Flesh Masks Ch. 26

There was once a man, more like a monster really, that roamed the surface of my world. This man was a cruel, power hungry, and ingenious necromancer. Long before my time, he preyed upon the weak to further his own machinations, and plagued the White Council for years. He dodged around and fooled the entirety of the Wardens several times over, but the Wardens were nothing if not persistent. Eventually, his actions caught up with him and the necromancer was put to an end by a joint operation involving the Wardens and several members of the Elder Council, a collection of the most powerful wizards of the White Council. The monster planned ahead however, and played master to a collection of disciples to continue his work long after he died.

One of these disciples was a man likewise naturally gifted with an affinity for magic, and the intelligence necessary to employ this affinity to its fullest extent. I had encountered him and his fellows before, and seen firsthand the twisted depravities their necromantic magic created. However, the clever and naturally gifted wizard broke apart from the other disciples, and bothered to try to speak and reason with me, whereas the others didn't bother and just tried to murder me. He was, well spoken and claimed to be working against his fellows. I gave his words the same value as though they came from the forked tongue of a demon, but he assured me that he did not want the senseless pain and loss of life his brethren were working towards.

He even had his own apprentice, one that was eager to learn the same vile magic he was taught. What disturbed me most was that the apprentice used the same energy I considered corrupt and evil, to save the life of an innocent. It threw into doubt the very nature of something I used to be able to just file away as "evil", much like the disciple who had taken necromantic magic, and redesigned it to preserve life instead of attempt to copy it.

In the end though, the master's teachings shone through. All of the other disciples fought amongst each other to obtain a vast amount of energy and add it to their own. The more reasonable disciple saw this and, to prevent the others from misusing that power, decided to take it himself, ignoring the fact that doing so would kill several hundred innocents. His intentions may have been pure at one point, I'm not sure, but in the end he was just another wizard seeking power over others, the consequences be damned. I knew that man as Cowl, disciple to the necromancer Kemmler.

This was the primary thought that went through my head as I reached out and fought to seize enough power to bend to world around me to my will, or more accurately, to the will of others. Forgoing any of my standard means of self preservation, I threw myself wholeheartedly into the storm of magic raging through my brain. My mane and tail very faintly began to flutter and dance as the air around me started to spin. Any outward effects of my spell at such an early stage were, by necessity, minimal. With my hooves still rooted to the spot by the Red King's residual magic, I needed to create as little hostile reaction from the vampires around me as possible. Luckily for me, they were content doing what most predators do to a captive dinner. They wanted to play with their food.

Several black skinned vampires stood impatiently around me, digging their claws into the stone beneath them and grinning widely as each scraping sound caused my legs to reflexively tense and my ears to twitch around. The majority of the couple dozen or so vampires surrounding me conversed among themselves in their strange guttural language, presumably trying to decide the most entertaining method of eating me, while still keeping quiet as per the Red King's previous instructions.

"Let's kill him now," groaned a large pegasus vampire, who had begun licking her lips as she looked me over like a glazed ham in a butcher shop. "I haven't eaten since yesterday."

"Wait," purred an earth pony vampire somewhere off to my right, "this is the pony that's been giving the master such heartache and grief. I'd say he deserves a little bit more, don't you think? Besides, the King bound his legs to the ground. He's not going anywhere. I want to have a little fun."

While the rest bickered, two unusually small vampires approached me and carefully, almost lovingly, drew their razor claws along either side of my overcoat. They dug their claws into it as they tried, and failed, to tear apart the spell strengthened clothing. After a few moments of fruitless rending, they moved up to the buttons along the front of the coat and began trying to undo them with their rather clumsy claws. One of them got impatient and 'accidentally' dipped a claw under the collar of my overcoat, drew the appendage away with a thin covering of crimson along one claw, and abruptly licked it clean. I winced only slightly as the two went about their work, and instead poured all of my precious brain power into my spell.

You can chew on this you rat bastards.

Once the pressure in my mind and behind my eyes was great enough to threaten to overwhelm me, I released it. I threw my head back so that I was looking directly up at the ceiling as a wave, a beacon of magic exploded out from me in all directions. Invisible and silent, it went for the most part unnoticed as it passed through the vampires, the borders of the room, and beyond. Only the few unicorn vampires present seemed to notice the sudden shift of magic around them, their ears and eyes danced around as they tried to piece together the odd sensations. Even if they knew what I had just done, they wouldn't have been able to stop the spell; the wheels were already in motion, I doubt I'd have been able to stop it if I wanted to. My magic spread out as far as it could reach, and carried with it a simple message no normal ear could hear: "I am here! I am willing! Use me!"

Any other time, any other place, any other frame of mind, any other situation, there's no way in hell it would have worked. Several things happened over the relatively short moments following that spell. Some I wasn't expecting and others that will haunt my immortal soul for all of eternity.

The instant my spell was let loose, the temperature of the room dropped significantly. What was the faint chill normally found in subterranean stone buildings, became a biting, see-my-breath-in-the-air frost. Along with the sudden drop in temperature, I became acutely aware of multiple nearby presences that simply weren't there a brief second before. To my mind, it felt as though I was suddenly standing a large room packed to bursting with ponies, even though my eyes still only registered the couple dozen bickering vampires around me. My eyes' assurances did nothing to alleviate the fact that I could definitely feel something other than vampiric claws invading my personal space, and turning my blood to ice.

Before I even realized it, the very first subject of my spell touched an invisible limb against the fur at the back of my neck, and passed right on through. No actual physical interaction happened, the sole reason I knew something had changed, was because the hairs on my neck shot up as the flesh beneath them tensed. Almost immediately after I felt its touch, I sensed its mind. A spirit, lost, hurt, and confused had heard my call and entered my body. I could feel its mind as its consciousness probed against my own. Bits and pieces of the spirit's memories flashed across my mind before I could even begin to try and isolate myself from them.

She had been a simple trader mare. I saw that she made her living buying merchandise in one city and selling it to another. It was a thankless task, but she enjoyed every second of the traveling and the meeting of friendly strangers. It paid well, and helped her to support her husband and two foals back in their Canterlot home. The memories at her end were the most vivid, and stood out the most in her mind. I saw she was with a caravan of other traders heading back to Canterlot after a bountiful business venture. The night crept over them and the caravan set up camp on the side of the road. Before they could even unpack their equipment, they were ambushed. All the poor mare heard was a screeching howl, and then she was set upon by black claws and gleaming teeth. She was dragged into the nearby trees from the others before she could so much as scream, much less defend herself. In short order, she was killed, and then devoured. Her spirit was distraught with fear and worry for her family, but above all else, she was angry. She was absolutely furious with the creatures that had made her husband a widower and left her foals motherless.

Almost immediately after those memories left me, another set from a different pony were presented to me, and then another, and another, and another. Dozens upon dozens of disembodied spirits pressed themselves through the flesh of my body, and into the confines of my mind. Each and every single one of those ponies had their own sets of emotions and memories. They all had a unique story to tell, and each story ended in the exact same way.

So many… Just a little while longer… So damn many… I sluggishly thought to myself as I desperately erected walls around my own mind. My personal struggles aside, I was getting exactly what I wanted. I wanted as many spirits as I could get.

Outside of the growing storm in my head, the likewise swiftly increasing concentrations of spirits were finally catching the attention of the vampires. The small swirling breezes of wind that had been circling me grew into a fairly powerful cyclone, with me at the center. My mane, tail, and overcoat blew violently in the wind about me, even as I myself remained cemented to the floor by the Red King's residual will.

The two smaller vampires that had been doing their own version of a reverse striptease, hastily stepped back from me, as had most of the encompassing vampires around me. Their petty bickering died away as more and more of them became aware that something was amiss with their captured prey. The vampires' instincts momentarily got the better of them and caused them to do the same thing any predator would do when faced with an unknown situation, back off and reassess.

"To Tartarus with keeping quiet," one of the larger vampires towards the back shouted. "He's going to bring down the room around us. Kill him, kill him now!"

At those words, a single vampire that had apparently been resting on a hair trigger since the moment I set a hoof in the room, lunged at me with an almost feral abandon. Frozen as I was maintaining the spell, I could only watch as black talons speed towards my face, talons that thankfully never hit their mark. About a few feet away, the near feral vampire flung itself at me, and impacted with what appeared to be an invisible brick wall. With at least one fang missing from its mouth, the now very dazed vampire slid to the floor and groggily looked up to see what it was that it hit.

For a brief moment, there was nothing, the roomful of confused vampires and I just stood there and tried to assign meaning to empty air. We didn't have to wait long for an explanation, as faint bits of pale light quickly congealed right in front of the dazed vampire. Everypony stared dumbfounded as specks of light simply collected together and took on the form of a truly gargantuan example of an earth pony. It stood a good few inches taller than even Michael, and was garbed in the standard for Equestrian guardsponies. In life, this guard couldn't have been easy to overcome, even for a vampire. His semitransparent flesh and armor placed itself solidly between me and the vampire still stunned on the floor. The spirit turned cold eyes on the creature at his hooves, pivoted on the spot, and gave an almighty buck that sent the comparatively little vampire soaring across the room.

The ethereal guard placed his hooves back on the floor and turned back around to face his stunned audience, even as a sickening crunch sounded off in the direction my would be assailant flew. Before any of the other vampires could speak a word on the new development, the spirit's manifestation opened his maw and bellowed his defiance to the vampires. His voice was odd, like the rest of him just wasn't wholly there; it sounded much like the dry rasping of a dying man, but at the same time carried with it an undeniable amount of power and presence.

Partway through his bellow, his body simply disintegrated back into the loose cloud of lights it once was, although his bellow remained in the air even though his throat did not. The cloud of energy that had been my protector drifted backwards until its faint wisps flicked across my chest, and then passed through. I winced at the conflicting sensations of my flesh chilling at the spirit's touch, and then warming as his entirety flowed into me, adding yet another set of memories and emotions to my increasingly crowded mind.

While my former guard had apparently spent his energy, he did not leave me defenseless. As the last echoes of his bellowing call died away, many more clouds of faint white light sparked into life around me. In short order, I was surrounded by a ring of white mists. None of the spirits within the ring seemed willing to manifest fully until needed, choosing instead to remain as the simple ring of energy. While perhaps not as threatening as a massive earth pony in guard armor that had quite literally popped out of thin air, it did send a clear message to the vampires: "Approach at your own risk."

"W-what is this?" one of the nearer vampires stammered. "What was that thing?"

One of the few unicorn vampires present stepped forward and its horn glowed with a dull light as it focused its thoughts on the forces around me. "It's… It's just some sort of conjuration, an altered shield."

"But that pony," interjected another raspy voice, "It looked familiar."

I'm guessing you would remember that titan if he got a hold of you.

"A golem," the unicorn stated simply. "He must've made it based around a guard he once saw, it doesn't matter. Whatever kind of shield this is, it's leaching power from the environment and it'll burn itself out before long. You'll get your meal soon enough, just be patient."

While I was funneling more and more spirits, and therefore conscious minds to myself, I wasn't having too difficult a time remaining in control. The nature of multiple minds retaining their individuality within such a confined space, meant that the many spirits were too busy conflicting with each other over their own worries to be an immediate threat to me. At the word "meal" however, the several disparate spirits within me cast aside their own individual wants and desires for a brief moment, and an immensely powerful feeling of concentrated hate nearly overwhelmed my control.

Hold it together… Just a little bit more… Please, just a little bit more, I thought as I grit my teeth and redoubled my efforts to stem the rising tide of emotion within me, emotion that wasn't my own. To counteract that, I fell back on my time honored tradition of flooding my mind with the logic and machinations of my spell to try and make the intense hatred more manageable.

Kemmler, and through Kemmler's teachings, Cowl, had developed and both tried to pull off a massive spell called the Dark Hallow. If either of them had succeeded, they would've absorbed enough raw power to make themselves into minor league gods, with only a deranged mortal's restraint and limitations; a truly frightening prospect. Before Cowl learned the precise workings of Kemmler's spell, I managed to get my hands on the scrapbook that held the information. It was a short lived possession, but I learned what I needed, and as such I was probably the only mortal alive that could pull off that twisted spell.

From what I understood about the Dark Hallow, it's fairly simplistic in structure, comprising of only a few different mechanics. The first machination is simply a massive beacon, a large signal that goes out and draws the attention of any spiritual entity within its range. Then the Dark Hallow is supposed to create a massive vortex that entraps and funnels any spirit that draws too close in its overwhelming pull, much like a whirlpool. Finally, the entrapped spirits are broken down into their base components, a cloud of pure energy and power, power which is then consumed and absorbed into the body of the one performing the Dark Hallow.

I tore apart that spell until only a few of its base components remained, the beacon, and a massively toned down vortex. My given message, inaudible to the living, was blared over me like a stadium horn on full power. Every spirit within a mile, vengeful or fearful, would be able to hear me; through stone, dirt, and open sky, it wouldn't matter, they would hear me. Where it mainly differed from the original Dark Hallow, was that my version lacked the conversion mechanic that "digested" the spirits and added their power to mine. Instead there was just a small vortex that reached only to about an inch from my fur, and would funnel any spirit that entered it into my body, resulting in what I assumed would be a somewhat forced possession. I made the vortex as small as I did so that any spirit could choose on whether or not to act on my offer. I didn't dare want to outright force my will over any of them, not that I needed to mind you.

My thoughts grew more and more muddled and my control continued slipping piece by piece as more spirits slipped into me. I felt them, every single one; they flocked to me by the dozens in massive invisible waves. Every spirit that entered my body added its power to my rapidly expanding energy pool, and as my power increased so too did the reach of my beacon, which in turn gave my message to more of the hurt spirits wandering around the Red King's den. Round and round the cycle went, until all I could see or sense anymore were the countless memories and emotions blazing through me as I desperately clung to maintain my spell.

"I thought you said this spell would die down!" howled a vampire somewhere behind me as my long winded working neared its crescendo. "It isn't dying down!"

The wind around me whipped up even more violently, becoming similar to a miniature tornado pulling the air and anything in it to me. I had long since clamped my eyes shut in an effort to shut out outside distraction, but even still I could easily sense more straggling spirits riding those winds to the small vortex around my fur. Not only that, but I could sense that the ring of protective spirits, which I assume were guardsponies in life, still floated around me in the form of loose white clouds.

"I don't understand," the same unicorn as before shouted. "What is this? This shouldn't be happening."

As though triggered by the unicorn's uncertainty, three separate vampires forwent any sense of caution and plunged through the lightly glowing mists all around me. Through my connection to the spirits, I felt as the ponies inside the mists froze the vampires mid-leap and bucked out violently against the trespassers. The three that had tried to Rambo their way towards me were launched back out of the ring around me and crashed back into their very surprised peers.

Then, in the space of a breath, everything changed and nothing mattered anymore.

It was as though some invisible switch flipped somewhere behind my eyes and sent the multiple consciousnesses into a frenzy. Up until that point, I had maintained control primarily because I knew my body, my mind, and in general myself; the spirits did not. The multitude of spirits conflicted with one another in their mad dash to analyze all the different nooks and crannies of my body and how they differed from their former bodies. At long last, one or more of the spirits found all the connections they needed and broadcast that information to all the others within me. Then suddenly, instead of a confused jumble looking for information, the spirits turned their efforts to actively gaining control over their new environment and overthrowing the current owner, namely me.

Pain ripped through me as countless random entities clawed at my mind, vying for control over my body. They hammered relentlessly at me, desperate for their anger and their sorrow to be known to more than just me. In such situations, resistance might as well be synonymous with suicide, so I did the only thing left that I could. I let go, surrendered all control, withdrew into the recesses of my mind, and tried my very best to stay out of their way.

Yes, several different voices echoed around in my head. Yes yes yes!

Practically screaming with excitement, the spirits jumped at the recently vacated controls and immediately began exerting their power over my body. Almost every muscle on my body rapidly tensed, relaxed, and then tensed again as the shift in management finalized. The fine muscles of my face likewise twitched uncontrollably, albeit to a lesser extent, causing me to put on a variety of odd facial expressions. My magic too shifted with the rest of my body. The spell and beacon I was holding together for so long, fell apart the second I relinquished control, and was no longer sapping any strength or concentration from me.

Of all the hairbrained plans I've come up with over the years, this has to be some kind of record, I thought to myself while in a secluded shadowy corner of my own mind. Just stay out of their way, and everything will be just peachy.

Like most times whenever I think such things, I was almost immediately proven wrong about how 'peachy' things would be. In my haste to create a last ditch 'Hail Mary', I managed to overlook one pretty major flaw in my plan: my body was insufficient to contain the power I was trying to absorb. With my power, and by extension the spirits' power, no longer pouring through my ethereal clarion call, it was instead just building and building inside me in direct proportion to the growing rage of my new neighbors. Much like a battery, the bodies of mere mortals can only contain so much power; add too much and fail to release it, and the body will begin to overload.

Apparently just because I wasn't behind the controls, didn't mean I got to avoid silly little things like pain. The core temperature of my body skyrocketed what felt like a couple dozen degrees in the space of a few seconds. As far as I was concerned, every single nerve ending I had erupted into a blazing white fire. Unable to make a physical sound, I inwardly howled and did everything I could to create an impenetrable wall around myself within the recesses of my mind. Luckily though, my discomfort was short-lived. If I was subject to the sensations of my body ripping itself apart, then so to were the spirits responsible for it; and unlike me, they had the power to do something about it.

Too weak… must grow… need to be stronger, echoed around my mind, the words coming from several different sources at the same time.

Almost immediately after those thoughts reached me, the boiling cauldron that was my flesh, became submerged in ice water. Sweet relief washed over my nerves and sensations other than blinding pain returned to me, and with them, a disturbing realization. With my mind clear of the consequences of my miscalculations, I could feel that the massive amount of power that should have been contained within my body was instead being applied to it. Raw power coursed through every muscle, every organ, and every single hair I had to offer. The entirety of my form broke out in pins and needles, almost exactly like the sensation I had felt when I first set my five-toed foot in Equestria. Soon after, my muscles began tensing uncontrollably and an immense pressure was placed on my very bones, like they were trying to pull themselves free of their bonds.

Grow… Stronger…

Only then did the fullness of their intentions hit me, and I immediately did everything I could to reinforce the wall I'd constructed around my mind. In theory, my working and everything it was doing to me were supposed to be purely temporary, or at least that's how I designed it, but that didn't mean I was at all comfortable with my situation, or in simpler words: crap crap crap crap!

The tension in my limbs broke; several small pops and cracks sounded from my joints, and the solid lengths of bone in-between the joints actually shifted in tandem with the pops. My limbs thankfully did not just break and then reform as I was expecting, rather they simply grew. All four of my legs and the length of my spine were consumed by small prickly sensations as they lengthened and threw off the normal proportions of my body. My limbs strained against the Red King's mental binds, desperate to readjust themselves to accommodate my increasingly wide stance. My ribs and sternum creaked as the barrel of my body expanded outwards with the rest of my body. My hide itched intensely and the muscle underneath it wormed around like snakes as they grew with the rest of me.

With my eyes still clamped shut and a loud humming ringing in my ears, I was unable to perceive the outside world; but the hypersensitivity caused by the torrents of magic coursing through my flesh, meant that I was forcibly made aware of every single tiny change.

Sharp pains shot across my face as my skull fractured and then lengthened. My muzzle became much more pronounced and square-jawed rigid as the bone shifted and grew. I felt, rather than heard, a loud gurgle escape my throat while my neck grew along with my lengthening spine. An intense tension formed on my forehead, just under my horn. Moments later the tension became a release of pressure as my horn slowly extended forward, almost doubling in length; the mass of bone necessary to do so evidently materializing out of thin air. The silver and ruby shield charm that had been at the base of my spiraled horn rode it up as it grew until the charm sat at about halfway up spire of bone. During all of this, I also noticed an increasing tightness around my chest, not in my chest like when my ribs started to expand, but around it. Almost as soon as that sensation turned from uncomfortable to restricting, an almighty tearing sound met my numbed ears and the fur on the barrel of my body was free to twist in the swirling air around me. My spell reinforced overcoat, which had endured hammering blows and vicious slashes by vampiric claws, had just been ripped apart by my own body as the spirits completed their physical alterations; although purely physical changes were far from the only things waiting to surprise me.

Once my body stopped growing and my muscles stopped twitching, there was a sudden shift in the ocean of magic within me. The power that had been hard at work carrying out the spirits' will on my flesh, died down and settled back to lay dormant until called on again. Every cell of my body was filled to the brim with that energy, so much so that I was likely glowing in the dark of the Red King's lair, but I wasn't overloading. My body wasn't ripping itself apart, my muscles didn't tear, my hide didn't burn. Whatever the invading spirits had done to me, however they had altered my body, it worked. I was made into a vessel capable of containing their raw power, but power on that scale doesn't just stay in one body without making some changes of its own.

Without any warning, my body's internal temperature spiked severely. On its own, that wasn't too surprising. Holding as much power as I was, was bound to cause me to heat up at least a little, even with a body specifically designed to contain that power. What wasn't normal was that the heat seemed to be coalescing on four specific parts of my body. The skins under my mane, the base of my spine, and for whatever reason, the patches of hide on either side of my ribs all suddenly felt as though they had large molten stones pressed against them.

Oh for the love of all things holy, what now?

The heat was intense, but not painful. The nerves at those spots were very much active and were calmly informing me that under normal circumstances, the flesh at the affected areas would be cooking as though they were on a skillet; yet there was no actual pain. Perhaps mercifully, my nerve endings decided that whatever was happening wasn't enough of a risk to my health to warrant pain, and just told me to enjoy the growing heat. The feeling of warmth intensified at those four specific spots on my body, and very slowly, began to spread outward into the air around me.

Energy left my body in spades, compared to the ocean that was still in me it was a mere drop in the bucket, but that didn't change the fact that a significant amount of raw magic was seeping out of me through my skin. I was met with an odd mix of new sensations. It's somewhat difficult to describe, but I became dimly aware of the area around my head, tail, and sides. In much the same way you can tell when an ant is crawling across your skin, I could simply feel the subtle shifting in the air around my head, tail, and torso. I could even feel the odd cloud around my torso tense and move through the air, independent of the rest of my body or the two other plumes of warmth at my head and tail.

My maw finally opened wide and allowed my lungs to draw a deep rattling breath, albeit not by my direct action. I hadn't realized it, but at some point during the intense working, I had ceased to breathe. The wild and barely contained energies that had been pouring into me had completely hidden the fact that my lungs felt as though somepony had poured molten iron into them, however briefly. If I could have, I would have openly wept as my lungs filled with the blessed nirvana a drowning man feels just after his head breaks the water. My lungs died down from a sudden blazing inferno, down to a much more manageable soreness, along with most of the rest of my body. Every scrap of flesh and bone that had been grown, shifted, or otherwise altered in any way, throbbed and twitched slightly from their ordeal.

Sensing that their initial work was completed, the spirits stirred underneath my skin and exerted more direct control over my body. My legs tensed and halfheartedly tried to break free of the Red King's will that was still gluing them to the floor. My breathing died back down into a more or less non-hysteric pace as the rest of my body wound down with it. Finally, my eyes shot open of their own accord, and I was once again able to see the world beyond the bounds of my eyelids.

Still secluded within the recesses of my brain, all of my previous experiences with magic related hardship screamed to me their wisdom. When in any kind of unknown situation, even one you meant to have happen, the best thing you can do is take a step back, and reassess any important information that might help to improve the situation. So to that end, I took all of my mentor's training, all of my personal experiences with magical combat and spiritual possession… Hells bells, they got tiny! And ignored them completely.

Lying dormant behind my own eyes, I gazed out at the vampires still encircling me, and couldn't quite make it over the mental speed bump. From my point of view, each of the vampires that had previously been tall enough to snarl at me face to face, had apparently shrunk down to the size of a filly. The tallest of them, a rather well built earth pony that might have been a guard at one point, stood with the top of his pointed ears reaching only to around my sternum. It honestly took me several moments to piece together a few nuggets of information that, in retrospect, I should've noticed much sooner. First was that my point of view was much higher off the ground, and by extension it was me that grew instead of the vampires shrinking. Second, and more importantly, the vampires all around me were staring at me with a combined expression that could only be described as fear, at least the ones standing did anyway.

Many of the random vampires around me had backed away a good several steps, and were gaping at me with a strange mixture of open-mouthed wonder, and slight nervousness. In direct contrast to the others, the vampiric unicorns present abandoned any pretense of wonder, and stared at me in dumbfounded terror; their ability to more easily sense magical energies probably hit them more than any physical change on my part. But then there were the few that were a little too busy to even notice me. Evidently, many other things happened after I cast my spell and temporarily lost connection to the outside world. Almost half a dozen black forms sat slumped against the far walls of the large square room, one or two were simply out cold, and the rest were groaning and trying to return to their clawed feet. Just under my chin and at the very edge of my eyesight, I found the most likely culprits. Faint wisps of blue light flickered and died as the last vestiges of my ethereal guards vanished from sight and made their way to join their brethren under my fur. I mentally grit my teeth against the sudden addition of yet more minds, and flooded my mind with other more pressing issues to distract me.

I get why they'd want to back off. That one guard ghost launched the first vampire clear across the room, but why do the rest seem actually afraid of me? The unicorns I can understand, but the pegasi and earth ponies? Red Court vampires aren't the kind to just shy away from a single target, even if I have grown larger. So what's unnerving them? As that thought went through my mind, I felt a subtle shift in the bloom of energy that was escaping out of the top of my head, and a bright red and orange flickering light passed over the left side of my any orders from the possessing spirits, the muscles of my neck reacted on reflex to the light and turned to allow me to inspect whatever it was that crossed my field of vision.

If it weren't for the fact that I was locked in some dark corner within my mind, I'd have been standing right beside the vampires in slack jawed wonder at what I was seeing.

I wasn't just taller, I was huge, easily the match for the Red King or even Celestia herself for sheer body size! My body was almost a direct copy of Celestia's proportions, except for the slightly bulkier build more befitting a stallion than a mare. My neck was so much longer and allowed me to survey my new large and powerful looking torso as though I was on a high rise. My legs, still bound uncomfortably to the floor, were likewise much longer and held enough muscle that I bet I could've bucked a hole clean through one of Canterlot Castle's walls. My ash grey coat and silver pentacle cutie mark were still solidly in place, but the most glaring, impressive, and disturbing changes were placed around their close neighbors.

My mane and tail, normally a disheveled mess of wiry charcoal black hair, had both been replaced with large pillows of raging fire. Billowing bonfires were simply rooted into the hide at the top of my head and base of my spine. They even fanned out and calmly undulated into the air around me in the exact same way Luna's ethereal mane and tail did, albeit with a bit more erratic motions than Luna's. Also, they were not heatless flames by any means of the word. The nerves around them were still telling my brain that my mane and tail were putting off enough heat to charbroil an entire Thanksgiving dinner in a matter of seconds, and that the rest of my flesh was perfectly okay with that level of heat. That however, didn't even come close to the most shocking discovery; because on my back, just behind where my forelegs joined my torso, rested two giant majestic wings made of the purest flame.

In truth, they weren't really wings in the strictest biological sense. They were not of bone, flesh, and feathers as most pegasi would have, instead they seemed to be crafted from solidified fire to mimic Celestia's considerable wingspan; much like how Twilight made her dragon golem. The wings attached to my sides flared out into the air far above me, the light emanating from them was nothing short of blinding and illuminated every nook and cranny the room had.

The entire process had felt like it had taken several hours. From the addition of thoughts and memories that weren't my own, to the painstaking growth of every muscle and bone I had, I was made aware of almost every change. Instinctively, I knew that very little time had actually passed. A few minutes at most was all magic of that calibre would need, though it didn't stop me from feeling like I had just aged several decades while somehow retaining my youth.

Interestingly enough, the addition of the wings appeared to be just as much of a surprise to the spirits as it was for me. For one precious moment, my mind went completely silent. No whispers, no residual memories of past lives trying to make themselves known, just complete silent surprise as they looked upon the form that they had created, and were in complete control of. The vampires' uncharacteristic fear suddenly seemed much more justified considering that their average sized unicorn prey had apparently just transformed into Celestia's vengeful alter ego.

"What in Tartarus is that thing?!" one of the vampires slumped against a far wall cried out. "What just happened?!"

One of the few unicorns slowly began backing away from the rest of the group and pivoted its head around to search for the exit. "Somepony, get the King. We need the Red King in here now!"

"NO!" an incredibly loud booming voice bellowed into the room, freezing everypony in place. It took a few seconds for me to realize that that voice had escaped from my throat.

The vampires' words, and in particular their mentioning of the Red King, had sparked something within my possessing spirits. Their thoughts, memories, and anger all resurfaced in a sudden wave. I immediately reinforced the protective wards around my mind to keep my emotions separate from theirs, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't stop feeling the sensations from my body, and I couldn't stop myself from hearing every single one of their sorrowful thoughts. Countless voices began whispering to each other in my head, their pain feeding off one another until it grew to a point beyond any like I have experienced before. It was only then that the true nightmare began, both for the vampires, and me.

Monsters…

They did this. They are to blame.

They took my husband... I could only watch as they… as they…

Why, why did they do this?

Demons…

How could they?

My little foal… My poor little filly.

Mom warned me not to go out. I'm sorry, Mom… I'm so sorry. I didn't want to make you sad.

They did this… They took me away from my family!

Their fault, it's all their fault!

Why us? Why?

They will pay. They will pay for everything, everything they've ever done!

I thought I hated the Red Court. The vampires of the Red Court were responsible for a large percentage of the suffering and death that had plagued me for most of my life. They've killed, fed on, and turned innocent men, women, and children both in my world and in Equestria; innocents that were, in one way or another, at least partially my responsibility. They've tried to kill me on multiple occasions, and worse, have threatened, endangered, or harmed many of my friends, both pony and human. They took the woman I once loved, and forced upon her the Red Court's nigh uncontrollable blood thirst, making her constantly just one bad day away from fully becoming one of the monsters she fought against. I thought I hated the vampires, I thought I hated them with every fiber of my being.

Hate. I didn't even know the meaning of the word.

The combined sorrow, anger, and hate of several hundred tormented spirits, melded together into a single mass of rage that burned so powerfully, mere words cannot accurately describe it. Their rage was so strong that they were driven far beyond any form of rational thought, beyond even the mild constraints of madness. As they quickly seized control of the last vestiges of my altered body, their individual thoughts began to sync together, further amplifying their emotions.

In the space of a few short seconds, several hundred spirits linked together within me to form a single cohesive consciousness. I hid away in the back of my own mind, struggling to shield myself from their rage and maintain my own sanity. My spell had pulled off something that I never would have dreamed possible. Because of what I had done, my magic had birthed a singular entity from their combined emotions. In that instant in time the multitude of spirits' sole purpose for existing, was to bite, buck, smash, burn, and otherwise kill as many Red Court vampires as physically possible, and more importantly, the Red King; a task to which my body was their instrument.

I had become vengeance incarnate.

My maw opened and my lips moved to the will of the spirits now controlling them, forming words to give voice to their fury. "Monsters. Demons," the simple statement growled unbidden from my throat, modulated slightly to make it sound as though multiple voices were coming from my mouth. "Hollow shells of our former families." My forelegs abruptly tensed against, and then tore apart the Red King's mental lock on my hooves like they were tissue paper. "Creatures of filth and dark." My hind legs bucked outward slightly as they too broke free of their mental binds. "You will burn." My head snapped up so that I was looking directly into the shocked faces of the vampires in front me. My lips peeled back in a bare toothed snarl and my mouth opened wide as the spirits bellowed, "YOU WILL ALL BURN!"

One of the smaller pegasi leapt into the air and brandished her claws at me. "Kill it! Its shield is gone, kill it!"

At those words, every vampire not unconscious from ethereal guardspony hooves launched themselves at me with wild abandon. Gleaming white teeth and razor black claws sped towards me at impossible speeds. Even the one unicorn that had been backing away to fetch his king, apparently lost himself to the Red Court's famous bloodlust and lunged forward, leveling his pointed black horn to my chest.

The spirits' reaction was immediate, deliberate, and horrifyingly vicious. My quasi wings stretched out as far as the limbs would allow, the molten feathers at the very tips almost brushed against the stone ceiling above me. Then, with an upward heave of my chest and a blinding red flash from my horn, my wings slammed themselves downward with such force that they created a deafening crack as they displaced the air. An immense amount of energy ran down from the tip of my horn, over the hide of my neck and back, and then fanned out evenly across both wings. The moment they reached the bottom of their swing just in front of my forelegs, the energy channeling through them burst forth in the form of a massive wave of fire that swept outward in a wide arc in front of me.

The lucky ones were those leading the charge. Light and heat washed over me as the spirits' first strike flared out, and then quickly died away. Then suddenly, where there had been half a dozen black forms charging to rip out my throat, were six pony shaped skeletons collapsed on a thick bed of soot. Their deaths were likely instant and painless, too bad the same couldn't be said for the ones behind the early birds.

A good few of the vampires in front of me were a little slower on the draw than their brethren, and as such were a good foot or two behind their charge. The wave of flame that had simply decimated their comrades quickly reached their bodies as well, although a good chunk of its destructive force had already been spent on their friends, resulting in something less than pleasant for everypony involved. Behind the charred skeletons, several vampires shrieked in mortal agony. Every inch of their rubbery black hide was set aflame so that each individual vampire looked like a mini-bonfire, somewhat similar to my mane or tail. They suffered only mere moments and quickly succumbed to their fate.

I very nearly couldn't comprehend what I had just seen. The fire from a spell that had taken less than a second to prep and shoot off had been intense enough to annihilate every living thing directly in front of me, and even turn the closest of the vampires to ash. On a good day, such a feat would've taken me a good thirty seconds to a minute to pull off, plus prep; but the culmination of vengeful spirits controlling me had done it with the same time and effort it would've taken me to lift my hoof.

Hells bells… What have I made?

Any other introspective thoughts were quickly rushed from my mind with the impact of other heavy weights on my form. While the majority of my welcome party had been standing directly in front of me; "had been" being the operative words there, several more of the bloodthirsty creatures were encircling me from all other angles.

Two small impacts rocked my frame as the same two smaller vampires that had tried to remove my overcoat, latched themselves onto my sides. Their claws and teeth immediately went to work against the unprotected hide over my ribs. Without my spell protected overcoat in place, their attacks bit deep into me. They bit, gouged, and tore apart great strips of flesh with a speed and ferocity of a butcher on heroine. In the confines of my mind, I howled as my body was subject to levels of pain that made the forceful growth of my entire body pale in comparison. From the corners of my vision, I saw more of the other vampires sweeping up on either side of me, eager to join the two attached to my ribs.

However, the spirits behind my controls didn't even seem to bat an eye at the pain wracking my body, or the others closing in to create more of the same. With little conscious thought, the entirety of my form quickly bent and contorted to face the oncoming threats; and then in the blink of an eye,almost every part of my new body was made into a weapon.

First and foremost, my wings slammed shut around barrel of my form, creating a sort of partial molten armor around my body; and, purely coincidentally I'm sure, completely enveloped the two vampires at my sides. Trapped firmly between my wounded hide and wings made of solidified fire, the two little vampires abandoned their attempts to kill me and began to thrash wildly against their newfound prison. Muffled screams and a rancid smell of burning flesh escaped from under my wings, the surface of the molten feathers shifting violently as their occupants tried and failed to escape.

Moving in tandem with my wings, my hind legs bucked out with as much raw force as they could manage, and both connected solidly with yielding flesh. With a resounding thunk, followed by a short series of garbled shouts and two loud crunches, the two physical presences at my hind legs abruptly vanished. Through the spirits' hyper awareness, I just kind of knew that any attackers from behind me had been sufficiently delayed, visual confirmation be damned; much like how I could sense multiple presences flanking me on my sides without the need to turn my head at all.

Before my hind legs even touched back down on the ground, my head and most of my upper body swiveled off to my right. As my vision shifted, what were vague motions in the corner of my eye, became two more snarling black creatures that were less than a second from reaching me. Immediately, my horn ignited with scarlet light and lowered to point directly at the nearest of the two, but to my surprise, did not fire off some spell of mass destruction. Instead, my legs pushed me off the ground and I leapt forward at the vampires, much faster and more nimble than I would've thought my bulky form could manage. Two important things were achieved by this action: first, my dart off to my right bought me precious time and distance from the vampires closing in on my left, second and more importantly, it got me an extreme close up of a vampire's very surprised face.

My lunge met the vampire mid leap and my horn struck home. Its black eyes widened in disbelief as the glowing length of bone sunk almost to the hilt in-between two of its ribs. A warbling gurgle escaped the throat mere inches over my head, and four clawed limbs thrashed weakly against the right side of my face. The massive collection of spirits paid it little mind though, and just kept the momentum of my lunge going.

The second vampire flanking my right, leapt at the same time as his fellow, but his trajectory would've placed it at where I originally was as opposed to where I had moved. Unable to simply impale it as we had done his friend, my neck violently twisted to the side and let my head meet the straggler. With a sickening crunch, and the unmistakable snap of bone, my possessing spirits slammed the vampire on my horn as hard as they possibly could into his comrade. The second vampire didn't shout, growl, or even whimper as it flew and crashed among the tangled limbs of its injured fellows around the entrance of the room.

My legs hit the stone floor and locked up, forcing all my forward momentum to a dead stop. Then without any more targets immediately in front of me, and those at my left flank playing catch up, my neck extended itself as far as it could and pointed my spiraled horn high into the air. The energy still stored in the focus flashed brightly, visible even beneath the impaled vampire's hide, and coursed back down through the horn and over my body.

With the release of the stored power, my blazing mane and tail practically exploded into a bonfire, its flames creating a veritable wall of heat and power behind me. Out of the corner of my left eye, I saw a few sets of clawed limbs skid to a halt just outside of the reach of my mane or tail. Savage they may be, but even blood hungry vampires don't just willingly throw themselves into a furnace.

The creature still stuck to my head thrashed against me with renewed desperation, its clawed legs planted themselves against my skull as it tried to lift itself off of my horn. A quick glance upward revealed that its head and much of its upper torso were hidden underneath the bonfire that was my mane.

My lips peeled back in a snarl and my neck and head flicked downwards, dislodging the vampire from my horn and depositing it on its back at my forelegs. The spirits made me turn around towards the remaining vampires dancing outside the reach of my fire. My forelegs shifted and my barrel began to turn to my left, but my entire body abruptly froze in place as my eyes glanced over the beaten creature at my hooves. The vampire was severely injured, black blood flowed freely from where my horn had pierced its chest and much of its upper body was covered in horrible third degree burns. None of these seemed to matter much to the vampire however, because the wounded thing only had wide fear-filled eyes for me.

The charred vampire gripped the stone floor at its back, and desperately pushed itself away from me. Its breath came out in ragged gasps as it inched itself across the floor. Its slightly melted face not wavering from me for a second. At this sign of fear, of weakness, the spirits' unbridled fury spiked. The sudden surge of emotion fed back into my mane and tail and made them flare out even further, forcing the remainder of my attackers to back step another few feet. My body turned back around towards the injured vampire, a deep growl escaping my throat as I neared the terrified half cooked vampire.

"You… fear us?" the spirits snarled through my teeth in that same oddly modulated voice as before, "You hunt us, eat us, bleed us dry, and now you fear us?!" My body reared back on my hind legs so that the hooves of my forelegs hovered over the vampire. "You wear our children's skin! Do not put fear on our faces!" The last word was punctuated with a soft crunch as my hooves fell on the vampire's prone body. "Get out! Get out of our skin! GET OUT!" Every other word or so was accented with another thundering stomp of a hoof on its body.

The spirits continued their barrage of hooves on the vampire long after their final word, and long after the creature had died. Defiant, hate-filled words became incomprehensible bellows of rage and pain that escaped my throat. The spirits didn't care that one of the things that had caused them such suffering was dead, they were determined to cause the vampire as much pain as possible before they left, and just kept bringing down my hooves onto its broken corpse. Through it all, all the rage and all the motion, I distinctly felt two beads of moisture rolling down either side of my face from my eyes.

Oh dear Celestia, stop! Stop! I cried deep within the recesses my mind, but to no avail.

The spirits controlling me paid no mind to my petty concerns of self-control, and just kept right on expressing their distaste for vampires as violently as possible. Now, I held no love for the Red Court; in fact, I wouldn't lose a minute of sleep if I pushed a button to make them all simply vanish from existence, but that's about as much emotion as I was willing to devote to the creatures. I merely wanted the Red Court to die. The spirits didn't think like that, they wanted the vampires to suffer, by their hooves, and if they could swing it, for all eternity. While that's fine within the confines of their own emotions, they were experiencing those emotions in my head, and simple proximity to that level of rage was threatening to destroy my sanity. I needed to get them back on track and out of their frenzy, for my friends if not for myself.

Listen to me! The Princess needs us! Twilight needs us! I silently shouted under the strain of maintaining a mental shield around me that was starting to crack. Again, my desires were left unheard as yet more blooms of fire were focused on the remains in front of me, in a futile attempt to cause it more pain.

"W-We can't handle this," stammered a raspy voice somewhere behind me. "It's-It's too strong."

"Get to the King! We need him!"

At those words, the spirits were reminded that there were in fact other vampires in the room, and my head snapped around in search of the new targets. With one eye towards the far wall left of the entrance, and the other on the entrance itself, I was finally given a look at some of the after effects of some of my actions.

The entrance I had originally followed Twilight down was littered with Red Court vampires in varying states of distress. Just a quick glimpse over numbered them at around six or seven black forms. Apparently they wanted the greatest concentration in front and behind me in case I somehow managed a mad dash for one of the doors.

Two of the vampires, presumably the two that were caught by my buck, had hit the wall on either side of the staircase with such force that they cratered into it slightly. The one on the left had hit the wall and slid down into a boneless heap on the floor, the one on the right was still suspended in the impact zone; its limbs hung limply about its unconscious body. Around these two were several others who had apparently somehow been caught in my initial buck, or else were knocked aside as the ones who cratered in the wall flew by. Most were not severely injured and were slowly staggering to their feet after being knocked senseless. Though one or two of the stunned vampires weren't trying to stand at all, and were instead curled up on the ground nursing burns ranging from moderate to severe. I could only assume that they had drawn a bit too close when my tail flared with energy.

To my right, were the vampires that had managed to draw my possessing spirits' attention. Three black creatures stood a few feet away, two looked like they might have been about to move for the door the Red King had left, while the third stood a little behind the other two. All three of them froze in place under my gaze, their eyes widened in sudden fear, and the one closest to the Red King's door was left with a clawed leg suspended in the air.

"Rrraaagghh!" bellowed from my maw and echoed around the room as my legs danced to pivot me around.

The instant the spirits made their move, the three vampires bolted. The two closest ran for the Red King's door, while the third made for the stairs. Power ran through my horn and immediately reached out to seize the fleeing forms. Operating off simple numbers, my power lashed out for the two going for the closed door. The spirits clamped down around their hind legs with a powerful vice-like grip that forced both of them to their bellies.

Once those two were secured, my head craned around, another telekinetic spell already charging up in my horn. However, the vampire was already gone, his hind legs disappearing up the stairs as it came into view. At the base of the stairs, one of the other vampires that were shakily trying to get back to their feet had been violently thrown to one side and landed painfully on a charred leathery wing; obviously pushed aside by its fleeing comrade.

My possessing spirits, aggravated at seeing one of their prey escape, turned my head back to glare at the two they had managed to ensnare. The two creatures whimpered pitifully and dug their claws into the stone floor, digging large gouges into it as they tried and failed to escape out from under my power. My legs automatically started to move me forward to the spirits' struggling prey, images of horrible debilitating tortures already flashing past the shield around my mind. Aside from the likelihood that another indulgence of such desires would destroy my sanity, or whatever was left of it, almost all of the ideas the spirits were tossing around were designed to last a good long while. That was time Twilight didn't have to spare.

We don't have time for this! Move on, just kill them and move on! I inwardly shouted again. I might as well have tried to placate them with a lullaby. My horn became a red lantern as the power for the first of many spells coursed through it. Just before the magic would have been released, a random brainwave hit me and I changed gears immediately. He's going to get away, the Red King will escape!

That hit a nerve.

My legs stopped moving mid-trot, my right foreleg slowly lowered until I was standing perfectly still in a tall straight-backed profile. The myriad of rather disturbing ideas flowing through me came to a complete standstill. Conflicting desires to cause the vampires as much pain as long as possible and to bypass it all to get their ethereal hooves on the boss went to war with each other in my head. Below me the two vampires still pinned by my power cautiously looked up at my blank face.

He heard us, he had to, I quickly offered, seeking to press my temporary advantage over my possessors. He thought his guards could handle us. He knows we have too much power. He's afraid of us. If we take our time here, he'll get away and we'll never find him again.

"No…" whispered out under my breath. "No… Can't escape… Won't escape…"

My eyes snapped back down to the now very confused vampires beneath me. A huge amount of raw magic coursed through my horn, far more than what the spirits were preparing before. At the sight of my horn again lighting up like Celestia's noonday sun, the trapped vampires resumed desperately trying to escape.

Over the span of a solid three seconds the energy in my horn built and built until it was glowing a pure white, and was released in a single blast that held far more power than I could have ever hoped to channel. With a sound oddly enough like wind rushing by, at around two hundred miles an hour, a beam of pure white fire shot from my horn and fell upon the creatures at my hooves. Not a single sound escaped from them as they burned under my fire, only the abrupt silence of panicked whimpers, and powerful rushing wind.

My head pivoted around the room, seeking out all the other vampires still remaining to be dealt with. Behind me, the unconscious and severely burned vampires hadn't really moved much, though a few the thoroughly dazed creatures had managed to get to their clawed feet. These wobbling creatures made to follow the example of their fleeing comrade and clumsily made their way to the stairs. One vampire with a moderate singe along its left flank actually managed to get its limbs working properly enough that it had managed to crawl five or so steps up the stairs, or at least it did.

Before the vampires could get any further up the stairs, a focused beam of pure white fire slammed into the stair just above the lead vampire, and quickly moved down. Much like the two that ran for the door and the half dozen that were too close to the spirits' initial attack, the vampires made little more than brief shouts of surprise before my power washed over them. Those at the bottom of the stairs saw the fire coming and tried to shuffle out of the way, but fell to the immense power all the same. My head shifted constantly as the spirits targeted each individual vampire and eradicated them one by one, the beam of power digging small furrows into the stone as it went. Soon enough all that was left in the room were several splintered skeletons, piles of ash, and one quasi-alicorn.

My eyes traveled over the many piles of soot and bones as the spirits surveyed their work. A low grumble resounded deep in my chest, vocalizing at least some measure of discontentment over how quickly they had died. Though, inwardly I was a little grateful that these vampires died the way they did. Compared to some of the images I saw flashing through my possessing spirits' minds, death by incineration was a much better way to go.

Any further thoughts on the matter were abruptly cut off as my legs wheeled me around to the large wooden door the Red King went through and threw me forward at a brisk canter. Before I could finish processing all of the violence that had happened in a relatively short amount of time, the handle of the door was surrounded in a red aura and it swung open, revealing a long dark hallway behind it.

I moved to step through it, but was stopped as my middle tried to squeeze through the frame. With confusion momentarily overriding the anger that had been driving me up to that point, my eyes peered around me to investigate what was wrong. They didn't have to move far. My folded molten wings bulged out obscenely from my sides, the two vampires that managed to get close to me were still evidently trapped there, or what was left of them anyway.

With a little effort, primarily coming from the many pegasi I could sense within me, my large wings unfurled again and stood at attention above me, their coloration complementing my mane and tail rather well. The moment they did so, two horribly burned vampire bodies fell to the floor and rolled away. I wasn't exactly sure at which point during the spirits' rampage the vampires had died under my wings, but I certainly hadn't felt a thing once the wings had closed around them. Far more interesting than that though were my sides where the vampires had been attached, in that they looked to be completely healthy. Before, the creatures had run their claws and their fangs across me, almost opening me up all the way down to my ribs; but now there wasn't a scratch on me, only pristine ashen grey fur.

"He's near," growled deep from within my throat at the same time my legs pushed me forward at a quick pace. Once again, any thoughts on the sudden passive healing ability that my working had gifted me, or any of the implications thereof fell to the wayside.

Air blew past my face as my body broke out in a full gallop down the hallway opposite the door. The walls, roof, and floor were all the same stone as the previous room, and the ceiling was just high enough to allow my wings to rest at full extension with the tips only occasionally brushing against the roof. There were no lanterns of course, vampires wouldn't need them, but the dancing light given off by the combination of my mane, tail, and wings were more than enough to light my way.

After a good ten seconds or so of solid galloping, and just around the time I started to wonder how nasty of a fallout I was in for if I survived this madness, I began to hear a distinct voice; thankfully not one that was coming from inside my head. Words reverberated down over my ears, the acoustics of the hallway letting them go much further than they would otherwise. It was a deep well spoken baritone that I immediately identified as none other than the Red King.

"I know you can feel them Princess," chuckled the Red King. I could practically hear the smirk plastered on his face. "All your little ponies up there right now fighting and dying to save you. Are you really such a cold hearted creature that you try to block them out?"

"You monster," answered a melodious, although severely distressed voice that could only belong to Celestia. "You won't win. I will never let you in my head."

The Red King openly laughed at that. "You say that like you have a choice, my dear Celestia. No mind can withstand assault forever, not even yours. The only question here is how many of your loyal subject will you let die while you struggle against me?" He paused for a second, thinking carefully about his next words. "Or, better yet, what about your precious student? I've heard you dote on her like a daughter. Will you let her fall to your stubbornness as well?"

Fear flooded through me at those words. I silently urged my limbs to move faster from behind my mental shield. At the far end of the hall, the shadows slowly sifted away to reveal another wooden door similar to the one before, lights and shadows danced at the crack at the floor. My legs picked up speed as excitement and fury built in the minds of my possessors, in direct proportion to the worry and desperation building in mine.

"Don't you dare touch her!" Celestia screamed.

"Maybe I won't kill her. Maybe I'll just turn her, yes," the Red King hissed. "Her and these other 'Bearers of the Elements of Harmony'. I daresay I could use a few good lieutenants once this is done. That's assuming they're still alive of course."

"No, you can't!" Celestia's voice gained a definite note of panic.

"Then stop me!" He shouted back. "You can make this all stop! You can save them all! Just let me in!"

At the word "in" my body contorted and slammed the entirety of my left side into the large wooden door. The door splintered apart and exploded into the room on the opposite side. Little pieces of wood flew everywhere. After that, a moment of surprised silence filled the room as everypony there tried to take stock of what just happened. Standing in the doorway, among the splintered remains of the door, I could see into every corner of the room.

It was another very simplistic stone room, much like the space I'd left littered with vampire ash and bone. It had the same stone makeup, although at maybe two-thirds the size and with only one door, the one I just destroyed. On the far wall opposite the door I stood at, was Celestia.

Celestia leaned against the wall with her belly to the floor and her legs folded beneath her. All around her were the same large tendrils of solidified shadows that had ensnared her in the first place. These tendrils protruded from the floor and bound her legs and body so thoroughly that the only thing she could move was her head, and even then there was one thin tendril that had wrapped itself around her horn, cutting off her ability to use magic.

Along the left wall, I saw the collection of purple fur that I'd grown attached to. Twilight lay in a boneless heap, still unconscious from being thrown against a wall and bound in a manner similar to Celestia. For a moment a shard of ice pierced my heart when I saw her, afraid that perhaps she had already been lost, but relaxed again when I saw her side lift and fall with ragged breaths.

Oh, Oh thank you… Just a little while longer, Twilight. I'll get you out of here.

Sitting in the dead center of the room with his back towards me, though with his head craned around to look at the intruder, was the reason for all of our troubles and hardship. The aspiring Red King, in all his imposing glory. His navy coat and dark red mane and tail blended well into the shadows behind him. Even sitting he was much taller than any normal pony I'd ever seen, although my recent working had put us on much more even terms on that regard. His horn glowed with the same dull blackness that comprised the tendrils that bound Celestia and Twilight. His eyes bore into me in the exact same way a cougar's does when stalking its prey. Everything about this monster screamed to me "predator", everything except his expression.

The Red King had been completely dumbfounded by my sudden presence. He peered over his shoulder at me in what might as well have been a wide eyed cartoonish look of complete disbelief. Behind him, Celestia shared his expression. Her jaw hung loosely as she desperately tried to give voice to whatever was going through her mind.

"It can't be," Celestia managed to whisper under her breath so quietly I almost couldn't hear, "Father?"

As though Celestia had simply vanished from his mental radar, the Red King rose to his hooves and threw a scowl at me, regaining his composure immediately. "Dresden, what have you done?" he growled, his tone dangerously low. "You madman, what have you done?"

That actually gave the spirits pause for thought. I could sense that each individual consciousness wanted the Red King to hear their names, and know who their opponent really was. However, to effectively give every single name to fulfill that desire, would take an unnecessarily long time. So instead, the spirits sifted through their collective memories at the speed of thought for a single name that would hopefully fit the situation. Interestingly enough, Equestrian lore apparently doesn't have a name for a single being housing a multitude of vengeful spirits. Sensing that their search among their own memories was futile, they turned to a nearby source of potential knowledge that wasn't among their number, namely me.

I didn't dare to resist as countless consciousnesses dove into my memories and began to search through them. Flashes of past experiences flew by me as I desperately tried to keep my mind separate while still presenting as many memories as possible. Images of my old apartment and many moments of violence I'd experienced resurfaced, while I just did the mental equivalent of gritting my teeth and endured. Thankfully, their search was over quickly. They found what they considered a fitting name among one of the few religious texts I'd actually taken the time to glimpse through.

"Not Dresden," the spirits growled through my throat, the multitude of slightly different voices as disconcerting as ever. "Legion. We are… Legion." A truly unbelievable amount of power collected in my horn and it began glowing with a light that illuminated the entire room in an eerie red glow. My hooves automatically moved me forward towards the murderous scowl of the Red King pretender. "You… You hurt us… You murdered us…" My head lowered in a standard combat stance to cover more of my neck, and my semi-solid wings flared out to either side to increase my apparent size. "You turned our families into monsters!" My flaming mane grew several sizes and fanned out into the air between my wings as the spirits' rage reached a crescendo. "NEVER AGAIN!"