• Published 8th Sep 2012
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Starlit Knights - BlackRoseRaven

Darkness has come to Equestria, and the world is threatened with destruction. Can Luna stop it?

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Waylaid In The Wastes

Chapter Twenty Two: Waylaid In The Wastes

Luna and Scrivener strode silently at the head of the caravan, their heads lowered forwards, the female wrapped in a heavy cloak as well as her armor but the male barely noticing the cold, even as they plodded onwards through the several inches of powdery snow that covered the frozen earth. They moved slower now, several more ponies hooked up to each wagon for better control and to drag the heavy wheels forwards through the sticky white powder: occasionally, they would still get stuck in a hidden rut or a particularly-heavy drift of snow, but with ponies pulling and the help of a minotaur or two, they hadn’t yet been stalled for more than a few minutes at a time.

Scarlet Sage was curled up and sleeping fitfully in the back of the Pegasus wagon: exhaustion had set in, more likely from stress than the use of her strange powers. Luna and Scrivener had been hesitant to leave her, but they had tucked her quietly in and then quietly made their way out after neatening up a little.

Scrivy could feel Luna’s emotions rollicking through his body: that, mixed with the fractals of half-recovered memories and the stress of everything else was making his head ache. And he knew that for how much it pained him, Luna was suffering worse, the male looking at her silently… but she only gave a small smile and shook her head slowly, saying quietly: “Fear not, Scrivener Blooms. ‘Tis simply… much to take in, much to think on. Nightmare Moon, at least, has receded deep into the darkness… I understand not how she can delight in these thoughts and memories whilst they cause me nothing but frustration.”

“In a way, though, isn’t that how it’s always been?” Scrivy asked mildly, and Luna gave him a thoughtful look before she smiled wryly and nodded slowly, returning her eyes forwards down the wintry road: the path was long, and the low gray clouds and bitter wind that nipped at them made it hard to see very far into the distance, as did the dead trees that loomed and twisted here and there along the roadside. “Honestly, I’m surprised you were so quick to get back on your hooves, Luna. Anypony else, me included, might still be crying in the back of that wagon.”

“Liar. Thou feels what I do, and thou hasn’t cried like a filly yet… at least not today.” She gave him a wider smile, and Scrivener sighed and rolled his eyes in exasperation, but he couldn’t help a small, relieved smile of his own all the same from bridging his lips. “Nay, if anything, I am sorry for the moment that thou must feel all I feel… ‘tis unfair to thee. All my personal crises are laid upon thy mind at this juncture… all these memories flood not just my brain, but thine own hollow expanse in thy skull.”

She halted, then blushed a bit as she looked forwards, mumbling: “Still, whether I readily admit it or not, I am sure thou knows I… I appreciate thy support. Having another to share both fair and foul with… it does much for me.”

“Well, don’t worry Luna. You have a habit of eventually getting so worked up you eventually throw a temper tantrum and then promptly forget what made you so upset in the first place. I’m just waiting for you to blow up a tree or something.” Scrivy said dryly, and Luna sighed and looked at him flatly before the male added with a grimace: “Besides, our situation will be reversed once we get to North Neigh.”

“Nay, it shan’t, because if I hear thou called a ‘slave-hoof’ even once I shall unleash my full wrath upon the offender and reduce them to less than dust upon the wind.” Luna grumbled, and Scrivener Blooms rolled his eyes with a look of entertainment towards her, which only made her huff and look pointedly back. “It would be no fault of mine. They would have brought it upon themselves. Or does thou truly wish to defend these cretins that treated thee so badly?”

“I’m not saying that. I’m just pointing out that if you continue to try and explode everything we’re supposed to be protecting, it’s not going to reflect very well on us.” Scrivy paused as Luna grumbled under her breath, and then he asked softly: “Are you warm enough? Do you want me to get a better cloak?”

“Oh, worry about thine own ridiculous self.” Luna said moodily, and Scrivener grinned a bit despite himself as she shot him a flat look. “Enjoy it, Scrivener Blooms. Enjoy the fact that the one thing thou canst do that I cannot is… bask in this frigid air. I hope thou enjoys it further when I force thee to sleep outside the tent tonight. Frustrating creature, thou whines all night when there is no blanket for thou to curl up under but then thou walks all day in this frigid foolery with a fool’s smile upon thy face!”

“It’s different. Besides, it feels invigorating… we never get proper cold in the Everfree Forest, not even during winter.” Scrivy replied mildly, glancing over at her, and Luna grumbled a bit. “Anyway, this is just the start. It’s winter up here already, but we haven’t really started pushing north-north yet… after Snow Saddle and the barrens, we’ll be in true northern Equestria. We may end up having to stop along the line to get warm cloaks, blankets, and jackets for our troops.”

Luna grumbled a little, looking down moodily before she glanced over her shoulder at the sound of trudging, and both she and Scrivener Blooms smiled a bit at the sight of Twilight, who was breathing hard, a hide-lined cloak over her own body, scarf around her neck, and earmuffs over her head as she muttered: “This is getting ridiculous. The temperature dropped at least another five degrees in the last hour… I hope this is just a freak cold snap.”

She shook her head, then shivered as she fell into step beside Luna, adding in a quieter voice: “Rarity and Cowlick handed out the warmer clothing we have but it doesn’t amount to much… the minotaurs said they’re fine, so have a few other ponies, but I don’t know if we can keep up this pace. The cold is draining everyone… we might not be able to make our destination with the snow piling up, too.”

“Nay, worry not, Twilight, Snow Saddle cannot be far now. The city will offer easier travels, I hope… and after we pass through, we shall push onwards towards the barrens. They are not far, are they?” Luna cocked her head curiously, glancing towards her husband.

Scrivener shrugged meditatively in response, looking down thoughtfully for a moment before he said slowly: “Forty minutes, perhaps. I don’t know if we should push onwards to them, though… they were dangerous territory, even in the old days. When I… when I moved to Trotronto, I was taken through the barrens and Snow Saddle by carriage and dropped off at Charger’s Crossing. My benefactor… told me he didn’t want to risk losing a young writer on the road.”

He smiled for a moment, and Twilight nodded hesitantly before she asked quietly: “What about staying in Snow Saddle? I’m sure there’s a place we could stop…”

“Nay, ‘tis too uncertain. I fear the reactions of ponies more than I fear the hungers of monsters.” Luna grimaced a bit, saying moodily: “I wish to avoid rabble-rousers. Should we stay, we may end up meeting political candidates, puppets of others, and vandals. I will not lose time to begging, wheedling, or destructive ponies: I can think of nothing that would render me more irritated than to sleep comfortably for a night, only to awaken in the morning and find some angry pony has damaged one of our wagons.”

Twilight nodded hesitantly, and Luna glanced over her shoulder towards the caravan, saying quietly: “Nay. For now, we stay close to one-another, and we push onwards as we have. We continue to do so until ponies can walk no more… this will ensure that by tomorrow night, we shall reach North Neigh.”

Twilight Sparkle nodded slowly, the three walking onwards together in quiet for a few minutes before she finally asked softly: “And about your memories…”

“I… yes. I remember. And before thou can voice it, I shall write to Celestia tonight… but for now, I still require time to think, to accept, to sort through that which rises to the surface.” Luna halted, looking down for a moment before she smiled awkwardly over her shoulder, murmuring: “I thank thee for thy concern, Twilight Sparkle but… worry not for me. Thou hast the worries of our caravan to attend to, does thou not?”

Twilight smiled a little and nodded slowly, and Luna seemed appeased by this as she looked ahead: for another hour they trudged onwards through snow and cold, and finally, buildings and walls began to appear in the distance… and as they approached a large, sprawled metropolis, the snow around which was formed into additional dunes and barriers, ice glinting here and there and shaped into fences and walls, the sapphire winged unicorn grimaced beneath her helm and said distastefully: “Oh, wonderful.”

Twilight began to open her mouth… and then Pegasi appeared on the clouds above like ghosts, aiming crossbows at them as other ponies leaned over shaped walls of ice, armed with crossbows as the caravan came to a screeching halt. They faced each other warily, Starlit Knights readying themselves apprehensively as a unicorn in a blue uniform strode quickly out from behind another wall of ice, the pony looking over them with a frown before Luna stepped forwards and said calmly: “I must pass through this city. My business is in North Neigh beyond, and I have been sent by mine sister, Queen Celestia.”

The blue-uniformed unicorn studied her, frowning slowly as he stepped forwards… and then he nodded brusquely, glancing over his shoulder and shouting: “Stand down! Open the gates and clear the roadways, send message that Champion Luna has arrived!”

The unicorn grimaced a bit, then he turned his attention back to them as the soldiers around him lowered their crossbows nervously, the blue-uniformed unicorn saying quietly: “I don’t know what’s true or not anymore. I don’t know if you’re here to save us, or you’re really Nightmare Moon, playing a sick game, but either way I’m not stupid enough to think getting in your way will do any good, especially with the new Queen’s backing. The south thinks they have it rough? It’s nothing compared to here.”

“Then will thou walk with me, and speak to me of the plight thou has endured?” Luna asked calmly, and the unicorn looked surprised by this request… but the winged unicorn only smiled and said softly: “The more I know of what I face, the better prepared I shall be to embattle it.”

The unicorn nodded slowly, then he stepped politely aside, and Luna walked forwards, Scrivener Blooms and Twilight keeping pace with her as the blue-uniformed unicorn turned. As they approached the slowly-opening metal gates in the distance, he was silent for a few moments, gathering his thoughts before speaking almost abruptly: “My name is Cobalt Frost. I was the head of the police force. When it was decided that we needed more than police, they transferred me and made me head of the ‘security division’ that protects Snow Saddle from ‘outside incursions…’”

As they walked into the city, Cobalt Frost talked… and the more he talked, the more he saw them listening, the calmer he seemed to become, even as groups of ponies nervously watched the supply wagons rumble by down their frosted, cracked streets, muttering and staring at the sight of soldiers walking past, led by Luna. By now, most of Equestria knew that Celestia was named Queen, and her decree that Luna was Champion, but no pony really knew what to believe and most were far more concerned with the problems at hoof than legend and story-time from the complacent central and southern Equestria.

The weather had grown hostile and uncontrollable, made worse by the fact that Pegasus who did attempt to climb to the clouds to batter back the storms were often attacked by a horde of awful, screaming and laughing ghosts that Luna identified immediately as The Stampede, or terrible, cold-breathing demons. And under the cover of the snow storms or darkness, Nibelung and Velites sometimes attempted raids on the city… but these were of little consequence compared to the fact that every night, ponies were vanishing without a trace.

Food would be set out on their tables, lanterns left burning, all manner of sign that they had been in the middle of something… and then they had simply vanished. Mostly around the edges of town, mostly unicorns… and Luna had grimaced at this, feeling that Ekleíp had to be involved instinctively, but unsure if they were using their dark talents or enlisting the aid of other creatures. For a while, Cobalt Frost had lingered on this subject, but Luna had only been able to shake her head and finally tell him quietly: “There is little thou can do but warn ponies to stay together, and to keep themselves as safe as possible. Evil forces lurk inside and outside the walls of thy city… but thou cannot hunt blindly. It will only leave more at risk… thou must be patient.”

“Patience is not a virtue of mine.” The unicorn shook his head grimly as they strode down the barren, cleared street, other ponies of the metropolis looking helplessly towards them. He looked back, gazing silently over the high stone buildings – many awkwardly fortified, the city looking as if it was preparing for war – before he sighed and lowered his head, muttering: “And it apparently only gets worse the further north you go.”

Luna was silent at this, nodding slowly and closing her eyes: she wished she could be surprised by these words, but to the north were the Gray Mountains… where Sleipnir had died, battling an atrocity from beyond this world, from beyond Helheim. She shivered a little as Cobalt continued to speak, and it wasn’t from the cold, as Scrivy and Twilight both gazed at her silently: the mountains held the darkest secrets, the mountains towered over the deepest depths.

Cobalt walked them through Snow Saddle, most of which only stared listlessly at them as they past, a few begging for mercy and help, one or two shouting raw, scared insults at them, but the only pony who actually tried to follow along and harass them was quickly shut up when Cobalt threatened to make him patrol the outer walls that night. Luna took it all in stride, however, looking moodily back and forth… but it was more because of the decrepit state of the once-bustling metropolis than anything else. Harsh words, she was used to by now… but the city seemed like it had already given up on life, as did most of the ponies they came across.

It was fifty minutes, from one end of the city to the other, and as the gates opened, Cobalt sighed tiredly and said awkwardly: “I’m sorry we don’t… have any supplies for you. We have none to spare… our food is being rationed between the survivors, and… sick as it makes me to say this, if there hadn’t already been so many disappearances, so many deaths, we… we probably wouldn’t have had enough to go around as it is. If you want to wait, we can dig up other things, though…”

“No, ‘tis fine. We should have enough rations to carry us to North Neigh, from there… we shall figure out the rest.” Luna replied quietly, and Cobalt smiled a little at her before bowing his head respectfully, and she bowed back. “Good luck, Captain Cobalt Frost.”

“Thank you. Good luck, Champion Luna. I had my doubts about you… and I’m glad to see I was wrong.” the unicorn replied quietly, and Luna smiled a little before she glanced out at the road beyond, a snowy, wide path that led between two tall, rocky cliffs which were crowned with patches of dead tree and scraggly bush. She paused for only a few moments, studying the terrain ahead, the hoof-prints here and there in the soft powder, the way the weather had calmed and seemed almost to invite them onwards… and then she nodded, more to herself than anyone else, and walked forwards with Scrivy and Twilight following in silence.

The caravan rumbled onwards, Cobalt watching as it passed with a few silent ponies of Snow Saddle, and as late afternoon deepened, they moved slowly onwards. For a little while, it grew colder, even if there was no wicked wind biting at them, digging through cloak and armor and flesh to chill their very bones… but then, the snow began to thin out beneath their hooves, and the smell of sulfur and rotten earth filled their nostrils.

The snow became patchy over brown dirt and black rock as under the light of the setting sun they made their way up a sloped, dusty path, a mottled cliff raising to a high plateau on one side of them, mountains that bit at the sky on the horizon. It was an ugly world they walked into, warm, snow splattered here and there and steam rising from venting cracks in the rigid earth as Luna looked grimly back and forth, muttering: “We push onwards. I do not like the feel of this place… Twilight, go, check over the caravan, and see how the others are holding up.”

Twilight Sparkle nodded and slipped backwards, at the same time pulling her cloak off with a grimace… and Luna threw the hood of her own back, gritting her teeth with disgust at the stench that filled her nose as she looked back over her shoulder: the wagons were moving slowly and carefully, minotaurs standing near the backs to help push up the inclines and over the cracks that had spread here and there through the rickety path. “Scrivener Blooms, this place reeks of… malice. Not unnatural powers, simply of… wickedness. ‘Tis like standing in nature’s spite given vent…”

Scrivy grimaced a little, striding carefully forwards along the path and wincing as it narrowed out slightly, looking to the side to where level ground became a sudden, rocky slope that led jaggedly down into a gorge he didn’t want to guess the depth of. “It wasn’t as bad when I last passed through here… it looks like entire sections of the mountains have crumbled away or something.”

“Tunnels opening up, ancient passageways of wicked things revealed. We must tread warily…” Luna halted, looking quietly ahead as they waited for the wagons and caravan to catch up to them: some fifty meters in the distance, the path began to twist upwards, curling on a narrow pass up the slope of a pyramidal mountain. “Wicked shadows lurk and move ahead.”

Scrivener grimaced a little at this, nodding slowly and rolling his shoulders beneath his armor before they continued onwards, staying close to the supply wagons, moving slowly through the treacherous path. They were halted once by a sudden burst of smoke that vented upwards with a terrible hiss, ponies staring in shock as the ground rumbled… but thankfully, it was no sleeping dragon, but only a shifting of the grumbling mountain, Luna shouting down the line to move forwards carefully.

The road leading up the side of the mountain was narrow, but the wagons were small enough to fit in single file, ponies walking in careful line: roughly forty Starlit Knights and twenty Pegasus Guard, even the trained soldiers of Celestia looking apprehensive as they kept in the air with the other Pegasi. Even Twilight looked as if she almost wanted to fly instead of trying to walk along the unguarded mountain road, Scrivy grimacing as he couldn’t resist from glancing over the edge of the cliffs every so often and down at the jagged rocks below… before Rainbow Dash suddenly shot forwards over their heads, Luna looking up and opening her mouth before her eyes widened as the male Pegasus pointed and shouted: “We got incoming!”

Luna snarled, looking off into the distance as faint, insane laughter reached her ears… and she snarled at the sight of a shimmering, awful form of white mist eagerly racing towards them, the winged unicorn stepping forwards with her teeth grit. The Stampede was coming, countless awful ghosts that tore greedily through the air as one terrible entity, merged together and seeking to knock ponies flying from high places to force them to join their ranks and their misery… and then Luna glanced over her shoulder, shouting immediately: “Pegasus Guard of Celestia, ‘tis time to prove thy loyalty! Aerial double-line formation, shields up! Starlit Knights, I require five sturdy earth ponies with shield at ready, there is no time to waste or argue!”

Golden-armored Pegasus ponies shot forwards, pulling kite shields off their backs and locking them over a forelimb as they assembled into a phalanx of ten: a row of five soldiers just above Luna’s head, and a row of five more above these, forming a shield wall that extended from the side of the mountain just past the side of the road. They were joined a moment later by four earth ponies that scrambled into position as other Starlit Knights quickly passed up heavy, reinforced wooden shields to them, before Scrivener Blooms joined the far end, wincing as he stood at the very edge of the road, steadying himself before smiling grimly to Big Mac as the huge earth pony calmly passed him one of the heavy wooden shields before taking his place beside Applejack.

The fifteen ponies formed a solid wall as Luna leaned forwards, her horn glowing slightly, The Stampede a laughing, screaming, crying meteor of misty malice that was shooting towards them as the winged unicorn leaned forwards, shouting over the sound of the incoming cloud of savagery: “Prepare, do not quail… now hold, hold!”

There was a terrible, mighty crash as The Stampede smashed into the wall of shields, forcing them to skid backwards, Scrivy wincing as rocks crumbled off the side of the road and the hovering Pegasi almost gave away under the force of impact, the fifteen ponies struggling as screaming, laughing, shrieking ghosts tore and shoved furiously against them, white mist spilling upwards and around their shields and trying to entangle their limbs before Luna leaned forwards, horn shimmering and Twilight watching with shock and awe as the winged unicorn’s eyes glowed as she roared: “Now push!”

Her horn gave an azure flash before blue light filled the air around them, and The Stampede shrieked and screamed as Pegasus Guards and Starlit Knights both shouted furiously, leaning forwards… and then shoving savagely outwards against the wall of ghosts and mist, and a shockwave ripped back through the stalled Stampede, phantasmal, misshapen figures bursting apart and flying out of the awful cloud, terrible specters sent hurtling out of the air with screams as they fell from the sky, exploding into white smoke where they struck against the rock or ground. Ripples passed through the awful gathering as ghostly hooves battered uselessly against shields, trying to push themselves away, before the terrible cloud burst backwards in a sudden wave, ghastly shades of ponies still falling from the white pall of mist even as it zigzagged wildly back and forth and twisted upwards into the air.

The Stampede fled, and Pegasus Guard and Starlit Knight both stared, then shouted their triumph, Luna grinning widely as Scrivener Blooms turned around, breathing hard and features flushed with pleasure and victory… and then he laughed when Big Mac gave him a firm one-armed hug, wheezing a little at the strength of the male’s squeeze as he patted him on the chest, and Luna laughed before she called warmly: “Excellently done! Well done, all of thee… The Stampede will not dare threaten us again now! We have stopped the unstoppable, my friends… but come, before we tempt Fate with further evil, let us make haste upwards and find a better place to celebrate and lay camp.”

The Pegasus Guard saluted sharply as they replaced their shields, but they looked both elated… and like they were beginning to trust in Luna as a leader, for more reasons than just because Celestia had ordered them to. And the Starlit Knights, meanwhile, were still ecstatic, talking amongst themselves excitedly even as they fell back into formation, and Scrivy smiled a little as Luna gently took his shield and flicked her horn, sending it floating back to settle into one of the supply wagons. “You could have handled it.”

“Aye, I could have, but ‘twould have been draining… The Stampede had more victims now than when I stopped it last, and ‘twas much stronger… and I am not sure I could protect the entire caravan with a barrier.” Luna replied softly, smiling slightly across at him as Twilight looked at them curiously. “But I had faith in my allies, and it was justly proven and good for them to learn they do not need me for every little detail.”

“We’ll just pretend you didn’t help at all with that exorcism.” Scrivener Blooms replied with a slight smile, and Luna laughed and shook her head slowly as Twilight gazed warmly from one to the other. “And why didn’t you help, by the way? Too good for us, Sparkles?”

“I hate you.” Twilight glared at him even as she blushed a bit, and when Luna gave her a thoughtful look, she grumbled under her breath and said awkwardly: “I was… I knew you had it under control. Besides, I still don’t entirely… understand this whole ‘ghosts’ thing. The idea that… phantoms can exist, that the dead can rise from their graves and… Helheim and Valhalla…”

Luna nodded slowly, looking down thoughtfully as they made their way onwards in silence for a little while, and finally, she replied quietly: “I can imagine how it would not be easy for thee to comprehend even now… it has been years since thou first heard our tales, since thou has seen for thine own eyes the feats that the old magic is capable of and that… awful things lurk in the darkness, swept beneath the carpet that Celestia spread over Equestria. But one must always remember that even the reasonless have reasons… that even things that seem impossible, must be made possible by something. I do not claim to be able to explain how these things happen, how they came to exist, but I do know all things have… beginnings. And that all things that must begin… must also end.”

She quieted, then smiled a little over at Scrivy as he smiled back, their eyes meeting for a few moments as Twilight gazed between them thoughtfully, and for a little while, there was silence. For a little while, in the elation of their victory over The Stampede, as the sun slowly set in the distance, it felt like everything might work out, as they reached a high, stony plateau… and then Luna looked up sharply and shouted: “Halt!”

The caravan rumbled to a halt behind her on the slope, ponies wincing and minotaurs stepping forwards to hold the heavy wagons in place as Luna looked towards a gaping archway leading into an enormous, natural tunnel through the mountain… and both Scrivy and Twilight grimaced at the sight of the purple static that filled the archway, sizzling dangerously and blocking their passage, leaving them stranded outside on the thin plateau.

Then Luna snarled and leaned forwards as a glowing orb blinked into being on the other side of the wall, made of green, rune-covered glass… and beside it, Ignominious appeared in a swirl of shadows, the demonic equine leaning forwards and saying mockingly: “No fillies allowed, Luna. That means you.”

“Baseless coward!” Luna snapped, flicking her horn forwards, and a bolt of lightning shot towards the wall… but it only crackled uselessly against the purple barrier, Ignominious looking pleased with himself as he stood safely behind the glowing forcefield. “Does thou already beg for another duel? Do not force me to fly around this mountain and pummel thee into oblivion, or simply bring the entire mountaintop crashing down upon thy cowardly, craven head!”

“Oh, come now, Luna, you wouldn’t want to risk that. You’ve seen how unstable this place is… you could start an avalanche, or accidentally destroy the narrow pass your precious friends are all on.” Ignominious replied mockingly, leaning forwards with a cruel, calculating grin. “No, no… I just want to see if your words are true, Luna. If your precious husband really is a match for me… and don’t even bother trying anything silly to get through the barrier. It won’t like that… and nor will it allow you to send an entire cadre after me. Scrivener Blooms and a few others, to keep it fair. I’ll be waiting.”

With that, Ignominious laughed and then stepped backwards, both the demon and the glowing orb vanishing into smog as Luna gritted her teeth, then glared moodily towards the sky as the sun set, muttering: “Scrivy. Let’s raise the moon.”

Twilight looked confused… but Scrivener Blooms only nodded, following Luna as she turned and stormed to the edge of the plateau. They both sat, side-by-side, lowering their heads as Twilight flitted nervously behind them, the violet winged unicorn wincing a little and not knowing what to do or say… but she seemed to understand clearer what was really going on as the faces of the two ponies slowly smoothed out, their minds linking, their hearts beating as one, both calming almost immediately as they arched their backs and rose their heads.

Luna’s horn glowed brightly, her starry locks twisting around her body as the moon slowly rose from the horizon behind them, casting its pallid glow over the apprehensive-looking ponies waiting anxiously for them… but when the two looked at each other, they smiled and nodded, Twilight frowning a bit before Scrivener Blooms walked towards the purple, glowing haze as Luna turned towards the pass, saying clearly: “I require volunteers from the Starlit Knights who are willing to go with my husband, Scrivener Blooms. They must be male… for the wretched creature on the other side of that barrier has used a childish gender spell to ensure I cannot pass through it.”

Twilight stared in shock at Luna’s back, then she asked flatly: “You’re kidding me, right? Only males can pass through that barrier?”

“And only a few, most likely, ‘tis likely fortified with a multitude of charms.” Luna said distastefully over her shoulder, and as Twilight only continued to look at her dumbly, Luna gave a wry, disgusted smile. “As little as I wish to admit it… ‘twas a very effective use of a spell meant for childish pranks. I now cannot pass through the barrier, nor thyself, nor Pinkamena, nor most of the other Starlit Knights, including any of our unicorns. With one silly little charm, he has completely blockaded our way forwards.”

“I’ll go.” Big Mac said calmly, striding forwards in his heavy plate armor and rolling his shoulders easily, and he smiled over his shoulder to Applejack as she looked up at him worriedly. “Don’t worry. We’ll watch out for each other.”

“Me too.” Rainbow Dash landed next to Big Mac, nodding firmly, and when Applejack grimaced a bit, he blushed a little and looked over his shoulder before facing towards Luna, even as she gave him a meditative look. “I know that… well… I mean, you know. But I can. I know I can.”

“Just like guy’s night out.” Spike said awkwardly, striding forwards in his lightweight gemstone vest, grinning lamely as Twilight’s eyes roved to the dragon and her gaze softened considerably, tinged with worry even as Spike drew his short sword and rubbed the back of his head with his other hand. “I… am a dragon and all, right? Better learn to be all fearsome and stuff sometime.”

Scrivy smiled at them, and Luna laughed after a moment and stepped back, saying quietly: “Aye, the four of thee should be more than a match for Ignominious… but beware, for he will not play fairly, as thou well knows, Scrivy. He also likely seeks to lure thee away from me… thou must be swift.”

“I understand.” Scrivener Blooms said softly, and then he turned and headed towards Luna, leaning forwards and sharing a brief, tender kiss with her before he turned back to the barrier, striding towards it and hesitating only a moment in front of the purple forcefield before he grimaced and stepped through.

The earth pony winced, cursing under his breath as electricity shocked over his body, making aches pulse through his muscles before he stumbled to the other side… then turned around and gritted his teeth as white runes flashed into being along the floor of the tunnel, the male feeling static rip at his mind as Luna cursed under her breath and twitched, then looked up sharply and shouted: “Scrivy!”

“I’m okay, but… I think they’re like the runes Celestia used in her library.” Scrivener called awkwardly back, as the winged unicorn paced quickly in front of the portal… and Luna cursed, the two looking across at one another from the other side of the glowing purple wall, able to see each other, to speak… but not to touch, the link between their mind jammed, filled with static and chaos, leaving them both feeling strange and alone. “Luna…”

“Scrivy…” Luna murmured… and then she shook her head before looking towards the others grimly. She paused for a moment, however, gazing over the group before watching as Spike came forwards next, the dragon grimacing a little as he rubbed at his head-fins. “Be wary, friend. We know not how it will react to others yet.”

“Okay… okay.” Spike said awkwardly, and he braced himself… before looking up dumbly as a voice called his name, and he half-turned as Rarity walked forwards with an awkward smile, a blue, metallic shield with a dragon’s head embossed in gold motif over it. She lowered her head forwards, and the shield floated quietly to him as Spike stared, then blushed and awkwardly took it with a smile… that only grew dumber and wider when the unicorn carefully stood up rested her hooves against his chest so she could kiss his cheek gently.

Then she stepped backwards, and Spike swallowed thickly before he turned and took a deep breath, shield on one arm, sword tightly gripped in his other hand, and he winced as he stepped forwards through the barrier, gritting his teeth at the surge of purple energy that bit over his scales… and he staggered with a wheeze into the wall beyond, leaning against it with a groan and mumbling: “Ow. It… it stings a little to pass through.”

Big Mac came next, after trading a fierce hug with Applejack… and then the male strode calmly through, barely wincing even as the neon electricity ripped along his frame, taking a slow breath on the other side of the barrier and shaking himself off… and Rainbow Dash came last, after Cowlick fitted two satchels over his body and Luna nodded briskly to show her approval at their initiative. She sent him on his way with a firm slap to his rump, and Rainbow huffed over his shoulder at her, then almost walked into Applejack, turning dumbly forwards before she kissed him firmly, making him grin before she said quietly: “You and my brother and everyone else better come back alive, or I’m gonna be real mad at you, Dashie, you hear? Don’t make me have to make Luna and Twilight bring you back.”

“Yeah, don’t you worry about me. We got this.” Rainbow replied with a wink, and then he walked forwards towards the barrier, swallowing thickly and wincing at the sight of the ponies all watching him before he hesitantly stepped forwards and clenched his eyes shut… and slowly, he passed through the purple wall, electricity sparking over him before he emerged on the other side with a wheeze of relief, even as energy shocked along his body and his legs buckled a bit beneath him. “Oh thank god.”

“Wait!” Twilight Sparkle said quickly, and the four looked up before the unicorn closed her eyes, her horn glowing… and a moment later, Discombobulation popped into being beside her, the Draconequus looking moodily up from a newspaper, a pair of small glasses much like Scrivy’s own resting across his muzzle. “Discombobulation, can you go with them?”

“I could. But then again, wherever one goes, there one is, isn’t that right? So really, I can go anywhere.” Discombobulation said calmly, and Twilight glared at him even as the Draconequus started to open his mouth… and then Luna charged into his back and knocked the chimerical creature shooting towards the barrier with a yell of surprise, newspaper scattering apart in all directions and glasses flying from his face before he crashed through the purple wall as the ponies and dragon winced and scattered to the sides of the tunnel, the creature landing and rolling comically head-over-heels several times before he felt flat.

“Congratulations, Bob, thou art officially a male.” Luna said drolly, even as the wall of purple energy sparked and sizzled violently, taking on a semi-liquid consistency before the female grimaced as she looked over this and muttered: “But we had best tamper no more with this wicked barrier, and thou had all best be on thy way, there is no more time to tarry or waste. Ignominious was using an orb to ensure the barrier stays in place… seek it out and destroy it. And beware the creature.”

“Discombobulation, protect them and stay close to them.” Twilight ordered, as the creature slowly picked itself up off the ground and brushed at its limbs, looking distastefully over its shoulder. Twilight looked back, and when he sighed and nodded, she smiled and murmured quietly: “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me, I merely do what’s required. Come along, children, listen to your babysitter.” the Draconequus said moodily, looking forwards and gesturing at the others… and Scrivener Blooms lingered only a moment longer, looking quietly over his shoulder at Luna before he faced ahead, grimacing a little as they began to trek down the long, dark tunnel together.

They were silent, Scrivener wincing a little as he found himself in the lead with Spike on one side, Big Mac on the other, and Rainbow Dash flying slowly along above their heads as Discombobulation strolled calmly behind them with his hands behind his back, looking moodily back and forth. The earth pony didn’t like being in the position of leader… and then he glanced up in surprise as Rainbow Dash lowered the satchel bags that had been loosely strapped to him. “Here, you guys take these. Big Mac, this one’s got all the gear… Scrivy, this one is a bunch of those magic bomb thingies, you should probably take that one.”

Scrivener began to open his mouth to argue, but then Spike sheathed his sword, reaching up and grabbing the bag hanging over Scrivy as he said helpfully: “Here, let me help! Rainbow, you can help Big Mac with the other one.”

“Yup.” Big Mac said calmly, and the group halted as Scrivener smiled awkwardly at them, letting the dragon quickly strap the satchel bag to his side as Rainbow worked to help fit the other bag over Big Mac, the large earth pony glancing over his shoulder, then looking calmly towards Scrivy as he asked in his soft drawl: “Worried?”

“Yeah, a little.” Scrivener replied after a moment, deciding it was probably better not to lie for now as he started forwards with a grimace after Spike finished tightening the straps, the earth pony shaking his head and muttering: “Now that I’m not connected to Luna, well. There goes most of my tricks. Last time we fought him, Ignominious summoned some awful giant monster that… well, you guys heard the stories and saw what he did the bridge.”

“Seasons change, friends move away, and life goes on from day-to-day. Flowers fade and streams go dry and many times we wonder why.” Discombobulation murmured musingly, and Scrivy gave him a flat look over his shoulder. “You worry too much, Luna. You’re still Luna, after all, not Scrivener Blooms.”

“Strangely, that actually makes me feel better.” Scrivy muttered after a moment, turning forwards and shaking his head with a wry smile, and Discombobulation shrugged as if this explained everything as Big Mac chuckled and Rainbow Dash looked down at him with amusement. “But still. We’re going to have to be prepared for anything. And this time I’m more likely to fall on my face than I am to lay a beat-down into him.”

“Don’t worry, we got your back.” Rainbow winked and grinned, flapping his wings easily as he flew along the top of the tunnel, and the Element of Loyalty that hung around his neck and overtop his armor gleamed brightly, the gemstone seeming to shine from within for a moment. “You and Luna really are lucky, though, and I don’t just mean because of all the crazy adventures you two have. The way you two get along, it’s kind of intense.”

“Neither of us have just… ever grown up.” Scrivy said finally, shrugging a little… and then his features became more serious as he gestured ahead down the wide, dim tunnel, saying quietly: “Look there.”

The others faced ahead, looking towards where the tunnel opened into a wide cavern as they all became more serious: it was filled with moonlight that spilled down through cracks in the thin stone ceiling and natural windows, the cave wide and with rounded walls, the ceiling above held up by crawling ivy and the remains of ancient, rotted stone pillars. Once upon a time it had perhaps been a temple… now it was merely a large, empty room with shallow, faintly-steaming water around the edges of it, a tunnel to the backs of the misfit group that stepped slowly into it and down a natural step, another wide tunnel to their left… and in front of them, the demon horse, Ignominious.

He stood across the room, grinning darkly, his back to what had once likely been another entrance… but although the top of the natural stone archway stared out into empty night sky, the bottom half had long collapsed into a blockade of small rocks overgrown with ugly ivy. Beside the creature, the green orb glowed, as his eyes roved back and forth… and then he frowned darkly from the Pegasus to the Draconequus, saying disgustedly: “Oh, impossible. But it is not important, either way. I have friends to deal with these wretched abominations.”

“You might wanna take a look in the mirror before you go around calling people names, pal.” Rainbow Dash retorted, and Discombobulation glared at the Pegasus before he added sharply: “So we gonna do this the easy way or the hard way?”

Ignominious only grinned darkly, however, setting himself and leaning forwards as his horn glowed blackly… and the green orb quickly shot upwards, ivy twisting down from the ceiling and grasping the runed glass as the male said coldly: “We’ll see how arrogant you are in just a moment, hapless vermin…”

The unicorn tilted his head forwards, his horn giving a flash as the others set themselves, Spike raising his shield and sword gamely with his teeth grit, Rainbow snarling as he dropped to the ground and spread his wings wide, the group watching as black smoke bubbled up on either side of the demonic equine… and then sizzled before twisting violently downwards as ice crystals sparkled and rapidly spread into the shapes of skulls and claws and ribs, cold blue organs pulsing to life as black smoke became semi-liquid flesh and hide that stretched between their blue-ivory ice-bones, slavering jaws that breathed cold mist barking at them as Discombobulation muttered: “Hellhounds. It just had to be Hellhounds.”

Soulless light glared out of the sockets in ice-skulls, sharp ice-sickle teeth glinted, and the air around them glimmered with frost as their oversized claws scraped against the ground, freezing it beneath their feet. Their ribs and chests remained horribly exposed, giving a few of their frosty inner workings as that black, rippling watery-hide covered the rest of their frames, ragged black tails flicking back and forth as Ignominious looked up with a cruel grin, his horn giving another flash as black smoke hissed silently downwards through the ceiling, then puffed outwards as other small, floating shapes formed, and the Draconequus winced in disgust as he added moodily: “And Smoke Imps. Truly, the demon must want to kill you, Luna.”

The Imps squeaked, their bat-like heads tilting back and forth, long, gangling limbs ending in grubby claws and enormous wings flapping rapidly. Their legs ended in nothing but smoking, unclear points, as did their long, forked tails, the Imps hissing as they floated back and forth restlessly… and then Ignominious threw his head back and laughed as his horn gave a final sizzling burst, and behind him, no less than four Velite earth ponies ripped themselves free from the earth, runes scrawled over their ivory skeletons and eye sockets full of unnatural, undead flame, before the demon snapped his head forwards and whispered: “Oh, you have no idea. I’ll get the satisfaction of killing you, and then making Luna mine, all over again, once she’s dead. As for the rest of you, well. Nothing personal.”

He smiled almost mockingly as Scrivener gritted his teeth, then he leaned forwards and said sharply: “This is between me and you then, put your toys away and let the others go, I’ll fight you myself!”

“I think I’d just rather kill everyone, from you to Twilight Sparkle.” Ignominious replied mockingly, glancing over his shoulder… and Scrivy snarled before he shrugged the satchel bag forwards, digging into it and yanking an orb out as the black unicorn looked over his shoulder at the cluster of earth pony Velites behind him, laughing: “What do you think friends? What do you think, dogs of war? Maybe I should even ask-”

He began to look forwards again… and one of the glass anti-magic spheres struck square into his face, shattering and then exploding in a blast of light, and Ignominious screamed in agony as he staggered backwards, electricity sparking along his head as howling faces pushed out all along his body, his form rippling and becoming almost solid as he fell backwards on his haunches before one of the Hellhounds charged forwards.

It roared as it leapt towards Scrivener Blooms, leaving a trail of smoke and cold blue mist behind it… and Scrivy winced in shock as a paw booted him firmly in the side, knocking him out of the way as Discombobulation stepped calmly forwards, an enormous glass dome appearing in either hand before he slammed these tightly together over the Hellhound, trapping the stunned creature inside. It smacked loudly into one of the walls of the now-sphere around it, and then screeched as Discombobulation violently shook it back and forth, sending up a storm of snow and smoke as all eyes stared at him before he firmly slammed the sphere down, the glass boulder clunking and the Hellhound laying in a daze on its back as a blizzard of black and white swirled around it, the Draconequus pronouncing calmly: “Snowglobe.”

“What… lunatic, pathetic creature! I… well, what are you all waiting for?” Ignominious screamed, looking back and forth… but even the snarling Hellhound seemed hesitant to charge forwards as the Draconequus stood with one hand calmly resting on the glass orb, his other on his hip. “How dare you! What makes you think-”

“You bring the crowns and heads of conquered ponies to this land. You insult my queen. You threaten my ponies with slavery and death! Oh, I’ve thought about this carefully, demon. Perhaps you should have done the same!” Discombobulation snapped suddenly, leaning forwards, face serious, eyes blazing with anger that made even the Velites stagger backwards at the burst of fury from the chaotic creature.

Ignominious gaped stupidly in response to this, spluttering and shaking his head wildly, still stunned from the anti-magic pulse as shocks travelled over his body before he looked back and forth, asking in disbelief: “Of what madness is this patchwork doll speaking?”

“Madness?” Discombobulation stepped backwards, then he gritted his teeth, leaning forwards and shouting: “This is Equestria!

And with that, the Draconequus rose his giraffe leg and slammed a mighty kick into the glass sphere, the Hellhound inside shrieking as it was sent rocketing and rolling like a glass boulder towards Ignominious as the other creatures scattered but the demon only stared dumbly before the globe smashed into him and exploded in a blast of snow, smoke, and glass, the demon hurtling backwards with a howl of misery to smash into the collapsed stone barrier as the less fortunate Hellhound was ejected with such violence it shot over the piled-up rocks and was sent hurtling out into the empty night sky.

Scrivener Blooms gritted his teeth, reaching back and ripping the satchel bag free from his body as he looked at Rainbow Dash, shouting over the snarls of the Hellhound and the hisses of the Velites: “Let’s see if he can handle a bigger blast!”

Rainbow immediately got the idea as Scrivy threw the satchel to him, the Pegasus grinning as he leapt into the air and snagged the bag, lunging upwards to avoid the snapping jaws of the Hellhound as it pounced towards him, before he grinned widely even as an imp darted towards him, shouting: “Bad move, pal!”

Rainbow nimbly brought both legs up, slamming his rear hooves into the imp’s features and launching himself backwards even as the other imp zigzagged through the air and tried to get around his flank… but with surprising grace for his large frame, Rainbow rolled his body and brought three of his legs back as the other tightly cradled the satchel against his armored chest, then he kicked them out at the same time as the demon darted towards him, leaping off it as his wings spread and shooting forwards in a blinding streak of color, corkscrewing his body as he caught the handle of the bag and then threw it straight down the moment he was overtop the demonic unicorn.

Ignominious looked up tiredly as the satchel bag shot down, slamming into his head… and the anti-magic spheres it was filled with all exploded in one massive flash of force and light, the demon howling in misery as massive arcs of energy jolted back and forth over his frame, smoke hissing up from his body as howling faces twisted and contorted along his sides, almost ripping themselves out of his rippling frame as he jittered and convulsed wildly. Rainbow Dash winced, almost blinded by the blast even as he caught himself against the wall before forcing himself to run upwards as his wings flapped hard, charging up the surface and then sprinting upside down for a moment across the ceiling before he grunted and kicked off.

He shot downwards like a meteor, slamming through a Velite and sending bones flying in all directions as he kept sharp count in his head, body tense, wings trembling, muscles flexing… and then he launched himself suddenly upwards with such force that it released a narrow shockwave, knocking the other Velites around him staggering as he shouted: “Come on, let me show you what else I got!”

Spike winced as the Hellhound lunged at him, blocking the snapping jaws and slashing claws with his shield before he grunted as he stepped forwards and shoved hard, knocking the demon-dog backwards before he winced as it vomited out a wave of freezing mist… but on instinct more than anything else, the dragon replied with a blast of his own fiery breath, greenish flames and cold smoke cancelling each other out before he stepped forwards and slashed hard downwards, ripping a crack through the icy skull of the Hellhound and making it shriek in frustration and pain as it staggered backwards, shaking its head wildly.

Then it looked up with a snarl, eyes glowing, and Spike winced and half-hid behind his shield as the demon dog tensed… then shrieked when Big Mac plowed into it despite the Velite clinging uselessly to his back, knocking the Hellhound flying into a wall. It fell limply, and Spike ran forwards, leaping towards it with a yell and plunging his sword down through its frozen ribs and into its icy heart, the demon howling in misery as its body arched… then it burst apart into frosty shrapnel and black smoke, the dragon cursing as he was knocked backwards onto his rear with a wince.

Big Mac grunted as he leaned forwards and bucked the Velite off him, sending it flipping dumbly through the air to crash to the ground in front of him before the heavy, strong pony slammed a hoof down in two hard, crushing stomps that shattered skull and ribs, the undead creature falling still before the red pony shot a glance over his shoulder as a Velite charged towards his back. Immediately, he rose one hind hoof and slammed a fierce kick into it, knocking it flat… and Scrivener Blooms simply trampled over it, crushing it beneath his hooves as the pony charged towards Ignominious with a snarl.

An Imp lunged down at him from the air, seizing his features and succeeding for a moment in knocking him off balance… but before it could even raise its spindly claws, reality ripped open beside the creature and Discombobulation’s eagle talon reached through, yanking the Imp off the earth pony and into the portal… which promptly shut the moment his hand was all the way out but the Imp only partway, slicing it almost in half.

It squeaked and exploded into nothing but black smoke as Discombobulation looked moodily down at his talon, absently flicking some dust off as he said distastefully: “Whoops. Silly butterfingers.”

He glanced up to watch as the other Imp managed to lash its claws across Rainbow Dash’s features, the male cursing as blood splattered from the rips flayed in his cheek but half-grinning even through the pain as he half-twisted his body and brought both rear hooves up to kick into the floating demon, and it was slammed up into the ceiling above hard enough to burst apart into nothing but smog as Rainbow was launched forwards, twisting his body to shoot across the ground as he looked up with a snarl as his eyes linked on Ignominious, as he shot after Scrivener Blooms as the earth pony lunged-

Ignominious looked up, his body still shivering, barely able to remain on his hooves before his eyes widened in dumb surprise… and then the hoof of Scrivener Blooms slammed viciously upwards under his chin, knocking him rearing backwards with a gargle before Rainbow Dash swung his body to slam all four hooves into the demonic equine’s body in the same mighty blow, the creature howling in misery as he was slammed backwards… and this time, crashed not against, but tore through the weakened rock wall. He hurtled into the night surrounded by an escort of broken rock and shale and torn ivy, his limbs flailing uselessly as he fell down the steep mountainside before smacking with an audible crunch into the edge of a protruding cliff. bouncing like a rubber ball with a scream of pain and terror before he vanished into the deep darkness of the canyon below, followed only by a stream of falling stone.

Scrivy and Rainbow Dash both stared stupidly out over the edge, as the Pegasus flapped his wings slowly, and then the two turned around to watch as one of the Velites scampered away down the tunnel and Spike managed to slice the head off another before using his shield to smack it firmly in the ribs, sending its bony body collapsing weakly backwards. He winced as it continued to twitch, then the dragon stomped it firmly, crushing in the undead creature beneath one booted foot as he looked up, breathing hard and then grinning widely as he said stupidly: “We did it. Holy horseapples, we actually did it.”

“We did.” Scrivener smiled a bit, then he looked amusedly at the blue Pegasus as he grinned and rose a hoof, rolling his eyes but then raising his own and punching it lightly. “Maybe you’ll earn that title of Captain yet, Dash, if you keep this up.”

“Hell yeah, you bet I will.” He grinned wider at this, looking pleased and nodding firmly before he looked towards the others, reaching up and awkwardly rubbing at the scratches on his face. “This. I ain’t gonna look like you now, right, Scrivy?”

“No, Dash, you’re safe from that. Besides, Luna or Twilight can heal you once we rejoin them…” Scrivener glanced up towards the stone ceiling overhead, studying it before he pointed towards the glass orb. “There it is.”

“Allow me.” Discombobulation stepped forwards and calmly cleared his throat, then he spread his arms and closed his eyes, reciting in his monotone voice: “Do re mi fa so la ti. This is my perfect pitch.”

Above, the glass orb shuddered… but nothing else happened, and Discombobulation looked moodily up at the sphere before he leaned down, picked up a large rock, and threw it bad-temperedly at the orb trapped in the vines. It struck it squarely and shattered it in a burst of electricity and light that set the ivy surrounding it on fire for a few moments, and then the Draconequus turned around and spread his arms, looking pointedly at them all.

Spike caught on first, clearing his throat as he sheathed his blade and clapping his hands awkwardly as the ponies only looked up at him, but Discombobulation bowed back and forth before he brushed past, saying moodily: “Come, I must rest my treasured vocal chords. Or smoke a cigarette. Or at least ensure that my dressing room has nineteen leafy six-foot-tall plants, four leafy four foot tall plants, vegetarian catering and no animal by-products anywhere. Otherwise I may not be able to make it to the end of abbey road.”

Scrivener Blooms rolled his eyes, opening his mouth to respond… and then he winced and staggered, the others looking at him with concern as the Draconequus only gazed down curiously. “Is that a successful connection to the internet or have you encountered a DNS error? If so, you should contact an experienced technician or your local service provider.”

Scrivy wheezed a little, then he shook his head briskly as thoughts, emotions, and memories flooded through his system, sharing in a moment with Luna everything that had happened, once more able to feel Luna’s presence inside and outside of himself… and then he looked up and smiled a bit, saying quietly: “The barrier’s down. Luna and the others are on their way, nothing happened to them.”

“Good, I was kind of worried.” Spike smiled a little, the dragon half-hugging his shield against his chest before he cleared his throat, looking from Scrivy to Rainbow Dash before he asked in a hush: “So uh… you guys are married, right?”

“Yes, but that’s legal now so you really don’t have to whisper.” Scrivener Blooms said mildly, and Spike looked dumb for a moment as Rainbow snorted in entertainment and punched the earth pony’s shoulder lightly. “But if you can call me being married to Luna a normal marriage then… yes, I am.”

“I’d say mine is weirder but all things considered, I think you and Luna take the prize.” the Pegasus said agreeably, as Big Mac turned and headed back into the larger cavern from the tunnel, Discombobulation following the red earth pony. “Why? You want me to be your best stallion at your dream wedding with Rarity?”

Rainbow sat back a bit and squeezed his own cheeks together, making kissy faces, and Spike glared at him even as he turned beet-red, grumbling: “Definitely not now, you jerk. But seriously, you guys… what… what should I do?”

Scrivener Blooms and Rainbow Dash traded amused looks, and when the Pegasus gave the male a pointed glare, he sighed and rolled his eyes. “Alright, fine, the poet will take this. ‘Love is patient, love is kind,’ if you’ll allow me to steal from Discombobulation’s shtick for a moment and quote other things to sound smart. Which is what we poets do anyway… but I really don’t think you need our help, Spike. Just keep moving with the flow, if it’s meant to be, you’ll know: you’ll find yourselves locking into place.”

“No, no, no, don’t listen to him. You gotta be aggressive, that’s what I was.” Rainbow Dash said empathetically, leaning forwards and nodding firmly a few times. “Aggressive! Just like a race, you put your eyes on your goal, and you shoot for it as fast as possible.”

Rainbow sat back on his haunches, raising his hooves and then pointing them both forwards, and Spike winced as Scrivener glared at the Pegasus… and then they both glanced over their shoulder in surprise at the sound of approaching hooves, looking up to see Twilight Sparkle smiling amusedly at the three, the dragon blushing as he half-hid behind his shield.

“Actually, what he has to do is stop running away from her and talk to her about it, for better or worse. Spike, don’t listen to either of them, they’re both idiots.” Twilight said mildly, and then she leaned forwards and traded a firm hug with Rainbow Dash, then with Scrivener Blooms, lingering a moment or two longer with the male before she pulled back and smiled at him quietly. “Everyone’s different, though. For everyone, love is different.”

Spike grumbled and covered his ear-fins, and then Twilight Sparkle laughed and shook her head before gazing over her shoulder, smiling as Luna approached, grinning widely, and Applejack smiled and shook her head with entertainment as Rainbow turned and blushed deeply, embarrassedly touching the scratches on his cheek before Luna exclaimed cheerfully: “Scrivener Blooms! Thou aren’t nearly as bludgeoned and battered as I expected thee to be!”

“You okay, Dashie? Y’ain’t too badly hurt, are you?” Applejack asked kindly, and Rainbow laughed awkwardly before he and Applejack embraced gently and traded a quick nuzzle, as Scrivy and Luna strode towards one another and then lightly headbutted each other before they turned and fell into step, meeting one another’s eyes and sharing thoughts, emotions and memories as the blonde earth pony grinned and firmly nudged her husband onwards. “Come on, let’s get you fixed up. Twilight, you heal these cuts? I swear Big Mac better be in better shape than you are.”

“No problem at all.” Twilight said softly, her horn glowing as Dash fidgeted but then turned his head to give the winged unicorn a clear view, and Spike couldn’t help but smile as he fell into step beside the ponies as the caravan wagons pulled along behind them. For all their differences, after all… the looks in the eyes of the two couples was still very much the same.