• Published 19th Jan 2013
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The Price of Friendship - lionel23



An alternate, dark future of Equestria... can a certain dragon and his old friends do what it takes to bring light back into the darkness?

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Chapter 1 - The Main Story

From atop his broken throne, a single lonely pony sat hunched over as he scanned the ramshackle ruins of the room that represented the seat of power in all of Equestria – or what was left of it. This pony was known by his many ‘adoring’ subjects as King Solace, the last in the line of Alicorns who could proudly trace their lineage back to the Royal Sisters Celestia and Luna. What had become of them was anyone’s guess, and only begrudgingly did he decide to forcibly take their throne in their absence in order to save a nation.

That was long ago, and more than 1000 years had passed since that time.

He shook his head slowly; his Milky Way mane and beard cascading and flowing gently down his face. His arctic night coat complimented his shimmering mane with muted brilliance; a physical reminder to some that he did have something in common with the Royal Sisters of legend. But that’s all that they were now: legends.

It had been so long and so few records still existed of ancient Equestria that only his Champions of Harmony and his Old Friend could positively confirm that they both even existed; and both – as he was told – were an amazing sight to behold at the height of their power. Even when he had ascended to take control of the throne, he never had the luxury or pleasure of meeting either in person.

Speaking of his Old Friend, the adult dragon curled up beside him was his only companion in the barren and empty room. It had been so long since the day he first encountered him. Boy, what a startling experience that was: a lost young dragon wandering aimlessly in the woods while the encroaching forces of evil were coming. The dragon was only a young teenager at that time, but he had taken him in and raised him like his own family. King Solace smiled tenderly at his now fully grown ‘friend’, which was enough to catch the eye of the lackadaisical dragon.

“Your Majesty?” the dragon rumbled softly.

“Ah it’s nothing, Old Friend. I was just recalling the past,” Solace muttered and used his magic to push back his royal crown more securely atop his head, “Old foals love to think back about grander times.”

King Solace wore a simple golden bracer around his neck in addition to the weather-worn crown of red and gold that crested his forehead. His most distinguishing feature was his cutie mark: an old wind-up pocket watch surrounded by stars, while the face of the clock was that of half a sun and half starry skied darkness.

“They should be here soon,” the dragon muttered and snorted, a small belch of green flame briefly puffing out of his nostrils.

Creeakkk…

No sooner had his friend spoken then the sound of the lumbering, wooden doors began to creak eerily open. King Solace’s gaze slowly darted towards the massive doors that marked the entrance to his castle’s broken-down throne room. With the devastation that the war had afflicted upon all of Equestria, he had little choice but to make this residence his home. His Old Friend had been the one suggest and reveal the location of this ancient castle in the Everfree Forest – the last place he would have ever thought to have found as a stronghold against the ever encroaching darkness. Not much had been done since he had taken residence here to spruce up the place as there were more practical applications of the royal coffers that he could use to help his ponies.

He sighed and straightened his back to sit upright as he snapped himself back to the present, reminding himself of the impending arrival of his guests. If there was one moment that afforded him the chance to look ‘stately’ for once, he guessed now would be just as good a time as any to fulfill that portion of his responsibilities as ruler of Equestria. Gazing somewhat detached at the doors, quiet relief rushed over him as the form of his guests took shape and form.

Three distinguished ponies made their appearance as they walked in a line towards his throne. At the head of the line was the noble and proud leader of the Canterlot Royal Army Remnant – the last of the fighting force that had survived Canterlot since the outbreak of war and hostilities with the enemy. Her brilliant but dulled gamboge coat clashed sharply with her cerise mane and grayish-purple eyes that hid beneath her tarnished golden helm, but it was what she wore that distinguished her from the others in the Army. She wore on her front hooves a pair of dull golden armored hoofguards while her hind legs she sported a more full-length leg brace, which was also armored. Gears were visible on either side of her armored rear while braces lined the frame of her wings and back; all with the intent and purpose to reenable the full use and movement of her body – even if it was artificially. Her exposed flank just above the armored thigh-boots was that of a dark and stormy cloud with many lightning bolts shooting out of it in all directions. A quiet if somewhat disconcerting reminder of her fanatical devotion and loyalty to him from the loss she had suffered.

“General Roo,” the King nodded in greeting to her, “How fares the Army?”

“Sterling, sire. Morale and our fighting spirit are impeccably high,” General Roo replied confidently and stepped to the side as the next pony strode up.

The next one to follow up was a mare with a pale gray, olive coat. Her brilliant amaranth mane easily made her an eye-catching sight to behold – and indeed King Solace noted he might have even pursued a relationship with her had the times been different as she was definitely a head-turner – the proverbial mare in a red dress as it were. She had a set of four black, thigh-high boots laced up in front and a deep crimson sash tied loosely around her neck. A black cowboy hat and an equally pitch black eye-patch covered her left eye – a harsh reminder of her tragic past that Solace deeply resented not being able to remedy. On her flank was a green apple dripping in poison.

“And how are you, Bad Apple?” Solace asked somewhat carefully, and was rewarded thusly for showing his concern.

“Better than can be expected, Tyrant,” Bad Apple scoffed at the King.

“Watch your tongue, Outlaw! You are in the presence of royalty here!” scowled General Roo but King Solace raised his hoof to silence any further objections.

Bad Apple sneered and trotted over to a broken column that lined the interior of the room and stood up on two legs and leaned back against it, crossing her fore legs dismissively while tilting her hat down to obscure her eyes. King Solace didn’t let it bother him too much though, as he was all too familiar with the history of the ‘Resistance.’ Long ago at the onset of the war, Bad Apple had lost her eye and many of her dear family when he had to make a choice between defending Canterlot or Ponyville. Strategically, he knew he made the right choice then but that didn’t do much to assuage his guilt from all those lives tragically cut short and lost that day in Ponyville as it was burned to the ground.

Ever since that incident, Bad Apple became the head of the Apple Family and left Equestria just as they left her and her family to the wolves back then. For her decision, the Equestrian Council that succeeded after the disappearance of the Royal Sisters banished her and the entire Apple Family as outlaws and renegades, much to the public’s approval for how they felt that she was abandoning her fellow ponies during such a great crisis. When King Solace was forced to ascend the throne in order to save Equestria, he made sure to dissolve that body immediately, but the damage had already been done. And despite his supreme position of being the ultimate authority in power of Equestria, public opinion was too strongly against him to overturn such a decree during the precarious starting years of his reign.

The last to introduce themselves was also his favored, though no one inside or outside of even his royal court knew his true feelings on that matter. The Marchioness, as she was called, was his top advisor within the Royal Court. If Bad Apple represented the common pony, then the Marchioness represented all the wealth and power of the nobility left in Equestria.

Her light gray coat along with her mulberry mane streaked with gray rose belied her age. Wrinkles were visible beneath her sunken, harlequin eyes but such looks could be deceiving; because behind those eyes was a spark – no, a fire – that still burned just as brightly and intently as the day he had met her. In fact, King Solace recalled he most definitely would not be where he is – much less assumed control of the throne – if it was not at her urging. A tidy green neck scarf was wrapped neatly around her neck and tucked into the overly long red overcoat that she wore. The cuffs of the coat were pitch black on her fore legs while the back half was opened and exposed. A protective design of a pentagram was stitched into the rear of the coat and of the three she was the most level-headed of the group.

“Greetings, my sweet belle,” he said with a weak but genuine smile to her.

“A pleasure to be at your service, King Solace,” the Marchioness replied, bowing low and deeply before stepping aside, as was proper etiquette.

Together, those ponies represented all the most influential powers in the ruined state of Equestria: The Royal Army Remnant, the Apple Family Resistance, and the Equestrian Nobility. They were also his Champions of Harmony – as he liked to refer to them as – though getting their combined cooperation was a major undertaking unto itself.

Once introductions were out of the way, the massive dragon rose up on its haunches, his lavender purple and scaly hide contrasting sharply with his exposed pale yellow-green belly. Along his back, massive green scales traced themselves down its spine as he took a deep breath to fully wake himself up now that his time had finally come.

“My friends… my Champions of Harmony,” King Solace corrected himself as he addressed the three ponies in the room, “I have summoned you all here to talk about a most urgent and pressing crisis on our hooves.”

“You’re finally stepping down?” Bad Apple hap hazarded a guess.

“Cretin, how dare you imply that! His Majesty wouldn’t—you wouldn’t, would you; Your Royal Highness?” General Roo looked anxiously at King Solace.

He shook his head and dismissed the concern.

“As much as it would please not just you but me, Bad Apple; sadly, that is not the reason I have brought you all here today. No, the reason I have called each and every one of you is this. Spike, take that letter.”

All eyes were on the dragon as he belched out a torrent of green flames and produced a singed-free parchment from his magical flames. It dropped like a rock the moment it appeared but the dragon quickly snapped it up and unfurled it on the stairs that descended from King Solace’s throne towards the other three ponies in the room. The ‘letter’ in question was the size of a war room’s table, and as it unfurled itself it became clear to everypony what it was.

It was a map of the area directly northwest of the Everfree Ruins, bordering the area that used to be the historical site of Ponyville.

“What are we looking for exactly, your Majesty?” General Roo inquired as she stared perplexed at the map.

“Spike, go ahead,” Solace turned over control of the meeting to his friend.

“Of course, your Highness. Let me explain then; the enemy is preparing to move in full force from Canterlot and has finally narrowed down the location of this very castle.”

“How soon will they be here?” General Roo asked, concern in her voice.

“At latest, by first light tomorrow.”

All eyes went wide – except that of Spike and King Solace as they had been aware of the letter’s contents way before the meeting.

“Then we have to evacuate as quickly as possible!” General Roo declared abruptly, “We have no time to waste.”

“And to where, exactly, would we retreat to? The Griffon Kingdoms have fallen, Appleloosa is no longer safe since the Overland Campaign and anyplace further outside and away from the Everfree Forests will be out in the open over open ground. We’d be exposed and vulnerable, General,” the Marchioness chided the military pony, “I’m afraid I see only one course of action left to us, which I guess is the reason you called us all here, your Highness. Am I right?”

King Solace nodded as his sharp-minded advisor read his thoughts exactly, though the other two did not seem immediately clear on it, so he spoke up to clear the air of any confusion.

“Indeed, Marchioness,” Solace smiled and then turned his attention to the others, “My friends, we are now at the tipping point. We cannot retreat, we cannot surrender. In absence of any other viable options, we are left with only one choice now: to attack.”

“Attack? Are you shoring up new titles now to mark the end of your reign?” Bad Apple sounded incredulous, “Mad King Solace, that’s what you are; Mad!”

“Why you little ingrate, I’d have you rebellious flank locked up and thrown into the dungeons right now if it wasn’t for—” General Roo declared, but was interrupted by Bad Apple.

“Oh would you now? Like you did with every other pony who spoke out against your tyrannical lord? Go ahead, I’d like to see you try and take me on.”

“You know, the dungeons are too good for you. Maybe an old fashioned execution would be more appropriate for the likes of you.”

“Enough bickering, you two!” the Marchioness stepped in between them as it was apparent to anypony that they were literally about to be at each other’s throats.

Dark flickers of shadows trailed from the corners of the Marchioness’ eyes while the hue and tint of her harlequin eyes took on a darker and more sinister green tone.

“Oh, now you’re siccing your mistress on me? What a great and powerful king you are, hiding behind your harlot and your lackey. Is this the sign of the end times? Of how great and humble our most benevolent and kind ruler is?”

The words registered in King Solace’s mind too slow and too late for him to react to what he feared would occur – and to his utter disgust such thoughts began to transpire before his very own eyes.

The Marchioness fixed her eyes intently on Bad Apple – bitter vile and hate filling her soul and eyes – as she used her magic to levitate and hold Bad Apple upside-down in midair.

“How. Dare. You,” the Marchioness enunciated every word slowly but with deep meaning as she spoke, “I. Will. Not. Tolerate. You. Any. Longer!”

“Oh really, just what do you—”

Bad Apple’s voice was cut off as a hue of dark magic engulfed her neck. She tried to speak further but it felt as if an invisible hand was beginning to choke and strangle her now. She squirmed and tried to break free, but what else could an Earth pony do when suspended high in the air and off the ground that they were so accustomed to?

General Roo blinked in horror as the Marchioness began to strangle the life out of the Outlaw, while Spike was visibly distressed and concerned by the scene unfolding before them – in the very heart of Equestria.

“STOP!” cried a booming voice – a voice that anyone could clearly recognize as being that of the Royal Canterlot voice – swept through the room.

A burst of white energy negated that of the Marchioness, which dumped Bad Apple unceremoniously onto the floor before any harm could become of her.

King Solace’s eyes were glowing with a bright white intensity. His pupils were no longer visible as his Galaxy white mane rippled and flowed above and around him.

As everypony trembled at the sight of their King, they all lowered their heads and averted their eyes. Even Spike – a powerful dragon in his own right – was compelled to turn away from the blinding power that was the kingly pony.

That one act was enough to snap King Solace out of his rage and his power dimmed as he looked worriedly at his Old Friend.

“I’m sorry Spike, I did not mean to frighten you,” he spoke with a kind and soft-hearted voice like that of an old grandfather reassuring his favorite grandson.

King Solace then turned his attention back to the three, his face grim but determined.

“Now I would not have called you all here if I was bent on some sort of suicidal, last stand. That is not the way I do things, regardless if some of you would think otherwise,” he eyed Bad Apple in particular with that comment before continuing on.

“But we are presented with a unique opportunity; one that I would be remiss in exploiting if the situation was any different.”

“An opportunity?” General Roo’s interest was piqued by that, her military mind whirling with the possibilities of tactical and offensive actions.

“Indeed, General. Reconnaissance conducted by my Old Friend here has confirmed my suspicions. The enemy is preparing to deliver their coup de grâce and as such they are committing everything they have for this final assault.”

“So how do we possibly stand a chance then?” Bad Apple eked out her words barely, her voice hoarse from the Marchioness’ strangling earlier.

“The enemy has already telegraphed their intentions to us. They wish to strike this blow as quickly and as swiftly as possible. They are making a straight line from Canterlot to the Ghastly Gorge as a means to prevent any chance of our escape; to finally crush us once and for all,” King Solace said in a matter-of-factly tone.

“Sounds like a sound plan, if I were the enemy. So… why are you not so concerned with this?” the General asked suspiciously.

“Because the enemy thinks they have the advantage,” Solace replied.

“Overwhelming numbers, superior position, history of winning battle after battle…” Bad Apple began to count the advantages the enemy possessed off the top of her head, “I think the ball is pretty much in their court, unless I’m not seeing something here?”

King Solace grinned.

“Overconfidence,” Solace stated flatly, “That will be their downfall. The enemy is expecting us to mount a desperate defense in these ruins and to drown us out with sheer numbers. What I am proposing is to change our plan of action to something the enemy will least expect.”

“So, an active attack instead of a passive defense?” the Marchioness guessed.

“Exactly. We will hit them here, right before they enter the Everfree Forest,” Solace picked up a toy flag and plopped it down right on the fields of Ponyville, “The ground is surrounded by low, rolling hills, perfect to conceal our troops until the exact moment that we need.”

“Just one problem, you’ll catch them by surprise and then what? They are the superior force, and we all know that if just one of them escapes then they will regenerate their numbers and strike us again!” Bad Apple pointed out critically.

“Which is why,” King Solace’s tone was much more somber, “We cannot allow the enemy to escape. We must win completely and utterly. We must annihilate the entirety of the enemy troop or certain defeat is to follow. Hence why I have called you three here.”

All three ponies cocked their heads inquisitively at their King as he pulled out three white chess pieces: a queen, a rook, and a knight.

“The Royal Army Remnant is very much a shadow of its former self,” King Solace stated, but before General Roo could protest he quickly made up for it with a compliment, “Though they are our best and most well trained fighting force, they are just too few to commence this operation alone.”

“Your Majesty, I assure you that the Royal Army can overcome any obstacle, sire.”

“And I believe you will, General,” Solace nodded as he placed the white knight chess piece in the center of the battlefield, “Which is why you must hit the enemy with every able-bodied pony you got. You must strike their center as hard as possible when the moment is right.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” General Roo raised her head somewhat indignantly; after all she knew how to do her job.

“And I mean EVERYpony, including the King’s Own,” Solace added nonchalantly.

“Of course, sire. Including the King’s—” General Roo blinked in surprise, “Your own bodyguards, your Majesty?”

“Yes, even them.”

“But you’ll be left defenseless. If this is all a trap meant to pull our forces away, you’ll be vulnerable!”

“Even my loss at the price for ultimate victory is a good tradeoff; don’t you think so too, General?” Solace smiled grimly.

“That would be a pyrrhic victory then!” protested the General, “Your Highness, we can make do without weakening your own guard if you just—”

“General,” Solace cut off the military pony, “Your opinion has been noted but this decision is not up for debate or discussion. I am ordering you to commit all available soldiers to the offensive. You are to hold nothing back and I mean absolutely nothing, do you understand me? We are awash in a sea of blood and I want to see that ended once and for all. What is one more life to give if it is to bring a lifetime of peace and prosperity?”

General Roo pursed her lips and lowered her head, unable to speak out after being given a direct order by her King.

“General,” Solace managed to catch the eyes of General Roo and nodded sagely, “My will be done?”

“Your will be done, your Majesty,” General Roo nodded and bowed out of the way.

“So the Tyrant is just as ruthless as ever, eh?” Bad Apple glared at the King.

“I do what must be done, Bad Apple,” King Solace said calmly while everyone but the General remained passively pensive, “And what of the Resistance? What conditions are the Apples in to assist in the battle?”

“I guess you could say we’ll be as ready as we’ll ever be,” shrugged Bad Apple, “Though this whole cock-a-mangy scheme seems just plum nuts to me.”

General Roo would normally have been all up in her face at such insolence, but after the earlier incident with the King displaying his powers; she chose the wiser course of battle and remained silent.

“Bad Apple, I understand that the Resistance has never… what’s the word, ‘admired’ the crown?” King Solace said to the Outlaw.

“Oh yah? Did you just come to that marvelous revelation? I didn’t approve of you becoming King and look where you’ve gotten us all at.”

“That may be, but here we are now,” Solace interjected and strode down from his throne until he got within spitting distance of Bad Apple, “I am King Solace, last in the line of the Alicorn Kings; Father of Time itself. Let history judge me for my actions and if I am judged to be a tyrant, then let my line end with me now and forever. I have no heirs to take up my reigns after I’m gone and I am all that remains of the line of royal alicorns in this world. If that is the price that I must pay the piper, then I’m more than happy – and willing – to pay that price in order to save all of Equestria.

United, we can stand together as one and put an end to this threat – here and now, once and for all! Divided, not only will we fall here but countless generations yet unborn will pay for our mistakes. Now I must ask you Bad Apple, will you stand with me and bring this war to its inevitable conclusion? An end to 1000 years of pain, suffering, and darkness?”

Bad Apple glowered at the King before giving her reply.

“The Resistance will stand by you, not by choice but out of necessity. These are trying times and war makes for some strange bedfellows indeed,” Bad Apple snorted and started for the door, “What would you have us do in this grand… scheme of yours?”

Solace smiled and moved the rook just behind the hills that marked where the battle would occur.

“The Resistance will secure the perimeter of the battlefield. You are not to allow anything to escape while General Roo rides down the enemy. You are the only ones with sufficient numbers to ensure that this does not happen, as well as this role of yours will minimize causalities amongst your family. Though I need not remind you it will not be without some risk, is that clear?”

“Fine, we shall be there at the appointed time. The Apple Family never breaks their word.”

With that, the Outlaw turned tail and promptly marched out the door. General Roo looked to the King and gave a curt salute.

“We can do this without them, your Majesty. Why stoop so low to get an ungrateful vagabond’s help?”

“The Apple Family, largely because of their actions which has so ostracized them from the rest of Equestria, is the single largest group of ponies still intact throughout this whole war. We need their numbers to complete the encirclement, General.”

“I really do not like this,” General Roo muttered, but King Solace trotted over and put an old hoof on her shoulders.

“I know you don’t, General. But we must all do our duty. Your force will still be the primary troops to engage the enemy. Bad Apple will focus on completing the encirclement to make sure none of the enemies escape you and your guards. That way, my best ponies and my best General can focus on what they do best: kicking some major flank. Do you understand me, General?”

With a confident smile, General Roo nodded and tugged on her helmet securely.

“Right, your Majesty! If you’ll excuse me, I would like to get some time to prep my troops.”

King Solace gave his approval and with that only three souls were left alone in the room: himself, the dragon, and the Marchioness.

“And my role?” the Marchioness asked as she was the last to receive her marching orders.

Solace placed the Queen piece on a hill overlooking the battlefield on the map.

“Write a letter to the nobility. I need every magic using unicorn we can muster to reinforce the Resistance. When the battle starts, they are to erect a force field around the area to prevent the enemy from bypassing the Resistance,”

“Of course, I will go ahead and muster the nobles and lead them—” the Marchioness began to say but was cut off by King Solace.

“I’m afraid you do not understand, Marchioness. I want you to write a letter formalizing the plan and providing them their orders, but you are to remain here by my side.”

“Remain? In our final battle? Surely, you can’t be serious?”

“Indeed I am,” Solace said succinctly.

“If I may ask… why?” the Marchioness looked a bit hurt, worried if she had done something to lose her King’s trust in her.

“I have something more important in store for you, hence why I will need you to stay by my side. Is my company really that bad that you wish to break away from me so soon?” Solace smiled jokingly at her.

The Marchioness giggled softly and shook her head.

“Of course not,” she then looked at Spike and scanned the room, “Can you please call me like you usually do? We are alone and I’m sure Spike would not mind?”

“Sure thing, my sweet belle,” Solace chuckled, feeling like his old self as he ascended back to his throne.

“But in all seriousness, do you think this plan is wise, Solace?” the Marchioness gingerly walked up the same flight of stairs as Solace, breaking her formal manners to address the King informally.

“My sweet belle, you don’t give them as much credit as I do,” he said sagely.

The Marchioness cocked her head to one side and gave the wizened pony a puzzled look.

“Pardon me?”

“Those two,” he indicated towards the doors, “They understand what is at stake here. Bad Apple and General Roo may not like each other, but each of them knows what will happen if we fail here. To General Roo, it would be the final nail in the coffin for the Royal Army Remnant; she will give it her all to make sure that does not happen. For Bad Apple, if the combined forces of the Royal Army Remnant and the King’s Own are utterly defeated, then it is only a matter of time before the enemy goes after her family. She has a vested interest in seeing General Roo triumph. With the organized forces of Equestria taking the brunt of the assault, the disparate Apple Family Resistance need only worry about stragglers that try to escape the battle; and with your unicorns there, that is all but assured now.”

“Even so…” the Marchioness didn’t sound quite assured by the King’s words, though to her his plan did seem sound, “What about me? If this plan is so important, if so much hinges on its success, don’t you think I should be there with my magic?”

King Solace gave the aristocrat a long look, feigning ignorance as he closed his eyes.

“Patience my dear, you must exhibit patience. I didn’t get to live to be 1000 years old by not planning things accordingly. Trust me, you will have a role in all this once it is over, I am not doing this to shield or protect you. I promise.”

* * *

Hours passed as King Solace and the Marchioness sat quietly in the room while the lumbering dragon Spike curled up in the middle of the room faced the doors – standing watch for the two tiny and elderly ponies behind him.

To King Solace, he knew that the battle had already commenced a long while ago; yet all he could do now was sit and wait patiently for its outcome. Beside him, the Marchioness had her hoof on one of his armrests, forever by his side while waiting for the moment of truth. And that moment finally came.

A battered Royal guardspony of the Canterlot Royal Army Remnant entered the room cautiously, a scroll in his mouth. Spike raised his head at the pony’s entrance – which startled the guardspony – but Spike quietly put his head back down and closed his eyes as it was a false alarm.

“I’m over here,” called King Solace as he beckoned the guard over. The guard stopped at the bottom of the stairs to the throne and the Marchioness took that as her cue to use her magic to politely take the scroll from his mouth to her hooves.

“Let’s see what we have here…” the Marchioness said to herself and no one in particular as she unfurled the scroll and began reading it.

“To King Solace; my center is giving way, my right is in wavering; situation excellent. I shall attack,” the Marchioness read aloud.

“Victory is only a matter of time now,” King Solace nodded sagely.

“How so?” the noble lady questioned.

“I concur with your assessment, your Majesty,” Spike chimed in and rose lazily from his spot, “Morale is very high and the Army’s fighting ability under General Roo is superb. With the assistance of the Apple Family Resistance, I do not see how they can lose when everything is on the line.”

“Indeed,” Solace agreed with his Old Friend before turning to his advisor, “You also forget, my sweet belle, of the ground I chose.”

To this the Marchioness raised a questioning brow.

“Oh, I see you must have forgotten. I wouldn’t blame you. The area of the battlefield used to be the site of an ancient town called Ponyville. There is a good reason why such a domain has still remained under our control and I sought my Old Friend’s advice in choosing the ground. You see, that area is considered hallowed ground as the original six spirits of harmony are buried therein. This will severely hamper the enemy’s own magical ability to assault our troops while significantly bolstering our own.”

“Your Majesty,” Spike interjected as he lazily got up and bowed politely to the King, “If I may, I wish to retire early for the day. My services are no longer needed.”

“Of course, my Old Friend. You’ve more than earned a good rest,” King Solace replied and dismissed his friend with the thanks of his Royal Court, but the Marchioness picked up a tinge of worry hinted in his words.

After Spike had left the chamber, the Marchioness looked worried at the King.

“What’s wrong, Solace?” she asked amicably.

“My sweet, sweet belle. There is something I must come clean about. The reason I had you remain behind was that I had one last important task for you to accomplish. Come, walk with me.”

Solace and the Marchioness stepped side by side out into the courtyard. They both remained silent as they kept walking through the Everfree Forest. Eventually, they crossed a rickety old bridge that spanned the Ghostly Gorge just on the outskirts of King Solace’s domain before heading further and deeper into the Everfree Forest.

The Marchioness did her best to stay quiet, but after walking for what seemed like an eternity, she finally couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Where are we going, Solace?”

“To a very important and special place,” was his reply, “And you must remember to mind your manners. A moment of silence for the dead would be quite appropriate.”

They had both reached the edge of a long and narrow ledge when Solace made his announcement, which further puzzled and confused the Marchioness.

“Where is ‘here’ exactly?”

“Go and see for yourself,” was all that King Solace’s replied and he beckoned her to the edge of the protruding ledge.

* * *

When the Marchioness got to the top, all she could see was a small clearing in the trees directly below her. There was nothing special at first about the clearing, but as her gaze spanned across it, it struck her like lightning.

This site was near Zecora’s old house – a zebra from a mysterious land that had long since passed away at the onset of the war. In the clearing was a set of six tombstones, arranged evenly in a circular pattern so that they all faced one another. She knew what these stones were; in fact, she was here once herself when she was very young. It was the final resting place of Twilight Sparkle and her friends after their disastrous final encounter.

And in the center of the burial site was none other than Spike the Dragon. He had curled up near a particular tombstone and was quietly talking to it, to which she remained quiet and listened – both out of respect for the dead and from her own experience of wanting to ‘be alone’ when she did this very same thing herself before.

“Twilight, I finally did it. Equestria is safe and sound at last,” Spike muttered in a faint and weak voice, “It took me more than 1000 years, but I finally did it.

I’m sorry it took me so long to accomplish this task – something I know you would have given me if you couldn’t have finished it yourself. I’m sorry I ran away from the ponies all those many years ago. If it wasn’t for Solace… I would still be wandering aimlessly as an orphaned dragon. But he found me and gave me a second chance – a chance to redeem myself and I hope I did so in your eyes. I hope I did you proud Twilight. I really hope you will forgive me one of these days. When I pass on, I hope… I hope I can face you again…”

Spike began to cry as he nuzzled his face gently against her tombstone, his tail wrapping gently around another nearby gravestone close to his body – one that the Marchioness was all too familiar with. It was the one for Rarity and Spike turned his sobbing muzzle to face both that one and Twilight’s.

“I know I haven’t exactly been the best. I know that I’ve let you both down. I just hope you can forgive me when I see you both… by Celestia I really miss seeing all your faces again! It feels like it was just yesterday that we were all laughing and playing. So long ago… I just hoped… maybe wished… that you all would be proud of me…”

Spike’s crying and sobbing began to increase in intensity as he spoke, till finally his sobbing eventually overcame him and he cried himself to sleep. The Marchioness felt something tug at her chest until she realized that she understood that feeling. That feeling of remorse and lost, for past deeds left undone…

“My Old Friend,” King Solace’s words reminded her that she was not alone here, “He is in so much pain. Did you know for the last 800 years he has served me, not once has he ever – ever – accepted any sort of reward or compensation for his efforts? I know I will never take the place of the one he affectionately called ‘The Spark,’ but I have longed to give him something – anything – for his hardships. Very few dragons are left in this world, let alone one that would support us ponies, but he has remained by my side until the end. I do not wish for him to go out with a whimper.

The time has come for what I must ask of you, my sweet belle. I am the Father of Time immemorial, and I cannot do this alone.”

“What would you have me do, Solace?”

“I am old and so very tired, my sweet belle. It will take all my concentration and power to perform an ancient ritual long passed down through my bloodline. Unfortunately, when the moment comes, I will not be able to act in the way I want – at least not alone. When you see the opportunity, the moment… you will understand what needs to be done.”

Solace opened his wings, as any alicorn would, and gently glided down in lazy circles to descend upon the ground that Spike was sleeping on. The Marchioness teleported herself quietly near his side as the King closed his eyes and began whispering and chanting quietly to himself. His mane and cloak began to kick up and flutter as if some unknown breeze were blowing literally from the ground underneath him!

The trees around them began to twist and sway as a gust of leaves formed a visible barrier around the clearing. More and more the wind picked up, yet through it all Spike remained steadfastly asleep.

The Marchioness watched quietly as lightning began to tear at the very fabric of reality in the center of the tombstones. The dull purple grass of the surroundings was replaced by vibrant green grass inside a self-contained portal.

It seemed like a dream… a fairy tale. As if peeking through the proverbial Looking Glass. It brought vague memories back to the forefront as the Marchioness tried to think why it seemed alien yet so familiar. Then it struck her; it was Ponyville before the war! When things were green and lush and the skies went through their normal cycles of day and night.

“How…?”

“I am the Father of Time, my sweet belle. And I believe that my Old Friend here has more than earned his rightful place, don’t you agree?”

The King gritted his teeth as he expanded the portal wider and wider still. Puzzling to the Marchioness, it was only when he had stretched the portal’s dimensions out to match Spike’s that it became clear.

“Now, you must do it now! I cannot hold this open forever. It is taking all of my concentration just to maintain this!” King Solace shouted to his advisor.

The Marchioness closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Drawing upon her deep, inner reserves of magical and spiritual energy, she concentrated the focal point of her magic on Spike. Slowly but surely, she levitated him mere inches above the ground and began to magically push him into the portal.

As Spike’s body came in contact with the magical energy that emanated from the portal, his form began to shrink and change. The more and more that Spike was engulfed into the portal, the smaller and smaller he got until finally he was like the baby dragon that he was over 1000 years ago. Just before he slipped through, King Solace watched with intrigue as the Marchioness quickly walked up to Spike and kissed his cheek gently and whispered to him.

“Spike, tell my sister Rarity hello for me when you see her,” the Marchioness said softly as a tear fell down her face.

With the last bit of her magic, she finally sent Spike on his way and stepped away from the portal.

“What will become of him?” the Marchioness turned to King Solace as he released his magical hold on the portal, causing it to slowly contract and shrink.

“Honestly, I do not know. I’ve never gone and send anyone back in time before. Whether he forgets everything and is doomed to repeat this life or perhaps he can actively avert the dangers we are about to face, I do not know. But I felt that he deserved something much better than wasting away here now that his purpose in life was now complete.”

The Marchioness nodded and motioned with her head back in the direction they had come.

“Let’s go home then, it is getting late and you must be very tired, your Majesty,” the Marchioness said as she turned to face King Solace, but horror gripped her face as she stared at the King.

Starting from his hooves, his body began to disintegrate into glowing stardust, the wind strong enough to blow them away and towards the portal. She galloped quickly to his side, standing in front of him and glancing over his form over and over again.

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,”

“What’s going on? Solace, tell me! What is going on?!”

King Solace’s expression begot both relief and sadness as he looked down at his favored advisor.

“It is my time, my sweet belle,”

“Your time? What are you talking about?”

King Solace looked her deeply in the eye, the light of the fading portal reflecting off his almost empty lenses.

“It is time for a new generation to take over from here on out, my sweet belle. The old MUST make way for the new,”

“But you’re… you’re the Father of Time! Surely you can-”

“Even time is not immortal. All things must eventually come to an end. Nothing can escape death, not even me,” King Solace said in a matter-of-factly tone, “That is the natural order of things. I have lived far too long and seen far too much loss and suffering, my sweet belle. I grow tired, but for the first time in my life… I can honestly say that I have lived a good life, especially with you by my side through thick and thin. Though I really wished I could have seen what the Royal Princesses looked like before I go...”

Tears began to form in Sweetie Bell’s eyes as she looked at his royal highness. She’s known him, loved him for so long but had kept her feelings silent for fear of alienating further from the commoners. But now was not the time to hold that back. She felt something, KNEW something deep down in her heart that all sense of proprietary be damned now. If this was going to be it, her heart screamed at her, yelled at her to force her to confess her feelings to him.

“Solace, I… I really… love you! Please, don’t… you can’t go,” she began to weep profusely.

“I know, I know,” Solace rubbed and nuzzled her face with his own, his breath blowing gently into her ear and causing a shiver to run through her whole body. It was soothing and yet simply terrifying – the power he held over her. He wasn’t quite sure what to say… to tell he loved her back and hurt her more? Even in his last moments, he wanted to try and spare the mare he loved back so desperately even more heartache that an ill-timed word could cause. He hoped his body would be enough for her.

“Please… say my name. I want to hear you… say my true name,” she nuzzled into his chest and cried more.

“Sweetie Bell, you are a marvelous thing,” he whispered and rubbed his muzzle against the crown of her head.

“And what about Equestria…? What will become of everypony if you’re gone? General Roo and Bad Apple…” Sweetie Bell worried about the future as those thoughts began to race through her head and confuse her.

“Trust your friends, Sweetie Bell,” Solace chuckled and kissed her cheek just beneath her ear, “With Spike gone now, you and your friends are the only ones left that remember the Magic of Friendship.”

“But how will we stay together? They HATE each other… and I can’t do this without you; you saw what I tried to do back there…!”

“Sweetie Bell,” he whispered softly in her ears as his disintegrating body caught up to his chest, “The bond between you three is far stronger than you give it credit for. I know that you three will remind the other ponies what has been lost; what must be learned again. And when you think things get too tough, just sit back and listen to the wind. I will be there, always forever with you. Let the quietness of the night and the gentle winds caress your cheek and give you solace.”

Sweetie Bell felt her heart being tugged in so many directions, her mind racing through these final moments as her couldn’t even compose herself and control her tears.

“And my final task for you, Sweetie Bell, is that you must take up my mantle and continue where I leave off.”

“Wha-what?” Sweetie Bell choked on her tears as she stuttered her normally composed self.

King Solace bowed his head and slid his crown off and onto Sweetie Bell’s. Before the stardust caught up to his neck, he turned his head and grabbed his mantle and threw it around Sweetie Bell, giving her both warmth and so much more.

“The line of the alicorns has come to an end. It is now the time for unicorn magic and friendship. I shall give you one gift before I am gone… for it is all that I can give and it all that I have left now.”

He lowered his horn to Sweetie Bell’s and together they touched. The warmth of his magic filled Sweetie Bell with vigor and comfort as her coat became fresher and the wrinkles under her eyes began to fade and disappear into obscurity.

“I give you the Gift of Youth, Sweetie Bell. To make up for a lifetime of lost memories… promise me that you will make new ones. That you will keep looking forward towards the future.”

“But it’s a future without you…” she cried, feeling so very much helpless despite her position as the King’s right-hoofed mare.

“I know, but you do not walk the path alone; Remember that. Goodbye, my dear sweet Sweetie Bell….”

The aristocrat Sweetie Bell opened her eyes to protest his parting words, but more tears welled up and blinded her vision as Solace was now no more. He was gone like the wind and she was left all alone in the center of the clearing. The wind had ceased completely and an eerie silence hung over the atmosphere like a thick fog. There she was, alone like before when she hid out in Twilight’s library after her sister had passed away. Alone like all those many years ago…

Sweetie Bell began to sob and cry at the top of her lungs. She’s lost first her sister Rarity, her mentor Twilight Sparkle and everyone else, and then her family and everypony she possibly knew in Ponyville, Spike the Dragon, and now the one pony she loved more than life itself. What good was youth if she couldn’t spend her new life with the one pony that mattered the most to her?

Hours passed before Sweetie Bell finally awoke. She had cried herself to sleep just like a certain dragon did mere moments ago in this very field. It reminded her of the time she came here – the only time – to pay respects to her sister Rarity’s grave.

It was quiet still, but looking up the moon shone brightly over the night skies. During the time of King Solace’s reign, he had frozen the day at dusk – where both the sun and moon could not be seen as both were without their principal alicorns that controlled them. But now that danger was gone from the threat of the shadow and Solace was no more… the Royal Sisters had to still be out there, somewhere.

But little did Sweetie Bell care for that now. She was tired, dirty, and very much emotionally raw. She was spent both mentally and physically after the entire night’s ordeal and so forced herself on her long trek back to the castle.

A castle without a King.

A castle with no future.

As she staggered slowly through the woods back towards whatever ‘home’ awaited her, she heard a crack of a branch. She was not alone.

“Who goes there?” Sweetie Bell meekly tried to form a defensive posture, but her emotional state hindered her severely and left her at a severe disadvantage to whatever threat that may lurk out there.

Much to her relief and shock, two ponies stepped out from the bramble and bushes to identify themselves. They were none other than the Outlaw Bad Apple and General Roo, freshly returned from the battle.

“Where is King Solace?” demanded an impatient Roo as she looked around the area, “I was told he accompanied you out here and I came to report our most magnificent victory to him.”

Sweetie Bell gulped long and hard as Bad Apple’s eyes turned to glare at her suspiciously, noting the cloak and crown now atop the unicorn advisor’s head.

“So even his most trusted advisor saw the threat that was the alicorn king?” Bad Apple remarked bitterly.

“You did what?” General Roo stared hard at Sweetie Bell, marching angrily towards Sweetie Bell as she retreated feebly.

She was alone now. No King to hide behind, her own heart and spirits faltering from her disheveled and confused emotional state to the point she could no longer use her magic to defend herself now in her most vulnerable moment. Was this how it was going to end, Solace? To be tried and executed for his natural death as if she had planned this coup de tat?

Sweetie Bell felt so overwhelmed by the situation, her hulking friends, the loss of a loved one and an old friend from back when her sister was alive that her mind cracked. She hunkered down and buried her face into her fore legs and began to wail.

It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair at all! She had lost the stallion she had longed to be with and now she was to follow in a similar fate? Was his gift to her of ‘youth’ he had so preciously given to her to only be wasted and squandered to a very brief lifespan now that she was to be tried as a traitor?

She couldn’t care less, all she felt was pain and hurt and sorrow now. That’s all her heart would understand and she let it take her and she cried and cried and cried.

As her both shook and trembled from being overcome by her emotions, she was just as equally surprised when she felt the two bodies of her friends lay on either side of her. Their hooves combing her mane and comforting her with gentle stroking. Wiping floods of tears from her unsightly face, struggled to find her words.

“Wh-why? I’m a terrible mare. You think I off’ed Solace… that I took his life somehow… don’t humor me anymore and get it over with, you two.”

General Roo looked curiously at Bad Apple as the Apple Family pony smiled and pulled Sweetie Bell into her chest to give her a great big hug.

“Didn’t I tell you this before, Sweetie Bell? You’ve always been like family, you both have,” Bad Apple said, “And I’m really grateful that you extended our lives as long as you did.”

“Extended…?” Sweetie Bell blinked as she tried to put her jumbled thoughts together and form a coherent sentence, “Wait, you aren’t supposed to remember that! I wiped both your memories so neither one of you would ask why I was getting older and older and why you two hadn’t changed. And no pony would dare bring it up if I kept wiping your memory, so how is it you’re able to...?”

“To remember?” General Roo took off her helmet and shook out her mane, “Perhaps… perhaps it had to do with King Solace. He did a lot more than give you your youth back, didn’t he?”

Perplexed, Sweetie Bell shook her head and didn’t seem to understand, but her friends sandwiched her into a big hug as Bad Apple would explain now.

“That darkness in your heart. You’ve been hiding it for almost 1000 years, letting it age you and corrupt you just to keep us both around. It was very obvious to both of us and most likely to King Solace that you were using some fishy, dark magic for something. He knew and now that we remember, we can see you’ve changed. Don’t you feel it too, Sweetie Bell? It’s as plain as day to me, to both of us. And when we saw how you reacted, it must have reminded us of what we forgot.”

Sure enough, Apple Bloom was right. She put her hoof to her chest and it felt like a great weight had been lifted off her shoulders. That she was finally free of both that terrible secret and the terrible price she had to pay to keep her friends by her side.

“But what about…” Sweetie Bell gestured to her crown on her head.

“We know you didn’t do anything, we hadn’t realized until after we said what we did. But it looks like a certain King with an eye for a beautiful mare like yourself just had to give you something to remember him by,” Scootaloo smiled and ruffled up Sweetie Bell’s mane.

“Going to be hard to top that off, wouldn’t you say?” Apple Bloom chimed in.

“But… he never said—”

“That he loved you?” both of her friends said at exactly the right time.

“How did—”

“We know?” they both said in unison, causing Scootaloo to chuckle as Apple Bloom took over.

“It was clear as day that he was quite smitten with you, but he knew why you did what you had to do. To not have any sense of impropriety hang over his already unpopular reign. I’m sure deep down he very much would have wanted to say that, but at the same time he always worried too much about hurting anypony.”

Sweetie Bell wiped the tears from her eyes and pulled both her friends close to her in another hug.

“What are we to do now?” she asked them.

“Well, your Majesty, I think we ought to get home and get you to bed. You’ve had a long night,” Scootaloo chuckled and rose, offering her hoof to assist her friend in standing up, “We have a long road ahead of us, and obviously Solace left you in charge for good reason. And me and Applebloom will never leave your side, we promise.”

“Yah! Cutie Mark Crusaders… I mean, Champions of Harmony!” Applebloom smiled and held out her hoof too.

Sweetie Bell felt tears again tug at her face. But this time it wasn’t tears of sadness but of joy. And she knew that at that moment that even if the whole world turned its back on her, she would still have her two best friends by her side – always.

“Yeah… Cutie Mark Champions, you mean!” Sweetie Bell took each of their hooves and pulled herself up on all fours. And together, they went back to the place they would call ‘Home’.

Comments ( 8 )

This story is beautiful... and I cried. I did.
derpyhoovesnews.com/albums/albums/userpics/10001/normal_fluttershy_crying.jpg
I wish I may someday become as talented at tugging at peoples heartstrings as you have, for it is awe-inspiring really.

Ho
Lee
SHIAT

I love this. I love this a lot. Following, favoriting, and loving it! :heart:

The story... Very emotional. To have the darkest of hearts. This story deserves more attention!

This was absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for the great read... :heart:

303 views are you kidding?! Few times, in my eyes, has underrated held more meaning than with this story. Brilliant story all around! :applecry::unsuresweetie::scootangel:

Though, in my eyes, there are a few inconsistencies regarding sending Spike back and potentially altering the timeline and whether his return to the past could be considered a 'reward' but I won't go into that. :ajsmug:

Hum...that was beautiful., I will be looking forward to read more of your stuff :pinkiehappy:

I did NOT saw that coming. Roo being Scoots and Bad Apple being Applebloom, I mean. Obviously, that was Sweetie Belle. :unsuresweetie:

An... unusual story, but an emotional one.

Pretty decent high fantasy tale...to me, it had a somewhat Arthurian flavor to it.

I gotta agree with Sweetie Belle's reasoning when Solace was fading away: she just tried to murder one of her partners right in front of her king! In the same scene, her romantic feelings for Solace were very out of place and contributed nothing to the story. There were also a couple of times where you started a new paragraph while a character was speaking, but failed to place quotation marks at the start of those paragraphs.

There were a few more minor hiccups, but nothing so bad that they distracted from a good fantasy tale. :scootangel:

“The line of the alicorns has come to an end. It is now the time for unicorn magic and friendship.

So much for racial equality...

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