Chapter One: Eternal Night

In the northern reaches of Equestria, nestled at the base of a snow covered mountain, sat the town of Frostmane. An idyllic settlement carved from the wintery terrain, Frostmane's structures mainly consisted of lodge-styled homes, dug somewhat into the ground and built from the evergreen trees that surrounded the town. Frostmane itself was surrounded by a wooden palisade, erected to keep the ponies within safe from the dangers of the northern wilds. Tonight, the Summer Sun Festival was in full swing – torches hung from nearly every building and a large bonfire roared in the center of town. The ponies within were dancing around the fire in a disorganized, joyful manner that spoke of the carefree attitude the inhabitants possessed. Outlandish accordion and fiddle music was played by enthusiastic stallions and mares, whose hooves darted along their instruments despite the cold of the evening. Those disinclined to dance conversed with their friends amongst the buffets and carts filled with home-brewed hard cider, occassionally laughing and breaking into song. Everypony present could feel a palpable warmth pervading the entire town. It wasn't the fires that gave them respite from the cold night, but the bond between their fellow party-goers. The camaraderie they shared with one another, even strangers and acquaintances, was a testament to the spirit of the ponies who worked together every day to etch out a life at their frozen home.

Not far from the celebration, four pegasi in thick brown cloaks and segmented leather armor cradled spears as they watched from above the town of Frostmane, each casting a longing gaze towards the warm festivities below. The dark night and the snow swept landscape made the rustic comfort of the settlement look rather inviting. As a particularly cold gust of wind pushed past the already shivering pegasi, one decided to break the silence, "We've been here for at least three hours, Scope," rattled out the pony, "I don't think anypony down there is plotting to overthrow Equestria."

Scope cast a disinterested look towards the pegasus, "That's Decurio Scope to you, Vigil. And I don't care what you think, the orders to reconnoiter this town came from the Legate himself. Our instructions were quite clear – Observe Frostmane and report any suspicious behavior immediately."

Another of the four with a much softer, almost feminine voice spoke next, "Sir, with all due respect, I'm having difficulty seeing much of anything up here. Perhaps we would benefit from a close examination of the settlement and its inhabitants?"

Vigil's grin appeared beneath the hood of his cloak, "Quite right, Jog, quite right! We'll be able to tell what those traitors and rebels are up to if we take a closer look!" His voice dripped with sarcasm.

Scope sighed, not for the first time that night, "Rook, what do you think?" He looked to the last pegasus amongst the four.

The pony shifted his not-inconsiderable bulk around and spoke in a deep, rumbling voice, "I think I'm sick'a standin' up here in the cold, sir."

Far Scope looked out towards the celebration and back to his comrades, his face a mask of thought. When the wind picked up again and blew another jet of cold upon them, he quickly made up his mind, "All right, we're heading down to the town!"

The three pegasi accompanying Far Scope each gave a silent thanks to Celestia and the group jumped from the cloud, spreading their wings and gliding towards the activity below.

On their way down to the settlement, Vigil barely managed to contain a laugh. Scope cast him a sidelong glance, as if to ask 'What?', but was met only with a rueful grin and a wave of an arm. When Vigil began to chuckle into his hoof, Scope sighed in obvious irritation at the pegasus, provoking a response from the laughing legionnaire, "Don't tell me you don't remember the time we took our leave in Manehatten!"

Scope cocked an eyebrow at Vigil, not at all in the mood for games, "We are not on leave, Vigil. Could you at least try to take our mission a little more seriously?"

The chuckling pony rolled his eyes from underneath his hood, "I'm taking our mission plenty serious, just trying to raise morale, sir. My horrendous conduct aside, Scope, you remember our trip to the Big Apple, don't you?"

Vigil's persistence managed to peak Scope's curiosity, "Yes, fine, I remember the time we took our leave in Manehatten. So what?"

Vigil flew up beside his commander before continuing, "And you remember that night club we went to?" he paused, thinking, "Do you remember what it was called, Rookie?"

Rook snorted at the sound of his nickname coming from his junior, but lowered his head in thought. After a few moments, an uncharacteristically wide grin broke out across his face, "The Bit and Bridle. You're an evil pony, Vig, that you are."

At the sound of the club, Jog's smaller form flew up beside Vigil in a panic, "You promised you wouldn't tell a soul!"

Vigil wrapped a hoof around Jog and pulled him in close as he continued his recollection, "And you recall the poison joke that was being slipped into everyone's drinks, right Scope?"

Jog struggled to free himself from the stronger pony's grasp, to no avail. Far Scope wasn't thrilled with Vigil's conduct, but it was always easier to go along with it than fight it. So, he thought for a minute and nodded, "I remember something like that, yes. I also remember you trying to coax me into drinking something and Rook warding me off." He frowned at Vigil, unamused at where the story was going.

Vigil coughed awkwardly before continuing, "And you remember the mare that our little Joggy hooked up with that night? Went home with, that night?"

Scope could see where this story was going and decided to cut him off before Vigil became obnoxious, "Let me guess, that mare with the lovely sing-song voice was actually a stallion looking for a coltfriend?" he sighed, again, "You have a deplorable sense of humor."

Vigil, noticing his story had backfired on him as Rook and Jog snorted in acknowledgment, let Jog go and decided to end things with a lesson, "All I'm saying is that if, if you decide to jump into the arms of the mare of your dreams tonight, Jog, you're a little more observant this time."

Jog Memory shot the self-styled storyteller a withering glare, "I'll have you know that all we did was discuss the sociopolitical structure of Canterlot in comparison to the developments in Manehatten in recent years."

Vigil was taken aback, actually remaining silent for a few moments, "Really? Is that it?"

The smaller pegasus nodded an affirmative, before tilting his head to the side and rolling his eyes, "We also had tea and cookies." The other three pegasi looked at Jog like he was an alien. "What? They were quite delicious. He was a very talented baker."

Before Vigil could find some way to turn Jog's straight-faced answer into innuendo, Scope interrupted him, "We're here."

As the four scouts landed at the entrance to the town, they found the gate to be open and unguarded. Brightly lit torches led down what appeared to be the main drag, lined by stalls and wagons filled with all the manner of food and drink. Even so far from the dancing and music from the center of town, they could hear the sounds of celebration clearly from here, a welcome change from the silence of the last several hours. As they made their way into Frostmane, they were greeted warmly by everypony they passed, who raised hooves and drinks in welcome.

"Welcome to Frostmane!"

"Hey soldiers, want a drink?"

"You stallions hungry? Plenty to go around!"

Vigil couldn't help but nudge Scope in his side, his grin returning with a vengeance, "What do you think sir, about to take up arms and usurp the crown?" Even with his hood still on, Scope could see that Vigil was enjoying some light humor at his expense. Still, Scope wasn't entirely convinced that these townsfolk weren't dangerous. He didn't doubt the serious undertones his orders carried, but in the face of such a friendly welcome to town he was beginning to doubt whether or not his orders were under the correct pretenses.

As the four pegasi cantered their way into the town plaza, they removed their hoods and wiped the frost from their cloaks, grateful to be near the warm glow of the bonfire. The crowd dancing about the area, while in total disarray, was made charming by the townsfolk. Dancing in pairs, in groups, and in some cases flailing wildly about all by their lonesome, it was hard not to be taken in by the liveliness that seemed to act as an undercurrent everywhere they looked. Word seemed to have made it around quickly that four newcomers had come into town, and the pegasi found themselves approached quickly by four mares who were all smiles and giggles. They planted white snow flower necklaces upon each of the soldiers, who looked on in surprise, astonishment, and in the case of Jog Memory: a heavy blush through his dark green coat. In the case of the mare next to Vigil, she seemed rather taken with his dashing soldierly appearance. She pawed at the dirt of the ground for a moment before smiling and looking back up to him, "Care to dance, handsome?"

The other mares laughed in good fun at their companion, and the other three pegasi found themselves with the prospect of a bit of company for the evening. Vigil looked up at Scope with stars in his eyes and a pleading expression on his face, "Oh please oh please oh please, sir Decurio sir! I promise never to question your orders ever again! PUH-LEEZE!"

Scope cast his gaze around the area, looking for any sign of ponies wearing dark cloaks and carrying daggers, or ponies with blood lust in their eyes and large weaponry held menacingly over terrified fillies, but could find none. No matter what light he cast them in, these villagers were no threat to Equestria. In fact, he suspected the biggest threat these ponies presented were a terrible hangover the next day. Despite the evidence right in front of him, Scope couldn't bring himself to completely disregard his orders, which was the reason he had been promoted to Decurio in the first place. However, it wouldn't do to deprive his subordinates of a little fun, so he decided to compromise. With a bit of an edge and irritation in his voice, "Very well, but I expect you to -"

He was cut short by an enthusiastic and grateful Vigil, "C'mon Jog, lets have some fun with our new friends!"

Jog was about to say something when the mare standing in front of him grabbed him by the hoof and began to lead him into the dancing crowd. Somewhere along the way, Vigil and Jog's spears found themselves in the hands of Rook, who added them to his. The mare looking at him expectantly was pretty, he mused, but someone had to keep an eye on those two. He gave a slight bow to his female companion and shook his head, and grumbled, "No thanks."

The mare across from Scope seemed hesitant to offer him a dance, so he spoke up, "I'm sorry, duty calls."

The two remaining mares looked at each other and shared a small giggle, before heading back into the crowd, waving at the two remaining pegasi. Scope couldn't help but smile a bit, relieved that his mission seemed to be much less dire than he originally anticipated. He shook his dark brown mane free from his cloak and cast his gaze at the ponies around him, lacking a critical and suspicious eye. There were still some nagging doubts in his mind, and he felt the urge to take a look around despite the receding reservations in the back of his head. He turned to his gruff subordinate, the authority in his voice subdued, "Rook, I'm going to take a look around. Watch those two, the last thing we need is two cotton-mouthed legionaries stumbling into camp in the morning, and giving the Legate all the reason he needs to throw us in the stockade."

Rook stomped a powerful hoof to the ground, nodding at his superior officer. Far Scope was glad to have such a dependable stallion at his side, and decided to amend his orders somewhat, "Get yourself something to eat and drink, too. I think it's safe to assume these ponies don't mean us any harm."

The powerful pegasus nodded his head towards Scope, a thin smile appearing on the edges of his mouth, "Thank you, sir." Rook slowly started to make his way over towards the nearest buffet, the smell alone enough to guide him. The burly pony was hungry, he had to admit. Rook was used to legion rations of grass and hay bread, so the intoxicating scent of real food had him nearly drooling. It wasn't long before Scope lost sight of Rook in the crowd, and he suddenly found himself alone in a strange place. Having been raised in Canterlot, Scope was used to large groups of people doing all kinds of strange things, but for some reason he couldn't shake his unease at the thought of staying here. There was something imperceptible in the air, compelling him to investigate. Resolving to find the source of his anxiety (or at least distract himself from it), he found himself looking up past the bonfire at a large granite structure on the other side of the plaza. It appeared to be the oldest building in town, having been built from the rock from the mountain itself. The structure had an almost cathedral quality to it, and Scope began to wonder for what reason it had been erected. Without a second thought, he decided to begin his investigation, trotting into the crowd in the direction of the cathedral. He deftly maneuvered his way through the dancing townsfolk, giving the ponies as wide of a berth as he could. He spotted Vigil and Jog on his way through, dancing with their female counterparts. Vigil seemed to be having the time of his life, alternating between entertaining his partner with ridiculous dance moves like the "Ropony", and sweeping her off her hooves in displays of strength and grace. Meanwhile, Jog was enjoying a much more subdued waltz as he conversed with the mare from before.

Once Scope found his way to the other side of the plaza, he had a much better look of the cathedral. There were a few cracked steps leading up to it, and several hardy plants grew alongside it. He was no architect or historian, but he could tell that the cathedral had been built quite a long time ago. Looking around, he would venture a guess that it was the oldest building in the entire town. His eyes eventually caught an older earth pony resting on the steps to the cathedral, watching the festivities with a warm look in his eyes and a comfortable smile on his face. His light gray coat and white mane were dulled somewhat by age, but his cutie mark of a glacier was a stark contrast to his old features. Scope was surprised that it hadn't dulled, but caught himself staring as the pony noticed him and waved him over. Scope cantered over to the old stallion and offered him a short, respectful bow, "Good evening, sir."

The stallion offered a friendly grin to Scope, "What brings you to our town, son?" Scope's trained eye glanced over the pony again, looking for signs of hostility, and scolded himself for it.

Whatever danger is in this town, he thought, it doesn't lie with the townsfolk. Scope was raised to be respectful to his elders, and while he tolerated the rudeness of his subordinates on occasion, he was strict with himself when it came to manners. Still, I really shouldn't come out and say why we're here. Scope's expression softened and he spoke solemnly to the elderly pony, "We were out on patrol and spotted your town. It's rather cold out there this time of night, so I decided a little stop was in order to warm our wings."

The stone-colored stallion nodded his head slowly, "Well, welcome to Frostmane. M'name's Cobble, and I'm about as close to a mayor as we have 'round these parts. What legion're you with, boy?"

Scope was surprised that the pony was familiar with military terminology. Most ponies simply took the army for granted, posted far away from central lands of Equestria. It was rare for anypony to be familiar with the legions. However, this was the northern border of Celestia's lands, and it stood to reason that the inhabitants in this region had a better familiarity with the military than the ponies of Manehatten or Fillydelphia. With barely disguised pride, Scope announced, "The 8th Legion, sir. We're camped not far from here."

Cobble seemed satisfied, tilting his head as he seemed to recall a fond memory, "Mmh, the stalwart Nords of the North. Good ponies, one and all." He cast a sly look to Scope, whose surprise had magnified at the old stallion's knowledge.

Scope relaxed somewhat in the company of the earth pony, "You know about the 8th? Did you serve with the Nords?" He was incredulous, never before having met a retired legionary.

The old stallion chuckled wryly at Scope's sudden curiosity before continuing, "I sure did. When I retired I was one in command 'o' the second Century of tha' legion. Was set to take over the first 'fore my goshderned back gave out on me." Cobble's eyes seemed to glint in the light as he explained.

Scope was taken aback at his lack of formality in addressing his (albeit former) superior officer, and snapped into a rigid salute that would've made his drill instructor proud. "It's an honor to make your acquaintance, sir."

Cobble waved his hoof at the zealous pegasus, hiding his amusement for the young soldier's benefit, "Now now, that's enough of that. I'm retired now, ain't needing any saluting or hoof-holding nonsense you're thinkin' of." He waited until Scope relaxed again and craned his neck around to look at the Cathedral, "You seem awful curious 'bout this old thing. How about we take a look inside and ya can see for yourself?"

Scope had to admit, he was curious why such a place had been built. More importantly, he didn't want to disappoint his new found colleague, "Yes sir, I'd like that very much." As he stepped forward to help Cobble up, he was stopped by the stallion waving him off again. After a few moments of creaking joints and stretching, Cobble lead Scope up to the wooden doors of the cathedral and pulled them open, leading him inside. The interior was not what Scope expected. There were no pews or ornate tapestries hanging from the walls, only torches lighting the spartan interior as steps lead down into the center of the room. The focal point of the cathedral's interior appeared to be a dark ebony stone, pot marked and coarse, surrounded by carefully constructed granite blocks. There was no inscriptions or pictures to relate why the strange rock had been entombed here, and Scope's expression properly reflected his confusion.

Before the legionnaire could ask, Cobble sagely spoke up, "About a thousand years ago, when my kin were out to settle in these lands, this here meteorite fell from the sky. Now, those ponyfolk were about as curious and superstitious as you'd expect, so they ventured out to the spot where this chunk of sky fell." Cobble paused to cough for a moment, and to check if Scope was still listening. When he was satisfied he was, he continued, "After some deliberatin' and drinkin', they figured it was a sign they should settle right here at the foot of Frostmane Mountain. Hence the name 'o' the town, ya see."

Scope was having a hard time paying attention to the old stallion as he continued recanting the history of the town. There was something about the meteorite that drew his attention to it, and he wasn't sure he liked what it was. The voice in the back of his mind had grew in volume as he examined the ebony rock, and he felt goosebumps working their way across his wings. He wasn't frightened of many things, but he felt the need to leave. Now.

As Cobble rambled on about something Scope wasn't paying attention to, he cleared his throat and spoke as calmly as he could, "Excuse me, Cobble, but I'm suddenly awfully hungry. And thirsty. Could we continue our conversation outside?" He gulped, resisting the urge to leave in a panic.

Cobble grunted a reply, "That's all right by me, sonny. I figure I could use some grub myself." As the two headed for the exit, Scope glanced back towards the meteorite. He choked back a gasp as he caught sight of what appeared to be a mare's face on the rock, as black as night itself, and turquoise dragon-like eyes that stared directly at him. In his shock, he blinked – and the face was gone.

I must be seeing things,Far Scope hoped to himself, I need a drink to dull my nerves.

Scope and Cobble had no difficulty finding food and drink for themselves out in the town plaza. As Scope ate and drank his fill, he began to feel better about the dark rock. It wasn't such a frightening thing. After all, it was just a rock, right? He began to see the meteorite in a different way entirely. As he reflected on it, he realized how beautiful and majestic it was. The subtle curves and texture, the way it caught the light just so, it was remarkable that he missed it the first time he saw it. He looked around the plaza and spied his comrades eating and drinking their fill as well, laughing and carousing with ponies of all sorts. Even Rook had loosened up a bit, and was singing with a group of stout-looking earth ponies. He smiled. It was a great idea, he thought, to come down here and celebrate with these wonderful ponies. The nagging in the back of his head was silent, but it didn't matter to Scope. He was happy, his friends were happy, and that's all that really mattered.

As Summer Sun Festivals continued all over Equestria, only a single lavender unicorn looked up and watched as four stars approached the moon and vanished, along with the Mare in the Moon that had been upon it for a millennium. She could not have imagined that along the outskirts of Equestria, a dozen meteorites had fallen a thousand years ago, the last card played by a dark alicorn in a final bid for victory over the Sun Goddess. Nopony at any of the landing sites of the twelve meteorites took notice when tendrils of blue smoke, adorned with the countless stars of the night sky, began to snake its way from the very soil they stood upon. Nopony noticed, either, when they found themselves enveloped by it, and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

It was not long, however, before their Queen bid them to wake.

And they woke.

She told them what they needed to do.

And they did.

For Night Eternal.

Legate Shining Silver was not a patient unicorn. He had sent out a small reconnaissance team to Frostmane hours ago, and they STILL hadn't reported in! The sun was going to rise at any moment, and he wanted to be prepared for what Canterlot assured was an enemy attack. When they returned, he was going to make sure they were banished and thrown into a dungeon at the place they were banished to! His advisors in the 8th Legion, the career soldiers, had assured him that the men they had selected could be trusted for accuracy and promptness in their actions. If this is what they called prompt, he would need to instruct them in matters of urgency. By Celestia's prismatic mane, he raged internally, if they don't return by sunrise I'll mobilize the entire legion and hunt down the slothful mules!

Leading the 8th was supposed to be an easy job, since there had been next to no armed conflict in the last 1000 years, Shining Silver assumed his role as head of the Legion pass by uneventfully, earning him the prestige to advance in court to a more prominent role. Governor of Canterlot Province, he fancied, the posh banquets, the grand parties, and the lovely fillies – oh yes.

The Legate was jarred from his revere by a sudden knock upon the post of his tent. "Enter!" he commanded with as much authority he could muster on short notice.

A unicorn bearing a sealed scroll with Celestia's mark upon it nearly galloped into his tent, out of breath, "S-sir... for... you." She managed to gasp out, but only barely. It didn't help he kept his tent away from the rabble. He simply couldn't stand the smell of the soldiers. Perhaps if they bathed once in awhile they wouldn't smell like fetid diamond dogs.

Silver accepted the scroll and opened it without a word, reading the contents aloud to himself, "An alert to all Legates, worst case scenario is now underway, Princess Celestia has been banished by Nightmare Moon to parts unknown. The sun will not be rising – prepare for imminent battle...?" The Legate trailed off at the end, his face a mixture of terror and surprise. Celestia couldn't be gone, she was the Sun Goddess! What was he going to do? He wasn't a soldier, he was a noble, a stallion of the court! How could Celestia allow herself to be defeated? Weren't Goddesses supposed to be invincible?

Another legionnaire, this time wearing the headdress of a Centurion, burst into the Legate's now-chilled tent, "Sir, an army marches on our position. They appear to be comprised of the forces we were told to expect. They are all wreathed in stars and appear to be ponyfolk from the town of Frostmane. What are your orders?"

Shining Silver was shaking, his mind a confused jumble of thoughts regarding his escape route and how the stallions and mares of the court would laugh at him upon his return, thoroughly disgraced after abandoning his men and duty. He threw the message aside, unwilling to let that come to pass, and with wide-eyed terror his soldiers mistook for ardor, yelled in a high pitched voice, "Prepare the troops for battle!"

The 8th Legion, The Nords of the North prepared themselves for the first real battle they'd had in over a decade. Most of the ponies in the unit were freshly rotated regulars from around Equestria. While it was true that they were all trained and knew how to do their jobs, they were not a battle-tested army. Word had quickly spread throughout every Cohort that Celestia had been defeated by somepony named Nightmare Moon, and the sun wouldn't be rising this morning. To their credit, the Centurions kept their men together and prepared them for battle. The backbone of the Legion, the Earth Pony Centuries, formed a battle line at the front of the Legion. They all wore segmented metal armor, carried tall shields with Celestia's sun emblazoned upon them, and each wielded a gladius. In the center of the formation were the Clydesdalius, consisting of the strongest, most experienced ponies available to the 8th. They carried smaller, rounder shields and wielded long spears called hastae. The younger soldiers looked up to them, especially now as their first real engagement fast approached. As appropriate for their namesake, they moved without hesitation into position, dropping their spears into a phalanx formation. The other cohorts took their cue from the Clydesdalius, twisting their torsos and dropping their shields into position. Above and to the rear, the Pennae (Or wings) of the Legion took to the skies, wearing leather armor and carrying long spears, roughly half the length of the hastae the Clydesdalius carried. Their formations were little more than tactical blobs, ready to swoop in and strike quickly at the behest of their Legate – and more importantly, to protect the Legion from threats in the air. The smallest unit in the back of the formation, next to the Legate's bodyguard and advisors, were the Magi, a unit of 20 unicorns dedicated to the use of magic in battle. They carried no weapons or armor beyond their cloaks and arcane tools, and stood in a loose, irregular formation.

As Shining Silver gazed out upon the open, snow covered field at his men, he felt a sense of pride. These ponies are willing to fight for me, he fancied, I musn't flee, I must defend Equestria from these... these cretins that march upon us! He suddenly surprised himself as he found his voice, calling out to his soldiers, "Mares and Gentlecolts! Those impudent foals think they can best Celestia's 8th Legion in combat. I say that they need to be taught a lesson in the correct order of things!" he laughed a haughty and arrogant laugh, that some of his soldiers shared, "They face proper soldiers tonight, not some common rabble. Stand fast, Legionaries! We will show those braggarts that we are NOT to be trifled with!"

A cheer rose from the soldiers assembled, heartened to hear that their leader was confident in their victory. They dug their hooves into the ground, snorting freezing breath into the breeze as light snow began to fall on the field they stood in. Those who exchanged nervous glances before now looked ahead without trepidation as they waited for their foes. They didn't have to wait long.

The wind began to pick up, changing directions seemingly at random, until it began to blow into the faces of the gathered soldiers. As the pegasi struggled to maintain cohesion in the air, the snowfall increased, partially blinding the soldiers on the ground. No word came from ahead of the army as to where the enemy was. Instead, Shining Silver and his bodyguard jumped as a battered pegasus from the 8th crash landed in front of them, battered and bloody. His wounds were so numerous that the Legate couldn't be sure what they were all a result of. The bloody scout only managed to say one thing before being carried to the rear for medical treatment, "They're coming."

Moments later, the call was given to all 4,500 soldiers to prepare themselves. An earth pony with particularly good eyesight was the first to spot the approaching horde. At first, he could only see the outlines of the townsfolk, but it wasn't long before he could see the unmistakable blue, starry aura that wreathed each and every one of them. None of them were carrying proper weapons, all of them were using tools improvised from what they had in town. Pitchforks, shovels, and even a broom sharpened to a point could be seen. The dark magic coating each of the ponies seemed to have carried into their makeshift weapons as well. While no one could say for sure, the tools simply looked deadlier. Even the Magi had never encountered a magic quite like this before, and could offer no counsel to the Legate, who had expressed concern over the auras.

The possessed ponies all shuffled towards the Legion perfectly in sync with one another. The eerie synchronization of each of their movements was unsettling, even to the disciplined Legionaries who practiced daily to perform the same feat. This was different, however, as the emotionless horde advanced on them. Each step, every movement was mimicked by every pony in their ranks. Before anypony had time to comment on it, a call went up the line. Someone had spotted young fillies and colts in the approaching army. The effect on morale was disastrous, some ponies announcing that they wouldn't fight, while others trying to convince them otherwise. While Shining Silver and the Centurions on the ground and in the air tried to restore order to the army, the Nightmare Horde began to charge, screaming in one voice at the 8th. The soldiers ceased their arguing and faced the oncoming wave of enemies, but they couldn't have expected what happened next.

One of the earth ponies on the right flank thought he saw something huge rushing through the forest just beyond the Nightmare Horde, but couldn't quite make out what it was until it was practically on top of them, the Horde galloping aside to make way for...

"HYDRAAAAAAAA!" shouted the terrified stallion. When his entire cohort spotted it charging directly at them, they all turned and began running. Before they could make it barely ten meters, the Hydra was already upon them, having been concealed by the blanket of snow rushing down. With a triumphant roar the heads smashed down into the tight formations of the Legion, biting and gnashing, throwing ponies into the air and into other cohorts.

Shining Silver could hear the screams from where he was standing, even above the blizzard that had suddenly formed around them. He could see the Hydra smashing around the ponies that had the courage to stand and fight it. He knew he should feel terrified, should probably be running away, back to the safety of Canterlot. Instead, he felt rage. Those FOALS brought a hydra into battle, did they? And they dare to savage MY soldiers? He began in his head, "I THINK NOT!" he bellowed, "To arms, TO ARMS! CHAAAARGE!"

His bodyguard, surprised by their leader's sudden ferocity, hurried after him and drew their weapons. Among the bodyguard, a unicorn shot brightly lit magic balls into the sky, which exploded much like fireworks. The Centurions in each of the units reacted to the signal, and all across the line on the ground and above, earth ponies and pegasi alike charge into battle to meet the enemy head on, screaming out their lust for blood, their previous inhibitions swept up in cries for vengeance. There was a horrible, ear shattering smash as the two armies collided as the battle was joined. On the right flank, the Hydra was still smashing around the battlefield, attacking ponies with reckless abandon. The earth ponies had little chance of besting the creature alone, and some began to seriously consider running. The Hydra was absolutely destroying any semblance of organization they had, and the Nightmare Horde smashing into their side was enough to shatter whatever sense of order they had left, turning the battle on that side into utter chaos. Before the flank collapsed, however, an entire cohort of pegasi appeared through the blizzard on the right side of the enemy, taking the Hydra and possessed ponies by surprise, diverting much of their attention to the new threat.

All but one of the Hydra's heads turned to bite at the annoying gnats flitting to and fro, spying a shiny stallion at the head of a group of charging ponies. It was awfully curious as to what a shiny pony tasted like, and decided to find out.

As Shining Silver charged towards the Hydra, he noticed one of the heads turning in his direction, looking at him directly. Silver tried to put on his most dashing expression, succeeding only in looking wide eyed and completely insane as he yelled, "Have at thee, you ruffian! I will skewer you upon my blade and plant your ugly visage upon my throne, after Celestia herself elevates me to Emporer for – eh?"

Silver noticed that his bodyguards were no longer at his side, but dodging nimbly to either side of him. One of them appeared to be reaching out to him, beckoning him over for reasons he couldn't comprehend. That's odd, he remarked, I wonder what they're looking at. The Legate turned his attention back towards the Hydra, and looked up. The Hydra was nearly upon him, mouth wide open and full of very sharp looking teeth.

"Oh." he remarked calmly. That's going to leave a nasty stain.

It did.