Anvil would never have imagined that being frozen solid could be such a lucid experience. He could still see, still hear, still think. The first two were significantly dulled, but they were definitely within his capacities. Illumination was still provided by the lamps – although they were probably half buried or encased in ice as well. And he could hear the thumping of his heart; it was unnaturally loud in his ears.
Then, he realised that he wasn’t breathing. Panic rose in his chest, but was quickly replaced by curiosity when he noticed that he didn’t seem to need it – at the moment, anyway. There wasn’t any of the usual burning in the lungs, or the overwhelming urge to start gasping for air. He just… didn’t need to breathe, apparently. But of course, the lack of suffocation didn’t mean that he wasn’t uncomfortable. Aside from the cold that was gradually gnawing into his bones, there was the matter of not being able to blink. Or even move his eyeballs. He was literally staring at the same spot the whole time – with the constant stinging in his eyes and the dreadful feeling that they might shrivel at any moment. If he ever got out of this mess, he would never take blinking for granted ever again.
Speaking of getting out…
He strained against the ice, but nothing happened – that was expected. But the sudden sense of being trapped wasn’t – it was a primal, frantic feeling, however small and far at the back of his mind, that he might not be able to free himself, ever. It was because of the ice – it was almost like being squeezed in the paw of a dragon, and the memory of his near demise in Cobbleville Mine mixed with his entrapment was enough to stir his panic once again. He began to struggle – or tried to. He was so properly frozen that he could not move to gain any momentum – he couldn’t throw his weight around, he couldn’t gain leverage – he was well and truly stuck. His heart began to race.
No! Not like this!
Stupid pony – calm down! Deep breaths… Right, no breathing – he forgot.
Time was running out, though. He might not need to breathe at the moment, but there were other things to worry about – the windigos, for a start. He stilled his mind, and focused on thinking of a way to free himself.
One step at a time. His head had to come free first. Then, his chest. Just one movement, in one direction – flailing around would only waste strength. And it was likely that he would only have one chance at it – he wasn’t sure if he would have the endurance to keep at it for long. Especially since breathing was out of the question.
Once his heart had slowed down a bit, he strained against the ice once more – attempting to bend his neck downwards and curl into a ball to break the icy grip on his chest. He only hoped that the ice was a layer around his body, and not a solid block. Slowly at first, but little by little he began to pour his strength into fighting his crystalline prison. There was a tiny crack – yes! – and he redoubled his efforts.
Don’t celebrate yet, keep at it…
But the seconds wore on, and his strength was dwindling. And although the creaking sounds proved that something was happening, it was still not enough. Anvil couldn’t even tell if any chunks had broken off, or if there were any new cracks and weaknesses in the ice that he could exploit. Horse apples – it’s not going to end this way! He’d had enough – he threw in all of his reserves, ignoring the protests of his burning muscles and pounding heart. He could feel the ice trembling, and a crack streaked across his field of vision like a lightning bolt. More cracks followed, and in his mind, he was roaring with all his might. But… it still wasn’t enough. He could give it no more, and he was still held fast, albeit with the ability to wiggle one foreleg slightly.
Now he needed to breathe – and couldn’t. His head started to swim, and his sight and hearing became even duller. He started to drift off, with strange throbbing sounds in his mind punctuating each wave of fatigue. It was almost as bad as listening to a noble reciting his lineage… His heartbeat seemed to get louder, though – pounding hard in his chest as if it was trying to snap his ribs. And it seemed to grow more violent by the second, until it was almost like getting bucked in the chest. Wait… He felt a dull thud and heard a loud crack. His mind was too muddled to know why, but he was absurdly happy about that. He felt another impact, and his head shifted slightly to one side. Another two or three followed, and he felt something crumble away from his face and chest.
“Grargh!” Anvil cried, and he suddenly found the strength to break free of the remnants his icy shell. He flailed wildly for a second, shaking off chunks of ice and blowing the offending slurry out of his nostrils and gasping for breath. He then spent the next few moments yawning and blinking gratuitously, and he enjoyed every eye-watering second of it. Blinking – who knew it could be such a pleasure? And the air; it felt surprisingly warm – like standing in the sun, even though he could see that the place was still covered in snow.
“Satisfied?” somepony asked. Anvil sneezed and turned towards the speaker. It turned out to be Hammer. He was panting, and behind him lay the shattered remains of his own prison.
“My thanks,” Anvil mumbled as he scooped up his helmet and donned it. “I could almost kiss you.”
Hammer gave him a look and simply said, “Pass.” He then began to scrabble at the frost and ice on the ground. He was after the glow worm lamps – partially frozen and buried under frost and snow. After catching his breath, Anvil followed suit, and before long they had recovered their only source of light. Thankfully, the lamps seemed to have shielded the worms from harm, and they were glowing as bright as ever.
They exchanged glances, and cautiously made their way into the cavern out of which the windigos had come. Once he was inside, Anvil suddenly became aware of the alarming possibility that the stone door could roll shut and trap them inside – after all, it had opened of its own accord once the magical seal had been removed. He voiced his concern, and they quickened their search. The place was like a tomb – rectangular in shape, with walls of black rock coated in a thin layer of ice. It didn’t take long to see that there was no place to hide anything; the ice was fairly transparent, and there were no tiles, secret hollows or hidden buttons or levers. And worst of all… no Elements of Harmony – just plain, carved rock. It was no hiding place – it was a prison for the windigos, and probably had been all along. Discord had played them for foals.
“The snake lied,” Anvil muttered as they hastily exited the tomb.
“Yes. Very shocking.”
Anvil sneezed. Now that he had been free of the ice for some time, the air was starting to lose the illusion of warmth. And he felt a twinge of guilt when he saw the eight frozen forms of the royal guards, with varying degrees of surprise and alarm written on their faces. It would have been rather comical, if he hadn’t been in the same position a few minutes ago. He trotted up to Hazel Hock and peered at him – he could almost imagine those blue eyes following his movement.
“Should we?” he asked.
Hammer shrugged. “Doesn’t matter – we will, anyway.”
Without further ado, the big pegasus began to pound on one of the frozen guards, beginning with the head and working his way down. Anvil did the same for one of the others. Those they freed first were initially inclined to be suspicious and guarded, but were quickly convinced that freeing their companions was higher on the list of priorities. They could all start fighting again later, if they still felt like it. Breaking ice was tiring work.
One by one, the loyalists were freed – most slumped to the ground with weariness, but Hazel and two others were quite alert after breaking out, albeit a little shaken. Once the last pony was free, Hazel Hock barked an order, and the royal guards surged into formation whilst he darted into the cave. He returned barely a moment later and joined his companions, with an ominous expression on his face. They were seemingly back to where they started – facing off against each other, Night Guards against Royal Guards. Except that this time, half of them were shivering, and it was unclear what exactly they were supposed to be fighting for, if not the now-missing Elements of Harmony. Both sides eyed each other warily, with no pony inclined to make the first move.
This is ridiculous.
“Ah… can we all agree to remain civil for the time being?” When nopony answered, Anvil slumped onto his haunches and waved a hoof lazily. “Fine, if you still intend to capture us, make it quick. I’ll have you know, though; you’re going to have to carry me. I’m too tired to fly.”
“Besides,” he added, when he saw that they were still being stubborn, “I believe we have bigger problems at hoof.”
The floodgates broke. A couple of loyalists thumped down on their haunches as well. Hazel looked outraged at first, but when he had whirled around to give them a tongue lashing, another three of his band were already sitting on their haunches.
“Sorry, sir,” one of them said apologetically, “but the traitor may have the right of it. Those things are headed to Everfree, and we may have to conserve our strength to make it back in time.”
“Windigos…” one of the others muttered, “I never thought I would see one of those in my lifetime. I’ve heard so many stories…”
“Updraft, now is not the time for more of your crazy – ” another loyalist interjected, but was in turn cut off by Hazel Hock.
“Now that we don’t have the Elements, I don’t suppose those stories say anything about defeating them?”
The one called Updraft looked thoughtful. “My nan used to say that they could only be defeated by love and friendship. Laughter and singing would drive them away as sure as fire melts snow.”
Silence followed his words. Everypony stared incredulously at the guard, then at one another. Anvil was certain he knew what was going through their minds. The notion was absurd.
“Laughter.” Hammer said flatly.
“Singing…” Hazel added.
Updraft shrugged. “Tis what I was told. They feed on misery and hate, so the opposite hurts them.”
The two big pegasi shared a look, and both firmly said, “No.”
“Heh, the second one is worth a try,” somepony piped up, “Thunder Gale’s singing is fit to drive a dragon from its hoard.”
Some sniggering followed the remark, and lean pegasus, presumably Thunder Gale, scowled disapprovingly at the culprit. “At least I can sing,” he retorted, “You can’t even carry a tune.” Somepony else laughed at that.
“Focus, everypony!” Hazel barked, but it was already too late. The tension between them had been severed, and his order was only half-acknowledged.
“Can we assume that we have a truce for the time being?” Anvil tentatively inquired.
Hazel gave him a sour look, spared a glance at some of his shivering subordinates, and then grumbled, “Fine, you’ll have your truce – at least until those things are dealt with. After that, I’m tossing you into the nearest dungeon.”
Anvil ignored the threat. “You’ll even call off the coup, I hope?”
“No such luck,” came the reply. “Count yourselves lucky that you’re not worth the effort, for now.”
“Has it not occurred to you that we want the same thing? We want to end this; we want to help bring Luna back.”
The pegasus guard scowled. “Don’t patronise me. Your own words condemn you – Luna is always foremost in your thoughts, isn’t she? Never the ones she is harming.” He shook his head. “Equestria is having its rightful ruler back, and it will not be on your terms.”
“It appears that it might not be on yours, either. The statue’s already had half his way with this mess.”
Hazel froze, then fixed him a suspicious look. “Statue?”
“You know; the spirit of chaos and disharmony.”
More blank staring, and this time the other guards were doing it too.
“As in, Discord?” Anvil suggested, with a raised eyebrow.
“I fail to see the relevance of the draconequus. It’s a statue.”
“Err…” he could find nothing to say to that. Summer Cloud is playing games of her own, it seems. And he could see it in Hazel’s eyes – the loyalist thought him a liar.
Hazel backed away a little, and without breaking eye contact, addressed his subordinates, “Back to the palace – go.”
“Wisest thing you’ve said all night,” Hammer replied, and broke into a gallop for the exit. Anvil scrambled after him, and just a split second later, he heard the thundering hooves of pursuit. He spared a glance back, and was dismayed to see Hazel and the others rapidly gaining on them. It appeared that they were going to have themselves another scuffle – one second, Hazel was a tail length away, slightly off to the side; the next, he was within biting distance, and after that… the big guard was galloping beside him. And it was then that he realised it wasn’t a pursuit; it was a race – a race home to Everfree.
Being buffeted around by arctic winds was not on Anvil’s list of enjoyable pastimes. The moment he had left the protection afforded by the gap, the veritable blizzard without had nearly smashed him back into the face of the mountain. As it turned out, the wind had picked him up like a ragdoll and flung him into the nearest cluster of pines, and he’d emerged only after receiving a sound whipping from the skeletal branches. Heh, what’s a few more bruises and scratches? The others had also been taken by surprise – there were cries of alarm, but as far as he could tell, all were able to adjust accordingly to the new turbulence, for they were soon all visible once more, battling the storm in formation. Small blessings – can’t have too many of those these days. He did not relish the thought of having to haul any injured pony all the way home.
As much as Anvil would have liked to outdistance the loyalists on the race home, it seemed that their paces were evenly matched – aggravatingly so. If one group tried to outfly the other, the extra burst of speed would be so costly that the lagging party only needed to wait for the inevitable exhaustion in order to catch up. Such attempts had been made several times, but in the end, everypony had made an unspoken agreement to conserve their energy and fly steadily. At least, as evenly as their consciences allowed – the windigos had had a substantial head start on them, and ponies’ lives were at stake.
After an hour of urgent flight, Anvil had seen all he needed to conclude that embarking on the draconequus’ little ‘quest’ was amongst the least commendable things he’d ever done. The sky was roaring with the force of the blizzard, and the land was blanketed in a layer of snow that shone a pale blue in what little moonlight had made it through the clouds. Every now and then, coming from somewhere in the distance, he could hear the eerie shrieks and howls of the winter spirits as they wreaked havoc with Equestria’s weather. He thought he even saw them at times, whirling and dancing around in the storm, taunting him and his companions.
Once they were over settled land once more, they dropped lower to the ground, trading speed for a better view of the towns and villages below. It was not encouraging. Each and every one they spotted was practically buried in snow, and only the ones with larger buildings had any sign of inhabitants. The rest had half-faded tracks to mark the passage of ponies that had retreated to more sheltered places like caves or thick groves after their homes had been wrecked by the roaring winds. Hazel Hock shouted an order, and four of the loyalists broke away from their group and angled off in various directions. Anvil had been too far away and the wind too loud for him to make out the exact words, but he surmised that those four had been told to either render assistance to the ponies below, or to get help from wherever the rest of the loyalists were hiding.
He did feel guilty for not doing the same for the villagers, and was almost disgusted by his quickness to take solace in the reality that there weren’t enough of them, loyalist or otherwise, to help all of the settlements at once – they would be better served if Luna was swiftly alerted to the threat in order to deal with the windigos. However, it appeared that the spirits were more interested in shaping the landscape to their own chilly designs than in securing their newfound freedom – as they drew closer to Everfree, he could see that they were taking their sweet time circling the lands and spreading the blizzard in their wake. It was as if they weren’t even aware that they were former prisoners, and that their efforts at redecoration were soon to draw the attention of those who might have the power to bind them once more. At least, Anvil hoped that ignorance was the case – indifference implied that nothing could be a threat to them… and that was not a comforting thought.
Still, it was inevitable that the windigos would reach Everfree, and by the time Anvil and the others had the city in sight, the spirits were already spiralling around its outer reaches, raining snow and hail down upon its inhabitants, and each cycle brought them closer to the palace at its centre. The loyalists surged forward, and Anvil and Hammer pumped their wings to match their pace. Hammer broke off towards the library, whilst Anvil tailed Hazel who was heading to the old barracks, and presumably the dungeon beneath it. As irksome as it was, he could not follow the other three loyalists who had split up and gone to various sections of the palace.
Anvil had no way of knowing if the coup had already begun, but on the off chance that it hadn’t yet, alerting the rest of the Night Guards was a good place to start. He saw the great doors of the barracks swing open to admit Hazel, and nearly sprained his wings braking when a dozen other pegasi and unicorns poured out – they did not look friendly. He slowed to stalling speed and dropped like a rock, narrowly missing a tackle from one of the pegasus loyalists. He swung around and dodged another two more attempts, and then beat his wings for all he was worth, making a frantic dash for the nearest balcony. There was a buzzing sensation in his hindquarters, immediately followed by a rapid deceleration. Anvil looked down and saw his body half-enveloped in a multi-coloured aura. Unicorns. He thrashed in mid-air, and felt the hold on him loosen. He grunted and thrashed some more, until only his tail was caught in the magical grip. One final jerk and a mighty beat of his wings, and he was free – at the cost of half of the hair on his tail. Barely a second later, he heard somepony rapidly approaching from behind, and bucked out wildly. He felt his hooves connect, but dared not look back. Instead, he plunged forward and crashed through a stained glass window. The loyalists did not follow, but the sounds of intelligible curses and shouted orders did.
Luckily for him, he had crashed into the grand ballroom, which was at the moment unlit and unoccupied. Horse apples. The coup had already begun. And at the barracks, he’d spied a couple of ponies in the throng who had been wearing Night Guard armour. After catching his breath and checking that the glass cuts were fairly shallow, he discarded his lamps and cautiously opened the doors, flying as quickly and silently as he could towards the royal library, keeping to the shadows as much as possible. He couldn’t avoid being seen altogether, though, but at least the servants who did see him discreetly kept out of his way. In the wing above the library, he found two Night Guards making their rounds. Peering round a corner, he identified them as Flicker and Tailwind – former recruits; unicorn and pegasus. They looked especially bored – hardly the sort of behaviour that ponies in the midst of treason were likely to exhibit. Unless they were really good actors, but that was doubtful. He slipped out of the shadows and flitted over.
“Wha – oh, err, greetings, sir.” The unicorn and pegasus immediately straightened up when they caught sight of him. Good, they’re not overly surprised.
“Where’s Captain Volley?” Anvil demanded.
“Isn’t he in the old barracks? I heard that the officers were all summoned there,” Flicker answered.
“Err… and weren’t you the one who summoned them?” Tailwind looked somewhat confused.
Hayseed. “Go find any others who aren’t attending. Tell them to gather in the library, or to remain with the princess if they find her anywhere else.”
“Sir? What are we to tell them?”
“That Princess Luna commands it. And be on your guard; there are enemies in our midst – if anypony redirects you to the barracks, say yes, but do not go there. I cannot say more here. Go!”
The two guards saluted and sped off, leaving Anvil to wonder whether he had taken an unnecessarily big risk. Still, he judged those two clever enough to recognise trouble if they saw it. Without further delay, he spiralled down the stairwell to the library, wondering just how exactly he was supposed to explain everything to Luna. However, his thoughts were interrupted when he heard the sounds of a brawl down below. Stupid pony – stop dreaming and watch where you’re going. There was a resounding thud and a muffled groan, followed by silence. When Anvil reached the bottom of the stairwell, he found Hammer standing over the battered body of an unconscious pegasus in Night Guard armour. The notched right ear gave him away, though. Drizzle Sky.
“Lucky find,” Hammer commented.
“He wouldn’t think so,” Anvil replied.
“Why are you here? Where are the others?” the big pegasus inquired as they proceeded with rolling Drizzle up in a convenient nearby tapestry.
“They’ve taken the barracks.”
His companion frowned. “How many?”
“Ah… all of them, I believe.”
The hallway to the library bore marks from Hammer’s struggle with Drizzle Sky, who had apparently been ‘guarding’ the doors. Torches had been knocked from their sconces, tapestries had been dislodged, and the carpet that stretched the length of the corridor was torn in several places. As they raced to the doors, Anvil’s eyes flitted to the hole in the outer wall, through which Luna had smashed the marble statue not half a night ago. He ground his teeth. I hope she’s in a listening mood.
After cautiously pushing the doors open, they found the library shrouded in darkness. Thick curtains had been draped over the grand clerestory windows, and it appeared that all of the candles had long since gone out and remained un-replaced. It didn’t take them long to find the princess, though. A little ways in, light was spilling out of the arcane arts wing, and they saw the dark silhouette of the alicorn slumped over a pile of books on the floor. There were puddles of wax beneath the candle stands, but the enchanted trees all around provided all the light they needed. They rushed to Luna’s side, but found that she was only asleep, snoring gently.
She proved to be a light sleeper, though, for she woke at the slightest touch. “What is it? I told you; no pony is to – ” she began irritably, but started and sat bolt-upright when she realised who had woken her. “You – where have you been?”
Where should I start?
Hammer brushed past him and said, “We’re short on time, Your Highness – Everfree is in danger.”
Luna looked as if she would have liked to give them a more thorough tongue lashing, but relented anyway. “Very well – speak,” she commanded.
But before they could say more, a tentative “Hello, is anypony here?” rang out from the darkness of the library. A moment later, a band of two dozen or so night guards cantered into the yellow light. Flicker was leading them, and he paused to bow to the dark alicorn before panting, “All we could find, sirs. Some… the others went to the barracks. Couldn’t stop them.” Anvil noted that those present were mostly recruits. He recognised only two or three veterans.
“I require answers – ” Luna began, with a most severe expression.
As if on cue, the otherworldly shrieks of the windigos pierced through the stillness of the library, un-muffled by the thick curtains over the windows. Some of the night guards looked quite unnerved, whilst the moon princess was staring out one of the bare windows. “ – a lot of them,” she finished, distractedly. She then snapped out her reverie and gave Anvil an expectant look.
“Windigos, Your Highness,” he supplied.
“This… this explains much.” Luna began to pace, excitement visibly growing. “The cold, the crops… everything.” She paused, then added with a frown, “And raises many questions as well…”
“There’s one other thing. Hazel – ” Anvil didn’t hear the rest of Hammer’s words. They were drowned out by the sound of a hundred glass windows shattering, followed by the howl of the wind as snow and ice poured into the library. Shelves and thousands of books crashed to the floor, adding to the chaos. Instinctively, everypony huddled together and braced themselves against the indoor blizzard. When things had died down a little, everything was covered in frost.
Princess Luna shook herself and glared out the nearest window. More shrieks came from without, and one of the shimmering spirits streaked past, leaving a glittering, frosty stream of mist in its wake. She then turned to all of them and said, “Night Guards, evacuate the palace – I want no pony unskilled in combat to be anywhere near this place.” “And you,” she added, focusing on Anvil and Hammer, “We will speak more, later. We have an axe to grind.”
“Wait – ” Anvil began, but then the world exploded in a flash of light.
A split second of nothingness – and the world exploded again, back into existence. Anvil blinked and shook his head. Never liked teleporting. Hammer and Luna were by his side, together with four unicorn night guards who looked as if they couldn’t quite decide whether to be proud or worried that they were hoof-picked by the princess to fight alongside her. They were atop the palace’s highest turret, opposite to the ruined Tower of Harmony. Black clouds hung churning over the outskirts of Everfree, swollen and infused with hail and flashes of lightning, but the sky directly above the city was clear and starless, with the full moon right at its centre – a cold, blue sphere in the eye of the storm. And up above, galloping on thin air, were the three howling winter spirits. Dark spots were coalescing in the air between them, growing larger by the second. Anvil squinted. They look like – oh, hayseed.
Melon-sized hailstones fell screaming towards them. Anvil crouched and sprang to the side to avoid being brained, but the icy chunks never hit the floor. Instead, they shattered harmlessly against the translucent bluish dome that Luna had conjured over them. The shield vanished, and they were showered with frost.
“Winter Spirits,” Luna thundered, voice amplified with magic, “I am going to count to three, and you had best be gone when I am finished. If one of you so much as sprinkles another snowflake on my land, I’m going to make you rue the day you first drew breath.”
The windigos ignored her and continued to gallop in a great circle, high above.
The spirits carried on. Anvil felt a chill creeping up his legs, and started violently when he realised that it was ice. The floor was frozen, and his hooves were stuck. Hayseed, not again! He hurriedly wrenched one hoof away. One of the unicorns swore.
The ice continued to spread. Luna’s frown deepened, and her horn began to glow. A second later, Anvil felt warmth emanating from the floor, and sighed as the ice melted away. His unicorn companions seemed equally relieved. When he glanced upwards, the windigos were no longer galloping. They’d drifted much closer to the turret and were silently observing them, barely a hundred feet away.
“Three,” Luna breathed. The windigos shrieked in defiance, and blew forth a howling blast of frigid air that glittered with ice crystals. Anvil flinched, but only felt a shower of warm water. He blinked and shook droplets of water off his wings.
Steam was coming off the dark alicorn’s horn, and she was grinning at the winter spirits. “I have been idle for too long; I’ll take great pleasure in teaching you a lesson.” She then spread her wings and said, “Hammer, Anvil; with me – we’re going to play a little game.” “And you,” she added with a sidelong glance to the unicorns, “I want barriers for my champions – strong ones.” With that said, she sprang into the air.
Anvil took to the sky after her, and felt static in the air as a translucent sphere materialised around him. Through the corner of his eye, he spied Hammer surrounded in a similar sphere of a different hue. As they gained height, the windigos let loose another blast of frost, and Anvil couldn’t help cringing as he watched pointy shards of ice bursting into white powder on the magical shield, just inches from his face. Please don’t break, please don’t break… A moment later, the air ahead of him was clear once more, and he saw Luna retaliate with a bolt of lightning. It struck one spirit squarely in the face, and the other two scattered when it screamed its fury.
Anvil saw an opportunity, and took it. He surged upwards and tumbled to deliver a blow with his hind hooves. The lack of resistance so surprised him that he nearly stalled – there was a splash of coldness, and suddenly he was on the other side of the windigo, and chilled to the bone.
This… this complicates things.
The world was a blur. Anvil couldn’t remember how long they’d been fighting in the air. Dodge, buck, drop, rise, dodge again… His barrier had long since been whittled away, and Luna had ordered the exhausted unicorns to retreat, lest they collapse entirely. Hurting the windigos was difficult enough without adding unconscious unicorns into the mix.
The spirits were more spirit-like than previously thought, and could not be harmed by physical blows – it was like bucking thin air. Cold air. In response, Luna had tossed another enchantment on them – their hooves now crackled with purple electricity, and they were finally able to do some damage. That is, if blackening their hides a little counted as damage. The spirits were still as fast and energetic as ever, despite the blows that they successfully landed. Anvil could see no end to the aerial battle any time soon. It was dragging on and on and on.
Luna had realised it too, and was growing reckless. She flew aggressively, focusing on one particular spirit in the hopes of wearing it down, throwing bolt after bolt of lightning at it. And the other two were taking advantage of her single-mindedness; they had her flanked, and it fell to Anvil and his friend to constantly harry them and prevent them from properly ambushing the moon princess.
Weave in, weave out – dodge, buck, drop, rise… It was almost becoming like a dance routine. A long, tiring one.
But then… somepony broke the routine. The leading windigo suddenly accelerated upwards at a sharp angle, and Luna matched the manoeuvre perfectly. Anvil and Hammer… not so much – they could not react so quickly.
But the other windigos could – and did. They stormed past Anvil, right up to the moon princess who had not yet realised that there was nopony left to guard her back. One charged from behind, and her decision to conserve magic by maintaining a barrier only in her front turned out to be a mistake. The windigo formed an icy boulder with its breath and bludgeoned the dark alicorn – her barrier flickered for a second before it disappeared entirely. The crackling enchantment on Anvil’s hooves fizzled out, too. Unprotected, the moon princess was then caught in the middle of three cone-shaped blasts of freezing breath, and Anvil and Hammer were too far away to help. Luna fell from the sky, encased in a huge ball of crystalline ice. And it was heading right his way – he barely had enough time to swerve aside, and could only watch in morbid fascination as the frozen mass crashed right through the roof of the Great Hall. A large cloud of dust rose from the crater as tiles and masonry tumbled in. Half a moment later, Anvil felt a chilling whoosh of air as the three windigos surged past him and into the ruined Great Hall. They had completely ignored him and his companion.
Anvil followed them in, but dared not engage. Instead, he merely darted off to the side and watched from behind the pillars. Even Hammer did the same – not the most chivalrous thing in the world, but it had become obvious that they could do little harm to the spirits without Luna’s help. So, they watched.
The windigos circled in the air above the cracked mass of ice, oblivious to the debris raining from the shattered roof above. They continued to breathe blast upon blast of frost on the trapped alicorn, and the ball grew and grew… until it practically a mountain of jagged, glassy ice, almost reaching to the broken vaulted ceiling. It was only then that the windigos calmed down, and they began to hover serenely over the mound, whispering to themselves in little gusts as if they were contemplating the merits of a fine work of art.
There was no sign of Luna. Anvil waited, but as the seconds passed, there wasn’t so much as a flicker of light from within. There was so much ice… he couldn’t imagine what it must be like to have the weight of a mountain bearing down upon her.
Sweet Celestia… no… Anvil was never one to be prone to rage, but at that moment, he felt a stirring in his heart; a fiery heat coursing through his veins; a redness colouring his vision – he wanted to hurt somepony, and the three winter spirits were right there, mocking him with their casual indifference, gloating over their success. He found strength in a place he never knew he had.
“Anvil…” Hammer warned.
“Spare me,” he growled back. He didn’t care if he got himself in a fix again; he just wanted to make the spirits sorry for what they’d done – even if it meant kicking and screaming in their faces until he was just another ice cube in the blizzard. He flew out of cover, with one hoof pointed forward, feeling the build-up of static energy as he gained speed. The windigos took notice and breathed at him. When he felt ice crusting over his body, he vehemently thrashed in mid-air and felt a rush of elation when the ice crumbled away. Not this time, you little hayseed. He roared in defiance as he shrugged off another blast, seething from within, and felt a satisfying crack of electricity when he slammed all his built-up static energy into the windigo. He angled off to make another round, but a spiky cluster of ice suddenly erupted from the ground, and he ploughed right into it – smashing the thing into a hundred fragments. The pieces rained on the floor as he spun out of control and crashed head-first into a pillar. He saw more stars than he could count. You really like doing this, don’t you?
Dazed and bleeding, Anvil struggled to his hooves, turned around, and found himself face to face with one of the windigos. Behind it, he spied Hammer harassing the other two – dodging their breaths and bucking debris at them in turn. The spirit in front of him snorted, and he returned his attention to it, noting with a tickle of amusement that there was a tiny scorch mark on its side, and a fresh one at that – it was still smoking. Not quite as good as Luna’s magic, but still… “Got you,” he wheezed. He threw an insolent grin at the windigo, and spat out a broken tooth onto the floor beneath its fore hooves. He then took off his helmet and flung it into the spirit’s face. It passed right through, and clattered off somewhere behind. The windigo didn’t even blink. It only rumbled softly and drew breath. Anvil closed his eyes.
Instead of the blast he’d expected, he heard a deep crack. He opened his eyes, and saw the windigo with its face turned towards the ice mound, hoofing at the ground nervously. The others were similarly distracted, and he saw Hammer taking the opportunity to get behind cover once more – his armour was covered in icicles, and one wing was bent at an unusual angle.
He heard another crack, followed by a rumble. Luna. There was a light coming from the depths of the mound, flashing a bright, angry purple. He felt his grin slowly return. Massive fractures appeared on the surface, and the whole thing began to shudder. And just then, it occurred to him that standing around like a simpleton was an absolutely brilliant idea. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? Stupid pony, move! He was just about to duck behind a pillar when a concussive wall of air slammed into has back, followed by sharp, bruising shards. He was thrown forward and buried under a pile of icy debris. He came up coughing and spluttering, and when he turned to the remains of the mound, he had to lift a hoof to shield his eyes from Luna’s radiant form. The aura around her faded after a moment, but lightning continued to crackle in her eyes. She raised her horn skyward, and a silver beam of light shone down from the moon above.
For a moment, all was quiet – even the windigos seemed mildly curious. Luna stood still as a statue, staring at the moon. Anvil squinted – things were twinkling in the moonbeam – high up, but they were drawing closer. A faint whistling became audible, and it grew until it became a high-pitched, fireworks-like screech. His heart leapt when he saw the twinkling things transform into six little falling stars – each with glittering trails of a different colour. So that’s where she’s been keeping them. At the same moment, the windigos seemed to have realised what was in store for them, for they screeched and began to pelt the dark alicorn with ice shards and frosty wind. Luna ignored them all – their attacks simply bounced off the newly conjured barrier around her. In the aftermath, there was a substantial snowdrift in a ring around her, and the Elements of Harmony whipped down in a rapid series of fwip-fwip-fwips. Once at shoulder level, the brightly coloured crystals began to circle around her, shining brightly.
And for the first time, Anvil saw worry written on the windigos’ faces. The moon princess gave them a toothy grin. “My turn,” she said with great relish. Anvil couldn’t recall Luna having teeth that sharp…
There was a bright flash – and Luna was engulfed in a cloud of purple mist that closely resembled the appearance of her mane. Anvil glanced around, expecting her to reappear and ambush the spirits, but nothing of the sort happened. Instead, the mist reached out with three smoky tendrils and wrapped around the ghostly forms of the windigos. They shrieked in alarm. He could see them struggling in the grip of the misty cloud, and steam was coming off them wherever they were in contact with it. One of them broke free and spat icicles into the centre of the mist, but the cloud simply contorted and opened up an empty space in the middle. The icicles shattered harmlessly on the stone floor. That’s… new. Anvil realised that Luna wasn’t hiding in the purple mist – she was the mist.
A second later, the mist contracted and coalesced back into the dark alicorn, along with the six Elements of Harmony. She was chuckling gleefully. “Like it?” she mocked, “Well, have some more.” Purple lightning forked from her horn and struck each windigo. The nearest spirit was thrown against a wall, and the impact left a circular spatter of frost on the masonry. Another was smashed out a glass window, and the last was blasted backwards into the sky. There was a panicked shriek which grew fainter by the second – it seemed that the one thrown out the window had had enough, and was beating a hasty retreat. The other two weren’t quite ready to give up, though. They encircled Luna, and attempted to freeze her once again. She merely huffed and conjured a barrier that rapidly expanded into a concussive sphere of force, thrusting back anything that wasn’t nailed down. Anvil received a face-ful of frost and was thrown off his hooves.
“Get. Out. Of. My. Home!” Luna roared – each word was punctuated by a crack of thunder, and each crack came with a searing bolt that lashed the windigos. One spirit fled through the hole in the roof, screeching in pain. But the other, the one that had been smashed into the wall, tried to flee through the doors to the Great Hall. It turned out to be a mistake. Luna transformed back into mist and reached for the spirit with massive claws. The windigo failed to avoid her. There was a hissing sound, like water landing on searing-hot metal, and steam began to come off the windigo in clouds. Anvil shifted uncomfortably as he watched it struggle in Luna’s grasp – she refused to let go. And then… it began to scream. It was unlike any sound that he’d heard before – a piteous howl that made his heart shrink and his resolve falter. A few minutes ago, he would have been quite eager to torture the spirit himself, but now that he was witnessing it… He wanted nothing more than to cover his ears and shut out the terrible noise. The spirit couldn’t even scream properly from the pain – its cry was frequently interrupted by irregular gasps and choking noises.
He gritted his teeth. This… this is wrong.
“Your Highness!” he cried. The cloud that was Luna appeared to have heard him, but instead of releasing the windigo, it raised the misty arm and ground it into the floor. It then reverted to Luna, who stood tall over the now withered form of the winter spirit. Electricity crackled on her horn, and she began to lower it…
“Your Highness, you have defeated them – perhaps that is enough.” Hammer appeared from behind a pillar, limping slightly. “Besides,” he added, pointing a hoof up, “you have an audience.”
Anvil followed the direction of his hoof, and groaned inwardly when he saw faces peering over the edge of the broken ceiling. Wonderful – now they choose to make an appearance. Even before he’d finished thinking, the doors burst open, and more loyalists in royal guard armour poured into the room. There must have been over fifty of them, and amongst their ranks were a few night guards.
Luna’s eyes darted around wildly, and then she growled, “What is the meaning of this?” She stomped a hoof, and the impact sent a resounding boom throughout the palace. “Guards!” she thundered.
“They cannot help you now.” Hazel Hock trotted forward. “Your guards have been arrested for treason against the crown. Even as we speak, they are being sent to the dungeons.”
Luna didn’t seem to hear. “Don’t just stand there, foals, do your duty!” she snapped at those garbed in dark armour.
“They’re not yours, Nightmare Moon – they never were.”
That seemed to get her attention. She was dumbstruck, and she began to stare at one guard after another, as if she had just only noticed their presence. The windigo was momentarily forgotten, but it did not move from its place – it simply lay there with its chest heaving slowly. Luna grew increasingly agitated.
“To me,” she said.
Luna threw him a look. It was… difficult to read. Was that hurt he saw in those eyes? Or was it anger? Maybe a mixture of both. He sighed and mentally hung his head. Until my liege release me... coward. He flitted to her side, and Hammer limped over a few seconds after. They were surrounded.
“My own guards…” she said stiffly, as she surveyed their opponents. “There will be no mercy for traitors.” The glow on her horn intensified, and the loyalists tensed for combat. Anvil grimaced. Where does it end?
“Enough,” somepony whispered. It was softly spoken, but it carried on the air as well as any shout, echoing throughout the ruined Great Hall.
Anvil knew that voice. So did Luna – the energy around her horn guttered out, and she exhaled slowly and deliberately, staring straight past the line of loyalists before them. A radiant figure trotted forward, and the throng parted as she approached. Her hooves and horn were like hot embers, her mane like calm, smokeless flames – but her eyes were sad.
“That is enough, Luna,” Princess Celestia whispered.