In the time before the Void, there were three otherworldly beings known as the Eternal Masters. Their names were Zenith, Nadir, and Azimuth; the Guardians of the Naught. Giants compared to ponies, the Eternal Masters were the first of their kind, beings that existed outside the strands of time and space; silently observing the universe from the dark. The Eternal Masters watched the universe take form, light twinkled from the darkness, and the darkness was no more than a backdrop to a mystery unlike any other; life.
Across the fields of Ouroboros, countless inhabitants of the Void trudged slowly towards the Castle of Naught. Mira pulled on her fingers, nervously following the horde towards the castle, fear slowly consuming her. Her blue stands of hair trickled through the air behind her, defying gravity, as she folded her arms to cover the light green pulse of her tattoos. Glancing around, it was obvious that Mira was the only one of her kind left to make this march. For her species was known as the Arcana, the smallest and most magical of the Void creatures. The Arcana were the second of Azimuth's creations, small nymphs made to resemble her, giving them the gift of light and magic.
Mira stumbled forward, the uneven ground causing her to lose balance, and falling against the tall creature in front of her. Large yellow eyes, hidden beneath a darkened cloak looked down at her, Mira stepped back carefully before continuing to march. The creature was one of many known as the Void Walkers. At a time, the Void Walkers were the dominant form of life in the Void, but their numbers dwindled to less than a few hundred since the appearance of the Void. They were the third generation of beings brought to life by Azimuth, created to protect the Arcana, and made in the image of Zenith.
The road to the Castle of Naught snaked its way up a steep cliff, Mira did her best not to make eye contact with any other creature; deep down she knew it was her turn. The creatures of the Void set off up the road, Mira struggling to make the climb, when a sudden shadow emerged from the ground before her. The shadow crawled upon the ground, silent, clouds of darkness streaming form it before disappearing once more. Mira looked about to see intermixed with the Void Walkers were the Echoes, darkness acting like ghosts, none that walk the Void knew of their origins. The Echoes had wandered aimlessly since the creation of the Arcana. Many believe the Echoes to be the remnants of the first generation of creatures made by Azimuth, before Nadir attempted to change them; resulting in the shadows now. The Echoes would stagger silently across the fields, disappearing without cause, and reappearing without justification; just memories of long forgotten mistakes.
With time, Mira had made it to the doors of Castle Naught. The mass of Void creatures gathered outside the doors, standing silently, staring at the ground before them. After a few moments, the doors of Castle Naught creaked open, allowing the creatures to enter. Mira followed the horde into the castle, or at least what was left of it. The front of Castle Naught would suggest a grand magnificence beyond its door, but the castle was razed to the ground; leaving not but a jutted cliff's edge stretching out over the darkness. Halfway into the ruined castle, all the creatures slowed to a stop before kneeling to the emptiness that lay before them. Mira was on both her knees, hands pressed against the floor, head lowered, she could feel herself shaking out of fear.
From the darkness a figure dissolved into view, stepping onto the edge of the jutted cliff edge, and silently walking towards the Void creatures. The being was half the size of any Void Walker, its body was anthropomorphic, draped in a cloak resembling that of a Void Walker, but wore a mask. A mask that shaped to its head, devoid of any features except that it looked like it had pieced back together from being smashed into hundreds of pieces. Its arms and legs were like hollow shells, each movement broke small bits of husk that floated away before reappearing onto his shell once more. It was believed that this was the first of the Void creatures, or what was left of it, and its name was Null. She could feel the emptiness that surrounded it, the dark despair that swirled within it, and she could see Null's feet stop a few steps in front of her. Slowly, Mira lifted her head to look at the shattered mask that vacantly stared down at her.
"Did you find the Flame Pony?" Null asked in a rasp.
"N-N-N-No-But I swear I'm close! Just give me a few more days and I will find-"
Null struck Mira across the face with the back of its hand, stopping her from finishing her plea. Watching her raise her hands over her head to protect herself from another hit, but Null had stopped there. Mira cautiously picked herself back up, lowering her head to Null once more, feeling her whole body shake with fear.
With a snap of its husk like fingers, two dark portals appeared behind Null, bringing forth two creatures that resembled Arcana. Mira made a move to approach them but Null pointed it at her for her to stay. Mira watched as the red haired Arcana named Tier, and the purple haired Arcana name Penn, coughed and wheezed upon the ground. Adorned with similar tattoos, Tier's and Penn's were pulsing very dimly, and the color in their hair was beginning to fade.
"Please..." Mira whispered putting her hands together, begging to Null.
"Choose." Null replied in a rasp.
"No… please. I can't." Mira pleaded, lowering her head to Null.
"Choose. Now." Null said again.
"I'll get you the Flame Pony, please, I just need more time." Mira begged, almost moved to tears.
Null raised his hand towards a Void Walker beside her, the Storm erupted from beneath his cloak, viciously tearing into the Void Walker, tearing his cloak apart, the screeches of the Walker and the Storm filled the air before, and there was silence. Mira was shaking, staring wide eyed at the dust that remained of the Void Walker beside her. Null's husk like finger touched her chin, turning her head back towards its shattered mask.
"Choose." Null said once more.
Mira looked over Null's shoulder at the Tier and Penn, tearing rolling down her face, unable to pick between either of them. Tier rolled up into a fetal position, while Penn was doubled over breathing heavy, staring back at Mira. Penn nodded his head slowly to her, which only made Mira begin to sob. Slowly pointing towards Penn, Null turned around to face the red haired Penn. Walking over to Penn; Null took hold of him by the throat and lifted him off the ground.
The Storm once more erupted from Null's arm, engulfing Penn in cloud of darkness, the soft glow of his red hair faded quickly. His shrieks filled the air, before a heart dropping silence followed and the Storm retreated back into Null's body. Mira was quietly sobbing to herself, covering her face, and refusing to look at Null. With a snap of its fingers, Tier was sucked back into a dark portal, as Null approached Mira once more.
"Bring me the Flame Pony." Null commanded.
"Yes, Master." Mira said through sobs.
"Now, pick another." Null commanded.
Mira looked up at Null to see him pointing to the Void Walkers around her.
It was several hours later before Null had retreated back into the darkness. The Void Walkers that had been spared marched back out of the castle, down the road to the barren fields of Ouroboros. Mira was the last to leave, unable to stomach having to look at the Void Walkers face to face. No longer having to grovel at the feet of Null, Mira could hover once more, granting her flight a couple feet off the ground. Flying down the road to the fields, Mira made her way across Ouroboros quickly to reach the edge of the Valley of Shadows. A small rock formation jutted up from the ground that marked a passage in which Mira would use to reach a cave; the place she called home. The cave itself was illuminated only by the light of her hair. Here Mira rested, contemplated, ate, and expressed herself.
Screaming as loud as she could, Mira beat her head with her fists, grinding her teeth, biting her arms until the pain was too much, letting all her pent up emotions fly out. Once her anger was flushed out, grief took over and she wept quietly for hours for the loss of the Void Walkers and her friend Penn; dreading to have to Tier be sacrificed to the Storm as well. When enough time had passed, Mira gathered up whatever strength she could and went to find the Flame Pony again.
Traversing the Valley of Shadows was difficult even for Mira; the darkness here was almost a mist that prevented her from seeing anything other than old ruined buildings she nearly slammed into from time to time. Once being a grand city of Void Walker and Arcana history and tradition was turned into a graveyard by the Storm. Flecks of light could be seen appearing very rarely from the Valley of Shadows, which made Void Walkers and Arcana venture into it to bring back as an offering to the Storm. Although, the most vicious and dangerous of Void creatures inhabited the Valley, for Nadir had succeeded in sullying some of Azimuth's creations, but none cared for light. These creatures feasted upon light, which caused many Void Walkers to believe the Storm was the penultimate form of dark creature Nadir had wanted to create.
Mira floated around the ruins of the forgotten city, being cautious to turn any corner, fearing an abomination would be lying in wait for her. In times long ago, Penn was the one who would venture the Valley of Shadows to find light to offer the Storm, but not anymore. Carefully sliding her hand across the wall of a building, Mira found the corner, and ever so carefully poked her head around to see if something would be staring back. Seeing nothing but darkness, Mira floated around the corner slowly to see a small glint of light in the distance. Forgetting of the abominations all together, Mira raced towards the light to see what it was. The closer Mira got the more she realized what the light actually was.
It was greyish white Flame Pony mare with fire so yellow that it almost resembled the sun, although her fire was very weak, and the wounds on her body were severe. Mira floated down next to the pony, cautiously touching her, and examining her injuries. Glancing over at the pony's face once more, Mira noticed the mare's eyes slightly open, staring back at her. It wasn't the same Flame Pony she had been searching for before, but it was a Flame Pony nonetheless.
"Hi..." The Flame Pony whispered weakly.
"Hi." Mira replied back quietly.
"I'm Glow." The Flame Pony whispered.
"Hi Glow." Mira replied.
Manehattan School of Medicine enrolled nearly seven hundred potential doctor ponies a year. Offering a wide variety of fields to work in, offering Equestria wide transfers, and had one of the highest graduation turnouts ever seen in the last ten years. Needless to say, tuition was expensive, but it did little to stop any pony from finding part time jobs while furthering their education. One pony in particular was Tea Herbal, who had found herself a part time job, with flexible hours, working in a hole in the wall coffee shop when she wasn't attending her classes.
Having been back only a few days since leaving the Ashen Fields, Tea was already kicking herself for not thinking to have a picture taken with Smolder to prove to her friends that she really did know the King of Flame Ponies. All she had was a fire proof cloak that was given out to every pony in attendance, which would have been more than enough to prove her being there, but a certain duo named Flim and Flam had made quite a bit of coin selling some imitation cloaks. It would be hard to convince her friends that her cloak was genuine without setting it on fire.
Tea made her way down on of the many halls of the school, passing some groups of ponies speaking of tests they were studying for, while stepping aside for ponies racing by to reach their class on time. It wasn't long before Tea had reached a door marked '331', and pushed it open. Dozens of ponies were already inside, spotted throughout the raised rows, getting their things together for the lecture to start. The professor was not yet here, which meant that Tea would have to time to get settled in.
"Tea!" A pony shouted from a row near the middle.
Tea could see Florence and Chapel waving to her. Florence Gale was an orchid color pegasi pony, with a golden mane; her cutie mark depicted a stethoscope. Christie Chapel was a baby blue colored unicorn pony with an egg shell white mane; her cutie mark depicted a bandage. Tea had met them earlier this year; the three of them were all starting their first year, and shared many of the same classes together. With her new found friends, it made it a blessing for study groups, but a nightmare when they pried into her private life.
"Where were you all weekend?" Florence asked curiously, eyeing Tea suspiciously as she approached them.
"I heard a juicy rumor about Tea and the colt for room '216'." Chapel remarked, watching Tea seat herself between the two of them.
"You don't mean the cute one studying to be a Dermatologist, do you?" Florence gasped, feasting on the gossip.
"Oh please, that colt is only interested in zits." Tea mumbled digging around her saddle bag for her notebook.
"I swung by your place on Friday to pick up some of your notes from Monday's lecture, but your Mom said you were out of town." Florence explained, leaning in close to Tea; trying to make her spill the beans.
"Out of town? You better start talking." Chapel demanded, scooting herself closer to Tea.
"I was out of town, but you two wouldn't believe where I was even if I told you." Tea replied, trying to feign a clam exterior; wanting nothing more than to brag about it.
"It's got to be a secret boyfriend. No mare in her right mind would leave town for anything less." Chapel concluded, nodding her head at Florence.
"Or maybe some really embarrassing fungus that she doesn't want any pony to know about, and has to leave town to treat it." Florence offered in a whisper.
"Why do I even sit with you two?" Tea hissed; face turning a darker shade of green.
"Because you love us." Florence replied, resting her head on Tea's shoulder.
"And you give us free coffee when we show up at your work." Chapel added, making a sad puppy dog face.
"All lies." Tea mumbled, pulling her mane behind her ear.
"So? Where were you?" Chapel asked once more, taking Tea's hoof and shaking it anxiously.
"Tell us, we're your bestest best friends." Florence added.
"If you must know, I was invited to attend…" Tea began, pausing for dramatic effect.
"Yeah?" Florence and Chapel asked together.
"The Coronation of Prince Smolder in the Ashen Fields." Tea finished.
"This again?" Chapel asked rolling her eyes.
"This fantasy of yours is really starting to go too far, Tea. It's not healthy." Florence said, with a sigh of disappointment.
"It's true!" Tea insisted, watching her friends prepare to take notes.
"We believe you Tea, just like how I'm secretly dating the Ophthalmologist in '197'." Chapel remarked sarcastically.
"I have proof this time!" Tea hissed, clutching her saddle bag against her chest.
"Did you kidnap the Prince?" Florence asked jokingly poking her saddle bag with her pencil.
"No! I brought back a souvenir." Tea said, opening up her saddle bag.
Chapel and Florence both leaned over to see a folded up piece of cloth in her bag. Chapel was first to reach over and touch it, her expression changed rather quickly, noticing the quality of its texture; making Florence question her own doubts.
"This actually feels expensive." Chapel remarked, rubbing it against her cheek.
"What fancy pony did you kiss to get this?" Florence asked in amazement, feeling the texture between her hooves.
"It was a gift!" Tea hissed, face turning a darker green then before. "The Flame Ponies passed them out to all the invited guests."
"Did you get a picture with Prince Smolder?" Chapel asked curiously.
"Well… no." Tea replied.
"Do you have the invitation?" Florence asked.
"I… I had to give it over to the guards when I got to the castle." Tea said, feeling her credibility beginning to slip.
"So all you got is this blanket, huh?" Chapel asked, obviously not convinced.
"It's a cloak." Tea corrected her, pulling it away from them and stuffing it back in her saddle bag.
"Okay, say we believe you, and that Prince Smolder, the Prince, invited you to his party, why would he do that?" Florence asked curiously.
"He and I are… really good friends." Tea replied, feeling her face flush again.
"Just friends?" Chapel asked, noticing her embarrassment.
"Sounds to me like Tea's got a crush on a Prince Pony, just like little fillies in school used to have." Florence remarked believing it to be nothing more than an obsession.
The door to the classroom opened, the professor strolled in, bringing the class to a start and stopping Tea short of defending herself. The professor pony was named Barnett had a glorious mustache, earth tone hide, a checkered plaid suit coat, a brown mane, and an abacus as a cutie mark.
"Good morning, every pony. Let's get right into it then." The Professor Barnett said aloud.
Professor Barnett wasted no time picking up a piece of chalk and writing down bullets points to his lecture for the day. There was a silence that hung about the room, when it came down to it, every pony was serious about learning, but Tea wasn't about to let things go so quickly.
"I am not just crushing on a Prince Pony, I told you before I met him in Canterlot." Tea whispered.
"Was that before or after Princess Celestia brought you to Ponyville to say a final farewell?" Chapel whispered back sarcastically.
Tea could feel her face still burning hot. Almost everything she said seemed almost too fantastical for any pony to take at face value, but it didn't help that all her proof was circumstantial and lacking.
"Just ask out the colt in '216', I'm sure you two will hit it off." Florence whispered to her.
"Today we will be discussing mardio cardial infarction, and the tell-tale signs of one." Professor Barnett announced to the class, continuing to write on the board.
"I'm not asking that colt out!" Tea hissed, getting annoyed.
"Prince Ponies marry Princess Ponies, that's how it works." Chapel whispered trying to bring logic to the table.
"Like I'd let that Ice Witch lay one hoof on Smolder." Tea mumbled bitterly, her face fuming.
"Ice Witch?" Florence asked, sensing the venom in Tea's words.
"Is some mare coming between you and your Prince Smolder?" Chapel asked sarcastically.
"Can any pony hear tell me one of the signs of a mardio cardial infarction?" Professor Barnett asked aloud, looking over his shoulder to the class.
"Episodes of angina?" Florence offered, raising her pencil to answer.
"Good, good." Professor Barnett replied, writing it on the board.
"She's a cold, conniving… hussy." Tea mumbled, thinking of how she had to leave and Sapphire got to stay.
"Who is she?" Florence asked, feeling the gossip about to start up again.
"Just some Princess Pony flaunting her snowflakes from the North." Tea hissed, digging her pencil hard into her notebook.
"You can't be serious, an Ice Pony? Ice Ponies rarely, if ever, leave the North; you have a better chance of kissing Antonio Bandito then seeing one." Florence remarked.
"Sweet Celestia, Antonio Bandito…" Chapel whispered longingly.
"When looking early signs of mardio cardial infraction, a pony must be able to see early signs of-"
"Tea Herbal!" Princess Sapphire shouted, slamming the classroom door open making every pony jump.
Professor Barnett, along with the rest of the class, was at a loss for words seeing the very beautiful and mysterious Ice Pony standing in their doorway. Many ponies were gathering outside to see the Ice Pony up close; it seems that Sapphire had barged into several classrooms before finding the right one. Princess Sapphire quickly scanned the room before locking eyes with Tea in the center row.
"Ms. Herbal! You need to come with me immediately!" Sapphire shouted, rushing towards into the classroom.
Florence and Chapel stared wide eyed, mouth agape, at the sudden appearance at the Ice Pony; no more so then calling Tea out by name.
"Excuse me… Miss, but I'm in the middle of a class right now." Professor Barnett said aloud trying to regain control of his classroom.
"You may resume your teachings after I have acquired Ms. Herbal! King Smolder's life depends upon Ms. Herbal's cooperation!" Sapphire declared, flaring her wings to assert herself, forcing the Professor to back off.
"What!" Tea shouted in disbelief, getting to her hooves.
"I will explain everything, but you have to come with me immediately!" Sapphire insisted, watching Tea quickly pack all her things.
Several student ponies crowded around the door of the classroom to see what was going on, but quickly dispersed when the Dean of the school came trotting over to see what the commotion was. His name was Marcus and he was an elder colt, a white beard, white mane, a soft yellow to his hide, but wore a very dark suit coat and had steely black eyes; his cutie mark was that of a hammer being brought down.
"What's going on here, Professor?" The Dean Marcus asked in a gruff voice.
"This Ice Pony just barged in here, making several demands, and disrupting my lecture." Professor Barnett explained, trying to deflect the Dean towards Sapphire.
"Do you even go to this school, young lady?" Dean Marcus asked promptly, paying no never mind to her being an Ice Pony.
"Of course not." Princess Sapphire replied watching Sapphire quickly race down the steps to meet with her.
Not far behind Tea was Chapel and Florence who had rushed after her. Not wanting to miss a second of the drama unfolding, Chapel and Florence were ready to throw a whole day of lectures just to get in on the ground floor of Tea and the Ice Witch. The Dean had other ideas.
"You ponies will sit back down and resume your studies while I have security come and escort this troublemaker from the premises immediately." The Dean remarked a demanding gruff tone.
"I am Princess Sapphire of the Frozen North, here on Royal business, business that may very well be a matter of life and death to a very important pony." Sapphire announced to the Dean.
"Not my problem." The Dean remarked, unfazed by this.
"I can also make a sizeable donation to this institution." Sapphire added quickly.
The Dean wiggled his nose, his mustache and beard moving with it. There was a long silence that lingered in the room before the Dean cleared his throat.
"How much?" The Dean asked in a lighter tone.
"A very sizeable donation." Sapphire emphasized.
"Well then… I suppose an emergency of this nature can be excused." The Dean remarked, glancing at Tea, Chapel, and Florence. "Do… you need all these students?"
Sapphire looked over to see Chapel and Florence smiling very wide. Tea looked very annoyed by their presence but it was enough for Sapphire to nod her head yes.
"Very well then, they can be excused until this matter of yours is resolved, but I expect a full explanation of this situation." The Dean pointed out. "As well as the… um… donation."
"Have my ponies write your ponies." Sapphire said quickly, racing towards the door with Tea, Chapel, and Florence chasing after her.
The four ponies raced out of the room, the Dean looking very pleased with himself. Professor Barnett strolled over to the Dean, flattening his mustache with a puzzled look on his face.
"Sir, do you even know any Ice Ponies in the North?" Professor Barnett asked curiously.
"Of course I…" The Dean stopped short, suddenly realizing he had no way of contacting the Ice Ponies.
There were several giggles and laughs coming from the rest of the students, but it all stopped abruptly with a sudden glare from the Dean.
"Just continue your lecture." The Dean grumbled.