The Divine Contract

by BrightIdea

First published

Ponyville is plagued by shadow-demons, Priestess Rarity seeks help from the Goddess of Magic to save her town

The Mortal Realm of Equestria is besieged by unknown shadow-demons that seek to kill all living things. No where is the situation more dire than in Ponyville which has faced more and more of these attacks taking a gruesome toll. Rarity, Priestess of the Gods at the temple in Ponyville enacts a ritual to seek the aid of one of the Divine, gods and demigods that will help a pony for a price. Can the mysterious Goddess of Magic help Rarity save Ponyville and find out who or what is behind the Shadow-Demons?
Inspired of by Earthsong9405's Goddess AU. This is only my own take on it all that this is has flowed from the inspiration that Earthsong9405 has inspired.
Love the art! Love the ideas! What? You have not seen it or heard of Earthsong9405? Blasphemy! Go here and take a look!

Chapter 1

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Rarity stared at the corpse of the Timberwolf.

It looked almost like a pile of branches and leaves except for that it was all piled in the vague shape of a wolf that had its side torn out by what had to be a set of ferocious claws. Rarity had just forced her way through a bush and there the corpse was silhouetted in the moonlight and collapsed against a leafless tree. The light from Rarity’s staff illuminated the feral features of the creature.

“Calm yourself Rarity. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, for you to worry about. Yes, the Everfree is just teeming with shadow-demons at night and not to mention monsters that would definitely love to gobble up a stunning mare like yourself but you have a Divine on your side. Granted, she is not at your side now but still nearby. You think. Nothing to keep talking to yourself about surely!”

Rarity looked closer at the Timberwolf and realized she was actually in an incredible amount of danger. What Rarity had noticed was that the Timberwolf’s corpse had a shadow. That shadow did not move at all in response to the shifting light of her staff as she had moved closer.
“Oh, Divine Ones…” Rarity had begun to back away but it had already been too late. The Shadow had begun to move toward her, stretching across the grass before it detached itself complete from the Timberwolf’s remains.

“Guardian of Magic HEAR MY PLEA!” Rarity shouted and gripped her staff in both of her hands.

“The shadow rippled like a pot of black ink when a quill was dipped into it. From the center of the creature’s mass emerged upward off the ground something that was the shape like a timberwolf but at the same time unnaturally proportioned. Its hind legs were larger than the front pair, it had no ears so its head just looked like a skull, and the jaw looked stretched out much farther than the muzzle so long and large that it was bigger than the side of Rarity’s head. It also twitched in place, making absolutely no sound as limbed moved back and forth at unnatural angles that would have snapped normal bones. Perhaps it knew how freighting its unnatural appearance was?

The only features that were consistent were its eyes. Blank, white orbs that bulged from where its eye sockets should have been. It opened its mouth, the sound that emerged was not a howl but an unearthly screech.

“I’d say you need some singing lessons.” Rarity backed up even further until she was up against a tree. She had no wat if getting away now and with no sign of the Guardian she only had one option left to her. Squaring her shoulders Rarity braced herself and brought her staff into a guard position, “I may be a lady, but I am a priestess of the gods and that means I am not defenseless. If you can understand a word I am saying, Shadow-Demon.

Rarity did not wait for the shadow-demon to move. In the many times she had faced off against other shadow-demons she had learned to never let them gain momentum in a fight. She had seen too many warriors and priests make that mistake.

“En garde!” Rarity thrusted her staff toward the thing’s face, it shied away instantly from her staff and right into Rarity where Rarity had wanted it to go. She shifted the point of her staff further down, sweeping the staff so it knocked the shadow-demon’s front legs from under it. It fell into a screeching heap, snapping at the air around it as it struggled to get back up.

“Hah! When you aren’t some wall-bound specter you have to use your legs just like the rest of us” When a shadow-demon assumed a corporeal form it acted just like a wild beast and would not retreat back to its shadow form. Unfortunately, that also meant this fight would be to the death with only one of the walking away.

“Oh horsefeathers.” Rarity cursed as she took several steps forward for the crystal tipped point of her staff she had meant to plunge into the shadow-demon’s chest instead stabbed into the ground. The shadow-demon had rolled aside from what she had hoped to have been a finishing move. Despite its lopsided proportions the shadow-demon was fast, it became a blur as it moved outside of her vision. “No!”
Rarity’s pulse beat in her ears as she realized what the beast would do next. With all of her strength she wrenched her staff out of the ground, she ignored the smell of wet dirt that assaulted her nose, the protest of the muscles in her limbs, and then spun around-staff point toward where her back had been. The shadow-demon screeched as the crystal point of her staff pierced its chest.

“Ta…ta, darling” Rarity said through her gritted teeth as the weight of the shadow-demon pushed her down to her knees, “Oh Moonborn Luna, by your night let this beast be cleansed from sight.”

She focused her magic from her horn into the tip of her staff. The energy of her spell bursting through the shadow-demon. Rapidly holed formed in the pitch black body of the shadow-demon which poured out the energy of her spell. The shadow-demon did not disappear with a bang but crumbles and faded away, its corporeal form lost cohesion and ceased to exist.

“Do not come back, please.” Rarity sighed, her strength drained for the moment. She made to stand when she heard a second unearthly screech. Rarity looked up to see a second shadow-demon, also in the form of a timberwolf, leap down toward Rarity from a branch of the leafless tree above the Timberwolf’s corpse.

“Clever girl.”

Rarity did not want that to be her last words but between her exhaustion and the surprise the shadow-beast had waited for her to become weak it was all she could think of considering the circumstances. As the shadow-demon’s form filled her vision she thought again, where was the Guardian of Magic? Where was Twilight Sparkle?

A whip of amethyst colored magic wrapped itself around the shadow-demon while it was still in midair and immediately slammed it into the tree it had leapt from. Then the ground. Then a second tree. Then the same tree again and again before finally down onto the ground again. The single whip of magic split into several bands that latched onto each of the shadow-demon’s limbs. Once secure the beast was tossed back into the air where it was help suspended.

From behind Rarity, Twilight Sparkle emerged, the body tattoos were flared to life with divine energy.

“Excellent work” Twilight said.

“I always do my best.” Rarity replied and lifted herself back onto her hooves.

“Hmm? What?” Twilight looked away from the shadow-beast to Rarity and looked confused. It took her several seconds too late for Rarity to realize she had not been speaking to Rarity before but she tried to correct herself immediately, “Oh, yes, you were um, very good! Rarity. A plus!”

“Thank you, Divine One.” Rarity replied and bowed stiffly. Even if it made a small part of her giggled at seeing Twilight so apologetic it bordered on adorable years of training as a Priestess of the Gods snapped into place. With her eyes to the ground Rarity was unable to see the look of disappointment cloud Twilight’s face or the nervous way she fiddled her own magical staff between her fingers.

“Really, thank you Rarity. Now let’s see about our guest here.” Twilight turned toward the shadow-demon again. The shadow-beast itself was unusually still to Rarity. They always acted like enraged beasts, a blur of unnatural motion and bloodlust. This beast though now that it was entrapped refused to move at all. It was like a horrible statue. Rarity took a step toward the shadow-demon only for Twilight to hold her back with Twilight staff swung in front of her.

“I can sense something- “

The shadow-demon exploded. It did not fade out like the other shadow-demon, this one exploded with its dark mass coming apart and outward. It was only Twilight’s magical barrier that stopped them both from being covered in the inky remains of the shadow-demon. The shadow-demon’s remains coated the entire clearing for several seconds before it faded out completely. Twilight stopped her barrier and the both of them looked around at the completely empty area.

“This is great!” Twilight burst out, immediately she was writing furiously on a scroll with a quill she had magicked out of thin air. “So many questions! Was the shadow-demon communicating with something? Was that why it was still? What is the link that it shared? Is it a defense-mechanism? Or is it just unnaturally unstable when probed by Divine magic? Was that a remote self-destruct?”

The amethyst tattoos across her body glowed even brighter the more enthusiastic she became.

Rarity dropped to her haunches and laid down. Too exhausted to listen as her mind drifted back just three days ago when she had first met Twilight.

-Three Days Ago-

“Please, please let it be today.” Rarity muttered to herself and continued to pace across the mouth of the alleyway. She made sure of course to be careful about anypony watching her, she was a priestess of the Temple of the Gods for Ponyville. Even without the constant attacks by shadow-demons she told herself it would not be a good sign to the townsfolk to see one of their best and most glamorous priestesses worried or distraught in any fashion. Especially if she was wearing out the cobblestones with her hooves or that she was walking without her gem-caped, sounding staff in her hands so the chiming ringlets would not give her away or that she had disguised herself with a heavy, tacky cloak. Yes, it would be very hard to reassure anypony that noticed her.

All in all she knew it would worry anypony in Ponyville but it was because that she was worried herself about the safety of her town.
“CARAVAN!” the shout came from on top of the stockades and immediately Rarity was anxious but relieved. On one hoof it drew the attention of everypony else in the town square away from the direction she was skulking in (she hated that word. Skulk sounded so uncouth and roguish.) On the other hoof it meant that maybe today would be the day. No more waiting or watching the gate for the trade caravan or no more waiting to watch for the trade caravan. She could finally-

“R-rarity?” a soft voice squeaked behind her but it was more than enough to make Rarity jump and almost shout out. It took all of her willpower not to but when she turned to face Fluttershy her friend and fellow priestess could see Rarity’s cheeks were puffed out from holding in her breath.

“Fluttershy! Darling, what-what are you doing here in the alleyway? Shouldn’t you be back at the Temple of the Gods?”

“Um…well…I was going to ask you…the same thing.” Fluttershy looked away guiltily and pulled the cowl of her robes tightly over her features, “…sorry.”

Oh, Fluttershy…I’m sorry my dear, it is quite all right, You shouldn’t be ashamed of anything.” Rarity had moved across the alley and pulled her friend into a comforting hug in moments.

“It’s just…I’ve noticed you always get anxious around this time of the day and seem to disappear. I notice your p-p-pulse always quickens so loudly…” Fluttershy seemed to shrink inside of her robes with each word she had spoken. Even her long pink mane had retreated into the folds.

Oh, drat. If anypony saw us now it would most definitely draw everypony’s concern. To see one mysterious cloaked figure grappling with the empty looking robes of a priestess of the Temple of the Gods! Pitchforks and torches are not what this town needs right now, especially Fluttershy.

“Fluttershy, please don’t you worry.” Rarity pushed her thoughts aside and focused on reassuring her friend, “As I said I should be the only one here apologizing, darling. I took such precautions, perhaps unnecessarily theatrical precautions, to make sure I wouldn’t worry anypony but I still managed to make my best friend worry.”

“It’s just so hard not to worry about you though.” Fluttershy said and peaked her head back out of her robes as she continued and looked on the verge of tears. “All of these shadow-demon attacks, everypony’s scared or have lost loved ones or are scared they will lose their loved ones. First Priestess Cheerilee and the other priestesses try to be strong. You though put on a calm, confident face for everypony to look up to so-so they will keep going and trust the Divines but I know every time we hear of an attack or tend to a wounded or d-dead pony…”
“Calm Fluttershy. Calm brings forth serenity and harmony. Through this pain within and without can be healed. There is no good action without good thought.” Rarity recited the scripture of Celestia as written by Joyheart the Divine Touched over two hundred years ago. Rarity knew that the scriptures written by Joyheart were some of Fluttershy’s favorite and she knew them by heart. It also always calmed her down when her panic attacks set it.

“Calm brings forth serenity and harmony.” Fluttershy recited and took in a deeeeeep, slow breath then exhaled. She wiped the tears from her eyes and smiled at Rarity.

“Fluttershy. Thank you for worrying about me. I don’t have many ponies who do.” Rarity returned the smile and grasped Fluttershy’s hands in her own, “Please go back to the Temple. I will be back shortly. Why I am here I have faith in the Sisters will see Ponyville through. Worry for me, but darling please believe, have your own confidence in me that I know things will get better again.”

“Okay, Rarity.” Fluttershy nodded and gently hugged Rarity, “Just be back before the dark. I’m making soup for the Temple tonight.”
Rarity sighed with too much relief once Fluttershy had left and she was once again alone in the alley. Deep down inside of her it hurt that she had done anything to harm Fluttershy. She looked back toward the gate and saw that they had swung open to admit a small caravan of wagons. One of the caravans had on the side emblazoned to be noticed as much as possible the symbol of a moon and glowing wand. Rarity pushed down the concern for her friend and tugged her cloak tighter around her before she stepped out of the alleyway to follow the wagon she had spied.

Unfortunately for Rarity to follow the wagon she needed to pass a part of the town square she had taken to avoiding as much as possible in the last few months. It was the shrine to Sombra, God of War. To Rarity’s more exquisite and dazzling tastes the shrine to Sombra was the total opposite, it was a monument of black iron, dark crystal, and sharp ends. A statue of Sombra stood at the center of the shrine, the God of War with sword held high as if he was about to bring it down on in an unstoppable blow that would only have one result: death. Normally it was kept in the back of the Temple of the Gods in Ponyville, usually under lock and key, with Sombra’s usual supplicants only being the old war horses.

Rarity acknowledged that Sombra was part of the Divine Council and kept the harmony of the Mortal Realm and Divine Realm. As priestess she tended to the shrine as part of her duties and sang praise to Sombra. However, to see Sombra’s shrine moved out in the open of Ponyville, to have to see his triumphant sneer, and to see so many desperate Ponies turning to him for protection just rubbed Rarity the wrong way. It was as if the God of War had been unleashed into not just Ponyville’s square but the minds and hearts of the Ponies. The peaceful town that Ponyville had once been seemed to slip away with ever day the shadow-demons attacked more and more.
“Not if I have anything to say about it, and I certainly have quite a bit to get off of my mind…” Rarity whispered to herself as she approached the wagon of her destination. Without knocking on the door Rarity slipped through and into the wagon to come face-to-face with Trixie the Great and Powerful…of antiquities.

“What? How dare you barge into Trixie’s-“ Trixie had spun around from a small crate to confront the suddent intruder into her shop and home but stopped as Rarity moved her cowl down to reveal her identity. Trixie did not miss a beat as she continued, “…shop of wonders oh, Trixie’s fine and valued customer.”

“Please, Trixie do be a dear and skip the showmareship. Do you have my package?”

“Far be it of me to lie to such a radiant priestess of the Gods” Trixie smiled and fluttered her eye lashes at Rarity which Rarity ignored, “I do have the item that you asked for. Trixie had to brave the darkest shadows of sea lashed Baltimare to get it but Trixie did fine it for you.”
Trixie’s horn flared as her magic wrapped itself around a medium sized square object wrapped in a dirty cloth and floated it in front of herself. Trixie paused to wipe off some of the dirt from the cloth but to Rarity that seemed to have only made the cloth dirtier.

“Now about Trixie’s payment…” Trixie had begun to say, but paused as Rarity reached forward and grabbed the clothed object, her heart pounded in her chest as she unwrapped the cloth and saw what was underneath. Sweet relief flooded her and Rarity had almost wanted to squeal in joy, but then Trixie finished her sentence, “…Trixie was thinking of something different. Perhaps let Trixie take the Wondrous and Exquisite Rarity for a fine dinn-“

“AHaahaah, no, Trixie. As…lovelly as that sounds I simply must pay you in your bits. It was what WE AGREED upon, remember? No changing the deal now you…you minx.” Rarity had nearly lost her composure but like an dancer twirling a silk ribbon she twisted and turned her words and composure. And Trixie enraptured as she was followed Rarity’s suggestion.

“Ah, but of course. The Great and Powerful Trixie is of course always true to Trixie’s word. After all that is Trixie’s best quality, Great and Powerful dependability.” Trixie flushed and fanned herself, “Then perhaps Trixie may still offer and talk more ‘business’ with-“

“Oh, well that does sound fascinating Trixie. You really must tell me more about this “business” but unfortunately, I simply cannot tonight-“

“Then tomorro-“

“Temple duties. I am reciting the one thousand and one praises of the Sisters.”

“The day aft-“
“Temple duties. It is my turn to cook for our temple and there is just this lovely hayseed recipe I saw that I have been absolutely dying to make. I know it will be magnifique!”

“Next week?”

“Let me get back to you Trixie. Oh, to have the freedom of a far-traveled and adventurous merchant as yourself! You must tell me all about it sometime.” Rarity smiled at Trixie and was pleased that it seemed to have the desired effect as Trixie figuratively melted into an open chair.

“I-I mean, Trixie would not disappoint! Please feel free to stop by anytime.” Trixie smiled dazed even as Rarity retreated outside of her wagon.

“Too close, Rarity. Much too close.” Rarity muttered to herself as she slipped through the crowds back toward the Temple of the Gods. For over a month Rarity had written to Trixie the traveling merchant hoping to get her to come to Ponyville to find Rarity’s item and for over a month Trixie had sent extremely curt and dismissive replies that she was uninterested in traveling to an “out of the way little homestead”. Finally, Rarity had managed to arrange for her own passage to Canterlot to confront Trixie about finding her item and Trixie had been star struck by her. Rarity did not think Trixie had even remembered Rarity had written to her but then she was all too happy to follow on Rarity’s request and she had actually delivered. If what Rarity had planned worked out, then Rarity may just stomach through a date with Trixie to show her gratitude.

Celestia’s sun had just about dipped behind the mountains by the time Rarity arrived back at the Temple of the Gods. She stopped to admire the marble temple with its statues and frescos that showed what it was said to be like in the Divine Realm. The twilight between day and night seemed to make it all the more stunning to Rarity, the last rays of sunlight and the lengthening shadows seemed to make the faces of the Ponies, Gods, Divines, and Demigods seem so alive. The steeple bell rang in the highest alcove of the Temple of the Gods, that would be Cheerilee saying goodbye to Celestia’s day and welcoming Luna’s night into Ponyville and the surrounding homesteads.

“Good, just in time. No pony-else will be in the sanctuaries.” Rarity had made sure to volunteer to tend to the sanctuaries, underground rooms within the Temple of the Gods where one could summon a Divine being to hear their prayers and make offerings. “If all goes well Ponyville will be saved. If all doesn’t go well…Ponyville will be saved but I am prepared to pay the cost.”

Rarity hurried into the Temple of the Gods, stowing her cloak and retrieving her sounding staff from where she had stored it in a storage room. She then hurried to her living quarters within the Temple of the Gods. It was a modest space, the same shared by the other priestesses of the temples. Most of the room was dominated by the carefully arranged piles of cloth and thread. Her work as a seamstress made her extra money on the side and had earned her the praise of every notable in town for her design work.

“Perhaps in another life I would be living in Canterlot and making dresses and be married to a prince.” Rarity had often joked, but truthfully she knew she could not leave Ponyville.

She had only returned to her room to gather the rest of the supplies she needed for what she planned for tonight. With everypony busy at their work she easily slipped down into the sanctuaries beneath the main floor of the temple. The outer chamber of the sanctuaries was a large oval shaped room with dozens of different doors that lead to various rooms and hallways that stretched below the Temple of the Gods. Each door was marked with the symbol of the God or Divine the sanctuary room was dedicated to. The sanctuaries were meant as sacred spaces where one could be cut off from everything else in the Mortal Realm to connect to the Divine Realm.

Celestia and Luna’s rooms were easy to spot out, one had the symbol of the sun and the other the moon carved into the wood of their doors. Sombra’s was a sword and shield. Discord, the God of Chaos, had a random mess of squiggles messily cut into his door. Chrysalis, the Goddess of Love, was a heart. The Divine Hierarchy sometimes shifted though so if a God died or was replaced the room would be re-dedicated and re-sanctified. The one she wanted had been sanctified decades ago and from what she had researched had never been entered by anypony from Ponyville.

“Magic” Rarity whispered to herself as she stepped toward the purple colored door with the symbol of a large six pointed star surrounded by several smaller stars, “Here we go Rarity. No turning back now.”

Rarity pushed open the doorway and revealed a completely empty room. This had always puzzled Rarity as she knew very well the other rooms had statues and frescos dedicated to the gods showing off their wondrous achievements or legendary feats. They would also be stacked with the offerings made by the faithful ponies be it fresh fruit or reams of poetry or whatever offering the particular deity fancied. In Celestia’s room it never grew dark, her statue radiated a light just as bright as the sun. In Luna’s during the summer she could hear the faint sound of crickets that were not there as if she was outside taking a stroll through the forest at night. In the God of the Wind’s every so often a random draft would sweep the room scattering the offerings despite there being no air ducts at all. The God of Terra’s room was covered in a carpet of fresh grass and had small trees growing within which were healthy despite the lack of sunlight and water.

“Why then would your room be empty?” Rarity asked. Magic wasn’t something that was worshipped widely in Equestria or any of the other lands to her knowledge. Or maybe it was because magic was subtle and quiet? “At least I will not have to deal with any dreadful clutter.”
Rarity quickly unpacked her supplies and went to work on her important task. Using one book she had borrowed from Canterlot as a guide she carefully drew on the floor of the sanctuary room an arcane symbol within a summoning circle. It was the symbol of magic orbited by several complex and confusing geometric symbols that even hurt Rarity’s eyes. Fortunately, Rarity had always had an eye for detail and was satisfied that she had drawn them all correctly by the time her chalk stick had been worn down to a small nub.

“Now, the offerings.” Rarity slipped out the item Trixie had delivered to her and tossed aside the cloth that protected it. “The Queen and the Bodyguard by Monochromatic.”

It was a book. A first edition book that had been printed forty years ago.

“A novel with romance, mystery, and action. At least the God of Magic has good tastes.”

From all Rarity had known and researched the God of Magic did not have a name or a dedicated set of followers. This was extremely unusual in the Divine Hierarchy as all the other branches of Divinity were known. Rarity though had never been taught the name of the God of Magic and neither had Cheerilee the chief priestess and neither had any reference from the last century or the century before or the century before and so forth that she had looked into. A God’s duty was to direct the very force of nature they represented, even Discord the God of Chaos influenced his domain. She supposed more than once in the last few months that the God of Magic was maybe a shut-in (if a Divine being who controlled the fabric of space and time could be a shut-it) or maybe, just maybe, there was no God of Magic (which everything Rarity had been taught told her was impossible).

“Everything. Absolutely everything I was able to get my hands on has only ever referred the God of Magic as “the God of Magic”. Scholars, wizards, and prelates have never left a name of any kind. Oh, yes plenty on how to summon the God of Magic. A book on a theoretical study of astro-something or other. A new book printed within the last year. Two books arguing different sides of a single argument. A novel, novel. A book by Monochromatic.”

Rarity placed each of the books she had brought into the summoning circle, careful to lay them down gently enough that they did not smudge the chalk underneath. From her bag, she levitated out an unused inkpot, a fresh parchment, and a quill pen. “Very well then. Let us begin, shall we?”

“I beseech the Divine. Let my prayer reach across the aether and void to be heard now.” Rarity intoned, using her magic to dip the quill into the inkpot then write her own words onto the parchment, “I call upon the unseen that connects the Mortal and Divine. That which makes the impossible the possible. I call upon the God of Magic to grace me with their presence so that this humble supplicant’s hopes can be made real. By the rule of the Sisters, Celestia and Luna who rule upon their thrones in the Divine Realm. Grace her with your presence and let magic be made real.”

No sooner had she finished writing the last words the entire parchment, ink and all, lit up with a violet light that was soon joined by a sapphire blue and rose pink light. Rarity’s magic around the parchment seemed to blend and become one with the new and sudden burst of Divine magic that surrounded the parchment. Cautiously, Rarity floated the parchment down into the center of the summoning circle and no sooner had she done so the entire circle burst into magical flames. Rarity gasped as a wall of magical flame rushed to engulf her and burn her to ashes-only for it to pass over her harmlessly.

She gaped as the magical energy seemed to twist and bend itself into new shapes throughout the room. The magic touched the walls and immediately the flame formed ethereal bookshelves lining the room completely-even the doorway- except for one space that formed into a fireplace, the small candles Rarity had lit to light the room twirled end over end into the fireplace to burst into a roaring fire. In front of her a large desk coalesced into being quickly followed by two sets of chairs. The books she had placed in the summoning circle rocketed off the floor trailing tails of light that made Rarity think of comets before they settled themselves neatly onto the table-except for the “The Queen and the Bodyguard” it hovered in the air on the other side of the table. Rarity was tempted to reach out and grab it but before she could move she realized somepony else already had.

Two sets of violet hands formed, holding the book they hovered in the air by themselves for only a moment before that same magical energy burst and like wildfire spread out forming two sets of arms that connected to a body. A body cloaked in robes but also in fine golden necklaces and arm bracers studded into amethyst jewels. Even before the head had formed Rarity had quickly realized two things: 1. The being in front of her would be about a head taller than herself and 2. The God of Magic was in fact the GODDESS of Magic.

Rarity’s thoughts were validated in moments as a very mare shaped head appeared on the shoulders of the figure before her. Glowing swirls of a darker purple marked out her features which proved her status as one of the Divine beings. Her hair was cut rather short in the front but Rarity could see a longer ponytail draped behind the figure. She had a unicorn-like horn except where Rarity’s as a mortal was short and straight the figure’s curved upward and radiated an magical aura. The Goddess of Magic stared intensely at the book she held in her hands, her violet eyes analyzing what she held.

Rarity, staring into the goddess’ face couldn’t help but feel something deep, deep inside her spark. For a moment, a part of her wondered if that was the magic in the room or perhaps something else. The thought was lost as the Goddess of Magic spoke.

“The first book in the series!” the Goddess of Magic practically squealed, her face lighting up with a joy that Rarity was powerless to resist. Rarity smiled as the Goddess of Magic continued, and flipped open the book already starting to read it, “I’ve only been able to find the sequels. How in the wide, wide Mortal Realm did you find this?”

“Well, the notes about the past offerings to you mentioned the other titles in the series. None of them however mentioned the first book however so I took a risk. The series has been out of print for nearly two decades so it was quite the affair to find a surviving copy, oh Goddess of Magic” Rarity bowed in part for respect and also Twilight could not see the sudden smile that had sprang up on Rarity’s lips. It just seemed too adorable how Twilight had reacted to the book.

“Oh, I’m actually not the Goddess of Magic” the celestial being replied, eyes still glued to the pages.

“…come again, darling?” Rarity looked up, still bowed over. She knew she should not have been so informal, especially since this was the first time she had summoned the Divine being, but she just could not believe the words.

“I’m not the Goddess of Magic. It is a little complicated-oh so it does look like their relationship developed quite a bit over the series…” the Not-Goddess-of-Magic said and continued to flip pages for several seconds before she continued, “you see technically Celestia and Luna are in charge of magic and can influence it but they do not have control over it. It is not a part of them, it is created from harmony in the realms. Though, that is something of a secret. I will have to swear you to secrecy and just do like Bright Idea or Swirling Star and just refer to me as the ‘God of Magic’ in your future references.”

“But…then…” Rarity felt her head start to spin, she had begun to wish the room had a couch she could lay down on, “who are you then?”

“I am the Guardian of Magic. Twilight Sparkle.” Twilight Sparkle said as she snapped the book shut and looked at Rarity, “I was trained by Celestia and Luna so if you do not think I can handle your request…”

Twilight snapped her fingers and in a burst of light a couch formed beneath Rarity forcing her to sit down on it.

“Please don’t.”

“M-my apologies oh, divine one, I meant no disrespect,” Rarity jumped back to her feet and bowed to Twilight, “It is just we are desperate here in Ponyville. I called upon you because I believe magic is what we need to prevent anymore Ponies from dying here in Ponyville.”

“Please do not worry, miss…?”

“Rarity. Just, Rarity. I am a priestess of the Temple of the Gods in Ponyville.”

“Rarity. I have been looking into the…phenomenon of these shadow beasts before. I am the best divine you could call upon.” Twilight smiled, it was a small and sheepish but Rarity felt not comfort per say but that Twilight really was sincere which surprised Rarity.

“Now, as you know I am fairly sure there are rules, an exchange must be made in order for me to work here on the Mortal Realm and help you.” Twilight turned toward one of the celestial book shelves and perused through them as she looked for something. A chill climbed down Rarity’s spine as she knew what was to come next. She had prepared herself mentally for the price she would have to pay. As well as physically as she had a poni-pedicure earlier in the day. She knew it was for the good of Ponyville.

Rarity slowly undid the top clasp of her robes.

“Here it is!” Twilight said triumphantly as she pulled a scroll from the bookshelf and began to turn around, “The standard contract has a limit of a month but I was thinking given the nature of our investigation and I will need your help as my aide something…more…long term…”
Twilight stared and dropped the scrolls.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Twilight blushed and gawked. Perhaps for several seconds longer too long before the clockwork in her brain started to move again. In one swift motion she rushed over and picked up Rarity’s robe and thrust it back on her. Twilight realized just how close she had gotten to Rarity when her fingers brushed up against Rarity’s shoulder but in moment she had hopped back to the other side of the table. Only then did she cover her eyes and turn away for good measure, repeating the words, “Sorry! Sorry! I should have used magic! Sorry!”
Rarity was confused as much as Twilight was.

“I don’t understand. Don’t you want to stop the shadow-demons?”

“YES! I DO but what in the wide-wide Realms have to do with you being…” Twilight did not finish her words and tried to look away even harder than she had before.

“That’s what the price is for your favor…is it not?”

“No! Why, no, how could you think that?”

“Its what Star Gazer and the others wrote, ‘I gave up my body until the Divine’s satisfaction was complete.’”

“Yes, but-“

“’-and oh the entire time was the purest of joy and experience! I was in awe, neigh, bliss to experience this intimacy with the Divine…’”
Twilight finally turned and stared at Rarity.

“Come again? That-that did not, well I mean we did BUT we did not do THAT! As payment he helped me research the relationship with magic and nature in the Diamond Hills. For just three weeks. All he did was bring me books and copy sections. It was the same with Pageturner she accompanied me on an expedition to the ruins of Unicornia. Nothing like…like…”

Twilight stopped speaking as Rarity’s giggles echoed in the room and drowned out Twilight’s words.

“Oh, hehe, I see now darling…”

“See what?” Twilight was still perplexed. What was she missing?

“They had a crush on you! ALL of them! Buwahaha!”

“A crush?” Twilight paled, “No, that is not possible. I mean all of petitioners have been very nice and very accommodating. Sure, Star Gazer always stared at me the whole time since he was so eager to listen to my theories. Pageturner wrote that, uh, lovely ‘poem’. Skyfall she put all of those flowers in my bed…” Twilight wrenched her mouth shut and with a wave of her staff she conjured out of the thin air a chair for herself which she dropped into. She covered her face with her hands and to Rarity looked remarkably, utterly lost. “They did have a crush on me.”
“How could I miss the signs? I spent decades reading and studying Divine-Mortal behavior. I even interviewed Chrysalis, ugh.”

Rarity while amused did not like that she had a semi-depressed Divine in front of her. Especially one that was supposed to help her save Ponyville. She had to get Twilight moving past this funk immediately. Rarity had to appeal to her…reasoning nature.

“Well. Have you ever had a crush on anypony?” Rarity asked.

“Me? No. Never, when would I have ever had the time for that? I’m not like Chrysalis. Hmph, going after my brother like she is…”

“Aha! So if you have never had a crush, well trust me when after you have had one it is not hard to spot.”

“That does sound reasonable. I haven’t had first hand knowledge myself. Hmm. I will have to explore that later.” Twilight looked up to Twilight and for the briefest of moments Rarity thought she saw Twilight’s blush return, “As I was saying before…”

Twilight moved out of her chair and picked up the scroll she had dropped. She floated it over to Rarity.

“The standard contract is a defined period, typically a month but this may take longer. So Rarity-“, Rarity was sure she caught Twilight’s blush this time, “How would you feel about a long term contract?”

“Well, let me take a look. It is not the first time I have been asked to mediate on divine contracts for other mortal petitioners.” Rarity opened the scroll and looked over the contents. As she read her eyebrows furrowed more and more in what was unmistakably displeasure.

“This contract is, well for a lack of better term, incredibly one sided.”

“Oh, well I suppose I could re-write it more in your favor” Twilight looked shocked.

“No, darling what I mean is this is incredibly one sided for you! You are really only asking for a once a week devotional ritual? Most Divine ask for a minimum twice a day! Also, the platitudes are remarkably bare. No accommodations for you at all. Certainly, no Inaction Clause if I as your petitioner cannot pay back your favor. I can’t sign this it is just too unfair to you.”

“My other petitioners never complained though…”

“Hmph, and I wonder why? Did they ever read your contract? No, I will not sign this unless you let me re-write it.” Rarity had already floated a pen over to herself and was making edits to the contract scroll before Twilight could answer. Twilight floated behind Rarity as she went to work re-writing the contract.

“This is very generous of you, Rarity.”

“Think nothing of it, darling. Just help me save Ponyville…”

“I’ll do everything in my power for you.” Twilight said.

Rarity kept her uncertainty to herself and continued with her editing.

Chapter 2

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“Tastes like…purple…window panes…” Rarity said in her asleep. Several more minutes of incoherent mumbling followed ranging from that daisies made the best muffins and the fashionable minotaurs wore dresses made of apples before the light of the rising sun woke Rarity. Ignorant of her own sleep talk Rarity yawned and stretched in her modest bed before she swung her hooves toward the edge of the bedside. Here she hesitated.

“Another day and so far not one step closer to saving Ponyville.” Rarity sighed, and played the events of last night in the Everfree Forest. Battling the shadow-demon and Twilight’s failed capture of the second shadow-demon followed by another two hours of waiting for Twilight to finish inspecting every inch of the area for ‘pan-dimensional resonance’. Rarity had returned to her quarters in the Temple of the Gods exhausted and disappointed. She had passed out immediately upon climbing into bed. This would be Twilight’s fourth day in Ponyville and they both were still no closer to discovering the reason why the shadow-demons were attacking Ponyville.

“Honestly, why do I feel so…hollow?” Rarity shook her head. She was awed by the magic that Twilight displayed, she controlled the energies of the dominion of magic so effortlessly it was in many ways breathtaking. Unicorns that were trained in the higher levels of magic needed time and preparation for complex spells but Twilight seemed to be able to use them with the barest of flickers of her horn. Rarity did not doubt Twilight’s Divine powers, but Rarity still felt as if there was some sort of gulf that had opened up within her over the last few days.

“I have been preparing for months for this. I’ve kept so many secrets from Fluttershy, Cheerilee, Sweetie Belle and so many others. I should be happy, but-” Rarity stopped her monologue when she heard a single knock on her door. At first confused at who would be calling upon her so early in the morning she was quickly not surprised to see the door open after the first knock revealing her sister, Sweetie Belle.

“Rarity! I’m coming in!” Sweetie Belle cheerfully shouted after she had already jumped into Rarity’s room. She looked at Rarity in her bed and her face frowned in disappointment. “You’re still in bed? WE have hospitium duty today and YOU said YOU would show ME how to do our duties!”

Rarity winced on the inside, she had completely forgotten she was to show Sweetie Belle how to administer to the wounded in the temple’s hospitium. As Sweetie’s Sister Superior it was Rarity’s duty to train the priests-in-training under Rarity’s wing. Rarity had made sure her afternoon and night duties had been shortened so that she could work with Twilight so she had overloaded her tasks to the morning shift. In particular she had switched hospitium duties with Fluttershy. Rarity surrendered and decided she had to put aside her worries about the shadow-demons for now.

“Sweetie Belle!” Rarity’s voice carried out into the hallway with mock mortification, “How many times have I told you that a priestess, and just as importantly a proper lady does not just barge into somepony else’s room uninvited? You must be courteous and who knows what you might see if you do not give a pony time to open the door for you.”

“Like what?” Sweetie Belle asked, but Rarity ignored her question and had already pushed off of the bed and closed the door behind Sweetie Belle. Rarity became a whirlwind as she dressed for the day, she did regret not properly combing her mane or putting on a facial mask the night before but Rarity had her ways of hiding how haggard she may appear to be.

“Again, a proper pony does not ask.” Rarity replied even as she combed her mane, “Where is Scootaloo? You both are attending the hospitium today.”

“Ohmygosh, I forgot to wake her up!” Sweetie Belle practically jumped in place before she streaked out of Rarity’s room. Rarity allowed herself to smile as she finished the last of her preparations and slipped into a fresh set of robes.

In a few minutes, Rarity had left her own quarters and collected both Sweetie Belle and her friend and fellow priestess-in-training, Scootaloo, from the dorms for neophytes. Rarity had pulled many strings to get Scootaloo accepted into the Temple of the Gods, the priesthood did not accept many initiates that were unsponsored (otherwise the priesthood would be straining to accommodate the orphans from the wars and shadow-demon attacks). Fortunately, Cheerilee was sympathetic and Rarity had arranged for a modest fund toward accepting Scootaloo as an initiate in the Temple of the Gods.

“Rarity! What are we going to do in the hospitium?” Sweetie’s voice echoed through the marble corridor even as its owner pranced around Rarity.

“Ooooo! What if we get to do surgery? I call dibs on the saw!” Scootaloo’s voiced joined with Sweetie’s, the filly dodging her friend as the both made completely opposite orbits around Rarity.

“Nuh uh! I want dibs!”

“Surgery? Really? Have we not been studying up on the roles and duties of a priest have we?” Rarity knew the answer to that questions already, but still the reaction from both fillies was priceless to watch.

Even Rarity was quietly shocked by both fillies stopping in front of her at the exact same moment, their faces turned toward her with genuine fear. A nagging part of her wondered if the two had choreographed it but their responses quickly washed away any thoughts in Rarity’s mind.

“Uuuuh…” both filies responses, looking at one another and back at Rarity.

“Ah, I see” Rarity responded, a slight smile on her lips as she continued down the corridor past both Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle, “Perhaps…perhaps I should mention to Cheerilee that you both could use some extra hours instructions…”

“Extra hours?!” Sweetie Belle gasped, “we can’t Rarity, after our daily duties we said we would meet Apple Bloom and-“Rarity’s younger sister was cut off by a swift elbow to her ribs by Scootaloo.

“-and help her buy some supplies in town!” Scootaloo finished for Sweetie Belle. Rarity did not need to look back to know both fillies were holding their breaths for Rarity’s next words. Do I doom them to a late afternoon of dictation and higher learning from Cheerilee or granting them freedom to play out their own agenda?

“Well…” Rarity paused for dramatic effect, during her own spare time after daily duties it would not be an uncommon sight to see her engrossed in a new novel that filled with drama, mystery and pregnant pauses, “I just may forget to talk to Cheerilee if you both pay attention and keep quiet while we are in the hospitium…”

“We will Rarity! Your, uh, Journeymare Priestessness!” Scootaloo was the first to chime up and catch up to Rarity’s walking pace. Sweetie Belle was a swift second.

“Scootaloo’s right! We’ll be pay so much attention you’ll never notice! We’ll be like…like…”

“Temple ninjas! That would be so rad! I bet we could make really cool throwing stars out of-”

“Girls! We are here! Look! Look!” Rarity hoped she didn’t sound too desperate to steer Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle from their current course of thinking, but if she used ANY of the past attempts by the two fillies to skirt their neophyte training or add ‘extra curricular’ training it would not end well. Rarity needed both fillies distracted and shooed any thoughts of being ‘Temple Ninjas’ into the forgotten corners of their filly minds. Rarity was still apologizing to June Bug for taking their talk of “Temple Torchbearers” less than seriously, even though Rarity went out of her way to compliment how well June Bug’s tail hair had grown back.

Fortunately, both Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle were immediately taken by the sight of the hospitium. It was one of the larger rooms within the Temple of the Gods but it did at times feel fairly cramped, much of the space within was taken up by row after row of cots and a few privacy screens. Rarity was thankful to see that the majority of the cots were unoccupied. Unbidden memories leapt up, shrieks of pain and shouts of terror always punctuated the by the sounds of soft sobbing and the final breath of-

“Rarity!” Sweetie Belle’s voice cut through Rarity’s thoughts, she shook her head and looked down at her sister.

“Yes, Sweetie? Did you say something?” Rarity softly loosened the grip on her sounding staff, she hadn’t notice how tight her grip had become.

“Aren’t we supposed to tend to the statue of Redheart, goddess of healing first?” Sweetie Belle asked.

“Normally, we would,” Rarity smiled and gestured toward the statue of Redheart. The statue itself was carved from a portion of the north wall but rose across the ceiling of the room, with her head leaning down and arms widespread she looked to be encompassing the entire room with her arms and every corner was within her soft gaze. “Different Divine have different preferences.”

“Like apples and oranges?”

“Birds and bees?”

“Red and blue?”

“Pronouncing ‘vase’ as ‘vah-se’ instead of ‘vay-se’?”

“Almost. It is very much linked to each individual Divine’s likes and tastes. Not just in preference of something so material as the object of sacrifice but the proper action. Orthopraxy. Redheart would be insulted if a ritual to her was completed before tending to the sick and wounded in her view.”

“Isn’t it hard to remember each and every single Divine’s likes and like-likes?” Scootaloo asked.

“Yes, it is for most ponies. That is why there is a Temple to the Gods, not every settlement has one but fortunately Ponyville is big enough. We enact a civic duty for the entire town! We make sure the Divine, if some pony is coarse or blundering enough to offend them, take their anger on that individual pony and not on the entire town.”

“We give praise to the Divine when there may not be a pony in Ponyville to do so. No matter the act be it to freshen up their shrine with newly cut flowers, tending to the sick, or…” Rarity murmured quietly to herself, “…going on nightly patrols of the Everfree…”

“Going on nightly patrols of the…?” Scootaloo asked.

“Patrols of the temple!” Rarity hurried forward before either Scootaloo or Sweetie Belle could continue with that particular line of questioning, “Watch and learn, girls.”

Taking several steps into the hospitium Rarity stopped in her tracks and closed her eyes for a moment. After several moments, a smile split her features, her eyes moments ago had looked tired and haggard with a lack of sleep but now they almost seemed to shine with a newfound energy. Rarity breathed in deeply and let it all out.

“Gooooood morning, my darlings!” Rarity’s voice echoed throughout the hospitium, more than enough for every and any pony to hear her she continued her voice laced with an easy cheer, almost teasing but in a good-natured way, “How are you my gentlecolts and lovely ladies doing this Divine given morning? Hmm?”

Dozens of worn out faces turned toward Rarity from across the room. Some were standing, but most had to lean up from or crane their heads on their cots to look in her direction. Some were in the hospitium because of sickness but most were for injuries sustained from the latest of the shadow-demon attack to mundane farming accidents. Most were there because either they had no home to stay in or family to take care of them. The mood in the room, formerly somber, immediately shifted as the ponies visibly perked up at the sound and sight of Rarity, that could have mumbled a broken chorus of good mornings, while others simply smiled and laid back down or went back to their previous conversations.

“A Divine once told me, at a friend’s birthday party, that a smile is more than enough to brighten up a day” Rarity turned to tell Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle before she was off toward the first few patients.

To a patient observer Rarity moved through the hospitium with the grace of a ribbon caught in a summer breeze. Graceful in her motions and a pleasantly surprising sight to see. One moment chatting, some may say gossiping, with an older mare who was too weak to get out of her cot, the next changing the bandages of a stallion and before you knew it she was taking the temperature of a mare while also subtly mentioning the stallion in the bandages always seemed to be looking the mare’s way with a blush. Always she would be thanked and always she would reply the same, “Think nothing of it dear, generosity is always in style.”

It was not long before Rarity, with Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle hurrying to keep up arrived at one particular cot whose occupant did not seem too pleased at all to be stuck in the cot. Besides the fact that she was tall enough that her hooves hung over the edge the occupant looked about ready to leap up and buck an apple tree.

“Ahh, Applejack. I see we are getting caught up on that rest the doctors recommended you take. Oh, wait my mistake dear, they didn’t recommend it but ordered it, did they not?”

“Phooey. I ain’t needin any bedrest! Just because I got my arm bite off by one of them shadow-varmits everypony thinks I need fifty winks every time I sneeze! I ain’t going to fall over in ah breeze!” Applejack grumbled from her cot, her one good eye staring out toward the ceiling, far away from Rarity’s unimpressed gaze. It was true that Applejack was, Rarity had admitted to herself on more than one occasion, impressively built. Standing at around 6’7ft Applejack was larger than most stallions with the particular exception of her brother, Big Macintosh. Even missing her right arm up to the shoulder Applejack was a powerful sight to behold, the bright pink-red scars that marked across her body and over her shut right eye only had added to what was a mountain of what Rarity considered ‘stubbornness in pony form’. Applejack had been so severely mauled by a shadow-demon that no one had expected her to recover, no pony else ever had, but after a month she had returned to her family farm as if nothing had changed.

Which at times was a problem.

“That may be true, you have already proven you have incredible stamina, but…” Rarity let her words fall, and her gaze travel toward the ceiling.

“…but what?” Applejack asked, Rarity did not even need to turn her head to know Applejack’s gaze had drifted down from the ceiling to her. When Rarity looked back at Applejack she had been 100% correct, even correctly guessing Applejack’s scrunched brow.

“Well, you were out for a month, darling. What if one of your wounds reopened and you were back here for another month or even a week or two? A night or two isn’t so bad compared to that is it?”

“I suppose…” Applejack’s stubbornly scrunched brow collapsed into one of worry. If Rarity was correct she was weighing the possibility of missing out more time at Sweet Apple Acres and how it would affect her family. Rarity could not have prayed to the Divine for better timing when a filly’s voice with a similar twang to Applejack’s began to shout in the hospitium.

“Sis! Sis! It’s me, Apple Bloom!” Applejack’s younger sister shouted as she sped between the cots of the hospitium before jumping on one cot to use it as a springboard to cross the aisle and land on top of Applejack.

“I heard yah, Apple Bloom. That shadow-varmit didn’t scramble my brains.” Applejack beamed at the sight of her sister and squeezed her tightly in a one-armed hug.

“Apple Bloom!” Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle chimed in from behind Rarity and were soon scrambling past Rarity to talk with their friend. Rarity noticed Applejack’s smile seemed to grow wider as she looked at her sister and friends talk among themselves. Applejack looked up at Rarity and winked.

“It’s good Apple Bloom has friends. With all this shadow-varmit hooey going on ‘am happy these three can find a way to have some fun.” Applejack whispered to Rarity. Applejack’s words made Rarity smile as well, not the cheerful smile she had worn since entering the hospitium but one that was less of a show for ponies who needed it and more genuine for just herself.

“I was ah little surprised to see you here today, Rarity. I thought Fluttershy was supposed to be makin the rounds?” Applejack asked. Rarity froze in place as Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle stopped and turned toward her.

“What about Fluttershy?” Apple Bloom asked.

“She did say she would be here the other day.” Scootaloo added.

“Yea, why wasn’t she here to teach us?” Sweetie Belle added.

“Ah, well you see girls…Fluttershy actually traded duties with me today…because she…she…”

“I bet it’s because she can’t stand the sight of blood.” Applejack interrupted, nodding her head but at the same time looking at Rarity knowingly. She was only a handful of ponies that knew Fluttershy very well…

“What, really?” Apple Bloom asked, looking between Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle.

“I remember! That one time a supplicant tripped and scraped their knee on the stairs REALLY badly. Blood was EVERYWHERE!” Scootaloo said, waving her hands to emphasize.

“It wasn’t THAT bad Scootaloo. Just a scrape, but you’re right. Fluttershy was there and she just kept staring at the blood. And shaking. I think by the time Cheerilee pulled her away she was sweating.” Sweetie Belle said.

“Kind of wimpy to want to pass out from seeing a little blood if you ask me” Scootaloo shrugged her shoulders.

“I thought you said it was EVERYWHERE, Scootaloo” Apple Bloom elbowed Scootaloo in the arm.

“It was! Everywhere, sure most of it was on the supplicant’s pants but-“ Scootaloo and her friends continued to argue among themselves about the definition of everywhere.

Thank the divine for small favors and how easily sidetracked these three can be! Rarity sighed in relief and turned to Applejack who hadn’t taken her eye off of Rarity.

“So, if you’re taking over for Fluttershy now I suppose that means you’ll be free in the evening, right?” Applejack asked. Rarity winced on the inside, Applejack despite being what Rarity considered a straightforward pony she was remarkably adept at telling bluffs and lies. If somepony was not being 100% truthful she knew. Rarity had to choose her words carefully.

“Yes, that’s right. I will be free this evening” Rarity replied curtly.

“Oh really? I hope you aren’t gettin into any…trouble.” Applejack leveled her gaze at Rarity.

“Trouble? Me? I don’t ‘gettin’ into any trouble, Applejack.” Rarity smirked and tossed her mane over her shoulder.

“Then what are you doin later then?” Applejack continued, she seemed unwilling to let Rarity go without a more solid answer.

“I’ll be heading to the plaza.” Rarity replied, which was true. Before Applejack could ask what she would be doing in the plaza Rarity knew she had to lead Applejack off. Fortunately, Rarity’s reputation as a hopeless flirt had persisted even from when they were fillies together. “Why do you ever ask, darling? Does big, strong Applejack need a little assistance from a priest’s…healing hands to get back to Sweet Apple Acres?”

Rarity had laced her words with such a sultry undertone her words may have come from a demon. The not-so-innocent giggle and flutter of her eyelashes were the icing on the performance, but it was more than enough. Applejack blushed and shook her head, scooting under the cot’s blankets a little more and even holding them up as if that would be enough to ward off Rarity.

“Nn-not at all! Like I said, I’m fit enough to wrestle a minotaur! I don’t know why you go to the plaza to stare at those dresses the merchants bring in. Seems like a waste of a good afternoon when you could be doing so much more and…” Applejack continued to talk about the fine work ethic of Earth Ponies, particularly the Apple Family, and Rarity knew she had been successful in keeping Applejack from prying too close.

What she was doing with Twilight Sparkle was dangerous, and she would not let either her family or friends to come to harm because of her responsibility…

Intermission: Apples and Lightning

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“Yer a big varmint, ain’t you?” Applejack said, before she dodged out of the way of the shade’s response, its massive paw slamming down toward her like an apple falling from a tree-except with more spikes. She slid across the rain slick ground, high above thunder boomed across Sweet Apple Acres and Applejack glimpsed lightning in the distance. “At least all this rain will be good for the crop.”

Shades came in all kinds of shapes and sizes, some could pass for animals-be it ones with empty, pupil-less eyes and fur made from the blackness of the abyss- while others ranged toward the abominable and monstrous. Applejack was facing the latter, bad enough that it was wearing the shape of a manticore-the unholy spawn of a lion and a giant scorpion with wings- but like all shades it was stretched and contorted beyond the nightmare of any normal pony. Its paws had spiked shaped growths that tore up the ground in uneven grooves as they smashed through the ground where Applejack had been standing. One of its wings was seven times larger than the other but still it managed to spring itself back into the air ready for another attempt to pounce on Applejack. Finally, its scorpion tail was split into three, their barbed tips flailing about with what appeared to be minds of their own.

“Watch the apples, you varmint!” Applejack shouted as the shade’s tails slashed into one of the apple trees surrounding them both, its demonic acid withered the tree’s branches in seconds.

The manticore-shade made to growl but instead of a lion’s roar only a choked, strangled wheeze came out, that had to be one of the worst things about shades that Applejack hated the most. It hit home to Applejack that the shadow-demons were soulless or whatever souls they had were the barest remnants that had been cut and torn out by the abyss.

“Git!” Applejack shouted, her one good arm waved a blacksmith’s hammer at the beast. A past attack by a shade had left her with one good arm and one good eye but she refused to let that affect her work on her family’s farm, that included defending it against bandits or shades. Though she wasn’t fool enough to believe she could take on a shade this big. Applejack and her sister Apple Bloom had discovered the shade just as the sun was starting to dip below the horizon, it had been cutting a swath through Sweet Apple Acres. She had sent Apple Bloom running to town to fetch help from the Ponyville militia and the Temple of the Gods. “Just need to keep you busy with Bucky.”

The shade charged again from the sky, again Applejack dodged out of the way but instead of dodging away she leapt to the side. Once on her hooves she swung her hammer with her good arm and brought it down on the shade’s shoulder. The shade’s flesh split at her hammer strike, but instead of blood a noxious smoke emitted from the wound-to Applejack it smelled like brimstone and sulfur. High above the storm thundered again, almost as if it had approved of Applejack’s strike, and the lightning flashed even closer than it had before. Wind blasted its way through the apple orchard, making trees bend and fortunately it seemed to toss the shade from its balance. Instead of taking to the air the shade stumbled under the gale force winds, forcing it into a nearby apple tree-its tails flailed into the tree’s trunk withering the wood until it snapped. The upper section of the tree collapsed on top of the shade burying it under branches and splinters of wood.

“Well, ah’ll be.” Applejack blinked at the turn of events. It was almost as if the storm was helping her against the shade. Perhaps there was a Divine looking out for Sweet Apple Acres?

Under the branches the shade tore at the tree branches, trying to worm its way out from underneath the fallen tree.

“Nuh uh! Ah don’t think so!” Applejack raced forward her hammer raised. The shade’s head wormed its way out of the tree branches, it turned toward Applejack, its blank eyes didn’t even reflect Applejack nor even the sudden flash of lightning that lit the sky above them both.

Applejack’s ears perked as a voice echoed above her, riding the sound of another boom of thunder.

“COOOOMING THROUGH!” Applejack stopped and looked up, just managing to glimpse a rainbow-colored streak that was riding the tip of a light bolt. An incoming lightning bolt.

“Tarnation!” Applejack yelled, leaping away from the fallen shade and tree she used her one arm to push herself just into cover behind a nearby apple tree. Behind her the world erupted in heat and debris, Applejack covered her eyes as wood and dirt sprayed out in all directions. Waiting for the last debris to pass Applejack slowly, carefully pushed herself up from behind the tree and gasped.

Where the shade and the apple tree had been there was nothing-but a smoking crater. Sizzling sound filled the air as rain continued to pour from the sky but surprisingly to Applejack in a few moments the rain stopped. She glanced up over the sky and saw the storm was already dissipating, and the sun was just finally passing below the horizon. At the very edge of her vision she thought she saw the glimmer of a rainbow but in a moment, it was gone as the sky disappeared and the moon peaked through the night sky.

Applejack ignored the moon, and in the distance, she heard shouting voices. It looks like the Ponyville milita had finally arrived at Sweet Apple Acres. She ignored this too as she looked around the crater. The nearest apple trees to the crater were singed, their fruit either burnt to a crisp or burning on their branches. Applejack fell to her knees and dropped her hammer to the ground. She shouted.