• Published 8th Jan 2012
  • 10,856 Views, 882 Comments

Last of the Dragonlords - Fluttershy20

Fluttershy sets out in search of answers after a dragon attack left her changed.

  • ...

Chapter 9

Many horses in the south consider Andulusia to be the crown jewel of Horsca. A shining light of beauty manifested in stone, and proof that the people of Horsca could build to equal, if not to better standards than Equestria. It was once home to some of the richest horses in the south, and home to thousands more. But now, it was a graveyard.

A few yards away, at the north end of the city, Thowra stood before its broken and scorched walls, his chest heaving with every breath after running all the way non-stop from Castilian. His eyes moved along the battlements, looking for any sign of movement. Seeing and sensing nothing, he approached slowly. His eyes still locked on the battlements and his ears pricked right up to hear of any horses.

The journey to Andulusia was not as eventful than the last time. The small but bustling villages he and Fluttershy had galloped through to Castilian had now been abandoned; houses were locked and bordered up, animals have been taken away, not a scent of life whatsoever. He cursed when he realised they must have heard of the Palominan army mustering outside Castilian. Within a few hours, he reckoned, they would have warned any patrol of the upcoming attack, and then would have warned anyone in charge. But he didn’t have time to worry about that now, for what mattered was his mission.

As he approached the walls he wondered where would Fluttershy and Freya be at the moment. He hated himself for leaving the young pegasus and his dear cousin like that, but he hated having to say goodbye as well. The word always seemed to him a curse he accidentally inflicted upon others, for he rarely ever spoke to them again.

He made it to the edge of the walls and slowly moved his head to peer through the gap that he and Fluttershy had escaped through the first time he was here. He hoped after this it would be the last time he would be here. The city creeped him out completely, whether living or dead. He prayed also he didn’t run into too many soldiers. The only thing that protected him was his coat, the sword that hung on his left side, and his wits.

Thowra jumped up on the ruined wall and had a quick look into and around the city. Andulusia had a small hill at the far southern end; it was here where the main castle and palace of the city was built upon. The richest side of the city was to the west, while the poorest was to the east, where it settled over a huge cliff arch that dangled over a large, deep lake.

He jumped down and walked slowly, his sword slapping his side as he moved. His hooves touching the ground seemed to echo across the city, and he began to sweat, hoping noone was in the city to hear him. The houses he passed were blackened ruins, totally silent and desolate. Some still stood but most likely a single, gentle touch of a hoof would bring them down.

He walked passed charred and ruined remains of horses along the streets, the young and the old, all of their expressions frozen in agony, showing what their final moments must have looked like. It sickened Thowra to know something like this happened, and he was there to see it. He didn’t wish this kind of thing to happen to even his greatest enemies. Noone deserved to die like this. He passed pools of dried blood on the ground, which alarmed him to some degree, and wondered whether the dragon had returned at some point yesterday and feasted on some of the remains here. “I should have asked Fluttershy what dragons ate,” he said to himself. “Although, I think I already know the answer.”

He was soon at the spot where he and Fluttershy would’ve been executed yesterday, the bodies of the watchers and the soldiers still left untouched. He didn’t stop, though, as what he was here for was ahead of him. A small slope followed by a large open gate and walls that surrounded the Andulusian mansion. He moved through the gate and into the courtyard, and gasped in horror at what he saw in front of him.

At the centre of the courtyard where the remains of horses, all piled up on top of each other as if they were toys stacked by a child in the middle of the room. He looked away in revulsion, and proceeded to make his way around the dead horses. The stench coming from the poor souls flooded his nostrils, and he thought for a second he might throw up. But he ignored it to the best of his ability and found himself looking at where the mansion once stood.

Yesterday morning the mansion was two storeys tall, built with the most luxurious furniture and decorations. Today, it was nothing but a pile of rubble, cinders and ashes. Not even the three chimneystacks were standing.

Thowra was stunned. So much damage in the space of twenty minutes would’ve seemed impossible to him, but it wasn’t for he had seen it himself. But what could prompt a creature that, as Fluttershy said to him earlier, would normally be passive aggressive? And why here in Horsca, at the same time as when the Equestrian arrived?

Satisfied he found the answer to one question, he turned around to start looking for the remains of the royal family. He only managed to catch a glimpse of a horse charging at him, with a sword attached to his right leg and holding it high, ready to swoop down into his skull.

Thowra dodged the blade by lowering his head and then stepping to the side. He then reared up and kicked his forelegs out at the other horse, hitting him on the side and sending him to the ground. He didn’t have time to draw his own sword, however, as another horse was on him, his sword drawn and ready to swing across his neck. Thowra ducked and kicked again in his new foe’s chest, winding the other stallion but otherwise still able to fight.

He caught a glimpse of two other horses standing a fair distance away, watching the fight unfold; one was definitely a stallion and the other a mare who looked like she didn’t want to be there, and Thowra couldn’t blame her. He looked to his sides and saw his two opponents, swords raised across their chests, eyeing him and waiting to make his move. He grinned; he didn’t want them to wait long.

Thowra brought his right hoof up to the scabbard, and heard the sound of the clicking mechanism as the hilt that was strapped onto his leg attach itself to the blade. He pulled the sword out of the scabbard and let the point fall to the ground.

The sword itself was a bright bronze, and was sharp as sabre teeth; it was given to him as a present from Freya as a reward for great service to the northern horses of Horsca. He didn’t think he deserved it, but since he lost his first sword in a skirmish years ago he was glad to have one at his side.

He looked at the two horses that were now either side of him. Both were stallions, the one on his right was a light grey and the other was a spotted white. Both wore light armour that went across their chests and their back, both wouldn’t stop a sword thrust, but would stop a long distanced crossbow bolt. The spotted horse also wore a helmet that had a horn sticking out the top, shaped like a spearhead.

Thowra checked their distances, and realised the one on the right of him was closer to the one on the left, who had moved a distance that was so far he wouldn’t be able to assist his comrade. Thowra sensed the opportunity to strike.

Without warning, he lunged at the closest stallion, and before either of the horses could react, Thowra reared up and swung his sword down on his foe, embedding it into his skull.

The spotted stallion leapt into action, and with a war cry, charged at Thowra. The silver maned horse forced his sword out of his dead foe’s head and turned to face his opponent. Thowra raised his sword and blocked the blow, but couldn’t have time to make his attack of his own because his opponent was at the attack again, reigning blow after blow at him in a bid to tire him out.

But this poor fool was mistaken if he thought he could tire out a slayer of Horsca that easily. The stallion raised his sword once again in the air and brought it down, attempting to hit his face. Thowra sidestepped to the right and slashed across the stallion’s side, who cried out in pain.

He moved to make a killing blow but found himself gasping for air as the third stallion, who was at one point watching from a distance, had charged into him and forced him onto the ground. Thowra’s new opponent had a black coat with a short black mane and tail. He sneered at the grey horse on the ground as he raised a hoof to punch him in the face.

He was too slow, though. Thowra kicked up with his hind legs, hitting the black stallion below the stomach, winding him. He quickly rolled away from under the stallion, tripping him up in the process, and met the new attack from the recovered spotted stallion.

He dodged the sword thrust from his opponent with ease and made a thrust of his own, stabbing through the chest and up into the back. He looked into the horse’s eyes and watched until his eyes rolled back and with a final breath he died.

Thowra pulled the blade out and swung it around low so that it hit the black stallion’s legs, who had recovered and was now running towards him in a blind rage. The swing struck off his right foreleg and he was sent tumbling to the ground, but not before giving Thowra a cut across his shoulder. Thowra cried out in pain and looked at the wound, it wasn’t deep but it did seem to hurt every time he raised his sword leg. He limped over and, ignoring the pain in his shoulder, plunged his sword down into the agonised horse.

He whispered softly, “Find peace, sword brother,” into the fallen stallion’s ear and waited until the stallion was dead; all sign of life going from his eyes. Sighing, he pulled the sword out and turned his attention to the fourth horse of this little party.

The mare stepped back in horror as Thowra approached her, blood dripping from his sword. Instantly she threw her sword away from her and prostrated herself on the ground, covering her face with her hooves.

Thowra walked up to the mare and placed his sword on her neck; this was met with a whimper from the mare, mostly due to the fact she could feel the blood of her comrades dripping from the edge and onto her neck. “Look at me,” he said gently. The mare lifted her hooves off her head and looked into his blue eyes. The mare’s eyes were a beautiful bright green, and they seemed to glisten as the mare’s tears rolled down her cheeks.

“P-please d-d-don’t kill me,” she whimpered.

“What’s your name?” he asked after a brief silence.

“Alruna,” she said hesitantly.

“Do you have anyone at home waiting for you to be in their hooves again, Alruna?”

The mare nodded. “Yes, she and I live together in a small village called Cresthollow. It’s the most northern point in southern Horsca.”

Thowra nodded, and eased the pressure slightly of the blade on Alruna’s back. “How old are you and your love?”

Alruna smiled at a memory that seemed to course through her mind. “I’m nineteen and she’s twenty. We met at school on the first day. We haven’t been away from each other since then, and that was three years ago. Four months ago I was called up to join the army for some reason, I never wanted to go but I had no choice.” Her smile faded as quickly as it appeared and she looked up at Thowra with watering, pleading eyes. “I would do anything to be back with her again.”

Thowra smiled. “So tell me, Alruna, what exactly are you doing here?”

Alruna gulped, but quickly answered. “I was ordered along with them,” she pointed behind him to the dead horses, “to go to Andulusia and find out what was going on there. You see, everyday a letter is sent to the Baroness from the royal family, except yesterday one never arrived.”

She paused as a shiver went through her body. “When we arrived, we found we couldn’t get in from the eastern gate so we tried the northern gate. That was when we found the great big hole in the wall, so we climbed in. I suppose you know the rest.”

Thowra nodded. “Did you find any survivors?”

Alruna shook her head. “Noone we met along the road said they saw anyone come through, nor did we find anyone alive in that… mess,” She said, indicating but not looking behind her at the bodies of horses.

“What about the Andulusian family?” Thowra asked, his tone though not expressing any concern for their well-being. “Did you find what happened to them?”

Alruna’s ears went flat and she looked like she was about to brake into tears again. “We found them all. Well, what was left of them anyway.”

Thowra, although not showing any sympathy, was truly surprised. “The entire Andulusian family… gone.”

Alruna nodded. “Except their eldest daughter, who’s in Ironhoof fortress.”

Thowra’s eyes widened. Their eldest daughter, Baroness Velenta, wasn’t exactly their brightest child, but she had the love and admiration of the horses of the south. Either way, the Palominan armies will have a tough fight on their hooves.

He looked back down at Alruna, whose pleading eyes were now beginning to carve into his soul. Slowly he lifted his sword from the mare’s neck and backed away, keeping his sword point firmly in front of her. “Take off your armour,” he ordered. “Then go back home to your love and never fight again.”

The mares face lit up in delight. She hurriedly ripped off her armour and threw herself at Thowra’s hooves. “Oh thank you!” Alruna said joyfully, kissing his hooves before galloping hard out of the courtyard and out of sight.

Thowra followed Alruna out of the courtyard and watched as she ran through the winding and narrow streets, headed to the wall where he came; she quickly jumped through without slowing down and was out of sight. ‘Young love,’ he mused as he cleaned his blade of the blood that stained it. He thought back to when he fell in love for the first time, as a young colt, which blossomed like a flower in the spring, and yet so quickly died in the cold and bitter winds of winter.

He shook his head to get such thoughts out as he sheathed his sword back into its scabbard. He quickly walked out of the courtyard and back into the streets of Andulusia, pleased to be able to finally leave the city at last.

As he began to trot back to the way he came in, out of the courtyard and back into the desolated streets, he wondered what to do next. Go back into the wilderness and face whatever might kill him, as a slayer should do. Go and find Freya and let her know of the Andulusian families all but one deaths. Or head back to Castilian for some rich hay and a large bowl of mead.

“Hello!” an unfamiliar, feminine voice echoed across the city. Thowra’s ears pricked right up and he listened closely as to where the voice called. He realised the speaker was outside the city itself, seemingly from the eastern gate. At first he thought it might be another Andulusian patrol coming to inspect the city, so he moved into one of the buildings that still stood and waited to see who the speaker was.

“Hello!” Twilight called out again to the walls, her voice echoing across the valley they were in and into the city, and maybe beyond. “Anybody home!”

“They’re probably all asleep,” Pinkie suggested in a whisper.

“How could an entire city be asleep, at midday?!” Rainbow asked, crossing her forelegs over her chest.

Pinkie shrugged. “Maybe they’ve had a super special awesome party that everyone got drunk in. And now they’re all wasted.”

Twilight just rolled her eyes and shook her head. The five mares had woken up in the early morning and after a quick breakfast, decided on what to do. Firstly they decided to not use the main roads incase they met the wrong company, and secondly, and reluctantly, they decided to follow Pinkie who had claimed to have an excellent sense of direction. So they followed Pinkie’s ‘excellent sense of direction,’ which involved them going around in circles for four hours, before coming back to where they had slept the night. Exasperated, Twilight decided to risk it and take the main road, eventually coming to a sign that pointed them to here, Andulusia.

They finally arrived at the eastern gates of the city an hour later, to find them shut and not a single horse or guard in sight. None of the ponies liked it, especially Rainbow Dash, whom Applejack had noticed that every time Twilight had called up to the walls, or when one of the others had spoken up, she’d flinched. She walked over to the pegasus side and patted her on the shoulder. “Ya okay there, sugarcube? Ya just seem mighty jumpier than usual.”

Rainbow shook her head. “I don’t like it, AJ, it’s too quiet. Heck, not even a birdsong’s in the air!” She sighed. “I just feel like something terrible has happened. I’m going to check it out.” Before Applejack could reply, Rainbow spread her wings and took to the air. Before she could get far, however, she felt a familiar tug on her tail. She didn’t need to look back to know who it was. ‘Why does she always do that?’ she thought while groaning.

“Hold on, Rainbow,” Applejack said through gritted teeth. “If anyone is in there hiding they could try to shoot ya down.”

“Well, then I’ll just shoot back,” Rainbow retorted. “I’ll just take a quick peak and come back down in five seconds, I promise.”

Applejack hesitated for a few seconds, her eyes darting for the others for support. Finally, after not seeing any, she reluctantly let go. “Five seconds, RD,” she said sternly.

Rainbow saluted and flew up over the battlements where she could see the entire city, but still kept visible to the four ponies below. The others waited anxiously, the seconds seeming to pass like hours as they waited on baited breath for their rainbow maned friend to come down. “Dashie!” Pinkie called up nervously. “It’s been over five seconds! Could you come down now please?!”

Rainbow finally, but slowly hovered back down to the ground, and the others gasped as they saw the horror written on Rainbow’s face. Her eyes looked haunted, and it seemed to Twilight the cyan pegasus’s coat was a bit lighter than usual. “What is it Rainbow?” Twilight asked softly. “What did you see?”

It took a while for Rainbow to find her voice. “The entire… city,” she whispered, barely audible to the others. “… Destroyed.”

“Destroyed!” the four mares gasped. “How could an entire city be destroyed?” Rarity asked.

“I don’t know, Rarity!” Rainbow snapped, her eyes watering. “But that’s what I saw. The entire city burnt to the ground and so many bodies lying across the streets…. it was horrible.” Applejack leaned over and wrapped a foreleg over Rainbow’s shoulders.

“Maybe it’s a bad idea to come here, after all,” Pinkie said, walking back slowly. “Maybe we should try somewhere a bit more living?”

“No!” Twilight shook her head. “There may be someone in there, someone we could help and they in return help us. And…” She gulped, but knowing everyone was probably thinking the same. “Fluttershy might’ve been in there.” She turned back to Rainbow Dash, who looked a bit paler than when she came back down the first time. “Could you fly up there and see if you can get this gate open, please?”

Rainbow nodded and mustering all her courage, took to the air and landed out of sight in the gatehouse. “No good!” she called back down moments later. “There’s two gate levers on either side and my legs can’t stretch that long!”

Twilight closed her eyes and disappeared in a flash of light, only to re-appear next to Rainbow a second later. She gasped when she saw the city.

As testament to Rainbow’s description, the city was indeed destroyed. Buildings were blackened out and on the point of collapse; some of which had done and smoke still erupted from them, and pieces of the wall had gone completely, torn off as if they were paper. But what shook Twilight to her core was the amount of bodies that was strewn about. So many horses of various ages and heights, but all were undistinguishable from their charred remains.

“Twilight,” Rainbow called to her, drawing her out of her gaze. “Would you mind giving me a hoof?”

Twilight nodded and with her horn lighting up the lever moved simultaneously with Rainbows, they opened the gate.

Twilight watched as Applejack led the way in with caution, followed closely by Rarity, but Pinkie didn’t move. Twilight could see she was visibly shaking. “I’ll stay close to her,” Rainbow said. “You keep going.”

Twilight nodded, and in a flash she was back in the middle of the others, surveying the city and trying to keep her eyes off the dead that filled the city’s streets. They walked slowly, stepping over the bodies as they passed them, and trying not to breathe in the pungent stench that filled the air.

By the time Rainbow and Pinkie caught up with them, the latter moved by the motivation of the former, the five mares moved in what seemed to have been the market place.

There were around a dozen dead bodies lying in different areas of the market, some had remains of bags on their backs with food that would’ve been burnt, much like their owners. The stalls that were once lively and full of the freshest, most mouth watering foods were now broken and ruined heaps of timber.

“Who, or what could have done such a vile thing?” Applejack asked, her voice not her hiding her disgust or horror at such a thing.

“A dragon,” came a reply from somewhere in the ruins, the word sounding bitter from whoever spoke it.

Instantly Twilight, Rarity, Applejack and Pinkie formed a circle while Rainbow hovered above them, her crossbow primed and ready to fire. The other ponies lifted their sword legs and their blades sung as they appeared, the light of the sun above reflecting on them.

“Who’s there?!” Twilight called out. “We’re armed and we know how to use these! Show yourself!”

As on call, the speaker showed himself. It was a grey stallion, with a silver mane and tail, beautiful blue eyes and a scar across his nose to his right eye. “I’m not here to hurt you, I promise,” he said warmly.

The ponies got out of their circle and formed a loose line in front of the stranger. They stared at each other in silence for a few minutes before Twilight lowered her leg slowly, the blade sliding back into its scabbard.

Rainbow noticed Twilight’s action and hovered close to her ear, not once lowering her aim. “Twilight, what are you doing? Are you sure we could trust him!” she whispered.

“I don’t know, Rainbow. But if he was dangerous to us he would have attacked by now, or run,” Twilight reasoned. “I’m going over to talk to him.” She calmly walked out of the circle, ignoring her friends’ pleas to come back and stood a few feet from the stallion.

“I think we got off on the wrong hoof here,” he said, not once losing his smile. He stretched out a hoof. “My name’s Thowra, and you are?”

Slowly, Twilight extended a leg and placed her hoof onto his and started shaking. The four ponies behind her relaxed their guards and put their weapons away. “I’m Twilight Sparkle,” she introduced herself. “Pleased to meet you, Thowra.”

Upon saying her name Thowra’s eyes widened slightly. “Twilight sparkle?” he said. “As in the Twilight Sparkle! Personal protégé of the ruler of Equestria?!”

Twilight brought her hoof away from his and stepped back in surprise. Thowra couldn’t help but grin. He looked up to the cyan pegasus. “And you must be Rainbow Dash, correct?”

The confused Rainbow could only blink and nod her head. Thowra turned his attention to the orange earth pony. “So that would make you Applejack, if I recall?”

“That’s right, but I don’t see the big deal o-” she was cut off by the grey horse speaking to the white unicorn next to her.

“So you’re Rarity, then. Looks like the rumours were true on your beauty,” he said with a wink. Rarity nearly fainted, and began muttering something about thinking she would only be famous in Equestria.

“And finally you must be Pinkie Pie? The biggest party pony on Terra,” he asked the pink pony, whose nodding was so quick Applejack had to hold her head to stop her.

“That’s… right,” Twilight said, extremely confused at this point. “But how do you know who we all are? Surely you don’t get news of Equestria’s issues.”

Thowra chuckled when he looked at each of the confused Equestrians’ faces. “To be honest. though, I thought you would all be a bit older. At least, from what I heard from Fluttershy anyway.”

“YOU KNOW FLUTTERSHY!” the five mares shrieked in surprise into his ears, sending him falling to the ground on his back. A torrent of questions was soon bombarded onto him.

“Alright, alright!” he bellowed. The five mares backed away from him and he stood back up again, the wound in his shoulder giving him grief. “Please! One question at a time!”

“We’re sorry, Thowra, but we didn’t expect to meet someone who knew her so quickly,” Applejack said, looking at him with big pleading eyes. “But please tell us, is she okay?”

Thowra frowned. “I’m afraid I cannot answer that for you, Applejack,” he said sadly. “For when I left Castilian I learnt she was going to the Ragged Mountains to find a pony named Firewing.”

“How did you meet her?!” Rainbow demanded, moving right into his face.

Thowra sighed, “Unfortunately, it was here.”

“What do you mean?” Twilight asked. It didn’t take her long though to realise what he meant. “Oh,” she said. Thowra nodded and began to tell them of how Fluttershy got captured by some soldiers while trying to get to Castilian, and was sent for execution. He then told them of how close she was to having her head cut off when the dragon attacked.

“It came out of nowhere, and nobody even heard it until it was too late,” he said to the stunned ponies. “It attacked the city and killed everyone except me and Fluttershy in about twenty minutes, burnt it all to the ground. Her and me were extremely lucky to escape. If it wasn’t for that wall over there that was destroyed, I don’t think we would’ve got out. Afterwards, I took her to Castilian, the capital city of Horsca, and that was when she told us all about you and your adventures.” He paused before adding, “And might I say you six are far braver than any soldier in the Palominan army. Taking on a huge army of changelings, now that takes a lot of courage.”

The smile he had wavered slightly. “And later, during an aurora, she told me why you weren’t with her. Now please, don’t judge her too harshly. She probably saved all your lives with her actions.”

Twilight nodded. “We know. We just want to be with her and help her through with whatever’s happening to her.” She got up from her seating position and bowed her head. “Thank you,” she said to Thowra, and then turned to her friends. “Aright, ladies, let’s go and find our friend!” She began running towards the wall where their new horse friend had jumped; she was about to turn a corner when she stopped and noticed the others weren’t following.

Groaning in impatience, she ran back up to the gormless looking mares. “What the hay are you waiting for!” she yelled. “We’ve got to find Fluttershy, now!”

Rainbow was the one to speak up. “Uh, Twilight, aren’t you forgetting something?” Twilight shook her head. “We have no idea where we’re going!”

Twilight’s eyes widened. Rainbow was right; they were in a large country, which none of them knew next to nothing about, and she was planning to go in blind? She turned her head to look at Thowra, contemplating whether or not to ask. They needed someone who knew the country like the back of their hoof, and Thowra seemed the perfect horse to help in their situation. But would he be willing to help?

Eventually her determination and desperation to find her friend gave in and she turned to face the silver maned horse. “Um, Thowra? I was wondering if yo-.”

“Say no more,” Thowra cut her off. “It would be an honour to help you all, and to repay Fluttershy for saving my life.”

The five mares cheered and jumped the embarrassed horse in a group hug. “Right,” he said uneasily, moving out of the circle and towards the entrance. “We need to move fast if we want to get to the Ragged Mountains by tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow morning,” Rainbow groaned. “It’s going to take that long?”

“I could get there myself by midnight,” he said proudly. “But I’m not going to leave you all out here while I go on ahead.”

Rainbow zoomed into Thowra’s face. “Is that a challenge?” she asked, a small smirk appearing across her lips.

“Girls!” Twilight yelled at both of them. “We are staying together and we are not going to split apart! Got it?” The five equines nodded. Satisfied, Twilight turned to the now annoyed looking horse. “Lead the way, please.”

Thowra bowed his head. “Okay, Equestrians, stay close to me. Don’t dawdle or drift away, and do everything I tell you.” And with that he cantered towards the hole in the wall at such a quick stride, it left Rainbow Dash stunned.

The pegasus whistled. “Wow, he’s fast.” She broke into a mischievous grin. “But not fast enough!” She zoomed at full speed after him, followed by Twilight, Rarity, Pinkie and Applejack. By the time the four of them reached the wall Rainbow and Thowra had jumped it and were waiting for them outside. Rarity jumped it first, followed by Pinkie, then Twilight, who needed a boost up the rubble from Applejack, who followed once she knew everyone was out.

They were soon level with the Horscan and making their way down a stone road veering away from the one Thowra took to get to Andulusia, heading for the mountains, which were a group of large spikes in the distance.

“Oh I do hope Fluttershy’s okay,” Rarity whispered to Applejack and Twilight.

“Don’t ya worry yourself, Rarity,” Applejack said. “Fluttershy may be, well… shy. But she can sure defend herself when she needs to.”

Twilight and Rarity knew Applejack was probably right, but they still couldn’t help but worry. So as they ran down the path, with the city getting smaller behind them, the two silently prayed that they would find Fluttershy alive and well.

The smell of decay filled her nostrils as Fluttershy peeped her head through the opening that presented itself and studied the main chamber. However, even with her excellent vision, she couldn’t see beyond some pillars she could just make out in the darkness. As she walked in, she felt her heart as it pounded against her chest; her breathing was quick, her ears pricked up to their highest and her head was low.

She felt the stone ground suddenly turn metallic on one hoof, and it then seemed to sink into the ground. Upon hearing a sudden groan of metal behind her, she turned her head around to notice the door closing by itself. She rushed over to try to force it open but it was too big and with a sound that was like a crack of thunder, the door slammed shut.

Fluttershy tried pushing the door to open but it was no use. With a final sigh she gave up and slumped to the ground, panting wearily. After a few moments a faint light appeared from what seemed to have be from one of her saddlebags. “Of course!” she gasped. “That gem Freya gave me!”

She took off her saddlebags and opened the pouch where the gem was kept. Upon opening, the gem shot up into the air, and glowed a bright blue. The gem seemed to pulsate every few seconds, renewing the light that now lit up the chamber as if torches line the walls. Grinning, Fluttershy placed the saddlebags back on her back and looked around the entrance chamber.

In the four corners of the room were statues of what seemed to be horse heads; helmeted and snarling, their ears pinned back on their heads and their eyes narrow and menacing. At the centre of the chamber were four pillars, each holding the roof up and each decorated with ancient symbols that Fluttershy couldn’t identify. She looked up to notice the gem floating above her was following her and she smiled, glad to be able to have light as she travelled through this place. She proceeded to look in front of her, and cursed silently.

Three open doors, each right next to each other and each leading in different directions were all that stood in her way to Firewing. The left door seemed to go up, the central one straight on and the right going down. She sat down and placed a hoof on her chin, pondering on how to get through this. She knew she couldn’t afford to make a mistake or else she would get lost, or worse fall into a trap that was most likely rigged up around here and killed.

After a while she still couldn’t make up her mind on which way to go, so she decided to take the final option, one that has never failed her in anything yet. She covered her eyes with one hoof, and with another hoof, began pointing at the three doors, with each hoof point singing, “Eeny meeny mini mo, catch a tiger by the toe, if it hollers let it go, eeny meeny mini mo.”

When the rhyme had finished and she opened her eyes, she saw her hoof was pointing at the central door.

“Well, here goes nothing.” She gulped, and then set off down the path in a slow but steady trot, the gem following closely behind her. The tunnel was narrow, with twists and sharp turns, and in all honesty it made Fluttershy feel a little bit claustrophobic. It was soon clear though to the pegasus that she went the right way. No traps coming out of the walls, no evil creatures that would pounce and eat her livers, nothing. She grinned to herself. “Always works.”

At the end of the tunnel she soon found herself in a bigger chamber, much bigger than the opening one, and longer. Facing her, standing in a row about several meters apart, were pillars designed much like the ones from the first chamber. Except, when Fluttershy examined the first one closely, she saw carvings instead of symbols, and what they showed made Fluttershy’s jaw drop in horror.

The carvings depicted a great battle, featuring not just horses, but minotaurs, ponies, griffons, hippogriffs, chimeras, zebras, creatures that had the body of a horse but a head and chest of a bull, all these creatures and more that the pegasus didn’t recognise were fighting each other in a whirlwind of a melee. Curious and wanting to know more, she spread her wings and hovered off the ground, seeing what was beyond it and upon seeing what was above them made her blood run cold.

Dragons, about five of them, sitting on the highest mountains of the world, looking down on the scenes below, and… weeping? Fluttershy tilted her head to one side as she examined the carvings. “Dragons don’t cry at such scenes, do they?” She felt slightly terrible now for thinking dragons liked that kind of thing, and thought that maybe most dragons weren’t so bad after all. She flapped her wings and looked further up to find what seemed like words, unfortunately she couldn’t recognise or decipher the writings and language, but could tell it was ancient.

She landed back down on the ground and continued along the narrow path. As she walked down the chamber corridor, she noticed rectangular holes dug into the walls, and each possessed a sarcophagus. Each was beautifully decorated with carvings and ancient writings, detailing each of the occupants’ lives. While on the lids, ancient but sharp swords lay across the surfaces, the hilt laying where the head would lay and the tip at the hooves.

Thoughts once again crept into Fluttershy’s mind about leaving again. As this place was a tomb, it felt wrong to her walking into so many horses grave – she wouldn’t like it if others walked over her grave after all! But her persistence to find Firewing won through and she picked up the pace a bit, aiming to leave the dead in peace.

She stopped when her eyes rested on one sarcophagus. It was open and the linen around the head was unwrapped, revealing the skull of its occupant. Curiosity guiding her direction, Fluttershy walked over to the sarcophagus and looked in, gasping as she saw the remains. The skull looked just as big, if not slightly smaller than her head.

“Oh, you poor young darling,” she whispered sadly, believing the skeleton to be that of a young horse. Wondering why a young colt or filly would be laid to rest in what seemed to be a tomb for soldiers, she began to gently unwrap the linen bindings around the skeleton.

When she reached the midsection of the body, she heard some things clatter and fall to the ground from the skeleton. She looked down to see what seemed to be at first glance the bones of a leg. Horrified, she quickly scooped up the bones and placed them neatly next to the skeleton, then continued to unwrap the rest of the skeleton and found all the legs still attached, albeit loosely to each other. That was when she noticed something on the other side, something that resembled a limb. She leaned over to look closer at it, and gasped in horror, nearly tripping up backwards in surprise.

“It can’t be, it just can’t be, I must be seeing things, surely!” she cried as in front of her was the broken, dirty, but recognisable bones of a pegasus wing.

She began opening up all the coffins and unwrapping the linen, and found all except two of the buried were pegasi, the other two were, again to her surprise, unicorns. She shook her head and rubbed a hoof through her mane in sheer disbelief. “This is wrong. Really, really wrong.”

Pegasus ponies were not buried like earth and unicorn ponies; by ancient tradition dating back to before Equestria a pegasus is burned on a mighty pyre, with a great festival afterwards celebrating the pegasus’ life. Fluttershy remembered the first funeral she went to, which was for her carer at the orphanage, and remembered crying her eyes out while other ponies that knew her celebrated her life. But Fluttershy wasn’t in the mood to celebrate something; she had lost what she once called her mother, and felt there was nothing to celebrate about her passing.

But this! This was something considered by many pegasi an atrocity! For a pegasus to be buried would mean their souls become trapped in their bodies forever, and not allowed to roam the open skies as they should, as is believed. Fluttershy felt a bit sick and began to run out of the other end of the chamber, stopping just when she was away from such sights. “What could have happened that had those ponies buried here?” she wondered aloud. She looked back at the burial chamber. “Don’t worry!” she called back to the skeletons. “I’m going to find out who did this to you, and see if I could put an end to your suffering!”

She walked on for what seemed like half an hour, the images of those poor ponies buried here, miles away from Equestria, or the original kingdoms, still haunted her thoughts. She wondered what might’ve happened that could have had them buried here, were they criminals? Traitors to the kingdom and crown? She thought that maybe Firewing might know, and that brought on more determination to find him.

Eventually she found herself at the top of a spiralling descent that went down into darkness. To her left was a giant waterfall that was protruding from a large gash in the rock face, with water gushing down the side and disappearing in the black void below. While around her the rock faces was a spectacular display of dark purple and green colours, helped by the plants and moss that hanged around them. She looked right to see the beginning of her descent.

She complemented rather than walking down, just fly down. But since she didn’t know what was at the bottom she decided to take what would be considerably the easier option. Walking down. She went down the sloping path in a rather elegant trot, all the while humming a cheery tune, in the hope to keep her spirits up, and found it to be working quite well.

About a quarter of an hour later she reached the bottom, the gem that hovered above her giving light into this darkened corner of the world. What she found was impressive. The waterfall made the ground slippery with its large splash backs, but it created a large stream that went through a small gap in the causeway, possibly heading outside.

Fluttershy looked around but couldn’t find a single gate or something like that anywhere. Her eyes soon gazed upon the waterfall and realised with a groan that her path lay behind it. With a deep breath she charged through, screaming as the ice-cold water tickled down her face and back. She emerged the other side, shaking and wet, while her teeth clattered together.

She shook her body and got most of the excess water out, but her mane, tail and wings still dripped and she wasn’t good at using her wings when soaked. However, when she looked ahead it didn’t seem to matter. She was now in a dark cavern of some sort, a small stream running through the middle, while cobwebs white as snow and shone like diamonds hung overhead.

She crept slowly forward, her ears pinned right up and her eyes wide, looking left and right for gaps and crevices in which a spider could crawl into and hide. She imagined that whoever made the amount of silk that was above her, would have to be pretty big. Not that she hated spiders (she loved every animal after all), but the thought of a giant eight legged creature with multiple black disk-like eyes bearing down on her was a bit unwelcoming. But she saw nothing, the only sounds she could hear was the waterfall gushing down behind her. She relaxed slightly and continued.

The slim path widened until she was in a giant cavern, glistening cobwebs hanging on the sides and above her. Fluttershy noticed in front of her was an iron gate that seemed to go through another part of this place.

She walked cautiously forward, her eyes drifting to the ground and around the sides. That was when she noticed the first of the dissected bodies. The bodies were horses in size, and were completely covered by spider silk. It didn’t take long to realise these were the explorers that Freya had told her about, the ones that had come here and never came back. She scanned the corpses, hoping and praying inside that she didn’t find one that was a size of a pony. To her relief there wasn’t one, and that was when it hit her.

If Firewing was here, she realised, then surely the gate would have been open and he would be beyond. She quickly came to the conclusion he wasn’t here; it was all a complete waste of time. She’d lost him. She collapsed onto her backside and fought the urge to cry by biting her lip and closing her eyes, and began to think about what to do next.

She could head home, back to Ponyville, only to probably be shunned by her friends and would probably be left forever alone. Wander the world aimlessly until the day she died, or keep looking for Firewing and pray that one day their paths would meet.

A sudden sound of… whatever it was made Fluttershy jump back on her hooves and look around. “Who’s there!” she called out into the darkness. “I’m armed and I know how to use it! So would you awfully mind showing yourself?!”

As if on cue, the creature made its presence know, creeping out from under a small gap in a rock. Fluttershy’s eyes went wide in fear and she slowly backed away from what was definitely the largest spider she had ever seen.

The creature was bigger than a horse but smaller than a bear, eight hairy legs with fur as dark as night twitched and spread itself out as it touched down. Around five or six black disc-like eyes stared down at her, and they seemed to carve into her soul. Two large fangs twitched and drooled of venom. While on the spider’s abdomen, there was a long stripe as red as blood that stretched across the back.

And now it seemed interested on having Fluttershy for its next meal. The pegasus took a few steps back, but every time Fluttershy made a step backwards, the spider came two steps closer. Fluttershy soon found herself cornered and looked around quickly for a lever or something to open the gate with. When she saw there wasn’t one she faced the spider, now towering over her, and gave it her ultimate weapon. The ‘stare’.

The power of her ‘stare’ seemed to anypony that had seen it, greater than the power of the sun, and even more terrifying to those caught in its snare. The creature reeled back in an attempt to look away but couldn’t help but stare into those wide cyan eyes that seemed at this moment less welcoming than a wild hippogriff’s beak and claws.

Fluttershy walked slowly forward, never once losing eye contact with the spider, and never loosening her gaze. The spider started to go backwards. Fluttershy hoped that she could get it out of the way long enough for her to get through the narrow path and back the way she came. Her plan was going well, for she managed to force the spider to turn and move slightly out of way. But with the fact she was looking in the spider’s eyes and not in front of her, she didn’t notice the dissected body of a horse lying in her path.

With a cry she tripped over it and landed on her face. The spider shook itself out of its trance and made a move to pin her down with its front legs. Quickly she rolled out of the way and reluctantly lifted her sword leg, the blade drawing out quickly in Fluttershy’s urgency.

The spider tried to pin her down with its legs again so it could bury its fangs into her. Fluttershy swung her sword leg and the creature backed off for a moment, unharmed by the sword swing. The spider suddenly lunged at Fluttershy, attempting to dig into the pegasus with its fangs; its movement was so quick that Fluttershy barely had the time to get out of the way. She hopped away, but still she felt a tear into her skin as part of a fang hit her flank.

She moved out of the way, and inspected her right flank. A small gash just above her cutie mark with just a little bit of blood dripped out of it. She looked towards the spider, which seemed to relax and looked at Fluttershy with those hungry, merciless eyes.

Fluttershy began to feel dizzy and her vision started to blur. Her breathing became wheezy and she could feel her heartbeat accelerate. Her legs began to ache and she collapsed to her side, her hearing becoming more muffled and she could now barely see the spider, which was now more of a blur to her, approaching cautiously towards her. She closed her eyes and could feel her breathing beginning to soften, and realised it wouldn’t be much longer before the venom would kill her, and the spider would have its meal.

‘So this is how it ends,’ she mused. She suddenly felt herself being lifted upright, and thought for a second that the Valkyries had come to guide her spirit into the skies. That was when she felt a horrible tasting liquid trickling down her throat. In an instant she began to hear things again, she opened her eyes to find her vision returning and she felt her wings, legs and tail again, she gave each a little wiggle to be sure.

“Come on, up you get. Breath deeply,” a deep voice came into her ears. Fluttershy complied and inhaled a huge amount of air. She waved a hoof in her face to see her vision had fully returned. She looked up and saw with sad eyes the spider lying dead, with its legs splayed about and between its eyes a large cut.

“Rest easy,” the voice, seemingly coming from her left, said. “I know the stuff I just gave you isn’t rainbow juice, but it’s better for you than that and it saved your life.”

Fluttershy looked to her left and what she saw made her eyes go wide in disbelief. A pony, a stallion, a pegasus with a dark orange coat and a long black mane that dangled down to his shoulders and a flock of hair over one eye. A really short beard on his muzzle and dark green eyes made Fluttershy uncomfortable, just like what Freya said about them. While a torch holder was resting in a pouch on his side, and a bracelet that looked like her sword bracelet was on his right leg. Fluttershy knew exactly who this pony was, and was jumping up and down for joy inside because of it.

He noticed her staring at him and looked behind him incase of another spider. He turned back to face her with his head tilted to the side. “Are you alright?”

Fluttershy shook herself out of her daze and faced the stranger with a smile of gratitude. “I think so. But better now, thanks to you.”

The new pegasus nodded. “I’m going to need to look at your flank. For the wound I mean, if that’s okay?” With a light blush, Fluttershy nodded and shifted her body around showing the wound on her flank. The pony stared at it grimly for a bit then turned his head into his bag, which was on the ground and open. He brought out a small glass bottle and, holding the bottle uneasily in his hooves, pulled the cork off with his teeth.

Picking up the bottle in his mouth, he dripped some of the elixir onto the wound. Fluttershy visibly winced as it began to sting. “Sorry about that. I’ve had to do that on myself once, it sure as hay stung. Anyway that should kill any excess poison and should prevent any infections,” the pony explained with a friendly smile. “The drink I gave you would clear out the poison in no time and you should soon be back on your hooves.”

Fluttershy smiled back and got up on her hooves. They ached still and they shook as she tried to stay up, but she felt her hind legs give way and she collapsed. The stallion caught her quickly from falling onto her face. “The best thing to do is to just stay where you are and don’t move until the aching’s gone,” he warned.

Fluttershy nodded and sat back down again, facing the ground at first, then lifted her head to look at the other pegasus, who now had a small frown on his face. “Now tell me, what would drive a young mare, such as yourself, down in what is now one of the most dangerous places in the world?” he asked.

“Um… well, it’s you, actually,” she answered. “You are Firewing, aren’t you?”

Firewing blinked. “Um… well uh, yes…. I am. But, how do you know my name?”

“Princess Celestia told me about you and she said-.”

“Wait, wait,” Firewing cut her off. “You know the Princess?” Fluttershy nodded. “And she still remembers me, even after I’ve been gone for about five months?”

Again, Fluttershy nodded. “She was quite worried about you. In fact, she personally told me to come and seek you out.”

Firewing tilted his head and gave her a look of confusion. “Me, why me?”

“The Princess thought you might know something that she doesn’t.”

Firewing laughed. “The Princess! Not knowing something! Now that’s new!” It took Fluttershy’s scowling to stop him laughing. “Okay seriously, why did you come all this way to seek me out? Surely it can’t be that serious.”

“Oh yes, well it is to me anyway, since it concerns me,” Fluttershy said.

Firewing looked her all over. Apart from the wound on her flank, a large bruise on her head, partially hidden by her long mane, and some minor undeveloped feathers that would slightly hinder flight, she seemed fine. ‘But then again she managed to survive a Redback Horscan Spider’s venom for longer than usual, so maybe it’s something else entirely?’ he wondered.

He breathed, “Okay,” and rose back to his hooves. “Tell you what. You go and head back to the main entrance, then once I’m done here I’ll come and examine you to see what’s wrong.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “I’m coming with you.”

Firewing’s eyes widened. “Whoa there, young pegasus. I don’t think that’s a good idea. It could be dangerous down there and I don’t want anyone with me incase they get hurt.”

Fluttershy shook her head and her gaze on him was persistent. “It may be dangerous for you as well, and maybe I could help you someway.”

Firewing scrunched up his face as he gave her words some thought. “Oh fine,” he caved in. “But only if you do everything I say. If I say run, you run. Got it?” A quick nod from the other pegasus confirmed it. “Okay, how’s the aching?”

Fluttershy tried pressing down on the ground with each leg. Only when she felt confident enough did she try standing on all fours, and found them all to be fine. “I’m ready,” she said, with unseen confidence bristling in her voice.

Firewing smiled and without a word walked up to where the gate lay. He examined it and looked for any sign that of where a lever would have been attached to the door. Fluttershy walked up to and stood at his side. “When I saw the gate shut,” Fluttershy said, “I realised you haven’t been here yet. So if you don’t mind me asking, where were you?”

Without turning his eyes away from the gate he explained. “Well I’ve been looking for this place for ages, believing it to be in the mountainsides like most of the ones I’ve been to. I waded my way through this entire mountain range to look for this. I felt like giving up until I saw you heading into that gap back there. So I followed you and now here we both are.” He turned around to face the pegasus with questioning eyes. “How did you know where it was anyway?”

Fluttershy’s head hung low and she rubbed a leg with a hoof. “Oh… well, I sort of found this rock that seemed to have been created by someone. I figured it worked like an arrow.”

Firewing’s jaw dropped and he facehoofed himself. “Darn it!” he growled. “The number one rule when building things in mountains. ‘If you want to bury something in the middle of nowhere and out of sight, you want to remember where you put it’, and I completely forgot it!”

Fluttershy gave him a small smile and put a comforting hoof on his shoulder. “Ah don’t feel too bad. We’re ponies, we forget things all the time; I know I do so many times. And besides, you’re here now, so there’s no point scolding yourself.”

Firewing looked over to the yellow pegasus for a moment, smiled, then turned back to the main gate. He looked all over the gate, from the top to the sides, until finally he found it. His face lit up as he walked over to where some dark green moss was hanging. He ripped it off the cave wall and found a small ring attached to a chain that went into the wall.

Firewing grinned and, gritting the chain in his teeth, pulled it down. The locking mechanism gave way and the gate, with a groan, lifted up and through the wall and out of sight. Behind the gate the path twisted into a bend down a flight of stairs, deeper into the mountain.

Firewing trotted forward. “Coming, pegasus?” he called back to Fluttershy. He turned his head around to see the yellow mare looking at the dead spider with sad eyes.

“Was there another way?” she asked. “Rather than killing it?”

Firewing frowned. “I’m sorry, but it was it or you, and fortunately for you it was it. Besides, it wanted to kill you.”

“It can’t help that,” she countered. “It is a spider after all.”

Firewing nodded in understanding. “Well, we’d better be getting a move on, pegasus.” He trotted around the corner and out of sight.

Fluttershy, upon noticing he was gone, broke into a canter to catch up with him. “My name’s Fluttershy,” she muttered, but whether or not he heard it she couldn’t tell.

A few minutes after opening the gate, the two pegasi found themselves walking through a narrow passage and having to walk in single file, until it opened into a long and wide tunnel. Each of the walls was decorated with carvings, while writings and runes followed above like it was a tapestry.

Fluttershy and Firewing walked slower so they could look at the carvings more closely, Fluttershy looking at the left side while Firewing looked on the right. “Fascinating,” Firewing muttered. “These must date back to the time of the Great War.”

Fluttershy turned her head to face him and asked, “Um… excuse me, but what was the Great War?”

“A terrible time, young pegasus. It involved nearly every country on Terra, and every race on this planet was involved in some shape or form,” he answered. “It’s best we move on.”

Fluttershy agreed and the two began walking along the tunnel once more, but the yellow pegasus couldn’t keep her eyes off the carvings. The carvings were split into frames, and each frame told a different part of the story of what the wall was telling. Ranging from political issues in great kingdoms, to large and terrifying battles. Each one made Fluttershy feel a mixture of awe and fascination.

One carving in particular, however, made Fluttershy freeze, her eyes going wide in fear. She looked to where Firewing was and saw he was occupied with studying another section of the wall.

She walked over to get a closer look at the carving and recognised the centrepiece of the carving. A dragon, facing the viewer with its wings spanning the entire length of the wall, and its eyes carved out to make it look like they were burning.

What drew Fluttershy’s attention, however, was below the monster. Creatures that the pegasus didn’t recognise, were carved out to make it look like there were large groups of them, and it seemed most of the attention was given to the faces, which were a mix of pure terror and agony. To the left of the dragon, one group seemed to be begging for mercy. While on its right, another group was just a mass of flame and ashes.

All of it scared Fluttershy. Not because it was pictured in front of her, but because she recognised the dragon in front of her, and it was the same one that herself, Twilight and Princess Celestia saw when they came into her nightmare.

‘Did this really happen?’ she thought. ‘And could it ever happen again?’

Fluttershy took her gaze off the wall and noticed Firewing wasn’t there. She galloped down the corridor, soon catching up with him. “Where did you go?” he asked.

“Oh, just saw something back there that was interesting,” she answered.

“An interest in history, eh?”

Fluttershy nodded. “Oh yes, always been since I was a filly. I just like to know the mistakes we ponies have made in the past so that I don’t make them again.”

Firewing grinned. “That is quite philosophical, pegasus, and very true at the same time. It’s always best we learn from our past mistakes.” He turned to look before him to find the two of them had made it to the end of the corridor and were now at the top of a large chamber, large enough so that Firewing’s torch couldn’t light it all up.

The gem that hovered over Fluttershy, however, now moved to the centre of the room, and seemed to explode in a bright light that lit up the whole chamber as if the sun itself was there. The two ponies’ eyes went wide with wonder. “Magnificent, isn’t it?” Firewing commented. Fluttershy could only nod to agree.

The chamber was pentagon in shape, with four pillars holding up the roof, and was placed in a square shape around the chamber. Each of the five edges had a gargoyle on standby, water hissing out of their mouths like waterfalls, and their claws high as if they were ready to strike down intruders. While in the centre of the room were rows and rows of bookshelves, each filled with books that were surprisingly seemed to be in good condition.

“This must be the fortresses archives,” Firewing said, his voice not hiding his interest.

Fluttershy looked at the other pegasus. “This is a fortress? As in a military fortress?”

Firewing nodded. “It was probably used as a base for a faction during the Great War, and once it ended it was abandoned.” Firewing began to walk down the steps into the archives. “Stay close to me,” he ordered.

Fluttershy nodded and with small salute, followed the other pegasus down the steps into the large archives. She then spread her wings and took to the air, glad for once of the large space between the ground and the air.

“So…” Fluttershy began. “So does that explain the pegasus ponies buried down here?”

Firewing stopped and looked up to face the flying pegasus. “You went through the central door?” Fluttershy nodded. “I never saw it. I went through the door on the left, through the forges and armoury.”

“Wait,” Fluttershy said. “So there were no traps?”

Firewing shook his head. “That would be a bit daft to rig up traps in a living fortress,” he said with a laugh.

Fluttershy laughed sheepishly, now feeling silly for thinking such a thing. The two soon noticed they had arrived at what seemed to be the centre of the archives. In the middle was a stone podium, with ancient words inscribed vertically that Fluttershy couldn’t transcribe, but Firewing could.

Magnis alis volat, ut extremo tempore per,” Firewing read the words. “Ancient Equestrian for ‘On great wings he flies, to bring about the end times’.” He looked over to Fluttershy whose eyes were wide with fear. “I know, it’s not a cheery verse, is it?” he said with a chuckle. He walked over and looked at what was sitting on the top of the podium. Fluttershy looked over his shoulder.

It was a large black book with what seemed to be wings and a head of a dragon across the cover, coloured as if the creature was fire incarnate. It was surprising to Fluttershy to see it in good condition; no damage to the cover, and no sign of pages missing or ruined by the dampness of the room.

Firewing used his muzzle to open up the book. To Fluttershy’s surprise the book opened up only halfway, but what was in the middle explained why.

A small circular object, with the golden trim and a black surface, and a small symbol that looked exactly like the one on the front cover of the book, and a light golden hue seemed to radiate from it, like it was something made from magic.

Above where the object lay was a single line of writing, a piece of writing which Fluttershy recognised. Fluttershy gently pushed Firewing out of the way and got a closer look. Even though she had never seen the language she now knew written down before, she could easily understand it.

“To be used when the great threat returns, and the reign of fire is close at hoof,” Fluttershy translated it. Wide eyed, she turned to face Firewing, who looked shocked at what he just saw. “What does that mean, ‘To be used when the great threat returns’?”

Firewing didn’t answer; instead he just stared at the pegasus in front of him with wide eyes. Fluttershy began to feel uncomfortable and slowly backed away from the podium. “Um,” Fluttershy said, her face hiding behind her mane, “was it something I said?”

Firewing broke out of his gaze, then picked up the book in his mouth and placed it in his saddlebag. “Three down, two to go,” he muttered. He turned to Fluttershy and said, “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

Fluttershy nodded meekly and followed behind Firewing, thinking that she’d upset him in some way.

When they made it outside, the air was cold and a chill wind blew, making Fluttershy’s feathers and coat stand on edge. The sky was a starless one, as the clouds filled the sky with their presence, so it made it hard to know what the time was and when the dawn would break.

Firewing hadn’t said a single word to her as they made it out, but he did stop when Fluttershy asked him so she could close the sarcophagus lids in the tomb when she had left them open in her rush to get away. He’d smiled that one time, but it quickly faded when they set off back through the fortress again.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled as they walked through the gap in the mountain. “Whatever I said, I didn’t mean to cause offence.”

When they made it through the gap and back near the rock, Firewing turned around to face the other pegasus and said, “You have nothing to be sorry about, young pegasus. I was surprised by your knowledge of such language. I no nopony other than myself and you these days that harbour such a gift.”

Fluttershy felt relived, but couldn’t help but wonder one thing. “So… what was that thing?” she asked, pointing at the book that hung from his saddlebag.

“That doesn’t matter at the moment,” Firewing answered. “What does is you now.” He walked closer to the now trembling pegasus, gazing into her eyes, which for Fluttershy felt like he was carving into her very soul. “Now, tell me everything.”

So Fluttershy did. She told him every bit of detail she could remember, from the dragon attack on Ponyville to now, only missing out the nightmares, thinking there was no point telling him about something that has been fixed. It left Firewing wondering a great many things, like the reason for a dragon to attack a small town like Ponyville in the first place, to the mystery behind this mare’s origin.

“And so I trekked all this way from Strutford just to find you,” Fluttershy finished. “So you could probably help me. Can you help me?”

Firewing put a hoof on his chin. “In the past week since you woke up, have you experienced any nightmares?”

Fluttershy rubbed a leg with her hoof. “Well um… yes. I didn’t want to say anything as I went to see the Princess about them, and she placed a spell to keep them away. She said they were prophetic visions though… do you know what they mean?”

Firewing didn’t answer; instead he changed the subject. “I can help you, young pegasus, and give you the answers you want, but I need you to trust me. Do you trust me?”

Fluttershy nodded, making Firewing smile. “Right then, we better get moving if we want to get there by tomorrow evening. Come along then.” With that last word he began galloping eastward, towards some steppes Fluttershy could barely make out in the darkness.

Fluttershy took to the air and followed after him. “Um… I-I was wondering, wouldn’t it be easier if we… well… fly?”

Firewing stopped and gave her a small smile. “I wish I could, young pegasus. But my wings were damaged in a fight with a drake. I can’t even attempt to spread them without pain.”

Fluttershy put her hooves over her mouth. “Oh, I’m so sorry, oh dear, please I didn’t mean to sound rude-.”

Firewing laughed and faced the pegasus flying beside her. “It’s okay, you asked a reasonable question, and you had no idea what my answer would be. And speaking of reasonable questions, I don’t think I’ve asked for your name?”

Fluttershy landed and reached out a hook to shake his. “My name’s Fluttershy,” she said quietly.

Firewing’s eyes widened and he took a step back in shock. As soon as it happened and before Fluttershy could notice he relaxed and took Fluttershy’s hoof into his own. “What a beautiful name you have, Fluttershy. And I must say it is a pleasure to meet you.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you too,” Fluttershy beamed, a light blush forming on her cheeks. The two pegasi let go of each other’s hooves, and then began to canter towards the steppes. “So… um, what’s exactly this way?” Fluttershy asked.

“In those steppes, Miss Fluttershy, lay the answers you seek,” Firewing said. He quickly broke into a gallop, while Fluttershy flew alongside, feeling excited and anxious at the same time.