• Published 24th Nov 2012
  • 8,749 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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Companions of Circumstance

"There was never a man born so wise or good, but one or more companions came into the world with him, who delight in his faculty, and report it. I cannot see without awe, that no man thinks alone and no man acts alone, but the divine assessors who came up with him into life,--now under one disguise, now under another,--like a police in citizen's clothes, walk with him, step for step, through all kingdoms of time."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson (1860)

Morenth cradled the small unicorn's head in the crook of his uninjured arm, holding one the golden bottles of alchemical healing in the same hand as he uncorked it with his mouth and spit the stopper out onto the floor.

It looked to be physically unwounded but was cold to the touch, having been fully exposed to the deathly chill of the planar void.

The paladin leaned in close and whispered a silent apology into the unicorn's ear as he pushed the bottle to its lips, awkwardly pouring the liquid into the small creature's mouth.

A few moments passed before it began thrashing wildly, fighting against him as he attempted to keep the creature from hurting itself. During the struggle, the unicorn cried out in a way Morenth hadn't expected, with a voice.

"Spike!" the unicorn strained pitifully with a weak, feminine cry.

Worry aside, the paladin was pleasantly surprised that she could speak. He'd heard that some magical beasts understood the common tongue, and having the ability to communicate with her would be invaluable during their escape.

As if to punctuate his thoughts another wave of shrieking madness reverberated off the stone corridors of the catacombs, reminding Morenth of how little time they had.

He lowered the unicorns head as gently as he could in his haste, taking the last of his potions in hand and downing it in a single draft.

The golden poultice waited only a few seconds before filling his veins with liquid fire.

Morenth squeezed the unbroken upper half of his ruined arm as waves of agony poured through him, grinding his teeth together in an attempt to keep himself from shouting profanities. The last thing he needed at the moment was a pitched battle with his back to a wall.

Minutes seemed to stretch on for hours as his bones reknitted themselves, taking noticeably longer to heal than his fractures from earlier. He focused himself on listening for any more signs of ghouls closing in around them when a groan of protest cut his concentration.

"What in the name of Celestia is...?" a soft, but weary voice behind him questioned before trailing off.

The paladin felt her eyes on him. He turned to face her, preparing to explain the dire situation, but jolted his still mending arm during the movement.

The lavender unicorn stumbled back against the wall as Morenth let out an unintentional snarl of pain, cringing as it elicited a look of fear from the mare.

"Wait!" Morenth intoned forcefully, "I mean you no harm!"

Twilight groaned as she awoke shivering, suddenly aware of her new surroundings.

Pervasive darkness dominated most of her vision as her eyes moved quickly, taking in every detail of the horrifying chamber she found herself in.

She started to panic as her thoughts went back to her time in the void, but found her memories intact, causing a wave of relief to wash over her.

Spike. Rainbow Dash. Applejack. Fluttershy. Rari...

A figure obscured by the darkness caused Twilight to stall as she was recalling the precious names of her friends and family.

"What in the name of Celestia is...?" She began, trailing off as she examined the strange creature, becoming slowly aware of its unsteady breathing.

The tall bipedal creature stood at the edge of what little light illuminated the room, casting its face in deep shadows as it turned and snarled like a vicious animal. Her initial curiosity was crushed in a wave of instinctual fear as she fell against the wall at her back, understanding on a primal level that the creature was predatory in nature.

"Wait!" It spoke with a youthful, masculine voice, "I mean you no harm!"

It stepped fully into the pale light with one of its limbs held out disarmingly while the other seemed to hang limp at its side.

Twilight was about to give voice to the hundreds of questions buzzing around in her head when the creature suddenly tensed, rushing towards her as it scooped up and sheathed a sword lying on the ground in one fluid motion.

"Wha-!?" she managed to shout before the creature was on her, pinning her to the wall as the room's light diminished to a dim glow.

Any further protest was rendered mute by a hand held firmly over her snout.

"Don't. Shout," it commanded quietly into her ear, freezing her movements, "Please, I mean you no harm, but you're going to have to listen to me if you wish to survive."

It pulled away slightly as if to measure her response, the pale light illuminating its features as it looked into her eyes. Its own eyes reminded Twilight of a timber wolf she'd once observed in the Everfree while studying wildlife, not in shape but in their intensity.

Twilight's thoughts on what the creature intended, or what it could possibly mean by 'if she wished to survive' were cut short by a series of horrifying shrieks echoing through the chamber.

She felt the hackles on her withers rise as the shrill sounds drew closer, looking to her captor for answers. Whatever made the terrifying cries sounded far worse than the snarl the creature before her had given, promising suffering and painful death.

With her snout held firmly shut she merely nodded her assent to the apparent lesser of two evils who eased its grip on her mouth as it pulled away from her.

"Morenth," it whispered abruptly.

"What?" Twilight asked, expecting more of an explanation than a single word.

"My name. It's Morenth," it offered tersely, "Yours?"

"Oh-uh," she fumbled, not expecting 'him', she decided, to offer the courtesy, "It's Twilight, Twilight Sparkle. Is this really the best time though?" she added, noting the incredulity of introductions given the situation.

"Yes," Morenth stated simply, a ghost of a smile tugging at his mouth. It was short lived as he once again adopted a severe expression.

"Follow close behind me. If we get ambushed keep going and don't look back, I'll catch up later." Morenth continued on to explain the path to the parapets as he remembered it, giving her time to memorize it as he checked his equipment.

Dawnbringer rested easily in its sheath, content to be at its wielders side once again, but his shield laid in a ruined heap across the room, battered beyond repair by the lich's maul.

Morenth's anger threatened to flare at the thought of the archlich's escape. He'd had it in his grasp, and the failure gnawed at him, dowsing a fresh well of rage from the paladin.

He looked once again to Twilight who was rummaging through a shelf of decrepit tomes that had presumably belonged to the lich, cursing quietly under her breath.

"Is there a problem?" Morenth intoned as softly as possible, not willing to let his annoyance show. They were surrounded in a crypt full of undead and she was busy reading.

"Yes. Yes, there is!" Twilight whispered with exasperation, displaying the tome she had been reading with a surprising use of arcane telekinesis, "This book, I can't read it, any of it!"

Morneth's frustration was mounting, but he managed to keep his expression even.

"Twilight, it's written in a dead language. I can't read it either," he said turning to the entrance of the dark corridors.

He quietly reflected on what Twilight had just said as she breathed a sigh remorse, questioning how she could speak the common tongue, but not be able to tell its script apart from an ancient language. Perhaps she was a scholar of many languages and finding one she couldn't recognize irked her. Somehow, he felt his guess was spot on.

Putting his musings aside in favor of the present, Morenth moved to the chamber's only exit. He scouted the adjoining passage, painfully aware of how useless the act was in the dark catacombs.

With caution the paladin stepped out into the pitch black corridor, listening intently for any movement but found nothing.

Morenth grew more optimistic about their egress as the trek through the underdark met no resistance, coming upon the first crossroad that the paladin had used to gain access to the catacombs in a matter of minutes.

Upon rounding the corner Morenth's foot caught on something brittle, snapping it in two and causing him to loose balance. In the absolute darkness of the corridor he failed to find purchase on the nearby wall, and fell into a pile of similarly splintery objects, crunching loudly as he hit the ground.

He was trying to find his way out of the tangle when Twilight tripped over his feet, falling forward with an audible thud.

"Ow! Watch where you're going, Morenth!" the lavender mare moaned as she tried to extract herself from the twisted knot, hitting something hard with her head in the process, "Ouch! Okay, I think we need some light."

Morenth didn't know how she intended to produce light, but his realization of what they were currently laying in caused his mind to cry out in warning. He was about to voice this as Twilight radiated a pink tinted light from her horn.

"No, wait!" he whispered harshly, his warning coming to late.

The burnished arcane glow cut jagged swaths of dancing shadows as it fell over the bones of a dozen once entombed bodies.

Twilight stared into the eye sockets of a still rotting skull for several moments before loosing a shrill scream that echoed through all the halls of the catacombs.

Though his reaction was late, Morenth clamped a hand over the irate mares snout, cutting off her panicked scream as he freed himself from the bone pile.

The crossroads, once again shrouded in darkness as Twilight's light spell faded, fell deathly quiet.

Morenth expanded his spiritual senses hastily as he listened for the inevitable, straining his ears and mind to catch the slightest evidence of detection. He needn't have bothered as the the shrieks of more than a hundred ghouls answered, mewling like animals before a meal.

"Run!" he shouted, no longer concerned with giving away their position as the undead moved through the underground maze to surround them.

They burst into a mad sprint for the exit only a short distance away, pushing harder as the animalistic sounds of hunger nipped at their heels.

Morenth kept pace with Twilight as best he could, fighting off fatigue that threatened to slow his pace as the ghouls behind began to close the gap between them. The strain of a head on fight with an ascended undead and its countless minions on his way to the ruined castle compounded with multiple bouts of healing his damaged body was starting to tax even his reserves.

They flew through the entrance of the tower that would lead to the parapets, hugging the spiral staircase as the hungry masses of hands pawed at them from behind. One managed to grab hold of Morenth's cloak as it bellowed out behind him, slowing him considerably. With a snarl of protest he ripped the clasp free, discarding the cloak as the light of day became apparent from the upper levels.

"There!" the paladin called breathlessly, pointing to the sun filled exit, "Run on!"

As Morenth cleared the entrance behind Twilight a ghoulish hand found purchase on his now exposed leather harness, holding him fast between the daylight and the darkness of the keep. He fought back viciously, throwing elbows and thrashing to remove the death grip. Slowly, he began to lose ground as more hands joined the first, finding the leather straps of his armor.

The paladin's hand went to Dawnbringer's hilt as his fury began to rise, even knowing he was likely at his end. As his trusted blade began to slide from its sheath an arcane blast of purple magic seared past his shoulder and into the host of ghouls, sending many tumbling over each other.

The hordes collective grip loosened as Twilight fired another scathing trail of magic into it, allowing Morenth the chance he needed to escape. With a grunt of surprise he threw himself toward the safety of sunlight, crashing to the ground at Twilights hooves.

"Come on, get up!" the lavender unicorn implored, panting from panic and exertion. "Morenth!"

"Calm yourself, Twilight." Morenth sighed after regaining his breath, pushing himself upright. "The undead can't survive the light of day. We're safe here."

True enough, the shrieks of the of the undead had turned to soft mulling as the horde of malformed bodies pressed tightly against the shadow's edge, looking for a way to get to their prey.

He walked over to her as she mulled over the revelation, kneeling down to eye level. "Twilight," he said, getting her attention, "Why did you come back for me?"

"What?" Twilight asked, thoroughly confused by the sudden question, "Why wouldn't I?"

The paladin almost cracked a smile as he placed his hand on her head, looking over the walls of the parapets to the rising sun.

"We should be on our way," Morenth said, rising to his feet, "We have a long distance to cover before we're truly free of this darkness."