• Published 22nd Dec 2012
  • 12,626 Views, 250 Comments

Schemering Sintel - N00813

Many years ago, Spike was kidnapped. Now, Twilight has finally found him and his abductor.

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3 . Violence

Chapter 3: Violence
By N00813
The watery blue-grey sky hung above her like a shallow sea forever out of reach. Thin strips of white ran like long kayaks across it, under their own volition.

Here, there were no pegasi to wrangle the weather into submission. That was a distinctly Equestrian custom, as she’d learned over the years. She shook her head, feeling ghostly tickles of raindrops running down the hair and skin on her neck.

Twintel, she said to herself as she looked into the motel’s dirty mirror, droplets of water stubbornly clinging to the fur on her cheek. That would be her. Twilight Sparkle didn’t exist in this new world. Twintel would take her place.

She still didn’t know exactly why she had chosen the name.

It was the bastardisation of some word from another language she barely understood, heard from the murmurs of a bar game in some far-away place. Still, it was easy on the ears, easy to remember and close enough to her real name that she could pass it off without difficulty.

It sounded close enough, but in reality was very, very different.

Her ears flicked beneath the rough fabric of her cloak.

She tugged the cloth around her form, feeling the coarse weave brush up against her coat. She’d spent the last of the money she’d brought on this piece of ‘clothing’; it had been a difficult decision, but the struggle of maintaining any sort of total illusion spell for more than a few minutes would strain her concentration to the breaking point, and she couldn’t afford to let her true identity slip out. There weren’t a lot of colourful Equestrians outside the borders, let alone a purple unicorn with a mane as distinctive as her own.

It was time to find a job.

The local villages didn’t have any need for an academic. Try as she might, Twilight couldn’t find any sort of work as a librarian, or even a performer. An image of Trixie, grinding her teeth in frustration and resigned anger, sprung up in her mind, and Twilight grit her teeth. Times were tight, and purse drawstrings even more so.

She pressed her hooves to her head. She could do this! She could find income, find a job. How hard could it be?

Taking in a deep breath to calm her racing heart, she glanced around.

To the north, a behemoth of stone and ice jutted out of the earth, its tip scraping the sky like claws. To the east, the only road out of the little village lay lonely and abandoned. To the west, a collection of houses sat – beyond that, the forest’s great pines stood, a nigh-impenetrable organic wall.

She looked back in the direction of the mountain. An earth pony shut the door behind her house, turning to lock it with a key in her mouth.

“No! I don’t have anything to spare! Get out of my house!”

That left two options, and neither of them looked good: a hunter of wild monsters, or a ‘workmare’ at the local tavern. Grazing, eating grass that had been trampled, defecated on, twisted her stomach into an ugly loop. There was no way she was going to stoop so low. Not when there were other ways, minutely more dignified…

Twilight looked away, her gaze inadvertently straying towards the worn path leading out.

It was a simple matter of going to the bulletin board for any tasks left over.

Twilight trotted to the village’s bulletin board. Like the hamlet itself, it was nothing great or fancy. A slab of muddy brown wood stood by the side of the village entrance, supported by two roughly attached stakes on either side that had been driven deep into the cold ground. This board was clear, actually, except for the old, weather-beaten piece of parchment attached dead-centre. A price on the head of the ‘Great Dragon of the South’. A price for her target.

The collage of notices on the old, worn wooden board made her drop her jaw, and her stomach almost heaved. Old adverts for finished jobs were left to rot beneath the newer pieces of parchment that papered over them, like wallpaper over termite-infested wood. The smell was horrendous; it belonged to the dankest cave, the stalest of prison cells. The wind finally took pity on her nose, whipping the stench away before it overwhelmed her.

One of the newest pieces, a rapidly yellowing scrap of parchment, simply read: “Bounty. Rabid dogs. Bring five pelts as proof. Payment in bits. Constable Light.”

She hissed at the horrendous mess that was their excuse of organisation, before the growling in her stomach and the pangs of hunger drummed through her body.

She closed her eyes, and breathed out and in, out and in. For Spike. This was all for Spike.

Twilight blinked, twice, and she shrugged. It wasn’t like she needed the money anyways – she was rich enough, by now, to live fairly comfortably for the rest of her life without working.

She grinned. That thought… that would have been something some elder would think, as he was on the way to handing in his retirement letter.

She closed her eyes once more, relishing in the taste of the cold, fresh mountain air washing down the slope.

Blinking her eyes open again, Twilight noted the location of the suspected attacks, marked in red on a crude map scribbled on a corner of the parchment. Just outside the outskirts of town – the no-pony’s land between the wild and the village. Just like the Everfree, she noted dumbly, hooves padding in front of her as if they had a mind of their own.

She passed many houses, all of them closed to her, windows glaring at her like dark eyes whilst steel-banded doors stood as stoically as Royal Guards.

The closest house to the mountain was a simple structure. As she trotted closer, she could see that timber made up its four walls, and it was roofed with thatch and leaves. One chimney, a simple hole, decorated the roof whilst a window and a door were cut out of one wall. The last adornment was the yapping little dog bouncing around the doorway.

Twilight met her first dog that day. Her first real, wild dog, as different to Winona as Spike was to his fellow dragons. Feral monster, more animal than anything she’d seen in the Everfree. She screamed as it lunged at her, jaws gaping and strings of spittle flying, and her horn flared up in brilliant magenta light.

Dogs came in packs, she distinctly recalled, as she looked down at the broken body of the one before her. Its back was snapped in two, and the front half seemed to be bent at a ninety-degree angle to its lower body. Blood poured out of the dog’s mouth, out of its chest and back, where the bones had broken through the skin. The sunlight, weakened by the cloud cover, washed over the body. The trickles of red blood seemed to glow under the light.

White ivory, stained crimson, tore through dirty brown fur. The wet, dull crack of breaking bone. The memory itself would not leave her head, even when she closed her eyes and screamed at the top of her lungs as the gruesome sound of snapping spine played again in the blackness of her mind.

Twilight grinned, staring out over the field of golden, swaying wheat between her and the mountain.

Her target lay at the peak.

Forcing her eyes to open, Twilight heaved a breath, and the acrid, clingy stench of blood roared into her nose and mouth like a wave into a building. Reflex bade her to heave again, as she tried to get more air into her lungs, to wash out the horrific smell. Of course it didn’t work. It only made the stench worse.

That was the last straw. She threw up.

That grin turned into a grimace as she looked at, but didn’t see, the waving stalks of wheat in front of her. It was time for her to start on this last, sordid mission of her quest.

Mount Sterfgeval. A black monolith of ancient stone, the mountain loomed over the little village at its feet. Swirls of mountain wind whipped up the ever-present snow covering the summit. Here and there, however, she could still see the black slashes that were rock outcrops struggling valiantly against the snow that desired to smother them.

The most famous – or notorious – feature of the mountain was the two parallel slashes of white that ran down its slope. Two valleys of black rock filled with snow, they resembled two tear-tracks on the face of the mountain. It wasn’t called the Crying Mountain for nothing, Twilight surmised, sucking in a deep, cold breath. And after the Great Dragon took up residence, the mountain was certainly living up to its name.

Here, Celestia’s sun seemed only a watery, pale-yellow ball of light in the sky – a forgery of the reliable, comfortably warm Equestrian sun.

The wind smashed into her cloak. One half of it pressed against her side, and the other flapped into the air like a flag.

The bubble kept them at bay as she recovered, spitting out the remnants of burning stomach acid onto the muddy soil beneath her hooves. She stepped away, gasping in shock as wetness seemed to bubble up from the soles of her rear hooves, and glanced instinctively backwards. A crimson stain, reaching a scant few centimetres up her leg, greeted her sight. She screamed, her eyes widening, almost bulging out of their sockets – and her concentration broke.

The bubble fell.

The dogs rushed in for the kill.

She shivered as a tongue of biting wind passed under the thin protection of her cloak. It chilled her to the bone.

Even at the base of the mountain, under the weak gaze of the sun, there was no respite from the cold. The cloak’s cloth was enchanted, but not the area around it. She could have woven a spell to protect herself against the elements, sure, but there was no real need. She could endure. And she wanted to be at her very peak when she finally met that dragon at the summit, head-to-head.

She could endure.

The feeling of her own skin being punctured by foreign objects was unique, was new, but was definitely uncomfortable. Even more so was the pain that followed not a nanosecond later, great flaming waves of it that seemed to spread radially from the epicentre of the strike: two dead-straight gashes on the side of her flank, right where her cutie mark was. She could see the pointed purple starburst of her cutie mark cut into three pieces of roughly equal size. Two slices were already stained ruby-red with the streams of the blood flowing out of the wounds and down her leg.

For Spike.

The unicorn trotted down the thin, meandering path alongside the field of wheat. Nearing the base of the mountain, the field began to thin out, as if the crops were wary of moving any further than their pony masters allowed. The stalks bent backwards as the wind picked up, threatening to tear the hood of her cloak off her head. She grumbled, holding the cloth in place with an infinitesimally dim glow of magic.

Twilight whimpered as her horn lit up on reflex, the primal part of her brain kicking in. The pain seemed to fade away, as did the odd sensation of both ice and fire over her wounds. In slow-motion, she could see the dogs fly outwards, a blast of dust and wind and dead leaves whipping outwards from her body. Moments later, she was at the centre of a dust-storm of her own making.

Her eyes flickered from each and every silhouette in the dust that got more and more distinct. A quick gasp of a breath left her hacking out her lungs, her diaphragm violently smashing into her ribcage. She stood shaking on wobbly legs. That would be a lesson not to breathe during a shower of particulates.

Nothing but the cold, hard lines of ancient pines greeted her eyes, her brain moulding their shapes into ribs of an ancient, massive animal – standing tall, proud and dead in this forsaken land.

The houses of the hamlet behind her were the size of quail eggs by the time she stopped. All were nothing special, simply stacks of logs held together with resin to resemble square houses. Only the inn had any stone in its structure.

How long would they last before nature came to reclaim her land? she wondered.

The little wire fence that marked the borders of the field were only a few dozen metres in front of her. She could see little vines wrap around the metal. Little nubs of the palest green dotted the vine at regular intervals, and Twilight swore she could see slivers of petals poking out.

She averted her eyes as she dragged the bodies of the dogs into a modestly sized clearing, before collapsing against the trunk of a nearby tree, feeling the bark scrape at her back. Tiny branches beneath her rump poked against her skin, and she could feel the slight itching of several dozen creepy-crawlies attempting to escape from beneath her.

Her wound still stung, but dully now, like the lingering pain of a crushing hammer blow rather than the searing of a white-hot needle being pushed through the skin. The general-purpose healing spell she’d made sure to memorize at the very start of this whole misadventure had done the job, binding the muscle together and scouring her system of disease as it locked her body in place. A safety feature to prevent things like bones setting wrong, she remembered, her heart hammering away as the growls of the forest seemed to grow in volume and ferocity. She couldn’t feel more relieved when she finally had control of her body, a few tense, terrifying seconds later.

Fluttershy would have been so disappointed in her, she noted. It was almost as if her body was a mile away, as her eyes roved over every centimetre of the scene in front of her. The dead dogs lay in a pile, bodies all in various states of brokenness. One had its back snapped around the stomach area, another with its head bent around such that it was sniffing at the top of its own neck. Twilight could see the spinal cord, or what was left of the pulverised vertebrae, poking out through the bloody fur.

Fluttershy had always believed in the inherent goodness of everyone. Believed that everything, sapient or not, enemy or friend could be redeemed, given enough time or understanding. For all the darkness in someone’s soul, she could see the spark of light, the spark of ‘good’ that was constantly swallowed by the shadows around it.

Twilight sighed as she jumped over a low wire fence at the end of the field, separating the tenuous civilisation of the village from the wilderness. The only problem she could see, after all her travels, was what ‘good’ meant.

Sobbing, and mumbling several apologies to her Princesses, her friends and what she had learnt, she hefted the small knife that Pinkie had given her on her last visit to the bakery. She paused, trying to recall that odd last goodbye. Anything to distract herself from the wretched task ahead.

A wiggle of her body to the side let the sheath of the knife slap against her ribcage, on her underside. She smiled. The blade within was just as solid today as it was when she'd first received it.

Pinkie had seemed unnaturally sombre that day. Twilight was sure that no one had known of her plans; she hadn’t written anything down, for fear of the guards staging an early intervention. Her reading habits had changed, from preferring books on advanced magical study to ones detailing wilderness survival, field medicine and magical defence, although nopony had come by often enough to notice the difference, and the guards had simply dismissed her new reading habits as part of the intense curiosity and hunger for knowledge that she was famous for. Pinkie had just… known.

The once-life-of-the-party had been solemn ever since the kidnapping, but on Twilight’s last visit, she had looked as if the Cakes had died. Mane flat and colours dulled, she simply nodded to Twilight’s mumble of an order for a set of her favourite desserts, and packaged them in silence. She hadn’t even bothered to make small talk as her hooves danced along the counter, stacking cupcake, folding the box, tying the string. The both of them ignored the ever-present Royal Guards standing in the corners of the shop, like statues.

After she’d finished, she’d simply pushed the box forwards with her two suddenly-calm hooves. When Twilight had reached out with her magic to take the box, and opened her mouth to ask what was wrong, Pinkie had simply smiled a tired smile and replied with, “Stay safe, Twilight. Best of luck.”

Twilight hadn’t even known about the knife until she opened the box to find, beneath the food, a small, wickedly sharp chef’s knife. It was – no, had been – one of Pinkie’s own prized possessions, judging by the engraved set of three balloons on the handle. The small ribbon of red attached to the end, tied into a bow, marked it as a gift.

That same knife hovered over the dog on the top of the pile, the silver blade clean, shards of sunlight that had managed to pierce the forest canopy glinting off the metal. It looked almost hungry for the upcoming bloodshed.

Twilight frowned.

The path to the summit was long, winding around the mountain like a snake around a tree-trunk, and it looked worn and disused. She couldn’t simply teleport up there, for fear of blinking into existence over a lava pit or something nastier. Both methods looked like death traps, the longer she thought about them.

Was there another way?

Her cloak fluttered loosely over her skin, like flowing water, under a small, sudden breeze.

The blade cut through the pelt like it was butter.

She should never have doubted. Pinkie had always considered cooking as an art form, and insisted on quality. For that, she needed and used only the best tools.

A splatter of blood from a collapsing artery splashed onto the pink engraving on the handle, running along the dip in the wood, staining the balloon motif red.

She wove a quick magnification spell before her eyes, allowing her to scan the path ahead at her leisure. There was no sudden, mirage-like shimmer over spots that indicated the presence of an illusion-concealment spell, nor any disturbed earth that suggested buried mines or animals in waiting. None that she could see, at least.

Path it was, then. Carving another way up the mountain would be time-consuming at best and lethal at worst. Going so far to suffocate in an avalanche or to break her bones whilst falling down a ravine wasn’t part of her plan for the day.

Twilight squinted as she fixed the destination in her mind. Ambient ley rushed into her horn, flowing through her nerves and burning her skin along the metal-based tattoos.

And the world appeared to rip into white before her eyes.

The first pelt was done. Skinless, the dog’s musculature was revealed in all of its bloody glory. Grey and brown patches of skin, ones she hadn’t managed to cut off, sat proudly amidst the red-pink muscle. Twilight wrinkled her nose, attempting to stop the salty, coppery smell of freshly spilled blood and the rich scent of meat from invading her nostrils.

It didn’t work.

She gagged, stomach heaving, and dropped the scraps of pelt on the dead leaves below as she rushed away from the immediate scene. The knife she left lying beside the skinned dog, on the slowly moistening earth.

It was as if the image of the mountain, the sky and whatever had been in front of her eyes was ripped into two halves, revealing the white space behind. A feeling of nothingness, as if she was simply a spark floating on an endless ocean, filled her frame for too long a time before the rush of sound and light and the pressure of skin and the cloak made themselves known again.

Done. She’d gone up the furthest that she could see was safe. By her estimate, there was still five kilometres of mountain left to climb in the upwards direction – five times that if she took the meandering path. Doable.

From where she stood, in the midst of a dust halo created by her arrival, she could only see the white, snow-covered peak, dotted with black rock outcroppings above her. The sharp curve of the outside edge of the mountain path, cut higher up on the side of the mountain, was obvious. As for what was on the path, though, she couldn’t tell. A mirror spell wouldn’t work, given that the light source would be behind the reflective plane, and the sun was too weak anyways.

She didn’t hesitate before smashing a rear hoof into the earth, propelling herself forwards with all the force of a bullet.