Chapter 8: Shattered Shield
“And if you could sign here, here and here, your Majesty… and don’t forget your meeting with Bann Grey Wolf later this afternoon, and your dinner arrangements with Ambassador Oregano of Pura Raza…”
Applejack let out a huff as she scribbled her initials on yet more official proclamations and royal policies. Even after the scant few years since she took the throne, Applejack never felt comfortable on the hard chair. She looked longingly out the window to her personal orchard where mighty apple trees from all over Equestria stood tall, waiting to be bucked. Their bounties ranged from mavericks to golden delicious, but the type of apple did not matter. She enjoyed the taste of the succulent fruits and more importantly, sharing them with the ponies. Her ponies.
Yet, the duties of a monarch forever called to her, and now with winter coming she needed to make sure there was enough food to last. Portents from her unicorn and pegasi advisors said the winter would be a long and cold one, so it was her duty as Queen to make sure the ponies were protected from the cold and from hunger.
However, her desire to constantly write her name and stamp her seal soon gave way to simply getting away from it all, if only for a few moments. “Tell ya what,” Applejack said after laying down her quill, “None of these darn procedures and decrees are gonna be in effect until tomorrow morning, so it doesn’t really matter if Ah sign ‘em now, right? Ah’ll get right to them after dinner, fer now Ah’m gonna get some fresh air, ya hear?”
Her courtier stammered. “Your majesty, there is still the matter of finding a suitor for you. You will need to find a king consort so you can produce heirs…”
Applejack paled at being reminded that she needed to marry and have foals of her own. She felt the familiar headache of such conversations coming on and wanted nothing more than to run to her orchard.
The Queen knew, however, she could not run from this particular duty forever. Half an hour would be enough, for now.
“We’ll finish this later,” she said, grabbing her crowned hat and tossing it onto her head. “Fer now, Ah’m getting’ a bite to eat. Ah’ll see ya in a bit.”
“Would you like—“
“No guards.” Applejack didn’t like the idea of having others protecting her. Call it pride, but she fought off high dragons and archdemons, she could handle any run-of-the-mill assassins. To prove her point, she tapped a hoof against her trusty blade Silverbite. Without another word, Applejack dashed off very un-royal like out the door and into her orchard.
The sun shone through the canopy, providing some much-needed warmth when compared to the cold halls of Trotterim Palace. The wind rustling the leaves provided the ambient sounds as Applejack looked about her orchard with satisfaction. Here, she was not a Queen. Here she could be just another earth pony who enjoyed the bounty of the woods. With a strong apple tree before her, Applejack performed the one motion that ever felt natural to her these days. She spun around, raised her hind legs, and gave that apple tree a good hard buck.
The cascading delicious fruit followed the sound of her hooves smacking the hard tree trunk. With her meal now provided without the fussiness of palace staff, Applejack sat down and took a bite out of a savoury golden delicious. The first few bites felt like a gift from Celestia herself.
The next few bites did not carry the same sentiment. As she chewed, Applejack looked around her orchard and found it lacking in something incredibly important to her: her friends. Everypony was gone to separate corners of the world and Applejack was left alone to rule a nation.
She ate her apples alone and in silence, or so she thought as a trio of chirping birds fluttered about the palace orchards. To see that some of nature’s smallest yet vibrant denizens deign to join her pleased her heart greatly. They chirped and sang, giving her orchard a picturesque quality.
One bird in particular remained silent, however. Applejack regarded the bird for a moment as it stood on a lone branch, its white feathers neat and immaculate. Bright blue eyes stared back at the queen, the bird giving harmonious calls. Applejack rolled her eyes and equally rolled an apple forward.
“Well, what are ya waitin’ for,” Applejack said, “It’s been a while, Rarity. Come and have some apples with me, or are they too good for yer ‘refined tastes’.”
The dove fluttered her wings before taking off, flying around Applejack’s head for a few laps. She then landed in front of Applejack only for swirling magic to appear around her. Applejack held down her hat as a vortex of magic and wind swirled around the dove until it was gone and a beautiful white unicorn mare stood in its place.
Dressed in an exquisite white gown with silver inlay and adorned with gems, Rarity stood as tall and elegant as Applejack remembered. Although she wore far more finery than the leather and feathers of the mire, Rarity still wielded a staff of gnarled wood. Staves, as Applejack recalled, were not mere weapons to be tossed away, but held a great connection to the unicorn who wielded them. Despite its appearance, the staff was just as much a part of Rarity’s magic as her horn.
Rarity smiled at Applejack. “Missed me?” she said with a sly smile. “Dear Applejack, you look… well I was expecting a queen to wear something finer than simple trousers and a shirt, but I suppose a crown does not stop one from being a simple mare from Red Apple, does it?”
“Nope. C’mere!” Applejack threw herself to hug Rarity, who squealed in contempt at the rather undignified method of endearment until she started to giggle and returned the embrace. They sat down underneath Applejack’s tree with the queen offering her newly arrived guest the choice pickings of her orchard.
Rarity accepted a couple of apples, levitated one, and began to slice it apart with her magic. “Are your guards not going to be concerned at a strange unicorn being with the queen in her garden?”
“Orchard,” Applejack corrected, “And you can’t tell, but some are watching right now. They also know Ah’m a faster sword draw than they are, so if anything were to happen, Ah got ol’ Silverbite to protect me plenty. Gonna have a lot of questions to answer, but hey, Ah’m the queen. Ah get to make the rules around these parts.”
The two chatted for a while about events in each other’s lives. Rarity by all accounts seemed to be doing well in Filais. She opened her own boutique in the capital city to serve the Filesian elite. Apparently, she was doing so well that even the highest levels of the Filesian courts in their Winter Palace sought her out to make fine dresses and suits.
Rarity tittered. “Filesian court is so wonderful, Applejack! The sophistication! The mystique. You should see the balls they hold throughout the Empire. The most beautiful ponies I have ever seen dancing and politicking the most gorgeous designs. I am not one to brag, my dear, but half of the dresses are of my design. Oh, and the masks! Everypony wears a mask, Applejack, even the Empress.”
“Why do they go and do a silly thing like that,” Applejack said as she chewed her apples.
“Simply so that others cannot read their emotions. Some ponies have terrible Deadly Grace faces.” Rarity sighed. “Truth be told that is one of the reasons I came here to visit you. As much as I adore my intricate masks, I simply abhor hiding this wonderful face behind anything. Oh… and I do like knowing I can be myself around my friends without being scrutinized.”
Applejack smiled at Rarity and hugged her again. “Always good to see you, prissy britches. Speaking of which, Applebloom’s been asking about Sweetie Belle. How is she?”
Rarity’s smile quickly reversed course. “By all that is good in the world, she may be my little sister, but she is a hoofful and a half! She never sits still during social soirees, she likes running around in the mud, and she absolutely adores the shapeshifting magic I taught her. Do you know what she turned into last week? A pig. She turned into a noisy, squealing little piglet and ran roughshod all through my boutique! Disgusting. So you may tell Apple Bloom that she is fine. Happy as a pig in mud, because that is what she is.”
Applejack chuckled at the thought of a little white pig running amok in a fancy clothes store. She finished her apple only to look up to see Rarity have a distant look on her face. She cast her blue eye gaze to the parapets of Trotterim’s palace without saying a word.
“Everything alright, sugarcube?” Applejack asked. Rarity shook her head.
“I did not just come by for a cordial visit,” Rarity said, “I came by to give you some news from Filais, amongst others. Like I said, darling, I bump shoulders with the crème de la crème of Filesian nobility. There are rumblings of a civil war in Filais between the Empress and her cousin the Duke. The Duke is a military pony, and he is amassing an army to take the Winter Palace by force. This may not be of much interest to you, but remember that Filais is the most powerful nation in this world. Whatever happens in Filais affects everypony. He also wants the land Filais used to control, from the Free Plains to Equestria herself. He sees you as an upstart and without an heir, easy to dispose of.”
“Like to see him try,” Applejack said, tapping a hoof to her sword. Still, the last thing she wanted was to fight a war against Filais. They just suffered the Fifth Blight and were still recovering from the grave wounds it inflicted. Another conflict would bring Equestria to her knees.
In addition, of course, more talk about Applejack needing an heir. She felt sick at the idea of rushing child rearing, but that was the reality of her station.
“There’s something else.” Rarity looked sadder about what she said next. “It’s about Fluttershy. Dear sweet Fluttershy, she’s… missing.”
Applejack stood up. News of a potential war could be dealt with in carefully planned steps. News of one of her best friends having gone missing? That alarmed her to no end. She wanted to gallop out of the front gates of Trotterim, to call out search parties, anything. Instead, she touched the Bracer of Nakkum she wore around her foreleg. Rarity lifted up her dress and revealed the same gift from the paragon Cairidan.
“I can’t feel anything either, darling,” Rarity said, “It could mean she is far away. She sent me a letter, but all it said was that she was going far away to help the Divines expand their menagerie. I certainly hope she is safe, but it just seems so… wrong… that she just upped and disappeared without a word. She was shy, yes, but never with us, after all we’ve been through.”
Applejack sighed. “Everypony’s gone their own way. Fluttershy is working with the Divine’s, you’re in Filais, Pinkie and Dash are off to Geldwall… heck, Ah even miss Shale and Trixie arguing. Sometimes this palace can get awful quiet. Awful lonely. Hopefully Fluttershy shows up again. You’d think these bits of metal would tell us if anything…”
Applejack did not continue. She did not want to. The idea of never seeing her friends again scared her more than any Archdemon. Losing Spike was a blow to her morale even now. Losing another would be crushing. She had to tell herself that Fluttershy was just away and that nothing untoward happened to her. However, that thought became harder to believe in as she thought of the dangers the world held. If she could be with somepony that she trusted, that she called friend for a little while, she might even forget that she was a queen, if only for a short moment.
“Rarity…” Applejack took a deep breath. “Ah know you are watching over Sweetie Belle and you have your own life to live… but if Ah could ask ya to stay here a bit longer… Ah’d be mighty grateful.”
Rarity smiled at Applejack and sat down next to her. “Of course,” Rarity replied. “Sweetie Belle stays out in the wilds practicing her magic far from the eyes of the Templars whenever I go out for long periods of time. She’ll be fine. I can stay here for as long as you like.”
“Thanks.” Applejack draped a foreleg around Rarity, much to the latter’s surprise. The two held as much similarities as apples and orchids. Both plants, but otherwise they did not share many connections. Yet there was no one else Applejack wanted to spend time with, to be close with.
They sat in silence for a while until Rarity spoke up. “How is Twilight doing with her new Wardens and her new title?”
Applejack chuckled. “There ain’t nothing Twilight can’t do when she’s faced with a problem. She’s the smartest pony we know, after all. Ponyspawn, politics, she can do anything. I’m sure she’s fine.
Twilight was not fine.
With a colossus looming above her, Twilight instinctively moved as fast as she could and as far as she could. Titanus roared in frustration as he thrashed about the Foundry, his great steel hooves crushing anything and everything underneath them. Twilight breathed heavy as she tried to find some way to stop the monstrosity Iron Will unleashed. Titanus could not only squash them like ants, but his destructive rage could level the Dark Tunnels. Only an army stood a chance against Titanus, but only with catastrophic losses.
Such losses above or below were unacceptable. Twilight raised her sword high and charged it with her intense magical energy. Violet flames burst from the edge of Sophia and with her Grey Warden shield high, Twilight charged towards Titanus. A ridiculous move all things considered, but it was either fight or flight, and Twilight chose to stand her ground with sword and spell.
She struck against Titanus with her flaming sword, striking it against its hard shell. The flames seared some of the metal workings on the leg, but otherwise did little damage nor did it slow the golem down. Titanus replied by lifting its leg up and swiftly bringing it down. Twilight’s horn sparked a spell of haste, and she moved with incredible speed away from the crushing hoof. Haste spells always left Twilight feeling incredibly drained from their use as they increased the rate of which her entire body functioned. Consistent use would leave her in a weakened state or worse, unconscious.
Daisy tried to attack as well. Her razor disk did as much damage as it did to Iron Will; the steel edge could do nothing to pierce such a thick, hard hide. Daisy back peddled away from Titanus until she stood next to Twilight, panting heavily.
“Tough nut to crack, commander,” Daisy said following a deep breath of stale air. “How are we supposed to defeat this thing?”
“A friend of mine is a golem,” Twilight quickly explained, “And she is one of the best warriors I know, but she wasn’t invincible. Spells and weapons won’t have much effect. We need something more powerful! If we can at least crack the steel hide of Titanus, we can get to the underlying lyrium layers. Lyra and I can disrupt the lyrium connections inside the golem, but we won’t get that chance if we can’t get underneath the steel!”
“Onagon…” Titanus groaned. “We will defend… Onagon! Crush all… invaders! For the glory of… Onagon! Onagon! Onagon!”
Twilight looked up to see Titanus turning with great effort to face her and Daisy. Before it got a chance to move, a couple fireballs flew to the side of its head and exploded on impact. Titanus looked to see Lyra summoning another fireball. With an almost crazed look in her eyes, she threw it right into the face of Titanus.
“Come on, you big junkheap!” Lyra shouted, “I’m lean, mean and green! You can’t touch this!”
Titanus roared again as he gave chase to Lyra, demolishing the many workstations within the Foundry. Lyra shouted back to Twilight, “If you have a plan, do it quick!”
Twilight was about to react when she heard the familiar snarls of the minotaurs. The two heavily armoured behemoths charged at them with fury in their eyes and large stalactites as rudimentary yet deadly weapons. One minotaur swung his club downwards in a crushing blow towards Twilight, who dashed out of the way with a backward leap. Twilight replied with a beam of magic aimed square into the minotaur’s chest. The spell did little but make him angrier.
The minotaur roared and moved to attacked again when a barking mad Sparky leapt from the shadows and onto the minotaurs back. Sparky howled before plunging her twin daggers into the thick neck of the minotaur. The greater ponyspawn tried to reach up and snatch the shadowhound off his back, only to find Sparky much more spry than expected. She moved with a swiftness on the ground that Rainbow could match in the skies, striking the minotaur with precision slashes.
“Go!” Sparky shouted. “Me got this one! Me—”
Sparky yelped when the minotaur finally countered with a powerful backhand that sent Sparky flying into the nearby cavern wall. With distance between them the minotaur scraped the ground with his hoof and lowered his head. He charged at Sparky, fully intent on goring her with his sharp, armoured horns. The very rock underneath his hooves crumbled and shards of stone flew up as he prepared to impale the injured shadowhound.
Before the minotaur could reach Sparky, Oghren galloped with a crazed look in his eyes, his great axe held tight within his strong donkey teeth. With a mighty swing, Oghren cleaved his way through the minotaur’s right leg, separating it completely from the knee. Unable to keep his massive frame upright, the minotaur fell and tumbled on the ground while still howling in pain. Despite the grievous wounds, the greater ponyspawn continued to crawl towards Sparky with one of its crushing hands stretched outward.
Sparky, however, had gained enough time to recover from a dazed state. Snarling, she revealed her full row of incredibly sharp teeth and leapt onto the minotaur’s head. She took a large bite into one of the minotaur’s horns and wrenched the bone right out of his skull. Black blood poured from the socket as the minotaur cried out in pain, only to be silenced when Sparky plunged the horn deep inside the skull and thus through the brain.
“Why donkey save Sparky?” she asked as she picked up her daggers.
Oghren readjusted the axe handle in his mouth. “Twilight seems to like you,” he muttered, “And if she hangs around a jackass like me, then maybe, just maybe some diamond dogs ain’t so bad. Besides, you fight decently enough, and I’d rather not have you bite me.”
Sparky replied with a big sharp grin.
Twilight wanted to be glad that the pair finally got along, even though it took a dead minotaur to do it. The threat of Titanus still loomed and Lyra would not be able to keep him distracted for long.
“There has to be something we can do,” Twilight said. “Something we can use in the Foundry to slow or even stop Titanus.”
Oghren’s ears perked up. “I got an idea, boss!” He pointed a hoof to the pipeworks above them. “The Foundry’s lyrium lead pipes are still working! They have to be filled with magma from the Deepest Depths. That kind of heat can melt that great, big, sodding jackass faster than a drunk can down a dozen deep mushroom ale! If it won’t stop him, then it should strip the steel from his hide!”
“Crazy enough to work!” Twilight looked upwards at the pipeworks then back to her party. Lyra needed to recover her strength, so it would be up to Twilight to keep Titanus from thrashing about and crushing all of them. Daisy did not have the strength alone to rupture the pipes.
“We got this, boss,” Oghren said, pointing a hoof between him and Sparky. “I can turn the valve to get the magma flowing while Sparky chews through the supports. It’s going to be dicey without a doubt. We need Titanus to be directly under the magma before the security measures seal up the pipes. One shot, Twilight, just like we always get.”
Twilight nodded to Oghren and Sparky to begin their mission when Lyra’s scream shook her to her bones. She turned to see her fellow mage being tossed about by Titanus’ steel hooves, her shields barely holding with each strike. Twilight knew from experience that magical barriers could not last indefinitely. If Lyra’s broke, she would be defenseless against Titanus.
“Daisy! With me!” Twilight galloped at full tilt towards Lyra, her sword and shield floating by her side. Daisy ran even faster and she spun her razor disc around, her eyes never once leaving Titanus. With a hard crank of her neck, Daisy threw her disc in such a way that it looped the long chain around Titanus’ neck. The disc lodged itself between the plates of Titanus and once Daisy felt the chain was taut, swung herself by her teeth towards Lyra.
Twilight saw what Daisy attempted as well as Titanus lifting his hoof for one final crushing attack. “Lyra, lower your barrier now!” she shouted, while at the same time striking Titanus in the leg with her violet flame sword. She knew her attacks would not harm it, but simply wanted a means to distract the colossus from Daisy’s rescue attempt.
Wobbling on weak legs, Lyra let go of her barrier just in time for Daisy to catch her and swing away. Titanus stopped its crushing motion as it tried to follow the pony pair during their swing. Since her attack proved ineffective, Twilight tried for one more desperate attempt to get Titanus to chase after her.
“Uh…” Twilight cleared her throat and glared at Titanus. “Hey, you! Ugly! I’m talking to you! Look around you! Onagon is lost! Nopony… er… nodonkey lives here anymore! It’s a dead city! You failed!”
Titanus stopped moving, allowing Daisy and Lyra to crash into a wall without the colossus chasing them. It then turned its massive head towards Twilight. She took another deep breath and continued her tirade.
“You were a mistake! You never should have existed! Everydonkey would be happier without you ever being around! They all wish Titanus was just a memory, a figment of the Fade! You failed in your mission and now Onagon is a ruined husk because of you!”
Twilight gaped at the words spilling from her mouth, but the frustrations that built up from seeing the ghosts of Onagon’s past finally let themselves out. Her plan on reaching out to the golem, to lure Titanus away from her friends also worked. Now his attention solely focused on her.
Wait, now that I think about it…
Twilight looked up to see her reflection staring into the now blazing red eyes of Titanus. She gasped as she realized its eyes were not merely focal points of lyrium, but also gigantic red crystals. It groaned again as it took several steps towards Twilight until beams of intense heat and flame burst from his eyes. They took aim directly at Twilight. Only instinct from fighting spells of such power saved Twilight as she raised Ironguard and reinforced its protection with her own defensive magic.
Daisy balked as she tried to carry Lyra away. “The Commander just taunted a giant golem who just revealed he can shoot freaking eye beams!” She gave her head a good shake. “When did this mission turn completely crazy!?”
“Daisy…” Lyra breathed out, weakly pointing to Daisy’s right. “Mino…”
Daisy turned just in time to duck out of the way of the other of Iron Will’s minotaurs. He slammed his fist into the Foundry wall, causing several rocks and bits of metal to fall from the ceiling. Daisy yelped as a shard of metal sliced across her cheek. Blood oozed from the wound while she tried to maintain some distance between herself and the monster.
With a hard pull of her hoof, Daisy recalled her razor disc, hoping that the blade and minotaur met half-way. The minotaur moved out of the way not to dodge the disc, but to charge headlong into Daisy. With the added weight of Lyra on her back, Daisy needed to move with care rather than with speed. She swung her disc ready for another attack. Unlike Titanus and Iron Will she could attack this minotaur.
“Lyra, hold on,” Daisy whispered, “I think I’m going to do something utterly insane.”
With the chain to her disc firmly in her mouth, Daisy let the spinning blade drop to the floor with a thud. She stared down the minotaur who scraped his hoof on the ground and lowered his horns for a goring attack. Daisy breathed out as she felt Lyra’s hooves tighten around her neck. She could do this. She did not have a choice in the matter.
With a sudden burst from her hooves Daisy galloped as quickly as her hooves could carry her and Lyra together right in the path of the minotaur. The greater ponyspawn did the same, charging right towards them with his steel capped horn aimed dead center to skewer the both of them. As the two opposing forces neared, Daisy made her gambit and hoped that the ponyspawn, even with their newfound intelligence, were either too bloodthirsty or stupid to figure it out.
Daisy jerked her entire body so it would be right between the minotaur’s legs and slid past them, all while Lyra screamed bloody murder on her back. The minotaur tilted forward as they passed under him while trying to move his horns to impale the passing ponies. This error caused his horns to stab into the ground with great force, great enough that the minotaur embedding himself into the rocks horn-first.
With a yank, Daisy pulled on her chain and the weapon flew back to her, but not before it rammed blade first into the minotaur’s face. The blades of the razor disc slashed the minotaur’s face open, spilling the foul black blood in a terrible fountain of gore. The minotaur wrenched himself free only to grasp at its face. He turned around to face Daisy, one of his eyes now missing. A powerful jet of steam came out of his nostrils; his destroyed face portrayed his fury well.
Her disc by her side, Daisy went on the offensive, flicking the blades back into the minotaur with swift snaps. The blades would tear at the exposed flesh of the minotaur in one flick, only to be pulled back by another crank of her neck. Daisy continued this attack with each passing second and the momentum allowed her to slice and dice the minotaur to pieces.
Lyra, having regained her strength, let herself go from Daisy and sparked a spell on her horn. She looked to the disc and summoned a ball of flame to sheathe it. Daisy looked at her weapon and produced a wicked grin. Her now flaming disc soared back into the face of the minotaur. Its edge both cut and seared into the monster, making him scream out in pain as the smell of burnt flesh and blood filled the air. Finally, the minotaur fell over stone dead.
Daisy pulled her disc back as Lyra marveled. “You are really good,” Lyra said with a weak smile, “Thanks Daisy. Couldn’t have pulled out of that one without you.”
“We’re Grey Wardens. We’re in this together!” Daisy smiled and then turned to help Twilight, only to stop. “No comments about my butt or your butt?”
Lyra’s leering smile returned. “Oh, well if you want one so badly, I would be totally ok with us touching butts when we get to Brightstone. Ooh, we can invite Twilight and have a three-way and…”
Daisy pressed her face to her hoof. “I now really want to fight the giant killer golem with eyebeams.”
As Daisy and Lyra galloped to her side, Twilight continued her own effort to not be vaporized. Her shields held strong only because Twilight reinforced her barrier with the enchantments laced into Ironguard. She could not see anything past her barrier though, as the beams of red flames from Titanus completely engulfed her. No one knew Twilight’s limits better than her, and while she cast spells of great power, even she reached a cap.
Titanus did not seem to share the same limitations. The colossus continued to advance towards her, its giant hooves crashing into the ground with each step. Twilight felt Titanus getting closer, and knew if he came too close, she would have to defend against both the attacks from his eyes and the crushing brute strength from his hooves. She could not survive defending both at once, and her friends were in no condition to attack.
“Any time now, Oghren! Sparky!” Twilight cried out as she fell to one knee.
High above, Oghren struggled up the narrow walkways used by the smiths of the Foundry’s past. He struggled through some of the narrow paths, as this method of controlling the flow of magma was meant for emergencies, and the engineers did not design these paths for comfort. He grumbled as he saw Sparky climbing upwards on the rocky walls with ease thanks to her clawed paws.
Oghren grunted as he neared the valve that controlled the flow of magma into the Foundry. The heat from the pipes still made him sweat despite their construction of both lead and lyrium. The paragon Leadhoof perfected the magma carrying process ages ago, but for once Oghren wished the paragons were not as good at their respective jobs as they were. He put his hooves onto the valve and looked over to Sparky who swung herself on top of the pipe segment connected by chains.
“Once I turn this valve, it’s gonna get real hot real quick.” Oghren nodded to Sparky. “You’re not so bad, you dumb mutt.”
“Donkey not bad. Is nice change.” Sparky nodded to Oghren and positioned her sharp teeth over the chains. Looking down, Oghren saw that Titanus was nowhere near where it needed to be for the magma to reduce it to slag.
“Twilight!” Oghren shouted, but she could not hear over the thrum of her shield and the roar of Titanus’ eye beams. He looked down to Lyra and Daisy and shouted again. “Twilight can’t move, and she’ll be crushed any moment! You need to get the big sod under the pipe works!”
“How?!” Daisy shouted back, “Our weapons and magic do nothing against it! We don’t even register to him!”
“Wait…” Lyra nodded her head. “Twilight was able to taunt Titanus to focus on her. All we have to do is taunt him off her!”
“Can you raise a shield like the Commander?” Daisy pointed to the eye beams. “If you haven’t noticed, he’ll fry us the first chance he gets!”
“Just follow my lead and go to the other end of the room!” Lyra galloped away from Daisy, all the while shouting, “Hey! I heard Onagon is full of easy jennies! Can you point me to the local whorehouse, and I don’t mean your mom! I already saw her plenty last week!”
Titanus stopped its attack on Twilight and slowly craned its head towards Lyra. Massive metal joints creaked as Titanus shifted its position so that it was now facing the battlemage. Twilight took a deep breath and collapsed on her hooves, her weapons falling to her side.
Lyra cackled at her insult only to realize that Titanus now focused all of its hatred on her. As its eyes glowed, Lyra yelled, “Your turn, Daisy! Make it good, make it quick!”
Daisy stammered for a moment. “Uh… well… you are very large so you have a big butt! Yeah! And you smell bad too!”
Lyra shook her head. “I’m doomed.”
High above them, Oghren could only watch instead of fight as he wanted so desperately to do. “Stupid donkey construct,” he muttered, “You took Branka from me, I won’t let you take my friends too!”
An idea suddenly sparked. “Hundreds of donkeys were used to make Titanus,” Oghren said to a confused Sparky. “We have to piss them off in the only way a donkey knows how to do!”
“Rawr?” Sparky cocked her head, looking between Titanus and Oghren. “You have plan? Tell Sparky!”
Oghren winked before clearing his throat. He then shouted with all his breath, “Kog’ka magorran dos jaka! Deshan meg toran kalaak moorca!”
Titanus stopped his advance on Lyra and quickly turned its head upwards Oghren. Once he was sure of Titanus’ position, Oghren turned the valve on the pipes to allow the magma to flow freely again. The heat from the molten rocks warmed his hooves despite the lead lyrium pipes and Oghren galloped away once he saw things were about to get more heated thanks to Titanus’ unique weapons.
Sparky quickly chomped on the chains until the magma pipes shifted beneath her, yet they did not break. Before she could shout at the apparent failure, Titanus fired the beams of fiery magic upwards at the pipeworks. The intense force of its attack tore the pipes apart and thus allowed the magma to flow freely.
The magma poured from the pipes slowly, but once gravity took over, the super hot magma dripped onto Titanus’ face. The golem stopped firing its eye beams as it screamed with the collective noise of a hundred donkey souls. Bits of metal melted off its face, while more magma continued to fall onto it and melt the golem down.
Oghren and Sparky ran across the collapsing scaffolds and stone stairways while Titanus flailed about in the Foundry. The colossus fell over onto its side as magma melted not only its hide, but hooves as well. Eventually, the pair joined Twilight and the others as they watched the once mighty Titanus fall. Despite such breaches to its chassis, Titanus continued to move forward towards the group by pulling itself towards the Grey Wardens. One eye completely melted over while the other continued to blaze.
“Will… not… fall…” Titanus rumbled, “Onagon… needs… safety…”
“Onagon fell a long time ago,” Twilight said, “You are all that remains. Maybe after this, you can find peace. Now Lyra!”
Both unicorns pointed their horns at Titanus and cast a spell that would link them with his lyrium. Beams of violet and green light latched themselves onto the golem and already the lyrium started to overload, glowing brighter and hotter than before. The throng of voices that made Titanus screamed, but Twilight kept her focus.
Her spell located the power source the Paragon used to make Titanus function. A single shard embedded in the golem’s forehead, just as the compulsion told her it would be. Twilight felt the same compulsion again and she let go of her magic on Titanus to pry the shard out. She grunted as she pulled with all her magical might, all the while unable to hear the others around her.
“No…” Titanus said, “Don’t… take… shard… need…”
“So… do… I!” Twilight ripped the shard from Titanus’ forehead and the gargantuan golem finally fell silent. Twilight held the shard close to her as she took a deep breath.
“May Onagon rest in peace at last.” Twilight looked around the destroyed foundry and could already feel the Veil between the material world and the Fade begin to repair itself. She looked over the shard and balked at the thing. Before when the compulsion led her to the Foundry, the shard radiated incredible power. The shard allowed a mountain of a golem to move and attack with deadly power. Yet now that it lay in Twilight’s magical grasp, it appeared little more than a shard of glass.
Just like the one from ABF, Twilight recalled. She slipped the shard into her saddle bag and turned to her friends who stood around her. They were battered and bruised, but not beaten, and Twilight could not have been prouder.
“We did incredible work today,” Twilight said, “And I’m so happy to call you all Grey Wardens. With this victory we have shown that it is our differences that allow us to achieve victory. So long as we stand united we can—”
Daisy dove for Twilight, pushing her commander over. When Twilight looked up, she saw Iron Will still alive and wrestling with Daisy. The pair struggled on the ground but with his greater size and strength, Iron Will took the advantage and placed a hand firmly on Daisy’s head. Twilight’s horn sparked as she tried to blast Iron Will off her friend, to no avail. His body was still immune to damage. If Titanus could not crush him, then what use was a simple concussive spell?
Iron Will looked Twilight in the eye and smiled a wicked smile. “When ponies think your stuff they can take, give their necks a little break!”
Twilight reached out with a hoof, her mouth drying faster than water in a desert. Everything around her slowed down as she watched Iron Will dump Daisy to the ground. Just a moment ago Daisy was fighting a minotaur. Just a moment ago she taunted a massive golem. Her green eyes remained open as her skull landed on the ground with a sickening thud. The same eyes that looked at Twilight with respect, admiration, and friendship.
Now those eyes were dead.
“No!” Lyra cried out. She unleashed a torrent of flame from her mouth with her dragon’s breath spell, only far hotter and wilder than the version she used in Brightstone. The flames quickly engulfed Iron Will, who merely laughed them blaze off as he continued to advance.
“Stupid ponies,” Iron Will said in a mocking tone. “Sure, I didn’t expect that golem to turn on Iron Will, but you know what Iron Will did expect? That either you or it would be left standing, allowing Iron Will to pick the bones clean. Now about your skulls Iron Will wants so much…”
Lyra coughed, her dragon’s breath sputtering out until she fell to her knees. Exhausted from the fight, she looked up as Iron Will neared and summoned enough strength to spit on him.
Twilight simply sat there in a daze as memories of the Battle of Trotterim rushed to her head. Lyra’s flames became the flames of the burning Chantry. Daisy looked back at Twilight, yet her dead eyes became those of Spike. The flames consumed all, yet Spike still stared as the metal from his armour melted onto him, disfiguring him as he screamed.
Oghren hefted his axe and charged towards Iron Will, his eyes crazed with murderous fury. He swung at the minotaur leader’s legs, yet his axe left nothing against them. Failure to wound did not stop him as he continued to attack, allowing Lyra to crawl away to relative safety.
Sparky leapt into battle, her daggers drawn and her lips pulled back into a horrifying snarl. She used both blade and fang to tear into Iron Will’s hide, yet her attack was no more effective than the others. Iron Will threw Sparky aside and casually backhanded Oghren out cold.
“Iron Will has bigger fish to fry than you weaklings,” he announced. His hooves stomped the ground as stood over the stunned Twilight. “The shard is what I’m after. The Architect wants it, but for now, it’s mine. Time to die, Silencer.”
Twilight looked up at Iron Will but did not see the minotaur alpha. Instead she looked up to see the gaping maw of the Archdemon Uthemiel standing over her. The dragon roared in Twilight’s face, but instead of fear, Twilight felt something else deep within her. Something that lay repressed for years now bubbling to the surface.
Twilight’s horn sparked and shone an impossibly bright light into Iron Will’s eyes. He recoiled away and covered his eyes, tripping over his own hooves while groaning in agony. When able to see again, Iron Will looked up to see Twilight standing on the head of Titanus. Her gaze directed unparalleled hatred at Iron Will. She ground her teeth as her horn no longer glowed with her familiar violet aura, but instead with an ominous crimson hue.
Her sword drifted by her side and remained fully vertical. Twilight extended her left hoof and removed the plates from her armour, allowing her violet coat to be seen. She did not wince or yelp when Sophia lowered into her arm, splitting flesh and pouring blood.
The blood did not touch the ground, but instead formed a small orb, no bigger than an apple. She lifted the blood in her magical hold and levelled it towards Iron Will. While Twilight never practiced blood magic, as it was forbidden by the Tower and the Chantry, she studied it to prepare herself in dealing with Maleficarum. Her special talent of magic, however, meant her studies made her adept in any magical school she chose. Conjuration. Evocation. Transmutation. Abjuration.
And, of course, Blood Magic.
The blood orb flew towards Iron Will, splashing against his face. Twilight continued to stare down the minotaur as he wiped away the blood, while some became absorbed into his skin. He smiled again as he stood up straight.
“Is that really the best you have, Silencer?” Iron Will said, “When it’s that time again, Iron Will brings the—”
“Pain.” Twilight’s horn and eyes glowed crimson in unison as she activated the spell. Iron Will suddenly convulsed and screamed in extreme pain, his bellows echoing throughout the Foundry. He clutched his chest and breathed heavily, all the while Twilight walked towards him with slow methodical steps.
“Impossible,” Iron Will spat in between lungfuls of air. “My skin… the Shaper made it so nothing can pierce my skin! No blade or spell… how?!”
“My blood,” Twilight explained, “Is now a part of your bloodstream. The pain you feel is attacking you from the inside. Your skin may be invincible, but the disgusting creature that lies beneath? Not quite. Consider your skin the pot, your blood water, and my magic the heating element. Because your skin cannot break, it will contain your blood as it bubbles and boils within you. Soon your organs will cook inside you. Now… Suffer.”
Iron Will screamed again at the command of Twilight’s spell. He fell over and lay on his back while his entire body spasmed from the excruciating pain. Twilight could not help but smile. Blood magic felt good, incredibly good. The power she held in her horn thanks to her blood made her feel stronger than any other form of magic. Magic from the Fade paled in comparison, and the magic within herself did not do what she wanted in this instance.
She wanted to hurt Iron Will. Killing him would be too easy, she wanted him to suffer for everything that he did to her. To Daisy. Twilight wanted to make Iron Will beg for his life, to crawl to his knees and request that he be put to the sword, only for Twilight to deny him. How many times had the ponyspawn and their leaders inflicted pain on her? How many friends had to die at their wretched hooves? For all the suffering the Blight had caused, why not inflict it on them a hundred-fold?
Yet for all the harm she inflicted on Iron Will, the minotaur continued to smile. “Truly…” Iron Will coughed up his own blood as he tried to stand on quaking knees. “Iron Will has done something no other has done since the Song. He has hurt the Silencer. I have hurt you in such a way that I won’t be forgotten. Iron Will shall forever be with you, Silencer. Through him… victory for the Brothers.”
Twilight was about to increase the heat her blood magic caused within Iron Will when she heard Lyra’s voice. “Twilight… it’s over.”
Twilight turned to see Lyra cradling Daisy’s body. She closed Daisy’s eyes and appeared to whisper words of comfort into the dead ear. Tears fell down her cheeks, ruining her makeup. The sight of Lyra mourning snapped Twilight out of her murderous fury. She turned back to Iron Will and shook her head.
“You’re right,” she said in a weak voice. “You have hurt me. But now… you will never hurt anypony ever again.”
Twilight turned her back on Iron Will and with only a thought, increased the potency of her blood spell by several magnitudes. Iron Will gurgled as blood flowed out his mouth until he fell over, dead. Black ichor and grey matter leaked from his mouth, nose, and eyes. The Indomitable Iron Will was no more.
With Iron Will dead, Twilight walked over to Daisy. Oghren and Sparky joined her at her side as she laid on her knees and stroked Daisy’s green hair. Hot tears streamed down her face as she looked on. It almost appeared as if Daisy was merely sleeping, but no matter how many times Twilight begged the Sisters, Daisy would never awaken again.
“She was scared, terrified of the Dark Tunnels, the ponyspawn,” Oghren said, breaking the silence. “She still came down here with us despite her terror. That’s the sign of a true warrior, of somepony worth standing beside in battle and out of it. I…”
Oghren wiped his eyes. “Stone keep you, Stone protect you, Daisy.”
Sparky walked up to Daisy and held one of her hooves in shaking paws. “Sparky called Daisy a scaredy,” she said, “but Daisy no scared. Sparky not know Daisy long but…”
Instead of words, Sparky sat on all four of her paws and turned her head upward, delivering a long, mournful howl. It echoed throughout the Foundry, to Onagon, and through the Dark Tunnels. Lyra sobbed into Daisy’s mane while Twilight remained silent. Once again the Dark Tunnels stole something from her. Before it was a sense of innocence, that she could do anything. Until she met Ruck. Until she met the Jailer. Now, the Tunnels claimed the life of a friend.
The Dark Tunnels laid claim to all who descended its depths until they swallowed light itself into the abyss.