• Published 16th Nov 2011
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My(stara's) Little Ponies: Friendship is Adventuring - JohnBiles



The Mane Six. Typical D&D Adventurer Hijinx. As told by an adventurer rescued by them.

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Book Three (White Plume Mountain): Part 2: Altar of the Lupine Lords

My(stara's) Little Ponies: Friendship is Adventuring
A D&D (Mystara) / My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic crossover

Book 3: White Plume Mountain
Part 2: Altar of the Lupine Lords

By John Biles

***************

Eventually, we dragged ourselves out of bed so we could try the second section of the dungeon. We circled back to the Sphinx with some effort, then took the 'moon' route'. It began with a long hallway which showed the night sky. Twilight was pleased by its accuracy. There was a pit trap; Ivan was about to disarm it when Clarity said over the... whatever it is... "Oh, Rainbow Dash, clock's ticking. Four minutes flat, right?"

"Hah! THREE AND A HALF! CHARGE!" Rainbow Dash took off at high speed, while Ivan worked with me assisting.

"No, Dash, wait!" Twilight said.

The Wonderbolts took off after her and we heard distant shouting and smashing noises.

Once the pit was disarmed, we pursued them, but the hallway turned and we went through some doors into howling winds. We could hear them off beyond more doors, but the winds blew us all back.

And over it all, Clarity kept up a running countdown, second by second, which I found REALLY annoying.

"Okay, this time I will push forward and open the doors at the far end of the wind tunnel," Applejack said.

"There has to be something to shut the winds off," Ivan said. "But I can't get to it like this."

"I'm going to enlarge both of you," Twilight said. "Applejack can keep Ivan steady and he can disarm it."

We couldn't even watch them go in, just listen, while Clarity continued her countdown with Spikey. Thrashing noises slowly got more distant and I could hear every heavy step of Applejack and her grunty noises. Ivan kept mumbling and cursing and I felt my hair try to blow from the air spilling out.

And Spike kept glaring at me.

I'm sorry, Spike, I don't like hurting your feelings.

Okay, I enjoyed pulling the hat over your eyes WAY too much, but other than that, I'm sorry.

It's pretty clear that Rarity must know unless she's blind, and he's not what she's looking for. Sorry, man, happens to all of us.

You're going to outlive us all, anyway.

Except maybe me if I keep somehow dying and coming back to life and not getting older.

Worry later.

The winds finally stopped and we rushed down to where Applejack and Ivan were. Applejack broke down the next set of doors and what we saw beyond them was a long tunnel of silvery metal. It was round and had a round door at the end with a... one of those doors where you turn a wheel to open it.

"It's a trap," Ivan said. "I don't know what, but I instinctively distrust it.

"One minute," Clarity said cheerfully. "Looks like your time is running out, Dashie."

"She's not in this room, you know," Applejack pointed out.

"Yes, but everyone needs to know when she LOSES," Rainbow Crash said cheerfully.

Very softly, we heard Rainbow Dash shout "BITE ME, CRASH."

I think we heard them hearing her. So to speak.

"Maybe I can fly down and open the doors without setting the trap off?" Fluttershy said.

"It's worth trying if you think you can get that open," Twilight said.

Fluttershy nodded, took a deep breath and... very slowly flew down the hallway.

By the time she reached the end, we could hear our evil twins all laughing and mocking Rainbow Dash for being out of time. Applejack scowled. "You shouldn't make fun of her for doin' her best."

"Her best ain't half good enough," Rainbow Crash said. "By the way, Fluttershy, you're not strong enough to open that door."

This proved correct; she strained and made very oddly delicate grunting noises but couldn't open it.

"I'll help," Applejack said, but Twilight stopped her.

"Pinkie, use your Spider-Pinkie boots and go help her." Twilight said.

Rarity now touched her hat, looking thoughtful.

"Oke doke Loki!" Pinkie said, donning the boots and walking along the wall down to Fluttershy.

Loki? She casually invokes LOKI? Okay, he probably is Celestia's father, but...

Spike, Rarity, myself, and Twilight all got wide eyes. We felt something. Surely Loki hadn't noticed.

"Who has the best ears?" I asked.

"Well, I have the prettiest ears, darling," Rarity said.

Twilight laughed softly. "That would be Spike."

"Can you put your ear to the wall, see if you hear anything?" I said.

Spike did so. "I got nothing. Other than echoes of Pinkie feet."

The trigger must be on the floor. Ivan and I began studying it as Pinkie joined them. Twilight and Rarity also tried to lend help in turning the door.

"Pinkie, can you see any holes in the wall by where you are?"

"Yes, there's tubes going into the wall," she said.

Spouts which fire off something.

Wait, this is the pegasus route... we think... You'd want something triggered by a flying creature, right? No point in floor triggers but Fluttershy didn't set it off...

We couldn't hear Dash or the Wonderbolts, which worried me. Dammit, Dash, you'd better be okay. Don't make me have spent all this time getting on your good side for nothing!

Pinkie started singing as she and Fluttershy tried to turn the wheel.

o/~ Pinkie and Fluttershy,

o/~ Pinkie and Fluttershy,

o/~ Wheel of time keeps on turning,

o/~ Turning the wheel of... the hallway...

Pinkie sighed. "I need inspiration."

...

Fluttershy tried singing.

o/~ Pinkie and Fluttershy,

o/~ Pinkie and Fluttershy,

o/~ Fluttershy wants to be a tree,

o/~ Pinkie is a she...

She paused. "Wait, what are we sinking about?"

"Turning this wheel," Pinkie said. "Marcus, sing something!"

Sing WHAT? What good will this do?

o/~ Boldly stood Halav when came the dawn,

o/~ Cunningly concealed, Zirchev lay in wait,

o/~ Atop the hill, Petra prayed for those she loved,

o/~ For the day of doom long feared had come.

Ivan grimaced. Sorry, Ivan, I don't know, it was just the first thing that came to mind.

Fluttershy and Pinkie continued to try to shove the wheel along as it ground slowly, ever so slowly and they both began to sweat, while Applejack rocked back and forth restlessly on her hooves.

o/~ Come my foes, Halav shouted as they came

o/~ Ere comes the twilight, all shall fall

o/~ Who would feign right to pass into our lands!

o/~ All the invaders shall perish by my own hands!

Pinkie began to make really loud groaning noises and I wondered how exactly the pegasi had gotten this door open if it was so stuck. Sweat poured down her and Fluttershy's bodies and Applejack became more agitated.

"There has got to be some way to safely get me down there to help," Applejack said.

"Earth...pony...power..." Pinkie grunted out.

This didn't do much.

Twilight, however, sang the next verse of the Song of Halav. Spike began frantically digging through Twilight's saddlebags as she sang.

o/~ Come my forest allies, Zirchev sang that day,

o/~ Come satyr and dryad and cheval and pegasi

o/~ Come elven friends from your deep forests

o/~ Come stand with men until dawn comes again.

Spike now fell into the saddlebag with a yelp, vanishing from sight.

I winced in sympathy.

Fluttershy was vibrating and sweating. Pinkie... I could hear her muscles working and the wheel turned more. "Cookie, cookie, cookie, cookie," Pinkie began to chant determinedly.

"Dammit, dammit, dammit," Applejack began to mutter like a mantra.

Twilight now looked urgently at Rarity, who started.

"Darling, I don't even know this song," Rarity said to Twilight.

Twilight stared at her, horn glowing, and Rarity began hesitantly to sing, her voice wobbling a little.

o/~ Assemble the bandages and pile the herbs, Petra sang.

o/~ All things which heal and help are mine to command.

o/~ Ladies of Traladara, rally around me!

o/~ We too shall fight to defend our land.

Twilight smiled brightly for some reason and Ivan sighed, but he and Spike sang together now. Spike, I will note, was a better singer.

o/~ And the men sang and raised their spears together.

o/~ Come our foes, you will find us no easy meat!

o/~ Come our foes, my spear hungers for your blood!

o/~ Come our foes, the deeds we do will live on forever!

Pinkie gave a great shout and suddenly the wheel spun freely, pulling her along with it because she was operating it with her magically sticky boots. "WOOHOO!!!!" she shouted as Fluttershy fell back. "The deeds I do will live on forever!"

I wobbled, dizzy from looking at her.

Pinkie stumbled away from the wheel, then fell down. "Eeeeeee!" She sounded happy about it, though.

The door came open and immediately the hallway began to spin.

DAMMIT.

The tubes began spewing a clear liquid everywhere, all over Pinkie and Fluttershy. Pinkie tried to stand, slipped on the liquid, then went rolling around wildly. "Yes, slip and slide!"

Rarity concentrated, firing arrows down the hallway. Each plugged a dispenser, but the far end of the cylinder, Pinkie, and Fluttershy were now thoroughly greased. I was amazed she'd been able to hit the rotating targets.

"It's not so hard since the cylinder rotated at a regular speed once up to full," Rarity told me when I asked. "I just predicted it and then shot."

Twilight now concentrated and the cylinder began to slow down. The dispensers struggled but couldn't expel Rarity's arrows. Fluttershy fled towards us, making unhappy noises. Pinkie continued to slide around, laughing loudly and clearly totally enjoying her ride.

"You're not supposed to LIKE IT," Rainbow Crash said, sounding frustrated.

"And they're not on fire," Not-Spitfire said. She sounded disappointed. "I like fire."

"Everyone likes fire," Rainbow Crash said.

"Fire scares me," Fluttershy said.

"It's okay, you can be my minion anyway," not-Fluttershy said kindly.

Except for using the word 'minion', she sounded like Fluttershy, just slightly louder.

"My trap is much better than this silly machine," not-Fluttershy continued.

Crunch, tear, grimace, crunch, shake, bend. Mechanisms ripped and tore and destroyed themselves and the tunnel stopped spending, only now it was kind of bent and twisted and the end of it no longer lined up with the doorway to the next room, which was going to be problematic.

"That was AWESOME but now I am slimy," Pinkie said. "Rarity, help!"

"Me too," Fluttershy asked softly.

Spike and Rarity tried to clean them off while Applejack, Ivan, Twilight, and I tore open the metal wall with magic, blade and kicking very hard, in order to open the way to the next room; Rarity then recovered her arrows; it turned out they'd also blocked the fire that was going to ignite the grease. Ack, that's vicious.

Man, I hope the pegasi are okay because at this rate, they'll die of old age before we catch up to them.

*************

A short hallway led out onto a platform; the room was huge, and I guessed it had to be some kind of pocket dimension because it couldn't be inside a volcano. There was mist down below and huge trees grew up out of it, with large gaps between them. Coconuts hung from the trees and dozens of monkeys roamed around, swinging tree to tree with vines and beating their chests. Far off, you could barely make out another platform leading into a hallway.

"This is so pretty," Fluttershy said, then rubbed herself against the wall of the room, trying to get the last of the oil off.

"Okay, this is gonna take a mite of thinkin'," Applejack said, staring at it all.

"If we can reach that first tree, I think we can swing with vines," I said.

"Ponies ain't so great at clinging to vines," Applejack said. "I could probably jump tree to tree, but I don't think the rest of you can, though Fluttershy can fly."

"I can give someone wings," Twilight said, huffing and puffing from her earlier display of magic.

"I have the fly spell saved," I told her. "Maybe we should use that, as we need you to not be wiped out."

"Twilight, if you make me bigger, I can take Ivan and Marcus to the first tree, then they can go and I can start hauling ponies," Applejack said.

"What about me?" Spike said.

"You... okay, yer not a pony, but when I say 'ponies', I mean you too, Spike."

Spike smiled at that.

"If Spike rides in Rarity's saddlebag, you can take him and Rarity at the same time," I said. Here's my makeup present to you, Spike.

His eyes lit up. "Yes!"

"Hop in," Rarity said kindly and he clambered in. "You too, Marcus. Ivan can ride in Applejack's saddlebags."

"I can teleport," Twilight said. "I will teleport myself and Pinkie. Then Applejack can carry everyone else at once. And Fluttershy can fly." She enlarged Applejack, then we helped Rarity up to 'ride' on Applejack and then everyone got stowed.

Fluttershy began flying and Applejack leaped to the first tree. Immediately, the monkeys began pelting her with coconuts, while Fluttershy begged them to stop. Applejack was too busy dodging to make any headway and I started to feel a little motion sickness.

Rarity said, "Assist me, Marcus." She threw up several sheets of cloth and together, we used it as a shield to cover Applejack's advance.

Fluttershy began to sing and the trees came to life; we could hear not-Fluttershy also singing, trying to command the trees, but the trees ignored her.

"Trees, I am a grand druid! You have to do what Mommy wants!" Not-Fluttershy said, frustrated.

Keraptis said something I couldn't quite make out.

"I am not cheating! I am a druid, Mommy Nature gave me this power to be everyone's loving mother!" Not-Fluttershy said.

"I'm sorry, monkeys, but I can't let you hurt my friend Applejack," Fluttershy said apologetically as the trees began snaring the monkeys. "I promise you won't get hurt. If you're nice, I'll give you some bananas."

Several monkeys now defected when bribed properly, and began chasing off the other monkeys.

"Even a loving mother sometimes has to chastise the bad children!" Not-Fluttershy said vigorously. Shouting for her was about like trying to talk over a crowd for me.

Applejack continued to jump lithely from branch to branch, though I noticed the branches often broke when she jumped off them. This may make getting back harder than getting in.

We finally passed to the other side with not-Fluttershy continuing to gently freak out. Then we fled the room, though I got hit with a coconut in the back of the head on my way out. Oww.

*****************

We opened the next door and arctic winds rushed in, chilling us. The room beyond was terraced with ledges climbing upwards and forwards to a distant door, but snow and ice were everywhere and howling winds poured down.

"There may be ice monsters," I said.

Ivan shivered. "I may die by the time I reach the other side.

I put on my sweatervest. Rarity sighed. "I'm sorry, everyone, I just have some scarves."

Twilight summoned enough sweatervests for everyone and we wrapped up making blankets into ponchos as best we could. Fluttershy and Twilight and I also cast warming spells, enough that we'd all only get somewhat cold instead of dying horribly.

"Oh, those naughty pegasi could have fixed the weather," Not-Fluttershy said mournfully. "But they wanted candy before their meal and so they just rushed through and left you all to suffer. But if you all repent and obey me, I can protect you."

"No," Applejack said. "I only obey the Princesses."

Not-Fluttershy made an angry noise.

"I only obey Twilight, and only because I WANT to." Spike said. "And Rarity. And Celestia. And Luna. But NOT Owlicious or Marcus or especially not that bastard Erik."

We all made our statements of 'no luck for you."

That's when it started to thunder and freezing rain began falling.

Oh fuck me.

"Here, let me help," Rainbow Crash said.

"And me," Not-Soarin' said.

"And me," Not-Spitfire said.

Oh INFINITE FUCK ME!!!!!

We were up onto tier two of ten and now we were soaked to the bone. It was especially hideous for Ivan and I, as we didn't have nice warm coats. Spike kept breathing fire on himself to get the ice off.

"Fluttershy, can you break up the clouds?" Ivan asked.

"No, I didn't study weather control, I'm good with animals and plants, of which there aren't any here," Fluttershy said, shivering. She glowed with warmth and we tried to stay near her, though all she could do was make us miserable and not dead.

Then the lightning strikes started.

Fluttershy narrowly dodged one and Ivan and I put our weapons in Twilight's saddlebags, so they couldn't draw lightning. Thank the Immortals I wear leather armor.

Spike kept melting ice to help us go forward, though it refroze quickly. We slogged along slowly, miserably, shivering, while Fluttershy got more and more worried and cold, with the rest of us.

"I would say to huddle for warmth, but we can't huddle and move at once," I said.

"I'm sorry," Fluttershy said, sounding guilty. "I'm a lousy pegasus."

"You've been a huge help so far," I told her. "And our weather experts decided to race off without us to win a bet."

"And lost it!" Clarity cackled, laughing.

Applejack suddenly looked at me thoughtfully, then frowned and pressed forward, clearly not happy about something.

I don't get it.

"Something wrong, Applejack?" I asked.

"Later," she said. "Got reminded of something."

That probably bodes ill.

Clarity began singing a song about winning.

You know, mad wizards usually have the decency to keep their mouth shut while they watch you. This is starting to drive me crazy.

Rarity slipped and began slide back down to the previous tier. I turned and caught her, then began to slide myself. Ivan caught me and Applejack him and pulled us up.

"So cold," Rarity said, shivering. "I don't even have any boots."

"It is a mite cold," Applejack said, shivering.

An idea hit me. "Spike, you should ride on Twilight, leaning down to embrace her neck. It will give her some body warmth."

"I'm fine, you should help Rarity, Spike," Twilight said.

Fluttershy was becoming very agitated and kept flitting around, pushing against us to help warm us.

Pinkie said, "Can't remember... taste of pie..."

"Oh come on," Ivan said. "I can still remember the taste of pie, I just can't feel my tongue." He slogged forward, though the winds howled and sometimes we had to try to dodge lightning.

I helped Spike onto Rarity and she now began to press forward a little faster, her heat helping him out. He smiled brightly despite the cold.

Halfway up. UGH.

Fluttershy now pressed against me and I put my hand on her back, trying to soak up warmth. She was so nice and warm.

"Stupidly cold," Ivan mumbled.

"At least my hat is keeping my head warm," I said.

"And my ha..." Rarity winced. She concentrated, wham instant winter clothing. "I wish I could share these," she said apologetically.

Okay, VERY JEALOUS.

"Are you all done being bad children or is Mommy going to have to keep punishing you?" Not-Fluttershy said sweetly.

"You're the bad child," Fluttershy said. "You're hurting my friends!" She was quivering with anger. "They can't handle this weather!"

"Then they should either turn back or else submit to me. I promise to be a kind and gentle mother," Not-Fluttershy said sweetly. "But bad children must be PUNISHED."

"What is your Element?" I asked.

"I am Dragonfly, the Power of Mother Nature," not-Fluttershy said. "Who loves good children and destroys the bad."

"No good mother destroys her children," Fluttershy protested. "You need to stop doing this!"

"All you have to do is promise to obey your mother," Dragonfly said sweetly.

"No," Ivan said sharply. "I'd rather die."

"That can be arranged, dearie," Dragonfly said sweetly, making me shiver.

The cold was getting worth. We were shivering, even the ponies. Only my torso had any real warmth. Fluttershy was doing her best and Twilight's spell helped but it was cold, so cold...

I'm not sure why it was hitting Pinkie the hardest but she was raving about needing shortening and telling imaginary people to save themselves. "Run, Madame LaFlour, RUN!" she shouted.

Fluttershy pushed against her, trying to warm her up and Pinkie began talking to Fluttershy's shoulder about how gentle Mr. Turnip was.

She... I hope she's just faking madness.

I'm not sure how I would tell.

Rarity wobbled and Spike said, "Hold on Rarity, you can do it." He spat fire nearby, trying to warm her indirectly.

Applejack grimly slogged forwards. But even she was having a very hard time of it.

My feet slipped and I fell down. OWW. For a few seconds, I just laid there, but then Fluttershy pulled me up. "Don't give up," she said urgently.

Maybe I'm going to find out if I really do return from the grave. Whatever is happening to me.

Dammit.

Though at least this means Princess Carnelia doesn't get the satisfaction of killing me.

I don't want to freeze to death, dammit.

I think I tried to cry but my tears froze.

"So tired," Twilight mumbled, fell down in the snow, then struggled to her feet. "I want to sleep."

"All you have to do is surrender to me," Dragonfly said sweetly.

"Stop hurting them," Fluttershy said urgently, sounding desperate.

"Give her the Stare," Applejack mumbled.

"I can't see her! And it won't work on the storm!"

And then Rainbow Crash and the other two pegasi started laughing and laughing and laughing.

"Where the hell is Rainbow Dash, anyway?" I said, suddenly wondering.

"They're a little tied up," Rainbow Crash said, then began laughing more. "Since Fluttershy let them go ahead without her and they ran right into a trap meant for her, not that she can get you out of this one."

Fluttershy began to cry tears of frustration and looked guilty. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

"Easy for you to say when you're hiding in the control room like a coward," Ivan shouted angrily at them. "I bet you wouldn't last five seconds in this cold, Crash!"

"Yeah, you're all talk and no flying," Applejack said angrily.

"You big mouth!"

"You're nothing but an empty shell full of HOT AIR," Twilight shouted.

Oh yeah. "My hoard's bigger than yours!" Spike shouted.

"You have all the fashion sense of a herd of blind goats!" Rarity shouted.

Oooh, I like that one.

"You're a big meanie!" Fluttershy tried to shout.

Rarity now whispered to Spike, who dismounted. She now turned into Rainbow Crash and flung herself into a snowbank. "Look at me, I'm Rainbow Crash, the clumsiest pegasus in Equestria!"

"I am not CLUMSY!" Rainbow Crash shouted.

"I would kiss my boyfriend but I keep missing his lips!" Rarity now crashed into another snowbank.

There was a sudden wave of heat across the room, though it quickly faded.

"No, you're interfering with my storm of ice and snow!" Dragonfly said urgently. "Bad girl!"

"Rainbow Crash, hitting trees at the speed of LIGHT!" I shouted.

Rarity made groggy, out of control noises and 'crashed' again'.

"That's it, I'm gonna go KICK THAT FAKE'S ASS!" Rainbow Crash shouted.

Chaos ensued in the control room as some of her friends tried to restrain her.

Rarity turned back to normal, and now shivered even more intensely. "So cold."

"I'm going to have to use a lot of power but we can't take any more of this," Twilight said, shivering herself.

Spike and I both pressed against Rarity, trying to warm her. "You were great," Spike told her.

"I totally agree," I told her.

"I'll do it," Fluttershy said determinedly to Twilight. "Save your strength. I'm not much of a weather pony, but I'll do it." She straightened her necklace, and then she flew up into the storm and began to sing.

We all did our best to sing along, though it was hard to hear her. You could still hear fighting at their end, and now you could see a glow in the clouds and then the glow ripped through them, melting them, and they turned to rain and poured down and now Fluttershy shone like the sun, invoking the first dawn at the beginning of days. The warmth of her kindness melted the ice and the water flowed down the tiers, leaving them bare and the cold broke and fled.

Warmth, blessed gentle warmth that soaked into us, like the return of a long lost friend.

Her element shone like the sun and she guided us to finally escape that damn room.

Fluttershy, you are the best pony.

************

"I feel bad for making fun of Rainbow Crash," Fluttershy confessed as we headed down the next tunnel.

I didn't. They're trying to kill us or drive us away. All we did was mock.

"It was somewhat gauche, but I had to do something," Rarity said. "Marcus, I need your body heat." She shivered a little.

I came and put a hand on her back; I couldn't do a lot more due to the need to keep moving. She did feel cold.

The next door had a faint shimmering, and beyond, something like a night sky and a grey, dusty landscape. "The moon!" Twilight said, amazed.

We stepped through and... the air felt weird. I wasn't dying of lack of air but it almost felt like there was no air. Somehow.

The room was huge, pitted with craters. I turned to the others. I tried to say, 'I think the air is enchanted' but no sound came out.

Everything was utterly silent and eerie.

Maybe there is no air but the void is enchanted so you don't die?

Ironically, a group of snow monsters were trapped near the entrance by a bunch of metal rope traps. They must have chased Dash and company in here.

Twilight wrote a note with her powers. 'This is like the moon. But apparently we can breathe.'

The stars glittered overhead and we could see Mystara in the sky. Cool.

Ivan identified the next set of rope traps, but then we got to another set, where Dash and company were bound up.

Dash began struggling and mouthing words at us, but we couldn't figure out what she and the other two meant.

I immediately turned around on the principle 'they're always RIGHT BEHIND YOU.'

I WAS RIGHT!

Huge humanoid monsters, made of moon rocks, were looming at us from behind, having silently followed us over.

One of them loomed at Rarity, who like the others, had not turned around. I instinctively lunged at him and struck him with my sword, cutting out a chunk of his chest.

He then knocked me for a loop and I flew over the others, dropping my sword and crashing into some rocks. OWWW. This is why being a hero is STUPID.

But at least she didn't get maimed by a surprise attack. I was ready for it.

Sort of.

OWWWWW.

Rarity popped out four arrows and angrily fired; the arrows struck and veins of crystal now formed inside it, tearing it apart as they grew. Applejack turned, charged another and kicked it down and began jumping on it, trying to force it into submission.

Twilight tried some sort of spell and nothing happened. Spike tried to breathe fire. No fire.

Then they both got punted over by me and now metal ropes erupted up, tangling us all up.

Pinkie jumped away from her foe, letting him step on two pies. The plates stuck on his feet and he began to slip and slide until he fell down and she then poured jelly on his hands, making it hard for him to get a grip to push himself up.

Fluttershy began trying to get Rainbow Dash, Spitfire, and Soarin' free, but she couldn't untangle the ropes.

I began reaching for my sword; it slowly slid towards me, and... where was Ivan?

Ivan suddenly rose up behind the one which had attacked Twilight and struck it in the back, hitting what must have been a vital point as its torso shattered and then Pinkie kicked its bits into a crater.

Twilight glanced at me and yanked with her powers and my sword flew to me. I began cutting us loose.

Magic swords for the win!

The one which Pinkie had mauled now got shot by Rarity and broken apart and the one Applejack was beating on surrendered; she herded it into one of the many rope traps to tie it up.

I managed to cut everyone loose but now more rock monsters were forming. Rarity looked at me, worried, but I tried to look reassuring, though I now ached all over.

Rainbow Dash scribbled in the loose lunar sand with her hoof even as Twilight hurled lighting balls at the next rock monster to form, shattering it. 'Door, ceiling, square star thing, pole star'.

Fluttershy now nuzzled me and tried to sing a song but nothing happened. She looked frustrated, but I patted her back, appreciating the effort.

Twilight looked up and pointed to the Haywain, which does include the pole star.

Rainbow Dash flapped, jumped, showed she couldn't fly.

Man, this would be ugly for pegasi.

Ivan drew an arrow in the dust with a rope tied to it. Another rock monster began to rise and Applejack started fighting it with Pinkie's help.

He then drew a stick figure human hanging from the rope, with little arrows to indicate climbing.

She nodded and we got rope and an arrow and she shot it deep into the ceiling. He then borrowed Pinkie's boots, fitting them on hands and feet as best he could and climbed the rope, then jimmied the lock at the top.

The door flew open and air exploded into the room in a howling wind. Ivan plummeted, but as he fell, Applejack ran and leaped up to meet him. They tangled together in the air but it stopped him just enough for Dash, Spitfire and Soarin' to now roar into action against the wind and catch them, though all five landed in a heap together.

"Thank you, everyone," Ivan said.

"Earth ponies forever," Applejack mumbled and they both laughed.

We had to blow up a few more rock monsters and Twilight mumbled about being exiled to the moon, but then the pegasi got us flown up to the next room. It turned out to be empty, so we all flopped down and rested and Fluttershy and Pinkie treated everyone.

"Marcus, that was very brave of you," Rarity said, sounding guilty.

I think I had a fit of insanity, or maybe too much curiosity about whether I can somehow recover from death. But I know how to not express that. "A gentleman cannot allow a lady to come to harm," I told her. Then I grimaced and Fluttershy flinched. "No, no, it wasn't you," I lied to her. "Just other aches and pains."

O/~ Earth ponies forever...

Pinkie trailed off as she worked on Ivan and Applejack. "Umm... hmm, going to have to think on our theme song," she said.

Ivan said, "Well, something... picking locks doesn't go so well with baking pies and bucking apples."

"You can be the one who EATS the pies," Pinkie said, drooling a little.

Rarity fussed over me; it was rather pleasant. I enjoy being fussed over; it shows people care. She started to say something, then looked around and fell silent.

"You can just pretend I'm a tree," Fluttershy whispered, then giggled.

I laughed softly. Rarity now tried to strike a pose like a tree and we all laughed. Pinkie's ears twitched and she turned but Rarity had settled back down.

"I wish so much this place had a bath," I said.

"You and I both," Rarity said.

We chatted and I tried to ignore my pain, though now it faded away.

As I said, magical healing is the BEST healing.

**************

"Right, right, no racing off ahead," Rainbow Dash said ruefully.

"Someone lost the bet," Clarity said with a sing-song voice.

"Shut up," Rainbow Dash grumbled.

"You can tell her to shut up when you get some common sense," Spitfire said irritably.

"Hey, you came too," Rainbow Dash protested.

"Because I had to keep YOU alive," Spitfire said, pointing a hoof at Dash.

"I w...," Soarin' began.

"You stay out of this," Spitfire said. "Dash, if you ever want to be a Wonderbolt, you're going to have to learn some self-control! We have to do what Celestia tells us and we have to follow Blue Angel's orders. And that usually means having a plan and following it, not making bets with the enemy and rushing off like a coconut flung by a monkey!"

Exactly. That's how you end up with your head shaved and your pants on fire, otherwise.

I liked those pants, dammit.

"Spitfire's right," Rarity said.

"I have this," Spitfire said firmly to Rarity, who looked somewhat taken aback.

I blinked in surprise. Is there something I'm not seeing?

"I...uh... I can take orders!" Rainbow Dash protested.

"Uh huh," Spitfire said dubiously.

"I can!"

"Fine. Soarin', you're Dash's commander until we finish this. You do what Soarin' says and we'll see if you can take orders," Spitfire said, then elbowed Soarin'.

"I...uh... right." Soarin' saluted Dash, who saluted back.

"Umm... follow me," Soarin' said, and Dash grinned.

"I'm on it!"

Definitely missing something here.

*************

We ate lunch and then got in motion again, though Rarity sent Sweetie Belle a letter before we went. I don't know what she wrote; I had spent the time watching Soarin' give silly orders to Rainbow Dash. I couldn't tell if Spitfire was happy with this or not.

The wind tunnel we had to climb and/or fly up was relatively easy to deal with despite the high winds, with everyone working together. I have to say this group is pretty smooth compared to some groups I've adventured with. Though the Blue Eagles...

Someone sent us to get this sword. I'm not sure who. Minroth himself? Why did I keep it?

Dammit.

The next room was, of course, a giant chessboard. Which means chess puzzles. A theme MUCH overused by mad wizards.

Then we all got teleported onto the board, EXCEPT Soarin'. Damn you for liking chess puzzles!!!!

I was the White King and Rarity the White Queen, with Twilight as the Queen's Bishop, Rainbow Dash as the Queen's Knight, and Pinkie as the White Queen's Rook. Ivan was my Bishop, Applejack was my Rook, and Fluttershy was my Knight. Spike was the Queen's Bishop's pawn. I noticed Applejack, Rarity, and Dash had fillies as their pawns. Probably Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo. These were statues, mind you; Scootaloo was riding on a scooter, Apple Bloom was in a gi in a pose with a kick and Sweetie Belle, oddly, was riding on a cloud and singing. Even though she's a unicorn, not a pegasus.

Lyra was my pawn, some pony with a curly mane and candy on her flank was Pinkie's pawn, a female unicorn with a wizard's hat and a cape with stars on it was Ivan's pawn, and a small rabbit who looked angry was Fluttershy's pawn.

"TRIXIE?" Twilight said in disbelief.

Soarin' was up on a platform on one side, and Spitfire, to her clear annoyance, was hanging from the ceiling inside a cage over the board.

Statues of all of our side, but in black obsidian, stood as the pieces against us.

"Tell me that ain't Apple Bloom turned to stone," Applejack said in horror.

Not-Soarin' now appeared on the other platform. "It's only a model. People will only die if Soarin' cannot figure out the puzzle." He whirred over the board and people flew around.

Applejack, Pinkie's pawn, Trixie, Fluttershy, the bunny, and Spike were all out of action now, along with a half-dozen black pieces.

"What the tarnation? I just got removed?" Applejack said, but couldn't move.

"It's a puzzle, not a game," Not-Soarin' said. "Now, what you know..."

Soarin' rattled off the solution without even listening.

"..."

"I read that book, you know."

"I didn't even get to explain the rules!"

"Too bad, you lose! We advance!"

"Dammit!" Not-Soarin' said. All the black pieces now turned into a dozen opals each.

"Lovely," Rarity said, eyes glittering.

Also, we all now had a lot of jewelry and knick-nacks which persisted. EXCELLENT. I have a sweet crown of gold with rubies and emeralds inset into it now, even if it doesn't really go well with my hat.

"And finally, you get this," not-Soarin' said, handing him a really nice smelling pie.

"Yes, PIE." He began eating, even as I said, "Wait!"

Soarin' now passed out; before Dash could move to help him, not-Soarin' zoomed in on her and said, "Hey, babe, evil-you is as sexy as good-you, I see!" Then he kissed Dash.

Twilight managed to catch Soarin', thankfully.

Dash turned beet red, then slapped him. "Don't go stealing kisses!" she said, red-faced. Then he teleported.

....

"Hey, I'm still in this stupid cage, get me out!" Spitfire shouted.

"He teleported?" Twilight said in confusion.

"Thanks to MY power. If you actually STUDIED enough, you'd be able to teleport things TO you too," Dawn Gleaming said. "So I teleported Cruisin' to me, you know, the way you cannot." She sounded quite proud.

Twilight grimaced. "Dash, I'm going to make you bigger so you can carry Ivan up to unlock the cage."

"Sweet!" She paused and looked at Soarin'.

"Go ahead," Soarin' said and Spitfire nodded approvingly.

They soon got Spitfire free and we headed onwards, stashing our treasures for later.

*************

The next room had a bunch of stacks of blocks with handles. You could see an exit sign but blocks were in the way of actually getting to it, and you'd have to rearrange them, which could be tricky given that pushing some of them would push others around.

"KILL IT WITH FIRE," Ivan said to Twilight.

"But we..." Rainbow Dash began.

"KILL KILL KILL," Ivan shouted and Twilight shrank in on herself.

"Okay, okay," she said weakly and began blowing up blocks.

"But we...," Rainbow Dash began.

"KILL THE BLOCKS! KILL THEM NOW!" Ivan screamed fit to wake the dead.

I began hacking up blocks and soon we'd smashed all the blocks to bits, though this left everyone tired.

"I don't see why we couldn't fly over them," Rainbow Dash said. "Was there a trap?"

Ivan whimpered and fell down.

"Dash," I said, burying my face in my hands.

"Well, Spitfire wanted me to show I could obey orders," Rainbow Dash said to the floor. "Though it's really not my style."

"Blocks dead, I win," Ivan said.

Twilight toppled over, legs in the air.

Spike went to Pinkie. "Pie."

She gave him one and he threw at Ivan's face.

"Pie," he said, then started laughing. "The blocks turned into pie!"

If this gets us killed because we needed Twilight functional, I am going to KILL him.

*******************

The pegasi had to fly us across a chasm; steam vented upwards through it. Then we passed into a temple, and Ivan's breath caught. "It's a temple of Asterius," he said nervously.

There was a huge stained glass window over the altar; it showed Princess Luna and Asterius. He was solemnly blessing the viewer and she... was picking his pocket, his wallet in her mouth.

...

Pinkie Pie fell over laughing.

Ivan stared, mouth open wide.

"Don't laugh, it ain't polite," Applejack said to Pinkie.

"But it's so..."

"Do not laugh," she said very firmly, and then nodded at Ivan, who couldn't see her.

Pinkie covered her mouth but this made her laugh more and then Dash began laughing at her, and trying to cover her mouth.

"He's not her father, right?" Ivan said weakly.

"My understanding is that her father was a Pony," Twilight said. "But I only know the legend. But they're both Immortals, so they could be friends."

It didn't convey family to me, or romance, just a kind of teasing friendship.

Applejack studied the picture, then crept up on Ivan, who was staring at the picture, then tried to subtly pick his pocket. He noticed, they started wrestling around and then bumped right into the altar. He was laughing, then he looked mortified, then he looked nervous.

"I can't... I don't even know what to do," he mumbled. "I'm in over my head."

"You can do it," Applejack said reassuringly, and then she kneeled with him as he kneeled down and prayed. The rest of us just stood back quietly, though I could hear Twilight very softly saying some sort of prayer to Asterius. Rarity was doing the same, which makes sense given one of his aspects is trade.

The other is thieving. An odd combination, but I guess he had a very varied life.

And then the stained glass began to glow and everything changed. I realized what this was going to be, but at least it wasn't MY flashback.

***************

MAGICAL ASTERIUS INDUCED FLASHBACK THING:

Luna hid among the rocks; it was easy in the darkness; from here you could peer over the edge of the plateau; halfway down it, you could see ponies and orcs busy delving into the plateau, building some kind of fortress. Another pony was with her; he had a pitch black coat and a silvery mane and on his flank was the full moon in silver. She was a Pegasus, I realized, not an alicorn yet, and he was an Earth Pony. But she already had her cutie mark.

"She should be here by now," Luna said, clearly worried. "Where is she, uncle Full Moon?"

"She walks among them," her uncle said. "We must know more before we strike."

Distantly, you could see a pony stumble and fall and an orc began to whip it and I could see Luna tense. She started to move, but he restrained her gently. "Not yet. Kalibash is here and you are not ready to face him yet." His voice was heavy with regret. "Not without Celestia."

"Why do we even exist if not for this? If not for now?" Luna said, agonized by the sight.

I could tell the unfortunate pony was being made an example of. He had a white coat and a blond mane and I think he was a unicorn. He threw the orc off the cliff with his powers and began to shout and now a riot broke out, pony vs. orc, but the ponies... most of them were just fleeing. A few fought but the rest were scared and the fear was running through the herd, they wanted to defy the orcs but they were understandably scared.

"Fight! Rally to me!" the unicorn shouted. Several of the stallions and fillies rushed to his side and Luna made a choked gasp as they formed a circle. There were six of them, three stallions and three fillies. They were clearly scared, but they stood together as everyone else ran away from angry orcs or ran wild in a panic.

"Together! We must stand together!," the unicorn shouted.

"I must aid them," Luna said and launched herself downwards towards the small plateau below where the work had been in progress and now a revolt was underway.

"Luna, we... the plan... dammit!" Full Moon said. "I can't fly, you know!"

She arched up and let him clamber on and now she flew downwards, silver dust flying from her wings as they flapped and everyone, orc and pony alike, stared at the two of them as they descended. What I could see now was that while the ponies had the wild colors I expect of sentient ponies, they had no cutie marks.

But now, as Luna's dust fell upon the six, cutie marks appeared. Overlapping four pointed stars of gold and silver on the unicorn stallion, an hourglass on the flank of the blue coated unicorn mare, a constellation on the flank of a green coated pegasus mare, a musical note in red on the flank of a grey coated earth pony stallion and so forth. They looked a little taller as well; these ponies were not quite as large as modern ponies, which is not to say modern ones are large. They are, after all, ponies. Luna and Full Moon were larger than them, but not so much larger as Celestia is to ponies today.

"I am Luna," Luna said warmly. "I have come from the Northlands to stand with my sister Celestia and my uncle Full Moon against the darkness that infests this land!"

Full Moon, for a moment, had a worried look, but then he was 'on' and all fear was gone. There was only confidence and strength. An orc rushed at him and he casually spun and rearkicked it, sending it tumbling. "Ponies! You are stronger than you know! Come with us, we will lead you to safety!"

And then they charged down the long, rambling path which picked its way down the plateau towards the thick forest below, a great herd of ponies, being lead and guided by the six who had stood together, and by Luna and Full Moon.

"What do we do when they come for us?" a filly cried out. She still had a small wagon of rocks, bumping along behind her as she ran, until Full Moon chewed it loose so she could run full speed.

"We fight," Full Moon said. "Ponies were not made for war, but we have no choice." He grimaced.

Luna said, "I do not wish to fight, but sometimes, even the kindest heart must take up arms and do battle." Her voice was very sad.

"It's why I rose up," an earth mare said, one of the six; she had a red cross on her flank and her name was Gentle Touch. "I would rather heal than hurt, but we cannot live like this any more. It is too much." Her voice was heavy with sadness. "It is too much."

"Celestia should have the records by now," Full Moon said as they all continued to run. "We must find the Elements of Harmony." His eyes ran over the six marked Ponies.

"Assuming she can find us," he muttered, then sighed. It was too late now to turn back.

And now Full Note, the music-marked earth pony, began to sing and soon, the herd was running to the beat which he laid down, speeding them up.

And the vision faded.

***************

Pinkie's eyes were wide. "The Elements of Harmony. Were they the first?"

"I don't think so," Spitfire said. "Or they wouldn't be 'finding' them. I would assume some Immortals made the Elements and originally granted them to Ponies or whoever first held them."

"They're much older," Twilight said. "Very old," she said softly.

From before Entropy was corrupted, I thought, shivering.

"That one pony... North Star..." Rarity said hesitantly.

"Blueblood's ancestor, yes," Twilight said to her apologetically.

Rarity stared at the floor.

"Blood doesn't matter," Ivan said. "Each person makes themself, whoever their ancestors were. What matters is who you choose to be and what you do with what you have." His voice drifted; he seemed somewhat lost. He bent over and curled up, burying his face in his knees, silently, and I wondered what he'd seen. That was inspiring if it was anything.

Applejack sat by him and put a comforting hoof on his back.

Pinkie licked her lips. "Rarity, I need to borrow your hat."

Rarity blinked but handed it over, no questions asked.

Pinkie donned it, then went over to Ivan and whispered to him. He made an enigmatic hand gesture and she dug in his coat pocket and pulled out a bottle.

Why is she getting his polymorph potion?

She clumsily sipped a small amount, then made a strangled noise and nearly dropped it and then her body rippled and shone and she said something and when it cleared, she was a ruddy-cheeked human woman with fancy pink hair, clad in leather pants and a multi-colored blouse, barefoot and wearing saddlebags wrapped around her waist like a belt. Then she embraced him silently from the side and whispered in his ears.

I felt I had to do something, but what? I rocked back and forth on my feet. Ivan is my friend for all that we sometimes try to clobber each other. I couldn't let Pinkie do it all but I couldn't quite grasp the problem.

Unless he saw Asterius rejecting him but I don't think it's the case.

"I've never heard of them having an uncle," Rainbow Dash said to Twilight.

"The name is vaguely familiar to me, but he didn't take the lead like they did," Twilight said. "I'm not sure if I could have even told you he was their uncle. Though part of me wants to say he fought a minotaur for some reason."

"If Luna wasn't an Immortal yet, how did she give everyone their Cutie Marks?" Soarin' asked thoughtfully.

"They found their purpose at that moment," Ivan said softly from inside his crumpled up self. "Luna might have helped it along, but the strength came from their decision to fight."

I kneeled down by him; the urge to help was strong enough to surprise me. I'm not cruel or anything but I'm not a master of comforting. "Hey man, what's wrong?"

"You're not alone," Pinkie said softly, running her fingers through Ivan's hair gently, then staring at her fingers and smiling a little. She took a lock of his hair and teased his ear gently with it. "We are here for you always," she said.

It would be nice to live in a world where that was always true. Everything is fleeting; my life has made me keenly aware that everything ends.

Which sucks.

But it's easy, at a time like this, to forget that. "You'll succeed. It won't be easy," I told him. He's probably doomed, but you don't say that at a time like this. There is such a thing as too much honesty. "But you have to keep getting back in the saddle." I couldn't help but grin at that a little, given the company.

Twilight laughed way more than it deserved, looked embarrassed, then shut her mouth.

"Luna rushed off too," Rainbow Dash stagewhispered to Spitfire, then grinned, while Spitfire buried her face in her hooves.

"The odds don't matter," Pinkie said firmly to Ivan, continuing to cuddle him. "And sometimes, it's better to try and fail than not to have tried, right? They did what they had to, regardless of the odds and so will you. I'm rooting for you."

"Yaaay," Fluttershy said. Possibly the worst cheer ever but Ivan smiled at it. He now embraced Pinkie, and then Applejack, and then stood up.

"Let's go," Ivan said, trying to sound confident. "I haven't nearly died enough times today."

"That's the spirit," Pinkie said. She did a handstand. "Cool." Then she ran around and touched everyone with her hands, laughing. "Well, out of time," she said and turned back into regular Pinkie, then tossed the hat onto Rarity's head. "Thanks, Rarity," she said.

"How did it feel, Pinkie?" Rarity asked.

"Very comfy hat," Pinkie said. "Wow, I am HUNGRY." She now ate an entire cake in one bite, while I stared in surprise.

"I mean, being human," Rarity said.

"Hands are pretty useful," Pinkie said. "I think the potion makes it feel natural, though."

"Yes," Ivan said.

"I'm surprised nothing has tried to kill us yet," I said. "This doesn't quite feel like part of the dungeon, though I guess it does fit the 'moon' theme."

"That was Asterius in pony form, right?" Spike said.

"Who?" Rainbow Dash said.

"I suspect Full Moon was Asterius, yes," I said.

"Really?" Rainbow Dash said in surprise.

"He's very popular in Manehattan," Applejack said. "But they're a lot more human influenced there."

"Hmm, I wonder if the Elements of Power are all killing each other still or if they just can't hear us. You idiots listening?"

They didn't reply. Excellent. But I expect we'll have to face them again soon.

************

I stared in horror. Dozens of swinging blades swung back and forth, blocking the path to the door on the far end of the room. It looked insanely dangerous to try to run between them to reach the door.

"This one is for me," Spitfire said, stretching.

"I bet I could fly so fast I could to the other end before they could hit me," Rainbow Dash said.

"No, let Spitfire handle it. She's a precision flyer," Soarin' said to Rainbow Dash. "Not as quick but she can maneuver like no one's business."

"That looks really dangerous," Twilight said, wobbling a little. She was still pretty zonked from blowing up blocks.

"It is," Spitfire said. "But when you're a Wonderbolt, you have to handle this kind of thing, like when we had to rescue the Duke of Prance from kidnappers. They shrank him, put him inside a bottle, then hid him inside a giant clock and I had to fly through it while it was keeping time, before it hit 3. And I did it."

"I nearly died watching," Soarin' said.

I feel like I could die just watching those blades. And my hat... I can't let those things kill it. "If you think you can handle it, Spitfire, then you should do it."

"Wait!" Pinkie said. "SONG time!"

Of course it is.

o/~ Bravely, bravely, Spitfire flew into the blades,

o/~ Squealy, squealy, were the sounds that Marcus made!

"HEY!" I shouted.

Spitfire laughed. "Don't worry, Marcus, I'm a professional." She saluted Twilight, then turned and took a deep breath.

o/~ Tired, tired, Twilight wobbled on her feat,

o/~ Later she can rest once Spitfire turns up the heat!

o/~ Chop, chop went the blades

o/~ They think Spitfire tastes good with marinade!

"HEY!" Soarin' said, but Spitfire laughed, then closed her eyes.

I put a hand over my mouth. I normally would laugh, but I didn't want to laugh at someone about to risk DOOM.

Rarity pressed against my leg; I could tell she was nervous, so I patted her back. "Don't worry," I said softly. I have enough terror for every pony in this room, Ivan, myself, AND evil-me.

Though 'evil-me' doesn't seem to have much ambition beyond 'be Twilight's snuggle-wuggums.'

He hasn't talked much, though.

Also, I suspect evil non-Elements of Harmony were thrown in at the last second.

Spitfire took off, dodging blades, up, down and around them, timing her movements with great precision, anticipating the swings and following a jagged path; she even retreated at one point to advance later. I felt my nerves get more and more tense.

I could feel Rarity getting tenser and Rainbow Dash was half-watching, half-not. Pinkie continued to 'cheer' for Spitfire.

o/~ Freak, freak, the Rarity freaked,

o/~ As time went by, her tension peaked!

o/~ Tonight, many lettuce rolls

o/~ Will perish between her teeth!

"I am not going to overeat in response to this!" Rarity protested.

I could totally go for a nice lettuce roll with some tofu soaked in meat juices.

I suddenly wondered if ponies could actually handle meat juices or not. I don't know enough about digestion. And I can't ask Fluttershy when Spitfire may be about to get carved like a rump roast.

And that's when the jets of flame began shooting down from the ceiling. "Hope you've been practicing your fire swallowing!" Not-Spitfire said cheerfully.

...

"It won't matter if it can't hit me," Spitfire said defiantly, but now it was getting harder to advance without frying. Only extremely precision flying could do it, timing without room for error.

Rainbow Dash elbowed Soarin'. "Order me to make rain."

"W...oh. I order you to make it rain! I order ME to make it rain! You too, Fluttershy," he said.

"But I'm not good at making it rain," Fluttershy said.

"No time to learn like the present!"

"Hey, this is just for Evil-me!" not-Spitfire said.

"Yeah, Fire Swallow has been looking forward to this," Cruisin' said.

Tiny clouds began to form and they began bucking them into the blades which hit them and scattered water everywhere, countering the flame jets, though now there was steam everywhere. Spitfire pulled her goggles in tightly and kept going.

CHOP, there went her tail except for a tiny stub!

"Oh no, darling, your lovely tail!" Rarity said.

"A Wonderbolt cares nothing for looks!" Spitfire shouted.

"Hey, I care about looks," Cruisin' said.

"You're a FAKE Wonderbolt!," Spitfire said, dodging under a blade and rising just in front of another to go over it as it swung down.

"And my girlfriend has them!" Cruisin' said.

"You kissed Rainbow Dash!" Rainbow Crash said angrily. "I'm not going to...mmmm...." Pony kissy noises now mixed with Pinkie singing, rain and thunder going off, and Spitfire swishing along.

o/~ Kiss kiss, went the evil twins!

o/~ It'll save time; they're already down to just skin!

"Hey, I am wearing my UNIFORM," Cruisin' protested.

"At least we're not scared of kissing like Rainbow Dash! No one's ever kissed her!" Rainbow Crash shouted.

"LIE! I've kissed lots of stallions!" Rainbow Dash shouted, though I could tell she was LYING.

"They were all plushies!," Rainbow Crash shouted.

"At least I don't fall down getting into bed!" Rainbow Dash shouted.

"Less shouting, more cloudbucking! Spitfire needs you!" I shouted.

Dash struggled to ignore the taunts, but determinedly, she put more and more clouds into play and urged Fluttershy to work harder. Soarin' grimly kept kicking.

Finally, Spitfire reached the end, then she pulled out a bottle and drank from it. Then there was an odd noise and she spat fire at the door, which burned down. "Oh yeah," she said, then put the bottle away.

Oooh, nice.

Rarity relaxed and the blades stopped. "Let me see what I can do for your tail, darling. I know some nice bob cuts; at the least we MUST make it a nice even cut, not a raggedy one."

She was soon working on trying to turn this tail cut into an asset.

That's Rarity all over.

"Pinkie," I said. I had to stop her. "If you will stop, I will try to teach you the song from our flashback."

"YES!" said, hugging me. I immediately fell down, since Ponies are, in fact, heavy.

This kept her busy until Rarity finished and Fluttershy finished making sure Spitfire wasn't hurt. Rarity cut just a little off her own tail, extended Spitfire's magically just enough for it to be a cute bob instead of a disaster.

"So you can meld hair?" I said.

"Yes, though I'm not sure if it would work pony to human," she said. "You might look good with enough body to maybe curl your hair a little."

"Oh, I'm fine with how it is," I told her. "I was just curious."

I now got a lesson in hair magic as we headed out.

*************

The room looked simple; a big boxy room with a table full of pies on the other end. Soarin' drooled but did not rush to his death, thankfully.

That was apparently Pinkie's job. "FRESH PIE!"

DAMMIT PINKIE!!!!

Applejack lassoed Pinkie before she got far, then dragged her back. "Dammit, woman, it's just pie!"

"Wonderful, tasty pie. It smells sooooo good," Pinkie said, drooling.

"What a sad lack of self-control," Pinkamena, the not-Pinkie, said disapprovingly. "I didn't even realize you'd fall for this. Nicely done, Cruisin'."

She was so... calm.

Maybe even a little grim.

This disturbed me GREATLY.

"Thanks, Pinkamena. Your beauty inspired...ooof..." There was a sound like someone just started grappling Cruisin'.

"Eyes on the PRIZE," Rainbow Crash said.

"Someone needs to do something while I can hold out," Soarin' mumbled.

"We're on it," Ivan said and the two of us went forwards. He also got Rarity to come with us and started showing her how to pick a lock. She picked it disturbingly quickly.

"Pinkie, Pinkie, Pinkie, whatever will I do with you," Pinkamena said, sounding disappointed.

"GIVE ME PIE!" Pinkie shouted. She strained at the rope, her hair weirdly contorting and changing shape, eyes bulging, body quivering.

"What do you think, Madam LeFlour?" Pinkamena said to someone we obviously couldn't see.

"I think Pinkie will never have un boyfriend unless she and Soarin' date ze same pie," 'Madam LeFlour' said. She sounded suspiciously like Pinkamena trying to fake a Prance accent.

"Oh god, not again," Spike groaned.

Dammit, can't disarm traps and talk to Spike at the same time!

"Are you the Power of No Fun?" Applejack asked, clearly amused.

"Dammit, is that bastard Rocky there?" Rainbow Dash said angrily.

"You wanna piece of me? You wanna PIECE OF ME?" Rocky said angrily. Though he sounded suspiciously like Pinkamena trying to fake a Bucklynn accent.

"I am the Power of Influence," Pinkamena said in her normal voice. "I know what moves people and how they interact with each other, using it to my advantage. Unlike my evil twin the nitwit."

"Dammit, Applejack, those pies will not eat themselves, let me go!" Pinkie tried gnawing on the rope. "Ivan, give me some potion so I can turn into a snake and slither out of this!"

"You know, it's still our turn, Pinkamena," Fire Swallow said to Pinkamena.

Pinkamena's voice turned soft and apologetic. "I'm sorry, but I may not have this chance to get through Pinkie's thick skull again. Please forgive me?" She sounded close to blubbering.

My god, it's my soul in Pinkie's body, I realized.

Oh hoh hoh. A worthy challenger!

"Marcus, darling, why are you smiling so much?" Rarity asked me softly.

"Focus, man, or we'll set these traps off on us," Ivan said.

"Sorry, I have to defuse a verbal bomb," I told him. "Rarity, please help Ivan. I have to stop Pinkamena."

"Remember what happened the last time you forgave her?" I told Cruisin'. I actually have no clue but I suspect that he regretted it, yet she found ways to get him to forgive her again.

"I...umm... well, yeah, I still can't use that uniform... they say the stain will never come out..." Cruisin' said hesitantly.

SCORE.

"If Applejack REALLY liked you, she'd let you have the pie and not stop you," Pinkamena said with a third voice, vaguely noble and male in tone.

Pinkie hesitated, eyes wide.

"Don't listen to her," Rainbow Dash said urgently, coming over to Pinkie. "She's just messing with your head!"

"I'll give you a kiss if you forgive me," Pinkamena said to Cruisin'.

Dammit, I can't use that lever. Unless... "You know Rainbow Dash's kisses are better, Cruisin'." HAH!

"Damn straight!" Rainbow Dash shouted. "I mean... I didn't enjoy it AT ALL!" She looked worriedly at Soarin', then frowned when he was clearly too busy staring at the pies to even notice what she said. "I said, I WOULD RATHER KISS SOARIN'!"

Then she turned bright red.

"I'm sorry, did you say something?" Soarin' said to Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow Dash buried her face in her hooves. "Stallions are so DENSE!"

"We have more muscle," Soarin' said.

I would give him an obliviousness award if I had one.

"Your lips are only for ME," Rainbow Crash said. "Back off, Pinkamena!" I heard fast motion swishing.

Fluttershy now flew over to Pinkie. "You know we love you," she said warmly. "Won't you come play with me?"

"Of course!" Pinkie said, relaxing. She and Fluttershy now began playing some kind of clapping game. It seemed to involve clapping their hooves together in elaborate patterns.

I heard Pinkamena make a noise of definite disgust.

"Of course, Rainbow Crash, I just wanted to make it up to Cruisin', and you know how he loves kissing every woman in sight," Pinkamena said apologetically.

Damn, she's good.

"CRUISIN'!"

Now Pinkamena's free to turn on us.

Ivan and Rarity continued to work on the traps, trying to hurry.

Aaargh, I don't know Pinkie well enough to know what a twisted Pinkie's buttons are beyond...

"Pinkamena Diane Pie, go sort the rock harvest!" I shouted.

I heard her run off, then a distant "DAMMIT!"

Man, that's a button a mile wide... unless she's bluffing.

It could be a clever plan to make me THINK she has a huge weakness. I will have to be careful.

Oh yes, I am going to enjoy this.

"As long as it is disarmed, you don't have to perfectly reset it," Ivan said to Rarity.

"A job worth doing is worth doing right," she said, carefully oiling the mechanism.

Ivan rubbed his forehead and I laughed softly. "Okay, it's safe to approach the pies, I think, but they're probably all deathtraps but one."

"Deathtraps?" Soarin' said, frowning.

"Anything edible in a dungeon usually mutates you, or it turns out to have bees inside it," I said.

"Or small dogs which bark up bees when they howl at you," Ivan said.

"And the bees are ON FIRE," I said. Fortunately, I lost the burn scars when I stopped being Aristobolus, I think.

"I can handle dogs," Applejack said.

"Bees? That means honey! Come here, pie full of bees!" Pinkie said, rushing forwards.

Applejack reached for her lasso, then just sighed.

Pinkie scarfed down one of the pies. "Mmm, tasty apples, feels so good, oh yes, oh... dear."

I knew it.

Pinkie now began choking and it took Ivan and myself and Spike all cooperating to get her to cough it up. A RING!

It was a silver ring carved to resemble winds blowing. "Cool," Pinkie said, cleaning it off. She tossed it to Soarin'. "I ate your pie, so you can have the toy that comes with it."

"It's a magic item," I said.

"Yes, but it's clearly for him. I'm sorry," she said.

This ring would comfort him greatly when the next pie, the one he ate, turned out to be full of hermit crabs.

Then they would NOT STOP CLACKING EVERYWHERE. Damn crabs.

Having Pinkie running around with three crabs clinging to her tail saying it reminded her of Gummy did not help.

Though it made Ivan laugh.

Fluttershy soon rounded up the crabs and gave them instructions on how to get to their giant brethren

Once we got everything sorted out, Twilight figured out that the ring augmented a Pegasus' ability to generate and manipulate wind, as you might guess. Soarin' was quite pleased with it.

Rainbow Dash, on the other hand, looked kind of frustrated. Probably because of his romantic blindness. Going to have to do something to help her later.

*************

We now secured the next key from the next room and decided to camp and rest, since Twilight was pretty worn out and everyone else needed a rest too. The fact that none of the treasures we'd found so far had been on Vermicoritax's list made me partly happy (we would keep it all) and partly unhappy (as it meant we still hadn't recovered any of the treasure and we don't have infinite time for it.) But we needed a break.

I pulled Dash aside. "If you don't just make your move, it'll drag on forever, you know."

"Marcus, we can't... wait, what?" Dash said, now confused.

What? Now I'm confused.

"You like Soarin', right?" I said.

"I... like all of the Wonderbolts," Dash told my foot.

"Yes, but this is special, right?"

"I can't tell at all if he's even interested. Whereas my stupid evil twin HAS AN EVIL BOYFRIEND." Dash shook her hooves at the sky. Ceiling. You know what I mean.

"Who kissed you," I said.

"Yes," she said, staring off at the wall and fluttering about aimlessly.

"At least it wasn't YOUR evil twin kissing you," I told her.

"..."

"Look, I'm sure he likes you. Be bold. Isn't that your real self?" I told her.

"But... none of the rest of the couples among them are... dating... in our group," Rainbow Dash said nervously.

OH. I see why she's nervous now. "Well, if an evil Soarin' can love an evil Dash, I can't see why a good one wouldn't," I told her, trying to sound confident. "You're very lovable"

She gave me an odd look. "I... Marcus..." Now she was more nervous. What on earth... OH. She thinks I have a crush on her.

"I just want what will make you happy," I told her, but this clearly made her feel guilty. Dammit, find the right button... "Fortune favors the bold, right?"

"Hell yeah," she said confidently, then got nervous again. "What if he says no?" she squeaked.

"There's a ton of other handsome pegasi," I told her. "And you can't win the race if you don't run it. Be confident. Just imagine it's a race to his heart and go for it."

She closed her eyes, then looked more confident. "I'll go for it!"

She looked over. "Once he stops talking to Spitfire."

I rubbed my forehead. That could be a wait.

Well, I TRIED.

***************

Fluttershy made happy noises as I brushed her coat. Rarity was busy trying to clean her hair. I'd suggested this as I wanted to thank her for all the healing. And you always gain favor. Spitfire kept looking at me funny. I am just helping a friend, woman!

Dash was busy NOT confessing and I wondered what I would have to do to get her in motion.

"Angel Bunny normally helps me with this," Fluttershy said.

"Your boyfriend?" I asked.

"My pet," she said. "He's a cute little white bunny."

"He's a MENACE to all civilized folk," Spike said from over by Twilight. "Need any help, Rarity?"

"You can brush me if you like," Rarity said, then made happy noises when he did.

You're just encouraging him, you know. I could see how this had gone on forever, though. Rarity enjoys attention, he enjoys giving it.

But if they're both happy, I wasn't going to stick my head into it. I let him work and I worked on Fluttershy. Eventually I finished, then she brushed my hair. "You should grow your mane out some, since your coat is so faint and weak," she said.

"It would look nice," Rarity said.

"I'll think about it." I don't know if I will be around that long or if I will LIVE that long, though this is going well so far.

If you can't see your own bones, it is a good day. I'd taken my hat off, so I petted it as Fluttershy worked my hair.

"I guess that is your pet," she said.

"He is a good pet," I said, smiling. "I am very grateful to Rarity."

"I was glad to help you, darling," she said to me.

Ivan was trying to teach a reluctant Applejack and Pinkie a dance. Pinkie was loving it, Applejack had a harder time staying on two legs for it. "Come here," Ivan said to me.

"Hold on, being groomed," I told him.

He facepalmed but soon the four of us joined him in a fancy Karameikan style dance. You needed equal numbers of men and women, so Fluttershy just sang to give us a beat. It was a lot of fun, though Rarity wasn't any more used to two legs than Applejack. But falling down really just made it more fun.

Then the ladies went to talk, Ivan took Spike aside and I went and worked with Twilight for a while, though she was pretty tired and we mainly just read and talked a little. Finally, she said, "Dash thinks you have a crush on her."

I laughed. "I'm not sure why she thinks that. But I think she and Soarin' will do well if they ever get their act together."

Twilight studied my hands and said, "You know about Spike's crush on Rarity, right?" Her voice was soft.

"Yes," I told her. "He's mad at me, but he'll get over it. He's a good guy. But he's young and he has a crush and I expect everyone male who comes near Rarity makes him kind of freak out."

"Yes," Twilight said. "Just be patient, he's only a baby."

"You'd best conserve your strength tomorrow; likely we'll have to throw down with our evil twins and they'll be rested."

"I know, it worries me," she said. "I'm also a little worried about you and Ivan in an area designed to make it hard for Earth Ponies. Even I can probably jump further than you and so on."

"Yes, but we have hands," I said, showing them off. "We'll have to see. One thing, though, is we likely should try to avoid going head to head with our own evil twins, tempting as it is. As if they're the Elements of Power, they can likely take us in our strong points."

Twilight winced. "It's clear Dawn Gleaming has more time to study." She glanced off at Rarity. "I think she really liked helping you with the traps."

"She's got the right mindset for it," I told Twilight. "Working with her is fun. She thinks I should grow my hair out."

"You should," Twilight said. "A good mane is essential for a man's looks." Then she looked embarrassed. "I can't believe I said that."

"I could dye it pink and green to fit in better," I teased her and she laughed.

"Pinkie seemed to find it easy to be a human for a few minutes," Twilight said hesitantly. "To comfort Ivan."

"It was very nice of her. The potion gives you the instincts you need to function well," I told her.

She licked her lips nervously as if wanting to say something but not quite able to say it. I tried to intuit it.

She never did quite find the strength to say it and eventually, we went to bed, leaving me curious. I'd have thought it was related to the plans she'd had to try being human back in the old days, but she has no reason to experiment with that now.

Though I suppose she may just be curious what it's like, assuming she hasn't already tried it out.

I laid down to sleep under a nice warm blanket. With a nice soft pillow. And a cold, hard stone floor.

Well, you can't have it all.

Rarity said softly to me, "Marcus." She sounded rather guilty. This was probably about me getting mangled, I suspected.

"It's okay," I said to her. "Thanks to Fluttershy, I'm all better."

"I hate seeing you get hurt," she said, still guilty. I didn't want her to feel TOO guilty. Owing me is good but, you know, she would have done it for any of us.

"I couldn't let you get hurt, but I know you would have done the same." Hopefully this won't lead to doing suicidal things to try to pay me back.

"It was a very noble thing to do," she said.

Inspired by first my paranoia and then my practicality; I couldn't warn them, so I had to try to slow down the assault. And kind of warned them by getting mangled.

But I got better.

She licked her lips softly. "My parents will want to meet you," she said. "When Father gets some leave."

"I'd be happy to meet him and your sisters," I said to her. I have nothing to fear from him.

Maybe.

Less to fear.

I tried to remember my parents, but they're a blur. There were too many of us. I'm sure of that, but now... Dammit. What is my name? I had been Dmitri at one point, I could feel that for sure now, but before him... tunnels... halls... burrows?

I felt more and more agitated as I grasped at memories and they fought each other. The sword. I think... I'd found it. Several times. Somehow.

It had been a bow... an axe... a sword... something... a mace? Before it was a sword. Something about hornets...

I could see a ruins, layer after layer descending into the earth. Dwarves had dug too greedily, blah, blah, you know the drill. Some days, I'm surprised every dwarf hasn't been eaten yet.

I guess the smart ones take the mithril and run, leaving only the stupid to die.

I saw dead people, halflings, an entire adventuring party wiped out before us, which didn't stop us going deeper.

Because adventurers NEVER listen.

"Marcus."

Why was Rarity in the dungeon with us? Had I met her yet? Damn, I have huge hands...

"Marcus, snap out of it," Rarity said, worried. "Twilight!"

The entire dungeon smelled like ass. That's when I discovered something important. Do not light torches if it smells like rotten eggs.

It had found us, of course, when our cleric was busy praying to Kagyar to heal us. She had a huge beard, too big, really; it was kind of vain, and she was SO vain about it. As it stood, I had the BAD kind of face full of beard when she was trying to heal me and of course I started choking on her beard. This never ends well.

That's when it came through a wall, a three headed serpent made of adamantine, mithril, and rubies. It was a king's fortune, made to kill people. Fundin got eaten right off the bat, though I'm pretty sure we resurrected him after we cut it open and found his feet intact thanks to his AWESOME magical boots. They let him run like a crazy maniac and I envied them so much.

Dored raised his axe and charged berserkly forwards. "GIVE ME YOUR EYES!!!!" he shouted. Dored is a Sryklist; they're a mercantile and craft clan; he's a jeweler, but he's also a great warrior, which we are going to need to stop this damn thing.

"Marcus, snap out of it," Dash said urgently. She shaved her beard? Why? I don't remember her disgracing herself...

"What happened to your beard?" I asked her. "And look out for the snake!" I grabbed her and rolled as she yelped in surprise.

"Beard?" Dash said, confused. Someone stole her beard and is messing with her mind!

"Marcus!" Rarity said, agitated.

"Nothing but a copy wearing out," Pinkamena said mournfully.

"SILENCE!" Rarity snapped angrily and I could feel something magical. When did she start... she has a horn!

No, wait, she always has a horn. Why am I wrestling with Dash... dammit!

Now I felt Rarity somehow touching my mind. Or maybe it was Twilight. Or Twilight AND Rarity. I felt my mind shuffle.

And then the cards fell into place and I was just Marcus again, breathing hard. "I am really sorry, Dash," I said.

"That woman," Rarity said with acid in her voice, "Will pay for this. She is running up a large tab and I intend to collect every bit."

I let go of Dash. "I'm really sorry about that, I thought a giant three headed serpent made of mithril and adamantium was after you," I told her.

"Wow, that would be soooo tasty," Spike said. "Did it have gemstone eyes?"

"Yes," I said.

I looked at Fluttershy, expecting her to tell us copper is tastier but she didn't comment.

She came over. "Sit down, please," she said.

I did so and she checked me over, including getting Twilight to shine her horn in my eyes, leaving me seeing flashing lights. "He should be fine," Fluttershy said.

Rarity was pacing tensely, while Twilight checked me out as well. Ivan was watching me, looking worried.

"So you were hallucinating for no reason?" Dash said, sounding worried.

"It was her," Rarity said, angrily. "She will find it that it is unwise to try and take a unicorn by the horn."

"It's okay," I told her. "We'll get our chance to settle things with them later. If you don't relax, you won't be able to sleep."

"I don't want to relax," Rarity said. "I want to make her pay." She was shivering.

Pinkie now nuzzled her. "It's okay. Evil-me is evil, but I will deal with her."

"You can have Clarity. She probably just needs a hug. But I cannot allow her to do this to Marcus," Rarity said.

"I'll hug Clarity until she's all good and soft and cuddly!" Pinkie said, then said, "But getting so mad is going to give you wrinkles, Rarity."

"I'm sure she wants us to get mad and do crazy things," I told Rarity. "You have to play it cool."

"I can be cool," she said hotly and sat down next to me, sphinx-style.

Wow, she's really worked up. Of course, ponies can bond to people pretty fast. And I know I wouldn't be happy if this happened to her either.

She's strangely impressive when she's angry.

"I think you'll be okay now," Twilight said and yawned. "We should sleep."

Don't think about the past, I decided. Not when I have to hide everything.

Rarity carefully wiped my face with a lace handkerchief. "It will be okay," she said to me softly. "I will protect you as you protected me."

"Thank you, Rarity," I said softly to her, lying down and tucking my pillow in place.

I could hear her pacing again as I fell asleep; I hope she gets enough sleep. We'll need her tomorrow.

***************

The first stage of our return trek went smoothly until we reached the room with the trees and the mist and the angry monkeys. It was now night in that room; who knows what the real time outside was. Twilight enlarged Dash so I could ride on her, then teleported Pinkie and herself to the other side. Spike rode Applejack and Ivan rode in the saddlebags, looking quite silly with his head poking out. Fluttershy could fly herself and Soarin' carried Rarity, with Spitfire pacing him.

"I feel like a member of the Thyatian Air Force," I said as we started across the room.

Dash dodged a hail of coconuts. "And the monkeys are the Alphatians?"

I laughed at that.

Then dozens of bats on fire dove down out of the night sky. DAMN WANDERING MONSTERS!

"Hold on tight," Rainbow Dash said and I paled and bent down to hold on.

Then Soarin' grinned. "Hold on, Rarity."

"Let me do it," Spitfire said. "Maneuver 12-X."

Soarin' suddenly began to climb, higher and higher and I wondered where the ceiling of this room was. Some of the bats gave chase, clumping up and then Spitfire roared through them, flinging them in all directions, many colliding with others to knock them down.

"Bad bats, you should... oh no!" Fluttershy said. Normally fire bats burn plants and eat the ashes. But that would mean slaughtering the trees. No druid could go for that except maybe to make a firebreak to stop a forest fire that wasn't scheduled.

Ivan was throwing apples at the bats that swarmed Applejack, but now one of the trees caught fire with him, Spike and Applejack on it. Spike tried breathing fire but the bats, as you might guess, liked it.

Him punching them in the face... they didn't like that at all.

Or getting kicked by Applejack, though she yelped when she hit them.

Pinkie began some sort of song but I could hardly hear her with all the monkey shouting, coconut and apple flinging and being hauled around at extremely high speed which made me too terrified to do anything but hang on as Rainbow Dash zoomed about, slugging monkeys and throwing firebats hither and yon.

"Fire," I shouted, and she rose up and began whirling to form a cloud while the Wonderbolts skirmished with the bats, battering and tossing them.

Fluttershy joined us and they began forming a storm to put out the flaming tree, as Applejack tried to make her way through the burning branches, dodging monkeys, coconuts, firebats, and coconuts on fire.

I tried to both think of something to do and to focus enough to actually DO it. Everything was spinning so fast...I could hear snatches of Pinkie singing about rings of fire and...

Then lightning balls erupted through the flaming tree, nailing a dozen monkeys at once and sending them plunging into lower branches. Applejack made a break for the next tree and the rain started to come down.

"Hey Crash, you listening?" I shouted.

"I'm here, clone-boy," she said irritably.

"What are you the Power of?"

"Excellence!" Rainbow Crash crowed. "I am the fastest and greatest of racers in all of Equestria! And humble, too!"

"And very cute," Soarin' said. Kissy noises ensued and I regretted asking, though at least now I knew.

It would be useful later, when the real battle began. Very proud, a useful thing to know.

Firebats attacked us but I laid about with my sword, injuring and driving them off, letting Dash and Fluttershy focus on their work; they soon had lots of rain going and now the firebats fled. Dammit, they probably have gems in them or something and they are RUNNING AWAY WITH MY TREASURE.

Dash and Fluttershy finished saving the trees and now we all flew on out and headed back so we could try route three.

************

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