Rise of the Elements Part II: Return of the Avatars

by Radiant Dawn

Chapter 28: Blooming Shadows

Chapter 28: Blooming Shadows

Perspective change ‒ Darkflight

“For the love of cake, what the hell’s taking so long?” I voiced to no one as I paced in my tent.

By now it had been almost half a day since Night originally started her work on my brother, and while I had been more than ready to just charge in and slay anything in our path, I had changed my tactics after learning the sheer complexity of the spell that had been cast on my brother. I wanted to make sure he was alright before we did anything, even if he couldn’t help us.

By what Night had told me, there was such a thing as “black magic” on this world, though it was more commonly referred to as “forbidden magic” (for obvious prejudice reasons). The spell that had been cast on Drew was a powerful version of an ancient spell, once used to transform Discord from the avatar of chaos into what he is now. It was a deeply corrupting spell that had practically laced its magical tendrils within his entire body.

This posed a problem for two reasons. First of all, if Night were to simply dispel it as she would any other spell, the shock would likely kill him...and would trap his essence in the void between planes, where none have ever returned from. Secondly, forbidden spells as a whole were labeled as they were because of the fact they demanded some sort of sacrifice to be cast, usually in the form of blood or flesh. A little fucked up when you think about it, but then again Voodoo and Santeria on Earth was pretty much the same...and from what I’d heard, even on Earth, there was some crazy shit that happened there. Curses for one, sometimes upon an entire family line.

Meanwhile, while Night was working her anti-forbidden magic magic (ugh, what a mouthful), I was stressed to the limit. At the moment, I just wanted to break something...but I had to keep calm. If not for myself, then for the soldiers that followed me. After all, whether I liked it or not, I was the commander of this offensive...so I had to keep a level head...

At least until I had my claws around Death’s throat.

“Commander?” called Gilda’s voice from behind me.

I turned and relaxed a bit, happy to have a friend near. “Hey Gilda. What’s up?”

The young gryphon saluted me and stood at attention. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”

I rolled my eyes. “You should know by now that I’m not all about military discipline between friends, Gilda. You have permanent permission to speak to me as a friend, except when I give you an order.”

The armored gryphon nodded and relaxed as she made her way over to me. “Okay, cool. So...how are you doing?”

“I’ve been better.” I muttered as I placed my palms on the table in front of me, looking over the terrain map. “My brother almost killed me...again. That’s not to even mention the fact that I’ve got the lives of over a million people in my hands.” I then looked over to the gryphon and sighed. “Gilda, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing...this isn’t me, it’s never been me. I’m not the planner, and I’m definitely not the level-headed one here. What the hell made me think that this was a good idea?”

“We’ve all been pushed into a situation that sucks, Dark.” she replied dryly. “None of us want to do this...we’re doing it because we have to. Unfortunately, you’re the only one other than your brother that has actual experience with wars. Not even the princesses have experienced a real war before this one.”

I rolled my eyes with a sigh. “Twilight has organized everything before now. Why can’t she be the supreme commander?”

“Because not everyone trusts her outside of Equestria.” she replied blandly. “You on the other hand are trusted by your own kind, my people, and even the people of Cervidas. I don’t care how capable she may be, the fact stands that a force this big isn’t going to follow someone they don’t trust.”

I cast a sidelong glance at my beaked friend and asked, “And you trust me to do this correctly? I don’t know what all of you believe, but I’ve never done this before.”

“I trust you. I trust you with my life.” she responded without hesitation.

Her statement caught me a little off-guard. I mean, having someone’s trust was one thing, but Gilda had just confirmed to me that she was ready to place her life in my hands.

I’d never felt more humbled than at that moment.

All of the sudden I was bombarded by my darker thoughts. What if it came to that? What if I would be forced to make a decision that would cause the death of Gilda...or any of my other friends? No...I couldn’t let that happen. I wouldn’t let that happen. I had finally found where I really belonged in life and I wasn’t going to let it slip through my fingers. Gods be damned...I was going to make sure this all ended with my friends and family surviving. Maybe it was a bit selfish to play favorites over who I cared about, but that didn’t mean I was going to throw the people I didn’t know into the battle as a meat shield. No...we needed to plan.

“Gilda,” I began, straightening my posture and cracking my neck, “get Twilight and Celestia. We’ve got to go over our tactics.”

My friend nodded before quickly leaving my tent, a subtle happy gleam in her eye.

Perspective change ‒ Pinkie Pie

I had a little spring in my step as I walked next to Dashie as we made our way through the camp. I mean, I couldn’t help it. Frostie was back, and while he was still under that spell-thing that made him do those mean things, I knew that Night could handle it. She told all of us that it wasn’t his fault, and it was likely he didn’t even know what he was doing. I was sad that it had happened this way, but Rainbow Dash told me that Death wasn’t going to play fair. He was cornered, and so he was going to “fight dirty” to win.

It just meant we had to be smarter than him.

I knew it was going to be okay though, because we had Twilight and Celestia working really really hard to come up with a good plan, and probably like a million backup plans. I didn’t worry about it though. My job, as Dashie had put it, was to chop up the monsters and keep my friends safe.

Easy-peasy (I wonder who came up with that...I never liked peas).

“So how are you coping, Pinks?” my friend asked from beside me.

Maybe in the past, I might have just smiled and made a joke about it to make her laugh...but Frost told me I needed to be honest about what I felt. “I’m a little scared Dashie, but I’m also excited it’s almost over.”

“Glad I’m not the only one.” she said with a nervous grin.

For some reason, this made me a little nervous too. I didn’t see Dashie nervous very much, so when it did happen, I knew it was serious. As we kept walking through the camp, I noticed that we weren’t the only ones that felt nervous and anxious. I could tell just by looking in the eyes of the ponies that we passed that they were also nervous, and some of them were scared. I didn’t blame them, really. This was really dangerous...we could die. As much as I hated it, I had to admit to myself that this wasn’t like most other things I was scared of. I couldn’t just laugh the fears away...I had to face them.

“Do you think we’re gonna be okay, Dashie?” I asked my friend, the gravity of the situation hitting me really hard all of the sudden.

I felt as her big blue wing laid across my back, and she smiled and nodded at me as we kept walking. “Yeah...we’re going to be fine. I promise. Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”

She didn’t do the motions for the promise, but it didn’t matter. Her confidence seemed to bleed off into me, and it made me feel better. She really was such a great and loyal friend...

I hope I don’t have to find out what it’s like to be without her.

Perspective change ‒ Ditzy Doo

I methodically went through a checkup of all of my armor and arms, making sure it was all well-secured, maintained, and ready to go at a moment’s notice. It was necessary, but it was also something to distract me from what was going on with Frost.

Almost an hour ago, Night had ordered everypony within a half-mile radius to get away, telling us that picking apart the spell that was on Frost could be really dangerous for anyone else but her ‒ apparently being the avatar of night and darkness gave her an immunity to spells like that. All the same, she still seemed worried, though she didn’t say so...but I wasn’t stupid. I could tell she was really nervous about what she was doing. Twilight told me that it was the equivalent of trying to unravel a flag bit by bit with only my teeth, and without tearing any of the threads. The “threads” of course were Frost’s mind and soul, and referring to using only one’s teeth was a play off of the fact that Night had to do it painstakingly slow and carefully. One slip-up could kill the prince, and one second of lost concentration could curse everypony around him.

It’s probably why she had us all clear out.

Now I had always been a “better safe than sorry” type of pony, and I guess that’s why I made such a good soldier. Still, I knew that the reason Night ordered us all away was not because of that...not entirely anyway. I could see it in her eyes as we all left; she wasn’t sure if she could pull it off. I hadn’t known the black alicorn very long, but I had gotten enough of a fix on her personality to know that she had a lot of confidence in her abilities. So for her to be unsure, it must have been one hay of a spell she was trying to take apart.

I tried to keep from thinking too much about it though. Pretty soon here, we were going to be storming the mountain fortress that Death had constructed, and there was no telling what would be waiting for us on the inside. I had to stay focused, or else I’d end up making a stupid mistake and getting myself and others killed. We’d already lost Nightwing, one of my closer friends and one of the best soldiers I’d ever seen. We couldn’t afford to lose any more to careless mistakes.

Some time later, I found myself taking stock of the camp. Darkflight had given me the job of making sure everyone on the southern front was ready to go, as the time was fast approaching, and we needed to be prepared. Preparation and planning was going to ensure that this was the last front we had to fight on, and we couldn’t afford to slip up now. From what I could tell, everyone was readying themselves for the coming confrontation, clearly jittery, but still more than ready to put an end to this.

“Y’all ready, sugarcube?” sounded Applejack’s voice from behind me.

As I continued trotting, I turned my head to nod at my sister-in-arms, and smiled. “Born that way.” I then smirked as I turned my attention forward and said, “So...finally ‘did the deed’, huh?”

“Did tha deed?” she asked in confusion. I turned my head to look at her and waggled my eyebrows at her, and she blushed a bright crimson. “Ah...Ah don’t know what yer talkin’ about.”

I rolled my eyes and grinned mischievously. “Please, half of the camp heard you. I never thought anypony could sound good screaming that loud until now.”

No longer were her cheeks orange...they were scarlet.

“W-well...” she began, only to trail off as her nerves took hold and she pushed her hat down over her face, grabbing my tail in her teeth so I could lead her through the camp.

I just chuckled to myself as I continued my rounds.

Perspective change ‒ Venn

It was too quiet.

Even though I had been fighting in this gods-forsaken war for who-knows how long now, the quiet still bothered me. Not of my fellow soldiers, but the quiet of the land itself. This place used to be a vast forest of life, with thousands of living things calling it home. Now, it was a desolate wasteland. Death had taken the earth itself and twisted it, turning into something corrupted...something dirty. The stink of it was everywhere, and no matter where I went, I couldn’t get away from it.

I just hoped that when this was all over, life would return to this place one day.

More than anything though, I was worried about Drew. I still was pretty ignorant when it came to magic and how it worked, but I knew enough to know that for a spell to take control of someone’s mind, it had to be stupid-strong...especially to make someone like Drew act the way he had. He’d tried to kill Spike and his own brother, so something was really wrong.

Here’s to hoping Nighty can fix him.

“Venn, front and center!” called Ditzy’s stern voice from my right.

I quickly stood up off of the log I was sitting on and grabbed my helmet, holding it under my left arm while I saluted her with my right. “Yes ma’am!”

The grey pegasus that stood in front of me with Princess Rainbow Dash was one of the only non-royal ponies I really respected as far as fighting was concerned. By leaps and bounds I overpowered her in sheer strength, but in agility, instinct, reflexes, and intuitive insight, she outclassed me at every turn. Not that I was afraid of her, but I definitely respected her.

Thank the gods she was on my side.

Her gold eyes looked over me for a few moments before she stepped forward and pulled at my armor in a couple places, making sure it was snug and fitted well. After she did so, she grinned at me. “You and Moonfang are going to be Spike’s number one and number two as he creates another entrance from the north. It’s just going to be the three of you this time, so stay together.” I nodded in response, but then she frowned. “However, if you encounter the target, do not engage. Spike is the only one immune to magic, and we have no idea what sort of spells Death has at his disposal. It’s likely he could kill you with a single spell. Keep your wits about you, and wait for the main force to break through before springing the trap. Spike will brief you further before you three begin. Understood?”

I nodded with another salute. “Yes ma’am.”

She nodded again. “Good. Get some food and sleep. We’ll be leaving in another two hours, when night falls.”

I raised my eyebrow in confusion at this. “Umm, ma’am? Do you think that’s the best idea? Ponies can’t see all that well at night.”

She grinned confidently. “Don’t worry about it...we have it worked out.”

My skepticism didn’t really go away, but I had to trust her. Drew had taught her everything she knew about tactics, and she had a lot more experience in the military than I did. That and the fact that even I could admit that planning wasn’t my strong suit. I was the knife...she was the hand that guided me and made sure I didn’t lop off any fingers in the process.

With that in mind, I just nodded. “Understood. I’ll get some dinner before tucking in for a few hours.”

The gray pegasus smiled before nodding and trotting away, leaving me to my own devices.

I allowed myself a moment to gather my wits before clearing my throat and shouting, “Earthwardens, form up!”

From seemingly nowhere, thirty ponies and gryphons gathered to stand at attention in front of me, and I allowed myself a smile. I walked up and down the line, inspecting my troops. All of them had been chosen for a specific purpose, and were outfitted accordingly. They were all the largest and strongest of their races, and wore the heaviest armor available, turning them into a veritable battering ram to smash through enemy defenses. They were as strong and unyielding as the earth itself, hence their chosen title.

After inspecting their armor and formation, I stood in front of all of them and nodded. “Good, you all are ready. Alright, our orders are to assist Colonel Spike’s mission, which means we will be his rear guard as he breaks through the mountain. He’ll brief us further as we go, but for now, that’s our only job. Is that understood?”

“SIR, YES SIR!” answered the entire group, and I grinned again.


“Alright then,” I began, absentmindedly pacing back and forth, “go and get some rest for a few hours...we move out at 21:00. Dismissed!”

Perspective change ‒ Night

With the final arcane threads of the spell being unraveled, and buckets of sweat pouring from my forehead from the magical strain, I was glad that things were coming to an end. Much to my relief, I had been able to safely pick apart the spell that had beset Frost, and with only a few more moments...

“Thank the stars.” I groaned, sitting back and wiping a hoof across my forehead as my eyes stung from the sweat that had fallen into them. “Done, at long last.”

I knew for a fact that Celestia had been watching me intently from a distance, for as soon as I slumped on the ground upon the completion of the counterspell, I could hear her strong wingbeats approaching. It was the late afternoon as I finished, which meant that the day was cooling down, and my wonderful night was on its way, so I drank in the cool breeze that chose that perfect moment to ruffle through my mane.

A subdued thud upon the ground sounded as Celestia approached, and without turning around to look at her, I smiled gently. “It is done, Celestia.”

Her arm snaked around the back of my neck as she extended her large wing to cover me. “Thank you, Night. You’ve done very well.”

Her praise warmed my heart, as did my triumph over a spell I had never encountered before, but I was still worried. “There was so much to pick apart, Celestia. We won’t know if permanent damage was done until he wakes. Luckily that should be soon, but...” My voice trailed off as fear began to grip me.

Celestia’s hold on me tightened a bit, and I felt her body press against mine. “Winter, Frost ‒ it matters not what you wish to call him. I know you care as deeply for him as I do, and truth be told, I too am frightened. We have all been through so much together in such a short time. Lives have been lost, the face of our world has changed forever, and we are struggling to survive against Death himself.” She then pointed the wingtip of her free wing to Winter, who was still slumbering peacefully. “He is the first I’ve loved in longer than I care to think of, and the fear of losing him is a very real terror to me.” She then used her hoof to grasp my chin and turn it so that I was gazing into her soft magenta eyes. “So I know your fear, Night. I feel it every moment he’s in danger, and it eats away at me. I just want this all to be over so we can rebuild and live our lives together.”

Her mention of our “lives together” sparked a familiar sensation within me, and I once again felt a question pass through my lips before I could stop myself. “Are you positive you are fine with...me?”

Celestia rolled her eyes as she nodded. “For the possibly thousandth time Night, yes. Frost trusts you, Twilight trusts you, and Luna trusts you. Therefore, I trust you. The past is past...let it stay there. You have shown that you are not only capable, but willing to atone for your past sins in whatever way possible. You have proven yourself valuable time and time again not only as a warrior, but as a friend as well. So to put it in as simple and direct terms as possible, I will speak one more statement so that you have no chance at misunderstanding.” With that, she leaned back slightly and balanced on her haunches as she grabbed my cheeks in her hooves, looking directly into my eyes. “I would be honored to call you a herdsister, Night. I find you worthy of the love and acceptance you are given, and I forgive you for your past wrongdoings. So for the love of the gods, please forgive yourself and let us move past this.” She then released me and brought me cheek-to-cheek in a warm hug.

I had come so far in my long life. I was born of the night itself, given sentience and sapience by the High Gods of Terra, and charged with protecting the night. I had become selfish and angry by all the ponies that chose to sleep at night, rather than revel in it, and was pleased to find a kindred heart and spirit in Luna, the young princess of the night. I know not whether it was fate or destiny that brought us together, but with the pain in each other’s hearts, we chose to do something about our sadness. From there, the infamous Nightmare Moon was born, and so my mark on the world was made...as a selfish, jealous monster.

And then, he came back.

Winter summoned me back into the world from the depths of Luna’s soul and mind. I had been ready to further my previous wishes to bring about night eternal, but the sight of my beloved Winter had stilled my heart and mind. Within the first few seconds of seeing him again, it seemed that his mere presence had cleansed my mind and heart. I realized just how foolish I was acting as a whole, and before he even asked me to, I had already decided to abandon such a ridiculous ambition. Like so long ago, before Equestria had even been a nation, he saved me.

And now, after all that, I was being embraced by the very mare who I had blamed for the lack of night-revelers. I had spat words of venom at her, cursed her, tried to kill her...and now she was holding me as if it were the most natural thing in the world. She had forgiven me, and even more, cared for me as a dear friend. It was a novel, yet wonderful sensation.

And her coat is so soft.

After a few moments of simply enjoying her embrace, I mumbled, “Thank you.”

Celestia smiled against my cheek as she nuzzled me gently. “Don’t mention it.” As she continued holding me, she pointed a hoof  towards the downed blue alicorn in front of us. “How long do you think he’ll be out?”

I shrugged lightly. “Not too much longer. Possibly another few minutes at the most. I tried my best to keep from damaging too much of his essence, but some of the spell tendrils were buried so deep, I had to ‘clip’ some of them and replace them with my own magic.”

“And how is that going to affect him?” she asked, worry clear in her tone.

I shook my head in a negative. “I am unsure. It may completely change some things about his personality, or he might not be affected at all. We just have to wait until he wakes.” I cleared my throat nervously. “With that being the case, I wish to apologize in advance, should something terrible have happened.”

A groan from in front of us interrupted our conversation, and Winter began to twitch a few times before pressing himself up off the ground, holding a hoof to his head. “Ugh, what happened? It feels like I died...again.”

Well, so far so good.

Celestia rushed over to him and offered her hoof to him to help him stand. “Death placed a spell on you that allowed him to control you. He used you to fight against Spike and your brother.”

Winter’s eyes shot open as he looked at Celestia worriedly. “Are they okay? Are they alive?”

She nodded with a smile. “They’re fine, Frost.”

He sighed and slumped onto his rump, his wings quivering a bit in worry. “I saw flashes of them...like I was in a dream. I saw fire, and ice. And...” He closed his eyes in deep thought for a few moments before his head shot up with a start. “I was inside the mountain. I know what the inside looks like, and I know where Death is going to be.”

I stood on shaky hooves and smiled. “Good, because our forces could use the insight.”

Seemingly just realizing I was there, Winter’s eyes shot to me and he smiled warmly. “Night.” He gently pulled away from Celestia and stumbled over to me, wrapping me into a tight embrace as he lovingly nuzzled my cheek with his own. “I heard you...you were calling to me.”

I nodded as I returned the gesture. “I wove the counterspell to set you free.” I then pulled him away and held him at arm’s length, inspecting him. “How do you feel?”

He looked directly back into my eyes, and I noticed a few splotches of what looked like black ink dropped into the whites of his eyes. “I feel fine Night, just a little tired is all.” The blackness seemed to crawl about his eyes like small shadows. It was unnerving to see my magic in such an outwardly appearance in him, but he didn’t seem to be any different, so I simply filed the observation away for now.

I finished looking him over and nodded. “Good, because the soldiers need their commander back. Your brother has done well in leading them thus far, but I can tell it wears on him. Seeing you at the helm once again will raise their spirits and give everyone the drive to end this in victory.”

His tired eyes hardened into a determined expression as he pulled away from me and stood tall and proud on his own. He nodded and motioned in the distance towards the camp. “Well then we better get going. We’ve got a war to win.”

The prince had returned to Equestria, and once again, the full force of Winter himself was turned upon Death. I could see it in his eyes: there would be no compromise, and there would be no acceptance of anything but victory for the free people of Terra. For but a moment, my vision flickered to see the beautiful female warrior Winter once was, every bit as terrible as she was loving.

Winter, my Winter, had returned at last, and Death would rue the day he chose to take up arms against us all.