• Published 24th Nov 2012
  • 8,748 Views, 447 Comments

Paladin's Cross - Sage Quill

The chronicle of Twilight's journey through a land under siege by darkness and corruption. Her only protection from the undead and yet darker forces lie with her new companions and a champion of light sworn to defend her. But will it be enough?

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Desperate Arrivals

"When you stare persistently into the abyss, the abyss also stares into you."

-Friedrich, Nietzsche

The caverns below the keep were pitch black as Morenth made his way slowly into the deep, feeling his way along the walls with as much caution as he could muster. It's unyielding darkness was unnaturally cold, and rank with the smell of decay, having housed the dead of the castle long before even the taint had twisted it in the days before the world was cursed.

Morenth's trek into the catacombs had been eerily quiet. The long hallways of the keep's upper floors had been devoid of life, or un-life. He was vaguely disappointed and slightly unnerved at the lack resistance from the undead. Unthinking as they were, what guided their actions was not.

As the paladin finished the disturbing thought his guiding hand met air, causing him to take pause as he reached blindly for something to orient himself.

Feeling the end of the corridor's wall as well as the conflicting air currents, Morenth assumed he'd come to a crossroad. He waited for any sign of movement in the darkness, or for any indication as to which path he should take.

Long moments stretched out as he attempted to sense the catacombs source of undeath, sure that his purpose awaited somewhere close to it.

It was an impossible feat. The whole underdark was saturated with necromantic energies, and they quickly overwhelmed his limited magical senses. Morenth repressed the urge to gag as its presence seemed to ooze around him in his heightened state of sensitivity.

The paladin was so repulsed by the undead aura that he nearly missed the strange humming sound coming from the left corridor.

"I think it should be a little more to the left Spike," said Twilight, pacing left and right while scrutinizing the pedestal her assistant was dragging across the floor of the library's basement.

Its naturally formed floor was dominated by the geometrical chalk markings of Twilight's spell matrix.

"No no, a little more to the right," she interjected quickly as Spike groaned in agitation. The environs necessary for the experiment were almost in place, and Twilight was far too excited to notice Spike's mounting frustration.

"Oh I know, I'll just go get a measuring tape and..." Her voice trailed off as she noticed the deadpan look from her assistant and gave him an embarrassed smile. "On second thought, it's good where it is. Thank you, Spike."

Twilight nearly squealed with excitement as she prepared to commence the first round of tests, turning her attention to the pedestal with obvious enthusiasm.

The pedestal in question was a remarkably well crafted tool, expertly cut entirely from crystal. This insured the maximum level of magical conductivity that was necessary for her experiment, and had not been easy to obtain. It had taken a mountain of letters to Canterlot University pleading for its use, and more than a few promised favors to the dean.

More central to her experiment than the pedestal was the spherical diamond that rested in the crystalline bowl at its zenith.

"Alright Spike, we're about to begin, prepare to take notes." Twilight looked over to her assistant to find him with paper and quill already in claw.

Her number one assistant, she corrected with a smile.

"Test one," Twilight began with a professional tone, "Test objective; to ascertain the limit to which dark magic can be stored and maintained."

She paused to collect her focus.

"Commencing test."

Morenth's breath came in shivering gasps as he made his way blindly through the dark catacombs. The unnatural cold had become almost debilitatingly frigid, causing his hands to shake uncontrollably.

The humming sound he'd heard at the crossroad was getting steadily closer with every cautious step he took, and Morenth wondered if there was a connection between the sound and the steadily dropping temperature.

The paladin stopped abruptly, his thoughts interrupted by a ghostly light spilling out onto the walls of the catacombs from an adjoining portal further down the corridor.

Morenth slid along the wall, keeping to the shadows as he made his way to the corner of the entryway. The dark stones that lined it were sheathed in a fine coat of frost that seemed to be advancing at a slow pace. Even with his magical sensitivity overwhelmed and useless he knew his purpose lay within the next chamber.

This close to the source of the noise Morenth could hear the cadence of a voice within the humming.


The paladin steeled himself, clutching both the hilt of Dawnbringer and the amulet around his neck, ready to do what had to be done to be quit of this horrid place.

He steadied his breathing and chanced a quick glance inside, cringing as the light coming from the chamber touched his face. It burned in the same manner that frostbite might, instantly stealing all warmth from his skin.

Then Morenth saw it.

Its dark form loomed over a pedestal at the center of an antechamber at the far end of the main chamber, rapt in a shadowy substance as one might wear a cloak. The archlich had its back turned to him and was enraptured in its slow chanting, too busy with its unholy ritual to notice him.

Morenth examined the chamber, searching for his intended target. No matter how much skill Morenth possessed an archlich was not an opponent he could defeat in even combat. Even Dawnbringer's holy might would do little but hinder the ascended undead.

Regardless, Dawnbringer quietly slid free of its sheath, balancing comfortably in his grip as its hungry glow silently assured him of victory.

The normally taciturn paladin gave his silent companion a rare grin of genuine thanks, and turned a stony glare to the shadowy figure.

"As Yuelith guides me," Morenth intoned boldly, still grasping tightly to his amulet as he strode through the portal to meet whatever end his goddess had set before him.

"Monster!" The paladin shouted, "Face me!"

"Twilight!? Twilight!" Spike shouted, fear threatening to overcome him as he watched the scene before him in horror.

Twilight's eyes were black pits of pure dark energy, overflowing from her like a mist that swirled around the floor she was now floating over.

The dark aura surrounding her horn was mirrored by a similar field enveloping a now black diamond. It emanated a deathly cold that Spike could feel in his bones, like it was slowly sucking the life out of him.

Spike ran toward her in an attempt to pull her away from the dark influence, but was repulsed by an unseen force as he tried to cross the ritual circle. It tossed him across the room like a rag doll, smashing him into a nearby bookcase.

He shook himself free of his daze, looking on helplessly as his oldest friend and so much more only descended further into the darkness.

The lich did face him, and Morenth regretted dearly his choice of words. It's eyes were tiny pricks of glowing hellfire set into a vaguely human skull that had been horrifically elongated.

Even with righteous fury rising in his breast, Morenth couldn't help but shudder as it spoke.

"Why do you disturb me, mortal?" The lich spoke with a voice that was pervasive as a whisper and yet more forceful than a roar.

A loud crack echoed off the walls as the huge tower maul it had summoned fell from the air, crushing the stone tiles at its side to dust. The maul's unbelievably massive shaft was lined with downward facing, cruelly bladed hooks and was truly a terrible sight to behold.

Both fear and rage mixed in Morenth's breast as he fought to control both, his heart beating wildly while he searched the room for his only chance for victory.

The glow of the antechamber drew his attention as he was about to resign himself to a hopelessly pitched battle followed by certain death.

Morenth stopped breathing as he found the source of the pale light floating above the obsidian pedestal.

Instead of answering, he charged as the hope of victory tipped the scales of his internal battle in fury's favor. A charge that nearly spelled Morenth's end as the lich met his fury with impossible speed, swinging its massive maul in a devastating downward strike.

He threw himself to the right with all the speed he could manage, leaping out from under the bludgeon's path as it caught the air where his head had been just moments before.

He hit the ground in a roll, recovering from the dodge without pause, but when Morenth's focus went back to his opponent he found the lich had shortened the arch of its swing, changing the maul's momentum in the direction of his escape.

Without a chance to set his stance the blow impacted mercilessly into his raised shield arm.

The shield buckled and bent as the paladin was knocked off his feet by the sheer ferocity of the impact.

Morenth choked back a gasp of pain as his arm hit the ground along with his body, sending waves of nausea through his body. The blow had shattered his shield arm from wrist to elbow, making any future attempt at blocking futile as it lay uselessly limp at his side.

He recovered his senses just in time to roll out from under yet another downward strike, blasting stone and mortar into rubble as it smashed into the ground. While rolling, his ruined shield caught on the ground, twisting it from him in an explosion of agony.

Allowing his rage to flare, Morenth came out of the sideways roll on his feet, this time not loosing track of his opponent in the maneuver. When the follow up blow came he ducked under it, moving inside the lich's guard and thrusting Dawnbringer into the abomination's eye socket.

It wailed in furious pain as Dawnbringer's holy fire erupted from under its cowl, eliciting a mad grin from Morenth who was prying his blade loose for another strike. The undead let go of its weapon, staggering back from the agony of his blade's enchantment.

The paladin raised Dawnbringer for an overhead chop with all his strength behind it when the lich's bony hand shot out, piercing Morenth's chest.

"Twilight?! Twilight!" a familiar voice called through the shade, cutting through the fog of Twilight's mind.

It had reached her through the darkness but she had little hope in reaching it as the voice seemed to come to her from over a long distance, muted and indistinct.

The void was all Twilight could see, stretching out all around her in the purest expression of endless nothing. Her sharp mind went through a hundred different scenarios, trying to deduce what had gone wrong with the experiment but found her thoughts unwinding before she could complete them.

Morenth bit back a cry of anguish as his fury rose to fight back the frost that seemed to course through his veins.

The lich hadn't physically pierced his body, instead it had thrust an incorporeal limb through his chest. This meant little to an archlich as it began to suck the very life from Morenth's body.

He'd made the fatal mistake of giving into his rage, forsaking his plan in the heat of the moment when his hatred for the monster had overflowed.

Morenth's breath came in shallow rasps as he looked over his shoulder to the obsidian pedestal. His desperate rolling and dodging had thankfully positioned him close enough to salvage his plan.

Twilight panicked as she tried to remember her parents faces, the day she'd been accepted to Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, anything to focus on but found only distorted images.

She started reciting the names of her friends, clinging desperately to her remaining memories.

"Rarity. Applejack. Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy. Rainbow Dash. Rarity. Appleja-" she repeated it over and over, the names becoming more vague with each iteration.

There were tears in her eyes as the image of each of her friends became indistinct, until she clung to her very last memory.

She wept as she called out the last name she could remember over and over.

"Spike! Spike! Spike! Spi-" Twilight cried out, trying to remember all of the important memories. The day he was born. The first time he'd called her name. His crush on Rarity. His favorite food. His birthday. His name. Her little brother.

With a roar of defiance Morenth twisted around to face the pedestal. The disembodied hand of the lich passed through more of his flesh, dragging his life force out even faster. The paladin didn't care as long as the undead abomination went with him.

"You don't belong in this world or any, monster!" The paladin fixed the small gem in the basin of the pedestal with a glare of pure hatred, raising his holy blade overhead as he prepared to strike.

Morenth's rage once again guided his hand as Dawnbringer came down like an executioner's axe on the exposed phylactery, shattering the gem in a blaze of fiery elation.

The archlich shrieked in pure anguish as the only thing tying it to its corporeal form was pulverized into tiny fragments.

It quickly ripped its hand out of Morenth's back, focusing solely on its survival. A rift tore the air asunder as it tried to make its way into the void between planes before whatever remnants of its wretched soul faded away.

Summoning all of his remaining strength Morenth turned on the lich, intoning a prayer to Yuelith as he rushed at the undead. He was no priest, but in its weakened state he had confidence that his prayer would be enough.

The paladin grabbed the incorporeal cloak of the lich as it made its way through the portal, determined to keep the wraith-like undead in the realm of the living long enough to destroy it.

"You won't escape, undead filth!" Morenth yelled as he set his feet firmly in a wide stance.

It thrashed violently against his grip and dragged his arm through the extra-planar rift, causing him to growl with anger as his thoughts became fuzzy.

The disorientation the paladin suffered from contact with the void was so acute he didn't notice until it was too late, the sudden change in resistance as the archlich slipped through his fingers.

Morenth shouted in unintelligible rage as he reached deeper into the void, grasping angrily and blindly for the escaping abomination.

Finally his hand found something solid in the darkness of the void. With his righteous fury rekindled he pulled with all his might, falling backwards as the object gave no resistance.

His breath was knocked out of him as the creature he'd pulled from the void landed on him with an audible thud. He coughed loudly and his eyes watered, wheezing as he tried to regain his ability to breath.

Slowly, the paladin recovered and began to shift the uncomfortable weight off of him. He only succeeded in rolling it off his left side and onto his shattered arm.

Morenth let out a choked cry of pain, struggling to remove his ruined arm from under creature only to stop rigidly and stare in gobsmacked wonder.

He'd never seen a real unicorn, but after being raised in the Abby surrounded by depictions of Yuelith there was no debate in his mind that the creature that laid next to him was a unicorn, though it was much smaller than his childhood imaginings.

The paladin looked on in shocked silence as the lavender unicorn whimpered in its state of unconsciousness, cringing as he carefully removed his battered arm.

In the distance he heard the shrieks of ghouls sprinting into the catacombs eager for living flesh now that their master was no longer there to prevent it. inwardly, he cursed his state of shock for allowing him to miss his window of opportunity to flee.

Morenth instinctively rose to meet the undead prepared to face them to whatever end when he paused, turning his gaze once again to the unconscious unicorn. His hand went to his belt pouch, feeling the corked bottles within.

"Only two left." He chuckled, another rare smile gracing his features.

For once the paladin was glad duty had won over hatred.