The young ex-apprentice barely slept through the night, coming to full wakefulness in the early morning of dawn. Sunlight, not warm or dim, completely indifferent to the town’s imminent danger, filtered in through the window of Twilight’s guest room. Her heart began to race again as she remembered what was set to transpire that day, and she threw herself out of bed and rapidly began to get dressed. She slung the golden tome of powerful magic under her arm and rushed out of her room, and was somewhat startled when Fluttershy did the same from the room beside her.
Fluttershy had equipped a set of Icarus’s basic leather armor given to archers, with the exception of her golden helmet. She also had a shiny new golden bow slung across her back, and her normal quiver of arrows at her belt. Twilight’s eyes raised at her new weapon. “Fluttershy! Where’d that bow come from? That wasn’t with your helmet when we were fighting Nightma- er, Princess Luna.”
“I think that whatever force gave us these gifts,” Fluttershy explained, “just wasn’t sure what to give me, so it only gave me armor and no weapon. But now that I’ve found a skill that suits me, it’s come back and given me the other half of my gift. Oh, Twilight, where is your tiara?”
Twilight felt the top of her head, and cursed herself silently when she realized she forgot her tiara in her haste. She dashed back into her room and retrieved it from the desk she had left it upon, and gingerly placed it atop her head. She wasn’t sure if the accessory actually helped her battle skill or defense at all, but she felt more powerful wearing it, and would seem more heroic to the people following her. Twilight grabbed her book again, and joined Fluttershy in moving back to the entrance hall.
The twenty-five man strong unit of Icarus’s soldiers were already gathered outside, ready to march, visible through the wide window above the great doors. At the foot of the stairs, making final preparations, were Rarity, Opal, Blake, Fafnir and Sweetie Belle. Rarity’s golden chest plate and rapier were equipped, among a gleaming new set of stark white armor. She turned her gaze up the stairway at the two girls. “Oh, good, you’re both awake. Though it’s hardly a surprise... Oh, yes, please come down here. I’ve got something better for you to wear than those silly plain-looking garments.”
Twilight and Fluttershy looked to each other, slightly surprised, and joined the other three at the ground floor. Rarity moved over to a table beside the stairway, motioning for Fluttershy and Twilight to join her, and Twilight gasped lightly when she saw what Rarity had prepared for them. There was a full set of leather armor, much higher quality and fancier than the standard-issue wear of the Icarus archers, or even the Silver Arrows. Several yellow cloths hung out as capes and tails, and a small emblem of a pink butterfly was emblazoned at the breast.
For Twilight was a deep violet cloak, one that would hang heavily but comfortably over her shoulders. It was long and with many coattails, so that wearing it would conceal Twilight’s arms and legs completely and turn her into a blur of darkness firing magic at the enemy. Like Fluttershy’s, a unique emblem was affixed to the breast, this one a slightly vertically stretched, six pointed, pink star.
"I've been working on these sets of armor almost since the night we met." Rarity said. "I put extra care into customizing them to each of your skills and techniques, as well as taking into account the pieces of armor granted to you by the Elements of Harmony. It took some doing to make full plate mail that wouldn't slow down Rainbow Dash or Pinkie, but I think it should hold up. Fluttershy, your armor is also quite light to support your flight, and I've had the leather reinforced to be stronger against long range attacks, which will be your main concern.
"Twilight, your new mage robes should protect you just as effectively, but in a slightly different fashion. The many folds and dark colors of this cloak generates an effective optical illusion while moving, and makes you virtually invisible while stationary. Even if the enemy can get a lock on you, any shots they take will be certain to miss by miles. The garment is also equipped with the same magic-enhancing properties that all modern mage robes come standard with."
Both Twilight and Fluttershy held up the garments appreciatively, and quickly moved to another room to change. The heavy robes draped over Twilight's shoulders, the ends of the long sleeves almost touching the ground, and the coattails dragging around her, but they attracted no dirt or dust. Her golden-bound spell book an tiara were in stark contrast with the black and violets of the cloak, though they seemed to compliment one another.
She stepped back into the entrance hall, and saw that Fluttershy's armor suited her perfectly, yellow and gold matched by the soft pink of her hair. Prepared as they could be, the three Elements, two Laguz, half-dragon and visiting noble all stepped outside and began to march with the gathered soldiers. They continued to speak quietly as they walked: "Are you sure about letting Sweetie Belle come with us?" Twilight asked, "She's just a young girl, and we're facing war..."
"She would be no safer anywhere else in town." Rarity stated ominously, "Besides, it's not as though she can't defend herself. Young as she may be, she has received more training than many others older than her with a bow. I've insisted she stay on the back lines with the other two Crusaders, but I believe that is the best place for them to be right now."
Twilight understood Rarity's reasoning, sad as it was, and decided to change the subject. "So, what is the meaning of these symbols on our armor? I've never seen them before." Rarity's new armor also bore an emblem, though it was on her shoulder piece instead of the golden chest piece, and it was of a trio of blue diamonds.
"Oh, these?" Rarity chuckled slightly, "To be honest, most of them only have fairly vague meanings, but I thought it suitable for the heroes to each have a symbol to go with their names. In dark times like these, the people need heroes and symbols to rally around and give them morale and hope, and the Elements of Harmony are the only ones for the job. Of course, the name 'Moonlight Resistance' begets the memory of Princess Luna and her first rebellion, and we can take hope that this time will be a success."
Twilight nodded, preferring to remain silent for the remainder of the short trip. The group soon reached the northern barricade, where, even in the earliest hour of dawn, the Silver Arrows were already stationed and ready for combat. Commander Octavia and Colonel Lyra stalked back and forth across the wide line, ensuring that their troops were in position and ready for the storm. Pinkie sat beside Kyle behind one of the barricades, comforting him until she was needed as well.
The young baker saw the others approach and waved, but remained where she was. Clearly, some kind of deeper connection had been made between her and the winged soldier. Her golden spear and double bucklers sat at her side. Rarity called over to her, and to one of her soldiers to step forward. The soldier of Icarus brought forth a bundle of some sort, which Rarity took from him and laid on the ground before Pinkie. The cloth covering the contents was thrown back, revealing a full set of magenta armor.
Pinkie's eyebrows rose, and Rarity explained that she had created armor for each of them, then began to explain the details of the armor. "Yours, much like Rainbow Dash's, had to be able to protect you without subtracting from your speed or maneuverability, though at least I didn't have to account for wing holes. It should be able to keep up with all the random attacks you do just as well as the clothes you normally wear into combat. I've also left spaces on the arms for your bucklers."
"Oh, wow, thanks Rarity!" Pinkie said. Coming as no surprise to anyone, she stripped off what armor she was already wearing right then and there, then began fastening on the new armor, soon assisted by the other Elements. Intricately painted on her breastplate was an emblem of a trio of balloons, two blue and one yellow. She bounced on her heels a few times to test the weight of the armor, and smiled in satisfaction. “This must have taken a lot of time to make... and money.”
Rarity held up a hand to dismiss the issue. “Money is no issue when it comes to keeping my friends alive, I assure you. Seeing the finished product shine in glory, and do it’s job and protect you, is reward enough. Besides, I enjoyed making them. It’s an art.”
“Alright, soldiers of Icarus.” Lyra said, the local troops snapping to attention. “Since there aren’t many of you, I want all of you to stay by the barricades. Mages and archers among you, take your places with the Silver Arrows. Everyone else, I want you spaced roughly evenly along the length of the wall for general support: medical evac, assistance reloading, messengers, or fighting close-quarters if the enemy gets that close. By the time that that happens, reinforcements will already be fast on the way, and you’ll just need to hold them off until you can join the bigger fighting force.”
The Icarus soldiers all gave a quick salute and dispersed among the deserter battalion. Two more soldiers left a pair of bundles on the ground beside Rarity before scurrying off to their positions, and Twilight guessed that Rainbow Dash’s and Applejack’s armor was stored within. Octavia strode up and took a few moments to size up the four Elements gathered, deciding on orders for them. “I think it would be preferable if the soldiers could see you among them, so they have a source of morale to draw on. Twilight, Fluttershy, and Rarity, you can all fight at long range, so you should help fire upon the approaching soldiers as much as you can. As for you Pinkie, and the others, you should remain with the troops and offer encouragement and support, then help to lead the charge when the tides begin to shift.”
The four nodded, and Twilight scrambled up to a slightly higher vantage point. She peered out in the distance, towards the city of Eclipse, but saw no sign of their enemy. A few fluffy but gray clouds floated across the sky, but the sun still shone low in the east. She sat for several minutes, allowing the wind to run through her hair and toss her flowing robe about, waiting for something to happen but dreading when it did.
About fifteen minutes after their arrival, she heard several more people approach, and turned around to see Rainbow Dash, Scootaloo, and the Apple family. Rarity greeted them as fondly as one could in the situation, and quickly explained once again that she had made equipment for all six Elements. Both the cyan and caramel-orange armor sets were similar in shape to Pinkie’s, only with slight differences in the dimensions, and a pair of gaps in the back of Dash’s for him to slip his wings through. His bore an emblem of a cloud and tri-colored lightning bolt, and Applejack’s a simple trio of bright red apples.
“Rainbow Dash, yours was easily the most difficult to engineer, as I had to make the metal stand up to your potentially supersonic speeds, but I think it should hold. You’ll also find that it’s light enough to fly normally in. Applejack, yours will most likely simply act as any other suit of armor, but knowing that you now have ice abilities, I slipped in some emergency thermal protection. Since your golden arm-guard would not be as noticeable against orange armor such as this, I made sure the design would be different in order to give it distinction.”
Rainbow Dash soon walked over to where Twilight sat, clad in his handsome new armor but with hair as messy and eyes as tired as always, and sat beside her. "How're you holding up?" he asked. "I know you've lost a lot, we all have, but you're going to want to focus whatever rage you have instead of rushing blindly at them. A little rage can be a good thing on the battlefield, though. It'll give you a reason to not give up, and keep yourself alive."
Twilight nodded appreciatively, still a bit unaccustomed to how kind Rainbow Dash had seemed these past few days. Had the pressure of war gotten to him? Or was he like this all along, and Twilight's own perspective had changed? Unbidden, her gaze drifted over each of her friends gathered behind the barricades, as though to test and compare her past and present convictions of them.
Applejack. There was never any secrecy or sugarcoating with her. She said what was on her mind, what needed to be said, and had nothing to hide from her friends. That wasn't to say she was brutally honest, though, and would never say something just for spite. Her relatively simple nature allowed her to see the bare-bones of any problem, and when one of her friends was hurting.
Fluttershy. Even when her own heart was in turmoil, she lived to ease the suffering of others. Using the gift of music given to her by a dear, departed friend, she was able to calm the storms raging in people's minds and avoid countless conflicts that would have spilled unnecessary blood. Her kindness was infectious, and Twilight knew that she would help to calm the violence of the world.
Rarity. Twilight only had to look at the clothes that she and the other Elements wore for a demonstration of her generosity. Rarity had everything one could need in life, and demonstrated again and again that she was willing to give it all away for the ones she cared about. Even if none of the members of her remaining family were fully legitimate- if that- she cared about them all more than anything.
Pinkie. To try and rationalize anything she did was a futile and maddening effort, but once you took a step back and saw her bigger picture, you began to appreciate how good a friend she was. She was in eternally good spirits, and even now- in the face of peril- she was cracking jokes, giving people encouraging hugs, anything to evoke a little laughter. Devoid of any true family, she thought of the whole town as hers to protect.
Finally, Rainbow Dash. Stubborn and short-tempered were words that came to mind in a person who had just met him, and while there may have been some truth in those accusations, he was nothing if not determined. Even for his own safety, he would never back down and abandon the things he believed in. And even to the ends of his life, he would stay loyal to his friends and convictions. Twilight had hated him at first, but now was glad to have met him.
Rainbow Dash shifted where he sat. "There was one other thing I wanted to do, just before all of this starts." he explained. "There are enough clouds in the sky right now that I can play around with the morale of both sides a bit. If I put all of the clouds on their side and get them to rain, the enemy soldiers will be all damp and feel pretty lousy, and hopefully in less of a fighting mood. Meanwhile, our guys will have the sun at their backs, and things will look bright."
Twilight nodded thoughtfully, looking towards the horizon again. No soldiers, and a few clouds, just as Dash had said. "I see what you mean... Are you sure you can make that work?"
Rainbow Dash laughed. "Sure I can! Shouldn't even take more than a minute or two to get everything just right. I'll just need to borrow a few more Children of Air..." as he spoke, his gaze drifted inward to town, and Twilight followed along and saw a new group of soldiers approach, ready to defend the town. "Ah, here's New Dawn's troops. I'll just pull a few from them for a minute." He slid from his perch and began talking with the commander of New Dawn's troops, the Hatarian Vomora. Twilight had been hesitant at first to trust him, since this was the same man that had tried to kill her seven years ago, but she had been convinced his intentions were now pure.
Rainbow Dash launched into the air, three more Children of Air following close behind. A large number of New Dawn troops joined the other archers and mages at the wall, while the rest lingered behind, ready to leap into action. Behind them, Twilight could see the reserve forces of the town's hastily assembled militia, including the Crusaders, who were checking their weapons to make sure they were ready. Applebloom had equipped a pair of short katanas, while Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle had their normal spear and archery equipment, respectively. She hoped that they would not have to fight at all, but they seemed ready if push came to shove.
Rainbow Dash skidded to the ground a few minutes later, his face all business, and the three following him showed signs of panic in their eyes. "They're coming." the blue-clad swordsman stated, loud enough for everyone to hear. "Just beyond the line of sight of town. They were waiting too, but they noticed my men and I screwing around with their cloud cover and started shooting at us. Jessie here got a little singed, but otherwise the pot-shots all missed."
A medic quickly began tending to the soldier's wound. Twilight knew that these medics knew what they were doing, since because of them, her once sprained arm was almost as good as new. "How many are there?" Lyra asked Rainbow Dash, just as tense as he. "And how long will it be until they arrive, now that they know we're planning something?"
"It's just as we feared." Rainbow Dash said, shaking his head. "They've brought out the whole central army. In addition, there's a few rather nasty looking light-based summons among them, probably courtesy of the Queen herself. I estimate that, now that they're on the move, we have about thirty minutes before they get within firing distance."
Twilight could not repress a slight shiver. As the soldiers around her all scrambled to finish any last-minute preparations, she kept her eyes glued on the horizon. Her heart leapt when she first saw the mass of enemy knights approaching, the flag bearing the sunrise emblem of House Apollo and Celestia's throne waving above them. Rainbow Dash's idea of setting up a rainstorm for them seemed to be working, a the clouds they were marching under were heavy with moisture, and only needed a small spark to begin their downpour. Gritting her teeth, Twilight charged up a large lightning spell, then sent it racing forward at the clouds. Rainbow Dash gave a nod of approval, and the spell was sent splintering through the clouds, illuminating the approaching soldiers a moment before the rain began to pound on their armor.
“Hold your fire!” Lyra ordered, loading a clip into her crossbow. “Let them draw in close enough that we can hit them with everything we’ve got! It won’t do to let them know the extent of our range!” The gathered soldiers nodded and found their final place to shoot from. Twilight flipped through the pages of her golden tome, found a lightning spell more powerful than any she had ever tried, and read over the ancient words silently.
Five minutes passed, then ten. The soldiers of Eclipse grew ever closer, and hearts all around were racing in anticipation. Twilight could plainly see the soldiers approaching now, marching briskly, but organized, and soon she could even hear the clinking of their armor. Among them were several pure white forms, somewhat resembling Spike’s dragon form, twice as tall as the soldiers they marched with. Just as Twilight was beginning to worry, that Lyra had waited to long to give her orders, she heard the commander scream ‘FIRE!’ from a few feet away. All at once, hundreds of arrows, bolts of lightning and flashes of fire and light launched forth, striking down countless Eclipse soldiers. Several of the light summons were dispersed as well, but only after heavy concentrated fire.
The fire from the mages continued while the archers all reloaded. The soldiers of Eclipse all got their wits about them a few moments later, and began to return fire. Spells crashed into the barricades and splintered off chunks off wood, as well as putting out of commission two ballistas before they even had a chance to fire. Twilight shut her ears from the screams around her, and focused on casting the next spell. Another scattered volley of arrows launched forward into the crowd of enemy soldiers, accompanied by several large ballista bolts and rocks lobbed from catapults spaced along the length of the wall.
Twilight focused on striking down one soldier at a time, not allowing herself to take in any of the other destruction surrounding her. No matter how many times she attacked, there was always another soldier to take the last one’s place. Eclipse’s troops more than doubled the forces defending the town, and while they had suffered noticeable losses already, the long-range defense did not seem to be slowing them down. Magical and physical bullets continued to pound away at the barricades, and those soldiers who could make it to the walls began to strike at it with axes or swords.
“Second wave!” Lyra commanded. “Charge! First wave, direct your fire! Kill the remaining light beasts, then aim for their rear!” With a mighty battle cry, the melee troops lying in wait rushed forward, led by the two Goldoan dragons. Twilight wiped her sweaty brow and swallowed hard. The battle had cost many lives on both sides already, but it was about to get a whole lot worse.
I gave my dual broadswords a single vicious spin at my sides, wings erect behind me. The enemy had only just arrived, and while I could plainly hear their cries from behind the walls, they had already begun to tear apart the barricades and push through. The archers did everything they could, and I know they will continue. But these men can only be held back by pure steel, and the rest of us will have to do just as much to keep ourselves alive. Splinters and dust shook from the walls with each strike, but still I made no move, and neither did the troops behind me. Far to my right, I could see Applejack doing the same, and to the left, Pinkie, who seemed antsy but willing to work with the situation. We would let them work for it, bleed out every ounce of their strength we could before meeting them in close combat.
The wait was killing me. Each bang against the walls brought more of the wood apart, and each time it felt like the next one would be the one to break through. The people pounding away at the walls were constantly shot down in an effort to buy us more time, and constantly replaced by more and more axemen and swordsmen. A whole section of wood fell, and I could see the white and silver armor of the enemy soldiers glinting in the early morning light. They redouble their efforts when they saw they were almost through, and I tightened my grip on the two swords.
"Second wave, charge! First wave, direct your fire!" Lyra shouted from beside me. "Kill the remaining light beasts, then aim for their rear!"
At once, the second line surged forward, led by the green serpentine dragon Fafnir, and hulking red dragon Fenrir. I did not see Mac anywhere among the men gathered, but I knew that he would arrive as soon as he was really needed, and not a moment before. I let out what I hoped was a mighty battle cry, soon taken up by the militiamen of the town, of New Dawn and House Icarus behind me, and we all surged forward to the collapsing barricades. The enemy finally finished breaking through, but those first ones in were met with the vicious jaws and unyielding steel of the town's defenders.
I rushed forward and swung my right sword, Vi's weapon, at an approaching soldier, and sliced at his midsection with the other when he blocked. He dropped to the ground, and two more soldiers were right there to take his place. Both lunged forward with their lances, and I leapt back, then shot forward on my wings to slice straight through their upper armor. I ducked under the swing of a poleaxe, hooked my legs around his and dragged him to the ground, then rolled atop him and drove my left sword straight into his gut.
Even trying as hard as I could, I could not help but keep a bloody tally in my head. Four human lives were on my hands already. I didn't have time to let this weigh on my conscience, but I knew right away that this was going to stick with me. I was level with the wall now, and countless Eclipse soldiers beyond were scrambling to get through this entryway or create another. Arrows and magic still rained across the battlefield from both sides, and I could see Twilight throwing every spell in her arsenal at the opposing army. The dragons launched jets of flame through the gaps at the soldiers unfortunate enough to be standing near the walls.
Even through the apparent success of our attacks, we were taking heavy casualties ourselves. The barricade wall was falling apart, and all but a few ballistas and catapults had been put out of commission, their operators dead at the mangled controls. Archers tumbled back from their perches, nursing their wounds if they were lucky enough to only be wounded, and close-quarter fighters around me fell to the better-trained blades of the endless Eclipse army. The medics behind the lines worked like bees to heal the wounded and get more fighters back on the battlefield.
I returned my attention to combat, batting away another sword strike and running through its owner. Five. I leapt into the air and smashed to the ground a Child of Air who was trying to fly over the wall, my swords rending through the chain mail on his shoulders. Six. I allowed myself to drop back to the ground when several arrows whizzed past me with inches to spare. When I landed, I was treated to a quick duel with a more skilled swordsman, before I swung around him and cracked him on the head with the hilt of my broadsword. Seven.
Somewhere to my left, I heard the familiar battle cry of my partner Applejack, and out of the corner of my eye caught a large mass of ice descending upon a group of enemy soldiers. I spun around and sliced through an enemy archer’s shirt, then slapped him to the ground with the blunt edge of my sword. It hadn’t enough to kill him, but I knew someone behind me would take care of it. I carefully stepped over the wreckage of the barrier wall, batting away enemy strikes for all I was worth.
Eight. Nine. Ten, eleven. I leaned back, then launched forward into a dizzying full-body windmill attack that took me another several feet into the battlefield. Sixteen. I continued to block and slice against the countless weapons around me wildly, and I had to keep my wits about me to avoid being overwhelmed. Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty. That’s a whole two percent of the central army all on my own. I jumped back and shook my head, trying to silence my thoughts.
I didn’t have much time to try to not think, as the enemy soldiers just kept coming. I braced myself and continued to hold out, backing up until I hit a section of wall that hadn’t yet collapsed. Twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six... I could feel myself start to sweat, and even though I was getting cover fire from behind, I still had to push myself to my very limit to avoid getting impaled.
I smashed a spear thrust to the ground, pulling its owner closer to me, and I jabbed my elbow into his stomach and sent him reeling. I parried several sword strikes at once, then released a hasty wind spell that sent the soldiers around me stumbling back a few feet. This gave me just enough time to jump up to the top of the broken barricade and begin fending them off from above. I sent several other Children of Air spiraling to the ground with broken wings, and arrows constantly bounced off of my armor without causing more than a dent.
Twenty-eight. Twenty-nine, thirty. Three percent. A powerful blast of fire magic hit me square in the chest, too fast for me to block, and I want sent tumbling backward over the wall. My armor had taken the brunt of the impact, but was now all but superheated, and the force of impact against the ground had knocked the wind out of my lungs and given me an uncomfortable bump on the back of my head. While I was dazed, I was vaguely aware of a medic rushing over and removing the breastplate to prevent any overheating. My senses soon returned to me, and I used the opportunity to view what was happening on the battlefield from a distance.
It was a horrific mess for both sides. Bodies of Eclipse soldiers blocked off the holes they had created in the shield wall. Injured troops of New Dawn and the Silver Arrows were dragged back from the front line by the men behind them, injured beyond the point of fighting, for the limited number of healers to tend to. I waved aside a medic that had come to check on me, telling her to tend to the others who needed attention far more.
How many of them have we killed? Two hundred? Three? Maybe even four? But our guys are dropping left and right. This does not look good... Nearby, I could see an injured Fafnir swiftly tending to his own wounds, and an enraged Fenrir tearing apart a group of soldiers before him. The enemy seemed to have taken the only logical route and targeted our dragons first, with distressing success. I lifted my weary frame to its feet and gripped my swords again, and took a shaky step back towards the ruined barricade.
A powerful arm gently moved in front of me, holding me in place. I looked up, and my heart soared when I saw Mac standing beside me, the giant blood-red blade of his Weapon resting on his shoulder. He turned to me, and spoke calmly for the situation: "I am a shield for the ones I care about, not a sword. This is what I swore when your brother died. But if I do not act now, I won't have much left to protect. Order the men back behind the walls, and let me finish this."
I nodded silently, then turned around. "Lyra!" I yelled, drawing the mint-haired commander's attention. "Get everyone back inside the town! Trust me!"
She gave me a confused look, then took in the massive form of Mac's Weapon. Her gaze drifted back to me, and seeing the determination in my eyes, she nodded. "All troops, pull back to behind the shield wall! Hurry up!"
Not one complaint could be heard as the remaining defenders flooded back inside the town. I scanned the people rushing back carefully, making sure everyone was still alright. Applejack, Pinkie and Twilight were all still in perfect shape, fighting off troops even as they retreated. Rarity wasn't far from me, her left leg cut through and bloodied, but still functional, and she was being tended to by Fluttershy and her ancestor's healing technique. Elsewhere, I saw the two beast-tribe Laguz, Opal and Winona, among the retreating, and Kyle providing covering fire from a nearby low rooftop. Prince Belenth himself was on he battlefield, using a combination of light and lance to fend off the Eclipse troops, back to back with Lord Blake.
I'm amazed all of my friends have made it this long. Just hang on a little longer, guys, the fight is almost over. The two Goldoan dragons continued to toast the enemy trying to squeeze in, holding back the flow of hundreds of white and silver-clad soldiers right up until the moment Mac reached them. The tall warrior strode forward, Weapon bobbing up and down slightly, and leapt over the rubble dividing us and the enemy. As soon as they saw him and redirected their fire, he swung the Weapon diagonally, then shifted to a horizontal slice, and cut straight through their lines. I could plainly hear a hundred voices cry out in sudden pain, then become silenced. The central army of Eclipse was doomed. I flew up to the edge of the barricade, trying to get a better view of what was happening, as I doubted any eyes were not on Macintosh now.
New orders were shouted from the white-clad commanders: kill the berserker. I twisted around and shouted back to anyone who cared to listen: "Don't just leave him to fight alone! Everyone, give Mac some cover fire, pronto!" Our remaining long range specialists began climbing back up the rubble to open fire at the weakening Eclipse troops, but all of theirs had other ideas. Countless bows set their sights on the man at the base of the massive Weapon, as did the hands of many mages. As Macintosh let loose another brutal swing of his Weapon, slicing several soldiers clean in half and ending countless lives on the spot, hundreds of bullets shot forward, and Mac was temporarily obscured in the wake of the explosion.
I choked back a scream. Even Mac couldn't survive a direct his from so many attacks at once, I was sure of it. But to my amazement, when the smoke and dust cleared, he was still standing, hands on the hilt of his Weapon and preparing for another devastating strike. When he turned around to look each enemy in the eye, I caught a glance at his own eyes, and my heart sank out of my understanding. The Weapon fueled the fires of his heart, and turned him into a virtual killing machine. I could see the fires in his eyes, and knew that that was what was happening. Mac's bloodlust was the only thing keeping him on his feet, or even alive at all.
"Open fire!" Lyra shouted, and a fresh hail of arrows and fire sailed forth unto the dwindling crowd of enemies. The soldiers at the edges were pinned down by the cover fire, and those further in had nowhere to run from Macintosh's next strike. With each swing of the Weapon, a hundred or more of the central army's troops dropped to the ground. In only a few minutes, Mac alone had matched the amount of soldiers the rest of us had killed in two hours. Less than half of the army was left alive now.
Many of them realized that they could not stop Macintosh with all the force of their lives, and either tried to run from the battle entirely, or redoubled their efforts to break the defending forces, while plenty of them continued to throw themselves at Macintosh. I dove down from my perch and stood right beside Applejack, and together we parried and fought back the troops who still thought to try and overrun our home. Using the same teamwork techniques that we had used for years as mercenaries, the invaders didn't stand a chance. I watched her back and she watched mine, and in this, I was finally able to find a little order in the chaos of war.
All of a sudden, I felt a tangible shift in the tempo of the battle. The troops before us were fighting less ferociously, as though they had accepted their own demise, and not a single man came now to back them up. In scores the enemy attempted to run from the battle, and while many were struck down by arrows, magic, or the giant blood-red blade that had doomed them, many were able to successfully retreat. Only when I was sure that the only Eclipse soldiers remaining were corpses did I finally allow myself to relax. We've won... We beat the central army, and saved our town, at least for now. The war is just beginning, but we've won this battle.
Mac stood stock-still in the center of the body-filled battlefield for a few seconds, but his Weapon soon slipped from his grip and stuck in the ground behind him. From where I was, I could feel the energy leaving his body, and he fell to his knees. The same fear from before caused my heart to jump, which was much more composed than Applejack, who screamed and tripped forward to her brother. I closed my eyes, hot tears already forming. Dammit! Not another one... Celestia, it just wasn’t enough for you, was it?! You had to take another big brother from me! From us...
In a daze, I began walking forward as well, until I noticed a distraught Applebloom zipped past me in tears. That got me moving, and I rushed up to the three siblings. When I reached Mac’s unmoving, but apparently still-alive body, both girls were already hunched over him. I didn’t need to get much closer to tell that he just wasn’t going to make it. Most of the arrows that had hit him had been blown off by the magic that had followed, but a few stubs were still there. There were also burns and slashes from other attacks, and there was a lot of blood.
His eyes were still open, though, and wavering with faint signs of life. He looked regretful that he had to go, but not that he had given his life to save us, and to deal a decisive blow against Celestia. He attempted to put a comforting arm around his sisters, but the energy jut wasn't there anymore. With tears in the pits of my own eyes, I stooped down next to the two girls, to be able to hear his last words.
"Try no to be too sad..." he said, "I'm... Alright, spiritually. These last years have been... A shell. I've been living for others for so long... But now... I'll be able to move on, knowing that this world is well on its way to becoming safe, and... That I did everything I could to help. Rainbow Dash... I'm going to tell your brother you said hi for you, when we meet up there."
I swallowed hard. "Mac... You might have to wait a little longer to see Vi. See... He did die that day, but he didn't... fully die." As quickly as I could, I explained everything that had happened to, and regarding, my brother to the dying farm boy and his distraught sisters. I told them that a sheer drive for revenge had kept Ultraviolet's spirit alive beyond his body, and that he was fighting with everything he had left to get back to Equestria to assist the resistance.
Macintosh closed his eyes for a moment. "In that case... You tell him that I said hi, and that I'm waiting for him up above. Now... There're a few more things I want to say while I have the chance. Applejack..."
A few hoarse sobs were all the response that came from her, and she kept her face buried in his chest, but it was obvious she was listening. "Applejack, you are strong. I know it hurts... but you'll pull through, I know it. You have to stay strong for everyone, and see this revolution to its end. Don't... don't be like me, and sacrifice your life for revenge." Applejack said nothing, but gave the slightest of nods. I wanted so badly to move over to her and embrace her, to tell her that everything would be alright and to dry the tears from her beautiful face, but I knew that what she needed right now was space. When the time came that she needed a shoulder to lean on, that was when I would be there for her.
"Applebloom..." he continued, mustering up the strength to brush his hand against hers. "You've got a bright future ahead of you, I promise... Don't let this weigh you down. You can do anything with yourself once Celestia falls. Don't... Don't pity yourself. Okay?" She wiped the water away from her big brown eyes and nodded multiple times. It was hard to tell whether it was her or Applejack who was in worse shape.
"R-Rainbow Dash..." I could hear that Mac's time was running short, so I merely nodded and allowed him to continue. "You're... You're going to have to be the man of the house now. I know it's a big responsibility, but... It'll be easier when this war is all over... T-take care of your sisters, and brother. Fight for me, and Vi, but... mostly for the people who are still alive. Fight so they have a chance, and a reason, to stay that way."
His words were saddening, but powerful, and tears of mixed emotion still stung at my eyes. I put a hand on his unsteady shoulder, and felt each tremble that wracked his body. At last, his eyes drifted shut, and with a few more ragged breaths, he was still. The only sound that filled the post-battle air was of the two remaining siblings crying. I put a hand on each of their shoulders, and Applebloom dropped to her knees and wrapped her arms around me tightly.
I heard someone else approaching quickly from the direction of town, but I didn’t bother turning around. Plenty of other people would be leaving in a daze to find their lost loved ones. However, these footsteps stopped right next to us, and the voice that they belonged to said simply: “Oh no... he’s dead?”
I twisted around slightly, and saw the tall form of Xekora out of the corner of my eye. I said nothing, as it should have been obvious what his answer would be. His next question managed to get my attention, though: “Where’s his Weapon? Did anyone move it to safety?”
Curious, I moved my gaze to where Mac’s Weapon had fallen and stuck in the ground, but just as Xekora had said, it was gone. I looked around frantically, and my eyes widened when I saw another figure standing at the edge of the battlefield. The Weapon rested on his shoulders, and the all-too familiar black cloak of the Order shrouded his features. He made not a single movement, merely watching the tearful display unfold.
“Not good...” Xekora started, putting a hand on the sword strapped to his back. “Number One. We cannot let him take that Weapon. You got any fight left in you, Rainbow Dash?”
Number One? The leader of the Order?! He’s got to be invincible... but we can’t let him take the Weapon. I nodded and rose to my feet, detaching Applebloom from my waist and drawing my two broadswords once again. Applejack stood as well, axe clutched in both hands, and she shouted a challenge at the thief: “It’s not enough that my brother had to die, is it?! You just have to steal right from his corpse?!”
Number One pointedly ignored her, instead beckoning to Xekora with a tilt of his head. In a low, condescending voice, he said, “Did I not tell you, Xekora? I would make no move to take my sword back by force, but would be there to pry it from this farm boy’s cold, dead hands. And well, here we are.”
“We can’t kill him.” Xekora stated under his breath. “Not possible, especially not when he’s got that. But he’s weak enough right now that we stand a chance of taking the Weapon back. I’ll need all the help I can get though. You two in for a spot of vengeance?”
Applejack and I both nodded grimly, and Xekora drew his longsword and dagger, both pitch black. I couldn’t help but have second thoughts, as according to Xekora, not even he as a God could truly defeat Number One. We would be extremely lucky to have any sort of victory against him, but I wasn’t going to go home without trying. The three of us rushed forward, weapons at the ready, all while our opponent was laughing as though someone had told a funny joke.
I was the first to reach him, and swung away with all the speed and power I could muster in both swords. Using his left hand alone, he swatted away each hit I threw at him, and showed no signs of feeling pain. Applejack approached more cautiously, swinging her axe for a lower hit, and Number One shifted the Weapon on his shoulder so that the handle blocked her blade. Xekora leapt into the air and brought his two blades down upon Number One, and was treated to being parried by the Weapon itself.
Number One's jovial chuckle turned into an angry 'ha!', and he knocked us all back with one swing of the Weapon. We all used our own blades to block, but I still felt my knees buckle, and I lost my balance and tumbled to a halt almost back where we started. I heard Applebloom give a shout of alarm and run over to me aid, but I was able to get to me own feet by the time she reached me. Applejack and Xekora both had more luck staying on their feet.
Number One raised his free hand and gave us a little wave goodbye, then became enveloped in a swirling mass of darkness, disappearing with the Weapon a moment later.
Not that you aren't a good writer--you are--but why My Little Pony?
Partly just because I can. Partly because I was drawn to the characters the moment I saw them, but decided to write my own darker take on events (just like many people like to re-write Ocarina of Time).
Laying the dead to rest was the first order of business in the aftermath of the battle. Macintosh was buried beside Ultraviolet's own grave, as Applejack knew he wanted to be. A mass funeral was held the next day for all the many lives lost, and a eulogy given for each soul who still had someone to give it. The whole remainder of that day was given solely to rest and recuperation, and tribute to the dead. The day after that, though- two days after the unsuccessful siege- communication lines were reconnected and our next phase of action laid out in detail.
I sat in the library alongside the other leaders of the resistance- Lyra and Octavia, Prince Belenth, Rarity and Lord Blake- as well as Twilight and Xekora. The immortal historian had stayed with us ever since Number One escapes with the Weapon, seemingly more concerned about our success than he was before, but still persisted that he could not personally help. I thought I could detect his determination slipping.
Trixie was the first to connect, and also to break the silence when the others joined in. "You guys made it! How'd it go? The fact that you're talking now tells me at least someone survived."
"We suffered pretty heavy casualties," Twilight responded, "but the ones they suffered were a lot worse. Moonlight is still on its feet, and Eclipse should still be reeling from having its central army all but destroyed. If we're going to move onto the offensive, we will not get a better chance than now."
"Twilight!" The relief in Trixie's voice was obvious. "So you're with us after all? I'm really glad to hear it... Phil is, too. He's in bed right now, says his life cycle is about to end and he can't move much, but he's really happy to hear that news."
"So..." I started, veering the conversation back on track, "We should still be in good enough shape to carry out the next phase of our plan. Each of our four armies will need to attack a royal instillation between their current position and the capital, in order to gain a foothold for the final siege. Fortress Apollo is the target we'll be heading for."
"The combined forces of Emberton and Trottingham will move out for Los Pegasus, and overthrow the troops stationed there." Rilken confirmed. "If we're lucky, we should be able to bolster our own numbers there as well."
"The forces from Baltimare and the other western towns will attack the Canterlot Mines." the representative of the western forces stated. "They don't have many troops stationed there, though it is a highly defensible place, so taking and holding it should be a cinch."
"Lastly..." Trixie began, "My team will have to overthrow the troops right here in Manehattan. Luckily though, we've got a few Wonderbolts and a Goldoan dragon here, which should definitely give us a leg up."
"A few?" I muttered. "I wonder..."
"You heard her, kid." I heard Soren say, "You'll never guess who I've got sitting here next to me."
An excited flutter filled my chest. "I don't know, I might have a guess or two."
"What'd I tell you, Rainbow Dash?" a voice that could only have been Spitfire's asked teasingly, "I told you I'd pay you back somehow, way back on the night of the meteor shower. For the next few weeks, consider me out of retirement! And the first thing we're going to do is take Manehattan!"
I smiled broadly. Could it really be that the Wonderbolts were all back together? Still, there was something else much more pressing I had to ask. "Spitfire, can I ask you something about the Order? Your Number One just made off with one of our strongest weapons, a huge blood-red blade. Why'd he take it, and what's he done with it?"
There was a pause, the Spitfire spoke again. "I'm really not supposed to say much about the inner workings of the Order, and even though I don't really care, I don't have the faintest idea what Number One does. As the leader, he doesn't need to ask permission or explain himself for any of his actions. I haven't been home for a few weeks already, anyway, so I have no way of knowing what became of it. Sorry, Dash."
I sighed and shook my head. "It's alright. I'm sure we'll figure it out at some point. Point is, we won't have that for the rest of the war. We'll have to be much more economical with the resources we do still have."
"Eclipse itself is only two day's march from here." Octavia explained after the conference, "but we would be too open to counterattack if we camped halfway between here and there. In addition, there would be nowhere to run in the event of a retreat. Fortress Apollo is a day and a half away from here, slightly out of our way, but will provide both additional cover and a defensible retreat point. Additionally, losing their Queen's original home will be a crippling loss of morale for the soldiers of Eclipse."
Lyra spoke up next. "Unfortunately, we can expect this to be much harder fought than the last battle. It's no secret to Celestia that we're coming, and she'll probably be ready for us, so a sneak attack is all but impossible. There'll be more soldiers, and odds are they'll be given a huge dose of that Feral drug on top of that. She doesn't care about them losing their humanity, just so long as they get strong enough to stop us."
I folded my arms. "Well, when you put it that way, it sounds like we're pretty much screwed."
"It won't be easy, make no mistake about that." She stated, "But not impossible. The Goldoans are still a powerful weapon that Celestia has no match for, save for those lumbering light beasts. What we could really use is some expendable summons of our own..." She cast a quizzical glance at the historian sitting by the stairs, almost a glare.
Xekora sighed heavily. "Make it worth my while, and I'll give you an army of Stalfos. It's becoming apparent that I can't be uninvolved, but I want to keep things strictly business. I'll need the mother of all secrets to record in my books, though."
We all thought silently for a few minutes, then Twilight smiled. "Tell me, Xekora, did sir Starswirl ever teach you the technique behind his energy spell?" The historian's eyes widened in interest, and he shook his head. Twilight's response was to call up a ball of magenta, element-less magic in the palm of her hand.
Xekora remained motionless for a few seconds, then he tossed a small core of darkness into the floor, which began to widen. "Please, someone fight this summon and tell me if it is to your liking." From the pool of darkness on the floor, a pale figure began to rise, and after a second I realized it was in fact a skeleton. Its only equipment was a small round shield and a slightly notched scimitar. It seemed to have similar anatomy to a human, but it was slightly too short, it's skull too round, for it to be true human remains.
Lord Blake stood, his own scimitar drawn, and he and the skeleton circled each other in the dance of a duel. The animated bones lunged forward, Blake dodged around the strike, and he spun around and slapped it on the back with the flat of his blade. The skeleton turned and swung in for an overhead strike, but Blake parried the hit and kicked its chest in, breaking it apart an causing it to fade back in a puff of darkness.
"Not the strongest, but I couldn't expect that." the young Lord assessed, "We don't need strong, just cheap and plentiful."
Xekora clapped his hands together. "Then the Stalfos knights are your men! I can make a dozen of the blokes in an hour. They may not be the most heroic thing to be comprising your army, but it's not like they're monsters. They'll follow orders. So, what do you say? Do we have a deal?"
Twilight nodded. “I’m sure my ancestor would understand the necessity. I’ll begin transcribing immediately. How many of these... Stalfos, can you make?”
Xekora shrugged. “Depends on when you’re planning on laying siege to the fortress. I would say that a week would be an intelligent amount of time, for all your human fighters to recover their strength, and it would give me enough time to bring at least a thousand, perhaps fifteen hundred, into temporary existence.”
Octavia nodded thankfully. “Thank you, sir Xekora. In addition to our three hundred and twelve surviving human soldiers, we should now stand a solid chance of victory.”
“Well, you heard him.” Lyra stated. “Everyone take a week to rest, but don’t let your skills get dull. Even with a thousand bags of bones fighting for us, we’re still going to have a rough time of it. I’m going to gather the residents of town and everybody, and tell them the plan.”
Lyra strode out of the library, and I turned to Xekora quizzically. “Are you really trying to stay neutral here? You seem pretty eager to help.”
Xekora sighed heavily. “It’s... more complicated than that. I made a promise, long ago... to the six original Elements of Harmony, to Princess Luna and the old Celestia, and to myself... You would have too if you were responsible for making things much worse than they should have been by getting involved. Had I just minded my own business, Celestia would never have known to use the Quest Bed, and she wouldn’t have achieved immortality... And in addition, I want the people of the future to be ready. They need to be able to live without an all-powerful entity ruling over their lives for all eternity. That is why I will not fight. But I will make an effort to set right the things I set into motion long ago.”
I should have been thankful for the time we were given to recover, as we had all suffered, either physically or emotionally, but all I could do was worry. The hours crawled by as we continued the regular training drills, not allowing anyone's skill to drop in even the slightest. Whatever time I had left over, I spent with what was now unquestionably my family, and we tried our best to enjoy our time together despite the circumstances surrounding us.
No matter how many times I brought it up, neither Applebloom nor Scootaloo would even consider leaving for safety. I convinced myself that it would be better with me watching their backs than them hiding out on their own, and it made me feel a little better. Just as before the siege, the days ticked by as an eternity, but seemed all too short when I looked back. Before I knew it, the eve of action was upon us once again.
All of our most essential belongings were packed up to be taken with us. In the morning, everyone in town would begin marching for Fortress Apollo, and would make camp just beyond the line of sight of their patrolmen, with the army of Stalfos knights a short distance behind us. Helpful, definitely, but it would be hard for anyone to sleep with a bunch of skeletons walking around outside. Everyone remaining in town would come with us, including those who could not fight, as we couldn't afford to divide our forces. The non-fighters would simply stay back at camp. I was glad for this decision for two reasons: it would be much easier to keep everyone safe, and Granny Smith would make sure the army ate well.
"You all ready to go?" I asked the next morning, after a universally sleepless night, and hefted my pack over my shoulder. Everything I needed- a tent for me and Scootaloo, armor, clothing and a few other odds and ends- was stored within. Even so, I had packed light. Applejack slung another pack onto her back and nodded wordlessly. She and I, accompanied by Applebloom, Scootaloo and Granny Smith, made our way out of the Acres and to the fields outside of town, where the rest of the army was waiting.
A few humans had already arrived, but many were still getting ready. A short distance across the field stood the massive troupe of skeletal soldiers, before which stood Xekora. I placed my pack on the ground next to Applejack's, and walked over to him. "So, what's your grand total? How many bags of bones will be fighting for us?"
"Approximately twelve-hundred fifty," he said simply, "give or take a few. This is compared to the six hundred or so professional Eclipse soldiers that ought to be waiting for us at Fortress Apollo. I think you may just stand a chance, if you ask me."
"It is reassuring." I thanked him, "Still, we're going to have to fight smart if we want to have any humans left to take the capital. We need all four resistance factions, a four-pronged attack, to even have a hope of cracking that nut. Plus a bunch more Stalfos knights. Can they be ordered to avoid hurting civilians?"
He sighed. "I can order them to only target people in white and silver armor. If someone's wearing normal clothes in those colors, they'll just have to be intelligent enough to stay out of the Stalfos's way. They are just fake animated skeletons, you see, not much inherent intelligence in them."
I nodded, then moved back to the others. We waited for around an hour before every last person had arrived, and after Octavia gave us some inspiring words to keep our spirits high, we began our bloody march.
Manehattan, That Evening
Another shiver wracked the young human phoenix's body. For almost two weeks, Phil had been all but useless, his current life cycle coming to a close. He had wanted so badly to speak to Twilight during one of the conferences through the sending stones, to tell her that he loved her and would be with her soon, but he simply lacked the strength. However, he could feel that this pain was almost over, and that tonight, just in time, he would be reborn into his most strong and healthy state.
Spike sat by his bedside, having no other duties to attend to, and Trixie made sure to check up on him every once in a while. Things were busy in the small safe house, as the next phase of the rebellion was soon to begin. The numbers in the Manehattan resistance force were still pitifully small, so they had to come up with a different sort of plan. Under the cover of this night, each member of the resistance would branch out throughout the city, stealthily killing any royal soldiers in sight and hiding the bodies. Everyone already knew where they needed to go, and if all went well, the city would be under Moonlight's control by the break of dawn, and its residents would be left wondering whether a fight even took place.
“You alright, Phil?” Spike asked, sensing his discomfort.
"Yeah, I'll be alright..." Phil responded. "Ugh... Feels like it could be any minute now, I feel like crap..."
"Hang in there, kiddo." Spike reassured him. "Well, I mean... You know. You'll be alright, and once your new cycle begins, we'll go show those Eclipse bastards what we little guys- heck, what we Laguz- are made of!"
Phil nodded gratefully, not particularly needing reassurance, but glad that someone familiar was there beside him. He often forgot that he and Spike had a bond that most other people in Equestria didn't: that both knew how it felt to see through the eyes of another, animalistic body, but that was still just as much theirs as their human ones. It was Spike that had taught Phil to use and control this gift embedded in his blood.
Another heavy shiver passed through Phil, and he groaned. "A-alright, get me on the floor. I-I can feel it coming." Spike obliged him and lifted the sickly young boy off of his cot and placed him on a clear patch of ground, where his flames would have nothing to set ablaze. A few other resistance members cast curious and concerned glances at him, but Spike assured them that there was nothing to worry about, and that this was supposed to happen. Phil suffered through a few more convulsions, and with a sudden cry of pain, the human phoenix burst into flames on the floor.
His old body quickly disappeared in the blaze, leaving only a pile of ashes in its place. Just as the last wisp of flame was departing, a fresh, new hand shot up from the ashes, followed by the rest of the boy. His hair and wings once again carried the same shine of life that made them resemble the flames they had just arisen from. Phil hurriedly slipped a set of clothes on, and Spike clasped him on the shoulder.
"Good to see you well, kid. Now, let's go mess up those Eclipse soldiers." Phil nodded with a devilish grin on his face, and the pair moved outside, where the rest of the tiny force was waiting. Spitfire still wore her Order cloak, almost blending in perfectly with the night, and the rest of the Wonderbolts had donned normal street clothes to avoid suspicion. Trixie still stubbornly wore her black mage ensemble, and the other fifteen or so men and women wore the same clothes they always did.
"You two guys ready to help take the city?" Spitfire asked, taking charge. Her iconic battle axe had been switched out for a normal, cheap iron one to stay under some level of cover, but she still carried it confidently and heroically. All the other rebels carried iron as well, or in a few cases, unadorned steel, and minimal armor.
"As we'll ever be." Spike answered, hands on the hilts of his twin knives. The whole group gave silent confirmation that they were all prepared, and the twenty-five rebels all set off in different directions, stealing off in the night to overthrow the second largest city in Equestria.
Okay, I apologize for missing the date again. But I have good news! I've begun writing at an insane pace again, so I'm going to step up release rates once more! We're going back to the very first rate: one every two days!
Prepare yourself for insanity.
The army began to awaken before dawn. The night's watch had reported nothing from any direction, meaning that the large group of soldiers and massive group of skeletons had gone completely undetected; either that, or the enemy had pulled back to Fortress Apollo to fully prepare for siege. Either way, Moonlight now had little else to do but to move out for the fortress just beyond the ridge.
Rarity checked up on her own soldiers first, of which only one had been lost thus far, then proceeded to help move among the larger group of militiamen and New Dawn warriors. Even now, they were getting in some last-minute practice with their weapons, and Rarity could not help but admire them for their determination. She didn't bother checking up on the contingent of Stalfos knights around a kilometer behind them, as they probably hadn't moved since last night. Rarity couldn't deny their efficiency and value in battle, but she was all the same repulsed by summons designed to resemble human remains.
"Are you feeling well?" someone asked from just behind her, and she turned to face Fafnir. "With that remarkable skill of yours, you're just as important a person, if not more so, than Fenrir or I. It's important that you're feeling as fit as you can."
Rarity nodded with a small smile. "I am as well as one can be in the situation, and I appreciate your concern." She took a precious moment to appraise Fafnir again, though found nothing new in his eyes. Hard as she tried, she found it difficult to think of him as a father. He had been with her mother a time after she was born, making him her stepfather at best, but he often seemed to act less mature than Rarity did, and did not look much older, either. Still, Sweetie Belle seemed to be adapting to him well, so Rarity continued to make every effort to accept the Goldoan.
"That's good to hear." Fafnir said, keeping up the small talk. "We have around thirty minutes before we march on the fortress, so if you haven't already, I'd eat something. Nothing's worse than trying to fight on an empty stomach." Rarity nodded appreciatively, and Fafnir jogged over to the front line where he would be needed. She completed her rounds of surveying the troops, then came to the front of the pack, where the others were waiting.
As she stood with the other Elements, idly picking at a loaf of bread, Blake approached her. “Are you ready? We’ll be heading up the second wave right behind the two dragons, after six hundred of the Stalfos knights slam into them and soften their defenses. Most of our melee fighters will be with our group, as well as another two hundred Stalfos. The remaining four hundred will stay with the Silver Arrows at the base of the ridge, protecting them while they give us cover fire.”
Rarity nodded, already knowing the plan, but glad everyone would be on the same page. It would be much more difficult to keep up communications on this larger battlefield, and everyone needed to know their basic orders ahead of time. Around the group of human soldiers, she could see the Stalfos knights branching off into their divisions, the largest of which formed into ranks directly in front of them. Slightly behind her, she could see Xekora standing alone, eyes closed and frowning in concentration, repeating the orders to the skeletal soldiers through some manner of telepathy.
"Men!" Blake shouted, addressing the whole of the sentient army. "We've come this far. Don't let your fighting spirit dwindle now! We're going to march on that Fortress, destroy our opposition and show Celestia that not only will we not cower to her rule any longer, but we will stand up and fight for our freedom with every drop of blood in our beings!" His words were met with a rowdy cheer from the gathered soldiers. "Now come! March with me, to victory!"
He drew his scimitar and moved forward, perfectly in-step with the Stalfos knights before him and the humans behind. Fluttershy had remained on the back lines with the Silver Arrows, but the remaining five Elements of Harmony all surged forward with the second wave. Rarity was aware of the Icarus charm bouncing around in the pocket within her armor, as ready to burst into action as she was.
The mass of Stalfos knights rushed forward once the group hit the hill before them, and Rarity could see that beyond it, the imposing Fortress Apollo stood sentinel. From atop the tallest center tower, the sun-emblem flag of Eclipse waved in warning. Rarity smirked: soon enough, that sun would be replaced with the sickle-moon of the resistance.
The royal soldiers standing guard at the fortress all snapped to attention a moment later, not prepared for a sudden charge of skeletons, and hastily began a defense. Their archers opened fire upon them, but the arrows did next-to-nothing to the living bones. The few mages they had on hand had much more luck, a a single spell of fire or lightning would turn several to ashes. Still, when sheer numbers overwhelmed their long range, and the Stalfos began chipping away at the walls with their scimitars, the soldiers of Eclipse had little choice but to engage them up close.
If things could have been said to be going smoothly before, they stopped shortly thereafter. When the Eclipse-born soldiers crashed into the mass of Stalfos, the bones began to crumble from the impact. The enemy was far stronger than the previous attack force, let alone the mass-produced army of skeletons. Soon the force of six hundred was on the path to being decimated.
"We were right." Blake said solemnly. "These men are barely human anymore, with the massive dose of that drug they've been given. Celestia doesn't intend for these men to live either way, because even if they beat us, they'll just die off from madness soon after anyway. Morale probably doesn't mean anything to them anymore, either."
Rarity gulped. Their battle had just gotten a lot more complicated. Or perhaps it had gotten simpler, she thought. She turned to her companion with a curious look on her face. "If these men have lost their humanity and most of their minds, how closely do you think they'll be able to follow orders? Perhaps we can trick them, lead them into an otherwise obvious trap?"
Blake returned her curious glance, considering the idea, then turned around and jogged back a ways. "Xekora!" he shouted over the distant din of battle, "Change of orders! Tell your Stalfos to begin a gradual retreat, but keep the enemy engaged! Lead them all into the open!"
Rarity did not hear a response from the dark historian, but could see that the Stalfos were obeying this new strategy. The remaining skeletons, less than half of the original company of six hundred, began to back up in retreat, and the unnaturally powerful soldiers of Eclipse followed unfalteringly. Several hundred silver-clad knights moved into the barren fields, weapons slicing apart the dwindling troupe of Stalfos. Rarity could sense the tension of the soldiers behind her, of the bows drawn and ready to fire.
Just as the Stalfos below had been all but destroyed, leaving a considerable number of Eclipse knights out of action as well, the order to fire was shouted throughout the company behind the Elements. A storm of arrows momentarily blocked out the light of sunrise, accompanied by several bolts of lightning or blasts of fire. The soldiers below almost didn't see it coming at all, and were helpless as they were bombarded by the deadly hail.
"Now! Charge, while they're stunned!" Blake shouted, quickly slipping the Leo charm around his neck. The young Lord rushed forward, sword blazing in the early daylight, the rest of the second wave right behind him. Rarity remained alongside the other Elements, Twilight with her element-less magic in both palms, and all the golden weapons glinting beautifully in the waxing light.
The Eclipse soldiers were helpless against the sudden rush of steel, and the outer barrier crumpled under the initial impact. However, they showed no fear or regard for their own lives, and fought back brutally as soon as they realized they were under direct attack. Rarity backpedaled slightly to let the more experienced fighters keep up the front of the group, but even close to the center she found herself almost constantly engaged. She parried several hits from their blades, while launching bursts of light magic into their ranks to cut down their numbers.
An axe strike descended on her from overhead, and she deftly slid it aside, then slammed a palm full of light into the soldier's chest. He stumbled back, and another swordsman was right there to take his place. She parried several fast strikes, then managed to get around his blade and slice across his chest. He remained before her, stunned, until a spearsman dragged him aside to get a shot at Rarity.
With the slightly superior range of his weapon, Rarity could not get close enough to deliver a solid hit, and could only block and dodge his persistent jabs. With the tip of her rapier, she consistently slapped away each hit, the heavy-headed spear kicking up clumps of dirt from the ground below. The soldier was getting impatient, his strikes more erratic and hard to predict, and one of them missed Rarity's face by only an inch. With no room to back up, she was helpless to do anything but keep frantically avoiding his lunges, which gradually came closer and closer to home.
One strike flew straight towards her face, and she had no time to dodge, but something from her right deflected the shot off course. She had just enough time to see that it had been an expertly placed arrow, before another stuck itself firmly in her opponent's head. She twisted around, and saw a familiar grey-haired boy in a dark cloak smiling back, giant longbow in hand. He gave her a quick salute before reaching back for another arrow, and opening fire upon the mass of half-minded Eclipse soldiers.
Tug's come back... Rarity thought, experiencing some marginal relief. We'll need a tactician as good as him to finish this war, and another expert fighter never hurt anyone, except his enemies.
High above, the arrows and magic attacks from atop the hilltop still sailed, striking down the Eclipse soldiers where they stood, though the archers from within the fortress still kept up their own barrage. Both sides were whittling down, and Rarity knew that if no decisive move was made, both armies would be decimated.
A mighty roar echoed in stereo behind them, and the two Goldoan dragons charged forward on either side of the remaining company, a fresh group of Stalfos knights behind them. They must have been fighting hand to hand before, with their normal weapons, until their adrenaline was high enough to be a real menace. Rarity rationalized. The pair unleashed two jets of flame upon the remaining Eclipse knights, and the soldiers of Moonlight made a general retreat as their opponents were set ablaze. Several men from the troops of Moonlight lay unmoving on the ground, but far more Eclipse soldiers were among them, and their numbers grew as the Stalfos and dragons rounded up the stragglers.
Fortress Apollo was not won yet. The archers, mages and remaining knights still held strong behind the walls, giving sporadic fire into the fields, for the most part missing Fenrir and Fafnir, and only striking down a few Stalfos. Though their fire was ineffective at that range, they would do far more damage if Moonlight drew any closer. Once the core force of knights had fallen completely, the whole force fell back out of range, to safely plan their next move. They would not be followed, as that would leave their opponents as easy targets.
Medics scrambled to reach the retreating troops, healing wounds that otherwise would have killed them. Fafnir had sustained an unpleasant-looking gash across his arm, but it was quickly taken care of. Rarity moved over to the other leaders, to confer about their next move. With so few Stalfos left, they would have to make some alterations to their original plan.
"We simply don't have the manpower left to storm the fortress head-on." Prince Belenth stated, leaning on his lance with a look of frustration on his face. "We've only two hundred Stalfos left, thanks to those bloodthirstily super-soldiers the Queen created for us. But since we've come this far, a sneak attack is next to impossible."
"Not as impossible as you seem to think." a voice corrected from behind Rarity, and Tug strode into view. His black Order cloak had been switched out for a mottled green and grey one, so she doubted anyone would recognize him as a member of the ambiguous and dangerous organization. He continued: "If I may make a suggestion, a sneak attack of sorts is definitely a possibility."
Prince Belenth cast a condescending look at the young ranger. "I'm sorry, but who are you? I don't even recall seeing you in training, or our previous battle."
“You would do well to listen to, and respect, this boy.” Vomora stated, folding his arms. “It was because of him that the siege of New Dawn did not end the revolution before it began. His skills with a bow are also unmatched by any I have seen.”
Tug nodded, then gave a slight bow. “My name is Tug. I had to leave temporarily on some pre-arranged business after that first battle, but I’d like to assist you in any way I can to finish this conflict.
“Now, as I said, a sneak attack of sorts is still possible, if we’re careful. There is a back entrance to this fortress, and if we distract the remaining soldiers up top, a small party could sneak around and get inside. From there, they could potentially sneak around and kill them all. The remainder of those skeleton guys you have should probably be enough to provide a diversionary force, and the Elements of Harmony would be perfect for the job of infiltration, plus a few others.”
Belenth begrudgingly gave Tug his attention. "And I suppose you'll be the one to lead this attack, am I wrong?"
Tug nodded. "That's right, I did plan on accompanying this group, considering I know where we're going. If you're untrusting of me, you're more than welcome to come along too."
"I will," Belenth confirmed, "as well as the six Elements and yourself. Colonel Lyra and Lord Blake will also accompany us. The remainder of command will direct the diversionary force of Stalfos knights, drawing out their destruction as long as possible to give us more time."
Rarity was slightly uneasy about sneaking behind enemy lines with such a small group, but knew that the whole campaign had, and would continue to, carry such risks. She tightened her sheath as confirmation of this plan, and the others were quickly gathered up to initiate the attack as soon as possible. Fluttershy was a bit nervous as well, but the others all seemed to agree that this was the best course of action. Leaving Vomora and Octavia to gather the rest of the army for the diversion, the group of ten began moving in a wide arc around the fields, with Tug at the head.
“We’ll have to swing around quite a ways if we want to avoid being detected.” Tug explained, though it was largely unnecessary. “The diversion should begin when we are about halfway there, so most of the enemy troops will be good and distracted once we clear that ridge up ahead, and it should be a clear shot to the rear entrance. If there’s any guards patrolling back there, I’ll take them out before they suspect a thing.”
“I think we’ll do best if we stay in one group as long as we can, then in smaller, compact groups.” Blake suggested. “Two groups of five, or three of three to four. Either way, we’ll be much better off than if we all spread out alone.”
“Three would be best, yes.” Tug agreed. “due to the layout of the fortress, three would be able to wreak the most damage in the shortest amount of time. Blake and Belenth can both lead a group, while I lead the last. Twilight and Lyra, you should split up between the two, so that all three have an expert long-range specialist. The rest of you can divide yourselves up as you see fit, just make sure you have someone that you trust your back to in your group. We are going to be surrounded by enemies before long, after all.”
Rarity moved over to Blake on instinct, and both Twilight and Fluttershy fell into step with them. Naturally, Rainbow Dash and Applejack stayed in the same group, staying right behind Tug. Pinkie and Lyra moved over to Belenth, and all three groups stopped in their tracks when they reached the edge of the slight hill.
Tug poked his head around the bend, and held up a hand to keep the others still. A few seconds passed, and he moved back into cover. “They’ve just given the signal for the Stalfos to charge. We’re right on time. Give them a minute or two to fully draw the enemy’s fire, then we’ll make our move.” He remained motionless for what seemed like a long time, while the distant sounds of battle began to escalate as the two already weakened armies collided.
“Go.” He stated simply, then began to dash across the remaining distance, all while staying low to the ground. The new cloak he wore seemed to blend into the half-dead grass around him, and Rarity had to keep a close eye on him to know where he was. Almost at once, the rest of the strike force leapt up and rushed across the field, staying in their groups. Rarity’s breath came in short gasps, but she kept up the pace with the others.
As they passed the battlefield by, Rarity could catch brief glimpses of the action. The now much smaller wall of Stalfos knights collided with the front gates, working with their scimitars and bare fists to break down the doors, while being fired upon from above. The archers atop the hill provided cover fire, met with additional barrages from the fortress, and neither was able to accomplish much at a distance. The Stalfos contingent was already weakened by the previous round, and could not continue to stand a fighting chance for much longer.
The strike teams swung around the back of the fortress, an imposing grey wall that separated them from victory, and hugged the edges as they continued to make their way to the back entrance. Rarity could see the small staircase that would lead inside, and three soldiers who had not seen them. Tug motioned for everyone to halt, then drew his longbow and released a trio of arrows within the span of a few seconds. Each found its mark and struck down the three guards, silencing them before they could raise an alarm.
Tug dashed over and retrieved the three arrows, only pausing briefly to wipe them clean on the grass, then joined the others at the doors. Rarity exchanged a quick look and nod with Rainbow Dash, and the two used a combination of wind and light magic to break open all the locks on the doors, the same as they had when imprisoned in the Castle of Dawn. Applejack and Pinkie pried the doors open wide, and the teams all stepped in as one, then began to diverge through the halls. Blake led his group of four to the left of the entrance, sword drawn and ready to combat any remaining knights patrolling the halls. Twilight's hands flared with her magenta energy, and Fluttershy had nocked an arrow in her shorter bow.
Nodding in determination to herself, Rarity set her sword alight with a spell of her own, and hurried to keep in step with the rest of her team.
The team of four moved quickly through the torchlit halls of the ancient fortress, hugging every corner, waiting to be discovered as they made their way to the roof to take out the largest remaining group of defenders. Twilight knew that there were more soldiers lurking around somewhere, waiting for a final call to action or a guerrilla attack on the resistance soldiers who would try to occupy the castle. These men had no reason or desire to live, and not much remaining lifespan to live anyway, and that was an extremely dangerous sort of enemy that had to be dispatched before they could wreak any serious damage.
Twilight sidled against the wall beside her and listened for any noise, then slowly moved her head around the corner. Sure enough, a pair of soldiers were standing guard at the base of a staircase, looking slightly bored, or perhaps just absent. She moved back out of their potential line of sight, and turned to her friends. “Two of them guarding a stairway.” she stated simply, in a voice barely above a whisper. “Fluttershy, if you fire an arrow and I launch a volley of magic, we should be able to take them both out at once, and delay alerting them a little longer.”
Fluttershy looked extremely nervous, even if she had already nocked an arrow. “Um, I... I don’t know if I could make the shot... I’ve never had to shoot a human being before...”
Twilight sighed. “Fluttershy, you know what has happened to these people. Their minds are rotting away, and their bodies won’t last much longer, either. They’re suffering, and... I know it sounds harsh to say it, but allowing them to leave this life is one of the kindest things we can do for them.”
Fluttershy looked even more upset. She seemed to begin to say something, before a loud tone echoed throughout the whole fortress, drawing the attention of the guards. Twilight sighed heavily. “Well, there’s the alarm. One of the other teams must have triggered it. No more stealth! Only stopping them!” She swung around the wall and threw a mass of element-less energy at the two, and the one it hit was sent reeling into the wall. Rarity and Blake both rushed forward, swords at their sides, and quickly dispatched them both.
Twilight allowed Fluttershy to go ahead of her as the group rounded the corner and ascended the staircase to the next floor, shaking her head ever so slightly to herself. I can only hope Fluttershy can bring herself to fight when it really counts. Otherwise she’s just endangering herself by being here.
The second floor was already much more lively. Rarity and Blake’s swords were immediately met with steel from the enemies’ lances, and Twilight fought to strike them down before they had a chance to deal any serious damage. At least ten enraged soldiers rushed at the door, and after two minutes of fighting, ten bodies were scooted out of the way.
"I wonder how the other teams are doing..." Rarity commented. "Probably fine. One has got Tug and Rainbow Dash, the other Pinkie. If anything, it's ours we should be concerned with, and yet we're still meeting with success."
Twilight shook her head. That's very comforting of you to say, Rarity. I'll keep us all alive myself if I have to, but at least you and Blake are holding up.
The fortress only had two floors, in addition to its roof where the archers still fought, but the majority of the troops seemed to be on the second floor. Twilight couldn't tell if the other teams had made it this far yet, as the remaining knights didn't seem to be even slightly winded by battle. Blake and Rarity both slipped their houses' charms over their necks, and after shifting forms slightly, leapt into the fray. The other two stayed right behind them, Twilight bombarding the enemy troops with lightning, and Fluttershy electing to heal any wounds as they arose.
Twilight couldn't help but wonder about the amount of troops still in the fortress. I can understand needing to leave some behind in the case of just such an attack, but this just seems excessive. They could have done much more damage by sending more of these men outside than leaving them to deal with us. So why leave so many on guard...? Her thoughts were cut short as she was yanked back into the battle, and she struck down two more Eclipse knights with a single cast of ArcThunder.
The butterfly-winged lady and slightly feline lord pushed through the enemies, fighting for the cover of another empty passage. Rarity's sword shone with unnatural radiance as it sliced through her opponents' armor. The team of four rushed around the corner, baiting the enemy through the narrow passage for strategic purposes. They were forced to come in two at a time, allowing Rarity and Blake to more easily defend.
Twilight launched another spell over her friends' heads, killing a soldier before he could reach them. The silver-clad troops seemed endless, though they posed little challenge. Just as Twilight and the others were beginning to wear down, and the Eclipse troops began to gain the upper hand, she heard a battle cry from back in the other room. Rainbow Dash! she realized, His group made it! Now we can fight them from two fronts. Her group redoubled their efforts to push through.
Twilight could hear the vicious sounds of combat echo back from beyond her line of sight, of Rainbow Dash parrying every hit, Applejack smashing through the silver armor, and the mysterious but heroic archer Tug picking them off from a distance. She fought for that noise, slamming her flaming palms into the knights when they were within her range, and throwing spells at them when they weren’t. The two swords blazed through, their speed allowing them to effectively block every hit aimed at their teammates. Even Fluttershy fired a few shots into the crowd, though she squeezed her eyes shut tight and probably didn’t hit anything.
Twilight saw someone jump into the air on the other side of the battle, and was able to witness Applejack sail to the ground, axe enlarged by a large casing of ice. Encouraged by Applejack using her final move to clear away the remaining troops, Twilight unleashed a vicious barrage of element-less magic into the crowd. Rarity did not use her final attack, and Twilight realized she had never seen her Soul Release in action, though it sounded like a very taxing technique by how legendary it was.
The crowd had begun to thin, and Twilight could finally see her allies across the room. The seven pushed through the waning mob of silver, and when the two teams were able to join as one, they gave one last shove that brought down the last of the soldiers in the chamber. Twilight turned to the others, who all looked about as exhausted but unharmed as she was. “I’m glad you all made it.” she said, “It was looking a bit bleak back there for a moment.”
“I agree.” Rainbow Dash said, rubbing his shoulder. “We practically had to tunnel our way here through all the soldiers. Why did they put so much effort into guarding the inside instead of fighting us off from outside?”
“I had wondered that, too.” Twilight stated. “They obviously knew we would try this sneak attack, but it didn’t save any of them, or hurt any of us... unless something happened to the third group?” A lance of fear shot through Twilight when she realized the third team had not yet reached their position. She looked around the body-strewn room frantically, and released a thankful breath when she saw the other three limping slightly through the same passage her team had come from.
“Oh, thank goodness! I was beginning to get worried.” Twilight stated, rushing to their aid with the others. Belenth looked worst for wear, but Lyra and Pinkie were both slightly wounded as well. As Fluttershy quickly set to healing their wounds, Belenth offered an explanation.
“We had to take a slight detour to a safe-room in the center of the first floor. There was a weapon worth getting there, but... we got ambushed, and had to fight our way out. Took a lot of damage before we could get our wits about us. It was worth it though, since we’re all still alive, and I was able to grab this.” He held up his hand, and a translucent sun emblem dangled from the chain gripped in his fist. “The Apollo Charm, a weapon Celestia conveniently forgot all about once she reached godhood. But as a distant relative of hers, and a member of House Apollo itself, I should be able to use it, no problem.”
Lyra looked up the staircase at the end of the room. “The last of our opponents are up there. We’ve got to take out the archers, but they’ll have a guard as well. A few of the survivors from this skirmish fled up that staircase.”
Twilight nodded, impressed. "Glad to hear we're at least getting some good news. What does this charm do?"
Belenth grinned, his teeth slightly bloodstained. Twilight couldn't tell if it was his blood, or someone else's. "Why don't we find out? There's at least fifty test dummies right over our heads." Somewhat apprehensively, Twilight followed him and the others over to the staircase. With another devilish grin, Belenth slipped the charm around his neck, then gripped his lance with both hands.
The first thing Twilight noticed was a change in his eyes: they seemed to glow with an unholy, fiery light, until his pupils were no longer visible. The aura evolved into a halo of fire around him, making it appear as though he were engulfed in flame, though his face showed he was alive as ever. With a flourish of his weapon, he seemed to glide straight up the staircase, the other nine in tow.
Before Twilight could even see the enemy, she knew combat had broken out once again. The others adjusted their grips on their weapons, and they charged into the fray as one. Belenth was already ripping through the enemy, his aura of fire setting ablaze anyone who got close enough to touch him, and his lance batting aside any who didn't get that close. The remaining knights, archers and mages were running around in a disorganised mess, trying to fight the intruders, but having no order. Twilight could see the army of Moonlight charging down the hillside, ready to crash into the fortress and finish them off.
Twilight smiled in relief. It's almost over. Just a little more, and we'll have won our second battle, and be one step away from the capital! With newfound energy, she scrambled up the rest of the stairs and leapt into the battle, two lightning spells blazing in her gloved palms. One hand curled into a fist and punched a royal soldier in the gut, while the other palm-struck another in the face. Both soldiers were almost sent flying.
With all ten fighters going at them, and the greater mass of enemies at the gates, the soldiers of Eclipse no longer stood a chance. The line of archers was cut to ribbons and shot right back at, and the knights couldn't stand up to Applejack's mighty axe, Rainbow Dash's lightning-fast swords, or Belenth's blazing fury. Down below, the few remaining Stalfos knights, the mass of Moonlight rebels and two Goldoan dragons blasted away at the doors. Fortress Apollo was finished.
With a glorious flourish, the fighters on the roof slew the last of the fighters from the capital, and an enormous weight lifted from Twilight's shoulders. She saw Belenth grab a soldier's lance from the ground, and tie a cloth from his pocket onto its tip. Twilight realized that the cloth was the sickle-moon flag of the resistance, and he was raising it high in victory, to show that this fortress belonged to Moonlight. She smiled wide as he raised the banner, waving it high and arousing a huge cheer from the rebels below.
The smile vanished from her face when she saw a bolt of lightning from somewhere behind her jolt straight for the unsuspecting prince. She had no time to scream a warning, and could only watch in horror as the yellow streak lanced straight through the armor covering his chest, and out the other side. Tug spun around and shot the half-alive mage who had cast the spell, straight through the eye. Twilight found this incredibly gruesome and appropriate, and wasted no further time before rushing to Belenth’s aid.
She could already see that he wasn’t going to make it. That bolt of lightning couldn’t help but slice open something important where it landed. Belenth stood stock-still for a moment, then fell backward, a stunned look still on his face. Twilight and Blake both made it in time to catch him on his way down and ease him to the ground. His eyes darted around frantically, the last of his life draining away, and he could do little else.
What’s going to become of the resistance now? Twilight wondered. He was the only heir to the throne... at best, this is no longer a coup, but a full destabilization of the royal bloodline. She shook her head and looked Belenth in the eyes, feeling as though he deserved to have someone truly stay with him until he perished.
"Prince..." Twilight managed to say. "What on Earth do we do now...? You were the only one who could accede to the throne..."
Belenth seemed to try and shake his head. His wild eyes locked on Blake to his right, even as the life faded from them and he was still.
Blake passed his hand over the departed Prince's face, shutting his eyes, then stood and shook his head. "I don't understand... Did he mean for me to take his place?"
Lyra stepped forward and put a hand on the young lord's shoulder. "By technicality of the old laws... This would work. The Lord of one of the various noble houses is high-ranking enough to accede the throne in the aftermath of a rebellion. This is how Celestia herself gained power. Belenth saw you as a rival, but also had a degree of respect for you."
Blake's eyes remained on the ground. "I... I don't know... A house of thirty is one thing, but, a whole country...? I just, don't know..."
Twilight allowed her eyes to drift shut in thought, then she moved forward and gave Blake's hand a gentle touch. "You know..." she began, "A... A wise man once told me, 'Being strong isn't never needing help, but being able to ask for help when you need it, and having friends there to give it'. You don't have to do this alone, Blake. I haven't known you for long, but I know that you're a friend, and I, and all the others in this army, will be there whenever you need us."
Blake affixed Twilight with a grateful look, then closed his own eyes, deep in thought. Several times he seemed almost ready to say something, before he lapsed back into thought. At last, though, he turned slightly, and said simply "Rarity?"
Rarity's light eyebrows rose slightly, and Blake continued: "Even... Even with all my friends offering their support, I don't know if... If I could do this, alone. So... I mean... If I were to become king at the end of all of this... Would you be my queen?"
Twilight could hear Rarity's surprised sharp intake of breath. Her stunned look quickly turned to one of utter joy, and she nearly tripped over herself as she ran to embrace Blake. Twilight smiled fondly and turned her back to the couple, giving them their space. She reached down and grabbed the makeshift flag from where it had fallen, and raised it herself to signal to the others that the resistance was still on its feet.
"Thank you, Phil." she said under her breath, "You've put one couple together. But don't be too selfless... I'm still waiting to rejoin you."
While I haven't read this nor will I due to lack of Pony knowledge, I would like to congratulate you on updating this so often, and that you might reach the 100 chapter mark. I'm planning my next fic right now, and it might join that exclusive 100+ chapters club.
Keep up the hard work and dedication, it'll feel like a big weight is off your shoulders, like it was for me when I finished The Final Chapter.
A wise guy once said something.
A wise man kept his mouth shut.
While I haven't read this nor will I due to lack of Pony knowledge, I would like to congratulate you on updating this so often, and that you might reach the 100 chapter mark. I'm planning my next fic right now, and it might join that exclusive 100+ chapters club.
Keep up the hard work and dedication, it'll feel like a big weight is off your shoulders, like it was for me when I finished The Final Chapter.
100 chapters? Done. Thanks for the support!
"Happy birthday, partner." Applejack said, and she sat beside me against the wall. We had been holed up in this fortress for almost a week, meaning that a whole month had passed since Celestia's declaration of war. We were biding our time, allowing ourselves and the others to ready themselves for the four-front attack on the capital city. The fact that Applejack still took time to wish me a happy birthday, even with all the final preparations underway around us, made me chuckle happily and wrap an arm around her.
"Thanks, AJ." I said warmly. I was glad she was able to still find things to be happy about, considering everything that had happened, and me being one of the things she could still smile at wasn't bad, either. With the loss of her brother, I expected her to fall into the same sort of depression I had when Vi died. She must have accepted that his sacrifice was his own and that she had to keep going for him; either that, or she was saving her sadness for after the war. I promised myself that I would be there for her no matter what the case was.
Our army had been hurt in the siege, but we actually lost very few human troops. Xekora had overhauled the basement of the fortress into a Stalfos factory, and I could only guess that a fresh batch of a thousand or more skeletal knights was on its way. With them on our side, overrunning the streets of Eclipse city and giving us an opening for the castle, I knew we stood a chance. And with three or four Goldoan dragons providing literal cover fire, plus the whole team of Wonderbolts, Celestia would have to roll out a lot of light beasts to match us.
Ultraviolet would have to hurry up if he wanted to get here while there was still something to fight. I hadn't received a dream correspondence from Vi since before the war started. I hoped this was because he was too busy fighting his way here to contact me.
"I couldn't really get ya much just yet," Applejack said apologetically, "so I hope this'll do for now." She twisted around where she sat, and the two of us shared a long, drawn-out kiss. She fell back on my shoulder afterwards, and with a grin on my face I teasingly said "I guess it'll do."
She and I both stood. "May as well see what the others are up to." I said. "We'll be leaving a few days from now, most likely, so we should see to it that everything and everyone is still in top shape." We walked in step through the torchlit halls, nodding to each of our friends and allies as we passed. At one point we saw Applebloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle pushing a cart full of a random collection of supplies down the hall. When asked, they said they were building something and that it was a surprise.
We ran into Twilight next, who was with a group of mages. The Apollo Charm hung like a bracelet on her hand, as Blake had instructed her to use it in place of Belenth. The house charms could be used by anyone physically capable, and Twilight was the only other mage on hand who could handle its power. In reverence to Belenth, and all the other fallen, she had accepted.
We found Pinkie next, drilling with a small group of swordsmen on how best to handle someone with a spear. When she saw us, she bade her group a five-minute break and moved over to join us.
“Hey, Pinkie, I was meanin’ to ask you...” Applejack began, “I never did see what your skill was. An’ we’re supposed to be able to combine our skills to make ‘em stronger, right?”
Pinkie nodded. “Yeah, I thought we might try that. See... my ancestor’s skill was to give my other half, Chaos, more freedom on the battlefield to make us both stronger, but... Xekora is keeping Chaos safe right now, so I can’t use that. But Xekora was able to set me up with a different one, so we should be just fine!” Pinkie dug around in her pockets and held out her palm, in which sat what looked like four pieces of candy. “He said that eating one would power me up, but that throwing one at Celestia would do just as much. He only had these four, though, so we have to be careful with them.”
I frowned slightly. We didn’t even know what these candies did, and it would be hard to test them in combination with our other abilities if it only had four uses. Several of our skills had been tested in conjunction already, with spectacular success, but we still needed to be sure exactly what we had to fight Celestia with. We would just have to wait until we reached her to try out anything with Pinkie’s ability; but, considering Xekora had given these to her in exchange for her own natural skill, I had a feeling they would pack a punch.
"Just be careful." I told her. "We'll figure it out as we go, so save all of them for Celestia." She nodded and went back to her group of trainees, and Applejack and I continued all the way to the secluded command room.
The city had been on the brink of chaos ever since the successful overthrow of Eclipse forces a week ago. Phil knew from the start that things would get crazy, that he couldn't predict all of the city's possible reactions, but he still had difficulty keeping up. When the citizens of Manehattan had realized they were at war, countless numbers had tried to flee, and the Moonlight resistance did not have enough manpower to stop them. Even when Phil and the others assured them the fight would be taken away from Manehattan, not brought to it, people continued to flock away. A week later, the city was almost half-empty.
The half that remained, though, was much more devoted. When they saw the legendary Wonderbolts soaring across the sky, headed up by none other than Spitfire herself, at least three hundred Children of Air had signed up on the spot, with more coming in every day. Plenty of other troops had enlisted as well, and once the army raided a weapons depot hidden away by Eclipse, they had more than enough arms for the growing rebellion. A few old war machines- catapults, a ballista and even a naval cannon with several remaining shots- were rolled out and repaired. Phil could hardly have hoped for better. Their tiny resistance pocket had turned into a rebel army almost overnight.
Phil strode into the town hall, which had been commandeered and converted into the HQ when the mayor himself fled town. Trixie was already setting up another communication session with the sending stone, and most of the Wonderbolts were already sitting in the room as well. Spike sat silently in the corner, wanting to listen in and know first-hand what the plans were, but not wanting to blow his cover early.
"This is commander Trixie of the Manehattan army." Trixie said, using her new titles, probably made up on the spot. "Is everyone still well? No surprise attacks?"
"We had a small skirmish with a platoon or two of stragglers two days ago." the commander of the western forces said, "Thanks to the defensibility of these mines, we were able to deal with them and incur only minimal casualties."
"All clear on this end." Rilken confirmed. "Weaponization of everything in Los Pegasus is coming along nicely."
"No signs of an enemy counterattack here, either." Blake stated. "Though I do have a slight update. As... As you all surely know by now, Prince Belenth fell in battle, and appointed me as the new champion to the throne. At first I was of course hesitant, but... I've thought about it long and hard, and have decided that if you will all have me, I will accept, with the Lady Rarity as my queen."
A few congratulations were thrown around, and the general consensus was that Blake would make a suitable new heir and ruler. "So..." Trixie began, "This is it. The moment we've all waited for. Let's talk storming the capital city."
"We've got a whole additional army of expendable dark summons at our disposal." Blake affirmed. "My tactician suggests we have our various Goldoan dragons blast down the gates, then flood the streets with them and mop up any soldiers milling about. Odds are good that most will retreat to the far more defensible interior of Eclipse Castle."
"That sort of plan sounds familiar." Spitfire commented, a smug grin on her face. "Tug, is that you over there? What are you doing?"
A few muffled noises came through the sending stones. "Er, hey Spitfire." another voice answered. "You know, just helping some friends, same as you. Strictly personal business."
Spitfire shrugged. "That's fine, then. I was worried someone sent you to take me back. Then I'd have to kill you, and I'd rather not have that weighing on me. Stay safe, kid."
"You too. Now, like Blake was saying, once everyone else is inside the castle, we'll have to crack that open with something heavier. I count a grand total of six Goldoan dragons between all four armies, so we should try to use their immense brute strength to our advantage."
"We have a few mobile war machines here, and there should be some in Los Pegasus, too." Phil stated. "With the right ammunition, they could be equally effective. We just need to find some energy cores and recharge them with whatever magic we have on hand, and we found enough for ours in the armory."
"I propose we only wait for three more days at maximum." said the leader from Baltimare. "I am aware that the troops need a rest period between battles, but the longer we wait, the longer we leave ourselves open for counterattack. Three days, maybe two, will be enough to gather ourselves and move out for the final stages of the rebellion."
"Three days sounds fair." Trixie agreed. "Our guys can be ready in two, so we'll use the third to get into position and camp out closer to the capital city. The rest of you should already be close enough to launch an attack from where you are."
"One last note." Blake added, "Straight from Rainbow Dash and the other Elements. Celestia herself is to be avoided at all costs, and she is to be left to the Elements of Harmony to fight. Were anyone else to engage her, it would be both pointless and suicidal."
Time passed, and how quickly it did all depended on what Phil was doing. If he had only to wait, it dragged by at a snail's pace, but when he spent time readying the machines or troops, it passed far too quickly. Soon enough, the the dawn of the third day was upon them, and the army of nearly five hundred volunteers prepared to depart. They had to 'borrow' some supplies from various shops around the city to have enough to support the entire army, but they only took what they needed.
At midday, Trixie rose her broomstick staff into the air, a Moonlight flag tied to its end, and lead the march away from the city of Manehattan in the direction of the capital. They traversed the southern fields, the same ground which divided Manehattan, the capital, and the fortress where Twilight would surely be. However, on this journey they veered more to the west, to attack from the southwest while Twilight's party hit the southeast. All the armies would convene in the streets of Eclipse, and strike at the heart in the castle.
Camp was made a fair distance from the city, far enough to avoid detection, but the spires of the castle could be seen in the sunset light in the distance. As he and Soren set up their tent, Phil realized that he recognized this place; this was where he had collapsed in his flight from the capital half a year ago, and Xekora had rescued him. Now he had returned to come back home in full force.
"You having flashbacks too, kid?" Soren asked, and Phil nodded. "Yeah... I remember one of the best shows we ever did was over the capital's skies. I never thought we'd be returning, especially with the whole team back together, to wage war. Destiny's funny like that."
I had a hard time steadying my heart as I sat awake atop the fortress, looking out on the silhouette of the castle. It took an especially clear night to see it from here, but that sight made me realize how close we really were. Tomorrow, we would begin the final battle that would decide the fate of Equestria. Tomorrow, I might finally be able to avenge my brother, Creiddylad, Spike, Mac and Belenth and everyone else Celestia had ever taken from the innocent people of the country.
"Hey, bro." I heard from behind me, and Scootaloo sat beside me. "I was wondering where you were."
“Sorry about that.” I said. “Couldn’t sleep. So, how have you been holding up, kid? The fighting isn’t getting to you, is it?”
Scootaloo sighed. “Maybe a little. But I think I should be alright. The Crusaders and I have been keeping busy with building stuff and moving supplies. Applebloom’s really good at building, too. We put together this cart-thing that I can push around with my wind, and it can hold all three of us easy. We figured we could use it to bring supplies around the battlefield, that way we could help without getting into as much danger. Plus, Sweetie Belle says she can shoot from it.”
I gave him a pat on the back. “There you go. I wouldn’t want any of you fighting right up with the enemy, anyway. This way, you can still help the whole army.” I stood with a hand still on his shoulder. “C’mon, kid, let’s head to bed. Big day tomorrow...”
It seemed like morning came the very second my head hit the pillow. I quickly equipped my armor and swords, then moved out into the hallways of Fortress Apollo. I joined several other soldiers who were silently marching through, headed for the fields outside. My heart was racing even more than it had been last night. Each step I took brought me closer to the capital city, where my blade would finally cross with Celestia’s.
The army assembled diagonal to the fortress, in a direct path to the city. I joined the other Elements of Harmony at the head of the pack, checking to make sure each of them was alright. Both Fluttershy and Rarity seemed especially nervous, though everyone was to some degree. None of them were so scared that they wanted to back down, though.
The company began its march as soon as everyone had assembled, and moved well through the day until the capital city loomed in plain sight. We stopped a short distance from the walls, close enough that anyone could see us if they looked, but far enough away that we were out of any practical firing range. For several agonizing minutes, we stood motionless, miraculously not drawing the fire of the Eclipse soldiers surely inside the city walls.
Twilight pulled her sending stone out of her pocket, and I was able to see that it was glowing. “Trixie, here!” The mage said excitedly. “Manehattan’s army is in position! Just give the word and we’ll thrash these guys!”
“Western forces are camped to the north of your position, Trixie.” The commander from Baltimare confirmed. “I can see your camp over this ridge. My troops await the signal to charge.”
A whole minute passed until we heard from Rilken: “Sorry, sorry! I had a few troops to straighten up. Consider the forces of Trottingham and Emberton ready to charge!”
Twilight cast an excited glance back at her companions, and I flashed it right back with a grin. She nodded, held the stone up to her mouth, and nearly screamed “CHARGE!” I raised my sword in pure exhilaration, and the army surged forward. The battle for Eclipse, and all of Equestria, had finally begun.
The Stalfos surged ahead of the human troops, along with Fenrir and Fafnir. The two dragons quickly form-shifted, and threw their entire weight against the walls before them. Twilight could hear the distant sounds of struggle from elsewhere in the city, and knew that the other dragons from the other armies were doing the same. An alarm went up inside the city walls, and the tiny forms of enemy soldiers began rushing about to defend themselves from four different attacks.
The enemy soldiers began to fight back, arrows and magic launching fourth from the rooftops within. The stone walls began to give, but provided cover for the dragons breaking them down. Stones began to fall from the top of the wall, and another flutter passed through Twilight’s chest. Only a few more seconds. With one final tackle, Fenrir and Fafnir blasted through to the other side, and into the city.
“Move, move!” Twilight yelled, signaling the troops to advance. The Stalfos knights were the first to cross the new threshold- after the dragons- and the skeletal soldiers flooded into the streets. Oddly, Twilight heard no screams from the city, no panic-stricken residents of the city, only the sounds of combat.
“I can only assume that there isn’t anyone left to flee from them.” Octavia said grimly. “It was plain to see from minute one that the fight would one day reach these streets. Everyone who was smart must have fled the city as soon as able, and the unlucky ones... We are most likely fighting against the poor lost souls now, as a result of Celestia’s feral drug.”
Twilight swallowed, but this only served to fuel her determination. She did not know if there was any way to save those who had had their minds turned by this drug, so the soldiers Celestia was throwing at them were likely a lost cause. At the very least, she would try to make their ends swift. She tightened her glove and stepped forward. “Enough waiting. Bring everyone in behind the Stalfos, and let them take the brunt of the damage. All snipers and mages should provide cover fire as we rout the streets, then form up at the gates to the castle.”
Octavia nodded and hefted her own bow to bear. The other Elements of Harmony all shared a determined nod, and moved forward as one, the rest of the army around and behind them. They leapt over the broken mortar of the outer walls, then rushed to catch up to the widening line of Stalfos.
The resistance from the royal soldiers was not as strong as Twilight had imagined. They're spread too thin from defending four different fronts. We won't encounter any truly organized and effective resistance until we round them up to the castle. With this in mind, Twilight ran directly behind the Stalfos and began throwing volleys of magic over. In the distance behind her, she could see the ranger Tug scramble up the side of a short building, then unclip his bow and begin firing at the enemy.
The battle seemed to shift slightly. More Stalfos were falling before the defending Eclipse knights, and the mages and archers had to work harder and harder to keep them at bay. They must have figured out that the Elements are all with this group. Twilight inferred. If they kill us, there's nothing left that can stop the queen, and the whole army is doomed. The wall of Stalfos began to thin as it advanced, weakened by constant enemy attack. Some enemies began to slip though, but were swiftly put down by the Silver Arrows.
Soon, however, the human soldiers were forced to engage the enraged knights, as the Stalfos line had become too weak to hold them off. Twilight deftly blocked a sword strike with a palm full of magenta energy, then threw her other palm into the attacker's chest. Another lanced at her from the side, and she rolled under the strike and kicked the legs out from under her assailant. Twilight never would have thought she'd be using her training against the army that had taught her, but they had little defense against the warrior they had created. She threw magic like javelin's, striking down several soldiers before they even had a chance to reach her.
She was spun around when an axe strike from behind only narrowly missed her. A large group of soldiers had snuck behind her, and she barely had enough time to dodge away from the following attacks. She could sense that more were creeping up behind her, but couldn't turn her back on these ones. Her allies were all struggling against them, and while a few attempted to work away at the soldiers surrounding Twilight, they were almost totally ineffectual.
She dodged around their attacks and fought back as best she could, but she seemed to be stuck in a stalemate with these soldiers. She had to continuously block from one side or another, and did not have enough time or space to counterattack. The constant dodging and blocking was beginning to wear on her, and more than once she only escaped being impaled with an inch to spare. Still she danced around the enemy fighters, keeping every bit of space she had left to fight.
A familiar noise echoed from some distance away, and a few seconds later a mass of fire cut right through the knights before Twilight. It brought itself to a halt with great fiery wings, and the image of a mighty flaming bird was left in the minds of the soldiers who were about to meet their doom. Twilight smiled wide, and lit a fire spell in her hands. Phil's here! They're screwed now!
Together, the two former apprentices set ablaze the attacking troops, driving the fight back to a line and causing the remains of the assailants to retreat and regroup. Twilight turned to the phoenix, who promptly form-shifted back into the boy she had known and loved her whole life. Phil smiled, and the two moved forward and shared a brief but passionate kiss. Afterwards, in the momentary safety afforded them by the others holding the line, Twilight rested her head beside his.
"Phil, I... I'm so glad you're okay."
"Of course I'm okay." Phil assured her. "Had to stay alive to see you again, right? Trixie's just fine, too."
She nodded, a few tears in her eyes. "Thank you... You two are the only family I have left, after Spike..."
She trailed off, and Phil gave her a pat on the back. "Hey... I'll let you in on a little secret, if you promise not to tell Fluttershy." Twilight looked Phil in the eye, and he whispered in her ear: "Spike's alive."
Twilight's eyes shot open, and she stared at Phil in amazement. Phil nodded happily. "When he wrote that letter to you, he was sure he wasn't going to make it. He hadn't counted on us saving him. His life might still be shorter than it used to be, but he's as alive as ever."
Twilight practically squeaked in pleasure. "Phil, that's amazing! Oh, thank you so much..."
He gave her another pat on the back. "Like I said, don't tell Fluttershy yet. Spike wants to surprise her. Now c'mon, Twi, let's go finish this. Trixie's bringing the rest of our army around to meet up with this one, so let's make sure we get our fill first!"
I brought both swords down upon another soldier, and kicked his body aside to make room for the next one. These guys were proving easy to kill, but endless in numbers. Unless I wanted to be there all day, I would need a way to get through them quicker. The answer was as obvious as it was awesome.
I began spinning one sword over my head rapidly, while defending with the other. With my wind magic in effect, the first sword was rotating far faster than what should have been possible. I adopted a devilish grin, and thrust the sword forward, and I could feel the sound barrier shatter before my might. The familiar rainbow shockwave exploded from the space before me, and I rushed forward faster than anyone could follow. I slapped aside weapons and cut through armor so fast, my enemies couldn't even see what was happening before they were on the ground.
As I was fighting, I became aware of another noise, distorted by my speed, but I was fairly sure it was music. Another form dropped in from above, moving almost as fast as I was, ripping through the soldiers with her flaming battle-axe. Spitfire and I nodded to each other, and fell into step back-to-back. Still the strange music continued, until several more figures dropped from the sky to join us. I recognized each one almost immediately: Soren, Misty, and all the other Wonderbolts. The team bard had equipped a new guitar, and was being covered by the others, still playing his music and keeping spirits high.
Our group now numbered seven, and the crowd of enemies could sense that they were in trouble. Some even began to flee, still able to obey their most base instincts of survival. Most, however, continued to throw themselves at us without mercy. We all rose into the air, swatting aside the enemies' weapons like insects, and began dive-bombing the crowd beneath us.
It took me a minute to realize what was actually happening, and it was difficult to keep up my momentum once I did. I was flying with the Wonderbolts. My oldest and most dear childhood dream had just been realized. I let out an overjoyed, almost insane laugh, and began fighting even harder. Those soldiers that hadn't yet died realized that they should seek better cover, and all began fleeing to the castle. We weren't prepared to let them go without a fight, though.
Spitfire backed up slightly, and gave a tiny nod to Soren. My heart fluttered, as I knew exactly what was going to happen next. Spitfire held up he axe, and Soren aligned his lance from behind. A giant core of fire and wind began to form just above the two. The two gritted their teeth, and in unison shouted "Burning Scar!" The missile shot forward, and exploded in the center of the fleeing mob. More than half of them were annihilated, flopping like rag dolls in every direction. The remaining troops managed to escape to temporary safety and headed for Eclipse Castle.
Both supersonic techniques worn off, Spitfire and I floated to the ground. "Not bad, kid." she complimented me. "You fought like one of us."
"I learned almost everything about combat from you." I told her. "Some was from my brother, but he learned most of his stuff from you, too. It's an incredible honor to be able to fly with the whole team."
"Hm..." she mumbled thoughtfully. "Well, anyway, let's rendezvous with the others. We need to get ready to crack through to the castle. Then the queen will be all yours."
We moved back through the streets, empty save for the various ally soldiers walking with us, or nursing their wounds. The Wonderbolts and I moved swiftly back to the others of my army. The first phase of the battle was over; every last soldier of Eclipse left in the country was waiting for us in the castle. When the medics had tended to every wound they could, the army began to move forward to the massive iron gates blocking the city from the castle. It would take more than our dragons to break these down.
"Give me a status report." I asked Lyra and Twilight. "How many do we have left on either side?"
"All four armies are going to rendezvous here, and their leaders have already given me an update." Lyra explained. "Total, we seem to have just under two thousand human troops, as well as a hundred or so Stalfos knights still hanging around. Due to the anatomy of the castle- the fact that it's built into and around a mountain- a multi-pronged attack is basically impossible. But the other armies are wheeling their war machines over to this end, so we’ll at least be able to blast away their existing defenses before making our move.”
“I see.” I said, rubbing my chin. “Once we get in, we’ll have to fight hall-to-hall. I would imagine Celestia would be holed up in her throne room, calling all the shots. It’s also a possibility that she’s got a bunch of light beasts guarding her all the way from the front hall to where she waits.
"It's a good thing you've got me, then." Twilight told us. "I know the castle like the back of my hand. The corridors are made to confuse, but I know exactly where we need to go, and I'll lead us there. Now... Just how are we going to break down those gates?"
"Allow me, mates." Xekora offered, appearing behind us seemingly out of nowhere. " 'S the least I can do. Now stand aside, this shouldn't take long..." He rolled back his sleeves, rubbed his arms together, and began casting what looked like a powerful dark spell. A shadowy radiance began emanating from the base of the gates, all the way around, and Xekora's arms began to shiver. With an audible grunt, he lifted his hands into the air, and the entire fence wall was uprooted out of the ground. He flung his arms to the side, and the fence was sent flying over the walls of the city. "Someone's going to want to clean that up when this is all over." he said cheerily. "Or not, perhaps it'd make a nice tourist attraction a hundred years from now."
The mass of gathered soldiers mumbled excitedly. I turned to Xekora with an eyebrow raised. "Neutral, huh? You absolutely sure about that?"
He gave me a knowing look, and I thought I detected a 'wait and see' element in his eyes for a split second. "Go." he told me. "Find the queen. Give her a sound drubbing. And make sure to keep young Luna safe! Do not let Celestia have the satisfaction of bringing her younger sister down with her!"
Soon after the massive iron fence had been tossed aside, the remaining armies from elsewhere in the city arrived, and the various war machines were set into place. In total, Phil counted ten catapults, five ballistas, and three cannons. The weapons were promptly loaded, and awaited the order to fire. Commander Octavia held up her hand, waiting to see if any soldiers from within would risk coming outside. When none did, she dropped her arm, and the war machines all loosed their first volley.
The missiles all collided with the front of the castle, a few tearing through, and most at least knocking something loose. Phil detected sounds of commotion within the castle, and knew that the soldiers were mobilizing again. Perhaps they hadn't expected the resistance to have heavy weaponry, and thought to ambush them on the way in. But now they knew that the fight had been brought to them, and they wouldn't go down without a mighty struggle.
"You ready to go, Phil?" Trixie asked, appearing by his side. "The Elements have their own job to do, and with Spike avoiding his girlfriend for theatrics’ sake- a desire I completely understand- it's just going to be you and me for a while longer."
"You make a pretty good partner, anyway." Phil told her. "One last battle by your side won't kill me, I hope. Anyway, just stick with me, and bring some others with us. I know all the little nooks and crannies of this castle, and we'll flush out any stragglers or ambushers before they get us."
She nodded in confirmation, and the two watched as the next volley of shot floated through the sky and slammed into the castle. Several chunks of mortar fell to the ground or began to crack.
"Now! Move!" Colonel Lyra shouted, and the soldiers rushed forward, with Phil and Trixie near the front. The remaining skeletal soldiers headed up the pack, crashing into the defenders with whirling scimitars. With the first defensive line softened, it was a simple matter for the strong fighters and potent mages to sweep them aside and breach the castle. Even so, Phil knew that unless the Elements met success, their victory against these soldiers would be meaningless.
Phil quickly swung around a corner when they entered the grand hall, and several soldiers followed him. Trixie's broomstick staff was held before her like a spear, the tip alight. Phil led the group around the great staircase, into a corridor that led underneath to other chambers. "The armory is at the end of this hall." Phil explained. "I don't know what will be left now, but we should take a look, take what we want and destroy the rest."
"As well as kill those guys before they kill us." Trixie pointed out, as several knights jumped from their cover and rushed at the group. Phil and Trixie both threw a fire spell into their midst, then readied themselves for close combat. Phil grabbed a clumsy spear thrust and tugged the owner to the side, and he hit the wall. Trixie smacked one upside the head, then brought her flaming staff around to hit another in the side. Phil ducked under a sword strike and punched it's owner in the stomach, sending him gasping for breath.
The enemy was getting taken apart, but they were not willing- or capable- to give up. One swung wide with his axe, and Trixie could only stumble backward to dodge. Phil dispatched him with a punch to the head, and he moved to help Trixie to her feet while the resistance soldiers behind them rushed ahead to finish off the remaining Eclipse knights.
"Thanks." she said, rising to her feet. "Fighting in such tight quarters gets hectic, doesn't it?"
"Yeah... Hey, Trixie, what's this?" He picked up a rolled piece of paper from the ground where she had fallen, and he quickly scanned over it's contents. A look of confusion and fear overtook his face. "Trixie... You weren't planning on using this, were you?!"
"It's that skill I told you about, the one from Ivoire. And if the opportunity presents itself, yeah I'm going to use it."
"Trixie, have you even seen this thing?! It could kill you!"
"Phil, you should know me by now." Trixie countered, moving over and grabbing the scroll. "I think I can handle it."
"Give me the scroll." Phil demanded, grabbing her shoulder. "I'm not going to let you almost kill yourself again. I stopped you once, back at the Quest Bed, and I'll stop you here, too."
"Taking the scroll isn't going to do much. I've already memorized how the skill works, so you may as well take it. But if the situation arises that I have to use this technique, you can't stop me."
Phil tightened his gloves threateningly. "I can try."
Castle of Eclipse; Inner Chambers
I swung around and brought yet another soldier to the ground. The path to the throne room had just been littered with troops, which was to be expected. Celestia would want to wear us down before finishing us off. Twilight estimated that we were about three-fourths of the way there.
We turned a corner, and my heart sank when I realized our previous predictions had been right. Dozens of light beasts guarded the long hall, at the end of which was the great door to the throne. I re-gripped my swords in anticipation, and the other five Elements did the same. It was just us now; everyone else was off fighting elsewhere in the castle. Pinkie, Applejack and I moved in front of the others, pushing forward while Twilight, Rarity and Fluttershy fired arrows or magic over our heads.
It was slow progress, but we managed to gradually push through and destroy more and more of the light beasts viciously blocking our path. Their massive claws and teeth occasionally razed across one of us, ensuing in blinding pain in the moment before Fluttershy healed the wound. The horrible summons were tougher than any normal opponent I had ever faced, but after enough slashes they would evaporate back to where they came from.
After at least thirty minutes straight of holding out against them and dispatching them one by one, the last light beast was slain. Twilight took a look around, then released a pent-up breath. "If only for a minute, we are safe. Let's take the time to rest and prepare ourselves for what's ahead."
I nodded gratefully and slumped to the ground. My breath had to be caught before I could fight efficiently again. I looked up at the mighty door to the throne room, and a feeling of pure fear and despair filled my heart. Celestia herself is beyond that door, waiting for us. Can we even hope to beat her? Will any of us walk out of that room alive? Was all this for nothing? I banished the thoughts. Such thinking was sure to get me killed. I had to believe that we could, and would win. Still, I found myself wishing beyond anything else that I knew where Ultraviolet was.
I rose to my feet. I was as rested as I was going to be. Adrenaline would carry us the rest of the way. The others all seemed to agree, and stood with me facing the door. I turned to Fluttershy, and put a hand on her shoulder. "Stay near the back, okay? Your skill was made for long range, and you need to stay safe." She nodded in understanding, and after a nod from each of my allies, we moved forward and pushed open the door.
A great skylight up above allowed the midmorning sun to filter in and illuminate us. Warm tapestries hung on the walls, depicting the royal sun emblem or other relatively meaningless images. A velvet carpet led straight from our feet to the glorious golden thrones at the end of the hall, where stood the white-clad demon Celestia, smiling in anticipation. Beside her, dressed in identical black armor, was Princess Luna.
"I'm... Sorry..." the younger managed to say. I could see a slight unnatural glow from her eyes from where I stood, just for a second.
"You're despicable, Celestia." Rarity said, angrier than I had ever heard her. "It boggles the mind that you find it acceptable to use your own little sister like this." Rarity understood better than anyone, since she was also in command of a number of subjects, and a younger sister.
"Spare me your patronization." Celestia said, her voice carrying throughout the throne room. "I take what measures I must to ensure that I remain alive, and the world remains safe. If those measures prove to be not enough, then so be it. The world does not deserve to remain alive if it cannot remain stable."
"Celestia." Twilight began, and I knew an extremely emotional tirade was about to follow. Twilight was finally able to confront the one who had stolen her potential life. "You talk as though the world you have created is a stable one. This is anything but safe, as the thousands of men and women outside this room will gladly tell you!"
"My faithful student." Celestia taunted. "So this is the path you've chosen. You know that you could be standing on this side of the room, if you wanted. But the fact that you wear the charm of my long forsaken house tells me you would not choose that path now. It’s honestly a shame. You had so much potential... And now, you shall perish with the rest.”
All our weapons were drawn at once. None of us intended to let her follow through on that promise. We all had a reason to fight, a reason to hate her. We were all brimming with power only just beginning to be tapped into. There were any number of combinations we could use as well; the question became, which one should we use first?
Celestia didn’t wait for us to decide. She unfurled her large white wings and launched herself at us, Blade of Light trailing behind her. I jumped forward, broadswords spinning, and blocked her upon approach. We remained motionless for several seconds, neither budging, and she leapt back and floated to her feet. Applejack and Twilight shared a quick look and nod, and quickly moved beside each other.
“Northern Lights!” the two shouted in unison. Mostly just for grins, and partly for theatrics and intimidation, we had come up with a name for each combination attack we were able to try. By being refracted by Applejack’s ice, Twilight’s element-less magic became a potent, colorful laser that Celestia had to leap into the air to avoid. The two kept the attack on-target, and the tips of the queen’s wings and boots were nearly singed. To finish the attack, Applejack leapt into the air and rode the shockwave right up to Celestia, then brought her axe around and cleaved her across the back.
Celestia hit the ground roughly, but stayed on her feet. Even with a direct hit, it would take a lot to bring her into critical condition, so we couldn't let up. I spun my broadswords over my shoulders and rushed forward, hoping to distract her. A form from the side rammed into me and knocked me off course, and I only just had enough time to block a strike from her great ebon sword.
"Luna!" I said in surprise. "Snap out of it! We aren't your enemy!"
She just managed a slight turn of her head. Celestia's hold on her was too strong. I would have to disable the younger princess myself, then turn my attention to the queen. I hefted my swords and charged at her, my speed easily matching hers. I pounded away at her defenses, the same as I had during the Lunar Festival six months ago, and she was powerless to do anything but block.
I realized that Luna wasn't posing nearly as much of a challenge as before. Maybe it was that Celestia's hold on her was not as strong, since she was also caught up with fighting, or perhaps I had become that much stronger. Either way, Luna could not hold me back. I jumped to the side when she swung at me, and spun around to slash at her back.
She brought up the Blade of Dark to block just in time, but left herself open for my next attack. My swords slashed across her legs, and she dropped to the ground. I continued to attack, breaking apart the 'Nightmare Moon' armor and making sure she was immobilized for both her and our sake. She looked up at me with her large, dark eyes, and I could see innocence in them once again. She wouldn't be going anywhere.
I turned my back to the young princess. The others were still struggling to hold Celestia at bay. I nodded in determination, and flew at her full-force.
Several members of the Silver Arrows crouched behind a makeshift barricade, no more than a thick overturned table. They were being fired upon from further across the room, though luckily there were few mages. Octavia and Kyle both crouched behind the same cover, bows drawn, waiting for a lull in fire from the other side to open fire themselves. Kyle already had an arrow nocked in anticipation.
"Kyle..." Octavia started, "I just want to tell you something. I know this probably wasn't what you were expecting when you joined my unit, but you've remained loyal through everything... You're even risking your life staying here with me. I just want to tell you how proud I am to have a boy like you in my group of followers."
"Yeah, that's nice." Kyle responded. "You're a pretty great leader, too, but this isn't exactly the time and place to get sappy. You can tell me how awesome I am once we're not getting shot at."
Octavia nodded, slightly apologetically, and pressed her ear up to the table. "I think they're beginning to let up. Get ready!"
Kyle could tell just as well that the enemy was slowing down in their barrage. They were waiting for the Silver Arrows to pop back up and attack, thereby exposing themselves, and that was exactly what they were going to do. "On the count of three!" Octavia said, loud enough for the enemy across the hall to hear. "One!"
The entire attacking force of the Silver Arrows sprung up at once and began firing upon the Eclipse archers. The enemy was caught off guard, expecting exactly two more seconds before being shot at, and were hit hard by the sudden volley. It took them several seconds to get their wits back about them, and by then almost half their number had been lost. However, as was now in their nature, they would not give in. As soon as they realized the Silver arrows were revealed, they started firing back at them.
Soldiers from both sides fell to the ground, clutching at their wounds if they were lucky. Many were already dead by that point. An archer nearby to Kyle, behind the barricade next to his, fell suddenly, and he knew it was already too late to save him. He brought back another arrow and fired, and the shot hit the very top of another upturned table, an inch from the head of an Eclipse soldier.
Kyle heard a surprised and painful cry from just beside him, and he turned to see a terrible sight. The shaft of an arrow was protruding from Octavia's left shoulder, and she dropped to her knees to avoid getting shot again. Kyle dove for cover as well, electing to help his commander in any way he could. Octavia clutched at her arm, her eyes squeezed shut.
"Rgh... I think... I should be alright." she said, breath coming quickly. "Well... I'll live anyway. Get me some bandages or something, I'll need to remove the arrow and dress this wound before I lose too much blood." Kyle tried to calm his stomach, and nodded. He dug around in his pockets and retrieved a first aid kit, and then a roll of bandages from that. Octavia was already working away at pulling the projectile out of her arm, and Kyle had to look away slightly, as it looked extremely painful.
"Woah, what happened!?" Kyle heard Lyra yell, and soon the green-haired colonel was beside them as well. She looked in alarm to Octavia's wound, then her panic turned to anger, directed at the enemy. She dropped her crossbow to the ground, picked up a discarded arrow in each hand, and began focusing a light spell upon each. Soon the two were longer than spears, and Lyra stood slowly and threw the projectiles straight for the enemy line.
The light forms spun forward like boomerangs, and cut straight through the barricades at the other side of the hall. The screams of the enemy soldiers echoed around the room, as many of them had just been sliced in half. They were not finished yet, however, and the Eclipse archers remaining continued to fire back at the archers of Moonlight. Lyra ducked back down, and surprised Kyle slightly by embracing Octavia around her uninjured side. "Just hang on. I'm going to get you out of here, and get your arm fixed."
"We can't leave... until we secure this place." Octavia stated. "I'll survive, but Lyra, you have to stay to finish them."
Lyra was about to argue, but was interrupted by an energetic war cry from behind the barricade line. Kyle turned in time to see what looked like a wooden cart speeding towards them, then skidding to a halt. Three small figures jumped out from within, and one immediately began casting a wide-area wind spell. Every arrow in the air clattered to the ground, and any the enemy tried to fire were flung back at them haphazardly. Soon, the Child of Air lifted his hands dramatically, and the entire barricade was blown away, and each and every Eclipse archer knocked out or fatally wounded by the impact.
"Seemed like ya' needed some help." Applebloom said simply, moving over to assist however she could with Octavia. The arrow had finally been pulled free, and Lyra was wrapping the bandage around the wound to stop the bleeding.
"You feel okay, Tavi?" Lyra asked, helping her to her feet.
"Not... Not particularly. I'll live, but... I-I don't seem to have much movement in that arm anymore..."
Lyra sighed in sad sympathy. "We should just get you out of here, then. If we hurry, we could get you to a medic and get that healed properly. Kyle, you think you can get her back to the CP outside the castle?"
Kyle hesitated, then shook his head. "With all due respect, colonel, I can't do that. I have to stay and fight, and get to Pinkie if things go horribly wrong. I hope you understand."
Lyra nodded solemnly. "I do. Well... Looks like I'm sitting the rest of this battle out. If it comes to it, Kyle, shoot Celestia once for me, and Tavi." With a nod, the two began to walk back through the captured areas to the safety outside of the castle. Kyle looked over the remaining Moonlight archers, who seemed confused and directionless.
"Don't just stand there!" he yelled, taking charge in lack of a proper acting commander. "There's another contingent of the Silver Arrows around here somewhere! Go give them support!"
The soldiers nodded after a slight pause, and the dining hall was promptly emptied. Kyle turned to the three young children, all armed and ready to continue. Scootaloo approached him and asked simply: "Shall we? This siege isn't over yet. We figured we'd fight our way through, and go to give the heroes some support."
"Sounds like a plan." Kyle said, and followed the three over to their cart. It was mostly empty, and had only a rudimentary steering device in the front. He climbed in with them, and was about to ask how it was supposed to move, when Scootaloo began focusing another wind spell. The currents of the magic launched the cart forward like a sailboat, and the group shot off for elsewhere in the castle.
The Blade of Light blocked my attack with only an inch to spare. An overhead attack from Pinkie shortly followed, which Celestia could only dodge. She brought up a magic barrier to deflect the combined magic attack from Twilight and Rarity. All of us leapt back, as did the queen.
"Think it's time for another combo?" I asked, and Pinkie nodded. "Right. May as well save what we know works for last. Let's see what those candy things of yours can do!"
Pinkie and I jumped side-by-side, weapons raised. She tossed one of her candies into the air and caught it with her teeth, while I quickly spun my other sword at my side in preparation for another Sonic Rainboom. Allowing instinct to take over, Pinkie and I crossed over each other, then rocketed toward the queen.
The shockwave from my initial attack knocked Celestia off balance, leaving her wide open for the rest of the combo. Pinkie flew as though she had wings of her own, and moved nearly as fast as I was as well. Her spear and my swords seemed to rend through the queen's armor, and though the white gleam did not recede, I could sense that we were doing some degree of damage beneath the surface. It was hard to tell what Pinkie's attack was doing, but her spear seemed to have gained a few extra blades.
Celestia swatted us back with a mighty slash of the Blade of Light. Pinkie and I made a rough landing near the back of the throne room, our armor a little scratched and my stomach a little jostled. We had made some damage against her, though, so I was happy enough to ignore the sensation. Fluttershy and Rarity wasted no time in initiating a third combo, and a rapier and a playing card were raised into the air. Twilight and Applejack were keeping Celestia busy while they quickly readied the attack.
"Straight Flush!" the two yelled. Rarity activated her normal skill, Soul Release, and a powerful radiance surrounded her. Fluttershy drew her bow and began firing at Rarity, beam arrows generated by the diamond card, and Rarity amplified and redirected them to rocket towards the queen. Celestia didn't even see the attack coming until the first one hit, and then she took to dodging around the room to avoid the lightning-fast bullets.
A few struck her in the wings, and several more scorched her armor. By the time the attack was finished, she had been hit at least ten times, and the damage was obvious by her missing feathers. I allowed a flutter of hope to fill my chest. We're doing it... We're really making it happen. We're really going to beat her! I tried to keep my thoughts steady as I launched myself back at her, swords wildly swinging and colliding with hers again and again.
If anything, Celestia just seemed extremely annoyed by us, but not worried. She continued to parry every hit we dealt, all while an unnerving white radiance began to collect around her. I had a feeling she was about to try a special attack on us in turn. When I felt that it would be stupid to stay so close to her, I leapt back to try and defend.
"Cosmic Rays!" she shouted, and the Blade of Dark flew to her side from where it lay, next to Luna's unmoving but alive body. I noticed that she avoided touching the weapon, but brought it and hers together. The energy from around her was channeled through both blades, and lasers of both light and dark magic blasted around our entire side of the room.
It wasn't easy dodging her attack. For me, Pinkie, and Rarity- for whom Soul Release was still in effect- it was easy enough, but we had to make sure the others stayed out of their direct path. As a result, we all got hit sooner or later. While shoving Fluttershy out of the way, I was hit in the leg by a dark beam, and I had to will myself to keep going. When the attack finally abated, we were all a lot worse for wear.
"Fluttershy, give us a heal!" I yelled, "We'll keep her busy! Applejack, let's go!" My partner and I jumped next to each other, and I put my sword up to her icy axe. "Refraction!" I smiled devilishly, as I knew that this was a very similar attack to what Celestia had just used on us. The rays of light from my Rainboom shot through her ice, separating each color and causing it to blast around the room. Each color was a different corresponding element; yellow was lighting, red fire, blue ice, green wind, orange earth and violet a neutral laser.
It was satisfying to see Celestia have to dodge our attack in the same way we had dodged hers, especially when my leg still ached, and there was a painful-looking burn mark on Applejack's armor. The rays had no discernable path, and while the queen was able to dodge many, she took several direct hits. She spun forward before the attack had even finished, and knocked us both across the room. Applejack's ice shattered when it hit the ground, but she herself was able to soften her landing.
"Don't let her get the chance to attack again!" Twilight shouted.
Pinkie and Fluttershy both nodded, and leapt together to begin another combination attack. I didn't even need to wait and see to guess a name for this one: The word 'Joker' sprung to mind perfectly. Pinkie strode forward, two glowing, unshapely objects appearing in her hands, eyes dark and locked on the queen. Softly at first, a tiny noise echoed from her mouth around the whole room: "Honk, honk, honk."
She leapt into the air, glowing clubs trailing behind her, and began rapidly attacking the queen. Pinkie was moving faster than I ever could have naturally, and Celestia was all but helpless as Pinkie smacked her with the semi-transparent clubs. While this was happening, Rarity and Twilight moved together, initiating yet another combination to take advantage of Celestia's low defenses.
"Resonance!" they shouted, and activated their individual skills upon each other. Rarity began glowing and pulsing with a sky-blue energy, and Twilight with her familiar magenta. The two Children of Fire nodded to each other, then leapt at the queen to join Pinkie. Celestia let out what might have been a scream of anger as the two collided with her, and she continued to be taken apart by the three.
When everyone leapt back, it was clear by the state her armor was in that Celestia was on her last legs. Chunks had fallen to the ground, what was left was scratched and scorched, and her once majestic hair had been thrown into disarray. She was still someone off-balance from the attack, and Twilight stepped forward once again. "This is it, everyone!" she shouted. "We have to finish her! Give me everything you've got!"
I smiled devilishly, knowing what was next, and Applejack and I both tossed our golden weapons towards the former apprentice. She caught them both and spun the weapons tauntingly. A black and white energy from Pinkie, a resonance from Rarity and a concentration of sound from Fluttershy. I cast a look over at Luna, who was still immobilized across the room. Are you watching, kid?
Twilight let out a victorious war cry and leapt at the queen. The same attack that had finished Luna six months ago was now finishing Celestia. The weapons tore through the queen's remaining defenses, and she was tossed around like a doll as Twilight unleashed her fury upon the one who had stolen the life she could have had. A bright light began to form around the two, soon so bright it obscured the action, but I could hear Twilight's continued assault all the same.
An explosion of energy seemed to rock the entire castle, and Twilight dropped to the ground, landing gracefully on her feet. Celestia, on the other hand, slammed into the ground on her back. Our weapons were tossed back to us, as the queen remained motionless. Twilight ran a hand through her hair. "It's over..." she breathed, "We won..."
"Rgh, fools!" I heard, and my heart sank. Celestia rose slowly to her feet, bloodied but still as mobile as ever. That attack should have killed her! How is she still moving?!
"How could you possibly have hoped to slay a god? I care not what powers your ancestors give you! I killed them all the same, and I'll kill you with no further effort!" With that, the queen launched forward, Blade of Light blazing, and knocked us all back before we could even put up a defense. A bloody gash was cut straight through my armor, and I slammed into the wall behind me. When my eyes fluttered open, I saw that my teammates were getting taken apart. I struggled forward, hoping Fluttershy could heal me, but not stopping to waste time.
Pinkie glared at the queen from where she stood, and popped both remaining candies into her mouth. Almost as soon as she did, she began to flicker, as though she couldn't control her own speed, and blasted forward. The golden spear tore apart Celestia's remaining armor, parried only a few times by the Blade of Light. The queen became more and more annoyed by her inability to block, and began swatting randomly around with her blade. Still Pinkie lashed out at her, nearly invisible to the naked eye, slashing at her before she even registered the last one.
With a grunt of anger, Celestia thrust her blade forward, and the assault stopped. A bloody grin spread on her face, and a look of pure terror filled each of us on the ground. At the tip of the Blade of Light, Pinkie had been impaled straight through the chest. She looked more surprised than anything, and the only change in her face was that her eyes closed as the blade withdrew and dropped her to the ground.
Sorry about the relative shortness of this chapter...
"Pinkie!" nearly everyone shouted, running forward to our fallen friend, Celestia leapt back to the end of the throne room, gracious enough to let us see what she had done. Fluttershy was the first to reach her, and immediately held up the ace of hearts, casting a healing spell on the inert body. When I reached them, though, it felt like my heart was being ripped apart. I already knew it was too late just by the sight. Though the wound itself was closing, the life was already gone. Blood pooled around our fallen friend. Pinkie was dead. Laughter had gone from our world.
Tears stung at my eyes, and I could guess that I wasn't the only one. Pinkie was gone. What would we do now? How could we defeat the queen if one of us was dead? How could we have even thought we could kill her at all?
"Now do you see the true value of this resistance?" Celestia chided. "This is the fate that awaits each and every one of you. You cannot hope to stand against a god. You never could."
My grief turned quickly to rage, and I turned to the queen with broadswords gripped tight. "Vi, Creiddylad, Spike, Mac, Belenth, and now even Pinkie... Your path of blood ends NOW!" I launched myself at her, activating another Sonic Rainboom almost on instinct, and began tearing away at her with more fury than ever before. I swatted away every block she tried to put up with her blade, and cut as deep as I could into her exposed skin.
I could sense the annoyance and slight fear in her eyes, and this only fueled me further. She had no defense this time. I would beat her within an inch of her life and let her suffer before I let her die. If she really was immortal, then I wondered what kind of excruciating pain I could put her through, before allowing her the sweet embrace of death. Perhaps I would start by severing some body parts? Or maybe pinning her to the wall with her own weapon and leaving her to bleed?
These dark thoughts ran through my head as I fought, but Celestia was ready to be done with me. She gritted her teeth and cast a potent light spell, which struck me right in the head and dazed me. She brought her arm around and hit me wildly in the chest, sending me flying backwards and crashing painfully into the wall. My head hit hard, and I could taste blood in my mouth. My vision began to fade, and as I fell to the ground, a grim acceptance filled my heart. That's it. It's too much... We're finished. Vi... Please forgive me, when we meet up there...
"Not a chance." I heard in my head, in the voice of my big brother. "You're not coming to join me now, no way. Now get up!"
Bro, I... I can't. I'm sorry...
"Don't be sorry, dammit! Be alive! You really want to be like me that much?! Think about Applebloom, and Scootaloo! If you die now, they're going to feel exactly the same way you did when I died. Would you wish that upon them?"
"And what about your friends? If you die, they're going to feel the same way Mac did when I died. Do you want them to have to go through that kind of psychological torture because of you?"
No, I don't want to hurt any of them, but-
"And what about Applejack?! How do you think she's going to go on living without you?! It's your responsibility to take care of her and her family! You want to leave her more alone than anyone else?! Now get the hell up, Dash! I'm right behind you!"
My eyes shot open. Applejack. I would not leave her, or anyone else, alone in this world ever again. There was still a drop of life left in me, and as long as there was, I would fight to stay alive. Like a merciful angel, I felt Fluttershy's healing spell envelop me, and my wounds began to recede. I was still weak, but I felt much more alive. Her arms wrapped around me in relief, and I gave her a brief pat on the back. The time for sadness would be after this was over.
I doubted if any of us would see that time, though. I may have survived once, but we were still all just barely hanging on. Celestia seemed unstoppable. The other Elements were all nearby, including Pinkie's body, and the other four looked as ready to drop as I felt. Twilight's robe hung in tatters at her shoulder. Applejack's left arm was bloodied and seemed too injured to move. Rarity had incurred a shallow gash across her forehead, and another across her legs. Celestia stalked forward, bloodied Blade of Light raised, ready to deliver us all our final strike. I gripped Applejack's hand, deciding I'd rather die with her beside me all the way to the afterlife. We closed our eyes.
The door to the throne room flew off it's hinges and smacked Celestia in the face, sending her sprawling backward. Stalfos knights poured in, forming a perimeter around us and dog-piling the queen. Two moved over to Luna and held her arms, making sure she didn't go anywhere. In the wake of the skeletal knight's charge, a familiar tall, dark clad figure strode in, his jacket discarded.
"I came here to kick ass and drink rum." Xekora said with a smug grin. "And all of the rum is gone. All of the rum. All of it."
"You!" Celestia spat, struggling against the bones holding her down. "Decided to show your cowardly face after all, did you?!"
"Chaos!" he ordered, and the shadow of Pinkie leapt to life at his side. "Return to your body, immediately." It nodded, and slid over to Pinkie's inert body. To our immense relief, Pinkie sputtered and gasped for breath, Chaos taking over and bringing her back to life. We all ran over and hugged her, getting out of the way of combat in the process.
"I understand everything now, my dear Celestia." Xekora said, and snapped his fingers. A Stalfos knight clacked over to the discarded Blade of Dark, and handed it to Xekora. "I was brought to this world for a reason. Your godhood states that only an equal darkness to your light can kill you, and only in a heroic or just way. Normally this would be your sister, but the Goddess knew that she would not be strong enough to conquer you. So she 'imported' me."
Xekora took the Blade of Dark, and held it aloft over his head. "Do you see now, Celestia? It is my destiny to kill you. It's time for the dark puppeteer of Hyrule to redeem himself."
The queen shrugged off the last of the Stalfos, gripped her weapon and charged. However, against a fresh and rested opponent, a god no less, she stood zero chance. Xekora batted away every hit, slicing through her defenses and drawing a lot of blood. I released a breath I had been holding. Xekora had saved us all. Celestia would be slain this day after all.
Celestia slammed into the ground, a pool of blood forming around her. She didn't have much left, she stood, eyes on Xekora. He hovered in the air just before her, a wild light in his eyes and a wide grin on his face. The fight was not gone from Celestia's eyes, but hope had left her. She knew she was going to die. However, it seemed she decided not to go down alone. She turned from the historian and ran for her sister, sword raised above her. Luna screamed, but Xekora was having none of it. He slid forward, Blade of Dark ready to stab, and thrust forward at Celestia's charging form.
The queen stopped short, unable to move through the large sword sticking out of her chest. She tried pathetically to reach Luna with the end of her sword, but she was still several feet away. She closed her eyes and sighed, seeming to accept her fate, but then grimaced with anger and effort. She spun the Blade of Light around, the tip pointed at herself, and drove it straight through her own chest all the way up to the hilt. The blade backtracked along the same path the Blade of Dark had taken, and the tip embedded itself firmly in Xekora's chest.
I gave a shout of alarm. Xekora looked at the sword stuck in his chest with a mix of surprise and annoyance. "Son of a... And this is ludicrously heroic, so... Bullocks... Are you satisfied, Celestia? Now we'll get to hold hands on the way down to hell. Well, you lot... looks like this is the end of me."
It was almost distressing to hear how calm he was being. Xekora was going to die too, and he seemed to not even care. "I've lived for several thousands of years, my friends. I've lived my life as much as I want to, and know that I did at least one good thing before it ended. I'm happy. Now, Princess Luna..." He turned to the girl, who had tears in her eyes. "After this, you're going to be mortal again. You'll age, you'll be able to make friends and be a normal girl again. That is all I ask of you. Live a normal, happy life. Please don't feel guilty that I died for you. That goes for you lot, too, the Elements of Harmony. Leave war behind and make Equestria a land of peace. Even you, Queen Rarity. Don't forget the simple joys of life once in a while. Luna, I leave all my belongings to you. My swords, god tier hoodie, and anything else you might want. Let the rest be sealed away in the vault of the castle."
He turned back to Celestia, and I noticed a strange radiance surrounding the two. It pulsed black, then white, and I guessed it was the intense light and dark magics cancelling each other out. "Now, my dear Celestia... I'll see you shortly in hell." The pulsing grew brighter and darker, soon obscuring the two completely. With a final blast that once again shook the foundation of the castle, the light exploded and left almost nothing behind. When our sight returned, only the hilts and shattered metal of the Blades of Light and Dark remained.
Applejack wrapped me up in a big hug, and I returned the favor. It was all over. It was finally all over. We were free, and together. We stood and moved over to Pinkie, who was sitting on the ground, looking at her hands.
"Chaos?" I asked, and she looked up at me.
"It's... It's still me." she explained, in a voice much quieter than her normal one. "I still have all my memories, and experiences, so it's still me... It's just, the other half now. But, oh, please don't tell Kyle! I'll... I'll tell him, when the time is right. I want him to know I'm still the one he loves, no matter what."
I nodded and put a hand on her shoulder. "Sure thing, Pinkie."
Rarity moved slowly over to Luna, dismissing the Stalfos guards. Without Xekora around, the soldiers were practically motionless, having no one to direct them. She helped the young princess to her feet, and placed an arm around her. "It's going to be alright, dear. You're not alone anymore..."
"Even Xekora..." Luna whispered, "That was it... Everyone I ever knew is gone..."
"I know it must be hard..." Rarity consoled her, "but I promise you are not as alone as it seems. You still have friends, in us. And, I have a little sister about your age, as well as her two friends. Maybe you'd like to meet them? I'm sure they would welcome you with open arms."
Luna nodded happily, wiping away her tears. Twilight dusted herself off and gave a stretch. "Let's get out of here." she said. "Just beyond this room, down that hall behind the thrones, is a balcony that overlooks the castle courtyard. Let's go there and announce our victory to the troops."
We all nodded, and began to set off down the hall. I stumbled as I tried to walk, my recently healed wounds making me stiff and sore, so Applejack grabbed me around the waist and helped me to follow the others. The pathway to the balcony had torches lining its path, and a single staircase after a turn. Getting up the stairs proved to be difficult for many of us, but eventually we made it. Beyond the doorway was bright sunlight, a signal of hope. I let my head rest on Applejack's shoulder, and we stepped outside.
We walked right into Celestia's final trap. At least a hundred light beasts stared us down, seeming to float in the air beyond the balcony. I could see soldiers on the ground trying to shoot them, to no avail. There was some kind of magical floor in effect, keeping the beasts aloft and keeping anything from below from hitting them.
Only one word sprung to mind that accurately summed up my feelings on the situation. I said this word, and the other six around me nodded their heads in agreement.
After everything, we were still going to die. We staged a resistance. We made it to the capital. We killed the queen. And we were still going to get killed by her last assault either way. The others couldn't reach us in time, and we were too weak to kill one light beast, let alone a hundred. They were too close for us to try running, we'd all be devoured by the time we reached the door again. It was over.
Despite everything, I still had some tears left in my system. One rolled down my cheek, and I grabbed Applejack's hand. "I'm so sorry, AJ... I tried my best, I really did..."
"I know ya did, partner, I know..." She wrapped an arm around me. "I love you."
"I love you too... I'm not going to let Celestia have this victory though. I'm going to go down swinging. Let's kill as many as we can, AJ. Everyone. Let's not give Celestia the satisfaction of seeing us go down without a fight. Let's go down heroes for those that are still here."
Applejack nodded, and we both wearily hefted our weapons. Slowly but surely, the other Elements did the same, even Fluttershy. "Luna..." she started, "I want you to go back. Find someone else in the army. They'll take care of you."
Luna shook her head, crying. "No! We won't let anyone else die for us! Ooh, why does it have to be us... Why can't we just..."
I sighed. "Sorry, kid. I wish it could be different. But you'll be alright. You deserve that much. Now go, get to the others, quick."
No one moved. The light beasts began to stalk forward, ready to kill, and I knew I couldn't do anything to change Luna's mind. Some big brother I turned out to be...
"Hey, wait just a minute!" a quite unfamiliar female voice yelled from behind us, back in the hall. I only turned my head fractionally, but watched as a woman in a pretty white dress and with cute green hair strode past me. I guessed she was around thirty, or maybe forty, and her clothing was occasionally complimented by seashells. She carried herself lightly, but confidently.
"Hate to steal your thunder after that speech, but you're sitting this one out." She cast out her arms, as though to take on the whole mob of light beasts herself. "So step back, and watch the big boys play!"
"Sounds like she's quotin' somethin'." Applejack commented.
"I agree..." said Twilight, "but I don't recognize the words. She looks like she might be from Ivoire, so maybe it's from a foreign book."
A light beast decided to make a lunge for the woman, but she beat it back with an impressive lightning spell. "Sorry I'm a little late." she apologized, "I wanted to make it to get a shot at this tyrannical queen, but I guess I can still help save the day again, anyway." She turned around, giving us a genuine smile with large, bright eyes. "My name's Marona, by the way. Nice to meet you!"
"Wait, ma'am," I started. "You don't mean to say you're going to fight all these light beasts yourself, do you?"
She giggled. "Not quite. Me and my friends will take them!" Marona did a little spin, her hands raised in the air. "Valiant phantoms, aid me in battle! Chartreuse Gale!"
At the word 'phantoms', my heart skipped a beat, and I wasn't disappointed. A conversely very familiar voice sounded from between my head and Applejack's: "What'd I tell you guys? I'd be back in time to take my share, right? And here I am!"
We both twisted around, and I had a huge grin on my face. We were going to make it. Ultraviolet was here to save us. I watched as a blue light pulsed from where the voice had come from, and my brother materialized in it's place. He reached down and took his old sword from my hand, hefted it over his shoulder, and moved over to join Marona. I quickly saw that he wasn't the only one; at least twenty other warriors, mages and a few inhuman creatures moved over and stood with her. The odds looked a lot better now that Vi was here, but that was still almost five light beasts per fighter. Not impossible if they worked together, but they were going to need to be careful all the same.
"Alright, guys, let's make this nice and clean." Marona instructed. "Use teamwork and take one at a time, okay? No unnecessary risks."
Fluttershy shuffled forward a step. "But, I don't understand... Was it your brother's... phantom, that told her this was happening now? How did she know to come here?"
"It was him, and me." yet another voice answered, and the little fuzzy form of Angel scurried into view from the passage behind us. The phantoms had already begun fighting the light beasts, and Angel held his scythe at the ready. "When I reached Ivoire for safety, I still couldn't just leave. I had to try and help. So I found a hero to help us, one that wouldn't want anything in return but to make sure the world was safe. And miss Marona told me she would help, so we came back home!"
"Oh, Angel!" Fluttershy exclaimed in joy, and wrapped him up in a big hug. "You're amazing! You saved us all! Oh, I love you so much, when we get back I'm making you a great big cake!"
"Careful, everyone." Twilight warned. "We're still very outnumbered. Keep your wits about you, we may still need to do a bit of fighting..."
I watched with interest as the battle progressed. Marona was a brilliant leader, never needing to shout very much, and her troops fought efficiently and without complaint. I supposed the fact that they were already dead meant that they didn't have much risk. Ultraviolet had only sharpened his skills since I last saw him, and was holding his own against a light beast all by himself. "Please!" he barked, barring his teeth at his opponent. "I eat horror-terrors like you for breakfast!"
"They're still not enough..." said Rarity, watching as the phantoms struggled against the numerous and powerful light beasts. "We have to get more help..."
"I don't think anyone's that close to our position." I stated. "At least, we'll have to hold them off until the troops on the ground can work their way up, which means we might need to do some more fighting ourselves..."
"Actually..." Angel started, "I think I hear some more people coming up the stairs... Six or seven of them."
I twisted around to see who was approaching this time. The strangest mix of relief and fear filled my system as I saw them all charge up: Trixie, Kyle, the Crusaders. To my surprise, Spike was among them as well, even though he was supposed to be dead. Was he a phantom as well? Their clothes were all slightly disheveled from combat, but they showed no signs of serious wounds. Scoots! Applebloom! What are you doing?! Agh, just get out while you can, please!
"Kyle!" Pinkie exclaimed, running and almost jumping into his arms. A little surprised, the archer caught her, then held her close. I smiled: now that it was just Chaos in there, he would probably have an easier time being her hero. He moved back to the rest of us and gave her a pat on the back.
"I'll take care of them, Pinkie." he assured her, "Just stand back, I won't let them get close."
The Crusaders approached from behind, and moved to defend their older siblings. There was something both comical and touching about this motion. I would have hugged them all, but I knew to save it until after the battle was over. Besides, I would have to properly introduce my older brother to my younger brother.
A light beast had escaped the battle with the phantom troops, and began stalking forward. The limited fighters we had defending us steadied their weapons. However, just as it drew near, I heard a mighty roar from behind us, followed by the glare of a brief flash of light. The great violet form of Spike barreled forward and tackled the light beast, and he tried clamping his jaws down on it's neck. At last, he just shot a blast of fire through it's midsection, and the beast evaporated.
Spike stepped back, form-shifting back into human shape, and I could hear an audible squeak from both Fluttershy and Twilight. Apparently the Goldoan heard as well, because he turned around with arms open wide, and a warm smile on his face. The two girls ran forward and embraced him, and he returned the gesture.
“Daddy!” I heard Twilight say, and she quickly tried to hide it, blushing profusely. “Oh crap, I just said that out loud, didn’t I… you’re never going to let me live that down, are you?”
“Nope!” Spike confirmed with a grin. “First time you’ve called me that in years, of course you’re not living it down!”
"Spike, oh my goodness!" Fluttershy exclaimed, happy tears in her eyes. "I thought you were dead!"
"I thought so too." Spike answered. "I hadn't counted on being saved, thanks to the Wonderbolts and Phil and Trixie. I'm sorry for having you believe I was gone all this time, but I promise I'm not going anywhere, now... And guess what? My lifespan was shortened a little bit when I was healed, because it was a pretty serious wound... But I now have what you'd call a 'normal lifespan', and I will age at the same rate as a normal Equestrian! Fluttershy, you know what that means?"
To answer his own question, Spike leaned forward and kissed Fluttershy, a move which lasted several seconds. Both were blushing. Twilight seemed a bit uncomfortable, but happy. I turned away to give the strange family their space.
Trixie strode forward next, purposefully, staff held over her shoulder. She stopped just before those of us who were not a direct part of the battle. Her black mage outfit showed some signs of a more serious struggle, though she seemed to ignore it. Her eyes were locked on the enemy, and I could see she was preparing to do something big.
"Rarity..." the black mage asked, "I need you to do me a favor. Do you have the strength left to use Soul Release one more time?"
Rarity frowned. "I... I think so. Why? Do you want me to use it on you?"
Trixie nodded. "Yeah. Use it on me. I'll handle every last one of them if you can do that. Please."
Something about the tone of her voice made me hesitate. It seemed almost resigned. Regardless, Rarity began casting her skill once again, and the radiance began to collect around Trixie. Just as it was finishing, I heard a cough from the passage, and turned to see an extremely wounded Phil leaning on the doorway. The corner of his mouth was slightly bloody, ad his eyes were frantic. "Don't... Don't let her do it! It'll kill her!"
It took a moment to register what he was trying to say. Whatever Trixie was getting ready to do, he thought it would be too much for her to handle. While Twilight separated herself from her adoptive father to rush to Phil's aid, I turned back to Trixie to try and stop her at whatever it was she was doing. Unfortunately, it seemed I was already too late. Soul Release had already taken effect, and the strength of Trixie's fighting spirit had been amplified into deadly energy around her. She gripped her staff with both hands, and in a loud, clear voice, began a battle cry.
"Fire of battle..." she started, and I saw Marona's head whip around from all the way across the battlefield. "reveal my heart..."
"Someone stop her!" Marona and Phil seemed to shout at the same time.
"Psycho Burgundy!" the black mage finished. The radiance around her- the very essence of her soul- was set ablaze, and I watched in wonder and horror and she drifted forward, a flaming angel of death. A light beast leapt at her, and with a simple flick of her wrist, a massive fireball tore through it and dismissed the creature.
"Everyone, pull back to the balcony!" Marona ordered, and the phantoms that were still on their feet joined her in retreat. She skidded to a halt nearby, and I could see a look of terror on her face. She must have known exactly what Trixie was doing. "No... No, no, I can't let another battle end this way! I won't let that skill take another person's life!"
Trixie was unstoppable. The light beasts threw themselves upon her, and were all torn to pieces before even making contact. The halo of light surrounding Trixie was enough by itself to set the creatures on fire. With simple gestures and movements, Trixie was able to rip apart the powerful light summons, so when she hefted her weapon in preparation for a real attack, I knew she was serious.
She leapt into the air and slammed her staff into the insubstantial ground, generating a shockwave that obliterated the remaining light beasts. Marona flinched, as that last attack probably cost Trixie a lot of energy, and energy was something she had a very short supply of at this point.
A momentary relief filled me. The last battle was over. The resistance had won. Equestria was saved. However, it all went away when Trixie attempted to return to us, and collapsed on the magic-born ground. Before Celestia's last spell faded, Ultraviolet and another phantom rushed over and dragged Trixie back to us. Phil had recovered enough to move over and check on her. He and Twilight both had tears in their eyes. Trixie's breathing was labored, and I could tell that Psycho Burgundy had taken it's toll on her. Did Celestia manage to claim one more, even after death?
Marona dropped to her knees and put her head to the black mage's chest, searching for a heartbeat. She seemed to have found it, as she proceeded to roll up her sleeves and cast an extremely powerful healing spell. Trixie's pained breathing steadied, and though she stayed asleep, I could tell that she was alive.
"Not again." Marona stated adamantly, sitting upright. "This time, you live. You're not leaving your sister alone, like he did..."
Twilight sniffled. "So... is she going to be alright...?"
Marona sighed. "She's going to be alive, I can tell you that. I don't know if I'd go as far as 'alright' though. The fact is, she just amplified her soul at least tenfold, then lit it on fire. She's very lucky to still be alive, but she probably will never be able to fight again. If anything, that staff of hers will have to serve as a cane now... But she'll be alive."
Twilight sniffed again, and nodded. "That's all I can ask for. We won't need to fight anymore, anyway... Thank you, miss Marona."
She nodded and stood, then surveyed the battlefield. The magical floor had faded, the bodies of light beasts all evaporated. The only sign that a battle had even taken place was the unconscious girl at our feet. The phantom of Ultraviolet moved over to Marona, and put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Thanks for bringing me home, Marona." he said, "and for everything else. I'm afraid it's time for me to go."
The phantom summoner closed her eyes and nodded. "You were a good friend yourself. It was no trouble. I'm happy I was able to help you move on."
I looked to my brother as he walked towards me. This was it. I had been spared truly saying goodbye to him when he died, but I had to make up for it now. He put a hand on my shoulder, the same way he always used to. "I'm proud of you, bro. Don't forget that. You did better than I ever could have hoped. Equestria is free thanks to you and your friends. And that weird semi-immortal guy, but you get the picture."
I shook my head. "I couldn't have done it without you looking out for me."
"Sure you could have. This way just makes me look cooler." He gave me a playful punch on the shoulder. "Don't get sloppy now. The fight may be over, but you've got plenty of other stuff to take care of, you know."
I nodded, a lump in my throat. Vi's gaze shifted slightly, and he moved over to Scootaloo, who had appeared at my side. "So, you're the next-in-line, huh? Heh, you've got the right look about you. Just stick with Dash, and you'll do fine."
He moved over to Applebloom next, who was looking upon him in wide-eyed wonder. "Wow, you got big fast, didn't you! Last time I saw you, you were this big!" He put his hand below her knee-level to illustrate, and she giggled. "Same goes for you. Listen to Dash, and your sister. Don't let them get into any trouble, alright?"
Vi approached Applejack next. He put a hand on her shoulder, and said simply: "I totally called it. I knew you and Dash would be together someday. Heh... Take good care of each other."
He returned to me. I had a smile on my face, glad that he still cared about us so much. "Well, kid, I guess I'm off. I've been overdue."
"We won't forget about you, bro." I promised him, an unbidden tear in the pit of my eye. "And hey! When you see Mac and Creiddylad up there, tell them we all said 'hi'."
Vi laughed. "Will do." With that, he cast his gaze skyward, and his form began to fade. Within a few brief moments, he was gone. I closed my eyes, a smile on my face. I knew that a part of him was still here, still with me, and always would be. With that in mind, I knew I would be able to tackle whatever challenges life threw at me next.
"Let's head home, partner." Applejack said, hand on my shoulder affectionately. "I'm startin' to miss Ponyville already."
"Hey, I was meaning to ask..." Scootaloo started, "the name of our town always made me curious. What even is a pony?"
"No idea." I answered. "Sounds pretty badass though, doesn't it?"
Screw it, too excited, you get the last chapter now.
Chapter One Hundred
Events passed by in a blur. First, we made our way out of the castle, and our wounds were tended to by the best healers in Equestria. As predicted, both Trixie and Octavia were diagnosed as unable to lift a weapon again. In response, Octavia handed over her rank and power to Lyra, who graciously accepted. Kyle was offered Lyra's old position, but he declined, deciding to retire from the military entirely.
However, both the young archer and his beloved girlfriend promised to take up arms again if the country was ever threatened. This was a boon to the young King Blake, who had quite the task ahead of him in ensuring the safety of Equestria. The royal army had been all but decimated, and the Silver Arrows' battalion was the only large group of trained soldiers remaining. Stalfos were out of the question, as their summoner was dead, so the last of them remaining were peacefully dismissed.
To say Sweetie Belle was overjoyed when she realized she got to be a princess was a major understatement. "So, after all of this, that makes me a half-dragon princess... I am the coolest person to ever exist!" Despite her rise to power, Sweetie Belle made sure to stay true to her friends, old and new. She and Luna helped each other along the way, Luna receiving a true, simple friendship for the first time in her life, and Sweetie Belle learning what was expected of her as a princess. The Crusaders didn't stop getting into all kinds of mischief, though, just made room for one more.
I almost enjoyed the moment when Scootaloo's stepfather tried to come back to town. I didn't give him an inch of ground, refuting every argument he tried to make, and made sure he knew that I was going to be the one to take care of Scootaloo from now on. He left town again the same day, with a black eye and a promise for worse if he tried to return. Twilight, the only other one to witness my display, didn't exactly agree with my methods, but I felt very accomplished.
Twilight and Phil were always looking for something else to help with. As the former human weapons of the queen, they both felt they should try and give back to the country in any way the could. Trixie, with revenge out of her mind and a weapon out of her hand, found herself accompanied by an extraordinary boredom. However, after some experimentation, she found that she was a talented storyteller, often reading from the old Hylian stories and legends left behind by her mentor and friend, Xekora.
The Ivoire-born hero Marona stuck around for a while after the fighting ended, wanting to do a bit of sight-seeing, and to help put the country back on it's feet. I got the feeling she was looking for someone while she was at it, but she didn't seem to find them. Regardless, she made for great company, being inherently friendly and kind, and she and her phantoms were all willing to lend a hand where they could. It was also good to hear that Vi hadn't changed at all in the time he spent with her.
The time eventually came in which some of our friends had to depart. Marona hopped on a ship sailing for Ivoire, giving us all our regards. The ranger Tug and Wonderbolt Spitfire also had to leave soon after, headed back to the Order, but Spitfire pulled me aside before they left.
"Hey, kid, I just wanted to thank you again." she told me. "You've done a lot for me, even if you're not aware of some of it. I think I know my purpose now."
"If anyone should be thanked, it's you." I countered. "Who knows where we'd be if you hadn't helped us? I'd be dead twice, maybe three times over, as would Spike, Fluttershy, and who knows how many others! Besides, you let me live my childhood dream. I always wished I could fly with the Wonderbolts, and you helped make that happen."
"Hey, I'm glad you brought that up. See... I'm not going to make the same mistake I did last time. I have to leave again, maybe for a long time, and I can see now that I shouldn't leave Soren in charge this time. But the world needs heroes like the Wonderbolts, heroes to look up on and aspire to. Heroes like I used to be. So, the others and I talked it over, and we agreed that it would be best to ask... Would you like to take my place?"
My jaw actually dropped. "W-what?! You want me... Not just to join the Wonderbolts, but to lead them?!"
Spitfire nodded. "I can think of no one better. You're a pretty great leader, even if you don't think so, and you're one of the most promising flyers I've seen in a long time. So if not for you, then for me: will you take my place?"
Embarrassing as it was in retrospect, I was so happy that I hugged her. I could tell that she was pleased she had made me so happy as well, and didn't stop me. Afterwards, I let her slip over my shoulders her own blue and gold Wonderbolts vest. A few hours later, she and Tug were gone, but I knew that she was still out there somewhere, fighting for what she believed in.
I ended up moving most of the stuff belonging to me and Scootaloo over to the Acres, and locked down Ultraviolet's old house. The two of us, the Apple sisters and Granny Smith were a family now, and we all agreed that it would be nice to live together. I shared a room with Scoots, while AJ and Applebloom bunked together. Similarly, Spike elected to move in with Fluttershy and Angel in their cabin by the woods, and he helped to expand the whole building to make more room. With nowhere else to go, Twilight and Phil made their residence in the library, where Twilight had been staying anyway.
House Icarus didn't go out of business once queen Rarity moved to the capital, though. Lady Opal and Lord Fafnir were left in charge of the house, and the defense of Ponyville as a whole. Sweetie Belle often stayed there when not at the capital. The Goldoan Dragons, their initial mission completed, for the most part elected to stay in Equestria, though Fenrir decided he would accompany the first ship that set sail back to Tellius.
The remnants of New Dawn soon dissolved, the disenchanted men and women returning at last to their old homes and families. At the end, only Vomora and Winona were really left. The two allied themselves with the new king and queen, quickly becoming two of their most trusted advisors.
As for me, I continued to do exactly as I always had: help Applejack with harvest in my free time, and soar the skies when not doing that. The difference this time was that my team was several people bigger. The Wonderbolts were very accepting of me at first, when I was just finding my balance, but none of us went easy on each other. They were all rusty, and it fell on me to make sure they all got back to their former glory. Our first major show was at the royal wedding, and we hit it hard. Aside from the happy bride and groom, we were the stars of the show.
Our next came a few months later, at the four hundred and ninety-ninth Lunar Festival. It amazed me how much had changed in one year. This time, we did it right. The Wonderbolts and I made a huge show of the clearing of the skies, revealing the full moon behind the clouds. Then Luna stepped forward, and used her incredible magic to cast a spell on the moon itself.
The crowd below was bathed in a beautiful blue reflective light. I made a point of kissing Applejack passionately in the light, and I knew I wasn't the only one taking advantage of the moment.
Life was good, in short. Physical, mental and political wounds were healing. Obeying our own moral codes, free of an all-powerful and immortal ruler, we were happy and content. A few questions still bounced around the back of my mind, but as time went on, I accepted that the answers just weren't mine to find. The Order, Number One, Scratch, Spitfire and Tug: the fates of all these people occasionally passed through my mind, but passed back out quickly enough.
I was happy to live the rest of my life on my own terms: simply, yet awesomely.
Whew! Finally done! A whole year's work is finally finished!
I just wanted to take a minute to thank you guys, everyone who's stood by me this whole time, who's kept my writing in line and helped me improve (let's be honest, it looks a lot better now than it did in the beginning), and just gave me support. This is only the second work I've ever finished. But I don't think it's going to be the last.
As I'm sure I've told many, but not everyone, the story itself is not over, just this book. Let me assure you, Book II is already in the works. I don't know when it will begin again, but it will. I'm going to give you a small bridge to Book II relatively soon here, much like the secret ending in a Kingdom Hearts game. Stay tuned.
This is truly the only way to describe how incredibly dark it was, as any further description would be a massive understatement. While there was light enough to see by emanating from the torches dotted around the mighty old tower, and from the tiny sliver of a moon, the world still seemed draped in an inky blackness. And while the quiet sound of the waves lapping at the shores of this long-unnoticed island were present and obvious to anyone who cared to listen, one subconsciously chose to ignore it in favor of uncontested silence without fail.
To restate, the night was really quite dark.
The sky was shrouded from any additional light by heavy black clouds, pregnant with rain. A thin, pale ray of light illuminated a thin, pale section of beach, upon which trod slowly a thin, pale individual. The hood of his jet-black cloak seemed to have lost any will to put forth an effort to shroud his face, and hung behind him as depressed-ly as everything else this night. His well-kept brown hair looked as though it would have loved nothing more than to whip across his equally brown eyes, though no wind made a move to facilitate this action.
In the crook of one arm squirmed a small child.
He reached the edge of the beach, the very tips of his shoes just barely touching water when the waves climbed the sand, and man and child both gazed out at the ocean. To the child, this was surely a magical thing, as this was the first time those young eyes had ever seen the sea. But to the man, it was quite the opposite. He knew he would never again see these shores.
"You're leaving, aren't you?" a young female voice asked from behind, and the night seemed slightly annoyed that she had broken its perfect silence. She wore a cloak identical to that worn by the man, a size or two smaller yet still a size too big for her. Her hood fell, and her black-and-silver streaked hair fell past her shoulders with a definite sadness. Her piercing green eyes locked with his brown ones as he turned to face her, and the red eyes of the child drifted back and forth between the two.
"I'm sorry." The man said genuinely, the two quiet words carrying the weight of the world. He spoke with a light, soothing accent that alone gave his words an in-control quality, but he was, in reality, anything but in-control of the situation, and his low voice was already close to breaking. "You know that if there was another way, I'd take it." She looked down to her shoes resignedly. "Are you sure you don't want to come with me, Lenora?"
She shook her head before he had finished. "I can't do that. There's too much I'd be leaving behind. I believe there's hope yet in some of these hearts, and I won't abandon them."
The man smiled, an expression emanating his feelings of both fondness and sorrow. He moved over to her in three long strides and wrapped his free arm around her. "That's my girl. I want you to know... I really do love you, like my own d-daughter. I've taught you everything you need to know, and I couldn't be happier with whom you've turned out to be... You might just save this twisted organization yet."
The girl, Lenora, scarcely a day over the age of ten years, fought back the tears forming in her eyes. For the longest time neither of them made a move, just trying to make last this final moment they had together. Neither wanted to admit it, but both knew they would likely never meet again.
Finally, the pair separated and the man walked back to the water’s edge, with the girl in tow next to him. From somewhere within the deep recesses of his cloak, the man withdrew two identical discs, which gradually grew in size until they reached a meter in diameter. They both floated beside him on tiny waves of energy, displaced by a wide cone-like formation at their base. The black vinyl circles on their surfaces reflected dimly the moonlight above.
"Please be careful out there, David." Lenora said quietly. "Don't get yourself killed."
The man nearly choked from the lump in his throat at hearing his own birth name from her, but caught himself and turned it into a light chuckle: partly out of the irony of it all, partly as a cover for the profound sadness he felt. "You too... Take good care of your little brother. He's got the same kindred spirit as you, and... I know he'll do great things if given the chance."
She nodded again as he placed his free hand on the surface of one of the vinyl discs, adjusting it slightly this way and that. The movements corresponded to a bright green holographic figure sitting between the two discs, incomprehensible to anyone but the man in control of them. Satisfied with the first number, he began adjusting the other disc, which corresponded with a series of disjointed numbers underneath the first figure, still displayed in the foreign characters.
"One last thing, Lenora." He said, taking his hand off the disc. He turned to her, and a new light filled his eyes. "When the time comes that you leave this place, go to the desert. A faded memory and old friend will be there to lend a hand."
The girl memorized this quickly, but did not have time to inquire further. The man touched the green figure lightly, and with a small throb of light, man and boy were gone, leaving the girl well and truly alone.