• 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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Those Healing Hooves

Chapter 21 – Those Healing Hooves

In a rare moment of peace during their journey to rally allies to their cause, Twilight Sparkle found herself examining the loot pilfered from a high dragon’s hoard by members of the party she traveled with. Rainbow Dash Pinkie Pie, and Shale had managed to make off with a large selection of assorted jewels, as well as hundreds of gold coins.

Items of use included something Shale had called “augmentation crystals”, crystals charged with lyrium that the golem was now trying to convince Rarity to craft into exquisite shapes apply them to its body. Lines of blue lyrium were being applied to the regions around the crystals, pulsing like veins on Shale’s hard shell.

“The green crystals need to make me look invulnerable, prissy one,” Shale instructed, as Trixie levitated it just inches from the ship’s deck, “Perhaps a row of shields. Anything to make my enemies know they cannot harm me once they cast their pathetic gazes upon my lustrous form, and that their fate is sealed. Oh, and the red ones on my hooves must be fierce, to show off the destruction I shall wreak with them. Flames? Fangs? Perhaps little dragons!”

“Perhaps you should let the designer worry about the designs, hmm?” Rarity took up a chisel, hammer, and a small pot of lyrium before beginning to work on the crystals. Shale closed its eyes, humming a tune to itself as the apostate worked, and seemingly enjoying being worked on like a fine artistic piece. Knowing Shale, Twilight assumed that the golem thought of itself as a masterpiece. Being the only golem in Equestria certainly did not help its ego.

Twilight looked over the loot once more, dividing the gold and jewels in equal parts for everypony in the party. She also set aside a bag of gold bits for Ditzy Doo, as thanks for all her help. She also hoped the gold would be enough to get Ditzy and Dinky to the Free Plains where they sought a new life.

Once all the treasure was divided fairly, Twilight, along with Applejack, turned their attention to the large sword the looters had found amongst the dragon’s hoard. The sword was unlike anything she had ever seen, with a blade curved to resemble waves. The weapon looked very old, yet the blade was still incredibly sharp and she could feel the tell-tale “pulse” of enchantment emanating from the metal. The hilt and grip-bit was also ornate, with several images of warrior ponies etched around valuable rubies and sapphires.

The weapon was found for her fellow Grey Warden and former templar Applejack, who had lost her sword in the fight against the high dragon. As Twilight looked over the blade, Rainbow Dash joined her side, observing the weapon with keen interest of her own.

“That’s a kris,” Rainbow explained as Twilight held the blade with levitation. “Saw a few of them in Pura Raza on mercenaries from faraway lands. The blade is a real piece of work, as the waves make a wound bigger and cut up more veins and such. Never seen one this big before though.”

Pura Raza was far away. If this blade had come from someplace even further, then it truly was a rare and powerful artifact to be in a dragon’s treasure trove. Applejack looked at the curved blade with a look of disbelief.

“Mighty fancy lookin’,” Applejack muttered. “Even the sheath is done up like a fancy piece o’ art. Still, looks like it could so some real damage.” The sheath was highly decorated, made from an assortment of delicate fabrics woven into a pictograph of ponies in some sort of ritual involving the blade. Despite the age of the kris and the conditions it had been under for only Celestia knew how long, both weapon and sheath were in pristine condition. Twilight held no doubt that the masterful enchantments on both were the cause of such preservation.

Applejack approached the kris, taking the grip into her mouth as Twilight lowered her magic around the blade. The blonde earth pony swung the sword about with powerful thrusts and slashes, before replacing the kris back into its sheath around her waist.

“It’s certainly light,” Applejack noted. “Real light. I sorta feel like I can cut through anything with that blade.”

“Does it have a name?” Rainbow Dash looked at the scabbard with no hidden envy. “All the cool weapons have names.”

“There were markings on the hilt,” Twilight pointed out, “But I couldn’t understand the language.”

“Silverbite,” Applejack decided as she looked to her friends, “Because it looks like silver and looks like it has a real bite to it.” With the new name of the blade decided upon, Applejack and Rainbow went off to another side of the ship to discuss how to properly use the kris, while Twilight continued rummaging through the collected loot.

What she found next simultaneously surprised and horrified her. Inside one of the larger sacks was an assortment of incredibly hard scales that had once belonged to the high dragon. The scales varied in thickness and density, and was no question who had the strength to pull the dragon scales off of the dead. Whether Shale wanted a trophy to feed its ego or had some other purpose in mind, Twilight would find out soon enough.

Twilight sighed as she looked down at the dragon scales with sadness. The battles they had fought on the mountain had proven to be the most difficult yet, mainly because of Twilight’s hesitance to fight creatures that were not ponyspawn or demons. The diamond dog cult and their leader Lockjaw did not offer many options except for committing an act of terrible sacrilege on the remains of Luna. Lockjaw then forced their hooves again when the high dragon attacked, thanks to his antagonizing dragonbone whistle. Even with the loss of its eye and wings, the dragon had not quit its attack until it was slain.

The one who was most affected by the dragon’s demise was Spike. When he finally awoke from being injured by the screech of the dragon whistle, he had holed himself in the cargo bay of the ship. Any attempt at conversation was met with simple grunts. Twilight had decided that it would be best to give the infant dragon some space.

Twilight had no experience with personal issues like this. It was not a book of spells or history, nor was it something she could channel through her horn and hope magic would solve the issue. Merely thinking about Spike made her ears flatten against her head as she sealed the bag and tossed it towards the golem.

She needed something to distract herself as the ship continued to sail to Red Apple. Taking a break from counting coins and gems, Twilight stood up and stretched her limbs. A walk around the deck to see how her friends were doing would do her some good.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash were still talking about fighting techniques. I wonder what it is like to wield a sword instead of spells, Twilight thought, only to banish and imprison the thought immediately thereafter. Her magic was a deadly force already, knowing how to kill a pony with a blade was a frightening thought. She gave a quick prayer that diplomacy would prevail the next time she attempted it, though somewhere in the back of her mind she knew it would be doomed to failure.

Rarity was still working on Shale’s augmentation crystals as they conversed about designs. Trixie’s horn was still aglow with power as she held the golem aloft while she instructed the grey unicorn filly Dinky about the finer works of spellcraft. Twilight was impressed at how much Trixie had matured since leaving the Unicorn Tower; while still embellishing her own traits, none of the magician’s advice and teachings were wrong or inaccurate. Dinky drank up the font of knowledge that was Trixie, and Twilight smiled, as the relationship between mentor and student was the prime factor in Trixie’s maturation as a wizard and as a pony.

Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie were together on the port side of the ship, working together as the pegasus worked a pestle and kiln while Pinkie continued to hammer away at a grenade shell. Unlike other shells Pinkie used, the finished ones around her were bright pink, much like her coat, with the halves of the grenades closing together to form a great big heart.

“Oh, hello Twilight,” Fluttershy greeted as she dropped the mortar from her mouth, “I was just helping Pinkie finish her work. She’s really excited about it.”

“You bet!” Pinkie bounced over to Twilight holding a bright pink grenade in her tail. “This is the fabled ‘Healing Grenade’ I told you so much about! And I finally totally made a bunch!”

Twilight lifted the healing grenade up with her magic, looking over the device with a critical eye. Appears to be one of the clockwork variants rather than one with a fuse, Twilight observed, turn the halves to set the time until detonation. With a spark of lyrium it will ignite, just like all her other bombs, but how is this one supposed to heal? Ditzy did mention she brought sarsaparilla leaves for Pinkie, but what would that have to-

“Twilight,” Fluttershy said while nudging the violet unicorn’s side with a hoof, “Twilight, you’re… um… zoning out.”

“Oh. Uh. Sorry.” Twilight blushed as she was caught over-analyzing an object of her interest once again. Returning the grenade to Pinkie’s pack, she looked to the party pony, her curiosity getting the better of her. “How do the grenades work?”

“Oh that’s the second-best part!” Pinkie exclaimed, “See, the ingredients are the same as healing poultice, only with enough for four bottles of the stuff and of course a lyrium blasting cap! I added a bit sulfur and saltpeter to give it a BANG, and just a hint of vanilla extract to give the smoke a better taste.”

“Now let’s say some big Meanie McMeanerson comes up to you and bonks you on the head with a hammer. You’d be pretty messed up! But with Pinkie’s personal pain prevention powder projectile, patent pending, you’ll be back on your hooves in no time! It blows up like a regular splodey, but bursts with a cloud of healing smoke that seeps into your coat and heals all your wounds!”

To say Twilight was impressed would be an understatement. As she looked over the heart- marked bomb, everything Pinkie had told her about wanting to see ponies happy and not using her alchemy knowledge to hurt others had culminated in the healing grenade. Something like this was simply unheard of, but if anypony could make it work, it would be Pinkie.

“That’s not all.” Pinkie dug into her bag, before holding out a slightly larger pink grenade. It was marked with a heart as well, but in the center of the heart was a five pointed star. “I made a super healing grenade. The same idea as the smaller ones, but I put my Star Strand into this one!”

Pinkie’s use of the legendary relic was unconventional to say the least, but it was her strand to do with as she pleased. Twilight’s head was already filled with what the empowered healing grenade could pull off. She hoped they would never need it.

The southern shore of Lake Blackwater could be seen from the deck, with Red Apple Castle sitting on the large hill overlooking both the lake and surrounding farmland. Applejack stood at the fore of the ship, staring out towards her home with fierce eyes. Twilight nodded at her friends as they readied to dock, heading towards the cargo hold to retrieve Spike.

The little dragon knight was sitting alone with the vast array of Ditzy’s stock, moping about as he had done the moment he had awoken on the ship. “Spike?” Twilight said softly as she stepped down into the ship’s berth, “Spike, we’ll be nearing Red Apple soon.”

“I’ll be up in a minute.” It was the first complete sentence Spike had said since coming aboard. Approaching the infant dragon from behind, Twilight laid a gentle hoof on his left pauldron, trying to give Spike some measure of comfort. He did not wrench away from Twilight’s hoof, but neither did he respond to it in a positive manner. Instead, he simply sighed, shoulders sagging as he continued to gaze at the woodwork.

“I guess I should feel lucky,” Spike admitted, “That whistle Lockjaw used really hurt. Like when I use my claws on chalkboards, only ten times worse.”

“You were really small back then,” Twilight recalled, hoping a memory from the days of the Tower would distract Spike. “But you went after the chalkboards in the Tower like a demon. I had to clean brushes for a week after all the disturbances you caused while you were scratching.”

They shared a laugh in remembrance of the days when Spike really was a gurgling baby dragon. Those days were a simpler time, and Twilight would always look back on them as the happiest of her life. Days we’ll never get back, Twilight thought as she pulled Spike closer to her. Days that we can only look on fondly, but know we’ll never see them again. Everything has changed too much. We’ve changed too much. I’ve changed.

Instead of returning to deck, Twilight and Spike stayed together in the hold of the ship, recounting memories from life in the Tower, from days of a simpler life. When they ran out of funny stories involving a broom, a light crystal, and the First Enchanter’s beard, they sat together as keeper and ward much as they did during their younger days. She sighed happily as she nuzzled her charge; it was the cozy moments like this she cherished most.

What felt like hours later, Twilight was snapped back to the present as the sound of grinding gears and clanking chains signaled the lowering of the anchor. With Spike on her back, the pair left the cargo hold to step into the noontide sun, just as the others were saying thanks to Ditzy for another safe and properly navigated trip across Lake Blackwater. Horn glowing with magic, Twilight picked up the sack of gold meant for the grey pegasus, presenting the offering with a smile.

“This is for you,” Twilight said. “For all your help in our journey. I hope it’s enough.”

“Oh you didn’t have… to…” Ditzy trailed off as she opened the sack, her mismatched eyes aligning themselves properly as she stared at all the gleaming coins within. Ditzy looked up to the grinning face of Twilight then back on the sack of coins, a look of complete bafflement painted on her face.

“This… I’ve never seen so much gold in one place!” Ditzy still stared with disbelief as she looked to Twilight. It felt right to give Ditzy the lion’s share of the gold, and Twilight knew the pegasus would use it to support Dinky. She divided the gold evenly amongst the party, but they had made it this far without the need for a king’s ransom. Might as well give it to a pony who would put it to good use.

“With this kind of money, I can leave the lyrium smuggling business for good!” Ditzy was elated, fluttering about the sack of golden bits. Seeing the display only made Twilight smile wider. “We can head to the Free Plains now, and I can spend the rest of my life raising Dinky. Oh thank you so much! Thank you!”

Applejack’s call from the dock made Twilight turn around. Of course, they still had a job to do. With one last goodbye to Ditzy, Twilight quickly rejoined the party who, with the former templar in the lead, galloped through the community of Red Apple to the hill leading to the castle.

Conversation ceased as they galloped until they passed through the main gate. The soldiers of the keep cheered at the return of the party, hope in their eyes that their arl would be healed. The main doors of the inner keep opened, with Bann Braeburn standing amidst his Appleloosan guards.

“A.J.!” he called as made his way to Applejack. “Didja find it?”

“Found the Mane o’ Stars and a whole lot more up in them mountains,” Applejack replied, ascending the stairs with her cousin at her side. “I’ll tell you more once we fix up Mac and Applebloom.”

They quickly made their way through the throne room, up the stairs, and into the bedchamber area of Red Apple Castle. Applejack took a deep breath as they neared Arl Macintosh’s room, with Healer Redheart waiting for them outside the chamber doors.

“How are they?” Applejack spoke barely above a whisper, while the party waited behind her. Each held anxiety in their eyes as they waited for the answer. Healer Redheart shook her head, a grim look on her face. Twilight felt her heart beating fast. Were they too late?

“There has been little change for the better,” Redheart informed them as she opened the door to the Arl’s chamber. “His breathing has become more and more labored, and he is often shaking with a cold sweat.”

“Applebloom has not been improving as well. The magic the unicorns cast to seal the monster in her ‘horn’ has started to fade, and that monstrous thing attached to her head has been glowing stronger and brighter each day. She’s in great pain, but if something is not done soon, we fear that demon might rise up again.”

“Ain’t no fears anymore. We found it,” Applejack replied as she dug her muzzle into her saddle bag, drawing the crystal phial holding her Star Strand. Braeburn and Redheart leaned in close to marvel at the small piece of the relic, their eyes reflecting the stars in the single strand of hair.

“Well I’ll be,” Braeburn said, awestruck, “You really did it, cousin. You found the Mane o’ Stars. Let’s hope Luna smiles on us, and gets Big Macintosh on his hooves.”

They stepped into the Arl’s room one by one, Applejack leading the group with the Star Strand in her mouth. Her tall, bulky brother was still held in fitful sleep as beads of sweat dropped from his forehead, eyes clenched tight in pain. The ponies formed a semicircle around his bed, with Applejack approaching as she popped the corked of the phial.

Quietly and with all reverence due to the relic, the blonde pony lifted the cosmic hair with her teeth until she laid it across Macintosh’s forehead. Sitting on her flanks, Applejack took off her hat and laid it on the bed before looking up towards the roof.

“Luna, if you’re listenin’ right now, we could really use the help.” Just as Fluttershy’s share of the relic had healed Trixie, so too did the strand begin to glow with divine power as it sunk into Arl Macintosh’s head. Once the Star Strand had been absorbed into his coat, Macintosh’s body began to glow bright white as the power of the Strand overtook him.

Braeburn and Redheart gasped as they watched the divinity work, though the party of ponies simply stood back and watched. White light from the body of the great earth pony enveloped the room, the chimes of crystals being heard from the working of magic. Twilight watched the process with keen interest as she felt the ebb and flow of power in the room.

When she looked with eyes sensitive to the inner workings of the arcane, all she could see was the same white light the rest of the ponies saw. There were no ley lines of magic or effects of lyrium from the strand. The Star Strand really was divine.

The room began darkening as the divine power of the Star Strand slowly dissipated. The ponies stared in nervous awe as the red coat of Macintosh came into view, the noble appearing to be sleeping calmly rather than fitfully as he was earlier. Of all the ponies, Applejack looked to be the most on edge, her prized hat clenched tightly by her teeth.

Slowly, Macintosh began to stir, stretching his long limbs in bed as he yawned away the slumber. Strong yet kind green eyes opened, staring back into the eyes of his sister.

“Big Macintosh?” Applejack whispered, her hat falling from her mouth to the ground. “Are you okay? Speak to me.”

The Arl of Red Apple turned his half-lidded eyes toward Applejack, and then stood up on his bed. “Eeyup,” he said at last, getting out of bed and landing his heavy hooves onto the wooden floor. The room shook with his landing. Twilight stood in awe of the largest flesh-and-blood pony she had ever laid eyes on. Impressive in stature and deed: there was no doubt as to why the ponies of Red Apple looked up to Macintosh as their Arl.

He looked over to a small bowl filled with tall grass he could chew on, with Twilight remembering that was how the assailant sent by Arl Rendon Maim poisoned Macintosh. The Arl looked on his favourite chewing grass before tossing it into the fire with a strong bat of his hoof.

“My Arl,” Healer Redheart said as she approached, “Are you feeling all right? You’ve been sick for well over three weeks from deathweed poisoning. The fact that your body survived after a day is less than extraordinary. Are you feeling all right?”

“Feelin’ fine. Strong as an ox,” Macintosh asked, looking around the room, “Where’s Applebloom? If you’re here A.J., then Applebloom should be with you. Ever since you left for the templar order, all she ever talked about was the next time you would visit.”

“Oh my gosh, Applebloom!” Applejack burst from Macintosh’s room and headed straight for her little sister’s chamber. Macintosh made his way out as well, followed by Braeburn and the rest of the party.

Applebloom was being watched over by another healer and a guard. The little olive filly was bound not only by magic, but by chains to weigh down her limbs and make it difficult to move. Her face was drenched in sweat as she struggled against her bonds, the false horn glowing even more sickly purple than before, with several more veins of magic spreading across her head.

“What in tarnation is going on here?” Macintosh’s eyes were wide in anger as he stared down at the suffering body of his filly sister. Twilight stepped back from Macintosh as he seethed, though she knew it was out of concern for his family. Still, she felt bad for any pony caught in the wrath of the Arl.

“Lotta things happened since you’ve been sick,” Braeburn replied. “We’ll go over it all later. A.J., do you have another one of them Star Strands?”

“You may use mine.” Rarity’s horn began to glow as her crystal phial floated out of her bag towards Applebloom. The stopper was removed and the Star Strand was lifted towards the false horn radiating with dark energy. “You were right of course, dear. The Strand is not an accessory. If it means helping another pony be free of a demon, I would gladly give it up.”

Rarity magically wrapped the relic around Applebloom’s false horn. Unlike a maimed leg or a disease, exorcizing a demon took great magic. It was not an ailment a healer could treat. Yet the Star Strand sunk into the false horn just as it did Macintosh’s body, causing the fake font of magic to glow with divine white light.

“Get ready,” Twilight warned. “We don’t know what the demon will try to do.”

Macintosh watched with a stern expression, blinking once at the mention of a demon. They all stood around the bed of the little filly, who screamed out in pain as her body glowed brightly. It was not the scream of Applebloom that escaped her lips, but the howl of the Desire demon in great pain. Strings of curses in tongues horrible and bizarre echoed in the room as the demon was purged, the false horn peeling away, flake by flake, into the air. Despite the scream echoing from her mouth, Applebloom’s body was relaxed as the divine light spread throughout her body. The demon of the fade was suffering; the filly was being healed.

With the last of the false horn broken and sent back to the Fade, everypony stood still with nervous breath, watching to see if Applebloom would awaken as healthy as her older brother had. Slowly the young earth pony opened her eyes, looking around the room groggily. Applebloom sputtered for a moment as she looked into the concerned faces of her older siblings, tears welling up in her eyes.

“Applejack… Big Macintosh… I only wanted to help.” Applebloom broke down in the forelegs of her older sister, who stroked the filly’s mane with her hoof. Twilight motioned with a hoof for the others to leave the family together as they grieved the loss of the people of Red Apple, as well as the loss of innocence. Twilight saw the haunted expression in Applebloom’s face as she stared into space. While the demon controlled her body and her actions, Applebloom was conscious and fully aware of everything the desire creature had done. She likely blamed herself for all the death the demon caused.

While the rest of the ponies left Applebloom’s bedchamber, Twilight stayed back to give one final check over the filly for any residual damage from the false horn. To her surprise, every trace of magic both sinister and benign was gone, completely eradicated from the little one’s body. It was almost unheard of in magic circles around the world; the effects of a dispelled false horn usually led to brain damage or insanity at best, complete vegetative state at worst. The fact that Applebloom was physically fit after exorcism was beyond extraordinary.

The repair of the psyche would be something else entirely. Applebloom knew of every evil act the demon had committed, the violence and terror she had done to her two best friends, and the death toll that had wracked the Red Apple region. It would take a skilled counselor and plenty of months, if not years, to help Applebloom cope with the actions of the Desire demon if she could ever forgive herself.

As Twilight left the chamber to allow the family time alone, Twilight focused her attention on their journey to unite the folk of the land together against the Blight, gathering her friends together as she closed the door behind her.

“With Macintosh healed, we might be able to get some of the Equestrian nobility on our side,” Twilight realized, “If anything, he can put a stop to the fighting between ponies and try to direct Loghoof’s energy and forces towards the ponyspawn. Just as we decided in the mountain, we’ll be heading to the donkey city-state of Orzamule next. With the exception of Applejack and Shale, the rest of us have not had much experience dealing with donkeys or the Dark Tunnels. I’ll be in the study to see if Red Apple Castle has any books on the subject.”

“From what I could tell the last time I looked at my maps, the entrance to Orzamule is on the cusp of the Frosttop Mountains. If we sailed across Lake Blackwater, we would still have to walk west towards the entrance over rough terrain. Instead we are going to use the merchants’ road from Red Apple. It will take us a week’s worth of walking but it’s the most direct route.”

Twilight took a deep breath before continuing. “I want you all to know that the Dark Tunnels are home territory of the ponyspawn. Though I don’t want it, there is the chance we could be sent into the Dark Tunnels. If anypony has any objections, tell me now, please.”

“I for one look forward to the squishing,” Shale replied with a hint of sadistic glee. “So many creatures make their homes inside Dark Tunnels. All of them go squish, squash, squosh. Oh, I suppose being in the underground will jostle my memory.”

“It’ll be fun to see donkeys at work and at play!” Pinkie chimed in. “Ooh, I wonder what they do when it’s time to party!”

“Not a fan of going underground,” Rainbow huffed, “No wind, no sun, no sky, no clouds. How do they donkeys live with rocks always over their heads? Still, we came this far, no use leaving you all hanging. Not that I would do that.”

“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” Fluttershy said, “It sounds really scary, but I wonder what little critters live under the earth. I can’t wait to see them all.”

“I’m with you, Twilight dear,” Rarity assured, “Even if we must go to the dirtiest places ever known. I’ll have to reinforce my ‘dirt repelling barrier’.”

“The Great and Powerful Trixie will certainly not be left out,” the boastful unicorn concluded. “She will dazzle the donkeys with displays of magic their eyes have never seen before!”

Twilight smiled at the gathered ponies, thankful to have a group of loyal, wonderful friends at her back. “Thank you all,” she said. “Let’s use this opportunity to rest up. Tomorrow we’ll gather supplies needed for the journey north to Orzamule. We’ll leave on the third morning.”


It was sundown when Applejack, Macintosh, and Braeburn stood on the northern parapet of Red Apple Castle. Poor Applebloom had cried herself to sleep in the forelegs of her older siblings, blubbering out apology after apology before she dozed off, tired from the strain. Applejack had tried to comfort her little sister, but the filly would not accept forgiveness or consoling so easily.

With Applebloom asleep, Macintosh walked in silence to the parapets, followed closely by Braeburn and Applejack. The two then filled the young Arl of Red Apple in about the dire events plaguing Equestria, from the death of the King and the betrayal of Loghoof at Ostequus, to the traitor proclaiming himself regent and the resulting civil war between the teryn of Glenwell and the arlings loyal to him against the Bannorn.

Braeburn brought up more recent and much more troubling news. Ponyring was razed to the ground, and the ponyspawn had begun blighting the land with their black blood, as well as digging a massive tunnel to the underground. Of Bann Meyer and her force of four hundred strong ponies conscripted from Ponyring and the outlying farms, only she and thirteen others had survived the assault of an invasion force near triple that size.

That was only the advance force. The majority of the ponyspawn host were still in the Potpourri Wilds, lashing out at the Bronco tribes that called that region home, as well as blighting the lands they invaded. Soon enough, the ponyspawn would turn their gaze to Equestria proper, and little would stand in the black tides way as it swept through the nation.

“Eeyup,” Macintosh finally said after Applejack and Braeburn brought him up to speed. “Sounds like a right mess we’re in. Dang Loghoof never knew when to point his sword at the right direction.”

“What should we do? Civil war ain’t doing us any favours.” Braeburn was suffering the most from the war. Appleloosa was small compared to other regions of the Bannorn, and he started with a force of two hundred and fifty strong soldiers. Now those numbers had been reduced to two hundred fighting the combined might of Loghoof and Arl Maim.

“Gather up every battle-capable pony you can from the Red Apple arling,” Macintosh answered, though his eyes were filled with regret. “Should be six hundred last count. Gather up the knights, and we’ll go reinforce Loghoof.”

“Reinforce him?!” Applejack stared at her elder brother in shocked disbelief. How could he think of wanting to reinforce the traitor who left them all to die at Ostequus, who abandoned the King?

Who let Duncan and the rest of the Wardens die?

“Eeyup. Reinforce.” Macintosh walked over to the east side of the parapet, pointing a hoof towards the Equestrian mainland. “This may sound like fancy mathematics, but one side of ponies fightin’ another side of ponies while a third side of monsters buildin’ up their strength just doesn’t add up. Instead of fighting each other, ah’m goin’ to his side to help him against the monsters. Then I’ll challenge the claim Loghoof has on the throne at the gatherin’ of all the terynirs, arlings, and the Bannorn: the Landsmeet.”

The Landsmeet was a meeting of the various heads of regions and the King to discuss how Equestria would function for the coming year. It was also called during disputes between lords and ladies of the land, to settle them in debate or sanctioned duels. The Landsmeet was also where the nobility would rally behind the heir to the throne and proclaim their support for the new sovereign of the realm.

“Braeburn, ah gotta talk to my little sis. Been a while, and we have a lot o’ catchin’ up to do.” The bann of Appleloosa nodded at this polite dismissal, tipping his hat as he headed down the stairs and into the castle proper. Applejack gulped as Macintosh continued to stare out into the sunset; they were going to have the dreaded “talk” and it was not going to be about the birds and the bees.

“A.J.” Macintosh began, only to clear his throat. Applejack stood next to her older brother as he tried to find the words to say. They needed each other right now more than ever, even if the conversation was something she did not want to have. Still, if there was a time to talk, it was now.

“Never really apologized for what ah said and did back when ah was sent to the templar,” Applejack said at last, breaking the silence. “So ah’m sorry. Should never have said those things to ya. I was just so angry to be sent away from mah home.”

“Eeyup,” replied Macintosh. “Ah understood that anger right well. Deserved it too, ah reckon. Should have let you had a say. It was for yer own protection, though. Suppose the point is moot now, since you got picked up fer the Wardens.”

“Suppose so,” Applejack sighed, until she looked to see Macintosh digging in his bag and drawing out an amulet of the sun and the moon. She gasped as he held the amulet over her head, draping the chain around her neck. Lifting the face of the amulet, Applejack could still see the cracks where the stone had split when she tossed it in rage, the small crevices filled with sticky paste in a rough repair job.

Her brother, blood be damned, kept her mama’s amulet and even repaired it himself. Applejack could tell that just from the look in Macintosh’s eye that this was what their reunion was supposed to be. She nuzzled her brother’s neck, and the two siblings stayed silent for a while in the setting sun.

All could not be at peace for long though. There was still a war to fight against the ponyspawn and they still had to bring Loghoof to justice. All this Applejack knew and more; at least she could count on a reliable pony like Twilight to begin preparations for the journey to Orzamule. Something inside told her that the party would be ready to move in a couple days thanks to the violet unicorn.

We need to talk about the throne,” Macintosh began, though Applejack hesitated to give her brother a response. “Yer the true heir to crown, being as you’re the only last living child of the old king.”

“Ah know,” Applejack replied, “Ah just never imagined myself queen o’ anything. Just a Warden the rest of my life, and before that, just helpin’ keep order around Red Apple. Buck some trees and what not.”

“‘Heavy is the head that wears the crown’, and ah’m not talkin’ about the weight of that hat.” Macintosh nodded to the staircase, and the pair began their descent into the castle proper. “Ah know you don’t like it, but Equestria needs a queen.”

“What about Armeria?”

“We don’t know if her loyalty lies with her pappy or Blueblood’s memory,” answered Macintosh as he opened the door to the castle halls. “While she’s as smart as a whip, the ponies won’t rally to her. She’d make a good chancellor, but what the ponies need is a queen they can look up to in times o’ strife. They need a pony that’s rolled around knee-deep in the mud and blood of battle. One that carries the name of the royal line.”

They walked in silence towards Applebloom’s chambers, Applejack still trying to wrap her head around Macintosh’s words. Being named queen of the realm was not something Applejack neither desired nor wanted, but what Macintosh said about having a pony to rally behind made a sick sort of sense. The nightmare Twilight had about the Archdemon was also shared by Applejack, and the constant reminder of “despair” gave Applejack an idea of what they were dealing with. The ruined temple spoke of the Old One named Uthemiel, the Dragon of Mirth, and how the cold voice said despair after Twilight spoke its name.

If this dragon really was the personification of despair, then the ponies of Equestria truly would need somepony to rally behind. If they could not stand firmly against the Archdemon and its ponyspawn legions, then they would surely crumple under fear and terror.

Uthemiel, the archdemon of despair, Applejack thought to herself, sounds like a right cruel critter. I’ll have to talk to Twilight about this. Maybe she’ll have insight I don’t.

“Don’t think too hard about it,” Macintosh insisted, gaining Applejack’s attention. For the first time since he awoke, her brother had a small smile on his face. “You still gotta a whole lot on yer plate. Ah know yer a Warden first, everything else second…”

“That ain’t true,” Applejack interjected, “Ah’m for mah family first.”

Macintosh shook his head. “Blights are bigger than me, or even Applebloom. I don’t know much about the Wardens, but ah do know that it was a terrible mistake for Loghoof to abandon them. All them stories about the Wardens fighting off Blights and Archdemons, well, there has to be some sort of truth to them.”

“Doesn’t stop the fact that ahm mighty worried yer just gonna get hurt going up to Loghoof like he’s one of yer drinking buddies.” Every time Applejack even thought the name Loghoof she wanted to spit bile. Shame they were in her little sister’s room. Instead, all the blonde earth pony could do was grimace and snort at the name of the traitor.

“He won’t do nothin’,” Macintosh said, quite sure of himself. “Be quite a scandal to attack a pony who is trying reinforce their position against ponyspawn. Even more if Loghoof acknowledges what he tried to do. Nnnope. Gonna fight this battle with politics. Sticky, messy, dirty politics.”

When they arrived, Applejack opened the door to see Applebloom asleep in her bed, eyes still red and puffy from hours of crying. Resting her head on the bed was the filly pegasus Scootaloo, who had not left her friend’s side since Macintosh allowed her to stay with Applebloom. When Macintosh approached, Scootaloo quickly awoke, rousing herself from slumber to stand as tall as she could for the Arl.

“You done fine,” Macintosh said. “Now get along to bed there, Scootaloo. We just came to say our goodnights to Applebloom. She’ll be right as rain soon enough. Going to Trotterim and find her the best help myself.”

“What about Sweetie Belle?” Applejack turned away as Scootaloo looked up to the lord of Red Apple with big purple eyes. The little unicorn filly was still locked in the dungeon mostly for her own safety rather than punishment; many of the townsfolk still blamed her for the calamity that had struck.

Applejack had omitted to the party what the templars would do to Sweetie Belle for such vile acts as granting another a false horn and consorting with demons. If they did not outright kill her, they would saw off her horn and sever her connection to the Fade permanently, so that she would become one of the Tranquil and never be able to cast magic again. As a result, the unicorn would become little more than an emotionless automaton, caring little for anything except to complete the tasks of whatever templar master they served. It was a cruel fate that was becoming more and more common, if they did not kill unicorn mages immediately.

“Sweetie Belle will be fine,” Macintosh reassured. “Ah’ll do what ah can to help. You run along now. Gettin’ mighty late.”

Scootaloo nodded, leaving the room only to give one last look at Applebloom. Applejack shook her head; it was a steep thing to promise to stand in the way of the templars, especially when apostate unicorns were their jurisdiction. This might be a promise Macintosh couldn’t keep.

Rarity would react badly as well. For whatever reason, the primadonna sorceress had taken a personal interest in Sweetie Belle’s well being. As much as she would like to stand up against the templars, Applejack was a practical-minded pony and starting a conflict with the templar order would not do the cause of the Wardens any good, even if they were the deciding factor when it came to saving Equestria’s Unicorn Tower.

“Ah sure hope we all know what we’re doin’,” Applejack muttered, though loud enough for Macintosh to hear.

“Eeyup,” he replied, before turning back towards the castle halls. “Don’t ferget to get some sleep too, A.J.”

“Ah will,” she said, giving Applebloom’s mane a few more tender strokes. “Just gonna say goodnight to Applebloom.”

Macintosh left the room with surprising silence for a pony his size, leaving his sisters alone. Applejack nuzzled the sleeping filly gently before standing up and removing the amulet with a quick shake of her head. Clutching the steel chain in her teeth, Applejack carefully laid the amulet around Applebloom’s neck without disturbing her slumber.

“Want you to have this, Applebloom,” Applejack whispered as she resumed stroking her little sister’s red mane. “Ah loved that amulet with all my heart, cause I loved our mama with all my heart. Same as how ah love you with all mah heart. Ah know things are gonna be real rough for you for a while, and ah know yer tears won’t run dry. Just remember yer one of the Apple family, and that we always come back stronger and wiser from anything thrown our way.”

“You wear that amulet with pride. It’s been passed down from our mama to me, and now ah’m given it to you. You know that mama and pappy and Celestia and Luna will watch over you as long as you wear that around yer neck. Just like ah will, one day.”

Thirty years, Applejack reminded herself. Just like Twilight. Just like all the other Wardens that came before her. Just like Duncan.

“Good night Applebloom,” Applejack smiled, giving a quick kiss to the forehead, “See ya bright and early in the morning.”


Rarity detested sneaking about like a mouse with a stolen piece of cheese. Not only were mice filthy creatures in their own right, but the act of skulduggery was hardly becoming of a lady such as herself. Even if her upbringing was being raised in a swamp with a witch for a mother.

There was also the fact that she used the shapeshifting spells of Flemeth to actually become a mouse. The castle floors at this angle and height were atrocious to walk on with every dirt clod, dust bunny, and stale crumb in clear and horrid view. Then there was avoiding the shrieks of the maids as they tried to stomp on Rarity whenever she scurried into view. The nerve!

It was worth it though, to listen in on the plans Arl Macintosh had for little Sweetie Belle. Rarity needed to know what was to be done, and she dared not ask the Arl directly. Though she did not think he would give the filly over to the templars easily, having allowed the apostate child to live in secrecy in the castle for how long, eventually the templars would take Sweetie Belle away to kill her for a crime she had no hoof in.

With a little shapeshifting magic and an ounce of courage, Rarity decided to take matters into her own hooves... er... paws. With all the speed the rodent form allowed, Rarity moved from the bedchamber of Applebloom down the darkened halls of the castle until she made her way to the sub-levels, to the cellars and finally to the dungeons.

With the exception of Sweetie Belle and a single sleeping guard, the dungeon of Red Apple Castle was devoid of activity. There were no criminals or other miscreants; all those who had been jailed away were done so at the behest of the desire demon, and had long returned to their lives in Red Apple.

The guard was sleeping rather noisily, snoring up a storm as Rarity snuck past him and into Sweetie Belle’s cell. The filly was also in deep sleep on a small pile of straw, with Rarity wincing at the sight of many bruises and cuts that had not completely healed. Poor dear, she thought as she crept ever closer on mouse paws, magic and alchemy may heal those scars, but what of the ones in your heart and soul?

Rartiy’s body shimmered as she shifted from the form of a rodent back to her usual fabulous self. She looked back through the locked doors of the cell to make sure the guard was not awoken by the light show. Thankfully he was still asleep, although the same could not be said for Sweetie Belle, who awoke with wide eyes at seeing the apostate mage transform in front of her. The white unicorn offered a smile to the frightened filly, hoping to keep Sweetie Belle silent.

“Hello, dear,” she soothed as she laid herself in front of the youngling. “It has been a while, hasn’t it?” The two had not spoken since before Rarity had left for the Frosttop Mountains, and the words they shared had been very minimal. It was a shame they were not able to get to know each other better; for some reason Rarity could not describe, she felt a connection to Sweetie Belle the likes of which she had never felt before.

This same connection was what spurred Rarity to action in defense of the young mage, going so far as to commit herself to this cause.

“Hello again, Rarity,” Sweetie Belle replied, though her eyes were still downcast. “I’m glad you’re back. That means Applebloom is safe. That also means the templars will come and take me away.”

“I do not believe so,” Rarity said as she lowered her horn towards Sweetie Belle. “I can teach you magic that will help you escape the templars. Just touch your horn with mine, and I’ll share the knowledge with you.”

Rarity did not know if Twilight, Trixie, and every unicorn who ever studied in the Tower worth their salt would condemn the act of sharing magic like this. It was quick, replacing years of study and practice to a moment where one mind simply told the other how to perform certain magic. It was also dangerous as well, as unpracticed use of magic led to madness and demonic possession, as was shown by Applebloom and her false horn. Still, there was no other way to save Sweetie Belle from her fate when the templars arrived. She had to share the knowledge of Flemeth’s shapeshifting if the filly was to escape the Chantry’s judgement.

Sweetie Belle was hesitant at first, and Rarity could not blame her. The last time she had fooled around with magic for a good cause, a powerful demon took full advantage and nearly wiped Red Apple off the face of the map. Yet the fear of templars’ blades won out, and Sweetie Belle eventually touched horns with Rarity.

Now for the tricky part, Rarity thought as she began to channel her thoughts, her memories, of shapeshifting magic to the horn of Sweetie Belle. It was similar to magical feedback, only involving the sharing of more than just magic, but memories as well. Just as Flemeth had passed down the knowledge to her, Rarity chided herself as the words of the Guardian of the Guantlet echoed in her head. I truly am becoming more and more like her, whether I want to or not.

The difference was that she was helping another with her magic, rather than Flemeth’s sole desire to stay a hermit in a swamp, teaching magic to her daughters and then stealing her bodies. This would be Rarity’s last and greatest defiant act in the face of Flemeth; that the magic of the Mare of the Mire would be known to another outside her little master-apprentice system, and used for a good cause rather than than greed for power.

Rarity kept her concentration on the act of sharing even as Sweetie Belle’s own memories flooded over her. Memories of playing in the fields of Red Apple with Applebloom and Scootaloo, learning to read and write with her friends from scholars of the Red Apple Chantry, to silly little games and trials to achieve their cutie marks. She chuckled despite herself as she watched the memories rush by; this was why Sweetie Belle had to protected, so that she could still hold these memories in her heart and live a long life to make more.

It was to Rarity’s great surprise that Sweetie Belle’s earliest known memory smashed into her psyche like Shale barreling down a hill into a stone wall. She heard the echoes of screaming and felt the heat of flames. Curiosity as well as concern forced her hoof, and she delved deeper into the memories of Sweetie until she was seeing only small parts through the eyes of a very young foal.

“First you take one daughter, and then you come after another!”

“Not again! We won’t let you!”

The roar of a high dragon echoed throughout the land as its shadow loomed over the foal. In front of her were her parents, a unicorn stallion with a bushy moustache and a unicorn mare with a large beehive mane. They were standing in front of a basket where the foal Sweetie Belle lay, crying from the pain in her ears and the sight of the beast.


“I’ll hold her off! Get Sweetie Belle to safety!”


The father charged towards the dragon, his horn blazing with power in an attempt to buy time as the mother gripped the basket with her teeth and ran off. The mother turned her teary eyes back to her husband, who was facing the dragon-witch alone. With a snort of dark smog, the high dragon opened its mouth and let loose a violent stream of fire. Immediately his scream of pain was silenced by the roar of draconic fury until there was nothing left but cinders and ash. Letting only the slightest sob escape her, the mother tightened her grip on the screaming foal’s basket, galloping as fast as her hooves could take her until she stopped without warning. Her eyes went wide and the pupils were dilated as she turned to face the monster.

Slowly her horn began to splinter, falling piece by piece to the ground and into the basket with the crying Sweetie Belle. As Rarity watched, she recognized it as magical feedback , at a magnitude Rarity had never before seen, nor she suspected had anypony else. She was reminded of the feedback between Twilight and Hubred, compared to Flemeth that would have been seen as miniscule. There was no link, no arc, no warning. Just a final flash of immense magic, and then the mother was no more.

The familiar, chilling sound of laughter filled Rarity with dread as she looked through the eyes of the victim filly. Staring down before her were the cold yellow eyes of the Mare of the Mire, Flemeth. “You’ve caused quite a bit of trouble, little one,” Flemeth hissed, only to crank her head to the west as the shouts of soldiers were heard in the distance. Among them was the sound of a younger Arl Macintosh, leading soldiers in the direction of a dragon attack.

“It appears your parents were partly successful. No matter. I prefer to think of you as a… contingency plan.”

Rarity snapped back into the present, her breathing ragged as she recalled the memories that she had just witnessed. It all made sense now; her connection to Sweetie Belle and how easy it was to share knowledge with the filly. “You’re my sister,” Rarity muttered, as Sweetie Belle was still dazed by their magical link.

Hot anger began to rise within Rarity as she focused on the memory she had just lived through. Flemeth was the cause of their suffering, all to prolong her false immortality and preserve her power. She ruined lives to extend her life and further her strength, and for what? Power? Some long forgotten vendetta? It did not matter; no pony should dictate lives as callously as Flemeth had, no matter how much power she possessed. The fact that she transformed into a high dragon during the memory caused Rarity to think with caution. The party had barely managed to defeat a wild dragon in the mountains; what hope did they have against an old and powerful witch?

“Rarity?” came the voice of Sweetie Belle, pulling the white sorceress away from her troubling thoughts. “My horn is all tingly now.”

“Just the after effects of sharing memories,” Rarity soothed, “You’ll be right as rain in a few moments.”

“What you did. I feel like I know magic now. It doesn’t burn like the spells from the unicorn’s book. The spell that made Applebloom mean.” At the thought of the possession of her friend, Sweetie Belle recoiled back into her melancholy. Rarity tut-tutted, horn glowing with magical power.

“I taught you a very useful, if a bit bestial, spell, Sweetie Belle,” Rarity explained as her body shifted back into the form of a small mouse. Sweetie Belle almost squealed in delight at the magic performed before her. Instead, she mimicked the weaving of magic through her horn, grimacing as she channeled the spellwork as closely as Rarity had done.

Rarity watched as Sweetie Belle’s transformation imitated her own to a tee. It was the desired result of a horn-link after all. They were her memories being used; of course they would be immaculate and perfect.

They both transformed back into ponies, with Sweetie Belle’s face contorting with glee. Whether it was actually using a spell without a demonic invasion being the reason for her happiness, or now having a way to escape the templars, Rarity could not tell. Still, it gladdened her heart that the old hag’s magic would be used to help another, rather than to kill and corrupt.

“Now Sweetie Bell,” Rarity warned, “This magic is as useful as it is dangerous. Do not use it unless you feel your life is in danger. I have to go rejoin my friends before we leave for Orzamule in the morning.”

Rarity turned away from Sweetie Belle and was about to transform again when she heard the little filly speak. “Will I ever see you again?”

Hesitating only a moment to find the words, Rarity turned around and flashed her most dazzling smile. “We will meet again. I promise you, dear. Now get some sleep and behave yourself. No more helping with strange magics. And stay safe.”

Sweetie Belle said nothing as Rarity shifted back into mouse form, waving a small hoof in farewell as the magically disguised unicorn scurried off through the dungeon until she was in the castle proper. She had done well today, all things considered. There were still many dangers to face. Orzamule lay ahead of them all.

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