• Published 4th Jan 2015
  • 9,374 Views, 1,056 Comments

Dark Horse — A Five Score Tale From The Dresden Files - Lord Of Dorkness



One strange day, Harry Dresden turned into a tiny pastel horse. Weird, but what else is new, right? Except now, months later, this country with a silly name wonders what became of one of their lost heroes and just why she never returned...

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04 — All The Princess' Ponies…

“Any tips for if spells go flying?” Nemo asked, as she almost lazily dodged out of the way of an oak branch.

“Try not to freeze and then run; from what I saw back there you don’t have the combat training to go up against an actively hostile wizard.”

Nemo let out an urk, and nearly went headfirst into a snow covered pine before she stopped glaring at me.

Then she went into a hover, and glared at me with her arms crossed over her chest instead.

“Not a dig, kid,” I told her in a kinder but still firm voice as I came to a stop myself,” but you have so far only gone up against people trying to take you alive.”

The glare fizzled out in the same tact as the color drained from her face, as Nemo gulped softly.

“You’ve seen the magical version of stun-guns and sniffer dogs, not soldiers in full gear with assault rifles pointed at you.” I made sure to keep them aimed away from her, but I wiggled my revolver and blasting rod at her for emphasis. “Just something to keep in mind.”

She was still a bit pale but Nemo gave me a stiff nod. “Fine, so if that plan doesn’t quite work, what’s a good plan B?”

“Well, a sniper team for one, but I seem to have left mine in my other pants…” I deadpanned. “Seriously though, how much of the basics do you know?”

Nemo frowned a bit, before drawing a circle in the air with her hooves. “That’s about it, I’m afraid…” The girl blinked, and stuck her tongue out in a grimace. “Oh, and I think I’ve heard the Laws of Magic enough times to mutter them in my sleep.”

I frowned slightly. Guess it made sense given her situation, but still. “...Somebody actually went and showed you how to make a circle?” I nodded slowly, mulling it over. “...That’s a good start.”

“Err… the dude mumbled something about only stopping magic…?”

I was just about to give the quick version…

When the voice I quite possibly least wanted to hear called out to us.

“Fluttershy! Dash!” Twilight shouted, distracting us with the pain from those damn names long enough she actually got a whole sentence out. “Thank Harmony I found you so quickly! We need to get away from this horrible place, bef-”

Twilight cut off mid word, the big, bright smile falling of her face like a poorly fitted death mask, as I aimed my rod and revolver her way; flanked by Nemo that instead pushed her body-booster spell to eleven again, even as she landed snarling on the ground.

“...Girls?” Twilight ‘backed’ off a few feet, hooves in the air; this crestfallen look to her face, and voice barely above the squeaks of a field mouse. “...Please, it’s me, Twilight.”

I —for lack of a better word concerning magical flight, ‘slid’ down the air by keeping the magic in my wings going but not flapping. “We are quite aware,” I declared at her as my hind-hooves touched the snow covered ground again.

I did a quick check with Demonreach as my link got reestablished.

And I just barely stopped myself from narrowing my eyes in anger, as there were now thirty one ponies on Demonreach.

Two total newcomers by the abandoned cannery; one unicorn and one plain pony. The unicorn was totally nude despite the weather, and seemed to be standing over and guarding the normal pony, who from how she kept trashing the snow around her was seemingly bound and gagged but fighting like a demon to get free.

Another unicorn was nearby, this one seemingly also bound but with only a rope, for some reason.... although the twenty guards near her were probably a good reason why she wasn’t struggling.

Luna and a new even taller alicorn, whom I guessed to be Celestia, had apparently hit the ground fighting against the group by my cottage. I’m not sure if it was just distance or if the ‘humans’ had silencers, but the only way I knew fire was being exchanged was because tiny metal tubes kept hitting the ground there.

The ‘thing’ and the pony I couldn’t identify the type of had apparently concluded whatever it was they’d been doing by the shore, and was performing galloping straight towards my cottage. I couldn’t tell which side they hoped to reinforce, but the ‘thing’ kept hobbling and falling over almost as if drunk; leaving this long, almost serpentine trail in the snow as it went.

That just left —ugh, me, Nemo, Twilight…

And Cadance, veiled and hiding invisible just two feet, one inch behind me to my left, rather clearly waiting for the chance to perform a sucker-punch once ‘negotiations’ broke down.

I’d give the pink she-devil her dues; she’d even thrown some type of illusion on the snow under her to make it look whole and unmarred.

Without Demonreach ‘whispering’ in my ear, I’d been flanked and never even known it until the stun spell wore off.

“...What?” Twilight mumbled out, seemingly aging ten years in a second from all this. She was a mess. ‘Hair’ jutting out, streaks of dried tears on her cheeks, burnt patches of fur, somebody had even made her lose a front tooth…

But I was mostly preoccupied with the near flaming tiara on her head, where this purple gem shone like the star it resembled.

I swear, I saw that damn gap in her front-teeth fill out as I watched. Not even vampires heal that quickly, but Twilight didn’t even seem to find it worthy of attention.

“You heard me,” I dictated her way, keeping my focus mentally on just what Cadance was doing, “or did you think we’d like having mind-control necklaces snuck around our necks?”

Behind me, I felt through Demonreach how Cadance bristled; the fur of her legs slightly scraping the holes in the frozen snow a bit wider.

Twilight simply went blank, her jaw falling open as soon as she got what I was talking about. “The Elements of H-!”

I cut Twilight off, my glare apparently hard enough that it cut through the twit’s righteous indignation, making her freeze and splutter. “Save me the propaganda.” I pointed my gun at Chicago, but kept my rod aimed squarely at her heart. “Call off the gemmed little bloodhounds, give me back my pentacle amulet, fuck off, and nobody needs to get hurt.”

“And I’d like my choker back as well,” Nemo ordered in just as hard a voice. “Sans creepy magic shit this time, thanks.”

This time, Twilight bristled as well. “Choker?!” I nearly fired a spell at her from the sudden movement, but all Twilight did was jab her hoof towards Nemo’s neck as she landed. “Well, I must have been misinformed, because my brother took a freaking dog-collar off your neck!”

“What I happen to find pretty is none of your damn business!”

Twilight ignored her, and turned to me instead: her face a careful mask. “And I don’t know who was cruel enough to give you a knock-off of the alicorn amulet, Fluttershy...”

I almost fired on her again, as Twilight continued in that ‘I’m talking to a mental patient’ type voice, and smiled that soft, empty smile you give people on the bus when they talk to themselves.

“But it explains both why your magic had gone so weird, and why you…” Twilight’s ‘smile’ faltered, but it was back so quick I would have missed it if I’d blinked. “...attacked Luna. Nopony is blaming you… Please just stand down, and we can fi-”

“That amulet was a gift from my mother; the only thing I have left from her. What magic it holds —if any, is none of your fucking business.”

At my hard words Twilight went waxen, the one hoof she’d been making ‘down, girl, down’ gestures with frozen in the air.

“You have ten seconds to give it back to me, or swear on your power that you will as soon as possible... or I will End you, Twilight, and damned be the consequences.”

Slowly, Cadance’s horn began to lower, magic gathering around it so slowly and surely that there was no way I’d noticed… unless of course for Demonreach.

“And that goes double for you, Cadance, you backstabbing bastard,” I told her way without even turning my head. “Back off; the stars may be wrong for me to kill you permanently, but I can most certainly make you wish they were.”

Cadance kept her cool, but since I could feel her hooves through the Demonreach and the snow…

So I decided on a show of force. “Demonreach, please take Twilight Sparkle below and keep her there sans her fabulous tiara until further notice; she is to speak her True Name once a day, use it to bind her further.”

Twilight didn’t even have time to even fully open her mouth to protest, before a circle of blinding light winked into existence around her.

Twilight! Oh no, Harry, what have you done?

“Twilight!” Cadance screamed, her veil falling to shreds as she totally let go of the spell and jumped towards the spot her friend had been standing in just moments prior.

Before her hooves could even hit the outside of the circle, (good for her, I might add) it was gone.

For a moment, the Element of Big-Bad-Mojo, or whatever, hung in the air; blinking on and off like a half-plugged in Christmas light. Honestly, the stupid thing almost looked confused.

I swear, for a single moment the whole island was utterly silent as the tiara hit the snow with a soft pat.

Suddenly, this… pulling sensation, for lack of a better word, I hadn’t even been feeling just ceased. When I focused on it, I got a mental image of the Element of Kindness falling still and dark; coming to rest in a sand bank near the Element of Loyalty, a hundred yards, twenty feet, and one inch from the surface.

Ah~h… So that was what had happened. Twilight must have somehow used how the Elements are a linked set to cast a tracking spell of some type on all six, and then boosting it enough that they all but went flying towards their ‘Bearers;’ apparently considering any damage from that secondary to keeping them on us.

I fought down a mental image of what would have happened to me and Nemo if two necklaces moving with enough force to crawl through rock had hit us, and instead focused on the mortified ‘alicorn’ behind me.

“I am going to make this clear, Your Highness,” I slowly turned and calmly told the pale mare as she stared in wide-eyed horror my way, “This is my Sanctum, and you are not welcome here.”

Oh, horse feathers; it’s going to be one of those days again, isn’t it? Harry, please, please just listen to them! The Princesses’ are good ponies!

With exaggerated care and slowness just to drive it home how little I thought of her, I started putting my rod and revolver back into my duster.

I saw how Cadance just barely stopped herself from jumping me. “What did you do to Twilight?!”

You didn’t need to know the slightest bit about the instinctive bits of pony body language to know how close Cadance was to simply tearing my head off. Wide open eyes with tiny dots for pupils, wings flared, that freaky mane turned to fire thing…

What can I say? It was subtle, but I spotted it.

“Oh, she is perfectly safe,” I calmly answered Cadance, as two flashes —one blue, one golden— joined us.

I paused just for a moment to look over the new arrivals.

Frankly? The state of Luna pissed me off. Aside from a few darker spots on her pelt I was fairly sure was from bullets that had bounced, she looked as if she’d just stepped off a treadmill, not performed a tactical retreat from a pitched battle.

A pitched battle she’d performed while only wearing regalia and armored boots of all things, I might add.

Oh, and there wasn’t as much as a hint that just a few hours earlier I’d broken both her wings. I was supposed to believe that a nation with healers of that caliber can’t improvise a solution? No better way to deal with ‘Discord,’ my currently non-existent foot…

The other newcomer, though? Almost a head taller than Luna and Cadance, mane like a streak of northern freaking lights, and magic jetted out of her like a fire hose. I swear, the small clearing we were in even started thawing a bit from her mere presence.

“Ah,” I lied smoothly, “and I take that you are Princess Solaris?”

Celestia took one look between the fallen tiara, the stunned Cadance, and glared me down; near in the same moment. “My name is Princess Celestia. What have you done to Twilight?”

Tell you what? The look of dawning horror in Cadance’s eyes was simply adorable.

“Demonreach, oblige Celestia’s curiosity.”

Cadance hadn’t even gotten past the ‘A’ in screaming “Auntie!” before the circle had winked on… and off.

“Sister!” Luna screamed, rearing in horror as the pile of rather gaudy jewelry rained down on the snow. Gold and amethysts? Honestly, how tired and cliché can your color matching be?

“She is safe, as is that Twilight girl,” I told them both in a calm voice as I theatrically started buffing my right hipposandal on my duster. “And unless I give the explicit word otherwise they will both stay perfectly safe until the day the stars themselves start winking out in the sky.”

There wasn’t a sound as I calmly sat down on my haunches.

Even Nemo looked utterly stunned.

“So let’s talk terms of surrender, shall we? You fuck off now, stop hunting us, give all our stuff back, don’t come back…” I paused for dramatic effect, calmly meeting the glare from both demigods. “...and I’ll release those two twits in six months. Deal?” I brushed my shoulder off as if it was an afterthought. “Oh, and Demonreach?”

The two mares tensed; as Demonreach’s physical manifestation was just suddenly there at my side.

Heck of an entrance… even if you aren’t a twelve feet tall, vaguely man shaped mound of plants, rocks and soil, with two burning green eyes and a black cloak covering everything.

“If either of the bastards attack, call me Fluttershy, or call Nemo Rainbow Dash: then both are to be sealed away immediately.”

YES. WARDEN.”

Luna and Cadance stared at Demonreach, shuddering so hard their fur was all but rippling.

(Nemo kinda ruined the moment by going starry-eyed and breathlessly saying “Coo~ol!’ but I think we all just kind of ignored it.)

Moving slowly as if not to ‘trigger the mad mare,’ Luna and Cadance exchanged a long glance.

“...You know, Harry,” Nemo said as she slowly sat down on a snow covered boulder. “I suddenly get this feeling they haven’t even bothered to memorize our ‘human’ names.”

I jerked a bit in shock, before glowering towards the two dumbest freaking immortals I had ever met. I took a bit of pleasure in how they both seemingly needed to raise a hoof to shield themselves from that glare… but on the whole, it was just another reminder of all this pony freakiness to me.

“No point right?” Nemo continued in a tone that could have etched glass. “After all, we’ll be cured soon, and then they can call us whatever they fucking want!”

With a loud ‘clonk’ Nemo punched the rock with a snarl on her face.

Apparently her other brain cell finally managed to find its long lost mate, as this almost cute little gleam of understanding lit up in Luna’s eyes. “Cadance,” she said in a rather ‘subdued’ tone, “they think we intent to corrupt them; that’s why they have gone this far.”

Cadance’s only answer was to balk so hard it nearly looked as if she was trying to launch her eyeballs at me.

I leaned back and started slow clapping. (And trying to ignore the feeling that King Arthur was just around the corner.) “Bravo, bravo....” I ignored the baffled looks and let my hooves fall instead. “Why, if I had never heard a sob routine from a pretty face before, I might have actually bought that performance for a whole second!”

Strangely, my chipper attitude didn’t seem to help.

“F-” Luna gritted her teeth a bit louder, and forced herself to continue. “...Harry, we don’t know what went wrong, but the curse is over.”

There was something near pleading in her eyes and just on the edge of her voice, as Luna took a shaking step forward.

“If you just let us help we can heal you! You can be home within the hour, and never have to live this horrible, twisted lie Discord forced on you ever again!”

A shiver ran all the way from the base of my neck to the very tip of my tail.

On her rather cold looking seat, Nemo did a similar little twitch of discomfort.

“...Tell you what, Luna?” I managed in a voice far calmer than I felt. “How about I humor you for a few minutes, and actually act as Devil’s advocate? Everything you’ve said is a hundred percent true, and both Nemo and I just popped into existence with forged papers and everything twenty five years ago…”

My spiel and these gleams of hope in the two Princesses’ eyes got cut off by Nemo jumping to her hooves. “WHAT?!”

I raised my hoof her way, but didn’t look away from Luna. “Let me finish, I’m going somewhere with this.”

Nemo clearly didn’t like it from how I saw her wings twitch even in my peripheral, but slowly she sank down again.

I gave her a small nod of thanks, before pressing on. “So Last-Thursday-ism, but with twenty five years ago and a sizable percent of the population instead of the whole universe and... well, last Thursday.” I scowled at Luna, making her smile evaporate like ethanol under a heat lamp. “During the last twenty five years I’ve gotten a private investigator's license. Become a full member of the White Council. Hell, I killed my first man when I was sixteen.”

Even Nemo’s eyes shot up at that one.

“And the evil bastard of a warlock had it coming, no matter how much trouble it got me into,” I continued. “I’ve spoken with archangels, wrestled with demons, fought gods, called and consorted with spirits both fair and foul…” Slowly, I jabbed my hoof towards Alfred. “Made a pact with a rather decent one. You know, wizard stuff.”

Demonreach said nothing, but for a moment I felt his gaze burning in the back of my head.

‘Don’t talk too much,’ got it.

“So yeah, even if that time frame is true, I’ve still had a freaking life in this world.” Luna twitched as I trust my hoof towards her and Cadance. “You two on the other hand have according to your own damn admission, been fighting one spirit and barely holding your ground, at that.” Scowling, I poked my own temple. “And I’m supposed to trust you two with my mind when you are such incompetent rulers that during the same twenty five damned years your only plan has been ‘survive for long enough that the predestined cavalry can arrive?’ Really?

Both Luna and Cadance bristled at me, but said nothing.

“You won’t even dirty your damn hooves to permanently remove a civilization spanning threat…” I put a hoof to my chest, ignoring how empty my neck felt. “...but me and Nemo are supposed to risk our lives, reputations and loved ones so that you two won’t need to compromise your morals?”

“F- Harry,” Cadance said, squaring her shoulders and also taking a step closer with her head held high, “Discord is one, if not the, strongest creature on th- our planet. Even Luna and Celestia needed the Elements to defeat him the first time…”

“And did either of you idiots actually try killing him back then, either?” Nemo piped up to some clear disgust from both Cadance and Luna. “Because I think I’ve seen a pattern here…”

Cadance ignored her, stopping only to fight down a frown of disgust before pressing on. “We need the Elements in the hooves of their Bearers, Harry; it’s the only way we know of to make all this right again.”

I stared her down for a bit in that wizardly way that doesn’t actually involve meeting a person’s gaze… but there wasn’t even a flicker of doubt in Cadance’s face.

“...Kid,” I told her with a nod towards Luna, “I tried telling your idiot co-ruler over there earlier, but she wouldn’t listen.”

Luna let out a snort that misted in the air, and scraped her hoof a bit. That I knew full well what it meant when a horse did, but I just ignored the prissy prima donna and her cute little signs of irritation.

“This world is a powder keg right now, and the only reason it hasn’t gone boom is that every politician, monster and mix of the two does not want to be the one that gets remembered for having dropped all the torches they’re all busy juggling right now. This time last year magic was myth and freaking legend to the average Joe, and now?” I ignored the incredulous looks from both idiots, and waved at my face. “Now there are magical creatures trotting down near damn every street.”

For just a moment, I saw doubt… then it was gone again, but because it was fought down or hidden away I couldn’t tell.

“So yeah, the magic side of things? The people already used to monsters and magic? We’re kinda waiting on the other horse shoe to drop, and the blood to start overflowing in the gutters.” I shot another glare towards Luna. “And a pony sovereign of a foreign, magical nation hunting and trying to kidnap people off the fucking street while wearing only a flipping black cloak will not help matters cool down without bloodshed!”

Cadance and Luna swapped another look, but I simply didn’t know enough pony-pony body language to even guess on what it meant.

I’d had a whole other bit lined up about how this situation would probably be World War 3 at best, and The End Times at worst…

But Luna and Cadance were just smiling these waxen smiles, while their eyes damn near overflowed with pity.

Those I also could read, because it was the exact damn look you give your aunt, or whatever, when she starts raving about how the damn dirty gnomes are stealing her underpants. It pissed me off quite a bit, but I really saw no reason to waste more breath when all I was saying was being dismissed as delusions, anyway.

Nemo cracked her neck, but didn’t take her eyes of Cadance, Luna… or Demonreach, for that matter. “Yeah, a bit stupid to start the political side of things off with a dozen casus belli, and a first impression that even the apex of Equestrian government are violent, thieving brutes…”

Again, Luna bristled and flared her wings, but held her tongue.

Nemo’s eyes narrowed into an outright glare. “You know,” she hissed at them, “unless this is a smash-and-grab operation, and no first contact was ever actually planned. If so, there really is no reason to be subtle, now is there?”

...What?

For ‘politicians’ Luna and Cadance didn’t have what I’d call poker faces. The two idiots with more power than brains just froze, and went carefully blank.

So… yeah, they could have just as easily have been screaming: ‘Yes! And we’d gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you meddling mares and your mangy island!’

At least that way of confirming what Nemo had just said would have been a bit funny.

For a mare with blue fur, Luna pulled off the ‘ashen’ look quite well. Might have been the ears plastered to her skull, but still. “...Harry, there is a balance between the worlds. Even the extra six months you’ve been here have probably caused untold damage; to both this world and ours...”

...WHAT?

Cadance sucked in a deep breath, eyes filled with pity.

Or at least, a damn good knock-off of the emotion. “F- Harry,” Cadance glanced over to Nemo, “D- Nemo, I’m so, so sorry, but you staying here simply isn’t possible; even if we didn’t need the Elements, you merely being here is offsetting the balance between our worlds.”

For a moment, I honestly just sat there despite the danger; my mind grinding to a halt as it tried to process the utter stupidity of what I’d just heard...

WHAT?! SO IT’S BUCKING ALRIGHT FOR PRINCESS FLIPPING TWILIGHT TO GO HANG WITH HER BUCKING HUMAN FRIENDS IF SHE AS MUCH GETS A CRAVING FOR HAMBURGERS? SHE ALL BUT HAD A MAGIC REVOLVING DOOR TO CANTERLOT HIGH LAST TIME I CHECKED, FOR BUCK’S SAKE! BUT I’M SUPPOSED TO GIVE UP MY BUSINESS, MY HOME, MY FRIENDS, MY ALLIES, MY MAGIC, AND MY BUCKING DAUGHTERS, JUST SO YOU BUNCH OF INCOMPETENTS CAN HAVE YOUR ‘SOLVE-EVERYTHING-WE-CAN’T-BE-ARSED-TO-BOTHER-WITH’ SQUAD BACK?! HORSE APPLES! YOU’VE HAD ONE ACTUALLY IMPORTANT JOB FOR TWO AND A HALF DECADES, AND YOU’VE STILL NOT MANAGED ANYTHING BETTER THAN TO WRING YOUR HOOVES AND HOPE FOR THE FREAKIN’ CAVALRY?! TWO AND A HALF DECADES! WERE THE LUXURY CUPCAKES JUST TOO DELICIOUS AND MOIST TO LEAVE BEHIND IN CANTERLOT OR SOMETHING?! WERE THE EQUESTRIAN MILITARY COTS JUST NOT FLUFFY ENOUGH FOR A WAR TO BE WORTH IT?! DID THAT ‘NAUGHTY KNAVE’ DISCORD START THROWING MUD ONTO YOUR PRETTY MANES, SO YOU ALL NEEDED CONSTANT EMERGENCY TRIAGE DOWN AT THE CANTERLOT ROYAL BATHS, PERHAPS?! I’VE FOUGHT DOZENS OF THINGS THAT MAKES DISCORD LOOK LIKE A HAUNTED STUFFED TOY DURING THAT TIME! AND I DID IT FLYING SOLO, YOU UNDYING HACKS! HOW DARE YOU! HOW! BUCKING! DARE! YOU! YOU DIDN’T COME FOR ME WHEN THAT MONSTER JUSTIN ADOPTED ME! OR WHEN HE SENT HE-WHO-WALKS-BEHIND AFTER ME! NOT FOR THE DARK HALLOW! NOT FOR THE WAR WITH THE FUCKING RED COURT! NOT FOR CHICHÉN ITZÁ! NOT FOR ANY OF THE TIMES I WENT UP AGAINST THAT SLIME BALL NICODEMUS! NOT TO MENTION ALL THAT CRAP WITH MAB! I WAS EVEN IN TARTARUS LAST YEAR, AND EVEN THEN YOU LAZY BUNCH OF NAGS APPARENTLY COULDN’T BE BOTHERED TO NOTICE ME THERE! BUT NOW?! NOW THAT I FINALLY HAVE MY LIFE UNDER CONTROL AGAIN AND THIS WORLD IS FINALLY GETTING THE DAMNED CLUE THAT, YES, MAGIC FREAKING EXIST... NOW YOU COME TO DRAG ME BACK?! AND NOT EVEN BECAUSE I’M YOUR FRIEND AND YOU’VE MISSED ME, BUT BECAUSE YOUR SUPER-WEAPON WON’T FIRE WITHOUT ME SERVING AS IT’S DAMNED KINDNESS BATTERY?! HOW DARE YOU! DO LOYALTY, KINDNESS AND BUCKING GENEROSITY MEAN NOTHING TO YOU?!

Vaguely, as if far away, I felt my ear start twitching as if possessed, and something warm drip down my nose and onto the ground.

I was distracted however, as for a moment my hoof itched, and this image of Luna’s head splattering over the entire clearing flashed through my head; so crystal clear I could even smell the blood and viscera…

And then Demonreach shifted his weight beside me, and just like that, the image was gone, somehow together with my nosebleed.

...Harry, I know you can’t really hear me, but please do that thing you do, and make these bastards bleed. I don’t know who or what these worthless imitators are, but the real princesses would never, ever tear apart m- our life like this. Please, teach them a lesson on what happens when Kindness has had freakin’ enough.

With exaggerated care I sucked in a slow breath… and let go of the power I’d drawn in on reflex. I’m not quite sure what Demonreach had just done, but my head felt clearer than it had for hours.

Slowly, and with clear pain on their faces… Luna and Cadance both took a few steps back from me, and my death glare.

To my surprise and slight worry, Cadance just raised a hoof and muscled through it.

That one hoof steaming slightly, but details. The mare hesitated for just a moment, as if weighing something. “...Flutters, I’m not supposed to talk about this with non alicorns, but you need to get away from this island as well. Now.

By my side, Demonreach raised his head, towering over the two demigods, his shadow somehow moving on its own to fall over them.

Luna just went rigid.... but interestingly enough, her wide-eyed attention seemed now totally focused on Cadance.

“I don’t know how you did it; I didn’t even think it was possible for a mortal pony to claim a domain without ascending,” Cadance continued, still pleading at me, “but this island is too small and limited.”

Demonreach’s ‘eyes’ narrowed at Cadance.

“Even at best it will stop you from…” Cadance hesitated, glancing back at Luna. Luna was scowling, but gave the other ‘alicorn’ a brisk nod. Cadance nodded, and turned back to continue. “...reaching your true destiny. At worst, you will ascend but be the alicorn of only this place; your power and perhaps even immortality dwindling to less than now whenever you aren’t here...”

Nemo gave me and Demonreach a long, hard look, then at the princesses, and back again.

“...And you have any actual proof of this —or any of your other claims I might add, oh Queen of All Porn, Positions and Penetration…?”

Cadance balked at me. “...My domain do not cover lust or… fornication,” she declared, face and voice about as sour as pickled lemons dipped in salt.

“Answer the fucking question,” I spat her way, putting some extra emphasis on the swear just to be an ass.

Cadance’s cheeks flushed slightly from anger, but she just pressed on. “...No, we do not.”

“Believe it or not, Flutters,” Luna declared as she held her head high, and walked closer a few steps, “but we did not expect to need any on a rescue mission to save Our friends and champions…”

I ignored the accusing tone and focused with a scowl of my own on the words. “And you honestly expect me to believe that after —according to your story I might add, twenty five years none of you idiots even thought about bringing as much as a fucking photo to back your ludicrous story up? Let alone clothes for a world that might have been made from acid and ground glass for all you seemingly actually knew about it?!”

There was a long moment of awkward silence.

“To be fair, Harry.” Nemo added as an afterthought, “the Princesses are just as big a bunch of idiots when it comes to foreseeing problems in the show; so as far as I can tell they’re perfectly ‘in character.’”

I swear, I actually heard a cartoony needle scratch from nowhere.

“...Wait, what?” I, Luna and Cadence managed to deadpan in unison.

You had to know him, but I’m sure even Demonreach was slightly puzzled; if for just a moment before dismissing it as ‘irrelevant.’

Nemo gave us all a long hard look that clearly said: ‘Are these idiots being serious?’ before opening her mouth…

Only to close it again with a thoughtful expression. “...I’ve apparently got intel, and I can’t talk about it in front of...” Nemo gave a sharp nod towards Luna and Cadance. “...you know, the enemy.”

Both Luna and Cadance twitched as if slapped.

Luna’s ‘mask’ twitched away, for a moment showing me and Nemo a mare just moments from breaking down crying.

Then just like that, Luna the mare was gone, replaced again with the Luna the goddess princess. “RD, we are not your enemy; we are trying to help you.”

“Ri~ight,” Nemo deadpanned with a roll of her eyes, “because telling me I’m the Element of Loyalty, and then saying I need to stab my mom in the back ‘for the greater good’ sounds oh so sane and not contradictory at all...”

Pegasus wings are strange things. I wasn’t a biology wiz (heh) or anything so I hadn’t wrapped my head around the how quite yet, but if the pegasus concentrates enough they’re basically the second best thing to two six-pronged tentacle arms.

Yeah. Figuring that out had been a strange couple of days.

Anyway, it wasn’t nearly as dexterous as hands and arms, but for something that also lets you fly? Not too shabby.

If you figured it out, though, you could do all sorts of things with them! You could open pickle jars. With some practice and stretching, scratch your back. Scratch your itches with the pickle jar…

Or, as Nemo was doing, twist the whole wing around in a way that would make a contortionist wince, keep the middle ‘wing-finger’ extended, while folding the two others down in a way that would make most veterinarians wince.

Don’t think they quite know what rare type of bird they were being shown, but the two nobles sure didn’t seem to be fans of ornithology or the stony expression Nemo had on while demonstrating her alar dexterity.

“So go choke on a horse sausage, both of you...” Nemo shook her wing out, and refolded it to her side, but the glare remained. “...and frankly, I don’t care if you go for the literal or metaphorical one.”

I fought down a grimace to fake a bit of ‘group’ cohesion… but horse? Really? I try not to judge other people's eating habits, but that was a bit too close to the other dark meat right now for my tastes.

Visibly a bit green around the gills, Luna took a step towards Nemo. “Please,” she pleaded voice thick with emotion, “if you just come with us, we could heal you within the hour! There is no need for any of this!”

Nemo took one long hard look straight in Luna’s eyes… and then swept her gaze over to me and Demonreach. “...Now you ask politely.” Nemo took a deep breath, and looked back at the crestfallen ‘alicorn,' straight in the eye. “Honestly, I don’t know what Harry’s doing… but I hope you end up bound into an ugly rock for all eternity, ‘Luna,’ I really do.”

Nemo pulled her head back to spit Luna in the face, but I just barely managed to clamp down on her muzzle using telekinesis at the last moment. She let out a sound somewhat like an elephant trying to trumpet with cold, before glaring at me.

Luna just stood there, seemingly ‘stunned’ by her ‘friend’s betrayal,’ or whatever it was we were meant to believe.

“Body-fluids are prime conduits for magic,” I explained even as my spell fizzled out, not taking my eyes of the ‘alicorns.’ “Nemo, you nearly did the magic version of painting a bull’s-eye on your own forehead to spite a sniper.”

Nemo went lavender. Slowly, she forced down the bit of spit she’d gargled up.

Cadance’s feathers ruffled a bit, but she kept her face almost normal. “Flutters, RD, you are not well. Discord has twisted your minds, and unless you two stop all this... horrible violence we can’t treat you. Please.

To my considerable surprise, Cadance actually sank down onto her haunches and begged, hooves wringing and everything.

Despite it all I felt reluctantly impressed. Most of the higher-tier bastards giggling evilly in the dark corners of the world couldn’t even bring themselves to fake humility like that…

Don’t get me wrong, I still didn’t believe a word that had come from Cadance’s lips, but I’d give the pink she-devil her dues; she had her eye on the prize, and wasn’t afraid to ding her ego to get it. Props for that, if nothing else.

The ‘alicorns’’ eyes welled with ‘sad’ tears, and she wrung her little hoofsies at us. “Please!” Cadance pleaded at us. “Just let Auntie Celestia and Twilight go, and we can make everything right again! We can fix everything, if you just stand down and let us help you!”

...Ri~ight.

And that this meant freeing —at least, unless that was why I’d been turned into one of ‘Equestria’s chosen,’ two hostile immortals, and leaving the one place of power I knew I could stand victorious on… Well, I’m sure that wasn’t at all part of that plan to ‘help’ me and Nemo.

Honestly, there really only was one right choice to make in this ‘dilemma,’ and even then calling it that was being generous.

“...I don’t believe you.” I lifted a wing, and pointed back to Chicago. “In fact, I am now more certain than ever that you lot were the source of the mass ponification; presumably to gain yourself more ‘loyal subjects’ to lord over. You have five minutes to leave this place, —and those hostages near the old cannery, or I will seal you two away right next to your fellow ‘princesses.’”

Near all color drained from both alicorns’ faces.

Nemo flipped off that rock of hers like a ballerina and moved straight down into that karate stance of hers. By the time her hind-hooves hit the snow, she already had that booster spell up and running.

I didn’t even get up. I just continued to sit there in Demonreach’s shadow, flicking my tail lazily back and forth as if I had all eternity on my side.

What can I say? Felt kinda nice to be the heavy-weight with the home field advantage for once.

Of course, I’d seen what tended to happen when people and/or monsters in that position started cackling about ‘And you have no chance to survive!’

And that was why I not only had drawn in as much power as I dared without tipping my hand, but under the snow I was slowly shaking out my shield bracelet to make sure it was free of my sleeve.

I might not be the sharpest spoon in the drawer, but I’ve had many teachers in the arts of deviousness over the years.

With her face carefully blank, Cadance started slowly walking forward. “Flutters…”

I felt my ear twitch in annoyance. Oh, a cute, girly nickname, freaking lovely… “My name is Dresden,” I snarled at her, wings flared on instinct. Remembering what had happened to Luna when she’d done that, I quickly forced them to my sides again. “You can’t even respect that, and you still dare call yourself my friend?”

Cadance stopped before I had to fire a warning shot at her hooves, jerking to a sudden stop. “...No pony would change their name; it is as intricate and intimate a part of them as their cutie mark.”

I just barely managed to stop an eye roll. “Right…” I sarcastically droned out instead. “And nopony has ever been called something embarrassing or socially crippling by their parents —like say, Fluttershy, because those are the type of mistakes mortals do…” I tilted my head, as I couldn’t help noticing the crystal heart on Cadance’s flank. “Or been named, say. ‘Whipping Boy,’ just before the path laid out before them became all but obsolete, or something....”

Nemo let out a snort, but didn’t falter from her battle stance. “Yeah, pony names never made sense to me, either.”

I got the sense I’d missed something, but I was a bit distracted by Luna’s and Cadance’s reactions.

What can I say? It wasn’t everyday even a wizard got to see two demi-gods shudder from head to hoof, as if somebody had just shown them their collection of moccasins made from real babies, or something.

“You are not supposed to talk about… that,” Cadance freaking declared at me, seemingly trying to clout her way through to the end of the conversation.

I honestly didn’t really care about what topic she was wasting her four remaining minutes on.

“Demonreach,” I said to the spirit, “, please rebind all the Elements; they will not be a problem without their wielders to draw strength from. Put them with the Skinwalkers; whoever walks away from that matchup, the world wins.”

Within reason, of course. There exists such a thing as a distraction, after all.

Luna, who seemingly didn’t think I would notice how she was edging towards a certain purple tiara, let out a muffled curse and dove like a she-fox pouncing.

With a triumphant grin, her hooves closed so fast on the Element of Magic that they made a tiny whip-like snap in the air.

In fact, she moved so quick, that she got there just in time for the small circle to snap up.

Straight over her cannons.

For a moment all was still. Even Luna was mostly staring in shock at the small crater in the snow where the Element of Magic had been resting.

Then her hooves just… toppled forward, and onto the ground.

There was surprisingly little blood, or even anything that actually looked like a wound. It was as if some great giant with a carving knife had simply cut away a failed bit of a sculpture made from blue clay, leaving this smooth but vaguely glazed looking surface behind.

Aside from how her right hoof kept twitching on the ground, you could have believed that Luna simply had two life-like prostheses that had just… slipped off.

“...I’ve seen enough of this madness,” I calmly stated as I got up. “Seal them.”

Cadance went from lost in shock, to flaming maned and snarling in a heartbeat; almost even getting off one of those ‘horn blasts’ Nemo had talked about before she was simply gone.

Luna didn’t even look up from staring at her stumps before she too was gone.

I hesitated, and turned my neck around towards Demonreach. “Please try to reattach and heal her hooves; she’s an immortal idiot with an agenda, but from what I’ve seen she isn’t actually outright malicious enough to deserve to be crippled for the rest of eternity.”

For just a moment, there was a flicker in the burning, green coals that served as Demonreach’s ‘eyes.’

I took a moment to close my eyes, and focus on the various groups on Demonreach.

The ‘shore’ group had met up with the ‘cottage’ one, and was seemingly standing around in what seemed to be an uneasy truce; one of the humans having joined with the ‘shore’ people, and the others clean on the other side of what passed for my front yard.

The Elements were… there really wasn't another word for it.

Boiling the Skinwalkers alive.

Imagine six tanks with a great white in it. Now imagine somebody sick and twisted dropping a high-voltage line into those same tanks.

Just that, but instead of a predator and voltage, it was semi-divine immortals with a thirst for power, magic and blood, versus what was apparently semi-intelligent artifacts —if nothing else masquerading as, Harmony, Love and other Goody-Goody forces of yay, or whatever.

I’m not quite certain what was happening even with the link with Demonreach… but there was this ‘rainbow’ colored glow coming from the minimum security cells, and the naagloshii inside were screaming so loud the whole chamber was shaking slightly.

Perhaps a great white and high-voltage was a bad comparison, come to think about it; the whole situation was more like the xenomorph’s and Jason Voorhees's eviler love-child getting a well-deserved acid bath without actually being able to die from it.

What can I say? I wouldn’t call myself a bad man… but I’m not perfect, either.

I shook myself out of it. As schadenfreude-tastic as it might be to know that six beings as close to pure evil as I knew of were stuck in a paper based, and salt filled blender, now was not quite the time to go grab the popcorn.

The ‘alicorns’ were on the other hand, a study in contrast.

Celestia was seemingly either meditating, or gathering her strength for something. She was simply lying down inside her crystal with her legs neatly folded under her, eyes closed, and only this slight twitching of her tail betraying she was even worried.

Cadance was the utter opposite, as she was basically hammering the inside of her cell with her bare hooves. I’d grant the girl that she was going through with it with great gusto, but it was actually doing about as much damage as a sling-shot against a Sherman tank.

Luna was unconscious, but I couldn’t tell if it was from shock or whatever Demonreach was doing to heal her. Either Demonreach thought I was ‘too limited’ again, or I simply couldn’t think up the right questions… but I had no idea what was going on in that particular cell except for the general state of Luna; it was simply covered in thin, rapidly growing roots doing something to the mare.

Twilight on the other hand, was rather simple and straightforward; she was curled into a tiny ball in the center of her cell, and was seemingly having a nervous breakdown. The girl was even petting her own tail as if it was a cat, all while a rather suspiciously and unrealistically large pool of tears was filling up by her head.

Satisfied that the latest batch of twisted demigods was properly contained within Demonreach, I turned my mind to the slightly more mundane threats left top-side.

The groups by my cottage were still there… just slightly further apart; probably having been spooked by the disappearance of the Element from their midst.

Something similar but with slightly more military precision had happened down by the cannery. It was such an old and rotted thing, my brother and I hadn’t even entertained fixing it up... but there was an old dock right by the old cannery; presumably once used for unloading fresh fish and sending away the finished cans.

“...Dammit all,” I muttered to myself, before turning to Nemo, who was just sitting there and eyeing me with a carefully blank expression. “There are soldiers here, two companies, a commander… and two prisoners.”

Nemo’s eyes darted over to Demonreach, and back to me. “...Can’t you two just… seal the lot of ‘em?” The girl waved a hoof in the clean other direction of the cannery, seemingly neither noticing or caring that the thin fabric of her prison clothes was starting to freeze stiff even while on her. “And bam, we just walk over and introduce ourselves?”

I bit my lip and thought it over, but ultimately I had to shake my head. “No, if nothing else they seem to have a decently sized force; we do that, and they’ll simply send more squads until the Equestrians’ get lucky.”

That, and although there were quite a few empty cells and Demonreach could grow more on demand, they were not infinite.

Would be just my luck if I defeated a whole army lead by four demi-gods, only for Cthulhu to rise from his dead city, and have no empty cells to put Him in.

“Look,” I told her as I got up, “here’s the plan; we go over to my cottage first to confront the smaller group there, demand to parley, and when the pricks go all zealots on us instead of listening, we stomp ‘em all the way back to Sugar Happy Super Fun La-La Land. Rinse and repeat down at the cannery.”

Nemo just stared bemusedly at me for a few moments. “...Any plan that doesn’t involve us marching up against soldiers, o fearless leader…?”

“Do you want to dodge these pricks for the rest of your life…?” I pointed towards the actual direction again. “So we can either stomp ‘em hard enough they never come back, or broker some type of deal using their lieges as leverage... and either way, we need to go face them.”

Nemo looked as if she was about to protest, but instead she gave off a shrug that made her wings ruffle loudly. “...Fine, if these cartoon wannabes want to fight, I don’t think I’ll mind making ‘em crap teeth for a bit.” I felt my ears perk even as the mare made a grimace and shuddered. “Honestly, making themselves look like My Little Pony characters to make people lower their guard? That’s just wrong.”

“...What are you talking about?” I frowned, and looked back at the spots in the snow where the ‘alicorns’ had been standing. “...That girly thing from the eighties? They’ve stolen their looks from that of all things?”

For a few moments Nemo just gave me one of those: ‘Just what rock have you been living under?” type stares, but then she blinked, and slapped herself on the forehead hard enough it smacked. “Oh, my freaking god,” she muttered with eyes unfocused,” I can’t believe I forgot that wizards being walking tech-bane thingy...”

I sat down again; at about the same rate my eyebrow was rising, I might add. “...What the hell are you talking about?”

Rubbing her temples with her hooves, Nemo frowned deep in thought for a bit. “...Look, it’s a long and weird story, and I don’t have any of the proof on me. Short version? Whatever these hypocritical bastards really are, they’ve based their —and our I might add, appearances on characters from this popular fantasy cartoon show going on right now.” Nemo lost control of her face with a growl that somehow sounded both inhuman and inequine, as she spat at the spot Luna had been standing just a few minutes before. “Intended audience,” she continued snarling, “girls’ ages three and up.”

The bottom of my stomach dropped out as Nemo let fly another ‘projectile,’ this time at the spot ‘Cadance’ had been standing.

Think that hole was burned out by this bonfire somebody had suddenly snuck inside my chest.

Nemo’s snarl got changed out for a deep frown, as she ran a hoof along her jawline. “...Think that might be it? Some type of shapeshifting bastards, and… I don’t know, a mass conversion ritual that almost worked, or something?”

I fought the fire in my belly down, and forced myself to think rationally for a few moments…

No matter how tempting it was to have Demonreach simply raise about twenty circles a heart across might have suddenly felt.

What can I say? Struggling against that darn mantle had been good for something, at least.

“...It’s an interesting theory,” I managed in an even voice, “and I have encountered creatures that like to make themselves look like fictional characters, so it isn’t impossible.”

Nemo went rigid, but remained silent as I quickly cut her off by raising my hoof. “But those things feed on fear, use horror characters, and are about as subtle as the slashers they like to resemble.”

I paused for a moment as Nemo shuddered; near rippling as if she’d gotten a vibrator the size of a fire hydrant shoved up h-

With a ‘fumph’ of displaced air, my wings (and, ugh, tail) went as stiff as a pair of boards.

My cheeks suddenly burning, I turned my head away with a cough; ignoring one of the most infuriatingly cu- annoying snickers I’d ever heard.

“You know…” Nemo droned out, smiling like a freakin’ canary that had managed to turn tables on the cat. “...I’d thought a wizard of all people would have enough staff polishing practice to find a mare knob no harder a challenge…”

“Ha, ha, ha,” I deadpanned with an eye roll, as I fought to get my rogue appendages to fall back in line. “A joke about us wizards and how we do so love our staffs! Oh, the wit…”

Nemo rolled her eyes at me. “Seriously though,” she absently said as she scanned the forest, “couldn’t you of all people summon up a frisky pooka, or something?” The girl waved her hoof in the air, while I fought down a grimace and felt my wings all but deflate. “And I don’t know, have this Demonreach of yours get these forests tended in ‘exchange’ for some regular nookie, or whatever…?”

If Nemo’s suggestion had been a bucket of ice down my back... than the almost morbidly amused gaze from Demonreach I felt burning in my neck was this finely ground glacier down the same spot.

Frankly, it felt as if my damned wings shrunk about five sizes.

And not only because the suggestion itself was about as appealing to me as getting dragged away on a bikini-wax. Ye gods, the same girl that could crack concrete by jumping is this naive about how things actually work in the supernatural world?

I hesitated and pinged Demonreach, but with the 'alicorns' out of the picture the fighting had died down, so as good a time as any.

I did not want to see what this girl would be like hopped up on black magic and some twisted patron's favor if she could already break the sound barrier with what's basically a weird type of breaststroke. No time to give the full version, but if taking a few minutes might save me (and the world) from having to fight Darth Nemo in a few years, it would be worth it.

“...Nemo,” I managed somehow in an even voice. Don’t ask me how. “I know you’re new to all this and you’ve probably got a million and one ‘clever’ ideas running through your head…” I ignored the annoyed glare I got, and instead tried not to have my cheeks melt from the inside out as I ran my hooves in a big circle in the air over my stomach. “But there’s more to a child than friction, two types of slimy fluids and needing to wait ni- eleven months, ‘kay?”

I looked between the direction of my cottage, and the now near crimson pegasus…

I bit my lip, and hesitated. Now was really not the damn time, but…

Clearly deciding that his presence was no longer needed, Demonreach took one, long dragging step inland, and was gone before his good foot could actually touch land again.

“Look, I can’t give you the details now, we don’t have the time... but yes there exist spirits, demons, and all sorts of things that will…” I couldn’t quite stop a chuckle that turned Nemo an even darker shade of red. “...jump on any offers like that; because most of them think making children is almost as fun as hunting them.”

The colors —red and otherwise, drained from Nemo’s face.

“They’re called ‘scions;’ half human, half something else. Most of them just look like slightly odd humans with a bit more magic, but some like changelings —That’s when a fey and a human bonk, by the way.— have other, less… wholesome side-effects as well.” I let out a groan, as something I’d really tried not to think about bubbled to the surface, making my cheeks heat again. “I really don’t want to admit this out-loud… but given how magical ponies seem to be…”

Nemo spluttered so hard, I almost got a rather disgusting improvised shower. “You can not be serious!”

I thought I’d be running on near empty as far as compassion and this darned day went… but suddenly Maggie’s little face flashed before my eyes, and the mere army on my property didn’t seem nearly as important anymore.

I got up, and walked over to Nemo, who eyed me suspiciously. “Nemo…” I kept my voice gentle, as I put both hooves on her shoulders. “...now isn’t the time, but you’ve got rare talent, so I’m going to take the time to explain something to you, ‘kay?”

Nemo looked suspicious about something for a moment, but she smoothed her frown out and just let me continue.

“Your level of talent and those kinds of ideas?” I squeezed her shoulders a bit, but kept my voice firm but kind. “That is a very, very, very dangerous combo, Nemo. I know it might be hard to believe, but there are horrible things out there; things that were old when this continent was lost under ice last time, and quite a few of them would love to have a combined enforcer and concubine that can crack necks and bed frames.”

Nemo spluttered a bit again.

I ignored it, and instead gently poked her on the forehead. “And if they can trick you into a contract or other crap that means that pesky personality and morals of yours’ don’t get in the way of serving them?” I fought down a scowl as I put my hoof back on her shoulder. “All the freaking better. After all, who cares what the breeding stock thinks as long as the new promising lineage of minions keep coming, right?”

She kept a good poker face going… but under my hooves, I felt how Nemo started shaking slightly even through my hipposandals.

“The dark gods, the faeries , vampires, or half a —heh, score of horrible things I could mention? Most of them think mortal law and morality is cute. Things like murder, rape, dismemberment, and other horrible things like that? If you aren’t strong enough to force them to consider you their equal, you’re prey; as simple as that.”

Nemo’s eyes darted around all over my face, looking for the slightest hint I was just kidding.

When she, shock of all shocks, didn’t find any, she went a few shades paler.

“Don’t get me wrong,” I continued softly, “there are things of sweetness and light out there as well, and if you actually manage to genuinely court one of those?” I let out a low whistle under my breath. “It’s rarer than a vow of poverty in freakin’ congress, but I’ve seen it happen and work out.” I waited for the hesitant smile to appear before I squeezed her shoulders hard enough that Nemo winced, and made my voice far, far harder. “But that doesn’t stop the central thing; they are not human. You —somehow, screw an angel, and it will come with just as many boons and banes as if you’d whistled up an incubus to be your personal fuck toy.”

Some color was slowly returning to Nemo’s cheeks; if both blue and red. “...So, winners don’t do drugs?” She mumbled out. “...Just with… magic, and spirits, instead of your body and amphetamine? You can get a really big boost, but unless you know exactly what you're doing you will end up under a headstone before you're forty?”

I blinked. “...That’s… actually a decent comparison.”

Nemo raised her hoof to scratch her chin… only to freeze when it was half way there. “...Oh dammit, I’m at that stage, aren’t I?” She stared down at her hoof, turning it around as if she’d never seen it before; making the short bit of chain left on the cuffs rattle a bit. “I’ve figured out just enough to be a danger to myself and oth-”

Nemo cut off mid-word.

Her eyes locked on the orange sleeve of her prison clothes, soggy from how her hooves had been cannon deep into the snow.

Gently, I grabbed the hoof with both of my own. “Nemo… right now isn’t a good time for those types of doubts, even if it’s good that you're wrestling with what have happened.” Nemo’s hoof nearly twitched out of my grip, but I held firm. “You focus a hundred percent on the task at hand for a few more hours, we both get out alright… and I’ll give you the ‘Freaky Shit 101’ rundown I wish I’d gotten when I was new to magic over a beer or five, ‘kay?”

Nemo hesitated, eyes still locked on the orange sleeve.

“You know…” she chuckled, this soft smile creeping onto her face. “I think me telling people this story without smelling like alcohol might be wiser. Rain check?”

I chuckled softly at that. “In my experience that doesn’t actually help... but sure.”

We traded another chuckle on that.

And for a few moments… it was rather nice, I had to admit.

No Elder Empire of Whatever.

No magic, be it foul or fair.

No ancient demigods of Decaf, Grape Flavored Candy, Cooties, One-Red-Sock-In-The-White-Laundry, or other evils grand and terrifying…

Just two new friends, holding ha- hooves, and having a quiet moment together after a trying day.

I think Nemo was thinking near the damn same thing, because although her eyes didn’t leave our hooves, her smile wilted a bit. “...This is going to end in screams and hellfire, isn’t it?”

The moment over, I let go of her hoof with a sigh. “Yeah… these ‘Equestrian’s’ don’t appear to be able to take a hint, so probably.”

Letting out a sigh so deep her cheeks puffed for a moment, Nero cracked her fetlocks while looking towards Chicago; some of the taller lights just barely visible through the trees. “...Harry, I know I’m not exactly prime apprentice material right now, but I need to know something.”

“Shoot.”

On me not even hesitating, Nemo froze for a moment...

But after that moment I got this rather adorably cheeky smile I swear made the forest feel a bit warmer, before she pressed on. “...Is it true that the image of something can be used magically? I’ve only heard stories, and I don’t know how many of them are true or not…”

“Sure, symbolism is a tool near every wi-”

Nemo quickly waved me off. “Not that! Like…” The girl hesitated, clearly struggling with putting what she was thinking into words.

I frowned a bit, and thought it over. “...What, like drawing a sword, and somehow using that image to cut somebody?”

Nemo hesitated. “...No, more like…” The mare leaned back on her haunches, and mimed holding a hilt with both hooves. “...you forge a normal sword, but ritually Name it Excalibur, or something; and suddenly it’s something almost but not quite like a legendary blade? Except you can mass produce the darn thing?”

I felt a cold chill dance down my spine.

Stars and freaking Stones, if this girl ever actually went warlock I don’t think there’d be much left of this country afterwards.

And my mind couldn’t help but drift to two bits of rather special cloth I’d encountered in my life; one of them safely back in the Vatican… and the actual original Shroud of Turin safely locked away somewhere deep under my hooves.

“...That… could work, but you’d need to use faith magic for it” I forced myself to say, ignoring how quite a bit of my fur was now standing on end, “and actually making that trick stick would be a whole other ball-park; you’d basically need to have thousands —if not tens of thousands, of people capital B Believe you actually have The Excalibur, and even then I don’t think it would work with more than one.”

For a moment Nero was still as a corpse…

Until her pupils turned to pin-pricks, and she started to hyperventilating while hugging herself. “Oh God, why did I have to be on to something?!”

She stopped halfway to grabbing her own mane, staring at her hooves like she’d never seen them before.

Slowly, and shaking so badly she was all but vibrating, Nemo put her hooves on my shoulders. “Harry…” She nodded down towards the ground. “...you know I’ve never seen your cutie mark, right?”

Somewhere deep down in my mind, what felt like a tiny pipe bomb filled with rusty nails and ground glass went off; judging from the flash of momentary but near searing pain.

And somehow I just Knew, as sure as if Demonreach had whispered to me, that yes, that was the real Name for that emblem on my buttocks I’d tried not to think about, but Maggie had seemed to find endlessly fascinating.

“Y-Y-eah?” I winced out.

“Three pink butterflies with blue bodies? That’s what yours' looks like, right?!”

For a moment, all I could do was stare. “How the fu-!”

To my shock, Nemo actually shoved her rather unclean hoof over my mouth.

I was just about to splutter and protest… when I saw the near maniacal and desperate look on Nemo’s face.

“Look, I don’t have time for the details, but that show I was talking about? In that, the Elements of Harmony are basically magic made manifest. They work only in the hooves of their Bearers, and are tools of healing and restoration, but they can do near anything.” Eyes open so wide I could almost see the clearing reflected in her sclera, Nemo grabbed me by the shoulders and held tight. “It all fits! That’s why we look like this now! Why those things are so powerful, and they need us so much! Why we have gotten such a power boost! Why those two-faced pricks won't drop character even when under threat of death!”

“Quiet!” I hushed at her sharply, and grabbed both hooves, forcing them down. “...Look, Nemo, that is a very troubling theory, but you’d ne-”

“Harry, Friendship Is Magic is one of those once-in-a-lifetime phenomena.” Her hooves and voice shaking, Nemo put her hooves right back on my shoulders. “It has a globally spanning fandom that numbers in hundreds of millions.

Vaguely, as if from far away, I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach. Again.

“Imagine it,” Nemo continued still shaking, “The world is nearly going to hell in a hand basket because the ponies popping up is forcing magic out into the open… and then up pops the Bearers of The Elements of Harmony, and the Alicorn Princesses of Equestria, and their armies; all ready to aid humanity in their darkest hour, the Princesses oh so sad their spell to arrive in this world went so ‘wrong.’”

My mouth felt as dry as if I’d chewed cotton. Holy freaking hell, could it be that easy? A global hearts and minds campaign?

“And as those glorious ‘heroes’ battle the forces of darkness, their legend grows day by day…” Her face waxen, Nemo lowered her right hoof, and tapped my sternum. “...Until the day that legend has spread so far and so wide, that even if the ‘Elements’ are only a simulacrum to start with, they sooner or later won't be.”

I forced myself to swallow enough spit to be able to speak again. “...What power level are we talking about here?” My eyes darted down to the ground. “Just a rough guess since I haven’t seen that... show.”

This tittering laugh that barely sounded sane forced itself out of Nemo’s mouth, and she had to all but shove her own hoof into her mouth to make it stop.

Well, that seemed like a good sign. Still, I forced myself to sit still, and wait for her to muscle through it.

With a wet slorp Nemo pulled her hoof out, but even then it was a few minutes of controlled breathing before she could speak again. “...Harry, I wasn’t exaggerating about ‘magic made manifest;’ if those things are around their chosen Bearers’ necks and fully powered up? Then —in the show at least, Twilight Sparkle basically has root access to magic itself.

For a few moments… I’m fairly certain even Demonreach himself was dumbstruck.

“If they tap into even a trillionth of that power, then it won’t even matter if these Elements are fake or not!” Nemo continued in a hissed whisper. “Because then Twilight Sparkle can just use that power to wish the damned things to be real, and then she can use all magic everywhere to do whatever the fuck she and her other ‘Princesses’ want!”

My mind went blank as I failed to even imagine the scope of all that power.

I’d met creatures that could destroy you with only a single word of your True Name.

I’d met things capable of unmaking galaxies, had their power not been carefully bound to a certain task.

I’ve met gods, crooked, bent and all but a shade of their former, full glory, that can still hold you and crush you with the might of their terrifying, titanic Wills alone.

Somehow, I found the presence of mind to actually swallow the gulp stuck in my throat.

And all that power combined wasn’t even a gnat to what a single being would become, if they held the keys to all magic.

“USA not liking the new equine world order?” Nemo snarked, doing the standard psychic stance at a nearby tree by wiggling one hoof at it, and the other at the pine in question. “‘Oops, yeah, turning the entire army into mares? Our bad!’”

In my mind’s eye, I could see it. Squadron after squadron of soldier falling, their forms twisting and melting under a horrible rainbow light, as hundreds upon hundreds of mares with wide, empty grins tumbled down onto the ground.

“Oh, the rest of the world has finally seen the equine terror for what it really is? Nukes for everypony!” Nemo spread her hooves wide towards the sky, and made a ‘zort’ sound; as if mimicking an old sci-fi laser. “Oh my word, what a lovely rain of pansies The Elements and Princesses have brought us today! All hail Equestria!”

My wings made a soft ruffling sound, as I fought down a shiver.

“Oh, so God Himself is getting uppity for the de-facto extermination of the human race? Enough that He’ll even free and march with the Deceiver himself, just for a chance of setting everything in His creation right again?” Nemo wiggled her arms at a spot on the ground, only to lean her head against her hooves with a fake, but still goofy looking grin on her face. “Aww, little Princess Lux and Princess Tenebra look so cute when they’re asleep! Still, I’m sure they’ll be a boon for Equestria once they get older and grew up, knowing only the Glory of Harmony!”

And the worst bit? It sounded… plausible. It would hardly be even the hundredth time something had tried some grand scheme to conquer and remake the world into their own image.

I’d grant that using a cartoon about magical ponies for it was a bit original, but still, otherwise it wasn’t what I’d call new.

But I had to admit, even for me? Really only were two words to sum such a twisted situation up.

“...Well, crap.”

Author's Note:

Ugh, this chapter was a nag to write. Still, moving on...

A friendly reminder, when Fluttershy finally loses her shit, it looks like this:

Writing even part of that thought process was FUN!

(As a bonus, you can see the three pronged ‘wing-fingers’ thing clearly in the above pic. They apparently even have individual bones in them if ‘Read It And Weep’ can be trusted, and Fluttershy have herself used them to take things out of the saddlebags she’s wearing. Imagine wearing a backpack while still reaching back in and grabbing something, and I think you can get how freakishly dexterous that is.)

Anyway, the Elements are really damn potent, but they have weaknesses, and after that sucker-punch Demonreach took on the shin in the last chapter a bit of a grudge rematch seemed fitting.

So… yeah. Luna is having a rather rotten day, and the other Princesses aren’t that far off. I’m not fond of how talky this chapter got, but at least some important things happened during all that yapping...

And I’m honestly not sure if that concept worked in practice or not, but I rather like the idea of the one-time Harry is up against mystical creatures of immense power that might have actually have listened…

S/He goes for the big punches out of cynicism, unknowingly unnerving and rattling immortals really not used to being challenged by equals in power —let alone by somebody mortal not afraid to use lethal force, to the point they can barely string a sentence together.

‘Jokes’ aside, I’d like to remind everybody that this thing has a Dark tag, but isn’t done yet.

Wouldn’t be much of a climax without stakes raised, yes?

Oh, and a ‘whipping boy’ was basically a specialized —and today utterly morally outdated, royal servant. Think somebody halfway between a confidant and a scapegoat. Since the divine right of kings meant that none but the king was worthy of punishing his children directly, another child would be ordained for when calling away the king to give his young brat a spanking simply wasn’t practical.

So instead the whipping boy would be beaten in the prince’s stead, to show the prince that he’d done something wrong by punishing what was often his oldest and most trusted friend instead.

Yeah, imagine having that special talent slash destiny.

Other than that, no comment on where the plot is going, and I hope you enjoyed this chapter.

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