Journey's End

by GentlemanJ



Ears ringing.

Head pounding.

Painful signs. But signs of life.

Groaning like a wounded bull, Ironside pushed himself to his feet and gave his head a slow, deliberate shake to clear the cobwebs sticking to his mind. Soon, clarity of vision returned and looking up, the general saw that the pavilion was in shambles. Dust hung thick in the air, magical instruments sparked and sputtered, and any semblance of order that once filled the space lay as shattered as the various now useless displays. But that was just equipment. It was the people that really mattered.

Peering through the musty haze, Ironside could vaguely make out the form of Lieutenant Sonar clambering to his feet, so the general instead heaved his aching body up so he could turn attentions towards the two who needed it the most. Out cold, but still breathing, Luna be praised, Shining Armor and Princess Cadance lay on the floor, still safely held in each other's embrace as the full magnitude of their efforts rendered them catatonic. Honestly, Ironside had no idea how the two had pulled it off, not even with the help of what the army had remaining, but they'd done it. The barrier had stood right till it needed to fall, and the ensuing vacuum of fresh air to smoldering embers?

Fireworks of the most explosive variety.

"Lieu-" Ironside coughed to clear the dust from his lungs, "Lieutenant, anything still working?"

"Not a blasted thing," he replied. "Whole system's fried beyond repair. We're on basic senses now.

Just as well, Ironside thought to himself. At this point, knowing anything really didn't matter. Their last ace had been played, the entire army was in chaos, and all Nul's abominations had to do was march in to clean up what mess remained.

Unless, of course, they'd delayed for long enough.

So with ears strained and eyes peeled, Ironside stared into the haze of dust and smoke that filled the valley in hopes of determining the nature of the battlefield.


He couldn't see or hear a thing. Not a rumble, not a shake, not a single, solitary screech of those thrice-cursed abominations disturbed the frosty air. All in all, it was a deplorably sorry state of intel to be in during the middle of a war.




The darkness went mad.

The girls didn’t know what happened. One moment, they were struggling tooth and nail with the demon from the pit, and the next moment, they just… weren’t. The beast was still there of course, still the same foreboding specter of destruction as always, but it was… scattered. No longer was that all-devouring power brought to bear against them as the darkness simply writhed and thrashed, flailing about with force and fury, but no focus whatsoever.

In a mad rush, all six pulled back and returned attention to the breach. No longer working to stave off the darkness, they all set out with single mind to work at repairing the weave. A thousand connections were made, then a hundred thousand as they worked faster and faster to reknit the frayed seal piece by minute piece until…

Wearily, Twilight opened her bleary eyes and looked up. And there, shining twice as bright as before like the summer sun in all of its noonday splendor, stood the cage.





They'd... they'd actually had done it.

They'd actually gone and sealed away Nul.

“Best. Day. EVER!!!” Rainbow Dash cried out as she picked up Pinkie Pie in the tightest hug to ever be hugged. Or was it Pinkie who picked her up? There was so much laughing and hugging between the two, it was really hard to say, especially when a squealing Fluttershy threw herself wholeheartedly into the squishy mix.

“I can’t believe it,” Applejack breathed as she looked up in wonder at the glittering orb, her hat held in hand with open reverence. “We did it. We actually did it...”

“Of course,” Twilight grinned as she seized her friend up in a big hug of her own. “Was there ever any doubt?”

Of course not. So with reverence passed, Applejack split into the hugest smile this side of Appleoosa’s Pie Day Festival and returned the hug with a liberal applications of laughing and hair mussing on all sides as the two groups soon melded together into one big, giggle ball of fluffy, hugging goodness. It was like so that five girls rejoiced at what could be considered as a pretty big accomplishment for their young lives.

Five. Not Six.

“Girls?” Rarity called out with nervous smile on her face. “Has anyone seen Graves?”

“Not yet,” Fluttershy replied from the midst of the affectionate muddle, “but I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Of course he is,” Rainbow Dash hooted. “He always is. I don’t think that guy’d die even if you killed him.”

“Not the exact words I would have chosen,” Twilight frowned as she saw Rarity’s face grow a bit paler, “but I share the sentiment. Graves is tough. He’s gonna be okay.”

“I suppose,” the pretty seamstress answered with a small smile. “But really, I can’t help but feel that he might be in trouble.”

“Usually am,” a low, gravelly voice rumbled out. “That’s how I roll.”

Dropping from the sky and landing on one knee like a battered angel from the heavens came the very familiar figure of a man in a long brown coat and a broad, flat-brimmed hat. Rarity didn’t waste time with words. She just ran, colliding headlong into him as she pulled him into a tight, rib creaking embrace. Part of her knew it probably hurt him, but part of her also thought he deserved it. He should get that much at least for making her worry like that.

“Well, it’s about time,” Rarity huffed, quickly dabbing at her eyes as she pulled away to smile up at the marshal. “I was about to think that–”

If she’d been pale before, she was deathly white now.

“So… not in the best of shape,” he grinned. “Guess you can tell.”

She saw it all. The bloody gash across his right eye. The rips and tears and caustic burns across his body from collisions with the destructive mist. The tattered remnants of his shirt, less on his chest than on the various bandages strewn across his ravaged form. The right arm that dangled limply with sleeve completely blown away to reveal bandages from elbow down already stained a deep crimson hue.

It was a sight to make a stone weep, and Rarity was certainly no stone.

“You… you wool-headed, fool of a man!” she cried, tears welling up in earnest as she fumbled for the pouch at her side to remove the healing gems. “I knew you’d go and do something completely bone-headed! You always do! Well, I’ll just have to–”

“Later,” Graves said softly as he pressed a calloused hand over hers. “Right now, we need to move."

Move? Why? Hadn’t they just won? Hadn’t they just sealed away the principal darkness in an unbreakable cage? Why would they… need… too…

That’s when they saw it. The shadows.

Yes, they had sealed Nul away, but only him. Not his pets. Even now, there were still hundreds of those leering beasts still circling about, buds of darkness snipped off from from the vine with any reason shared from their master now gone and reduced to nothing more than slavering hunger shambling about. Hunger that was slowly shambling right their way.

“Everybody, get your boom tubes out,” Graves called with spell rifle charged in left hand. “They take some time to get working and I want us out five minutes ago.”

Instantly, the girls sprang to action. Right thumbs pressed to left wrists, the same magic ink that had housed their Elements came to life and coalesced into thin, glass tubes that contained swirling andromedas inside. Those delicate little tubes held their lifelines, the most powerful teleportation spells known to man and the only sure ways of ever leaving this infernal pit alive.

“Pop and go,” Graves called out. “We’re burning daylight.”

Rainbow Dash and Pinkie smashed theirs with glee and were instantly enveloped in orbs of rippling light. Applejack and Twilight followed suit, albeit with much more level-headed motions and Fluttershy squeaked as she lightly tossed hers to the floor. Rarity was about to follow suit, but paused as she saw the made no motion for his own.

“Graves?” she called. “Hurry up, or you’ll be late.”

“Need to watch the retreat,” he called, back turned towards her as he kept watch out for the oncoming shadows. “Once you're safely started, I’ll come and catch up later.”


“Hey, trust me. I know what I'm doing.”

Rarity nodded. If the marshal was confident in his work, then that was good enough for her. So without further thought, she raised the vial up and hurled it to the floor. There. Just like her friends, Rarity was now safely encased in their cocoons of rippling light, barriers of magic strong enough to take a dragon’s breath full on without…


… pause.

Wait a moment. If the barriers were so strong, then why was Graves concerned? Why did he need to stand guard?

“Um… Big G?” Pinkie Pie grinned, a bit hesitantly as oddness beyond even her ways settled in. “You know you can hurry up and join us, right?”

“Yeah, quit playing around,” Rainbow Dash laughed. “We know you like the dramatic exit and all, but really, now’s not the time.”

They spoke, but Graves said nothing. He simply stood, backs toward them with his eyes watching as the shadows approached.

“Graves, seriously, cut it out,” Applejack began, taking the tone she reserved for when Apple Bloom was being especially silly. “You need to get yer caboose in gear and get yer fancy magic shindig cracking afore I really start to lose my cool.”

“Please, Mr. Graves,” Fluttershy urged with rapidly mounting angst, “can you just, ooh... can you just hurry the buck up so we can all go home now, please?"

“… No. He can't.”

All eyes turned to Twilight, who looked on at Graves with eyes gone wide with a horror to match anything they'd seen today, likely at anything she would would ever see hence. Only at those words did Graves finally turn around, a guilty smile coming to crookedly upturned lips as he lifted up a bloody hand to show them his boom tube.

What was left of it, anyway. All he held now was an empty, shattered vial.

“I… I don’t understand,” Rarity said, a smile playing across her rosy lips. This must be a joke. It had to be. A cruel, completely inappropriate, and ill-timed joke. There couldn’t be any other explanation.

But there was.

“You used it already, didn’t you?” Twilight answered as the pieces of that ugly truth fell into place. “Right at the end, there was a sudden spike in power that disrupted Nul’s mind. You didn’t have enough punch on your own, so you used your tube to make it up.”

“Always were a smart one,” Graves grinned. “Nailed it right on the head.”

“But there’s still some left right? There’s still enough juice left to get you back home, right? Right?” Rainbow Dash smiled, an expression usually so strong and confident now quickly weakening as cancerous worry ate away more of its strength with each passing instant. When the marshal made no reply, she looked around to her friends, desperate to find some word, some look of affirmation to give second wind to her quailing hopes. But everyone, even she herself, could see that the marshal held little more than ordinary glass in hand as every drop of magic had been spent long ago.

“Well, that’s okay,” Pinkie grinned, stepping up to find the bright side where none else could. “We can just… share, right? These little doodads are so explosively amazing, I’m sure one can take on an extra passenger.”

“Wouldn’t work,” Twilight repeated, almost an automoton of cold, relentless truth. “Even if we could undo these barriers to get him inside before they went off, teleportation’s hard enough as it is, and has to be calibrated precisely or else you'd get catastrophic results. Add on the interference from being in what I assume is a partially separate dimension at the center of the earth, and... and..." Words fell off as even Twilight Sparkle, the most brilliant of them all, felt her mind grind to a halt.

“But... but we have to try!” Fluttershy gasped as she fought to keep panic from her voice and failed miserably. “Mr. Graves needs our help! We have to at least give it a–”

“You tricked us,” Rarity gaped. Sapphire eyes met gunmetal grey. “You knew this was how we’d act. You knew we’d try and accommodate you, so you made us activate the tubes and their magical barriers. You weren’t trying to keep the monsters out. You were trying to keep us in.”

“Guilty as charged," Grave replied.

And once more, the marshal grinned.


Okay, that? That just wasn't cool.

Emotions erupted, fully, completely, and without reservation. Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash bounced around in their cages, literally hurling their bodies against the barriers of light in rage and desperation and borderline panic. Applejack pounded away, kicking for all she was worth as muscles trained from years of labor straining to find some breach in the shell. Twilight, despite knowing full well the truth of her own words, flung any and every magical spell in her arsenal forward with blind hopes of proving herself wrong. But the magic held fast, even as it hummed faster and faster and slowly began to lift the girls from the ground.

“You jerk!” Pinkie Pie screeched as her own sphere of light increased in volume. “You big, jerky, jerk-face, jerk-butt… jerk!”

“When I get my hands on you,” Rainbow Dash cried, “I’m gonna kick your ass so hard, you’re gonna kiss the mare in the moon!”

“Looking forward to it,” Graves chuckled. “But I’m gonna have to take a rain check.”

Had he fought back, broken down, lashed out, done something, the girls could have stayed angry. They could have continued raging at him for making such a stupid choice. But the way he stood there, grinning away like a buffoon with a ticket to the county fair, made it absolutely impossible. And so, one by one, they gave up. Legs gave way, tears began to stream, and the girls one by one surrendered to fate as the marshal looked on and smiled.

All save one. All save the violet-haired beauty who still stood tall.

“Graves,” she said softly, her face remarkably calm and smooth as she reached out to touch the shell before her. “You’re not a liar, are you?”

“Never thought I was,” he shrugged. “Why?”

“Because you said…” Rarity paused and swallowed, working to clear the lump in her throat. “You said that you’d… catch up later. Were those words truth? Or lies?”

“Well...” Graves murmured as he reached up to scratch his blood-matted hair, "guess that depends."

“Depends?" she asked. "On what?”

“On what you say next.”

For the first time, the marshal’s smile cracked and the uncertainty beneath came through.

“I once said you made my life worth living,” he began, his words coming out at an awkward stumble as his lack of eloquence collided with mounting urgency. “Problem is, that’s a one way street. I need to know if you're up for the job.”

Eyebrows arched above sapphire eyes in surprise.

“I’ve fought a long time,” Graves pressed on, his mouth probably now moving faster than his mind as feet propelled him forward, almost like they were trying to help propel his thoughts. “Really long. Always had something worth dying for. Never had nothing to live for. ‘Course, you changed it so now I have a reason to come home. I mean, not your home, that’d be weird, but a reason to make it back, you know? Got stuff I’m looking forward to, like talking more about books and playing with Sweetie Belle, and kissing you, and… wait, did I say that? I mean, it’s true, I really do like that, but that’s not the only thing, so, uh… buck it, what was I saying?”

“You’re asking me to wait?” Rarity finished, eyes perfect sapphire disks as she gaped in disbelief. “You’re actually asking me to wait for you to come back home?”

A grin, part relieved, part nervous, and all guilt came to the marshal’s face.

“People need a reason to fight. It ain't fair, I know, but could you... I mean, would you... b–”

The dam finally broke.

“Of course I will, you twice-addled buffoon!” Rarity shrieked as each and every tear she’d been fighting back burst forth all at once. “Why would you even need to ask such a thing? Did you honestly think I’d give up on you so easily after all the work I put in to finally make you mine? Are you really that dense, you rock-headed, brainless, idiotic fool?!”

And despite the savagery of her words, Graves really couldn't help but smile. He’d lost so much. His family, his comrades, his dreams, three times over had the marshal learned that the taste of happiness quickly came followed by bitter gall. Graves knew the pain of loss, and probably better than anyone, but even with all he'd gone through, there was still one pain that not even he could quite yet comprehend.

And that?

That was the pain of waiting.

Everything he'd lost was gone, forever out of reach and with no hopes of gaining it back while he still drew breath. But though it had hurt like having his soul ripped apart piece by piece, at least he had known it was done. With Rarity's help, he'd been able to put his life back together. He'd been able to rebuild because he'd been able to move on.

But what about Rarity? Should Graves fall, his journey would be over, but what about Rarity’s suffering? It would only be the beginning. If he died down here, in this fathomless pit where the light of day would never touch, who would know? Nobody, and because nobody would know, Rarity would have to wait. Until she could lay him to rest herself, the woman he loved more than life itself would be condemned to hope against any and every impossible odd that one day, happiness might somehow return. She would live life with a gaping wound that could never really heal.

And despite the outright selfishness and the obscene cruelty of his request, Graves had asked anyway. Because of the hundreds of millions in the world across all of time and history, Rarity was the only one he could ask. He needed an anchor, and only one woman would ever do.

So, even though her words were some of the harshest she’d ever spoken, they were also the most comforting. Those words let him know that even when he was alone once more, he had somewhere he was expected to be. She gave him a reason to fight, and really, what more could a marshal ever want?

“Oy! Knucklehead!” Rainbow Dash called out through her own veil of tears. “When you get back, you owe me all the cider I can drink, got it?”

“Yeah, and cupcakes!” Pinkie Pie bawled. “At least, like, fifty billion of then because when you’re as big a jerk as–”

Words cut off as with a blinding flash, the orbs imploded and disappeared without a trace.

“Mr. Graves, you have to hurry, alright?” Fluttershy called out in panicked desperation. “Angel gets lonely really easily and he really likes sitting on your hat!”

“And Big Macintosh can’t handle all the heavy liftin’ by himself,” Applejack joined in. “After all, who’s gonna help him blow out more stumps when clearin’ season comes?”

“I know you’ve been teaching Spike how to fight,” Twilight confessed through her own now tear-soaked face. “I personally don’t approve, but since you started, you have to come back and finish the job, you hear?”

“Roger that ma’am,” Graves saluted, even managing a quick smile just before three more spheres of light vanished. That left only two, the soldier and the beauty in the bottom of the pit. Alone. Together.

But not for long.

“You sure you want to do this?” Graves asked as he reached up to touch the barrier of light. “I might be a while.”

“So what else is new,” Rarity sniffed as she furiously scrubbed the tears away from her eyes. “But I suppose I can spare you some time?”

“Some?” Graves grinned. “Don’t sound like much to me.”

“Perhaps,” Rarity smiled, “but one only has so many lifetimes to wait, you know?” And here, she raised her own hand, pressing it to the swirling light where his calloused palm lay. It was thin, the light, so thin that a hair would have seemed a mountain range in comparison. But it was there and that was enough. Enough to keep them apart till the very end.

“I will come back to you, Rarity,” Graves repeated, his voice growing rough as he forced out the words. “I promise. Someday, I will be back.”

“Of course you will, my dear Graves,” the young beauty laughed as tears welled up once more. “After all, you belong to me. Till death do us part and beyond. Now and forever more.”

Graves smiled, not a smile of acceptance or one of defeat, or even one of confidence to soothe the heart of the one who needed it most. No, for the first time, Rarity saw Graves smile in happiness as in that simple, sublime moment, he had everything he could ever want.

“Ah, yeah, one last thing,” he chuckled.

“Oh?” she repeated with eyebrow arched. “What’s that?”

And with that smile, with silver eyes twinkling like the brightest stars with more warmth and joy than Rarity ever thought possible, Graves simply said,

“I love you.”

Then light flashed and she was gone.


For a moment, Graves stood there, the faint impression of the glowing sphere still tingling on his palm. Only a moment though. Only a moment.

Turning around, Graves saw the shadows just as they saw him. As one, hundreds of leering demons converged on his little plot of land, practically scrambling over each other to have a taste of his flesh.

Graves considered the situation. Right hand all but useless, severe internal bleeding, blinded in one eye, crippled and lamed twice over on one leg, an improperly set shoulder dislocation reducing mobility, and a million other injuries he didn’t have time to name. His mana was drained, his strength exhausted, and even standing there took nearly all of his will to accomplish.

It’d be hard. But then again, when was it not?

Slowly, the marshal reached down and tore a final strip of cloth from his shirt as he curled his useless, right-hand fingers around his knife hilt, only pausing to give the glittering ring of swirling gold and silver a last, appreciative smile before binding the grip shut. Then, with task completed, Graves looked back up at the oncoming shadow horde, took a deep breath, and...

“Alright, you pus-sucking maggots, here’s the deal!” he called out, his baritone voice ringing through the depths of the pit with clear, hardened resolve. “I’m tired, I’m cranky, and I’m late for a date with a very pretty lady who doesn’t like to be kept waiting. So right now, I suggest you step off to one side and leave me be before I start explaining just why they call me the Ghost of Thunder. Got it?”

The shadows howled as they poured on speed.

“Okay then,” he smiled as he tugged his broad, flat-brimmed hat low over silver grey eyes. “Let’s do this.”

So with blade in one hand and rifle in the other, with the desire not to fight and die, but to fight and live, the lone marshal with eyes of gunmetal grey leaped from the stone and into battle once more.


The End