• Published 21st Jan 2014
  • 2,092 Views, 241 Comments

Pony Age: Catalyst - OmegaPony11


With the defeat of the Archdemon, Twilight Sparkle, new Arlessa of Amarethine, must assemble a new team of Grey Wardens to defeat the threat of the ponyspawn. Her friendships will be challenged by a cunning new foe while betrayal lurks around her.

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The Shadow Over Blackmarsh

Twilight shifted in her sleeping bag, trying to get comfortable in the dead of night. The sound of raindrops pattering against her tent prevented her sleep, so she stood up and walked on shaky hooves towards the water trough. While likely to get the scorn of the polite, pompous, pony populace, Twilight did not care where her water came from so long as she could drink. They did not have to hunker down on the side of the road while leading a caravan through dangerous territory like she did.

Chuckling at the thought, Twilight wondered how exactly she got to this point where she liked travelling the road again. Despite the rain, the mud, and the lack of warm meals and soft beds, Twilight felt more comfortable travelling than she did at Brightstone. Maybe after all the time trekking through Equestria with her friends, it simply felt natural to walk that same path again, in a figurative sense at least. With new friends at her side, Twilight looked forward to the coming dawn.

If she could get some sleep. A slight cramp in her lower body was nature’s way of telling Twilight that she needed to relieve herself. Pulling on a tunic, some trousers, and the belt that held her sword, Twilight sighed as she lit her horn with a small magelight. She made her way through the mud and rain to some bushes for a little privacy. Let no pony say that the Hero of Equestria did not have regular bodily functions as the common pony did.

Once the deed was done, Twilight trudged through the rain and mud back to her tent when a silhouette in the shadows caught her attention. Twilight tried to see who it was, but with the rain and the dark of night, could not tell who or what stood in the woods. She blinked and the shadow vanished. A part of her wanted to dismiss it as an animal. Her more inquisitive and perhaps paranoid self knew it had to be something else.

Twilight kept her magical grip on her sword tight as she approached the figure in the shadows. With a twitch of her head, the light on her horn grew larger until it flooded over the under brush. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw only one of her soldiers in the middle of the bushes, likely having the same need to be outside as she did. After realizing this, Twilight turned away with a furious blush on her face.

“I’m so sorry for disturbing you,” Twilight quickly said, averting her eyes with a hoof. “Please… uh… carry on!”

The soldier did not reply, which gave Twilight an odd feeling. Usually those under her command promptly replied with “Yes, my Lady,” or “Of course, Arlessa,” but this one did not reply. She heard the shifting of hooves as if he turned around and with caution as to not catch a glimpse of anything, Twilight peeked over her hoof. The soldier now faced her, only his body swayed as if he were drunk or stunned. His bloodshot eyes stared back at her, but also appearing vacant, as if without thought behind them. He held his sword tight in his mouth, prepared for battle.

“Urk…” The soldier garbled his words as foam flowed from his mouth, only to suddenly jerk his head, and therefore his sword, forward towards Twilight. She quickly drew Sophia and parried the blow, all the while take a few cautious steps backwards. Taking a breath, Twilight kept her blade steady but did not move to attack. Her eyes flashed briefly, allowing Twilight to see the world through its magic.

The soldier glowed with a red aura surrounding him, something an earth pony should not be capable of due to a lack of potent magic. Attached to the aura was something akin to a scarlet thread which led deeper into the woods towards the Blackmarsh. Twilight knew from the bloodshot eyes and the red aura that her soldier was under the control of powerful blood magic.

“The Shaper.” Twilight breathed out the name as the soldier tried to attack her again. This time, Twilight leapt out of the way and countered with a powerful, concussive blast aimed at the back of his head. She did not want to harm one of her men, but instead simply render him unconscious with a subduing blow. The invisible force shook the air, knocking away the rain as it fell until it collided with the back of the soldier’s helm. It flew off and landed in the mud, while the soldier groaned and fell over.

Twilight followed the red strand of blood magic back to the forest, watching the spellwork fade back to the source. However, she saw several more bands of sorcery reach into her encampment. One by one her soldiers exited their tents with bloodshot eyes and weapons drawn. Each of them faced Twilight with jerking motions and all of them moved with the same murderous intent that the Shaper directed them to.

“Lyra! Oghren! Sparky!” Twilight yelled, walking backwards as her soldiers turned against her. “I need help! It’s the Shaper!” As she cried out, she noticed, thankfully, that the blood magic of the Shaper did not seem to affect the other Wardens, though for what reason she did not know nor did she have the time to find out.

Sparky emerged first from under her tent, daggers and teeth bared in equal measure. She immediately charged forward with her deadly weapons ready to strike when Twilight shouted, “Be careful and don’t kill them! The Shaper is using magic to control them!”

“Magic? Control?” Sparky slid on the mud to a stop, though the soldiers paid her no heed. “How Sparky help Tilite? Sparky shadowhound! Sparky kill enemy!”

“Just—” Twilight ducked her head from a swipe at her face from one soldier while another aimed for her neck. She only barely managed to parry the attack in time. She replied with more concussive blasts. “Just try to knock them out! Put them to sleep!”

Sparky seemed to understand at this, sheathing her daggers and moving to assist Twilight. With incredible agility, Sparky ran across the muddy road and onto the back of a soldier. The soldier began to buck hard in an attempt to forcefully remove Sparky from her back, but the shadowhound held on with her paws holding on to the plates of the soldier’s armour.

Sparky wrapped on foreleg around the soldier’s neck while her other paw pressed against the snout. The soldier continued to kick hard, trying to wrench Sparky off her back. In time, the soldier’s movements slowed, until she swayed to and fro on her hooves. Putting her body weight behind her, Sparky brought down the soldier onto the mud, letting go as the earth pony collapsed onto the wet grass.

“Sometimes dog need sleep quick,” Sparky said with a smirk, “Easy way to make sleep. Great way to make shush.”

As Sparky made her way through the camp in an effort to knock out other soldiers, Twilight did the same. However, the Shaper directed all of Twilight’s soldiers and officers to focus solely on her. They all approached her with jerky movements and bloodshot eyes, even a few muttering her given title of “Silencer”. Each made their way to her, surrounding Twilight until there was no escape.

Twilight took up an appropriate battle stance. Her sword hung by her side inside her aura. She looked to the blade of the first soldier that attacked her and picked up the weapon for added defence. As each soldier attacked twice, even three at a time, Twilight moved with speed and accuracy to deflect their blows. Her sword sang in the cold night air as it clashed with the steel of soldiers bewitched by ponyspawn magic. When one thought to attack her from behind, Twilight followed in the motions of her friend Applejack and slammed both of her hooves right into the offending party’s snout.

However, Twilight knew the numbers game would catch up to her eventually. There were a hundred of them, and only a few Wardens. Twilight faced incredible odds before, but never against a force that she could use lethal force against. As Oghren and Lyra emerged from their own tents, clearly confused by the melee buy ready to stand by her side, Twilight took a chance to try to find a way to break the blood magic that controlled her soldiers.

“Lyra!” Twilight called for the battlemage while dodging a sword that would have sliced her face in two. “Do you know a spell that can help?”

Lyra raised her lyre-head staff high into the air. “One.”

While Oghren tackled soldiers and pummelled them into unconsciousness, Lyra began to channel her spell. The strings of the lyre began to pluck themselves, creating a melody that drowned out the constant fall of rain, hooves, and the clash of steel. A song began to play from the lyre and it took over the din of battle. Soldiers and wardens alike stopped and stared at Lyra, who attracted all the attention onto her. Twilight surmised it was some kind of spell that drew onlookers to Lyra for reasons other than a distraction but right now, Twilight wedged her focus from the battlemage and towards the red lines of magic the Shaper used to control her forces.

Twilight’s horn flared and soon her sword ignited into violet flame. The best way to save her soldiers was to literally sever the threads the Shaper used to control them. Her sword raised, Twilight looked to Lyra to see the entirety of her convoy host now lifted their weapons against her.

Lyra saw this as well. “Not the typical reaction,” Lyra uttered aloud, “usually they are raising something else. Could use a little help here!”

Oghren bounded towards Lyra shouting donkey obscenities as Twilight noticed he did not have his the Ponyspawn Punisher held tight in his mouth. Having forgone the axe, Oghren settled on his large helmet which he used to great effect as a battering ram. Strapped to both sides of his body were large wooden shields.

“Keep it up, greeny!” Oghren roared as he smashed his helmet against the snout of a soldier. “Just give the boss more time!”

Twilight gave silent thanks to her comrades as they made her task of severing the Shaper’s blood magic much easier. She guided her burning blade towards the bands, her senses all but ignoring the material plane as she focused solely on the magic. With each cut, a soldier fell unconscious from the strain that blood magic put on his or her body. While powerful, the spell the Shaper used proved to be fragile as a single swipe of Sophia cut the scarlet thread with ease.

The soldiers dropped as Twilight cut each cord, some of them looking up in utter confusion, while many more held a gaze of stark terror at being controlled by an ornlock blood mage. Soon Lyra’s songspell ended, though they still remained in the thrall of the music. As Twilight continued to slice the dark magic, the soldiers under the Shaper’s control stopped attacking altogether. Instead, they turned to face Twilight.

They all spoke in unison, which only unnerved Twilight, though she did not stop breaking the blood bonds. “Silencer,” her soldiers said, “You are known to the Mind, to all brothers. We know what you look like. We know the scent you give. We know your voice. We know the taste of your blood. We know the blood of the Song runs through your veins, but you are false. You are hated for silencing the Song, and for that, I will do everything in my vast power to destroy you.”

Twilight slowed her cutting of the blood magic as she looked into the bloodshot eyes of her soldiers. She wanted to converse with the Shaper in some foolhardy hope that maybe she could understand the ponyspawn’s motives. This seemed like a good enough opportunity.

“You are the most powerful of the ponyspawn ornlocks,” Twilight said, “with all the magic at your disposal and without the restrictions pony society places on such, you could do great things for the benefit of both our peoples. Why do you feel such hatred for ponies?”

“The Brothers exist to scourge the world,” the Shaper said through his many manipulated mouths, “I feel no need to explain anything to the focus of our hatred. You are our enemy, first and foremost. I have underestimated your power. I will not do so again. Come to the heart of the Blackmarsh. Come and face me in direct conflict.”

Twilight did not know how to respond a direct challenge from a ponyspawn. Typically they gave her no choice in battle, attacking with such savage ferocity that the only way to stop them was to kill them. Even now, though, Twilight wanted to give peace a chance. She needed to. The Howler and the Indomitable were brutes and perhaps not capable of striking deals. The Shaper showed that he was far more intelligence through his use of blood magic. Maybe she could start some kind of dialogue with him.

“I refuse your challenge,” Twilight replied, “there is no reason for any more of our peoples to have their blood spilt. If we could just meet your leader and finally converse...”

The collective assembly of pony puppets all gave a sigh of frustration. “The Indomitable showed me your weakness,” they all said, “even in his throes of death, he was still part of the Mind and the finest of my creations. If you will not choose to fight me, then I will force your hooves.”

The soldiers controlled by the Shaper picked up their weapons. Instead of attacking Twilight, they began to deal death blows to each other. Twilight took a step back in horror as those under her command hacked each other to death. As they died, the soldiers broke free of the Shaper’s control for a brief moment. They could only stare in disbelief for the brief moment they were in control, only to die moments later from the mortal wounds their fellows gave to them.

Her fellow Wardens moved quickly to try to stop the soldiers from killing each other. Oghren continued to knock ponies unconscious with his helmeted head while Sparky leapt around the muddy field. Her technique for putting ponies to sleep worked, but was far too slow.

Lyra attempted another song, but her magic felt jerky to Twilight. She saw in Lyra’s eyes a terror she never saw in another’s before, one that told volumes of the scene that unfolded in front of her. What the Shaper did this night shook Lyra to her core.

Tears fell from Twilight’s eyes, though they mixed with the rain that splashed against her cheeks. “Enough!” Twilight shouted to the sky. “Stop it! You want me, then I will come to the Blackmarsh! Just stop hurting these ponies!”

Something large shifted near Twilight which forced her to look away. She saw that the cart that held the body of Daisy move on its own, until it began to roll faster into the woods until it went out of sight. Twilight began to chase after it only to slip on the mud. The last of the Shaper’s controlled victims laughed.

“This one is important to you, Silencer,” he said, “then if you want the corpse so badly, you will come to the Blackmarsh and face me.”

Twilight saw through her magical senses the last of the Shaper’s blood magic cease and it released the hold on the soldier. He looked up utterly confused as to where he was, but when he saw the bodies of the slain around him, quickly turned his confusion to fear.

In frustration, Twilight pounded her hoof onto the muddy ground. Though she splashed mud on her face, Twilight did not care. More died from her incompetence in handling the ponyspawn threat. Lyra and Oghren were right. There was no reasoning with the ponyspawn. They only lived to cause pain and destruction to all ponykind. As much as Twilight put all her effort into peace, they put just that much and more to continue the bloodshed.

Twilight stood up as Lyra, Oghren, and Sparky approached her. Her eyes narrowed on the Blackmarsh that lay out before her. “Tell the soldiers to give the dead proper rites, but also to burn the bodies,” she said as she turned to her tent. “Get cleaned up and get ready to move out. We’re going after that bastard.”

Oghren smiled at this. “Heh-ha! Yeah, we’re going to stomp him good. Let me get my junk and I’ll be ready to cleave all kinds of heads.”

Sparky nodded in agreement. “Me get knives, make sharp. Kooro’sha be sorry for attack.”

The pair went back to their tents, leaving Twilight to enter her tent. Lyra followed her, though she did not have the familiar leery smile she usually had. Twilight did not mind that Lyra was in her tent or that fact that she removed her soiled clothes in front of another, especially one like Lyra, for all her focus was on putting on her armour and giving chase to the Shaper.

“Is there something you need, Lyra?” Twilight asked, “I told you to get ready for battle.”

“I…” Lyra paused. Twilight heard her take a deep breath despite the sound of several metal plates clanging against one another as she put on the Arcane Warrior’s armour. “I… I’m sorry I froze up. I could have saved more, but seeing that kind of blood magic wielded… it frightened me.”

Twilight sighed. “It’s no problem, Lyra. We all have fears, and seeing something so powerful would give even the most experienced templar knight pause. We know what we are facing now and can counter accordingly.”

Lyra opened her mouth to speak, only to become silent again. When Twilight adjusted her chestplate so that it was snug, she turned to face Lyra. Her impatience with Lyra mounted as evident with the way she spoke. “What is it? I don’t plan on keeping the Shaper waiting.”

“It’s nothing,” Lyra said at last, “I was just… caught off guard by the Shaper and his magic. I’ll go get ready to enter the Blackmarsh.”

Lyra left the tent allowing Twilight to focus on gearing up and getting ready for the battle ahead. She paused on briefly to wonder why Lyra came to see her, as she did so without a hint of lechery in her eyes. Twilight pushed that line of thinking out of her mind. She needed to have her attention solely on the Shaper.

She did not fear the dark magic of the Blackmarsh. She did not fear the foul sorcery of the Shaper. Twilight only knew one truth and that she would protect the ponies under her care by any means necessary. With all her fury, she would make it so.

To that end, the Shaper will die.

***

Iron-clad hooves drudged themselves through the mud and muck of the Blackmarsh, though discomfort was the last of Twilight’s worries in this gruesome place. The thick foliage of the marsh prevented the light of daybreak from reaching in, forcing the unicorns to use magelight to shine their way forward. They trudged on without a word, though everyone held their weapons tight and at the ready. The Shaper was close and he had the advantage of choosing the battlefield. An ambush, therefore, was likely.

Twilight focused her senses on finding the Shaper but to no avail. Either he mastered a way to hide his arcane presence or, more likely, the dense magical residue from the calamity that destroyed the region caused havoc to her abilities. Twilight never felt such a disturbing conglomerate of magical residue in one place, especially of a dark nature. Everything reeked, from the foul smelling bog water to the deformed plants to the very magic in the air. Twilight crunched up her snout. The smell of rotten cadavers hung heavy in the air.

Lyra did not seem much better. “This place is disgusting,” she said aloud, “I’m going to need a week long bath once we get to Amarethine City. And a barrel of wine so I can forget about this place.”

Twilight, for once, felt like agreeing with Lyra. Instead, she focused on the task at hand. She noticed the oppressive air almost as soon as she stepped into the Blackmarsh. Whatever tragedy happened here left a terrible scar not only in the land, but also in the Veil. The small barrier between the material world and the land of dreams and nightmares consisted of only the smallest of slivers here. Twilight shook her head, wondering why the Unicorn Tower never spared any mages to heal the land.

As much as she wanted to stop and repair the damage, her priority was solely on the Shaper and nothing else.

Oghren’s eyes darting back and forth as he scanned the dark woods that surrounded them. “This place is worse than any cave in the Dark Tunnels,” he said, “feel like we are trudging through the Deepest Depths without a light and a hope. Paragons preserve me, I’m getting the willies just by walking.”

“Stinky donkey no be scared,” Sparky added, “just walk and ready to fight. Find kooro’sha, kill it, and get back brave pony.”

The thought of the Shaper having possession of Daisy’s body boiled Twilight’s blood and with her incredibly potent magic within her, perhaps the expression was more literal than previously thought. However if her body felt warm on the inside, then to confuse matters, Twilight’s flesh bristled as if she walked through a blistering blizzard. A deep chill ran down her skin and around the follicles of her coat and mane.

Rage and hatred churned within her both as a flame and as frostbite-like burn against her body. She knew well that the demons of the Fade fed off strong emotions and that to them, she must appear like a feast. Twilight clenched her teeth and tried to focus on something, anything else so as to not disturb the Fade further.

This proved difficult as Lyra’s mindset blazed around her in a fiery aura.

Literally.

The harp at the top of Lyra’s staff ignited into flames the further they walked into the Blackmarsh. Twigs and dead leaves burned into cinders with every step Lyra made. Her eyes, normally bright yellow, now seemed to contain a fire within. Knowing how much rage Lyra pent up within herself, Twilight knew that the battlemage was like a powder keg; a single spark was all it took to set her off.

The Shaper led them into the perfect trap.

“Lyra, listen to me carefully,” Twilight said, “You have to keep calm. This place is going to do havoc on our emotions, so we need to steady ourselves. If we lose control, we could cause even more harm to the Veil.”

“I am calm,” Lyra shot back. “This is my calm face, get it? Now let’s just find the Shaper, kill him, and get the hell out of here before I decide that the best way to get things done is to simply torch this entire bog. Burn it all to the ground.”

Twilight suddenly heard her stomach growl as if it demanded food. Thoughts of apple pie, fresh cider, and delicious cakes danced in her head. She wanted to eat something right away, so she levitated a loaf of bread from her saddleback and quickly took a bite in hopes to satiate her hunger. As she ate, Twilight realized that the bread was gone quickly and now she wanted something else. She also realized that she never felt hunger like this before.

“This is all wrong,” Twilight said as she munched on her bread, yet she could not for the life of her figure out what. She was just too hungry. Oghren and Sparky merely looked at each other and then back to the pair on unicorns. Twilight shook her head as she ate another loaf of bread. “Don’t worry about me. I’m just hungry. Can’t fight on an empty stomach.”

Lyra stopped for a moment as she looked deeper into the forest. “I have an idea,” she said in a low voice, “Sparky, why don’t you and Oghren scout ahead. You two can cover more ground as Twilight and I focus on finding the Shaper through our magic.”

“Good idea,” Twilight replied, “With our magic working in tandem, we can search for the Shaper and his own arcane presence through the marsh and the Fade. Just be careful and come back if you see anything suspicious. Do not engage any ponyspawn no matter who or what they are.”

Oghren spat in defiance, but could say nothing. He only shook his head. “Yeah yeah,” he muttered, “I’ll go with the dog, but we’ll be right back! Can’t be divided with a crazy ponyspawn bastard running around, especially with some kind of mean magic in his horn.”

The pair trudged off into the deeper parts of the swamp with hooves and paws splashing through the mud and muck. Twilight’s horn flared to life as she prepared a spell that would help expand their search a hundred fold. With Lyra’s magic joining hers, they would find the Shaper so long as he did not know any spells that could mask his presence. While ornlocks were not known to have knowledge of such arcana, the Shaper proved himself a skilled sorcerer.

“Alright,” Twilight said as she prepared to properly cast her spell. “Now for this to work you need to join the spell at just the right time. Don’t force yourself in or else we’ll spend more time calibrating—“

Twilight never finished her sentence as a force pushed her down onto the mud. Groaning, Twilight looked up to see Lyra standing over her, her eyes half-lidded and her tongue licking her lips.

“This isn’t funny, Lyra,” Twilight all but growled. “We have more important things to worry about than your hormones!”

Lyra only smiled, inching her snout closer to Twilight’s. Despite the dank smells from the marsh, Twilight could smell the lilac oil Lyra used to clean her mane. Her heart beat fast as she felt Lyra’s warm, heavy breaths against her face. She wanted to struggle out of anger, but her body did not obey. As much as Lyra annoyed her, Twilight did not mind the position she was in now.

“You’re all covered in mud,” Lyra said in a sultry tone, “Won’t find a bath for a long while. That’s OK. I like getting dirty.”

“We… we don’t have time…” Twilight breathed out only to still when Lyra kissed her forehead, right under her horn. Twilight shivered from the touch of Lyra’s soft lips right on the sensitive part where flesh gave way to bone.

Inching her body closer to Twilight, Lyra hushed Twilight as she trailed kisses across down her commander’s face. “We have all the time in the world. I need this. You definitely need this. Forget being a Warden for a little while and just focus on being a mare. With needs. Needs only somepony like me can satisfy.”

Lyra then pressed her lips against Twilight’s, leaving the Commander of the Grey frozen from the shock of such an aggressive display. Yet still she could not struggle against Lyra; Twilight found that she enjoyed the kiss. Her inhibitions melted away as she reciprocated. Though she knew her method was clumsy due to this being her first kiss, Twilight figured that Lyra did not mind. After all, she did pursue her for so long. What were a few sloppy kisses from the inexperienced?

Twilight and Lyra continued to kiss on the muddy ground, with Twilight completely ignoring the fact that she could feel the marsh muck seep into her scalp. Lyra was right, perhaps. Maybe she did need to just forget about being a Warden for once. She loved to learn, but never thought she could get such knowledge of life like this. For once instead of swords or spells, Twilight learned the lessons of love, an area she sorely lacked knowledge in.

Oghren and Sparky could wait. So could the Shaper. So could Dai—

Twilight’s eyes widened. She pushed Lyra off of her and quickly scrambled to her hooves. “No no no,” Twilight shook her head as if to force the distracting thoughts from her head. “This… this is all wrong! We can’t do this!”

Lyra slowly stood on her hooves, but instead of a dejected face, her eyes were filled with fury. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Her eyes literally flared as she snarled. “I give myself freely to you, and you push me away? You don’t deserve somepony like me. I could have been the first and best lay you ever had, but you keep holding on to… to what?! Do you think being chase will make you a better Grey Warden? Do you think I’m not good enough for you?”

Her eyes narrowed, Twilight’s horn sparked as she stared down Lyra. “This isn’t about you,” Twilight said, “This place has seen the Veil so damaged that the very essence of demons from the Fade seeps into the area. They took hold of me, true… but they easily influence you, Lyra. Rage, desire, pride… you are like a feast for those kinds of demons. You need to learn to calm down!”

Lyra’s eyes literally flared as she roared in frustration and anger. No words cried out from her mouth, but instead she unleashed a torrent of flame directed at Twilight from her gullet. Twilight raised her shield just in time to defend herself while the magically infused steel deflected the flames around her. She cringed under the strain that Lyra’s dragon-breath spell put on her own magic and body alike. With her haywire emotions and incredibly potent spellwork, Lyra proved to be a difficult threat.

Something about the bog shifted, though not in the physical realm. Twilight felt something stir within the Fade and thanks to the spells she and Lyra held at the tip of their horns, whatever that something was became swiftly aware of their presence. It felt simply wrong to Twilight, like the very fabric of the world seeped slime like the grates of a sewer filter. Something pushed against the Veil and it wanted out in the worst possible way.

Not only did a foul presence lurk beyond the Veil, but something familiar appeared to sit on ground, though Twilight could not put her hoof on it thanks to Lyra trying to roast her hide.

Knowing that such a denizen of the Fade could not be let free, Twilight cancelled her spell and galloped a safe distance away from Lyra. She waited out Lyra’s dragon breath spell until her crazed friend needed to take a breath. When the flames died off for a moment, Twilight knew she only had one shot to get this right. She pushed herself into a full gallop towards Lyra, pivoted on her hind hooves, wound up, and socked Lyra in the jaw before she could react.

Twilight hated herself for such an act, but it did the job. Her steelclad hoof knocked Lyra right out in one go without much ceremony. Lyra simply collapsed onto the muck of the bog with a loud, squishing noise. Taking a deep breath, Twilight wiped the sweat from her brow, only to realize that she rubbed mud on her face.

“Sorry about that,” Twilight said, her horn alight as she lifted Lyra out of the mud and onto her back. “But we need to get out of here as soon as possible.” She hoped that Lyra would think Twilight would focus solely on a magical defence and not try anything physical, which allowed Twilight to enact her plan. It also helped that even though Lyra was a battlemage, she still had a glass jaw that most unicorns possessed.

The Shaper led them into the perfect trap, but now Twilight wondered if he himself knew the extent of dark magic that permeated through the very essence of the swamp. The Grey Wardens needed to regroup and find a way to get the Shaper out of the bog and into territory where they did not have to worry about a break in the Veil.

“Oghren! Sparky!” Twilight called out, “We can’t stay here! Lyra’s out cold, we need to go!”

When she was met with silence, Twilight’s heart began to beat just that much faster. Perhaps they went deeper into the swamp or perhaps she did not shout yell loud enough. Twilight needed to focus on her friends and get to them as quickly as possible. The longer they stood in the swamp, the more vulnerable they were to the Fade and to the Shaper.

With Lyra on her back, Twilight trudged through the swamp, her sword and shield drawn and ready for combat. Her eyes turned every which way, vigilant for any ambush the enemy attempted. She did not spy Oghren or Sparky anywhere, and the mush she treaded did not allow for even the simplest form of tracking their prints. Her magical senses told a similar story, unable to pinpoint anything but the lurking presence that permeated the swamp.

In the distance only a short gallop away, Twilight saw two shadows forms on the other side of the tangled branches of the swamp. They must belong to Oghren and Sparky. Twilight increased her speed, splashing mud all around her as she neared her friends. The sight of allies in this dire swamp warmed her heart.

“Oghren! Sparky!” Twilight called out, “We have to get out of here, it’s a trap!”

“You’re right,” Oghren said, though his voice was dull and monotone. Twilight stopped immediately when she heard Ogren speak, her blood running cold as the possibility ran through her mind.

Sparky then spoke as well. “This is a trap.”

Twilight quickly drew her sword and shield in her telekinetic aura, knowing full well that Sparky did not speak in such clear sentences. As Oghren and Sparky turned to face her, Twilight let out a gasp of horror. Just like the soldiers influenced by blood magic, both of them stared at her with bloodshot eyes, blood leaking through their tear ducts and trailing down their face. Despite their natural resistance to magic, the power of The Shaper’s blood sorcery took a hold of them all the same.

Twilight then looked up to see an ornlock stand on a tall rock, looking down on her with face filled with disgust and hatred. The intense magical energy he radiated quickly allowed Twilight to realize she now faced the Shaper himself in the flesh. His horn extended twice as long as the typical ornlock and it crackled with crimson arcane power. He wore a long red robe, but Twilight could not tell if it was original such a colour or simply caked with years of blood. Slash marks trailed all along his limbs and around his body; signs of the cuts he made to himself to allow the use of blood magic.

“Silencer.” The Shaper used Oghren’s voice to say his words. “I have waited for this moment for a long time. Your mastery over magic is commended, admirable even, but you are hated and must be eliminated for the New Blight to begin.”

“Let my friends go!” Twilight glared at the Shaper and pointed her blade at him. “If it’s me that you want, I’m right here!”

“No,” Sparky said, yet another puppet of the Shaper, just like Oghren. “They are my slaves now, and their flesh interests me. I have not met a donkey Grey Warden, or a diamond dog of such tenacity as this. They will be useful to my research. The other unicorn… she will make a fine broodmare. More ornlock brothers to bring into the Mind, to bring into the New Blight.”

Twilight heard enough. “You won’t have any of them!” With a shout she fired a bolt of searing magic towards the Shaper, hoping to burn his head right off his shoulders. The magic collided with an invisible barrier, however, and did nothing to harm him.

“Fool,” Oghren said, “Your power over magic, while considerable, is paltry to my own, for I bear the blood of the Song. The Song you silenced. I cannot be harmed by you. No, I shall lay claim to your friends, just as I will lay claim to you.”

The Shaper jumped down from his rock and stood between Oghren and Sparky. Twilight’s eyes darted between her true enemy and her friends. She needed to snap her friends out of the Shaper’s blood control, but did not know how. Lyra might have had an idea, but her being unconscious did not help matters in the slightest. All Twilight could do spin her sword in her aura and prepare for a deadly fight.

Oghren attacked first, bringing his axe to bear against Twilight, the blade seeking the flesh of her neck. Twilight raised Ironguard just ahead of the blow with the shield taking the brunt of the attack. She sparred with Oghren before and felt his considerable strength against her. Only now his blow connected with the clear intent to kill thanks to the Shaper’s command. The axe struck the shield like a mallet to a gong, and Twilight felt the strength of the berserker ring through her very magic. Too many blows like that and the strain would weaken enough for her to lower her guard.

“Forgive me,” Twilight said and immediately launched a counter-attack. She used the edge of her shield and aimed it right under Oghren’s jaw. With a sharp motion upward, Twilight applied all the force she felt necessary to knock him out. The Shaper may possess Oghren’s strength, but he only controlled the body, not the considerable combat skills Oghren held. A simple blow like Twilight’s would have been child’s play to a warrior like Oghren. The blow to his jaw, along with the considerable haft of his axe, sent shockwaves throughout his skull until he fell unconscious to the ground.

A sharp pain in her shoulder gave Twilight panic as she turned her head to see one of Sparky’s daggers embedded in her body. With great regret, she lowered her horn and promptly blasted Sparky off of her back, though the damage was done. Blood oozed from the wound as the dagger remained entrenched in her flesh. Twilight collapsed on her knees while the Shaper leapt from his rock and landed with a thud near her.

Slowly, like puppets on tangled strings, Oghren and Sparky stood up, taking hold of their weapons again. Despite the pain from the knife in her back, Twilight still controlled her magic, and swung her sword and shield every way she could toward the Shaper and his slaves away. The Shaper’s curved horn began to glow as well with a dark crimson aura, wrenching Sophia from Twilight’s telekinetic grasp and tossing the blade away into the swamp.

“You hesitate,” Sparky said, still very much in the control of the Shaper, “Your hesitation has been your undoing.”

“I want to see it in your eyes,” Oghren spoke for the Shaper as well. “I want to see the terror in your eyes as you look on at your failure. The donkey’s body will be host to my experiments. The diamond dog as well. From them I shall create new weapons, new spells, of which to ravage the lands touched by the Sun and Moon. The unicorn shall be made a broodmare, and I will have an army of ornlocks of which to command. You, however, I shall present to the Chosen, broken, shattered. Your screams will be our new song as you hang as a trophy, kept alive through sorcery sanguine.”

The Shaper’s horn glowed brighter then and from the under brush of the Blackmarsh walked the corpse of Daisy. Her bones creaked with every step. Her coat once vibrant now appeared pale in the shadowed light. Her cheeks sunk into her skull and her eyes might as well have been blackened pits. Twilight gasped as the corpse of Daisy slowly dragged her hooves towards her.

“Why do you look afraid?” The Shaper said through Sparky, “this is but a corpse, a walking husk of flesh now old and decomposing. Do you feel some sort of guilt that the Indomitable was able to slay her so easily?”

“Why not ask her yourself for forgiveness!” Daisy’s mouth screamed, making Twilight recoil in utter horror. The corpse of Daisy laughed with a shrill, unnatural voice. Twilight pressed her hooves against her ears. She could hear Daisy scream, the crack of her neck on her desk, everything from the Dark Tunnels.

“Your spirit, so easily broken! How you managed to silence the Song I will never comprehend, but now your time is done!”

Sparky removed her dagger from Twilight’s back and turned her around, pinning her to her black. Ogrhen loomed over her, his axe level with her neck. She tried to struggle but her limbs felt weak and sluggish. Twilight used too much energy against Lyra and now could not fight any more. She tried to reach out for her blade, but the Shaper tossed Sophia out of her magical reach.

The Shaper stood over Twilight’s form, his broken, black lips curling into a smile. “Now… your threat will end…” he hissed, using his own dry, raspy voice. “A new Age will dawn on this day. The Dark Age where the Brothers will consume the world. A shadow will loom across this world the likes that not even your precious sun will pierce through!”

“Slave… take her head.”

Oghren raised his axe high. Twilight shut her eyes. The end drew near.

The wind carried the whistle of a narrow projectile followed by a blood curdling scream. Twilight opened her eyes to see the Shaper thrashing about, a crossbow bolt embedded in his eye. Black blood and ichor gushed out from his ruined ocular while his horn blasted beam after beam of energy. Rage filled his screams, but thankfully little else. Oghren and Sparky collapsed to the ground complete out cold. Twilight guessed his blood magic spell shattered just like his concentration.

Twilight scrambled to her hooves and searched for her sword as to get back into the fight. As she looked up, she saw the familiar form of Berry Punch already reloading another crossbow bolt into her hoof-mounted weapon.

“Get down!” Berry shouted as she took aim at the Shaper once more. With the twang of the bowstring, another bolt sailed through the air and stuck itself several inches inside the Shaper’s neck. He howled again, only now knowing the direction his injuries bore from. He turned his head towards Berry, his one good eye filled with blood as magic pooled at the tip of his horn.

He fired a large beam of intense crimson magic at Berry, a spell of both incredible power and everlasting rage. Twilight felt the potency of such a spell in the very air. A single blow from magic of that magnitude could tear Berry Punch apart likely in gruesome ways. Twilight lit her horn and took aim.

She launched a powerful if generic counterspell at the Shaper’s crimson bolt with the two colliding in midair. The magic exploded in a blast radius that scorched the swamp around them. Berry Punch yelped and dove into cover with bits of burnt wood from fallen trees flying past her head. The shockwave from the blast sent everyone flying backwards. Twilight collided with a tree. Oghren and Sparky landed next to each other in the muck, but otherwise remained unharmed and unconscious. Lyra smacked into a rock hard enough to be woken from her own torpor.

“Ugh…” She muttered, rubbing her head with a muddy hoof. “Why does my head feel like a dozen wagons ran over it…”

“Lyra!” Twilight shouted, but her voice soon lost its volume as a roar from twisted magic ripped through the air. Twilight turned to see the Shaper galloping away at full tilt, his black blood leaving a trail behind him.

If the roar did not come from the Shaper, then where?

“Warden!” Berry shouted as the roar continued to shake the Blackmarsh. “Look!”

Twilight looked to where Berry pointed her hoof, only to gasp at the sight. There, where her spell and the Shaper’s collided, stood a tear in reality itself. In the middle of the tear, a large, bloody eye stared at everyone it could until it focused on Twilight. The arcane forces of her counterspell reacting with the blood magic of the Shaper must have caused the already weakened Veil to tear, and now something was trying to get out.

“Lyra!” Twilight screamed, “Lyra! We have to seal the Veil! Something is breaching through to the material plane! We’re the only ones here who can do it!”

Twilight’s words were moot as a single black bolt of energy lanced through the air and struck Lyra’s horn. Lyra’s scream filled the air with terror, only to thankfully go silent. Her body floated in the air, eyes wide and glowing, but otherwise she did not move.

“Lyra!” Twilight yelled, but that only attracted attention from the being in the tear. A black bolt streaked through the air and hit her horn, just as it did to Lyra. A burning, excruciating pain ripped through her body the likes Twilight never felt before. She could not help but scream.

And then a white light overtook her.