• 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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Challenge of the Mountain

Chapter 16 - The Challenge of the Mountain

“I SEE YOU.”

Twilight galloped through the battlefield as fast as her hooves could carry her. Bodies of the dead and dying lay strewn across the landscape as the darkened sky boomed with thunder. Hard rain fell from the storm clouds above, making the field of strife muddy and brutal to traverse on.

The smell of smoke and ash filled her lungs as she tried to locate Applejack. Trotterim burned behind her, under siege by the hoard ponyspawn as countless minotaurs tossed burning boulders into the city. Ponies screamed, trying to flee only to be swooped upon by swarms of screamers and donlocks. Their tormented wails echoed as they joined in the twisted harmony of chaos and death.

The Grey Wardens had raised an army. They were fighting the ponyspawn. They were losing.

“GIVE IN TO HOPELESSNESS. YOU CANNOT WIN.”

The ponyspawn chasing her were getting closer, their sharp tusks and fangs eager to rend flesh from bone. Twilight could not stop galloping to fight them off, Applejack needed her. Her staff was broken and her breathing was ragged as she continued to make her way to where Applejack and the others were fighting. An explosion knocked her off her hooves and sent her sailing into the air.

Two ornlocks approached from the west, their horns blazing with power. Twilight gave out a cry as the thelocks pounced, biting and clawing at her coat as she struggled to escaped. She tried to fire off a spell, only to watch the bolt of energy fly off harmlessly.

“BEHOLD THAT WHICH YOU FACE. BEHOLD THE DREAD THAT BLANKETS THIS WORLD IN FIRE AND BLOOD AND DESPAIR.”

Suddenly the ponyspawn ceased their savage attacks. One of the monsters grasped Twilight’s mane with its bloodied mouth and forced the magical mare to look upward. From the sky came a great beast on terrible wings, its huge form shadowing the land as its roar making the land shake. The ponyspawn hissed and roared in unison with the dragon, rearing upwards in celebration of the coming of their master.

The arch demon landed, which caused the land around its massive form to quake as dust and ash was pushed by the upward draft from its wings. Twilight gasped as it loomed its huge head over to her. Twilight ignored the creature’s jaws, focusing on what it was holding in its talons. With a careless toss, the broken body of Applejack was flung towards Twilight, bouncing across the ground and sliding towards the Warden in a sickening angle.

“YOU ARE NOTHING TO MY KIND, PONY. WE WERE GODS ONCE. WORSHIPPED AND FEARED. THE DREAD WE PLACED IN THE HEARTS OF ALL MORTALS ECHOED THROUGHOUT THE WORLD. WE WILL TAKE BACK OUR THRONES, OR WATCH AS THE WORLD BURNS AROUND US.”

As Twilight looked on with horror at the body of her fellow Warden, her heart pounding and her breathing shallow. She would be next, and then the Equestrian Grey Wardens would be no more. Their army was defeated, they did not discover the cryptic ritual left by the Wardens of old, and now fate decreed they would all perish.

She bowed her head as the dragon roared triumphantly into the storm-filled skies, tears mixing with the rain as she prepared for the end. The arch demon reared back its long neck, a ball of black fire forming within its mouth.

“THE LIGHT AND THE GREY SHALL END, AND THIS WILL MARK AN ETERNITY OF DARKNESS. DESPAIR, MORTAL. YOU HAVE NO HOPE.”

A stream of ebony flames flowed from the arch demon’s mouth and engulfed Twilight. The pain was immense as she writhed on the ground, her flesh burning alive as she yelled out only to have no words or even sounds escape her lips. There was no hope; nothing could defeat something so powerful. It was all a fool’s errand, everything…



“Twilight? Twilight! Wake up! It’s just a bad dream, a nightmare! You have to wake up!”

Twilight’s eyes shot open at the sound of Applejack’s voice along with the strong earth pony’s hooves shaking her unconscious body awake. The lavender mare launched herself upright in the bedding on the deck of Ditzy’s ship, eyes wide as she looked around. It was still night, with Luna’s crescent moon along with the thousands of stars hanging in the sky.

Her chest hurt and as she wiped a hoof across her brow, she was surprised to find it soaked in sweat. She tried to speak, but her voice was coarse and her throat dry. Applejack lifted a small bowl of water for Twilight, who caught it in her magic and drank the water as if she hadn’t had a drop to drink in weeks.

When she finally took a moment to look around, Twilight noticed that everypony was looking at her with fearful eyes. “What… what happened?” she stammered, looking at Applejack, “I felt it. Everything was real. The images, the pain. I saw you die. I saw you die!”

“It’s just the arch demon tryin’ to get inside yer head, Twilight,” Applejack explained, “It’s part of bein’ a Warden. Trust me, it ain’t easy…”

Anger surged across Twilight’s features. “Another part of being a Warden? Just like the Joining? Just like how our lives are cut down to thirty years? Now this? Nightmares, from the arch demon itself! Is there anything else about the Wardens I need to know? Anything else Duncan should have told us?”

Applejack’s ears fell flat as the words struck home, sharper than any dagger. “Ah’m sorry Twilight,” she said, “Duncan made us swear to secrecy. He should have been the one to tell you everything.”

Twilight turned away from Applejack, trying to fight back more tears as memories of the nightmare get pushing back into the fold. “I felt it, Applejack. I felt every pain. I smelled the ash, the blood, I screamed with every claw and fang. And the black fire… by Celestia, the black fire. We can’t beat something like that, something so terrible, so evil.”

“Now snap outta it, Twi,” her fellow Warden said, resting a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder, “That critter said a lot of crazy stuff. Lots of despair and dread and all that, right?” Twilight nodded slowly, still hearing the echoing boom of the arch demon’s roar. Applejack offered a small smile, but it did not bring any comfort with it.

“I get those nightmares too, sugarcube,” she said in admission, “It’s just the way the archdemon tries to break us, tries to make us give up on the fight. It’s only gonna get worse too. Bad dreams like those mean the archdemon’s real close, getting ready to join its horde. Lucky we haven’t seen any big nasty dragons flying around, just Spike.”

“Hey!” The baby dragon gave Applejack an indignant look, “I can really nasty if I want to. I have sharp teeth and can breathe fire too!”

“Silly Spike,” Pinkie Pie said, pressing Spike’s cheeks together with her hooves, “You’re still an itsy bitsy dragon. Now the archdemon probably sounds something like this!”

Pinkie reared up on her hind legs, waving her forelegs in a threatening motion as she bared her teeth. “Rawr!” she said in a mocking tone, “I am the fearsome archdemon! Fear me and my fearful fearing-ness! Rawr!”

Rainbow Dash leapt up, taking an offensive stance in front of the Arch Pinkie. “I, Rainbow Dash and the others, will stand tall to defeat you! Hoof em up, Archie, let’s get ready to rumble.”

The two ponies playfully growled at each other as their friends looked on with confused and amused looks on their faces. Each ‘hit’ was an exaggerated affair as they acted out their respective roles of villain and hero. Twilight felt the twinge of a smile creep onto her face as she watched the impromptu performance, Rainbow now exhibiting her rendition of everypony’s combat specialty.

“It’s Applejack with a hard buck to the head!” she said aloud as she mimicked the signature hind hoof kick of the blonde earth pony, “Then here comes Rarity with a lightning bolt!”

“An immaculate bolt, no doubt,” Rarity chimed in, peering over Flemeth’s grimoire. Rainbow ignored her, moving on with her motions.

“A grenade from Pinkie takes out his eyes while Shale comes in with a big head butt! Fluttershy fires an arrow all the way from the back, but it still strikes home! Trixie’s shield protects everypony as Twilight moves in with the weird Warden ritual thing on the small piece of parchment! Ooh! Parchment cut!”

“Now bringing in the final blow with all the speed and skill of a champion pegasus pony,” Rainbow Dash said as the fiendish Pinkie Pie’s eyes swam about in confusion, “With a blitzing buccaneer blaze so awesome ponies everywhere have to avert their eyes, she brings her dagger in deep for the kill! STAB!”

With the act of piercing the pink arch ponys flesh done, Pinkie Pie clutched at her heart with both hooves as she fell over in feigned death. “Oh what a world, what a world!” she cried out as she kicked her hooves in the air, “I am vanquished by the power of friendship! Oh woe is me! Blargle! Grraahhhh!”

Pinkie shut her eyes tight as her tongue rolled while Rainbow struck a heroic pose. Only the sound of the boat passing through the water could be heard around them as the party stood dumbstruck at the performance. The energetic earth equine opened one eye, looking around at her friends as she tried to stifle a chortle. Whatever weak barriers against laughter Pinkie had constructed were felled with ease as she exploded in a fit of giggles. Rainbow Dash soon followed, rolling on the floor of the ship and laughing audibly at their little game.

Everypony smiled and laughed together as they enjoyed the antics of Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash, with the exception of Shale still voicing it’s dissent on being suspended in midair. Twilight walked over to the stone pony and Trixie who was channeling her magic, offering to take up the duty of keeping Shale aloft and not sinking the ship with its massive body. The lavender mage would not to fall back asleep now that she had both the memory of the archdemon and Pinkie’s performance, but she could give Trixie the forty winks she needed before they made it across the lake.

“Thank Celestia,” Trixie said as she released her spell as soon as Twilight’s magic wrapped around the golem, “This thing was giving Trixie the worst migraine.”

“That’s ‘Superior and All-Mighty Thing’ to it, thank it very much.” Shale’s glare did nothing as Trixie huffed off to the makeshift bedding on the deck to catch some much needed sleep. Shale’s attitude did not change much under the influence of another unicorn.

“You do realize it will take all of my vast and impressive will power to resist the urge to squish you all for this indecency.”

“We’ll be on solid ground soon enough Shale,” Twilight reassured, “If it’s worth anything to you, I apologize for doing this to you. No pony, golem or otherwise, should be as constricted as you are now.”

“Is that what it believes?” Shale looked down at Twilight with a stern look in its glowing eyes, “From what I have learned of its current world, the moment you are all born there are chains that bind worse than my control rod, simply because I had no choice in the matter of what I was forced to do, despite wanting to crush my old master’s skull so very much. Of which I am glad I finally did.”

“Don’t you have any happy memories?” Twilight wondered aloud to the floating golem. Shale’s eyes turned dark as it appeared to close them in contemplation.

“Happiness was never something I was allowed to possess for myself, unicorn,” Shale replied, “I remember my old master and all of his commands. I remember being sold to him by a donkey merchant. I remember being frozen in the Dark Tunnels without light crystals to show the way. So all I remember is darkness. Perhaps during my time in the dark underground, I had gone slightly mad. Allow me to also add that being suspended in midair like this does not help with my overall state of mind.”

Twilight’s mind began to imagine being the in the Dark Tunnels all alone just as Shale described. Matching the loneliness of the underground in addition to the lurking horrors Applejack mentioned, Twilight couldn’t help but shudder at the thought of simply sitting alone in the Tunnels and being completely aware of everything around her. Perhaps Shale had gone insane from living under the earth for who knew how long.



The air went silent as Ditzy’s boat continued to traverse Lake Blackwater, with the Frosttop Mountains clearly visible from the deck. Twilight’s breath caught in her chest as she finally took in the site of such grandiosity. They were the majestic kings of nature as they towered over the heads of ponies everywhere, their snow covered summits appearing as crowns overlooking all the land.

Somewhere on that mountain was a temple lost to both the elements and time, where the Mane of Stars was being held. Twilight watched as the mountains became even more ominous and foreboding as the ship drew near the northern shore of the lake. Alerting the party to their arrival, she readied them to leave the boat the moment it hit shore.

The boat landed across the shore much more softly than it did when they mistakenly made it to Stableshire, with Ditzy lowering the gangway onto the shore. With her magic, Twilight lifted the stone pony away from the deck, setting the golem gently upon the shore while Rarity moved the chest of gear Applejack had compiled in Red Apple. Upon opening the container, the white unicorn recoiled in disgust at the assorted pieces of armour and clothing, gingerly levitating a heavy cloak like a dead rat.

“You can’t honestly expect me to wear something like this,” Rarity complained, “It completely clashes with my mane! I absolutely have to make adjustments.”

“Ain’t any time for your prissiness, Rarity,” Applejack said as she tossed the heavy suit of chain intended for Pinkie Pie to the pink pony, “We’re mountain climbin’, not canterin’ the streets of Trotterim.”

Rarity huffed but did not say anything more, quickly moving thread and needle from her bag with some yarn to give the cloak a new hem. Twilight shook her head at her friends, somewhat amused that they could squabble about form versus function in battle armor as she replaced her own tattered Tower robes with the heavier gear from Red Apple. It may not look appealing, but the new clothes were very warm, the protected they offered from the chill from the northern winds made her very grateful Applejack had compiled such an assortment of gear.

As the others put on their new sets of armour and readied cold weather supplies, Twilight levitated the map from her bag, looking over the illustrated parchment. Being held by the same magic was the poem written by Brother Biblio, which she looked at while studying the map.

Twilight turned her gaze to the mountains, trying to see if they could see something built into the side of the cliff face. Try as she might, the lavender unicorn could only strain her eyes trying to see past the blizzards that were striking around the mountain. Only an outline of the actual landmass could be seen through the storms that ravaged the surface.

“It’s so… big,” Fluttershy squeaked as she looked up at the mountain range. Rainbow Dash sighed with exasperation as the timid pegasus pony stopped putting on her new chain shirt over the woolen tunic.

“It is a mountain, you know,” the rogue said, “They’re supposed to be big.”

Whatever bravado ran Rainbow’s wings did not leak over to Fluttershy as she continued to stare hide eyed at the monument of nature. “It’s so… steep.”

Dash covered her face with a hoof. “Fluttershy, mountain. Mountain, Fluttershy,” she introduced half-jokingly, “Don’t they have mountains in Filais?”

“Not giant, scary mountains covered in blizzards that are so high it looks like they pierce the clouds.” Fluttershy pointed a hoof at one tall mountain in particular, “Like that one. See how that point goes right through the clouds?”

Twilight looked back on the shadow of the mountain through the storms, looking at the summit that the Chantry sister had indicated. The summit was hidden under blizzards that surged amidst the top while the clouds around the top were a darker shade than those surrounding the mountain range.

“There,” Twilight said as she looked to the party, “That mountain is the one we need to search for the Mane. The poem said that the relic would be protected by storms, and those look like the fiercest ones.”

“Are you sure?” Rainbow asked while looking up at the mountain. Twilight shook her head. She needed to come up with something to give some sort of confidence to the others, if not for herself.

“No. It’s just my educated guess.” As much as it pained Twilight to admit, it was true. She was working on a hunch from a poem and what her eyes were telling her, yet nothing could change the fact that everything, even the legend itself was simply guess work. She guessed that they had to climb this mountain, she guessed that it would be up in the Frosttop, and she guessed that the Mane of Stars could do what the legends said and heal Arl Macintosh and Applebloom of their afflictions. Twilight tried to not let her frustrations show, but they were there deep inside and bubbling within.

There was only one way to go. Up.

“Come on,” she said, walking away from Ditzy’s boat and towards the Frosttop Mountains, “We still have some walking to do before we reach the range, and we won’t make it just by standing here being scared of a big hill. The only way across and up the mountain is one hoof in front of the other. Let’s go.”



The trek across the land leading into the hills before the mountains had taken up the rest of the daytime and even extended through part of the night when Twilight called for a half to their march so they could set camp. As camp was being set, Twilight looked towards the first sign of snow, walking off to examine the strange powdered ice with Spike in tow. From the corner of her eye, she could also see Trixie following, equally intrigued by the frozen water.

She prodded the snow with a gentle hoof, taking in the new discovery with all of her senses. The snow felt cold to the touch, though nothing too uncomfortable and even made a slight crunch noise as the snow compacted against itself. Twilight chuckled despite herself, watching as Spike and Trixie were mimicking her and exploring the snow themselves in much the same way.

Everything was new and exciting to the former denizens of the Unicorn Tower. Now that they had stopped for a moment, Twilight was able to look around the outside world with a wonder that simply could not be explored when running from one battle to the next.

Together with her friends, Twilight had crossed Lake Blackwater, seen ancient ruins of the Imperium, met kings and generals, and traversed a castle. The things she had seen, smelt, touch, tasted would make her the envy of many a unicorn within the confines of the Tower.

With every pleasant experience came the shadow of the journey. The ruins of Ostequus, while still majestic, would forever have their memory tainted by the betrayal of Loghoof, the loss of Duncan and the Grey Wardens, and the fall of the king. The Potpourri Wilds would be remembered as the first place she had encountered the ponyspawn, as well as her first real battle. She would remember the encounter with Flemeth, and how the old swamp hag chilled her to her soul with those cold yellow eyes and aura of immense magical power.

Not even the Tower, which Twilight thought she had known all her life, was safe from bloodstains in her memory. Between abominations, Maleficar, and being trapped in the Fade, it was a wonder how any happy moment was remembered amongst all the corpses and Dark Arts that would permeate through the Tower for years to come. Red Apple would also be stained with terrible memories of zombies and a possessed filly who only wanted to help her older brother.

There was, however, a light in all Twilight’s travels. She was doing something good for the world in combating the ponyspawn and learning much more in the field of strife, rather than snug away in the corners of the Tower with books that likely would never have been updated. She had met an assortment of wonderful friends in places where the young mare would likely never have guessed.

Twilight could look to Applejack for her dependability, Rainbow Dash for her devotion to the group, and Fluttershy for being a source of caring in a world that rebuked such efforts. Rarity was always giving her time and energy to help the others with whatever they needed even if they didn’t know it, and Pinkie could always be counted on to raise everypony’s spirits. Trixie was a kindred spirit even if the blue unicorn would never admit it, and Shale was not only strong, but also blunt in both words and actions. Like a rock to the face, it may be unpleasant, yet it was also as plain as day, something as reliable as the stone of which the golem was carved..

They were friends who had travelled far with her and rarely doubted the path they took. Twilight could count on them during the quest to unite the ponies of Equestria, as long as they were together.

Or so the lavender mage thought when she turned to say similar words to the party, only to be on the receiving end of a snowball to the face. After Twilight had wiped the snow from her face, she saw Pinkie giggling like a schoolfilly as she bunched up another projectile, gripping it in her tail and whipping it towards Spike.

Twilight smirked as her horn began glow, levitated several small mounds of snow and rolling them up in spheres of perfect dimensions. With a small amount of force she threw the snowballs at Pinkie, who deftly dodged them with ease and laughter. The snowballs continued to sail until they struck both Applejack and Rainbow Dash.

“Oh no!” Twilight gasped as she watched the not amused faces of her friends wipe the snow from their hides, “I’m so sorry, I was aiming for Pinkie!”

“Yer right about one thing, Twi,” Applejack said with a dark look as her hooves worked on bunching up a snowball for herself.

“You will be sorry,” concluded Rainbow Dash who had already made a ball of snow and had it gripped in her tail. Applejack hollered her battlecry as the two mares began to pelt both Twilight and Pinkie with snowballs. Spike joined in the fray as the battle of snow continued to escalate. Soon Trixie and Rarity were made victims of the icy onslaught, only to become soldiers in the winter warfare, using their magic much like Twilight had to hurl great orbs of cold weather projectiles. Only Fluttershy refused to become involved, simply sitting by the campfire and cheering with her quiet voice for both sides of the conflict to prevail.

“What in the name of the Stone is going on?” Shale looked at the impromptu battle with what could only be guessed as contempt on the stony features of it’s face. Only too late did Shale realize that, by entering the field of the snow wars, Pinkie had concluded that the golem was now an enemy combatant, tossing several snowballs in sequence at their rocky companion.

What could be seen on Shale’s eyes could only be described as unbridled fury. Or resentment, Twilight wasn’t sure. The golem said nothing as it shook its massive body free of snow, turning on its hooves and walked away, muttering profanities Twilight wasn’t even sure were real words. A snowball from Rainbow Dash snapped her attention back on the battle, flinging a flurry of snow towards her friends-turned-opponents.

Suddenly a rumbling in the distance brought everypony to high alert. Twilight summoned her staff and readied an arcane bolt, only to release it when Fluttershy took to the sky with a scared look on her face and a bizarre word squeaked from her lips.

“Snowball!”

It was not a snowball that came bounding down towards the ponies, but a veritable snow boulder as twice as tall as they stood. “Victory is mine, ponies!” came a voice from behind the snowboulder, with an all too gleeful Shale pushing the great orb towards the party with force.

Once again Twilight found a smirk on her face as she looked to Rarity and Trixie. Similar smiles spread across their faces as their horns began to glow with magic in tandem with Twilight’s. An aura of white, blue, and violet light surrounded the rampaging snowball, lifting it up with the power of the arcane, much to the surprise of its maker. With a nod to her fellow magical mares, Twilight began to channel her will into the snowball as it hurtled towards the golem.

The snowball crashed into Shale with a loud splat, smothering it in snow from hoof to head. Shale appeared to fume as its head emerged from the snow, another torrent of imaginative curses seemingly foaming from its mouth.

Then the least expected noise expected emerged from Shale. The golem began to laugh, slowly at first, only to break into raucous laughter. Pinkie was the first to join in, rolling on the snow in a fit of giggles, followed soon by Rainbow Dash until everypony was laughing at the golem entrenched in the snow, their snowball fight, and just laughing because it felt good. For the first time in a long time, Twilight was laughing with her friends, forgetting about the dangers of the mountain before them for one night. The mountain was not going anywhere, and it could watch over their joy before testing them with its challenges.



Twilight had always considered the quest she was thrust upon to be of colossal proportions. Travelling the vast expanse of land that was Equestria, meeting ponies both kindly and malevolent, facing monsters terrifying and cruel and discovering wonders unimagined. She knew the quest would be like climbing a mountain, with a large and powerful and angry archdemon waiting on the summit.

With the exception of the archdemon, she did not expect things to be taken so literally. They had awoken to a morning of bitter cold, the winds blowing from the Frosttop Mountains whipping exposed flesh with the harsh frozen currents. The winds and the cold temperature made flight for the pegasi impossible as Rainbow Dash discovered her wings had been covered in small icicles as she shook violently from the chill.

A few moments of spending time near the heat generated from Trixie’s staff, and enough time for Rarity to stitch together some wing-sheaths, and the pegasi were as comfortable as they could be. Granted, Twilight could tell that none of the ponies were comfortable, although Spike and Shale were unfettered by the cold. Spike passed it off to being a dragon with a fire in his belly, and Shale, being a golem, shrugged off the climate due to being made of nothing but rocks and lyrium.

The party kept the group together with the unicorns acting like the points of a triangle with their staves floating high, being used as both beacons of light in the blizzards and sources of heat to ward off the cold. While it was effective in keeping them together, the mountain seemed to counter their efforts to retain heat with even harsher winds.

The snow Twilight had marvelled with only a day ago was now something she wished she hadn’t seen in forever and a day. Trudging through the snow was difficult as every hoofstep dug deep, burying her legs in a foot or so of snow. Her breath had also become her own worst enemy. As the struggle to traverse the snow covered paths on the side of the mountain became more difficult, she started breathing through her mouth, with the exhaling vapour clinging to the fur on her face and freezing due to the cold air.

Her friends were not having it any better. Applejack was constantly going deeper into the snow due to her larger frame and heavy armour weighing her down. Pinkie was constantly stopping to rub her hooves together, her teeth chattering loudly as the chills dug its way into her bones. Rainbow could not stop swearing oaths at the mountain for taking away the use of her wings, only to stop her ascent as she bundled down against the snowy ground, taking deep breathes to steady herself.

The first to fall to her side was Fluttershy, who landed against the snow with a barely audible thud. Rarity had rushed to her side, bringing her staff with the heat spell close while the others stood still in the biting blizzard.

“I’m so sorry,” Fluttershy gasped as she was helped back to her hooves, “It’s just so… cold. So… hard to climb.”

“Ain’t no need to fret any,” Applejack said, helping Fluttershy to her hooves and wrapping her cloak around the yellow pegasus, while leaving herself more exposed to the elements.

“What about you?” Fluttershy asked her benefactor through violent shivers and chattering teeth. Applejack merely smiled as she used her hoof to support her friend.

“Ah’ll be right as rain,” she said, though her own shaking was more visible now, “Ah’m a right big pony. Ain’t no snow or wind gonna stop me none. Lean on me, Fluttershy, until yer strong enough. I’ll help ya carry on up this here mountain.”

While the weather was not going to stop them, the effects were slowing them down nonetheless, with Fluttershy leaning against Applejack as they continued their trek and the storms intensifying during as they climbed. It was now Twilight’s turn to curse as her hooves punched right through the snow again; there was seemingly no end in sight up the steep path on the mountain. There was no sign of an ancient temple or tomb housing the remains of a goddess. There were not even signs of any life on the testament to nature. As far as the lavender Warden knew, they were the only living beings on the mountain, and even that was now in jeopardy.

My guesswork about the Mane of Stars and this mountain is going to get us all killed. Twilight cursed herself a second time. She could have tried the risky exorcism on Applebloom, and they could have tried seeking out healers and other scholars to find a cure for the incurable deathweed.

Despair…

Twilight shook her head vigorously, ignoring the words of the archdemon that haunted her nightmares. The monster wanted her to despair, to give in to her fear, to give up and die without ever bringing the fight to the monster. She would not do such a thing, not when so many lives depended on it. She would not give up; Spike would never have forgiven her if she gave in now.

Trixie fell next, her staff burying itself in the snow next to its master. Twilight went to her aide with her own staff, trying to get the dazed and confused Trixie out of the snow. The magician kept babbling incoherently, with only bits and pieces of speech making sense.

“Should never have followed you… never have left the Tower… ponyspawn, demons… just so tired… never expected this, never wanted… this.”

“She’s utterly delirious,” Rarity said, lowering her own staff towards Trixie for added heat, “We need to find some shelter to rest.”

“I know,” Twilight replied, looking around the mountain for shelter, “We just need to find a cave. Trixie needs something to keep her warm in this blizzard.”

“I have an idea, dear, even though I don’t like using her spells.” Rarity tossed off her cloak with her magic, tightly wrapping the heavy material around Trixie like a cocoon. The white unicorn’s horn then began to glow, until her entire body glowed bright with the power of magic. Twilight was confused by what Rarity meant, but quickly began to understand that her fellow unicorn was channeling the unique shapeshifting magic known to her and the Mare of the Mire, Flemeth.

Rarity’s limbs then began to shift and change, her legs becoming thicker as well as her hooves becoming large clawed paws. She greatly expanded her bulk and her coat became much thicker and longer, turning into soft, warm fur. Her entire head became larger and wider with a large jaw filled with sharp teeth. In what appeared to be seconds, Rarity the unicorn had become Rarity the grizzly bear.

“If you could do that all the time, why not stay in the form when we were already walking up this mountain?” Twilight studied her friend’s new form, noting that although Rarity had used Flemeth’s spell to look like a bear, she was still Rarity inside the fur. The upturned and clearly indignant snout in the air was more than enough evidence to support that. (heh)

Bear-Rarity growled, tilting her head to her back, indicating where to put the discombobulated and delirious Trixie. With a flick of her glowing horn, Twilight levitated the weakened body of the blue magician, laying her gently across the back of her bear friend.

“Ah think ah like ya that way,” Applejack said with a smirk. Rarity-turned-bear merely growled as they continued their way down the path. Pinkie and Dash couldn’t help but laugh at their friend’s choice of form, brought on by strange magics, while Twilight only wanted to study such spellwork for due to her own curiousity.

Twilight approached Trixie, hoping to give her unicorn compatriot some comfort despite being on the back of a shapeshifter. “Trixie,” she began, trying to find the right words to say, “We have to stick together. I know the journey has been dangerous… ”

“I want to go home,” whispered Trixie through tired eyes. She was still fading despite the warmth of the bear and the extra coverings.

“Stay with us Trixie!” Twilight panicked watching Trixie continue to babble on as her eyes drooped, attempting to go into cold-induced sleep. “What about Dinky? Didn’t you say she was going to be your apprentice? You’re a senior enchanter of the Tower! The Great and Powerful!”

“Great… and… powerful…”

“That’s right! The Great and Powerful won’t let a little thing like cold mountains bring her down! She’s going to train her first real pupil to become a great magician just like her! She’s going to help the Grey Wardens save Equestria! But she can’t do that if she falls asleep on the mountain and never wakes up!”

Despite all her hope, Trixie’s eyes did indeed close. She was still mumbling, but for how long Twilight did not want to comprehend. A lump formed in the violet mage’s throat until she saw the staff of the senior enchanter float beside its master. Twilight could only mutter a quiet prayer in thanks that Trixie was all right and that that mountain had not claimed anypony. Yet.

The truth still remained that they needed to find some shelter to rest in; especially as the skies were growing darker, indicating night would befall the mountain soon. With the coming of night, the temperatures would also dive into well below freezing, and without proper shelter they would all collapse like Fluttershy and Trixie, leaving Spike and Shale alone on the mountain.

Such a thought of leaving the baby dragon alone by dying on the mountain steeled Twilight forward. There had to be some sort of naturally occurring cavern they could use. Someplace large enough for them all to fit and for a magical fire to keep them warm through the night. As they trekked through the ice and snow, the only thing they saw from the mountain was strong rock and durable stone, with no crevice to be found under the snow.

“Plan B,” Twilight announced as she looked to Shale, “Shale, I need you to make a cave for us. I know it’s asking for much, but you’re basically a pony shaped mountain. Could you find a weak segment in the rock and make us shelter?”

“I am made of stone,” Shale answered, “That does not mean I can command rocks. If it is something it needs, then I suppose I could try something for it.” The golem approached the rocky cliff side, tapping a stone hoof against the wall apparently listening for something within in the mountain.

They stood there for what felt like hours shivering in the cold as the biting winds whipped around them. Twilight kept low to the ground as she watched Shale work on the wall, doing her best to conserve heat despite the chill around them. If they did not find a place to warm up soon, the mountain would surely become their tomb as well as Luna’s.

We’re close, Twilight thought as she looked up to the summit, somehow I know it. She pulled the poem of Brother Biblio from her bag and began to look over it again. They were at the mountains of Equestria where the earth walkers brought the Mane of Stars. That much she was certain. They were facing the storms brought on by the skylords of old to protect the mountain from intruders. There was still no sign of the temple built by the underkings though. The mountain looked completely unchanged.

Unless…

“Applejack,” Twilight said as she approached the earth pony Warden, “You said Orzamule was a city built in a mountain right?”

“Well, yeah,” Applejack responded, “But ah sure hope you ain’t expecting any donkeys around these parts. Orzamule is way over west, near the border with Filais. Also that city was built under that mountain rather than in it.”

“What if they built the temple in the mountain though?”

Applejack paused to consider this. “It’s worth a shot, but how are we gonna to know where to look?”

The Fade dreamers, Twilight remembered, the poem meant unicorns. They left spells of powerful magic to protect the inside of the tomb. Maybe I can see the lines of magic in the incantations…

Twilight focused her sight to look beyond the physical world, to see the lines of magic drawn from the Fade. Instead of simple lines, or even complex patterns to indicate spellwork, she was blinded by bright blue light as everything about the mountain from the snow, the rocks, and even the clouds overhead were charged with magic. The shearing blue light sent Twilight backwards in pain, falling into the hooves of Pinkie Pie as she returned her senses to normal, rubbing her eyes as bruise-like spots dotted her vision.

“The entire mountain is supercharged with magic,” said Twilight, exasperated from the short ordeal, “I can’t find the magic from the temple. Of course! The defenders would have done this to prevent the Imperium Magisters from finding the temple so easily. To stop those unicorns still loyal to the empire Luna toppled.”

“What do we do?” Pinkie said, sounding as uncertain as Twilight felt. The scholarly Warden could only shake her head.

“I don’t know.” She was admitting defeat to Twilight, saying such words. No plan, nothing to act on, nothing decisive to work towards. She didn’t know what to do.

The sound of smashed stone broke the ponies from their melancholy as Shale reared up and slammed both hooves into the rock face. Again and again the pony of rock struck the cliff until a hole in the natural wall was open. Shale took a few hoofsteps backwards only to ram the side of the mountain again, making the breach big enough for Spike to crawl through. Another ram against the wall and the hole was big enough for a pony.

“Open says me,” Shale said before ramming for a third and final time, careening into the breach it had created. Quickly Spike followed the golem inside, looking around before motioning the ponies inside.

The mountain then decided to help usher them into their new-found shelter, as a loud rumble echoed throughout the cold air. Fluttershy’s eyes went wide as several pounds of snow began to fall from the higher points of the cliffs.

“Avalanche!” she screamed, giving enough signal that it was time to gallop away from being buried in tons of snow and ice. Twilight channeled a protective barrier with her horn, shielding her friends from the falling frozen fragments. One by one they made their way into the hole in the wall, until all that was left was Twilight and Applejack.

As soon as Applejack was inside, a large shard of ice of fell onto the barrier, the icicle breaking into pieces but causing the shield to pulse in response. The sudden shock from the crash sent Twilight reeling in pain as the shield threatened to collapse.

“I gotcha Twi!” Applejack dove in front of Twilight, wrapping her forelegs with that of the mage. The others soon joined in, with Rainbow Dash biting on Applejack’s tail and Pinkie biting down on Rainbow Dash’s. Together they pulled Twilight into the newly made cavern just in time as the shield failed and the snow and ice covered the entrance sealed tight.

“Didn’t expect that to happen,” Shale remarked somewhere in the darkness. Twilight groaned as she got to her hooves, looking around only to be encased in pitch black. Her horn began to glow a bright light, revealing the cavern and all her friends inside, catching their breath from the close brush with death by avalanche.

While the cave was not warm to say the least, it was a shelter that would protect them from the brunt of the frigid winds of the north. The rocky ground was also greatly preferable to that of the snow as a foundation to set up camp.

Twilight’s horn glowed bright again, this time summoning a small orb of fire that hovered in the center of the cave. Quickly the party stood around the fire for warmth, with Pinkie scooping up some snow from the avalanche inside a pot and placing it over the sphere of magical flame. The collected snow quickly melted, with Pinkie distributing the water first to Fluttershy and Trixie before collecting more ice.

They sat in silence as they drank the hot water and ate their rations, surrounding bear-Rarity in an effort to stay warm. To Twilight it was an odd thing seeing that this was the best position on the mountain they have ever been since starting from the base. As far as they knew, they were trapped inside a cold mountain rather than trapped outside. This was a good change; the winds did not slash at their skins and they could walk on rock without fear of collapse.

At least, that was what Twilight was hoping for.

There was something bothering Twilight about the cave. Shale was strong yes, but breaking into a mountain was a last ditch attempt to find shelter. She didn’t expect the golem to actually break through the rock and find a cavern they could use. It was too coincidental. Too good to be true.

She was too weakened by the journey to explore the cave further, though Spike and Shale did not look worse for wear and could easily traverse the cavern to see if it extended deeper into the mountain. The thought of sending Spike so far away on his own, even if he had a pony of stone as an escort, made Twilight uneasy. Fear of the unknown stayed her tongue. Fear of losing her oldest friend.

Twilight closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to gather both her words and the courage to speak them. She called both the little dragon knight and the stone warrior over to her as the rest of the party attempted to rest and even get some sleep.

“There is something wrong with this cave,” Twilight began as the two before her gave their utmost attention, “And what’s wrong is that it’s so right. We can’t send ourselves into the caves. Fluttershy and Trixie still need to recover, and we are all tired.”

“You can count on us Twilight!” Spike gave a salute, eager to prove himself once again. Shale raised a rocky eyebrow at the situation, even though Twilight was ready for the golem’s arguments.

“You want just the two of us to go into the darkest depths alone without the possibility of reinforcement?” Twilight had not thought of that, but now that it was pointed out, it was something that couldn’t be avoided. All she could do was nod slowly.

“Don’t worry about it you big old rock,” Spike said confidently, patting a sputtering golem who refused to acknowledge that it was aging, “We’ll find our way around this mountain no sweat.”

Shale could only mutter a slight “indeed” as Spike was already well enough ahead into the dark shadows of the cave. Twilight reached out with her magic, wrapping her levitation spell around the golem and lifting it just inches off the ground to prevent movement. Shale tried to protest only to be met by Twilight’s fierce stare.

“If anything happens to Spike at all, Shale, I will reduce you to rubble.” She could hardly believe herself, actually threatening another pony, let alone Shale. Spike’s well being was paramount, and Shale was going to safeguard that no matter what happened in the caves.

The golem appeared skeptical, before allowing a smirk to somehow form on its face. “Consider me impressed, purple one,” it said after Twilight released her hold on its body, “We will not engage any potential squishes without due cause, I assure you.”

“I trust you Shale,” Twilight replied, “Good luck.”

Shale harrumphed before bumping the dragon onto its back. With Spike’s flaming sword as a torch, they descended into the dark depths of the mountains until only a light could be seen from the sword. Eventually that too faded into the darkness. Twilight gasped a bit too loud for her liking seeing the light diminish, but this was necessary. It was needed to continue the journey.

She returned to the group, only to see everypony was asleep around the lying form of Rarity still in the form of a bear. Twilight couldn’t help but stifle a laugh at the sight. Giving the orb of fire a quick recharge, she joined the party lying against the bear, covering herself in her cloak.

Rarity suddenly growled, pointing a claw at some scratch marks she left on the ground. Twilight looked, reading the words We will never speak of this ever on the ground. “Don’t worry, mama bear,” Twilight joked as she nestled against the warm form of her transformed friend, “My lips are sealed.”



“Twilight? Twilight, wake up!”

If there was one thing Twilight was grateful for, it was this time, her sleep was not visited by images of the archdemon or some other monster. The second thing she was grateful of was that it was Spike that awoke her, looking just the same as he did when they left for the cavern depths.

Twilight quickly roused herself and the others, taking a moment to check on Fluttershy and Trixie to make sure they were all right. They admitted a case of the sniffles, but a quick drink of some of Pinkie’s concoctions from her big book made any illness slowly leave the body. Applejack and Rainbow Dash were fully alert, while Rarity was still sleeping very much like a bear in a cave thanks to the shape shifting magic of Flemeth.

The look on Spike’s eyes was concerning however, which motivated Twilight to get up quickly. He appeared stricken by some sort of sight as his eyes were wide and nervous, constantly looking behind his shoulder back into the depths of the mountain’s innards.

“All right, all right, we’re up,” Twilight said, still groggy and looking back at her blanket and the orb of fire with want in her eyes, “I’m glad you’re both okay. What happened down there? You must have found something?”

“Perhaps it is best to show all of the its that we found directly,” Shale replied before turning away and heading back down the path with Spike still on its back. After a moment of rubbing the sleep from their eyes and Rarity transforming back to her unicorn self, the party followed close behind, even though many were still weakened from exposure to the deep cold.

With staves alight with magic, the party journeyed again into the natural halls within the mountain. Their hoofsteps echoed throughout the cave, with only the occasional sneeze being released from a pony’s nose breaking the near silence. Twilight looked at the walls of the cave, noting that they were becoming less random and more uniform as they made their way deeper, as if a careful hoof had a hand in manipulating the ways of the mountain.

This has to be it, Twilight thought, this has to be halls of the underkings in Biblio’s poem. Spike and Shale found the temple!

A faint orange light at the end of the tunnel they were travelling in gave Twilight pause. It was too dim to be the light of the sun, but still enough to see the cave entirely. When Shale continued to trot into the light, Twilight gave a sigh of relief that it was still safe.

When they entered the illuminated hall, the party of ponies gave a collective gasp to discover that it really was a hoofmade hall, constructed with expert masonry and stone work. While she was no architect, Twilight could appreciate the effort into building such a temple inside a mountain. While this hall was relatively plain and without decoration, one thing stood out that brought a bright smile to Twilight’s lips.

High above the archway was a statue of Luna, still pristine after centuries of being hidden within nature’s sovereign, still looking down on those who passed the archway and into the temple proper. Twilight could not believe her eyes as she stared at the effigy of the moon goddess. They had done it. They had found the resting place of the Mane of Stars.

“Yes! Yes! Yes! YES! YES!” Twilight reared up and began prancing around in a circle, overjoyed with the discovery of a lifetime. Even through the cold winds of the northlands, suffering through sickness and pain, they had managed to discover a long lost relic of the past. What the Chantry would give to find this temple and all the artifacts within? Twilight found herself eager to explore and study the temple itself.

Her friends celebrated in their own way, some on the discovery, others simply by staying alive. “Well ah’ll be a donkey’s auntie,” Applejack exclaimed looking up at the statue, “This really is it. We found it! Now we just gotta find that Mane of Stars and bring it back to Red Apple! Big Mac and Applebloom are gonna be saved!”

“Oh my,” Fluttershy gasped, “This must be a sign from Celestia and Luna.”

“Sign or not, I’m just glad this trip wasn’t a total waste,” Rainbow Dash said, discarding her wing sheathes and stretching them to their full wingspan, “Still, I hope this place gets exciting soon. Everything seems boring so far.” Twilight balked at Rainbow’s comment, wondering how travelling through a blizzard while climbing a treacherous mountain.

“It won’t be boring once we have a Temple Finding Party!” Pinkie Pie was already buzzing about what kind of party she could hold for such an occasion, until a calm hoof from Rarity slowed the energetic pony down.

“Remember the spectacular festivities we’ll have once this journey is done and over with, dear,” reminded Rarity, “Still, I am inclined to agree with Rainbow Dash, for a rare instant. This temple does seem rather plain. Perhaps it becomes much more luxurious the closer we get to the relic?”

Shale stomped one mighty stone hoof onto the ground, wanting everypony’s attention on it and Spike. They said nothing as they continued past the entranceway and deeper into the temple. Twilight raised an eyebrow but said nothing, only following the dragon knight with a golem for a steed.

When Shale finally stopped, Spike hopped off its back and pulled Twilight’s robes, leading her towards a vast chamber within the mountain. Twilight was expecting a room of religious iconography, of benches and pews for reverent ponies to pray in. She had expected books and tomes from a time lost to memory and legend.

She did not expect to find a chamber filled with eggs. Dragon eggs to be specific, noting their large size and colouration of crimsons and blacks. Spike looked at Twilight with sad eyes, before returning his gaze to the countless eggs each containing a young dragon similar to him. Several eggs were lying in pits of hot coals, while other eggs were being held aloft on pedestal cradles.

What was more distressing were the tables with assorted tools lining the surfaces. Callipers, bonesaws, various rods and needles and blades. They were not in the best condition, but they also did not appear to have been abandoned. Every tool was used recently, as there was no dust buildup around them, and the condition of the eggs showed that there were clearly living whelps waiting for their time to hatch. There was only one conclusion.

The ponies were not alone in the mountain.

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