• 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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The Dead, The Demonic, and the Desire

Chapter 14: The Dead, The Demonic, and the Desire

Fluttershy looked over the upturned cart she and Rarity were sharing as makeshift cover, watching as Pinkie Pie painted a red line only a short distance from where half of their party and the town’s militia stood ready for battle. The yellow pegasus shook in fear, her imagination racing as to what the undead would look like. She had heard stories of course, but even as a bard she was not inclined to repeat them, preferring to tell the nice tales of morality and lessons of life. They were the boring stories perhaps, but they were her favourites due to their peaceful natures.

With her thick red line of paint now clearly seen against the ground, Pinkie bounded away from the dirt path behind the cart, joining the bard and the mage.

“Okie dokie,” Pinkie said as she pointed a hoof at the red mark, “The zombies are gonna rush right into my minefield and it’s gonna go BOOM! POW! CRASH! But if any nasties get past that red line, that means we have to get our hooves dirty.”

Rarity grimaced, her face denoting that she was not particularly partial to the idea of having her hooves muddied up once again. Trixie joined the trio, taking a deep breath as she sat on her haunches behind their cover. She said nothing as she levitated a bottle of lyrium potion to her lips, drinking the diluted essence of magic in an effort to recharge herself. Fluttershy noted that they all looked tired as well as nervous, ears perked high waiting for the first landmine to explode.

“Um… Rarity, Trixie,” Fluttershy spoke up, looking at both unicorns, “Where do zombies come from? Twilight mentioned something about demons… ”

“Allow the Great and Powerful Trixie to educate your ignorant little pegasus mind,” said the boastful unicorn, “As the inferior little purple pony said, demons often take the husks of the dead to use as vessels to cross over from the Fade into our world. Lesser demons such as Rage and Hunger are the most likely, due to them being easier for a unicorn to fight off than Sloth or Pride. So they go into corpses, because there is no will to defeat them.”

“When they inhabit the body of a corpse, their primal urges take over; zombies of Rage are furious over having possessed a corpse long dead, while zombies of Hunger seek out anything and everything to devour. The destruction they cause helps feed the breach in the Veil of whence they came, allowing their brethren to come into our world freely. Think of zombies as the first wave of an invasion when a Veil breach has just begun..”

The idea that this could be just as horrible as the Tower was frightening, Fluttershy thought as she looked to the militia. The soldiers that had shown great enthusiasm when she went to raise their spirits with the Chant now had directed their attention towards the lonely path leading to Red Apple Castle, waiting just as the party was for the oncoming zombie assault. Doubt was still painted firmly on their faces as they looked up to the dark castle overhead.

Shaking like a branch in a typhoon, Fluttershy lifted a small amulet blazoned with both the sun and the moon from under her robes. Looking up at the sky, she squeaked in fear as clouds covered Luna’s moon, masking the area in pitch darkness.

“Torches!” somepony called out, further surprising Fluttershy as she clung to Rarity. Shapes in the dark darted from behind the cover made from debris as to set up torchlight to help see in the dark. One by one, torches were lit on poles and erected behind the red line, while Rarity sparked magical light from her staff.

All that could be heard from the night was the sound of heavy breathing and the crackling of fire, as well as Fluttershy’s rapid heartbeats. She shut her eyes tight, cradling her amulet and muttering a reading from the Chant of the Sun and Moon, hoping beyond hope that anything would calm her nerves.

“And so Luna said onto those that followed her into the Imperium, those that had followed her against their mighty walls and their draconic idols, ‘Fear not those who stand against you, for you know that Celestia lights your path as she did mine, and that you reflect the light of the sun as the moon does.’”

Everypony was staring at the Chantry sister as she prayed, but for once Fluttershy didn’t seem to care about all the attention she was getting. She was afraid of this battle, just as she was afraid of the battle against the ponyspawn, against the demons in the Tower, and against the assassins hunting down Twilight and Applejack. She was afraid of swords and spears, afraid of the spells unicorns used to kill, and even afraid of her own bow and how she used it.

Twilight said I was brave, she recalled as she peeked over the edge of the cart, I have to be brave now. I have to fight for my friends, and for the Equestria I call home. I hate fighting, but I have to.

Fluttershy looked to her friends, to find some measure of comfort in their faces. Trixie looked as proud as ever, only to be betrayed as her quivering hooves spoke volumes of the fear within. Pinkie Pie had her eyes focused on the path and on the work she put into trapping it with explosives, but her mane was low and straight and even her colour seemed to have darkened to match her mood. Only Rarity seemed unfazed by it all, no doubt her apparent life with Flemeth in the Potpourri Wilds having an effect to harden the unicorn to shrug off such dangers. That, or Rarity was a very good actor.

The sound of gears grinding on chains in the distance snapped everypony’s attention towards the castle. The sudden crash of a drawbridge smashing against the ground caused Fluttershy to hold her breath. The creak of heavy doors swinging open brought forth the exhale; there was no point in keeping one’s breath held anymore. The time for battle had drawn near. The trembling against the cold dirt caused by galloping hooves signaled the defense to prepare in short notice.

“Defensive positions!” shouted an officer as the militia took their proper formations. Both Rarity and Trixie’s horns began to glow in sync with their staves, powerful spells ready to be let loose. Pinkie had assembled many grenades, while Fluttershy was preparing a bow to fire.

Don’t think, act. The voice of the pony who had taught Fluttershy to fight reverberated in her head. She pulled the bowstring back, taking careful aim at the darkness for whatever monstrosity would emerge from the blanket of night. Let them come to you. When you see the whites of their eyes, let fly. Don’t stop to think about the arrow, or who you’re shooting at. It’s them or you. It’s always them or you.

“That’s not true,” Fluttershy whispered, still holding the arrow taught against the string. She still believed in simple things that helped other ponies such as mercy, forgiveness, and kindness, and that everypony should be shown a little light in dark times such as war. “You were cruel. You tried to teach me to be cruel to survive, but I won’t let go of what I hold dear. Artistic Finish couldn’t make me to be unkind, you won’t either.”

An explosion snapped Fluttershy back to reality as one of Pinkie’s landmines burst into a blue fireball, illuminating the night in blue light. The shrieks of monsters unknown echoed, only to be silenced by more detonations. As more and more of the landmines were triggered, Fluttershy could feel her heart skip a beat with every explosive blast.

Looking about, the militia was not prepared for the peculiar percussion of the pink pony before them, many of them having their eyes wide in amazement as blue fire rose from the ground, illuminating the sky. When the last mine went off, Fluttershy expected a new wave of silence and relief to pass over the group as Pinkie’s bombs made short work of the advancing undead. That would not be the case, as the militia rushed about with the officers shouting new orders as the thunder of incoming hooves resounded like a wave.

From the darkness the first of the zombie ponies surged forward. The yellow pegasus gasped at the sight of the creatures; rotting carcasses of villager and soldier alike moved with hunger or rage, mouths wide open and screeching not unlike the ponyspawn screamers. Their eyes bothered Fluttershy the most; they darted this way and that, looking all around them for easy prey to kill and consume. Several among the zombies did not even have flesh on their bones, but were reanimated pony skeletons shuffling their bones about and snapping their strong jaws.

With a shout, the militia fired a volley of arrows into the undead mob, striking flesh and bone alike in an effort to slow down the enemy advance. Rarity launched a bolt of lightning from her staff, while Pinkie was careful on tossing what few grenades she had, taking the battlefield in consideration before lobbing a grenade with a short fuse over the heads of the zombies.

Fluttershy kept an eye on Trixie as she hid under cover, readying another arrow after firing the first, watching the blue unicorn begin one of her chanted spells. Trixie’s eyes were closed, muttering the words of incantation as both her horn and staff began to glow a soft blue light. “A-all right you monsters,” Trixie said, eyes opened and focused on the zombies even with the slight waver in her voice, “Show Trixie what you’ve got!”

Magic flowed from top of her staff like a blue shimmering river, cascading from the instrument of the arcane towards the zombies. The rush of spellwork then shot upward and expanded, surprising everypony with the brilliant display before them as the magic formed what appeared to be a great wall that divided the defenders of Red Apple with the possessed corpses. Zombie and skeleton alike bashed their bodies against the barrier, causing the light to ripple like a stone in the water.

While Trixie’s protective wall was up, Fluttershy was still cautious. The unicorn enchantress was exerting a lot of energy into the spell, and the beads of sweat dripping down her face spoke volumes of the exertion of such power. What Fluttershy did not expect was for Trixie to begin to step forward, causing her arcane wall to push the undead backwards. The white-maned unicorn winced at every strike the undead inflicted, but still stood tall as she drove her spell forward to move the enemy back.

Foals,” boom a voice that sounded like it was coming from beneath the ponies, “The Veil is torn here! We are free to exist and devour! You will all make fine meals indeed.”

The ground pulsed as large swaths of dirty rags rose up seemingly from the dirt itself. The rags raised themselves higher to look like an image of a pony, but the body under the ratty cloth was wispy like smoke. The creature wore a hood, yet instead of a face was a single glowing yellow orb.

“Hunger demons!” Rarity turned towards Fluttershy, staff moving to intercept the shade before it stomped a shadowy hoof on the Chantry sister. The dainty unicorn’s tackle pushed both out of the path of the leering demon, only to become face to orb with another. All around them more demons of Hunger and Rage burst from the ground, roaring and moving to attack the defending militia behind Trixie’s shield.

“We have to protect Trixie,” Fluttershy said to Rarity as the latter fired another lightning bolt into the face of a rage demon, “If her barrier goes down, we’ll have to fight two sides.”

“I’ll hold them,” Rarity replied, her staff floating down by her side, “I know a few of Flemeth’s glyphs, they’ll help. Do be careful!”

Fluttershy nodded her acknowledgement before flying off to block the way to Trixie. The white unicorn called her staff to strike the ground as her horn blazed with power and another spell. From the bottom of the staff sprang lines of magic, forming a shape of an intricate hourglass. The glyph Rarity had summoned grew large, with several demons caught inside the glowing lines. With a cry, Rarity slammed the staff down in the centre of the glyph with her magic, the lines glowing brighter around it. From what Fluttershy could tell, the glyph did nothing obvious; the demons were still whole and still moving forward. It was the speed they were moving that had changed, each demon crawling along the ground slowly rather than moving with deadly purpose.

She slowed them down, Fluttershy thought in amazement, as if time itself was drifting to a stop. The Chantry had always taught to fear unicorns and their magic, but Fluttershy was always astonished by magic and what it could do, even though the presence of zombies and demons did give some of the Chantry’s words proper credence.

With the demons slowed by magic, Pinkie and the rest of the militia began to make swift work of their enemies, while still the undead behind Trixie’s wall continued to pound away fruitlessly at the shield. The battle was far from over, as more demons sprang from the ground like daisies to join their brethren. They hissed from otherworldly mouths as they slid along the ground towards the defenders.

One of the shades lumbered towards Fluttershy and Trixie, the glowing orb for a face looming over the two as it reared upwards, shadowy hooves preparing to strike. With a quick snap from her bow, the former bard fired an arrow into one of the Hunger demon’s rear legs, watching the creature fall forward with a growl.

Before Fluttershy could ready another arrow, a stiff strike from a powerful tackle knocked her to the ground. Another shade now stood tall over her, batting away her bow with a hoof as it looked over her prone form with eerie blue light. She struggled against the demon helplessly, as the Fade creature held her down, the sound of smacking lips reverberating from an unseen mouth.

I can taste your fear, pony,” the demon said, moving its orb closer to Fluttershy’s face, “It is delectable. I will savour every moment, as my brothers are sure to do with every mortal here.”

Fluttershy squealed as the demon began to strangle her, its powerful hoof pressed against her neck. She tried to push back, but the physical might of the demon was too much for the small pegasus. Her wings also proved useless, instead becoming a liability as flapping made her tired and the demon restricted her movement by slamming a hoof onto her feathered limbs.

Her vision was becoming hazy as the demon crushed her throat and Fluttershy choked and gasped, desperate for air. As she struggled, she could feel the ground shake under her. Dread spread across her features as images of more demons from the ground flooded her mind’s eye. Celestia wouldn’t abandon us, Fluttershy told herself, she wouldn’t. Not now. Not when we need it most.

The shade turned its head to the left quickly, only to be pushed off with great force. Fluttershy rolled onto her stomach from the impact, only to look up and see the golem Shale battle ready before her. While the blue light from the Hunger demon’s face was haunting, the blue glow from Shale’s eyes and rune were comforting, even if Shale was a little enthusiastic about fighting.

“This is my big damn hero moment,” Shale said as it looked at Fluttershy and offered its side as a brace so she could stand on her hooves, “And I plan to make the most of it.”

Shale charged again, trampling Hunger demons under its hooves as they doubled back to regain their position. Pinkie gave a cheer for Shale, rallying the rest of the militia with her to follow her lead, attacking demon after demon with bomb and mace. Rarity followed suit, blasting demons with lightning while following close behind their main force.

The pony of stone was too far ahead though, with demons of Rage now closing in on the biggest threat on the field and the newest source of agitation. As effective as Shale was against ponyspawn and shades, the Rage demons had the advantage against it, quickly surrounding the golem. Their flames danced around Shale, licking the rocky hide with flames as they struck with burning hands. Shale fought back and crushed a Rage demon under its hooves, but molten bodies of the creatures made Shale cry out in pain.

“We have to help Shale!” Fluttershy looked to her friends, who were finishing off the last of the demons. With the rest of the party still fighting and Trixie buckling under the constant attacks by the zombies, the Chantry sister was the only one who could help. Her bow would be useless, as the arrows would simply burn to ash against their lava hides. She had to do something to distract them.

The yellow pegasus watched in horror as the mighty golem fell to its side, being overwhelmed by the Rage demons and their fiery assault. Without a moment to spare, Fluttershy galloped towards the down stone pony, gasping for air as the knowledge that she was charging towards hellfire creatures made her heart skip.

Twilight offered Shale a place in our group, Fluttershy thought as she stopped near the demons, Pinkie considers Shale a friend. That means Shale is a friend, and I have to help somehow. “Hey…” Fluttershy tried to shout, but was too quiet to be heard over the roar of the flames. An idea formed, one that was risky and really only effective on foals and animals, but it also helped during her escape from Filais. It was the best she could come up with, and Shale needed help right then and there.

“How dare you,” Fluttershy spoke as she braced her hooves against the ground, letting all her negative emotions boil to the surface, “HOW DARE YOU!”

Shouting was not something a meek pegasus pony like Fluttershy was used to, but when she decided to shout, she made sure attention was directed to her and her alone. Thus was the case with the Rage demons, which actually ceased their attack on Shale and turned to see who was interrupting their violence. Contempt oozed from their molten eyes as they watched the Chantry sister berate them.

“Who do you think you are, ganging up on a pony? You come here into our plane of existence just to hurt ponies like Shale, well that ends here. Don’t you have homes in the Fade that need you? All you’re doing here is making a mess and making everypony unhappy.”

The demons surged forward, ashen ground left in their wake as they headed towards Fluttershy, fury and hatred echoing in their voices. Standing firm despite the fear quaking within, Fluttershy kept her gaze on the Rage demons, listening closely behind her as the familiar click of a grenade sounded, followed by a grunt from a throw.

“Now why don’t you go back to the Fade where you belong, and do something nice for a change?” Those last words were followed by a single grenade landing at the base of the demons before they could get to Fluttershy. The bomb burst, blasting the baleful behemoths into splotches of lava, leaving nothing but a smoking hole in the ground. When there was no sign of any more demons, Fluttershy breathed a sigh of relief and promptly fell over.

Fluttershy looked up to see Trixie’s wall of magic shimmer weakly as the unicorn fed every ounce of power she had into the shield. On the other side was a veritable horde of walking dead, slamming their hooves against the protective sheen and gnashing their teeth. With a grunt the yellow pegasus returned to a standing position, watching as Trixie once again took steps forward, pushing her barrier against the zombie army.

The defenders of Red Apple were exhausted from fighting the demons, though now they looked past the unicorn’s barrier to the waiting maws of the undead. “We have to do something,” Rarity said, standing next to Fluttershy as they stood next to Trixie. The Senior Enchanter opened her eyes, breaking her chant.

“I… I think I know what to do,” Trixie motioned for everypony to stand well behind her. “It’s going to get very hot very fast. The Great and Powerful Trixie will now make all these zombies…disappear.”

Everypony listened to Trixie, standing well behind the unicorn mage. Curiosity and concern went hoof and hoof to Fluttershy as she watched Trixie’s horn glow bright red with a new spell.

“If Sparkle can channel new spells, so can Trixie,” the blue magician muttered as she continued to push her wall against the zombies. Her eyes then began to glow just as red as her horn, until fire flowed from her horn like a stream towards the center of her arcane shield. The moment the flame licked the shield, the entire array of magical power was ignited, a great wall of fire loomed over the undead forces. Several of the zombies who were attacking the wall passed through, only to be set alight by the shield they had spent so long in by passing. Their howls and wails resonated as they burned to their final deaths. Whatever zombies remained backed away from the fire, only to find that just as before the wall advanced towards them, engulfing corpses both mobile and stationary in flames.

The smell of burnt pony flesh was nauseating, Fluttershy wanting nothing more than to wretch her stomach’s worth, but the end results were undeniable. As Trixie collapsed from fatigue over her spell, the great wall of flame dissipating into smoke leaving only scorched earth and ponies in its wake as the last of the zombies fled back into the darkness leading to the castle.

“Are you all right?” Fluttershy asked, helping Trixie to her shaking legs. The mare magician looked around her in a daze, then focused her eyes especially the charred remains of her foes. Trixie’s right eye began to twitch as the widest grin she ever had spread across her face just like the fire from her horn.

“Did you all see that?!” Whatever fatigue held Trixie seemingly evaporated as she pointed a hoof at the wreckage she wrought. “The Great and Powerful Trixie is on fire! Figuratively of course, but those zombies got the literal end! Let’s see Twilight Sparkle try to pull something like that off!”

“It was very…flashy,” Fluttershy said in the best praise she could think of. It certainly wasn’t “nice”, but it did what was needed to be done. Looking around the battlefield, the Chantry sister gave thanks to Celestia that their battle only saw a few ponies wounded, but they all made it out of such a harrowing experience alive. The militia joined Trixie in her jubilations, cheering and hollering to the night sky, ignoring the burnt corrupted corpses before them. They were allowed to have a moment of celebration after how many nights of fear and uncertainty.

The pony Fluttershy was expecting to be in complete party frenzy was instead sitting over the downed form of Shale, hair flat as worry was painted clearly on her face. The golem was motionless on the ground, save for the head which was turning this way and that.

“That really, really HURT,” complained Shale, “Why didn’t anyone tell me creatures such as those could actually pose a challenge for my pristine stone hide? Well not so pristine anymore; those ghastly cretins marred my beautiful rocks.”

“Is there anything we can get for you, Shale darling?” Rarity offered, looking over the burnt marks all along Shale’s rocks. The golem rolled over onto its hooves, but each movement appeared slow and deliberate, as if it was still in great pain.

“Lyrium would be appreciated,” Shale answered, “The raw stuff is best, not that diluted nonsense unicorns drink in potions. I can use it to repair the damage. Though I could use some magical aid to speed up the process, and it would make me grateful to the ponies. Please.”

Fluttershy smiled at Shale as she and the others helped apply lyrium from the leftovers of Pinkie’s grenades over the golem’s wounds. With the aid of Rarity’s magic, the essence of magic closed the cracks and fissures along Shale’s hide, as well as clearing the scorch marks left by the Rage demons. Fully healed, or repaired as Shale insisted on the act being called, the golem rose up to its full imposing height, shaking off the dirt and ash like a dog shaking off the rain.

Once they had collected themselves and the militia had settled down from their victory, everypony looked up at Red Apple Castle as it stood overlooking the land below. “The others are going to need our help,” Fluttershy said, waving a hoof at the dreary castle above them, “We need to hurry.”

Nodding in agreement, the defending half of their party began a slow ascent up the hillside with Pinkie pointing out all the places where she laid her landmines, in fear that not all of them detonated. When they did find an explosive that was still whole, the pink earth pony insisted on stopping for a moment to safely disarm and remove the landmine so that nopony would get hurt.

Fluttershy looked up at the cliff-side fortress and trembled. Somewhere inside was the source of the zombies and demons, and it was likely to be as monstrous as that Maleficar Hubred they fought in the Unicorn Tower. The pegasus prayed that her friends were safe and having better fortune inside the castle than her group did outside.


Applejack led the way in the dark passage from the brewery to the castle, with Twilight following behind with a light from her staff brightening the underground hallway. Spike was behind her, flaming sword in hand while Rainbow Dash took the rear. The smell of the earth all around them permeated the secret passage.

“What I don’t get is why couldn’t this be any bigger?” Rainbow tried to stretch her wings, but the tips scraped along the earthen walls.

“Ain’t no earth pony thinkin’ they needed to make a pegasus comfortable underground,” Applejack retorted, “And you better get comfortable under the dirt. When we have to get on down to Orzamule to bring the treaties to the donkeys, everything is underground.”

That was something Twilight was interested in. The books she could find on the donkeys and their underground kingdoms were few and far between, and even those tomes that did have entries were sparse at best. “Have you been to Orzamule before, Applejack?” she asked, her typical curiosity now getting the best of her.

“Been there once with Duncan a long time ago,” answered the former templar, “The donkeys like the Grey Wardens, since it’s us that fight the ponyspawn as often as they do, being so close to the Dark Tunnels and all. Sturdy folk, but they’re very different from ponies. All rocky colours, like brown and such. Some of them jacks, that’s stallions to us, have long whiskers they tie into braids. Don’t have cutie marks, but they seem to have some kind of system to workin’ out a donkey’s special talents. Hard working to boot, but they are very big on tradition. They built an entire city under a mountain. Boy howdy, if that ain’t impressive ah dunno what is.”

Hearing Applejack’s description of Orzamule made Twilight want to go there herself. Building a city under a mountain would mean that the donkeys were impressive architects and miners to pull of such a feat as that. “What did you and Duncan do in Orzamule?”

Applejack looked over her shoulder to Twilight, a sad look on her eyes, and then resumed her gaze towards the other end of the tunnel. “He brought me an’ the other recruits to Orzamule to show us the Dark Tunnels,” she answered, “We’ve seen a lot of frightenin’ things in our journey, but the Dark Tunnels take the whole apple pie. You know how we hear the heartbeat of the ponyspawn to tell how close those varmints are? Down there, that’s all you hear. Thousands on thousands of ponyspawn in one place, doing only Celestia knows what down there. We didn’t go very far, but we fought a few ponyspawn here and there. Duncan said this is where we go when our time is up.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow in suspicion. “What do you mean ‘when our time is up’?”

“Oh, ‘spose Duncan didn’t get a chance to tell ya.” Applejack took a deep breath before continuing. “You know the Warden’s have a lot of secrets which would scare away recruits, like the Joining. Well, here’s another one: the moment we take in the Taint, we get around thirty years, tops. And that’s if we’re lucky.”

Twilight stopped dead in her tracks and from the sound of Rainbow Dash bumping into Spike, the dragon knight did the same. “Twilight only gets thirty years to live?” Spike balked, looking up at his friend with concern in his eyes.

“Wardens may have mastered the Taint, Spike, but it’s still festerin’ in us,” Applejack explained, “After thirty years, Warden just becomes a monster like the rest o’ them ‘spawn. So, when they know their time is up, they come down to the Dark Tunnels and kill as many of ‘em as they can. One last hurrah before they bite it. Warden’s always figured it was the best way to go.”

Thirty years. Twilight had those two words roll through her head as she closed her eyes, trying to shake away the chill that was running through her spine. She only had thirty years to live, if she survived near constant battles against the ponyspawn. She only had thirty years until she became a slavering beast just like the ponyspawn, and was expected to commit suicide by throwing herself to their waiting claws and tusks.

Everything simple in life is gone now, Twilight thought, her eyes simply staring ahead without focus, Duncan made me a Grey Warden, which means life is short. Hubred attacked the Tower with demons and Maleficar. Could I have survived that? I don’t know what to think anymore. I don’t know what to do anymore.

There was a tug on her robes which snapped Twilight back into the present. She looked down to see Spike staring at her with sad eyes welling up in tears. “I’m sorry Twilight,” he spoke softly, his voice catching his own words, “I’m so sorry. I’m the one who pushed you into joining the Wardens, to leave the Tower. It’s all my fault.”

Twilight looked at her dragon charge, smiling weakly as she cradled his large head against her with a hoof. He did not break down or cry, likely something to do with his new found title, but instead they stood wordlessly for a moment. Ever since hatching Spike from his egg with magic so many years ago, the two had been inseparable. Now there seemed to be a deadline for the pair, something the two knew was going to happen due to Spike being a dragon and Twilight a pony. It was now much more obvious and sinister than ever conceived.

“Don’t worry Spike,” Twilight whispered, as much for her own benefit as for the baby dragon, “It’s not your fault. If it weren’t for Duncan, the Grey Wardens, you, we wouldn’t have been able to stop Hubred and the Maleficar. We wouldn’t be on this quest to stop the Blight. If anything we should be glad everything was set in motion as it did. Don’t be sad Spike. Thirty years is still a long time.”

“I guess so…” Spike did not sound totally convinced, but the tears were wiped away and he appeared ready to continue with his weapon of choice in his grip.

“Come on,” Twilight continued, “We still have a long way to go, and not a lot of time. We’ll cross all our bridges when we get there but for now, let’s worry about crossing this tunnel.”

As they resumed their slow walk through the tunnel, the ground around them shook as the muffled sound of explosions could be heard through the earth. Bits of dirt fell onto the infiltrating party, who gazed upwards.

“Pinkie.” They all said in unison, recognizing the distinct sound of their earth pony friend’s signature explosives detonating above their heads. The sounds of the traps being sprung signaled that the zombie army was beginning their attack and that they were very close to the castle.

The party moved with purpose as they traversed through the underground passage, until Twilight’s magical light revealed a door in the darkness. When they reached a door, Twilight took a step back, allowing her friends to take forward positions as she readied a spell through her staff. While the majority of the undead were fighting in the town, there was still no telling as to how many were left to defend the castle and whoever was commanding the dark magic within.

Once inside, Twilight noticed that they were inside a cellar, filled with barrels each containing cider of different varieties. While they were inside, the smell of rotten flesh overpowered all other senses, making the ponies and dragon companion reel back at the stench.

“Smelly demons, stinking ponyspawn, now this,” complained Dash as she held a hoof against her nose, “Why can’t monsters take the form of killer buckets of turnips? Lethal bags of flour, anything that smells better than this.”

“Quit yer bellyaching,” Applejack snipped back, “We still have to find Macintosh and Applebloom. If we’re in the cellar, that means we have to get past the dungeon, the barracks, and then header on into the Arl’s stateroom. Then we can search the castle better from a center location.”

It was the best plan they had with Applejack’s knowledge of Red Apple Castle. They formed a single file line again with Applejack in front, leaving the cellar and moving through the castle halls. The castle was dark and musky, the stench of death permeating through the air and blood staining the floor and the walls of castle. A massacre had occurred here that had seen to the deaths of countless ponies, servant and soldier alike.

They approached the door Applejack had said would lead to the dungeon of Red Apple Castle, with the former templar opening the entrance slowly, craning her neck through the door to peek at whatever would be waiting for them. Twilight was able to poke her head through, seeing several closed cells with bared doors and a single guardspony turned to face the door on the other side of the dungeon. Applejack shook her head to the others, raising a hoof to her mouth in a shhh motion, and then pointed at the guard again.

“Hng…nnng…itchy…itchy…” The guard was wobbling on his knees, muttering and grunting to himself as he stood in front of the doorway. With one hoof, the guard scratched against his coat, the sound of skin peeling away echoing in the darkened dungeon depths. The guard looked at piece of his own flesh before popping it into his mouth, munching away at his own skin.

“Itchy. Tasty.”

The sight of a pony eating its own flesh made Twilight’s stomach feel like doing back flips and somersaults. Unfortunately, Spike was more audible as he gagged loudly, causing the zombified guard to turn its head around in an unnatural angle. Applejack and Rainbow Dash craned their necks for their weapons when the zombie began to shriek. The door behind the carcass guard burst open, with more zombie ponies rushing into the small hallway, jaws opened wide and ready to bite on living meat.

Blades rang out as they were pulled out of their scabbards as Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Spike moved to meet the undead foe. The quarters were too tight and closed in for many of Twilight’s spells to work, as they would prove a danger to her friends more than they would the enemy. All she could do was watch as her friends fought the disgusting monstrosities who attacked violently and with hunger for flesh.

As Twilight waited for an opportunity to lend a hoof to the battle, the flow of magic around her began to ripple as energy from the Veil breach poured out. She spun around, just in time to see a writhing mass of rags with a glowing orb for a face appear into existence, gazing with hunger through its single energy eye.

More flesh and magic to consume, my brothers,” the Hunger demon called out, it’s voice like an echo throughout the dungeon, “Quickly, before the master senses their presence and forces her hoof against us! We must feed now or wait for leftovers...

While the zombies were being felled by strength of arms, the demons now surrounding the group would prove a much greater threat. While shaped as ponies, the demonic shades could move their twisted gaseous-like bodies in a way no pony could ever achieve. They slid across the floor of the dungeon, hissing loudly as they engaged in battle against the fighters of the group. Three Hunger demons surged towards Twilight as they shouted their ravenous cries for the unicorn’s magic.

Eyes furrowed, the lavender mage focused her magic into the cone of arcane arctic wind, blasting the demons with ice until their very rags were covered in icicles. The shades continued to press forward, no different than Rage demons in their voracious appetites for flesh, but were unable to avoid Twilight’s continued barrage of magic.

What Twilight did not expect was how drained she was after the use of such spells. She fell to her knees after the last of the Hunger demons that attacked her had shattered into icy shards, panting heavily as the last bolt of magic struck the creature’s physical form. Even in being banished to the Fade, Hunger continued to feed on the spells she had used, leaving her in a weakened state, every muscle in her body aching as the rush of battle was fading.

“Twilight!” Spike rushed to her side, brandishing his enchanted blade as the shade he was fighting followed, leering at them both with its glowing eye. The young knight swung his sword at the demon, only to find that the creature was weaving around the strikes with twisted ease.

“What do I do Twilight?” Spike asked while continuing to protect Twilight from the demon.

Twilight looked up, focusing not on the physical world but of the lines of magic that flowed throughout, trying to find an obvious weakness in the Hunger demons. All of the Fade monsters’ energy, their very essence fed into the single orb of an eye in the center of their heads. It must be the only focus keeping the entire demon’s body together outside of the Fade.

“The eye,” Twilight said loudly as she stood up, loud enough not only for Spike but for Applejack’s and Dash’s benefit as well. “The eye, Spike! Go for the eye!”

Spike said nothing in acknowledgement, only gripping his sword with both claws as the dragon continued to stare down the demon before him. Twilight winced as the demon raised a shadowy hoof to strike, worry over Spike’s safety already channeling a protective spell from her horn.

Spike took a deep breath and blew a stream of green flame from his mouth into the face of the Hunger demons. The creature of the Fade recoiled blind, pressing its hooves to its orb, blinded by the fire. When the demon looked up and its vision clear of flames, it shrieked in pain as Spike jammed his sword into the orb, the magical ball of essence bursting in blue light. The rags that were once a Hunger demon fell to the floor, with Spike smiling in triumph.

The two martial ponies followed Spike’s example in their own ways. Applejack turned quickly on her hooves, slamming her hind legs into the face of her abyssal opponent. As the demon reeled from the bucking blow, the Grey Warden earth pony drove her blade home. Rainbow Dash made use of her agility despite the tight quarters, easily dodging the Hunger demon’s attacks until she was right on top of the creature. Long dagger ready, she impaled the demon’s focus sidelong; the effects were still the same as the rags lost all power and sunk onto the floor.

Twilight gave a sigh of relief as she raised a lyrium potion from her saddlebag, looking over the dungeon to make sure it was cleared of enemies, both undead and demonic. The battle in the hall had attracted the attention of the denizens of the cells, earth pony and pegasus alike looking out from the bars holding them in the cold castle. Several appeared to be simple castle staff, dirty and covered in dry blood. One of the prisoners, an earth pony just barely a mare, called out to the party in desperation.

“You… you’re not zombies, or those other monsters!” She looked like she was ready to burst into tears at the sight of the living, “Please, you must help us! My father, the blacksmith must be worried sick! We’ve been trapped here for so long!”

“Hold on,” Twilight said, turning towards the zombie dungeon guard. With her magic focused on the guard’s belongings, the lavender unicorn was able to lift a set of keys from his bag, moving the keys towards the cell doors and unlocking them all one by one as Applejack and the others helped the ponies inside out of their cells.

“Thank you so much for saving us,” the young mare said, bowing her head low, “First Arl Macintosh is sick, then Lady Applebloom becomes insane and has that…thing with her. Every night more of those monsters would come for us, one by one. They were never seen again.”

“Ah still don’t believe it,” Applejack said quietly, “Not little Applebloom. She was so sweet last time ah saw her. How could this have happened?”

“Those unicorns had a hoof in it… no offense,” the mare offered, bowing her head once again to Twilight, “She threw the little one in the dungeon with us, but the older unicorn she… twisted. Like something out of nightmare.”

That sounds too much like an abomination, Twilight thought before heading over to the cell where the small unicorn would be. “Rainbow Dash,” she said, looking over her shoulder, “Can you help these ponies find the tunnel while I investigate this unicorn?”

Rainbow nodded, calling for the prisoner ponies to follow her back to the cider cellar. As she left, Twilight moved the set of keys towards the barred door, unlocking it and swinging it open gently. In the corner of the cell was a little white filly unicorn, shrouded in a ratty old cloak but still shivering in the dark. She looked up at Twilight with bloodshot eyes and tear stains on her face; one of her eyes was black and bruised from a terrible blow, almost swollen shut.

A frog seemed to have leapt into Twilight’s throat as she looked over the filly before her. Never had she seen a child so battered as this one; not even the templars in the Tower had resorted to such violence. What she could see in the white filly’s eyes was stark terror. Twilight knelt down towards the young one, trying to smile and bring some ease into the situation.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Twilight said, wishing Fluttershy was here to help the poor child. Perhaps some of Fluttershy’s mannerisms rubbed off on Twilight to help create an air of calm and safety to help the unicorn filly become a little more comfortable around a much bigger mare and her well armed allies. “The monsters are gone now. I’m Twilight Sparkle… a friend. What’s your name?”

The filly looked up, still shaking before burying her face into her cloak. Twilight looked to Spike, who simply shrugged, not knowing what to do. Applejack was staring intently at the fledgling unicorn, likely trying to figure out what this child had to do with Applebloom’s madness.

“Don’t worry,” Twilight said softly, trying to coax some sort of response, “You’re safe. We won’t let anything hurt you. Could you tell me your name?”

The filly turned towards Twilight, fresh tears flowing from her eyes. “Sweetie Belle,” she said in a quiet voice, coarse and dry. Twilight smiled and then turned to Applejack.

“Can you get her some water please?” she asked. Applejack nodded, leaving the cell and returning a moment later with a bowl with some water in it. Sweetie Belle looked on at the bowl before standing up. She hobbled towards the bowl, one of her forelegs obviously broken. Applejack’s expression softened at the sight of such a maimed filly.

“Ah’ll get’er some apples from the cellar,” the blonde Warden said, “She looks like she could use some food. Also bring Dash back.” Twilight nodded, focusing her attention on Sweetie Belle were drank the water as if it were ages since seeing the liquid. For all she knew, it had been.

“Sweetie Belle,” Twilight began, snapping the filly’s attention towards her, “We came to the castle to see if we can find and help Applebloom and Arl Macintosh, as well as many ponies as we could find. Could you tell us what really happened, please?”

Sweetie Belle turned in an attempt to hide her face, but quickly looked up at Twilight with eyes of desperation. “You can help her, can’t you?” She was definitely pleading now, the tears still flowing freely, “You’re a nice unicorn, you can help her! Please, it’s my entire fault, my fault, all my fault…”

Twilight stared at the wall as Sweetie Belle wept in her forelegs, unsure what exactly she should do. She had few encounters with children, often too busy studying or practicing magic in Tower with just her and Spike while the foals were ushered in their own classes. She often directed them to the Senior Enchanters whenever they had a question on magic, not wanting her studies interrupted or deviated. Now she had to calm a hysteric filly down if she was ever going to discover what the exact troubles that befell Red Apple Castle were.

“We’ll do whatever we can to help,” Twilight promised, stroking Sweetie Belle’s mane in an effort to calm both their nerves, “We need to know what happened. The other prisoners blamed you and the other unicorn though.”

“They should!” The white mageling shouted, “If it weren’t for me, Applebloom would never have turned mean. If it weren’t for me, we’d never have been able to use that unicorn’s book and caused all this.”

“One day, a unicorn came into the castle saying he was the replacement for the old court wizard. Some of the ponies said he was recommended by Arl Maim. Macintosh let him in, but then he got real sick. The unicorn then told the knights that the only way to cure him was an old legend, so they went out right away. Applebloom didn’t want to wait, so she, Scootaloo and I crept into the unicorn’s room and used his book of spells.”

Sweetie Belle took a deep breath before continuing. “We found some spells, but they were scary. I tried to warn against it, but Applebloom wanted to do anything to help Macintosh. So I helped cast one of the spells in the book to give Applebloom a horn just like mine. We thought two unicorn horns would help the spells work faster, work stronger. But when Applebloom got her horn, her eyes started to glow too, and her voice became just as mean as she was. She started making monsters starting with Maim’s wizard, and then attacked the town! I tried to stop her but…but…”

She broke down yet again, and while Twilight was absentmindedly trying to soothe the crying filly, her thoughts turned to the direst situation the news could bring. A false horn, Twilight summarized as her mind raced to find a solution, that which allows any pony to cast powerful magic, and be a victim to the dark side of the Fade.

What was she going to tell Applejack, that her little sister had become possessed by a powerful demon, and was responsible for all the death and destruction in Red Apple Acres? It would break Applejack’s spirit worse than the loss of Duncan and the Warden at Ostequus. Yet Twilight could not hide what they would encounter, nor could she hide the painful methods of removing a false horn.

When Applejack returned with some apples for Sweetie Belle with Rainbow Dash,
Twilight motioned for her fellow Warden to follow closely. Once they were in another cell well away from prying ears, she told Applejack what been done to Applebloom. As expected, Applejack paled, but did not lose control of herself or her templar abilities.

“Can we…” Applejack faltered, appearing to contemplate the stone floor of the dungeon before returning her gaze to Twilight, “Can we help Applebloom? Get rid of that false horn?”

“It is possible, but very dangerous,” Twilight said, “False horns are not easy to create, which makes the fact that a filly could conjure one all the more surprising. They are much more difficult to remove though, since they latch on to a pony’s mind and ‘Fade self’. It would take several unicorns days to unravel the magic involved and there is the risk that Applebloom could be permanently damaged. They could enter the Fade to remove the horn from there, but we both know how dangerous the Fade is.”

“There’s more. It also sounds like she is possessed by a demon, and a powerful one too, which will make the removal process even more difficult. While several unicorns remove the horn, another would have to enter the Fade and combat the demon directly. Otherwise we would have to…”

“Don’t say it,” Applejack barked, holding her fury in if only barely. She choked on
her words as the fatal possibility dawned on her. “Don’t say it. We’ll find a way to save Applebloom. Somehow. We just gotta, Twi.”

They both left the cell to find Rainbow Dash and Spike waiting for them. They stared for a moment, though their faces were downcast. They had heard Applejack shouting no doubt. Twilight’s horn began to glow as she shut the iron door to her cell tight. “We’ll find a way to save Applebloom,” Twilight said as much for Applejack’s benefit as well as Sweetie Belle, “But your injuries are too severe for you to escape. Once we secure the castle, we’ll send our friend Pinkie Pie to make a healing poultice.

Sweetie Belle nodded in defeat as she took her place back in the corner of the cell, ignoring the apples Applejack had brought her. Twilight knew all too well that Sweetie Belle had given up to her fate, that one of the prisoners freed would tell the village of Red Apple including the Chantry, and that they would summon the templars to take Sweetie Belle away, if not worse. To the eyes of the Chantry, she would be condemned as Maleficar and sentenced to die.

Rainbow Dash took point as they made their way out of the dungeon in silence. The halls appeared deserted, with nary a sound made, not even that of shuffling hooves save for the party’s own. They followed Applejack’s directions around the castle until they made their way to the guard barracks, which they discovered was empty.

“I don’t get it, though I guess we should be grateful,” Rainbow Dash said as they made their way past the beds, “Why would all of Red Apple’s knights leave for some legend? What about all the soldiers?”

“You heard what Braeburn said,” Applejack replied, “Most of the soldiers are fighting Maim and Loghoof’s soldiers, while the other knights are looking for the Mane of Stars. There are just too many fronts, not enough ponies for them all.”

Like us, Twilight thought as they made their way through the barracks and back into another hallway. They could see orange light under a large door that Applejack said lead into the main throne room, where Arl Macintosh would hear the cases of those who lived in the Red Apple arling. As they drew closer to the door, the sound of mirth and joy could be heard past the solid oak, with the stomping of hooves in some kind of rhythm echoed through.

“Sounds like a party,” Dash said, only watching the scene as Applejack’s eyes narrowed. With a hoof she opened the door wide, gasping at the sight. What they all saw stole the words from their mouths into thin air.

Instead of the undead, a group of ten soldier earth ponies who were still very much alive surrounded the room, smiling and stomping their hooves in some sort of musical beat. In the center of the great hall was Braeburn, dancing on his hind legs and singing a kind of bawdy song involving the flanks and haunches of Chantry sisters that would turn Fluttershy three shades of red.

Sitting where the Arl would be during times of peace was a little filly with an olive coat and red hair with a matching red ribbon. Her eyes did not hide the presence of magical power, as they shone with eerie violet light. Just as Twilight feared, from Applebloom’s forehead was a large horn made completely out of energy, with several tendrils at the base disappearing into her skull. She was laughing and jumping along with the stomping hooves, flanked not only by the young pegasus Scootaloo, but also by a lumbering mass of veins and mutated limbs and pustules that made for an abomination.

“dON’t yOu See how MUCH fuN we aRE HAVING, ScooTAloo,” Applebloom said, or rather a disturbing mash of a young filly’s voice with that of a deep guttural speaker, “If onLy SWEeetiE BeLLe were HERE to jOiN uS!”

“Sweetie Belle is really hurt Applebloom,” Scootaloo said, “We really should help her after what... happened.”

“I’ll hElP heR wHeN I FeEL LikE it,” Applebloom snapped, causing the abomination to turn its “face” towards Scootaloo with malevolent intent, “wHeN I FeEL LikE it! yOu haVE sUcH prETTy wiNGs, ScooTAloo. yOu wouLDn’t WANT me to SNAP tHeM wOuLD yOu? NoPONY telLS me what TO DO!”

“Nooooo pony! YEEHAW,” Braeburn shouted, rearing up on his hind legs, “Ain’t nopony tellin’ her what to do, I tell ya what!”

“What the hay is Braeburn doing?” Applejack said in a low whisper as they watched the bizarre scene unfold before them. Twilight watched with eyes sensitive to magic, taking not how the lines of energy from Applebloom’s false horn were being focused towards the abomination, which in turn was using a powerful mind control spell on Braeburn and the living guards.

“They’re enthralled by demon magic,” said Twilight as she held Applejack back from charging in blind, “This makes things much more difficult. We can’t hurt Braeburn or the guards, they’re under magical influence.”

“Then what do we do?” Dash poked her head around the corner, “We have to stop them somehow, and those ponies are not going to just let us canter on in.”

“The abomination looks like it’s acting in place of a staff for the demon to channel its magic. If we take down the abomination, maybe that will break the mind control. Maybe.” Magic was always finicky when concerning demons and Dark Arts, with the Tower teaching unicorns that encountered such dangerous magic to always assume the worst. In a situation like this, Twilight wanted nothing to do with the worst case scenario.

Before they could construct a plan of action to stop the possessed Applebloom, Braeburn turned his head to where they were speaking, a large silly-looking grin forming on his face. “Well lookie here! We got ourselves some guests!”

The party straightened as they realized Braeburn was talking to them. The element of surprise now lost, the party walked slowly into the hall being watched by the grinning faces of the corrupted Braeburn and Applebloom, while the rest of the pony guards watched in their own daze. The abomination looked on at Twilight with hunger, smacking lips hidden beneath mounds of twisted flesh.

Twilight held her breath as she began to focus a spell around her horn, subtle enough to hopefully have the abomination and the demon ignore her workings while they focused on their own spell works. Thankfully, Applejack stepped forward to her possessed sister in an attempt to get through to her, though Twilight was silently thankful that this could be used as a proper distraction.

“Applebloom!” The blonde earth pony stepped closer, ignoring that several of the guards had drawn weapons, “It’s me! Yer big sister Applejack! Don’t you recognize me? By Celestia, what have they done to you?”

“I’M HAVING fUn, deAR sIsTEr,” the demon said, waving a hoof in an arc in front of her, “ALL oF ReD AppLE beLoNGs to ME. I HAVE aN ArMy, I HAVE sErVANts, I HAVE POWER. buT ALL oF MY fUn is beiNG RUINED! PoNIES beAT MY ArMy, MY sOlDIERs! dO yOu kNOW hoW difFiCUlt it is TO PULL thOsE DEMONS frOM the FADE? ALL MY haRD wOrK, WRECKED!”

“AND I STILL. DON’T. HAVE. MY CUTIE MARK!” Those last words bellowed throughout the room, causing Applebloom’s cursed eyes to arc with power. The abomination hissed while Braeburn’s eyes matched the fury marked on the corrupted filly. Scootaloo shook but remained where she was at Applebloom’s side.

The magic quaked around Twilight as she kept her attention on her arcane weaves. She just needed a little more time…

“This ain’t you Applebloom,” Applejack pleaded, “You’re a sweet little filly, who will grow up and have her cutie mark before you know it. But all these demons, this magic; I don’t understand Applebloom. So many ponies got hurt real bad out there. What happened?”

There was a shift in power as the glow in Applebloom’s eyes began to wane, instead showing two normal yet terrified amber eyes. “Big Macintosh was sick,” said Applebloom, “We tried to help him. We needed magic to do it. I told Sweetie Belle to give me this here unicorn horn so I could help as well.”

“NOW lOoK at ME,” The demon’s voice returned in full force, yet Applejack did not budge as the violent violet glow returned, “I AM ARLESSA of ReD AppLE! I HAVE POWER! IT ALL BELONGS TO ME! I cOuLD KILL MaCinTOSH wiTH oNe WORd. yOu SaW whaT I dID to SWEeetiE BeLLe, wHO tRiED to STOP ME. I WILL DO THE SAME TO YOU! I WILL DO THE SAME AND WORSE!”

“I don’t believe a cockamamie word! I don’t believe Applebloom would do anything to hurt another pony, least of all her friends and family! Whatever critter is holding out inside her, get the hay out right now, even if I have to dive right into the Fade and buck you out myself!”

The fire in Applejack’s eyes seemed to have been enough to give the demon pause; just enough for Twilight’s spells began to unfold. It was creative use of her favoured barrier conjuration, but as the shield formed around the party and expanded outward, pinning all the guards, Braeburn, the abomination, Applebloom, and unfortunately Scootaloo against the wall. They squirmed against arcane shell as Twilight called out to Applejack.

“I can’t hold this forever,” Twilight said, already feeling the strain of holding the shield while the abomination and the demon inside Applebloom began their work to unravel the shield in earnest, “We don’t have the Litany of Dawn, so you have to use your templar skills on the abomination to break the mind control! When the abomination is weakened, Rainbow Dash and Spike have to go for the kill!”

“What about Applebloom?” Already Applejack’s eyes began to shift from green to completely black as the anti-magic engulf her. The stress of maintaining the spell with so many forces working against her was causing tremendous pain in her horn, yet Twilight pressed on, knowing all too well wait failure would lead to.

“We have to draw the demon out and defeat it,” Twilight yelled, watching as the false horn was swirling with demonic energies, “I’m sorry Applejack, but it’s the only way to make Applebloom calm so we can save her.”

Applejack cursed, and then galloped to the abomination. Twilight brought the shield down, her staff coming close to her as the soldier thralls realized that they were no longer held back by magical force. They were slow to react as the templar Warden tackled the abomination in full force, the spell of mind control ceasing as anti-magic choked the arcane power, mud snuffing the flame.

The attack by Rainbow Dash and Spike was quick and brutal. As Applejack rolled away to confront her tainted sibling, the combination of assassin and dragon knight made bloody and burned work of the abomination. The creature that was Maim’s chosen unicorn howled in pain, before slumping to the floor a scorched and slashed mess.

With the abomination slain, the guards and Braeburn seemed to have snapped out of their stupor, looking around with dazed and confused expressions as to what was going on. There was no time for an explanation as the possessed Applebloom stomped her hooves in frustration, her voice further twisted into something completely different from that of a demon or a filly.

I have what I want, and you all dare try to take it away?” The voice was soft, husky, yet venom dripped from every word, “I have given this filly the desires held by every pony, she has accepted me, and I will not let this one go. I want her as my host, mortals, and I will reduce everything around her to ash before you take her away from me.”

Applejack watched in horror as purple flame flowed from the false horn, wrapping itself around Applebloom like a wreathe, burning away the red ribbon as her body began to glow just as violet as her eyes. Her small frame then began to expand, growing larger until it was slightly larger than the ponies when the light shimmered away.

Standing before the party seemed to be a mare with pale mottled skin and a twisting snaking tail. Her legs were long and spindly ending in clawed hooves and instead of a mane, the creature had a large crest of bone and violet fire trailing down her back. Her eyes shone violet, just as they did before, but with wicked flames dancing in the iris. The false horn still pulsed with powerful magic on her forehead.

“A Desire demon…” Twilight gaped as the young filly was replaced by a monster of the Fade. The demon before them laughed as she took a step forward, claws clicking against the stone of the castle floor.

Burn.” From the Desire demon’s mouth came a great stream of fire, igniting anything on fire as it streamed outward. One guard who was still confused was caught in the flames, screaming in pain and terror as he flailed, the metal of his armour melting into his own flesh. Twilight and the others dove to the sides of the room in an effort to avoid the fiery attack.

Applejack stood up and charged towards the demon, her special hat blowing off her head as they collided. The flames ceased as both demon and Warden wrestled on the floor of the room, the creature of Desire unable to concentrate on her otherworldly fires. The demon howled as they fought, biting and clawing at Applejack’s flesh as the earth pony tried to get the advantage on the ground. The two broke their clinch and stood upright, staring each other down.

“Git out of my little sister’s body right this instant, ya yellow belly coward!”

Never,” the Desire demon said rearing up on her hind legs, “The child’s body is mine to command, to control!

Applejack sighed before rearing up herself. “Then this is gonna hurt me a lot more than it’s gonna hurt you.” Faster than Twilight could tell, her fellow Warden spun around and extended her back legs with force, hooves connecting against the face of the Desire demon. The Fade monster flew, colliding against the wall with a loud thud.

As powerful as Desire demons were with magic, they were frail in comparison to other creatures of the Fade. Coulpled with possessing the body of a little filly, the body of the demon was weak and easily felled. The prone form of the twisted demon began to glow, transforming once again into the unconscious filly Applebloom.

While the rest of the ponies stood stunned as to what exactly had occurred in the Arl’s meeting hall, Applejack paid no heed, rushing to her sister’s side, cradling the small form in her forehooves. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered, avoiding contact with still reverberating false horn, “Ah didn’t mean to hurt ya Applebloom. Everything is gonna be okay, ya hear? Everything is gonna be okay. We’ll fix ya, we’ll fix ya.”

Twilight looked around and began to help with damage control as ponies moved around in silence. The guards dragged away their burnt companion as well as the corpse of the former court wizard out into other rooms, while Dash kept herself busy trying to calm down Scootaloo. Spike moved to the great doors, opening them a crack before they swung wide, allowing not only the morning sun into the hall, but the rest of the party as well, galloping at full tilt to see if they had made it in time.

“We beat back the zombies Twilight,” Pinkie Pie said, “Those rotten nasties won’t give anypony any more trouble, no siree Bob! Which is funny, because I don’t know any Ser Bob now that I think about, but I bet somepony kept telling a Ser Bob ‘no’ and that’s why we have that saying…”

Shale stepped forward, one hoof loud enough to get Pinkie to stop for a moment. “What the pink pony is trying to say is that we have attained victory, and many villains were squished. The day or night as it were, is ours.”

“What about you Twilight,” said Fluttershy, “Did you stop the source of the zombies? Is everypony safe?”

Twilight looked back at Applejack holding Applebloom close, and then shook her head. “The day may be ours, but there is still a lot to do.”

There was always more to do.

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