• Published 26th Aug 2019
  • 485 Views, 21 Comments

The Moaning Top Incident - Visiden Visidane



A tangled weave of stories plunges a festival into historical notoriety.

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Moon Basin

It’s true that originally, our village of Moon Basin was essentially a small outpost for the Moonlight Rondo, but that was a long time ago.

Shortly after the first gathering of Luna-inspired musicians and dancers on Mount Moaning Top, and the founding of the Rondo, an inn was built where you now find Moon Basin. It was built by an enterprising pony named Moon Dipper. The inn is still around, as both a place for travellers to stay in and as our humble village’s only historical landmark. The purpose of the inn was to serve and profit from travelers coming to visit or join the wildly popular Moonlight Rondo. When the number of attendants grew, more inns were built, then farms, then a marketplace, then houses for all the staff. Moon Basin was thus born. Back then, it was a bustling place too, the place to go to see famous musicians and poets.

When the Rondo became mobile, Moon Basin lost its prominence. The other inns closed up, most of the residents went on to other places. The result is what you see now, a small, sleepy village in some forgotten corner of the Western Barrier Land.

Hearth Loaf, Moon Basin Mayor


The second day of the festival continued to be a simple, relatively calm, and fun, event for the villagers of Moon Basin. A few incidents of overindulgence in food and drink here and there, a few tumbles resulting in scratches and scrapes...nothing serious; the resident healer's dream.

Cinder Spark's apprehension only grew as the hours passed. This wasn't right. Things were going too swimmingly. She had tried to dismiss her worries as just being a pessimist, but she couldn't shake them at all.

A short while ago, Skirmisher Captain Coal Grey and his group of legionnaires had stopped by, then they moved on with Moon Sail, the Rondo representative in this part of the mountain. Something was happening, enough to catch the Legion's attention. It just wasn't happening here.

Cloud Breeze was also nowhere to be found. She must be with the rest of the Rondo, smoking and drinking away. Cinder wondered if she did more than just that during these festivals. There were plenty of good-looking mares in the Rondo and bad decisions often lay scattered all around them during these occasions. Perhaps, it was time she checked out the so called "secret" that the Rondo kept.

Cinder looked to the deeper parts of the mountain; to the winding trails up the peak where one could easily get lost. Cloud Breeze warned her away from the place, saying that it was dangerous on foot. True, and she was happy to think that the warning was out of genuine concern. Still, she had traversed those paths plenty of times, ever since she started staying in Moon Basin. Mount Moaning Top held a plethora of useful herbs; medicinal and spell components. A lot of natural hallucinogens also grew there, which explained why the Moonlight Rondo favored the mountain so much. Long before she even met Cloud Breeze, she had explored the place, relying on location spells, and a simple good sense of direction. Neither failed her.

"Cinder Spark!"

Cinder turned around. Some of the villagers, including Mayor Bitter Hops, had acquired a wine barrel all to themselves, and they were waving at her with their half-full goblets. "Come and join us!" they called. She merely smiled and waved before running off. The supplies apparently weren't even being watched over. Some host the Rondo was. There were even less Rondo ponies here than there were a few hours ago. This festival was definitely a front, and her fellow villagers were but shields. Well, she was going to get to the bottom of this.

Slipping out of the festival proved difficult, not just because there were so many of the villagers eager to have her join them, but also because it would mean leaving her patients unattended. Getting tipsy during festivities was hardly a life-threatening condition, but many of her neighbors were not used to this sort of “fun”, and Mount Moaning Top was no place to wander off. She hoped that the couple of stallions she had asked could indeed remain sober and watch in her stead.

The trails leading farther into the mountain seemed more...sinister than usual, perhaps because of the lights from the party highlighting the shadows. The silence from the wildlife because of the presence of so many ponies added more to that mien. The grass here was normally knee-high, but the ones along the trail had been trampled flat by well over a dozen armoured hooves.

Cinder followed the trail to the caves she knew were hidden in the mountain’s twisting paths. The Rondo must have hidden out there, thinking that they were the only ones who knew of their hiding places. Mount Moaning Top may not be as picturesque as other Western Barrier Land peaks, but it did have its caverns and strange rock formations. That the tracks of the Legion coincided with this trail was worrying. Moon Sail was leading the group to the Rondo’s secret places, but that was a terrible idea. Spared Rod must have told her to keep the Legion busy and distracted, so why was she doing this?

An odd, moaning sound greeted Cinder as she approached the cave entrance; the namesake of this whole mountain. Something was off, however. The pitch was higher than usual, and reverberated as if it had multiple sources. As the entrance loomed before her at last, the moaning was clearer, and now obviously came from the throats of actual wailing ponies, rather than the passing wind.

Alarmed, Cinder dashed into the cave as soon as she got a tinderbox going and hanging off her harness. The stink of burning herbs filled her nostrils as soon as she got even just a short distance in. More than that, there was the pungent smell of...something. Gut instinct warned her of danger, and she quickly pressed a kerchief to her nose. Poison...not even the Legion would do something so awful as to flush out the Rondo from their cave as if they were an infestation of termites...would they? She broke into a gallop. Cloud Breeze was probably in there. Thoughts of her choking on poison, or bleeding before the Legion’s blades came unbidden to Cinder’s thoughts. Cloud was instinctively reckless, and she hated the Legion. She would most certainly charge when she should be fleeing. Cinder has taken it upon herself to drag her out of the worst situations ever since they met.

The cave floor was rough and mildly damp. Cinder skidded slightly, but she righted herself before she could trip. A particularly pointy pebble jabbed into her hind hoof with a sharp stab of pain, but she winced, grit her teeth, and refused to slow down. More cries came at her from farther in; panic, anguish, terror...all mixed in with shouts of alarm and anger.

Then, the walls and floor shook as a great, bellowing hiss blasted past Cinder. She cried out in a reflex and dropped to her belly. A wave of unnatural, heart-crushing fear trailed the deafening sound, as thunder might roll in after a lightning strike. She lay there for what felt like days, clutching her chest, her hind legs withdrawn, and her eyes shut tightly, shivering as if she were soaking wet in a snowstorm. That bellow...it must be a dragon’s for sure. The cogs in her mind creaked and struggled to turn. She forced them. She had to, as a means of overcoming this paralyzing fear.

This paralyzing fear had to mean the frightful presence of a pride dragon. She had read all about the unique abilities from each type. That sonic roar, however, while quite loud, did not not explode like how she read it could. The cries of fear and rage still resounded within the cave. A pride dragon roar within such tight confines would have killed every pony nearby, even her. At the very least, her ears should have ruptured. A young dragon, perhaps? Did they develop their frightful presence first before their sonic roars?

Finally, Cinder got her knees working. She stood up, still shaky, but at least stable enough to gallop, and ran farther in. The narrow passage gave way to a huge chamber, and a scene of utter chaos. Several ponies ran past Cinder, one of them jostling her so hard she nearly fell over again. She pressed on, quickly sidestepping when another pony nearly ran into her. Ahead, huge blades glinted in the lurid torchlight, several spells flashed across the heavy, foul-smelling air while a few enormous bolts flew.

At the center, commanding all attention, was a gigantic, golden cobra with glimmering scaled wings. It stood on powerful legs, thick like oaken limbs, and wielded an enormous, wavy-bladed sword with equally muscular arms. Telekinetic and crossbow bolts from nearby ponies flew towards it, only to break against a transluscent, golden globe surrounding the creature.

The creature, Cinder would indentify it as a Cobrahn Ophidite if it wasn’t so big and its wings didn’t exist, raised its weapon. Golden arcs of magic crackled around the blade, showering its surroundings in brilliant sparks, before unleashing a huge bolt of lightning. Legionnaires dropped what they were doing and dove for cover, but the spell found its mark in one unfortunate skirmisher. If there was a cry, Cinder didn’t hear it. Maybe it was because of the chaos, but it could just as be from things happening so fast. One moment, there was an armored earth pony trying to run, a flash later and there was a scorch mark on the cave floor. Another boom followed by cutlery and rubble flying followed that blast.

Cinder’s eyes moved rapidly. She wrenched them away from that golden monster at the center of the cavern to all the ponies around. ‘Cloud Breeze,’ she thought. ‘Where’s Cloud Breeze?’ She looked to the upper portions of the cavern, where pegasi might be flying about. Though she noticed plenty of pegasi still in the crowd, nopony was up in the air. The legionnaires were sticking to each other in typical formation, surrounding the golden monster and alternating attacks.

Cinder rushed in. There was no spotting Cloud from far away. She was going to find that mare even if she had to sort through every pony in here. She focused on feathers, to separate fleeing pegasi from fleeing everything else. White feathers...pink mane...white feathers...

The cavern was a riot of screaming, colorful blurs, but that proved a benefit in the end. Cinder focused on a particular pony hiding behind a large rock, not out of fear, but to stay out of sight of the legionnaires. White feathers and a pink mane...Cinder’s heart lept and she galloped over, ignoring the chaos that continued to rage in the cavern. “Cloud!” she yelled.

Cinder’s voice must have cut through even all the screaming, clanging, and explosions. Cloud Breeze’s head jerked back from her intense watching, and focused on her. No overjoyed smile curved her lips and no long exhale of relief came out of her mouth. Instead, a horrified look crossed Cloud Breeze’s face.

Cloud made several frantic gestures, all to get Cinder over to her hiding spot as quickly as possible. “What are you doing here?” she whispered harshly.

“I came for you!” Cinder whispered just as harshly, her chest aching at the reaction. She followed Cloud’s gaze and found two very familiar legionnaires in thick of the fighting.

Skirmisher Captain Coal Grey dashed past a barrage of spells from the golden monster, then ducked under a swing from its enormous blade. He pressed on, getting right up to the monster. It was so large that, rearing up, he barely reached its hips. He swung his gashing blade deftly, seemingly unhindered by its size and weight.

Nearby, Chill Gaze cast a spell in time with that swing. Cinder recognized at dispelling. Something shimmered around the golden monster, then fizzled into crackling sparks. Cinder hoped that the blow would strike through. The blade found the monster’s thigh alright, and it did bite, but the monster’s scales sparked and hissed in resistance; a final layer of magical protection. Blood trickled from the wound, but it was nowhere near what one could expect from a gashing blade. Coal Grey ran back as the creature’s blade swung for him again.

Cinder’s heart was pounding the whole time. She hoped desperately that the strike would be true, and that Coal Grey would escape unharmed. Her heart sank when his blade struck an armor spell; a rudimentary protective spell, but effective with enough spell power and mana. The golden monster clearly had plenty of both. She looked back at Cloud Breeze, who was more focused on Chill Gaze. “What are you doing?” she asked. “We should go! The Legion will defeat that thing!”

“Oh, they will,” Cloud replied. “It’s over for Sassy now that they found her out. Her eyes narrowed. I’m going after Chill Gaze.”

It was only then that Cinder paid attention to Cloud’s right foreleg. It was by Cloud’s side. Tightly gripped in its hoof was a long knife.

Cinder gasped. “Cloud...you can’t be thinking—!”

“Not thinking,” Cloud Breeze snapped. “Doing!” The muscles along her back and shoulders tensed. Cinder knew what would happen next. She jumped on Cloud in time with the first wing flaps. Cloud has risen a few inches of the ground before they both crashed to the ground. “Cinder, what are you doing?”

“What are you doing?” Cinder snapped. “You can’t attack a legionnaire, especially when they’re fighting a monster!”

“Chill Gaze is the monster here,” Cloud hissed as she pried Cinder off and struggled to her hooves. “You didn’t see what he did to Wine Press!” Cloud’s eyes softened. For a moment, grief won over blinding rage. “He and Berry Slice were going to marry on the fourth day of the festival—!” The anger was back as Cloud focused on Chill Gaze again, who was focused on peeling apart the monster’s defenses. “Even if this group fails, more Legion pigs will show up. They can deal with that monster, but this monster...this is my one chance while he’s busy.”

Cloud Breeze flapped her wings again. Cinder was still steadying herself and could only make a clumsy jump. When her grasp on Cloud’s back slipped, she used her telekinesis. But Cloud had redoubled her efforts, and her wings beat so strong that Cinder’s magic wavered.

“Cloud!” Cinder grunted, her voice trembling. “Don’t do this!”

Cloud Breeze replied by struggling even harder. More than ever, Cinder wished she had taken that minor in Evocation. Her telekinesis was beneath nothing special, primarily a tool for picking up herbs and wielding garden shears. With a final burst, Cloud broke free, quickly flying towards Chill Gaze, who was too engrossed in his spellcasting to notice. Cloud Breeze’s knife flashed in the torchlight and swiftly made its way to Chill Gaze’s neck.

“Inquisitor!”

Coal Grey, as he briefly fell back from the golden monster, saw the coming attack. Cinder could only stand there and watch breathlessly. She just wanted Cloud Breeze to come out of this safe. For that moment, she prayed that Cloud would simply miss by a mile, and just streak past them with no legionnaire all the wiser. She despised Chill Gaze too. He was the icy face of the brutal, uncaring side of the Legion. Not as much as Cloud, perhaps, but enough. But killing him offered little and asked a price far too steep. With Coal Grey’s eyes on her, Cloud’s success would lead to her and Cinder’s demise.

Coal Grey rushed towards Chill Gaze, much to Cinder’s dismay. Why protect that awful stallion? Were the bonds of camaraderie within the Legion truly that strong, or was it simply a desire to protect his main source of magical support?

The golden monster, though surrounded by furious legionnaires and pelted on all sides with spells and bolts, was not out of the equation. It pointed its blade towards Coal Grey’s direction. A torrent of greenish yellow fire erupted from the blade. Cinder has heard rumors of certain unique spells that the ophidites used such as a toxic version of fire spells that simultaneously envenomed the flesh they burned. The monster looked like an ophidite, perhaps, it really was.

The blaze passed close to Coal Grey’s side enough to singe his fur and heat his armor to painful levels. His face twisted briefly in pain and his galloping hooves mistimed their steps. He stumbled forward, threatening to crash into Chill Gaze, who was focused entirely on dodging the flames. Cloud had closed in. The three of them were sure to collide...

Coal Grey had pulled Chill Gaze down at the last moment, causing the knife the whistle past the unicorn’s ear. Both legionnaires, unbalanced by their collision and the toxic flames, crashed to the ground. Cloud, enraged at this, kept her swing going. The knife’s cruel edge disappeared...into Coal Grey’s neck.

“Oh no...” Cinder could only whisper at first. Cloud Breeze stood over the two fallen legionnaires, her chest heaving in panicked pants. The knife she just used clattered to the ground while blood pooled around her hooves.

“No!”

Cinder screamed that out, but her voice melded with an equally anguished cry from nearby. Another legionnaire had seen the whole thing. He galloped closer, gaze fixed solely on Coal Grey’s bleeding form.

Cloud was still breathing heavily, but the initial shock of the stabbing had run its course. Now, she realized that her target had come away unharmed. Her visage contorted, and she raised her knife for a second strike.

It was too late, however. Chill Gaze had recovered as well. His telekinesis wrapped pale blue light around the hoof that Cloud used to hold the knife and twisted cruelly. Cinder’s ears did not hear any snap, but her mind filled in that gap. The skin around Cloud’s fetlock bulged and twisted, then ruptured as a sliver of bone burst forth with a spray of blood. The knife clattered to the ground, the sound drowned by Cloud’s scream of pain.

“Coal!” The legionnaire that had cried out earlier cradled Coal Grey’s head. Coal’s lips moved, but no sound left them, only a steady trickle of blood. His gaze went only to the darkened, stone ceiling of this wretched cave.

“Legionnaire Plowshare, the murderer is still here!” Chill Gaze said harshly.

Plowshare looked up, his eyes wide with recognition when they settled on Cloud Breeze. His lips curled into a vicious snarl. His hoof went to the huge, serrated blades by his side. “You!” he growled. “After he spared your worthless life too! You drunken, drugged up scum!”

“Please wait!” Cinder cried out. She rushed out of her hiding place, placing herself between Cloud Breeze and Plowshare. She raised her forelegs in a vain attempt to keep Cloud safe from them. Behind her, Cloud was breathing rapidly, letting out small, pained grunts to keep herself from crying out any further. Around them, the other legionnaires picked up the slack. Explosions mixed with loud battle cries, hisses, and crossbows releasing.

“The Fort Commander’s daughter!” Chill Gaze said grimly. “I suspected this.”

“What? That’s his fiancée who...” Plowshare’s glare shifted back to Cloud Breeze. “So that’s what happened...even siding with the ophidites to do it.” He pointed his blade at Cinder. “Execution,” he growled. “For the ophidites, the Rondo, and all accomplices.”

“Finally, somepony with sense,” Chill Gaze said. “As second to the Skirmisher Captain, you must direct the troop, Legionnaire Plowshare.”

Plowshare looked to the golden monster, then to Cloud and the few non-Legion ponies still trying to flee the scene. His scowl only deepened, and his lips curled to a snarl when he gave his orders. “Fall back and regroup!” he shouted. “That thing’s not escaping now that it’s revealed itself. We’ve got reinforcements on the way.” Those pitiless, furious eyes settled on Cloud Breeze.

“Execute the Moonlight Rondo as traitors.”

A small, cheerless smile crossed Chill Gaze’s lips, followed by a curt nod and a flash of magic from his horn. He turned those frigid, ice-blue eyes on Cloud Breeze, and intoned.

Cinder may have been terrible with evocations, but she knew enough to recognize the school as it was cast. The massive drop in temperature around Chill Gaze also made it perfectly clear. Cinder swallowed a lump in her throat. Every instinct told her to flee before the deadly spell could hit. Any other legionnaire might hesitate to kill an unarmed civilian. At the end of the day, that was all she was.

Not so with Chill Gaze. One look at him and she knew he would have no compunctions about killing her. Cinder held her ground defiantly, keeping her forelegs outstretched as if she could catch his spells. Her legs trembled violently. It wasn’t just fear that caused it. She was already incredibly cold. The tips of her ears and her lips were starting to itch. Her face prickled as if she was getting jabbed by dozens of icy needles.

A shadow caught the corner of Cinder’s eye. In an instant, she realized that she had been so focused on Chill Gaze and Cloud Breeze that she had lost track of other ponies nearby. That mistake swiftly manifested by an explosion of pain across the side of her head followed by starbursts in her vision and temporary blackness. Her knees buckled, and the impact sent her flying to the side.

“Cinder!” came Cloud Breeze’s muffled cry.

The hum of magic from Chill Gaze’s direction loudened. Cinder struggled to get up, but armored hooves pressed against her. The haft of a spear planted itself close to her snout, making it clear that it was Plowshare that knocked her down and held her still. Her head throbbed and her vision wobbled. Even if she could get up, she was unlikely to stay up. Still, Cloud’s voice spurred her to try. She put a front hoof to the ground with a grunt and prepared to heave...

Cinder cried out as her side erupted with a horrific, piercing, wave of pain, like a mass of red hot metal suddenly pressing against her side. Just as quickly, the pain turned into a heavy, paralyzing numbness. Her left legs creaked when she tried to move them, refusing to do as she asked. She slipped at the sudden lack of coordination and crashed on her numbed side. Her fur crinkled and snapped on impact even as the cold seeped from her afflicted side towards the rest of her body.

Frost...it dawned on Cinder at last. She cried out again, more anguish than physical pain. Her body refused to move properly. Her right legs flailed while her left ones twitched and spasmed. She strained her neck to look up, desperately trying to see how Cloud fared.

Cinder looked up to a frozen statue of a beautiful pegasus mare, mouth open in a cry, likely to say her name, eyes wide with concern and fear, one hind leg ready to make the jump while one foreleg stretched out to touch her. She reached out breathlessly, as if touching Cloud could break the ice that entombed her marefriend. Her hoof touched a frozen corpse instead. That cry would never be finished, and that leap would never make it. Though Cinder touched Cloud’s hoof, the pegasus had flown far far away.

A bolt of ice blue telekinesis struck the statue with a nauseating, splattering shatter. Cinder cried out in pain and rage as several sharp shards struck her face and neck, forcing her to look away. When she looked again to where the frozen statue was, there was only the legs in place surrounded by a hideous mess of crystalline shards, pink with gore.

“Cloud...” Cinder murmured. She looked up to the monster who did this, not the golden thing that had faded to her background, but the ice-eyed killer who unleashed that cone of cold. Her forelegs twitched and her snout twisted. She had no spell to match such powerful, offensive spell casting. Good. She was going to tear him apart with her bare hooves. She opened her mouth to say some accusation, to castigate him for attacking ponies when a monster loomed nearby. All that came out was a savage scream.