• 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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A Throne Decided

Chapter 29 - A Throne Decided

The party had travelled uninterrupted for five straight days after leaving Cairidan’s thaig, and with the exception of a few spoken words to point something out or ask a question, they travelled in complete silence. They were just a few days away from reaching Orzamule, and the effects of their journey in the Dark Tunnels were finally taking their toll. Twilight shook her head as they walked the lonely depths of the earth. With the horrors of the Tunnels behind her, Twilight prayed they would never have reason to return.

Shale had become more sullen and withdrawn since the death of Cairidan. With the very limited exceptions of Trixie and Pinkie Pie, Shale refused to talk to anypony, preferring solitude and quiet contemplation during patrol and guard duty. When approached by Twilight, who showed concern for Shale, the golem simply shrugged her away and grumbled “wait until we get to the surface.”

Rarity secluded herself from the others as she let her scars caused by the Jailer to heal. She would stare blankly into nothingness for the time, answer questions vaguely and ate very little until Twilight essentially forced her to consume more food to keep up her strength. Twilight kept an eye on Rarity when she could, for when Rarity was left alone, she often spent her time staring at the grimoire of Flemeth. Never reading it, but simply watching, as if she feared that the Mare of the Mire herself to pop out from the pages and attack.

Of course, Oghren proved to be no help to Rarity, or anypony for that matter. Seemingly hiding behind his usual crass self, he walked over to Rarity with a leering eye. “Hey toots,” Oghren said as he sat next to Rarity, much to her chagrin. “Notice you sitting all alone over here. Wanna have a roll in the hay? It’ll do you some good.”

Rarity’s eyes widened violently at such forwardness, especially from the recent self-made widower. “I beg your pardon!” she shrieked. “But that cannot possibly, possibly be appropriate right now, if ever! And even in the incredibly desperate situation where I would require companionship, it would certainly never, EVER in a thousand years be with you!”
“Pinkie Pie’s gonna be there,” Oghren replied with a big grin. “Come on, it’ll be fun. You can blow off a lot of steam with a good old roll in the hay.”

“Pinkie Pie!?” Rarity looked at Oghren, completely aghast and nearly beside herself. “I know Pinkie Pie is very impressionable, but taking advantage of the poor dear is simply atrocious! And to even dare suggest I join you and her? Have you no shame, Oghren? Have you no conscience, no morals?”

Oghren blinked in confusion. “What are you going on about, you crazy nug? I just offered a nice roll in the hay. Look!”
Sure enough Pinkie Pie rolled along on a flattened pile of hay bedding, merrily humming to herself as she enjoyed her simple pleasures. Rarity sputtered for a minute while Oghren snickered, before belting out into full laughter.

“Heh, if that’s what you wanted, we could do that too.” Oghren wiggled his eyebrows at Rarity, who turned away in disgust.

“Come on! Old Oghren could show you a trick or two. Or three. Hey, I’m a quick learner too! I’m up for taking down some new techniques! Hey Pinkie, Rarity gave me a great idea…” Twilight sighed before applying her hoof directly to her face. She walked away, having cleaned her hooves of this mess. Oghren’s advances were rebuked by Pinkie with a loud snort and a torrent of giggles.

Rainbow walked slowly whenever they made progress through the tunnels, her eyes sunken with lack of sleep. Twilight recognized it as she slept as well, hearing the sounds of the ponyspawn hearts in the Tunnels. While it was faint now, and growing quieter still as they approached Orzamule, it was forever beating with whatever reserves the monsters left to defend their hives. Unlike Twilight, who was given more time to be able to ease in to her Warden senses, Rainbow was not given that opportunity.

“Do you hear them all the time?” Rainbow asked. “I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since we got away from Cairidan’s thaig.”

“We hear them now because we are close to their hives,” Twilight explained. “Things will get easier once we are back on the surface. You don’t have any regrets about being a Warden, do you?”

“Hay no,” Rainbow quickly replied, putting on her strongest face. “‘Rainbow Dash the Grey Warden.’ I like it a heck of a whole lot better than ‘Rainbow the Assassin’ or ‘hey you, pegasus!’ I feel like I’m even more awesome than I was before!”

“Now hold on a minute there, sugarcube,” Applejack warned. “Bein’ a Warden is a huge responsibility. It means more than just fightin’ and killin’ ponyspawn. It means standing tall and holdin’ the line when the time comes. Ya’ll saw that army with the Archdemon. They’re on the surface now, if not soon. We don’t have a lot of time left.”

“Applejack’s right,” Twilight added as she looked up at the stone ceiling of the caverns as if looking towards the surface. “We still need to bring the crown Cairidan made and choose a new king of Orzamule. Not only that, but we have to recruit the Dalish Pegasi, stop Loghoof and still figure out how to use the Elements of Harmony to help us. There’s still so much to do
and we just don’t have the time to do it.”

Twilight lowered her head as the crushing burden of their quest finally cast itself on her shoulders. With the bulk of the horde moving towards the surface world and the Archdemon now revealed, everything seemed so far away. What they accomplished was nothing compared to the very real and very final threat of the Blight on Equestria. If they could not succeed, the entire world would be darkened in the Archdemon’s shadow.

“It sure is a tall order, but we made it this far,” said Applejack. All three Wardens stood side by side as they looked into the darkness that was the depths of the Pits. “We have ourselves a lot of road to cover still. The Dalish Pegasi have their camp in the Everfree Forest, and that’s on the other side of Equestria. We just have to keep movin’, one hoof in front of the other, just like we always have.”

Twilight was definitely looking forward to being back on the surface soon. She wanted to feel the sun on her face and the wind in her mane once again, rather than the stale dank cavern air that reeked of blood and corpses. Seeing trees and grass would also be a step up from the countless mold and mushrooms that littered the Dark Tunnels. It felt like she had been underground for months.

Getting away from the oppressiveness she felt in the air was also something Twilight looked forward to. The scars she had gained in the Tunnels, such as the white strip along her mane, were nothing compared to the uncertainty she was facing within. Killing Ruck out of mercy made Twilight pause and consider her actions, constantly wondering if there had been a way to save him. Seeing the true nature of the ponyspawn in their hives made her skin crawl.

I wanted to kill Branka, Twilight thought furiously as she walked over to the campfire and sat down next to its faint warmth, I wanted to end her myself, with every spell I could muster. I didn’t want to end a life and I did. I wanted to end a life and I couldn’t.

I feel so small. Helpless. I’m just a unicorn who knows a lot of magic against monsters within and without. Twilight let out a sigh until she looked around. All of her friends were suffering some form of torment thanks to the Dark Tunnels. They needed a distraction.

“Applejack, Rainbow, I’d like to ask something of you two.” Both Wardens joined their fellow by the fire as Twilight explained her request. “The fight with Branka made me realize I need to expand my horizons, so to speak. She broke my staff and was immune to my magic. What if we face something like that again?”

“Can’t you just get a new staff?” Rainbow asked. Twilight shook her head.

“Staves are powerful tools crafted for unicorns on an individual basis, usually by the First Enchanters themselves if they are not apostates. We don’t have the time to go back and get First Enchanter Wise Eyes to make me a new staff, and using offensive magic is very taxing to use without aid. What I would like to ask the two of you is if you can train me with a sword.”

Applejack and Rainbow looked at each other, dumbfounded for a minute, before bursting into laughter. Twilight’s cross expression did little to help, only leaving her to sigh and stamp her foot to get their attention. “You’re not exactly a... physical specimen, Twi,” Rainbow said between guffaws.

“I’m being serious,” she frowned as she paced the ground in front of them. “Branka made me realize how woefully incompetent I am in martial skills. What if we face something like her again and I can’t do anything? If I can join you all in the front lines, I can use my magic and a sword to help fight.”

“There’s a big difference between knowin’ how to fight and knowin’ if you can swing the blade when it counts, Twi,” Applejack added, drawing Silverbite and stabbing it in the ground for emphasis. “They may not open a gate for demon critters to crawl through, but weapons are nasty business. You have to get in close and make the killing stroke count. No ifs, ands, or buts.”

“Gotta agree with Applejack with this,” Rainbow said as she cast eyes towards her mother’s dagger. “Fighting up close isn’t for everypony. It’s an adrenaline rush, sure, but you have to know exactly what you are doing. Most of all, you have to know that what you are going to learn will be used against ponyspawn, demons, and likely other ponies too, up close and personal.”

“I know… I know.” Twilight still held doubts if she could actually take on warrior training, let alone use it against another creature, but what else was there for her? Without a staff to be her focus, she would burn through her magic at an astonishing rate until she exhausted herself. Magical barriers, barrages of ice, any spell she could think of, save the most basic of levitation, was now an exercise in her stamina.

“I still want to learn,” Twilight continued. “Until I can find another staff, or some other magical focus, I need to keep my magic as a reserve. That said, I need to make sure I can contribute to the group as well. If that means I’m learning how to fight with a sword, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Applejack nodded to Rainbow before giving a faint smile to Twilight. “All right then, sugarcube. Ah’ll help ya train. We’ll find ya a sword in Orzamule, then we’ll git ya into fightin’ shape. Gotta say though, ah don’t think ah’ve ever seen a unicorn fighter before. Ah can teach ya about how to use a sword. Rainbow can teach ya how to move. Probably go to Oghren too and… and…”

They turned to see Oghren chatting up Fluttershy and leering at her much as he did Rarity and Pinkie Pie. One lewd comment later and Fluttershy gave a loud squeak, with Angel nuggy leaping onto the face of Oghren. He thrashed about for a while, as Pinkie and Shale laughed at him from a distance.

Applejack shook her head. “Whatever it is Oghren can teach you.”

Rainbow continued to snicker at the idea of the bookish egghead learning swordplay before turning in for the night. Twilight did not think it was strange at all, and she was a very fit pony even if her physical strength was lacking. She had endurance and stamina to maintain her concentration for all her spells, as well as managing through the journey to begin with.

Still, learning how to fight would be both exciting and terrifying. Both Applejack and Rainbow Dash were right in saying that such lessons would be harsh, both in body and mind. Being taught to use a weapon was asking how to get in close and make the kill. Rending flesh and spilling blood was not something she looked forward to, but Twilight had to know first hoof what fighters like Applejack and Rainbow thought with a blade bit clenched in their teeth.

The lessons were likely to be harsh, but they would be nothing compared to what Twilight had already endured. The Blight still threatened Equestria with a black hoof, and Twilight knew all too well that every bit of her was going to be needed in the battles to come, whether using her spells or a blade.

All she wondered now was if they were too late to save anypony.



The gates of Orzamule loomed over them as the party approached after another three days of travel. Tired, exhausted, and very hungry, Twilight looked up to see several of the city’s guards galloping about and shouting orders, several of them taking positions with crossbows pointed at the returning group.

“We’ve returned from the Dark Tunnels with news from the Paragon Cairidan!” Twilight called, “Open the gates! We’re not tainted by the ponyspawn! Orzamule is safe!”

The guards looked at each other in confusion before their commanding officer gave the order to open Orzamule’s iron gates. As the metal doorway swung open and many warriors milled out to inspect Twilight and the party, the officer they had met during their initial stay came to greet them.

“By the Stone, you all actually made it,” he said with disbelief. “I thought the Dark Tunnels would have swallowed a few of you. You all seem no worse for wear.”

“We have our scars,” Twilight replied, stroking the white strip of her mane. “But we are very fortunate indeed.”

“Got a lot to say and not a lot of time to say it in, grunt,” Oghren said. “Let’s just get this over with. Is the Senate ready to receive us, or do we have to wait until they have another useless vote?”

“The Senate is in session now, and it’s worse than ever,” the officer responded while he led the party through the streets of Orzamule towards the Diamond Sector. “Bhelen and Harrowmount are rattling their axes, and there has been more fighting in the streets. Stone preserve me, I wish one would just kill the other and be done with it!”

“I could help with that,” Shale rumbled. “Squish both of those prats for you.”

Ignoring Shale, they approached the Senate building with trepidation, the officer giving one last look to Twilight and the Paragon’s Crown she held in her magic. “I sure hope you can end this stalemate before it becomes a succession war for the ages. Orzamule can’t afford for us to spill each others’ blood anymore.”

He opened the door to the Senate chamber, and Twilight was immediately assaulted by the sound of the nobles constant bickering. Above them all were outright hateful words of Prince Bhelen and Lord Harrowmount, as they attempted to shout down one another, usually with threats of bloody murder.

Twilight shook her head when she entered the Senate. Speaker Cranky Doodle was trying to bring order, but nothing he could say could resolve the anger that was out in force amongst the nobility. He turned to look at Twilight, then towards the gong he had used before shaking his head. Apparently the large brass instrument was nigh useless in this struggle.

“I hope you brought good news, pony,” Cranky shouted over the tremor behind him. “All of Orzamule is buzzing like terrasprites, hoping this ordeal will finally come to an end. Neither of these two jackasses knows that in their struggle for the throne, they are becoming the very chaos we donkeys have fought against for generations! The Stone frowns upon this! This isn’t Order!”

Looking around the Senate building, Twilight knew they needed something to get their attention quickly and decisively. She whispered to Rarity, who simply nodded before her horn became aglow with magic. The blinding light of an ensuing lightning bolt and the roar of thunder rocked the Senate chamber, with many of the nobles gasping in fright. Knowing the donkeys have never seen a lightning bolt before, it was the most effective form of crowd control Twilight could think of.

“Thank you. Now let’s get this session under way while my ears have time to recover.” Cranky took his spot on the center podium, looking around at his fellows before clearing his throat and officially beginning this round of the senate. “Nobles of Orzamule. For the first time in years, joyous news has come from the Dark Tunnels, thanks to the efforts of these ponies from the surface and the once disgraced member of the Warrior Caste, Oghren. I will let them deliver their news personally, and demand that they be shown the respect of honoured guests.”

Twilight took her place on center stage as she regarded both candidates for the crown. Bhelen looked incredibly smug as he waited for Twilight to speak. Harrowmount continued to stare daggers at the prince. Neither of them are fit to rule this city, Twilight thought morosely as she looked at the two candidates with disdain, but they are the only choices I have. Somedonkey has to rule Orzamule so we can get their support.

“Nobles of Orzamule, thank you for this rare opportunity to speak.” Twilight’s heart raced as she felt the weight of every eye in the crowded Senate building. She looked back to her friends, who smiled and nodded to her with encouragement and support. “Today I bring news of our journey into the Dark Tunnels. We were sent to find the paragon, Branka the Smith. Unfortunately, she was no more when we found her. I am sorry for Orzamule’s loss.”

There was a low murmur as the nobles whispered amongst themselves at the loss of their last living paragon. Twilight bit her tongue. She knew all too well that the donkeys of Orzamule idolized their paragons as the pinnacles of existence, as something to aspire to. If only they knew the truth of Branka and her mad desire to claim the Storm Forge.

Twilight also wondered how the donkeys would have reacted to the Storm Forge itself, and more importantly, what Bhelen and Harrowmount would have done with the Forge. She could only surmise that both would have used the Forge much like Cairidan had intended at first, only to then force others into the molds of golems. Bhelen would have sent his enemies into the forge, and Harrowmount would have sent the casteless and others he deemed as “undesirables.”

The whispers of the nobility became louder, more heated, and directed at Twilight once the shock of the death of Branka had fully washed over the Senate. Many directed their ire at Twilight, calling her a coward or too weak to rescue their paragon. She took their assaults in stride, taking some measure of comfort as her friends, especially the loud ones, protested in her defense.

Out of the corner of her eye, Twilight could see Oghren and Shale speaking in hushed tones. What they were discussing was beyond Twilight as the roar of the Senate drowned out any other noise. Knowing those two, she had every reason to be worried.

“If you have not returned with the Paragon, then why return at all?” Bhelen asked. “Come, my fellows. These ponies have wasted our time. Let us put the matter of the throne to vote, as it should be!”

“There shall not be any vote!” Twilight spun to watch as Shale and Oghren approached the center stage, Shale’s booming voice silencing everyone in the amphitheatre. Cranky looked to Twilight with a face of confusion that matched hers. Whatever those two had planned was coming to fruition and all she could do was watch with both keen interest and abstract horror.

“Control your golem, surfacer,” Harrowmount said, “This is no time for—”

“I am not controlled by this pony or any other! I speak with the voice of the paragon, Cairidan!” Mentioning the long lost paragon brought another wave of murmurs from the assembly. Twilight took a spot next to Pinkie and watched the proceedings with mouth slightly agape.

“What are they doing?” Twilight whispered.

“Oh, they are just going along with my plan,” Pinkie answered while munching away at a bag of popcorn. Before Twilight could ask where she got the snack, Pinkie pointed towards the stage. “Trust me, Twilight, everything is going to be okey dokey, artichokey.”

“By Cairidan’s will, I have been given voice to show the donkeys of Orzamule the errors of their ways and to show them the path to virtue as detailed by the Paragons!” Twilight had to stifle her laughs as Shale made her debut in acting. It seemed crazy, and it was, but all the donkeys in the Senate were listening. Whatever Shale was doing was working.

“Oh, uh… I’m here too, representing... Branka! You know. My wife, who was also a Paragon!” Oghren fumbled with his words, likely due to never having to speak to a large group of nobles before. Shale bumped him aside, taking in the attention before continuing.

“Both paragons have left their mark on who should be the next king of Orzamule!” Shale stood tall as the Senate waited with bated breath. “Behold, the Crown of the Mountain! Forged in the legendary and very much lost forever construct of Cairidan, the Storm Forge! Look upon the seal of the paragon, of which no mortal donkey would ever dream to recreate!”

Twilight took the hint and quickly gripped the large crown with her magic, then levitated the headpiece over to the assembly. Sure enough many expressed their doubts, but those who looked at the crown all agreed; the seal was genuine, and it would only take someone who was insane to forge a copy.

“By the Stone, this is Cairidan’s seal. You must be a messenger from Cairidan and the very Stone itself!” Cranky looked like he held a long lost holy relic, as did the rest of the Senate and Lord Harrowmount. Bhelen looked at the crown with longing greed.

“Branka left a message too,” Oghren said, quickly butting in much to Shale’s displeasure. “Leaving a message on who she would have supported as king. With the wisdom of the ancestors and of the paragons and of the Stone itself, we will reveal the new king of Orzamule!”

“Lord Harrowmount!” Shale bellowed, trying to get attention back on her. “You are found to be a donkey of honour and dignity!”

Many of his supporters gave a cheer, with Harrowmount looking relieved and Bhelen looking furious. The cheering was short lived as Shale continued.

“You are not the new king of Orzamule! You may be a loyal follower to the Stone, but you would doom Orzamule with stagnancy for your refusal to change with the times! The casteless are not mere objects to be cast aside! They are donkeys and should be treated with respect! It is what Cairidan would have wanted, and you fail to meet his high expectations!”

Bhelen gave a great laugh as Harrowmount bowed low to Shale in shame. Already his supporters were proclaiming him king. Twilight’s ears drooped as the choice was made. It was for the best though. Oghren and, to an extent, Shale were donkeys. They knew who to pick to be the best candidate as king.

Oghren cleared his throat as Bhelen celebrated, which caused the joyful nature of the room to simply cease. “Now hold on there, chuckles,” Oghren interrupted with a sneer. “You aren’t fit to be king either! Branka talked to the Stone! She knows what you did to get to where you are now!”

“Kinslayer! You killed your brother, your sister and your father out of jealousy and greed! Now both have cost you the crown you want to get your grabby little hooves on! So speaks the Paragons!”

Bhelen’s face contorted with rage at the denial of his prize. “The paragons know nothing of what I had to struggle through! The years of planning for this day and you try to take it all away in an instant!? I was the youngest foal of three! Three! The throne would never have gone to me otherwise! I have vision! I have purpose! Orzamule will die without me as king!”

“That’s a confession as I ever heard one.” Cranky nodded to the Senate guards, who quickly apprehended the screaming son of the king. As Bhelen was forced down, Cranky looked to Shale. “If neither Bhelen nor Harrowmount is to be king, then who is?”

Twilight was curious as well, only to turn her head towards Trixie as she felt the familiar tug of magic being cast near her. Trixie muttered a chanted spell in a near whisper, her hat hiding her glowing horn from onlookers who could not sense magic. When she looked back at Shale, Twilight understood what her fellow mage was doing.

Shale’s augmentation crystals blazed to life, torrents of green and red energy swirling around her as the rest of her body shone with the blue light of lyrium. Those donkeys in the hall who did not gasp in fear of the light show averted their eyes.

“By the path carved for us by the Paragons of Orzamule! By the guidance of the ancestors! By the Stone that brings Order to us all! I, Cairidan’s herald, hereby proclaim you, Cranky Doodle, to be King of Orzamule! You have been deemed worthy in the eyes of the Stone for your honour and your vision to ensure long life and prosperity to this city and its donkeys!”

“What?” was the common word spoken amongst the donkeys and from Twilight as well. The confusion was short-lived, however, as Shale began to stomp her hooves in a two-beat tempo, followed by Oghren joining in as he placed the crown on Cranky’s head.

“The Stone has spoken!” proclaimed Harrowmount, and he too joined the chorus of stomping hooves. Soon the rest of the assembly stomped their hooves as Cranky looked about in both frustration and confusion to every donkey as they shouted cheers for their new king.

Pinkie joined in, stomping her hooves in time with the rest of the Senate, grinning widely at Cranky. Soon the rest of the party joined in, Twilight included, as they shared in the coronation of Orzamule’s new king. Twilight smiled once she saw the hesitation in Cranky’s eyes slowly give way to fierce determination. Somehow her friends pulled through and found a good third option.

“I didn’t ask for this,” Cranky muttered. Oghren shrugged.

“We don’t ask for a lot of things, Your Majesty. They still happen. Sure your wife Matilda is gonna be thrilled with this, heh.” Oghren and Shale returned to the party, both chuckling along the way as Cranky took his place in the center of the assembly, this time as King instead of Speaker.

“There’s gonna be some changes around here,” he declared once the stomping of hooves died down. “My first act as king of Orzamule is to honour the treaty with the Grey Wardens! Our armies will join with the ponies of the surface and help fight back against the Blight!”

Another chorus of hoofstomps erupted, the ponies especially stomping with great enthusiasm. She beamed at Applejack as she held the treatise high for all to see, the strength of the donkeys now added to their effort against the Blight. For the first time since coming to Orzamule, Twilight felt a great burden lift from her shoulders.

“Thank you for everything you have done, Grey Wardens. Orzamule will not squander this chance at Order that you have given us. May the Stone protect you all.” King Cranky then turned his attention back to the rest of his fellow nobles as the party left the Senate building in high spirits.

The air of the Diamond Sector smelled sweeter than ever as they basked in their success. All that remained was getting the Dalish Pegasi of the Everfree Forest to join their war effort. Shale walked weakly behind them as Pinkie applied several bottles of lyrium to her hide.

“Shale, Ah gotta say, Ah didn’t think ya had that in ya,” Applejack said.

“Do not worry, Applejack,” Shale replied. “When it is time for you to put a crown on your head, I will give another wonderful performance during your coronation.”

Applejack gulped at the reminder, though Twilight laughed at the thought of Shale’s over-the-top tirade happening in front of several noble ponies. A slight tug on her mane by Spike took her attention away as she looked to where Spike pointed.
Walking behind them, much as he did in the Dark Tunnels, was Oghren. Having thought he was going to stay with the rest of the donkeys in the Senate hall or go to the nearest bar for a drink or twenty, Twilight was surprised to see the berserker still with them.

“Uh… I ain’t to good with words like this, so I’m keeping this short,” Oghren began. “I don’t have anything left here in Orzamule. Branka’s dead, I don’t have much to my name except my axe, armour, and favourite drinking mug, and I get the feeling old King Cranky isn’t gonna like hearing about my bar room brawls. I need someplace to be, and I was wondering…”

“Oghren, would you like to join us?” Twilight offered her hoof in friendship. Oghren shook her hoof with the most genuine, sober smile Oghren had ever given her.

“Those ponyspawn won’t know what hit them now, heh ha!” Oghren smiled at the rest of the party, who each returned the affection as well. Spike seemed especially pleased, knowing he was no longer the only male in the group.

“Um, Mister Oghren, sir,” Fluttershy squeaked, “Now that you’ll be travelling with us, could I ask a teeny tiny little favour? Could you, um, not stare at my backside?”

“No can do!” Oghren laughed, “You’re stuck with me now, sweetflanks.”

“Oh. I see. Angel?” Angel Nuggy leaped from his spot on Fluttershy’s head and onto the face of Oghren. A flurry of donkey curses broke out as the party laughed their way to the Lift and towards the surface.

***

Loghoof glowered as the nobility milled into the Trotterim palace. Maim stood at his left, though whenever Loghoof turned his gaze towards the Arl of Amarethine he visibly shook. Ser Sunsword stood to his right: ever vigilant as more reports were being detailed to him and the rest of Equestria’s nobles.

The battlefronts against the ponyspawn were not boding well. Arls Greywolf and Cheerilee were still holding back the bulk of the tide, but their front was faltering quickly. The arls themselves would arrive soon for the Landsmeet, perhaps in another week, but their letters to Loghoof were very strongly worded. Greywolf especially worded his message to add insults to Loghoof’s mother while recounting how his forces needed reinforcements immediately.

The majority of the Bannorn were also here in Trotterim, many of them rallying behind Bann Braeburn and Meyer, the latter who had healed rather quickly from her wounds. With Ponyring destroyed, Meyer was now a rallying point for the other Banns to stand against Loghoof, saying that it was he who had let Ponyring fall by not bringing aid in time.

Arl Macintosh stood as still as a statue as always, something the Teryn found rather disconcerting. He was too cordial for a stallion who was almost killed by poison, especially since Maim stood so close. There was no rage when Macintosh spoke, nor any hint of anger. Just expectancy. What he hoped for, Loghoof could only guess.

“Two weeks until the Landsmeet, Macintosh,” Loghoof said once the last of the messengers left. “Are you certain this is a wise course of action, especially in a war against the Ponyspawn and the Filesians breathing down our necks?”

“Nope.” Macintosh stared ahead at nothing in particular until he turned his green gaze towards Loghoof. “We shouldn’t be fightin’ each other at all. We are though, because you made some decisions that just ain’t good for the kingdom. As long as you’re regent, you’ll still make those decisions. Ah aim to put a stop to that.”

“Bite your tongue, cur,” Maim snarled, only to have a harsh look from Loghoof silence him. The damage was done, however, as Macintosh stood up taller and straighter than he did before, revealing the true extent of his mass. Maim inched away, looking towards Ser Sunsword for help as Macintosh bore down on him. Sunsword did nothing to help Maim except keep her eyes locked on the massive earth pony.

“Because of you, my lil’ sister was hurt. Ah don’t take kindly to that.” Macintosh snorted, blowing hot air into Maim’s face. Maim winced as the Arl of Red Apple looked ready to strike him with a heavy and powerful hoof. Instead Macintosh stepped down, looking back at Loghoof as he joined Braeburn and the rest of the Bannorn.

“There ain’t no Filesian threat,” Macintosh said. “You’d know that if you didn’t let yer hatred get the better of you. That army of chevaliers? They’re waiting for the word to come and help us against the Blight. You can go on and believe whatever you like, but Ah just want you to know what your blindness is doing to the nation you say you want to protect.”

Macintosh and his supporters left the palace, leaving only a fuming Arl Maim and a contemplating Loghoof in their wake. The Teryn of Glenwell shook his head as he found refuge once again in his thoughts and his goblet of wine. Loghoof was a leader of ponies, a military mind who wanted only what was best for his nation. Why didn’t Macintosh and the Bannorn realize this?

“I could remove Macintosh from the equation, Your Grace,” Maim offered. A stern look from Loghoof quickly silenced that train of thought.

“You will return to the Arl of Trotterim’s estate, Maim. I will be sending Armeria there to be under your protection until the Landsmeet is done and I can solidify my support against the Blight and the Filesians. Ser Sunsword shall be my military advisor from now on.” Maim had failed one too many times, so now he was going to be in charge of protecting Loghoof’s daughter instead. Armeria quickly became a hindrance to Loghoof’s plans, always asking inconvenient questions and generally getting in his way. Loghoof loved his daughter dearly, but in a war such as this, it was better to keep her under lock and key.

Maim grumbled, though he still bowed his head to Loghoof. Maim would do well to remember whose word swayed the old king to give him rule over Amarethine and delivered him the title of Arl of Trotterim. Maim was too greedy, and his general incompetence in the last few weeks made Loghoof wonder if the capable Maim during the war against Filais was dead and gone.

One of the castle staff entered through palace doors, approaching Loghoof and his subordinates with bowed knees before looking up at the regent. “Your Grace,” he said, with a bit of nervousness in his voice. “There is somepony who wishes an audience with you. A pegasus from Filais. A Grey Warden.”

Loghoof’s eyes narrowed in anger at the mention of Filais. What sort of damned Filesian fool would enter his palace during the middle of a war? Also the fact that he was another of those foolish, superstitious Grey Wardens did not help the newcomer’s chances. No doubt he was here to say the same thing that Duncan had said before the battle of Ostequus: that only the Grey Wardens could defeat the Blight.

Loghoof would prove that wrong if he had any say in it.

The pegasus from Filais entered the great hall, walking with a confident stride until he stood before Loghoof. He was a grey pegasus covered in dirty leather armour and with countless knives and swords strapped to his body. His mane was brown and dirty, and his face was covered in stubble. His eyes were a dull brown, yet haggard with weariness after years of fighting the ponyspawn. Loghoof could respect the pegasus for being a fighter against such monstrosities; if only he were not a Warden and a Filesian.

“Honourable Teryn Loghoof Mac Tir, I am Riordan of the Grey Wardens. Thank you for this opportunity for an audience.” Riordan rose with Loghoof’s acknowledgement. “I know of the deep animosity between the nations of Equestria and Filais, but I hope you realize I come as a Grey Warden, who are nationless. We stand against the Blight, and must do so together.”

Loghoof merely nodded, waiting for Riordan to continue. “I come seeking the other Grey Wardens of Equestria, hoping to give them aid against the Blight. I have also come with a message from General Puissant of Filais, saying he has three hundred of his chevaliers ready to serve under your command against the ponyspawn. He only wishes to know when he will be able to cross the border to provide you aid.”

It took all of Loghoof’s willpower not to shout out “Never!” and not run Riordan through right there and then for even entertaining the thought of Filesian troops entering his country. Still, he had to play the role of diplomat for this encounter, even if he bristled with rage.

“Filesian support is completely unnecessary, as is the support of the Grey Wardens,” Loghoof replied. “Your order was wiped out during the Battle of Ostequus. You should return to Filais and be ready for any ponyspawn incursion there.”

“Not all wiped out, Your Grace. I have heard word from Red Apple and the Unicorn Tower that two Wardens survived, and are collecting aid to fight against the Blight.” Loghoof once again restrained his emotions, trying hard not to show surprise.

The assassins Maim sent failed. It made sense now. Somehow that unicorn and earth pony had escaped their deaths and were now raising an army against him. Macintosh and the Unicorn Tower were in league with them. There were always more enemies to face.

As much as he loathed admitting it, Loghoof still needed information from the Filesian. “I am sure your fellows will come to Trotterim eventually,” Loghoof said, as much a lie as it was a hope that the two Wardens would arrive; “You may stay in the Arl of Trotterim’s estate in the meantime. I’m sure Arl Maim will help you be comfortable while you wait.”

“Thank you for your hospitality, Your Grace,” Riordan replied, bowing his head to Loghoof. “I will accept, of course.”

“Excellent. Arl Maim?” Loghoof looked to his subordinate with a gaze that spoke for itself: Find out everything you can. I do not care how.

“Indeed.” Maim’s disdain apparent in his voice, but he would obey. His riches and his life depended on it. “Tell me, Riordan, do you like wine?”

As the two walked out of palace, Loghoof downed the rest of his drink before returning to his quarters. With Ser Sunsword following him as she always did, Loghoof would need the distraction. The war had taken a turn for the worse, and now the Filesians were in his country working with traitors. Celestia preserve me, Loghoof thought, can you send any mercy my way?

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