• Published 10th Jul 2014
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Sleipnir's Big Adventure - BlackRoseRaven



A hero makes an unlikely alliance with a stubborn prince, and they adventure across Equestria together.

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The One And The Many

Chapter Thirty Three: The One And The Many
~BlackRoseRaven

Sleipnir and Blueblood were the best of friends, as inseparable in Canterlot as they had been on their travels across Equestria. But as the weeks passed, Blueblood found himself not only growing anxious and more depressed about Sleipnir leaving, but also... restless.

Sure, he and Sleipnir still went out into the mountains, found secret and hidden places, explored caves and caused mischief. They ran across the rooftops in the city, and dared dizzying mountain heights as well as the darkest, deepest depths of gorges and lost trenches hidden beneath the stony peaks. And Sleipnir stole the hearts of mares and left stallions humbled and brought joy to foals, while Blueblood gave to the poor, brought laughter and joy to ponies, put the needs of others far above and beyond his own desires.

But in weeks, they had adventured through almost every inch of the territory surrounding Canterlot... and even through the dangerous caverns beneath, too. And they had helped many ponies, but... Canterlot was already a well-off place, where even the poor ponies at least had food and shelter: it wasn't like anypony was going to let the jewel of Equestria look any less than its shiniest, after all.

He wanted to be back on the road, adventuring: it was wonderful to talk every night with Auntie Celestia, but... he no longer needed goodnighties or to be tucked in. Every now and then his aunt insisted on it, though, like old times; a kiss to the forehead, the tender touch of her warmth and magic. A blessing of love that was a little embarrassing but... appreciated, even if Blueblood put up with it mostly for the sake of his aching Auntie, who wasn't ready just yet to let go.

He knew that Sleipnir was getting fidgety, too: somehow, he doubted that the stallion had ever been able to stay in one place along, particularly with so little to do. But he sensed there was something more than that tingling the earth pony's senses, too: maybe a sense that this portal wasn't going to work properly, or a feeling like something else was about to go terribly wrong.

Either way, Blueblood had started to feel a chill in the air himself, like there was some lingering malignancy. And he hadn't seen Velvet Hoof for the last few days, either... as a matter of fact, the last time he'd seen him, Blueblood had gone to the section commander and asked that Velvet Hoof be reassigned to guard duty at the throne room, if he still refused to accept medical leave; at least if he was at the throne room, he wouldn't be pacing the castle all day on patrol, and he could keep a closer eye on him and how he was doing.

There wasn't much else he could do, though... at least, not today. Today they were test-firing the portal, to ensure that it was going to work properly. It was something that Blueblood just couldn't manage to make himself happy about, since it meant that soon... Sleipnir would be leaving.

Auros, Jerry Rig, and Twilight Sparkle had all been essential in the portal's construction: the Lich had been able to quickly put together the base and framework for the portal ring with the help of his fellow undead, and Jerry Rig had seen to all the detailing, and had the various constructs he had been able to build fix the extra supports and shielding in place. And lastly, Twilight Sparkle had helped with the implementation of the mythril runes as well as the magical crystals that would help retain the energy the portal needed to power itself.

The portal itself had been built inside a large rectangular building near the hedge maze: Blueblood always thought it looked like a big ugly warehouse, except armored. The outer walls were incredibly thick, made from several feet of stone, wood, and insulating fibers: the inner walls were all titanium and steel, the strongest metals they had available.

It was heavily guarded and fortified, with a small army of Royal Guard on duty at all times to keep it secure. Coupled with the heavy security doors that could only be opened by unicorns who knew the right magic to channel into the horn-locks, it meant the facility was essentially unbreachable, even with ponies coming and going and working day and night.

Sleipnir had made an odd request, though: he had asked Blueblood to come in full armor. Stranger still, Blueblod had felt that he should go in full armor anyway... and the ivory unicorn grimaced a bit as he adjusted his sword and shield on his back, making sure they were both secured tightly, but in easy access. Just in case.

Blueblood shifted a little on his hooves, then he shook his head quickly before he picked up the amethyst his father had given him. Sleipnir had coated it in something to further harden the polished surface of the stone, and attached a simple, short chain of iron: Blueblood had actually gone through the trouble of modifying his armor so it had a hidden, lockable pocket under one of the plates that he kept the stone in. So far, he hadn't had any problems with it, and he'd made sure there was a hoop for the chain to attach to just in case the gemstone somehow slipped out and free.

Blueblood gently dangled the amethyst by the chain so it could pendulum a little in front of his eyes, and then he gave a brief smile before shaking his head and murmuring: “It's funny, Dad, what you end up being proud of... but I guess a pocket is a start, isn't it? And I know that all I have to do is... keep working at it. That's the best way to live... by never giving up.”

The unicorn smiled a bit, then slipped the gemstone down into the hidden pocket under his armor at his waist, making sure it was securely locked and snuggled into place before he turned around. And for a moment, he sat back in the little chair at his dresser, just gazing silently over his room: enormous, but... bare. A set of weights and training equipment had replaced the giant chest of toys and knickknacks, and his books all placed into neat rows. His little end table only had a book and his mother's portrait on it, and the top of his dresser had a little box Sleipnir had helped him carve, in which rested Tender Heart's ribbon and his parents' wedding rings. Even the mantel above the fireplace was bare now, except for a few pictures of family and the urn that had once held his father's ashes, which he scattered in the Lunar Shrine's flower garden with the blessing of his aunts.

This room felt so immense now. It felt... too big. It felt like an empty house.

The stallion shook his head briefly, and then he climbed to his hooves and headed for the door. He pushed it open... and was unsurprised to see Sleipnir lounging against the wall opposite, looking up at him with a smile as he said kindly: “'Tis good to see thee, up and ready. Thou hast felt it too, aye?”

“Aye.” Blueblood echoed, and then he shook his head before asking quietly: “What is it? And why didn't you ever say what was bothering you?”

“Because I did not need to.” Sleipnir climbed to his hooves and smiled softly, striding forwards and reaching up to squeeze the unicorn's shoulders firmly. “Because we are brothers, and thou noticed it soon and shortly after I did, that is why.”

Blueblood simply shook his head slowly, and then he laughed a little despite himself before he murmured: “I'm going to miss you.”

“I do not believe I shall be leaving just yet, Blue, fear not.” Sleipnir said softly, and then the two turned and fell in natural step with each other, the enormous earth pony biting his lip for a moment before he confessed: “If I must be fully honest, I do not believe this portal shall work at all, but... I must try. I am not anxious to leave thou, Blue, but I am anxious to be home. And whilst it saddens me that we must part ways... I look at thee, and I am proud of what I have done here. I am proud to have made a friend and brother in thee. I feel... a better stallion for it, and I like that feeling.”

Blueblood smiled warmly over at Sleipnir, but he still felt a bite of sadness that he couldn't quite keep out of his voice as he said quietly: “It's going to be hard without you around. But I know you have to go... I just wish...”

“Aye. I know.” Sleipnir said softly, and then he chuckled quietly and shook his head slowly before looking ahead, murmuring: “After we deal with whatever troubles await us today, my friend... oh, what would thou say to another adventure? If the portal does not work, I will need to find another way home.” Sleipnir glanced over at Blueblood and smiled. “And I will need my partner by my side.”

“You don't even have to ask.” Blueblood replied with a warm smile of his own, and then he chuckled and shook his head, adding wryly: “Besides, what could a tremendous idiot like you do without your trusty sidekick? A peasant like you would end up buying a prostitute instead of a guide and giving away all his bits to some shyster masquerading as a charity. You're gullible.”

“Nay, I am trusting, and 'twould certainly not harm thou to have a little more trust, oh noble prince!” retorted Sleipnir, the enormous stallion grinning widely and nudging the ivory unicorn playfully. “Besides, as my little sister loved to brag, the money I lost gambling with prostitutes was often repaid to me after I purchased their services...”

Sleipnir smiled slightly as Blueblood looked at him with amusement, and then the earth pony said softly: “But little sister has always loved to exaggerate, and 'tis a great, fun story to brag of, but... I was not repaid because of my skills in bed, worthy as they are. I was repaid because for that night, we told stories, and we made sport, and I promised them I would deal with the reckless slavedriver who had put these poor fillies under his whip. And at the end of the night, they would not accept a bit of the money they had taken from me.”

“And which you lost on purpose.” Blueblood added without looking at the earth pony, and Sleipnir looked surprised by this before the unicorn said mildly: “I'm not an idiot, Sleipnir.”

The earth pony only smiled amusedly after a moment, then shook his head and said easily: “'Tis not that I think thou art foolish. 'Tis merely that I forget sometimes precisely how perceptive thou art thyself. And how well thou seems to know me, for true.”

Blueblood only shrugged and smiled despite himself over at the enormous stallion, and then he turned his eyes back ahead and asked in a quieter voice, as they found themselves striding out of the castle and towards the secure facility: “So what are we dealing with?”

“Evil.” Sleipnir said simply, and the unicorn frowned before the earth pony continued in a murmur: “And aye, if thou knows me well enough to know when I have cheated myself at cards, then thou knows me well enough to know I do not like using that word. 'Tis an easy label to throw upon anything thou does not like.

“But nay. This is evil, and malice. Whatever this is, it hides in plain sight, under the guise of its own boldness. And yet it is familiar...” Sleipnir frowned a little, then he shook his head slowly and murmured: “But it is... strange. It feels not like one foe we have battled, but reminds me of our entire journey, and I do not know why...”

“The Harbinger is dead, though.” Blueblood said uncertainly, and Sleipnir nodded a few times before the prince asked quietly: “Should we tell my aunts? Maybe Auntie Celestia can do something to help flush it out... and why hasn't she sensed it?”

“But does thou sense dark magic with thy horn, or feel the malice with thy hooves and heart?” Sleipnir asked pointedly, and Blueblood hesitated before he nodded slowly. “Precisely. Even mine own big sister was sometimes blind to the dangers that I sensed. Nay, this is best, Blue: let the foe think he has caught all unawares. We shall spring to the first line of defense.”

Sleipnir paused, then winked and added in a whisper as they approached the doors: “Unless thou would rather share the glory and the thrill of battle with all these hundreds of soldiers...”

Blueblood managed to glare at Sleipnir for only a moment before he looked awkwardly around, then mumbled back: “Fine. But we'll take whatever it is together when it shows up. Don't hog it all to yourself, you greedy pig.”

“Pig? Pig! Pig, yet!” Sleipnir shouted, raising his head and glaring back at Blueblood before he came to a halt and firmly flicked his viny tail. “There, does this look curly and ungainly as a pig's?”

Blueblood only rolled his eyes as the guards awkwardly opened the doors for them, and then the unicorn dropped his face in a hoof when Sleipnir began to strut, moving as gracefully as any model as he switched his hips back and forth like a mare. “Look upon me, I am no pig! I am the envy of mares and stallions with my supple buttocks and gorgeous locks!”

Blue shook his head with a tired sigh, and then he strode inside, quickly walking up beside Sleipnir if only so he didn't have to watch his ridiculous strutting. “You know, I think there's a reason that some ponies believe you're brain-damaged, Sleipnir.”

Sleipnir simply huffed again, and Blueblood turned his eyes down the sterile corridor as they circled towards another set of doors. These were even larger, and the Royal Guards that protected them were both dressed in much heavier equipment: they were dervishes, the elite of the elite, hoof-picked by Celestia herself for this security detail.

And yet Blueblood didn't feel reassured even as the dervishes both turned and plunged their horns into the twin locks on either side of the massive double doors: in perfect time, they twisted their horns slightly and channeled an exact amount of energy along a precise frequency into the armored doors.

The doors rumbled loudly, then both dervishes withdrew as the huge, armored shutters slid apart. Blueblood and Sleipnir both strode through, the earth pony becoming more serious even as he smiled calmly, his pace evening out and ears swiveling back and forth.

Blueblood's own eyes looked warily around: this massive room was almost completely empty, and there were precious few places to hide, and yet he couldn't see anything even though he could sense that something had somehow slipped its way inside. All he saw were ponies, and undead, and constructs, and the portal ring in the center of the room...

Blue's eyes lingered on this for a moment: it had four enormous support pillars around it that went up to the ceiling high, high above, each pillar made of stone and metal and magic-charged gemstone. The ring itself sat on a solid dais, and had rune-covered chains: in the event of something catastrophic happening, these magically-enhanced chains would yank the framework apart, which would cause the portal to collapse in on itself.

Auros smiled and waved to them: the Lich was pale, but he otherwise had adjusted quite well to life in Canterlot. And it was clear that everyone in the room respected him, at the least: in fact, most of the undead seemed happy to be working for the Lich King again. Then again, they were no longer really king and peons, lord and servants... they were a team.

Jerry Rig was here, too, proudly wearing robes that marked him as a scholar of the Magic Academy in spite of the fact he was an earth pony. He was excitedly directing around constructs of every shape and size as well as multicolored living slimes, attending to all the last little details and making sure the portal was ready for the test run.

Blueblood was surprised to see both of his Aunts were here... as well as Princess Twilight Sparkle. The purple winged unicorn waved at him with a bright smile that made her amethyst eyes even warmer, and Blueblood smiled lamely and nodded in response before Sleipnir remarked cheerfully: “I shall have thee know that she and I were quite friendly just the other day. Although not as friendly as the other other day! She is a good friend indeed, Blue, and a rather ferocious one at that, in spite of all her small stature...”

“I'm surprised you didn't know that from back home.” Blueblood said dryly, and Sleipnir huffed at him before the unicorn looked back and forth as they approached the princesses, lowering his head and his voice so only Sleipnir could hear: “Whatever it is, I can't lock on to its presence. Can you?”

“It will come to us, Blue, fear not.” Sleipnir replied casually, and then he gazed warmly at the three princesses, all dressed finely in their tiaras and peytrals and pretty shoes, all of them looking eager, all of the smiling and completely unaware there was anything wrong... “'Tis so good to see all of thee here! So, I take it we are nearly ready, then?”

“Nearly. As you can see, Jerry Rig is having his golems set up the last of the security netting.” Celestia replied calmly, gesturing over her shoulder: and yes, Blueblood could see it, roughly twenty feet away. The golems and the slimes were hooking thick fiber nets up... presumably so that ponies would have something to stop them from getting sucked into the portal in the event it became a black hole or something.

Sleipnir smiled pleasantly, and then he looked around at the dozens of workers and the hoof-full of soldiers present even inside here, remarking easily: “'Tis good to see all of thee working together so well, though! I must admit, I had my fears that this portal would never see completion.”

“Once we worked out a few minor kinks, everything went smoothly.” Celestia replied with a smile, nodding once before she turned her eyes towards Blueblood, asking softly: “Did you want to help us with the portal as well? Although I must say, between you and Sleipnir...”

The ivory mare paused, and then she hesitated before asking uncertainly: “Is there something that we should be worried about coming through that portal? You seem tense, Blueblood.”

“Aye, he is still very bad at relaxing. That is one thing even I could not teach him.” Sleipnir agreed, slapping Blueblood on the back and making him wince. “He reminds me greatly of my brother, Scrivener Blooms. He was also always quite tense. But he was also a poet, and poets are always a strange sort.”

Blueblood shook his head slowly, and then he realized that Celestia was still looking at him and waiting for an answer even as Luna and Twilight both looked with amusement at the enormous earth pony. So after a moment, the unicorn made himself smile, replying quietly: “Well, Sleipnir's always wearing his armor and all. And it's better to be prepared, just in case... I think you taught me that first, Auntie Celestia. Or at least, you tried to.”

Celestia seemed placated like this, and Blue looked at her with soft eyes: it hurt to just keep the truth from her, to lie through omission like this. But he forced himself not to blurt anything out, to not twitch, give away any tells as he cleared his throat before finally saying: “No, I... well, it's been embarrassing how little I've been able to improve my magic. I'm afraid I would just get in the way of charging the portal.”

“Oh, thou art so silly and self conscious.” declared Sleipnir, shaking his head and looking with entertainment at Blueblood before he firmly grasped his shoulder... and Blueblood felt himself given the slightest nudge, the slightest squeeze. So they had a direction, at least... “But fie on thee, fine then. Know that I shall make thee lift boulders with thy silly horn alone when next we train, though... and hope I mean the one upon thy head, not the one between thy legs!”

Luna snorted in amusement at this, as Celestia sighed and Twilight Sparkle blushed but giggled a little. And Blueblood only gave Sleipnir a dour look for a few moments before he shook his head and grumbled, letting his eyes drift off in the direction that the earth pony had silently indicated.

He studied the crowd there, but saw nothing out of the ordinary: a few Royal Guard who were keeping an eye on the area, two large, stone-and-steel golems that were slowly but tirelessly setting up a barrier, and of course the various workers. Yet the pulse in his mind increased when he looked towards them...

He looked up towards the ceiling, but there was nothing above, either... unless their enemy could turn invisible, that was. But he couldn't even tell what the hell they were dealing with; was it another demon? An evil spirit? Some kind of trickster or greedy mage or...

“If you're both ready, I'll call everypony to order.” Blueblood was brought back to earth by his Aunt's voice, looking lamely towards her as he studied him intently, then asked slowly: “Are you sure there's nothing wrong, Blueblood? You seem distracted.”

“I...” Blueblood hesitated as Luna and Twilight both looked at him curiously as well, and then he smiled briefly before sighing and looking towards Sleipnir, saying quietly: “I suppose it's not entirely a happy occasion for me, Auntie, as... as hard as I'm trying to make it one. Sleipnir, I'm sorry. I... I just don't want you to leave. As hard as I try, I still... don't want you to leave.”

Sleipnir chuckled quietly, then he reached up and gently rested a hoof on Blueblood's shoulder, murmuring: “Aye, I know. We have spoken of this, but... I suppose I cannot blame thee for still feeling sad all the same. I too, am sad. I swallow it as best I can, and yet... I too, am sad.”

He paused, then easily shook the unicorn once before winking down at him. “But still, we have other things to focus on now. Mind us not, beautiful mares, we stallions are merely acting as we proud warriors must, trying too hard to swallow our silly emotions.”

Celestia smiled briefly at them, and then she hesitated for a moment before saying softly: “Well, perhaps if this portal does work properly... you might still be able to visit, Blueblood. Would that be allowed, Sleipnir?”

“Nay, it would be encouraged!” Sleipnir nodded firmly, smiling warmly and slapping Blueblood on the back with enough force that he was nearly knocked over, the ivory unicorn wheezing as his legs trembled beneath him. “Aye, 'tis a grand idea!”

“Great.” Blueblood smiled a little all the same even as he glared at Sleipnir, and admittedly... the idea tickled him. Adventuring into another world, Sleipnir's world, which sounded so fantastic and incredible... that would be the experience of a lifetime.

Celestia studied the two stallions for a moment longer, then she simply shrugged before striding past them, clearing her throat and raising her head high as her horn glowed brightly, then sent a thrum through the room that got the attention of all present. Everyone looked towards her as she rose her head high, then said clearly: “We will be testing the portal shortly, so every pony should retreat to safety now! Please stay behind the netting unless you are taking part in activating the portal!”

Ponies began to shuffle quickly off in all directions, and Celestia looked back and forth before nodding once to herself. Then she turned and softened at the sight of Blueblood and Sleipnir, as they talked with Twilight and Luna, yet seemed like they only had eyes for each other right now: even with all the years she'd lived, she'd rarely had a friendship, a partnership as deep and meaningful as they shared... and she couldn't imagine being forced to choose between willingly giving that up, or being trapped in a world that wasn't your own without the rest of your family.

She bit her cheek, wondering if she should tell Blueblood to go... and then she was surprised when Auros and Jerry Rig both strode past her, heading quickly for Blueblood and drawing his attention. They talked to him, congratulated him and Sleipnir, and Celestia smiled faintly as she saw Blueblood lighten and Sleipnir look almost... relieved, staying close to Blue, reveling in his company, but looking so happy for him...

It never failed to amaze her how... how truly generous Sleipnir was. How kind, how tender, how simply good he was. She watched them for a few moments, and saw how so much of Sleipnir had rubbed off on Blueblood, and yet he was still his own stallion, had his own opinions and quirks and...

Celestia paused, then frowned as she glanced curiously to the side and saw a Royal Guard standing nearby. He seemed unwell as he swayed on his hooves, his head lowered and the large helm he was wearing hiding his face from view... “Is something wrong? Did something happen?”

The guard gurgled... then slowly rose his head, and Celestia frowned and reared back in surprise at the sight of his glowing golden eyes, the stallion whispering: “Blueblood.”

Celestia blinked, then looked over at her nephew for a moment, distracted and confused... and in that moment, the stallion suddenly grinned viciously before he snapped his horn forwards with a raw, broken laugh, tendrils of black energy lashing out of his horn and twining themselves savagely around Celestia's body.

The Princess of the Sun cried out in pain and horror as she was constricted by burning bands of dark magic, her form filling with agony as her skin immediately began to smoke and peel wherever the hellish magic touched. She convulsed in the coils as ponies cried out and stared with horror, only Sleipnir managing to react, to try and leap forwards as Blueblood gaped in disbelief-

Celestia was slung bodily into Sleipnir, the earth pony catching her with a grunt and skidding backwards from the force of the throw before he came to a halt, cradling her in one foreleg as Celestia trembled and spasmed. She gasped for breath, her eyes rolling weakly in her head as the earth pony glared at the Royal Guard... or rather, at the thing puppeting this soldier's body. This golden-eyed monster... “Did we not already destroy thee?”

The pony staggered around to face them, a grin distorting his pallid features as Blueblood ran forwards, drawing his silver sword as he stepped protectively up to Sleipnir's side. It took a monumental effort not to look at his Auntie, as much as he wanted to... but he wasn't about to give this freak an opening to exploit. Even if... “Velvet Hoof, fight it!”

“Oh, he's long gone...” The golden-eyed demon laughed, reaching up and calmly stroking along its own twisted, distorted features as the tentacles of black energy vanished into motes. “This body is merely a vessel now... a weak one, at that. But even a weak vessel amplifies and protects me enough to ensure that none of you are any match for me.”

“A demon?” Blueblood's eyes widened in surprise as Auros stepped up beside him, and the Lich smiled sourly at the look the ivory unicorn gave him, saying calmly: “Maybe we're not all fountains of courage like you, Blueblood, but if I don't do something, then they'll certainly blame this on me. Everyone always blames the dead ponies, after all.”

Blueblood gave a wry smile in spite of himself as Sleipnir calmly turned to the side when the princesses hurried forwards fearfully; without hesitation, he passed Celestia's wounded body back to them, smiling reassuringly to Luna and Twilight before the enormous earth pony queried evenly: “Harbinger... nay, thou art not quite the Harbinger any longer, art thou?”

“Perceptive.” the monstrosity whispered, and then it laughed loudly as constructs and slimes and Royal Guards and undead all slowly encircled it. It looked back and forth, then almost gleefully turned its eyes towards Blueblood and Sleipnir, with their extra company of Auros and Jerry Rig, and the princesses half-hiding behind them. “Oh, yes. So many ponies here... so many lives. So much magic and malice, and finally, I... we... are powerful enough to abandon these games and distractions and make our move.”

The creature grinned coldly, and then Sleipnir said gently: “Know that this is folly. We are many and thou art but one. Even if thou hast brought others with thee-”

But the creature threw its head back and laughed loudly at this, and Blueblood frowned uneasily as Sleipnir narrowed his own eyes, before the possessed unicorn looked forwards and retorted: “That is where you're wrong. You are few... but in this one vessel, we are many.”

The possessed pony's head twisted unnaturally as the ponies set themselves at the wave of malice and hatred it exuded... and then Blueblood's eyes widened in horror as black masses twisted up out of the creature's body, ripping through and shredding apart its own armor to reveal raw, burn flesh and stretched and flexing muscle. And the appendages that had burst up from its body twisted wildly back and forth, boiling with dark energy, of every shape and size before they all suddenly receded, leaving the pony that had formerly been Velvet Hoof standing with his head high and his eyes blazing with hellish golden light, almost all of his coat and mane burned away apart from a few straggling strands and clinging hide, cable-like veins of black and blue pulsating visibly over his rotten flesh.

And he exuded.. such tremendous power. He felt like a thousand different things to Blueblood's mind, as Sleipnir gritted his teeth and leaned forwards... but it was Auros who stepped forwards, his eyes widening as he whispered: “No... no, you can't have... that's not possible!”

“Of course you recognize us, Lich King! You would, with all your 'great knowledge' of the cycle...” The monster laughed loudly, then his eyes blazed before he cracked his neck and said mockingly: “Do not blame us for our creation... oh no, we were not born because of the Harbinger or any other self-proclaimed 'great evil;' we have been born because of the follies of oh-so-righteous Sleipnir and Blueblood! All the evils that they fought and defeated... all the darkness that they washed back with their precious light... all of it, poured down into the sea of souls! They made us!

“We are the accumulated evil that they have destroyed! We are a thousand-thousand souls, washed and salted with the hateful, the violent, the evil gunk that clogged up the cycle of rebirth! We are Legion, and we are Many!” roared the beast in triumph, and then it laughed before rearing back, eyes blazing as Sleipnir's widened and he reacted too little, too late. “We are One!”

A pulse of dark energy tore through the air, and Sleipnir grimaced as it washed over him with enough force to make him bow beneath its weight. Blueblood and the others were almost knocked off their hooves, while constructs fizzled and undead ponies were driven backwards with cries of terror.

Blueblood shook himself roughly out, then he began to lunge forwards, sudden fury bursting through his mind... but Sleipnir caught him by the shoulder and halted him in place, the unicorn glaring angrily at the earth pony.

The stallion only looked back at him calmly, however, and after a moment, Blueblood felt his rage vanish, his senses going dull and stupid for a moment before Sleipnir said quietly: “Shield thy mind, not just thy body. This foe will target-”

“G-Guys! Oh hell, guys, look out! I can't control the constructs anymore!” Jerry Rig shouted, and Sleipnir looked up in surprise before his eyes widened at the sight of the blackness steadily spreading through both the quaking slimes as well as the golems.

And then the earth pony shouted a useless denial as one of the Royal Guards suddenly lunged forwards, roaring... only for Legion to suddenly turn and send a blast of black flame tearing across the Royal Guard, incinerating metal and flesh alike and knocking him sprawling backwards in a dead heap. Except Sleipnir's horror grew as he saw the dark fire seemed to be greedily pushing itself into the body, which was jittering and twisting...

And then the dead soldier slowly dragged himself up to his hooves, gurgling in his throat as the one socket of his melted and mangled skull burned with dire, emotionless red light. He shifted back and forth, shivering violently before suddenly going very still as he rose his head.

All eyes stared with horror as Legion grinned callously, slowly turning his golden eyes back towards Sleipnir before both he and the puppeted corpse said, in the same horrible, echoing voice: “We are Legion. And our numbers continue to grow.”

Sleipnir gritted his teeth, then suddenly burst into a sprint, catching the monster off-guard as it reared back slightly... but then simply snarled and flung the puppeted corpse straight at Sleipnir, the dead soldier stretching his forelegs out to-

Sleipnir's hoof smashed into the corpse with enough strength to send it shooting like a cannonball back into Legion, hammering him backwards as he hissed in pain before the earth pony dove forwards. And a moment later, the entire hall erupted into chaos as the infected constructs and slimes charged straight for the earth pony, and a few valiant soldiers tried to leap into their way while others fled for cover and Auros shouted as he ran into the fray to try and shut down the constructs.

Voices shouted all over one-another's as Blueblood looked over his shoulder and shouted sharply to the princesses: “Pull down the ring! We can't let Legion access it!”

Blueblood didn't entirely know what the hell Legion wanted with the portal ring, but everything told him that they had to make sure he didn't access it. And both Luna and Twilight were staring up at him with disbelief before he began to leap away-

Celestia caught him by a foreleg, and Blueblood was surprised by the strength of her hoof as he looked down at her. She had one eye open, breathing slowly in and out as she looked into his eyes before she gritted her teeth, her horn glowing gold...

And Blueblood's eyes widened as his silver sword burst into golden flames, Celestia coughing weakly before she whispered: “Stop him... please.”

“I will, Auntie. Be strong.” Blueblood whispered, reaching down and taking her hoof for a moment to squeeze it tightly, and then he gritted his teeth and looked up as he heard the sound of metal being smashed apart by raw force.

Sleipnir had just punched away one of the constructs, but he was being attacked from all sides now as Legion stayed back, snarling and watching for an opening as his body smoldered with hellish energy.

The earth pony ducked under another construct, then slammed a hoof into a slime as it dove at him, turning it to nothing but sludge before he cursed in pain as another armored construct managed to hammer him from behind, knocking him staggering. And then he looked up in shock before a missile of black energy smashed into his breast and knocked him rocketing back through the crowd of enemies around him, rolling painfully backwards before he caught himself on his hooves and skidded to a halt in a scream of metal and sparks.

He trembled for a moment in pain, then rose his head and gritted his teeth, shrugging off the mental howls rippling through his mind. Legion only laughed, however, shouting: “Yes, yes! Your strength amuses us, Sleipnir! But we will consume you... we will consume all!

“Ignore the self-proclaimed hero! Kill everyone else! Make him understand his inadequacy!” Legion ordered gleefully, and Sleipnir's eyes widened in horror before he snarled as the constructs and slimes and the ponies that Legion's dark magic had already spread into all turned and rushed towards soldiers, towards undead, towards civilians. “We are many! And soon we shall be All!”

Sleipnir gritted his teeth, then began to step towards Legion... before he looked sharply to the side at the sound of a scream, watching as a construct seized a pony who had been too slow to run before breaking its neck. It held the corpse for a moment longer before flinging the dead body to the side... but even as it hit the ground, dark and putrid essence was already spreading visibly beneath the hide of the pony, who gurgled before slowly clawing his way up to his hooves and immediately stumbling in the direction of the other ponies.

Sleipnir roared like a wounded animal as he turned away from Legion, leaping towards the nearest enemies with desperation in his eyes: but even as he smashed through one construct, a slime leapt up onto the face of another pony, suffocating it, poisoning it, killing it. And not a single enemy turned to face him even as the earth pony darted from foe to foe, smashing into them with brute strength, disabling, crushing, killing, ruining...

Blueblood ran into the fray, slicing his fiery sword through a slime that leapt at him before he ducked under a construct that tried to grab him. He gritted his teeth as Legion laughed loudly, the monster excited, eager, sickeningly joyous from where it was watching the chaos-

Blueblood felt the pulse in his mind, heard the desperate cry of nature and something even more, even greater. He heard the voice, yelling at him that this was his only chance, that if he wanted to save anypony here, he had to get rid of the puppetmaster, he had to take this one slim opportunity...

The unicorn ran forwards, his sword drawing back at his side as he darted back and forth through the battling ranks of pony and undead and monstrosity, and then he burst out of the other side of the crowd in a full sprint towards Legion. And Legion looked up with surprise in his golden eyes before he snarled and reared back, dark appendages tearing out of his back and stabbing forwards-

Blueblood shot between the tentacles and claws of smoky hell, his eyes blazing even as the shadows seared his armor and roasted flesh beneath before his sword drove forwards. Legion screamed in horror as the stallion's blade buried through his breast, the shadows bursting backwards into unfocused, dark flames that danced and flickered with the monster's pain. “How... dare you!”

The ivory unicorn only gritted his teeth as he reached up and seized into the handle of his sword, grinding the blade into Legion's chest to the hilt... but even as Legion spasmed, a twisted grin crossed over his face, and the black hellfire began to try and twist itself into a new shape as he rasped: “Y-You can't kill me that easily... you cannot kill us in this vessel!”

And yet Blueblood felt instinct and something more guiding him as his horn began to glow, his eyes blazing before he shouted: “Maybe I don't have to!”

Legion stared with disbelief as magic crackled through the air around them... and then, in a burst of light, both he and Blueblood simply vanished. And the moment the two were gone, Legion's army of puppets faltered, as if they had lost the connection with whatever was guiding them. They hesitated and slowed... and it was not an opportunity that Sleipnir took for granted, as he roared: “All of thee, flee to safety! Create barriers, protect thyselves whilst I remove this chaff!”

The earth pony gritted his teeth as he threw himself into the fray with the sluggish, weakened puppets, thanking Blue from the bottom of his heart and hoping that wherever he was, he was safe, and he would be able to hold out until he could find him...

And Blueblood only hoped the same, as he and Legion reappeared in a flash of light before they both began to fall. Blue's eyes widened in shock as he looked over his shoulder, and Legion immediately took the chance to slam a hoof into the stallion's face, screaming: “What have you done?”

Blue half-flipped... then smashed painfully down onto a sloped roof, Legion crashing into the shingles a moment later in a spray of dust and debris. The two bounced and rolled painfully down the sharp slope before Blueblood managed to catch himself with a gasp of pain, halting his slide as Legion squealed and slipped off the edge, but then just managed to snatch the lip of the roof, looking down in horror as he realized- “N-No! No!”

Blueblood breathed hard, his head ringing more from the magical exertion than the punch he'd taken, even though it had left a steaming, acrid bruise. He gritted his teeth, then forced himself to stand even as Legion began to lever himself up: the unicorn's wild teleport had apparently taken them above the castle rooftop... but at least it was out of the facility.

The ivory unicorn stumbled towards Legion... then cried out in agony as a whip of dark energy shot out of the creature's horn and slashed across his face, ripping over his scarred cheek and knocking him backwards. He clutched at this, trembling as Legion glared furiously up at him, then clawed at the shingled rooftop, shivering only a little from the sword buried through his breast even as golden veins started to slowly spread through his body. “I don't... need my vessel in perfect condition... and since you've ruined this, you ruined this, I... I am going to-”

Blueblood wasn't interested in whatever the hell Legion thought he was going to do: instead, the unicorn leapt forwards and reached down to seize tightly onto the handle of his sword, Legion gargling and his body spasming before Blue shoved downwards, then yanked viciously up and backwards, tearing the weapon loose.

Legion was nearly knocked loose from the rooftop, howling in misery as his chest was flayed open by the flaming sword. Blueblood brought his weapon up, meaning to finish the fight-

Black tentacles snapped viciously upwards, wrapping around Blue and seizing into his sword, the unicorn howling in agony as Legion hissed up at him... and then his eyes widened as Blueblood overbalanced, the stallion bouncing off the edge of the roof and falling past Legion, tearing the monster free from the wall as he squealed in horror.

They fell, dark appendages losing their consistency and tearing free from Blueblood's scalded body as the unicorn gasped for breath, then wildly grabbed at his sword before his eyes widened as Legion tried to claw at him. But the unicorn swung his sword up, pinning Legion's forelegs against his breast before Blue twisted the weapon with both his hooves and telekinesis, rolling in the air and forcing the monster beneath him.

Legion's eyes widened before he started to look over his shoulder... and then they crashed down with a tremendous bang on the bridge, the monster screaming in misery and mixing with Blueblood's cries of pain as he was launched backwards by both the force of impact and a great, raw burst of black energies. He hit the ground and bounced once before landing in a painful bellyflop, leaving him gasping weakly for air as his sword clattered to the ground beside him.

Pain wracked his whole body, and he knew at least one of his ribs had broken, and he felt... drained. And yet all the same, Blueblood only let himself rest for a moment before he took a slow breath and slowly but steadily forced himself up to his hooves, gritting his teeth as Legion snarled, then pried himself up off the cracked stone.

They glared at each other, Legion shivering before he reached up and touched his wounded chest, and then he hissed: “You think you're so strong, so smart... but you are nothing... nothing... compared to us! You can destroy this vessel, but you can never destroy me and us, because I am more than you, I am greater than you, we are everything you are not!

“And I've never been more glad to hear someone say that.” Blueblood replied coldly, and he reached back and pulled down his shield, slipping the targe onto his forelimb before he dropped himself to a ready position. The pain was pulsing, but it was driving away his exhaustion and his dazedness, making him focus, making him angry, making him recognize that the only way the pain was going to end for him and everyone else was by putting a stop to this... this twisted thing in front of him.

They looked at each other as Legion grinned widely, and then the monster gestured off the bridge, through the maze of towers and turrets and staircases to Canterlot below. “Don't you want to rule all this, Blueblood? Be my vessel. Share your body with me. And we can rule this and more. I can make you powerful... we will use that portal to open a gateway to an endless feast in the sea of souls, and we shall pour that power into our body and shape us anew...”

Blue laughed shortly at this, raising his sword as he retorted: “Even at my worst, I would never be idiotic enough to believe the words of a body snatcher like you. How long did you torture Velvet Hoof before you consumed him?”

“Velvet Hoof was weak, and a far different case from you.” Legion retorted, but he seemed more like he was playing a game now than actually trying to sway Blueblood. No, he was simply taking pleasure in his own voice, in voicing his own superiority... but maybe that was something that Blueblood could try and take advantage of. “When I was Invidia, I clipped the first strings in his weak mind, I made him smash your precious dream charm so I could get into your thoughts as I pleased... it was simple. And he was easy prey, after that: he was vulnerable to my powers. You should thank me for finishing what I started years ago... his mind grew so tormented, so broken, so delicious...”

The monster grinned widely, and then he leaned forwards and proclaimed: “And now, he is part of us! As we consume all things, and revel in the fact there is darkness in the heart of every pony, darkness that we add to ourselves, to I the Many! And even you, Blueblood, have a darkness in your heart that I will take delight in exhuming and showing to the entire world when I possess your body!”

Blueblood only smiled thinly, and then he gritted his teeth as Legion snapped his horn out, sending a black fireball at him. But the unicorn deflected this with his shield before he slashed his sword into a second blast of black flame, dispelling it.

Legion laughed as he approached, pelting Blueblood with dark magic: the unicorn dodged and dispelled and blocked as many of the attacks as he could, but bolts of dark energy still tore against his armor, melting whatever wasn't mythril and scalding his hide even through the near-indestructible material. Every blast he took seemed to amplify the pain scorching his entire body... and yet still, Blueblood fought on before he lunged forwards and slashed down at Legion.

But the monster easily caught Blueblood's sword in a black claw that stretched up out of his back on a limb of bending, twisting shadow, the monster grinning cruelly as he mocked, even while the golden flames around the sword slowly started to sear away his dark magic: “What's wrong? Or do you not understand that you cannot win?”

Blueblood replied by twisting his sword suddenly and slamming it down, driving the pommel into Legion's eye and knocking the creature backwards before the stallion stepped forwards and slammed him across the face with his buckler. The monster staggered further as he lost his grip completely on the blade, appendages of dark energy lashing wildly out all around him in near-panic, but Blueblood slashed through these half-formed tentacles before he managed to slam his blade home into Legion's face, the monster screaming in agony.

“What I understand are actions, not words!” Blueblood shouted, bringing his sword back and slashing viciously back and forth across Legion's face, driving the creature back.

But as Blueblood brought his sword back for a rending blow, the monster screamed, eyes flashing with power, and Blue barely managed to get his shield in front of him before he was sent skidding across the bridge by a blast of raw psychokinetic rage, the stony floor cracking and breaking with the power of the attack.

He came to a halt, gritting his teeth as Legion glared at him furiously through the cuts and gouges covering his face. Black lightning sparked over his horn, and then he threw his head back and roared, a surge of dark energy ripping through the air in all directions, and Blueblood swore, dropping low as he rose his shield.

All the same, he was battered painfully backwards by the hellish wave, his whole body lighting up with a mix of pain and numbness. He gasped for breath, but it felt like needles were paralyzing his lungs, like his blood had turned to ice in his veins, like his heart refused to beat...

But then the unicorn's eyes rose with surprise as he saw something was wrong with Legion as well: the monster was shaking his head wildly back and forth, his features looking broken and cracked, dark energy steaming up from these wounds as he moaned in pain. His horn was sparking and sizzling, but it looked like it had come dislodged from his skull as the creature rasped: “N-No... we are too powerful for this flimsy body...”

Blueblood slowly forced himself up to his hooves, and then Legion snarled in fury before he dropped his head forwards, gurgling in his throat... and Blueblood stared in horror as a black mass twisted and stretched up out of Legion's back, forming into a hideous, skull-faced monstrosity. Its body was huge and imposing, its long arms ending in vicious, hooked claws, baleful golden veins pulsing all along its form and light glowing out of its empty sockets as it rasped: “But it does not matter... soon, we will own you. Soon... you will be ours.”

“Never!” Blueblood shouted, and Legion, the true Legion, grinned at him before raising a claw, a sphere of dark energy appearing in his grip before he easily lobbed this at Blueblood.

The unicorn slapped it away with his shield on instinct, and the sphere of dark essence sizzled as it flew away before exploding in a burst of lighting and hellfire. Blueblood snarled at this... but Legion only laughed, raising its head high as it said cruelly: “We have the powers of all the evils you destroyed... and the Harbinger alone consumed an army of demons to power itself after it took root inside of Invidia! You cannot win against us!”

Legion's claws rose, a sphere of black malice appearing between its hands before it shoved this towards Blueblood, and the stallion barely managed to fling himself out of the way. The sphere smashed into the stone where he'd been standing a moment before with enough force to leave a crater behind and Blue cursed before he ducked sharply, a second cannonball of energy shooting past just above his head.

The monster laughed, the rotten, beaten pony body starting to walk calmly forwards as the hellish entity sticking out of its back continued to pelt Blueblood with magic. Blue dodged back and forth, backing slowly down the bridge as he swore under his breath before Legion suddenly extended a claw towards him, and the stallion reacted too late as the monster's arm stretched freakishly.

The claw clamped around his throat and hefted him into the air, Blueblood gargling as his emotions went wild: fear, hate, anger, pain all filled every nerve of his body with the touch of the monster as it yanked him in close... then lowered him in front of the pony vessel, which tilted its horn forwards as Legion laughed again. And Blueblood's voice joined the monster's in a scream of agony as black lightning shocked violently over his body, jittering wildly, his eyes rolling in his head, his armor and hair both beginning to smolder, his sword falling from his telekinetic grip...

And then the lighting ceased, and Blueblood was left dangling weakly as his body spasmed now and then, drool falling from his jaws as he stared blankly ahead. Legion only grinned down at him, before asking through the mouth of the vessel: “It is your choice, Blueblood. One last time, I will offer this: will you house the Many willingly, or will we have to break your feeble mind?”

Blueblood trembled, and then he shivered as he slowly began to raise a hoof, Legion grinning... before his head was forcefully twisted to the side as Blue slammed his shield across it. The pony vessel staggered backwards with a gurgle as Legion swayed on the puppet's back and dropped the limp unicorn, and then the rotting body caught itself before taking a slow breath.

But a smile curled slowly across the vessel's lips all the same as Legion looked down with amusement and contempt at Blue, as the unicorn scrabbled weakly for his sword. Legion slammed a hoof into his stomach and knocked Blueblood to his side, but the unicorn refused to cry out, glaring furiously up at the vessel... but this only made the monster lick his lips eagerly as he whispered: “Yes. You will be strong. And to think, this all started because of your pathetic concept of 'love...'”

Blueblood trembled as the vessel began to reach forwards... and then it looked up in surprise as there was a crackle of energy before four ponies appeared in midair, only a dozen feet away: three were winged unicorns, and the last was an earth pony who was already diving straight for Legion-

Legion snarled, the twisted apparition leaning forwards and slashing a claw viciously into Sleipnir just before he could connect, sending the earth pony hurtling away from the bridge with a cry of pain. And Blueblood shouted in horror as he leapt up, almost falling over the edge as he watched Sleipnir fall and vanish into the maze of towers and white stone...

The vessel began to reach forwards... and then screamed as a blast of fire hammered into its face, staggering to the side and covering itself even as the monster stretching out of its back snarled and created a ball of black flame in either hand, flinging these savagely up at the princesses.

Twilight Sparkle created a barrier, wincing back as the sphere exploded against it, while Luna deflected the other off to the side with a slash of blue magic. And, before the monster could attack again, wounded but determined Princess Celestia snapped her horn forwards, sending down another golden fireball that Legion barely managed to sway out of the way of.

He hissed in fury... and then flinched when Blueblood picked up his sword and slashed it across the vessel's face, distracting him. The apparition lashed a claw towards the stallion and knocked him staggering... but then several blasts of magic from above pelted his shadowy form, making his smoky, incorporeal frame flash with visible pain as he howled in agony.

Blueblood picked himself up... then swore and brought up his shield as the vessel lunged at him, madly attempting to pummel on him with his hooves. And at the same time, the true Legion roared in fury, flinging blast after blast of dark magic up at the princesses.

Twilight Sparkle created another barrier, gritting her teeth as blast after blast pounded into the purple wall, while Luna and Celestia retaliated with every offensive spell in their repertoire; blasts of flame and ice and lightning and raw, piercing magic tore down around Legion, but now the phantasm only seemed to be growing angrier and angrier from the little pain they were causing him.

But as Blueblood did his best to defend against the berserk rage of the puppet attacking him, he could see the spread of rot and wounds over the pony's corpse. Legion was drawing his strength from this vessel's spirit and body: if they could just get rid of the vessel, then Legion himself would finally be vulnerable...

The vessel slammed both hooves down into the shield, and Blueblood felt the pulse of instinct before he twisted and roared, twisting and slapping out the targe to fling the pony vessel to the ground. The corpse landed heavily on its side with a gargle... and the phantasm was dragged down with it, crashing in a sprawl across the bridge as a blast of dark energy flew wild.

“Now!” Princess Celestia shouted, and all three princesses snapped their horns down, rays of light shooting down and hammering into Legion's vile spirit. The creature screamed in agony and anguish, writhing helplessly beneath the beams of energy as the vessel howled miserably, kicking and convulsing and gargling...

And then Legion suddenly grinned, golden eyes blazing as his claws sparked before black lightning exploded up out of his claws, hammering into the princesses on either side of Celestia. Luna and Twilight both screamed in agony as they were knocked backwards, and the ivory mare cried out, losing her concentration as she looked back and forth... and watched with horror as both princesses burst into flames, clawing at the air as their wings flapped wildly but their bodies overbalanced, their feathers turned to ash...

Both fell, like purple and blue stars, streaking down as Celestia reached helplessly after them... then snarled as she looked up, mouth opening, eyes blazing as she began to dive. Blueblood tried to howl a denial, a warning, as Legion grinned and Celestia turned into a meteor-

One of Legion's claws snapped up and caught her by the face before he half-spun and simply flung her away like a toy with a burst of malice-made-fire. Blueblood turned, staring in horror as he watched black flames spreading over her body... before she crunched loudly into a stone tower, and then simply fell limply.

Blue trembled violently, then snarled as he spun towards the monster; but with ease, the vessel blasted him backwards with a raw surge of energy, Blueblood gargling as his head snapped forwards and his helm flew off. It landed with a clank in front of Legion as the monster picked itself up... a moment before Blueblood crumpled to the stone bridge himself, trembling in pain and disbelief.

Legion only smiled cruelly as he straightened, then cracked his back as the phantasm vanished back into the vessel. The corroded, weakened vessel, that all the same was steadying itself, seemed to be recovering some of its vitality as it said easily: “Disappointing. Preening princesses... and to think, demons actually fear them.”

Blueblood gritted his teeth... and then he felt it, a moment before the presence landed softly beside him. His heart swelled, and he felt his hopes return even in spite of the horrors he had seen as Legion's eyes widened in surprise, before Sleipnir said cordially: “Well, one must not forget that it has been quite some time since they have seen war of any kind... thou cannot be too rough upon them.”

Sleipnir stepped forwards, and Blueblood trembled as he looked up at the earth pony, whispering: “Thank Heaven.”

“Nay, thank Mother Nature.” Sleipnir smiled kindly, but he didn't take his eyes off Legion even as he instructed gently: “Thou hast done well, but for now, keep back and recover what strength thou can. Be proud of thyself, though, Blue: thou hast accomplished much.”

Blueblood laughed weakly, and then Legion stepped forwards, the monster smiling contemptibly as he asked coldly: “Has he really? I've crushed him. I've crushed Canterlot. And I'll crush you, Sleipnir...”

Legion glanced down, then picked up Blueblood's helm, studying it before he grinned coldly as Sleipnir's face lost its cheer and his eyes slowly narrowed. “And when I'm done with all of that, I will find your family, and crush them, too.”

The vessel flexed... and then simply crunched the helm between its hooves like a tin can, and Blueblood felt Sleipnir stiffen beside him before Legion asked coldly: “So what do you think of that, powerless little earth pony? All this talk about honor, and what has it gotten you? You have allowed me to be born, and caused the deaths of all these innocent little ponies... and given the whole world proof that you can't even protect the precious little prince.”

Sleipnir was breathing slowly, his features serious, his eyes cold, and Blueblood could feel something he had never, ever felt from Sleipnir before emanating off him in waves... and then Legion laughed, leaning forwards and asking mockingly: “So when I kill your family, will they be as weak as you? Or will your whore demon wife at least-”

Sleipnir crashed into the vessel like a meteor, and before the stupefied monster could even react, smashed a hoof across the creature's face in a haymaker so fierce it audibly snapped Legion's neck and sent his half-rotted horn flying free from his mashed-in skull.

The earth pony drove forwards, hoof after hoof crushing into Legion's chest and shoulders, leaving visible dents in his body with every blow before the cold-faced earth pony smashed an uppercut up under his jaw with enough force to lift Legion into the air... except Sleipnir's other hoof expertly caught the monster by the back of the skull, letting his hindquarters snap almost comically upwards before Sleipnir drove him face-first down into the bridge.

Legion was helpless to react, and Blueblood could only stare in shock, watching as blood and bits of bone flew in all directions as Sleipnir mercilessly brought hoof after hoof down into Legion's face, crushing the vessel into an unrecognizable mush before he drove a hoof into the remains of the corpse hard enough to drive it rolling backwards down the bridge. The earth pony's body tensed as his eyes narrowed, watching before Legion tried to stop himself-

Sleipnir leapt high into the air, then slammed down on top of Legion with all four hooves and enough weight and strength to make the bridge shatter around them, blocks of stone shifting out of place as Legion was driven down into the structure like it was made of putty. Then Sleipnir kicked off, launching himself up into the air again and gracefully twisting his body to dive straight down towards Legion, who had a moment to scream before the earth pony smashed into him... and Blueblood gaped and staggered as Sleipnir ripped straight through the stone bridge, pushing the monster ahead of him through the hail of falling rock and brick.

And even as they fell, Sleipnir refused to let up, slamming blow after blow down into Legion's broken, mangled body before he suddenly reached forwards and snagged Legion by the little that remained of his skull and mane, the stallion gritting his teeth before he began to spin. His body picked up momentum, rotating violently as they fell, Legion shrieking wordlessly before Sleipnir roared and flung the vessel savagely straight down.

Legion crashed into a courtyard far below with enough force to send up a cloud of dust, shocked ponies that had been gawking at the conflict from below knocked off their hooves from the pulse that tore through the earth... and then Sleipnir hammered down a moment later, a second wave of force clearing the dust cloud as time seemed to freeze for a moment with the stallion's rear hooves buried through Legion's body, his forelegs out to either side before he kicked off.

Sleipnir rose one front hoof at the apex of his jump... then slammed down with all his weight, all his strength, all his momentum, stomping the little that remained of Legion into oblivion.

And then, it was over: Sleipnir took a slow breath as he calmed himself, then stepped away from the mangled, ruined mess that was all that was left of the vessel: twitching, rotten, useless flesh. Sleipnir studied this with contempt for a few moments, and then he shook his head slowly before muttering: “Fool.”

The earth pony brushed at himself slowly, and then he sighed softly and lowered his head, murmuring a quiet prayer before glancing up and smiling briefly at the sight of the bridge high above. Blueblood was leaning over the edge of it, and Sleipnir shook his head briefly before he cleared his throat and rose his head.

And then the stallion blinked in surprise as he felt... pain. But more than that, he felt surprise as he looked down disbelievingly at the black claw buried in his chest, before his eyes widened as a shadowy, monstrous shape yanked itself free from the remains of the pony. It was misshapen and hideous, pulsing with golden veins, a twisted amalgamation of all the evils they had fought as it hissed: “We are Legion... I am Many... and we are more than just one worthless body!”

Sleipnir was smashed away by what felt like magic more than a physical blow, gasping in pain as he clutched at his breast, then glared when Legion dragged itself towards him, the monster staggering drunkenly back and forth before it clawed forwards. Sleipnir swayed out of the way, then swung a hoof forwards to counterattack-

His hoof uselessly passed through Legion's smoky form, and Sleipnir's eyes widened before a claw slashed across his face, leaving burns and rot in its wake as the earth pony was knocked staggering backwards with a cry of pain. He was forced to throw himself out of the way when Legion attempted to dive into him, cursing under his breath as ponies screamed and fled in all directions... not that Legion even noticed or cared anymore. All it had eyes for was him, and Sleipnir gritted his teeth before he whispered: “A moment's weakness, and now what evil have I unleashed?”

Above, Blueblood stared in horror as Legion clawed at Sleipnir... and Sleipnir did nothing. Could do nothing, some instinct told him... and the stallion gritted his teeth before he looked over at his sword.

Silver, and still wreathed with his Aunt's blessing of fire... Blueblood snatched it up, believing that it would work. Needing to believe that it would work, as he looked back and forth before he looked down, trembling hard and knowing that there was no way he was going to get down from here in time unless... unless...

Blueblood stepped backwards... and then he forced himself to breathe before he ran forwards and leapt off the bridge into open air. His eyes widened in terror as he fell, but then he gritted his teeth, gripping his sword with both telekinesis and his hooves before he stabbed it forwards with all the strength that he could as he passed close to a tower.

The sword screamed as it ripped halfway into the stone wall, and Blueblood cried out in agony as he slammed painfully against the rock before he kicked his rear legs out even as the sword tilted. But somehow, he managed to brace himself against the tower wall, gasping for breath as his broken ribs cried out for mercy.

But he didn't have mercy to give right now. Not to himself, and not to Legion as he watched the monster claw savagely after Sleipnir, who seemed to be tiring, weakening... and Blueblood gritted his teeth before he sawed his sword back, his armor grinding like nails on a chalkboard against the tower wall as he slid down it to a staircase below.

He stumbled on the steps, then leapt quickly off the side to land on another set of stairs. He hurried further down these, silver sword floating at the ready beside him, body aching but filling with fear and determination and so many other emotions as he looked... there!

He jumped from the steps to land on a lower rooftop, skidding down the shingles straight towards a tower wall... and then he fell over the edge into the narrow space between the outbuilding and the tower, kicking his legs quickly out and shoving his back into the wall behind him in spite of the agony that filled his body.

He skidded quickly but safely down between the walls, then dropped to his hooves with a gasp... but he didn't let himself stop as he staggered along another rooftop before looking down to see Sleipnir was stuck almost right beneath him, feebly trying to ward off the ethereal claws of Legion as the monster laughed and tore and slashed and tortured...

Blueblood snarled, then he leapt forwards with a roar, and Legion had only a moment to look up in shock before Blueblood slammed down on top of him, lashing his sword out... and Legion screamed in agony as he was driven backwards by the holy flames, clutching uselessly at the deep wound ripped through his chest before he shrieked: “No! You are my vessel, and I... we will devour you!

“I won't let you... we're going to finish this, here and now!” Blueblood drove forwards, roaring, and Legion's eyes widened before half-falling backwards as the ivory unicorn slashed viciously at him.

Blueblood staggered from the too-hard cut, and Legion hissed as he tried to take advantage of the opening, a claw ripping into Blueblood's face... but even as he was knocked stumbling, Blue yanked his sword with him, ripping a swathe through Legion's body.

Legion flinched away with a shriek, and then Blueblood slashed the sword down again... but Legion almost slithered out of the way before the monster lunged-

Blue's shield drove up between the two, and the creature bounced off the blessed mythril before Blueblood dropped suddenly, then roared as he scooped upwards, hefting Legion off its misshapen legs before he half turned and slung the monster flat into the ground. Legion gargled... then screamed in agony when Blueblood stabbed his sword down, pinning the monster to the ground.

Legion howled, writhing back and forth as Blue staggered backwards, gasping for breath and glaring down at the monster as it trembled and convulsed... but then slowly looked up, a twisted grin spreading over the beast's face as it hissed: “We are... too many. We are too much for you to kill... you don't have enough hate. You don't have rage. Your darkness only makes our darkness stronger... pathetic little princeling... and that is why no matter how you defeat us, no matter whether or not you drive us back down into the sea of souls... we will return. We are Legion. I am Many!”

Blueblood looked silently down at the writhing, living darkness, and then he silently reached up and touched his waist as he closed his eyes, bowing his head forwards. No, he couldn't kill darkness with darkness... he couldn't drown hate and anger with more hatred, more anger, more despair. All he could do was...

Blue looked over his shoulder at Sleipnir, who smiled faintly from where he was laying against the wall, covered in bruises and rot, battered spiritually as much as physically. He saw everything in the stallion's eyes: how he had fought for a moment in anger, and even if it had broken Legion's shell... it had done nothing to solve the real problem. Hacking limbs off the tree of evil made it look smaller, weakened it for a time... but then the roots would go deeper, and it would grow back stronger.

The unicorn silently slipped his hoof up, knocking away a loose metal plate before he slipped his hoof into the hidden pocket. He pulled out the amethyst gemstone, feeling how it pulsed with warmth, and love, and happiness... with all the good memories his father had shared.

Legion leaned back, then suddenly sneered, hissing: “Go ahead. Do your magic to me. Try to bind me... so many of us won't fit in such a tiny gemstone! You might as well give us your vessel, Blueblood, but we begin to doubt you will be stallion enough to handle our power...”

“No. You'd rot me from the inside out... like I'm sure you would everything else, Legion.” Blueblood replied quietly as he allowed the amethyst to dangle by its iron chain... and then he smiled briefly before he gently took the stone into one hoof, then spun the chain several times around his hoof as he looked calmly down at Legion. “But you're wrong about one thing.

“I don't want to kill you. And I refuse to give in to my hatred of you.” Blueblood said softly, and his horn glowed, his hoof lighting up with radiant magic as Legion flinched back. “I'm not going to stop you because of anger, or prejudice, or pride. I'm not going to stop you because you're... everything that hurt me, because of how badly you've hurt the people I care for, because... because you are a monster. You are a monster... but I still would have given you a chance, Legion. That is what Sleipnir taught me honor and mercy are: you give everyone a chance.”

Legion laughed loudly at this, but he seemed uneasy as he shifted backwards, looking warily at Blueblood's fist before the unicorn stepped fearlessly forwards. Immediately, Legion reached up a claw and seized into Blue's armor... but Blueblood's didn't move even as he felt his shoulder burn with pain. No, it was muted now, numb, more of an annoyance than anything else as Blue kept his mind clear and his eyes focused, thinking only of what he'd been taught by Sleipnir, by his father... by Cerulea.

Legion stared up with disbelief at the lack of reaction or effect, and Blueblood looked silently back down at the monster before he rose his hoof and said quietly: “I have to stop you, not to avenge... but to protect the people I love.”

Blueblood's hoof slammed down across Legion's face, and the charge of magic and memories blasted through the iron chain and into Legion's dark spirit, the monster crashing down onto his back and nearly tearing free from the weapon pinning him... before his eyes widened in horror as he reached up and grasped his own face. White cracks pulsed through his cheek... and these spread slowly further as Legion screamed, his eyes widening in horror before the dark spirit began to slowly but steadily decompose, shaking his head wildly in disbelief as he clutched at himself and shrieked: “N-No! Get it out of me! We... we are Many! We are... these feelings... these m-memories...”

Legion spasmed on the ground, then yanked himself loose from the golden sword, crawling backwards as Blueblood looked with pity at the monstrosity. At this dark shade made up of a thousand evil thoughts and nightmares, as it tried helplessly to combat the depth of love, and devotion, and loyalty, and honor that was now spreading through its system... “H-Help us! Save us, vessel!”

“I did.” Blueblood said softly, and Legion looked up with a snarl before he lunged forwards... and Blueblood didn't lash out, didn't attack, but instead caught the dark creature as it began to fall, the monster trembling as Blue said quietly: “I am not afraid of the hatred of the Many, when I have the love of One to always fall back on.”

Legion trembled, and then Blue smiled faintly before he whispered: “Let go.”

The dark spirit stared weakly as memories and emotions surged through its spirit, purifying its corruption, soothing the torments that powered it, quelling the anger and hatred that drove it... and then it slowly closed its eyes before bowing its head forwards and exhaling quietly.

Golden light faded, and spirit-smoke became ashes that sifted down through Blueblood's limbs as he sat back, breathing quietly before he looked silently down at the gemstone in his hoof. Then he closed his eyes, clutching it against his breast as he murmured: “What do you think, Sleipnir?”

“I think thou art wiser and stronger than I have ever given thee credit for, Blueblood. I think thou art my equal now, in honor and mercy both.” Sleipnir smiled faintly as he strode up beside the ivory unicorn, nodding to him briefly before he reached up and silently touched his back. “And I think this world will be in good hooves with thee.”

Blueblood only smiled faintly, looking up before he simply nodded once, and the two sat together in the ruins of the courtyard, closing their eyes and feeling the presence of each other and the warmth of nature flowing all around them, knowing in their hearts that they had faced the worst this world had to offer... and weathered that storm, together.