"W-What did we do to deserve this?" The pudgy stallion shivered, breathing out steam.
"Nothing," the other replied mirthlessly, "but that's just life, 'innit?"
Bulky Buster and Custard Pie were new recruits in the Night Patrol. Night had fallen not long after a fierce blizzard struck whilst patrolling in the Fae Woods. About at least a dozen soldiers were out on this patrol, three quarters of them were recruits like them.
They had been told to stand guard in a clearing and keep the torches lit while the others slept under the trees, huddling together for warmth.
"Oh, BB, what'd I'd do for a cup of hot tea!" Custard complained.
"Stop talking," Bulky hushed, "And for the Sisters' sake, don't call me that!"
"Sorry, it's just that it's very cold out here."
"Really?" He sighed with sarcasm, "I had not noticed."
"If only they'd be so kind to have given us something warm."
"The interior of our armor is lined with wool and leather. That should be enough to keep us alive for the night."
Though it was true, it wasn't enough to warm them up completely.
Custard had been obnoxious since their first day training. The tubby stallion was always the first to voice complaints, even with the Sergeant barking orders. Not even the other recruits could stand him.
Bulky was a muscular and hardened stallion; he wasn't going to let the cold bother him. Custard on the other hoof...
"It's a good the thing the storm's past, right? I mean, the worst is behind us."
"Not exactly." He told him firmly.
"W-W-What do ya mean?" Custard shivered.
"This is the Fae Woods, Custard. Do you know why they call it that?"
"B-B-Because of the f-f-f-faefolk?"
"Mmhm. That means we haven't seen the worst yet."
The fat stallion's eyes bulged out in fear, but he stopped talking. Something Bulky had no problem with.
Before they marched out into the forest, the Captain briefed them about the Woods. He made it very clear to warn them to keep their torches lit at night. Otherwise, the Faefolk will come. And they will not be merciful.
No matter what, we must keep the torches lit. Bulky thought, echoing the words of the Captain.
Faefolk are tiny, flying ponies and are more temperamental then hornets. They swarm in the hundreds, maybe more, armed with swords and pikes. It had not sound so bad were it not for their weapons being slightly bigger than a razor. A tiny pike through the eye, or a slash to the neck would be enough to end a pony's life.
They were about as fast hornets as well, making them especially difficult to kill; a swarm of them could obliterate a platoon within minutes. It would be suicide to try and combat them.
However, they will not go anywhere near fire, especially torch-flame.
Bulky stared at the nearby torch jutting out of the ground anxiously. He watched the flames swirl around the wrapped cloth. There wasn't much for wind once the storm blew over, but that should never a soldier's guard; not Bulky's.
Custard turned to him and asked, "Hey, Bulky? The faes aren't gonna come near us, won't they?"
"As long as the torches are lit, they won't." He still stared at the torch vigilantly, not bothering to turn to him.
"Well, that one looks like it's about to go out."
He turned around to see whether the round stallion was right. The other torch's flame was slowly burning out.
Briskly, Bulky rushed toward the torch, kicking up snow as he ran.
Using his horn, he levitated a bottle of fluid, carefully dousing it over the top of the torch. Within a few seconds the flame rose back up.
He panted nervously, steam escaping from his muzzle. He wanted to smile in relief, but the night was still young. They were told to stand guard and keep the torches lit.
I will keep my vigil, I swear it by the Sisters! Though he had never seen a fae, he would not make that today.
The two Princesses, the Sisters, rule over these lands. Solveig and Selene were their names. Solveig is the goddess of the sun, and Selene the moon. Together they make sure that this world is at peace.
"Wow, that was f-f-fast!" Custard applauded quietly.
Bulky turned to him, still panting. "We have to be. If not..."
"Then the faefolk will come and kill us all?"
If so much as one torch was not lit it could spell doom for all of them. Even one fae would be enough to kill at least ten of them. And there are twelve of them altogether...
"Say, how much lightin' fluid is in that bottle?" The portly stallion asked curiously.
He unfastened the bottle from his side to check, armor gently clinking. Upon reaching it up to his face, twitched his muzzle nervously, hyperventilating.
"It won't be enough. The bottle's almost empty." He could feel a knot in the pit of stomach just saying it.
"We have more, right? Because, um..."
He turned to him and frowned. "What? Where's yours?"
"W-W-Well, I uh..." The pudgy stallion stammered, "I-I-I-I m-may have dropped mine during the storm."
He furrowed his brow. "Custard, you fool! You're supposed to make sure you kept the belt tight!"
"I'm sorry, BB, I didn't mean to--"
"How many times do I have to tell you not to call me tha--"
His rant was interrupted by a sudden sound: a torch flame sizzling out. Turning quickly, he saw the torch was out, doused by a strange green substance.
"Bulky?" Custard asked fearfully, "How smart are faefolk?"
Too smart, it seems.
"We need to wake the Captain. Now!"
Hurriedly, Bulky levitated the torch--the one still lit--and galloped over to where the others slept. Custard followed him, though not as brisk.
They slept under the second tree behind where they were guarding, still huddled up. Two torches were planted in the ground near the sleeping soldiers, it's radius wide enough to keep them safe... hopefully.
The Captain was not a hard stallion to spot; tall, a unicorn, blue bearded, black patch over his eye. He slept quietly over the snoring of the other soldiers.
Bulky went over to him, shaking his shoulder in order to wake him.
"Captain! Captain, wake up!"
"Eh?" The Captain groaned in his sleep.
"Captain, we need more lighting fluid! The faes are--"
It was that sound again. The same green substance coated the nearby torch, sudden as before.
The Captain awoke in rush, quickly realizing the situation. "Everypony, wake up! We have company!"
The others woke with as much brisk as the Captain. All of them were confused and freaking out over the commotion. They quickly grabbed hold of their spears in fright.
"Bulky, the torch!" He ordered
Hastily, he levitated the torch to the Captain. The Captain's aura grasped the torch firmly.
The soldiers huddled up close the light, scanning their surroundings for the enemy. Just as sudden as before, the planted torch blew out.
"Keep close, men!" The Captain bellowed, "don't stray from the light!"
Now they were all huddling up, closer than ever before.
"What do we do now?!" One soldier asked.
Bulky stared at the Captain, anticipating his orders.
"We need to retreat!" he commanded, "I've been through these Woods before. But now that they have found a way to drench the torches, we must leave. Now! And stay close."
What might have been half an hour of retracing hoofsteps felt like an eternity. The temperature had dropped a few degrees since then.
The soldiers were all exhausted as they were looking out for the illusive and dangerous faefolk in the darkness. Custard was more wary than the rest, for he was breathing very heavily and loudly. Yet even he dared not speak in a time like this.
Before they had set out, they searched for any torches that were not covered in the green substance--whatever it was. They were unsuccessful; the torch they had was indeed the last one.
The winds have picked up as well, everypony clamoring to make sure the flame did not blow out.
They're biding their time. Why? We're almost out of the Woods, right?
Even while levitating his spear, he didn't feel safe.
When Bulky looked to the Captain, something didn't seem right. The Captain's good eye darted in different directions, steam billowing from his nostrils.
"Captain?" Bulky whispered.
"It doesn't make any sense," The Captain frantically muttered to himself, "I could've sworn this was the way we came!"
"What is it?!" He snapped, "I know where we're going!"
"Are you sure?" Custard interjected, "'Cause this doesn't look like they we came, from what I remember at least."
"Shut your yap, Custard! I know where we are!" His eye was darting everywhere now.
He's just as afraid as we are. I just hope he doesn't continue to lose his nerve.
In the light of the torch, sweat beaded from the Captain's face. His eye was bloodshot and darted back and forth, watching out for whatever is lurking in the darkness.
Had the Captain gone mad? If so, he wouldn't blame him.
"I CAN'T TAKE THIS ANYMORE!" Custard screamed, bolting ahead of them.
"Custard!" Bulky shouted as the portly stallion galloped.
"Are you mad?!" The Captain yelled, "Get back here!"
The stallion wheezed heavily as he ran ahead of them. Just as sudden as he screamed and ran off, something came out from the woods, fast as a bullet. It moved past him, and when it did, blood sprayed out from his neck. He shrieked briefly before collapsing on the blanket of snow.
The thing that came out from the snow was indeed a fae, beating its wings like an insect. It zipped toward them, but stopped half upon seeing the torch-flame.
The Captain hurriedly rushed toward the tiny, armored pony, flailing the torch wildly.
"Back! Back you savage creature, back!" He shouted, attempting to scare it off.
The fae barely backed away an inch or two from the torch as the Captain jabbed the torch at it.
It's not scared of the fire!
"Captain, we have to run!" Bulky told him.
He didn't listen, he continued to flail the torch.
"I will not surrender to this pygmy tyrant! Ya!"
As the Captain lunged forth, the fae would hover backward. Even when the flame got close to it, it never flinched.
Bulky then caught a glimpse of at least ten other faefolk off to their right, hovering beside a tree. One of them shot out from their place and flew directly towards the Captain.
Before the Captain could notice, the fae was already behind him.
Before he could finish, the fae jabbed a pike right into the captain's only eye. The Captain screamed in agony as the other fae went for his throat. Blood spurted out, as the torch dropped to the snowy ground, though the flame still burned.
The soldiers panicked and ran in all directions, coaxing the faefolk out from the trees. Bulky, still levitating his spear, dashed forward with a few of the soldiers toward the torch.
He could hear the soldiers screams echoing in the distance behind them, as they closed in on the torch. Paranoid, one of them grasped the torch with their teeth, and started flailing away when the faefolk closed in.
That's not going to work!
It was already too late. The fae stabbed the soldier several times, leaving gashes and tiny puncture marks on his sides and neck. Bulky could nothing about it.
The cacophony of anguish continued as Bulky galloped hard into the night, not taking a chance at stopping. The fae were fast, but they seemed too preoccupied to bother chasing him... he hoped.
Trees surrounded him on all sides, either one could be hiding the faefolk.
There's nothing I could do to stop this! Sisters, Solveig, Selene, give me strength!
He had nearly tripped over a few branches, but he was too focused on survival.
His movement slowed when noticed a clear spot between the trees; the way out. However, Bulky's entire body started to tense up in pain.
He noticed a tiny arrow had stuck into his fore leg. Eventually, his whole body started to feel numb. It got to a point where it was difficult to walk.
Poison. he realized.
The muscular stallion's legs gave in, and his entire body fell to the ground. Just shy of exiting, he attempted to crawl, but it was no use. He was unable to move.
His heart was beating slowly as he lay.
What did we do to deserve this?