Dungeons, Dragons, and a Little Friendship
Chapter 11 Part 2 of 2
"I don't know, that doesn't really sound possible."
"Oh come on, half the stuff we did in that fight wasn't possible." Dash retorted to her friend.
"I ain't sayin' ya can't do it, I mean to say that's about as likely as a three toed frog."
"Yeah, and you tossing one with your tail is completely doable."
Applejack only sighed to her friend's frown, "Well it's a might more believable than making their faces explode from your 'awesome awesomeness'."
She stood proudly with her wings unfurled, "The Rainbow Dash, is perfectly capable of handling zomponys, and if awesome stuff tends to happen when she does. That's just evidence of her awesomeness." She blew a short raspberry her friend's way, who only chuckled at her friend's confidence.
"Glad to see you're still the same Dash."
"Same goes for you." She said back with a smile.
"Aww." They both looked over to the now awake zebragus. "Gal pals to the end huh?"
"Feelin' better already?" Applejack watched Ted stretch his way off her bed, evoking a yawn as he did so.
"You'd be surprised at how many things you can sleep off." He snickered a bit, "I remember this one time-"
"Yeah yeah, you grew your head back or somethin'. Now if you don't mind, we should really get down to the business of getting' ourselves outta this mess."
Ted sighed, "Alright, but first a question. Are you all fixed up yourselves?" He looked from one nodding pony to the next. "How many do you have left?"
"Shall we make it an even two all around?" Ted quickly dipped his head within his bag of holding, and then tossed a health potion Dash's way. "Now that the supplies are all evened out. What's the plan?"
Dash spoke up first, "Umm Ted, we actually wanted to ask a few questions before we talked about the plan."
"We would've asked before, but seein' as how you were nearly unconscious... heh."
"Oh... alright then, shoot."
Applejack was the first to speak up, "We were just wonderin' how, or maybe what is a better way to say it. Anyway, what are those things we were fightin'? There was no way they were ghouls."
"The bonebags?" Both the mares gave him a confused stare. "Well what did you two call them?"
"Another name for the list then." He said with a shrug, "You would be surprised what they have been called. Zombie, skeleton, husk, floater, all sorts of things. Honestly these are probably some of the better things we could've run across, nice and weak." His short laugh gave way to a small shudder as his eyes drifted off, "You'd be surprised... well maybe disturbed is a better word, at what can be brought back from the dead. I think Cartanis has a book on the matter if you're feeling up for some nightmare fuel."
"No, thanks." Applejack answered for her friend. "But, if these things are so weak... why would Dra'nahb bother to make them? That one ghoul seemed enough to just scare you off."
"He didn't scare me off... he just had us at a disadvantage." Ted received an unimpressed frown for his words, "I'll take care of that thing, and whatever hunted me too. As for why? I don't know the exact details, but I do know you need living things, in order for his special brew of ghoul to be made." He decided to answer another question before it was asked, "I also don't know why the 'zomponies' react to ghouls the way they do, I just understand as Andur told me. Servant to master in the following order, anything not a ghoul, ghoul, Abigail, Dra'nahb. Also that the ghouls act like... how did he put it?"
Ted had to throw his hooves about while shaking his head to just get them to stop guessing, "No, no, no, nothing so understandable and simple..." He tapped his chin a few more times, and then gasped with realization. With a quick clear of his throat, he expunged forth from his lips. "Der'ah booncha lilly-libberd billay goots that tell tha herd when yur' coomin and goin'." Ted nearly hacked up a lung as he tried to finish his impersonation, and through close breaths managed to ask, "That a good impression?"
"Uh." Applejack said back.
Dash stood unimpressed, "Needs to be thicker, and you need to roll your R's a little more." She received a few worried glances from the two she sat with, "Pinkie Pie does it better, heh, she even has a fake beard and everything." Dash teared up a little, "You gotta tell her to show you that bit sometime." She snickered under her breath and whispered, "By Celestia's beard."
"Anyway," Applejack interceded, "We can assume that we're known about then?"
"Yep." Ted said back.
"And that chances are," She looked out over the ledge, into the spacious cavern, "That they have this place crawling with things lookin' for us."
"Once again, astute as always."
"Which will make getting' to that," She gestured off towards the glow on the horizon, the shape of which bore a strange chill in her mind as it reached to the sky. "A little more than just a hop, skip, and a jump."
"We could, you know, fly." Dash said with a flutter of her wings.
"Ah, no. I ain't getting' cradled about all over Equestria."
"You don't have to get picked up like that, we could make a basket or something, we can ferry around one earth pony."
Ted spoke up through the brewing argument, "Actually, we may wish to take this one on the ground."
Both the mares turned his way, questioning eyes awaiting information on his opinion.
"After listening in on your lovely story, I can guess that the 'Glowmold' doesn't like our undead friends for one reason or another." He approached the edge of the ledge, looking out upon the crisscrossing colonies of mold in the expansive cavern. "As you can see," Ted pointed out to them the small groups of shadow in the sea of soft blue light, moving about in a patrol of the grounds. Then he pointed to the stars, or more specifically the small specs of Glowmold that dared show itself amidst a thicker cloud of darkness. "And I do believe there was more up there when I passed out, then there is now."
"Yeah." Dash said while in mild disbelief at the numbers the unlit ceiling potentially revealed.
"Speaking of, how long was I out?"
"I don't know, few hours maybe? I don't have a watch."
Ted only groaned as he looked at his messenger's book, "Still scrambled... well no sense in sticking around the campsite." He gave a quick look around, "Wait a minute Applejack, we could use your bedroll to get you to the ground floor."
"What about your fancy bag there?"
"Not a lot of air on the inside, you really don't wanna go over head level. Suffocation and whatnot."
"Right." Was all she had to say to that.
Dash followed the two ahead of her, being as quiet as she could. Her nerves however itched to be free, not only was she 'grounded', but the path they had to take weaved in and out of a small forest of stalagmites surrounding and pressing in on her. They followed the Glowmold to their objective, staying away from the dimmer paths, only teetering upon the edges of the light to avoid the eyes above. "How-"
She was immediately hushed by her compatriots.
Bringing what she had thought was a good enough whisper even lower, she asked again, "How far?"
One pony looked to another, and for a moment Ted disappeared with a quick flutter of feathers as he scaled one of their towering stone pillars. He was not gone long; with a haphazard attempt at stealth he landed with a soft clop. "At the rate you keep asking probably another nine checks."
Dash could hear Applejack give an unimpressed sigh, alongside her own glare.
"Two hours, maybe a little more if we keep stopping like this. Think you can keep your ants in your pants until then?"
"Ants in the what now?"
Ted just groaned and waved off Dash's concern, "It's just an old saying."
Applejack chimed in, "Enough chit chat, get movin'."
The group shared one more little disdained filled staring contest and once again was moving through the rocky wilderness. This however did not last long, the Glowmold dimmed, and the noise of activity grew closer.
Dash knew what would happen. They had talked about what they should do, and as much as she had protested; followed the other two. They disappeared into the small forest of stalagmites, putting some distance between them and the slowly dimming light source on which they had relied. As the group began to slow, comforted with what distance they had achieved from their hunters, Dash could hold in her thoughts no longer.
"Is this how it's going to be?" The other two looked her way, "This is the fourth time we've dodged them, and I'm starting to get sick of all this running."
"We ain't runnin'"
"Oh we're not? Then I must have my sense of tactics messed up, because this sure feels like avoiding the enemy."
Ted spoke up, "As much as I would love to murder a few hundred bonebags with you two, it wouldn't really help us that much, there is a little term called 'overwhelmed' that I fear encountering."
"For once I agree with you Ted." Applejack returned her attention to Dash, "Now I know you want to do somethin' about them, but we can't go throwing ourselves away like that."
"What then? What are we supposed to do? We're going to get to that mysterious crack in the wall, and then what?" She looked from one blank expression to the next, "At some point or another we have to do something besides mindlessly wander in here, and I'd rather spend my time doing something about all these monsters in here."
"How Dash? How in Equestria do you think the three of us could do somethin' about all this by ourselves?"
"Well, you know, we'd... just..." She relented, her head drooped slightly, "Can't we do anything about them?"
"I don't know sugar-"
"Actually." Ted spoke up, "We might be able to."
They followed them, and where they stopped wasn't too far off their path. The walls of the cavern towered before them, as the patrol they had followed was busying itself with the task of digging through a large pile of rubbish and rocks.
"I don't get it." Dash noted from their vantage point, looking down into the small pit from on high.
"Now's not the time for understanding, now is the time for counting." Ted peeked over the small ledge as well, eyes darting as numbers floated through his mind.
Applejack cast a bit of a worried expression towards the overeager Ted, "So how exactly is lettin' the cat outta the bag gonna help us any?"
"Maybe if you started thinking a bit more outside the box, you could figure that out for yourself." Ted received a small biff on the back of his head, "Hey, you made me lose count."
"This ain't the time for jokes."
He only sighed, "We make some noise, not a lot but enough, attract a big bad ghoul, kill it, and then get away. Simple."
"That's the plan?" She scoffed out loud, "Why don't you just ring the dinner bell for all the hungry flyin' feather-heads up there."
Without taking his eyes from his counting he replied, "Maybe if you took notice of what I did a while ago, you wouldn't need to look so foolish in a few seconds."
Applejack and Dash both gave him a rather confused look, then sated their curiosity and looked up. They could see far more of the Glowmold on the ceiling then they could before, the few stars of the ceiling had given to ribbons of that glowing moss.
"Methinks we are not the only disturbance they have to deal with down here." He snickered a bit, "Or have we already forgotten about our friends?"
"Fair enough, but how do we even know there's a ghoul here?" Applejack squinted at the dimly lit darkness of the pit, "I hardly see more than a few dozen of them little guys down there."
"As I understand it, a ghoul is the sergeant to the bonebag red shirt." Ted laughed at his own joke for a moment, before he realized he was not being joined by the others, "You see it's funny because... come on, is Pinkie Pie going to be the only thing here that enjoys my jokes?" The two unimpressed faces barely twitched to his plea, which only drew a sigh from him, "OK, you see how they are all acting nice and organized right now, a sentry here and there while the rest work."
"Yeah." The two onlookers said in unison.
"Ghoul's can exert a level of control on the lesser ones, so the more intelligent and such they act~"
"The more likely that one of them is close." Dash finished.
"Quick learners, I like that." Ted thought out loud. "So you two ready for a real fight?"
"Please, I've had to deal with tougher clouds." She flaunted back. "You ever try to tame a thunderhead long enough while its all ready to fire?"
Applejack just listened to the two try to trade quips with each other while she stumbled onto a very important question in her head that needed answering. Butting in with no real care as to what she had interrupted, "So what exactly is the plan of attack?"
"You know," Ted started with a shrug, "wing it."
She could only facehoof in response, "Is that your plan for every problem?"
"Hey, hey, it works..." His eyes wandered about for a moment, "Usually."
"How about we try to at least have a plan, with a start, a middle, and an end that doesn't involve us runnin' around like foals with our tails on fire. Because that works too." She leaned in towards Ted, "Usually."
"You sure that you can hit somethin' out there in this darkness?"
"Look Applejack, don't doubt my skills, and I won't doubt yours. Alright?" He puffed out his chest a bit, "You won't think so lowly of me when there's a bolt of energy in the face of the thing that tries to kill you."
"Fine, get in position." She watched the Zebragus disappear into the darkness, to a place where he could watch the fight safely and provide support.
She snapped out of her watch and turned to her friend.
"Do you think they're alright?"
She responded flatly, "Now's not the time for that Dash."
"I know, but..."
Applejack could feel the cheerless tone in her friend, a tone that rang out in her heart as well, "I don't know Dash, we just gotta keep movin'."
"Yeah." She said back, some of the confidence back in her voice. "Let's go bag us a real monster."
That was the only thing she could hear, the only thought that ran through her mind.
Dig... look... then sleep...
The promise, that which she was told would be her reward. All she had to do was find it, then he would send her back, and let her rest. Her bones ached, the rocks and trash only brought more pain to her crippled form as her bones bent and creaked in their task. It was all so tiring, it made her wish more for that sleep, that was her only wish, to go back. Back to where she was taken from, she couldn't remember it, no matter how she tried. The voice was all she could recall now, but it couldn't erase one thing, that feeling of the old place. The quiet, the peace of her mind, and the laughter.
Pain shot through her body, her voice grating on her own ears. She picked up her pace; the voice did not like it when she slowed. Before it had been much more lenient, now though, it was insistent, angry, and impatient. The voice wanted its prize, it was something important, but she had no idea what it was. Always clamoring for her to work faster, she was never allowed rest. She couldn't even remember the last time she had rested, her memory was one long uninterrupted journey to where it began. Where she had seen him, heard his voice, and felt his pain.
Her mind ceased wandering, something was amiss. The voice had gone quiet, for a moment she could think, but it quickly returned. A new order in its garbled tone.
One has gone silent... search... find him...
Many had 'gone silent' this day. She wasn't sure if it knew, but she could hear the voice talk to itself. Intruders and problems abounded all around, and if one had gone silent they might be near, or his body had failed him. Either way she had no choice, the voice cracked its whip, and she was pressed into service.
Her knees ached, they had since she had risen, even walking was made a chore thanks to them.
Another has gone... faster...
The pain increased along with her speed, and as she crossed another hill of old rubbish so that the view it wanted could be given. There were two of them; a blue one was hovering above the other as the orange one cleaned off her dirtied hoof. A body on either side of them lay motionless. The voice in her mind grumbled low, she could feel its wishes in her mind, but she didn't wish to heed them. It had already called out, the rest were alerted and on their way, now though it asked of her something dark.
It wanted them dead, the images that flooded her mind sent its wishes far more clearly than its words. No. Please I don't want to- Her mind was overwhelmed with pain, and she cried out in her panic. Her ears only heard the scratchy screeching of an angry raven, not the voice she knew, not the thing she once was.
Her senses returned, and the orange one was staring straight at her.
"I got this one." The pegasus was rocketing straight for her, dust kicked up by the beating of her wings. Weapon drawn with a scowl on her face, she raced towards the monster in her sights.
She was afraid, that face struck terror down into her very fiber. When she tried to flee, to make her old body move away, a force latched onto her consciousness. She felt it worm its way into her body, and once again she heard that terrible noise, but it was coming from her; and it wasn't friendly. Despite her wishes, a body that no longer felt as her own followed the commands she ignored.
The pegasus was upon her, taking her weapon and swiping high. She managed to duck the attack, but the pegasus was already bringing the spear down in a slash. The force within her had an unnatural mind behind it, and her body threw itself aside just as the tip of the spear grazed the side of her face. The power behind the blow lodged itself into the rock pile beneath them, and in that instant where the pegasus had trouble removing her weapon, the voice took its chance.
There was an opening in the armored foreleg, and her teeth found their mark on the blue flesh. She didn't want to believe it, she never hurt anypony, but now; she could feel the warmth of that pegasus in her cold maw. No, no! She wanted to let go, she would never, I'm sorry, please stop, why won't I stop! Her teeth only proceeded to grind and gnash the flesh in her jaw, eliciting painful cries from the pony in her grip.
Pain ricocheted throughout her skull, the pegasus was fighting back; slamming a free hoof into her face. As much as it hurt, a part of her cheered for the pegasus, because she could feel that presence in her mind reel in agony as well. The pain returned, each time greater than it was before, as the pegasus continued to break away at the same part of her skull.
"Get." Another powerful blow to her skull, fractures slightly ruptured inwards but held together. "Off!" She was struck again, but this time her skull did not hold, and her face felt weak and shambled in the blows wake. The clattering of hollow bones rumbled against her ears, and her mouth could no longer hold. She was tumbling now, the world a spinning blur while she tried to stop herself. When she finally did manage to only the base of the pile graced her vision, and what little she could see around her.
The presence in her mind willed her to move, but its wishes were unable to be heeded. To even her own horror, somehow her own legs had crumbled to dust, the bones of which she could see scattered about her. She could feel it leaving, that presence that had forced her to service was leaving, and with it the pain. The voice slowly disappeared into an echo; the only feeling left to her was the cold of the floor and the brittleness of her own form.
In the corner of her eye she could see the others, the ones she now reflected, and a thought formed in her mind. With it came a familiar feeling, one that ached at the pit of her body, she was afraid. The voice had promised peace, promised to let her sleep if she had accomplished its goal, now though she wasn't sure. Seeing those silent faces only made her think about their minds, if they could be at was a question she wasn't sure if she wanted answered. Her feelings however didn't seem to matter, as a pain shot through her side.
She could see the pegasus, standing over her, that strange weapon of hers protruded from where the pain was at its worst. Slowly a new feeling crept over her, as the pain was overwhelmed by something else. Her mind felt heavy, and her body weak, as something coaxed her to sleep. She was so tired, and as the world slowly slipped from her grasp, the coldness disappeared with it. For a time she could not know, there was only that numbness, the darkness of this sleep. Then it began to melt away, a feeling she thought lost to her returned.
Her eyes opened, then they shut just as quickly. The light was blinding, but she knew that name, she knew that voice. She opened her eyes again, fighting the brightness, breathing in the warm air that washed away that cold.
She felt his embrace, and she knew. It was him, and in his warm embrace she remembered it, all of it. Her memories flooded back, every good memory of their lives together, of their foals they had raised before their time was done. The one she cherished most held onto her, and she did the same. She could see them all, she knew where she was. All her loved ones where there, but right now only he mattered. Because she had not only feared losing him, he had almost lost her. But now.. now...
She was back.
"Hey Dash?" Applejack waved a hoof in front of her friends face. "Ya'll right?"
"What?" She snapped out of her daze, "Oh, yeah... just another 'thank you' from our dearly departed." She grumbled a bit as she retrieved her weapon, "Why do they have to do that? I mean, all we're doing is putting them down."
Applejack could see her friends slight sadness in her face, "Don't worry about it Dash. I'm sure if they're thankin' ya, then it's because ya done good. Heh, kinda wish I could get a thank ya here and there from these things."
"They thank you too, you just don't hear them. Doesn't stop them though."
"Either way, I think we need to return to the task in front of us." Her ears perked to the sound of a large angry mess of trouble headed their way, "We finally rattled the dog's cage enough."
Dash could hear it too, a rattle of bones, but there was something more. The power of the sound was unsettling the pebbles on the ground, it brought thunder to her ears, and only grew louder with every passing moment. She could see them advancing, even in the dim of the Glowmold.
Applejack saw them as well, over the tops of the rubble piles they came. Just enough to cause them trouble, but not enough to warrant any true fear. Yet she remained on edge, there had to be something worse causing all of that racket. Her curiosity was soon answered, a stallion the size of a draft pony had rumbled over the tops of the refuse piles. Meh, Macintosh is bigger than you. Her short burst of glee didn't last long, as something a size or two bigger than Andur barreled through the mound of rubble behind the draft pony before it was trampled beneath that giant's hooves.
"They sure grow them big round these parts."
"Less gawking, more fighting." Dash took to the skies, bringing the advantage of her flight into focus. A few of the undead pegasi whose wings were still functional took to the skies after her, while Applejack stood her ground; picking targets with what time she had left before the first punch was thrown.
The first went down easy enough; a quick hook to its face and it was unable to continue. The second was trickier, as it tried to flank her with a third bearing down on her. She spun about, driving one of her back legs into the second's skull, quickly catching it mid-fall Applejack slammed it into the ground. She reacted just in time to deal with the third, all she had to do was fall back onto it and drive her elbow into its neck, which snapped it before the thing even hit the ground.
Dash hadn't underperformed either, for while Applejack had dealt with those three she had her own to contend with. The angry calls of her pursuers were only matched with her own battle-cry, the two forces met with a thrust into the body of the first one unlucky enough to hold her attention. After letting the corpse fall from her blade, another was upon her, stuck in a grapple with her weapon pinned against her she could only struggle to keep its teeth away from her face.
Its maw clacked closer and closer with every snap of its jaws, she fought back with her one free foreleg as best she could, but she couldn't wind up a good enough angle to do more than scuff the thing's jaw. If that wasn't bad enough they were tumbling about in the air, she didn't exactly have good control when being latched onto, and she doubted this thing cared where they landed or what they hit. She had only one idea, using what leverage she could she pushed back on the things face with her hoof, and then arched her head back.
Try this you- She let go of its face, and as it lunged for her face, she cracked her head forward. Both skulls look loose a great thwack into the air, but only one survived. Rainbow Dash shook the fragments of bone from her mane, only slightly dizzied from the impact, Destroyed old barns tougher than that. As the body lost its strength and she broke free, another was already after her, so instead of trying that again she got another idea.
Quickly grabbing the limp body before it was out of reach, she tossed it at the clumsy flier. It barely managed to avoid a head on collision, and instead was bashed and wobbled out of balance. While it was still trying to right itself, the zompony found that it could not move. For Rainbow Dash had her forelegs locked around its waist, forcing its wings shut as she stayed away from retaliation. With her cargo firmly grasped she latched onto the things back, and she looped backwards into a dive towards the ground, while she picked up speed she noticed something and changed course.
Applejack was beset by another, and that big one was getting closer every second she wasted on these things. The problem wasn't the zomponies themselves, she easily dispatched them left and right, the problem was that she just couldn't move. Every time she tried to make a move, they would swarm and halt her, forcing a confrontation that would waste precious seconds that lasted between her and the huge one.
She tried to move again, breaking into a hard gallop away from the large ghoul. Almost on cue one that had avoided her earlier leaped into her path, and it waited for her to dare pass it. She rose to fight it, only for bolts of green energy to lance through its skull. The shot almost pierced straight through, then another ripped through the darkness with a green hue that marked its trail, and before Applejack could think a third had already been knocked into the beast. She gaped for only a moment as the energy dissipated, which left behind holes that had seared the beast where they had lain, then she remembered the two ton beast that was still on her tail.
She spared a momentary glance towards her blindside while she picked up speed into another gallop. One part of her wished she hadn't, as she witnessed a horribly disfigured maw, filled with all kinds of teeth that did not belong with the mouth of a pony. Each jagged and serrated tooth was coated with a sickening slime, somehow fitted within the jaw of a monstrous figure whose eyes held a black sentience that was incapable of remorse. All of this rested upon a moving corpse whose muscles had almost burst the flesh they had tried to fit within, a grotesque amalgam of overburdened skin that tried its best to maintain a sense of coherency.
Had Applejack been a pony of younger heart and more frightful tendencies, she may have screamed. Seeing however that she had some semblance of courage, she did the next possible thing. She ran faster.
Even with her added burst of speed, she could still hear it getting closer, and she wondered how long until those fangs would be sunk into her flesh.
"Hey cirrus for brains!"
Applejack knew that voice, and looked up as best she could. Her rainbow maned friend was plummeting towards the ground, something struggling in her arms. She was headed straight for the ghoul behind her, whom only reared back and roared so loudly that it nearly deafened Applejack. At the last moment Dash swung out of her dive, two feathery appendages that once belonged to the zompony tightly grasped in her hooves.
A gut wrenched snap rang out, and Applejack took a moment to look back. She only saw the thing stumbling about, as its head seemed slightly dented inward on one side. It however did not seem more than a little phased, those eyes already focused again on her.
She wasted no time, while it still stumbled and struggled for balance she raced away from it, trying to formulate a plan of action the whole time. Head on won't work for somethin' like that, her thoughts were distracted by another zompony that rushed in to meet her. Before action could be taken, a hail of energy bolts assailed and felled the beast. Guess he ain't a bad shot after all. She continued to keep a distance between her and the now recovered ghoul, all the while Ted made sure her path was clear.
Maybe Ted can hit it with... no he woulda done that already if he could. What about Dash? She peeked to the skies, to only see an occasional flash of light as her friend cut through more pegasi that tried, and failed, to slow her down. Too busy. She could hear it again, that thing picking up speed, the cascade of hooves growing ever louder into the sound of an approaching storm. Everything around her in the rubble pit was too open, even the piles of rocks were not large enough to slow it down. Then she saw it, a chance to maybe get away from the thing, there was a trench. Skinny enough for her most definitely, the only question was its depth. Judging from how close that thing sounded to be, she didn't have time to worry about that.
She slid across what little distance was left, barely squeezing herself in. Hayseed, Even standing it was not deep enough, with her head sticking clearly out of it. She immediately dropped low, as she heard it roaring its maw toward her. She fought to scrunch her body down as low as possible, feeling that things breath on her neck, its cold slime splattering across her back only made her try harder. Eventually she had taken all the room she could, her legs pressed painfully against her body as she fought for more room. Her tactic however seemed to work, as her skin stopped crawling at the presence of such an unwanted thing bearing down on her.
After it finally stopped berating her, giving her ears time to stop ringing, did she have time to think again. Alright, maybe we can... She felt pebbles rain down on her back alongside an unsettling noise, What the? With what little room she had, Applejack managed to twist her head about to look up, only to see the thing pounding against the solid rock walls of the trench. For the love of~ what did I ever do to you? She crawled along the trench, narrowly avoiding the ghoul as it tried to press its maw in after her. It reluctantly retracted and went back to trying to open the passage wider, following her as she went.
Applejack just kept crawling, but the trench was only so long, she was already nearing its end at the snails pace she was moving. Oh, just go ahead and tan my hide why don't cha? She witnessed the ghoul ahead of her, grinding up the trench she had left to move in, forcing her to retreat back the way she came. She could only scoot backwards so fast, the thing in front of her slowly closing the gap, and it constantly checked and waited for her to run out of room on either side.
Applejack knew she only had so much time before she ran into a hole it already dug, or it would finish its current one headed for her. Think, think, think. Her mind was then visited with an idea, one that might actually get her out of this alive. She immediately retreated as fast as she could, which brought a second of surprise on the things face, but it quickly ceased its digging. Applejack watched as it began to make its move, to head towards the holes it had already dug to fish her out, but it was moving directly over the top of her.
She had barely managed to squeeze herself out of the trench in time, her skin was skittish and twitching nervously, as she followed in its footsteps; trying to stay out of sight. Once it had stopped, staring down a hole it had already made, did she try to move away. She didn't care to ask why there was no warning, no cry of another zompony to tell its master where she was, Applejack only took her chance and kept moving away. She could almost see its face, contorting with a primal sense of a predator which stalked its prey, it slowly grew more confused and confounded. Until eventually it had let loose an exasperated wheeze, it moved about to try and angle its face down the trench, when its head had half turned about; it saw her.
Applejack expected a cry of anger, for it to roar at finding its prey once more. Instead all it did was bring up one of its tree-sized back legs, and shot it at her in a full on buck. She barely had time to bring up her forelegs to try and block it, with a little luck something that would have broken her simply threw her away; but her forelegs didn't exactly feel fine and dandy after taking such a hit. She slid for a time, the force of that kick now skidding her across the floor.
When she stopped, her only sight was that of it closing once again, that maw readying to nearly swallow her hole. Her back legs quickly found themselves jammed into the things face, one on its nose with the other on its chin. It frantically tried to bite her, grinding her into the ground as it pushed her along towards some unknown destination.
Applejack could see bolts of energy ricocheting off its hide, leaving little more than burn marks it didn't seem to care to acknowledge. If only to make matters worse, her back with all its not-quite-armor armor, was starting to feel rather raw. All she could do was weather the storm, to try and wait for an opening. She let loose a painful groan as her back slammed into an uneven pile of rubble, the loose stones and craggy materials pinched painfully into her back.
Come on Applejack, enough waitin'. She tensed up the muscles in her legs, It's time for doin'! With the force of a veteran applebucker did Applejack shove her weight into the things face, joined by a rising crescendo she shouted at the exertion of force. Either overconfident or unprepared, the ghoul did not expect the sudden burst of strength from such a small target. It was thrown back, not much but enough that Applejack could get steady and right herself.
It charged once more, but this time she was ready. Planting her back legs firmly, she stood firm, calm breaths eased the tension in her mind. Her zen showed her the way, the plan in her mind took shape. She knew what it would require, the impossibility of it all, but she pushed the doubt from her thoughts. The ghoul tried to close its jaws upon her once more, this time however, instead of blocking Applejack weaved her way beside its mammoth head then wrapped her forelegs around it.
In a voice that grew in tandem to the power she poured into the task did she put her strength into spinning the creature in her grasp. She twisted her torso and twirled in place, breaking the resistance the thing tried to put up against her, it now whirled around the orange mare. Applejack had barely completed half a revolution before she felt herself wane, she had to put her plan into motion now. Pushing her applebucking legs to the limit she curved into the spin, even her mind seemed to give her power beyond what she thought possible, all this gave her throw one last burst of speed before she let her cargo loose.
It slammed into the pile of rocks that had once been her cage, scattering them to the darkness as it tumbled and rolled away. The beast only screamed in pain while the sounds of it crashing against the ground met her ears. Applejack could barely stand and fell to the floor, every muscle in her ached from the exertion, but she knew it had been worth it. Though her confidence did not last, as she heard an angry growl in the distance. A wounded stallion leered at her, black poison drifted out of gashes upon its body, an angry snarl across its broken face.
Applejack tried to move, but her legs were like dead weight against the pain she felt all over. The ghoul was already making its move, it ignored the wounds it showcased on its hide and simply charged straight for her once more. She could hardly believe how unfazed it seemed to behave, barely recognizing the pain it ought to be in.
Even in her disbelief, she was not ready to give up yet. Her limbs protested as she rose, but her movement was limp. For this wasn't just pain, it was utter exhaustion. Every step she took was followed by her trying to not collapse, every muscle wished to simply stop and be done with this, her mind would not allow it. It only became worse, the ghoul was getting closer, and all she managed was a few steps. Eventually her body won out, no matter how she protested, her limbs simply did not have anything left in them. Now she could only wait, sprawled out on that cold cavern floor, and wait for that angry face to close what distance remained.
As the ghoul pumped its legs into service, her mind became distracted with a light which soared over her head. It arced into the ghoul's path, soaring straight for its face. The bolt of energy was barely paid heed by the beast, when it had finally arrived to its destination, Applejack found herself clutching her ears. They rang in pain from the intensity of the bang, and her eyes shielded themselves from the blinding flash it brought along with it.
Even in her disorientation one thing to her was clear, she was being dragged somewhere by her mane. Her eyes desperately fought back the spots that blinded her, and slowly the world returned to her sight. She saw Ted, his mouth moved as he set her down behind a rock formation, but all she could hear was the ringing that hadn't stopped yet. "What!" Her voice thrummed within her own head, rocking about her brain like it was underwater.
She saw him visually groan, and then speak again but louder this time, "Just stay here and breath, you'll get your second wind eventually!"
Applejack grabbed him as he tried to leave, "I ain't leavin' you two to fight that thing."
Ted quickly swatted away her hoof, his tone changing in kind, "Applejack you've done a fine job, just lay low and let us handle it. Now get to resting you need to heal."
"What do ya mean." She tried to grab him again as he took off, but she simply toppled over, the exhaustion kicking in more now that the excitement of battle had worn off. "Get back here... you..." She felt tired, her eyes became heavy and her mind melted away into unconscious rest. In the depths of her mind she felt something, a cooling stream washed over her body, slowly knitting herself back together. Even that feeling began to fade, as she became lost in her own dreams.
Rainbow Dash swooped in for another pass, the behemoth of a ghoul was still aimlessly swatting about trying to hit her. Whatever it was Ted had done, it had obviously had a good effect, that thunderbolt had even managed to make her ears ring a bit. She sank the spear into another open wound, eliciting a howl of pain from the beast, but that was about all her attack did; as she was unable to dig in any further.
The ghoul reached its head about again, in that unnatural motion that made her uneasy, and snapped in her general direction. Enough of a danger to make her back off somewhat, Why the hay won't you just go down?
"Come on Dash, you can do better than that." She looked over her shoulder to see that smart mouthed zebragus closing in on the beast.
Its daze finally worn off, that creature waited for Ted to close. When he did, it reached out its neck with its maw ready to snap shut around his tiny form, but his low flying dive dropped into a roll across the ground. Whisked under its jaw he popped up into a gallop, with a quick flick of his wrist he slashed into one of its front legs. As it scampered away, Ted gained some distance between him and the beast. The ghoul opened its mouth to roar, but shortly cried out in pain as a small bolt of energy had pierced its tongue and perforated its lower jaw.
Ted let loose a small triumphant laugh, which was cut short thanks to an angry two ton train barreling down on his position. He quickly turned tail and leaped to the sky, and smirked as he easily avoided the silly things simple tactic.
"Ted look out!"
He spared a look towards the only logical thing Dash could be on about, and what he saw confused him slightly. The ghoul was inhaling, far more than it rightfully should, Ted didn't think that a pony's chest should swell that wide. When its roar came, he was not prepared. The force of it punched him in the chest, but the worse of it was on his ears. The pain was nothing worth of note, but the dizziness was something altogether different. His entire sense of direction was lost, as his mind fought itself while he tried to get control of his flight path. Only to make himself get lost into a tumbling series of barrel rolls as he crashed into the ground.
It was relentless, Ted could admit that much. As he tried to stand he could only fumble his own legs about before he found himself plastered against the floor once more. Oh come on you stupid, Even when his legs managed to do as they were told, his head would suddenly feel listed to one side and once again he was smashed against the floor by his own undoing. We don't have time for this you stupid senses!, He could see it, more in his mind thanks to the constant swirl of his vision, mixed with the great cadence of hooves that grew ever closer.
While Ted was busied with the fight against his own mind, Dash circled above, angling her flight into a dive straight into the things path. As it pounded its way across the pit, she brought herself in close, matching speed and leveled with its side. With barely time to spare she began to cut away at it, the pain she inflicted made it twitch and decide to change targets. It came to a full stop, and before dash could react, found herself swiped aside by the things outstretched foreleg.
After the momentary disorientation wore off, she found herself on her back, with a giant hoof overshadowing her vision. She rolled out of the way as it cracked the ground where she had lain, again and again she dodged the things attempts to smash her to pieces. After she avoided its latest attempt to smash her head to pieces, and subsequently managed to stand herself back up, it was already trying to bite her head off; literally. With a quick sidestep followed by a cut across its lip she made it back off, if only a moment.
The ghoul lunged once more, but Dash simply fluttered her wings, brought herself over its head and slammed her weapon down into the back of its neck. It tossed her about, waving its head around in a desperate attempt to get her off, to make the burning that shot through its body to stop. When it decided to roll around on the ground, Dash felt obligated to fulfill that wish, and quickly managed to retrieve her weapon before she buzzed off.
"Make me dizzier than a day old child will you!"
She watched as Ted erupted into a furious storm, charging into the beast with lightning arced between his blades, he sunk the blades deep into the things flesh. It howled out, trying to pry off the insect that crawled across its skin faster than it could track it, leaving a trail of black blood in its wake.
Dash didn't let Ted fight alone, she took the chance to bring herself in, cutting away at its face to force it after her. The tactic worked, maybe a little more than she would've liked, driven into the defensive she parried its bites back. Ted appeared upon its face in a puff of smoke, trying to dive his blades into its eyes, but it would have none of that. Its head swung about, slamming the zebragus into the pegasus, and sent them both tumbling into a pile of rubble.
As Dash shook away the stars in her eyes, she saw something rather astounding headed their way. A boulder, larger than her, hurtled towards them with alarming speed. She quickly tossed Ted off of her and bolted herself out of the way, as the rock turned the tower of stone into dusty rubble she heard it buck another one at her. The new boulder kicked up dust in its wake, and she felt the air rush by her face as she slipped past another one.
The ghoul was stationed next to an entire pile of lovely sized cannon balls, and Dash had little more choice than to disappear behind the cover of another pile of rocks. As the boulders pounded against her only source of relative safety, Ted landed near her.
"This is taking a little longer than I expected."
"Really?" Dash rolled her eyes, "I hadn't noticed."
"Well if Andur was here-"
"Well he's not." She said back.
"Can't you just," Ted rolled his hooves about trying to form words, "make it go poof?"
"No, I can't. Every time I try to do something..." she shuddered for a moment, "There's his... thing that stops my power from working" Dash could see the cold eyes that would stare back at here every time her power tried to work its way into the beast.
"You're just going to need to make it work then," Ted then screamed, only a little, as a boulder chunk ripped through their cover. "This thing isn't going to last much longer."
Dash nibbled at her lip, "OK I got an idea, but I don't think you're going to like it."
Hold them... distract...
He could hear her voice, sweet and calming amidst the chaos of the fighting. Weak... pain... He quickly bucked another boulder in their direction, to keep them down. They fly... one has the antithesis...
Nearly there... stay safe... do not waste...
He brought his legs up for another buck, then the grey one darted out into the open.
Dash watched as Ted shouted at the beast, "You call that accuracy?" He quickly rolled out of the way from another shot, "I think I'll make a combo counter of how many times you miss!" Another boulder dusted past his narrow frame, "That makes Four! Just so you know!" She had to push his voice from her mind, to concentrate, to find that light that sang within her soul.
Is something amiss?
It was Mezekesh, he always liked to butt in when she tried to just be to herself. Look dude, I have got to concentrate, so I don't need this right now. She didn't really care for him when she did actually need to speak with him.
The err is not with your power.
She sighed inwardly, he was in one of those talky moods. Then what is?
Do you not remember what I taught you?
It's not exactly like I had a lot of time, you're just lucky I'm a black belt-
Do you remember?
… not exactly.
It is a beast that does not fear reprisal, it does not fear the consequences of its actions, it does not have fear of justice.
Something surged within her, a warmth that spread outward from her soul.
You are a bearer of righteousness, with you rests the will of a thousand souls that cry out for righteous vengence, call upon that; lest the villain escapes his retribution. Let that beast know the pain it has caused, let it know that you are its destroyer. Banish it back into oblivion and set its hostage free.
She could feel it now, that power surging through her. I understand.
His voice returned, low and demanding. Swear upon it.
SWEAR THE OATH!
A scowl dawned upon her face, as she climbed to the top of the pile of rubble. Standing upright, her wings extended alongside fire in her eyes, she pointed her weapon towards the beast. Her voice thundered into being, "I am Rainbow Dash, and this is your end!" A bolt of light shot out of her spear, it arced through the air and slammed into the beast. It howled in pain as a mark was burned into its flesh, an ancient rune of power that donated her intention in a way deeper than speech. When its eyes looked back at her, she saw not cold blackness, but the fear of a monster that sat before the hunter.
Her wings took her to the sky, a nimbus of light surrounding her every move. The beast reacted quicker than she thought, already bucking more stones her way, as one neared the waves of light around her changed. No longer did she have to force it to her will, it simply listened to her without fail. The stone in front of her burst in an eruption of color, and before another could bother her, she vanished from sight within that flourish of light.
The beast began to look about, knowing she had to still be around, but a pain that shot through its face had begged its attention elsewhere.
"Hey!" It looked over to the grey zebra which still stood by the rock pile, bow drawn and a fey energy coursing through its string, "I'm still here you know!"
It pawed at the ground, snorting a short challenge. The zebra responded in kind, drawing a bolt ready to fire. The beast knew what it would do, draw in a breath, and rattle the enemy so that it was easier prey. Its lungs were strong, made to punch its enemy with sound, in did its chest cavity draw the ammunition for the task. But a pain, acute in its location, snapped its breath short into a painful wheeze.
As it bent its neck to look beneath it the pain grew deeper, it was met with a force that sapped its strength, and when it finally beheld its attacker only its endurance allowed it to stand.
Rainbow Dash only returned the things barbaric stare, her scowl pierced its brave face, and the nimbus of light around her slowly ebbed its way into the spear she had jammed in between its ribs. "We're not finished yet." She twisted the spear within the beast, contorting the energy with it. The beast howled in pain as light erupted out of its back, a small hole gaped from sky to floor as flesh crackled in a burnt crisp.
It quickly gave itself room, but Dash only hounded it more, getting up into its face and cutting new wounds open. In her rabid fury she did not notice it sweep a foreleg out wide, launching her away from it. She shook the stars from her eyes as she rose from the ground, only to watch as the beast ran away.
Pain arced through its form, it could barely hold its own breath. Its mistress told it to retreat, that it had done enough, any more would be a waste of its body; the healing would tax him enough as it was.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Its gallop collapsed as something across its shoulder burned to life. Looking behind itself the beast saw her, and the mark she had made upon his hide both glowing with power. It ignored both, heeding only the order in its mind to keep retreating, but every step only made the pain worse; as an unseen weight grew heavier.
Rainbow Dash could feel the connection, between her power and that thing she had carved upon it. Yet something was off, the connection felt incomplete. Either way, the beast was too weak to put up much more of a fight. So she flew closer, right next to its face as it snarled at her presence. She just looked into those eyes, the ones that had once belonged to a pony, but now were darkened and cracked with the presence of this thing. Although there was something deeper in the eyes, not what little 'fear' this thing held for her, something that called out to her.
"You'll never hurt my home again you-" She raised her weapon to strike the beast down, but her power seemed to have sensed her intention in advance. The mark upon the beast ignited and a fire swept across the beast, destroying whatever fight remained within it as the body crashed to the floor. The fires slowly receded, leaving a corpse that looked untouched, yet dried as if it had been smoked.
Then she saw it, a small light ascend from the defeated thing. "Here we go." She said with a bored knowledge of what she had experienced a few times before. Sure enough the light changed into a familiar shape, and as the earth pony spirit looked at her; opened its mouth to say something before it faded away. "Thanks, yeah I know." She finished for it.
"Actually," He caught her attention, "could you let my brother know, that... that stupid toy of his I hate him playing with, is under the couch?"
She blinked a few times, in mild confusion, "Umm, OK." He looked to be about to say something again, as his form drifted away in a growing corona of light, "Thanks?" she guessed.
"That's his name, how are you supposed to tell my bro when you don't know who he is silly?" He gave a short laugh, before a bit of tension returned to his face, realizing that he was passing over as his form slowly dissolved; he did not have much time. "A-and mom, dad too~"
"I get it." She said, just trying to make him stop, but he didn't seem to notice.
"~ tell them I love them, Tell them Ba-" But his voice cut out, as the last of him finally faded away, and she was left to silence once more.
Dash just mashed her hoof about in the dirt as she stewed, stuff like that hurt, it always did. She didn't feel driven to tears, but it had still put her in a sour mood, Why can't they just be monsters?
Her mood apparently didn't go unnoticed, as she felt Ted try to console her, but she just brushed him off.
She looked out into the darkness, towards wherever her prey may be. "I'll kill him." The body that once housed a force that had put them all to the brink of destruction, now withered and crumbled into dust. While that which once gave it life seeped out onto the ground, and evaporated into the caverns unknowable heights.
"Well while you sit here and brood, I'm going to go check on Applejack."
Dash looked back to see the zebragus, that had just been solemn, was now merrily hopping off towards where he had hidden her friend from all the fighting, "You're weird, you know that?" She only saw him crack a smile as he kept going.
"Wakey wakey," Applejack's eyes slowly pulled themselves apart, as the upbeat voice drilled its way into her mind, "Eggs 'n' bakey."
"I hate eggs," was all she responded, not even sure what 'bakey' was.
"So how was the nap?"
She rose from the ground, her legs snapped and groaned in protest, but she found them remarkably useful considering how weak she was the last she remembered. "Didn't feel like a nap."
"Heheh, well you'll find that heroes get to take those soreness reducing power-naps when time permits, although they never help fix those catastrophic amputations that one usually receives..." He quickly brushed aside the air of confusion he had stirred up, "Everything in order?"
Applejack trotted in place for a moment, "Suppose so." She saw her friend glide into view and land near them. "Hey Dash, whoa, you look a little worse for wear."
Dash snorted a bit, "Same goes for you."
She just shrugged in reply, "I'll live." No sense in wasting resources. Apparently sharing the same opinion, her friend did not say much in return.
Ted spoke up, "I guess we can call that a resounding success then." A shrewd laugh wiped the smile from his face. "Something to add, Applejack?"
"You call gettin' nearly killed a success?"
"Well I admit it could've-"
"How about lettin' them now where we are? You know they ain't just sittin' round the campfire not payin' mind to all the bad signs."
"Now what's got you all bothered?"
Applejack just shook her head, "Nothin', nothin' at all... let's get movin'." She pushed her way past the concerned looking duo in her way, and followed the marker of their destination; cutting a path through the rubble piles towards it. By her eye they were still a ways off, but much closer than they had been since they started.
She was pulled from her thoughts by a zebragus trotting up to speed next to her.
"I can't help but notice the glaring red flags that you seem to be sporting just for me, and I was kind of wondering what the deal-"
"Ted." Her tone cut his question short, and grabbed his attention. "This isn't the time, and I'm really, really, not in the mood for this right now."
"Oh, I know," He laughed at his own genius, "this is about your hat isn't it?" Her scowl at its mention only cemented his cocky smile onto his face, "Look, I know it was kinda underhanded... can I still say that? Anyway, I mean to say that it wasn't really fair of me to do that, and I'm sure that it'll be all right between us."
"It isn't about the hat." She said back through gritted teeth.
"Hmm?" She didn't answer his inquiring noise, "Don't keep us waiting on baited breath."
Her glare froze him to the spot, "It's this, this right here."
"Respect, Ted, that's what this is all about, cause you ain't got a sliver of it in ya."
"I hardly see-"
"Could you kindly listen to me for once!" She advanced on him, forcing him to give ground until he was backed against a pile of rocks. "You don't care, that's my problem. Nothin' matters to you, and it gets on my nerves."
"Whoa, Applejack, just chill."
"Not now Dash." She didn't take her eyes from Ted for a second, "That hat did mean a lot to me, and I tried to be the bigger pony, to just set it aside so we could work together for the greater good and all that hooey. Celestia knows I tried to do that, but no, you just had to keep pushin' buttons because you get a cheap laugh outta it." Her angry breaths pulled short, and she just sighed, only her disapproving glare remained. "You don't think, you don't care, and you don't deserve all that praise you scamper and beg for."
"Hey, what's that?"
She couldn't believe it, even after all that he hadn't listened, instead he decided to drift off into la-la land. One part of her said that he was just trying to irk her, but another side shouted something far louder. She grabbed his mane in her teeth as he tried to sneak his way past her to whatever useless thing he had fixated upon, and tossed him back upon the rock pile, then pinned him there under her forelegs; forcing his attention to her.
"Is this a joke? Because I'm finding it hard to figure out the punch line in all this."
"Ted, shut up."
"Well you're the one who wanted to not-" His speech stopped short as a hoof slammed into a rock near his head and crushed it into dust.
"Why the hay are you even here?" She was fuming now, whatever check she had on herself seemed to fade away beneath that anger that boiled up. "Tell me why, besides your stupid adrenaline fix, why you're even here?" She only glared at his silence, she didn't even think he knew. "Well I'm here because I realize what kinda danger everypony is in, not to mention my friends. If we screw up here Ted, its curtains for them, and all you and miss vengeance over there wanna do is try to get yourselves killed." She spared a glance her friend's way, seeing Dash stunned by the words she spoke. "I like to believe that a pony can change, for the better, and if you don't start shapin' up Ted; I don't wanna hear another word outta you."
Rainbow Dash watched as Applejack got off of him, neither looked happy with the other now, and Ted returned to the inspection he attempted to make earlier; giving both some much needed room. She trotted her way over to Ted, who seemed the less angry of the two. "You OK?"
He just grunted whilst brushing dust from his armor, "She just needs to lighten up."
"Well, Ted, maybe she has a-"
"Now where did you go little sparkly thing?"
Dash wanted to speak up again, but the way he cut her off made her realize this was one of those things she had to drop; for now. "What sparkly thing?"
"Well, I noticed this weird metal chute sticking out of the ground here," He quickly tapped it a few times, allowing it to let loose a few chimes in response. "Hmm." He opened the chute's closed lid and was greeted with a burst of air across his face that made him sneeze, "Jeez, that thing is dirty." He coughed a few times and dared not open it again. "Anyway, in this rock pile right here, I thought I saw something nice and sparkly; and when one is surrounded by all this grey you tend to notice color."
Dash helped him search, for Applejack didn't seem entirely thrilled that they were wasting time. She pulled aside a few loose rocks from the pile, trying to find this 'sparkle' amidst all the debris, only to see more and more rocks. "Ted, are you sure-"
"Ah-ha!" She backed away from her side of the pile, to see Ted with most of his foreleg plunged into a hole he had excavated into the surface of stones. He strained and groaned as he tried to pull something out. "Come on magnet hooves." With one last stress filled grunt he was successful. His hoof erupted out of the hole in a small cloud of dust, something shimmering in his grasp; even Applejack's curiosity overwhelmed her prior feelings for a moment.
They each looked at the strange device, a small disk that had three rings filled with some runic language, with a small hint of lavender glow emanating from its center. Ted busied himself with twisting the movable ring alphabet while Dash just looked at it cautiously, "You sure you wanna be touching that?"
"Oh Come on, what's the worst that could happen?... I know!" He quickly rose up upon two hooves, wings extended for balance as he thrust his forelegs to the sky with the strange relic firmly grasped, "By the power of plot devices, grant me the power of a thousand suns!" His voice boomed out into the distance, echoing into a thousand fragments, and he only received an unearthly cry of an angry horde.
"Ah hayseed." Applejack quickly snapped Ted out of his relic enthralled stupor, "Alright ya idjit you had your fun, now let's get moving." She was already moving herself into a gallop while Ted set himself down carefully with relic still in a free hoof.
"Just wait a minute, I'm sure I almost..." He went back to flipping runes about on the device, trying to see if a certain pattern would change anything.
Dash galloped up next to him, "Really Ted?" Then snatched the disk out of his hooves with her mouth, while speeding away she said back to him, "Dere's no hime for dis." As she followed after her friend, her ears picked up a rather unsettling ringing noise that grew sharper with every passing moment.
She had to ignore it though, they had to keep moving, and gain ground on whatever was getting closer. For a moment she could swear somepony talked to her in a gentle whisper, but the screeching only returned every time the voice passed. Her paranoia would have to wait, as she began to see stars, but it made no sense to her; she wasn't even winded. Only when the headache slammed into her consciousness, alongside a light beaming from below her snout, did she realize what might be going wrong. Although far too late, as the world blacked out from her sight, and her body fell limp beneath her.
Applejack could withstand it no longer, she had seen the strange light for a while, but now she heard somepony trip and tumble to the ground. With a casual glance behind herself she was soon frozen still, as she watched her friend spasm upon the ground, that strange relic she had was aglow and it only grew brighter. Before she was able to get to her friends side, Ted was already upon her; attempting to free the object from her jaw.
"Would'ya quit doin' that Ted, all you're gonna do is rip her teeth out."
Ted loosened his grip upon the disk, "Well what would you have me do?"
Applejack looked about, just trying to think. "We could... no, that would..." Her worry grew greater as every idea seemed to involve hurting her friend, and the fact that the relic's light was beginning to get so bright she was almost blinded by looking at it didn't help much. "What in the world did you two do anyway?"
"I don't know, she took it from me and then... this."
That didn't help much, and Dash seemed to be in more pain than she was a minute ago. "You just couldn't leave it alone, you had to go and toy with it didn't ya?"
Ted just shot a rather offended look at the orange pony, "Oh yes, I planned out this whole charade from the start to make your friend have a seizure because it would be hi-larious." He then let loose a series of forced laughs.
"Well go on then Ted, fail to learn that your actions have consequences and laugh-" Her eyes shot wide as an idea ran through her mind, "Quick, Ted, give me a feather."
"Just do it!"
Ted swiftly dipped his head into his wing, and plucked out a piece of loose plumage, which was just as quickly snatched by an impatient Applejack. He watched as she went about, tickling the pegasus with the feather just so, and slowly her grimaced face cracked a slight smile; and her jaw loosened. The disc was no longer locked in place, it rolled out of her mouth and into the grasp of Ted, who was rather confused as it began to dim into its former inactive state.
Applejack was pleased with her progress, as her friend's seizures had reduced to little more than errant leg twitches and some eye movement; not unlike she was dreaming. "Ted, would you quit fiddlin' with that and help me get her outta here." They had wasted enough time as it was, and it took at least two ponies to safely carry Rainbow Dash at the speeds she planned to be going.
She stopped, for they had as well, one of them raising their voice in anger once more. A chattering arose within her mind, and she responded.
No... unsafe... wait...
They had it, she had seen the light, but which one... which one. Her prey was nearing their prize, closing on a place she could not follow, where none of her children could either. She needed to act, and her children sensed this as well. One in particular was anxiously clamoring for his prize, the one that got away, it wanted his flesh.
Split them apart... pick your favorite... She focused upon the one, who had been nearly shouting in her raised tone. That one... is mine.
She morphed her arm into something special, just different enough to grab hold of her from a distance, to make pain, to hold... to kill
They had been running for a while, but eventually they felt safe enough to take a break. Their run had taken them far from the pit they had fought within, yet now they were far off course, they had retreated to a small side cave system and their objective was no longer in sight.
Applejack watched her friend, carefully lain aside, her eyes moved rapidly under closed eyelids. She had tried a few things to get her to awaken, but nothing seemed to work. Her thoughts were interrupted again by Ted, as he mumbled angry words under his breath to curse every failed attempt he made with the relic. "Ted... why are you even botherin' with that thing?"
He looked up from his work, "All I need to do is figure out how this thing works, then it'll be all better."
"Well would ya quit it, all you're gonna do is get yourself into a coma."
"Oh please, whose butt symbol is a magical anvil? It's practically my job to reverse engineer magical weaponry and whatnot." He went back to twisting moveable parts on the device, and testing new ideas that popped into his head.
Applejack just shook her head, "Just apply some common sense Ted, I don't-"
"Don't lecture me little missy, I've been making magical thingamabobs since before you were born."
She just lowered a cold glare and said, "Well in that time did you ever make a sword that would 'un-cut' somepony?" A smile appeared upon her face as Ted stopped mid-thought, a blank exasperated gasp escaped his throat alongside it.
Ted just set the object down, staring straight at it, "Then... I don't know what to do for Dash." He quickly stuffed it away within his bag of holding for later, it would still make a fine weapon if he could reverse engineer it but fiddling with it probably wouldn't be of much use for Dash's health.
Applejack just looked at her friend, "Why Ted? Don't give me that 'why what' stuff, you know plenty well what I'm askin'."
"You saw them Applejack, they were looking for something, and I thought I just got lucky so-"
"Not that," She glowered upon him, "That stupid war cry is what I'm talkin' bout, if you could even call it that."
"Well you know... I thought it would be, eh-heheh-"
"Don't you dare say funny." She fumed as Ted only shot her a worried smile. "Are you... I can't..." All she could do was let loose an angry groan.
"Now, now, Applejack," She rose from the ground, and trotted her way over to him, "All we have to do is find out what-" His speech was interrupted as she clocked him right across the face, he nursed the pain that accompanied the meaty thud while replying, "OK, maybe I deserved that."
"You deserve more than that, but I don't wanna break your jaw."
"Aww, you do care."
"Maybe I do, but you know what, I really wish you would care too."
"Please," Ted carefully rotated his jaw about just to make sure it still worked, "I care plenty about you two."
"Really? Cause ya'll have a funny way of showin' it." She didn't let him interrupt, "Like when ya shouted loud enough to wake the dead cause it was 'funny', and didn't think that it would hurt none? How about the time you got yourself nearly killed tryin' to rescue Dash?"
"Hey, that doesn't count, it ended up working out OK."
"That ain't the point Ted."
"Well enlighten me!"
"You don't think." She just held steady with the glare she received, "You rush in, never botherin' to think what could happen. Why I bet you would light a fuse a' dynamite without realizin' one led to the other explodin'."
"Alright fine, you want me to say it? I'm an idiot. I'm not some centuries lived strategic genius who can figure out what my enemy will eat for breakfast the next morning, but I try, and that's more than most can say. Sure I'm stupid and sometimes childish, but don't think that means anything I do is less important."
Applejack could see her words had started to actually break through that facade he always seemed to put on, so she asked, one more time. "So tell me Ted, Why?" When he didn't even look her way she spoke up again, "Come on Ted, harsh words won't end this."
"What do you want from me Applejack?" He started, "Do you want me to break down, have some kind of emotional relapse over tragedies in my past? Do you think I was some merry fool who traversed the world and knew not a care within it, whom never learned how precious life is, who laughs in the face of danger because he has never experienced such?" Ted sighed, dropping the heat from his voice, "In truth Miss Jack, I am a little of each. Only a fool thinks he can escape tragedy and her ever so baleful touch."
She hadn't really expected that reaction, "So... you're an overemotional fool?"
"No... heheh, well maybe, but that's not the point." His eyes seemed to glaze over as he spoke once more, "You know them don't you Applejack? The 'seers' the ones that know about a problem, by all rights the problem shouldn't exist... but they just deny it. They sit by and let it fester and grow, until it gets so bad that... you just... you just can't believe it, you can't believe how they managed to become so respected and how they got to be leaders. So... I'm one of those guys who likes to throw himself in front of a moving carriage, so it doesn't hurt that kid in the way, is it really that hard to figure out?"
Applejack just mulled over her words, then said the first thing that came to her mind. "I'm really startin' to think that if it wasn't for your friends, you'd have died a long time ago."
"Hey, that isn't... entirely true." His nervous laughter slowly died out, as he cleared his throat and laid out a sorrowful glance, "I'm sorry for... you know endangering our lives and such, maybe I can tone it down a notch or two here on out."
"Yeah well, sorry for yellin' at ya so much, seein' as how I was getting' after you for just that."
He raised an eyebrow, "No remorse for my sore jaw?"
"Hey you had that comin' since you touched my hat."
A short snort escaped him, "Frenemies?"
"Frenemies." She casually clopped her hoof against his.
"Don't think this means I'm going to be some sour puss, if I see a joke I'm jumping on it."
"I'll take that warnin' with a grain a salt, and maybe a good biff to your ribs."
"Please, Leria hit harder than you when she still hated me."
"What was she like anyway?" She almost regretted her words immediately, as the zebragus seemed to draw inward; sullen. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry, seein' how she's dead 'n' all."
"We don't know that." He said back, rather upbeat to counter his own apparent melancholy. "Maybe she's somewhere in Equestria... maybe she's buried somewhere down here, just waiting for us to dig her up."
"That seems like some awful wishful thinkin'."
"Yeah well, that's all I got in that matter. Anyway, she's a story for another day, we should probably get moving; gain some more ground."
"I hear that-" She froze mid stride, ear's twitching to sounds beyond range of her sight.
Ted picked up on her tension, "What?"
"You tellin' me you can't hear that?"
"Well there is a five percent chance of-"
"Shhhhh." She heard it again, like somepony had cracked their neck, rather loudly. "How's Dash doin'?"
Ted poked and shook Dash slightly, "Still out like the tarrasque"
"Some other way outta here?"
"Don't really know, we just kinda parked here for cover."
She backed away from the tunnel's entrance, keeping a wary eye towards it, "Well we best get movin' either way, I gotta bad feelin'." Something flew out of the night, directed towards her face, but she was fast enough. She reached out to swat it away, but instead found something wrapped around her hoof; a strange bony tendril. Despite the tension in the thing, it didn't hurt, "Try and hogtie me will ya." She braced herself in her standing pose, and dug her heels deep, ready for a tug of war.
"Applejack let it go!"
"Why-aaaaah!" It had sprouted spines, three times it had wrapped around her foreleg, and thrice did it sting as it dug under her skin. Now it wasn't shy about pulling, and as she tried to fight it the hooks only dug deeper. She tried to hold, as she could hear Ted rush up behind her, but with the force that she wasn't expecting. It pried her loose as it had twisted instead of pulled which launched her twisting and onto her back. Whatever had her it didn't wait and soon she was being dragged away by her attacker.
From what she could see Ted was after her already, he was fast but this thing really wanted her too. Before Ted could do more than take a single stride more zomponies than she cared to count were already upon him. As he weaved his way through them, trying to throw them aside, to just get a clear shot at her; she shouted back.
"Don't worry about me Ted, keep Dash safe!" He faltered slightly, but still seemed determined to get her, "We'll meet up at the crack, now help her out ya idiot!" She saw him muffle something, probably a curse, but he changed course; cutting his way back to her unconscious friend.
With that worry out of her mind, a new one emerged; her own safety. One part of her really wished she knew how to do that trick that let her survive that fall, try as she might nothing seemed to work, as she felt every bump and rock slam into her. Enough of this horseplay. Through the pain she tried to right herself, and for a time she was actually succeeding. From her stomach she managed to rise to her hooves, on at least three legs she could almost keep speed, but it still tugged at her trapped foreleg like a biting leash.
She tried to think of something, chewing it was out of the question, the hooks would just dig into her mouth and then where would she be. Her time to think seemed to have run out, as she felt the leash dig deeper, and even in the dark she recognized a ledge when she saw one.
Not exactly in a position to negotiate her direction, the leash whipped her over the edge before it released her, and what she thought may be an abyss ended up being only a rather deep pit. The height of which was still a problem, lucky enough for her the bone whip thing had tossed her with such power forwards, that she might be able to pull this off without getting hurt. Tucking herself in she prepared for a rough landing, when she hit the ground she let her forward momentum carry her. After a rather dizzying series of rolls she was almost on the other side of the pit itself.
Applejack had felt better, but she figured that being a little roughed up was better than having a broken leg. She felt the same about her surroundings, not hopelessly deep, but not exactly a hop, skip, and a jump high either. Her admiration of the predicament would have to wait, as the sound of claw scratching rock snapped her attention elsewhere. What she witnessed could only be luck, as she rolled away from her attackers attempt on her life.
With what little distance she had, Applejack got off her plot and managed to face the danger. She could only see something that left a cold chill of realization in her mind, Oh buck me like a bruised apple. For she knew this thing, albeit the slight changes it had undergone. It looked at her with those empty eyes, pulling free its shape-shifted limb free from the rocky floor it had impaled.
Applejack was face to face with Abigail, alone, and she had practically told her friends to go on without her. ...Like a whole bushel of bruised apples. She immediately tried to think of what to do, maybe how to fight her; or at least get away. The latter option soon seemed impossible, she might be able to scale the pit, but Abigail didn't seem the type to just let her get away. She had to think of something quick, for her time in this standoff seemed to be drawing to a close, as Abigail finished reshaping one of her arms.
Applejack just stood her ground, while Abigail slowly circled her. She was slightly off put by the way the creature looked, and having known it had once been a pony didn't help much. Her back legs had been malformed, the hooves changed into a strange three toed claw which she walked upon the tips of. Her body hadn't changed much, it was still that strange plated bonelike substance, but it was how she stood that unsettled Applejack the most.
Everything she had seen that day was a horrid, shambling, hunched over mess in some kind of pain. But Abigail? There was no hunch in her posture, no shamble to her purposeful steps, only a creature that seemed to only share the aesthetic quality of her peers. Her body barely seemed to register the weight that she might bare, as she was unabated with her head held high. That was what had Applejack concerned, for this feeling she exuded was not one a monster gave off. When Abigail stopped her circling, Applejack felt her body grow tense, and then without a word, shout, or taunt; Abigail was unleashed.
A green bolt tore through the air, easily stinging into a zompony's head, as the body fell limp Ted took what little time he had before more could show up and turned to deal with Dash.
"Alright you... umm, get up!" He lightly shook the comatose pegasus, he had tried many things before with Applejack around, but nothing worked; this was out of pure desperation. He took out the small relic he had found, the thing that had started most of this fiasco.
"You're going to fix this, and you're going to fix this right now." He began wildly twisting the inset circles and just desperately tried to avoid the other fate he had in mind. "Because I am not, I repeat, I will not die in some hole in the ground!" He could hear them getting closer, and he still hadn't a clue what to do. "I'd rather eat hay for a week!"
In his desperate anger he spiked the relic into the ground, it then ricocheted away from him towards Rainbow Dash. Before he could do more than simply register the series of events, the disc had careened straight into her head. Ted was justly silenced as he watched the Pegasus cup her head in pain, unable to realize that the disc had rebounded across the walls and back into his bag of holding of its own accord.
"The hay was that for!" Dash nursed her head as it throbbed with a stubborn headache now mixed with the soreness of her brow. She ignored Ted as he praised some god he called 'Icosahedron', for a different thought had entered her worried mind, "Where's Applejack?"
"Oh, about that~" A unsettling howl from nightmares that abounded outside their hovel gave tension to the air, "~just a little problem." When Dash tried to get up Ted went to steady her, only to get his hoof swatted away.
"I've had worse."
Ted just shrugged in response, then grew a boyish grin laced with curious enthusiasm. "So anything interesting? Feeling extra powerful after your little zap? Ooh, oh, maybe you can use the relic to make them all extra dead and stuff!"
She slapped a hoof over his mouth until he stopped murmuring out his thoughts, "I don't think it's a weapon Ted."
His raised eyebrow begged for a better answer, but he would have to wait; as a familiar pain shot through his exposed wing. He quickly wrenched out a small tooth like stinger from his person, "Blasted little... well, who's ready to get their murder on?"
Dash was already charging out towards the nexus of hostility, only calling out a callous tease towards him, "You leg locked, or are you just scared?" The pompous snicker behind her gave a clear enough answer.
Applejack tried to lash out again, but every time she would try to make a move those whirling arms would block her attempt. So she was once again plunged into a retreat, trying to avoid the flurry of slashes in an effort to not gain any more bloody scratches. She had managed to play cat and mouse for a time, always managing to gain more ground to lose, but Abigail was learning and she couldn't keep it up forever.
Another go at her head, she ducked, and a strange scythed arm rose to catch her. She backed away and felt it nick her face, and then what she feared most happened. With an unwanted thud she slammed into the wall of the pit, nowhere left to go without going through her. OK, enough of this, show her what you're made of.
Maybe it wasn't the best idea she ever had, but she had resolved to the fact that this was the end, she had to win. When Abigail attacked, she was ready. A bladed arm flew straight for her, luckily she managed to slap it away upon its flat side. Another came, this one a strange scythe of some type, it reached past her, and she knew it would be pulled back in an attempt to cleave whatever it caught. So she dropped low, only to see a clawed foot brought toward her.
This time she wasn't so lucky, and it wrapped around her face like a monkey's paw. She felt the rock slam against her back as she was held high, and through her one eye that wasn't clasped shut she saw Abigail arcing back to deliver a hefty blow. Her chance presented itself, with what force she could muster, Applejack delivered the greatest haymaker she could right into that beast's knee. The leg bent and snapped, hanging by whatever substance held that abomination together, and for once in the entirety of the fight; Applejack heard her howl in pain.
The limb's grip loosened from her face, and as she crashed to the floor she had to avoid the defensive swipes from Abigail as she retreated, her defaced limb trailing behind. One thing had escaped Applejack for the entirety of the fight, as she watched Abigail nurse her limb with a cautious eye held upon her, she thought to herself, What happened to your quills?
As Applejack made a move toward her, Abigail's armor sprouted them, and dozens fired off towards her.
Oh, I just had to ask! She dropped low, hooves over her head with a fool's hope of sanctuary. An instinct at the last moment made her shut her eyes as she tried to remain calm. Applejack's heart pounded, she knew what would happen, but she wouldn't let that get to her. So she focused upon her breathing, and took comfort in it. For a moment she felt her thoughts slip to a higher place, not one of worry and the present, but of other happier things.
When the barbed quills rained down, intent upon gauging out what damage they could as their master bided time, she listened to them ping upon... The hay? She opened her eyes, and where she might find her foreleg she saw only the glint of metal. The hay! Had her limb not been in front of her face at the time she doubted she would've seen it. For when she moved it the metal sheen was lost, and once again she was left with cloth.
Once Applejack pressed herself out of her stupor, she took note of Abigail, whom seemed bewildered as she once was. As much as I want to learn how to do that, I have to use this to my advantage. She closed in upon Abigail, and what once would've been countered with another volley of her quills ended with the creature trying to hold its ground against Applejack. What confusion she had over the creature's tactics didn't matter, if it thought she had talents that she couldn't control then let Abigail handicap herself.
Even upon a single limb, her speed was remarkable as blades whirled through the air. Applejack took what hits she could land, but she wished for more than the slight scuffs she managed. For every second that passed Abigail seemed to grow sturdier in her stance, that leg she had worked so hard to break was mending ever so slowly. That was when she noticed it, the armor about Abigail's form was receding, slowly growing thinner as the leg grew better.
A wild swing she had not noticed cut deeper than she thought, and for a moment she had to back off. Ok Applejack, She took in a long calming breath to push the pain from her mind, Just like Dad showed ya. Now she knew her target, how to take her down, and what to exploit. When she struck, she wasn't poised or graceful, instead she was overwhelming and relentless.
Applejack had tried dealing with Abigail as she had the zomponies, with strong blows to break her, but now she did something else; she targeted the joints. Maybe she wasn't able to deal the type of damage as she had to Abigail's leg, but the tender way she would hold her arms back when they took a blow told her all she needed to know.
Another whirl of blades greeted Applejack's senses, her mind worked overtime to predict the monster's movements. A serrated blade scratched her, and she saw the building follow-up swing from the other arm that would hurt far more. Applejack kicked in another moment of her zen, the speed it gave her with the foresight allowed her to catch the hilt of that blade and then drive her back leg into the exposed torso under the arm; cracks formed upon where she struck. Then with what was left of her opening, twisted the arm she held and pulled. With a sickening pop, the weapon at the end of it separated from what remained, and a blackened tendril with broken plates was left behind.
Abigail backed off for a moment, and Applejack cast aside the broken weapon she held before letting her power recede. In small enough bursts the force from her mind wouldn't tire her as quickly, but she was making a lot of small uses. She watched as the arm she had worked at began to reform, the thickness of the armor on Abigail's body growing ever thinner.
Aw Hayseed, every time that happens she gets faster, it won't be long before... no, NO! She shook herself out of it, You just gotta stop playin' nice, this is just like Dad taught ya, wear them down then finish once they start to falter.
She watched as Abigail donated more of her mass towards one arm, the bone growing outward and flattening, until the entire limb was a shield. The other was hidden behind it as Abigail dropped herself low, almost the entirety of her form hidden behind it as her empty eyes peeked over.
Now Applejack backed away, as Abigail moved forward with a slow determination, the sound of her clawed feet clicking against the silence. Applejack was tense, she hated that feeling, every muscle ready to jump. That wall in front of her was nearly as thick if not more-so than the armor she had worked so hard to tear down in the first place.
Maybe I could... no that's a hogswabble of an idea, what if-whoa nellie! Abigail lunged at her with a speed far greater than she expected, in her surprise she managed to absorb the blunt slam of the shield with her forearms, but a pain in her abdomen robbed her of any sense of victory. Once again in a reaction she pushed away her attack, and luckily before more damage could be done she had forced her off. Her hoof ran down her stomach as she fell back as best she could, trying to find the wound. It hurt more than any other scratch or cut on her, and when she finally found it, she could feel the warm red wetness greet her touch.
Abigail was already moving again, ready for another strike to end her target. Applejack could only give ground, trying to buy time as she thought of a way out of this; of a way to defeat her. Her heart grew cold, as she felt herself bump into the familiar rock wall of the pits edge. She tried to move to go around, but the quickness in her first stride caused the pain to flair and the deep wound to cry for her attention. Abigail noticed this, her pace increasing somewhat. Now that beast knew her target, how to take this pony down, and what to exploit.
She had one last idea, one last stupid idea, give it her all. Maybe Abigail expected the sickly prey of hers to do just that, but Applejack didn't care, she wanted to go out swinging. She saw Abigail lunge once more, with the same speed which played into her prior attack. Her mind flooded with a thousand different things at once as she saw that flash of a weapon glazed in red appear from under the rising shield.
She let it all go.
She let go of all the familiar places, the faces and things fading from her mind as she gave all of herself over to it. Her mind flooded through every part of her, Applejack herself seemed like a memory in this state as the zen took hold.
Every detail was clear to her.
The angle of the blade thrust out toward her, the distance to the wall behind her. The plan seemed to have formed before she had even realized it.
Her body moved effortlessly, no pain, no drag of delay, every motion was an instant. She had smacked away the shield, throwing the beast off balance, leaving that instrument of death free of obstruction. Applejack worked her way past the thing's guard, wrapping her hooves around that limb, and with a force of her own body surged the power of her mind backing it; thrust it into the wall.
The beast struggled, its arm stuck up to its elbow in rock.
Applejack smashed Abigail's head against the wall, but even with the cracks and the shape caved in it fought back. Legs lashed out trying to claw her, but to no avail, the blows repeated themselves. The skull slowly chipping away as she was unmasked more by every strike. Eventually, after the last chip of bone had fallen, a small blackened face remained. It drifted about upon its shoulders in a stupor, as a dark haze shadowed the head from view, but Applejack could still see it. The dainty features of maybe the pony this once was, or maybe it was Abigail herself, she wasn't sure.
There was a glint, maybe where her eyes were, but the soft shape of the thing soon turned sharp. An angry hiss echoed out as bone started trying to defensively mold around the exposed area, clawed feet lashing out again as she once again tried to free herself from the wall.
Applejack left her slight stupor, she didn't care what this thing used to be, all that mattered was the fact of a monster in front of her. She once again gave it a good smash against the wall, and after Abigail had once again become dazed she began landing hits meant to kill. In short order, fighting through the cold nips she would receive upon hitting it, the head was deformed into something unrecognizable. Once she had stopped moving, Applejack backed off, watching the body just hang against the wall. She saw it move, the legs try to lift weight once more. No, Taking no chances, Applejack bucked it with what strength she still had, and whatever was left of her torso's armor shattered against the wall.
She waited a good long while, just daring it to move, when it didn't she finally uttered. "That was for my mom." Applejack brushed the dust off her chin, and then became keenly aware of the cuts that burned for her attention; most notably the one near her stomach. All her wincing would have to wait, as the drain from the zen usage hit her full force. It took everything she had just to stop her legs from wobbling as she set herself down on her less injured side.
With that out of the way she turned her attention to her wound, and she knew it wasn't going to be pretty before she even looked at it, maybe I can make some of this cloth into a bandage or somethin'. With a gulp she looked to where the pain was, "Ah, shoot." The injury was beneath her belt, which meant she would have to undo it and then... Wait a pony pickin' minute. I ain't got no belt. Then she realized it wasn't even really a belt, it looked a lot more like, well, a bandage with a little blood spot where the wound was and everything.
She just groaned and slapped a hoof to her head, Applejack wasn't one to ask for instruction manuals, but that instant she would've really enjoyed one. Guess I'll have to grill Ted about magical whatnot next time I see him. The burn of the dozen other cuts still grated her mind, which hadn't received the same treatment as the nastiest one. Note to self, never remove saddlebags when on an adventure. She laughed a bit, just overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment for a moment. This was probably the third time that day she evaded an untimely demise, and she felt like a little celebration, even if a small laugh was all she could do.
Her skin grew cold, How the... Her curiosity begged her head to turn about, and what she saw only made her fear swell more.
"Hurry up Dash!"
She groaned as she picked up her pace. Ted had 'suggested' that they drop everything and make a beeline for the large crack in the distance, which slowly seemed to be less a crack and more an overtly bright tower now. She didn't really care what it was though, Applejack was supposed to be there, that was all that mattered.
"You're sure she'll be there?"
"Well," Dash didn't like the look on Ted's face, "That's what she said."
"What do you mean Ted? Where did she go that she couldn't bother to take her saddlebags with her?" Which she had strapped to herself.
His silence only made her skin crawl.
So she stopped their mad gallop for their destination, drawing his attention. "Ted, you tell me what happened right now!"
"She wanted you to be safe Dash, and that's what I'm trying to accomplish."
"Don't tell me you let her sacrifice herself."
"No, not... exactly. Look it was a split second decision, you don't exactly get to lazily pick your options, and in my defense she told me to." He could see the anger instilled on her face, and without a word she turned back to the nameless darkness. "Just wait a second Dash!"
"I ain't leaving my friend behind."
"Well where is she then? Did you happen to gain friend-o-location when you were asleep?" His question seemed to stop her, "I don't know if we can save her Dash, for all we know she could be at that tower of light, overwhelmed and in need of help; heck she might even have found a way out of this whole mess, heheh heh..." His smile faded, some of the hope drained away with it, but his mood remained spirited, "But I can- WE can still save ourselves. Applejack would want-"
"Don't try to tell me what she would want!" She snapped back, "And don't you DARE try to convince me to leave behind one of my friends, she could need help and I-"
"What if she doesn't! What if we go gallivanting about in the dark and just get ourselves caught in another trap? What good have we done then? 'Oh bravo young adventurers, you got lost in the dark and taken down like common game fowl'. That'll really help Ponyville."
Dash could remember it, she didn't want to but she did, what Applejack said about one of them not making it back at the library. That thought of just leaving one of her friends behind practically ripped her heart apart at its seams, her mind a flurry of unwanted emotion.
"Dash, we need to move."
"Fine," A heavy sigh escaped her, "But I never want you to try and force me into this again." She shot him a heated glare, "You got that?"
"Y-yeah, just, we should," She trotted past him, without a word. "OK."
As Ted began to catch up to her, she spoke up again, "Oh yeah, don't let that thing fall into their hooves."
"What, the relic?"
"If they're really after it Ted, like you think, then we can't let them have it."
His curiosity was now activated in full swing, "So what? Does it activate and turn into a doomsday device? OH, maybe I can reverse engineer my own mini-version. Please, please tell me how it works." He was already digging through his bag, ready to hear every little detail.
"It's not a weapon Ted, I thought I already said that." She could see the sadness drown his features, "I think... I think it's a key."
"To a weapon!" his hopes risen again.
"No, just..." She groaned and planted a hoof to her face, "Listen alright. When I was out... it put a message in my head, and it just kept repeating itself until I woke up."
Ted watched as she nervously dragged her hoof across the ground, "Well don't drag out your dramatic pause, get on with it. What did it say, What did it say?" he repeated like an overeager child.
"I'm not sure if it was meant for me, and I couldn't understand a lot of it, but he kept saying a few key things." Dash cut Ted off before he could ask the obvious question 'HE! HE WHO!' Once he had settled she took a deep breath to try and remember,
"It started with this stallion, I can't remember his face, it was all mushy and blurred. Anyway, he started with 'my son' which kinda threw me off, and then it was just a lot of garbled noise, but he sounded really sad. Then he disappears and I see this dome shaped building thing with the key next to it, and he speaks up again. 'I hope it hasn't fallen into the wrong hooves, but you have to stop it, you have to destroy what's left of my research. You can't let anypony find what's left of them.' Then more gobble-de-gook before he just started apologizing a bunch, and... that's it, after that he would start repeating himself."
"Aw, I wanted a super-weapon," Ted's expression toughened up a bit from his mopey frown, "Well, in that case. No sense in letting evil have a chance right?" He plopped the little disc onto the ground and reared up to smash it to bits.
"Wait a minute Ted!"
"Oh come on, if we got the only key to this big bad place we might as well make sure nothing can get in right?"
"Yeah, but if that thing made a bunch of noise and stuff just because I held onto it funny, what's gonna happen when you break it?"
Ted felt himself break into a cold sweat for a moment as he gazed down upon the little potentially thermonuclear device, "Hey Dash, you wanna hold onto it for a while?"
"Alright." He said with a sigh, "Idiot who nearly gets us killed gets to hold onto the deadly explosive device." Dash didn't seem affected by his subliminal attempt to get out of it, and resolved to lug it around in his bag once more. "So did it give you anything else?"
"A nasty headache," She then shot him a rather unamused frown, "and a bad bruise on my head."
"Still better than the alternative in my book. Anyway, we moving or are we gonna be big nice targets for a few more minutes?"
Dash rolled her eyes as she turned to once again be the lead towards their objective, when a scream rang out through the darkness. Dash was looking out into the darkness, towards its source, she knew that noise. That wasn't a monster, that was a- "Applejack!"
"Dash, just wait a minute." His warning was too late, she had already taken to the air. "Well alrighty th-WHOA!"
She began to turn back to him, that scream of his was fearful not angry, but when she finally turned about; he was gone. "Ted?" She flew toward his last position, but then looked back to where she heard Applejack. "Ugh." Her mind flicked back and forth between her friends, until finally she just couldn't take it anymore, "Ah horse-apples." She finally made up her mind, and in a blur of color shot out into the darkness to find Applejack.
She felt bad about it, but something told her either decision would've done that to her, and Ted could handle himself anyway; he wasn't the one who had screamed in pain. Her mind continued to wander, her thoughts drifted between what could happen and reminding herself to not fly into anything, but then something found her. She didn't get a good look at it, but she knew pain and could hear its anger. As she toppled through the air with something clutching her with its painful claws.
Applejack pulled herself over the top of the pits wall, her side burned, but she had to ignore it and press on before she ran out of time. She took off and put distance between her and that pit, doing her best to keep herself on course for that light in the distance. Just keep your legs movin', was all she kept telling herself, They'll be there, you just gotta lose her. She was in no shape for a fight, using her power like that had made her so weak, she was barely able to scale that wall and it was practically a staircase.
She weaved her way into the forest of rocky pillars that reached high above her, thankful for what cover they could provide her with. She was close to that tower of light, perhaps on the other side of this place she would finally be there, then we can get outta here, get Dash all better, you can do this, just don't stop. A screech rang out to her ears, far closer than Applejack would care for it to be, and she turned to greet the mad ravings of Abigail face to face.
Applejack's mind froze for a moment, as Abigail dived straight into her, the two brawlers rolling across the ground together. Her mind was reeling too hard, she couldn't piece two thoughts together, and before she knew it her body was held to the ground. She felt Abigail grab one of her forelegs and pull it behind her back, No! Don't let her.
She was too late, as the pain spiked through her, and she felt the bone slip from its joint. For a moment all she knew was pain, and her mind wished for escape, it found that release as she screamed for but a moment. It rang out and echoed back, but the pain was there to stay.
Her mind knew it had to react, before more damage was done. She could see Abigail, still over her, arms changing into something else. She thrust herself up, to try and smash her weight into her, but she simply dodged back; now behind Applejack. That worked fine for her, so she simply raised her back legs, doing her best to hold herself steady on one hoof, and bucked.
Whatever luck she had that day seemed to hold steady for that moment, as Abigail was caught unaware, and shot away from her with all the force a veteran applebucker could muster. She slammed against one of the pillars and rolled off, finally resting face down in the earth.
Applejack wasn't sure how Abigail had managed to collect all her bone fragments in the pit so quickly, but this was her chance to get away. So upon three hobbling legs, with a pain streaked across her shoulder, she ran.
Abigail awoke with a start, she swung out one of her bladed arms far as she turned and rose to her feet. Her eyes beheld nothing, the orange one had left. Her posture relaxed, and she sent out for an answer from her children.
One was busy playing with its food, sending waves of lesser creatures to distract it before attacking it repeatedly with its slow acting poison.
Another was in pursuit of the pegasus nearby, she had escaped its grasp, but it seemed confident in its own abilities to catch her.
Yet none of them answered if they had what they had come for, so her mission still stood. Her master wanted that thing they had, he had even told her to continue her pursuit despite the danger he was in. She wanted to be there, to protect him, but he forbade it until she had that thing. So she wasn't going to let that little pony get away.
Her arms shifted back into claws, and she leaped for the nearest pillar, scaling its surface with ease as her strength bit into the stone beneath her grasp. Then she jumped from top to the other, working her way towards the pony's most likely destination, that light in the distance.
Find... break... kill...
They were all dangers, every one of these things wanted to hurt her master, it wasn't in her mission to deal with them but she considered it mandatory for his safety. Her needs were never clear to her, it was all a foggy memory that never pieced back together, but he was everything to her; that was the only thing which was ever clear.
She forced her mind back into reality, wandering in her thoughts was pointless, she had a directive to accomplish. Her trek across the tops of rocks stopped for a moment, as she listened in to her surroundings.
The slow clatter of hooves met her in the dark.
Her pace quickened, throwing herself from peak to peak, the hunt was back and it wasn't far. When she got close, she slowed herself, taking great care to not make noise as she landed softly. The pony had stopped her retreat, the lack of noise proved that much. So she looked down from her perch, scanning the cavern, and as luck would have it she was directly below her.
She watched her prey, carefully checking the blind corner she thought kept her safe, a worried crease upon her brow. Then her prey sat, a wary eye cast down to the limb she had disabled. Abigail carefully began making her way down the pillar, making as little noise as possible. Her prey looked away from its bum leg, and with the other grasped it, she winced painfully. Abigail understood what she was about to do.
A strong one... she must be dealt with...
She was far closer now, almost right above her, but this was the hardest part. Her pace slowed into a crawl, her eyes never left her mark. Slowly she advanced, ignoring the pained grunt of her prey as a bony pop snapped from her shoulder. Her left arm slowly changed, mere inches from the proper range, a blade to be rammed through the soft head prepared and ready was made. The target slouched against the rock. Her head fell back, a content sigh escaped as the eyes blissfully rose to the skies, only to freeze upon Abigail.
She pounced, blade shooting straight ahead to skewer her, but the target was fast. With a burst of speed it managed to throw itself from her path, but Abigail wasn't deterred. She arched her back and rolled forward from her fall, springing back to her feet the target was already trying to hit her, she responded in kind with a careful duck to the side. She brought up the blade to strike, but the pony caught her wrist, so she opted for something simpler. With her other claw wrapped into a fist she struck, the shock of the blow rippled through her arm, and the target collapsed.
Abigail approached, and rolled the unconscious mare over onto her back. It had been a long chase, but she had won. Without contemplation, reflection, or apprehension; she struck out at the throat.
Dash was still laughing to herself, she couldn't believe that thing fell for that trick. If it was one thing these silly ghouls didn't have it would be experience, at least in flying. Just a simple application of the buckaneer blitz with some less than flashy face smashing, and that thing was taken care of easier than breakfast, at least until she heard it try and give chase again; keyword try.
Now all she had to do was be careful enough to not to fly into anything as she scanned about for Applejack, that line of thought really put her in a good mood, if one considered looking for a potentially dead friend 'good'. The Glowmold here was at least bright, although she didn't care for this eternal dusk-like feel everything had to it. Regardless of her feelings on cavern décor, she set about her search grid, slowly circling until she couldn't even recall from where the shout of her friend had come from.
Come on, where are you? Her worry was starting to get the better of her, and each second only made her heart grow heavier. She just wanted her friends to get out of here, for Ponyville to be safe, that was it. Now though, it all seemed a lot more complicated than, go in, kill bad guy, then leave.
A shrill scream rang out into the cavern, a monstrous bellow filled its undertone. What the- It was close, very close. It couldn't have taken her more than a few moments to find its source, but what she finally saw she wasn't sure she wanted to. She saw her, Abigail, moving away from a lump on the ground, then she saw the lumps orange hue.
It wasn't moving.
"N-" Dash only bit her lip, she didn't want to say anything, her mind was wracked enough. She looked away, back to the direction which she flew. Heavy breaths pulled at her chest, as she turned toward her target. Tears stung her eyes, while the wind whipped against her face. Her wings slammed against her form, as she pushed her speed to the absolute limit. The second before she hit, when that unholy abomination finally took note of her, she let out a shout filled with every ounce of pain and rage that she felt at that moment.
Abigail was going to die, and Dash didn't care if she went down with her.
Their bodies slammed together, and Dash wrapped herself around Abigail's torso as they collided with a rocky pillar, as dry dust exploded from its surface and left a significant divot. While the force of it separated the duo, sending them bowling off in their own directions upon the ground.
Dash was the first back in the fight, already in a headlong rush towards Abigail with her spear ready. Abigail was not far behind, up and ready before Dash closed the distance, she looked about with a seeming disinterest in the fight. No matter what she was pondering, Dash struck when she was within range. Her blow was nimbly dodged, and before she could ready another strike Abigail rebounded off the floor, then in one smooth motion Dash found herself weaponless and her own weapon was used to panhandle her across the face which threw to the ground.
She didn't let it stop her, before long she was back up and ready to go again. With Abigail in her sights she watched it clutch her weapon with a seeming unease, that unease seemed to slowly grow worse as the weapon began to glow brighter in her claws, until Dash took her chance. When the spear was dropped with a painful moan, she flew through the air, and her body twisted into a powerful kick at the last stretch that aimed for Abigail's face. But she was quick, Abigail had grabbed her leg, and Dash soon found herself being flipped over the beast in an attempt to be slammed against the ground.
Instead she kicked her wings into full gear, and rather than going over Abigail's head, the duo was lifted into the air. The move soon gave way to a chaotic series of events, the cat wrestled the bird for dominance over their heading, one wished to bring itself to the ground, the other vied to try and bring its enemy to such a height that it couldn't survive the fall.
As Dash continued to try and fight off Abigail, gaining a marked increase in her bruise count in the process, the battle quickly fell from her favor. She felt one of that things bony claws against her wing, and the shape was purposefully bent so that it forced her into a corkscrew. The entire world became a blur to her, not aided by the dimness of the environment, and just before the nausea set in she felt the weight of her companion leave; as she herself skidded across the cavern floor once more.
The world swayed in a fog that left her reeling, almost tipping over even before she tried to stand, but it was what she witnessed that truly threw her for a loop. Abigail was running away, just like that.
"Hey!" The figure didn't even pause, slowly disappearing into the darkness ahead of it. Dash could feel her anger, that want, that need to destroy the abomination. But it stung deeper than that, and that pain had a face. Her power rushed through her, she felt the connection to her soul burst forth, and an arc of light shot through the night into the back of the monster. It doubled over in pain as a rune seemed to be seared into its flesh, a bright mark that shouted out to the world, 'retribution'.
Dash watched as the mark continued to burn, for as long as Abigail ran it would do just that, she would have to fight if she wanted out. Dash wandered over to her weapon, thankfully within easy reach, and watched as Abigail leaned against a pillar for support.
"You're just like all his other monsters," Dash resisted the urge to lash out right then and there, "a bunch of careless murderers!"
Abigail slowly turned, acknowledging her presence.
"Then when I'm done with you, I'll find your master and put an end to him." She gritted her teeth, as an angry hiss escaped Abigail. "And nopony'll ever hurt my friends again!" The light around her exploded into a cocktail of rainbow flames, and as she charged with her wings fanning the flames of her vengeance Abigail only stood her ground while the mark upon her back thundered with the same fury as its maker.
Dash didn't care, she was of singular purpose now, that thing in front of her was judged. With a great swing of her blade the aura about her coalesced into the blade of her spear, and the very air ignited with its presence, a corona of brilliance in its wake. Right before the blade connected, when all would be avenged, a great pain shot through Dash. The icy grip snuffed even the fiery aura that she had stoked, and down into her very being she felt crippled, even with her mind as sharp and realistic to the pain her body was not so. She collapsed only to be caught by the neck, her body was then slammed against a nearby pillar that Abigail had once used herself.
As Abigail's eyeless gaze dug deep into Dash, she could see the mark she had left upon her. It had grown black from its once brilliant display, and though she could not see it with her eyes, a fog seemed to roll from the mark and into her soul. The coldness of it was slowly biting deeper, and Dash could swear her breath was growing misty.
Abigail's free arm entered her sight, and the bony gauntlet that covered it manifested into a blade. The arm pulled back, and even Dash could feel the malice radiating from her enemy. As the blade raced through the air, careening right for her face, she never took her eyes from that thing, never showed a moment of weakness, and dared not give it a moment of satisfaction.
The blade dug deep into the surface of the pillar, and with some strength it was wrenched from it. After her arm had turned back to a claw, she let the body slide limply to the ground. Without a word she left, other things still needed to be accomplished after all.
The body of the pegasus just remained there, cold and motionless. Another thing cast aside into the forgotten depths of the abyss, to be left to itself for all time. Slowly though the chest rose and fell, and a sound was choked in its throat.
Dash just looked up at the pillar where she was once held, at the hole that Abigail's blade had dug, where she had purposefully missed her. She had me, She felt herself stifle another sob, why didn't she just end it? She tried to keep her mind off it, but without a threat, without a distraction, it just poured in from every angle.
She fought it as best she could, but her lips quivered for a moment, and she felt her eyes squeeze out a single tear. A single, stupid, lonely tear ran down her face, and that was all she allowed. Applejack wouldn't want her to sit here and be stupid like this, She would... she would want me to go find Ted.
"No..." Her mind wandered for a moment more, before it snapped to attention and looked toward the source of the noise. Not more than a few feet from her, leaned against the same pillar she was collapsed by, was... "Applejack?"
Applejack gave a slight smile to her friends tone, "You expected Big Macintosh?"
"No, but, wait a minute." She rolled over, and tried to get back up. Only to find herself feeling a lot weaker than she had the right to be, and eventually found herself accepting the help her friend offered. "Applejack... you were dead."
"I was?" She said with some surprise.
"Yeah I saw Abigail walking away from your corpse like she owned the place."
Applejack rubbed at her chin in thought for a moment, "Wait... did you even check to see if I was dead?" She saw Dash's attempt to hide her blush, "Oh Dash, don't go jumpin' to conclusions like that, it's a sure fire way to get a heart condition."
"Well what did you expect me to do, I didn't think she'd spare you like she did me."
Applejack frowned in confusion, "Hold your horses now, exactly what happened?"
Applejack topped off the healing potion, thankful of the saddlebags that would hopefully never leave her person again if she had anything to say about it, and grateful to be free of the pain of all the bruises and cuts she had accrued. It still surprised her though to find that bandage disappear, magic was one thing she never really cared for.
"That's when I saw you, and from what I could see you were pretty beat up. I had no idea Abigail was just leaving you to stew for a while. Then well... she mighta... kinda..."
"Put you in your place?"
"Well... yeah, but I was all like-" Applejack shook her head as Dash's usual exuberance seemed to have returned along with her good health from using a potion a few minutes ago. "-then WAM! She's just lucky she used her weird power on me, or I would've totally cut her in half, or something."
Dash watched as Applejack let herself get lost in thought again, "So what do you think it's all about?"
"I don't know Dash, but they weren't exactly pullin' any punches in the other fights... maybe they found what they were after."
"Even if they did, I don't think finding their treasure, or whatever, equals spare the good guys."
Applejack just tapped her hoof against her head in frustration, "Ah, it just ain't right, we missed somethin'. There ain't no way this was all just good fortune from a merciful monster."
"Well whatever it is we need to find Ted," Dash nervously pawed at the ground for a moment, "You know, before he gets all dead and stuff."
"Yeah, suppose we should." The duo then began to move toward the light in the distance, "Oh, and Rainbow."
"Thanks for lookin' for me."
"Eh, don't mention it." She then shot a nervous look her friend way, "But seriously, not a word about the tear."
Applejack let out an evil snicker, "Well gosh Rainbow, I didn't think you had it in you to cry."
"Hey!" she snapped back, "It was one tear, ONE TEAR!"
Applejack's snickering carried on long into the journey as they made their way on.
"Come on you boney bumpkins!" Ted said with a wheeze, "I know you're all out there."
He waited for a moment, expecting another attack, but finally he resumed his march. With hooves dragging marks into the dirty floor where they may Ted made his way towards that destination they set for so long ago. His mind turned to Rainbow Dash, and the lack of help.
Can't blame her, she didn't see that thing nab me. Thinking about it only made the soreness in his wings flare up. These wings! I swear you're more trouble than you're worth sometimes. He wanted to just give them an angry glare, but his muscles felt all stitched together, and any kind of movement had to be slow or he would feel the knots twist.
Aww, what's wrong Ted?
Oh don't lie to me.
Fine... That thing is beating me.
Yeah right, you're TED for Ted's sake, ain't no way they can beat ya.
You can feel the pain, the thing's poison is working on us... me... whatever. He sighed inwardly, I can't even use my bow... it hurts too much to draw the string.
Oh buck up, His lighter side snickered, This ain't the first time the road's gotten this bad. Remember that time when I got my leg broken by that golem? That ended up alright didn't it?
But we weren't alone when that happened Ted.
Yeah... well, it'll turn out alright, you mark my... our... mark the words, because it will get better,
or I'll let Cartanis know about all the times we cheated him out of his gold.
You really think that would shock him?
The real question is, do you?
Ted just collectively laughed at himself.
Sometimes I hate you and all your games.
Well you could stand to loosen up more.
There was a pause in his mind, but eventually one of them had to speak again.
...Sometimes I don't know what I'd be without your enthusiasm.
Probably some overly emotional half elf with a preference for alcohol. With a short chuckle he spoke once more. Though to be fair, I'm pretty sure I'd be dead eight times over if you didn't come around then and again to slap me silly with some common sense and decency.
Ted just laughed with Ted, and eventually he felt himself sink back into one mind again. It put him in a better mood at least, and that helped more than anything for the soreness. However his enjoyment would wait, as a rather unwanted presence intruded upon him.
A snarling jaw, slacked with hunger pounced for him. In a smooth motion he rose upon his back legs, blade drawn, through the leisurely tug of his fatigue it cut smoothly at his target. And before any could know better, a zompony head tumbled off behind him, while the body fell flat to the ground.
He couldn't take time to celebrate, as more poured out from the shadows. Another slice and one found itself with a head shaved far too close for comfort. A third downed by a quick stab from his second blade, before he wrenched it open and let the fragile body collapse from its own age.
Once more he found another in his sights, in his rush to attack it he tripped over himself. The thing got in a lucky bite, his foreleg made tender thanks to the wear from previous fights compromising his armor. The same was true of other portions of his once unmarked scales, now torn apart with only key sections still held together. He quickly countered, a flash of a blade marked the end of another monsters spree as the body fell listlessly over with a glimmer of steel extruded from its separated spine.
Then another shot forth from the edge of his vision, and as he took a stance to counter his ears picked up upon something. It was that noise, the one he had heard time and again, a harsh wheeze that was almost a snort. After he had discerned where he was hit, it was too late. He almost forgot to retract his wrist blade in his hurry, but before his hoof even made to his neck the toxin worked its horrid magic.
Ted's vision listed about, and try as he may it was no use. The floor and he were soon very good friends; albeit she was a little rough about the reunion. He tried to remain at least aware as that thing jammed into his nuck pumped more poison into him, but the world just continued to grow fainter as he slowly forgot his body.
The world around him seemed to collapse into a singular shaft of light, encompassing all that he could see. That was when he laughed, because as he laid there upon his back he finally realized where he was. Barely more than a couple hundred feet from him was the destination they had sought, he couldn't make it out as the fuzziness of his vision robbed him that victory, but he had made it.
His giddy stupor was interrupted, as he detected something enter his sight. Sadly he could actually tell what was before him, it was the ghoul that was after him, angrily snarling at things about to back off. He knew what it might be thinking, he was this things prey after all, and the one that did all the 'work' deserved first dibs after all.
The sight of it gave him no fair amount of delight, the pony it had once been had gone under a transformation he cared to not know of. The nostrils had compressed into slits, and the coat it once had was in the process of falling out, only to leave an eels skin underneath. All the while those eyes which brimmed with corruption rejoiced at their prize, as the flimsy body quivered with joy.
Ted just ignored it, and looked back to the tower of light, Not a crack at all, just some building-a-ma-jig out here in the middle of nowhere. His vision began to slowly collapse again, losing sight of the beast as its fangs reached for his throat, and the only thing he could see was the growing intensity of the tower as it slowly blurred together into a single great star in his vision.
I suppose I won't feel anything, at least I can get that in exchange for all the good work I've done.
His mind seemed to slowly fall apart in that lazy stupor, until he was wrenched back to attention at an astonishing sight.
The great star that blotted his vision was joined by another, a strange plethora of color, it almost looked like a rainbow streak.
What does it mean? Was about the last coherent thought he had before all hell broke loose.
"Get Ted outta here!" Dash quickly ducked a buck from the eel skin thing she had tackled, and before she could return something in kind it had run away, galloping off into the darkness with reinforcements trailing in behind.
Applejack just rolled her eyes, she already knew what she was here to do. "Bottoms up." Ted was thankfully at least partially aware of the potion, she wasn't entirely sure what had happened, but they managed to get a simple plan together before pounding off into danger. When he had finished the potion, she quickly nabbed his bag of holding, with a slight idea of how it worked she reached around inside.
OK, just think about what you want and, She felt something brush against her hoof, gotcha.
Applejack looked upon the item she had removed from Ted's storage, the strange relic they had found earlier that day rested upon her hoof. Rainbow Dash had filled her in on the way over about the vision, and her worry at what could happen had rubbed off on her a little, although she would've preferred something more specific than 'bad stuff'.
"I can't hold them off all day!"
With her purpose back in reality she quickly stuffed the item within her own saddlebags, and gave Ted a shake, "Hey, you up yet?"
The zebragus' head slowly twisted to face her and then with a goofy smile he said, "You're a nice talking fruit lady."
Applejack managed to stifle a scoff, "Yeah, now I need you to get off your plot and start movin'."
"Oh I'd love to, heheh, but the nasty eel turned my legs into jam." Ted's head began to list back onto the floor, eyes barely putting up a fight.
"No-no-no, just wait, hey, HEY!" She just grunted in anger as she flipped him onto her back, this wasn't to plan, but a little improvising never hurt. "Dash! We are leavin'!"
The pegasus shot into the air, out of reach from any attack, and closed the distance her friend had gained, "OK, what now?"
"We get inside that tower."
"And?" Dash waited for an answer as her friend galloped below her, "You've gotta be kidding me."
"You gotta better idea?"
"Yeah, NOT back ourselves into a corner."
"What, run for our lives all over again? You don't build a tower that high for no reason Dash, it might go to the surface."
Dash just sighed, "We are so screwed."
The duo could hear the veracious horde behind them, but it wasn't fast enough to catch them. Before long they were at the tower's base, and Dash truly took in the height of it.
"Whoa." Applejack hadn't lied, it really did seem to extend to the ceiling, and potentially beyond.
"Ah shoot, Dash ya mind givin' me a little help here."
Dash looked down to get an eye on what Applejack was talking about, and then she saw them, two giant doors that had the same bluish glow the entire structure did. As Ted was set aside, she joined her friend as they tried to push, pull, or slide the doors open.
"Come on Applejack, try harder!"
"What do ya think I'm doin'?"
Dash looked out toward the horde, the precious ground they had gained was quickly being lost, "Told you this was a stupid idea."
Applejack resolved that much, and she turned to leave with Rainbow Dash, but then her confidence was restored upon a chance sighting. "Not yet it's not."
"What?" When she turned back to her friend she froze slightly in fear, "Applejack wait!"
"Don't have time for waitin'." She jammed the relic into the circular indentation at the meeting point of the doors, and then stepped back as it whirred to life, electric snaps echoing the fanciful purple light show it produced. It grew brighter and minute grooves within the doors design sprang to life with a light of their own, the sound of gears grinding was produced as the doors slid open, albeit far slower than either would've liked.
"Applejack! You don't go putting keys to the doom of everything into a locked door!"
"Yeah well you said it was a dome ya'll was afraid of, and this ain't no dome. So shut up and get ready for company, we got a heap load to serve before this rusty old thing opens."
They both turned in time to see the tide upon them, but as they stood their ground, something rather obvious became known to them.
"Hey," Dash whispered, "What's up with them?"
Applejack could only shrug, as she watched more faces than she cared to count simply snarling back. They stood out from them in a half closed ring, none seeming sure what to do with them. "Dash, I want you to keep an eye on them."
"Right." Was all she responded as she spared a glance or two Applejack's way. Her friend was making a move toward Ted, biting down upon his mane and carefully dragged him closer to the door that was creeping ever so slowly open.
They couldn't have been more than a few pony lengths away, but that distance was just multiplied by the tension. "Hurry up." Dash pleaded, waiting for that door to open was maddening, it had been so long already and it was barely open enough for a foal to squeeze through.
Without warning the blob of bodies rushed forth, the first unfortunate enough to meet Dash's reach was downed immediately, but she soon found herself mobbed and forced against the wall. "The hay?" She tried to move as the mosh pit of bodies just used their collective weight to force her against the wall. With what little of herself that she could move Dash managed to see Applejack in a similar predicament. "What are they doing!"
"I have no idea why you're askin' me." She looked over to the doorway as her would-be captors tried to seize the key, but it gave off such intense energy as the power of it arced into the doorway that any who neared it seemed thrown away if not outright disintegrated. Then her mind turned back to another important item, "Ted?"
One part of her couldn't believe she actually called out his name, but she remembered losing her hold on him thanks to a very familiar face making an appearance. It was hard to do so, but she saw Abigail weaving through the crowd like it was just another part of her with prisoner in tow. Applejack had to think quickly, she didn't care why they weren't hurting them, but Ted didn't seem to be about to receive the same luxury. "Dash!"
"Can ya cut me a path to the door!"
Dash just groaned, "You got one shot for whatever stupid idea you got going in your head."
Even if Dash had no clue what she was planning, Applejack couldn't help but admit to herself how stupid that idea sounded to her."Just do it!"
Rainbow Dash concentrated upon her power, letting it flow out from her soul. When she felt it warp out into the air, twisting and bending to her will, she ignited it. The power surged through her, and as the color filled air around her burst to life those nearest simply fell to pieces, as those farther were blown back by her shout. With a swift motion she brought down her weapon in an overhead swing, sparks of light and fire spat off her weapons face leaving a trail of brilliance in its path. The force was focused into a wave of holy fire that rocketed through the ground towards Applejack, effortlessly tossing aside any who didn't immediately fall before it, yet leaving her friend completely unharmed.
Applejack wasted no time, rushing through the blasted remains of her enemy she galloped straight for the doorway, still being forced open with the key between which snapped purple lightning at anything near it. Without hesitation she leaped for it, and with her forelegs wrapped around it and her feet firmly planted she pulled. It burned more than she would care to realize, far greater than the pain of the furnace, and her shouts were matched equally from both pain and sheer stubbornness. Slowly however she felt it prying lose, whatever magic held it still unable to maintain under such a disturbance.
Her face felt like it may be melting, but she didn't care, if these things wanted this thing so badly they were about to get it. She heard it crackling, the rate of lightning growing ever more frequent the farther she managed to move it out of balance. She was putting everything she was into this, one part of her didn't believe it was possible, but when it happened; it rang out with a deafening roar.
The shock wave was a clap of thunder that rolled out in a regal glory across the horde. Any that were not thrown to pieces became tossed aside in a murderous charge of sound. Yet once its great call had passed, a few key players still remained, as Applejack was first to recover from her stupor.
Her eyes opened, or maybe it would be better to say an eye, but what mattered was what she saw. Clear ground as far as the light from the tower let her see, and the key was within reach without need for her to stand, which she did anyway. What she saw after that made her curse to herself, as Abigail rose far from her with Ted still greedily clutched in her claws. When their eyes met, a certain agreement was made, 'nopony move'.
Applejack looked down to the relic clutched by one of her hooves, it looked cracked, with power seeping out and an occasional snap of static escaping it. Then she looked to Ted, still unconscious in Abigail's grasp.
Abigail's arm changed to something short and sharp, which was brought close to Ted's throat.
Applejack responded in kind, throwing the key to the ground, hoof placed over the top as she slowly increased the pressure upon it.
For a time nopony budged, until finally Applejack spoke, "You want this?"
Applejack hadn't noticed Dash until she spoke up behind her, "What are you doing!"
"I'm tryin' to save Ted, now shut up." She turned back to Abigail and spoke, "Now give him over to Dash here or you ain't getting anythin' ya hear?" Abigail nodded once more, and Applejack motioned for Dash to get moving.
Her friend eventually listened, her thoughts on the matter clearly worn upon her face. The pegasus landed close to the undead mistress, and after a cold stare down Ted was left upon the ground and given room enough for Dash to whisk him upon her back. As she closed on Applejack, her friend whispered to her, "Get inside the tower, I'll be right behind ya." Her friend did as she was told, finding enough room between the doors that hadn't completely opened, and disappeared into the Tower's soft blue light.
With her friends clear of the danger here, she turned back to Abigail, who waited patiently. All Applejack did was release the disc under her hoof, and then slowly backed away toward the tower. Every step she gave Abigail would take, until she felt comfortable enough to bolt what distance remained, before she crossed over into that building she gave one last look, and watched as Abigail vanished into the night with her volatile cargo.
Applejack could only squint, she had been in the almost total dark it felt like her eyes would never be ready for such an amount of light again, but through the blur and the bloom she could make out a familiar colorful shape or two.
"Ya'lright Dash?" Her eyes furiously tried to blink away the light, but she found herself a little worried over her right eye that didn't want to open completely.
"Yeah, I deal with thunder and lightning for a living, that little blast was nothing." Dash just poked at the unconscious zebragus at her feet, "Not sure how well he took it though, but from past experience he seems familiar with being out cold."
"Ain't that the truth." Applejack said as she closed what distance remained between them.
"Whoa." Rainbow Dash's statement quickly grabbed her friend's attention. "That thing really did a number on you."
"It really that bad?" She pressed a curious hoof against her face, only to feel a blistering pain rattle her senses.
"Let's just say you look related to a certain wizardly friend of ours."
Even though Applejack respected him, she couldn't help but shudder at the comparison. "You wouldn't happen to have a potion still on ya?"
"You sure? If you stuck with it you could have a really cool set of scars."
Applejack regarded her friend with a level of disdain, "Yeah, I think I'll pick average lookin' over 'cool' lookin' any day of the week."
Dash just shrugged and fished about her bags for the last potion, "You think Ted has any left?" Was the last thing she said before a potion disabled her ability to speak.
"I don't know, maybe." She managed to snatch the potion out of the air, an instant later it felt like a warm wet rag had been placed over her face, and the tautness of the muscles seemed to relax. "So is Ted-"
"Yeah, I can hear him breathing, but it's rather shallow."
That matter settled, Applejack went to looking about their accommodations, now with new and improved depth perception. It was a lot more metallic and filled with tubes and lights than she had expected, but half the time she didn't know what to expect anymore. What they were actually on was stranger, Dash had set Ted down upon something surrounded by guard rails, a little podium of metal jutting out of one of its corners. In fact most of the floor seemed connected to that one point, there was only a small portion near the door that didn't seem to be a part of this great metal slab of a floor. Then she looked up, and her jaw almost dropped. The entire thing just kept going and going until it collapsed into a single mote of light at what she hoped was the top.
"What kinda backwards thinkin' pony makes a tower without any stairs?" Applejack said aloud.
Dash joined her friend in gaping at the forever ceiling, "What then?"
"Well your tower plan failed, so what now?"
Applejack just sat for a moment, "I don't know Dash, do you have a better idea?"
She watched her friend sulk for a minute, "You OK."
Dash tried to look distracted, pawing her hoof about on the ground, but then she whispered, "I hate losing."
"Why do you think that?"
"Because Applejack," Dash started with heated words, "the bad guy, gal, thing, got away with her prize, and is probably off to her master to complete their 'master plan', and we're stuck down in this stupid cavern with Fainty McGee here." 'Fainty McGee' then snorted out loud in his stupor. "What do you expect me to do? Lie down and take it?"
"You don't have to be so mad Dash."
"Well why aren't you!"
Applejack looked at her friend, and just thought for a moment, "Because I'm alive."
Dash regarded her friend with a certain wariness at those words.
"Yeah we messed up, maybe if we were faster or had a lick more sense none of this would've happened, but that ain't the point. What I managed to do today, what we all managed to do, was do the best we could to pull through." Applejack smiled, "Don't you see it Dash, we did it, we're still alive. Sure we bucked it up, but we're alive, and I can't really be mad with that."
"I... guess. I still wanna break in her face though."
"Well now we have that chance." She then approached her friend, and wrapped a hoof round her shoulder, "So whatcha say partner, is it time to find some faces to break?"
Dash wore an evil smirk on her face, but it quickly washed away as she looked toward the body on the floor, "What about Ted?"
"Oh yeah," She let Dash go and wandered over to the unconscious zebragus, "What are we gonna do with you?" She looked at his eyes, still open, but blundering about in a cold simplicity. "You ain't pullin' another 'for the laughs' thing are ya?"
"Whether he is or not, I could use a little break." Dash rubbed at her grumbling tummy, "I could go for something that isn't 'long-lasting travel food'."
"Like hayfries, or one of Pinkie's strawberry swirl bear claws."
Applejack had to slap her friend out of her wet-lipped daydream, "Now don't get started, you're just gonna make me hungry."
"Well I can't help it if I just want one, delicious, tooth-rotting donut."
"Here ya go, have one."
Dash almost fell over, "You have donuts!"
"Yeah." She slapped a nice red one into her friends hoof, "its apple flavored."
She only looked at her hoof in mild disgust, "You know that's just mean to trick a pony like that." Dash took a bite out of the apple she held. "Don't you ever get sick of these?"
"Just be happy I haven't worked my way to the less desirable stuff yet."
"Pfft, try me."
"A can of corn and some dried wheat buns."
As Dash bite into her second apple, she leaned against the metal podium next to her.
"What was that?" Applejack stated.
Before she could receive an answer, the duo was treated to the screeching of metal as the doors they had entered began to close.
"Hayseed!" She bolted for them, but by the time she made it across the room back to the door, it was barely open enough for her hoof to fit through. "Dash what did you do?"
"J-just hang on, I'll fix it."
Now she was galloping back to her friend, "Don't go messin' with – WHOA!" She had crossed over back to the large slab that seemed separated from the rest of the floor with Dash, and had she been much slower a guardrail that had sprouted from the ground would've surely knocked the wind out of her.
Then the fun really began, as the floor beneath them rattled and growled in frustration. Metallic gears whirred to life as a soft blue light focused into beams at the slabs four corners, which shot straight up into the far reaching tower's lofty heights. Then they began to move, slowly at first but surely, and with every second the quake at their feet grew less. Until eventually it fell to a bearable rumble, and Applejack could finally speak over the rest of the noise.
"Who puts an elevator in the middle of a mountain?... no, forget who, how!"
Rainbow Dash flew back and forth a few feet from the ground, with scowl brandished openly to all. "Come on Applejack, this thing is taking for-ev-er. Can't I just go see how much longer till we get to the top?"
"Nuh-uh, I don't trust this heap a scrap as far as I can throw it. Ain't no way you can make an elevator without a pulley system, and I could've sworn a few minutes ago it nearly shook apart on us. I need you here in case it decides to drop, can't depend on old tender-britches over here."
Ted flinched as she poked his shoulder, "Hey, no fair, I can't even move yet!"
"Well teaches you for drinkin' all your potions."
"Oh, sorry if I didn't want to die, how was I supposed to know the poison would stack the more times it got me, or that potions didn't cure it."
Dash just slapped her hooves over her eyes, it was like this every few minutes. The elevator would rumble, they'd all go wide-eyed, and then they would argue or talk for a bit. All Dash cared was that she was allowed to fly now, she stopped herself for a while out of care for her friends fear, but after a few hours of not flying she felt like she was being tortured. She had hoped that the ride would've been over long ago, she had even taken a nap and the ride had outlasted that.
"Come on you stupid bucket of bolts," she flew over to one of the walls, keeping pace with the elevator as it rose, "Hurry up!" with a frustrated buck she clanged her hooves against the wall.
It rattled and rung slightly from her action, but it seemed to slowly grow more intense, as the whole thing began to feel like it was falling apart.
"What did I tell you idiots about jinxing things!" Ted shouted over the racket.
It only seemed to grow worse, as the whole world felt like it was being ripped apart beneath them. Then all the sound, all the fury, abruptly cut short, alongside the lights. In the darkness everypony held their breaths for a moment, before it returned, but not the soft blue it had once been. Instead the light was a harsh and blaring red, and thankfully the group found the elevator intact, but immobile.
"What did I say? The second you jinx something, it always goes wrong! But noooo, don't listen to the guy who had a hundred years of adventuring under his belt, how reliable can he be! Now let me guess, this mountain used to be a volcano, all nice and peaceful right!"
"Just shut up Ted." Applejack commanded, "OK Dash, guess you get your wish, ain't no way we're going back down after all this time."
"On it." Dash launched herself skyward, but found herself surprised as she almost immediately spotted the end of the elevator's shaft. "Hey we're almost there!" She called back, and with a little less speed she vaulted the top of it. She looked about their destination, it looked like little more than a really big warehouse. That wasn't the part that shocked her though, it was what she could see outside the warehouse.
"Guys!" She started on her way back down, "You're not gonna believe this!"
"Less talk Dash," She threw a lasso up round Dash's waist with that unnerving accuracy of hers, "Think you can find somethin' to tie that to?"
"I could just take you guys up one by-"
She jumped at the order and followed, slightly grumbling as she did so.
"Can you walk Ted?"
"It's gonna hurt." He rose as the metal beneath him groaned, "But I prefer it to dying."
He meandered his way over, pain obvious on his features as legs were whipped into unwanted service. Applejack quickly tied him round with the other end of the rope, "I foresee a lot of climbin' in your future."
Ted looked up the wall with some apprehension, "Really?"
"What about you?" He looked back to see her already gone, and then he looked back to the wall, she had already started climbing, a lasso firmly tied around her own waist and latched to something high above her.
"Two steps ahead of ya!" Her ploy seemed to have worked somewhat, as she could hear grumbling mixed with the sound of another below her climbing. Then she heard it, the great crack of whatever had held the elevator up give way, as another wave rocked them about. It careened down the shaft, great claps of metallic thunder booming through the shaft as it made its way back where it began.
Dash appeared, "You guys alright!"
"Just help Ted, I'll be fine."
"No, help Applejack, I'm fine."
Dash just groaned, and flew straight at the both of them. With each of their ropes clenched in her jaw she undid any restraint in her mind, making use of the fresh energy she had from that revitalizing nap.
One surge of adrenaline later and two frightened ponies being lifted far faster than either would care, the trio had overtaken the elevator shaft, and now rested at their finish line.
"You didn't have to do that Dash." Applejack said as she massaged her ribs where the rope had drawn tightly.
"Well I was done taking chances, and orders. I could do it, so I did it."
"To avoid being a third wheel, might I ask what was so interesting?" Ted added as he stretched himself out.
"I'm afraid I still have bricks for wings, but I should be able to walk with less bellyaching now."
That'll be a first. She thought to herself. "What about your book?"
Ted produced it, and then sighed as the pages still ran thick with random misshapen words and letters, the question answered he placed it in his bag. With the book removed from sight he turned back to Dash, "So about that thing at the place."
"Oh," she started "Well you guys aren't gonna believe it, just look over there"
The duo followed where she had pointed, and both grew a profound look of confusion. They wandered towards the exit, away from the shaft and its blaring red lights, out to the place they could see. From the warehouse of ruined metal they went out onto a street, surrounded by a thousand demolished bricks, mountains of old structures blocking the roads this way and that.
"A city? We went up into a city? There's no city on this mountain."
"Not on," Ted said aloud, " in."
Dash soon joined them on the street, "So, what now?" She waited for an answer, but received none, "Uh guys, hello?" She waved a hoof in front of the duo's stunned faces, before she decided to see what the big deal was about.
The trio stood, in abject horror, as they witness a maelstrom of fury in the distance. A great bolt of light which shot into the very reaches of the cities sky, arcing and tearing apart at all it touched. The air itself felt charged with the destruction it caused, as the veins in the sky grew brighter and brighter with every quake of the earth, a call of doom rang out for all to hear; A death knell to the mountain and all who dared inhabit its unwanted ground.
End Chapter 11
part 2 of 2