• Published 21st Jan 2014
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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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Letters

Chapter 3: Letters

Twilight gripped the door to Brightstone keep’s main hall in her magic, opening the way into the Arl’s hall. Her hall, she had to remind herself, taking note that save for a few tossed aside tables, the hall did not display any damage from battle. The ponyspawn had not taken an interest in the hall. Twilight felt a twinge of relief, but also something of trepidation as she took a few nervous steps into the hall.

Awaiting her stood the seat of the Arl of Amarethine, where she would be expected to sit and listen to the affairs of the arling. The dais she would sit on reflected the torchlight off a polished walnut surface, the former chair of Arl Rendon Maim before his joining forces with Teyrn Loghoof. The same Arl Twilight unfortunately slew due to his resistance.

She would have to find out what Maim’s policies were so she could counteract them. A terrible pony in life who only focused on his own greed, he likely did not have Amarethine in his best interests. Twilight wanted to be an Arlessa ponies could look up to and trust, and hopefully she would be given the opportunity.

So long as the ponyspawn threat was mitigated, though Twilight believed that scenario was unlikely.

Lyra whistled loudly as she took in the sights. “Wow, Twilight. I never figured an Arl’s place would look so… sparse. Nothing like the Magister’s mansions back home up north. However, I figure a few choice rugs, maybe some colourful candles, and we can make this place be the envy of all the lords of Equestria. Our first step should be your bedroom. I’m sure we can really have some fun redecorating in there.”

Twilight let out a frustrated noise, ignoring Lyra and her incessant giggles. A shame, as she was curious on her own sleeping arrangements, though Twilight felt certain her sleeping schedule would not be shared with Lyra. Instead, her focus was taken by Silverstar who smiled at her through his moustache.

“This here is where ya’ll be having yer audiences and such,” he explained, “The Banns will arrive tomorrow evening to swear their fealty to ya, Arlessa Sparkle. We’ll also bring in that crate the ponyspawn wanted so much. Bring it here for you to figure out what they were after.”

“Thank you, Seneschal,” Twilight replied with a nod. Silverstar tipped his hat and left the hall. Daisy walked up to Twilight, her smile bright despite the bloodstains on her armour and fur.

“I can’t wait to show you around,” she said, “Hopefully the ponyspawn haven’t ransacked the keep. They don’t usually loot and pillage, but they they’ve done many things they don’t usually do. I’ll send word to whatever guards we have to make sure the keep is secure before we move about on our own. There might be ponyspawn stragglers.”

Oghren sauntered up to Daisy and Twilight and plopped his haunches onto the ground. “Just make sure the kitchens are full and the booze ain’t harmed,” he said, “I’ve got a hankering for some eats and a lot of drinking.”

Twilight chuckled and shook her head. Some ponies, or in this case donkeys, never changed and thank Celestia for that. She would have to make time to speak with Oghren and what he was up to during his own adventures after the Battle of Trotterim. For now, she had other priorities to get to.

The doors opened again, allowing two earth pony soldiers and Silverstar to drag in a very large crate wrapped in chains and padlocks into the great hall. Everypony watched in curiosity as the guards set the crate down on that crate the Howler was so intent on capturing. Twilight approached the crate, eager to delve into its contents when Silverstar approached her with a parcel.

“Came with the crate, Commander,” he said, pushing the parcel to Twilight’s hooves. “Bears not only Her Majesty’s seal, but also the seal of Ashen Targe, the Grey Warden headquarters.”

“Thank you, Silverstar.” Twilight’s horn silently lit with a violet aura, wrapping the crate and parcel with the same power and casually lifting both into the air. “Lyra, Oghren, why don’t you two get yourselves a meal and a hot bath. Find your quarters, and then wait for my call. Daisy, I would like to bring this crate to my own room, so I’ll need you to help me find it. Silverstar, bring the body of the Howler to the dungeons; I’ll be by to examine it when I can. Just be very careful of the black blood.”

Daisy led the way through the corridors of the keep, with Twilight carrying her crate and parcel in a magical tow. As they walked, Twilight noticed soldiers and servants alike carrying about their business to make Brightstone presentable once again. Whether it was clearing away destroyed furniture or cleaning up spilled blood, they all worked diligently only to stop when Twilight approached them.

Few ponies bowed to their new arlessa, but all of them averted their gaze, some of them appearing cross at Twilight’s very presence. There was an air of resentment permeating from the gaze of the common ponies. This was something Twilight never felt before. Being hated by ponyspawn was expected for a Grey Warden, especially one who slew the Archdemon. Hated by ponies for her title was something else entirely.

“Come on, you lot,” Daisy quickly called, getting everypony back to their jobs. “That’s enough gawking. Tomorrow, the Arlessa takes her place in Brightstone, and I want you all to show her the proper respect. The Banns will be coming too, so the keep better be in tip top shape, got it?”

Daisy pursed her lips while the servants and soldiers muttered under their breaths. “I’m sorry about that, Commander. Many of them only knew the rule of Maim. It’s understandable that they are suspicious of a new arlessa. I’m sure you’ll win them over soon enough.”

Twilight certainly hoped so too, though she did not vocalize it. Her focus shifted onto the crate, her mind’s eye wanting to keep the mental clutter to a minimal. Daisy stopped in front of a door ornate with decorations as well as several locks, the room Twilight assumed once belonged to Rendon Maim. Daisy opened the door, only for Twilight to stop in the doorway.

This room, once the private sanctuary of a vile, evil pony, was to be hers. This room, whose last owner abandoned it for a more comfortable office in Trotterim. He only had to give his loyalty to a usurper, kidnap and torment several foals of nobles, and kill countless ponies. This room, which once belonged to the last pony Twilight had killed in battle.

“Commander?” Daisy waved her hoof in front of Twilight’s eyes in an effort to bring her back to the present. Twilight blinked rapidly, giving her head a quick shake before replying with a smile. Daisy tilted her head in confusion. “Are you all right? We made sure to get rid of most of Maim’s things in time for your arrival. Your quarters are pretty sparse, admittedly, but we can go into town once the damage from the—“

“This is perfect,” Twilight quickly said. She stepped inside her new room and promptly lowered the crate and her parcel onto the floor, taking in her new accommodations. The room held a magnificent view of Amarethine’s valleys to the north, as well as a clear picture of the night sky. The room, warmed by a roaring fire in the hearth, also had plenty of space, and Twilight already began to envision what it would look like in the end.

“The window is the perfect place to put a simple telescope,” Twilight said, “I haven’t been able to study the stars in a long time; I can’t wait to get started again. Do you think I’ll be able to buy a telescope in town? I’ll probably have to have it delivered, so I might need to get into contact with the Tower. Trixie owes me a favour anyways. How long does it take to get a messenger to the Tower from Amarethine? We can bring many bookshelves in here as well. I think I’ll be checking out plenty of books from the Arl’s personal library, but we can get to that soon enough and…”

Daisy giggled. “I see you’re excited at the possibilities. I’m glad. Her Majesty wanted to make sure you were comfortable, so we did everything we could to get rid of Maim’s belongings. It’s as if he was never here.”

As much as Twilight wanted to believe that, she could not. She turned her head to take in the room, only to spot the seething figure of Maim in the corner. His eyes, bloodshot and baggy, glared at Twilight with complete hatred. She blinked, and the shadow of the last arl quickly faded as well. Daisy continued to smile at her, hoping for some kind of response.

“I’ll need time to adjust,” Twilight finally replied. “Maim left a mark on me. I hope you understand. Go and have some dinner with Oghren and Lyra and be prepared for my call. I will conduct the Joining ritual tomorrow. We’ll have a busy night tomorrow with all the other Banns, as well as the rituals of the Grey Wardens.”

“Thank you, Commander. Have a good night too.” With one last bow of her head, Daisy left Twilight’s new room, leaving just the Commander and her hotly anticipated crate. Twilight walked around the crate a few times and looked over the various chains and padlocks that held it closed tight. The locks, sealed by steel and magic, rebuffed her magical probes. The answer then was to use the key in the sack.

The key, made of simple iron, lifted from the sack in the grip of her magic. It did not radiate with a spell like the lock, but Twilight used the key without further questions. The tumblers within the lock clicked open, and the chains around the chest snapped open and began to retract into the massive lock. Twilight took a step back as the lock fell onto the floor, the hooks and the chains now within the strange mechanism. When the noise subsided, the key fell to the floor and the chest opened on its own.

Twilight peered inside to find an assortment of different and unique items awaiting her. Before she examined the prizes, Twilight levitated a bundle of letters towards her. Each letter, bound by a different wax seal, held the cutie marks of her friends on the front and all written for Twilight.

She forgot all about the battle, the ponyspawn, and the chest itself as she lay on the fur rug of her new room with all her letters. Twilight picked up a simple decanter of water from the bedside and brought it and a cup towards her as she felt the warmth of the fire across her fur. With a simple flash of her horn, her armour shifted and she was now dressed in a quaint evening gown, comfortable and practical for an evening of reading letters.

Twilight lifted the letter emblazoned by the seal of Applejack first. The seal broke off with ease, and the letter unfolded in front of her. It read:

Dear Twilight,

By the time you get to sit down and read this, you should be comfortable in your new keep of Brightstone. I hope the transition was an easy one, and that you didn’t move in with an army of ponyspawn rattling down your door as I did.

Twilight laughed at the words. If Applejack remembered what she wrote, there was a good chance she chuckled as well, even at a distance.

You have a tough task ahead of you, being both Arlessa of Amarethine and Commander of the Grey Wardens, but you are the smartest pony I know. You’ll not only manage both jobs, but thrive on them too. There are some good ponies in Amarethine, like Silverstar, who will help you every step of the way. Maim’s shadow is still there though, so it may take time to win the hearts of the ponies, but if anypony can do it, it’s you.

I also sent a gift inside this crate, as the rest of your friends did to make this job a little easier. A good stallion used this shield in the defence of Equestria against the ponyspawn, and you found it and gave it to me to do the same. Now, I think you need it more than I do. Ironguard is yours, now, and I’m sure Duncan would be proud.

Twilight felt a sob choke in her throat as she turned her attention back to the crate. She called for the shield of Duncan, the first Grey Warden she had ever met, her mentor, and the pony who inducted her into the order. From the depths of the crate came a large, round, iron shield. On the front, the shield bore the animal symbol of Celestia, the phoenix, who rose from the burning flames of glory.

She wiped away her tears as she held the shield in front of her. When Duncan died, Applejack was the pony most affected, her grief near ceaseless until she found his shield in the ruins of Ostequus. That Applejack now gave the last memento of Duncan to Twilight meant more to her than could ever be put to mere words.

I think he’d like to know his shield is still protecting ponies from the ponyspawn, so treat Ironguard well. Shucks, I know you will. Just remember you have friends in high places, and I’ll come running if you ever call. We’ll have a feast of the finest apples in all of Equestria.

With best wishes, Applejack

“Thank you so much, Applejack,” Twilight said aloud, if only for her own comfort. She lifted Ironguard in her aura and laid it with reverence near her bed. While she loathed admitting it, Duncan’s shield would be used in battle soon, if the ponyspawn would not cease their attacks. Instead of concern over the violence, Twilight shut that part of her mind off and focused on her letters. There would be time to deal with the ponyspawn later.

The next letter was written on an immaculate piece of parchment, embroidered in gold and silver. The seal of three diamonds was not needed to inform Twilight that this letter came from Rarity. With the letter opened, she began to read:

Dearest Twilight,

I do hope this letter finds you in good spirits, darling. Celestia knows we could all use some higher spirits. Still, I won’t rain down on your parade, Arlessa Sparkle. Ooh, what a lovely title for such a lovely mare! Such glamour! Such grace! Have you found an appropriate gown to wear during audiences? Tell me if you need such, and I’ll be more than thrilled to make you the envy of all the lords and ladies of Equestria!

Sweetie Belle and I have just arrived in the Filesian capital along with Fluttershy, who sent her own letter and gift alongside mine. It was difficult adjusting to this place, as we don’t speak a single word of Filesian, and this is the home of both the Chantry and the Templar Order. It was frightful at first, but thanks to Fluttershy and her new position, I was able to open a new boutique in the city. It is quite the change compared to the swamp!

Twilight chuckled as memories of her first meeting with Rarity flashed in her eyes. How such a dainty unicorn lived in a swamp was beyond Twilight’s understanding, but she was forever grateful for meeting Rarity.

Enclosed with this letter is a gift for you, darling. Something so that you will never forget your friends, though I am sure you would not. It took some work, considering how difficult it is to get lyrium in Filais from under the snouts of the Chantry, but I think you’ll be quite pleased with the result.

Her curiosity now piqued, Twilight channelled her magic to the crate once more. Magical focus now on Rarity’s gift, she lifted a small black box and brought it towards her. The box opened and revealed a small gemstone pendant that hung on a silver chain. Twilight held it close to her eyes and adjusted it in the light, a delighted gasp of surprise from her mouth.

The gem shone with ethereal beauty in the light of the fire, and as she turned the pendant, the cutie marks of her friends sparkled within. Each mark shone with its own beauty, and Twilight found herself mesmerized by the gift.

Lovely, isn’t it? A simple pendant, but it took a dreadfully long time to make. I hope you love it, and when you wear it, think of us close to your heart. As much as I appreciate Cairidan’s Bracer of Nakuum, it is a bit drab. However, I’ll never take it off, of course.

Miss you terribly, dear. Please write often, even if it takes weeks for your letters to arrive. Moreover, if you need anything, anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask. I will be by your side in a heartbeat.

With all my love, Rarity

Twilight lifted the pendant over her head and slipped it around her neck, marvelling at the sight in the mirror. The apples of Applejack, the lightning bolt of Rainbow Dash, to even the stone-hoof sigil that was on Shale’s forehead all shimmered with brilliant light. One symbol made Twilight pause: the flaming sword Spike wielded into battle.

She felt the same constriction in her throat again as she looked at the reminder of Spike. “Thank you so much, Rarity,” Twilight said as she pressed her pendant close to her heart. Once she became calm, Twilight lifted the next letter from the bunch, this one from Fluttershy. It read:

Dear Twilight,

Even though the time since we last parted wasn’t that long ago, it feels like its been years already. I am doing well here in Filais, and have been given a position in the Chantry as the Keeper of the Solar Divine’s menagerie. Truth is, I do enjoy my work a lot, and Mister Bright Star is a kind pony to work under, but I would give anything to be with all my friends again. I’m glad Rarity and Sweetie Belle are in the city for me to visit. It would have been very lonely otherwise.

I wanted to send you something, but it proved very difficult to think of something appropriate. There are plenty of books in the Chantry’s libraries here in Val Royeux, but most of them have to do with the Chantry and very few books did not outright condemn magic. However, the Lunar Divine herself helped me find something she feels you would appreciate more than any other tome. I think she was right. I hope she was right. Please don’t be upset if you don’t like it.

Twilight shook her head as she read the note in Fluttershy’s flustered voice. Even her written words sounded just like her. With a flick of her magic, she sought out the gift sent by Fluttershy. A small package of simple cloth and string rose from the crate, and Twilight unravelled the present with care.

She smiled at the wonder inside, holding a clear yet pristine crystal towards the light of the hearth. A simple pyramid held within it a red flower, something akin to a rose. Held in perfect stasis by magic, Twilight turned the flower around in the light, admiring it at all angles.

This is called the Spera Rosa, Fluttershy’s letter explained, and it is the only plant that can grow in the Blightlands, specifically those in the ruined areas of the Unicorn Imperium. The Lunar Divine told me that while Imperium magisters use the Rosa as a sign of wealth, the Grey Wardens hold it in much more reverent regard. She said that the Rosa represents growth in a dead land, which the world can recover even from the most destructive of Blights.

She also said that it was the blood of Grey Wardens who sacrificed themselves that allows the Spera Rosa to grow in the Blightlands. I hope, when you look at this flower, that you know that if something as beautiful as this rose can grow in the worst of places, it means the very earth thanks you and the Grey Wardens for all they have done.

I miss you and the others so much, Twilight. I wish we could be together again, and always know if you need me, I’ll come. I may not be as fast as Rainbow Dash, but nothing would stop me from getting to you.

Celestia and Luna be with you, always, Fluttershy

“Thank you so much, Fluttershy.” Twilight laid the Spera Rosa down on the nightstand near her bed, another smile and another tear on her face. With still more letters to go, Twilight opened the next one with haste.

This letter, embroidered with Pinkie Pie’s cutie mark of three bulbous balloons, appeared the same as any other letter though felt much heavier when Twilight held it in her magic. With extreme care, mindful of Pinkie Pie’s propensity for party pranks, she opened the letter. Sure enough, the letter exploded in a hail glitter dust and confetti.

This is your singing letter

And I hope it finds you well!

We’re on our way to Geldwall,

Our new home where we will dwell.

We’ll be getting on a boat soon,

And we’ll sail across the sea,

Dash and I will miss you,

In the Plains that are called Free.

I left a pocket party package

In here just for you,

It was fun to make so I hope

You had some fun too!

This letter isn’t goodbye

Or in Filais ‘Bon Voyage!’

But one for ‘See you later’

Where friends can say Hi!

Twilight laughed as she put away Pinkie’s letter and gift. At least, what remained of it. Pinkie’s presence would be missed, since she always held the means to produce a smile on the face of even the dourest of ponies. In the darkest reaches of Equestria, Twilight always relied on Pinkie to lift hers and their friends’ spirits.

Alas, Pinkie now resided in Geldwall by now, and who knew what kind of nonsense she and Rainbow Dash were getting into in the Free Plains, far across the ocean. Speaking of which, Rainbow’s letter was next. Thankfully, this letter did not detonate like Pinkie Pie’s. Instead, it read:

Hey Twilight!

I’m not really very good at the letter-writing thing, so I’ll try to keep mine short. As I’m writing this, we’re waiting for our ship to Geldwall to get ready to go. We’re on the same ship as Ditzy and Dinky Doo, remember them? They say hi by the way. Anyways, it was Ditzy who helped us find this boat, so we’re really happy. Pinkie’s already made friends with many of the other passengers, including this couple named Cup and Carrot Cake. They plan to open a bakery in Geldwall, and Cup Cake is pregnant, so they want to make it a fresh start. Hate to say it, but a lot of ponies are leaving Equestria in hopes of a better life. A lot say they can’t stay in a Blighted land, even if we kicked the Archdemon’s butt!

So… I sent something along with Pinkie’s gift. Not sure if you’ll like it, but I know you are just going to love it!

A book floated from the chest towards Twilight. She smiled at the simple yet effective gift from Rainbow; it had been a very long time since she could sit down and read anything simply for enjoyment. The title read “The Dunes Beyond Pura Raza: A Journey to the Unknown East,” and looked to be about the hidden lands and nations to the east of Pura Raza. Already a strange continent with dubious customs, as per Rainbow’s stories, to find that there were documented reports of such places made Twilight envious that her friends were able to leave the borders of Equestria.

That said, the gift of a book such as this gave Twilight a welcome sight. While she remained in Amarethine, such tomes of knowledge allowed her to go to faraway places in her own right. While no substitute for real experiences, her lot in life demanded that she stay in Equestria and defend the land against the ponyspawn.

The letter did not go on for much longer. This might sound really weird, Twilight, but while we were waiting for a boat to take us to Geldwall, I may have cracked open the cover, got lost in the mystery of the Dune Lands, and basically read it front to back. Twice. Be proud, Twilight, be proud.

Almost makes me want to go back to Pura Raza, if only to make it to the Dune Lands myself. Two things stopping me: the fact that I promised Pinkie that I would help her find her family in Geldwall, and that I never want to go near Pura Raza if I can help it. Maybe there is another way to the Dune Lands, but for now, all I really want is this boat to get here.

Hopefully by the time you get this letter, I’ll be sailing towards Geldwall with Pinkie, so I guess this is so long for now. We’ll meet again, I know it. Just come visit us in Geldwall when you get the chance! Grey Wardens do get vacations, right?

Catch you on the flip side!

-Rainbow Dash

Twilight held the book aloft, impressed with Rainbow’s choice of a gift. As much as Daisy’s stories enticed her to plumb the depths of the keep’s library, a book from a friend would quickly ascend to the top of her reading pile. Even through her own studies, Twilight never heard of the Land beyond the Dunes, and eagerness crept over her as she considered the delicately embroidered cover of the tome.

She placed the book along with the other gifts, and then moved on to the next letter. Encased in some of the glitziest parchment Twilight ever beheld, she could not help but squint at the overly fanciful stylus she could only assume came from Trixie and Shale. Considering that the titles used by both were longer than the length of the envelope, Twilight shook her head. Those two simply refused to change, but at least they had each other now.

Twilight opened the envelope only to find the two letters seemingly in a contest to see whose letter Twilight would read first. In the end, she pulled both letters out, but chose to read Shale’s to start. Not that she favoured Shale over Trixie, but that Shale’s letter was considerably smaller. Trixie’s missive rolled down onto the ground for several feet before stopping.

However, when Twilight finally opened the paper heap, she regretted her decision. The crude writing that only a large brush could create hurt her sensibilities over penmanship, but at least Shale tried. The letter read:

Majekal Twilight

I m lurn to rite lik pone ur words r sily n nonses y so many words tat sund same

Bowsful Trixie say to rite anoter letter becuz tis one is bad but she is jut julus tat I m cik lernr

I myd her help ME rite all ur names is gud, yes?

Will crush bird now rite more pone words latr

The allmeety and indesruptible Shale

“I’m glad to see you learning, Shale. Thank you.” Twilight lowered Shale’s letter and moved on to Trixie’s. The new First Enchanter must have spent more time and magic on her cursive writing than anything else, as illegible words confused Twilight with all their loops and swirls. As she attempted to read bits and pieces of Trixie’s letter, one segment stood out to her. It read:

Shale will not admit it, so it will be the impeccable wisdom of the Talented and Humble, but still Great and Powerful First Enchanter Trixie to inform you, oh-not-so-powerful-but-decent Twilight Sparkle that Shale misses your presence. Trixie, in her Wondrous and Implacable wisdom, does not miss you quite so much, considering she carried the group throughout all over Equestria.

Trixie must admit that things are much more different now that she is no longer adventuring. The Tower has gone back to the same normalcy since Hubred’s betrayal, though the templars still view us unicorns with suspicion, even more so now. Still, thanks to Shale, they keep a wide berth from the unicorns. “The only one that shall do any unicorn squishing is me,” she once said. “I’ll have you know that I can easily add tin-pot templars to the list of things I shall crush under my hooves.”

Being the new First Enchanter is a challenge, but it is one Trixie happily accepts. You should see Snips and Snails now; they have become quite the illusionists. They tried to play a prank on Shale, but let us just say that they neither will be doing that again anytime soon. Trixie hopes you do not get overburdened by your new titles, but if you do, you can always pass them along to Trixie. She could always use a longer name.

Signed with the most utmost sincerity,

The Great, Powerful, Wise, Charitable, Humble, Forgiving, First Enchanter of the Equestrian Unicorn Tower, Slayer of Minotaurs, Friend to all Golems, Most Important Aide to the Hero of Equestria, Trixie Lulamoon

“Accurate in your own way, I suppose, Trixie.” Twilight placed the letters along with the others and let out a long awaited sigh. With exception of Oghren, whom she guessed saw no need to write a letter as he made his own way to Brightstone, this was to be the last correspondence with all her friends for a long while. They were off to the four corners of the world, as it was, to seek out their own lives and destinies. While letters would be slow, she could always keep in touch, somehow.

All save one.

Twilight cursed and bit her lip, but nothing could stop the painful memory of watching Spike engulfed in the shadow-flames of the Archdemon. She cursed herself this time, due to her failure at protecting Spike from the Archdemon and her subsequent failure to finish the job and defeat Uthemiel. More lives were lost due to her, and each one weighed heavily on her mind.

With utter care, Twilight tried to dispel her despair by shifting focus to the next letter. Only two more remained in the crate, and each came along with a package. A violet aura wrapped around the larger of the two and brought the package and letter to Twilight. This one bore the seal of the Grey Wardens, so Twilight assumed it came from the headquarters of Ashen Targe. The letter opened crisply, and the text within read clear and concise.

To Commander of the Equestrian Grey, Twilight Sparkle,

From the Office of Lord Grau Rüstung,

I would first like to congratulate you and your friends on the defeat of the Archdemon and the Blight of Equestria. Grey Wardens the world over felt the foul dragon’s death throes, as is recorded in the archives. Most unusual was the fact that you, Frau Sparkle, somehow lived through the killing blow, but we will not look providence in the mouth.

As I am sure you are well aware, Wardens from Ashen Targe have removed the carcass of the Archdemon from Trotterim. We have collected a vast quantity of blood from the fiend, so we will be able to have more Wardens undertake the Joining ritual for generations to come until the Blight of Ending.

Such as it is, now that you have taken over Duncan’s role as Commander of the Equestrian Grey, I hereby offer to you the symbol of your station; the Silver Chalice of the Joining Ritual. Along with the flask of Archdemon blood held securely in this crate, you will be able to conduct well over one hundred Joinings.

Needless to say, the journey ahead of you will be a difficult one, and unfortunately, Ashen Targe cannot spare any more Wardens to help Equestria right at this moment. With the defeat of an Archdemon, the Dark Tunnels are in disarray and ripe for a counterattack. Have no fear, Commander. We know that Equestria cannot lend aid to the battles below at this junction. Use this time to rebuild a new generation of Grey Wardens, so that another generation and more after that shall rise to meet the challenge of the ponyspawn in the future.

Remember, we are the first and last line of defense against the ponyspawn. Stay strong, Sister, for challenges will continue well after the Archdemon drew its last breath.

In peace, vigilance. In war, victory. In death, sacrifice.

-Ashen Targe

Twilight looked over the letter one last time before tossing it into the flames. She watched the parchment catch fire and burn away to ashes in rapid succession. The only other Grey Warden that aided Equestria in its hour of need, Riordan, had told Twilight that the Lords of Ashen Targe abandoned Equestria after the disastrous battle of Ostequus. The fact that they wanted to use Equestria as an “example” with her blighted lands and ruined people made Twilight sick to her stomach.

Once the letter burnt to a crisp, Twilight levitated the silver chalice and the flask of blood from the Archdemon. Her nose rankled at the very sight of the pitch-black blood, even if she could not smell the foulness within. A smell that would stay with her all her life, a new fear made its presence known as a lump in her throat.

She would oversee another generation of Grey Wardens to put under the sword, or in this case, under the shadow of a chalice. The lethality of the Joining ritual hung over her head, and Twilight knew all too well how many did not survive the process. During her own Joining, two hopefuls had died and left her the sole survivor and thus Grey Warden.

Daisy, Lyra, and Oghren would be the hopefuls to take the foul Taint within their own bodies through a cocktail of Archdemon blood, ponyspawn blood, and lyrium to hold it all together. The likelihood that one of those three would die chilled Twilight. Oghren was an old friend who battled the Archdemon with her, and there could be no telling what the Archdemon blood could do to a donkey’s body. Daisy proved herself a capable warrior and Twilight easily considered her a friend after they spilt blood on the battlefield. Lyra, already a skilled and powerful battlemage, wanted to become a Warden to be free of the Imperium.

All three good friends, no matter how long or short Twilight had known them, would be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. Even if the Joining did not kill them outright, their life spans would be cut by thirty years. The Taint still afflicted Grey Wardens, and would eventually drive them to become ghouls; ponies gone mad thanks to the corrupting influence of the ponyspawn blood. It was an end Twilight did not like to imagine for herself, as the alternative was to lead one final attack on the Dark Tunnels at the end of her days and die killing as many ponsyspawn as she could.

As she studied the vial, Twilight recalled the fervor the Howler showed in trying to take the crate and the contents. Certain that the ponyspawn leader did not have interest in the gifts of her friends, Twilight wondered what purpose the ponyspawn had for the blood of their leader. She knew that the blood gave certain ponyspawn strange mutations, but that could not be the only reason. Perhaps they used such in some sort of Dark Art ritual or another. Twilight shivered. The idea of the ponyspawn’s twisted magic along with the blood of a fallen dragon god unnerved her.

Twilight took a deep breath before levitating both the chalice and the vial of blood back into the crate. All that remained now was one final letter and a much smaller package. A simple letter strung along with a small thin package lifted from the crate with little effort on Twilight’s part. She raised her brow in surprise; there were no identifiable markings, only simple text that read “To Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight opened the letter and found that the missive only contained one line. It read:

You will need this.

ABF

After examining the letter in all angles she could, Twilight could not sense anything unusual from the letter. She moved on to the package, opening it up only to watch a single shard of glass fall from within.

“Is this somepony’s idea of a prank?” Twilight quashed such a conclusion as she looked back on the crate. The magical chains sealed the container just earlier, and with so many safeguards to keep the crate safe, this glass shard needed to be something more than a practical joke. Yet try as she might, Twilight could not discern anything from the glass. There was no trace of magic, lyrium, or anything her arcane knowledge could reveal.

Instead of focusing on the glass shard further, Twilight placed it back in the package and then into a small drawer on her nightstand. With the crate re-secured, and the gifts now on display throughout her chambers, Twilight looked to her bed now with longing. She took a deep breath, then jumped onto the bed, enjoying the comforting feeling of something other than the cold ground to sleep on during a march.

Sleep would not come easy, however. So long as the silver chalice and the blood of Uthemiel remained near her, Twilight struggled to keep her eyes closed. The haunting aura from the chest that contained them bothered her to no end, and soon she roused herself from her bed, picked up her pillow and her blanket and began to walk through Brightstone’s keep halls.

She walked a brisk pace until she came across the barracks room set aside for the Grey Wardens. As Twilight neared the door, she could already hear an argument between Lyra and Oghren over who got top bunk. Considering that there should have been plenty of sleeping spaces for everyone, Twilight could only cock her head in confusion. Perhaps they only argued because they enjoyed such.

With a slight push from her hoof, Twilight winced as the old door creaked loud, announcing her presence to the Grey Warden hopefuls. Lyra and Daisy looked up in surprise, while Oghren waved at Twilight with a pillow in his mouth, of which he promptly spat out.

“Hey there, Twilight!” he said, “Coming to check on the recruits? Good, ‘cause then you can tell Harpflank here to give up the top bunk. I like being up high after all the stuff we’ve been through.”

“I want the bunk closest to the door in the event I need to use the little filly’s room!” Lyra complained, “And there is no way I am letting somepony or donkey as smelly as you take the top bunk.”

“If you can resolve this quickly Commander, I would really appreciate it,” Daisy said with pleading eyes. “I really want to get some sleep.”

Twilight looked at the Grey Warden recruits, or as she reminded herself, new and old friends. She listened to them squabble for a moment about something as simple as beds before she burst into a torrent of giggles. The others looked on confuse as Twilight wiped a tear from her eye.

“There are plenty of bunks for everyone,” Twilight said, “Lyra, you can have that one on the left, Oghren can have that one, and Daisy can have whatever she wants. As for me… I’ll take this one, by the window.”

They watched as Twilight brought her pillow and blanket over to a nearby bed, with Twilight humming away happily as she prepared her bed. Twilight looked over her shoulder and said, “I hope you all don’t mind. I couldn’t sleep, and I think it would be better to sleep alongside my friends. I miss those days, back on the road.”

As Twilight predicted, Lyra jumped at her words. She kept her magical grip tight on the pillow. “That’s great! Totally great! Listen, forget the bunks, you and I can share a bed. Yeah, it’s a little snug, but we’ll keep each other warm, you just have to open your heart and your hooves to the idea.”

Twilight took a deep breath, then quickly turned to fling her pillow at the unsuspecting Lyra. The pillow harmlessly bounced off Lyra’s face before she could even blink, only for the battlemage to glower and encase several pillows in a minty green aura.

“You may have a flank to die for, but honey, I’m about to get dangerous on you.” Before Lyra could fire, another pillow struck her face, followed by another. Oghren and Daisy shared goofy grins before ducking behind the beds for cover. Twilight smiled as she joined them, and the greatest pillow fight she had ever known began, leaving the worries of the silver chalice, the Archdemon blood, and the next day far forgotten for a night.