• Published 24th Oct 2012
  • 1,705 Views, 206 Comments

Absolution - BlackRoseRaven

A pony begins a journey to find his parents, lost heroes who vanished years ago.

  • ...


Chapter Twenty Seven: Locusts

Meadowlark gently finished changing the dressing over Rustproof's forelimb, shaking her head a little before she glanced quietly towards the zebra standing nearby. The black-and-white striped mare studied the large blue earth pony quietly, and then she leaned forwards, emerald eyes kind as she said gently: “Listen to me, little one, your strength is to be admired... you bear your wounds without even letting the others see you tired. But take some time and rest Rustproof, all is well for now... and I know that in the near future all of Ponyville will need your know-how.”

Rustproof only shook his head quietly, glancing almost embarrassedly towards the zebra: golden rings glinted around her neck, and large hoop earrings adorned either ear. Bangles of the same metal encircled one forelimb, and her mane was done up in a checkered mohawk; last but not least, she had a swirl on her flank, a symbol of some kind. All that the ponies really knew was that it wasn't a cutie mark like theirs... Zecora always played her cards close, after all, even if Meadowlark and Apple Bloom both knew her well, and Luna and Scrivener had been good friends with her in the past.

Antares was sitting silently nearby in a chair at the library table, along with Prestige and Aphrodisia. Avalon, lastly, was snoozing on a pile of books in the corner of the library, but she was shivering a little now and then: in spite of all the protection she'd been wearing, Cancer's disease had still infected her, although thankfully the worst she was suffering was chills and a weak fever. But still, the disease was in her body... and Antares felt all over again like he had failed her.

They were all gathered here, waiting for Celestia and Twilight Sparkle to join them. Twilight had to make some repairs to her body, though – an unpleasant process, but not as uncomfortable as when she had to switch bodies in some ways – and Celestia was still trying to piece together everything that had happened last night, everything that had gone wrong and allowed Cancer to escape from what should have been a foolproof trap. It was ironic that so far, Discombobulation had the best answer for that, when he had muttered: “That's exactly what went wrong: we thought we trapped destructive chaos perfectly. We were too confident: and like Discord once said, if you're sure of anything when it comes to chaos, you've already lost.”

Demons and Nightmares had been sent out to scour the wilderness and try to track where Cancer had gone... but Antares knew that they wouldn't be able to find him. The monster was able to move too fast, ignored the treachery of terrain, and could slip into any crevice, find any escape that presented itself... and anything that dared pursue it too close would be made a meal of, would only further fuel the monster's seemingly-boundless strength and evolution.

Antares lowered his head, clenching his eyes shut tightly, and then he glanced up in surprise as Zecora said gently: “And you, young leader, son of Luna and Scrivener Blooms... do not despair, do not give in to thoughts of dooms and glooms. Your friends survived the battle, and so did you... and we learned a little about what he plans to do, too.”

“I... I know you're right Zecora. I know that moping is useless, and I should be glad that... there were so few deaths. But every death feels like a knife in my heart, because we should have prevented it. We should have been better prepared... Cancer shouldn't have been allowed to escape like he did.” Antares murmured quietly, dropping his head forwards and closing his eyes tightly. “And Rusty, Burning, Avalon... Cowlick... seeing all my friends hurt, infected with his poisons, and that monster still managing to get away, it... it makes me feel...”

Prestige silently rubbed soothingly down Antares' back as Meadowlark gazed up at him compassionately, and then Zecora smiled faintly, shaking her head slowly as she strode towards him. “Antares Mīrus, you were a leader from birth... your parents had much faith in this, and in your worth. They would be proud of you to see the path that you are taking... but would feel great guilt themselves over how your heart is aching.

“A leader's true strength comes from what they let themselves feel; many try to become distant because it's easier than admitting the costs are real.” the zebra continued gently. “But you, Antares, have an open heart, and a strong sense of wrong and right; but as you are experiencing now, sometimes that only makes it harder to fight.”

“So what are you saying? I should be... colder? I should not care about my friends, my family?” Antares asked weakly, looking up and shivering at this thought, and Zecora shook her head, smiling as she reached up to gently touch his shoulder.

Their eyes met, and she said quietly: “Your depth of empathy is what will always let you make the best decision in the end, even if it means that sometimes the choices will your heart and soul offend. You are learning to be wise and strong, and to value life first and foremost: what you have to learn is not to act as guilt's host. It's okay, Antares, to hurt for those who have been lost, be they friend or stranger... it's not okay for you to blame yourself, when they went in knowing full-well the danger.”

Antares looked down for a few moments, then he nodded a little, saying quietly: “Yeah, I... I know I can't let things... screw me up. But still, Zecora, the guilt is still there... the feeling that... this is my fault somehow, because I didn't do things right, because I'm still just a stupid kid...”

“Mir, you're a good leader. You're younger than even I am, but being young doesn't automatically make you stupid or incapable... your Mom and Dad spent years teaching you and grooming you for this.” Meadowlark said quietly as she finished closing her medical kit, raising her head with a soft look towards the young stallion. “Antares, what you lack is experience, that's all. You need to be more confident in yourself... you're strong, and smart, and you're going to be one of the best leaders Equestria has ever seen.”

“I don't know about that.” Antares laughed a little, but he smiled faintly and nodded slowly, even as he glanced towards where Avalon was sleeping uneasily. Then he sighed a bit as Prestige squeezed him supportively around the shoulders, returning his eyes to Rustproof and asking finally: “How are you holding up? Does it still hurt?”

Rustproof only smiled a little and shook his head, closing his eyes as he hesitated visibly for a moment... then finally said quietly: “Pain don't mean nothin'. Momma's alive. That's all that matters.”

“Your mommy's strong, Rustproof. Almost as strong as my mommy. She'll be fine.” Aphrodisia said quietly, looking up confidently, and Rustproof nodded slowly as he gazed across at the demon with a slow nod of his head. “And you need to stop being dumb, Nova. Because the others are right, you really are a great leader... it's not your fault everypony is so stupid.”

Antares laughed a little and shook his head slowly, and then Zecora added quietly: “Being a leader can be a heavy burden to bear... but all here believe that you can weather that pain fair. Antares, there's a reason we've all placed faith in you, and yes I include myself in that number too: your mother was a great leader, your father proud and strong, and we know they taught you to always do right instead of wrong.”

Antares closed his eyes, nodding once, and then he smiled a little up at the zebra, saying quietly: “Yeah, but... I'd be lying if I didn't admit that part of the reason I want to bring my Mom and Dad back so much is so that... I won't have to be a leader anymore. At least... you know.”

Zecora only shook her head, gazing at him kindly as she said gently: “Antares, the crown of leadership does not simply slip off one's head... you've been blessed and cursed to lead friends and strangers from birth until you are dead.”

“What a nice way to put it.” Antares mumbled, and there were a few laughs before the glossy-black unicorn sat up a bit with a grimace, glancing over at Prestige. “I guess... it could be worse, though, huh? After all, it's not like you ever listen to me.”

“And I have no plans to, either, don't worry about that hero.” Prestige said softly, and the two smiled at each other as Meadowlark shifted silently, then the Pegasus turned to hurry over towards Avalon. Zecora, meanwhile, studied the two unicorns for a moment, then turned her own attention back to Rustproof, giving the large blue earth pony a pointed look when he began to raise a cigarette to his muzzle, and Rustproof awkwardly, hurriedly tucked the little white cylinder back away as the shaman approached and began to lecture him dryly, her habit of rhyming making the words all the more sharp.

Soon enough, the door opened, and Celestia walked in with Twilight Sparkle behind her, both looking tired, but Twilight seemed more listless than anything else, while Celestia had an air of grimness about her. Antares winced a bit as he looked up at the two, hesitating for a few long moments, but then Celestia only shook her head slowly as she approached the table, heavy armor clanking quietly around her body as she murmured: “I'm glad you're all here. We have a lot to discuss, quickly, and I need your insight, Antares... and any help that you can offer as well, Zecora.”

“Of course, Celestia, you know it is my pleasure... after all, Ponyville and our friendship I have come to treasure.” the zebra replied quietly, taking a seat at the table herself. The others joined as well after a few moments, Avalon waking up with a grunt but only groggily buzzing to a chair before half-collapsing over the table... but her tiredness clearly couldn't be held against her, from the puffiness around her eyes and the paleness of her skin.

Celestia glanced apprehensively towards Avalon, then slowly turned her eyes to Rustproof: even though the large blue earth pony wasn't showing any signs of pain, there was still the small tell he kept making, rubbing at his bandaged stitches every now and then... and much clearer than that was how bruised and ugly the skin around his wound looked. For a moment, the ivory winged unicorn was silent, and then she shook her head slowly, saying quietly: “Many of you still look sick. I appreciate you all being here, but... you should go and get some rest.”

“No, I... I'm totally awake.” Avalon mumbled, raising her head almost defiantly... and then she blinked owlishly a few times as she slowly looked back and forth. “Hey, wait. When did all you guys get here?”

“Avalon, it might be good if you at least consider going to get some sleep. You've been up all night on top of getting poisoned...” Meadowlark began carefully, but Avalon only glared at her... then slowly blinked before the tiny Pegasus keeled forwards and her head thudded loudly into the tabletop, beginning to snore as Meadowlark sighed and rubbed slowly at her face with a hoof. “Well, at least she's resting. I'm sorry, Baroness, I can take her home...”

“It's alright. Sleipnir was always much more of a distraction at any table.” Celestia smiled after a moment, shaking her head slowly before her horn glowed as she looked at Avalon, and the tiny Pegasus fidgeted for a moment before her features smoothed out, body slumping a bit more against the table. “There. A little less pain for her to worry about... your friends are strong, Antares.”

Twilight Sparkle nodded slowly in agreement as she adjusted the bloodstained sweater she was wearing, saying softly: “I think you're all even stronger than we were, even after we gathered the Elements of Harmony. But then again... I know that the world we were raised in was a lot different from the world you've all been born into. But you've all been doing well, you've all worked hard to become who you are now... and maybe that's one of the biggest differences between us. I only ever really started training with Luna... after everything started.” She glanced at Celestia, the two trading faint smiles. “And my friends only really began to train, to try and adjust to the darkness, after the darkness was well on the rise.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Antares only shook his head, murmuring quietly: “I want to believe that's true, Mom, not because... I think anything but the world of you... but because I know my friends and I have to be strong. But I don't know if it is or not... you and your friends... you weren't warriors, and yet you faced down incredible odds and enemies.”

He looked up with a bit of a smile, then shook his head slowly and closed his eyes. “You amaze me, you and everypony else. And none of us would be here without you and... all these other ponies we have in our lives. Who are just as amazing, who... have helped shape us into who we are today. I want to be strong, but I know a lot of that strength comes from my parents, and you, and Aunt Tia and... everypony else that's helped shape me. And that's a lot of people.”

Twilight smiled a little, and Celestia gazed quietly across at Antares, studying him before she said softly: “You're having doubts and worries again, aren't you? But I understand, Antares... we've put a lot on your shoulders, especially for someone as young as you are. We expect a lot from you... but the reason we expect so much, Antares, is because all of us here honestly believe that you're capable of handling it and bearing up under the weight of those hopes and desires. The reason I've asked you specifically to be here, and for the help of your friends, is because I have such faith each and every person here. And I know that we're going to need the help of every hoof we can get, both to deal with Cancer and to help with your own personal mission, Antares Mīrus.”

Antares nodded hesitantly, and Celestia looked slowly back and forth before she said quietly: “As you all know, Cancer escaped. He used a decoy filled with explosive, poisonous gases to buy himself all the time he needed to get past the perimeter and through the fields. I sent Nightmares after him as quickly as possible, but he moves quickly when he's focused on something, and his path is clear but difficult to trace because of his chaotic nature. The Nightmares have to move slowly because they're afraid he may attempt to ambush them.

“I've also dispatched Sleipnir to try and find what you mentioned from Cancer's threat: his so-called 'bride,' which I don't dare guess at the nature of.” Celestia continued quietly, then she shook her head slowly. “I also don't want to assume at what he may have meant by that choice of words, though. I've sent Hevatica and Pinkamena with him as support... but made it clear under no circumstances are they to engage the enemy. As we clearly know now... Cancer is simply too dangerous.”

There were a few nods, and Antares shivered a bit before he murmured: “He looked like water, Aunt Tia... he looked like he... he was... able to turn himself not just to slime, but something like liquid. More, that he was able to reconstitute himself just from that, alone...”

Celestia nodded slowly, looking across at the young stallion before Zecora asked quietly: “If this destruction entity can heal from such a condition... how can we expect to put the monster out of commission?”

“He seems to still have a vulnerability to fire... the problem is that he's been learning more and more to... adapt himself.” Twilight said quietly, rubbing slowly at her sweater before grimacing a bit as she drew her hoof away and looked down. “Sorry. Excuse me for a minute, my stitching's come undone.”

The Lich carefully slipped out of her seat, hurrying around the table and towards the corridor, and Zecora glanced after the violet mare quietly. Then the zebra shaman sighed softly, murmuring: “It's funny, Celestia, I have to admit... never did I think with a Lich and demons I would sit. My people don't think much of the citizens of the night, not after we experienced first-hoof Veliuona's blight. And while I cannot say that I was around in that time long past, the scars of what she did to my homeland even now last.”

“I know, Zecora, and I can only thank you for... your willingness to work with us, and how open-minded and accepting you've been with not only our darker allies, but especially Twilight Sparkle. Your friendship means a lot to her.” Celestia replied gently, and the zebra gave a small smile before the ivory winged unicorn returned her eyes over the group of young ponies. “What Twilight said is correct, though: Cancer is volatile, and vulnerable to fire. We also know it's possible to freeze him solid, at least for short periods of time... we need to exploit these vulnerabilities somehow.”

“We also need to prepare for the coming of his bride... I... I get the feeling whatever the hell it is, it's going to be very bad.” Antares murmured quietly, rubbing slowly at his face before he sighed quietly, looking nervously towards the back corridor. He could feel everypony's attention turning to him – well, except for Avalon, who was drooling over the table – and the young stallion shivered a bit before hurriedly pushing himself away from the furnishing, saying abruptly: “I need to go check on Mom.”

No pony said anything as Antares hurried across the room and into the corridor, quickly striding down towards the kitchen... and Twilight smiled a little as she glanced up at him from where she was washing her sweater out in the sink, and Antares shivered a little at the sight of her body: she was wrapped in bandages that were stained with blood, and somehow that always worried him more than the sight of raw stitching did, as he asked worriedly: “Are you okay?”

“It's just taking time for the new... parts... to fuse, that's all. Don't worry, I can't really bleed to death, Antares, being... dead and all. It's just a little gross, I know.” Twilight replied quietly, smiling a little as she glanced down at herself, then shook her head and simply dropped the sweater in the half-full, soapy sink-water. She turned to him as Antares strode up to her, and the violet mare leaned down as she reached up and gently took his face in her hooves, leaving a trail of soapy suds over his cheek as she murmured: “Antares, if it's too hard right now... Celestia won't blame you if you need a break. None of us will.”

“I will.” Antares said quietly, and then he shook his head hurriedly when the violet mare gave him a soft look. “I'm... I'm okay, Mom. I really am okay.”

“You always say that, just like your parents always said that...” Twilight closed her eyes, shaking her head slowly and laughing quietly, and then she leaned forwards and kissed his forehead before sighing and drawing back, studying him silently. “Remember. We're all here... for each other. To watch out for each other and to take care of each other. Don't get so wrapped up in the idea of being a leader that you forget we're here to take care of you, too. It's okay to not be okay.”

The young stallion nodded a little, and then he hesitated for a few moments, before finally looking up at Twilight as she frowned curiously. But still, he didn't speak... and finally, the Lich leaned down, reassuring softly: “Anything, Antares. You can say anything to me or tell me anything, you know that. I'm here for you.”

The young stallion nodded slowly, taking a deep breath before he asked quietly: “What... what does it mean that Cancer can't seem to... to poison me? I... even more than that, Mom... Cancer seems to be drawn to me, and me to him; and even if he scares me, he's everything I fear and hate, I... understand him, in a way I don't want to. I look at him and know what he's going to do, even if he's supposed to be unpredictable chaos: I hear him and sense him even when no one else can... I... I know how his mind works. What does that mean... for me? Am I... am I going to become...”

Twilight softened, shaking her head firmly as she said quietly: “Antares, if anyone here is the antithesis to Cancer, it's you. But... light and dark, peace and war, chaos and harmony parallel each other. Absolute opposites are dark reflections... they mirror each other. You understand him because he's everything you're not: just like he seems to be drawn to you, he hates you so much, for the exact same reason.”

Antares looked down, nodding silently once as she shivered a little, and Twilight quietly stroked his cheek before she smiled a little. “You, your mom, Celestia... even me... we all have... darkness inside us. All of us have... have bad parts in us. But Antares, you... you're different from us.”

“I don't think so. And Mom, you're a Lich but... I've never seen you lash out in anger like I have sometimes, or anything like that.” Antares said quietly, looking up at the violet mare with a faint smile. “And Aunt Tia... she works so hard. She's got such a terrifying part of herself but she uses it... like I know Mom and Dad always used and controlled their own darkness.”

Twilight only laughed quietly however, shaking her head slowly and murmuring: “No, Antares. Even before I was a Lich, I had... I had a certain... something, inside me.” Twilight looked down, rubbing a hoof slowly at her chest before she closed her eyes. “You know that dark story, Because Love Conquers All... don't forget that's who we all almost were. And you've seen what happens when I get... angry, like I did while we were fighting Cancer. My magic intensifies... and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it, too, in a dark, twisted way.”

She shook her head slowly, smiling a little as she opened her eyes to glance down at the young stallion quietly, and he looked back up at her silently. “But we should go and talk to the others, Antares, we've wasted enough time here...” She paused, reaching down to touch the stitching and discolored coat across her breast that wasn't covered by the bandaging. “Besides, I've stopped bleeding now, so... that's one worry less.”

Antares nodded a bit, and he shifted a little, then said quietly as he turned around: “Alright, Mom. You're right, we need to stay focused on things anyway. We got a lot to do, don't we?”

“Yeah, we do.” the violet mare said softly, and she shook her head before following quickly after the young stallion, gazing at him tenderly. “Just remember, taking care of yourself is important, too. You can't help if you aren't at the top of your game.”

Antares nodded again, closing his eyes and blushing a little, and then he looked up as they returned to the library and found Aphrodisia, Meadowlark, and Zecora were now missing. Avalon was still drooling on the table, and Rustproof was sitting nearby, nervously rubbing at his bandaged forelimb as Celestia said quietly: “I hope you don't mind, but I've already started sending the others out on a few tasks.”

“You're the boss, Aunt Tia, not me.” Antares laughed a little, blushing a bit at the almost-deference from the enormous, rainbow-maned mare before he hesitated, then asked finally: “But where did you send them, then? Did... something come to mind?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes.” Celestia smiled after a moment, nodding slowly before she explained: “Meadowlark and Zecora are interested in seeing if they can create a remedy to the afflictions caused by Cancer... they've apparently been hard at work on attempting to develop a cure for quite some time, and I thought this was a better use of their time than sitting here, listening to me talk about things I'm not entirely sure of. Aphrodisia, meanwhile, I've sent on a short trip to Subterra to ask for help on my behalf. I recognize that in the near future, we may require as much aid as possible from out darker allies, after all.”

“Although now, Cancer's diseases are able to infect even demons...” Twilight murmured quietly, grimacing a little as she thought of Burning Desire: he was resting fitfully back in the library, slowly recovering from not only the infection and poisons of Cancer, but the equally-agonizing purification magic that had been the only way to wash Cancer's poisons out. It had unfortunately been necessary... even if for a demon it was also painful beyond description.

“Yes, it's an unfortunate development... but at the same time, demons are still more resilient even to the infections he can poison them with.” Celestia replied quietly, and the Lich nodded slowly, looking down meditatively but also seeming nervous still. “But I don't plan to use them as shields, don't worry. I'm asking our dark friends to stand beside us, not in front of us: the only way we'll be able to conquer a threat like Cancer is by working together, after all.”

There were nods around the table, and then Celestia turned her eyes towards Rustproof, adding quietly: “Furthermore, I would like outfit the Starlit Knights with advanced equipment. Ranged weapons like your mother is so fond of, rifles and other modern-day tools. They have a few advantages over crossbows, and it's important we're able to strike at Cancer from the greatest possible range while dealing the highest level of damage we can, especially if he attacks with a force of infected. But these kinds of weapons are outside my area of expertise, and I need your input on what needs to be produced, how they would be used, and how we could train our soldiers to use them.”

Rustproof shifted awkwardly, looking lamely towards Antares, but Antares only looked pointedly back and shrugged a little... and finally, after a few moments, the large blue earth pony smiled lamely and turned his eyes to Celestia, saying quietly: “I can't really speak for Momma or nothin'. I'm just a colt, still.”

Celestia only smiled softly at this, however, saying quietly: “Rustproof, despite how young you are, you're also a prodigy, and your mother adores you... and more importantly, has as much trust in you as I have trust and faith in Antares. If anypony here can tell me what I need to know, I have confidence it's you.”

Rustproof blushed deeply and dropped his head at this, smiling faintly after a few moments, and then he simply nodded once before looking up. His gaze met Celestia's, and he seemed to read into her thoughts before he said hesitantly: “I... Momma told me how Hellhorse and them train their rifle corps. Intensive... ain't just about aiming and shooting, that's the easy part. It's about learning how to take care of the gun, and keepin' her clean, and how to load and reload, too.”

Celestia nodded slowly, continuing to study the young earth pony, and Rusty hesitated a moment before he said finally: “Carbines, I think, would be good to start with. They ain't too difficult for us to put together, and... it's what Momma started me with, too. Okay clips, ponies can hold 'em fine... we got lots of hoof-trigger adjusts and stuff.” Rustproof paused, looking down and nodding hesitantly. “Yeah. No need for anything fancy or nothing, at least not to start with. Just the basics, but they'll pack a good punch.”

The ivory winged unicorn looked for a few moments at Rustproof, and then she said gently: “You can go if you like, then, and head over to the engineering lab. Inform Greece or whoever is currently in charge that I'll be needing enough of those weapons made and readied for a full platoon of Starlit Knights, who will then require training. The fields outside of Ponyville should do nicely enough to begin training as soon as possible, correct?”

Rustproof only shrugged a little, giving Celestia a nervous look, and the armored mare smiled reassuringly back, saying quietly: “Then just report to Greece for now and I'm sure he or one of the other Architects will come and find me to tell me what's best. And make sure afterwards you get some rest... your leg still looks hurt. If you put too much pressure on it you could just end up hurting yourself more.”

Rustproof hesitated, then nodded and turned away: just as he reached the door, however, Celestia added calmly, without glancing over her shoulder at him: “And please don't give in to the temptation to smoke, Rustproof. It might only exacerbate your illness, and that would just worry Cowlick further.”

The young blue earth pony blushed a bit, then he gave a quick, abrupt nod before hurrying out the door, and Celestia shook her head slowly even as she moved her eyes towards where Avalon was snoring weakly. For a few moments, she just looked at the young pony, then the Baroness' amethyst eyes were drawn to Antares as he asked nervously: “What about Prestige and me, what can we do?”

Celestia looked at the two thoughtfully, then she shook her head and said softly: “Antares, you need to rest until the afternoon... then you, Twilight Sparkle and myself are going to be extremely busy. As it is, Twilight, I'm afraid I have to ask you and Prestige to head to the medical center and lend what aid you can to the ponies there...”

“No, I'm glad to help... besides, it's... it's not like I tire like other ponies do.” Twilight said after a moment, smiling a little as she reached up and silently rubbed at one of her stitched shoulders, and Celestia softened as she and the Lich studied each other before the violet mare added quietly: “But... please take an hour or two to rest yourself before you go back to trying to look after every detail, won't you, Celestia? You're going to run yourself into the ground and get sick... and... we can't afford to lose you. I can't afford to lose you.”

The Baroness smiled faintly at this, lowering her head and closing her eyes, and there was silence for a few seconds before she finally nodded hesitantly, glancing over at Avalon. “First I'll take this young one home. Then I'll come back and... perhaps rest my head for an hour or two. Antares, go ahead and use the guest room, it should be all ready for you.”

Antares hesitated, but Prestige reached up and touched his shoulder, saying gently: “Go on, hero. You took a beating and you've been working hard all night. Go and get some rest, you could use it.”

The young stallion shifted a little, and then he finally sighed and nodded, reaching up to rub quietly at his features. “Yeah. Yeah, I... I guess. I just don't want to let anypony down...”

“You won't.” Prestige said quietly, and Antares glanced up before he and the young unicorn mare traded a tight hug, eyes closing as they all-but-clung to one another for a few moments before drawing slowly apart, studying each other before Prestige finally gave a small smile. “Good. I'll catch up to you as soon as I can, I promise.”

“Alright.” Antares nodded a bit, and then he traded smiles with Twilight when she reached up and touched his shoulder, before the Lich turned and led her apprentice out of the library. For a few moments, there was silence except for Avalon's quiet snoring, and then Antares awkwardly looked over at Celestia as she tilted her head towards him, before he asked softly: “What's it like, Aunt Tia? Being... a leader like you are? You're always looking after all of us... trying to do everything for all of us, and... I wish I could be a leader like that, but I'm scared of it, too. Scared of what it means, to watch all my friends and family... putting themselves in danger... to care about them, and yet... know...”

“They'll die, yes... but Antares, watching a friend die is far from the worst thing that can happen.” Celestia said quietly, smiling faintly over at the young stallion, and Antares frowned as he sat back a bit before the ivory unicorn closed her eyes. “Friendships come and go, lives rise and fall... and being ageless is not always a blessing. And whether you believe it or not, it's not difficult to grow used to the thought that... you won't just be there to watch as newborns grow into adults, into old ponies: you'll watch as ponies who will become your friends and loyal allies are born, you'll watch them develop, you'll watch them grow old, and you'll see them pass on... but death is far from the worst fate. It leaves a pang, yes... but my silly little brother taught me that it's a generous trade. There is hurt in any relationship, no one can avoid making or losing friends, no matter how much they want to or how hard they try: and when you get to see that entire cycle, Antares, from my point of view, you can smile for them even when they pass on, especially if it was a natural, gentle sleep they sail into. You can be happy for them, because it would be incredibly, stupidly selfish to be upset. It would be rude, and cruel, and arrogant, not to celebrate the fact that these ponies have lived long lives... and shared almost that entire life... with you.

“No, Antares. Even watching soldiers die on the battlefield, it's... hard. It hurts much more... but at the same time, I know that those who die with honor, those who go down fighting, will surely find their way to the sacred halls of Valhalla above.” Celestia continued, closing her eyes and bowing her head forwards. “And they are to be honored, and celebrated. We mourn, selfishly, but we have to remember that it is selfish... we're not crying for them, we're crying for the loss of them, and how that affects us, and... you learn, eventually, that while that hurt is unavoidable... basking in it too long is just silly, and pointless, and instead you realize you have another reason to be proud of them. They're gone, on to wherever their spirits have fled... but all life is about coming together, and moving apart, and only one pony can walk that journey, that path...” Celestia stopped, then smiled faintly. “Unless they're very, very lucky, like your parents were, to have someone who is truly tied to them and always, eternally, at their side.

“Death becomes... a casual acquaintance after a while. I wouldn't say 'friend,' but you begin to understand... it's there for a reason, and that he's only doing his job: he's not glorifying in taking away your friends, and he's leaving you with memories you can cherish, and bringing them to the next stage of their journey.” Celestia said quietly, and then she bowed her head a little further, murmuring: “And you learn there are far worse things out there. Worse than a friend who dies is a friend who betrays you, and turns on you or your beliefs, or grows jealous and hateful because they don't understand your life and power has its fortunes, but also its pitfalls. Worse than a friend who dies is a friend who you watch suffer at the hooves of others because they are different, and you are powerless, even with all your power, to do more than offer companionship and useless advice. Worse than a friend who dies is watching when the coward named disease crawls his way into them, with his only purpose to sap their life, their energy, and make them feel valueless and broken. Watching friends tortured, turn on each other, watching them give in to despair or lash out at the innocent, seeing your friends lose their minds, their memories, their hopes and dreams... there are far worse things than losing a friend to death, whether it's gentle or on the battlefield.”

Antares shivered a little, looking down and nodding silently, and for a few moments there was quiet before Celestia said softly: “But with a little luck, Antares, you won't have to worry about that just yet. Instead, we should focus on our plans for dealing with Cancer, and... I suppose both of us should honor our word to Twilight Sparkle.”

“Are you...” Antares looked up, blushed, then dropped his head embarrassedly, wishing he hadn't blurted that out. Now Celestia was looking at him curiously, and he knew he had to ask the question, even as he shifted a little before glancing up and asking through a blush: “But are you glad that... Twilight is... going to live forever?”

“How could I not be? I was the one who made her into a Lich.” Celestia smiled faintly, glancing down and closing her eyes. “It's... it's funny, Antares. While I'm happy to apply my philosophies to everypony else... I hope and look forwards to when your parents come back. More than that... I have a morbid hope that Twilight, Luna, and Scrivener will all outlive me... or perhaps we'll all die together, so I don't have to go through losing them. Losing them would be... different.”

Antares looked down awkwardly, mumbling: “I don't even wanna think about that, Aunt Tia... I can't even stomach the thought that my parents are... might not...”

He shivered a little, and then glanced up when Celestia stood up and strode around the table, before reaching forwards and hugging him tightly. Antares returned the embrace with both surprise and gratitude, burying his face against her bare neck, and Celestia simply held the young stallion against her for a moment as she said softly: “It's okay, Antares. I... I don't want to think about that either.”

Antares nodded against her, closing his eyes, resting in the safe embrace of the enormous, armored winged unicorn, trembling a little as thoughts both good and bad ran through his overstressed mind, making him wonder if everything was really worth fighting for... and if being called a 'hero' was really an honor or a curse.

Sleipnir grunted as he ran onwards through the valley, never once stumbling over the terrain as Pinkamena ran at his side, cursing every now and then when she slipped on a rock or narrowly avoided a tree or bush. Behind them, Hevatica was following at a distance, struggling to keep up as she complained: “Not all of us are earth creatures here, you know!”

“Then go incorporeal or something!” Pinkamena snapped back, before she grunted in surprise when Sleipnir skidded to a halt. She looked at him, opening her mouth... and when he quickly held up a hoof, she immediately fell silent, her usual mockery vanishing as her eyes became sharp and serious at the look on Sleipnir's face.

She didn't speak, and neither did Hevatica as she managed to catch up to them, slipping a bit against the mossy rocks that made up the broken slope on this end of the vale. Around them, the trees creaked and groaned in the faint wind, and after her years with Sleipnir, Pinkamena could almost understand them, glancing towards the nearest gnarled oak... but then Sleipnir grasped her face gently, cupping along her cheekbone and tilting her head towards him, to guide her red-rimmed eyes into looking deep into his own chestnut. In his gaze, she saw a warning, an instruction, an oath... and slowly, Pinkamena nodded.

Sleipnir smiled at her, nodding firmly in return, and then he turned and was gone in an instant: Pinkamena couldn't help but grin a little at the speed and sudden grace with which he moved, leaping over to a rocky, mauled cliff-face and ascending rapidly to the top. Both demons gazed up after Sleipnir, as the Kelpie said admiringly: “You're so fortunate, Devourer. The Heaven-sent looks so pretty in the fading light... it's like he was made for you.”

Pinkamena grunted, not answering as she glanced in the direction of the setting sun: the red hues that it cast over everything made the rocks around them look like they were soaked in blood, made the few twisted trees standing here and there seem black and distorted. The sky was like a crimson and purple wound, and Pinkamena licked her large teeth slowly as she muttered: “Well, Kelpie, I wouldn't go that far. If he was made just for me he wouldn't be such a stallion-whore.”

Hevatica only smiled slightly, however, then glanced up as Pinkamena's own blue eyes gazed apprehensively towards the clifftop that Sleipnir had vanished over... and the enormous earth pony himself was now standing on a high, square plateau that was covered in scraggly trees, like an island of earth that had been vomited up out of the valley on a pillar of uneven stone. He could feel nature's pain under his hooves, could sense her despair, and it filled him with concern: something wasn't right.

He shook his mane of vines out, striding quickly through the trees before leaning carefully forwards through a bush as he reached the western edge of the plateau, and he frowned at what he saw. Something was strange up ahead... it looked like there was a flock of large birds flying all around the mountains in the distance near the Strange Ones' settlement, and there was a large, ugly hill he didn't remember ever seeing before, perhaps a few kilometers distant... before his sharp eyes widened as the mountain visibly moved.

“That is no mountain...” Sleipnir whispered, and then he looked up in horror, at the darkening sky that was almost black with a flock of what couldn't be birds. Of what had to be something else... and Sleipnir hurriedly shook his head, whispering: “By Mimir's head... I... we'll have to make all haste back to warn Celestia, she'll know what to do... but by my Father's face, what in the name of all that is sacred could that thing be?”

Sleipnir leaned forwards, trying to focus on the shape, but it was hard to make out: a good mile or so away, with the setting sun to its back, it was just a dark, moving blot profiled blackly in the red light... but he thought he saw huge claws, and a head, and a large, hunched and humped back, and-

There was a shriek, and Sleipnir looked up almost too late before his eyes widened in shock as something insectile and putrid shot down towards him: at the same time, he heard the primal screams of other monsters as they eagerly attacked the demons below.

Sleipnir leapt backwards, wincing as the monster tore through the brush, grabbing wildly at him... while below, Hevatica recoiled and Pinkamena only snarled in disgust as two more of the creatures landed in front of them, drooling green, viscous poison from their fang-filled maws. Their eyes glowed with baleful light, gray and black, ridged plates making up a chitinous hide that armored their bodies, bony talons flexing against the ground as segmented, whip-like tails snapped back and forth.

Their dragonfly-like wings buzzed as one of them leaned forwards with a roar, the gnarled horn standing out of its head gleaming with a sickly green aura: but Pinkamena thought the idea of these insectoid monsters using magic seemed as farfetched as them deciding to have a pretty little tea party together. The other insect-beast's horn lit up in response to the first's, however, and when both turned and lunged straight at the Devourer demon, she grinned disgustedly as her twisted but analytical mind quickly put one and one together. Bet anything that's used for telepathy...

Instead of letting them tackle her, Pinkamena leapt forwards, swinging both front hooves out to seize the tops of the monsters' skulls before she slammed both of the beasts face-first into the ground with squeals of pain. They both clawed wildly at the earth before yanking themselves backwards, and Pinkamena pursued the one closest to her aggressively, slamming a hoof up under its chin to knock it staggering and rearing back slightly before she leapt forwards and smashed her head into its face, sending the bug beast collapsing onto its side as it clawed and kicked wildly at the air. “Hevatica, deal with the other one!”

“I'm afraid we have more guests!” Hevatica replied sharply, and Pinkamena growled in frustration as a loud buzzing filled the air, taking a short, sharp glance upwards to see two more of the insect monsters were eagerly flying down towards them. The demon cursed as she looked towards this, then she snarled at the two monsters that were already back on their claws, one rushing towards her-

Pinkamena swept up a loose rock underhoof and smashed it under the bug creature's jaw, sending up a burst of green and black blood as the monster shrieked before the demon leapt forwards and roared as she windmilled her foreleg, putting all the strength she could into slamming the sharp, heavy stone viciously down into the skull of the monster. Its skull gave a satisfying crunch as it was knocked flat to the ground, horn sparking weakly once, but the monster beside it barely seemed to notice its companion's demise as it tackled the demon while she was still leaning over the corpse, knocking her onto her back as she lost her grip on the stone lodged in the shattered head of the other beast. She snarled as she felt herself crushed down beneath the monster as it pinned her, biting savagely at her neck, but she yanked her head hurriedly out of the way of its jaws before snapping her own fangs viciously up into its exposed throat, the insectile beast shrieking in pain.

She twisted herself sideways, shoving up into its breast as it clawed wildly at the ground and tore rips in the sides of her forelegs and her shoulders, the demon rasping through the foul-tasting blood spilling into her mouth before she shoved upwards as she ripped her head to the side, spitting out a stream of black and green bile in disgust. The monster, meanwhile, staggered backwards with another gargling shriek, horn sparking before it collapsed weakly on its sides, claws still twitching once as Pinkamena winced and shoved herself up, grasping at one of her flayed-open shoulders.

Hevatica had managed to pin one of the other monsters, her eyes glowing as she throttled it, the creature staring helplessly up at her as it whined and whimpered before one of the second wave bug-beasts shot in to tackle the Kelpie: but before it could, a limp body shot through the air like a meteor and slammed into the flying monster, knocking it from the sky and face-first into the base of a tree in a dazed heap, twitching weakly. A moment later, Sleipnir leapt down from the cliff above, running quickly forwards before snagging the vertebrae-like tail of the stunned bug-monster.

He half-spun and flung it hard before it could regain its senses, sending the creature hurtling through the air to crash face-first into the rocky cliff-face, the monster colliding with a loud crack and falling limp. Sleipnir grimaced and shivered once at this, then he looked sharply over at Pinkamena, hurrying towards her as the last beast fell limp beneath Hevatica's cloven hooves. “Phoenix! Art thou alright?”

“Better than you, Slippers.” Pinkamena replied moodily as her wounds slowly began to patch themselves closed, and then she frowned and winced as distant, howling shrieks filled the air, muttering: “Oh hell. I guess it's true, for every one roach you see there's fifty more laying in wait.”

“Aye, these plague-beasts are many in number... and worse, I think I've set mine eyes upon the wretched bride of so-called Cancer. We must hasten out of here... Hevatica, thou should go immediately on ahead, tell Celestia of the threat we have encountered and that a titanic monstrosity is upon the march to Ponyville.” Sleipnir ordered sharply, pointing in the direction of the village as the Kelpie nodded quickly. “I estimate 'twill take several days' time for the beast to cross this treacherous valley at the speed it moves, but we must not dally!”

“Get your flank going, Hevatica. And check in on my daughter for me, make sure she's not doing anything stupid.” Pinkamena added sharply, and Hevatica smiled a bit before she turned and burst into black smoke that shot up through the air before seeming to vanish completely from sight. For a few moments, Pinkamena only looked up after this... then she reached a hoof up and shoved it firmly against Sleipnir's lips before he could even open his mouth, saying icily: “If you tell me to go on ahead, I'm going to bite off your genitals and leave them here for the giant bugs to eat.”

Sleipnir only smiled, however, reaching up to gently take her front hoof between his own before he kissed it and replied softly: “Now that is an empty threat, sweet Phoenix, I'm fairly certain that is the one part of my body thou wouldst not do harm upon.”

Pinkamena smiled despite herself at this, eyes flicking towards him before she gave a slight nod, and the enormous stallion grunted and nodded in return. “But we must not dally, aye, we can continue our banter on the way. Mother Nature quakes and warns me there are countless vermin behind us, and I am not fond of bugs.”

“Me neither.” Pinkamena grunted, turning to fall in pace with the enormous equine as they both hurried back the way they had come, the demon grimacing as she looked over her shoulder and added disgustedly: “And if those bastards can fly...”

“Fear not, sweet phoenix. They shan't go far from what I fear more and more must be their monstrous mother... aye, I think I know what awful blight has occurred here, and if I can remember with all the holes in my head, then I am sure my big sister will no doubt figure it out as well.” Sleipnir muttered, as they hurried down the rocks and past the scraggly trees, and Pinkamena shot him a sharp look. “I remember it because Luna spoke to me of a monster that could change its shape...”

“And you'd remember that because it would be something you'd want to yank in the sack, so you could do dirty things to yourself.” Pinkamena muttered, and Sleipnir only nodded seriously, the demon growling at him but a slight smile twitching at her mouth all the same. “Filthy narcissist.”

“Oh come now, given the same chance how many would turn such a chance away? Thou would certainly not.” Sleipnir grinned toothily over at her, and Pinkamena resisted the urge to punch him before the enormous equine shook his head quickly, becoming serious once more. “Chrysalis, they called it... Changeling, I believe, they called her, called her 'Queen...' and now it seems that Cancer has gone and transformed her into a monarch of monsters. And those hideous things... they seem not like Changelings to me, but Nature whispers they seek, they hunt, they steal...”

“Takers. Great.” Pinkamena muttered, then she shook her head, features darkening as she followed Sleipnir's leap to a fallen tree that bridged a narrow creek. “Could really use Scrivener and Luna right about now... Scrivy would make up some fancy name for the bastards and we could use him as a meat-shield, and your baby sister could do what she does best and start murdering things...”

“Aye, I miss them too. The pain never fades... but neither does the joy have to, Pinkamena, and the good memories are far stronger and more important than the pain.” Sleipnir replied with a smile, even as Pinkamena snorted and blew back the waterfall of mane that obscured half her features. “And besides, phoenix, they shall return... jealous as I am of the damned poet for all his nonsense.”

“Yeah. I'm really going to kick the crap out of him.” Pinkamena muttered, and Sleipnir chuckled as he turned his eyes back ahead, the two running sharply onwards before the demon growled to herself, looking moodily down at the uneven earth underhoof. “Feelings are stupid...”

“Aye. But so am I, and thou loves me all the same.” Sleipnir replied quietly, and Pinkamena snorted at this before the stallion cursed suddenly and looked sharply over his shoulder as they began to sprint through a short field. “Damned monsters!”

Pinkamena shot a look back herself, then bared her fangs: at least a dozen monsters were flying towards them... and this time, among their number, she saw not only the smaller Takers, but much-larger, beetle-like entities that rumbled behind the main swarm on enormous wings, rippled, uneven shells glinting. She cursed under her breath, her own body shivering with the urge to fight even as the wounds that had healed to scratches on her shoulders pulsed as if warning caution... and then she looked sharply forwards as Sleipnir shouted: “Ahead!”

Sleipnir was barreling towards a hole in the earth, and the demon groaned but followed close behind him, leaping after the stallion as he dove into the wide tunnel. She landed on top of him with a curse a moment after Sleipnir splashed down in an underground stream, and then she winced and seized into his neck with a yell of frustration, clinging to him as the gigantic earth pony shot forwards down the narrow passage beneath the earth. “Goddammit, Sleipnir!”

“Hold fast, phoenix!” Sleipnir replied quickly, dodging around a wall of roots in the path as the scream of Takers behind them filled the tunnel, as the insectile monsters began to swarm in after them. Pinkamena shot a look over her shoulder, and snarled in disgust as she saw the horns of the bug-like beasts were casting a toxic glow that only made it all the more horrifying as they raced along walls, ceiling and through the shallow stream after the two ponies.

Sleipnir ran forwards, making a short, sudden leap over a sinkhole hidden beneath the gurgling stream, his heavy hooves slamming along the side wall and kicking up dirt and rock before he threw himself forwards, neatly hopping across a large stone and into a curving offshoot. Behind them, the Takers continued to rush forwards, half-impeding each other before one screeched as it fell into the hidden sinkhole, lodging in the slimy sand and water as the rest of the insects mindlessly trampled the caught bug-beast, single-minded in their pursuit.

Sleipnir, meanwhile, raced up the tunnel branch, then suddenly glanced up at a crack of light above before he grunted and threw himself upwards, seizing into several roots and hauling himself quickly into the narrow space above. Pinkamena cursed as she was crushed between loose soil, gravel, and the body of her husband, shouting curses in his ear as Sleipnir forcefully squeezed his huge body up into the opening before yelling as he launched himself upwards just as the Takers flooded into the tunnel below, the earth crumbling down in a thick hail of soil as Sleipnir's escape caused part of the tunnel to collapse.

It disoriented the Takers, as they screamed and howled in frustration, clawing at the loose dirt pouring down over them ... and Sleipnir grinned slightly before he leapt backwards and slammed both front hooves hard against the ground, sending a tremor through the earth. It made the tunnel below shake violently, and Sleipnir roared as he slammed down into the ground again, and the unstable soil collapsed in a thick avalanche as the enormous earth pony quickly leapt away, burying the Takers beneath them in a prison of dirt that would take them quite a while to dig out of.

Sleipnir grinned to himself, nodding with a pleased look as he backed away from the sunken sod and crumbled earth, a single Taker's claw uselessly sticking out of the ground and flailing around. The enormous earth pony turned, Pinkamena looking moody on his back, streaked with filth and dirt... and then both ponies stared as a massive, beetle-like monster crashed down in front of them, roaring through its dripping mandibles at them as its eyes glared at them with unintelligent fury beneath a tiara of blade-like horns. Its broad wings buzzed loudly before the huge, steel-like carapace on its back sealed closed: ugly barbs and sharp, rippled edges stuck up from the uneven shell here and there, and it had six squat legs beneath it that all ended in dangerous-looking hooked talons, Sleipnir giving the creature a look of disgust as he muttered: “Well. I suppose 'twas too easy, aye. Fly, phoenix!”

And with that, Sleipnir leaned forwards and bucked hard, and Pinkamena grinned as she hauled herself upwards by Sleipnir's shoulders at the same time, launching herself off the enormous stallion in a straight tackle into the beetle's mutated, scaled face, knocking its head back as its mandibles clacked wildly.

It reared back as Pinkamena jackknifed its head, seizing it by the horn and the side of the face as she yanked back and braced her rear hooves against the back of its shell, and the monster howled in frustration as its head was pulled back. The monster's squat legs clawed at the air as Sleipnir dropped low and shot forwards, then rammed his shoulder in a rising lunge into the monster's stomach, knocking it back and exposing the soft, writhing gray underbelly of the beast.

The beetle howled, stumbling backwards on its two hind legs as its four other limbs writhed and flailed at the air before Sleipnir leaned forwards with a grimace and slammed a front hoof forwards: the punch was so fierce that it sent almost his entire front leg ripping into the monster's stomach, and the beetle howled as Sleipnir winced in disgust before leaping backwards and yanking his leg free in a burst of dark-colored blood and clearer juices.

Pinkamena grinned as the creature writhed in pain, trying to bend forwards: but before it could, she kicked off it and dragged it forcefully backwards by the head. It squealed, then crashed down on its back as the half-demon hit the ground and rolled, her eyes blazing as she shouted: “Finish the goddamn thing off, you pansy!”

Sleipnir only grumbled as he ran forwards, leaping above the beast as it convulsed on its back, legs clawing wildly at the air, then he crashed down on top of its breast, stomping both front hooves savagely downwards to crush in its frail chest. The beetle howled in misery and fury, eyes glaring out of its sockets as Sleipnir looked down at it with distaste, then shouted in frustration when the monster wrenched its head forwards and vomited out a blast of sticky green goo over the pony.

It splashed over him, dripping down in thick ropes: but in literal moments the viscous goo hardened, and Sleipnir cursed in pain, the greenish, now rock-solid gunk burning where it clung to his body, cementing him in place on top of the beetle's chest. Pinkamena gritted her teeth as the beetle writhed once, drool dripping down its maw as it began to reach up with one limb... then the creature shivered before finally falling limp with a rasp, the light fading from its eyes.

All the same, Pinkamena could hear a buzzing in the distance, and the howl of those monsters... could see the dirt shifting as Takers industriously tried to claw their way out of the soil. The demon grimaced up at Sleipnir, but the enormous stallion gritted his teeth before he grunted and threw his head back, flexing his body and shattering most of the greenish cement imprisoning him.

He shook himself out with a curse of frustration, wincing as he ripped his hooves slowly free of the indents in the monster's body as Pinkamena grunted and jerked her head at him, saying mildly: “Fun as it is to see you beat on things and vice-versa, we better get out of here, Slippers. One-on-two might be fun but I'm guessing these things are trying to swarm us in numbers for a reason.”

Sleipnir grunted, grimacing as he shook his mane out before making a disgusted face as he realized the vines were saturated with greenish cement as well, grumbling under his breath before muttering: “Aye, thou speaks the truth, much as I wish to bring the wrath of Asgard down upon these living aspects of blight for the damage they have done to my pretty mane. We must fly from this place with all haste.”

Pinkamena nodded, then she frowned and tilted her head when Sleipnir gave a few small, whispery sneezes before shivering once, shaking his head out briskly. “Damnation! Let us move, and quickly at that, before my cold worsens.”

He began to run onwards, his hooves automatically finding the easiest path over the rough terrain as Pinkamena turned to follow after him, hesitating for only a moment before she asked in a quiet voice, her features softening for a moment: “You okay, Slap?”

Sleipnir smiled softly over his shoulder at her, giving a brief nod as he replied quietly: “Thou only ever calls me that when thou art afraid for me, for whatever incredible reason I have earned for thou to care so deep upon the behalf of this foolish stallion... but of course, my darling. Fear not, the monsters merely carry some weaker form of Cancer's plague within their veins, and likely in that blasted goo I was showered with... we are not all so fortunate to be demons of Gluttony, sweet phoenix.”

Pinkamena closed her eyes, smiling softly... but a moment later, she glared ahead, snorting and running up beside the enormous stallion to firmly check him, saying irritably: “Then just don't slow me down too much with your stupid girly sneezes, got it? Besides, you and me should be able to make it back to Ponyville in a few hours instead of a few days, don't go disappointing me now.”

“Never! And they are not girly sneezes!” Sleipnir argued, and Pinkamena only gave him a dry look even as they weaved easily around the trunk of a burnt-down tree, then both leapt off the edge of a short cliff to land in the field below, turning their eyes ahead as they ran with all speed and strength towards Ponyville. Side-by-side, they shot forwards, Mother Nature seeming to guide their hooves as they moved like the wind, and even as their eyes looked ahead, the focus of the two was clearly on one-another, protecting and supporting each other in spite of how often they seemed at odds.

Both only hoped that Hevatica had arrived at Ponyville with all haste... and that this awful swarm following behind the two ponies could be defeated, and the monstrous Queen that Sleipnir had only caught a glimpse of stopped before its hordes began to spread across all of Equestria.