• Published 11th Jul 2011
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Pony Age: Origins - OmegaPony11

The Ponyspawn have invaded Equestria, and it is up to the newest addition to the Grey Wardens, Twilight Sparkle, to find the means to drive them back! With her friends and allies at her side, can Twilight win before Equestria is devoured?

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Chapter 10: Origins

“I do hope that the inn has some sort of bath,” Rarity said as the ferrypony carried the party over Lake Blackwater, “So many dreadful memories, all the blood, filth and dirt is going to need a very thorough scrubbing.”

Twilight agreed, a good bath would be nice after the horror that was the demonic attack on Unicorn Tower, a bath to wash away all the grime and soothe the pain. However, the others in the party were less than talkative. She remembered what Applejack had said, that the illusions felt more real to the ponies not used to encounters in the Fade, and that a part of them wanted Twilight to be wrong. Twilight wondered if that sentiment was reflective on all her friends, and the despairing looks on their faces only helped confirm this.

Once the small ship had docked, the group trotted over to the small inn sitting on a small hill. It was nothing grand by any stretch, but a cozy little building with the lights of flickering fires could be seen through the windows. A rotund earth pony sat in front of the door, smoking a pipe and letting the smoke hang around his head like a wreath.

“Excuse me,” Twilight said, “Knight-Commander Hornsheild said we could stay here for a short while. We won’t inconvenience you.”

The innkeeper smiled as he stood up straight. “I’ll be sure to send the old colt the bill then. Come in, come in! I’ll fetch y’all a round of cider and some apples straight from Red Apple Acres. And don’t be thinking yer a pest or nothin’, the only other guests I have are a pegasus trader and a youngun, and they went out and about for a while.”

Applejack’s face lit up at the way the innkeeper spoke. As the ponies sat around a large table, the innkeeper hefted a large basket of bright red apples onto the surface while a donkey jenny, a female of the mountain dwelling equines, poured cider into drinking bowls. Rarity declined to joined them, rather seeking out the nearest bath tub.

“There’s an old wooden one out back,” the innkeeper told the white unicorn, “Water comes from the lake, and so you might want to heat it. Got a stove out back for that.”

“That will do fine, good sir, I believe I can manage.” Rarity left for the bath, leaving Twilight with four dejected ponies and Spike. She wondered how it would be best to approach the sensitive topics of what they faced in the Fade.

“Hey Pinkie Pie, we won against the demons, doesn’t that call for a party?” Twilight grinned at the pink earth pony, who only returned the smile with a heavy sigh.

Twilight looked over to Applejack. “A.J., thanks again for helping me with that feedback,” she said, “You saved me and helped figure out a way to stop Hubred! And we have the help of the unicorns against the Blight!”

“Sure thing, sugarcube,” replied Applejack, her tone flat. Looking cross, the violet unicorn turned to Fluttershy, hoping to get a better response.

“You did a great kindness to the Maleficar, Fluttershy. I’m sure they feel the same way, even after the uprising. The templar would not have given them final rites.”

Fluttershy merely mumbled as she stared into her cider bowl, as if expecting the meaning of life to come from the beverage.

Narrowing her eyes, Twilight looked to Rainbow Dash, expecting a similar answer. “So, Rainbow Dash. Those were some pretty impressive moves against Hubred. They were pretty cool.”

Dash looked up as if trying to fill her voice with passion, only to fall flat. “Could have been better,” she said, batting an apple around with her hooves, “I bet I could have done a percentage cooler.”

With an exasperated sigh, Twilight drank from her cider bowl. The warm liquid was certainly good, much different than anything she had ever had before. This was becoming frustrating, and Twilight didn’t know how to snap her friends back from their melancholy.

“What is wrong with everypony?” She asked with a bit more force than she intended, “You are all acting like some tragedy happened. I know the illusions felt real but they were not. If you could all please just tell me what’s wrong, maybe we can find a way to help each other.”

Fluttershy looked up at Twilight, her eyes holding an unfamiliar sorrow. “I wanted to be somewhere safe,” the yellow pegasus began, “Somewhere I wouldn’t be hunted by ponies bent on finding me, punishing me for a crime I did not commit. That’s what the Sloth Demon showed me, what it gave me in the Fade. Someplace safe surrounded by little animals that I could care for. It’s only fair for all of you know to know who I was in Filais, before I joined the Chantry cloister.”

“In Filais, I was a bard, a pony who was both a travelling troubadour as well as a spy. Bards were the pawns of the Filesian nobility, who conspired against each other for power, prestige, and personal vendettas. I wasn’t a very good bard, I mean, I knew a lot of stories and songs, but I didn’t like being put in front of crowds of nobles. But I was very good at listening, and noticing even the smallest of details. The Bardmaster sent me to spy and retrieve information from a powerful noble, who she claimed was a traitor the Empress of Filais…”

“Miss Fluttershy, Miss Fluttershy!” came the calls of the nobleman’s little foals. Fluttershy turned around and smiled at the two young ones; they loved hearing their nurse’s bedtime stories and songs. It was time for bed, and they were eager for another melody, or another tale of wonder and amazement.

“Come now, little ones,” Fluttershy said, soft and gently to the foals, “It’s time to lay down your sleepy heads. I’ll tell you a nice story about how Lunar Blossoms got their name. Or a nice little lullaby, would you like that?”

“Tell us a story about the Mare of the Mire!” piped Magnifique. The little unicorn always loved tales of powerful sorceresses, and any tale of Flemeth were her favourites.

As with every night, however, Glorieux wanted something different. “No!” she cried out, “Tell us the story about the first mare chevalier, Bon Bon!” As the first daughter of Chevalier General Puissant, the young earth pony yearned for nothing more than stories of Bon Bon and her tales of heroics, wanting to be a chevalier herself one day.

Fluttershy smiled down on the small ponies, “How about a song that my mother sang to me when I was your age?” Their eyes grew wide in anticipation, then both sisters bounded over to their beds, wrapped warmly in fine linen blankets, resting their heads on soft feathered pillows.

“Hush now, quiet now,
It’s time to lay your sleepy heads,
Hush now, quiet now,
It’s time to go to bed…”

The yellow pegasus continued to sing, watching over her charges as they drifted into peaceful slumber. They looked like little angels as they slept under the watchful light of Luna leaking through their bedroom windows. With a careful hoof, she gingerly stroked the manes of Magnifique and Glorieux, sighing as she looked up to the full moon.

If it were not for the Bardmaster, would she ever have such a place in Filais? Fluttershy often wondered this, as she closed the door and walked through the halls of the estate. She was put in place to spy on General, but the only secrets the ranking officer had was an enjoyment of Equestrian cider and dancing on the roof of his home with his wife. Nothing nefarious or treasonous. He was a good pony, one who treated his servants with respect and fairness.

Maybe I can go appeal to the Bardmaster, Fluttershy thought as she made her way to Puissant’s study. I can bring her my report on the General, and then ask if I can stay on. This is a good life. Everyone is so kind. I can stay here

She creaked open the door of the study to see the General and his wife playing chess. Keeps the mind sharp, Puissant would explain. Fluttershy had never had the opportunity to the play, but she wondered if this game was connected the The Game of the nobility in some form.

“Excuse me, sir,” Fluttershy said as she stuck her head into the study, “But the foals are fast asleep. Is there anything else you wish of me?”

“Oh Fluttershy, do come in and join us,” Madame Elegance left her husband and the game board, motioning for the filly-in-waiting to enter, “You have been such wonder to the little ones. They love you dearly; I wanted to do something to repay you.”

“Quite so,” was the gruff response from the General. He did not like his games of chess to be interrupted, but his eyes were filled with the same gratitude as his wife. Elegance pushed Fluttershy towards a large object shrouded by a cloth. The noble unicorn had a wide smile as she directed her magic to remove the cloth, revealing a bright yellow and green dress.

The pegasus gasped as she looked on the work of art. “It may be last season’s fashion, but I think it would look absolutely marvelous on you,” Lady Elegance said, “Although I couldn’t rightly cut such fabric to make room for you wings.”

“It’s wonderful!” Fluttershy had never been given such a gift before. Most pegasi could never afford such dresses in their lifetimes, and now she was being given one for herself. She had to appeal to the Bardmaster after this. She wanted to stay.

“I am so glad you like it,” Elegance cheerfully said, “Husband, do leave us. I want to see Fluttershy in this dress.”

The General huffed as he was shooed out of his own study, but made no more objections as soon as he was out the door. Quickly Fluttershy put on the dress with the Lady’s assistance, until she was standing in front of a large mirror. Yes, her wings were hidden, but it was a small price to pay.

The dress really was wonderful. It was rather uncanny how close of a body shape she shared with Lady Elegance, but the dress fit perfectly. The Filesian Haute Couture style was everything Fluttershy dreamed of. Every hem and weave matched her body, and the shoes felt like she was walking on clouds.

“Oh thank you my lady, thank you!” Uncharacteristically, she embraced the Lady of the household close, who laughed as she returned the gesture. When she realized what she had done, Fluttershy let go, her cheeks flushed with colour.

Elegance laughed again, the usual laugh of noblemares. “My dear, you have been such a treasure to us. Pegasus or not, we consider you family here.” The door opened, revealing General Puissant with a scroll hanging gently in his teeth. He approached the desk, setting the scroll down on the surface before turning to Fluttershy.

“Messenger brought this,” he said, “Says it is from your grandmother.” Fluttershy’s eyes widened at the mention of the ‘grandmother’. It was the code that the Bardmaster used to identify herself. She broke the seal on the scroll and scanned the contents quickly for key words. The letter was written as it would be from an elder doting on her granddaughter, but some key words would indicate that the Bardmaster was summoning Fluttershy to her location.

She looked to the General and his wife, bowing her head low. “My grandmother is very sick,” Fluttershy lied, hating every word that she had to say, “May I please go see her? It’s very important.”

Lady Elegance nodded her head, with Puissant following suit with a grunt as he sat back down in front of the chessboard. Fluttershy curtsied on her way out before heading to her quarters. As much as she wanted to show the Bardmaster the dress as more evidence for her appeal to stay with the family, the location of the meeting was a secret and a brightly coloured dress like this would only stand out at this time of night.

The night air was cool as Fluttershy trotted quickly through the Capitol’s streets. The roads were barren save for a few guards and migrants, who paid no heed to a hooded mare travelling through the districts.

She approached the doors of a tavern’s cellar where the letter said the meeting would take place. Fluttershy knocked on the door three times, before seeing a single bar of wood sliding over, revealing two bloodshot eyes.

“Password,” said the rough voice on the other side of the door.

“Equestria smells like wet dog,” Fluttershy responded. The door guard laughed before closing the slider. The door opened wide enough for the pegasus bard to slip into the cellar unnoticed. She followed close behind the guard as they travelled the torchlit underground until they arrived into a much bigger and much busier room.

The room was filled with ponies and materiel used by the bards as they milled about with other rogues and scoundrels-for-hire. Weapons lined several tables, while others were adorned with detailed maps and reports. In the centre of it all stood the Bardmaster, directing her own army of shadows as she saw fit.

The Bardmaster was a blue coated earth pony by the name of Artistic Finish. Her white mane was cut prim and proper, and she always hid her eyes behind violet tinted goggles. The first time most ponies met her, they would think the goggles were silly. They did nothing but hid her eyes. But after a while, most bards found exactly that to be most unnerving thing of all. They could not see the Bardmaster’s eyes.

Artistic Finish noticed Fluttershy’s approach, ignoring everypony around her to meet her agent. “Ah, Fluttershy, my finest bard has returned to ze nest!” She spoke with such florish, all the pegasus could so was meekly smile, “I have been so anticipating your return. I need you to create ze magickz again!”

“Uhm, Bardmaster,” Fluttershy said, barely above a whisper. She had to make the appeal now, “I came to deliver my report. But if I could say, General Puissant has done nothing to warrant attention, nothing about treason or-”

“Ah, forget about Puissant,” the Bardmaster ushered Fluttershy closer, “I have a new, very important task for you. A new role zat needs someone like you, Fluttershy. It needs your magickz. Zen you are done!”

That didn’t sound too hard. One more job with the bards, with the nobility, with The Game. She would ask for a leave of absence from Puissant’s household, just enough to take care of her ‘sick grandmother’. Then she could and see Magnifique and Glorieux grow up, sing the songs they loved and tell them stories.

Artistic Finish leaned close to Fluttershy’s ear and whispered: “I need you to play ze role…of patzy.”

Fluttershy let out a sharp gasp as Filesian Soldiers quickly surrounded her, coming out of the shadows from every rock and crevice, swords drawn and waiting for an excuse to use them. How could the Bardmaster have done this? With every blade and arrow alike trained on her, there was no hope but to submit to Finish.

Quickly her hooves were bound by shackles, and a rope was tied around her neck. The humiliation she was facing was not hers alone to bear, as other bards were being rounded up and arrested. Filesian soldiers were pushing their captives through the caves only to be joined by more soldiers bearing a new insignia: the crest of the country of Pura Raza.

Her ears drooped as everything spiraled out of control. Artistic Finish was the traitor, and was going to use her as a distraction for some plan, likely against the Empress. The worst part of it all was that there was nothing Fluttershy could do about it.

In the morning she and the rest of the bards were being paraded around the Capitol like true villains, with Fluttershy being touted as the mastermind of a conspiracy against Filais. The ponies of the city booed and jeered at her, throwing rotten vegetables at her and her unfortunate compatriots. Artistic Finish took on all accolades for their capture, further securing the trust of the Empress and her court with that of the traitor. Thankfully, General Puissant and his family had not joined the crowd.

There was no trial. All of the bards who Finish had betrayed were sent into the prison of La Détention Criminelle. Every day, another prisoner was taken into the courtyard to be mocked, to be “judged”, then to be executed. Fluttershy could see every execution from her cell, when the guards were not being ordered by the Bardmaster to beat her…

Fluttershy broke down into sobs as painful memories were brought to the forefront. Feeling awful for drudging up a painful past, Twilight laid a hoof on the pegasus’ shoulder. In a short amount of time, the former spy had everything she wanted and then nothing. From a peaceful existence to facing the executioner’s block. It was amazing just how much Fluttershy had suffered in Filais, but moreso the strength she showed to overcome it all.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered, “It’s been so long since then. I escaped Filais during a prison riot and was able to come to Equestria, in hopes that the Bardmaster would never find me. It’s why I hid in the Chantry and covered my wings with the sister’s robes. After a while, I began to get used to living in the Chantry. It is very calming, and the gardens of the cloister were simply lovely and so peaceful. I felt happy for the first time in years.”

“But when the news of the Blight came to the Chantry, it was then that I received the dream from Celestia.” Twilight leaned in closer, her desire to hear about a dream from a goddess her top priority. “I was in the gardens, taking care of all the little critters that called it home, when a sickly bird fell from the sky. I tried to nurse it back to health, but not matter what I did, the bird’s health would not improve. The other sisters said that the bird was doomed, but I wouldn’t give up on the little creature.”

“One day, I had a dream that the bird flew towards the Celestia’s sun and burst into flames. I was scared for the bird at first until it flew down, a magnificent creature with wings of fire. It bowed as if to thank me for all its help, and then flew off towards Ostequus. I knew then that I had to follow it. Without thinking I flew after the firebird, until it landed on top of a grey shield. I knew then that I had to leave the cloister and come find you.”

The dream still sounded off, but Twilight was glad to have Fluttershy with her group. She was a pony with a new sense of purpose, and nothing motivated somepony than feeling that they belonged.

“Oh my,” Fluttershy squeaked as her stomach gave off a loud rumbling, “I was going on for so long, I interrupted the meal. I’m sorry.”

The other ponies quickly laid the pink-maned sister’s worries at ease as their own stomachs began to sing out in unison for sustenance. They began to munch happily on the fresh serving of apples, as well as consume a healthy amount of cider.

“Mmm,” Pinkie Pie said with cheer, “These are nice and juicy! Definitely from Red Apple Acres. They’d make for some great apple pies! Or apple fritters, or apple tarts…”

Pinkie trailed off as eyes became downcast. Twilight watched as Pinkie began to sniffle, eyes welling up in tears of her own. “The bakery from the Fade,” Pinkie revealed, “It was all I ever wanted. That mean demon showed me what I wanted, made me want to give up this adventure to have that bakery.”

“No, not just the bakery,” Pinkie amended, “That meanie was showing me a life where I wouldn’t have to fight anymore. I hated being a guard in Ponyring, I hate every time I have to lift my mace, or use my grenades to hurt ponies. That bakery was what I wanted to really be; a pony who could spread happiness to everypony everywhere! Then the Ponyspawn came…”

Pinkie Pie bounded down the road towards the Pie Homestead near the village of Ponyring. She had a spring to her step and a song in her voice ready for everypony to hear. After saving enough bits for months, she had finally been able to afford the book she wanted to buy to learn new recipes for her baking and alchemy. The book was large and heavy, but with a heart full of cheer, the pink earth pony needed no more motivation to carry the big tome back home.

‘All You Needed to Know About Mixing Ingredients but Were Too Afraid to Ask’. A long title for a big book, but every time Pinkie saw the book she knew she had to have it. All the recipes her mother taught her were…okay, but they weren’t fun! Not like learning to bake delicious cakes, or learning how to mix poultices and draughts that brought back that ‘oomph’ in a pony’s trot.

She was making a comfortable living off her work, selling the stamina draughts and lyrium grenades to bring in extra income. Ever since Papa Pie passed away, things had been rough on the farm, so Pinkie started doubling as a guard for Ponyring under Bann Meyer as well as work on the farm. Her sisters, Inky and Blinky, also had to take on other jobs, but in the end, life was still as stable as ever.

Being a guard was okay. Pinkie liked the uniform chainmail she was given, and many ponies went to her for help like directions. It made meeting new ponies easy, and she felt good when they smiled at her. It was the actual fighting she didn’t like. Every once in a while, a group of bandits would accost some poor pony, she and other guards would have to chase them off. More often than not, casualties were involved.

Still it was the good life. A stable life and stable was boring! It was time for another Pinkie Pie Party! Not for any reason except to celebrate that the family was still together, through good times and hard times. Tonight was going to be a wonderful night for a party: the moon was full with Luna’s light illuminating the night sky.

There was a buzzing noise in the distance, like the sound of hundreds of stones hitting the dirt road. Pinkie quickened her pace until she was at a full gallop to see what was making the noise.

Over the edge of a foothill, Pinkie gasped as she saw the biggest progression of ponies she had ever seen. Hundreds of soldier ponies were marching together south towards the old ruins of Ostequus in the Potpourri Wilds. Banners of the King of Equestria as well as the Terynir of Glenwell waved in the light breeze.

Pinkie bounced down to the side of the marching army, until she was side by side with one of the soldiers. Mimicking the soldiers movements, she couldn’t help but begin a conversation with the armoured earth pony.

“Hi!” She chirped, eyes pleasant and lips curled into a bright smile, “I’m Pinkie Pie! I’m a guard from Ponyring. What’s going on? Are you all heading to a party? I love parties! I bet Ostequus would be a great place for a party!”

The soldier rolled his eyes and sighed. “This is not a party,” he said, “We are marching with King Blueblood and Teryn Loghoof to fight the ponyspawn. Please return to your home. With the King and the Teryn, as well as the Grey Wardens, you won’t have to worry at all.”

Pinkie dropped her march as the rest of the assembled army continued past her. More fighting? Why couldn’t ponies just focus on having fun and enjoying life? And what was all this about ponyspawn? They haven’t been seen in Equestria for over a hundred years.

“He’s right,” Pinkie said to no one in particular, “I don’t have to worry. The Teryn is a hero, and the King is the King! Maybe on their way back from Ostequus, we can have a really big party! Now I can’t wait!”

With a new incorrigible smile on her face, the pink guardspony bounced back home, humming a tune she had just wrote for her love of making cupcakes. As she neared the farm, she could see the fires in the hearth burning bright through the windows. Mama Pie was home and probably busy making dinner.

“I’m hooooome!” Pinkie called as she opened the door wide. Mama Pie was already there to greet her daughter with a wan smile.

“Welcome home, Pinkamena,” she said; ignoring her daughter’s very audible gag at her full name, “Inky and Blinkie should be home soon. Why don’t you tell me how the day has been?”

And so Pinkie did and with great gusto. She described everything from the old Filesian family dealing with that pony from the Wilds again, to her buying her very large book of recipes, to seeing the marching army head for Ostequus. As Mama Pie listened, the door opened and Pinkie’s two sisters entered the house weary from another day of hard work.

Pinkie rushed over to her siblings, grasping them both in a large hug. She was always happy to see Inky and Blinkie, and they always returned the affection they received. “Pies are we, together and forever till the end,” Pinkie said, their sisterly oath recited every night they were together. It was one of the few things Papa Pie left behind.

“Till the end, forever and together we are Pies,” responded the sisters, giggling as they let go to join their mother for dinner. Pinkie repeated her day’s events to her sisters, only to be stopped by Inky at the mention of the marching army.

“I’ve seen the army too,” the light grey mare said, “Mama Pie, maybe we should consider heading west, to Trotterim, or even Amarethine. We are awfully close to the Wilds and to the ponyspawn.”

“We’ve built a life here!” said Blinkie, her voice rising in anger, “We can’t just leave it all behind! Papa Pie built this farm with his bare hooves. The army is going to beat the ponyspawn, and everything is going to be fine.”

Pinkie hated it when her sisters fought. She just didn’t have the heart to agree or disagree with both of them, and they both made good points. They couldn’t stay at the farm if the ponyspawn were invading, but the army was going to stop them. Wouldn’t they?

“Calm down, girls,” Mama Pie said, “We’ll pack some essentials and be ready to leave if we have to. Let’s just pray that it does not come to it.”

Mama Pie was always there to help ease Pinkie’s worries. As long as they were together, there was nothing to fear. Wanting to change the subject, Pinkie dashed off to her bags, pulling the large book she bought and bringing it to her family to see.

“Don’t worry about some mean old ponyspawn,” Pinkie chimed, “When the army marches back, we can have a big party to celebrate! Won’t that be great?”

The two sisters laughed as they joined Pinkie Pie and her large book. They poked at certain recipes for cakes and pastries, talked about where to find ingredients for bizarre potions and poultices and other strange concoctions. There were even instructions on how to create a “healing grenade”. Pinkie didn’t know how something like that would work, but was more than excited to find out!

On the second day, more soldiers arrived for the battle of Ostequus.

On the third day, all was quiet. At night, a light could be seen from the old ruins.

On the fourth day, the army left the wilds. Their numbers were fewer, and the banner of the King did not fly.

On the fifth day, the ponyspawn attacked. When Inky spotted the screamers above the treetops, she shouted out to the rest of the family to escape. Before Pinkie knew it, several thelocks and donlocks were already descending on countryside, tearing apart the land and the farmers alike.

“Hurry!” Blinkie shouted as she lead the family through the hills, “We have to get as far away as possible!”

“Where?” Pinkie looked behind her to see a swarm of thelocks rushing towards them. She pulled a grenade, a simple exploding variant, and twisted the timing mechanism to five seconds. With a powerful twist of her neck, she sent the grenade flying into the monstrosities, watching as the bomb sent them flying with and without limbs.

Inky was firing a volley of arrows at the ponyspawn while Blinkie was guarding their mother with her sword. Shouts of battle could be heard all around them as other families and Bann Meyer’s soldiers were fighting and losing ground quickly. Pinkie looked around and saw a crevasse they could slip through if they were swift.

“That way!” Pinkie called out. The rest of her family quickly galloped over to the hillside ridge, while Pinkie backed away, tossing grenade after grenade towards the ponyspawn. The rocks looked old and brittle, and one good explosion would bring the rocks down on the ponyspawn and block the passageway.

She had to give her family the opportunity to escape. Priming another grenade, the pink alchemist was going to use it to cause the landslide until a screamer sailed into her, dropping the grenade and pushing her towards the ponyspawn. The screamer leered at Pinkie with its single massive eye before letting out a bone shaking screech.

“Pinkie!” She could hear Mama Pie crying out for her, but she couldn’t do anything with the screamer clawing at her. Looking at her fallen grenade, she had to make a decision, and quickly.

With a sudden rush of adrenaline, she slammed her hoof into the eye of the screamer, watching the beast recoil in pain as it clutched its large eye with its talons. Time was running short, as the ponyspawn were rushing forward. With one hoof, Pinkie armed the grenade to detonate in two seconds.

She grunted as she kicked the grenade towards the ridge. Blinkie’s eyes widened as she realized what her sister had done. “No!” she cried, but was soon muffled by the explosion. The rocks followed suit collapsing into the crevasse, making passage impossible for pony and ponyspawn alike.

Pinkie looked up to see more rocks breaking. The explosion worked too well, as the stones fell and crushed the screamer that had attacked her. Pinkie ducked, her forelegs covering her head.

“Together and forever, till the end,” Pinkie whispered, her eyes shut as the rocks fell on top of her, until there was only black…

“And then I woke up to see Bann Meyer’s soldiers clearing things up, but they didn’t see where Mama Pie or my sisters went either.” Pinkie’s mane had deflated just as it did every time she was forced to use her mace. Twilight could see anger rise in Applejack’s features as Pinkie finished her story, and she could feel her own emotions rise to match. Another life ruined because Loghoof had quit the battle of Ostequus.

“I’m so sorry you lost track of your family Pinkie,” Twilight said, but how much comfort could she give? She didn’t even know her family, having only remembered living in the Unicorn Tower since she was a foal. Pinkie’s mane poofed right back up though, and her bright smile, though wavering, appeared once again.

“Don’t worry!” she said with typical Pinkie Pie cheer, “I’ll see my family again. I’m sure they went to that place with wall in its name. If only I could remember. Was it McCoywall? That just sounds silly. Scottywall? Oh! Spockwall! No, that’s not logical.”

“Anyways, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if I help my friends save all of Equestria! You girls are like my new family now! Together and forever, till the end!” With that, Pinkie embraced all her friends over the table, rocking the bowls of cider around as she held them close. There was something infectious about Pinkie Pie’s happiness, something Twilight didn’t know how she did without.

They all enjoyed another round of cider as the jenny took away the apples, replacing them instead with a bowl of cut daffodils and daisies. As they ate, Rainbow Dash laid both hooves on the table, her eyes fierce and a smirk on her lips.

“You haven’t heard nothing yet,” she said, “My story is made of awesome. Just you wait. Yeah, the demon showed me what I wanted, but it wasn't an old cloud house or hanging with the Wonderbolts. No, what he gave me was freedom, or at least a dream about it.”

“See, everything goes much farther than my time in Pura Raza. Like I said when we first met I was actually born in Equestria and even when I was a little filly, I knew I was destined for greatness…”

A mother and her filly flew through the air of Amarethine in the dark of night, the moon full and Luna’s moonbeams covering the city in pale light. As they flew, they were being chased by dozens of armed guards, both earth pony and pegasi alike. They swirved and dived between the buildings as the guards shouted for a typhoon of arrows on the two.

Hundreds of arrows filled the sky; if it were sunny it would be like fighting in the shade. But even thousand arrows could never hope to strike such a dynamic pair as they landed before the docks. With amazing skill, the pegasus duo dodged the arrow assault with ease. Their ship was already drifting away in the currents, as the captain waved a hoof towards them.

But now there was nowhere to run, nowhere to fly as the parent and child were surrounded by hundreds of guards. The mother looked over to a young yet awesome Rainbow Dash, with a sly smile on her face.

“Think you’re a bad enough pegasus to handle all of these clowns?” she asked, brandishing her awesome daggers. The little filly rubbed her hooves together and gave a sharp laugh.

“They might as well have brought the entire circus,” Dash said before joining her mother in a brilliant display of daring, of bravery, of-

“Now wait an applebuckin’ minute,” Applejack had a raised eyebrow as she looked to Dash, “How come I have a feeling you’re just pulling all our legs at once in here.”

The cyan pegasus rolled her eyes. “Well duh, I’m trying to tell the awesome version of what happened. But if you really want the boring version, I suppose I could give you that one.”

Despite Rainbow Dash’s insistence on the “awesome version”, Twilight could see in the assassin’s eyes that she did not want to tell the truth. “Dash, if you don’t want to tell us, you don’t have to. We understand.”

Dash’s ears drooped, her fuschia eyes almost begging to Twilight that she didn’t have to tell her story. With a heavy sigh, she straightened herself out, and began again.

“It’s not that I don’t want to tell you, its just difficult to put into words. It...hurts to remember. But if Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie could do it, so can I. I may have tweaked some of the events, but if you all really want to know, here it is…”

A mother walked slowly through the dark alleys of Amarethine City in the dark of night, the moon full and Luna’s moonbeams covering the city in pale light. She carried her sleeping filly in one foreleg as they made their way through the muck of the poorly maintained city. They just had to make their way to the docks without being noticed by the patrolling guard.

It was a small blessing that her daughter slept so soundly despite the journey and the mother knew she had to count her blessings when they came, including finally finding safe passage away from this slum of a city. Arl Rendon Maim spent more bits on his own personal fortress and its luxuries than on Amarethine and the countryside, and the city had decayed into a cesspit of smugglers and thieves to show for his negligence.

No,thought the mother, my daughter will not grow up like this. It had cost her much more than just bits to book passage, but it would all be worth it if Rainbow Dash grew up free. Not some servant to a lord or worse, an outlaw to be hunted. Rainbow Dash would not make the same mistakes she had.

They were so close to the docks, she could already smell the salt in the air. She just had to make it to the crate they were supposed to be waiting in for the captain of the ship. The shadows were her best allies, and she used them to hide from the patrols of guards. There was a large tempting bounty on her head, a bounty she had accrued throughout her life that now put her child in danger.

Odd how one small foal could make a difference in a pony’s life? One moment she was the bane of guardsponies in all Amarethine and next she was scared witless of them, if only to keep and protect her daughter. Her past self would have chided her for growing soft. Her past self died when Rainbow Dash was born.

The docks were quiet, the ships rocking gently against the current. There near the “Siren’s Chastity” was the crate she was told to hide in. Even on three hooves, she moved with silence and grace from shadow to shadow. From the corner of her eye she noticed a patrol, two armoured earth ponies making their way down to the docks.

Carefully, she opened the crate marked ‘Cider to Pura Raza’ and gently laid the sleeping Dash inside first before climbing in herself. With the lid of the crate closed, she could finally breathe a sigh of relief. She just had to wait for the captain-

“Mom? Where are we?” Her shock was plain to see on her eyes as she moved a hoof to Rainbow Dash’s mouth, hushing her daughter as she listened intently.

“What was that noise?” said one of the guards. Hoofsteps on the wooden docks, though muffled, sent the mother’s heart racing. Hoof still tight on her daughter’s lips, she took one shallow breathe of air and could do nothing but wait.

“What’s in the box?” She swore she could hear the breathing of the two guardsponies. They were so close. She was so close. Everything was going to come crashing down around them. Softly, she drew a dagger from her side, and held the mouthbit tight between her teeth. They would not take her daughter without their blood being spilled. Without her blood being spilled.

“Scared of boxes now?” said a different guard. The first guard stammered for a moment, collecting his words for a rebuttal.

“I ain’t scared of no boxes. Forget it, Arl Maim doesn’t pay us enough for this.” Still not time to take a breath, but her heart beat slower as she heard the guards hoofsteps echo into the distance. She brushed Rainbow Dash’s mane with a hoof as she waited for the guardsponies to finally leave before taking a look outside. She hoped the ship captain had not taken the money and ran, or sailed as it were.


The mother froze as she heard the three knocks against the side of the crate. The captain said he would signal when to emerge from the crates. She wondered if this was the signal she was waiting for. Little Rainbow Dash shook in her hooves, scared witless of the uncertainty of everything around her. This was not how she wanted her daughter to live, but it was the only way to escape.

Slowly she pried the top of the crate open, looking out to see the ship captain waiting. The captain was an old earth pony, with a pale blue coat, white mane, and far too many scars on his hide. He looked over to the crate before motioning for the mother to join him.

She and her filly left the crate and stood before the old pony. “Hurry up,” he said, his voice hoarse, “We ain’t got all night.” He looked down to see Rainbow Dash under her mother’s cloak. His lips curled in a vile smile, many of his teeth rotting or missing.

“You must be little Rainbow Dash. A pleasure to meet ya-”

Before he could say another word, the mother rushed forward, dagger in her mouth and blade pressed against the captain’s neck. “Never speak to my daughter,” she hissed through the handle-bit, “Never look at her. And by everything under Celestia and Luna, if I even suspect you or any of your crew have laid a hoof on a single strand of her mane, I will kill every last one of you. Slowly.”

Rainbow Dash whimpered as she looked up to her mother, frightened at the transformation that seemed to occur. Sheathing the dagger, she cradled her daughter close while keeping an eye on the captain. He huffed, but eventually relented. In silence, the pegasi boarded the ship and headed into the lower holds.

“Where are we going?” The blue filly asked. Her mother shushed her, then began stroking her mane again as she stared blankly at the ship’s hull.

“To a place called Pura Raza,” she answered, “A place where you can grow up to become whatever you want to be. Don’t worry, little Dash. We’ll be together and safe, always.”

Rainbow Dash took another gulp of cider. “I didn’t learn until later that my mother was a killer,” she said, “She was hunted in Equestria for a lot of murders.”

“Apples don’t fall far from the tree.” Applejack muttered, but immediately regretted it. “Sorry Dash. Ah’m just not over the fact you were sent to kill us.”

“What is Pura Raza like?” Twilight asked. Rainbow Dash laughed, but it was a cold laugh, with little mirth.

“Worst. Place. Ever. Sure, Pura Razan’s don’t care if you have wings or a horn, but one rule overtakes them all. The one with the bits makes the rules. Nothing mattered in Pura Raza but how to best make the gold. Things looked like we were swimming in daisies, but what I didn’t know was that everything went downhill the moment we left the boat. Even after ten years of living in Pura Raza, old habits die hard after all…”

“Now Rainbow, I know you don’t like it…”

“I hate it! I makes me look lame!” Rainbow Dash sat on her haunches, forelegs crossed as she glared at her mother. She was dressed in a frilly pink dress that was supposed to all the rage in Pura Raza for young mares. All she wanted to do was show the pink monstrosity all the rage she had. “I can’t fly with this thing on! And why do I have to wear it anyways?”

“Because Lady Avispado wants her students to look their best before they perform in front of the Merchant’s Guild.” Dash’s mother shook her head as she tightened the laces on the girdle. The multicoloured pegasus grunted as the bodice tightened around her chest. Now she couldn’t fly and breathe!

There came a knock at the door. Dash’s mother moved to open the door only to be met with a scrawny messenger pegasus holding a scroll in his mouth. Without a word, a bit was exchanged for the message. Her mother opened the scroll, quickly scanning the contents before closing it and packing it away in one of the back pockets of her long jacket.

“My little Rainbow,” her mother said, as if ignoring what the scroll had to say, “You’re all grown up. You’ll be a mare soon, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m so proud of you, of the kind of lady you’ve become. Your beautiful, strong, and still have that fire in your eyes like I did when I was your age.”

She always got like this whenever a scroll came to the door. What was up with that? Dash didn’t dispute the words though. She did endure years of Lady Avispado’s classes because it was what her mother wanted. She wanted her mother to be proud of her.

“Aw mom, stop it,” Dash nuzzled her mother’s neck. When she noticed the position of the sun in the sky, she gasped and immediately headed to the doorway.

“Loveyoumomgottagobye!” Moving her hooves as fast as she could, Rainbow Dash sped off towards Avispado’s school. After all, it wouldn’t make her mom proud if she was late to the performance.

She travelled through the streets of the city with ease, stepping around ponies with grace as she moved through crowds. Only a block away sat the fussy elder pegasus’ school for sky dancers, the best flyers to come out of Pura Raza. They performed for lords and ladies all across the world, and Dash’s mother had paid a lot of money to get Dash into her classes.

Not that Dash hated the lessons, but the rules Avispado enforced were stifling. There were specifics to every motion; hooves had to be in the right place, wings had to move to the right beat, even the way she had her face had to perfect. All Rainbow wanted to do was fly as fast as her wings would let her. Then fly faster still.

Lady Avispado stood with the rest of the class as Rainbow took her place with the other pegasi. She said nothing, turning towards the center of the city to the Merchant’s Guild. All of the pegasi began to prance behind their teacher, eyes half open and all dressed in frilly gowns much like Rainbow’s.

The Merchants Guild was a colossal building, home to the Council of Six who ruled over Pura Raza with iron horseshoes and deep moneybags. All trade in Pura Raza was regulated by the Guild; the only illegal goods and services were those who did not give the Guild a cut. They managed the mercenaries who made up the army and guard force of Pura Raza, as well as the laws of the land. They also kept the king of Pura Raza fat and happy for political purposes outside of their direct control.

While the Merchant’s Guild was an administrative building, it was thanks to their love of luxuries that it was also the largest arena in the city, as well as the most exclusive. Only the Council of Six and their guests were given invitations, and only the best performers were ever considered. That, or one of the Six’s fillies were in the class, and they just wanted to show off.

“Listen, everypony,” Avispado called as they entered a dressing room of sorts, “This is the most important performance I will have ever have given in my entire career. All of you up to this point would have passed with flying colours, but now you will all fail if you ruin my chance to impress the Six. So don’t knacker this up!”

Rainbow Dash swallowed hard as she heard Avispado’s warning. No pressure, she told herself, just show them how awesome you are.

One by one the pegasi left the dressing room, emerging from behind velvet curtains onto a grand circular stage. Surrounding them sat the Council of Six and all their guests, applauding the arrival of the sky dancers. Everything was hushed as they took their positions, waiting for the music to play. Rainbow could feel a drop of sweat form on her head.

The minstrels began to play, a dynamic tune that involved incredible movement of both hooves and wings. Timed jumps and dives were performed with impressive dexterity. Finally getting into her own timing well, Rainbow smiled as she and the other pegasi danced, their movements as if one colourful motion of the wind.

Once their performance was over and they bowed towards the Six, the arena erupted in the applause of stomping hooves. “Brava! Brava!” the cheers resounded. Rainbow Dash smiled as she looked around the arena; she only wished her mother was here to see all this.

One of the Six rose up from his seat. A unicorn with a brown coat and red mane, Lord Despiadado raised a hoof in silence. “You have performed spectacularly,” he said, his voice carrying throughout the arena, “We would very much like to see you again for the Summer Sun Celebration. I am sure Lady Avisado has nothing else arranged.”

Even if she did, Avisado said nothing, only stuttering as she fainted to the ground. Lord Despidado chuckled before turning away, although his eyes lingered on Rainbow Dash for a moment. She felt cold as his gaze stayed on her before joining the rest of the Six.

Before the pegasi could leave to celebrate such a successful performance, the walls shook all around them. Mercenary guards rushed into the Guild Hall, ignoring the young mares as they headed towards the Six, weapons drawn as they formed pairs with their employers.

“There has been an explosion, Senior,” one of the guards said to Desdipado, “A shipment of lyrium direct from Orzamule. The Shadowbolts claimed responsibility, and are fighting our stallions in the streets, but they will be dealt within the hour.”

“Good.” Despiadado turned away from the mercenary captain and towards the pegasi dancers. “The streets are dangerous at the moment, with all this unpleasantness going on. Please, accept our invitation to stay until the guards have the situation under control. They will escort you home as soon as they are able.”

The Six retreated amongst themselves, talking in rapid Razan before separating in different directions of the Guild Hall. Rainbow Dash looked towards the doors leading outside, flanked by two well armed and armoured guards. She knew an explosion like that would hurt somepony, but all she cared about was if her mom was alright.

Out of the corner of her eye, the rainbow maned pegasus saw Despiadado speaking with her teacher. Avispado pointed a hoof in Rainbow’s direction as both spoke in hushed tones. The merchant lord levitated a small leather pouch from the side of his long coat, moving the pouch with his mind into Avispado’s waiting hoof. The linen bag disappeared in an instant as she made her way to Rainbow Dash, who feigned interest in a ceramic pot rather than watching the exchange.

Exchange of what exactly? Rainbow was certain she did not want to know, but was about to find out. “Rainbow Dash,” said Avispado as she looked down on her cyan student, “It would seem Senior Depsiadado would like to speak to you in private. Please follow him to his office.”

Rainbow wanted to say no, but one did not refuse a request from one of the Six. She followed the master merchant up a large flight of stairs until she found herself in a luxurious office, filled with all sorts of fine silks, bottles of imported wine, and above all was a stained glassed window depicting the sun in all her glory. The light from Celestia’s sun, however, did not shine through the stained glass sun.

Despiadado used his magic to lift two delicate crystal glasses from a nearby cabinet, followed by one bottle of red wine. “Imported all the way from Filais,” he said, pouring the expensive liquor into the glasses, “Please, join me for a drink, Senorita Dash. You have earned such.”

Dash smiled to keep up appearances, but politely shook her head. “I’m not much of a drinker, Senior.”

“Ah. A shame.” Despiadado downed the liquor in one gulp before turning towards Rainbow Dash, his eyes looking the young mare over. “I found your performance, as well as yourself, quite fetching, my dear.” His voice oozed with desire, that much Rainbow Dash knew. She backed away from him slowly towards the door.

“Uh, thanks and all, but I really should be going home.” The room was too small, too compact, and the door was likely to be guarded on the outside. The only way out would be to smash through the stained glass window, but she didn’t know what kind of magic a unicorn like Despiadado had in his horn.

“But I wanted to get better acquainted with you my dear.” He leered closer, until his mouth was dangerously close to Dash. She could feel his breathing on her mane, and smell the wine in his breath. “I could make you rich, you know. Rich, with all the luxuries you could ever desire. All you have to do is say yes. Or don’t say anything at all. Nopony will know.”

“No,” Dash said weakly, until she was pressed against a wall with Despiadado looming over her, a wicked grin on his face. “NO!” came a much fiercer shout and with a flap of her wings, she gained enough leverage to swing her hooves into the offending unicorn’s face. He staggered a bit, but as he recovered, his eyes and horn began to glow, a face of rage contorting the once serene looking merchant lord.

“No one denies Despiadado, bruja,” he cursed before levitating a dagger towards Rainbow Dash, “I will have you whether you want it or not!” The dagger slashed against Dash’s clothes, slicing the laces of the girdle free as well as cutting the ribbons in her hair. The blade moved again to cut, when the stained glass window sun behind Despiadado burst.

Shards of broken glass fell forwards, slicing the hides of both Despiadado and Rainbow Dash. Standing on the desk was a pegasus, covered head to hoof in leather armour, her face obscured by a cowl except for the eyes. A long dagger was held in her teeth.

“The Six have called for your resignation, Despiadado, and those of…of…” The assassin looked up at Rainbow Dash. Neither could believe that they were looking into similar fuchsia eyes.

“Mom…?” She could scarcely believe what she was seeing. Her mother was an assassin. It explained everything, and yet so little. The money she had earned to send Dash to school, to buy their home and their clothes and their food. It all came from killing.

Sadness flushed over her mother’s eyes until she looked to Despiadado. Her face contorted in fury as she charged towards the unicorn, her blade seeking flesh, seeking to spill blood. “You monster!” She cried as she forced Despiadado onto his side, “You will never harm my foal! Never touch her! Never again! Never again!”

Rainbow Dash looked on in horror as her mother stabbed Despiadado with every furious curse, his blood flying everywhere until both mares were painted in his gore. They both breathed heavily for a moment until there was a knock on the door. Then the door was being pounded by heavy hooves. Then there was the shouts for alarm.

“Fly away Dash,” her mother said, standing before the door, “Fly away and never look back. Fly home; I’ll be with you soon.” Dash wanted to say something, to shout, cry, anything, but all she could do was swallow a lump of air and fly through the broken window. Tears streamed from her eyes as she flew faster than she ever had, wanting nothing to do with the Guild Hall, or anypony inside. She just wanted to be home, in the hooves of her mother, her gentle voice saying everything would be alright.

No. Nothing would be alright, not after this. Dash could never look at her mother the same way again. She was an assassin, a hitmare, a pony who traded lives for money. Everything, from the clothes she wore to the food she ate, was paid for in blood bits. Never had Dash felt so sick.

There was still fighting in the streets, with the mercenary guards fighting ponies in black leather armour while others in blue leather joined the fray to create a deadly three way dance. Fires sparked by the lyrium explosion caused plenty of panic and chaos for the various pony factions to focus on the immediate dangers around them, rather than a pegasus in a bloodied dress. Not while they had their own hides to worry about.

“Stop!” The sound of a heavy voice behind her as she landed in an alley startled Dash, who quickly turned to see a guard rush up to her, a spear hanging from his saddled levelled at her chest. The guard looked her over for a minute before flipping the spear upwards to a ready position.

“You appear to have been in the troubles, senorita,” the guard said, noting the blood and the dress, “You should return home as quick as you can. The streets have turned violent, no place for a young mare such as you. I will escort you home.”

Dash wanted to object, but the guard was the one with the spear. Thankfully, this guardspony seemed to be one of the few honest ones, asking only how Dash had gotten herself into such trouble and believed the lie that she was caught near the fighting.

When she returned home, Rainbow immediately stripped off the ruined pink dress and drew herself a bath. The lukewarm water did little to ease her tension. The blood was difficult to wash off.

After drying herself off and dressing in a simple cotton tunic, Rainbow Dash readied a fire in the hearth. Despite huddling in front of the blaze, the cyan pegasus had never felt so cold. She simply stared into the fire, as her mind flew dizzying thoughts into her. About her mother, about Despiadado, about the explosion only to come to the same conclusion: nothing made sense anymore.

A knocking noise sent Dash into alert. She looked to the door, but then turned to her mother’s room. The sound of the knocking was coming from there. Then there was the sound of a door creaking open, followed finally by a slump.

Dash pushed the door ajar, looking in only to throw it open and rush inside her mother’s room. Down on the floor in a pool of her own blood laid her mother, her breathing ragged and eyes half open. She was covered in blood as well as gashes and deep cuts. Three arrows jutted out of her side, and one of her wings was broken as it lay limp against her.

“Mom!” Rainbow Dash shouted, before holding her mother in her hooves, “I’ll save you! I just need to find a poultice, or go find a healer. Don’t leave me, please!” Her mother being an assassin was quickly forgotten. It didn’t matter; all that mattered now was that her mother was dying.

Her mother laughed, or tried to, but only coughed up blood. “I told you I’d see you soon. It seems like only yesterday, I was holding you like this. I’m sorry, little Rainbow. I love you.”

Rainbow Dash did not let go, simply holding her mother’s body in her arms as she rocked back and forth. “Why,” she whispered into her mother’s ears, “Why do all this? I didn’t need any of this. I didn’t want any of this. I just want you to be proud of me.”

But of course, no answer would ever come. She didn’t know how long she stayed with her mother until a knock at the front door startled her. Grabbing her mother’s long dagger in her teeth, she leaned close to door.

“Who is it,” she flatly stated. She didn’t want anyone to see her mother this way.

“Friends of your mother,” said a voice, deep and male. He had an Equestrian accent. “Soarin and Spitfire will watch the house. I mean no harm. I just wish to see your mother.”

“She’s dead!” Dash barked. There was a few seconds of silence until the stallion spoke again.

“I’d like to pay my respects then.”Dash was still unsure of the stallion waiting outside, but finally relented, opening the door to her home. Standing before her was a tall green pegasus with brown eyes. He wore simple garb covered by a brown cloak with the hood drawn back. Outside, a blue and orange pegasi were standing guard, each equipped with daggers and leather armour much like Dash’s mother.

“My name is Reinhardt,” said the pegasus, bowing his head, “I knew your mother well. She was one of us. May I see her?” Dash nodded, leading Reinhardt into her mother’s room, where the body still lay, appearing as if she were asleep. Reinhardt looked down on Dash’s mother with sad eyes, before offering a prayer to Celestia.

“What do you mean ‘one of us’.” Dash said as she pulled a sheet from the bed and began to wrap the body like a death shroud.

“Your mother didn’t want you to know,” Reinhardt explained, “But she was a member of the Wonderbolts. Before you say anything, yes, we are assassins and killers. But she only wanted the best for you. She wanted you to live happy and safe.”

“We Wonderbolts have stood against the Shadowbolts and their masters for a long time. We have tried to make Pura Raza a better place, but have been hindered by their greater resources. Lord Despiadado was one of the Shadowbolts’ masters. Her task was to assassinate him, to bring the Six under Wonderbolt control. The Shadowbolts could not stop your mother from her mission, so they attacked her.”

Dash said nothing as she stood up. A new fire burned in her eyes: a fire that demanded vengeance for the death of her mother. “I want to be a Wonderbolt,” she said at last, “I want to end the Shadowbolts. All of them.”

Reinhardt nodded. “Then we will teach you.”

“Reinhardt and the other Wonderbolts taught me everything I know,” Rainbow Dash concluded, “About stealth. About poisons. About fighting. About killing. And we did exactly what I wanted. Not a single Shadowbolt remained in Pura Raza.”

“It was then that Reinhardt offered me and a bunch of other Wonderbolt hopefuls one last job to be fully in the group. That job was in Equestria, and I jumped on the chance. I didn’t want to stay in Pura Raza anymore. So yeah, Applejack. The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Twilight levitated a cloth napkin and helped dry Rainbow Dash’s eyes. The pegasus didn’t resist, rather she kept her tears flowing for the memory of her mother. Or the memory of happier times.

Everypony around her had lost someone or something dear to them, Twilight realized. This was why Sloth’s illusions in the Fade were so difficult to confront, to resist. He had shown them all what they really wanted from their lives: that which was cruelly taken away from them by fate.

“Heh,” Rainbow Dash laughed, blinking away the last of her tears before looking like her confident self again, “I do feel better. Actually, I feel great! I feel like taking on a minotaur! You girls are the best friends a pony could have. I needed to get that off my shoulders.”

“We can help each other carry the burdens,” Twilight said, “Just don’t over indulge on the cider, Dash.” They laughed as Dash pushed her empty bowl away, all of the ponies agreeing that a hangover the next morning would not be in the best interests of the journey.

It was only when the donkey server took away the cider bowls did Twilight noticed that Applejack took her leave of the table and was already making her way to the bedrooms upstairs with nary a word. Her faced was marked by the same despair Twilight had seen after Ostequus.

Applejack ignored Twilight’s calls, not even turning to look at the violet unicorn or her friends. “I’m hitting the hay early, partners,” she said, each hoofstep echoing in the empty inn, “We have a long ways to go to get Red Apple Acres, and not a lot of time to do it. Good night, everypony.”

They watched in silence as the blonde Warden went out of sight. “What’s her problem?” Dash asked, “We spill our hearts out on the table, and she just skips out?”

“Maybe she had nothing to say?” Fluttershy added. Twilight was not so sure. Applejack was visited by a throng of demons in her illusionary world, apparently her ‘family’. She did have a story, but it was not Twilight’s or anypony’s place to pry it out of her.

“When the time comes and Applejack is ready to tell us, she will,” Twilight said, “Don’t push the issue. She’s right, anyhow. We do need to get up early so we can make the journey.”

The rest of the ponies agreed, thanking both the donkey and the innkeeper for their service. As they made their way up the stairs, Rarity made her appearance, all tightly bound in linens after her bath.

“That was simply divine,” she said with a smile, “Although it did take some effort to get the filth out from those abominations. You all look much better than when we first arrived! Did I miss something? Tell me!”

Twilight chuckled before Rarity could begin her complaining. “Don’t worry Rarity,” said the purple spell caster, “We’ll get you up to speed.”

For once since her Harrowing, the night was not plagued by dreams or fears. Just simple, uneventful rest.

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