• 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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The Landsmeet

Chapter 40 – The Landsmeet

Twilight’s mad dash towards the palace with her friends behind her did not go unnoticed by the population of Trotterim. Shouts of surprise sounded around her as the motley crew of ponies, a donkey, and a golem stampeded through the streets. Whatever guards walked their patrol did little more than shout warnings. Despite their own armaments, they feared for their own safety in the presence of such a large and very well armed group. To all of this Twilight paid no heed. The only concern she had was to get to Applejack’s side to support her against Loghoof.

Waiting for them on the path into the palace was a sizable force of soldiers, and many of them wore the emblems of Trotterim or Glenwell. All of the soldiers poised for battle. They held swords and stood in a tight formation. Twilight’s eyes narrowed as she stopped in front of the assembled battalion.

To her left, Oghren turned his neck to clench the bit of his axe, only to stop when Twilight shook her head. He hesitated for a moment, all the while the soldiers watched and waited for the order to attack. Twilight kept her gaze on the force in front of her, watching as a few shuffled their hooves nervously. Some of them appeared to be barely out of colthood, their oversized helmets sliding around their heads.

Twilight took a confident step forward and walked towards the soldiers with small smile, an effort to ease their tension. “I’m not here to fight you,” she said, “I’m here to stop an injustice that has struck Equestria. I’m here to make sure there is an Equestria standing against the Blight. Most of all, I’m here to help my friend. I know many of you regard Loghoof as the Hero of White River, but that was a long time ago. He’s changed, and not for the better. His heart is good, but his methods have endangered Equestria. Let us pass, and we can try to make things right again. We should be fighting the ponyspawn, not each other.”

“Spoken like a true master of deceit and betrayal.” Sunsword made her way forwards past her soldiers, her namesake glistening in the afternoon light. “Loghoof will be the one to turn away the Blight, traitor. By my blade, you will not pass. You are all under arrest for conspiracy against the regent!”

“I’d like to see you try, squishy one.” Shale stepped forward with menacing intent, and caused the soldiers to gasp and take a few steps back as she brought her full form for all to bear witness. Sunsword did not move, and her challenge to Twilight and her group unwavered as she stood tall and ready to fight. Pinkie bounded in front of the golem and blocked her advance.

She shook her head before she spoke. “Trust Twilight, Shale. She can make the persuasion checks, I know it. We don’t have to fight her if we can help it.”

Ignoring Pinkie’s mention of influencing Sunsword, Twilight took another step forward. Sunsword flinched at the motion and raised her head so she could grip her sword-bit easily. Twilight let a sigh escape her.

“Sunsword… you know Loghoof is wrong,” Twilight explained, “There is no Filesian threat. The soldiers Filais sent are supposed to help us! They numbered in the hundreds! Now there are barely fifty left, and we need all the help we can get!”

“You lie!” Sunsword barked. Her soldiers twitched at the shout. “Loghoof said the Wardens were servants of Filais! That they would betray Equestria right into the hooves of their Empress! Even our king was a traitor! What am I to believe, Warden?
You, who fled the battle of Ostequus when the rest of your order had the good sense to fall in battle, or my teryn, who lifted my head when I was nothing more than a filthy street horse! Who gave me my sword, and therefore my name! I have given everything to Loghoof, and you would ask me to cast it all away.”

Sunsword sucked in air after she spoke, and her body visibly trembled with rage and anxiety. Her faith in her lord was shaken, and an unscrupulous pony would no doubt have taken advantage. Twilight was not such a pony. She would help Sunsword to the best of her ability. No pony blood would be spilled by her blade.

“Sunsword, listen to me. Loghoof is mistaken.” Twilight took another step forward and kept herself steady as her eyes moved from Sunsword’s weeping face to the golden sword strapped to her back. “He read Blueblood’s letters to the Empress, yes. He thought they were having an affair. He wasn’t. He didn’t read the last unsealed letter we found on Blueblood’s body. We went back to Ostequus, Sunsword. We did what we could not just for the fallen Grey Wardens, but for the soldiers of Equestria and the king. A king you swore fealty too.”

“You are a knight of the realm, Sunsword. You were at Ostequus, at Loghoof’s side. You know what happened. Do the right thing. Let us pass, and let us put royal blood on the throne again. Applejack is a good pony who will lead the nation against the Blight. You have no reason to trust me, but I’m asking for that trust now. The ponyspawn are coming, and we need to be united against them. What Loghoof and Arl Maim have done in power has weakened the country, not strengthened it. Please. Believe me.”

Sunsword’s face twisted as she took a moment to digest Twilight’s words. The others stood up besides Twilight, as the gentle hoof of Rarity lay on her shoulder. The soldiers withdrew from Sunsword and looked at each other with puzzled glances. They returned their weapons to their scabbards.

“Every victory Loghoof has achieved… worthless. Meaningless.” Sunsword breathed deep after a while, before finally moving aside. “Go, Warden. I won’t stop you. I can’t. For as long as Loghoof has been fighting the ponyspawn, we thought we were gaining ground. He was a brilliant strategist in the war against Filais…”

“Not against the ponyspawn, Sunsword. We are all unprepared to face the ponyspawn. But this is the reality of the situation. We have to stand united now, more than ever. Not Equestrians, or Filesians, or even divided by race. As ponies, standing shoulder to shoulder against the threat to life itself.” Twilight looked into Sunsword’s bloodshot eyes, and carefully extended her hoof towards the defeated knight. Slowly, Sunsword pressed her hoof against Twilight’s tears streaming from her face.

“Be merciful, Grey Warden.” Sunsword took another sharp breath of air. “He was a hero once. And his heart has always been for his country. Come on you lot. Let the Warden and her friends pass.” The soldiers parted, revealing the plain unhindered path towards the palace. Twilight nodded to Sunsword before she advanced towards the entrance. Her friends followed behind her.

Every step she took up the great stairs towards the felt like an accomplishment to Twilight. Not because it was a physical feat to her, but every time she heard her hoof clack against stone, the journey to make it here resonated with her. This was the culmination of their efforts, to bring stability back to Equestria so they could face off against the ponyspawn on even footing. No more would pony quarrel with pony. They would stand together against the Blight and face the evil tide.

There would be no more running. They had gathered their allies, and found the Elements of Harmony. Once Loghoof was deposed, they could focus all their energy on fighting the Blight back into the Dark Tunnels. Twilight hoped the assembled armies of the land would arrive soon so that there was an Equestria to be saved.

She gripped the great doors of the palace in her violet aura, which allowed Twilight opened the way for them to palace. The old stories spoke that palaces were regal places lined in gold and jewels, the walls adorned in silk and velvet, and tables with large golden goblets with crystal glass decanters of the finest Filesian wines. Lords and Ladies would stand to the sides in their finery as the King addressed them, a brilliant crown sitting atop his head. They would debate civilly during the Landsmeet, and decided on laws and the fate of the realm with wisdom and a guiding hoof.

The reality of the Landsmeet made Twilight’s heart sink. The walls were plain stone and wood, with only a few banners of Equestria’s emblems hanging from the rafters. The Equestrian nobility stood on the sides, but instead of fine robes many of them were dressed in battered armour, a symbol that they fought recently against other ponies or the legions of ponyspawn. Their attention was divided between Arl Macintosh, with Applejack at his side, and Loghoof who stood near the abandoned throne of Equestria.

Loghoof appeared to have not changed at all since their first encounter at Ostequus. He was still in his shining grey armour, and he still looked around the room with that harsh stare from behind stern eyes. His voice boomed throughout the main audience hall, with only a few gasps and murmurs to provide ambience.

“Nobles of Equestria!” Loghoof’s voice echoed through the halls. “We have heard the charges made against my very character by the jealous Arl Macintosh, who wishes to install his own puppet onto the throne! But not just any puppet, his own sister, who he claims to have royal blood! Who put you up to this, Macintosh? Acting on your dreams of grandeur by claiming regency once your sister is crowned? Or was it the Filesians, who will simply walk into Equestria once the way has been opened by you?”

“How many times do we have to get it through yer head, Loghoof,” Macintosh replied, “There ain’t no Filesian threat. The only problem we have is the ponyspawn, and yer regency holding the entire country back! Equestria needs a strong queen to stand tall right now!”

“My daughter will have her throne back as is her widowed right, once I have defeated both the Blight and the Filesians! No pretender shall take the throne, not so long as I live!”

Applejack shifted on her hooves nervously as all attention was shifted to her. She wiped the sweat from her brows until she looked towards the entrance of the palace, where Twilight and the others made their approach. Her features brightened immediately, only for her to be distracted by the clatter of her flag and Spike’s mad dash through the crowds towards Twilight.

Her heart skipped a beat as Spike launched himself into a tight embrace around her neck. Twilight’s eyes brimmed with tears as the two reunited. Neither spoke as Twilight wrapped a foreleg around Spike, almost cradling him. She knew she caused a scene, as most of the shouting had turned to drowned whispers, yet Twilight did not care in the slightest. She and Spike were together again, and that was all that mattered.

Applejack walked over to Twilight, relief in her eyes. “You gave us all a mighty big scare, sugarcube. But by Celestia and Luna and any other divinity graced ponies am Ah glad you’re here. Now we can take it directly to Loghoof.”

Twilight let go of Spike and shifted her gaze towards her adversary. Loghoof stared down Twilight as she began her slow ascent towards him. He waved off his guards as they tried to stop her. His gaze did not waver for a moment before the two were standing face to face.

When they had first met in Ostequus, Twilight felt greatly intimidated by Loghoof. Now, having faced far larger and far fiercer foes, Twilight almost smirked at the thought. I have faced the worst demons the Fade had to offer. I’ve fought against a high dragon. I’ve stared down living donkey legends. I will face you, Loghoof, and I will win.

“And so comes the agent of discord herself,” Loghoof said, “Tell me, Warden, how much did the Empress of Filais pay to hand over this country on a silver platter? After all, it was your damn fool stories that put images in King Blueblood’s head of grand adventures rather than cold reality! It was the Wardens who betrayed us all to Filais!”

“Shut up, Loghoof.” Twilight’s voice was cold. “I’m not here to listen to the ravings of a mad pony. I’m here to make sure you can never hurt anypony again. Something you’ve been a bit of an expert on. Was it you who ordered Maim to foalnap the nobles yearlings, just so you could have some assurance to their compliance here in the Landsmeet? Because we found them. All of them, malnourished, scared, and hurt by Maim’s depravity.”

There was a loud murmur falling over the nobles, save for a very large grey earth pony. His eyes burned with anger as he spat out a series of curses. “Damn you, Loghoof! If a single hair on my Silver Spoon’s mane has been harmed by you or Maim, I swear I’ll skin you alive!”

“Be still, Arl Gray Wolf,” Loghoof fired back. “Maim is his own pony. I do not have to keep watch over him, do I? But this begs a unique question, Grey Warden. How my subordinate, Sunsword, in a daring mission under my command, rescued the rightful queen Armeria from being foalnapped by Wardens!”

“That’s a lie and you know it!” Trixie shouted, “We were there at Maim’s estate. He had the Queen bound against her will, so he could use her to protect himself when he fled Equestria!”

Another roar of mumbling came from the nobles. If Twilight did not know better, she could almost hear the cracks forming in Loghoof’s defenses. A magenta earth pony cleared her throat loudly, attracting attention to herself.

“The way I see it, Teryn Loghoof, is that if you can’t control your subordinates with political power such as Maim, how can you control the military of this nation? I came here expecting reinforcements to aid Cherry Hills, but all I see is squabbling and in-fighting. My arling hides in cellars and bunkers, with scared foals lost in fright of not if the ponyspawn will find them, but when.

“Arlessa Cheerilee, while the Blight is strong, we must face reality.” Loghoof pointed an accusatory hoof at Twilight. “While I have been defending our borders and our throne, these usurpers have done everything they can to subvert my work to protect us all.”

Cheerilee’s flat expression did not falter as she spoke slowly and clearly. “Teryn Loghoof Mac Tir, how many victories have you won against the Filesians. Against the ponyspawn? While the country is in ruins, what have you done? It’s thanks to the Warden that Arl Macintosh is here at all, after being poisoned by Maim.”

“She found the Mane of Stars!” Braeburn’s familiar voice rose above the others. “If that ain’t worth a lick of salt, Ah don’t know what is! Ah speak for all o’ the Bannorn when Ah say this; we stand with the Wardens!”

A roar of cheers erupted from the smaller, yet no less influential lords of the Bannorn. Macintosh nodded to the assembled masses, a thankful look in his eyes as he turned to Twilight. She returned the smile in kind, all the while Loghoof fumed in his spot.

The doors of the palace opened suddenly, diverting all focus as a streak of chromatic colours zipped around the audience hall before landing firmly in front of Twilight. Rainbow Dash smirked as she took in the shocked expressions of the nobles, her disheveled mane a stark contrast to nearly everypony around her. Fluttershy floated into the room much more quietly as she beckoned for others to follow her.

“I hope we’re not too late,” Rainbow said, “But even if we are… Fillies and Gentlecolts! The cavalry has arrived on wings, hooves, and talons!”

Twilight’s lips curled into a wide grin as the motley crew of all the ponies they had helped throughout the journey walked into the grand hall amidst the shocked looks of the nobility. Wise Eyes walked alongside Hornsheild, with Jorgen Blackmace behind them followed by Zharia and most shockingly, Quick Kill. The ponies of Equestria took the appearance of a hippogryph as well as expected, a few of the daintier ponies shrieking at the sight or outright fainting. Quick Kill paid no heed as the last guest arrived.

As tall as Macintosh and dressed in tarnished armour and a massive beard, General Puissant of the Filesian chevaliers strode into the hall. Loghoof’s eyes twitched at the sight of a Filesian, pushing past Twilight as he pointed an accusatory hoof at the giant stallion. Riordan walked with him, though his eyes were distracted by something else, and not the Landsmeet in front of him.

“You see?” Loghoof barked, “The Wardens have betrayed us all! They bring a Filesian general to take the throne, not through strength of arms by means of politics! Is this how you want this country to become, under the steel hoof of Filais? I swear to Celestia and Luna on high, I will die before I let Equestria be forced under your yoke!”

Puissant responded with a quick roll of his eyes before turning to Applejack, ignoring Loghoof completely. “The Empress does not wish to restart the hostilities her father carried on,” Puissant said, “She sent me with a force of hundreds of chevalier and more Grey Wardens. Due to Loghoof’s persistence that we do not enter Equestria in force, we have been reduced to fifty strong soldiers and one Warden. Be that as it may, I have come here for one purpose and one purpose only: to defeat ponyspawn alongside the Equestrian general who bested me in the field of battle. If I cannot have you fight with me Loghoof, then grant me one boon, heir apparent Applejack. Allow me to fight ponyspawn, for there is not better use for my blade than to strike down the monsters of black blood.”

Applejack stammered for a moment before Loghoof interrupted her reply. “She is not queen yet, nor will she ever be! The Warden is trying to trick you all by giving the throne to her puppet in the name of Filais! The throne belongs to my daughter and I will be the one to defend it!”

“What have you done besides defend your daughters throne, Loghoof?” Grey Wolf replied, “Our forces remain divided and weakened, while the ponyspawn are massing. They are massing to sweep us all into the flame. What have you done?

Wise Eyes stepped forward, horn and staff crackling with white arcane energy. His eyes flashed with anger as he pointed his staff at Loghoof. “You will not speak ill of Twilight Sparkle and her friends!” His shout surprised Twilight as she never heard him furious before. “These ponies braved their very souls into the depths of the Fade and challenged the strongest demon it has to offer, that of Pride! If it were not for them, a Veil breach the likes Equestria never seen before would have swallowed this country whole, just as the ponyspawn threaten now. With their strength of character, I would be a fool not to support them! The Unicorn Tower supports the Warden!”

A slight chorus of hooves stomping on the ground echoed in the hall, only barely silenced by the disapproving glare of Loghoof. Twilight’s smirk never left her face as Jorgen pushed passed Hornshield and Wise Eyes. He puffed up his chest to appear larger in the presence of much bigger stallions. A giggle from Pinkie confirmed the ridiculous sight of Jorgen.

“Blackmace always was a blowhard,” Ogrhen muttered.

“I ain’t much for politics. Leave that crap to the nobles.” Jorgen’s rough vocabulary produced a gaff amongst the nobles as they mumbled to each other. Twilight’s eyes narrowed as she hoped he was not jeopardizing their position against Loghoof.

“But one thing I know for sure. As much as I like to fight other donkeys, I like fighting ponyspawn even more. The Warden and her buddies waltzed into Orzamule and not only did they get a drunk off his hooves with new purpose, but they even stopped a civil war! They did what few dare to venture to do it. That’s right, they went into the Deepest Pits, fighting the Stone only knows what. That’s the sign of true bravery! And it is that bravery that I, Jorgen Blackmace, and a legion of donkey warriors pledge our services to the Warden and the Warden only!”

Another round of applause erupted from the nobility, with Loghoof sulking back towards the stone. His eyes were wide as more voices joined the choir against him, unheard oaths muttered under his breath. Zharia of the Dalish took to the air while Quick Kill seemed content to remain where he was. His own size and unique appearance as the only hippogryph was enough to draw attention.

“I am not here to mince words,” Zharia said, “The ponyspawn have dominance of the air, and I know why the Warden wanted the aid of the Dalish Pegasi. However, we were locked in constant combat ourselves, not against the ponyspawn, but against a long hated cousin that you see with me now; the hippogryph. The Warden could have easily ignored us, but instead she went one step further. She helped us resolve our differences and end the hatred between us. It is for that reason we can even stand with you at all.”

“Listen to the Dalish, ponies, for she speaks truth.” Quick Kill stood at his full height, extending his wings to give him more presence. “My people were cursed to be utter savages who only desire to hunt and rend flesh. Thanks to the efforts of the Wardens, my people are free, but this freedom will mean nothing if the Blight is not beaten! Open your eyes, and embrace the Warden as we have!”

The last cascade of affirming cheers resounded in the halls as all those who the party had helped said their piece. While they still had differences, Twilight was proud to call them allies and friends in their struggle to fight off the ponyspawn. This was what she had been waiting for. The moment that all their work with the treaties finally came to fruition and they could finally be united.

All that was left was Loghoof.

“I’ve heard enough,” said Arl Gray Wolf, “It is apparent to me that Applejack knows how to make proper allies in a time for war. We now have a true army to combat the Blight! Celestia preserve me, I and my arling support Applejack and the Grey Wardens!”

Cheerilee stepped forward from her place on the balcony. “Cherry Hills supports the Wardens!”

“The Wardens! I support the Wardens!”

“I am with the Wardens!”

“We give our support to the Wardens!”

“I stand with Loghoof!” said a balding Arl, though sheepishly, “He is our only hope! He is a hero of Equestria!”

Despite the lone dissenter, the nobles all sounded as if they spoke in one voice. “The Wardens! The Wardens! The Wardens!”

All around Twilight, ponies continued to show their support for the Wardens, as well as members of her party. Pinkie took this as a sign to begin start a shouting contest, to be louder than anypony else, while Rainbow took the air. She pumped her hoof in the air and appeared to conduct the crowds. Even Shale joined the rally, as she pounded her heavy hooves on the ground while shouting along. Trixie tossed her hat in the air while Oghren cried out in support.

Twilight felt her weight shift as she was hugged from both sides by Rarity, Applejack, and Spike. She laughed despite the look of murder Loghoof gave her. The Wardens had won the Landsmeet. They won.

Loghoof’s face turned red underneath his fur before unleashing a diatribe of pure fury. “Devils! Invaders! Traitors! All of you! You would sooner be in Filesian chains, fat and stupid and blind! The same chains that I fought and bled to break forever! Where were you when the Filesians pillaged our land? Where were you when they burned your fields, slashed your flesh, and raped your wives? I was the one who fought a bitter war against them, and you would throw it all away!”

“Loghoof, a coup will not serve you or Equestria!” Macintosh shouted, “Just give up! Ya lost, so step down!”

“I’ll step down when I’m as good as dead, Macintosh. Not a moment before! I will not sit idly and watch as this country is given away! If you want the throne, then you will have to take it by force.”

Twilight did not believe the words that spewed from Loghoof’s mouth. How could a pony hold his hate so close to him that it would blind him from the obvious threat? How could Loghoof still hold true that what he did was for the good of the realm? Twilight shook her head, ready to deliver her rebuttal when Applejack stepped forward.

“Ya’ll don’t want to give up that throne peacefully, do ya?” Applejack said, standing face to face with Loghoof. “You want a fight? Well Ah’m more than happy to oblige ya. One duel, just between you and me. No fancy weapons, no intereferin’ from anypony. Just earth pony against earth pony. What do ya have say about that? We settle this in the old way. Just like my daddy did to the Filesian warlord who tried to make Equestria his plaything.”

Twilight watched as the two stared each other down. Applejack wouldn’t jeopardize everything on a single duel, would she? Yet there she was, taking off the belt that held Silverbite and tossing it towards Rarity. Catching it in her magic, Rarity raised an eyebrow as Applejack called for a normal sword.

“Are you sure this is a good idea, darling?” Rarity echoed Twilight’s concerns, yet still levitated a normal steel longsword to Applejack. Drawing the blade, Applejack looked over the edge. She adjusted the weapon comfortably in her mouth. Loghoof did the same, removing his sword from its scabbard and readying himself into a combative stance.

“Ah need this,” Applejack said, “Not just fer me. But for Duncan, and all the other Wardens lost because of Loghoof and his hate. Don’t worry, ya’ll. Ah don’t plan on losin’.”

Everypony standing around Applejack and Loghoof backed away and formed a large circle for the duel to commence in. The two earth ponies watched each other carefully, stepping slowly as they calculated the best way to begin the fight. Twilight did the same, watching Applejack move with slow, deliberate steps. Twilight bit her lip but otherwise stayed quiet as she tried to judge the two combatants.

Applejack had youth and recent experience against the ponyspawn, though her templar training and abilities would not be useful against an earth pony warrior. While Loghoof had decades of war under his belt, he was an older stallion, and would not be as quick and strong as Applejack. Both wanted to win this fight for their own purposes, so it would be up to desire to tip the scales into somepony’s favour.

Loghoof moved suddenly and rushed towards Applejack with surprising speed as he brought his head back to strike in a powerful arc. Applejack parried the blow, twisting her head to deflect the blade and Loghoof away from her, then struck back in retaliation. Grimacing in frustration, Loghoof turned and blocked the incoming strike. Steel hit steel in a thunderous clash

The two were trapped in a deadlock, with neither pony giving an inch until Applejack planted her hind hooves firmly on the ground. With a grunt she pushed against Loghoof and forced the older warrior to backpedal away. Loghoof growled, then launched himself in a flurry of strikes and proving himself still quick on his hooves.

Applejack deflected the oncoming sword strikes until one attack slipped past her parries, the edge of the blade sneaking past her left pauldron. The sword cut through leather and flesh, blood flowing along the blade as Loghoof brought his weapon to bear. Applejack groaned in pain, dropping her sword as she looked over her wound. As she did, Loghoof charged again and forced Applejack to retreat and leave her sword abandoned on the ground. With a smug smile, Loghoof batted the sword far away from Applejack before resuming his advance.

There was a collective gasp over the audience as Loghoof moved to strike again. Twilight glared at Loghoof, her anger that everything they worked for could end in a few swings of his sword. Her horn flared to life, ready to pull Applejack away from the duel when Macintosh stepped in front of her, shaking his head.

“How’d ya think Applejack would feel if ya interfere now,” Macintosh asked. “She wants this, Twilight. You have to have faith that she will see this through. It’s just a scratch, and really, having that sword of hers was unfair of her.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“She may have fancy blood in her, but she’s still an Apple through and through.” Macintosh smiled. “Ah’d say losin’ her sword just made this a little more fair. For Loghoof.”

Loghoof continued to stalk Applejack as she shook the initial shock from her wound off. “What’s wrong, usurper?” Loghoof mocked, “Without your sword, this duel may as well be over. Expose your neck now, so I can finish you quickly, you poor excuse for a bastard daughter. Where is the blood of the old king to save you now?”

“Right here, partner.” Applejack flashed a sinister smile before pivoting on her front hooves. Twilight struggled not to shout for joy as Applejack kicked with both hind legs. Her hooves landed flush against Loghoof’s face and sent the teryn of Glenwell sprawling backwards. His sword dropped from his mouth as he clutched his snout with a hoof.

Loghoof cursed as his eyes met the advancing Applejack, who calmly swept his weapon away much as he did to hers. “That was for Duncan, ya treacherous piece of slime. Hoof ‘em up, Loghoof,” Applejack said in challenge. “Fight me like ya mean it.”

With a shout Loghoof rushed Applejack, throwing a stiff punch that Applejack neatly dodged. Now to his side, Applejack responded in kind, slamming a powerful cross across Loghoof’s jaw once more. She bounced on her hooves and threw a few mocking air punches as Loghoof tried to regain his equilibrium.

Loghoof’s anger flashed across his face as he struck against Applejack, his hoof smacking against her wounded shoulder. She gave a slight yelp of pain and fell back. She countered with a quick blow towards Loghoof’s underbelly. The older stallion moaned, keeling over in pain as he tried to get away. This left him exposed for another of Applejack’s assaults. Swinging her forelegs like the end of a flail, Applejack struck Loghoof again in the stomach.

With the teryn incapacitated, Applejack galloped over to her fallen sword and picked it up in her mouth with one swift motion. She rushed towards Loghoof while he stood up and slowly limped towards his own fallen sword. Before he could reach the weapon, Loghoof felt the familiar sting of a steel push ever slightly against his neck.

“It’s. Over.” Applejack breathed heavily as she waited for Loghoof to react. Twilight stood on the edge of her hooves, hoping that this would finally be the end of it. Armeria tried to race onto the floor, though a pair of guards prevented her from getting far.

“No! Please spare him!” she cried, “You’ve won! Please don’t kill my father, I beg you!”

“Hush, Armeria, hush.” Loghoof’s voice shifted completely as he turned his eyes towards his daughter. “Look away, Armeria. This is justice being done. I suppose I should thank you, Applejack. Strong enough to best me in combat, strong enough to raise an army, and strong enough to unite the nobles under you. Whatever happens, I hope Equestria is prepared to face such a foe as the Blight under you.”

Loghoof closed his eyes and bent his knee to Applejeack. “I’m ready to face Celestia’s hooves, Applejack. I have much to answer for. ‘Your worth is determined by how true you remain to yourself.’ Your father said that to me, a long time ago. I did not understand then, but I think I do now. I’ve stayed true to who I am. Everything I did, I did for Equestria. I did what I had to, just as you will now. Strike true, your Majesty.”

Applejack looked down on the waiting Loghoof, her mouth clenched tight around the bit of her sword before looking to Twilight. Her words died in her throat as Twilight watched the scene before her. Silently she mouthed “do not let hate commit murder,” as good a warning as any for her friend. In the end, it was Applejack’s decision to make.

Tossing her sword aside, Applejack made a noise not unlike both a whimper and a growl. Instead of beheading Loghoof, she pointed a hoof right in his face. “Killin’ you won’t bring Duncan back,” she said, her voice filled with spite. “Ah hate yer guts, Loghoof. But Ah ain’t gonna kill ya. Ah’m strippin’ ya of your title of Teryn of Glenwell, and giving it to your daughter. Ah’ll decide a proper punishment for you later.”

She turned to rest of the nobility, looking around as she continued to pant heavily. Like a wave, the nobles of the realm all began to bend their knee towards her. All in attendance bowed to their new queen, from the Bannorn to the Arls. Macintosh smiled at his sister before following suit. Arl Gray Wolf stood up and raised his voice.

“All hail Applejack! Queen and defender of the realm! May the ponyspawn know true fear now that we are united!”

Twilight lowered her head to bow when Applejack rushed towards her and pressed both hooves on her shoulders. Applejack looked scared, her eyes wide as she regarded her friends. “No. Not you. Not any of my friends! Ya’ll never bow to me. We’ve been through too much together. We’ve bled together, cried together. You’re not my subjects. Never. You’re more than my friends, you’re my family. Sisters and brothers.”

“And if Ah may, especially you, Twilight.” Applejack hugged Twilight close, completely ignoring the crowd of ponies around them. “It ain’t Warden blood that brings us together. You are the tie that binds us. Throughout this journey, it was you who kept us going, who led us into danger and into victory. It was you who kept us strong. You should be wearin’ the crown, not me. But Ah want you to promise me… Ah want you all to promise me that we’ll always be family. That we’ll always be equals. That we will see another dawn together.

Twilight swallowed a lump in her throat as Applejack made her speech. They had become a family, if a rather strange and mismatched one. Each and every pony played their part in the journey’s success. They were sisters. They were brothers. They were her family.

The Blight now threatened that family, and the Archdemon would do everything in its power to end all they had worked for. Twilight swore to herself that Uthemiel would fail, and miserably. They will see dawn together.

“I promise you, Applejack,” Twilight replied, squeezing her Warden sister just a little tighter.

The doors to the palace suddenly burst open and revealed a disheveled unicorn youth galloping into the main audience chamber. The lavender unicorn’s robes were tattered and bloodied. Wise Eyes rushed to the young unicorn as he collapsed. Riordan flew to the pair as Wise Eyes began to diagnose the wounds.

“Eagle Eye, what has happened?” the First Enchanter said. Eagle Eye trembled before speaking.

“It’s the ponyspawn, First Enchanter,” Eagle Eye said, “They’re massing only two days march away from Trotterim. So many of them… so many screeching, howling mouths… Sweet Celestia, there were thousands of them! Twisted monstrosities as far as the eye could see! And the dragon… that black dragon…”

Riordan turned to face Twilight and Applejack. “The Blight will lay siege tomorrow night,” he said, eliciting a round of gasps from the assembled masses. “Once they march, they will not stop until they are here. Then the battle will begin in earnest. The Archdemon has also revealed itself. It will lead the battle personally to destroy the only resistance that will endanger it: the Elements of Harmony.”

“Twilight Sparkle. I will need to speak you, Queen Applejack, and Rainbow Dash in private concerning the Warden strategy against the Archdemon. I will be in the salon in the palace. Your Majesty, I believe your people need to hear from you. I must prepare. Stay strong.”

Without another word, Riordan flew out of the palace. Applejack looked up at the expecting nobility, all eager to hear the first true speech from their new queen. Applejack made a very audible gulp as she looked around at the masses. Twilight smiled at her and gave her support as Applejack cleared her throat.

“All right, everypony, listen up, ‘cause Ah ain’t that good at speeches, but there is somethin’ Ah want everypony to know. Tomorrow, the Blight is gonna be at our doors! We are gonna stand united against the ponyspawn, but that means we need to get ready! We’re gonna need palisades from between the city and the battlefield, to slow the ponyspawn down! Explosives to thin out their numbers! All of Trotterim’s citizens need to be evacuated!”

“Your Majesty.” Arl Gray Wolf bowed to Applejack as he shot an accusing look at the humbled Loghoof. “Our armies are weak. We will need to conscript every able bodied colt and stallion who can lift a sword.”

Applejack blanched at Gray Wolf’s words. “They ain’t fighters!” she fired back. “The ponyspawn will kill them!”
Gray Wolf’s expression did not waver. “They either die fighting or they die fleeing. If anypony wants any hope against the ponyspawn, they will have to fight.”

Applejack cursed under her breath. She looked to Twilight and Macintosh for advice, though Twilight did not know what else to say. Gray Wolf was right. If anypony wanted to survive, they would have to battle against the ponyspawn. They could try to run, but if they lost at Trotterim, there would be no hope for anypony in Equestria. Macintosh remained silent, slowly nodding his head in agreement.

“Horseapples…” Applejack let out a heavy sigh, then nodded to Gray Wolf. Twilight’s ears drooped at the thought of ponies young and old forced to wield swords alongside soldiers, but it could not be helped.

Pinkie stood up, raising her voice so all could hear her. “All right, everypony, you heard Queen Jackie! We have a lot of work to do! I’ll need ponies, lots of ponies to help me make landmines and pegasi to drop them on the battlefield! We have a lot to do! Quick like bunnies, hop hop!”

Twilight gave a silent thanks that Pinkie took charge, the crowds of nobles bowed one last time to Applejack before leaving the palace. Loghoof was escorted out of the audience hall by guards, followed by his daughter and Ser Sunsword, leaving the room except Twilight and the party. Rainbow Dash flew over to them and the three Wardens to stand with each other wordlessly for a moment.

Pinkie gave a sharp salute before ushering everypony out of the hall to prepare for the coming battle. She would never have thought it, but Pinkie had proven a capable leader on her own rather unorthodox methods.
“Well,” Twilight said with a sigh, “Let’s go see what Riordan wants with us.”



All three Wardens entered a dimly lit guest room where Riordan stood waiting for them. A mess of weapons, armour pieces, and other implements of battle were strewn about the room. A silver chalice stood in the middle of the room on a wooden pedestal, catching Twilight and Applejack’s attention immediately.

Phials of lyrium lay in front of the chalice, but more importantly was the phial of archdemon blood that stood out amongst the blue liquids. Twilight felt her heart begin to race as she looked on at the blood of the last archdemon that threatened the land, almost hearing the cursed voice of Uthemiel scream in the back of her mind. Applejack bit her bottom lip while Rainbow paled at the sight of the sight.

“Good, we can begin.” Riordan rubbed the bridge of his snout, his weary eyes closed in deep thought before he continued. “There are two things you three must know. Firstly, I have brought enough Archdemon blood for one more Joining. This blood was drawn from the corpse of Palakash, Archdemon of Deception, who perished in the Fourth Blight almost one hundred years ago. I will leave it to you three to decide who among your retinue should become like us. Choose wisely, for the next part is what will haunt your dreams before the final battle. It may even cause your blade to hesitate.”

Twilight looked back at the chalice again as she sat down to listen to Riordan, her eyes going over the lyrium and Archdemon’s blood in equal measure. It was a tall order that Riordan requested of them, to chose one of their friends to doom their lives into constant battle against the ponyspawn.

She did take comfort that they knew the truth about the Joining ritual and everything that it entailed. It would make approaching the prospective Warden a little bit easier, though not by much.

Once Applejack and Rainbow were seated, Riordan began. “In the days of the First Blight, Lianari, the Archdemon of Destruction, annihilated most of the Unicorn Imperium. Though they are a fragment of what they once were, the lands of the Imperieum are still blackened by the Blight. The Archdemon could not be slain by normal means, for every time the body died, the soul would find its way to another ponyspawn, and the creature would be remade. Before the Archdemon could destroy the Imperium, the first Wardens, or Walkers of the Grey, banded together along with Celestia’s chosen champions. You know them as the Elements of Harmony.”

“Together with the Elements, the Walkers wounded the Archdemon, allowing them to collect the monster’s blood. The first true Grey Warden, Dewdrop Dazzle, took the Archdemon blood and created our oath. ‘In peace, vigilance. In war, victory. In death, sacrifice.’ These are not empty words, but the true oath of the Wardens. Know that when the Archdemon lay bleeding from battle, its heart expose with the power of the Elements of Harmony, it was then that Dazzle sacrificed herself to slay the Archdemon. She pierced the wretched heart of destruction, and both the souls of the Archdemon and Dewdrop Dazzle were destroyed.”

Twilight’s mouth hung open as Riordan made the true secret of the Grey Wardens known. It simply wasn’t enough that their lives were cut short by the Taint, now they were to become sacrificial lambs should they somehow defeat the Archdemon. She looked to her friends and saw Applejack’s head was bowed low and Rainbow had already turned away. Small tears dropped from her face.

It felt like somepony had bucked her in the stomach. After their long journey, after all the suffering and pain they endured as well as all their accomplished, one of Twilight’s dear friends would die. Whether it was Applejack, Rainbow Dash, or another of their choosing, somepony would die to kill the Archdemon. For the many to live, one had to sacrifice themselves.

Can I make such a sacrifice? Twilight thought, Can I really give myself up, when I have so much to live for, even if it is for a short time. I’d die for any of them… for Spike… but this is…

“Is there any other way?” Rainbow said, her voice barely a whisper. She drew all attention to her and snapped Twilight from her thoughts. “Do any of us really have to die?”

“It is the only way we know that ends the Archdemon threat forever,” Riordan answered, “I want you all to know, if the battle goes well, I will be the one to make the killing blow once the Elements expose the heart. The responsibility falls on the oldest Warden, but should I fall, one of you will have to take my place. Duncan would have made the fatal blow if he were still alive. I will give you some time to let this information sink in, but know that it cannot be forsworn. A Grey Warden must destroy the Archdemon, no matter the cost.”

Riordan let the information settle before continuing. “The Archdemon of Despair has a powerful aura, one that projects hopelessness to anypony nearby, increasing one’s own dread at an exponential rate. It is my theory that this why Loghoof despaired and betrayed King Blueblood. You must steel yourselves for the coming battle, and be prepared to lead the forces you raised to battle an evil only Luna herself did battle with a thousand year ago. You, Queen Applejack, must try your best to harden the hearts of your soldiers, for the ponyspawn will do what they can to defend their master, leaving us no oppurtunity to strike. Talk to your friends, and get some rest. I’m going to scout the enemy positions, and get a good idea of their numbers.”

With a slight bow and a flare of his wings, Riordan took off out of the window leaving the three Wardens alone. The silence permeated around them before Rainbow stood up and headed for the window herself.

“I need a flight,” she said, never once looking Applejack or Twilight in the eye. “I’ll be back later tonight. Then we can… talk.”

Rainbow flew off and left Applejack and Twilight alone. Applejack lowered her hat over her eyes before walking away as well. “We need to… need to get ready, Twilight.” Applejack choked on her own words, then took in a sharp breath of air. “Try to rest up. Tomorrow, we take the Blight head-on.”

Twilight stood alone with her brooding thoughts as she looked out the window to the sunset. Her mind filled with thoughts of sacrifice and death, she sighed heavily and prepared herself to face her friends one last time before the preparations would begin in earnest. The battle would be joined on the following night. Her nightmares of the Archdemon would become real.
She had to be ready.

***

Spike had heard enough. As quietly as he could, Spike slid away from the door he was able to keep open just a crack. With silence did he move through the halls of the palace until he was confident enough that nopony would find him after his bout of eavesdropping. He was sick to his stomach from everything he had heard, and what he had doomed Twilight to become.

She was likely to die against the Archdemon, simply by killing it. It wasn’t fair! How could anypony push such a burden onto a pony, to ask them to give up everything in their lives to save everypony else? Did the Wardens not think about the friends and loved ones they would leave behind?

Did the Grey Wardens even care?

He remained quiet and hidden from sight as he watched Applejack sulk out. Applejack would make the sacrifice if she could, based on what he heard happened in the Temple of Luna. Rainbow would as well out of loyalty to her friends, the same reason Twilight would as sacrifice herself.

Twilight…

Spike watched the unicorn in question leave the room, her ears folded back as she trudged along the halls. This was his opportunity. This was his chance to make things right for pushing Twilight to join the suicidal Grey Wardens.

He peeked into the room, making sure Riordan was not about. Seeing that he was now truly alone, Spike approached Riordan’s silver chalice.

His claws reached out to grasp the blood of the Archdemon.

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