The wind blew in from the east into the small green grove. The golden rays of Cesletia's sun would soon follow the winds over the horizon. The wind continued at a gentle constant across the lightly wooded grove. The birds began to sing as the first golden beams of dawn pierced the far eastern horizon. Escutcheon awoke in an instant, wishing that he could bid his dreams to stay for a while longer. They never lasted, there was no point in crying over it.
Besides he had wasted all of his tears a while ago. They had done him nothing but given him a sore throat. It was still sore now that he thought about it. He reached out with his magic. The ground glowed with his golden aura, as the drops of dew formed a small ball of water in front of him. He quickly gulped it down. He was still thirsty but after a few weeks of never having enough water to quench his thirst, he was beginning to get used to it. Using his magic he quickly got his bed rolled back up, and tied back to his saddle bag. Which was already fastening itself on him. Heaving a heavy sigh he started heading west.
He wasn't even sure if west was the direction that he needed to go. He didn't know where he was, or how to get to where he was going, but going somewhere was better than just sitting around and waiting to die. Besides there was always hope that just over the next hill or threw the next wooded grove he'd be back home. It never was, but it gave him a reason to keep moving, at least.
He headed on through the woods, telling himself that on the other side of the trees would be ponies looking for him. That mother and father were just around the bend, with a dozen royal guards. He hoped, prayed that this time he would be right.
Escutcheon continued at his pace through the wooded grove. The morning sun filtering through the leaves causing his golden mane to shine. "Mother will probably ground me for not combing my mane." He laughed at the thought of mother trying to brush out all of the knots that had built up over the last couple of weeks. His laughter died as he thought of how painful it would be. If combing out tangles from just one night hurt then combing out the tangles from three weeks would probably kill him. He tried to grab one of the sticks in his magic. It didn't work.
"Still stuck on just one spell a day I guess." He sighed and tried again. The burn out had lasted two weeks already and he was just starting to get his magic back. but he was beginning to get annoyed at having to use his mouth for everything, so now his stupid horn was going to do what he told it to. He scrunched up his face as his horn started to glow. The twig lifted of the ground and then, nothing. It slipped through his magic like a his aura was made of water. "No, come on stupid horn work!"
He closed his eyes and focused just like Mother had taught him to do. He took deep breaths in and out, and let the arcane energies of the universe move around him, through him. "Ow." He rubbed his eye where the stick had hit him, the offending twig falling to the ground. "I really need to learn to do that with my eyes open." He grabbed the twig in his hoof and started trying to detangle his rat's nest of a mane.
Escutcheon had gotten nearly half of his mane detangled when he saw the tree line. The sun was still close to the eastern horizon, if he was right Mother and Father were right over there and he'd soon be going home. He rushed through the thinning trees to the edge of the grove The twig forgotten in his half combed mane. "Mother, Father I'm sorry I-" He stopped. No pony was there. He looked north and south, left and right. Nopony. Nopony was here, he was still lost. He felt a familiar pressure in his sinuses as tears began to form behind his eyes. The Shadow of the grove stretched for nearly fifty meters into a vast, flat grassland, which seemed to stretch on to infinity. Only a few trees dotted the immense plain that stood before him. The golden beams of Celestia's sun cast its light on the emerald carpet before him. There were no more hills that Mother and Father were just over the other side there were no more groves that Mother and Father were just beyond. There was just grass and the western horizon.
Escutcheon, walked on for what felt like an eternity. As the sun's beams bore down on him. He felt like he was at on the edge of the world. That there was nothing left that only the grassy prairie would just go on forever and ever. He looked behind him he could no longer see the grove he had slept in earlier that day. Behind him was only grass and the occasional tree. In front of him was only grass, to the right and left only grass, with the flatness of the earth being breached only once or twice by the trees that rose from the dirt. There was no end in sight. The was no end to the prairie. If he had anymore tears to shed he had shed them at the tree line of the last grove. Where any delusions of getting home where left behind.
And yet here he was still on his hooves some voice in his head telling him that all he had to do was get to the end of this prairie and he'd see the tail tale signs of home. And all he had to do was keep moving and keep believing. And despite the fact that he no longer believed that strange voice still compelled him to move, and so he did. With his eyes set on the sun which set before him he continued heading west.
The sun had already sunk beneath the horizon, leaving only the echoes of it's brilliant glory in the sky above. The stars were slowly appearing in the deep purple vastness above him. As Luna took over dominion of the sky behind him. For the first time in weeks he didn't care. He didn't care that there was nothing ahead of him, and only an empty world behind him. He sat down not because he wanted to, but because the habit had become so familiar that it was impossible to disobey. He shook his saddle bag off of him he'd use it as a pillow.
"Ow. What the hay?" Escutcheon rubbed his head where something had poked him. He picked up the offending object. The twig which he had taken from the grove. The one he had been coming his hair with. He turned it over and over again in his hooves examining it in the fading sunlight of dusk. Soon Luna's moon would be out and he could us it to see. Not that it would matter, he couldn't see anything through the tears that streaked down from his eyes. "I'm sorry Momma I didn't mean to. I don't want to go away, Momma I don't want to." He took the twig and continued the painful process of coming out the tangles in his mane. "Please Momma, if you're here when I wake up, I'll never disobey you again. Just please Mommy be here. Please?"
He lay his head down on his saddle bag combing his mane as he cried himself to sleep. "Please." The last bastions of the day long faded as Luna's Moon rose from the Eastern horizon.
Escutcheon awoke before the sun. The light was soft and gentle on the eastern horizon. He got up, his side was sore, the ground not nearly as forgiving to him as his bedroll was. He got up and began to focus the magical forces on the dews around the grass. The ball of water that floated in front of him was a lot smaller than the once that he could pull together in the wooded, hilly area, he was in before.
He looked behind him to the east to the coming dawn that would soon breach the horizon. He got up, and fastened his saddlebag to himself, as he did so a twig fell off of the bag to the ground. Escutcheon picked up the stick and held it in front of him, and heaving a long sigh he put the twig into his bag, and turned his back to the east. He started trudging through the prairie toward the western horizon toward.
Once the sun was to his back he took the twig out of his saddle bag and holding onto in his aura began to comb his mane with it. It was a lot easier than it had been the day before. As he continued to brush his mane out of boredom, and relief that he could again maintain more than just one simple spell a day, a glistening to his right caught his attention.
There in the middle of the prairie were several dozen little ponds. Escutcheon whooped and dunked his head into the closest pond. Gulping down water as fast as he could. It was the tastiest water he had ever had, and for the first time in weeks his thirst was finally quenched. When he finally pulled his head out he was gasping for air, with a smile plastered on his face.
He looked at his refection in the small pool. His golden mane draped down his face. His white fur was only white where the water ran down his neck and chest. He took his saddle bag off, and with out a second thought jumped into the pond. It was the first bath he'd had in nearly a month. It felt great. He reached out with his magic and grabbed his water jug he submerged it into another pool as he continued to play in the now not so clear puddle. "This is a great spot to camp out." He said as his water bottle floated back to his saddle bag. "I think I'll call this place Playful Ponds. After all I did discover it." He lay in the grass and let the sun dry him off. His coat was again it's pearly white color and his mane was back to its normal golden hue. He took his sleeping bag off and rolled it out and pulled a couple blades of grass to munch on as he passed the day away.
Escutcheon watched as the sunset on to the west. He wondered if Mother and Father where watching the sunset to thinking about him. He swallowed the tears down as he curled up on his sleeping mat. He felt twinges of regret at not have continued further, but the ponds offered him fresh water and the promise of being able to quench his thirst when he woke up. He was already thirsty, but he knew that if he took a drink there was a chance he'd wet the mat, not something he wanted to do. Even with nopony around he'd die of embarrassment.
Instead he'd wait till morning and then gorge himself in one of the ponds. Turned over on his side. It was still to early for him to fall asleep. Normally he exhausted by now but then again normally he had spent the whole day traveling instead of weaving a hat out of prairie grass. He looked up at the sky. It was so foreign to him, Mother had showed him all of the constellations, unfortunately, he only knew how to find one, but it wouldn't be visible until mid June, six months from now. Once it hit it's zenith he could use a trick that Mother had taught him, and use it's location and Northern Star's location and figure out where he was at. Hopefully though he'd be home by then. He yawned as he watched the stars slowly move across the sky, and under their hypnotic glow, he eventually went to sleep.
Escutcheon awoke in shock as the earth beneath him shook. He was instantly awake, adrenalin and panic pumping through his veins. He looked around for the source of the ground shacking, and quickly discovered its source. All around him giant gray plated creatures moved around him grazing on the prairie grass. They were easy to recognize. "Iron Sides, a whole herd of them. Wow!" Escutcheon used his magic to roll up his sleeping mat and fasten his saddle bags to his side. He trotted up to one of the gentle giants. He had seen pictures of them in one of the books that Mother had. It had pictures of every creature but none were as cool as the Iron Side, at least that was always what he had thought about them. They grazed in grasslands all over the world, and were four times the size of Big Macintosh, and he was the biggest pony that Escutcheon knew.
He smiled as an idea crossed his head. First he ran over to one of the ponds and got as much to drink as he could, then he through his home made hat on his head. It was made from a thicker prairie grass, that tasted like moldy bread, but it was really easy to weave, and he'd never be tempted to eat his own hat, unless he really had to, something he hoped he'd never have to do. Lastly he climbed onto the back of one of the larger Iron Sides and pulled some Apple Chips from his bag. He tossed one of the chips into the Iron Side's mouth, It seemed to like the apple cereal as much as he did. Once it got a taste for the sugar apple flakes he tossed a hoof full as far as he could and the Iron Side slowly started to move westward. It was a lot slow than he was but it covered more ground than he ever could. Besides what pony would ever pass up a free ride.
Escutcheon yawned as the side to side walk of the Iron Side lolled him to sleep. It was around noon when he finally succumbed to sleep slipping into its embrace on the back of the Iron Side as it continued to graze in a general direction of west.
Escutcheon awoke from an unsettling dream, the nightmare he'd awoke to for the past three and a half weeks. The sky was dark, and the wind wiped across the prairie from the Northeast. In the distance he could hear thunder off in the distance. He looked all around the sky searching for the pegasi that had brought in the storm. None could be seen. "This place it's just like the Everfree Forest, the clouds move all by themselves." A shiver ran down his spine as another roar of thunder echoed across the flat grass lands. The Iron Sides let out a deep low growl, as a bolt of lightning ripped across the sky. It was immediately followed by the loudest peal of thunder he had ever heard. The Iron Side herd let out another deep call, and stampeded off to the west. Escutcheon grabbed on as tight as he could to the stampeding beast.
Escutcheon's hat flew off, and he felt the first of many thick raindrops fall from sky. Up ahead was a wall of water connecting the ground to the sky. The rain fell down in sheets. The rain stabbed into him like knives. The wind and rain continued to assault him. Another roar of thunder, and the Iron Side bucked and threw him off. He hit the ground, and the world faded to black.
Escutcheon woke up in his bed, still wrapped up in his baby blue comforter, his head resting comfortably on a freshly fluffed pillow. "Mommy?" He got out of bed, his head hurt and his limbs felt like lead. His movements were sluggish and off. He tried to open his bedroom door, pain shot down his horn and reverberated in his head. His magic wasn't working at all. "Dad?" He pushed open his door and headed down the hall to his parents room. They weren't there. Outside was a loud commotion. He made his way to the front doors as he tried to ignore the pounding pain in his head.
Outside was bright the sun was shinning brightly down on the town. Everypony was gathered along the streets, as a parade made it's way down the town's main street. On the head float he could see Mother and Father. Escutcheon tried to push his way through the crowd to get to them, but the more he pushed and struggled the further and further they went. "Mommy! Daddy! Mommy, Mommy!" He felt something wet move down his face from his forehead. It was red, thunder and lightning blazed across the sky which was blacker than night.
"Hey, hey, I think it's still alive." A strange creature blurred into his vision.
"Hey it said something! Come on we need to get it back to the village." He felt himself leave the ground. "The storm's only going to get worse, let's go!"
Escutcheon woke up in a dizzy haze. He was completely disorientated. He only knew two things one, his head hurt horribly bad, and two where ever he was it was dry. He could hear muffled voices from across the room. "What do you think it is?" One of the voices perked up. Whoever it was they were a bit louder than the others. Given his current headache it wasn't something that he was happy about. The answer was muffled. "What don't be ridiculous if it was a zebra it'd have stripes, it doesn't have stripes, so it's not a zebra."
"Well clearly it just washed the stripes off Feather Head!" There was a sharp gasp.
"Mom said you weren't suppose to call me that!"
"Mom also said that you two should stay out of her room while she was out." A third voice join the conversation a bit more masculine than the other two spoke up. Somewhere in the house a door opened.
"Nogrif says anything got it?" The two others must have agreed but he couldn't hear them.
"He's in here, I have know idea what he is, except for injured." Bright light flooded the room Escutcheon slammed his eyes shut as hard as he could.
"It seems that he's already recovering. That's good." An old scratchy voice said. "And he's a unicorn colt the horn's a dead give away, No idea what a colt's doing out this far though."
"No talking until after I've had a look at your head. Nod if you understood that." He moved his head up and down whimpering as the movement caused the pain in his head to triple over itself. He felt a pair of talons take a firm grip on his head. The talons moved it around ever so gently, being sure to cause as little suffering as possible.
"Is he going to be okay, elder?"
"He'll be fine, you got him here quick. These injuries aren't even three hours old. I can fix him up, and he should be back on his hooves in a couple of hours. You three little grifs. Start grinding the herbs in my bag now. And as for you drink this it'll put you under for a few hours. When you wake up there shouldn't be any pain." Escutcheon the brim of a bottle put to his lips. He opened his mouth and took a few sips, his senses instantly became dull, and he drifted into unconsciousness.
When Escutcheon woke up again all the pain in his head was gone and the only thing that felt wrong was a sore back. He didn't immediately open his eyes instead he tried to figure out where he was. They had said grif he assumed they were griffons, though they didn't match up with any stories that mother or her friends had told him about griffons. Second he was on a bed a very soft bed at that with covers and a pillow, and it was dry. In fact he couldn't hear the sounds of the storm, at all.
"Glad to see that your awake now quit playing dead and open your eyes," the old gruffy voice demanded. It's owner was to no ones surprise and elderly griffon.
"Who are you Where am I."
"You're in my house, and we're in Griffon Rock, I'm Tilda, these are my chicks, Gilda, Gildan, and Griffa."
"Mom, I'm not a chick anymore." The eldest griffon spoke up. She was to young to be the Gilda he had heard about from Rainbow Dash it must have been a popular griffon name.
"Now, that that's out of the way who are you and why is there a unicorn this far east?"
"My name is Escutcheon, and I'm lost, I'm from Equestria, can you help me get home, please just get me to Griffon Stone I know the way from there."
"Griffon Stone, you sure you fixed that head of his Doc. Ow" Tilda slapped the back of Gilda's head.
"Griffon Stone is a myth, colt."
"No it's not I've been there dozens of times to visit with Gabriella and Gilda. A different Gilda." Gilda rolled her eyes, Escutcheon began to wonder if it was the same Gilda.
"Even if we could point you to Griffon Stone, you're not going to be leaving here anytime soon not with that storm raging out side."
"I don't here a storm."
"That's because we're inside the great mountain, it protects us from the storm and monsters." Griffa said with a knowing smile. "Mom said so." Both her siblings discreetly rolled their eyes.
"When the storm stops we'll try and get you to Rozi, she'll help you get to the Empire."
"The Crystal Empire that's great I-"
"The heck's the Crystal Empire?" Gildan interrupted.
"With the snow and stuff."
"There ain't no snow in the empire colt. You are either lying, crazy, or a long long way from home," the elderly griffon somberly said. "Now let's go get something to eat while Tempest out there throws a hissy fit."
"Sure thing I'll get something cooking, You three be nice to Escutcheon he's our guest."
"Sure mom," Gilda answered
"Yes mom," the other two said.
"A unicorn eating griffon food this is something I have to see."
Escutcheon's white face went pale when he saw the spread laid out on the table. On the table was laid out several different types of meats. Gabby had told him once that griffons would eat meat on special occasions. A fact that he Pinkie Pie Promised to never tell Fluttershy, but he was told that there was normally only enough for a couple of bites and that it was only fish. On this table however there wasn't a scrap of fish to be seen. "Uhm, what kind of meat is that exactly?"
"Pony meat." Gilda laughed before her mother slapped her on the back of her head. "Ow, what did I do?"
"We've got mice, rat, goffer, prairie dog, and my favorite of all rabbit." Escutcheon's face managed to get paler. He fought hard to keep the content of his breakfast in his stomach.
"Um do you have any thing a bit more green and not meat?"
"What, but you need to eat meat in order to grow up big and strong." Griffa put some of the rat meat in her mouth, Escutcheon gagged, nearly losing his lunch as the rest of the color in his face vanished.
"Unicorn's are vegetarian aren't they?" Gildan asked.
"Completely yes." The elder's answer caused Gildan and Tilda to chuckle at the obvious.
"What's a vega-terian?" Griffa put grabbed a piece of mouse and tossed it into her mouth.
"It means that he's never test the amazing taste that is delicious, juicy, succulent meat." Gilda grabbed a piece of prairie dog and waved it in front of him before throwing it up in the air and catching it in her mouth. "Ow! What'd I do?"
"Well we don't exactly have a lot of stuff for making salads," Tilda apologized.
"It's illegal to eat meat."
"Not here it isn't." Gilda offered him a piece of goffer. It was then that he found out two things: one, this was in fact the same Gilda from Griffon Stone, and two, prairie grass tasted a lot better going down then it did up. "Ew."
"I'm going to be sick."
"You are sick."
"You shouldn't have been picking on him Gilda, you got what you deserved."
"Shut it Gildan."
"Gilda go take a bath, Gildan show our guest to the second tub. Griffa get a rag, and go eat in the living room. Elder sorry but could you help me get some food for my guest?"
Escutcheon ate his supper in another room from his host. "So tell me which way are you coming from the south, east, or west?" The griffon elder asked him.
"I've been traveling from the east since I got lost." Escutcheon finished chowing down on his small salad. "Why didn't you ask about the north?"
"Because there's no way that you could have come from the north."
"Why not. There's an eternal tempest there. There's no way to get through it only around it. It's caused no short amount of grief to all the surrounding civilizations.
"How can a storm last forever? It would need constant new clouds to continue indefinitely."
"I don't know."
"Do you have any books on it?" The elder razed his eyebrow. "I lived really close to a ton of books I'm a good read. Plus if I can find something out about this storm it will help you griffons, and it's the least I could do. After all that you've done for me."
"Well there's no harm in letting you read some books. I'll bring over the books I have on the subject in the morning, but it's midnight now I, and I need some sleep I think you should get some sleep to."
"Yeah I think you're right." Escutcheon answered. "Thank you, you griffons are great." Escutcheon fell asleep on the couch as soon as he put his head on the armrest.
Escutcheon woke up on the griffon's couch, it was the most comfortable night's sleep he'd had in ages. He got up and trotted over to the window. Outside was a large open cavern. The home he was perched in set nested into the wall, over looking the griffon city. The entire cave was lite by a single giant light crystal that hung over the city.
"Look who finally woke up." He already recognized Gilda's voice. "Pay up Gildan." He looked around to see her brother begrudgingly part with a gold coin.
"They had a bet to see whether or not you'd wake up to day." The griffon elder explained. "To be honest I didn't think that you would, after you slept through noon."
"What time is it?"
"Two in the after noon. Though I honestly though that you'd stay asleep till dinner, but hey, a wins a win." Gilda put the coin into the folds of a dull brown scarf.
"What's with the scarfs?"
"Patrols." Gildan said sourly and left.
"Griffons are sore losers."
"Yeah I know, so elder did you bring the books."
"Book just one the only book our people have on the Tempest." He took out an old book with a deep black leather cover. "It's almost as old as our colony, and it only briefly mentions the Tempest." Escutcheon's golden aura enveloped the book and in an instant magical letters started to fly from it to him.
"Wow this city is almost as old as Griffon Stone." He gently set the book down. "And you have almost nothing on the Tempest, other than it's been there just as long." He sat down there was nothing about an eternal storm in any of the books back home, and Mother's library was the biggest in the world, as far as he knew. "I am really, really far from home."
"So, you won't be able to help us. Well you're just a colt I didn't know what I was expecting."
"I didn't say that." Escutcheon stood up. "Mother's library was big and had a big book of theoretical magic. She made a picture book of it for me for my last birthday."
"Sounds like a terrible birthday to just get a book." Griffa said from a corner.
"Nope my eighth birthday was my best birthday. Mother always liked giving me funny gifts, and the pictures were really cool looking too. Also I got a cool sword from Father."
"Fascinating, but how does that effect this situation."
"Well, uh what was I saying." Escutcheon blushed as he realized he had lost his train of thought. "Oh right the book. Well you see there could be a way to hold as storm indefinitely in place. So if the spell was altered then it could also maintain a storm indefinitely as well."
"Both things we already know."
"Yes, but the magic would only last as long as the caster, unless they put it in an object."
"That's new information."
"That object would have to be at the center of the storm in order to maintain its location, and since it's lasted for so long is probably made of stone or metal, and if it's a spell in an object all you have to do is get the object and use a simple execution spell to cut of the magical flow and then the harmonic energies will shut down."
"You lost me."
"It's going to be real easy to cut off you just need a unicorn that understands basic magic. I could do it for you but first I'll need my bag."
"It's up stairs, I can't believe it will be that easy to end the Tempest."
"Well I actually have to get close to the object." The elder raised an eyebrow.
"How close." Escutcheon moved his hooves together. "That will be a problem."
Tilda lead him up the stairs to his bag. "So what are you going to need?"
"I'll just need someway to get to the storm generator," he answered back. as his magic opened his bag. "Once I'm there it'll be easy to cut off the harmonic flow." He pulled the bag over to him and started shifting through the contents. "Here it is, I was worried for a second." He pulled his combing stick out and tossed his bag to the corner of the room.
"Is that your magic wand?" Tilda asked as he held the stick in his aura.
"What no, magic wands are nonsense, at least that's what Mother always said."
"Then what is that stick for?"
"It's for combing my mane." Tilda looked at him like he was crazy, he noticed the look. "Look I've not combed my mane in a two days and the last time I let it get out of hoof it was really painful to comb the tangles out."
"We have brushes."
"I know but this stick just feels right." Escutcheon studied the stick in his aura before putting it in his mane, and starting to comb out the tangles. The two of them went back down stairs Escutcheon still combing his mane with the twig, much to the bemusement of Griffa and the elder. "I'm sorry what's your name?"
"My name is Pace." he answered. "So are you ready?"
"Yep. I just need to get there now."
"And you Tilda?"
"Wait, what?" He looked between the two griffons. "No, no, no, no, no, no. I can't ask you to come with me you have a family."
"Well you not asking me to come, and I am sure you have a family too." Tilda grabbed him and tossed him on his back. "And as a mother I know that if my son was going to help end a never ending tempest for a part of the world he knows nothing about, and no one bothered to help him. I'd be far worse than peeved." Escutcheons just nodded his head. He'd only heard Mother use that word two times and she was really anger when she said it, he knew better than to argue.
"Will you be back for dinner Mom?"
"Not tonight darling, hopefully I'll be back the night after tomorrow. If all goes well." She hugged her youngest and set Griffa on the couch.
"You'll look after them?"
"Of course, see you in two days."
"If all goes well."
"If all goes well."
"Well come on Escutcheon. Let's get going hold on tight, if you fall off not even Pace has medicine for a fall like that." He gulped and hugged her neck. "That's good now let's go." She stepped out of the door to a hundred meter free fall. Her wings shoot out from her side, and the two of them shot off for the mouth of the cave and the eternal storm just beyond.
Outside the storm was furious. The wind wiped around in every direction. as the rain beat against the two souls that would try and brave it. Tilda tried her best to maintain her body's position, while all Escutcheon could do was wrap his hooves around her neck and hold on for dear life. The wind threatening at any moment to rip him away from the griffon and send him plummeting to the ground below. The two of them went south holding their course for hours.
"Things are about to get a bit bumpy!" Tilda yelled at the top of her lungs, trying to be heard above the howling wind. She could feel the colt's grip slipping. She grabbed his forehooves with her talons hoping that it would be enough. The turbulent winds slammed into Tilda throwing her and her passenger around like a ragdoll. Escutcheon was nearly ripped away from Tilda several times. The two of them fought desperately toward the south.
The storm's fury intensifying each second. "How far is the storm!" Escutcheon screamed over the storm.
"I don't know I've never flown south before!" The sky lite up as a bolt of lightning raced from one storm cloud to another. "Crude, hold on and what ever you do don't let go!" She tightened her grip till she was afraid that if she squeezed tighter he'd start bleeding, and then she nose dived straight down to the ground hundreds of meters below. The roar of the thunder drowned out the sound of the wind and Escutcheon's screaming. At the last second she threw her wings open coming to a sudden breaking stop ten meters from the ground, the flat grassy prairie had become a raging quagmire as the ground attempted to absorb the never ending tide of rain. She raced to a tree that now formed an island, and landed.
"Are you okay?" She asked as the two of them took shelter as the wind swayed the tree back and forth.
"I think my life flashed before my eyes." Escutcheon answered. rubbing his for legs where Tilda had grabbed him. They felt wetter than the rest of him. A flash of lightning confirmed it, showing five red streaks flowing down his white coat.
"Let's get that taken care of and try and keep going." Tilda pulled some bandages from a belt. "I'm sorry about that."
"It's fine. It beats falling to my death by a long shot." Escutcheon tried to sound like it was nothing despite the throbbing pain. "I don't know how much more rain I can take. I really hope that we're almost there, ow."
"Sorry." Tilda looked back to the colt and the south. "I was just distracted." After a few minutes Escutcheon climbed back onto her back and the two headed back into the storm fighting their way to the south, and the eye of the eternal storm.
The storms fury intensified as the two of them pushed their way further south. Tilda flew low nearly skimming the raging lake that had swallowed up the grass lands. The lake’s surface surged with each gust of wind and flash of lightning. Escutcheon held on to the griffon for dear life, as winds and surging waves threatened to knock him from her back.
Tilda struggled to stay in the air, her wings ached, and her body drenched to the bone. The little unicorn’s grip around her neck was tight, and it was getting more and more difficult to breath with each flash of lightning, and peal of thunder. She had hoped to take another breather, assuming that the tops of trees would continue to offer spotted resting points along the way. Her assumption that the grasslands extended all the way to the Storm Peak was sadly misguided. No griffon had come this far in hundreds of years. Still she was cursing her luck. “Escutcheon I need you to check the compass are we still heading south.” She strained her voice to be heard over the howling winds.
Escutcheon’s golden aura reached out and grabbed a small compass from Tilda’s belt. “Yes! Our heading is exactly due south! How much further do you think it is?”
“I have no idea but I hope we’re close.” She faltered nearly plunging both of them into the turbulent waters below. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” Suddenly the weight on her back vanished. “Escutcheon!” She panicked.
“I’m fine.” Escutcheon scrunched up his face as his horn continued to glow brightly. His whole body surrounded in his golden aura. “I can hold this spell for a little while, at least.” He felt as though his head was about to split. “I think.”
“Don’t push yourself, If you burn out you can’t use magic.”
“I know, but if we don’t get there it won’t matter if I can use magic or not. If I burn out it’ll take me a few days to get it back, and you’ll just be a few days late for dinner.” He looked up at the raging storm, and his magic broke. “Uh, Tilda, do you see that.” He pointed one hoof up at the storm clouds up ahead.
“Yes, yes I do.” Four cumulus clouds rose above Storm Peak. They rose higher into the sky forming a wolf like body above. Lightning ringed around the chest of the cloudy body. Bolts of lightning eternally flashed forming blazing blue eyes. It’s maul opened into a raging lightning storm down it’s gullet. "Do you know what that thing is?"
"I've never seen anything like that before." Tilda hovered above the rough waters of the lake. "Do you think that there's any chance that the talisman that we're looking for isn't inside of that thing?"
"I-I don't think it is," Escutcheon gulped. "at least I hope it's not."
"There at the very top of the mountain." Tilda pointed with a talon to the peak of Storm Peak. "Where the creature's legs are forming. Do you think that could be it."
"Yeah, but why would it from the storm into that thing?"
"It doesn't matter, we're going up there and cutting this storm off at the source. Hold on tight Escutcheon. We're going in!" Tilda flapped her wings with renewed vigor, racing off for the mountain as she slowly gained altitude. The storm wolf looked down on the two of them. Tilda didn't flinch, and continued her flight to the peak.
There was a flash of light from the creature's mouth, soon followed by a large bolt of lightning. She veered hard to the right nearly throwing Escutcheon from her back. The storm beast's blazing blue eyes followed the two of them, as did several more bolts of lightning.
"It's protecting the talisman, are you kidding me?!" Escutcheon screamed.
"Escutcheon it's fine just hold on!" Tilda continued her advance flapping her wings harder and harder pushing herself to get to the top of Storm Peak before a lightning bolt got to her. She was already over land and ascending the lone mountain that jutted out of the land. A stray bolt of lightning struck the rocky surface above them. The mountain roared to life as boulders, the smallest of which was easily the size of the colt, began to avalanche down the side of the mountain. She pulled away from the mountain face, only to fill a buzz of electricity. In the half second she had to respond, her motherly instincts went into over drive and she turned around putting herself between the wolf's lightning and the world. A moment later the world went white, and quickly faded into nothingness.
Escutcheon hit the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of him, luckily his adrenaline kept him from blacking out. The ground was hard, and the rain pelted him like small stones. There was a buzzing in his ear, and the whole left half of his body was numb. "Mom?" He looked around in a haze. A bolt of lightning struck only a few hooves away, bringing him quickly back to reality. "Tilda!" He saw her body laying limp on the stone face a few meters from him. "Tilda!" He grabbed her in his magic, and looked around. A bolt of lightning lit up the mountain side, reviling a cave entrance. "It's okay Tilda you're going to be okay." He moved as fast as he could to the relative safety of the cave the griffon floating to his side.
Escutcheon gently put Tilda down on the driest rock he could find. The storm outside had increase in ferocity, and the storm beast hadn't relented in its attempts to snuff out the two intruders. He paced back and forth, his eyes never leaving Tilda. Her breathing was haggard and weak. Each one seemed like it would be her last.
"Please be okay." Escutcheon walked up to her, and put his head to her scorched chest. His ears flopped back. Her heart beat was irregular, and slow. "Tilda I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry. This is all my fault if I hadn't tried to end the storm, you'd still be at home with your kids." He started to cry when he realized that Gilda, Gildan, and Griffa were going to lose the mother because of him. "No, no stay focused I can fix this, I just need to focus and stay calm." His ears drooped again. "How am I supposed to fix this. "What would Father do?"
"Dad would have done something awesome, and turned that storm wolf into a nothingness, and he wouldn't even be in this mess. Not helping not helping not helping!" He started hitting his head. "Wait a minute. Pace if he were here he could help. He helped me." He looked back over at Tilda and gulped. He knew the spell. It was what had got him into all of this trouble in the first place. He was afraid, afraid to use it again. "If I don't she'll die." He closed his eyes and steeled himself. He was going to use it one more time and this time he had to use it on someone else, and it had to work right. If it didn't he wouldn't know about it and she'd be dead.
"No it's going to work this time. It has to work this time." He closed his eyes and remember everything that Mother had taught him about the spell. He visualized Tilda's home her table with an assortment of meats. He focused making sure that it was real. Then he began to cast the spell his horn lit up, as the advanced harmonic tunes were woven. He need this to work, Tilda needed this to work. He knew he'd be burned out, but that didn't matter right now. HIs golden aura enveloped Tilda his face scrunched up. There was a golden flash. He fell on the floor slowly leaving consciousness he smiled at the empty spot were Tilda had earlier lay. He passed out alone in the cave as the storm raged on outside.
Escutcheon got up, his side was killing him and his head was throbbing. The spot where he had set Tilda down was empty. He smiled slightly relieved, so long as she got back he was certain that Pace could heal her. Oddly enough he didn't feel drained, like the last time he had used that spell. Then again he hadn't teleported her half way across the world to some unknown corner of the planet in the middle of nowhere. He still didn't know how much further he could push it after all casting the spell had left him unconscious.
He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath and focused. He needed his things if he was to continue on his journey. He could see it in his minds eye in an upstairs room in a griffon's house. As his things all went back into his bag he began the more difficult part of the spell. "Come here." His voice was barely a whisper. HE could feel his magic pulling his toward him. He was already starting to sweat. He could feel his magic start to slip. If it gave out he'd never find his bag again. "Faster. Faster! Faster!" He watched as it speed toward him ever faster, across the raging quagmire. He could now see the mountain. Wait it's already here. "Slow down. Slow down! Slow down!" His eyes shot open to see the bag come threw the mouth of the cave. It slammed into him knocking him off of his hooves and throwing him the ground. The bag's contents spilled out on the ground. For the second time that day the world faded to black as he fell into unconsciousness. His horn a little charred at the tip. He was definitely burned out now.
He woke up with the headache to end all headaches. Both of his sides were in absolute agony, one where his bag hit him and the other where he was slammed into the ground. The pain congealed into an over all hurting, that just left him laying there crying. He had never felt like this in all of his life. He wished that Mom or Dad would come and hold him that this month long nightmare would be over, that he could finally go home. After an hour he had cried all the tears that he had. He struggled to his hooves and grabbed a bottle filled with a red liquid. He pulled the cork and took a few sips before putting it in his bag.
He began to grab everything and started putting them in his bag. All of his belongings from his old life, when he had a Mother and Father. Everything that he thought that he would need. He put it all into his bag. It wasn't even full anymore. He took his flint and steal and struck them together. His little candle lit up, and after a few minutes of fighting with a rope, candle holder and stick he finally got his light source ready. He headed deeper into the cave. His candle lighting the way, into the dark abyss.
His light pierced darkness of the cave, as he headed in. The cave was devoid of anything except the continuous dripping of water from stalactite. Even the sounds of the storm outside faded away into nothingness in the darkness of the cave. Just like him, he too would soon fade away into the darkness when his little candle went out.
"No." He shook his head side to side. He instantly regretted it as his headache came back with vengeance. "I can get home I just need to go west." He tried to convince himself of that. It was so much hard than it had been only a few days ago. Is home really on the other end of the horizon. The question had haunted him since he had started. It was always there. And even if home was just over the horizon. Would Mother and Father take him back.
His train of thought was brought to an abrupt stop as he stepped on something that snapped under his hooves. It looked like a twig, but it was white and there were so, so many of them.
The entire cave floor was filled with bones. They covered the ground at least one layer deep. Along the walls of the cavernous room wrapped a stairway. More bones covered each step. Even in his fear ridden state he noticed two things about the skeletons. The first thing that he noticed was that they were old. Many of them looked like they'd turn to dust if he so much as touched them. Some of them already. The second and more concerning to him was that all of them with out exception were unicorns just like him. His heart was racing in his chest, as stared into the hollow eyes of every skull.
After a few minutes Escutcheon's minor panic attack had come to an end, and he slowly regained his nerve. He found the stairway's base This wasn't even the bottom level. On his right were the stairs going up. They seemed to go all the way up to the top of Storm Peak. To his left were stairs that descended deeper into the bowls of the mountain. He took a few deep breaths hoping to that they'd calm his anxieties, and took the first step up. The room broke out in a flash of light.
"So, you've finally come to me, little agent of Clover." A deep, cold, and dark voice filled the cavern, coming from every part of the cave. "I've waited for her to send another to me. Another challenger, another proof of my power. I was beginning to think she had forgotten, or perhaps that she had come to her senses, and chosen not to challenge me again."
"Who, who are you?" Escutcheon stepped down off of the step, looking around the cavern all the hollow eyes of the dead looking back at them.
"I am the god that you've come to defy. That you've come to try and strike me down. I am Tempest Tossed." The voice boomed in the cave it was so large Escutcheon felt so little in its presence. "I am the one that you've come to challenge, did you think that you could succeed where all of these that have come before you failed?" Escutcheon began to panic his eyes never able to break contact with the hollowed empty sockets of all of the skulls. He began to run down the stairs in a futile attempt to get away. "That's right little unicorn run. Flee. Nothing is here for you but death. You are lucky that you are here now, for I have more pressing concerns. Those griffons shall be taught to fear me."
Escutcheon's blood froze in his veins, his heart stopped in his chest. "Wait the griffons. What are you going to do?"
"I will make them as I've made these. They shall be punished for bringing you here assassin. They shall be tempest tossed. Destroyed as all of these that came to defy me." A new horror filled Escutcheon's mind. A cavernous city filled with the dead. Tilda and her family nothing but bones, in a destroyed, decimated city.
"You can't do that!"
"I can do as I please. Nothing can stop me from destroying. None can save what I mark for death." Escutcheon looked back up to the floor he had been on moments before. "I shall not stop with them. I shall spread to the ends of the earth until all is Tempest Tossed. Escutcheon's face grew hard. He wasn't about to abandon his new friends to this. If saving them meant facing a giant storm wolf and winning then he would. He took a deep breath and headed back up the stairs.
"What's this, you've had a change of heart little unicorn? Very well then come to me, Gaze up close upon my glory, and then little unicorn you shall die." Tempest taunted. Escutcheon didn't listen. Tempest Tossed had killed hundreds of unicorns, that number rose higher and higher as he did. The living storm was able to kill and clearly had no qualms doing it. If he could Tempest Tossed, could wipe the griffon town off the face of the earth. He wasn't about to let somebody else get hurt because of him. He wasn't even sure if Tilda was still alive. It was his fault he wasn't going to let her down again.
The thousands of empty black eyes followed him as he went up floor after floor to the top of the mountain. The dead watched the young unicorn as he headed up to battle the eternal storm. Each pair of eyes, that only a few minutes ago filled him to the brim with fear, now fueled a fury inside of him. An anger at the callous disregard for life. Each pair seemed to strengthen his will and resolve. The top floor lit up with a flash of lightning.
"Well little unicorn I congratulate you." Escutcheon looked up at the giant living storm that stood over the mountain like a god would stand over a city. Between him and storm wolf was the crystal that maintained the spell. It floated two hundred meters above the center of the mountain. "You are the first to make it this far in over nine hundred years. You may now marvel at my power and tremble before me!" With a howl the winds wiped up into cyclone force gales that ripped formed hundreds of water spouts over the lake. Lightning balls rolled across the sky illuminating the pitch black storm clouds that continued on in every direction to the horizon. "Bow little unicorn. Bow to me!"
"No!" Escutcheon screamed at the wolf. Buffeting himself against the winds that threatened to throw him off of the mountain. Fear raced back into him as Tempest Tossed's blazing blue eyes glared at him. He fought down his panic. "You're not going to hurt anybody ever again! I'm cutting you off!" Tempest opened his maul sparks of blue and white shooting out at random. He shot out a bolt of lighting at the defiant colt. Escutcheon ran for cover just seconds before. The bolt of lighting zapped the ground throwing that part of the mountain of the edge. A stray branch of the bolt struck him. He screamed as he rolled across the top of Storm Peak. Tempest laughed as he struggled to get back up on his hooves. "I won't bow to you. You're no god, you're just a bunch of rain clouds, with an ego."
"Insolent foal!" Tempest spewed out a river of lightning. Escutcheon jumped back into the cave. The ceiling above exploded and fell in. "You will not escape me." Tempest Tossed blew down into the cavern. A cyclone blew into the cave wiping up the skeletons of the dead and throwing the colt back out into the raging storm. Escutcheon slammed back down onto the ground. "Now do you see my power?"
Escutcheon stumbled back onto his hooves, a grin on his face as he wiped the red away from his eyes. "Hehehe. I've felt fans that were stronger than that." Tempest grinned and stooped down to face suddenly terrified colt.
"Do you think that I don't know what you're doing?" He was so close Escutcheon could hear the buzzing of the lighting that lit his eyes and mouth. "Did you think that I'd blow another cyclone and you'd get to get close my talisman to destroy it?" Escutcheon's ears dropped down. "No I think it's time for you to die." With a strong breath Escutcheon was sent flying of the mountain.
Escutcheon grunted as he slammed into the soft fluff of a storm cloud. It shot out several bolts of lightning. "What? How?" Tempest demanded as he rose back up.
"None of your concern." Escutcheon put this little fact in the back of his head as something to ask Mother and Father about later. Sure Father was a pegasus, but he was born a unicorn. Unless his mother's magic was somehow involved. She was always over protective, but until now none of her spells had protected him. He just thanked his lucky stars that something was going right. Even if it made absolutely no sense. "No matter." Escutcheon jumped to another cloud as a bolt of lightning blazed past him.
He ran as hard as he could jumping from cloud to cloud as Tempest tried in vain to throw him down to a sure death below. He was slowly making his way to the gemstone. Tempest howled and shot one final bolt of lightning. Escutcheon jumped landing on the sapphire. He tapped his horn to it. Nothing.
"What." His ears went flat against his head. as Tempest Tossed laughed.
"You're the first to ever get to the stone, and you're burned out aren't you colt. You're powerless, and stranded." Tempest Tossed turned toward the north. "Now watch as I destroy those griffons."
"No." Escutcheon focused on the talisman. "Come on stupid horn come on." Tears started streaking down his face, as pain and desperation started to force their ways to the surface. "Come on, come on. Come ON!" The world burst into illumination from a brilliant bright light. His eyes glowed like two moons as he floated over the gem. "Enough is enough Tempest Tossed. I send you back to the void." Again he lowers his horn to the gem. It shatters. Tempest screams as the lightning inside him roars out in every direction temporarily the whole world, to the horizons goes white. Escutcheon slowly lowers himself to the ground though he had know idea by what power he's doing it. He drifted into unconsciousness for the fourth time that week.
Escutcheon felt weightless. He looked down on the ground he was so high that on the northern horizon he could see the mountain that housed the griffon's village. In an instant he's there above the griffon's mountain. The mountain looked as though it had survived a siege. Many of parts of the stone face had been scorched. Some of the griffons were coming out of the battered mountain gazing up in wonder as the few clouds that remained dissipated into nothingness. They seemed to be awestruck. He looked up over his shoulder. Above him glowed a brilliant aurora. It streaked across the skies out shining most of the stars. It was only matched by the moon in it's brightness.
He looked through the small crowd of faces for Tilda and her family. He soon found two very familiar griffons in the gathering throng. Instantly he was at the side of Gilda and Gildan. "Huh, he did it." Gilda mused.
"Yeah looks like it." Gildan looked behind him before casting a glance back up to the sky. "I wish mom could see this." Escutcheon looked away. Back to the moon. In an instant he flashed into a familiar room.
"I'm afraid that he's not in the north. We've looked over every corner." He knew the voice well. It was from Shining Armor. "I'm sorry I wish we had better news.
"He isn't in the south either we've gone as far as we could into the Badlands." Rainbow Dash's voice. He'd recognize it anywhere. "Hey don't cry, we'll find him. Even if my team and I have to fly to the ends of the Equus we'll get him home to you." Escutcheon wanted to go down stairs to see Mother and Father, but whatever power had brought him here wasn't obeying him. He could only pray that one of them would say something. If he could just hear them that would be okay.
"Please just let me stay here. Please." Escutcheon looked out of his old bedroom window out on the town. The sky above them was blue. The sun stood strong at midday. "I'm on the other side of the world."
"Everypony. Quickly outside. Something's happening!" Escutcheon marveled as the aurora. streaked across the western horizon.
Suddenly everything went black. He just floated in a dark void of nothingness. Instantly his body was raked with unbearable pain. It spread over his body. When he opened his mouth to scream all the air left his lungs leaving him gagging and wreathing for breath. Two giant fiery red eyes opened right in front of him.
"You will come to me." A mouth spoke spewing brimstone. "I will rip you, tare you, burn you, kill you." Escutcheon floated suffocating before the eyes, wreathing in agony. "You will suffer. You will come to me."
Escutcheon jerked up, sucking in as much air into his lungs as he could. He looked up the from the top of Storm Peak in every direction the aurora spread. He smiled as the fillings of pain faded like a bad dream. His eyes turned to the west, on the other side of the world, was home. Mother and Father were still looking for him. All he had to do was head west and he'd be home.
After a few hours of stargazing, Escutcheon started moving the bones of the dead unicorns to the next floor down. Once he was done he used the last bit of his magic to move a large boulder over the stairs. "Rest in peace." His small smile waned. He grabbed his saddlebag that had caught itself by its strap on a rock, and tossed it on his back.
The setting moon's light shown brightly as it approached the western horizon. Throwing the world into soft shades. The shards of the sapphire talisman began to evaporate, in the light. Escutcheon watched entranced as the stones turned to smoke blew away. All but one faded into nothingness. He tapped the crystal. Nothing happened. He shrugged and put the sapphire shard into his saddlebag. He jumped down to a ledge beneath him, as he slowly started decent down toward the entrance to the cave that he had originally entered. Hopefully stairs led down to an underground tunnel that would lead him to land on the other side of the lake. It was unlikely but he could hope for it.
He slid down the slope of the mountain. Most of it was simple, involving nothing more than walking or skidding down the side of the mountain. The first golden rays of dawn slowly casting the mountain into contrast of light and shadow. He arrived at the entrance to the cave as the sun's golden rays poured over the eastern horizon. He watched the sun light before he headed back into the cave. Something on his flank caught his attention. Were once his flank had been blank and the same white that the rest of his coat, now there was a cutie mark. He smile as he gazed at it. A purple Shield with seven, golden, seven pointed stars, two light blue swirls of magic wrapped around the bottom outside of the shield. "Well I guess I'd better get home, I don't want to miss my cute-ceañera. Mother and Father are going to be really happy to see this." He whooped and rushed into the cave hoping he was right about there being a tunnel under the lake.
Escutcheon headed back to the stairs that went through the heart of the cave. Hoping that there was an underground passage that connected the island to the mainland. There were after all a lot of unicorns but not a single pegasus in the bones in the cave. He was back in the darkness. The darkness of the cave wasn't as suffocating as it was previously. He didn't notice until he reached the middle of the mountain. Before he had a hard time seeing this time the room was full of a gentle blue hue that filled the whole cavern. He could see everything all the way to the back wall. Escutcheon looked around trying to find the source of the light.
"What the?" Escutcheon took off his saddle bag and pulled out the shard of the talisman. It gave off a gentle glow. The light never intensified, nor faded. "What the heck is this thing?" He rolled it around in his hoof. "Well this isn't really something that I'm going to complain about." He smiled as he put the sapphire back into his saddlebag. And headed down the stairs to the floor beneath him.
The gentle blue light filled everything. He then realized that the light was making everything calm. Before the dark eyes of the skulls had nearly scared him out of his wits. Now though they just seemed to be. He took a deep breath and headed deeper down. His feeling of dread that came from the bones, was now replaced by a deep sorrow, at this loss of life. All of these unicorns had died trying to stop Tempest Tossed. All of them had failed. Now he had survived. Him and not Tilda. "The world isn't fair." He stepped around a pile of bones. The light faded around him as he continued to descend.
Escutcheon headed further and further into the depths of the cave. He wasn't completely conscious of his movements. Only moving by muscle memory. The light that had surrounded him had faded to the point to where he could only see a third of a meter around him in every direction. His thought about the visions he had seen.
Gildan and Gilda, they were watching the storms fade, Griffa wasn't with them. was she at home crying that she had lost her mother, was she hurt in Tempest's attack on their home? "How many of these ponies had a home?" He descended the last flight of steps down to the bottom floor. There weren't any more skeletons down here. There was only the constant dripping of the stalactites, and darkness. The light from the sapphire was nearly gone.
He sat down in the darkness, trying to remember his home. He had seen it if ever so briefly in one of the visions. His room was the same as when he left it. He could hear Mother's friends trying to cheer her up. They must have been in her room just down the hall form him. "I'm sorry Mommy. I just want to go home." The last bit of light faded away letting him cry in the darkness.
"Hey who's there?" Escutcheon wiped his eyes. He had no idea how long he had been crying. "Come on I know somepony's there. It's okay I won't hurt you." He could hear flapping deeper in the cave. "Come on this cave is a maze I need you to say something please."
"I'm over here."
"Over where?" He could hear the flapping getting closer. "Oh there you are." The pegasus landed. She sounded to young to be with Rainbow Dash's group that she said was searching for him. "I didn't think that I'd see a unicorn down here."
"How can you see me? I can't even see my hoof in front of my face."
"Natural talent. I can't tell you how happy seeing you makes me feel. I've been down here alone for nearly a year and a half." He felt her put a hoof on his back. "What about you?"
"I'm lost." His voice betraying how broken he felt. "I've been lost for a month."
"Yeah the first month's the worst." She patted his back. "But now there's two of us so that's a plus." He smiled, and the faint blue light returned to lighting the cave. "Woah what is that?" The filly asked. She wasn't a pegasus, but was a thestral, with a night purple coat and dusk blue mane. Her eyes were yellow like every bat pony he had ever met before.
"It's a shard of the talisman that was maintaining Tempest Tossed." She looked at him like he was crazy. "The eternal storm that was around Storm Peak."
"Wait so you mean the storm's gone?"
"Yep I just cut it off a while ago." Her face lit up as she smiled from ear to ear.
"Come with me." She grabbed him and galloped down the halls of the cave. "My names Dusk Song. What's your's?"
"Escutcheon," he answered trying to keep pace with her.
Dusk Song hurried down each hallway taking sharp rights and lefts down seemingly random corridors. "Dusk where are we going?" Escutcheon asked, as he was dragged along by the enthusiastic thestral. The glow of the sapphire had grown back to it's usual strength.
"We're going to my home base." She looked back at him her yellow eyes glowing in the blue ambient glow of the sapphire. She took another sharp and sudden left turn. Escutcheon was pulled along as they headed down the new corridor. She wasn't kidding this place really is a maze. He thought as took a right at the end of the hall. "If the storm is over now, then I can go home, but first I need to get my travel stuff. Then I'll show you the way out."
"So you know where your family is?" Escutcheon asked. She came to a abrupt stop. "Dusk is everything alright?" He hoped that he hadn't just opened a can of worms.
"I'm fine." She continued down the hall at a much slower pace. "You see I know where they're at, or at least where they were." She sat down at the end of the hall. Escutcheon joined her sitting at her side. "You see the colony was migrating out of our home due to a terrible fire. We bumped into that giant storm and skirted the side of it for a long time." She sniffed and wiped the moisture from her eyes. "Some of our scouts came back and said that further on was a very big desert, that we'd need a lot of water to cross it. So Dad lead a team to get as much water from the storm as we could. It was the last day before we were suppose to head out. I went to help." He put his hoof around her shoulder as she started to shake. "The storm suddenly got really bad, and I was blown way off course." She wiped the tears from her place. "I was going to die I knew it, but then I found this cave, and I've been here ever since. I spent the first month at the entrance hoping that my Dad would come to get me. He never did." She lowered her head. "I guess I wasn't important enough."
"No!" Escutcheon was shocked at how loud he was. "I'm sure that he searched all over the place for you, but you just got blown tor far off course." Escutcheon smiled at her and helped her back up on her hooves. "I bet that he'll be more than elated when he sees that your okay."
"Elated?" She looked at him wiping all of the tears from her eyes and face.
"Really, really happy. It's was the word of the day when I got lost." Escutcheon blushed and rubbed the back of his head. "I know I'm an egghead right?"
"Don't know what that means either, but it sounds like a good way to describe you."
"Jee thanks." Dusk laughed, and nodded to a hall branching off to the left.
"Come on my base is just a couple more halls down." She headed down the hall. "So, Escutcheon how did you get lost?" It was his turn to stop now. His blood went cold in his veins. "Escutcheon?" She looked back at him, He wiped a tear that streaked down his face.
"I didn't" He croaked. "I ran away." His stomach started to grumble. He blushed her stomach growled too.
"Let's stop talking about this sad stuff and get something to eat." She put her wing around him and started heading back to her room. "I've got food at my base." The two of them quickly made their way down the last couple of halls. They came to a sudden dead end with a cloth sheet spread across the hall. She pushed open the curtain and walked in leading Escutcheon into the dead end hall that she had converted into her home base. She flew over to a light crystal and tapped it three times. It came alive shining with pure white light filling every crevasse with light. "Welcome to Dusk Song's Super Secret Hidden Base."
Her base was about the size of any of the halls that they had come down. There were several unique distinctions to it though. First the walls were somehow dyed or painted blue with dark spots that might have been birds or batponies. The was also a bush in the middle of the room. There were three buckets off to the side, and a small little pile of leafs with a blanket on the far end of the hall right in front of the wall. She trotted over to the bush and pulled a couple of berries.
"How is a berry bush growing down here."
"It's a Cavern Berry Bush. They only grow in caves. Back in our old home there was a cave full of these berries. They taste good and also can be used as a paint how do you think I painted the walls blue." There are a few more of these bushes around but this one's the biggest." She went over to a bucket and pulled out a dead fish. "And they taste delicious with fish." Escutcheon galloped out of the room, back into the cave and started heaving.
Escutcheon sat outside of the curtain eating a clothful of berries. Dusk was on the other side of the curtain. He tried not to think about what she was eating. She wasn't joking about the berries though, they were easily the best thing he had eaten in months. He popped another of the berries in his mouth. "Hey Escutcheon does that whole dry heaving thing happen often?"
"Kind of." He focused on the piece of cloth the berries were in. "Where I'm from eating meat is illegal. The only place I know of that ate meat was Griffonstone, and I was never around when they did."
"So, you're telling me that they don't eat meat. Like ever?" He was already starting to lose his appetite just thinking about it. "Then how did you get your protein?"
"How do you butter peanuts?" Dusk poked her head out from behind the curtain.
"It's not really butter. It's just peanuts ground into paste." He wrapped the rest of the berries in the cloth and put it in his saddle bag, on top of everything else. "Dusk you said that there were more berry bushes in this cave? You think we should pick all of the berries for our trip."
"Yeah, that's a good idea, but I think that I could pick them faster if I did it by myself." She went back behind the curtain. "Let me finish my lunch, and get rid of the bones, then I'll go out and gather the rest of the berries if you go ahead pack all of my stuff. My saddle bag are by my bed I've been using them as pillows for the past year. Go ahead and get everything you can into them."
A few minutes later Dusk Song pulled down the curtain and started wrapping it around herself. Until she was completely clothed from hoof to head. "So how long do you think it will take for you to gather up all of the other berries?" Escutcheon asked as Dusk headed down the hall.
"Let's just say that you shouldn't pack up my bed." He nodded, and she ran down the halls of the cave. Escutcheon had packed away everything even the light stone that had flooded the cavern full of white light. He had been finished for two hours and Dusk Song still hadn't come back. He looked over to the corner were the small make shift bed was. The soft blue light slowly faded as he drifted into sleep. When he woke up it was a lot warmer than he remembered the cave being. The was also a gentle weight on his side. and a soft breathing oh his neck. He looked behind him Dusk was snuggled up to him. He smiled at the warmth and let her rhythmic breathing lull him back to sleep.
When he woke up again Dusk was already up strapping her saddle bags to her sides old curtain was still wrapped around her. The hood how ever was down, letting her wild mane point out in every direction. She seemed to be in a good mood. "Hey there, sleepy head. I don't know about you but that was the best night's sleep that I've had in a long, long time."
"Yeah it was." Escutcheon reached into his bag and grabbed his combing stick. He started combing his mane until Dusk's started to snicker. "What?"
"Do they not have combs where you're from?"
"We do. It's just, this fills more natural." He hoped she didn't see him blushing. The only good part about sleeping on the ground and not having a bath was that his white coat was a little darker. "So are we going?"
"Yeah, I was just saying good by to this place." She ran her hoof down the blue painted walls. "I'm going to miss this place, but I'm glad that I'm going to be heading back to my family." She turned toward the maze like cave. "Come on it's going to take a while to get out." Escutcheon nodded and followed close behind her through the twisting and winding paths of the cave. After hours of walking through the cave Escutcheon finally felt a cold gust of fresh air. "Come on its just up ahead." Dusk picked up her pace, he stayed right behind her.
They came out of the cave to a large rocky and hilly place. The mouth of the cave was halfway up a large rocky hill. The sky above them was lit with the glowing hues of sunrise that was still on the other end of the horizon.
The two of them made their way up the rocky slope. From the ridge line they could see the form of Storm Peak jutting out of the center of the lake. The sun broke over the eastern end of the world. Bathing everything in its soft light. "Good night Mom and Dad," Escutcheon said under his breath.
"Oh yeah that's nice." Dusk sighed as she opened her leathery wings and drank in the sunlight. Escutcheon stood mesmerized. The golden beams glowed like a halo around her wild dusk blue mane. "That's nice. I can't tell you how much I've missed this."
"I thought that your kind were nocturnal?"
"Oh yeah we are, but I still like the sun rises and sunsets. They're so warm and nice." The two of the stood there on the rocky shore of the lake drinking in the sun light. After a while Escutcheon headed down after her. After they crested the other ridge they found a slightly wooded plain that stretched as far as it could to the west. "Huh, you would have thought that after all the rain from the eternal storm this place would be nothing but a swamp. Not that I'm complaining, I'll take wooded grassland over marshy swamp any day."
"Actually, it could be that, because the rain wasn't natural it was artificial, it only existed for a small period of time, and evaporated, quickly unless its being continually replenished" Dusk just stared at him with glazed over eyes. "Magic rain that disappears almost as soon as it hits the ground." He simplified, rubbing the back of his head. "I'm an egghead I know."
"I still have no idea what that means but." She laughed. "So, which way are you going?"
"I need to go west." Her face lit up as she tackled him. "Hey!"
"Woohoo! Travel buddies!" She jumped off of him and glided a ways away. She started to blush as Escutcheon sat up and stared awkwardly at her. "What it's just we just met and became friends, and I don't like traveling alone, and I'm really bad at good-bye. And I kind of like you, and, and. And let's go already!" She jumped down from the ridge and glided down to the grasslands below.
"Hey, wait for me!" Escutcheon bolted down the hill after her.
The two of them headed across the soft grass of the plain. Occasionally they'd head into one of the little wooded glades. Most of the trees were just Live Oaks, however every other glade seemed to have a couple of apple trees. It was in one such glove that the two of them stopped for lunch.
"Hey Escutcheon, do you think that we could slow down a bit?" Dusk rubbed her eyes.
"Are you tired already?" Escutcheon joked taking another bite from his apple. "It's only noon."
"It's not that it's the sunlight is so bright it's really starting to hurt my eyes. And it's so freaking hot how can you ponies deal with it." She scrunched up her face and kept rubbing her eyes.
"Oh, your not used to the heat of the day." Escutcheon pulled grabbed Dusk's canteen and helped her get a couple of swigs from it, before fastening it back to her saddle bags. "Dusk take off your close." She did so. "Okay now lay down Escutcheon took the curtain body wrap thing and started climbing up one of the trees. "This would be so much easier with my magic." He tied it to the trunk of the tree and headed over to one of the others and did the same. Tying each of the for corners to one a different tree, creating a roof over the two of them, casting them both into a dark shadow. "Okay is that better?" He trotted back over to Dusk and lay down beside her.
"A little bit." She opened up her eyes. They were slightly bloodshot. "Crud, this sucks." She started rubbing her eyes again. "We'll never get to the colony at this pace." She lay down on the grass.
"It's fine." Escutcheon yawned, and closed his eyes. "Once the sunsets we can get a couple of more hours of traveling done." He yawned again before pulling out his blanket curling up under it. "That's fair right?"
"Yeah, thanks." Dusk got under the blanket with him. In a couple of minutes she was asleep. Escutcheon lay awake next to her. It was a only a few hours in the after noon and no matter how hard he told himself he should get some sleep. His mind refused to get quite.
"Hey wake up sleepy head." Escutcheon groaned and tried to rub the sleep from his eyes. "Come on Escutcheon, wakey, wakey." Dusk grinned down at him. "Wake up, or I'll have to wake you up your choice." She smiled devilishly as he rolled over mumbling something. "Okay, don't say I didn't warn you." In one fluid motion she pulled Escutcheon's blanket off of him, and blew a raspberry on his stomach.
"Stop it!" Escutcheon laughed.
"Not until you're awake." Dusk smiled as she blew an other raspberry on the colt.
"I'm awake, I'm awake! Stop it please." Dusk smiled victoriously as Escutcheon rolled over and pointed an accusatory hoof at her. "That was mean, don't ever do that again!"
"Don't ignore me when I tell you to wake up, and I won't have to resort to it." Dusk laughed as she folded up his blanket and passed it back to him. "Now come on lets get going." As soon as Escutcheon fastened his saddle bags to his sides the world around him was enveloped in a soft ambient blue light.
The two of them pushed their way into the night. The only lights were the light of the waning moon and the strange sapphire. The wind was whipped across the trees and grass. Escutcheon stayed close to Dusk's side. "Hey Dusk why aren't you wearing your weird curtain thing."
"My tarp yeah no I don't need to, this weather is perfect." She opened her wings and sighed as the wind wrapped around her and pooled into her wings. Escutcheon smiled at how alive she looked.
"Do you mind if I borrow your tarp this weather is nothing like what I'm used too." He shivered. She nodded and pulled the tarp out of her bag. "Thank you." He opened it up and tried to figure out how to turn it into close like she had. "Uhm." She giggled as he tried to get it on.
"Here silly let me help you." She grabbed the tarp and helped wrap it around his body and legs until he was dressed. "It's a little tough, it took me years to figure out how to do it."
"Sure." She blushed as she watched the wind blowing through his golden mane. She shook her head. "Come on now lets get going."
"Right." The two of them pushed on, doing their best to stay along the tree line in an attempt to stay out of the strong gusts of wind for to long. The moon had reached it's zenith and Escutcheon was beginning to fall behind. His legs started to feel like lead, and his eyelids refused to stay open for him. "Dusk can we stop for the night?"
"Sure I guess it's only fair. You stopped for me at noon I'll stop for you at midnight. Come on now." She helped guide him into the wooded glade. He started to fall asleep as soon as she lay him down on the soft dew covered grass. He didn't even feel her pull out their blankets and wrap the two of them in the two blankets.
"Good night." Sleep causing his voice to grow soft.
"Good night." She snuggled up to him the two of them warming each other. They soon drifted into sleep.
The two of them continued to travel across the groved plain. They would start just as the sun rose above the horizon and continue until noon. They would rest in the shade of one of the many glades. Where they would stay until sunset. When they would head out into the night until midnight. Their progress was slow, but neither wanting to leave the other behind gladly moved at the relaxed steady pace.
Dusk." Escutcheon finished combing his mane by hoof. He couldn't believe that the burn out was lasting this long. She looked up from tying her tarp to the strap between her saddle bags. "You said that there was a desert on the other side of this plain?"
"Yeah. that's what the scouts said, on the other side was a large desert, why?"
"Because I don't think that we have enough water." He shook his canteen around. The water inside making the tale-tale noises of a container half empty. Dusk frowned and looked down at her own water container, which hung lightly around her neck. "I've not got my magic back yet, and I have no idea if I'll get it back before we get to the desert, but I was thinking that there has to be some kind of water source around here somewhere. I don't think this plain could support all of these trees without some kind of under ground water source."
"So, what you think we should try and dig a well. Because I'm no good at dowsing."
"No if there's an under ground water source there's a good chance that there will be a couple of springs up here on the surface." Dusk nodded following his train of thought.
"Alright not a problem then. If they're on the surface I should be able to see them from the sky." She unfolded her leathery wings. "It's been forever since I really had the chance to fly. You keep heading west, and if I find water I'll come and get you. If I don't just wait for me in the open I'll find you, and we'll have to figure it out later."
"Don't push yourself, I should get my magic back eventually. Then I'll be able to fill our canteens with the dew." he walked along side her as they made there way out of the glade, the dawn was just beginning. "It'll just take me a few more days."
"Then get well Escutcheon, but hopefully I'll find us a nice spring to use." He nodded as she took off flapping her wings she started her ascent. In only a minute she was soaring over head. Leaving him all alone. He already missed her. He would rather have Gilda as a companion than to be alone. He looked over his shoulder to the rising sun.
"Good night Mother. Good night Father. I'll be home. Eventually." He turned his back to the sunrise and began his walk to the west alone. Noon couldn't come soon enough.
The hours dragged on and on. Escutcheon kept his eyes on the sky. He didn't care if she found water for them, he just hoped that she would come back. His mind racing from one scenario to another. What if she got heat exhaustion? What if she found a bat from her colony and she left him? What if she was hurt and couldn't make it back? What if he was lost? Each question feed another fear. "Splitting up was a bad idea a very, very bad idea." He pushed slowly westward, only the soft breeze keeping him company. His ears perked up as he saw a small dot in the sky. He ran with glee toward Dusk as she started her decent.
"Dusk are you okay?" He asked as she landed. She looked like she was about to pass out.
"I'm fine, better than fine. I found a small little spring, it's just a few kilometers to the northwest. I'm sorry it took me so long but, I needed to check something out."
"What was it." Escutcheon helped her stay steady.
"I needed to see how close we are to the desert. We're a lot closer than I thought." She leaned up against him as they started heading to the northwest. "It's not really a desert at first but just a savannah, but it only goes on for a little bit before the ground becomes dry and arid. I don't think that I'll be able to travel at all during the day, in that kind of heat. The ground also reflects a lot of light. I couldn't handle it, my eyes are still burning."
"It's fine we'll travel at night."
"If you're willing to travel at night I'm willing to travel during the day. Besides our scouts could do it I can do it."
"We'll figure it out later. Let's just get to the water first. okay?" Dusk nodded and closed her eyes and let Escutcheon guide her. It took nearly an hour to get to the spring, but for Escutcheon it was the best hour of that day. Dusk was back, and safe, and she had found water. The air was cooler as they slowly descended into the small depression. The trees casting most of it into a nice cool shadow, with only a little bit of sunlight getting through.
Dusk opened her eyes as soon as she heard the steam. She headed over to the water's edge and began to guzzle down as much as she could drink of the cold fresh water. It wasn't very deep the deepest it would come up to Escutcheon's shoulders. He could only guess that it was being constantly feed from the watershed that was under their hooves. He smiled as Dusk stuck her head under the water and pulled it out with a loud whoop. "Come on Escutcheon the what are you waiting for the water's great." He nodded and started drinking. It was cold and nice really, really nice.
"I'm taking a bath." He took of his saddle bags, and waded into the water.
"Thank goodness you really needed one." She laughed as he started scrubbing off the layer of dirt that had accumulated on his snow white coat.
"Not as bad as you need one."
"Oh really?" She smiled. Throwing her saddle bags to the side, she jumped into the spring. She used her wings as propellers to swim over to the colt. She came up right next to him as spit out a mouthful of water into his face.
"Hey!" She laughed as Escutcheon's face went red.
"Yeah well I got you." He threw his forelegs up throwing a ton of water onto Dusk. The two broke down into fits of splashing and laughter.
Escutcheon and dusk lay down in the evening sun letting it warm them up and dry them off. They still had so much work to do, but right now it didn't matter. Right now they were tired, they were happy, and they were children being children. Besides it was late and they'd been awake all day, it was unlikely that they were going anywhere, tonight. Dusk rolled over on her stomach and flared her wings the sun on her back and wings made her sigh in contentment.
"Hey Escutcheon, what's on your mind?"
"It's just there's so much vegetation here. There's even a fresh water spring right over there." He rolled over on his stomach and rested his head on his forelegs. "That's probably not the only one either, but where are all of the animals. I mean in the plains on the other side of the lake there was a large Iron Side herd, but here nothing. Not a single animal, not even birds. It's strange really strange. What's going on in this ecosystem." Dusk just stared at him. "I know I'm an egghead."
"I have no idea what that means." Dusk smiled. "It is a little odd though. I didn't even notice when I was flying. When did you notice?" She rested her head on her forelegs, with her face pointed toward him.
"Mother was a good teacher, she taught me how to notice all of the small things and how to connect them to the bigger picture, and Father was a soldier, he showed me how to see warning signs." He sighed and rubbed the water from his eyes. "I regret running away, I regretted it the second I teleported away."
"I don't, because if you never showed up I'd still be in a cave alone, with a storm outside that would never stop. I don't think I'd ever be able to get this far." She covered him with her wing. "I'm glad that you're here. And once we get on the other side of this desert I'll be back with my colony and I bet my Dad will be able to help you. I know he will be."
"Who is your dad?"
"My dad is one of the four members of the Colonial council. He's one of the four ponies that the colony elects to help in times of need, and during times of debate. He's kind and strong, and he's always willing to help the others in our colony. I really miss him."
"And what about your mom?" Escutcheon regretted asking the question as soon as he saw her body go tense. "I'm sorry I didn't mean to open an old wound."
"It's fine." She wiped the tears from her eyes. "I don't mind. I like talking about Mom." She took a deep breath. "Mom was, she was beautiful, and she was always there for me when I was scared, was always there for Dad when the stress and problems of the colony began to wear on him. She was always there for us, no matter what." She started to break down. "I miss her so much." Escutcheon wrapped his hoofs around her. After a few minutes Dusk calmed down. "We lost her in the fire when our old home was destroyed. She tucked me in, and then I never saw her again." Escutcheon took a deep breath and stood up heading back to the spring. "Where are you going?"
"I'm going to get us as much water as we can hold, and I promise you Dusk, if your family is on the other side of this desert you'll be back home before this time next week. You're going to be back with your father and colony, just you wait."
"Thank you." She sniffed and wiping away the last stray tears got up, to help get them ready to cross the desert.
The two of the rose early in the morning before the dawn. Escutcheon poured out all but two of the potions that he had taken with him. Leaving only the red potion and a strange slimy purple potion still in their bottles. All the others lay empty at his hooves their contents poured out on to the grass.
"That's ten bottles it's not much but if we both drink one bottle a day plus four days worth of water in our canteens that will give us one week and two days worth of water." Escutcheon frowned. "I don't think that it will be enough what about you?"
"I don't know?" Dusk sighed as she filled the empty glass bottles full of water. "All the scouts said was that it was a large desert. How large of a desert it is, well I have absolutely no idea. It might only take us eight days to get across assuming we walk from sunrise to noon and from sunset to the seventh or eighth hour of the night."
"Yeah but that won't give us a lot of time to sleep. And you said that you couldn't handle the heat or the bight sunlight in the dessert." Dusk sighed and nodded.
"True, if I had some scouting goggles it would be a different story but I don't. Still I think that I'll be able to handle the sunlight for a little bit. Besides it won't matter if I can deal with it or not if we run out of water in the middle of a desert. We have to get across the desert quick, and if that means I have to deal with some sunlight then I'll deal with some sunlight." She picked up all the bottles and put five in her bag and passed him five to put in his bag. "Now let's hurry up and go if we leave now we might get a good ways into the desert before the sun gets to high." Escutcheon nodded closing his saddle bags the two of them headed out of the glade and moved on to the west.
Not long after they left their camp the glades vanished, and only grass remained. The two of them walked across the dry grass land. The grass wasn't even covered in dew. The air was quickly getting drier. With each kilometer there was less and less grass. By the time the moon was setting in the sky in front of them and the sky above them was beginning to show the first traces of day, they were already in the desert. Small thorny shrubs and thin patches of grass were the only forms of vegetation.
"The desert is going to start getting sandy the further we push into it." Dusk trotted up to Escutcheon's side. "What wrong?"
"Right then why is it that the sapphire that glows when you're happy faded to just about nothing?"
"It's just I'm, I'm kind of scared." Escutcheon looked away from her toward the setting moon. "I've never been in a place where I couldn't get water. When I started I could drink the dew. After that I was with Tilda in her house. And after that I was with you. I always had water. Out here though. We could die."
"Huh?" Escutcheon looked back at Dusk.
"Boo! That's really depressing. I don't want to hear it and you're not being you." She jumped up on his shoulders and gently bit his ear.
"Hey!" He stepped back unable to get away. She continued to gently chew on his ear. "Come on Dusk stop it that tickles!"
"There." She got off of him. The two of them smiling. "That's the Escutcheon I know. Now we're going to get through this desert in a week. Then me and my dad will help you. Now chin up." He nodded. "Good, let's go?"
"Thank you Dusk. I'm glad that we met." Dusk's cheeks started to glow.
"Yeah me too." The two of them kept walking the sun at their back elongating their shadows to twenty times their size. The cold air of the desert night didn't last long after the sun breached the eastern horizon. Soon the temperature was just as hot as the air was dry. The two of them were drenched in sweat and panting as they continued to push further and further west trying to get as far as the could before the sun became to unbearable. Escutcheon couldn't imagine that the sun could be this cruel.
"Dusk. are you okay." He asked, the sun was starting to get high in the sky. It was ten maybe eleven o'clock, and she was about to pass out her eyes were tightly shut. She panted and kept walking, not even acknowledging him. "Dusk!"
"Huh." She tuned around. "I'm sorry I, don't think I can keep going today." She got on her knees panting. He helped her get another sip from her canteen.
"It's okay Dusk we got pretty far. Just lay down." He took her saddle bags off. He pulled four folded bars, and set them in the ground. Soon he had the tarp set up. It blocked the sun above them. He threw his blanket and her blanket on the to covering the western end of their camp. "Just stay still Dusk it'll get better soon." He really hoped it got better.
The desert sun was slow in setting on the western horizon. The heat wasn't fading. Escutcheon tied the corners of the blankets together and moved Dusk to the corner of the blanket. Hoping that getting her in the shade would help her. The sunlight was blinding, and the air was unbearably hot.
"Escutcheon. Is the sun almost down yet?" She panted, Her body drenched in sweat.
"Almost." He helped her get another swig from her canteen. The four days worth of water was a woefully incorrect estimate on how long their canteens would last. At this rate their canteens would be out of water by tomorrow. He took a small sip from his canteen, and grimaced, and pulled out bottle with the red liquid, and waited for the sun to vanish under the horizon.
After half an hour the sun finally finished sinking beneath the horizon. The temperature began to drop. He pulled the cork and helped Dusk take a sip from it. Instantly the potion went to work. She opened her eyes, they were completely normal again. Not a trace of her having dealt with the desert sun. "Wow what was that?"
"Zecora's one fix potion. It's a highly concentrated revitalization potion." He helped her back up to her hooves. "It helps to fix a lot of physical problems, but it only works for a little bit."
"You mean my eyes are going to hurt again?"
"No I mean. If I eat a bad apple and get sick and I drink this it'll go away, but if I keep eating the bad apple I'll get sick again." Escutcheon and Dusk took down the shelter. "That's why I had to wait to give it to you otherwise it would have been wasted." The two of them finished packing up the camp. "Dusk I don't think that we have enough water to make it through this desert if we stop and sleep. We need to keep walking until noon everyday and all night."
"Walking during the night is easy for me, but can you do it?" Escutcheon nodded. The two of them headed out as soon as their camp was taken apart. The moon wasn't even completely above the east end of the world. The two of them set out. Each passing hour the moon rose higher and the temperature fail lower and lower. Escutcheon wrapped and Dusk wrapped their blankets around them. By midnight the two of them had the tarp wrapped around the them and were walking side by side, doing everything they knew about trying to stay warm.
"How can it be so, so hot in during the day, and yet be so cold in during the night?" Escutcheon shivered, looking up at the waning moon. "How could Luna and Celestia let it get this far out of hoof like this? It's no where near this bad in southern Equestria, and that's nothing but desert."
"Who are Luna and Celestia?"
"Their the Alicorn Princesses that raise the moon and sun respectively."
"What's an Alicorn?"
"There the supreme being. The have tons of magic, can fly and have the endurance of earth ponies."
"Well I wish they'd share some of that endurance, this stupid desert sucks." She shivered and pushed up against Escutcheon hoping that he still had some body warmth left to share with her, as the two of them pushed deeper into the desert.
An hour before dawn the wind joined the desert night's chill. The two of them knelt down and pulled the tarp over them as dust began to blow in from the west. The wind didn't stop, but once the sun broke over the horizon to the back they got up and started walking into the dust. Hoping to get a little further before the blazing noon day sun stunted their progress until nightfall. The sand had begun to form small dune, which ranged from half their size to three times their size. They didn't try climbing over them, instead opting to walk along the sides of the large dunes using them as a buffer against the wind blown sand. They were making slow progress as the sun rose behind them. Before the first hour of day the cold of night had vanished.
"Escutcheon, are you alright?" Dusk looked over her shoulder. He was falling further and further behind.
"I'm fine." He trudged through the sand. "Just a little tired."
"We can stop if you need to." She wiped the sweat from her brow. "I'm starting to get tired too. We can rest till sunset and continue." She waited where she was waiting for him to catch up.
"No, it's fine we just need to get a little further."
"You're pushing yourself to hard." She stepped in front of him. "You're going to burn yourself out."
"Fifty more dunes, just fifty more and I'll rest."
"Five more." She didn't break eye contact, her yellow irises were already becoming blood shot from the sun's bright light. He looked away. "Look at me. Five more."
"Ten more and we'll stop for an hour." Dusk sighed but nodded her head. "We'll find water just on over this next dune. We'll find water, and bat ponies." He promised himself under his breath. So long as it was just on the other side of the dune he could make it. They could make it.
The two of them pushed deeper into the labyrinth of dunes. Something caught Escutcheon's eyes at the top of one next dune. Dusk seemed to have seen it too. "What is that." The wind continued to blow sand off of the dune and back onto it again, uncovering and recovering the strange thing.
"What is that?" Dusk looked up covering her eyes with a forehoof.
"I don't know." Escutcheon headed up the dune. Dusk followed him up the hill of sand. They crested the dune the hot desert wind blowing sand against them. The thing was a peace of cloth. It was attached to something. "Will you help me get this thing uncovered?" He asked as he began shoving the sand off of the thing. Dusk's wings soon started wiping more and more sand. She screamed as the final load of sand came off of the thing. Escutcheon's blood froze. It was a sun bleached skeleton. the cloth was the same type of tarp that Dusk had. On the skull was pair of goggles, with three thin slits with black glass in them.
"It's a scout. It's one of our scouts." She took the goggles off of the skull. "Night Sky." She read. "I remember her, she was one of the scouts that came back and told the colony about the desert." She looked across the dune sea. Several other dunes had shreds of tarps flapping in the breeze. "They didn't make it across the desert."
"No." Escutcheon guided Dusk down the dune. "They made it, just a few of them didn't I'm sure of Dusk. Your dad's still alive." She looked up at the skeleton of Night Sky which was quickly being recovered in desert sand. "Dusk." Escutcheon guided her gaze back to his. "He's alive you can't give up." He wiped the tears from her eyes and helped her around the next two dunes until they couldn't see anymore of tarps. She never let go of the goggles. They set up camp. Here at least she wasn't able to see and of the tarps.
The two of them woke up as the sun was setting on the horizon in front of them. The whole world was thrown into a deep burnt orange hues. The sky burst with fiery red colors on the west that were slowly being over taken by the soft lavender and darker blues as the moon rose on the east. The two of them took down the temporary shelter and waited in the shade of one of the dunes.
"Dusk here you go." Escutcheon offered he a sip of red potion. She didn't take it, she just looked down at the shades that she still held in her hooves. "Dusk." He put his hoof over her shoulder.
"I-I don't know what to do." She started leaned in and started to shake. "I don't know what to do, I don't know." Pulled the goggles up to her chest.
"Dusk, it's alright. I know your Dad's just on the other side of this desert. Trust me." She finally looked away from the goggles, and wiped her eyes. "Come on, let's get going. You don't want to keep your dad waiting do you?" She shook her head, he smiled. "See just don't give up. You'll see. Tomorrow you'll be home." She took the bottle and took a sip. In moments the burning in her eyes faded away.
"Alright. I'm ready." She wiped the last couple tears from her eyes, and slid the goggles over her eyes and headed up the dune. She stared down the sun set. "I'm coming Dad."
"Dusk don't look at the sunset!" She laughed.
"It's fine these goggles block out enough of the light." She looked over her shoulder. "Meaning I can travel go as long as you can." She took the last gulp of her canteen, and headed down the dune followed by Escutcheon.
The two of them pushed deeper into the sea of dunes. As the sky above them grew darker and darker before the final beams of sunlight fell below the horizon. The stars appeared in all of their brilliance. They stayed low traveling throw the troughs of the dunes. Not even an hour past before the coldness of the desert night enveloped them.
"Hot, cold. Hot, cold. I wish that the desert would just make up its mind." Dusk mumbled as they pushed huddled together. The tarp wrapped around the two of them as they pushed further and further. The night wind whipping around them.
"Ditto." The two of them pushed on doing their best to stay warm. As mid night approached they gave up trying to get through the desert night. They pulled the tarp over them, and huddled together at the base of one of the dunes. Hoping to wait out the night.
The dawn brought with it the sun's warming glow. The two of them basked in the golden rays for a minute letting it warm the numb bodies before turning and continuing west, across the dunes. Dusk slid the goggles down over her eyes as the sun rose higher and higher in the sky. They drank through the their bottles before noon, and continued deeper into the blazing sand. Dusk continued long into the after noon. She had long since stopped sweeting. Her body felt light and she was starting to get dizzy.
"Dusk!" Escutcheon looked behind him to were the little bat pony filly lay collapsed in the desert sand. He stumbled over to her. "Dusk come on Dusk get up." He focused on his horn. Nothing. "Come horn." Nothing. "I'm not leaving you behind Dusk." He picked her up and headed to the top of the dune. He was barely able to crest it before falling down. He rolled down the hill. Slowly losing consciousness. Something pony shaped stepped between him and the sun. Something pointy pricked his throat. "Dusk, help Dusk." With those last words his world faded to black.
The air was cool and crisp, there was the sound of water dripping somewhere nearby. Consciousness slowly came back to the unicorn colt. The world around him was pitch black. He tried to look up to see where the moon was. Only to find that he was firmly chained down to the floor. There were only a few links in the chain between the iron collar around his neck, and the metal loop fastened to the floor. He stood up in a panic none of his hooves were cuffed allowing him to stand up so long as he held his head low to the ground.
"Where am I? What's going on? Dusk are you okay? Dusk? Dusk!" He tried to look around in his panicked state. The darkness of the room and the chain however completely nullified his struggles and attempts to find his friend.
"Enough," a gruff stallion's voice said from somewhere in the darkness. "I will be the one asking the questions, little colt. And I will only ask them once before using more physical methods of getting answers. Now then colt what is your name?"
"Escutcheon. My name is Escutcheon. Is Dusk okay, did you get her too? Ahgr!" Escutcheon screamed as the stallion bucked him the chain went taunt snapping his neck and throwing him back to the ground. His side and neck were in a race to see which one could hurt him the most. The cave filled with high pitch screeches, squees, and clicks.
"I said I would be the one asking the questions. Now do you understand?" There was a moment of silence before Escutcheon felt two hooves fall on his side. He screamed. "I asked you a question."
"Yes!" Escutcheon cried. "I understand."
"Good. Now colt, where are you from?"
"Equestria." Escutcheon spit the answer out quickly not wanting the stallion to stomp him again. He knew he'd lose a few ribs if, it happened again. The stallion stepped on the chain forcing his head down.
"Where is that?"
"The other end of the world." The cave again filled with high pitch squees and clicks. His interrogator grumbled something, and stepped off of the chain, allowing him to lift his head a little bit.
"I'm going to ask you if you're a zebra. You will answer yes do you under stand? Yes or no?"
"Are you a zebra?"
"Yes." The second the word left his mouth the collar around his neck squeezed tight around his throat. His chest hit the ground as his fore hooves went to his throat trying to tear off the collar. The room erupted with squees and clicks, as he panicked trying desperately to get the shackle off of his neck to breath again.
"Tell the truth."
"No, No I'm not a zebra!" The collar loosened back to it's original tightness. Letting him gasp and cough as he was allowed to breath again.
"Next I'm going to ask if you've been using your unicorn magic on the shackle, you will answer yes. Do you understand? Yes or no?" Escutcheon's eyes widened in fear.
"I can't us my magic." He heard the sickening crack of one of his ribs as the stallion stomped on him. He screamed in pain until he felt something being forced into his mouth and a foul tasting liquid ooze down his throat. There was another crack as the fracture undid itself and the rib became whole again.
"Answer the question do you understand?"
"Have you been using magic on the shackle around your neck?" Escutcheon whimpered, his ears folded back. The stallion stomped on him again.
"Yes!" The second the words left his mouth the collar wrung his neck. It was twice as tight as it had been before, cutting off his breathing. He struggled to get the truth out before it collapsed his wind pipe. "No." He lay there in the dark, on the ground whimpering as he caught his breath. His interrogator didn't give him much time before he asked his next question.
"If Equstria is on the other side of the world, then how did you get here?"
"And you cut off the Eternal Storm?" Escutcheon's eyes widened again the only way this stallion could know that is if Dusk had told him.
"What did you do to Dusk?" His anger temporarily overriding his interrogator's attempts to reprogram him. His body slammed into the floor as his fore hooves were bucked out from underneath him. His blood started to freeze as he felt pressure being applied to his back.
"I ask the questions. Now did you cut off the Eternal Storm?"
"Yes." Escutcheon glared at where the voice was coming from. The entire room was quite save the continuous dripping from the water. He was in a cave. At least he knew that now. The pressure left his back.
"Why aren't you using your magic now little unicorn?"
"I'm burned out I can't." lucky for you. He mentally added.
"Where were you taking Dusk?"
"To the other end of this desert to her father and the rest of her colony." The room erupted in high pitch squees and clicks again. "I'm guessing you never made it to the other end of the desert did you?" The was a sharp ungodly pain as the stallions hooves came down on his horn. The strange bile tasting liquid oozed down his throat before he could pass out.
"You're name's not Escutcheon is it?"
"It is." In an instant he was rolled over and a furious blow came down with a vengeance on his gut. Causing him to lose what little food he had eaten the day before.
"You'll answer no, or I'll snap you're little horn off." Escutcheon's ears flopped against his head as he was reminded of the power dynamic between him and his interrogator. The room filled with angry screeching.
"That is enough." A feminine voice demanded he could hear flapping as another bat pony flew down to were they were. "We will have no more of this." It wasn't Dusk the voice was much to old to be her.
"I was chosen by the colony to do this."
"You were chosen to be an interrogator not a torturer or executioner." The other bat pony countered.
"I can't believe you defending this unicorn filth." Escutcheon cried out in pain as the stallions hooves slammed into his gut. He was trampled a few more times before two other bat ponies flew down and restrained his tormentor. He was left there crying, rolled up in a ball on the verge of passing out as they argued in their own language. A language that he could barely hear let alone understand.
"Take the unicorn back to his cell. And throw him in a cell as well, till he cools off." Escutcheon slipped out of consciousness as the iron collar around his neck was removed. "And give that colt some food and water." Were the last things that he heard before he shifted from one darkness to the next.
"Escutcheon wake up." He groaned. "Escutcheon come get up." He opened his eyes. Everything was dark.
"Dusk?" He tried to stand up. His whole body was sore. "Dusk are you okay? What's going on?" He trudged to where he had heard her. He felt her hoof on his chest.
"You're about to walk into the bars." He ran a hoof across the space in front of him, running it across several iron bars. "I don't know what's going on, or why they're doing this I swear. Everything started going crazy after they brought you back here. I'm so sorry their not being themselves. Here." He felt something touch his hooves. "They're letting you have your stuff back." Escutcheon fumbled through his saddle bags, until his hoof finally touched what he was looking for. The cage he was in filled with a dim ambient blue light. Dusk's ears drooped back. "What did they do?"
"We did what we had to do in order to insure our safety." An elder bat pony mare stepped into the glow of the sapphire. "And now that we know that he isn't a threat to us I do regret that we had to do what we did, but I know that we had to do it."
"We never would have done this to the unicorns that lived near our old home."
"The unicorns here are nothing like those unicorns Dusk. They are vicious and cruel. They enslaved us and many others. The only reason we let this one live is because he begged that we help you." She looked down at Escutcheon. "But still we had to make sure he wasn't one of them."
"And now that you know he isn't why is he still in a cage?"
"For his own protection."
"Why do I need to be in a cage?" Escutcheon found the regeneration potion, after a sip the burses and gashes faded away.
"Many ponies here don't feel safe around unicorns. It's taking a while to get the communication across that your from somewhere else. Once they know that then I have no doubt that you'll be safe."
"Council Mare Nightingale, where is my father." Nightingale sighed, and sat down.
"Your father is with the rest of the colony, he was the only council member that chose to stay behind, with our people." Nightingale lowered her head. "I saw that look of hope in your eye. You shouldn't get to hopeful, the conditions of our peoples bondage are terrible. I don't know if he's still alive or not, but I do know he's not the stallion that he once was. That place changes you. The one that interrogated your friend here was Councilor Bright Star." Dusk gasped.
"Bright Star?" Escutcheon looked at the two of them filling like he was being left out of some important information.
"He was once a pacifist and the gentlest stallion that you could ever hope to meet. He lost his gentleness to a task master's whip." Nightingale sighed. "Along with his wife and child."
"And Dusk's Father?" He asked the question that she was to afraid to ask. He put his hoof on her back.
"The last time I saw him he was a broken stallion. The only comfort he had was that you weren't there and didn't have to endure such an evil place." Dusk's eyes teared up.
"My dad was glad I was gone?"
"No, no little one." Nightingale lifted up her head so that she looked her in the eyes. "Your father searched for weeks trying to find you." She wiped the tears away. "He was just glad that you never endured a taskmaster's whip like so many of us had to."
"See Dusk your dad's alive and loves you, and I'm going to get him back to you, just like I promised." Dusk looked at him with a smile.
"We're still friends?"
"Of course we are." He looked at her like she was crazy. "And I Pinkie Pie Promise that I'll get you back to your dad. Cross my heart and hope to fly. Stick a cupcake in my eye." Escutcheon smiled at Dusk's giggle. "There now your the Dusk that I know."
"Don't get your hopes up." The gruff voice of Bright Star, called from the other end of the room. "You'll see he's just as much a monster as the unicorns in that hellish place." The door opened and a bat pony guard trotted into the room. His armor was tar black chest piece, with a dark blue helmet.
"Everypony's been told about the unicorn. Not a lot of them were happy about it, but they'll leave him be." Nightingale nodded and the guard pony headed back into the pitch black hall.
"Well then there's no reason to keep you here, is there Escutcheon." Nightingale undid the lock on his cage. "I would suggest that you not go anywhere by yourself, or leave my side, or Dusk's side. Hopefully everypony will be civil though." Escutcheon nodded as he put his saddle bags on and stepped out of the cage. "You can stay at my place for as long as you need." He nodded again as the three of them headed out into the cave.
The three of them made there way down the hall. The sapphire's glow lighting the way for Escutcheon. They trotted out of the tunnel into a gigantic cavernous space. The glow only covering a few meters into the pitch black unknown of the cave's grand hall. Escutcheon looked around, it felt like just beyond the glow of the sapphire were hundreds of eyes, watching his every step.
"Dusk, are they all watching me?" he whispered leaning in hoping only she could hear him. His eyes wondering around the edges of the gentle blue light.
"Yeah, they're all watching," she whispered back her slitted yellow eyes piercing into the darkness of the cavern.
"Oh good for a moment I thought I was just being paranoid." He picked up his pace walking closed to Nightingale. Hoping that nothing was going to happen. The three of the them pushed further and further into the grand hall of the cave. "How large is this cave?"
"It's huge. There's hundreds of thestrals here." Dusk looked around. It's amazing." She trotted up to his side.
"There are hundreds of ponies here? How large was your colony Dusk. Is this most of them?" Dusk shook her head.
"No this is maybe ten percent." The two of them veered to the right and headed into a small tunnel. Every couple dozen steps there was a tarp or tattered cloth that separated rooms or homes from the communal walk way. Nightingale lead them past one such tarp into a large room the sapphire's light only able to reach the side walls leaving the back wall still shrouded in darkness. "Whoa. This cave is huge."
"Yes it is. If only the neighbors weren't an evil slaver driving society. I think this spot would be a prefect spot for our colony." Nightingale trotted into the darkness of her room. "Escutcheon I assume that you haven't had anything to eat or drink yet, have you?" He shook his head. "Come over here and get something."
"Wait." Dusk stepped between him and the area where he heard Nightingale setting a plate down. "Counselor, Escutcheon, well he doesn't do good with meat." Escutcheon's white face went pale at the thought.
"He's a vegetarian?" Both he and Dusk nodded. "Well I guess he can have plain cave berries, more mice for the two of us then." Escutcheon swallowed down the bile in his throat.
"That's very kind of you. Would you be kind enough to push my plate over here please?" The tried to push the thought of them eating mice as far out of his conscious mind as he could.
"He's one of those kinds of vegetarians? You wouldn't hurt a fly would you."
"No he wouldn't." Nightingale sat a plate full of delicious blue cave berries down on the ground for him, as well as a small bowl of water.
"Thank you." He picked the bowl up with his hooves and drank every drop. He hadn't realized how thirsty he was until he had the ability to try and quench it. "Can I have some more water, please?" Nightingale smile took the bowl back into the darkness and brought it back filled to the brim. "Thank you."
"We have plenty of water. Here if you need more just ask." He nodded as she and Dusk headed over and started eating. The room filled with crunching. He tried to pretend that it was just lettuce and celery. Escutcheon swallowed down a hoofful of berries.
"I have a question." He looked into the darkness where Nightingale and he friend were. "Where is this unicorn city? How much further is it?"
"Why do you want to know?" Nightingale's voice was gentle, but he couldn't help hearing something on the edges of it. He felt like he did back in the main section of the cave with all those eyes on him.
"There are hundreds of you here, and they don't know where your at we could break out the others and they would never find you."
"That's because they don't think to look for us."
"Then we just have to beat them. If you take me there I can slip in and find out why their doing what their doing, and I can stop it. I know I can."
"And if you can't, or worse if your caught trying to help the slaves. Don't think for a second that they'll be gentle. It wasn't common, but it did happen, that there were unicorn slaves. They'll cut off your horn, and you'll tell them were we're at."
"Not if you drug me and take me out into the desert just a days walk from where they're city. Then I wouldn't know. Would I?" Escutcheon stood up. "And I'm not going to get caught I'm going to get Dusk to her father I Pinkie Pie Promised."
"Once your in you'll have to deal with the Choler. A cult of vicious priest that run the society." Escutcheon smiled.
"Then I'll have someone to stirrup trouble against. Besides their probably the ones causing all of this trouble in the first place, and once their out of the way. Then bang no more slaves and Everypony's safe and happy. And it will all be sunshine and rainbows. Mother and Father said ponies are inherently good, so there must be something making them bad."
"And if it turns out that these ponies are just bad. What then Escutcheon?" Nightingale asked trotting into the light of the sapphire. Her face was devoid of it's former warmth. "What will you do then?" She repeated as she circled around him like an predator would its prey.
"Then I'll topple it down. I'll help fix it." Nightingale smiled.
"I told you." Dusk said from the corner of the room. There were three taps and a glow crystal came to life illuminating the room and the five guards that stood along the back wall where the sapphire's light couldn't reach. It also unfortunately lit the two plates of meat. causing him to loss his appetite and the few berries he had eaten. They didn't taste as good coming back up as they did going down. "Sorry." Dusk squeaked.
Escutcheon woke up in the desert sand. Memories of last night and the plan that had been made were slowly coming back to him. Nightingale and the other consolers had turned his simple idea into a decent plan. He'd enter into the city and find a unicorn sympathizer named Pythagorean, a former slave who had earned his freedom due to his special talent. Then he'd have three days to find a peaceful solution. During which time the consolers would slip back into the city with soldiers, and weapons. By the third night if he hadn't succeeded he was to go to the slave district and open the gates. Pythagorean was already expecting him. In order to enter into the city unnoticed he'd pretend to be a slave hunter returning from the first hunt. A so called rite of passage. The bat pony he'd "caught" was suppose to be somewhere near by.
"Dusk?" Escutcheon's heart froze as he looked at the prone sleeping filly. She slowly started to stir from where she lay an iron collar around her neck and a pair of shackles fastened tightly to her forehooves. "Dusk you aren't suppose to be the pony that I'm taking with me, what's going on."
"Calm down. We're staying together at least until we get to the city then we'll have to part ways." She sat up wiping the sleep from her eyes, the cuffs around her hooves making the task rather difficult.
"You were suppose to stay at the cave where it was safe."
"Now you listen, and listen good." She walked over to him. Her eyes focused in. "We've stuck together since we met, and like it or not your stuck with me Escutcheon at least until my dad helps you get home." She pushed him to his rump. "I'm not going to sit idly by while my only friend in the whole wide world. The first pony I saw in over a year. Goes to a place where if he's caught will have his horn cut off and thrown into slavery." She sighed and her eyes softened. "Besides I'm really bad at good-byes, and you need a friend with you. Besides we've been with each other from the cave through the plain and across the desert."
"You nearly died in the desert." She smiled.
"Exactly, so how can this be any worse than that?" He sighed conceding the point. "See. Now one last little thing." She jumped on him and started chewing his ear.
"Stop it Dusk that tickles." Escutcheon tried to get away. Dusk used the chain of her hoof cuffs to pin him stuck under her. After a few seconds Escutcheon managed to roll the over getting on top of her. He managed to get her ear and started gently chewing in retaliation. After a minute the two of them back away giggling and smiling. "Thank you Dusk."
"Yeah no problem."
"You too, Escutcheon."
"No seriously Dusk, please. I don't want you to get hurt." She nodded.
"Don't worry just don't blow your cover." He nodded. "Alright let's get going before we get all sad and mopy again." She got up and helped Escutcheon fed a rope through the lope on her collar. After five minutes of Dusk trying to get as dirty as she could the two of them headed out to the north west. If the information was correct they would arrive after a couple of hours.
The two of them trotted over a dune. and froze on the top of the sandy mountain. Looking down on the city in the middle of the desert. There were hundreds of obelisks around the perimeter of the city, just out side of a great marble wall. Engraved into the wall were snake like dragons with giant rubies in one of the front claws. At the center of the cite was a gigantic pyramid with a golden capstone. On the inside of the city many of the houses were of sandstone. In one area there was a large number of cages on the southern side of the city. All around the city wall were great pyres, sending up pillars of black smoke.
"Are you still sure about this Dusk?" Escutcheon gazed down on the city.
"Yeah. I'll be fine." She picked up the rope and gave it to him.
Escutcheon headed down the sand dune toward the city, Dusk headed down behind him. Her ears drooped doing her best to act dejected. Something that was quickly become less and less of an act. Escutcheon headed toward the gate the wall towering over him, at least seventy times over.
"Stop, who are you?" One of the black unicorn gate guard trotted over to Escutcheon and Dusk. He wore a layer of light grey armor with the dragon painted in red on the center of the chest piece. He pulled out a leather bull whip. wrapped in a dark gray magical aura.
"I'm Escutcheon." He hoped the fear he was filling wasn't evident on his voice he dropped the leash to answer the question. Both his life and Dusk's depended on this. "I'm coming back from my first hunt." He tried to sound proud.
"Really?" The unicorn motioned with his head calling over several other guards. "So how'd you catch this winged mouse? If you can't even whole onto the leash?" The whip cracked leaving a bright red gash in Escutcheon's side. Dusk stood perfectly still frozen in equal parts rage and fear. Escutcheon grit his teeth the pain was searing. "So runt. Where are your parents I'd like to give them a lash for raising a piece a trash like you, or were they just hoping that you'd just die in the desert?" The other guards laughed. One of them gabbed Dusk's leash, in his red magic.
"Their not here." Escutcheon sucked in air trying not to show fear or pain.
"Of course their not." The whip cracked. The three guards laughed as he flinched. "You're just as weak as the slaves. So were are you parents, runt."
"Their members of Choler." The guards stopped laughing.
"Well that explains why your weak nopony's taught you how to be strong." The guard with Dusk's leash said. "Fortunately we've got this little flying mouse." Dusk's eyes widened in fear as her shackles were pulled taunt in glowing crimson. She was pulled over to the interior of the gate house, where there was a hook her shackles were put in the bite of the hook. Her wings started flapping. The whip snapped. She screeched, as the whip bit the middle of her back.
"Don't!" Escutcheon tackled the guard. He was thrown to the ground realizing the horrible the situation he was in.
"Come now. Really we're trying to give him a good first slave breaking, don't interfere this with this, we're trying to toughen him up." The one that put Dusk in the hook said. "Don't take this from the colt. A first breaking is special."
"She flailed her wings. Can't let the little Trite do that can we?" The guard grabbed Escutcheon and sat him down behind Dusk. "Here's the whip. Go after the soft spots of the wings between the fingers. It breaks them and they'll never fly again." They laughed as Dusk's breaths quickened.
"I-I can't." Escutcheon bowed his head. Dusk looked over her shoulder.
"I'm burned out."
"What? Why do you think I care?"
"Because I want to break her and I can't do it right, right now." The other unicorns laughed and nodded their approval. Both Dusk and Escutcheon, let go of a breath they had both been holding. "She's my catch, and I can't enjoy breaking her right now, so back off for now."
"Alright runt." He nodded to his associates. They threw her off of the hook. "Take your catch back to the pins. Once you've got your magic back. She'll be there. Then get your butt to where you belong, or you can join you filly in the pins." The three of them laughed as Escutcheon lead Dusk away from the three of them.
"Are you alright?" He whispered barely audible to himself, her ears picked up on the sounds. He watched her over her shoulder. She nodded, he knew she was lying, but right now there was nothing either of them could do about it. He took her to the slave pins. Massive cages hundreds of yards in width and length. "I'll meet you here at this pin tonight. I have something for you Dusk. Be safe."
"You too." She whispered as she walked past him into the giant cage. Escutcheon nodded and left toward the developing section of the city. Where Pythagorean was suppose to be.
Escutcheon pushed his way through the crowds. Many of the unicorns seemed oblivious to the pain and misery around them. Those that did notice either tried to focus on something else, or they'd make the slave's life even more miserable than it already was. Escutcheon found that he was starting to ignore the slaves around him to. It was began taking more and more conscious effort to see them. There were more than just bat ponies. Many of the slaves were actually earth ponies, it disturbed him that Nightingale had left out the fact that there were other ponies. The slaves whose existence that he acknowledged coward, until he passed by.
It was noon by the time he arrived at the work sight. The slaves were pulling large stones in from a quarry outside of the city. They seemed to be building another wall on the eastern side of the city. He was horrified at how many bat ponies were being used during the day. About fourth of every bat pony that he saw had a blind fold on. He was certain that their eyes no longer worked. He had to put an end to this.
He looked up and saw the overseers, where Pythagorean was standing in a watch tower, overlooking all of the slaves. Escutcheon hoped it was him, but he couldn't stand idly by until he knew for certain. He started for the overseer's tower. The sounds of whips cracking could be heard in every direction making the stinging cut in his side from earlier hurt more, and set his nerves on end with each crack of a bull whip. He hurried across a open path to the tower, hoping that Pythagorean really could help him put an end to this. He hurried up the steps of the tower. Only to have two spears blocking his path to the hornless unicorn, who was overseeing the slave's work.
He sighed at least the pony was in fact Pythagorean. His coat was a gentle brown color his mane was a slightly lighter brown than his coat. He cutie mark was a triangle within a triangle the points of the interior triangle intercepted the midpoints of the lines that formed the outer triangle.
"Pythagorean, I need to talk to you."
"What could a runt liked you have to say? Get out of here." One of the guards butted him with the butt of the spear. "Or would you like a gash on the other side to match the one on your left?"
"I need a place to live please. I was told to talk to you, Pythagorean." The unicorn didn't look away from the slave's and their work. Making sure that everything was going to be on time.
"You need a beating, and don't you worry colt, you're going to get it." He was enveloped in a sick green aura.
"My parents are Cholers, both of them, I don't have anywhere. I just got back from my first hunt." He was dropped with a thud. He walked past the two guards to the castrated unicorn. "My name's Escutcheon, I'll pay my rent, what ever you charge, sun, moon, or stars." Pythagorean looked over his shoulder at him.
"If you'll pay all of that, then going to fetch some water for me shouldn't be such a problem." Escutcheon nodded and ran out, back to the city. To the well that he had seen on his way to the work site. It took him ten minutes to get the water and bring it back, it was in a porcelain cup. The second part of the code that was needed, in order to verify that who he was. Pythagorean took the drink and ordered him to go to his estate.
Pythagorean's estate was a modest sized home of white washed stone. It was surrounded by a brass gate. Escutcheon found himself waiting in Pythagorean's library. He grabbed the books and started flipping through then, glad that Mother had insisted teaching him how to speed read before teaching him the magical short cut. Many of the books were about math. Many were written by his host. The was one that was about the history of the city. It was confusing, entire chapters seemed to be missing from it. He was reading it, when Pythagorean came in, as dusk approached.
"So you found the history book?" Pythagorean sat down at the table. "Tell me how far have you read?"
"I've read all of it." Escutcheon looked up from the book. "But somethings weird this history book doesn't make any since. It's like there are entire centuries that just seem to be erased only to be referenced again." Pythagorean nodded.
"That's how it is. The only thing that is constant is the Choler."
"What are the Choler. It says that their selected."
"Escutcheon have you noticed a heat in your heart? Something that makes you angry, furious, wrathful?" He nodded. "That feeling is a constant fom everypony here. No one is exempt. Your horn is magnifying it, but even now I feel it on the fringes. The ones that fall completely into that feeling become the Choler. They no longer fill anything but wrath. Many of the ponies here have lost their family to the Choler. Normally one parent will kill the other in a blinding rage." Pythagorean looked out the window. "It's getting dark, go get the bat pony that you brought with you here. If anyone stops you tell them I wanted her." He nodded and headed for the pins.
Escutcheon hurried to the slave pins. Hoping that she was still okay, After seeing what he had seen we didn't know if he'd find her safe or not. Something was setting his nerves on end, the streets were vacant, it was only twilight, and not a single soul was outside. He didn't want to stay in the open long enough to find out why nopony was around.
The slave pins were full. Each pin held between fifty to a hundred fifty ponies in each. He was trying to remember which one she was in. "Escutcheon." His ears perked up. "Escutcheon over here." He trotted over to one of the cages where she was at.
"Dusk, are you okay?" Escutcheon looked for the guard that would have the key.
"Why are you here? You need to get out of here."
"What, I was sent by Pythagorean to get you." Escutcheon gave up. "Where is the guard with the key?"
"There isn't a key." A bat pony stallion trotted up to the bars. He glared down at Escutcheon, His eyes were blood shoot, and his body bore the wounds of countless whippings. "You are fool! Why did you bring her here."
"How could you?"
"I didn't know."
"Dad I came here, I volunteered. I told you that." Dusk stepped between her father and Escutcheon. Her father grit his teeth sighed. "Escutcheon you shouldn't be here the Cholers patrol this place at night they'll soon be on the streets. You need to go."
"Then did Pythagorean send me here?"
"Because I told him to. I wanted to see who brought my daughter to this hellish place." Dusk's father glared down at him. "I was told that you ended that eternal storm, and that you think that you think you can end our oppression here. But what I see. I'm not impressed."
"I'm not here to impress you." Escutcheon glared up at the batpony. "I'm here to set you free either by dealing with what's causing all of this, or if I have to bringing this city down brick by brick." He didn't look away. "Now I just need to what you know and how I'm suppose to do it. I need to know what's going on here." Dusk's father sighed.
"Fine. First get in here we've dug a tunnel from this pin to Pythagorean's estate." He opened the door of the cage and Escutcheon stepped in. Many of the bat ponies glared at him. He thought he was about to be attacked. "Over here colt." A leathery wing guided him over to the center of the pin, where the three of them sat down. "I'm not ungrateful. I thought I had lost my little Song, and here she is. But you shouldn't have brought her here. This place is an evil place."
"I know that know I also know there's some outside force causing it. What ever is responsible for making ponies Choler is causing this, I know it. I just need to know where to go to fix it."
"There is no fixing this."
"You've already given up hope."
"There is no hoping in this place!" Dusk's father jumped to his hooves, one of his wings knocked Escutcheon to the ground. "If you have hope, it'll only break you faster." He stood over Escutcheon breathing heavily trying to regain composure.
"If you give up, you'll never change what's happening." Escutcheon stood up. "You need to have hope, even when things are hopeless. Especially when things are hopeless." Dusk's father bowed his head.
"I've not hoped in a long time. None of us have."
"And nothing has gotten better."
"You'll need to get into the pyramid, That's were the Choler are. It will be impossible for you to succeed. You should just take Dusk back to the others and leave."
"No. I Pinkie Pie Promised that I was going to get her to you. I'm going to end this. I cut off the eternal storm. I can end this too."
"Alright do whatever you want. Just promise me that my daughter will be safe."
"Cross my heart and hope to fly stick a cupcake in my eye." Carried out the motions of the ritual. The batpony sighed and opened a secret door that was in the middle of the pin. "I promise in four days you'll be with you daughter and free. Everypony will be free." He and Dusk crawled down into the hole.
"You almost make me want to hope, colt." Her father said as he closed the hatch. The two of them crawled on there stomachs in absolute darkness and silence, for what felt like an eternity. Until Dusk stopped him from banging his face into ladder. The two of them emerged in the inner courtyard of Pythagorean's home. The sun was just beginning to set.
"You two quickly in here." Pythagorean motioned to the two of them. They ran into the house. No sooner had they rushed through the thresh hold, there was a loud sound of a horn going off in the city. It drowned out everything. "Hey, colt?"
"Escutcheon!" He felt a leathery wing catch him as his vision faded to black, and the world fell away from him.
"So you've come, to me. That I may rip you. That I may tear you. That I may break you." Escutcheon screamed as everything started to hurt. "I will find you. I will break you. I will end you."
"Escutcheon!" He woke up Dusk was holding him. The pain quickly fading away under the moon and stars.
"Escutcheon, are you okay?" He looked up at her his eyes glazed over slightly. "Escutcheon?" She gently slapped his face. "Come on snap out of it." Escutcheon slowly came to. Pythagorean was moving other unicorns into the inner room with them. None of them seemed to notice or care about the bat pony and unicorn laying in the corner.
"Quadratic. close the roof, quickly." A gentle blue unicorn filly nodded, her horn lit up as wood planks slid out of side slots closing the room off from the stars above them. "Dusk, how is he?" Pythagorean walked over to them several others followed slightly behind him. "Is he coming around."
"Where am I?" He sounded like he had just woken up, but was still half asleep. Dusk pulled him into a hug. "What, what's going on?" He looked around at the group that had surrounded the two of them.
"We were hoping that you could tell us. You showed up and then suddenly we all hear a voice saying it was waiting for somepony to arrive. It was talking about you wasn't it? What was it?" A cobalt unicorn colt walked up to them. Pythagorean put his hoof in front of the colt.
"Escutcheon what happened?"
"I don't know." Dusk helped him get up to his hooves. "I-I was coming in and then I heard a sound, and then everything hurt, and I heard the same voice I heard when I cut off the storm. In the last vision I had." Pythagorean sighed.
"Okay that's not good. Quadratic, show Dusk the exist to the city. Dusk, follow the northern star and you'll find the colony." Pythagorean. "Tell them everything's falling apart here. The Choler are all over the place they're going house to house. Escutcheon get back into the tunnel that leads to the pins. Stay there until dawn if things cool of we'll get you if not. Get out of here it knows." The light blue filly opened another tile in the floor and helped Dusk into it.
"What knows?" one of the other unicorns asked
"Don't worry. Escutcheon their almost to our street. The rest of you get to your beds now. I'll hand the Choler." Escutcheon was climbing down the first rung of the latter when they must have arrived, the courtyard filled with the sound of the front door being blown off of it's hinges. Pythagorean just barely got the tile put back before the Choler arrived, in the outer complex of his estate.
Escutcheon crawled on hid stomach back toward the pins. Dusk was going to be safe, she was going to get out, but now, now everything was falling apart. He doubted Nightingale and the others would continued to send in soldiers and weapons, this was going to be his only chance. He cursed under his breath that he left his pack at Pythagorean's estate. He couldn't see anything without the sapphire. His hoof finally bumped into the wall at the end of the tunnel. He tapped softly on secret door. He could barely hear it, but he knew that it would be perfectly audible to the Thestrals above him. The panel opened above him.
"Colt, what happened?" Dusk's father looked down at him. "It's going crazy up here. The Choler are all over the place."
"Are you sure it's a good idea, to have the tunnel open then?" Escutcheon whispered.
"Do you see the stars?" He sounded slightly annoyed. Escutcheon looked up, and shook his head side to side. "It's because we sleep in circles with our wings interlocked in circles above our heads. It's fine so long as your quite, now what happened?" Escutcheon explained everything that he knew. From the voice that he heard in the vision when he cut off the Eternal Storm, to what he could remember from when he passed out. "I see." He sighed. "At least Dusk is safe now."
"Right, so do you know any ways into the pyramid?"
"What?" Several other thestrals opened their eyes, looking at him like he was out of his mind. "Into the pyramid, why would you need into the pyramid? You know that's where the Choler are based right?"
"And you know that they are looking for you?"
"Then you should know that, that is the last place that you want to be. Escutcheon, listen to me, you saved my daughter, and I got to see her again, and for that I thank you. If you get caught, you will wish that they had killed you. The Choler are evil, they revel in causing suffering. We all want freedom, but you being caught by them won't help any of us." The other thestrals nodded their agreement. "Leave, get back to your home."
"No, you listen, I'm not going until everything is right. I Pinkie Pie Promised, and I'm not going to break it. I'm going to go into the pyramid and stop whatever is causing this, because something is doing this. And then your ponies can be free, you can be with your daughter, and Dusk can be happy. Then I'll go home."
"Fine. Wait until tomorrow, night I'll see if we can't help." He started squeaking and softly clicking, others soon started joining in. "We're sending another pony to the escapees. They'll come in mass. I would really like to meet the mare and stallion that raised you."
"I'm sure Mother and Father would like to meet you too."
"Yeah and lecture me about not letting a colt go off to fight a sadistic cult. I'm sure. Go back into the tunnel Escutcheon, we'll get you when it's time, and thank you."
"For helping me to hope again. Tomorrow will be our last day in chains, one way or another." The panel closed above his head. Plunging his world into darkness, eventually his anxious mind gave way to tiredness, and after what could have been hours or minutes he fell asleep.
Escutcheon woke up with someone yanking on his tail. "Ow, what the hey?" He opened his eyes. The tunnel was lit with a gentle blue ambient glow. He struggled to turn around, the source of the light and the yank on his tail was the light blue unicorn filly from Pythagorean's estate. "Quadratic? Is Pythagorean and the others okay?"
"Pythagorean and the others are fine. The Choler tore up a lot of the estate, but they didn't find anything, fortunately."
"I'm glad that no pony got hurt."
"I didn't say that no pony didn't get hurt, just that everypony was okay." She floated his saddle bags from behind her and dropped it at his hooves. "Nebula, informed Pythagorean that you were continuing with your plan. You should have just left, you're going to get everyone killed." She crawled back down the tunnel. The blue ambient light leaving with her. The tunnel fell back into darkness. He closed his eyes and focused. He needed his magic back, if he was going to have a chance tonight.
"Come on stupid horn, I need you to work." He focused trying to fell the harmonic waves, like his mother taught him how to do, should he ever suffer a burn out. He was beginning to worry that he'd never use magic again. "Please horn I need you to work again. I need magic for this." He scrunched up his face trying to get the magic to go through his body. He focused on the innate magic in his body. Nothing. "Come on!"
"What's wrong?" Jumped in a start at the soft voice that came from behind him. She laughed.
"Dusk, what are you doing back?"
"Cause I heard that you were going through with the plan, and I thought that you'd start missing me silly. Also you can't fight some evil malevolent being on an empty stomach." She climbed over him. "So, I brought you some Cavern Berries, but that didn't answer my question, what were you doing?"
"I'm trying to focus my innate magical abilities and align them with the natural harmonic fields, so that I can initiate a simple spark. I completely lost you didn't I?" Escutcheon sighed.
"I had no idea what you were talking about. Now say 'ahh'" He did and she tossed a berry in his mouth. He hoped that she couldn't see him blushing.
"I know I'm an egghead." She hummed. "Basically I'm trying to get out of this burnout. I'm really concerned, I've never heard of an absolute burnout lasting this long."
"Maybe I can help, your magic is in your horn right." He was going to point out that the horn only focused the magic, but decided against it, and just nodded. "Maybe I can fix it. Let's see if this works." She leaned up and kissed his horn. His face was glowing red. "Now try it."
"You-you kissed, me." He tried to calm his heart down.
"Yeah, well it's like kissing a boo-boo, right? Come on give you magic a try." He closed his eyes and focused. Nothing. "Well that sucks." She sighed. "I thought it would be kind of romantic if you got your magic back from a kiss. But don't worry Escutcheon, you'll get your magic back when you need it. I trust in you."
"I'm glad that one of us does."
"Do I need to nibble on your ear again."
"No thank you."
"Good. Then smile. Let's go back to pins it's almost dusk. Time to get started." He nodded and gobbled down the last few berries.
"Thank you Dusk, for always helping me."
"No problem." The two of them made their way back down the tunnel to the slave pins. The sky was beginning to darken, and the air was starting to get cold as the sunset low on the horizon hidden by the wall.
"Where are the others?" Escutcheon looked around the pin none of the bat ponies were in armor or even had weapons.
"They're on their way." Nebula walked up to his daughter. "You were supposed to stay at the cave with the other colts and fillies." Dusk jumped on her dad in a hug.
"This is going to be bad, and I didn't want to leave."
"Alright just stay behind me, and do exactly what I say, when I say it." She nodded. "Alright Escutcheon, this is it, we're going buy you as much time as we can, but I don't think that we will be able to hold out for more than one night."
"Don't worry this should be easy, it's probably some kind of talisman or focusing gem. I'll just need to cut it off." I hope. He needed his horn to work, hopefully it still would. "Alright let's go." He exited the pin and headed down the street toward the pyramid. The hundreds of bat ponies and earth ponies following him. Until they walked into a patrol of ten guards.
"What do you slaves think you doing? Get back to your pins." Escutcheon didn't have time to think as ten shadows blurred past him. Each bat pony grappled with a guard. "Colt call for help!" For a second Escutcheon felt all eyes on him. As more Thestrals joined in he almost wanted to, just to get the fighting to stop.
"Please try not to kill anypony." Nebula nodded and him and the impromptu militia headed down the street.
"New Moon, Black Night, take half of the ponies and get to the gate. The others should have armor and weapons the rest of you stay with me. We're getting this unicorn as close to the pyramid as we can. Don't kill anypony unless you have to." The two groups were about to split just a unicorn colt stepped out of his home. He froze when he saw the large group. He wasn't even as old as Escutcheon was. He stepped back his horn lighting up.
"Don't do it." Escutcheon pleaded. Another bat pony pounced just as the spell shot into the sky. The flare lit up the sky in time for Escutcheon to see the colt's body falling limp at the bat pony's hooves.
"Hurry get to the gate. The rest of you do what you must! Escutcheon come on." Nebula pulled Escutcheon's mane and pulled him away from the scene. Dusk followed close behind her father. The three of them rushed ahead of the group, as the city erupted into chaos. The Thestrals and Earth ponies no longer caring about not killing anypony, each fighting as furiously as they could against the city's guards and former oppressors. The chaos came to a sudden end as a horn sounded from the pyramid. And the masked Choler descended onto the town. Doors were shut and barred, candles blown out. Many of the guards attempted to leave the street. There was a red flash and a Choler stood in front of the three of them. They wore black as night robes, and a black mask with red lines etched into the mask. A bolt of magic shot at the two of them. Escutcheon recognized the purple and black aura, from descriptions his mother told him about dark magic. The bolt erupted the ground around them. Another bolt fired at the two Thestrals.
"No!" Escutcheon screamed. His horn lit up and a gold shield wrapped around the two of them the bolt exploded on it. The Choler turned and stared him down.
"I will rip you. I will break you. I will destroy you. And all these weak unicorns with you. Tonight only the strong will be allowed to live." Another bolt shot at him. His shield went up. "Kill everything!" Nebula took a pole and slammed it into the Choler knocking it to the ground.
"Escutcheon get to the pyramid. Now." Escutcheon nodded and vanished in a flash.
In a golden flash Escutcheon appeared at the summit of the pyramid. He did his best to keep his footing, as he looked down on the city below him. It was a blaze the Choler were destroying everything. and attacking everyone not just the revolting slave. Homes were being destroyed, and attacking the families that tried to escape. His resolve steeled itself as he slid down to the entrance, gazing out at the battle. He jumped down onto the landing.
"You have come little unicorn colt." Escutcheon turned around, three Choler stood waiting for him at the entrance of the pyramid. "You shall come to me. I shall rip you. I will break you. I will show your broken body to those that would resist. Come now little unicorn. Come to me and suffer."
"What are you? Why are you attacking the ponies in their homes?"
"They are weak tonight only the strong will survive, and I shall keep them, and send them out to capture more slaves." Escutcheon grit his teeth and glared at the Choler that was being used to deliver the message. "Do you sympathize for them?"
"I'm going to make you pay for this."
"Come then, come to me." The three Cholers turned their backs to him and lead him into the pyramid Escutcheon looked down on the city one last time hoping that Dusk was okay in the orange glowing city, before turning around and following the three of them down into the pyramid. The interior of the pyramid was obsidian with red rubies engraved in the walls in the same pattern as the Choler's masks. The four of them descended down a series of stairs the rooms got darker and were lit by torches. He arrived in at the bottom floor which made up most of the pyramid, there were only three floors above him. The ceiling was being held up by twenty pillars, that were arranged around in a circle around the center. The three of Choler walked to the wall each of them stood facing a separate pillar. Each pillar had a Choler facing it.
"Where are you?!" Escutcheon walked into the center of the room. "Come on I'm putting an end to this!"
"No, little colt this will never end. Clover's guards fell to me, they became my first agents. After tonight I expect the thestrals to be victorious, and they shall be my new Cholers."
"No, they won't!" Escutcheon looked around for the talisman or gem that was causing all of this. "The thestrals will never be your agents. This ends tonight."
"Many of them have already succumbed to my influence colt." The memory of his interrogation returned to him.
"Then I'm going to cut you off, I'll end your influence." He looked around the room. "Where are you?!"
"Where am I, I am where I should be insect." Escutcheon looked up, there above him twisting and coiling around the pillars was a giant red snake like dragon. It had no wings, but had four legs in one of it's front claws was held a ruby sphere that glowed a deep crimson, yet didn't seem to emit enough light to pierce the darkness. "Now colt I will break you." The dragon spewed fire down on the center of the great chamber, and Escutcheon.
Escutcheon appeared in a flash of gold behind one of the pillars. The fire poured through the gaps of the pillar. Escutcheon's eyes widened as the Choler's horn lit up with an aura of purple and black. The spell exploded as it struck his golden magical shield. He really wished that Mother had taught him combative spells, sure at home they would have been useless but they would be really handy right about now.
"I will rip you. I will tear you."
"Yeah I've heard it all before." He lunged to the ground as his shield vanished. His focus shifting to focusing the magic of his horn on to his assailant, in only a second the golden bolt struck the Choler blasting them off of their hooves to the wall behind them. They fell limply to the ground. "No, no, no, no." He ran over to the downed Choler. "Please don't be dead." He pulled off the mask revealing a mint green mare, her face was contorted winkles forming a constant scowl. He sighed in relief as he felt her breath. Only then did he notice that the fire had stopped pouring into the gap between pillars. His ears flopped back.
"You would have made an great Choler, pity you're to companionate. It makes you weak, Like this mare." He looked over his shoulder looking up to the vaulted ceiling. "This is a world were only the strong deserve to thrive. The weak may live so long as they serve. I could have made more, but you would rather help the weak than let them stay where they belong. So, now you serve only to be an example." Fire spewed from the dragon's mouth.
He flashed into existence back on the top floor. The unconscious mint green mare with him. He dragged her into a corner as he tried to figure out how he was supposed to beat a dragon. The ground started to shake. "Crud." He ran for the exit. Only for the ground under his hooves to erupt a red claw grabbed him. The red dragon continued through the pyramid breaking through the top.
"I want you to see this. I want this to be the last thing you know. Know that you failed." The ruby in the other claw glowed blood red as visions of the battle below flooded his mind. Homes were burning to the ground. Pythagorean's estate was under siege the small aura shield around it being assaulted from all sides by dark magic. He was horrified to see visions that had bird's eye views of the battle to see them swooping down and attacking unicorns, earthponies, even fellow Thestrals. One last vision flashed through his mind, Clover the Clever casting a spell on a blood red ruby. "Do you see now colt. To side with the weak is weakness." He squeezed causing Escutcheon to scream. He heard several sickening cracks, black spots crept along the edges of his vision. "Now it's time to die." He felt the dragon's grip loosen, the wind whipped around him as he fell back down into the pyramid, plummeting to his death.
"Escutcheon!" A blur shot down into the hole. It caught him moments before he hit the ground. Her leathery wings flapping as hard as they could as she flew around the room. Bolts of dark magic shot all around, she swopped down low landing blows on any Choler still standing, before landing in a shadowy corner. A bile tasting liquid oozed down his throat, a moment later his bones snapped back into place, and his vision became crystal clear.
"Dusk." The bat pony filly smiled pulling him into a hug. "Thanks."
"Where are you?" The dragon slithered back down into the vaulted room. "I feel it, that flying mouse has undone what I did. How dare weak undo what the strong have done. You will regret that she has. I will break you, I will fill you with as much pain as I am filled with fury. Until you beg and bow before me, pleading for it to stop."
"He'll never bow to something like you!" Dusk flew out of the shadows ramming into the dragon's head. Escutcheon jumped out and joined her. Firing bolt after bolt of golden energy at the dragon. He knew what he had to do. He had to get to the ruby, if he could he knew he could end this. He got ready to teleport.
"Oh but won't he?" The dragon grabbed Dusk from the sky. Holding her tight, dread broke his focus, and the spell died on his horn. He squeezed out a long and draw out wail from Dusk. "Now colt have you learned your lesson, or do you have any compassion left?" Escutcheon watched in horror, his heart stopping in his chest. "I see. Well then show this flying mouse how wrong she was. Bow, and I'll spare her, and vent my fury on you instead. Bow to me and you save this weak filly. Or don't show her that only the strong make it." He began to panic, he looked away from the dragon to the filly he had spent the last week with. Her tears made his decision. He head bowed, in defeat and he got on his knees.
"See this is what happens when the strong care for the weak." He dropped Dusk and inhaled. A second later fire spewed from his mouth. Escutcheon was tackled thrown to the side, away from the concentrated magical flame.
"Dusk, No!" The magical flame forced its way into her. She screamed, wailed, and flailed around. Escutcheon teleported her to him and then teleported behind some rubble. "Dusk no, please be okay." He fumbled through his bag pulling out his red potion. He put the bottle to her mouth. "That's right every drop, Dusk. Just get better. Please."
"Kill me. Please just make it stop." Her body was contorted in pain. Escutcheon's face went hard. He gently lowered her to the ground, and wiped the hot tears from his eyes.
"You'll regret this." He climbed over the heap of rubble. His only coherent thoughts were on killing this dragon. It had to die. His horn pulsed as black and deep purple replaced his usual golden aura. He felt cold, it didn't matter. "I'm ending this now!" The dragon turned to the face him, only to be struck by the bolt of dark magic, followed by another, and another, and another. The dragon roared, dropping the ruby as it was pushed back. "Now I'm going to end this. I'm going to end you." He turned to the ruby. His blood froze at his reflection. He gawked in horror at what he saw, before bowing his head, as hot tears started burning his eyes again. The dark aura faded as he tapped the ruby with his horn, the golden hue returning.
"No!" The dragon roared. A red claw swept across the ground swatting him into the air as the ruby turned to dust. He hit the wall with a thud and crack, as his head met the hard stone. He was filled with pain, which faded as he fell with another thud to the ground. His vision fading the last things he saw before slipping away was the arora above him, and a shadow descending. He smiled. They were going to Dusk.
Escutcheon was back at the mountain that the griffons called home. The holes caused by the storm hadn't been fixed, in fact there were more holes now. Hundreds of griffons flew around the mountain. Several more worked the farms at the base growing wheat and other greens. And ranching prairie dogs, that were being raised for slaughter. He found Gilda and Gildan. They were talking to Pace, Griffa was standing next to her grandfather. Gilda pointed up at the sky, he wished that he knew what she was saying. Pace nodded and hugged the two of them and pointed to the North. They nodded and patted their younger sister on the head, before heading off in the direction Pace had pointed.
Reality flashed away, and he was at Storm Peak. Several griffons were looking up at the sky. One of them flew into the cave. Several griffons came out of the cave and watched the aurora that danced around the dark star studded sky.
Again Everything flashed away. He saw Dusk, he smiled she was alive, that was where his joy ended. She was bent over crying. She must have still been hurting. "I'm sorry Dusk." Her father walked over to her, and put his wing around her. "I'm sorry Nebula, I didn't mean for her to get hurt."
Reality flashed him away again. He was in his room. It didn't fill like his anymore. It was clean, he looked over his stuff. His home, it felt alien to him. He heard voices from down the hall. His mother's friends were here. He saw one of them walk past the open door. He was afraid to leave, afraid that he might be flashed somewhere else. Afraid that he wouldn't be and instead would see something he didn't want to see. "Mother?" He asked as he cautiously stepped into the hall.
"Come on. It's okay 'scutcheon's going to be okay. He's a tough colt."
"He's just a colt. He should be here!" His froze mother's voice was hoarse. "He should be here with me and his father, and we should all be down stairs."
"Come on sugar cube. It ain't that bad."
"I can't even remember the last time we played. It was always lessons, or meetings, or public events." A guard rushed through him.
"Word from the Captain. Nothing was found in the bad lands. King Thorax has sent his brother and four other of his best trackers to go further south."
"It's okay, he's doing fine." He chuckled mirthlessly. If only you knew what I was doing just a little bit ago you wouldn't be saying that.
"How do you know?" Mother's voice was full of hope.
"See silly. The Aurora is back. That means he's okay. And it's closer. That means he's getting closer to home." His ears perked up at this. He looked out one of the hall windows. Just like Mother's friend said, the Aurora was closer, not by much, but closer. Mother was saying something, but everything was fading away, back into darkness.
"My aren't you a cute little stud, of a stallion." He felt naked, sure he rarely ever wore close, but he never felt like this vulnerable, exposed, ashamed of his lack of cloths. "Strong shoulders, good hips. I can't wait to try you. Please don't keep me waiting, if you do you'll find I can be a bit of a tease too."
Again he was back in the pyramid. Dusk was still where she was when he first saw her. She hadn't moved. This time he was much closer to her. "Be okay. Please be okay," she pleaded between sobs. He looked over to see what she was talking about. In her hooves was a pale white unicorn. He looked weak, sick, tainted even. Around him were four unicorns. The mint green mare from before and Quadratic he recognized. He didn't know the other two though. Suddenly he couldn't see Dusk anymore everything was black. He couldn't see her, he felt her, her hooves around his body. Her tears falling on his cheeks.
"Dusk." The word was stuck in his throat. It took all of his strength to open his eyes. She was curled around him four separate unicorns' magics working on him. Numbing the pain making it manageable. "Dusk."
"Escutcheon!" She pulled him into a hug your alive. He smiled as his vision again blacked out. She was safe, and in her hooves he was too.
"Will he be okay?" Escutcheon lay in a covered wagon which was heading westward, across the desert. Dusk was sitting next to him, she had never left his side. She sounded so far away. His eyes followed hers.
"I don't know. He suffered horrible head trauma, most of that has been taken care off." Quadratic answered Her horn glowing as magic poured form her to him. "I don't know why he isn't up already."
"It's not because of his physical injuries." Pythagorean's voice answered. The two fillies looked over him. "Not really anyways. He's suffering from his trauma true, but that is being magnified by what he did. He used dark magic. Doing that for the first time has terrible adverse effects on the soul."
"He didn't use black magic!" Dusk screamed.
"I didn't say he did." Pythagorean responded calmly. "Unicorn magic is strange. if you put enough hate and anger into your horn your natural aura will become dark. Fear will obtain the same result but it's effects on the soul and body, will be less extreme." Pythagorean sighed. "When the dragon hurt you. Well he must have snapped we saw nearly ten tell-tail signs of dark magic. That much to someone so acclimated to it, combined with his physical trauma. Well this was the inevitable result."
"Then it's my fault." No it's not Dusk you saved me.
"No if you hadn't done that then you both would have died. He just didn't control his emotions properly." Quadratic answered. "Sorry Escutcheon you need to go back to sleep." He felt her magic washed over him. He drifted into unconsciousness just as the pain began to spike and intensify again.
"Dusk." Her name was stuck in his throat. The last thing he felt before slipping away was her hoof folding around him. "I'm sorry. Dusk." Pain kept him semi lucid, he never truly fell asleep, but Quadratic's spell put him under enough to not feel most of it.
"Dusk." Escutcheon opened his eyes, a task that he no longer took for granted. He looked around in the cart. It was empty everything was dark. He wished that he could turn his head. "Dusk are you there?" He felt relieved as a hoof tapped his back. "Could you please give me some water, I'm really thirsty."
"We need to talk." The voice wasn't Dusk's it was a mare's voice. She sounded emotionless and cold. She took his hoof off of his back. "Where do you come from little one? How have you done what you've done?" She put her hoof on the back of his head. He screamed as pain clouded his vision. He woke up in searing pain.
"Escutcheon." Dusk grabbed him. He felt pitiful and ashamed at crying like a foal in front of his only friend on this side of the world. The pain however wouldn't let him hold his tears back no matter how hard he tried. "Escutcheon it's okay," The wagon jumped. Escutcheon felt a moment of weightlessness as his body was wrapped in a unicorn's aura.
"Can't you keep this cart steady out there. Banging his head is going to paralyze him, or kill him!" Quadratic yelled, to the ponies pulling the cart.
"What!?" Dusk yelled. "Your exaggerating right?" Dusk pulled him up closer to her.
"No. It took four healing spells to try, and half a dozen potions just to stabilize him. Banging his head isn't going to do him any favors." Quadratic stated bluntly.
"Quadratic, go back to sleep." A mare's voice spoke. "Dusk you can rest to. I've got him." He felt her magic moving around him. The pain began fading away quickly. "Hopefully this will be the last night that he's like this." The wagon jolted again and again he felt a sense of weightlessness.
"No It's fine I'll take care of him." He felt something put to his lips and took several sips thankful for the drink. He moved his hoof to his eyes and wiped the tears away, and quickly steadied his breathing.
"No problem Escutcheon just get some rest. You're fine, you're moving your limbs and talking now. That's good." The wagon jolted again.
"Especially after what just happened. Are you trying to hit every bump."
"Do you want to pull the cart." A stallion's voice answered.
"Quadratic go to sleep." Escutcheon's vision slowly focused on the source of the mares voice. "You're way to tired. You need to get some sleep. We'll need you for the healing spell tomorrow." Quadratic sighed at the mint green mares comment and lay down next to Pythagorean who was still sleeping. "Dusk, Escutcheon, you two should get some sleep too. I'll make sure he doesn't bang his head." Dusk nodded. She pulled Escutcheon up to her, and put herself between him and the wooden walls of the wagon.
"Who are you really?" The mare's voice was cold and distant, everything was black and dark. The world was nothingness and void. He began to sweat. "Well?"
"My name is Escutcheon from Equestria." He gulped. "Who are you?" He tried to turn his head, if this was a dream it should be possible. He felt pressure on his head, not enough to hurt him but enough to keep it in place.
"I do not know."
"Where are you from?"
"I do not know." Escutcheon frowned.
"What do you know."
"I know that you should not be here." She answered. "But I don't know why. And I know how to do this." The sound of a unicorn's magic filled the endless void. His eyes shot open, he was awake, and warm. Dusk held his head gently to her chest her hooves and wings wrapped around him, and their blankets wrapped around the two of them. The cart wasn't moving, but the outside was filled with noise ponies getting into harnesses, and jumping into wagons, talking, laughing. He couldn't understand any of it.
"Dusk wake up." Nebula came into view.
"Dad?" She unfurled he wings knocking the blankets away, and wiped the sleep from her eyes. Escutcheon got off of her trying to get back on his hooves. His legs were sore, wobbly, and asleep, but the pain was nearly gone.
"Escutcheon, take it easy." Nebula caught him, as his legs gave way. "Don't push yourself."
"I'm fine." He tried to find his balance. Dusk got beside him. Sandwiched between the two of them he quickly regained his center of gravity. "Most of the pain is gone."
"That's good, this should be the last time we'll do this then." Nebula ducked under him and got him on his back. The two of them got off of the wagon. Where the four unicorns that he had seen earlier. Nebula lowered him down, and helped him walk to the center of the four of them. He waited until Escutcheon gained his balance, before leaving him alone in the middle of the four unicorns. Their horns lit up and their magic went into him. What was left of the pain faded away to nothing.
"Do you feel better?" Dusk walked up to his side."
"Better than ever." Escutcheon smiled taking off the bandage that was wrapped around his head. Dusk jumped on him in a hug.
"Alright lets get back in the wagon It's time to head off." Nebula jumped into the wagon followed by Dusk and Escutcheon, who looked out to the eastern horizon. The desert was no longer there instead replaced by grass land as far as the eye could see. He let out a sigh as the wagon started heading west.
"Where are you planning on going?" Nebula asked Pythagorean. The hornless unicorn sat on the other side of the small camp fire, with him were the four unicorns that had been treating Escutcheon.
"We've been discussing it with each other." Pythagorean began. "We came only to help Escutcheon get better and now he is. We've decided to head north to Slo. Hopefully make new lives for ourselves." The three other adults nodded in a silent agreement.
"I wish you luck my friend."
"I'm glad I've earned your friendship. If I may suggest something, I think I know of a place that would be a good spot for your colony to set up." Nebula and Nightingale nodded. "According to some maps and scout documents, there should be a very sizable forest about three weeks trot from here. There are no other cities near by, except Slo's southern most city Livar, and Tivi's northern most city Reci." He passed the map over to the Thestrals. "If you set your home here in the forest you should be able to set up a good trading town, as well as having fertile lodging, and the lakes and rivers would provide an excellent fishing trade."
"It looks like a good spot." Nebula nodded.
"So why hasn't anyone taken it?" Escutcheon asked, looking down on the parchment.
"After the First War Slo and Tivi signed a treaty, making the forest between them a buffer zone that neither side could claim. They also lost so many lives to disease in their camps that rumors started floating around that the forest is cursed. I assure you there is no evidence for it." Nightingale nodded.
"We will see if this forest is a good spot for our colony if it is, then I thank you Pythagorean for your help. And know that you are always welcome to our lands." The unicorn nodded. "Our invitation is for all of you, let the past stay in the past." The others nodded. The mint green unicorn looked down at Quadratic who just looked away. "I wish you well in your trip take one of the wagons and as much food as you need."
"Thank you we'll head out in the morning. This is were we part ways, we wish you well."
"And us you." Nebula stood and headed to the front of the wagon Nightingale joined him, while Escutcheon jumped into the back with Dusk.
"Good-bye." The two of them waved as the wagon pulled off Pythagorean and Quadratic waved, as the other three gathered two boxes of supplies. The wagons continued north for several weeks as slowly the flat grassland transformed, becoming more and more wooded as they continued. Until after nearly a month of travel they arrived at the forest. It's trees standing tall and proud in the morning light.
"It looks just like our old home." Dusk chimed. Her father nodded as the wagons slowly pushed in. They continued until noon, when they finally stopped for lunch.
"The trees are thick here, even the noon day sun is bearable." Nightingale ate some gopher jerky. Nebula and Dusk nodded in agreement. Dusk chewed some of the dried meat as she passed Escutcheon a small bowl of berries.
"Indeed, if the scouts reports are positive then I think we may have found our new home."
Escutcheon walked up the stairs that wound up the tree to the house above. A basket of fish floated next to him. After three weeks he was finally able to eat meat without nauseous side effects. Most of the time he'd still prefer berries or greens over meat, however fish did have a unique flavor, he didn't like it, but he didn't mind eating it, not anymore anyways. He walked into the tree house that for the past four months had become his home. The first two months he had stayed to help build the bat pony city, all of which was up in the trees, several were actually in the trees. The last two months he stayed there because, well things just always needed doing. Fishing lodges needed setting up. Trade deals needed negotiating. Diplomatic ties needed making, and Dusk and Nebula were willing to let him stay with them.
"Hey Dusk, we're having fish tonight." Escutcheon set the basket on the table. Dusk poked her head out of a curtain that separated the main living area, dining area, and kitchen from their bedroom. She smiled as she eyed the basket of fish. "Whatcha doing?"
"Nothing. She blushed you'll see tonight, but you're not allowed to go in until then." Escutcheon smiled.
"Aw, but Dusk I really want to take a nap." He playfully whined and headed for the curtain.
"No. Take a nap in the living room." She stepped out from behind the curtain. Her wings flared blocking the unicorn colt's advance. "No peaking." Escutcheon gave her his best pouting face as he continued his advance. "No, take one more step, and you'll regret it." Escutcheon smirked and took one more step. Dusk pounced him. He tried to get her off of him, he put up a good fight until she started his ear. He burst into laughter.
"I-I surrender. I surrender Dusk. Plllease stop." He pleaded between laughter. "I won't look. I won't look, Dusk. Please stop. I swear I won't look." Dusk content that she had gotten her point across stopped nibbling on his ear. She leapt over him, and he rolled over. He joined her over at the kitchen area of the tree house. The two of them started preparing the fish for supper that night.
Nebula arrived back to the house just as the two of them had finished cooking the fish. "Fish, my favorite." He dropped his saddle bags to the side of the door. "Hey sweetie." He caught his daughter as wrapped him in a hug.
"Welcome home dad." She dropped down and trotted with her father to the dinning room table. Escutcheon floated three plates to the table with as he joined them.
"Only fish tonight." Nebula grinned. "Dusk must have done all of the shopping today."
"Ha-ha-ha. Very funny. I've been eating meats for at least three months now." Nebula and Dusk laughed.
"And you've been putting the protein to good use." Nebula nodded. "It's only been three months and you're already half a hoof taller than when you started. You're filling out into quite the stallion." "And that's not just in height. You've been a great help to our family and community." Escutcheon felt himself blushing at the complement.
"Thanks, I just want to help. It's what Mother and Father would expect me to do."
"I'm sure they'd be proud at how hard you've been working."
"Yeah, but they'd not be approving of my new diet."
"I'm sure that they wouldn't mind. To much," Dusk said between bites.
"Maybe not, but several of mother's friends definitely would," he answered after swallowing another bite. "Though I'm sure that most of them would understand. I think I lost my appetite." He pushed the plate away from him.
"Hey, do you wan to see what I did today?" Dusk got up and took Escutcheon's hoof, leading him to the curtain that lead to their room. "So, I noticed that other than your blanket you never took anything out of your saddle bags, so I got something for that." She pulled the curtain back. The room was the same except for a small three layered shelf that held all of his belongings. From the little candle that had become obsolete to the sapphire shard. Even his books fit on the small shelves with plenty of room to spare. "Escutcheon?" Dusk looked at him worriedly.
"Um-uh. I need to go." His ears flopped down as he felt himself becoming pale.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you upset."
"You didn't." He hoped he sounded more convincing to her than he did to himself. "It's my stomach, I. I just need to go." He hurried out of the house and down the steps to the forest floor.
Escutcheon sat at the base a tree a hundred hoofs away from the house. He tried to calm his breathing down, his heart and chest were starting to hurt. "Escutcheon?" Dusk took several cautious steps toward him. He heard another set of hoof steps. "Escutcheon, are you okay?" He bobbed his head up and down, while he still tried to control his breathing. "I-I didn't mean to make you upset. I-you've just been living with us for so long, and I thought that you would like to have you things."
"Escutcheon, do you want to be left alone for a bit?" Nebula's voice was firm but full of understanding. Again he bobbed his head up and down. "Alright then. Dusk and I will be back at the house. You can come back when you're ready. Dusk this is something he has to work through alone right now. We'll wait for him back at the house. Dusk come on."
"Escutcheon, I'm sorry." He heard the two of them heading back to the house. He waited there on the ground for several hours. The cool night air helping him to regain his composure. He didn't head back to the house until the moon was beginning to get to it's highest point in the sky. His horn lit up as he walked back to the house in the light of his horn. The two of them were waiting for him at the table.
"I'm sorry I tired can we talk about this tomorrow." he kept his eyes on the floor, he couldn't look them in the eyes, Nebula nodded. "Thanks." He headed in his shared room with Dusk. She followed behind him, the two of them climbed into the bed. "Good night." He pulled the covers over him and Dusk."
"Good-night," Dusk said, pulling up close to him. Nebula nodded and blew out the candle. casting the house into shadows. He lay there in the darkness his eyes closed. He waited till he could be sure that Nebula had gone to sleep. Waited until Dusk's breathing had become rhythmic. He slid out from under the cover, and carefully wiggled his way off of the bed. Being sure not to wake Dusk.
"Don't go." Dusk's voice was barely audible. His blood froze, looking over his shoulder he sighed with relief she was still asleep. "Don't go." He winced his ears flopped back. He wanted to tell her that he wasn't going to go. But even asleep he couldn't lie to her like that.
"I'll be back Dusk. It may be a while, a year or two or three, but I'll come back as fast as I can. I promise. I'll come back." He kept his voice as low as he could. "I promise," he said one last time more for himself than for her. He grabbed his bags, and started putting several of his things back in to them. He was sure not to use his magic. He didn't want her to see him leave, He new if she asked him to stay, if he looked her in the eyes. He'd not be able to say no. The last thing that he grabbed from the shelf was the sapphire, there wasn't any glow, he wasn't surprised. He headed for the door.
"Escutcheon, what are you doing?" He jumped, turning around to see Nebula's silhouetted form move into the houses living space. He eyes shining in the darkness.
"Nebula, I didn't see you sir."
"I noticed, but that didn't answer my question." He walked up to the colt. "Why are up heading for the door in the middle of the night, with you bags packed?" He looked down at Escutcheon. "There is a right way and a wrong way to leave someone that you care about. This is the wrong way."
"If she asks me to stay, if she looks me in the eyes and asks me to stay. I won't be able to say no." He looked up to the bat pony stallion. "Please understand, she asleep, she asked me not to go, and I almost didn't. I almost put this whole plan behind me."
"You promised her three times that you'd be back. Where you lying?" Escutcheon shook his head. "Then I promise you, and I'm not lying either. If you leave like this, and you come back, and you look her in the eyes and ask her to take you back. I promise she won't be able to say yes." Escutcheon gulped. "This way may feel easier, but it isn't the right way. If you wait for the morning, you can say your good-byes and leave the right way. I'll make sure she doesn't keep you here. I'm going to bed you can make your choice." He turned around and headed back to his bed. Leaving the colt at the door. Escutcheon bowed his head, and made his choice.
"Escutcheon?" Dusk rolled over in the bed. She sat up. He wasn't there. She looked to the shelf most of his stuff was gone. "Escutcheon!?" She jumped out of the bed and hurried into the living area. Where Escutcheon was and her father were sitting at the table. His saddle bags already fastened to him.
"Hello Dusk." He looked up to her.
"You're leaving?" He nodded. "Why?"
"I need to go home."
"This could be your home."
Which is why I'll come back, but I need to go home. I need to."
"Please don't go."
"Dusk." Nebula spoke up. "We've all known that this arrangement was going to be temporary." Dusk's ears flopped back against her head. "He helped you get back to me. He reunited us as a family, now he needs to do the same for himself."
"I know but."
"I'll come back I promise. Cross my heart and hope to fly stick a cupcake in my eye." He got down from the table and put a hoof on her shoulder.
"Please don't go. I'm really bad at good byes." She wrapped her front hooves and wings around him in a hug. It was tight for only a second before her grip loosened.
"Please Dusk don't ask me a third time I can't say no to you a third time." He returned the hug. She nuzzled his cheek.
"Please." She stopped herself, and swallowed down the lump in her throat. "I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you too." He pulled her tight one last time as his horn lit up.
"Don't go," she whispered as he vanished in a golden flash of light.
Escutcheon appeared in a golden on a newly made dirt trail in the middle of the forests. He took several deep breaths trying to rein in his emotions. He focused his magic on his bag, shifting through his things, he pulled out his combing stick, and started combing his mane. He started trotting to the west as he continued to comb his mane. Several bat ponies snickered at him combing his mane with a stick as they passed him with a wagon full of fish. He continued on the trail after a few minutes he could hear the sound of the river. He came our of the woods and trotted along the bank of the river which flowed westward.
"Hey Escutcheon you know that we have combs right?" A bat pony called from the other side of the river trying to get a laugh. "Hey, hey what's wrong?" One of the bat pony fishers stopped him from flying over to his side of the river. They started talking amongst themselves. He couldn't hear them, soon he couldn't see them anymore either. He continued his way along the banks of the river, he never stopped using his combing stick.
"Hey Escutcheon, are you okay?" He looked up from the ground to see Nightingale. She looked at him concern evident in her eyes and voice. Several other bat ponies looked up from their fishing nets and sorting tables.
"Yes, I'm fine." He put his stick back into his saddlebag. She looked at him.
"Are you sure?" She asked. "Because I wouldn't expect to see you out this far from the city. At least not going west. This is the furthest fishing hut."
"I'm traveling home."
"Isn't that the other way?" a bat pony at one of the sorting tables asked.
"I'm heading back to my home." Nightingale nodded in understanding, She lifted his head using one of her wings.
"Well, I hope that you'll come back and visit, I'm sure Dusk will feel the same." She leaned down and nuzzled him, like his grandmother use to do. "Thank you Escutcheon for help my ponies. May you have save travels full of stars and full moons." Escutcheon nodded, and trotted passed the last civilized camp from the bat ponies.
He walked along the banks of the river, the only sound was the water of the river gently flowing westward. His mind wandered over his life for the past half year. It wasn't enjoyable. He didn't like being alone, nor did he like it when it was quiet it let him think and gave his mind time to wonder. And the past six months had given him a lot to think about and a lot for his mind to wonder over. He kept walking alone. Waiting for night fall hoping his dreams would be better than his idle thoughts.
Escutcheon continued down the bank of the river. He knew eventually he would arrive at the ruins of an abandoned fishing village that was forsaken at the end of the First War, apparently there were still several building still standing. He wanted to make it there before nightfall, there were rumors about what lived in the forest, things he really didn't want to run into.
"This was stupid. I should have gone north to Slo." Escutcheon grumbled to himself as he ate a piece of gopher jerky. He scrunched up his face at the taste of the meat. He wished that fish could be made into jerky. He never like how gopher tasted, no matter how it was seasoned. He looked over to the river, wishing that he had bought a net or even a fishing line. He looked over his shoulder if he headed back now. "No, I can't go back not right now." He got up and followed the river. Knowing that it would eventually feed into a lake. Hopefully there would be a salvageable fishing net somewhere in the abandoned town. He wasn't sure if there would be the First War was a hundred twenty years ago.
Three hours pass noon he arrived at the abandoned town. Many of the building near the lake were completely destroyed, reduced to nothing but a pile of rubble. The buildings that were closest to the tree line were starting to be integrated back into the forest that they came from. There were several streets of buildings were still semihabitable. He figured that he would start there. He headed into the town.
"Hello!" He called, he didn't know why he did. The town was suppose to be completely abandoned.
"Ha." He jumped turning around to face the building where the call came from. "Ha." He sighed in relief at the crow that was resting in its nest. He stilled his nerves and headed into the building it was resting on. It was a store of some kind, the second story had started falling in, there was also a basement underneath him. He wasn't eager to go down stairs to see what was under his hooves.
"Wow. This place is a 20 out of 10 on the creepy meter." He jumped turning around at a tapping on the window. He gulped at the crow that tapped several more times on the window. "Make that 25 out of 10. Maybe coming here was a bad idea." He went over to one of the counters. "Well what ever this place was selling it wasn't water proof. Hopefully the next store will have a fish net." He headed out of the building the crow at the window just watched him. He shivered and galloped across the street to the next building.
This building was probably the general store. It also had a basement, which again he planned on avoiding like the plague. The shelves were all empty. There were some cans and other pieces of assorted junk scattered on the floor. He headed over to the counter, his eyes lit up at the fishing net. A shiver ran down his spine at the tapping on the window. He looked over his shoulder. "Please stop doing that, Mr. Crow. It's making this creepy town a lot creepier." He grabbed the net in his magic and headed out to the lake. He was done with this creepy place. He was going to get some fish, stay here for the night and then as soon as the sun came up he was getting the heck out of here.
Escutcheon walked to the edge of the town the net floating to his side. Every couple of seconds he would look over his shoulder. He felt like something other than the crows were watching him. The feeling didn't go away when he got to the water's edge. He focused on the water. Every thirty minutes he used his magic to pull the net back. It was always empty, every time he was beginning to worry, as the sun got closer to the horizon.
"Okay, one more time, then I need to find a place to stay for the night. No matter what." He pulled the net back in one last time as the sun began to dip closer and closer to the tree line on the. The net snagged on something. He pulled it harder and harder, it wouldn't budge. He gave it one final pull the net was flung back up to the shore, torn beyond repair, rendered completely useless.
He walked down the three streets of the town with the most well preserved buildings. Hoping to spend the night in the building that was the most sturdy. He came to a stopped In the middle of the third street stood a completely preserved building. He gazed in awe at the medium sized wooden building. The preservation would have been imposable with out a preservation spell. He smiled and hurried in glad that he would spend the night in a building with four solid walls and an intact roof.
The building was a home. A very fancy home, the floors were stained a deep auburn, There were several different types of rugs all of which he would have expected to see in the Palace of the Two Sisters, only they were completely preserved just like the building's outside. There was a grand stone fire place which was the center place of the living room, and the center piece of the home. Escutcheon smiled, next to the fire place was a large pile of firewood.
Escutcheon lay on a red rug with golden fringes, as he warmed himself in front of the fire. He looked out the window, the sky slowly darkening as twilight gave way to dusk. He had already explored the rest of the first floor of the house. Unlike many of the other two buildings that he had been in this house didn't have a basement. A fact that was very comforting. Other than that the only thing of note was that the house was completely untouched except for the kitchen which had been completely scavenged. He sighed as he looked away from the window to the wooden staircase. Deciding that it was time to investigate the second floor. He stood up and put as his horn put three more logs on the fire, so it would still be alive by the time he got back.
He headed up the wooden stairs, arriving to the wood floor landing. He looked around the home looked untouched by time. He walked down the hall. He opened a door that lead to a bed room. The room was pristine except for the bed. The covers had been pulled off toward the other side. Curious he walked over. His blood froze, as he stared down at the skeleton. At the hooves of the skeletal pony was a journal around the skeleton the ground and sheet were covered in dry blood.
"What happened here?" He looked at the journal and gulped. "Pardon me." He used his magic and pulled the book from the hooves of the bones. His horn lit up as he used the speed reading spell that his mother taught him. His white face went pale as the book reviled it's secrets to him. The pages flipped open as the words poured from the book and into him. The last several pages had been written in blood. The book fell on the floor, opened to the last page.
One of them is in the house. I won't let it catch me. I'm not going back to the caves. I'm not leaving this room. I'm not leaving, I won't let it get me. Night is death, the lake is death, the underground is DEATH.
A low moan came from outside. The sound that followed made his skin crawl. It was a high pitch scree, that sounded like nails on a chalk board. The bedroom that he was in had only one window high up on the wall. He would need wings like father to see out of it. Another high pitch sound sent a shiver down his spine. He didn't want to see what was out there, but while the dead pony who wrote the journal had been vague on what was out there, they had been very clear on what it had done here. The ponies of this town had never left. If the colony expanded to the lake it could happen to them too. He wasn't going to let that happen. Another low pained moan came from outside. He took several deep breaths trying to calm himself down before heading out to the landing.
He crawled on his stomach to the window and poked his head up to see if he could find what was going on. At first he couldn't see anything. Another pained cry filled the air, he followed the sound back to the source, a large two legged bird just a mile or so outside of town. It was at the waters edge, being attacked by three large shrimp like creature, the smallest of which was easily twice the size of Nebula. The creatures were boxing the bird back against the water. In a couple of seconds the bird had been driven into the water by the shrimp like creatures. In an instant another giant shrimp shot out of the water and grabbed the two legged bird pulling it down with it back into the lake.
Another high pitch scree filled the air drawing his attention to back to the streets of the abandoned town. Dozens of the creatures were coming out of the lake. He shivered a little when he saw a few of them coming from the buildings, one of them even came from the first building that he had been in. He ducked back down hoping that none of them had seen him.
"Ha." A crow called from the window behind him making him jump. It started tapping at the window.
"Go away, go away." He waved with his hoof as he lay on the ground on his stomach. The crow called again. "Go away." His ears drooped down as the sound of banging came from the door. "Crud," he said under his breath. He looked around for anything that could be used as a weapon. Nothing. "Wait the poker." He hurried down the stairs and grabbed the poker. His magic grabbing at any thing else that could be used to bar door or make a barricade.
The loud screeing of the creatures was starting to give him a headache, which was making concentration a more taxing task than normal. He was relieved that the spell that had preserved the house wasn't just some weak preservation spell, as the door was slammed into again and again. He threw everything he could find against the door. Pictures, chairs, even the logs that were next to the fire place. He was about to run up stairs to grab the bed when the sound of shattering wood made him freeze. One of he smaller ones charged him. It was three times his size. He swung the poke at it trying to keep it away from him, as it drove him toward the living room. One of the larger creatures was fortunately blocking the door trying to get in, not realizing its great size made that an impossible task.
"Stay away!" Escutcheon thrust the poker at the crustacean. It only seemed to agitate the creature. Which shot one of its claws out at him at lightning speed. Knocking the air out of him and sending him rolling into the living room. He was certain that bones were broken, as his body erupted into pain. The creature continued toward him, he pulled himself away from it. In a panic he reached out with his magic for the first thing he could see. A burning log from the fire. He swung it at the creature. It backed away like a wolf. He focused on the other two logs in the fire place driving the crustacean back to the door they backed away. he dropped the logs in front of the door and slammed it as hard as he could. Using the last bit of his strength he dragged himself back to the living area to his bag, and chugged down one of the bile tasting healing potion. He hoped it would heal him before the fire died down, or the creatures got over their fear.
Escutcheon grit his teeth as the potion mended his bones. The bile tasting potions may have had the same result as Zecora's potions, but the pain of potion taking effect was just as bad as the pain of the broken bones. He threw his saddle bags back onto his back put the poker into the fire. He kept his eyes on the front door. The regeneration magic on the house had already made the door as good as new. He waited watching the door as the poker started to glow. His ears perked up a bang sound that came from behind him. He turned his head, and saw the wall shack as another bang resounded through the house.
He jumped grabbing the orange hot poker in his golden aura, as her ran for the stairs. He leapt past the first two steps, as the creatures broke down the wall, and ruble poured into the first floor room. One of the creatures started charging after him, as he quickly scrambled up the stairs. The poker swinging blindly behind him.
"Get away! Get back!" He swung the orange glowing poker back and forth at the advancing shrimp being sure to stay out of range of it's claws. "Take this." He thrust the poker into the belly of the creature the hot metal bent as it hit what was suppose to be the weakest part of the creature armor. "You've got to be kidding me." His ears flopped back as the creature advanced against him. Crud he swung the glowing bent poker at the creature's eye stocks. It steps back, standing still like it was in a daze. He swung the poker back at the creature's eyes the creatures didn't even seem to see the iron instrument as it bashed into its eye stocks. It let out a high pitch screech that curdled his blood. He stepped back the sound threatening to break his concentration. The creature back away as it stumbled back the stairs and started wreaking the house. Several others chased after it, the house was filled with a horrible sound. Moments later the creatures scurried past his the staircase carrying parts of the shrimp that he had blinded. He hurried back to the room where the skeleton was while the creatures were distracted.
"If I survive tonight it's going to be a miracle." He pushed the bed up against the door, and floated the dresser onto the bed he knew it didn't matter the creatures had broken down a whole wall of the house. Still he found solace in constructing the barricade. "I can't believe that these creatures live only a day's trot away from the colony. I've got to deal with this, problem, but how? Think egg head. Come on what should I do?" He looked over at the skeleton.
"Wait you weren't killed you were taken somewhere and you escaped." Escutcheon smiled. "So long as these aren't thinking rationalizing creatures then that means that, there creatures of habit which means they'll do the same to me and I can find out where their nest is." He smiled just as the wall behind him was broken through. He turned just in time to see a red claw launch at his chest. He felt the ribs break. He felt his hooves leave the ground and his head hit the wall. Every breath he took felt like his lunges were on fire. Already he really didn't like this plan. The creature grabbed him pulling him up with the claw and headed outside. He didn't black out. Though he teetered on the edge of unconsciousness, He remained lucid. He knew that his life depended on it. He focused on the pain that filled his chest with each breath the sharp stabbing kept him rooted, as the shrimp creature took him into one of the stores that was still standing, carried him by the tail into the basement, and into the cavern beneath. As soon as he got the chance he would take the potion. Every breath lit his lunges on fire. He wished the monster would move quicker take it to where ever it put it's food, but the beast continued at it's pace.
After an indeterminate amount of time felt it release his tail. He fell with a thud to the ground, his body rocked with pain. He didn't even wait for the creature to leave before he reached into his bag. The creature turned and charged at him. "No get away." He panicked as the shrimp grabbed his bag and started pulling he tried to hold onto it with the last bit of his strength until he felt the claw smash into him again. His eyes rolled back into his skull as he fought to maintain some form of consciousness. His bag ripped apart and everything fell to the ground. The creature scurried over to the jerkied gopher and took it to another part of the cave. Escutcheon struggled to one of the jars reality slowly fading away around him.
Escutcheon pulled the bottle to his mouth, and started chugging down the bile tasting potion, which slowly went down his throat. He gagged trying to keep the healing potion down. He swallowed down again and again trying to keep the disgusting liquid down, as it slowly worked its magic. He winced as pain shot through his chest as his ribs slowly fused back together. His vision began to cloud as the pain intensified, which caused him to lose the battle with his stomach, and what was left of the healing potion came racing back up his throat, tears streaked down his face as he choked on it. He coughed several times trying to regain his breath his throat burning. He rushed to his canteen and guzzled down the rest of his water.
He gasped for breath and tossed his empty canteen away. It hit something in the darkness the thud was followed by a soft low moan. His ears perked up as he cautiously made his way to the source of the sound. His horn lit up slightly barely piercing the near all consuming darkness that filled the cave. Lying on the ground was the large bird from earlier.
"Hey there, how are you doing?" Escutcheon put a little more energy into his horn. The golden light filled a bit more of the cave. The bird let out a low and pained cry. One of the large bird's legs was broken as were both of its wings. "That doesn't look good." He cautiously stepped closer to the large bird. It tried to push away from him. "It's okay I'm not going to hurt you." He tried to calm the creature down. "It's okay, it's okay." He moved closer. "Woah!" He jumped back s the bird's long neck shot out toward him. Its sharp beak missing him by just a hair.
It started moaning again. "Yeah you shouldn't have done that." he looked over the creature's neck. It didn't look good. "Yeah, you really should have done that." He frowned as he examined the bird's neck, it was cut badly in several places. He started sushing it again trying to calm it down, as he began advancing toward it again. "It's okay. It's okay." He said looking the large bird over.
It had a curved beak and sharp talons. Its wings were small. It was unlike anything that he had ever seen an any of mother's books. Still he knew enough about animals to know that this was a bird of prey, and he could easily be considered prey, just like the giant shrimps. If he let it die it would be one less predator in the forest one less thing that could hurt Dusk. It let out another low moan. He looked down at it. Stared in its larger yellow eyes, just like Dusk's. He sighed.
"If I help you you're not allowed to eat me or any other ponies or any of the bat ponies." He floated a bottle over to him. "I now this taste nasty, but-" The bird grabbed the bottle in its beak as soon as it was in range and started greedily guzzling the potion down. "Never mind." He watched as the bird's wounds healed and the feathers grew back. It jumped up and stood tall and proud at its full height. It looked down fixing its gaze on Escutcheon, who just stood in awe transfixed at the majesty of the bird. "You remember our deal right?" It let out a soft moan, and leaning its head down started nuzzling the side of his face. "That's a relief." He sighed. "I wonder why they took us down here?" He let his magic flow out further filling the cave room with his golden light. "What the?" All over the walls were transparent eggs. Inside was a baby shrimp monster.
"I'm not staying around to be turned into baby food. And I'm not going to just let these things hatch." Escutcheon looked around for something to use to destroy the eggs. His eyes finally finding a large femur. "That will have to work." The large bone was enveloped in his magic. He swung it with all his strength, and smashed a series of eggs. He wasn't about to let these things hatch. The less there were the less likely any would survive his plans for the night. He wasn't let any of these things get away to attack the colony.
The giant bird seemed happy to join in his mission to engage in pest control. It pecked the eggs the shells offered no resistance against the bird's beak. It scooped up the unborn shrimps and swallowed them down. Escutcheon didn't know how he felt himself wondering what the creatures tasted like. He shook his head as he smashed though another pile of eggs. He knew that eventually the creatures would return. He wanted to make sure that all the eggs were destroyed before their return. He hurried smashing each egg sack. It took the two of them only a few minutes to completely destroy all of the eggs in the chamber. He looked over the room many of the creatures were probably only a few weeks from hatching.
"Well that's that." He lowered the femur keeping it firmly in his magic. He trotted over to his things, which lay all over the ground. He caught his reflection in one of the bottles. He could only imagine how appalled his mother would have been at how he looked with egg goop splattered on him. He didn't even want to know what his mother's friend Fluttershy would have thought of him. He wiped the slime off of his face. "It doesn't matter this isn't home, and this had to be done." He looked down at his saddle bag. It was completely destroyed. There was no way of him fixing it even if he had the time and thread. He looked around. His eyes coming to rest on a brown leather bag, most likely belonging to one of the ponies from the town above, so long ago. He levitated it over to him and filled it with the sum of his worldly belongings. "It'll work." He finished the last thing to go into the bag was his combing stick.
He and the bird headed down the cavernous hall the giant shrimps had brought them down. The femur bone floated beside him. The magical light from his horn lit a meter radius around him. He focused on the darkness at the end of the hall. Every shadow could be one of those things. His ears perked at every sound. He had no intention of being ambushed by those things.
The large bird let out a soft hum causing Escutcheon to jump. The bird let out another and got beside him. Its head lowered down to his shoulder.
"Yeah, I feel a little bit antsy too." He petted its head. He was starting to get a little paranoid. The tunnels were to empty. Something needed to happen, it couldn't be this easy, could it? Just as he thought it the tunnel diverged into three separate directions. "Well, when in doubt go right. At least then you'll be right." He smiled at the bad joke. After his first couple of steps though his feathered companion butted him in the side, nudging him to the left. "Hey what gives?" It butted him with its head, again nudging him to the left. "Is there something wrong with that tunnel?" As if to answer him, the bird let out a soft whine, and nudged him again to the left. He looked down the tunnel, it seemed to get darker and more ominous as the seconds became minutes. "Well if that's the tunnel I should stay away from then that means that, that's the tunnel I need to go down. I'm not letting any of those things threaten the colony." He continued for the far right tunnel, the large bird continued its protest. "I know you don't want to go down this one. You don't have to just go back up its fine I'll do this alone." The bird answered him with a soft whine and ceased its protest, but continued to follow him down the far right tunnel.
"Your somepony's pet or animal aren't you?" he asked trying to calm his nerves. "You're to well trained to not be." The bird just looked at him. A sound drew both of their attention to the end of the tunnel. A smaller version of the shrimps came charging at them. Escutcheon swung the femur bone at it as hard as he could it collided with a bang the creatures carapace dented from the force. Escutcheon's horn lit up brighter as a bolt of energy zapped it shooting though it. No sooner had it hit the ground with a thud than another three came charging down the hall way. Escutcheon fired a bolt at one of them. It screeched as the magical bolt made contact, not strong enough to kill it out right. The other two ran into each other, the bright light from the magic temporarily blinding them. He lifted the femur bone with his magic and started bashing one of them, while the bird began attacking the other two. In a minute they had finished their pest control of the four giant creatures that had charged them. "Four down. Celestia only knows how many left." He tossed the femur bone down. It was to badly damaged to be useful to him anymore. "At least their vulnerable to light." He smiled. "And I've got a near endless supply of that. We might actually survive this."
The two of them continued down the hall Escutcheon focused his magic on the tip of his horn. He didn't like not having something between him and the imposing darkness that surrounded him. The shrimp creatures though didn't seem to be ambush predators. Everything he saw of them they preferred to use brute force and pack hunting tactics to capture their prey. So long as they didn't separate the two of them, he and the large bird should be okay. The bird lowered its head down to his shoulder, and let out a soft low moan.
"I understand, but I need to stop this. I don't want these things attacking Dusk and the colony." The bird looked at him. "These things are top tier predators, that seem to eat fish and other forms of meat. With the colony fishing the fish supply will slowly disappear and the shrimp creatures will search for more food to feed their young and they'll follow the river up to the fishing out post which won't be able to fight these things off which will eventually lead them to the colony. The only good thing is most of the homes are in the trees but still. These things-" The bird interrupted him with a confused noise. "Uh right sorry I'm an egg head." Escutcheon's cheeks started glowing read. The noise of something moving ahead of them snapped him back to the severity of the moment. He shot a golden bolt of magic down the hall.
"What the is THAT?" His heart sank as his magical bolt stuck the largest creature he had ever seen out side of his mother's books. It was easily the size of an Ursa Minor It was similar to the shrimp creatures heavily armored in a thick carapace. It was surrounded by hundreds to thousands of eggs.
The creature let out a loud ear piercing screech, it sounded a hundred times worse than nails on a chalkboard. The noise broke his focus and the two of them were completely enveloped into the darkness of the cave. Sounds were coming from both directions. Escutcheon didn't even have time to think he just focused his magic and fired volley after volley of golden energy into the room. He didn't even realize that the bird had somehow tossed him on to its back and was charging into the room with the giant creature. The only thing that he focused on was blasting his magic at everything that moved. He knew that as soon as they were surrounded or boxed in that would be the end of them. His magic left his horn just as quickly as it came. Casting shadows every where as the cave alternated between being lit by his golden light and consumed in complete darkness.
The bird let out a cry as one of the creatures rammed it from the side nearly throwing Escutcheon off of its back. He had to end this quickly they were about to be corralled into a corner. "Hold on just a bit longer! I'm about to take care off this." He knew the spell a way to deal with the problem head on. He felt sweat start to slid down the sides of his brows as his horn started to glow. He hopped he got it right. It was a spell that he read about in one of mother's books. He was grounded for a month after she found out that he had read it. His eyes opened. They were pupilless, filled with bright light that drove away all of the darkness. A flicker and spark shot from his horn soon small embers started to flow around him and the bird. In seconds the hole cavern was ablaze. He felt his limbs grow heavy as he tried to focus on the flames. He told them what to do where to go, and they obeyed. The fire flooded down the halls into the cave system, burning alive anything that was near. The bird started hooting a panicked cry as the fire slid from his control. The world started fading away despite the flames growing more and more intense. He felt his sides being singed, followed quickly by being pulled under water by a pointy beak. The colony was safe. He knew that the flames would see to that.
Escutcheon gasped for air as he coughed up nearly half a lunge full of water. The orange hue of the blazing fire across the lake lite the night for him to drag himself further away from the water's edge. He continued hacking and coughing, trying to completely purge the water from his lunges and refill them with air. He looked to his side where the large bird stood looking across the lake. He looked over his shoulders, only then noticing fire the town was burning down. He bit his lip, the fire would threaten the entire forest. He had to fix this. His horn lit up engulfing large quantities of water which shot out of the lake onto the fire. He knew he couldn't keep this up for long, his magic was already starting to fade. "Just a little longer." The gold aura around the lake faded as five water jets became three. "Just a little bit longer." Two more of the jets of water splashed back into the lake as his golden aura failed. The orange glow was dying nearly as fast as the golden glow of his magic. "Got it!" he dropped the water back into the lake as the world fell back into darkness.
He flopped back down on ground he focused on his magic his horn lit up it hurt but it didn't flicker or go out. He ended the basic light spell glad that he was able to still do magic. The bird walked over to him and gently nudged him with its beak. He look at it. "I'm fine." It sat down next to him humming softly. "You saved me didn't you? Thank you." The bird just tilted its head. He tried stood up gritting his teeth as his burnt side screamed in protest. He took off his new saddle bag dropping it on the dry sand at the shore and headed over to the lake. His magic stilled the water and cast enough light for him to see his reflection in the lake. His sides were burnt, but only just barely. He considered himself very lucky, considering the spell that he cast. He knelt down into the water letting it cool his fur and the skin beneath. Before heading back to his bag.
"Wow." To his amazement all of his belongings were still dry nothing was wet. Even the bags leather was dry. It didn't have a drop on it. "It must be enchanted. That's a good thing." He floated the bags back to his side. He screamed as the leather rubbed against his burns. He grimaced as he tried again. The pain wasn't going away. He slowly and cautiously made his way back to the lake and waded chest deep into the water. He started walking deciding that a few first degree burns weren't worth one of his last few healing potions. He waded in the water the large bird followed him from the shore line. He didn't know what he was going to do with the giant bird, he wondered if Mother would let him keep it. She had never been against him having a pet.
Escutcheon finally had to leave the lake and continue on dry ground on his quest. His sides still hurting from the burns. He took off his bags, and carried them in his mouth. He may still have his magic but he didn't doubt that any kind of exertion right now would cause him to burn out again. The sapphire in his bag glowed a soft blue lighting his path for him as he and the giant bird walked along a long forgotten trail. That lead the two of the westward. The moon was beginning its slow arch to the horizon before Escutcheon decided to stop for the night.
"Well that's that then." He looked behind him to the east the colony and Dusk at least two days behind him now. "Your safe now Dusk. Please just wait for me until I get back." The large bird lay down next to him putting one of its wings over him. the feather and wing acting much like a blanket. He moved his new bag to his head, so that he could us it as a pillow. The leather was firmer than his cloth bag had been. He didn't like the fact that he enjoyed the firmness and texture of the leather more than he had the fabric. It wasn't natural. "Good night bird." He looked over at the bird. It was already fast asleep. He smiled. "Tomorrow I'll give you a name." He closed his eyes and followed the bird to sleep.
Morning came quickly. Escutcheon groaned as he woke from his sleep. He wiped the drool from his face and tried to clean of his saddle bag. Before noticing that the feathery wing that had covered him was no longer there. He stood in a panic. His ears drooped as he looked around the small clearing were the two of them had laid down the night before. He fought back the tears that slowly came. He felt abandoned, rejected. The was a soft hum as the bushes on the other side of the clearing rustled and the bird slowly came out of the forested area. The bird stepped out carrying a dead possum in its beak.
"Good morning." Escutcheon wiped his face with a hoof, as he sighed with relief. He tried his hardest not to notice the possum, that the bird soon ate whole. "Well since you had breakfast, and I just lost my appetite I think we should start heading out." He looked to the western horizon. "Good night Mother. Good night Father," he said, before throwing his bags over his sides and heading into the forest with the giant bird. His sides still hurt but he needed to get used to it, and now seemed like a pretty good time to start.
The two of them continued until noon when Escutcheon finally regained his appetite. He the two of them stopped as Escutcheon went through his bag seeing if there was any food left. "Stupid shrimps." He dropped his bag as his stomach rumbled. He sighed he knew what he had to do, though he didn't like it. He leaned down and started grazing on the grass. It would take him a while but eventually he'd satisfy his stomach. The grass was bland and had a weird taste, subtle but enough that he was beginning to get queasy. He looked up from the ground to the bird that rested at the side of the small trail the two had been following.
"I think it's time that I gave you a name." The bird looked over at him. "How about Ostrich?" The bird just looked at him blankly. "How about Chicken. Penguin. Dodo. Scootaloo?" He chuckled. "Yeah it's a good thing that you don't like that one if I called you that Auntie Scootaloo would be pretty mad at me." The bird just looked at him. "How about Turkeylegs" The bird hummed softly, and Escutcheon to it as a sign. "Turkeylegs it is then. So Turkeylegs let's get going." He swallowed down a few more mouthfuls of grass before heading down the trail Turkeylegs walking at his side.
The weather was nice, and a soft breeze blew through the forest. Escutcheon walked along the old game trails that lead their way through the trees. Turkeylegs right behind him in the shade of the trees. After a few hours of walking throw the forest Escutcheon and Turkeylegs walked into a small clearing. In the middle of the clearing was the tail-tell sign of a campfire.
"What the?" Escutcheon walked up to the remnants of the campfire. He started hoofing around the dead campfire. "It looks like it is relatively recent." He looked down at the fire pit. "I wonder which group made this?" Turkeylegs looked down at the campfire and then looked at Escutcheon. The bird let out a low questioning sound. He looked around the campsite, around the fire several patches of grass had been pushed down. He looked back to the coals. They were still wet from the being put out.
"This are still wet." He looks over his shoulder at the large bird. "The people who did this are still near by," he said to the bird with a smile on his face. "Come on Turkeylegs lets go see what these new people are like." The bird let's out a gentle hum and scoops him up, and heads out on the trail.
The narrow game trail soon gave way to a much larger trail. The two of them headed down it until it eventually became a well traveled path through the forest. The colt and his bird continued along and at around noon soon found the owners of the campsite. The four ponies looked up in shock as Escutcheon rod in on Turkeylegs.
"Hello." He waved to the three earth ponies and the cow. The oldest of the earth ponies was tan stallion with a dirty brown mane, his cutie mark was some kind of trail bag.The other two must have been twins, one stallion and one mare both were light brown, with a gentle amber manes. The stallion's cutie mark was a campfire, and his sisters was a tent. "I'm Escutcheon." He finished.
"Well your a sight, Unicorn huh, haven't seen one of your kind in a while." He looked at Turkeylegs before continuing. "How'd you tame the Equssaraptot?"
"Turkeylegs?" Escutcheon asked slightly confused.
"He named it?" The younger stallion started snickering. Turkeylegs tilted its head. "Now I've seen everything."
"No you ain't."
"Don't mind him." His sister stepped up to Escutcheon. "So you aren't from around here, where'r you from?"
"Equestria. I'm heading west back home."
"Well works for me we could use another traveling companion. Especially if they've done and tamed themselves a bird like that." The elderly stallion walked up to the two of them. "My name's Trail Blazer. That's Story Teller" He nodded to the stallion. "And this is Trail Life." He nodded to the mare. "We're heading to Tivi there's a new town on the boarder. They've got a lot to trade with. We were there just yesterday morning."
"How are Dusk and Nebula doing?"
"They weren't there something happened that had their attention."
"You know 'em." Escutcheon nodded.
"Well I'm sure they're fine. Come on I want to be outta this forest by tonight." Cow stood up and headed on the trail.
"Just hold you're horses we're coming, we're coming." Trail Blazer headed after the cow, the two younger ponies grabbed their things and headed out. He looked over his shoulder. "You coming kid?"
"Yeah. Come on Turkeylegs." Escutcheon nodded. The six of them made their way through the forest, and arrived at the tree line just as the sun was setting on the horizon in front of them. Ahead of them a fields of grain went as far as the eye could see.
"Hey sis, what are you going to do with your share of the money?" Story Teller looked over to his sister. "You going to go see that gray stallion in the market back in town?"
"Shut it. Brother it's still a long way to Rocky Coast. It would be a shame if you lost your sleeping bag and tent, now wouldn't it." Her brother laughed at her threat.
"There's this scrawny little carrot vendor back at home." He explained to Escutcheon, and ignored Trail Life's grimacing glare. "The two of them make a cute couple, but it'll never happen. Cause he won't leave is farm, and she has to go on every trip. After every trip she goes to him with a full bag of coin, and comes home with it empty, and doesn't have a single carrot."
"Shut it." Trail Life jumped on her brother the two rolling around on the ground.
"Don't mind them just some sibling banter." The older stallion waved Escutcheon over to him. "So kiddo, where is this Equestria? Because I've been all over the world, and I've never heard of it. It must be far away." Escutcheon nodded.
"It's on the other side of the world." He looked up in the sky the sun shone down on them in the beautiful blue sky full of fluffy clouds." Where I'm from it's midnight now."
"I can only imagine how home sick you must feel." He patted Escutcheon's back. "Aye I can relate. I love working the trade routes, but home is always calling me back."
"Where is your home?" Escutcheon looks down at the elderly stallion.
"The Rocky Coast on the western coast the sound of the sea against the rocks. The smell of salt water on the air. The sea gulls' call mixing with the laughter of foals. Every time I go back I tell myself I can never leave there again." Trail Blaze chuckled.
"Then three months later he's waking me up early and telling me we're heading out again." Cow said. "I don't know how his wife puts up with it."
"Maybe Carrot Leaf can tell you. He seems to put up with sis just fine." Story Teller laughed as his sister bucked him.
"So we're going to the coast, are we close?"
"Nope, We're close to Grazing." Trail Life's voice took a soft tone, as she trotted up to Turkeylegs' side. "We're still nearly two months away from the coast."
"Is there any passage from the coast going west?"
"I'm afraid not." Story Teller walked next to his sister. "None of the ponies that have gone west have ever come back. If you're going to get home finding somepony with the guts to try to get across the see will be just as hard as getting across the ocean." Story Teller gave Escutcheon a sad smile. "I'm sorry I wish the news was better. You should try going to Marine. It's a major town a weeks trot from Rocky Coast if there's a pony out there that would give it a shot it would be in Marine." The four of them continued to talk about how to get him to the other side of the ocean, until they came to Grazing. a small hamlet. It was surrounded by grain fields. Except for a small plum orchard on the south side of town.
"I've already covered our inn fee." Trail Blazer smiled. "I'll cover your's too Escutcheon."
"Thank you sir. I kind of lost most of my valuables in the fire."
"It's alright. kiddo." They all headed into the inn.
Escutcheon woke up in the soft bed in between Trail Life and Story Teller. The sun light was just filtering into the room from the window. He closed his eyes and rolled over to his other side. It was to comfortable under the covers and between the two of them. He could almost pretend that he was in bed with Mother and Father. The warmth and rhythmic breathing of the older ponies on either side of him, made him feel safe. After a few seconds he had to get up, his emotions beginning to get the better of him. He slowly crawled over the foot of the bed making sure not to wake the two ponies in the bed.
Trail Blazer was asleep in the other bed. In the corner of the room Turkeylegs was asleep in the corner of the room. He walked over to the corner and petted the bird. It woke up with a questioning chirp. "Shhh, it's okay Turkeylegs. I'm heading out to the town. Going to see if I can find something to eat." He petted the bird levitating his bag from the bird and latching it to him. "You stay here until I get back." Turkeylegs didn't need further convincing, it lay it's head down and drifted back to sleep.
Escutcheon headed down the stairs into the inn. The only pony that was there was the inn keeper. "Hey colt you okay?"
"Huh, yeah I'm fine I was just heading out for a little bit. I want to get something good to eat."
"Alright then come on." The grey earth pony sighs putting down the mug that they were cleaning. "I'll take you to the store, let's go."
"I can get there on my own." Escutcheon frowned. "I lived in a town that was easily twenty times this size and Mother and Father would let me go to my friends houses all the time with out taking me there."
"Yeah but, I'm sure your home town didn't have a serial foalnapper." The inn keeper sighed. "We're a town of sixty families, and over the past couple months colts and fillies have been vanishing in the middle of the night. No struggle no commotion, no trace. New law's been passed nopony under the age of 18 is allowed outside alone, and all young ponies must be escorted by an adult at all times." The inn keeper sighed. "Not like that's helping us get the ones we already lost, but we can't lose anymore."
"Did you lose one of your children?"
"My only child. Me and my husband lost her a month and a half ago." Escutcheon's ears flopped back. "She was with our dog a good dog, loyal, and true, they both vanished. while she was working in the orchard. She vanished not even ten meters away from us."
"Do you have any idea where they could be?"
"None. Just that they're not here anymore. Now lets get you to the market and get you some breakfast come on." He followed her out of the inn, not arguing anymore, In the early morning sun Escutcheon noticed what he had missed when they had arrived in the town. It was covered in missing foal posters.
"Do you have something that she used a lot?"
"I think I can help." Escutcheon gulped. "I know a spell, Mom taught it to me if I have something that they held close and there's a physical trail I can find them."
The gray mare didn't even smile. "We've tried our best hounds couldn't pick up the trail besides, its been nearly two months, what ever trail there was it's long gone now."
"It doesn't matter I use magic, it the trail could be years old, and I would be able to find it." She looked down at him. "I can help you." She gave him a sad smile.
"I can't ask you to put yourself in danger. Nopony here would ask that of you." He started laughing which startled his chaperone.
"I've fought a giant living storm, walked across the desert, helped lead a slave revolt against a giant dragon that used dark magic, and killed dozens of giant pony eating shrimp monsters. A couple more things and I'll give Mother and Father a run for their bits." His face became serious again. "Besides this reeks of magic." His stomach rumbled causing him to blush.
"Well let's get you some food. I'll call a town meeting at the inn for noon." She smiled it was still sad but hope was clearly creeping in on the edges.
"So your going to stay here?" Trail Blazer gave Escutcheon a simple smile. "Well if you ever get close to Rocky Coast. Come by and see if I'm around. If we ain't out on the trade routes we'll welcome you with open arms. And if I'm not there my cabin is the southern most cabin. My wife's name is Sea Scent. Just tell her you're you and she'll let you stay around as long as you need, kiddo."
"I'll see if I can make it." Escutcheon waved, as the three ponies and the cow left heading west.
"Good luck colt." The twins said in unison. Escutcheon continued waving good-bye to them as the innkeeper sat down next to him. Insuring that he wouldn't be snatched. The town ponies had already started gathering into the town inn. The whole town so far had been earth ponies, and he doubted that any of that was going to change.
"Well most of them are here now." The inn keeper said. "We should go to them." Escutcheon nodded the trading ponies had already vanished around the amber waves of grain that surrounded the small hamlet. They two of them join the dozens of ponies inside the building. All eyes in the building focused on him and the mare that lead him to the front of the gathering. He gulped as he was lead onto a small stage that was in the corner, of the room. Turkeylegs walked up to him and lay down next to him.
"What's all of this about?" One of the ponies in the crowd demanded. "You said you had a possible way to get our foals back." The crowd erupted into grumbling agreement. "What are you trying to pull here, Plum Cider?"
"Everypony calm down please hear the colt out." She held out a hoof hoping to silence the crowd. "This is a unicorn, from one of the cities he can use magic to help us." The grumbling died down but the looks on everyponies face told him that they didn't believe that he could help.
"Um, so I can use magic." Escutcheon began nervously playing with his hoofs. "I-I know a spell that could pick up a trail that would lead to your foals." Escutcheon looked over the crowd none of them seemed convinced. He focused on his horn his magic glowing and he pulled lifted all of them up and gently set them back down. "I'm not weak, I know I'm young and small, but I've done a lot." He stands up straight and tall. "Something about this seems off, and if magic is causing this then magic maybe needed to end it." Escutcheon looked up to Plum Cider. "And I'm going to help you, all of you get your foals back." He nods walking off the platform. "I was never any good at speeches. Neither was Mother now that I think of it." Turkeylegs lifted him up, and carried the colt on its back.
"Where are you going?" she asked as he rode past her.
"To your house. Like I said before I need something that was connected to your foal in order to follow them. Come on." He waved with his hoof for her to follow him. She nods and follows him out.
"I don't think they'll agree to you helping us," she said as she caught up to him.
"I don't think that I care, what they decide to do." He looked over his shoulder at her. "Some times you just need to do what you know is right and not care about whether the ponies your helping will appreciate it of not. So I guessing you're the plum farmer?" She nodded.
"Thank you." She followed after him. "We can use her blankie, it was her most treasured possession."
Escutcheon waited at the door as Plum Cider got her foals blanket. The breeze blew through the plum orchard blowing the delicious smell into the town. At the tree line a blue stallion sat watching him making sure that he didn't disappear. After a couple of minutes the stallion got up, and walked over to him. "My wife should have gotten the blanket by now somethings wrong come on." He opened the door, and motioned Escutcheon and Turkeylegs in. When the two had gone in the stallion followed them. "Plum, where are you?" stood quietly the three of them heard a muted sobbing on the floor above them.
"Is she okay?" Escutcheon looked up to the ceiling.
"She's about as okay as every other pony in this town," he answered. "Our daughter's room is right above us. Come on. I don't think she'll be bring the blanket down here." He motioned with his head for them to come with him. Plum Cider stood sobbing at the door to her daughter's bedroom.The two of the go to her side and look into the room a golden furred dog lay next to a blanket looking at it with sad dark eyes.
"Plum Bud," she sobbed. Her husband took pulled her into a comforting hug.
"That's the blanket." Bud nods at it.
"Okay." He walk up to the bed and takes it from the dog. It doesn't try and stop him it just whines. He felt terrible taking the blanket from the bed. "It's okay, I'll bring this back. With your filly wrapping it around her shoulders. I promise." Plum Cider and Plum Bud both nod as the colt trots takes the blanket he focuses his magic on the blanket. It was just like when he played Hide n Seek with Mother. The blanket started glowing in his golden aura. He fell to his knees panting. The two adults coming immediately to his side to help him to his hoofs. "It's fine making a long standing spell is really hard to do." He trots up to Turkeylegs and remounts the bird. The blanket float to his side.
"So how does it work?"
"Think of a compass. It floats in the direction your daughter is." Escutcheon petted Turkeylegs' side the bird headed down the stairs and out the house. "She's that way Turkeylegs and I'd bet my last bit that all the other missing colts and fillies are too. Come on." The giant bird half ran in to the plum orchard heading away from the small town, and out into the wilderness.
Escutcheon rode on Turkeylegs as the two of them followed the little light blue wool blanket that floated just a meter ahead of them, so long as the blanket remained in front of them he knew that they’d eventually find the plum farmers’ daughter. The land was flat just like the plains that he had crossed before he was taken to the griffon city. He lay lazily on the birds back, as they traversed the flat grassy field the went on as far as he could see. The soft gentle breezes flowing gently through his fur and the bird’s feathers.
His eyes occasionally scanned the horizon for anything that could hold the missing children. The horizon however offered no such place. "Where could they be? I mean seriously there's nothing out here." He sighed and pulled his twig out of his bag and began combing the tangles out of his mane, and then his tail. "You hungry, Turkeylegs?" His bird companion responded with a soft chirp. "Yeah me too." He slid off of the bird into the tall grass that was nearly as tall as he was, he could barely see over the top. "Go ahead and go hunting just don't eat anybody's pet okay. I'll be grazing around here." Turkeylegs gave him another soft chirp and ran off looking for something fleshy to eat.
Escutcheon sighed, and took a bite out of the grass. "Uhg." He spit it out. "It's disgusting." He pulled out his canteen and started gulping down his water trying to get the bitter taste out of his mouth. "Nasty, nasty, nasty. He started rubbing his tongue in an attempt to get the taste out of his mouth.
"You will come to me." A voice was carried on the breeze.
"What the?" Escutcheon's ears perked up, as he looked about for the source of the voice. No such thing was forth coming. "Who's there." He slowly stood on his hind legs his eyes managing to now see over the blades of grass. Still though there was nobody there he looked up causing him to lose balance and fall back to his hooves.
"Come to me pet. I will break you with pleasures, and put a collar of passions around your neck." The strange voice echoed on the breeze. "Come to me little colt. Come to me and I will make you my willing slave. Ever. Eager. To obey." Escutcheon gulped looking around as the wind continued to move the large bitter dry grass in unending waves.
"You're the one that abducted the other foals aren't you?" Escutcheon looked around. "You're using magic I can tell. Where are you?"
"I took colts and fillies and made them my pets. They could leave if they desire, but they choose to stay with me. They choose to be my pets as you will as well. You will come to me in quick time. By tomorrow you will be my new slave." The voice flowed like honey in Escutcheon's mind as images flashed in his mind, causing a strange shiver to run down his spine. A soft whine slipped through his lips. "You'll be my new favorite colt toy."
"Get out of my mind. I know what you are."
"Oh do you?" The voice asked playfully.
"You're a changeling." Escutcheon's horn stared glowing again as he tried to get the voice out of his head.
"Not even close." The voice teased, dying away as he broke the spell. Escutcheon looked around.
"This isn't good." Escutcheon sat down trying to figure what he was going to do. "If it's a changeling then there would be a hive, but they would have replaced the foals they took. If its not though." The images flashed back to his mind. He blushed as he let his mind get distracted. "No focus, focus, focus." He picked some of the grass the disgustingly dry and bitter taste taking his mind off of the sensual images that were projected into his mind. He focused on the dry disgusting taste of the grass. "If this is something else." He remembered the voice from his last vision it was the same sultry voice. He gulped, if it was one of those then He'd need his magic especially if this time they were able to get into his head.
He waited in the grass for another hour when Turkeylegs came back, its beak lightly stained red with the blood of what ever it had eaten. "I hope your food tasted better than mine." It tilted its head. "Let's go Turkeylegs we've got a whole lot of foals that need saving." The large bird got down and let the colt climb up on it's back, the two of them headed off to the horizon the little wool blanket floating in front of them.
After several hours of following the blanket the two of them came to a stop in front of a large hole in the ground the blanket floated downward. Wherever the foals were it involved them to go down into the ground a fact that Turkeylegs refused to entertain. "Come on Turkeylegs. They're down there." The bird vigorously shook its head.
"Fine I'll go alone." Escutcheon sighed after thirty minutes of trying to convince the bird to go underground. The bird softly chirped and nuzzled him. "Yeah I know the last time you were underground it wasn't good. Just stay here and be good." Escutcheon petted the birds head. "I'll be back in about a day or two. Okay." He turned around and headed into the depths of the cave. The sapphire softly glowed lighting the cave softly. Though even without the soft faint blue light the cave never fell into complete darkness like it should have. Soon the light of the sapphire started to dull by comparison to the rest of the cave as it opened up on a cleft looking down on a large forest. The sight took Escutcheon's breath away.
Escutcheon slowly and cautiously made his way down the side of the mountain, along a small path that lead a zig-zag path down the mountain. He looked down at the massive jungle beneath him. Everything was cast into noon day light by large crystals that hung down from the ceiling. Everything was humid, and steam seemed to rise from parts of the forest. "How is a place like this even possible?" He stepped off of the rock face down on to the soft soil.
The forest wasn't empty from all around birds were calling and singing. The smell down on the forest floor was unique it was sweet, he couldn't get enough of it. His mind started to go blank, and he started walking along a clear trail, half conscious. He was taken out of his gaze by something in his golden glow moving to his side.
"Huh." He shook his head remembering why it was that he was here. The smell of the forest continued to cloud his mind. "Nhg." He shook his head and pulled out a cloth and after pouring water on it put it over his muzzle. He stood there breathing through the wet cloth. After several seconds his head clears enough for him to take in his surroundings. He had traveled along a well tread path through the forest. The blanket was no longer floating in front of him but was now pointing to his side. He looked into the jungles thick foliage. He looked around for a moment before heading into the jungle. The blanket was moving around a lot more. He froze as the blanket moved around him.
"Hello my name is Escutcheon." He turned to follow the blanket knowing that it's moving around him meant that the pony that he was searching for had to be close. "Your parents sent me to find you." He looked around concerned she was close the blanket kept going around him. He was being circled. He could feel her watching him through the foliage. "Hello?"
"Hememem, your a silly little colt what are you doing out here, and not in you pen hemmmmmmmm." A filly's voice asked from the jungle. "Being a naughty colt hemmmmmmmm?"
"Your mother and father are worried about you. Plum Cider and Plum Bud. Why haven't you gone home?" He asked concerned, as he continued to follow the movement of the blanket. "What's going on? Are the other foals from your village here with you?"
"Heeheheehehe, you're not from around here are you. Eww, it's my lucky day, my first hunt and I don't even have to leave the jungle."
"Hunt?" Escutcheon asks as a plum purple earth pony filly jumps out of the jungle foliage. She slammed into him full force knocking the wind out of his lungs. "Get off of me." Escutcheon struggled underneath her. She was his age and slightly smaller than he was, but her natural earthpony strength was enough to keep him penned under her. She took the blanket, and began to try and tie his fore hoofs together.
"Clam down silly colt." She says looking down at him her cheeks a deeper shade of purple than the rest of her. He could smell her she smelled like plums and cinnamon. He eyes widen as his mind started to fog up.
"No get off get off your in heat." He renewed his struggle his horn lighting up, and wrapping her in his magic. "Get off your in heat. Get off!"
"No no hehehehe, silly colt no lights." She licked his horn the sensation sent a chill down his spine nearly breaking his concentration.
"No you need to get off. Fillies and Colts can't be together when their in heat." He shifted his weight hard to his left side throwing her of balance as she finished tie his hooves together. His horn lit up again and he put the rag back over his muzzle and pinned her to the ground with his magic.
"Bad colt!" She screamed thrashing in his magic. "Your going to need to be tamed." He struggles to get the blanket off from around his hooves.
"Oh you wish to leave. After finally arriving." He freezes, as the voice from his last vision floods his mind. "hemhemhemhem. You are adorable, are you sure. All of the ponies that I've brought here have never wanted to leave. They stay and enjoy pleasures unparalleled." He didn't notice that his magic stopped until the filly tackled him back to the ground. "Good my filly, bring him to me, and I promise you, you shall be rewarded."
"But I caught him he's my first catch he's mine." She pins him down looking down at him her eyes full of lust.
"Now little one bring him to me first. I will tame him you can have him after that." A ring appeared in her hoof. "Put this on his horn it'll stop him from using his magic." He resumed her struggle his horn lighting up for only a second until the ring was slid onto his horn. "Now bring him here."
"But." She began.
"Do as your told or you will be tamed with him." The filly gasped and bowed her head.
"Yes ma'am." She looks at the colt. "But I get him back right he's my first hunt."
"Yes now bring him here." Escutcheon gulped and shook his head he didn't know what was going on, but he knew that it wasn't good.
"Please don't." He said through the cloth. She took the cloth off of his face his nose flooded with the strange smell of the jungle and the fillies own pheromones. "Let me go."
"Come colt let's go." She grabbed him and tossed him onto her back his front hooves tied together. She trotted into the jungle taking him bound, to whatever was attached to the crystals that caused the monsters.
Escutcheon's mind slowly began to fog up, as the smells assaulted his mind. His mind slowly began to drift from wanting to get off of the filly and get her back to her home, to how pretty she looked, and how strong she was. His eyes moved down her flank as she carried him deeper into the forest. He looked in simple awe at the ripe plum on her flank. He leaned in and inhaled deeply. His mind continued to slip as he smelled her. She smell just like plums. He leaned in and licked her cutie mark wondering if she tasted like a plum too.
"Eeeep. Wh-what are you doing?!" She jumped. He looked up at her, a confused expression on his face. She didn't taste like a plum she tasted more like sweat than anything else. "Well stupid colt what do you think you're doing?" He's ears flopped back as she bucked him off of her back. He landed on his side with at thud, his bound limbs unable to stop his fall. She trotted up to him, and glared down at him. "Well?"
"I'm sorry I thought you'd taste like plums." Fear managed to unfog his mind enough for him to get the coherent thought out. His normally white cheeks a deep red.
"That's not how you taste a mare you stupid colt." She smiled at him like a wolf. She leaned down and kissed him. His mind raced. His eyes shot open wide, and he pulled away. "What?" She demanded her snarl back on her face.
"Please let me go. This isn't right, this isn't right. That's only what your suppose to do if your in love."
"Are you stupid." She stepped on him pushing his back into the dirt. He winced as she slowly stomped on his ribs. "It's just a kiss. You're going to do a lot more than kiss me on the lips when you're a broken colt. And you're going to love every second of it like a good stupid colt."
"Please get off I-I c-can't breath." He whizzed his eyes going wide. She smiled down at him as he struggled for air.
"Don't worry colt I'm not going to let my first hunt suffocate." She took a breath before leaning down and kisses him blowing the air into his lungs. She takes some of the pressure off of his chest. She did this again and again. Taking control of how much air he got in his lungs. She soon took her hoof off of his chest, so that he could breath normally again. But didn't stop the kisses. He didn't fight her. His only protest were the tears steaming down his face. "What's wrong with you, you stupid colt."
"I'm sorry Dusk." She frowned.
"You're mine. I caught you." She slammed her hooves into his gut, knocking the wind out of his lungs. He winced tears streamed down his cheeks at the pain, but he shook his head side to side. She pulled up to stomp him again. He winced pulling his bound limbs in to try and cushion himself. She bought her hooves down, the blow lightened as soon as she struck the blanket that bound his front hooves together.
Escutcheon slowly opened his eyes. He looked up expecting a blow that would never come. He looked up at the filly that just moments before had been tormenting him. Tears started falling onto his face and chest. He gulped not sure what was going on or what he was suppose to do, as Plum broke down into sobs above him.
"Uh, Plum are, are you okay?" His voice was shaky. The earth pony filly collapsed on him crying and sobbing. "Uh, Plum?" She wrapped him up in a hug. "Shhh, you're okay," he said trying to calm her down.
"I want to go home." She nuzzled her face into the blanket that was still being used to keep Escutcheon's forelegs firmly bound. "I want to go home to mommy and daddy." She sobbed. "I want the burning to stop. I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry please just take me home. It's not right here. There's no love there's no love, here. I just want to go home."
"Why haven't you?" he asked looking up at her not thinking to question her sudden change of heart.
"She won't let me she won't let me." She sobbed into the blanket.
"If you untie me, I'll take you home, Plum. Okay?" She nodded several times in quick succession. "Thanks. Now please hurry and get off, while I can still think."
"Okay sorry." She unties his forelegs and quickly gets off of him. "Sorry it's hard to think when she gets into to your head." She pulls the blanket up close and takes a strong whiff. Escutcheon sits up, and pulls the ring off of his horn and throws it away.
"I don't I don't know. One day I was just playing with Goldie and then I-I just, I don't remember. I heard her talking to me. I saw flashes, but everything was like a dream. The next thing I remember is, I was going to hit you, but when I touched the my blankie, I felt warm and I didn't feel empty anymore."
"Were there any other ponies with you deeper in?" he asked. She nodded. "How many?"
"Hundreds." she answered.
"Who is she?" Plum shook her head side to side. "Was there a gem?"
"Yeah a big pink pearl in the middle of the temple." She looked up. "But that's in the middle of the forest. I don't want to go there. I don't want to go back."
"We need to help the other ponies."
"If we go back she'll be angry she'll do a lot of bad things to us." Plum curled up, and started sobbing into the blanket again. "I don't want her to do that to me again. Not again, oh please not again."
"She won't hurt you okay Plum, but I need you to take me there." She shook her head. "It's okay I'll be with you. I going to cut her off, so she won't hurt you or anypony else ever again." He gently rubbed her back, he tried to focus on anything other than the smell of her pheromones. "But I need you to take me to the big pink pearl okay?" He patted her back until she calmed down.
"Ohmka," she said into her blanket.
"Okay, okay." She tried to calm herself down. "It's further in."
"Okay Plum, lead the way. We'll go at your pace. Okay?" She nodded and lead him further into the jungle. Escutcheon following behind her. He pulled out a cloth and covered his nose. He looked around at anything he could think to look at, that wasn't her flanks. Slowly his mind started to clear and his hormones fell to a more manageable level. He thought about Dusk, and was glad that she didn't see him as he was only a few minutes ago.
"We're almost to the temple there are a lot of streets and pools between us and it though. How are we suppose to get through?"
"I'm sure we'll work something out," he says calmly.
Plum lead him into a thick under brush the two hoping that they could slip far enough away from any trails or paths that nopony would find them. The two of them carefully and slowly made their way further into the jungle. Plum kept her blanket tied around her like a scarf, Escutcheon held a small cloth up to his nose, so far it was helping him keep his head clear. Still it took a lot from him to ignore the strong smell of plums.
"It's not much further," she informed him as they continued their slow pace across the jungle floor. "We should probably get down. They might be looking for us." She got down flat on the ground. She grunted as she ground her back legs together, before heading to a lightly brushed area. Escutcheon did as she did. The two of them slowly crawled to a ledge overlooking a large clearing in the forest. In the clearing was a large square pyramid the top was leveled of about four fifths of the way to the top. And had a gazebo like structure on it. Surrounding it were cobbled plazas, pools, and hundreds of colts and fillies.
Escutcheon's eyes went wide as he blushed from the tip of his horn to the ends of his hooves, as he looked down on the streets and pools. Hundreds of fillies and colts were "playing" with each other. He couldn't believe what he was seeing, but he couldn't look away. He squeezed his hindlegs together. "W-what are they doing?"
"Whatever they want." The plants and water here, put you into a permanent heat," Plum answered. "They do whatever they want unless she tells them to do something else. The fillies take the colts, and the colts serve like puppies," she said with a massive blush looking over Escutcheon's body. "She encourages the fillies and colts to do more and more stuff. It normally starts with a filly or colt being brought down here, either by her or by a hunt. Then they're broken."
"Broken." A sultry female voice filled there minds. "A simple task. One the two of you will get to experience first hoof." Escutcheon and Plum panicked, as nearly two dozen ponies jumped on them. Their hindhooves were tied together, and a restraint ring was slipped onto Escutcheon's horn. The two of them continued to struggle in vain even as they were hauled down off of the ledge down to the temple complex below.
"No! No! NO!" Plum struggled and screamed. "I want to go home I don't want to break. Let me go!"
"Be quiet. You brought this on yourself," the voice said. Plum's ears flopped, and she started crying.
"Don't worry Plum. We'll be fine." Escutcheon couldn't even convince himself. The two of them were paraded down the streets of the temple complex. Most of the fillies and colts didn't even stop their "games" the ones that did were giggling and laughing at the two of them. Escutcheon's white coat made made hiding his blush an impossible task.
"So you've come here little colt?" Escutcheon's eyes went wide as a sphinx flew out of the gazebo that was on the top of the pyramid. She was easily the size of a house. The two ponies had their front hooves tied above their heads to two separate posts. "Don't you look adorable?"
The sphinx's eyes went up and down his body. Escutcheon's blush deepened several shades as two fillies tied his tail to the post making it impossible for him to cover himself. It was true Escutcheon had nearly never worn clothes unless mother and father absolutely demanded it, but he had never felt shame at being naked, until now. He felt, humiliated, ashamed, and degraded as the sphinx's eyes went up and down his body. He would have been to the point of tears if Plum wasn't there. She shifted her gaze to Plum, who tried to make herself as small as possible.
"What's this?" The sphinx's claw pulled Plums blanket away from her.
"No please give it back." Plum whined.
"What you won't need this while your here on the pole." The sphinx purred. "And all the colts and fillies are getting hot and sweaty, they'll need something to wipe off with and clean up with. This will do purfectly." Plum shook her head.
"Please no my mom made that for me, please."
"If you want it back after your broken then you can have it back." She looked the two ponies over again. "Our friends look like they don't like being naked, why don't we cloth them." Plum started struggling again as several dozen of the colts and fillies started giggling. Two chastity belts were locked onto Escutcheon and Plum. "Now open wide." Escutcheon struggled as several colts forced a bottle into his mouth. Plum received the same treatment. They put a cloth to his nose until he started chugging the potion, once the last drop was down the pulled it back and he started gasping for breath.
"What was that?" He panted his body warming up.
"An aphrodisiac." The sphinx poked him in the belly. The touch sent a shiver through his body. "It looks like it's already working. We'll check on you in a week. See if you're going to be a good colt and filly. Now everypony leave them alone, and let them think about what they've done."
Escutcheon's mind became more and more fogged as the potion's magic worked on his body. In minutes the two of them were panting like mutts in the summer heat. His mind started to fade as his body began moving on it's own accord. He grunted as he jerked his hips out. The metal chastity belt preventing the desired outcome. After hours, minutes, or days, it was impossible to tell since the sky never got dark, his need to satisfy his desire, became the only thing that he could think of. He didn't even notice when the other ponies came and jeered at the two of them, or when they left.
After an in determinate amount of time the ropes around his front hooves came of and he feel to the ground. He started shifting his body on the ground, trying in vain to get some kind of relief. His tail was untied, and flopped down as he panted twisting his hips on the ground. He looked over at the filly that had been tied up next to him as he shifted his hips. Her tail was untied but was still up at full attention.
"I think they're ready, bring them to me." He whined as they floated him off of the ground. He was floated with the filly up to the top of the pyramid. "Well look at you little ponies." The sphinx chuckled as they were floated up to the top of the stairs. "Plum, the colts have really enjoyed your blanket do you want it back?"
"Make-make it stop." Plum panted, desperation in her voice.
"Make what stop little filly." The sphinx asked as a stallion sized paw patted her, causing the filly to moan, her eyes rolled back at the first physical contact in a week. "Look at this." The sphinx purred as she moved her paw near to Escutcheon. He tried to touch it, but was held out of range of it. She laughed. "Look at you little colt you were going to stop me?"
"P-pl-please." Escutcheon whined.
"Beg me." He was dropped to the ground.
"Please." Escutcheon whined his front knees going down. The ponies around him joined the sphinx in laughing at his desperation. "Please I beg you please."
"Oh fine." the sphinx ran a single digit down his back causing him to mimic Plum's earlier response. His hind legs gave out beneath him as he fell completely to the floor. "Aren't you an adorable little colt, but I think you should go back to the pole."
Escutcheon's ears flopped. "Please no."
"Hm? Well I suppose you're almost ready." She looked over at the ponies that had brought him up there. "Throw him down stairs. When I'm done with Plum I'll have you brought up here, and finish your breaking." A trap door opened in the middle of the room, and the unicorn floated him down. Four shackles rose to meet him locking around his legs. He was pulled down into the dungeon the chains went taunt keeping him from moving around.
The trap door above him was shut, throwing his whole world into darkness. He started whimpering again as his legs were pulled taunt. He panted still under the potions effect. After nearly half an hour his eyes had dilated to the dark enough for him to see something in the dark. He started whining again wishing that what ever it was would bump him. He needed something anything. His ears perked up at the high pitch squeak. After a few seconds he heard the flapping of wings. Something brushed across his side sending as shiver across his whole body. A moment later something fell and hit his head. "Ow." He winced.
Looking down he recognized the thing that lay at his front hooves. The bag that had all of his stuff. He craned his neck trying to open his bag after a few failed attempts, and a quickly growing neck cramp, he finally managed to open his saddle bag. Everything was filled with a soft blue light. His ears perked up at the soft high pitch squeaking. Above his head was an entire colony of bats. "Dusk?" The thought of the happy bat pony filled his mind. The potion's effects fading away. "Dusk. I shouldn't have left. I shouldn't have left." One of the bats flies down and lands on him.
"Ow." Escutcheon yelped as the bat bit his ear. Several more flew down, landing on his back. He started thrashing around in a panic as they bit him more and more started waking up, and flying down on him. He thrashed his head back and forth and side to side, trying to keep the vampire bats off of him. He felt something fly off of his horn, and the faint sound of metal hitting stone was barely audible over the sound of squeaking and leathery wings flapping in the cave. "Stop." His golden magic enveloped him as he threw up a shield around him. He caught his breath as thin red streams trickled down his face and sides.
He grit his teeth and focused on the chains. He knew that he had to be quick. In an instant his golden shield went down. The bats came at him again, biting his sides, legs, and face. He focused his magic trying to think through the pain. A golden bolt shot from his horn destroying one of the links in the chain that held his front right leg. With his free leg he started batting away at the bats. Trying to keep them away from him as he repeated the task on the chain holding his front left leg in place. After his second leg was free he put his shield back up knocking away the dozens of vampire bats. Escutcheon collapsed to the floor, dozens off new red streaks running down his white body. He wiped his matted golden mane out of eyes.
"I never should have left," he said as he pulled sapphire out of his saddle bag.
"NO!" Escutcheon's ears perked up immediately. Plum's cry echoed off of the walls and startled the bats causing them to fly around in a panic. Escutcheon glared up at the ceiling. He felt his whole body heated up with righteous indignation. His shield went down, he turned and blasted the other two chains, and threw his saddle bags on his back. He looked around, the soft glow of the sapphire was now illuminating the entire room. He found an old stairway leading back up to the top of the temple. He followed it to the top, and teleported to the top and with one buck the stone flew up. He walked out as all of the vampire bats flying out as he walked out on to the top of the temple.
"What well aren't you just an eager little colt?" He ignored the sphinx instead his eyes locked onto Plum. She didn't look like the filly that had lead him to the town. She was curled up her tail tucked between her hind legs which were squeezed together. Tears streaked down her empty eyes. He blanket lay torn to shreds in front of her several colts were around her snickering at a job well done. "What you're going to ignore me? Maybe you should go back to the pole for a few months for being such a naughty colt." Escutcheon Glared at her.
"This is enough." He looked around his eyes soon finding the source of all of the trouble. A large pink pearl, twice the size of a full grown stallion. In an instant he teleported to the pearl.
"No!" Before he could cancel the spell he was hit hard by the sphinx. He was slapped across the room. He got back up in time to see the sphinx slamming into him, and hitting him into one of the pillars that was holding up the gazebo. He fell to the floor. His whole world was spinning, he looked up Plums broken empty eyes looked back at him.
"You're not going to hurt anymore ponies ever again." He fired golden bolts at the sphinx his indignation tripling the power of the spells. He charged at the crystal. His horn touched the crystal he felt the sphinx tackling into him as he cast the spell the force threw him into one of the other four pillars, as the pearl turned to dust he fell limp to the stone floor of the temple.
Escutcheon looked down on the Griffon city in the mountain it looked just like it had before he had arrived. All around griffons were looking up at the night sky. His eyes looked through the crowd. It wasn't easy but soon he found them two griffons rushing out of the mountain Gilda and Gildan, he looked down at them. The two griffons smirked looking excited for a few minutes before rushing back into the mountain. In an instant he flashed away from the mountain.
The next place that he flashed to was the city in the desert. Many parts of the city were still in ruins, and since he had left the unicorns had nearly razed the pyramid to the ground. He watched the city for several seconds. Hundreds of ponies were walking outside many of them seemed to be cheering, though he had no idea what for. He watched for a few more seconds before he flashed away.
The next place he didn't recognize. It was a small little village high up on a snow capped mountain that he didn't know. He tilted his head not sure why he was looking over a mountain village. Almost as if on cue he suddenly stood in front of one of the houses in the village. Suddenly three unicorns rushed out of the house blankets wrapped around them, one stallion, one mare, and one filly. Two of them he noticed immediately, as Pythagorean and Quadratic. He recognized the mint green mare as the mare who was one of the unicorns that had helped him. No sooner had he recognized them he soon vanished again.
This time he knew where he was. He looked down on the batpony village in the tree tops of the forest that had been his home for four months. He quickly picked out the tree that had been his home. Dusk and Nebula stood at the door. Dusk was crying, but smiling. She was happy and smiling. Then and there he resolved to go back. He was such an idiot he was so desperate to get home he didn't even realize that was already at home.
Then he appeared in him old home, in his old room, and he felt a deep pang of regret at giving up on his quest. He could hear Mother sobbing from her room just down the hall from him.
"He's still alive he's still coming home." He heard her sobbing.
"He's our colt he'll make it." Father said. He wished that he could be there with them.
"I'm sorry, Mother, Father. I can't. I can't. I can't." He started sobbing as his home faded away. "I'm sorry."
He then stood in the middle of a dark void. He couldn't move as two red glowing eyes stared down at him. "You would come to try and take what is mine. All is mine, life, death, all is mine." He stepped back. "Come to me and join all things in my treasury, and be mine as you should." Escutcheon turned and ran. The eyes pursued. "You can not flee you belong to me, they all belong to me." Just before the eyes could catch him he faded away.
Escutcheon felt light headed as he slowly came around. The world around him was dark, unnaturally so. There wasn't a single light in the sky above. He groaned to look around his head started pounding. He winced, and put his head back down. He slowly moved his head, bearing the pain.
"Are are you okay?" He recognized the voice as Plum.
"My-my head hurts." he answered, his voice was softer and weaker than it had been in months. There was a soft blue light for a few seconds, he thought it was pony shaped, but it vanished in a near instant.
"Yeah you hit it pretty hard on the pillar." She gave him a sympathetic nuzzle. "Some really weird stuff happened as soon as you destroyed the pearl. Some of the ponies are looking for survivors. They're bringing them back here."
"Survivors, what happened?" He tried to get up.
"Don't." Plum put her hoof on him keeping him from getting up. She sighed, and lay down next to him. "She had abducted hundreds of colts and fillies, and she had been doing it for hundreds of years. Her magic was what was keeping this cave bright, the forest lush, and the older ponies young and alive. It's not your fault, but when the pearl was destroyed, most of the ponies, well they, aged rapidly back to the age that they should be." Escutcheon felt the blood leave his face.
"You mean they died?" he asked in a voice quieter than a whisper. He hoped prayed that he had misunderstood what she had just told him.
"It wasn't your fault." She said again. He felt his blood freeze. No that wasn't what I needed to hear. I didn't-I came here to save them. I didn't mean for that to happen. "It wasn't your fault. They were happy, happy to finally be free." Escutcheon didn't listen to anything else he just curled up and closed his eyes. He didn't sleep the pain in his chest kept him awake.
"Plum we got the last of them." a colt's voice came out of the darkness after an unknown amount of time. "We should start heading back. Is he okay?"
"I don't know." He felt himself being hoisted up on her back. "We need to get out of here. Mom and Dad sent him here so they must know where he's from."
Alright everyone let's get going." an older voice said there was a gentle amount of light, and he felt Plum start walking. His head hurt, his heart hurt everything hurt. After a while he felt the cold of the cavern, the cave's dampness felt nice against his body. The constant dripping gave him something to focus on other than the pain. After what felt like an eternity the world was filled with light. A gently breeze blew over his body. It felt nice. He looked up at the night sky. Thousands of stars were dim compared to the complex multi colored Aurora Borealis. His ears perked at Turkeylegs' call. He felt the birds soft feathers nuzzle him. He smiled Turkeylegs had stayed and waited for him. Then he felt nothing, as sleep took him from the waking world.
Escutcheon woke up in a soft bed, he reached up and rubbed his head. The top half of his head was covered in bandages. He looked around it took him a while to recognize where he was. It was Plum's room. Down stairs he could hear talking. He looked out the window. The sun was just above the horizon. The plum field looked more alive than it had before. He slowly got out of bed, at the sound of his hooves on the wooden floor the talking down stairs died down. He wrapped the quilt around him, and headed down stairs.
"Escutcheon your awake." Plum Cider smiled as soon as she saw him. Her daughter laying asleep in her lap.
"Hello, are you okay?" Plum Bud asked.
"I'm fine." He looked to the other pony, an elderly stallion. "Are you her grand-pa?"
"No I was one of the colts that was hurting her. Not that I wanted to." The elderly stallion answered. "None of us did. I was just talking with them about how I'm suppose to get back home. I don't even know if I have a home anymore."
"What's wrong? Are you cold?" Plum Cider asked.
"No." He shook his head. "It's just I don't want to be naked. Do you have any cloths that I could wear? He looked to the old stallion. "Where do you live?"
"I lived with my parents, about sixty years ago." The stallion began. "We lived in Rocky Coast."
"Rocky Coast, you mean you lived in the same town as Trail Blazer?"
"He was one of my closest friends yes do you know him?"
"I met him on the way here. I could take you home. Then I need to head back east. It'll only be a few more months." Escutcheon gave a weak smile. As Plum Bud came in with a cloak. "Thank you he said leaving the room to change.
"The two of you can load up on some plums and bread it should supply you with enough food for the two of you to make it there." He heard Plum Bud say. After a few hours the two of them were waving good bye to the town. Escutcheon resting on Turkeylegs, and the elderly stallion standing next to him.
Escutcheon rode on Turkeylegs back as the two of them headed down the road. It was really warm under his cloak as the sun rose higher and higher into the sky. "Uhg, how do the ponies in Canterlot live in cloths all the time, this is ridiculous." Escutcheon whined.
"Why are you even wearing a cloak?" The elderly stallion asked.
"I don't know I just don't want to be naked." Escutcheon answered.
"We're both colts-er stallions here."
"Yeah I guess." Escutcheon answered. "Hey what is your name?" Escutcheon's horn lit up as he started taking the cloak off.
"My name is Sea Billows." The stallion answered. "So what's Canterlot?" He looked over at the colt. Escutcheon's face glowed red in embarrassment, at now being exposed. He didn't know why he had never felt like this before. Normally he hated wearing cloths it was the worst part of going to the Gala.
"The capital of Equestria where the alicorns live." Escutcheon gave up he'd rather wear the cloak than feel this exposed. He pulled the cloak back over him. He'd have to see if he could purchase a different outfit at the next town that they'd arrive at.
"Alicorns what is that?"
"Well they're really big an have flowing manes, and they have a pegasi's wings, unicorns magic, and earthpony's strength." Escutcheon sighed. "Oh also only mares can become an alicorn." He looks over his shoulder at the older stallion. "How long were you there?"
"50 years." Sea answered. "I don't even now if my parents are still alive." He wiped a few tears from his face. Escutcheon looked away. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." Escutcheon wiped a few tears from his face. "I'm fine."
"Is it your head?"
"No." He shook his head it didn't hurt anymore. "I just. I was going home, but." he trailed off.
"I ran away. Mother and Father don't know where I am they don't even know if I'm still alive. Not really any ways, but in order for me to go home I had to leave a new one. I had to leave behind a filly that I really really liked, I thought, I think she's my special somepony. Now I don't know what I should do. I still want to go home, and let Mother and Father know that I'm okay, but I don't want to leave my new home. I don't want to give up what I found."
"I understand well. How about going back and taking this filly with you?" Sea Billows asks.
"Where I'm going is dangerous. I don't even know how I'm suppose to get across the sea."
"Nopony gets across the sea."
"Exactly that's why I don't want her coming with me I couldn't ask her to do that." He looked up at the sun above them the road that had lead them from Grazing would eventually lead them to Rocky Coast along the road there were suppose to be several inns.
"Well how about this once you've gotten to Rocky Coast why not decide then? You don't have to decide right now and if you can't get across the ocean then you can turn back." Escutcheon thought about this until dusk as they arrived at the first inn. They got a cot and fell asleep not having to pay because the inns were set up by the government of Marine to help travel from the major cities. Escutcheon fell asleep. Not sure which home he should head back to.
The days continued in an almost rhythmic pattern. Escutcheon, Turkeylegs, and Sea Billows would wake up at the inn, and head out after a small government rationed breakfast. After a day long tread west on the road. This went on for so long that eventually the two of them went on in silence. Until after two months Escutcheon could smell it.
"Do you smell that?"
"Yes, yes I do it smells like home." The two of them ran to the crest of the hill. At the crest of the hill they over looked a small coastal hamlet. "I'm home after half a century I'm finally home." Sea Billows wiped his eyes. The two of them descended on the small township.
The small hamlet was made up of fifteen small homes that were in a semicircle around the perimeter of the town. Outside of the perimeter was a decent sized carrot farm, in the middle was a small market, and along the coast were several fishing boats. The two of them slowly made their way down to the half ring of houses.
"Wow this place has gotten a lot larger since I was foalnapped." Sea Billows said looking around, at all the homes. "I-I don't know about this." He looked at the home on the left most part of the half ring of houses. "I don't even know if they're still alive, or still here, or if they'd even take me back. I mean I've changed a lot since then it's been half a century."
"Come on Sea Billows of course they would take you back I mean they're your parents." The elderly stallion gulped, but nodded. Escutcheon didn't look him in the eyes, how could he; he was about to quit his attempts to get back to Mother and Father. "Come on Sea Billows let's go see them." The two of them headed for the house. They moved slowly almost like they were walking on eggshells.
They arrived at the house after only a few minutes. The two of them stood dumb at the front door. "I'm-I'm not sure about this anymore. I-I don't know."
"Sea it's fine. I'll help, but I don't think I'll need to. Just knock." Sea Billows gulped once more before doing what Escutcheon told him.
Knock-knock-knock. The two of them waited outside of the house for a few seconds before an elderly voice answered from inside the home. "Come in." Sea Billows froze.
"Well go on. It's okay I'll be right behind you." Escutcheon encouraged. Sea Billows nodded, and slowly opened the door. The inside of the house was small. There were two floors. the walls were made of wood with cobblestone supports. In the corner of the first floor there was a cast iron furnace two very old ponies were by the fire.
"Hello youngsters can we help you?" The stallion asks. The mare tilted her head as though she was trying to recognize someone she had met in a dream.
"Uh. I-I" Sea Billows says at a loss of words. "It's me. I-I'm back."
"Hm, do we know you?" The stallion asks studying the two of them.
"It's-It's him?" The old mare said with a gasp. "It's him." She got up. "It's my baby." She started crying, as she wrapped Sea Billows in an embrace. "It's my Sea Billows."
"Mommy." Was all Sea could say before falling apart into tears. At that moment he wasn't a sixty two year old stallion, he was the twelve year old colt, that finally found his way back home to his mother and father.
"Son?" Sea Billows' father stumbled over to him. "How we thought?"
"I was foalnapped he saved me brought me home." Sea Billows explained through his tears. Before Escutcheon knew what happened he was pulled into a hug by the Sea Billows' father.
"Thank you, oh thank you. Bless you colt you're the answer to all our prayers." Sea Billows' mother cried into the embrace. The hug lasted for several minutes. The three older ponies crying, even Escutcheon had teared up. After the hug ended they all went to a couch and sat down. Sea Billow's started explaining what had happened, and after his parents convinced Escutcheon to stay with them for the night, Escutcheon left for the market. Already he was really hungry for food, and with the boats in the harbor he was really hoping for fish.
Escutcheon woke up with a yawn. The upstairs room where he had spent the night was a large one room section with eight different beds. All but three of the beds were empty. Escutcheon looked out the window that faced the ocean. The sun was just coming up from behind him, and sky above the ocean was cast into the gentle hues of morning. He gave the west a weak smile. A small part of him dying inside. Even so he knew he was done. It was time to go home, back to his special somepony, back to Dusk Song.
"It's a beautiful view isn't it?" Sea Billows sat up in his bed looking out at the ocean. "When the tied me to the posts to break me this was what I thought about. It was the only thing that kept me from snapping and begging for the first two days. Apparently it wasn't enough." Sea Billows sighed. "Thank you Escutcheon. Thank you."
"Sure." Escutcheon nodded. Not looking away from the west.
"You're not going home are you?"
"No, I am. It's just it's a new home, and I don't know if Mother and Father will forgive me for this."
"I'm sure that they'd understand." So this little filly that you're going to she must be something. Are you sure though that she's your special somepony?" Escutcheon nodded. "Well then I'm sure that they could understand."
"Yeah. I'm going to go walk along the coast. I need to clear my head." He slides out of his bed, and head out. Though the house was on a hill over looking the coast, there was a small stairway down the shore. He headed down the steps the morning sea breeze blowing through his golden mane. He took a deep breath from the smell of salt coming in one the sea breeze. He sat down on the edge of the water and added a few drops of salt water to the vast ocean in front of him.
"Hey is that you Escutcheon?" Escutcheon's ears perked up. He looked to his his right and smiled as three ponies came up from along the beach. "It is hey how are you doing?"
"Hey Story Teller, Trail Life!" Escutcheon waved at the two of them, as he headed along the beach to meet up with them. "Hey whose this guy?" He asked as soon as they meet up.
"This is the carrot pony I was telling you about." Escutcheon looked at the stallion he, did kind of look like a carrot. His coat was orange and his tail and mane were both a grass green. His cutie mark was a golden carrot.
"So this is the pony that your sister has a crush on."
"I would hope so otherwise when she said yesh she was just messing with a poor stallions heart." He leaned in and nuzzled her. Trail Life blushed and nuzzled him back.
"We were finally able to get enough coin together to buy a large plot near Marine, and after the marriage we'll be heading to our new home." She kissed her fiance on the cheek. "Me and Carrot Plot will start up a new home, and I'll be able to run our carrots as far as the Capitol."
"Only so long as I get to spend every other, six months with you."
"Say when we were at High Tide some foals showed up. Apparently they had gone missing about a year ago. They said a unicorn that looked a lot like you helped them out. Sounds like you did it." Escutcheon's smile faded away, but he nodded. "Dang colt that's freaking amazing. Say I've heard about a job that some of the fisher ponies need doing." Escutcheon's ears perked up.
"So it's been a bit of a dry year for a lot of communities along the coast." Trail Life explains. "So they've had to sail further out to get the fish needed."
"Right so one of the main outer spots has become a haunt for harpies. The fisher ponies can't even approach the island without being attacked, and the other islands are to far to much of the fish would spoil on their return trip."
"Okay, I suppose I could use a few coins to help Nebula and Dusk."
"You're not heading west?"
"No I'm going back to my special somepony." He said solemnly, "I'll work on a spell to get me back to Mother and Father, but I'm not giving up my new home to go back to my old one." Carrot Plot and Trail Life gave him a knowing nod.
"Fair enough. I'm sure if you could help them they'd pay you a good amount. Come on I'll introduce you to the fisher ponies. I'm sure you 'll be able to help them. If what the colts from High Tide said was true harpies should be nothing for a pony like you. Sis I'll meet up with you at the Tavern." Trail Life nodded and Story Teller lead Escutcheon toward the market, and one last distraction before he would head back home.
Escutcheon sat at the tavern next to Sea Billows who was catching up with Trail Blazer. Trail Life sat on the opposite side of him between her future husband Carrot Plot and Story Teller. Turkeylegs was taking a nap at the end of the table. He enjoyed the company of the five older ponies, the spirit of the group was light and cheerful.
"Escutcheon you must be a little hot in that cloak, you can take it off here." Trail Life said looking away from her fiance to the colt. "With the cloak on I didn't even recognize you on the beach."
"It's okay, I'd rather wear the cloak." Escutcheon answered the thought of being naked mortifying him, and causing him to blush.
"Are you okay, kid?" Trail Life asked. "You didn't get badly hurt with that last one did you?"
"N-no I just don't, don't want to be naked. I really really need cloths."
"You weren't wearing anything when we met." Escutcheon's face went beet red, as he hid his face in his hooves. "Hey come on Escutcheon what's wrong?"
"Let the colt alone, Trail Life," Trail Blazer said. "He's been through a lot of stuff since we saw him last." The tone of his voice was final.
"Right. Sorry kid." Trial Life's voice became soft and motherly. She patted him on his shoulder. "Sorry you had to go through whatever you went through."
"It's fine." Escutcheon nodded. "When are the fishers going to get here?" He looked around his shoulder at the tavern door at the other end of the tavern.
"They should be here any-" Story Teller trailed off as four large gruff ponies came into the tavern. "Well speak of Sirens and they will come." Story Teller waved the four ponies over.
"Escutcheon, keep your wits about you okay." Trail Life whispered to him as the four ponies. One of them was older than the other three. He was muted blue with a peppered mane and beard. The others were just as large as him they were all variants of ocean green with black manes, and all well built. All of their cutie marks were nautical related.
"Story Teller you spun one heck of a yarn." The oldest stallion's voice boomed as he walked up to the table. "I see that not all of it was puddle fishing. So here's the unicorn's pet, where's this unicorn that you know?"
"Right here." He motioned to Escutcheon. "Drag Net this is Escutcheon." The four fisher ponies boomed with laughter.
"This wee little colt, and here I thought you had finally told a story that wasn't a tall tale. I don't even think he's old enough to have his mark yet." Drag Net half poked half punched Escutcheon in the chest. Turkeylegs glared at the stallion. "And look the colt's playing dress up, pretending to be a magician, are ya?" Drag Net started trying to pull his cloak off.
Escutcheon panicked, and grabbed the stallion in his golden aura lifting him to the ceiling and dropping him back down. Drag Net landed on the other three collapsing them to the floor. Before anypony could react he vanished and with a flash of golden light reappeared on the other side of the tavern. He low and horn glowing. To his surprise though, Drag Net and the other three stallions were laughing.
"Well I suppose age ain't everything now is it wee colt, I'll give you that one." He trotted over as though nothing had happened and patted Escutcheon on the head. "I'll give you that one. Now come along you lot ships in the harbor, and those vile harpies ain't going to leave the Island without a good fight." He grabbed Escutcheon and with one hoof tossed him into the air the tip of his head tapping the ceiling before falling back down onto the stallion's back. Turkeylegs let out a low warning call. Which the fisher ponies ignored.
"Take it easy." Trail Life said as she and her brother followed the bird and the fishers to their boat down on the ocean.
The eight of them made their way down to the beach, and after walking south for a few minutes they arrived at the docks of Rocky Coast. The docks looked like they had existed since the beginning of the coastal settlement. There were several boats moored to the dock. Only one of the boats was large enough to carry the eight of them.
"Wow your ship is the biggest one here," Escutcheon said from Drag Net's back.
"Well thank you lad, but she ain't my ship." Drag Net laughed.
"What, but none of the others are anywhere near large enough."
"Oh trust me we'll be taking that ship, but out here the ships are all communal. We share are ships with the three other closest towns." Drag Net walked lead the group up on the docks and to the boat. Several other large fisher ponies, and a few smaller built ponies were working on the ship making it sea worthy. "This'll get us to the island in around two days."
"Wait that colt's the unicorn that Story Teller was talking about?" One of the larger ponies on the ship asked. Looking Escutcheon up and down.
"A bit small ain't he?" another asked.
"He don't look like he could handle himself are you sure that we should do this instead of waiting for a detachment from Marine?" another asked.
"We don't have time for the bureaucrats to debate our pleads, besides after Marine accepts our request it'll still be two winters before we can expect a detachment from the Tivi." One of the younger fisher ponies spoke up from behind Escutcheon. "Besides this colt's got strong magic, and we can't afford two more bad seasons." The others nodded in agreement.
"Well since you say so Anchor." One of the stallions jumped off of the boat. "She's ready for the voyage and the trip back. May the North wind be on your back." The other ponies repeated the last statement and jumped off the side of the boat back on to the dock. The seven ponies and Turkeylegs walked onto the boat, and untied it heading North by Northwest.
Escutcheon watched as the land behind him slowly faded beyond the horizon. Once he was done this would be the furthest west that he'd ever go. Turkeylegs lay asleep at his side. Drag Net and the other fisher ponies worked the ship working it slowly to the island of harpies. He stood there at the end of the boat, the sea breeze flowing through his golden mane and the burlap cloak that he was wearing.
"You're not sea sick Escutcheon?" Trail Life trotted over. Escutcheon shook his head side to side in an answer. "You thinking of that pony that's back east huh. She must be pretty special to you to give up your quest."
"I'll find a spell to get me back home, but yeah she's everything. Beautiful, brave, and she has this spirit of just-" He sighed with a simple smile on his face. Just thinking of her made him happy and filled him with longing.
"I get it." She put a hoof around him. "It's the same way with me and Carrot. I hope that the two of you live to be happy." He nodded.
"Thanks." Escutcheon just watched the as the eastern sky slowly became blue, then purple, and finally fell into darkness as stars began to dot the sky. Escutcheon joined the other ponies below deck. He lay in his bed tossing and turning until the rocking of the boat on the sea finally lulled him to sleep. "I'm sorry Mother, Father." He said as sleep claimed him, and took him to troubling and painful dreams.
The second day had passed by slowly, despite the wind coming in from the southeast, helping the boat along the sea to the island. Escutcheon took the time learning from Full Mast, about how to work the sails. It took him hours to learn the jargon of everything, but once he had figured out the terms for everything he was quick to learn about the knots. Most of them his father had taught him back when he was in the Junior Guard.
"That's not bad Escutcheon now, bring the sails to half mast and this time no magic!" Full Mast watched the cloaked unicorn colt move along the mast, as he supervised from the deck.
"Why are we going half mast?" Escutcheon raised the sails.
"We're getting a good wind. If we keep this pace we will arrive at the island by midnight. It would be best to go half mast, so we'll get there a little after dawn." Down on the deck Drag Net and Anchor joined Full Mast.
"Not bad work colt. I wouldn't mind you to be my cabin colt. I'll admit you've earned my respect land you're not just some little Lilly Liver Land Lover." Drag Net called from the deck, as Escutcheon finished raising the sail. "It's a decent job, and fair pay."
"No thank you." Escutcheon tightened one of the last knots. "Once I'm done with this I'm going back East." Escutcheon quickly finished his work on the mast. He wiped the sweat off of his brow before his horn lit up. His body was surrounded by his golden aura, and her jumped down back to the deck falling gently like a feather.
"Good job Escutcheon." Story Teller looked over the colt's work.
"I'll say." Drag Net nodded. "It's a pity, you would have made a good cabin colt, and eventually a good mariner."
"Alright Everypony food's ready." Trail Life called from below deck.
"Hook, lock the rudder." Drag Net ordered the Stallion that was steering the ship. The stallion nodded and did something to the wheel. The six pony all hurried down below deck where Trail Life had prepared a some fish and salad for the eight of them. Turkeylegs was already eating a fish. By the time they had finished the meal the sun was setting to bow of the ship. Escutcheon watched as the sun sank beneath the sea.
"You okay kid?" Drag Net sat next to him.
"Just a little nervous. Not much of a mariner huh?"
"No sane sailor would be perfectly calm when sailing to an island full of harpies. Just keep your head about you lad. Harpies are furious and nasty creatures, but they can be dealt with. Now let's get below deck, we're going to need some sleep for tomorrow.
Escutcheon woke up as the moon was starting to set. As the still beneath the horizon began to light up the eastern sky. Several islands lay directly ahead of the ship. The adults watched the sky around the island nopony calling out about the land. Not wanting to announce their presence.
The boat continued its steady pace toward the island the wind from the south east filling the half masted sails. The island was a decent size. Escutcheon could see a small sandy beach which separated the ocean from the large heavily dense forest. Escutcheon's ear perked up and his coat stood on end. Even eight knots away he could hear screeching, and strange sounds coming from the island.
"You best ready yourself colt." Drag Net readied a harpoon. "Dealing with these creatures won't be as easy as floating me around a tavern, and they won't give up an attack just because you get the drop on them." Turkeylegs looked around the large bird seemed on edge.
"Twenty harpies coming on the bow!" Full Mast called out pointing to the front of the ship toward the island. He grabbed a harpoon and move to the middle of the boat, where they formed a circle. Escutcheon grabbed a long cleaning knife with his mouth, and scrunching up his face created a golden shield around the circle of ponies and large bipedal bird.
"How long can you hold up this shield, Escutcheon?" Trail Life asked harpoon in her front hooves. She gave him a concerned glance.
"It just depends how hard they hit it."
"Good job Escutcheon, just do your best okay?" Her brother looked over his shoulder to the colt, and giving him a small reassuring smile. Escutcheon gave him a weak smile back. His horn still glowing, and his head throbbing with a migraine at having to maintain a shield of this size.
It took the flock of harpies only two minutes to fly from the island to the boat. Their wings were colored like that of a hawk's. They were bipedal, several landed on the boat's deck. Their talons so sharp that they splintered the wood of the deck. Though their limbs were like that of a bird of prey their body and head were both pony like, and deep red. Their mauls were filled with two rows of razor sharp teeth. Their screeching made Escutcheon's blood run cold in his veins, and made his migraine intensify ten times over.
"Hold the circle sons don't let them pull you out," Drag Net shouted over the screeching of the harpies. The three other fisher ponies acknowledged the order.
"Sis stay closer to Escutcheon, in case anything goes wrong." Trail Life stepped back a bit her brother readied his harpoon. Turkeylegs gave a low warning call, as the harpies on the deck advanced against the circled ponies behind the golden shield.
Escutcheon's legs buckled and he grunted as three harpies dive down striking the shield with powerful kicks before quickly flying of, as six harpoons were thrust through the golden barrier at them. The screeching continued as wave after wave slammed into the shield pushing Escutcheon's will to it's limit. The harpies struck so fast however that they were able to fly off before the harpoons were able to skewer them. After twentieth or so such run Escutcheon was at his limit, and was breathing out of his mouth as two red streaks ran from his nostrils.
"Just hold on Escutcheon, we need you to hold out a little longer okay." Trail Life stood over him thrusting her sharp tipped harpoon through the shield stopping a dive of one of the harpies. Escutcheon just nodded. "Come on guys he's not doing so well."
"Right. Don't worry in about fifteen minutes, and we'll run ashore. Then we'll get under the cover of the thick vegetation, and these wretches won't be able to harass us." Drag Net thrust his harpoon through the golden shield this time it ran into the gut of the harpy it screeched and flopped to the deck bleeding out as he pulled the barbed point.
"I don't know if he has fifteen minutes. The more they strike the shield the worse he's getting." Trail Life screamed over a loud screech. The harpies charged the group and dived down on them all at once the harpoons stopped the charge of the harpies on the deck. The harpies diving down struck the shield with extreme force and ferocity seemingly in revenge of their fallen fellow. Escutcheon screamed as the shield shattered, as the harpies took back to the sky now ready to dive on the small crew.
"Damn it! Sis is he okay?" Story Teller thrust his harpoon at a charging harpy. The creature jumped back no sooner Story Teller tried to skewer a harpy that was diving down on the group.
"I don't think so." She jabbed at the diving harpy. Escutcheon lay on the deck his fun matted with sweat. He panted eyes scrunched up as two little streaks of blood coming out of his nose. "He doesn't look good I don't think he'll be able to put up another shield."
"Alright listen up everpony we're going to move as one to the lower deck!" Drag Net ordered. Swinging his weapon, and halting a charge several of the creatures. "We're going to move on three. One. Two." He halted another charge. "Three!" Trail Life grabbed Escutcheon, and put him on her back before shuffling with the mass of ponies toward the stairs that would lead below deck. The harpies continued their assault. After a minute of intense fighting they managed to make it below deck. "Boys barricade the stairs!" Anchor, Hook, Full Mast, and Story Teller quickly got to the order. Everything that wasn't bolted down was heaped at the bottom of the stairs forming an impromptu barricade between them and the harpies.
"I'm sorry," Escutcheon said weakly.
"It's okay you did what you could." Trial Life moved him from her back to a hammock. "Do you think you'll be able to do that again?"
"No maintaining shield spells were always difficult for me." Escutcheon shook his head side to side, wincing as the movement caused his migraine to act up.
"Well it ain't ideal, but you were able to help us get a bit closer to the island."
"How are we suppose to get rid of all of these harpies?" Escutcheon asked.
"Well harpies are often called down by a curse of some kind, so we just find what brought the harpies to this island and then you teleport it to the middle of the ocean. The swarm won't leaved the cursed thing. They keep a tight circle around whatever is cursed, so you'd have to teleport it about thirty or so miles away."
"Oh." Escutcheon gave a weak smile as Turkeylegs nuzzled him the soft feathers gave him some comfort. "Well I can only teleport something to where I can see it. Normally." He sighed. "If you could show me a picture of a place I might be able to teleport it there." He didn't believe in curses. Mother had told him that curses were nothing more than superstition, but then again Pinkie Sense was real. He also had seen more than he had ever read in Mother's library or seen on trips with Father to the frontier. Maybe there was such a thing as curses.
"How much longer do we have until we ram ourselves onto the coast?" Trail Life asked as she ruffled through her one of her saddle bags.
"Ten minutes. Hopefully that mound of junk and the wood on the deck will hold."
"Right." Trail Life pulled out a bottle with pale grey liquid. "Here Escutcheon you drink this it'll help fix you up." She put the brim to his mouth.
"Ewk." Escutcheon tried not to gag. "This taste like that stuff that Dusk's tribe uses."
"It should that's were we got it. Now drink." At the sound of a bang from the deck above them Escutcheon quickly complied. "Better?"
"Yeah, thanks." Escutcheon smiled and nodded. rolled out of the hammock. His legs were a little wobbly, and he was a little dizzy, but given the current state of affairs it didn't matter. "Drag Net if we hit the beach at full sail would the ship survive, and how fast would we get there?"
"Well yeah the ship wouldn't be in the best condition, but I have no doubt that it would hold up enough for us to get back to Rocky Coast." Drag Net scratched his chin. "It would probably cut our time down to a fourth. Why?" Escutcheon's horn lit up. "What are you doing colt?"
"I'm lowering the sails, but I need to focus." He scrunched up his face. Using telekinesis on something that he couldn't see was a lot more difficult, and this wasn't like summoning his bag from the griffon city. Undoing knots and retying them was a lot more complex, after a minute he was sure that he had done it right. "You might want to hold o-" The ship jerked throwing them all around as it ran ashore on the sandy beach.
"Is everypony okay?" Drag Net asked slowly getting back to his hooves. There were several grunts and a low moan from Turkeylegs. "Is that everypony?"
"I think Escutcheon's a little dazed." Story Teller tapped his face trying to snap the colt out of it.
"Oww. Wat hap?" Escutcheon asked his voice slurred.
"What happened to him?" Trail Life stooped down, and lifted him on her back.
"Well judging by the dent in the hull I'd say his horn got slammed into the wood." Full Mast answered. "Do you think he'll be okay?"
"None of us are going to be okay if he's not." Drag Net grabbed a rope, and tossed it to Story Teller. "Get the colt tied down. We can't stay here those blasted harpies will be on us in a matter of minutes."
"Right. Once we get somewhere safe I'm sure we can fix him up, or at least get him a potion."
"Just don't let the ride get to bumpy, I'm almost certain the colt's got a concussion." Story Teller secured Escutcheon to his sister's back. "How are we suppose to get off of this ship?"
"We're going to have to go through the ship." Drag Net grabbed an axe.
"Uh, don't we need this ship to get back home?"
"Once the harpies are dealt with me and my boys will be able to make this boat ship worthy again with in a day or two, but if we don't move now we won't have to worry about it because we won't survive."
"He's not wrong, we'll have to cross that bridge when we get there." There was a bang against the port bow.
"We breakout on three everypony get ready to run hard once we get into the jungle those blasted beast won't be able to harass us from the skies anymore." Everyone nodded. "One. Two. Three." With one strong swing Drag Net broke through the starboard hull. His sons charged the hole breaking it open for the others to get out. They through a volley of harpoons at the harpies that were diving down on them, as Story Teller, Trail Life, Drag Net, and Turkeylegs jumped down to the beach.
"Come on." Full Mast lead the charge for the tree line. He stopped at the edge of the jungle and jabbed with a second harpoon into the sky. His brothers did likewise providing cover for the group as the ran straight into the jungle. Only a few of the harpies gave pursuit.
"Damn those wretched beasts!" Drag Net swore as they galloped around trees and through the thick vegetation of the island jungle.
"Those monsters are destroying our ship," Anchor answered "I only hope that it gives us enough of a head start. While most of them are distracted."
"Gives us enough of a head start to where?" Story Teller jumped over one of the beast not stopping his gallop he used it's head as a spring board, and kicked off adding a few extra meters to his jump and splattering the harpy's skull.
"To the mountain. I'd bet my boat that there are caves there we should be some what safe there." Drag Net despite his age out ran the others and steered their blind charge toward the mountain in the middle of the island.
They continued toward the mountain in a dead sprint. The screeching of the harpies came from every corner of the island. The only reason the small group of ponies hadn't already been ripped apart by the predatory creatures was the massive jungle canopy. The group stayed together as they rushed through the brush of the island jungle. After five minutes of sprinting even the earthpony stamina was beginning to run out.
"I can't keep going I need to slow down a bit," Story Teller said as he started to fall behind.
"I could use with a break too." Trail Life panted starting to slow down.
"Ay, we should be safe enough around here, but we can't stop." Drag Net slowed down to a slow trot. "So long as we keep moving we should be okay." He looked over his shoulder. "How's the kid?"
"I think he threw up some time between here and the boat." Trail Life grimaced. "He definitely has a concussion. Bro, get another vial out. He needs some kind of treatment now."
"Right, right." He dug through her saddle bag until he pulled out a healing potion. "Do you think he'll be okay? This concussion is from banging his horn into the hull of a ship. I'm not sure if that's the same or not given that the horn is source of his magic?"
"Just give him the stuff, all we can hope is that this will help. I'm not even sure if this stuff will work on concussions."
"Just don't want him emptying his stomach on you again huh, sis?"
"No! I don't want him being fucked up badly." Trail Life snapped, glaring at the group.
"Calm down there Trail Life, you've come down with some terrible mother bear syndrome." Drag Net said calmly. "We don't want him messed up either."
"Right just calm down sis." Story Teller helped Escutcheon to drink the bile tasting healing potion. "There we go hopefully that'll help him. Hey Escutcheon are you doing better?"
"I thunk, wer am I?" Escutcheon asked eyes half lidded.
"We're on the harpy island remember. Hey, hey come on buddy." He lightly tapped his face. "I need you to stay awake with me okay." He looked at the group. "We need to get him somewhere safe so that we can more thoroughly deal with this a few healing potions aren't really going to fix this mess."
"You think that you two can keep up? The mountain's going to be at least a good ten more minutes at full gallop?" Everypony nodded even Turkeylegs gave a soft humming sound. "Alright let's go! You all try and keep him awake." Again the group picked up their pace. Each one of them took turns during the gallop trying to keep Escutcheon in conversation.
The group finally arrived at the mountain, and hurried into one of the caverns in the mountain. "Boy's catch your breath and then barricade the entrance to the cave. Story Teller get the colt off of your sister's back. Trail Life wipe his vomit off of you. I'll give him a look over I've dealt with bad concussions before." Story Teller got Escutcheon of of Trial Life's back. "Escutcheon can you walk over here with me?"
"Yus sir." Escutcheon tried to walk toward Drag Net his steps uncoordinated and sloppy. Turkeylegs was soon at his side helping him to where he needed to go.
"Smart bird." Drag Net patted the large bird, before pulling a blanket out of his saddle bag and laying Escutcheon down on it. He used a second rolled up blanket as a pillow. "If you can walk your fine just try and get some sleep kiddo." He gently propped up his head onto the rolled up blanket. "We'll need to cheek up on him every hour or so." Trail Life you'll keep an eye on him for the first four hours. If he looks like he's getting worse let me know. Hopefully after a few days he'll be fine, and by then we'll have found what ever accursed thing has brought these wretched beast onto this island."
"Uhg. Where? Where am I." Escutcheon slowly sat up rubbing his head as he did so.
"Finally awake, that's good how are you feeling?" Full Mast asked softly.
"Okay I guess." He hissed as his hoof ran against his horn. "What, happened?" He looked around. They weren't on the ship anymore. The wall that he could see was black smooth stone. There was a dying fire in the middle of the cave. Around which the others were asleep.
"Well quite a bit has happened since we got here what's the last thing that you remember?" Full Mast asked quietly, so not to wake the others.
"We were on the boat and I had just brought the sails to full mast." Escutcheon answered. "Then the boat jerked, and, and I can't remember anything else. Ugh what happened, why does my horn hurt?"
"Well you brought the ship to full mast, and then we ran ashore faster than you thought. You were thrown into the hull." Full Mast offered him a bottle of water. "Your horn dented the hull, I think you hit the hull and all your weight was on your horn. You've been in concussion for the last couple of days."
"I've been out of it for a couple of days?" He set the bottle down using his hoof. He wasn't going to try and use magic until his horn stopped hurting. "What's been happening?"
"Not much we've fortified this cave. We're pretty safe here. Since then we've been slowly exploring our surroundings. The jungle isn't safe at any time, day or night, but we're close enough to natural greens that we won't starve, and there are a few under ground springs so we have plenty of water." Escutcheon nodded softly. "Are you feeling better?"
"Yeah I think so." Escutcheon nodded softly again. Escutcheon slowly stood up. "I need to pee."
"About ten paces that way." Full Mast nodded deeper into the cave. "We've got a little latrine." Escutcheon slowly made his way into the darkness of the cave a small glowing pile of embers marking his way. After a few minutes Escutcheon came back. "Better?"
"Not really I think I stepped in the latrine." Escutcheon half smiled and half grimaced.
"Well it happens." Drag Net sat up. "Good to see you walking around Escutcheon, after the third day we were getting rather concerned." He walked up to the colt's side. "I've got a job for you. Something to help you wet your hooves." He gave the colt a wry smile. "In something other than our latrine." Escutcheon flicked his hoof at the oldest stallion, who chuckled. "Come on." He grabbed a smoldering branch from the fire pit, and after using a fire starter he soon had a torch. "We've found a small cavern over this way." He lead Escutcheon further back into the cave. "Do you have any idea if you can still use your magic?"
"I don't know." Escutcheon answered. "I maybe able to use my magic right now, but my horn is really sensitive right now. I really don't want to try to do any magic right now." Escutcheon looked up at the stallion. Did you find the cursed object?"
"Not yet we're checking the cave. Which is why we need you there's a cave further in, but it's entrance has purposely caved in. You might be able to fit through it." He lead Escutcheon to the back of a side tunnel. At the end of the tunnel they came to a dead end. with a small hole near the middle.
"I'm not sure that I could fit in there." Escutcheon got down.
"Maybe not now." He gave him a shovel. "We found this in the one of the caves. Somepony was here. You can dig out the bottom that'll give you a little bit more room, and if you're not wearing that cloak."
"What no-no-no-no. I'm not going naked."
"Relax colt with exception of Trail Life we're all stallions, and besides colt, most ponies go naked anyways close are just to much of a hassle." Escutcheon shook his head. "Fine tell you what only you will be in this cavern okay? Nopony will come back here to see you okay?"
"Fine." Escutcheon nodded. "I'll do it take the torch back with you. I can work in the dark."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive. This way no pony can see me." Drag Net sighed, but did as Escutcheon asked and left with the torch. Once Escutcheon was sure that he was alone he took his cloak off, and after rolling it into a ball set it aside. He grimaced. "I'll have to find out eventually." He focused on his horn. The shovel was surrounded in his glow for a fraction of a second before the pain was to much. He winced started rubbing his horn as the spell was cut. "Well at least it's not burn out." He grabbed the shovel, and got to work. After what felt like several hours he crawled out of the narrow passage and walked on the shore of an under ground lake. Under the lake was a large luminescent colony of giant water mushrooms lighting up the giant cavern. He walked up to the water and looked into the pool.
"Whose that?" Escutcheon froze at the voice. It didn't sound like any of the ponies with him. "He's not one of the crew. Who could it be." Escutcheon froze his face going red he felt mortified, and horrified. He turned and ran back for the tunnel only to be tackled half way to the tunnel.
"Story Teller! Trail Life! Full Mast! Hook! Anchor! Drag Net! Turkeylegs!" Escutcheon screamed down the cave. It echoed over and over again. "HELP!" His horn lit up he winced in pain and he teleported a meter into the hole. He felt himself being pulled out of the hole by his hind legs. He tried in vain to do it again he felt his magic, but the pain quickly became to much, and passed out, slipping into unconsciousness.
Escutcheon slowly woke up, to the worse headache he had ever had. His hind legs were tied together, and his forelegs were pulled as far as they could go, tied to a two separate post. "Ow my head."
"You is this one. I don't remember this one." A gruff stallion looked Escutcheon over. "Which ghost are you colt, what tartourus spirit are you to torment me? I don't recognize you."
"Let me go please let me go." Escutcheon's face became red as he tried to shrink up and cover himself or hide himself. "Just let me get my cloths please."
"Cloths why do you need cloths you're a pony and a colt. He is a colt yes." The old stallion leaned in and sniffed him. "No no no. He's not an aristopony. He stinks of the dirt with a bit of ocean."
"Please." Escutcheon started to tearing up.
"Quit your crying!" The sound of the slap echoed through the cave. "Now you called to others were are they? How many How'd you get here?" Escutcheon shook his head. "If your don't answer me colt I'll tie your hind legs apart." Escutcheon closed his eyes. "Hmm, why don't you just teleport away I've seen you do it." The stallion looked him over again. "Yes he can I saw him. Yes I did! I'm not mad. You haven't made me mad yet!" He screamed at the echoes. "I'm not mad yet. I've still got my mind, they've not taken my mind."
"Who, who are you?" Escutcheon risked getting the strange stallions attention again.
"I'm captain Buckler. Captain of the King's Revenge. I'm still the captain!" He screamed over his shoulder. "I'm still the captain. I'm still the captain of my ship."
"Where is your ship?" Escutcheon asked a bit more confidently.
"Gone along with my crew. At that damnable zebra curse they all died when the Harpies came. Those beast they tormented me, but they wouldn't kill me." He looked down at Escutcheon. "But if I have your horn I'm sure I can break the curse. Use your magic colt break the curse, and I'll make you my first mate. We'll sail the skies and seas together, and take revenge on those damnable zebras."
"Right if I'm going to use my magic I'll need my magic robes which are on the other side of that wall." Escutcheon hoped that the crazed stallion was crazy enough to believe him.
"And how do I know that your not trying to trick me huh?"
"If you help me dig out the hole you can come with me. The ponies I'm with are here to get rid of the Harpies."
"Tricky, tricky colt, do you think my head is full of rocks. You're going to try and leave me here."
"No I-" Escutcheon's protest were cut short as the stallion's hooves began to crush his throat.
"You're in league with the Harpies all a plot to trick me out of my hiding place so they can continue their tormenting. I'll not be tricked by some colt." The sounds of falling earth soon drowned out the sound of the Escutcheon being strangled. He opened his eyes in time to see Drag Net and Anchor tackling the deranged stallion to the ground. Trial Life wrapped his cloak around him.
"Are you okay Escutcheon?" She asked. He coughed and nodded hoping that she'd think his tears were just from him being choked. "It's okay your safe now." She pulled him into a hug as her brother untied the ropes restraining his forelegs.
S"You'll not take me out. I'll not go back I'll soon die than let the Harpies have me! I'm not going back, I'll never go back." Captain Buckler struggled against Drag Net and Anchor. "You'll never take me back to the Beast. I'll never return. Drop your curse zebra drop you curse. You've made your point." Captain Buckler began sobbing.
"What the hell is this stallion's deal?" Trail Life asked looking away as Escutcheon quickly clothed himself.
"He's been stranded on this island for a while I think he's completely mad." Escutcheon answered, calmness returning to him as he got his cloths back on.
"Aye I've been on this island. The Harpies tore through my crew, destroyed my ship, drove me to the brink of madness. All for a zebra's curse. I'll not go. You won't take me to them."
"A zebra's curse, you know the cursed object?" Story Teller asked.
"Aye I know it." Captain Buckler answered. It wasn't long ago I sailed the western edge of the map. To the very ends of the world. I sailed from The Great Storm, to the Leviathan Mountains. From the End of the World to the Shores of Tivi, Sho, Roga, and the Empire."
"And about the cursed object."
"I heard about the great treasure. The ransom of a thousand kings. With veins of diamonds. When I heard the story I knew it to be true. But there were trials and a beast. So I shang-hied several zebras from a merchant ship and headed to the Mountain of Leviathan. It was there that all hope was lost. The last zebra cursed me with their last sane breath, and then threw themselves off the cliff. The Harpies a month after. They killed everypony, they destroyed my ship, and tormented me day and night, night and day. Until I washed ashore on this island. Here I've hidden in the rocks, in the darkness, and they've not found me." He looked at them. "And now you've come yes to save me from my curse to take me to the flame of the island. To save me from my curse." Drag Net brought his hoof down hard knocking the mad pony out.
"Escutcheon. Did he hurt you?" The elder stallion asked.
"No, I think he was going to though, what are we going to do? It's not a object that's cursed it's a pony. He needs our help and I don't think I'll be able to do magic. I think I hurt myself bad trying to get away from him." Escutcheon answered softly rubbing his head.
"If we kill him that ought to break the curse, besides it serves him right trying to strangle a colt." Trail Life glared at the smelly old earth pony laying unconscious on the ground.
"No don't. He's mad, maybe he might have done bad things, but that doesn't make him a bad pony." Escutcheon stepped between her and Captain Buckler.
"Aye, but it does suggest that he is a bad pony." Full Mast grabbed some ropes, and tied Captain Buckler's legs together. "Well whatever we do I don't want this mad pony getting loose."
"I say we though him into that lake wait for the Harpies to leave and then go home. He had know right to do what he did to Escutcheon." Drag Net sighed.
"This is why you don't work with colts and fillies, when there is a pregnant mare around their mama bear instincts get turned up to eleven."
"I'm not pregnant!"
"You're about five weeks in Mrs. Carrot you'll start showing it in a bit."
"Wait you're pregnant? What the sis what are you doing here. Mother and Father are going to flip if anything happens. When did the two of you even."
"Relax bro. I'm not pregnant."
"Nah, after having five children, I know how to tell when a mare's pregnant." Drag Net answered calmly as his sons tied the crazed stallion.
"I wasn't in heat."
"Mares don't normally fill their heat until about two or three days after they've become fertile." Escutcheon spoke up. "All of the books I've read about pony physiology have all agreed about it."
"Oh no." Trail Life face hoofed. "How many books have you read."
"Twenty-two." All of the adults looked at him in absolute disbelief. "What? Mother had a really big library, and encouraged me to read at least three books a week. I'm an Egghead okay. Sheesh!" Turkeylegs nuzzled him softly. "Thanks Turkeylegs."
"Great well it doesn't matter, because I'm just a few days in, so we'll just need to get this done before I start feeling it, so wake up that crazy bastard. So we can figure out how this fuck caused this mess, and why this fuck was trying to choke Escutcheon."
"He did it because he's crazy, lady just like you. Anchor, get some water and wake this two bit reprobate up. I'd like to get back before she starts having morning sickness." Drag Net calmly walked up to the stallion putting a hoof on his chest. "Wakey wakey," he said as Anchor threw the water on to his face.
"Argh, what is it stay back! Stay back! Spirits, ghosts begone!"
"Enough." Drag Net slapped Buckler so hard that the sound echoed through the cave. "We're not spirits nor ghost, we're fishers, and caravaners!" Drag Net's voice matched Buckler's in intensity. "Now." His voice took on an eerie calm. "Why where you chocking our colt when we found ya?"
"The colt?" Buckler looked to his left. "The unicorn colt?" He turned his gaze to Escutcheon. "He's real, he can break the curse with that magic of his. Release me from by bondage to these evil harpies. With his magic. Yes, yes it could work I could finally be rid of these evil harpies." Buckler broke down into a fit of maniacal laughter.
"So you know what was cursed?"
"Aye. I know, and I know who did it." Captain Buckler looked over his shoulder. "I keep it locked away deep deep in the island. So that it can't get away. I haven't been able to destroy it yet, but with a unicorn's magic. I could do far more than destroy it. All I need is his horn."
"How about this." Trail Life trotted up to the stallion. "You show us where this thing is, Escutcheon destroys the damn thing, and then we fix our ship and leave your ass stranded here on this forsaken island."
"Take the harpies away. Just take them away. Then yes you have a deal."
"Well that was easy. Get up, show us where this place is."'
"Ay I'll show you this way to the dingy." Buckler's hooves were untied, and lead the way back a row boat. It easily fit all of them Turkeylegs gave a low call moving close to Escutcheon.
"Yeah I know you don't like being underground. Its okay." He pet the bird, and nuzzled it. Turkeylegs' soft feathers helped alleviate some of his migraine. Trail Life set down next to Escutcheon, her brother set next to her. Anchor and Full Mast rowed the boat as Captain Buckler directed. They grumbled as the mad stallion changed direction at seemingly random times. The soft blue, bioluminescent glow slowly faded away, giving way to a deep hellish red glow.
"We're approaching the fire pits. I keep it locked away there in the flaming pit of the island." Buckler looked over his shoulder. "It was a good idea you wretched cur!"
"What is going on."
"The volcano is still active?" Escutcheon asked as the boat floated into a mist like steam coming from the heated water.
"Aye, the flaming pit of the island still glows." Buckler answered. "We won't be able to take the boat all the way to the fires, but it'll get us to the steps."
"How is there so much fog under here?" Story Teller asked as the boat slowly made its way across the subterranean lake. The fog was so thick that it was becoming difficult to see the end of the boat from the other.
"We must be getting close to the molten core of the volcano." Escutcheon answered. "I wonder were all of this steam is going though I didn't see any from the ocean."
"It escapes through vents on the other side of the island the harpies us it to heat their nests. In one of the caverns above us. Let me tell you poached Harpy Egg like revenge is best served cold." Captain Buckler's laugh reverberated off of the cave walls. A sudden shriek killed the crazed stallion's laughter. Full Mast and Drag Net grabbed their harpoons. Everypony looked around trying to see anything through the fog like steam of the subterranean lake.
"May-maybe that was just the sound of steam escaping though a small hole." Escutcheon hoped that he sounded more confident to the others than he did to himself.
"Nay that were not steam." Captain Buckler looked around. "That was the cry of a wretched beast." Story Teller put Escutcheon between him and his sister. Turkeylegs let out a low moan as the boat slowly and quietly made it's way to the unseen shore. The cry sounded again somewhere in the fog.
"Where is it?" Story Teller grabbed a harpoon as did his sister and looked around.
"I have absolutely no idea." Trail Life tried to make shapes out through the fog. Between the four of them they had every approach to the boat covered but stuck in the steam they could barely see one end of the boat from the other. the boat suddenly jerked as they ran aground. The shore was composed mostly of gravel. Full Mast got out of the boat.
"Ow careful the ground here is hot."
"It'll only get hotter from here." Buckler got out of the small row boat and helped pull the boat ashore. "I know I haven't told them yet." He said over his shoulder.
"Haven't told us what yet?" Drag Net demanded as he stepped onto the hot gravel.
"I haven't told you that the Harpies hunt down in the fire pit of the island. They have their own way down to the pit of the island. But it doesn't matter."
"It doesn't matter?" Trail Life grit her teeth. The predatory call came again out of the fog, much closer this time. She looked over her shoulder. "And why the heck doesn't it matter?"
"Because we have a unicorn silly mare. As soon as he breaks the curse It'll all be over and the harpies will leave. And then I can leave. I can finally be off of this accursed rock." He started laughing again, just as loud as before.
"Shut up you idiot." Drag Net put his hoof over the crazed stallion's mouth. Not soon enough. There was a sudden swooshing sound as a Harpy dove on the group. Trail Life and Story Teller thrust their harpoons up just in time to get it to break away.
"Not again, not now." Buckler grabbed Escutcheon and ran across the gravel beach. "Quickly unicorn this way." Escutcheon tried to struggle out of the earth ponies grasp to now avail.
"Stop that crazy bastard." Full Mast tried to chase after them, but two more harpies came from the fog cutting him off as Buckler ran through a hole in the far wall, and descended the stairs with a crazed laughter. After half a minute the stairs let up to a massive chamber. Volcanic rocks jutted from a pit of molten magma. There was a small natural bridge that lead to the center of the room. All around harpies flew through the sulfuric fumes.
"What the are you insane there are harpies everywhere. I thought this place was safe." Escutcheon stopped struggling against Captain Buckler. Afraid of falling down into the magma pit beneath him, turned to cling to the demented stallion. "Why on Equus did you bring us down here? I thought you said it was safe here."
"It'll be safe as soon as you destroy the curse. Undo it and it will all be safe."
"We should go back it'll be safer to come back with the others. They need our help. I can't focus enough right now to float anything from over there to us."
"You just need motivation."
"What?" Was all Escutcheon was able to get out before Buckler threw him onto the thin volcanic stone bridge. With the strength that only an earth pony could have, he smashed the bridge behind him. "You're insane. Escutcheon struggled to his hooves.
"Whatever needs to be done to free myself of this curse!" He screamed, and jumped over to the Escutcheon's side of the volcanic bridge. "Down here you Damnable beast, come on you vile foul fowls. I'm down here come and get me!" He screamed at the top of his voice trying and succeeding in drawing the attention of the harpies. "Now run colt. Run before they get you or worse I do!"
"You're mad!" Escutcheon turn and ran toward the center of the room in the middle wrapped in a clearly enchanted cloth. His head was pounding just a loudly as his heart was. His lungs burned from breathing in so much Sulfuric smoke. A harpy's talons slammed into his side. He screamed in pain, and struggled free. He grabbed the edge of the bridge struggling to climb back onto the bridge his stomach burned as he pressed it against the magma heated stone.
"Get up!" Buckler garbed him and hurled him. He smashed against the central platform.
"Escutcheon!" Trail Life and Story Teller jumped on to the bridge. The object fell on to him.
"Undo the curse now colt. Undo it or I'll undo you." Captain Buckler glared down at him. Escutcheon pushed up against the burning stone. His hoof trying to stop some of the bleeding caused by the harpy. Another harpy came down. Buckler grabbed it and threw it against the away the harpy was unable to regain control in the air, and fell into the magma it's pained cry mercifully cut short. The harpies pulled away keeping their distance. "Now Colt!"
"If you touch him your dead you lunatic!" Trail Life screamed.
"Okay." Escutcheon unwrapped cloth. It was a mirror. He put his horn to it. Nothing. "I-I don't get it. This isn't it! There's no magic for me to cut." He looked at his reflection in the mirror. His own horrified and soot covered face looked back at him.
"It's you, of course your the accursed thing." Buckler burst out laughing.
"What?" Escutcheon's felt a sudden burst of pain as Buckler's forehoof smashed into him nearly throwing him off the central platform.
"Leave that colt alone you yellow bellied coward, pick a fight with a full grown stallion why don't you!" Drag Net, his four sons, and Turkeylegs all easily jumped over to the bridge.
"It was you all along colt. You're the accursed thing. And once you fall into the fire, I'll finally be free, Free, FREE!" Buckler laughed like a mad stallion as he walked toward Escutcheon.
"Leave. Him. Alone!" Trail Life tackled into the mad pony. He caught her by her mane and threw her down. She grabbed him and brought him down to the burning stone with her. "Escutcheon get back to the camp go!"
"He'll go nowhere but the fire. Today, I'll be free of this curse. Free finally free. And if you try and stop me you can join him." He grabbed her, and threw her against the central pillar. In an instant he had her harpoon and thrust it into her abdomen and pinning her to the volcanic rock behind her.
"No!" Escutcheon screamed.
"Trail Life!" Story Teller threw his harpoon at the crazed captain. Time slowed down as Escutcheon watched Buckler garb it in his hoof. He spun it around and hurled it. Escutcheon's heart stopped as the steel tip drove itself into Story Teller's chest, all the way even some of the wood went into him, piercing his heart.
"Brother!" Trail Life sobbed, her hooves falling to her side, as her brother fell the the ground. Dead long before his head slammed into the heated stone.
"No!" Escutcheon rammed into Captain Buckler with all his strength. Buckler grabbed him and threw him across the room far from the platform. Escutcheon slammed into one of the stone pillars that rose from the magma. He hung on to it for dear life.
"You'll finally set me free. I'll be free. I'll be free. You won't stop me colt. You'll not prolong my suffering any longer." Buckler leapt to the stone he managed to make it. Grabbing it just before it met the magma. "You'll not get away. You'll never get away." Buckler climbed the pillar grabbing Escutcheon by the hind leg.
"No get off! It was you were the cursed thing all along. Get away! Get Away!" Escutcheon's side burned from the open wound. His heart was crumbling from watching Trail Life and Story Teller die. His lunges burned from the sulfuric gasses. It was all his fault. He found buckler. He thought he could get rid of a few harpies. It was all his fault. "No!" With one strong kick from his other hind leg Buckler was thrown off of him. He bucked with all his might. "Go away!" Buckler lost his balance and fell back into the sea of magma. He screamed as he sank beneath the liquid rock.
Escutcheon felt something grab him. He looked over his shoulder to see a harpy. It wasn't nearly as ferocious looking as before. Now it looked like a beautiful mare with a white flowing mane. The talons had faded into nearly nothingness. It dropped him back onto the central platform. "Judgement is given. The dead avenged. The curse fulfilled. Go now." It's voice was smooth and soft. That was all it said before it faded into smoke. Escutcheon was grabbed by Full Mast, as his world faded away.
Escutcheon woke up on a wooden boat. The felt the sea breeze, and the small waves at the boat went over them. He slowly opened his eyes. In front of him Full Mast and Anchor were at the oars slowly pushing the boat along. He slowly got up. "Where are we?" he asked, his throat scratchy and dry. His body was warm under the noon day sun.
"Your up?" Drag Net looked over the shoulders of his two of his sons. Turkeyleg's woke up next to him, and gave him a gentle nuzzle. Escutcheon leaned in the birds feathers felt soft and warm. "Well we're about a day and a half from Rocky Coast." Drag Net answered. "If were lucky we'll make it there before night fall tomorrow." Some thing foul blew in on the wind. He looked over his shoulder, and his heart sank. Behind the boat being tugged along by several ropes was a coffin. "It wasn't your fault."
"I was the reason we were there. I got caught by Buckler. They died trying to keep me safe." Escutcheon pulled the hood of the cloak up, and leaned his face into Turkeylegs' soft feathered body. "How isn't this my fault?"
"It's not your fault lad it's Buckler's fault." Hook said next to his father.
"Story Teller, Trail Life, and her Foal would all still be alive if it weren't for me!"
"Story Teller has passed on to the next life, yes. His sister however is still in this one. And they both would have survived if that mad pirate hadn't killed them. It's not your fault colt don't think that it is."
"She's still alive, how?" His ears perked up, and he looked over his shoulder. Laying in between Drag Net and Hook was Trail Life. Bandages and cloth wrapped around her abdomen.
"She's alive. If we can make good time back to Rocky Coast she should be able to make it. We used ever potion we had on her, but it wasn't enough for a complete recovery." Hook answered. Escutcheon nodded.
"Are there anymore oars."
"Aye there are two more, but we're taking it in shifts right now." Drag Net nodded. Escutcheon quickly found the other two oars, and grabbed them in his magic. "What do you think your doing."
"Helping. I already bereaved Trail Blazer of one of his children, if I can help save the other one then I will."
"It wasn't your fault." Escutcheon wasn't paying any attention. He just focused on the oars. As the sun made it's way down to the horizon behind them Full Mast and Anchor switched with Drag Net and Hook. "You should rest to colt."
"I'm fine." Escutcheon answered weakly. His voice devoid of any kind of emotion. Drag Net sighed but let him continue until he got tired. Escutcheon never stopped working the oars, and by noon the next day they arrived at Rocky Coast. The village came to the docks, to greet them. Trail Blazer and his wife stood at the very edge. Escutcheon didn't look away from the boat. Hook and Drag Net hauled the still unconscious Trail Life out of the row boat.
"What happened where's Story Teller?" Trial Blazer's wife asked. Escutcheon didn't look away from the boat. He didn't move. A moment later she must have found the coffin. She burst into tears.
"What happened?" Trail Blazer sounded dead inside.
"It's a long story, and I'll tell you everything, but you need to get your daughter attended to. She could still succumb to infection. The rest of you get digging." Several ponies nodded and headed away. Soon only Drag Net, the Trail Family, Carrot, Turkeylegs and Escutcheon remained at the dock. Trail Life had already been taken into the town.
"What happened?" Trail Blazer's wife asked between sobs, as she leaned against her husband for support. Drag Net nodded, and told them everything. After a few minutes he had somehow told them how they had lost their only son.
"The colt's taking it pretty hard."
"I don't blame you Escutcheon you did nothing wrong." The second Escutcheon heard Trail Blazer he lost it. He put his face into Turkeylegs' soft side and sobbed.
By nightfall the town had hewn a small cavern into the cliff face. The whole village some twenty five to thirty five ponies gathered for the ceremony. Escutcheon watched from the back. The moon threw everything into soft shades of grey. They put the coffin into a niche. They all said their good-byes before sealing the cave. The head of the ceremony a black as night earth pony passed around fruits. After a small eulogy, he lit a fire and they all cast their fruits into the flames. Escutcheon turned and headed east.
"Where are you going?" Trail Blazer asked.
"I'm going home."
"I thought that was west."
"I have a new home, I was just to stupid to realize it. I'm sorry, I'm sorry about Story Teller I didn't mean-"
"It wasn't your fault." Trail Blazer cut him off. "I wish you happiness Escutcheon. And I hope that you make it home safe." He patted Escutcheon on the back.
"What about your pay for the harpies?" Drag Net walked up to the three of them.
"Keep it, give it to them. I don't care. I don't want it." In a flash of golden light he and Turkeylegs vanished, reappearing at the fields on the outskirts of town.
Escutcheon walked along the road leading back to east, to the colony. He continued walking along the road, until he couldn't make it any further. He sat down, and broke. "I-I-I'm surry Mu-mummmie." He sobbed tears rolling down his face. "I tried." He lowered his face to the ground. "I-I-I tried. I tri-" His voice cracked. He didn't bother to continue trying to talk he just continued to sob. Turkeylegs stood over him looking over him trying to see where he was hurt. The large bipedal bird lowered down and nuzzled him gently, and gave a soft call. The coal gasped down his breath not able to rebuild the dams after he had broken them.
The night wind blew in gently from the coast there was a fog that slowly rolled in from the sea. The moon's beams spread through the fog casting an eerie glow around everything. Escutcheon looked at the moon. He knew that even then his mother was in day light. His red eyes glistened in the soft light. Something flew between him and the moon. He sniffed and rubbed his eyes with his hoof. The thing landed on the ground. The fog bang fell back as the figure landed.
"Whose there?" Escutcheon asked straining his eyes.
"It's me. Is, is that really you?" Escutcheon's ears perked up at the feminine voice. He hid his eyes behind his cloak.
"D-Dusk?" He croaked.
"It is, Escutcheon!" She screamed with joy and ran up to him jumping on him half laughing half crying. Turkeylegs stepped back not sure what to do to the little bat pony.
"You're alive, I knew that was you a few weeks ago. I knew it. I knew it. I knew it." She sobbed. She nuzzled the colt tears streaming down her face. "Escutcheon, Escutcheon."
"Dusk what's wrong?" He wrapped his hooves around her his voice was hoarse. This must be a dream. "Why are you crying?" He nuzzled her back. It felt real.
"I thought you were dead." She pulled away her tears dropped on his face. They felt so real to, he almost wished he were awake, but this had to be a dream. "The fire, all we found was your bag, and those things." She leaned back down and hugged him, nuzzling him softly. Turkeylegs leaned in and nuzzled the two of them. Deciding the bat filly was no threat to itself or to Escutcheon.
"Dusk." Escutcheon nuzzled back. He looked up and found the filly asleep. He took of his cloak, and gently wrapped her in it, like a blanket, with a smile. "Good night Dusk I'll be home soon. He pulled her close. This was the best dream he could hope for, and soon he'd make it a reality. "I'm coming home Dusk." He whispered as he drifted to sleep. The ground around him shinning blue in the light of the sapphire shard in his saddle bag.
Escutcheon walked through an all encompassing fog. He looked around for Turkeylegs or Dusk. They were nowhere to be seen. "Hello!" His voice echoed back through the all consuming void. "That's not how echoes work, an echo is caused when sound waves bounce off of flat surfaces, if this is an empty void there wouldn't be any echoing." His voice continued to echo back to him. He sighed. "If this is my dream and I know how echoes work then why am I still hearing an echo?"
"Because Escutcheon, it's not a dream." A voice answered from somewhere dip in the void. Around him glowed the soft glow of his sapphire. Out of the void and fog a cloaked figure walked out toward him.
"Who, who are you?" Escutcheon asked stepping back into the fog hoping that it would cover him.
"I do not know." Even though her voice was soft it too echoed from every direction. "There are many things that I do not know, many things that I cannot tell you.
"Well what can you tell me?" Escutcheon asked.
"I know everything that I have seen through your eyes. I know that I am connected to the sapphire that you have been carrying." She sighed, and her voice softened further. "And I know that my family is far away separated by more than just space." Two eyes glows beneath the hooded cloak. "I know that you have broken three of the ancient spells put in place so long ago, and I know that there are more still out there."
"Wait, what?" Escutcheon spoke up. "How many are there? Where are they what are they? Who even cast that spell?" His voice got louder and louder. The fog enveloped the cloaked mare.
"Another time perhaps it seems that you must go now."
"What? Why? Where are we." The world faded further and further into the fog until nothing was left but him.
"Escutcheon." He heard Dusk's voice echoing from everywhere. In and instant his eyes shot open, and he sucked in a breath of air, as the bat pony filly blew a raspberry on his stomach.
"Wakey wakey sleepy head." Dusk said with a smile. She was still wrapped in his cloak from the night before. Her bright yellow eyes glistened in the sun, as she laughed at her own antics.
"It wasn't a dream. You're really here." He looked at her a second later realizing that he was naked. "Dusk don't look I need my cloak!" He screamed in a panic.
"What's wrong?" She jumped back in shock. Turkeylegs jumped back in shock as well.
"Just give me my cloak please." He tried to hide himself he felt ashamed, embarrassed, confused as to why he felt the way he did, he had been completely fine with it when the met. He had defeated the Sphinx. Why was he filling like this? Why was it even worse around her?
"Okay." She hurried and gave him the cloak. "What's wrong Escutcheon."
"It's just. I-I don't feel comfortable being naked anymore." He expected her to laugh. She didn't.
"Why not I mean you had no problem being open when we met?" He quickly wrapped the cloak around him. "Did something happen to you? I mean most ponies don't even bother with cloths."
"I know. I just-I don't want to be naked. I can't be." Dusk sat down next to him.
"We can talk about it."
"Sure, but first maybe breakfast, and you tell me why your hear."
The two of them had a small breakfast of oat that Dusk had packed in her saddle bag. As the sun rose higher into the sky, Dusk put her saddle bag between the two of them. "Escutcheon could you help me get this on please?" she asked holding up a golden necklace. Escutcheon nodded, grabbing it in his magic he fastened it on her. She rubbed a small black opal that now hung around her neck by a golden chain. The black opal glowed for a second.
"What was that?" Escutcheon asked swallowing down the last hoofful of oats.
"It's called an Eclipse Amulet." Dusk answered. "It protects my eyes, so that the sunlight won't hurt them." She looked down at the necklace. "Does it look nice?"
"Yeah. It looks really good on you." She blushed.
"Yeah!" She jumped on him wrapping him in a hug. "I'm glad. It was my mom's."
"Dusk why are you all the way out here?" Escutcheon asked as she let go. "I mean I'm glad to see you, and I'm glad that you're here I'm just, confused."
"Well I wanted to travel with you." She smiled. "I mean you got me back home safe, you saved my entire colony. And then when the fire happened. I-I thought that you were dead." She gulped and rubbed her eyes. Escutcheon put a hoof on her shoulder. Turkeylegs watched like a guard dog. "Then when I saw the lights, I knew that it was you. I had to go. I just had to."
"I'm sorry." He looked away.
"It's okay." Dusk leaned in and nuzzled him. "Let get moving 'kay?"
"Yeah." He the three of them stood up he started heading east toward the sunrise.
"Uh, Escutcheon, where are you heading sleepy head I thought that you were heading West?"
"I'm not I'm going back to the forest?"
"Why?" She tilted her head.
"Dusk, it's just not safe there's a massive ocean, it's the edge of the map. The only lead I have for getting across is Marine. I'm done I was heading home to you and the colony."
"You're giving up?" She stepped back.
"I can't do it anymore Dusk, especially if you're with me."
"What's that suppose to mean?" She scrunched up her face, and glared at him. Her voice was much louder, and her tone had become harsher.
"Dusk, it's not safe I'm done I can't do it. Let's just go home." Escutcheon took a step back.
"What's wrong with you. Who are you?!" She pointed a hoof at him. "The Escutcheon I knew wouldn't give up, he was better than that, stronger than that. He beat a dragon and saved my whole colony." She glared at him for a second. "You're not him."
"Dusk." Escutcheon looked physically hurt at that.
"No!" She poked him. "You're not him. He was strong. He wouldn't give up no matter what!"
"I CAN'T, I got, a pony killed." Escutcheon's voice broke. "Because of me Story Teller died. Please I couldn't live if it was you. I can't do it, I can't do it anymore."
"Escutcheon." Dusk's voice softened, and she sat down next to him. "What happened?" He sat down and told her everything from where her found Turkeylegs, Grazing, the sphinx, Rocky Coast, the harpies, and finally about Story Teller. She just sat there next to him for the longest time. "Escutcheon it wasn't your fault," she said looking at him with a soft smile.
"They all said that."
"Because it's true." She nuzzled him. "Now let's go." Got up, and put a wing around him. "Now where is this Marine place?" she asked.
"Dusk it's too dangerous."
"Then protect me." She smiled. "Now where are we going?"
"Trust me you won't need to." She nuzzled him again. "Somepony has to tell you mother and father that you've given up so that's what I'm going to do, or you can come with me, and the two of us can get you home, just like you did for me. I had given up in the cave. This is your cave. And I'm going to help you out." She nuzzled him.
"Then let's get going. If we can't find a way to get you home we'll go back to the forest. Okay?"
"Okay." The three of them headed north a soft breeze carried the smell of the sea from the west in the early morning air.
The two ponies and Turkeylegs continued on the road heading North west. Escutcheon's eyes would occasionally shift down to Dusk's blank flank. Dusk yawned and leaned against Escutcheon. "Are you tired Dusk?" Escutcheon slowly guided them to the shade of a persimmon tree.
"A bit I've been on a Thestral sleep schedule." She yawned as he laid her down in the soft green grass, under the shade of the persimmon tree. Escutcheon grabbed a few of the fruits in his magic and floated them over to her. She took one as he popped the other into his mouth. He pulled out his combing stick and sighed. "You still have your combing stick I thought you might have lost it given the rat's nest of a mane." She gave him a playful smile as she curled up.
"Hey I was on a boat then an island of evil harpy monsters. Then on a row boat for several more days, what's your excuse for your wild mane." He winced as the stick caught on a tangle. "Well?" He looked down she was already asleep. Turkeylegs was laying on the other side of her asleep as well. Escutcheon smiled before continuing to fight the tangles in his golden mane. After ten minutes all the tangles had been combed out of his mane. He put the stick back in his bag and grabbed a few dozen persimmons.
Dusk woke up next to Escutcheon. The sun was still high in the sky. Escutcheon was sleeping next to her in front of her were about a dozen persimmons. She ate through her lunch before standing up and yawning. The other two woke up quickly after. "Come on let go." She flew over to the road. Turkeylegs and Escutcheon followed after her.
"Already?" He asked. "You only slept for a few hours."
"Yeah. I'm good. If I'm traveling with you I need to get on your sleep schedule."
"Okay just don't push yourself."
"I'm fine." Dusk answered as the three of them continued along the coastal road. They continued for three days, on the third day they arrived The walls on Marine rose to meet the horizon.
The two ponies made it to the massive marble walls of Marine, by noon. Though the sun poured down over head the weather was still very nice as the breeze blew off of the ocean. The air tasted of salt water. The road lead the three of them through a large gate into an equally large paved plaza. The plaza was surrounded by a wall had three large gates that lead into the city itself, one gate on each side. The plaza was filled with ponies heading into the city, or heading out. Along the wall were dozens of carts selling every good imaginable.
"Wow this place is crowed." Dusk looked around at the massive crowd as the three of them pushed their way to the gate to the right of the main gate. "I mean I heard that Marine was large but this is insane."
"Dusk maybe we should get on Turkeylegs' back I really don't think getting separated in here would be good." He looked around. "Not even Canterlot was this cramped."
"Can Turkeylegs' carry the two of us?" Dusk asked looking up at the large bird. Turkeylegs seemed to answer with a soft moan like chirp. Then leaned down lifted Escutcheon up on to its back. Remarkably Turkeylegs leaned down again and lifted Dusk up onto its back. The bird looked back at the two of them. "Never mind I guess Turkeylegs is stronger than I thought."
"Yeah. Dusk hold on okay." She nodded and wrapped her hooves around him. He wrapped his front hooves around Turkeylegs. "Come on, let's see if we can't actually find ship yard." Turkeylegs gave him a weird look. "That way." He pointed past the inner gate. Turkeylegs head through into the city. The streets were made of slabbed stone. Most of the buildings were made of the same stone. Very few of the buildings were made of wood. As they made their way further and further from the plaza the streets cleared out more and more. The ponies gave them weird looks as they made their way down the street. Dusk eventually jumped down and flew next to them.
"So Escutcheon exactly how much do you think it's going to cost us to get a boat?"
"I have absolutely no idea. I don't even know if we'll be able to get a boat. From what I've heard nopony's ever gone west and returned." He answered. "Besides I don't have any money even if they'd take us I don't no how long it would take for us to get the money necessary."
After an hour of looking they finally found themselves at the docks of Marine. The docks extended nearly the entire length of the city against the coast. "Hello," Escutcheon called out to the first captain that he could find. "Can you help us. We need to know how much it is to rent a ship."
"Ha, well you've come to the right place, lad. All the captains charge different, but the real factor here is where it is that you are heading." The young stallion jumped from his boat to the wooden dock.
"West across the ocean." The stallions face went pale.
"You're both insane nopony will take you west!"
"Surely there has to be one!" Dusk spoke up. "Just one captain in all of Marine that has the guts to go."
"It's not a matter of having guts, it's a matter of brains."
"There is still one captain in Marine that's got the guts to do it." A gruff voice spoke up from behind the two of them. "Unlike these dock clinging, Lilly-liveried land-lovers. But the question is do the twos of you have the money to pay 'em with?" The turned around to see a large unicorn stallion. He was wearing a black coat, and had an eye patch over his left eye. His face and legs were covered in scars.
"We don't have anything right now, but we'll work we just need to know how much we need." The older stallion sighed and rubbed his chin.
"Let's see there'd be the cost for me boat, me crew, meself, food and water for the voyage, maintenance for the return. and the length of the voyage, so that'd be 1000 Dracari."
"How long will that take to get?" Dusk asked.
"Hmm, between the twos of you 40 years."
"Forty years!" They both shouted.
"Give or take."
"Well then captain, have your ship ready." Escutcheon smiled. "We'll be back before the end of the year."
"Sure you will, but until then off with the lot of you."
Escutcheon woke up as Dusk walked into the room. He groaned as he sat up on the bed, and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Turkeylegs was still asleep in the corner of their small inn room. "Good evening Dusk." He rolled out of bed his body still sore from yesterday. He had been working in one of the mines outside of town, the work was tiresome, long, hard, and low paying.
"Good morning Escutcheon." Dusk nuzzled him. She took the apron off from around her. She worked down stairs as a dish washer in the tavern on the first floor of the inn. She pulled two copper coins out of the pocket of her apron, and put it in her saddle bag. Escutcheon had enchanted it so that only the two of them could open it. "Don't worry I paid the rent today." She sat down on the bed. She pulled out two small things of bread. She passed one of them to Escutcheon.
"Thanks." The two of them ate their bread in silence enjoying each others company. "Dusk?" Escutcheon asked after finishing his breakfast.
"Should we head back to the Colony, I mean we can earn money there, and it's not like we'll be in the worst inn in the city, and the labor will be less laborious."
"Yeah I was thinking the same thing, besides we could probably ask the merchants from Slo and Tivi if they know of a ship that could take us across the ocean for less, but we don't have enough money to head back right now. By the end of the week, I was thinking we should have enough to buy the food that we would need to make it all the way back." Escutcheon nodded.
"Yeah, maybe I could do full double shifts?"
"No, you can barely handle 12 hours down there you don't need to do 16."
"Yeah but then I'll be bringing in 5 coppers instead of 4, and every third day I'll get 6."
"Escutcheon it's fine." She nuzzled him again. "We'll be going back to the Colony, okay, don't do anything like that okay. I don't like it when you're down there. All the customers talk about bad things about the mines."
"Don't worry about it. It's completely safe." He nuzzled her again. "Just get some sleep I'll be back by 5 or 6 okay." Dusk nodded with a yawn. She lay down on their bed. Escutcheon's horn lit up and he wrapped her in the covers.
"Be safe, Escutcheon."
"You too." He grabbed his saddle bags and headed out the door. The tavern was right under neath their room. Escutcheon walked through the crowd of ponies that were drowning their sorrow in alcohol most of them were miners that worked in the same mine as him. He walked out of the inn. The moon was still out, and the sun wouldn't be up for the next couple of hours. The breeze off the ocean sent a chill down his back. He headed down the street quickly. He stayed in the middle of the road to avoid any of the alleys. It took him half an hour to get out of the city. The sky was just beginning to glow in the light of morning when he finally made it to the mine.
"Hello horn head. Good morning Coal Colt." His foreman called him over. His boss' was the mine owners son. He was a good stallion. "Hurry up colt I can't count you on the clock until your in the mine." He tossed Escutcheon his helmet. And met him at the pulley elevator. He descended into the mine. "You'll be working in Section 5-A today." Escutcheon nodded. "Be careful there have been reports of support problems down there. There should be a crew down there fixing it today. I'll come and get you at around 6 hours, it'll be 11 and you can have your breakfast out in the sunlight."
"How do you do it. The sun really hurts my eyes." He asked as they continued down. "I'm having to use Dusk's scout goggles when I come out."
"Yeah, you never really get use to it, Coal Colt." They reached the bottom of the elevator shaft. "Now head out and get to work."
"Yes sir." Escutcheon nodded and hurried off into the mine.
Escutcheon wiped the sweat off of his brow smearing his forehead with black coal dust. Level 5-A was the deepest he had ever been, and consequently it was a lot hotter than he was used to. He continued pushing the cart full of coal up the mine shaft's steep incline. Even with his magic it was a near impossible task, he couldn't imagine how the other Coal Colts, all of whom were earth ponies could do it.
After what felt like an eternity he crested the steep side shaft. He pushed the cart along the rails and pulling a lever pushed it up against the other four full carts of coal. He pulled the lever switching the active rail, and again wiped the sweat of again. He drank what was left of his morning water ration. It wasn't close to being enough to quench his thirst. He grabbed the next empty cart, and headed back down. When he had first started his job three days ago he had been tempted to ride the cart down the steeper side shoots. However, the older Coal Colts had advised him against that, saying it was a bad idea, and even with his magic the cart would be going to fast at the bottom and would end up jumping the rails. He tightened his magic's grip on the cart as gravity began pulling hard on the cart. He began guiding the mine cart back down to the other miners, guiding it slowly down was nearly as strenuous as pushing the full carts up the steep angle. He continued down for several minutes before reaching the bottom. He grabbed each the coal bags of each of the other six miners emptying them into the cart, before arriving a his point in the wall. He grabbed his pick ax and got back to work.
"That was cart number five wasn't it. Not bad Coal Colt, not bad at all." Pick Ax dumped a bag of coal into the cart. He was Escutcheon's trainer. They had been working with each other for the past three days. Pick Ax also would also escort him back to his inn, to make sure that he wasn't mugged. That and he was also a frequent customer at the bar.
"Yeah just an hour before lunch. I just wish that the crew would hurry up and get down here I would like to be able to work with out the fear of the ceiling coming down on my head. I don't think this will do us much good in a cave-in." He tapped the helmet on his head.
"Eh, they don't do much of anything," Pick Ax said walking away. "They've been down here some twenty times. This damn hole is called Death's Lottery."
"Good to know." Escutcheon wiped the sweat off his brow with all the coal dust and soot, he could have easily been confused as having a black coat. He had nearly finished filling the sixth cart of the day. When his ears perked up at the sound of hoof steps echoing down the shaft.
"Lunch time everypony." Their overseer called as he walked down the shaft. "Time to eat and get some rest, come on let's get out of here." There were hoots, as everypony dropped their tools. Suddenly there was a rumble. Escutcheon's ears flopped, the rocks that formed the ceiling above them gave way. Instantly Escutcheon's horn lit up.
"Run!" He screamed before gritting his teeth. The older ponies ran up the shaft, thinking that he was right behind them. He tried to keep up, but the strain of lifting nearly ten tons of stone was to much. He dropped it not clearing the area. He put up a small shield to keep the rubble from crushing him like a bug. His legs gave way underneath him. His horn hurt, but the second the spell failed it would be over. If he dropped the shield to teleport away he wouldn't have enough time to complete the spell before being crushed.
"Escutcheon! Coal Colt!" The others voices were muffled but sounded like they were yelling.
"Heeelllp!" He screamed as loud as he could.
"Don't worry we're coming, colt!" He grit his teeth his horn was really starting to hurt.