• Published 7th Jul 2013
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Origins - websterhamster



Deep beneath the primeval Everfree Forest, unimaginable things can happen... This story begins several thousand years before Hearth's Warming.

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Chapter Five - A New Quest Begins

The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can

-JRR Tolkien

Chapter Five - A New Quest Begins

Forest Treasure was exhausted as she stepped into the new quarters that had been given to her for the day before she was to leave on the quest. Looking around, she noticed that the decoration and construction of the main room were typical of the Great Shadow she had seen. Intricately stamped bronze doors, bronze pipes with steam, gas, air, and water flowing through them were ubiquitous. She noticed a small device connected to one of the larger pipes that hissed with a spray of steam regularly every few seconds, which she guessed was a humidifier of some sort. Near the back of the room, to the right of the fireplace, was a fan with vertical vanes in an air pipe. In the center of the ceiling was a gas lamp, blue and green flames casting a uniform light on the room, while from the fireplace a warm glow issued forth. Above the fireplace was a brass opening, which drew the smoke away and out.

On the stone mantle was a small clock, its gears ticking and whirring in subdivided time with the hissing of the humidifier. Forest noted the time, it being five-eighteen in the morning (there was a day-night indicator with the shape of the sun showing daytime on the surface). A whole night had passed and a new day beginning since she had been captured by the lorion scouting party.

In front of the fire were two armchairs and a sofa, and behind them, closer to the front door and Forest, was a rectangular table with eight chairs, three on each side and one at the foot, a taller one at the head of the table.

She looked at the two other rooms, to the right a bedroom, and to the left, a bathroom with a bathtub and all the necessities for taking care of one’s hygiene. She wandered into the bedroom and set down her saddlebags.

Forest thought about the events of the night, and the full enormity of her situation fell upon her. In quick succession, she had been captured by monstrous carnivorous lizards, the lorions, whisked through the caves beneath the forest to a grand underground city, interrogated several times, once by the nice lorion named Brex, a couple times by Elders, once by a very scary lorion named Commander Shaktas, and then was brought before the Council of Elders to have her fate decided.

And what a fate it was! Forest Treasure, apprentice to Midnight Shadow, amateur alchemist and enthusiast for all things that grow green in the earth, was now to depart from her beloved mentor for an undetermined length of time, perhaps never to see him again. She was to accomplish a task which apparently much older and wiser beings had attempted and failed numerous times in the past, and which these strangers had declared was her destiny.

The thought that she might never see Midnight again was the proverbial straw that broke the pony’s back, and her heart broken, she fell upon the bed weeping.

“I shall never see him again! And there is nothing I can do about it,” she thought, crying herself to sleep.

Forest awoke with a groan, and noticed that her whole face was crusty with the salt from her tears. She was still feeling mournful, and a few more tears leaked out of her eyes as she went to the bathroom to wash up.

As she crossed the main room, she glanced at the clock on the mantle and was surprised to see that it was now four-thirty-three in the evening. She had slept for over eleven hours! Shaking her head, the sorrow in her heart anchoring her spirit to the lowest of depths, she stepped into the bathroom and began to draw a bath.

Once she had got the temperature of the water just right, she eased herself in. Remembering one of the lessons Midnight had taught her about calming and clearing one’s mind, she allowed her worries and troubles to wash off with the dirt and grime of the previous night. For a moment her pain was abated, and she drifted in a stupor, relaxing her muscles and mind.

She was roused suddenly by the sound of a bell ringing. She started up, water sloshing over the sides of the tub by her abrupt rising. Quickly drying herself off with magic (which resulted in a generous amount of steam), she stepped into the main room and looked for the source of the interruption. Next to the front door, a small gem with a metal label next to it marked “Doorbell” was flashing with light each time the bell rang, so she opened the door.

There stood Sergeant Brex, wearing shimmering black and red Adamantine armor and backpack, holding a box with a sapphire ribbon for decoration.

“Miss Forest,” he asked, “are you alright? I thought you seemed a bit down when I dropped you off last morning.”

Forest was a little taken aback by the lorion’s empathy, and mumbled, “I’m fine, thank you,” as Midnight had taught her was proper to say in these situations. He had called her “miss”, which meant he thought she was a lady; and ladies should never complain about themselves to gentlecolts they didn’t know, even if this one was a scary warlike lizard.

Brex seemed to understand, and nodded. He asked, “May I come in?” and gestured towards the interior of the apartment.

“Oh! Of course! Come in,” Forest said, and pushed the door the rest of the way open, allowing Brex to enter.

He walked in, and looked around, whistling. “They really pulled out the stops for you, didn’t they? This has got to be the nicest place I’ve seen, short of the King’s or Grand Matron’s quarters. May I sit?” He asked, once again gesturing, this time at the sofa.

“Of course. You don’t have to ask me,” Forest replied, a look of confusion on her muzzle. “Mr. Brex, what did you mean by ‘pulling out the stops’? It sounds like a figure of speech, but it doesn’t make any sense!”

“Well,” the lorion replied, “Hmm, let’s see… Ah! I know, it’s from organs.” When Forest cocked an eyebrow, he said, “Don’t tell me you’ve never seen or heard an organ before! They’re one of the grandest instruments ever created by the great lorion inventors. There isn’t time today, but perhaps when we return from our quest I may show you the great pipe organ of the Kirkah do Vul Vokun, the Church of Dark Shadow. Such beauty and power! I’ll confess to you,” he added, conspiratorially, “that I’ve wished to learn to play the organ all my life. My family is from the soldier caste, though, so opportunities to test my musical skill have been out of my reach. Maybe when I return from this quest they’ll permit me to seek lessons, for who knows? Such deeds as we shall do only happen once an age, and there are yet many years in my life.”

Forest didn’t know that lorions had music, and this ‘organ’ thing sounded like an instrument worth seeing someday. If there was a someday.

Forest’s lip began to tremble again, as she thought of the many long days before she would see Midnight Shadow again.

Brex noticed this, and put his clawed hand on her shoulder, in an effort to sooth her troubled heart.

“I have a gift for you. According to the tradition of my people, gifts are given to those in need of strength when a party is about to set out upon a quest. I see you need much strength, being separated from your mentor, and so I thought this would be a good offering to help you feel strong, even when Midnight Shadow is far away. Here,” he said, holding out the wrapped box, “open it. I think you’ll like it.”

Timidly, Forest reached for the box, and held it with her hooves. Carefully untying the ribbon, she lifted the lid off with her magic, revealing a shining silver necklace, with a dark blue gem in the center of the pendant. The gem seemed to glow and pulse with a bit of inner luminance.

Forest lifted the pendant necklace out, fascinated by its simple beauty. “What is it?” She asked.

“It’s one of the few works of magical art that my people originated. It’s known to us in the ancient tongue as a sil sogaal, or soul gem. Your master began his battlemage training a few hours ago, and when he learned of this magic, took great interest. Wishing to try it for himself, he made this for you. It allows you to feel a part of his presence near you, always. It’s a gift of great worth.”

Awed, both by the magical artifact she held, and by the love and compassion of her teacher, she simply stared at the soul gem, and thought she actually could feel a bit of Midnight within its royal depths. She looked up when she saw Brex taking another box out of his backpack.

Out of it he drew forth another sil sogaal, this one a pale, colorless white. “You may fill this with your soul, if you’d like, to give to your master.”

“I’d love to!” She said, her eyes brightening and the last traces of sorrow melting from her muzzle. Giving gifts had always made her feel happy.

“Good! All you need to do is touch it with your horn, and think about Midnight Shadow and how you feel about him. The gem will do the rest.”

She nodded and slowly reached her head over and touched her horn to the flat front facet of the gem. Closing her eyes tightly, she thought of all her memories of her and Midnight, the day he adopted her in the town on the edge of the forest, the time they went canoeing in a craft they made by hoof on the Everfree River, all the way to the time, just a little over a day ago, when Midnight had given her his last bit of instruction.

“Every night, before you go to sleep, you should write about what happened and what you saw during the day. Even if nothing important or special happened, you should still record it, because one day you may find knowledge there that you overlooked at the time.”

A tear, not of sorrow, but of love this time, leaked out of her eye, and she felt all the love she held for her master well up, and flow through her horn and into the gem. Opening her eyes, she saw the sil sogaal fill with a pale blue color, the color of her hornfield, and begin to glow with a light that pulsed with each of her heartbeats.

“That was very impressive! You ponies sure are natural when it comes to magic,” Brex remarked.

Forest blushed shyly at the compliment. This lorion isn’t like any of the others, she thought, he’s very nice.

Suddenly Brex looked at the clock, and jumped up, exclaiming, “Goodness, look at the time! We must go quickly, or we’ll be late! The quartermaster is not a patient lizard, and doesn’t take well to people being late to appointments. Grab whatever you intend to take with you on the journey; we shan’t be coming back here before we leave.”

Forest hurriedly placed her sil sogaal about her neck, and threw on her saddlebags, checking as she went to make sure her journal and quill were safely stowed away. Then, following the now very energized Sergeant, she stepped out the door and into the road.

“The Royal Army is separated into several divisions, each with their own specific focus. For example, I’m in the Royal Elite Guard, which guards the King and the most important locations in the Great Shadow.” Brex was explaining the way the army worked for Forest Treasure’s benefit.

“The Battlemages, which Midnight Shadow has been assigned to, use magic in battle, and even our odds against magic-wielding enemies. Lorion mages like young Eltnek are rare, but over the years many ponies have stumbled across our city and either decided to stay or were forced to; I’m unsure. That sort of politics eludes my understanding,” the armor-clad lorion said.

“Why was Midnight assigned to the army? He hates violence,” Forest asked.

“Like I said, that sort of military politics is beyond my ken, but I believe the King doesn’t entirely trust him, and to be honest I don’t blame him. After all, we’re at war, and if we offered trust to every unicorn that was willing to be courteous to us, we’d already have been overrun by the Empire.”

They walked on in silence for a moment, ‘til Brex spoke up again.

“Each Army division has its own warehouse, and usually several quartermasters who are in charge of equipment distribution and acquisition. The Elite Guard, however, only has one, and that’s where we’re headed now,” he concluded.

“But it looks like you’ve already got all of your stuff,” Forest pointed out.

“An astute observation, young Miss,” Brex replied, with a flourish that caused Forest to giggle. “However, you and Eltnek are not equipped for traversing the tunnels and caves between here and the Forge, nor for exploring the Forge itself. So the quartermaster has been instructed by the King himself to get you set up with armor, some sort of weapon apiece, and the extra stuff like food and cookware for the journey. We must be prepared for whatever we might come across, for the wilderness west of the Great Shadow is wild and untamed, as many a long year has passed since lorions frequented that area.”

“Is it really that dangerous?” Forest asked.

“Perhaps, perhaps not. We’ll know soon enough, because General Dracol sent scouts on the old Ore Highway so we’ll know what to expect, at least for the next day or two.” Brex shifted his gear on his shoulders.

Just then they passed through an archway and into the main city, a giant cavern filled with stone and metal structures, mostly lit by gas lights, but a few patches of starlight visible through long shafts in the ceiling spoke of warm sunrays in the daytime.

This was the first time Forest had been in this part of the Great Shadow, so she was dumbstruck by the wonder of it all. Brex saw the look of amazement on her muzzle, and couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Welcome, young Miss Forest, to the Great Shadow of the Lorions, Realm of King Narmon and the seat of our alliance,” he said, bowing magnificently.

Forest snapped out of her dream-like state and looked at Brex with a cocked eyebrow. He shrugged.

“It’s not like we get visitors more than once a year. If you came during peacetime, you’d be a celebrity! It really is a great honor to introduce you to our fair city,” he said.

“But come! the quartermaster doesn’t like to wait for an appointment, and unless Eltnek beat us there, he’s been waiting a good time already. Let us make haste!” And so they continued.

As they walked through the city, toward the large warehouses on the far side, Forest couldn’t help but notice the strange looks being directed to her by the many lorions they passed. It wasn’t long before Brex noticed them too, and he shot a few fierce looks at the gawkers before they returned to whatever business they were on.

“Pay them no heed,” he said to Forest, “they’re unused to seeing ponies outside of the Glowing District, where most of your kind that reside in the Great Shadow live. And I daresay they’re mighty suspicious of you, even if you’re accompanied by a Royal Guard, because of our war with the Aetherian Empire.”

“I guess I understand,” Forest said, “after all, I’m an alien to you. And tell me, why are ponies attacking you? I’ve never met a pony that would want to hurt another creature, let alone start a war with somepony.”

Brex responded carefully. “I don’t want you to take this as absolute fact, because it’s merely what I’ve been able to figure out in my head from the snatches of conversation I’ve heard between the King and the Generals while on guard. I think that the Emperor of the Aetherian Empire, Emperor Galaxius, has allowed himself to be possessed by Dark Magic, and his greed is what urges this war. He has said that he wishes to rule the world.”

Brex paused a moment, then said, “But enough of this talk of evil! We have an epic quest ahead of us, and we should never allow our spirits to droop when there are so many things we can do for the good of this world.”

Forest sighed, then nodded, and they continued on their way.

“Grr! These louts have no sense of honor,” Brex said angrily, after observing several more lorions give distrustful glances at Forest. “Just wait until they see you in the grand armor commissioned by the King! Then let them gawk, not with doubt, but with hope and pride!”

Forest looked up. “The King had armor made just for me? What’s it look like? Is it pretty and golden?!” She began bouncing around in excitement.

Brex chuckled. He remembered when he was given his first set of armor, before he joined the Elite Guards. Only Elite Guards and Battlemages were privileged to wear the valuable and magic-resistant armor made of Adamantium, but as his family was highly placed in the martial caste, they’d been able to afford a set of fine steel armor for him. He recalled spending the entire day after receiving his armor scrubbing it with coal dust to make it look dark and menacing like the Guard armor.

“I promise that your armor is as handsome as a summer rose, a flower that I was blessed to see one day while on a scouting mission. You’ll be the most beautiful filly this side of the Canter Mountains,” Brex said.

The walk across the city had taken the better part of an hour, since they had to make their way through the many marketplaces that took up the commercial area in the center of the cavern. Crowds of lorions, and even a few ponies, had made their progress slow, but they had finally made it out. Now they stood facing a large door set in the side of a box-shaped structure of reddish stone.

“Is this the warehouse?” Forest asked.

“Yep! One of my first assignments as a member of the Elite Guards was to do regular inventory checks here, so I know it inside and out just as well as my own apartment. Let’s get inside quickly; we’re so late already, I don’t want to anger the quartermaster any more.”

He stepped forward, and pulled a lever next to the big metal door. After a moment, a grinding noise was heard, and to their right, just past the edge of the large door, a flight of stone steps sank into the ground, forming as pistons pushed them around.

Motioning for Forest to follow, Brex walked down the steps, which curved toward the warehouse after a few meters.

At the end of the stairs was a narrow hallway, with a few doors on either side, labeled “Steam”, “Electrical”, and “Custodial”. At the very end of the hallway was another door, with a large sign that read “Authorized Personnel Only”.

Brex pushed the last door open and they walked into the enormous warehouse of the Elite Guard. Forest had never seen a single room so big; it was full of tall shelves that stretched up until they met the ceiling, hundreds of meters away.

Looking down, she saw the small lorion Eltnek hopping around excitedly, while an older lorion with a wooden cane hobbled after her, shouting all the while.

“Ooh! One of those! Everyone needs to have a cape when they go questing! Or wait! Maybe a hat, with a feather!” Eltnek was apparently deciding what to garb herself with for the journey.

“Calm down, little one. A cape you shall certainly have, if you’ll wait long enough for milord to fetch your kit and armor for you,” Brex said, barely hiding his amusement behind a stern and proper expression.

The old lorion turned at his voice, and said, “Eh? Ah! At last, a lizard who knows how to show some respect. Young master Brex! If anyone else had shown up, I might have blasted them into pieces. And still, lateness cannot be tolerated!” He shook a claw disapprovingly at the armor-clad lorion, who chuckled fondly.

“Well, milord, it would seem that our party is gathering here at last. Shall we proceed? I wouldn’t want to waste any more of your time than is absolutely necessary,” Brex said, diplomatically and loudly, for the quartermaster was hard of hearing.

The quartermaster was mollified, and began to lead them to their things.

“Follow me then. My, Brex, but you’ve turned out well! I’m surprised they haven’t sent you out to talk down those Aetherian thugs; you could sweet-talk an angry tunnel spider with those honeyed words of yours. Although they probably would have sounded better if I could have heard them,” he said.

Brex was silent, though, and they came to where Forest and Eltnek’s armor and kits were without further speaking.

“Ah, here we are. Let me see, this one is labeled Apprentice Battlemage Eltnek, so that must be yours, and this one is labeled Forest Treasure, Chosen One. That’s a pony name, so that must be yours,” the quartermaster said, pulling two large crates off a low shelf. As he said, each crate had a name and title on it, and were very heavy. Forest wasn’t comfortable being called “the Chosen One”, but she didn’t complain; these lorions seemed to be relying on the hope that she could end their war, and she didn’t want to let them down, even though they had foalnapped her.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Eltnek’s delighted squeal, as she lifted her armor out of her crate. It was black and red, like Brex’s, and consisted of a cuirass, helmet, gauntlets, greaves, and boots. The helmet had a tall metal crest, which Eltnek fitted her own into. She also had two weapons, a short-sword, with a belt and sheath, and a spiked ball that attached to her tail; she could swing it around with devastating effect.

“Best put that away for now, miss Eltnek; ‘tisn’t proper to walk around armed with your tail spike on.” Brex helped her cover the spikes with a cotton blanket, so it didn’t tear holes in her backpack.

Eltnek then discovered her cape, a deep maroon in color, with the emblem of the Great Shadow woven in the center: a black cloud behind a golden crown.

Forest was surprised that her armor fitted at all; she had been expecting modified lorion armor, not pony armor. However, the armor she was given was clearly designed with her in mind, and was colored bright gold and crimson, with white details. Her champron had a crest made of a tough and stiff fiber, and was the same shade as her coat; it also had a hole for her horn, and was comfortable to wear.

Unlike the armor that Midnight had taught her about, which the Aetherian Empire used, Forest’s armor had a pony-shaped cuirass instead of a criniere and peytral. Adamantine shoes and greaves protected her hooves and legs, and a very unique set of overlapping metal scales protected her flanks. If she ever had to fight a war, she imagined being very safe in this armor.

The real benefit, however, came from the special properties of the Adamantium. Adamantine armor was light, comfortable, and harder than the finest steel. It was also very resistant to magic, which is why it was in use in the prison block, where the lorions could keep prisoners capable of magic, like unicorns, without fear of them escaping or fighting back.

For weaponry, Forest was given a lorion bow-shield, adapted for use by ponies. It was a round buckler shield, with a crossbow on the inside. A mechanical system was used to reload the bow, which could be activated with magic. Along with the bow came a quiver full of quarrels.

The next thing Forest pulled out of her crate was a water-skin, which she threw away from her with a shriek when she realized what it was made of.

“Ahh! That was real leather!” She screeched.

“I should have asked that they find a substitute for you, but we have neither time for that, nor likely the strength to add any weight to our burden. That skin is the lightest means of carrying water that we can bring with us, and we’ll be glad to have it before the week is out, I’m sure,” Brex said. He picked up the skin and carefully attached it to Forest’s new, larger saddlebags.

“We don’t hunt for sport, but we are a carnivorous race, and must have meat to live. We only use the leather of animals we hunted for food, and do not prolong their lives in misery once we’ve wounded them. Don’t cry for the loss of the pig this skin is made of, rather be grateful for its sacrifice.”

Forest nodded, and took out the last object that wasn’t supplies. It was an alchemy kit, completely with mortar and pestle, a small cauldron, and tiny coal furnace; also included were supplies of common subterranean plants and mushrooms, with a letter from the Royal Master Alchemist explaining their uses and what surface plants they were equivalent to.

After the young ones had put on their armor, with Brex’s help, he assisted them with loading their backpack and saddlebags. Eltnek was very uncomfortable with the weight on her back, but Forest could carry a great burden with ease.

“You’ll feel it less, in time, miss Eltnek. As we journey, your muscles will grow until you’re nearly as strong as young Forest here, I wager. And we’ll be wishing our loads were a lot heavier by the time the week’s out, mark my words. Foraging will be a chore, I promise you that,” Brex said, as he cinched the last strap on Eltnek’s backpack.

Finally, they were packed and ready for their journey. Bidding farewell to the quartermaster, Brex led the party back into the city.

Brex had never had an assignment this important, and he thought it a good sign that it had gone so far without a hitch. Granted, they were still in the Great Shadow, and had just barely gotten packed, but he preferred to keep an optimistic outlook on things. No need getting your hopes down when there was plenty of hope to be had!

This time, they didn’t need to go through the heart of the city, for they were already on the right side for their departure. Brex led them along the southern wall to the west, toward the guarded Ore Highway. Just as he had promised Forest, every lorion who saw them gaped in awe at her brilliant armor; such color was rarely used in the armor of the lorions, even for the unicorns and battlemages. It, like the sil sogaal that Forest carried close to her heart, was a gift of great worth.

A tolling of great bells marked the time as they came to the western egress tunnels. They were carefully guarded because of the war, but they hadn’t been used for more than temporary storage for over five hundred years, and thus were devoid of life, but for the solitary guard here and there. No more did gas lamps light their way, but guttering torches, like what Forest saw when she first entered the city, provided illumination. Shadows were everywhere now, and she couldn’t help but think that Midnight would be right at home here. At this thought, a tear escaped her eye, and she wondered once again when she might see him next.

At that moment, she heard the very voice she had been wishing so fervently for, and looking up, saw Midnight standing with King Narmon and Grand Matron Karoth. Her eyes lit up,and she dashed forward, shouting “Midnight!”

He laughed when he saw her, and caught her with his forelegs in a gentle hug.

“I’ve been worried sick about you, little one. I hope you haven’t missed me so much,” he said, wiping away an errant tear that had manifested itself on Forest’s face.

“Not so much, because of the soul gem you gave me. It feels like you were with me the whole time!”

He chuckled. “Indeed I was. These lorions are not magical like we are, and only rarely is a lorion born who can perform the same level of magic you or I could; yet the magical innovation they’ve come up with in their history is simply astounding! It quite substantiates my plan to explore the world to learn more about magic.

“However, I thought I could add a little something of my own when I created your sil sogaal, and I gave it an anchor to myself, so that when you’re faint, and in need of strengh, I might send some of mine to you. I can also create a vision of your point of view before me, and perhaps use it to give you counsel; but only in the most dire of circumstances, for making an illusion of that sort requires an immense amount of energy.”

Forest looked to Brex, and made a significant expression that he interpreted to mean she wanted to give Midnight his soul gem now. So he pulled the box out of his pack, and handed it to the filly.

She lifted it in her hornfield, and floated it toward Midnight. “It’s a soul gem, just like the one you gave me, only it has me inside it!” She said, happy to give him her heart.

He carefully untied the ribbon, opened the box, and lifted out the necklace. Touching his horn to the gem, he closed his eyes and allowed the magical essence to flow into him; the gem glowed as he did this.

When he was done, his eyes were wet; he hadn’t thought his student felt such love and devotion to him, and it was extremely humbling. His voice halted a couple times as he thanked her for the gift.

“Th-thank you, Forest… I - I had no idea you cared for me this much…” He stammered, and she hugged him tightly.

“Of course I love you! You’ve cared for me, taught me, and showed me kindness ever since I can remember. There’s nopony else in the whole world I love as much as you!” She said.

After a moment, Midnight broke from the embrace, and turned to the elder lorions standing silently behind him.

“Is there anything I might say that could persuade you against sending her away?” He asked, a frown on his muzzle.

“I’m afraid not. The time is right, and we have all felt a confirmation - this Company of Three must not be broken until the Lost Tribe has returned to the Great Shadow. This is a time of great consequence, for our race, as well as your own. The future of our world may well be decided in the days to come.” Karoth responded.

“We must remain strong and undivided. Our trust and faith in the ponies of the Great Shadow, as well as our faith in you and your student, will represent a bond that cannot be broken, and will withstand all evil. Such loyalty is imperative, for much evil is coming. It will seep into the very stones of the earth, and will flow into the dark abysses of our land. But as the Grand Matron says, not only will the dark places be darkened, but the bright noontime sky of the surface will taste the chaotic wrath of greed and jealousy that spurs the Aetherians and our Southern kin to such rage and hate that they would slay their brethren.

“Remain strong, Midnight Shadow and Forest Treasure! For with hope, all evil may be vanquished,” the King said, gesturing grandly with his hands while making his speech.

“And now, the gift-giving,” the Grand Matron said, and held out a staff to Eltnek.

“This staff once belonged to the Shepherd, and he left it behind before he left with the Lost Tribe. It’s one of the most powerful focusing staves in the kingdom, and it’s my privilege to give it to you for your quest, Mage Eltnek,” she said, and handed the staff to the young lizardess.

“And for you, Sergeant Brex, I offer a gift of kinship and protection,” the King said, and brought forth a shield, with the Royal Crest emblazoned on the front. “If you will accept this shield, I would have you be a member of my house, and all your descendants as well.”

Brex’s mouth dropped open, and he looked like he had just seen a vision of the end of times. After a moment, he shook himself out of his stupor, and a serious expression on his face, took the shield reverently.

“I accept this noble offer, my king, and deem it a great honor to call you my family,” he said, and knelt respectfully.

“Rise, Brex of House Narmon! Also know that your shield has received an alchemical enchantment, which will make your shield stronger than the most well-prepared Adamantium. While the potion lasts, it will not break, not even were a mountain to rest upon it.” Handing Brex a small vial, he said, “Here, this is the potion. Two drops a day is all it takes, and this vial should last for the duration of your quest, if not longer. Do not waste it! For you never know when you need to protect yourself and the ones you care about from unspeakable evil.”

Brex took the vial and placed it deep within his pack, where it wouldn’t be broken.

“And lastly, my gift, Forest,” Midnight began, “I’ve already given you a sil sogaal, but now I give you a gift of words. Treasure these sayings, for the one thing you can count on never letting you down is wisdom. Even when all hearts turn against you, and Deepest Darkness swirls about, this knowledge could save your life, and perhaps all our lives.”

He handed Forest a golden-colored metal tablet. “This is an Adamantine tablet with my Gift of Words upon it. It has words of strength and encouragement, which you shall need on your journey, and it also has a word I wish I could have waited longer before teaching you, but have no choice now. It’s a word of Command, a Lesser Word of Power that may help you stave off the Darkness, if only for a short while. Use it in only the most dire of needs, for each time a word of Command is used, the field of magic that surrounds and penetrates our world is permanently changed, for it bends itself to your will, for a time. Should evil come against you, and all else fails, may this word protect you and strike fear into the hearts of all who would hinder your efforts.”

Forest was overwhelmed by all the high speaking that was going on, but Midnight always spoke that way when he taught her about the fundamentals of magic, especially when he taught he about the difference between Light and Dark magic.

“And now the hour grows late. You must depart, with haste! For we know not how long we can hold against the army the Empire and Southern Kin have mustered against us, and we need the assistance of the Tribe as quickly as it can come to us.” The king looked at them, and raised his hands in blessing.

“I give you these words in the Ancient Language of the ponies: Mu hind hi pruzah gluus ahrk lot zind au hin wund. Aal vulom kos hin roodam, ahrk aal hi siiv fahdondein ahrk suleyk au hin kurlah. Faal Vulom kos voth hi, unstiid. We wish you good luck and great triumph on your quest. May the darkness be your cloak, and may you find friendship and power on your journey. The Darkness be with you, always.”

Without further words, the Company of Three turned, and strode through the door, onto the Ore Highway.

Their journey had begun.

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