Heavens above! This chapter was TORTURE! Writing 15,000 words in two days = Not fun! Not fun at all!
I hope you guy's will accept this chapter's size as an apology for its delay because I sure as hell won't be writing one as big as this for a while!
NOTE!: For all my few readers out there! I have added a Update updater on my profile so you can check it out in the off chance you find yourselves wondering "Just what the hell is Darkside doing with the next chapter?".
Chapter proofread by [url= user/CrossoverManiac]CrossoverManiac[/url]. He is by all means awesome.
Year of our Alicorn 1001
The Molten lands, Barbed Mountain
Two weeks before Gilgamesh's discharge from Ponyville hospital
The two hooded figures walked calmly amongst the blackened stone of the active volcano that was the Barbed Mountain. One was tall, walking on two legs. The second was equine and following closely behind the first. The tall figure was careful in treading through this treacherous terrain, mindful as it skirted as far as he could walk around the boiling magma pools that littered the mountain's highest plateau as far as the eye could see. The equine one, simply didn't have to.
He paid no heed to the mocking hungry eyes of the dragon brood around him. No satisfaction to the rude and vicious remarks of their young. He simply walked amongst them fearless, for he knew that they would not harm him. Not only were they not allowed but they would simply not dare. Not while the king's gift walked next to him. Even stupid animals like these dragons knew well enough not to mess with their betters.
The pair suddenly came to stop as a dragon leapt from its perch on the surrounding spires landing before them. The monstrous crimson lizard gazed down at the pair with harsh disapproving eyes.
"So, what are a griffon and a monster doing in our house?" It grumbled.
Judging by the way his tongue spat and crashed against his teeth, it was obvious that the dragon was unfamiliar with their language. Still, it was the best they could hope for this far from any form of civilized life. The Molten lands belonged to the dragons, and dragons were, by nature, a barbaric and instinctive race. It was any wonder that one of them had actually bothered to learn a foreign language in and on itself.
"The usual business, Ascelion." The tall figure responded.
"This is far from our 'usual business', ambassador. Not when you've brought this abomination with you." The equine figure in question growled at the dragon's words. The unthinkable happened and the mountainous dragon actually flinched at the threat of the tiny thing ten times less his size.
The dragon humph, trying to save face before his brood by openly glaring at the equine figure. Still, the ambassador was amazed to note that a dragon like Ascelion chose to avoid direct confrontation with his companion. Amazed but, all things considered, not really surprised.
"Who would you have of us, ambassador?" Ascelion asked, finally giving up glaring pointlessly at his equine companion.
"We're looking for your best." The ambassador responded.
The dragon seemed to contemplate these words.
"You mean the king?" He asked surprised. The figure shook its head as a 'no'.
"You mean our brightest?" Ascelion ask suspiciously.
Again the griffon mimed 'no'.
A vicious grin split Ascelion's monolithic maw.
The griffon nodded.
"What should I call him?" The ambassador inquired.
"Let's see," the dragon responded by running a claw across his chin in deep thought. "I think 'Wormwing' would be most appropriate."
The ambassador nodded with satisfaction.
"Very well. Lets us talk business."
Fourth verse/Perilous encounters
The drizzling waters of lavish fountains and chirping birds graced the king's palace with their southing, harmonious melodies, marking the beginning of yet another glorious day in the household of him who is Gilgamesh. Deep within his chambers as he sat, surrounded by veils, carpets and curtains of priceless fabrics of unmatched artistry, upon four legs resting before the awe-inspiring bed of silken sheets and fine feathered pillows, he who is Gilgamesh paid no heed to the striking symphony of nature that encompassed his glorious person.
The hero king's senses were instead muddled with a most scalding sensation of frustration and ire as thought of a bloodied righteous revenge encompassed his awareness and perceptions. With ponderings at such filling his mind he gazed down ravenous rage and vile hate at the traitorous instigator of his troubles. With narrowed eyes filled of spend patience, he took in the abhorrent being's round, pink face. Contemplate, did the hero, the most fitting method of punishment for the target of his fury. Yet he did not act, yet he hesitated, for he knew that if in violence he resorted, of this game he would be the looser and for he was Gilgamesh, he could not loose.
In turn, gazing at the King of Heroes, the adolescent pink unicorn's sapphire eyes too showed frustration and boredom, indeed insulting the delicate sensibilities of the Golden King. She was inpatient, he knew. For his response she waited, he knew. Yet, even in face of this challenging expectation, again the God King did not act, for he had to be careful, thoughtful, and focused. The task expected of him was against his very nature and indeed it was-
"Will you pass the ball already? It's almost time for school!" Dinky roared. Her patience was at an end.
From deep within his reverie, the God King jolted, his eyes rocketing up from the pink tether-ball resting on the floor, to regard the young incensed spitfire. At her, he scowled.
"Again you interrupt me!" He spat. "This is not such a task were your insistent prattling will be deemed acceptable!" He shouted, transferring his focus back to the round object before his hooves. "This is battle of wills between the grandeur that is me and this worthless upstart! My unworthy adversary will obey! Against my superior resolve its resistance will perish and I shall not withdraw my efforts until its will is broken!"
The pink unicorn frowned at his words, exasperated. For the fifth time in those scant few hours since the end of her morning slumber, she sighed.
Come on Gil, it's just mage-ball! You're not supposed to set the damn thing on fire or something; just levitate the ball to me." She pleaded. Her companion, however, would have none of that.
"I said quiet, you! You are distracting me, Gilgamesh, from my latest, most demanding conquest!" He roared! His crimson glimmering eyes glared holes at the volleyball sized sphere, of course, to no effect.
"Demanding?" Dinky deadpanned, raising a most galling eyebrow. "Gil, they use this at pre-school to teach us unicorn children the basics of magical theory application."
Once more, Gilgamesh shifted his gaze, this time to glower at the sardonic unicorn child before him. No, he reprimanded himself, throwing his advisor's child in boiling oil would not be the proper course of action in this situation. It was beneath him. He would however, have to have a stimulating conversion with Ditzy over the subject of child discipline in the near future.
Gilgamesh humped, turning his attention back to the task at han-hoof-dammit!
"I am not such a witch that I would be familiar with your abominable craft!" He growled, determined now, more than ever to conquer this obstacle regardless of distractions.
"You're a unicorn." Dinky deadpanned. Her efforts were quick to be ignored.
"You should just be thankful that I accepted to aid you with your homework if at all!" Gilgamesh exclaimed, indignant. His heart however, was not in it. With an angry tempo instead it beat, for his constant troubles at performing even this meager act of inborn unicorn magic.
"What?" Dinky squawked. "You're the one who asked my mom drag me here! First thing in the morning too!" She protested.
"Damnable thing!" Gilgamesh muttered, to whom or what Dinky could not tell. She did however notice as the hero-king's horn unleashed a brief spark of crimson.
"Hey! Hey! You're doing it! You're doing it!" She exclaimed and a second and a third spark emerged, each more notable that the one before. The magenta ball thus begun to rise and rise, climbing higher above the ground with every new flash of magical discharge, until finally its profound ascent stopped, reaching its optimal apex.
There it hovered, at whooping five centimeters over the tiled floor.
Gilgamesh gloated, Dinky sighed.
"Heh! Once more I am victorious!" He cheered. The arrogance in his voice almost was palpable. "See you ignorant child? None defies the will Gilgamesh! Despite this being but my first attempt in the field of your kind's magical craft, my performance is phenomenal! Do you not agree?" He said, looking down at her expectantly.
Dinky rolled her eyes. Just go with it, she concluded.
"Okay, you were right, I was wrong. Now, why don't just float the thing at me and we can call it a day? I'm really gonna be late for class!" Any further argument was cut short at the sound of hooves knocking against the door.
Dinky, are you there?" Ditzy called out.
"Yeah mom. I'm here." The foal shouted back.
"Okay, good." The door gently crept open and hesitantly did Ditzy's poke her head through the resulting crack. "Are you guys done yet?" She asked. "We really have to get going. The race track is about to open, and we can't have you be late to school," she claimed.
"Uhh, yeah. I think we're done here?" Dinky responded, looking inquisitively at the golden colt that employed her mother. At first he scowled, obviously unhappy at this turn of events. A few moments later, thankfully, he relented, snorting loudly.
"Very well." He claimed, turning away. "I do not believe I require any further assistance. You may go."
"Thanks Gil." Ditzy smiled warmly, motioning her daughter through the door. "Oh, uh. Is there anything extra you want done today?" She inquired.
"No. Just your regular duties will suffice." He stated, his attention once more slipping towards the still magically hovering sphere. "Just remember to inform any visitors of my absence."
"Uhhh...You're going somewhere?" Ditzy asked, puzzled.
"Ditzy," he sighed irritably. "Were you not so helpfully obedient during my first few weeks in this damnable place, I would have long fired you for your absentminded disposition."
"Ehehe...Sorry." She giggled nervously. Gil could be a real nitpicker at times, Ditzy privately mused. To those that served him he was magnanimous, true. He always treated them fairly and always expected the best, even from the lowest of his employees. Unfortunately, that very trust also pinged him as one of those particularly precarious employers you never wanted to cross. There had been some rather unfortunate incidents in the past few weeks. Not much is to be said but it involved a tomato, a book and a rather specific form of sword-flinging. This time, thankfully, he didn't appear to be all that miffed. Ditzy could count herself lucky. The golden king always seemed to favor her, inherent problems with temporal perception be damned. Indeed, although he would never admit it, he had grown a Celestia-blessed, thrice-damned from his perspective, soft spot for the wall-eyed mare.
That in mind, the mare was not surprise to hear no further complaint from her...she was hesitant in calling him a friend. Instead, the King of Heroes forcefully tore away from the point of his focus, the magically shimmering sphere hovering over the floor tile, to tower over the mare with an expression that mirrored nothing but pride and...that was glee right? For his plans for the day?!
"Let me say this again. Today, I'm going hunting." He stated proudly, gazing down upon her.
"Wait...Did you just say hunting?" Dinky exclaimed, instantly alarmed. "As in hunting-hunting? You're gonna go after some poor helpless animal?"
"Oh you! Don't be silly, ponies don't hunt. That's only what natural born predators like say...uhh...griffins do!" Smiled the wall-eyed mare, petting her daughter's head in that condescending way only mothers could pull off.
"What a delightful way of putting it Ditzy...indeed, hunting is something only natural born predators do." Dinky had to wonder at moments like this how her mother could possibly be missing the positively bloodthirsty smile that Gilgamesh kept flashing at them.
"See dear? All that Gil wants is nice quiet stroll around Everfree after being cooped up in the hospital for so long." Gilgamesh threw back his head, filling the sleeping chambers with the sound of his deep, malignant laugher.
"Are you seriously not seeing this?"
"Oh, Gil, I almost forgot. I may have mentioned this before but every visitor to the forest has to go through the caretaker's hut first. By royal decree, nopony is allowed in there without an official guide. Be sure to do that ok? We wouldn't want you breaking the rules now and getting yourself arrested or something." Gilgamesh's hair-raising roars of mirth soared to a new awe-inspiring and terrifying crescendo.
"I mean really, am I the only one in this entire house that's actually hearing this?"
"There, there sugar muffin. Don't be rude." The former-mailmare whispered, still stroking the filly's mane. "You need to respect other ponies' share of crazy."
Dinky could only pout.
"Oh Ditzy, you always make the most amusing statements. No wonder I still keep you around!" Exclaimed the King of Kings as his laughter receded.
"Thanks!" Ditzy chirped happily. "Are you gonna be okay for a tour through the forest though? I mean. You couldn't even walk properly a few weeks ago. Don't be mad at me for saying this, but I still see you stumbling about here and there. I'm just kind of worried for your safety."
True enough, all signs of joviality vanished from his person the very instant she uttered those word. For the second time that morning however he chose to withhold his rage. For a full few actual seconds, he honestly appeared to contemplate her question. Finally, he snorted.
"Your worries are unfounded if not touching Ditzy." As gracefully as he could, he hopped up, dancing at the tips of his legs, as if to prove his point. "These infernal hooves do escape my full control still, but I do believe I have obtained enough command over this accursed body to manage a light stroll through the woods. Running should prove...challenging, true, yet should prove enough to complete my endeavor."
"If you say so. " Ditzy sighed. He could be so stubborn at times. "So...when are you going?"
As if on cue, the golden king's magically levitating tetherball exploded in a rush of decompressing air and soot.
As morning turned to evening and the majestic Equestrian sun followed its predetermined course through the heavens, a young filly of ivory coat and curly mane trotted towards home, eyes and head downcast, happy to see another day come to a close and yet disappointed it didn't end as she wished.
Young Sweetie Belle sighed. Another morning gone by, another morning she trotted around with a blank flank, incidentally, another school day gone by, another school day she had been made fun of for said blank flank. Hay fries, what were they doing wrong? She kept asking herself. Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle had been so sure that mosaics would have been the thing, THEIR thing. That all desirable yet elusive special talent that would forever illuminated their lives. Unfortunately, in accordance to Apple bloom's open skepticism and very vocal doubts, the mosaic thing had got them nowhere. In other words, it was the same old same old. Sweetie Belle was starting to suspect that artistic culture wasn't really the basket in which the trio of Cutie Mark Crusaders should been putting their proverbial eggs in.
Sowing, painting, sketching, sculpting via water paint, oil paint, hoof paint, graphite, cloths, marble, rock, macaroni, and even fine silks and gold…long story, had all ended up with the same result, which was, you guessed it! None, nada, no change, back cheeks as blank and boring as ever. In retrospect, this whole crusading thing really wasn't going all that well…or at the very least, as well as Sweetie Belle hoped.
Honestly, she considered, returning back to her earlier thoughts, they had to be doing something wrong. But what could it be? They had already interviewed virtually the entirety of Ponyville for any Cutie mark Intel and all stories had ended up the same way, do random thing, end up with random flank tattoo.
Sweetie Belle hummed to herself. Information, that's what they needed, more information. Obviously the first hand and eyewitness accounts of the entire town could not possibly be enough. All the ponies involved were just too streamlined. Their cutie mark stories had all been similar and plain, too similar and plain.
Sweetie Belle spent a moment considering the possibility of a national cutie mark conspiracy.
Still, all the situations they had heard about had been smooth, simple and unremarkable affairs, as far as cutie mark stories went that was because getting a cutie mark via rainbow nuke or instilling the very essence of life to a lifeless dragon egg wasn't really all that unremarkable. As efforts went, however, none of the Crusade's interviewees had reported any sort of effort even remotely reassembling the things the crusaders themselves were forced to do on a near daily basis just to attain that illustrious 'mark' , holidays and time spend in the hospital to recuperate from the resulting horrid injuries of said efforts notwithstanding.
No, the crusaders needed something new…someONE new, somepony who had lived an experience somewhat closer to their own. Somepony strange, somepony odd, somepony different…and Pinkie pie did not count.
With yet another sullen sigh, the young filly turned the corner, coming within sight of her home which also doubled as her sister's dress shop, Ponyville's own Carousel Boutique. She walked slowly, mind deep in thought, approaching the structure at low spirits and low morale. Eventually, her lucid trot got her across the grassy street and, with a heavy heart; she opened the door, preparing to greet her sister for yet another evening as a blank flank.
"-o what about his cutie mark?"
THAT got Sweetie Belle's attention.
"His cutie mark?" The filly heard Rarity inquire from the general direction of the living room.
"Yes, you can tell a lot about a pony from his cutie mark. What did HIS look like?" That sounded like Carrot Top.
Sweetie Belle ducked, lowering her body to against the ground and carefully closing the door behind her. The conversing pair had obviously not noticed the filly's entry yet and that was a fact that Sweetie Belle found as to her advantage to keep. If the filly's presence was made known, there was a good chance that her sister and Carrot Top would cut short their suddenly very interesting conversation or, worse yet, dismiss Sweetie Belle to her room by labeling the subject as 'private'. Celestia knows how many times THAT happened. Really, what could it possibly be that two mares be talking about that was too 'private' for a filly to overhear?
…Not, that is to say, that Sweetie Belle was in the habit overhearing a lot of Rarity's conversations. Oh Celestia no! Eavesdropping was rude, insensitive, uncouth and all around bad, bad, BAD…as her sister had put it the last time she caught Sweetie Belle doing it.
Either way, it was too important this time to worry about her sister catching her in the act. The future of the Cutie Mark Crusaders could very well be depending on Sweetie Belle…ahem…just happening to catch the tail end of this evening's discussion between her beloved sister and her friend. The filly crept along the boutique. Through the entrance and hallways she sneaked, finally coming to crouch behind the doorway of the living room.
Ever so carefully poking her head around that particular corner, she caught sight of the pair of young mares currently sitting on either side of the coffee table, one on the sofa and the other on a very familiar couch. Both ponies were currently in possession of a cup of tea, Carrot top holding hers in hoof and Rarity levitating her own share in a cocoon of that telltale azure arcane energy. Sweetie Belle's wondering eye widened with a silent gasp. She slammed her front hoof to her muzzle, to silence her own surprise. The cause of it? Rarity, herself, or more specifically, her appearance.
Her sister's mane was frazzled and her eyes looked more haggard than ever. It was very rare for Rarity to appear before others in such a look, especially in mid-day. The only other time Sweetie Belle had witnessed the marshmallow seamstress bear such an appearance, was when she had a massive order to fill, which, in turn, resulted in many sleepless nights alongside one of the manikins. It was rather obvious to Sweetie Belle that something was weighing heavily on Rarity's mind and, in fact, had been for the better part of the day.
"You know…it's very strange." Sweetie Belle heard Rarity say. "I…I don't really remember what his cutie mark looked like." She continued hesitantly. "But…well…it's unreasonable, I would know. I was talking with him eye-to-eye for the better part of the afternoon…and I always pay attention to other ponies when they speak. I spent hours yesterday trying to understand that uncouth showoff of a noble stallion. But…I-I-now that I look back at it…for some reason, I just didn't think to look."
"Well, THAT's certainly odd…," Carrot Top frowned.
"Odd? Carrot, this entire meeting was just BIZZARE! I can't explain it, but there was something very wrong with that pony!" Rarity paused, carefully considering her next words. "This may sound silly, but when I was talking to him I didn't feel like I was speaking to a real living, breathing creature at all. Heavens Carrot, it felt as if…as if I was looking at somepony…some THING that shouldn't even exist. All of it, the entire time I was facing him, it all just felt so…so…unreal! Ethereal even!"
"I…uhhh, I'm sure it was just you 'Arity. "
"Oh, I'd like to think so too Carrot but this, this disaster of a social call has been lurking about in my head since yesterday. I'm sure of it! There's just something nagging about that colt, something hiding at plain sight yet invisible to the eye. It's like it's just there, just in the edges of my vision, but I can't quite make it out. It's terribly distracting, especially in that one point! Celestia help me! I swear to all my stars that there was a moment, a single instant where he didn't even look like a pony at all! It felt as if some monster suddenly jumped out of a storybook or some old legend just to devour me! It was all just so surreal!"
"A monster out of a storybook? Really?" Carrot top drew back, eyeing her company carefully. "A tad overdramatic, don't you think. I mean, sure, the guy sounds like a grade A jerk, but I think labeling him as 'an ancient eldritch terror from the deep dark depths of Love Craft's spooky imagination' is jumping the cannon a smidgeon too fast."
"What? Oh! Oh, yes, of course." The seamstress responded absentmindedly. It was obvious that most of her mind was lost mulling on her personal musings on the subject.
"Look 'Arity. Why don't you take the rest of the day off? Relax a bit. Don't take this wrong, but sweetie, you're a mess right now. Some sleep will obviously do you good."
"Yes, yes. Of course you're right. I doubt I'll be able to do any proper work today either way. When Sweetie Belle returns from class, I'll close shop, at least until I regain my some of my usual decorum."
Still watching quietly from the sidelines, an intrigued and admittedly almost ecstatic Sweetie Belle recognized those words as just the right cue to finally announce her presence to the living room's now sober occupants.
"Oh siiiiis!" She sung playfully. "I'm hooome!"
"Sweetie Belle?" Rarity exploded, her head rounding at the sound of her sister so quickly that it caused Carrot Top to actually wince in sympathy. Rarity would need an ice pack after that nap of hers, the farmer realized.
"Good evening, sis!" The filly waved back before turning to her sister's company. "You too, Miss Top."
"Evenin' Sweetie Belle. We didn't hear you come in." The farmer mare responded with a smile.
At the thought of that however, Rarity's eyes narrowed.
"Young filly, were you eavesdropping again?" If nothing else Sweetie Belle had the decency to look shocked at her older sister's accusation.
"Who me? Of course not! Eavesdropping on other people's conversation is uncouth, just as you said. A good filly like me would never do something like that." Aaaand add a winning smile. Naturally, Rarity didn't look very convinced. Devoid as she was of any proof for further argument the marshmallow mare could only hump.
"Very well, I'll just take your word for it this time." The seamstress stated firmly. "I better not catch you doing it again, however, or it's no dessert for a week. There are just some things that are too sensitive for a young filly to overhear! Am I clear?" She dictated through narrowed eyes.
"Why of course, Rarity! Proper ladies like us never intrude on others." Two days later Rarity would come to the verified conclusion that yes, the smile on Sweetie Belle's face in this instance had indeed been a touch too superfluous to be trusted. For now though, the seamstress just nodded contently at her younger sister's timely response.
"Fair enough. Now, if we are finished with all this tedious business, would you like to join us for tea? I'm sure you have quite bit you'd like to share about today's school day."
Sweetie Belle shook her head in response.
"No thank you Rarity, we Cutie Mark Crusaders have an important meeting scheduled for today." The filly exclaimed proudly.
"Is that so?" The statement was quick to rouse Rarity's suspicions. "Very well, however, before you go, you have to promise me to stay away from that new terror of a pony that settled down in Peppermint's old house. I don't want you anywhere near him, do you understand."
"Yes sis! I promise that won't go anywhere near to that house until you give me your consent."
"Good! Well, move along then."
Trees whizzed by in a dizzying blur of upturned soil and rustling foliage, the path ahead coiling and twisting like a frenzied serpent to it frantic fearful eyes.
It was only natural.
Rare as it was for apex predators such as themselves, terror seldom failed to overcome reason and calm in the face of peerless adversity. Ancient instincts of self-preservation roared supreme and even the once might predators of the Everfree Forest were prompted to rout. The few defiant young that refused to flee, fell in a vile stroke of golden magic and light. So great and terrible, so beautiful and magnificent as it was it caused bark-skin to shatter and sprig tendons to rapture, like so much tender hare-bone under fangs of splintered wood. Surrender had been met with brutality, warding growls with a crushing aurous hoof.
So the timber wolf pack fled.
Run and run, run they did, clinging to life with the desperate power that only cornered prey could muster, but the predator, the hunter, the killer, the unnatural being, was fast to give chase.
That was all that Splintertooth, alpha male of the Timber wolf pack of the Eerie-Bark Tree, lord of bloody splintered teeth, gouger of rabbit flesh and killer of the manticore of Black Stone Ridge, could think before the forest once more flashed with strange logic-defying magic and dreaded searing fire. The monster of a timber wolf could only stare with dread and apprehension as yet one more pack mates were reduced to little more than a howling bonfire, writhing in a mutilated mess of ancient bark even as hellfire death claimed him.
To their right a flash of silver streaked and Splintertooth could only boggle with wonder as a citadel of unnatural ice bloomed to entomb Barbmaw, his most trusted, in cold merciless oblivion. Hellish laughter filled Splintertooth's sensitive ears from the surrounding forest. The former alpha of the now decimated timber wolf pack of the Eerie Bark Tree came to the horrifying realization that he was now indeed the last one left.
The clinging of celestial chain alarmed Splintertooth, turning his attention to the branches overhead, where even his mana-borne eyes would barely catch a glimmering blur of something as it shot above the trees and ahead of him. In a chilling moment of clarity in regards to his current peril, Splintertooth attempted to change course yet his swift paws failed him for by then he was already too late.
The ethereal angel of death bearing a faux pony-form descended upon a divine silver chain from the foliage of the ancient trees of Everfree to land before him, effectively cutting off Splintertooth's last avenue of escape. His cocky grin deceivingly filled with grass-eater teeth flashed in condemnable superiority. Scrutinized as he was underneath those malicious crimson eyes, Splintertooth came to what would be his last decision of valor.
With a lunge more savage than any his memory could provide him, Splintertooth soared through the air, fangs aiming at the murderous golden thing's neck.
The silver edge of an immolated blade was the last thing that Splintertooth even witnessed.
One lump of firewood.
Two lumps of firewood.
Three lumps of firewood.
With a self-satisfied smirk the incarnated King of Heroes shouldered the horribly mutilated corpses of his latest prey.
Tonight's celebratory bonfire roast would be fit for a king!
Gilgamesh laughed at his own personal godly sense of humor. Ah, he cracked himself up. As certain participants of the last Holy Grail Wars would surely attest to (under threat of a thousand blades), his divine heritage extended to much more than just a perfectly sculpted body.
Only in a few hours and the hunt was already proceeding as expected of one such as himself, that is to say perfectly. Even impeded by his new horrid equine body, the King of Heroes had managed to wreck glorious havoc amongst the forest's, admittedly strange, wildlife. Not that it was difficult per-say. The forest's wondrous creatures had apparently no sense of self-preservation worth mentioning. Where animals of his world would hide and observe their hunters, these particularly inane beasts would simple charge upon him.
The more-than-demi-god supposed it was logical. The forest's monsters were far from normal mortal animals after all. Just like all the wretched life in this gods-forsaken dimension they wore the forms of great and terrible mythical beasts. When first coming across a manticore, now his planned dinner for the day, even Gilgamesh's almighty had be left staggering by the seemingly casual emergence of such famed phantasmal beast of legend. Even after ascertaining the mortality of the monster without fail, the forest did not cease to amaze him at every sense. The sheer array of magical and mystical life forms to live in this single forest, even designedly packed and remote as it was, was nigh unthinkable.
In the face of the aura of mysticism and magic of this 'Everfree Forest', Gilgamesh could not help but recall cherished memories of battle and honor. Priceless heartwarming recollections of his adventures in the great forest of cedar trees in the south, where he and his great friend Enkidu had once hunted and slain the great half-demon Humbaba in the days of their youth, when the ancient seas and stones of the world were still young and the divine roamed freely upon the earth.
Oh that ancient, wonderful age. The time when men were strong and wonders never ceased. The modern world failed to even compare to the old age. Nothing but an ugly ruin, an empty and grey reflection of what it once was. A boring and unseemly place whose very stone had forgotten the touch of the gods and the endless wonders that once roamed it were thought as fiction, where once mighty sorcery had be reduced to self-righteous slight of hand and where true heroes became naught but a rare commodity. Oh how he longed to end that world. If only he had managed to claim the lives of thrice accursed masters of his dear Saber with his endless treasury. Even with the mockery the Holy Grail had become, the King of Heroes would have been free to reshape the world back to its former glory.
However, that was then, and this was now. Neither true king nor hero would ever allow themselves to loose sight of the present in favor of the now long gone mistakes of the past.
Baleful ideas of his former world aside, the King of Heroes rejoiced! To think that he had at first cursed his arrival to this, still mostly repulsive, dimension! The fates would not dare to be as insolent to one such as him without giving him something in return! Be it in this namby-pamby world of candy-floss pony caricatures as it was, Gilgamesh found this forest of the Age of Gods to his liking.
Thoroughly done collecting his wooden spoils, the golden hero begun the slow and laborious walk-trot (Godsdammit) back to his improvised camping grounds.
Gilgamesh gazed through the dense foliage above with a sudden apprehension. He could already see the faded rays of the sun setting above the tree line. Despite a loathing to admit it, Gilgamesh was beginning to feel the wear and tear of a laborious day weighing heavily upon his chiseled back. Even one such as he found himself at odds with the demanding nature of the brutal world of hunter and prey that was Everfree. Trapped as he was in a frail and unfamiliar form and bereft of a much desired source of prana, the true king's monumental reserves of strength and stamina were beginning to wane. The hunter had decided it was time to partake on the day's spoils and celebrate the success of this day's efforts.
Tired and burdened by the slain hides of the fallen tree-beasts, the path of return was indeed treacherous to Gilgamesh. With care he treaded around fields of thorn and felled rotted trees, waded and torn through veritable mountains of thick vine and branch. For hours he walked and climbed, countless times almost finding himself lost within the tumultuous maze that the gigantic forest presented. It was almost aggravating but finally, the King of Heroes came within sight of a clearing of lush blue flowers where a skeleton of a hunter's outpost had been set up.
Even as he approached, Gilgamesh appraised his work. In the center of the blue field of flowers he had cleared for a campfire, to right a makeshift tent while to the far left piled the bodies of his more edible prey, ready to be skinned and cooked for the night's celebratory roast. He had heard and read from the many doctors of the Ponyville hospital that ponies were unable to eat meat and even the mere mention of the act brought terror and bile rising in the faces of his informants. Privately, Gilgamesh considered the claim to be stupid and ignorant. Many times in his youth he had both seen and given starving steeds the flesh of animals upon which to feed, there were few things to consume after all during his and Ekindu's travels through the deserts of his now forgotten homeland. The concept that these so-called Ponies worked differently, Gilgamesh was more that willing to put to the test, thoughts of perfectly roasted golden-brown kill-flesh overpowering any argument against the act.
In fact, now that he thought back on his time in the Ponyville hospital, he had stated as much to his, by then already, horrified overseers.
Gilgamesh smiled fondly at the memory.
He wasted no time in relocating his person from the edge of the clearing and towards the field of blue flowers where his tend lay. Even as he lay foot-hoof-DAMMIT...even as he laid HOOF amongst the sinister blooms he felt his magic resistance flaring. He had no idea what this fauna was but even from the very moment he had lay eyes on it he had easily recognized its magical abilities. Even before the timely end of his mortal life, Gilgamesh was no stranger in magical plant life and its potentially harmful effects. Thankfully, the magic emitted by these flowers was week, admittedly incredibly unconventional, sinister and subtle. It was no matter to one such as him however as even weakened as his was, his magic resistance had been more than enough to combat the creeping negative effects of the deceptive blue flower.
With the flowers' curse repelling any potential overzealous or insolent predators and thieves, it had been a no-brainier for the golden king to choose this location as his base of operations.
Gilgamesh had just unloaded the broken bodies of the dead timber wolves when a voice in the wind caught his ears.
Zecora was in trouble of the mortal kind.
Neither animal nor beast was that which threatened her; instead she had found herself caught in one of the many hidden dangers of the treacherous Everfree.
Mere moments before the sporting zebra had been scouring one of the forest's many swamps for any potentially potent ingredients to add in her magical brews. At the time she had thought herself lucky when amongst the many muddy puddles and sinkholes she spotted a rather interesting sort of magic-riddled luminescent mushroom. As a zebra living in a forest of Everfree's nature, Zecora was familiar of the many dangers it could present. She was more than well aware that the muddy banks of the Everfree swamps had the tendency to swallow careless, lost ponies whole, in mere seconds drawing them to their deceptive watery depths, never to be seen again.
That in mind, Zecora had made sure to be especially vigilant in creeping along what dry-patches of swampy soil she could identify in her attempt of reaching the rare ingredient. As such she found it quite embarrassing when, a few paltry hoof-steps from the glowing mushrooms, she found herself, quite unfortunately she reflected, misjudging the stability of her footing.
What had followed was nothing but a blur of collapsing soil, upturned mud and splashing swamp water. Next thing the witch-doctor knew, she was jaw-deep, almost chocking in fact, in a particularly vicious but, thankfully, shallow pond. Hooves trapped in constricting mud and facing entrapment in a ditch until a rather unappealing end of utter solitude and tortuous long-drawn starvation, the zebra choose to resort to the last action available to her.
That is, to say, she started yelling for help...loudly.
Considering her current geographical location and its inexplicable ability to drive away ponies like a snarling lion would a mouse, Zecora was indeed quite surprise to find her calls for help answered. Doubtingly so when said response came from what she could only refer to as dirt-riddled and golden-coated unholy specter of the forest.
"Oh? What's this that I see? Yet another of your foolish kind caught in a situation far too big for you to handle. No doubt a result of your own incompetence, and your kind's utter ineptitude in fending for yourselves."
Ears raised in alarm, Zecora could only gape.
"No, wait." The red-eyed stranger paused. His unearthly crimson orbs scanning her feature. "No…no, YOU...you are something different. You appear to be in pony form but a pony you are not."
The zebra for her part blinked and blinked hard. Was she really seeing what she thought she was seeing?
"Tell me creature, can you speak? Answer carefully. Depending on your response you will either find yourself over an open fire by nightfall or escaping your imminent tube with your pathetic life." His tone betrayed the sheer merciless depths of the pony before her. Prompted by this very intensity of his presence, almost magical as it was, the zebra was finally promoted to speech.
"What is this that I see? Could it really be?" She uttered, more out of instinctive reflex than ordered conscious thought.
"Ah! So it talks!" The stranger exclaimed what could barely pass as dull surprise. "Very well creature, you have piqued my interest. You should feel honored! State your name and I, Gilgamesh, King of Heroes, shall spare your worthless life."
"Uh...I-" She hesitated. The wise zebra was, for the first time in decades, speechless at the sight that present itself before her. She was thankfully quick to bring an order to her thoughts and offer a proper response. Not too soon either as she could already see annoyance blooming on the pony-like creature's features.
"A zebra I am, stranger, and Zecora is my name. From southern distant lands of Zebrica, I hail. Yet this in this forest I choose to live, brewing medicines and potions from its many gifts."
"I see." An almost imperceptible nod of the head was all that signified this stranger's, this Gilgamesh's, acknowledgement. His interrogation didn't appear quite finished yet, which, for Zecora, was a fact quite unfortunate, considering that she was starting to feel swamp water at the corners of her mouth, that is.
"So, tell me...zebra." The word sounded strange coming from his lips, as if he was unfamiliar in its meaning. "What ingredient was it that an...alchemist like you could be seeking in this forest that led you this current pitiful state." Ah, he was sharp this one. Zecora could see greedy interest emerging in his other-worldly blood-red orbs. She made a point of being quick in dashing his hopes.
"That mushroom by the riverbank I was seeking, and as you see, this resulted in me inevitably sinking."
Gilgamesh turned to appraise said fungus. As expected he dismissed it as unimportant almost instantaneously.
"Tsk. How dull." He sneered and for a second Zecora feared that he would abandon her to her fate right then and there. Thankfully her fears were appeased when she found a thick vine being tossed next to her head in short order. Wasting little time she bit down and hard on the thick fibrous rope even as Gilgamesh did the same on his own position on dry earth. With a heave of mind-boggling strength unbecoming of the stranger's lean form, Zecora found herself almost soaring through the swamp water, her hooves being drawn through the mud as if the layers upon layers of heavy clay that comprised it weren't even there.
Zecora gave a few silent prayers to the spirits of the world as finally, finally she emerged from the gluttonous bog. The moment her legs touched upon suitably stable soil upon the riverbank, she all but leaped out, heedless of the layers of filth she was bound to drag with her on her coat. Her mysterious benefactor instead was not. Even as she shook her coat off like she had seen so many other small furry animal do when wet, she noticed from the corner of her eye the form of Gilgamesh drawing away and eying her with clear disgust. Normally this would have promoted a thorough scolding from her part but, for now, Zecora had much bigger things to worry about.
Namely, the said benefactor.
She decided to take things carefully and one step at a time. Turning to fate the still sneering visage of the golden pony, she nodded appropriately and started putting the first phase of her plan to work.
"Thank you my good pony for your time. Truly, you pony-folk are very kind. Perhaps I take a few of your moments more, your good act I wish to repay and even the score."
"At least you know to show gratitude when your superiors exert themselves for your benefit. However, what could a mere alchemist possibly have to offer to one such as I who possess all the treasure in the world?"
OF ALL THE ARROGANT-! It took all of Zecora's inner strength and mental discipline to stop herself from decking the arrogant jerk for that comment alone. Her savior or not, nobody looked down at a Zebrican witch-doctor without being on the receiving end of a mix of nasty magical powders and concoctions. Gilgamesh appeared to take note of her ire for his amazingly, incredibly irritating smirk of self-satisfaction grew even so impossibly wider.
The zebra's left eye twitched. HARD.
"How about some warm tea? I assure you that I make the best to be. You seem to have wondered this forest for quite some time. Something to drink and eat should help you survive."
"Humph. I assure you, I am quite capable of fending for myself, unlike you, apparently." Twitch, twitch. "However, if you are so eager to show your gratitude towards your king's merciful actions then I shall allow it, magnanimous as I am."
"Yes, indeed, now to my hut follow me if you please." A stewing Zecora ground out, desperately trying to hid her indignation lest she drove the stranger away. With a deep breath she calmed her throbbing nerves and carefully turned around to lead the pa-
"Indeed I please!"
"Are you sure about this Sweetie Belle?" Scootaloo asked her friend and fellow Cutie Mark Crusader. "I mean, I'm up for getting our cutie marks anytime but I heard some really weird things about this guy you want us to meet...not that I'm afraid or anything..." It was obvious to Sweetie Belle that her orange coated friend had more than a few reservations on their current course of action.
"Of course I'm sure Scoots. Besides, we don't have any choice. We tried everything else and nothing works." The unicorn appeased her friend.
"Ah dunno girls. It's getting mighty late. Ah really dun' wanna be late for dinner, like last time." The lemon yellow earth-pony that was Applebloom shuddered at the unseen recollection, obviously not eager to repeat the circumstances involved.
"It's okay Applebloom. This new pony lives just down from street from here. We'll do what we have to do, and I'm sure you'll be back to the farm before Applejack or Big Mac even realizes that you're gone." Sweetie Belle responded.
This act of utter necessity to which the rather notorious of trio of trouble-making Cutie Mark Crusaders was currently referring to, was of course the thorough investigation (interrogation) of the famous (infamous) new and rather wealthy resident of Ponyville on the subject of utmost importance (for them) that was the cutie mark.
It had come to a sunrise to Sweetie earlier that day to discover that both of her friends had heard rumors from various members of Ponyville of the mysterious disappearing cutie mark of their current target of interest. This of course only lead to Sweetie Belle's excitement swelling even further to reach nigh-suicidal levels of adorable giddiness before finally combusting in a rather sizable burst of frantic energy. Thus with Sweetie Belle's insistent prompting, the now newly-formed Cutie Mark Mystery Investigators (YAY!) took on what would soon be known as 'The Case of the Vanishing Cutie Mark'.
Which was why a bouncing Sweetie Belle and her two more than a little apprehensive friends were currently trotting along the grassy streets of Ponyville at nearly sundown, almost breaking curfew Applebloom was so thorough in reminding them once again. Destination? What used to be Old Peppermint's house by Sugarcube Corner, now know across town as the newly established Gilgamesh Palace or, as more commonly referred to amongst the citizens, 'that new arrogant p-hole's house'...Not that Sweetie Belle overheard Rarity saying that rude comment yesterday. Heavens no! Eavesdropping was wrong after all. She would deny any claims of otherwise to her dying breath.
"Ah know you know what you're doing Sweetie Belle. It's just that...if ah'm reeeeaaally late that-"
"It's okay Applebloom we're here."
And as stated, the old building came to view, however, what the trio found there, managed to stun them as effectively as a club to the head. Somehow, within the time span of the last five days, in other words since any of trio had visited the general area of the house, the structure had managed to sprout not one, but three gigantic towers onto it.
"What in tarnation?" Sweetie Belle heard Applebloom choke from somewhere in the distance. Like a thousand miles away or so. It was inconsequential to the unicorn foal, however, as a more important question suddenly took over her cognitive mind.
When in Celestia's name had THIS happened. More importantly, why hadn't any of them actually noticed it? By Equestria, those things here HUGE! Easily towering over all the surrounding building. It was like someone had painted a huge 'look at me I'm impressive!' sign over the house. An odd note of annoyance inexplicably rung from some unknown corner of Sweetie Belle's mind. Before she could stop herself her conscious mind suddenly found the rather cruder name for this place a tad more fitting than she would have thought.
"Ah can't imagine the kind o' bits it would take to build all of this fancy stuff this fast." This meant alot coming from Applebloom, Sweetie Belle noted. With her family running The Sweet Apple Acres apple farm, the filly was pretty knowledgeable when it came to matters of account-keeping.
"Girls," Scootaloo gulped, slightly intimidated by the sheer size of wealth put on display. "I'm not so sure about this. This guy must be pretty important to have a house like this. I'm not so sure that just barging in on him would be a good idea."
"O-Oh, come on girls!" The unicorn prompted, slowly regaining her voice. "We aren't gonna get intimidated by this stallion's house are we?" She could already see determination returning to her fellow crusader's eyes. Just one more push. "Remember! We are here to get our cutie marks! We can't back off now!"
"Yeah!" The other two exclaimed, their enthusiasm redoubling at the face of this new challenge.
"Cutie Mark Crusaders! Charge!" And most savagely charge they did screaming determination all the way...
...up until the estate's front gate where upon the trio stopped and politely looked for someone to let them in to the front yard. And what a front yard it was. Lush green grass extended till the eye could see and wondrous emerald art had been sculpted from the many sparkling bushes that marred the field.
"Oooohhh." All three of them sounded. A yard like this must have taken quite some effort and not few skilled earth pony gardeners to preserve such perfectly detailed and healthy form. In fact, far in the mini-garden's side and almost hidden behind the dense greenery, a stallion dressed in brown overalls even now was tending to one of the bushes.
The trio was quick to recognize him, not a very difficult task all things considered. Ponyville was quite small after all and they had indeed interviewed almost all of its residents about their respective cutie mark stories a while back.
"Mr. Wisp!" Applebloom called. From next to the bush Willow Wisp jolted, looking around for the source of the voice. "Mr. Willow Wisp, over here." At that, the stallion turned around to look at their direction, and at the sight of the trio a smile bloomed on his face. The stallion carefully placed his tools on the ground next to his area of work, before quickly trotting over to attend to his three little visitors.
"Girls! It's been a long time!" He exclaimed, hastily opening the gate for them. "I haven't seen you three since that interview you gave me. Scoots, Sweetie Belle, good to see you! Applebloom, how's the farm going?"
"The farm's doing good Mr. Willow Wisp. My brother said you did a mighty good job helping him weed out the fields the other day. Told me to thank you all proper like if I saw you around. Sorry ah wasn't there to help last time." She said pawing at the ground. "Me and the girls were-"
"You were out crusading, I get that. Man, foals these days. You do the craziest stuff for that cutie mark don't ya." The stallion laughed heartily. "Well, what can I do you for? You looking for another interview? Cause I'm afraid I already told ya all I know."
The trio shook their heads as a negative.
"Oh? Then what are you girls doing here of all places?" Willow inquired, scratching his head with a single massive hoof.
Sweetie Belle took this chance to insert herself to the conversation.
"We're here mister Gir-Gilgu-Gillaga-Gigamashmallow? No, that doesn't sound right." Why was this colt's name so hard to say?
"Okay, okay, I get it. You're here to see the boss." The Gardner laughed. Gigamashmallow, he had to remember that one. "I'm afraid he isn't here at the moment."
"What?" Applebloom screeched in alarm. "We did he go?" Had they come all this way for nothing?
Willow shrugged helplessly.
"Sorry girls, not quite sure what to tell ya. Keeping tabs on old Goldymane isn't exactly in my job description."
"Pleeeeaaaase Mr. Willow Wisp." Scootaloo pleaded. "This could be reeeeaaaallly important for earning our cutie marks!"
"Fine, fine," he finally signed. "Just go and ask Lyra or Ditzy. At least one of those two is usually around the house. Just don't say anything about this okay? We aren't exactly allowed to let people in the main building without Gil's permission."
And just like that Willow Wisp found himself under the relentless assault of three young fillies showering him with hugs. He didn't get the chance to respond to this new development when with a hasty 'thank you', the cutie mark terrors leapt around him instantly transitioning to a direct collision course with the house door.
"Crazy foals." Willow chuckled and slowly set off to return to work.
This was utterly intolerable!
GAH! She almost choked on that very thought! Celestia help her! Her thoughts were starting to sound like Gil's! The guy's bad influence was sipping into her mind!
That was it! She couldn't take it anymore!
Four hours had passed since the pink unicorn had returned from school and for the four hours she had absolutely nothing to do but watch her mother deal with her employer's finances and crayon on a few sketchbooks she had brought along from her from home. She understood that her mother needed to keep close to Gil's place while he himself was out frolicking in the woods (the EVERFREE woods of all places) but there was absolutely nothing to do here. As in nadda, zit, zero. Gil kept no interesting books, no toys, no paints or pencils, no nothing! Worse yet, she didn't know foals her age in this neighborhood and, friendly as they were, the pony-servants of the house were just too busy with their respective tasks to really attend to some foal's whims.
As fun and fulfilling as it was watching her mother's hidden talent at budgeting and accounting at work, borne as it was from a life of relative financial hardship, even enjoyable things lost their flavor after a while. Like ice cream. Goddess, she pretty much hated ice-cream by this point. If Red Pepper came to offer the 'cute whittle foal' another scoop of caramel-fudge ice cream, Dinky would go on a magical rampage...literally. What was it that Gil had said? For the common peasant excellence is in moderation? Or something like that. Gilgamesh was pretty hard to sort out at the best of times. One had to first wade through molasses of pure ego if one was to get ANYWHERE with what the guy said.
Buck this introspection thing! SHE WAS BORED!
Just as Dinky's mind started to contemplate back to the concept of a mana-induced rampage, she was brought to the tips of her hooves at the sound of the door bell ringing!
YES YES YES!
"Oh muffin, can yo-"
"I'LL GET IT!" She was already rocketing through the compound even as those very words left her mouth. The door handle was in her hooves before the rest of the house's help even had the chance to even process the fact that they had visitors.
To say that Dinky was utterly delighted to see the gobsmacked faces of her three infamous classmates upon opening the door would have been a understatement as grievous as a war crime.
"Girls! Sweetie Belle, Applebloom, Scootaloo! Hi!"
"Uh...Dinky? What are you-?" Scootaloo tried.
"My mom works here now! Come in girls!"
"Thank you but we-"
"I said, COME IN!"
The Cutie Mark Crusaders scurried in the main hall only to exchange nervous glances as Dinky locked the door behind them.
"Uhhh...Dinky, you okay?" Applebloom cautiously asked.
"Okay? Why yes! I'm okay! I'm better than okay now that you guys are here!"
Cue nervous glances.
This time it was Sweetie Belle that tried to interject.
"Look Dinky we just want to-"
"-play games? Do each other's manes? Hang out? "
Sweetie Belle was taken aback when Dinky actually dived to the floor and started hugging her hooves in what could only be called the desperation of the damned.
"Come on! Let's DO SOMETHING! I'm so bo-ho-ho-ho-ho-oooreeed!"
Scootaloo was at least brave enough to respond to her friend's predicament. Not that she was scared or anything.
"Listen Dinky we'd love to hang out an all but we kinda have this important Crusader business to do and-"
"Crusader business? How can I help? Cause I totally do that! I mean, you guys are utterly suicidal half the time but heck, even attempted suicide via cutie mark crusading is starting to sound good at this point!"
"...okay then. We're just looking to talk to Giggling-mess about-"
"The owner of the house?" Sweetie Belle tried. What is Celestia's possessed mane was with this guy's name?
"Oh! You mean Gil!" Stated Dinky calmly, claiming back to her legs.
"Gil? Hey that sounds so much easier! That what we shoul-"
"NO! No no, don't do that! It won't end well, trust me."
"Right..." Sweetie Belle said slowly. "Okay, so, we heard that he was missing. Do you have any idea where to find him?"
Dinky paused at that. Thinking back to that morning she formulated an answer.
"Well, he and my mom said something about him going to Everfree for a walk, or for...uh...camping?" Heaven-forbid she actually said hunting. The girls would think her crazy or something. "He said he'd be out there for a couple of days."
The trio of crusaders exchanged looks of some thing that Dinky couldn't quite recognize. If she was to name it, she would have claimed it to be grim resignation.
"Why are you ponies looking for him anyway?"
"Dinky, can we ask you a question?" Sweetie Belle said soberly, coming forward.
"Uhh...sure?" She responded hesitantly, her classmate's tone a tad too serious that she was used to hearing.
"Do you remember what Gilgu-Girgi..." DAMMIT! "What Gil's cutie mark looks like?"
Instantly Dinky fell completely silent and still, taken by surprised by the nature of the question. With morbid fascination the Cutie Mark Crusaders watched as Dinky's face slowly morphed into a mask of shock and bewilderment. The pink uniform fell back on her hunches and focused on the floor beneath her feat, as if there was something there that she couldn't quite see.
"Y-you know..." She started obviously shaken. "Its really weird...I don't quite remember what it I was. I don't think that I ever thought to look."
The Cutie Mark Crusaders exchanged one last glance and a single powerful nod and this time Dinky could clearly recognize the sheer determination that was in those huge foal eyes. Dinky knew instantly then that they were about to do something very stupid.
Her earlier plight back in mind, Dinky soared back to her hooves, shoving her face up to an inch away from Sweetie Belle's. The white unicorn froze like a deer in the magelight in the sheer, and not so slightly unhinged, resolve that colored Dinky's yellow orbs.
"Girls! Whatever you guys are looking for, I want in! You hear me! There is no bloody way in the nine Sumerian hells that I'm staying here and boring myself to death while you guys go to out and have a nice blood-curling nigh-suicidal adventure! I am the rightful owner of all the adventures in the world! I, DINKY DO! Got that?"
Scootaloo and Applebloom just exchanged a quick look and took a few imperceptible steps back.
"Dinky why don't you go ask you mom about Gil's cutie mark while we three do our thing here?" She inquired with a bright smile.
"What? Sure!" The pink unicorn exclaimed and shot off crazily towards the house's study. "Be right back!"
The three crusaders just stared and nodded as their classmate left the room. Wide smiles plastered in their face they presumed to wait.
"Pinkie pie's gone."
"Out the window?"
"Out the window."
About fifteen minutes later a youthful shout of pure terror and unhinged desperation shook the very foundations of the Gilgamesh house. It went something like this:
"Is the tea done yet?"
"Just a few moments more"
Gilgamesh glared balefully at the zebra's back hunched as she was over her cauldron.
"My patience is running thin, woman. By all the time and effort you've been putting into this, it better be the best tea I even tasted."
"Oh it will."
The golden king's eyebrow ticked and once more he let his eyes wonder of only to sate his soon to reach critical levels of boredom. The zebra's house was interesting enough, if not slightly plain. Gilgamesh felt that he should have been surprised when he saw that the creature's house was a tree but, for some inexplicable reason, the revelation had been rather...underwhelming. Heavens help him, he was starting to think that he was actually getting used to this crazy world.
Other than the...meh...tree thing, there was certainly other interesting artifact to gaze upon within the cramped all-purpose room that comprised of the witch-doctor's house. It wasn't that he actually mind the house's size or disposition. He was well aware that any hermit or sage worth his salt was bound to live under similar conditions. No, what bothered him is that he had allowed his glorious self to occupy this filthy rotting structure for a tad longer than he would have been comfortable with.
He turned his eyes back to the witch-doctor just as she leaned to add some strange root in the concoction she was making. Hmmm...He was getting soft. Whatever the zebra was making, it sure as his perfectly sculpted ass wasn't tea. Gilgamesh huffed.
So, artifacts. Yeah, there were plenty of interesting things to look at in the hut. Not valuable interesting. Not even artistic interesting. Just exotic. Not quite things he could have claimed to see before. That, in and of itself, was impressive to him.
He glanced back at the zebra. She turned and flashed him a smile. He grinned. She turned back to the cauldron and added some strange powder. Gilgamesh frowned.
Right...Magic. Yes, a strange sense of flowing mana pervaded many of the local items. Gilgamesh was no mage (yet), as he had proved that very morning, but he had seen enough magical objects to recognize them on sight. None of these were particularly powerful. Strange? Yes. Probably possessing of a large plethora of peculiar effects but in terms of sheer power? Nothing to add to his gate. As the various ingredients and magical potions around the room? Interesting...That's pretty much all he had to say. Only...interesting. He had no fleeting clue on what most of this stuff even were, let alone what they did. Well...he did have one thing to add about them. They made for some pretty colorful decorations. It was...nice...
Okay, enough is enough.
Gilgamesh was just staring to turn around...
"By the gods! It's about-!"
"Begone vengeful spirit from this plane! Once more return to whence you CAME!"
...When a big blue glowing blob of something impacted his face. For a moment silence reigned.
Zecora stared back.
A glop of goo splotched to the floor.
"You have three seconds to explain."
"Impossible! You should have been long gone from this world!
"But-but-but, this potion could even banish horrors of old!"
"I'm starting to wonder if stupidity is genetic amongst you mongrels." Gilgamesh growled, wiping his face with a nearby napkin even as the air being him begun to ripple gold.
"Don't try to deny your identity, spirit!"
"Do I, really, look like a ghost to you?" This was the SECOND time in three days. Really, he should have been surprised, in an indignant rampaging rage even, but again, for SOME reason, he just wasn't.
"I have seen enough in my days to recognize your ways!"
Ah! There we go! There's that good old indignant rampaging rage!
"MONGREL WITCH!" Eyes flashing with enraged mana, Gilgamesh ROARED in some semblance of some eldritch horror of old. Zecora's eyes grew wide as saucers as the witch-doctor's trained eyes easily recognized the countless handles of what was artifacts of unfathomable magical power as emerged out of thin air behind the monstrous specter.
"This POWER! This is-!"
"I WILL LET THE WORMS FEED ON YOUR FLESH!" Amazingly the number of ethereal weapons behind the being more than doubled as Gilgamesh greedily gobbled every last dredge of scoured Equestrian mana in enraged abandon. "DDDDIIIIIIIII-"
The rather climatic scene met a rather disappointing (for one of the pair) interruption in the form of a rather meek knock against the huts door. Gilgamesh stared at the door. The he turned to the soon-to-be-dead mongrel bitch. Paused at the sound of a second knock, he turned to gaze at the door for a second time. Then back to the witch. Door again. Before finally his attention came to rest on the zebra.
"Answer it." He hissed. His tongue laced with venom.
Zecora fired him a questioning look.
"Do it." Frankly, Gilgamesh was half tempted to just skewer the door along with whoever was behind it, but the idea of wasted Equestrian mana lost merit when he brought his current state of existence in mind.
Zecora eyed him careful, slowly beginning to circle around the vengeful spirit to get to the door.
"Don't even attempt to run." He growled.
"I would not insult an old Hero as such..." She shot back steadily. Simultaneously, she not-quite turned her back to him just so to allow her to crack open the wicker door and address the visitor who just might have saved her life.
The effect was instantaneous. Gilgamesh's eyes narrowed into murderous slits and he muttered the most foul curse he could muster under his breath. His chance at punishing the insolent which stolen from him by those those three little words. Those three little words that held such unfathomable power against a being in his position. The gate and its treasure behind him vanished, as he drew the massive amount of almost expended mana back to his mortal shell. In a way, the conservation of his power was a favorable outcome. He had nearly wasted months' worth of equestrian mana in that single attack of furry. Then again… his rage was left unsatisfied and would probably be for quite some time.
Both he and the witch knew that he couldn't risk killing her now. She probably believed it to be because she discovered his true identity and abated his anger, but in truth, it had simply proven to Gilgamesh that she had information potentially valuable enough for her to escape death indefinitely. Despite his claim of getting used to this new equine world, Gilgamesh wished for nothing more than to return back to proper form and place, both in body and in universe. If this...this mule knew anything that could relate to him and what he was, what she had to say was nearly...just nearly as valuable as all the king's treasury combines.
The witch appeared to notice the turbulent thoughts in his mind and turned to address his dilemma before it got out of hand. With calm even voice she informed him.
"We will speak of this later."
"Indeed we will...witch."
The cutie mark crusaders shivered as they stood before Zecora's shack. The trip through the woods had been surprisingly uneventful, all things considered. The three has stood steadfast in their choice to follow only the pre-plotted tracts through the forest, and they had, luckily, managed to avoided any unwanted encounters of the monstrous kind. As they stood before their destination, however, a peculiar primal fear gripping their bodies and minds stood there amongst the darkness of Everfree, beneath the fractured rays of the silver moon funneled through dense foliage above as they contemplated in irrational fear about knocking at that door a third time. For they all knew beyond a sliver of a doubt, that there was something in that shack, countless times worse than any monster that Everfree could spew.
Applebloom gulped, finally coming to a decision. She lifted a shaky hoof and let it hover over the wicker surface of Zecora's door for a fraction of a second. Drawing back her fore-leg, she-
Candle-light flooded the doorstep and all three fillies temporarily averted their darkness-adjusted eyes from the now burning light.
"Children?! What in the blazes are you doing here at THIS time of the night?" They all heard a bewildered voice claim. All at once, the trio relaxed. They knew that voice and they knew it well. It was Zecora, not some weird monster from the wood, but Zecora, nice, kind, SAFE Zecora.
"Zecora, we got lost." Applebloom muttered, looking up at the zebra with large teary puppy dog eyes. "We came to the forest to look for somethin' for crusadin' but by the time we got to the forest it was already too late to be moving around. Could we stay here for a little while? Pleeeease?"
Zecora sighed. She really only had two choices in the matter and leaving the fillies out in an Everfree night to fend for themselves wasn't really a choice in her books. She threw a mysterious look at something behind the door-way, which they couldn't quite see, but soon enough she stepped back and opened the door wide allowing them to enter.
"Of course children. Come in, enter. Braving this forest at night, is not at all very bright."
A symphony of 'Thank you Zecora' caressed her ears, and the three foals scampered hastily into the warmth of the hut.
"Foals? What are mere foals doing wondering the forests at night?"
All three fillies came to a sudden halt, a strange feeling of apprehension chilling up their spines. Fearfully, the trio turned around just as Zecora closed the door behind them, and their eyes beheld a being of captivating strangeness and horror-striking terror. For the young fillies then beheld Gilgamesh, furious and firm. Unreleased energy raged under his mortal skin and his eye blazed with unsatisfied hunger.
The three drew back, trembling, as they beheld upon this timeless miracle of magic given flesh and form at its most terrible and at the time, its most magnificent. The only saving grace they found within those fierce eyes was a sliver of protruding curiosity at the presence, a sliver that just barely managed to tamper his boiling anger.
"Fellow hunters perhaps?" He smiled, but his lips held no humor or camaraderie that they could see. His smile was a sinister smile, filled to the brim with thinly veiled honeyed malice. The filly's ears dropped as one, their forms lowering to the ground submissively, weighted as they were by this stallion's undeniable crashing presence.
"Gilgamesh! Enough!" Zecora's voice suddenly boomed breaking the untold spell. "Don't take your ire of me on these children. You are terrifying them."
Gilgamesh sniffed and looked away and as his piercing crimson gaze was lifted, so did the crushing presence that had addled their minds with inexplicable paralytic panic. Now unburdened, the trio rose to their full height looking around the hut as if what had just happened had been beyond the fledgling minds to grasp.
Scootaloo was just about to open her mouth to ask what had come to pass just moments ago when inquiry was thankfully interrupted by a bowl of warm, thick soup. One of the three of its kind that Zecora had just placed before Applebloom, Sweetie Belle and herself. A grumbling stomach chose to remind the filly right then, that she had been forced to skip dinner for this evening. Scootaloo shuddered. Her mom was going to kill her.
"Eat up, children. Your strength you will require and through my special vegetable soup both warm and sustenance you will acquire." Zecora pointed out, shoving one of the bowls gently towards Sweetie Belle.
Withe quick word of gratitude, the three wasted no time to dig in.
"Gilgamesh." Zecora suddenly exclaimed, turning to address the stallion with the golden coat. Scootaloo's head instantly shot up in abrupt realization. "Some of mine do you also desire? It should be most helpful to your ire."
"You aim to placate my anger with bribery of meager food? I thought you smarter, witch." The stallion sneered.
Applebloom bristled at that. Amongst the crusaders she was the closest to Zecora and she tended to take any slight against her as a personal blow to the face.
"Hey! Watch it mister! Zecora-"
Said zebra was already rushing to interfere but a curious Scootaloo more that beat her to the punch.
"So wait." She started, averting all attention in the hut on her. "YOU are Gilgamesh? As in the guy that owns that huge house by Sugarcube Corner?"
A smile then bloomed on the golden king's face. It was a smile of arrogance and self-indulgent pride. For the first time since they had met him, it was the first genuine smile that Gilgamesh ever presented them with.
"Ha ha ha! I see my reputation already precedes me! Of course it is only expected for one such as I! Still this form of open adoration from subjects is not thoroughly unwanted." He laughed heartily as the rest of the hut's inhabitants stared as him strangely. "Consider yourself lucky, girl! ("what's a girl?") I have developed a liking to you! State your name!" At this sight of joviality, all four of the huts inhabitants visibly relaxed, as if one last remaining clamp pressing against their chests had vanished.
"The name's Scotaloo!" The filly blurted with a smile! "I'm Rainbow Dash's number one fan! My friends are Sweetie Belle and Applebloom!" She stated, pointing at each one, then responding with a exuberant 'Nice to meet you Mister' and rather cautious 'howdy' in turn.
"Rainbow Dash's number one fan ha?" He muttered more to himself than anything. "No matter, that shall soon change. Tell me Scootalloo. What were you doing in these terrible woods at night unsupervised? Young ones like yourselves that do similar acts are often either very brave, very determined, or very foolish. Which one are you?"
"Uh...Eh he. All three probably." Applebloom responded.
"You see mister." Sweetie Belle added, carefully avoiding his name in fear of butchering it. "You see we are Cutie Mark Crusaders."
"Crusaders? But you neither bare cross or armor! What foolishness is this?"
The trio shared a mystified glance.
"A cross?" Scootaloo asked.
"Of course. that's what crusader means. Bearer of the cross."
"No mister, we dun' do anythin' like that. We just looking for our cutie marks is all!" Explained Applebloom.
"A cutie mark? Sounds deplorable. What is it?"
All three fillies gasped at the same time and even Gilgamesh boggled at how they had managed to perform this act of impeccable sychronism, the three had already launched into a mess of jumbled explanations and exclamations of shock. Try as he might, even Gilgamesh's magical hearing could only catch bits and pieces of the floor of words and sentences that followed.
"-the most important thing-"
"-ya see, you get this mark that-"
"-yer special talent-"
"-aint never giving up!"
"That's quite enough." The King of Heroes interrupted, and the crusaders fell silent, looking up at him expectantly. There was something peculiar in his eyes, almost...nostalgic as his gaze fell on them. "You three are looking for your purpose in life. I understand, believe me. It is a noble cause and one i fully respect."
All three of the crusaders blinked. Nopony had ever quite expressed their cause quite so solemnly before.
"Do you really mean it?" Sweetie Belle asked with wide, shimmering eyes. Gilgamesh humped.
"You dare to doubt the words of I, Gilgamesh?" The foals almost drew away from him but before any had the chance, he flashed them with a most sincere smile. "You have my blessing in your quest and may what you want be worthy to your efforts."
The crusaders could offer no wider smile to the King of Heroes as they dutifully finished their meal. As he gazed down upon them, the immortal spirit of the hero-king Gilgamesh felt a warming memory of time long past in ages long gone that pressed against his heart with bittersweet nostalgia.
Smiling at the scene Zecora approached to collect the empty bowls of soup for from the foals, quickly carrying them to the wash basket.
"Gilgamesh." She said upon her return. "About time these fillies returned home I believe, my friend don't you also agree?" The zebra gave the King of Heroes a pointed stare, one he matched with a murderous but begrudgingly accepting gaze. Truthfully, that was the best that Zecora could hope for.
"What?" Shouted Applebloom.
"Are you crazy?" Expanded Scootaloo.
"There are monsters out there." Sweetie Belle finished.
"Shed you fear young ones for you see, someone powerful has agreed your safety to oversee."
"Do we know them?"
Gilgamesh humped disdainfully from the side line.
"You are ignorant but at your youth that's a forgivable offense, I Gilgamesh, King of Heroes, shall escort you back to Ponyville."
The fillies blinked.
"Are yeh sure that's safe?" Sounded the yellow earth-pony.
"Don't insult me!" Gilgamesh roared, sending the foal reeling against each other. At the sight of their huddled forms Gilgamesh drew a calming breath which he sniffed out impatiently. "There is no creature to be found in this forest which can match me. Let alone get through me to reach you. Better have tried." At the challenging flash of his eyes the crusaders were left with little choice but to agree.
Gilgamesh nodded. This was acceptable. Neigh, preferable. Fear of the overseer would temper any curious wondering the fillies might be prone to during their return trip. This was no different than how his teachers at the palace, forbidden from laying disciplinary hand on his divine disposition, had taught him, and it was as good as a method as any.
"Good. Now get up and wait for me outside. Don't wonder off." He said even as he stood held the door for them. "I still have some unfinished business to discuss with your...shaman."
The three fillies simply nodded and did as they were told, quickly filling out of the hut to the cool air of the surrounding forest. Gilgamesh waited until all of the foals had been herded outside before turning to balefully glare at the witch with a gaze that could melt mana-infused steel.
Zecora just gaze back at him evenly.
"In a few days I shall attend a social event in this country's capital. I am allowed an escort, a right I didn't plan to use. Escort or otherwise, Ditzy is my most trusted in this peculiar world, so her presence was already a given. You will escort me at the banquette. We will talk there in private and I hope the illusion of safety of that place will be enough to loosen your lips."
Gilgamesh turned to exit with no further words.
Zecora could only breathe a heavy sigh as he slammed the door behind him.
Silent and stealthy, the slim dragonic shadow of ebony scale and claw, slithered through the Everfree Forest under the cover of the night. It had taken the collective sum of nearly two weeks but he was finally here, in dragon Wormwing smiled a smile full of fang and poisonous spittle at the thought of his mission. Amongst the dragon clans of the Barbed Mountain, Wormwing had been famous for his ability to hunt stealthily and quietly, his targets felled to poisonous jaw and claw so quickly that they barely recognized his presence, whether they be prey or fellow brother of scale and fire.
Wormwing, Wormwing. The black dragon tested it and tested time and time against, enjoying the sound and meaning behind the name. Unlike his weak and relatively tame kin in Equestria, the dragons of molten country seldom ventured to drabble in the language and ways of prey, let alone names. Still it was necessary, he presumed. It was a weak disgusting prey name, yes, but weak stupid prey hadn't been able to pronounce his true name anyway even when they had come to him offering gold and gems. Oh yeeeeessssssssssss. He hiissssssed. His hoard would ever grow just like reputation.
His...'contracted' had they called it? Yesssssss! His contracted target were famous amongst prey. Even amongst some of the great dragonkind. Some of the Elders spoke their names in wonder and silent whispers of awe. Some even enviousssss, of their fame and power. For such a kill, the name of Wormwing would spread far and wide. From the tables of Equestria, to the molten lands of his kind.
And he was Wormwing. For he moved silent, he moved unseen, he slithered, he contorted, he poisoned, he ripped, he bit, he ate and he cremated. The perfect assassin. Unseen under black scale, unmatched in raw strength and brutality, so fast and flexible to worm his way through any obstacle and in any house and all who he killed were never. Seen. Again.
The elements of harmony...
Wouldn't even see him coming.
After all, what pony would be insane enough to tread through these woods at night?
Under the cover of the night the small quartette of three fillies and a demigod were soon met with a rather unexpected obstacle. An obstacle that comprised of three very distinct and troubling individual problems. One, was that it was night. Two it was that what little moonlight there was could scarcely pass through the thick foliage above. Finally and most importantly, was the indisputable fact that saved for their resident demi-god in pony flesh, three of the four companions were in fact, young little fillies, not exactly optimized to work in sub-luminary conditions. As such, it was not long before their world dissolved into a mass of moving shadows and disembodied voices.
"Hey girls, there's something weird going down that slope, don't ya think?"
"Keep it down Applebloom, I think Gigashy's watching..." Growl. "...And listening apparently..."
"Dun' care Scoots, I'm telling there's something mighty weird heading down to Ponyville over yonder. "
"Will you guys be quiet , we're almost home. I've had it with this stupid forest! It's gonna take me weeks to sort through my mane!"
"Yep, ah recon Sweetie Belle right here is right. Ah had enough of this place for one week!"
"A week? Really Applebloom?"
"Okay Scoots I won't lie to ya-a few days, jeez."
"That's more like it."
"Okay, that's it, girls ah'm being serious over here. There's something mighty creepy heading for our town. Ah can see its eyes shining in the dark."
"Oh I see it too girls."
"Oh! There it is."
"...Uh oh, ah think it's looking at us."
"Yeah, it definitely is."
"Now it's rearing back its head."
"Hey! It's head is glowing."
"GET BACK YOU FOOLS!"
The forest exploded in fire and ash. The mighty torrent of flame flew along the forest floor devouring tree and life alike as flames hot as volcanic magma ravaged an unfortunate acre of woodland. Against the overwhelming might of this cheering conflagration no mortal substance could stand. Even as the flames danced on through their relentless path of destruction, limber wood dried and combusted as even damp soil and ancient solid rock melted together into black bashing tar.
Wormwing screeched in furious ecstasy as he watched his fire, unrivaled in his flock, consumed undeterred a part of a legendary mystical forest. Inside him indignant anger and restated pride danced in tandem. It was almost unthinkable. He had been spotted as he prowled. At the same time it was glorious. For he could claim that none who laid eyes on him lived to tell the tale.
The obsidian titan's minimalistic gloat was promptly interrupted when from amidst this unflappable inferno and an aurora of gold exploded outwards, sweeping through the surrounding flames even as they broken upon its golden radiance like waves upon a mountain. The magic light's power was was undeniable, overtaking fire and brimstone even as they melted and fused the forest floor below. In a matter of seconds Wormwing's burning breath finally expended its self and in tandem the brilliant golden corona dissolved into motes brilliant of magic lights.
Amongst the glimmering shards of fading magics, stood a trio of utterly befuddled fillies and a most madly grinning King of Heroes. Their bodies lay huddled behind a shield of divine disposition! So beautiful and exquisite was it, that Wormtale sworn that such an artifact if power looked entirely out of place at anywhere but in the most timeless dragon's hoard. Before his eyes the ethereal instrument of protection dissolved to the ether it once came, silently depositing itself back to the infinite space of non-space that was the king's treasury. This was the power Gilgamesh's most notorious noble phantasm, the Gate of Babylon.
Faced with this impossible sight Wormwing was left to gape.
A small long forgotten part of the behemoth's minds stirred right then. Shoved somewhere behind over-bloated ego and murderous aggression, this small fragment of consciousness widely referred to as self-preservation had no choice but to wonder.
Just what had he just gotten himself into?
As he stood gazing back at the comical and quite positively poleaxed expression of the obsidian drake, Gilgamesh couldn't help but feel a smidgeon of excitement bubbling in his tiny pony chest! He hand just been bathed in fire by a winged fire-breathing lizard! A dragon! An honest to the gods dragon! What are the odds right? The uproarious gaffs of laughter that followed just left the beast staring at him in a stunned stupor.
"To think that something like you would a exist in this world!" Gilgamesh exclaimed in exuberant glee. Honestly, it was like some divine dignitary was attempting to buy Gigamesh's affections with a rare gift! Ah heavens, how you please your king. "And here I feared that this bland land of mild-mannered mongrels would bore me!" He cheered.
This had been one daaaaaamn good hunting expedition, he decided. How many of his weapons would it take before the monster was reduced to a scaly pincushion? No too many he hoped. Gilgamesh loathed to riddle his new leathery rug with TOO many holes. So unrefined! What would the visitors think?
"Uhhh...Did something just happen?" Sweetie Belle asked carefully. Gilgamesh spun, for the first time since the black behemoth's attack, and actually acknowledging the presence of the three foals by his site. The hero king hummed. It appeared that the brutal and sudden nature of the monster's attack had actually caused the three fillies to miss it entirely.
"What in tarnation?" Appleblood exclaimed FINALLY coming to the realization that the forest around them had been reduced to a smoldering wreck. "Happened to the gosh darn forest? What'd you do this for?" The yellow orange pony hotly protested, turning to Gilgamesh. Judging by her tone, the sight of so many trees vanishing in an instant had struck some sort personal chord in the apple farmer.
Thankfully Scootaloo, being apparently the sliiiightly more helpful member of squadron obvious, had something a tad more meaningful to add.
"Hey!" She exclaimed, looking up and about. "I can see!"
Hey! It was a valid point.
Apparently as some positive side-effect of the dragon's criminal act of flash deforestation, the diffuse light of the moon had finally managed to break through the forest's normally impossible tree-line and illuminate the surrounding area. This of course led to THIS brilliant profound remark.
"Oh my Celestia! Look! A DRAGON!" Cue childish screaming. Gilgamesh had no reservations against groaning loudly.
"What was that modern expression again? Thank you, Overlord Obvious?" The king deadpanned. This apparently was enough to draw three of just the cwutiest wittle pouty death-glares at his general direction. Gilgamesh snorted.
"Well excuuuuuse me princess prissy-pants! We don't exactly see one of these on a daily basis!" Scootalo protested.
Sweetie Belle was kind enough to cough.
"...Other than Spike." Scootaloo added. Sweetie Belle pouted at the pegassus' glare. "...And SPIKE doesn't have a compelling desire to maul and eat us."
Cough, cough, ahem.
"...well...Usually." Pause. "...And by the way, how are you doing that."
Gilgamesh sniffed, somehow having shoved a hoof through thin air.
"That's KING Prissy-pants to you, peasant." He decreed before all but smashing three tiny ornate helmets right on their tender little pony heads. Responses were mixed.
"Owie!" Came the Apple-Bell stereo system.
"Coooooool!" I'll let you guess who that was.
"Stay behind me and do as I say! I'll let you get roasted if you don't! Is that clear?" He made a point to ignore the resounding 'yes Mister Gilgamesh' complete with widely rolling eyeballs, instead moving to stand before them. "I think it's finally coming to its senses." He stated, as a matter of fact, eying the monster about a football field away in the distance.
True enough, the dragon finally seemed to come to its senses, shaking its boulder sized head side to side and lowering its mountainous self to growl at their general direction. If the way it was snarling and snapping at them was any indication, Gilgamesh's previous act of flippant defiance had thoroughly managed to piss it off.
Yes, the golden pony smirked; he tended to have this effect on lesser creatures.
Which by that he meant pretty much everything.
The dragen roared, its booming voice shaking the surounding forest to its foundation from his position a few dozen meters away, Gilgamesh could already see fire building up in its throat. Its momentus maw spread open, sending forth an onslaught of writhing fire at the small group. The hero king wasted no time in retaliating and the air before him rippled with magic. From the rips in the fabric of space four bejeweled weapons surged forth.
Three silver axes spun straight at the conflagration and Gilgamesh watched with indulgent self-satisfaction as they swept away the hungry flames in their path. In the distance, he could see the over-grown lizard's eyes bulge as it witness the impossible sight. Gilgamesh couldn't blame the poor wretch. Had the axes been anything but the unrivalled magical artifacts that they were, the feat would have been all but impossible. As things were, the dragon's long serpentine torso started to writhe and contort, desperately trying to maneuver its MASSIVE bulk out of the way of those comparatively tiny yet deceptively powerful weapons.
Gilgamesh watched on with glee as, true to form, the vanguard of spinning axes just barely scrapped the dragon's scales. The feat would have been infinitely more impressive, Gilgamesh reflected, if he had actually meant for his original barrage to hit. No, what would have been really impressive was if the lizard had actually managed to dodge the nearly two stories long titanic spear that was flying behind them. As things were, it failed horribly.
The large weapon dug itself in the monster's abdomen, all but imbedding itself nearly in its entire prodigious length through the drake's meat and leather. It howled in raw agony, the anti-dragonic properties of Gilgamesh's hand-picked spear rending its flesh asunder even as frantic claws clenched around it. From the distance, the king and fillies looked on with anticipated contentment and horrified amazement, respectively.
"Woah. Coooool." He heard Scootaloo breath out from the sidelines. Gilgamesh grinned. Rainbow Dash's number one fan? As he said earlier, that was soon to change.
Mad in its suffering and anger, spear still imbedded in its stomach, the dragon surged forward, its gigantic claws tearing swaths of burned earth even as it charged in reckless abandon towards the group. Behind him, Gilgamesh could more hear the three fillies shouting in alarm while desperately trying to backpedal away from the six-story tall mountain of rippling muscle that was charging at their way at a speed of more than 300 kilometers per hour. The hero king? No so much.
"Interesting! GATE OF BABYLON!" The Hero of Heroes roared.
Just as the monster thundered a paw drop away from the appropriate distance for lethal bite, what could only be described a wall of pikes materialized around the pony group, sprung it seemed from within the very earth itself. The dragon crumbled against their unyielding lengths like paper plane against the blades of a paper-shredder. The dragon screamed pure suffering for the second time that night, drawing its bulk up and away as it flinched up to its hind-legs at the pain. At the sight of the veritable forest of gold and steel imbedded across the monster's chest and claws, Gilgamesh could only wonder if hadn't gone just a tad bit too far. Again, there was no reason to maul his future carpet.
Gilgamesh's hoof shot out, flashing and out of ripple of magic for a second time. As he withdrew it, the young fillies behind him saw a length of chain wrapped tightly along his right foreleg.
"Enkidu!" The hero king comanded whipping the encased appendage at the monster looming above. As if in a mind of its own, the chain rocketed skywards in an unnatural angle. In span and angled and snaked through air before wrapping ten-fold around the dragon's exposed neck.
In accordance to this new development, Gilgamesh reached out to grab the conceptual steel with both hooves and with all the might he could muster he heaved to the side, growling in strain all the while. It was undeniable that the colossal monster ahead of him would have normally been far too strong and heavy for even the King of Heroes to move but unsteady and blinded by agony as it was, even the King of Heroes comparatively meager strength was more than enough snatch the behemoth's body from the air by the neck and slam its head savagely in the ground.
Met with the monster's inane mass in conjunction with Gilgamesh's own supernatural strength, the torched ground below the pair all but exploded sending ash and debris flying in all directions even as the shock-wave swept through the forest floor for kilometers all around. Huddled as they were together just a few meters behind this momentous event, Scootaloo, Appleblood and Sweetie Belle dove for cover even as countless pieces of jagged rock thumped mercilessly against their newly acquired helmets.
"Girls!" Applebloom shouted frantically. "Is this REALLY happening?" The baffled shrugs she received as a response weren't very heartening.
By then the dragon, apparently having decided that he had had enough of playing fair for a day, spread its wings wide across his back even as the Gilgamesh swore savagely and dove for cover. The obsidian titan's monstrous wings flapped violently through the air, their monstrous wingspan sending a wave earth-shattering air-pressure to wash across the forest countless meters in radius. Dispelling Enkidu lest he be dragged to the air by the monster's unrivaled upward thrust, the King of Heroes just managed to call forth a wall of shields from the gate to shield both him and his companions from horrifying air-currents the drake's very ascent seemed to produce.
The hero king knew then that he had to act quickly. Even within the split second it had taken for him to leap away and call forth his protective barricade of steel, the black lizard had somehow managed to climb over two hundred meters in the sky. Hastily he recalled what little mana he could by dispelling the spears already imbedded in the dragon and opened up the gate as wide as mana cost allowed. A wallpaper of rippling magic expanded behind him and dozens upon dozens of mythical artifact fired at the ascending dragon as fast as his reserves would allow.
The mad barrage slammed on the beast. Many of the weapons once more imbedded in its flesh even as a few of the less poorly aimed armaments flew dangerously close to its scaly head, all this had accomplished however was redouble the dragon's desperate attempts at gaining altitude. Until finally the monster reached a point where Gilgamesh's weapons, weak in their deprivation of mana and fighting directly against the primal deterrents of distance and gravity, failed to pierce the behemoth's armored hide. The King of Heroes could only watch in helpless grim fascination as the raw power of his weapons failed him for the first time he could remember.
Only the thin veil of a language barrier spared the nearby foals' ears as Gilgamesh sprouted the most violent ancient Sumerian curses he could think of.
The dragon turned tail and started flying towards the distance at speeds that left even the demi-god turned pony amazed. He was not fooled however by this new development. Gilgamesh was intimately aware of what would be the end result of an almighty flying Juggernaut gaining enough altitude and space to manouvre freely.
"Yay! Look girls! Its leaving!" Sweetie Belle cheered sitting up to point at the distant dot in the sky that was now the obsidian dragon.
A distant dot that was by then rapidly getting bigger.
For the second time that night, the forest around the group was decimated under a blanket of flame hot enough to rival the power of the sun. Stone and bedrock exploded violently as the sheer heat of the blazing inferno ignited countless unseen pockets of air beneath the surface. What ground little remained unturned was instantly reduced to molten slag and burning magma. It would be almost unreal for an outside observer to believe that the appearance of resulting area could be likened to anything but the mouth of an active volcano.
Surreal as it was believe it, however, even amongst the burning rock and noxious gasses something had actually managed to remain standing. Namely? A golden orb of magic the glimmered before and around an ornate golden shield, protecting a host of four inside it from the smoldering blazes that surrounded them. Although he never admit it, Gilgamesh send a silent thanks to the Nordic Pantheon of gods for forging Svalinn, the shield which stands before the sun and protects earth from burning. Had Gilgamesh found himself without this particular artifact, this particular hunting party would have found itself three followers short even from the very beginning of this confrontation.
The time of prayers was long past, however, Gilgamesh contemplated as he drew yet another object from within the gate, this time an ornate short sword. Pouring in some of his already waning mana, the King of Heroes recalled the shield the very instant he swung this new weapon. Just as it had against his dead Saber upon their faithful meeting by the bridge of Fuyuki City at the time of the Fifth Holy Grail War, the short sword unleashed magical arctic winds upon its arc through the air. The frost was thankfully quick in cooling the sweltering heat of the area into something more manageable.
Wasting no time, lest the dragon returned for yet another devastating strife-run through the fully exposed and now burning clearing, he turned around bolted towards the tree-line, shouting warnings towards his three accompanying fillies even as he retreated at breakneck speeds.
"Quick! Follow me!" He had commanded. "Stay close!"
Unfortunate for the hero king, his commands fell in deaf, shell-shocked ears.
"We-We're still alive?!" Exclaimed a befuddled Scootaloo as she took cover against the ground.
"But how?" A flabbergasted Applebloom next to her thought to add.
Once more the hero of heroes cursed his oversight. Later when he thought back to this instant, Gilgamesh would reflect on how easy it was for an experienced general and warrior, in this particular situation, to forget that the small scared children hiding behind him fell more than a little short on being the hardened soldiers and heroes he was used to working with.
"Ignorant foals! You dare disrespect my commands?" He roared, his hooves cutting shallow grooves on the torched earth as he skid and changed his course back to the trio that sat in center of the clearing, still in the process of registering just what was going on.
Even as he tore through the space between them, he could already spot the distant outline of the obsidian dragon amongst the stars of the night sky as the swerved around in preparation of yet another devastating run through their position. One that Gilgamesh was doubting in his ability to protect his companions from.
The hero king skid to an anxious stop amongst the fillies and knowing that time was short, decided to forgo any form of formalities. As they gazed up at him with questioning eyes, his head bobbed down at the filly closest to him. With his teeth he garbed Scootaloo by the skin of her neck and quickly tossed her tiny body over his shoulders and onto his back. None of the three children was even given the time to protest before Gilgamesh was already surging towards the tree-line with the little orange Pegasus riding on his back. The King of Heroes made a mental note to later think of a fitting punishment for this new indignity that the trio of crusades had just imposed upon him. 'Being left to be roasted alive' just seemed as a tad too extreme a disciplinary measure for his tastes at the moment.
"Scootaloo!" Sounded Sweetie Belle and Applebloom in alarm.
"Follow me I say!" He shouted once more. This time, moved by instinctive concern for their friend and last of their members, the pair of the crusaders were acceptably quick to comply, both in voice and body. Unfortunately for the golden-coated pony, the pegasus filly on his back wasn't without vocal complaints either.
"He-Hey! Hey! Put me down!" She shouted, desperately trying to hang on the buckling back of the much larger pony.
"Silence, you insolent child!" Gilgamesh roared in response. "Who the hell gave you permission to get yourself killed?"
With a mighty leap of his powerful legs, the hero and the child he carried finally dived amongst the cover of the trees. Gilgamesh was not quick to temper his gallop however, if anything Scootaloo would have remarked that he was actually getting faster and more violent in his movements as he started weaving and bobbing around tree and bush alike.
"Neither Charon or the Fates themselves managed to claim one of my subjects during a hunt while I lived. Not while I led it! And by the legend that is I, I will not let it happen now!" He state with unshakable resolve. Behind him he heard the voices of the remaining two crusaders, they too following his mad rush into and through the trees of Everfree.
"Finally! I was beginning to think that the beast devoured you sluggish fools!" He shouted back, not letting up the slightest. In the distance he could hear the dragon roaring in anger as his target vanished from his sights and Gilgamesh grinned in victory.
"You're going too fast!" Bemoaned the unicorn child.
"We can't keep up!" Applebloom panted.
In response to their ails, Gilgamesh laughed heartily. An action quick to draw their frantic contempt.
"Haha! Good, good! Relish the sensation!" He cheered. "Let me be the first to introduce you to world of a hunter! The blood rushing through your head and dancing to the intoxicating symphony of an incenced heart and a ranging spirit! Surely no other high in this world can match it! Don't dare fall behind or I will not grand you any claim of the spoils."
Applebloom and Sweetie Belle had been so busy just GAPING at the hero king right then, that they almost allowed for themselves to be planted face-first into a tree. Each.
"Are you insane?" Scootaloo had apparently been tad faster in recovering her wits in comparison. "There's a dragon after us! Do you even know what you're doing?"
"You dare doubt your king, peasant?" He snarled in return. "Observe! The forest's thick foliage conceals our presence! The beast has lost sight of us. In its weakened state it will not dare waste its strength by firing at us blindly. We possess the element of surprise!"
"Can't you *pant* just shoot the the dang thing with your *pant*, magic sword-thingy, and be done with it?" It seemed Sweetie was the next to reclaim her abilities at vocalization.
"Regrettable as it is, the beast's altitude and speed are too great. A reckless frontal assault would just be a waste of valuable mana!" Gilgamesh sought to explain. "Besides! A filthy monster like that does not deserve to face the full might of my treasures! Ha! It would be an utter waste! No! I will kill this dumb beast the way dumb beasts should be killed! I will take the appropriate pleasure in ripping off its head while it lays helpless within my trap!"
"Trap? You mean you have a plan?" The amount of surprise found in Scootaloo's voice was simply insulting.
"How deplorable! Of course I do! I am Gilgamesh!"
"Okay then *pant* mister fancy-pants! What *pant* do we do?" Demanded Applebloom.
"Don't presume to grasp the king's plan child! All you will manage is give yourself a headache!" His response didn't seem to help.
"Okay! *pant* That is *pant* it! Yer really *pant* starting to tick me off!"
"How are we supposed to help then?" Scootaloo quickly interjected.
"You're not! All I need from you is to bait the beast to the appropriate location!"
"We should be in position by now!"
Gathering prana in his forelegs, Gilgamesh swiftly reached to his back.
Wormwing soared above the forest, his enraged and bloodthirsty eyes scanning it thoroughly for his vanished his prey.
They would not escape him. By the ancients they would not.
This indignity, this pain! They would pay for it a THOUSAND FOLD!
He vowed to make the gold pony mage, watch helplessly as his hatchlings vanished amongst Wormwing's fire!
Then Wormwing would catch him! Break him! Leave him to die in agony with the dragon's poison coursing through his veins.
There! Something flying in the distance!
Of course! The mage-prey had a pegasus among their brood!
Why was it screaming?
Wormwing roared in challenge and just like that dove after the receding form of said pegasus.
"WHAT IN TARNATION DID YOU JUST DO?"
"Ingeniously set our pursuer on course to its own demise! I see that you are speechless in witness of my genius!"
"You threw her a thousand feet in the air!"
"Check your tone! She will be fine! Your friend is a pegasus! A monstrous phantasmal beast, ages known to be nigh unbeatable in the skies! Surely she will out pace the dragonic monster and fly herself to a safe landing!"
"No! No she won't! Scootaloo can't fly!"
"What? Are you telling me her wings are for show?"
"YES! She's practically a four legged, pony-shaped chicken!"
"APPLEBLOOM!" Cue scandalized Sweetie Belle.
"Oh! Uhhh, Ah-ah mean-"
"HA! Interesting! I find the way you insult and demean your friend amusing! I'm sure your friend's reaction will be doubly so! Perhaps there's hope for you yet!"
"He-Hey now! Make sure you don't tell Scootaloo ah said all that, you hear?"
"Very well, I'll make sure to."
"Mean say it or not say it?"
"...I hate you so much."
For what Scootaloo would soon come to describe as the single most traumatic moment in her adolescent life (thus far), her world dissolved in a flurry of water, mud and panic. She had no idea where she was, what she was doing or what was happening. Her insane uncontrolled flight over Everfree and the dizzying velocities involved had been more than thorough in robbing her of any sense of direction or coordination. Even the internal magical compass that all pegasi seemed to possess and where more than happy to flaunt, did nothing but spin in helpless circles within her head.
Indeed, all that the tiny filly could comprehend at the moment was that her body was attempting to struggle against some all-encompassing body of water and failing horribly at that. She could already feel the disgusting fluid seeping down her flapping mouth and widening nostrils, slowly creeping down her throat to reach and occlude her lungs. She panicked then, redoubling her efforts to the point where even her wings begun to flap widely against her watery prison.
Luckily, it was this course of action that had ultimately saved her.
With a loud desperate gasp her head broke through the swamp's surface, aided, as it was, in its emergence by her rapidly buzzing wings. Finally in possession of some sort of spatial awareness, the filly lunged forward through the water, digging her fore-hooves in the nearby riverbank with recess abandoned. She barely managed to half-drag her body out of the water when her meager strength finally failed her.
For a few moments she just lay there, coughing savagely and taking desperate gulps of value oxygen in turn. Celestia, Scoot's had done some pretty crazy and stupid things in her life, especially during her pursuit of a cutie mark. In truth Dinky hadn't been all that far off in her comment of 'attempted suicide' just earlier that day. But THIS. THIS had to take the cake as being the stupidest, most inane thing that Scootaloo even had the honor of being part of. Worse yet, IT WASN'T EVEN HER FAULT!
Scootaloo quietly resolved to ask Rainbow Dash to kick Gilgamesh's flank next time she saw her.
A deafening dragonic roar drew her attention above.
Screw it, Scootaloo decided, she'd kill him herself.
The multi-ton monster that was the black dragon slammed into the swampland like a bolt of lightning. Amazingly, each and every one of its massive paws somehow managed to find itself on a little island of solid earth amongst the multitude of sinkholes that littered the entire area.
Thoroughly exhausted and somewhere between half-dead, Scootaloo could only watch helplessly as the dragon slowly lowered its maw, complete with rows upon rows of razor-sharp teeth right on her little motionless form. She could only watch with increasing apprehension and terror as inch by inch those very jaws descended gashing gleefully all the way. Scootaloo sighed.
"Just get this over with, will ya?"
For one hilarious moment, Scootaloo watched as the dragon actually drew back in surprise at her remark. Looking at her with wide eyes, he frowned before finally turning away and snorting disdainfully. Yeah, yeah, no love for the dramatic arts here, you overgrown lizard, Scootaloo thought bitterly. It was almost a shame when the monster seemed to accept her suggestion and started drawing back it head in preparation for a lightning-fast bite.
Scootaloo closed her eyes just as the the dragon's head snapped forth.
"GATE OF BABYLON!"
What appeared as thousands of stars in Scootaloo's eyes fell from the heavens. The dragon had a split second to boggle at the sight before the countless streaks of light fell upon its wings; the sheer force of their impact sent its body careening to the ground. Scootaloo watch with fascination as the dragon roared in agony, its wings now shredded beyond all belief by the dozens of golden blades still embedded in their leathery folds. Even stumbling, the dragon somehow managed to retain its footing on what little dry land existed on the swamp.
The chains of heaven flashed in the corner of Scootaloo's eyes and before she could comprehend it, her body was flying through the air encased in divine steel.
"Grab her!" She heard Gilgamesh's voice command from the distance.
Her trip through the air suddenly came to a sudden stop as Scootaloo found herself colliding within the waiting forelegs of her fellow crusaders. even braced as they were, Scootaloo's weight and velocity send the trio tumbling through the ground, finally to come to a stop against a tree.
She heard her friends exclaim but the orange pegasus in question found herself unable to reply as a crimson sun suddenly exploded behind them. For a split second of absolute terror, the trio through that the dragon was once against attempting to incinerate them with its hellish fiery breath. A quick look up however proved the contrary however.
Yet what they witnessed was no less surprising.
With his back turned to them Gilgamesh was standing at the edge of the marshlands, gazing down at the writhing dragon with what could only considered as pure murder. What was surprising, however, was the crimson star that had bloomed on the hero king's forehead, specifically his horn.
The three fillies could feel the electrifying touch of his magic, electrifying and overwhelming as it was, even from their position a dozen meters away. This sheer level of magical power...It wretched their mind back to a certain librarian mare they all had come to know very well.
"I may be no mage!" Gilgamesh roared lowering his horn at the now panicking obsidian monster. "But I am the one true king of this world! I have slain gods and demons! Stood above heroes and laughed in the face of death himself! Monster or not! Demon or not! No! Even if you were a god! You WILL BOW TO MY POWER!"
The light of his horn exploded, redoubling in both side and power. Pure undiluted mana washed through the marshland. Overloaded by the sheer amount and savagery of his magic, the very earth tore and sundered. Just like the mage-ball had that very morning when Gilgamesh had attempted to learn the arts of levitation, the very soil collapsed into the earth below with a burst of magic.
For his part the dragon could only watch in horror as the ground under its feet gave way. It desperately tried to flap its wings but torn and riddled as they were with steel there both too heavy and damaged to be of any use. Helpless the dragon's body fell into the newly formed crater of mud and water as the earths and swamps that surrounded him coalesced under the destructive might of the golden unicorn, trapping his claws and body within layer upon layer of dump soil and murky water.
Within a few seconds Wormwing came to the horrifying realization that his limbs and serpentine body had been left completely trapped, submerged as it was, with the newly-created mega-swamp. The dragon's head, still free, snapped upwards at the sound of Gilgamesh's malignant laughter.
"Good! You won't be going anywhere like that!" A vertical wall of magic weapon sprung into existence behind the King of Heroes as he spread open the gates of Babylon to their fullest. His crimson eyes watched with glee as the dragon's own slit eyes turned wide as saucers. "Now shut up and be a nice pincushion for your king! YOU MONGREL!"
"NO! STOP!" The dragon suddenly shouted in his raw desperation. So unexpected were the dragon's words that the king actually drew short.
"It talks!" Exclaimed Gilgamesh in surprise, taken in chock by this new unexpected development.
"Spare me!" Pleaded the dragon. "I'll tell you everything! Just-"
"I see, so the dragons of this world possess the power of speech!" Interrupted the hero king, gazing down at the dragon with mad glee.
"Since you possess the ability of speech to this degree THEN WHEN YOU GET TO THE UNDERWORLD GO AHEAD AND TELL EVERYONE THERE OF WHO SEND YOU! YOU MONGREL DOG!" ROARED Gilgamesh and along with him so roared the Gate of Babylon as spread his forelegs wide.
The rapid staccato of explosions finally came to a stop.
It was only then that Applebloom felt safe enough to actually open her eyes.
"Girls, you okay?" She asked softly, turning a critical eye to the pair of crusaders next to her. The pair simply nodded obviously exhausted by the sum total of the days' events.
"Yeah." Responded Scootaloo, sounding more drained that she had ever heard her. "I'm completely pooped though." Even before she finished that sentence the friends were there hugging her tightly.
"Thank Celestia we managed to get here in time." Unshed tears welled up in Sweetie Belle's eyes.
"Yeah, me and Gil are gonna have to talk about that." Scootaloo scowled, prompting her friends to release her.
"So...Is it over?" Asked the earth filly, drawing away.
Across her she heard Sweetie gasp.
"Girls look! The helmets Gil gave us!" She pointed out and Applebloom felt her eyes widen in realization. "They're not there anymore!"
"Hey! Yer right!" The farm girl exclaimed. "Where'd they go? Those things didn't fall off even when we were gallopin' through the woods. Hay, Scootaloo had hers even when we found her!"
A strange fear suddenly clenched Applebloom's heart and by the looks on their faces her fellow crusaders shared her concern.
"Girls..." Applebloom started. "Where's Gilgamesh?"
"I don't know. I had my eyes closed!" Shouted Sweetie Belle defensively.
The three foals shared an anxious look.
A second later they were bolting through the trees and towards the beginning of the swamp, where they had last seen their resident demi-god.
As they skirted to a stop just at the edge of the forest, just on a small hill overlooking the area, a small part warned them to avoid actually looking at what remained at the swamp. The realization that something had just died a horrible death just a few moments earlier right there hit the trio like a sac of bricks. For a second they were afraid that they would bare witness to the brutally mauled...remains of the dragon that had, admittedly, tried to kill them just a few minutes earlier.
Thankfully, they had been spared of the sight. It appeared that by the time Gil had finished bombarding monster with his magical blades, the entire area had been laid to waste. All that remained was mountains upon mountains of upturned rubble and the occasion pool of swamp water. There was no sight of the dragon himself. Probably swallowed in one of those piles of soil and stone, Applebloom grimly realized.
The farm-pony gulped.
"Girls! I found him!" That had been Sweetie Belle!
"Over there!" She said, pointing a small hill somewhere to the right.
"Yeah! Ah see him!" Applebloom cheered. But...wait. Her cheers instantly died down. "Girls! Come on!" By the way her friend dashed next to her the earth pony understood that they had noticed it too. Gilgamesh was there, yes. But his body was sprawled across the ground...completely still. Far too still for Applebloom's tastes infarct.
All three of the fillies came to a stop around the body of the King of Heroes and Applebloom heard friends gasp along with her.
"He ain't movin!" She shouted in horror.
"Girls! Look!" Both Applebloom and Scotaloo turned to look at where Sweetie Belle was pointing. The farm pony felt her heart stop at what she saw.
"His legs..." She started numbly.
True enough, Gilgamesh's hind hooves were slowly but surely growing transparent even as they watched! As see-through as crystal! Thankfully, Applebloom noticed, whatever it was that was happening it was starting to slow down.
"Girls, what do we do? We can't just leave him here!" Sounded Scootaloo, for the first time that night truly afraid.
"Way too far!"
"Well." Applebloom contemplated. "Fluttershy's hut couldn't be very far from here...i recon..."
Scootaloo looked at her as if she had just lost her mind.
"You wanna bring HIM to FLUTTERSHY'S house!"
She DID have a point.
"We ain't got no choice..."