Chapter 5: Unicorn Magi
“What has happened to Master Oceanus?”
Bereft of any vision, Twilight focused on what she was hearing recognizing the oily, menacing voice as Nightmare Moon’s. She tried to open her eyes, only to realize that they were already open. She then tried to move about and found that none of her limbs were reacting.
“He has already gone dormant as have most of our comrades.”
A second voice replied to Nightmare Moon’s question, this one of a slightly higher pitch. Forgetting the fact that she couldn't feel anything and that the only sense that seemed to be working was her hearing, Twilight continued to listen. There was that name again. Oceanus, the prince who had been born before Princess Celestia and her siblings. But, why was she hearing these voices now? Where was she? She listened intently when Nightmare Moon spoke again.
“I will leave my mortal body here in dormancy while I venture out to strike against any agents the Eternal Herd sends. Thus, I will pave the way for our master’s rise without risk of being permanently destroyed. You must stay awake here and turn these mortal ponies into a proper welcome for our master.”
“How can you affect anything in this world without your mortal body? Have you forgotten how it works already?”
“I will work through hosts. There will be others out there who will become compatible with me.”
“As you say then. When our master awakens, I expect the rest of this world to be ready to fall.”
“And, when I reunite with my mortal body, I expect a proper army for him out of these mortal ponies swimming about.”
“For the rightful king, Lunalux Umbra!”
“For the rightful king, Solis Coruscaria.”
Twilight wanted to listen some more. However, just as things were slowly beginning to make sense, something struck her mind violently like an indignant slap to the face. The words halted abruptly and, all of a sudden, she started to feel again. The first sensation to come back was touch. She was cold, freezing. She found herself shivering uncontrollably. Smell and hearing followed suit. She could hear the sounds of snow crunching against hooves…or were they paws? She could hear guttural, unfamiliar language being exchange and smell the familiar foul odor of wolven. Sight and a sense of direction were the last to come back. When Twilight’s vision cleared, it was then she realized that she had fallen on her side and was half-buried in the snow.
The wolven presence brought back her alertness quickly. She tried to get to her hooves, succeeding only on getting to a kneeling position. She looked around for enemies and cringed inwardly. She was somewhere in the middle of a vast field of snow with a pack of wolven closing in on all sides. She felt around her head. The Element of Magic was not on it.
Fireball. That was the first spell that came to Twilight’s mind. She had observed that the wolven were particularly not fond of fire. She was feeling a little woozy and drained. A fireball would be simple enough to cause some damage and give them some pause to buy her time. Her horn crackled with magic, ready to channel her power into a ball of exploding flame.
Before she could complete the spell, however, her vision blurred slightly and her balance failed. She staggered a few steps forward, her mind going into a panic. As she expected, the wolven snarled in anticipation at the sign of weakness and closed the distance swiftly. She was still desperately trying to complete the spell when the first wolven’s claws were inches from her face. At the last moment, however, fire did blaze up and consume her attacker. For a second, she thought that she had completed her spell and was lucky that she didn't blow herself up by using a fireball on a wolven so close. Another second passed and she realized that she was still “holding” her fireball. Some other fire spell had taken out her attacker. The blaze distracted the wolven as they searched for the source of the new threat, allowing her to lob her fireball towards a trio of them that had mistakenly decided to clump together.
The white-hot sphere connected with one the three and erupted into a searing blast. There were no screams this time. She had learned her lesson. The knowledge that she had killed them was still there, but the pitched cries that tore at her insides were not. Owlsight’s admonition was never meant to completely make it alright to burn wolven with impunity, just to lessen the impact enough to keep her from going mad. The blaze was so intense that the wolven died instantly. Instinctively, she covered her nose with a hoof, still unnerved by the awful spell that wafted from those that burned to death.
“What’s the matter, Twilight Sparkle? The smell of battle too strong for your delicate little nose?”
The familiar mocking tone caught Twilight by surprise. There was no mistaking the stinging remark and the angry voice that carried it. She found herself among the wolven looking for the pony who had cast the earlier fire spell. She spotted the white unicorn mare standing across her, horn already ablaze with another fire spell. She caught a glimpse of Pyre Valor’s eyes and, as usual, found nothing but angry contempt in the other unicorn’s gaze. “Pyre Valor…” she whispered harshly. Now, she was unsure which to focus her next offensive spell, the pack of bloodthirsty wolven or the traitorous unicorn mage. She assessed the situation briefly. The wolven surrounding them were of the smallest sort, likely a party for the fleeing main army. She didn't even see any bolters. This was likely a foraging party of sorts that accidentally ran into her and hoped for an easy meal.
A pair of wolven jumped at Pyre Valor, but she lit one ablaze halfway through its jump without even taking her eyes off Twilight. With a yelp, it collapsed to the ground, writhing in agony. She sidestepped the other one, already focusing on another spell. The wolven snarled and recovered, rearing up on its hind legs to scratch at her. With a grunt of annoyance, she completed the spell. Her horn sprouted a curved blade of concentrated flame, several feet in length. She ducked under the wolven’s claws, then slashed up, cleaving it in two. The wolven’s halves crashed right next to her. There wasn't even a spatter of blood from its completely cauterized wounds.
Finding themselves caught between two spell-wielding ponies, the remaining wolven, decided to focus on one target only. Twilight tensed once it was clear that the wolven picked her. She didn’t know if she should be flattered that the wolven considered her a bigger threat or angry that they thought she was the easier target. Her heart was racing either way. The wolven were too close and she didn't have a line of earth pony infantry to engage them or even a few friends to rely on. She reared up and pointed her forelegs towards one wolven that was edging in too close for comfort. Twin jets of flame burst from her front hooves. The short ranged spell caught the wolven just at its edges, lighting its fur on fire and sending it rolling on the ground in a panic.
“Shield up!” Pyre Valor shouted.
The ease by which Pyre’s voice could cut through anything occupying her mind at the moment, surprised Twilight. She dropped the next spell she was about to cast and focused on raising the same shield she had used against Nightmare Moon. Only a second after she completed the spell, she looked up to find a quartet of meteors only a few feet away. She looked away as fiery chunks of rock collided with her shield.
Despite having her eyes closed, Twilight winced at the bright light that penetrated her eyelids anyway when the meteors exploded. She cried out as hard as she could, but her voice was completely drowned out by the ear-shattering boom. She almost fell to her knees and she was afraid that her ears would start bleeding. Her dome-shaped shield dispersed the shockwave and the flames all around it, but she could still feel a prickling sensation all over her body at being so close to so much destructive power.
The blast dispersed and the clouds of dust, smoke and ashes began to slowly settle. Twilight doubted that any wolven had survived that spell. They had surrounded and closed in on her, hoping to bring her down, then focus on Pyre Valor. That was a big mistake easily capitalized by a unicorn mage whose love of magic was synonymous to her love of fiery explosions. She kept her shield up and waited warily. She fully expected a second barrage of meteors to come at her any moment now with the wolven gone.
Twilight waited nervously for the next attack. No explosions followed. Not even a singular blast of flame or an angry curse came from Pyre Valor. As she waited, Twilight fought down one particular feeling that was welling up inside her. It wasn't the disgust at the horrid smell nor was it the fear of facing down a unicorn mage that had previously beaten her in a fight. No. It was a more insidious feeling that she refused to acknowledge. It was…admiration. She now knew a lot of fire spells thanks to all the time she spent studying. She also knew that she could match Pyre Valor as far as raw power was concerned. But, the sequence by which Pyre easily took out her attackers was something to watch and learn from. Pyre Valor made it look easy, transitioning from attacking at long range to short range bursts to attacking with a melee spell without any sign of hesitation or panic. Twilight had to admit that no amount of reading or even sparring could give her that sort of ease, only battle after battle of experience. When all the dust and ashes settled, she found the white unicorn standing just a foot away from her shield.
“How long are you going to waste your strength on that shield?” Pyre Valor asked. “The wolven are all dead, coward. We’d better move or more will come looking for their foragers.”
The mere surprise of having Pyre Valor talk to her instead of attacking was almost enough for Twilight to bring her shield down. She caught herself and kept a guarded stance. “What are you talking about?” she asked. “Aren't you going to attack me?”
“No and your inane questions are making that decision difficult.” Pyre Valor looked around. Twilight guessed that it was to ascertain their position. She tried to do the same and failed. She didn't know the landmarks of this land, but she had to be sure that they were heading for FangBreaker Fortress as opposed to slowly crossing the border to Wolvengard. With the sun already setting, it was easy to determine where south was at least. Whether it was going to be equally easy avoiding the rest of the fleeing wolven army has yet to be seen.
Twilight eyed Pyre warily, then slowly dispersed her shield. She didn't relax though. When Pyre began to walk on, she followed slowly behind. “Wait,” she said. “Are you…just you? What happened to Nightmare Moon?”
Pyre Valor stopped for a moment. “She’s gone,” she replied. “I don’t know where she went, but your last attack banished her somewhere. She teleported at the last moment and we were caught up in its wake somehow. Now, keep walking.”
Still perplexed, Twilight obeyed for now. Perhaps, once they came to a location that Pyre deemed safe, the white unicorn would start explaining. It was a difficult walk however. She was constantly half a shield spell away. Each time Pyre Valor made or looked like she was about to make a sudden move left her on edge.
“Hey,” Pyre finally said.
Twilight nearly completed the shield spell, stopping only at the last moment. “What is it?” she asked.
“When you were out…did you experience some kind of vision? Something about Nightmare Moon talking with somepony.”
“Solis Coruscaria,” Twilight said in acknowledgement. “I did. Did it happen to you to?”
Pyre Valor was silent for a time. “I thought it was just some worthless dream. I think I’m beginning to understand a little.”
“What do you mean? What happened during that explosion?”
The annoyed look that Pyre shot her told Twilight that the prodding was not appreciated. But this was Pyre Valor. Twilight guessed that the fact that she was still alive was not appreciated from Pyre Valor’s end. It wasn't just annoyance that she saw on the other unicorn’s face. It seemed that Pyre herself wasn't entirely sure as to why she wasn't hurling angry fire spells.
“While we were linked, Nightmare Moon was able to peer into my memories, but the reverse wasn't true,” Pyre finally explained. “When she was about to be banished from my body, she let her guard down in desperation.”
"I was able to see as well, how was that possible?”
“Must be because you’re such a nosy nag you managed to listen in.”
Twilight swallowed an angry retort. She had a lot to find out and she didn't know how long Pyre Valor was going to stay amiable. “That’s not a feasible explanation,” she said.
“I’m surprised you noticed,” was the flat reply. “I don’t know how you listened in. Maybe it had something to do with the clash of magic. You had Nightmare Moon’s collapsing defenses, that touchy-feely beam of rainbows and sunshine and…whatever it was that Nightmare Moon called out at the last moment. Did you add anything to that mix?”
Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “I threw up a shield to protect the others,” she said. “I was also standing at the center of that blast from the Elements of Harmony.”
Pyre Valor didn't say anything after that. Instead, she quickened her pace.
“The wind’s picking up,” Twilight said as a breeze caused her mane to fly about. To make matters worse, it was also starting to get dark. If they didn't make it to FangBreaker Fortress soon they were going to be caught in a blizzard at night. She was still wearing her mage-coat. The outfit should protect her to a degree.She had to quicken her pace as well. This was a familiar sight, trudging across the plain behind an uncaring Pyre Valor. When she still received no response, she trotted over and put a hoof on Pyre Valor’s shoulder.
The next moment, Twilight found herself sprawling on the ground with her face aching. “Don’t touch me,” Pyre hissed. Twilight rolled to her hooves quickly, ready to defend herself from another attack. Instead, she found Pyre already turning her back and walking on.
“Hold on!” Twilight called out. “What’s going on, Pyre Valor? What’s with this sudden truce? What are you going to do now?” When the other unicorn kept walking, Twilight cast her spell. A thin bolt of lightning, barely enough to give any pony a mild jolting sensation, flew from her horn and past Pyre Valor’s face, missing by only an inch. “Stop running away from me!” she shouted.
The bolt had come close enough for Pyre to feel a little heat on her cheek. She stopped in her tracks, her teeth grinding together as she fought back her natural instincts, instincts which seemed to be "break Twilight Sparkle’s legs and leave her for what would undoubtedly be their wolven trackers". “I’m trying to keep you alive here, Twilight Sparkle,” she said, her voice even.
“This is coming from a mare who told me she was going to kill me for showing her that the chosen can be strong too,” Twilight retorted.
“The situation has changed since then.”
“Can’t you just take things in stride?” Pyre snapped. “Terrato’s blood-smeared hooves, every time you open your putrid mouth, you make this decision twice as hard!”
Twilight let out a long, frustrated exhalation. She would have continued to stand still there, but the sun had all but completely set. Pyre was right, they had to keep moving. Besides, she also realized that she was completely lost here. Pyre Valor seemed to have a good bearing on where they were. Without the combative unicorn as a guide, she would probably wander around hoping that somepony found her, then freeze to death or be overtaken by wolven.
The two of them spent hours, or perhaps it just felt like hours for Twilight, just walking in darkness. She focused on the steady crunching of their hooves in the snow and making sure that she was just a few feet behind Pyre. Though it was difficult to see in the dark, she followed the heat radiating from the white unicorn. Bereft of a mage-coat, Pyre was using another fire spell to stay warm.
‘She’s steadily using up her magic. At this rate, I can-!‘ Twilight nearly hit herself in indignation. That was a horrible thought. Was her drive to beat Pyre Valor that bad? Sure, constant insults and the several attempts on her life merited some hostility, but…she shook her head. If she was going to fight Pyre, it was going to be a fair fight. Her mind went to other things. It galled her that she actually needed Pyre Valor to get back to FangBreaker just as it galled her that something had happened during that last clash of magic that she didn't understand . The silence didn't make them move any faster, it just left her to stew on her own. “So how has the situation changed?” she asked again. This time she kept her tone low, submissive even. Perhaps if she could get past the other unicorn’s hair-trigger temper, she might get a discussion going.
Her tentative question was met with even more silence.
More time passed. Twilight had consigned herself to walking for hours in total silence and darkness when Pyre finally decided to speak. “How’s Vanguard?” she asked.
“He’s fine,” Twilight replied. It wasn't the topic she wanted, but they were talking now. “Those burn marks you left him are still there but he’s doing well.”
Twilight strained to hear that last word. It was a rare moment of Pyre Valor expressing something besides anger and she didn't want to miss it. To her embarrassment, the white unicorn looked back in time to catch her leaning in. “Do I get to ask you a question this time?” Twilight asked.
Again, there was silence. Twilight picked up her pace so that she was walking beside Pyre Valor. “You’re not being fair,” she said.
“This world is full of injustice,” Pyre replied.
“And you’re just adding to it. Why-?“
“Are you so desperate to know why I haven’t tried to kill you?”
“Yes. I mean, not so desperate that I’d do anything but-!“
Pyre let out a slow exhale. “I still want to kill you, if you have to know,” she answered. “I’d be very happy to gut you on the spot with my teeth right now.”
Twilight tensed again. This was now sounding like the Pyre Valor she knew. “Why aren't you?” she asked. “It’s what you want, right?”
“If I had spent my life doing the things I wanted to instead of things I had to, I’d have some pathetic sparkling things on my flank too.”
“That’s not how cutie marks work…” Twilight muttered.
“Shut your mouth and listen or we can end this talk right now.”
“Fine, I’ll keep quiet.”
“When I woke up, I planned on going north. I was going to throw myself at Wolvengard until I was dead. To my bad luck, I spotted you about to be eaten. I had to change my plans.”
“That doesn’t make any-!” Twilight caught herself and fell silent again.
Pyre Valor’s voice lowered as she went on. “I’m going to die soon, Twilight Sparkle. I had hoped that it was while fighting wolven, not dangling on a rope for the nag princess’s amusement.”
“She’s not a nag and your hanging won’t amuse her!”
Pyre paid the comment no heed and continued. “Before I go, I still want the Legion to be as strong as ever. Especially after the price I asked it to pay. You’re part of some weapon that can hurt even something like Nightmare Moon. The Legion should keep that weapon even if I want you dead. Also…”
Pyre’s voice trailed off, much to Twilight’s curiosity. She wanted to prod the white unicorn, but she knew that it would only succeed in shutting Pyre up completely. Fortunately, Pyre did continue without the need for prompting.
“I want Vanguard to have a strong unicorn mage by his side. Somepony who won’t throw a fireball at him at some point. The choice was either you or Nightcanter. You’re just a slightly better choice than that ravening ditch pig.”
“I’m flattered,” Twilight muttered. She didn't miss the part about Pyre about to die however. That had her thinking again. How would that possibly feel? Knowing that your death was imminent one way or another…how could Pyre continue to act as she did with that kind of weight upon her?
“Quiet!” Pyre hissed. The urgency in the tone told Twilight that it was important that she did as told this time. Pyre had stopped as well, prompting her to do the same. With her vision almost useless in the darkness, she concentrated on listening intently. “Wings,” Pyre said softly.
Both of them looked up. Outlined by the light of the moon were the silhouettes of several pegasi flying about. They carried lanterns constructed so that the light focused into a cone-shaped beam. They flew low and seemed to be searching for something.
“Just as I expected,” Pyre groused. “You have become important enough.” She fired a spell straight into the air, a small, brilliant, sparkling sphere that could be seen from a long way away. The pegasi were quick to converge on them.
“Over here!” one of the pegasi said. Twilight and Pyre found themselves surrounded. The sight of Twilight seemed to relieve the pegasi, but they tensed up right away when they focused on Pyre Valor. One pegasus took out a piece of paper, glanced at it, then nodded at his fellows. They pointed their crossbows at her, anger and fear mixing on their faces. “Pyre Valor,” the lead pegasus said, “you’re under arrest for-!”
“I know what I did, you flying mule!” Pyre snapped. She held out her hooves and scowled in impatience. “Clap me in irons already!”
Taken aback by the ferocity of their “prisoner”, the pegasi approached her warily, then produced a length of rope to tie her up. Through it all, Pyre didn’t so much as flinch. Twilight watched the white unicorn, more unwelcome admiration welling up inside. Another pegasus hovered by her side to offer her a lift.
“Your friends are causing a stir in the fort,” the pegasus said. “We’re lucky to have found you quickly.”
“Yes,” Twilight said softly, not taking her eyes off Pyre.,he unicorn mage whose actions she might not fully understand. Pyre’s fate seemed perfectly clear. It was a fate that she and Vanguard had consigned herself to. Yet…Twilight didn't like that notion. For all the anger the other unicorn mage stirred in her, for all the nights she spent learning every possible means to win their next fight, she didn't want Pyre Valor to die. Not like this.
With a flutter of wings, the two unicorn magi were taken aloft and straight to FangBreaker Fortress.