• 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 Six - The Company of Six

Questing was a dusty, tiring, boring task, Forest decided. She had been walking down the dark tunnel with Brex and Eltnek for three hours, and other than having to light her horn to show the way when they passed the end of the torch-lit portion of the road, nothing of interest had happened. The two lorions had remained silent, and Forest had also retreated into her thoughts, wishing that she could have gotten a chance to explore the Great Shadow without the rush of preparing and leaving, and without the sadness and confusion of her situation hanging over her.

She looked to her right, where Brex loped along solidly, watching the path ahead for any hidden dangers. He had laced his shield onto the back of his pack, and the light from Forest’s horn glinted off it, occasionally causing reflections to glow on the walls.

To her left walked the young lorion, Eltnek. She was an enigma to Forest; the combination of the lorion’s youthful age, mystic robes, and the powerful staff she carried made her very impressive and mysterious.

Then Forest heard a sound, like the patter of rain. Looking up, she saw a crystal curtain of water droplets, shimmering in her hornlight. Brex stopped there, and took his pack off, rolling his shoulders.

“Behold, young ones, the Veil of Tears! This is the spot where the last lorion of the Great Shadow turned from the vain pursuit of the Lost Tribe, attempting until this location to dissuade them from their fateful journey,” Brex said, pointing at the trickling waterfall.

“That lorion’s name was Koraksy, and it just so happens she is an ancestor that you and I share, Eltnek. It is said that so great was her sorrow at the departure of the Lost Ones, that she used her magic to create this never-ending veil of tears, memorializing her infinite sorrow. Aal grik krosis neh mah voknau mii. May such sorrow never fall upon us.”

Eltnek looked solemnly at the waterfall, and then raised her staff.

“This one shall offer a tribute to Koraksy. May her love for her kindred be a beacon unto all!” Eltnek spoke a few words under her breath, which sounded to Forest like “lom do krosis, kos haan”. After these utterings, a small sphere of light sputtered off the tip of the staff, infusing the Veil.

“You may extinguish your magelight, Mistress Forest,” Eltnekt said, “the Veil is light enough.”

And sure enough, when Forest shut down her hornlight spell, they could see the Veil clear as day, for it now glowed with the same intensity as the sorrow that brought it into being.

“Would you two like to rest here, or keep going?” Brex asked the youths, after they had observed the waterfall in solemn silence for a while.

“I’m good for another few hours.”

“This one can continue for some time.”

The military lorion nodded, and after he hoisted his pack onto his back and Forest relit her horn, the Company of Three continued their journey.

As they walked, Forest thought it would be nice to get to know her two companions, so she attempted to break the ice.

“Sooooo… what do you like to do in your spare time, Sergeant Brex?” She asked, with a broad smile.

The black lorion chuckled. “Trying to know me, miss Forest? You show great wisdom for one so young. Companions such as we should be good friends, and able to trust each other with our lives.”

Forest brightened, and looked up at Brex’s face expectantly as he began to share about himself.

“You already know my name, Brex. Unlike the ponyfolk, we lorions don’t take more than a single name, and a title if we earn one. For example, Quartermaster Graavon is called “the Tome”, for he has an immense store of knowledge in that old rock he calls a head.” Here Brex blushed a little, small patches of grey appearing on his cheeks. “I’m called “the Fair” by the maidens of the Great Shadow, because apparently they find me attractive.” He wrung his hands self-consciously, the grey on his cheeks lightening ever so slightly.

“My family has been involved in politics for some time, as the females of my lineage have the legendary ability to project their voices even in the most clamorous crowd. My mother was Prefect of the Bronze Quarter for twenty years, until I was born and she retired.

“The males of my family have been in the Royal Military longer than any existing written records exist; some historians believe we were among the chosen few who served High King Wrex in the time before the separation of the Shadows. My father is an advisor to the Crown, and it is in this tradition that I follow, even today.

“As for what I like to do in my spare time, well, I’ll admit that I’ve spent some hours carving rocks while off-duty. I’m no artist, but the effort brings balance to my soul after the turmoil of keeping peace in our bustling city.”

Brex looked over at Forest. “You know much about me now, how about sharing some of yourself, eh?”

Forest Treasure suddenly looked panicked, as she realized that the tale of her life wasn’t nearly as grand as Brex’s.

“Uhhhh, there really isn’t that much to tell, I’m not a very interesting pony at all,” she said, folding her ears back and bowing her head, embarrassed.

“Nonsense!” Brex replied, “Everyone has a tale to tell, and many so-called “common-folk”, as the nobles like to say, are often more interesting than even the King himself! Share something with us,” he urged.

Hesitantly, Forest complied. “Well, alright. I don’t know who my birth parents were; in my earliest memories I was an orphan in High Gate, where I guess I wandered the streets, finding food and shelter when traveling merchant-ponies from other cities took pity on me. One day, when Midnight Shadow was leaving the city to seek knowledge in the Great Forest, he saw me and decided to take me with him, to raise me and teach me about magic. I owe him my life many times over,” she concluded, moisture in her eyes at the thought of her master and surrogate father, as warmth filled her from the sil sogaal she wore about her neck.

“Your story may not include legendary lineage, power and glory, or events of great import, but each life in this world is precious, and integral to the rotating of the heavens,” Brex said. “I know this, for I have seen it. I’ve seen much depravity and evil in the streets of the Great Shadow, ‘tis sooth, but I’ve also been privy to many small acts of kindness and charity, which have caused great good and changes in lizards’ lives. I firmly believe that a small good thing, such as the love you share with Midnight Shadow, may be powerful enough to cause mountains to bow, nations to fall, and the stars to spin in the heavens above.”

Eltnek now spoke up, great emotion in her voice. “Such beauty in your words, Sergeant Brex! This one has read many works of poetry and song, and has memorized the words of the greatest philosophers of the Ancient Ones, and yet your faith in the power of love has left us both full, and barren.”

Brex blushed again, the grey on his cheeks in contrast to the pure black of his face.

“You have told us the tale of your early life, Forest, but what about the current you? What are your hobbies?” Brex asked.

After thinking for a bit, Forest replied, “There’s a lot I still have to learn, but I like to make potions. I guess you could call that a hobby.”

Brex nodded. “A wonderful hobby it is, too. Why, without it, we’d be completely lost should one of us get sick on our journey!”

At the thought of having to care for a sick lorion, Forest paled. Such responsibility had never been laid on her shoulders before.

Forest turned to look at Eltnek, the small red lorion’s pink spikes easily visible in the dim light coming from Forest’s hornlight.

“What about you, Eltnek? What do you do when you aren’t practicing magic?”

Eltnek considered for a moment, before responding with crisp language and a perfectly even tone.

“This one enjoys reading histories and studying the Ancient Ones. Many grave mistakes have been made because beings with power neglected the lessons learned by their ancestors; I hope one day for the wisdom to remember all those lessons.”

“Surely you do more than study,” Forest said, “everypony needs to do something lighthearted now and then! Do you ever play games or have fun with friends?”

Eltnek was silent for a moment, her face unreadable to Forest. After taking a deep breath, the young lorion spoke.

“This one admits that she may have neglected the less serious and more temporal side of life that most lorions and ponies enjoy, when they have the time. This one once read a philosophical journal from an Ancient One, whose name is lost to the ages, that spoke of a great power for joy and good in the magic of friendship; I should have paid closer attention to that lesson, for I suspect the author may have been-” her voice sank to a whisper “-an Alicorn!”

Forest’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. Once upon a time, long before the foundation of the Aetherian Empire, when the ponies of the world roamed in family herds, they had worshipped as gods and goddesses the alicorns, powerful and immortal beings that represented specific aspects of life, or of the physical world around them. The last alicorn had vanished long ago, but some of their writings had been preserved through the years by various mages. Midnight Shadow was one of the few unicorns in the world to possess a tome hoof-written by an alicorn; that is where his knowledge of the Words of Command came from.

“Master Midnight always said that the teachings and wisdom of the alicorns is prudence for all, no matter what situation they might find themselves in,” Forest recited.

Brex nodded. “I’d say we’re already following that advice,” he said. “We’re making friends now, aren’t we? And as the Company of Three, destined to bring peace to our corner of the world, Friends we shall be ‘til our journey ends, and perhaps even after. Only the gods know.”

The road began to be broken in places, metal rails bent and twisted here and there where the centuries-old quartz cobbles vied for dominance with basalt bricks, which were perhaps a thousand years older. In some places the rails and other old iron implements had completely rusted away, nothing but reddish sand marking the spots where ancient tools and devices had once rested.

Brex took this opportunity to share what he knew of the history of the Ore Highway, regaling the girls with stories of fire and iron, when the lorions had mined deep for the strong iron they refined to trade with the earth ponies and unicorns.

“The bits of rail and other metal things you see along the path here are what’s left of the original Shadow Empire,” he said. “They were used to transport raw material from the mines and refineries in the Forge to the smithies and factories in the Great Shadow, which was at the time called Hiim Dol, the City of Iron.”

Forest thought the iron relics were rather depressing, especially now that she knew they were all that remained of an ancient civilization. She looked up at Brex and asked, “What happened to the Shadow Empire? Where did everypony go?”

Brex was quiet for a moment, and it was clear by looking at his face that he had strong emotions on this subject.

“My ancestors were fools,” he growled, at last. “They delved ever deeper, following the veins of Adamantium ore that assisted in the rising of the empire. In fact, the metal we wear was mined by the lorions who worked in the Forge during the Shadow Empire, as such metal hasn’t been discovered in the long eras since.”

He shifted his pack a bit before continuing his tale.

“The last Emperor was a foolish lizard, basking in the glory and wealth of his empire, and was too busy with his concubines to pay attention to the warnings of his engineers, who tried to convince him that further mining in the Forge would only lead to disaster. His greed and folly were great, and led to the destruction of his empire.

“The area around the Forge is particularly seismically and volcanically active, which is partly the reason why such abundance of metal ores was found there. However, the Adamantium veins would get larger and stronger the deeper they were dug, closer to the heart of the earth. Eventually, due to the weakening of the earth’s frame by the mine shafts and wells, the Forge became unstable, and the lorion miners risked their lives regularly for the valuable ore they retrieved.”

Here he stopped, as the path was buckled and torn, a meter-wide crack in the tunnel belying a spot where the earth released the stress around the Forge. On the far side of the crack the tunnel was partially blocked by large boulders.

The Company each removed their armor and packs (except for Brex, who strapped his shield on his arm) to keep them light, and then jumped the crevasse. Forest then levitated the equipment over, concentrating heavily to keep the magic steady to avoid dropping their supplies into the deep crack.

Then, they all focused on clearing the blockage. Eltnek tried first. “Stand back!” she said, “This one shall blast the impedance into dust!” And raising her staff, she spoke the words: Qethsegol vund kren yahru govey!

A beam of energy spewed from the staff, capturing the wall of boulders in a magical glow. Unfortunately, however, her energy wasn’t enough, and the rocks barely moved.

Forest was sure that she didn’t have the magical strength to clear the path, but regardless, she tried next. She pointed her horn at the rubble, and submerged her mind in thoughts of crushing rocks and clouds of dust. When she opened her eyes, she saw that she had slightly weakened the wall, but only by powderizing the small pebbles in the cracks between the large boulders. She gasped for breath, having expended a good deal of mana in a short amount of time.

Brex made his attempt last, placing his muscled arms around one of the boulders and giving a heave worthy of song. However, he was only able to move the boulder a small way before rolling onto his pack, panting with the exertion.

“I don’t think any of us can move those rocks by ourselves,” Forest said, after studying their situation at length. “We have to work together if we’re going to get the path cleared before we die of old age.” The last part she said dryly, imagining Brex as an elder, bent and wrinkled, moving rocks around while speaking in a thin, quavery voice about his childhood.

Brex was still catching his breath, but Eltnek agreed. “It is as the Ancient One said, that those who work together in harmony may overcome great obstacles. This one will weaken the stones, Forest.”

Brex finally stood up. “Aye, and I’ll do the lifting. All you need to do is lighten my load a bit with your mind-lifting, Forest.”

The blue-maned filly nodded, and they each applied their magic and strength to the wall of rock, Eltnek focusing on weakening the rock, gradually crushing the smaller stones and making cracks in the larger ones, while Forest levitated each one slightly, just enough to ease the friction between them. Brex lifted his enchanted shield, and smashed it hard into the rock, causing the boulders to break into smaller, easier to manage pieces. He then proceeded to dig through the rock with his large arms, burrowing through until he was able to see the other side by the light of Forest’s magelight.

When the three of them came to the other side, they all fell into a heap on the ground, exhausted by the ordeal.

“Well! That was quite a job, and you were spot on to suggest working together, Eltnek. I can see why the Grand Matron suggested you for this quest.” The young lizardess blushed.

“How about we set up camp here? We can take a bite, get some sleep, and be well-rested and ready to get into the Forge tomorrow.”

By now, it was difficult to see the faint glimmer of light from the distant Veil of Tears, and the tunnel had gone on in a perfectly straight line from the exit of the Great Shadow. Thus, Forest and Eltnek were a little surprised to see that they had come up on the first curve in the road since they had parted with their mentors. They both decided that stopping here was a good idea.

“Do you happen to know some fire-starting magic, Forest?” Brex asked.

“Fire-starting? Oh, that’s elemental magic. I don’t know any spells that can do that, I’m sorry.” She looked despondent.

Brex chuckled. “Do not worry, little one. I’m no mage, but I know the strain elemental magic places on those who wield it; I came prepared with flint and steel, so we may enjoy a nice warm fire while we rest our weary heads.”

The black lorion fished through his backpack, and after a moment pulled a small wooden box out with a light cry of victory. “Aha! This tinderbox has been passed down through my hou- former house now, I guess, for many generations. My great-great-grandfather carried it with him on several diplomatic excursions when the Great Shadow renewed its alliance with the Earth Pony Republic almost two hundred years ago. And now,” he said, opening the box with a flourish, “it has the honor of bringing light and warmth to us on our historic journey.”

Brex took a small pinch of tinder out of the box, and a few tiny twigs, and arranged them on the ground. Taking a steel knife, more like a letter-opener, and a rod of flint with a handle on one end, he struck the flint and steel together, causing a cascade of sparks to fly towards the ground. He repeated this process several times, until one of the sparks caught hold in the tinder and kindling. He blew carefully, nurturing a small flame into existence. Swiftly, before the flicker of light could die, he placed more kindling near it, and took two sticks of wood out of his pack to burn.

Once the fire was burning healthily, the three companions ate their rations and fell asleep.

The next morning (or was it night?), they awoke with fresh minds, and with the exception of the stalwart sergeant, sore limbs.

“Ahgh, it feels like somepony mistook my legs for dough and kneaded them with a rolling pin!” Forest complained.

“Aye, and this one feels as if a stampede of angry timber wolves ran over her tail!”

“I swear, you two sound like a couple of aging widows! Good hard ground will do that to ye, and nothing but time and experience will wean you of the pain. You don’t hear me complaining, do you?” Brex responded.

Grumbling, the lizardess and filly began to eat their meal, which they couldn’t call breakfast for not knowing what time it truly was. Brex decided to go without until the second meal, because he wasn’t feeling hungry and saving rations now would be a blessing later.

Half an hour after waking up, they scattered the remains of their fire, hoisted their packs and bags, and began to once again trudge along towards the unseen destiny ahead.

“Mister Brex, I was wondering, how did my armor get made so quickly? Nopony could have known I was coming until a few days ago,” Forest asked. “How did your smiths know how to make armor for a filly like me?”

“You are quite correct to assume that our smiths shouldn’t know how to make pony armor, let alone have a set of Adamantine armor ready for our departure. However, you’ll recall me mentioning that there are a number of ponies living in the Great Shadow, and a number of these serve in our military, either as battle-mages, smiths, or scouts. While Adamantium armor is reserved for the highest members of the royal family and the Royal Elite Guard, a single set of such armor was made almost a millennium ago when King Hrogar the Gentle adopted a colt into his family to be his heir. The insurrection that resulted when the nobles found out damn near destroyed the royal house, until the stallion took a widow with a son as his “wife”, and allowed the rule of our nation to return to lorion blood after he passed the throne.

“‘Twas a simple matter to adjust armor meant for a colt to that for a filly. King Narmon insisted that your colors be that of light and valor, instead of darkness and mystery, as is the way of our people. A young unicorn such as yourself should surround herself with beauty, not shadow.” Brex seemed to turn inwards, reflecting on times before his years.

Forest looked at her armor with renewed interest. “So, I’m wearing the armor of a prince! That means I’m almost a princess!” She giggled at the thought.

Eltnek also appraised the armor in a new light. “This one thinks the coloring suits you, Forest. However, I personally prefer the black and red of the Royal Army - the very sight of it fills my breast with feelings of pride and hope,” she said, sighing at the romantic thoughts of chivalry and battlefield glory that rose to her mind.

The green filly next to her laughed at the young lorion’s expression. “Hahaha, you should see your face right now! You look like you just saw your ‘one true love’!”

Eltnek spluttered, her face contorting as she processed what Forest just said. Turning her nose up theatrically, she said in a cultured tone, “This one is simply recalling the tales of glory from ages long past, when knights and heroes would walk upon the earth and perform daring deeds of valour. Ah! may such times come again to the Speaking Races of the world.”

“I had no idea you were a romantic,” Brex said, one eyebrow lifted.

“This one feels no guilt for enjoying novels from time to time! It would not do to burn oneself out during long weeks of study. Besides, many lessons may be learned from imaginative authors that scholars and mages neglect to write in their tomes; experience teaches more than study, I believe.”

“That’s what Midnight used to say,” Forest interjected. “He used to say that for all the things I might learn with him, true wisdom would only come when I learned how those things would be best used for the good of the world.”

Brex nodded. “A wise stallion, is your mentor, young Forest. You are immensely lucky to have such a guardian.”

The three walked in silence again, Forest thinking about Midnight Shadow, Eltnek about the legends of glory that waited upon gilded bookshelves for her return, and Brex about the possibility of danger on the path. The dark lorion was ever vigilant.

As they marched along, Forest thought she heard a noise coming from behind, like a clacking of small pebbles on larger boulders; but every time she turned to look, all she saw was the darkness beyond the nexus of light coming from her horn.

Brex noticed the green filly glancing over her shoulder, and said quietly, “I see I’m not the only one who thinks he hears something following us. Although what it is I couldn’t say; I’ve never heard of anything that walks like that in all the many caves and tunnels of the Great Shadow to the opposite side of the Forge. Whatever it is is not native to pony or lorion lands.”

Forest looked back again, and shuddered, wondering what evil thing was lurking beyond the light. “Why would anything like that be following us?” she wondered aloud.

“It would not be a jest to conjecture that the Emperor has invested some power in the creation of dark things,” Eltnek offered, “or even releasing creatures from Tartarus to do his bidding. There may have been spies in the Great Shadow that learned of our quest; it would be of great interest to Galaxius.”

“Are we in danger?” Forest asked, a little frightened at the prospect of an Aetherian spy following them.

“I think not,” Brex said, “but we should be on our guard.”

They walked, trudging along the dusty path, dodging the rusted fragments of the ancient lorion empire.

Forest was humming a song in her head to pass the time, when she idly looked toward Eltnek. She was surprised to find the young lorion watching her, then turn away quickly and blushing when she realized that she was spotted.

“That’s odd,” Forest thought, and wondered what was going on with the elusive and provocatively colored lorion. She decided to find out what was up.

“Eltnek,” she ask, tenuously, “is there something you want to ask me?”

The lizardess in question jerked her head and blushed brighter, replying, “N-no, it’s nothing! Nothing, really, just stretching this one’s neck!” And she began to twist her neck around in ways Forest thought beings only did to wet dishcloths.

“There’s something fishy about this, but she’s obviously uncomfortable so I’ll ask her again later,” Forest thought.

Just then, Brex’s voice rang out from ahead, just beyond a sharp curve in the passage.

“We’ve arrived, ladies, so get ready to behold the greatest glory of the ancient Shadow Empire! I present to you,” he said, as Forest and Eltnek came up to the giant door he stood before, “the Forge!”

And pulling on a heavy lever on the wall to the right of the door, with a creaking and clanking of gears, it began to open.

Author's Note:

At last! On Christmas Eve, no less, I finally managed to get the sixth chapter up! I'm not entirely satisfied with it, but it's an info dump and I needed to be done with it so I can get to more interesting things.

Next, expect us to return to Midnight Shadow and see what's up with the war effort!

Don't forget to comment and stuff, I devour comments.