Run, rabbit, run,
Through shaded wood and glen.
Get away, my pet, get away,
Or you shan’t pass this way again.
For master fox shall catch you.
The grinning fox shall catch you,
And that shall be your end.
A sharp ache in the side of Adagio’s head reminded her that she had hit the ground. Something soft brushed against the fur of her belly then swept across her nose. How tender the sensation felt before the world became clear again, before she was winded by ropes yanked about her middle, and a ring was shoved down upon her horn. Her eyes fluttered open to catch a wisp of white disappear behind the edges of her mane.
“Stupid. Little. Rrrgh!” a familiar mare’s voice grumbled below its breath.
Reddened skies came into focus, flying silhouettes of ponies dancing within its smoke. The smell of rotted leaves filled Adagio’s nostrils.
There was a trembling in the air. It twisted and deepened into a low, threatening growl, one the Duchess could feel in her bones. The sensation felt entirely appropriate, however. Every second more that the sound dug into her consciousness, the more it called to her, the more contagious it became.
“I should sever the wench’s horn and wear it in my belt,” the mystery mare sniffed from somewhere out of sight.
“Don't fret about it, Hum,” a stallion’s voice eased into the quiet spaces. “The potion should have your wing right as rain in—”
“Shut up!” the unseen mare bellowed. Only then did she roundabout to Adagio’s front. Seeing the Duchess had awakened, Echo Hum lowered her head to meet her gaze. “I'll see that you pay for that horn to the wing, Flower. But for the time being you must excuse us. We've got a little, blue grease spot to wipe from the face of the earth.”
“Sonata!” a second stallion’s voice called.
Adagio’s world grew a little bigger. She looked upon Prance laying in the grass nearby. He tensed against his restraints before a large, grey hoof caught him across the jaw.
“Relax there, friend,” Silent Wing sneered. “Wouldn’t want another helping of what you got earlier, would you?”
“Wing!” Echo called, drawing her partner’s attention away from the knight and out toward the bright and rolling red.
Adagio’s back was toward the cliffside. She could not see Sonata from her position.The low growling that only she could hear grew deeper, more guttural. She wriggled against her bindings. Looking upon Silent Wing, Adagio hoped that the stallion would not do anything brash before she could break free.
She paused when she glanced at him. Something had changed about Wing in those few split seconds. His face had contorted. His green eyes went wide and glossy whilst his wings wilted toward the ground. “What in Tartarus is she doin’? What’s wrong with her eyes?” he wavered. “Them dirt knockers can’t do that, can they?”
Adagio frowned at these words. “Miss Dusk?” she called, receiving no reply.
“I don't know what it is she’s doing, and neither do I care,” Echo hissed somewhere at Adagio’s back. “I shall gut her before she has the chance.”
“Miss Dusk!” the Duchess called again, realizing that her time was up.
By her side, Lighthoof tussled, nipping and gnawing at his chains. His frantic disposition made Adagio feel sick to her stomach. She realized then that she had never seen the knight look so terrified before. He cared for that blue mare deeply, and the pain reflected in his eyes tore at her heart.
That familiar gnawing sensation of guilt and fear began to creep over the Duchess. Innocents were suffering before her eyes, and the one thing they all had in common was their association with her. Now, the Dusk mare would perish. Prance would be brought to swift retribution at the hooves of somepony spiteful. Everywhere Adagio looked lay a trap, another dead end. Perhaps she had been attempting to run from the inevitable after all.
Adagio’s eyes closed for her inability to courageously look upon the world that she had created. For what felt like the thousandth time, she lamented being weaker than the Duke; so much weaker than the forces that he wielded. If only she could have been a little stronger, a little more collected, a little more cunning, maybe then she could have had the power to fix this, too. Maybe she could have—
Be quiet! At long last, Adagio Dazzle, silence! So, you are not the shining example of benevolence that you ought to be. You have hurt undeserving ponies for selfish reasons. You have put yourself first in all matters because you were fearful. You ran when you could not win. So be it, and may Tartarus have you for it when the time comes. But Spirits damn you if you ever believe again that you are too weak! On this night, Adagio, you shall see what you can do instead of fearing what you cannot. You shall put to use that which you have at your disposal, and you shall figure a way free. You've conjured marvelous thoughts even within the vice-like grip of noble bondage, and you shall conjure even greater thoughts still! Now, stop this pitiful self-flagellation and just… think!
There is a bright moment, a blinding space in between great changes of the heart. Existing within it is to experience a second birth into a creature closer to what one ought to be. Like a butterfly on the verge of pushing through its cocoon, in a tiny temporal space, darkness pervades. One is small, warm, surrounded by the false comforts of the little that is known. Then the shell cracks and barely, just barely, something glimmering, and gorgeous, and terrifying, and new begins to peek through…
“Lighthoof. Your teeth,” Adagio said, trying to keep her voice well below the mercenary pair's earshot. She nudged her horn in the white knight's direction. “Lend them to me.”
At first the knight paid her no mind. Beaten, tired, and terrified for his friend, he continued to look out toward the Dusk filly’s cliff with the type of confused panic that made Adagio’s stomach lurch. “Something is wrong, Gio. Sonata… What is she—”
“Lighthoof!” Adagio hissed, writhing in the leaves until his attentions were trained firmly upon her.
Taking a moment to catch his bearings, Prance nodded his head, curled his bound middle, and inched over in Adagio’s direction. Once they lay parallel to each other, he leaned his head in, and bit down upon the ring about her horn. The searing pain did not seem to bother him as much as it had Sonata, and after a moment of tenuous silence, Adagio’s magic had been restored.
Her ropes were the first to go. And when she could stand, she looked out toward the cliff. Her jaw hung slack.
There Sonata sat like a stone, a fixture against a backdrop of boiling red. The unruly winds drifting from the blazing inferno tugged and tore at the mare’s long mane. Her tattered kerchief surrendered itself to the unsettled sky. She appeared wholly self-contained in her own might. Her eyes burned hotter than the flames at her back.
Listening intently, Adagio was stunned to discover that the blue mare had been the source of the growl she had heard. For a moment, the Duchess felt her mind slipping away as those two red hot orbs set into Sonata’s skull bore into her, beckoning her to do… something… She didn't know exactly what the something was, but felt that it was obvious, old, and ingrained within every fiber of her being.
“Fetch Sonata. She cannot fight those two,” Prance commanded, attempting to shake the ring’s residual buzzing from his ears.
“Be quiet, Lighthoof. I know what I am doing. Sonata will be fine,” Adagio murmured, not knowing how, exactly, she knew this to be true, but knowing it all the same. Bowing her head, she touched her horn to the chains banded about Prance’s body, and released him. Standing near to the stallion so that their barrels touched, she then turned to face the mercenary pair advancing upon Sonata. “You two, bird-brained scoundrels!” she bellowed, giving a loud whistle for good measure.
Surprised by the outburst, Silent and Echo turned.
“Have you yet to learn your lesson about leaving unicorns unattended?” Adagio shot vindictively just before her horn flashed.
When its light had dimmed, she and Lighthoof were gone.
The woods grew more menacing. The flora and fauna seemed to sense that two beings reeking of death were hard at work amongst them. Lest any of them become the new object of the winged pair’s ire, they had all decided to remain still as could be.
Perhaps it was unwise for Adagio and Prance to remain so close to one another where they lay inside of a tiny ravine. Surely, their odds of evading the pegasi would have increased had they split up. However, Prance could not fight the mercenaries from a distance as Adagio could, and Adagio could not traverse the Sardhoof alone. At the moment, their strongest plan for defense was their partnership.
Doing her best not to make a sound, Adagio turned her head and eyed Prance, just to make certain that he was still there. Prance, nodded his head reassuringly, even going so far as to wave Adagio over.
The Duchess had just made to move when, to her horror, one white-feathered lump decked in black landed silently into a small clearing in the distance. The Duchess took in a breath and held it. It was impossible that Echo might hear her breathing from so far away, but Adagio wasn't going to take any chances.
Wings outstretched, back hunched, Echo Hum seemed a pony possessed. Her ears twitched about whilst her pupils had dilated to such a degree that the silver of her eyes was but a small ring about two pits of darkness. The pegasus mare was a sight to behold.
Anypony could watch a stallion like the Duke fight and see that he had been taught that above victory sat pride. As all unicorns are instructed at one point or another, victory might be tenuous but pride was a choice. Ponies like Upright would rather starve than be forced to eat like a dog. Ponies like he never bowed their heads to hide or evade. Ponies like he—and like most of the nobility—unwisely deemed themselves mountains, tall and immoveable. When they fought, they never supposed that their opponent might be savvy enough to touch them. They never supposed that there would be a reason to retreat or to be quiet. They fought with flair, letting the world see the grandeur of their might, even if it spelled their own doom.
The warriors of the pegasi race were a different story. Of course, having lived the life that she had, Adagio rarely had the opportunity to observe the ways of their combat. However, from the small bits she had witnessed—a drunken tussle in the street as she went by in her carriage, or their games of leisure in the fields beyond the estate—the distinctions were terrifying. So terrifying, in fact, that she was inclined to remember how their kind moved, what awe-inspiring trickery they were able to perform with their bodies so long as their surroundings allowed. This hinted to their race’s extensive warfaring knowledge as well as their physical disposition toward stealth and agility. In these traditions, Echo Hum was no different from her brethren.
Echo rotated in silence, eyes darting about in the darkness, searching, searching. When she turned Adagio’s way, the Duchess could make out an odd clicking emanating from the depths of the mare’s throat. The clicking held a strange timbre, one that Adagio didn't care to dwell on, knowing that it was but another lethal tool in the mercenary’s belt.
Adagio blinked. Her eyes were only lidded for a moment, but when they again opened, Silent Wing was sitting behind his partner. Where had the stallion come from? Increasingly, these pegasi were becoming spirits in their own right, one menacing black shadow alongside a ghostly white spectre.
The dark one spoke. “That them?” The reverberation of Silent Wing’s voice was strong, loud enough for Adagio to hear him even from where she was hiding.
“One moment,” Echo replied, continuing her odd clicking. Eyes unwavering, at last she sat up tall next to her partner, and nudged her nose in Adagio’s direction. “Over there. Northwest. One moment,” she repeated. A pair of shining wings stretched out in the darkness, gleaming even in the lack of moonlight. In a second, they came crashing together at her front, sending a crack like thunder rippling through the trees. The white mare’s ears now stood at attention, listening, listening.
Adagio’s insides spun about like thread upon a spool. The urge to run increased. Still, even when the winds borne off of Echo’s wings whipped past her face, the noblemare forced these inclinations down. Even when Echo’s ears trained themselves in Prance’s direction, Adagio did not budge. Even when a white wing extended itself out to point, Adagio dared not breathe.
“Yes. I hear inconsistency in the Northwest. Not a rock, not fallen timber, but stationary. They are hiding,” Echo murmured. “Very close. Less than fifty wings.”
Adagio watched Silent Wing nod his head. She blinked away the dryness plaguing her eyes, and when they reopened, the pegasus stallion was gone.
Immediately, the Duchess lamented the misfortune of being born with her distinctive shade of fur. Surely, yellow would stand out amongst all of this shadow. Prance’s color would prove itself no benefit. They had to find a way to move and they had to do it soon. At this point, there was no question as to ‘if’ the mercenaries would root them out, only a matter of when.
The Duchess strained her eyes as far to the side as she could manage. Prance was still there, lying beneath a small bush a short distance away. That was good at least. Perhaps if the both of them managed to remain quiet, there was a chance—some slim chance in Tartarus—that these two creatures built for stealth and accuracy would miss them. A minute passed, and then two. Her nerves began to settle. Maybe Silent Wing had gone further off into the woods. Maybe they might be able to—
Adagio’s thoughts stalled when she caught sight of something strange toward the top of the ravine. There sat a particularly tall elm. Around its trunk twisted and coiled a thing, quite large and the same shade of the surface upon which it crawled. Round the trunk it went, descending in complete silence. Impossible to decipher in the shadow, Adagio thought it some monstrous snake or lizard born out of the deepest, dankest bog of Sardhoof mud—until it sneered, baring its white teeth. That stark ivory was enough to give the curling shadow a form so that Adagio’s mind might define it.
She blinked at Prance, attempting to call his attention with her eyes.
The crawling thing unfurled its dark wings and lifted its dark head. Inset into that lump were two poison green orbs narrowed behind mirthful lids.
‘Do not move!’ Adagio mouthed, remaining stiff as a board. Prance, in his attempt to make out what she was saying, began to lean out from his cover of bramble.
‘No!’ The word was big and round upon the Duchess’ lips. Prance froze on the spot.
Silent Wing’s shadow curled off of the tree trunk and suspended itself in the air just beyond the top of the ridge. If the pegasus had leaned over just slightly, he would have surely spotted the earth stallion’s coat through the shrubbery. The mercenary’s head darted to and fro as he made his way alongside the ruck. Without the hearing strength of his partner, he seemed at a disadvantage. And yet, he still had his naturally keen eyesight.
Looking past the ridge, clear beyond the knight’s body, the dark stallion appeared to spot something of interest. It took a moment for Adagio to realize from where she was laying that a trail of snapped twigs had followed Prance on his way toward the bushes.
The pegasus growled. A wide grin stretched across his maw as he made to fly over the crevice.
Adagio raised a single hoof in a shooing motion, bidding the knight to roll out of sight. Prance, however, was more inclined to act only upon that which he could see. He did not budge, but instead attempted to get a better vantage point. When Silent Wing flew right over his head, the knight changed his mind, deciding to duck instead.
At any moment, the pegasus was going turn around, and then the knight would be done for. Adagio thought quickly. Brushing her mane about her horn to lessen its glow, the Duchess waited until the mercenary had completely turned his back toward the ravine, then levitated a large stone to her side, and flung it off into the darkness of the woods.
Hearing the stone land somewhere in the distance, Silent Wing bounded off at once. His wings propelled him so quickly that his entire form disappeared amongst the evening shadow.
When things were again quiet, Prance instructed Adagio to approach him. “Transport yourself to Sonata. You two must leave,” he murmured.
Adagio grimaced. “Lighthoof, if you ask me to leave you one more time, I—”
A swooping sound in the distance caught Adagio's attention. Stalling her words for a moment, she peeked over the ridge’s edge only to find that Echo Hum had disappeared. Breathing a sigh of relief, the Duchess turned to face the knight again. Her frown picked up where it had left off. “Please, Lighthoof. The least you could do is show some small desire to remain by my side,” she moaned.
“Adagio, I am more concerned with keeping you unharmed, keeping you free, keeping Sonata alive,” Prance hissed, looking quite irritated. Raising his head, he searched around for any trace of the warrior duo. Finding none, he threw his foreleg around Adagio and drew her out from the bushes.
“Why are you so very determined to throw your life away?” Adagio hissed as they both began the trek toward Sonata’s bluff.
“Would it not be for good reason?” Prance quipped, looking a little hurt.
“Not good enough, Lighthoof.”
This answer stunned the knight into silence.
“Can you not consider for once that I might feel for you what you do for me?” Adagio asked. “What of me do you suppose could thrive if you are gone away?”
“The heart is stronger than you know, Gio. It heals. Maybe not without scars, but it heals,” Prance replied quietly, avoiding her gaze.
All the Duchess could afford him was a furious huff.
They were getting close. The purple and crimson was returning to the sky. The acrid smell of burning wood again punctured through the night air. Upon those noxious fumes, a sweetness pervaded. It was barely noticeable at first, a whisper among the leaves. Then as the cliff came into view in the distance—Sonata’s leering silhouette still set atop its precipice—the sweetness pierced through. It was a single golden thread, low, undulating, something to call out to one’s soul.
Sonata was humming a song.
The tune struck the Duchess as familiar. She was consumed by the feeling that she’d sung it many times before, like what she had experienced when she and the farm mare chanted together in the dark of her cottage. Instead of dwelling on the matter, she turned to look at Prance.
The stallion walked in silence. His ears twitched whilst his glazed eyes were planted squarely upon the singing blue mare in the beyond.
“Lighthoof? Are you well?” Adagio whispered, reaching out to tap him upon the shoulder.
The knight started, and made a great to-do about shaking the haze out of his head. He looked at Adagio, bewildered. “W… what did you say?” he asked.
Adagio blinked and searched the knight for any sign of injury. “I asked if you are well. You were behaving strangely.”
“Do you hear that? That song she is singing?” he interjected, turning his head toward the cliff again.
One of his hooves took far too loud of a step.
Adagio winced. Her eyes darted about warily. “Yes. Yes, I hear it. Lighthoof, you must be quiet.”
“It is quite beautiful isn’t it?” Prance added, a bit louder this time. He took another boisterous step.
“Lighthoof, please! We shall be caught!” Adagio hissed, knocking him in the shoulder with her hoof.
“I wish to hear more,” Prance said, his eyes wide. He lumbered through the leaves, determined to get to Sonata, and paying no heed to how much noise he made while doing so.
The leaves of the canopy crackled about them.
“What are you on about?” Adagio squeaked in a panic, pulling at his tail. She dared not light up her horn again to stop him with magic. “It is but a song. Our lives are in danger! Let us first see that nopony is here. Then let us collect the farm filly and leave!”
A gust of wind without a source ruffled the fur upon their backs.
Prance let off a chuckle, one far too loud to be acceptable. Passing the Duchess a smug smile, he shook his head. “Catch us? Gio, dear, we saw those two pegasi fly off into the woods. They are probably too far away to hear…” The stallion turned again toward his front and froze. His blood turned to ice.
Two emerald green orbs were hovering just before his face.
“Too far away to what now?” Silent Wing growled, his head hanging upside down in the air before them.
Before Prance had a chance to react, Wing’s forehead went smashing into his muzzle.
“No!” Adagio screamed, instinctively retreating away from the scene. Her back bumped into something cold and sturdy. Spinning about, she found herself gazing into Echo Hum’s eyes.
Rebounding off of the mare’s armor, Adagio bowed her head to direct her magic. A clap of thunder and a sudden gust of wind knocked her off of her hooves, slamming her back into a tree.
With the world still swirling, she charged her horn again and took aim. A streak of blazing ruby tore an arc about her. She hoped that it would stave the pegasi off for just a moment longer, just until she could clear her head. “Lighthoof?” she called out into the spinning madness. Instead of a reply, something gripped her on the tail and tugged hard. Thinking the culprit to be Silent Wing, she beat her hooves against its broad chest, trying to get away. Her horn charged itself again. “Get your hooves off of me, you disgusting—”
“Gio!” Prance yelled, setting her upright upon her hooves, and nudging her with his hind leg. “Fetch Sonata! Quickly! I shall hold them off!”
Adagio wanted to protest as usual. She wanted to tell Prance that he stood little chance against such a lethal pair. But in that moment, her own good sense also told her that there simply was no time. Turning about she bounded off toward the light in the distance.
Echo, keen on repaying the one who had damaged what she considered to be a perfect creation—herself—moved to dart off behind the Duchess. Instead, she slammed headfirst into a broad white chest and careened into the ground.
Though bandaged and tired, Prance loomed over her, baring the metal of his dagger in warning. “I shan’t allow you to pass,” he panted, watching as Silent Wing landed a short distance away.
The mare scoffed, looking Prance over and clearly judging him unworthy. “You shan’t allow me to pass?” she spat, rising to her hooves. “You, earth stallion, are just as useless as your pathetic blue friend.” She nudged her chin in Sonata Dusk’s direction, bidding her partner forward.
As Silent Wing spread his wings and took flight, Prance lunged up and out. Managing to catch Silent upon the wing with his teeth, Prance tore him out of the air.
The dark stallion spiraled before hitting the ground. At first, he appeared shocked by the knight’s ability before he broke out into raucous laughter. “I like this one, Hum! There may be a bit of fight in him, yet!” he chortled, shaking out his ruffled feathers.
Hum, equally as intrigued, passed Prance a sly grin. “Well, then. I have reconsidered you, Sir Lighthoof, and I suppose that since you’ve asked me so very politely for a dance, that I should oblige you.”
Prance scoffed at her, his cheeky grin cutting into the mare’s overconfidence like a knife. “Come on then and let's have a go, Echo,” he goaded her on. “I'll teach you a step or two. The both of you even!”
“Oh, I do hope so, Sir Lighthoof,” the white mare chuckled.
Prance watched the pair’s wings expand and their pinning pupils retract. As the two spectres loomed up from the shadows to devour him, the knight could not sink the sudden feeling that opting to fight them alone had been a rather unwise decision. He judged his worries well founded when the pair suddenly shot upward into the darkness and disappeared.
Things remained quiet for a beat. Then something cracked in the air above Prance’s head. The knight assumed it to be the sound of pegasi hooves moving across tree branches until a blinding white light flashed briefly before his eyes.
Prance didn’t realize what he had witnessed until the strip of lightning nicked at his hooves. Fortunately, he managed to dodge the streak as it came crashing down into the ground, leaving a smoking hole in its wake.
Another crack, another strike, and on it went with the knight trying his best to spot the pegasi firing at him from up above. One step. Then another. Stars were flashing before his eyes.
When his shoulder bumped into a tree, it occurred to the stallion that he had just been corralled. He slashed blindly at the empty space before him, hoping this maneuver would suffice as a defense until his vision had returned.
“Very sloppy, knight,” Echo Hum’s voice clucked from somewhere up above. “You should know better than to expend your energy so freely in battle. Is that what Bullion’s stallions have taught you?”
“Get down here, you harpy! Fight me with some dignity! Face-to-face!” Prance bellowed, shaking the last of the flashes out of his vision. He searched around for any hint of white fur up above.
“Is that truly what you want?” Echo tittered. “You should be careful what you wish for, you know.”
“Face me, you hideous wench!” Prance cried. He smiled, raising his blade toward the sky, and hoping his words would get a rise out of the mare.
“Well!” Echo huffed. Her tone had taken on a rather severe edge. “I suppose lacking manners in a lady’s presence is reason enough to come down there and teach you a lesson.”
“You are no lady, Miss!” Prance quipped, readying himself for her attack. Never did he notice the edge of Silent Wing's silver dagger inching its way around from behind the tree to catch him upon the leg.
The knight heard the pegasus inhale sharply, preparing to slice him. Thinking quickly, he slammed himself back onto the tree’s trunk with all of his might, making sure to crack the thing upon impact. Silent dodged out of the way just as the tree came crashing down.
Too preoccupied with trying not to be crushed, the pegasus nearly missed the glint of Prance’s dagger descending upon the space right between his eyes. Far too swift, Silent flapped his great wings, and blew the earth stallion back a few paces. Holding steady, Prance charged the pegasus again, determined to get a decent strike before the scoundrel disappeared back up into the shadows.
Giving one great leap, Prance caught the pegasus by the tail just as he was poised to bolt upward. Pulling with all of his might, the knight dragged him back down. With a wrench of his neck, he throttled Silent Wing against the rocky earth.
Slashing his knife, the pegasus cut the edge of his tail free from Prance’s teeth. Slashing again, he caught the knight upon the cheek. Bringing his dark wings forward, he smashed their bones into either side of Prance’s skull.
The earth stallion reeled and fell. Slashing his blade, he skittered away across dead leaves and dirt.
“Well done, hero!” Silent Wing chuckled, spitting out a crimson glob. “Managed to draw some blood that time. A’least you're a fast learner, ey?”
“Is this how you two fight? Flying away to the shadows the moment you're caught?” Prance panted, scrambling to his hooves.
“You sound a bit jealous, friend. But, if you’re lookin’ for a few more bruises...” Silent Wing sneered, his wings suddenly snapping themselves firmly against his sides. Grabbing the strap of his dagger between his teeth, he pulled it tight, and bore down upon his forelegs, “Well, by all means, don't let these wings stop you.”
Seeing his opportunity, Prance bore down as well. Wing remained utterly composed. Despite his bruises, he did not tremble. The sight of the stoic pegasus appeared wholly unnatural.
The knight sneered. It was clear that this pegasus underestimated him. Yet, he was thankful; there was no situation in which being misjudged was not a blessing. And as his eyes trailed down toward a long, thick branch that lay beside the pegasus’ hooves, Prance could not help but rejoice in his own good fortune.
Bounding forward, he feigned a strike to the pegasus’ face. When Silent lunged to block, the earth stallion rolled off to his side, pulled up the edge of the large branch between his teeth, and swung it straight into Silent Wing’s back. The mercenary went crashing into the ground.
As soon as the pegasus turned about, Prance was upon him, all daggers and hooves. Silent Wing blocked each slash with startling precision, his eyes following Prance’s blade blow for blow.
Finding that he could not match such speed, the white knight raised his hind leg and rammed his hoof into the dark stallion’s stomach. Silent Wing faltered, sputtering up dust.
Seeing his opportunity, Prance slashed once and caught Wing on the cheek, again and he caught him upon the jaw. By the third slash, the pegasus’ wings had shot up to enclose his body within a feathered shield. This was of no consequence to the knight. He continued to slash until he had managed to separate a few feathers and a small puddle’s worth of blood from the mercenary.
At last, the pegasus’ wings shot outward to fling Lighthoof away. The knight hit a tree so hard that its trunk caved in about the middle, and when he rose again, a rip of fresh pain had settled about his spine. Not yet recovered from his daze, Prance cried out in shock when a gust of wind blew him backward again. This time, he landed onto shards of cracked trunk hard enough to draw blood.
Before he could rise again, another gust of wind followed, then another. Managing to open his eyes only once, he caught sight of the dark stallion pummeling him with gales borne of his wings.
When he finally careened into the face of an enormous boulder, Prance imagined his body had taken more than enough punishment. Scrambling around toward the granite mound’s rear, he just barely missed being blown away again.
Instead, a light breeze grazed against his aching back, and before he could turn around, another strong gust of wind again blew him off of his legs. It sent him tumbling head over hoof into the gigantic stone.
Remembering the wisdom in his father’s teachings about never staying still if he could help it, Prance ducked low just in time to miss Echo Hum’s dagger slashing at the place where his head should be. Hoofing her away as hard as he could, the knight ran to the boulder’s other side. By the time he got there, Echo was already floating to the ground before him, her expanded wings shimmering.
Rubbing a hoof across her sore belly, the mare did not wince in pain, but instead smiled with glee. “That's the spirit, Sir Lighthoof,” she growled, shaking out her injured right wing, and readying her stance. “For a moment, I pegged you as a chivalrous stallion.”
“A testament to the sharpness of your intellect, I suppose,” Prance quipped, his gaze darting about. He could no longer spot Silent Wing. The dark stallion had probably gotten away whilst his partner had been fluttering those enormous, shining ornaments of hers. “And where is your companion?”
Echo smiled as she paced about. “Oh, don't worry yourself with him, Sir Lighthoof. He is just fine. And I am so much more pleasing to the eye.”
A familiar clicking sound pierced the air. Prance recalled Echo emanating the same noise earlier on in the evening. Figuring he should not give her the opportunity to find whatever it was she was searching for, the knight rushed forward. The curve of his blade was aimed at her already injured wing.
Echo didn't budge, a factor the knight found strange. Instead, she expanded before his very eyes, her wings fanning out to full length at her back. Even the scruff about her neck stood on end. Inhaling deeply just as Prance’s dagger was set to strike, she gave a great heave, and swept her wings forward.
The swoop of wind that her wings sent barreling into the woods was powerful; Prance could not fathom why the mercenary had hesitated to aim such a fine gust directly at him. As his fitted foreleg continued forward, the powerful bones of the mare’s wings came together to catch him just about the fetlock. There they struck him hard, bruising him. Faltering for just a moment, Prance reared up onto his hind legs, preparing to strike Echo with the opposite hoof.
A crack of thunder boomed somewhere far behind him. He realized only after he had foolishly turned to look, that the sound had been the winds borne off of Echo’s wings reverberating in the deep of the Sardhoof. A fine distraction, indeed.
Prance ducked as he faced her, knowing that the mare would strike with her blade as his head was turning. The dagger met with his forehead. Had his reflexes not been as honed as they were, he would have probably lost a great deal of his flesh.
Forcing his aching foreleg forward, he slashed a vertical line up the mare’s belly, one she just barely managed to dodge. As she attempted to fly herself out of reach, Prance made a dive, caught her by the tail, and rammed her into the earth. Coming down with his blade, he forced the mare into blocking upward.
At long last, he had her.
A pegasus mare’s strength was no match for his own, and for the first time that night, he witnessed a glint of apprehension in Echo Hum’s eye. “What is the matter, Echo darling? I thought you wanted to dance,” he joked pressing her down toward the ground. The knight briefly glanced over his shoulder, wary of Silent Wing. He saw nothing.
“What are you looking for, knight? Afraid of something?” Echo hissed. Her voice wavered despite the sneer she was wearing. Stretching out her wings, she braced their bones into the ground for support. Now as Prance pressed into her from above, her powerful appendages pushed back from below.
Those damned wings. There was much to be said for the might of a pegasus’ wings. Certainly, one could expect such brawn from appendages that birthed thunder and twisters upon their deceptively graceful feathers. Prance knew he would have to do something about them immediately, especially if he could not account for her partner’s whereabouts.
Remembering the mare's injured appendage, the knight shifted his weight so that he bore down upon her right side. He smiled when her eyes went wide and he felt her tremble under his weight. “What was that you were saying?” he spat, pressing down against her dagger until she lay on her side, one wing lying folded beneath her, the other straining uselessly for balance. At last, her strong wing went flailing out from under her. Unable to withstand the force, she fell down onto her back.
Prance’s dagger came up beneath Echo’s chin whilst the mare’s fitted foreleg lay pressed against her own throat. It seemed her only options now were to either be cut or to suffocate.
“You would kill me this way?” she hissed, wide-eyed, stunned.
Prance gave her one good shove onto her injured wing, glad to hear her yelp in pain. “Come now. You aren't going to beg for mercy are you?” he said.
Echo bit her lip. Her silver eyes glistened. “You underestimate me, knight. But I forgive this. Perhaps I have done the same to you. I would have never pegged you as one to kill up close this way.” She smiled cruelly. “A white coat stained with blood is exceptionally disturbing to look upon. You know it as well as I. Wouldn't want your Duchess to see you like thaaa…” The mare gagged against her own foreleg as Prance bore down upon her again.
As the edge of the knight’s dagger hooked itself about the mare’s throat, a gust of wind picked up around him. Having learned his lesson in this regard, he glanced about quickly on the lookout for Silent Wing. Not spotting him just yet, Prance resigned himself to working quickly. Lowering his head, he bit Echo about the fetlock, and tore her defending foreleg away. Pinning the appendage down with his free hoof, at last he pressed his blade against her bare throat. “Your words are filled with fear,” he said to her quite plainly, watching her free wing flap about wildly at her side. “Stop that flapping,” he commanded.
“Then do not hesitate, Sir Lighthoof,” Echo quipped. The boldness of her words did not mesh with the shuddering of her brow. “Do what a warrior must. We shall see who the fearful pony is.” Her wing continued to flail. Again, the wind about them increased.
“I said stop that blasted flapping!” Prance bellowed again. The strong gusts of air were making him nervous.
“You are hesitating, knight!” Echo spat. “Now, who is the fearful one?”
Prance could not say that she was completely wrong. Despite his being a warrior, he wasn't exactly the type of warrior to kill a mare in cold blood, no matter how vile or vicious said mare might have been. This was one distinction of the sky warriors that many a land soldier had fallen victim to—the deception of a fair face.
Prance inhaled and exhaled again and again, trying to work up the gall for the deed.
“You had better do it now,” Echo pressed. “Or I swear if you let me free again, I shan't rest until at least one of those beloved mares of yours is dead.”
That seemed impetus enough.
Hatred filled him up. Steeling himself, Prance set his jaw and squared his shoulders. The wind now nipped at his mane. Inhaling deeply he moved to bear down upon his blade and Echo Hum’s throat.
Something whipped past him, catching him on the shoulder and knocking his foreleg out of place. The tip of his blade scratched the dirt just to the side of Echo’s head, leaving a small nick upon her neck.
There was a pause. The mare looked up at him, and he at her.
She smiled. Her good wing stopped its flapping and folded itself about Prance’s back. “I warned you didn’t I? Now they shall die all for your cowardice,” she hissed, wrenching her wing to the side, and tossing Prance off with it.
Furious with himself, the knight was back on his hooves in an instant. He barreled toward the mare where she was attempting to stand when a grey blur darted around her back and curved in the air. Ducking out of the way, Prance narrowly missed the glinting edge of a blade zipping past.
When the grey blur disappeared, and Prance had turned to rush Echo again, he was enraged to find her gone. “Damn!” he cried, pounding a hoof into the earth.
The wind had picked up again, rustling dead leaves into his eyes. He had to find cover.
Whilst trying to run, Prance’s body hit something that he could not see, an invisible wave that pulled him back toward where he’d started. What was it? Unicorn magic?
A grey blur zipped past, and then white. Looking to his rear, Prance could see them circling around again. Leaves floated upward in clumps and began to spin themselves into an enormous funnel about him. Then, at last, he understood what the mercenaries were doing; after all, only two pegasi were required to stoke up a whirlwind.
Pushing against the compressed air on either of his sides, Prance found that he was no match for its power. The pegasi had trapped him within an invisible cage, and now he had to figure a way out before it was too late.
A white streak zipped past his side. Something sharp sliced him upon the shoulder. Prance flinched, and retreated. A black blur cut him upon his back soon after. A gash appeared upon his belly, then another upon his side. The mercenaries were narrowing the whirlwind with him at its center, and Prance knew that in a moment, he would be but shredded ribbons.
Thinking quickly, he raised his dagger up and out, hoping to catch one of them upon its edge as they revolved around him. It was easily knocked out of the way by a menace he could not see.
Another scratch upon his ear, then his neck. This time they were deep. This time they dripped blood. The old bandages about his shoulder were cut away.
He bucked into the whirlwind. All he needed was to tag one of them; just once so he could disturb their gale long enough to escape it. But the growing pain of his wounds were beginning to make his head spin. He had been cut too many times.
A gash upon his right hind leg sent the knight crashing to his haunches. The leaves swirled about, almost blinding him. When a sharp slash caught him upon his side, he bowed forward into the dirt.
He cursed himself for having hesitated with Echo. Her next strike would surely render him unconscious. The wretched pair would then fly off to end Sonata, capture Adagio, and then deliver them all unto the Duke. After everything that had happened, after his grandiose promises of freedom, and after how hard so many ponies had fought to help them escape, in that most pivotal of moments, Prance had let them all down.
His head was swimming. In his haze, he began to hallucinate. A sound now tickled his ears. Faint at first, it grew louder by the second until it sounded like an injured creature's lament—low, soft, repetitive. He tried to shake the noise out of his head lest it consume him. No success. The wavering hum grabbed hold of the edges of his mind and tugged.
Run, rabbit, run...
The lamenting moan upon the wind had sprouted words, both gentle and compelling. Prance felt his vision beginning to blur, his mind beginning to leave him. Surely, he could not defeat the pegasus pair in this state, but in that moment, he no longer cared.
Through shaded wood and glen…
The winds about him lost their intensity. The next scratch he received upon his thigh was light, disheartened.
Get away, my pet, get away…
“Get… away...” the knight found himself repeating. The words echoed themselves back to him, borne off of another stallion’s lips—Silent Wing’s lips.
“What are you doing, you fool?” Echo Hum hissed. Her voice came from all sides.
The whirlwind slowed down to a halt. As leaves fell to a rest all around him, Prance watched the pegasus stallion descend with them.
His enraged and befuddled partner continued her rounds. “Wing, what do you think you are doing? Get your sorry arse back in the air!” She didn't seem to notice the glazed look that now shrouded the stallion’s face.
Or you shan’t pass this way again…
“You shan’t pass this way again,” Silent Wing slurred. His eyelids drooped as did his wings.
In a second, Echo had descended to stand before her partner. “We had him, you idiot!” she screamed, knocking him furiously about the head. “What in Tartarus is this about?” Receiving no response, she lifted the stallion’s chin so that she might have a gander at his face. The glazed look in his eye startled her. “What… what is this? Is he poisoned?” she hissed, shaking him about the shoulders. When the mare received no response, she turned to face Prance, enraged. “Ugh! I don't need you anyway, you great sack. I'll drag the knight back to the estate myself!”
For master fox shall catch you,
The grinning fox shall catch you…
“The grinning fox shall catch you,” Silent Wing repeated in tandem with the nightsong.
Echo gave him one last shove to the cranium for his trouble. She stretched out her wings, and marched in Prance’s direction.
The stallion sat in a daze, reeling in a bloody, tired heap. Thank Celestia for his training. Such injuries would have surely downed a lesser warrior.
In a moment, the mare was upon him, pressing her dagger against his throat, sneering wickedly. “I am so very tired of you and your tricks,” she spat. A crunching of leaves came from behind her. She did not think to turn around. “I no longer care whether we lose our compensation or not. I consider it a fair price for the pleasure of ending you,” she said pushing upon her dagger.
And that shall be your end...
“That shall be your end,” came a deep voice directly behind Echo’s shoulder. Its owner was so close, that his breath upset the strands of mane upon her neck.
Startled, the mare spun about to see Silent Wing standing right behind her, his poison-hued eyes burning into her own. She grimaced in confusion. “Wh… what are you—”
A dagger slashed her upon her neck. Stumbling backward, she rolled over Prance, and onto the ground. Bewildered, she gazed at her partner who now advanced upon her. “Have you gone mad, you silly stallion?” she screeched, feeling for her fresh wound.
“Run, rabbit, run…” Silent Wing continued. His dagger raised and his wings expanded. He darted toward the mare at full speed.
Dodging out of the way, Echo scrambled to her hooves, completely dumbfounded. Her partner crashed face first into the large boulder at her side. Recognizing the words he was repeating as the same words of Sonata’s nightsong, the mare frantically began stomping her hooves into the earth, trying to drown out its sound. But the soil was far too soft. “Silent Wing! Wake up, you great fool!” she called. The apprehension in her voice was clear, especially when the stallion turned to face her again.
His bruised face now sported a bloodied muzzle which he did not seem to notice at all. “Through shaded wood and glen…” he sneered, his eyes honing themselves upon his partner.
Seeing this, Echo raised her own dagger in defense, spread her wings, and began a slow retreat. “You are not of sound mind, Wing. Now put that dagger down before you do something you shall surely regr—”
“You know, Hum, I'm feeling rather inspired this evening. Not quite certain why,” Silent Wing growled as he advanced. There was a strange quality to his voice, as if it belonged to a wooden puppet that had just recently been granted consciousness. “But bein’ one to trust his gut, I figure I should tell you… You can be quite the nutcracker, you know, love? Gets a bit tiring. Wears on me nerves.” The stallion’s great wings flapped forward. The breeze they made shook Echo off balance.
Go as fast as you can...
“Stop that! We have a mission! The earth stallion is still conscious. He will get away!” the white mare spat, directing a hoof toward Prance who was just now getting to his hooves.
The world had gone mad. A nightsong far too enticing, far too powerful beckoned Prance away. Once—it felt like a thousand years ago—those pegasi had meant a great deal to him. Once, he had despised them. Now, half consumed by beautiful melodies, he could not for the life of him remember why. Nor did he care to decipher the reasons why Silent Wing had chosen this moment out of all moments to turn upon his cohort.
He watched on coldly as the pegasus stallion flapped his wings, knocking Echo onto her rear. The mare was screaming and raging, all words that Prance could barely hear.
Disappear, my love, disappear...
The knight watched Echo stumble back up to her hooves. She tried to flap her wings to blow Silent Wing away in retaliation, but she looked spent. Her wings looked like they hurt.
Again, Silent Wing clapped his wings together so forcefully that it lifted the mare off of her hooves and sent her careening straight into the trunk of a hefty tree. Prance noted that this time, when she tried to stand, she stumbled again and again. Her wings could only carry her a few flaps before she came crashing down to the ground. The knight turned his head away to face the light of the cliff in the distance.
Do not pass this way again...
Other noises swirled about the mare’s screaming—sounds of hooves upon bone and metal upon metal. It all melded together into a ball of audial gray, one which the white knight was quick to toss away without a care.
For master wolf shall catch you…
The wicked wolf shall catch you...
The last that Prance could recall of the pegasi before limping off into the night was the panicked expression upon Echo’s face as Silent Wing loomed over her exhausted and trembling frame.
And that shall be your end.
A gust of wind tugged at the fur upon Prance’s neck as he stumbled through the woods. Every step of the way, he fought off the urge to sit, to rest, to allow himself to be fully consumed by the refrain that surrounded him. His ears flicked the melody away. There was a hint of a smile upon his face, despite his pain. He felt comforted by the undulating waves of music, by Sonata’s distinctly powerful voice.
His legs stumbled. Wiping the excess dirt and sweat from his face, he took a moment to catch his breath and to think about the dear friend that now consumed a rather large portion of his mind.
What exactly had happened to Sonata?
When he’d seen her up there upon that cliff, something had changed. The sweet, playful mare he had always known her to be was gone, replaced by something else, something that drew out terror and planted an endless melody in its place.
In his haze, Prance recalled the familiarity of the feeling Sonata inspired within him. It was exactly how he felt whenever Adagio sang with all of her heart. These two unearthly singers who commanded their audiences with beautiful melodies—had there been a connection between them?
Prance dared not dwell on these thoughts for too long, fearing that they might lead to some unpleasant realization. Instead, he looked toward the red sky in the distance. There he could just make out two silhouettes.
A peace prevailed, the likes of which Adagio Dazzle had never known. Every note, every refrain that escaped her companion continued to bite into her in the sweetest way, tugging at her heart, goading her to join in.
In Sonata’s mane, in her ghostly red eyes, in her beautiful song, the Duchess saw all the parts of herself that had been missing. Sonata had said that she had been born of the sea, singing a haunting melody she could not remember the words for. Sonata had been given the gift of song just as Adagio had. Sonata’s song compelled others, just as Adagio’s did, and when the two of them came together—a meeting fated, no doubt—their songs had melded and twisted and folded into one gorgeous sound.
Looking upon the dark thing that now sat before her, Adagio Dazzle wondered if this was the song magic that she had been attempting to decipher all these years. This terrifying creature—was she one of them, too?
As if hearing Adagio’s thoughts, Sonata stopped her singing, and sat there, staring off into the forest with her all-seeing eyes. After a moment, her head turned to face the Duchess. The noblemare recoiled.
Sonata smiled at her. “I know why you are afraid,” she said, every one of her words resounding like a bell. “You are afraid because you are remembering.”
Adagio frowned, more out of defensiveness than denial. For all she knew, the earth mare was right. “And what am I remembering?” she asked. “What… what are you?”
The blue mare giggled. It was curious how the melody that surrounded her never faded, even when her lips were sealed shut into that silly grin of hers. “I am the same thing that lives within you, silly. That pretty, little, fuzzy shell of yours is beginning to crack open, just like mine. It is no cause for alarm,” she snickered, her crimson eyes flashing.
Apparently, the blue mare could detect Adagio’s confusion. A moment later, her jovial smile faded into a wistful pout. “Please wake up soon, Adagio. I miss you, and I wish to go home. I dislike this place, and I fear I am worse off for having been here.”
Part of Adagio felt like laughing at this madmare. The other half had been whisked away to a time and place she couldn’t quite remember, but missed with a terrible passion. Shades of blue—the ones she had forgotten since foalhood, the ones she had replaced with silk and sapphires—rushed forward to drown her. Suddenly, what swirled about her was not the acrid smell of a poor pony’s beloved possessions going up in smoke, but the scent of sand and surf and…
“Home,” Adagio croaked, not knowing why she had said it. She shook a powerful nostalgic haze out of her head, and when she looked again upon Sonata, the earth mare was staring off into the woods. Her song still echoed in the ether around them as she lifted her foreleg and pointed. When Adagio followed the direction of her hoof with her eyes, at the end of its trail was a bloodied and dazed lump, tripping and stumbling through the forest—Lighthoof.
“He is spared,” Sonata said plainly, “because I know you fancy his company. But keep him away or he shall have no choice but to obey me.”
Adagio felt her heart leap up into her throat. “By Celestia! Lighthoof are you alright?” she screamed, rushing forward to the knight’s aid just as he fell onto his haunches. Using her magic, she pulled him into the clearing and lifted the excess grime from his fur.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Prance coughed, swatting at the noblemare’s magic. He appeared equally as panicked, almost in a rush. “We must leave,” he said.
“Those mercenaries. What happened to them?” Adagio asked, gazing off into the woods.
“It no longer matters, Adagio,” the white stallion groaned, attempting to stand. “We must collect Sonata and leave. Now!”
It was then that Adagio remembered Sonata’s warning. “Wait, you cannot! Stay away, Lighthoof!” she warned him. “You cannot whilst she sings.”
Not caring to decipher the look of disappointment he was now wearing, Adagio turned about to face Sonata. “Miss Sonata, whatever it is you are doing must stop! Come here and I shall take us all away!”
“No,” Sonata replied plainly, the song growing louder in the air about her. “I shan’t leave until I am finished.”
“What are you on about, Sonata?” Prance bellowed, shaking the melodic residue out of his ears once more. “There is nothing left for you here!”
Adagio and Prance recoiled when they noticed a distinct scowl carve itself across the earth mare’s face. Her once burning eyes now smouldered. “Those two, foul beasts. I shall leave only after I am through with them,” she hissed, ignoring the bewildered stares she received in return. The sound of rustling leaves and cracking branches emanated from the woods. Sonata smiled. “Just wait and see. You shall enjoy it.”
The crackling sound in the Sardhoof grew louder, more rushed and chaotic. With this din came the sound of clashing metal and enough frantic screaming to unsettle the soul. As the small collection of ponies continued to stare into the woods, out from the darkness shot a streak of white. It arched in the air, cursing loudly, then hit the ground a short distance away.
A heap of bloodied feathers and half-destroyed armor, Echo Hum strained to stand, and began a frantic search about the clearing. Her eyes were wide, desperate. “Where is she? Where is that little witch?” she rasped, turning in dazed circles. When she caught her bearings, her gaze finally planted itself upon Sonata. “Witch!” the pegasus screamed, limping forward and dragging one of her now bloodied wings behind her. “You deceptive, little shit! I'll rip you apart!” She pulled a dagger from her remaining good wing and clutched it between her teeth. A trail of white feathers followed her on her trek toward the edge of the bluff. Her right wing shivered and twitched as she went.
It was only after the light of the cottage fire had fallen upon the pegasus that Adagio realized her wing bones had been broken. Jutting through the base of the appendage was something sharp and covered with red. The Duchess dared not stare long enough to decipher what it was. “Don't you touch her!” she bellowed, bowing her head and letting off a spark of magic. A ruby red dome of protection flickered around Sonata’s form just as Echo lunged forward, her dagger aimed at the earth mare’s neck.
She and the weapon ricocheted off of Adagio’s spell and into the dirt. Screaming in frustration, Echo dropped the useless dagger, and reared up onto her hind legs. Scraping and pounding at the magic dome, her fury was only met with a mischievous blue grin.
“Your leg doesn’t look very good. You had better get away before he finds you again,” the earth mare hissed, her reddened eyes sparking. Even as she spoke, the wind began to pick up.
“Through shaded wood and glen. Get away, my pet, get away…” a stallion’s voice called through the sound of crashing branches.
Desperate, the white pegasus turned about to take a look at her surroundings, searching for anything that could be used to her advantage. Spotting the discarded lengths of chain she had used to bind the knight and Duchess, she trekked off in their direction. Snatching one length up into her teeth, and tossing the other across her back, the mare headed back toward the clearing.
Out of the darkness zipped a blinding shadow. It streaked through the air faster than the eye could follow, and careened itself into Echo’s side. The force sent her rolling toward the edge of the cliff. Scrambling up to her trembling hooves, she now glared into the eyes of Silent Wing.
The dark stallion’s wings spread menacingly. “No use in running, love,” he sneered, taking a step forward. His dagger gleamed upon his foreleg. “Wasn’t it you what said I could catch anything?”
“Come on then, you daft bastard!” Echo screamed, snatching the chain up between her teeth.
Or you shan’t pass this way again…
Sonata sang on, watching the debacle unfold with disturbing glee.
Without hesitation, Silent Wing charged, his fitted foreleg outstretched, aimed for Echo’s head. Echo held her ground. At the last possible moment—when a glint of silver was a feather’s length from her face—she swung her neck around, and whipped the chain. Its edge flew through the air, wrapping neatly about Silent Wing’s foreleg. With one great tug, the mare brought the appendage down.
Knowing she only had a moment with which to act, Echo stood upon the chain, bore up onto her hind legs, and crashed her hooves into Silent Wing’s snout, again and again, intent on knocking the stallion out cold. Instead, she only managed to draw out more of his blood and ire.
Having far too many good limbs to work with by comparison, Silent raised his wings into the air, drew them up, and blew Echo away from him with one powerful stroke. The mare nearly tumbled away off the edge of the cliff. If it wasn't for her strong right foreleg, she would have probably done so.
By the time Echo had settled onto solid ground once more, Silent was upon her. Nipping her by the tail he swung her about and sent her crashing into the ground, screaming in pain.
Sonata’s song grew louder as the two pegasi tussled toward the edge of the precipice.
Master fox shall catch you...
“Master fox shall catch you,” Silent Wing muttered, bearing down upon his fallen partner.
Ever the true warrior, Echo did not look upon him in fear, but with burning resentment. Even when the stallion took her one good wing in his teeth and extended it out to its full length, she did not whimper or plead.
“I've always fancied your wings. They’re the prettiest I've ever seen. Did you know that?” the pegasus stallion inquired, arching a brow. His wicked grin grew wider. “‘Course you did. They are your pride and joy, aren’t they? I can tell what with the way you slobber all over them every chance you get.” Padding around in her feathers, Silent Wing froze when his hoof touched something long and stiff. “Quite a distraction, though. Imagine all of the training you could’ve done had you not been so preoccupied with these stupid ornaments. Perhaps you wouldn't now find yourself in your current predicament, ey, Hummy?”
The stallion’s grin had grown devious beyond measure. Both of his hooves now rested upon the base of Echo’s shining wing. He looked into the mare’s eyes, hungry for any sign of fear.
Echo trembled. Biting her lip to steady her nerves, she then spat upward into Silent Wing’s face. The stoicism in his demeanor seemed to bruise her deeply. For once, the mare’s brow softened upon realizing the extent of her partner’s betrayal. She took a deep breath. “You stupid—”
She hadn't the chance to finish. Her tortured screams ripped through the night air along with the sound of cracking bone.
At first, Adagio and Prance both turned away, unable to stomach the sight of such cruelty. Their sights were again drawn toward the bluff only when they heard the most delighted of giggles escaping Sonata’s throat.
There the blue mare sat, wearing a glowing smile as she looked down upon the feathered pair. The sight of her behaving this way was unnatural, sickening.
“Sonata! That is enough!” Prance called out to her, attempting to yell above the horrible din
of Echo Hum’s wailing. “Stop this!”
The grinning fox shall catch you...
She sang on, delighting in the sound of Silent Wing obediently repeating after her. Another crack of bone, another peal of screams, another playful giggle.
Prance had had enough. He could not bear the sight of his sweet Sonata turned into this horrid monster. Edging up to his hooves, he began the arduous task of limping in her direction.
Sensing his approach, the earth mare turned about to stare at him. “Stay back, knight,” she commanded.
Adagio rose to nip and tug upon Prance’s tail. “Lighthoof, the spell is avoiding you. You must stay back,” she insisted.
“I shan’t!” Prance bellowed. “Sonata, what is this thing that you've become? This is not the sweet farm filly that I know! You shall stop this madness, this instant!” And yet, even as he spoke, the knight was compelled to flick Sonata’s song out of his ears.
“You're right! I am not this little, furry husk!” the earth mare shouted. “I am Sonata Dusk! And who are you to suppose that you could command me?” Her aura bulged and bubbled. A growl cut through her haunting melody as Lighthoof continued his advance.
“Lighthoof!” Adagio called to no avail. Thinking quickly, she shot a beam of magic in the knight’s direction, levitated him away from the scene and bounded forward to approach Sonata herself. “Miss Sonata, that is enough! Have pity on this mare!”
Had those words actually left her mouth? Had she really begged for mercy on Echo Hum’s behalf?
“Pity?” Sonata scoffed, eyeing the Duchess over. “These two don’t deserve any pity.” She turned again to look upon the pegasi. Echo Hum lay writhing on the edges of consciousness. Silent Wing loomed above her, still dazed out of his mind.
“This is cruel, Miss Sonata. Can you not see that?” Adagio pressed, recoiling at the bloody sight before her.
“It is no different from any other evil these land folk dispense upon each other. And I am tired of being bullied!” Sonata quipped. There was a pause. A smile spread across her face as she looked toward Silent Wing. “I know what I would very much like to see.”
Adagio, noticing this shift in the earth mare's demeanor, moved forward to shake her by the shoulders. “Miss Sonata, please—”
“Drop her!” Sonata said, her eyes boring into the side of Silent Wing’s head. The ethereal timbre of her voice echoed throughout the sky, loud enough to reach Prance’s ears where he lay on the edge of the woods.
“What?” he called in disbelief.
“Sonata, no!” Adagio screamed in horror as Silent Wing snatched up the fainted white mare by the wings, and dragged her the few steps toward the cliff’s edge. He swung his neck around only once.
Adagio had just begun to stoke up her magic when something struck her across the face. By the time she realized that Sonata had hit her, Silent Wing was already sitting upon precipice—all alone. A sickening ‘crunch’ could be heard far below.
“No!” Adagio wailed, turning away in disgust. Her eyes had filled with tears, and she had not the fortitude to decipher why. “By Celestia! What have you done?”
“Nothing worse than what she would have done to you if given the chance,” Sonata shrugged, turning about to face the Duchess. “Now, fetch those chains so that we might bind him up.”
“You cannot kill this way!” Adagio shouted defiantly, her horn sparking with rage. “Are you just as evil as they?”
Sonata blinked at her. “I do not understand your distress. This is how these creatures live, isn’t it?”
“Sonata...” Adagio lamented, not knowing what else to say.
“Fetch the chains! Bind him up!” Sonata bellowed, quite exasperated. Her ethereal voice echoed through the trees.
Stunned and frightened, Adagio bit her lip, grimaced at the earth mare, and allowed her horn to glow hot. In a moment, the length of chain was suspending itself in the air between them. “Here,” the Duchess spat coldly.
“Go on, then,” Sonata commanded, her possessed face void of all expression.
Taking a moment to shoot the earth mare a defiant glare, Adagio wrenched her neck to the side, levitating the chain in Silent Wing’s direction. The length neatly wound itself about the stallion’s form, and locked upon its ends.
“There. It is done,” Adagio said, frowning. “Are you satisfied? Now might we take our leave?”
Sonata smiled and nodded her head. “Certainly. There is just one last thing...” Turning again to face the stallion, she gave a lazy flick of her hoof. “Jump,” she commanded him. “Join your companion.”
“Sonata!” Adagio screamed.
Before the Duchess could account for what she was doing, she had leapt forward just as Silent Wing hurled himself from the bluff’s edge. Catching the stallion by the tail, she threw herself over right along with him.
“Adagio!” Prance shouted, bounding forward toward the cliff’s edge. The closer to Sonata the stallion ran, the slower his hoofsteps became until, at last, he came to a calm and obedient stop right before her. His deep purple eyes were dim and glazed over. His unhearing ears drooped against his brown mane. The earth mare’s nightsong had consumed him completely.
Sonata looked upon him wearily as if he were the most annoying creature in the entire world. She didn't seem worried in the slightest that Adagio had just followed Silent Wing over the cliff toward his doom. Perhaps she had known better; for, a moment later, there was a bright flash of raspberry light, and once again, there Adagio sat by her side, panting and weary. Silent Wing lay on the ground beside her, staring blankly out into the distance.
The Duchess turned her head at once, shooting a look of pure fury in Sonata’s direction. “Now, you listen to me, you petulant, little imp. I shan’t allow you to harm anypony else on this night. We are finished here! The mercenary is bound, his partner is dead, and now we shall leave!”
Sonata frowned. “No!” she spat, sticking her tongue out, defiantly. “I've waited for so long to have any say at all. This place is horrid, and it is filled with horrid things!” She turned again to face Silent Wing. The song in the ether grew louder, stronger. Even Lighthoof was compelled to bow his back before the mare. His head craned itself down toward the earth.
“And if you try it again, I shall bring him back again!” Adagio cried with a stomp of her hoof.
The younger mare’s laugh bit into her. Increasingly, its sound struck Adagio as both familiar and enraging. The blue mare’s unbridled defiance felt intolerable, something the Duchess felt compelled to quell. An itching and burning began to rise up into the noblemare’s chest.
The blue mare turned to look upon Lighthoof. Her burning red eyes bore into him, delving. Adagio watched on with suspicion as the knight’s ears began to twitch. She gasped in horror when he took one tentative step toward the cliff’s edge. “And what if I send them over one after the other? Ye’ can’t save them both!” Sonata laughed, waving her mane about foalishly.
Something in the air shifted.
Sonata, sensing it, turned to take a look at the noblemare. When she did, she recoiled.
There Adagio sat, planted atop the cliff. The Duchess’ eyes now glowed fiery red. Her face contorted into a snarl of pure rage. Whipping about her in the winds was a strange cacophony of sound, a bracing song to counter Sonata’s, and a deep, guttural growl. “What do you say to me?” she hissed, her voice reverberating about them both. “Say it again, if you dare.”
Sonata’s glowing eyes went wide with apprehension. Her lips sealed themselves shut.
“I didn’t think so,” Adagio growled. “As usual, I see that you cannot be left to your own devices. Who is it that has afforded you the freedom to act so frivolously?”
“Oh, Adagio. I… I was so upset...” Sonata stammered, her ghostly voice bouncing off of Sardhoof wood. “And I missed you terribly, and I was only—”
“Retreat, Sonata!” Adagio barked. Her voice cracked like thunder in the air. Her growl made the earth rumble.
The younger mare flinched and bowed her head in submission. Sniffling, she turned to face Lighthoof’s teetering form. Slowly, her dark melody began to fade. With it went the glow in her eyes. With it, the curse lingering about her two enchanted prisoners was lifted.
The ‘thud’ against her chest jostled Sonata awake. Trying to lift her eyelids felt like trying to hoist two over-stuffed bushels of greens upon her back… except with her eyelids.
“Sonata?” a familiar voice called out to her somewhere in the blurry dim. It sounded male, and was weak and tired.
“Prance?” the earth mare croaked. Her eyes burst to life when she saw her friend, tired and beaten, bracing against her. In a confused panic, she drew him close, and helped him to lie down. In that frightening instant, all of her resentment and anger toward him fell away. “Prance! For dirt’s sake, what’s happened to you?” she cried, shaking at his shoulders. Looking around in a daze, trying desperately to remember all that had transpired, her sights eventually fell upon Adagio. “Your Gr—er—Lady—er—Miss Adagio! Prance is injured! We must find help!”
The noblemare was sitting a few paces away, shaking the fog out of her head and looking quite confused. “I… I realize Miss Sonata,” she groaned, stepping forward to meet them. “Now, come along. Let us leave this place.”
It was then that Sonata noticed the pegasus stallion lying a few steps away in the grass. “Miss Adagio!” the earth mare whispered, as if this prevented the mercenary from hearing her. “How on earth did he get all tied up that way?”
“Do not trouble yourself with it, Miss Sonata,” Adagio sighed, coming to rest by Prance’s side. “We are still alive, and that is what is most important.”
Silent Wing jostled and stirred as his consciousness cleared of its fog. His eyes sparked to life at last, and darted about in confusion. Looking up at the trio of traitors, he growled. “Wh… What have you rats done?” He shook about in his chains, concluding this as unwise when he nearly teetered right off the cliffside. Gazing about the skies with urgency, he whistled into the night air. Whatever reply he was hoping for did not come. He whistled again. Still no response. “Where is she?” he spat.
Adagio and Prance gave the pegasus sickened looks while Sonata attempted to hide behind Adagio’s mane. The Duchess steeled herself, and squared her shoulders. Despite her hatred for these monsters, she could not be settled with leaving the stallion like this in his confusion.
“You wait. Just you wait until I get out of these chains, friend!” Silent snarled, writhing about in his restraints.
“Miss Adagio, please don’t!” Sonata whimpered, clutching onto the Duchess’ tail as she moved to approach the pegasus.
Adagio paid her no mind. “Your name is Wing, is it?” she said, listening to him rage and huff steam, waiting until he had tuckered himself out. “Mister Wing, you should know that you had been cast under a spell until only recently. This is why you might not recall the past few moments. And while, in my opinion, you are of the wickedest and filthiest beasts in this world, I still do not think you deserving enough to be left in your ignorance.”
“What are you on about? Just who do you think you’re talking to you pompous thorn?” the stallion barked, inching forward to nip at Adagio’s hooves.
The Duchess took a wary step back, and waited for Wing to be calm once more. She looked him in the eye, and nudged her chin in the direction of the cliff’s edge. Noting this as a sign to take a look, Silent Wing grimaced and craned his neck over the side of the precipice.
The Duchess turned her gaze away when the stallion’s eyes went wide and glassy with shock. No need to have that look stuck in her memory.
“What…” Silent Wing choked, the air caught in his throat. “You did that to her?… You three spits? Impossible!”
“We didn’t,” Adagio replied sternly. “You did, whilst you were under the earth mare’s spell.”
“What?” Sonata gasped, backing further away to hide behind Prance’s teetering form.
“I don’t believe you!” the bound stallion sneered. His expression looked more bruised than angry.
“You said yourself that we could not do that to Echo Hum alone, and we did not,” Adagio finished.
Silent Wing didn’t move again. He was a statue, an inanimate husk teetering on the edge of either rage or nausea.
The howling wind whipped about the huddled mass upon the bluff. When a few moments had passed, Adagio took a deep, decisive breath. “Come along, you two,” she said, turning about to face her companions.
“Wait…” Silent Wing choked at last, nudging himself forward again. “R… release me. She might… she might still be alive.” It seems even he recognized how foolish this sounded. He could not meet Adagio’s gaze when she turned to face him.
“I trust you can understand why I shan’t do as you ask,” she said flatly.
The two stared at each other for a moment. Silent Wing took a deep breath, trying, without success, to calm his nerves. “I ain’t one to beg, Pretty,” he growled, his searing eyes boring into her.
Adagio turned away. Standing amongst her friends, her horn began to glow. “Hold onto me. I shall take us away from here,” she bid the two earth ponies. Her voice was a little more than a weary groan.
Ever the crafty mercenary, Silent Wing’s eyes darted about, searching for something of use. Catching sight of Prance’s tail lying in the grass, he mustered up the strength for one great heave, hoisted himself the distance between his teeth and the tail, and clamped onto it for all he was worth.
Startled into action, Adagio forgot her teleportation spell, bowed her head, and blasted a beam of ruby light directly into the pegasus’ face. “Let him go!” she cried.
Despite this blow and Prance’s subsequent kicks to the face, the pegasus held fast. “You kill me dead first, you worms!” he hissed through his teeth, shaking himself violently within his bindings. “I ain’t ever letting go! You disappear and I go with ye’, I will!” Another violent shake and the chain about the back of his wings began to separate. Shadowy gray feathers began to peek through.
“He is going to break free, Miss Adagio!” Sonata cried, trying to pull Prance out of the pegasus’ grasp. “Do something!”
Adagio sent another powerful blast into the pegasus’ face. When the light had faded, Silent Wing’s eyes had been struck sore, and steam lifted off of his mane. Lost in his fury, he bit onto the earth stallion’s tail even harder, and gave himself another jostle. His left wing popped free from its bindings. Immediately, he lifted the appendage up into the air, and slammed it onto the ground with all of his might. The crack it made was as loud as thunder.
Looking out across what once was the Fylleions’ fields, the collection of ponies could still see pegasi silhouettes stoking the fires of Sonata’s cottage. To their horror, upon hearing the crack of Silent’s wing, a few of them halted in their rounds about the smoke, and turned to see what was the matter.
Seeing this, Prance mustered up the last reserves of his strength, raised his fitted foreleg so that the blade pressed against his tail, and wrenched as hard as he could. When he had cut himself free from Silent Wing’s grasp Adagio and Sonata pulled him beyond reach.
Keeping her eye on the flock of approaching pegasi in the distance, Adagio charged her horn, and drew her companions in close. In a flash of light, all three of them were gone.
They reappeared not too far away, the cliff still well within sight. Silent Wing could be heard crashing his wing into the ground, sounding the call to his airborne brethren.
Adagio leaned onto her forelegs, her face plastered with sweat. A bewildered look was in her eye. “Blast it. The weight is too great, and I've expelled far too much of my magic,” she hissed, turning toward her company. “Allow me to catch my breath. Then I shall try again.”
Silence passed between them as they watched the shadows of pegasus wings cast themselves over the bluff in the beyond.
“I suppose three ponies would prove cumbersome to carry that way,” Sonata tittered, helping Prance as he struggled to stand.
Adagio grimaced. She already knew she’d made a mistake by speaking before the knight ever had a chance to open his mouth.
“Adagio...” he began.
“No,” the Duchess interjected, looking quite cross.
“Well that is hardly fair,” he croaked falling back down to his haunches. “You haven’t yet heard what it is I have to say.”
In the beyond, the flock of pegasi had split into two. One half had descended down below the precipice to fetch their fallen sister; the other came to Silent Wing’s aid.
Even from this distance, Adagio could see the mercenary’s incessant mouth yapping, his neck craning to direct his cohorts toward the woods. This wasn’t good. “I already know what you are going to say, Lighthoof, and the answer is no,” she said, turning about and gathering the two earth ponies together again. “Now, come along.”
Again, her horn flashed. When the group reappeared, Adagio fought down a wave of panic upon realizing that they had traveled an even shorter distance than before. Her head was spinning. She was expelling too much magic for too little reward.
Save for Silent Wing and his fallen comrade, the flock of pegasi no longer haunted the bluff. Instead, their silhouettes peeked through the canopy as they advanced upon the fugitive trio.
“Gio, I know that you can understand why you must...” Prance prodded. The urgency in his voice was clear.
“For Celestia’s sake, Lighthoof, do not ask this of me again!” the Duchess cried. “We shall find a way together!”
“You said yourself that our weight is far too great,” the knight pressed. “It is impractical.” He watched on anxiously as the airborne silhouettes continued their approach. “Please, Adagio. It is only for a time. The Duke is unrelenting this evening. Best to get as far as you can, and I shall meet you again soon enough.”
“Upright shall surely destroy you,” Adagio hissed.
“He shan’t,” Prance replied, shaking his weary head. “Not if I am the only pony alive who will know your whereabouts. If I am gone, he risks losing you forever, and we both know how stubborn Upright is about his possessions.” The stallion attempted to chuckle, but only managed to wince in pain.
Adagio passed him a severely irritated look. If she were one to huff steam, surely she would have done so. “I am not his possession. Not anymore.” Forcing a facade of calm, slowly she parted her lips again. “Lighthoof, you are severely injured, and not of sound mind. Had Upright still wanted me, he would have never allowed me to leave.”
This time Prance did laugh and heartily. He couldn't even afford her the courtesy of an explanation, knowing that it was unnecessary.
Perturbed by his biting laughter, and the sound of pegasi upon the winds, Adagio sighed. “Lighthoof, what was the point if I let you go now? Of your field games, and your beguiling words, and your stupid market apples, and asking me to run with you, and Beryl, and Moonstone… What would all of this have been for?” Adagio whimpered, stomping a hoof into the soil. Sonata flinched where she sat a short distance away, covering her eyes with her hooves for a variety of reasons.
Prance quieted down, and looked at Adagio as if she had asked him the simplest question in the world. “For you, silly mare,” he scoffed. His eyes turned upon the fast approaching flock. “I would relive this night a thousand times over if I knew that you would be free. Please understand, Gio, that in this matter I have always been inconsequential. I've made my choices. I already know who I am. All I want now is for you to be given the same opportunity. And you can have it if only you would learn to let go.”
Silence passed between them as the shadows of wings blotted out the moonlight up above. Adagio could hear their voices calling angrily to her as the pegasi began their descent.
“Blast you, Lighthoof!” she whimpered.
“Miss Adagio, I'm afraid! What should we do?” Sonata squeaked, giving a few futile tugs to Prance’s ears, and opting to wrap her forelegs about his neck instead.
Taking a deep breath, the Duchess dug deep and settled into that calm, collected place within. She absolutely refused to panic or cry again. Such weak emotions were a luxury she could no longer afford herself.
Be honest, Adagio. Be realistic.
She looked toward Sonata, then Prance. She turned to gaze back toward the cliff, now void of all life. The wind tore at her mane. The pegasi were almost upon them. Her brow twitched. She bit her lip, stomped her hoof, and at last gave a great huff. “Lighthoof, if you die, I swear I shall conjure you back from the dead just so that I may kill you myself.”
Under different circumstances the statement might have garnered a laugh or two between the lovers. Tonight, they could only manage weary smiles.
“Understood,” Prance said with a nod of his head. He stroked Sonata's soft blue mane once, then gently broke their embrace. “Please look after this one, won't you?” he added, a mischievous grin shining through his pain.
Adagio nodded in return. “Miss Sonata, hold onto me,” she commanded the earth mare. Again Sonata obliged. When they were set and her horn had begun to glow, Adagio passed the knight one stern, parting glance. “I shall see you again, Lighthoof. Now, you swear it to me!” Though her voice cracked, her gaze never wavered.
“Miss Adagio!” Sonata squealed, her wide eyes directed upward where a pair of pegasi were almost upon them.
“I swear it,” Prance said with all the confidence that could be expected from somepony as brazen he.
Drinking in the sight of the white stallion, of the two, purple pools that were his eyes, Adagio bowed her head one last time, her horn flashing bright.