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

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

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Chapter 26 – Broodmare

Every bone in her body ached. She tried to open her eyes, but her left eye stung from pain and had swollen shut from a massive bruise. Her right eye was slightly open, but all she could see was pitch black. All she could hear was the ringing in her ears and barely audible whisper in the wind.

Rarity groaned as she tried to keep her wits about her. It made sense at the time. Try to catch one of the chains tying Twilight with her magic in an attempt to save her friend from capture. She never considered that the ornlock would try again against her. Still, she had saved her friend from a cruel fate, and likely stopped whatever plan Flemeth had for her by being taken by the ponyspawn.

Whatever the ponyspawn had planned for her would be paltry compared to the Mare of the Mire. At least, that was what Rarity hoped.

She tried to move, only to find her limbs bound in some sort of sticky substance. Rocks dug into her back as she was held against the cave face by ponyspawn glue, feeling incredibly exposed in the heart of darkness. As time passed, Rarity was starting to second guess her plan; at least her mother was the devil she knew. The ponyspawn, on the other hoof, were known only for wanton slaughter. The idea of them making use of captives was unheard of.

A thought occurred to Rarity; she was captured in front of Twilight, and if there was one thing that mare never did, it was give up on her friends. They would make an attempt to rescue her, or die trying. If these were the Pits that donkey Ruck had mentioned, the latter was all the more likely.

“Curious, isn’t it?” came an all too familiar, all too cold voice. “You’ll do everything in your power to escape me and the fate I designed for you, all to protect your friends, and instead you jeopardize their lives further.”

“It can’t be…” Like in the mountain, the image of Flemeth formed in front of Rarity’s eyes. She gave no light to the cave, but the old unicorn could be seen as clearly in the dark as if it were a sunny day. Her yellow eyes pierced through the dark to Rarity, who tried to look away.

“Surprised once again? Tsk tsk… You should know that when it comes to limits, I break them all.” Flemeth’s mouth curled into a small yet sinister smile as she paced the cave in front of Rarity.

“Your plans have failed.” Rarity put on a defiant face, in hopes that it would do something to the old crone. “The ponyspawn have me. They’ll kill me. There will be nothing left for you, old mare.”

“For a unicorn who knows so much, you know very, very little,” Flemeth shot back. “The ponyspawn don’t manage to capture a unicorn every day. You and your little friend will make quite the prize. Besides, I long ago planned a contingency, in the event you fell. I’m sure Sweetie Belle would not object to magic lessons if I were to tell her they could be used to save you.”

“Stay away from her you monster!”

“Ha!” Flemeth’s laugh chilled Rarity’s rage. “I find it amusing that you would repeat the same warning as your parents. No, Rarity. If you are to be converted, then I will move to Sweetie Belle and begin anew. You helped, in a way, by linking your horn with hers. Saves me the trouble of teaching her. I haven’t been a filly in centuries. Maybe I’ll try again.”

Rarity wailed while Flemeth continued to smirk. Her plan had backfired; Flemeth would take Sweetie Belle’s body, and she would be stuck here in the claws of the ponyspawn. This was a complete and utter nightmare.

“Do you hear that, my dear?” Flemeth said, holding a hoof to her ear. “I hear the Jailer returning. He’s bringing his tools for the conversion process. I hear the first few stages are utter torture, and then you see them as complete bliss. I wouldn’t want to get in his way. Still, it is very dark in this cave, isn’t it? You can’t see your future in here. Allow me to show you the light.”

Flemeth disappeared in a burst of light, her laughter the only echo in the cave as she departed. In her place was an orb of magelight that illuminated the cavern in white light. Rarity’s eyes widened as far as they could to the point where it hurt.

Not the appearance of the Jailer, his chains, his tools, or the noise of scraping metal could distract her from the sight Flemeth’s magic revealed. In her moment of despair, Rarity screamed, and screamed, and screamed…


Twilight stood in shock as Pinkie dressed the wound caused by the ornlock’s lyrium hook, staring into the rubble of a cave-in. To a seasoned military commander, the battle would have been considered a success; the enemy was routed and they had taken minimal losses. Under the circumstances they were faced with, by having ponyspawn on one front and terrasprites on another, the history books would call this a victory.

Twilight did not agree in the slightest. The ornlock with the chains had escaped with Rarity, and not even Celestia knew what ponyspawn did with captives. She didn’t even know the ponyspawn took hostages. The fate of the prisoners was to be torment, that much was certain.

To her, losing Rarity was a defeat so profound that it would match the massacre at Ostequus. Rarity was her friend, and she just let her go. She didn’t fight hard enough against the ornlock, against the ponyspawn. Now she was paying for her weakness.

“Damn,” Twilight cursed as she slammed her forelegs into the ground. “Damn. Damn, damn, damn!”

“Twilight…” Spike looked to Twilight for guidance. He looked to Rarity as a source of inspiration, the maiden a knight would be sworn to protect. Twilight had failed him too.

“I wasn’t strong enough! I was fighting that… that thing and I couldn’t do anything to stop it and it took Rarity like it was easy! What good is all this magic? All my studies? What good is it if I can’t save lives?”

“It’s not your fault.” Applejack tried to console her, but Twilight shrugged her away. Just like Ruck, Twilight had failed to give hope to Rarity. What good was being a Grey Warden if the ponyspawn could defeat them so soundly?

“Twilight.” This time it was Fluttershy, the one closest to Rarity. The two had always talked to one another on the road, helping each other with the mending of clothes and chatting about Filesian fashion. If anypony was affected by Rarity’s capture, it would have been Fluttershy.

At least, that’s what Twilight thought. When she looked up, she was staring into the teal eyes of the Chantry sister. Her eyes were wet with tears, but they held a fierce fire Twilight had never guessed was brewing inside Fluttershy.

“Twilight,” Fluttershy said again. “Rarity needs us. She’s probably scared and hurt. She needs her friends to rescue her from the monsters.”

Twilight nodded.

“We’ve been through so much together. We can’t just leave her behind now. We need our leader. We need our friend. We need you, Twilight. Rarity needs you.”

Twilight blinked away the last of her tears. Fluttershy is right, she thought as she stood up. I’ve been acting like a foal. I need to act like a leader. A light in the darkness of the Tunnels, of the Pits. I need to start acting like Duncan. Like a Grey Warden.

As she stood up, Twilight focused her magic all over her body; it pulsed with power as the arcane swept over her. The heartbeats of countless monstrosities around her no longer mattered. This was the moment to show the ponyspawn exactly what she was made of; as a unicorn, as a pony, as a Grey Warden.

Too long had they fallen back into defense when they were attacked. This time they would go on the offensive. They would make the ponyspawn know them not as prey, but as their hunters. As the Wardens who would end the blight with strength of arms, of magic, and of the unity they held as friends and as a people.

“My friends, I’m sorry I’ve been acting like a foal,” Twilight began, a new determination in her eyes. “We lost a dear friend today. The ponyspawn took her by chains and dragged her to the Pits. We are going to go after her. I’m not going to lie to any of you. This will be more dangerous than the Fade and the mountain combined. What we thought would be just a quick trip in the Dark Tunnels has turned into a rescue mission in the blackest depths of the very earth itself.”

“Warden, you are out of your mind!” Oghren argued. “Listen to yourself. You want us to go into the Pits, where not even the most seasoned Wardens come back from. It’s suicide!”

“I know. We all know. I don’t care. I’m going to bring Rarity back. No pony gets left behind. No one gets left behind.” Twilight looked over to Spike for strength and support. Since the very beginning of this mess, he was with her, and for that she was eternally grateful. “The ponyspawn have given us a bloody snout. They want us to run and hide under our beds like colts and fillies. I say no. I say we go into the Pits and make the ponyspawn run away from us!”

Twilight galloped up to the crest above near the rockslide. “I am going to go and do the impossible! Just like we have before. The Fade! The Mountain! I can’t do it alone.”

“You’d have yer head in a barrel of rotten apples before Ah let you go into the Pits on yer own,” Applejack said. “We’re Wardens. More than that, we’re friends. Friends don’t let friends stay in the clutches of ponyspawn. Ya have my sword.”
Rainbow Dash hovered for a moment before landing next to Twilight. “No ponyspawn is going to have their way with any of us! You have my dagger!”

“And my grenades!” Pinkie jumped up. “No meanies are running away with our friend!”

“I’ll use my bow to help,” Fluttershy offered. “We have to be brave! We have to be strong! For Rarity! For all of us!”
“You’ll have the complete repertoire of spells from the Great and Powerful Trixie!” With a tip of her starry hat, Trixie gave a smirk filled with more confidence than Twilight had ever seen.

“You get the whole damn golem,” Shale added. “I do not like losing, and losing the prissy one is a defeat, and I will not stand for such! Let the purple one lead us into the depths. I’ll squish and squash and pound and smash every ponyspawn from the Pits to the surface and back again!”

“Don’t forget about me, Twilight,” said Spike. “Burning sword and all. We’ll get Rarity back!”

“Gotta say, Warden, I’m impressed.” Oghren shook his head, looked at the flask hanging on his flank, then back to Twilight. “This is an insane, suicidal plan that no one has ever come back from.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow to the donkey berserker, who laughed heartily. “I can’t wait! This is gonna be the most fun I’ve ever had sober!” Oghren belched. “Well, mostly sober.”

Smiling at her assembled friends, she turned to the rubble that was blocking the way to the Pits. Focusing her magic, she concentrated a blast of pure concussive force to clear the way. Thoughts of her fellow unicorn filled her heart with anger as her horn flared, the magic flowing from her and being amplified by the staff.

She gave a shout as the staff slammed against the ground, the invisible blast wave slamming against the rocks, splintering them into shards and then again into harmless dust. Another wave of her staff, and the magic changed from a force to a wind as she willed the dust to settle immediately.

As she led the charge past the cave-in into the Pits, Twilight felt a power growing in her that she had never before realized. It wasn’t just for Rarity’s sake; if it had been Pinkie Pie or Fluttershy who was captured, she would have done the same. What she felt was true purpose, a reason to put her power as a unicorn to true use.

She was not scared anymore. She had no fear of the ponyspawn while Rarity was under greater threat. She could use the full extent of her magical power on the ponyspawn without fear of retribution. She was no longer under a mental limiter.

They galloped through the caverns with Twilight noting that the caves were getting larger and wider, with enough room for Rainbow and Fluttershy to take to the air and scout ahead. They followed the tracks left behind by the ornlock with the magic chains, seeing many hoofprints in the dirt as well as a large body apparently dragged through the Dark Tunnels. Every once in a while, they came across a small splotch of dried blood.

Rarity… It would not do to dwell on her friend now, Twilight decided. She was hurting, and the only way to get to her was to smash through the ponyspawn front lines.

There was a dim light coming from the end of the tunnel, which Twilight hoped came from some light crystals. As they exited the road, they came upon a massive stone fortress with statues of donkey warriors and runes etched into the rock. A long stone bridge connected the tunnel to the fortress. Below the bridge was a black abyss that stretched down to unknown leagues.

“By the Stone, we made it,” Oghren whispered. “Four Point Chasm.”

The fortress that was Four Point Chasm was little more than a massive stalactite with bridges going in four directions. With a large enough force, the bridges could be made into excellent choke points for controlling traffic. Twilight gasped as she took in the magnitude of the fortifications, her mind already racing at how such a place was managed in the days of donkey superiority.

Waiting for them on the other side of the bridge was such an army. Countless donlocks, thelocks, and screamers hissed and gnashed their fangs. Two ornlocks menaced the party with shows of power, their horns crackling with magic. Three minotaurs stood ready to charge, their mouths foaming with black ichor.

It was the largest, most powerful force of ponyspawn Twilight had ever encountered. What she needed was a plan. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see more ponyspawn rushing from the bridge on the other side of the chasm. If there was a small mercy, it would be that they were coming from one bridge she could see rather than the others.

It was time to get to work. “Pinkie, I need the biggest bomb you can make to take out that bridge,” Twilight ordered. “Fluttershy, your arrows will take the bombs over to break the bridge. Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Ogren, Spike: stand with me as we advance. I’ll create a shield to protect us, and every once in a while I’ll lower it to let you get at the ponyspawn. Rainbow, you’ll focus on the screamers. Applejack, you are on the ornlocks. Oghren, the thelocks. Spike, the donlocks.”

“What of my purpose?” Shale asked, eager to get into the fight.

“You’ll be working with Trixie,” Twilight replied. “Before she casts her empowering chant, she’ll increase the power coming from your red augmentation crystals. You’ll be a pony on fire against those minotaurs. Think you two can handle it?”

“Trixie can handle anything!” boasted Trixie. “She is a Great and Powerful Senior Enchanter after all!”

“I look forward to being the one to bring the burn,” Shale said with a hint of murderous glee. “Squish and scorch. A delightful combination.”

“All right then. Let’s do this.” Horn blazing with arcane might, Twilight called upon the most powerful shield she could summon, a shimmering violet dome of solid magic. Once all her friends nodded, Twilight began to walk forward towards the awaiting force of ponyspawn.

The ponyspawn reacted immediately, first with a volley of arrows and fireballs. Each strike made Twilight wince, especially the enemy spells, but she focused her magic further. The bulwark of magic would not fall to these monsters. Not so long as Twilight had the will to press on and fight back.

The missile barrage ended, followed by the first wave of the ponyspawn counter-attack. Donlocks and thelocks rushed forward, baring rusty weapons and sharp fangs as they charged to break down Twilight’s shield. Just as planned, Twilight thought, opening small pockets in the shield for the ponyspawn to pass through.

As the ponyspawn rushed through, they were immediately cut down by the fighters on the front lines, unable to slow their momentum. Oghren in particular shouted with glee as he swung his axe, his braided beard swaying with every strike.

“First bomb’s ready!” Pinkie called, looking to Twilight as Fluttershy tied the bomb to the end of her arrow. With a jerk of her head, Twilight opened a small hole in her barrier, just enough for Fluttershy to fire the arrow. The bomb flew through the air with grace, the fuse lit and ready to blow.

The first bomb landed on the center of the bridge where ponyspawn reinforcements were coming, detonating with surprising force, sending all manner of donlocks and thelocks to their doom into the chasm below. Responding to the threat to their reinforcements, the ponyspawn pushed harder, sending in screamers to scratch and claw at the shield while more donlocks and thelocks charged. The ornlocks on the other side of the bridge also began fighting in earnest, channeling sustained spells to tear down Twilight’s magic.

Twilight pressed on with her advance, despite her magic now becoming very strained with each attack. They were halfway across the bridge now, but there was still a sizable force of monsters to deal with and more on the way.

“Twilight!” Rainbow Dash yelled. “Let me out of the shield! I’ll take on the screamers! If any of them can out-fly me, I don’t deserve to be called a pegasus!”

“You’re right, Twi,” Applejack called. “No more hiding! No more playing defense! We have to take the fight to them! Let us out! We’ll show these varmints exactly what we ponies are made of when pushed!”

With a shout, Twilight did not release the barrier, instead causing it to burst outward in a powerful attack. The ponyspawn were dazed by the forceful blow, only to be set upon by the ponies in earnest. Spike and Oghren worked together to clear the way of donlocks and thelocks. Flaming sword and crushing axe swung with reckless abandon, with Spike’s battlecry “For Rarity!” echoing in the halls when they were not silenced by Oghren’s berserker shouts.

Just as Rainbow had said, she went after the screamers with incredible speed and agility. Ducking and weaving past their sharp claws, she attacked with fury, slicing the wings off their backs and sending them into the chasm or onto the bridge, where they were finished off by Oghren or Spike.

Trixie’s growth in her spellwork continued to impress. It was a wild shot, asking for a spell that was completely unknown to any of the unicorns, but the magician was able to pull it off. Twilight could feel the latent magic energies inside Shale’s augmentation crystals awaken to their full potential. The golem was set ablaze, appearing to be made of magma fueled by its inner lyrium.

“I come for you now!” Shale shouted, galloping at full tilt and setting a trail of fire behind it. “Burn and smash! Burn and smash! All your little guts and your big guts! Burn and smash them all!”

Ignoring the extravagant bloodlust Shale was demonstrating, Twilight could only watch in awe as the fiery golem smashed through the ponyspawn ranks, tossing donlocks and thelocks aside as it reached the minotaurs. The giants struck back, only to recoil away from the flames. With a loud neigh, Shale began to buck wild, the fire fueling its frenzy as powerful hooves struck the chest of one minotaur and sent it plunging off the side of the stone bridge.

Applejack took advantage of the carnage wrought by Shale, leaping past the corpses of ponyspawn hewn by Oghren and Spike towards the ornlocks commanding the ponyspawn defense. With Silverbite clenched tight in her teeth and her eyes darkened with the anti-magic of the templars, Applejack made her attack on the ornlocks, ceasing their magic and bringing the magical blade of her kris to their hides, lines of silver signifying the phantom blade’s impressive abilities.

“Trixie knows her magic is impressive but it won’t last long,” Trixie said as she stood next to Twilight. “The spell is burning through Shale’s supply of inner lyrium. That pile of rocks will run dry quickly.”

An explosion stole Twilight’s attention as a second bomb-head arrow detonated on the bridge used by the ponyspawn reinforcements. The explosion crippled the bridge at its weakest point, sending several ponyspawn down the chasm as stone collapsed onto stone and fell into the gorge below. Twilight breathed a sigh of relief.

The sounds of grinding chains alerted the party as the massive iron gate of the donkey fortress slowly began to open. From the gates came another sizable force of ponyspawn, eager to join the fray. Stepping out of the shadows was a familiar if unwanted face; the sounds of chains dragging behind him, the ornlock who had captured Rarity hissed as he stepped in the magelight.

“You...” Twilight’s eyes narrowed as The Jailer slammed his chains against the ground, shouting in the black speech of the ponyspawn for his brethren to attack. As both sides fought on the stone bridge leading to the fortress, the chained ornlock struck as it did before, its lyrium chains lashing out towards Twilight. She narrowly avoided the hooks, using a rock from the bridge to deflect the hooks.

Twilight took a deep breath as her magic flared to life, readying to face The Jailer. You won’t get anypony ever again, she thought as she charged forward, hoping that closing the distance would reduce the threat of the chains. The Jailer struck again, countering Twilight’s strategy by enclosing itself with his weapons and snapping the hooks against her like snakes.

All around her, the ponyspawn were being pushed back. With the bridge destroyed, Pinkie and Fluttershy rejoined their friends, adding mace and bow to their already formidable weapons against the creatures. The Jailer saw this as well, striking with enchanted metal as it took cautious steps backwards towards the fortress.

Only the pair of minotaurs remained, fighting off a blazing Shale when the golem’s fires faltered, leaving the stone pony inert. Shale’s lyrium lines and augmentation crystals simply ceased glowing, leaving Shale as just a simple statue. Twilight watched in horror as one of the minotaurs tackled into Shale, sending the golem sailing over the edge of the bridge only to be caught by the blue magic of Trixie.

“I can’t hold it like this!” Trixie yelled, eyes wide with both strain from the spell and fright. “It’s too heavy!”

The minotaurs took the opportunity to attack, trying to repeat their attack with Oghren and Spike. The dragon knight leaped upwards, holding onto the minotaur’s chest with his claws while slashing at the hide with his burning sword. Oghren simply grunted, aiding his battle partner by slamming his axe into the left knee of the minotaur, forcing the beast to cease its attack and succumb to a broken kneecap.

The other minotaur fared better, grabbing Rainbow Dash from the air and pulling her closer to its black, drool-filled mouth. Despite her struggle, Rainbow could not escape the grip of the brute, flailing in its hand and only managing to make a few scratches with her dagger. A shriek pierced the stone halls of the Dark Tunnels, snapping everyone’s attention to Pinkie who was charging forward, hair flat and mace tight in her mouth.

Moving with surprising speed, Pinkie launched herself at the minotaur, slamming the head of her mace against the creature with the strength of her earth pony blood. The minotaur let go of Rainbow, focusing its attention on Pinkie, who continued to assail it with sharp hammer blows. Letting go of Rainbow was a mistake, as the assassin quickly took advantage of her freedom, slicing the minotaur behind the knees until it too fell.

As the minotaurs were dealt with, Twilight felt two stinging pains on her back, only to look to the see the lyrium hooks embedded into her shoulders. The Jailor chuckled despite its force being undone as its wicked horn glowed black, dragging Twilight closer to him.

Despair,” it said, licking its massive, moldy teeth in anticipation. Twilight dug her hooves into the bridge, pulling against the chains and the pain caused by the hooks. Both unicorn and ornlock struggled, until Twilight focused her eyes to see the magic within the chains.

I’m a mage for Celestia’s sake, Twilight chided herself. Those chains are made from the essence of magic! I just need to find the right magical font…

A feedback! Twilight began to channel her magic into the hooks themselves, lifting them out of her back as the ornlock roared in anger. As her magic linked with that of the lyrium chain, Twilight found the flaw in the ornlock’s weaponry; the chains it used to cover its eyes held the same magic, but ironically had none of The Jailer’s focus.

Twilight had to use the advantage, and quickly. Releasing her magic from her end of the chains, she forced her way to the chains surrounding The Jailer’s eyes. With a quick jerk of her horn, she twisted the chains to grind against the monster’s face, ignoring its howls as it tried to fight back, whipping its head back and forth.

“You will never hurt another pony ever again,” Twilight said through gritted teeth. Wrenching the chains away from his eyes, Twilight had her first glance at The Jailer’s true face. Blood red eyes stared back at her as the chains fell from his face to his neck, his snapping teeth and black tongue shouting obscenities that she did not understand. Bringing the chains around his neck, Twilight focused all her anger into the chains, choking the ornlock as it struggled against both the chain and her magic.

“Applejack! Now!” As Twilight shouted, her fellow Warden charged towards The Jailer, slamming her hind hooves into him with a powerful buck. As the ornlock careened over the side of the bridge, Twilight held onto the chains with her spells, using the hooks to brace themselves against the stone.

The Jailer dropped, stopped, and snapped. Breathing a sigh of relief and a shudder of revulsion, Twilight released her hold on the hooks, letting the lyrium chains and the body of The Jailer fall into the pits of the chasm. For the first time there was silence in the caverns as the force of ponyspawn were defeated, leaving only the party and the old donkey fortress.

“Still need help here!” Trixie shouted, bringing all attention to her and the immobile Shale. Working together, both unicorns lifted Shale and placed the golem on the bridge, panting heavily after the heavy exertion of magic. With help from Pinkie’s potions, Twilight’s fresh wounds were healed and Shale’s control rod was reinvigorated with lyrium. Oghren laughed as he slapped Twilight’s still stinging back with a hoof.

“You’re all right, Warden.” He chuckled as he waved a hoof towards all the ponyspawn corpses. “This the most fun I’ve had in years. And think: we’re the first to step hoof into Four Point Chasm in centuries, ever since the ponyspawn overtook it.”

“I was expecting a bit more resistance,” Twilight admitted, only slightly in reply to Oghren. “Most of the ponyspawn must be deeper in the Pits or in the Blight at the surface. Come on. Rarity must be inside.”

The inside of the fortress was dark as most of the Tunnels were, but a moment of illuminating light from Twilight’s staff revealed an abandoned donkey fortress, weapons still lining their racks and the dry bones of centuries-old soldiers lining the floor. Twilight took in a gasp of stale air before moving on; the stench of ponyspawn was overpowering to say the least.

“By the Stone, look at this place.” Oghren gaped. “There are runes on the walls, telling travelers where to go! Look: ‘To Ongoran.’ That was a city Orzamule was at war with a long time ago! We lost contact with our forces there, and reinforcements only met ponyspawn. That must have been where that old stone bridge was leading before Pinkie blew it up.

“This one reads to the Cairidan’s Thaig! Someone give me a drink! We found the way to Branka and that damn Storm Forge!”

While it was good news on that end, they still needed to rescue Rarity. “Now that we know where to go, we can backtrack once we find Rarity. We have to hurry.”

They marched in silence as they made their way down throughout the fortress of Four Point Chasm. Despite leaving a battlefield behind them, the party still felt their nerves wracked by the sheer silence of the necropolis surrounding them. Every stone that cracked made them jump, and the heartbeats of thousands of ponyspawn grew in volume the deeper Twilight delved into the darkness.

It was the sound of marching hooves that made the party cease their advance in front of a passageway. As she peered around the corner, Twilight felt a pounding in her chest the likes of which she had never experienced before. Her heart battered her chest like a massive drum, the pain giving the largest hint as to what was ahead. Light from torch fire, rather than magical crystals, filled the long cavern.

Twilight looked to Applejack, to see if her friend could hear exactly what she was hearing. Instead she was met with a look of stark terror, even worse than Applejack had worn when she had discovered her sister was being possessed by a demon. It was a feeling Twilight was starting to emulate.

“Look!” Pinkie pointed a hoof through a crack in the fortress. Everyone pressed their heads through the opening, each sharing their own expression of dismay and shock at what their eyes beheld. Before them was a massive stone road leading towards the surface, with hundreds of screamers swarming on the rocky ceiling, clawing away at earth and rock. Below, legions of ponyspawn hissed and growled, all of them shouting in a unholy chorus of destruction.

The evil tide, Twilight thought as she looked at the sea of black scaled monstrosities before them. It was easy to surmise that the only reason the Wardens and their allies were not discovered by the ponyspawn was because their heartbeats were the same as every other creature down below, unable to be detected in the noise of thousands.

“The Blight.” Applejack let her fears be well known until a sound more concussive than thunder, more terrifying than the force of ponyspawn below them, ripped through the Dark Tunnels. Twilight stood statue still as she watched the shadow of great black wings hang over the ponyspawn, roaring towards their master in praise.

The Archdemon. Towering high above their heads, the great black dragon stood over its ponyspawn hordes, bellowing as its servants looked up and shouted at their fallen god. The sight of the Archdemon made Twilight tremble, her knees buckling at the sight of the terrible dragon. Massive in scale compared to the High Dragon of the mountain, the Archdemon towered above all other beasts in the world. Black scales lined its body, as a crest of pointed horns rose from its head. It had but one glowing red eye, the other covered in a large metal plate. Fangs and claws, terrible and deadly, made their presence known as the Archdemon looked down on its expansive host of monstrous servants.

At first she thought she heard Fluttershy whimper behind her, only to find that every pony was looking on at the Archdemon in terror. Twilight’s own fear was being vocalized as well as she quietly muttered prayers of salvation. From the Archdemon came a feeling of dread Twilight hoped to the heavens itself she would never again recall.

“We can’t beat that,” Rainbow gaped, all pretenses of bravery gone in an instant. “Look at the size of that thing! Those teeth! Those claws! Everything is going to be ruined by that thing alone! Never mind the army it has under those great big wings!”

The Archdemon then unleashed a torrent of black fire; the heat from the unnatural flame was felt even from the protection of the rocks the party was hiding behind. The sight of the shadowflame made them shout in fright. Fluttershy hid in a dark corner and pressed Angel against her as if her life depended on it. Pinkie was with her, trying to laugh away the fear, and failing.

“By the Stone, it was a mistake to come here,” Oghren groaned. “This place, these Tunnels. That great big ugly beastie! There is no way anydonkey or pony or anyone could survive facing that monster in combat. Branka is lost, just like we’re all lost. There’s no hope.”

“They’re right,” Applejack said, “Look at it. Ain’t two Wardens gonna bring down a critter like that. Ain’t no way. We came all this way, suffered all this for nothin’. Twilight, what are we gonna to do? How are we gonna win?”

Trixie was reduced to huddling in a corner in a fetal position, muttering “We’re going to die,” over and over again. Twilight said nothing, only staring off into the distance at the Archdemon as it flew towards the surface, clawing and scratching at the rocks to make a hole. Black blood flowed from scratched scales as the monstrosity continued its labour.

On the ground, ponyspawn of all types clamoured for the fallen blood of the Old One, drinking in the smallest drops and becoming changed from the exposure. A thelock grew massive horns, and its face consorted into something out of nightmare. A screamer grew another pair of wings, becoming longer, bulkier, and more snakelike. An ornlock sprouted another horn and used its new-found power to vaporize several donlocks in a single blast.

“Dragon whelp, they seem to be in some sort of shock thanks to the wyrm,” Shale commented. “Help me move them away from the hole. We won’t continue if they keep acting like mewling foals.” With Spike’s help, Shale moved most of the party away from the crack, though Spike was having difficulty moving Twilight. She simply stared at the blood falling from the Archdemon as it continued to dig, until her fear was abated by realization.

The Archdemon is bleeding, Twilight thought. It’s bleeding! I know what I have to do! Reaching out with her magic, Twilight focused on the smallest drop of Archdemon blood she could grip, just enough to hold on to. The others looked up from their despondency as they watched Twilight work her magic.

“What are you doing?!” Rainbow hissed, “You’re going to get them to notice us! We’re all going to be killed!”

“It’s a risk I’m willing to take to snap us all out of the Archdemon’s influence.” Twilight focused her magic on the small drop of blood, pulling it towards her. Her eyes darted between the blood drop and the ponyspawn, hoping that none of the monsters would take notice of her magic. Thankfully, the ponyspawn’s attention was focused on the Archdemon and little else. Their hive-mind was diverted towards their master, and nothing else.

Pulling the small globule of blood towards her, she looked to Pinkie’s alchemy set and withdrew a small phial. Once the blood made it past the hole, she placed it into the phial and sealed the stopper. She had seen enough ponyspawn blood to last at least two lifetimes, but while it was dark their blood still had a crimson tinge to it. The blood of the Archdemon was pitch black, the likes of which Twilight could only describe as an empty void where no light could enter or escape.

I drank this stuff. The thought was revolting, but this small phial of archdemon blood was the rallying banner they needed.

“Look at this,” Twilight ordered as she lifted the phial in front of her friends. “Look at this! That creature wants us to fear it just by looking! The Archdemon wants us to give in to despair! But look! It bleeds! Just like any other living creature. It bleeds. It can be hurt. It has a weakness we can find, and exploit. All this means we can beat it.

“There is too much on the line to give in to despair. If we submit here and now, we leave Rarity to a fate worse than anything we can dream of. If we give up, we’d be letting all of Equestria, no, the world plunge into the eternal darkness of the Blight! I need you to find it yourselves to resist the despair!”

As Twilight held the phial up, she looked each member of the party in the eye, almost challenging them to prove her wrong. Her heart still beat rapidly from both terror and the ponyspawn nearby, but if she did not put on a brave face, who would? They needed to be united in the cause. They needed to find courage in the face of horror.

Applejack was the first to stand up straight and shake off her fears. “Ain’t no use being a scared little filly when so much rests on our shoulders,” she said. “Ah’m still scared. Terrified. But as long as we’re together, we can do this.”

“The Great and Powerful Trixie won’t let you have all the glory, Sparkle,” Trixie piped up, having come out of her stupor at Twilight’s words. “But I want you to know, trying to fight that thing is insane.”

“Insanity is half the fun.” Oghren took a quick gulp from his flankflask, giving his head a shake from the stiff drink. “Can’t believe I was cryin’ like a filly. I’m a berserker for crying out loud.”

“Yeah,” Rainbow added, though her eyes betrayed her newfound bravado. “I’m not afraid of anything! Bring ‘em on!”

“If Dashie’s ready, I’m ready,” Pinkie quickly added. Twilight took note that her hair did not resume its curls. Fluttershy was still scrunched a corner with a squeaking nug in her grip. Twilight approached, offering a hoof to help Fluttershy stand.

“If we stay together, we’ll be all right,” Fluttershy said. Twilight simply nodded until Fluttershy took her friend’s assistance, standing upright on shaky knees. With a jerk of her head, she motioned for everypony to move towards the hole again. They had to look at the Archdemon and not retreat if they ever wanted to face it in battle.

The Archdemon roared a final time as it burst through the rock ceiling of the Dark Tunnels, a single ray of sunlight flowing from the nearly bored hole between the underground and the surface. The ponyspawn hissed at the breach, until several began to erect ladders and scaffoldings to make their way to the top.

“The Archdemon has revealed itself,” Twilight said to the assembled group. “The ponyspawn have made a sizable breach in the surface and are going to pour through into Equestria unhindered. Time is now rapidly running out. Let’s move out!”

Diving into the depths of the Pits proved more difficult than Twilight had hoped. The fortress was very old and decrepit, and the pathways were tricky to maneuver. It did not help that light came only from the tips of staves and crystal torches, and that the rocks were covered in black grime. The smells were nauseating, something akin to what Twilight could only describe as “vile”.

What was most disturbing about the fortress was how silent and empty it was. Whether all the ponyspawn defenders were slain in the defense of Four Point Chasm or had all gone to join the Blight was a mystery. Twilight could tell for certain that the lack of ponyspawn did nothing to ease tensions in herself or with her friends. They jumped at every twisted rock and every moving shadow, even if it was propagated by their own bodies.

It wasn’t until the caverns under the fortress were getting larger and filled with more bones did Twilight begin to wonder if they were walking into a trap. When Oghren’s ears perked up and he began to sniff the air, Twilight and the others ceased their movements. He took a few tentative steps forward, tasting the air as he searched.

“Donkey nearby,” Oghren reported. “It could be Branka! Branka! I’m coming, jenny!”

They followed Oghren and his sense of smell through the winding caves. When Oghren stopped, Twilight directed her arcane light in front of the party, gasping in horror at what the light revealed.

Hanging before them was a donkey female, though only barely recognizable as such, hanging from a noose along with several bodies of ponyspawn. Her robes were stained with black blood, and her eyes were marked by the same dark bags that plagued Ruck. Oghren slumped, looking up at the corpse while shaking his head.

“Oghren,” Twilight said, “Is that… is that Branka?”

“Not a chance, Warden,” Ogrhen replied. “That was Hespith, one of Branka’s favoured servants. The two were inseparable back in Orzamule. Wouldn’t think they’d get separated in the Dark Tunnels. If Branka’s here, she’d have at least tried to protect Hespith.”

“Look here!” Pinkie called them over, pointing a hoof at the ground. A portion of parchments was left behind on the rocky floor, readable in clear common and written in what Twilight hoped was simple black ink. The writing was crude and messy, though still legible. As she lifted the book, Twilight looked at the words with puzzlement.

“Looks like a message,” she muttered, then began to read aloud:

“First day they come and catch everyone
Second day, they beat us and eat some for meat
Third day, the men are all gnawed on again
Fourth day, we wait and fear for our fate
Fifth day, they return and it’s another girl’s turn
Sixth day, her screams we hear in our dreams
Seventh day, she grew as in her mouth they spew
Eight day, we hated as she is violated
Ninth day, she grins and devours her kin
Now does she feast, for she’s become the beast.”

Twilight shuddered as she turned the pages, looking up at the body of Hespith. She flipped the page to find more lucid thoughts, though what she was reading was no less disturbing.

“I am the last,” Twilight read aloud. “The last of our House under Branka. She is gone, gone to another Thaig, returned to Orzamule, I do not know. I see her shadows some nights when the ponyspawn bring light. Sometimes I still hear her voice whispering my name as she did on all those cold nights.

But that is no more. I am the last to these monsters, the last they will use. The men they killed outright. Used their flesh as food, to feed them and to feed us. The men received mercy. We are not so lucky. Those who do not survive are also used for food. Laryn now eats her own kin. She ate her own husband, with glee. She eats and she grows. The ponyspawn are pleased. She is no longer a donkey. She is one of them. Broodmare.

It is my hope that one day the Grey Wardens bring purging fire to the Pits. To release us all from this torment. What they need to know from my last written words, above all, is the crime. The greatest crime committed was not that it occurred, but that it was allowed.

The Jailor leaves again to hunt for mares. I have made a length of rope from my mane, from my tail, from my coat and from the hair of all my friends. I will not give them the satisfaction. I will not create for them. I will not breed for them. I give myself to the Stone that has abandoned me.

Branka. Why?”

Twilight released the hold on the journal, letting it fall without ceremony as she felt her body grow numb under the body of Hespith. No one said anything as they let the words sink in. The ponyspawn captured mares and did horrible, unspeakable atrocities to them, creating monsters out of the mares to further breed more monsters. It was vile knowing full well what the ponyspawn did to increase their ranks. They were truly unnatural monsters and parasites that lived only to corrupt and destroy.

It was this fate they had to save Rarity from.

Oghren shook his head as he looked back at the journal then back to Hespith. “I don’t know what to say, Warden.” The despair in his eyes was hidden only by the faintest veneer of rage. “By the ancestors and the Stone and my own beard, what did Branka do? What could have driven her to destroy her own house like this?”

“The Storm Forge,” Twilight said. “I’m sorry, Oghren. The evidence is damning. Branka abandoned her people to the ponyspawn. If she’s still alive, she has a lot to answer for. For now, though, we have to save Rarity.”

Nodding, Oghren went back into line, hefting his axe ready. Past the body of Hespith was another tunnel covered in dark grease, and the light from Twilight’s staff pierced the darkness. More bodies were found, those of ponyspawn and donkey alike hanging from the walls, plastered against the stone by a black sticky substance.

Deep breathing could be heard from the other end of the tunnel, as well as a single resounding heartbeat echoing within Twilight. There was a massive ponyspawn nearby, one even larger than a minotaur. Twilight took a deep breath of fetid air. They were getting closer.

All fear vanished when her magical light revealed a large cavern and, more importantly, Rarity bound by sticky black goo against the face of the stone. The party immediately rushed to their friend and cut her free with Rainbow’s dagger. Rarity was badly wounded: several lacerations across her body, bruises, and a broken leg amongst black spots denoting the poisoning of the ponyspawn.

“Rarity!” Twilight exclaimed tearfully as she held her friend close. “Thank goodness we found you! We’ll use a Star Strand to heal you, don’t you worry!” It was a miracle that Rarity was still whole, though her body was covered in repulsive wounds. Blood flowed from her ruined flesh, and her breathing was ragged and in short gasps. If Twilight had found her friend looking like some sort of twisted creature like what Hespith’s diary had mentioned...

“I’m so sorry,” Twilight said, keeping her embrace tight. “We’re here for you now. We’ll make sure everything is better.” Twilight’s heart raced as she struggled to find her Star Strand. “Just stay with us, Rarity. Everything will be fine!”
“Twilight…” Rarity’s voice was weak as she tried to lift a hoof towards the danger. “Behind you…”

The breathing that echoed in the cave was louder now. Twilight’s blood felt cold as she turned around, moving her staff towards the source of Rarity’s fear. They looked on in horror as the light illuminated a creature of pestilential mass. Towering even over a minotaur, the ponyspawn before them was an obese monstrosity, its upper torso rippling with disgusting folds while the lower section continued into a long birthing tube. Black veins pulsed with blood as sweat and grime dripped from its body.

From the body were its forelegs, stretching even longer and wider than normal ponies as clawed hooves scratched at the ground. Massive tentacles of flesh uncurled from the creature’s back as the light shone on it. Its face was a scrunched up mass of flesh, the eyes hidden by skin, its snout sniffing the air before it to find the intruders to its lair. What was most twisted was just how much like a donlock this creature resembled, down to the wide grin filled with sickly yellow, yet immaculately razor teeth.

“Broodmare…” Twilight looked up at the twisted abomination of ponyspawn flesh and blood and furrowed her brow. Weapons were drawn around her as the tentacles from the broodmare hovered precariously closer to them. The broodmare was a threat not only to them but to the world. It had to die, there was no question about it.

It roared a terrifying scream that shook the caverns, rocks crashing down around them. From the recesses of the caves came the chattering of donlock teeth and the pounding of their hooves; this was an ambush.

“Shale! Oghren!” Twilight yelled, her staff blazing to life, violet energy storming around the head. “Block off the entrances! We can’t let the ponyspawn into the cavern!”

Both golem and donkey grunted in response, charging off towards the caves and meeting stiff, if clamored, resistance by donlocks. The rest of the party formed a semi-circle around the broodmare, the massive monster matron spitting black bile towards them. The ponies were able to get out of the way, only to watch as the substance left a sizable divot in the stone. Spike took up a position guarding Rarity, fiery sword held firm in the clasp.

Tentacles, giant hooves and acid spit, Twilight thought as she readied a barrage of arcane blasts. Concentrating, Twilight fired off her spells in quick succession at the center of the broodmare’s mass, each blow bludgeoning and burning the flesh of the grotesquerie. The orbs of magical might did little against the flesh of the broodmare, however, and it answered with a powerful slam of its hoof. Twilight was not as quick on her feet, and the black hoof slashed through her robes and against her hide.

“That thing was a donkey once!” she heard Oghren yell while he cleaved a donlock in two. “We have a resistance to magic and lyrium! Magic won’t do squat!”

Despite being completely stationary, the broodmare was proving more of a challenge in combat than any ponyspawn they had faced before. With all its appendages acting independently of one another, they created a perfect defense against blade and bow. Each tentacle was busy warding off another adversary, whether it was Applejack’s sword or sacrificing itself to take one of Fluttershy’s arrows.

While they fought, several donlocks had swarmed past Oghren and Shale, rushing towards Twilight who stood as Rarity’s guardian while her friend was weakened. Thankfully, the spawn of the donkey broodmare did not share their “mother’s” magical resistance, and were felled by powerful spells of ice and energy.

They could not fight like this forever. First they had to stop the flow of reinforcements. “Close the caves!” Twilight called. “Stop the donlocks from helping their broodmare!”

Shale looked around the battlefield for a way to plug the passageway as more donlocks pressed and trampled one another. Spotting a rather large boulder, it looked over to Trixie, who was in the middle of casting one of her channeled empowering chants.

“Boastful one,” Shale shouted. “Bring your meager magic over here and hold off the creatures as I and the drunk one move this boulder to block the entry way.”

“I’m a magician, not a battlemage!” Trixie’s complaint made sense in another way; if she was helping Shale ward off the incoming donlocks, she was not casting the spell that allowed the entire party to fight with greater strength and clarity. Making her decision, Trixie galloped to Shale’s side while Twilight provided cover with magic blasts. Pointing her senior enchanter’s staff at the cavern, Trixie shouted a warning to Oghren, who quickly moved out of the way.

Pressing a hoof to her pointed hat, Trixie’s horn glowed with a blue hue matching that of her staff until a stream of fire flowed freely from the tip. Donlocks howled as the flames engulfed the cavern, scorching all foes within. Shale and Oghren moved to the boulder, pushing the massive rock until it overcame the donlocks, crushing one underneath until the stone was in place.

The broodmare hissed, fountains of acidic spit flowing from its razor mouth. Cut off from its children, the broodmare brought its defensive to bear in earnest, tentacles lashing out at Rainbow and Applejack, both unable to make a significant attack against the creature. With a swift motion of its foreleg, the broodmare struck back, narrowly missing Applejack and Rainbow. The black hoof did connect with Pinkie, slamming against bone and sending her sailing across the room against the stone wall.

“Pinkie!” Twilight’s magic gripped the alchemist as she brought her friend away from danger. The damage from the broodmare’s attack had knocked Pinkie out, and trails of blood were leaking from her skull. Rainbow looked back at her downed friend, her face contorting with rage at the sight. Without a word she flew above the head of the broodmare before attacking the tentacles, slicing at the tendrils of flesh with her mother’s dagger.

With reinforcements cut off and the broodmare focusing completely on Rainbow, the time to attack was now. The fighters attacked in unison, Oghren’s axe hacking into the broodmare’s obese flesh while Shale rammed its head into a foreleg, the sound of a bone snapping echoing in the cavern. Applejack followed through with several strikes from Silverbite, the phantom slashes marking up the hide of the broodmare.

Unable to assist with the attack, Twilight instead fumbled around Pinkie’s alchemy kit for some healing poultices. Lifting up a sizable bottle of the healing liquid, Twilight poured the contents over Pinkie’s head, watching as the wounds closed themselves up and Pinkie starting to stir back to consciousness.

“Owie…” Pinkie muttered, rubbing her head. “Why do all the big meanies go after my head?”

Before Twilight could answer, the broodmare let out another deafening roar, Rainbow pressing her hooves against the back of the monstrosity while sinking her dagger into its meaty neck. Black blood sprayed like a fountain into Dash’s face, causing her to fall from the broodmare and onto the back of Applejack. Rainbow continued to spit ponyspawn blood as Applejack brought her over to Twilight’s defensive line.

The broodmare writhed in pain as the wounds festered and grew, unable to move to escape the attacking party. Black blood flowed freely from the gaping wounds, the broodmare’s death throes only worsening the damage. They all moved away from the dying beast as it slumped against its own body. It still tried to resist and, more frighteningly, still tried to kill, but in its death throes it appeared nothing more than a pathetic lump of flesh, unable to do anything.

Twilight looked on at the savage broodmare with pity. How the ponyspawn were able to transform a normal donkey into a creature so vile she could not guess, nor did she want to. She was just thankful that the terrible deed of slaying the broodmare was done and more importantly, that Rarity was saved from the same fate.

They all took a moment to breathe as the broodmare became still until several loud screeches shook them out of post-battle stupor. Shale moved over to the blocked entrance where the donlocks were coming through, pressing its head against the stone.

“It would appear the fragile creatures are running away,” it observed, sounding a little disappointed. “I can hear their little terrified hooves clamouring away in defeat. Must never have thought one of their breeders could ever fall. Shall we give chase?”

Twilight shook her head as she approached the corpse of the broodmare. It was a donkey once, protected by ornlocks. The Jailer had taken Rarity to convert her into a broodmare as well. A unicorn mare would have birthed ornlocks. A minotaur broodmare had to come from some sort of buffalo cow. “Celestia… They were going to take Rarity and turn her into one of... one of those. To breed ornlocks.” Twilight’s eyes went wide in horror.

“If ornlocks come from a unicorn broodmare, ya mean an earth pony makes thelocks?” Applejack said in revulsion.

“And screamers come from a pegasus?” Fluttershy’s voice broke in terror at the prospect. They were a travelling group of mares. If they had not become proficient in dealing with ponyspawn, they would have all shared the same fate as Hespith and the other donkeys. Twilight turned away from the broodmare in disgust.

“Now what?” Rainbow Dash asked, looking sickly, coughing into her hoof. “We beat that… thing. Where do we go from here?”

“First we need to heal up,” Twilight replied. “Rarity’s been badly wounded from the ordeal. Then we keep going towards Cairidan’s thaig to find Branka and get an explanation for all this.

“Sounds… good…” Twilight turned to see Rainbow’s eyes roll to the back of her head until she collapsed. Pinkie was the first to rush to her side, with everypony hovering over Rainbow as she convulsed on the floor. Applejack shook her head, looking up at Twilight.

“The Taint, Twilight,” Applejack said, “She’s got the Taint. She’s gonna die unless we… unless we make her a Warden.”

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