The trouble started months ago. That was when Twilight remembered the first paper. The headline stared back like a ghost.
SMALL TOWN DESTROYED IN LARGE SCALE MASSACRE!
The newspaper sat on her table as she looked back at it. Rainbow Dash, who had brought the paper, only looked at Twilight as she read. It wasn’t a large town. Barely noticeable on a map. What was noticeable, though, was the carnage. The story said that everypony in the town was killed. Not a soul was left. Nopony knows who would have, who could have, done it. Twilight kept trying to say something, but she couldn’t. A lump in her throat formed, and she could hardly swallow. Twilight tried to think, but all she saw was the image of the dead.
Rainbow Dash finally broke the silence.
“Twilight...are you okay..?” Rainbow Dash sounded unsure of herself.
It took a few moments for the question to register with Twilight, but she eventually nodded. The newspaper stared back at her, the ruins of the town in the photo seemingly mocking her.
That night, Twilight didn’t sleep. She lay in bed, but she stayed awake, thinking. She trembled a little. The town had been small, but it wasn’t too far from Ponyville.
What if whoever did this came here? Twilight couldn’t sleep with questions like those in her head.
Twilight tried closing her eyes, but sleep didn’t come. She opened her eyes in frustration. She needed answers, fast. She got out of bed and walked out of her room. Her hoofsteps echoed through the hall. She came up to Spike, sound asleep. For a moment, she just looked at him. He too had been rocked by the news, but he was still able to get a little shut-eye. Twilight envied him, in a way.
She put her hoof on him, and began prodding him slightly.
“Spike, wake up. I need you to send Princess Celestia a letter.”
Spike groaned. He never liked being woken up, even at a time like this. Twilight eventually got him to awaken.
He looked up, and rubbed his eyes.
“A letter..? At this hour? Twilight, she’ll probably be asleep at this hour.”
Twilight wouldn’t relent.
“I don’t care. Even if she isn’t awake, I just need to know that she’ll get it as soon as possible. Please, Spike. I need answers.”
“You mean about the...”
Spike trailed off. Twilight simply nodded.
Twilight began pacing, leaving Spike to go and gather the parchment and quill.
“Dear Princess Celestia...” she began.
Twilight began listing through what she wanted to know. She wanted to know who had done this, why they had, and if Celestia knew if Ponyville was safe.
Not five minutes later, just as Twilight was going back to bed, a reply came. Twilight wasted no time reading it.
Celestia still didn’t know who had done it, much less why.
“‘The castle is on high alert,’” Twilight read aloud. “‘We’ve prepared ourselves for the worst, but we know they aren’t anywhere near Canterlot. Soldiers have been sent to the town to see if they could find anything that could lead us to the killers. Shining Armor is frantic, trying to find a way to keep them away from Ponyville.’”
Even now, Shining Armor is trying to protect me. Twilight thought. Of course, there were other reasons for protecting Ponyville, but Twilight knew the two ponies he would want to protect most: Cadance, who was in Canterlot, and Twilight, in Ponyville.
Twilight went on.
“‘All we really know is that this isn’t the work of just one pony. It couldn’t be, and there are no signs that it may be something that isn’t a pony, from what we were told by the ponies already at the scene of the massacre. In truth, that really is all we know. I’ll try to tell you when more information comes, but I don’t know if you’ll like it when we do.’”
Twilight walked briskly through Ponyville, her bag full of new supplies for her continued studies. The town was different, though. No one smiled. Several held the week’s newest paper. The headline still chilled Twilight.
THIRD TOWN DESTROYED IN KILLING SPREE
It had been two weeks since she had first written Princess Celestia. The second attack had shaken the town. Unlike the first attack, some of the Ponyville pones knew the ones who lived in the second town. The town wasn’t any larger than the first, but what was important was that it was closer to Ponyville. The third was got ever closer. Everypony was fidgety. The slightest disturbance would shake the locals to their very core. As Twilight walked through town, she saw that in their eyes.
It was when Twilight returned home that she received an update from Princess Celesta.
Celestia said that the killers movements were sporadic at best. They didn’t really seem to be discriminate on where they attacked, but any town they go through, they destroy.
“I’ve agreed to send soldiers to Ponyville and a few other surrounding towns,” the letter read. “It was all I could do to keep Shining Armor from running to Ponyville himself. He is needed here, but he wants so bad to protect you that he’s becoming rash. I hope the deployed soldiers will calm him, if even just slightly.”
Twilight prayed as she read it that, somehow, this would be stopped.
The soldiers arrived on the same day as the next story did. Twilight looked out her window on that day. Everypony’s shoulders sagged. Their eyes were shifty, and they hardly looked anypony in the eye. On every street corner was a soldier, ready to jump into action at any moment. The breezed carried a newspaper. Twilight didn’t need to get a clear view to know what it said. It’s headline stuck out in her mind.
APPLEOOSA DESTROYED! IS PONYVILLE NEXT?
The first pony Twilight visited when she saw the headline was Applejack. Everyone in Ponyville knew that the Apple's had family and an orchard in Appleoosa. Twilight hadn’t been the only pony to try to visit her, but they were all turned away. Big Macintosh turned everyone away. Twilight pleaded with him, but he refused to let her in. As Twilight looked out her window, she began to think.
Why would anypony do this? Who would be so cruel?
Celestia’s next letter was short. Asking her if she wanted to come to Canterlot for her safety. She decided against it. She wanted to be there with her friends. The only other thing the letter said was that Twilight should prepare for the worst. More soldiers were scheduled to be sent to protect several towns, but they wouldn’t arrive for a few days.
Twilight prayed they would arrive in time.
War’s heart sank when Death had told them that they were going to Ponyville.
Of all places, why Ponyville? she thought to herself.
She hadn’t been to Ponyville in years. Too many memories. Not all of them good. But it was the good memories that seemed to haunt her the most. All those memories.
War shook it off. Of all things, don’t think about that.
The heralds had been traveling since leaving Appleoosa. They first had to travel through the desert. As they traveled, War took in the scenery and moment of peace that always seemed fleeting. The desert offered little scenery to some, but not to War. She always noticed things others overlooked. She had always been amazed by the way the land seemed to stretch on forever. Other than that, there was little else to see. Some cactus, an animal scurrying around, the occasional skull of a poor animal that failed to survive...
That was one thing she often forgot. Ever since taking up the mantle of War, she hadn’t the need to eat, sleep, drink, or rest. The only pain she ever felt was either from the blade of a sword or the doubt that stabbed at her heart. War thought about just how desperate the poor creature may have been for such an ability when the alternative was death. War wondered if it had suffered.
Why was she thinking this?
She wasn’t cruel, like the others. Why does she want to know how the creature suffered? Or maybe she was that cruel, only she was cursed with the conscious to realize how evil she really was. War rode on, frightened by herself, now more than ever.
Twilight was more than surprised when Applejack appeared at Sugarcube Corner. Twilight was with everyone else, trying to enjoy a fresh batch of cupcakes. With everything that had been happening, there was very little time to relax, yet no pony seemed to take advantage of it when the moment came. Rainbow Dash seemed tenser than ever before, Rarity was busy thinking how to persuade Applejack to come out of hiding, while Pinkie Pie tried desperately to get a smile out of somepony. Her target at the moment was Fluttershy, who she was trying to cheer up with a cupcake to no avail. That was when Applejack entered. Everypony was stunned, and even Pinkie stopped talking to see what Applejack would do.
As if she didn’t notice them, Applejack went to the corner of the shop closest to the door and sat at the nearest table. Normally, this would be Pinkie’s cue to run up to her and offer her the latest baked good, but Applejack had no smile, and it didn’t look as if one would easily come. Her face seemed frozen into a scowl.
No one spoke, even though there were other ponies in the shop trying to enjoy their food. Everypony’s gaze was squarely fixed on Applejack. Sensing this, Applejack only spoke a few words, but the words resounded louder than she may have meant them to.
“Alright, everypony, I know what y’all thinkin’. I might as well say this now. I ain't answering any questions about what happened. What happened is Apple family business, and that’s final.”
For a moment, there was silence. Then, slowly, the other ponies resumed their conversations, though many switched their topics to Applejack.
Applejack let out a defeated sigh.
Twilight and her friends were still looking at Applejack, afraid to miss the next thing she may say.
The longer they looked, the longer Applejack’s frown grew.
After a few moments, she had had enough.
She whipped towards them and yelled, “Quit starin’ at me!”
The shop instantly returned to silence as ponies turned to see Applejack’s burst of anger. Applejack looked around to see the faces of those staring at her. She looked back at her friends. She sighed, and stood up. Motioning to her friends, she said, “Come on, I might as well answer a few questions if that will put your minds at ease...”
She walked out, and Twilight and the others soon followed.
Twilight emerged out to a solemn-looking Applejack as she waited for the others to emerge from the shop. The group waited until ponies in the area and patrolling soldiers had walked away.
Applejack looked up, and waited.
“Well? Ask away.”
No one responded.
For a moment, there was silence. Nopony seemed to want to test Applejack.
Finally, it was Twilight who spoke.
“All I want to know is...Applejack...are you okay...?” Her voice seemed to trail off.
Applejack looked up, as if she was surprised by the question, or perhaps, the type of question. Applejack soon responded,
“Yeah, I’m all right... Big Macintosh told me that I needed to get out of the house and see somepony. That’s when I came here...”
Twilight was put to ease, if only slightly. Applejack waited, expecting more questions. Nopony spoke.
Applejack sighed, and started again.
“Listen everypony, I’m sorry I yelled in there...I just...” she trailed off.
Twilight didn’t need her to go on.
Rainbow Dash stepped forward, and asked, “How is everypony else at Sweet Apple Acres? Applebloom? Granny Smith..?”
Applejack was quick to respond.
“Applebloom is okay. She didn’t know most of the ponies livin’ there too well. Granny Smith is...” she hesitated. “She won’t talk to anypony. Not even me or Big Macintosh. She’s known most of those ponies for years...”
Silence returned, but Twilight was quick to break it.
“Well, I’m glad you’re finally out and about, Applejack.” Twilight smiled, and tried making eye contact with Applejack.
Applejack looked up, and tried to form at least the inklings of a smile.
Rarity beamed and began to change the subject.
“Well then, I’m sure that Applejack will want to catch up on the latest in Ponyville. I hate to leave on such short notice, but even now, I have a heap of orders to fill out and-”
Screams. Loud piercing screams.
All six of them turned towards the source, towards the town hall. Twilight was the first to run down towards town hall. She looked back, and soon the others were hot on her tail, along with at least five soldiers who also heard the screams. The screams only got louder as they approached closer to the source.
As they turned a corner, they were met by a large crowd of ponies, some running away, and some just standing, looking at something Twilight couldn’t spot. She had to force her way through. Many ponies seemed transfixed at what they saw, some in horror, and some in awe.
Twilight looked back, and saw her friends were having similar trouble with the crowd. She went back to help them, just as Fluttershy collided with a large group of ponies.
Twilight helped her up, and asked, “Are you okay?”
Fluttershy nodded slowly. The others had been able to pull themselves through the crowd.
Twilight looked and saw that the soldiers we’re also having trouble trying to get through the crowd. The din of the chaotic mass deafened Twilight to the soldiers’ screams for order. Soon, however, everypony that was planning on running had done so, but a large crowd still had stood. Oddly, none of them were on the other side of the street. Twilight began to push her way through again. Once she had gotten to the front, she realized why so many ponies had ran.
There were four ponies walking towards the crowd. As they got closer, the crowd almost simultaneously, slowly backed away, but only a few steps.
The four newcomers were finally close enough for Twilight to make them out. She immediately wished she hadn’t.
They were gruesome and fierce-looking, shaking Twilight to her core.
Except for one.
Their faces showed no emotion, and only reflected back faces of contempt and indifference.
Except for one.
The first one was easily the most gruesome. Twilight could tell she was a mare, but just barely. Her yellowish flesh was tearing, and only bandages kept parts of them in place. Her eyes were lifeless and white. Her hair was stringy and mangled. Her cutie mark was of an insect, squashed and dead.
The second one, another mare, was not as fearsome, but was chilling still. Her gray hide clung to her bones, and her hair was falling in clumps. Her eyes were jumpy, not concentrating on any one pony for more than a few seconds. They gave a look of distrust. Her cutie mark was that of a scale.
The third, another mare, has wispy black hair, almost like Luna’s or Nightmare Moon’s. Her hooves had sharp claws attached to them made out of, what looked like, bone. Her face looked like it was just a skull, and her wings were that of a bat instead of a pegasus. Her eyes were stoic, and focused on nothing but the crowd as a whole, not any one pony. Her cutie mark was simple; it was of a skull.
The last one was...different.
Another mare, and just as fearsome, but there was something different. Her mane was fire-red, and she wore bronze armor on her hooves and head. Running across her face, through her eye, and down the length of her neck was a bright red line.
What was different was her eyes. They weren’t stoic, dead, or jumpy. They seemed alive, and they seemed sad. It was subtle, but Twilight could tell it was there.
Twilight looked around and saw hat soldiers had gotten to the front of the crowd, their swords and spears at the ready.
Then, the one decorated with skulls spoke with a booming voice that chilled Twilight to the bone.
“Greetings, Ponyville. You have something we want. Should you choose to hand it over without resistance, we may choose to...pass through this town with what we came here for. If not...”
She didn’t finish. She didn’t have to, for one thing that everyone noticed was that, on each of their flanks, hung a sword.
War was never one for theatrics.
Why can’t Death just hurry along? she thought. We know she’s here already...
War looked up at the crowd gathered to get a glimpse of the new arrivals. Nopony seemed especially interesting. War wished that Death had told them what their target looked like so they could spot her easily. The faster they found her, the faster they could leave, and War wanted to leave very badly.
Simply looking around, War found places for her memories to return to haunt her. Not to mention they were near city hall, the place everyone gathered during Winter Wrap Up. Spark never forgot her first time.
Damn, it’s getting worse. The longer they were here, it seemed, the more often she was using that name.
“We only want the pony we seek. Give her to us, and I swear that no harm will come to you or your town. It would be disappointing if-”
“Just who the heck are you, and what-I mean-WHO do you want?”
Death was taken off guard by the interruption. War looked at the crowd, and saw a pegasus fly over the crowd. She knew that it was this pegasus that had just spoken over Death. She had a rainbow colored mane and tail, while her hide was a light blue, and her cutie mark was that of a thundercloud.
Death took careful notice of her. She then turned to the other heralds. She motioned first to Pestilence.
“This is Pestilence, the herald of sickness and suffering.”
Moving on to the next herald.
“This is Famine, herald of distrust and greed.”
“I am Death, the herald of pain and destruction.”
“This is War, the herald of bloodshed and violence.”
Bloodshed. All the heralds had killed before, but it was War that was the herald of bloodshed. Funny. It was like a cruel joke.
There was murmuring in the crowd. Death certainly wasn’t winning the heralds any fans with her grisly descriptions.
The rainbow colored pony’s eyes narrowed. She spoke again, sounding more angry than before.
“Forget it! We’re not giving anypony to you!”
Famine’s eyes also narrowed.
She gave the pegasus fair warning. “Arrogant fool! Do you not see that we offer an alternative. Surrender Twilight Sparkle or die!”
Immediately, the guards raised their swords. The murmurs in the crowd began again, but louder. Clearly, these ponies knew Twilight Sparkle. War also knew that they weren’t liable to give her over, if her memories of the town were correct. This was a tightly knit community. Tearing it apart wouldn’t be easy.
War looked at Death. She hadn’t reacted to Famine’s outburst.
Death turned back to the crowd.
“Now that you know who we are after, I offer you all one last chance. Give up Twilight Sparkle, or suffer the consequences.”
War almost chuckled. She knew that, either way, Ponyville would be destroyed. She knew that Death was only toying with them, like she always did. Death never showed it, but War thought that Death enjoyed toying with them, making them suffer and cower in fear before killing them.
The crowd remained silent. The crowd only grew closer together with those words, War noticed. Death narrowed her eyes.
Death continued her lie. “Surely you do not want your town to suffer the same fate as Appleoosa? You fools are so blind! So quick to-”
“Wait just a heapin’ second!”
Interrupted again. War began to worry for the crowd. These outbursts helping the crowd’s chances for a quick death.
Another pony stepped through the crowd. This one had an orange hide with a yellow mane. She wore a wide cowpony hat. Apples decorated her flank. War saw anger the likes she had rarely ever seen before.
“Are you sayin’ that YOU were the ones who destroyed Appleoosa?”
Silent tears began to flow from the pony’s eyes.
War looked at Death and saw that she had noticed it too.
The pony continued.
She trailed off, not finding the strength to continue.
Death didn’t even blink. In fact, for the first time since War had knew her, Death smiled, but only lightly. It was a cold smile. A lifeless smile. Her mocking was just as cold.
“You ponies amuse me. You live under the impression that together, you can save yourselves.”
Death looked directly at the crying pony.
“When we rebuild Equestria from its ashes, I think I’ll kill you last.”
The pony gasped, and took a step back. War knew that, by now, Death had abandoned her ploy. Her game was no fun when nopony would play.
Death’s smile disappeared. She turned back to the crowd.
“So threats make no impact on you?” Death unsheathed her sword.
The crowd began to take steps back and panic. Several ran, but most held their ground. The soldiers braced themselves for an attack.
“Let us see how far you will go to prove a point...”
Death scanned the crowd. War began to worry. She was about to say something, when Death sped off, faster than War had ever seen her. She surprised the audience too. War only saw a black blur, and followed it back to where she had started. Death now stood in her original spot, except her back was turned, and her sword was soaked in blood.
It was only then that the screaming started.
War looked back, and saw everypony running away. Most didn’t look back. Those who did had tears streaming down.
When the dust cleared, only a few ponies remained, all clamored around the same pony. They we’re all speaking, making it hard do discern exactly what they we’re saying.
The soldiers had already began to charge when Death attacked. Pestilence acted quickly. She moved quickly, extremely agile despite her rotting body. She blocked every strike the soldiers made. The first went for her legs with a sword. She parried it away with her sword, and pushed it towards his neck. He died the moment the weapon sliced his neck. Pestilence continued on with the rest, blocking all attacks, and gravitating to all the places the soldiers lacked armor: neck, ribs, face, and her final strike at the overturned soldier’s heart.
War looked at Death. Her cold smile had returned. She didn’t look away, but she uttered to War, “We’ve found her. Purple, standing over the wounded one. I didn’t have time to find her in the attack, but now, she’s out in the open.”
War could tell that Death was enjoying this. They hadn’t even found their target, and Death was already having fun.
War looked back, quickly looked over Pestilence’s battle, and only made a passing glance to their target. Her concern was with the wounded one. Had Death killed her?
Among the scrambling to try to cover the wound, War was able to get glances at the wounded pony.
It was a pegasus with a yellow hide and pink mane. Her cutie mark, barely visible over the blood, was of three butterflies.
Among the chaos, War was able to catch her name.
Twilight was scrambling to the ground as soon as Fluttershy fell. Fluttershy was screaming in pain. Twilight rolled her over to see the wound. It was deep, and blood poured freely out of it. Twilight tried talking to Fluttershy, but she wasn’t the only one. Pinkie Pie, whose hair was starting to fall flat in clumps, and Applejack, who’s hooves were trying to stop the flow of blood, were at her side trying to talk to her too. Rarity was in denial, babbling and quickly placing the blame on several ponies, mainly herself for allowing everyone to come here in the first place. Rainbow Dash, meanwhile was screaming at Death and the other heralds.
Twilight caught a hold of her with magic just as she was about to charge straight at Death. She screamed for Applejack to restrain her, and Applejack reluctantly obliged.
Twilight looked behind her. All the soldiers were lying dead, killed by Pestilence. She then looked at the heralds. They were unfazed by the turn of events. Pestilence indifferently returned to her companion’s sides, blood from the dead soldiers streaking her sword and face. Their evil looks held.
Except for one.
War looked shaken, taken off guard, subtly enough to keep it hidden from her allies, but not enough for Twilight. But her concern wasn’t for War. Any feelings of confusion were immediately overwhelmed with feelings of anger.
Squeezing her eyelids shut, she turned back to Fluttershy. Pinkie had taken Applejack’s place of holding blood down. Twilight quickly removed her hooves to asses the damage. Twilight did nothing but look at it for a moment.. She knew spells to heal, but not of this magnitude. Twilight didn’t know what to do to save her friend.
Twilight buried her face into Fluttershy’s side, crying, ignoring the blood quickly pooling around her face.
By this time, Fluttershy had stopped screaming.
Pinkie Pie, with nearly all her hair down, sobbed and quietly asked Fluttershy, “Fluttershy...” Pinkie could barely fit words in between her sobs.
“How are..how are you feeling..?”
For a moment, everypony hushed to hear her response.
Fluttershy also was crying. She could barely get her words out.
Twilight began sobbing into Fluttershy, counting her breaths as they steadily slowed.
The silence was more resounding than any sound Twilight would ever hear.