Rise of the Elements Part II: Return of the Avatars

by Radiant Dawn

Chapter 15: Light in the Shadows

Chapter 15: Light in the Shadows

Perspective change – Darkflight

Jesus...three months have flown by already.

After that "test" for that Enigma Flare guy, things escalated really fast. Not a month after, Appleloosa was attacked by deathdragons, likely the same squad that attacked Whoazambique. Needless to say, we were all deployed that very day.

Luckily for us, my armor and weapons held out well for the military...and for the first month, we didn't even have one casualty. It seemed that until that point, Death had been holding back...but now he was apparently done. Massive magic barrier generators were erected around Ponyville and Canterlot...but the rest of Equestria was left for the military to handle.

The first casualty of the war was a young unicorn named Shadowsight. Through training from Life and Day, a spell had been taught to all active duty unicorns that allowed them to consecrate the ground, preventing any undead monstrosities from surprising our forces from underground. Still, they were very stealthy. Without needing to breathe and without feathers, the undead gryphons were very adept at sneak attacks. That and they were a bitch to take down. I remember the day Shadowsight fell in battle was a sad day in Equestria...and it was the first of many names that would find their way to a war memorial.

After that, Five-Star General Twilight Sparkle worked with the two princesses on tactics and new weaponry along with me, and our forces ended up being better trained and far more deadly. This however also resulted in our forces being spread far and wide across most of Terra...and I hadn't seen or heard from my brother in months.

Drew's unit was by far the most elite unit, as it was composed of himself, Rainbow Dash, Ditzy Doo, Moonfang, and Venn, as well as twenty or so other elite pegasus and unicorn units. His unit was on the forefront of the war, cutting an icy scar through the enemy's ranks. Still...they numbered well into the hundreds of millions, and so progress was slow.

Today, the casualties on our side have reached into twenty-thousand across the Great Alliance – which consisted of Equestria, the Gryphon Kingdoms, Zebrica, Vaporia, and Cervidas. Where once we were enemies, we were now allies fighting for mutual survival. Where once a gryphon entering my tent would have caused me to take a fighting stance, I didn't think twice of it.

My unit – known simply as the Fireguard – consisted of myself, a few choice gryphons, and a load of powerful unicorns adept in illusion and arcane magic. We were stationed at the edge of Boardor, which bordered a massive volcanic area known simply as "The Scorched Lands". Our scouts had reported that this place was heavily guarded, more so than any other area we'd come across as of yet. It would be obvious that this was where Death was hiding, issuing his orders and commands from afar. Still, he had proven on numerous occasions just how intelligent he was, so I was under no circumstances positive that we would find him here.

A young gryphon warrior entered, and I looked up from my desk and smiled. "Sergeant Gilda, it's good to see you. What's the news from the border?"

She quickly saluted and then looked behind her into the distance. "It's quiet, sir...arguably too quiet. It's been almost a week and no attacks have been made upon our scouting teams again." She closed her eyes and let out a soft grumble. "They're up to something, sir. I just know it."

We had found through study that most of the lower-level enemies didn't have a consciousness of their own, but what controlled them was very intelligent. Some of Death's higher-level officers were capable of free thought, and while they still answered to him, this allowed them to work independently and make their own decisions. So I knew immediately that this momentary peace was not a good thing.

I turned my attention back to the gryphon and nodded. "I agree, sergeant. Gather the troops tonight. If we get blind-sided, I want to be as prepared as possible. Have Lightrunner and Dusk Horn prepare their team. I need detection fields up all around us in case the enemy decides to try and catch us off guard." She nodded and began to leave, but then I felt the need to call out to her. "Gilda!" She stopped and turned to face me. "...stay safe."

She nodded with an uncharacteristically warm smile. "You too, Dark."

As she left, I looked out my tent towards the large volcanoes in the distance. "Your move."

Perspective change – Frostbreaker

"Frost! Leave her, we have to move!" shouted Dash as she cut a swathe through the advancing undead ponies.

I looked down at the bleeding mare, and she smiled at me. "Get out of here, colonel. I've still got enough fight in me to hold them off for you to escape."

I sighed and touched my horn to her head, allowing the memory of a certain spell flow through to her mind. I then backed off and smiled. "You will never be forgotten, Rain Dancer. Your sister and niece will know what you've done for us today."

She let a few tears slip by and smiled. "Thank you, Frost." She then shoved me away with a weak foreleg. "Go...get out of here."

I nodded and fled. "Troops, full retreat! Clear the area!" The unicorns left standing all nodded and activated their enchantments, speeding off in blurs of color towards the mountains. I then followed Dash and the pegasi troops towards the mountains as well, and not a moment too soon.

A blinding flash and a large amount of heat could be felt and seen, and then the noise of what sounded like static. It was a sound I knew well...after all, it had been the sound of my final sacrifice once.

We all stopped at the foot of the mountains, just past the treeline in time to see the crackling vivid blue energy of Rain Dancer saving us one last time, disintegrating all our enemies into a cloud of ash and dust. Once the dust began to settle, I stepped forward and took flight again, along with Rainbow Dash and Nightwing.

We landed at the now-desolate site of the battle, seeing only one body left – that of a beautiful white unicorn with a vivid blue and green mane. The very sight was bringing tears to my eyes, but I pressed on anyway until I was standing right in front of the fallen warrior.

I sat down on my haunches and let my tears freely flow. "She didn't deserve this...none of them deserved this." I took a few shaky breaths and calmed myself a bit. "Dash, Nightwing...why are we doing this? I mean, what's the point? We've already lost so many, and I'm starting to think that maybe I should have just let Death take me last month. Maybe it would have-"

I was interrupted by a hoof across my muzzle, and Dash's rose-colored eyes burning with both fury and sorrow. "Stop that right now, Frost. You know exactly what will happen if we just give up...and we all know exactly what would have happened if you'd surrendered to that monster. He would have used you to destroy everything and everyone on Terra. You may have lost sight of why we're doing this, but I haven't. If I have to beat some sense into you to remember, I'll do it." She then slugged me in the shoulder and growled at me. "We're doing this for all of those that have lost their lives so far, as well as all of those who will continue to die until we finish this. We're doing this so that foals can be born into a world where they're safe. We're doing this because it's right."

I couldn't hide my emotions about the war since last month. It was no secret anymore that Death was my father, and he was doing this because he wanted me. Everyone always told me that it wasn't my fault...even Life, but I couldn't help it. I couldn't help but constantly think to myself that if I hadn't ever come to Equestria, none of this would have happened. Still...for the time being, my soldiers and my wife needed me. I'd work out what to do about myself after the war.

For now, there were more dead monsters to slay.

That night was sleepless. Where once laying next to Dash and Ditzy would lull me to sleep, it just reminded me of just how fucked up my mere presence had made their lives. Before I came, the worst thing they'd had to deal with was Night and Discord...but now there was real danger.

As I lay there in bed with my two loves laying against me, the night dragged by. In all honesty, I was glad they were able to sleep soundly...because they'd need it. During the past week or so, I'd been getting less and less sleep as the days wore on...and it was starting to show. Where once my eyes were bright and brimming with power, they were now sullen and dim. My mane and tail had turned darker and more menacing, and my hooves had taken on a dingy yellow tinge. No amount of bathing or good nutrition seemed to help, so I eventually just resigned myself to it.

I mean, I don't know what I thought a war was going to be like. Somewhere in my mind I was thinking, 'It's Equestria...how bad could it be?' Well...that thought was a bust. Here it was only a quarter of a year later and already twenty-thousand lives had been wiped off the face of Terra...gone forever. Those lives had been brothers and sisters...sons and daughters. Every one of them would be missed, and every one of them had been important. The more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that maybe I didn't belong on Terra. My being here was causing untold-of death and destruction upon its inhabitants.

Still...a large part of me kept me in check, reminding me that it was more than likely these wars and deaths would likely have happened even without my presence here, and while I was having to experience it, it was not my fault.

I thanked Dash for that little piece of conscience.

Yes...my girls. I had come to rely on Dash and Ditzy through the months as things heated up. While it was clear that the stress of this war was taking its toll on me, they made sure I never broke. They were the scaffolding that supported me...the glue that held me together, and I thanked them continuously for it. I heard from Twilight and the other girls from time to time, but without being able to see their faces or being able to touch them, it just wasn't the same.

Today however, was going to be a great surprise for me.

As I levitated myself out of bed so as not to wake my two bedmates as the sun broke over the horizon, I remembered who was visiting today, and it brought a large smile to my face. With how calm things were on my front, Celestia, Luna, and Twilight were coming to visit me. You see, my troops – which had respectfully named themselves "The Icewing Raiders" – were the most feared and destructive force in Equestria. Dashie had picked up magic as if it were second nature, and Ditzy had become a more adept physical fighter than I was. Because of this, Death had steered his forces away from us. We still held strong and had only two casualties to the group...while we had slaughtered tens of thousands.

Death quickly changed his tactics to avoid us.

Still, today would be a good day. Both of the princesses were visiting as was the Element of Magic, so I made sure to clean myself up and brush my teeth, coat, mane, and tail because while we were all romantically involved, I wanted to make a good impression after two months. I would be lying if I said I wasn't prancing around in happiness like an idiot, but at this point I didn't care. I missed all of them...but I knew we all had jobs to do. That being the case, I was going to make sure this visit was worth every second.

As I reentered the camp I was greeted by the two wolves, Venn and Moonfang. The two powerful warriors had become very useful in the war, their ferocity and agility going unmatched, even among the elite units of Equestria. Still, they were only two wolves, so I had to make sure they were protected.

"Frost, where have you been? We've been looking everywhere for you." Venn growled out in annoyance.

I sighed and rolled my eyes. "Guys, I'm fine. I've got an ice shield covering the entire area, so if anything tries to get through, we'll know." Then gestured behind me. "Besides, there's hot springs over there."

Moonfang raised his eyebrow in confusion. "What's a hot spring?"

Venn chuckled and shook his head, grabbing the tan wolf. "It's probably the greatest gift that could be given to a cold and weary body. Come on, follow me and I'll show you."

I chuckled as the once-timberwolf was dragged away by the gray wolf, and just shook my head. I walked back to my hut to find both Ditzy and Rainbow Dash already in full armor, save for helmets.

Ditzy no longer wore the Celestial Guard armor she once had, instead having traded it for a special set of armor created by my own brother. It was made of blacksteel, and was riddled with enchantments by me. Enchantments for reduced weight, armor strength, and resistance to magic were all in place. In addition, there were executable enchantments for flight speed, temporary strength, and camouflage. She had become known as the deadliest fighter in the sky, and so her armor looked the part. It was black, as per the metal color, but had multiple insignias and war-paints that marked her as a warrior to any race.

Dash of course still kept her enchanted magesteel armor, but also painted it and added etchings for a bit of flair. The basic armor was unchanged, but had been given multiple etchings – courtesy of Spike – that showed all of our closest friends in a picture on the front, as well as the Celestial Royal Insignia on the back and shoulderplates...forever marking her as a chosen guardian of Equestria.

Through training, I'd learned to work better with my Element. I had found that it drained my magic at a constant rate, no matter the abilities I used. While this was helpful to know, the rate was very fast and I wouldn't feel the effects until the armor was dissipated. At the moment, I was able to safely wear the armor for two hours before danger set in – but that was at full magical capacity. With the way the war had been going, I often could only safely use it for a few minutes at most during a fight.

Still, because we were seeing loved ones after so long, I donned my Element's armor to look my best and stood outside the icy barrier, waiting for our guests.

Dash nudged me with a smile. "I take it you miss them as much as I do, huh?"

I nodded and smiled in return. "I do, Dashie. It's been two months since I've last seen them, so I'm going to make sure we make a good impression."

"You don't have to make that great of an impression, Frost. You act like you're meeting them for the first time or something." Ditzy remarked with a smirk.

I sighed and shook my head. "I know, but I mean it's been months since we've seen them. What if..." I swallowed hard as my fear threatened to consume me, "what if they moved on since we've been gone?"

Dash sighed and punched me in my arm, hard. "Do you even listen to yourself? Quit being such a worry wart. Everypony knows that they care about you more than anything." She then sighed and shook her head. "Look, I don't know the specifics of whoever your fiancée was or any past girlfriends you might have had. What I can tell you is that Twilight is every bit as loyal as me. Just because she isn't the Element of Loyalty doesn't mean she isn't faithful. As far as the princesses, you're the first one I've ever known of who they've taken a serious interest in. So don't sell yourself short, Frost."

I let out a breath and nodded. "Sorry about that, Dashie. Forgive that momentary weakness of mine."

"No sweat. Just don't do it again or I'll have to sock you in the face." she remarked with a grin.

I rolled my eyes. "So your plan would be to beat my self-consciousness out of me?"

She nodded with a bright smile. "Yep! Hasn't failed me so far."

I sighed and shook my head. "Awesome...I'm married to a sadist."

She tickled my exposed chin with the tips of her wing and giggled. "Only with you, Frost. I gotta keep you in line somehow."

It was then that we all felt the familiar coolness and crackling of energy around us, and in a flash, three certain ponies appeared in a flash in front of us.

Twilight looked beautiful...until she stumbled over to a frozen bush and emptied her stomach of what I assumed was lunch. I stepped over and patted her back softly while holding her mane back. After she was finished, I nuzzled her gently and smiled. "Next time, empty your lungs before going such a long distance, okay?"

She nodded and rolled her eyes. "Yeah yeah, I forgot." She then smiled and hugged me tight. "I missed you, Frost."

I returned the gesture with a smile of my own. "I missed you too, love." I released her and then walked back over to Celestia and Luna, who were dressed in full battle armor...just in case. "So, what's going on?"

Both normally-reserved princesses jumped forward and embraced me in a bone-crushing hug, effectively vacating my lungs of breath. Before I could turn any more blue, they released me and Luna nuzzled me affectionately. "Frost...it is so good to see you. How are things?"

I shrugged and smiled as I released her. "Eh, it's pretty quiet. Seems like Death is pretty afraid of the Icewing, which I honestly didn't expect."
As we walked towards the opening to my "base", Celestia draped a wing over me. "Yes, it seems you're making quite a name for yourself across all of Terra. Even the dragons are starting to take notice of you." She followed me to my hut and sat down on a pillow, as Luna and Twilight did the same. "In fact, Veruuthas wishes to meet with you tomorrow, if you're available."

"Veruuthas...that name sounds familiar." I remarked, holding a hoof to my chin in thought.

Luna smiled and nodded. "Yes...he is leader of the draconic community. He is the same elder Blue that your brother met once."

I cocked my head in surprise and pointed a hoof at my chest. "So wait, one of the oldest and most powerful living beings of Terra wants to meet me? Why?"

Twilight then spoke up with a smile. "It's probably best not to question it. If the dragons wanted you dead, they would have come and done it themselves instead of asking you to meet with them. They just want to talk is all."

I shrugged and levitated a bottle of rum over and took a swig (don't judge me). "Well if they want to meet, who am I to say no?"

"The first prince of Equestria and the avatar of winter." Twilight remarked with a smirk.

I facehooved. "It was a rhetorical question, love."

The violet mare giggled and nodded. "I know. I just like messing with you is all."

I then looked at Celestia pensively. "Alright fine, tell the Blue to meet me here. I'll be waiting for him around noon." I then took another swig of rum and smiled. "So...how is Spike?"

"Spike is very well, Frost." she responded with a smile. "Captain Armor was recalled to Canterlot because of a public cry for national safety, so Spike was given control of the unit and was promoted to colonel."

I pursed my lips and nodded. "Nice, very nice. And how's my brother's unit?"

"The Fireguard is doing very well. Few casualties and they are holding the Boardor border without much trouble." Celestia answered with a grin.

I smiled for a moment before looking off into space in thought. "You know, I can't help but think that The Scorched Lands are a decoy."

Twilight nodded. "Dark said the same thing. We're keeping an eye on things, but for the time being at least, that seems to be the most likely spot for Death to be waiting for us. It's secluded, difficult to traverse, dangerous because of the volcanic activity, and because of the volcanoes, it's inaccessible by air." Twilight then looked at Dash and grinned warmly. "Well Rainbow, it looks like you've settled in pretty well. How's things for you?"

As Twi and Dash conversed, I sat back against my bed and nursed the rest of my bottle of rum, enjoying the spicy-smooth liquor. Luna approached with her sister and sat down on the edge of the bed, so I scooted over to give the two of them room.

I heard the lunar princess sigh as she lay back against me, her wings tickling my stomach. "We are sorry you have to be out here alone, Frost. Believe me, if Tia and I could visit every day, we would."

"I know, Lulu." I answered, running my hoof along her exposed neck. "I certainly don't blame the two of you, you both have a nation to run. If things go down and we need you, we'll send for you. For now, the two of you need to make sure that Equestria knows that their princesses are proceeding with life as usual. Panic is the enemy, so we need our subjects to feel safe and secure at all times." I then sighed sadly and shook my head. "It's just that Death is so hard to find. I mean he acts like he's all-powerful and whatnot, but as soon as he saw Life, he ran and hid. Now nopony knows where he is. He could be in Tartarus for all we know."

Celestia shook her head, her multi-hued mane tousling softly. "Do not worry, Frost. We are closing in on him, I can feel it. There are not many more places for him to hide. If things go according to plan, we could have this war over in another..." she then trailed off.

"I'm sorry, what was that?" I asked, my eyebrows furrowing.

The sun princess sighed and closed her eyes. "I said another year or so..."

I groaned and fell back onto the pillow of my cot. "Yeah...that's what I figured you said." I then sat up quickly in realization. "What about the changelings? You told me a week ago that ponies around Trottingham reported seeing them moving around."

Celly nodded. "Yes...it was a strange thing, actually. I was contacted by Queen Chrysalis through a messenger drone."

"Wait...you were contacted by the very being that tried to take over? What did she have to say?" I asked with concern.

She shrugged. "It was the strangest thing, Frost. She was asking for an alliance."

I stood up and growled. "I don't know...I don't trust her. I mean we all saw how my meeting with Discord went. We ended up having to imprison him again."

She nodded in response. "Yes, but the changelings are not the same. Different though they may be from normal ponies, they are not driven by the need to create disorder and chaos. In fact, they benefit more from peace. Her attack upon Canterlot was an effort to permanently solve her race's nourishment problems. As you know, changelings feed off of emotions. However, what most ponies do not know is that love is not the only emotion they can feed off of. Any positive emotion is nourishment to them, and so they benefit more from peace and harmony than Discord would."

"Why did she attack then? Living under the rule of a tyrannical changeling queen wouldn't exactly make the ponies of Equestria think happy thoughts." I remarked coldly.

"She and her hive were starving to death, Frost. The threat of death can put even the most moral of ponies into a state of desperation." Luna answered solemnly. "That is not to say that changelings are the same as regular ponies, but perhaps it is time to put the past behind us."

I then lay back down and crossed my forelegs behind my head. "Well okay...why are you telling me though?"

Celly giggled. "Well for one, you asked for news. Second," she took a breath and ran a hoof through her mane, "Chrysalis asked specifically to speak to you."

I groaned and sat back up again. "Argh...why does everyone want to meet with me?"
Celly shrugged and eyed me lovingly. "Because you're different, Frost. You understand things that most ponies don't. That and our last meeting was less than cordial. But, if she proves to you that she is trustworthy – at least as a temporary ally – I will trust your judgment as to whether you'll accept her proposal or not."

I nodded and lay back down again, enjoying the feeling of warmth that the two princesses' bodies gave me. "Well, if you believe it's worth meeting with her, I'll do it. Send a message that I'll meet her in two days in Noveria."

"Noveria? That's frightfully close to the dracoknight settlement to the north." Luna responded, unable to conceal her concern.

I nodded. "Yeah, but the Grimmnjor ponies are pretty hospitable so long as we don't cause trouble. They haven't been attacked, so it's safe to say that there's a sort of mutual territory line protecting them. You might want to ask the Queen to meet me in the form of a normal pony...a blue one with green eyes, so I'll know it's her. She has to come alone, or else the undead horde will see her as a threat and attack. They only seem to attack large groups of ponies, at least so far. I'll meet her there at around 14:00."

Celly nodded and smiled. "I'll send the message as soon as we get back to Canterlot. Thank you for doing this, Frost."

I waved a hoof at her with a grin. "Don't worry about it, Celly. I'm a servant of Equestria first before anything else. If this is what would be best for her, I'll do it." I then finished off the bottle of liquor and dropped it in a small wastebin in the corner. "So...how are the rest of the girls doing?"

Luna looked a little sad all of the sudden, and in a second I would know why. "Vinyl is well, as is Lyra...but Pinkie has changed."

"What do you mean?" I asked, now more than a little worried.

Luna sighed and lowered her gaze to the floor. "Pinkie always goes by the name Pinkamena now, and is so unlike herself. I understand that this is her way of dealing with all of this, but it worries me. I fear that if this goes on for much longer, she may forget how to be Pinkie Pie."

I nodded my head wearily, fully understanding this fear. "I know...I'm afraid of the same thing. That just means we need to hurry up and end this before permanent damage is done. Spike will watch out for her in my stead though, so at least I know she'll be physically safe."

Luna then stood, and I realized all that this visit had come to an end all too soon. She embraced me softly and smiled. "Apologies Frost, but we cannot tarry longer. Equestria needs us, and so we must answer the call. Do not forget to contact us through letter or Spellspeech."

I facehooved and grumbled. "I had completely forgotten about that spell. Thanks for reminding me. I'll contact you both every day from now on."

Celly stood and poked me in the chest, her hoof cap denting my skin. "You better, or we'll find you."

I then wrapped my wings around the two of them, and gave both a kiss on the cheek. "I love you both. Watch over my mother while I'm gone, please."

"We shall look after her as if she were our own." Luna replied with a warm smile.

I then walked over to Twi, who was just finishing up giving Dash a goodbye hug, and hugged the two of them from behind, causing the violet unicorn to jump a bit. "I love you, Twi. You take care of yourself."

She melted into me and smiled. "You too, Frost. Watch out for Rainbow Dash and Ditzy Doo for us."

"Always." I responded, releasing the embrace. "Oh before I forget, thank Miss Colgate for those rations. They're loads better than what we came up with."

The violet unicorn giggled and nodded. "And here she was thinking that she'd be useless in this war." She then walked outside the barrier and smiled, taking her place next to the two princesses. "Keep them safe, colonel."

I nodded and saluted her with a smile. "Will do, General Sparkle." And in a flash, she and her two companions were gone...but leaving me feeling quite a bit better than before they arrived.

Maybe things would work out okay after all.

Perspective change – Spike

The war was a lot easier on me than I thought, even considering all the fighting we'd been doing.
See, my unit – which used to be under the command of Captain Armor – was built for stealth missions, gathering intel and assassinating high-priority targets. It consisted of myself, Pinkamena, Trailblazer, and Moon Dancer (no relation to Rain Dancer), making it the most sparsely-staffed unit in the entire war. Still, more troops means more visibility, and that went against what we were shooting for.

All four of us had been trained to be shadows upon the battlefield, striking without being spotted, or disappearing if we were. Thanks to a spell provided by Frost to Trailblazer and Moon Dancer, we had a way for Pinkamena and I to easily hide our body heat...but this meant that the two unicorns had to stay well out of the way to avoid being seen. Most times this worked well enough, but last week we had a slip up that almost cost Pinkamena her life.

I remember it was supposed to be a regular old intelligence-gathering mission, but the day had already been anything but ordinary. First of all, we were on the western border of Boardor – the place where Dark was currently stationed – and had been told that the area was heavily guarded. That compiled with the fact that the area was already hard enough to traverse made it very risky. After all, I was impervious to the lava of the area. Pinkamena however, was not. That being the case, it took a lot of trial and error to find an area I could burrow through that didn't lead to a magma or volcanic gas chamber.

A volcanic eruption would have been more than a little counterproductive.

After I had found a clean tunnel to the cave that we were targeting, the two unicorns shrouded us in magic and the pink mare and I traversed the tunnel to said cave. When we arrived in the heart of it, we were surprised to find it abandoned. It was at that moment I realized there was something very wrong, so we began to travel back through my tunnel to the two other members of my team.

Then it happened.

The enemy knew what we'd do, and so had sprung a trap that caused tons of molten rock to spill into my tunnel after us. The ground insulated the magma, causing it to gain both heat and speed. I wasn't worried about it, as I was perfectly safe from the red-hot fluid...Pinkamena however, was not. I remember shouting at her the whole time to run faster than she ever had before, the magma still rushing forwards as I ran twenty or so feet behind her, attempting to use my body as a way to slow the deadly liquid down at the same time.

It almost wasn't enough, though.

She jumped out of the entrance just in time to get her tail singed from the heat alone, while she and the two others galloped away as fast as pony-ly possible. As I expected, the pressure caused the magma to erupt out of the end of the tunnel, throwing me some hundred or so feet into the air as well, making me a deadly projectile. I wasn't worried about myself, as I know that while it would hurt, I wouldn't be breaking any bones upon impact with the ground...but pony bones were flimsy compared to mine, and I was easily two to three-times as heavy as each of them. Couple that with the fact that I was still covered in molten rock, and that made for a very bad scenario.

Thankfully, the aim of the volcano was off, so I ended up landing in front of them by about a hundred yards, and I grunted in pain as I stood up and shook the hardening lava off of me.

After that, we sent a letter to Celestia and she shipped us off towards The Fringe, to the southeast of Camelu and Zebrica. This area bothered me a bit, as we were literally on the edge of the known world, leading to an area simply known as "The Lost World", a place that we knew nothing about. Still, Twilight believed that because of how little was known about The Fringe – as well as the close proximity to a dragon settlement – it would be a likely place for Death to set up shop. This meant that we were now officially further than any pony from Equestria had ever been. The good news was that with how close we were to the Eastern Ley Line, the unicorns never seemed to run out of magic for their spells.

The bad news was that I was thousands of miles away from home...and I missed Rarity.

Even with how fast my body had matured, my mind was still that of a teenager...and I missed home. I missed having home-cooked meals, I missed being able to sleep in a soft bed, and I missed my friends most of all. Pinkamena was mediocre company, as she rarely spoke of anything that didn't have something to do with our missions...and sometimes, late at night when she thought everyone was asleep, I could hear her crying.

Just like tonight.

After weeks of this, I've finally decided to confront her about it. I wasn't as close with the pink pony as say, Frost, but she was still a friend, and I knew that all this had to be hard on her, no matter how much she denied it. So, following my heart again, I quietly stepped towards her burrow.

As I stepped inside, it was very dark. This wasn't a problem for my eyes though, as they quickly adjusted and I found myself staring at an annoyed-looking Pinkamena. I had always wondered how she could be so quick and silent, but I just passed it off as one of her many quirks that I'd never fully understand.

"What do you need, colonel?" she mumbled, not making any attempt to hide her annoyance.

I sighed and shook my head. "Pinkamena, you can drop the act. I heard you crying. I've always heard you crying. Tell me what's wrong so I don't have to beat it out of you." To anypony else, this would have sounded like a serious threat, but Pinkamena and I both knew it was a joke and a strong – albeit a little dysfunctional – way that we related to each other.

"Pfft...you're too slow to ever catch me, and we both know that." she replied with a wry grin.

I rolled my eyes and sat down on the cold floor. "All kidding aside specialist, what's wrong?" She was silent, so I scooted closer to her and placed a clawed hand on her shoulder. "Pinkamena, I'm not your superior right now, I'm your friend. Don't shut me out...please."

She looked at my hand for a moment, then back to me. When she did, I could see that her eyes had that glassy look of tears begging to fall...and once I pulled her into a hug, they did. The floodgates opened and she sobbed against me as I ran my fingers through her silky mane. There were many incoherent things I heard, but the three things I got out of it were that she missed Frost, missed Dash, and missed home.

I had been afraid of this the whole time. Many of the recruits had said for the longest time that she was schizophrenic, but I knew that if she was, it wasn't because of trauma. Pinkie had created Pinkamena as a way to distance herself from the violence, so as to keep the core personality pure and innocent.

Even separate personalities get stressed though.

After about twenty minutes or so, she finally calmed down enough to speak, so I let her do so. "Spike...I just miss the way things used to be before this dumb war." She looked up at me with those gorgeous cyan eyes that even rivaled Rarity's deep blues. "Why can't everyone just be happy? Why do they want to fight and hurt each other?"

"Because Pinks," I started, running my claw along her neck comfortingly, "Terra isn't a nice place right now...but that's why we're fighting. We're fighting to make sure that one day, it can be nice again. We're fighting so that the only tears that need to fall will be tears of joy." I then gulped and closed my eyes. "We're fighting so that one day, our foals will know that it wasn't always peaceful. They'll know that Equestria was fought and died for by ponies that believed in that peace."

She then bit her lip and stared at me again. "Do you think we're going to die Spike?"

"One day Pinks...one day." I responded as I stood up tall, still holding her hoof in mine. "But that day's not going to be today. When you or I pass on, it's going to be after we've had foals of our own and we're old geezers. But not now...we have too much to live for to die."

The older ponies always say that having fear and doubt can defeat you before the battle ever comes...and so I make it a point to fight through that. She would survive this...we all would. That was a promise I made to myself and whatever gods ruled over Equestria. Too many ponies had already died for us not to survive. I was not going to lose my friends to this war...and that was a solemn vow.

A vow is stronger than a promise in that it has the ability to change the very fabric of destiny to suit it, if the one who makes the vow fights for it hard enough. Well, my vow was to protect Equestria, Terra...but most of all, my friends.

Gods give me strength.