• Published 1st Jan 2024
  • 958 Views, 42 Comments

Rising Flames - Thought Prism

After Emberglow and her friends showed the Diarchy a better path, the ponies living there begin to slowly let go of their fear. However, when impossible figures from the distant past make their return, she finds her greatest trials are yet to come.

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Chapter 2

The northern forests of Equestria, with their dark evergreen trees, mountain valleys, and small settlements, passed by far beneath Heartwing as he and Terminus sailed through the soft mid-morning light. Terminus was hooked up to his wheel harness via a pair of detachable steel tug lines, transforming it into a one-pony sky chariot.

It was just the two of them; Rarity and Emberglow had left later per his suggestion, so as to draw less attention from other pegasi by moving in smaller groups. He’d also prepared disguises, donning a thick but tattered hooded cloak to hide his horn and play the part of a tired old cripple, while Terminus wore an utterly ordinary shirt and trousers. If things went south, they would meet up at a safe house in burgeoning Old Canterlot.

Heartwing tried to be good company for Terminus, at first. Even if he couldn’t quell his own internal tension, coiled like a spring, Heartwing could at least try and keep his partner’s spirits up even slightly. But the situation was too serious, and Terminus continued to fly, focused, the silence between them a far cry from relaxed.

Trying to make one set plan with this many unknowns would be a fool’s errand, and Heartwing was no fool. At least not in the intellectual sense. If there was one thing all his experience had taught him, it was that some level of chaos was inevitable, but that chaos could be steered into the right direction.

He had one main worry which refused to leave his thoughts: What if the rumors were, against all logic, true? What if, by some miracle, his dearest love and source of strength had actually come back to life?

Chest twisting, he shifted anxiously. Would he freeze in awe, weeping? Spray fireworks from his horn and jump for joy, leaping into her forelegs? Be consumed by creeping, gnawing doubt about the rest of their new start together? All at once and more? Heartwing groaned, clenching his eyes shut.

No, it couldn’t be, Heartwing reassured himself, taking a deep breath. Surely, they were merely highly convincing impersonators trying to deceive the already indoctrinated citizens of the Dairchy for their own gain. A pony pretending to be a Saint would be able to bend the will of the people for all sorts of malicious ends.

So lost in his musings was Heartwing that he barely paid attention to the view. Neither the slow transition of the biome below to rolling hills and fields nor the motion of the sun across the heavens pulled at his focus. Even Terminus’ tail end, situated directly in front of him, had no effect.

Only the beginnings of a gradual descent combined with the sprawling city suddenly under his hooves drew Heartwing into full situational alertness. “Ah, it seems we’re here.”

“Yes,” said Terminus, glancing over his shoulder at him, his lips set in a line. “Bit for your thoughts?”

“I have too many bouncing around in my skull at the moment, my dear,” he replied, plastering on a forced grin. “Best we get to it promptly, for the sake of my sanity.”

“Is that really the only reason?” Terminus pointedly asked, staring into and through him.

Heartwing exhaled. Now was not the time to reopen this can of worms. “Yes, it is,” he insisted. “I’m treating this as a matter of national security for the Empire, and nothing more.”

Heartwing watched as Terminus turned this reply over in his mind for a long moment. “If you say so,” he sighed, turning back to face the sky ahead. “We’re talking after we grab lunch, though. And this was a long flight; I need to rest my wings.”

“Of course, of course. But who says we can’t do both at once?” If anything, sharing a meal would make them look less out of place as they eavesdropped, Heartwing reasoned.

“Yes, sir,” Terminus agreed, continuing his descent. The sudden shift to a more professional tone of voice stung Heartwing a little.

For myriad reasons, Heartwing hadn’t been to New Canterlot City in the flesh since that intense day two years prior, and much had changed besides the weather. Buildings that had been too damaged in the fighting had been torn down and replaced, while others had clearly been patched up to some degree. The storm had spared nothing, from pauper tenement houses to the largest manses.

No pegasi, Knight or otherwise, moved to intercept them as Terminus brought Heartwing down into a gentle landing on the street in a middle-class neighborhood of the same sort once common in Ponyville. Family businesses on the first floor, living spaces above, ponies going about their days and exchanging pleasantries. Neighbors made ordinary small talk about the weather and their hobbies, finding contentment in their unchanging routines.

However, as a Knight Vigilant passed by on patrol across the street, the mood shifted, bringing to the fore the true extent of the Diarchy’s difference from the old, harmonious norm: a lingering undercurrent of fear lying beneath surface-level happiness. Conversations ceased as he neared, lest he find some issue in their words. Heartwing bowed his head, both to feign respect for the authority the Knight represented and to better hide his horn. For while there weren’t that many ponies out and about in general, the total absence of unicorns among them was pronounced.

As Terminus unhooked himself from the wheel harness, Heartwing subtly scanned the street from beneath his hood. The place was nearly deserted, with most of the shops having CLOSED signs hanging in the windows.

“It’s too quiet,” Heartwing whispered, as Terminus turned all the way around. “Something is definitely going on.”

Terminus’ stomach rumbled. He blushed faintly, raising a solitary eyebrow.

“Right, right. Food first.”

They walked down the road at a decent clip, Heartwing’s wheels clacking against the cobblestones. An actual gallop was beyond him, but if they did need to make a run for it, he could build up plenty of speed in a straight line.

After two blocks, they found an open eatery. Terminus decisively beelined right for the entrance. Heartwing checked his peripheral vision for anything even slightly amiss as they approached.

The restaurant, Golden Pizza, could best be described as humble. With worn yellow paint on the outside walls and grease stains so numerous on the tables that Heartwing could see them clearly even through the windows, it seemed to be the closest thing to fast food in the Diarchy, by his reckoning. The sort of place Princess Twilight and Rainbow Dash would have loved, with their tastes for grease and carbs respectively.

At any rate, this place was perfect for their needs.

Brass hinges creaked loudly as Terminus held the door open for him. A portly orange earth pony stallion, seemingly the sole proprietor, spun from the large brick oven he was using to greet them. “Welcome to Golden Pizza.”

“Hello,” Heartwing said, glancing around the interior. They weren’t the only customers; a couple sat in the back, managing their fussy foals, and a trio of mares in very cheap-looking yet stylish outfits chatted amicably over their slices.

Terminus moved up to the counter and planted his hooves, scanning the chalkboard menu. Heartwing followed automatically.

Apparently satisfied with the state of the oven, the stallion smirked as he joined them. “Lemme guess: You heard the news and flew in from the next town over?”

“Exactly,” Heartwing replied, the half-lie emerging effortlessly. “Quite shocking, isn't it? I had to see for myself.”

“You and everypony else!” the chef confirmed, excited.

“Then why are you here?” Terminus asked.

“Saints or no Saints, ponies still gotta eat,” he said, gesturing to the other patrons. “The only thing more important to me than keeping the faith is keeping my neighbors fed.”

“Fair enough. We are hungry and appreciate the service,” Heartwing said, smiling truthfully. Diarchy citizen or not, you never disparaged a cook on an empty stomach.

“Thanks,” the chef replied. “So, what are you having?”

“Veggie Lover’s. Extra bell peppers,” Heartwing said. Honestly he didn’t care much for the peppers, but Terminus did, and a bit of charity wouldn’t hurt with things this tense. Terminus shot him a grateful look.

After passing over some bits, they sat down and waited for their order. Heartwing examined the trio of mares they’d spotted on the way in, sharing a knowing look with Terminus. They lapsed into patient silence, and beneath his hood, Heartwing swiveled his ears in the group’s direction.

“Like, I’m still feeling lightheaded after just seeing them!” said the first mare.

“For real, for real,” confirmed the second, nodding sagely in his peripheral vision. “And could you believe those robes? I’d never be able to pull off that look in a million years, even if I had the bits for enchanted fabric.”

“No way those are ordinary enchantments,” the first mare insisted. “They have to be gifts from the Diarchs.”

“Does it honestly even matter what they’re wearing?” the third mare posed. “Their bearing and words alone made me feel like a shameful little foal again.”

“Me too,” admitted the first mare, softly. “We’re unworthy to approach their greatness; it’s why we left, remember?”

“That, and the growing crowd was starting to make Polish uncomfortable,” the second mare said, turning to the third.

“Sorry,” Polish apologized, expression sinking.

“It’s fine, really,” said the first mare, placing a gentle hoof on Polish’s withers. “It’s not like we won’t get the chance to see them again later. Saint Twilight said that she and Saint Fluttershy would be in the city for a while. Just answering all the Knights’ questions at the New Star Shine Building is probably going to take a whole moon.”

Heartwing stiffened. The “Saints” certainly left an impression on these mares, regardless of the accuracy in their portrayal. Two of them were in the city, likely heading for the New Star Shine Building. And one of them was Fluttershy.

The thought of any version of Fluttershy entering that place sent shivers down what was left of his spine. Even without a fiendish Windigo containment contraption in a secret basement, it was still the headquarters of the Knights Mystic. A snake’s den of torturers and spies.

He was broken free of his thoughts once more by the sound of something being set in front of him. Terminus had returned with their pizza. Heartwing hadn’t even noticed him move.

Taking a slow, deep breath, Heartwing grabbed a slice and started eating. It was pretty good, all things considered, though just as greasy as he’d expected.

Terminus met his eyes, radiating concern, both for Heartwing and the news they’d just become privy to. But he ignored the look, projecting contentment. They couldn’t afford to blow their cover now. “This is great pizza,” he said.

After a beat, Terminus replied “It is.” Then, between bites, he asked the million bit question. “Are you going to say anything to the Saints when we see them?”

Taking his time, Heartwing methodically chewed, swallowed, and answered. For once, he actually quoted from the Book of the Saints. “Unto all ponykind, good or ill, I reveal the truth: To all, that which is deserved shall be given.”

Heartwing and Terminus proceeded into the core of the city, the Tower District, with Terminus in the lead. The closer they got, the more numerous the crowds became. First a trickle, and then a surge, all moving in the same direction like the rising tide. Only instead of the roaring surf against the rocks, this tide was punctuated by the susurrus of conversation. Within the growing mass, the two of them drew zero attention. All eyes were pointed forward.

Heartwing was keeping his wide open.

Soon, they could go no farther. The central plaza was packed with what had to be thousands of ponies all cramming themselves into the space by way of a huge circle. Heartwing had never seen so many Diarchy bodies in one place outside of combat. He looked to Terminus. “Three guesses as to who’s standing in the middle of that, and the first two don’t count.”

“The Saints,” he answered, eyes narrowed.

They moved in. The sheer number of ponies present was a testament to the Saints’ magnetism, whatever its purpose. There were many armored or robed Knights present, but none looked their way, even as Heartwing studied their makeup.

As expected, there were representatives from all four orders still fully loyal to the doctrine of the Diarchy among the throng. Jubilant, Vigilant, Adamant, and Mystic alike had joined the civilians, many staring in awe. Some mustered enough courage to shout words of praise or pleas for salvation, while others were genuflecting in adulation.

There were only a few exceptions with the wherewithal to try and maintain order. “No shoving, ponies!” shouted a Knight Vigilant. “And don’t hog space in front! For the love of all that is holy, show some respect!”

“Pegasi, take to hovering, clear some room!” instructed another Vigilant, already ascending into the air himself.

Terminus shot Heartwing a questioning look. Heartwing gestured wordlessly upwards with a slight motion of his head. Taking his cue, Terminus flew up a few dozen feet, joining the other pegasi in gazing upon the figures in the center of the crowd.

Heartwing couldn’t see how his partner was reacting from this angle, at first, while he looked ahead. Only after a few wingbeats did Terminus shift his gaze back down to Heartwing, his mouth set in a line as complex emotions warred on his face. Disbelief, anticipation, confusion, clear envy, a hint of grief. Then, he turned to face ahead again.

He could have tried to shout comforting words over the din, asking Terminus what was wrong. But the atmosphere was still too bleak. Heartwing’s words would have sluiced off again. Instead, he continued to approach. At this distance, ponies weren’t packed too tightly to circumnavigate, and, seeing his wheels plus his missing hind leg, many of them shifted slightly to the side to let him squeeze in.

His heart began to race in anticipation as he approached. With fewer ponies ahead of him, he began to catch glimpses of familiar hues. Each was a flash of fleeting moments long passed, phantoms once laid to rest now tearing their way free, each an aching nostalgic yearning as sweet and debilitating as the finest vintage.

Then fragments of two voices reached his ears. One he had heard much of recently, coming from Rarity’s gifted information-storage construct. That voice, though, had been bereft of emotion, unlike the one that wafted over the heads of the ponies in front of him. Whether that emotion was genuine remained to be seen.

The other stirred a centuries-dormant longing in his breast.

Before he knew it, he was through. Heartwing choked on his own breath, for there stood Fluttershy.

The likeness was immaculate. She was in her prime, appearing around as old as the time they’d met, her butter-yellow coat and long, pink mane and tail perfectly maintained. Her body was covered by a one-shouldered garment in the style of ancient Pegasopolis, a toga, stola or something of the sort. The garment shimmered with an ever-shifting gradient of soft greens, blues, and pinks, as if the aurora borealis itself had been pulled down from the northern sky and wrapped around her.

Next to her stood Twilight, wearing a matching garment. She, too, was the spitting image of the mare who had been his irreplaceable friend, save for the lack of a horn upon her brow. Also present by their sides were two tall, bipedal creatures that looked to be made out of silvery metal and some sort of black material. Their limbs were too thin for them to be covered in armor, even for an Abyssinnian. Magically animated golems, perhaps? It didn’t matter; his focus was on Fluttershy.

Currently, she was talking to somepony on the opposite side of the crowd, standing with Saint Twilight and the others near the center of an empty space about fifty feet across in the core of the plaza. Whether out of intimidation or respect, the ponies had given them room. “Why, yes, I was indeed with the Diarchs all these years,” said Fluttershy. “They’re both truly wonderful. All ponies should strive to be righteous in this life and the next, so that they might meet them one day.”

Heartwing stared. Listened. Scrutinized.

With that question answered, more voices immediately chimed in. But the loudest was a stallion. “Saint Fluttershy!” he exclaimed. She turned to face him, and he continued. “My sister’s in the marine corps, and she was supposed to be back from her tour in the Dragonlands by now. Can you tell me if she’s alright?”

“I’m sure your sister is fine, sir,” Fluttershy said, voice gentle but firm. “And if not, I’ll be certain to deal with those responsible.”

Inhaling with an audible gasp, the stallion dropped into a low bow before retreating deeper back into the group. He was immediately replaced by another, the colt’s lanky body barely qualifying him as such.

“My Saint,” began the colt, ears folded in desperation, “Mama’s kennel got hit by lightning in an accident last week and burnt down! Now all the shelter dogs don’t have a place to sleep, but we don’t have the money to rebuild. I don’t care about us, but we need a miracle to restore it, for the pups! Please, Saint Fluttershy?” he pleaded, bowing.

“Healthy dogs are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves,” the Saint replied, her tone clipped. “If a work of fate destroyed the kennel, then perhaps a member of your family did something to incur the ire of the Diarchs. If you renew your faith and work hard to rebuild, you might find the brand new kennel is better for it.”

The longing in Heartwing’s chest fizzled out, replaced with a growing heat. The pony before him was not the same mare he’d once known. Her mannerisms were wholly different; Fluttershy never would have promised retribution like that, let alone ignore homeless puppies. This mare was not his Fluttershy. She was a Saint, icon of the faith, plucked from the Book and made flesh. And he was far from faithful. His blood began to boil and his thoughts whirled.

Heartwing forced himself to resume focus as his brows furrowed beneath his hood. He’d missed something, and now Saint Fluttershy was exchanging a look with the golem-thing next to her. It had the number ten painted in white on both sides of its faceless head. Or were they helmets? Their shape was unusual; it was hard to tell. The other creature, accompanying Twilight, bore the number one, but was otherwise indistinguishable.

If Saint Fluttershy had spoken to it, she had done so too softly for him to hear. She was now back to addressing the clamor of impromptu petitioners and supplicants. Her next focus was a young pegasus mare, frantically waving her hooves overhead. “Yes?”

The mare practically swooned upon being acknowledged. “Lady Fluttershy, you’ve always been my role model, and I really, really want to join the Knights Angelic, but I was wondering, do you approve of the direction the order has taken since being rebuilt?”

Saint Fluttershy didn’t even stop to think before answering. “While they’re certainly far from the contemptible heretics my original order regrettably became, as genuinely consorting with non-ponies is a grievous sin, the new Knights Angelic do need my guiding hoof. To truly serve their purpose, they should take a more proactive approach and rejoin the Diarchy, serving as I originally intended. Even injured and meek, other creatures are to be feared, lest they divide us.”

She extended a foreleg upwards, continuing. “You have the enthusiasm and thoughtful devotion of a truly exemplary pony. Should you succeed in your training, I would be glad to have you as a Knight, young one.”

The mare beamed, her s wings buzzing with joy. “Eeeee, thank you! I’ll make you proud, my Saint!”

Simultaneously, The heat within Heartwing burned brighter and brighter until all he could feel was pure, unadulterated rage. His limbs began to shake as his restraint quickly began to evaporate.

Fluttershy championed those who were suffering, the only group she had never been afraid of. This caricature before him was a twisted joke, one that had more than run its course. And he could contain himself no longer.

“YOU’RE NOT FLUTTERSHY!” Heartwing screamed with his entire being, almost tearing his throat raw.

Every other voice went quiet as his outburst drew everypony’s attention. He didn’t care, breaking through the invisible circle of reverence which kept the other ponies at bay.

The quiet shattered as quickly as it had come, with overlapping cries of “Nonbeliever!” and “Of course she is!” assaulting his ears. Some ponies even leaped after him, ready to tackle the audacious, broken fool they thought he was and drag him away.

However, the Saints themselves were not among them. Saint Twilight turned away from the white-maned Mystic Inquisitor she’d been speaking with to face him, expression inscrutable. Saint Fluttershy simply glanced up at the figure standing by her side, and it raised a metallic hand, quickly tracing runes in the air.

Before Heartwing could be assaulted, a chartreuse dome of magic appeared around him, and a dozen hooves bounced off its surface. Was he saved, or was he trapped? Too late to go back now. Terminus must have been worried sick. Still, he did not take his eyes away from the Saints.

As the Saints and their golems approached, the Diarchy ponies he’d offended stepped back slightly while still watching him warily all the while.

Once she’d gotten close enough, Saint Fluttershy spoke. “And who are you to make such an accusation?” she asked, her stolen voice having taken a curious tone.

Heartwing couldn’t hold in the smirk. “Someone who knew her in life,” he declared, before throwing off his cloak.

This time, the onlookers all repeated the same word: “Unicorn!”

Saint Fluttershy’s ears turned briefly in the direction of the loudest among them before returning to focus on Heartwing. Her tail swished once to the side. “I see. So you doubt not just me, but all of us. The whole of our teachings.”

“Of course I do,” he seethed, not breaking eye contact. “You’re clearly impostors. And the teachings you uphold are all twisted lies. If you read the Friendship Journal, you’d know that.”

The creature bearing the number one spoke, with a gruff mare’s voice. “This pony is clearly a problem, my Saint. Should I take care of him?”

Heartwing ignored her, his gut churning with displeasure as his legs locked in fury. The sweat beading across his back in fear and heat went ignored. He would say his piece, dammit.

“How dare you pretend to be my friends - sully their names even further,” Heartwing hissed through gritted teeth. “I don’t care what you’re trying to achieve here, whoever you are, but I will not tolerate this. They were good ponies who extended a hoof in friendship to all kinds, not violent xenophobes who imposed their will on others through fear and force!”

This would be the part where he blasted them with the Elements of Harmony, were they present. Instead, he keenly felt their absence, and even the small but noticeable distance between himself and Terminus. They found their true strength together. Now, he faced them alone.

Saint Fluttershy’s brow creased at his impassioned words, though she held her tongue.

Saint Twilight, however, did not, the mare unmoved by his display. “No, Archpaladin. The opinion of one misguided stallion changes nothing. Yet I must make it clear: we are the Saints of yore,” she declared.

Without warning, a pillar of stone rose beneath her hooves, elevating her such that she loomed over Heartwing.

He stared in stunned silence. There had been no indication at all of any magic being cast, by her or any of the others. It had just happened.

Also, a small part of him observed, Twilight never loomed. She’d endeavored to keep herself approachable. Besides, she’d never been any good at it. Humility had been ingrained deeply within her.

Saint Twilight seemed to take no satisfaction in her new position. Her expression was unreadable, her lips a thin line. However, she did project her voice, addressing the crowd as well as Heartwing. “We have been given a task by the Holy Diarchs on high, granted new life to fulfill this purpose! Just as they have guided you, I shall guide my fellow Saints as the six of us shepherd this country back onto the path of true righteousness!”

Everypony was listening, rapt. Even Heartwing, still seething, could not bring himself to interrupt. If nothing else, he’d learn their plans.

“No longer will lesser creatures besiege our borders from without, for mighty Paladins shall defend you!” Saint Twilight continued, spreading her wings wide. “No longer will unicorns threaten to tear apart our unity from within! The Diarchs, acting through me, will usher in a new golden age of peace, order, and happiness! Under my leadership, miraculous blessings await!”

Once it was clear she’d finished her speech, the crowd erupted into cheers, hollering in joy. But Heartwing’s ears fell. Whoever was wearing Twilight’s face as a mask, they were clearly aiming to take charge.

It would mean another war.

Heartwing could easily teleport out of this net of bodies, but he would never leave Terminus behind. But where was his partner? Perhaps Terminus was waiting for his signal while keeping his eyes peeled for a sneak attack? Or could he be as emotionally overwhelmed by these events as Heartwing was?

Acting on this line of thought, Heartwing raised a forehoof high in a beckoning motion as the cheering died off. “An excellent plan,‘Saint.’” He put as much sarcasm as he could muster into the word as he looked up at the mare. “Too bad it’s been tried before, and recently, I might add. But my friends and I stopped Steadfast Word, and we’ll stop you, too.”

“You cannot,” Saint Twilight said matter-of-factly. The pillar she was standing on retreated back into the earth, and she turned to face the number ten golem thing - the Paladin - who was holding him captive. “Release him,” she ordered.

Heartwing blinked, slowly. That was about the last thing he’d expected. But neither the Paladin nor Saint Fluttershy objected, and the Paladin wordlessly dismissed their shield. He probably could have broken out of it shortly - shields tended to weaken with distance - but still, he wasn’t complaining.

Immediately, the ponies who had tried to attack him previously stalked forward. By now there were more Knights among them, weapons raised to cut him to ribbons. More than one was calling for his head. Heartwing eyed them carefully. At the same time, a familiar black shape began diving through the air, rushing to his side.

Terminus reached him before anypony else could, coming in for a skidding landing. He took up position at Heartwing’s back, covering him. “That was incredibly reckless,” Terminus said, teeth clenched, before adding, “I almost did the same thing.”

Managing a small smile, Heartwing eyed the mob that had them cornered. They were currently unarmed, vastly outnumbered, and far from safe territory. Not the best odds, but he’d faced worse. He lit his horn.

But Saint Twilight raised a hoof. “Let them leave.”

It took a second for what she’d said to sink in. Heartwing gawked in disbelief.

The townsponies and Knights reacted similarly, protesting their Saint’s orders and calling for blood.

“There’s such a thing as being too merciful!”

“What? You must reconsider!”

“He needs to be punished!”

One had a longer argument. “But they’re infidels! And you were the one who said ‘any righteous action, taken in defense of the faith, is just and sanctified’ in the Book!”

“My little ponies, do not immediately resort to violence against your fellow pony,” instructed Saint Twilight, stepping closer. “In this case it may be justified, but that does not mean it is ideal. Violence should still be the last resort. This stallion must be the one known as Heartwing whom I’ve heard much about: he leads a large organization, and harming him would almost certainly provoke a military response. Besides,” she continued, “this is a punishment; the harshest one I can administer.”

Her cold gaze turned to Heartwing. “No matter what these heretics try to achieve, they will ultimately fail, for the strength of the divine is absolute. That shall be their punishment: to look on from afar, helpless to affect change. Their lives will be spent reflecting on their many misdeeds as their false ideology crumbles around them and the rest of ponykind is brought to salvation under the will of the Diarchs.”

Ice prickled across Heartwing’s body. The look in her eyes… there was not a trace of doubt in those violet pools. It was as if she could see the future and know their fate for certain.

Heartwing took a breath and steeled himself. Destiny could be defied. That he was no longer the Spirit of Chaos proved as much. That he was no longer whatever he had been before becoming the Spirit of Chaos proved it as well.

He tried hard to never think of those days.

Regardless, he would continue to fight fate, if fate was on Saint Twilight’s side.

After a long pause, the Knights and others surrounding him and Terminus backed off, sheathing their weapons. Some among the crowd started stomping their hooves in approval, and soon everypony was cheering for their returned savior. Disturbed, Heartwing turned to give one final look to the false Fluttershy. She was smiling, proud of her sister in Sainthood. Paladin Number Ten somehow gave off the impression that they were analyzing him.

Shivering, he spun towards Terminus. “L-Let’s go.” There was nothing more to do here.

“Yeah,” Terminus said, ears flicking urgently.

Nopony accosted them physically as they harnessed Heartwing’s wheels to Terminus again. That did not stop many ponies from berating them verbally, however, even as the two Saints had put the matter behind them and were already back to interacting with the masses and making glacial progress towards the New Star Shine Building.

Before anypony decided to change their minds about attacking, Terminus took to the sky, flapping with strong wingbeats to take them almost straight up. One pony threw a rutabaga at Heartwing and missed. “And don’t come back, scum!” somepony else shouted.

Peeking over his shoulder, Heartwing was glad to see no pegasi pursuing them. Their obedience as a collective was greater than their hatred, even for the most zealous, it seemed. But he was all out of shock after everything that had just happened, leaving only emptiness and confusion. “You okay?” Terminus asked, once they were high up enough to be out of earshot. “Because I’m definitely rattled.”

Heartwing frowned. The sun’s warmth somehow felt oppressive as they flew. “You and me both, Terminus.”