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Nothing really major happened over the next few years. Amber’s craft continued to improve, Scorch’s garden flourished, and Pine Falls hadn’t been attacked in ages. I’m actually pretty surprised that we’ve gone this long without any serious trouble. My chainmail vest now sat in a chest gathering dust, along with my knuckledusters. That old straw hat of mine denied physics and survived the abuse it had been put through over the years, and still had a place of honor on my head.
Amber’s stained glass sold like wildfire. Everypony in town wanted a scene from their life captured in glass, so they could hang it in their homes, and the unicorn was practically giving them away. She even started to enhance them with her magic, giving them new qualities. She could make them unbreakable, turn them into a lantern, and all sorts of things.
On a fun little side note, I had learned to play the piano. I mean, I had the stretchy arms and opposable fingers. And of course, being me, there was one song that I just HAD to learn, so I could bug the rest of my family with it.
“Daaaaad,” Amber whined jokingly from her newly constructed workroom. “You’ve been playing the same song for an hour now! Give it a rest!”
In answer, I just hit the keys of the cheap little piano even harder, a wild smile on my face. Amber rolled her eyes, but laughed anyways. The song had grown on her after a while.
The talented artist was currently in the middle of a fairly important piece. It was sort of her big project, and had been eating up most of her time ever since she started it. It was her sort of tribute to welcome back Princess Luna from her banishment on the moon, and to congratulate Celestia on getting her sister back.
Now you can see why I was surprised we weren’t in serious trouble yet. Nightmare Moon’s release, and subsequent return to the good side had happened a few months ago. Discord was due to be freed any day now, meaning I would have to set out to participate in whatever war was about to start. I’ll have to do my best to ensure that Scorch and Amber don’t follow me. If something were to happen to them because they joined me…I don’t know what I’d do.
For now though, I’ll just have to prepare for when that day comes, when I’m called on to leave.
“Well howdy, Battleclaw,” Sky chuckled as I stepped through the door to the guard house. “Haven’t seen you in a while. How’ve things been?”
I sat down across from him, and answered, “So far, so good. Still not thinking about retiring, ya old coot?”
Sky waved the thought aside with a hoof, and said in mock disbelief, “When I’m still this young and in my prime? No sirree, I’ll keep doin’ what I’m doin’.”
We chatted for a while, and caught up with each other’s lives. Sky was still in charge of the entire guard, unsurprisingly. Under his watchful eye, the guards were extremely elite, their mere presence being enough to deter would be attackers. He was defying his age with nothing more than pure, stubborn will. I mean, he was old when I first got here, but nearly 15 years later? Still the same old guy.
Eventually, he asked me, “So what brings you to this neck of the woods?”
Ain’t that the million dollar question? I sighed, and told him, “Sky…I’ve been here for fifteen years, almost. My time here has been wonderful, but…I need to move on soon.”
The old Pegasus nodded sagely, and said, “There’s a fire burnin’ in yer chest again, ain’t there?”
I could only close my eyes, and nod at that.
“What about Scorch and Amber?” It wasn’t an accusation, just a simple question.
“Amber’s just about ready to be on her own,” I quietly said. “And Scorch has a living here; I can’t ask them to come with me on some old fool’s...I don’t even know what it is.”
“Well, in that case, here,” Sky said, easing himself out of his chair. He slid a large chest out from under his desk, and started rummaging around in it, keeping its contents hidden from my sight. After a minute, he came up with a large, thick canvas backpack, and a small wrapped bundle to go with it.
“What are these?” I asked, raising an eyebrow at the equipment.
“Believe it or not,” he started, “I used to be a bit of an explorer. An adventurer, even. Before I got hired to help this town get started, I would go around the world, just for the sake of seeing new things.”
“Oddly enough, I believe that,” I muttered.
He lifted the backpack up, and said, “This here is made out of canvas, with about a dozen magic spells backing it up. Trust me, it’d take an army to break this thing. And it can carry enough food for one if necessary.”
With a gentle shove, he thrust the backpack towards me. I caught it in my arms as he unwrapped the bundle to reveal an odd assortment of seemingly random tools. I saw a magnifying glass, both a navigational and math compass, thick scrolls of paper, a small notebook, flint and steel, all sorts of random tools.
“You ever read those Daring Do books?” Sky asked after a couple minutes of me examining the tools.
“Yeah, Scorch and Amber love ‘em.” Not to mention one of my Travels took me there. Fun times.
“Kid, if I could tell you about my own adventures, they’d put hers to shame,” he chortled. “They used to call me Everfree Skies, all because I found some old treasure there.”
That was news. Who would’ve guessed that this old coot used to be on par with somepony of Daring Do’s caliber? Pretty cool, if I have to say.
“Why are you showing me all this?” I finally asked him.
His eyes twinkled with a mischievous glint, as he said, “I’m givin’ them to ya. After all, what’s the point in havin’ a tool if ye’re never gonna use it? Something tells me that you’ll need a bit of equipment to get you started.”
“I’m not leaving for a little bit,” I stated, while he started packing the gear into the backpack.
“I know. But you will be, eventually,” he replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “Just consider this a goodbye present from an old friend.”
With that, Sky stuck out his hoof, and we shook. He gave me a sad smile, before saying, “Good luck on your travels, pardner. And don’t worry ‘bout yer girls. I’ll make sure they’re safe.”
It had been a couple of weeks since Sky had given me his gifts. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay him for his generosity. He was truly a great friend…
In any case, I was making sure to settle all of my debts to the ponies in town. I had helped Crimson Forge fix his workshop, had bought a few items from Cheap Skates, and now…
Silver Bars approached me, and said, “Battleclaw. I heard you were leaving town soon. I imagine your…family isn’t quite pleased to hear that.”
“I haven’t told them,” I replied curtly.
“I see…Battleclaw, I would like to request an apology from you.” His tone was stiff and formal. “I haven’t been a proper colt, and wish to make amends. As a result, I would be grateful to you if you would accompany me to Whirl and Gentle’s grave. It seems only fitting that I finally get to say my goodbyes to them as you say yours to the rest of the town.”
…Something doesn’t seem quite right. On the one hand, he seems sincere about wanting to say goodbye to the couple. After all, he didn’t exactly make a good appearance last time. Maybe this was his opportunity for redemption.
On the other? There’s a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I can’t help but think that he’s up to something. Still, there’s no evidence against him; so far he’s done nothing to make me suspicious.
So, pushing my doubts aside, I decided to trust him.
How I wish I hadn’t…
Before I left with him, I stopped by my home to let Scorch and Amber know where I was going. Just as I opened the door, Amber came barreling out, a large, excited smile on her face. She wrapped her hooves around me in a tight hug, and shouted gleefully, “I finished it! It’s done!”
I didn’t have to think too hard to realize what it was. “You mean-?”
“YES! My Summer Sun, Winter Moon piece! I finished it!” she laughed, pulling me inside. “I just need to add the enchantments, and I’ll show it to you!”
“That’s great, Amber,” I said, giving her a peck on the forehead. “I’m so proud of you. Look, I’ll be back a bit later. I’m gonna go clear a debt with somepony, and then when I get home…we’ll have some things to talk about.”
She frowned, seeming to sense that something was wrong. Thankfully, she just nodded, and said, “Alright Daddy. I’ll see you when you get home!”
“You bet’cha,” I chuckled, giving her another hug. “Bye, Amber!”
“Bye Daddy! I love you,” she said, letting go.
“I love you too.”
The climb up the hill took longer than it should have. I mean, I know Silver Bars is old, but he should’ve been able to move a little faster. It seemed like he was dragging things out. That could be him just trying to prolong the inevitable, but…I dunno. It felt off to me.
By the time we had reached the top, the sun was setting below the horizon, barely leaving us enough light to see by.
“Okay, Bars,” I sighed, sitting down on a rock next to the weathered gravestone. “Say your piece, and we’ll be gone.”
The aging unicorn gave me a guilty look, and opened his mouth to say something…but was interrupted by the sound of terrified screams. Instantly, I recognized the voices.
“Amber! Scorch!” I shouted, already running back to the town. A silver aura encompassed me before I could run any further, slowing me down.
“Wait, Battleclaw!” Silver grunted, the strain of his magic quickly tiring him. “There’s…there’s something you need to know!”
…No. He wouldn’t….
Not even Silver would sink that low. He couldn’t.
The guilty look flashed across his face once more, quickly disappearing under a mask of false confidence.
Silver Bars was quickly running out of time. His bank was finally about to go under from all the debts he owed to ponies that had lost money because of him. Karma, he supposed, for cheating so many ponies out of their hard earned bits. He had tried other methods of paying it off, but the years hadn’t been kind to him.
With another aggravated sigh, he pushed his accounting papers in front of him, and tried to think of some way for him to save his flank. Quite frankly, he was out of ideas.
“Or are you, Mr. Bars?” a suave, chilling voice asked him.
The banker jumped violently in his seat, surprised by the sudden intrusion of the black, disfigured pony-like figure. Its eyes glowed with a hungry, violet light, and the grin on its face sent shivers down his spine.
“No, Torrentican. I have already stated that I am not that desperate,” Silver attempted to say in a brave voice. “N-n-not that desperate.”
Torrentican raised an eyebrow at the cowering figure before him. “If that is the case, I shall offer you a deal then.”
“W-w-what do you mean?” the greedy unicorn stuttered out.
“I shall make a deal with you, Silver Bars,” he spat out in disgust. “If you are able to distract that loathsome creature, Omnius, for but five minutes, I shall pay all of your debts in full.”
“You will? But…why?” Silver asked, unsure of what he was about to do. “What do you have against that brute? He’s nothing more than a retired guard who can’t seem to think more than two steps ahead of whatever he’s about to smash.”
The Traveler of Evil sneered, and said in a deathly quiet voice, “You need not worry. That is a private matter.” His mannerism changed suddenly, now resembling that of a business man. “As a token of my trust that you will accomplish this simple task…”
A bag of silver coins clinked onto the table.
“Do we have a deal, Mr. Bars…?”
Silver Bars looked at the coins, greed glinting in his eyes. He DID still owe Battleclaw for making a mockery of him…and for thwarting his attempts to attain the money behind Amber Heart’s name.
What he didn’t realize though, was that Torrentican was the one whispering those thoughts into his head.
I was beyond angry now. Silver…he had sold out my own family just to settle some petty score.
“YOU MONSTER!” I roared, the magic aura disappearing instantaneously. Before Silver could even react, I shot forward like a bullet, and clutched his throat in my hands. “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA OF WHAT YOU’VE DONE?!”
He gasped for air in my grasp. With another low growl, I flung him to the side, slamming him against the side of a thick boulder. He was out like a light, leaving me to run back into town as fast as my legs could carry me.
But…I was too late.
By the time I had reached my house, it was in shambles. The front door had been completely obliterated, there were small fires dancing in the yard…
And there, impaled on a wide, wooden stake, in the middle of a smoldering pile of ashes…
“Amber!” I shouted in denial.
There was no mistaking it though. It was her body. My daughter’s body. The worst part, that I didn’t notice until much later, was the message scrawled out in blood and ashes next to her.
Let the Games Begin! I"ll see you coming from miles away, as the sun slowly sets – Torrentican, your fellow Chess Piece
I couldn't comprehend it. At all. Not even an hour ago, I had just told my daughter I would see her later this very evening. She had been healthy, vibrant, excited even. She had been alive. This morning, we had all eaten breakfast together. I hadn't even been given a chance to tell her everything. All of the important things that I had wanted to talk about...now they would fall on dead ears...
My heart didn't just break. It shattered. It burned. It...she died. My daughter was gone. She had been murdered...
Desperately, I dashed into the house, hoping against all odds that Scorch was alright. If she had been murdered by that monster as well, it would be my fault. Torrentican was MY enemy. The only crime these two had committed against him was siding with me.
The inside of the house was even worse than the outside. Everything had been destroyed…the horror of it is too much for me to describe.
“B…Battleclaw…” a broken whisper wheezed from underneath a small layer of broken wood. I raced over, and saw Scorch pinned beneath a large beam, blood oozing from several open wounds on her back and arms.
“Scorch,” I said in a mixture of relief and anger. Carefully, I dug her out of the pile, and took stock of her injuries.
They weren’t good. Her legs stuck out at odd angles, several of the gashes on her back were far larger than I had thought. She needed to be taken to a hospital. Mechanically, I grabbed her in my arms and carried her to the nearest hospital…
I needed to ensure that at least one life could be saved that night.
The doctors told me that Scorch just needed to rest now. She had several broken bones, vital blood veins had been severed, and there were acid marks on the spots where her wings would have been.
Sky told me that he and the rest of the guard had cleaned up the mess around my home for me. He asked me if I knew anything about who could’ve done such a thing.
And I knew exactly who had done that.
More importantly, I knew where to find him…
Let the games begin, indeed.