Chapter 7: The Dead City
A loud ringing echoed in Twilight’s ears as she slowly stood up. Her vision blurry and her bones aching, Twilight wobbled on her hooves until she collapsed against a nearby wall. She felt something warm drip down her face. A quick rub of her hoof revealed it to be blood. A cut on her hairline, she guessed, but she was no healer.
Pitch black enveloped the cave as there was no source of light. Twilight strained to cast even the simplest spells, her body screaming in denial to any activity and using pain as protest. Her magic obeyed finally, and a small violet light emitted from her horn. Her heart sank as she could not see her friends.
“Lyra…” Twilight coughed out, her voice raspy from the dust that inhabited her lungs. “Daisy… Oghren… Sparky… can anypony hear me?”
A pile of rocks moved, revealing Oghren rising up from underneath. His face held several bruises, but the stubborn berserker was no worse for wear. “I’m alright,” Oghren muttered, “Been dealing with cave-ins like that since I was a young buck. Can’t say a minotaur ever made one, though.”
Sparky’s head popped out of the shadows and Twilight gave thanks that her new acquaintance made it through the violent upheaval of the earth. She approached the group on confident paws, though her daggers never left her clutches. Instead, Sparky sat in front of Twilight all the while scratching her back with a hind leg.
“Rocks fall, but everyone no die. Sparky glad.” She then looked around the dark cavern. “Sparky happy that Warden-friend still live. Stinky Donkey not so much. Where are Minty and Scaredy?”
Twilight waved her mage-light around the cavern. When that failed to locate Lyra and Daisy, she turned inward to her heartbeat and focused on finding the same black blood that flowed in her friends as did in her. The sound of her friends’ heartbeats, however, was very faint, while the ponyspawn that ruled the Dark Tunnels thundered all around her in a twisted orchestra of savage blood.
“I can’t feel them, Twilight said, “They’re here but I can’t find them. We have to start digging through all the rock piles. They could be hurt!”
Twilight mustered as much strength as she could in her horn and tried to lift some of the heavier boulders. A weak body gave nothing but weak magic, and even the simple spells of levitation proved a monumental challenge. The boulder she lifted fell and tumbled away, but Twilight did not feel enough strength to cast the same spell again.
Panic struck Twilight as the thought of Lyra and Daisy trapped under rubble ran through her mind’s eye. She immediately sprung to life, desperately moving rocks with her hooves. She panted heavily as a sharp pain rose from her chest. She guessed at a broken rib or two, but did not care for her own injury. If she lost Lyra and Daisy on their first mission…
Oghren joined Twilight in digging through the cave-in while Sparky stayed back, her snout in the air. Seeing this, Oghren shouted at the shadowhound.
“Damn it, you useless mutt!” he roared, “Get over here and help us! Those two are dying under all this rubble!”
“Stinky donkey also stupid donkey. Stinky stupid stubborn donkey.” Sparky continued to sniff the air while Oghren shouted obscenities. Admittedly, Twilight thought Oghren’s point was legitimate until Sparky leapt onto the rock pile, her nose leading her.
“Nose knows,” Sparky said, “Can smell Minty. She smell nice. Can smell Scaredy. She smell like donkey fear.” Sparky then began to dig into the mound of stones, using her powerful paws to push the rocks away with ease. What surprised Twilight was the other method Sparky used to clear the rubble. When her paws were full either lifting or pushing rocks, Sparky leaned in and bit into a rock, breaking it apart with ease in her jaws.
Twilight joined Sparky in the dig and with some hesitation, Oghren did as well. They dug together into the mound until they found Daisy unconscious and bleeding within the rubble. She was breathing to Twilight’s great relief, but only barely. Her lungs struggled to keep air as the hoarse sound made its way through cracked and bloodied lips.
Sparky lifted Daisy up with care until Twilight could carry her. To her delighted surprise, Lyra was underneath where Daisy had been looking haggard but otherwise whole. As they lifted her up, Lyra opened her eyes and coughed out a chest full of dirt and dust.
“Had a couple tumbles in my time, but none quite as painful that.” Lyra chuckled as they helped her stand upright. “I like getting dirty as the next girl, but this is ridiculous. Thanks for the timely rescue. Wait...”
“Daisy was covering you when we found you two,” Oghren explained. “She’s in rough shape—“
Lyra turned to Daisy as Twilight laid her on the ground. “No…” Lyra whimpered, her jovial nature all but erased. She rushed to Daisy’s side and began to look her over. “My staff!” Lyra shouted, “I need my staff!”
Sparky approached Lyra with the staff in question clamped in her teeth. Lyra picked up the staff in her aura and quickly began the process of healing Daisy’s serious wounds. The green glow of Lyra’s magic washed over Daisy, sealing lacerations and setting bones into their proper place. As she worked, Lyra closed her eyes and began to mutter something. Her interest piqued, Twilight leaned in close to hear the incantations to Lyra’s spell, only to find that she was reciting a prayer to the Sisters.
Twilight sat on her rump and levitated a couple of healing poultices for herself and Oghren. She first poured the contents of one bottle over Oghren’s head, allowing the healing mixture to mend his wounds. She then doused her own wounds, starting with a splash of poultice on her chest to heal the broken ribs, and then pouring the rest on her various cuts and scrapes. The healing from the poultices tingled through her body, though sealing and repairing broken ribs proved rather painful. Once the mixture restored her body, Twilight shook her head and looked about their predicament.
Trapped in the deep regions of the earth without a clear way to escape, surrounded by bloodthirsty monsters who were all too eager to spill blood, and too weak to properly combat them. Twilight lifted an apple from her saddlebag and took a bite, ignoring the dirt that covered it. The fruit gave her the only real semblance of calm that could be garnered.
Lyra sat next to Twilight and gave a great sigh of relief. “Daisy’s stable and she should be fine after a night’s rest. I’m spent though. I’ll be lucky if I can light a candle after this. No after disaster nookie, Twilight. Please don’t come onto me, I’m not strong enough to resist.”
Twilight rolled her eyes and instead walked around the circumference of the room they fell into. She looked up at the hole in the tunnel, only to see darkness. There was no way of knowing how far they fell and even if she did know, getting back up in their condition would be impossible. Neither Twilight nor Lyra had the magic to levitate the party back to where Iron Will dropped them.
Iron Will needed to be stopped, but Twilight could not figure out how to overcome his incredible resiliency. Spells simply bounced off his lyrium-skin. Blades could not pierce his flesh. The Indomitable Iron Will lived up to his name and then some.
Everything held a weakness within, it simply meant Twilight needed to find it in Iron Will and exploit it. If such a minotaur could be replicated, it would spell doom for the surface. She needed to find him, defeat him, and stop the ponyspawn advance form under Brightstone. Yet so long as she was trapped in the Dark Tunnels, Iron Will could continue unabated on his mission from the Architect.
She looked over to see Oghren struggling with his pack. He was trying to bite down on both a sheet of parchment and a quill. Twilight raised her brow as she had never seen Oghren take up the pen before. With what little magic she had, she helped Oghren with his struggle until the parchment, ink and inkwell sat before him. She then joined Oghren as he sat down and looked over the sheet.
“Thanks, Twilight,” Oghren said, “Been, uh… been meaning to write this since me and the boys arrived in Brightstone. Just never seemed to have the time, what with being a Warden and all.”
“What are you going to write?” Twilight asked.
“A letter to my wife.” Twilight looked puzzled at Oghren’s statement. The only wife of Oghren’s she knew was the fallen paragon Branka, and Oghren killed her after a bloody battle.
“Well, uh… I wasn’t exactly the most faithful jackass in Orzamule,” Oghren explained. “Met a nice jenny in the tavern that caught my eye. One thing led to another, we got real acquainted with each other, and well… I’ll save you the details. Needless to say I was the greatest stud in the whole damn city after, considering how long we went at it! And how loud. Heh ha!”
Once again, Twilight rolled her eyes. “Between you and Lyra…”
“Hey now, story time isn’t over. Anyways, next thing I know she’s banging on my door saying she was leaving for the surface with her child. My child. I was… I mean I was still in love with Branka being as she was my first wife and we never had a kid and…”
Oghren shook his head. “Blood of the Stone, I was scared Twilight! Me, the best damn berserker in all of Orzamule and I was scared by getting some other jenny pregnant. I ain’t a father. My father wasn’t much of one either, but he was a jack and I was too, so I was going to become warrior caste no matter what. Wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I wasn’t sure I wanted my own spawn to carry on.”
“How were you so sure you were going to have a son?” Twilight questioned, “She could have had a daughter and become merchant caste like her mother.”
“These sacks only carry jackasses, boss.” Oghren chortled as Twilight wretched, trying not to think of Oghren’s “sacks.”
“Point is… I wasn’t ready to be a father, but after the Battle of Trotterim, I decided to see if I could find the mother. I did, while you were helping Applejack be queen. She seemed happy to get back together. Maybe she missed her stud, maybe she liked the idea of having a hero for a husband, but I asked her to marry me and she said yes. Since we were both surface donkeys now, we were casteless, so my boy didn’t have to be a berserker.”
“Thing was, I wanted to show him how to fight. The world’s a dangerous place, after all, and a donkey needs to know when and how to kick danger in the jaw. My boy is cute as a button, Twilight. And plenty strong too! He’d become a fine warrior one day. But his mom wouldn’t allow me to train him, saying she wanted a peaceful life. I tried to settle down, do normal work. Heck, I even became a village guard just so I can have an axe in my life. But I can’t deny who I am, Twilight. I’m a berserker! I live to fight! I love to fight! Settling down is not for me. So I went east.”
East. To Brightstone. To the Grey Wardens. Twilight’s initial reaction was to rebuke Oghren’s selfishness, but she took a moment to let his confession sink in. A donkey trained from a young age to be a warrior would only know how to be a warrior. To one with so much pride as Oghren, becoming a simple guard or a farmer or shopkeep would be an insult to who he was.
“Are you writing a letter for your wife?” Twilight asked.
“I guess… but it’s more for my son. To explain why I’m not there.” Oghren sighed. “Maybe I should forget it.”
“No!” Twilight lifted the quill and dipped it into the ink. “I’d be more than happy to write a letter, though I only know Equestrian Common. If you want to write it in donkey…”
“Hah, forget that. His mom wants him to learn Common too.” Oghren smiled at Twilight, and she could not help but smile back. It was a genuine smile of thanks, and that gave her a good feeling in her heart that the black blood of the ponyspawn could never overcome.
With quill in her magical grip, Twilight looked down onto the parchment. “Let’s start simple,” she said, “Dear…”
Oghren fidgeted and looked away from Twilight. “Is something wrong?” she asked.
“His mom wanted to hold one tradition,” Oghren replied, “Since I was the dad, I got to name him. So I guess the letter would start as ‘Dear…’ ‘Dear…’”
Twilight blanked as the words echoed around her. The quill fell onto the parchment as she stood in shock for a moment. She felt something warm fall across her cheeks. She knew she was crying at being reminded of losing Spike. Slowly Twilight turned to Oghren. “You… you named your son…”
“I know we didn’t know each other very long,” Oghren said, “And I should have asked your permission or something but he needed a good strong name and Spike was…”
Twilight threw her hooves over Oghren and held him in a tight embrace. Her tears flowed freely, though she kept her voice soft. “Thank you, Oghren. Thank you for telling me. Spike would have been honoured that you named your son after him. We’re going to write this letter. We’re going to write the best letter ever, and when we get back to the surface, I would very much like to meet your son, Spike.”
With new determination, the two worked on the letter together, all the while Twilight making an oath that they would escape the Dark Tunnels together. They would defeat Iron Will and stop the ponyspawn’s entrance to Brightstone. A new Spike’s world depended on it.
Twilight slept for a while after helping Oghren write his letters, only for a hoof to prod her awake. She instinctively lit her horn, only to be met with the smiling face of Daisy.
“Commander,” she said, looking hearty, “Good to see you again.”
“Daisy!” Twilight got to her hooves with haste to hug her fellow Warden. “I’m glad Lyra’s magic worked so well. How are you feeling?”
“Right as rain.” Daisy trotted about to show she was able and willing to fight. “I’m ready to fight the ponyspawn, Commander. There is something you should see. While you were with Oghren and while you were asleep, the diamond dog Sparky… well, it’s better if you see for yourself.”
Twilight followed Daisy to a wall which held a large hole bored through it. Sparky sat and smiled next to the hole, wagging her tail with pride. The hole appeared large enough for a pony in full harness to go through. With no signs of tools, Twilight guessed Sparky simply clawed and chewed her way through the solid rock.
“Incredible,” Twilight said as she beamed to her new friend. “Great work, Sparky! Do you know where it leads?”
“Sparky dig until she find big tunnel,” she explained, “We go back to main roads, able to escape Big Big Horn.”
Twilight shook her head. “We can’t run from Iron Will. We have to defeat him so he isn’t a threat to Brightstone or your pack.”
At this point the party stood around the hole. Lyra spoke up, “How do we defeat him though? He’s practically invulnerable. Our blades don’t scratch him and our magic doesn’t faze him.”
“Conventional tactics won’t work on Iron Will,” Twilight agreed, “So we’ll have to improvise. Maybe we can use the environment against him like he did against us. He can’t be invincible. I won’t believe that.”
Instead of worrying about the battle, Twilight led the group into Sparky’s tunnel. While big enough to crawl through, the tight quarters did give Twilight some trouble. She moved slowly as her armour scratched against the walls and a few times her horn collided with loose rocks on the ceiling. The dank smell of soil filled her nostrils, but at least she could stomach it. That aroma beat the stink of dried blood any day.
She thought back to the last time she was in the Dark Tunnels, and how harrowing a journey it was then as it proved to be now. If she had not found the diamond dogs, Twilight likely would have just formed a defensive barrier with several hundred wards in the event it failed right outside of the entrance. Many of her old friends suffered greatly in the Dark Tunnels, and the longer they remained in the underground, the more likely her new friends would suffer the same.
All the more reason to find a way to defeat Iron Will before he claimed his prize and turned his attention to Brightstone. This thought spurred Twilight forward at a quicker pace. She ignored the stalactites that broke off her pauldrons as she urged herself and the others to move quickly. Her heart beat normally and Twilight noticed that the only other hearts she could sense were those of her friends. The ponyspawn were not nearby at all.
They emerged on the other side of Sparky’s tunnel after what felt like a couple hours of crawling. Twilight stretched her limbs as she looked around the new expanse of the Dark Tunnels. Several sun crystals bunched up together on donkey-carved edifices providing needed light. The path was expertly paved and somehow in good condition despite likely having been abandoned centuries ago.
Oghren wandered the tunnel, studying some of the old donkey statues that adorned many of the roads in the Dark Tunnels. He looked up at one of the massive signposts and mumbled the words in Donkic. Twilight followed his gaze.
“What does it say, Oghren?” she asked.
“Well, one of the signs points to Orzamule,” Oghren answered, “while another points towards Four Point Crossing, where we went last time. Still, another one points to Onagon. That was a rival state to Orzamule a hundred years ago until they stopped sending messengers. Nodonkey knows why that city fell silent. The sign says Onagon is several thousand furlongs away. It would take a couple hours to get there.”
Twilight shook her head. “Another war… what is with you donkeys and constantly kicking things and making a mess?”
“Warriors have to fight, and Onagon had things Orzamule wanted.” Oghren shrugged. “From what I remember, our wars against Onagon were for lyrium infused crystals. That sodding golem Shale had crystals inside her shell, if you remember. Onagon tried to make its own golems for years but never managed it, so they fiercely guarded their crystals. As far as Orzamule knew, they controlled the only crystal mines for a thousand leagues.”
Daisy looked at the donkey signpost, her brow furrowed. “Commander, maybe Iron Will is going to try to capture Onagon and the crystal mines. The ponyspawn could make use of the crystals with their newfound intelligence, and the last thing we need is monsters empowered by magic.”
Twilight could not agree more. However, there was the risk they could be going in the wrong direction on little more than a hunch.
Sparky approached Twilight and tugged on her robes. “Sparky knows donkey city good,” she said, “lots of shelter from cold. No stinky donkeys. No korro’sha. But…”
Twilight’s ears splayed back against her head. “But…?”
Looking behind her shoulders, Sparky eyes held true terror. “But donkey city filled with ghosts! That why we no stay!”
Oghren’s face fell flat before he barked out at Sparky with spit flying from his lips. “Look at this stupid mutt! First she gets us nearly killed, now she’s talking crazy about ghosts! How can you let this fleabag travel with us?”
Before Twilight could berate Oghren, Lyra interjected. “Ghosts are not so unusual, Oghren. There are many ruins on the surface where the Veil between the material world and the Fade is weak. Some demons can only send out their shadows and appear to be like ghosts, while other specters are the remains of a pony infused with magic. Typically those who die a violent death. However, due to the lack of a connection with magic or the Fade, there have never been reports of donkey ghosts.”
Oghren grumbled again as Twilight took in Lyra’s explanation. She saw a spirit of the dead once before, but he was a guardian to an ancient tomb belonging to Luna no less. The idea of seeing ghosts intrigued her as well as unnerved her.
“Let’s go to Onagon,” Twilight decided. “If Iron Will is going there, we can beat him to the crystals. Maybe their power can help us defeat him as well.”
At once they began their long trek to Onagon with little more than a hope that they would find something of use. Twilight kept her senses open, fully aware that the ponyspawn could ambush them at any moment. She also kept her magical senses until Lyra shook her head. The battlemage would focus on assessing any arcane abominations and aberrations around. Twilight just needed to keep watch for any ponyspawn.
The lonely road to Onagon gave Twilight the chills. She felt her skin crawl as cold air blew across her unprotected face from the direction of the derelict city. The only sound that echoed inside the tunnel was the sound of hooves and the clang of plate armour. Twilight never liked the relative solitude of the Dark Tunnels, as it always felt like she walked through history’s tomb. In the past, donkeys used the roads for commerce, trade, and regrettably, war. Now no one walked the empty tunnels for fear of the ponyspawn and other monsters that lurked in the depths.
Time passed as they walked and Twilight noticed that the cavern was getting larger. Her inquisitive mind spurred her further and she picked up the pace, eager to see Onagon. The others followed suit as faded but still functioning sun crystal torches lit the way.
Finally they were greeted by two massive statues of donkey paragons. Old, cracked, and faded, they still held strong in front of the city. Onagon laid out before them with several massive pylons jutting out into the air with sun crystals illuminating the land. Tall buildings appeared to rise from the very rock and the city laid out in a structured way just like Orzamule. Twilight could see a marketplace, a massive foundry for metalworks, several neighborhoods for donkeys to live, and even a great arena for Proving Challenges. Statues of paragons and kings lined the streets and stood vigil.
Yet despite the grand city below, Twilight’s heart sank as Sparky’s truth became apparent. Nothing lived in the city. No donkeys hawked goods from the market stalls. The sounds of hammers on anvils did not ring from the foundry. The hoofsteps of proud soldiers in shining steel did not resound through the streets as they made their patrols.
Only dead silence remained in Onagon.
They walked down the hill towards the city proper with Oghren taking point. Lyra remained in the rear as her horn and eyes both glowed with pale white light. Daisy stood at her side, keeping Lyra standing steady. In a moment Lyra’s eyes stopped shining and she shook her head.
“The Veil is very weak here,” Lyra said, “There are a lot of negative emotions feeding the tears. Despair. Hopelessness. Rage. A lot of fear. Whatever happened here happened painfully and violently. I don’t think we need to worry about demons, but we should try to close the tears as we find them or else we will have to worry about them crossing over.”
With Lyra at work on the Veil, Twilight focused on the abandoned city. It unnerved Twilight that absolutely nothing remained of the donkey inhabitants. No people, no guards, no blood, no bones. It was as if they all got up and walked out without taking anything with them. Twilight guessed that the diamond dog scavengers that sometimes made camp had found whatever food that did not rot away from the long years. Weapon stalls were the only empty ones in the market with no stock, again a sign of the diamond dogs. Twilight glanced at Sparky’s daggers and did notice the donkey markings on the hilts.
“I don’t like it here,” Oghren said, “There’s nothing here at all. No markings to show danger, no remains of a great battle. Orzamule didn’t get any refugees from Onagon at all, so they didn’t flee. Where did the sodders go?”
“The Veil will show us.” Twilight turned around to Lyra who made a vertical gesture with her staff in the air. A bright light shone from the tear in the Veil as raw Fade magic poured through. Thankfully it was just enough to fuel the lingering spirits of the dead and not draw a demon.
Twilight and the others stepped back as translucent donkeys appeared before them. She studied the appearance of ghosts from tomes but never saw any of them in practice. What she did know was that ghosts lingered in their final memories, haunting their homes by reliving their last days over and over unless the spirits could finally claim their long awaited rest.
Several of the ghosts wore ragged armour and were covered in ponyspawn blood. They stood in front of a donkey with a long beard and a robe denoting noble status. Next to him was another donkey, a jenny with several hammers and tools at her side.
Twilight watched as they conversed. “Well? Did you find it?”
“We escaped from the thaig before Cairadan could notice us,” said another. “We have the plans to make our golems now. Four Point Crossing is lost to the ‘spawn though. There are just too many, and they are coming our way instead of Orzamule.”
The guard lifted a pack of loose parchment from his saddle bags and dropped them at the hooves of the smith. She took a brief look over some of the pages before shaking her head. “These plans look incomplete. We won’t be able to make the Paragon’s Storm Forge exactly like his.”
“We don’t need to make a Storm Forge like his. We just need one that works and will produce golems. Get on it, smith.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
The ghosts faded away after the short scene, and Twilight shook her head. Golems, soldiers made from stone, metal, and lyrium were incredibly powerful warriors on the battlefield. The cost was that a living donkey needed to be used as the base of such a creature. The donkeys of Onagon did not know the cost of such a weapon, at least not yet.
“We should keep going.” Daisy looked around Onagon, her eyes wide. “I’d rather not stay in a haunted donkey city with the potential of a ponyspawn ambush.”
Twilight nodded. “You’re right. Let’s find the crystal mines quickly and see if we can’t get an edge over Iron Will.”
“Easy enough.” Lyra’s eyes continued to glow as more ghosts of soldiers materialized in front of them. “Just follow the guards.”
The guards began to walk their old patrols and the party followed close behind them. Twilight raised her brow as she regarded Lyra’s magic. “Why does a battlemage know how to summon ghosts?”
“Battlemages master both aspects of their title,” Lyra explained as she walked with Daisy’s help. “Obviously, we are pretty awesome at the whole magic thing. Fireballs, dragon’s breath, defensive lattices, healing, all that can turn the tide of battle. The thing is with most unicorns is that they use magic like a hammer and everything is a nail. Instead of fireballing one guy, I make a tear into the Veil to summon ghosts from a long gone battle. I could fry one or two soldiers, sure, but what happens if I break the collective will of twenty, fifty, a hundred? Battlemages are more than just soldiers, we are the ones who win battles. The big difference between the vast majority of the Imperium’s legions and me? I am a sexy piece of hotness.”
Twilight pressed a hoof to her face and shook her head. “Lyra, you are impossible.”
“Actually, I’m incredibly easy to ponies I like. Just whisper sweet nothings into my ear and my knees will buckle and I’ll be all ‘Oh Twilight, take me now!’”
“UGH!” Twilight continued to walk until she saw the paved road began to crumble and give way to a path dug in by hooves and the ruts made by wagon wheels. The soldier ghosts faded from view, leaving the party alone in front of a massive building carved into the side of the vast tunnel.
The foundry that Twilight saw from the entrance of Onagon loomed overhead, appearing more a vast beast that hungered for metal and stone than a place of industry. Great beams of metal led from the cavern around Onagon that carried vast amounts of ore and crystals to be processed. Hundreds of mining picks and shovels stood waiting to be used in neat racks. Time seemed to freeze for the Onagon foundry.
The closer the party got to the foundry, the warmer Twilight felt. Heat still emanated from within the grand forge and she wondered if the donkeys found some form of automation to their mining process. The smell from the foundry made her cough and cover her snout. Ash and molten metal were expected but something else mixed in to make the odor completely vile to waft into her nostrils.
She wanted to turn away. Yet as Twilight turned, something began to pull on her horn. A powerful force urged her to walk inside the foundry and Twilight felt both intrigue and fear. Donkeys could not use magic. What in the shadowy regions of the Dark Tunnels, in the middle of a dead city could pull on her own acute magical senses?
Twilight looked to Lyra who did not seem bothered from her search for Veil tears. Lyra did not feel the pull as Twilight did, or maybe she was hiding it? That did not make sense. Now her concern grew. Was she finally losing it to magical madness?
“Look,” Sparky said, pointing a claw towards the ghosts of the king and the smith. The king of Onagon paced as the smith looked on with annoyance.
“Hundreds of thousands of pounds of iron and steel and not a single golem to show for it!” The king flustered with his words and stomped his hooves. “All I have are glorified statues! The ponyspawn are massing at our gates. I’ve thrown our soldiers at them, and they were killed. I’ve thrown the casteless at them, and they were dragged away to the Stone knows where. Tell me where. Are. My. Golems!?”
“Your Majesty, I believe I found out what the missing catalyst for the golems.” The smith looked uncomfortable as she tried to will the words to her lips. Twilight’s ears drooped. She knew what was about to be said next.
“We want to bring life to the lifeless.” The smith did not look into the eyes of her king. “We cannot make life without giving life. We will need the blood of living donkeys to make our golems live.”
“So be it!” The king of Onagon turned away. “If it’s donkeys you need, then you shall have them. And I don’t want just any golems. The ponyspawn draw closer to us each passing hour. We need a golem of such power that they will never threaten my city ever again. We need a golem of such magnitude that Orzamule is humbled by the tremors of its hooves!”
The smith’s eyes went wide. “A giant golem… but that would take weeks, months even! And the amount of stone, steel, lyrium… the amount of blood…”
“Will be great, but so is Onagon!” The king sneered at the smith. “Make my grand golem. Or I’ll find another smith who can. And I’ll make sure you are the first thrown into the melting pot. Onagon stands tall with me as its King, or by the Stone, it falls!”
The ghosts faded from view, leaving the party alone in front of the massive steel doors to Onagon’s foundry. Twilight shook her head at the greed and pride shown by those in positions of power. How they could not see past their own snouts at the true and dire needs of their people, instead focusing on such petty things like their legacies or the good name of their cities. Now Onagon was a dead city, lost even to other donkeys so long as the ponyspawn existed. She prayed she’d never become the kind of despot like the king of Onagon.
Twilight studied the great doors of the Foundry. The pull on her horn grew stronger now and she felt compelled to open them. That same compulsion scared her; dark magic very well could be the source, though if that was the case, Twilight could not tell precisely. That, bothered her more than anything else.
“Lyra,” Twilight said, “There’s a magical compulsion working from inside the foundry. It’s calling to me, but I can’t tell the exact source or if the spellwork is malignant or not.”
Lyra focused her own senses on the door, only to shake her head. “I can’t sense a darn thing.” She looked Twilight in the eye and her usual leering gave way to a worried expression. “Twilight, when magic specifically calls out to a unicorn, nothing good can come from it. Especially down here! Donkeys can only craft using lyrium because they have no magical presence. There is no way they can make something that calls to you. I think we should turn around and figure out a way to beat the Indomitable.”
Twilight shook her head. “I think we should go forward into the Foundry. If I ignore the compulsion, there is a good chance the pull will become stronger at the most inopportune time. We have to find the source. It could be something that will help us beat Iron Will.”
She studied the Foundry doors for a moment, following the path that the great chains and pulleys worked themselves into the very rock. She saw a massive turning winch with four levers for four donkey workers to push. Twilight walked towards the winch and motioned for the others to join her. Daisy took a lever for herself while Oghren and Sparky took the other two positions at the same time. They gave each other a dirty look before signaling they were ready to push. Lyra stood in front of the gate, drawing her sword and preparing a fireball at the end of her horn.
With a push of her hooves, Twilight began her work on the winch with her friends working in unison. They drove the winch forward and the echoes of grinding gears and chains shook through Onagon. Dust fell from rocky alcoves while the chains tightened. Soon the doors began to move, their large frames scraping against the ground.
Twilight let go of the winch as she noticed the device moving on its own. She joined Lyra only to recoil from the incredibly revolting stench that poured from the inside of the Foundry. Lyra gagged as she dispelled her fireball, while Daisy’s already green colouration turned more so. Oghren merely raised a brow as Sparky clenched her sensitive snout with both paws. She drove her nose into the ground, hoping that the smell of the earth would block out the stink.
“Sweet Celestia and Luna on high, what the hell!” Daisy coughed as she pressed a foreleg against her nose. “What makes that kind of smell?”
Twilight recognized the smells from her travels. Sulfur from mining and the metalworks. Rotten food left long abandoned. Most noticeable, however, was the stench of corpses. As there was no direct vents to the surface, the smells intermingled and grew staler during the long years of Onagon’s silence.
“What we need is light!” Twilight reared on her hooves as her horn sparked and emitted an orb of bright violet light. The orb flew from the tip of her horn into the Foundry. The orb hung in the air and illuminated the great work of the donkeys. Anvils and forges lay unused while great pipeworks still carrying molten magma hummed above their heads.
Yet everypony’s attention was drawn solely to the great statue in the middle of the Foundry. Massive in scale, it towered over their heads like a great monument to donkeykind. Made of dull steel and lined with inactive lyrium runes, the steel sentinel stood silent sentry over the foul remains of the Onagon Foundry. Twilight marveled at the work.
“This golem could have easily turned the tide of the war,” she said aloud. “So why does it appear incomplete? Did they not have enough lyrium? Did they not have enough blood? Or did the ponyspawn get to Onagon before their guardian could begin his purpose?”
“One way to find out.” Lyra sparked her horn with the spell used to bring the echoes of the past to life. The ghosts of the smith and the king formed on the highest scaffold while several soldiers took up ranks at their sides. Twilight looked upward as the king laughed his head off.
“Finally!” he cried out to the unseen masses. “The sacrifices of our people shall not be in vain! Behold the greatest golem ever to exist, the savior of Onagon! Behold Titanus!”
Instead of an uproarious applause, Twilight heard the faint murmur of discontent from the crowd that she would have likely stood in one hundred years ago. Twilight continued to watch with trepidation as the smith bowed low to her king.
“Your Majesty, Titanus is nearly ready to be deployed,” the jenny said, “With the artifact we found in our mines, Titanus can continue to function for centuries without any more crystals or lyrium. There is just one thing left to do for the Pride of Onagon to be truly complete.”
“What is it?!” The king shouted, “I’ve given everything to complete Titanus! My treasury is empty! My streets are empty! We have mined as much lyrium as possible! What. Is. Missing?!”
Twilight gasped as the ghostly guards sprang into action, grabbing at the king’s fine robes and pushing him towards a large hatch on the back of Titanus. His eyes bulged with terror as he realized his fate. All of the king’s struggles would do him no good against the physical prowess of the warrior caste he thought he commanded.
“You can’t do this!” He whimpered as he looked down the hatch. Twilight guessed that he was looking at what remained of his people thrown to fuel the needs of creating such a golem. The thought made her wretch.
“I helped make you a Paragon! The Senate will have your hide!”
The paragon shook her head. “That is where you are wrong, your Majesty. As a Paragon, I have as much say to the Senate as you do. The vote was unanimous. You’ve not only been deposed, but also volunteered to be the final, clinching soul needed to make Titanus live.”
“No! I’m your king! Your king!”
“I’ll take the control rod to the Deepest Depths where it can be lost forever. Seal the doors and evacuate Onagon. Titanus is our sin. To atone, he must never live.”
The ghosts faded as the king’s final screams echoed throughout the Foundry. Twilight looked hard into the stony gaze of Titanus as her ears splayed against her head. So many lives lost, and in the end it didn’t mean anything. Titanus did not live, and Titanus did not save Onagon.
However, as Twilight focused more on Titanus, she felt the compulsion magic working on her horn once again. She looked up and focused her arcane senses on the golem, feeling that the source of the pull came from the face. The scaffolding surrounding Titanus appeared useable in all these years, though only barely. Tentatively, Twilight took a step on one of the steps. The creak from the old wood echoed in the silence, but the step held.
Hoof by hoof Twilight began to climb, her focus solely on the source of the compulsion. She could not hear anything or anypony else no matter how much she strained to hear Lyra’s warnings. Even the foul smell of the Foundry disappeared as she strove to find that which called to her.
Higher she climbed until finally reaching the face of Titanus. She studied the face for a moment until the pull focused itself on the forehead of the colossus. There Twilight found a single twinkling shard of glass, shining with incredible magical power. From that power, Twilight thought she heard a voice whisper in her ear.
“I found something!” Twilight shouted to the others. “The magical potency in this shard is incredible!”
“I don’t feel anything up there!” Lyra called back. “Just worried you’re going to fall and hurt yourself on those rickety scaffolds!”
Lyra still can’t detect this magic, even when we are so close and the power simply amazing to behold? Twilight was not sure what to make of such, but knew she needed to take the shard. This had to be the prize Iron Will was after.
Before she could begin the work of prying the shard out of Titanus, the heavy doors of the Foundry began to shake and grind against the ground. Sparky barked at the door as she drew her daggers. Oghren looked to the doors and drew his axe.
“Gonna have company…”
The doors finally wrenched wide enough to reveal the two war minotaurs in the dull yet perfectly functional steel armour. They roared at the Wardens as their leader Iron Will strode into the Foundry with his ornate mace slung across his shoulders. With a smug grin, he looked up at Titanus with a whistle on his lips.
“When success comes to your plan, it proves you are the man.” He hefted the mace in his hands preparing for battle. “The Architect was right about you, Silencer. He said that the Grey Wardens, especially you, were more resilient than we thought. You’d think after hundreds of years, we would take the hint.
He was also right that you would be after the same artifact that he sent me to get. So I made a plan. Lure the Silencer and her friends to a room with a weak floor, but close enough to this donkey city. I had my brothers attack those diamond dogs near you to lure you all out. I then sent you down towards the city. With the information from the Architect he gave me in the Mind, he knew you would come to seek out artifacts of incredible magical power. Now I have all three of my prizes in one convenient package. I can claim the artifact the Architect wanted. I’ll have a weapon of incredible power to make the Chosen cower before Iron Will! But my favourite prize is that skull of yours I’ll be adding to my belt!”
Twilight looked on in horror as the mace Iron Will carried revealed that it was not a mace at all as the head began to glow with a dark crimson light. A massive golem would have needed a massive control rod. Iron Will had found it in the Deepest Depths. The magic from the control rod’s lyrium shot a beam of light from the head towards the artifact attached to Titanus’ head.
The ground rumble beneath everypony's feet as the runes all over Titanus’ body began to glow with the same red aura as the control rod. The magic flowed through the body of the giant golem until it poured into the eyes of Titanus.
The golem began to move, slowly at first, and a loud groan echoed in the Foundry from Titanus itself. The groan soon took on an edge made of rage as Titanus began to thrash about. Titanus swung its great head to the sides, knocking over the rotten scaffolds and kicking up a great storm of dust. Twilight called Sophia to her side and the sword glowed with bright violet energy. She also conjured her arcane warrior’s helmet.
“Titanus… lives…” the golem said, its low deep voice sounding like the pained cacophony of a hundred donkeys in constant misery. It looked down on Twilight, her wardens, then to Iron Will and his minotaurs.
Iron Will smiled wide as he raised the control rod up towards Titanus. “Golem! I am your master now! Crush these fools that dare to stand against me!”
Twilight remembered when she fought golems before, namely her own friend Shale and the creator of golems, Cairidan. Under the influence of Branka’s control rod, golems made themselves one of the most powerful enemies Twilight and her friends ever did battle with.
To fight against a colossus like Titanus appeared to be hopeless.
Titanus looked to the control rod and Twilight felt a spike of magical energy from within its body. “Crush… crush… crush!”
Raising one of its large steel hooves, Titanus slammed it down on top of Iron Will, crushing both the minotaur and the control rod with him. Titanus roared with a crazed anger as he turned his dread gaze towards Twilight and her friends.
“Everyone, get ready!” She yelled as she reared on her hooves. With a simple motion of magic, the visor of her helm came down and secured into place. With weapons drawn and spells prepared, Twilight charged into a hopeless battle against a creature made of steel, magic, and rage.