A FANFICTION BY WRAGNAROQ...
INSPIRED BY THE WORKS OF RYAN 'DIDJ' MCCARTY...
MY LITTLE MAGES: THE NIGHTMARE'S RETURN
THE STUDIOUS ARCANE MAGE
The six-pointed gemstone on the end of the staff gave off a bright light, illuminating the dark halls of the archives. The woman holding the staff was staring intently at the bookshelves. She was a young woman, around twenty, and just by looking at her pale skin it was obvious that she didn't get outside very much. She had long, dark hair with two stripes of color, one purple, and one pink, and her bangs were parted on her forehead by the purple, horn-like focus crystal on a gold headband. Her purple eyes scanned over the bookshelves, looking for one book in particular. So far, no luck.
“Spike?” She called out, her voice echoing through the room. “Spike, have you had any luck?”
'Yeah! Huge luck!' Her familiar’s childlike voice said in Twilight’s mind. 'I found five bits!'
“Spike, have you had any luck finding the book?” Twilight restated.
'Oh, right. The book. No, nothing yet,' Spike answered.
“You can’t remember what we’re looking for, can you.”
Twilight sighed. “We’re looking for a book…”
'I never would have guessed.'
“Spike, drop the sarcasm.”
“Anyway, we’re looking for Delphi’s Log of Prophecies. It was written by Delphi, the greatest oracle since the days of…” Twilight stopped her impromptu lecture when one of the books on the shelves caught her eye. “Never mind, I think I found it.”
'Really? So can we go back to the tower?' Spike asked, suddenly appearing at Twilight’s side. Spike was her familiar, the very same baby dragon she had hatched in order to be accepted into the School of Magi. Besides the purple scales and green spines, he was almost indistinguishable from a common iguana, a fact that annoyed him greatly. Since he wasn't old enough to be able to speak yet, he had to telepathically relay to Twilight exactly what he wanted her to tell people who confused him for an iguana.
“No, Spike. If I took this book out of the Royal Archives, I’d be lucky not to get executed,” Twilight said, carefully pulling the book off the shelf. Twilight blew gently on the front cover, and dust plumed off of it. After a little more dusting, the design on the front cover was visible. A coiled emerald snake.
“This is definitely it. That’s Delphi’s emblem,” Twilight said. She lowly opened the book, almost wincing at the sound of the cracking leather binding. “Oh, the Princess would kill me if this got damaged…”
'Twilight, the Princess probably doesn’t even remember this place exists,' Spike said.
“Of course she does, Spike. The Princess knows everything,” Twilight said. Twilight turned the first page, letting out a groan. “Oh, great. The ink is all messed up. Can barely read it.”
'What a pity. Can we go now?'
“No, Spike. I can still make out some of it,” Twilight said, turning the page again. She scanned over the pages, looking at the words that had not been worn away by the decades. If she was lucky, then what she was looking for would still be in good condition.
After several fruitless minutes of reading, Twilight came upon a page where the words were legible. She grinned. “I found it,” She announced. “The Nightmare’s Return.”
'What’s so important about this prophecy again?' Spike asked.
“Just listen to it. In the prison’s thousandth year, / ‘round the moon four stars appear. / Before sunrise on the longest day, / these four stars shall open the way. / A Nightmare shall fall from the Moon, / and eternal night shall be her boon. Damn, the rest’s too faded to read. But look, Spike. A Nightmare shall fall from the Moon. This is it! The proof we need!” Twilight said excitedly.
'Hey, what about that last line? I can kinda make it out,' Spike said, pointing with one purple claw. Twilight looked at the line he was referring to.
“The sun shall rise, the Nightmare shall fall, / when the last light in the dark answers Harmony’s call. What does that even mean?” Twilight wondered. She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that we get this information to the Princess immediately. Spike, take a letter.”
'Why do we have to do this now?' Spike whined.
“Honestly, Spike, do you listen to anything I say?” Twilight asked, rubbing her eyes. “Ugh. Well, you know that the Summer Sun Celebration is tomorrow, right?”
“And do you know what the Summer Sun Celebration’s purpose is?”
'To celebrate the summer solstice?'
“Good. And do you know what recently showed up that has been confusing astrologists?”
'You know I don’t pay attention to any of that.'
“Four stars, Spike. After the winter solstice last year, four stars suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and they’ve been getting closer and closer to the moon ever since. Now does it make sense?”
Spike stared at her. He shook his head.
“You’re impossible, you know?” Twilight asked, resisting the desire to bash her familiar’s head in with an encyclopedia.
'I know. You said you wanted me to write a letter?' Spike reminded her.
“Oh, right,” Twilight said. Spike hiccupped out a burst of green flames, and a scroll of parchment and a quill fell into his claws. “Ahem. Dear Princess Celestia…”
'Ahem. Dear Princess Celestia…'
“Spike, cross off that ‘ahem’.”
'Spike, cross off that – oh. Sorry.'
“Anyway. My recent studies into the old folklore of Mystica have led me to conclude that we are on the precipice of disaster,” Twilight dictated to her familiar.
'Pre… preci…' Spike lowered his quill and looked to Twilight for assistance. Twilight groaned.
'Thre… uh…' He crossed off what he had just written.
“Uh… brink?” Twilight suggested. Spike stared at her as if she was talking in another language. Twilight sighed. “That something really bad is going to – You know what? I think this is important enough to tell the Princess face-to-face.”
Twilight walked purposefully up to the massive double doors that led to the Princess’s study and cleared her throat.
“Twilight Sparkle, apprentice of the Arch Mage, Princess Celestia, humbly requests an audience with…” She announced.
“It’s open, Twilight,” The Princess’s voice called out from inside. Twilight opened the smaller door built into one of the larger doors and stepped inside.
Princess Celestia, the tall, beautiful woman with multicolored hair floating in the air, looked up from her paperwork as Twilight entered. “We’ve been over this before, Twilight,” She said, setting her quill aside. “My doors are always open for you.”
“Yes, Pri – I mean, Celestia,” Twilight said, catching herself from referring to her teacher too formally.
“It’s alright. Come, have a seat,” Celestia said, motioning to the space in front of her desk. At her unspoken command, a simple chair rose up from the floor. “Would you like some tea?”
“No, thank you,” Twilight said, sitting down. “I have something urgent I need to talk to you about regarding tomorrow.” Spike leapt from her shoulder to Celestia’s desk, making a beeline for the small jar of crystals that Celestia kept solely for her student’s familiar.
“You have the day off tomorrow, Twilight. And I’d love it if you could attend the festivities in town with some of your classmates,” Celestia said, pouring herself a steaming cup of tea.
“I don’t think that the festivities will be happening tomorrow, if what I’ve discovered is true,” Twilight said morbidly. Celestia lifted a questioning eyebrow, signaling for Twilight to elaborate as she puffed on her tea to cool it down. “In my recent studies of Mystica’s old folklore, I took an interest in one story in particular: the story of Nightmare Moon.”
The handle on Celestia’s teacup shattered. Twilight very quickly caught the teacup in her magical grip before it could spill all over the Princess’s lovely dress.
“Oh, t-terribly sorry about that,” Celestia said, taking the cup from Twilight’s telekinesis and setting it on the table. “They… just don’t make them like they used to, do they?”
“No, I guess they don’t,” Twilight said. “Celestia, you’re shaking.”
Celestia grabbed her wrist to make her hand stop shivering. “Well, I’ve been… working almost all through the night. Of course my hands would be tired,” She said. “Which reminds me. Twilight, I have a very important assignment for you.”
“That's not important! Princess, I have reason to believe, and evidence to prove that Nightmare Moon is going to return tonight, and...” Twilight stopped talking when Celestia held up a hand to silence her.
“Nightmare Moon,” She said, “Is a fairy tale. Nothing more.”
“But… but every prophet for the past five hundred years predicted her return at least once! Even Delphi predicted it, and her prophecies have a one hundred percent accuracy rating!” Twilight said.
“Nobody is perfect, Twilight. Nightmare Moon does not exist. She’s only an old legend to explain the face in the moon,” Celestia said. “Nothing more, nothing less.”
“Twilight Sparkle. I will hear no more of this subject,” Celestia said forcefully, stopping her apprentice’s argument in its tracks. The temperature in the room literally rose ten degrees from the force of Celestia’s temper. Twilight gulped.
“I… Yes, Princess Celestia,” She said, bowing her head. The room cooled down in a heartbeat, and Celestia’s smile returned.
“Thank you, Twilight. Now, your assignment,” Celestia said, taking a sip of her tea, “Is to go to the town of Magiville and oversee the preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration tomorrow.”
“Magiville? Magiville?!” Twilight repeated in disbelief. “That backwater town by the Everfree Forest?!”
“Yes, that Magiville. I’ll be presiding over the festival there tomorrow, and I’d like it to be perfect. Of course, if you think that it’s too far beneath you, I’m sure I can think of some other assignment for you…” Celestia suggested, her grin telling Twilight that she did not want any of these other assignments.
“I…” Twilight sighed, defeated. “I understand.”
“Good,” Celestia said. She opened one of her desk drawers and retrieved a rolled-up scroll. “Here is your assignment. Go to Magiville and speak to all the people on this list. They’re in charge of the food, music, weather, and decorations for the celebration.”
Twilight took the scroll and looked over it. “Hold on, a Druid is in charge of the music?” She asked.
“I’ve heard good things about her, and the rest of the people on the list,” Celestia said, tenting her fingers in front of her mouth. “I’m sure you’ll get along well.”
“This is another attempt to have me make friends, isn’t it?” Twilight asked. Celestia nodded.
“You’re so clever,” She said. “Now, you’d best be off. I’ve already made arrangements for your transport. The Charon is waiting for you at the docks.”
“That dinghy?” Twilight asked, her eyes wide.
“Would you like a larger boat? I’m sure the Minnow would be available,” Celestia said pointedly.
“On second thought, I think the Charon will do fine,” Twilight decided hastily. There was no way she would set foot on the Minnow. That boat was cursed.
“I thought you’d see it my way,” Celestia said, beaming. “As for your accommodations, you’ll be staying at the Books and Branches Library.”
Twilight’s expression instantly brightened. “A library?” She repeated.
“No, it’s a restaurant,” Celestia said sarcastically. “Now, I won’t keep you here any longer. Here’s the acquisition slip for the Charon…” She handed Twilight a slip of paper. “…And the key to the library.” Twilight took the small bronze key and tucked it in her pocket. “Off you go, then. Have Spike send me your report on the preparations as soon as you’re done.”
“Yes, Princess Celestia,” Twilight said, standing up. She scooped up Spike and deposited him on her shoulder, gave a short respectful bow to Celestia, and made for the door.
As soon as the door closed, Celestia’s calm façade vanished. She opened one of her desk drawers, nearly tearing it out completely, and pulled out a bottle of her favorite scotch. She opened it with her teeth, and took a deep swig from it. She slammed the almost empty bottle on her desk, nearly causing the bottle to crack. Celestia covered her eyes with one hand, forcing herself not to cry.
“I… I…What is going on? Tia! Tia, help! I can’t stop!”
A thousand years had passed, and the events of that night still haunted her dreams.
“Luna, whatever is happening, thou must make it stop!”
It wasn’t Luna’s fault. Not even a little bit.
“I… can’t! It’s… too powerful! Tia, it feels like… Discord!”
It was Discord’s greatest prank. Laying a seed of chaos magic in Luna's soul before he was sealed away. That seed took three hundred years to reach maturity. And when it matured, it overwhelmed Luna’s soul in minutes.
“That’s impossible! We sealed him away! Fight, Luna!”
“I’m trying! I can’t stop it! The moon is…”
Even after a thousand years, just thinking about the voice that spoke through Luna was enough to send a flash of cold through Celestia's blood.
“Exactly where it should be.”
It was her greatest failure. She’d been too weak to save her own little sister, and had to resort to sealing her in the moon for a thousand years.
“You’ve been waiting for so long, Celestia,” She said to herself. “It won’t be long now. Just a few hours, and she’ll be safe."
She had been waiting for so long. It wouldn't be long now. Just a few hours, and Mystica would be in her grasp.
For the first two hundred years of her imprisonment, she had screamed, fighting against the magic that bound her essence to the moon. When the screaming got boring, she went silent for a hundred years, which she spent thinking about the things she would do to her 'sister' the moment she was free.
She knew that her imprisonment would not last. The Elements of Harmony were not meant to be used by only one person. By her estimation, she would be freed after one thousand years. Plenty of time to prepare.
After the period of planning what she would do to Celestia, she began to plan how she would defeat Celestia and bring Mystica under her control. For her plan to work, however, she would need an army.
And so she spent the next five hundred and eighty-two years pushing against her bindings, weakening them little by little. Finally, in the eight hundred and ninety-fourth year of her imprisonment, she had finished making a tiny hole in the bindings.
She found people disgruntled with Celestia's rule and visited them in their dreams, promising to teach them powerful, ancient magic in exchange for their loyalty and the loyalty of their descendants. They became her agents, carrying out her will and gathering their strength for her return. Their numbers were few - secrecy was important - but they were strong and loyal.
They would gain many allies in preparation for the coming war. The last of the crypt stealers. The wolves. The criminals. The mercenaries. All willing to fight under her command.
She would be ready.
Mystica would fall before the might of Queen Luna.
THE PROUD PALADIN
In Mystica, there are two types of boats: boats that navigate the seas, made of regular wood, and boats that navigate the air, made of magical floatwood. The Charon was part of the latter group. It was the smallest member of the Princess’s private fleet, being a simple dinghy, but it was of expert craftsmanship, and could easily outmaneuver any larger galleon or frigate. It was fast, dependable, and in the hands of a skilled pilot, would never fail.
Twilight Sparkle, unfortunately, was not a skilled pilot.
“I mean, really, she didn’t even give me a chance to explain myself!”
'Twilight, look out for that mountain!'
“I spent almost three months researching those old stories, and she didn’t even let me talk about it for three minutes!”
'Twilight, left! LEFT!'
The Charon swerved, narrowly avoiding a collision with a mountain.
“I looked through archives in Camelot, Stalingrad, and Nottingham, found first-hand reports of Nightmare Moon, and she dismisses it as a story!”
'Can we talk about this when we’re on solid ground, please?' Spike begged, his claws dug into the mast.
“Oh, stop whining, Spike! We’re almost there, see?” Twilight said, pointing off into the distance. A bell tower could be seen sticking out of the treeline. “Sweet Apple Cathedral. Our first stop.”
“What g-” A second later, Twilight became the third person in Mystica’s history to be knocked upside the head with a live goose. She blacked out for an instant, and accidentally pushed down on the tiller, forcing the Charon into a nosedive. Thankfully, the goose was able to quickly recover from flying into Twilight’s noggin and rejoined his formation, honking irritably.
'Twilight, wake up! WAKE UP! I don’t want to die because you got hit by a stinking GOOSE!'
“Urrgh… The four hundred and thirteenth digit of pi is five…” Twilight said groggily, returning to consciousness.
'Twilight, pull up! Pull up!' Spike screamed. Twilight lifted her head and looked at the trees that they were on a collision course with.
“Oh, apple trees,” She said. “Scientific name malus domestica. One of the major crops of southern Mystica…” Twilight blinked, clearing her mind. “Oh. And we’re heading straight for them.”
'I’m too cute to die!' Spike wailed. Twilight pulled up sharply on the tiller, causing the Charon to pitch upwards. There was the sound of cracking branches as the Charon brushed over the trees. After a few moments of ascending, they were back at a comfortable altitude. Twilight leveled the Charon, and brought it to a halt in midair, letting out a sigh of relief.
“Well, that was fun,” She said drily.
'When we go back to Camelot tomorrow, we are hitching a ride on the Alicorn,' Spike said. 'There is nothing that can make me set foot in a boat that you’re piloting EVER AGAIN.'
“Spike, it’s not my fault that those geese flew into us,” Twilight said, setting the Charon back into motion at a slight descent. In a minute, the dinghy was hovering above the ground in front of Sweet Apple Cathedral.
'Oh, thank the Goddess. To feel the ground beneath my claws again…' Spike said dramatically, yanking his claws out of the mast with a loud pop. Twilight rolled her eyes as she held out an arm for Spike to climb up.
Sweet Apple Cathedral was surprisingly small for a cathedral, and lacked the elegant decorations that Twilight would expect from one. There was only one large stained glass window above the doors, and for some reason, it prominently featured an apple instead of a depiction of the Goddess. Looking around, Twilight noticed that the branches in the orchard were heavy with apples.
“Not hard to guess what kind of food’s going to be at the festival,” Twilight said, vaulting out of the boat.
'Blegh. Apples,' Spike said, making a face of disgust. 'I’d rather have meat. Or crystals.'
“I know you would, Spike,” Twilight said. She clicked her fingers, and a heavy leather-bound book appeared in her hands, flipping open to an empty page on its own accord. Twilight lay a hand on the hull of the Charon, and focused her magic, causing the purple, horn-like focus crystal on her forehead to glow. The Charon began to glow a bright white, then disappeared, leaving no trace it had ever been there. Twilight’s book began to glow as well, and when the glow faded, the formerly empty page it had been opened to now had an illustration of the Charon. Twilight closed the book with a heavy clap, and it disappeared.
“Alright, the Charon’s stowed away in my Tome, so we can get on with our business,” She said, pulling Celestia’s scroll from her pocket. “We’re supposed to be looking for the Cathedral’s Paladin, Applejack.”
“You found ‘er,” An accented voice said from behind Twilight, causing her to jump and nearly drop the scroll. The owner of the voice was a young woman around Twilight’s age, with tanned, freckled skin, blonde hair in a low ponytail, and green eyes. She was dressed in a red, leather overcoat, with bronze armor at her hips, on her shoulders, and upper torso. A Paladin if Twilight had ever seen one.
“Easy now, didn’t mean t’ scare you,” The Paladin said, holding up her hands.
“I wasn’t scared!” Twilight lied. “I just… felt like jumping.”
“Just like you felt like droppin’ in unannounced in your fancy sky boat?” The Paladin asked.
“My apologies, I was under the impression that I was being expected,” Twilight said. “My name is Twilight Sparkle, from the Royal Court of Camelot. I’m here to check up on preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration.”
The Paladin stared at her, her green eyes narrowed. Twilight looked her straight in the eye, doing her best to stand her ground against the sheer force of the Paladin’s stare. After a few seconds, the Paladin’s eyes softened, and she smiled.
“Well, you seem like a nice enough gal,” She decided. She grabbed Twilight’s hand, shaking it vigorously with a grip that Twilight was certain could crush stone. “Name’s Applejack, Paladin here at Sweet Apple Cathedral. Pleased t’ make yer acquaintance, Twilight.”
“L-l-l-likewise,” Twilight said, her entire body shaking from Applejack’s handshake. When Applejack finally let go, Twilight started rubbing her hand to get some feeling back. “I’m just here to check up on the food preparations. I take it they’re going well?”
“You can bet your fancy boots they are. The whole Apple family’s in town for the celebration, so we finished up not too long ago,” Applejack said proudly. “Care t' have some samples? You caught us in the middle o’ lunch, but you're welcome t’ join us if you’d like.”
“That’s very kind of you, but I don’t think that…”
“Don’t worry none, you won’t be a bother,” Applejack said, ignoring Twilight’s complaints. She grabbed the other girl and dragged her off, leading her behind the cathedral. “The Apple family’s always glad t’ have guests.”
Twilight’s jaw almost dropped at the sheer number of people sitting around the massive, food-laden picnic table. There were dozens of them, all wearing the armor of Paladins or the robes of Clerics, and they were all talking, eating, laughing, and generally enjoying the company of their family.
“Up an' at ‘em, everyone! We got guests!” Applejack announced, slapping Twilight on the back and almost knocking her off her feet. The Apple family fell silent and turned as one to look at the newcomer. “This here’s Twilight Sparkle, here from Camelot t’ check up on the festival preparations. Say hey, everybody!”
There was a cacophony of mixed greetings from dozens of mouths, all of them friendly.
“Um, he-hello,” Twilight said, feeling a bit nervous from being the sole focus of attention. “It’s nice to meet you all.”
“Aw, you can’t say you’ve met ‘em until we’ve gotten some introductions,” Applejack said, pushing Twilight towards the table. She took a very deep breath, and walked Twilight past her numerous relatives, naming each of them. “This here’s Apple Fritter, Apple Bumpkin, Apple Cobbler, Red Gala, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Caramel Apple…”
As they were introduced, each member of the Apple family reached over and gave Twilight a very firm handshake.
“…Apple Strudel, Apple Tart, Apple Turnover, Baked Apples, Apple Cider, Apple Brioche, Apple Cinnamon Crisp, Apple Pie, Braeburn…”
Twilight was fairly sure that her shoulder was going to be dislocated by the time introductions were over.
“…Honeycrisp, Cortland, Fuji, Ginger Gold, Jonathan, Pacific Rose, Paula Red, Wealthy…” Applejack finally took another breath. There were only three people left now.
The largest man Twilight had ever seen, wearing what looked like Cleric robes with the addition of several pieces of armor. Thankfully, for all his muscle, he seemed to have some control over his grip.
A cute little girl with red hair, probably around ten, wearing plainclothes instead of armor or robes. She probably didn’t have a Specialization yet, but considering the majority of the Apple family, Twilight could guess that it would be a Holy-type magic.
“…Aaand the Bishop o’ Sweet Apple Cathedral, Granny Smith!” Applejack announced, standing next to the large armchair at the head of the table. The wrinkled old woman wearing the clothing of a Bishop snored.
“Wait, Bishop Smith? The Bishop Smith?” Twilight asked, her eyes wide.
“Unless there’s another Bishop Annie Smith we ain’t heard about,” Applejack said. She gently shook her grandmother by the shoulder. “Up an' at ‘em, Granny. We got guests.”
“Huhwha? Guests? Where?” The old woman asked sleepily, looking around in confusion. Her Bishop’s hat had fallen over her eyes. Little Apple Bloom reached over and fixed it. Granny Smith, her vision restored, finally noticed Twilight.
“Welcome t’ Sweet Apple Cathedral, young lady,” She said, holding out a wrinkled, shaking hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Bishop Smith. I never thought I’d be meeting a national hero today,” Twilight said, carefully shaking the old woman’s hand. The Bishop looked around in confusion.
“National hero? Where?” She asked.
“Um, you, ma’am,” Twilight said. Granny Smith looked at her in surprise.
“I’m a hero?” She asked, as if it was news. Twilight nodded.
“You were one of the mages who helped end the Necromancy War almost fifty years…”
Granny Smith’s face twisted into a scowl, and her eyes narrowed. “Necromancer!” She screamed, grabbing a shepherd’s crook that was leaning against her chair.
“An’ ‘ere we go,” Somebody muttered. Granny Smith grabbed Twilight’s neck with her shepherd’s crook and yanked her down to stare into her eyes. Twilight tried to hide her fear as the old woman stared. When she was satisfied with what she saw, or maybe with what she didn’t see, she relaxed, and released Twilight.
“Good news,” She said, leaning back in her chair. “Ya ain’t a necromancer, so ol’ Annie Smith don’t have t’ gut ya with a spoon like in th’ old days.”
“Um, thank goodness,” Twilight said, taking a step away from the old woman.
“But y’all gots t’ be careful,” Granny Smith, the greatest practitioner of Holy magic of her generation, warned. “Them Necromancers are wily folks. Sure, some people think that th’ art o’ Necromancy died off after th’ war, but…” She yawned, showing a mouth full of false teeth. “…but Necromancy is… th’ practice o’ raisin’ th’ dead. Who’s t’ say that… they’re all…” Her voice trailed off, and she began snoring again. Twilight stared at her, astounded by the old woman’s antics.
“An' that’s all of us,” Applejack said, patting Twilight on the shoulder as if nothing had happened. “Now, Mac, scoot over a lil’ bit an' let Twi have a seat.” The enormous man did so, almost pushing Apple Bloom off the end of the bench in the process.
“Um, thank you very much for the offer, but I really can’t…” Twilight started to say, not wanting to waste a second until her job was complete. But then, she noticed something.
Apple Bloom, looking at her with an enormous pair of puppy-dog eyes, clearly saying what was on the little girl’s mind.
Aren’t you gonna stay for lunch?
'Don’t look into her eyes, Twilight! Don’t look into her…' Spike’s warnings cut off when Spike made the mistake of also looking into Apple Bloom’s eyes. Twilight, with all her willpower, tried to fight against their influence.
“I’m… sorry, but I really have a lot to do…”
Twilight’s stomach decided that it was a good time to remind Twilight that she had skipped breakfast with a deep growl. Twilight felt herself blush. Then she realized that the food on the table looked really good.
“On second thought,” She decided, taking a seat next to Big Macintosh, “Lunch sounds good.”
Twilight sighed contentedly, patting her full stomach. “Okay, I admit,” She said. “That was probably the greatest meal I have had in my entire life.”
“Glad you liked it, sugarcube,” Applejack said, wiping at her mouth with a napkin. “Honestly, when I first saw you, with your fancy sky boat an’ iguana…” She motioned to the snoring dragon on the table, cuddling a sausage as if it were a teddy bear. “I had you pegged for one o’ them all-work-an’-no-play types. But it looks like I was a bit off.”
Twilight snorted. “Two things. First, if Spike were awake, he’d be angrily telling me to inform you that he’s a dragon, and second, you were actually pretty accurate in your ‘pegging’.”
“You seemed t’ be havin’ fun just a lil’ while ago,” Applejack said, resting her elbows on the table.
“I was just… following the atmosphere,” Twilight said. “You have a very nice family.”
“Why, thank you,” Applejack said. “What about yourself? Got any family back in Camelot?”
“Yeah, actually,” Twilight said. “My mom’s a magical researcher, and my dad’s an astronomer. My brother’s second-in-command of the Royal Guard.”
Applejack whistled. “The Royal Guard, huh? Protectin’ the Princess ‘erself? Heck, I bet you get t’ see her all the time,” She said, bringing her glass of apple juice to her lips.
“I actually spoke with her this morning,” Twilight said casually. Applejack started choking on her juice, accidentally spraying Spike and waking him up.
“You’ve met the Princess?” Applejack asked when she regained her breath, staring wide-eyed at Twilight.
“More times than I can count,” Twilight said with just a bit of pride. “I’ve been her protégé for the past ten years, learning all I can about Arcane Magic.”
Applejack laughed boisterously, slapping Twilight on the back. “Well, shoot! If I’d known you were the Princess’s prized apprentice, I woulda gotten out th’ good silverware!”
“Oh, that’s alright,” Twilight said. “I’ve never really been fond of fancy parties and the like.”
“Me neither!” Applejack laughed. “Looks like we got a lot in common, friend.” Twilight’s eyes widened at Applejack’s last word. She quickly stood up, grabbed Spike, and placed him on her shoulder.
“Well, it has been a lovely meal, and I thank you for your hospitality. I believe I can cross ‘food’ off the list of things that I need to check off,” She said without emotion, not even noticing that she had practically repeated herself. “Now, I must be off. I need to speak with a Miss Rainbow Dash about the weather.” She glanced up at the sky, which had become cloudier and cloudier over the course of the hour-long lunch. “And I can assume she’s not the best at her job.”
“Nah, Rainbow’s pretty good at what she does. It’s the gettin’ her t’ do it that’s the hard part. She’s probably at ‘er usual stompin’ grounds, goofin’ off. Just head south a bit.”
“Thank you very much for your time, Miss Applejack,” Twilight said with a small bow. “Good day.”
“Yeah,” Applejack said as Twilight hastily walked away from the table. “G’day.”
Twilight summoned her Tome, opening it to the page with the picture of the Charon, releasing it from the paper with a brief burst of magic. In seconds, she had climbed into the boat, grabbed the tiller, and taken off, heading north.
“Oh, for the love of… SOUTH! I SAID SOUTH! YOU'RE GOIN’ THE WRONG WAY!” Applejack yelled up at Twilight.
“I KNEW THAT!” Twilight yelled back, changing her course.
Everywhere she stepped, the grass died. The dangerous animals of the Everfree wisely scattered when they heard the sound of her staff tapping against the ground. They all knew to fear the agent of Death.
The pale, dark-haired woman dressed in tattered black robes tapped the ground with her bony staff again, producing a clattering sound from the finger bones hanging from it. Unsatisfied, she kept walking.
“Where are you, my pet…” She called out, tapping the ground again. “You can’t hide from me, you know… I can smell you…” She tapped the ground once more, and smiled when the finger bones clattered together louder than usual. She brushed her long, smooth fingers through the dying grass at her feet, watching it turn brown and dry. She scooped up a handful of dirt, and let it sift through her fingers.
“You were a strong one, weren’t you?” She mumbled, straightening up. “No sense in letting a good corpse go to waste.”
She pulled an obsidian knife from her belt, and opened a shallow cut on the palm of her hand. After a few seconds, blood began to drip from the wound, falling to the ground with a hiss.
“Awaken from your sleep. Return to this realm from the cold hands of Death. Rise once more!” The woman commanded, slamming her staff into the ground. The corpse heard her, and it obeyed. A skeletal hand, still covered in gray, rotting flesh, burst from the ground, clawing at the air.
“That’s right, that’s right… You can do it, little one…” The woman cooed, clicking her tongue as if she was calling for an animal. Slowly, the rest of the corpse’s body pulled itself out of the ground, dead-eyed and slack-jawed. It had been a man once, a warrior; it was clad in rusted armor, which showed exactly how it had died. Something with claws had torn through the metal as if it was tissue paper. The corpse moaned as it stood on legs that were not supposed to be able to support its weight anymore, towering over the pale woman.
“Well, aren’t you a handsome fellow,” The woman said, stepping towards the standing corpse. “You must have been quite a looker when you were alive.” She stroked the corpse’s jaw, and quickly retracted her hand when it tried to bite her.
“No,” She said. “Bad minion. Bad. You do not bite your master.”
“I… hhhaabbe… nnnoo… mmmasder…” The corpse said with a rotted tongue. It pulled its once-shining sword out of the scabbard.
“Oh, goodness. You actually think you have free will, don’t you?” The woman asked, rubbing her green eyes. “Stupid corpse. You’re not human anymore; you’re an Undead. You do not…”
The corpse groaned, and ran the woman through with its sword.
“…Have any free will. I brought you back from the dead, and you serve me. Understand?” The woman said, not stopping even when she was pierced by a rusty sword. She glanced down at her stomach. “Aren’t you a naughty one. It looks like I’m going to have to teach you a little lesson.”
She set a palm on the Undead’s breastplate. “I am the one in charge here,” She said, and her hand burst into green flames. The Undead screeched as the flames spread over its body, trying desperately to pat out the flames, but they continued to burn. The woman pulled the sword out of her body and tossed it away. “Now, what do you say to me?”
“Ffferggibe!” The Undead cried, crumpling to the ground as its entire body was swallowed by the flames. “Fffergibe!”
“I think you forgot to add something…” The woman sing-songed.
“Ffergibe, mmasder!” The Undead wailed. The woman smiled cruelly, and clicked her fingers. The flames disappeared, but the Undead stayed on the ground, curled up in the fetal position and whimpering pitifully. The woman put a bare foot to the Undead’s neck.
“Say the name of your master,” She ordered. The Undead opened its mouth, and spoke one word.
Chrysalis, the Necromancer of the Everfree, smiled and removed her foot from the Undead’s throat. “Good boy,” She said. “Stand.” The Undead obeyed her without hesitation, standing up with its head bowed. Its free will was truly gone, now, burned away, leaving behind a walking husk.
“That’s right. Now, come,” Chrysalis beckoned. “The Queen requires more soldiers for tonight, and this forest…” She sniffed the air. “…Is ripe with the dead.”