Disclaimer: I do not own My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, or any of its characters. I make no money from this writing.
Equestrian Knights: the Two Powers
Chapter 2: A Night to Remember
Dusk descended onto Ponyville, bringing with it a crisp, chill breeze that sent tree branches shaking and ponies running for their scarves and hats. As the light of day faded away lanterns were lit along the streets and on the buildings, first in ones and twos, and then as the darkness advanced in bunches that sent the shadows fleeing. Soon the whole of the town was lit up, a beacon of light for wanderers and weary ponies on the road that matched the stars above.
With the glow of lantern light came the sound of voices on the wind. There was the laughter of fillies and colts running about, playing their games and having their fun at the many booths set up within the town square. There were the soft verbal caresses and whispered admissions of young lovers on benches, sharing the peace of the night and the excitement in the air. There was the excited chattering of grown mares and stallions walking about, gossiping to themselves and any who'd care to listen about the momentous occasion their small town had achieved. There was the dignified small-talk of the few elderly in the town, reminiscing of years gone by and things long lost. And above it all yet not above it; mixed in with it, pulling the disparate noises together into one unplanned yet wondrous song, were the heavy synths and rolling melodies of Vinyl Scratch echoing through speakers set up all through the town.
From a hill just on the outskirts of Ponyville, between it and the Everfree Forest, Rainbow Dash sat and looked out over the town; her town, her responsibility, in fact if not in title. To any random pony who happened to look up that hill and see her, they would perceive a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a mare ready to launch forward in a moment's notice at the slightest sign of trouble. Yet though those ponies looking up at her from a distance might technically be correct, that night her attentions were focused on something rather different than the fate of the town or its inhabitants.
"Mmm...ahhh, ahh..." Rainbow Dash pressed deeper into the kiss, her tongue sliding out and caressing the delicate lips of the Pegasus beside her. Ditzy Doo moaned in response to this, her wings almost painfully straight out as her hooves rubbed and pressed up and down the length of Rainbow Dash's back, curling themselves into those beautiful, smooth as silk rainbow tresses. Ditzy's moaning grew louder as Dash's forehooves began stroking along her wings, ruffling the feathers in a way she knew the grey Pegasus loved, even if it was a pain to fix afterwards. The thought of THAT activity was enough to send both Pegasi into shivers.
"Mmm..." Rainbow Dash broke the kiss and leaned away some from the pony in her forelegs, looking at Ditzy's eyes. They were the brightest, purest gold she had ever seen, rivaling even the endless fields of Gildedale she had run and flown through in her travels. Yet trying to look into those eyes as she was at that moment also filled her with so much pain it was almost unbearable. For she couldn't look into them, not really, just as she knew without being told that Ditzy could not, would not ever be able to focus entirely onto her. Those wobbly eyes symbolized everything they had gone through, and all the pain they would endure.
Anger and resentment flared to life in Rainbow Dash's heart, the thought of Twilight flitting through her mind. Yet she crushed these thoughts and feelings down, refusing to allow them to reach her eyes.
Instead she smiled at Ditzy and brushed her left forehoof across her cheek. "You're so beautiful tonight." And that was the truth. Ditzy wore a sleeveless turquoise dress with gold trimming, similar in style to the dress Rainbow Dash had worn to the Grand Galloping Gala, the dress she wore that evening, at Rarity's insistence. The grey Pegasus had also tied her mane up into a short, spiky ponytail that reminded Rainbow Dash of something she couldn't put her hoof on. "Just beautiful."
Ditzy smiled, a light blush covering her cheeks at Rainbow Dash's words. Leaning forward she pressed her muzzle against Rainbow Dash's cheek in a short, loving kiss, before pulling away. Then her face scrunched up in effort. "Rainbow in the sky houseplants...money honey dropped staircase I..." Her face relaxed, the beginning of tears glistening in her eyes. "Sorry...so sorry..."
Rainbow Dash said nothing, only pulling Ditzy into a hug. Her hooves caressed over Ditzy's back, her head moving to nuzzle her cheek to cheek. "It's okay, it's okay, it's okay. Ditzy, it's okay. It doesn't matter to me. You could not be able to talk at all and I wouldn't care any less about you."
Ditzy sniffled, squeezing Rainbow Dash close. "Sarsaparilla matters to the little muffin...bad eggs say yellow turnips, make little muffin...little muffin asparagus me."
Rainbow Dash had stopped her caressing at this. Pulling away and letting her forelegs drop to the ground she looked at Ditzy. She frowned as she interpreted those words. "Dinky...she's become embarrassed, no...a bunch of other kids have made Dinky be embarrassed of you?" Ditzy nodded and Rainbow Dash stood up. "Well that's just not right. I'm gonna go on down to town right now and find that filly."
"Rainbow, little muffin-"
"Ditzy," Rainbow Dash interrupted. Reaching a hoof down she helped Ditzy to her hooves, before looking her as straight in the eyes as she could. "Ditzy, somepony's gotta set that filly's ideas straight before they get stuck that way. Besides, no way am I going to let anypony get away with disrespecting the mare I lo...loooo...really like." Rainbow Dash grinned. "Even if it is her daughter."
That oh-so familiar blush colored Ditzy's cheeks, making Rainbow Dash laugh. Together the pair of Pegasi launched themselves into the air, ascending five, 10, 20, 40 feet up into the night sky before corkscrewing wing-to-wing into a dive that had them rocketing off toward the bright lights and sounds of Ponyville.
As Rainbow Dash and Ditzy Doo flew away, the woods of the Everfree Forest behind them rustled. A pair of sulfurous yellow eyes disappeared as the diamond dog hidden within the trees turned and began running deeper into the dark forest, to the rest of the raiding party it belonged to. This particular diamond dog, and the rest of its group, was thinner than the average diamond dog soldier, yet just as tall, built more for quick strikes and rapid dodges than the barreling tactics of its cannon fodder brethren. On its body it wore a mail hauberk, over which went a black surcoat emblazoned with a red wolf skull and tied tight around the waist with a black leather belt. A pair of leather and splint-mail vambraces covered its forearms, with similar armor over its shins. A foot and a half broadsword hung from its belt, scabbard less and the blade colored a rusty red from lack of cleaning after use.
The forest was unnaturally silent that night, filled with neither the song of birds, nor the cry of cockatrices, nor even the wild roars of the manticore, out searching for its next meal. It was as if the whole forest sensed within itself the presence of a new predator, a predator far fiercer and more bloodthirsty than any it had ever contained in the thousands of years of its life. Somewhere away in her forest cabin, Zecora hastily boarded up her windows and barricaded her door, being sure to snuff out all lights as she whispered her native country's chants of protection. Deep in his river Steven Magnet stayed at the bottom, gazing fearfully up through the many yards of water to the world above him, ready to bolt upstream at the hint of a wolfen shadow. The green dragon Grougaluragran hunkered down in his cave, yellow eyes fixed upon the entrance and smoke curling from his nostrils. Beside him a letter disappeared in a wisp of green fire and flew away.
Minutes passed as the diamond dog ran through the woods, silent as the woods around it. It paid little heed to the quietness of the forest, only forcing itself faster and faster back to its dread master. Finally, it burst from the trees into a large clearing. Here another two dozen diamond dogs in matching armor milled about around several fires, sharpening their swords and axes with whetstones or feasting on whatever the hunters had gathered. Anticipation filled the air, bloodlust rolling off the beasts in waves. The first diamond dog, a scout, ignored all this as he moved at a slightly slower pace to the far edge of camp, where the only piece of equipment, a folding massive folding chair made of bone, more like a throne, had been set up.
"My lord," the diamond dog said, kneeling down in front of the throne and pressing his forehead to the soft earth of the forest floor. All activity in the camp ceased, the group turning to watch. "My lord, it is as you said. The ponies are all gathered together in the town square and hall. More importantly, there are no guards of any kind posted. They seem to place all their trust in their champions."
Silence arose as the scout finished his report, looking up from the ground to his lord and commander. Though several fires were lit within the camp, none of the light reached the figure in the throne, except for its eyes, eyes which shone a brilliant green, like cat eyes. His fur was darker grey than the fur of the other diamond dogs, almost black. Instead of the black and red surcoat of his soldiers, he wore a multi-sectioned steel cuirass, colored black with ash and with the same red wolf skull painted on with something that was most definitely not red paint. Black spaulders covered his shoulders, full greaves his lower legs, and steel vambraces etched with gold his forearms. Across his lap sat a deadly battle-axe. Its wooden haft was a foot and a half long and bounded with think brown leather, into which were etched words in the tongue of the wolf people. Its head was broad and flat, solid steel inlaid with silver forming spells of power and protection. Of all the weapons in the camp, it was the only one to show no signs of age or rust.
He was Nero, the Diamond Huntswolf, with his axe Blood Drinker.
"My...my lord?" The scout looked from the Wolf, brooding in thought on his throne, to several of the diamond dogs around them, before looking back. No change had come over his master's expression, so the scout gulped and tried again. "My lord, the ponies are defenseless, now is surely the time to-"
Before another word could pass from the scout's muzzle Nero shifted in his throne. Right arm lashing out faster than anyone there could perceive, he grabbed hold of the diamond dog scout's head and squeezed. The scout's life ended with one quick, pained whimper, many of the other dogs turning away at the squelching noise that followed. Then came a thump and clatter, as the dead body slumped to the ground and its sword bounced against its armor.
Nero gripped the shaft of his battle-axe with his left hand and stood up from his throne, letting the blood and brain matter drip off the claws of his right hand to the ground below. The sound of his pawsteps on the forest floor were as the beating of the drums of war, and as he advanced through the camp one by one his soldiers left what they were doing and joined in behind their leader, their lord. In the shadows of the firelight he stood over them all, a towering behemoth as great to them, and all the rest of the diamond dog tribes, as Celestia was to her little ponies. Low growling began to come from them, the promise of bloodshed in his presence working them into a berserker fever.
Then, as Nero reached the edge of the camp closest to Ponyville, he stopped, and the other diamond dogs stopped with him. He turned to look at them over his shoulder, raised Blood Drinker up over his head, and let loose a growl that made the fur on the back of their necks rise.
"Tonight," he said, "we shall feast on pony-flesh."
"And so there I was, standing at the mountaintop, a stiff cold breeze on my back and my very best friends to my sides. The world snake towered over us like something out of the darkest, most dreadful myths! It was miles and miles of scales the size of Ursa Minors, and fangs long enough to cleave Canterlot in two! It's four eyes locked onto us, filled with hate and bloodlust!"
Rarity made a sudden lunging motion and the gaggle of fillies and colts gathered in front of her all screamed and giggled. A few parents of the foals, also listening with rapt attention to the story of the "Quest of the Three" jumped as well, and Caramel simply bolted from the whole gathering. A smile crossed Rarity's face at these reactions, just the ones she had been aiming for. Settling back into her seat the Unicorn swept her gaze over the small gathering, before resuming her story.
"And so, the beneviolet was right on top of that foul beast's head, wedged between two ridges like some weird goal in the world's most dangerous obstacle course. But no dumb serpent will ever get the better of an Equestrian pony. And certainly none as fabulous as I, as solid and dependable as Applejack, and as daring Rainbow Dash!" A wild chorus of cheers followed this. "So I hatched us simply the most brilliant plan, if I may be so bold to say. First, I had Rainbow Dash-"
Rarity's story continued, but Twilight Sparkle stopped listening to it. She had heard that tale many times before, had played a vital role in it near the beginning and the end, but for the moment at least she felt no desire for any more such stories. Something in the air told her the time for telling stories and the time for listening to them would soon be over. Not that she had the heart to tell Rarity this.
Standing up from her seat at the very back of the group listening to Rarity, Twilight pulled her cloak close to her body and began to walk through the town square, lit up with lanterns and booths. She had no particular destination in mind so she just wandered, looking over any booths that caught her interest. Many ponies had come from all across Equestria for this celebration, so the best that could be said was that there was plenty of variety. There were food stands, and game stands, and stands seemingly devoted, as far as Twilight could tell, to the selling of the most inane, useless trinkets bits could buy.
It was the booths for this last kind of item that caught Twilight's curiosity the most, even though it was a morbid curiosity. There were plain wooden sticks that purported to allow any kind of pony to use magic. There were elixirs and salves, claiming to cure everything from horn rot to the common cold. There were jewels reportedly from the throne room of the dragon king Malachite, and pearls supposedly from the realms of the sea-ponies. Twilight scoffed at this last one. She had met several sea-ponies during her time in Canterlot with Princess Celestia, and they most certainly did not create pearls. Although, she thought to herself, she had never really pried into the matter...
A sudden flash of light and a sharp screeching noise from somewhere behind Twilight made her look up at the night sky. She did this just in time, as a multitude of fireworks burst into light and color above the town. Red and gold and blue and green filled the sky, momentarily overpowering the brightness of the lanterns below. A chorus of excited and wonder-filled exclamations arose from the town, Twilight no exception. She had not seen such a fantastic display since the night she and her friends had attended the Grand Galloping Gala. No, she thought, it was an even grander display above her then there was that evening so long ago. There was far more heart and simple joy put into these fireworks.
Twilight continued looking up, watching fireworks continue to explode above her. As she watched, a soft smile slowly grew on her face as she felt a familiar presence, one that she had not felt for many months, sidle up next to her. "Well look at that, Sparkle, the sky's looking just about like you. All bright and fiery and...sparkly. That last bit sounded better in my head."
Twilight let out a giggle as she turned her head and looked at the earth pony stallion beside her. "Good evening, Doctor. You still have your way with words I..." Her words died on her lips as she looked Doctor Whoof over. He looked the same as he always did, for the most part. He still wore that same tweed jacket, though the leather elbow patches seemed a bit more worn than they had been. His gold watch was still in place, as was that ridiculous yet strangely fitting red bow tie. But atop his head...
Twilight blinked and gave her head a short shake. "Right then, I have questions, but number one is this; what in the name of sanity have you got on your head?"
Doctor Whoof grinned and shot a wink at Twilight. "It's a fez, I wear a fez now." He winked again and reached a forehoof up, adjusting the red, conical hat perched atop his messily combed mane. "Fezzes are cool."
Almost before he had finished speaking a rainbow blur whipped by overhead. A pair of blue forehooves grabbed the fez from Doctor Whoof's head, followed by Rainbow Dash twisting around in a 360 degree spin and throwing it into the night sky. "Pull!" Rainbow Dash shouted.
Twilight lit up her horn. A bolt of red lightning shot from the end, blowing up the fez before it could even reach the end of its arc and begin its downward descent. A few smoldering tatters fell to the cobblestone ground, a few passing foals cheered at what they thought to be another show, and then that was that.
Twilight smiled innocently as Doctor Whoof looked from her to the smoking remains of his fez, over to Rainbow Dash as she settled down onto the ground, followed a moment later by Ditzy Doo with a giggling Dinky clinging to her back, and then finally looking back to Twilight and her smile. He tried to frown, but as far as Twilight could see his eyes simply weren't in it. "Any of you make a move for the bow tie, and it'll be the worst day of your lives."
"We'll be sure to remember that." Twilight suddenly moved forward and, to the surprise of all there, especially herself, embraced Doctor Whoof in a tight hug, nuzzling her cheek to his. "I really missed you, you dang stallion."
A moment passed, and then Doctor Whoof was returning the hug, a rather dorky grin crossing his face. "Well, well uh, I missed you too. Because that's pretty much, pretty much what friends do whenever they're not together..." his smile calmed down, and over Twilight's shoulder he looked to Rainbow Dash, Ditzy, and Dinky. "I missed all of you a great deal. Traveling alone is no fun."
"Heh, tell me about it," responded Rainbow Dash. "Egghead and Beauty Queen told me how you went traveling yourself a couple months after I did. So what's a mad stallion with a box like you been up to all that time?"
Doctor Whoof and Twilight broke the hug, and he turned to look at Rainbow Dash and the others. "Ah, now that is a very good question. I can't wait to tell you. It involves three Pronghorns, the queen of the desert, and an overcooked croissant. Also I can never go back to Camel-lot."
Twilight blinked and shared a look with an equally as perplexed Rainbow Dash. "Now this I've got to hear."
"Excellent! But first..." he checked his watch. "I believe we have a concert to catch! Come along Sparkle, Dash, Doo, and...um...second Doo."
Twilight watched Doctor Whoof trot off to the town hall, Ditzy and Dinky following him close behind just as the mayor's voice rang out over the speakers, announcing that Sweetie Belle's show would be starting in three minutes. It was good seeing him again, she thought. He was easily as smart as her, probably smarter, and could e as easily excitable as Pinkie Pie had been, plus he was so... "Hey Rainbow Dash? What was that word you used to describe me once?"
"Hm?" Rainbow Dash wandered over to Twilight, nudging her against the shoulder to get her moving. Twilight rolled her eyes but obliged, and the pair swiftly joined the crowd filing into the town hall. Several ponies they passed shot Twilight dirty looks, but both Twilight and Rainbow Dash ignored them. As they went along Rainbow Dash followed Twilight's gaze, finding her watching Doctor Whoof. Rainbow Dash snickered. "Oh, does Twilight find the good doctor adorkable?"
Twilight could almost feel the heat as her cheeks lit up in a blush, and she quickly looked away from Doctor Whoof with the pretense of looking for a place to stand. They were in the town hall now, and she hoped to get somewhere near the front so that Sweetie Belle could easily see her. "Well, well uh...maybe I do. A little." Rainbow Dash snorted, prompting Twilight to sigh. "Okay fine, yes. He's just so...what you said. Adorkable. Like a big dork but all...it's that darn bow tie!"
Rainbow Dash let out a raucous bark of laughter, making several nearby ponies jump and look over at them in alarm. Twilight's blush deepened, to her utter embarrassment, but before any more could be said on the matter the sight of a white hoof waving in the air caught bother hers and Rainbow Dash's attention. They broke into a trot in that direction, and once they got close enough they saw it to be Rarity. Standing with her were Big Macintosh, Applejack, Doctor Whoof, and Ditzy and Dinky Doo.
"I saved us all some space," said Rarity, indicating with the hoof she had been waving with to an empty space just beside her, enough for two or three ponies. Looking around Twilight noticed that they were right at the front of the crowd, just barely off the stage themselves. With this in mind she turned to thank Rarity, before a shake of the ivory Unicorn's head made her stop. "No no, no need to thank me. It is simply what friends are for. Besides, I somewhat doubt Sweetie Belle would be very comfortable performing if her mentor wasn't there to cheer her on."
"Yes, I suppose you're right." Twilight shared a silent smile with Rarity for a small moment, before she turned to face the stage and sat down on her haunches. She was just in time too, as not a moment later the lights throughout the hall dimmed, followed by several spotlights flicking on and aiming toward the purple velvet drapes hiding the half of the stage further from the crowd.
Doctor Whoof sat down beside Twilight, sharing a quick smile with her before looking back to the stage. "Well, this is nice," he said, loud enough for all of them to hear. "All the Knights of Equestria, the Elements of Balance, finally all together again. And now, SOMETHING is probably going to happen."
"Golly," Twilight heard Applejack whisper somewhere down the line of friends. "I hope this ain't a repeat of the last concert those three fillies tried ta give."
Twilight chuckled to herself. Unlike her and Rarity, Applejack and the others had no idea just what was coming.
Around the crowd and over the stage, speakers crackled to life. "Fillies and gentle colts," said the mayor's voice. The waiting ponies ceased any conversations and focused on the stage, eager for the show to start. "We have gathered here..."
Sweetie stood just behind the curtain, taking deep, lingering breathes to steady herself for what was to come. She understood that her whole life for the past 14 months, ever since she had discovered her special talent comforting her sister Rarity through music, had been leading up to this moment.
"Fillies and gentlecolts, we have gathered here to celebrate a momentous occasion, for when our humble town grows older than its great founder!"
Cheers and mild applause drifted through the curtain to Sweetie Belle following the mayor's words. She would have stomped her hooves in applause herself, if she didn't feel like it would make her stomach do back flips. As it was, she was beginning to think she had accidently swallowed a butterfly at some point.
"As part of our celebration of this spectacular occasion, tonight we shall be having a special concert. Sweetie Belle, younger sister of Ponyville's very own Rarity, shall be performing for us this evening."
More applause. Sweetie Belle gulped, edging a bit away from the curtain, readying herself to bolt off the stage and head for the rear exit. There was no way she could do this. She could never compare to her big sister, never equal the kind of fame Rarity, the latest fashion designer genius, had brought to their small town. She could never-
A gentle hoof on Sweetie Belle's shoulder made her look behind and to her left. There stood Apple Bloom, in her simple red and black backup singer outfit, a comforting smile on her face. Sweetie Belle turned to her right and there she found Scootaloo in a similar dress but purple and black, a confident smile on her face. Confident in Sweetie Belle's ability. That was right, she thought. She had her very best friends right beside her, ready to help in whatever came next for her, whether it was fame or shame. She couldn't run, not if it wasn't for them.
"And so, I present to you what just might become the next big music group in Equestria, Ponyville's next pride and joy, the Cutie Mark Crusaders!"
Sweetie Belle smiled in utter confidence as the curtains parted before her, revealing her and her friends to the waiting crowd. Her eyes instantly found Twilight and Rarity at the very front of the crowd smiling up at her, even as she started the instrumentals for her first song with a flick of her magic. A strong piano and drums melody started as she stepped forward, her white and olive-green dress billowing out behind her in a gentle breeze Scootaloo started up with her wings.
"I walked across an empty land
I knew the pathway like my sister's clothe stand
I felt the earth beneath my feet
Sat by the river and it made me complete
Oh simple thing where have you gone
I'm getting older, I need something to rely on
So tell me when you're gonna to let me in
I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin."
The music picked up in strength, and as it did Sweetie Belle jumped to her rear hooves and began to spin and twirl, earning a burst of surprised applause from the watching ponies. She felt Scootaloo join her side and gave a silent thanks to the Pegasus for teaching her dancing basics. The purple butterfly marks on Scootaloo's flanks were rewards enough, she had said.
"I came across a fallen tree
I felt the branches of it looking at me
Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I've been dreaming of?
Oh simple thing where have you gone
I'm getting older, I need something to rely on
So tell me when you're gonna let me in
I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin.
And if you have a minute why don't we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?
This could be the end of everything
So why don't we go
Somewhere only we know?
Somewhere only we know..."
The music quieted for a bare moment, the spotlights dimming until they only illuminated Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, and Apple Bloom. Then with another flicker of magic the music flared to new life. Sweetie reared back, releasing a torrent of lights like sparkling stars from her horn to swirl above the crowd, drawing gasps and sounds of amazement from them. Her eyes met Twilight's and saw only pride in them.
"Oh simple thing where have you gone
I'm getting older, I need something to rely on
So tell me when you're gonna let me in
I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin
And if you have a minute why don't we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?
This could be the end of everything
So why don't we go
So why don't we go
This could be the end of everything
So why don't we go
Somewhere only we know...oh...
Somewhere only we know?"
The music faded away, leaving the town hall in silence, Sweetie Belle looking out onto the crowd. The silence lasted only a moment before a wave of sound and excitement hit the young Unicorn, nearly sending her stumbling backwards. Hooves thundered against the floor in applause, Pegasi flying through the air and letting loose wild cheers. Sweetie Belle felt the hot wetness of tears begin to form in her eyes, quickly blinking them away as she swept her gaze over the crowd. Her gaze was drawn down to the front row, to her sister and her friends. Rarity made no effort to hide her feelings, tears of joy streaming down her cheeks as she stomped her hooves against the floor harder than anypony else. Applejack and Big Macintosh sat on the haunches, mouths gaping wide in obvious shock. Rainbow Dash had thrown a foreleg over Ditzy's shoulders, pulling her close as the grey Pegasus held a cheering Dinky in her forelegs.
Then Sweetie Belle looked to her beloved mentor. Twilight sat there, a smile of pride and contentment on her lips, her hooves still against the floor. All her applause came through clearly in those violet eyes.
Then an insistent cough came from Apple Bloom behind her, and Sweetie Belle shook herself free of her euphoric daze. Moving back a few steps, she looked out over the audience and beamed. "And now for our next song-"
It all happened so fast, Sweetie Belle wasn't sure which happened first. One moment she was preparing the spell to start up for music for her next song, and the next everything changed. The windows throughout the large hall exploded inward, sending gleaming shards of glass flying towards her; yet at the same moment Twilight flew up onto the stage and landed at the center of the triangle formed by her, Apple Bloom, and Scootaloo. Sweetie Belle felt more than saw the shimmer that covered the Pegacorn's horn, when suddenly every single piece of glass simply froze in place. Sweetie Belle nearly fainted when she found herself at the center of a dome of razor-sharp glass.
Screams of terror began to fill the air. "Sweetie," said Twilight, making the filly look her in the face. "Stay close."
"Sweetie, stay close."
Twilight did not wait to see if Sweetie Belle responded to the command before turning her attention back to the battle that had suddenly erupted within the town hall. Diamond dogs, at least two dozen of them and all armored, had burst through the windows and doors, releasing ear-splitting howls as they set to work attacking the ponies inside. Twilight watched as all around her, her friends and neighbors were set upon by the diamond dogs. Jagged claws and gleaming fangs flashed in the darkness of the hall as readily as the swords and axes the wolves carried, and screams of agony began to join the cries of terror and howls filling the air in a chorus of horror.
From where she stood on the stage Twilight could see Caramel drop, a dagger embedded into his left flank; Carrot Top screamed and flailed as a Wolf held her aloft by her mane, readying a swing of the sword to slice through her exposed neck; the mayor let out a hard grunt as she was slammed against the far wall, her Wolf attacker rearing back to crack her skull between his jaws.
Then, in the midst of the chaos, a rainbow cascading with lightning flared to life. A two-legged buck sent the Wolf looming over Caramel flying back, quickly followed by the knife pulled from the earth pony's flank. The axe, moments from decapitating Carrot Top, was stopped mid-swing by one forehoof, the other crashing into the Wolf's jaw with an audible CRACK, sending that Wolf stumbling back and dropping his intended victim to the ground. The mayor was grabbed and flown out of the way of her attacker's lunging bite, making that Wolf slam headfirst into the wall. Twilight watched all this occur in the span of a single second, a flash of time that made all other movements in the room seem frozen in comparison.
Twilight barely flinched as the mayor was dropped at her hooves, followed a moment later by Rainbow Dash landing down onto the stage and striding to the very front of it. Silence filled the hall as ponies and Wolves alike turned and looked up at the Pegasus, and Rainbow Dash looked back at them with hard, blazing eyes. Twilight could feel the magic radiating from her, just as it had when she had assumed her Rainbow Avatar form.
"Knights of Equestria," Rainbow shouted to the hall, rearing back before smashing her front hooves onto the stage, making the wood crack beneath. A wave of magic in all the colors of the rainbow spread out from the point of contact, sending Wolves it hit flying. "TO ME!"
Several blurs shot out from the crowd, Rarity and Big Mac landing to Rainbow Dash's right and Ditzy and Doctor Whoof to her left, Dinky jumping off of her mother's back and hurrying over to Sweetie Belle and the others. On each of their left forelegs, including Rainbow Dash's, the greaves representing their Elements of Balance shone with an ethereal light. With a stomp of that hoof the metal extended out, moving up the leg onto the rest of the body forming full suits of armor. Full suits of MITHRIL armor, shining like the purest of moonlit silver. Mithril greaves decorated with golden engravings of flowers and stars wrapped around their lower legs, seamless as if they had grown there. A thick mithril crupper covered their flanks, adorned around the edges with moons of silver and suns of gold; small gaps near the back allowed their tails to flow free. Plates over mithril slotted onto leather covered their sides and back, joining to peytrals of mithril over their chests; emblazoned onto each peytral were the ponies cutie marks. Mithril criniere's flowed up their necks, attaching to mithril champrons that covered their heads yet left their eyes and mouths exposed.
In all these ways their armors were identical, except for two. Over Rarity's horn went a crystal blade, like the ones used by wizard warriors in the ancient times, and the once she had worn in Gildedale to face the komagas. And atop Rainbow Dash's champron grew three gold spikes, forming a crown. It signified her place as the leader, and served the role of a beacon for her to be found by comrades in the field of battle.
The entire process had taken little more than a moment, before Rainbow Dash leapt into the air, flaring her wings out to her sides. A two foot long silver long-sword materialized beside her, a barely noticeable thread of rainbow light going between it and herself. "Rarity, Doctor, get all the ponies out of here. Twilight, stay there and watch the fillies, provide support where needed. Big Mac, Ditzy, you're with me." Unsheathing sounds filled the hall as similar swords appeared beside the others, and Rainbow Dash aimed her blade forward. "Now, CHARGE!"
The two dozen Wolves snapped from their frozen states of awe at the sound of Rainbow Dash's shout, meeting it with a deafening wave of howls at they charged forward, slamming aside any ponies caught in their way. Rainbow Dash, with Big Mac to her right and Ditzy to her left, met them in the center of the hall, and the battle was begun.
Ditzy, the only trained soldier among them, was as far as Twilight could tell the most efficient and methodical in her fighting. She ducked beneath the swing of a sword and buried her own blade into the gut of the Wolf before her, earning herself a grunt of pain from him. Pulling out she turned and blocked a sword strike from a Wolf behind her, at the same moment sending the first Wolf stumbling back with a buck of her rear legs. Once that was done she focused her full attention on the Wolf in front of her, beginning a wild flurry of slashes and stabs. The soldier was forced onto the defensive, backing away from the blinding maelstrom of flashing steel in front of him. Then suddenly Ditzy leapt into the air, flapping her wings to flip over her opponent. Her blade struck out, and a moment later the Wolf's head dropped to the floor, followed by his body. Ditzy landed and immediately ducked down, watching the throwing-axe pass by harmlessly above her. Turning around she charged forward and rammed her helmeted head into her new opponent's gut.
Big Mac had little natural ability with the sword, but as Twilight watched the battle unfold that seemed to matter little. Nearly as big as the diamond dogs he was fighting, Big Mac barreled through them like a train, putting his full weight and muscle power to use. With every headbutt, every buck, every slam of the shoulder Wolves were sent flying back, smashing into tables or walls or each other. Sword and axe strikes bounced off or went unheeded by the red and silver figure of fury he had become, and it was not long before Wolves turned and fled when he set his eyes upon them.
And Rainbow Dash...Twilight almost could not take her eyes off of her, only able to remain aware of the rest of her surroundings because she had to guard Sweetie Belle, Dinky, and the others. Yet even so, Rainbow Dash was something incredible to see. The Pegasus had turned into a storm of battle, completely outclassing both the trained soldier Ditzy and the wild berserker Big Mac. Lightning crackled around her form, lashing out and striking Wolves down as handily as the sword. And the sword, oh, what a sight that was in the darkened gloom of the hall. It shone red-hot, bolts of lightning arcing up and down its length as it sang through the air, cleaving through Wolf armor and flesh as easily as if through butter. In her wake was left the stench of burnt fur and cooked flesh, yet not the sickeningly sweet smell of blood; the wounds were cauterized almost the moment they were made. And if any Wolf looked into her blazing eyes, they would turn tail and flee, fearing the immediate fury of the Rainbow of Light more than the distant darkness of their dread master.
Rarity ran up to Twilight's side, once she had dispelled the glass frozen in the air. The blade over her horn was stained with blood, Twilight noted. "Darling, everypony else has been evacuated, Applejack and Doctor Whoof are guarding them. Let's get these fillies out of here!"
"Yes, of course." Twilight turned and, with Rarity, began herding Sweetie Belle, Dinky, Apple Bloom, and Scootaloo to the rear exit. "Come along, my little ponies, let's get to saf-"
A howl, so much greater and darker than all the ones that had come before it, made Twilight stop. She turned to look, and at the sight that met her eyes her blood ran cold and her hopes of not having to join the fight died. At the front entrance to the town hall stood a Wolf, taller than the others, his form draped in shadow. His eyes glowed green, like emeralds in a black setting. Gripped in his left hand was an axe, the blade of which was as big as Big Mac's head was long.
Twilight's eyes broke from the towering figure, noticing finally the sign of the red wolf's head on all the soldiers. "Oh sweet merciful Celestia, it's Nero!"
Twilight broke away, ignoring Rarity's cries for her to stop and explain as she ran and jumped from the stage. She charged past Ditzy as she skewered another wolf, Big Mac as he caved a Wolf's chest in with a buck, and Rainbow Dash as she sent lightning coursing through a Wolf's body. As she passed each one she telekinetically took hold of them and flung them back, to where Rarity and the fillies stood in confusion. "Back, back all of you! This power is beyond any of you!"
Nero the Diamond Huntswolf let loose a deep, rumbling laugh as Twilight skidded to a halt two yards away from him, her cloak fluttering as her wings beat in agitation. "So you are the renowned Twilight Sparkle then? You are as intelligent and wise as I have been told, to warn your friends so. Tell me, does the threat of your death frighten you?"
Twilight's horn shimmered, preparing for any number of spells to be launched. "Not as much as the threat of my friends' deaths. Mutt, Monster, Scourge of all canine-kind. What are you and your savage ilk doing here? What has Ponyville done to earn the likes of you?!"
Again, Nero laughed, making Twilight's spine crawl with horror. Rather than charge her, or take a swing with his battle-axe, or any number of things she expected of him however, Nero surprised her by hooking Blood-Drinker onto his belt. "Be calm, little pony. I personally mean you no harm. I have a message I was bidden to give thee."
Twilight took her eyes off Nero for the barest moment, glancing around herself. It appeared that all the other diamond dogs had been taken care of by her friends, leaving Nero the only one left. Perhaps, all of them together, they could take him. But he could have more soldiers hidden outside, waiting for that moment. But then, if he intended to kill them all he could have been in the fight from the start. But he haddn't, so did that mean he was telling the truth? That seemed to be the case...
Twilight narrowed her eyes at the Wolf towering over her. "Very well then, cur. What is your message, and who is it to?"
That rumbling laugh, that cackle, grew somehow more vicious as, with a sweep of his arm, Nero indicated to the whole hall. "The message is to your princesses, and it is all around us. The blood, the gore, the whimpers of pain. Look well, Twilight Sparkle, look at us. A small attacking force, at the doorstep of Equestria's capitol! Nay, we could have gone further if we wanted, to the very gates of Canterlot itself!"
Looking back to Twilight, the Wolf Lord jabbed towards her with an accusatory claw. "The age of ponykind shall soon come to its end, and it shall end in blood, and fire, and war. It shall be the greatest war in all the history of the world, as I demand it."
Before Twilight could make any sort of reply, Rainbow Dash landed beside her and pierced Nero with a fiery glare. "Hah, shows what you know, dummy! Look around you, see any pony bodies? Nope. We took down every single one of your shoulders without even breaking a sweat! What does a mangy mutt like you think you'll manage to accomplish?"
Nero stopped laughing. His eyes hardened and locked with Rainbow Dash's, and between them a silent battle of wills played out. To Twilight watching them, it seemed a literal clash of light against dark; Rainbow Dash, encompassing every color of the rainbow and shining like the moon on a cloudless night, pitted against this towering figure of blackness and shadow. And yet behind Nero, Twilight could almost see an even greater figure of darkness...
Rainbow Dash backed off a small, shaky step. Nero let out a bark of laughter, and then turned from the Pegasus back to Twilight. "You surround yourself with strong friends, Twilight Sparkle. But soft lives lead to soft wills, and that is the strength you will need most of all in the times ahead. A thousand legions wait in the shadows for a single moment of weakness, Twilight Sparkle. Do you dare do what you have to? From what I've seen, I think not."
Nero turned his back to them and began striding out through the door. Rainbow moved to follow, but a quick shake of Twilight's head made her stop in place. "But Twilight-"
"NO, Rainbow Dash." Twilight watched Nero leave, ponies scattering to their homes as he advanced down the main lane in the direction of the Everfree Forest. As she had expected, as he went the figures of more diamond dogs, at least another half-dozen, leapt from out of the shadows and from atop rooftops and joined him. "You wouldn't be able to do anything."
Rainbow Dash let out a shout of frustration and kicked a fallen shield. The other knights except for Doctor Whoof, who was still watching over the ponies from the town hall, joined Twilight and Rainbow Dash at the door, just as the figures of Nero and his soldiers faded into the distance. "Who was that," asked Rarity.
Ditzy slunk close to Rainbow Dash, pressing against her helmet to helmet. "Bad wolf, bad bad wolf."
Twilight nodded in agreement to this, and elaborated. "That is a perfectly succinct description, Ditzy. He was Nero, the Diamond Huntswolf. Probably the closest thing diamond dogs have to a king, though perhaps captain would be more fitting." She indicated to around them with a hoof. "A war, any war, would be just what he would want. ANY shed blood is a victory to monsters like him, even the blood of his own soldiers."
Something in her tone of voice, Twilight guessed, made Rainbow Dash look over at her with wide eyes. "Twilight, you're scared. No, terrified. But you're immortal, aren't you? How could you be scared?"
"I'm not nearly immortal enough, and there are many powers in this world that I have yet to be tested against." Twilight swallowed the lump in her throat, her eyes still glued to where the Wolves had gone. If she strained her eyes, she could almost make herself think she could see the trees of the Everfree Forest shaking with their movement. Abruptly she pulled her cloak closer to herself and broke away from the group, to her library home. "I need to write a letter. The princesses must be informed of this attack immediately."
Princess Celestia's eyes opened wide, and she staggered up from where she sat on the cold metal floor. Before her the Magicahedron pulsed and glowed, the blue light of magic shining off of it casting everything around it in stark relief. Yet Princess Celestia paid this no heed so frazzled was she, the foreboding words the magical device had spoken to her still echoing through her mind, along with a deafening, metallic scraping noise, a noise she had tried for millennia to cast out of her memory. She turned and fled from the Magicahedron, racing across the half-mile distance from it to the door set into the wall in a flash and bang of light.
Princess Luna jumped out of shock when her sister crashed through the door to Nowhere. The library room she had waited in, watching the perfectly blank door in sheer boredom was dark, not even the light of the moon and stars reaching into it through the blanket of clouds stretching across the local expanse of night sky. In the darkness, Luna could see her sister's eyes like two shining beacons of light. Yet they were wild, unfocused; she had never seen the larger Alicorn like this before, not even when she had become Nightmare Moon.
Luna instantly stood up from her chair and approached Princess Celestia, though with the barest flicker from her horn she sent a telepathic message for the Captain of the Guard to come. "Big Sis, what is the matter? What have you learned from that...thing?"
For a brief moment Princess Celestia did not respond, nor make any sign that she had heard her sister at all. Luna's frown grew, and she took a hesitant step closer, and then suddenly Celestia looked at her. The Regent of the Sun's eyes focused again, the wildness left them, and Luna even thought she recognized calm in them.
"Princess Luna," Celestia said, moving to nuzzle Luna against her cheek. Then she moved around and headed for the stairs. "We must send word for my student and the Knights of Equestria immediately. Something incredible and terrible has been revealed to me."
Luna hurriedly moved to follow behind her sister. As she went however she looked back over her shoulder, watching as the door to the Magicahedron slowly swung closed on its own. Before it shut, she could see the mysterious device called by Celestia the Magicahedron and pondered, as she often did, just how her sister had come to possess it. Then the door was closed, and she could do nothing else except follow Celestia.
AT LAST, THE BOARD HAS BEEN SET. SOON THE PIECES WILL BE GIVEN THEIR ROLES AND BEGIN THEIR MOVEMENT. AFTER OVER A MILLENNIA, SOON I SHALL BE FREE AND RETURNED TO MY FULL POWER. THEN SILENCE WILL FALL, AND ALL WILL KNOW PEACE. SOON...SOON...