• Published 11th Jun 2012
  • 4,240 Views, 180 Comments

Renaissance Pony - Dafaddah

In the late middle ages, Celestia foresees trouble for humanity and seeks help

  • ...

The Siege of Ponyville

Renaissance Pony

Chapter 13: The Siege of Ponyville

by Dafaddah

Globe spanning editorial team: Microshazm and SecondLaw

Once again, the first thing Princess Celestia saw coming out of her teleport was the ring of stones. But this time there was no pony figure, no captive giant three-headed dog, nothing but the stones and the sound of the breeze blowing through the conifers and leafless trees at the edge of the forest clearing.

The traces of magic that had led her here were faint, much fainter than those left intentionally to mislead her to the other ring. She stamped a hoof in frustration. It had been many decades since she had been so effectively duped, and the shame of it burned worse than she had thought possible.

She scanned the clearing carefully. There were some differences. The ring here was much larger than in the previous clearing. And there were the tracks: timberwolves, manticores, even the huge prints of Ursa Majors and, she shuddered, a hydra. All the tracks left the gateway and proceeded into the forest. None returned.

Celestia’s eyes grew wide and her knees buckled. Her magical senses had felt as if she had only barely fended-off a mighty blow from above. She turned her head sharply to the north, feeling strong resonance from a pony with whom she had a most singular link, and who was in pain. The aura of the magic left no doubt in her mind: Starswirl was in mortal peril!

She didn’t know how far he was, only his general direction and so she couldn’t teleport to his location. There might be only be seconds left to act, so in desperation she did the first thing that came to mind. An idea she had had, but not discussed yet with her sister. She closed her eyes, and linked a magical object directly to Starswirl’s magical aura. She felt his power bloom. She held her breath and waited. His aura remained steady. After half a minute she dropped to her haunches, relief flooding her body. Starswirl lived! Still a nagging feeling tugged at her conscience. She would have to find a way to explain to Luna. After all, she had had little choice.

Celestia arose and followed the tracks of Tartarus’s monster inhabitants towards the Everfree forest. Her heart sank when she saw many pony tracks interspersed with those of the monsters. She closed her eyes, trying to locate nearer sources of magic. It was obvious that whoever had set up these gateways wanted to do something with the monsters. She could feel a group of unicorns assembled to the north, at the edge of the forest. Celestia followed the tracks out of the clearing, feeling dread settle like a cold mass in the pit of her stomach.

With a deafening crash, Clover was thrown to the ground as the earth shook hard. A surge of pain shot up his already wounded right foreleg. He shook his head and forced himself up onto all fours, as did several of Ponyville’s defenders who had also fallen to the ground.

Looking up into the air he spied the pegasi contingent, fluttering in low flight and no longer willing to trust in terra firma. “The beast is coming this way! Get out of there!” shouted Captain Dash. Behind him, huge dun coloured necks swayed in the air above the rooftops, each one topped by a reptilian head equipped with razor-sharp teeth the length of a pony’s leg. They eyed the pegasi and every few seconds one of the heads would lunge for a flying pony. Thankfully their huge mass made the lumbering giants no match for pegasi nimbleness in the air. They also kept the attention of the Hydra away from the more vulnerable ground based ponies.

Starswirl, Clover and Hydrangea galloped as if pursued by the beasts of Tartarus. Clover allowed himself a wry grin. We ARE being pursued by the beasts of Tartarus! he thought. Through his hooves he felt more than saw another house crumble into splinters, bricks, and dust. Finally he had the courage to look back at the Hydra.

“It’s still headed straight through town!” he shouted through the noise. He saw Starswirl just ahead also venturing a glance over his withers. Instead of looking up at the Hydra he was looking down at the swath of crushed houses that extended behind it, the expression on his face reflecting the devastation of the hamlet.

Clover gritted his teeth. Seeing house after house destroyed was taking a toll on his teacher. None of their strategies had succeeded in causing the Hydra to deviate from its course. Soon the town would be bisected. Already they had reports of timber wolves and manticores driving through the Hydra-sized gap in the town’s defences.

The group slowed to a stop. They were far enough ahead that they could take a breather. Starswirl gestured for Captain Dash to come in for a parlay. The pegasus landed next to him, sides heaving from his most recent aerial acrobatics. “Our forces will be divided... and so will the evacuation... if this continues!” he said between gulps of air. “We need to fall back... to one side or the other.” He looked at the unicorns. “Instead of trying to redirect it, do you think you could just slow it down a bit?”

Clover looked back at the Hydra. One of its legs came down squarely on top of another house. It stumbled a moment as the leg sank through to the house’s cellar, causing it a momentary imbalance. “I have an idea!” he said. The others’ desperate gazes settled on him.

“Maestro, can you dig a shorter trench but deeper than the one outside of town?”

His teacher nodded wearily. “Aye, lad. But a beast with four heads and eight eyes has excellent vision and misses little, and will just step over the pit,” said Starswirl.

“Not if I cover it with an illusion while and after you dig it, so it doesn’t see the pit until it’s too late. Then it will topple, and it takes a huge monster like this quite a while to stand up,” replied Clover with an exaggerated grin.

“Excellent idea, Clover.” He looked at the next house in the path of the beast. It was his own former cottage, now greatly expanded, and beyond it was the town green. “We’ll lay the trap just beyond that house,” he pointed with a hoof. “Clover, prepare your illusion.” He galloped to the house in question and magically blasted the back door off its hinges. The other unicorns had followed him inside, and he led them to the front door. “Cast your illusion from here where you can see but cannot be seen. I’ll be back in a moment.” He galloped up the stairs, leaving Clover and Hydrangea to look at each other in confusion.

Clover facehoofed as he suddenly understood. “This house! This has been his home for the last thirty years, according to his point of view. And now it’s being destroyed!”

Hydrangea’s face took on a determined look. “Not if I can help it!” She placed a hoof on Clover’s withers. “There were unicorns following the hydra. I’m convinced they’re somehow directing its movements. If I can take some of them out of action maybe the hydra will stop or we can get it to turn around, or at least prevent the beast and the unicorns from detecting the trap,” she said.

“You’ve got to be kidding! You can’t go against these unknown unicorns alone!” Clover felt desperate. “I’ll go, you take care of the illusion.”

“I can’t,” replied Hydrangea, she stepped closer to him. “Clover, illusions and subtle magic have never been my strong point.” She smiled sadly. “At school you’ve always been the one with the fine touch, able to do even the most complex spells, the finest young mage of our generation the teachers said.” She looked down. “I was always better at the straightforward stuff.” Her gaze met his again, this time accompanied by a saucy grin. “That’s why I was made head of the militia cadets. You, on the other hoof, never seemed too motivated for that kind of practical stuff, my little egghead stallion.” Unexpectedly, she gave him a tender little kiss on the cheek.

Clover felt himself blush. It seemed like forever since the last time he had had the leisure of embarrassment. “Please be careful, Angie.” Her eyes widened as he used her familiar nickname.

“You too, Clover the Clever.” She turned and galloped out the back door.

Clover took a deep breath, focusing on the area outside the front window. He began to build the spell, overlaying all the objects in sight with identical illusions. Hydrangea had been right. The complexity of the task tested the limits of even his skill with the subtle stuff. When it was finished he dared not break his concentration, even for a moment. Even to spare a thought for a dear friend running headlong into danger.

Princess Platinum woke up with a start in the darkness. She tried to cast a magelight and grew alarmed when nothing happened. Then she felt it: the cold ring of iron around the base of her horn. “No! How?” The echo of her cry had that particular timbre of underground chambers. The smell of humidity, mouldy hay, and filth completed her mental picture of her circumstances.

She felt fear. Then images of her last conscious moments in the ring of stones returned. “Lord Beryl!” She seethed in rage, and tried to rise, finding her legs bound. She writhed on the cold stone floor, her mood alternating between misery and wrath.

An indeterminate time later there was the clip-clop of approaching hooves, the sound of a key in a doorlock, and the squeak of rusty hinges. “You have a guest Princess. Please be a dear and show her all the courtesies. Ha ha!” said a voice. She heard the sound of a body hitting the floor next to her. She reached out tentatively with a hoof and felt the barrel of a pony on the ground. Upon further exploration she discovered a feathered wing. She sighed in relief as she detected regular movement. At least the pegasus was still breathing.

Hydrangea skirted the zone two or three houses outside the path of destruction. She hoped to flank the enemy and catch a glimpse of the unicorns she and some of the others had seen accompanying the beastly invasion. She was cautious as some of the defenders had reported clandestine attacks from unicorns who then faded back into the background.

She scanned the houses, to her left. There! A shadow moved surreptitiously towards the hydra. Hydrangea moved in cautiously, approaching the pony from behind. The unicorn rounded the corner of a house and she lost sight of him. She quickly trotted across the street to the same house and crept to the corner. Flattening herself against the wall, she carefully peeked around the corner.

The pony was at the back of the next house up, his horn glowing. She surmised he might indeed be controlling, or at least influencing the hydra. She built a magical charge, hoping to cast a spell to knock the unicorn out of the action for at least a few hours. With an effort of will she launched the spell at the pony, and felt triumph when the unicorn folded to the ground, fast asleep. One down! she thought. On to the next.

Hydrangea quickly moved up to the next house, hoping to again catch another of the beast handlers from behind. A quick peek showed nopony around. Disappointed, she quickly advanced to the next house. And the next.

She was beginning to think that maybe there were fewer handlers than she had been led to believe. And then her eyes grew wide as she considered another possibility. What if the handler she had put asleep was the vanguard, and the other handlers were further back? She quickly turned around, just in time to see the flash of a unicorn’s horn as he discharged a spell.

She ducked and fired off a volley of her own. The figure disappeared behind a broken wall. Hydrangea crept forward, going from cover to cover. She had excelled at this type of dueling in school. Of course, the penalty for being hit in those days was being covered by a splotch of bright paint. She maneuvered around the broken wall, hoping to trap her assailant on inside angle of the wall behind which he had retreated. She charged up, and leapt over the low wall, catching sight of the fleeing unicorn and casting her spell while still in the air. The stallion hardly had time to register surprise on his face when the blast caught him full in the barrel. He also went down like a sack.

Hydrangea felt her heart beat faster, smiling at her victory. She had been good at this. She turned and saw a flash from the corner of her eye. Her legs collapsed beneath her, and everything went black.

Starswirl looked around the bedroom. Everywhere lay reminders of his years in the colony, and all its wonderful ponies. His herd. His people. He had time to take only a few things. He levitated a large trunk onto the bed. Objects began to fly into it as if borne on a whirlwind. His notebooks, some paintings of the fauna, flora and scenes from the other world, art objects, toys and crude drawings made by the many foals through the years seeking to impress their ‘Old Maestro’. An entire other lifetime, where he had learned to become a pony in his heart. Even the smell of the room was precious to him. The essence of the woods of that other world so subtly different from those of Equestria or Earth. He was more a child of this place than of Equestria proper, and he would miss it.

A few last items went into the trunk, then he shut the lid. The finality of that act brought tears to his eyes. Old fool! he berated himself. Time is wasting. He turned his back on the room and levitated the trunk out before turning back and closing the door. He looked at it one last time, and rushed down the stairs with his trunk floating behind him.

Near the front door he found Clover, eyes closed in concentration. “I’m done, lad. Is the illusion ready?” he asked.

Clover did not open his eyes. “Yes it is, Maestro. It extends some fifty paces from the front door in all directions and is about five paces above the ground. You’ll have to keep the displaced earth below that level.”

“Where’s Hydrangea?”

“She went to ensure that our trap is not discovered,” replied Clover, his countenance grim.

Starswirl could tell something was lacking in this response. He looked at the young unicorn’s expression, and decided now was not the time to push for the truth. “Then lad. Give me a minute or two.” He also closed his eyes. There was a low rumbling sound, and Starswirl felt the earth shifting as he used the mental image of a huge screw and several magical pulleys to amplify his strength. It dug a hole in short order, but the earth was accumulating fast. He set several more screws to spreading the earth away for the hole. He smiled as he laboured. Even if the hole was not so deep, the fresh earth would be uncertain footing for the hydra.

After a minute the trench was a good two pony lengths deep. He could feel the earth shake with each step of the hydra. It was getting close. Desperately he dug deeper. Already he feared filling up all the space he had below the illusion for the displaced earth.

There was a tremor larger than the rest, this time accompanied by a crashing sound. “The hydra is upon us! I left us an exit path to the left of the front door. Run, lad!” Starswirl nudged the young unicorn forward. Clover advanced gingerly forward still keeping his eyes closed. In a panic, Starswirl picked him up telekinetically and hurried out the door, carrying both his student and his trunk as he galloped down the path. There was a huge crash as the hydra placed another leg down onto his house.

He cleared the alley just past the two houses down from his own. A bit further and they should be safe. He risked a look back and saw his roof collapse as it was pushed aside by the gargantuan beast. At last he felt safe to stop. He put Clover down gently. The unicorn still had his eyes closed.

The hydra took one more step, its left foreleg going straight into the hidden excavation. The leg came down, and continued going down, and down. The hydra’s leftmost head reacted first, its eyes bulging in surprise. Still the leg plunged further. The second to leftmost head roared in surprise as it felt its body began to topple. The first neck and head were crashing into Starswirl’s neighbour’s house before the third and fourth heads sounded in frustration and fear. The huge beast demolished the two houses next to Starswirl as it fell onto them, and lay still.

“You can open your eyes now, lad. Your stratagem worked, and brilliantly at that,” said Starswirl. He wanted to smile, but he couldn’t. All he could see was the ugly gash in the pretty row of houses. He knew the day was not yet over, and that the hydra would get up. At the price of a few houses, they had bought minutes. He prayed it would be enough.

Clover opened his eyes, and saw the downed hydra. His smile died on his lips when he saw Starswirl expression of loss. “Maestro, let’s help get everypony evacuated to the eastern part of town,” he said gently.

“Aye, lad. What about Hydrangea?” asked Starswirl.

“She’ll find her way back,” replied Clover with a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Starswirl looked at him oddly for a moment. “Then let’s go before the beast rises again.” He took a few steps into the village green, now half covered in fresh earth, and waved to a pegasus nearby, who fluttered down close. “Tell the Captain we are going to construct another defensive trench to cut the invaders off from the eastern half of town. Get everypony there as quickly as possible.

The pegasus flew off. Clover looked to Starswirl. “So how do I help? I’m not so good at the practical stuff.“ His breath caught in his throat.

“Lad, you just keep me safe. I have some houses to pull down and some digging to do.” Starwirl’s face hardened. Clover knew this was going to be in his teacher’s nightmares for a long time.

This was the last wagon load of defenders remaining in Ponyville proper. What’s left of it, anyway, thought Starswirl. As they took off, he looked down on the once picturesque little hamlet. It was mostly rubble. He estimated fully three quarters of its buildings had been demolished totally. The hydra had been made to run a pattern circling the town. It had gone twice around so far. Plumes of black smoke rose above the wreckage, as fires raged unchecked, spreading ever faster.

The only part of Ponyville left standing was the hospital, fortified with dual rings of earthworks thrown up by Starswirl after he had dug the trenches in the town. That’s where they were heading now. All the defenders had massed there.

Clover sat on his haunches in a corner of the wagon, sullen. He had not wanted to board the wagon. Hydrangea had never shown up and nopony recalled seeing her. He had wanted to stay and wait for her, but Starswirl ordered him to get aboard or he would put the lad there forcibly. Clover knew better than to test him in a one-on-one contest of wills. He had boarded the wagon in resentful silence and had not uttered a word since.

Joly Pine held the other corner, face ashen while looking at the wagon’s floorboard, hiding from the view below. He had not flinched until the last moment, when he too had almost refused to get on. Starswirl had begged him quietly, saying that his mother awaited him at the hospital. Joly had looked up at him.

“How can I face her?” he had asked. “The town is destroyed.”

“We’ll face her together, Joly. We have saved almost all the ponies which as the mayor will make her proud. And as a mother she’ll weep tears of joy that her son has survived the day.” This had only made Joly burst into tears himself, but he had boarded the wagon.

The rest were various unicorns, earth ponies and even two pegasi, including Captain Dash who’d had half of the flight feathers of his right wing chomped off by one of the hydra’s heads. They would grow back, but he was for the moment incapable of sustained flight.

Including Hydrangea there were two other missing ponies. Three from a population of almost five hundred, including the day’s visitors. Starswirl knew intellectually that this would have been called an amazing successful retreat. In his former life he had played at war with generals and kings, but never had he been in battle. Now he knew its true cost, and the knowledge tasted of ashes in his mouth.

The Princesses had not shown up, nor anypony from the authorities, for that matter. Captain Dash was also worried for the little yellow pegasus they had sent to advise them of Ponyville’s peril. They had sent another with a word to exercise caution. Still, Starswirl was glad Hydrangea’s brother had been evacuated in an earlier flight. He had no clue what he would say to the lad when they landed.

Below he saw the Hospital grow in size as they approached. Wounded ponies were lined up in triage lines outside. The most serious cases were brought inside first. Starswirl saw a lot of red dotting the white sheets covering those awaiting treatment.

He looked back once more on Ponyville. He could not see how the town could survive this day. Surely the fires would make short work of the few buildings left standing. And he doubted its residents would abide staying so near the Everfree forest, now that it was infested with dangerous creatures. No, his Ponyville, the Ponyville he knew, was dead. That was the only word for it. Starswirl hid his face in his hooves and wept.