Never before was the blue unicorn as glad as he was to return to such a dreary place. Clover felt the deathly chill of the air nipping at him as he followed the doom hound known as Second through the ruined city towards the broken palace of the Slave King. Though grateful that their mission was a success, he couldn’t help feeling a little remorse for the loss of one of their number. Although he didn’t know Scourge very well, and had nearly been killed by his paws at Jormungandr’s Way, Clover felt sorrow at his passing. Whatever else he had done, the doom hound had sacrificed himself to save Shanks and him from certain death at the claws of the dracoliche.
“I must thank you little pony,” Second growled.
“Thank me for what?” Clover asked him, puzzling over what the doom hound might feel gratitude for.
“For ensuring the demise of Scourge of course!” Second said, flashing his razor sharp fangs. “With him out of the way, my position has been elevated.”
“Listen you…” Clover said, lowering his horn at the doom hound, “I won’t allow you to speak ill of the dead!”
“Little snack, watch your words,” Second said with a sneer. “You may be under the Slave King’s protection now, but that won’t always be the case.”
“Scourge might not have been my friend,” Clover said, narrowing his eyes in righteous indignation, “but he gave his life protecting me and my friend. And for that I’ll be forever grateful.”
“Typical weak pony sentimentality,” Second laughed. “Scourge would have just as readily killed you if he had been instructed. There was nothing noble about him, just another slave following his master’s orders.”
“I don’t care what you think,” Clover replied. “Even if he’d have done what you said, he still made the choice to defend us. And as far as I’m concerned, that makes him somepony worth honoring.”
Second rolled his eyes derisively, didn’t he know that his fellow doom hounds were their mortal enemies? “Pony, let’s stop this idle conversation,” the doom hound growled. “The hungry dead have been active here of late, and I doubt I’d be as willing as Scourge to trade my life for yours.”
“Fine,” Clover replied, feeling annoyed at how Second was acting. “Shanks, keep close there’s some hungry dead nearby.”
“Aroo?” Shanks barked, lightly sniffing the air a few times. “Mister Clover, me not smell dead things near.”
“Keep close to me anyways,” Clover said, giving the doom hound an angry look. “Second might be trying to deceive us, but after the dracoliche I have no desire to take any chances.”
“Okay Mister Clover,” Shanks happily said. “Me be a good dog and stay by your side.”
Second growled in disgust when he heard the pup utter the words, by the pit had he no self-respect? The very idea that a diamond dog would happily follow the orders of one of the lesser races was a perversion of the natural order! He was grateful that the pup’s unnatural behavior would be dealt with in short order. Once the Slave King had received the items he needed to construct his weapon, these ‘guests’ would have outlived their usefulness. He licked his maw in anticipation of the moment when he’d be called on by his king to dispatch them.”
“How much further until we arrive at the palace?” Clover asked Second, interrupting his thoughts.
“Oh we’re almost there,” Second replied, tilting his head towards a pair of burning eyes staring at them from the shadows. “She has seen us and will alert the Slave King.”
“Who is she?” Clover asked, trying to pierce the shadows with his sight.
“Somehound you should hope to never meet,” Second replied, his hairs standing on end. He hoped that their conversation hadn’t been overheard. He knew that the Slave King counted Scourge among his favored creations, and was worried about incurring his wrath over something as trivial as annoying the unicorn.
“What is she called?” Clover asked.
“A name that few living will ever hear,” Second replied, giving the shadows a hard look, “and even fewer survive knowing.”
“Is she as bad as all that?” Clover asked.
“She is the first of all the Slave King’s creations,” Second said, leading them through a courtyard full of rubble. “It’s said that when he first returned to the city, so great was his rage that it took physical form and became The Nightmare.”
“I wonder why she wasn’t there when we last saw the Slave King,” Clover said.
“Oh she was,” Second replied. “If you’d angered the Slave King, she would have slain your entire party.”
“But we’re Princess Celestia’s personal envoy,” Clover said, feeling ill at the thought of a hidden assassin waiting in the shadows to slay him.
“The Slave King has already eaten one god, and now has his eye on another,” Second said, his voice laced with malice and wearing a smug smile. “What makes you think your pony princess will be treated any differently?”
“Because the Slave King doesn’t strike me as somepony who’s stupid,” Clover replied.
“You tread a dangerous path insulting my King in his own home,” Second said, turning around to glare at the unicorn.
“Princess Celestia offered her hoof in friendship,” Clover said. “The Slave King has no reason to be antagonistic towards her.”
“He has every reason to suspect any gestures of friendship to have ulterior motives,” Second growled. “Princess Celestia’s schemes may not be as obvious as Lord Ouroboros’s, but she’s none the less devious.”
Clover didn’t know how to respond to the doom hounds accusations. On the one hoof he had always believed both Princess Celestia and Luna were nothing but benevolent, but on the other hoof his recent dealings with some of the other members of the pantheon had shown him how much intrigue lied between the members of the pantheon.
Clover was about to object to Second’s characterization of the princess as patently unfair, but the familiar voice as cold and lifeless as the ruins of the Diamond Vale interrupted him. “Second,” the voice hissed malevolently, “you were to escort our guests to the palace not interrogate them.”
Second’s pupils dilated to the size of pinholes in fear. Praying that he hadn’t upset his master too much, the doom hound lowered his head and tucked his tail between his legs. “My king, I beg your forgiveness,” he whimpered. “I spoke out of turn.”
“Indeed you did…” the voice replied. “I don’t require my servants to defend me from every naysayer in my own house.”
“I… I understand,” Second stammered, feeling the icy grip of fear clenching around his heart.
“Away with you,” the voice said, “your cowardice taints Scourge’s memory, and embarrasses me before our guests.”
Second shivered once more, hung his head in shame, and trotted off into the shadows of a side passage.
“Please forgive my servant’s untoward behavior,” the voice said. “I shall send another of my servants to guide you to my throne.”
“Thank you, your highness,” Clover replied.
As he waited in the dark shadows of the palace’s corridors, Clover felt the Shanks shiver in fear. “Shanks, what’s wrong?” he asked in concern.
“Mister Clover,” Shanks said. “Me smell bad thing coming!”
“Perhaps it’s the Slave King’s servant?” Clover suggested, halfway hoping he was wrong and all Shanks smelt was Second’s lingering scent.
Out from the darkness, a pair of burning eyes cast a baleful gaze on the two interlopers.
Clover gasped in surprise when he saw the fiery eyes glaring at him out from the shadows. “Are you who the Slave King has sent to guide us the remainder of the way to his throne?” he asked.
The eye’s owner said nothing, instead walked out of the shadows towards Clover and Shanks. The massive black creature looked almost as if it was nothing but malevolence rolled up in forgotten darkness.
“Umm,” Clover stammered, feeling a little frightened at the creature’s silence. “Are you the Slave King’s servant?”
The great black beast seemed to take exception at being called a servant and pulled back its ears, curled back its lips revealing its sharp fangs, and raised one of its massive black claws threateningly at the unicorn.
Instantly Clover filled his horn with magic and prepared to release the most potent spell he knew at the beast. Before he could cast the spell, the angry voice of the Slave King interrupted them. “Nightmare!” his voice roared, causing the earth to tremble at his rage. “They aren’t to be harmed in anyway. You are to escort them to my throne and resume making your rounds.”
Nightmare turned towards the source of the Slave King’s voice and gave it a hard look. Turning her head to face Clover and Shanks, she tilted her head motioning for them to follow her as she silently walked towards the heart of the palace.
Clover, relieved that he wouldn’t have to face her turned towards Shanks, “Shanks,” he said, “I guess we’re following her.”
“Mister Clover,” Shanks whined, “me no like bad thing. It make me afraid.”
“It’ll be all right, you’ll see,” Clover said, trying his best to reassure the diamond dog pup. “I’ll make sure nopony harms you.”
When he heard his friend’s promise, Shanks immediately wagged his tail and smiled, revealing his tiny canines. “Okay Mister Clover,” he barked. “Me trust you.”
Clover returned his smile and followed after their silent guide. As the two friends walked through the darkness together, he noticed how the kinship he had with the pup made a place as dark and terrible as the ruined palace bearable. Looking down at Shanks, he realized how much he had grown over the past weeks. He had gone from a timid pony unsure of his place in the world, into a brave stallion confidently walking into the shadows to meet with Tiroc reborn. “I wonder what Master Starswirl would say,” he said to himself, not able to believe half the adventures he’d lived through since he first set his hoof out the door of his master’s home.
They were getting closer now, Clover could tell by how cold the air was getting. When they had first met with the Slave King he hadn’t really noticed it, but now that he was no longer fighting his fear he could feel the icy air biting at his flanks. “I wonder why it gets so cold near him,” Clover thought to himself. “Surely he doesn’t choose to live in the cold.” Looking overhead he saw the torches sickly burning, giving off very little in the way of light and heat. Looking down at his hooves he saw that he was casting a long shadow that seemed to dance with the flickering flames. Looking at Nightmare he noticed that she wasn’t casting any shadow and almost seemed to be drawing the darkness into her body.
“I wonder what kind of creature she is,” Clover asked aloud.
Nightmare looked back at him and glared hatefully at the unicorn as she continued to guide them to their destination.
“I can tell she doesn’t like me,” Clover said, shuddering in fear from the glare that Nightmare had used on him.
Deciding to not antagonize Nightmare any further, Clover remained silent for the rest of the journey through the winding passages of the Slave King’s ruined palace. Every so often a sickly torch illuminated the way, casting light on the dusty and torn tapestries hanging from the walls. Looking at them as they passed by, he saw that they were made from precious metals and gem stones woven together. One tapestry in particular caught his eye. It was a story from the first age of ponies, showing the story of how Discord had tricked Tiroc into the pit. He saw the tapestries depicting how Discord and Tiroc held a contest for supremacy over Equestria.
During a feast the pantheon held long ago, Tiroc boasted that none was more powerful than he and everypony should pay homage to his greatness. When Discord heard his boasting he laughed and challenged him to a contest. The contest was to be one of eating, drinking, running, and strength; the winner would be recognized as the most powerful being in all Equestria, while the loser would have to go into the pit to never return. Confident in his abilities, Tiroc readily agreed to the terms Discord had set forth and swore on the moot to abide by the results.
For the first part of the contest Discord set down two tables covering the length of Equestria full of food, the first to eat everything would be considered the winner. Tiroc laughed when he saw his challenger, a thin tiny dragon whelp who could barely see above the table. Clapping his paws together Discord started the contest. In a fury, Tiroc devoured all the food on the table in less than a minute. Turning around to boast of his feat, he saw to his disappointment that his opponent had not just eaten all the food, but had also devoured all the bones, rinds, dishes, the table, and even all the greenery as far as the eye could see creating the Equestrian badlands.
Tiroc looked at Discord and requested that the drinking contest start, for nopony’s thirst was greater than his. Discord provided two mugs of cider as tall as the sky for the next contest, whoever could drink the most in three drinks would be declared the winner. Tiroc laughed when he saw his next opponent, a little seapony who could barely grasp the mug in its flippers. Snapping his claws Discord signaled the contest to begin. Tiroc drank deeply from the mug of cider three times completely emptying it. Looking towards his opponent, he was shocked to see that not only had the seapony drained the contents of his mug but had also drained the contents of every barrel of ale as well. Angry at losing the drinking contest, Tiroc threw the mugs as hard as he could. When they landed they became the northern mountains of Equestria.
Tiroc, unconcerned about losing the last two contests demanded that the third contest begin. Discord politely smiled and pointed to the starting point. The first to return from the gates of Tartarus with one of the many gems Cerberus had in his larder would be the declared the winner of this round. When he saw his next opponent Tiroc bellowed with laughter, a tiny griffin with wings so small they could barely keep it aloft. As soon as he heard Discord start the contest, Tiroc ran as fast as he could determined that he wouldn’t be beaten again. In less than three steps, Tiroc had returned with one of Cerberus’s gems. Triumphantly he showed the gem to Discord, but was disappointed when he saw that not only had his opponent beaten him, but had also managed to return with every last gem in the larder. In a furious rage Tiroc pounded the earth scattering the gems all across Equestria, which is why you can find them so easily today.
Tiroc growled, showing his displeasure at having lost three contests so easily. Impatiently, he bellowed to Discord to start the final contest. Discord pointed towards an ancient pony and said whoever can move the other will be declared the winner. Tiroc roared in triumph as he charged the ancient pony. However try as he might, he was unable to move the pony in the slightest. After a minute, the pony shook its white mane knocking Tiroc aside. Hanging his head low, Tiroc jumped into the pit knowing he had been beaten by Discord. Before the pit swallowed him up completely, he asked Discord how he had been beaten. With a mischievous laugh Discord revealed the true identity of his four opponents. The baby dragon was none other than wildfire, for nothing had a greater hunger. The seapony was actually the Western Sea, because truly its depths knew no bounds. The third was a thought, for nothing could be faster. Finally the fourth was time itself, for eventually even Equestria would one day have to yield to it. Enraged that he had been deceived by Discord, Tiroc swore he would one day escape and bring ruin to everypony before he was finally swallowed up by the pit.
Curious to see if the tapestries continued telling the story, Clover used his magic to light up the room and discovered that there was nothing else beyond the last tapestry showing Tiroc being swallowed up by the pit.
“A cautionary tale…” the Slave King’s voice said, causing Clover to jump in fright. “Warning us to beware of hubris I think.”
Turning around Clover saw the gaunt figure of the Slave King standing in front of him, “I’m sorry,” Clover apologized, “but the tapestries looked so interesting.”
“Yes…” the Slave King agreed, “they are. Clover the clever, follow me.”
Following the Slave King, Clover trotted down a side passage and down a flight of stairs that cut deep into the bowels of the earth. When they reached the bottom, he saw that they were in an enormous cavern. Cracks revealing the molten core of the earth provided illumination, but despite what should have been oppressive heat Clover could only shiver as the icy air all around him bit at his flanks and muzzle.
Looking at the Slave King questioningly, Clover was going to ask why they had come here when he received his answer. “This is my forge,” the Slave King said. “Place the spine and scale on the ground and then take the pup and leave the way you came. The passageway will take you to where your companions are waiting for you.”
Clover nodded silently and slowly trotted to the stairway that led back up towards the palace, leaving the Slave King alone in his forge.
Picking up the scale and spine the Slave King placed them by the other objects resting near the fires of his forge. Picking up his hammer he relentlessly beat the softly glowing metal, driving the impurities from it as he folded it time and again. With each blow of his hammer, the very foundations of the earth shook. As he pounded against the unyielding metal an explosion of sparks flew, illuminating his weary face and emotionless eyes. While working the metal against the anvil with his hammer he became one with the forge.
“Boom!” the hammer sounded, the heavy thunk of metal against metal reverberated throughout the room.
“Hiss!” the metal cried out, sending sparks singeing the ground and the man working at the forge.
“Whoosh!” the flames roared, drawing new life from the bellows mewling for more fuel.
“Boom, hiss, whoosh. Boom, hiss, whoosh,” the forge sang, as the man tirelessly worked.
Softly the Earth groaned, joining in the chorus of man and muscle versus metal and fire.
“Boom!” the hammer sounded.
“By his own strength…” the Earth groaned, the force of the relentless blows never ceasing.
“Hiss!” the metal cried out.
“And irons might…” the Earth rumbled, pleading for an end to the unending assault.
“Whoosh!” the flames roared.
“Fueled by rage…” the Earth quaked, its very foundations shaking with fear.
“Boom, groan, hiss, rumble, whoosh, quake. Boom, groan, hiss, rumble, whoosh, quake,” the forge and earth sang with perfect pitch.
The man picked up the tempo and brought down his hammer with even more force than before, and started tempering the metal by drowning it in oil and returning it to the flames.
“Boom!” the hammer sounded.
“By his own strength…” the Earth groaned.
“Hiss!” the metal cried out.
“And irons might…” the Earth rumbled.
“Whoosh!” the flames roared.
“Fueled by rage…” the Earth quaked.
“Shhh!” the oil sighed, the cool oil siphoning away the blistering heat of the forge.
“Drowned in blood…” the Earth sighed, the blood of so many innocent slain before their time crying out for a vengeance that would never come.
“Fssshhh!” the metal crackled, as the flames burned and blistered.
“And seared with pain,” the Earth mourned, with an empty and broken heart.
“Boom, groan, hiss, rumble, whoosh, quake, shhh, fssshhh. Boom, groan, hiss, rumble, whoosh, quake, shhh, fssshhh,” the forge and earth sang, their voices rising together in a hymn only to be joined by a third, magic.
The man beat the metal in measured strokes, preparing for the last ingredients that his creation called for, the raw power of the elements themselves.
“Earth, flesh and bones, cradle of life and bastion of death!” the man chanted, throwing the Fang of Darkpaw stained with his own blood and baptized with Lady Zephyr’s love into the flame. As the flames assaulted the fang it attempted resisting the heat, the man continued chanting feeding his power into the forge. Finally overpowered by the magical flames of the forge, the fang was dissolved and absorbed into the metal. The metal glowed with an ethereal green light, as the fires of the forge burst into green flames. Satisfied that his work was good, the man moved on to the next element.
“Water, crimson blood and viscous bile, weak and yielding but hard and driving!” he continued, dropping the glowing pearl a symbol of Lord Triton’s honor and sanctified by the Lawgiver’s blessing. The green flames of the forged welcomed the pearl into its bosom and enveloped the pearl in its embrace. Basking in the flames, the pearl blackened and melted until it too was absorbed by the metal. From deep within the metal it took on a blue luminous sheen, as the forge’s flames shifted from green to blue and back again. Looking at his handiwork, the man inspected it under the glow of the flames and saw that it was good and proceeded to add the next element.
“Air, the soul and breath of the living, sow the wind and reap the whirlwind!” the man cried out, dropping a single pinion feather plucked from the wing of Lady Zephyr, mistress of storms and imbued with the wind’s unstoppable might. Immediately the feather caught flame, causing the fire to explode upwards in a fiery maelstrom and then sucked downwards into the ravenous metal. From deep in the heart of the forge the metal now pulsed with a golden energy. By now the heat from the forge was impressive, the flames changed from green, to blue, to gold, and once again to green as the flames threatened to escape the confines of the forge. The man smiled when he saw what the metal had become. Now nearly complete, the metal was ready for the final element and the key to Lord Ouroboros’s demise.
“Fire, life itself and vanquisher of the shadows, a useful servant and terrible master!” the man chanted, taking Lord Ouroboros’s red spine dulled with age and placed it into the powerful flames of the forge. When it touched the fire the spine in protest refused to be devoured by the flames, until the man pumped the bellows making the intense flames roar with power. The cast off spine, unable to withstand the combined powers of the domains of the earth, water, and air; turned into ash and was readily absorbed by the waiting metal. Having consumed the power of fire, it crackled with red energy as flames much hotter than anything the forge could make pulsated from deep inside the lump of metal.
Picking up the metal with his tongs the man inspected it from every angle. It was perfect. The flawless surface of the metal flowed like quicksilver, radiating the primal energies of all four of the Prime Elements. Knowing that his next task would be doubly dangerous, the man placed the lump of metal back into the forge and prepared to unleash his divinity directly into it. Picking up the hammer and tongs the man put away his past and fully assumed the mantle of who he had become, the Slave King. Drawing deeply from the heart of the Earth, he acted as a conduit to siphon a piece of his divinity into the waiting metal.
The Earth rumbled in dread at this new thing that was being made in direct contradiction to the natural order. The unnatural melding of four elements normally at odds with each other, threatened to break the confines of the Earth and leave all Equestria in ruin. The Slave King ready for the possibility of his total annihilation, chanted desperately trying to keep the transfer of elemental energy constant.
“Earth…” he whispered, remembering the cruel treatment of his master’s that had robbed him of his humanity.
“Flesh…” he said, remembering how the whips had torn and ripped his back daily for so many years.
The Slave King felt the power coursing through him, making his eyes glow with the green energy of life. The Earth angry at being mistreated did not want to be used in this manner and was showing him its displeasure.
“Water…” he chanted, remembering the bitter tears he’d once shed for them.
“Blood…” he shouted, remembering how much she had bled when she’d been beaten by Lasher.
While his flesh continued filling up with the raw energy of the Earth, he felt pain coursing up and down his body as it began glowing with green ethereal energy. Enraged, the Earth buffeted him from every which way trying to dissuade its master from continuing with this perversion.
“Air…” he uttered, remembering the foul dank stench of the mines he was once forced to work in daily.
“Soul…” he screamed, remembering the loss of his only family.
His body nearly at its limits and threatening into break to pieces, screamed as the tendrils of the Earth’s power flowed up and down his hair and beard. With a fury the Earth released a full portion of its power upon every bone in his body, causing him to shake as the pain nearly became unbearable.
"Fire…” he whimpered, remembering the pain of losing his heart and all he had once held dear.
“Ruin…” he gasped, remembering the destruction of the Diamond Vale and all who had wronged him.
By now the Earth was almost at its breaking point, desperate for an end it prepared to land a killing blow to its master when the Slave King closed his eyes and said, “It is finished…”
The ritual was now finished. The remaining energy of the Earth that still coursed through him, rushed back into the waiting Earth. Feeling relief from the Earth relentless assault upon him, the Slave King released a mighty cry that shook all Equestria down to its very foundations. Weak from his ordeal, he fell to the ground and looked up at the ceiling of the forge with his unfeeling eyes. Reaching up to some unseen thing his lips trembled, “Snowe and Little Bleu…”he whispered, before being welcomed by the welcoming embrace of a dreamless sleep.
Clover and Shanks trotted up the dark stairwell trying to get as far away as possible from the oppressive cold that the Slave King created as they possibly could. “Aroo!” Shanks barked, from the darkness.
“What is it?” Clover asked, looking down at the pup.
“Mister Clover,” Shanks whined in fright, “the not-Darkpaw is ending the world again!”
“What do you mean?” Clover asked in surprise as he felt the ground trembling beneath his hooves.
“Aroooooo!” Shanks howled in terror, as the ground beneath them shook with even greater ferocity.
“Quickly, stay by my side!” Clover said to his friend, as he frantically looked for a safe place they could shelter at while waiting for the tremors to stop. Spying a small alcove, he used his magic to create a shield as they dashed inside. Dust and debris from above was falling all around them while the earth groaned and rumbled.
“Mister Clover, me so scared,” Shanks whined, looking up to the unicorn for reassurances of their safety. “Me no want to die in this place.”
Clover looked down at the pup and nuzzled his head, “Shanks,” he said, smiling and trying to sound as confident as possible, “don’t worry, as long as you’re by my side you’ll be safe.”
This seemed to be enough for the pup as he laid down next to Clover shivering uncontrollably every so often. “Mister Clover,” he sighed, looking up at the blue unicorn, “me glad to have such a good friend. Me be your friend forever.”
“And longer…” Clover replied, feeling the flames of their friendship making his magic all the more powerful.
Warmed by the fires of their friendship, the two unlikely friends waited in the darkness together, unafraid for the future.
“Are you sure this is where you picked them up?” Lord Triton asked Captain Undine on the sandy beach along the Western Sea.
Captain Undine brushed away some of the violet locks that covered her face and confidently smiled. “Surely the laborer is worthy of her hire?” she asked the Lawgiver with an outstretched fin.
“Yes, yes, of course,” Triton said impatiently. Turning towards his personal secretary he nodded, “Choral pay the mare a finder’s fee.”
"Of course,” Choral replied, placing a bag of sea dollars in the captain’s waiting fin.
Captain Undine stared at the bag in her fin, moving her fin up and down slowly a few times she carefully considered its weight. “Seems a bit light to me,” she said, as Lord Triton gave her a hard look, “but seeing as we don’t get to serve the realm everyday it’s more than enough. Yeah we found them waiting near here.”
“Good, that’s all I needed to know,” Lord Triton said before turning towards the Western Sea. Placing a conch shell to his lips he blew it loudly three times. On the sound of the third blast, the sea boiled and frothed as hundreds of seaponies each in full battle armor and riding on chariots exited the sea. Each chariot was being pulled by rays, narwhals, dolphins, and other beasts of the deep, and riding on cushions of water as they headed southeast towards the Diamond Vale.
“Lord Triton,” Choral said nervously, “are you sure a land invasion would be wise. Without Jormungandr’s Way we’ll be quite vulnerable should the Slave King bring forth a force of arms.”
“The Slave King is as a mewling infant on its mother’s lap when it comes to the art of war,” Lord Triton said, as he floated onto his chariot being pulled by six hammerhead sharks. “We shall encircle him in his lair and demand that he parlay with us.”
“But what about what he did to Lord Ouroboros’s dragons?” Choral replied, pointing out the fire tyrants many failed attempts at sacking the ruins of the Diamond Vale as she got onto the chariot behind him.
“We’re not dragons,” the Lawgiver retorted. “They’re mere brutes unschooled in the ways of combat. We shall move as one with precise strikes with all the force of a tsunami upon the shore.”
“Besides,” a deep voice chuckled, “the Domain of Water shall not go into battle alone!”
“Ah Lord Cerynitis, so good of you to make it!” Lord Triton said with a big smile, to the white reindeer with gilded antlers that landed in front of his chariot.
“My friend,” Cerynitis said, embracing the Lawgiver, “I couldn’t let you have all the fun now could I?”
“It is heartening that Winter has heeded the call of war,” Triton replied, directing his chariot forward.
“It’s always an honor to fight alongside your knights,” Cerynitis said, as the sun reflected off his silver battle harness and hoof blades.
“What of the Spring, Autumn, and Summer?” Lord Triton asked, “Did they agree to enjoin us in our righteous crusade?”
“Lord Raiden sends his regrets that he’s unable to send his kirins as long as Jormungandr’s Way refuses them passage,” Cerynitis said, shaking his head. “Their lightning would have been useful, but alas they would take too long to reach us in time to join the battle.”
“And did Lady Suzaku agree to send a few flights of phoenixes?” Triton asked hopefully. “Their flames should prove useful in our upcoming combat.”
“Nodeer has seen neither hide nor hoof of her in over three fortnights,” Cerynitis said, flying alongside Triton’s chariot.
“What?” Triton said, “Surely you must be mistaken, she’s always been such a gossip, she’s always throwing some event or another in her palace.”
“I wish I was,” the Lord of Winter replied, “but without her to authorize an assault, her phoenixes refused my request to enjoin our battle.”
“Truly a pity…” Triton said, furrowing his brow, “her phoenixes would have been most appreciated.”
“Even without her aid, my battlemages shall send down the sleet and hail upon the Slave King’s head,” Cerynitis declared, stomping down his right silver shod forehoof.
“Well at least we can count on Lady Minoa to lead a few throngs of minotaurs from her hoard into battle,” Triton said, as he checked his trident’s harness.
“Alas brother, we shall have to fight alone,” Cerynitis replied, his purple eyes flashing with anger. “Lady Minoa said she didn’t dare make a move against the Earth. She wouldn’t risk what happened to the Diamond Vale happening to her herd.”
“Blast it to the pit!” Triton swore, as his chariot rode a wave over some rocky terrain. “I was counting at least a few of the other domains joining us today.”
“Even without their assistance,” Cerynitis said, looking up at the thousands of flying reindeer overhead, “our numbers shall be more than enough to pacify the Slave King.”
Triton ground his teeth in exasperation, although he didn’t expect Lord Raiden to send many kirins, even a token few would have been enough to show that the Autumn supported this campaign. The disappearance of Lady Suzaku was troubling, he was sure a little flattery and a few gifts would have sent the Lady of Summer swooning and ensured that she sent at least a dozen flights of phoenixes to aid him in his battle. The loss of that air support would be detrimental to his battle plans. But worst of all was Lady Minoa’s cowardice! Often had the Lady of Spring bragged about how mighty her herd was, and how masterful her bulls were in battle. Yet now when a battle was about to be fought on her very doorstep where she could prove the greatness of her people on the field of battle, she refused to send her support.
Lord Triton frowned. He couldn’t quite fault her for her caution. Fighting a Prime Element was no small matter after all, even with another on your side. And her realm was subservient to his after all. He briefly considered if he should send word to some of the lesser members of the pantheon asking them to send some assistance. After considering it for a few moments he put those thoughts to the side. The most powerful like Lord Anansi were too far away to reach them in time, and those like Loki, Lugh, and Strix could offer little in the way of material aid in battle. Growling over his bad luck, the Lawgiver was tempted to postpone this campaign but then thought better of it. Cerynitis was right their numbers were great, and the Slave King had no army to speak of. With his control over his powers tenuous at best, and most likely weak from not having performed a renewal of Earth ceremony in over two years they would probably be fine.
“You know,” Cerynitis said, “we could always ask Lady Zephyr for assistance. She has a grudge against the Slave King and her griffins are fierce warriors.”
“Nay,” Lord Triton replied, “Lady Zephyr would only prolong the battle. We’re here to force a parlay and eventually a moot. Should Lady Zephyr be present she would demand that the Slave King answer for Lord Darkpaw’s passing.”
“Perhaps she does have a point,” Lord Cerynitis said, “the Slave King did slay a member of the pantheon after all.”
“The laws of creation are on the Slave King’s side,” Lord Triton replied, as they crossed the deserts of the Equestrian badlands. “Lord Darkpaw violated the moot by attacking a fellow deity and suffered for it. By the pit Cerynitis, he was even offered mercy, but instead allowed his pride to stand in his way.”
“Do you really think the Slave King will be willing to parlay?” Cerynitis asked.
“If he doesn’t, I shall bring down the full force of my domain upon him,” Lord Triton said, brandishing his trident. “He forced my fin when he sent his agents to retrieve one of my pearls.”
“That was pure folly my friend,” Cerynitis said, admonishing the Lawgiver for willingly giving up something so powerful.
“They had bested my champion,” Triton explained, “I was honor bound to reward them with a boon.”
“My friend,” Cerynitis said, sighing at Triton’s absolute adherence to honor, “sometimes your honor blinds you to doing what’s necessary.”
“Doing the honorable and right thing is always what’s necessary,” Triton said, objecting to his friend’s cavalier attitude regarding honorable behavior.
“I’m just saying you could have saved us all a headache had you just refused to give them the pearl and killed them outright instead,” Cerynitis replied.
“I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree regarding the finer points of honor then,” Triton retorted, shaking his mane angrily.
“I’ll see you on the field of battle my friend,” Cerynitis said, rolling his eyes at the Lawgiver’s stubbornness.
“I’ll meet you in the middle Lord Cerynitis,” Lord Triton replied, saluting the Lord of Winter.
“To war and glory,” Cerynitis shouted to his war host, leading them deeper into the endless expanse of the Equestrian badlands.
“To honor and victory,” Lord Triton shouted to his knights, snapping the reigns of his chariot urging the sharks forward faster.
Far to the north two friends were flying side by side, Lady Zephyr looked over at her friend with her blue eyes and smiled. Lady Suzaku cast her gaze on her friend’s silvery feathers and nodded. Flaring their wings they caught an updraft sending them soaring high up into the stratosphere above the clouds.
“So Zephy,” Lady Suzaku said, “what do you think he will say when he sees that you have betrayed him?”
Lady Zephyr released a shrill cry sending the north wind beneath her wings. “Betraying a betrayer?” she asked her eyes dark with anger. “Perish the thought. No, Lord Ouroboros has much to answer for.”
“No Zephy,” Lady Suzaku replied, cutting through a cloud, “I meant, I wonder what he will say once he sees you’re present for his little duel with the Slave King.”
“Oh, I don’t know Zuzu…” Lady Zephyr replied, “perhaps he’ll say, you damn harpy.”
Both goddesses chuckled at the thought of the great dragon roaring in frustration at having to face their wrath before, during, or after the duel. “Zephy how do you think the Slave King will react to our presence?” she asked in curiosity.
“Unfortunately Zuzu I’m unsure,” Lady Zephyr confessed. “I’m not entirely sure how I will react to him. Thanks to you, I’m not sure if I want to slay him, be mounted by him, or both.”
“Oh Zephy, how romantic,” Lady Suzaku cooed through half closed eyes. “It’s just like the epic romances of the first age.”
“Ugh Zuzu, don’t remind me,” Lady Zephyr growled. “Half the pantheon was fighting with each other, while the other half was trying their best to populate all of Equestria with their offspring.”
“Ah Zephy love, how I miss those times,” Lady Suzaku sighed, remembering her many trysts. “All of my many suitors were all fighting each other for my favor.”
“Well Zuzu, I for one don’t,” Lady Zephyr complained, “it was bad enough losing Lord Darkpaw, but wanting to be mounted by his replacement as well? It’s like I’m a fledgling all over again.”
“Zephy, perhaps confronting the Slave King will provide you the closure and relief you so desperately seek,” Lady Suzaku suggested, with a sympathetic smile.
“Zuzu, what if he wants nothing to do with me?” Lady Zephyr said, with worry in her eyes.
“Aha, I knew it! Lady Suzaku shouted. “You’re planning on seducing him aren’t you?”
“Well…” Lady Zephyr said, her face flushing with embarrassment. “I just thought that once it was all done I could finally find some peace.”
“Zephy, don’t worry my love!” Lady Suzaku chirped happily. “I shall help you win his heart if only for a night.”
“But Zuzu, his heart is beating inside the Well of Eternity,” Lady Zephyr replied, “and those cold unfeeling eyes of his, are truly terrifying!”
“Oh Zephy, pish posh,” Lady Suzaku said, clucking her tongue at her friend’s worries. “He’s a male, and all males crave but three things; full stomachs, power, and somefeather to share their nests with.”
Lady Zephyr laughed when she heard Lady Suzaku’s words. “You know Zuzu,” she said, while catching another updraft, “when I think about Lord Darkpaw he only ever really craved one thing.”
“Oh Zephy, which one was that?” Lady Suzaku asked.
“Zuzu guess,” Lady Zephyr replied, wearing a smile on her beak.
“A full stomach!” they said together, sharing a laugh.
“See Zephy,” Lady Suzaku said, “sate the Slave King’s appetites and he’ll be easy to control.”
“Zuzu I’m not so sure about that, otherwise Lord Ouroboros might have had an easier time dealing with him,” Lady Zephyr said, furrowing her brow worriedly.
“Ha!” Lady Suzaku shouted, her beautiful crimson feathers catching fire and leaving flames in her wake. “That dragon is a bumbling idiot. He went and made enemies of both of us at the worst possible time.”
“Well I won’t argue that point,” Lady Zephyr replied, as her silvery feathers flexed with the wind. “But perhaps the Slave King is somefeather that refuses to be controlled?”
“That’ll be the day,” Lady Suzaku said, her musical laughter filling the sky. “I’ve yet to meet a male of any species that won’t readily bend when a female catches their fancy.”
“Zuzu I’m not so sure that he’ll be so easy,” Lady Zephyr replied. “So far he’s acted much differently than everyfeather thought he would.”
“Zephy, Zephy, Zephy,” Lady Suzaku said, as they flew over the Everfree forest, “let the goddess of love handle things. Before you know it I’ll have you leading the Slave King around by the nose.”
“But Zuzu, I thought you wanted to try your talon at catching him for your own though?” Lady Zephyr asked.
“Oh Zephy I do,” Lady Suzaku said wearing a sly smile. “I’ll help you secure his services for the night, but after that may the best feather win.”
“Lady Zephyr didn’t reply, instead she remained silent as they passed over Londwhinium. Seeing Celestia’s palace beneath her, she narrowed her eyes. “Oh all right,” she said, “let’s see what you can do.”
“Oh goodie,” Lady Suzaku cheered. “Zephy I have big plans for you, big plans!”
Lady Zephyr grimaced than flew close to her friend. “Thank you Zuzu,” she said, wearing a genuine smile.
“Zephy, that’s what friends are for,” Lady Suzaku replied.
Far beneath them, hidden beneath the foliage of the trees, the owner of a pair of grey eyes watching their movements smiled. “I do love it when a plan comes together,” it said, slithering through the underbrush of the Everfree. “Soon all the pieces will be in place.”
Two ravens overhead looked down and cawed. Looking up at them it with half closed eyes it stuck out its forked tongue at them. “Yes, yes,” it said, rolling its eyes “you played your parts as well.”
Satisfied their contributions were acknowledged, both ravens took off into the air each releasing a final caw before flying south.
“Humph,” it said in annoyance, “you’d think those two were the lynchpin to the whole plan with the way they were acting.
“Who, who, who…” an owl roosting in a nearby tree asked.
“…” it replied, “see you in two days.”
Without a word the owl flew off, leaving the owner of the grey eyes to slither on alone.
“Your Majesty,” General Hurricane said, trotting up to Celestia’s throne and saluting. “My air patrols have spotted a griffin and phoenix flying past the city at over one hundred knots per hour.”
Princess Celestia put down her tea cup and looked at the general hard. “Over one hundred knots you say?” she said, incredulous that anypony could fly that fast except perhaps Shaw and he was supposed to be in Equestrian badlands at the moment. “Did the griffin have rainbow hued wings?”
“No,” the general replied. “They said it had silver plumage and was by far the largest griffin they had ever seen, almost as large as Lady Zephyr herself.”
“And you say the phoenix was flying just as fast?” Celestia asked.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” the general said. “The scouts also said that it was so beautiful that their hearts wanted to leap out of their chests.”
“Thank you General Hurricane, that will be all,” Celestia said, now certain of identity of the two intruders. Taking another sip from her tea, she narrowed her eyes and tapped the floor absentmindedly with her hoof. She was trying to figure out how this new development would all fit together, and wasn’t sure if this was something to be celebrated or worried about.
“Shall I send a few patrols north to be on the lookout for more griffin incursions?” the general asked.
“No, but prepare a small strike force and my sister and I’s chariots for departure,” Celestia replied.
Raising his eyebrow at the unusual request he slightly bowed, “As you wish Your Majesty,” General Hurricane said, heading towards the armory to make the necessary preparations.
“Deciding it would be best to wake her sister, Celestia clopped her hooves together. “Princess Celestia,” her secretary, Smart Cookie said. “How can I be of service?”
“Smart Cookie,” Celestia gently said, “please wake up Princess Luna and ask her to meet me in our council chambers as soon as she is able.”
“But Princess Luna just went to bed less than three hours ago,” Smart Cookie said, feeling reticent in being tasked with waking up the princess of the night.
“If she refuses to rise,” Princess Celestia said, “try the feather in the nostril trick.”
“At once Your Highness,” Smart Cookie said, bowing once before leaving the throne room.
Although she was loath to wake her sister early, the current situation required her sister’s council.
Twenty minutes later, Celestia sat reading the reports that Slick had been sending to her every twelve hours almost like clockwork. As she tried to find the report she was looking for an extremely peeved looking Luna stormed into the council chambers.
“Fie mine sister, fie!” Luna bellowed in anger, blowing several feathers out from her nose. “Thou callous pilferer of sleep! Verily, what twas the meaning of thy most devious prank? Premeditated sororicide or something even more abhorrent like plundering mine socks for thine own nefarious use? I shan’t forgive thee for this, thou shalt rue the day thou hast accosted me so!”
Celestia tried unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh as she saw Luna trying to unsuccessfully dislodge the last few feathers free from her nostrils. She had only intended Smart Cookie to tickle her nostrils with a feather, not shove them up her nose. “My apologies dear sister for waking you up so early,” she said, with a small chuckle. “Ah here it is…”
“Here what is?” Luna demanded, using her magic to snatch the parchment from her sister’s grasp.
“Slick’s report from the day before yesterday,” Celestia explained. “He mentioned that Lady Suzaku was visiting Lady Zephyr’s Golden Eyrie.”
“So what of it?” Luna churlishly replied, using her magic to hoof the report back to her sister. “Didst thou wakest me to discuss old correspondence?”
“No dear sister,” Celestia replied, levitating a cup of strong tea to her sibling, “Lady Suzaku and Lady Zephyr were seen heading south nearly twenty minutes ago. And Lady Zephyr’s feathers are no longer dyed black.”
When Luna heard the news she sprayed her tea all over the table and into Celestia’s mane. “What!” she exclaimed, her bloodshot eyes widening in surprise. “Why hast thou allowed them to move through our realm without intercepting them and pressing them for an explanation?”
With her mane now dripping wet from the tea, Celestia gave her sister a hard look. Using her magic to remove the offending beverage from her mane she replied, “Sister, I have already ordered our chariots to be readied along with a strike force of pegasi to accompany us.”
“Dost thou intendest to take us into battle against them, or hast mine shortfall of rest addled my mind?” Luna asked as she followed Celestia towards their waiting chariots.
“No we’re not going to fight them,” Celestia explained, “but we shall be accompanying them to their destination.”
“Dost though believeth that the child has managed to make his newest toy?” Luna sleepily asked, yawning loudly.
“I believe so,” Celestia said, “besides what else could he have wanted with all those elemental objects?”
“Surely mine sister,” Luna said, pointing her hoof towards the citizens of Londwhinium going about their business unhurriedly, “were such a perverse crime against creation attempted the earth itself would make its objections known to all.”
“Perhaps we will be able to stop him before he manages to create it, break the Earth, or unmake himself,” Celestia said, hopeful that they would be able to stop the child before anypony else got hurt.
In response to her statement the Earth began trembling wildly, threatening to tear apart the city walls and even cause the palace to collapse in on itself. “Celestia, thou wert saying?” Luna sardonically said, unleashing her magic into the city architecture to help prevent the city from being destroyed.
Celestia unleashed her own magic to help strengthen the buildings inside the city, as she saw her ponies running about panicking in fear she felt her heart breaking. She knew she couldn’t allow this to continue, the Slave King was now a danger to all Equestria and must be stopped one way or another. “Luna we must destroy his heart,” Celestia said, channeling as much magic as she could into the city.
“How dost thou proposest we do such a feat,” Luna replied, trying her hardest to keep the city intact. “The moment we enter the chamber a moot is called. “And no member may harm another of the pantheon whilst the moot is in session and expect to escape unscathed.”
“Yes I realize that,” Celestia said, weeping for her little ponies. “I shall miss them greatly, but I know I can count on you, dear sister to watch over them.”
“Mine sister, I tell thee nay!” Luna shouted, her eyes wet with tears and shaking the earth with her voice. “I shall never allow thee to waste thine life on such a mad quest! I wouldst sooner challenge the blackguard for control of his domain.”
“Luna, not even Lord Ouroboros was able to escape their last battle unscathed,” Celestia said, as she expelled even more magic to keep the city intact. “You have no experience fighting a beast such as he, he would surely kill you!”
“Certainly such a fate would be better,” Luna said, looking at her sister lovingly, “than for I to continue on without thy wisdom and companionship.”
Once the words had left her lips the ground ceased shaking. Surveying the damage to the city, Celestia saw that most of the damage was superficial. “See Luna,” she told her sister, “we have no choice, he must be stopped. He nearly broke the Earth!”
“Verily mine sister,” Luna agreed, shaking her mane and stomping her hooves against the cobblestones of the courtyard, “but promise me that thou shan’t do something as foalish as throwing away thine life on an assassin’s mission!”
“I promise Luna,” Celestia said, nuzzling her sister’s head, “now come let’s go, we may still be able to catch up with Lady Suzaku and Lady Zephyr if we hurry.”
Luna nodded her head as she entered her chariot and directed her bat-winged black nightguard to fly. Feeling the chariot lurch forward, Luna saw her ponies struggling to repair the damage caused by his latest heartless act. Narrowing her eyes with righteous fury, she vowed that nopony should suffer from his wicked depravity any further.
As Luna’s and Celestia’s chariots flew overhead the owner of the grey eyes smiled in satisfaction, nearly all the players would be in position now. And here he thought he might have his coils full trying to convince somescales to come to the Diamond Vale, yet here they were going of their own accord. “Ah Lord Ouroboros, now we just have to wait for you to arrive and all will be at the ready,” he said, slithering along the dry and dusty Jormungandr’s Way.
Not in all his many millennium of living had he ever felt pain as he just now had. Truth be told, Lord Ouroboros felt a tiny twinge of fear in his heart if the manthing could now strike at him even in the heart of his own domain. “Councilor Jarek,” he said to a nearby green scaled dragon with red spines, “we ‘re leaving immediately for the Diamond Vale. Advise my dragons to ready themselves.”
“At once Lord Ouroboros,” Councilor Jarek said, with a respectful bow, “how many dragons do you wish to accompany you?”
“All that are capable of still flying,” Lord Ouroboros rumbled, trying to not show how badly the last attack had hurt him. “We shall finish off the Slave King once and for all. Either he yields or we shall fight him to the death!”
“But Lord Ouroboros,” Councilor Jarek protested, showing his concern for the upcoming battle etched across his scaly brow, “our last attack was nearly a disaster. Nearly half our forces were crippled by the last attack, and that was the Slave King being merciful. Imagine what he could do if he decided to kill! Without you we would be utterly ruined.”
“Don’t worry,” Lord Ouroboros said, his great eyes burning with displeasure at his servant’s cowardice, “the Slave King won’t have his element to hide behind this time. We have agreed to duel in the field of honor, outside the Diamond Vale. There he will be vulnerable to attack, and if he should gain the upper claw during our duel I’ll expect all my dragons to attack him.”
“But Lord Ouroboros,” Councilor Jarek said, shocked that his lord would contemplate something as treacherous as breaking his word during a duel he himself had arranged, “what about your honor? Surely attacking during a duel would be seen as a most craven act of cowardice by the rest of the pantheon.”
“Honor! Honor!” Lord Ouroboros roared, spewing forth flames into the air. “That insect dares attack me even in the heart of my own domain, and you claim that I have no honor?”
“Lord Ouroboros, I meant no disrespect I simply meant…” Councilor Jarek stammered, trembling before the fire tyrant’s fury.
“Enough!” Lord Ouroboros said, pointing his mighty claw at the councilor. “I would slay you for your words if I could, but I need all my dragons. So you shall live a bit longer. Send out the word throughout all Equestria to dragons everywhere, we are going to war!”
“As you wish Lord Ouroboros,” Councilor Jarek said, bowing in respect to the Lord of Fire. “I shall see to it that as many dragons as possible are in attendance at your duel.”
After councilor Jarek flew off to alert the rest of the council of scale of his orders, Lord Ouroboros looked down at the iron chain around his neck and malevolently smiled. “King, soon you shall know the heat of my displeasure,” he rumbled, as he licked his sharp teeth with his tongue. “By the time I’m through with you you’ll wish you were a statue.”
Suddenly Lord Ouroboros gripped his chest, as he felt the earth quake and pain racking his bones. “Argh!” he cried, as the Earth’s vengeance wracked his body. “King, I will devour you I promise!”
Outside the volcano that contained the hoard of Lord Ouroboros the Fire Tyrant, scores of dragons looked up in awe as they saw the fires and smoke bursting forth as their lord’s roars of agony echoed throughout the Domain of Fire.
The Slave King opened his eyes and saw Nightmare looking down at him with a look of disapproval on her shadowy face. Looking up at her, he saw her accusing him of foolishly nearly throwing away his life on yet another pointless gambit. “You have the pup at your mercy, kill him!” her eyes seemed to demand.
“Not yet Nightmare,” the Slave King said, getting up from the soot and ash covered ground. Moving towards the forge he was pleased to see that his weapon was a complete success. “See, it was worth the risk. Now I have the means to force them to free me!”
“And what of Lord Ouroboros?” Nightmare’s eyes demanded, flickering in the darkness of the forge. “His flames are quite hot, and he has wings. How shall you even reach him with your weapon?”
“Ha!” the Slave King shouted, holding up two silvery feathers and a large red dragon’s scale. “I have that covered as well. Lady Zephyr shall provide me a means to reach Lord Ouroboros if he decides to fly, and his own scales will provide ample protection from his flames no matter how hot they are.”
“Show me,” Nightmare’s gaze demanded, as she sat down near her master watching him work at the forge.
“Fortunately this shall be much easier than my last project,” the Slave King said, shaping some metal inside the forge. “First I think I shall make the armor.”
The Slave King focused his divinity into the forge and molten metal inside as he began shaping it, after a few minutes he placed the scale inside the flames. The scale like the spine before it was stubbornly refusing to be consumed by the heat of the forge. Using his indomitable will, he poured even more of his power into the flames. The forge now full of power of the Earth, burned green and started melting the scale. Bringing his hammer down on the metal and melting scale, he began forming them into something new and powerful.
With each beat of his hammer and pumping of the forge’s bellows, the object slowly took shape. Using his tongs, the Slave King inspected what he had wrought and smiled. The armor was now ready, and just needed to be immersed in a soothing oil bath to help keep it from becoming brittle as it cooled. Placing it inside the barrel of oil, he turned to Nightmare with a look of triumph on his face. “Do you not see what I have made?” he said, his iron crown still glowing with the power of the Earth. “My masterwork is good and shall protect me from the dragon’s only significant advantage.”
“What of his wings,” Nightmare’s burning eyes demanded, the light from the forge’s green flame illuminating her muzzle. “Last time I checked you were still earthbound.”
“A minor inconvenience which shall be remedied shortly,” the Slave King said, returning to his forge.
The Slave King could feel the hum of the Earth as he worked on his newest creation. Placing the feathers that Lady Zephyr provided into the flames, he felt the essence of the air being released as they burned inside the flames. Capturing it within the forge he started pounding the metal shaping it into a pair of anklets. Although crude in appearance, he knew they should be able to provide the wearer with the ability to run through the air as easily as a bird gliding on the breeze. Satisfied with his workmanship he placed them inside another barrel of oil to cool as he waited.
“See,” the Slave King said to his companion, “that which I have wrought is good, and will ensure my victory.”
“You’re a fool,” Nightmare seemed to say, giving her master a backwards glance before she turned to leave the forge. “Stop playing at being the Lord of Earth, and become it.”
“Victory will be mine!” the Slave King screamed, with disheveled hair and throwing his hammer aside. “You’ll see.”
It was finally time. The Slave King was walking alone in the heart of the ruined city, surveying what his wrath had done. For the first time he saw with his own eyes the great ruin. Feeling neither pity nor remorse for what he had done, he heard the cries of the hungry dead as they started approaching him thirsty for vengeance. Opening a bag he was carrying he pulled out the anklets and placed them on his feet. As soon as the metal met his flesh they flowed like quicksilver, covering his feet and calves. Wiggling his toes, he tested them and jumped. To his delight he found that he was able to leap high into the air. When he landed he found himself surrounded by the hungry dead, their burning eyes, gaping mouths, and outstretched limbs were waiting to grab him.
With a dark chuckle he kicked the nearest zombie pony as hard as he could, sending it flying into a nearby building. The racket only caught the attention of even more of the dead things, including several larger zombie diamond dogs and minotaurs. Smiling, he reached into the bag and pulled out the armor. The dull red armor seemed like it wouldn’t protect against anything. Mainly consisting of a few plates connected by thick wires, the armor looked like it would be useless to protect its wearer from any violence let alone a dragon’s flame like the Slave King claimed it would.
Placing the armor over his shoulders and around his legs, the Slave King confidently walked towards the largest minotaur allowing it to grab him. The zombified minotaur grappled him with its rotting arms and tried biting him, but found that its efforts were being stymied by the armor that was covering its prey like a second skin. The Slave King grabbed the minotaur by the horns and head butted it with his iron crown, cracking its skull and sending rotting grey matter all over the ground.
Satisfied that both his armor and anklets were battle worthy, the Save King reached into the bag and removed the weapon and placed his hand inside it. Looking down he saw that it fit his hand perfectly, almost as if it was a part of him. He could feel the innate power of the weapon, but realized it was still missing something. It lacked a rage and a hunger for vengeance as great as his to fuel it. Looking around him he saw hundreds of the hungry dead all swarming in on his position, each of them full of rage and demanding vengeance for their premature deaths at his hand.
Realizing what needed to be done, the Lord of the Earth unleashed a cry that shook the ruined city. “Come,” he roared. “Face your slayer, and avenge yourselves!”
All around the ruins of the Diamond Vale, tens of thousands of the hungry dead lifted their heads when they heard his challenge. Their moans and wails filled the city like a symphony of dread. Even the guardian of Tartarus, Cerberus when he heard the music unleashed a baleful howl as he prepared to welcome them back to the pit.
The throng of the dead surrounding the Slave King slowly pressed forward. Taking the initiative, he willed the weapon into a spear and thrust it forward spearing several of the ghouls and sending them flying into their fellows. Taking advantage of his momentum he started rushing them while swinging the weapon overhead, changing it into a flaming lochaber ax midswing that cut through several of the zombies with ease. On the third pass, he morphed the weapon into a warhammer and brought it down on several more of the hungry dead’s heads.
Looking up the Slave King saw a zombified dragon approaching him and leapt into the air to attack it, seeing his attack it opened its rotting mouth trying to bite him in midair. With a vicious growl, he shifted the weapon into whip of barbed chains with electricity coursing up and down it. Launching the barbed lashes forward he used them to wrap around the dragon’s jaws forcing them closed. Landing on top of its snout, he ran forwards and rammed his fist right between its eyes. The dragon shuddered once and then collapsed into a heap of gore and rotting flesh, crushing dozens of the hungry dead beneath it.
With a flick of his wrist, the weapon quickly reverted to its gauntlet form. Seeing that he about to be overwhelmed, he leapt high into the air and dived towards a large group of zombie ponies and diamond dogs and formed the weapon into a massive stone fist. When he landed, the resulting shock wave collapsed buildings for blocks all around him. Turning around, he saw three dragons approaching him as he broke into a run preparing to destroy them.
High above them in the Equestrian badlands Luna’s full gibbous moon was overhead, bathing them with its silvery light. “Lord Triton,” Cerynitis said, admiring the savage beauty of the Domain of Earth, “isn’t it a beautiful night to go to war? I must send Princess Luna my compliments when next we meet.”
“My friend it is indeed,” Lord Triton said, nodding in agreement, “her nights are a wonder indeed. I look forward to regaling our deeds to her at the next moot. Hopefully the Slave King will be a worthy opponent, and face defeat gracefully.”
“I doubt it,” Lord Cerynitis replied, with a smug look, “his actions over the past two years have revealed nothing but a wicked and depraved heart. He cares for nothing, and though I don’t care much for the diamond dogs they deserve better than him for a steward.”
“I agree,” Lord Triton said, as his chariot went over an embankment, “however at the moot I saw something in him.”
“Is that why you voted against banishment,” Lord Cerynitis asked in curiosity, “or was there another reason?”
“I saw in him a spark I’ve not seen in ages,” Lord Triton replied, stroking his mustache. “Something about the way he carried himself spoke to me, almost as if I found in him a kindred spirit.”
“A kindred spirit…” Lord Cerynitis said, “well I suppose there’s no accounting for taste. While I can appreciate his ferocity in battle, I find him utterly distasteful. He’s nothing but a brawling brute, a danger to himself and his own domain, and everydeer else.”
“I think perhaps he just needs a bit of guidance, perhaps a mentor,” Lord Triton said.
“A mentor?” Lord Cerynitis said, incredulous that the Lawgiver would even consider it. “Are you mad? Do you wish to train him so he can be a foe a thousand times more deadly?”
“No, I just think with the proper guidance, and offering him a chance for kinship he might be willing to reform his behavior,” Lord Triton said, looking up at the white reindeer overhead.
“Bawhahaha,” Lord Cerynitis laughed, scarcely believing his ears. “Next you’ll be telling me you wish to use the magic of friendship to make him change his ways. My friend, you’ve spent too much time listening to Celestia.”
Lord Triton didn’t reply but continued guiding his chariot forward. “Cerynitis my friend,” Lord Triton said, “why did you agree to accompany me on this campaign?”
The Lord of Winter looked down on the Lawgiver and ruefully smiled, “Does the Lord of War need a reason to accompany his allies in their time of need?” he said. “The children of winter will always heed the call of a righteous war.”
“Why did you not join in my crusade earlier then?” Lord Triton asked. “I called for the chastisement of the domains for their disharmonious behavior.”
“The time was not yet right,” Lord Cerynitis said, casting a careful eye on Lord Triton. “Listen I’ll be frank with you, the Slave King’s behavior threatens to break out in all-out war between himself and Lord Ouroboros. I don’t wish to have a repeat of the war of the elements that occurred in the first age to happen again.”
“So if not for the impending conflict between the domains of Fire and Earth you wouldn’t have bothered coming?” Lord Triton asked.
“No of course not,” Lord Cerynitis replied, “you know I can’t resist a good scrap every now and again. But I do believe that preemptive action must be taken to prevent it from reoccurring. A decisive strike while the Slave King’s still vulnerable will make him more amicable to our demands.”
“I certainly hope so,” Lord Triton said, “they say a wounded animal is the most dangerous when backed into a corner. Hopefully he’ll be willing to be reasonable.”
“Let’s worry about that after our victory,” Lord Cerynitis said.
“Alright, I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Lord Triton said, as he directed his chariot towards the Diamond Vale looming over the horizon.
The mighty beast swung its heavy claws at the Slave King. Shifting the weapon into large zweihander made of ice, he deflected the creatures attack and riposted. His attack caused the undead flesh of the dragon to freeze and then shatter. Seeing an opening he leapt up and drove the frost covered blade up through the jaws of the zombified dragon. Within moments the creature’s head was encased in ice. Pulling out the blade, he shifted the weapon into a stone club and slammed it down on the beast’s frozen head while releasing a fearsome cry that echoed throughout the ruins of the dead city.
The hungry dead desperate to destroy their slayer and avenging themselves, swarmed over the corpse of their comrade in an attempt to drag him down into oblivion with them. The Slave King formed a flaming scythe and leapt into the throng of undead ponies and diamond dogs, swinging the scythe downward he cut the hungry dead down like grass. High overhead Luna’s moon shone down bathing him in its light, looking up he remembered how she had demanded his banishment. His burning eyes filling with rage at the memory looked down on the thousands of hungry dead they were converging on his position. Raising his scythe, he roared and leapt down to continue the slaughter.
“My, fancy running into you two all the way this far south,” Lady Suzaku said with a mischievous wink. “Let’s make this a ladies night out.”
Celestia smiled when she heard Lady Suzaku’s suggestion. The flighty phoenix certainly had an air of levity about her. “I’m afraid we can’t,” she said. “Lady Zephyr, we know where you’re going, but not why. Would you care to enlighten us?”
Lady Zephyr narrowed her eyes. She couldn’t bare the embarrassment of having her base desires being discovered by anyfeather. “I’m sorry Princess Celestia,” she said, ruffling her silvery feathers a bit, “but my business is my own.”
“Mine condolences to thy loss Lady Zephyr,” Princess Luna said, “Lord Darkpaw’s untimely demise was a calamity to the pantheon and to all Equestria. I see that thou no longer dyest thy feathers, hast thou ended thy grieving for his passing?”
“Princess Luna, thank you for your concern,” Lady Zephyr said, her eyes starting to feel misty as she remembered his death at the hands of the Slave King. “I still miss him greatly, but I think I’m ready to move past the pain of his loss.”
“I’m so glad to hear that,” Princess Celestia said, genuinely happy that Lady Zephyr would be regaining some sense of normalcy. “I hope to see you at this year’s Grand Galloping Gala. We’ve missed having you at the last two.”
“Oh I know!” Lady Suzaku replied, “last year’s gala was so dreadfully boring I don’t know why I even bothering coming to them sometimes.”
“Yes, think I would be willing to make an appearance,” Lady Zephyr replied.
“Although I know you said you were unwilling to tell us your reason for heading to the Diamond Vale,” Princess Celestia said, “would you mind if we accompanied you there?”
Lady Zephyr grimaced and then sighed, “No I guess it’s fine,” she said.
“So what will you say when you finally confront him?” Princess Celestia pointedly asked.
Lady Zephyr hung her head in shame, “I… I… I just don’t know yet,” she said, feeling a bit defensive. “I just have to face him so I can move past this and start living again.”
Princess Celestia looked over at Lady Zephyr sympathetically. If you need a shoulder to cry on or just somepony to talk to, my door is always open.”
“Thank you Princess Celestia,” Lady Zephyr sighed, as the moonlight reflected off her silvery feathers.
As they entered the equestrian badlands, she had no idea how she was going to react when she finally faced him. Thoughts of lust and anger raged through her mind, looking to the east she saw Lord Ouroboros’s volcano in the distance. Feeling cold rage coursing through her heart, she vowed that wyrm would pay for doing this to her!
As the phoenix, griffin, and two chariots continued their journey south through the nighttime sky, an owl silently flew after them releasing a lonely who as it glided silently through the inky blackness of the night.
His rage much like the Western Sea was boundless, yet here he was feeling the fatigue of the long night. Picking up a nearby zombie diamond dog, he smashed its face in with the spiked gauntlet his weapon was currently in the form of. Covered with blackened blood, bile, and gore; the Slave King knew he couldn’t yet rest until every last one of them was destroyed. Crying out to the Earth to renew him, he felt his strength returning as the Earth heeded its master’s call. Leaping high into the air, he felt the exhilaration of freedom as he hadn’t felt in ages overwhelming him. Not since before his enslavement or since receiving his divinity, had he felt this way. He was one with the Earth as it guided him, as he danced across the ruined city sowing destruction to the hordes of hungry dead.
Moving at a frantic and frenzied pace, his movements were precise and in time with the heartbeat of the Earth. With each thrust, his weapon was now felling the hungry dead by the score. The weapon was now shifting so rapidly between forms now that it was nearly a blur. Undeterred by their losses, the hungry dead continued their relentless assault upon the one who had slain them. As the corpses of the fallen fell to the ground broken and crushed, the dead city slowly became freed of the taint that cursed it. The Slave King adorned with his iron crown, wearing the pelt of Lord Darkpaw, and wielding a weapon that had nearly broken the Earth in its forging was finally becoming that which he had for so long refused to be; The Lord of the Earth.
Lord Ouroboros looked at the assembled dragons before him, at under two hundred in number he blanched at the depths his once mighty race had fallen to. Once not so long ago, his people had been the most feared in all of Equestria. Now they were reduced to begging for scraps, but no longer. They would be great once more! Once the manthing King was eliminated, he would lay claim to the domain of Earth as his own and force the other members of the pantheon to pay both tribute and homage to those who deserved mastery over Equestria. Each of them in turn would pay for leaving him to the insect’s devices. He would humble the Lawgiver and his seaponies and set down a new law, his law. The Diamond Dogs he would destroy utterly as a warning to all the others that all were his prey by right. The griffins and Lady Zephyr he would make his servants. As for Celestia and her ponies, once he had the power of the Earth under his control he would subjugate the ponies and make them dig for gems to feed his great hunger and replenish his hoard. The single life was beginning to grow tiresome he thought, perhaps it was time to take a new wife. Perhaps he would force Celestia or Luna to be his bride, or maybe the both of them. He smiled as he imagined being served by his new wives. Ah yes, that would be most enjoyable.
Turning his attention to his assembled flights of dragons, he pointed a single claw in the direction of the Diamond Vale. “My people,” he said, raising his voice so it filled the entirety of his volcano, “unless I am victorious on the morrow this shall mark the twilight of all dragonkind. With so many of us maimed by the hateful Slave King and his stubborn refusal to provide us with the gems as is his responsibility, I have no choice but to face him in single combat. Because the hour is so dire, we have no choice to attack him once he’s left the safety of the Diamond Vale. Once the duel begins if he should gain the upper claw I want each of you to join me in the fray.”
Shouts of “The dishonor!” and “No!” were heard from the assembled dragons. “Silence!” Lord Ouroboros roared, shaking the volcano. “It’s either dishonor or eating the other races, and we’re too few to fight the other domains. Because this is such an egregious violation, I willingly accept the full responsibility for this action.”
Hearing their lord’s willingness to accept the dishonor to save them from starvation or a war they couldn’t possibly win, brought many of the assembled dragons to tears as they roared in anger over the unjust treatment they’d received at the hands of the Slave King.
“Now fly my children,” Lord Ouroboros said, “we have a Slave King to relieve, of both his crown and his head.”
All the assembled dragons roared in unison as they launched themselves up into the air in the direction of the Diamond Vale.
Lord Ouroboros smiled when he saw how quickly they were willing to assist him with his plan to slay the Slave King. Once it was over, he would explain to the rest of the pantheon that so great was his dragon’s rage against the Slave King they were beyond reasoning. With a dark chuckle he leapt into the air to follow after his children.
“Soon King, you shall know the fear of the Lord of Fire!” Lord Ouroboros said, flying over the lava fields below while volcanoes started erupted behind him.
Completely covered in gore and laying atop a pile of corpses, the Slave King looked up at the setting moon overhead, and then looked down at the weapon attached to his right hand. Now thrumming with power, he could feel the pure unadulterated rage and thirst for vengeance the weapon now possessed coursing through it. Though the souls of the hungry dead were now finally free to enter the summer lands, their great rage had been absorbed by the weapon which was even now crying out for more carnage. Getting up off the pile of corpses, he leapt into the air until he was high above the broken city. Looking down, he saw the destruction he had wrought. Casting his gaze towards the other domains he saw the chaos he had unleashed, and bowed his head.
Raising the weapon towards Celestia’s rising sun, he looked down at it and then at his broken city. “Weapon of wrath. Weapon of rage,” the Slave King solemnly said. “Hear your master’s voice. Like me you only know a desire for vengeance, therefore you shall be forever known as ‘The Vendetta’.”
When Celestia’s rising sun crested the horizon and struck the metal attached to the Slave King’s hand, it shimmered with elemental power and the rage of over fifty thousand souls. Knowing that Lord Ouroboros would be arriving soon, he landed gently in one of the overgrown gardens on the palace grounds. Waiting for him was Nightmare who looked surprised at his deplorable condition to say the least.
Pointing an accusatory finger in her direction, he glowered. “And you thought I couldn’t do it,” the Slave King crowed. “They shall all know my power before this day is through.”
With devotion in her eyes Nightmare bowed reverently before her lord and master, and took her place by his side. Looking at his reflection in a reflecting pool, he saw that he was quite a sight. Stepping into the water, he lowered himself and felt as the water washed away the taint from the night’s battle. He felt the water purify him, as the Earth finally claimed him as its own. Stepping out of the reflecting pool, he felt the water streaming off his body as he started removing the armor, anklets, and The Vendetta and placed them back in his satchel. Walking towards his throne room, he looked at the broken palace and decided that perhaps it was time to at least clear away the rubble in the streets. Seeing his stone throne, he approached it and sat down. Nightmare joined her master and sat down by his side awaiting his next command.
The Slave King looked towards the shadows and was about to call for Scourge, but remembered he had been slain. “Arch Duke Fifi le Yipyap,” he said, calling for his servant.
The arch duke entered from a side passage and bowed his head. “What does my king require,” he asked.
“Send for Clover and his companions,” the Slave King said, “it will soon be time. Lord Ouroboros approaches.”
“I’ll send for them at once,” the arch duke said, bowing once before leaving the throne room.
The Slave King looked at the rubble on the ground and then up at the torn tapestries adorning the walls, “Perhaps the palace could stand some straightening up,” he thought.
After about twenty minutes of waiting Clover and his companions entered the Slave King’s throne room. Looking at the blue unicorn, he noticed that he no longer seemed afraid of him. “Clover the Clever,” he said, “the weapon is now finished. Lord Ouroboros will be here soon. Which of you will fight as my champion?”
“How the buck do you expect us to even scratch the Lord of Fire?” Shaw asked, giving the Slave King a defiant look. “Even with your weapon we still have to worry about his dragon’s fire and because of his wings the only one who would stand a chance of possibly hitting him would be me.”
“Fear not griffin,” the Slave King said, lifting his satchel and emptying its contents on a pedestal he raised from the ground. “I have provided a means to overcoming both of Lord Ouroboros primary advantages namely his fire and flight. You need only have the courage to face him on the battlefield.”
“Listen here you…” Shaw said, right before Showboat clamped his beak shut with her magic.
“Your Majesty,” Showboat said, trying her best to be diplomatic, “I think what Shaw was trying to say was thank you.”
“I suggest selecting who going to fight Lord Ouroboros sooner rather than later,” the Slave King said. “For he fast approaches, and you’ll need some time to familiarize yourself with the armor, anklets, and The Vendetta.”
“The Vendetta?” Clover asked, curious as to why it was called that.
“Yes,” the Slave King said, pointing towards the weapon, “The Vendetta is a weapon of unfathomable power.”
Looking at the unassuming device that looked a little like a metal bracelet, Slick tilted his head in confusion. “It doesn’t look like much beyond some gaudy jewelry,” he said.
“Looks can be deceiving young dragon,” the Slave King replied.
Slick reached out his claw to examine The Vendetta closer, just before he touched it the voice of the Slave King stopped him, “A word of caution,” he said, pointing a finger directly at the blue dragon, “The Vendetta will consume you if you don’t have the strength to master it.”
As soon as Slick heard that he quickly backed away from the pedestal. “You mean even picking up the weapon could kill us?” he asked.
“Indeed it could,” the Slave King replied, “but as there are seven of you I’m sure at least one of you has the fortitude to handle it.”
Clover stared at the weapon, his master Starswirl the Bearded had told him about such things. Artifacts of great power from the first age that offered power at the cost of a pony’s soul, it was said only somepony pure of heart could safely wield them without succumbing to the artifacts corruption. Looking at The Vendetta, he heard it whispering into his mind, “Wield me and you shall be greater than your master, greater even than Celestia. All ponies will know and love you. Your name shall be passed down through the ages…”
“I suggest making your choice soon,” the Slave King said, “The Vendetta takes some time getting used to in order to wield it properly.”
“I will be your champion,” Sir Stouthorn said, picking up The Vendetta up off the pedestal.
“But Sir Stouthorn,” Seafoam cried out, “fighting against Lord Ouroboros is surely a death sentence!”
“No lad, my mind is made up,” Sir Stouthorn said, feeling The Vendetta resting in his hand. “If I fall in battle, at least it’ll make one hell of a song. So how does it work?”
“The Vendetta will become the weapon its wielder requires it to be,” the Slave King explained. “It’s limited only by your imagination and will. But be warned, the weapon hungers for blood. If you don’t master it, it will turn on you.”
Sir Stouthorn picked up the armor and began fitting it to shoulders and waist, as it began covering him he was amazed at how it worked. “By Triton’s mustache,” he said. “This armor’s amazing, it’s like I’m not wearing anything, and it’s so flexible!”
“Yes the armor will cover you head to toe,” the Slave King explained. “You’ll be completely protected against even the hottest of dragon’s fire.”
Sir Stouthorn placed the anklets around his hooves and found that he could now leap into the air and run on it as if it was solid ground. “Outrageous!” he shouted, excited at the new combat possibilities. “Lord Ouroboros won’t see what’s coming.”
“Oh Sir Stouthorn,” Seafoam said, “you look magnificent.”
“Yes darling, you simply look smashing,” Showboat agreed.
“Are you sure you’ll be alright?” Clover asked, remembering what he had heard The Vendetta speak into his mind.
“Yes Clover, never better,” Sir Stouthorn said, marveling at how the armor and anklets made him feel. “I feel strong enough to beat the stuffing out of Lord Ouroboros.”
“Just remember,” the Slave King admonished him. “You’re only to retrieve my property and relieve Lord Ouroboros of his left eye nothing more. Do I make myself clear?”
Reluctantly Sir Stouthorn looked down at The Vendetta and nodded. “Yes Your Majesty,” he said.
“Good, now I suggest practicing with the weapon while you still have the opportunity,” the Slave King said. “If you require anything the arch duke will see to your needs.”
“Sir Stouthorn, if you’ll follow me,” the arch duke said, “I can show you to our practice range.”
The Slave King watched as the minotaur and his companions followed after the arch duke, leaning back in his throne he felt the rigors of what he had done over the past day finally catching up with him. Finding himself alone, he closed his eyes and fell into a dreamless sleep.
Thank you gentlereader for reading as always comments are appreciated, I would like to say thank you for giving me a thumbs up if you did. At currently 109 thumbs up I'm hoping to finally hit the featured box. Even though it took nearly the entire story to do so, but if I don't make there's always The Book of water: The Marriage of the Slave King to try to hit the featured stories list.
Hopefully you didn't find the creation of The Vendetta to pedantic. I did my best to write it as poetically as I could, to evoke a sense of dread and death. Hopefully I succeeded, if not well there's always next time.
Gentlereader with the construction of his doomsday weapon, and Lord Ouroboros on his way to the final showdown, I wait with baited breath to see whether Sir Stouthorn will succeed or fail in the upcoming duel. I especially can't wait to see the look on Lord Ouroboros's face when he discovers he stuck fighting a champion and not the Slave King himself.
All I can say is wow who could see it coming the majority of the pantheon converging on the Diamond Vale! Lord Ouroboros to slay the Slave King, Lady Suzaku and Lady Zephyr to seduce him, Princess Luna and Princess Celestia to plot his demise, and finally Lord Triton and Lord Cerynitis to force him to parlay. The next chapter looks like it might be the most exciting by far! And just who is their grey eye stalker watching from the shadows? Is he a friend or foe, and what exactly is his plan.
Finally we can see the Slave King coming into his own, the fog of despair and grief is starting to part and he's finally accepting his responsibilities as the Lord of Earth. And it appears that his little spat with Nightmare has finally resolved itself. Let's hope she wasn't right, and his plotting was just a fools errand. And what of Second, is he destined to take Scourge's place or will the Slave King do away with him.
As always gentlereader thank you for your support, comments, criticisms, and genteel behavior in the comments. Without your support there would be no story. I look forward to continue writing for your reading pleasure.
Find out all these answers and more gentlereader in the next exciting chapter of the ongoing epic The Great Slave King.Until next time!
P.S. Gentlereader if you choose to comment could you post a small thought about what you liked best about this chapter, what evoked in you the greatest emotional response. But as always thank you for your time.