• Published 7th Sep 2013
  • 16,608 Views, 1,249 Comments

Courage - scion



Evil has come to the Everfree and Ponyville. The Elements must stand against it... but they will not be alone. The mysterious blue-eyed wolf will aid-or hamper- their efforts to bring harmony back to Equestria.

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Tartarus

There is a saying in Equestria: All roads lead to Tartarus.

This saying has fallen out of common use in Equestrian society. Modern equestrian sociologists attribute this to a lack of applicability in modern equestrian life. Taken literally, the saying is not very accurate. These days, with cities such as Manehatten and Fillydelphia, it is quite clear that all roads do NOT lead to the very tangible, very real destination of Tartarus. Taken metaphorically, the saying seems to mean that all life paths lead to damnation, a particularly dark line of thought not reflected in the general psyche of the equestrian public.

At the end of the day, sociologists shrug and move on, attributing its existence and origin to misinformed ponies during the days of Discord, or even during the Tribal era.

In truth, the saying comes from even earlier than the Tribal era. When the Sun and Moon defeated the demons that roamed the planet in their final stages of puberty, they could not fully destroy them. Tirek, Mephasm, Kolsheim the Corruptor- they and their myriad brethren could not be allowed to roam the surface of the world. Unfortunately, it was also physically impossible to kill them; their power was too great, too fundamental, for even the Gods to destroy. So the Gods were forced to look into alternatives.

In the end, they created Tartarus, a prison. Held in check by the most powerful of enchantments, and more importantly, several layers of unique magic-damping stone and rock, guarded by the toughest, most loyal guardian they could find, Tartarus would house every known evil from the days of fire and pillage. But the Gods had to get them in, first. With no others to help them, they had to do it themselves.

Years passed, decades passed, as the Gods systematically defeated their foes. Without alternative methods of transportation, the Gods dragged their defeated enemies to Tartarus behind them. Over the years these formed pathways, pathways that would be used by the young and impressionable ponies of the land as a matter of convenient transportation between burgeoning communities.

But of course, in those early days, travel down the road far enough… and you would find yourself at Tartarus, prison of all evil.

Hence the origin of the saying, deeply enough ingrained into the pony psyche that even after millennia, the phrase is still used as a warning.

After successfully locking up the evil that had dominated those early days, the Gods went about ensuring that their prison was as secure as possible. More enchantments. More defenses. More safety from the evil that was locked inside. Not all roads that led to the pit of Tartarus could not be touched, now that they were in use by the communities of mortal ponies, but what about the pathways through the mountains? The caverns and connecting passageways in the underground depths of the land, that ran close to Tartarus?

Those could be closed.

Gates, possessed of many of the same defensive enchantments as Tartarus itself, buried deep within the rocky caverns of the earth, was their answer. These gates would serve as a buffer between the world of ponies, and the world of evil. They would contain any prisoners that escaped through ways other than through the entrances guarded by Cerberus. They would contain any creatures twisted by the evil of the prison.

One must be thorough when dealing with matters such as these. After all, evil never dies...

---

The only sounds that reached Spike's draconian ears were the creaking of the lantern that the wolf carried and the occasional clink of the chain that was inexplicably attached to its foreleg. Something he hadn't noticed until then; it was too late to back out now, though.

Spike had never seen anything this dark before. Nights were usually bright and starry, and there was usually the Moon shining down its silvery rays as well. Even when the curtains had been closed, he had a nightlight in the bathroom that would leak light. This.... this was something else.

The lantern was the only source, a lone oasis of soft golden light in the never ending sea of darkness around them. Initially, there had been walls and even a ceiling caught in the glow, casting shadows that danced as Spike and the wolf moved ever forwards. Now, though, the walls had been swallowed by darkness and the ceiling was lost above their heads. Still the wolf forged ahead, as though it had a map.

Spike forced his fears back. He had never been really afraid of the dark, but the utter silence and black that surrounded him was more than a little unnerving. He could just imagine it now, creatures of darkness and teeth and sharp claws simply appearing from nowhere before making him their new chew toy...

Spike tightened his grip on the tools he had been given. The feeling of the sword in one claw and shield in the other gave him courage. The thought of finding Rarity and rescuing her put a fire in his chest and gave his little arms strength. He would do anything for her. Even brave the darkness and silence of… wherever they were.

The wolf stopped beneath him; Spike shifted uncomfortably on its back. He watched as the wolf raised its head and pricked its ears, wet black nose twitching as it sniffed at the air.

A rumble came from between his legs; it came out of the wolf as a feral growl as the wolf's ears pinned back. Spike saw the hackles rising on the wolf's neck.

Uh oh.

Before him, a pair of red glowing eyes appeared in the inky darkness. Followed by another pair. And another.

Spike gulped and raised his sword and shield as the wolf set the lantern down, growling all the while.

---

Spot, smallest of the pack leader trio, cowered behind a gemcart and covered his eyes as dogs all around him were taken out by the whirlwind of color and ponies around him.

He didn't want this, he had never wanted this. He wanted the pups- his pup, who he loved more than anything in the world- to be safe. He wanted the pack to prosper. He wanted gems to bury and food in his belly.

Everything had gone wrong since the darkness. The badness. The evil. His pack was prospering, true, but so many other things were... wrong. All the guard dogs smelled wrong, and even though they followed him, Spot could tell they were only doing so on Rover's command. They were different since he had blessed them. Worst of all, his mate was now near Quarray Eels; he had seen far too many dogs get ripped apart by the monsters to believe they were tamed, and now they were guarding his mate and pup. It made him very, very nervous.

Then there were the ponies. After the incident with the Whiny One, Spot wanted nothing to do with the ponies. They had lost many gems, to say nothing of the pain and suffering they had undergone while that pony had been there. Ponies were nothing but trouble, as they were proving quite thoroughly now.

"Hey, I recognize you!"

Spot yelped as he was yanked from his hiding spot and roughly thrust into the center of the room by a rainbow-haired pony. He stumbled, his foot hitting the blackened armor that the guards blessed by Rover wore. The guard was out cold. As were the rest, down in piles all around him.

"GET UP!" The rainbow pony screamed in his ear. Spot obeyed immediately.

The ponies' friends were gathering. A purple one with a horn; one orange pony with a hat; a yellow pony with wings; a pink pony that didn't seem to be able to stand still. Rainbow pony suddenly came into his vision.

"WHERE IS SHE!?" rainbow pony screamed into his face.

Spot curled into a ball and began shivering. Everything was going wrong. Why, why was everything going wrong for him?

"Rainbow Dash! No!" came a voice. He recognized it from last time- it was the voice of the purple magic-pony.

"Why the BUCK not, Twi! They have Rarity, and I bet HE knows where it is! So he's going to tell us, even if I have to beat it out of him!" the rainbow one screamed back.

"Rainbow... screaming at me and beating this poor diamond dog won't help Rarity," the purple one said quietly.

The rainbow one almost screamed again, but cut herself off. She turned and blasted away, leaving a rainbow trail in her wake. For a moment, Spot thought he saw tiny glistening tears dripping from her eyes. The purple one sighed.

"Fluttershy, could you go talk to Rainbow?"

The yellow pegasus nodded and trotted off, leaving Spot alone with the purple and pink and orange ponies.

"Soooo... what are we going to do now, Twilight?"

The purple one shook the frown off of her face. Her eyes narrowed on Spot.

"Now we are going to find out where Rarity is, Pinkie."

The pink one started hopping up and down excitedly.

"Oh! Oh! We can do the 'Good Cop, Bad Cop' routine, you can be the good cop and I can be the bad cop!"

The pink one suddenly had a police officer cap on and a stick of some sort, which she thumped threateningly against one hoof with a scowl on her face. The purple one and hat pony stared at her.

"No, Pinkie-"

"Oh, you wanna be the bad cop? Okay! Here, you'll need this and this, and ooohhh, this too..."

Spot buried his face in his paws. He needed to get him and his family out. He needed to get away from all the badness that was in the air. He needed to get away from the ponies-

Ponies.

A thought struck Spot. A terrifying, wonderful thought. One that may well mean his survival, and that of his pack... rather, what remained of it that was not tainted by the badness. It was crazy. It was stupid.

He did it anyways.

Spot dropped to his knees and begged.

"Please! You must save us!" he implored, paws outstretched towards the purple one.

The three ponies stared back at him with wide eyes.

“Uh.. come again?” the orange one asked.

“Pleeaaasee, you must help us! Pack leader has gone crazy! Made all guard dogs crazy, has Quarray Eels guarding females and pups, ordered us to get ponies for gems! You must stop him!” Spot begged, dropping to the floor in a submissive position.

“Wowsers. Didn’t see that coming,” came the high-pitched voice of the pink one.

“Wait. Waitwaitwaitwaitwait. What happened to the, uh, pack leader?” the purple one asked.

“The darkness,” Spot said. “When the darkness passed, Rover was different. Smelled bad, just like darkness. He used magic! Used magic to bless guard dogs. Used magic to tame Quarray Eels!”

“Ain’t no way this is jus’ some coincidence, Twi,” the orange one said. “That darn twilight-”

“Shadow!” the purple one interrupted. The orange one rolled her eyes under her hat.

“Fine, that darn SHADOW was all ‘round the Everfree. Makes sense t’ me that the Diamond Dogs here got hit by it too.”

“But we didn’t have anyone get… I dunno, corrupted like their pack leader was,” the purple one replied.

“Maybe it just affects dogs different,” the orange one shrugged.

“Will you help?” Spot asked in the contemplative silence that followed.

“As long as you help us find Rarity,” came the sing-song voice of the pink one. Spot turned that over in his head for a few moments before he realized what the pink pony meant.

“Yes! Yes!” he nodded vigorously. “Will help find Whiny One if you get females and pups to safety!”

“Wait, you want us to-”

“Deal!” the pink one cut off, holding out a hoof to shake. Spot shook rapidly, sealing the deal and the fate of his pack. He would rest easier knowing the females and pups were safe, even if that meant the pack would be disbanded.

Ponies were trouble… but maybe he needed a little trouble on his side.

"Alright, dog, you going to tell us where Rarity is?" came the voice of the rainbow pony as she trotted over, the yellow one behind her. The rainbow one's eyes were red and very wet.

"No! Show you where Rar-it-y is! Come, this way!"

Spot took off at a lope. Through two tunnels and a cavern he went, feeling the thunder of pony hooves behind him, before he slowed and stood again. Before them was a wrought-iron gate, sealing off access to the next cavern. On the other side, two dogs with glowing eyes stood vigil.

“Open gate!” Spot commanded.

“Boss said no opening gates for anydog until ponies long gone,” the guard said. Spot’s hopes sank.

“Ponies gone!” he insisted.

A clattering of hooves as the ponies came into view gave lie to that statement.

“No open gates until ponies are gone,” the guard dog reiterated, leveling his spear.

“HEY! You think some silly gate’s going to hold us back? C’mon, Twilight, show ‘em what you can do!” the rainbow one challenged.

Spot turned as well. He knew the horned ponies could use magic. Maybe the ponies could get the gate open?

The purple one’s horn lit in a pinkish glow as the same glow enveloped the gate. Spot looked on eagerly.

Nothing happened.

He could hear the purple pony grunting as she worked, but the gate remained closed. Finally, the glow faded, and the purple pony gasped for breath, defeated.

“Well, if magic can’t open this door, maybe a good ol’ fashioned buckin’ will do the job!” the orange one said.

In a flurry of motion, the orange one burst into a gallop. Time seemed to slow as the pony planted her two front hooves and swung around, lining up with the gate lock. Spot gulped- he knew the power in those hooves, having watched his pack be taken apart by them. Hoof met iron with a resounding CLANG.

The orange pony fell to the ground, whinnying in pain, unable to stand on her rear legs. The gate was unharmed.

“APPLEJACK!” the rainbow pony cried out. The rainbow pony flew to the orange pony's side, supporting her as the orange one limped back to the group. The ponies crowded around their wounded friend.

“Omph, give me a minute and I’ll be fine,” the orange pony insisted over their concerned questions. "Twi, whatever magic hocus-pocus they got on that gate, I think it's the same as what happened to us during the twilight."

"Shadow!"

"Pack leader enchanted doors with new magic," Spot told them heavily. "All gates to inner chambers. Can only be opened from other side."

"There's gotta be another way!" the rainbow one snarled. Spot cringed, if he hadn't seen the pony talking he could have sworn she was a dog.

"All other ways have same gates," he said softly. "No way around."

"You will not pass," the guard dog on the other side told them.

"We'll see about that," the purple one said, eyes narrowing. "I might be able to unravel the spells they placed on the gate. Watch my back, girls. This is going to be a while."

---

The sword glinted in the candlelight, the polished surface shining as it sang through the air. The arc ended as it hit a skeletal pony in the back. The force behind the blow cut clean through the spine, causing the undead pony to fall apart into nothing more than a pile of bones.

Spike drew the sword back, readying it for another blow. Beneath him, the wolf lunged with a terrifying growl at very large black spider. Claws dug into the spider as the wolf latched onto its back, growling and biting and snarling. For his part, Spike thrust his sword downwards, attempting to break through the hard chitin of the warped monster.

One thrust... two thrusts... the spider gave a surprisingly loud hiss and shook itself violently, throwing them off. Spike held on tight with his legs and to the wolf's shaggy mane with his shield arm as the world tilted, but the wolf was surprisingly capable- it landed on its feet, splay legged and ready for whatever the world could throw at it.

The spider hissed and screeched as it slunk back into the darkness, injured and unwilling to fight any longer. Around them, the undead ponies slunk back into the darkness with the sound of bone upon stone, their red eyes glowing faintly in the utter black that consumed their skeletal bodies.

Spike let out the breath he had been holding as the wolf rose from its crouched position. The skeleton ponies were unnerving, but they never attacked on their own. At least, not yet.

The wolf grabbed the untouched lantern it had set down and headed off at a light trot. The wolf never wavered in his path, never seemed disturbed by whatever monstrosities they faced, and never stopped. Whenever the monsters stopped attacking, as they had now several times, the wolf would just pick up the lantern and keep moving.

As for Spike, he rolled his aching arms. He had never handled a sword and shield before, and despite being a dragon, his strength was beginning to fade. Still, he held himself ready for the next attack, his eyes scanning over the red eyes that stared at them, trying to anticipate their next move.

It was strange, really. He should be scared witless. He had been, at first, when the eyes had first appeared and a very large, very demonic timberwolf had attacked them. He'd practically frozen up, the only reason he hadn't fallen off or lost the sword and shield had been the sheer death grip he found himself exerting on the implements and the wolf. The wolf had defeated that first attack without his help. In the end, Spike had found himself hyperventilating as the undead ponies had slunk back into the dark, his heart racing fast and his breaths short, but otherwise completely unharmed.

The wolf just picked up the lantern and continued on like nothing had ever happened, despite the red glowing eyes that they could now see around them.

The second time they were attacked, Spike found it within himself to overcome his paralysis and strike back, a feeble and half-hearted swing at an undead pony that was trying to come at them from his sword side. His confidence soared when the skeleton fell apart under the pathetic blow. So he swung at another. And another. And another. And suddenly, things didn't seem so scary anymore. Not even when a vaguely bear-like creature swatted his shield hard enough to unseat him from the wolf; Spike just picked himself up off the ground and fought his way back into the circle of light cast by the lantern just in time to slam his shield down on the bear-thing's foot as it was distracted by the wolf.

The bear-thing had limped off into the dark, growling and roaring but not daring to come anywhere near the light again. Spike puffed up his chest in pride. His first real foe, defeated!

They had continued on. They had braved more attacks, yet nothing could stop the black wolf or his armed dragon mount as they continued on through the darkness.

Until something barred their way.

A gate.

Spike's smile widened as the flickering lantern light revealed the iron crossbars of a portcullis gate, with two bowls full of wood on this side, and another two on the far side. Just like the one they had come through earlier!

He needed no encouragement in using his fire breath to light the wood.

"Ah!"

Spike let out an involuntary exclamation as the fire spilled out from the bowls. The wolf scrabbled back, teeth bared and ears low as both pairs of eyes darted back and forth in confusion.

The fire spilled over and curled around them in a semi circle, cutting off any retreat back into the darkness. For a moment, Spike saw the bones of the undead ponies that had been following them, but they retreated back into the darkness. The red-glowing eyes did not return.

He didn't have time to cheer. Before him, two forms were beginning to take shape, one drawn from the fire of the ring around them, one drawn from the darkness that could not be fully chased away. Within moments, the balls morphed into a familiar form- a pair of ponies. One made of pure fire, the other made of sparkling darkness, the pair of ethereal earth ponies turned to look at the wolf and the young dragon.

"Be ye warned," the dark one said, "If thou art pure of heart and untouched by evil, thou mayest pass."

"But if evil has taken root in thy heart, thou shalt be cleansed in fire, and Our gate shall never open to thee," the fire one finished.

"Step forward and be judged, or step back and leave in peace," the phantom ponies intoned together.

There was no hesitation on the part of the wolf. Even as Spike pondered his options, it set the now superfluous lantern on the ground to the side and took a firm step forward.

"Um, don't you think we should-" he said a nervously.

"Thou hast chosen to be judged," the fire pony said, bowing its head.

Spike gulped and grasped the sword and shield a little tighter.

The two ponies looked at each other. Then, without a word, there were no more ponies. A formless black cloud, sparkling as though lit by fireflies, and a fiery yellow ball were in front of the pair.

Faster than either dragon or wolf could respond, they moved. They blasted towards the pair... and disappeared inside them.

Spike felt an icy chill settle upon his brain as the dark cloud speared his chest. Vaguely, he knew that he had not been harmed, that his scales were fine, yet the cloud had passed completely through them as though they were paper. He felt the chill on his spine.... in his heart, beating quickly... in his head. He caught glimpses of his own memories- Twilight, towering over him when he was younger, riding on her back, writing a checklist as she dictated to him- he shut his eyes tight and brought his claws to his skull as his brain throbbed even as the icy sensation moved to his chest.

Then it was gone. In its place, was fire.

It was a roaring, raging inferno. His very blood felt as though it was on fire, but it wasn't painful. No, it was energizing. Starting from his breast, the liquid inferno spread with every beat of his heart. It spread through his limbs, burning away the fatigue of his arms, leaving them feeling stronger than ever before. Finally, it reached his head. Spike was only vaguely aware that he was roaring as loud as a young dragon could, emerald flames licking from his maw as the fire within boiled out. Then the fire retreated, slowly, until it was only a flickering warmth in his chest, before disappearing completely.

Spike found himself on his hands and knees, breathing as though he had just sprinted the Running of the Leaves. His sword and shield were on the ground next to him; he had dropped them at some point. Beside him, he heard the heavy breathing of the wolf, perhaps the first time he had ever seen the wolf even slightly tired. He slowly straightened.

Before them were once again a pair of ponies, one made of fire, the other of darkness. They exchanged glances, then turned back to the pair of shell-shocked companions.

"Thy heart is pure and thy body is untainted by the evil that corrupts this place," the dark one told them. The fire pony nodded.

"You may pass," the fire one finished.

The two ponies bowed to them before vanishing as the portcullis gate behind them rose, creaking, out of their way.

Spike gave a sigh of relief. Finally, that was done. It took two tries to pick up the sword and shield, his body sluggish and unresponsive. He then stumbled over to the wolf, which was shaking its head vigorously. He gave the wolf a prod.

The feral growl startled Spike, causing him to jump back and ready his shield. The wolf bared its very sharp teeth at him in an intimidating display. He was all of a sudden reminded that, as much as he would like to think he understood this creature, it was still very much a wild animal. A wolf. A predator.

The wolf laid down as it relaxed, the ferocious canines which it had just showed him disappearing into a more neutral expression.

"Oohhhh-kay... no poking the big wolf," Spike said aloud to no one in particular. He clambered on to the wolf's back cautiously this time, not wishing to provoke the wolf anymore by accidentally pulling out its hair.

The wolf stood, and seemed slightly unsteady on its paws for a moment before clutching the lantern between its teeth and setting off through the open gate.

The fires conjured by the magic of the gate cast bright flickery light down the corridor as they passed under the wrought iron bars of the gate and continued on.

With a crash that startled them both, the gate slammed back into the stone and the fires went out as though snuffed. The gate was once again lost in the dark, lit only by the flickering candlelight of the lantern held in the mouth of the wolf.

The lantern creaked and the chain around the wolf's forepaw clinked as the pair continued down the dark corridor.

Author's Note:

WOOT! 100+ favorites, and by the end of today, likely more than 100 thumbs up without a single thumbs down. GO TEAM!

I imagine Spike riding the wolf like this, except done right.