Chapter 36 - Breathe
Trixie would never have believed that rocks could sulk unless they were crafted into a statue portraying such emotion. And yet, in a feat defying all previously logical thought regarding inanimate pebbles and stones, Shale the golem sat across from her and sulked like a foal who just had their favorite treat yanked from their hooves. And if Shale did not pout, then she complained in a near-endless tirade. It was odd to think that Shale acted like a spoiled foal thanks to a lack of combat against constant enemies.
“Accursed striped pony-thing,” Shale muttered. “I thought she was smart, and smart ponies do smart things to overcome such irrelevant discrepancies as ‘being made of stone’. I may not have a digestive tract, but I do have feelings. And right now I am feeling left out and very, very bored.”
One thing that gave Trixie the shakes was the prospect of a bored Shale deciding to go on a rampage simply for kicks. When Sparkle and friends returned from the cloud temple, they were very likely to return to a leveled Everfree Forest if Shale continued to be in the mood it was in. She had to act quick.
“Shale,” Trixie said in an attempt to give Shale something else to think about. “What are you going to do after we defeat the Blight?”
That question seemed to give Shale pause. She looked at Trixie for a moment with her rocky mouth grinding in thought. Her hooves scraped against the ground. Trixie raised an eyebrow as Shale mulled her question over. Not since Cairidan’s death had Shale been so silent. Such calm proved refreshing, yet it also unnerved Trixie. When Shale became silent and focused, things often became paste under her hooves.
“An interesting question,” she said at last. “I suppose I have not really thought of it much. Mostly been concerned with staying with magical Twilight and stomping any ponyspawn I could find. But now that you bring it up…”
Shale became quiet again for another moment, then looked up at the temple before speaking. “I am free, boastful Trixie. With my freedom I decided to join your group in glorious combat. But what happens when the battles end? What is my purpose? What is my goal? I could go down into the Dark Tunnels and crush ponyspawn there. Yet…”
“You, boastful Trixie.” Trixie straightened up in surprise as Shale addressed her. “What do you plan to do after the Blight is defeated thanks to my superior fighting prowess?”
“I asked you first, you pile of rubble,” Trixie scoffed.
“I’m bigger than you.”
Trixie could only concede to that point. She took a breath, then answered Shale. “I’ve been thinking about Dinky Doo lately, after the close calls we had since we stopped travelling with her and Ditzy.”
“Ah yes, the grey filly who helped wake me up.” Shale turned her gaze to the east, an expression of fond recollection vaguely hinted in her voice.
Trixie continued. “She was my apprentice for a good five days, but when she and her mother left for Amarethine, I’ve thought about how those five days really… opened my eyes. I was supposed to be a teacher when I finally achieved the rank of enchanter in the tower, but all I really did was yell at the foals I taught.”
“I suppose I want to go back to the Tower once we win. Start over. Give the younger generation the knowledge and wisdom of the Great and Powerful Trixie!” The thought of having an apprentice again warmed Trixie. She missed the time she had spent with Dinky, even if it was for a little while. When she returned to the Tower, she promised herself she would teach magic the correct way to the young ones.
“Interesting,” Shale said. “I suppose that’s fair enough for an answer. I’ll consider travelling for a bit. See the sights, meet things that deserve a good pounding and such. Eventually I will need a home to call my own afterwards though. I’ve also considered… other options...”
Trixie blinked. Did she hear hesitation Shale’s voice? Her eyebrows raised at this development. “You’ve considered…?”
“Becoming a donkey again! There, I said it.” Shale stood up to her imposing height and began to pace frantically. “I don’t know why! After learning who I was, regaining my memories, it just made sense. Something within me saying I should become a donkey again. I don’t know why I want to become a fleshy meatbag again. It just seems… like the end of a journey into a new one. I have no idea if it is even possible, though. Powerful magic through lyrium crafting went into making donkeys golems.”
Trixie stroked her chin for a moment and took her time to give an answer. She did her best at keeping her emotions hidden. The thought of Shale going off into the world all alone… scared her. They travelled together for so long that she grew accustomed to the golem’s face, voice, and even her jibes. She felt a comfort in the rumble of the ground whenever Shale walked. The idea of Shale leaving…
She opened her mouth to speak but fell silent. Trixie had an idea, but it was silly and Shale would never agree. Perhaps she would even become offended by such. How could somepony as Great and Powerful like her make such an offer to Shale?
Take a lesson of friendship from Sparkle’s book, she told herself, just ask.
“Shale, if you feel so inclined… you could always stay at the Tower. There are lots of books and such from as far as the Imperium. I’m sure we could find out how to restore your donkey body.”
“And why would you offer me a place in that stuffy old Tower?” Trixie winced at Shale’s words, even though she expected them. For a golem made of blunt stones, she had an incredibly sharp tongue.
Trixie took a deep breath. “Because you’re my friend.”
Shale looked down on Trixie for a moment before nodding. “So we are, Great and Powerful Trixie. So we are.”
A loud explosion shook the ground around them, and both turned their eyes towards the sky. Trixie’s mouth went wide in awe as she saw a wave of prismatic colours soar through the sky. She had never seen such a display like this before, yet as she watched, her lips curled into a smile. Twilight and her friends must have faced opposition in the temple, and that was as much a sign of victory as anything. Deep down, she knew this to be true.
“By the Stone…” Shale said in wonder. Trixie could only agree.
Notus shrouded his body with his massive wings and the summer storms eased into a gentle breeze as the Matron took his place. The pegasus of the clouds looked on at the mourning ponies, who stood around Rainbow and the fallen Pinkie. Rainbow turned to the Matron who approached them, and a hoof crafted from the sky wiped away Rainbow’s tears. Rainbow did not speak, choosing to stay still and give Pinkie’s mane tender strokes. Boreas laid defeated on the floor and groaned as pain wracked his body.
Where at first she felt rage for his actions, Twilight could now only look at Boreas of the Winds with disdain. Now a shell of his proud self in the Everfree, his gazed was filled not with the hatred for the Matron and her hippogryphs, but of despair over his actions. For a moment Twilight thought she could see regret in those eyes that held such hate only a moment before.
“Look upon your work, Boreas, and tell me... tell us all you still do this for the good of the Dalish. For the good of pegasi everywhere.” The Matron stood up and walked towards Boreas, her voice calm yet undercut with frustration. “Did this pony do anything wrong to you? Did she deserve your fury? Does your heart burn only to hate still?”
Boreas turned one good eye upward towards the Matron. “I am too old,” he replied. “Too old to change my ways. I still remember the faces of my family as they lay still in my hooves. How the clans fought over the cursed forest of the Everfree, how the earth ponies shoved us aside and did not help us when we starved at the gates of their castles. I hated them all. I wanted them to suffer as I did.”
“Boreas, the Dalish you cursed as hippogryph monsters are long passed from this world. The ones under my care now are true hippogryphs, a people in their own right. Your hatred deceived you. You were scared and angered, and those formed into fury. Your hatred has brought untold suffering. I am to blame as well. When the Thunder Roc ruled my personalities, I held untold hatred for you, my creator. I was made for one purpose; to keep the hippogryphs shackled by their savagery, and I hated you for this.”
The Matron lowered her hoof towards Boreas. “But the hippogryphs learned to overcome their savage nature, and I studied this intently in hopes to become a protector to them. Your curse faded a long time ago, Boreas. Only our shared hatred and desire for suffering remained. They have families of their own now, Boreas. Families they love and cherish just as any other pegasus does. Do you want the cycle to continue? Do you want to be the cause of more orphans and widows? Or shall we, in one final moment between us, go against our set ways and embrace peace?”
Boreas turned away the Matron and sobbed. The truth revealed, Twilight could see Boreas shiver and wrap his wounded wings against his body, not to protect against the cold, but to feel some semblance of warmth in the revelations of his own crimes. “You put me to shame, Matron of the Everfree. I… will end everything. Our war. Our hate. I will make it right.”
As Boreas stood up tall, both leaders looked each other in the eye before he turned to face the party. Rainbow turned her head but did not meet Boreas’ gaze. Instead she held on to Pinkie while the others stood back. Oghren huffed in anger, only to quiet down as Fluttershy placed a gentle hoof on his shoulder. Twilight stood back and allowed both the Matron and Boreas to stand shoulder to shoulder, perhaps for the first time in their long conflict.
“Rainbow Dash,” Boreas began, “I know you will never forgive me for what I have done. I do not expect you to. I just want you to know that your love for your friends has opened my eyes. The legends say the only pegasus to complete the sonic rainboom was Commander Hurricane during the days of the Sky Kingdoms. Through her the Dalish did rally behind her banner to fight against the Imperium of old. As Keeper of the Dalish, it is my duty to know the legends. I thought I’d perform that duty one last time.”
If Rainbow said anything, Twilight could not hear her. Boreas approached the Wardens next and looked to her and Applejack. Twilight raised an eyebrow at Boreas, his false horn dull and lifeless, yet still attached to his head. It had not been dispelled, and there were still the real possibilities that other demons could be summoned or take possession of him.
Boreas spread his wings and craned his neck over to a large pinion and plucked it. Holding the feather in his mouth, he lowered it to Twilight’s hooves. “If you bring this to Silphia, she will know what has happened. She will become the new Keeper, and honour the agreement to lead the Dalish against the Blight. I am sorry I will not be able to make it for the fight.”
Slowly approaching the Matron, Boreas took a deep breath of air as he joined her on the dais. The Matron’s features relaxed, the clouds in her sky-body drifting to a halt. Before she could speak again, Quick Kill approached with sadness in his eyes. He did not speak, but stepped softly towards her as he cried. The Matron stroked his feathers for a moment before she walked away from Quick Kill, turning her full attention to Boreas.
The Matron turned her head towards the clear blue sky, and her voice echoed through the temple. A shining light like that of the sun forming in her chest.
Spirits of the West Wind, remember!
From the east comes the sun, the light of which gives this world life and beauty.
Come to us now, and join us in our song!
Spirits of the South Wind, remember!
Winds of the storm and gale, winds of the summer.
Through you there is destruction, through you life grows strong!
Ease your suffering and join us in our song!
Boreas then followed the Matron’s gaze towards the sky, and from his chest glowed a white light.
Spirits of the East Wind, remember!
“Winds of the fall, the harbingers of slumber.
Through you the forests shift and change,
And the animals prepare for the coming of winter.
Be ready with us and join us in our song!
Boreas hesitated for a moment. Twilight could not help but fixate her gaze on the pair. As they spoke to the winds, it seemed the spirits themselves danced around them, gusts of winds swirling around the two former mortal enemies while the sounds of chimes played music throughout the temple. Twilight felt the winds as they were summoned; the calm and gentle west winds, the harsh and humid south wind, and the warm winds of the east.
As Boreas spoke his final part, Twilight could feel a ripple of dark magic peel away from him. The false horn began to crack and break as Boreas released it into the ether, the shards floating away and dissipating much like Applebloom’s horn. With the horn gone, Boreas aged rapidly before them, his youthful appearance turning to that of an old, emaciated stallion.
His voice became hoarse and weak, and Twilight could see his knees buckled under the strain of living. Boreas lifted his head high, and took the Matron’s hoof in his own.
Spirits of the North Wind, remember!
You are the cold that brings the winter, the shadow of death.
Through you the world sleeps,
Through you we await the time when life can start again.
Bring the final melody, and join us in our song!
The light that glowed in Boreas’ chest faded as the frigid winds of the north howled into the temple. Twilight cast as small barrier around her group as she watched the scene, all the while her mind raced as she watched Boreas open his mouth. A stream of mist flowed from within him, and it drifted higher into the sky until it could no longer be seen.
Boreas fell soon after, his final breath released into the world. The light in the Matron soon flickered, and she turned her head towards the ponies. She bowed low in silent thanks. Wisps of mist floated off her body like steam, and she lifted her head towards the sky.
As her body began to disappear, the hippogryphs came towards their Matron and each approached in reverent silence. Quick Kill was the first and placed one claw on the Matron’s shoulder. He remained silent for a moment as he looked into her face before stepping away. One by one, more hippogryphs approached her and placed their talons on her shoulder in a loving motion. They sat around the Matron, many of them crying, as she continued to dissipate before their eyes.
The fledglings came next. They scrambled towards the Matron while wrapping their tiny talons around her forelegs in a tight embrace. Twilight expected them to cry as foals would at the departure of their parent figure and mentor, but like the rest of the hippogryphs they remained quiet. The Matron held each young hippogyrph for a time before letting them rejoin their parents.
Her body mostly faded now, the Matron looked to Twilight. With a bow of her head, her body disappeared into a stream of air. The stream lingered for a moment before drifting towards Rainbow. She looked at the intelligent wind with a puzzled glance until it worked its way towards Pinkie’s face. With a sudden gust, the stream of air entered Pinkie’s body through her nose and mouth.
The Breath of Life… Twilight bit her lip as she watched the Matron’s final act caused Pinkie’s chest to rise and fall once again. Pinkie’s eyes shot open as she let out a gasp of breath. Her voice strained as she breathed heavily. Pinkie rapidly blinked her eyes and looked around in confusion. Rainbow looked on with disbelief.
“Pinkie!” Rainbow sputtered, “I… but you… Boreas killed you!”
The familiar giggle from Pinkie caused Twilight to bite back a happy sob. “I feel all funny wunny in my chest, but other than that I feel great! Silly Dashie, don’t you know we have a lot of stuff to do still? After the Blight? That’s when we go to Geldwall!”
Twilight leaped on the pair and took them in a great big hug. “Pinkie Pie! You wonderful silly pony!” Twilight laughed through her tears despite herself. “I thought you were gone forever!”
Applejack joined in. “Celestia as my witness, Ah’ll never let ya do anything like that again! Don’t ya ever, ever worry me like that, missy!”
“Pinks is alive!” Oghren shouted, “By the Stone, I’m glad that windbag didn’t get you good as gone!”
Rarity bawled her eyes out as she joined the group hug. “Darling, when we get to civilization, the first thing I’m doing is celebrating how happy I am that you are still with us!”
“P-Pinkie… I was so scared and sad and I c-couldn’t stop crying.” Fluttershy’s words remained true now, as her tears flowed without rest as the group completed their embrace.
“Aw… you girls. This makes me the happiest, smiliest, super-fantastic pony in all of Equestria! No! This world!” Pinkie’s limbs seemed to stretch as she hugged all her friends, her smile never fading. Twilight looked on at her grin and was thankful to Celestia that she could still see it and find comfort in it. A world without Pinkie’s smile would be a grim one indeed.
Once their hug was finished, Pinkie looked around at the assembled ponies and hippogryphs. “Where did Boreas and the sky lady go?” she asked. Quick Kill walked up to the party before clearing his throat.
“They… they are gone.” His eyes stayed on the spot where the Matron stood. “They healed you and gave both the hippogryphs and the Dalish a chance at peace.”
Pinkie looked up at the hole in the ceiling of the temple before bounding away from her friends and onto the central chamber. “Thank you!” Pinkie shouted, waving to the sky and the clouds above. “Thank you for everything! Even if you tried to kill me! That’s OK! We’ll make both the pegasi and the hippogryphs happy! I Pinkie-promise!”
Pinkie turned around and her eyes burned with fierce determination. She rushed over to Twilight until their noses mashed together. “You heard me! What are we waiting for?!” she exclaimed. “We need to get to the Dalish camp pronto! So come on, Twilight! Get us a cloud and help us go zoom!”
Twilight lead the way through the forest after they landed, then picked up Trixie and Shale, both of whom were full of questions. The story of the battle was recounted for the pair, though this left Shale feeling even more bitter from missing out on another fight. Pinkie, however, left the two speechless.
“I died!” she chimed, completely nonplussed about her words. Shale shook her head.
“Wonderful. Not even death can hold the energetic Pinkie Pie down. Truly the ponyspawn and all the world should know terror.”
When the hippogryphs landed behind them lead by Quick Kill, Shale readied herself for a fight. Fluttershy flew over to the golem and laid a hoof on her shoulder while offering a soft smile. “It’s OK,” she said in an attempt to calm the golem. “They are nice now. We can have peace. If the Dalish want to. I hope so.”
That was the real question to which Twilight feared the answer. The hippogryphs knew what had happened in the temple between Boreas and the Matron. The Dalish did not, and were likely beside themselves with worry over their vanished Keeper. With Boreas dead, they would see the approaching hippogryphs as a threat and unleash their warriors and basilisks upon them. Twilight had come too far for their chance of peace to be ruined now. She only hoped that Silphia would be around to speak rather than her brash sister.
Unfortunately, that would not be the case. As they approached the Dalish camp, shouts of alarm echoed through the trees. Archers took positions in the tree tops and aimed their arrows towards the party. Several beast tamers held back their basilisks, if only barely. The massive reptiles hissed and revealed their deadly, poisonous fangs.
Zharia flew over to the front of the Dalish defensive line, Silphia being guided behind her. Twilight kept her gaze level on the chief warrior of the clan, even as she seethed at the sight of the hippogryphs.
“What has happened to Boreas?! Where is our Keeper? Why are you walking side-by-side with our enemy?” Zharia barked all her questions through her sword bit, with the blade being waved dangerously close to Twilight’s nose. Twilight did not flinch. She lifted the feather Boreas gave her and set it on the forest floor in front of Zharia. The proud warrior fell to the ground, almost cradling the feather as she looked up to Twilight. She sobbed at the sight of one of Boreas’ primaries, her eyes brimming with tears.
“Boreas and the leader of the hippogryphs died for peace,” Twilight explained. “I ask that you try as well. The hippogryphs you despise so much have come for that same purpose.”
Silphia walked up to Zharia and placed a comforting hoof on her sister’s shoulder. “I felt it. I saw it.” She sucked in a breath of air, trying to contain her own grief as her sister wept bitter tears. “The legendary rainboom. Not seen since the days of the Skylords. The stories say Commander Hurricane used the rainboom as a final act of defiance against the Imperium, a symbol for all pegasi to rally behind. What happened? What was Boreas’ final act to allow this chance for peace?”
Before Twilight could explain, Rainbow jumped in front of her. “Boreas did the rainboom!” Rainbow blurted, causing Twilight’s eyebrow to rise in surprise. Applejack was about to object, only to be silenced by Pinkie’s hoof in her mouth. What was Rainbow up to? She did something out of legend, a fact that she would have lorded over her friends for weeks to come. So why was she giving the glory to Boreas?
“When we arrived in the cloud temple, we met the leader of the hippogryphs,” Dash said. “We also saw that they have families of their own and that their leader wanted peace as well. They were fighting for the same reasons the Dalish were; to protect themselves and their loved ones. When Boreas saw this, he changed his mind. All those years of hating the hippogryphs when the truth was that both sides were similar to each other. That’s when demons attacked! We were awesome. I was even more awesome, naturally, but Boreas was the most awesome of all.”
Rainbow explained the rainboom in great detail from the perspective of Boreas. Zharia drank up the words like a child told a fairy tale, while Silphia pursed her lips and turned her milky gaze to Twilight. She couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable as those grey eyes peered in her direction. Somehow, the fact that Silphia looked directly at her made Twilight doubt whether she was truly blind or had some other sense.
Still, Twilight kept quiet as Rainbow recounted the sacrifice made by Boreas and the Matron to end the conflict and defeat the demons. Zharia looked to Rainbow, then to Quick Kill, then to her sister. She sighed, her face solemn as she held the pinion from Boreas close.
“You are the Keeper now, sister,” Zharia said. “I and the rest of the clan will follow your will.”
Silphia stood silent for a moment, her vacant eyes moving from pony to pony before she faced Quick Kill. She slowly approached the hippogryph, her features conflicted, yet maintaining some resemblance of calm. Twilight could not imagine the bitter battle that raged within Silphia and the rest of the pegasi; to be fighting a long known enemy one day and then having peace talks the next.
Silphia chose not to say a word at first, but extended her hoof towards the face of Quick Kill. Neither made the slightest twitch when the new Keeper brushed her hoof across Quick Kill’s scarred and damaged beak. Twilight’s heart skipped a beat at the act.
“The wounds between our peoples are great,” said Silphia. “The dead are both recent and ancient. The rage still rings in our hearts. To many, they will call for vengeance. But with the ponyspawn threat, perhaps that is not what is best for our two peoples.”
“The road to friendship is a long one, and sometimes it starts a little bumpy,” Twilight said, walking towards Silphia and Quick Kill with a smile. “Sometimes it doesn’t even look like friendship is possible.”
“Perhaps friendship is a lofty goal now,” Quick kill added. “But if we have learned anything from the Warden, it is that we can start somewhere. Here is as good enough a place as any.” To accentuate his point and much to Twilight’s delight, Quick Kill extended his talons towards Silphia, similar to that of a hoofshake.
The party leaned in close to watch the official declaration of peace. Silphia bit her lip, took in a deep breath of air, and fumbled to place her hoof in the talons of Quick Kill. They shook once before leaving everyone at this meeting to breathe a sigh of relief.
There were no other cheers or celebrations besides the constant shouting of happiness from Pinkie at the hoofshake. The Dalish were still wary of the gesture of peace, but they lowered their weapons and began to approach the hippogryphs on their own. The hippogryphs stepped forward to meet the Dalish in their camp, and in what Twilight could only assume was the first time in both their collective histories, the two sides were actually having a dialogue.
“Warden Sparkle,” Silphia said, regaining the party’s attention. “With Keeper Boreas… gone, there is still the matter of the treaties between the Dalish and your order. As the new keeper of the Everfree clan, I so swear that our finest warriors, led by my sister Zharia, shall join the Grey Wardens to combat the Blight.”
“The pegasi will not fight alone, Grey Wardens.” Quick Kill puffed out his chest proudly and stood up straight to show off an intimidating figure. “My flock will also join in the battle. If we are to maintain our peace, then we must fight together in the war against the monsters.”
Twilight beamed in utter happiness. They did not just get one group to join their cause, but two. After the trials they had faced in the Everfree forest, things were starting to look up. “Thank you both so much,” she said. “With all of us standing together, I know we can push the ponyspawn back into the Dark Tunnels.”
As Zharia and Quick Kill talked amongst themselves, Applejack pulled Rainbow over for a discrete word. “Why ya tellin’ tall tales, Rainbow?” Applejack questioned. “That moment was all you! That rainboom was all you!”
“You think I want to give it up to that guy after what he did to Pinkie, even if she’s fine now?” Rainbow pointed a hoof towards Zharia and the rest of the mourning Dalish. “You saw how they treated him. Like a hero. An idol. If I had told them that the sonic rainboom was used against him, what would they think? You heard Boreas, the rainboom was a symbol for pegasi to rally towards. If they knew the truth, do you think they would be so forthcoming to agree to peace?”
Applejack shook her head. “Reckon they would think we were with the hippogryphs completely. Gotta say, Rainbow, Ah didn’t expect this outta ya.”
Rainbow smirked. “Don’t get used to it. The Dalish need to know that they can fight with the hippogryphs, but I won’t be letting anypony in our group forget about this day of Dash awesomeness.”
They said their farewells to the Dalish and the hippogryphs, and allowed the two forest factions time to prepare for war and to acquaint with each other. The party had barely left the camp before Twilight burst into a little dance. “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!” Her cheers echoed in the trees and caused birds to fly away from their trees in fright. If Twilight noticed she had made a scene, she didn’t care. Instead, she pulled the treaties in the grip of her magic and showed them to everypony.
“We did it! We really did it! The unicorns, the donkeys, Arl Macintosh and the Bannorn, and now the pegasi with the hippogryphs! The army is complete and not only that, but we also found the Elements of Harmony!”
Twilight’s elation reached new heights as she bounced around the party, much to the others’ bemusement. Pinkie shrugged then joined Twilight in her gleeful bounces, both ponies oblivious to the looks they received from their friends and any nearby pegasus or hippogryph. It was finally over; their long journey had come to an end. The army they had painstakingly raised to fight against the Blight was complete. The Elements were found and they had a chance against the Archdemon.
“This is fun, Warden,” Oghren grunted. “But what about that stripy pony? You know, the one with all the right curves in all the right places. ”
While Oghren snickered like a colt just hitting puberty, Twilight rolled her eyes as she considered Zecora’s words. “She did say we would get an army if we stopped the two sides from killing each other. Maybe she meant the hippogryphs.”
“Well, we got them on our side now. Only one place left to go.” Applejack took a deep breath. Her eyes flashed with anger as she walked. “Loghoof needs to be taken down, and Ah’ll be damned if he has run o’ the kingdom anymore.”
Despite only meeting him once in Ostequus, Twilight only thought of Loghoof as somepony they would have to face eventually. Thankfully, Arl Macintosh was a valuable ally in Trotterim, and was likely the reason why they had not had a run in with the teryn’s forces. Still, the coming days in Trotterim would be the toughest trials yet. There were no ponyspawn, demons, or other monsters there. It was a city like no other, filled with ponies allied with Loghoof and those who would simply be bystanders.
Her enemies would be mortal ponies with their own ambitions and fears. Twilight felt afraid of facing them the most. She reaffirmed her personal vow within herself that she would not spill pony blood. Not again. Never again.
“We will stop Loghoof. We have help on the inside and an army at our backs.” Twilight looked to each of her friends. They were still with her, through thick and thin. They would not be stopped by Loghoof or anypony. Nopony would rest until the Blight was defeated and the ponyspawn were but a distant memory across Equestria.
“Onward to Trotterim!” Twilight called, stepping out of the Everfree and towards the road north.
“Onwards to Trotterim!” Spike cheered, “Let’s kick that Loghoof so hard, his eyes will be spinning for days!”
“Everything came to this then, where we put a stop to Loghoof.” Applejack adjusted her hat then gave Twilight a confident smile. “Ah have a bone to pick with Loghoof. For Duncan and for the Wardens, he has a lot to answer for.”
“I can’t believe it! Trotterim! Ooh, I wonder if this city has the glamour I’ve dreamed! A proper bath would be simply divine!” Rarity squealed in delight at the thought.
“This is my first time in a long time in a big pony city. I’m so nervous.” Fluttershy squeaked as Angel peeked out from under her mane and gave a nod of approval. “See? Even Angel is excited to go.”
“To Trotterim we go forward!” Pinkie giggled. “I have a very important mission there! To find the best place to have our super fantastic ‘We Saved Equestria and Did Not Get Eaten By Ponyspawn’ party!”
“I can’t wait to show off my moves right in Loghoof’s face.” Rainbow flipped around in the air, flaring her wings as if part of a show. “Ain’t nopony ready for this pegasus!”
“The show enters the final act, does it not?” Trixie said with a dramatic flourish. “The Great and Powerful Trixie shall see this adventure to the end!”
“This is the culmination of our journey. Interesting.” Shale stomped one hoof for emphasis as she drew herself to appear bigger. “Glory is on the horizon. We will approach the city, and my very presence will inspire deserving awe and fear.”
“Oohoo, a whole city the size of Orzamule filled with shapely mares and barrels of booze!” Oghren gave a hearty laugh before downing the contents of his canteen. “Drinks on Queen Applejack once we win! And I’m warnin’ you now, I have a bladder of steel and a liver of cast iron!”
Twilight lead the way on the road until eventually the city of Trotterim was in sight, as well as the end of their journey. Her heart filled with confidence, Twilight broke into a gallop. Spike held on to her robes for dear life as her friends followed behind her.
Zharia watched the Grey Wardens and their group depart the forest, leaving her alone with her sister and the hippogryph. With Boreas gone, she felt lost. For as long as she could remember, it was simply her and Silphia with the guiding hoof of their Keeper to keep the Dalish free and strong. The hippogryphs were their eternal enemy. These life facts did not change, but now things were different. The ponyspawn threat made sure of that.
So did the Warden.
The one who called himself Quick Kill stood beside her. It unnerved her, but Zharia kept her demeanour stoic. She did not like something… someone she would have killed without a second thought just yesterday standing so close and so calm with her now.
Silphia laid a comforting hoof on Zharia’s shoulder and encouraged her to relax with her silence. She had to fight with the hippogryphs against the ponyspawn, whether she liked it or not. For the Dalish and their future.
“Get the warriors ready to fly!” She shouted, rallying her warriors and craftspony into action. “Armour! Weapons! Sharpen our arrows, our spears! Prepare us for battle! Kiss your foals, your mates, and prepare to take wing! The Pegasi of the Eastern Dales and the hippogryphs go to war!”
Jorgen Blackmace paced impatiently as he waited for the massive hidden gate leading to the surface world to open. Behind him stood an army two thousand warriors strong, from all the different warrior schools. From his Iron Hooves, the Berserkergang, to even the Silent Sisterhood marched under his orders.
Jorgen puffed up his chest with pride. King Cranky had made him the leader of Orzamule’s armies. “The Champion of the Stone”, an old title from the past battles against the ponyspawn during surface Blights. To him, it was an honour richly deserved.
He licked his lips in anticipation as the first light of the burning sun shone through the much larger passageway leading from Orzamule to the surface. This would be a battle that could make him a noble, or better yet, a paragon! The glories of battle awaited him, and all he had to do was take them.
He turned to look back on his army. All clad in fine donkey steel and wielding expertly crafted weapons, they all returned his hardened gaze with those of equal resolve. They would fight and die at his command. They all sought what he sought: glory on the battlefield, glory for Orzamule, and glory for the Stone.
“Donkeys of Orzamule!” Jorgen shouted, rallying his warriors as his voice reverberated through the massive stone halls. “Look upon the surface world! There are ponies who cannot fight their battles and ponyspawn who scream for death! We shall oblige them by showing the full strength of our might! Come, proud warriors! We march to war!”
Wise Eyes and Hornshield walked through the hollow corridors together as the rest of the unicorns and Templar awaited them at the entrance. To the elder mage, the halls once known as a haven for magic and study of the arcane were now only a grim reminder of Hubred’s corruption and betrayal. Only the sounds of their hoofsteps could be heard against the stone, a noise that disconcerted Wise Eyes. He missed the days of discussion and debate in the Tower.
His thoughts went to Twilight Sparkle and Trixie, two of his finest students in the arcane. He wondered at times if they were still alive battling the ponyspawn and their evil, only to chastise himself. Of course they were still alive. They had to be. They had to win, or all would be lost. Any hopes to bring the Tower back as a place of learning would be paltry if the Blight continued unchecked.
When they arrived at the main floor of the Tower, their assembled “forces” awaited them there. Fifteen unicorn mages stood ready, if nervous. Wise Eyes could not blame them. Many of them never dreamed of leaving the Tower, and those who stood with him now were lucky to have survived Hubred’s onslaught. Fear spread across those unicorns who had survived Hubred’s uprising and now being sent to battle ponyspawn.
The same could be said about the forty or so templars Hornshield had amassed. Many were veterans, though there were a few recruits. Talks with Hornshield indicated reinforcements of another hundred templars from their training castle in the northlands, but if they would be able to make it in time for the battle, Wise Eyes did not know.
Standing shoulder to shoulder, Wise Eyes and Hornshield looked over their assembled ponies. They had to become something completely unexpected. Unicorn and templar had to stand united together. The mistrust between the two sides had to stop now, or the battles ahead would surely be lost.
“My friends,” Wise Eyes said. “We are on the precipice of calamity. The ponyspawn march with reckless abandon on a home many of you have never seen. We ask you to help fight the ponyspawn, to help save ponies that will hate you and fear you for the magic you have held within you since your birth. Save them from the ponyspawn anyways. If we sit by and do nothing, the ponyspawn will destroy Equestria, and nowhere in the world will be safe from them.”
“On this day, unicorns and templars march together to protect this land from our ancient, common foe.” Hornshield stepped up, his strong presence catching attention yet his words working off Wise Eyes’ speech. “We must stand united, not as two sides, but as a single force. One that looks the ponyspawn in the eye with the same courage as we do the demons of the Fade! Unicorns! The outside world fears you! Show them that you are heroes! Templars! The unicorns do not trust you! Show them that you will aid them in the struggle!”
Wise Eyes smiled as Hornshield made his speech. He was always the better speaker. Already he could see the eyes of unicorn and templar alike standing taller as he addressed them all, each pony appearing just a little more confident. This was good. They would need all the confidence they could get.
“Prepare yourselves, for the true harrowing for all Equestria begins now.” Hornshield turned towards the door of the Tower as it slowly opened, allowing the sunlight to spill inward. “The unicorns and templars march together to war.”
Loghoof stood alone on the parapets of the palace while the cool evening winds blew across his face. He felt a change in the air, almost like a whisper in the wind. A telescope sat ready to be used, but Loghoof found himself loath to use it. Looking through to the truth of the matter disconcerted him.
All of his carefully laid plans had fallen apart. Whether through the incompetence of Maim, the haunting of the spirits of Ostequus, or simply the machinations of the wheel of fortune, his strategy to deal with the Blight and the Filesians simply did not work. He had underestimated the tenacity and the resourcefulness of the Grey Wardens that went to light the observatory. A fatal error.
He took a deep breath and looked through the telescope to the west. Torches. Hundreds of torches from the direction of the Frosttop Mountains and the donkey city of Orzamule. Just a short way away near the Unicorn Tower, he could see the magical light of the unicorns as well as dozens of templars. He looked down towards the camps of Arl Macintosh and the majority of the Bannorn. Their forces were just a few hours march from Trotterim. They were far enough away not to cause alarm to the ponies of Trotterim, but close enough to make sure Loghoof always knew he was surrounded.
Traitors, all of them. Loghoof turned away from the telescope, scraping his hoof against the stone floor. They did not know what he had gone through during the Filesian occupation. How much he had lost. Macintosh did not know that if he opened the way to Filais, they would never leave, even to fight the ponyspawn. It was the same lie they pulled decades ago. Years of oppression and murder because a fool king listened to a lie.
Loghoof would not see Equestria fall again. Not to the Filesian occupiers, nor the Blight. He had found his back against the wall many times before. All of his enemies thought him easy prey. He would show them all.
“Let them march to war against my gates,” Loghoof said aloud, if only to bolster his own spirits. “I do not fear you. Any of you. Wardens, Filesians, traitors, ponyspawn! Come... show me what kind of stallion I am through the measure of my enemies. Come and bring me war.”