Pony Age: Catalyst

by OmegaPony11

Siege of Brightstone Keep

Pony Age: Awakening
By OmegaPony11

“I look upon the world now,
Where ponies tread in the mires they have formed.
I see them suffer and hate,
And spread despair and torment to one another.
I weep for my little ponies,
For they know well what they do.”
-Canticle of Coltenidies, 8:45

The Chantry tells us that the Alicorn Sisters, the scions of the sun and moon, are the epitome of perfection. That Luna descended to the world to cast down the Unicorn Imperium for their treachery and debaucheries. That Celestia shuns the world until every pony knows and sings the Chant of Sun and Moon, and that it was the Chantry’s duty to bring the chant to all until earth ponies, unicorns, and pegasi were united.

The Chantry has been known to lie.

In the years leading into the Fifth Blight, in a Unicorn Tower in the farthest reaches of the now decrepit Imperium, the Imperial Chantry, already at odds with the main religious body, began a controversial experiment with dreams to bring new hope to the masses, as well as a figurehead of which to command the world.

They created an alicorn.

Knowing the disaster that would come through an Exalted Gallop, they waited until ready to reveal the new goddess. The Imperium hid her away in a Tower in the far reaches of the north. There, she was taught piety, magic, and the Chant, and all that aligned to the ideals of the Imperium.

They did not account for love.

The Alicorn and her chief guardian fell in love, and soon they talked of a land called Equestria, the guardian’s home. Together, they conspired to escape the clutches of the Imperium and the Chantry altogether, and live in peace and harmony with each other. They married, vowing to protect each other until death… and beyond.

The Templar Order, under the personal command of the Solar Divine, attacked the Tower.

Both the Alicorn and her guardian were slain, their bodies tossed into the Dark Tunnels to be food for the ponyspawn. Little did anypony know that this was to be the catalyst that would shake the very foundations of this world… and the next…

This is a tale of the Pony Age.

Chapter 1: Siege of Brightstone Keep

The first snowfall of winter drifted lazily from the sky as the Grey Warden Twilight Sparkle walked alongside her friend and queen of Equestria, Applejack, along with a sizable escort of well over two hundred soldiers. Twilight had called the large armed force unnecessary, and Applejack was one to agree, but in the end the nobles would not budge. As long as the threat of the ponyspawn warbands was above their heads, they would not take any chances. Being the Hero of Equestria did have perks, Twilight had to admit.

Twilight frowned at the thought of fighting ponyspawn once again. Her past few months living in Trotterim as Applejack’s advisor were peaceful enough, simply reorganizing affairs for the queen in a manner that would increase efficiency ten-fold. Yet she was no longer just a Grey Warden, but the newly promoted Commander of the Grey, and as long as ponyspawn were wreaking havoc in Equestria, it was her duty to fight against them.

Yet another title was placed upon her shoulders, this one Twilight was actually looking forward to. Since the Arling of Amarethine was granted to the Grey Wardens to rebuild their numbers, it would still need an Arl. After posthumously stripping the recent Arl Rendon Maim of his title after his treachery was revealed, Applejack made the station of Arl of Amarethine and Commander of Equestria’s Grey Wardens one and the same. As such, Twilight would become Arlessa of Amarethine, a great honour for any unicorn to hold. She looked forward to learning about politics, macro and microeconomics, trade between the other regions of Equestria and of other nations, and—“

“Twilight, you okay? You got that goofy grin on yer face again.” Applejack smiled at Twilight, who quickly gave her head a shake and replied in kind.

“I’m fine Applejack, really,” Twilight said. “I’m just really looking forward to my new posting. There is just so much to learn, and I can’t wait to get started.”

“Only you can look forward to the actual busywork of nobility, rather than the power and wealth and all that. It’s why Ah think you’re the best for the job.”

Twilight blushed at the praise from her friend. “I just hope the ponies of Amarethine will like me. They’ve been used to Maim’s rule for so long, and I don’t want to impact their day-to-day lives too badly.”

Applejack chuckled. “Well, why don’t we ask one of the Amarethine ponies now? One of their numbers has wanted to meet you for a long time. She wants to slap a grey shield on her cutie mark as well. Corporal Daisy! Front and center!”

They stopped as a young earth pony mare galloped before them, snapping into attention and saluting with a bright pink hoof. Her helmet could not hide her green mane as it fell in curls around her neck. Green eyes focused solely on Applejack as the Queen snickered.

“At ease, Daisy,” she said, “We’re all friends here. Ah’d like you to meet your commandin’ officer, Twilight Sparkle. She’s a best friend of mine, and she could use all the help she can dealin’ with Amarethine.”

“Of course, Your Majesty!” Daisy bowed to Applejack then raised her hoof towards Twilight. Twilight firmly shook the offered hoof as Daisy continued. “It’s a real honour to meet the Hero of Equestria, and knowing you’ll be there in Amarethine will ease the minds of everypony there!”

“The pleasure is all mine, Daisy,” Twilight replied. “Bring me up to speed with the situation in Amarethine.”

“Take your pick, Commander.” Daisy let out an exasperated sigh. “Amarethine is the only Arling that has jurisdiction over three Banns, and all three are deplorable guttersnipes. Excuse my words, but the moment they found out Arl Maim was killed, they began their own little war to try to take the Arling for themselves. They immediately stopped once Queen Applejack was crowned, but the rumours of insurrection are mounting. The only thing that they all agree on is that a unicorn has no right claiming the title of Arlessa. They are already trying to spread lies that you practice blood magic and consort with demons, but it’s hard to argue with your other title of Equestria’s hero.”

That stung Twilight, if only a bit. During the Blight, she did not have to worry about the disdain regular ponies gave to unicorns because they focused more on her profession as a Grey Warden. Now that the Blight no longer posed a threat, her horn and the power within now made the center attention. Still, she would take all the jabs in stride. The accusatory glances were nothing compared to the shadowflame of the Archdemon.

“All right, volatile political situation,” Twilight summed up. “We’ll deal with the Banns when we have the time to do so. Now to more important matters. What is the situation with the ponyspawn attacks? I thought with the defeat of the Archdemon, they would have retreated to the Dark Tunnels.”

“We all thought that, sugarcube,” answered Applejack. “Ain’t nopony, not even the Wardens, able to understand what they are doing. Usually when they attack, it is with large numbers in fights of attrition. What they are doing here is different, and if the ponyspawn are acting different, well, it scares the apples off my flank.”

“Her Majesty is correct, Commander,” Daisy said, ignoring or not noticing Applejack’s eyes roll at the mention of her title. “The ponyspawn have been committing hit-and-run tactics on Amarethine holdings for the past couple of weeks. They’ve struck hard, but the very fact that they are falling back to the Dark Tunnels is cause for concern. I’ve never heard of ponyspawn retreating. What’s even stranger are the spells their ornlocks are using. I’ve seen them healing other ponyspawn.”

The mentioning of ponyspawn actually healing each other gave Twilight cause for alarm. Her old foes had little to no regard for their well-being, attacking with savage abandon and brutal efficiency. They were cunning monstrosities, but their tactics mostly involved throwing as much ponyspawn as at an opponent until they were eaten.

To think that the ponyspawn were fighting with a semblance of intelligence frightened Twilight to her core. The last Blight had taken a toll on everypony in Equestria, and that was when the ponyspawn were just being their natural savage selves. If a grand strategy was hatched by new leadership, it would spell disaster for the world.

There was also the nagging doubt in the back of Twilight’s mind as she considered if the ponyspawn held true sentience. Twilight was taught that the ponyspawn where the enemy of life itself and could not be reasoned with. Her experiences with them unquestionably proved that such was the case. Yet if they were intelligent, Twilight had not shown the ponyspawn any mercy in the slightest. If she could reason with just one of them…

“This ain’t a Blight. It can’t be.” Applejack shook her head. “Ain’t no more Archdemons. Something else has to be leading them. But so soon?”

“Has the Amarethine forces been able to track down the ponyspawn through the Dark Tunnels?” Twilight felt a shiver run down her spine. The Dark Tunnels, home of donkeys, diamond dogs, and ponyspawn alike still gave her nightmares. The things she had seen and done continued to haunt her, and the very idea of returning made her tremble. If she could avoid it, she would.

Daisy shifted uncomfortably on her hooves. “The soldiers… they’re not much disciplined, I’m afraid. They did not dare venture into the Dark Tunnels, instead opting to wait for Grey Warden support.”

“Ah understand completely. Tell them not to fret any.” Applejack gave Daisy a comforting smile. “The Dark Tunnels scare the horseapples out of me, and Ah’ve been there twice. Ya’ll are right, this sort of thing is gonna take Grey Wardens to solve. Good thing we have the Hero of Equestria and her number one recruit to take on the challenge, am Ah right?”

Twilight’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You want to join the Grey Wardens, Daisy?”

“I do, Commander.” Daisy looked up at the starry sky with a twinkle in her eye. “It’s the best place where I can protect the ponies I love from the monsters. When you are a Warden, you are a somepony who can make a difference. Her Majesty and you proved such without a doubt.”

Now Twilight felt uncomfortable. The very notion of inducting more ponies into the Grey Wardens was one of the few things Twilight did not look forward to. Her own Joining ritual, even after all this time, was still fresh in her mind. She could still see the faces of the other hopefuls who died after taking in the Archdemon blood, the very essence of their taint. She felt queasy just thinking about drinking that vile cocktail of blood and lyrium.

Twilight turned her head to look at the one heavily guarded wagon, covered in wood and metal. Within the container contained several barrels of lyrium as well as the blood of the most recent Archdemon, to be used to rebuild Equestria’s order of Grey Wardens. The truth of the matter was that Twilight did not want to create new Wardens until they knew of the risks beforehand. Only with some words of wisdom from Applejack did she decide not to spill forth all the information at once, and save it for the actual Joining ceremony.

“I don’t have much else in life,” Daisy continued. “I used to be a florist along with my two sisters. Things were doing fine… until the ponyspawn.”

Until the ponyspawn. How many stories had Twilight heard from the survivors of the Blight that ended with that very line? The countless families that were living happy lives until the ponyspawn came. The farmers, tradesponies, and merchants making a living until the ponyspawn came.

If the ponyspawn had true intelligence now, maybe, just maybe, Twilight could get the bottom of why they attack. There had to be more underneath their scales and chitinous skins, something that drove the ponyspawn to be the monsters that they were. If there was any way she could stop the fighting, she would.

Daisy sighed. “Once our home was destroyed, my sisters wanted to relocate. They went south towards Cherry Hills, while I stayed behind. I felt bound to the land, for whatever reason, but more importantly to the ponies living here. Maim didn’t do so much to maintain the army. Most ran off the first chance they got. Forgive me for saying, but Amarethine got lucky, being the east coast and all, since the ponyspawn were attacking from the west. Oh… I’m sorry Commander. I’m being very presumptuous about getting a post with the Wardens.”

Twilight chuckled, placing a comforting hoof on Daisy’s shoulder. “It’s all right, Daisy. Once we get to Brightstone Keep, I’ll go over the requirements of being a Grey Warden in full detail. But trust me on this, you definitely have what it takes.”

Daisy’s eyes lit up at the compliment, her smile widening to match her expression. Twilight couldn’t help but beam as well until she could see the visage of Brightstone Keep in the distance. The castle was large and wide, with towers that were dwarfed only by the Unicorn Tower and Fort Drakon back in Trotterim, but still impressive nonetheless. The orange glow around the keep was also unsettling. Twilight’s smile faltered as she tried to focus on Brightstone.

“Brightstone was built by the Filesians back during the occupation,” Daisy said, unable to see what Twilight’s magical vision allowed. “It was about the only thing Maim truly cared for. He used his vast wealth to collect things, you see. Brightstone has the single largest gallery of fine art in Equestria…”

“Uh huh…” Could they be having some sort of celebratory bonfire? Twilight wondered, her horn glowing bright as she cast a spell to see something in the distance much closer.

“The largest collection of exotic weapons. There are some which I’m not even sure how to use!”

“Uh huh…” It’s definitely fire. I think Brightstone is under attack! I need to tell Applejack!

“And the biggest library in all of Equestria! Arl Maim wanted to appear educated and well versed in every school of knowledge, so he picked up any book he could. I’m quite certain nopony has ever seen him read a book, though.”

Twilight’s eyes shrank into pinpricks before a look of rage marred her face. How dare the ponyspawn attack the biggest depository of books in the country? All that knowledge would be put to the torch, and she was not going to sit by and let that happen.

“Applejack, Brightstone is under attack!” Twilight cancelled her telescopic spell, drawing her trusted blade Sophia with her magic. “We need to move, quickly!”

“Captain! Get the calls out to the army! We got ponyspawn in Brightstone!” Applejack drew her sword Silverbite from its sheath, the silver blade glinting in the moonlight while her army began to mobilize. Lines formed with ease as the officers barked orders to the troops, each soldier standing ready with a sword held tight in their mouths.

Daisy revealed her weapon of choice, carefully removing a single disc from its protective cover. The steel disc bit into the ground with surprising ease while Daisy took the chain it was attached to in her mouth. With a single jerk of her head, she caused the disc to fly upwards, and then began to a small rotation on the chain with her jaw. The disc began to spin in the air, scraping against the rocks in the ground until Daisy managed to make it only a razor-edged blur.

Twilight had never seen a weapon like that, but she knew the effects were no-doubt nasty on a fleshy body.

“Something I picked up from Maim’s collection,” Daisy said through the chain. “I think I got the hang of it.”

The Queen’s army approached Brightstone quickly, the flames of the burning keep clearly visible and giving the night skies an ominous orange hue. Twilight found it odd that there was no sign of the ponyspawn outside of the walls. She could see screamers circling ahead, but the lack of any of their ground forces was confusing.

Above their heads, the screamers, twisted mockeries of pegasi ponies, began to channel their namesake. Their screeches were quickly replied with the thunder of battering rams against the walls. Applejack shouted for a halt to the army’s advance. Twilight listened to her beating heart as it thudded within her chest. She could feel the presence of the ponyspawn around her, but most disconcerting was the emotion that came along with the twisted creatures.

She felt the ponyspawn’s hate for the Grey Wardens, but for her it was especially powerful. Twilight’s ears lay back against her head as the strength of the ponyspawn’s hate bore down against her, as if a large weight pressed against her shoulders. The resentment they held for her was thick mire, and it took all of Twilight’s will to separate her senses and return to reality.

Applejack frowned, holding Twilight steady with a hoof. “They’ll be gunning for you, Twilight,” she said. “Ah think you should stay here and let the soldiers deal with it. If the ponyspawn see you, they’ll go crazy. As strong as you are, you can’t beat an entire ponyspawn army.”

“I can’t run away from a fight just because the ponyspawn hate me.” Twilight stomped her foot. “Listen, they know we’re coming, but their senses get muddled amongst themselves. I have a plan: if you can keep the ponyspawn occupied, Daisy and I can sneak into the keep and try to take out their leadership.”

Twilight winked at the now nervous recruit. “Think of this as your entrance exam. Same as mine, I suppose.”

“Probably be easier. You won’t have to deal with Rarity, just some ornery ponyspawn.” Applejack laughed at the memory of their excursion to the Potpourri wilds for Twilight’s test to join the Grey Wardens. Twilight sighed wistfully at those days. Things were simpler then.

Applejack nodded to Twilight. “All right then. We’ll keep them busy. They’re probably gettin’ ready to fight us off anyways. Once Ah give the holler, you and Daisy should skedaddle to Brightstone as fast as your hooves will carry you. And Twilight? Good luck.”

“Thanks Applejack. Stay safe.” Twilight reared on her hooves, signaling she was ready. “Let’s go, Daisy.”

Applejack raised a horn to lips and called out her army with a blaring sound, the roar of her soldiers overtaking the air as the ponyspawn emerged from Brightstone to begin the battle. Pony fought ponyspawn once again in the field of war, and Twilight felt a knot tie in her stomach as she and Daisy sprinted as fast as they could away from the main fighting.

They traveled under the cover of night, darting from shadow to shadow before coming across several corpses of Amarethine soldiers. Their blood stretched across the ground, showing they were fleeing from the city as one of the gates was completely destroyed. Two thelocks stood guard in front of the door way, snarling and twisting the rusted blades in their mouths.

“Looks like we’ll have it easy to start. Follow my lead and stay quiet.” Twilight levitated her sword behind one of the thelocks, staying hidden in the shadows and carefully remaining silent. Daisy followed suit, spinning her blade in the air until only the faintest whistle in from the blade slicing the air could be heard.

Twilight had never seen ponyspawn sitting still and simply watching for enemies before. They often moved as one horde, overpowering and devouring everypony in their path. To see them put up sentries made Twilight concerned.

Any theories about this new behavior in the ponyspawn had to wait. For now, Twilight had a duty. If there was even a remote chance at having talks with the ponyspawn, it would not be while ponies were under threat.

“On the count of three.” Twilight raised her sword, with Daisy nodding slowly, her blade moving in a single deadly blur. “One. Two. Three!”

Sophia curved in a fatal arc, slicing the thelock’s throat wide open, black blood flowing from the disgusting wound. The thelock gurgled on its own blood as it fell, its fellow snapping its head to the fallen only to be on the receiving end of Daisy’s disc. The metal blade cut cleanly through the helmet, the disc digging deep into the very center of its skull. Grey matter poured from the fatal wound, leaving the thelock to slump to the ground.

“Great job, Daisy,” Twilight said, “Now we can—“

Before she could finish, a loud screech resounded from the top of the battlements, a single screamer revealing itself from the shadows. It flew off towards the keep, while the roars of more ponyspawn and their trampling hooves shook the ground.

Twilight could not believe it. The ponyspawn had tricked her into attacking, revealing her location. Several thelocks and donlocks emerged from the streets of Brightstone’s castle town, all equipped with arms and armour, while a single ornlock snapped its jaws and hissed. It’s horn glowed with a crimson aura as a fireball formed in midair. The ornlock reared up, smashing its magically encased horn into the fireball to launch it against Twilight.

“Get down!” Twilight shouted, raising her magical barrier as quickly as she could. Daisy ducked low behind her, covering the back of her head with her hooves. The fireball crashed into her shield, the heat of the flames making Twilight break into a sweat. She grimaced as the force of the attack pressed against her, but for a moment Twilight felt her lips turn upward in a smirk.

Gripping the fireball in her magic, Twilight kept the blaze alive and contained. With a shout she tossed the flaming orb back towards the ornlock and its ponyspawn soldiers. This method of countering was a favourite of Twilight’s, using the power and momentum of the enemy spell to strike back against them.

The fireball flew towards the ponyspawn, detonating in a bright orange explosion and consuming the monsters in flames. Twilight’s cheer of victory was short lived as the ornlock stepped past the flames, surrounded by a pale red shield of its own. It turned towards those ponyspawn who were not immediately killed by the fireball, a wave of green mist floating from its horn towards the wounded. Twilight gasped as she saw their wounds closed with the power of magic.

“It’s true,” she muttered. “You are healing the ponyspawn! If you can do that, then you know we don’t have to fight! You are not under the sway of Archdemons anymore! We can end the fighting for good!”

If the ornlock heard her over the roars of the ponyspawn and burning buildings, it made no indication, lighting its horn again in a red aura. A crimson bolt burst from the horn, sailing towards Twilight. Her shield rose quickly to her defense, all the while she could hear the whistling of Daisy’s blade disc slicing through the air from behind.

The blade cut through the magical barrier of the ornlock with surprising ease, cleanly cutting the ornlock’s head from his shoulders. As the head fell, the other ponyspawn attacked, charging towards Twilight with weapons raised. She stared them down through her shield, keeping her head low as her horn sparked to life.

“I tried to be merciful!” Her shout was drowned out by the frigid blast of her ice magic, a cone of cold freezing the ponyspawn. Fluids solidified within moments, leaving the monsters to become frozen corpses in mid charge. Twilight gasped for air, watching as Daisy’s disc slid along the ground past the iced ponyspawn and to its user. Daisy looked at Twilight with eyes filled with concern, but Twilight had no answer to give her.

“Commander, if I may be so bold…” Daisy bit her lower lip. “I’m confused. Grey Wardens are supposed to slay ponyspawn. That’s all I’ve ever known about them. They are attacking Brightstone Keep without provocation. No ponies I’ve heard have ever led an attack on their homes in the Dark Tunnels. Why are you offering them mercy?”

Twilight mulled over her words for a moment, stepping around the frozen menagerie of dead ponyspawn. “Because everypony deserves the chance of mercy,” she said, “I’ve been fighting ponyspawn for a little over a year, but it feels like decades. Every time we meet, I’ve killed them without thinking. The idea that we can offer them the chance to flee is just something I have to try.”

Twilight lowered her head though. She looked around at the corpses of ponyspawn and ponies alike. “You’re right,” Twilight relented. “The ponyspawn are attacking ponies, and we have to stop them, through lethal force if needed. But I want you to know one important thing Daisy: Grey Wardens are supposed to defend ponies from the ponyspawn. That is their chief mission.”

“Now…” Twilight scratched her chin as she looked up at the imposing figure that was Brightstone Keep. On the battlements there were still signs of fighting, thus Twilight decided that would be her best bet.

“Do you know of any other ways we can get into the keep?” Twilight pointed her hoof at the fortification. Daisy thought for a moment before her eyes lit up.

“I know of a secret tunnel that Maim had built!” Daisy exclaimed. “We can take the underground passage into the cellars. From there, we’ll be in the keep!”

Twilight nodded, allowing Daisy to take the lead. They galloped through the besieged city, Twilight taking note of the few civilian corpses on the ground. Most were either ponyspawn or soldier ponies. While Twilight could see that as a relief, there was the stomach-turning fear that ponies were being herded to whatever entrance the ponyspawn used to attack from the Dark Tunnels. They very thought that the ponyspawn were in search of mares to be used as broodmares…

“Twilight!” Daisy pointed at another corpse, this one of a freshly killed earth pony in heavy plate armour. Twilight approached the carcass, noting three stab wounds in the back of the neck by a cruel blade. A favoured weak point of assassins, if anything her assassin friend Rainbow Dash had told her.

With a flick of her magic, Twilight turned the corpse over, revealing the burning sword emblem of the Templar Order, the guardians and jailers of the world’s unicorns. “A templar?” Twilight wondered aloud. “What would a templar being here?”

“Templars,” Daisy added, pointing around her. Twilight’s mouth hung open as several templars laid slain in messy trail leading into a building. “I don’t know why templars are here either, Commander. I do know that they were all killed near the building we needed to find.”

The sign of an old pub hung on one of its links, the doors flapping in the wind. The fact that there would be a secret passage from the castle to a bar was not lost on Twilight, but the sight of templars was always alarming. They were not an armed force to be thrown at enemies, nor were they travelling knights in the storybook sense. The Templar Order existed to hunt down rogue unicorns, the Maleficar, as well as to put down demonic invasions from the Fade.

If there were templars here, then that meant there was trouble with magic nearby, or trouble with a unicorn.

Twilight lifted a hoof, signaling for Daisy to stop. She began to focus her senses, seeing the world shift from the vibrant colours of battle to a dull grey. The leylines of magic in the world, trailing across the ground and into the sky, formed concentrated points towards the Fade. Along many of the magical streams, several lesions rippled across the blue lines. Twilight backed away from the sight.

She did not look away though as she watched the streams of magic being repaired by a radiant green aura, as if a seamstress was doing stitch work on an expansive quilt. Only another unicorn gifted in magic could heal the tears in the Veil between the real world and the Fade.

“Uh… Commander?” Twilight heard Daisy speak. “We need to move, now.”

“Hold on, Daisy,” Twilight said, “there’s something strange going on between the real world and the Fade. Somepony is fixing the Veil, and they doing really well. We need to find them and make sure they are safe. Incredible! Brightstone could have been the spot of a demonic invasion if it wasn’t for him or her. What had Maim been doing here to make the veil so weak?”

“Commander, the ground is shaking! We need to get ready!”

That caught Twilight’s attention. Her sight of the Fade reverted back to normal vision, just in time to see the pub explode in a burst of bricks and lumber. Standing amidst the dust and the ruins of the pub was a minotaur, snarling at Twilight, its mouth foaming in blind rage. Unlike most minotaurs Twilight fought against, this one wore heavy plate armour all along its body. The helm blocked out its eyes, and its twisted appendages known as “hands” was a massive spiked maul.

“Horseapples,” Twilight squeaked. Minotaurs were deadly siege machines on their own, but she never encountered one wielding arms. The ponyspawn had learned much, including equipping their strongest warriors.

The minotaur roared, holding its maul close to its chest before lowering its steel-capped horns towards Twilight. Twilight’s initial reaction summoned a shield to quickly defend herself from the minotaur. The barrier crackled with sparks from the attack, Twilight shouting in pain as her horn felt the immense pressure of the minotaur.

Twilight collapsed on her knees, the barrier barely keeping together. She looked up to see the minotaur raise its maul over its head, preparing to hammer down on her shield and eventually her. Twilight’s horn flared to life again, firing a bolt of violet energy towards the minotaur’s head. The bolt snaked into the slits of the minotaur’s helmet, causing the giant to cease its strike.

The growl echoed throughout the burning keep, the other ponyspawn responding in the kind. Several thelocks appeared, charging towards Daisy and Twilight. Daisy spun her disc, throwing it at one of the offending thelocks at slicing the neck clean open. The loss of one did not slow them down, instead one of them gripped the outstretched chain in its tusks and yanked, pulling Daisy towards them.

Releasing her hold on the chain, Daisy staggered backwards, drawing her sidearm, a simple dagger. She waved the blade in a desperate attempt to keep the ponyspawn at bay. The thelocks swung their rusty blades at her head. She continued to back away until her backside pressed against a wall, the thelocks snarling at her as they had her surrounded.

Twilight cursed, firing another beam of magic at the minotaur, this time the bolt striking against the chestplate. The minotaur was unhindered by the attack, instead gripping its maul and swinging in a stiff yet quick motion, slamming the head into Twilight’s shield. The barrier flickered again, Twilight’s scream of pain echoing within her bubble.

She slumped to the ground, looking as the minotaur prepared for the crushing blow. Her magic was drained simply holding off the attack. Twilight’s thoughts moved rapidly. She once blocked the powerful shadowfire with her magic; now she couldn’t take on the direct attacks of an armoured minotaur. How had she let herself go and forget how to fight properly? All those months of peace made her soft.

Twilight closed her eyes, preparing for the hammer to fall against her shield and eventually crush her bones. Her thoughts turned to her friends, divided across the world. She stroked the bracer of friendship they all wore. If this was to be her end, then she would think of them.

The end did not come with the sound of a shattering shield but instead with the sound of an explosion and the howling agony of a minotaur. Twilight looked up to see the minotaur drop its maul and reach around to its back, twisting and allowing Twilight a good look. The smell of melted metal on foul flesh was overpowering, hot steam rising from the damage caused by an explosion of fire.

Across the street, the caster of the saving fireball raised her lyre-ended staff upward again. “Hey ugly, over here! Tasty Imperial ponyflank ready and waiting for you! I don’t typically do ponyspawn, but I’m sure we can have ourselves a tango right here, right now!”

Twilight balked at the bravado of the unicorn with the golden eyes, being reminded of a certain Trixie and her boastful nature. Despite this, Twilight could feel the magical energy coming from the mare. Her mint-green face held a mischievous smirk, similarly-tinted mane blowing in the wind. Their eyes met even though the minotaur was quickly recovering.

“Hey there, sweetcheeks!” The stranger called. “We can swap names, life stories, and spit later! Right now we have to take this bull by the horns in the most literal sense!”

“Huh?” Twilight’s confusion at the mare’s choice of words was quickly replaced with the realization that they were still in battle. Raising Sophia into the air, Twilight lashed out at the dazed minotaur, charging the edge of her blade with a burst of heated magic. The blade cut through the rusted armour the minotaur used, searing into its arm and spilling gallons of black blood.

The minotaur gripped its arm, dropping its maul with a crash while staring at Twilight through the slits of the helmet. Once again, Twilight could see the sheer hatred the minotaur’s gaze, the only thing that was keeping the giant from falling over in fatigue.

Twilight’s sword glimmered with a powerful violet flame. If she struck now, it would be the deathblow to the minotaur. “Why do you hate me?” she asked, though she did not expect an answer. As she predicted, the minotaur answered with a roar, raising his battering ram-like fist high for one final smash.

It never got the chance as Twilight swung her blade across the neck of the neck, searing the fatal wound open. The minotaur fell over, gasping for its final breaths, but never once turning its gaze away from Twilight. Only when it stilled did Twilight take a deep breath of relief.

Still cornered by the thelocks, Daisy warded them off with weak little jabs from her dagger. “Hey flowerflank!” The stranger called. “Get down!”

Daisy looked over the shoulders of the thelocks to see the horn of the strange unicorn glowing with an amber light. Her mouth was open and from the depths of her throat Daisy could see a burning flame igniting. She ducked her head, covering the back of her head.

From the mouth of the mint-green unicorn came a torrent of flame, engulfing the thelocks in a fiery storm. Twilight watched all the while, amazed at the kind of ferocity her magical breath was capable of. The thelocks were immolated quickly and without mercy, their screams of agony being silenced by the consuming fire.

The green unicorn smirked as the charred remains of the ponyspawn collapsed onto the ground, proudly prancing around in her red robes lined with gold. The jingle of her earrings made for a sort of victory tune as Twilight headed towards Daisy to help her up.

“How are you doing?” Twilight asked. Daisy coughed for a moment before smiling at her commander.

“Lightly singed, but I’ll live.” They both turned to the stranger unicorn, who admired her hooves, blowing off ash and smoke from them. Twilight approached her, extending her hoof.

“Thank you very much for the help. My name is Twilight Sparkle, and this is Daisy. It’s nice to meet you, miss…?”

“Celestia,” the now blasphemous unicorn said. “At least, that’s what the mares usually say when they are in the afterglow of the best night of their lives. If you really want to be formal, then I’m Lyra! Former battlemage of the Imperium, now unjustly being chased by the Templar Order across Equestria, and now I am one really happy mare having laid eyes on two absolutely stunning beauties.”

Twilight’s cheeks flushed with colour as she gaped at Lyra. “Not only a cutie of a unicorn, but the Hero of Equestria in the flesh!” Lyra giggled as she leaned against Twilight. “I’ve never done a hero before. Maybe we can make time once we are out of the peril of a ponyspawn attack, hmm? I can show you things. Wonderful things.”

“Not likely.” Twilight shifted her weight quickly, sending the unbalanced Lyra towards the ground with a yelp. The fallen Lyra gave a half-hearted chuckle as she looked up into the eyes of Twilight.

“What do you mean you were a former battlemage?” Twilight raised her eyebrow inquisitively. “And what do you mean you are unjustly hunted by the templars?”

“Long story. Would you like to come down to the secret underground passageway leading towards the keep?” Lyra pointed towards the ruins of the pub. “I’ve been trying to keep the civilians the safe, away from the fighting.”

Lyra levitated the debris caused by the minotaur, tossing it away to reveal a doorway into the tavern’s cellars. The door opened with a loud creak as Lyra led the way, Twilight and Daisy following close behind. The door shut with a bang, a large chunk of wood nailed in place to prevent easy access to the ponyspawn.

“Well, you probably want to start with the obvious,” Lyra said, “so the obvious I will begin. Yes, those templars were after me, but I didn’t do anything, cross my hooves and hope to fly! If they weren’t prepared to fight ponyspawn, it’s not my fault! Besides, they came after me because I’m a unicorn from the Imperium who just happened to smash her own phylactery.”

Twilight’s knowledge on the Imperium mostly came from Chantry dogma on how the Imperium used blood magic to cross into the Fade and destroy the seat of Celestia, Canterlot. Through that sin, the first ponyspawn were made from the Magister’s corruption and subsequent banishment by the ruler of the sun. Little else was known of the secretive remains of the Imperium, only that the Chantry was incredibly powerful there, as well as being one of the largest concentrations of unicorns and magic in general.

“You are not just ‘some unicorn’,” Twilight added. “You are an Imperial Battlemage. Everything I heard of them was that they were the best of the best. Some of the most rigourously trained magic-users in the entire world.”

“That much is true, as you’ve seen with my own magic.” Lyra’s staff flickered with magelight, providing a beacon in the depths of the passage. “But the Imperium and especially the Imperial Chantry want their battlemages under extremely tight leashes, and not the fun kinky kind. I decided I didn’t want any of that, packed my bags, blasted my Magister, and deserted from the army. Took the first caravan that would have me, and lo and behold, here I am!”

Daisy whispered into Twilight’s ear. “I don’t trust her, Commander. She’s Imperium, to start with, and chased by the Templar? That’s a recipe for trouble.”

Twilight considered that Daisy did not have experience with the complicated affairs of unicorns, the templars, and magic. Perhaps she would be willing to give Lyra a chance, even offer her a place away from the eyes of the Chantry and the Templar Order.

The Grey Wardens, for instance.

First things first, Brightstone needed to be taken back. “We’ll deal with the templars when the time comes,” Twilight said, “for now, we need to get rid of the ponyspawn. Lyra, would you be willing to help us? We could use the numbers to take out the ponyspawn leader.”

Lyra rubbed her chin, humming rather loudly in mocking thought. “I could hang out with two hot mares, use my war magic to roast some ponyspawn, or I could stay here and hope they don’t find me and eat me, and not in the fun way. Not a hard decision, but I want you to promise me something!”

Twilight raised her brow. “What is it?”

“Promise me that you’ll help me find a way to keep the Templars off my back.” Lyra’s voice became softer, a hint of fear in her words. “Their anti-magic hurts me more than most unicorns. Battlemages are incredibly potent magically, but with that potence is also a greater sensitivity to anti-magic. I’m tired of running from the Templars. Will you help me?”

Daisy pursed her lips but said nothing, looking to Twilight for direction. Her curiosity about Lyra and her Imperium education in regards to magic won out in the end. “I’ll help you, Lyra,” Twilight said, offering a smile. “I won’t let you be taken away by the Templar.”

“Yay!” Lyra jumped onto Twilight, squeezing her neck in a vice-like grip. “Oh happiest of days! Together, we’ll roast ponyspawn with magic unparalleled. Then after, maybe we can get nice and toasty by the fire, tell stories, make each other real comfy…”

Twilight promptly wrenched Lyra off her and dropped her to the ground. Another round of weak chuckling left her lips. “Or maybe not. Come on, this way to the keep!”