• 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 4: Glinting Steel in the Sun

"I won't lie to you, my little ponies," Celestia said as she stood before six familiar mares who had all become dear to her. They stood in the courtyard of Canterlot Castle, preparing to leave. The morning sun was already warm, peeking in and out of the scattered clouds being moved in for a bit of rain just after noon by the Weather Ponies. Each of the six mares save one showed some nervousness as they looked upon their ruler with complete faith in her.

"This will be extremely dangerous. If any of you did not wield one of the spirits, I would certainly not have asked you to come with me," she went on, her gaze falling gravely upon each face turned up towards her. "So I will ask you one last time if any of you do not wish to come. I will not hold it against you. None of you are trained for combat."

Her eyes fell upon Rainbow Dash, who was about to open her mouth to protest, but fell silent when Celestia gave her an apologetic smile. Wonderbolts did train along the lines of a paramilitary organization, but past that, they were not trained for war. They were essentially stunt ponies. As she collected herself with a deep intake of breath, she regarded these mares, knowing them perhaps better than they knew themselves. Why else would she have spent the past three years allowing them to face dangers no normal pony could hope to face? But this threat was completely unexpected. She feared the future.

The Mane Six stood before her; Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity, all looking up at her expectantly, each one with her own thoughts in regards to the day ahead. Each one carried with her saddlebags carrying whatever they felt might be useful in the battle to come. Perhaps even Pinkie Pie had her now famous party cannon readily available. She had a gift for doing inexplicable things. None knew what sort of danger they were in for. Celestia had to admit she had no idea what to expect either. Her own fears she masked well, as she had masked many fears while ruling alone for a thousand years without her sister. This was the unknown, like meeting the very monster that once hid under the bed when one was a foal.

Despite the strengths and weakness of each individual mare, the Elements of Harmony were nearly unbeatable when they were together. Nightmare Moon had been vanquished by its power, returning Princess Luna home where she ruled side-by-side with Celestia. Discord, the Lord of Chaos (some would say god) had fallen to the power of Harmony when he underestimated Twilight Sparkle.

He now lurked somewhere, somehow ignoring Celestia's summons for the past day and a half. Discord had a certain way of showing he was not interested. Princess Celestia had received a letter from him just this past evening and had opened it eagerly. It exploded as a rainbow beam in her face while drenching her with chocolate milk. Now she did not want anything to do with him at that moment. She appreciated a good prank as much as the next mare, but the timing was of course the worst. What was worse was it happened right in front of her sister, her advisors, and Twilight Sparkle. Twilight and Luna tried very hard to not laugh, but they kept looking at each other, saw each other fighting back the tears and the furious blushing, then back at Celestia before collapsing in a pair of heaps.

"It's not funny," she yelled at them, trying herself not to laugh and to remain the stern monarch trying to prepare for possible war. Once she gave in, her advisors joined.

She was still furious at him, but in hindsight, it had relieved a tense day. Tempers had flared and some words had been exchanged between Luna and Celestia with Twilight trying her best to not get involved and also serve as a referee of sorts (to be fair to her, she repeated 'please stop' early and often). In the past, she would have been excluded from such sisterly exchanges between the two, but since her elevation to Alicorn status, Twilight found herself becoming a part of a most exclusive group. Yet Discord had diffused the whole mess with a prank. Though Celestia still fumed, she was also grateful to him.

A Unicorn captain trotted up to her and smartly saluted. "Highness, it is my duty and my pleasure to report the troops are ready to move out on your word."

Celestia nodded and looked at the Mare Six as a whole. "Are you all ready?" All save Fluttershy gave an affirmative. She kept her head down and refused to look up, not really looking forward to going anywhere dangerous. Twilight Sparkle had to lean over and ask her to repeat her answer.

"She says yes," reported the lavender Alicorn as she tried to help her frightened friend into the back of a nearby chariot.

"Um...I'm not sure about this," whispered Fluttershy to Twilight. "You know how I feel about dragons, Twilight. I won't run away, but I'm really, really, really, really scared." She gave out a squeal when Applejack appeared out of nowhere to lend a hoof.

"Sorry, sugarcube," AJ said. "But we ain't got all day to pry your hooves out of the cobble stones." She gave her friend a healthy shove in the flanks and with a yelp, Fluttershy was in the chariot. The country mare smiled at her. "I'll keep you company, if you like. We can talk about those baby bunnies you were all excited about the other day! How are they doing, anyway?"

"Well," Fluttershy started, glad to be thinking about cute and furry things. "They're growing so fast and they're so adorable! Angel Bunny has been a good father to them."

"They're his?" Applejack smiled and winked at Twilight Sparkle before giving Fluttershy her undivided attention. "Tell me all about it. You have to have names for all them little fellers by now!"

There were three chariots in all. Each one was pulled by a pair of powerful armored Pegasus stallions. Of course, Fluttershy and Applejack rode together, Rarity and Pinkie Pie in another, and Twilight Sparkle riding with Princess Celestia. Rainbow Dash refused to be confined in a chariot and could fly circles around the best in Celestia's personal body guard. Once everyone was mounted, Celestia turned to the patiently waiting captain. "The word is given," she said crisply.

He bowed and trotted off, barking orders to his lieutenants, who in turn barked orders to their sergeants. Trumpets blared as a thousand armed and armored ponies took to the skies in a flashing display in the morning rays of the sun just as they began to peer out from behind the clouds. Cheers could be heard from the ground quickly falling away beneath them from those who had turned out to see loved ones off on this expedition. Officially, this was classified as an wargames excercise Princess Celestia had wanted to witness for herself for the day and evaluate the condition of her army.

The princess brushed away a troubling vision of mission chariots and gaping holes in the flying formations flying expertly around her.

"This is amazing!" cried out Twilight as she found herself in the middle of a large group of heavily armed ponies. It felt like one of those old stories she had read as a filly of armies of good going forth to vanquish the evil monsters. Her smile faded when she realized what their purpose was. One thousand soldiers had been tasked with protecting the Mane Six with their lives and they would do so without hesitation. Half were Unicorns, the others were Pegasi. She dearly hoped it would not come to that. There was a part of her who desperately wanted this Flamespyre creature to simply promise to never bother ponies again and to disappear to the other side of the world and do no harm to no pony the rest of his days.

Her recent ascension to the rarefied Alicorn standing had not quite yet felt natural. Certainly she was slowly adjusting to having wings for the first time and she strongly remembered what could almost be described as a past life as just being a regular Unicorn who also happened to be the representative for the Element of Magic, the most powerful of the harmonies. Her cutie mark on her flanks bore a six pointed pink sparkle with five smaller sparkles surrounding it. She was the most intelligent of the Mare Six and easily the most magically gifted. Celestia still wanted to groom her new Alicorn princess (who was also her niece-in-law) for greater responsibilities, preferring to take the same approach as she took with Princess Cadence by allowing for Twilight to grow into her new position. Twilight fretted constantly if she was doing well learning her new role as an Alicorn princess. She did have a tendency to over react to some things, altering into a crazed personality stemming from her anxieties. The last incident involved her stuffed toy Smarty Pants, an enchantment spell going horribly wrong, and a sudden obsession for the doll by the whole of Ponyville. It did not end well, but Princess Celestia had arrived just in time thanks to a letter sent by Spike.

Celestia could see the change in mood on Twilight. "No need to be sad, my pupil," she said gently. Giving Twilight a comforting nudge to her neck, she added, "Just prepare yourself to do what you need to. You can't control what you have no control over."

"Isn't it our responsibility to protect them as much as it is for them to protect us?" Twilight asked. An ear flicked as her attention wandered from one tight formation to the next. The determination was etched like stone in every stallion face she looked at.

"Indeed," replied Celestia with a nod. She kept her gaze before her, expressing her understanding with her tone. Hardship lay ahead for Equestria, this she knew. The dread in her heart, however paled in the steel of her resolve. Celestia knew the Mare Six would do their best. They had to. "We'll be fine if we stay together. If there is a battle with Flamespyre, I shall face him myself. The guards are for any minor surprises that could distract us from our main purpose."

"Are you going to banish him?" asked Twilight. "Put him on the moon, maybe?"

Celestia drew silent for a moment. When she spoke, her voice hovered near a whisper. "I can't. You know it takes the Elements of Harmony to do that. That's why I need you and your friends. If I thought I could rely on my own magic alone, I would certainly not be putting you in danger. I could not bear to think of what I would do if I were to lose you and your friends. All of you are dear to me and always will be."

Twilight nodded and became silent as she lost herself into her thoughts.

"Oh, Twilight?" asked Celestia.

She looked up at her mentor. "Yes?"

"Am I invited to Applejack's birthday part? I was hoping to take a day from palace duties." There was a twinkle in Celestia's eye as she added with a chuckle, "They can be so stiff and formal."

Twilight Sparkle broke into a huge grin.

Behind the monarch and her student and to the left were Rarity and Pinkie Pie in their own chariot. They were having a very animated conversation in regards to Applejacks's upcoming birthday. The sat next to each other, both of them with their forehooves hooked on the front of the chariot while they cheerfully talked about the planned festivities with gleeful anticipation. Every now and then they would glance over towards Applejack and Fluttershy's chariot some distance behind them, hoping their voices (especially Pinkie Pie's) was not carrying to them.

Pinkie Pie was bouncing up and down on her hind legs, her pink hair animatedly following her movements. She was had, of course a pink coat to match her pink mane and tail. The cutie mark on her flanks were three colored balloons, signifying her gift for making ponies around her smile and be happy. She preferred showing off her talent by throwing lots of parties. She planned all sorts of parties; conventional birthday, surprise birthday, foal showers, graduation parties, pool parties, seasonal parties, holiday parties, milestone parties, weddings parties, and even funerals (this had not happened yet, but she had something set aside just in case). The fact she was the pony in charge of Applejack's party was never in question. No one could plan a surprise birthday party in a friend's own barn like Pinkie Pie. She had the energy, excitement, and joy to pull everything off with seemingly effortless ease. Excitable, always smiling and always looking to make others smile, Pinkie Pie was the very essence of laughter, the Harmony of which she represented. Around her throat rested the symbol of laughter, a red balloon gem attached to a golden choker.

Rarity, a beautiful snow white Unicorn with her delicately curled royal purple mane and tail listened to her friend with a bemused smile. Pinkie Pie was doing most of the talking, which was fine with the unicorn. She wanted to go over what was planned to make sure everything was ready on the day in question. Not only did she have a lovely dress in the making for Applejack, but she was also assisting Pinkie with the planning in her spare time. On her flanks were three lozenge diamonds. Her special talent was in finding gems, which added to her already considerable talent as a seamstress and dress maker. Though she could be at times selfish and unintentionally snooty at times, time and time again Rarity had proven herself to her friends and especially her sister Sweetie Belle. Her inner conflict with wanting to be accepted in the social circles of high society in Canterlot had been resolved when, during Twilight's Sparkle's birthday she had finally admitted to herself her friends were far more important than being accepted by boorish snobs. Nothing could ever replace them and she held their friendship near and dear to her heart. She was also willing to give her time and effort to her friends without asking for anything in return and did so happily. The harmony she embodied was of generosity. She also wore a choker, this one bearing a single diamond similar to her cutie mark.

"Do you think we should go with the apple crumb cake or the triple stack apple pie with whipped cream?" Pinkie Pie was asking as she assumed a serious face. Her blue eyes were narrowed as the dilemma was wrestled with in her thoughts.

Rarity rolled her eyes. "Why not do both and just be done with it, dear? There's no conflict if you give everypony a choice." She finished with a giggle, "Simple, really."

Pinkie's eyes went round. She stared off into space as the idea clicked in her mind. "Both? Could it be possible?" Inhaling excitedly, she turned to Rarity, an enormous ear splitting smile on her face. "And we haven't even gone over the birthday cake yet! Rarity, you're a genius." She crushed the unicorn in one of her signature hugs.

Through gasping for air to refill her lungs and returning the hug with an awkward attempt of her own, Rarity replied, "Just happy to offer any help I can." She feared her hair was going to be ruined, but there was little to stop that when Pinkie Pie was involved.

In the last chariot sat Fluttershy, who had managed to overcome her fear of being in a chariot and was beginning to enjoy the ride. Though she was a Pegasus, Fluttershy was not exactly a very strong pony. A gentle soul who loved small and cute animals, Fluttershy lived up to her name by being notoriously frightened of almost everything, but had improved since first getting to know Twilight Sparkle. She was gifted in communicating with animals which she would go out of her way to befriend. On the edge of the Everfree Forest she lived in a cottage with many animal friends she cared for. Her mane and tail were a rosy pink, her coat a light golden yellow. Her flanks bore three pink butterflies with blue bodies. Very slow to anger, Fluttershy could assert herself, though she had to be pushed very hard across that thresh hold. There was no kinder nor gentler pony in all of Equestria, hence she bore the element of kindness within her. Around her neck she wore the gem for kindness, as this was her harmony, it bearing the shape of one of her butterflies. With her was, of course Applejack. A butterfly gem hung as the others hung from the other mares.

The most athletically gifted of the Mare Six, it could easily be said she was also the most practical. Always upon her head was her battered stetson hat over her pony tail blonde mane. Her tail was also bound in a pony tail. Her coat was a dull orange . Three red apples dressed her flanks as her cutie marks. Playful as she was hard working, Applejack was the pillar of honesty, her harmony. She was a country pony to the core and spoke with a drawl. Never one afraid to diry work, she was used to it, running Sweet Apple Acres with her brother Big MacIntosh and her grandmother Granny Smith. It was a physically demanding job and it had molded the mare into a hard working and down to earth pony. As a result, she was not one for mincing a problem. She preferred to find the most practical solution and use it as quickly as possible. Besides Twilight Sparkle, she was a pillar of support upon which her friends could lean upon. Around her neck she wore her harmony in the shape of a red gem apple.

"And I want to name the last one Cutie," Fluttershy was saying with an adorable little happy face. "Because he's so tiny and cute and cuddly." She had her hooves up to her mouth as she imagined holding a baby bunny in them.

"Aw, well that does sound pretty nice," noted Applejack as she was enjoying the conversation about baby animals. She did have a soft side, after all. "Are you havin' any problems feedin' them? I mean, do you have enough feed for all them critters?"

"Oh my, they'll be fine," sighed Fluttershy in her soft little voice. "Spike promised he'd look after Angel Bunny and the baby rabbits while I was gone. They'll be fine. I hope." Her brow creased as a worried frown crept across her face.

"You're frettin' over things you ain't got no need to be frettin' over. Spike's in good with animals and he'll be fine with them." The Earth pony put a hoof on her friend's shoulder gently. "Sometimes you worry too much, Shy."

Fluttershy sighed again. "I know. I just can't help it. I worry. I miss my animals."

"You'll see them again, I promise," Applejack smiled with warm reassurance. "We'll go home at the end of the day and this will just be another adventure under our belts, you'll see!"

The shy little Pegasus tried to smile. "I hope you're right, Applejack. I really hope you are right."

As she said that, the streaking form of Rainbow Dash shot past their chariot, leaving behind her tell tale chromatic wake. The tough flyer rolled on her back with ease and waved at the two ponies. AJ waved back enthusiastically. Fluttershy mouthed the word 'yay' which made the blue Pegasus start laughing at a memory of giving the shy mare cheering lessons once. As the only living pony capable of doing the sonic Rainboom, Dash was already becoming something of a living legend among the flying enthusiasts in Equestria.

Brash, boastful, and fully capable of backing up her words with action, Rainbow Dash could best be described as the tip of the spear for the Mare Six. If there was a fight, she would be more than happy to put a pony in their place. None could match her fighting spirit, save for Applejack, and none could come close to her desire to always win at whatever she did. She was as competitive as any top notch athlete and very few ponies could come close to matching her flying skills. Rainbow Dash was the ultimate tomcolt, though she did have a soft side she rarely displayed. She had unofficially adopted a filly name Scootaloo as her little sister and enjoyed the hero worship. In return, she had started teaching Scootaloo about how to be the best flyer in Equestria (or at least second best in Dash's opinion). In all of this, she was also a bit lazy, loved pulling pranks, and absolutely hated losing at anything. Despite her faults, Rainbow Dash was as loyal a friend as one could find and was not a pony to let them down. Her flanks bore a white cloud with a rainbow thunderbolt shooting out from beneath it. She wore around her neck a red thunderbolt depicting the Element of Harmony loyalty.

She was supposed to be on point, leading the way, but Rainbow Dash soon found leading the way to be boring as a thousand Pegasi in formation behind her tended to fly too slow, even if they were supposed to be a quick strike unit. Still, they had an idea where they were going. She had pointed on a map several times to the captain where she had been the night before. At least it was nice to be outside and on wing. Even though the clouds were thickening around them, there would be a break in the sky as Celestia did not want to the region they were flying to peppered with rain. Light cloud cover would be there and nothing else but sunshine towards evening.

Dash rose up into the air, climbing rapidly with quick and powerful wings trokes. Once she had reached a certain altitude, she paused and looked down at the world. Equestria sprawled around her, the splash of summer colors painting the earth in greens. Sunlight glinted off the armor of Princess Celestia's guard, the formation a large wedge formed around her Royal Highness with a couple of platoons bringing up the rear.

"That is so awesome," she breathed as the spectacle moved beneath her.

Several hourse later, with the sun indicating noon the army stopped for a short rest. A lunch of military rations were served and Celestia ate the same food her troops were having, choosing to dine with a random group of enlisted Unicorns. She asked them about their families, where they were from, showing genuine interest in her subjects. Eagerly Twilight Sparkle came along at the insistance of the princess.

"How is the food?" she asked at one point as a tin plate was respectfully set before her by one of the low ranking soldiers. Suspiciously she eyed a biscuit setting on top of her food and levitated it with her magic until it was before her face.

"Beggin' yer pardon, ma'am," growled a grizzled Unicorn sergeant without batting an eye. "But we've been complainin' about the hard tack they been passin' off as food. Tastes like hard buffalo chips if ya ask me, ma'am." He was as polite as his humble upbringing allowed him to be.

Twilight bit into hers as soon as her plate was given to her, curious as to what the old soldier meant. "It can't be that bad," she told him right before she took a bite.

The sergeant grunted, unruffled. "If you say so, princess." He waited with a bored, expectant expression.

Twilight bit down on the hard tack. Rather, she tried to. Her teeth hit something she could only describe as crumbling concrete. The thing was tasteless and sucked all the moisture from her mouth. Bravely she finished her bite, chewing slowly with exaggerated jaw movement. She tried to smile through the tears, but the biscuit was simply too horrible.

Celestia, without so much as a blink as she stared at Twilight, slowly placed her biscuit back on top of her plate and politely pushed it away. "I see what you mean," she said with an absolute straight face. "Could someone please get the princess a glass of water?"

One was pressed into Twilight's hooves. It could not get to her lips fast enough. The hard tack was that awful. She had never tasted anything passing off as food leave her mouth preferring an endless stream of hot sauce poured in it than this biscuit. She gulped down a large swallow and was finally able to say something. "That's not food!" she rasped. "It's evil!" She threw the biscuit on her plate with disgust. "Evil!" she insisted as she gave it an angry glare.

The soldiers began to laugh. Celestia was stifling a giggle. "I tried to tell ya, princess," said the sergeant without any humor. "They've been feeding this manure to us for the past month. We've tried to complain, but we've been gettin' the same canned answer."

Celestia grew serious. "What sort of canned answer?"

"Well, princess," started the veteran. "The lieutenant -he's a good colt, mind you- tried to look into the deal with them field rations we been gettin'. He told us the provision officer had to recieve food from one of those distributors we got on military contract and we had to eat what they gave us so long as they fit them nutritional minimum requirements. Ain't nobody bothered to look into it, princess. The mess hall at the guard house is good, but them field rations, well. You seen fer yerself that problem."

"Is that so?" Celestia glanced at Twilight and motioned to the sergeant. "My student, listen well when a good soldier tells you something they feel is wrong." Her attention went back to the sergeant. "I will certainly look into this, sergeant. I thank you for bringing this to me. No soldier will be forced to eat terrible fare under my rule."

"Quality control?" suggested Twilight Sparkle weakly.

"Indeed." Celestia inclined her horn in thanks to the soldier.

"Why, thankee, princess. I really don't want to impose on your ears for somethin' that's kinda beneath yer station." The veteran nodded, never having once changed his serious demeanor. Not once did he crack a smile nor give any indication of his personal feelings. His military bearing was impeccable.

"It will be dealt with, I promise you." She turned and went off to seek the Captain of the Guard who was meeting with his officers. Her buscuit rose and followed her.

Twilight Sparkle mumbled her thanks to the soldiers and turned to follow. As she did so, she could have sworn the sergeant give her the briefest of smiles and a sly wink. "You'll make a grand princess, princess," he said in a slightly gentler tone. When the young Alicorn paused to regard him, he gave her a nod, turned smartly, and went to bark at somepony.

Lunch went uneaten for her.

Trotting after Celestia, she found the round-eyed captain apologizing profusely to Princess Celestia. The offending biscuit hovered in the air between them, bouncing with every quiet and stern word she spoke. "Have you tasted this?" she asked him archly.

"No, Highness," he stammered. "I must admit I have not."

"Do you not eat what your soldiers eat?" She edge closer to him, not raising her voice, but applying more of a hardness to her tone. The captain shook his head. "Do you know who supplies my guard with their food?" Her eyes feel upon bowls of fresh fruit set on a field table where the officers were dining separated from their men.

"Not off the top of my head, Princess Celestia," he replied. "I can find out for you as soon as possible."

"Do that. I want the quality of food for my soldiers to be the same in the field as it is at home. I want to know why their food is sub par and who thought it would be a grand idea to feed them," she paused, settling on using the sergeant's term. "Buffalo chips."

The captain winced. "At once, your Highness! It will have to wait until we get home before I can start investigating the matter."

"Make it your first priority, captain," she said briskly, every bit the unquestioned ruler of Equestria. "Unhappy soldiers make for poor fighters. Each one of them volunteered for their duties and you know that as well as I. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes ma'am!"

She nodded, satisfied the matter would be settled in proper time. "Good. Now you and your officers are going to eat what your ponies eat. There is no excuse for this oversight and this shall be the punishment I deem appropriate for now. Distribute your fruit among your lowest ranking colts. Preferably the recruits. That will be all, captain."

Indeed she was furious with the captain. She was furious with the lack of consideration for those who chose a life of defending Equestria. Even if times were peaceful, this still did not mean corners should have been cut. Somepony somewhere had decided to take certain liberties with the military budget, that was for certain. That was for another time. Twilight remained silent and watched. She was definitely doing to need to pay attention if she hoped to pick up on little things like this.

She caught herself. "Not so little when you think about it," she murmured to herself.

Celestia's face appeared next to hers. "No, it isn't, my student," she said gently. "Go to your friends. We'll leaving within the hour."

When they were on the move, word had spread among the soldiers. More than a few bore grins beneath their helmets. More than a few officers uttered choice oaths to the supplier, whoever it was. Those who did know who it was kept their mouths shut.

The sun began to set, they sky turning towards the inevitable dusk. Onward the force traveled, their goal at last in site. Ahead the mountains began to loom like jagged teeth awaiting their prey.

"I can feel him," Celestia told Twilight Sparkle. "Flamespyre awaits. Can you feel him, Twilight? Can you feel his dark power? Search out with your magic."

Twilight did as she was told, focusing her magic to feel for other magic. What she encountered was subtle, taunting, and sickening. It was a sweet poison coating a blackness of being. "Such evil," she said as she drew in a sharp breath, her eyes wide.

Rainbow Dash darted into her view, frantic as she pointed her hoof in the direction of their as of yet unseen foe. "Storm!" she cried. "Look over the mountains, Twi! It's a big one!"

Come. Let us meet, Alicorns to dragon.

Twilight looked sharply at Celestia. The Princess of the Sun narrowed her eyes. "I heard it. He's using his magic to speak to you and I. No other pony can hear him." She called for a halt. The units one by one did so as the orders were echoed across the sky.

You brought an army! I am touched you feel I am as great a threat as you should rightly believe. However, my son shall be enough to deal with them. You two are what I am interested in.

The storm broiled over them with unnatural speed, growing larger and larger. Lightning flashed across the sky, followed by the rumbling of thunder. A wall of wind struck with gale force. All the fliers had to struggle to maintain their position. Before the Unicorns could put up their shields, several chariots were struck and sent tumbling to the earth trailing smoke and pieces after them. Their passengers were quickly snatched up by the Pegasi who were pulling them.

"Twi!" Rainbow Dash yelled over the howling wind. "I swear it wasn't like this last time I was here! It was so much better than this!" She was fighting to maintain herself and seemed to be having an easier time than the soldiers.

In front of the line appeared a red dragon with blazing golden eyes. He was not a large dragon, perhaps four or five times larger than Celestia.

"It's the jerk!" Rainbow Dash yelled. "He doesn't look right!"

"THE ALICORNS MAY PASS!" cried Scarheart to the host gathered before him. His voice boomed louder than the thunder. "ALL ELSE MUST WAIT HERE OR FACE ME!" There was an echo of doom.

Rainbow Dash felt her jaw drop. This was not the same dragon who had greeted her in a weird and disturbingly friendly way two days ago. This was not the same creature who had joyfully waved at her, then ponynapped her to show his father excitedly. No, this Scarheart was clearly different. The innocence was gone. She could not understand it.

She turned to say something to the two princesses. Her eyes instead found an empty chariot. "Twilight!" she called. "Princess!"

The dragon Scarheart laughed at her. A thousand pair of eyes searched him. Most scorned how such a small dragon could dare to laugh at them. The blue Pegasus zipped over to the hovering dragon, angry at him and terrified to think of what might have happened to the two princesses.

"What have you done with Twilight and Celestia!" she demanded.

"Rainbow Dash," announced the dragon. "We meet again. Do not worry about your Alicorns. My father does not wish to fight them at this time. He seeks a private audience and both Celestia and Twilight Sparkle have accepted. I will say he was surprised only two Alicorns showed up."

"What's so different about you?" demanded Dash.

The dragon sniffed. "My father sought to remove my weakness from me. I'm surprised you noticed. You never struck me to be the sort to think before acting. Bravo, Rainbow Dash. Bravo."

"So what now?" she asked him, feeling extremely hostile. Her face suggested she was itching to do things the hard way.

"Father and the Alicorns shall have a private discussion. We can wait." The dragon's eyes narrowed. "Or we can fight."