• Published 4th Oct 2015
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Of Flame and Shadow - Garuda IV

Dark Flame was a young stallion of the mining village, Stonewall. But after a dragon thought to be of myth attacks, Dark becomes the only survivor and now attempts to remake his life. However, his past isn't willing to let him go so easily.

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Chapter 17- Aftermath

Celestia's sun had risen with the dawn of a new day, one that promised to be very busy for everypony. Most of the guards and some of the townsponies were already out helping clean up the mess from the battle the day before. Some were out helping pick up the wooden pieces of timberwolves to be used as firewood for when winter came around, while others where helping to rebuild and repair the damages to the buildings. The guards, meanwhile, where busy clearing away the dead.

While they were busy with that, Cheerilee had canceled school for the day. It was partially due to some damages to the schoolhouse and the surrounding grounds, but mostly because she didn't want the children to leave the castle and see all of the corpses laying around. Fluttershy and Rarity agreed with her in keeping them inside until they were done clearing Ponyville of them, Pinkie and Applejack were busy in the kitchen making food for everypony, and Rainbow was flying around helping out however she could. Even Celestia and Luna had helped with watching over the children, keeping them entertained with their magic tricks and stories. However, while everypony appeared busy with something, there were two who were still sound asleep.

Up in one the castle's guest bedrooms laid a mass beneath the blankets. It was Dark and Twilight, the latter whom was still wrapped up in his arms and wings. While they would normally be up by this time, the events of yesterday and the emotional stress of last night had taken their toll on them. And although the sun's light was showing through the window onto them, it didn't wake them as Dark was facing away from the light, his body keeping it from shining in Twilight's eyes. As they both continued sleeping in peace, it was Twilight that finally began to stir.

As her senses came to, she could feel the warmth that was blanketing her. She then began recalling the events of last night before cracking an eye open to peek out. When she found her vision obscured by a blaze-orange coat, she closed her eye and smiled, happy that this wasn't just another one of her dreams. Opening her eyes again, she began taking in her surroundings. She now noticed that they were together in the exact position that they had fallen asleep in last night. She could also see the sun's rays shining over Dark's form, shading her from the light. Looking up, Twilight saw Dark's sleeping face, a content smile plastered across it. Though she didn't want to, Twilight knew that they should be getting up, which meant first having to wake him. After taking her sweet time to think of the best possible way to wake him, an idea came to mind. Shifting around slightly, Twilight leaned up and gently kissed him on the cheek. Her gesture didn't go unnoticed as Dark's eyes cracked open. As he looked down, he saw Twilight smiling back up at him.

"Now here's a sight I can get used to," he softly said with a smile.

"And what sight would that be?" Twilight playfully questioned.

"That I get to wake up and see your beautiful smile first thing in the morning. I had actually missed it after I got out of the hospital."

"Beautiful, huh?" she said, trying to hide her blush with a smirk.

"Uh... that wasn't too forward... was it?"

"I wouldn't think so. Besides." She laid her head back in her resting spot against him. "I admit that I was starting to miss this too."

"Really? Which part exactly?"

"All of it I suppose. Mostly just being close like this."

"That wouldn't happen to be because I'm practically a walking furnace with fur now, would it?" Dark quipped.

"That might be part of it. I'll admit that your warm and soft coat does make it a lot more comfortable, but I also feel safe."

"Safe? How so?"

"Celestia told me while we were watching you taking out those manticores how worried and anxious you were to go find and help me when we were running from those timberwolves in the forest. So, with that, and how much of a softy I know you can be, I feel as though I can allow myself to relax when I'm with you, knowing that you'll be there watching out for me. That, and your incredible magic and strength are both a good plus."

"Careful, Twilight," Dark chuckled. "All of this complimenting of yours might make me not want to leave your side."

"Well, consider this payback for that 'beautiful' comment."

"I was just telling you the truth was all."

"So then, you think that I'm beautiful?" Twilight asked with slight blush, tilting her head back to look Dark in the eyes.

Ah crud, Dark mentally thought. I can't believe I let that word slip... twice. Oh well, too late to hide it now, so I might as well go for it.

Letting his feeling take over for a moment, Dark leaned down and kissed Twilight's forehead, just below her horn. He lingered for a few seconds before pulling away, looking back down to see a full blush on Twilight's face.

That didn't feel like the other kiss, Twilight thought as her heart pounded away. This one felt like it was more... heartfelt? Dare I even guess it to be lovingly?

"I don't think that you're beautiful, I know that you are. Although, that's only one of the things that I find myself attracted to you for," he answered.

Ooh yeah, definitely lovingly! she mentally panicked, not out of worry, but of surprise.

"C-Careful there," Twilight wavered, turning her gaze away from him. "The way you're talking makes it sound like you're my... coltfriend."

"Would you prefer that I stop?" Dark slowly asked, worried that me might have just overstepped a boundary.

"Well... I'm not saying that it's bad... or unwelcomed for that matter."

"Are you sure? Because I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable."

Looking back to Dark, Twilight took a deep breath to relax herself before answering, "I'm sure."

Hearing her answer, it was now Dark's turn to take a breath to steady himself. He'd never even attempted something like this before, and was finding it difficult to even begin asking. But, while he knew that he was very nervous about this, he also knew that if he wanted to be with her, then he'd have to ask. Besides, he had the perfect opportunity here. The mood was set for it, they were alone, and he probably wouldn't get a better chance to ask her. Gathering what nerve he had left, Dark looked softly into Twilight's eyes.

"Twilight?" he slowly spoke. "There's something that I've been meaning to ask you, especially after our time together at the festival yesterday..."

Twilight's eyes widened. Is he going to ask what I think he's going to?

"I know that we've only known each other for a little less than a few weeks..."

Oh Celestia he is! He's actually going to do it! she thought as her eyes began twinkling in anticipation.

"But I was wondering if you... would possibly... be my... fillyfr-"


His question was interrupted as three loud knocks echoed off his door. With a groan of annoyance, he looked down to see Twilight equally annoyed by the interruption. With a heavy sigh, Dark turned his attention to the door.

"Yes?" he again groaned.

"Dark? It's Princess Celestia," she answered. "May we come in?"

"We wish to speak with you," Luna added.

Hearing Celestia and Luna at the door, Twilight and Dark looked to each other worryingly. They had shared the bed together last night, and now both of the princesses were going to catch them red-hoofed.

"What do we do?!" Twilight frantically whispered.

"I don't know!" Dark answered quietly. "I've never been in a situation like this before. Can't you just teleport back to your room and avoid them that way?"

"I can't. They would know between the lights, sound, and the magical discharge that my teleporting leaves behind."

"Dark?" Celestia called through the door. "Is everything alright?"

"Yes," Dark groggily answered, acting as though he was still waking up. "One moment please."

"Any ideas?" Twilight wondered.

He did actually. If you can't hide something, or in this case, somepony, away, then hide them in plain sight.

"Just stay quiet and don't move," Dark whispered, getting a nod in return before moving his wing over Twilight's head, completely covering her from view before calling out, "Alright, you can come in."

Right after those words left his mouth, the door opened with Celestia and Luna walking in. Closing the door behind them, they walked up alongside Dark's bed with him still laying in it. As they sat down, they both wore a welcoming smile, but otherwise kept their faces neutral.

"Good morning, Dark," Celestia greeted.

"Greetings, Dark," Luna repeated.

"Morning, Your Highnesses," he returned, still feigning tiredness. "What can I do for you two?"

"A few things actually," Celestia began. "First, we were wondering how you were doing today? I noticed that you weren't up as you normally would."

"Why? What time is it?"

"Fifteen past nine," Luna answered.

"Dang, I really did oversleep," he replied, genuinely surprised by how late it was getting for him. "Guess I was more tired than I thought I was."

"Does this normally happen to you often after your battles?" Celestia wondered.

"Only when I use my Amplify for an extended period of time."

"That's good to hear." Celestia's smile then changed into knowing smirk, unbeknownst to Dark. "By the way, we haven't seen Twilight yet this morning." This caused Dark's body to stiffen slightly while Twilight held her breath, trying to be as silent as she could. "We've checked for her in her room, but she wasn't there. We then checked the rest of the castle and asked everypony else if they saw her, but nopony has seen her since last night."

"That is," Luna continued off of Celestia, bearing an equally knowing smirk. "We've checked everywhere except in your room."

Dark tried keeping his posture in an attempt to not give anything away. It wasn't working very well, though, as his eyes darted from one smirking princess to the other.

"Sorry, but I've been asleep, so I wouldn't know. She probably just left the castle to grab some fresh air before anypony else woke up," he tried excusing.

With an amused shake of her head, Luna lowered her head and spoke only two words.

"We know."

"... huh?" he unsteadily asked.

"Allow me to explain to you, Dark," Luna began. "I've looked into the dreams of you and Twilight. And while I don't normally divulge the details of the dreams of somepony to others besides my sister, last night I did notice that the dreams that you two had were shared. Something that only happens when two ponies are sleeping in the company of one another."

At this, Dark's eyes widened, knowing that they've been caught.

"That," Celestia added. "And we can smell her scent in here. Also, some of her mane is sticking out from under your wing."

Looking over his wing, Dark could see that a few strands of Twilight's mane were sticking out from beneath it. Giving a sigh of defeat, Dark flopped his head back onto his pillow. Looking underneath, he saw Twilight looking up at him questionably as to whether they were bluffing or not. With a confirming nod from Dark, Twilight sighed in defeat as well before shifting beneath Dark's wing. Turning her head around, Twilight lifted a hoof up and brought his wing down just low enough for her to peek over.

"Umm... good morning, Princess Celestia, Princess Luna," Twilight nervously greeted.

"Good morning, Twilight," Celestia returned, giving no attempt to hide her amusement over them begin caught like this.

"Good morning to you too, Twilight. Did you have fun last night?" Luna asked, wiggling her eyebrows.

"And here we go," Dark groaned while Twilight hid her face back beneath his wing out of embarrassment.

It was at this that Celestia and Luna were now laughing out loud at the two. As they continued laughing, Dark's embarrassment got the better of him and decided to follow Twilight's example by hiding his face too. The princesses went on like this for a good five minutes before they began to calm down somewhat.

"You- you know that I only jest, right?" Luna snickered, still trying to get her laughing fit under control.

"I know," Dark answered as he peeked over his wing. "But it's still embarrassing as heck."

"Well, it wouldn't be much fun if it wasn't, now would it?" Celestia asked, her laughing mostly contained.

"I suppose not." Dark sighed.

"Anyway, now onto why we've actually came looking for Twilight." Hearing that they stopped teasing them and wanted to talk to her, Twilight pulled Dark's wing back down for her to peek over. "There are a few things to go over. The first is about Miss Cheerilee and the school ponies. With the aftermath of the battle still being cleaned up, she is reluctant to allow the kids to go outside." Twilight nodded for Celestia to continue. "Luna and I agree with her that the children shouldn't see what is out there until it's completely cleared."

"But in doing so," Luna continued. "She has canceled school for the colts and fillies. What we were wondering is if you would allow for her to use one of the rooms in the castle as a temporary school room?"

Hearing their request, Twilight was nodding eagerly. "Of course. She can use the library. That would be the most ideal place for it."

"I'll let her know after we're done here," Celestia said before her mood turned glum. "Next is the... damage report."

"When you say 'damage report'," Dark began. "You mean the casualty and injury list, don't you?"

With a sad sigh, Celestia nodded. Feeling Twilight tremble, Dark looked down to her. Seeing as she wasn't taking it very well, he gently turned her head to look at him.

"Do you want me to handle this?" he softly asked Twilight, getting a small nod in reply.

"So you will be going over this then, Dark?" Luna questioned.

"I'm more used to this sort of thing, so it doesn't bother me as much."

"In that case, I'll leave the list here with you then," Celestia told him. "You do know what needs to be done, right?"

"Body count, identification, and funeral arrangements," he answered. "Not much else to do besides that, but the injured I can help with."

"Normally yes, but this time, you'll be assisting Captain Iron Guard with it. Though I must ask, how can you help the injured? Aren't your spells all fire and shadow based?"

"Yes, they are. But back in Stonewall, I managed to create a fire spell that actually heals instead of hurts."

"Really?" Celestia questioned, more curious and surprised then disbelieving. "Now this I'll need to see."

"In that case, I'll go find you before I head out." He turned to Luna. "And what about you, Princess Luna? Are you wanting to watch too?"

"Perhaps another time," she answered. "I am to lead a search party into the Everfree Forest to look for the mastermind of the attack. Fluttershy will be accompanying us. She says that she'll ask the local wildlife if they'll help us in tracking him down."

"So, what am I suppose to do then?" Twilight asked.

"Ponyville has suffered some damage and will be needing somepony to help organize and coordinate the construction teams," Celestia answered.

Happy with being able to help by organizing and coordinating the repairs, Twilight smiled before nodding to them. With their arrangements all made, Celestia and Luna stood up.

"Then that is all there is for the moment," Celestia spoke before turning towards the door.

"I shall ask Pinkie Pie and Applejack to have something ready for you two to eat," Luna said before her mischievous smirk returned. "That is, unless you two are full already."

"What do you mean by that?" Dark questioned. "Of course we're not full. We skipped out on dinner last night and went straight to bed."

"Hehe, alright then," she answered before catching up to her sister.

"Seems as though they missed your joke," Celestia whispered to her.

"It's a shame, really. Though I'm a little surprising that he didn't catch onto it."

Once they exited the room and closed the door behind them, Dark and Twilight flopped their heads back down. Dark, with his head laying on the pillow, while Twilight laid hers back below Dark's. With the potential disaster avoided, they both let out a sigh of relief. Taking a moment to relax, the two continued to lay as they were.

"That could've been bad," Dark finally spoke.

"No kidding. I thought that we were done there for sure," Twilight agreed before turning sorrowful and looking up to Dark. "Are you sure that you want to handle that list?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. Besides, I can see how much you're bothered by it, so I'll be more than willing to take over it for you."

Hearing his answer, Twilight reached up and began nuzzling him.

"Thank you for doing this for me," she said before kissing his cheek. It was after that moment that her mind returned to what he was saying to her before they were interrupted. "And... about what you going to ask me before Celestia and Luna interrupted you..."

Sighing reluctantly, Dark looked down to Twilight. "I think it's safe to say that they've officially ruined the moment for it."

Twilight nodded and sighed, "Yeah, they definitely did. And it wouldn't quite mean the same now."

"Well then," he began as he started nuzzling Twilight. "That just means that I'll have to try again some other time. In the mean time, we better get up. We both seem to have a busy day ahead of us. Although, I'd much rather prefer staying like this with you for a while longer."

"Perhaps someday we will," Twilight giggled. "But you're right, we really should be getting up."

With that, the two got out of bed and began getting ready for the day. As they got up, Dark allowed Twilight to use his mane brush first while she was there. While Dark waited for his turn to comb his mane down, his mind replayed what Luna had asked him earlier about if they were hungry or not. He found it somewhat strange that she would ask them that, and with that look that she was giving them. It wasn't till after a minute or two of thinking it over that the implication behind that question finally hit him. With a mad blush running across his face, Dark facepalmed, causing Twilight to glance over to him.

"Oh Luna, why?" he groaned.

"Something wrong, Dark?" she asked.

"I just figured out what Princess Luna meant by when she asked us if we were full or not."

"What do you mean?"

"Think about it, Twilight, especially after her embarrassing comment to us earlier."

Taking a moment, Twilight thought it over. It didn't take her long before she too understood what Luna had meant. Her face turning red, she looked back to Dark, who simple nodded.

"But- we- I- she- why?!"

"I don't know. You've known her longer than I have. Do you have any idea?"


A few awkward seconds passed before Dark spoke up.

"So, just pretend like that part didn't happen?" he questioned.

"Yep, sounds good to me," she quickly answered before returning to her mane brushing.

A few minutes later, Twilight and Dark made their way down to the kitchen where their food was ready and waiting for them, thanks to Luna. It didn't go quite how they had expected it, though, as Applejack and Pinkie began questioning them as to where they were, and why they had slept in so late. They told them the truth, being that they were legitimately tired from yesterday, but kept the part about them sleeping in the same bed together from them. Though they believed most of it, they were still curious as to where Twilight was when she slept, since she wasn't in her room when they checked. Quickly thanking them for the late breakfast, the two made their way out with Twilight heading over to see Cheerilee, and Dark going to look for Celestia before heading off to the hospital. Soon after the two left their sights, Applejack turned to Pinkie.

"Hey, Pinkie?" she addressed. "Is it just me, or did they smell a little strange ta ya?"

"You mean like they fell asleep together last night and now the scent of their coats have blended onto each other?" Pinkie summarized.

Applejack blinked in surprise. "Ah suppose that's one way of puttin' it. And it would also explain why they were so late in wakin' up."

It took a bit of effort, but Dark had finally managed to find Celestia. Who knew it would be so difficult to find an alicorn princess who stood twice as tall as the average pony? Once he finally did, they flew off to the direction of the hospital. During their flight, they made for idle conversation.

"So, Dark," Celestia began. "How were you and the guards able to survive the army that attacked the stands?"

"It was actually Captain Iron Guard's idea," he explained. "He figured that if we killed the ursa major, that the rest of the army would crumble. And wouldn't you know, it actually worked."

"Well, that was very fortunate. If it didn't, then I'm sure that the manticores would've broken through my barrier and gotten into the castle as well."

"But you had a fallback position set up, right?"

"That I'm not sure of. It was Twilight who was in command while I was up on the balcony, focusing on maintaining the barrier."

"Well, knowing how prepared Twilight can be, I'm sure that she did."

"While we're talking about Twilight, what about what happened with you two last night and this morning?"

"Oh great, her we go again," Dark groaned, causing Celestia to giggle.

"Don't worry, I'm not going to tease you about it like Luna did," she clarified. At least, not yet.

"Good, because we figured out that little comment about us being full. Not to mention how awkward it was for us afterwards."

"Ah, so you did get it."

"I mean, we're not even together yet."

This caused Celestia to raise an eyebrow with interest. "Yet?"

"Well, believe it or not, I was asking her to be my fillyfriend."

"And? What did she say?"

Now it was Dark's turn to raise an eyebrow, one that said "are you serious?". Seeing that she didn't get it, Dark decided to spell it out for her.

"She didn't answer because I never got to finish asking due to somepony interrupting us," he answered with a tint of annoyance.

That, Celestia did picked up on. Now knowing what he meant, she took on a look of slight embarrassment.

"You mean that when we knocked on your door-"

"That I was literally a split second away from asking her to be my fillyfriend? Yep, pretty much," he answered with a slight laugh.

"I'm sorry that we interrupted you two," she apologized.

"Meh, it happens. Besides, now I get to try again."

"You don't sound very disappointed about it," Celestia observed.

"Don't get me wrong, we were both disappointed about it. I'm just trying to look on the positive side here, and another chance to ask her is it."

"Well then, I'm glad that you're taking it so well. Do you have any idea on when you'll be asking her again?"

"Not a clue," he answered. "I'll just have to wait and feel it out."

"No need to worry about that. I'm sure that there will be plenty of time for you to feel it out."

"Oh for the love of-"

"Oh look, we're here," Celestia interrupted as she began making her descent to the hospital.

"I swear, you're just as bad as Princess Luna," Dark muttered.

"I heard that," Celestia called back with a smile. "And no, I'm not as bad as Luna. I can be much worse if I wanted to. Besides, who do you think taught her those dirty jokes?"

With a groan, Dark flew down and landed beside Celestia. As he landed, he turned to look up to see her wearing that all-knowing smirk of hers. Doing his best to ignore it, he and Celestia walked into the hospital to see the staff busy at work. Upon arrival, they took notice of Celestia and stopped to briefly bow to her before continuing with what they were doing. As the two continued forward, Dark noticed a familiar pony working the front desk.

"Hey, Nurse Redheart," Dark waved.

Hearing her name called, she looked up to see Dark and Celestia walking straight for her.

"Oh hello, Princess Celestia, Dark," she greeted them. "How can I help you today? Here to get checked into the hospital again, Dark?"

"Nope, not today," Dark chuckled. "We're here to see the injured guards that were brought in."


"Well, technically it's just me. Princess Celestia is just here to watch."

"As much as I want to, I cannot heal those that are injured here. If I did, then other ponies could claim that I'm showing favoritism, and question why I can heal them and not everypony else," Celestia explained.

"Which is why I'm doing it instead."

"You?" Nurse Redheart questioned. "What are you planning on doing?"

"Heal them of course. That is, if it's alright with the doctor."

"If it's with Princess Celestia's approval, then I don't see why not. I better call him in first, just so that he can be present during the process."

"Fair enough," Celestia agreed.

Taking a seat, they waited for the doctor to show up. After ten minutes of waiting, he finally showed. Once the formalities were out of the way, he and Nurse Redheart proceeded to lead Dark and Celestia to the room where they were keeping the guards. The room was quite big, holding up to a dozen of them. Looking down to his list, Dark saw that this was less than half of the number of injured. Curious, he looked back to the doctor.

"Where are the rest of them?" he asked. "I'm only seeing a dozen on the ponies on this list in this room."

"We couldn't fit them all in here, so we split them up into a few different rooms," the doctor answered.

Dark sighed. "Well then, this is going to take a bit longer than what I originally thought."

"You never did tell me what you were planning on doing."

"Just going to use my magic to heal them all," Dark answered as he lit his horn and walked into the center of the room.

"Are you sure about this, Princess?" the doctor nervously asked Celestia.

"While I'll admit that I've never seen this spell of his before, I trust that he knows what he's doing," she calmly answered.

Once he got to the center of the room, Dark looked around to each of the guards. Some were groaning in pain, some were sleeping, and others were sitting up in their beds curiously watching him. Giving a nod to himself, Dark sat down on the floor, closed his eyes, and began focusing on the spell. With everything perfect, he casted his Healing Flame and gently held it above his head. He then began pumping more magic into it, causing the flame grow bigger and brighter. Once it was a good few feet wide, he stopped, seeing the glow reaching out towards everypony in the room. As the flame flickered on, Dark remained where he was, continuously and steadily pouring his magic into the spell to keep it going. Soon after, he heard somepony walk up beside him.

"This is rather impressive," Celestia complimented, poking a hoof at the flame. "What is it exactly?"

"A spell of my own creation called Healing Flame," Dark answered. "It's a spell that doesn't burn or ignite anything, but instead heals everything that's within its warm light. The catch, though, is that this also includes our enemies, so I can't use it in combat. Other than that, it will only last for five minutes unless I pour more magic into the spell to help maintain it."

"And how long before this spell heals everyone in the room?"

"If I had to guess, I'd say a few hours. While the spell does heal, since the healing is spread so far out, it'll take longer. Those with cuts or gashes will be healed up within about two hours, while those with a missing limb will take about four."

"So you're going to be here for a while then," she concluded.

"Looks like it," he said with a sigh. "Don't worry, though. I'll be sure to get over to see Captain Iron Guard as soon as I'm done here. Where is he by the way?"

"You'll find him over by the stands."

"No doubt watching over the cleanup with the ursa and those hydras," Dark figured.

"You would be correct on that." Celestia then looked over to the clock. "I'm sorry to leave so abruptly, but I should really be getting back to Canterlot. With Luna searching the Everfree Forest, somepony will need to stay behind and watch over the throne." She then began lighting her horn to teleport off, but not without a few last words. "Also, Dark? Sorry again for earlier."

"Like I said, it's alright, so don't worry about it," he said with a smile.

Seeing that all was good, Celestia then teleported out of the room. After the flash of light died down, Nurse Redheart walked up beside Dark.

"What did she mean by she was sorry?" she asked.

Dark sighed. "Remember that advice that you gave me during my stay here?"

Thinking back to it, her face beamed with anticipation of good news. "You did?!"

"Well... not quite. You see, I was just about to finish asking her, but a certain somepony and her sister came in and interrupted us."

"Aww, that's too bad to hear."

"Just means that I'll have to try again."

"Who are you two talking about?" the doctor wondered.

"Nopony!" they said in unison, getting a questioning look from the doctor before shrugging and leaving the room.

Deep in the Everfree Forest, Luna and Fluttershy were leading a group of guards down the forest path. Thanks to Fluttershy's actions yesterday with the alpha timberwolves, once they entered the forest, the scarred one that Fluttershy petted yesterday walked over and greeted her with happy licks. After the guards got over the initial shock of seeing her interacting with him like that, the scarred one lead the search party straight towards where the cloaked figure had made camp at. It took them a good half-hour before they finally came to an all too familiar location. Before them was the old ruins of the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters.

"How dare he," Luna hissed. "Should I ever find out who this pony is, I shall make sure that he pays dearly for using this place as his base of operations."

"But we don't even know if he's a pony or not," Fluttershy corrected. "And none of the animals know either."

"So what you're saying is that it could be any kind of species?"

"Just about."

"Well, at least he was kind enough to provide a sturdy bridge," she grumbled.

Turning from Fluttershy back towards the ruins, Luna continued forward. The scarred one continued leading them up to the castle ruins before heading inside. Before the others followed in, though, they looked down to the corpse of a beheaded manticore. Upon seeing it, Fluttershy immediately turned her gaze away from it, not wanting to see another dead creature. Quickly, she ran past it, not bothering to look back or think about it. But she didn't have to as the scarred one began barking inside the castle, causing the ponies to run over towards him. Once they got inside, they saw the alpha timberwolf, and laying on the ground before it was a bronze amulet with a cracked emerald bear claw as its center piece.

"That's pretty," Fluttershy said. "What is that?"

"It's The Beast Master's Amulet," Luna answered. "It allows for whoever that wears it to have complete control over any wild animal that he deems."

The scarred one snarled at the amulet as it lay, angry that this was the cause of the suffering of him and his brethren.

"Is it safe to touch?" Fluttershy asked as she walked closer to it.

"It's damaged now, so it shouldn't be of any threat. But at least now we know of how he'd managed to acquire such a vast army as he did." Luna then levitated the amulet up into her saddlebag. "I should get this over to my sister. I'm sure that she'll want this inspected as soon as possible. Perhaps we can trace it back to its previous owner, if not to the one before."

"So, now that we found something, does that mean we can go back?"

"Nonsense," Luna brushed-off. "We've just got here and already found a clue. Now we need to search for more, something that can help tell us as to who or what this thing is, and where it's gone to. Everypony will split up into pairs, and watch out for the trap doors."

Listening to her orders, the guards paired up before splitting into different directions. This left Luna, Fluttershy, and the scarred one together.

"Here we go again," Fluttershy sighed. "Well, at least this time it's daytime outside."

"What do you mean by 'this time'?" Luna asked.

"Oh, right, you don't know about what happened do you? Well, I suppose I can tell you while we're walking."

And with that, the three began walking down one of the halls. Fluttershy telling Luna about the crazy night that she and her friends had while they were exploring the castle one night.

Back over in Ponyville General Hospital, Dark just finished his long and grueling mass healing session. Some of the injuries were worse than what was written on his report, so instead of it taking a few hours for him to finish, to instead took him over six hours, almost seven. While maintaining that spell for so long was exhausting, his having to remain where he was seated was probably worse. As he got up, Dark could feel the numbness in his legs beginning to fade while his joints cracked from remaining still for so long. But, even though it was a pain for him to do, he felt that it was worth it, seeing all of the guards up and about with their injuries healed up. His only regret was that he didn't know any other healing spells that could be used to heal them quicker, and at a less exhausting rate.

After he had finally gotten through the guards who all stopped him to give him their thanks, Dark bid them and Nurse Redheart goodbye, and left the hospital. Standing outside, his stomach started to grumble for something to eat. It would have to wait, though, as he still had one more stop to make before food was optional. So, Dark spread his wings, and with a mighty flap, he flew off into the sky to meet up with Captain Iron Guard over by the stands. As he continued to fly over the town, he looked down to see that most of the town was cleaned up of the dead manticores. He could also see Scootaloo on her scooter, which was hitched to a wagon loaded with wooded planks. He watched her buzz along the road over to deliver them to one of the damaged buildings where he saw Applejack, Big Mac, and Apple Bloom working to help rebuild. As he kept flying, he heard an extra pair of wings flapping beside him.

"Hey there," Rainbow greeted. "Whatcha doing up here and not down there helping with the town?"

"I'm on my way to go see Iron Guard," Dark answered.

"Really? What for?"

Without answering, Dark reached for the list and handed it over for Rainbow to read. She didn't have to read far, though, as the title of the list was all that she needed to know.

"Oh. I guess that's pretty important too," she said, giving back Dark the casualty list. "I'm starting to think that you might have the tougher job here."

"It's nothing that I'm not used to."

"You're talking about your old village, aren't you?" she guessed, getting a nod in reply. "So, why are you doing this job anyway. It seems more like something that one of the princesses should be looking over."

"Well, your right about that," he admitted. "It was actually Twilight who was given this job, but I offered to take over for her after seeing how much it bothered her."

"Why couldn't Celestia or Luna do it?"

"Because Princess Luna's leading a search party in the Everfree Forest for the guy behind the attack, and Princess Celestia had to return to Canterlot to run things there."

"That makes sense then." Her smile turned to a grin. "So, you're doing this for Twilight, huh?"

"Think I said that already."

"Well, I'm sure that this'll score you some points with her, if you know what I mean."

"Oh no, I already got plenty of that from the princesses today thank you very much."

"Really? What happened? Bet it's something good."

"I'm not even going to bother answering that."

"Then I'm just going to hang around till you do, or until you slip up, either way is fine."

"And what about your work?"

"I already did more than my share around Ponyville today," she bragged. "So I think that I've earned myself some time off."

Figuring that she was probably right about that, Dark continued towards the stands with Rainbow following behind. The rest of the trip was filled with her trying to get him to spill the beans, but his silence helped him save himself. Thankfully for him, it didn't take them long to get to where they were heading. Flying over the area, Dark could see that the guards had most of the timberwolves cleared out, but haven't touched the hydras, or the ursa major yet. While he felt a little prideful for defending the area from such creatures, he also felt a pang of guilt for having to do it. His thoughts about it ended when he heard a gasp beside him. Forgetting for a moment that Rainbow hadn't seen this yet, Dark began questioning if letting her tag along was the best idea.

"Whoa," she breathed. "What happened to the ursa and those two hydras?"

"I'm what happened," Dark answered.


He didn't answer as he spotted Iron Guard and flew down. Landing a few feet away from him, Dark walked over and greeted him with a claw/hoof shake as Rainbow landed behind him.

"Good to see you up and about, Ursa Slayer," Iron Guard greeted.

"'Ursa Slayer'? Not to be rude, but is this some sort of joke?" Dark questioned.

"It's not my idea. If you have issues with it, you can take it up with the guards. After the battle yesterday, the guards got together and word of your battle with the ursa and hydras quickly spread amongst them."

Dark shook his head and sighed. "First I'm a Dragon Slayer, and now I'm an Ursa Slayer as well." He looked back up to Iron Guard. "Just don't mention this near Fluttershy. She's quite taken with animals, so who knows what she would do if she heard this."

"Probably for the best then," Iron Guard agreed. "But still, you'd better get used to it."

"Sounds like somepony's become popular," Rainbow chimed in while giving Dark a nudge. "By the way, Capt., what did Dark do exactly? I missed what happened after I left you guys to help the others."

"First off, I would prefer that you not call me Capt. And to answer your question, I believe that he should answer that himself."

"Fine," Dark relented. "Long story short, I cut off one of the hydra's heads, pierced through the other's chest, and cut-off the ursa's front claws before I crushed its skull."

Hearing his answer caused Rainbow to turn a few shades whiter. "Suddenly I'm glad that I didn't stay to watch."

"While I'll admit that it wasn't my cleanest work, it still worked in the end." Noticing her slight color change he put a claw on her shoulder. "You going to be alright there?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. It'll take more than a story to make me sick."

"Better that you don't look at them then." Dark turned his attention back towards Iron Guard. "Speaking of the dead, I'm here on behalf of the princesses for the casualty list."

"Ah, well I was wondering when somepony would get here. I Just didn't expect it to be you," Iron Guard said.

"It was either me or Twilight, and I wasn't going to let her do it after seeing how much of a problem she had with it."

"How so?"

"Yeah, Dark," Rainbow added. "How so?"

"She began trembling when Princess Celestia brought it up, so I offered to do it for her, seeing as how I'm more used to this sort of thing."

"I can understand that," Iron Guard nodded.

"Alright then. In that case, let's go get this over with. I just hope that none of them have any relatives living in Ponyville, or else this will be turned into a bad day for me."

"No. Those unfortunate enough to have died have no relatives here."

"I prefer to call them 'The Victorious Dead'."

"Heh, I'll admit that does sound better," Iron Guard said as he lead Dark and Rainbow over to where they were keeping their dead.

"You sure you want to come in?" Dark asked Rainbow as they stood outside one of the tents set up. "You'll more than likely not like what you'll see."

Thinking for a moment, Rainbow shook her head. "Probably a good idea that I don't. Don't want to have any nightmares or anything."

"Alright. I'll see you around then."

And with that, Rainbow turned around to fly back to Ponyville while Dark entered the tent. It took him a few hours before he finally got out, happy to smell the fresh crisp evening air as Celestia's sun began setting over the horizon. As Iron Guard left the tent, he walked up beside Dark to look at the sunset as well. They stood there in mutual silence for a while before Iron Guard spoke up.

"Hey," he began. "Why don't you come and have a drink with me and the boys? We'd be glad to share a few rounds with you."

"Thanks for the offer," Dark thanked. "But I'm not much of a drinker. That, and I'm pretty beat from today."

"Why? What did you do that's made you so tired?"

"That casualty list wasn't the only list I was given. I was also given the injury list and paid a visit to the hospital. Spent all day up until I came to see you healing everypony who got injured during the battle yesterday."

Iron Guard's eyes widened slightly. "What did you do exactly?"

"I healed them all up. They should be discharged from the hospital by tomorrow."

"Heh, a warrior and a part-time healer." Iron Guard shook his head. "Seems that you're full of surprises." He paused for a moment. "Also, I should apologize to you."

"Why? You didn't do anything wrong."

"It's because I thought that what I heard of you was just some exaggerated story. Even after I saw the end results of those dragons back in your old village, and from what Princess Celestia told me, I still wouldn't believe it came from a single pony. But, after watching you in action yesterday for myself, I can safely say that I was wrong in not believing them. And, it is with that, that I apologize."

"It's no problem, Captain," Dark dismissed. "If I was in you position, I probably wouldn't have believed it either. Though, I have to admit that I'm surprised to see another stallion who's willing to admit when they're wrong, instead of trying to ignore or hide it."

"Thanks," he said, offering his hoof for a shake.

Accepting it, Dark shook his hoof before telling him goodbye and heading back to the castle to retire for the night. The cool wind felt great on his coat, almost causing him to take his time getting back. But he knew that the sooner he got back, the sooner he could rest up. It wasn't until a few minutes later that he made it back, the castle door being completely repaired. Walking inside, Dark saw some colts and fillies running around playing with each other. Careful as to not step on them, Dark continued his way over to the kitchen for something to eat. It was there that he saw Twilight, Rarity, Spike, and Sweetie Belle sitting at the table eating, the scent of food making his mouth water.

"Something smells delicious," Dark said as he walked in.

"Welcome back, Dark," Twilight greeted. "How did things go for you today?"

"Tiring," he answered. "Healing those guards took longer than I thought it would. Same with my appointment with Captain Iron Guard, minus the healing part that is."

"So everypony's going to be alright?" Sweetie Belle questioned.

Dark smiled down to her. "Yes, they're going to be just fine. They should actually be released tomorrow."

Happy with her answer, Sweetie Belle jumped off her chair. "Well, I think I'm going to head off to bed."

Hearing this Spike immediately got up. "Yeah, I think that I will too."

Standing in place, Dark watched as the two walked out of the kitchen and turn the corner. He waited a few seconds to make sure that they weren't coming back before addressing Twilight and Rarity.

"Sooo, what's going on here?" he asked.

"Turns out that Rarity's bouquet got damaged during the attack," Twilight answered. "So she and Sweetie Belle will be staying here until it's repaired."

"Alright, but how? I didn't think that it was anywhere near where the timberwolves had attacked Ponyville."

"It wasn't," Rarity dryly said while looking accusingly at Dark. "Apparently somepony decided to drop a manticore with a giant burning hole in its chest, straight onto my home."

"... oh... sorry, Rarity," he apologized. "I promise that I'll help repair the damage tomorrow, if I'm not working on the farm that is."

"Actually," Twilight interjected. "I spoke to Applejack today, and she wanted me to tell you that until the town is repaired, that there isn't any work. Which means that you're free to help Rarity."

"Good," Rarity humphed. "You start tomorrow morning, bright and early."

Dark just groaned, getting the feeling that tomorrow was going to be a long day for him.

Far to the north in the Crystal Empire, a group of stallions were sitting at a circular table with two empty chairs. The room was dimly lit, just barely showing the four, each with a mug of cider that was being sipped away while they were waiting for the remaining two.

"Where are they?" the first one wondered.

"Who knows," the second one commented.

"Something probably came up with the little one," the third one guessed.

"Careful there, boy," the fourth said to the third. "Remember that just because you're one of us now, doesn't mean that you can start talking about them so casually."

"That's not what they said to me," the third countered, his smug grin hidden by the dim lighting.

It looked like things were about to get messy, but before they could, the door to the room swing open. The light from the outside casted a shadowy silhouette of a pony. He took a moment to look around before walking in.

"Why's the room so dark?" he asked before turning on the lights, causing everypony besides him to yelp in surprise as the light briefly blinded them.

"You could've given us a little warning, Your Highness," the first one complained, now revealed to be a emerald-green crystal pony with a light-green mane and purple eyes.

"No kidding," agreed the second one, who was a sky-blue crystal pony with a turquoise mane and yellow eyes.

"Was that really necessary?" questioned the fourth, a gray crystal pony with a white mane and brown eyes.

"Heh, you guys really do like complaining, don't you?" quipped the third pony, an orange pegasus with blue eyes and mane.

"You get used to them," the prince answered, who was a white unicorn with blue eyes, and a mane with three different shades of blue.

"I still can't believe that you let him talk so casually like this, Prince Shining Armor," the fourth one said. "By the way, you never told us why you let him get away with it anyway."

"Because, Captain Gray Diamond, we like him," Shining stated. "Lieutenant Flash Sentry here is hard working, fast, dependable, successful with his missions, loyal, and has a positive attitude when working. And I believe that he'll be a great addition to your two other lieutenants here."

"Thank you, Your Highness," Flash thanked.

"No problem," Shining began. "Now then, since we're here, how about we start?"

"Aren't we forgetting somepony?" Gray asked.

"Don't worry, we'll be fine."

Listening to him, Flash began dealing out the stack of cards while Gray sorted out the chips. Once everypony was squared away, the first round of their weekly Thursday Night Poker began.

"So, Saph," Shining addressed to the sky-blue crystal pony. "Anything new going on?"

"Nothing," Saph answered. "Fold."

"Hmm. And how about you, Emerald Lance?"

"Same here," Emerald answered. "Hit me."

"So, nopony has anything new?" Shining questioned. "Hit me."

"Sorry," Flash apologized as he took a card for himself. "But nothing of any importance has come up."

"Yeah," Gray agreed. "Hit."

Few minutes later of betting, the first round ended with Emerald wining. It was then that the doors to the room flew open, revealing another pony silhouette, one that made Shining freeze in fear.

"And what's going on here?" she wondered as she walked in.

"It was his idea!" the four officers said in unison, each pointing a hoof at Shining.

"Traitors," he muttered before turning around and putting on an innocent face. "Hey, sweetie."

A pink alicorn with pink eyes, and a mane with purple, pink, and cream-yellow streaks, walked up alongside Shining and took a seat at the table.

"I see that you started the game without me... again," she observed.

"Like we said, Princess Cadence," Flash began. "We questioned it, but it was his idea to start ahead without you."

"Yeah, I kinda figured that it was his idea."

"Well it's not my fault that I just happened to marry the Princess of Poker," Shining complained.

"You only say that because you always lose to me," Cadence smirked. "Now, who are the blinds?"

Deciding to leave it at that, the next set of cards were dealt. As expected, Cadence found herself on a winning spree. They were into their fifth round before a messenger came into the room and handed Flash a report. As he read it, his eyes widened, an act that didn't go unnoticed by the others.

"Something wrong, Flash?" Cadence asked.

"It's a report from Ponyville," he answered. "Apparently the town was attacked yesterday."

"What was it this time?" Shining half-heartedly asked. "Probably just another little something that Twilie and her friends took care of."

"That is where you're wrong, sir," Flash said as he looked over the report again. "It wasn't just another attack."

"Really?" Cadence wondered. "What was so different about this one."

"According to this report, Ponyville was attacked by an army of a few thousand timberwolves, two hundred manticores, roughly one hundred and fifty cockatrices, eight hydras, and an ursa major."

Shining and Cadence shot up in their seats.

"Is everypony alright?! Did my sister make it out okay?!" Shining worryingly asked.

"A number of guards were lost, but other than that, nopony else was killed, and the attack was repelled."

"That's Twilight for you," Cadence sighed with relief. "I'll bet that she and her friends were the ones who defeated that ursa and those hydras."

"... actually, they weren't," Flash said in surprise getting curious glances from everypony in the room. "According to the report, the ursa, hydras, and a large number of the timberwolves and manticores were all defeated by... I've never seen this word before. A key-rin? Kai-rin?"

Shining raised an eyebrow in suspicion. "Hey, Flash, mind if I take a look at that?"

Flash gave the report to Shining for him to look over for himself. As he read, his brows furrowed, but it wasn't until he reached the last part of the report that his face turned eerily stoic.

"It's called a kirin," Shining spoke in a low and dangerous tone before looking back up. "You four can continue this if you want, but Flash and I are heading to Ponyville... immediately."

"Is something wrong, Shining?" Cadence worryingly asked.

"There's a kirin in Ponyville, which means that Twilight's in danger. Flash, I need for you to get six of your best and bring them to the train station. And make sure that they're fully armed. I'll meet you guys there after I'm done. If we take the next train, we can get to Ponyville by Saturday afternoon."

"Yes, Your Majesty," Flash answered with a salute. "But if I may ask, where will you be in the meantime?"

With a dark expression and tone, Shining answered, "I need to fetch my red gear."

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