In the days that followed Smolder's disappearance, the Ashen Fields were slowly recovering from the battle that had taken place. With Castle Char having been thoroughly decimated from the Great Dragon Char's rampage, it seemed easier to knock down further walls and simply rebuild parts of the castle from the ground up. The fields themselves were broken open. Ground turned asunder, parts simply glassed over by the dragon's fire. Standing tall in the center of the fields was the two Obelisks' that had saved the Kingdom from the wrath of the Elder Dragon, but had taken their King in the process. Canterlot and the Crystal Empire lent their support in the reconstruction of the Ashen Fields, while the rulers of Equestria had informed and summoned to discuss the future of the Flame Ponies.
"Attention!" Solar shouted to the battalion of Flame Ponies stationed just outside the Main Entrance of Castle Char.
All in attendance were Royal Guard and Soldier Flame Ponies that had the strength to attend. Although, even some of the injured ponies, still turned up, by the droves to welcome back General Hearth who had finally been cleared by the doctor ponies as being fully recovered; having just been released early this morning. Stepping out from the entrance of Castle Char, having witnessed all the destruction that had taken place, all of his soldiers that had faced an unspeakable evil, General Hearth couldn't help but be moved by their actions. With his armor rent from the fight with the Orc, General Hearth was out of his uniform, looking much like a civilian pony.
"Troops are ready for inspection, sir!" Solar announced aloud.
General Hearth choked a laugh. Pushing down his feelings, he approached the ranks, unable to keep his smile hidden as he walked down the line. Seeing bruise, to scar, to casts, and other assortments of injuries, General Hearth whispered those he passed a 'thank you' for their part in the fight. Stopping short, General Hearth's eyes landed on none other than his granddaughter standing where he normally stood to address his troops. Wearing his helmet, General Hearth stared in disbelief at what he was seeing.
"General Hearth, sir, in light of your absence I was given the opportunity to lead your troops into battle on your behalf." Ray said in a very formal and professional tone. "With your return I relinquish my temporary position, and stand relieved of my duties."
Watching Ray remove his helmet, she held it out to him. The Soldier Ponies all stomped their hooves in unison, chanting 'Ray' several times over in a show of respect to her temporary roll as their General. Staring down at his helmet, General Hearth lifted his hooves, carefully taking it from her. Ray stepped back, throwing a quick salute as every Soldier Pony stomped their hooves once more to welcome him back, chanting his name.
Stepping towards Ray, General Hearth lifted his helmet and placed it back onto Ray's head; much to her shock and surprise. Letting his hooves slide down the sides of the helmet onto Ray's shoulders, General Hearth smiled at her, short of breath, feeling his emotions boil over.
"It's yours now, General." Hearth said, leaning in to hug her.
Ray hugged her grandfather tightly, unable to speak, overcome with emotion while the Royal Guards and Soldier Ponies began cheering and stomping at the sight. Ray's name was once more being chanted, intermixed with the applause and cheers of every of every pony.
"I'll make you proud, granddad." Ray whispered to him.
"You already have." Hearth replied.
Within the Throne Room of Castle Char, Princess Celestia gathered Duke Wellington, Princess Sheva, Prince Rutherford, Shining Armor, Princess Cadance, Princess Luna, Lord Tundra, Lady Frost, and Princess Sapphire to decide on how the Ashen Fields would carry on. Silence dictated the room, Princess Celestia found it difficult to put into words the loss of Smolder, but the solemn looks every pony wore it was clear that words weren't necessary. Even Duke Wellington, the stubborn old mule, looked dismayed.
"Damn…" Duke Wellington muttered miserably. "Damn stupid foolish Flame Pony pride."
"Yaks miss the Flame King too." Prince Rutherford in a sorrowful tone.
"I-I didn't say missed the kid. I just said he was a damn fool." Duke replied, refusing to look any pony in the eye.
"We shall all grieve in our own way, but let us finish what we came here to do today." Princess Sheva said comfortingly.
"About how we're going to replace him?" Duke asked accusingly. "Because that's why we're here, instead of trying to figure out a way to get his blasted flank out of there. Can't we open the portal again?"
"The Obelisks' only respond to the flames of the King. It will not open for any pony else." Lord Tundra remarked.
Princess Celestia placed her hoof upon the Duke's shoulder; the Duke took one look at her before folding his arms in a huff and shutting himself up. It wasn't easy for any pony to talk about, especially for Princess Cadance who periodically hid behind Shining Armor's shoulder to cry for minutes at a time before trying to compose herself again.
"With Smolder's…" Princess Celestia paused, choosing her next word carefully. "… absence, we will need to appointment a Steward for the Kingdom of Flame Ponies."
Every pony nodded in agreement, all except for Duke who refused to acknowledge it. Princess Celestia continued on regardless.
"The obvious choice would be Wingston, although I fear that these recent events may be too much for him to handle." Princess Celestia explained.
"How have the ponies recovered from their fight? Many had feared they would not last the night." Princess Sheva asked curiously.
"The Savannah Sun proved to be a lifesaver, not only for those attacked by the Orc, but for several other critically injured Flame Ponies during the fight." Lady Frost answered.
"So what was the final tally for casualties?" Duke asked, almost not wanting to hear the answer.
"Four hundred and twenty-three Flame Ponies." Shining Armor reported.
"How many did you lose?" Duke asked again.
Shining Armor quickly glanced to around the room, noticing the worried and almost braced looks every pony had waiting to hear the news. Shining Armor cleared his throat.
"None." Shining Armor replied.
The Duke perked up his seat, Princess Sheva's eyes widened in surprise, much was the reaction of every other pony. Even Princess Celestia looked quiet bewildered by it.
"Say what you will about Flame Pony pride but as of this morning, even the most critically conditioned ponies are showing signs of improvement. Hundreds of years of dealing with spiders have given the Flame Ponies a stronger tolerance to poison, and those caught the dragons rampage were given Savannah Sun to keep them stable." Shining Armor explained, almost too happy to report. "Some will have some hard times ahead, but every pony lives."
There was almost an immediate lift in every pony's spirit from this news. So much so that Prince Rutherford stomped his hooves in celebration. Princess Celestia sighed in great relief at this news.
"Too stubborn to give up, I'm too old for this." Duke mumbled, noticeable relief coming off his voice.
"In any case, we need to appoint a new Steward to the Kingdom of Flame Ponies. The floor is open to suggestions." Princess Celestia stated, looking to every pony.
With the mood somewhat lightened it was Princess Cadance that spoke up first.
"General Hearth would be a suitable candidate." Princess Cadance suggested.
"The Flame Ponies already hold him in such high respects, if any pony is to replace Smolder, it would be him." Princess Luna added.
"Hearth is old, he can get Flame Ponies back on their hooves but he doesn't have direction to go. We need a pony that's younger, capable of adapting, with good head on their shoulders, and a knack for politics." Duke remarked.
Lady Frost turned to Sapphire, who was seated between her and Lord Tundra, watching her eye the metal seal Smolder had left for her. Placing her hoof gently on her back, Lady Frost tried to draw her attention from it.
"Sweetheart, how would you feel taking over for Smolder, and ruling in his stead?" Lady Frost asked gently.
Sapphire was roughly the same age as Smolder, although her training would make her a perfect candidate for taking on the responsibilities of a ruler. Having fought side by side with the Flame Ponies during the battle, it would be hard to find any pony not supportive of Sapphire taking over. Although, Sapphire simply shook her head no, looking very vulnerable at the moment. It was clear to every pony that some sort of relationship had formed between the two, and it was still weighing heavily on Sapphire.
"What do have there, Princess?" Duke asked, referring to the metal coin in Sapphire's hoof.
"Smolder gave it to me." Sapphire said quietly. "Right before he walked into the Void."
The Duke shifted uncomfortably, not realizing the value it held to her.
"Excuse me." Sapphire mumbled, getting to her hooves and heading towards the corridor.
"I should go speak with her." Princess Cadance suggested, getting to her hooves.
"Let her be." Lord Tundra remarked, placing his hoof on Cadance's shoulder. "She'll come to us when she's ready."
"Sapphire always had trouble making friends, such a strong personality; it intimidated a lot of ponies her own age. It's just a shame she found one in Smolder so soon to have it end so quickly." Lady Frost said sadly.
Clearing his throat, the Duke turned the focus away from Sapphire and brought up General Hearth once more.
"The Ashen Fields are in need of repair, a strong foundation, so that it can move forward in time. So for the time being, General Hearth will be our best bet until such a time where we can get his own input on who should succeed him as Steward." Duke explained.
"Agreed." Lord Tundra replied.
Princess Celestia could see several nods of agreement from every other pony at the idea. With a nod herself, Princess Celestia opened her mouth to speak when an explosion of noise filled the Throne Room. Drilling, jackhammering, buzz saws, hammering, boards of wood being clunked together and metal rods rang out through the room. Discord suddenly appeared in a construction workers vest and hard hat. With a false mustache and a coffee in his paw, dozens of other Discords were near the ceiling repairing some the damages. Princess Celestia pursed her lips at the noise and the sight of Discord, knowing that his appearance was intentional.
"Discord!" Princess Celestia shouted over the noise.
Discord raised his claw, silencing the noise in an instant; all the other Discords froze in place waiting for the signal to start again. Turning around, Discord waltzed his way over to Princess Celestia, sipping on his coffee, looking rather uninterested. Leaning against her mane, Discord conjured a clipboard out of thin air, into his claw and started to turn pages with his magic.
"It says here that the meeting was supposed to be wrapped up over twenty minutes ago." Discord said, holding the clipboard in front of her.
"We're running late." Princess Celestia reading the clipboard.
"Sorry, Princess, I got a schedule to keep." Discord remarked tipping his hard hat to her; the noise starting back up again.
"We're nearly finished!" Princess Celestia shouted over the noise once more.
"Alright fellas, take five." Discord said as the copies of himself disappeared.
With his construction vest and hard hat disappearing, Discord slithered his way beside Celestia, leaning against her shoulder and making himself comfortable.
"I suppose I can just stick around until the meeting is concluded." Discord remarked, polishing his claws.
"Then let's be over with it quickly, it gives me the creeps." Duke said looking awkwardly at it.
"Yaks agree!" Prince Rutherford declared, sticking out its tongue.
"I'll have you know I helped fight in the battle, went southpaw on the dragon and knocked it out in the first round." Discord remarked throwing a couple of shadow punches. "Isn't that right, Celestia?"
"Yes." Princess Celestia remarked, rolling her eyes.
"How are the repairs coming along, Discord?" Princess Luna asked curiously.
"I've cleared most of the debris from the castle, but that little Roman pony refuses to let me work any of my ideas into the new designs of the castle." Discord replied, looking rather hurt. "I've also replaced the Western Mountain Range; it took several hours and a lot of glue; if any pony cares to know."
"Your help is greatly appreciated, Discord." Princess Celestia said sincerely.
"If you really wanted to help, you could use that magic of yours and bring that kid back here." Duke remarked.
Discord disappeared and reappeared next to the Duke, leaning on his head with his elbow.
"Believe me, if I could bring back our little Flame Pony I would. Unfortunately, the Void is shrouded in Black Magic, which makes it nearly impossible for me to see anything I'm doing." Discord replied pretending to blind as his eyes turned grey and stumbling into Princess Celestia as he attempted to walk.
"Could you simply not travel into the Void, and return with Smolder?" Princess Cadance asked hopefully.
"Sadly, I cannot. The amount of concentrated Black Magic in the Void creates a sort of barrier that can only be opened by the Elements of Harmony, or the something from the Void itself. Much like those pillars out there." Discord explained, looking sincerely sorry for his inability to ease their grief.
"So there is nothing to be done?" Lady Frost asked sadly.
"What you ponies saw coming from the Void isn't anything we want reaching back into Equestria. Something like that feeds relentlessly on life, and if it was to escape from the Void, in some half-baked rescue attempt for our little Flame Pony. I can promise you that we would be incapable of stopping it." Discord said in a very serious tone.
Every pony looked very solemn by this news. It wasn't Discord's style to give straight answers, but it seemed that he wasn't in a joking mood.
"With the repairs underway," Princess Celestia spoke up, deciding to end things here. "Canterlot and a the Crystal Empire will lend whatever support needed to see the Ashen Fields back on its way to being self-sustaining once again. Any further contributions from other kingdoms will be greatly appreciated."
With nods from every pony, the meeting had concluded and almost immediately Discord's noise and repairs were underway. The Royal Families exited through the corridor, entering the very spacious Main Hall that was deprived of it ceiling and west wall. Although, many Flame Ponies hustling about with repairs did not seem as distraught or disheartened about the loss of their King.
"If every pony would excuse me, I wish speak to Wingston about what we have during our meeting." Princess Celestia said to every pony.
"Tundra and I will be heading back the Frozen North to recruit some willing Ice Ponies to come and help with repairs here." Lady Frost informed her.
"Until next meeting." Princess Celestia said, embracing Lady Frost and receiving a bow from Lord Tundra.
"We'll be back in a day or two, hopefully by then Sapphire will be in a mood to talk." Lord Tundra said, looking towards a secluded Sapphire who sat at the bottom of the staircase.
Lord Tundra and Lady Frost leaped into the air, soaring up out of the open roof of Castle Char and headed north back home. Princess Sheva had elected to visit the wounded Flame Ponies in the Narrows to see if any more care could be administered. Prince Rutherford decided to go along to sing several of his native Yak songs to raise the spirits of the wounded. Shining Armor had to stifle a laugh while Princess Cadance hissed at him not poke fun.
Princess Celestia bid the others goodbye before climbing the stairs to the Royal Bedroom where Wingston was known to be residing in the last few days. Shining Armor and Princess Cadance decided to visit Burning Sand in his home and see how his recovery was going; Princess Cadance had taken the liberty of bringing him a prism from the Crystal Empire as a present. Princess Luna and the Duke decided to see Roman and get an idea of what sort of plans he had for the renovations to the castle. Meanwhile, Sapphire sat at the bottom of the stairs, staring at the metal seal in her hoof, tracing the markings etched into metal with her free hoof.
"Oh crop!" A voice said in distress.
Sapphire perked up to see and hear the small Flame Pony Stitch tumble down the stairs with stone box of sewing supplies tumbling after her. Quickly getting to her hooves, Sapphire magically stopped the Flame Pony short of falling further and put her back her hooves before questioning her.
"Are you alright?" Sapphire asked, looking her over, tracing her hoof along Stitch's face.
"You're Princess Sapphire!" Stitch exclaimed in excitement.
"I am, and who might you be?" Princess Sapphire asked curiously, forcing a smile.
"I'm me. I mean sew. I mean Stitch. I'm Stitch, and I sew." Stitch said, obviously awestruck by her.
"You're one of the Flame Ponies that have decided to become a seamstress." Sapphire remarked, assisting her by magically putting all her supplies back in the box.
"Yes, your highness, I was just measuring Wingston's cloak. Rarity wants to make him one that would fit him better." Stitch replied, simply enthralled by her icy mane.
Magically holding out the box to her, Stitch took it from her and stared wide eyed; smiling all the while.
"I'm sorry for your loss." Sapphire said solemnly.
"No, I think you got everything." Stitch replied, shaking the box.
"No, I meant for the pony you lost." Sapphire explained.
"But my Mom is at home." Stitch remarked looking confused.
"No, I meant for-"
"Rarity!" Stitch shouted in surprise, looking past Sapphire.
Sapphire turned around to see Twilight, Rarity, Fluttershy, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie strolling up to them. They all looked just as solemn as Sapphire did concerning the loss of Smolder, although Stitch didn't seem to pick up on it.
"Hello, every pony." Sapphire said, trying to sound cheerful.
"Hi." Every pony replied back in similar tone.
"Jeez, who died?" Stitch asked sarcastically.
"Stitch! How could you say such a thing? After what happened?" Rarity asked, looking appalled.
"What? What happened?" Stitch asked suddenly feeling like she was going to be in trouble.
"Smolder is gone, Stitch, he isn't coming back." Twilight said sadly.
Every pony shifted uncomfortably at these words, until Stitch let out a sudden raspberry that broke the silence. She looked more annoyed by the way every pony was carrying on about it.
"Smolder's coming back." Stitch said reassuringly.
"No… no he's not dear." Rarity said, trying to break the reality of the situation to her.
"Of course he's coming back." Stitch insisted.
"He's trapped in the Void, Stitch, he can't come back." Twilight remarked, starting to sound skeptical.
Stitch turned around, scanning the area for a Flame Pony she recognized. Spying Wisp Seeker, lugging a rather large block of stone across the Main Hall, she called out to him.
"Hey Wisp! I got the King coming back in a month! What did you put down?" Stitch shouted him, much to the surprise of Twilight and the others.
"A month? You're thinking to small kid, I've got the King coming back in three!" Wisp shouted back, not at all worried.
"I have him for two weeks!" Shouted another Flame Pony.
"Two months! A week! Six days!" Several other ponies shouted to one another, smiles on all their faces.
Sapphire looked completely at a loss for every Flame Ponies reaction to Smolder's disappearance, as did Twilight and the others. Turning to Stitch, Sapphire put her hooves on her shoulders looking very intensely at her.
"How do you know Smolder is coming back?" Sapphire questioned her.
"It's because when Smolder left the first time, no pony believed that he would come back." Alex Papyrus spoke up, having overhead the bets being called out. "When he did, he brought you ponies and saved us from the Mad King."
"Then he brought you ponies back and you saved us from the Orc, the spiders, and the dragon." Stitch added.
"Smolder trusted us to rebuild what we had lost, trusted you ponies to help us succeed. You and Smolder helped to believe ourselves again. That's why we're choosing to believe that Smolder is coming back." Alex explained.
"But Alex, the Void is… Smolder can't just…" Twilight began, not seeing any possible way of making that happen.
"Every pony knows that no pony can escape the Void, but the Mad King found a way to do it. I think that every pony here would dare to believe that Smolder is looking for a way to get back home, because Smolder would never stop trying and neither shall we." Alex explained confidently.
Twilight couldn't help but smile. Rarity started to get a bit emotional as every pony else genuinely smiled at his words. Having realized that every Flame Pony was ready to believe in the impossible, that their King would be looking for a way back to them, and that they would be hear waiting for him.
"Why?" Sapphire asked aloud looking at the metal seal in her hoof.
Her breathing was irregular, it was clear that she was excited about the metal seal, but couldn't quite figure out why.
"Smolder took the time to give this to me. He said he had to keep his promises, but how could he do that if he was going to be stuck in the Void? His fire is the only thing that can open the portal. He wouldn't have done it without a reason, if was he's planning on coming back then why would he leave the Kingdom for us to take care of? He must have had days to think about it, always talking to that mirror, having visions about the past, so why would he leave give me this? " Sapphire asked very loudly and quickly, every pony looking strangely at her.
Sapphire's eyes suddenly turned white. A pale blue glow of her magic pulsed from her horn as the seal in her hoof resonated with the metal seal. Almost every pony had seen something similar to this before, but with Smolder whenever he came into certain objects that awakened his dormant magic. Twilight carefully approached her, unsure if she was going to collapse like Smolder did. Without warning, Sapphire's eyes suddenly reappeared, taking a large gasp and staggering back into Twilight's awaiting arms, and Sapphire stared intensely at the metal seal. Unable to contain herself, Sapphire stared to gasp in disbelief at the metal seal in her hoof, a smile so wide it was almost crazed.
"I can't believe it! He's very good!" Sapphire shouted, so excited that her hoof shook with uncontrollably.
"What? What is it? What did he do?" Rainbow Dash asked, not wanting to be kept in suspense.
"We're going to save him!" Sapphire exclaimed in delight.
Sapphire bolted from the spot, heading towards the Main Entrance of Castle Char unable to keep her excitement contained, nearly leaping after every stride. Twilight and the other ponies had no hope of catching her, other than Rainbow Dash, as Twilight called out to her.
"What are we supposed to do?" Twilight asked, still at a lost.
"Head to the Frozen North! I will meet you there!" Sapphire shouted, sliding to a stop near the Main Entrance to call back to them.
"Where the hay are you going?" Applejack called out to her.
"I'm going to get Herbal Tea!" Sapphire shouted back, disappearing around the threshold of the door.
"She's going to get a drink?" Fluttershy asked sounding very confused.
"Pardon! Tea Herbal!" Sapphire shouted once more, reappearing in the doorway.
"Why would Sapphire be going to get Tea?" Twilight asked sounding confused.
"Perhaps she just wants to reassure her that Smolder is coming back?" Pinkie Pie offered.
"But how? The Portal won't open without Smolder's fire." Applejack asked.
There was a short pause from every pony. Rarity was first to light up having remembered something very crucial, unable to speak the words she merely waved her arms at Twilight who suddenly realized what she was trying to say. Fluttershy was next to understand, then Pinkie Pie, Applejack and Rainbow Dash, causing them all to cheer in joyous celebration; leaving both Stitch and Alex clueless for once.
"Did we miss something?" Alex asked curiously.
"Tea has a lantern with Smolder's fire!" Twilight exclaimed.
Princess Celestia slowly opened the door to the Royal Chambers. Letting herself in, she could see Wingston sitting next to a neat stack of the once discarded pages of the Queen's journal and letters, the Obsidian Crown resting on the opposite side. The ruins of the dresser, the scorch marks battle littered the room, as well as the hole in the wall that offered the room a greater amount of light and breeze. Princess Celestia noticed Wingston running his longer fingers across a solid metal staff. The head was circular, consisting of smaller circles that spun in in different directions, while the staff itself was shaped like a thin root; once more it was twice Wingston's size.
"May I speak with you, Wingston?" Princess Celestia asked courteously.
"Always, my Lady." Wingston replied.
"I'm very sorry for your loss." Princess Celestia began sounding very solemn.
"You don't know what you have until it's gone." Wingston remarked with a sigh.
"There are no words to describe my sorrows for you." Princess Celestia said somberly.
"Queen Sunbeam had given it to me and now it's broken beyond repair." Wingston muttered.
"I can only imagine how hard this must be for- wait what? Broken" Princess Celestia asked, looking very confused.
"My staff, the Orc broke it with its stupid mace. Smolder had a new one made for me, I quite like it." Wingston remarked, waving his staff towards her.
"You were speaking of your staff?" Princess Celestia asked in disbelief.
"Of course, what were you referring to?" Wingston asked curiously.
"Smolder!" Princess Celestia snapped.
Clearing her throat, recomposing herself, she tried to match her tone to the seriousness of the issue.
"I came here to express my condolences." Princess Celestia informed him.
"That's very kind of you, my Lady, but Smolder will be coming home; in time." Wingston said, sounding very self-assured.
"How… how do you know?" Princess Celestia asked looking very surprised.
Wingston got to his claws, balancing on his new staff. He turned to Princess Celestia, holding a small rock slate in his fingertips. Taking a few steps towards her, he offered it to her, taking it with her magic Princess Celestia read the inscription.
I'll be home soon, Dad.
"There are many things I've taught Smolder over the years, but what was inherently his was that need to help any pony; no matter what." Wingston said sounding very calm. "I'm very proud of him for that. Very proud."
Princess Celestia smiled very warmly at Wingston. Returning to his spot, Wingston seated himself once more, staring out through the hole in the wall. Sitting down beside him, looking out through the hole in the wall, Princess Celestia could see the two Obelisks' standing in the distance.
"Will you continue your tenure as Steward of the Ashen Fields then?" Princess Celestia asked after a while.
"I will be here for the Ashen Fields, until the day comes when my son returns, and then I'll be there for him." Wingston replied softly.
I felt my eyes flutter open. I saw nothing but darkness. I felt a hand gently touch my face. Two yellow eyes knelt down next to me. I could see smile. The green markings softly glowing on her arms. Her hand gently striking my face. My eyes began to adjust to the dark; I could see the outline of the castle in the distance, the storm billowing around it.
"Welcome to the Kingdom of Naught." Mira said to me.