60w, 20hHuman in Equestria
66w, 1dWriting Gold
43w, 12hThe Writer's Group
56w, 6dAussie Bronies
48w, 1dMy Second Life Fan Club
- Show All Groups
52w, 3dMLS' Creme de la Creme
51w, 4dUnique Transformation
50w, 4dThe Usual
50w, 3dChess Game of the Gods
43w, 1dbronys united
25w, 4dStories I've read
18w, 3dVillains of Equestria
17w, 5dCompleted Story Compendium
10w, 2dThe Pack
6w, 5dThe Good HiE List
2w, 5dStraight Shipping
1w, 3hHumans turned ???
OF FIRE, ICE, AND DIAMOND
My eardrums almost exploded from the sheer noise of the barrage. Popper and Blueback just barely cleared the gauntlet in time as Ginger and I collapsed in the back of the chariot, exhausted from our harrowing sprint. Breathing hard, I peered over the edge to watch the results.
All the weapons struck hit in one overpowering barrage, tearing into the hydras with frightening effectiveness. I saw a juvenile completely squashed flat from a boulder, and several more were sent flying through the air as the ground was cratered beneath their claws. Big Daddy bellowed in anger, a gaping hole now visible in his shoulder where the Mercy's cannons had struck home.
They stampeded to the inferno Ginger and I had ignited, blindly drawn to it like moths to a bug-zapper, with similar results. The catapults reloaded and fired, sending another hail of rocks crashing down among their midst, the shrieks and squeals of pain and death making my ears lie flat.
I saw Captain Tythus on the earthworks - the golden unicorn was unmistakable as he charged what seemed to be a mighty spell. The air crackled around him, and then he stabbed his horn into the sky, where a bolt of gold streaked towards the gap between the two dirt walls and pulsed, forming a massive magical barrier several feet thick and many yards high, almost a mirror image of the wooden behemoth on the other end of the field.
Only then did the hydras seem to realize they had been trapped.
They scattered, the smaller attempting to scale the earthworks, where they were met by avalanches of mud and stone and spears. Still, some managed to summit the hills, were they fiercely fought tooth and nail with the guards. The two leviathan parents simply charged the main wall. They hit it with such force that I saw some of the dead rainforest giants splinter in half, the ponies on the wall almost thrown off from the blow.
Another sizzling crash filled the air as the Mercy unloaded a second punishing salvo. The battlefield erupted with bursts of red and brown. Big Daddy took another direct hit, one of his necks holed right through the middle and going limp, tripping up his tree-trunk legs. Big Momma roared in anger at this, and proceeded to head-butt the top of the wall, sending ponies flying from its towering heights.
The chariot began to circle the battlefield, aiming to land on the northern earthworks. "No!" Ginger wheezed to our pegasi. "To the ships! The ships!" The chariot lurched violently as they swung about and powered upwards, aiming back towards Wethoof, away from the carnage unfolding below.
The sight of where the ships used to be filled me with dread. Frost Snap had to have been behind that swirling ball of storm. Nopony else was capable of such magic, except maybe Ginger.
Popper and Blueback took us higher and higher. We passed the level of the airships, but we were still some ways off. "Hey! What's going on?" Ginger had to shout over the rush of wind. They ignored us. What the hell?
I glanced up at the pulsing sky. Why was it filled with the northern lights? I squinted hard. There, still high above, was another ball of activity, this one made up of a great multitude of small black specks. Every few seconds, a small burst of light would go off in their midst, accompanied by a sharp crack. Abruptly, one of the waves of light stretched down from the stars and smashed right through it, sending a great many of them flying. I clenched the side of the chariot in apprehension. Something was controlling the aurora! I hoped it was on our side.
"Popper! Blueback! Answer me!" Ginger roared. Nothing. They only seemed spurned on by this, pumping us up higher still. We were passing the second ball now. I looked down. We were very, very high up. "What the buck are you doing!?" Ginger was screaming now, a twinge of fear. I didn't blame her.
A terrible thunderclap split the sky. I looked around in panic for signs of an explosion, before it hit me. That had come from below. I gazed down, back at the distant battlefield. Three great mushroom clouds had arisen from the center of the gauntlet, and I could see a shock-wave traveling across the land in all directions as the fireworks went off, such was the force of the detonation. The effects were lost to me though, as the great clouds of smoke obscured the field.
Apparently there had been survivors. Not for long.
We had reached what seemed to be the apex of our flight now, and the pegasi leveled out. Popper turned his head back towards us and leered. I stared in shock. Mainly because his neck had twisted one-hundred-and-eighty degrees. His eyes flashed as they warped into a reflective blue, and both pegasi were surrounded in a similar colored aura for a few seconds before revealing what had formerly been ponies. Black, chitinous shells, insecticidal wings, pointy fangs, crooked horns, swiss-cheese legs...
"Changelings!" Ginger gasped. "Buck!"
My thoughts exactly.
The one that had formerly been Popper hissed at us, and on some unknown signal, the pair spun over, sending the wagon upside-down. Reacting on pure instinct, I managed to snag a claw on the side, dangling almost a thousand feet in the air as the wind whipped around me, blowing my hood off. Ginger wasn't so lucky, and fell silently away, looking up at me stupidly, as if she couldn't believe what was happening.
The changelings hissed and made weird, chattering noises. The Blueback-changeling smiled at me, showing a mouthfull of needle-like teeth. "Time to fly, diamond dog!" it cackled.
While Daring's in trouble? I don't think so. But he was right. I couldn't fly.
"It's called falling with style," I retorted, before the section of wood I had snagged was wrenched out of the chariot by another gust of wind.
I gave them the finger...
...And then dropped like a rock.
My body's instincts were useless up here. I was a creature of the earth, not the sky. As I fell, claws still locked into the plank of wood, my very human brain realized this and seized the moment, like the opportunistic creatures we are. A complex firing of chemicals deep inside that blob of pink matter sent an electric signal rocketing faster than the speed of sound down the superhighway of nerves called my spinal cord, where it alerted the adrenaline glands it was time to get off their lazy asses and work, thank you very much. The twin organs pumped a hot dose of stimulants directly into the bloodstream, where it raced into the heart, which immediately started jackhammering away with such force that my vision pulsed in time. The increased blood flow finally back surged into the brain, carrying the supercharged payload along for the ride. The brain's response was profound. The insights it revealed to me in this state were even more so. A simple glance downwards provided me with a rough estimate of the distance I had to go. Approximately 1,975 feet until instant death. Excellent! Ginger was somewhere in between 1800 and 1650 feet, and was rapidly approaching terminal velocity. I quickly deduced that it would be possible to reach her if I managed to accelerate to that speed before she did and maintain it by using the standard formula for gravitational pull on Earth (9.8 meters per second, squared, simpletons!) and simultaneously calculating an estimate of her own rate of descent. Once I reach her, I should have enough time to attempt to launch her back into the sky. As we were both falling, that would result in my own speed increasing, (every action has an opposite and equal reaction, philistines!) while, with the superior strength I now possessed, I might be able to slow Ginger's descent enough to make the fall survivable.
In neanderthal's terms: "Brain say fall faster. Throw Ginger up. Also, need bacon. Bacon good."
That entire process took exactly 1.43 seconds. I adjusted my calculations accordingly.
I shook off the plank and slimmed out, diving towards the ground like a furry torpedo. The reduced drag allowed me to cut through the air like a knife, and I almost felt my stomach sink with the acceleration, despite being upside down. For an instant, I realized how peculiar it was that for a species that was supposed to be landlocked most of the time, I spent a great deal of mine in free-fall.
There she was! Ginger was falling face-up, looking at the sky with a blank expression on her face. She was completely limp, as if she had given up. Was I seeing that peculiar moment where one's life flashes before one's eyes? If so, I was sorry I was about to interrupt it.
I closed the distance quickly, holding out a paw for reach. We were approaching that swarm of black specks now. From the glinting of the aurora off of what seemed to be dark carapaces, I made an educated guess that these were changelings as well.
Ginger's eye's suddenly blinked and focused. Her moment of reflection was over, it seemed. She watched me tearing through the air towards her, with a curious expression, either unaware of her situation or completely resigned to it.
So close! Ten feet! Eight feet! Seven!
Then, we entered the swarm. Almost immediately, I had to twist to avoid crashing into a black whir, losing valuable airspeed. The gap increased. No! A loud bang went off somewhere nearby. My brain's burst of power was abruptly terminated as I collided with something and was immediately sent into a tailspin, dazed and winded. I heard raspy cries of pain and fear. The aurora came down again like Odin's wrath not far from me, carving through them like an executioner's axe, and I winced at the intensity of the energy coming from it.
"Catch them!" I heard a voice cry. Was that Disarray? "I'll hold back the shapeshifters!"
I rightened myself, limbs spread-eagle'd. The ground was approaching. We were nearing the airships. That was it. Game over, man! Game over! I wondered what death would feel like. It would be sudden, at least. But I would linger, or so Mosspaw had told me. Unable to move on, thanks to the stupid spear across my back. A ghost. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. I could go all over Equestria, and never have to run the risk of injury or hostilities! Yes...I could see it now. But then...Ginger would have to stay as well. I'd failed her. And the Greenclaws. And Wethoof. And...myself.
Daring Do's words to me came unbidden. Things are going to happen that you won't have control over. Things that won't be your fault, but you'll get swept up in them, regardless of that. You need to make sure that you don't blame yourself for them.
She was right, as usual.
This wasn't my fault. I gave it my best shot to fix it, at least.
I closed my eyes, and resigned myself to fate. I pictured her as I remembered her from our time at the treehouse, magenta eyes laughing at one thing or another, that cocky smirk on her face...I hoped she'd forgive me for this.
"O-oof!" I wheezed, as something abruptly halted my descent. I felt something grabbing me under the arms. I opened my eyes and looked at my rescuer in utter disbelief.
HOLY FREYA'S NIPPLES WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?!
It was a large alicorn, of all things, black as pitch and tinted green, with a flowing mane of...aurora? Its hooves were tightly gripping me in a secure hold. It looked down at me and smiled, revealing sparkling dark-green eyes and a flashy white smile.
"Hail," it said in a warm, masculine tone that reminded me of an acoustic guitar. "Fear not, for we will see you to your destination..."
A second alicorn, almost identical to the first, but with a more slender, ebony figure, tinged blue, flew up beside us. It was carrying Ginger in a similar fashion. She shared my look of utter confusion. The second alicorn grinned as well, dark blue eyes glimmering, and spoke in a deep, yet feminine voice like the ringing of church bells. "...for friends of Disarray are friends of the Lights! I am she called Australis..."
"...I am he called Borealis," finished my alicorn, with perfect timing.
Borealis? Australis? My brain finally resumed working with a startling realization. The Northern and Southern Lights! These guys were behind the aurora! And they were helping us! Thank you, Disarray!
"We need to get to the airships!" blurted Ginger, who seemed to have found her tongue. "Can you clear a hole through that storm...um, Your Majesties?" she said, unsure of what to call them.
Australis chuckled. "We care not for such titles, young one. But yes, we can assist you..."
"...We shall halt the winds that bind the ships." Borealis paused momentarily,flinching as if struck, and glanced up, his eyes widening in horror. "Or maybe we won't have to..." he murmured.
Australis followed his example. "...Oh, no," she breathed.
I cringed as the night lit up as bright as day, a terrible blast from above even dimming out the aurora, far more brilliant than the sun. It was purple-pink, the same color as my claws...
Then the shockwave hit.
We were knocked back like leaves in a stiff autumn breeze, the alicorns struggling mightily to control themselves. It washed over us, tinging everything violet and making my skin tingle furiously. My nerves contracted weirdly, my vision flashed. When the sensation passed, I shook my head to regain my senses.
The storm had been blown away from around the ships by the force of the mysterious explosion. I could make out figures on the two decks. One of them was the unmistakable color of Daring Do. Another was pure white. There was a third. It was...blue?
"Brace yourselves, young ones...!" cried Borealis.
"...For we must return to the skies at once! This landing may be a little rough," his twin answered.
Another changeling was smacked out of the sky, trailing smoke. Entropy quickly snapped his wings to his sides and fell severel feet, narrowly avoiding two more of the creatures as they collided with each other above him, before he extended them out to full span, catching the uplifting thermals and propelling him onwards. He charged his magic once again, horn igniting a purple-pink, and winced as he fired, a trickle of sweat causing him to close an eye. Bzzzzzap! Bzzzzzap!
Despite himself, the alicorn grinned. That's two more changlelings who wouldn't be troubling anypony else. The swarm was still strong, though, and he was beginning to tire. Several scrapes and bruises dotting his figure were evidence of his careless lapses of attention, his colorful robe all but tatters now.
They couldn't keep up with him. But they didn't have to. They were so numerous that he was constantly surrounded, constantly kept on the edge of his hooves. One major slip up, and they'd tear him to pieces. Those sharp teeth of theirs were particularly nasty, not to mention those jagged horns...
It was like a dance, the alicorn reflected. Only if you made a bad step, you died. Violently.
Luckily, changelings are terrible dancers. Entropy carved another swath through them, his horn slicing and stabbing, leaving shredded and plummeting bodies in his wake. He risked a glance behind him. There was one on his tail, doggedly pursuing with the mindless stamina of a drone. He juked and rolled away, striking out at a nearby foe and neatly crushing its carapace. The pursuer was still there, still trailing. And it was gaining on him, he realized with shock. Either he was reaching his limits or this one was a cut above the rest. A foe like this could not be left unopposed. He must face it at once!
Entropy whirled and snapped open his wings, sending himself screeching to an absolute halt. He lowered his head, horn pointed out like a lance, ready to impale the changeling as it careened towards him, unable to halt its momentum.
He did not expect his foe to copy his move from earlier, closing delicate wings and dropping. They had learned, it seemed.
It was barely enough to miss Entropy's point by mere inches...
...But more than enough to send a jagged black horn through the alicorn's chest.
The pair hung for an instant, as Entropy gargled in pain, looking down in shock. The changeling looked equally surprised, both at its luck, and from the beams of purple-pink light that were seeping out of the pony from around the changeling's horn, which had pierced its foe up to where it met the forehead.
The changeling planted two holed hooves on him and pushed him off, tearing out vital flesh as the spiky horn withdrew with a ripping, tearing sound.
The alicorn tumbled away, the light coming from the wounded ever-increasing. The changeling suddenly sensed something very, very bad was about to happen. It took off as fast as it could, hissing in a terror that had come upon it unbidden.
Too slow. Far, far too slow.
For the second time that night, the sky lit up as Entropy exploded.
The refrigerator shuddered as it was needled by more ice lances. Daring Do kept behind it, breathing hard. Nearby, Disarray nimbly twisted, somehow stretching like rubber as his snakelike torso flexed and stretched. He paused from his acrobatics to gesture with his claws, as an anvil appeared in the air above their foe. It dropped, but was sent flying by a blast of cold wind.
"Is that all you've got?" called the figure on the sister ship, taunting her. It put its large blue paws on the railing and sneered. "I expected more from the legendary Daring Do! Such a disappointment."
Her temper flared. Why, if her wing wasn't all mangled up, she'd-
"-Augh!" she winced as the injured appendage flopped about. She'd just sit here, then. Yes. Sitting sounded very good right about now.
"Duck and cover!" crowed the draconnequus, "Eat pineapple, you icy fiend!" A prime example of said food appeared in his paw. He tore out the leaves with his teeth and pitched it at the mayor, who promptly evaporated as it harmlessly passed through him. The spiky fruit exploded, charring the deck and making the refrigerator shudder.
"I think somepony's in the mood for..." the sunglasses appeared on his face again. "...fruit salad?"
Daring Do never knew where the answering cry of "Awwwwwwwww yeaaaaaaah!" came from, and she never wanted to find out. Several more pineapples appeared in Disarray's appendages as he lobbed them across the deck. The fridge wouldn't hold out for much longer at this rate.
"Disarray! I need more cover!" she cried.
"And I need a better writer! I mean honestly, are my lines crafted by a fifth-grader?" he replied, as a blue shield emblazoned with a stylistic set of wings and three golden triangles winked into existence on his arm just in time to intercept an icicle. The draconequus spun, hurling the shield like a discus. This time, the mayor wasn't fast enough, and it sent him crashing to the deck, winded. The shield bounced back from the strike and landed perfectly back onto the thrower's arm. "Ha! Suck on that one, Captain America!" Disarray did a little shuffling victory dance. "Oh, right. Cover. On it!"
He gestured with a free claw, and a solid brick wall tore out of the decking. Daring rolled from the fridge to lean against it. A few seconds later it shuddered mightily as a comical outline of the draconequus' figure imprinted itself on the surface, pushing out bricks. He scrambled over and sat down, hard. The sunglasses were all but shattered, and the lower half of his dragon muzzle was covered in a block of solid ice.
"Mmmmfph-mmph, hmm fmmph!" said Disarray. He tugged on the ice encasing his mouth.
Daring couldn't resist herself. "You've got a little something. On your face. Just a little."
Disarray sent her a pointed glare, before starting suddenly, glancing upwards.
"What is it?" she asked him. "What's going-"
Her world suddenly turned purple-pink, as a thunderous blast of wind raced over the ships, casing the craft to begin spinning. The mighty walls of storm that had formerly encircled the craft were wiped away, as if a giant had blown them off like pesky cobwebs. The ships, tightly lashed together, ground against each other's hulls, sending a deep rumbling through her hooves and into her spine.
Daring tilted her hat back to its proper place, her mane sticking straight out behind her. She finally managed to close her jaw. Beside her, Disarray flinched, hard. His entire body pulsed the same color of the light that had just washed over them. For a second, there was an outline of an alicorn where he was, and then it vanished.
"Ow," he said. "Note to self. Blowing up hurts."
"What in Celestia's mane was that?" she asked him, breathless.
"That was the result of a 'Two-Sides, Same-Coin' spell," he replied. "My ugly half was unable to finish off the swarm, it seems. At least I'm whole again. Still, won't be able to change for a while... Oh! But don't worry, the cavalry is coming, provided they caught our good friends."
The brick wall groaned as Frost Snap renewed his assault, slowly being covered in ice and snow. A winter breeze came over Daring, causing her to shiver. "Caught who? What swarm?" she said.
"You cannot hide forever, Daring Do!" she heard the figure on the other ship shout. "Mayor! Finish this folly!"
Two black streaks zipped overhead, then. Daring heard the sound of something heavy impacting onto the deck. The ship was actually wrenched downwards a few inches. She peered around the wall.
Ginger Snap now crouched between her and Frost, the aurora's light glimmering off her black welding goggles. Echo was peeling himself off the wooden planks nearby, dazedly rising to his paws to unsheathe his spear. They faced the mayor, and a chilly wind began to blow.
A slow, sarcastic clapping began.
Everypony turned to the figure on the sister ship. Daring grimaced, and winced again as her wing moved.
"It seems the whole group of you are here!" it said. "Excellent! Wiping you out will be so much easier now. Individually hunting you all down is tiresome, and I've a busy schedule to fill."
It tensed its legs and leaped over the gap separating the ships, landing gracefully, all rippling muscle under its blue coat.
"I am going to enjoy this, very much," said Auitzhotl.
"Comin' in hot!" the gryphon barked. She seemed to be in charge of this group of pirates, the captain having taken off for the ships for some unknown purpose. She had talons with an iron grip, Coconut reflected, never once loosening her hold around his barrel.
They skimmed across the top of the wall, the tip of Coconut's dangling hooves barely brushing the structure. Around them, the other pirates flew in tight formation. Made of more gryphons and pegasi, but there was a scattering of earth-ponies and unicorns, being carried in a similar manner.
They dived, plunging over the edge and narrowly avoiding the neck of Big Daddy as he continued his enraged assault on the wall. Coconut felt his face pull back as they raced straight down. The gryphon carrying him let out a cry of joy. "Now this is flying!" The squadron pulled up at the last second, weaving through the thick of the field now, all craters and rubble and mangled hydra bodies. He struggled not to heave his lunch.
When the fireworks had gone off, Coconut had been struck dumb. The three magical explosives detonated simultaneously, more or less with enough force to liquefy the mud beneath the hydra's claws, and outright vaporize a good many of them. A terrible blow, but some had survived. Big Momma had been standing directly over one, and the hydra's sheer size had actually shielded a number of the offspring around her as the ground erupted. Those juveniles were now attempting to flee, scaling the embankments by climbing the bodies of their slain kin. Of the parents, only Big Daddy remained, but if the Benevolent Mercy had anything to say about that, then not for long.
The leviathan's body was ripped apart as the salvo slammed into its scaly hide. A direct hit! Slowly, the massive creature leaned backwards, bleeding profusely from multiple cannon wounds. A keening bellow sounded from one of the two necks it had that were still functioning - the others, battered or ravaged beyond saving. It collapsed like a great tower falling down, and the ground shook when it finally came to rest.
This wasn't a real battle, Coconut grimly realized, swallowing a surge of nausea. This was a slaughter. But better the hydras than the ponies, right? And they were tainted. They weren't natural. Wethoof and the Equestrian Guard were doing the world a favor by wiping them out before they could spread.
So why did he still feel so bad about it?
The ground came up beneath his hooves. He was back at the northern earth wall, behind the palisade. The grip around him vanished, and he stumbled under his own weight until he remembered how to walk again. Coconut looked around. There were no ponies on this part of the fall, they'd gone to the areas where the corpses piled high enough for the hydras to scale the embankment with ease. The pirates had flown back off over the battlefield, and proceeded to reap a harvest of death, picking off any left alive.
The hydras were done. All but a few remained, and those were even now being torn down by his fellows in gold or forest-colored armor. A nearby mare wearing the former color of protection was slumped against the wooden palisade. was she all right? He was about to go over to her when a scaly head burst through the wall, not three feet from where she was laying.
Horseapples! A juvenile, but still deadly. Coconut let out a wordless yell and rammed the thing with an armor-plated shoulder, folding its neck at the point of entry until it snapped with a terrible crack of bone. The length slid out of the hole as the hydra's weight pulled it back down the earthen wall. Coconut looked through the hole. Its other heads were limp and dangling, seared from the fireworks blast.
He shuddered, and finally heaved up his lunch to the side, staggering around until he collapsed onto the ground next to the mare. He began shake as salty tears blurred his eyes.
The mare on the wall put a hoof on his shoulder. "We did it," she gasped to him weakly, cradling her side, where the metal plating had crumpled into her ribs like it had been made of paper. A juvenile must have gotten her in its jaws, unable to break through the solid material.
Coconut gritted his teeth and swallowed his misery. Time enough for that later. He was a stallion, damnit, and it was time he started acting like one. He rose and began to strip her of the armor to see the damage. He wasn't much of a healer, but he knew rudimentary first aid from his training. "Yep," he said sadly. "Hopefully we'll never have ta do it again."
Overhead, the sky exploded into a startling purple-pink color. Coconut averted his eyes and went to work. Let somepony else take care of it. He'd had enough killing and fighting for one day - no. For his whole life.
I couldn't believe my eyes.
There he was, the thing that had made the spark that had started the fire.
"I must thank you, dog." He was pacing the length of the deck now, speaking to me in his accent that sounded like a cross between Joseph Stalin and Dracula. Frost Snap circled us warily at a distance, scowling and glaring death at me. "Throwing me into Tartarus turned out to be quite a profitable experience. I made quite a few friends," he purred, rubbing the strange black gem on his choker. "Friends who would like better their standing. To...relocate, if you will. They gave me many things for my assistance."
The pit I'd thrown him into...had been another hole into the underworld? Great! Just. Great.
"Stop talking. Let's finish the job!" Frost growled. "The sooner we leave, the better."
"Father, what's happening?" Ginger asked, a tremor in her voice. "What are you doing?"
The mayor fell silent, and the wind seemed all the colder.
Ahuitzotl laughed. "Why, fulfilling our end of the bargain, of course! The simple peasants these ships carry will provide us with more than enough for my other allies to feed on. They will be kept alive, that much is guaranteed." He grinned unpleasantly, baring his bear-trap of a maw. "But I imagine that eventually they'll waste away. Being drained of emotions on a constant basis will do that to a pony."
"You're behind the changelings?" I heard Disarray ask from behind us. I glanced back. Daring Do was peeking out from behind the out-of-place brick wall that had somehow appeared on the deck, an uncertain expression on her face. She was all right! Thank the Gods! "Interesting. And what is it they offered you, I wonder? They carry no currency, and obey none but their Queen. They hold no lands outside of Tartarus. They're also notoriously bad conversationalists."
"Power," Ahuitzotl replied, stroking the gem again. "They gave me the strength of the underworld, an army at my back, and promises of even more. And all they wanted in return was food! Can you imagine? Ha! It was a dream come true. They serve as a distraction along with the hydras, while I make off with the entire town! Simple!"
"What are you doing, you fool?" Frost Snap hissed. "Stop revealing everything!"
"I reveal nothing that could hinder our futures. They will not be leaving this ship alive. That, I assure you." He withdrew a whistle from where it was tucked inside his collar and blew it, sending out a high, piercing blast. The deck of the sister ship came alive as enormous cats of all kinds emerged from below. Pumas, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, lynxes, lions, house cats, snow leopards, jaguars...
...And lo and behold, a familiar fluffy white kitten, glaring at me with absolute hatred in its eyes.
There was the sound of flapping feathers, and the sky around the airships was suddenly filled with pirates. Gryphons and ponies alike, all roguishly outfitted and scruffy enough to make their mothers cry. Several were holding members of the Wethoof and Equestrian guard, who looked to be knocked around quite a bit. They flew onto the deck and alighted, dropping their cargo at our feet.
Cloud Nine was among them. She staggered to her hooves, wings bound at her side with rope, like the others who the pirates had captured. "Trying...to breach the storm. These featherbrains jumped us." She was bleeding from a gash on her forehead, just under the lip of her helm, and those ropes looked very constricting. I moved to undo them, when I felt something extremely sharp tap the hollow of my chin. I froze.
"Don't even think about it," said Griffin the gryphon, keeping that monster sword of his steady. "All of you, get together now. And you two, the pegasus and that...thing behind that wall over there. I haven't killed anything yet today, so I'm a bit cranky. Don't make my mood worse. So MOVE IT!" he barked, stomping the deck with a lion paw. "Except her," he added, looking at Ginger.
Ginger ignored him. "Cloud, are you all right?" she asked, as she untied the pegasus with surprising tenderness.
Cloud Nine gave her shy grin. "Been better, Ginger."
Whoa. Didn't see that coming!
"Do what he says," Ginger told her, before turning back to resume her position away from the group. She shot a glare at Griffin. "I thought you were locked up."
"I was. Winter's here," he said with a smirk. "A change of seasons was in order."
That seemed to mean something to the mare, because her eyes widened and she started, before glancing at Frost and Ahuitzotl and thought better of it.
The captured pegasi, Daring Do, Disarray, and myself were quickly rounded up. Disarray looked amused with the whole thing, as if it were one big joke. Only Ginger was left outside the group. Griffin's pirates encircled the entire gathering, and the captain himself strode to stand beside Frost Snap.
Ahuitzotl actually looked impressed. "It seems you have pets of your own, mayor. Perhaps I underestimated you."
Griffin snorted. "Pet? Feathers, mate. If you've got the bits, you can call me whatever you want."
Frost said nothing, instead electing to continue to stare daggers at me.
Ahuitzotl then resumed his gloating. "It was far too easy," he continued. "The job was halfway done before I even took it! The gradual corruption of those disgusting hydras was accelerated easily enough, thanks to our beloved mayor, here." He gestured to Frost, who had the decency to look somewhat ashamed.
"You!?" Ginger shrieked. "You were behind the hydras? And working with the changelings? But...you're the mayor," she finished pathetically.
"The mayor of traitors and liars," Frost shot back, venom in his maddened icy-blue eyes. "The world would be better off without them. So they'll be replaced with loyal, trustworthy allies. With changelings." He slowly approached her, and circled. She didn't move an inch, but watched him with distrust. "Can you imagine it, Ginger?" he said as he trotted around her. "I'll have it all back...We'll have everything back! It will be like nothing ever happened!"
"You happened," Ginger said evenly.
Frost ignored that. "I know you've been wishing it as badly as I have. You could have it. Back when everything was good again! We could look at the clouds again, me, you, and your mother! We could run through the forest and laugh and smile and nothing, nothing could take that away! All the ponies who've passed away over the years will be back! We'll have gone back in time! We can start over! We can do things right."
Ginger shook her head sadly and raised her goggles. "See these? A pony once gave them to me so I'd never forget what I lost. What we lost. You can't replace her, Father. She's gone."
They looked at each other for a time, silent and still. "So be it," the mayor finally said. "You've thrown your lot in with them. The new Ginger will never betray me like this. Nopony will."
Ahuitzotl chuckled darkly. "It seems your time down there has touched a little more than your heart, Frost Snap. Perhaps you should have stopped after one drink from the river, yes?" Nearby, Griffin spun his sword on the deck by the point, watching with interest, his eyes unreadable.
"Silence!" Frost roared as he whirled about. "Or I'll freeze you solid and shatter you like glass! I will take no spite from you." Several of the pirates moved forward as if to back him up. "Stay where you are," he growled. "If I need your help, I'll ask for it."
"You dare threaten me? The terrible Ahuitzotl?" The blue creature looked amused at the very notion.
"No, I threaten the coward who hides behind his pets!"
The hulking blue creature narrowed its eyes at him. "A coward, am I? Come see if you're right, and we'll know who the coward is."
They had been moving closer and closer to each other, to the point where they were within spitting distance. The cats on the Mercy III milled around, unsure of what to do as their leader quarreled.
Slowly, I placed a paw on Ginger's shoulder. She flinched and turned as if to strike, but stopped herself. I tilted my head backwards, indicating we should retreat.
The mayor and Auitzhotl didn't move an inch, neither backing down. Insanity faced off against evil. The tension was palpable, like a coiled spring.
Frost moved first.
He lunged, faster than I could believe was possible, his horn extending into a great icy spike aimed straight between Ahuitzotl's heart. The foe didn't even move.
Frost's horn sank into the great blue chest, right up to the forehead. Several of the cats let out loud caterwauls. Ahuitzotl merely smiled, with a horn still in his body, and took a step backwards. Frost slid out of him, his horn coated bright red. The mayor was absolutely thunderstruck.
The gem on Ahuitzotl's collar pulsed black. The circular wound on his chest began to move as the flesh began to stitch itself back together before our eyes. "Please," he said. "Don't patronize me."
He twisted to the side and coolly extended a single, terribly long claw. He whipped back around and sank it straight into Frost's throat, up to the fingertip. The mayor gagged on it, coughing up blood, his eyes widened in surprise.
Ginger let out squeak of shock.
No... Mosspaw had appeared by my side again.
In a single movement, Ahuitzotl sliced the mayor wide open from his neck to his tail.
The white unicorn stood for a few more seconds, shuddering violently, before he pitched over to the deck with a wet thunk, a tidal wave of blood and gore spewing out from the fearsome wound. He looked in our direction and said something, but all that came out was a sick gurgling noise. His eyes were filled with fear and disbelief.
Ahuizotl stood over him. "Such potential. But no respect for his betters. A pity, really."
Frostycorn has fallen, Mosspaw's voiced resounded in my head. He sounded as shocked as I was. Then the blue one is now the prey.
Griffin loomed over the fallen mayor, who was still convulsing on the ground, gargling on his own blood, and looked at him with disgust. He spun the sword over his head and brought it down in an arc of black metal. The unicorn's suffering was halted in one merciful blow.
"Even pirates are against letting a pony die like that," he explained in a tight, clipped voice to Ahuitzotl. He flicked the blade to the side, leaving a spatter of crimson on the decking.
The hulking beast was unreadable. "Perhaps. I have slain your employer. Serve me, and you will receive all that he offered you."
"You sure about that?" the gryphon replied.
Ahuitzotl's eyebrow rose. "I am." He turned to his cats again and pointed as us. "Kill them. We've lingered here long enough. We must sail away before the changelings' numbers fail. The presence of the Lights was...unexpected. "
The pirate captain's feathers fluffed out a little. "So was this. CREW!" he roared. "WHO DO YA SERVE!"
"CAPTAIN GRIFFIN!" they roared right back.
"And who does he serve?"
"THE HIGHEST BIDDER!"
"And who's the highest bidder tonight?"
The pirates stomped the deck. "TYTHUS OF CANTERLOT!"
Captain Tythus...? Once again, you are without a doubt the most wily old fuck I've ever met in my life. That guy has an entire deck of aces up his sleeves. And he doesn't even have any sleeves! Still, I'd been wondering what he'd done with the pirates.
Griffin smirked. "Lads, untie the prisoners. We've got some booty to earn." Several of his crew moved to untie the bound pegasi, and the circle around us loosened up as their hostility evaporated like the wind. I brought out my spear and thumped it on the deck in approval. Yes! Villains always betray one another!
Auitzhotl gaped. "You...you dare defy me?"
"Pirate," Griffin said, as if that explained everything. "I defy things for a living. What are you gonna do about it? That trick you pulled with ice-for-brains lying on the deck over there? Please." He twirled the sword about in a graceful spiral. "I'm a little more capable than that."
"We'll see how capable you are in pieces," Auitzhotl retorted. "ATTACK!"
The cats on the sister ship surged forward, taking the gap like it was non-existent. The pirates gave a rousing cry and met them head on. The decks exploded into conflict as the waves collided into screams and snarls and flashing claws.
Ginger was swept away almost immediately, bowled over by a puma and a gryphon pirate rolling around, grappling for dominance. She vanished into the chaos.
"Ginger!" shouted Cloud Nine, starting forward, a pained expression on he face. With a hiss, she whirled about and barked a command. The pegasi guards quickly formed a perimeter around us, a safe haven in the fight as we backed towards the stern, which was still clear.
Suddenly, Daring was by my side. I'd never been so glad to see her in my life. She looked terrible, her shirt torn and ripped, her helmet dinged and scraped, and one of her wings was held tight to her side, small rivulets of blood tracing her feathers. But she was still safe. "We need to get these ships down!" she said over the din of battle. "The helm is just over - wuagh!" was all she got, before I swept her up into a tight hug. She stiffened, before returning the embrace with just as much enthusiasm. "Nice to see you too, big guy," I head her murmur.
I didn't care about the ships, or the town, or even Ahuitzotl. For that briefest instant, I lost myself to her. Nothing else mattered, and I was overjoyed that she was safe.
But, like all precious moments, it passed.
I set her back down as gently as I could and knelt before her. "You are going to have to land the ships without me. I've got some unfinished business with Ahuitzotl." Her face fell into a frown. "Don't worry, I'll take care of myself. I made a promise. It's considered good manners to keep those, you know." Daring gave me a small, sad smile. Before I could react, she leaned close. I felt something press into my forehead, soft and warm. Then she pulled back.
"I'll be holding you to it," was all she said, with a bit of a smirk. Then she spun around. "Disarray! Come on, we've got a ship to fly!"
The draconequus, who had been standing nearby with a crafty grin said, "Of course, madame. Would you like a complimentary bag of nuts on this flight?" Daring laughed and took off up the stairs to the helm, not giving him a response. Disarray began to follow, but paused at the top of the flight. "Hey, Echo! Shipping. On a ship." He snickered. "How great is that? That's like...shipception."
I scowled and gave him the finger, trying to get my heart to stop thundering so loud. Why is it so hot all of a sudden? He cackled and continued onward.
I turned to face the battle, but was still encircled by the pegasi, who had formed a line across the stern, preventing the battle from spilling to the poop deck and helm. Cloud Nine gave me a backwards glance from where she was bracing. "Where do you think you're going?"
"Forward." I thumped my spear on the ice-covered deck again. "I've got a score to settle."
"Are you insane, dog? This is a madhouse. You'll be cut down!" she replied.
I had no time for this. I issued an ultimatum, and hoped the mare wouldn't feel too back into a corner to decline it. "You're more than welcome to try and stop me, but I'd rather have you on my side than against it. And I'm going regardless of what you tell me. Ginger is out there, and she needs help. So what's it going to be?"
Cloud Nine frowned for a few moments. When I'd said Ginger's name, her eyes had widened. She looked to the pegasus on her left. "Whirlybird! Hold the line. I'm going in with the dog to make sure he doesn't get himself killed." She stood aside, allowing me to pass through them to the fight. With a grunt, I went down to all fours and sprinted through, tackling a large leopard, squashing him flat into the into the deck. My teeth met in the back of his neck, and he went limp. I shook my head savagely and tore out a hunk of flesh, swallowing it greedily. Meat! Oh, how I've missed you! I tossed him aside, muzzle now covered in blood. Cloud Nine looked at me with hesitation.
"Try and keep up," I told her. "I'm going to get carried away."
The pirate that the leopard had been mauling staggered back up, before throwing me a wink and racing back into the fray. Feathers and fur flew everywhere. The deck was covered in a thick carpet of battling pirates and jungle cats, both groups vying for supremacy. Towards the bow, I could see Griffin and Ahuitzotl exchanging blows, but every time the gryphon scored a hit, the wound sealed itself!
I bared my teeth. No! That blue bastard is my kill!
My spear came alive in my hand as I literally threw myself into the fight. It was an ugly thing, with no order or reason to it; a mosh pit of cracking breaking bones, torn limbs, and bleeding hearts. With no actual skill with my weapon, I simply used it like a giant bludgeon, laying about with long, sweeping strikes that soon began to clear a path to the bow.
A tiger sprang onto my shoulder from somewhere behind me. I went down hard, and its weight pressed me into the deck. I couldn't reach it! Savage jaws closed around my forearm as it tore off my bracer. I heaved and twisted, but it slammed me back down. Claws raked down my backside, but the segmented spine-plates did a good job of absorbing the blows.
I heard the tiger wheeze in surprise as its bulk was lifted from me. I rolled over to see Cloud Nine bucking it in the face. "I guess I caught up!" she said, pausing between kicks.
I surged back to my feet, but no sooner had arisen when a panther came at from the front. I brought my arms up to block, and the strike tore through my other bracer, the damaged armor falling away as it was ripped off. Recovering quickly, I cracked it over the head with the butt of my spear and punted it away. It rolled into another group of cats, knocking them over like bowling pins. I had to grin at that, despite the situation. Steeeee-rike!
A nearby knot of conflict erupted into flame and smoke, bodies flying everywhere. Ginger was up! A whirling vortex of green fire encircled the mare as she sent blast after blast of power into the fray, her goggles glimmering weirdly from the harsh light of her magic.
I managed to reach her, wading through another small battle while somehow managing to get my toga ripped and torn. I honestly couldn't believe it'd lasted this long anyway. I whistled loudly for her attention, and when she glanced at me, I pointed towards the bow and shook my spear. She got the message.
The mare spun on her front hooves, her rear ones suddenly glowing green. With an audible shout of effort, she bucked her legs out to the bow and a mighty torrent of fire issued forth from her hooves in a powerful surge that bowled over pirate and cat alike for at least thirty feet in a single direction.
Cloud Nine appeared at my side again, and the three of us charged through the gap before it closed with the press of bodies. There! On the very end of the ship, Ahuitzotl had cornered the pirate captain onto the bowsprit, where he had to awkwardly hover at a distance to avoid getting permanently de-winged by those quick black claws. The blue creature turned halfway to us, one paw keeping the captain cornered, the other poised to strike in our direction. His tail lashed in delight. "Dog! So good to see you."
The area seemed to clear around us. My vision focused, my nose filled with his scent. I felt the feral strength return, guided by the prospect of an end to the hunt. A large paw touched my shoulder. I didn't need to know who it was. Go, came Mosspaw's voice. Grant us the gift of peace.
"Clear out, gryphon!" Ginger said, shooting a small sphere of fire at the foe. "We'll handle this one."
Griffin was no fool. Seizing his chance for escape, he vaulted over Ahuitzotl's head as he turned to bat away the ball of magic. "Thanks, doll," he said cheekily to Ginger before pushing past us into the battle. A sudden spray of blood and three distinct sounds of severed heads hitting the frozen deck, coupled with a sudden outburst of singing as he fought made me realize just how glad I was that he was on our side. He was an artist with that blade of his.
The three of us had Ahutizotl cornered at the bow. He paced and watched us coolly. It seemed we would be making the first move.
The aurora above intensified with an audible hum, to such an extent that the stars and moon were blocked from view. The entire sky was carpeted with swirling color. Whatever was going on up there, Australis and Borealis seemed to be winning. I could see why our foe was so worried about the presence of the Lights, as he had called them.
Almost as impressive was the sight of the Benevolent Mercy rising from the west, gracefully rising to meet the swarm as well.
I actually felt sorry for the changelings. Poor bastards.
"We'll take him together," Cloud Nine stated evenly. She outranked us. "Ginger, you take the center, push him back. Echo, you're on-"
Whatever she had to say, I didn't hear it. I raced forward alone, tongue lolling out of my mouth, my body acting of its own accord. Ahuitzotl bared his teeth and moved to meet me.
I brought the spear down from high like an axe, seeking to chop his face in twine. He caught the blow with his paws, muscles straining as he halted it a good foot away. I snarled and pressed downwards. For an instant, nothing happened. Then, slowly, the arcanite spearhead moved closer, inch by inch. Too easy! I looked into Ahuitzotl's gaze, eager to see the fear in his eyes, but there were none. He was smiling!
He pushed the spear away and slashed at me, narrowly slicing the tip of my nose open. My sensitive snout exploded into pain, and I retaliated by ducking under his next strike to strike at his neck. He twisted, and the blow only cut a thin line in his arm, his gem pulsing immediately as the minor wound began to heal. I lurched forward again, my teeth snapping at his face in blind fury, my rear paws scrabbling wildly. One of them hooked under his leg and pitched us over.
Whatever that damn gem was, it was keeping him alive!
We fell onto the deck in a whirlwind of teeth and claws and metal. I completely surrendered myself to the howling beast within, giving him an eye for an eye every time a blow landed, regardless of how quickly they dissipated. I was immune to pain. I was immune to fear. I was a diamond dog!
With a roar, he locked his legs under me and exploded them into my stomach, catapulting me up into the air. I rolled with the momentum, flipping once and neatly landing on my paws, rushing back to him without even pausing for breath, pushing him, back, back, back against the bow! Yes! I had him now! I could push him over!
I never saw his tail coming.
The prehensile appendage lashed out and swept my feet out from under me. I crashed to the deck - the same exact move he'd used on me the first time we'd met, and I'd fallen for it again! This time, however, before he could press his advantage, an armored pegasus slammed into his face, sending him reeling. Cloud Nine struck out with her hooves again, but missed, giving her foe time the time to recover. Ahuitzotl calmly sidestepped and lunged, his impressively large maw closing around her throat.
"Cloud! No!" Ginger screamed, racing into the fray, her horn alight. With his pawed tail, the beast gripped her head and smashed her face into the deck, cracking the ice and smearing it with blood. Cloud Nine shrieked horribly, her cry warping into a weak gurgling noise as Ahuitzotl pulled his head back, taking half her neck with him. He casually tossed the pegasus onto the deck, where she landed in a heap of feathers by my side. She rolled into me, convulsing weakly, her life bleeding out.
Our eyes met. She silently pleaded with me to do something, anything. I could see myself reflected in her gaze, ragged and bleeding from cuts and scrapes I'd accumulated without my knowing. I looked almost as terrified as she was.
And then she died.
It was so sudden. With another whimpering gurgle, she just...went still. Her eyes glazed over, focusing on something past my shoulder. The terrible wound in her neck bright red blood.
That had been me, I realized. But I'd had Daring Do to save my life. Cloud Nine hadn't a chance. There had been no time.
I vaguely realized that there was a shadow looming over me.
Ahutizotl's tail snaked down and grasped me by the throat. He heaved me into the air, and I dangled limply in his grip. The black gem on his collar seemed to shimmer with delight.
Game over, man. Game over.
"Did you really think you could stop me?" he asked. Of course, I didn't respond. "Did you really think that you could best the great Ahuitzhotl, who has vanquished foes far greater than you? Stupid mutt. You've been out of your league at every turn. I. Am. Invincible." He leaned forward. "And you are nothing more than a mongrel diamond dog. The scum of the world."
I'd been relying on my body's instincts to face him...
But I wasn't all diamond dog, was I?
My brain sparked to life, taking over from the terrible shock that Cloud Nine's death had done to my body.
What would a human do here, I wondered. The foe is too powerful to face alone. Normal weapons won't keep him down. I'd be annihilated. I needed help to beat him. I needed something else. I needed a distraction...
Nearby, Ginger coughed and staggered to her knees. One of her goggles' lenses had been smashed, revealing a green eye that actually glowed with rage. Ahuitzotl didn't notice, intent on my imminent demise.
My brain worked overtime. Countless scenarios played in my mind's eye. Most of them ended in death. Several in Ginger dying. But there was one that looked promising. One that solved every single problem in one go... I had to grin wickedly at this. If there's one thing every human is born with an innate talent for, it's finding the easy way out. I'd definitely found it.
Ahuitzotl frowned and glared at me. "You smile in the face of death? Fool. There will be no rest for you. I will carve out your very soul and enslave it!" That's right, big boy. Keep talking. Just a few more seconds...
Let's do this.
He never expected his limp, boneless opponent to suddenly surge into motion. I twisted my neck violently, chomping straight through his tail. He shrieked in agony as the blue paw thunked to the ground, but the tip of his tail was already healing. Now released, I rammed into him, right in the gut, and savagely lunged upwards, cracking him in the jaw with the top of my dense skull. He reeled away, cursing in a strange, guttural language.
I merely planted my spear in the deck and stood where I was. "I yield," I wrote to him.
Mosspaw appeared by my side again. You betray us! What have you done?!
Ahuitzotl hissed at me like a cat, his wounded tail lashing furiously. "NO! You will pay for that!"
Ginger finally managed to regain her footing. I looked to her and the spear, then back again. Her visible eye widened. I hoped she caught the message.
Ahuitzotl hit me like a tank. My rear claws extended, sinking through the ice as he pushed me back several feet until I halted the press. My hind legs strained with all their might. I looked into his face and snarled.
My left knee gave way. He surged forward with renewed vigor, tipping me over. Instead of trying to pull away, however, I embraced him, my powerful forearms wrapping under his pits in a crushing bear-hug. I fell onto my back, his weight almost knocking the wind out of me. I clenched him to me so tightly that neither of us could move.
He let out a piercing wail, his head uselessly flailing over my shoulder. He knew what was coming next.
Ginger stood over us, Mosspaw's spear in a telekinetic grip. The edge gleamed, seeming sharp enough to split reality itself.
"This is for my father!" she screamed, her horn flaring. The weapon streaked downwards and buried itself in the back of Ahuitzotl's neck, straight through his golden collar. I felt him shudder against me as the blade exited out the front and sank into the ice on the deck. Already, I could see it begin to heal out of the corner of my eye.
Ginger wrenched it out of him in a spray of blood and gore.
"This is for my Cloud!" I felt it stab through his back, straight through his spine and into my chest, where it was halted by my armor. I barely managed to lift a single claw to write, "Fire! Use fire!" She got the message.
"And this is for Wethoof!"
Her horn flashed a brilliant green, and the light pouring from her eye became almost blinding. Ginger lowered her head and and absolute inferno roared forth, jetting into Ahuitzotl and myself in a hellish emerald blaze. The heat was unbelievable. I closed my eyes and held my breath, mentally screaming as I felt the hide on my forearms burn away, caught directly in the blast. Faces seemed to flash on the inside of my eyelids, tinged green by the hell swirling around me. There seemed to be no particular order. I saw Coconut. Captain Tythus. Bellows the smith. The waitress from the restaurant. Cloud Nine, Sparky, and Baritone. Disarray. Lord Borealis and Lady Australis. Griffin the gryphon. Popper. Blueback. Ginger. And finally, Daring...
I don't know how long I stayed like that.
Eventually, I had to wheeze for breath, and was surprised to find the air cool and refreshing. I opened my eyes.
I was still lying down on the deck, but a fine coating of ash lay atop me. It was all that seemed to be left of Ahuitzotl. I was smoking furiously, my cloak all but burned away, my armor hot and black against my skin. My exposed forearms looked charred. There was no hair on them. I tried to wiggle a finger, but they didn't respond. I could barely move. Nothing worked. But despite everything, I was alive. I had banked my survival on how tough the body of a diamond dog was, and won. The sounds of battle had lessened, the fighting was almost over.
A gust of wind blew away the ash covering me, revealing the black gem that had been inside Ahuitzotl's collar. It rolled off my chest and fell to the deck.
Ginger stood a few paces away, breathing hard, the spear still held in a magic grip. Mosspaw winked into existence by our side. A new alpha has risen, he said. Ginger Snap, kin-of-my-kin...guide your pack well. He looked at me. I...apologize. I did not know what you intended. Thank you, silent one.
Beside him, two more figures appeared. One was a ruby red mare, the other a strong, noble white stallion who would have been completely unrecognizable had I not seen him before as he once was. They went to Ginger and embraced her, as she finally broke down into weak, heart-wrenching sobs.
And for that briefest of instants, Ginger had her family back. They stood for a few moments, having a conversation that was meant for her and her only.
I leaned my head back, my charred fur rubbing against the incinerated remains of my hood. In the skies above, the aurora was dwindling. The stars were back, glittering and pulsing with life. They didn't seem so cold anymore. The horizon suddenly rose up. We'd descended back down under the walls of Wethoof now. The ships had landed. Daring Do had done it. We'd won.
A ghostly shape appeared in my vision. It was Frost, looking down on me with not a trace of hatred on his face. Thank you, Echo. For giving me a second chance. What I failed to do in this life, I will make up for in death. The stallion bent over and touched the tip of his horn to my forehead. I stiffened as a tide of something strange washed over me. It was warm, and tender, and fierce all the same.
It was love.
It was his love for his family, for his town. It was everything he had embodied before falling, and it was utterly beautiful. When he pulled back, I had tears in my eyes. I understood now what a pony he had been.
The three specters gave us a parting wave, and as one, dissipated from view.
Ginger strode over to me on wobbly knees, the spear tucked under a foreleg. Her horn lit up again. I felt myself become wrapped up in a tingly cocoon, but it fizzled out. She moaned and collapsed by my side, exhausted. Next to her lay the corpse of Cloud Nine. I heard her whimper as she reached over and closed the dead mare's eyes.
"It's all over?" she asked me weakly.
I managed the tiniest of nods.
"Good..." The firestorm must have taken a lot out of her, because her visible eye fluttered closed, and she went still, her chest rising and lowering steadily.
I felt world begin to sink away, the peculiar sensation of falling into myself. The toll of the last few days was catching up to me all at once. I craned my gaze to the sky.
The last thing I saw before the blackness overcame me were the stars.
Author: This chapter is dedicated to my editor, Nathan Traveler, without whom, this story would completely blow chunks. Thanks, mate, from the bottom of my three-sizes-too-small heart.
Ha ... Ha.