• Published 7th Sep 2013
  • 16,614 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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Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters

When the Sun and the Moon were finished banishing all the evil to Tartarus, they decided to travel the world. Leaving behind the pony societies that were developing in the lands that would eventually become Equestria, they traveled far and wide, wandering and wondering at the world; grazing in the great plains, slaking their thirst in the mountain waters, exploring the vast deserts. When they reached an ocean, they would build a boat and continue their journey, visiting islands with white sand beaches and coconut palms along the way.

They traveled for centuries. By the time they returned from their journey, the Windigoes had been defeated by the rulers of the three pony nations and their advisers; the Sun and the Moon had not heard, as the nascent threat had been defeated before it could spread beyond the borders of what would become Equestria. They returned to curiosity; having been gone for so long, the ponies of the land had dismissed tales of a great white horned pegasus and her slightly smaller sister as nothing more than hearsay. The Sun and Moon too were curious, as they returned to their homes to find stone buildings, magic, homes, and towns, something which they too had never seen before.

Before events could truly settle, Chaos reared its mismatched head. His power was great, and when he was confronted by the Sun and Moon, they found themselves outmatched. There was only one place that was impervious to his touch; their home, the Everfree forest. The forest proved to be their salvation as well, when many years later the Elements were found in the Tree of Harmony, allowing the sisters to vanquish Chaos. Driven by nostalgia and the desire to guard the source of power that was capable of defeating Chaos, the sisters built a castle from which they could rule deep in the Everfree.

The Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters. It is said that the sisters themselves assisted in the building of the Castle, their home, first by helping to quarry the rocks, then to enchant them, and then by making... modifications. The Sun in particular was known to add hidden passageways, trap doors, and other small things that could be used to entertain through the use of practical joking, and many more were added later by her sister to try to take harmless revenge. On the outside, it was the largest building of its kind, build entirely from solid stone, expertly fitted together and intricately decorated. A beautiful and spacious garden with many fountains was hidden within expertly trimmed hedges, grasses, and flowers. Truly, there was no equal in all the world at the time.

For many centuries, it was the home of the two sisters and the seat of government in the rest of the land; lacking a leader after the chaotic times, all three tribes had folded in to the followers of the Sun and Moon as well. Despite the dangers of the Everfree, the castle flourished, though it took much effort to keep the surrounding forest at bay.

Until the Nightmare came.

The fight between the Sun and the Nightmare devastated the once proud home of the sisters. Walls were torn asunder, stone was split in their battle, and even the sky itself fought between light and dark. In the end, the Nightmare was banished, leaving behind only the Sun in the abandoned castle.

She too soon left, taking only those treasures closest to her heart. And so the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters was abandoned, left to the elements, and to the Everfree, where it continues to crumble to this day.

Until the Nightmare returned to her old haunting spot, intent upon making this place the heart of the world once more.

---

The Nightmare lay upon a cushion in the throne room, her eyes lidded as she meditated. Dream diving was not simple, but a unicorn of sufficient power and mindset could do it, after many, many years of study. Being invited, so to speak, made it easier; as did making oneself known, such that the dreamer could help the dream diver by adjusting their own dreams to compensate for their presence. To go, unseen and unnoticed, even just to observe? That was much more difficult. To make changes to the dream without the dreamer noticing? A skill that took generations to learn, much less master.

Nightmare Moon was a master. Centuries of experience were called upon to subtly manipulate the dreams of the six ponies in her castle. They were strong; the Elements would not pick mere shadows of their power to represent them. The changes had to be subtle, else they would realize they were dreaming and remember what had sent them there in the first place, and all the progress the Nightmare had made would be lost– dreams were as fleeting as they were potent at times, after all.

But she was making progress, with each and every one. Driving them apart. The Elements would never threaten her again, she would be sure of that.

Until she was interrupted by the opening of the doors to the throne room.

Nightmare Moon's eyes snapped open as a snarl came to her lips. Distractions were ill-afforded during this time. One tiny slip, and all the progress she had made would be lost. Even now, with her concentration broken, the dreams would evolve without her precise control, and would likely begin to 'mend' the changes that she had done.

"Who disturbes me?!" she snarled out, eyes flashing with anger. Nightmare Moon turned to find a pair of her guard stallions, bowing to her in supplication.

Her ego was soothed by the show, her anger lessened. "Why do you disturb me?"

"Mistress, an intruder has broken into the Castle," one guard stallion reported as he stood.

"Our guards are having trouble subduing him," the other reported, standing as well.

Her anger flared again.

"Who would dare?" she growled at them. "And can you not contain him, you foals?"

"A wolf," the one on the left tonelessly supplied.

"He has found all six of the Elemental stones," the other supplied. "Stallions who are defeated by him are left without your guiding grace, and have turned against you, Mistress."

A stab of fear lanced through Nightmare Moon. She smothered it with her anger before it could show, then glared at the two stallions before her.

"Subdue them, and bring the rebel guards to me. I will deal with them myself. I care not what happens to the wolf, so long as he is stopped," she ordered.

"By your command," both stallions intoned, before turning and leaving.

Nightmare Moon had miscalculated. It appeared that there was one left who could threaten her rule. Link had proven himself to be a formidable force, the Diamond Dog incident had proven that. There was no doubt in her mind that he was coming for her now.

Her guards were foals. They would not be able to stop the wolf, at best they would merely delay him. Her plans for the Elements would have to be put on hold. She would need time to prepare.

When Link came for her, she would be ready.

---

The wolf in question was well on his way to confronting her. He had managed to identify what he believed was the path to this ‘Nightmare Moon’, a room with a multi-armed pedestal in it and a very large, door that led to the throne room. There were, of course, many other passages in there, but this one was clearly the final door.

However, activation of the seals on the door would require not one but six different keys, all in slightly different shapes. Even more interesting, the six slots he had identified as the keyholes were scattered throughout the room, and from what Midna had examined, it looked like they had to be used simultaneously. Given that there weren’t six of him, he would need to find another solution.

Still, he was making progress. Tracking down the keys had been, for the most part, uncomplicated. Each smelled slightly different to his sensitive nose; apples, animals, books, the smell of rain before a storm, cupcakes, and clothing. Following the scent trails had been easy enough, though this castle was an absolute nightmare to navigate at times. There were a great many false doors, false floors, secret passageways, strange dark pony guards, animated suits of armor, and lots of crumbling stone. He had to admit that, while being a wolf was the preferable state in here (mostly because of low doorways), the ability to shift had come in handy several times already.

In the end, he had found the keys. He had, however, been no closer to getting into the throne room (the map had called this place the ‘Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters’. Who that was he still didn’t know, but he thought ‘labyrinth’ would have been a more accurate term), until Midna mentioned that the little dragon had said Nightmare Moon had taken ‘Twilight and the Elements’. He didn’t really know what the Elements were, but if Nightmare Moon had taken Twilight, he reasoned there was a good chance she had taken other ponies as well. From the smells and his own experience with Twilight’s friends, he guessed it would be the whole gang here, one for each of the keys. If all six were here, perhaps he could free them, and in turn they could help him.

He had nearly found one, he believed. Behind some magical traps and a few of those strange guard stallions he had been subduing, some pony was hidden in the center of what could only be considered a giant puzzle/maze. Huge blocks had been moved, with Midna’s help, and after a few false starts and wrong placements, he pushed the last block out of the way.

In the flickering torchlight, he saw a small room, and a single pony lying unconscious in it.

---

Twilight Sparkle sat alone in her library.

Spike was out, said something about wanting to be with Rarity as opposed to her now. That had been hurtful, but she had put on a brave face and let him go. She tried to be glad for him for chasing his dream of a true relationship with Rarity.

Her and Rarity’s relationship had soured afterwards, why Twilight did not know, but the fashionista was giving her the silent treatment for now. She was sure she would snap out of it soon enough; surely she couldn’t have done something too bad, right?

Fluttershy, too, did not want her around. It had been an accident, Twilight swore, but it was nevertheless a fact that Twilight had managed to single-hoofedly injure every single animal under her care at the time following a trip over misplaced birdseed bag and her attempts to help afterwards. Fluttershy had yelled- screamed!- at her, then had proceeded to give Twilight the sternest lecture Twilight had received since she had attempted to teleport without a proper spell matrix and end destination, finishing it off by telling her that she was no longer welcome to come to her cottage. All Twilight could hope was that all her animals would heal and that Fluttershy would forgive her eventually.

She hadn’t seen Rainbow Dash all day, nor Pinkie Pie, nor Applejack, but that was alright. They were all busy. Rainbow had cloud watch today, Pinkie had her job, and Applejack was out on the farm most of her time.

So for now, Twilight sat in her library with a book, but she couldn’t keep her mind from wandering. How could she patch up her relationship with Spike? Was it just a phase, hormones acting up upon his arrival into his soon-to-be teenage years? Or was it something else? Had she done something wrong? Why was Rarity acting so aloof? Had Twilight insulted her in some way? What could be so bad that she was unwilling–

Sensation, and therefore wakefulness, returned to Twilight rather quickly, thanks to the cold, unyielding stone which she was laying upon. This was NOT her bed. It was not soft, it was not supportive, and it was certainly not warm. Why was she here? Was this Rarity’s idea of revenge… no, that was a dream. A bad dream.

A whine caused her to open her eyes and look for the source. She quickly found it, in the form of a wolf.

"Link?" she asked in confusion. With some effort, she managed to get upright and get a good look at the situation.

It was dark, lit only by sparsely spaced torches. She was... on an alter? Link was looking at her with his blue eyes, torchlight flickering within the reflections. On his back, the little imp sat with what Twilight thought was an interested expression on her face. Beyond them was a rough-cut stone door, the only entrance to the boxy stone room that she was in.

Where was she? Why was she–

Twilight's eyes widened as she remembered how she had gone to sleep. Nightmare Moon was back! She shot to her hooves. Ohhhhh this was bad! Why, why was Luna doing this? What had happened? She needed to find her friends, she needed to get her tiara and the Element of Magic! They needed the Elements so they could defeat Nightmare Moon!

"Where am I?" she asked frantically. Her head swiveled as she attempted to discern something, anything, that might give her a clue as to where she was. But the walls were bare.

Link chuffed, drawing her attention back to him. He gestured to the stone door, then headed off at a moderate walk. On his back, the little imp gestured with a ‘come on’ before turning back to the flickering torchlight in front of them. Twilight thought for a moment, then trotted to catch up with them. Link was a good wolf; she could trust him.

As the passage opened up, Twilight carefully studied her surroundings in what little light was thrown off by the flickering torches. It was obvious that the blocks were not one piece, but why would someone place a bunch of blocks here instead of just building a wall–!

“Waaagh!”

She nearly face planted as her hard hooves slipped on the floor underneath her, and it took a few very ungraceful seconds to get herself righted again. This part of the floor was much slipperier than normal stone! A few ginger steps and she managed to make it to more normal stone. Why would anypony do something like this? What possible use could giant blocks and slick stone have in common? The question eluded her.

In front of her, Link had turned around, and was waiting patiently on a piece of slick stone, his claws digging in enough to hold him securely in place. When he saw her paying attention, he turned back and began walking again.

Lucky wolf, Twilight thought to herself, eying the slick floor warily. With what little technique she had learned from Winter Wrap up, she stepped onto the slick rock and began to follow him again. A short time and several face-plants later, she made it to the edge of what she now realized was a large puzzle. The slick rock (enchanted; one side effect of face-planting was that her horn was close enough to the floor to detect the small enchantment upon the surface) allowed one to move the large blocks very easily once one started it moving, as Link had demonstrated for her once.

Glad to be off the stone ice rink, Twilight followed him up a flight of stairs, and was greeted by a wide-open expanse dimly lit by torches. A quick look showed her the solved puzzle below her, where she had been imprisoned by Nightmare Moon.

But she still couldn’t recognize where she was.

Twilight trudged after Link and his little imp companion, through dimly lit corridors and crumbling stonework. The thought that she should know where she was nagged at her incessantly.

“Where are we?” she asked Link. She wasn’t expecting an answer, not without Fluttershy, but still, hearing herself talk made the corridor seem a little less creepy.

Link and the imp riding on his back both glanced back. Link whuffed before continuing forward.

Twilight blew a stray hair out of her eyes as she followed. She hadn’t been expecting an answer, true, but it was disappointing all the same. There was nothing about this place that could give her a hint! The walls were stone cut and overgrown with moss, blocks were missing from places in the walls at times, what little carpet she had seen was torn and moth-eaten, and the moonlight shining down on the remains of the tower and the jungle outside only indicated that it was night, and with Nightmare Moon running around it’s not like there was going to be a sunrise… wait a minute.

Twilight froze; there was only one abandoned, crumbling castle in a jungle in all of Equestria. Which meant that, barring being outside Equestria, she was at the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, deep in the heart of the Everfree.

A whine brought her back to her senses. Link stood in a doorway, and beyond, Twilight finally saw something familiar.

“Epona!” she exclaimed. The large horse turned to face her.

“Hello, Twilight,” she greeted rather contently.

“Epona, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be safe in Applejack’s barn?” Twilight questioned.

"Link needed me," she answered.

"Mmmhmmm," Twilight replied, not really surprised by the answer. She took a moment to look at the surroundings.

This room was completely enclosed, with a very solid looking ceiling that Epona just barely fit under. It would have no doubt been a very dark room had it not been for the multitude of torches that had been lit, filling the room with flickering artificial light. It was filled with debris, the remains of what she guessed had once been wooden chairs; by now, the only discernable feature of the room was a hoof-high circular platform in the center of the room.

"Epona, do you know where we are?"

"Underground."

Twilight facehooved. She should have seen that coming. "Epona, did you go into the Everfree to get here, or did you have to go somewhere else?"

"Oh. We went through the forest."

Right, Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters confirmed, Twilight thought to herself. Now, we just need to find all my friends, find the Elements, and defeat Nightmare Moon. Great.

"Link, we need to find my friends," Twilight called out. "I am certain Nightmare Moon has taken them too; is there any chance... Link?"

Link, it seemed, had disappeared when she wasn't looking.

"He went over there," Epona helpfully supplied with a nod of her head.

Twilight trotted over to the indicated door and found it ajar. Pushing it open, she found her way blocked by rubble and debris; the ceiling had caved at some point, exposing the corridor to the room above. But there was no sign of Link, despite the fact that there was no way he could have made the jump up to the next floor. The corridor above was lit, true, but the only thing that showed was a bull's eye like painting on the ceiling above.

Twilight sighed. Link had a habit of disappearing just when she wanted something from him. Still, his loyalty to Epona meant that Twilight had no doubt he would turn up again. From all the other times she had seen him, he would probably have a defeated Nightmare Moon in tow.

Twilight turned back around and headed back into the room to see if there was anything else she could do other than wait.