• 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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Bound in Blood

Chapter 3: Bound in Blood

Twilight shuddered with every noise from the nooks and crannies of the wilderness as the four ponies travelled through the Potpourri Wilds in silence. While Lake Blackwater was beautiful and the hills and mountains majestic in the horizon during her journey from the Tower, the Wilds were a marshland where every tree seemed to glare at the intruders with murderous intent and every animal was waiting for them to drop dead so the creatures could feast on their carrion. A gasp would escape her with every broken twig and every hiss of nearby serpents. At about the fifth squeak, Ser Magni stopped and looked at Twilight with exasperation in his eyes.

“By the light of Celestia,” Magni sighed with a shake of his head. “It’s almost as if you have never seen any of this before. Don’t they let you unicorns out for some exercise or practical knowledge of the world outside their stuffy tower?”

“Well, we can’t leave the Tower until we pass our final tests,” Twilight explained, turning her shame away from the knight. Digger slowed his pace to stand next to Twilight.

“Don’t be so hard on her, ser knight,” the roguish pony said with a sly wink, “We all get weak knees when we first venture out alone into harm’s path. It’s a good thing you have such a brave colt like me to lean on when the going gets rough.” Twilight rolled her eyes at Digger’s advances, but a sharp whistle from Applejack straightened him right quick back into line.

Applejack looked back with a stern look in her eyes. “That’s enough out of everypony,” she said, “Ain’t no need to go on to fill Twilight’s head with nonsense, ya hear? Let’s try to keep our heads clear, we have a long way ahead of us, and we still haven't found the ponyspawn.”

Nopony said anything as they continued down through the marsh. There were no signs of ponyspawn or even other ponies, which concerned Twilight. Was Duncan right about sending them into the Wilds so soon? Twilight still had much to learn about survival in the world, about fighting monsters. More importantly, what did he want with old documents and ponyspawn blood? Twilight’s head spun with the possibilities on what Duncan would do with ponyspawn blood and every conclusion she thought of ended in Dark Arts. Perhaps that was the secret of the Wardens, that they used the feared Dark Arts to fight effectively against the ponyspawn.

New fears arose. This excursion into the Wilds was supposed to be a test for the Grey Warden recruits, but what if Twilight failed? What would become of her since Duncan smashed her phylactery and she would now be considered an apostate throughout Equestria? Not even during the Harrowing did she feel so much doubt about her future.

She then looked towards Applejack who was already a Warden and had probably gone through the same test as Twilight and the other two were under now. She seemed so brave and so sure of herself as she lead the party through the Wilds. A short sword hung in its sheath at her side in neck’s reach, while a sturdy wooden shield was strapped to the young Warden’s left foreleg. With her armour, Applejack gave the appearance of a skilled warrior. Twilight hoped she was not far from the truth.

“This quiet ain’t helping anypony relax,” Applejack said out of the blue, “Hey Digger! How’d ol’ Duncan find some colt like you to bring to the Wardens?”

Digger looked surprised that Applejack was addressing him at all. “Well, it’s not much of a story. Was caught by the Trotterim guards after breaking into an old arl’s tomb. Lots of traps to protect a dead man’s buried goods, but I got past them all and left a few surprises of my own for the guards."

“They were about to have me knackered on the spot if it were not for dear old Duncan,” Digger sounded rather pleased with himself while Twilight could only look at him in horror for grave robbing, “Said my skills would be put to good use towards ending the Blight. Have to say, I agree with the old horse. Somepony has to put an end to the ponyspawn, why not join up with those ponies that make it a living. Certainly should be better than going into more tombs and finding dusty scraps of cloth.”

Twilight felt even more sheltered after hearing Digger’s story. In the Tower, she had everything she needed or wanted: a roof over her head, simple food, and plenty of books. Outside of the Tower, she wondered how many thieves were like Digger, stealing not just from corpses but other ponies as well. There was hardly ever any theft from the Tower, since every unicorn there knew each other, as well as being under the scrutinizing eyes of the senior enchanters and the templars.

Was it necessity or greed that drove ponies to steal from each other? Likely both, Twilight thought as she continued on the march through the marsh. If Duncan wanted a thief like Digger as a Warden, then either the order was desperate for recruits, or he really was the best Duncan could find.

“Well unlike that knave, I have a much more valorous upbringing,” Ser Magni said as he stood up to appear taller, “I and my wife recently moved to Red Apple Acres and I was to serve with the other knights under Arl Macintosh. When Duncan arrived looking for a fine warrior to recruit, we held an impromptu tournament. I won of course, and was sent to Ostequus.”

“My wife is with child, so if I can do anything I can to give them a peaceful and safe Equestria, I will.” Ser Magni’s story seemed to paint a better picture of the knight than Digger’s tale, and the large pony had a very good reason to fight the ponyspawn. At least the knight and the thief had one thing in common: they both wanted to end the Blight. Twilight appreciated that they shared that much together, despite coming from different walks of life.

Twilight caught a glimpse of Applejack’s face as they slogged through the muck of the marsh. She seemed sad, her eyes and ears drooped low though her gait was still confident. Was it the mention of Red Apple that made Applejack homesick, perhaps? “What about you Applejack?” Twilight asked, “You’ve actually been a Warden. How did you get recruited?”

“Ah, ain’t much of a story to tell, sugarcube.” Whatever melancholy had a hold of Applejack disappeared in an instant, revealing her cheerful nature once again, “Used to live in Red Apple for a long while with my family, just working the orchards. After a while though Ah was sent to become a templar and let me tell you, Ah’d never want to go through that again. Duncan found me before Ah could take the final oaths and not a moment too soon, lemme tell you.”

“Ya’ll shoulda seen the Chantry Mother’s face!” Applejack laughed, a hearty sound that added a bit of light to the gloom of the mire, “She was right mad when Duncan wanted me in the Wardens, she tried to stop him. But ain’t nopony gonna stop a Warden use the Right of Conscription and I never looked back on that day. A year later, and here I am!”

Before Twilight could say anything about Applejack being a former templar, she winked at her. “Now don’t you worry your head none. I’m not like all those other fussy templars. Unicorns are just another pony to me, after all.” Twilight breathed a smile of relief. A former templar was much better than one bound to the oaths of the Chantry to journey with.

Digger and Ser Magni all stopped suddenly. Applejack looked back, confused at their behavior. “You’ve only been a Warden for a year?” Ser Magni sounded concerned as he looked over Applejack with a critical eye. “All this time and we’ve been following an inexperienced templar turned Warden?”

“Ah have plenty of experience!” Applejack turned to look at the recruits, “But if ya’ll want to snip at me, Twilight here can lead. Ah’m just supposed to make sure ya’ll finish Duncan’s task.”

“Wait, me?” Twilight had never ‘led’ anything before, but once Applejack nodded in agreement and Digger joined in with an enthusiastic grin, she found herself the center of attention. “Well I did do some work in the Unicorn Tower… all right, then. Applejack, you and Ser Magni take point. Digger and I will follow close. Keep an eye open for any ponyspawn as we keep going.”

That decision was instantly regretted as Digger happily fell back to stand by Twilight’s side. Still, his bow was needed at range, and it was better to have the fighters in the front. They continued their walk into the Wilds until they came upon a wounded earth pony soldier lying in a patch of grass. Immediately Twilight rushed over to the soldier’s side as Applejack sprang forward, her eyes scanning the distance to determine what happened, and more importantly, to see if the assailant was still lurking nearby.

The soldier’s wounds were dirty and deep, but his breathing was still good and he had no broken limbs. Twilight dug into her saddle bag and pulled a healing poultice with her teeth. Once the bottle was open, she poured the contents on the soldier’s wounds, watching as the red liquid worked into the slash marks and began to mend the flesh quickly.

One the last of the poultice was consumed by the soldier’s skin, he let out a sharp gasp of air as his eyes opened wide, scared. “It’s ok,” Twilight said in a calm tone, “You’re with friends here. What happened?”

“Ponyspawn,” gasped the soldier as he got to his hooves, “Thelocks, donlocks, and… flyers. They ambushed us a furlong from here. If you are going that way, pray to Celestia and Luna to give you protection. You’ll need it.”

The soldier hobbled off as Applejack returned to the party. “He’s not foaling around,” she said, “Ah can sense ponyspawn in that direction. It’s something ya'll can do once you become a Grey Warden. Not a lot, sounds like a scoutin’ group. That doesn’t make them any less dangerous. Let’s go, we needed to find them anyways.”

The marsh gave way to very old Bronco ruins in the distance, some that Twilight guessed were centuries old. Stone statues of ponies appeared to be sinking into the ground, acting as way points in the Wilds. The old relics were covered in moss and other floral growths while erosion from the elements reduced once proud totems to little more than shaped rocks. Twilight kept her eyes opened, but relied on Applejack’s senses to point them in the right direction.

“I don’t understand,” Ser Magni said, “Why do we need ponyspawn blood? It sounds too much like Dark Arts to me. I am no coward, but anything to do with the Dark Arts smells foul.”

“Duncan said find ponyspawn blood, so that means we find ponyspawn blood.” Applejack looked up at the sky and the trees, possibly if she could spot the flyers that the soldier mentioned. “There… Ah see ‘em. Stay low, and don’t make a sound.”

Twilight crouched before she looked up and saw the ponyspawn. They were worse alive than the corpse back in Ostequus. Two thelocks were accompanied by two other ponyspawn, which were much shorter and stouter than their fellows. They must be donlocks,, Twilight thought as she recalled what the officer said during his lesson. Her gaze went upward and she spotted the flyers the soldier spoke of. If the donlocks and thelocks were horrid, the flyers were worse. They hardly resembled ponies at all except in shape. They had a pair of large bat wings, clawed talons instead of hooves, and a single but ever present eye looking for something to attack. Amongst the ponyspawn were the half eaten remains of the doomed patrol group.

Twilight wanted to look away from the horrors as they feasted on the soldiers. These were the creatures she was supposed to fight? These monsters who not only killed but ate ponies? Twilight turned away from the cannibalism and started to gag.

One of the flyers looked up at the sound of Twilight’s retching. The solitary eye looked at the ponies and gave out a long screech, shaking the tree it stood on as it warned the other ponyspawn of the Warden presence. The monsters all began to roar as they charged towards them, fangs and tusks ready to kill.

“Horseapples!” Applejack cursed as she backed up into a fighting stance, “Get ready everypony, we got company!” She pulled her sword out of its sheath and brandished the weapon alongside Ser Magni and his great sword.

“Digger!” Twilight shouted, forgetting her sick stomach, “Get to high ground and help with the flyers!”

Digger nodded and galloped towards a hill, bow ready as he reached for an arrow to clench in his teeth. One of the flying ponyspawn dived towards the thief, teeth gnashing and claws outstretched. Think Twilight, think! Twilight had to cast a spell, something simple, yet effective to stop the flyer from reaching Digger. Her staff and horn started to glow as she summoned a blast of arcane energy to strike against the winged ponyspawn.

A violet orb of energy emerged between both magical foci and with a thought Twilight sent it hurling towards the flyer. The concussive blast was enough to knock the creature out of the skies and in front of Digger. With his teeth clenched on both arrow and bowstring, Digger pushed the bow with one hoof, taking aim at the downed ponyspawn. With the arrow released at close range, the point entered the flyer’s head with a heavy smacking sound as black blood oozed out of the lethal wound.

Twilight wanted to feel sick again, but the other flyer was still about and screeching while the thelocks and donlocks were pushing Applejack and Ser Magni back. With a quick leap, Applejack landed on top of one of the thelocks, front legs wrapped around its neck. The monster tried to buck its unwanted passenger, but Applejack was quick with her blade as she sunk it into the thelock’s jugular. The thelock gave a low hiss as black blood flowed until it fell over, dead.

Ser Magni also fared well, slicing a donlock’s throat open with a downward swing of his massive sword before turning to another. The donlocks had massive grins on their faces lined with razor sharp teeth, and many of them now surrounded Ser Magni. He showed his prowess as a warrior with expertly timed swings, striking many donlocks down in quick succession.

Digger began firing arrows at the other flyer, but it was too quick and evasive, arrows sailing harmlessly past. “Don’t worry about that one!” Twilight shouted, “Give support to Applejack and Magni!” Digger must have heard her, as he turned his arrows towards the remaining thelocks and donlocks. The flyer must have heard her as well, as it turned and swooped low, claws ready to rip and maim flesh. Twilight only managed to duck out of the way in time, though the creature’s claws did tear into her cloak.

Before the flyer could make for another pass, Twilight summoned another spell, this time one of blistering cold. It was a favourite of hers, being both damaging to the flesh and incapacitating without the mess of fire. A practical attack for a practical pony. The air around the sky bound monstrosity began to freeze, the wings slowing down until they eventually could not fly anymore in the cold. The flyer crashed in front of a nearby tree, yet despite its frozen wings appeared no worse for wear, emerging with only a few scratches against its hide. Craning its neck around, the ponyspawn let out a terrible shriek before charging towards Twilight. Her eyes grew wide as the monster closed the distance, her mind racing for another spell to summon.

Thankfully she did not need to. Applejack charged forth against the flyer and just like in the orchard in Ostequus, pivoted on her front legs followed by a powerful buck from her hind hooves. A sickening crack echoed as the flying ponyspawn was driven against a rock, the neck clearly broken and at an extremely unsettling angle.

Despite all the ponyspawn dead, Applejack lifted a hoof for everyone to remain still. She turned her head around, appearing to be listening or using her heightened Warden senses to detect if there were more ponyspawn. Eventually, Applejack was able to let out a sigh of relief as well as a smile.

“Good work everypony,” she said sincerely, “We took out them ponyspawn like a fly gets on an apple pie. Now we just need to collect the blood to fill Duncan’s phials, and we can be on our way towards the old fort. Twi? Wanna help with the collection? It needs a careful hoof.”

Twilight begrudgingly agreed. As she approached the flyer, she tried to avoid looking into is single eye, still open as if the creature would leap up at any moment. She turned away from the disgusting business as she used her magic to levitate a knife to cut open a gash in the ponyspawn’s side. “I thought they smelled bad on the outside,” she muttered to herself as she magically lifted the six phials and filled them with the black blood.

“This isn’t good,” Applejack said as Twilight rejoined the party, “Even if it was a small group of those varmints, they had those flyin’ screamers. Usually that means a much larger force is near, and Ah have no doubt it’s the horde of 'em. We have to find that fort, quick like.”

They looked at the map for a moment and with Ser Magni’s help, Twilight was able to plot out a good course of action. With Applejack’s assurance that there were no more ponyspawn here, the party continued deeper into the Potpourri Wilds and Twilight asked the heavens if Celestia could be merciful and keep the ponyspawn at bay for just a little while longer.

“It ain’t here!” Applejack shouted out in frustration, running frantically around the remains of the old fort. While Ser Magni watched for intruders, Twilight had sent Digger to search the lower levels of the fort as she and Applejack scoured the remains. Every broken chest and damaged shelf was scoured for the documents, but time and thieves had emptied the old ruin of everything, valuables and scraps alike.

“Ah ain’t finding’ any treaties or documents, or even a buckin’ scrap of parchment!” Applejack kicked an old chest in frustration, sending it flying towards a wall. The chest burst into splinters as Digger made his way back to them.

“Not much luck down there either,” he said, “Whatever wasn’t buried by cave-ins was nicked well before we got here.”

Ser Magni shouted for the party to come to him. They quickly ran to the knight, who was brandishing his great sword in his mouth. Standing before them was a white coated unicorn with an immaculately curly violet mane. She wore a striking vest of purple feathers that accompanied her dark robes immaculately.

“What have we here?” she said as she trotted around them, “Thieves looking for easy prey amidst the chaos of the ponyspawn, or scavengers looking to pick the last remnants from this ugly husk. Speaking of which, have you ever seen yourselves in a mirror? Or even a reflection in the water? I have never seen such a ragtag group of ponies, and the Bronco tribes always look like they rolled around in mud for a few days.”

Applejack was about to object before Digger stepped in front of her, fear plain in his eyes. “Don’t you know what she is? She’s a Mare of the Mire, she is. She’ll turn us into toads!”

“Toads?” the unicorn said with a disgusted look, “All those warts, and that tongue? Ugh, if I could turn you into something, it would be ponies with a decent sense of fashion. At least transform you into ponies who care about hygiene. Do you know how silly you look in that armour and that peasant's hat?”

“Now wait an applebuckin’ minute,” Applejack said, pushing Digger away, “You don’t go around insulting a pony’s pappy’s hat like that! And who the hay are you supposed to be anyways?”

“I am Rarity,” came a proud response, “And I’ve been following you since you entered the Wilds. And let me tell you, I only felt pity for all of you. Besides poor aesthetic tastes, you came all this way to find that your fort is empty of anything and everything.”

“Likely because you probably stole everything!” accused Applejack, “Not only are you an apostate, but some kind of sneaky… witch… thief!”

Before she could continue, Twilight raised a hoof in front of Applejack’s mouth. This was no way to treat anypony, especially if Rarity knew anything about the lost treaties. Twilight stepped forward, looking Rarity straight in the eye in a hope for a more diplomatic solution.

“Miss Rarity.” Twilight bowed as a sign of respect. “I am Twilight Sparkle, and this Applejack, Ser Magni and Digger. Please excuse us, but we travelled a long way from Ostequus to find lost Grey Warden documents. If you know anything that could help us, we would be in your debt.”

“Ah, a pony with some manners,” Rarity smiled, “And you look like a mare who would appreciate a good makeover. If you must know, Mother sent me to deliver those same documents which you seek. She found them many years ago and kept them safe in our home.”

Rarity’s horn glowed and from her saddle bag rose a bundle of scrolls bound in leather straps. As they levitated towards the group, Twilight could see that the seals were long gone, but the scrolls did not have crease marks to show that they were opened. Whoever Rarity’s mother was, she seemed to respect the privacy of the former owners of the documents.

Rarity carefully placed the scrolls in Twilight’s bag as Applejack looked only mildly satisfied, but still untrusting. Digger and Ser Magni still held a look of worry that any moment they would be turned into frogs and start eating insects.

“I will show you an easier path back to Ostequus,” Rarity said, “I like you, Twilight Sparkle. We are both unicorns, after all, and with a little care, I’m sure I could make you look absolutely stunning.”

“Be careful,” Applejack said to Twilight, “First it’s ‘I like ya’ then wham, yer a frog. Or a newt. Or some other creepy crawly.”

“You and I will get along famously, of that I am sure. You really should not complain when someone does you a favour out of generosity,” retorted Rarity, “Or would you prefer to travel the long way back? The ponyspawn become thickest at night, and I have to wonder how you’ll survive ambush after ambush in the Wilds.”

“Any way to get out the Wilds faster is fine by me,” Ser Magni said as he followed behind Rarity, with Digger closing the distance. Twilight shot Applejack a look before shaking her head and joining the rest of the group. Applejack only muttered some intelligible words as she took stride in the rear.

The path Rarity knew did cut a lot of time from their travels. As they made their way through the foliage, Twilight noticed that Rarity was not getting dirty at all, despite the muck from the marsh and the plants with their sap and resins. She felt that the fellow unicorn’s horn only glowed slightly, but considering the length of time that had passed meant that whatever spell she used to keep clean was in full and constant effect. Either it was a simple spell, or Rarity was a much more powerful user of magic than Twilight gave her credit.

Eventually the party made their way through the Wilds, with Digger and Ser Magni giving thanks to Goddess Sisters when they could see the torchlight of the Equestrian camp. Twilight smiled at Applejack as they joined them in the front. Before she could thank Rarity, the unicorn was gone, with no obvious signs of where she disappeared into.

“Figures,” mumbled Applejack, “Sneaky witch thief wanted to make a clean getaway. Check your coin bags, make she didn't make off with nothin'.”

As they entered the camp, they were greeted by Duncan and Spike. “Twilight!” the baby dragon jumped onto Twilight’s back, embracing her neck with his short arms. “You were gone for a long time! Did you fight any ponyspawn? Come on, I need to know all the details!”

“I’ll tell you soon, Spike,” Twilight said, nuzzling her baby dragon companion. She turned her attention to Duncan, using her magic to lift the documents and the phials of ponyspawn blood towards the Grey Warden. He nodded as each item was placed into his own bag.

“You have all done well,” he said, “And now we can begin the ritual that will integrate you all into the Grey Wardens. Wait in the orchard until both myself and Applejack arrive.”

Applejack followed Duncan towards the Grey Warden’s camp, leaving Twilight, Digger, and Ser Magni to go towards the orchard as Duncan had said. Twilight wondered what kind of ritual the Wardens did, considering that their order was a great mystery to many ponies. The idea of rituals never came up in her studies in the tower, and those few times they did mostly involve the Dark Arts and Maleficar summoning demons. While she was sure demons were not involved, Twilight's curiosity struggled against her caution against anything that could be associated with Dark Arts.

Twilight distracted herself from the waiting by retelling everything that happened in the Wilds to Spike. He enjoyed the stories a bit too much for Twilight comfort, and he kept asking questions about the “cool” parts, such as the battle against the ponyspawn. She wanted to forget about the fighting and the killing, but her instincts told her that it was merely the beginning.

What seemed like a couple of hours passed and Spike was fast asleep against Twilight’s side. Ser Magni was pacing as Digger seemed lost in prayers to Celestia. “By Luna’s mark,” Ser Magni swore, “I grow tired of this waiting. We were chosen for the Grey Wardens, we went into the Wilds and finished Duncan’s task. Why are we not Wardens ourselves yet?”

“Maybe this is another test?” Digger asked, “Patience is a virtue after all, ser knight.”

Ser Magni snorted and resumed his pacing. Twilight shook her head as she laid a blanket over Spike. The waiting was nerve wracking, but if there was one thing she knew and knew well, was that patience truly is a virtue. Only fools rush in and when it came to the Wardens and the ponyspawn, Twilight did not want to rush in in any capacity.

Applejack soon appeared in the orchard, looking somber. “Hey everypony,” she said in a low voice, “It’s time. Follow me.”

Twilight looked at the sleeping form of Spike, hoping he would be fine for a little while in the orchard. They left the trees together, following Applejack to a small clearing away from the main ruins of Ostequus. Duncan was waiting for them in the clearing with a silver chalice sitting beside him on a stump.

“In peace, vigilance. In war, victory. In death, sacrifice,” Duncan said, “This is the oath of the Grey Wardens. You have all proven yourselves many times over, but there is one last rite that must be passed.”

He motioned a hoof towards the chalice. “This is the Joining, that which makes us Grey Wardens. Our Order was founded during the First Blight, when ponies stood on the precipice of annihilation. The founding Grey Wardens drank the blood of the ponyspawn and mastered the Taint, the darkness within their very blood. This is the source of our power. This is the source of our victory.”

Ser Magni balked. “We have to drink the blood of those… those monsters!?” Fear dripped from every word as he looked at the chalice.

“As it has been since the First, as we have done before you now.” Twilight listened to Duncan’s words, but could scarcely believe them. Ponyspawn blood was lethal to anypony who somehow got the vile substance into their own blood and now Duncan wanted them to willingly drink the Taint.

“Ponyspawn blood is what makes a Grey Warden,” Applejack said, “This is how we can sense the ponyspawn, and become immune to their Taint. It also lets us fight the Archdemon, otherwise that critter is near unstoppable.”

“Not all who drink the blood will survive,” continued Duncan, “And those who do will be forever changed. Our cutie marks are the most noticeable to outsiders. This is why the Joining is a secret. It is our sacrifice that we make to stand against the evil tide.”

Duncan bowed his head. “Since the first Joining, these words have been spoken during the ceremony. Applejack, please.”

Applejack bowed her head. Her words were clear, proper, and most important, reverent. “Join us, brothers and sisters. Join us in the shadows were we remain vigilant. Join us as we carry the duty that cannot be forsworn. And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten. And that one day we shall join you.”

Ser Magni looked over to the chalice nervously then back to Twilight and Digger. Applejack’s words resonated to all of them. The duty that cannot be forsworn. Once a Grey Warden, always a Grey Warden. She looked at Applejack’s cutie mark, the three apples over a grey shield, wondering if it had always been like that. Twilight swallowed a whimper as Duncan stepped aside to allow a clear path to the chalice. It was time.

“Digger,” Duncan said, “Step forward.“ The tomb robber slowly approached the chalice, looking down on the contents. With both hooves holding the chalice, Digger brought the blood to his lips and drank. He set down the cup then turned towards Twilight and the others.

Digger suddenly convulsed, holding a hoof against his chest as he coughed and groaned in pain. He fell to his knees, holding his hooves to his head before looking up at Twilight. His eyes rolled back into his head as he growled in his suffering.

“I am sorry, Digger.” Twilight heard Duncan speak but could not look away as the brown earth pony stretched out his hoof, begging for help before finally collapsing. Twilight breathed heavily as she looked at Digger’s chest, hoping for a sign of life. There was none, and Digger was dead. She looked to Applejack for reassurance, but the young Warden said nothing, only looking on with a stern face.

Duncan turned his attention to the knight of Red Apple. “Step forward, Magni,” he continued, motioning towards the chalice. Unlike Digger, Ser Magni took a step back, drawing his large sword.

“I can’t do this,” Ser Magni pleaded through the sword-bit, “If I had known… I have a wife… I will soon have a child!”

“There is no turning back, Magni.” Duncan advanced towards the knight slowly. Never had Twilight seen Duncan’s eyes like this, eyes filled with duty as well as remorse well hidden, but still there.

“I can’t sacrifice myself… This is too much, you ask more than I can give! Please!”

Duncan drew his sword and continued to step forward. Twilight wanted to stop him, but Applejack’s strong hoof held her back, while her fierce eyes told her not to interject. Ser Magni attacked, swinging his sword towards Duncan’s neck, but the old stallion parried it away easily before moving in for the kill. His sword found its mark, sinking into the earth pony’s chest.

“I am sorry, Magni,” Duncan said into the knight’s ear before pulling his sword out of Ser Magni. Magni gasped his final breath before falling into a pool of his own blood. Duncan turned to Twilight next. Her heart raced as he motioned towards the chalice.

“Step forward, Twilight Sparkle.” Twilight looked at Duncan, then to Applejack, then to the chalice. Death by the Taint, death by Duncan or become a Grey Warden. It was now, or very truly never.

Twilight took the chalice in her hooves. The black blood swished about in the cup as she looked down at the contents. Holding her breath, she drank from the cup, feeling the thick fluid slowly make its way down her throat. Every taste was foul and painful, as if a thousand knives were scraping their way down her neck into her stomach.

Her entire body felt like it was on fire. But she did not wretch or cough, instead feeling a fierce pain in her head. She held a hoof against her forehead before her eyes rolled back and the pain increased tenfold. Her vision blurred, then faded into the sight of pure enveloping darkness.

Surrounding Twilight was a battlefield littered with debris and the bodies of ponyspawn and pony alike. The sky was red as blood and the ground beneath her hooves was stained to match. Soon the violet unicorn heard the snarls and growls of a hundred ponysawn surrounding her. Their monstrous voices resounded as they inched closer to Twilight. What was most frightening was that she could hear their heartbeats with full clarity. As if their heartbeats were being shared with her.

From the sky loomed a great shadow, flying ever lower until the source landed with a powerful slam. Twilight looked on at the image of a great and terrible beast, a monster with long bat wings, a mighty tail, and sharp fangs. A dragon fully grown and horrible, yet also twisted, the malice from the dragon permeating the air around it. The dragon looked at Twilight Sparkle and roared before she fell into oblivion.

“It is finished. Welcome.”

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