An unusual friend

by Corvus Eclipse

First published

Where others saw a monster she saw friend. A story about an unusual Friendship

In ancient times the land was once laid in forests. Ages ago mythical beings of great size inhabited and ruled over it. Back then, those beings lived peacefully with the slowly emerging pony race. But as time passed by, the pony race started to expand over the land.

Many forests have been destroyed in the process of this expansion. This act enraged the mythical creatures and friendship was replaced by hostility.

To end the hostility Princess Celestia created a great wall that seperated the "Undiscovered West" from Equestria. It all happened before the banishment of her sister Princess Luna.

But after a millenium of peaceful silence... a message reaches Canterlot about a crack in the wall. The curiosity of the small filly called Fray Leaf will lead her into the "Unexplored West" where she will meet a most unusual friend.

English is not my main language ^^ Which is why I kindly ask for forgivness if you find any mistakes in the text :)


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Princess Celestia was enjoying a cup of tea while looking through the countless reports brought to her by the servants. Invitations, announcements, interesting and boring information about the land kept flowing in and out of the Canterlot castle. The mint tea provided a pleasant refreshment to the Alicorn princess, who was signing contracts which would strengthen the relation between other nations. Meanwhile, her most trusted staff was taking care of the remaining paperwork regarding interior affairs.

Everything was perfectly fine. The land remained wealthy and peaceful under the watchful eyes of the princesses and their loyal subjects. Equestria has faced many challenges in the last few years but it has endured as it always has. Celestia was sure that as long ponies like Twilight Sparkle would inhabit this magical land nothing would endanger the legacy given to the pony nation. With a relaxed sigh she took a sip of her tea and smiled happily.

"Princess Celestia..." A voice filled the great hall of the throne room. It was her steward Heinrich, one of the oldest servants working in the castle. His deep voice emitted unquestionable experience and doubtlessness, but it also affected the listener with its warm feeling of protectiveness. Heinrich was a very old and trustworthy friend and loyal servant to the crown. The elder earth pony approached his mistress with the respect she deserved and bowed gracefully in front of her. "Forgive me that I am interrupting you."

"There is nothing to forgive Heinrich." Celestia levitated both cup of tea and the scroll, which were floating in front of her, to the nearby table. "But I sincerely hope it is something of importance."

"This is a rather... unusual thing that has brought me here." In his hoof he was holding a scroll which seemed to be affected by weather. "Not so long ago a courier from the western border has arrived in Canterlot."

"From the western border?" Asked Celestia surprised and looked at the scroll with big curiosity. "We do not have many settlements there. Although the land itself is a very promising place for expansion, it is still in the solid grip of nature."

"Exactly your Highness! This is why I allowed myself to inform you about it." Heinrich cleared his throat as silent as possible. "The courier is still here in Canterlot. I personally received the scroll from her. She claimed that she comes from a village called Flankfurt. After a closer look in the achieves I was able to determine that this village truly exists. Although... the last known record about it is very old."

Celestia kept listening to Heinrich, whose voice nearly always affected her. Luna once claimed that each time she listened to him it felt like listening to a story teller. Her older sister could only agree on that. "Flankfurt... I have not heard this name for a very long time." Celestia rose from her throne and walked down its stairs with upmost dignity and grace. With her magic she grasped the scroll and opened it. After reading its content her facial expression showed that she was worried about something. "Follow me old friend. I would like to talk with you in privacy."

Heinrich's usual respond was a respectful bow. Without wasting any time for more courtesy the two ponies left the chamber behind them. Before they left the throne room though Celestia ordered one of her guards to wake up Luna. Obviously surprised the stallion saluted and immediately ran off.

"As you can probably imagine this matter demands certain discretion."

"Yes your Highness. But I have to say though... that I was surprised about the age of the last record of that settlement."

"Let us wait for my sister Heinrich. It is very important that she will be part of this upcoming conversation."

After a while they arrived in Celestia's private chambers. As usual, one of her maidens welcomed her happily and awaited any kind of orders from her mistress. The stallion was breathing heavily behind on the other side of the room. Time was a merciless presence a wise one once said. Heinrich was sadly a living example of that. On their way to the chamber Celestia adjusted her speed to the elder stallion so he could keep up with her. The maiden saw in what condition the stallion was and offered him some refreshment, which he welcomed with a warm smile.

It did not take long until Luna marched into the room. The Princess of the Night did not show any sign of exhaustion, but she knew her sister too well. She was annoyed by the fact that she was woke up so quickly.

"I am sorry that you have been woke up so rudely sister... but it is a matter that requires your attention."

"I understand dearest sister. I am not mad." Luna sat down on the already prepared pillow and made herself comfortable. "You woke up my curiosity as well. What is that matter about?"

"We received a message from Flankfurt." Celestia answered and took her place next to her sister. Luna's eyes widen up slightly after hearing the name of the settlement. She did not say anything though and simply waited for more. "I have read the message already. After that I decided to call for you. It is a matter that simply cannot be ignored."

"I see..."

"Please excuse the old stallion's curiosity." Said Heinrich and came close to the two royal sisters. "I have been your servant and advisor for many years. I have heard things and witnessed decisions which have affected this land. Soon enough I will take them with me into my grave." The way he said it made Celestia shiver. Because he knew that his time was slowing running out, but he seemed to not be concerned about it. "After I went through the archive I noticed the age of the record regarding Flankfurt. It seems that it is over a thousand years old. Is this information accurate?"

"I can assure you that it is. Although it might sound ridicules at first." Said Luna and smiled at him. "There is always a reason behind our actions Heinrich. Since you will participate in this meeting there is no need for me to hide anything from you."

"As always I shall honor my vows and respect your trust in me your Highness." His eyes laid on the young maiden that was in the corner of the chamber. "But what about her? Is she trust worthy?"

"That she is Heinrich." Celestia was amused that Heinrich was always thinking about any possibility of maintaining a secret. The stallion nodded and concentrated on his mistresses. "But before I will explain anything you will have to listen to a story first. Otherwise you will not understand my actions."

"Understandable your Highness. Please continue."

"In the ancient times the land was once laid in forests. Ages ago mythical beings of great size inhabited and ruled over it. Back then, those beings lived peacefully with the slowly emerging pony race. But as time passed by, the pony race started to expand over the land. Many forests have been destroyed in the process of this expansion. This act enraged the mythical creatures and friendship was replaced by hostility. In that time the three Tribes united and eventually Luna and I became its leaders."

"Back then there were still many forests... but it was dangerous to venture into them." Luna continued the tale. "Which is why we have forbidden to build any settlements near them. In that time Discord appeared and brought chaos upon Equestria. In the process even more forests have been destroyed. Only the Everfree is the remaining witness of that time sadly."

"The last remnants of the ancient forests are in the west." Celestia took over the story and gave Luna the time to recover from some unpleasant memories. "On the map it is simply called 'Undiscovered West' but there is more to it. After Discord has been defeated many of the mythical beings scattered over the land. Some simply adjusted to the changes that has befallen them. Others looked for refugee in the remaining forests: among them the Everfree. But the most of the ventured into the west. Once there have been many settlements there... sadly they have been destroyed in an act of revenge."

Heinrich was listening carefully to any word spoken in the chamber. So did the maiden who seemed to be as fascinated by the story as the elder.

"Together with Luna we arrived at the village called Flankfurt. The local ponies were being haunted by the creatures and called for help. But we could not simply use our powers to harm beasts who were also victims in that story. Which is why we established contact with one of them. After a very long debate we have found a solution to the problem. With the power of the Elements of Harmony and the support of the creatures we have created a great wall that separated the 'Wild Lands', as the ponies called it back there, from Equestria. The ponies of Flankfurt willingly offered to guard the wall so both beasts and ponies could live peacefully. I agreed to the bidding and made sure that the existence of the wall and the settlement would remain a secret."

Celestia let out a very long sigh. It sounded like a sigh of relief to Heinrich who was still silent. One could say that he was probably processing the information he has heard.

"And now, after a thousand years of silence, a message arrives in Canterlot." She looked at her sister while she was speaking out these words. "The message says that after an unexplainable event a crack was spotted in the wall. A crack so vast it could be compared to a castle gate."

Luna let out a gasp after hearing it and covered her mouth with the hoof.

"Do you want to tell me that the wall has been breached already?"

"It is a possibility we cannot simply ignore. The message is three days old... who knows what might have happen in that time?" Celesta closed her eyes and started to massage the temple with her hoof. "We must find out what happened in the west... and make sure that no conflict will erupt between ponies and beasts again."

< The roots of anger and revenge are deep. I can only hope that the past won't repeat itself... >

Chapter 1

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< 3 Days back >

Dr. Strong Heart was sitting near his chimney with a cup full of his beloved rum tea. Already at his third cup he was in a rather happy mood, while watching the dance of fire. As much as he loved his rum Strong Heart rarely allowed himself to drink alcohol. His duty as the local doctor occupied him nearly every day, giving him only a few spare hours for himself or his family.

The elder Earth Pony stallion smiled as he took the last sip from the cup. His family was far more important than himself. Since the birth of his granddaughter Fray Leaf his life has change in a quite unexpected way. Usually after work he went out into the countless forests of the area to search for herbs and other natural ingredients provided by the land. But his age has finally caught up to him, and Strong Heart was forced to either look for a full time herbalist or for ponies who would willingly help him to stock up his supplies.

Surprisingly many ponies have volunteered to assist him, which is why he found himself often looking after his beloved granddaughter. Sadly not only due to his free time, but also because of the heart problems of the filly. The very thought about that matter made his heart bleed. Born with a valvular heart disease, Fray Leaf must be under constant medical treatment. Thanks to a special extract from the local flora, the child is able to live her life normally. Sadly only if she will take her medicine accordingly to his strict instructions.

He knew his small treasure since Fray Leaf's very first breath. Like with her mother, it was him who helped to deliver a new life into this world. The memory of him holding the small crying fur ball was burned into his old and stubborn mind. Back in his time of youth it has been an incredible experience to deliver his own daughter into the world and into the hooves of his wife. To deliver his grandchild to his own child was as incredible as the memory of the past.

Recently Fray Leaf earned her Cutie Mark after aiding an injured Bird of Prey. Like her father, she turned out to have a special connection to the birds of the world. To see a small filly watching over a bird far larger than herself was fascinating. Now knowing that his family was already asleep the local doctor allowed himself to enjoy his rum tea. His own quiet celebration one could say and the only companion was the cozy fire of his chimney.

< I am sure that wherever you are darling... that you are as proud at our family as I am. > Thought Strong Heart and inspected the photography of his wife, who was smiling at him happily. With a sigh he put away the cup and added more wood to the fire. It embraced the new source greedily, and soon the orange tongues covered the surface of the wood in a fiery hug. Convinced that the fire was properly supplied he looked through the window to his left. One could say it was some sort of ritual and security precaution. For the first thing that welcomed his old eyes was a gigantic wall.

Created by Princess Celestia nearly a millennium ago, the wall was separating Equestria from the wild lands. Some used the name "Unexplored West" and maybe it would be for the best to keep it that way. Because the land beyond the wall belonged to great animals and beasts of time long passed. Citizens of Flankfurt have become its guardians on the account of their beloved princess. Doctor Strong Heart's family was the first to settle in this land and call it their own. Like many before him, Strong Heart swore to keep his watch over the wall to protect not only the pony kind, but also the beings beyond the wall.

According to history, both ponies and the giant beings lived peacefully side by side. Until the day the pony race decided to expand over the land. One of the many problems of the ancestors were their shear growing numbers. Spreading the tribes over the land was a good idea, nopony would doubt that, but to maintain shelter for so many Earth Ponies and Unicorns (the Pegasi found a way how to inhabit the skies) required huge open fields and resources. Without proper planning, and without informing their allies, destruction spread over the countless forests like wild fire. Enraged about the ruthless actions the giant beings attacked the ponies in retaliation. Once former allies and friends became enemies. Conflict after conflict the pony race managed to push back the giant beings towards the western borders. No side was eager to continue the conflict though. Because of one crucial thing:

The land itself.

Beasts of all kind knew that they could defeat the ponies, but in order to do so they would have to use their devastating powers. Back then Princess Celestia and her younger sister Princess Luna already ruled over the three pony tribes and were aware of this fact. Through their kindness towards an injured beast, the royal sisters were able to start negotiations. After countless hours of debating both sides made an unusual arrangement. The ancient beings would leave Equestria, and tend to the future of their kind in the west, but only under two conditions. The first would allow any beast to remain in Equestria if it was his or her wish.

Also throughout the years the ponies have destroyed many forests without concerning about the future. One wise ancient beast was afraid, that if the equines would continue to live like that, they would eventually strip the land of life and resources. Which would result into a huge migration of their nation, endangering the existence of the ancient beasts (other nations as well) and their lands once again. Princess Celestia and Luna listened patiently to the wisdom of the ancient, and in the end agreed to learn from their former allies so they could teach the ponies to live in harmony with nature.

Finally the conflict has come to an end, but the losses on both sides left wounds which would probably never heal. Celestia was afraid that act of revenge could lead to hostilities. In that moment Luna came up with an idea that found agreement on both sides. Mountains were natural borders on the map and only in one place they were creating a gasp that leads to the Undiscovered West. In that gasp a wall would be established with powerful magic.

Thus the wall remained where it was. A huge door to the west, and a monument of peace established ages ago. The ponies adapted to a new life style, and even learned how to manipulate weather for the good of the land. This act satisfied the remaining beasts, securing peace for any new generation to come. Strong Heart kept looking at the wall, which was made out of earth and stone. Without any doubt everybody could see that it has not been created by hooves.

Since that time no beast nor pony crossed the wall. Its existence was properly hidden by the princesses, but also nature itself was playing its role in this matter. In this far regions of the kingdom the weather was not being manipulated by anything. Due to that natural phenomenon, which is not natural at all for most equines, the nature itself became a shield from the civilization and unwanted attention. The doctor kept looking at the wall, thinking about his oath he made so many years ago atop of it. Then his eyes finally freed themselves from the grasp of the gigantic structure, and concentrated on buildings of the village visible from the window. His loyalty does not only belong to the two royal sisters, but also the place he calls home.

There has been no sighting of any beasts, neither did any messages from Canterlot reach them. It worried him deeply each time he thought about it. Sometimes he dared to think that they might have been forgotten by their rulers. The only good thing coming from it was a tax free life and a society which was holding together since the foundation of the wall. Suddenly somepony knocked on the door.

"Father? Are you awake?"

Surprised to hear his daughter at this late time Strong Heart quickly ran towards the door, completely forgetting to reply, and opened it.

"Cherry Berry!" He finally managed to say something after catching some air. "Did something happen to anypony?"

Cherry Berry realized that the her father was still trying to catch his breath and simply waited for a moment. "No... everything is fine. I just heard movement upstairs. I thought you might need some company."

Doctor Strong Heart let out a relaxed sigh and allowed her to enter the room. "I have to admit that you scared me a little bit. I was worried that something might have befallen Fray Leaf."

"I made sure that she took the medicine. Recently she was complaining about some uncomfortable stings in the chest, but with each day she feels better and better." She sat down on a pillow and looked around the room. As expected she noticed the empty cup of tea and barely started bottle of rum. Like her mother she gave him that skeptical glare, but gladly said nothing about it. With a dampen chuckle he took place next to his daughter and gently stroke her cheek with his hoof.

"I am happy to hear that Fray Leaf feels better dear. But now I am starting to worry about your own condition. When did you sleep properly the last time?"

"There is nothing your sharp eyes won't see father." She smiled weakly and leaned against his hoof. "Like you have foretold she was crying in her sleep. I was next to her and all I could do was to hum a song nothing more..."

"I know it is a very hard time for both of you my dear. Make sure that she will take her medicine and soon her body will adapt. In no time she will be jumping higher than any child in the village."

Cherry Berry found some comfort in his words and smiled more happily. "I bet she will first look after the newest hatchling she found in the woods."

"Another one?" Asked Strong Heart and laughed about this information. "How many did she gather already? Last time I checked she had four."

"Now she has six. Fray Leaf loves to watch over them. But I have to say sometimes, while she is taking care of her little friends, I see the smaller version of her father." She let out a sigh."He was also talking to the birds like they would have been ponies. And like her father she keeps amazing me."

"I understand what you are talking about. But I also see a lot of you and your mother in her."

"Oh really? And what would that be?" She asked and gave him a look that made a cold shiver run down his spine.

"Certain things should remain unspoken and be discovered by yourself." He smiled and added more wood to the fire. "I can make you some herb tea and add some of your favorite fruits to it."

"That is the best offer I heard today. One of my delayed packages finally arrived. Many things were missing and some products have been visited by mice. My trading partner explained that the mountain pass was blocked by an avalanche. It basically handicapped the caravans and forced the traders to use the longer routes... He had no other choice than to demand the usual price for the shipment, although its content was not full and befallen by critters."

"Silver Lens is a decent stallion dear. He always supplied our village with the necessary products and demanded reasonable prices. Did you and him come to an agreement?"

"I was about to talk about it. He promised that once he would return home he would send one of his Pegasi couriers with the missing supplies. Besides that he also promised to add a few things extra without any charge."

"The boy became a stallion but his heart has not changed at all." Strong Heart chuckled and started to prepare the promised tea. "I still remember how he left our village only to return as a successful trader. If not for him many things would have ended grim."

After a short while father and daughter were enjoying a cup of tea, while chatting about gossips and the current state of Fray Leaf. Everything was perfectly fine and time passed by fast without them realizing it. Once the cups were empty Cherry Berry rose up and kissed her father on the head.

"As much as I loved that meeting, it is time to go sleep. I also have to look after Fray Leaf. It seems that she is sleeping peacefully now. We both also need some rest. Good night father."

"Good night dear. Once our small treasure will wake up I will look after her. Something is telling me that soon we will be able to put aside the strong medicine for a while. Fresh air will help her more than anything I can mix in my small lab."

Cherry Berry nodded happily and managed to suppress a yawn. Once again she kissed him on the head and was about to leave the room, but suddenly a quake disturbed the peaceful silence. Both ponies remained motionless, still in the solid grip of the shock that has befallen them. A stronger quake followed and made everything in the room shake. The mare let out a frighten sound and looked back at her father. A third quake, far stronger than the first two, threw everything not heavy and solid enough to the ground, including the ponies.

The stallion managed to jump towards his child and shielded her with his own body. Gladly they were not close to any furniture, that might have injured them badly, but smaller objects hit his old body. Cherry Berry yelled in panic not for their own well being but for the safety of her sleeping daughter. A horn signal ripped through the night and spread over the nearby mountains and forests with a ghastly sound. In that moment Strong Heart realized that it was not an natural earth quake that was befalling them.

Trying to maintain balance he did the first thing his mind demanded him to do. On shaky legs he managed to reach the window and looked outside towards the wall. He was unable to see anything from this position, but deep in his heart he knew what was going on.

< The wall is under attack! >

"Fray Leaf!" Yelled Cherry Berry and ran out of the room. Without wasting any time Strong Heart grabbed his old trusty bag of medical supplies and followed the mare. More and more horns echoed in the distance, and even the bell of the clock tower joined the chaotic sounds of horns and the quakes, which seemed to not have an end. Unable to hold stance Strong Heart fell hard to the ground, but got up fast because he heard the frightened cry of fear of Fray Leaf. Filled with adrenaline the elder quickly ran down the stairs and found his family in the child's room.

"We must leave the building!" He yelled and shoved away anything in his way, creating a path for his beloved ones. Cuddling against her mother's neck the crying filly was hoping to find refugee from the falling objects. As fast as possible they left the house, dodging anything that was falling in their direction. Finally free from the trap they called home Strong Heart's family ran towards a small group of the villagers, which was running away from the buildings.

"Everypony run towards our great meeting point. The mares and children first! Stallions to me!" Strong Heart was yelling as loud as he could, which was rewarded with the attention of the ponies. They followed the instructions like lambs and soon the doctor was surrounded by stallions. "Whatever is happening it is happening at the wall." Another quake visited them, followed by a mighty and terrifying sound that made everypony speechless. It was a roar of something beyond the wall.

Realizing that they were losing time Strong Heart yelled as loud as he could."We will split in two groups!" The ponies have been freed from their frozen state and looked down at the elder doctor, looking for guidance and hope."A larger group of stronger stallions will head towards the wall. The younger ones will stay with the mares and watch over them. Make sure that everypony has left their homes and that they will reach the meeting point. Move out and may the Elements watch over us!"

The stallions hit the ground in the same time with a loud and confident "Aye!". For the first time since a millennium the ponies of Flankfurt would follow their vows. The quakes continued as a group of stallions charged towards the gigantic wall. Strong Heart saw and heard how the ponies were hurling boulders beyond the wall with catapults. On the other side something huge was hitting directly at the wall. Its roar made them stop for a moment because its pitch was painful to listen to at this close distance. A Pegasus landed next to them and hastily reported what was going on.

"We were watching over the pass as usual. Suddenly some sort of a bull like creature charged towards the wall. Before we could do anything it rammed us with great power. We keep firing but the boulders are not affecting it at all! By the looks of it that thing is made out of stone!"
This report hit the group hard and fear started to spread over them, while the attacker kept ramming the wall.

"We have sworn to protect this place with our lives! Arm yourselves with everything we have. Keep firing at it and if necessary use boili...." A sudden shock wave ended his sentence and a huge crack started to spread over the lower part of the wall. Heavy fragments of earth and stones rained down not so far away from them, revealing that a hole has been created by the brute force of the invader. Dust was covering everything with its dense presence, but a sudden burst of wind blew it away. Strong Heart through that it was the work of Pegasi but to his horror it was something else. An eye was looking through the gasp of the wall, gawking at them like they would have been bugs.

The gust of wind turned out to be the breath of the beast coming through the hole. A strong and foul smell of a swamp filled their lungs and made many cough in disgust. It kept looking at them with its huge yellow eyes, which reminded Strong Heart of dead fish eyes. Hypnotized by its sheer size, and the fact that it was looking at them from a crack higher than the bell tower, the ponies could do nothing more than feel tiny and extremely out of its league. Time itself seemed to not pass by at all and the world was suddenly nothing more than the dead yellow eye of a gigantic being.

After a while, that seemed to be an eternity, a new sound filled the air. First it sounded like more fragments of the wall were about to fall down, but it turned out to be something else. The ponies realized that what they were hearing now was laughter. That thing was laughing at them! A cold shiver ran down Strong Heart's spine, while he listened to the terrifying sound of the giant.

"By the Elements... how on Equestria are we supposed to stop that?" Somepony asked with a noticeable fear in his voice. "Look what it has done already... the wall has a hole so big and wide as a castle gate. And yet it is still too small for that thing to fit through."

The laughter grew louder, stronger and even more terrifying than before. It seemed that this being understood what the pony just said. In that moment the unthinkable happened. Still laughing the bull like creature turned around, hit the wall a few times (probably wwith its hind legs or the tail) and simply walked away. The earth was shaking with each move of the colossal being, which left the scared and surprised ponies to their fate. From above a few boulders have been hurled at the bull, but it did not pay any attention to them and kept walking towards west.

"You have to be bucking kidding me..." One stallion finally broke the silence and fell hard to his knees."It came out of nowhere, damaged the wall and simply left? Why!?"

Grim sounding chatter spread in the group of defenders. Strong Heart simply kept looking at the wall, the thing they have sworn to protect. It was standing here for over a thousand years, protecting both pony kind and the beasts of the west.

< This was not supposed to happen... > Though the elder stallion and sat down on the ground, ignoring the smaller stones beneath him. < According to the scroll given to our ancestors by Princess Celestia herself, the wall is protected by powerful Alicorn magic. Brute force should have done nothing to it. >

And yet the hole remained on the surface of the wall like a huge and nasty scar.

"Strong Heart do you understand what just happened?" Asked a nearby Unicorn with a dampen sound. All eyes were now laid upon him, even with closed eyes he felt their gaze upon himself.

"I-I don't know for sure... But something is telling me that the bull was testing the wall."

"Testing the wall!? Look what it did with several hits! It could have simply continue to attack the wall. A few more hits and it would have breached it... and we would have been unable to stop it." An Earth Pony replied harshly to his assumption.

"I think that the doctor is right." Said the Unicorn and pointed at the hole in the wall. "While it was ramming the wall I saw something glowing underneath the plants which cover its surface. At these spots you clearly see no damage at all."

"The spell that is protecting the wall is still active then! Thank the Elements for that. But the wall has been damaged anyway... is the spell weakening?"

"I have no other explanation for that. The collateral damage would have been far bigger if we think about the size of that fiend. Only magic could have been able to prevent that kind of damage."

"But the spell did not work at the lower parts of the wall. Which means..."

"That the spell is truly weakening while we speak." Strong Heart ended the sentence and stood up. "Get me something to write and look for our fastest Pegasi courier. The Princesses must be informed what happened this night. We cannot leave that hole unsecured. Build provisory barricades as fast as possible and make sure that it will be guarded day and night!"

< I can only hope that the message will reach them in time. This is clearly beyond our strength and control. If there has been any control at all... >