• Published 8th Sep 2012
  • 2,663 Views, 343 Comments

Starlit Knights - BlackRoseRaven



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

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Along Came A Spider

Chapter Three: Along Came A Spider
~BlackRoseRaven

The others could only stare for a moment, then Rainbow gritted his teeth as Twilight fiercely hugged the trembling, terrified Fluttershy, who clutched back at her, breathing hard. Sol Seraph… and Luna and Scrivener exchanged a frown, both their looks dark, knowing by now the stories about Fluttershy’s upbringing.

A talented, shy, loving little pony… and yet she had been mercilessly punished, day-in and day-out as a foal, often all-too-literally tortured by her mother until she had finally come to believe wholeheartedly that she was worthless and useless. Taught to cut herself, hurt herself, for every little thing she did ‘wrong,’ made to believe her place was at the bottom of the ladder, just a slave-hoof with wings… the source of her lack of faith in herself, and her inability to stand up for herself.

She never, ever spoke of her biological mother, apparently not even to Twilight, who she looked up to as a maternal figure, who had made her stop hurting herself and see value in herself… but now, Sol Seraph was coming here. And as Twilight quietly shushed Fluttershy and hugged her gently closer, Rainbow asked sharply: “Can we talk to the Mayor about this? Maybe get them to send someone else?”

Twilight, however, only shook her head slowly, saying softly: “They’re supposed to get here today, Rainbow, travelling from Hoofston. They would have left days ago, and for all we know, they might even be here already… listen though, Fluttershy, we’re going to take care of you, okay? You don’t even spend much time at the cottage anymore, after all, you have that nice little place on Sweet Apple Acres where you take care of all the animals now, and that’s outside Ponyville in its own little secure area. You’ll be safe there… and you’re safe here, too. We won’t let her hurt you. We won’t let her do anything to you…”

“It’s not me I’m scared for…” Fluttershy whispered, looking up with teary eyes at Twilight, trembles making her entire frame shudder as she pressed herself low to the ground, the others gazing worriedly at her. “It’s all of you… you don’t know what she’s like. Oh, oh no… please. Please. Maybe it’s better if she’s come for me that I go to her, because-”

“Nay, fair Fluttershy, we will not sacrifice any of our own.” Luna said firmly, striding forwards as she looked down at the Pegasus for a moment, the female gazing back up with a whimper before Luna softened, leaning down and saying quietly: “For all her wickedness, she is but a bully, who picked upon thee when thou couldst not defend thyself. When she arrives, we shall see if she dares to pick a quarrel with Nightmare Moon.”

Luna smiled warmly, calmingly, but Fluttershy only lowered her head, trembling and closing her eyes… and the winged unicorn frowned worriedly before she looked up at Twilight as the female shrugged, looking just as unnerved before she simply hugged Fluttershy close. The female went to her willingly, whimpering a little as Spike nervously cleaned up the mess and the other ponies slowly began to settle, before Rarity murmured: “It is awful news, though… and an executive at a security firm, really? Fluttershy, I wish not to pry, but…”

“I never… I mean… I don’t…” Fluttershy curled tighter for a moment, voice becoming almost inaudible before she took a shuddering breath, then opened her eyes slowly and whispered: “I never knew much about mother. There were… many traditions, strange traditions of our family, important to her. But I was treated lower than her servants a lot of days, and I don’t… I don’t want to remember anything about her. Anything about that awful place I lived in… she… it was… I remember the dead animals, and the smell of smoke, and… metal…”

She clenched her eyes shut, shivering a little and breathing hard for a moment before she lowered her head, whispering: “I don’t know anything about my father. He was… gone… before I was even born. I know a little about my grandfather but… mother was the only family I ever saw, who… was the only one left. She was… she’s…”

Then she looked up, her eyes widening, as there was a rumbling outside… and Rainbow Dash frowned and jumped up to his hooves, heading over to a window with Spike before the dragon fell back on his haunches, gaping and saying dumbly: “There’s… I… what are those?”

“I… bulls? No, they can’t be bulls, they’re all… weird…” Rainbow Dash said finally, and then he shook his head and gritted his teeth. “But there’s a carriage outside, and-”

“Then let us go greet our visitors.” Luna said imperiously, striding towards the door as Twilight winced and Fluttershy whimpered a little, but the winged unicorn only smiled slightly as she glanced over her shoulder at the others even as the ponies gazed nervously towards her and Scrivener Blooms. “Ponyville is like my home, is my special little kingdom when I am in need of society and comfort. I shall not hide from visitors in my own home… be they Pegasus Guard, monsters from Helheim, or this security company and their vicious leader, Scrivy and I shall stand before them.”

And with that, Luna turned and flicked her horn, throwing the door open… and Rainbow Dash and Applejack glanced towards each other before they both shrugged and smiled awkwardly, falling in line as the other ponies carefully followed them out and formed a clustered group behind the two in the square in front of the library.

Other ponies dotted the edge of the area, staring in awe at not just the immense, somehow-terrible black carriage, but the creatures that were pulling it. Indeed, they had the heads of bulls, but they stood on their hind hooves, enormous, powerful bodies rippling with muscle, standing at least seven feet tall and with strong arms ending in dexterous hands. The two massive creatures were in the process of releasing chains attached to thick steel collars around their necks and harnesses over otherwise bare chests, black and red kilt-loincloth combinations hanging around their waists, looking moodily back and forth, intimidating and terrifying.

“Minotaurs. From the eastern nations.” Luna said softly, and Scrivener frowned a bit before he glanced to the side as Twilight Sparkle joined them, the unicorn’s eyes narrowed as the two hulking, bipedal creatures lumbered to the side of the carriage, and they both dropped to kneels on either side of a doorway edged in gold as one reached forwards and almost-nervously pulled it open.

And from the rear of the group, Fluttershy gave a weak whimper as a Pegasus slowly stepped down out of the carriage, her features beautiful and cruel, her coat blonde and with a mane and tail of radiant crimson. A tight, expensive black suit jacket and pressed white silk shirt covered her upper body, with a black tie tightly done up around her neck, and her strong wings flapped once before furling tightly as she looked over them with calculating scarlet eyes.

She cracked her neck, not seeming either surprised or impressed as she looked slowly over Luna and Scrivener Blooms, then she sat back slightly, not speaking, as she reached into her suit and produced a box of cigarettes. On her forelimb a long, ugly scar gleamed, this leg moving with a bit of stiffness before she pulled one of the white cylinders free and put it into her muzzle, and a minotaur immediately produced a match and lit it against one of his own horns, leaning forwards with obvious nervousness as he lit it for her… and the fear the giant creature showed at this cold Pegasus pony somehow made the aura of malice in the air all the more tangible as she took a slow drag back on the cigarette.

She held it, then exhaled a plume of smoke, her mane falling past one eye in a long bang over one eye and flowing down one shoulder in a red waterfall… and then, completely ignoring the ponies gathered in front of her, she called icily: “Fluttershy!”

There was a whimper… and then slowly, Fluttershy emerged from behind the group, nervously pacing to the front between Luna and Twilight, even as they both looked at her worriedly… and, before Luna could even open her mouth, Sol Seraph strode calmly forwards and then slapped her daughter across the face with a hoof, knocking her to the ground with a whimper before the Pegasus ordered: “Into the carriage now. We need to have a little talk.”

“I think not.” Luna snarled, stepping forwards… and Sol met her eyes coldly even as they pressed almost nose-to-nose, the winged unicorn breathing hard as she glared down at her furiously and Twilight pulled Fluttershy backwards, even as Sol Seraph looked back with a terrible lack of fear… or surprise. “I suggest that thou turns and leaves, before I lose my temper, foul creature. Take thy brutes, and leave this place. We need not the help of barbarians.”

“You don’t intimidate me, so-called Princess of the Night.” Sol replied softly, her voice venomous, ruthless, and then she gave a cold, short smile before turning around, pacing slowly back towards her carriage as she continued calmly: “I am not here to make a social call. My services have already been bought and paid for, and I am here to ensure that Ponyville is kept safe from rising threats… although I seem to have already isolated at least one such problem in its midst. Bold… but not unexpected.”

She paused, then turned around, facing towards the group of ponies, who had all begun to set themselves, Fluttershy still shivering on the ground and Twilight holding her close. “Who are any of you to get between a mother and her daughter? Fluttershy, stop hiding, get to your hooves, get in the carriage. You are going to make yourself useful to me for once in your worthless little life, is that understood?”

Luna snarled and Scrivener gritted his teeth, the emotions of the two amplifying one another’s anger… and then Fluttershy slowly began to force herself up to her hooves, trembling… before she dropped her head and whispered, freezing the smile on Sol’s face: “No.”

For a few moments, there was only silence, as the minotaurs hesitantly stood behind the Pegasus, Sol rolling her cigarette back and forth between her teeth… and then she spat it out and crushed it under a hoof as she shook her head in slow disgust, saying quietly: “After all I did for you… I knew it. I knew from the first moment I felt you inside me, you weren’t going to be normal. You weren’t going to be a proper successor, heir to our proud family legacy, and you never were able to follow through with even the simplest goddamn traditions. Look at you now, hanging out amidst this… riffraff. But what else could be expected of you?”

She snorted, shaking her head in disgust, and then she glanced back at her flank, where her cutie mark stood in lucid black: a strange, dark rune, almost like an arrow, or like a T with lazily sloped arms. A rune that Scrivener recognized, his eyes narrowing as Sol said quietly: “Filthy animals. That was your talent, with that childish emblem of butterflies on that whore’s flank of yours. Mine is the symbol of Tyr, law and justice and order…”

“And it can also mean death.” Scrivener said clearly, and the Pegasus narrowed her eyes at him as he gave an ironic smile. “Somehow, I’m guessing that last one suits you most.”

“I did not address you, slave-hoof, so do not speak to me, and do not take such tones with me.” the Pegasus replied quietly, and Luna snarled, her horn glowing as she leapt forwards… but immediately, both minotaurs stepped ahead, their hands raised gamely, dropping into ready positions on either side of Sol. “Oh please. You don’t threaten me, even if the rumors about you are true, Nightmare Moon. What are you, but a princess rejected out of Canterlot, who chose to live with an inferior being? I come from a line of warriors, lawmakers, and hunters… ended, sadly, by that disgusting failure you all seem so eager to protect when I have always given, given, given to her and always tried so hard to make her strong, to make her more like me.”

“I’m glad you failed. She is strong… stronger than a coward like you.” Twilight said coldly, stepping up beside Luna as Rainbow Dash and Applejack moved to either side of Fluttershy, who was trembling like a leaf behind the protective wall of ponies. “Get out of Ponyville, Sol. You’re not welcome here, you’re not welcome anywhere near Fluttershy. You’re no mother, and she’s not your daughter.”

Sol Seraph’s eyes slowly narrowed, her body straightening… and then she slowly shook her head, saying quietly: “Unicorns. You’re so arrogant… but I’m not going anywhere. Like I said… I was paid to protect Ponyville, which obviously you and your friends and the mouthy princess have failed to do. Boys, why don’t we give a small demonstration to these ponies of what we’re capable of?”

One of the minotaurs growled, reaching down to his belt and pulling a bola free, beginning to spin the weighted ropes slowly, the heavy spheres at either end whickering through the air as Sol Seraph smiled coldly, Luna setting herself even as Twilight’s eyes widened… and Rainbow snorted, pawing the ground with a hoof as Applejack snarled and said sharply: “Missy, we ain’t looking for a fight… but if you start one, don’t think it’s gonna end well for you!”

“Shut up, slave-hoof.” Sol said calmly, as she extracted a large, round object from her jacket… and Rainbow Dash let out a shout of anger before he leapt into the air, powerful wings propelling him forwards even as Sol ordered coldly: “Take them.”

The minotaur stepped forwards, throwing the bola hard even as Rainbow shot towards him, and the Pegasus’s eyes widened before the rope collided with his front and knocked his legs backwards, weighted spheres spinning violently around the limbs of the Pegasus and tying his front limbs together. That, and the added weight caused him to careen forwards… and immediately, the minotaur’s other fist lashed up and smashed into his back, making the Pegasus howl in agony as his body bent awkwardly before he was sent crashing to the ground, bouncing several times as Applejack let out a snarl of fury and Luna leapt forwards, her horn glowing…

Sol lightly lobbed the orb in her hoof forwards, and it bounced once against the ground before exploding, Scrivener wincing at the flash of light and energy and sound… then cursing, sparks travelling over his body as Luna, Rarity, and Twilight all shrieked, lightning bursting over their horns and skulls and sending the three staggering and falling to the ground as Spike yelled in shock. Scrivy could feel Luna’s pain in his own body, could sense the scrambled, maddened signals in the unicorn’s brain, but it all only added to his own fury as the minotaurs began forwards… and fearlessly, furiously, he, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie charged forwards to meet them.

The last pony’s mane had gone straight and flat, and the colors of her body had faded to gray, her expression strange and callous for the pony that was usually so bouncy… and as Applejack leapt back from a wild swing of a minotaur’s fist, Pinkie – or, as they called this side of her personality, Pinkamena – lunged forwards and sank her strangely-sharp teeth into the minotaur’s wrist, making it yelp in shock before she snarled as she leapt backwards, dragging it forwards as it grabbed at her wildly.

It managed to seize into her mane as it collapsed forwards to its knees, making her curse as she let go of its hand before it grinned… and then looked up a little too late to see Applejack’s hind hooves both lashing out towards his face, the savage kick smashing into the side of his head and knocking the giant to the ground in a dazed heap in a single blow, skull snapping to the side as he flopped down and twitched once as the earth pony shouted over her shoulder: “Ain’t so tough now, are you big boy?”

The other minotaur, meanwhile, lunged at Scrivener Blooms… but the male danced backwards before he stepped forwards, slamming his head into the minotaur’s nose and making it reel back, grabbing at its nose with a curse as it straightened and staggered, almost tripping over its own hooves… and then, with almost cat-like grace as he focused on memories and instincts not entirely his own, Scrivy charged forwards and ran up its tall body, hooves smacking painfully against its frame as he leapt from leg to half-raised arm to upper chest up to its head, balancing precariously on his hind hooves on its skull for a moment as it clawed wildly at him… and then he leapt upwards just as it began to look up, and the minotaur had a moment to stare before Scrivener stomped savagely down, sending the minotaur crashing to the ground as the earth pony launched himself backwards at the same time and landed neatly on his hooves.

For a moment, the minotaur struggled to stay conscious, blood leaking from one ear as it half-rose a hand… and then it groaned and dropped, spread-eagled on its back. And now, Sol Seraph looked less than pleased as the three earth ponies stepped forwards as behind them, the unicorns began to totter to their hooves… and then the Pegasus gritted her teeth as Scrivener said quietly: “Looks like the slave-hooves got the upper hoof on you. Why don’t you take your fancy toys and security firm and leave town?”

“Just what is going on here?” asked a shocked voice, and the ponies glanced up to watch as the mayor approached, the female looking back and forth over the scene with horror: ponies that were slowly picking themselves up in front of the library, a few sparks of electricity still zapping over the unicorn’s horns, and the unconscious, beaten-down minotaurs, the mayor spluttering as she dropped back on her scroll-marked haunches, her gray coat shimmering and white mane flopping over the pince-nez on her muzzle as she spluttered: “T-This… I… I mean… Sol Seraph, you told me there wouldn’t be any disturbances!”

“It was only a test.” Sol’s eyes were hard, locked with Scrivener’s as the two glared at each other… but then the Pegasus shook her head slowly when Luna stepped up to her husband’s side, the Pegasus saying quietly: “Yes. Mayor, I asked you to be forwards with me about your town’s dirty little secrets. You were not. I believe we need to speak further on the implications of this and rework the designs I already went over. I believe… greater security precautions will be necessary.”

The mayor winced a little… but then only nodded mutely, shivering and drawing back when Sol glared at her, before the Pegasus turned her eyes back to the group of ponies, pointing at them with her scarred foreleg and saying coldly: “I expect your cooperation in the future. I don’t care who you are, dissidence with my operations will not be tolerated.”

She paused, then glanced down at the minotaur beside her before swinging her hoof out, smashing it in the jaw and making it howl as it immediately snapped into consciousness… and then she struck it again, and the seven foot tall, musclebound creature quailed from her, looking terrified as she said curtly: “You and your friend are fired. Now drag the carriage to headquarters, then get out of my sight.”

“Yes, ladyship.” the minotaur mumbled through its sore jaw, lowering its head with a flush of shame and fear… and Sol Seraph turned and stormed towards the carriage, yanking the door open before stepping into the huge, black wagon and slamming it behind her. For a moment, the minotaur only trembled… then it trudged slowly to the front, grasping one of the long, wooden leader bars and grunting as it began to pull the carriage forwards, the mayor wincing and turning to run alongside the carriage as others followed quickly.

For a few moments, there was silence… and then Rainbow Dash groaned as Spike finished removing the bola wrapped around his lower limbs, cracking his back loudly as he stood and muttered: “Well, that sucked… Fluttershy, god, you survived a childhood with… with that?”

Fluttershy only whimpered quietly, where she was half-laying on the ground, breathing hard as Rarity gently stroked along her back and the others gazed at her nervously… and then she shook her head slowly and turned around, pale and shivering, heading silently back into the library. The others traded nervous looks… and then Pinkamena snorted, drawing the attention of the ponies present.

The nastier side of Pinkie Pie that had first manifested in schizophrenic episodes, the opposite to her sugary, bright personality, Pinkamena had started to manifest more and more prominently as her own ‘self,’ due in part to the tampering with Pinkie’s mind by a demon known as a Grudge. It was like two minds in one body, two personalities in one form… but they were only two sides of the same coin, for all the differences between them. “What a monster.”

“Funny, coming from you.” Rainbow muttered, and then he winced when Pinkamena grinned at him, exposing her sharply-glinting teeth. “Okay, okay, please don’t hurt me, I’ve already been humiliated and butt-whooped.”

“Yes, but ‘twas not only thou this time around.” Luna paused, then glanced at Twilight and nodded when she looked at her hesitantly, and the violet unicorn smiled faintly before silently excusing herself and heading towards the library door. There was quiet for a moment as the group rested outside the library, and then Luna shook her head, gazing over at Rarity as she grimaced and brushed out her corkscrewed mane. “It hurt thee too, did it not?”

“Yes, I must say it was extremely unpleasant.” Rarity murmured, shaking her head slowly… and then she frowned a bit and looked at Luna as the female grimaced and nodded. “What was that dreadful thing? And why didn’t you others fall to it like we did? I mean, I myself may not be the most… shall we say…”

“Toughest?” Applejack asked mildly, and Rarity favored her with a look both exasperated and amused, but the earth pony only frowned thoughtfully now as she looked towards the winged unicorn as well. “But yeah… I didn’t feel a thing. Well, I felt a tingling, but… you three dropped as if you’d been hit by lightning.”

Luna nodded again, explaining quietly: “It did not come in a form or shape I was familiar with, but ‘twas an anti-magic discharge. Harmless to an earth pony or Pegasus… but extremely painful for a unicorn. Our horns act like receivers for the vibrations and energy, making it impossible to concentrate and sapping our strength, however temporarily… we were fortunate ‘twas not more powerful. It seems that somehow, Sol Seraph has learned to replicate this effect in an artifact…”

She paused, looking down thoughtfully along the ground until her eyes settled on the shattered remains of the sphere, and these glowed quiet blue as they were lifted into the air, floating silently beside her as she murmured musingly: “I shall investigate the remains of this bauble with great interest. But for now…”

The broken pieces of glass glowed blue, then simply vanished in a puff of sapphire smog before Luna’s eyes roved to the minotaur. Several ponies from the crowd had wandered over, staring down at this… and Luna frowned moodily as she approached the unconscious creature, Scrivener walking up beside her before she smiled slightly over at him and said mildly: “Thou hast taken down an enemy almost as grand as thine ego.”

“Well, there’s no way I could take on something as big as your ego, Luna, so this had to do.” Scrivy said mildly, and then he frowned a bit as he poked at the chiseled frame of the creature with a hoof, the minotaur groaning weakly on the ground. “So it’s unusual, then?”

“Uh… what is? Guys, we can’t read your minds.” Rainbow Dash said pointedly, then he winced away even as Applejack fussed over him, mumbling: “And I’m fine, stop it. You guys did all the work anyway… I guess… I owe you one, Pinkamena.”

Pinkamena only grunted, then she closed her eyes… and a moment later, her mane and tail puffed up and her coat brightened, the female bouncing a little on the spot before she blushed and said awkwardly: “Sorry I wasn’t more help, guys! Those are big, scary things though… I’ve never seen anything like it before, and I’ve seen lots of things that lots of ponies have never seen anything else like I have before!”

The others looked dumbly at her, trying to decipher this comment even as Luna looked musingly down at the minotaur… and then she finally glanced up at one of the ponies from the crowd, ordering calmly: “You, villager. Take this creature to the medical center. It will be docile enough even should it wake up.”

The pony she had spoken to only stared at her lamely, and then Luna spun around and strode towards the library, Scrivener sighing and turning to follow her. The other ponies fell into step behind the two, Spike shrugging with an embarrassed grin towards the staring ponies in the square as the dragon followed last… and they found Twilight quietly sitting with Fluttershy, the Pegasus clutching a small, black stuffed bear with a blanket for a cape, the blonde-coated female shuddering quietly.

They quietly gathered themselves in a circle again, silent for a little while as Twilight looked worriedly back and forth… and then she sighed and shook her head slowly, murmuring quietly: “Minotaurs… Luna, do you know anything about them? All I know is what I read in books… they were mostly barbarians and raiders, living in a nation to the east of Equestria. They fought several wars against us in the far past, but because none of their kind are capable of using magic, they were eventually pushed back beyond the borders, where their society fell to infighting.”

“’Tis correct. My siblings and I did not fight in that war, but in those days, their kind was more prevalent. They are closer to the animal than we are, for the way they stand and the dexterity of their hands… but they are no less a person than anypony else, I suppose.” Luna paused meditatively. “They treated Sol Seraph with fear. I shudder to think of what she must have done to their kind to earn such terrified obedience, for they are a very stoic race, strictly adhering to their own laws and codes of honor… I would not expect their kind to willingly work with such a creature as just ‘tested’ us so mockingly.”

Twilight grimaced and looked down as Fluttershy whimpered quietly and curled up tighter… and then Luna shook her head slowly, leaning forwards and saying quietly: “I am sorry, fair Fluttershy. I am awfully sorry. Thou deserves far better than to have a creature such as she for thy mother… and I think it speaks a world to thy bravery and strength that thou upholds such a fair disposition even in spite of the accursed thing.”

“I hate to bring this up, Luna… but she didn’t seem surprised at all to see you. Didn’t seem worried in the slightest, either, while a lot of ponies outside of Ponyville are convinced you’re Nightmare Moon.” Twilight said quietly, looking nervously across at the female… and Luna grimaced a little and nodded slowly. “What do you think that means?”

“Perhaps something dire… perhaps nothing at all. I gazed into her eyes, and I saw something terrible in those soulless depths.” Luna murmured, lowering her head and shaking it slowly. “We must… tread the path ahead with caution. We shall not make war with her unless it is necessary… but we will not hesitate should she provoke us.”

The others nodded slowly, Fluttershy shuddering a bit… and then Twilight looked up and asked hesitantly: “I know that… we all have a lot to do today, but I think we should go and pick up some things from Fluttershy’s cabin. Help her… move the last of her things out of there, and over to her little homestead on Sweet Apple Acres, and to here. I’d do it myself but…”

“Then permit us to be of assistance, Twilight, ‘twill be no trouble on the part of Scrivener Blooms and myself.” Luna said quietly, and Twilight smiled a little as Fluttershy looked up with an embarrassed blush. “Just let us know what things thou wishes for us to fetch for thee, and we shall fetch it from that ill abode and bring it back posthaste.”

Fluttershy nodded awkwardly after a moment, looking down and pawing silently at the ground… and then she smiled a little when Spike brought her a mug of tea, sipping at this slowly and murmuring a meek ‘thank you.’ For a little while, there was only quiet as the other ponies surveyed each other nervously, worries for Ponyville, for themselves and their friends written over their faces.

Fluttershy eventually excused herself to head over to the desk, and Twilight only had to give Spike a look for him to run over and offer his help in writing out her list, as the ponies talked quietly, Luna and Scrivener leaning against each other as Pinkie Pie nibbled at a cookie. Rainbow Dash and Applejack were side-by-side, but their body language was subtly leaning towards each other… and not so subtly, their front hooves were locked together, both smiling but obviously less than thrilled with what they had just gone through.

It was far from the first fight the two had been part of… but Scrivy knew that wasn’t just it. It was because they had been attacked by the pony who had been hired to help them, who had turned out to be Fluttershy’s mother… who was worse than any of them had imagined. And then Scrivener glanced up in surprise as Rarity said kindly to him: “I must say, you’re much lighter on your hooves than I expected, Scrivener Blooms… when I saw Luna and Twilight had collapsed and Rainbow Dash knocked from the skies, I was worried for a moment.”

“Well, thanks, Rarity, that says just oodles about how you must think of me.” Applejack said mildly, and Rarity blushed a bit even as she favored her with a slight, teasing smile. “We earth ponies can do plenty without the help of your fancy horns, you know.”

“Still, yeah, I thought you were some dorky writer egghead like Twilight.” Rainbow said helpfully, jerking his head towards the female… and then he winced when the unicorn gave him a flat scowl, leaning back a little as Scrivener snorted in amusement. “What? It’s true!”

“I’ve never been an ‘egghead’ like Twilight, Rainbow, and I am just a writer, really.” Scrivy said mildly, and when Rainbow gave him a flat look, Scrivener continued in a serious voice: “Well, didn’t you know? Writers are a dime a dozen, so usually editors pit them in duels to the death to determine who gets publishing rights.”

Rainbow Dash stared at him, and Scrivy looked calmly back, then the charcoal earth pony sighed and said flatly: “Luna and I are soul-bound, remember? Anything she can do I can mimic.”

“That’s totally cheating, then.” Rainbow said finally, then he straightened and looked musingly at Applejack. “Imagine if we were soul-bound. Although since I can already do everything better than you can anyway…”

“You keep your soul over there where it belongs, mister.” Applejack said flatly, shoving at him, and Rainbow laughed before the earth pony gazed thoughtfully at Luna and Scrivy. “You know, though, you two toss around that term a lot, but… what does it actually mean? I don’t mean to pry or nothing but… I am curious, and I like to think we’re all trustworthy here.”

Luna smiled softly at this, saying kindly: “And indeed, thou art all trustworthy…” She paused meditatively, then gazed softly across at Scrivy as he looked back at her, before she looked ahead and explained softly: “As I am sure all thee remember… Scrivener was possessed by Ignominious, the demon stallion that arrived on that fateful day of the Velite attack. And I… was guided into piercing my beloved’s heart.” She stopped, looking at him and murmuring softly: “Selfish, selfish creature.”

Scrivy smiled at her a little, and then she turned her attention back outwards, effervescent mane floating quietly around her as she continued quietly: “In order to save him, I bound and mixed our souls together. We… feel, quite literally, one another’s pain and pleasure, joys and sorrows. We can tap into one another’s mind and body, and share one another’s thoughts and strengths. Of course, nothing comes without a price, however… and among the costs is the fact that Scrivener and I can no longer be apart for great distances, nor over long periods of time. ‘Twill diminish our link and weaken us both… just as likewise…”

And with a slight grin, Luna leaned down as her horn glowed brightly, firmly lashing a thin cut across Scrivy’s forelimb and making him grumble and wince… before the winged unicorn held out her own foreleg, the others staring as pale steam hissed upwards as a thin, narrow wound that mirrored the one on Scrivener’s limb pulsed into being. “We are like one entity, now. And while it has certain delightful advantages, and means that in my daydreamer I can have absolute trust and faith… there are disadvantages as well. Still, though… I would not trade it for the world. I cannot bear a child but… I can at least share this with my beloved.”

She looked softly at him, and Scrivener gazed quietly back before they let their foreheads drop together for a moment, smiling a little… then they both looked up as Applejack smiled softly and Rainbow cleared his throat, blushing a little and pretending not to be as touched as the others in the room.

Then Fluttershy hesitantly stepped forwards and carefully placed a rolled sheet of parchment down near the two, saying quietly: “I… this is everything that’s left. It’s okay if you can’t get all of it… the only important thing is a picture in my room. It… if I can ever do anything to thank you both…”

“Thou helped me once out of the kindness of thy heart, as I so remember…” Luna replied warmly, standing up, then she cleared her throat as Scrivener winced and immediately dropped flat, covering his ears before Luna shouted in a blaze of sound that almost knocked Fluttershy sprawling: “When I first came to Ponyville, using the traditions of old and the Royal Canterlot Voice!”

The gathered ponies stared at her, and then Luna smiled warmly and closed her eyes, saying in her boisterous but thankfully-far-quieter tones: “And thou taught me to speak with much more gentility. ‘Tis a pleasure to help thee out, Fluttershy. ‘Tis more of a pleasure to help thee stay safe.”

Fluttershy blushed a little, and then Luna turned suddenly, and Scrivener grumbled as he scrambled up after her as she flicked her horn and the parchment floated into the air, saying kindly: “Scrivener Blooms and I shall return forthwith, Twilight Sparkle, to discuss the oncoming journey before we aid Ponyville’s defense.”

And with that, Luna approached the door as it swung open, Scrivy awkwardly tossing a wave to the others before he left quickly after her, the door almost catching him as Luna slammed it with another flick of her horn. Then she paused, surveying the mostly empty square and looking meditatively towards the splatters of blood left behind before she shook her head slowly, saying in a softer voice: “Come, my daydreamer. Onwards ho.”

Scrivener fell into step beside her as they walked through the village, the two silent as they made their way towards the gates that would lead them out of Ponyville and towards Fluttershy’s cottage, where it rested at the outskirts of the Everfree Forest… and then Luna sighed a little as she murmured: “I fear the worst for Ponyville, beloved. Such a creature as Sol Seraph… makes my heart shudder.”

“It makes me shudder too.” said a mild voice, and both Scrivy and Luna winced and looked up in surprise to see Pinkamena had followed them out somehow, grinning slightly at them with her oddly-sharp teeth, mane and tail straight and grayed body strangely reminiscent of tainted blood beneath the sunlight. “What, am I not allowed to walk with my bestest friends ever?”

“Thou art rearing thy head more and more, Pinkamena. ‘Tis strange.” Luna replied finally, and Pinkamena snorted before she fell into step on Luna’s other side as the three began to head towards Ponyville. “Although no, thou knows that as Pinkie Pie or Pinkamena… thou art welcome beside us.”

Pinkamena only grunted, then she grimaced towards the sky, saying moodily: “I don’t know why Twilight and the others think I’m lying when I say that I was the original personality. Pinkie Pie is the alien, the invader, the unwanted one… I was what we were meant to be. Her cutie mark… this cutie mark…” Pinkamena glanced back with a look of disgust in her eyes. “It was a freak accident, brought on by a spat of happiness, brought on by the rainbow in the sky…”

For a moment, her eyes seemed to cloud over, and she smiled a little, body almost stuttering before she shook her head firmly and added moodily, lowering her head forwards: “Not that it matters. Oh no, Pinkamena’s evil. She just wants to cut you up and kill you and probably eat parts of you. And while I’m not saying it’s not entirely without merit, I do have standards… and in dark times like these, I have a much better use for my real special skills than to butcher cowardly ponies.”

She snorted in disgust as they approached the gates in mostly silence: it wasn’t that either of the ponies, used to even worse, were bothered by Pinkamena’s behavior or nasty tendencies… it was that more and more, it was difficult to tell whether she was lying, telling a truth only she believed… or what she was saying was fact. Sometimes, it did seem like it had always been Pinkamena who was supposed to be the pony in control of her own body… but one way or another, the side of her known as Pinkie Pie had made its way to the surface, and forced Pinkamena ‘into the mirror,’ as she phrased it.

The iron gates leading out of Ponyville stood open, and the guards looked apprehensively towards them as they approached… then one of the ponies stepped forwards, saying hesitantly: “Lady Luna… I… do you know anything about a Pegasus that came to town? She had orders for us to leave the gates open until she got back… from the mayor herself!”

“Sol Seraph?” Luna asked with a frown, and when the guard nodded quickly, she grimaced and muttered: “Be wary of her, and tell thy friends to watch their backs around her as well. Her orders are official, however… did she say why she would pass this way, though? ‘Tis nothing out this way but…”

And then her eyes widened, and she broke into a run as Scrivener and Pinkamena both winced, then fell into pace on either side of her, the male gritting his teeth as he heard Luna’s thoughts… and then Pinkamena threw her head back and laughed, saying darkly: “If this is what ‘love’ is, then maybe I’m lucky Mom and Pop never loved me…”

“I wish that I could argue, but not I nor my siblings ever remembered having parents.” Luna muttered in reply as they ran down the road, before she snarled as she saw Sol Seraph’s huge, rectangular black carriage ahead… and the Pegasus herself smoking a cigarette as minotaurs walked around with black-uniformed unicorns and Pegasi around Fluttershy’s cottage. “And what art thou doing here, witch?”

Sol glanced over her shoulder calmly, blowing out a plume of smoke as unicorn ran up beside her, nervously glancing towards them as the trio skidded to a halt. He leaned forwards, beginning to whisper something urgently, clipboard floating beside him… but without looking, Sol reached out and struck him across the face, making the speckled-ivory pony whimper and drop his head low, thick-rimmed glasses bouncing a little on his muzzle. “I could ask you the same question. This is my property… and it also happens to be the best place to set up a guard outpost. I’m just taking care of an eyesore.”

Sol glanced towards the cottage, apparently dismissing them as she said calmly: “Bartok, tell Squad One to retreat to base. The minotaurs can handle the rest of the process here. Also, have the company send more supplies so we can build a processing yard in the vicinity.”

“Do not ignore us, cretin!” Luna snarled, her eyes taking on a faint ivory glow, and she settled herself forwards as Sol slowly looked over her shoulder, her own irises cold, her expression emotionless. “Does thou have no respect for anything apart from thyself?”

“Why should I? Unicorns, Pegasi, slave-hooves are all beneath me and the legacy my family has built.” Sol Seraph said quietly, turning slowly to face them as the unicorn, Bartok, whimpered and then scrambled away with his clipboard. “You, I almost thought was an equal… but it seems you lower yourself to the level of these mud-walkers as readily as your sister does.”

Luna snarled, body bristling, mane snapping back as Sol looked coldly across at her. “By Odin… what manner of demon, of monster, art thou!”

“No, that is where you’re wrong.” Sol Seraph smiled coldly, stepping forwards as her eyes locked with Luna’s. “Your Ponyville came begging to me for help, after they realized you couldn’t defend them, legendary Luna. Slowly but surely, the ponies of Equestria are waking up to realize that it is not ponies like you and Celestia they need… it’s ponies like me. The hunters. The monster-killers. The ponies who dare to gaze into the abyss, who aren’t afraid of a little blood and slaughter, who get the job done. Who don’t shun power, or fear things because ‘it’s not morally right’ or ‘we have a responsibility to those weaker than us.’

“We do not have a responsibility to those weaker than us. They are inferior, they are pathetic, they are food.” Sol turned around, shaking her head with a look of disgust, saying ruthlessly: “The strong devour the weak, literally and figuratively. That is why my family has lasted for centuries… until I was cursed with weak little Fluttershy. I thought it would be the end of our ways, our teachings, but lo and behold, this darkness that now surges over Equestria… and now suddenly, a pony like me is more than wanted. I am needed in this world. And now, without needing to degrade myself to permitting a lesser pony’s touch, I can create a thousand successors who will cherish my family’s ways when they realize it is the only way they can save all of Equestria. The world has been plunged into shadow… and it is a blessing.”

“Thou art insane.” Luna whispered, and then she shook her head and said darkly: “Listen to me, creature. If thy hoof brushes even the hoof-prints, nay, even where the shadow cast by Fluttershy once fell, I shall come down upon thee like a whirlwind of mayhem and thou will truly learn the meaning of the name ‘Nightmare Moon,’ do I make myself understood?”

But Sol Seraph still had her back turned, looking moodily towards the cottage as the few minotaurs around it began to make their way down the path towards them… and then she rose a hoof, and the last in line nodded before turning around as it pulled something cylindrical out of its belt… and Sol Seraph smiled over her shoulder, spitting out her cigarette as she said quietly: “Talk all you want, Luna. Talk is cheap. Actions are what count.”

The minotaur snapped the top off the cylinder, and it burst into awful, fiery life, the bull wincing as it tossed the flare… and a moment later, the entire cottage went up in a blast of hellfire, the chemicals and fuel that had been spread all around it immediately bursting into fire as Luna, Pinkamena and Scrivy stared in horror, then the winged unicorn snarled… but Sol Seraph only stood there, the Pegasus smiling coldly, leaning back and silhouetted by the rampaging flames as she said calmly: “It’s all in my name, Luna… this isn’t Fluttershy’s cabin. This is my cabin, that I bought the ungrateful little vermin. But I don’t need it anymore… or anything left inside it.”

Luna snarled… then she ran forwards, but Sol didn’t so much as twitch before Luna cursed as she leapt upwards, bursting apart into blue smog as she vanished from sight… and Scrivener stepped forwards, heat nipping at his body as he locked gazes with the Pegasus and said quietly: “You’re making a mistake, Sol Seraph. Can’t you see that?”

“The only mistake I made was Fluttershy. I am remedying this error.” the Pegasus replied calmly, and then she glanced to the side as a minotaur approached and nervously set down a large, square table down beside her, the female smiling coldly as she walked forwards and shoved Scrivy easily backwards, the earth pony snarling and barely restraining himself from attacking her as she turned her back to him to gaze at the burning cottage as a second minotaur came forwards and set a covered platter down. “Would you like to join me for lunch? It’s a delicacy I’m sure you rarely enjoy out here…”

With that, the minotaur lifted the top, and both the tall, bipedal bulls winced away in distaste as a large steak was revealed, lettuce that was splattered with red blood sparsely encircling this like some gaudy masterpiece upon the circular plate as Scrivy staggered away from her in shock, Sol smiling calmly as she picked a fork and knife up, the male snapping: “That’s… that’s disgusting!”

“No, it is the spoils of war.” Sol said softly, slicing a piece of the steak off… and then putting this into her muzzle and chewing slowly, and Scrivener shuddered and winced back before the female swallowed and licked her lips slowly, saying quietly: “Ponies… are so complacent, and so weak-willed. Herbivores are the lowest creatures on the food chain… lower, I find, than even plants. Not that carnivores are much better… always having to hunt, unable to process easily-acquired fruits and vegetables…”

Slowly, she speared a bit of bloody lettuce, then swirled this in the red, semi-liquid substance before taking this into her mouth, visibly savoring it as she closed her eyes and smiled coldly. “Omnivores, however, can enjoy the bounty of the kill… as well as continue to subsist even when there is no meat to be had. You see, slave-hoof, my family has certain traditions, traditions that I was unable to carry on with Fluttershy for… obvious reasons. One of them was proving our worth by becoming a hunter, instead of a hunted pony… I was very promising as a child. That’s how I earned my cutie mark… I killed a manticore, with these hooves…”

Sol Seraph rose one of her front hooves as she spoke, her eyes glittering darkly, and Scrivy winced a bit before Luna appeared in a flash beside him, breathing hard and slightly singed, a half-burnt satchel now over one side of her body as she snarled at the female… then made a face of disgust when Sol popped another piece of steak into her mouth, grinning at them cruelly. “It was proof of my strength, of my worth. It was proof that even though I was born nothing more than a pony… I could become a predator. I have enjoyed the hunt ever since I was but a filly, and with it, learned to savor the taste of victory in the taste of flesh. At first, my body was weak, wanting to reject it… but with time and patience, I again proved my superiority. Proved my victory, by building up a tolerance to it. And now I can sit back and enjoy the occasional bloody steak… and with it, the taste of my victory. The knowledge that while even you, Luna, remain a prey pony… I am a predator.”

She stopped, then turned back and smiled with terrible, awful tenderness towards the cottage as it burned and rumbled, black smoke floating up towards the sky as Sol Seraph said softly: “And now, if none of you are so inclined to join me… please leave me to my relaxation. The fun is only just beginning in Ponyville, after all.”

Luna shivered as Scrivener gritted his teeth… but then the two only nodded slowly and turned, both knowing it would be useless to argue, pointless to try anything, as they turned silently and stormed away, past minotaurs that stood nervous guard around Sol’s carriage. A few moments later, they were joined by Pinkamena, who had a simple sack stained with wetness thrown over her back, and both of them looked at her silently as she looked back from beneath her straight mane, saying distastefully: “I’m not agreeing with her. But I did help myself to her stash.”

Luna and Scrivener both muttered and looked ahead, and Pinkamena snorted at them before she looked moodily down the road, saying quietly: “You know how ponies are scared of me? Well, I’m terrified of her. I think that should tell you something.”

“Pinkamena, even I am terrified of that foul beast.” Luna said finally, shaking her head slowly as they continued down the path… and then she sighed and motioned to the side of the road, and the three halted as the winged unicorn frowned and looked over her shoulder at the rising column of black smoke, murmuring: “’Tis an awful, terrible thing… and yet much as I wish to simply erase the creature from existence, I know she is here to serve a purpose, and then the foul demon can take wing back to whatever den of inequity it calls home.”

The female shook her head slowly, then she shrugged the satchel bag off and quietly opened it, revealing a few charred books and a photograph in a broken frame, of Fluttershy standing with all her friends, smiling, back in the days when Rainbow Dash had still been female… and Luna gazed for a few long moments at this as Pinkamena smiled a little… then, in a blink, her mane puffed up and the color returned, and Pinkie Pie said in a quiet but warm voice: “Look at all us…”

She laughed a bit, then blushed and reached up to self-consciously touch her face, murmuring: “We’ve all changed so much from back then, years ago now. Spike’s growing up, we’ve all lost some of our dreams but gained other, even better ones… sometimes everything feels so upside down and inside out but… but I wouldn’t ever change it I don’t think. I don’t think Pinkamena would either but… I know she doesn’t really like it when I speak for her.”

She stopped, looking up at the sunny sky, and then she drooped a little… but it wasn’t from Pinkamena this time, only the weight of the world and the events that had transpired as she said softly: “We’ve all had it so rough, and I never thought things could get worse but… I guess that’s dangerous to think, isn’t it? And I never, ever, ever thought I would ever be a knight… silly, me a knight, but… Pinkamena likes it. She likes being able to help. She likes being seen as… useful, instead of just scary…”

Pinkie stopped, then smiled a little and took a slow breath, murmuring a calming exercise to herself before she straightened and nodded firmly. “Well, I know what I have to do, anyway, and that’s keep strong and canter on, to help out all my friends! And I gotta keep up making people laugh and smile, ‘cause now I’m learning that it’s even more important out here than it ever was on the rock farm.”

“Yes, Pinkie, I agree.” Luna said softly, glancing up at her with a soft look, and she carefully packed the picture back into the satchel before tossing it onto her back, picking herself up and smiling a little across at the female as Pinkie looked back at her benevolently. “Come, now, Scrivener Blooms, pick thyself up and join Pinkie Pie and myself on our way back in better spirits. We have not failed in entirety… and I am admittedly glad that ‘twas us who made this journey. Even Twilight Sparkle…”

“Oh, Twilight would have blown Sol Seraph into bits. Personally I’m a little surprised you didn’t.” Scrivy said mildly, and Luna grumbled and nudged him firmly as Pinkie laughed… then winced at the feeling of the sack on her back, but even though she shuddered, she didn’t throw it away as the three began to head back towards Ponyville at an easier pace. “I understand why you didn’t, though, despite how… horrible she is. Both because who knows what the minotaurs and security forces would do, and because… and Horses of Heaven trample me for saying this… she might actually be useful.”

“Tempt not the Horses of Heaven to trample thee, Scrivener Blooms, I would much rather they charged down from the Vale of Valhalla to trample the wicked pony-disguised demon.” Luna muttered, shaking her head slowly as they approached the open gates to Ponyville, and she sighed a bit, the guards only watching the trio as they moodily strode into town before Luna suddenly stopped, then turned around, asking curiously: “Do either of thee know where the security firm has settled their base, or at least where the mayor is to be found? I have questions that require answers.”

“The mayor should be in town hall… I don’t know what you mean about a security firm, though, unless you’re talking about the ponies in black… but they went all the way to the far side of town.” one of the guards responded after a moment, and Luna nodded her thanks before she turned and strode with renewed purpose towards the library, and the sense of grimness about her only added to this, as Scrivener and Pinkie Pie both trotted quickly to keep up with her pace.

The male grimaced, catching her thoughts… but Luna only snorted and threw her head back as she obviously caught his sense of worry, saying clearly: “I recognize that my ways may mostly be of hoof and horn, Scrivener Blooms, but think not that I have no ounce of strategist in me. Perhaps I will never be so shrewd or political as my sister Celestia has become, but all the same, I am well aware there is more than one method by which to take the field.”

Pinkie Pie looked perplexed at this, and Scrivener grimaced before he leaned past Luna, explaining shortly: “Luna’s going to get nasty and political and try to put Sol Seraph on a leash or at least limit her power. She figures that either Sol will snap and Luna can pummel her for it, or it’ll give us more control over what that monster meddles into around here. Although I still think Luna should just pummel her.”

“I may possibly agree.” Pinkie added delicately, bouncing a bit on the spot, nodding a few times and saying moodily: “The way she just walked up to poor Fluttershy and hit her… it was awful.”

“I do not wish to underestimate this foe, and I wish to make sure she does a useful job around Ponyville before I pummel her roundly. But rest assured, one way or another, I will pummel Sol Seraph.” Luna said moodily, and Scrivener nodded with a grunt before they looked up towards the outside of the library… and the winged unicorn gritted her teeth at the sight of a minotaur nervously trying to peer through one of the windows, saying irritably: “Oh, spies already? Perhaps first I shall pummel this creature.”

“Those things are too big to be spies, Luna, let’s just see what he wants.” Scrivener said dryly, and then he paced forwards a bit even as Luna huffed and firmly checked him, before the male called: “Hey, big guy! Looking for someone?”

The minotaur winced and spun around, then grabbed at its bandaged skull, peering distrustfully down at the male as the trio approached… and then it nodded grudgingly, dropping to a kneel so it could moodily look down at Scrivener as the pony grumbled and glowered suspiciously back at it. Then, surprisingly, the minotaur spoke, voice roughly accented but still understandable as it rumbled: “Yes, little four-hoof. Ivan and I are looking for work. I am Aleksandr. You are four-hoof that broke my skull.”

“Scrivener Blooms.” Scrivy said dryly, and then he looked at Luna for help, but she only grinned cheerfully at him, making him scowl in return before he said slowly: “I… I’m not from around here, Aleksandr, but… where are you and your brother staying? I’ll ask my friends if there’s anything you can do…”

“Aleksandr and Ivan are camping near forest outside of town, is safer, quieter there.” The minotaur paused, looking meditative for a moment as he rubbed slowly at the fluffy white bandages over his head. “We are good worker. Stronger than four-hoof. Have hands.”

He wiggled his fingers to demonstrate, and Scrivy sighed a bit and nodded slowly, saying finally: “Alright. I’ll see what I can do and Luna and I or… someone… will come and find you at some point. I’m not promising anything, though.”

“Good. I will look forwards to next meeting, four-hoof.” Aleksandr nodded, then turned and simply left, Scrivy blinking once as Pinkie Pie called a cheerful ‘goodbye’ and waved at the minotaur’s back… and surprisingly, was rewarded with a small, thin smile over the minotaur’s shoulder, which made her just bounce all the more giddily.

Luna threw her head back and laughed, walking towards the library door and saying easily: “Perhaps, Scrivener Blooms, a little good will come of these events after all…” She stopped as she pushed the door open, gazing in to see Fluttershy and Twilight quietly sitting together, and her expression softened and saddened before she murmured softly: “But let us not… forget that there are things we must pay attention and respect to as well, my daydreamer… Fluttershy, I… I am sorry. I am sure thou has seen the smoke, perhaps even heard word already, but… thy home…”

But Fluttershy only looked up and smiled faintly as Luna approached, lowering her head and murmuring: “For what, Luna? For not saving a place… I couldn’t stand to be in anymore, anyway? After realizing… what… what I was to Mother… it was an awful place, of awful feelings, for how pretty and scenic it was. And after the animals all ran away, and the darkness started really rising… it was much safer to move to Sweet Apple Acres, with the few animals I was able to find and save.”

She stopped, then looked down at the satchel as Luna quietly handed it to her, opening it and smiling faintly as she pulled out the books… then the broken picture, gazing at this for a few moments before hugging it tightly to her body as she whispered: “Thank you, Luna… and you too, Scrivener Blooms. Thank you, Pinkie Pie, and Twilight Sparkle… for being my friends. For protecting me from Mother… for making me realize…”

She broke off… but even as a tear dripped down her cheek, she continued to smile faintly, tightly hugging the picture against her chest, unmindful of the shards of glass that dug silently against her golden coat, safe in the comfort of gathered friends.