Chapter 21: Through the Forest and the Flames We Carry On

The Everfree Forest is, as far as most researchers (read: those who had the good sense to leave before being eaten) can tell, thousands of years old. While it had not become as hostile as its current reputation would have one believe until after the destruction of the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, it would be wrong to say that the forest had ever before seen or been subject to destructive force of this magnitude.

Indeed, a hundred tons of teeth, claws and scales tend to do quite a lot of damage when fuelled by a rage not seen in Equestria since the banishment of Nightmare Moon, not to mention the raw destructive power wielded by one phenomenally pissed off purple unicorn.

Together they ran, Twilight keeping pace with Spike as they crashed through the forest, ancient and massive trees shattering like toothpicks beneath claw and spell, acres of old growth forest being reduced to sawdust for daring to impede their progress. Spike's eyes narrowed, baring his teeth, a snarling scowl once more spreading across his face, but the redness that had once encompassed his vision did not appear. His mind was clear, clearer than it had been in a long, long time. For the first time in far too long, the fury that coursed through him was his own.

Delicraw… You made me a monster. You made me hate my friends, harm them! You took advantage of me in my weakest hour, but now? Now, the monster you've created is coming for you. I don't care how far you go, or how fast you run, but I will find you…

Tucking his broken wing closer to his side, he roared, sending a gout of flames before him, extending his path by instantly cremating a stand of trees and leaving deep, clawed prints in the ash that now coated the loamy forest floor.

Running alongside him, Twilight couldn't help but notice the movement. Her eyes flitting to his wing momentarily, she squeezed them shut, shaking her head.

Oh, Spike… I'm so sorry. This is all my fault. But I will make it up to you, just as soon as we deal with that… that THING that did this to you. I'm gonna smother you with so much love and attention you're going to try and run away all over again just to get away from it! I'm sorry… For all of this, for your wing, for every time I got mad at you for something stupid, or didn't appreciate everything you did for me… It'll be different this time. I promise.

While Twilight and Spike charged forward, the rest of their little group hung back a ways, due in part to both the sheer speed at which the two had charged ahead and the ferocity with which they cleared their path. Exchanging glances, the party continued in silence, conserving their energy for the confrontation to come. Applejack snorted, eyes narrowing as she kept stride.

Ah swear on mah entire orchard, Ah'm gonna buck a hole straight through you, ya big scaly thug! Yer gonna be sorry fer this, Ah can promise ya that. Ya picked on the wrong dragon this time. Yer gonna be so sore once Ah'm through with ya we ain't even gonna need the princesses!

Heeding a call from Rainbow Dash overhead, she and the rest of the grounded ponies moved to the right, skirting around the burned hulk of a massive tree, waving a quick thanks. Banking slightly, Rainbow moved out alongside the group, getting a better view of the path of destruction ahead. Moving back overhead, she called down the position of another obstacle, a boulder roughly the size of a house that Twilight had smashed to bits and left strewn about. Despite the dire situation, she couldn't help but grin a little.

I hope you're ready for this, buddy, because the one and only Rainbow Dash is on her way! Dude, you are in for a WORLD of hurt. You had better hope Zecora runs out of this potion stuff before I get there, because I'm gonna hit you with a rainboom so hard they're gonna be picking chunks of you outta their manes all the way in Marelin!

She was snapped out of her thoughts by a twinge of pain in her wing. With a hiss, she gave it a few experimental flaps before easing herself down towards her friends. Bringing herself alongside Zecora, she waved, catching her attention.

Nodding to her pegasus friend, the herbalist stuck her muzzle in her saddlebag, fishing about until she found the bottle she was looking for. With a flick of her head, she tossed it, Rainbow catching it in midair and downing it in one gulp, grimacing at the taste. As she returned to the sky, Zecora shook her head sadly.

Oh, dear little one, just what has he done, forging a monster from one so young?

That thing filled your mind with an unending hate, creating a bloodlust which nothing can sate.

She blinked her eyes rapidly, trying to blink away the tears that were threatening to form. She'd always been fond of the young drake. The two had formed an unlikely friendship after he'd turned up on her doorstep one day, asking her to teach him about potion brewing and herbalism so he could be more helpful to Twilight during her experiments. The two had spent a good many hours together, laughing and talking over tea and stories.

We'll fix you, my young friend, his evil we'll end, this night we'll see victory, and all our strength lend. I am not very strong, though I'm willing to fight, but with us all together, we will win this night!

Her confidence bolstered, she shook the last of her former despair away. Securing herself with her newfound resolve, she concentrated on the path ahead.Soon we'll drink tea, you'll fill my hut with mirth as I tell you the tales from the land of my birth.

Nodding to herself once more, Zecora began to pull forward, only for a spot of pink in her peripheral vision to catch her eye. Looking over, she couldn't help but feel a twinge of sadness at what she saw. Pinkie Pie, normally a bright, vivacious and irrepressible party pony, was quite simply… Not herself. Her heart went out to the poor mare. She was completely out of her element, and it was hurting her deeply. Adjusting her course, Zecora made her way over, giving her an affectionate nuzzle. "Don't despair, my bouncy friend. Together, his heart we can mend."

Pinkie smiled, returning the nuzzle. "Thank you, Zecora… I really mean it." Though she was still far more subdued than her normal self, a bit of light had returned to her chest. Giving her a Perfectly Poweriffic Pinkie Pie Smile, she turned her attention back towards the ground.

It really doesn't matter how sad I am sometimes, does it? In the end, it always turns out the same for friends will always be there to make me smile again.

She sighed a little, the smile leaving her face again. She knew what she was feeling, and she didn't like it very much. It was a rare emotion for her, but one she knew all too well. Pinkie was afraid. This wasn't like anything they'd faced before. They couldn't laugh this away. There was no super evilly evil bad magic that they could blast with the Elements here. This was something bad, badder than anything they'd ever seen. But the worst part? It thought it was right. How could they fight something that big and that mean? Pausing and blinking a moment, Pinkie giggled. How indeed!

We'll fight it the same way we always, do, silly! Together!

With a giggle, she bounced a little on her hooves, smiling at Rarity. "Ooh, Rarity! Hey, hey Rarity! Did you hear what Fluttershy did for her sick bird?"

Raising an eyebrow, Rarity looked to her friend. "Darling, is this really the time?"

" She gave him tweetment!"

Despite herself, Rarity couldn't help but giggle. "Oh, Pinkie… Never change." Watching as her friend moved away, she sighed to herself. So much had happened over these past weeks, more than she'd thought possible.

And poor little Spikey Wikey… Oh, what has that monster done to you? I knew you'd grow up someday, but I'd hoped for a handsome, strong, sweet young dragon, not this… thing it's turned you into… But don't you worry, Spike. We'll have you back to your old self soon. I know it!

She was knocked from her thoughts by a bump on her flank. Looking back, she found herself face to face- Well, face to mane, really- with Fluttershy. A sudden upswell of pity filled her. The poor dear… Dropping back a little, Rarity gave her an affectionate nuzzle and a smile.

Fluttershy, in turn, had barely noticed the impact, so involved was she in her own thoughts. Entirely in turmoil, she found herself startled by the muzzle's sudden intrusion under her protective curtain of mane, and slowed to a trot. Peering out, she found herself met by a reassuring smile, and she felt her heartbeat begin to return to normal as Rarity slowed with her.

"Deep breaths, darling. Deeeep breaths." Doing as instructed, she began to slow her breathing. "There we are." Rarity smiled. "Now… I know you're scared. I am, too, but… I know I'd never be able to live with myself if I didn't do everything I could to help. Now… Come on. Let's go catch that ruffian, hm?"

Not trusting herself to speak, Fluttershy merely nodded. "That's my girl. Come now, time's a-wasting." Together, the two of them picked up speed, rejoining the pack.

As the two rejoined their friends, the princesses shared a significant glance. There was no need for words there, and each could tell that the other was sharing the same thoughts. Everything was supposed to be ok now. They were the goddesses of the sun and the moon; as far as their ponies were concerned, there was nothing to fear anymore. They were expected to do the proverbial heavy lifting, and each and every one of their little ponies were counting on them. It had been different, the last time they had fought. It had taken nothing less than an army and a stroke of bad luck for him to be captured the last time he had risen, and this time he was thoroughly prepared. They nodded to one another. They were both brave, noble and selfless, embodying power greater than most any other. They had won before, and their enemy was weakened this time around. However, as the sisters looked to one another, they were sharing a single thought.

Please… Please, let us be able to do this…

Delicraw paced the cave, deep in thought. He had accounted for every action, every variable. How could this have happened? Shuddering slightly, he tried to shake the feeling that the madling's spike of white hot rage had given him. How could this have happened?! He was the grand chessmaster, every piece for a thousand years moving precisely as he had planned! Still, they were coming, and he had very little time to spend. Moving towards the cave entrance, he looked outside in an attempt to gauge how much time he had left.

In that moment, Delicraw, Kalt'Vindur, The Frozen Claw of the White Wastes, all-powerful magus, conqueror, killer and unstoppable fiend of legend, found himself in a rather unique position. As the Lord and Master of the Frozen North watched a hundred tons of pure flaming, scaly wrath fly towards him like the end of days come early, he found himself at a loss for words. Finally, just before impact, he found one.

"...Oh."

~TO BE CONTINUED~

A/N

Ok. Wow.

This is a new chapter.

FINALLY.

Honestly, I've got no excuse. I could pull out all sorts of excuses here, ranging from school to work to head trauma to getting involved with other things, but that's all they'd be, excuses.

Here, however, is my promise to you.

I am going to do absolutely everything in my power to finish this story by Christmas. I've gotten back into my writing groove, and there's absolutely nothing (besides school, but fuck that) standing in my way.

Here's to the end of an era for me, and thank you so fucking much to all of you who've actually stuck around this long.