• Published 26th Jan 2013
  • 5,751 Views, 408 Comments

Batmare Begins - Batbrony



Derpy's life takes a whole new direction when she is given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But where will this new journey take her, and who will she be at the end?

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“Alright ya sorry lot, we got a lot of ponies to feed tonight so let’s get cracking!”

Tiny Taste barked out orders in his thick brogue to the dozen ponies assembled in a line before him serving as that evening’s kitchen assistants. He walked down the line, assigning each one a different task like a sergeant giving orders to his cadets at boot camp.

“OK, let’s see… soup n’ server, soup n’ server, sandwiches n’ dishes, sandwiches n’ server, soup n’ server, soup n’ dishes, soup n’ dishes, sandwiches n’ server, sandwiches n’ dishes, soup n’ dishes, sandwiches n’ server, sandwiches n’- aw shove a broomstick up me arse, not you!”

Tiny’s good mood disappeared the moment he laid eyes on the dreaded pegasus standing before him in his precious (and now heavily imperiled) kitchen. Derpy in turn gave a weak smile and timidly waved back to him.

“Heheh, hey Tiny, long time no see.”

“Please tell me you’re only here to inquire what I might be serving tonight?”

“Wish I could.”

“Ohhhhh… perfect, that’s just bucking perfect.” Tiny shuddered, his face turning pale as the endless list of potential catastrophes ranged through his head. Taking a few deep breaths he noticed the rest of his assistants staring at the two, considerably nervous themselves after hearing about or witnessing Derpy’s by now infamous exploits in the kitchen.

“Well, what’re you lot staring at, get to work now!” he roared, sending them all flying to and fro as he desperately sought to come up with a solution to this unforeseen dilemma. Tiny’s eyes darted about the kitchen, scanning every inch in search of something the bumbling mare might not destroy. To be sure this was no easy task; Tiny’s kitchen was a jumbled mess, its layout perplexing to most ponies, and on top of that, he wasn’t sure at this point that there was even anything Derpy couldn’t destroy in it. Still, he knew his kitchen like the back of his hoof and was convinced there had to be something in there that even Derpy could handle. After all, as a tried-and-true member of the Ordo Extraordinarii, he had to be able to place faith in even the most difficult of cadets, no matter how much they struggled not to… burn anything.

“Alright, let’s find a place for ya lass. Hmmm, maybe… no that won’t work. How ‘bout… wait, nope, nope, definitely not that! Ummm… wait… wait, that just might… yes, that’ll do it! Right this way Hooves!”

Tiny nudged Derpy over to a countertop covered with several large pots filled with a runny, brown mixture.

“Alright Hooves, pay very, very close attention to what I’m about to tell ya. This is oatmeal for tomorrow’s breakfast. Dry oatmeal to be exact. Ya know what’s great about dry oatmeal Hooves?” Derpy shook her head.

“No cooking, that’s what! No heating, no boiling, no simmering, no nothing! All ya have to do is add oatmeal and milk, and stir, and wouldn’t ya know it, step one is already good n’ done. The only thing I need ya ta do is stir, so jus’ keep stirring till it’s nice n’ thick, OK? Tell me ya can handle this lass.”

After a minute of mulling it over in her head, Derpy gave a spirited nod.

“You bet Tiny, I’ll stir that oatmeal real good!” she declared. Anyone else would’ve probably been insulted to some extent by Tiny’s plain distrust and menial assignment, but given her own track record in the kitchen Derpy was more than happy to take Tiny up on his offer. After all, there was nothing that they both wanted more than for her to just pass through his kitchen without leaving behind a trail of destruction in her wake.

Eyeing her warily a minute longer, Tiny gave an unintelligible grunt and returned the nod, satisfied with Derpy’s response, and left her to her task while he dealt with the rest of the dinner preparations. Grabbing a wooden spoon with her teeth, Derpy hopped to it and began her work in earnest, hoping that the rest of the evening would be nothing but uneventful.

Sometimes, though, one can only hope.


“So how’s your latest project going? Been quite the hoofful so far by the looks of things.”

“It’s admittedly been a complex and sometimes frustrating process, but don’t let her errors fool you; I assure you we’re right on schedule. She wants what we have to offer and wants it bad. The trick now is simply figuring out how to tap her potential and unlock it; it’s like there’s a dam within her soul at the headwaters of her ability. All that’s left is to tear that dam down, and then… well, everything will change for her, I just know it. I wish sometimes I could do it myself, but it is her hurdle to overcome and hers alone.”

The violet earth pony sitting across from Aucune snorted, her guffaw adding to the chorus of hungry, jabbering ponies packing the great hall. Dozens of ponies sat at the single long, oak trestle table filling the great space. While there was certainly more than enough room for at least two more within the hall, the Order had employed one common table in its halls for centuries, the idea being that it helped build and reinforce the members’ camaraderie and sense of equality. Even the most senior officers and veterans sat there and frequently mingled at mealtimes with the less experienced members. Tonight, however, most of the upper echelon at Die Schmiede had congregated at the far end, near where Dämons Hengst normally sat at the head of the table. His seat was noticeably vacant, but it was not unusual for him to dine alone in his quarters, and in any case his subordinates didn’t seem bothered by his absence; at the moment, they were all engaged in a spirited discussion.

“Did something I say amuse you Sister Storm?” Aucune asked, leveling a cold gaze directly at Storm Spirit. If she noticed, it certainly didn’t bother her seeing as she only continued chuckling.

“Of course it was something you said! Oh you and your metaphors; ‘dam at the headwaters of her soul’ indeed. That’s pretty, real damn pretty sir. Guess it’s not really surprising coming from you; you’ve always had a penchant for the dramatic, and before you ask, yes, it has always amused me. As for the newbie, she’s nice enough sure, but as far as I’m concerned she’s just a klutz, plain and simple. If it’s taking her this long to show any concrete signs of improvement, then I say she’s not worth it. She’s just a waste of our time, and given the current state of things, time is an increasingly precious commodity we can’t afford to lose, much less waste. What do you think Flix?”

Storm Spirit turned to a cerulean pegasus seated next to her who was idly flipping through a small book of poetry. She glanced up from her reading, meeting Aucune and Storm’s gazes with a somewhat annoyed look.

“You know, I never do get much reading done before meals these days,” she bemoaned.

“Ah come on, you’ve got your nose buried in those books of yours 24/7 and you know it!” Storm teased. “Besides, I know you were listening, so c’mon, what do you think of the newbie? Think she’s worth keeping around?”

“Of course she is,” she replied without a moment’s hesitation. “Derpy’s a sweet girl who’s just had a lot of misfortune for a long time and nopony to help her pick herself up out of the mire of it all. The Order’s primary function is to offer any aid that it can to those who’ve never really been given the chance to be all they can be; we’d be betraying our greatest duty if we just left her hanging high and dry. Besides, she’s hardly the worst trainee we’ve ever had. I’ve seen plenty far weaker and slower than her who’ve gone on to become valuable members of the Order.”

“It’s not a question of whether or not we should’ve offered her aid, I’d never suggest we turn away any pony, you know that! But it is a question of practicality; we did offer her our services, she’s been training for a month, and as of now she has yet to show that much promise. When you get down to it, it’s simple economics really; the cost is simply outweighing the benefit is all. With all due respect sir, you could and should be focusing your efforts on far more pressing and worthwhile projects instead of this bumbling airhead.”

“At ease, Storm, at ease. I understand your feelings; you’re a practical-minded pony and always have been, and I appreciate that particular quality about you. Your practicality certainly has its uses and benefits in the right times and places. But it also oftentimes blinds you to the bigger picture, the qualities and characteristics of a pony that aren’t readily apparent on the surface, and therefore you must likewise understand why I cannot agree with your position and respect my decision. And don’t you worry about how I manage my time; her studies have not interfered with our work, and tomorrow we’ll-”

Aucune was suddenly cut off by the arrival of Tiny Taste and half a dozen other ponies, all pushing carts loaded to the brim with large pots of bubbling soup and steaming hot platters of sandwiches.

“Suppertime, get it while it’s hot!” Tiny bellowed, his voice somehow drowning out every other pony in the hall. Everyone suspended their conversations and gave Tiny their full attention, the tired ponies’ mouths watering at the smell of a hot meal. Tiny and the servers began distributing pots and platters all along the table. While his servers stayed behind at different points to help ladle soup for the rest of the Order, Tiny soon found himself at the far end of the table waiting on Aucune and the rest of the officers congregated around him.

“Hello Brother Tiny, glad to see you so early tonight. What have you cooked up for us this evening?” Aucune inquired.

“Jus’ some vegetable soup and grilled hay and cheese sandwiches sir, nothin’ all that fancy,” Tiny grunted, hefting the last of the pots over to the table.

“I don’t suppose there’s any chance us officers might be able to take seconds tonight, hmmm?” Storm Spirit asked in her most innocent, endearing voice. Tiny however wasn’t having any of it.

“Not a chance Storm, ya know how it is; gotta ration our supplies as best we can. We’re not exactly living in the lap of luxury up here ya know?”

“Aw come on, one extra sandwich isn’t going to starve us out! Besides, it is a certain somepony’s birthday today,” Storm implored, flashing the best puppy-dog eyes she possibly could. Tiny only snorted and shook his head.

“Ya mean like ‘ow it was your birthday a month ago? Or the two weeks before that? Sorry lass, you’re not pulling a fast one on me tonight.”

Storm Spirit grumbled a few choice words and caved, resigning herself to the meal that lay before her as the savvy cook kept snickering.

“Dinner looks lovely tonight Tiny, thank you very much for preparing it,” the cerulean pegasus quietly commended.

“Aw shucks Miss Lightning Flicker, it’s nothin’ really. Weren’t all that hard to make in all honesty, but thankee lass, I appreciate it, ‘specially comin’ from ya.” A bright scarlet hue flushed over Tiny’s cheeks.

“Tiny, judging by your prompt arrival this evening, may I presume that your activities in the kitchen were without incident?” Aucune asked.

“You bet sir, everything went jus’ fine an’ dandy!” Tiny beamed.

“Very good. Uh, where may I ask is Miss Hooves?”

“Oh she’s back in the kitch-” Tiny’s face paled as he realized his terrible mistake.

Oh buck me with a baguette.

“Would ya excuse me for a moment sir, I jus’ remembered I forgot… something. Be right back!” Tiny trotted for the great hall’s exit at a hurried gait.

“Huh, wonder what that was all about?” Storm Spirit remarked through a mouthful of hay sandwich.

“Indeed, that was rather… curious,” Aucune agreed.


As soon as he cleared the great hall Tiny hurried as fast as he could back to the kitchen, by no means an easy feat for a pony his size. His chest puffed as he pumped his legs furiously, a wave of anxiety sweeping over him.

Sun, moon, and stars how could I have been so stupid? I left her alone, ALONE in my kitchen!

Truth be told dinner preparations really had been uneventful. Tiny had managed to get everything prepared in a timely manner with the rest of his assistants, all while keeping a close eye on Derpy every few minutes. Every time he’d glanced back, there she was in her isolated corner, just stirring oatmeal like he’d told her to. But just because nothing catastrophic had happened when he was around certainly didn’t mean Tiny trusted Derpy alone in his kitchen, and he cursed himself for such a foolish oversight. He’d never left her alone there for so long, and he shuddered to think what terrible things she might have wrought in his absence.

Well, it might not be so bad. There are five other ponies in there, so maybe nothin’s happened after all. Yeah, that’s it, I bet I’m jus’ making a big fuss over nothin’ at all.

Tiny’s feeble hopes were promptly dashed when a by now all too familiar acrid odor filled his nostrils as he neared the kitchen.

Oh no… so much for hoping. Who am I kiddin’? I don’t even trust her when I’m around!

Dashing the final length Tiny suddenly ran straight into the assistants he’d left behind fleeing in the opposite direction, all of them hysterical as they galloped away from the quite evidently smoking kitchen.

“Run, she did it again!”

“Every pony for himself!”

“How’d she even do it this time? It doesn’t seem physically possible!”

Tiny simply bowled through them, bursting through the kitchen door a second later. Nothing, not even Derpy’s past culinary catastrophes, could have prepared him for what he found.

The countertop was aflame. A closer look made plain that technically the contents of every pot Derpy had been handling were afire, but the growing flames were threatening to spread to the rest of the kitchen. The hapless Derpy was hurriedly dumping a half-filled bucket of water on the blaze, but despite her efforts it only seemed to keep growing in size. Tiny just stood there stunned, a dumbstruck look etched upon his face.

“I can fix this, I can fix this!” Derpy frantically reassured him. Tiny remained frozen in place, his eyes widening and mouth hanging open, completely at a loss for words. As Derpy pitched another bucket of water at the flames she lost her grip on it, and the bucket flew into the fire along with the water, further fueling the rapidly growing flames. Horrified, Derpy desperately scanned the area for another bucket, but failing to find one turned to Tiny, who hadn’t budged.

“Uh, Tiny, I may need just a teensy weensy bit of help; would you by any chance happen to know where I might find another bucket?” Derpy asked as sweetly as she could given the circumstances. Tiny remained fixed in place where he stood, still as a statue.

“Uh… Tiny, you OK?”

Nothing.

“Tiny… hello? Tiny? Tiny? Tiny? Tiny? Tiny? Ti-”

And then all Tartarus broke loose.


Back in the great hall the rest of the castle’s residents were busy eating and mingling amongst themselves. Up and down the common table the chatter and laughter of ponies filled the air. Suddenly, a group of ponies, the rest of that evening’s kitchen assistants, rushed in. The most experienced among them, a pegasus close to the end of his training, trotted over to where Aucune sat near the end of the table.

“Begging your pardon sir, but could I have a moment of your time?”

Aucune turned in good spirits from his cheery table talk with Storm Spirit and Lightning Flicker.

“Of course Cold Front, of course. A fine meal you all prepared this evening, a fine meal indeed; you have my compliments. Now, what can I do for you?”

“Thank you sir, you’re too kind. But there’s a bit of a situation in the kitchen that may require your assistance.”

At those words Aucune dispelled his cheerful countenance and replaced it with a neutral expression, critically eyeing Cold Front.

“A situation? What kind of a situation?”

“Well, you see sir, um, Der-”

All of a sudden an unearthly howl rang out from outside the hall. Everypony’s conversations came to an abrupt halt, their attention drawn to the entrance by the outlandish sound.

“Oh dear,” Aucune uttered under his breath.

A moment later another scream pierced the air, shriller than the first and more full of fear than rage. It was clear that some kind of tumult was fast approaching the great hall, drawing closer by the second… and closer… and closer… and closer. Until-

“AHHHHHHHHHH, I THINK HE’S REALLY TRYING TO KILL ME THIS TIME!!!”

An absolutely terrified Derpy burst into the great hall flying as fast as a thunderbolt. A split second later Tiny Taste followed in her wake, galloping far faster than should’ve been possible for a pony his size and menacingly waving a large, razor-sharp cook’s knife clamped in his mouth, his face a picture of blind fury. Both ponies’ coats appeared to be moderately burnt, and a few of Derpy’s feathers looked singed. The panic-stricken Derpy straightaway flew up into the rafters of the great hall, fleeing into the darkest corner she could find.

“Geth down hurr ya buckin’ menace! Youf plagued mah kitchen one too many times! NOW GETH DOWN HURR RAGHT NOW!!!” Tiny screamed, his words muffled by the knife in his mouth. Everyone stared in alarm and confusion at the bizarre scene unfolding before them. Every pony except one.

“Is something wrong Brother Tiny? Anything I can help you with?” Aucune calmly called out from the end of the table, levelling a steady gaze straight at the raging stallion. Tiny looked away from the rafters to meet Aucune’s gaze, panting from his furious dash.

“Youf can starth by tellin’ thath curse on mah kitchen to come down!” Tiny spat. Aucune shook his head, his expression darkening.

“Tiny, drop the knife,” he commanded. Hearing his stern tone Tiny’s expression seemed to slightly soften and he spat the knife out, kicking it away before trotting to where Aucune sat.

“Thank you Tiny. Now, what seems to be the matter? Has something happened in the kitchen?”

“Ya know very well somethin’ has ya daft- I mean, yes, there is a… delicate situation that requires some attention,” Tiny replied, trying to regain his cool. Aucune motioned to a unicorn sitting nearby.

“Brother Charming, please take the kitchen assistants and see to it that everything is put back to order in the kitchen before the situation gets any further out of hoof.” The unicorn nodded and silently embarked from the great hall with the kitchen staff following his lead. Satisfied, Aucune returned to his meal, quietly draining a spoonful of soup before being interrupted by Tiny.

“Look, is this punishment or somethin’? Is this because I got sloshed that one time in Manehattan with all those recruits? ‘Cause if it is, I swear on me mother’s grave I won’ touch the stuff ever again!” Aucune glanced up from his meal back at Tiny, thoroughly annoyed.

“What on earth are you babbling about now?”

“Jus’ promise me that she won’t step hoof in my kitchen ever again. I’ll do anythin’, I swear!” Tiny pleaded.

“Calm down this instant sir, you’re making a fool of yourself! The situation has been resolved; your kitchen is being put back into order as we speak, and that’s that. There is nothing further to discuss. Now why don’t you get some food in you and then head back to the kitchen to ensure that everything is where it should be?”

“But sir, she-” whatever Tiny was about to say was cut off by Aucune’s sharply smacking him across the face with his forearm.

“She what? She made a mistake; need I remind you we were all recruits once who all made mistakes? She is one of us now, and we owe it to her and ourselves as members of the Ordo Extraordinarii to guide her along her path and forgive a few mistakes along the way. I repeat, there is nothing further to discuss, do you understand?” Tiny seemed to shrink beneath Aucune’s withering gaze, his words piercing the cook like spears, and he hurriedly nodded.

“Aye sir, I understand.” Just like that Aucune’s expression softened and the anger left his eyes.

“Good. If it makes you feel any better, I will not assign her to kitchen duty again until I am certain that she can handle herself in there. Is that a fair compromise?”

“Works for me sir,” Tiny hastily agreed, fully aware he wouldn’t get a better deal than that.

“Very good. You are dismissed Brother Tiny.” Aucune once more resumed his meal where he’d left off as though nothing had happened while the cowed Tiny found a spot at the opposite end of the table far from Aucune and ate his own dinner in silence. Everypony else quickly followed suit and turned back to their own meals and earlier conversations, and a moment later it was as if the unusual episode was already but a distant memory. As soon as everything had returned to normal, Aucune glanced up at the rafters above.

“You can come down now, it’s all right.”

Reluctantly, Derpy peered out from behind one of the rafters.

“A- are you sure?” she asked.

“But of course. Now come on, don’t be shy, nopony’s going to lay a hoof on you.”

Derpy hesitated for another moment but gradually complied, fluttering down in a slow descent to where Aucune sat. She stood by his side, hanging her head in shame.

“I’m sorry Mister Magique for all the trouble I caused,” she muttered, her voice full of remorse.

“It’s quite all right Miss Hooves,” Aucune assured her, his tone completely devoid of anger or animosity.

“I just- I just don’t know what went wrong, I-”

“Miss Hooves, I said it’s all right. There’s no need to dwell further upon the matter; nopony was hurt and the situation is being rectified. All you did was make a mistake. You don’t need to torture yourself over one little mistake.”

“So… so you meant what you said about me being one of you?”

“Indeed I did. Now come on, chin up. Get some food in you and then grab some rest; I imagine all this excitement has been quite taxing.”

Derpy still appeared troubled and glanced down at the ground before her, fiddling with her hooves.

“Would it be OK if I ate in my cell Mister Magique?” she softly requested.

“If that is what you wish then yes, you may take your leave.”

“Thank you sir. Have a good evening.”

“And you as well Miss Hooves, and you as well.”

Derpy turned and trudged out of the hall, a platter of food clamped in her mouth. She gave a forlorn sideways glance at Tiny Taste on her way out, sorry for all the grief she’d caused him, but said nothing and just continued on her way.

“What a mess,” Storm Spirit remarked. “Whatever you’re planning on doing sir, you’d better wrap up her first stage of training ASAP. Until she completes Innere Eroberung any further efforts at building or honing her abilities are just pointless. She can’t make any further progress, not in this state at any rate.”

“Don’t worry, that’s exactly what I intend to do Sister Storm. All that is required before we proceed to the final phase is one last test of her will to determine whether or not she’s ready. If she manages to weather this last trial then we will proceed as planned.”

“The poor thing, I hope she’ll be all right,” Lightning Flicker said. “Please don’t go too hard on her, sir. She’s a sweet thing really, and I’d hate to hear she got hurt doing whatever it is you’ve got up your sleeve.”

“Peace Sister Lightning, it’ll be all right. There’s far more to her than meets the eye and I’ve no doubt that she’s more than capable of surmounting what I’ve got in store for her. She’ll be just fine, and pretty soon she’ll be better than fine, just you wait and see.”

“And what if she fails your trial? What if she is unable to finish Innere Eroberung? What then?” Aucune turned in his seat to find Dämons Hengst standing behind him, staring at him critically as he awaited a response. Aucune returned his critical stare with a resolute look of his own and gave only this in reply.

“She will finish.”


Damn it. Just… damn it.

Derpy laid on her cot staring up at the ceiling at nothing in particular. Her dinner sat off to the side, barely even touched; despite her earlier hunger she didn’t really have much of an appetite at the moment. She’d shed no tears. There were none to be shed. She didn’t feel the old sense of utter worthlessness, but not because she’d smothered it with her usual upbeat, glass-half-full attitude.

Anger. Bitterness. Emptiness. Frustration. Shame. These emotions all engulfed the tormented mare.

It’s not fair, it’s just not fair. It used to be I could just shake these things off, tell myself this was just my lot in life and move on. But now, now it’s not enough. I want to be more, I need to be more, and I just know I can be more; but with that dream comes the pain of going through each day without getting any closer to achieving it. Now, I just don’t want to do anything at all. It all just hurts so much now, all of it, every mistake, slip up, error, and failure, because I know it shouldn’t be like this. It doesn’t have to be like this. But why is it like this? Why?

She lay there perfectly still for a long while, searching for the answer that continued to elude her. But again Derpy came up empty hoofed, and soon gave up altogether. She settled with clearing her mind of her angst and troubles, just letting them all slip away like the ebbing of the tide.

Stay focused Derpy, stay focused and just keep on going. That’s all I can do right now really, just keep going, cause… I gotta believe that what Mister Magique’s said is true. That if I can master my will I can master anything, do anything. As long as I have the will to keep going, I at least have hope. Hope that I’ll find the answers that I’m looking for, the key to unlocking… whatever’s inside me. Just gotta keep going; it’s as simple as that.

With a great heave Derpy sat up, her sore muscles practically groaning from the effort. She still wasn’t in much of a mood for food, but wanted to get her mind off of things and decided that a good preening might do the trick. Believe it or not, despite Derpy’s propensity for causing at least minor property damage whenever she flew, preening was practically second nature to her. As a younger filly she hadn’t always been the best about caring for her wings, but when she’d gotten a job with the Ponyville Post Office it’d quickly become necessitous to develop a regular preening routine with all the flying her job demanded of her. Over time she’d found that routine preening was not only great for keeping her wings in good shape, but was also quite relaxing.

Still, Derpy was plumb tuckered out, and so decided to just cover the basics before hitting the hay. She began by looking over her singed feathers and gingerly tugging with her teeth on those that were too far gone, carefully prying them out. It hurt, but Derpy knew it was better than just leaving them there to cause far more damage to her wings later on, and thankfully there weren’t too many burnt feathers. Soon as she was sure she’d gotten all of them along with any broken from her exercises she turned her attention to the less troublesome feathers that were simply out of place. While in some ways this was a slower, more delicate process than the last one, it wasn’t nearly as painful either. Absorbed in her activity, the day’s bitter setbacks gradually began to recede to the back of her mind. When she was finished Derpy paused to admire her handiwork. Sure it wasn’t the best preening she’d ever given herself, but it was good enough for the time being, and more importantly it’d managed to take her mind off her earlier troubles.

Besides, tomorrow was Sunday, Derpy’s only day off. Well, “day off” in a manner of speaking; while her physical conditioning was suspended on Sundays, she still had a couple of academic sessions with Aucune, during which they mostly had informal discussions concerning her overall studies. Those talks could certainly drag on quite awhile, but Derpy would still have more than enough time to properly bathe and clean her wings at some point during the day. But right now sleep was the only thing on her mind.

OK, all I need is some nice shuteye and a quiet day tomorrow. Yep, that’ll do me some real good; give these tired muscles of mine a rest and I’ll be fresh and ready to get back into the swing of things on Monday!

Tucking herself beneath the blanket on her cot, Derpy swiftly descended into a deep slumber, her blunders behind her and looking forward to sleeping in a good bit on Sunday morning.


“Wake up Miss Hooves!”

The familiar command blared into Derpy’s dreams like a trumpet blast, very much unexpected and most certainly unwanted. Most days she’d automatically respond to the call, but now she did not, a tiny voice in the back of her head telling her, “Keep sleeping, it’s alright, it’s just your imagination that’s all.” The voice kept repeating its calming reassurance and Derpy fell back into her peaceful rest with only the slightest uneasiness.

An icy cold splash justified that uneasiness a moment later. With a yelp Derpy sprang up, startled, confused, and freezing cold.

“Wha- what? What? What? What?” she stammered, her eyes wildly darting about her dark cell.

“I thought you’d learned by now to get up the first time I told you to,” Aucune remarked, standing in the doorway. “Now come along, no time for dawdling.”

“B-but… Sunday?” It was all the genuinely confused Derpy could come up with, soaking wet and shivering there in the dark.

“I’ve revised our Sunday schedule Miss Hooves. I’ll explain momentarily. Now get out from under those covers and follow me; do not make me repeat myself a third time.”

Still shivering, half asleep, and confused as a dog chasing its tail, all Derpy could do was stare back at Aucune with a blank expression and sort of nod dumbly like she knew what in Celestia’s name was going on. Reluctantly she pulled herself out of her cot and gave her mane and tail, coat, and splayed wings a good shake, shaking off as much of the frigid water as she could.

Five minutes later the two were cantering at a brisk pace through Die Schmiede’s postern gate, Derpy struggling to keep up with Aucune as the last lingering traces of sleep wore off.

“What time is it anyway?”

“Just after 6:30 as usual Miss Hooves.”

“Seriously? You’re making me run laps at 6:30 in the morning on Sunday?” Derpy groggily complained through a yawn.

“Not exactly.”

“Flying then. Oh great, that’s gonna be even loads more fun, thank you so very much.” The sarcasm dripped from Derpy’s words. She’d normally never even think of speaking to Aucune this way, or anypony for that matter, but at the moment she was quite frankly too peeved to care. This was Sunday, her one day off in the whole week, and not only had Aucune given her the rudest of awakenings, but now he was taking her out for morning exercises when she could barely see two feet in front of her. As far as she was concerned, she had every right to be mad as a manticore at the moment.

“In a manner of speaking yes, but not around the track. Patience Miss Hooves, you’ll see soon enough,” Aucune replied. Judging by his tone he either hadn’t detected the sarcasm all-too evident in Derpy’s voice, or simply didn’t care (knowing Aucune, Derpy guessed it was the latter).

The two continued cantering along the path towards the mountains enclosing the vale. Derpy had never followed the path this far before, and both wondered where on earth Aucune was taking her and what he could possibly have in store. After a few more minutes they were just about a hundred yards away from the face of a mountain. The sky was just beginning to lighten ever so slightly, the sunrise drawing closer and closer by the minute. In the soft, blue-gray glow of the coming dawn Derpy could just make out what appeared to be a sizeable dark spot on the side of the mountain, like an ink blot on a massive piece of parchment. It took her only a second to process what it was.

A cave? We’re going to a cave? Well… that’s certainly new.

Just like that her anger was replaced with confusion, but she kept following Aucune in silence seeing as there wasn’t much else she could do at the moment. Coming to the mouth of the cave, the two came to a halt.

“I have only one task for you today Miss Hooves. This is the Dark Mile, a narrow passage that starts here and winds almost straight through to the other side of the mountains. Your task is simple: keep flying back and forth from one end of the passage to the other until I say otherwise. Is that clear?” Derpy blinked in surprise, stunned.

“You’re… you’re not serious, are you?” she demanded, unsure if she’d heard him correctly.

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Because this is crazy! I mean, you want me to fly in a pitch black cave when I can barely see or fly straight in even the best of conditions? If you want to just kill me, there’s got to be less cruel or at least far simpler ways to do it than this.” By this point Derpy was on the verge of hysterics, but Aucune just rolled his eyes in annoyance.

“Don’t be so dramatic Miss Hooves, I assure you it’s perfectly safe. There are no crevices or chasms within that you might fall into, there’s only a sparse number of overhanging formations, and it’s completely uninhabited. Granted it’s a bit dimly lit inside, but I’ll be accompanying you every step of the way; I’ve passed through here countless times before, and this way you’ll have a guide and I’ll be able to keep an eye on you. That doesn’t sound so bad now does it?”

No it doesn’t, but you’ve got a fine way of sugarcoating everything. I bet you could make charging a hydra or tussling with a dragon sound like a walk in the park with that silver tongue of yours.

Derpy was about to persist in her protest when Aucune suddenly bolted straight into the mouth of the cave, calling out to her, “You’ve got two choices: either follow me in or give up and leave! So what’s it going to be Miss Hooves?”

With an ultimatum like that it took Derpy only a split second to get over her reluctance and take wing, following Aucune into the dark passage. Sure she thought it sounded like an absolutely nutty and pointless undertaking, but she wasn’t about to let all her hard work and torturous efforts in the last month be all for nothing.

Alright, if that’s how he wants it to be then that’s how it’s gonna be. He thinks I don’t have what it takes, well by Celestia I’ll show him! Show me what ya got Aucune, c’mon, bring it on!

Pumping her wings furiously, Derpy quickly caught up to and surpassed Aucune, who was galloping at a surprisingly slow pace. That gave her reason to pause, but she continued in her swift flight despite barely being able to see two inches in front of her.

Well that’s weird. I know Aucune’s a hay of a lot faster than that. Sure it’s a little dark but why is he going so slo-

Pain cut off Derpy’s train of thought as she slammed into a firm, rocky surface full speed, dropping like a rock to the cave floor below. A moment later Aucune caught up to where his stunned student lay sprawled, simply shaking his head.

“Slow down Miss Hooves. I said the formations in here were sparse, not entirely absent, so you might want to keep an eye out for any stalactites. Besides, it’s not a race, the aim here is endurance. Now come along, pick yourself up, you’ll live. We’ve got a long day ahead of us and a lot of ground to cover; unless of course you’d like to quit now.”

Dazed, Derpy slowly got to her hooves as stars and visions of heavenly looking muffins danced before her eyes. Shaking her head a few times she tried to regain her balance (and whatever dignity she still had) as quickly as possible. After a few unsteady missteps Derpy thought she could walk in a straight line (well, straight by her standards at any rate), and once more flapped her wings and took off, this time content to cautiously follow Aucune’s lead while looking out for any more incoming stalactites.

While it only got darker and harder to predict when stalactites were approaching, Derpy only had a few bumps and close calls now at her reduced speed. Despite its name the Dark Mile was still lit at intervals by skylights, albeit far fewer than in the passage Derpy had climbed to reach Die Schmiede. Still, overall things seemed to be going pretty well, at least given the circumstances. After about fifteen minutes, the two emerged on the other side of the mountain atop a small outcrop. Derpy lighted down for a brief respite but Aucune shook his head, motioning with his hoof for her to remain airborne.

“Not so fast Miss Hooves. Remember, we keep going until I say otherwise. Now, do it again.”

“But I-”

“Again Miss Hooves, I will not wait up for you!” Aucune commanded, charging back into the passage they’d just emerged from. Groaning in exasperation Derpy did as she was told and followed, worriedly wondering just how long Aucune intended to carry this on.

As it turned out, all day in the most literal possible sense.

Before long they’d crossed the mile long passage back and forth twice. Then three times. And then six. After the tenth or eleventh crossing (she wasn’t sure which) Derpy began to lose track, her mind focused only on flying, navigating, and breathing at that point.

On it went.

Surely Aucune intended to take a break sooner or later, right? Dawn had long since passed and the sun continued to rise higher and higher in the sky, blinding Derpy with its radiant glow every time she emerged from the dark passage.

Lunch at least. I mean, I didn’t even have any breakfast. Feather me, I’ll take hay and water at this point. No, scratch that; I’ll even take the water alone if we’re just gonna go right back to this. But I need something, anything at all!

On it went.

Minutes began to feel like hours, hours like days. Aucune seemed to be doing just fine; he certainly didn’t show any signs of slowing, or even look winded for that matter. Derpy’s breathing turned ragged, her wings grew heavier, and her mind duller.

On it went.

Fatigue setting in, the slip ups came with alarming frequency. She couldn’t think, her reaction time was way off, and so she started flying into stalactites, bumping into cavern walls, and even scuffed against the ceiling a few times. That added pain on top of her pain.

Pain and pain and pain.

On it went.

Can’t stop. He won’t, so can’t. Can’t stop. Not yet. Can’t stop. Want to… so badly.

On it went.

Don’t stop. You can’t. So don’t. Don’t stop. Don’t stop. Don’t stop. Don’t stop.

On it went.

Won’t stop. Don’t stop. Won’t stop. Don’t stop. Won’t stop. Don’t stop. Won’t stop. Won’t stop. Won’t stop. Won’t stop. Won’t stop. Won’t stop. Won’t stop. Won’t stop.

And on it went.

Define.

She didn’t see it coming; couldn’t, not at this point. Her right wing clipped a stalactite that came out of nowhere, and she fell… hard. Spun straight into the cavern wall and crashed with a heavy thud, just about a hundred yards shy of the cavern mouth facing Die Schmiede. Took her mind a moment to comprehend what had just happened. Took less time for the pain to set in, the pain compounding her pain on top of her pain. But she only thought one thing.

Define.

Without pause she pulled herself up, muscles groaning in agony, lips parched, breathing hoarse, dust clinging to every inch of her sweat-drenched body. Saw Aucune standing in the mouth, awaiting her arrival. She knew what she had to do, and despite everything, she wanted to do it. Didn’t just need to; wanted to.

Define.

Flapping her wings as best she could, every muscle in her body screaming at her to stop, she hovered just inches off the ground, swerving back and forth. Sweat trickled into her eyes, stinging them and blurring her vision. But not once did she take her eyes off of Aucune. Not once.

Define.

It seemed to take an eternity, but she kept going, eyes fixed on that unicorn standing before her as though there were nothing else in all the wide world.

Define.

He stared just as intently back at her. Their eyes met, neither full of hatred nor disdain. They were resolute, firm, and yet they betrayed nothing save for the strength they conveyed. The strength was there, in the eyes for all to see, and yet there was so much more behind that strength that none could see nor would see, but they knew, they knew without seeing, they knew it was there and what it was. Those kindred spirits, gazes locked, silently shared in their secret knowledge, in a bond that few could ever reproduce.

Define.

Twenty yards… ten yards… five. And then she was there. She hovered for just a moment before his face, her eyes still locked on Aucune with that same stare, and his on her. The sun was just beginning to dip below the tallest of the surrounding peaks. Alone in their corner of the vale the only noise that pierced the silence between the two was the ragged, hoarse sound of Derpy’s labored breathing. Then she turned back towards the cave, and the corners of Aucune’s mouth rose in the smallest of smiles.

“Enough,” he commanded. Derpy froze in midair, hovering where she was, but still staring at the cave.

“But I can go. I want to go, and so long as I want to go, I can keep going. I know I can. You know I can.” Derpy struggled to even get the words out; her lungs were burning, begging for air and respite.

“Indeed I do Miss Hooves, indeed I do. I have no doubt now that you could keep going until you dropped dead. Maybe even then you’d find a way. But that won’t be necessary; I’ve seen what I needed to see. It is now abundantly clear to me that we have forged an indomitable will within you; your spirit is strong and truly formidable. You did not do all this today, all this the past month, because I told you to; you did it because you chose to, you willed it. Innere Eroberung is almost at an end Miss Hooves. There is but one task left; you must confront your demons. Know them, overcome them; only then will you be able to reclaim your fate.”

Derpy lighted down from where she hovered, standing perfectly still, eyes still fixed on the gaping mouth before her. How she didn’t just collapse then and there was a mystery to Aucune. After what felt like an eternity she finally spoke in a cracked whisper.

“You… you really think I’m ready?”

“No Miss Hooves. I thought you were ready before; now, I know you are. And so do you. Now come along; let’s get you warmed up and enjoy a nice, hot meal.”

Aucune turned, expecting her to follow. When he glanced back, however, there she was, still rigid as a statue as though cemented in place.

“Miss Hooves?” he called out, concerned. “Are you quite alright?”

“I’m fine,” she answered, still refusing to turn towards Aucune. “Is it alright if I catch up with you in a few Mister Magique?”

Aucune studied Derpy intensely. Night was fast approaching, and he certainly didn’t want to leave her by herself in the middle of the increasingly cold vale. But he could tell she needed at least a moment to herself, so he opted to give her some distance while keeping her in his sight.

“Of course Miss Hooves. I’ll be right over here if you need anything.” He retreated a couple hundred yards up the path towards Die Schmiede, keeping his gaze fixed on his pupil.

It could’ve been minutes. Maybe hours. It might’ve even been just a few seconds. She didn’t know. Time just sort of passed by in an indefinable blur. For however long it was, she stood there, staring at that black spot she’d passed through maybe hundreds of times now. In a strange way it felt comforting; she didn’t want to turn away, didn’t want to leave it behind, to turn towards whatever the future now held in store for her. She feared the future, feared the unknown and what she might find. Every muscle and fiber of her being screamed for her to let up, to rest, to return to the warm confines of the castle. But one solitary thought kept darting about her mind, drowning out the chorus of other ideas pining to be heard. Aucune was right. She knew she was ready. Ready to know her demons, to confront them, and put them to rest once and for all.

And that’s what frightened her most.

Author's Note:

Here's the second of the planned four fic updates this week. This chapter is dedicated to, firstly, my mom and my sister, the two most amazing people in my life, and secondly, some of my dearest friends on MLP Forums, namely, DashForever, Miss Earl Grey, Sugar Cube, Stellafera, Wingnut, Artemis, Scootalove, Sterling Crimson, Zygen, and ~Chaotic Discord~. Without the former's love, the latter's friendship, and all of their encouragement and support, I might not have gotten through writing these four chapters and carrying on with this project. Seriously, these guys are the best!

This was a very fun chapter to write, mostly because I felt of all the chapters I've written thus far, this one has the finest balance of heavy and light material. There's better things to come to be sure, believe me, things are only about to get more serious for our heroine from here, but all the same, I'm very happy and proud with how this chapter turned out, and I hope you all enjoy it!!! Got at least two more chapter releases this week ya'll, one on Wednesday, and the last on Friday! See ya then, and again, hope you like the new chapter!!! :)