The Dresden Fillies: Strange Friends

by psychicscubadiver

Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven

Written by: Psychicscubadiver
Edited by: Silentcarto

Disclaimer: I don’t own The Dresden Files or My Little Pony, that is Jim Butcher and Hasbro, respectively. This is a fanfiction only. Comments are appreciated, trolling is not. This takes place before season two in MLP and between books five and six in the Dresden Files.

I sighed, looking down at the sleeping pony. We’d dodged a bullet on that one. Twilight was amazing, I’d never even heard of anything like the teleportation she’d used, but if she’s using the same physics I was, moving that much mass that far would drain any wizard’s powers. If she had pulled off that last spell I couldn’t imagine anything pretty happening. Magic plays for keeps.

Damn, I ‘m tired. I could manage for now, but I’d pay for it in a couple days. I wanted to sleep, but I knew if I did I wouldn’t be getting up any time soon. I’d tried power napping once, but I’d just woken up still tired and pissed that I couldn’t sleep longer. Glancing at my pocket, I pulled out and checked my crystal. Reassuringly enough, it pointed in the same direction with an undiminished glow. The other ponies started to file back into the room. None of them looked surprised to see Twilight asleep.

“Okay, time to tell the wizard what we’re up against. Twilight thinks it’s Trixie, so until we know otherwise, that’s the working theory. Twilight was a bit short on the details, so I want anything you can tell me about her.” The resulting conversation was anything but boring. For creatures that don’t curse those ponies sure were inventive when it came to insults. None of them, not even Fluttershy, had a good word to say about Trixie, but with some careful questions, I got a decent idea of her abilities.

Given the kind of mojo she’d used in the fight with the Ursa Minor, she didn’t sound very tough, but she had a hostage. I didn’t know how it worked in Equestria, but a human in a similar situation could easily decide they had nothing left to lose. Her overbearing arrogance sounded like someone with self-esteem issues, and if she didn’t value her life, she might kill Spike purely out of spite.

I felt my anger rise in the back of my mind at that, but I choked it off. The ponies had started discussing what they were going to do when they found Trixie. I interrupted, “Ms. Rarity, could you turn off the lights like you were going to bed?”

“Certainly, but whatever for?” The other ponies’ expressions mirrored her curiosity.

I felt like Mr. Science with a room full of kids. “Would you please? I’ll explain in a moment.” She still seemed perplexed, but with a glow from her horn, the lights dimmed and went out.

“Great.” Rainbow groused. “We can’t see. Are you gonna tell us the plan now, fearless leader?”

“Hey,” I scowled. “That’s Mr. Fearless Leader to you. I demand respect, whether it’s due or not.” There were a couple giggles, but most of my audience seemed to agree with her. “Okay, Twilight’s exhausted so we’re going to let her sleep a little.”

I held up a hand to forestall any protests, but the darkness worked against me. “What? C’mon, speed is what we need. We’ve gotta get moving if we want to catch Trixie.” No points for guessing who that was.

I shook my head. “No, what we need is surprise and strength. Speed’s important, but Twilight is in no condition to travel. We’re going to wait an hour, then head out.”

“That makes sense,” Fluttershy murmured. “But why did we have to turn the lights out?” My eyes had started to grow used to the gloom, and I thought I saw her glancing around nervously.

“That’s just in case Trixie is keeping an eye on Rarity’s house. I don’t think it’s likely; she’s probably holed up with Spike somewhere, but there’s no sense taking chances. Besides, what would happen if someone saw my silhouette in the window?Until then, we can talk. Everything has been pretty hectic, and I’d like to get some more info before we do anything else. Twilight mentioned a Princess, so this is a monarchy?”

Rarity cleared her throat, “Well, more properly, it is a Diarchy. Equestria is ruled by two immortal Princesses. Celestia, the monarch of day, raises the Sun, and Luna, her younger sister and regent of night, controls the Moon.”

That piqued my interest, so I asked a few more questions. Celestia they discussed freely, but they seemed oddly hesitant to talk about the younger sister. I didn’t press, but I quietly filed that away as interesting. The next hour passed fairly quickly, for me at least. Rainbow quickly got bored with the discussion and volunteered to watch outside for anything suspicious. When I expressed doubt that she was quiet or stealthy enough, she suggested I do something that I’m pretty sure is anatomically impossible for both humans and ponies.

Pinkie Pie tried to participate, but after a while she lost interest and wandered off to ‘build something’. As ominous as that sounded, she swore (a promise involving a confusing rhyme about cupcakes and flying), not to draw anyone’s attention or break anything. The rest of us discussed Equestria and its inhabitants, and in return I told them about humans and Earth in general. I tried to keep it as PG as possible, but some things about my world just aren’t pretty. I glossed over modern conflict, but the wars of the past didn’t seem to surprise them. They’d heard the legends of the times before Equestria was unified under the Princesses. The biggest surprise, though, had nothing to do with war or violence.

“A population greater than six billion? You can’t possibly be serious.” Rarity gaped in disbelief.

I just nodded. “I am, but that’s pretty recent actually. Once the Industrial Revolution allowed for greater production and shipping of food, and medical advances stopped most of our diseases, the number of humans expanded exponentially. We’re a fairly…” I searched for a polite word, “prolific species.”

“A what now?” Applejack asked.

Well, if subtlety didn’t work. “We’re really good at reproducing. You know, making foals?” She blushed, and I laughed softly.

“Is it time to go, Mr. Dresden?” A new voice piped, right behind me.

Jesus Christ! My heart just about stopped. How the hell does Pinkie sneak up on me like that? “What?” My voice was a mix of tired and aggravated, but it didn’t dampen her cheer. She just smiled and repeated her question. I sighed and checked my watch, a purely clockwork model given my effect on technology. A little more than an hour had passed.

“Okay, let’s get going then.”


“I cannot believe you let me sleep for an entire hour! You promised me it would only be a few minutes.” Twilight said for the fifth freaking time.

“We needed to stay put for an hour to make sure we weren’t being watched.” I answered for the fifth freaking time. “Are we far enough away from Ponyville yet?”

“No. Keep it on until we’re actually in the forest. I’m not going to come home to an angry mob looking for a monster.” The sleep had helped, but Twilight was still tired and grumpy. Pot and Kettle, I know, but that didn’t stop it from being true.

I sighed. The other ponies were quiet for the most part, but I could hear the occasionally giggle as they listened to us. Twilight had given up telling me to be quiet, but in all fairness I was keeping my voice low.

“So, what spells do you know that are combat-ready?”

“I thought the plan was not to fight?” She asked. I glanced at her, but she wasn’t being sarcastic.

“The next time my enemies act according to my plan, it’ll be the first. You’ve got to be adaptable during a crisis.” She nodded as I spoke, and I’d swear she was making mental notes. “So I need to know what you’re capable of.”

I already had a pretty good feel for the rest of the group. Rarity had illusion and subtle magic, along with some dexterous telekinesis; she was the bard. Applejack was the strongest in the group; she’d be the paladin. Rainbow was fast and good for flank attacks (pun intended), definitely a rogue. Fluttershy was a difficult fit, but given her talent with healing, I’d call her our cleric. Pinkie… well, she’s in a class of her own. Twilight had serious skills, but could she translate them to the battlefield?

She thought for a moment. “Well, you know I can teleport; projectiles can’t hit what’s not there. I can raise a temporary shield bubble that can stop most magic. My levitation spell is strong enough to lift an Ursa Minor.” She stopped and shook her head. “I know too many spells to list them all. Most of them could be used in battle in some way, but none of them are designed for it.”

I nodded. That was about what I’d expected. The same should hold true of Trixie. Or most unicorns, I realized. I was going have to keep tight-lipped about this world when I finally got back to mine. Plenty of creatures would love a world like this, someplace where prey was plentiful and competition non-existent.

I was a little lost in that thought and almost tripped over my staff. Damnit! This is getting on my last freaking nerve. Keeping the six foot length of oak under the cloak hadn’t been too difficult during the sedate walk to the library, but at the pace Twilight set now, I was hard pressed not to fall over the damn thing. I understood why I couldn’t lose my disguise just yet, but my patience was wearing thin.

I shut up and followed Twilight, trying to keep from falling over. It was annoying, but we reached the edge of the forest before I broke either of my legs. I opened the cloak, disrupting the illusion, and pushed magic through my staff, making the symbols carved into it glow a fiery orange. As the group stepped onto the shadowy path, Twilight and Rarity brought their horns to life, adding a white, almost fluorescent, shine to the illumination. Fluttershy nervously scanned the surrounding trees. I didn’t blame her. I’ve seen a lot of spooky stuff so let me tell you, there’s hardly anything scarier than a forest at night. The thin crescent moon shone dimly, leaving the world shrouded in darkness. Even the light we cast only illuminated our group, making shadows in the woods beyond loom large and shift threateningly. I moved to the head of the group and took out my crystal with a free hand. The glowing bar turned and pointed into the dark heart of the forest, parallel to the path ahead.

Wordlessly, I started walking and the rest of the group followed. Occasionally, one pony or another would say something, but nobody spoke for long. The gloomy woods around us seemed to deaden anything we said. Rainbow volunteered to fly ahead and do some recon, but I flat out told her no. The canopy overhead was dense enough that taking off and landing would be dangerous. She said that wasn’t a problem, but I didn’t want to overestimate her abilities. Besides, the branches above were thick enough that I doubt she could have found the group again, lit or not. We left the path about thirty minutes into the forest and had to slow our pace. There wasn’t a lot of underbrush, but we still had to navigate around more than a few patches of thorns and nettles and some weird blue flowers that the ponies insisted we give a wide berth.

The wind sighed through the trees, setting an eerie counterpoint to the soft rustling of creatures in the forest around us. More than once I had the unsettling sensation of being watched, only to turn and see nothing but shadows. I was getting creeped out, but I’d been in similar situations. Twilight, looked apprehensive but determined. Rarity was clearly uncomfortable, but that seemed due to our hike through the woods as much as our frightening environment. Applejack’s knees shook slightly, but she didn’t say a word and kept a calm face. Rainbow was going a little stir crazy, having to walk, and it showed. Her wings twitched, and she started at every breeze. But she was the perfect picture of calm compared to Fluttershy. The poor pegasus stayed in the center of our group and I could practically hear her heartbeat from here. Her wings clamped tight to her body and she shuddered, giving a soft whimper at every strange noise and distant sound. My heart went out to her, but I didn’t know what to do. All of her friends had said something reassuring and hopeful, but she was still scared. Except Pinkie, I realized. The resident party pony was bringing up the rear and had been oddly silent this whole time. I turned to look at her. She was walking slowly, fiddling with something in her saddle bags. I almost raised my voice to ask but thought better of it. Pinkie was Pinkie; even a slow learner like me gets that eventually. My newfound wisdom was proved only a few minutes later.

“Hey! Mr. Dresden!” I sighed and turned around. I was only halfway there when a high speed something hit me in the face. I fell on my ass, letting go my staff. It didn’t hurt, but it had caught me by surprise. Whatever it was had popped me right in the mouth; I licked my lips and tasted… frosting?

“Oops. Looks like I had the dial a little high, but it works!” Everyone looked at her in startled silence. She stood on her hind legs, holding something that looked disturbingly similar to a bazooka. It rested on her shoulder and had a barrel big enough to put my fist in it. As I watched, Pinkie cocked the gun (?) and a swirl of pink icing filled the barrel.

“Behold the Cupcake Launcher!” The crazy little pony cried as she pulled the trigger and splattered Fluttershy’s face with a pink frosted cupcake.

“Pinkie! What in tarnation do you think yer doin’?” Applejack yelled at her giggling friend.

Pinkie’s eyes narrowed and she smiled. “So, you resist as well? Eat cupcake!” She launched another pastry hitting the cowpony in the mouth with pinpoint accuracy. The rest of her friends gasped and their open mouths quickly became easy targets for her confectionary based weaponry.

There was a startled second, where everyone, but Pinkie had a face full of frosting. I broke the silence with a laugh so loud I scared the birds around us into flight. Pinkie laughed with me uncontrollably. After the rest of the group scraped the cupcakes off their faces, they joined in and the woods echoed with the sound of our hilarity. A minute or so later sanity reasserted itself and I quickly shushed everyone. I Listened, a skill derived more from mental discipline than mystical, but nothing in the forest was stirring. The crystal held its direction steady. It had grown brighter but was nowhere near its full glow. With any luck Trixie wasn’t close enough to hear us.

I turned back in time to see Pinkie giving a mock glare and eating a cupcake out of the barrel of her gun. I nearly laughed again, but held it down. “So, that’s the mysterious something you were building?”

“Yep!” Pinkie chirped happily. “You said to bring something useful in a fight and can’t think of anything more useful than cupcakes, but I can’t just carry a plate of them around to everypony in the middle of an epic battle with all those ninjas so I whipped up this baby to let me put cupcakes anywhere within 100 yards!” She was literally bouncing with happiness, and everyone got another chuckle.

“That’s mighty thoughtful of you” Applejack managed through her laughter. “I’d prefer some warning afore you send another cupcake my way, but that's an awful funny notion, Pinkie. I guess there’s a reason you’re the Element of Laughter.”

I blinked, that was new. “The what of what?” The rest of the ponies stopped and looked at me.

Twilight face palmed (hooved?). “You girls had an hour-long chat with him and you didn’t think to mention the Elements of Harmony?”

“Well, to be fair, Twilight, we spent most of the time discussing our ancient history and the history and current state of his world. The Elements just never came up.”

Twilight sighed and nodded towards me. “Ok, well. The six of us are the Bearers of the most powerful magic in all of Equestria, The Elements of Harmony. Each of us represents one of Harmony’s qualities. Pinkie Pie is Laughter, Fluttershy, Kindness, Applejack, Honesty, Rainbow Dash, Loyalty, Rarity, Generosity, and I’m Magic, the keystone.”

I was silent for a moment.


“What?” Twilight looked confused.

“No. I don’t accept this.” I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms. “A wizard from another dimension happens to open a gateway into a magical land filled with talking ponies, and the first one he meets just happens to be the holder of an ancient and sacred power. Then those two and her friends, who also bear these powers, must rescue somebody she cares about from a jealous rival? Are you kidding me? If Kirby did that in Arcanos, I’d walk out! That’s the plot of a crappy fantasy novel!”

“Actually it's a-” Pinkie began, but Twilight cut her off.

“I’ll admit it sounds… unlikely… but that doesn’t change the truth. This is all really happening.”

I rubbed my face. “I know, I know. I just couldn’t let it go any farther without saying something. Anyway, moving on…” I only got a couple of steps before Twilight spoke again.

“What, you’re just going to ignore it? The Elements are the foundation on which all of Equestria is built.”

“Yes,” I deadpanned. “I’m very good at ignoring things. Watch in awe as I ignore the fact that Pinkie’s cupcake launcher is way too big to fit in her saddlebags, for instance.” All of them turned in time to see Pinkie stuff the giant pastry bazooka into one of the small bags. They all continued to stare, but she just shrugged and giggled.

I checked the crystal again and started walking. “Ok. That was fun,” I said over my shoulder. “But we need to keep quiet from now on. Remember, surprise is key.” All of the ponies nodded with much more enthusiasm than they’d had just a few minutes ago. We continued to make our walk through the forest, but now it didn’t seem nearly so frightening. The wind was more lonely than scary and the atmosphere wasn’t half so oppressive. An occasional giggle disrupted the silence, but otherwise the only noise was our footsteps.

A while later we came upon a large clearing; there was some movements in shadows at the opposite end. I had Twilight and Rarity douse their lights and I let mine fade. It took a moment for our eyes to adjust, but a minute later I could make out a pair of … creatures.

“What are those?” I whispered, not expecting a reply.

“They’re um… manticores. It looks like a newly mated pair.” Fluttershy said. I turned to look at her and she developed a sudden interest in her hooves. “I mean, see how the male barely has a mane yet? They’re probably trying to establish a pride in this part of the forest.”

I put the crystal back in my pocket and tightened my grip on my staff. “So, what are the odds we look like dinner to them?”

"N-n-no,” Fluttershy stammered. “They might attack one or two ponies, but there’s too many of us. Besides, you’re something they’ve never seen before, so they’ll be cautious. As long as we don’t run they won’t follow us.” I glanced at her in surprise. This was the little pegasus who was shaking with fright a few miles ago? There was more to Fluttershy than there appeared.

“Okay,” I said. “But watch them and tell me if they develop an interest in us.” I kept an eye on them just in case, but I turned my attention elsewhere. “So, Ms. Dash, you still want to do some recon?”

“You bet! Just let me stretch.” Her wings flared and began a series of exercises. “I’ve been holding ‘em still so long, I’m liable to get a cramp if I don’t warm up first.” We started to plan a search pattern, but it was cut short from an unexpected source.

There was a sudden shattering sound that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once, echoing through the forest. It came with a small burst of magical dissonance, the mental equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, and Fluttershy dropped soundlessly to the ground.

“Fluttershy!” Twilight cried rushing to her friend’s side. Fluttershy’s chest pumped like a bellows and her face was contorted in pain. She whimpered, obviously in agony, but I couldn’t see any wounds or other causes.

“What's wrong, Flutter-” Pinkie’s concern was cut off by another sound, identical to the first. She stopped mid-bounce with a sharp cry of pain and fell to the ground. I spun around, scanning for threats, but there was nothing. Only that sound and the barest trace of magic. It wasn’t like any kind of Thaumaturgy I’d ever seen before. The closest thing I could think of was, disturbingly enough, Victor Sells’ heart-exploding spell. But something that powerful should have had an almost physical presence. Whatever was hurting my new friends seemed deeper, their pain almost... incidental.

“Come out here and fight me hoof-to-hoof, you coward!” Rainbow screamed. “Come on!”

The soft shattering rang through the woods and Applejack was next. She gritted her teeth and sweat beaded on her brow. She seemed to resist for a moment, but just like the other two, she collapsed with a stifled groan. We were already three ponies down, and I had the feeling it wasn’t done yet.

Rainbow was trying to help Fluttershy stand when it was her turn. She cried out and her wings spasmed as she fell. Her muscles clenched and twitched as she tried to move, but couldn’t, her mind unable to coordinate her body through the pain.

Less than a second later, Rarity fell with a whimper, curling herself in the fetal position. There was only Twilight and I. The rest of the ponies were still on the ground, paralyzed in agony. Her face had grown pale as friend after friend succumbed, but now I could see a fury growing in her eyes. Her horn began to glow, and I felt her defenses settle into place.

“Twilight,” I began. “What’s going-”

But I was interrupted. The sound came again, but this time it was different. Instead of shattering, it was a fierce impact like a hammer against bedrock. Twilight shook as though she’d been hit but steadied herself. Another impact, and she reacted like she’d been kicked in the stomach. She fell to her knees, and I hurried to her side. But before I could reach her the sound of shattering glass filled the clearing and she slumped over with only a soft sigh.

As I watched her fall, something inside me screamed in raw anger. I didn’t know what was wrong. I didn’t know how to fix it. I’d stood by helplessly as six innocent ponies had been hurt. I let my staff go dim, but not in time to stop me from seeing the tears on Twilight’s face, a mix of rage and pain.

A roar brought me back to the real world and I turned in time to see one of the manticores charging us. Apparently, six supine ponies were too tempting a prey to ignore. I clenched my staff so hard my knuckles turned white and the wood beneath them creaked in protest. My fury focused on the charging beast like a lens as I prepared my spell. I couldn’t use fire; it was too flashy and too easy to lose control over. I wouldn’t save my new friends from the monster, only to kill them in a forest fire. Force it was, then. That was fine with me.

My hands slid to the bottom of my staff and I waited until the monster was close enough that I could count its teeth. I swung the focus like a baseball bat, releasing the power I’d built with a shout.

“Forzare!” I bellowed. The head of the impromptu club buried itself in the manticore’s shoulder with the force of a car going 30. And I’m talking about a big car – a couple tons of good Detroit steel, not one of those tiny imports. With a pained grunt the creature went flying across the clearing and slammed into a tree. Its mate roared in anger, and I turn to face it. The male was a little bigger and he hauled ass, his claws carving long furrows in the ground as he charged. I felt myself grin, wide and murderous. I was going to try something a little tricky. A whisper of power and some applied physics slammed into the beast from below, turning its forward momentum into uncontrolled flight. It went sailing over all six of the ponies, flipping as it did so. I ran to meet it, hefting my staff into an overhand position. As the manticore came down on its back I swung down like I was using a pick-axe. The tip of the staff glowed like a meteor as I pumped more and more energy into it.

“Forzare!” I screamed again, my voice a primal reflection of its normal tone. The manticore brought up both arms to shield itself from the blow, but they were driven to its chest by my unstoppable strike, and I heard bones creak and crack under the strain. I spun my staff not giving it time to recover and shot a blunted lance of force into its center of mass. It skidded across the ground, tearing its bat-like wings to shreds and leaving a few divots in the soft terrain. Its mate helped it slowly to its feet and I could read murder in its eyes. Not tonight. It would leave for now, but it had our scents. It would be back. It may have been only dimly intelligent, but it understood revenge.

I growled. This thing would never get the chance. I prepared another strike; they might be tough but it would never survive this. I was about to unleash all hell on the beast, when a tiny voice stopped me. “P-please, don’t.”

I glanced over my shoulder. Fluttershy was struggling to stand, and watched us, tears brimming in her eyes. I was split, my mind at war with itself.

I don’t want her to see this. The manticore would die a bloody mess; she doesn’t need that, not gentle Fluttershy.

But, my anger said. You want her to live. That manticore will kill and eat her without a shred of remorse. She lives so close to the forest and you won’t always be there for her. Better that she lives to hate you than dies thinking the best.

I was so tired of seeing people hurt, of failing to save them. I made my decision. All of it, my rage, frustration, sadness and compassion gathered itself, and I forced it into my voice as I roared. There are no words that can accurately capture the primal wave of thunder that tore itself from my throat. Branches whipped through the air, the grass bowed away from me and both manticores flattened their ears, bracing themselves against the sound. The whole forest resonated with my voice and the echoes carried far into the distance. I stopped, and stared into the eyes of the beast. It didn’t understand me, but I spoke anyway in a voice hardly more sane than the scream had been.

“These ponies are under my protection and so help me God if you ever so much as touch them, I will kill you and your mate and eat your hearts.” My eyes narrowed until they were barely slits and I brought my staff to life. The runes inscribed blazing to life more bright and terrible than the fires of Hell itself. “Now, go!” The manticores fled from the sudden display of light, slowly and painfully, but as quick as they could. I sent a small lance of force after them to reinforce the lesson and was rewarded with a pained yelp that quickly died down to whimpers.

I let out a long breath. I should have killed them, and Fluttershy’s innocence be damned. I turned to see the rest of the ponies recovering. Most of them were staring at me in that uncomfortable mix of awe and fear. Except for Twilight, who gave me a shallow nod and a smile of… gratitude? I could get used to that. I sighed; all of the ponies seemed fine, although Rarity complained of a splitting headache, and I wondered if I’d overreacted. I busied myself with my crystal. I was so intent on it, that I didn’t even notice Fluttershy at first.

“How dare you.”

“Huh?” I said intelligently

“How dare you!” She screamed flapping her wings and putting her face right into mine. “I know those manticores were dangerous, but you didn’t have to hurt them, you big bully! If you’d roared at them and raised your light at the beginning, they’d have left without a fight! But now? The female had at least four broken ribs, from the way she breathed, and I could tell you cracked her upper leg. But she was lucky compared to the male! Did you even notice how much pain he was in before you shot that last spell at him? Both of his front legs were cracked, if not outright broken, and you crushed his sternum! What do you have to say for yourself?!”

This was the pony who hardly dared to speak before? I was stunned by the transformation and at first I could only agree with Twilight’s decision to bring her. As she went on though, my anger started to return. I had saved their lives, stood up to two predators twice the size of any of them and this was the thanks I got? My anger got the better of me, and I met her eyes. Fine. She wanted to lecture me over a few broken bones? Why not let her see real violence, real pain?

Somewhere in the background, I could vaguely hear Twilight panic, “Fluttershy, no!”

Her eyes were the same color as glacial ice, and they had about as much warmth. Almost instantly a new sensation swept over me. I’d done battle in the landscape of my own mind before, but this was different. Fluttershy’s will simply existed in my mind like a fact of nature as basic and ubiquitous as gravity. I was consumed with overwhelming fear and a desire to placate the angry pony before me. I tried to look away, to break out of whatever this was, but I couldn’t. I felt the Soulgaze beginning and her face lost its anger, turning to shock what was happening. I tried again to pull away, but her will still held me.

Before I could accidentally traumatize another pony, though, a violet glow shoved her to the side, breaking the eye contact. I staggered as the force of Fluttershy's gaze left me. The glow around Twilight's horn had faded by the time my head cleared, and I noticed that the rest of the ponies were staring at me.


“Nothin’,” Applejack said with a start. “It’s just that I ain’t never seen Fluttershy use the stare on anypony before.”

“Most certainly,” Rarity added. “You’re lucky Twilight saved you from the full force of her glare. Sweetie Belle says she even stared down a cockatrice with it.”

“Yeah, lucky.” I groaned trying to stop the post-adrenaline jitters. “That’s me all right.”

Twilight was busy counseling Fluttershy. I turned back to my crystal for another try and noticed with no small amount of displeasure that, its glow was flickering. One magic circle, some quasi-Latin and a couple minutes had it back to its fully functional self. There had been some slight resistance this time, but it still pointed in the right direction. He didn’t seem to have moved.

The time alone had let me calm down. Maybe I’d gotten a little too angry there, but I couldn’t help it. Violence to women, children, and apparently ponies, hit every last one of my murderous rage buttons. I glanced at the rest of the group; hopefully seeing me cut loose hadn’t freaked them out too much. One pony, though, was upset for a different reason.

Fluttershy approached me again, but this time Twilight practically had to push her there. I gave her a tired smile. She smiled shyly in response but it quickly turned into a frown as she hid behind her bangs. She muttered something, but it was too quiet and rushed for me to catch a word of it.

“Come again?” I frowned, closed my eyes and Listened.

She spoke again, this time using an even smaller voice, but I still caught it. “You’re sorry for shouting at me and using the stare? And you hope we can still be friends, and I won’t stop leading you to Spike?” She seemed surprised that I’d gotten it, but she nodded enthusiastically. Twilight’s jaw dropped. I smiled again. “I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have met your eyes -- I was more than a little angry and not thinking clearly. Don’t worry though, I wouldn’t abandon you ponies. We’re friends, aren’t we?”

Her smile was a thing of beauty. I felt my heart melt faster than ice in a blast furnace. The last of my anger just faded away like morning mist under the bright sun; it was almost enough to let me ignore the small stab of guilt at what I had almost put her through. Forget kittens -- ponies were the new cute, and I, for one, welcome our adorable overlords.

Twilight just shook her head. “How in Equestria did you hear her? I couldn’t make out a single word.”

I smirked. “A wizard has his ways.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Meaning you’re not going to tell me.”

I laughed. “You’ve already learned plenty of my secrets, padawan. Save some for later.” I chuckled a couple more times at her expression, but then became thoughtful. “Any idea what that shattering sound and magic was?”

“Yes.” Every one of the six said at once. I blinked. Well, that was interesting.

Twilight cleared her throat and with a nod from the others spoke. “We don’t know how, but each of us felt the same thing. The Elements of Harmony were destroyed by some malicious force. I couldn’t identify it, but it felt familiar.”

“Wait,” I held up a hand. “I thought you were the Elements. How could they be destroyed?”

She shook her head. “We’re not the Elements themselves, but we are connected to them. They’re a part of us just as we’re a part of them. The Elements have physical manifestations that we need to wield to access their powers.” I opened my mouth to interrupt, but she had anticipated my question. “They appear as five necklaces and a tiara; each set with a stone that matches our cutie marks.” She said, twisting to show me the six pointed star on her flank. So, that’s what they call the tattoos on their asses. I didn’t want to ask, but I did think that was kinda weird.

Worry crossed her face. “But the Elements are supposed to be safe in Canterlot. What could have happened there?”

I shook my head. “Trixie did it. Or whoever’s behind Spike’s kidnapping.” She blinked at me in surprise, and I continued. “That happening right now is way too much of coincidence. Trixie had some plan for revenge. Destroying your sources of power seems like a good place to start.” I realized what I’d said, and looked at her in concern. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Oh, don’t worry. The Elements can’t be permanently destroyed, not by any force I know of, anyway. Besides, I can already feel my Element healing itself. We’ll pull through.” I felt my respect for her go up a notch. Tough girl.

“Okay,” I spoke loudly. “Time to march again. Sorry, Rainbow, but we’ve got no time to wait for a recon mission. We’re going quiet from here on out, and the only light we’ll use is mine.” I lit the runes in my staff with a flicker of power and soft orange light washed over us once again.

“Everyone ready?” They all nodded. “Good.”

We set off, and it was two long hours later that we finally found it. I killed the light and crouched in the shadows, studying what lay before us. The forest stopped at the edge of a crumbling cliff, vines trailing down it into the darkness. I could just barely see the other side of the enormous, artificial canyon. There had once been a quarry or a mine or something here, but the forest had begun to reclaim it long ago. The walls were covered in creepers, and small plants sprung from every possible crack. Interesting as the ruins were, they were nothing compared to the building that stood in the center.

It was an honest to God castle, ripped straight from a children’s story, or maybe Disney World. It had turrets, battlements, arrow slits, and a moat complete with a drawbridge and portcullis at the outer gate. The old quarry dwarfed it, but if the ground was as far away as I thought, it was huge, more than a hundred feet tall and far wider than that. The crystal pointed dead at it without the slightest deviation. It looked more like a little girl’s wish come true than the shadowy lair of an evil magician. But pretty or not, it still looked strong and secure. Entrance wouldn’t be easy, and I had no idea how to proceed. I’ve done at lot of interesting things, but assaulting a literal fortress wasn’t one of them.

I reviewed my memory for anything that might help, but only one thing came to mind, and we didn't have a holocaust cloak. Well, no use putting it off. Let’s have fun storming the castle.

I gestured for the others to follow me. We’d barely moved when a shadow rose before us. A shadow literally rose from the ground, taking three-dimensional shape. I glared at it and prepared my magic, but I was pretty sure it was just a sending. It was difficult to tell, given it was made of pure darkness, but I thought it smiled as it spoke.

“Welcome!” It cried with all the flair and show of a carnival barker. A few small fireworks went off behind it as it gestured to the castle resting below. Before anyone could say something, it spoke again, its voice becoming far more silky and threatening. “A warm welcome indeed, Twilight Sparkle and friends. Behold Castle Silverstar, home of the greatest unicorn in all of Equestria, The Dark and All-powerful Trixie.”