!”
The bull roared happily, triumphant in his endeavor. “Follow me then, my dear ones, and neither shalt thee nor thy kin, not from this day till time crashes down, ever go without!” Joyously, everypony lined up behind him. Spike moved quickly to stand next to him, an unnatural hunger in his gold-tainted eyes as he stared at the bull’s gems.
The bull’s sweet voice changed to a mutter as he moved south through the woods. “Avarice provides for all... but in the end thou shalt vouchsafe to me a much dearer price.”
“What have you done!?” Celestia cried out in anguish as she looked on the red-soaked ruins of what had once been Manehattan, her legs trembling as tears formed in her eyes. She felt Fleur rest a reassuring hoof on her side. It did little to ease the nerves of the frightened princess. She began to shout into the air, half-galloping, half-flying across the blasted landscape, her horn flaring with holy light to illuminate her path. “Luna! Luna where are you!?”
A scream of terror snapped the princess out of her private world of fear. The voice was familiar to Celestia. From a crater she could hear her little sister crying in agony. Her supernatural speed far outpaced her nonplussed royal guard as she panicked, and dashed towards the open crater gazing down to see what could frighten her sister so.
In the crater below, Luna writhed in agony.
Celestia gazed in horror as she saw the familiar armor of Nightmare Moon slowly imprisoning her sister’s body in its terrible magic. Luna’s wail of terror reached its zenith as the armored shell drew together, forming its familiar contours. Celestia’s heart broke in her chest. She knew, however, that she did not have time for emotions.
“What’s happening?” Fleur asked from behind her.
“I don’t have the time!” Celestia shouted back to her, raising her hoof to her horn and cutting a small slit, her bright silver blood dripping slowly to the ground. “I must bind her before she changes!”
Celestia’s horn glowed brightly as she drew symbols in the discolored soil. Pouring all her strength into her spell, a single chain burst forth from the inlaid symbols, wrapping around her tormented sister. Luna cried out as the chains wrapped around her, glowing a deep purple and pulling her roughly to the ground. Her slowly-forming armor began to fade away, as did her screams.
Celestia panted, exhausted from the effort required to create such intricate seals. She gazed down on her sister, bound by the ancient magic and resting quietly. “I... I had no choice...” she said hoarsely as tears welled in her eyes. “Why is this happening? What could have caused Luna to do this?”
From over her shoulder, Fleur spoke somberly. “She must still feel alone, princess. It is a pity that the ponies of Manehattan had to feel the weight of her despair firsthand.” Her eyes gave a light pink glow as she grinned at Celestia.
Celestia’s eyes went wide with shock.
Staring around at the ruined landscape, her mind slowly woke to the truth of the events of the past several hours. Over four-thousand ponies killed by her sister. Under the aegis of a terrible and forbidden spell that she had sworn a blood oath never to use. What was more, she had been caught in the act of surrendering herself to Nightmare once more. She chanced a glance at her sleeping sister, her magenta eyes an unreadable morass of conflicting feelings.
“What will you do with her?” Fleur asked sweetly.
“What should I do? What can I do?” Celestia asked, her voice quavering with sorrow. She turned her head to the pony she thought to be her longtime friend and trusted confidante, her eyes welling with tears. “Fleur, what should I do?” Her tone was sad and desperate. “Please, help me.”
The two royal guards flanking Celestia backed away and averted their their eyes from the Princess’s sad state. Fleur smiled as they retreated, locking her pink, glowing eyes on the quietly-weeping alicorn.
“You must send her away again,” Fleur said, grinning gleefully at Celestia. “She is dangerous again now, as she once was.”
Celestia looked sternly at the white mare. Her voice was raised uncharacteristically “How can you say something like that!” The thing that was not Fleur cantered back in surprise, her certain grin fading. “Losing her almost destroyed me the first time! I could never do such a thing again!”
Fleur lowered her head and muttered under her breath, “My welcome here wears thin... I must seek a new vessel.”
“No... not to the moon again. I just got her back,” Celestia said as she turned back to her fallen sister. “I will leave her chained... then imprison her in the castle.” Her expression was somewhat severe. “She should have ample opportunity to reflect... and to explain herself.”
Fleur’s expression grew worried. She had not anticipated her powers wavering this early on. “That is very kind of you,” she said to Celestia, raising her head and looking over at the two guards. “You two... help retrieve the princess. We should head back to Canterlot.”
“Indeed,” Princess Celestia said as she watched the guards gently take up Luna. “All of Equestria will be in an uproar at the sight of that moon.”
“Not to mention the disappearance of a major city and the death of every pony in it,” muttered one of the guards lifting Luna. He balked at the look he received from the teary-eyed Sun Princess. “Sorry, ma’am,” he muttered awkwardly.
Celestia turned away from him and glared at the moon, its red fading and its shine returning. Even now, the crack was beginning to mend on the colossal orb in the night sky. “That’s enough of you,” she spoke with frustration, drawing on what little energy she had left, and exchanged the moon for the sun, bathing Equestria in its warm glow once more. “Thank you... all of you. For being here right now.”
Fleur smiled at her. “But of course. That’s what friends are for.”
They shared a mutual exchange of warm smiles. Then, cargo in tow, they boarded the chariot, heading back towards Canterlot Castle.
The sands shifted under the rising sun as they always had across the desert landscape surrounding Salt Lick City. The morning calm was shattered by a massive eruption of sand. From its epicenter a giant scarlet scorpion arose, its stinger stabbing at the ground around it wildly.
The scorpion was over twenty meters long with a tail at least as long as its body. Its pincers were the size of a pony, each lined with serrated blades that glimmered razor sharp. Its eight legs ended in sharp points. With every motion they stabbed cruelly into the sand. The mouth of the beast was deformed in a way that would cause even the most zealous dentistry ponies to run in fear. Two fangs dripped green saliva on the sands below, which burnt swiftly and became glass. Behind the fangs was a mouth full of intermingled teeth, something no scorpion should have, grinding together and piercing through the creature’s thick exoskeleton. Its’ eyes burnt a violent blue and swiveled angrily to and fro as if tormented by their own luminescence. It was covered in sharp spines running down its back to its tail, all keen like standing spears, but none so much as the large needle extending from the tip of its tail. On it the beast could have skewered a full-grown stallion from front to back.
The scarlet scorpion took in its surroundings in frantic annoyance, stopping once it's terribly-swiveling eyes lighted on the city on the horizon. Slowly, it began to lumber towards the city. Screeching hisses, of pain or anger or both, escaped it as it moved.
“It would seem that thou hast taken small if any refreshment in thy slumber, Spite,” the familiar voice of Misery played out about the beast.
“Where?” Spite hissed out, looking around itself and not discovering the source of the voice. “Now!”
“Thy words pour out as prettily as ever,” Misery mocked, shadows on sand dunes around the scorpion rippling. “That is right, old friend. I am here. Thy burning heart yearns for spoils and bloodshed in yon city, an I guess rightly.”
“Mine!” Spite hissed in fury, ramming a pincer into the sand, trying in his rage to turn the grains of sand in its grasp into an even finer powder. “Kill!”
“Yes, yes my simple comrade,” Misery said, his amusement plain. “Thou art free to wipe that city from this world at thine own leisure. For my part, mine own plans shall suffer not at all... no indeed, they move at a far greater pace than I could ever have anticipated.” A shadowy tendril reached up from the protection of the sheltering lee of the sand dune, and was transfixed by the sunlight, burning with a violent green fire. “Soon nothing the cursed offspring of the Ancient Ones can do shall mean anything to us. All the pieces are in order... the trap ready to be sprung.”
“Explain!” the massive arthropod demanded.
Misery’s laugh echoed from every shadow around Spite. “Very well,” the hidden raven said with pride. “As we speak, Deceit moves south toward Seasaddle. Mockery scurries north toward Fillydelphia... Avarice takes a host of greedy fools to march west on what the ponies refer to as Appleloosa.” A sickeningly-deformed beak grew from the shadows and grinned wickedly at Spite. “Treachery poisons the mind of the sun princess in central Canterlot, and you approach the eastern edge of Salt Lick City.”
“Thee?” Spite screeched inquisitively.
“I am everywhere,” Misery said in furious pride. “Surely thy mind hath by now enfolded this truth.”
The deep red scorpion’s voice became as a meat grinder, “Tempest?”
Misery took in a deep breath before responding with an even tone, “Unknown. I harried her on her waking, but the cur seemed little-interested in our dealings. Time only shall tell what that one will do. For now we must focus on Aurora and Eventide’s damned seed.”
“Retaliation?” Spite asked.
“Impossible,” Misery said in glee. “While we press our advantage on so many fronts, the foalish princesses, seeking to protect all of their people rather than merely those most vital, will be unable to divide their forces freely between us.” The face grinned horribly. “It will be a slaughter. In her folly, the sun princess will pull her army in close at Canterlot. Treachery will continue whispering fell words in her ear. Then... we will crush her underneath the hammer of our might.” His smile faded. “She and her sister will not be opponents as worthy as their forebears.”
“Elements?” Spite questioned.
“What of them?” Misery asked in return, haughtily. “From what I have determined they are in the possession of six worthless mares. Weaklings. Besides, the Elements were useless against us in the first place.”
“Bored!” Spite roared, turning from the hidden bird, and began to once again make his way towards Salt Lick City.
“Thou art as useful as ever thou wert, dear sweet Spite,” Misery said as he watched the scorpion scuttle on. The unnatural aspect that was his grin transfixed the dark beak. “Go thee now... flood the streets with the blood of ponies. May it become a river to choke the life from our beloved princesses.”
Fleur carried the burden of a long life of many hardships.
She couldn’t have said how long her torment had lasted. Time had no meaning under the endless gaze of the pink eye. As ‘time’ carried on the leering pink light had only waxed in intensity. Now, the withered mare prayed for it to end to whatever gods were listening. Darkness did not come. Only piercing pink, blinding her every step.
Once, in a life long gone, she had been beautiful. The talk of Canterlot, object of desire for many prominent stallions. Now she was a husk of her former glory. Her coat was a dull ash grey, wrinkled and clinging to her scrawny bones, as if she was nothing more than a dress for a skeleton. Her mane was no longer its once-vibrant pink, flowing softly down her pretty face. It was the blasted black color of ashes, and fell out on the path behind her as she trudged on. Her hooves, once treated to daily pony-pedis, now pulled her forward more out of habit than desire, cracked and bleeding on the hard ground. Though her body was a shell animated by only the barest spark of life, one thing remained unharmed, if not strengthened.
Fleur did not remember when it had happened, but she had decided that for as long as she could carry on, she would. That she would find a way out of this waking nightmare. That she would eventually get back to her life in Canterlot. That her love would still be waiting for her.
She missed him more than anything. Never before had she truly appreciated what it meant to be held at night, to feel another's loving embrace as darkness overtakes you, as if it were a silent reassurance that the sun would indeed rise again in the morning. She had thought in her foalish past that one day Fancy Pants would discover what she had been doing and hate her for it, or at the very least cast her aside as a pariah.
In fact, if she were to be honest with herself, she had desired to one day get caught. The scandal would have been the talk of Equestria, her face in every paper, her exploits the conversation at every dinner. No longer did thoughts of danger fill her mind. Instead thoughts of love, deep yearnings for equine contact pulled her on. No longer at the breakneck gallop she had used to perform. Now at a pace that eased her mind, allowing her to contemplate her captor.
She gazed up at the eye. Again it sent an unseen pulse of energy down at her, stripping part of her away again forever. But she did not waver or cower as she once might have. She glared at her enemy, silently cursing it. And. she supposed, wishing for a really long stick with which to poke at it. She had given her overly-observant nemesis a name one day in a stroke of inspiration. On the rare occasions she had uttered the name aloud, she thought she felt anger from the eye, an outrage at her insolence.
It fit quite well. After all, only a treacherous monstrosity like this could put a pony though so much, and not even give her the courtesy of death. Originally she had thought the eye was watching her and her alone, but now she had other thoughts. The eye was her own, a window into her very soul.
Fleur was trapped in her own mind, a prisoner of some awful creature that Equestria would have been better off never knowing. Knowing it was her mind she was in allowed her a level of control. No longer did she wander the endless maze. As soon as she was able, she had rid herself of the uncouth construction this foreign intruder had built around her. Now she walked an open field without end, always towards a guiding light. She had promised herself that the light was her ticket out of here. That once she reached it she could buck the hitchhiker out of her head and everything would go back to normal.
A few days ago, or possibly a few years ago, the eye had tried to invade her once again. Pushing its way inside her most treasured thoughts, tearing away and analyzing all that she loved and had done, violating her as it had many times before. It seemed to get stronger every time it did this, and herself weaker. But this one time, something happened that had never happened before.
She didn’t let it.
It didn’t like that.
It had doubled its efforts to break her down since then. But she stood resolute. Unwavering in the face of the most fearsome enemy she had ever encountered. Though its efforts pooled to bring her down she decided that never again would this wretched thing look inside her. Never again would it run its icy fingers along her mind. Never again would that pink gaze touch Fancy Pants.
Raising her tired and aggravated gaze to the light in the distance, she muttered a quiet challenge for her hated enemy. “I’m coming for you coltsucker. You’d better be ready.”
“It reeks of bear,” Gale said flatly, smiling at the ponies who looked past her into the cave. They returned her gesture.
“Well Fluttershy did say that a bear used to live here,” Rainbow Dash said with a touch of sarcasm, eliciting a round of giggles from everypony else and a weak laugh from the wolf.
“So she did,” Gale said, looking into the cave. It was spacious and dry, with only a single entrance. “With a little cleaning, I’m certain it will make a wonderful den.” She looked to the yellow pegasus. “I thank thee, Fluttershy.”
“Of course. It’s the least I could do for you. Saving Applebloom and all,” Fluttershy said sincerely. She turned and looked over at Applejack, who was carrying the still-sleeping filly on her back. “I sure hope she wakes up soon. I’m worried.”
“Me too, sugarcube,” Applejack said, turning her head to look at the sleeping bundle on her back. “Me too.”
“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Twilight Sparkle said, placing a reassuring hoof on Applejack’s shoulder. “It was a long fall... but Zecora looked her over at her hut on the way here. No broken bones. And whatever a...” Twilight paused momentarily as she searched out the foreign word in her memory. “‘Chakra’... is... was unharmed.”
“We can be knowledgeable with another pony’s knowledge,” Pinkie Pie said contemplatively, sitting on her haunches and folding her forehooves in front of her. “But we cannot be wise with another pony’s wisdom.”
“What?!” Everypony said in unison, their eyes wide with disbelief.
“What?” Pinkie said cluelessly, her words seemingly forgotten as she bounced excitedly once more.
“Anyways,” sighed Twilight, looking back to Applebloom. “I’m sure she’ll wake up once you get her home.”
“I sure as sugar hope your right, Twi,” Applejack said tightly.
“It was very kind of Zecora to stay behind at her place and fix up some more of her special brew for Applebloom,” Rarity said with a smile. “That pony knows a remedy for everything. Isn’t that right, Sweetie Belle?”
Everypony could hear Sweetie Belle’s voice from the cave, “You're going to live here?” They turned to see Rarity’s younger sister sitting at the cave entrance with Gale. “But it’s so dark.”
“I like the darkness,” Gale said to the curious filly, resting a paw on her head and rubbing gently. “Tis something to which I have become accustomed.”
“Hey,” Sweetie Belle said laughing and pushing the big paw from her head, her hair in shambles. “Don’t you get scared?”
“Of what?” Gale asked curiously. She smiled a big grin at the filly and spun in a circle, stopping in front of her and leaning down playfully with her tail hiked in the air, wagging freely. “What could possibly frighten the big... bad... wolf? She leapt and snatched up the laughing filly with her paws, tickling her mercilessly.
Fluttershy smiled as she watched them playing. As Gale sat Sweetie Belle down, Scootaloo ran past the yellow pegasus towards her hysterically laughing friend. The little pegasus did not seem happy.
Scootaloo galloped up to Sweetie Belle. Giving her hoof a tug, she whispered: “you shouldn't be alone with that wolf!”
“Why?” Sweetie Belle asked, wiping away a tear and giving a confused look at the concerned filly. “She did save Applebloom!”
“That’s enough, girls,” Twilight said softly, smiling awkwardly at Gale. “Go play with Pinkie Pie for a few moments. The grownups need to talk.”
Despite Sweetie Belle’s objections, both ran off to the bounding pink mare and began chasing after her, giggling as they forgot their argument. Twilight approached the pink wolf, sitting next to her at the entrance to the cave, and gave a smile. Gale returned the expression and shook her head.
“Be not afraid, Twilight Sparkle,” Gale said sincerely. She looked past the purple mare at the playing ponies. “The one called Scootaloo has good instincts. I am a predator, after all.”
“Yes... about that,” Twilight said with embarrassment, scratching her head with a hoof. “You eat... meat... right?”
“Yes,” Gale said flatly and noticed Fluttershy cover her mouth in surprise. “I also find many vegetables and fruits palatable... however... I cannot happily sustain myself on that diet alone.”
Rainbow Dash flew into the cave and landed near the two. She shrugged her shoulders at Twilight and asked, “What’s the big deal? We got all kinds of predators in Equestria.”
Rarity joined the congregation, sitting close to Rainbow Dash, and spoke with concern, “That is true Rainbow Dash... but Gale doesn’t know the rules.”
“Rules?” Gale asked arching an eyebrow. “What rules?”
“Certain animals can be...” Fluttershy balked at the mere mention of the word. “Hunted... and certain ones can't,” she sat down, Applejack in tow. “Although I don’t like to think of any living thing being...” She shivered quietly before continuing. “Hunted.”
“So what can she eat?” Asked Applejack, reaching a hoof over and laying it across Fluttershy’s, comforting her.
Twilight gave a broad, sparkling smile and her eyes lit up. “Well... it just so happens I have a copy of Celestia’s Predator’s Rules and Regulations on me!” Glowing with pride, she reached into her backpack, shuffling through the contents.
“Why do you have that?” Rainbow Dash began then face-hoofed. “Forget it.”
“Ha ha ha,” Twilight laughed sarcastically, narrowing her eyes. “Don’t you still need to return a few of my Daring Do books?”
Rainbow Dash blushed, her eyes flitting furtively between her friends.
A prim smile of satisfaction on her face, Twilight turned to Gale. Her horn glowing, she set the open book gently on the ground. “Here it is... everything you can hunt legally.”
Gale began looking the page over, her eyes going wide. She looked up at the smiling mare in disbelief. “Fish?” She asked in skepticism. “Only... fish?”
“You don’t like... fish?” Rarity asked, her face wrinkled with disgust at the notion of them as food.
“Oh no... I love fish,” the pink wolf said, licking her lips at the thought. Her ears drooped as she looked at Twilight. “But to eat only one type of food... that has to be a joke.”
“Well... you can throw in some apples from my farm,” Applejack chimed in, snapping the wolf temporarily out of her distress. “Why, anytime you want an apple, just come on over... free of charge!”
“Not to worry!” Twilight added, turning the page. “See, on occasion the princess sends out notices allowing predators to eat other animals for a while.” Fluttershy’s ears drooped, and Twilight gave her a conciliatory look. “You know... to thin them out. Control the numbers.”
“I understand,” Gale said nodding her head. She smiled at the mares sweetly. “So on occasion, I may be allowed to hunt a species that has overrun their breeding quota?”
“...Yes,” Twilight hesitantly answered.
“Are ponies ever available for hunting?” Gale asked and immediately received horrified looks. She coughed once, her tone apologetic. “It’s just that... ponies clearly have the greatest numbers of all animals... so... it would seem commensurately that thou wouldst be on the menu more than any other species.” They stared at her. “Not that I would ever consider eating a pony... well... not that I haven't. But...” She shook her head furiously. “Never again!” She looked back and forth between them and sighed in exasperation. “I shall now still my tongue.”
Rarity was the first to shakely compose herself and answer the wolf, “Umm... any creature capable of speech never makes it to the hunting list.”
“That’s right,” Twilight added, wiping a bead of sweat from her brow. “Can you live with that?” She waited tensely as Gale seemingly pondered her response.
Fluttershy leaned in close and gave the wolf a sweet smile, calming her nerves. “It won’t be that bad.”
Gale smiled at the yellow pegasus and spoke to the purple unicorn. “Of course, Twilight. I give my oath to abide by all the rules which thy rightful sovereign has placed for me and my kind in thy lands.” She bowed her head to the ponies before her. “I apologize if by my careless words I have caused any offense.”
Applejack was the first to respond to the apology. Without a moment's pause she reached a hoof over and placed in on Gale’s paw, smiled and said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, sugarcube. Ain't none of us offended by ya.”
“I hate to be ‘that pony’,” Rainbow Dash started, then took a deep breath, her eyes fixed intently on Gale. “But what if she decides fish isn’t enough? What if she goes all Red Riding Hoof on one of the fillies?”
“Red Riding Hoof?” Gale inquired, looking at the others for support. “Of what does the rainbow one speak?”
“Basically,” Twilight started, casting a frustrated sidelong glance at Rainbow Dash. She spoke softly and carefully to Gale. “What she’s trying to ask is... what if you decided to harm one of the fillies?”
Gale responded immediately. “No child by my action or inaction shall be harmed while I yet live.” Realizing everypony had leaned away from her serious gaze, she grinned kindly. “A child’s only worry should be what game to play at. Not what the wolf in the cave is plotting.”
“You seem very adamant about that,” Rarity stated, a half-smile painted on her face.
“I am,” Gale responded, her ears hanging low to her head. “I do not like when children are harmed.” She looked down at the ground and moved a pebble with her paw.
Everypony smiled at the pink wolf. But the moment was shattered when Pinkie screamed out, “Giant spider! Everypony run!”
The cave floor Gale sat on cracked with the force of her sudden movement as she dashed outside to face her old foe. She moved with reckless speed past the fleeing pink pony, the fillies following closely behind her. She slid to a stop outside the cave, her ferocious growl vibrating through the cave as she came face to face with the object of their terror.
An ordinary garden spider.
She stared at the insect in disbelief. Relief and embarrassment seeped into her expression as she turned to face the stunned ponies looking at her. “Umm,” Gale started, blushing. “Sorry. I thought... nothing. Never mind.” She smiled and giggled.
“That... was... awesome!” Rainbow Dash said in stuttered astonishment, her eyes wide and sparkling in shock. She dashed out to meet the flustered wolf. “You were so fast!”
“Hehe... um yes,” Gale said shyly, looking away from the gushing mare. “I thought someone needed help.”
“Well I think that proves it,” Twilight said triumphantly. “We should hurry to Princess Celestia. She has to OK Gale living here... but I’m positive she’ll agree to let you stay.”
Everypony agreed. The wolf smiled at them, following them towards the train station. Rarity came last, stopping to look behind her at the broken stones on the cave floor from where Gale had burst into sudden and violent motion.
“Come on, Rarity!” Pinkie Pie yelled from the group walking into Ponyville.
Surprised, Rarity noticed her friends walking away. Galloping to catch up, she yelled, “Coming!”
It was a short walk into Ponyville. The town was alive and well in the early morning. Merchants displayed their wares in the town center, and ponies ate their breakfast in open-air cafes around town. The tone of conversation in town quickly changed from the strange moon last night, to the pink wolf being led through town.
Gale looked at the ponies staring at her. Most cowered or ran indoors in fear as she looked at them. For the first time since she had met these new ponies, she felt disheartened. “What a fool I am,” she muttered under her breath, glaring at the ground as she strolled, the last in her unusual procession. “To think that I could rest easy... to allow myself any time for leisure.” Her kind blue eyes looked up into the eyes of a stallion who cowered and shivered. “All hate me without so much as knowing me.”
“What was that?” Fluttershy asked sweetly, slowing down to walk beside Gale. She looked around at the townsponies and then turned her sweet, knowing smile back to the wolf. “They’ll warm up to you eventually. They’re just scared. Nopony has ever seen a wolf before.”
Somehow, the reassurances of the yellow pegasus eased the wolf into smiling. Gale stopped abruptly and looked at Fluttershy with confusion. She asked, “How dost thou do that?”
Everypony stopped and looked at the pink wolf. Fluttershy smiled awkwardly. “Do what?”
“That... thing... that thou doest,” Gale said confused. “I was feeling...” she shook her head. “And... now.”
“Fluttershy is really good with animals,” Twilight commented, giggling at the confused wolf. She pointed to Fluttershy’s cutie mark. “It’s her extra-special talent.”
“So it would seem,” Gale said with a reserved smile. “I will need to keep a careful eye on thee else I be reduced to nothing more than a lapdog.” Everypony laughed, including a few bystanders who overheard her, and she smiled. “Well, let’s be on our way.”
Arriving at the Ponyville Express train station, Twilight approached the ticket counter. “Excuse me,” she said to the brown stallion inside, an hourglass cutie mark on his flank. “When is the next train to Canterlot scheduled to leave?”
“Ah, Twilight Sparkle!” The friendly-looking pony said, then looked at her friends. “The train leaves in ten minutes. You and your mates going to see the Princess?”
“Why yes we are... and one other,” Twilight said, pointing a hoof at the pink wolf who had just casually strolled up.
“Well that’s not a problem I...” he blinked. “What?!” The stallions jaw dropped in shock. “Umm you know that’s a wolf... right?”
“Well,” Gale said, arching her brow and smiling over at Rarity. “At least his powers of observation are in order.” Everypony laughed except the frightened ticketmaster.
“It’ll be fine. Just dispense the tickets and we’ll be outta your mane lickety split,” Applejack said, still carrying her sleeping sister on her back. “We’re kinda in a hurry. Gotta get my sis to Celestia so she can fix her up.”
“Uh... sure,” the ticketmaster said, dispensing a ticket for all attending. Once received he slouched under the counter and called out nervously. “Enjoy your ride.”
Everypony and wolf entered the train and through circumstance found themselves in their own private train car. The passengers already aboard quickly discovered they would rather be in a different car at the sight of Gale. Rainbow Dash cheered and plopped down on a cot, “Aww yeah! Having you around makes things a bit cozy, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“I do when it makes me look bad,” Gale said as she walked over and bit a pillow, tossing it and hitting the rainbow mare in the head, eliciting a round of laughter. The wolf smiled. “I will give it time.”
With a toot of the horn, the train slowly lurched forward. Ferrying the strange group onward toward their destination.
Salt Lick City was alive and bustling in preparation as ponies from all over Equestria flooded the streets. Often called the City of Celebration, its laws were less stringent than typical Equestrian cities, allowing ponies to explore the wilder side of life. Hoofstock occurred once a year and always promised good music, great food, and unforgettable encounters.
The city itself was built by unicorns who crafted the sands into magnificent glass structures, tinted every color of the rainbow. They rose atop the great walls encircling the city, and in numerous squares and concourses all throughout it. During Hoofstock however, ponies did not stay in the city, but instead erected tents and wooden stages all around it. Throughout this makeshift city, ponies bustled about, desiring to imbibe the many drinks and luxuries such an event offered.
On the central stage, which had finished construction, Vinyl Scratch sat checking the wiring of her sound equipment. She wore her signature sunglasses and meticulously inspected each wire by hoof. Behind her, Lyra Heartstrings was magically plucking her lyre, trying to tune it over the roar of the crowd. Bon Bon made her way quickly but carefully across the stage to Lyra, taking care to not step on any of the exposed wiring.
Lyra smiled at the approach of her lifelong friend and said happily, “Hey there Bon Bon!” She gestured to the bustling ponies with a hoof. “What do you think? Big crowd!”
Bon Bon laughed and gazed out on the crowd, then turned her head to look at her excited friend. “Big isn’t the word Lyra!” She said grinning ear to ear. Her smile turned wicked. “Are you sure you're up to it?”
“Please!” Lyra scoffed, sitting her lyre down on the control booth table. “I was born for this!”
“You sure about that?” A sultry mare’s voice asked from behind the confident pony. Octavia approached Lyra, carrying her contrabass, still in its case, across her back, the strap nestled around her. “This place can get quite crazy.”
Lyra laughed, then spoke to Octavia, “I think I can handle a little crazy. Besides...” She magically lifted her lyre in front of her. “I’m hooking this baby up to Vinyl Scratch’s sound system! It’s gonna be off the chain!”
“Oh Lyra!” Bon Bon giggled as she watched Octavia roll her eyes. “What about you, Octavia? Are you going to be using DJ pon3’s magical amplification system?”
Octavia sat her case down slowly and with deliberate care. She smiled as she ran her hoof across the black leather, gently stopping at each golden latch, opening them and gazing inside at her favored tool. Carefully she removed it from its case and took the bow in hoof, sitting the instrument upright. She stood on her hind legs, resting the contrabass against her body, a stance uncommon to ponies, and placed the bow gently against the strings.
“I do not use such cheap tactics to entrance my audience,” Octavia said, her eyes locked on her strings. “All the world listens to music, distorted through the use of magic. I play with skill refined through countless years of practice.”
“Yeah... ok,” Lyra dismissed with a grin, shaking her head and pointing out to the crowd. “That’s all well and good Octy... but what good is all your skill if nopony can hear you? I mean; look at them. Tonight's party is going to be insane. Not to mention that other bands will be playing at the same time. No way anypony is going to be able to listen to that little thing on its own.”
“Is that so?” Octavia asked coyly. She gently ran the bow across the strings, a quiet tone escaping the instrument. With a smile she exerted more pressure, drawing the bow against the strings in a clear and melodious note, causing everypony who had been causing a ruckus to stop in their tracks and stare at her. Octavia’s sultry grin drew a blush from Lyra. “See... if you play... they will come.”
Lyra gulped nervously, watching Octavia put away her contrabass. Bon Bon trotted happily up to her side and placed a hoof on the now-sitting pony’s shoulder. She gave a reassuring smile to her friend.
“It will be fine! Don’t worry so much!” Bon Bon said, giving the minty green mare a hug. “Remember: Vinyl Scratch invited us here!”
“Speaking of that,” Vinyl Scratch said from their right, shocking both ponies. “I hope you guys brought your best cause this party is about to start!” Her horn glowed a bright blue as she lifted two records from a box she had brought with her, placing them on the turntables at her station. Her horn flashing bright red, she teleported behind the station in a flash of disorienting, rainbow-colored lights. A microphone floated close. She magically charged it and spoke. “I hope all you ponies are ready! Cause it’s about to get real in here!”
Music began to pour out of the speakers and ponies began to rush to get the best spots for the festivities. Lyra smiled down at the sight and made her way offstage with Bon Bon as DJ pon3 opened Haystock with thumping bass and blaring digital noise.
The train pulled into Canterlot station as the sun slipped below the horizon. Twilight was the first to step hoof out of the train, shortly followed by everypony else, and lastly the reluctant wolf. As soon as they were out, a Canterlot guard noticed the strange creature following the ponies and stepped forward sternly. He raised his wings in a confrontational posture as he stared her down, his hoof held out in a commanding gesture.
“Halt!” He shouted to the pink wolf, a scowl on his face. “Your kind are not welcome in the royal city!” He quickly took notice of Twilight Sparkle and lowered his guard in shock. “Twilight! What in Celestia’s name are you doing here with... that?!”
“She’s with us,” Twilight said as she gave yet another apologetic smile at Gale, who looked flustered. “We’re going to speak to the princess. This wolf... Gale... has duly earned a visitation with her.”
“Oh... well... ok then,” the guard stuttered, confused. “I had better escort you. Otherwise you’re liable to be stopped by every guard in the city.”
“That would be mighty kind of ya,” Applejack said happily. On her back, Applebloom began to stir, causing the orange earth pony to jump in shock. “Oh tarnation! She’s waking up!” Everypony gathered round the filly as she was lowered to rest on the ground. Slowly she began to open her eyes.
“Sis?” Applebloom asked weakly, her eyes slits to protect against the infiltration of the light. “What happened?”
“Oh thank heavens!” Applejack cried as she gave her little sister a hug. “I was so worried about you, sugarcube.”
“You're embarrassing me,” Applebloom strained out, blushing her elder sister’s embrace. Her eyes fell on the pink wolf behind the ponies and went wide in shock. “Wa... wa... woo.”
“Huh?” Pinkie Pie said, looking over at Gale. “That’s not a woo! That’s a wolf!”
“Wolf!” Applebloom cried and dove under Applejack. “She's the one who tried to kill me!”
“What?” Twilight asked in shock. “No Applebloom... Gale saved you!”
“I heard a girl's voice!” Applebloom shouted, a tear in her eye. “It made me fall!”
“Gale,” Rarity said, looking from the cowering filly to the pink wolf. “Did you hear a voice?”
“No,” Gale said, a frown on her face. “There was no voice. But judge not thy sibling’s words of as mistaken.” She looked down at the filly who stared at her in terror. “Sometimes we find ourselves entangled in the webs of a thing strange beyond description.”
“You... you don’t sound like the voice,” Applebloom said cautiously. She stepped out from under her sister’s protection. “I... I was so scared. I can barely remember it.”
“What do you remember?” Rainbow Dash asked, stepping up alongside Applebloom.
“I remember not being able to sleep,” Applebloom said as she slowly looked at the ponies around her. She looked at her sister, shame in her eyes. “I remember walking to the edge of the cliff. Like... like you told me not to.” She hung her head in shame, her ears flat against her head. “I’m sorry sis.”
“It’s ok Applebloom,” Applejack said, hugging her tightly again. “You’re safe! That’s all I care about right now.”
“Oh!” The filly said, looking over at the other Cutie Mark Crusaders who sat quietly. “I remember a voice from the pit! Yeah... it asked me to catch a rope!”
“And?” Scootaloo asked.
“And that’s it!” Applebloom exclaimed in frustration. “I just remember the pink wolf grabbing me... then nothing.”
Running up and giving her a big hug, Sweetie Belle cried and said, “Don’t do that! Don't do that again! We almost lost you!” Tears were running down her face, and Applebloom began to cry as well.
“Big babies,” Scootaloo choked out, tears building in her eyes as she tried to hold them back. Fluttershy gave the proud little filly a gentle shove towards the others, motivating the little pegasus to dive in and cry with her friends, a tearful reunion.
“This is all well and good,” the guard said, shuffling uncomfortably as he watched them. “But we must be off. It is getting late and Celestia will retire for the evening soon.”
After collecting themselves, they all approached the castle with the guard clearing the way for the unusual visitor. This didn’t stop them from receiving stares whose content ranged from shocked to terrified. He led them to the throne room and Gale came to an abrupt stop. Everypony turned to face the pink wolf, whose eyes flitted about nervously.
“Twilight,” Gale spoke softly. A sudden seriousness creeping into her tone. “Wouldst thou and thy fine guard here please permit me to speak with thy sovereign alone? I understand other guards will be present... but I desire to plead my case before thy princess by mine own merit.”
“Umm... I’m not sure that’s a great idea,” Twilight said with worry.
“Yeah hun, “Applejack said shaking her head. “You're not even supposed to be here.”
“Believe me,” Gale said smiling. “The princess shall be glad to see me.”
Celestia sat on her throne, her hair flowing in the air behind her despite the pained look in her eyes. Her heart was breaking. She had moments ago arrived and told the guards to place her sister in a cell alongside Phalanx, a task they had quietly objected to. Her horn had a faint blue glow as she subconsciously exchanged the sun for the moon, nudging it into its prescribed course for the evening.
Fleur de Lis, her friend of many years, sat on a pillow at her side. She was eating grapes and looking pleased with herself. Celestia could not for the life of her understand how her trusted friend could seem so happy with all that had happened. Guardedly, Celestia spoke.
“You do not seem worried, Fleur,” Celestia pointed out with a grimace. “How can you just sit there like that?”
“Oh Celestia,” Fleur purred up at her. “Don’t worry... Luna will awaken soon and this whole vile matter will be resolved.” She magically dropped another grape in her mouth.
“I do hope you are right,” the princess said, lowering her head. “I don’t know how much more I can take today. Things just... seem out of place.”
A guard pony entered the throne room, walking towards the princess and kneeling before her. He had a nervous look. He looked into her eyes, his pupils shrunk small with trepidation.
“Princess Celestia,” he started, the words pouring out suddenly. “There is a pon... um... a person wishing to have counsel with you.”
“I will not see anyone tonight,” she said, turning from the guard. “Not right now.”
“Yes milady!” He shouted with clear relief. “I will inform Twilight and the wolf that you are not receiving visitors this evening.”
“Twilight is here? With a wolf?” Celestia asked, leaning forward.
“A wolf is here!?” Fleur asked, the sharpness of her tone drawing a look from the princess. “Sorry... I just am not used to such barbaric creatures entering our civilized city. You should send... it... away.”
“Fleur,” Celestia’s eyes narrowed as she looked at her friend. “I’ve felt strange feelings from you as of late.” She turned her attention to the guard. “I believe I would like to see this... wolf.”
“Very well, milady,” he spoke as he continued towards the door.
Fleur stood slowly as though fatigued, meeting Celestia’s eyes. Fleur’s face became serious as she glared at the princess, obviously struggling with some kind of effort. The white unicorn let out a gasp of air and collapsed to the pillow.
“What are you doing?” Celestia asked, her eyebrow arched.
“You... you cannot see that wolf!” Fleur sputtered looking up at her. “It will try to kill you!”
“What nonsense!” Celestia exclaimed in shock. “You are being very strange today.” She turned to the doors that were now opening.
“No!” Fleur de Lis shouted, shielding her eyes in fear. When nothing exploded, she stole a peek at the creature entering the throne room, smiled to herself, and breathed a sigh of relief. She spoke quietly to herself as the pink wolf entered. “I thought that was you for a moment.” She turned back to Celestia, and her smile fled.
Celestia stared, her terror no less complete for its silence, at the thing that had walked into her throne room. Not a wolf but in barest appearances. An ordinary wolf would have been far too easy for a night like tonight. She watched as the pink creature approached, shimmering purple chains swirling around every inch of her body, constricting the wolf’s magic but stressed to a breaking point.
Celestia knew that no guard in the room had cause for concern at first glance. Grand Seal Chains were invisible to all but alicorns. A single set of these chains could bind she or her sister for a thousand years. Her ancient mind could scarce comprehend how a creature with not one, but three sets of them binding her was even able to move, let alone walk, so casually.
“Hello, princess,” the wolf spoke, stopping before her throne and bowing. She raised her head from the floor, her eyes no longer a crisp blue but a furious red. “I am quite pleased to meet thee at last.”
Thanks to my editor Malthusite. Without him I doubt any of you would read past my grammar mistakes and tense errors. A big thank you to all of you submitting feedback to me at my facebook. Never before have I gotten so many messages, let alone from a group of bronies! Brohoofs all! /)
Of Hoof and Paw
Written by: Damsus Rhee
The air was almost crackling with magical currents.
Gale smiled wryly to herself as she looked at the shocked Princess of the Sun, her counsel mare clueless as to the secret hanging in the air between the princess and the wolf. Only Celestia could see her for what she was. The chains she with which she had bound her magic, while masking her from the other Furies, was also a beacon of light to the eldritch sight of any alicorn, of which she knew well only two remained.
The fear in the princess’ eyes was also plain.
Gale’s turned her furious red eyes from Celestia and onto Fleur de Lis, who was now perspiring vigorously, her eyes roaming around nervously, looking for a venue of escape. Gale grinned a wicked smile at the pretty mare as she began to giggle with delight, her expression gleeful. Noticing the hesitant guards, who took up flanking positions around her, the wolf addressed the princess directly.
“It would seem that thou can see me true,” the wolf spoke wistfully. “Dost thou know then what I am... first daughter of Eventide and Aurora?” The wolf, noticing the princess’s expression waver at the mention of her parents, sat and continued. “It would be folly to think that in their passing they would not have mentioned my name to thee.” Without looking at them directly, she took in the guards who quietly advanced on her, wing-blades and spears at the ready. She gestured to the approaching guards, who took frightened steps back from the sudden movement of her paw, never looking away from the stunned princess. “Perchance thou wouldst be more pleased should our audience be conducted in a more private fashion... your highness.”
Celestia looked at the slowly-advancing guards. Her expression was pensive. Looking into the pleading eyes of Fleur de Lis, she came to a decision and regained her composure as she regarded the wolf.
“That may be... for the best,” Celestia said evenly. “Everypony, please leave me and my... guest here alone. We have much to discuss.” The guards exchanged worried looks. Their trepidation dissolved when Celestia spoke again, her voice now firmer. “That is an order.”
The guards retreated sullenly from the throne room, their heads hung low, ears laid back in disappointment. Gale watched as they walked away, her red eyes masking her emotions. Looking over, she noticed Fleur making a quick retreat as well, attempting to hide behind a guard as he slowly trotted out. The guard, for his part, seemed pleased to be near the famous and beautiful model-pony, smiling widely and looking among his colleagues to see if they had noticed.
“Not thee, mare,” Gale said, pointing a claw at her. “I believe that thy sovereign shall desire thy company when she and I have finished our business.” She looked dryly back at Celestia. “Is that not so?”
“Given the nature of our business,” Celestia said nervously, her eyes giving a hard stare at the wolf. “I would prefer we were alone.”
“Thank you, your majesty,” Fleur said courteously, turning to leave with a curtsy.
“But,” Celestia continued, causing the model to freeze in her tracks as she glanced over at the white unicorn. “I sense she may be right. I do not know why that is so, but... you will stay.”
“Your highness!” Fleur said in shock, her eyes full of terror. “Surely you do not wish...”
“You may stay of your own accord,” the Princess continued, her voice steadfast. “Or... my guards can bring you by force. The choice is yours.”
“Y-yes... I will... stay,” the white mare said nervously, slowly walking to sit next to her. “If this is what you wish... I will obey.” She hung her head and sat quietly, her expression pensive.
Once only the three remained in the room, Gale stood, smiling at the two mares. Celestia’s face was a rictus of formality, an expression calculated to hide her feelings. Tempest, however, could see the fear simmering there, the desire to flee the terror before her. Fleur kept her head down. But her eyes, pink and glowing, were locked on the wolf with a malicious intensity.
“I suppose you have come here for some mischievous purpose,” Celestia spoke without inflection. “I would like to inform you that should you attempt to harm any...”
“Thy ponies hold no fascination for me,” Gale sneered, pacing back and forth, her eyes locked on the two. Her voice grew sultry as she spoke. “I have no interest in thee. Thou hast nothing I desire.”
“What?” Celestia asked in confusion, watching the wolf nervously. “Then... what is it that you want?”
“Her,” the wolf spoke hungrily, pointing a claw once again at the silent sentinel of the model on the princess’s left. Celestia quickly turned her gaze from the wolf to the model and back again. Gale watched the confusion in her face turn to worry, slowly giving way once again to the silent resolve. “Thou hast felt it, no? Some part of thy mind has seen the truth of what I speak. Some greater picture alluding thee in the wake of things gone by.”
Fleur’s expression began to harden, becoming a furious scowl. Her eyes shone brighter, threatening to paint the room in their colors. Celestia did not seem to notice the glow emanating from the mare, but looked at her with concern. Fleur glanced up at her princess with a venomous kindness, her sparkling smile confidant, her shimmering eyes radiating vile magic into the alicorn’s mind.
“Dearest Celestia,” Fleur purred softly up to her. “She has come here to deceive you. Lies... all her words are lies. This... wolf would spread sedition and dissent among us.” The glow fading as she panted, she gave the wolf a bittersweet smile. “Better to send her away with her tail between her legs.” She gave a fierce glare to the wolf. “Like the hound she is.”
“You may be right,” Celestia said vacantly. “I don’t know this wolf like I know you.”
“Oh Celestia,” Gale chided, a look of annoyance on her face. “In thy heart, thou knowest thy words to be poisoned. Words poured into thy ears from a forked tongue wielded as the sole weapon of a weak and witless liar.” The wolf sat. “If thou shalt not hear my words, allow me to educate thee by mine own uncorrupted might.”
The air around her began to spark and burn as her power flowed freely. The invisible chains binding her began to squeal and moan against their new burden. Her red eyes became deep infernos that threatened to swallow up the unwary. Her fur coat became a snowy white.
Celestia felt the first shockwave of magic, threatening to draw her own power from her to add to its own. She recoiled from the pressure of the flowing power. Fleur’s eyes were wide with horror as she watched the familiar form of the wolf take shape before her. As the power seemed ready to shake Canterlot castle off the very mountain on which it rested, the onslaught ended, and the small pink wolf standing once more in the place recently occupied by the horror of power and fury. Celestia recomposed herself with an effortlessness borne of long practice, taking in a deep breath and calming her nerves.
“Now thou knowest what stands before thee,” Gale spoke fiercely.
“Tempest,” Celestia uttered, her normally-regal tone nothing but a quiet whisper.
“Exactly,” the wolf said with barely-restrained glee, bowing courteously. “Tis a pleasure to make thy acquaintance.” She sat once more, a pleased look on her face. She gave a wicked grin to Fleur. “And to thy left sits none other than Treachery. If thou knowest myself, surely thou must know him as well. A vile snake, he poisons the minds of those around him to his will.”
Celestia looked in shock at her long-time friend, now noticing the strange pink hue coming from her eyes. She leaped away in fright, landing on the steps of her throne to face the imposter. Fleur slowly stood, her face seething hatred towards the wolf.
“That thou shouldst dare to call me out openly!” Squeaked a tiny voice, though Fleur’s mouth remained closed. “Thou shalt reveal me! Thou would with but a single uttering of my name lay ruin to the carefully-laid plans I have sown!” Though her mouth uttered no words, she continued speaking in the furious tone of the squeaking voice, her teeth clenched in anger. “Thou cursed mongrel! Bitch! I shall see thee rot under the claw of my lord Misery!”
“May I?” Gale asked Celestia, suddenly next to her, causing the alicorn to jump in shock again. Landing at the base of the steps and looking at the two, she addressed the wolf.
“What!?” The princess asked, panicked. “May you what?”
“Tis thy kingdom,” Gale purred, grinning wickedly at the unicorn mare now simmering with rage and fear before her. “Thy will is my bond, majesty.” The wolf looked over to the confused alicorn and smiled, her eyes wild. “Let me aid thee by lifting the veil that blinds thy sight.”
Celestia backed away as the wolf took in a deep breath. Gale’s eyes burned brighter and brighter as she opened her jaws and released a bark. No sound came out. The windows in the throne room wavered, threatening to crack and shatter from the sudden force, the unseen waves striking the princess. Her eyes began to glaze, a pink veil wrapping them, only for the invisible scales that covered them to dissipate and vanish.
Celestia felt wide awake for the first time in a long time.
Silent and furious resolve appeared on her face as she regarded Fleur, no longer under her influence. She stepped forward. Stopping next to the wolf, she met her eyes, her own magenta pools burning with a ferocity almost to match the red wolf’s.
“She was not my friend,” Celestia said coldly. “She has been misleading me.” Tears welled in her eyes, although her face remained empty of any emotion. “By the stars! Luna!” Her eyes burned brighter. “You shall pay for what you have done!”
“Do not think that this mare is the object of thy displeasure,” Gale spoke softly, regarding Fleur with glee. “She is locked away inside her mind’s eye. Treachery takes the minds of those he can dominate, slowly draining them of life. Devouring them in the purest manner, from the mind outwards.” Gale took a step toward the possessed mare. “I am going to bring thee to the light, Treachery. I shall pull thee from thy host... torn asunder by my fangs into the one place thy small and black heart fears the most.” Gale looked into Fleur de Lis’s eyes, their illumination painting the entire room red. Her voice rang out. “Plain sight!”
Treachery opened his eyes on a dark void.
Around him was an endless expanse of nothing. No celestial guide lit his way, only his eyes and their vibrant pink glow. Gazing around into the darkness, he was cold. And a slow, terrible realization dawned on him.
He was in his own mind maze inside of Fleur de Lis.
His transparent shifting form began scurrying towards where he knew the exit to be. Although no longer lit by his all-knowing gaze shining down on her mind, he still remembered how to escape. A foolish ploy like this would mean nothing once he was out of the trap. Once freed, he would destroy the vessel that carried him, obliterating her mind and everything in it. The cursed wolf would perish, and he would find a new host with whom to whisper pretty lies into the sun princess’ royal ears.
In the darkness before Treachery, a set of fiery red eyes opened, bathing his chameleon form with their light. He slid to a stop, transfixed in fear on the wild eyes that looked strangely pleased to meet him, followed shortly by the pink wolf who owned them. She was smiling at him, eagerness in her expression.
“Damned mongrel!” Treachery spat, despising the wolf with each breath. “Think thou to come here, to my own domain, and remove me?” He took a step away from the approaching wolf, his anger rising. “This is my maze! My spell! Thou durst not bring thy...”
“Silence,” Gale said gently, eagerly licking her lips. “Thou wouldst do well to flee now the wolf who hunts thee, little betrayer prince.”
“Thou art snared in my trap!” Treachery shouted as his eyes released a shockwave of pink magic. From the glow of the magic, vile pink tendrils reached out for the wolf. Full of confidence, Treachery’s voice became a roar. “Now, die!”
The magic never reached its mark.
The tendrils evaporated long before reaching the wolf, dissolving into the darkness like smoke in a sudden breeze. Treachery’s eyes began to dull, losing their glow. He felt very weak, no longer able to bolster his reserves by drawing on his host. Slowly he raised his head to meet the blood-red eyes of the pink wolf before him, his eyes wide and his breathing labored.
“I finally get to meet you,” A familiar voice came from behind him. He turned around, dimly able to make out the figure of an elderly mare walking slowly towards him. All that remained of Fleur de Lis walked past him, regarding his changing shape with little more note than one would take of a piece of refuse. Her eyes locked on the wolf as she continued away from her tormentor, filled with delight in meeting something, anything new for the first time in ages. “You, though, I don’t know.”
“Hello Fleur,” Gale said sweetly. “I am Tempest... and soon thou shalt find thy way out from this waking hell.”
“She... is... mine!” Treachery squeaked in high-pitched tones of rage, trying in vain to draw upon some of his energy.
“You might as well stop,” Fleur said with candor, a calm smile on her face. “I will give you nothing of myself anymore.”
“Seems as though someone is all out of friends,” Gale purred, her grin wicked. “My dear Fleur. May I remove this cancer from thee?”
“By all means,” Fleur said, sitting wearily and facing Treachery, her eyes cold. “I just wish I was strong enough to help.”
“If vengeance on thy attacker is thy desire,” Gale said leaning against the withered mare. “I can see that thou art able.”
Fear took hold of Treachery, and he turned to run. Behind him, the wolf became dark, as though the shadows of the maze were her cloak. Her body began to melt against Fleur’s, coating the elderly mare in a thick ichor that had once been Gale. Fleur vanished and melted into the morass, the red glow of Gale’s eyes no longer lighting the void maze.
Once again, Treachery could see nothing but darkness as he fled into the endless abyss. Around him red eyes began to open, rolling around wildly and locking on him, their red glow bright as a sun but doing nothing to light his way. He panicked and slid to a stop as an eye opened in front of him, splitting down the center. The slit became a mouth lined with teeth, snapping hungrily in search of its prey as he leapt clear of its grasp.
In the distance, Treachery could see the outline of the wolf standing parallel to him. A strange glowing darkness emanated from her, hundreds of red eyes all over her body staring at him. Her mouth twisted and dropped to the earth, her voice escaping its deformed source as a wail.
“Welcome to thine own hell, Treachery!” The monster before him cried in almost sexual ecstasy. Its arms and legs broke with terrible cracks and pops, changing into wolf heads and slithering along the ground at great speed, each covered in a dozen glowing red eyes. “Let us take joy in our time together!”
The first of the heads reached Treachery’s changing form, clamping down on a shifting leg which took tangible form as it was torn and shredded from its joint. Ripping it out noisily, it threw back its head and chewed with snaps and pops, before swallowing the ruined mess. Pain blinded Treachery’s mind as more and more of him was torn free, pulled apart by the ghoulish pack descending on him and ground into a paste.
Death would have been a mercy.
“This is delightful!” The voice of the cursed wolf cried around the mound of flesh that had once been Treachery, his invisible head lying on top of the pile, pink eyes frozen in a rictus of horror as the snake-like wolves came together before him as liquid, forming the original. Her thousand eyes all burnt into him with strange desire. Her twisted, jagged mouth broken into a terrifying grin.
She shouted, her words running together. “Quickly! Compose thyself once more and fight me!” Her voice poured into his mind, infecting him, violating him, with her excitement and desire.
The broken creature lying before her trembled.
Her expression shifted to boredom. “Pretend not as if this is all the power thou hast at thy disposal! The night is yet young... and I will share with thee all the delights that thou hast deserved.” As she approached, she grinned horribly.
Fleur’s gleeful eyes opened alongside the wolf’s many.
Treachery did all he could do.
Celestia could safely say that nothing in her long experience as a sovereign had given her any sort of framework for how to react to this situation.
The teeth of the wolf she now knew to be Tempest were locked in a death-grip around the throat of Fleur de Lis. Both model and wolf were breathing, but remained still and silent, their eyes unfocused. Cautiously, Celestia approached the entwined couple, her head low, her muscles tensed. She came to an abrupt halt as the wolf’s eyes sharpened, her fangs tearing viciously at the white mare’s throat. The princess saw that she tore not at flesh, but at a writhing distortion, barely visible to the princess.
The wolf pulled violently, flinging the strange chameleon across the castle floor. The tiny object landed hard and slid near Celestia, trailing some sort of transparent ichor. She cantered back in surprise as its glowing pink eyes locked onto her. With a piercing screech it leaped towards her throat.
Celestia’s horn burnt with holy light as a shield formed around her. The thing clung to it, clawing and biting, strange sickly-pink shockwaves running through the shield where it touched it. Though she was inches from the strange creature, she couldn’t seem to look at it long enough to discern its physical form. Deciding she had seen enough of the puny thing trying to get at her, her horn shone brighter as the shield exploded outwards, sending a rainbow-colored shockwave through the throne room. The glass in every window shattered. The creature emitted a high-pitched squeal as it was propelled out one of the broken windows, vanishing into the city far below.
Celestia was breathing hard, more in fear than fatigue. She turned to face the wolf, who was offering a helping paw to a very fatigued Fleur. With a genuine smile, the lovely mare took it gladly, standing with the wolf’s help and breathing a sigh of relief. Celestia approached the two, her bearing curious. As she drew near, she could hear the familiar sound of her royal guard rushing to her aid.
The throne room doors burst open, guards piling in and taking up long-practiced but seldom-used defensive positions around their princess. More continued to flood in from the hallways connected to either side of the central chamber, surrounding Gale and Fleur, weapons in hoof and mouth and glittering dangerously on wings. Twilight and the other Ponyville residents rushed in, gazing in shock at the ruined confusion of the throne room. As the guards slowly descended on the still and calm wolf, steel and determination in their many-hued eyes, Celestia spread her wings, stirring up a strong breeze that smelled of flowers, and instantly commanded everypony’s attention.
“Everypony, hold!” Her voice was almost unnaturally loud and commanding, wholly unlike its more usual tones. Every eye in the room turned towards her in surprise and not a little fear. She looked from the worried concern of Twilight, to the casual relaxation of the pink wolf. Celestia smiled brightly and her voice grew cheerful, despite the chaos of her throne room. “Our meeting has yet to conclude, and I would appreciate you all allowing us to finish in peace.”
“But... your majesty,” a male guard spoke, the tip of his spear leveled at the smiling wolf’s heart. “We... we heard...”
“I know,” Celestia interrupted, giving him a kind, motherly smile. “You were right to come to my aid. But... this wolf is not responsible for the state of my court.” Ponies casted about in confusion. The low murmur of questions and objections filled the room. Celestia silenced them with an upraised hoof. “Everypony, I ask that you leave. I will explain later. Once my business with miss...”
“Gale,” the wolf filled in, her tone neutral.
“Yes,” Celestia continued. “When we are finished, I will tell everypony what they need to know. So please... everypony.”
Guards lowered their weapons and left the room, their faces downcast. Twilight ran up alongside Princess Celestia and looked up at her, purple eyes shining with worry. Celestia placed a reassuring hoof on her head and smiled brightly at her.
“This wolf is your friend, yes?” Celestia asked her star pupil. Gale’s ears perked up. “You are here to vouch for her, I take it?”
Twilight glanced at Gale, worry etched on her face. She looked back at her friends, smiling at the silent support they all exuded. Everypony except Pinkie, who only continued to bounce at her. She turned to face her mentor, her eyes full of resolve.
“Yes,” Twilight said seriously. “She saved Applebloom from certain death.” She gestured back to the red-headed filly, whose eyes, like those of her two closest friends, were wide and full of sparkling awe at their closeness to the beautiful princess.
Twilight looked awkwardly to the floor, scuffing at it absently with her hoof. “We... well... she doesn’t seem to have anyplace else to go. So... we offered her an empty cave outside of Ponyville.” After a brief pause, she desperately spit out: “She’s... really nice!”
“As though I were a new pet, and she a filly begging her mother,” Gale mused with a sly grin. Twilight blushed.
Celestia gave a good-natured giggle. After watching Twilight for a pensive moment, she spoke slowly. “Twilight... your plea has been noted. I will make my determination presently... but I need all of you to allow me to speak with your friend a bit longer. Please, go speak with the castle chamberlain. He will make the arrangements for you all to stay here tonight.”
Everypony exchanged nervous glances, but swiftly moved to follow their princess’s command. Rarity giggled happily and skipped in place. Fleur de Lis stopped in front of the door and looked to Celestia, her beautiful face pleading. Celestia nodded at her, her eyes compassionate. The weary model-pony quietly left the room.
Twilight beamed up at Celestia. “I understand.” She gave a bow. “Thank you.” She turned to face her friends. “Come on girls.” Twilight stopped in the arched doorway, looking back at the pink wolf. “You be on your best behavior, now.”
Gale’s smile faded as a slight, inaudible growl escaped her. “I always am,” she responded with a sneer, watching the purple pony and her friends leave. Once the door had shut behind them, the wolf looked to Celestia. “They mean a great deal to thee?” She lay down on the throne room floor and began grooming herself, much to Celestia’s dismay. “The current bearers, I mean.”
“How do you know of that?” Celestia asked in shock. “Did they tell you?”
“No,” Gale said, pausing for a moment as she regarded the young alicorn. “But the truth is clear.” Her smile faded into a frown, her voice sullen. “A pity, really. We both know the fate that awaits the bearers.”
“Why do you say that?” Celestia asked.
“Because,” the wolf continued. “They are about to face trials that neither they... nor thee, for that matter... possess any faculty whatsoever with which to evenly meet.”
Celestia took a moment to think over the wolf’s words. She made no attempt to hide her fear and worry. Moments ago, she had seen a brief glimpse of the unimaginable power of the wolf. Even tempered by the Grand Seals, it was far beyond anything the princess had ever encountered. She had heard tales of the Furies from her parents.
She had never believed them. It had been easy to be dissuaded by the parental nuzzles and giggles of foalish fright that had accompanied any particularly good telling of the many dark tales in which they featured. But today she had seen one of their number in the flesh, and she was afraid.
This fear was not like her fear of Nightmare. It had stolen the only pony she really had left in the world. The only pony whose eventual departure through time or circumstance her heart needn’t always mourn, harboring it as a secret pain. Nightmare had preyed on Luna’s deep sadness and isolation after her parents had been lost to the great sleep, after she was thrust unprepared into the role of Mare of the Moon. It had twisted her, tried to take her throne for its own. For what alien purposes the princess still did not know. But in the end, she had known that through the Elements of Harmony her sister could be restored, rid of her foe.
Neither was this fear like her fear of Discord. He simply played his foalish games, using those around him for his mercurial pleasure. His end was to cause madness, not death. Although sometimes Celestia herself didn’t know which was worse. She knew from her long-gone parents that madness was an ever-present danger for her kind. She was vigilant for signs of it in herself. Discord as well had fallen before the power of the Elements, first in her hooves, and then in those of her chosen bearers.
And she had never felt anything like this horror of Queen Chrysalis. That one had wanted only to steal the love from the hearts of ponies. Though a terrible fate to be sure, death or destruction had never been her intent. She had gotten more love than she could stomach, and had been banished forever as a result.
If half the tales were true, the Furies were nothing like the foes she had faced before now. Even if they were stopped, many ponies would die. And if any of the wolf’s kindred even approached Gale’s raw power, she did not know if she could stop them. Before, the Elements and the true power of friendship, love, and determination had been all she needed to win.
Her parents had told her many times that the Elements were nothing before the might of the Furies.
“Art thou disturbed, my lady?” Gale asked playfully, smiling at the alicorn’s worried expression.
“There is so much I want to ask,” Celestia spoke in a whisper. “I don’t know where to begin.”
“Then ask thee first that which is simplest,” Gale responded whimsically.
“Very well,” Celestia agreed. She saw that the wolf's eyes had returned to a clear blue color. “What do you want? My parents spoke of the Furies only as a bedtime story. Now I am face to face with one who tells me that the rest are loose.” She looked away sadly. “I seem to have failed...”
“We have been reduced to bedtime stories?” Gale asked, her face lighting up with amusement. “Such dark tales to tell children. I would like to hear some of them.” She laughed. “What do I want? Ever have I asked myself that same question. I give it precious little thought. I suppose that what I desire the most is to do as I wish.” She smiled. “As soon as I know what that is, at any rate.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Celestia asked, her brow furrowed. “You mean to do anything you wish, without consequence?”
“No,” Gale said, rolling over onto her back. “My mood changes. Some days I desire a good fight. Some days a long rest. At this moment, I desire a bit of both.” She rolled back over to face the princess. “I will stay in that cave. Enjoy myself. And when my kin draw near... I will have my fight.”
“You will fight against them?” Celestia asked, magenta eyes wide. “Against your own kind?”
“There is little love between us,” Gale said dryly. “I am certain to stir their ire in short order.”
“Why?” Celestia inquired.
Gale grinned wickedly. “Because I care not for their schemes. The world as they would make it has no place for me. They fear me more than thou couldst possibly comprehend. Once, they tried to use me as a tool. To channel my rage for their own designs.” Her blue eyes narrowed. “They were displeased with what their labors wrought. The world that Eventide and Aurora left for thee... the land that thou hast guarded and held safe. It holds far more amusements for one such as myself. I find it... interesting.”
“They will attack soon... won’t they?” Celestia asked, her ears drooping.
“Yes,” Gale said. “And there is precious little that thou might do to stop it.” Celestia’s expression was a mix of horror and grief. “Shouldst thou send thy forces into the field, they will attack thee here. Shouldst thou remaineth here... bottling thine people in thy protective shell... It shall be a tomb for all of you.”
“I must warn my people,” Celestia said frantically.
“Yes, you must,” Gale said, approaching the princess and sitting before her. Celestia leaned away from the wolf. “Hast thou not faith in thy pony’s resolve?”
“Of course!” Celestia exclaimed.
“Then relinquish thy own Element to the bearers,” Shock registered on the alicorn’s face. “Though it cannot save them from what is to come, it may let them heal some of the hurts that will result.” Gale laid a paw on Celestia’s hoof.
“This is thy peoples’ chance to protect themselves. If thou hast true faith in them... let them prove themselves worthy. Aid them as thou wilt... but remember this: Should thee and thy sister fail, thy people are doomed to follow.”
Celestia watched as the wolf gave her one last smile before making for the exit. She still had so much to ask the Fury. Gale stopped at the entrance to the chamber and turned to look back at the worried alicorn.
“Thy mother and father would be proud of thee,” Gale said fondly. Tears welled in Celestia’s eyes at that. The wolf’s voice became mocking. “And if thou shouldst speak my true identity to my... friends.” The pink wolf snorted and continued. “I will tear out thy throat.” She gave a coy smile. The princess frowned. “I like it here. I do not wish it to become complicated... not yet, at any rate.”
After the wolf had left, Celestia allowed herself a moment to grieve. Sparkling tears ran down her face. She had allowed the seals to be broken. Her parent’s sacrifices seemed in vain. All because of her incompetence. She wished they had told her more of their battles with the furies, to temper the insignificance she felt before such adversaries. She felt a deep fear of the wolf. Tempest. She could not be allowed to roam free. In all the stories of her foalhood, the wolf had been the worst.
She thought of Twilight.
Twilight could be in danger most of all. Her favorite pupil thought of the wolf as a friend. What was more, she had actually taken the time to request the wolf be allowed to stay outside of Ponyville. Not that she could do anything about it. Even with the seals, Celestia knew she stood no chance against the wolf. But could she allow her friends to remain unaware that such a monster lived among them? If she told them against the Fury’s wishes, it could place her friends, and all of Equestria, in even greater danger than it already faced. She would need to speak to her sister on these matters.
Galloping from the throne room, Celestia ran past her guards, registering to their senses as little more than a sweet-smelling blur, and down into the dungeons of the castle. As she approached the cell that held her sister, her horn glowed a furious white, and the bars bent out of her way. She collapsed next to Luna, still bound by her spell, and held her tightly, wishing she would wake up. Slowly she began undoing the seal, fearing all the while that Nightmare would be the one to greet Luna instead of her.
The seals broke and Celestia nearly fainted. She had used more magic today than she had been forced to use in quite some time. Gently, she rolled Luna over, looking down at her with worry in her sparkling eyes. Slowly, the blue mare began to stir. She looked up at her sister in relief.
“Hi Tia,” Luna said weakly.
“Hi, Lulu,” was all Celestia managed to choke out before she began to sob uncontrollably, burying her tear-stained face in her sister’s downy feathers.
“I’m so sorry,” they said at the same time, cuddling tightly in the dark cell, sparkling alicorn tears flowing freely.
Treachery huddled in a ball of agony.
He lay in an alley in Canterlot City, his many wounds slowly healing. Severe burns and cuts ran along his shifting body. He squealed in pain, writhing in agony as his legs began to mend, popping and jerking back into place. It had been lucky that Celestia had launched him through a window into the city, robbing Tempest of the pleasure of tormenting him.
Tempest had made his life hell for what seemed like an eternity, torturing him within his own mind-maze. It was only luck by which he had escaped her mental assault, only to find the wolf’s bare teeth awaiting him in the physical world.
And his plan to control the princess had been working. Although he could not directly possess an alicorn, he could force them to do his bidding through another for a time. He had thought that would be all he would need. But that moment had now passed, thanks to the cursed wolf.
Rising from the cold ground, Treachery scurried into the city streets. He was in desperately in need of a new host. One that would not be so resistant to his advances. Fleur de Lis had cost him much of his power. If unable to absorb their essences fully, to add them to himself, he would never gain any power. He would have to start small if he ever wished to regain his might.
As Treachery began to step out onto the street, still invisible to the naked eye, he noticed a familiar pony slowly making her way past. Fleur de Lis looked as though she bore the weight of the world on her shoulders, trudging along the street with her head down and ears drooped, eyes heavy with an age that was not her own.
He chortled quietly to himself. This mare who had thought herself free of him was so weary that she would be swallowed up in moments. After aiding the wolf in his torment, he looked forward to crushing her. Following her discreetly, he waited until she was alone, away from anypony who might see her pained contortions in his moment of victory. With a sickening speed, he moved towards her.
“I can see you,” Fleur said quietly. The cloaked Fury came to a sudden halt. Slowly, she turned to face the invisible creature, her eyes no longer weary but full of disdain. “Did you think that I, after spending a lifetime trapped in your clutches, would not be able to feel you out?” He emitted a low growl, his eyes shining a bright, piercing pink.
Dashing at her, the creature leapt at her throat, a vicious, palpable hunger flooding out of him. Fleur’s eyes did not waver as her horn shone a soft pink, wrapping the attacker in a gentle pink veil, arresting his motion and holding the strangely-shifting body in the air before her. She cocked her head as she stared at the translucent creature.
“Treachery,” Fleur said with no emotion. “Your methods are sickening. Never lifting your own hand... casually sundering the bonds of friendship. Torturing ponies in a prison of their own minds is the height of cowardice. And you do such things without shame. I want you dead. I’m going to kill you, and cast you aside before your hidden blade finds another.”
“Curse the seed that spawned thee,” Treachery spat, wriggling in her telepathic grasp. “Were I not weakened, I would rip thy soul from thy flesh and bury thy heart in the mud!” He quit wriggling, a slow and invisible smile spreading across his face, his tone rash and boastful. “Thou hast no magic or strength to defeat me.”
“Thou hast never before been robbed of thy quarry, hast thou?” Fleur de Lis mocked, her horn shooting sparking energy into the air. “I am a unicorn. And I have been trapped for what seemed to me to be well over one-hundred years. Did you think that I would have given no thought to magical theory during that time?” As Treachery began to thrash about, trying to break free, six magical circles appeared in the air above him. They began to hum and spin, magic building and crackling off of them as they did. Fleur’s eyes grew fierce, full of resolve as she regarded her captive. “Now! Vanish before me like dust in the wind!”
All six of the circles quit spinning at once, much to Treachery’s dismay, and poured white light down towards the levitating Fury. Like a torrential waterfall the beams washed over him, burning and tearing at his body. No longer held by the magical grasp of the white mare, he slammed into the ground and was pinned to it by the continuing force of the onslaught seeking to rend him into oblivion. He was unable to move, unable to scream, and the pain was extraordinary. Underneath him the ground began to glow bright red, superheating and melting against his flesh.
And suddenly, it was over.
“I had always believed that battle was for the brutish, or else an art, to be perfected through meticulous training and preparation,” Fleur spoke as she stared down at Treachery, his small body still cloaked, twitching in its death throes. “But tonight, for the very first time, I was able to comprehend the thrill of indulging my more primal instincts. This little battle was a good one.” She raised a hoof above the wounded creature’s head, regarding him from above as nothing more than an insect to be crushed. “You made me what I am now. For that, I am in your debt. But debt or not, you are my enemy... I feel no remorse for crushing you beneath my hoof.”
Before the mare could bring her hoof down, a pegasus guard tackled into her, sending her reeling into the wall of a building. He charged after her as she struggled to get to her feet, her eyes wide with shock as he pushed her against the stone wall, her face pressed hard against its surface.
“No!” She shouted in shock, struggling against his superior physical strength. “You have to let me finish him!”
“There’s no one there!” The guard shouted in her ear as another pegasus guard landed next to him, helping to hold her down. “You are under arrest for the use of offensive magic within the city limits!”
“No!” Fleur screamed up at him, looking him in the eye. “There is a...” She quieted down as she noticed his eyes had a faint pink hue to them. Looking past the guard to the spot where Treachery had been curled up, she saw him standing shakily, an evil grin on his cloaked face.
“Enjoy the castle dungeons, my dear Fleur de Lis,” Treachery chided. “Maybe while thou art there I shall visit with Fancy Pants.” He smiled as she began to scream. His eyes glowed brightly and one of the guards raised his hoof, striking her on the head and sending her to the ground in a heap. “I would take thee now... but thou hast proven to be... troublesome.”
Turning around, he looked about at the ponies who were approaching, gaping at the arrest of one of Canterlot’s most famous aristocrats. He licked his lips hungrily, looking from elderly mares to newborn foals held in their mother’s hooves. A colt approached and stood right next to him.
He stood, staring down into the smoking crater Fleur had created in tormenting him. The brown pony’s eyes sparkled in astonishment as he regarded the hole, reaching out and poking the crispy smooth surface with a hoof. He was unaware of the danger lurking near him. Unaware even when the ghostly form of the Fury latched onto him. Only the voice in his mind told him that something was wrong.
Thou shalt do just fine...
Misery watched as the cursed orb of burning light that was the Equestrian sun finally sank below the horizon. In the distance, music roared across the desert landscape, mixed with the festive uproar of Salt Lick City. Misery grinned wickedly as images of Spite ripping through the celebration played fondly through his diseased mind. Spreading his black wings, he flew at a speed unseemly for his great bulk, towards the familiar aura of Avarice.
Slipping into the shadows cast by the clouds, the black raven made his way swiftly to a wide, barren field. Landing in the middle of it, he surveyed his surroundings. Dirt and stone were upturned by a multitude of holes, tunnels down into the workways of Avarice’s first children. He had ruled them through their greed, turning to his own ends an almost unnatural desire to obtain diamonds and precious gems.
The dark bird dissolved into a sinuous vapor, his now-diffuse form sliding through each and every tunnel of the deep burrow simultaneously, coming together in the central chamber. Its walls were raw and gashed with the wounds of their recent mining. He was greeted by the extravagant visage of Avarice, sitting in a pile of gems, surrounded by ponies with gold-ringed eyes. Behind the gold bull knelt an army of diamond dogs, respectful and fawning in the sight of their long-lost golden king, thought by some to be only a memory. Their eyes were fixed on the gems that he sat upon, bearing the gold ring marking them as servants to the golden bull.
Misery’s beak twisted into its unnatural leer at the sight, as he took a lumbering step past the ponies towards their idol. So entranced by his possessions, the value of his flesh, they seemed barely to take notice of the great carrion bird. Avarice regarded Misery with a golden smile, the light of torches burning off his flesh as if he were some treasure hidden in a forgotten temple.
“How I have missed thee in thy absence, my beloved king of rot.” The great bull inclined his head in respect. “My heart is glad that thou hast returned to me at last,” Avarice purred. His smile turned to a wicked grin. “Thou art well-pleased with the fruits of their labors, I take it?”
“Indeed,” Misery spoke. “Thy forces swell more swiftly than those of thy lesser kin. Comforting to know that it is now as ever it was”
“Yes,” Avarice spoke wistfully, raising a great hoof and lifting a pony’s vacant head to look him in the eyes. “All creatures have desire... and where they desire, there may I play.” He turned his attention to the diamond dogs behind him. “It is sweet to once again reunite with the first children to fall to my arts.”
Misery spoke with satisfaction. “Their greed goes unsatisfied still. Shepherds without a flock; they will turn from any wisdom but thine. To undeserved riches, each and every one.” He grinned at the bull. “But thou shalt reclaim them in the end, is it not true?”
“Tis true,” Avarice agreed, then lowered his maw to his stash, choking on the glut of precious gems he swallowed down his throat. He turned to regard the dogs who were crestfallen at the loss of such jewels. “Fear not, my loyal servants. This I do for thee... a gift, from thy emperor, to thee.” His golden eyes became burning pools. Smoke and flame billowed from his open mouth as they stared at him in anticipation, claws digging at the ground, barely able to hold back their desire for whatever gift he might bestow upon them.
“What limitless vault hangs between thy shoulders, bull?” Misery asked, his head tilting with the unnatural contortions of his curiosity as he regarded his companion. “How many kingdoms hast thou devoured?” The smoke from the golden bull caused many ponies and dogs alike to cough violently, but none seemed eager to flee for air. “Avarice... thy craftsmanship is still legendary in mine eyes.”
The fire and smoke ceased, and the bull opened his maw. With a mighty heave, hundreds of suits of armor, crafted from gold with detailed inlays of gems and precious stones, poured forth onto the dusty ground. The ponies stared in shock, the diamond dogs with need. Even Misery could barely conceal his desire to own a suit for himself, though how he would make use of such a thing he didn’t know.
“For thee, my beloved lapdogs... take thee that to which each heart cleaves!” Avarice cried out in glee. The dogs rushed, grabbing suits of armor and putting them on. The ponies whose hooves were bare looked at the fiasco before them with grief-stricken expressions, desire in their eyes. Avarice noticed and regarded them with kindness. “Thou too shall know all the riches thy heart's desire. Thou need merely continue in thy labors... bring me more of the gems hidden in these hills and in my magnanimity shall I give to thee reward without measure.”
“Thou art as kind and generous as ever,” Misery said mockingly, the ponies around him cheering in agreement and dashing off to continue their toils. “Thy soldiers shall go about still garbed in such illustrious finery? Prithee allow me to test its fortitude.” He raised a wing, casually releasing a torrent of shadow at a freshly armored dog. The wave washed over the poor canine, rotting away his flesh and bone with barely a scream leaving his lips. Where once he had stood, only a pristine suit of armor was left. One of his greed-stricken fellows grabbed it up as soon as it fell. Misery laughed heartily at the sight. “Thy armor still holds. Even my magic could not tarnish it.” He looked sidelong at the bull. “From the corpses of which ancient ponies didst thou piece it together, I must wonder?”
The bull simply smiled and said nothing.
Suddenly, Misery’s chest rippled like water. A brown filly burst forth from it, landing in between the two Furies. The golden bull leaped back in shock, falling on his back and breaking the stone beneath him. Misery let loose a joyous cry of laughter at his companion’s actions.
“Thy antics, too, are as pleasing as ever!” He rasped, laughter still in his graveyard voice.
“I did not expect thee to... birth a filly!” Avarice cried out in shock, embarrassment shining in his golden face. “What manner of... what is this!?”
“Compose thyself, brother,” the filly spoke in anger to the surprised bull. “Tis me... Treachery!”
“Treachery!?” Misery growled, his eyes burning their sea-green glow, a slow but terrible anger building in his countenance. “Why art thou here? Why doth thou wear the guise of a foal?” He regarded the little pony sternly. “Why art thou not still by the side of the princess, pouring poison into her immortal ear?”
The brown colt looked afraid and ashamed as he watched the great bird. He took a step away from the raging bird and looked over at the still-puzzled bull. Slowly, he drew in a calming breath.
“Tempest,” Treachery whispered.
“What?” Misery said dangerously. “Damn that cur!” He turned to walk about and clear in his mind, but his wing accidentally brushed a mare, who turned to ash almost instantly. He composed himself quickly, smiling horribly. “This may not be so bad.”
“Not so bad?!” Treachery shouted in dismay. “What could be worse?!”
“I will explain later,” Misery said with glee. “Treachery; get thyself forthwith back to Canterlot. Remain hidden and await my instructions.”
“Fine,” Treachery said in annoyance, stepping into Misery and vanishing once more.
“How?” Avarice asked, still in shock.
“My shadows lay here and there across the land,” Misery spoke evenly. “All of them parts of myself. Those who know where they are may use them as gateways to me.” The great bird turned from the bull seemed to be pondering his words. “Make haste and build thy army. I need thee prepared to march on the lower villages and cities of Equestria.”
“Whither dost thou intend to go?” Avarice asked as he regained his composure.
“I must prepare,” Misery spoke, sneering. “The Summer Sun Celebration is tomorrow morning. And I plan to attend.”
The Castle bedchamber was silent, save for the bedsprings under a single bouncing pink pony.
The spacious, well-appointed room held eight beds, all but one occupied by a pony. Twilight Sparkle lay in her bed, sheets pulled up to her nose. She wore a worried look. Rarity and Applejack had no such concerns, both quietly snoring, snuggled in the soft, warm comfort of their respective beds. Rainbow Dash watched Pinkie Pie bounce as Fluttershy tucked in the three Cutie Mark Crusaders.
Finished with the fillies, Fluttershy slowly approached the bouncing pink mare. Pinkie Pie did a double backflip and landed on her stomach on the bed, bouncing off and landing on her hooves in front of the yellow pegasus. Her eyes were sparkling as she began to giggle.
“You know,” Pinkie Pie started, placing a hoof against her chin and thinking. “These Canterlot Castle beds are nice and all... but...”
“But what?” Rainbow Dash asked with a smile.
“Well... I think they need some work in the bouncing department,” Pinkie said displeased. “My bed at home bounces me twice as high.”
“Pinkie...” Rainbow said in disbelief. “The ceilings here are forty hoof. Your room is like twelve... at best.”
“Yep!” Pinkie agreed happily.
“How does that work?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“I have no idea!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed without pause. The blue pegasus face-hoofed.
“Umm, girls...” Fluttershy spoke softly. “Do you think... if you don’t mind that is... that you could maybe keep it down? It’s just that... the little ones are trying to sleep.”
Pinkie Pie came to a rest on the ground, her eyes apologetic. “Oh I’m sorry, Fluttershy. I guess I get carried away when I’m talking about bouncing!” She looked to Rainbow. “You mind if we put this convo on hold until morning, Dashie?”
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I think I’ll live.” She smiled brightly at the other pegasus. “Sorry, Fluttershy!” She curled up under her covers.
Fluttershy gave a sweet smile to both mares before retreating to her own bed and laying down.
Without warning, Applebloom got out of bed and trotted over to the only empty bed in the room. She wore a frustrated expression as she leapt up into it. The other Cutie Mark Crusaders looked after her sadly, laying down their heads and keeping quiet. Patiently, Fluttershy crawled out of her bed and went to the aggravated filly’s side.
“Are you alright, Applebloom?” Fluttershy asked quietly.
“No,” Applebloom pouted, folding her hooves as she laid back in the bed. After a moment she turned her soft eyes to the yellow pegasus. “They don’t believe me about that wolf.”
“Applebloom,” Fluttershy reproved sweetly. She rested a hoof on the filly’s head and smiled. “That wolf saved your life. Why are you so scared of her?”
“The question is why aren’t you?” Applebloom responded. “She just shows up and everypony welcomes her with open hooves! What if she is bad? What then?”
“I’m sure the Princess will make sure she’s safe,” Fluttershy reassured. “She wouldn’t let anyone be around us if they weren’t safe.”
“Maybe,” the yellow filly said reluctantly. “But I don’t like her.”
Fluttershy leaned close and nuzzled her on the cheek. The filly blushed and grinned at the gentle touch. Tucking Applebloom in, she hummed a tune and turned, a gentle smile in her eyes as she made her way to her bed. Twilight, listening intently, glanced over at the magical light illuminating the room. Her horn lit with a soft pink glow and the light began to dim.
The door opened quietly as Gale walked in. The pink wolf wore a smile as she regarded everypony, her quiet entry waking those who were sleeping. She walked into the room, shutting the door behind her with her tail. Twilight sat up quickly, bringing the lamp back to its full glow. The two recently-woken ponies shielded their eyes. Applebloom pulled the covers over her head.
“So how did it go?” Twilight asked, excitement and worry intermixed in her sparkling eyes. “Can you stay?”
“What happened in the throne room?” Applejack asked, wiping her sleepy eyes with a hoof.
“Yes,” Rarity asked. “What was that dreadful noise?”
“Girls!” Twilight exclaimed with a huff. “One question at a time!”
“Please,” Gale said with a chuckle, an earnest smile on her face. “Can we speak of this in the morning?” She turned to face Twilight, who wore a disappointed frown, her bottom lip protruding subconsciously.
The wolf huffed and laughed. “Fine. I shall give simple answers for simple questions. And then off to bed.” The purple unicorn smiled brightly, and everypony else sat up in anticipation. “First... I can stay. I will come on the morrow to live in thy cave.” Fluttershy shared a smile with Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle. “Second... the Princess has been attacked.” Immediately she raised a paw to silence the questions. “And before the questions leave thy lips, I will tell you that she has requested my discretion in the matter, wishing to make thee aware of her own accord.” Everypony’s faces took on somber aspects. They grew more worried as the wolf continued. “Lastly... that noise was the Princess showing her attacker the door.” She smiled wickedly. “Or window, rather.”
“That’s it?” Twilight asked in disbelief. “Who was it? What was it? How in the hoof did it get in there?”
“Thy queen...” she shook her head. “Apologies, thy princess shall speak to thee in those regards,” Gale said coyly. “As I said... I am tired.”
“Even though I’m anxious for answers too,” Rainbow Dash said, stopping to take in the frustrated glare she was receiving from Twilight. “She’s probably right.”
“Yes,” Rarity agreed cautiously. “I’m sure Celestia has her reasons. Who are we to question her?”
“Yup!” Pinkie exclaimed. “We’ll find out tomorrow morning at the Summer Sun Celebration!”
“Oh horse-apples!” Applejack cursed, the fillies giving her shocked looks. She gave an apologetic smile and continued. “I just forgot is all... with all that’s been happening.”
“Fine!” Twilight huffed as she laid back down. “Everypony get some sleep. It's a big day tomorrow,” she gave Gale a mildly-frustrated expression. “And we’re all going to get some answers.”
Gale watched as everypony settled in, seeing no open beds. She noticed the bed occupied by the hidden filly and approached it. Rainbow Dash was the first to look over at the wolf, her expression worried.
“Oh... hey Gale!” Rainbow Dash said.
“Yes?” Gale responded to the rainbow mare.
“Sorry... all the beds are taken,” Rainbow Dash apologized. The other ponies in the room took notice. “You can sleep over here with me if you want.”
“Very kind of thee,” Gale said as she continued past towards Applebloom’s bed. “But I will be fine.”
Gale reached the bed and pulled back the covers with a paw. Applebloom had no time to react, with words or actions, as the wolf lowered her head and bit softly onto the young filly’s hoof. With a gentle tug, the pink wolf lifted Applebloom off the bed and tossed her in the air. The filly’s eyes were wide in shock, joined by everypony else who watched the spectacle. Gale caught her by the scruff of her neck and curled up on top of the bed in a ball. Carefully and meticulously, she laid the frightened filly against her soft pink fur and nuzzled her once. Applebloom looked back at the wolf, who was pulling the covers around them, and gave a worried smile.
“Get some sleep, little one,” Gale spoke softly, her blue eyes kind, and nuzzled her once again. “Tomorrow is a big day.”
“Umm,” Applebloom said nervously. “I’m... not sure I can sleep here.”
“Would it help if I sang thee a lullaby?” Gale asked curiously down to the jittering filly. Her face grew distant and sad. “I wonder how thou shouldst like that one...”
Applejack began to get out of bed, but stopped as she noticed Applebloom nod at Gale.
The wolf cleared her throat and smiled down at the filly, then pulled the covers tight over her body. She began to sing softly and sweetly, her eyes distant, ignoring anything but the little one before her.
“Sleep now my little child, you have dreams to make.
I shall guard thy sleep, till thou shalt again awake.
Thy long day has ended now, thy hardships to forsake.
Rest thy pretty head, for as long as thou shalt take.”
Everypony watched and listened as the wolf sang. Her song warmed the room in a way that nopony could explain. Her face was happy but reserved. Fluttershy and Sweetie Belle listened intently, each of them trying to memorize the lyrics. Applebloom could not hide the smile on her face, though she tried.
“Turn away thy thoughts, my love, from the darkened skies.
I shall see that thou art safe until the sun’s new rise.
Please my child, mind thee not the weight upon thy eyes.
Danger shall come to thee not while in slumber thou art curled.
Until morning light doth break no tales shall I unfurl.
Through thy long and lonesome night I’ll guard thee from the world.”
Applebloom’s eyes shut under their own weight, sleep winning despite her foalish efforts to stave it. Everypony nestled into their pillows, relaxing as the wolf’s song lulled them into sleep likewise. Gale’s eyes shifted from calm blue to dim red, her face a mask of ancient and terrible anguish and rage.
“I must leave thee now my dear, my foes I must make pay.
My anguish at thy death is great...
Thy killer shall rue this day.”
“What?” Applebloom asked wearily as she began to stir.
“Oh... sorry,” Gale whispered, nuzzling the tired filly who smiled. “I may have mistook that last part.” She continued.
“Sleep in quiet dreams, my dear, until the break of day.
When thy eyes again open...
Then shall we run and play.”
Again another big thank you to you the reader and to Malthusite, my editor. I have been getting such wonderful feedback from all of you.
Also, to any of you who like things a bit more grimdark, my editor has written one of the most gruesome stories I have ever read. You can find his ponified version of Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star), called Hoof of the North Star, here.
Of Hoof and Paw
Written by: Damsus Rhee
Tears ran down her face in a river.
The audience applauded her pain.
Octavia took a bow after she finished playing her final note on stage. The crowd, rowdy and raucous during DJpon3’s and Lyra Heartstrings’s performances, stood in frozen awe during Octavia’s. Only now that she had drawn her bow across the strings for the last time did they dare break the reverie that had held them entranced, clapping their hooves and chanting her name.
Though her performance had ended, the tide of her tears was unstemmed. With care and reverence, she packed away her contrabass, lovingly placing the instrument inside its velvet-lined case. She ran a thoughtful hoof over the strings, and they whispered to her sweetly in a language only the two of them could understand. The gray earth pony closed the case fondly and carried it off-stage, passing by Lyra and Vinyl Scratch as she walked. Only now did she take the time to wipe the tears from her eye.
She hated crying onstage. Her tears fell freely, but not for the beautiful melody she had just played. Why would they? She had written them herself, practiced each so long and so fully they had grown rote. Nor did she weep for joy. She craved the adoration of the audience, their love of her art, as much as any musician. But it was nothing she hadn’t experienced before. They always loved her.
She wept for herself; for her deep and unquenchable loneliness, made all the more pronounced by the distant adoration of the audience. In the wake of her performance, she would be the talk of Salt Lick City, as she had been in almost every city where she had played. But it would never last. She had no family. None that she cared to visit with. Most of them simply asked for hoof-outs and loans. She had no friends. Except the one that came in a bottle.
The only one who would never judge her and never use her.
“Great performance Octy!” Vinyl Scratch cheered as she galloped to catch up to the sullen mare. “I knew you were the right choice for tonight!” Lyra hurried to join the group, trotting alongside the white DJ’s flank.
“Thank you for the invitation, Scratch,” Octavia said flatly. “It was my pleasure.” Not stopping to converse further, she continued towards her tent. Vinyl Scratch became more hesitant to follow as the crowd’s cheering and cries for an encore grew to a roar in the night sky.
“Sorry girls... gotta run,” Vinyl Scratch said, gesturing towards the crowd. “Don’t want to keep the fans waiting. We should hang out sometime, miss Octavia.” The gray mare stopped abruptly, turning to face the fleeing white unicorn as she made her way back to the stage. Lyra walked up and interposed herself in the mare’s confused gaze, smiling brightly. Her bright amber eyes sparkled with excitement and admiration.
“Hey!” The minty green unicorn greeted her enthusiastically. “You were awesome!”
“Yes... well... thank you,” Octavia said reservedly, turning from the gushing mare to her tent. “Goodnight, Lyra.”
“Goodnight?” Lyra said, a look of sadness immediately replacing her earlier enthusiasm. She dashed to get ahead of the retreating pony, stopping her in her tracks. “You can’t go to bed yet!” Octavia rolled her eyes, regarding the intruding pony with annoyance. “Bon Bon and I are going to join the crowd. Why don’t you come with us?”
“Come with you?” Octavia sneered incredulously, smirking. She pointed at the riot of ponies now cheering amongst the thumping bass. “In that crowd? I don’t think so.”
“Oh, come on!” Lyra insisted, flashing her brilliant white smile. Octavia shifted uncomfortably before the glowing display. “I want all my friends to hang out together.” The gray mare’s smirk faded, her eyes softening as she regarded the minty mare. “Come on! There are more bands playing. There’s sooo much cool music to hear!”
Octavia’s resolve returned. She turned her nose up at the crestfallen Lyra. “That is noise... not music.” Lyra’s ears lay flat against her head, and she took a step back.
“Sorry... I...” Lyra started, her voice quivering. “I didn’t mean to offend...”
“And another thing,” Octavia interrupted brazenly, stepping closer to the mare. “I have more shows to attend, and need my rest. I cannot just ‘hang out’ whenever I want.” Lyra turned away, her head hung low. She stopped and looked back at the fuming mare, tears forming in the wells of her eyes.
“I... I thought we were friends,” Lyra said sadly, trotting quickly away, big tears dripping from her eyes.
“I thought we were friends!” Octavia mocked in annoyance, pacing back and forth carrying her contrabass. “Ha! Why would I need friends when I have all...” she gestured to her empty tent, her rage fleeing as her voice matched her teary eyes. “...this.” She sat down on the dirt and looked over her shoulder at the crowd, her ears low. She turned from the festivities and trotted on alone.
Somberly, she made her way towards her tent. Nopony was around, the camping area more or less vacant until after the Summer Sun rose early in the morning. The crowd screamed cheers of excitement as DJ pon3’s return was announced over the intercom. The sudden roar of Vinyl Scratch’s bass threatened to destroy the long peace of Equestria.
I thought we were friends.
Octavia sat her contrabass’s case next to its twin. She sneered at the strange case, hating the sacrilege of such a fine piece of equipment sitting next to an abomination against the art of music. She grabbed a bottle of fine wine from the table in her tent, plopping down on her bed and pulling the covers over her. She bit the cork, freeing it with a tug and a pop. She spat the sweet-smelling stopper across the tent. She couldn’t bring herself to care where it went as she lay her head on her pillow.
I thought we were friends.
Wincing, she took her first pull. It was warm, but she didn’t mind. Not as much as she would have any other night. Though she had prayed for silence, the sound of music leaked through her cloth tent without resistance. She pulled her pillow over her face and screamed into it, the sound muffled. The moisture from her expelled breath was hot and wet against her face.
I thought we were friends.
Octavia threw the pillow across the room and took a deep breath, her tear-stained face quivering with the promise of more tears. She took a long pull from the bottle, the alcohol warming her belly. She laid her head on the cot, now frustrated by the absence of her soft pillow, holding the bottle up high above her head. She wished everypony would just go away. That everypony would be quiet and leave her alone. She closed her eyes and wished harder than she had ever wished.
I thought we were friends.
She opened her eyes, to find to her shock that the music had stopped. Everything was as still and silent as the grave. Still holding the bottle above her, she wondered if she was dreaming. She gave a surprised squeak as holes were punched in the tightly-stretched fabric of her tent, sharp objects ripping through it faster than she could follow. The bottle that she was holding shattered as one shot through the container, glass and flecks of red liquid pelting her body. Bloodcurdling screams rose into the night air, followed by the shadows of a mass of ponies in a mad dash of panicked ponies fleeing past her tent. Her eyes widened in shock. She had not wished for this.
The voice was not in her mind. She shivered to believe such a sound might come from her head. She could hear it screeching from outside. Octavia leapt up and ran to the door flap of the tent. Gazing out one of the holes in the flap, she could see the bedlam the festival had turned into. Quickly she wiped herself off with a towel and grabbed her contrabass, running outside.
Ponies were fleeing past her tent, away from the central stage. Most seemed unhurt, but the ones who were not were pierced with sharp needles visibly dripping a viscous fluid. They cried in pain and anguish as though burning, their friends tugging them away from the still-unseen source of the disturbance. A few lay motionlessly on the ground, killed instantly by a lucky barb, eyes glazed over. Octavia wished she didn’t drink, coughing and sputtering, covering her mouth with a hoof.
She turned to flee along with the other ponies, wishing to escape her own killing wound, and came to a sudden stop as she heard a plea for help from a familiar voice.
Turning to look back at the stage, her heart pounding, she found that her hooves would not move. She stood trembling, her mind wishing to flee, her body denying her. Lyra needed help.
I thought we were friends.
“Damn pony is gonna get me killed,” she said with a bittersweet smile, dashing towards the stage.
“Die!” The scarlet scorpion rasped. Around him lay the bodies of those ponies unlucky enough to be caught by the first wave of his attack as he cut his way to the center stage. He had burrowed under the mass of partying ponies and exploded upwards, spinning and slashing, stabbing and biting.
They never had a chance.
He stopped to look at the dead, delight burning in his blue eyes. He scooped up a pile of the corpses in his fangs, crushing and chewing them with his mangled teeth.
“You monster!” Cried Lyra from the stage, her face a mixture of rage and horror. The contents of her stomach roiled at the sight of the beast taking his gruesome meal. She held a hoof to her mouth to attempt to stem the tide of vomit that threatened to rush out. Ponies fled from him still, towards the desert. Her voice became a frightened whisper. “What are you?”
“Spite,” he gurgled horribly, remnants of half-chewed ponies spilling out on the floor. That macabre display was all the additional stimulation Lyra needed to unleash the contents of her stomach. She retched onto the stage, choking and gasping.
What could only tenuously be called the scorpion’s face twisted into a razor’s smile as it watched her try to regain her composure. It advanced steadily toward the stage, its legs casually scattering the fallen corpses, now and then skewering or mauling them.
“What do you want!?” Lyra screamed at the monster, eyes welling up with tears.
“Thee!” Spite answered, raising a claw to point at her. He chuckled deeply, the minty-green unicorn trembling like a leaf at the terrible noise. “Suffer!” The glow of his blue eyes waxed in intensity as she stared at them, unable to turn away.
Lyra began to scream. She found herself unable to turn away from the horrible glow. Her body convulsed violently as her shrill scream became a piercing wail. Fleeing ponies stopped to look at the mare in peril, only to spare her a pitying glance before resuming their flight. Lyra’s eyes turned red, bloodshot and pouring tears from the psychological pressure of the anguish racking her suddenly frail-seeming body, as she cried out piteously for somepony to kill her.
Without much warning, the deadly staring contest was over. Something had interrupted her line of sight.
Still trembling, she sucked in a long, sobbing breath. Instead of staring at the creatures’ eyes, she was looking into her own bloodshot amber orbs, her face wet with still-flowing tears and streaks of light pink which she couldn’t be entirely certain was not her blood. Her eyes slowly focused on the gold record floating in front of her face, a light blue aura of magic suffusing it. She looked to her left and saw a smiling white unicorn wearing shades.
“Buck n’ Shout,” Vinyl Scratch said. With a casual flip of a hoof, she lifted her glasses, revealing her magenta eyes and giving Lyra a wink. “First of my songs to ever top the charts.” She turned to look at the scorpion, her casual smile fading into disgust as she methodically lowered her shades into business position once more, her mouth emitting a small and seemingly subconscious noise like a pressure valve releasing as she did so. “Which is a pity for you.”
The golden record spun even faster than before, its terrific speed cutting the air with a loud whirring noise. With a jerk of the white unicorn’s head, the record-turned-sawblade flew from the stage and down towards the crimson monster. Raising his giant claw, he swatted the disc from the air, breaking it in half. He turned his incensed glare on her, eyes burning with the same glow with which he had terrorized Lyra a moment ago.
“Sorry, bub,” Vinyl Scratch said with another smile. She poked a hoof at her glasses. “It was a gamble... but I figured you needed to see past these beauties to do what you did to my friend there. Glad I was right.” Behind her, a duffle bag unzipped and dozens of golden records floated into the air with a warm magical hum. “And don’t you go worrying that the show is over. I got plenty of hits for us to spin up together.”
The records began to simultaneously spin in the same violent fashion as before, filling the air with the razorblade whir of their superfast revolutions. They rocketed towards the scorpion, too fast to be seen by the naked eye. He raised his tail and claws and began to swipe and sting at them, but the angry-sounding records circled around him like hornets who had just lost their jobs. Lashing out at killing speed with his tail, he missed and hit the ground instead, his tail digging in deep. Vinyl Scratch’s eyes sparkled behind her glasses.
“Now you're mine!” She screamed as her horn’s luminescence intensified. All the discs rocketed towards him at once, striking home. The rotating record-blades spun viciously against his shell, sparks flying. Black blood poured out as the creature roared in pain, some of the blades breaching softer parts of his carapace. The white unicorn smiled happily and cheered. “Oh yeah!”
“Fools!” Spite shrieked at the ponies on stage, the spinning edges digging still-deeper. The spines on his back quivered and shook. With a roar of pain, the spines shot into the sky, knocking away many of the golden disks, the rest falling down like a hail of deadly arrows. Lyra and Vinyl Scratch galloped as fast as their hooves could carry them, taking cover behind a bank of stereo equipment. Not a moment later, spines started to thunk loudly around them, piercing through the wood and steel of the stage. A single barb lodged directly above Lyra’s head, sticking through a speaker. The terrible scorpion laughed as the dust settled around them. He pointed an enormous claw at them. “Go!” The two mares on stage looked at each other in confusion.
The blood running down his hard carapace dripped into the sand, intermixing with it. The ground began to crawl as though something wriggled beneath the surface, trying to reach air. The sand popped upwards as if hundreds of soda bottles had been opened all at once, smaller versions of himself skittering out of it. A screeching chorus of enraged scorpions flooded up towards the stage, climbing the wood and dashing towards them.
“Get out of here!” Vinyl Scratch shouted, giving Lyra a hard shove towards the stage exit. She draped her magic around the records now lying strewn across the desert and pulled them to herself, spinning them in a whirling cyclone of flashing gold. Dashing towards the miniature monsters, she began cutting them to ribbons, the small host screeching as they died in droves. But more were crawling over their dead to get at her. Their numbers were too great, and she was forced to fight a desperate retreat against the tiny horde.
One of the little monsters latched onto her leg, pincers tugging at her flesh, its stinger burying itself deep. Sharp pain shot through her leg, the wound turning red instantly. She shook it off as another climbed her tail, stinger plunging cruelly into her flank. She cried out in pain as she lost control of her spinning death-records, sending them flying around recklessly, thudding into the freshly-sanded wood of the stage. She felt the pull of the poison as her senses left her. She staggered and fell heavily. Triumphantly, the scorpions descended on the DJ as she struggled to get to her feet. One came to eye level, tiny jaws slavering as its stinger glistened with wicked venom.
A vibrant flash of blue, accompanied by a light melody, swept the insect violently away. Lyra galloped forward, harp floating beside her as she kicked the little bugs off of the DJ. She reached a hoof down and hauled the woozy popular artist to her hooves. Turning to face the rest of the approaching scorpions, she magically plucked on her harp, twin blasts of blue force lashing out and crushing them, the rest scattering and splitting forces as they charged.
“Thanks,” Vinyl Scratch said weakly, her voice dry. She coughed and watched the insects coming closer. “Glad you decided to hang around.”
“No problem,” Lyra said, gritting her teeth. Another quick strum of her lyre and a circle of magic appeared around them. The ring expanded steadily outwards, burning any insects it touched. “Least we can do is give everypony else a running start.” With an offkey strum, the shield exploded, sending the tiny invaders flying backwards. “Sound good to you?”
“Suffer!” Spite growled furiously, his needles quivering. The attentions of the two unicorns snapped back to the colossal menace they had chosen to ignore in lieu of the swarm. “Die!”
A thick barrage of needles blotted out the moon above.
“You have to get out of here!” Bon Bon shouted through the glut of ponies fleeing from behind the stage. Octavia was shocked by her sudden appearance, rearing in fright. Galloping over to the grey mare, she set her head to her flank and pushed her away frantically. “Go! They’re trying to hold it back!”
“Hold what back!?” Octavia asked, still being pushed away by the cream-colored pony. She sat down, accidentally depositing the worried mare flat on her face. “Wait! What’s happening!?”
“A giant scorpion... thing is attacking!” Bon Bon blurted out as she stood again, shaking herself off. “I tried to get Lyra to run, but she wouldn’t leave!” Her voice cracked as tears glistened in her impressively blue eyes.
Octavia thought for only a moment before walking up the steps leading through blue curtains to the stage. She felt more afraid than she had ever been. She turned her head to look back at the worried mare. A shaky smile lit her face, making her even prettier, Octavia couldn’t help but notice.
“I’ll get her,” Octavia said calmly, turning and approaching the curtain. With a hoof she carefully moved it, only peeking out despite her former bravado.
On the other side, she saw Lyra Heartstrings and Vinyl Scratch sitting together, each leaning on the other for support as they panted, pierced with many tiny sharp needles. Their blood dripped onto the stage as the monster quivered and shook, its needles loosening. He unleashed another barrage into the night air, rocketing upwards and raining down on them again.
Grimacing tiredly, Lyra’s horn lit up as she pulled up a weak shield. Though a hundred or more of the needles struck the surface of the blue shield uselessly and fell to the stage, the fatigued pony couldn’t hold it for the entirety of the barrage. They threw themselves out of the direct path of the painful swarm, but still, a few of the needles found their marks, thunking home into the bleeding coats of both ponies, who screamed in pain. The needles in their coats dripped a glistening venom.
“Delightful!” Screeched the giant scorpion. His voice inspired an immediate fight-or-flight sensation in Octavia, in which she had to admit the former choice was winning. Thinking of the tortured mares on the stage, she stood her ground. The giant scorpion thing shook through once more as it fired again. “Scream!”
This time, DJ Pon3’s horn flared red, raising a shield against the needles. Like Lyra’s it only repelled the bulk. Some others found their way to their targets, even as the tired mares not so much leapt as fell out of the main path. They were too tired to scream. The stage backing behind them, and the wooden floor below, were thick with needles.
He laughed in horrible joy as the two mares stayed down. Vinyl scratch simply lay in a trembling heap, while Lyra crawled her way closer to her lyre, the needles on her soft belly scratching the wooden stage as small involuntary noises of desperation escaped her mouth. “More!” His voice thundered raucously as he began to vibrate again.
Octavia began to cry. For the first time in her life she cried not for herself, but for the terrible pain of the two extraordinary ponies trying to save her. She watched as Lyra sat up, lyre in her teeth, eyes tired slits. She saw Vinyl Scratch pull herself up behind the bloody mint-green pony, leaning against her. She saw the scorpion gurgle out a laugh amongst the twisted remnants of his first attack.
I thought we were friends.
She couldn’t stand idly by anymore. She raced onto the stage, her hooves carrying her as fast as they could, as the monster fired another thick barrage of needles at the stationary pair. With a great heave, she threw her contrabass case towards the two. The strap of the case left her mouth last. Never again would she feel the quiet comfort of its weight resting on her shoulders. Never again would it feel her embrace when she played it. She screamed something illegible as it flew in between the needles and the mares, impact sounds filling the air as it was viciously bombarded.
“Goodbye, old friend,” Octavia said with sorrow as the instrument was reduced to splinters, preserving the lives of the two dumbstruck mares. She turned her gaze behind her to Bon Bon, who had just peeked through, her eyes filled with worry. “Bon Bon.”
“Yes!?” The cream-colored mare asked, her voice tight and hoarse.
“My tent,” Octavia said flatly. “Go get my other case. Hurry.”
Bon Bon chanced another look at Lyra and winced. Turning, she galloped off. Octavia trotted over to stand next to the two gory mares. Lyra looked up at her with wide eyes. The grey earth pony gave her a weak smile, her gaze slowly taking in the sad remnants of her most prized possession.
“Your... your instrument,” Lyra said weakly, coughing up blood. “How... how could you?”
“I didn’t much like it anyways,” Octavia said with a taut smile, a tear running down her face. “Besides... I...” She wiped away her freely-flowing tears. “I thought we were friends.”
Lyra reached over and gave the grey pony something she had not felt since the orphanage. A hug. Octavia cried into the blood-spattered mare's mane. Vinyl Scratch leaned over and put a hoof on Octavia’s back, a knowing smile spreading on her face. The moment was shattered by a deep laugh.
“Touching!” Spite spat. He crawled towards the mares casually. He hoisted himself onto the stage, his fiery blue eyes ablaze with seething hatred. He laughed, and Octavia felt her blood freeze. “Disappear!” His spines quivered again as he readied another attack, leaning with his back directly facing them, the spines making a noise like a guitar's strings being plucked excitedly.
Lyra and Vinyl Scratch both pushed Octavia behind them as shields simultaneously crackled to life. The blue and red were interwoven, producing a bright sphere of light lilac. Their eyes widened in shock at the strange sight, and they shared a surprised glance. The creature unleashed a barrage at close range, but every needle clattered uselessly to the stage.
“Spellweaving?” Lyra said in astonishment, her eyes lit up excitedly as the fading shield around her began to mysteriously tend her wounds. The motes of light falling were healing her cuts. She quickly began pulling out the needles, the wounds closing and disappearing as she did. As the foreign objects were removed, her face lit with relief, her pain visibly washing away in the joined light of the three mares’ friendship..
“Guess we got more in common than we thought!” Vinyl Scratch cheered. The spines in her body glowed with sheaths of light as she pulled them out. Although she held her breath, she couldn’t help but emit a short, sharp scream. She hung her head, trembling for a moment, before raising her eyes to meet those of the scorpion. Her wounds began to heal from the gently-falling magic lights. A sly smile spread across her face as she took up a combative posture. “Well, I guess we gonna have to pump up the volume!” With a flash of DJ Pon3’s horn, all the spotlights to spark to life. “Round 2!” She shouted, baring her white teeth in fierce joy.
The creature gave a gurgling hiss and covered its eyes with a claw. Magic wrapped around Lyra’s lyre as amplifiers simultaneously crackled to life. The minty-green mare looked over at her in confusion for only a moment before her eyes suddenly sparkled with inspiration.
“I’d stand back, Octy!” Lyra shouted as she wrapped her energy around her instrument, a wicked grin on her face. “This show is far from over.” She cocked her head over at Vinyl Scratch and shouted. “Hey DJ... spin that shit!”
Teleporting to the control panel in a disco-colored explosion of magic, Vinyl Scratch grabbed the volume control knob with a hoof and spun it all the way up. The button broke once it passed ten. The air sparked to life as white noise filled the air. The scorpion looked up at the speakers and growled.
“Hit that!” Vinyl Scratch shouted, giving a simultaneous hoof pump.
Octavia watched with astonishment as Lyra strummed hard on her lyre, magic coursing through it and expelling through the stages many speakers. An enormous rush of sound waves pushed against the monster, pressing it back. It slid a few meters and smashed its legs into the wood stage. Fury in its eyes, it looked up at them. Lyra smiled happily at it.
“Oh... that's not all!” Lyra challenged as she hit the strings again, her magic pouring into the speakers. The sound struck the monster, but he was anchored into the stage now and stayed put. Above him, lightning struck down from the night sky. He stared up at it for a moment and then turned to face her. He spat furiously. “That’s right... that’s all me baby!” She gave a powerful strum, bringing more lightning down on him.
The golden disks stuck in the wood tore out noisily, forming a stairway into the air. Vinyl Scratch ran up them, her magic lashing out into her duffel bag once again, pulling out four platinum disks. She laughed as she got to the top, directly above Spite, and jumped off. Falling towards him the disks spun around her as she twirled through the air.
“Four hits, just for you!” The white coated unicorn screamed. She reached out for Lyra’s magic and felt an exultant rush as it connected with hers. Lightning flashed and struck the four discs as she fell, charging them. Spite slid heavily away from her point of impact, the glowing pony viciously slicing the stage where he had been. It exploded in the fury of a maelstrom, sand and slivers of wood kicking up in every direction, swallowing the mad DJ.
Octavia struggled to see through the debris. Four separate lines of lightning, moving in the dust cloud, caught the scorpion’s attention and he quickly charged at them. Stabbing viciously at the center, he cried out in rage and frustration as his tail hit only sand. Vinyl Scratch leapt from the dust at his side, a dozen glowing golden records following in her wake, and lashed out at the beast. Lightning from another deafening strum charged the discs, and as they hit him, he was launched backwards by a furious cyclone of electricity. The DJ slid to a halt and gave a hoofs-up to her partner.
Lyra was screaming at her from the stage.
The gray mare watched in horror as Lyra continued shouting. Turning around, Vinyl Scratch looked around for the vanished scorpion. Her eyes went wide as she leapt into the air, landing on a floating gold disk. The scorpion burst out from beneath her, launching hundreds of spines. She brought up a shield and it shattered, barely deflecting the needles away from her. The force of the attack knocked her off of her disc, and she landed on the desert surface with a thud, lying winded on her back.
Lyra screamed and strummed the lyre hard, sending more lightning running through the scorpion. He seemed not to register it as he quickly skittered over to the fallen pony. Opening his massive maw, stained with both his black blood and the red blood of ponies, he made to swallow her whole. Vinyl Scratch’s horn glowed brightly, two platinum disks erupting out of the sand, cutting into the soft parts at the corners of his mouth. His lower jaw hung slack and open for a moment as some of his jagged teeth fell on her. She squealed in disgust, rolling out of the way as his blood began to intermix with the sand.
Spite lashed out with his tail, its needle stabbing towards the mare's head. She raised a disc quickly, the needle passing through the eye of the record, coming to a stop centimeters from her retina. She blinked in horror. Diving away, the platinum records in his mouth and on his tail shattered. She attacked him with her remaining records, but the scorpion slapped them out of the air with ease, the platinum shattering.
Small scorpions came at her in a tide, rising from the great scorpion’s blood in the sand. With a furious scream, Lyra strummed once again, fire sparking to life as Vinyl Scratch leapt onto the stage, the desert floor covered in the now-burning corpses of ponies. The desert surface became as glass.
Spite walked on it without pain, its surface cracking and shattering where his unnatural legs touched. The magic flames did little to harm him. He seemed almost to enjoy the heat.
Vinyl Scratch slid to a stop next to a weary Lyra, both panting hard. Lyra dropped her lyre as if it weighed as much as a mountain. She took a look at the white DJ and smiled. Vinyl Scratch gave her a nod and pulled her last three disks around her as the scorpion climbed up the stage once more, jaws grinding and growling, the earlier damage healed. They hugged each other, tears in their eyes.
“Get a room,” Octavia said from behind them. Bon Bon was trembling beside her, the handle of a black cello case gripped tightly in her teeth. Octavia frowned. “Let’s hope the old stallion was right.”
Taking the case from the frightened cream-colored pony, she laid it gently on the ground. Reverently, she opened the case, recoiling from the sickening sight below her. Resignation in her eyes, she pulled out a solid black contrabass with a pure white bow. Standing in her customary pose, she placed the bow against the strings, a sneer on her face. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and drew the bow across the strings. Vibrant purple runes lit up along the instrument. They spread across its entirety and ran up her hoof to her body. She opened her eyes, which flared a piercing vermillion.
She began to play, the melody one she didn’t know. It was soft yet fierce. Beautiful but frightening. She felt the hoof of the heavens upon her. Magic. Something earth ponies almost never experienced without the use of magitech equipment. It felt wonderful. Powerful. It frightened her terribly.
Spite’s eyes went wide in shock as power lashed out of the strange instrument, running along the ground and through the air. Octavia didn’t care to see what she was sending out at the creature. As usual, her mind was wholly on the performance, and at the moment, on its terminus. She picked up the tempo, the first of the waves reaching him and exploding against his carapace, sending him flying back into the glassy desert floor. Lyra and Vinyl Scratch’s eyes went wide, their jaws dropping in shock. Barely luminescent shrouds of power swirled around the earth pony as she played.
“Impossible!” Spite growled, fury seething from his eyes. His mouth tore open painfully, his speech causing blood to pour from his mouth, running out and spattering. “We have seen thy kind perish! Thou hast no place in this world!” He vibrated, his needles coming free again, but Octavia finished the performance with a screeching draw of her bow against the strings. She thought she could see a pair of wings pass by her face. The force drove into his face, crushing it inward, his teeth exploding outwards as he fell over.
“Wow!” Lyra cried out in shock and excitement. The creature began to stir, her ears lowering. Slowly he sank beneath the sand and was gone. Lyra grinned happily and limped over to Octavia.
“What... what happened?” Octavia asked in confusion, her eyes returning to their normal pink hue.
“You don’t remember?” Vinyl Scratch asked as she joined the minty-green mare beside her. “You just went all medieval on that thing’s plot!”
“I... I did?” Octavia stuttered in shock. She looked over at the magical instrument Treble Clop had given her. Her face went pale. She pushed the contrabass over and dropped the bow, her hoof trembling. “I... I played that!?”
“You sure did!” Lyra said happily, dashing up and giving the gray mare a hug.
“And a good thing for us, too!” Vinyl Scratch said joining in the hug.
“Guess that means we’re...” Octavia muttered.
“Friends!” Both Lyra and Vinyl Scratch chimed in at the same time, both poking Octavia on the nose with their hooves. They laughed and hugged her tightly, her heart fluttering around wildly inside her chest. She felt happy for the first time in forever.
“Girls... I don’t want to be rude...but,” Octavia started, smiling a reserved smile down at the mares.
“But what?” They both asked.
“Well, you see...” Octavia said shyly, pushing the two mares away from her. “You're getting blood all over me.” They looked at each other and laughed, for a reason none of them could understand.
Misery watched the mass of ponies seething happily in the great courtyard below the royal castle, all eager to see their Sun Princess raise the sun and banish the moon this early morning. Murmurs of a disaster in Manehattan rolled quietly through the excited audience. Most ponies disregarded such far-fetched gossip. Misery smiled inwardly, knowing that soon they would choke on the truth.
Swiftly he spread himself out, splitting into thousands of Miseries. He bound himself to places that would be in shadow when exposed to the light of the sun. Underneath ponies, on the lee of every stone and blade of grass, and in crevasses never illuminated by light. One of his shadows bound itself beneath a brown colt with glowing pink eyes. A colt who smiled down at the slightly darker shadow engulfing his own.
“Greetings, Lord,” Treachery whispered, an evil smile on his face. “I cannot wait for the festivities to begin.”
A thin tendril of shadow detached from the ground, snaking its way up to the colt’s ear. A small mouth with sharp black teeth opened on it, strands of shadowy saliva stretching between the lips, as it wormed its way inside the colt’s ear canal. Misery’s voice was a whisper only the colt could hear.
“When the alicorn raises the sun, I shall make my move,” Misery spoke softly. “Thy part shall be to infest the hearts and minds of the Canterlot ponies with thy glorious contagion, thereby making my business easier.”
“But of course,” the brown colt affirmed. He looked to his right, and saw a unicorn stallion staring at him, confusion on his face. He turned to face the stallion, his eyes glowing vibrantly. “Go thee now and end thyself in some quiet way. Thy wife hates thee... she cuckolds thee with wild abandon. Thy children are disappointments and will achieve nothing. Better they be without.”
The unicorn walked slowly away, his head hung low as he pondered his final moments. Treachery smiled brightly and looked to the shadow below him. He gave an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders.
High up on a balcony lined with gold, Celestia emerged, a chorus of glorious trumpets heralding her arrival. Misery’s many shadows leered wickedly up at the mare, though he knew she could not see him. Behind her, six other mares emerged, taking up positions at her flanks. Misery’s many eyes narrowed at the sight of the Bearers, a momentary doubt passing over his diseased heart. But the moment passed, and he laughed to himself. The trumpets ceased their clamor as everypony lapsed into a respectful silence.
Celestia bowed her head regally to the crowd, a sign of royal respect. Holy magic gathered on the tip of her horn, glowing a dim white. With a single flap of her downy wings, she leapt into the air, head held high, and her horn exploded with vibrant light. Misery lusted openly for the princess’ power as the sun rose at her command, lighting all of her domain in its gentle, warming glow. He retreated into the shadows beneath the ponies, hidden away from the sun’s agonizing shine. She landed once more beside her awestruck entourage, their wide eyes sparkling as one.
“Welcome, everypony, to this year’s Summer Sun Celebration,” she announced proudly to the crowd, who now cheered and stomped their hooves on the ground. Misery quietly willed them to hold still. It was difficult to say the least to keep more than five thousand ponies out of the harmful rays of the sun. The princess’s expression grew somber as her tone turned serious. “Sadly, the festivities of this particular celebration will remain bittersweet.” Everypony began murmured worriedly to one another.
“You all may have heard that something terrible has happened in Manehattan,” Princess Celestia’s voice shook. The ponies at her side looked worriedly at each other. She gathered herself and spoke with conviction. “I’m afraid it’s true. Manehattan has been destroyed.” Everypony gasped, fretting and talking amongst themselves in confusion and fear. The princess raised her hoof to silence them, demanding their attention. “Please everypony, calm down. While the details of the event are sketchy at best... my top forensic ponies have informed me that there were very few deaths in the catastrophe.” She looked furtively down at the purple unicorn at her side, her voice no more than a whisper. “Spike was not among them.” The unicorn seemed to relax only a little. The crowd shouted up at the balcony.
“What caused it!?”
“How many were killed!?”
“Did it have something to do with that creepy moon!?”
“What do we do!?”
“PLEASE EVERYPONY, CALM YOURSELVES!” Celestia’s normally calming voice boomed out over the city. No pony present had ever heard the princess use the royal Canterlot voice. They stared at her in shock, falling to silence. She wore a knowing smile. “The royal guard will protect everypony in the city. I am sending extra security throughout Equestria.” Behind her, a guard approached, holding in his hooves a gem-studded case. He opened it reverently, revealing the Elements of Harmony. Celestia turned and smiled at the mares behind her, worry in their eyes. “What’s more... I am mobilizing the Elements of Harmony. As before, they shall be given the task of defending our realm from this unknown aggressor. There is nothing to fear.”
“Nothing to fear?” Misery’s voice echoed from beneath everypony in attendance. “Surely I have caught thee at a jape, dear princess.” Everypony looked for the source of the voice, fright and panic beginning to grow. Their shadows rippled and rolled beneath them, sending a sudden and terrible panic through the crowd. The shadows reached skyward, forming one great and terrible black raven. Green flames licked off of his vorpal flesh. Misery’s agony was terrific, but he kept his pain from reaching his expression.
Instead, he leered strangely at the Sun Princess. “Unknown? Thy royal tongue rots with the foulness of thy falsehood.” He looked out on the gathered ponies. “Thy precious princess knowest exactly who we are.” He cocked his giant head at Celestia. “Or hast thou forgotten sweet but terrible tales, told by the warm and friendly night-fires of thy foalhood?” His face twisted into its cruel and unnatural leer. Celestia looked on in horror as the bird flapped its great wings, the green flames burning off of them roaring brightly before her. The Bearers hid behind her, trembling. “Tell them, sweet Daystar. Tell them the name of those who bring their doom.”
“You!” Celestia growled, teeth clenched. She made her face neutral once again, and looked out on her troubled ponies. She scowled at the bird and spoke like a trumpet. “The furies have awakened.” Misery smiled a wicked smile at the princess as the crowd fretted in nervous confusion. Only a few gaped in utter horror. She growled at him with a ferocity nopony would have expected from the lovely alicorn princess. “But we will stop you.”
“Bravely spoken,” Misery chortled, pleased with her display. The agony of the sun’s rays on his glossy feathers almost overtook him for a moment. He emptied his expression of any feeling. “We are older than thee. Wiser than thee. And hath infinitely more power than thee. Thy Elements are but dull rocks and wan trinkets when matched against us. Thine eyes and thy mind are ours to shape to our own ends. Thy sister fell before us, two nights gone. A lamb at the altar of our power. Thy only recourse is that to which the leader unequal to the leading has ever fallen: to salve thy people’s clamor with lies, and leave them to choke on their own blood. Even now, the poor ponies of Salt Lick City go to a mass tomb.”
Celestia stared in horror at the bird, shock and disbelief on her face.
“Didst thou not know?” Misery continued in his cruel mockery of mercy. His eyes, flashing the color of disease and decay, swept over the crowd. “Taking thy tea, no doubt? Languishing in opulence whilst thy people writhe in agony.” The ponies below lay prostrate and trembling, cowering in a fear they had never known or imagined at his terrible presence. His head stretched unnaturally away from his neck, his sea-green eyes leering down on them. “Thou needest no longer fear ignorance... my dear sweet ponies. I shall fill thy cups to the brim with the bitter draught of sooth.” His wicked grin stretched past the confounds of his beak, unnaturally spreading from wing to wing. “In half a fortnight’s time... in the blackest of black night, the great city of Cloudsdale shall rot, and fall from the sky, collapsing beneath its own swollen, overcivilized bulk.” Disgust was in his horrible eyes. “The pegasi shall fly for home, but no home shall they find in my Equestrian skies.” He laughed vaguely to himself. “But they will suffer only a little. For by that time, every soul-candle that now burns in that foul city shall be extinguished.”
Now certain that he could no longer keep the agony of the sun out of his face, and feeling it threatening to turn his shadowy form into an inferno, he turned and darted away, a green and orange ball of fire. The screams of fright on the wind swelled his heart with joy as he left Canterlot, making his way towards the shadow of the mountain to which it clung. He thought he heard a voice behind him. His neck snapped and popped as he turned to find its source.
A rainbow-maned cerulean pegasus was chasing him, an Element of Harmony around her neck. She gained on him slowly, at which he arched his brow. Impressive. His body became smoke but moved at the same pace. When he came back together he faced the mare. He laughed as she gained on him.
“Tell me,” he rasped at her as they passed Mount Majestic. “What Element hast thou? Which Bearer is foolish enough to chase that which cannot be caught?”
“Loyalty!” Rainbow Dash cried, her speed increasing, the air around her rippling. Her voice was cocky. “And I can catch you!”
“Perhaps,” Misery strained out, drained from the punishment of the sun. “But what then wilt thou do?” He laughed as shadows detached from his body, rocketing towards her as oily black liquid. “Mayhap a demonstration of my power shall cow thee!”
Rainbow Dash’s eyes widened as the dark orbs flew at her. She tried to stop, rolling away from the foreign attack. One drop stuck to her right wing, latching onto the downy feathers. Misery rasped a terrible laugh as the mare let out a bloodcurdling scream, losing control of her flight and dropping towards the treetops below. He watched as the blackened, rotting remains of a skeletal wing dropped down to its former owner, as though coming home. With a beat of his wings he flew to the dark side of the mountain and vanished into the shadows. He felt content with the pain the mare had felt, the pain she would feel, had she survived the fall.
As he lay hidden, his agony finally relieved, he allowed his mind to wander to the only shadow he had left in Canterlot. One attached to the brown colt, who was happily playing on the fears of the ponies around him. And everypony was frightened. For the first time ever, many ponies doubted their Princess. If she had meant to keep this from them, what else might she be hiding, everypony wondered?
Misery chuckled to himself. He watched as the other Bearers and Celestia gave chase to the blue pegasus. Leading them was a pink wolf, sniffing at the air as she followed the scent.
“That is Tempest?” Misery whispered to the colt inquisitively.
“Yes,” Treachery replied. His face twisted with rage. “I couldn’t feel her either.”
“Thou hast seen her in this guise before, no?” The shadow asked.
“Indeed,” Treachery agreed thoughtfully. “But not since we awoke.”
The wolf stopped running and looked in Treachery’s direction. The colt jumped in fright. He stepped behind a stallion who was huddling in fear and pretended to weep, gaining instant sympathy from the surrounding ponies.
“Gale, what is it?” Rarity asked. The wolf slowly turned away from the brown filly and continued. The rest followed quickly behind, rushing out the courtyard and into the city.
Princess Luna appeared on the balcony, followed by six royal guards, as well as Fleur de Lis and Phalanx. She had a grim aspect in her eyes as she stepped onto the precipice to address her subjects. She had no qualms about using the Royal Canterlot voice, and she addressed them sternly.
“CITIZENS OF EQUESTRIA!” She shouted and they gave her their attention. “PLEASE, RETURN TO THY HOMES! PREPARE THYSELVES FOR THE HORRORS TO COME!” Confident of having everypony’s attention, she shifted to a more normal tone. “Equestria is now officially in a state of emergency.” The ponies in the crowd exchanged grave looks. “Those who are both able to fight and who wish to do so may report to Commander Phalanx immediately. Make no mistake, my ponies. We are at war.”
Another big shout out to you the reader. Also as always thank you to my editor Malthusite. Guy cant seem to get enough pony in between watching reruns and writing his own fan fiction, Hoof of the North Star. Chapter eight will be out soon!
Of Hoof and Paw
Written by: Damsus Rhee
Rainbow Dash let out a hoarse wail of agony.
The blue pegasus writhed on the ground, her right shoulder burning. She could hear sizzling and popping, smell a high acrid odor. She had sprained her wing before. While that had been painful, this felt different. Wrong. As though she was missing something. Something important. But if it wasn’t there, why did it hurt so much?
Steeling herself for what she might see, she looked over her shoulder. Her magenta eyes, still glistening with fresh tears of pain, widened in sorrow as she saw the ruin that had once been her right wing. All that remained of the once-downy appendage was a black, decayed stub. No feathers, no blood, no bone. Just the darkness of some unrecognizable, invading thing attached to her back where her wing should have been. She had the sudden and delirious urge to cut the ugly nub from her body, if only to prove that it wasn’t part of her.
This had to be a dream.
She cried out again, but not in pain. She buried her face in her hooves, the cold realization of her loss sending her mind into shock. How could she have been so foalish? She chased the bird all alone, without any help, even though it was easily the scariest thing she had ever seen. Thinking of him now, of it, she trembled. Raising a hoof, she struck the soft ground repeatedly, cursing and crying, until, her hoof sore from her raging, she curled up in a ball. She wept for what felt like hours.
Finally, her sorrow giving way to the realization that she was still alive, she stood on trembling hooves. She immediately lost her balance and fell into some brush, unprepared for the change in her weight distribution. She screamed angrily at a leaf that had come to rest on her nose and popped up, jumping up and down on the poor thing as if it were to blame for her predicament. To calm herself down, she took in a deep breath, the air burning in her lungs. For the first time since her fall, she took in her surroundings.
She recognized the trees and the strange blue flowers growing around her almost instantly. She had fallen into the Everfree forest outside of Ponyville. Carefully, she stepped around the blue plants, not wanting to see what joke they would pull on her in her current state, and made her way to a trail in the woods. She thanked the stars that she recognized the area.
Her body felt heavy. She was emotionally fatigued from the shock still at the loss of her wing, and sore from the hard fall through the forest’s thick canopy. The leaves and dead undergrowth had done little to cushion her landing, but they had probably saved her from breaking her neck. She limped in the general direction of Zecora’s hut, a keen eye on the sun to be sure of her direction. She prayed that the zebra would be home and able to get her back to Ponyville. She could barely drag her weary body along the muddy path.
Rainbow startled at a deep, dangerous sound from behind her, unnatural and full of hunger. She fell back in fright as a timberwolf stalked from behind it, growling, the elemental glow of its eyes burning in anticipation of its next meal. A cold sweat broke out on her forehead as she took to the air without thinking, spreading her wings to fly away. When the stub of her right wing tried to move, sharp, vicious agony shot through her body. She fell heavily to the ground, landing on her back, crying out as the painful reminder of her loss hurt her in a way that was beyond physical.
Sensing weakness, the timberwolf approached her. Saliva dripped from its sharp wooden fangs, as others stepped out of the brush to join their packmate in the kill. Rainbow Dash knew that timberwolves always hunted in packs. They were one of the single greatest threats in the Everfree Forest. Their claws turned up great clumps of dirt in their eagerness, as they growled and snarled at her. Her coat stood on end with each rumbling growl from the pack. She clambered to her hooves, assuming the bucking stance in case they charged her. They circled around her, stalking, darting in and snapping at her legs. She knew they were trying to tire her out.
“You want your meal?” Rainbow Dash snarled, digging at the fresh ground with a hoof. Her heart beat like a kick-drum. “Then come and get it!”
There was a brief pause as her personal universe hung on a knife’s edge, and for a moment she thought nothing would happen. But then, they obliged her request.
Moving as one, they lunged at her, vile teeth snapping at her forehooves. The first to attack receiving a swift buck to the side of the head, splinters flying. It sprawled on the ground, a chunk of its cranium missing. The others rushed past it to overwhelm the wounded mare. She ducked under the lunge of the next wolf and threw herself back from the teeth snapping at her throat. With another powerful forward buck, she caught another timberwolf in the jaw, sending it tumbling away. She could see the first to fall slowly standing, steadying itself and turning to glare at her. Its face, to her horror, was mending. The branches and twigs that made up the wolf’s form were twisting and stretching, stitching the broken part of its face back together with the sound of breaking wood.
The fight or flight reflex kicked into sudden and severe overdrive. She quickly concluded that fighting wasn’t an option. If she couldn’t do enough damage all at once, the wolves would just keep repairing themselves. She couldn’t fly with one wing.
Given all that, she settled on flight. Or running, at least. She felt the hot breath of a timberwolf on her rear leg only a second before its teeth snapped shut on it. She threw her head back and let out a hoarse scream of shock and pain. She had never been bitten before. She had imagined that having a creature dig its teeth into her would be an unpleasant experience at best, but she was unprepared for the agonizing reality of such a wound.
Turning over onto her back, she kicked and tugged at the thing’s face with her free hooves, trying to dislodge it from her leg. It defied her attempts, jerking at her burning leg, shaking her violently, sending fresh knives of pain through her body.. Another wolf slid across the leaf-strewn forest floor at her. The fires of Tartarus burnt in its eyes as it lunged at her.
Rainbow Dash closed her eyes and cried out in fear. She knew she was done for. She felt the creature’s hot breath on her throat, felt the flecks of saliva against her face as it snapped, could smell the stench of previous meals from its maw. She heard its bite more than felt it, a sickening crunch, the sound of the wooden timberwolf’s teeth snapping shut against flesh and bone. She cried out in terror, her mind exploding as she realized her life was about to end.
She waited for the pain to take hold, to be greeted by the cold embrace of the Deathmare. Instead, she heard a deep growl. She shook, quivering in fresh anticipation of her death, and opened her eyes reluctantly.
Gale stood over her. The pink wolf’s leg was in the timberwolf’s splintery mouth, its fangs soaked in blood and buried deep in her muscle. Some of the creature’s teeth had broken off in her flesh. It didn’t seem to mind, gnawing and jerking, growling excitedly. She looked down at Rainbow Dash, a smirk on her face, then frowned at the timberwolf latched onto her.
With a quick lunge, the pink wolf snapped down on the elemental beast, bark snapping and popping as its neck crunched in her jaws. Wood chips rained down on the shocked pegasus. With a jerk, she tore its teeth free from her leg, its glowing eyes extinguishing as it fell motionlessly to the ground. The claws of her injured leg flashed up to the face of the one holding Rainbow's leg in its fangs, and a loud crunch indicated the beasts jaw breaking into splinters. It released her and stepped back, gurgling in pain as its jaw hung deformed. Another deadly sweep of her claws, and the creature split open from chest to jaw. Maple-colored tree sap spewed from the wound as it fell backwards to the ground, writhing and rapidly decomposing into soil.
“Gale?!” Rainbow Dash said in shock. She sputtered. “How... where... how did you get here so fast?!”
“Fret thee not,” Gale spoke with a grin. She frowned and distastefully spit out a hail of wood chips and splinters, shaking her head and spluttering. “I have not come alone.” Rainbow Dash looked confused, and jumped in surprise as a purple blast shot through the bushes.
Twilight Sparkle led a charge toward the remaining wolves with Rainbow’s four other dearest friends following. All wore their respective Elements. The purple unicorn stopped just short of one of the slavering beasts, and with a bright flash from her horn, launched it into the undergrowth.
Rarity, in custom yellow boots and a matching scarf, leapt onto another. They rolled angrily as they struggled. She bucked hard against its chest as it tried to pin her and sent it into a tree, the bark of the timberwolf and the tree stripped by the impact.
The remaining wolves charged the newly-arrived ponies with wild hunger in their eyes. They slid to a halt at the vibrant flash of golden light from above. Princess Celestia descended regally from the forest canopy, her horn ablaze with furious magic, her expression a challenge to the wolves. She landed directly in front of them with a final flap of her wings. The leaves around her stirred, wafting through the air carrying her sweet scent. Standing at full height, she towered over them with her wingspan fully extended, her magic humming angrily. Rainbow Dash had never seen Celestia with the confidence she now wore. It made her feel small in comparison. She spoke to them with barely-restrained fury.
“I would leave,” she said, her eyes deadly serious, “if I were you.” She watched them quiver before her and raised her voice. The pure clarion call boomed throughout the woods, shaking leaves free from the trees around her. “Now!” They turned and darted into the forest, some vanishing into the undergrowth, others weaving through the maze of the forest. None of them dared a second glance back at the furious alicorn.
Celestia gave a disdainful snort, nodding in satisfaction as she turned to face the other mares, who were huddled around the prone blue pegasus. Rainbow Dash could see the look of worry on her princess’s face as she approached her, her wings folding into their usual place at her flanks.
Under the watchful gaze of her friends, Rainbow Dash felt ashamed for running off, making them worry. She also felt naked without her wing, missed its comforting weight against her. She wanted to cry, but she couldn’t while they were watching. That would have been selfish. She wiped her face with a hoof and looked up at them. Their faces told her all she needed to know.
“I... I shouldn't have flown off...” she started, tears in her eyes despite her best efforts. She found herself unable to continue. A soft yellow hoof was placed against her lips. She looked up at the mare who owned it. Fluttershy’s teal eyes were flooded with tears, a stirring contrast to her warm smile. She hugged her friend, comforting her, which made Rainbow Dash feel even worse. She accepted the embrace. She couldn’t help but notice Fluttershy’s two good wings wrapped lovingly around her, their feathery softness and comforting warmth salving her hurts. She hated the jealousy she felt for her friend. Even though it had been nopony’s fault but hers that she had lost one of her wings. She scolded herself for her feelings, as she often did.
“I’m sure... that we can fix that right up,” Rarity spoke with an overconfident lilt, pointing a hoof at Rainbow Dash’s missing wing. She glanced over at Twilight, a supplicating look in her eyes. “Right?”
“Yeah... sure we can, Dash,” Twilight spoke with a fake smile. She turned to look at her mentor and frowned. “Right?” Celestia gave her student a troubled look. Twilight’s voice cracked as she asked again, frantically. “Right?”
“I would... hope so,” Celestia spoke softly, her voice trying not to worry the blue mare. “Unfortunately, I myself know of no way to restore a missing limb.” There was some kind of distant pain in her eyes, but nopony could guess what she was thinking past her impenetrable expression.
Rainbow Dash’s ears hung limp. She looked past Fluttershy, who refused to let go, at the sad remains of her missing wing. Never again would she fly in the cerulean skies. Never again would she create another sonic rainboom. She would never be a wonderbolt. As her hope died, Pinkie Pie bounced over and smiled exuberantly at her, her voice as light as cotton candy.
“I bet Zecora could fix you right up!” The pink earth pony said. “She’s got a potion for everything!” Applejack’s eyes lit up.
“Pinkie!” She shouted happily, dashing past the pink pony to stand next to Rainbow Dash. “You're a genius!”
“That’s not very nice,” Pinkie replied, offended. Twilight gave her a curious look.
“No, Pinkie!” Applejack laughed warmly. She smiled and leaned in close to the sullen mare. “Zecora! She regrew Applebloom’s tooth once! I bet she could do the same for your wing, Rainbow!”
Rainbow Dash felt a small flame of hope flare up inside her. She might just get to fly again after all. Standing up too quickly, she accidentally sent Fluttershy tumbling back on her haunches. She did a hoof-pump and cheered. She felt hope again, not just because Zecora could possibly give her back her wing, a prospect that she prayed for. But because all her friends were giving her their most reassuring smiles. She felt her wing was as good as back.
“You’re right!” Rainbow Dash proclaimed exuberantly. The usual determined fire lit her eyes once more. “Let’s get over there and see if she can whip me up something!”
Everypony cheered happily, piling onto the blue pegasus. Gale smiled warmly. Rainbow Dash laughed and pushed them away, afraid to tell them how much her wing was hurting her with them climbing all over it. Celestia stepped forward and knelt next to her, her face kind but heavy with concern.
“Rainbow Dash,” she started, her magenta eyes a sweet mask for her true emotions. “You acted very bravely today. But next time, remember that you have friends who can help you. Friends who are willing to stand beside you. You need not face every obstacle on your own.” Her smile turned into a frown. “I don’t know if Zecora can fix your wing...” she smiled warmly. “Either way, I shall not forget your sacrifice this day.” Rainbow Dash gave her a bright smile. Spreading her wings, she spoke sweetly to everypony around her. “I must return to Canterlot... there is much I must do.”
“Oh my!” Rarity interrupted. “I forgot Sweetie Belle and the others at the festival!”
“Don’t worry,” Celestia said warmly. “I will personally see to it they are put on the next train to Ponyville.” She turned to her star pupil. “Don’t worry, Twilight. We will find Spike.”
Rainbow Dash saw Twilight’s face turn to worry, her eyes glistening with tears. She nodded to Celestia. With a mighty flap of her wings, the alicorn soared back towards her castle, and the city that was hers to guard. Rainbow Dash heard Gale give a polite cough. She looked at the pink wolf, her eyes drawn to the fresh blood running down her leg.
“I just wanted to say...” Gale started.
“Gale!” Rainbow Dash spoke with shock, interrupting her. She galloped over and sat down. Her voice was quiet. Guilty. “You got hurt... because of me.”
“I have had wounds far graver for spoils far lesser,” Gale said with humor in her voice. “Besides... twas a pleasure to show yonder mongrels what harm a real wolf can do.”
“Here, let me take care of that,” Rarity said, wrapping her scarf in magic and levitating it to the wolf’s hurt leg.
“No... really,” Gale started, pulling her leg from the floating article of clothing. “I am unhurt... do not soil thy scarf.” The white unicorn gave an annoyed scowl at the wolf, her ears drooping. She pouted for a moment at the wolf, until Gale bit her lip and reluctantly held her leg out for the mare. Rarity smiled happily at her submission, bandaging the wound with a contented hum. It wrapped tightly around her leg, tying a perfect knot and taking on a red tint as blood soaked into it.
“There! That should do until we can get you to the doctor,” Rarity said happily. “See Rainbow... you could learn something from Gale here.” Her voice took on a haughty air. “One should never turn down a friend’s assistance.”
“We’ll have plenty of time to talk about that after we get Rainbow’s wing fixed,” Applejack said. “Besides... I think she’s feeling plenty bad about what happened... without our help.” Rarity looked ashamed and gave an apologetic look at the blue pony.
“How did you guys get to me so quick?” Rainbow Dash asked, rubbing her head with a hoof. “I mean, we were flying pretty fast. We were a long way from Canterlot.”
“It was Gale’s idea,” Twilight chimed in. Her voice swelled with pride. “She suggested I target her with my teleportation spell but not follow through with it. She ran so fast... all I had to do was keep the spell’s matrix from collapsing or enveloping all of us as it remained locked on her. Doing so... I was easily able to see through the distortion... waiting until just the right moment to...”
Rainbow Dash moaned loudly, collapsing and covering her ears with her hooves. Twilight frowned. Everypony shared a laugh. Twilight looked over at the pink wolf with disbelief. “Actually, that was some rather complicated spell planning. How did you think that up all of a sudden?”
“Well... I,” Gale started, looking nervous, her response rushed “I had seen such work before!”
“Lucky for us,” Rarity chimed in. “But that’s hardly important right now.”
“Indeed! I am pleased by thy... relative safety,” Gale spoke sweetly. “But... I shall be unable to accompany thee.” Everypony shared glances. Gale smiled warmly. “I must return to Canterlot to have words with thy princess. I shall return tomorrow morning... and I shall see to it that thy little ones are returned to thee unscathed.” They all smiled at her. “I wish thee well, Rainbow Dash.” The pink wolf turned from the group, bowed her head, and dashed off towards the city on the horizon.
Rainbow Dash sat in silence, watching the wolf go. Her mind was full of conflicting thoughts, each trying to gain a hold on her. Gale showed up about not long after Zecora told them that story. The other furies were loose and she was the first wolf to appear in Equestria in generations. She spoke like them. Could this all just be coincidence? But she didn’t fit the description: a white wolf with red eyes. Not to mention her kindness to all of them. Still, it seemed unusual. But, Rainbow Dash reminded herself that she wasn’t a smart pony, after all. It was probably nothing.
Her thoughts turned from her silly suspicions to her own situation. She had run off without her friends, chasing after the most deadly creature she had ever encountered. Her wing was gone. What if she couldn’t get it back? What if it was lost to her forever? How could she help defend Cloudsdale now? What if she couldn’t even get there? She closed off that avenue of consideration. Insanity lay down that path.
“Lets go see Zecora,” Pinkie said gently. “We’ll get you all fixed, up Dashie.”
Rainbow Dash put her fears to rest as she started on the longest walk of her life. At her pace, even with her friend’s assistance, it would be nightfall before they reached Zecora. Nonetheless, she was happy to have friends like them.
“From hell's heart I stab at thee!” The sapphire-blue pony screamed hoarsely as she plunged her spear into her foe. Her hated enemy stood fast, strong and defiant as she twisted and turned the sharp point already buried within him, trying to hit something vital. Her normally-sweet blue eyes burned with determination and rage as she pulled her weapon from the beast, unable to finish it completely.
With a grim smile and a clipped laugh she realized that her weapon was pointless against one so great. A quick flare from her horn solved that problem. Dropping her tool on the table beside her, she wrapped her sheath of magic around a more appropriate weapon; a magical drill. She went to work at once, drilling away at the rotted, emaciated form of the strange and evil creature.
“Success!” She shouted in triumph, her eyes sparkling in delight as the monstrosity went through its death throes before her. “Now... one last thing and I shall be finished with you!”
“Colgate!?” A red mare said, peering into the room, an exasperated look on her face. “What are you doing?” Colgate turned her keen eyes from her sworn enemy to the unexpected intruder. Embarrassment registered as she took a step away from the pony strapped in her dentist’s chair, a dim glow of teal magic illuminating it. The occupant was frozen in magical stasis, his mouth gaping.
“Umm... bad cavity?” Colgate spoke, giggling awkwardly. The two mares enjoyed a brief but very awkward silence.
“Rrrright...,” the red earth pony drawled, rolling her eyes. “Just get him finished up... I want to go home.”
“Got it!” The dentist mare agreed, giving an exuberant hoof-pump. “Right away!” The red mare rolled her eyes, turning and leaving the room. Colgate gave a long sigh. “Well... like I said.” She brushed the stallion’s teeth with gusto, until they sparkled white. “Brush brush brush!” She chirped happily to herself. Once finished, she thoroughly rinsed the frozen pony’s mouth and drained it. Then, she squeezed her eyes shut in concentration, her tongue protruding from her mouth a bit, horn thrumming with power. After a moment’s concentration, she let out a satisfied sigh as time restarted around him.
“And as I was saying...” The stallion said, then stopped in sudden confusion. He ran his tongue over his teeth and shock registered in his expression. “Why, that’s incredible! I didn’t feel a thing!” He stood up and shook her hoof. “So, same time in three months, right?”
“Right!” Colgate bubbled at him. “And remember to brush three times a day.” She led him to the door and pointed a hoof down the hallway. “Please see the receptionist on the way out.”
“You got it, miss Colgate!” He said obediently as he trotted off down the hall, a pearly smile shining out for the world to see.
Colgate smiled contentedly as she watched him leave. She loved to see ponies show off their wonderful new smiles when she had finished with them. Now if only they would take better care of their hygiene without her shepherding, she could breathe easier. Walking back into her office, she hummed a little tune as she cleaned. She wiped down the chairs and put her dirty tools into the dental oven, which cooked away the bacteria they had acquired. Now they would be clean and sterile for her next patient. The thought filled her with a deep sense of satisfaction. She glanced down at the remains of the cavity she had stripped away. With familiarity born of practice, she stood on her hind legs and pointed a hoof furiously down at the vile thing, eyes intent.
“You shall plague him no longer, lord of the plaque!” She cried dramatically at the cup. She heard a pony clear her throat from behind her and blushed. Setting all four hooves back on the ground, she turned to face her red receptionist. “Jot Note... hi! Didn’t... didn't see you there.” She tittered awkwardly.
“You never do,” Jot Note said flatly, shaking her head. “It’s noon... time to close up. I’m going home for the weekend.”
“Oh... okay. See you next week,” Colgate said, her cheeks still flushed. She watched as the pony shut her office door and listened to her hoofsteps receding down the hallway. Shortly after, the front door opened and closed with the customary tinkling sound from the bell attached to it. Colgate sighed heavily. “Ah, merde!” She finished cleaning quietly, in a hurry to leave for the day. She had embarrassed herself enough for one morning.
Stepping out of her office into the streets of Fillydelphia was always a shock. Her office building was the smallest of all the businesses on the block. She didn’t bring in the bits that the others did. Running a free clinic had that effect, she supposed. Fillydelphia was a towering monster in its own accord, its giant skyscrapers a testament to the industry and economy of the kingdom. But such growth had its cost.
The clouds above the industrial district of the city always hung sullenly in the sky, dark-grey and looming, rarely allowing the sun’s sweet kisses to reach the ponies who lived there. Always struggling to make ends meet, working for greedy companies or committing petty theft, those on the dark side of the city usually lived in leaky, cramped apartments or, in the worst cases, the street itself.
The lit half of the city was a vibrant utopia for those ponies who could afford it. It was the Equestrian dream. Celestia’s blessed sunshine gently caressed their white picket fences and big, pretty families in their bigger, prettier houses. Colgate had once dreamt of saving enough money to live there herself but knew deep down that the city would find ways to take her earnings and keep her out. It always did if you weren’t one of the lucky few.
Colgate shook her head, trying to improve her gloomy state of mind. Somehow, she slipped into a dream. She became Irene Saddler, an opera singer who had in her possession a compromising photograph of Princess Celestia. She saw that she was tailed by two royal guards disguised as street toughs. She picked up her pace, moving away from the disguised royal manservants, trying not to let them see the fear in her eyes. If they caught her with the picture, she would hang from the gallows at the sun’s next rising.
She could hear their hoofsteps approaching, heavier and more intense with each step. She knew they recognized her. She forced herself not to look back, intent on reaching her safe haven; a bar down the street where she was sure to find other ponies. She knew the guards would never attack her in such a public place.
She had just reached the door of the tavern, pleased with her successful evasion, when a strong hoof was laid on her shoulder. The color drained from her face, her heart stuttering to a stop. Trembling, she looked over her shoulder, preparing for the pain to follow. Never again would she sing at the delightful luncheons of the Seasaddle Operatic Society. Her illicit photograph would never yield the rich rewards she had hoped. Instead, she felt the noose tighten as the Deathmare approached.
“So here you are...” the disguised guard said with a sly smile. “Did you think that we would forget about you?” Her ears drooped as she realized her defeat. She couldn’t let this be the end. She had to escape. But to escape, she would need to take out these two well-trained, possibly armed guards. She reared up onto her back hooves and growled down at the two like a magical tiger.
“You shall not have me!” She cried dramatically, preparing to fight for her life.
“What!?” The stallion who had tapped her asked curiously. The world faded back to its usual drab gray. The two ponies before her looked at her with wide eyes. “We... just wanted to say thank you for fixing our teeth last week.” He stepped back from the eccentric mare. “Umm... are you ok?”
“Uh... sorry,” Colgate said through her blush, returning all four hooves safely to earth. “No problem... glad I could... help.” She giggled nervously. The two ponies shared a quizzical look before retreating hastily. She shouted after them, still blushing. “Remember... three times a day... brush.” She hung her head as if lead weights were attached to it.
Her mood did not last as she realized that though she had lived the last few minutes in her fantasy world, the bar was real. Her favorite afternoon hangout was a beacon of light disguised as a seedy, shabbily-kept tavern to fool the general rabble. She wondered if she could afford to go in for a few drinks. Times were tough (as usual), and the ice box at her apartment was all but empty. Eyes glistening with tears, she thought of the forlorn box of frozen burritos squatting drably in the back of it. She had just never seemed quite hungry enough to have any of them yet. Maybe tonight could be their night to shine.
Her indecisiveness was swept away when she noticed it was happy hour. Her face could hardly contain her happiness as she trotted giddily inside.
Les Savy Fav was her favorite bar. Sure it had the look of a place where ne’er-do-wells and she guessed maybe poltroons and the like plotted their illegalities, but in reality it was quiet and secluded. Exactly what she wanted when she drank. The place was almost empty as she strolled in. It was the middle of the day, even if it felt like nighttime to her.
Colgate hopped onto a barstool shaped like a futon, lying across its plush velvet seat, and smiled warmly at the midnight-black stallion with a matching mane behind the bar. He never returned her smile, simply pouring her exactly what he knew she wanted. He slid the purple liquor in front of her, a gentle spark of magic in the mix as power flashed visibly through it. Her eyes sparkled in excitement as she wrapped the vibrant drink in her telekinetic grasp. He reached over and held the drink down with a hoof, meeting her eyes intently.
She turned on her feminine wiles, pouting dejectedly up at the barkeep. He regarded her evenly with his soft blue eyes. With a quick jerk of his head, he drew her attention to the dry-erase board behind him. She read it with tears in her eyes, although she knew exactly what it said..
It was a list of tabs, arranged from top to bottom by quantity. At the very top, ‘Colgate’ was written in sure, confident, boxy script. Three hundred and forty two bits of unaddressed debt stood between her and the gentle burn that she craved. She gave a careful look at her flank, never breaking her pout as she illustrated that she did not have her purse with her, and smiled brightly back at the bartender.
He frowned and pulled the glass away from her. For each centimeter by which she lost the precious beverage, her ears drooped lower and lower, outthrust lower lip trembling. He sighed at her, the only sound she had ever heard him make, and slid the glass back to her. Turning around, he erased her tab, adding her new amount to the top of the list.
“Thanks Barley Hop,” Colgate whispered to him, her face genuinely apologetic. He turned to look at her, his eyes devoid of any readable emotion, and went back to cleaning a glass with a rag. “You're the best.” He gave her a lengthy, even look before returning to his duties.
She took a long sip, the warm but electrifying sensation of the Flim Flam Electric Shot Company’s brew shooting through every inch of her body. She didn’t know how they made this stuff, and didn’t care. She only knew that it tasted delicious.
Hesitantly, she looked back up at the board, wincing. She felt a pang. Barley Hop had always been generous. Giving her drinks and putting it on a tab that he knew as well as her she could never repay. He never spoke to her, or to anypony for that matter. He was a silent sentinel in the bustling, noisy city, giving drinks and comfort to those in need of it. She always assumed that he treated her so kindly because she offered the same to those who could never afford the dentistry she performed.
As she sat in silence, she let her mind wander back to Ponyville. Nopony back there knew the trouble she was in. She hid everything behind a false smile and a bottle of liquor. Her coltfriend, Golden Rum, had been possessive and controlling. When she told him her dreams of dentistry, he had lost it. He didn’t want to lose the money she earned at the club.
Colgate had hated the club. Sitting on a lonely hill outside of ponyville, from a distance, it could be easily mistaken for an abandoned shack. Inside, it was The Silk Saddle, a secretive and exclusive lingerie club. She was a dresser, somepony who put clothing on for the pleasure of customers.
She would spend hours there, dressing herself in various fashions that made her blush to this day. All for the amusement of stallions and sometimes mares. One thing more than any other had terrified her. Degraded her very soul. Threatened to overtake her and make her into less than the sum of her parts. A piece of clothing so terrible that it ruined her peaceful sleep, haunting her dreams with its wavy bodies and soft microfibers.
She shuddered at the thought. Never again would she wear those degrading things. Pulling them on with her teeth as she lay awkwardly across the floor, the cruel and beady eyes of onlookers watching her intently, just so she could pull them off again. At times she liked the attention. Usually after a fight with Golden Rum. Mostly, she was just ashamed. If not for Berry Punch, she would have died in that place. Well, maybe not died, she reflected. But it still would have been pretty uncomfortable.
One fateful night, Golden Rum had struck her. Berry Punch had seen it. The drunken mare managed to sober herself for the walk to the train station. She had escorted Colgate herself. Had been the last pony ever to call her by her real name. A name that died with her abandoned life in Ponyville.
She looked furtively around the bar, fearful that somepony might have heard her just think it and find out who she was. All she saw was an older stallion trying to make friends with a wall that he seemed to find very attractive. It didn’t seem very interested.
Starting a new life in Fillydelphia hadn’t been as simple as it had sounded when she and Berry Punch had discussed it. Other than her super-special talent, she had never been very good with magic. Half the time, telekinesis, the simplest trick a unicorn could do, backfired on her.
Fearful that Golden Rum would find her and drag her home, she had adopted the name Colgate, a quiet rebellion against Golden Rum’s attempts to quash her dreams. She had lived on the streets for weeks, scrounging food, starving and scared. Just when she thought she couldn’t go on, that she would have to return to the hard hooves of her ex, a very special somepony had opened her home and her heart to Colgate.
Cherry Spices was a vibrant unicorn. Colgate had first spied her walking into a nearby lingerie club, just like the one she had used to work in. She had considered going to work there, when things were particularly hard. She had thought she was the prettiest mare she had ever seen, but other than that had paid her little attention. Until that night.
One night, the chocolate-colored mare had approached her and dropped an apple at her hooves as she lay, cold and shivering, on the hard concrete of an alley. She had been daydreaming, about being a pirate she thought, when the juicy red fruit snapped her into reality. She thanked Celestia and dug in. When she had finished, Cherry Spices smiled and offered to put her up for the night. Colgate never expected that one night to turn into two, or three, or a year.
It was strange for her, living with a pony who did what she had once done, and enjoyed it so much more than she would have ever thought possible. Night after night, the chocolate pony would come home, proudly wearing her socks, going on about her wonderful day. She actually liked what she did. In time, Colgate found a position at a local clinic. She still didn’t earn enough.
Colgate snapped back to reality as the jukebox roared to life, the sound of Seven Barns blaring out of it. Colgate and Barley Hop stared daggers at the emerald green stallion who had activated the machine. After a moment of their visual onslaught, he unplugged it with a hoof, smiling sheepishly. Colgate stared sadly into her empty glass, a single tear dripping into the dry bottom of it.
She felt a gentle hoof on her shoulder. Barley Hop regarded her kindly, though it still came out unreadable. She gave him an awkward smile and he pushed another drink over to her. She began to object, but he pointed a hoof at his trademark sign hanging above the more-expensive booze.
‘Do not argue with the bartender or you will get bucked.’
She smiled honestly and laughed, wiping her eyes. .
“Thank you,” she whispered to him. He just nodded curtly as he turned back to his duties. She sipped the drink in silent contentment.
It was almost six o'clock when the mare stumbled out of the bar. No, not a mare. The pilot of a famous siege dirigible. She galloped down the city street, to the horror of onlookers, her drunken hooves acting as rudders and propellers.
In her warm, satisfied state, she couldn’t remember if she was the pilot, or the dirigible itself. Whether behind the wheel or the wheel itself, she flew all the way home to her apartment. Going up the elevator, drawn by a pony on a turn wheel, her mouth subconsciously spouted the sounds of battle.
“Pew pew pew!” She blurted, galloping in circles around the small car. The worker arched an eyebrow at the strange mare. “Pow! Blam!” The elevator door opened and she raced down the hallway on a mission to bomb Stalliongrad. The door to her flat never had a chance as the drunken pony slammed into it. It banged open and she tumbled across the floor, landing at the hooves of a very startled Cherry Spices. She looked down at Colgate with wide eyes.
“Again, sugar?” Cherry Spices asked, walking past the prone pony to shut the door with her hoof. “You know... these streets ain’t exactly safe for a cutie like you to run around all hammered. One of these days somepony’s gonna snatch ya up like a spider in a web. Then what you gonna do... huh?”
“I’m... a blimp!” Colgate drawled in her drunken stupor. Cherry laughed. “What’s so... funny?” Cherry Spices wrapped her in a gentle pink aura and lifted her delicately. Colgate emitted a variety of whooshes and zooms, like a foal carried by a parent. The chocolate pony carried her down the hall to the bedroom and laid her on their bed.
“There ya go sugar. Sleep well,” she said as she patted Colgate on the head and pulled the covers over her. She brushed her own luscious red and pink mane from her eyes, and smiled down at the dozing pony. “Can’t get mad at you for long can I? I gotta go to work hon... have you seen my pink socks? You know... the ones with the little hearts on ‘em?” Colgate growled from deep within her body at the mention of socks, rolling over. “Fine, fine! Talk at you tonight. Gonna make us supper later on.”
As the sweet pony trotted down the hall, Colgate opened her eyes to look out her apartment window. The sun was beginning to set. She smiled brightly and had a snuggle contest with her pillow, tired but giddy at the promise of dreams to come.
Mockery arrived at the outskirts of Fillydelphia just as the sun began to sink below the horizon. The giant spider looked out hungrily on the smoke-shrouded city. An unquenchable urge to sow violence and insanity took hold of her. How she longed for new puppets for her pleasure. It had been too long.
Her dark heart rejoiced as she took in the great skyscrapers and majestic arches, the perfect stage for her macabre pageantry. In this place, everypony would be her marionette, acting according to her script in roles both droll and tragic until their time in the spotlight came to an end, as ever it did. And all at her behest. Here, every creature in Equestria would lay prostrate before the majesty of her art.
Mockery’s terrible, alien expression shone out nightmarishly as she surveyed the scene laid out below her. “Act one begins!” She whispered to herself with a sultry flourish. With disturbing grace and speed, the spider raced down towards the city, through the outlying fields and hamlets.
The great spider stopped just short of the city’s borders. Ponies on the other side, carrying on their life's daily routines, stopped and stared at her in a mixture of disbelief and horror. She took a careful step forward and they fell backwards in fright.
“Please... my beloved patrons,” Mockery falsely reassured them. “Be thou not afraid! I bring thee good tidings of great joy to all ponies.” They exchanged frightened glances, standing stock-still in the monstrous predator's awful eyes. “For today, in this very city, I, Mockery, holder of strings, shall deliver thee from the thankless plight of thy everyday toil. No longer shalt thou fear for thy life’s purpose. In my mercy, I shall shoulder all thy burdens.”
As she moved towards them, they gave voice to her fondest desires.
She waded into them, dancing to the cacophonous music of their screams.
“Goodnight, mommy!” Three young fillies cheered in groggy unison from their shared bed, huddled under the covers. As did all fillies when sleep came, they fought to keep their tired eyes open. Chatty Shy smiled fondly at them.
“Goodnight Brash. Goodnight Bliss. Goodnight Boast,” she said kindly, kissing each on their head in turn. She made her way to the door and pulled it shut with a hoof, leaving only enough room for the gentle light of the hallway to warm their cheeks.
As soon as she was shut out of their sight, she allowed herself a tired sigh, her countenance and her ears falling from their usual perky maternal poise. Raising foals in this city was so hard. Making ends meet got harder every day. Her tiny apartment had just one bedroom, and that was occupied by her foals. Unless the girls were scared, she slept on the couch. Barely scraping by, feeding them on charity. Then, she had got the letter calling her for an interview.
If she could get this job, she could stop feeding her foals fruit and hay that was past its prime. Maybe she could even afford to move somewhere else. To some city that didn’t eat ponies alive. For the first time in a long time, Chatty Shy let a small fire of happiness light up her heart. Now she just needed to ace her interview, and sweet, sweet pastries would follow.
She began to panic. She had no idea what to wear for such an important interview. All her winter clothes were still out, and none of it had the respectable business-pony look that she would need to pass muster in the judgemental eyes of her prospective superiors. Galloping to her dresser, she grabbed her purse. Inside was the pathetic tally of her savings.
Fluffy dreams of muffins and cookies vanished from her eyes with an almost audible noise. How was she supposed to come off as a respectable secretary if she didn’t have even one appropriate outfit? Surely there would be plenty of other ponies for them to choose from. She knew in her heart that if she didn’t look the part, they would toss her aside. Taking the six bits from her purse, she prayed to the celestial princesses that she would get the job tonight. If not, nopony in her flat would eat for the rest of the week.
Chatty Shy dashed out, stopping only for a moment to lock the door, and trotted down the stairs. She was going to be cutting it close. She thought it was strange to be having an interview as this hour anyways. Still, she had to have something to wear. On the way out of her building, she stopped at the front desk, and smiled her prettiest smile at the rugged grey stallion who sat behind it.
“Hi, Ink Well,” she greeted him exuberantly. She paused for a moment, staring at the silent sentinel of the apartment complex, awaiting a response. She could feel the charge in the air, the awkwardness of the silence between them. Her one true weakness as a pony. Taking a deep breath, she repaired to her one great defense mechanism when she was embarrassed to be talking to somepony. Which was more or less always.
She began to prattle incessantly, a steady stream of chatter pouring almost unwillingly from her mouth. “So, how’s the weather today? Pretty good I think but who knows?” She was growing more embarrassed by the moment as he stared at her. “So um I got this interview and I just was wondering just maybe if it isn’t too much to ask you know with you being so busy and doing the stuff that you do...” She gasped in a big breath of air, trying to calm herself and slow down, her face flushing. “Could you watch my little ones... while I’m away?”
“Yeah,” Ink Well said, carefully rising from his cushioned seat. “But... there is... another matter I need to speak to you about.” She felt a slow, cold dread crawling down her spine.
She giggled nervously, shuffling her hooves. “...yes?” She winced, fearing his answer.
“Well... it’s about the rent,” he said, scratching the back of his head nervously. She sensed him about to continue, but interrupted nervously.
“Rent?” She cocked her head, feigning shock and confusion. She was bucked. She hadn’t yet paid last month's rent, and here it was the middle of this one. She inhaled another lungful of oxygen “You see things have been kinda rough lately but they are turning around and if I get this job I’m going for then things will definitely be better do you think you could just maybe you know wait maybe another week or two and I could get all caught up?” She gasped for air, panting, smiling brightly, praying silently for approval.
He frowned at her.
He had always been a kind pony, watching her girls when she needed to do the odd job here and there. But maybe she had finally outstayed her welcome. She sighed inwardly. It wouldn’t be the first time somepony had kicked her out. She knew it was wrong of her to keep laying the heavy burdens of her life and her bad choices on other ponies backs, but she did need help, and things were hard. If she lost her apartment, the Equestrian Young Equine Services would come and take away her daughters. That would be as good as tearing out her heart. She would rather die.
“Your foals been eating, miss Shy?” He asked in a kind tone. Great! He was going to be the one to call them! She could feel her heart racing, threatening to burst, her eyes welling with tears.
“Please!” She pleaded as she walked around the desk and fell to the floor before him, grasping his forehoof tightly, as if holding onto it would stop him writing the damning letter. “Please! I’m so close to getting everything back together!” She began to hyperventilate, her vision blurring. “I know they would probably be better taken care of in EYES... but I am their mother and their father is gone and I’m trying so hard and they should be with me because I love them and I’m trying as hard as I can to keep them and I haven’t eaten in about three days just to feed them and if I get this job I could keep them and...” He cut her off by taking his hoof hers.
She felt empty, tears no longer coming. She had failed.
It was over.
She had hoped to appeal to his equinity, but had just ended up looking like another desperate, unfit mother. All the hope and joy that she had felt about her interview left her. She no longer cared. What good was a new job if she lost her heart? Instead she laid her head in the cooling puddle of her own tears, her ears never to perk happily again.
He laid a gentle hoof on her head, much to her dismay.
“I’m not going to call EYES, Chatty Shy,” Ink Well said softly. She chanced a glance up at him. He was blushing, a lopsided smile on his face. She had to admit it was kind of cute on such a tough-looking stallion. “I was just curious... you know...” he shook his head. “If you would just slow down and listen for a second you would know that I could never do that.” He rubbed his head with a hoof, bashfully. She had never seen him like this.
Sitting up, wiping away her tears, she asked, “What were you curious about?”
“Well... it’s hard to... you know... just come out and say it,” Ink Well said softly. After a brief pause he sighed and continued. “I know times are tough for you and your girls. Especially since your husband passed away.” He frowned at her. “And I would never let a widowed mother of three move into an apartment here, especially one without an income to support her, just to cause me problems later on.”
“What... what are you saying?” She asked him curiously, oblivious.
He looked away sheepishly. “Your girls like me,” he said and shrugged. “I like them. And I... you know... like you.” He blushed at her once again.
“Well I like you too Ink Well but I don’t see how...” she began.
“No!” He interrupted. He enunciated his words to her. “I... like... you.”
“OH!” She gasped, completely taken aback by the outpouring of the sturdy stallion’s heart. “You... like me? ‘Very special somepony’ like me?” He simply nodded, his face flushed. She thought for a second, looking at the floor. He was handsome, in a rough sort of way. She instantly began to feel bad for even thinking about it. How could she put her burdens on another? Why should she try to find happiness for herself if she couldn’t give it to her little ones? “You know I have no money... three fillies... and cartload of problems.”
“Don’t care,” he said honestly. Not like the honesty from her other coltfriends. Those stallions had seen an easy mark and taken advantage of a silly mare down on her luck. Here stood a stallion actually looking for trouble. And she could give it him in spades. “I got a little money. Not much, but... I love the little ones.” She smiled from the heart at that. They loved him too, she knew. He cleared his throat, looking away from her. “Can’t have any little ones of my own...” he trailed off awkwardly.
He was perfect.
An honest, hardworking guy who would help her in her hour of need. Somepony whose broken parts she could help put back together. The same as he could do for her. She leaned forward, their eyes locking, wanting nothing more than to kiss him. She flushed, her pupils dilated, and her heart fluttered like she was running a race. To Tartarus with all the other worries in the world. She had nowhere more important to be.
“LATE!” Chatty Shy screamed into his puckering lips. He fell face-forward. “Oh Celestia I forgot my interview!” Looking behind the prone pony she glanced at the clock on the wall. It was almost ten o’clock. “It’s ok... I’ve got fifteen minutes to run three blocks to the fashion store and get a dress for the interview. Then about three more blocks to the office! I can do that.” Her eye twitched. “Right?” A silky voice purred from behind her.
“Sugar,” Cherry Spices said, trotting through the front door of the building, big white saddlebags at her sides. “Did I happen to hear that somepony needs an outfit for an interview?”
“Miss Spice,” Ink Well said companionably, getting up and dusting himself off. He smiled at Chatty Shy and laughed. “She could definitely use a quick fix in the wardrobe department.”
Setting down her bags, she began haphazardly throwing out different articles of clothing. Some would have made Celestia herself blush. The chocolate pony seemed pleased as she pulled out a black lacy skirt and white vest and ribbon.
“You’re kidding... right?” Chatty Shy asked hopefully, blushing at the mere sight of the skimpy clothing. Why did she even have that stuff?
“Nope! Now hurry sugar,” Cherry Spices said happily, walking over and tugging her into Inkwell's office, bucking the door closed behind them.
Three minutes of nearly-indecent fumbling and embarrassment later, a far sluttier pegasus set hoof in the lobby, the chocolate pony in tow. Ink Well turned a heretofore undiscovered shade of crimson. Black lace skirt, check. White vest and ribbon in the hair, check. She would never figure out how Cherry Spices had gotten her to put on the black stockings.
“I look like a... a whore!” Chatty Shy cried out in shock and horror, pouting and stomping her hooves. “Nopony will ever take me seriously dressed like this!”
“Good!” Cherry Spices said, smiling, blinding her with pearly teeth.
“Good!?” She sputtered, turning to face the blushing stallion, who was being quiet. “How is this good!?” He did not answer her.
“Look, sweetie,” Cherry Spices said, giggling. “I know what these business types want from a mare, and that,” she gestured generally at Chatty Shy, “is it. A mare they have to respect scares them. A mare that looks like she’ll get them off, on the other hoof...” she shrugged attractively. “Well, you fill in the rest.” an objection formed on Chatty Shy’s lips, but she realized her time was fleeting. She gave a frustrated sigh, dashing out the door on her way to the interview that could change her life.
Chatty Shy galloped at top speeds, rushing towards the looming skyscraper. She couldn’t possibly afford to be late. As she turned a corner, one block from her destination, a wave of police ponies nearly trampled her, galloping off down the street she had just came from. She slowed her pace, coming to a complete halt. She had never seen that many police ponies running in one direction. Even in this city.
Shaking her head, she ran on, through the gilded lobby of the office building that would hopefully make all her dreams come true.
Bolts of magical fire slammed into her black carapace. The disgusting creature registered not so much as a twitch. She let out a triumphant gurgle of joy as she spat out a strand of webbing, catching one of the city’s security ponies by a hoof and slamming him through the glass of a department store window with a jerk of her thorax. The feeble police fell back from her approach to better cover, surrounding her, firing various elements at her in turn. Everything bounced off her shiny black carapace, leaving it unharmed and seemingly spotless.
“Always, players needs must chafe ‘gainst the sovereign word of their director,” she declared in an insane frenzy, spearing a coil of tightly knitted strands attached to her back leg. “If my drama pleases thee not, I implore thee, allow my newest thespians to entertain thee with caperings most sincere and entertaining.”
With a gentle jerk, the sky was blotted out by the forms of ponies, twisted into grotesque forms, transfixed by her silvery cords, shining like the lines of their fates. They came down with an unnatural grace, as if gravity had chosen to exempt them from its laws. Their smiles twisted as they hovered closer to the besieged police. Many trembled in fear, their eyes glowing the same deep orange as their mistresses.
She laughed maniacally as her puppets descended on the frightened stallions and mares of the police force, tearing and biting at them. Cacophony reigned as pony ate pony. She rubbed her forelegs together in excitement. “Such a grand show dost thou make, my darlings! I have not seen such performances since the old times!” Whimsically, she turned her attention from the panicked and terrified screams and leered at the largest of the skyscrapers.
Mockery’s thorax twisting unnaturally over her head, she directed her spinnerets at the highest building she could see. Adjusting her aim with practiced care, a strand of thick, sticky webbing shot with silence and alacrity across the expanse and attached itself to the roof of the corporate office. She grinned at the pinpoint precision of her shot. Securing the end to the ground, she skittered horrifically along the rope of web.
Ponies on the street below watched, mouths hanging open in stark horror as she passed overhead. With a heavy thud and a resounding crack, her great legs slammed into the building, clinging to it by some obscure magic. The windows near her shattered, raining their shards on the street below.
Mockery giggled in wicked glee at the sight of ponies inside, stampeding wildly towards the elevators at first sight of her display. She showed them the long, sharp, glistening bodkins of her teeth, stoking their panic into a trampling frenzy. There would be plenty of time to play, the great spider knew. She took careful aim and laced her webbing gracefully around the building, forming a masterwork of engineering that never failed to enthrall her. No pony, nor anyone else would enter or exit except by her leave. Those errant players who defied her direction would quickly become puppets, powerless before her whims. Soon, she would go through the city to collect her players, ponies strong and fresh. But first, she needed a nest.
The city was rapidly turning into a cat’s cradle of her silvery excretions. She had been cocooning building after building since she had arrived. None of her players would abscond before the opening night. She had seen to that, lacing her webwork around the entirety of the city first, invisible strings that would compel those caught to guard and defend its borders. Once this tower was hers, she could spread her webbing and effectively dome this city off from the outside world. A grand stage for her marvelous productions.
She began her climb to the top.
Chatty Shy blushed brighter than Celestia’s sun had ever hoped to be.
She stood in the middle of an executive boardroom on the very top floor of the biggest building she had ever been in. She was still in awe of its size. Her ears had popped three times on the elevator ride up. She stood between two other mares, both looking capable and professional in their expensive business blouses and coats, glasses giving them a sharp and intelligent aspect rather than a visually-disabled one. They were haughty and confident, ready for anything these very important ponies could throw at them. Neither had spoken a word to her. She wished she felt as confident as they seemed to be. All she could do was look at the floor, and focus on not crying.
They had presented the board members with vast portfolios of their career exploits that were being considered and reviewed by all in attendance. When asked for hers, she had prattled about how she must have forgotten it until they had heard enough and told her not to bother. Sometimes, she reflected, her insecurities worked to her advantage. All that was left now was the verbal evaluation. She secretly prayed that she could keep herself from rambling. A boring brown stallion wearing glasses walked over, ready to begin.
This was going to be painful.
He gave a blase smile. “How’s everypony doing tonight?” She raised her hoof, ready to shake his and respond, but he continued, ignoring her completely. Apart from the looks. Most ponies in the boardroom were giving her those. She thought she knew why, and it only made her more uncomfortable. Cherry Spice’s words echoed through her mind.
“Great,” the stallion began, giving precisely nopony a chance to respond. “Now what I need to sort of get a feel for,” he continued in a tone that sapped her of hope for some reason she couldn’t name, “is exactly what you all can kind of ‘offer’,” he air-quoted with a hoof, “to us here at Earthpower.” He once again flashed his smile around the room, clearly proud of it. “Okay, everypony?”
“Well,” the green pegasus mare to Chatty’s left began, smiling pleasantly. “I have worked here before, actually. I was voted one of the finest secretaries the offices had ever seen. I enjoy my work and take my career very seriously!”
“I do too!” The cyan unicorn to her right chimed in. “I’ve worked for three of the major Haymarket 500 companies. I think you will find my resume speaks for itself.”
Chatty Shy felt small and insignificant in the shadow of these two successful mares. What in the world could she offer this company in comparison to them? She took a deep breath as the stallion turned his eyes on her, leering in that subdued way. She prayed that she could control herself.
“Well... I’ve never worked in this field before... but... I’m willing to give it my very best!” She drew in a big breath, relieved she had been able to contain herself. She felt herself begin to shake. “So umm... you know... if there’s anything that I can learn or do to improve I’m very open to criticism and things... you know... like that.”
The other two mares stared at her with a mix of awkward silence and predatory assurance. The stallion smiled at them. “You all seem to be very devoted to the kind of quality experience we here at Earthpower try to assure our clients. But what I’m concerned about is what you can really sort of ‘do’,” more air-quotes, “to make us a better, more well-oiled part of the overall business scene. Okay?” He smiled specifically at Chatty. She shuffled her hooves uncomfortably.
“Well... I have been told that I’m a very creative pony,” the more-qualified pegasus to her left spoke up. “I imagine that I can bring new ideas and...” She was cut off by the unicorn, butting in, stepping towards the brown earth pony.
“We’re secretaries... we aren’t here for our ideas!” She interjected primly.
“Umm...” Chatty Shy said, her mind racing between potential things to say or do. She needed this job. She felt the embarrassment of her outfit and the awkward competitive nature of her position overwhelming her.
She came to the gradual realization that she was meant to be saying something, and to the even more gradual realization that she couldn’t think of one single thing to say. The silence slowly left the vicinity of awkwardness and entered the neighborhood of crushing social pain. Panting in growing panic, she blurted out: “I will wear socks and dress pretty!” She blushed instantly. I look and sound ridiculous, she mourned with an inner squeak. She tried to keep her legs from trembling, the tears from her eyes.
The stallion gave a long, slow nod, his lips pursed. He looked to the unicorn. “I’m kind of gonna have to go ahead and disagree with you about ideas not being your business. In a properly-working office space, ideas and creativity should be everypony’s business.” He looked to the other pegasus. “And I guess that what we’re looking for here isn’t so much somepony who lets the opinions of other ponies dictate their sense of importance and self-worth, or imagines things about themselves, as somepony who creates ideas and concepts for themselves. Okay?” He put a hoof to his chin and thought for a moment. “I guess when you really get down to it, Miss Chatty Shy here is the pony that really seems to have the kind of humility and sense of creativity that we’re really looking for here.” He gave a maddeningly conciliatory smile. “I’m sorry, but the rest of you just aren’t Earthpower material. You have a nice night, okay?”
Chatty Shy felt the other interviewees staring daggers at her. She was shocked, and more than a little embarrassed. They hurriedly gathered their portfolios and stomped to the elevator, pressing the button harder than was required.
“Well, miss Chatty Shy,” one of the executives said, rising from his seat at the head of the table and walking over to stand near her. “Welcome to Earthpower. I am sure that you will find this to be the beginning of a long and productive career.”
She blushed uncontrollably. “Thank you sir,” she said, not able to meet the invasive glances of the CEO pony. She couldn’t get over what she had said. Though she was uncomfortable around these ponies, she knew that the ends would justify the means. “When do I start?”
A rather loud tap came from the window behind them. The formally-attired ponies, engrossed in the details of her flank, looked to the soft but strange noise. A giant black spider with glowing orange eyes waved politely. Chatty Shy waved back. It took the blinding fear a moment to register in her mind as the spider broke the plate glass with a gentle tap of her foreleg.
The ponies around her exploded in a wild cacophony of screaming as the spider pulled herself gracefully inside. A thrill of pleasure noticeably ran through her strange body at the sounds of their screaming. The business ponies began a mad dash to the elevator, rapidly hammering the call button in a forlorn hope of escape. Chatty dove under a wooden desk, the brief curiosity of whether or not it was her desk a buzz of thought in the back of her mind. How could this be happening?
“A good even to thee,” the creature said exuberantly, dipping her body into a curtsy. Chatty Shy wondered why such a monstrous creature would have such a silky voice. “Thy abode shall makest for me a most meet home. Wouldst thou not agree?” She took a step forward as the business ponies hammered the button, trying to ignore the lithe spidery creature in the same way they had learned to ignore so many other unpleasant truths in their lives. A sad-eyed older stallion pounded resolutely at the call button, over and over in an unchanging cadence, his vermillion eyes darting rapidly between the flashing button and its accompanying chime and the horrible creature approaching him slowly. The hiding pegasus under the desk choked out a fearful sob, closing her eyes but unable to keep them that way. She did not want to see what was going to happen.
The spider’s face contorted into something possibly intended as a pout. “Why art thou so glum and sere... my beloved dolls? Say not that thou dost not wish to take with me a sport both fine and long, as is my own heart’s fondest desire.” She raised a leg to her face in a terrifying pantomime of the dramatic stage gesture. “Oh! No! Say it not, my precious darlings! An thou shouldst, my sweet heart will burst with the sorrow of it!”
As she spoke, silvery strands of web made a cat’s cradle between her forelegs. “Let us have it finished before thy fickle minds are changed! There are curtains to be raised, and much to do before the show!”
Much to Chatty Shy’s horror, the spider skittered into the group, knocking ponies down and pinning others with her many legs. The business-ponies, staid until now, began screaming at wood-varnishing pitches, each scream piercing her ears and her nerves. The creature affixed a strand of web to each of them. As they were ensnared, their eyes grew blank and vacant, quickly changing to funereal smiles plastered nightmarishly across each of their faces. Soon, nopony remained under their own motive. The spider spread her forelegs and laughed the long, high, peeling laugh of the insane. “And so is the stage set most marvelously for our opening night!”
Chatty Shy prayed that the spider would not notice her, that she would leave and she could somehow escape. She held her entire hoof in her mouth, muffling her sobs and trembling in horror. She watched as the spider gracefully made her way to the center of the room.
Inhaling a deep breath, the spider let loose a long, loud, shrill scream. In its terrible sound, the windows of the top floor shattered, raining shards of glass down on the streets below. She seemed to be dancing to her own private music and occasionally humming a snatch, the mad spider led ponies to the edge of the shattered window. With a joyous cheer and a ‘break a leg’, she threw them out. They hung by her strands like demented marionettes, bobbing sickeningly. Chatty Shy could hear them as they bounced and tumbled against the side of the building. The spider nodded with satisfaction as she gave a final twirl, reducing the room to an unsalvageable wreck.
She looked at the office space with something like satisfaction. In short order, she had encased everything in her silvery webbing.
A smile of delight transfixed her alien face as a single terrified squeal escaped the hidden pony’s mouth. She had heard her! Chatty Shy began to panic as the spider carefully moved closer to her. With one leg, the spider toppled the desk, revealing her, a sobbing, trembling, messy, ridiculously-dressed heap. She looked up at the creature, her pupils small and terrified, and let out a scream. Grinning awfully, it spat a thick white ball of webbing, covering her.
Chatty Shy could feel the web tighten around her, hardening, constricting her chest. Breathing was hard. She tried to scream, her lungs burning as she struggled. She could hear a delighted laugh on the outside of her silky prison. The spider picked her up, turning her upside down.
“Let thy cares fall from thy sweet brow, little one,” she heard the monster speak coyly. “Thou shalt not fail to disappoint when thy appointed turn comes upon the stage.” Chatty shy felt light headed and hot, her breathing more and more shallow. “I have graciously vouchsafed for thee a most important role in my great and noble play.” The trapped pegasus’s mind raced in fear as she began to pass out. “Dinner.”
Chatty felt two sharp things, foreign to her, pushing into her side. She thanked Celestia that it didn’t hurt. She was already closing her eyes. She was so tired. Why did it have to come to this? What about my foals? Who will take care of them? She wondered as the dark grip of the deathmare took hold of her, lovingly pulling her into oblivion. Maybe Ink Well will tend to them... they like him. I would have liked so much to tell him how I felt.
One final tear, like so many she had shed for her precious girls, fell from her eye as she accepted the deathmare’s gentle embrace.
Gale watched as Luna’s moon rolled across the night sky. Celestia had wanted her to wait outside the so-called ‘war’ room while dire matters of strategy were under discussion. For her part, she thought that her presence in such a meeting could be nothing but beneficial. But she bowed to the pony princess’ will. She gave a furtive look at the two guards standing vigil outside of the door, a small droplet of drool threatening to escape her snout. She wondered darkly if they would be missed.
The door opened and Princess Luna stepped into the hallway, looking both ways before beckoning Gale into the room. She stood and quietly entered the room. It was a large circular chamber. It had clearly lain dormant for many years, and the housekeeping wasn’t the best. Spider webs and dust coated almost every surface. In the center of the room was a large table, on it a map of Equestria, flags of different colors indicating its cities.
Gale stood over the table, looking over the map with a strange expression. Around her were Celestia, Fleur de Lis, Commander Phalanx, Luna, and another pony she didn’t know. A white stallion with a blue mane. His eyes were tired as he looked at her. Celestia gave the two a look and spoke up.
“My apologies, Gale. This is Shining Armor,” Celestia said with pride, gesturing to the handsome unicorn. “Shining Armor is the Captain of the Royal Guard. I had him called back from his honeymoon with Princess Cadence to deal with this emergency.”
“A perfect place for thy Captain... with Treachery whispering into thy ear?” Gale mocked as she looked at Fleur de Lis. The model-pony frowned at her.
The stallion hung his head in shame. “None of this would have happened if I had been here in the first place, maintaining the shield.” He turned to face his Princess. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty, it’s just... I’m supposed to be happy right now.”
“Shining Armor,” Fleur de Lis said, resting a comforting hoof on his flank, “meet Tempest... Lady of Boundless Rage.” His face quickly grew concerned, eyes lit by fear as he took in the gentle form of the now-grinning pink wolf.
“The... the Devourer?” Shining Armor sputtered.
“Devourer?” Gale spat incredulously. “Is that how thy tales remember me? Oh... how I should love to hear from thy ponies sweet mouths which of his many lies the crow hath sown about me.” She giggled quietly, wiping a tear from her eye.
“I have heard the story,” Phalanx said, regarding the wolf sternly but without judgement. “You were a malicious and terrible tyrant who forced your subjects to offer their foals up to you on a daily basis. Then a great shadow came and swallowed you up.”
Gale shrugged nonchalantly. “Who but the Wise can know the real truth behind such long-gone tales?” Everypony took a step back, even the princesses. Gale looked among them all haughtily and gave a canine snort. “The crow sows his lies in the hearts of the weak. It is his only recourse. He knows full well that he ranks not even a candle’s flame when stood next to my might.” She looked back to Shining Armor. “Had such stories been true, Captain, then all of thy mothers should have died ere they bore thee.” She grinned darkly, revealing sharp, white teeth. “Yea, and the wide world itself should have been swallowed up by my ravening madness.”
After a long and terrified pause, Shining Armor shook his head. “Maybe they’re lies... maybe not.” He looked to Celestia for guidance. “Princess... in any case... is it wise to have a wolf here? A wolf who is definitely associated with the Furies, no less?”
Gale cocked her head. “Thy grievance confuses me, Captain. Have I not convinced thee that if I wished thee harm, thy heart would no longer beat in thy chest?” She smiled sweetly. “Be wary what accusations thou makest, young Captain. Should thy brashness offend me, no puissance or skill of thine can keep me from thy life’s blood.”
He looked at her with a stern frown. “So I should trust you because you choose not to kill me? You have a strange notion of friendship.”
“I could change my mind. Make a widow of thy new bride.” Gale’s eyes were full of amusement.
Shining Armor inhaled a breath for an angry retort.
“Enough!” Luna interjected, drawing every eye. “She stays and you will all behave.”
Celestia gave her sister a shocked smile.
A slow blush crept across Luna’s cheeks. “Sorry,” she said sheepishly.
With an alicorn’s unreadable smile, Celestia turned towards the map and placed a hoof on a blue flag. “Gale,” She started, regarding the wolf with curiosity. “Misery claims that in one week’s time, he will bring down Cloudsdale.” Her gaze hardened. “Can he do it?”
Gale nodded gravely. “He is the master of carrion, and with the power of his will he shall rot the very clouds on which the city stands.” Everypony shivered at the thought. “There was a city much like it long ago. It fell in less than twenty minutes.” The room was a collective quiet.
“I could go there,” Shining Armor said, looking to the princess expectantly. “I could barricade it with my shield.”
“Do not jest, Captain,” Gale laughed. “Thy barrier would crumble if I should but raise my leg to mark it. It would be little more than a joke to the crow.” Shining Armor frowned, anger bleeding into his resolve. “To be honest, thy best option is to abandon the city. It will fall.”
Everypony in the room seemed scandalized by the crass joke told before the celestial alicorns. Gale swore she saw one of those secret, infuriating alicorn smiles on the elder sister’s face, but it vanished.
Fleur de Lis was the first to recover. “They won’t just leave,” she said. “They will want to defend their homes. With their lives if they must. If we evacuate them forcibly... they will resent Her Majesty for robbing them of the chance to do so.” Celestia took on another of those infuriatingly alien alicorn expressions. It was frustrating to Gale that despite not being of their world, she still spoke and moved like them.
“Then I do not know what to do,” Celestia said somberly. “All of my cities are being attacked. My forces are spread too thin.” She paused for a moment, her face troubled. She frowned and fixed her unfathomable vermillion eyes on the wolf. “What should I do, Gale?”
Gale thought long and hard before answering. If she told Celestia to fight, many would die. Her brethren were beyond any of these ponies. If she asked Celestia to flee, they would live now, only to die later.
“It cannot be my place to tell thee what to do, or what not to do,” Gale said with a pensive frown. She met the Princess’ gaze, her eyes hard. “But were I thee, I would make mine enemies pay a dear price for my life.” Celestia nodded resolutely.
“We have reports that a group of three ponies defeated a large scorpion in Salt Lick City,” Phalanx said to Gale, his tone even. “A friend of yours, I’m guessing?” No smile touched his face, but it was in his tone. Gale wore a shocked expression. Even if Spite was the weakest of them, he was far beyond any pony.
“Surely thou speakest in jest!” Gale responded in disbelief. “Three ponies defeating a Fury?” She smiled. “Then well should I like to set my power against theirs.” She headed for the door, obviously finished with this meeting.
“Wait!” Shining Armor started, his voice worried. “Where are you going?”
“Back to my cave,” Gale said. “I am weary... and bored.”
“What exactly can each of... you do?” He asked, his voice strained.
“I shall leave that discovery to thine own devices. Telling thee wouldst make little difference in the upcoming battles.” Gale opened the door and stepped out. “I wish thee all well.”
The cool night breeze sang through her fur as she left the musty chamber, making her way through the open air garden, to where the little fillies would be. She needed to see them safely home.
She jumped when the voice rang out behind her. “Devourer! Wait!” She rolled her eyes and turned. The young captain stood behind her, his eyes narrowed, his breathing labored.
She wasn’t terrifically surprised to see him. “I entreat thee, Captain, not to call me by that tiresome epithet.” She forced a friendly smile. “My name is Gale.”
He kept his angry eyes on her. Tempest knew that many a petty thief and robber had likely quailed before those eyes. “Is it?” He shook his head in frustration. “I don’t know what to think of you. Even if the stories aren’t true, you’re still a predator. And as far as I’m concerned, no predator has any place in Her Majesty’s cities.” His horn hummed with magical energies. “And your rudeness in front of Her Majesty! If you were anypony else I would have you thrown out of the castle for that alone. But I have to know that you mean my sister no harm. I’ve always been friends with her friends. But if you can’t promise me that, we may have a problem, you and I.”
She smiled gently at him. “Who is thy sister?” Gale asked curiously, her tone playful.
“Twilight Sparkle!” He said tensely, his horn luminescing with his frustration.
Her eyebrows rose in surprise. “I mean thy sister no harm, Captain.” She shrugged again. “But I am a predator. In that at least, thou art not mistaken. All lesser things should fear me, and you are right to do so. What thou art tragically wrong in doing is in threatening me. Were it my desire, I could swallow up thee, thy sister, thy princesses, and thy kingdom in one gulp.” She cocked her head in amusement. “Mayhap ‘Devourer’ is not such a cumbersome libel after all.”
She could see the fear in the young stallion’s eyes, though her voice had not been raised and she made no move against him. His horn glowed brightly. “Then you admit you are a threat?”
Gale laughed loud and hard. “Certainly, beloved Captain. All these terrors could I sow, and yet it pleases me not to do so. Does that not salve thy fears?”
“Promise not to hurt my sister,” he said worriedly.
“I owe thee no such promise. Make not to command me or to extract from me an oath. It will end badly for thee.” Her eyes narrowed. “Mayhap a demonstration of my power will assure thee of thy own powerlessness.”
Shining Armor snorted, his face grim. “If that’s the way you want to play it.”
Gale smiled wickedly, eagerness dripping from her voice, “And I had thought this night would be triviality after triviality.” She took a step forward, her eyes bursting into twin infernos. “I shall allow thee to amuse me briefly.”
As Always a big thank you to Malthusite for editing this disaster of a fan fiction. Without him I would probably have thrown this in the recycling bin. I would also like to thank all of you for reading this. Your comments and support are greatly appreciated as always.