• Published 8th Jan 2017
  • 643 Views, 52 Comments

The Lunar Chalice - Spirals95



A magical chalice prized to Princess Luna has resurfaced in the collection of a wealthy Griffon family. To retrieve the enchanted cup, she sends one of her followers and his friends. But some of Equestria's enemies have plans for the chalice.

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Chapter 17 - The Pine Forest

Chapter 17

Although the snow was somewhat deep, Midnight's shield had done a good job of melting a lot of it as it got to the party's hooves, leaving a slushy feeling on their legs while they trudged forward. Walking behind the determined unicorn, the duration of the spell not bothering him at all, the other three ponies started to get bored. Flaming Ivory was finishing the last few chapters of the book Typesetter had given him, with Shadow Breeze keeping up with his habit of reading over the shoulder. The novel floated in front of him, suspended by his magic, and it was difficult for the pegasus marching next to him to get a good look. They had been discussing it for a while when the next plot twist pleased Flaming Ivory.

“Woah, she marries him!” declared Flaming Ivory, pushing the book with his magic.

Apparently, the snake pony had brought the explorer from earlier in the book to her mother, the queen of the half reptile, half pony civilization hidden deep within the jungles. She could have been cruel, but her daughter explained how treating outsiders so evilly would bring about an end to their people. Tasked with bringing back an artifact from a cave across a perilous swamp to prove his worth and save himself from the queen's coils. The hapless adventurer braved the swamp with the princess's help and retrieved the artifact. Along the way they had become very close, and the princess asked the explorer to marry her, to which he agreed wholeheartedly.

“Awwww!” Shadow said sweetly, his wings fluttering, “That's so cute!”

Flaming Ivory shut the book and stuffed it back into a crude saddlebag at his side, the rectangular volume filling up the pouch and giving it corners.

“Ya know, that has me thinking,” mused the pianist.

“Oh?”

“Yeah,” he continued, squinting and smiling at the thought, “I'm thinking that maybe what Ross really needs is a nice lady zebra to get him to chill out and leave us alone.”

“Flaming, are you saying Rosseth's evil because he's single?” moaned Midnight, rolling his eyes.

Techorse, him standing next to Midnight, was able to get a word in, “I don't know Midnight... Cadance did say Rosseth came from a broken home, maybe he's lonely.”

“Well maybe so, but... he's tried to hurt us so many times,” argued Midnight with an unusually hostile tone, barely able to focus on his thermal shield, “we're just here to stop him, then go home.”

Techorse, always being focused on objectives, seemed blissfully unaware of the bad attitude his friend was taking. Shadow Breeze, on the other hoof easily picked up on the anger and cringed.

“Let's get the chalice and horn away from Rosseth and decide what to do with him from there,” said Techorse with some worry in his voice, “I'm hoping we can convince him to give up the items this time, I really don't want to have to hurt him, Princess Cadance would be crushed.”

“We know you worry about taking things too far,” Shadow Breeze said, “but you won't! You're careful Tech.”

Midnight Blaze wasn't happy with the amount of value Techorse was placing on Rosseth's vitality. Brooding was starting to become the norm for him with the sheer amount of stress he was encountering. Between Rosseth trying to harm him, his father's outrageous behavior, and the fact he had a dark voice with clearly ulterior motives drilling information into his brain, Midnight was starting to wear down.

Negative thoughts plagued the toolmaker's mind, “If that zebra hadn't started this mess, I wouldn't have had to confront my dad yet again and get another reminder he doesn't give a plucked horsefeather about me!

The half-zebra's laugh from the skirmish in the duke's estate echoed in his mind, and Midnight ground his teeth, his legs pushing more furiously through the snow. His friends kept up the pace with him, continuing to place their undying trust in Midnight's knowledge of Rosseth's destination. To the side of them, the treeline of pines extending out from the Empire was beginning to thicken. Normally the dark and dreary landscape of the Frozen North was desolate, but the tall and sturdy pine trees proved life could exist almost anywhere.

“Hey, is that smoke?” asked Shadow Breeze, “Look guys!”

Each of the stallions let their eyes wander until the spotted the small trail of black smoke rising into the overcast sky. The snowfall had died down quiet a bit since they had left a few hours ago, and it looked like someone out in the woods had started a campfire.

“Huh, so it is,” said Flaming Ivory, “guess somepony's out here camping.”

“All right, let's keep moving,” urged Midnight Blaze, unhappy his friends had stopped, “we need to reach the valley castle by sundown.”

Techorse was usually oblivious, but Midnight’s crankiness was stronger. The inventor suspected heavy spell fatigue from keeping up the shield for so long to keep them all warm.

“Maybe we should take a break to investigate,” he suggested.

Despite the anger stirring in his heart, Midnight was able to dismiss it, and his shield disintegrated in a scattering of square tiles made of turquoise light that vanished into thin air.

“I'm sorry, we've walked a lot... let's take a rest,” Midnight said with a much softer voice, getting a much happier set of looks from his friends in return.


A more serene atmosphere was provided by the pine grove, the tall trees giving out fresh oxygen with that distinctive holiday smell. It was a pleasing sight with the fresh snowfall accumulating on the ground and on every branch, a welcome change from the hostile environment out in the open near the imperial border.

“Well, that was an interesting read,” commented Flaming Ivory, finishing the last sentence of Typesetter's book and shutting the volume magically, “I wonder if our buddy Typesetter's gonna write another one?”

“I hope so,” agreed Shadow Breeze.

The four ponies stopped in their tracks as a loud creaking noise rang through the forest.

Midnight Blaze twitched his ears, “Does anypony else hear that?”

It was getting louder, and faster too, the air starting to move around them. Shadow Breeze spotted what was going on, and pointed at the cause with his wing.

TREE!

Each of them jumped out of the way of the falling pine, the huge log over twenty feet long, bristling with green needles smashed into the snow seconds after they had moved, a massive puff of snow was tossed into the air around them like a burst bag of flour. When the snowflakes and swirling loose needles had settled, the ponies were left sitting in the icy snow just feet from the fallen tree.

“We almost ended up squished!” exclaimed Shadow Breeze, observing the size of the pine, “What knocked it over?”

“Hello! Are you folks ok?” called a loud, pompous voice from behind the tree.

The four stallions looked in the direction of the sound, and from behind the tree jumped a very large and burly earth pony stallion, clothed in a plaid shirt and heavy winter pants tucked into big brown leather boots. His dark black mane curled over his neck, and merged with his big, scruffy beard on the front of his head, a good match for his handsome white coat.

“Oh by the grace of the Heart, the one time I don't call 'timber' and there's folks around!” he said, cursing himself and shaking his head, “I'm sorry I almost made flapjacks out of you guys!”

“You chopped down this tree?” asked Techorse, “It must have taken you hours with how large the diameter of the trunk is.”

“Well it isn't that big,” answered the flattered lumberjack, pulling at his beard meekly with a hoof, “I was just down to the last few chops before you got here. So what are you doing out here in the pine forest anyways?”

Techorse explained to him, “We saw the smoke from the outside and decided to investigate. I guess it's your house, then?”

“Yup, it's where me and the missus lives,” he chuckled, “she'd love to see you! I think you boys ought to come back with me for some gingerbread and coffee, least we can do after I nearly smashed you up.”

“Sure, lemme help you carry the tree back,” said Midnight, charging up his horn.

“Ah, no no no!” laughed the woodworker, trotting up to the trunk, “I'm fine!”

Midnight's mouth fell open as he watched the giant stallion wrap his hooves under the trunk and throw the tree with a mighty swing up, over, and onto his back like it was a mere twig. The weight partially buckled his legs, but the tough and jolly woodcutter let out a happy belly laugh and started to walk for his cabin with the tree awkwardly being dragged behind him.

“Here, let's hold the back for him,” said Techorse, running his saddle underneath one of the smaller branches.


His friends also grabbed on to some of the larger pine boughs, and together they kept the tree off the ground for their new acquaintance while he led the way back to his home out in the depths of the woods. Soon they came upon the small clearing, where a big log cabin, two stories in height with equally spaced glass windows and a big brick chimney spewing the smoke into the air. In front of the home, an area was cleared where the cut trees could be processed, a big sawmill had been constructed near a flowing, partially frozen stream, the chunks of ice adding extra force on the mill's paddle wheel.

The lumberjack hauled his tree up to the sawmill's entrance, and catapulted the felled lumber into the entrance. Techorse and his friends quickly let go to avoid being sucked into the saw blades along with the tree, and sawdust flew around like a tornado as the machinery inside cut off the branches and worked the tree down to the trunk. A metal outlet chute on the other side of the sawmill started to dump out chunks of pine tree, cut up perfectly for the fireplace.

Pride came over the scruffy pony's face, “Ahhh, perfect! Probably about two full cords right there!”

His cottage's door opened with a squeak, and out bounded his beloved wife, an earth pony mare just as big as he was, dressed up in a big fluffy white coat and winter cap, with beautiful golden hair that flowed behind her. Not to be totally outdone by her husband, she jumped in front of the sawmill and rapidly dug into the pile of logs with her hooves, chunks of wood flying into a perfectly stacked pile.

“Great work, Honey Bear,” she said, turning around and embracing her husband, “this'll be just enough to sell at the market tomorrow. Then we can spend the week in the empire!”

“Aw well maybe just one more, we gotta get our loan on that vacation house paid off faster,” he answered, kissing her on the forehead.

“Is selling wood really good business?” asked Shadow Breeze.

“Why, sure is!” answered the wife with a smile, “Nothing smells better than pine wood burning, and the Crystal Ponies can't get enough of it. That's why Honey Bear and I moved out here from Trottingham Woods, to cut pine!”

Shadow Breeze suddenly jolted, “Wait, your name is actually Honey Bear?”

“Sure is, but only my wife Cedar gets to call me that, I'm Bear to everyone else,” winked the stallion, “just a good old lumber Jack and Jill living together, living the good life in the woods!”

Awwwwww!” trilled his wife, locking him in a kiss in front of their guests.

After they were done with their public display of affection, Bear pointed to his guests, “I guess I ought to introduce our guests. These fellas were out walking around in the woods, and nearly got caught underneath the tree I downed. I felt just awful about it.”

“Oh my,” Cedar said, “I'm so sorry! Please, come inside with us and relax. I've made some fresh gingerbread this morning I think you'd like.”

“We'd love that!” said Flaming Ivory cheerfully, eager for a snack.

“Ah you guys go on ahead, I gotta get at least three more trees in today,” Bear said, pulling away from his wife, “I'll go get them in.”

“Why don't we help you?” offered Techorse, “it'll make it go faster.”

“I guess if you help, we could all get them in at once,” he answered, “all right, grab some axes and let's go!”


Bear brought them out to where he had last been chopping down trees, evidenced by several snow-covered stumps on the pine forest floor. Flaming Ivory went up to a tree, and knocked on it gently, a nice solid sound came from the mighty plant.

“Good acoustics in this one,” he said, “let's cut it down.”

“Nah, that one's no good,” Bear muttered.

Flaming Ivory felt annoyed, “Why not?”

“Because the trunk is leaking sap at the top. It'll gum up the sawmill. There's nothing worse than getting pine tar in your mane hair.”

“Ok, well, how do we know which trees to cut down?” asked Shadow Breeze curiously, “They all look the same to me, no offense Mr. Bear.”

“Well that's just ok, when you've been logging as long as I have you develop an eye for these kinds of things! Every tree has a story that ends with your axe, so you've got to pick exactly the right ones! Look, see this one here?”

The four other ponies crowded around a medium-sized tree, which looked exactly the same as all the others. It had a healthy layer of bark, a ton of branches leading to the top, and bristled with needles and seed cones.

“Well... I see it, but... what's so special about this one?” snorted Flaming Ivory.

Honey Bear pushed forward and put his hoof on a root exposed at the ground, “There's no holes in the roots, the bark isn't chipped and leaking sap, and the cones haven't fallen off yet. This pine tree has no grubs, little critters living in it, and it's spent all its energy making cones. It'll be easy to cut down, and burn nice and clean once it dries out.”

“Oh... that's cool, I guess,” grumbled the musician, looking away.

“Why don't you take this one, greenie?” laughed Bear, pushing Techorse in front of the tree.

Midnight Blaze realized something, “Wait, Bear, Techorse doesn't know...”

Techorse took a braced stance on his hooves, and his saddle opened up, his laser cannons quickly extending out and charging. He switched to solid beams, and raked the twin rays of yellow light across the base of the tree trunk, slicing through with a loud sound of burning wood. The tree's base buckled under the sudden loss of material, and down came the trunk with a loud crash, the exposed trunk burnt over from the heat. Techorse's weapons slid back inside their housing, the inventor admiring his clean cut across the trunk.

“... how to chop wood.”

He spun around, “That was fun! I never thought about using a laser to cut a tree down..”

The look of shock on Bear and Cedar's faces startled him, as he'd never seen a device quite like Techorse's saddle. A chopping that would take hours had taken just seconds.

The inventor laughed nervously, “Oops... should I have used an axe?”

“That was incredible,” stuttered Bear, before shaking himself back to his senses and taking on a harsher tone of voice, “but don't do that again. You wasted that end piece of the trunk.”

“Sorry!”

“All right, this one looks good too,” Cedar said in an attempt to move on from the shock, “why don't you chop this one dear?”

Bear stepped up to the next doomed pine and opened up the bag of equipment he had brought with him from his cabin. He took out two sharp blades fitted to the end of some heavy work boots, and began to put them on his back hooves.

“What are those?” asked Midnight Blaze curiously, having never seen such strange hoofwear like that before in his life.

“Ah, well, these are how earth ponies can cut down trees,” answered Bear, turning around, “I buck at the base until the trunk caves in! I mean, I've got some axes, but they're a little hard to use since well... we don't have magic like you.”

“But pine trees are so much harder than fruit trees,” said Shadow Breeze, frowning, “your legs are going to get ruined when you're older.”

“I'll worry about my golden years when I'm in my golden years, thank you.”

Bear moved himself into position and prepared to kick the tree, when Midnight intervened, “Wait!”

The lumberjack stopped, putting his boots down in the snow again, “What? Need to back up a bit, wood chips are gonna be flying!”

“No, it's not that, I have an idea, but you have to trust me!” answered Midnight, smiling.

The unicorn brought out another gemstone and held it in his magical aura, pressing the rock up against Bear's forehead. Unlike the reporter, Bear held still patiently despite finding it really silly. Midnight's mindstone flashed a light purple color, and he smiled brightly thinking about the good deed he was going to do.

Midnight turned around and waved his hoof, “Hey Flaming Ivory, throw me an axe!”

“Okay!” shouted Flaming Ivory in a goofy manner, picking up an axe magically and holding it over his head in preparation to chuck it.

Midnight and Bear yelped and dove for cover, Flaming Ivory burst into laughter and rolled in the snow.

HAHAHAHA! You thought I was gonna do it! You jumped!”

Techorse rolled his eyes and picked up the axe with his robotic arms, handing it gently over to Midnight, “Here you go, Midnight.”

“Thanks, at least you're taking this seriously,” he answered, adhering the mindstone to the handle of the silver-headed axe.

After the stone was in place at the base of the tool, Midnight dropped the tool in front of Bear, “That stone I just put on your axe will let you pick it up just like a unicorn. Try it, Bear.”

Bear was skeptical of the stone now affixed to his favorite axe... but he listened and tried to focus on the tool. A bright purple ring of light formed around the stone, and the axe floated over next to him, making him drop it in surprise.

“Try again, it's safe, I promise!” encouraged Midnight Blaze, his turquoise eyes expressing joy.

Bear nodded, and gave the axe another try, managing to get it up to eye level. With a loud shout, he swung the axe horizontally, and a spray of pine chips flew from the tree. Feeling alive, Bear hacked his way through the trunk in minutes with the magically suspended axe, and kicked over the trunk once he was down to just a sliver of wood. Another mighty crash brought the tree to rest of the ground, and Bear dropped the axe on the ground, grabbing Midnight.

“I don't know what you did... but you've saved my legs, kiddo!” he said, nearly weeping from joy.

Midnight couldn't stand the woodsy sent on Bear's clothes, but there was no hope of him escaping that Bear Hug!

“You're welcome! Just don't crush me!”

Bear was hard to convince to let Midnight Blaze go, but eventually his wife made him. Now with his eventual retirement looking a lot less filled with arthritis, he was an even more jolly of a lumberjack than before.

“We still need one more tree,” Cedar said, smiling gently.

Flaming Ivory's horn radiated an orange aura as he grabbed another axe, it made a metallic sound as he drew it over his head.

“I've got this!”

A shadow tendril grabbed the axe away from him, plucking it from his aura gently. Flaming Ivory looked meekly at his friends' expressions of distrust.

“No,” said Shadow Breeze gently.

Flaming Ivory felt sweat gathering on his forehead, “Come on fellas, that was just a joke! I wasn't really gonna...”

“No,” repeated the pegasus, just a little bit louder.


“You let them leave alone?!” cried Cadance at Captain Arbiter, facing down the eyepatched pegasus.

“Indeed, they're not foals Princess Cadance, they can handle themselves,” he answered, looking down at her with his good eye.

The Princess of Love paced back and forth in front of her rather comfy looking cushioned throne within the palace.

She complained at the swordspony further, “What if Faerie Tail finds out Midnight's out there looking for Rosseth?”

“She'll likely be mad at Ignitus, but that's nothing out of the ordinary,” stated Arbiter, “that is why I decided to inform you about them leaving in private. Midnight's behavior is highly unusual.”

“What do you mean, Arby?” asked Cadance, halting her pacing for a moment, “he seems to be acting like a normal son with a disappointed father to me! He's run off to try and impress him!”

“I do not see it that way,” responded the caped pegasus, “I see Midnight as having faith he can do good for Equestria in his own way. He's going to bring back Rosseth, and you'll be able to finally settle your problems with him.”

“And if he doesn't?”

“Then Techorse will do it and give him credit for it,” smirked Arbiter, “you know the lad, he wants to help.”

Princess Cadance climbed into her throne, and sprawled in it futility trying to relax, “I guess you're right, Arbiter. I'm just concerned. What if Rosseth really does manage... to bring him back?”

“Impossible,” stated the captain, “Rosseth is delusional. Something you can fix.”

A loud crash sounded throughout the room as the doors swung open wildly, a frantic Faerie Tail and her still stone-cold husband stood in the entrance.

WHERE'S MIDNIGHT?!” she wailed loudly.

Cadance gritted her teeth, “Well...”

“Calm down Faerie Tail,” said Arbiter, turning around to face the panicking mother, “they went out on patrol to look for Rosseth. They'll be back by sundown.”

“Oh...” she trailed, “I see. I thought perhaps he'd run away.”

“Techorse, Flaming Ivory, and Shadow Breeze are with him, I saw them,” explained Captain Arbiter with a clever lie, “they're just having another look around the empire's borders to see if Rosseth has hidden out there with the chalice. He has no place to go but the icy cold, or here.”

“I... I just hope he stays safe,” said Faerie Tail with a calm sigh, “Princess Cadance...”

“Yes?”

“Ignitus and I talked last night after everypony else went to bed, there's... something we need to discuss,” she said dolefully.

Princess Cadance saw the look in Ignitus' eyes, and Faerie Tail's leading to the floor, and felt a twinge of anxiety built in her chest.

N... no... not again!

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