• Published 2nd Aug 2013
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Rise of the Dragonking - Scarheart

The era for peace is over. Despite the best efforts of the Alicorns, an ancient enemy has returned to resume a war forgotten by even Princess Celestia. A world is plunged into darkness. Old foes must become allies if they are to survive.

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RotDK Chapter 15: The Battle of Grazeland

Luna could not get used to seeing a colt holding a war council with twelve changelings roughly the same age as him. Silent Wing, battered and stitched up as he demonstrated why his adoptive mother had such high hopes. He had stretched out on the ground in front of him a map Luna thought appeared familiar, but could not quite put a hoof on it. The prince and his changelings were having a moment of foal-like wonder as the map lines moved locations upon command, provided terrain detail on multiple dimensions, and even had a tutorial feature in the map legend. She found herself reminding them several times to stay focused. The Princess of the Moon was even considering telling them to stop this foalishness and assist with the evacuation of Grazeland.

Of course, they were changelings and would not listen to her. Trying to convince Silent Wing to abandon this exercise in futility fell repeatedly on deaf ears and a very thick skull. The prince was stubborn and his little command emulated him.

Thirteen changelings were about to wage war against two hundred diamond dogs. Of course, Silent Wing intended to talk first and see if he could not find a diplomatic solution to this. His announcement to initiate a truce before the battle harkened to the ancient way of battle. Luna knew this and even found herself respecting the cheeky little prince.

She was still fuming about the kiss. Yes, it happened in a dream and yes, he more than likely did not realize she had not been a figment of his imagination when the unexpected happened. Some things needed to be explained on no uncertain terms. Luna was determined to correct the young colt for this slight to her honor.

For now, there was a small matter of diamond dogs. Luna suspected they might be after more than just gems, but it was far too early to tell. It could be a safe assumption to make. There were other things the bipedal canines were known for. They had been known to ponynap colts and fillies for slavery, working their mines for the gems they coveted. Rumors claimed they had been stealing ponies from their homes and selling them to changelings.

Luna prayed this was not true. Upon gazing at Silent Wing and his tiny army, she believed with an inward groan they were as good as changelings were going to get. They were rough, vulgar, rude to each other, constantly pranking, yet honorable. These changelings were were a band of brothers. They deferred naturally to Silent Wing, but were not afraid to speak their minds. Very unusual for the typical changeling male.

They were learning to act independently of each other, no longer bound by a single order plaguing the failures of their armies in the recent past. Again, very unusual for a changeling male.

The Lunar Princess studied them closely, having by now given up on the notion of coaxing these thirteen foalish children from the path they blindly and willingly followed. Teetering at that precarious balance between the final years of their colthood and beginning to bud into stallions, she might as well have tried to get Twilight Sparkle to give up reading.

It was not going to happen.

Look at them! She sighed as a stressed out foalsitter upon the first night with a family of brothers she had agreed to watch as a favor. Luna's blue eyes fell upon Silent's two closest friends, the brothers Feidole and Frakas. They were unassuming colts, slightly smaller than the others, like their Silent Wing. Each one sat on either side of the prince, discussing strategy and constantly at odds with each other. The bickering between the two always began and ended with grins. It was a game between the two, she realized. The other changelings were mixed in watching them. Silent simply sat back, his eyes darting between the two in bemusement. Then, he would lean forward and place a hoof out to break their line of sight and make his own decision.

This had been going on for thirty minutes or so. Figuring out the map (a neverending process as something new was being discovered about the wonderous thing) and planning based on the intelligence the other ten changelings had gathered to this point had in fact created a workable (though still dubious) plan. The main advantage of flight would be hindered with the trees and the broken canopy of the forest, but it soon became clear the changelings only took this as a minor inconvenience.

They had nearly forgotten Luna was there. Finally, she spoke, deciding to lend a hoof. "Since it appears you are bent towards this action -" she bit back on adding foalish in there "- I will lend a hoof in your efforts."

They stared at her mutely. Then they looked at each other. Thirteen heads spent moments going to one another as if a silent discussion was being held. Finally, they nodded as one, with Silent Wing adding, "Okay, you can play with us." Thirteen fanged grins flashed at her.

"Having a goddess princess might tip the scales in our favor," noted Frakas. "All right, boys. Since she's volunteered, show of hooves to nominated Luna as our official mascot!"

Again, the silent discussion. Luna was taken aback by this. Not sure if she had just been insulted or complimented, her mouth hung open as she was voted unanimously, with one abstention as the official mascot. Silent Wing was horrified by the whole thing. His pale coat had gone paler if it was possible, even ghost-like. His hanging jaw mimicked the Alicorn's almost perfectly. He did not exactly vote against it, it should be noted.

"All right," announced Feidole briskly. "Motion is carried. Princess Luna is officially our mascot. We're lucky to have her!"

The changeling colts clapped their hooves together, again smiling that disturbing collection of fanged smiles at her.

Silent Wing managed a literal squeak of protest, cringing physically away from Luna and her baffled expression. Surely at some moment she was going to do something terrible, like banish them all to the sun or worse.

"I hereby nominate this operation as Eclipse!" called out Frakas.

Eleven bobbing heads agreed with him. Silent had, if possible gone whiter. Another protesting squeak came from his mouth. Finally he shook his head, recovering his wits.

"You guys are embarrassing me," he managed. To Princess Luna he added, "Sorry."

By now the Alicorn had decided she found the whole thing amusing and decided to go with the flow. "It it all right, Prince Silent Wing. I have never been a... mascot before."

Silent Wing cleared his throat nervously. "All right, let's get going. We're not getting anything done sitting here and nominating mascots. Let's buy some time for some ponies," he squeaked.

"Feidole, you're on the right flank. Frakas, the left is yours. Five with each. Wait for my signal. Everypony knows what to do. Try to avoid getting killed." He gathered up his map, having a reason now to look at Princess Luna without losing his courage. "I have no idea what to do with you."

"I thought I made it quite obvious," she told him plainly. "I need to keep you alive and get you back to Canterlot as soon as this is matter is dealt with. I would feel more comfortable if you allowed me to handle this. My way."

Silent Wing shuffled his hooves uncomfortably. "What if they won't want to talk?" he asked.

"Your changelings will not be needed," she assured him gently. "I will be more than sufficient in dealing with the diamond dogs. If it makes you feel better, all of you go ahead and take up your positions. Let us not assume they will be compliant." Luna did not want to add she was feeling something ominous approaching with the diamond dogs. She did not like it.

The prince waved his bodyguards off to go to their positions. Frakas and Feidole wished him luck before disappearing into the underbrush quietly.

They could hear the approaching diamond dogs faintly in the forest. They were silent save for the sounds of snapping twigs beneath heavy feet. Low growls carried on the wind as they called to each other quietly in an effort to remain cohesive. As of yet, Silent Wing and Luna could see nothing. A large clearing in the forest was in front of them, an abandoned homestead for a pony who had tried a hoof at apple farming. The crumbling house had partially collapsed and most of the apple trees were scrawny from lack of care.

She found herself wondering about the colt. He was immune to magic. Immune! Magic affected everything, yet to him did nothing. There had to be a reason behind it. What was it Flamespyre did to the colt in his experiments? How was it possible this fifteen-year-old colt might also the be product of an evil spirit? What was so special about Silent Wing? Despite appearances, he seemed a pony who would fit in comfortably almost anywhere, save for his nervousness around the princess. Was he also like this with other mares? What else was he afraid of? Why did some answers only produce more questions?

The Alicorn's head swam with such questions and more. It was so confusing! Worst of all was not knowing if Chrysalis was aware of her adopted son's past. Perhaps she did. Perhaps she meant to protect him. Perhaps she meant to turn him over to Flamespyre at the right time. Luna did not know what the bond between mother and son was, but she was certain at least Silent Wing believed it to be pure and good. She had seen enough in his dream to fully see his perspective of his mother. No matter what, she was dear to him as was his sister. The living tree in the middle of a wasteland of despair with mother and daughter together with Silent Wing was enough to convince the Alicorn of this fact.

Her attention was directed to a shaggy form emerging from the trees. Wearing mismatching chain mail and a horned open faced helm, the diamond dog was not very imposing in appearance, but the expression on the face gave Luna pause. Twisted in what appeared to be a permanent sneer, he hopped on top of a fallen log and waited and watched as a column four diamond dogs abreast emerged at a poor in-step march. It was difficult to hold formation in the woods, but the diamond dogs appeared determined to move in columns. Each one was as mismatched in arms and armor as the other. Some were big, others small. Each one bore a gleam in his eye boding ill for intent.

"Let's go say hello," Silent said grimly and started forward from his concealed spot. He unleashed a high pitched whistle serving two purposes; letting the diamond dogs know he was there and to tell his changelings he was moving to meet their leader.

Luna noted his griffon claw, having heard of them but never seen them used. All of his changelings sported the same armaments on their right forehooves. It was like having three daggers on one hoof ready for action in an instant, or so she had heard. On his right side, she stayed with him shoulder to shoulder as they approached.

"Beware," Luna hissed to him quietly. "I feel evil magic on them."

"I'll watch your back while you talk. If they do anything funny, Feidole and Frakas know what they need to do," he replied. Silent Wing was all business, the excitement of the unknown pushing down his fear of speaking to the Alicorn.

"Are you sure it will work?" she asked him.

"We won't unless we start fighting," Silent said quietly.

"That is hardly reassuring, child," Luna complained archly.

The diamond dog leader was grinning as the two drew near. Sensing a trap, his yellow eyes scanned the tree line beyond them before barking at a the column. Five diamond dogs broke ranks and cautiously approached the partially collapsed house. This close up, the Alicorn and colt could clearly see this was an older diamond dog with fangs jutting up from his lower jaw. His attention went to the Princess of the Moon with nervous surprise. One of his subordinates hurried over to him and whispered into his ear. Again his eyes cast suspicion at the opposite tree line.

"You bring army?" he asked Luna. "Zekk not afraid." Behind him his troops were fanning out into a battle line. "Surrender or die."

Luna shook off his demand. "You will withdraw your troops from Equestrian territory, Zekk. I am Princess Luna and I will make you leave by force if necessary." Her tone was flat and uncompromising. "Explain yourself now!"

Zekk flinched from her words. Again he whispered with his subordinate. A third diamond dog joined the conversation, adding his own harsh whispers. The leader of the group growled and they both cowed, their ears drooping dejectedly.

To Luna he said, "Master made promise to Zekk long ago in here." The diamond dog was tapping his temple with a finger. "Promised to make Zekk's pack strongest of all diamond dogs if Zekk do as asked. Zekk listened and Zekk became alpha dog. Master asks Zekk to get things, find ponies, bring them to Master so he might grow strong. Zekk do that. Zekk capture or kill. All resist killed. You have two choices. Surrender or die. Alicorn big prize for Master! Master will reward Zekk and make his pack strongest of all!" His eyes swirled with a madness of cunning.

"We're bucked, Luna," Silent hissed at her under his breath so only she could hear him. He tensed, ready to spring into action.

"Calm," she preached, giving him a wink. "I am with you." Inwardly, she could sense enormous power in Zekk. It was not natural. It was also beginning to build up within him. The magical energy around him was already beginning to crackle in the air.

Silent noticed this too. His blood was beginning to sing in his ears. Eagerly he pawed at the earth with a hoof. Even as battered as he felt, he was still eager for a fight.

"We will not surrender to you, Zekk," Luna declared loudly. "No pony will be brought to your master!" She had a sinking feeling she knew who this master was. It could only be Flamespyre. Why had nothing like this been brought to Canterlot's attention? Zekk had been doing this a while, but for how long?

The dark Alicorn flared her wings, supremely confident in her abilities against lowly diamond dogs. Her concern was focused on Zekk. What was up with him? Her blue eyes narrowed as she set her jaw.

Zekk the diamond dog had undergone quite a transformation the past fifteen years. Ever since meeting Flamespyre and having his memory wiped, there was still within him a seed planted into his mind that festered and grew. It was not long after the diamond dog began to hear voices in his head, telling him to do certain things he would not normally do.

It began when he murdered his own pack leader after spending a good portion of a year undermining his authority and his power. Allies suddenly wound up dead, brutally slain. It culminated when the typically mild-mannered Zekk publicly challenged the alpha male for control over the pack. With unnatural strength and the zeal of madness, the diamond dog made his bloody stake as the undisputed alpha by shredding a throat with savagery unknown to the diamond dogs. No other challengers came forth to dispute his leadership.

Those who sought to place themselves in Zekk's favor quickly did so and soon the pack was going around and absorbing other packs. The newly minted alpha simply challenged other alphas and absorbed their packs into his own once he had slain them. Those who did not bow to his leadership were hunted down without mercy. For fifteen years he built his strength, listening to the voice who identified itself as the Master. Finally, when he had enough numbers, Zekk found himself in a cave familiar to him. The voice in his head told him to bring him the living so he might feed upon their terror. Zekk obeyed. The Master rewarded him by giving the diamond dog more power and instruction to use it.

Zekk was not the smartest diamond dog before he began transforming. Now by means beyond his ken, the Master granted him the intelligence to use magic and the cunning to be a brutal warrior on the field of battle. For years his diamond dogs went into other countries and capturing anything sentient and dragging it to the cave where the insatiable hunger of the Master was sated. With great cunning, Zekk was able to frame the changelings for the disappearances. It was easy, as the world view of changelings in general was less than stellar.

The few battles he had fought in were laughable. Only once did he face a force on the field, but it was a badly armed militia who crumbled easily after one assault. His diamond dogs went from being seekers of gems to a bloodthirsty pack of wild dogs.

This was Zekk's first foray upon Equestrian soil. He was eager to send ponies to his master as he coveted their fears above all others. Flamespyre would indeed have his feast.

Zekk had not expected Princess Luna. This pleased him. If he could bring her to the Master, then his reward would be great indeed! He leered at her.

Silent Wing acted with a leaping snarl at Zekk, baring his fangs as his griffon claws sang out and slashed toward's the diamond dog's face. The colt found a short sword deflecting his cut as he landed on Zekk's chest. The much bigger opponent caught him and punched the aggressive prince across the left cheek and eye. With a snarl the diamond dog hurled the changeling away from him, laughing at the foal.

Silent landed on his hooves, skidding across the ground and already kicking to stop his momentum. Luna was glaring at him, having already taken to the air with her horn algow with her magic.

"What is wrong with you?" she demanded helplessly. "Get back to the tree line!" Landing next to him, she shoved him hard away from the now charging line of diamond dogs howling after them.

Blearily the colt tried to shake the cobwebs from his head. The blow to his face had knocked him silly and he was having a difficult time seeing out of his left eye. Despite this, he grinned at her, ignoring the pain.

"He was going to attack and you know it," he said to her without a hint of an apology.

"You did not think that through very well," she admonished him as they galloped at full speed. "I admit, this is quite thrilling!"

"The fun's just started, Highness!" Silent felt like an idiot.

The line of diamond dogs marched forward in a ragged line four deep, anticipating another force to meet them. None did.

The five troops sent to the fallen house could already be counted as no longer a threat. The changelings were paired off and were already circling around to the rear. They were having the time of their lives, sneaking up behind the straggling diamond dogs, pouncing on them and dragging them to quick and silent ends. As much as the diamond dogs howled and barked at each other, their changeling foes were quiet hunters.

A dozen diamond dogs were lifeless in the grass before they realized what was happening.

Zekk ordered a halt as his troops began to mill around the treeline in confusion. They feared an army was in the woods waiting for them ahead while another attack was whittling them from behind with pin pricks. They had never encountered organized resistance before.

Luna expected the killing. So long removed from her last battle, it was still as ugly as ever. This was not her way, nor the way of Celestia. To take a life was an ultimate failure for any intelligent being to do. However, she did understand the reasoning behind it, cruel as it may seem. Neither did she care for it. There had to be a way to limit the bloodshed. The only answer before her was to challenge Zekk in combat. This meant leaving Silent Wing to fend for himself.

He was looking at her, on his belly in the underbrush and facing the confused diamond dogs. They would be reorganized soon. Zekk was making examples of the troops he thought the most cowardly. Luna was also on her belly, watching the alpha male butcher one of his own.

"That is not natural," she said to Silent, nodding her horn towards Zekk. "He has enormous power and no diamond dog is this cruel."

The colt nodded, not at all refuting her. "Let's take him out then. If he falls, then the rest of the pack should fall apart."

"No! You need to stay out of sight," she said firmly, her mood clearly showing she was not willing to discuss this. Nor was there time for such foolishness. "You have broken open your stitches," Luna pointed out with a glance to his backside.

Silent examined his flank and became irritated at seeing his wound bleeding. "It's not that bad," he argued with a growl. His ears were laid back and he was speaking through his fangs.

"I do not doubt your courage, prince, but we do not have time to foalsit you!" she shouted in her Royal Canterlot Voice. Without further word, she exploded into the air and flew straight at Zekk, he wings tearing through the air effortlessly as she built up her magic with her horn.

Zekk saw her burst from the trees and used his sword to fire bolts of black magic at her. Luna dodged them easily and came down hard at him with her front hooves flashing in the air. Behind her bound Silent Wing, determined to watch her back and fight any diamond dog who tried to attack her from behind.

It was a questionable decision.

Silent Wing was surrounded by enemies while Luna still had her wings and could escape when ever she felt like it. She had grabbed Zekk with her magic and was dragging him behind her, away from his little army and dreading what she was about to do. Perhaps she would not have to take that drastic step. Perhaps she could just purge the evil from him, make him as he was before he had been corrupted. She was already recognizing the taint and knew Flamespyre had a hand in twisting this diamond dog into his current state.

The Alicorn released her magical hold on him in the middle of the overgrown apple orchard. "I swear I will release you from your torment," she yelled down to him, gathering her magic.

Zekk howled at her in rage.

Luna was completely unaware Silent Wing was battling for his life. In a calculated risk, he was drawing the attention of his foes towards him to allow for his changelings to move for a full assault of their own. Normally the prince would have some pony watching his back, but Luna had other ideas and he was in no position now to offer her backup against her foe. He had tried to keep up with her, but was tripped up by a spear shaft.

Feidole and Frakas knew where he was, shifting tactics to the air. They had yet to suffer any injuries other than superficial cuts and their enemy was out in the open. Taking wing, a dozen dark shapes lifted and began diving at the troops surrounding Silent, raking with each pass their griffon claws at heads and shoulders. Always moving in pairs, the changeling fighters were making life miserable for any diamond dog near Silent Wing. Two landed next to him and the hand to hoof fighting began in a fierce cloud of confusion and screaming. Soon their luck ran out and the first spear head broke through the natural black changeling carapace, leaving a bleeding dark form lying on the already blood soaked field.

Luna had to perform some aerial acrobatics to avoid Zekk's magic bolts. They streaked past her like fat arrows, humming through the air and leaving a sickly vapor in their wake that took several seconds to dissipate. None had as of yet scored a hit, but the Alicorn knew it would be a matter of time before one found its mark. Placing up a crackling lightning shield, she spared a moment to look over her shoulder.

She saw the changelings surrounded by diamond dogs through the choking dust kicked up by the fighting. Zekk's magic bounced harmlessly off her shield. Muttering under her breath, she gave up on trying to stop the alpha dog and went to save the changelings. Black clouds rolled in as she summoned a storm. A great wind came with the onset. It was time to retreat.

Darting straight for the center of the battle, Luna pulled with her a wall of wind spinning as a snaking mass of churning and undulating clouds formed by her spell weaving. Her storm followed her faithfully, spinning in a vortex until it became a violent tornado. Intending to pluck the changelings from certain defeat, Luna's wind sent diamond dogs flying.

She was not a happy princess. Upset with Silent Wing for attempting to follow her, he had ultimately dragged his own bodyguard to come to his aid in a position untenable and with only one possible outcome. Two more changelings were down by the time Luna arrived, her rage amplified by what she viewed as a gross display of stupidity on the colt's part.

Seeing an opening for escape, the fallen changelings were scooped up and the party darted into the woods with a cover of fog rolling in to conceal their escape. Over two dozen diamond dogs fell in the fighting. Scores of wounded littered the field. Changeling ferocity and audacity had left its mark indeed, sapping the will to fight out of the enemy. The rest were confused and picking themselves off the ground from where the Alicorn's wind storm had tossed them. Zekk screamed and howled in madness, his mouth frothing as he called for the flying dark mare to come back and face him.

They hurried as fast as the wounded would allow them. One of the changelings died during their escape, though that was not discovered until they reached the now abandoned Grazeland. Only then were they able to rest.

Only Luna would not allow Silent Wing such a luxury. As he discovered one of his friends was dead, he was made further aware of his mistake when Luna whispered harshly into his ear, "Was his life worth your lust for glory, young prince?"

There was no forgiveness in her voice. It was also loud enough for the other changelings to hear. Feidole and Frakas both laid their ears back, but not at their prince, but at Luna. Of course they would bristle in defense of their prince, but they deep down realized she was right. They could see the devastated pain contort the prince's features and he slowly turned and walked away, unable to look.

Luna would not let him go at that.

"Get back here and realize your mistake, young prince," she called loudly. "Or forever be a coward in my eyes." The Princess of the Moon stood in proud defiance of Silent Wing's pride.

He pulled up short, head slowly raising as his ears swiveled back to her. Covered from head to hoof in wounds, he was a bloody mess, having given everything he had in the battle. For the guards who bore wounds received in defending their prince, they could very easily be counted as Silent Wing's wounds. The two wounded changelings still alive but unable to fight were his responsibility. He turned, faced them and would always remember the eyes who returned his gaze.

Luna did not move, becoming a beautiful, terrible living conscience as those blue eyes of hers burned into his soul, making him understand how profound his decision to follow her had been. He had not been in condition to fight and should not have been fighting, but he joined the fight anyways.

One life was paid in full for his choice.

The prince's pride collapsed as he did, the words, "Forgive me," repeated over and over again, imploring, begging. His tears fell upon the dry ground, kicking up tiny plumes of dust. "By my Queen's grace, forgive me!"

Only then did Luna relent, seeing the desired effect. Her ears caught a sound overhead and she looked up as shadows passed overhead. Upon the sun did glint the golden armor of Equestria's army, a brigade of Pegasi acting as the vanguard of a larger force still some miles away.

The general and his staff circled and landed after soldiers had encircled the changelings at the point of their spears. Luna was ordering them to put up their arms as their commander landed.

"They are not the enemy," she said to the general, suddenly feeling very tired. She had been up all night and it was closing in on noon. "Sweep the forest to the north and search for diamond dogs. These changelings require medical attention. Please have that addressed."

"Yes, your Highness," said the general with a salute. He deferred the order to one of his adjutants who in turn issued orders for the company medics. Within minutes a swarm of them were giving aid.

Silent Wing refused treatment until his changelings were seen to first. He would become angry if any orderly came near him with a bandage before the prince was sure the others were taken care of. Luna felt it was a start for him in going down a long road in becoming a proper leader. She nodded in silent approval, but ignored him.

The rest of the day was spent with patrols sweeping the woods as the main body of the Equestrian army arrived numbering more than ten thousand strong. They had come from the nearest garrison on orders from Celestia to secure the border with the Changeling Kingdom. There was no true demarcation line to gauge where the wilderness blended the borders of the two countries. It had been a no-pony's land due to the nature of the forest. In many respects, it was another Everfree forest, though far larger.

Zekk and his diamond dogs had disappeared, abandoning their dead and wounded. The young changeling colts had accounted very well for themselves, considering. It was a resounding victory in the eyes of the general upon receiving the report from his patrols. In exchange for the loss of one and another two badly wounded, Silent Wing's tiny army had inflicted heavy numbers in dead and wounded diamond dogs in a ratio of twenty to one.

Astounding numbers any commander would love to see in favor of his troops.

Silent only took it with bitterness when he was told. He was confined to a stretcher and was waiting to be loaded upon a chariot when the ponies of Grazeland returned home to find everything still standing and undamaged. Word of the stand of the changelings spread. Soon the town gathered around them. At first the prince feared they would hurl insults at them, curse them, cry for the monsters to be taken away. He braced himself for their derision.

Instead, they applauded respectfully, some with tears, others bearing big smiles. Wide-eyed at this unexpected outburst of thanks, the Royal Guard stood formed ranks, save for the wounded and returned the applause with a slow salute.

Even Trixie came, her eyes heavy with moisture. She said nothing, but approached Silent as he lay on his stretcher. No word was spoken as she leaned down and planted a kiss on his cheek before disappearing into the crowd.

Silent Wing had learned much that day. How he would apply this lesson remained to be seen.

Author's Note:

This was Silent Wing's first battlefield command situation. Needless to say, the execution of his troops was flawless, but it's apparent our young would-be hero has a thing or two to learn about responsibility for himself in combat situations.

He takes it to heart.