• Published 6th May 2013
  • 8,175 Views, 413 Comments

The Sword Coast - AdrianVesper



With a price on Twilight Sparkle’s head and the shadow of death on her heels, her only hope for salvation is the Magic of Friendship. (Baldur’s Gate Crossover)

  • ...
12
 413
 8,175

Sand

Sand

Twilight watched a lavender silhouette fall, long and deep down through the earth. A cerulean blue light chased after her, drawing a line of color through the black. A moment after the lights met, the lavender light hit the bottom of the cavern and shattered into a million fragments. The blue one tried to collect the fragments, but the lavender one sent her away.

The fragments gleamed in the shadows. Thousands of rippling shapes approached the light and swarmed over it. Alone, darkness all around her, the light became a shadow. A splatter of red spilled on the obsidian earth.

The Black Knight rose.

A terrible laugh echoed through the cavern. All around him, heads rolled: ponies, diamond dogs, griffons, ogres, minotaurs. He spared none, be they young or old, male or female, warriors or farmers, parents or children. He killed them all.

The blood rose around him, surging in a liquid sea of red. He was hooves deep in it; the red painting him gave his black armor color and definition. He was mighty. He was indomitable. He was power.

Twilight stood in a river of blood. It licked at her belly and matted her coat. She saw the bodies floating on the surface. One drifted past her; a diamond dog pup the same size as she was, with a spike of wood driven deep into his eye. He looked at her with his good eye, and his lips moved.

“Demon Pony.”

His voice struck her to the core, and she answered.

“I had to kill you!”

The diamond dog closed his eye and gave her no reply.

“I had to live!”

Next, a pony with only burns for a face drifted beside her, and spoke from the charred hole of his mouth.

“You enjoyed it.”

Horror gripped her.

It was true.

The broken corpses all opened their eyes and turned them on her.

“You enjoyed killing us.”

Stumbling, Twilight fled the bodies. The blood clung to her hooves until she pulled herself free of the river. Crimson dripping from her fur gave definition to the obsidian plane beneath her. Ahead, on the bank of the river, she saw him.

The Black Knight.

He made her do this. He killed Star Swirl. He set her down this path.

She would make him pay.

She lunged forward, thrusting Solstice into his chest. His breastplate yielded to her blade, flashing with violet as her sword pierced into him.

Cracks spread across the Black Knight. Reflective shards fell away from where her sword had pierced the mirror in front of her. From each of them, a black, demonic helm looked back at her. She stared at the fragments in shock.

A whisper rose from the shadows.

“Have you learned?”

Before Twilight, a door appeared in the place of the shattered mirror. Beyond, she saw a path. She knew what lay down it: shadows, death, and the graves of her enemies. It was a path made for her, straight and long, with the Black Knight’s head impaled on the tip of Solstice’s blood-stained blade beside it. If she walked down it, she would have her revenge and her answers as surely as the Sun rose at dawn.

“Do you see your destiny?”

She raised her hoof, about to step through the doorway, but before she could, a pink light appeared in the darkness next to her, and the voice in the shadows cried out in response.

“No!”

She glanced at the light, hesitating for a moment, and four others appeared beside it, orange, blue, white, and yellow. When she saw them all beside her – with her – she realized: whatever she was, with them at her side, she could make her own fate.

Another road appeared to her. It was not framed neatly by a doorway. It was not made for her. It wound and twisted into tortured knots. It frayed at the edges, splitting into countless possibilities. On this path, it would not be easy, and every step would be a battle, but she knew that she would not have to walk it alone.

She turned away from the doorway, and set her hoof on the winding path.

As the cavern crumbled around her, the voice in the darkness screamed in fury.

“Fool! You are alone!

Twilight woke with the voice still echoing in her mind. She was lying on a mat, with a woven blanket draped over her. Sunlight flitting in from an open doorway revealed the masoned stone of the floor, walls, and ceiling. She was alone in the room.

She sighed. Just another nightmare...

Strangely enough, this time, her heart beat normally.

With a yawn, she rolled and arched her back, stretching luxuriously. She could vividly remember the river of blood from the dream, along with the voices of her victims taunting her. Even if the voices were right, she had to defend herself. From the moment she’d taken a pony’s life, she’d only killed out of necessity. She’d never murdered, but she knew that any killing was still wrong.

She settled back onto the mat, remembering a time when she was just a filly and there had been a murder in Candlekeep.

A young mare had confessed to stabbing both her parents to death. Star Swirl was one of the scholars called upon to decide her fate. Out of curiosity, Twilight listened to the deliberations with her ear pressed up to the door. The murder fascinated her. She wanted to understand why a child would kill both her parents.

Star Swirl argued for mercy. The mare’s father was a drunk, her mother a loon. They may have been abusive, but he couldn’t prove it. In the end, the mare was sentenced to be hanged.

Twilight managed to sneak away before any of the scholars left the room, but Star Swirl caught her around the corner. He asked her why she’d been eavesdropping, and she answered with a question: “Why is killing wrong?”

Then, she needed a sound argument to explain why it was wrong. To her young mind, it had seemed like killing was a natural solution to a natural problem. It was obvious the mare could not tolerate her parents. A lesser guardian might have told her, “Because it is,” but not Star Swirl.

Star Swirl recited a poem:

”No mare is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every mare is a piece of Equestria,
A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,
The whole is the less,
As well as if a pony city were,
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s,
Or if thine own were:

Any one’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in all kind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.”

At first, she didn’t understand, and Star Swirl explained that everyone has value; taking a living creature away from Equestria took something important from everyone. He also told her, “Sometimes, killing is necessary. Sometimes, the guilty have to be punished. Sometimes, some creatures have to be killed to save the lives of others. But that never makes it right.”

The moment in the caves came back to her, bringing her mind back to the present.

She was alone with only shadows around her and she had one way out. She’d slaughtered the diamond dogs while the voice from her nightmares whispered in her mind. She was untouchable, unstoppable. She had been alone, outnumbered, bleeding, and probably suffering from a concussion, and they could only hurt her when she cut herself on their dead claws.

Did I lose control? she wondered.

She went over the memories with detached clarity, every moment – every kill – even the ones she’d executed while they were sleeping helplessly on the floor. She knew she should feel vile, but she didn’t. Instead, she felt powerful. It scared her. She feared the monster she had seen reflected in the diamond dogs’ eyes. Now that she’d killed, she knew something she would have never found out in Candlekeep; she wasn’t like other ponies.

What am I?

She heard the clip-clop of hooves outside the door. An instant later, the events of the caves came back to her. She remembered an unknown entity standing over her, eyes glowing.

She took a split second to frantically glance around the room, but Solstice was nowhere to be found. She had no other weapons, and exhaustion had robbed her of all the prepared spells she had left after the events in the mines.

She was helpless.

When a shadow fell over her, she quickly closed her eyes, pretending to still be asleep. The hooves drew closer, and her heart raced. Whoever my captors are, if they wanted to kill me, I’d be dead, she told herself as she tried to control her breathing. Paranoia gripped her. In her mind’s eye, an ebon dagger floated above her, waiting to plunge down and extinguish her life.

I’m not helpless, she realized.

She had one trick left, one of the simplest spells in the world. With a shout, she jumped to her feet and lashed out with her levitation.

Her magic caught nothing; there was no one there. A curtain draped beside the doorway fluttered in the breeze, and she sighed in relief.

She was safe.

Thump!

Something hit into her side, wrapping around her neck. She dropped her chin instinctively to protect her throat, and a furry limb wedged its way into her mouth. She tried to scream as she fell to the ground, but it came out as a muffled grunt. Something strong pinned her to the floor. She reached out with her levitation to grab some part of her attacker. She had to break them, before they broke her.

Pinkie giggled in her ear. “Twilight, that tickles!”

Twilight spat out the limb in her mouth and released her magic. “Pinkie Pie?!”

Her pink attacker loosened her grip, and Twilight slipped free. Pinkie giggled again, and said, “That was fun, Twilight! I didn’t know you liked to wrestle.”

Twilight sat up and turned to glare at Pinkie. “Don’t do that! I could’ve—”

Pinkie nodded emphatically. “You could’ve really hurt somepony!” she interrupted. “If I hadn’t been quick, you could have smashed me against the wall, like a ragdoll!”

“I thought you were—”

Pinkie gripped her shoulders, shaking her. “Like. A. Ragdoll!”

Twilight pushed aside Pinkie’s forehooves and shook her head. “My levitation isn’t that strong.”

Pinkie tilted her head quizzically. “It’s not? Because, when you—”

“It’s not! I was stronger then!” Twilight cut Pinkie off, practically shouting. She didn’t want to think about the time she’d spent alone down in the mines any more than she had to.

Pinkie raised a brow at her, pausing for a moment. “Okie dokie loki, Twilight.” She smiled. “Anyways, you’ve got to aiff!”

“Aif?” Twilight asked.

Pinkie shook her head in exasperation. “No Twilight, it’s aiff.”

“That’s what I said,” Twilight mumbled.

Pinkie continued, talking over her, “Always Identify Friend or Foe. Aiff! I made up a song to remember it. It goes—”

Twilight shoved a hoof into Pinkie’s mouth. “No! No singing. We don’t even know where we are!” She let her hoof drop.

Pinkie blinked at her. “Sure we do, Twilight. The buffalo took us to their village! It’s in an old bridge. I’ve never seen a bridge this big!” She gestured at Twilight. “They even gave you a good scrubbing!”

Twilight glanced down at her forehooves. She hadn’t noticed that the dried blood had been cleaned from her coat. “Is everypony okay?” she asked.

Pinkie nodded. “Yep, safe and sound. A-okay! That reminds me: I’m supposed to let everypony know if you were awake yet.” She jumped up, trotting briskly to the door. In the doorway, she paused and glanced over her shoulder. “You coming, Twilight?”

Twilight stood up and followed Pinkie.

When she stepped out the door, the light forced her to close her eyes. Compared to the cool stone room, the air out here was uncomfortably hot. Her hooves clopped on a wooden surface as she took another step.

She cracked her eyes open.

Yelping, she quickly stepped back from the edge of the walkway beneath her hooves. Over a hundred hoofspans beneath her, a dry riverbed snaked its way across the barren earth. When she noticed the wooden guardrail, she breathed a sigh of relief, and stepped forward again. The light of the setting Sun bathed the ruddy red landscape, casting long shadows on the floor of the canyon beneath her. On one side of the riverbed, dry trees stood; only a few of them bore leaves.

To either side of the riverbed, immense stone pillars rose up from the ground. Twilight followed them up. They supported a massive stone bridge that extended to either side of her, spanning the canyon. From the pillars, towers continued up on either side of the bridge. She had to crane her neck to see their crenelated, weathered tops.

“Pretty neat, right?” Pinkie said from where she stood beside Twilight.

Twilight nodded as she gazed at the crumbling architecture of the ancient bridge around them.

“Come on,” Pinkie said with a laugh and set off down the walkway.

Twilight followed Pinkie. Beside her, curtained doorways led off the walkway into rooms shielded from the heat of the day by thick stone. Tilting upward, the boards followed the rubble, and Twilight climbed the walkway to the surface of the bridge.

Where it was intact, the bridge was wide enough for hundreds of ponies to walk across at the same time. She watched lumbering creatures with large heads, pairs of curved horns, and massive, hunched shoulders maneuver their way across wooden walkways that patched the gaps in the bride. From their distinguishing features, she identified them as buffalo. They glanced at her and Pinkie with curiosity, but left them alone.

Ahead, as the Sun set, a pair of buffalo drew back a wooden walkway leading over a wide gap between the central portion of the bridge and the Badlands. No Sand Cats would reach them here.

Twilight noticed her friends waiting in the shade at the base of one of the towers. Rarity manipulated a book with her levitation, biting her lip in concentration. Next to Rarity, Fluttershy gently ran a brush through Angel’s fur. Beside Rarity and Fluttershy, Rainbow and Applejack stood in each other’s faces next to a pony-sized buffalo that appeared to be an adolescent.

“You see this apple?” Applejack shouted, holding up the offending object in her hoof. “It’s fresh; it was stolen from the Appleloosan’s apple orchard less than a day ago!”

“They didn’t have a choice! Do you see any water around here?” Rainbow yelled back while she gestured at the barren land beneath them.

“Says the thief,” Applejack grumbled loudly as Twilight trotted up, oblivious to the unicorn’s approach.

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “You’re acting like I’m Rarity or something. One lousy pair of wingblades...”

“That is enough!” Rarity said. She dropped the book and stood. “You two have been arguing constantly for the past five minutes, and now you talk about me like I’m some petty thief. It’s insufferable, inequine! I can hardly get—” She stopped, noticing Twilight. “Oh, hello Twilight. It’s good to see you up,” she said sweetly.

The rest of the group turned to look at her, mumbling greetings.

Twilight glared at Applejack and Rainbow. “Questions: First, where’s my sword? Second, how long was I out? Third, how long have you all been up? Fourth, why did the buffalo help us? And finally, why are you two so mad at each other?”

“Applejack thinks that—” Rainbow said.

Cutting Rainbow off, Twilight stamped her hoof and said, “In order!”

“I have it,” Rarity said. She levitated Solstice out of her Bag of Holding and over to Twilight. “And here’s your cloak... and your pack...”

Twilight donned her gear while Applejack answered her next questions. “You were out for about ten hours, give or take. We’ve all been up for an hour or two. We figured you needed your sleep. The buffalo helped us because they were nearby when we escaped the collapsing tunnel and they noticed we’d confronted ‘the Dark One,’ who they don’t care for much either. Rainbow and I were debatin’ the finer points of law and order. She seems to think it’s right for anybody to jus’ take what they want.”

“I’m right here, you know,” the buffalo grumbled.

“Who’re you? If you don’t mind me asking,” Twilight said, turning her attention to the buffalo.

“I’m Strongheart. I was with the group that found you in the sands of the canyon floor, and I was the one who picked that apple,” Strongheart told her confidently.

Twilight inclined her head respectfully. “Thank you for helping us.” She turned to Rarity. “Why did you take my sword?”

“Well, you were a bit on edge in the mines. After Rainbow woke up and—” Rarity said.

“Hey! I wasn’t gonna hurt anybody; I just wanted them to tell me where the others were!” Rainbow interrupted.

“Regardless... given your mental state, we were afraid an accident might happen,” Rarity said.

Twilight looked at the ground. My mental state. First her own subconscious seemed to be telling her she was crazy in her dreams, and now her friends. She couldn’t deny it; she’d almost hurt Pinkie. When she remembered her behavior in the final moments down in the tomb, something incredibly important occurred to her.

She focused intensely on Rarity. “The notes! Do you have them?”

Rarity nodded, holding up a book bound by sewing the pages into a cloth cover. “Right here. They were a mess, so I ordered them by date and binded them. I skimmed a bit of it, and the cleric you were after was connected to the trade crisis. Clearly, the iron mine was the right place to look.”

Twilight spent a moment in stunned silence while she read the letters Rarity had inscribed on the cover’s fabric.

Journal of Hay Brittle

She threw her hooves around Rarity’s neck, shouting, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Rarity smiled and gently patted her on the back. “It was nothing, dear. I could tell how much this means to you, and it means a great deal to me too.”

“Well, she’s up, so shall we?” Strongheart said.

Twilight released Rarity, feeling a little self-conscious after her outburst. “Shall we what?” she asked.

“Go see the buffalo chieftain, of course,” Pinkie piped up from beside her.

“Since you’re our leader, we’d figured we’d wait for you,” Rarity said.

Twilight blinked. “I’m not the leader.”

Pinkie peered at Twilight. “You’re not? Is there an evil overlord in your head telling us what to do?”

Ignoring Pinkie, Twilight glanced at her group. “It’s a mutual thing, right?”

Applejack nodded. “It is. You’re the one who makes decisions. You’ve led us fine so far; I don’t think anypony can honestly say they’ve had any serious complaints, and without your quick thinking, we might’ve died down there.”

“You’ve been doing simply fantastic, Twilight. You’ve kept your head above water, even after you’ve been through so much,” Rarity said.

Applejack added, “Though, in hindsight, the decision to try an’ cross that bridge was a bit—”

“Alright, alright, I get it,” Twilight interrupted. “Let’s go and see this chieftain.” She nodded to Strongheart. “But, if you don’t mind, I’d like something to eat and drink first.”

“Of course,” Strongheart said.


After quenching her parched throat and filling her belly, Twilight stood in the dark interior of one of the towers, surrounded by the elders of the buffalo tribe. Despite their large shapes looming around her, Twilight felt comfortable with them. From all she had seen, the buffalo were gentle giants with no intention of hurting anyone. She had her friends with her, even Spike.

When Spike had first appeared in the village while she was eating, the buffalo had regarded him with respect. They had even fed him some turquoise. Apparently, the buffalo respected celestial creatures.

“It is good to see you awake and well, Little Shadow. When Wildhorn found you, he was concerned that your body had been pushed too far,” said one of the buffalo, Chief Thunderhooves, his deep voice rumbling in the enclosed space.

’Little Shadow.’ It was the last thing Twilight remembered before her world went dark. “Why do you call me that?” she asked.

“Because that is what you are,” another buffalo said.

“Who are you, and what does that mean?” Twilight said.

“I am Wildhorn, Head Druid and Lorekeeper for the tribe. I cannot claim to fully understand you, Little Shadow. I know only that you are a coin resting on its edge. Whichever way you fall, the shadow of death follows in your wake,” he said.

Inwardly, Twilight seethed. Here was another fortune teller, pretending to have wisdom and answers, but in the end he could tell her nothing of value. Of course the shadow of death followed in her wake; someone was trying to kill her.

How could he know anything about me? She took a breath and suppressed her anger. He probably means well.

When she said nothing, the Chieftain started to speak again, gesturing at her friends beside her. “You ponies have rid us of the one who disturbed the dead and called up the Sands. We felt his presence leave, and we suspect he is dead. You seek balance, and perhaps you can help us. The—”

Twilight raised her hoof, and the Chieftain paused. “Sorry, one more thing.” She turned to Wildhorn. “Why did you put us to sleep?”

“I did not force sleep upon any of you. I am no unicorn spellcaster; I merely gave your minds peace. You were all beyond the point of exhaustion, some more than others, and the moment you felt calm, you slept,” Wildhorn explained.

Twilight heard Fluttershy murmur something quietly. “Fluttershy?” Twilight said.

“Oh, um... sorry. I just thought that druids could only calm animals,” Fluttershy said.

“Druids have a duty to care for and nurture all of Gaia’s children, Little Windtalker, even those of us blessed with speech,” Wildhorn said.

Fluttershy shook her head. “I may be a pegasus, but I’m not a windtalker. I can barely push a cloud. Rainbow is, though.”

Thunderhooves snorted impatiently, and Fluttershy cringed.

Wildhorn chuckled softly. “You have only tried to speak to the wind with wings, Little One. You have the power to do far more than that.” He nodded toward Thunderhooves. “We will speak more later; at the moment we have pressing matters to discuss.”

“Indeed we do,” Thunderhooves said, “The land beyond the river is no ordinary desert. Even in the driest places in Equestria, some life thrives, but deep in the rock and dunes of the Badlands, there is no life, only demons and elemental beasts. It is a scar on Gaia from the War of the Gods. This bridge was once a part of a highway to a grand pony city. The gods fought over that city, and they wreaked terrible havoc on nature. In the end, the only mortals that survived were the ones that fled.”

Twilight shifted while Thunderhooves told his story, but she respectfully stayed silent. If it’s important, he could get to the point.

“While the Sands buried the city, to contain the Sands as much as they could, our ancestors came to this canyon and called upon the river to flow again. Since the War of the Gods, we have been here, trying to find a way to heal this scar. Then, four years ago, the Appleloosans dammed the river.”

He paused, sighing deeply, then said, “When I heard of the dam, I made a grave mistake. In anger, I gathered my warriors and attacked the Appleloosans. We tried not to cause more harm than we needed to, but in war, mistakes happen. The innocent often suffer more than the warriors. The ponies protected their dam and called upon allies to drive us back. It was a dark day when their soldiers found one of our villages near the base of this canyon and slaughtered our people in retaliation. We fled here, to the bridge, beyond their reach.

“After six months, once the pony’s reservoir was full, they allowed the river to flow again, and I felt like a great wrong had come to pass because of my foolishness. But, the next year, the river barely flowed. The year after that, it was a tiny stream. With so little water, the plants and grass we relied on for food could hardly grow. Most of my tribe left, seeking a new place to settle, while mostly Druids remained, to keep fighting back the Sand with what little water they could call from the earth and air.

“Six months ago, the river stopped flowing entirely, which brings us to the problem in question. The settlers have dammed the river completely, and within a few decades, the Sands will fill this canyon, and then spill into the world beyond. Who knows how far they will spread? You understand the importance of the river, yes?”

“I do,” Twilight answered.

“Then you understand that the dam must be destroyed.” He held up a hoof when Twilight opened her mouth. “Before you protest, I know that the Appleloosans need the water. Whether it means the end of Appleloosa or not, you must understand that the river is more important than the town. You have their trust. Will you destroy the dam, for the good of us all?”

Twilight looked down. She shuffled her hooves, considering the request.

“Twilight, you can’t actually be—” Applejack said.

Twilight focused on Thunderhooves, saying, “I can not, in good conscience, betray the faith that the ponies of Appleloosa have placed in us. I’m sorry.”

Thunderhooves nodded solemnly. “I understand, and I harbor no ill will toward you. You are free to leave, of course, though I advise that you wait until the day. The Sand Cats tend to stalk at night, and though the day is hot, it is safer to travel under the Sun. Tomorrow morning, I would be honored to guide the ponies who killed the defiler back to their land.”

Twilight dipped her head in a respectful bow. “Thank you for your hospitality. We will leave in the morning, then.” She stood, turned, and strode out of the elders’ chamber.


Twilight lay on the stone of the bridge in a spot with a good view of the canyon. The light of her horn illuminated the pages of the journal spread on the stone before her. After spending the better part of the day sleeping, she was wide awake, even as the hours crept past midnight. Her friends hadn’t said much about her decision, and she interpreted that as agreement.

Spike slept next to her. Unlike her, the fey dragon had been sleeping normally. While they were crawling through tunnels, he was napping and attempting to amuse himself in the Celestial Library. To her understanding, he spent a great deal of time cataloguing books. She smiled softly as she watched him quietly snooze, curled into a small, warm ball against her side.

She glanced up at a ledge above her, where Fluttershy and Wildhorn stood, talking quietly. The two druids had been discussing their magic since the end of the meeting. Occasionally, Twilight had seen their eyes glow. At the moment, Wildhorn gestured at the night sky.

Twilight followed the gesture, and in the distance, she could see a tower of clouds blotting out the stars. Based on it’s position, she figured that it was above the Everfree Forest. When she looked back to the two druids, both their eyes were glowing. Twilight shrugged and turned back to her book. She didn’t understand druidic magic – few did. Druids were extremely insular and tended to keep to themselves. She knew only that their power was similar to the magic clerics wielded.

During the meeting, Twilight had recognized the name Gaia. Some believed that she was the God of Life, but she had no avatar to give herself form. Others believed that Gaia’s avatar was the Material Plane. Avatar or not, the power that druids could wield was undeniable, and it had to be sourced from somewhere.

She hoped Fluttershy was learning something. As far as Twilight could tell, without any druids in Cloudsdale, Fluttershy had taught herself and had little understanding of her own power. She probably needed teaching.

Twilight turned back to the pages of the journal. The cleric’s notes confirmed what Thunderhooves had said about the Sand Cats. The cleric, who identified himself in his notes as Hay Brittle, the pony that Tarn Inkstroke had mentioned, was the cause. She reread a particularly informative section.

Finally, I have pieced together a portion power that caused the city of Ponix to be destroyed. Once I complete my ritual, the Sands will rise again.

The journal entry broke into a detailed list of ritual components: Several mummified ponies, a substantial quantity of sand, and a long, complicated spell that included a few other material components and a great deal of incomprehensible prayer. A portion of the prayer appeared to be to Discord. Dabbling in the power of multiple gods was not uncommon for clerics.

She flipped the page to the next day’s entry.

It has been done, and all is proceeding to schedule. The smaller sand beasts will slowly wear down their defenses. I need more souls to fuel my rebirth, and when Appleloosa is destroyed, I will have them. I’m so very close now. Years of work, and now only 212 days.

From the journal, Twilight found that Hay Brittle was obsessed with what happened after death. He claimed to have glimpsed the horror of the Abyss sometime early in his life, and had since been trying to find a way to live forever. Apparently, eternal life as an undead Lich was good enough for him. Unfortunately, it gave her no insight into how to stop the Sand Cats. The plans for the destruction of Appleloosa bothered her, and she hoped that without Hay Brittle they would never reach completion.

She reread the date on the entry. There was something important about that day, but she couldn’t place it. Shrugging, she flipped to a slightly earlier page and read another interesting passage.

Years ago, when I went to Azrael’s cultists in an attempt to research my plans, they told me I couldn’t do it, that only arcane power would allow a pony to be accepted as an eternal servant of the Shadow. They laughed at me, in their deranged manner: Even if I were a unicorn, Azrael is dead, and though the cultists whispered hopes for his resurrection, he will be unavailable for the foreseeable future. Without him, there can be no new Liches.

I figured it out though, of course. The crazy, foal sacrificing bastards said it couldn’t be done, but through the Nightmare, I have the solution. I just need to perform a few more experiments.

My arrangement with the Iron Circle is fortunate. I found a tomb where I can do their work and my own research. They send me what I need through the mirror portal. I can’t pass through it, nothing living can. I’m no wizard, but from what I understand, it is much easier to teleport material than living souls. For the most part, they fulfill my requests, though they denied my request for bodies. Is it really asking so much, that they dig up a few graves? Regardless, when my mummies finish collecting the bones of the dead diamond dogs, I will have enough remains to continue my work.

Also, with the diamond dogs’ bones, I will be able to complete the task that has been assigned to me. It may be months before the substance is spread, but once it is, the mine will be worthless.

Rarity was right. The Iron Circle was connected to the degradation of quality of iron produced by the Appleloosan mine. She recognized Azrael as another name for the Shadow, typically only used by his servants. Oddly, the Nightmare he referenced was no god she recognized.

On other pages, she found references to other Iron Circle agents working with bandits on the Coast Road. In those entries, the journal firmly connected the Iron Circle to the trade crisis. She flipped ahead, finding her favorite portion of the journal. It was the only part that mentioned the Black Knight.

The Black Knight is at it again, killing somepony important. But, apparently, there is some chance his target might slip the net. Of course, it’s up to me to coordinate the response. They say I’m the ‘senior region agent,’ whatever that means, even though my only means of communication is through written letters transported by the mirror. I think the merchants just don’t want responsibility for this debacle. They’ve got a bounty going. Whoever’s in charge wants this Twilight Sparkle good and dead. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do exactly, but other agents are supposed to report back to me.

She flipped the page to the next day’s entry.

Well, that’s just great. It turns out that I’m completely in charge. The Black Knight’s been recalled to Manehattan, something important. I got a report from one of our spies in the Helping Hoof through the mirror. Apparently, Twilight Sparkle has been seen there, and a pony named Applejack killed Tarn Inkstroke.

I acknowledged the message, and sent it along. I’m starting to understand why they put me in charge. Multiple agents have mirrors of their own, and I can send letters to any of them, though most of the mirrors don’t have strong enough enchantments to handle more than a sheet of paper every day or so.

I don’t need this kind of distraction. They tell me to burn all correspondence, which means I have to get the diamond dogs to do it because I can’t exactly have a great deal of fire down here. I’d suffocate. Getting the dogs to do anything is a hassle. It’s slowing down my work.

For posterity, I kept a letter cataloguing the stupidity of my coworkers. One of them actually identified the location of a safehouse in their correspondence. Maybe, I’ll make them into a zombie and have them clean bones or perform some other task suitable for nincompoops. Soon, I won’t have to worry about this nonsense any longer.

She’d have to find out if Rarity had the letter. It might be helpful, but it wasn’t important to her at the moment. What was important was the entry had given her direction. She knew where to go next.

Manehattan.

She picked up a quill and blank scroll she’d requested from Spike earlier. After dipping the quill in ink, she began to write.

Dear Princess Celestia,

There was a darkness in the mine. An agent of the Shadow wished to become a Lich. Fortunately, he believed himself to be beyond the reach of any threats, and we caught him by surprise. He is dead now. I have enclosed some notes on the rituals that I found in his notes, and I hope they will be a useful addition to the knowledge in the Celestial Library.

Sincerely, Twilight Sparkle.

She rolled up notes that she’d taken on the journal with the letter and nudge Spike awake.

“Huh... what?” Spike mumbled, blinking his eyes and uncurling.

“Could you send this to Celestia please?” Twilight requested.

Spike nodded, blearily reached forward, and took the scroll. With a breath, he incinerated it in green fire, then curled back into a ball and closed his eyes.

Twilight turned her gaze up to the stars, picking out a few familiar constellations. There were stories in the stars. Great heroes from ages past were immortalized by them. For the past thousand years, the stars had remained unchanged, and Celestia turned the dome of the sky alone, driving the cycle of night and day.

She sighed. Star Swirl, much as he deserved to be up there, would never be. Will I ever belong up there, like Star Swirl? she wondered.

She shook her head. I’m no hero.

She jumped when Spike snerked awake and coughed up a scroll.

“What?” Twilight said, blinking at the scroll.

Spike shrugged and curled back into a ball. Twilight spread the scroll on the stone in front of her.

Dear Twilight Sparkle,

While I appreciate your letter and thank you for taking the time to write, I do not think you understood the spirit of my request. Your notes are surely helpful, but they do not tell the important story of how you prevailed. I want to know what you learned.

If you would not mind, I would appreciate it if you could write me another letter.

Sincerely, Princess Celestia

Twilight quirked a brow at the scroll in confusion. What does she mean? Sighing, she set another blank scroll on the stone in front of her.

Dear Princess Celestia,

She hesitated, holding the quill above the page. What did I learn?

Early on in the mines, I was seperated from my friends. I found I was capable of doing almost anything to survive.

She found her voice, and her feelings spilled out into the letter.

Without my friends near me, I had no restraint. I spilled the diamond dogs’ blood without mercy. I know that they did not deserve to die, but I had to kill them to live. When my friends found me, I felt numb, like I had awoken from a dream, a nightmare. I do not know what I would be without them, but I know it is not something that I want to be.

As we continued through the mines, the diamond dogs fought us. We eventually found the reason for the diamond dogs relentless attacks against us; they were defending their home. Evil individuals manipulate and twist the motivations of normal creatures to suit their own design. The diamond dogs were responsible for the trouble the town of Appleloosa had with their iron mine, but they were not to blame for it.

The villain, the darkness haunting the mines, was a cleric named Hay Brittle. Without my friends, I never would have reached him, and even if I had, without them, I would not have escaped the horde of undead he had prepared to animate if he was attacked. If I had survived, I would not have had any answers, only blood on my hooves. I learned that to face darkness, I need friends.

Without friends, I may have lost myself after Star Swirl died.

Sincerely, Twilight Sparkle


A couple hours later, Twilight’s eyes shot open. She was using the book as a pillow, and up until a moment ago, she had been trying to catch a couple hours of sleep before the dawn. She lifted her head and urgently flipped through the pages until she found the entry about the Sand Cats.

Two hundred and twelve days.

She added them to the date of the entry. She remembered the date of the day she left Candlekeep. She quickly listed the time since in her head.

One, the night Star Swirl died. Two, the night at the inn. Three, the night in Ponyville. Four, the night in Rarity’s shop. Five, Six, and Seven, on the road to Appleloosa. Eight, in the mines. Nine, here. Nine. Which makes it... today.

Amazement at how quickly things had changed crossed her mind, but at the moment, something far more important held her attention. If she was interpreting the journal correctly, Hay Brittle believed that Appleloosa would be destroyed – today, regardless of whether he lived or died. In fact, Hay Brittle had intended to die today and be reborn as a Lich.

Twilight shot up and rushed off, disturbing Spike. “Twilight, where are you going?” he called after her.

“No time!” Twilight shouted over her shoulder. “Find the others, tell them to get ready to leave and meet me on the end of the bridge. Tell them Appleloosa is in trouble!”

Not too far from where she had been studying, she found Strongheart sleeping out under the stars. By Twilight’s best reckoning, they were several hours travel away from Appleloosa, and they needed to be at the town as soon as possible. She needed a guide. As she shook the buffalo awake, she said, “I need to talk to Thunderhooves, now!”

Strongheart blinked sleep from her eyes and groaned, “Now now?”

“Now!” Twilight shouted. “It’s of extreme importance!”


Twilight stood inside the tower with Strongheart, Thunderhooves, and Wildhorn. She quickly explained what she’d found in the journal. When she was finished, Thunderhooves snorted and shook his head.

“Well?” Twilight asked.

“It is regrettable, but I cannot give you a guide. If Appleloosa is destroyed, we can break the dam and allow the river to flow again,” Thunderhooves said.

Twilight froze in shock. A moment later, fury filled her mind. “A thousand years of history is more important to you than the lives of innocents?!” she roared. “What happened to caring for all life?! You’re unbelievable.

“I’m going to help,” Strongheart said.

Twilight looked at Strongheart, grateful, but her fury still smoldered. “Great, we’re leaving.” Without missing a beat, she strode out of the room.

From behind her, she heard Strongheart say, “Why are you looking at me like that? In years, the settlers have accomplished more than we have in centuries. Their crops grow on the Badlands side of the river! If we worked together, who knows what we could accomplish?”

As she trotted toward where her friends waited at the end of the bridge, Thunderhooves’ deep voice spilled out into the night. “You have the right to make your own decisions, Little Strongheart, but they are responsible for the death of your parents! You, out of all of us, should know there are no innocents in Appleloosa.”

When Twilight stepped off the end of the bridge and into the Badlands, she didn’t expect Strongheart to join them. With or without a guide, they would do the best they could. To her surprise, Strongheart trotted up beside her.

“Glad to see that you decided to come,” Twilight said with a smile.

“I know I’m doing what’s right,” Strongheart said.

Applejack nodded in agreement. “We’re mighty grateful.”

As they set off across the desert, Twilight remembered Braeburn’s daughter looking up at her with wide eyes. No matter what the buffalo believe, there are innocents in Appleloosa, at least three of them.


Panting, her coat slicked with sweat, Twilight stood on the lip of the mesa overlooking the town. Behind her, the mines were empty; the miners that worked there had fled. Before her, she saw the townsfolk out in force, the Sands swarming around them. She couldn’t make out individual Sand Cats in the mass of ruddy sand built up on the far side of the trench. There had to be hundreds of them. By the river, in addition to the spinning pump, she saw a line of ponies passing buckets up toward the town. The trenches were filled with as much water as they could hold.

The reservoir, however, was dangerously low.

She glimpsed a cat break from the swarm and leap the trench. A pair of armored ponies blocked its path, and it fell into the water. More shapes crossed the trench; some of them were pushed back into the water while others were cut down with buckets after they broke through. For the moment, the Appleloosans and the Empire soldiers held back the tide.

They won’t be able to hold out for long, she thought.

In the sky above them, Twilight saw hope. A massive thunderhead rolled toward them, low over the planes. The edge of its shadow had nearly reached the river. The Appleloosans didn’t have to hold out for long, just long enough.

Rainbow landed next to her. “Yep, I took a look, and it’s bad, but,”–she pointed at the storm with a wing–”what in Equestria is that doing here?”

“I called it here,” Fluttershy said, her eyes wide. “It worked!”

Twilight wrapped her hooves around Fluttershy’s neck. “You’re amazing!”

“Oh... um... I didn’t do it on my own,” Fluttershy said.

“Nevermind that,” Twilight said, releasing Fluttershy. “We’ve got to get down there and help!”

Before Twilight could set off down the hill, she heard the rumbling of hooves behind her, and she turned to see Wildhorn and Thunderhooves making their way across the depression in the center of the mesa. They’re like vultures, already circling, Twilight thought.

“If you take another step, I will end you!” she shouted, drawing Solstice.

“Peace, Little Shadow, we’re here to help!” Thunderhooves called.

Twilight lowered her blade, and the buffalo continued forward. Thunderhooves panted as he neared. He faced Strongheart. “Wildhorn convinced me that your young eyes saw something our old ones could not. You were right, Little Strongheart, and I’m sorry for doubting you.”

“It is time that we try something new and seek reconciliation,” Wildhorn said.

Twilight smiled, her anger melting away. “Well, come on then!” she said and took off down the hill.


With the buffalo backing their charge, Twilight and her friends cut a swath of scattered sand through the swarm. When Twilight reached the trench, she bounded for the far side. One of her hind hooves slipped on the rim and splashed into the water, but she made it across.

As soon as she found her footing, she shouted, “They’re on our side! The buffalo are here to help!”

After leaping the trench, Applejack echoed her cry, “She’s right! They’re here to help! Let ‘em cross!”

She saw relief in the eyes of the defenders around her. To clear a path, they pulled back. As soon as the buffalo crossed the trench, three of them turned, digging deep furrows in the muddy ground with their hooves as they stopped and began to cast spells. When their eyes glowed, globules of water pulled from the air itself formed above the Sand Cats.

A flash of metal caught her eye, and she closed in on an armored soldier. Around her, she heard her message about the buffalo ripple through the defenders. When she reached the soldier, Twilight shouted, “Where’s Braeburn?”

“The sheriff?” the soldier said around the handle of a bucket. “He’s down by the dam.”

Beside Twilight, Wildhorn asked, “Where are your wounded? We have healing magic.”

The soldier passed the bucket on to another pony. “I’ll take you to them,” she said.

“You and the buffalo do what you can here.” Twilight said to Strongheart. “We’ll find Braeburn, and find out where he needs us.” Strongheart nodded and nimbly moved toward Thunderhooves.

After turning away from buffalo, Twilight maneuvered her way through the chaos and bucket lines toward the dam. Her friends followed her, except for Rainbow, who shot into the air shouting, “I’ll catch up!”

Every single able-bodied Appleloosan was in the streets moving water, even foals. She glimpsed a Sand Cat who had broken through the line rushing toward a young bucket bearer, and as the cat closed the distance, she cast a spell.

The colt closed his eyes, cringing, when the Sand Cat pounced at him, but before it could reach him, Twilight hit it in the head with a flaming arrow. A ball of glass harmlessly hit the dirt at his hooves, and he opened his eyes, staring at her in awe. What she saw reflected in his eyes was no monster.

Feeling warmth swell in her chest, she wordlessly turned away from him and pressed on.


When they reached the reservoir, Braeburn was nowhere to be found. The cats thinned out the closer they got to the river, and there were none down here. By focusing their efforts on the town, the Sand Cats were thinning out the Appleloosans by forcing them to move water further, though whether they stayed away from the river due to tactical thinking or simple fear, she couldn’t be sure.

She found a pony with a deputy’s star supervising the crew at the pump and asked him, “Where’s the Sheriff?”

“Don’t know! A couple scouts said they saw something big moving up the riverbed. They were terrified. Braeburn and Amber Stone took a group of soldiers and went to try and slow it down!” he told her.

Twilight nodded and turned away. As she galloped toward the top of the dam, Rainbow came in for a landing. The pegasus folded her wings and hit the ground running beside Twilight. “These wingblades are so awesome! I must have dumped fifty of those things into the trench on the way over here! So, where’s Braeburn?”

Twilight slowed when she hit the upward slope of the earthen dam. Applejack and Pinkie rushed past her, bounding easily up the slope. “Down the river. Fly up and take a look,” she said.

Rainbow gave her a salute. “Aye aye!” With a blast of air, she shot into the sky above. As Twilight watched Rainbow climb, she noted the position of the storm. Only a sliver of sunlight peeked around the clouds. The rain would fall any second now, and when it hit, the battle would be over.

Before she reached the top of the dam, Rainbow turned and flew back toward them, shouting, “It’s coming! It’s coming!”

She crested the top as Rainbow landed again. Ahead, the riverbed curved sharply. Whatever was down there, it was beyond the bend. Rainbow grabbed her shoulders and yelled, “Twilight, we have to flee! We have to get out of here!”

Twilight blinked at Rainbow. “What’s wrong with you?!” As long as she’d known the pegasus, she’d never seen her run from anything, no matter the danger.

Rainbow released her shoulders and backed away. “We’re all going to die,” she whimpered, her eyes wild.

“Get it together, Rainbow! You’re scaring Fluttershy!” Applejack roared. “We’ve got to—”

Braeburn shot around the bend in a full gallop with Amber Stone and another armored soldier behind him. As they ran, the bank behind them burst into a plume of debris. An enormous black claw emerged from the cloud of dust and grabbed Amber Stone; a scream followed, then a crunch, and finally silence.

A moment later, Twilight saw the monster towering above the riverbed, big enough to swallow a pony whole or tear a house to pieces. She stood there, frozen, watching as it burst from the cloud where it had cut across the bend. In one of its claws, it held Amber Stone’s broken body at the waist, his armor warped. His torso dangled, whipping around freely on a broken spine. It lashed out with its second claw, and caught the other soldier by the head as he ran along the riverbed. Before he even had time to scream, the creature crushed his skull inside his helmet.

It released the soldier’s demolished head, and the body hit the ground.

The creature resembled a scorpion, with two claws at its sides and a tail tipped by a stinger poised over its head, but it had no face – no eyes – only a terrible maw filled with grinding, whirling pieces of jagged stone. Beneath its obsidian carapace of armored plates, red sand surged and swirled. As it moved across the riverbed on eight legs, bearing down on Braeburn, it shoved Amber Stone’s corpse into its mouth.

A horrible noise of rending flesh and bone filled Twilight’s ears, and as the monster consumed the body, blood-red sand fell from it’s belly and dusted the rounded stones of the riverbed beneath it.

We’re all going to die.

Some part of her mind realized that an aura of demonic fear had caught her in its grip, but it was too late to escape. She watched helplessly as the obsidian scorpion’s tail lashed out and struck Braeburn. The force of the impact flung his body forward until he came to rest at the base of the dam, bleeding from a jagged gash in his side.

She heard a distant singsong voice, ages away, but it cut through the the fear clouding her mind.

”Pinkie, you’ve gotta stand up tall”

As she regained her senses, Pinkie charged fearlessly down the slope at the monster while she sang loud and clear. She glimpsed Braeburn’s chest rising and realized that he was still breathing.

”Learn to face your fears”

“Rainbow, get him out of here!” she shouted.

“On it!” Rainbow replied, zooming forward.

Twilight caught motion in the corner of her eye and turned toward it. A small group of Sand Cats bore down on them from the town, presumably drawn to the demon’s aid. “Rarity, Fluttershy, cover us,” she ordered.

Rarity launched an arrow at the approaching cats. One of them scattered as the projectile struck it. “I can’t kill them, but I should be able to hold them off until the rain gets here!” Rarity shouted.

”You’ll see that they can’t hurt you”

As Twilight refocused on the monster, she glimpsed Angel bounding off to meet the Sand Cats long before they could reach the dam.

Twilight started down the slope, her eyes on Pinkie. The creature's tail lashed out toward Pinkie, and she dodged nimbly. The air filled with a powerful thump, and the ground beneath Twilight’s hooves shuddered when the stinger pierced the earth. As the tail pulled back, Pinkie grabbed hold with her forelegs.

Pinkie let the tail lift her into the air, then released it, dropped onto the scorpion’s carapace, and struck it with all four hooves. A sharp crack filled the air when she hit, and jagged lines spread out from the impact. The monster staggered, stunned.

”Just laugh to make them disappear.”

In a golden flash, Applejack’s chain spiked into one of the creature’s claws. With a mighty tug, Applejack yanked the scorpion off balance, and four of its legs crumpled as it slipped. Pinkie, her song devolving into laugher, rode the demon as it fell to the side, staying on its back.

Twilight used the opportunity to cast a spell. It was the most powerful spell available to her for physical defense, and she’d never attempted it before. It took her only a moment to summon up three layers of stony protection. As she finished the spell, even though it only had half its legs under it, the scorpion prepared to strike at her.

She stepped forward fearlessly, and with a crack, the tip of the stinger hit her square in the chest. The first layer of her Stoneskin shattered, completely blocking the blow. The tail came to a dead stop, and a shock wave rippled along the appendage, fragmenting the obsidian plates that protected it. In one rapid stroke with Solstice, she cleaved the stinger from the tail.

A horrid screech emanated from the creature’s maw. Wounded, it scrambled to its feet and scuttled backwards, its stinger-less tail writhing. Twilight noticed Applejack jerk her chain free rather than be pulled along.

Twilight’s eyes widened when the stinger on the ground in front of her dissolved into black and red dust and flowed toward the creature. As the dust rejoined its body, the demon’s obsidian plates rippled, the cracks sealing, and a new stinger jutted from the tip of its tail.

Of course, Twilight groaned inwardly. It was just like the Sand Cats. The best they could do was hold it off until the rain hit.

As she advanced on the demon, Twilight watched Pinkie jump clear as the scorpion struck at the object on its back with its tail. Missing, it cut a ragged gash in its own carapace with its stinger.

“Ha!” Pinkie shouted in midair. She tumbled acrobatically as she made contact with the ground, and came up on her hooves.

Twilight cast another spell, choosing one that had been effective against the Sand Cats, a Flame Arrow, but when it hit the creature in the joint where one of its claws joined its body, the flames rolled off like water on oilskin.

Whatever sort of demon the creature was, it was resistant to fire or magic, possibly both.

The demon lunged at Pinkie, and she danced backward, avoiding its snapping claws. Before it could recover for another strike, Applejack lassoed her chain around its tail and dug her hooves into the earth beside the riverbed. She wrestled with the slack, trying to control the monstrous stinger.

Twilight’s pulse quickened when the creature turned toward her. Both its claws came for her with singular purpose. She reflexively tumbled beneath the first claw, but before she could get to her feet, the second wrapped around her waist, crushing one of the stony layers protecting her.

Twilight lopped the claw off at the joint to prevent it from shattering her last layer of defense, and as soon as she escaped the grasp of the heavy, limp appendage, she jumped to her feet and fled the monster. The impact of its legs on the riverbed reverberated through her hooves as it charged after her. A moment later, she heard Applejack’s chain pull taught with a clang.

Two clashes of stone on stone filled her ears as its claws snapped in the air less than a hoofspan behind her.

Realizing the Scorpion had stopped, Twilight dropped out of her sprint and glanced over her shoulder as she reached the base of the dam. The demon had turned toward Applejack and arched its tail back, pulling on the chain. Applejack stubbornly held onto the chain with her mouth as well as her tail. Her hooves dug deep furrows in the dirt, but within moments, the demon tugged her into reach.

To dodge its claws, Applejack released the chain. While she managed to avoid getting caught, one of the claws clipped her and flung her into the slope leading up from the riverbank. She hit the dirt with a thud, crumpling.

“Applejack!” Twilight shouted, closing the distance. She watched the creature pull back its tail as Applejack struggled to get to her feet. She desprately swung Solstice at the back of the creature’s tail, but it was too thick at the base, and the blade lodged in the obsidian plates only a quarter of the way through.

Applejack was about to be struck.

A cerulean blue blur flashed across her field of view. In front of her, the tail, cut nearly through at the base, cracked and fell – Solstice still stuck below the break. She followed the blur with her eyes, wincing when she saw Rainbow tumbling in the dirt beside the riverbed, a bloody piece of bone jutting from her wing. As the demon turned around to attack whatever had cut off its tail, Twilight glimpsed Pinkie rushing over to help Rainbow.

The monster loomed over Twilight, its tail reforming. She had no weapon left to defend herself with. She could only take one more hit.

A shadow that didn’t belong to the creature fell over her. She felt her hair stand on end. A deafening boom of thunder filled ears as a flash of light turned her surroundings monochrome for a brief instant, and a lightning bolt struck the demon. The lightning left a scar in its carapace, and it made the same screech it had made when she cut off its stinger. Moments later, black dust filled in the mark.

While she backed away from the creature, Twilight glanced over her shoulder. Fluttershy stood with her wings spread at the top of the dam, silhouetted against the black clouds that filled the sky, her eyes glowing.

The rain hit.

The torrent soaked her instantly. Large, heavy drops splashed mud onto her coat. She watched the demon writhe in front of her as the sand beneath its armor washed away.

The beast was done.

“What? Afraid of a little bit of water?” she shouted, laughing. She could barely hear her own voice over the ringing in her ears.

It was over.

She cried out in surprise when its reformed tail, nothing more than an empty husk of obsidian plates, struck her and shattered her last layer of protection. When she glimpsed its claw coming at her from the side, she sidestepped clear of its grasp, but not far enough to avoid the claw entirely.

Crack!

Twilight was vaguely aware of tumbling across the riverbed until she came to rest at the base of the dam. As she stared up at the sky, blinking away the mixture of blood and rain water running into her eyes, one last shaft of sunlight shined down on her through the clouds. She glimpsed wings of the purest white before the window into the heavens closed.

A sword speared into the ground next to her head.

She turned her head, gazing up at it. It had the same design, the same elegant curve as Solstice, but it was over a hoofspan longer. Its golden blade gleamed like it was still in the sunlight. She read the runes inscribed in the blade near the hilt.

’Celestial Fury’

She felt something close around her leg and screamed when the pressure shattered her thigh bone. Her blood rushed to her head as she was lifted into the air. Inverted in front of her, she saw the grinding obsidian blades that filled the demon’s maw. There was no sand there, nothing but teeth. Behind them, a pulsating black orb the size of her head floated in the center of the empty armor that formed its body.

She heard her friends desperately calling her name. Her coat stood on end, but no lightning came; if it struck the demon, it would fry her.

No! she thought, horrified.

She was still alive; it was going to eat her alive.

It’s not over yet.

She yanked the sword out of the mud with her levitation and cut herself free. She hardly felt any resistance as the blade cleaved through the stone. As soon as she was clear, lightning flashed. She fell, managing to catch herself with her forehooves before her head struck the ground, and stumbled away on three legs, dragging her broken one behind her.

She glanced over her shoulder, sure the demon was about to grab her again. The creature was frozen, surrounded in an aura of golden, glowing light. The blades within its maw still whirled, and even under the downpour, black dust still swirled around its wounds, restoring it.

There has to be a way to kill it.

She needed enough water to wash away more than sand. She needed enough water to wash away stone.

The dam! she realized.

While the demon was held, Twilight cast a spell. She launched a Fireball at the dam. The result was less than dramatic. The Fireball exploded in the wet dirt with a pop, and a wave of mud splashed her, but the dam stood firm.

“Twilight, what are you doing! Get away from it!” Rarity called.

“The dam! I’ve got to break the dam!” Twilight shouted.

She turned to look at the creature. It was starting to move again, the glow fading. Its tail lashed out at her. She held up the sword between her and the tail, and the edge of the blade split the stinger. From where the sword cut, a golden aura spread across the obsidian, paralyzing the demon.

“Get clear! Fluttershy’s going to break it!” Rarity cried.

Twilight tried to hobble fast enough to reach the edge of the riverbed. She slipped in the mud, fell, and grunted in pain when her broken leg struck the ground. Behind her, she heard the demon moving again. She transferred the sword from her levitation to her mouth so that she wouldn’t lose it, gripping the muddy handle with her teeth.

“I’m coming, Twilight!” she heard Pinkie yell.

Long before the monster reached her, a clap of thunder drove spikes of pain into her ears. A wave of mud and debris washed over her, followed by a flood of water. The torrent hit her in the back and drove the air from her lungs before sweeping her away.

The wild currents tossed her until she couldn’t tell up from down. In the murky water, she couldn’t see more than a few hoofspans. She glimpsed the river bottom, and as her lungs screamed for air, she kicked off it with her three good limbs.

Before her head broke the surface, something struck her, grazing a wound along her flank and sending her spinning in the water again. She noticed a jagged obsidian spike in the water.

The stinger, she realized.

From her flank, a burning sensation spread. She felt her muscles go weak as she kicked against the water. She saw light above her; the surface was so close. As the edges of her vision started to go dark, she noticed the pulsing black orb drifting in the water beside her.

Power surged within her, and her vision snapped into focus. Why won’t it die?!

She reached out with her levitation, pulling the orb close, and released the sword in her teeth. With the full power of her magic, she drove the tip of the golden blade into the demon’s black heart.

It shattered in flash of light.

The last thing Twilight saw before her eyes closed was a pair of pink forelegs.


Pain was the first thing Twilight became aware of when she regained consciousness. It was everywhere, burning through every muscle and every nerve. Her chest heaved, and she coughed up a lungful of water. Somepony patted her firmly on the back.

“Let it all out, Twilight. You’re going to be okay. Auntie Pinkie has you safe and sound,” Pinkie said.

She groaned as hooves rolled her onto her back, and as she drew in a breath, her chest seized. A hoof struck her in the sternum, and she coughed up some more water. “Don’t you dare stop breathing!” Pinkie shouted at her. “If you stop breathing again, I’ll choke you!”

“Now, I’m going to take you to Fluttershy,” Pinkie said, a sob catching in her throat. “She’ll have you right as rain before you can say ‘Pinkie is my bestest friend.’”

Twilight groaned again as she felt herself hoisted onto a pony’s back. Every movement hurt. When she was settled, her hooves dangled limply. With her sternum resting between her rescuer’s shoulder blades, she had to fight for every breath. Droplets hit her back, igniting fires on her skin where they struck.

“Just keep breathing, Twilight,” Pinkie said.

The body beneath Twilight shifted, walking over uneven ground. She nearly spilled off, but teeth caught her mane. Though they saved her from a fall, it hurt.

“You probably wouldn’t be in such bad shape if you hadn’t broken your leg. I mean, what is it with you ponies and breaking bones? First Applejack gets hit, then Dashie hits a rock while she’s going like zoom fast, and then you let yourself get caught, and I have to carry three ponies to safety all by myself, one after another. At least the others were smart enough to not to go for a swim without all four of their legs. I mean, look at me. It’s really not that hard to keep all four legs intact!”

Twilight laughed weakly, wasting some of the air in her lungs.

“Don’t laugh, Twilight! It’s not funny,” Pinkie said in a tense tone, and teeth gently nipped her ear. “Anyways, I suppose Dashie gets a pass because she has two more limbs to keep uncrippled than the rest of us, except for Fluttershy, but Fluttershy...”

Twilight lost track of the words Pinkie was saying, but the comforting, friendly voice in her ear kept her mind off the pain enough to keep breathing. Eventually, hooves supported her, and set her gently on the ground on her side.

“Oh thank goodness! You’re back, and you found Twilight!” Rarity said.

She felt a pair of hooves on her body, and tendrils of warmth spread through her, exploring. Part of her pain, the gash on her flank and her throbbing head, melted away, but her broken leg and the burning sensation remained.

“Well, aren’t you gonna heal her leg?” Applejack said.

“I can’t yet. I need to make sure the bones are in place before I heal them, and if I set her leg right now she might go into shock,” Fluttershy said. “She’s been poisoned, like Braeburn, and I can’t neutralize it. He’s an earth pony, and he’s pretty bad... I—” She paused, and Twilight felt a breath on her ear. “You’re going to be just fine, Twilight,” Fluttershy whispered soothingly.

Twilight slipped into a deep slumber.

Author's Note:

Acknowledgements:
Editor: Idle Prose
Preread by: Extravagaunte
Editor: The Music Man

Poem adapted from the work of John Donne

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!