This... is going to suck.
Bonbon sighed through her nose as she looked upward to the shining emblem of the sun set in the face of the large building. She was no stranger to the sight. The Ponyville Cathedral of the Sun was where she had been baptized, where she had started her training to join the Solar Guard, where Shining Armor had officially inducted her into their ranks, even where she came just to unwind after a hectic day.
There were a lot of good memories associated with the church, and a part of her even hoped to marry Lyra in this very cathedral.
If only her father would allow it...
Maybe it was some sort of test of her dedication to Lyra, maybe it was a reminder that she would have to deal with neighsayers no matter her choices. But, for whatever reason, her father had been named as her immediate superior and unofficial liaison to the Order as a whole. And, although less vocal about it than his wife, Bon Mot had made no secret of his disapproval of her relationship with a necromancer.
Lyra sneezed, pulling Bonbon out of her thoughts.
"So," Rose said, "are we going in? Or are we going to just stare at the the doors for another ten minutes?"
Bonbon turned back to glare at her yet again. She had been praying silently for the strength to put up with Rose ever since they had left the forest, but she was starting to really grate on Bonbon's nerves. "There is a sermon going on right now; I would rather not interrupt him in the middle of his preaching."
"Your dad is going to be in a bad mood no matter what, Bonny." Lyra took a step toward the doors. "I think Sunbutt can deal with having ponies not talking about her for a few moments."
The sun seemed to jump a few inches up in the sky, altering the angle just enough that light shone right into Lyra's eyes.
"Gah!" Lyra put a hoof up to shield her vision. "Take a friggin' joke, lady!"
"Bad-mouthing deities never works out, Lyra. I thought you'd have realized that by now." Bonbon chuckled, walking past her marefriend and up the steps. She paused at the solid oak doors for a moment, steeling herself for what was about to happen, then slowly pushed them open. The well-oiled hinges made barely a sound as they opened, giving them access and letting them hear the sermon from the foyer with ease.
"–whose light shines eternal, piercing the blackness of lies and fear, whose radiance leaves even the faithful struck with awe and wonder. Celestia bless all who choose to walk in her light, and may we give her praise, so that we may be worthy of her light."
"Praise the sun!" came the reply of numerous voices.
Though the church was by no means packed, there were several dozen ponies seated on the pews. The devout, or the ones roped in by devout family members to a weekday service, never seemed to miss a day in their praising of their goddess. Bonbon had been one of them, once upon a time, until Celestia had called her into a more active expression of her faith.
The preacher, a blue-maned Earth Pony stallion with a yellow coat, glanced at the three of them with his pale blue eyes. Though he didn't break his flow, Bonbon could sense his unease even now, and she sighed. This was not going to be a smooth meeting.
"Just sit in the back, we'll get him after service; it's almost over."
As Lyra slouched into one of the seats and Rose grumbled about the waste of good wood, Bonbon kept her eyes on the preacher.
He continued on, all but singing praises to Celestia and the deeds attributed to her. From her great sacrifice at the end of the Nightmare War (though Lyra scoffed at this), to creating the very sun in the sky eons before ponykind set hoof on the world. Bonbon accepted it all, as she had been raised, though she knew Lyra and, to a lesser extent, Rose had a different view of history.
After about ten more minutes of his sermon, the priest led the gathered ponies in a final prayer to Celestia.
"May the glorious light of her blessed sun warm your hearts and souls. May you ever walk the brilliant path she has laid out before you. And may you spread her light to others, so that they too may know salvation. Praise Celestia."
"Praise the sun!"
The congregation stood, some of them popping some stiff joints, and slowly exited with several making plans for what would come next in their day.
Eventually, however, only four ponies were left in the church.
Time to get this over with... Bonbon gulped and stood herself, making her way toward the front of the church, and the priest who still stood there. "...hi, Dad."
Bon Mot cast his gaze over his daughter, noting several new dents in her armor and a few fresh wounds showing through her coat.. "You've seen battle recently, Sweetie Drops."
Bonbon flinched at her birth name. "I know, that's why I came here, actually..."
"I see." Bon Mot turned his gaze to the other two mares, scowling slightly as he looked at Lyra, and getting a scowl right back in return. "I'm guessing they were involved somehow as well?"
"You could say that, Mot." Lyra continued to slouch in the pew, still not giving the priest a friendly look. "Though not in the way you'd like."
"I'll thank you to mind your tongue, Necromancer. You are only allowed here by my daughter's grace, and even that has its limits."
"Right, well, this is certainly worth the time we could be using to track down where she came from." Roseluck hopped off the pew. "I'm going back to my forest now, the animals are less pretentious."
"Nopony is going anywhere, okay?" Bonbon stepped in front of Rose, looking her right in the eyes for a moment. "Please, just give me a few more minutes." She held her breath for a moment, then released it as Rose moved back to the pew.
"Just a few more minutes, Bonbon; that's all I'm giving you. After that, I'll go back to looking for her my own way."
"And just who is it that you're looking for?" Bon Mot had let the moment with the druid pass uninterrupted, but now it seemed that he desired some answers as well. "And what does she have to do with your battle?"
"It's a long story, Father... and you're going to have a hard time believing it."
"I will be the judge of that, Sweetie Drops." He took a seat himself now, though well away from Lyra and Roseluck. "So, let's hear your story."
"Well... Rose found a grove of trees in her forest that had turned to ash, more or less..."
Bonbon, with some help from Rose and Lyra, spent the better part of a half hour explaining their misadventure to her father, though she left out her fears regarding Lyra and her momentary similarity to Shoeshine. Her father was almost entirely stoic and silent through it all, only giving an occasional grunt of acknowledgment, or raise of an eyebrow at certain points. He did seem to pay more attention during the part about the encounter with the mare Roseluck called a blighter, but he still didn't say anything about it until the very end.
"So... you were attacked by... zombie... trees?"
Bonbon sighed, having almost expected such a reaction to the story. If it hadn't happened to her, even she would have doubted it. "I am well aware of how it sounds, Father. However, with Celestia as my witness, it is nothing less than the truth."
"You have to understand my skepticism, given your friend's..." he glanced toward Roseluck, "...reputation."
"Last I checked, even the strongest of my hallucinogenic mushrooms can't actually attack somepony."
"Rose..." Bonbon facehooved, praying for some more strength from Celestia. "Please, you're not helping."
"Hey, I gave you a chance to convince him. It didn't work, so now I'm going back to try things my way." She stood up once more, starting toward the door.
Lyra, having only spoken up to explain the magic in the trees, glanced to Bon Mot from her slouch. Finally, she twisted herself around to get up as well.
"Oh come on, not you too!"
"Bonny, look." Lyra put a hoof on her marefriend's shoulder. "I never really expected your dad would listen to us; hell, I expected he would throw us out as soon as we got in. So, really, I'm with Rose. Let's just go."
Bonbon opened her mouth to protest when, suddenly, the double doors of the church burst open.
All eyes flew to them, and all of them widened in shock.
Righteous Fury, looking like she'd gone three rounds with a dragon, staggered in; her white coat was stained with dried blood, one of her eyes was swollen shut with an ugly purple bruise, and she favored one of her legs. Her breathing came in ragged pants, like each inhale caused her even more pain, but she still managed to take several limping steps forward before she started to lose her balance.
Bonbon shook herself out of her stupor and rushed forward to steady the mare. Regardless of her personal feelings about Righteous, a paladin couldn't just ignore the suffering of others. It just wasn't right.
"Righteous," Bon Mot spoke again, moving to help his daughter get the wounded pony to a pew. "What happened to you?"
Righteous took several more breaths, flinching as she did so, before she managed to start talking. "I was in Trottingham. I was meeting somepony there…"
Righteous was grateful to have found a stream to wash herself. The whipped cream and various fillings from the pies she'd been struck with had started to smell and attract all manner of buzzing insects.
She had emerged from the stream slightly chilled but with her mood notably improved since her confrontation with Sweetie Drops – she refused to justify that stupid nickname – and made it to Trottingham only a little bit behind schedule. The trip had taken her slightly longer than normal due to that stop, and she was thankful her contact hadn't left yet.
The gray earth pony mare was seated at a table, calmly sipping a cup of tea. Her mane was similarly drab, so dark a gray that it almost looked black. It was only her eyes and her cutie mark that brought any color to her body, both of them a soft shade of violet. Around her neck she wore a simple white collar with a pink bow attached. Her movements were delicate and smooth, as though she moved more on instinct than any conscious thought, and her smile – though small – was pleasant.
It was hard for even Righteous to believe that she could easily kill each and every pony around them. Almost.
Octavia Melody had made a name for herself not long ago as one of the world's deadliest mares; the only assassin more lethal than her was one that seemed as much myth as they did fact. The paladins had been after her for several years, and some had even lost their lives in the process; it had only been by a chance encounter between the necromancer and Righteous herself that Octavia had been captured. Even Righteous admitted that had been more luck than anything else.
After that, with no other paladins readily available, Righteous had been forced into the role of the assassin's warden. It was an odd arrangement, all who knew of it said so openly, but it was the only one that Shining had been able to make.
However, it seemed to have worked out in the end. Righteous's own zero-tolerance policy with all things evil seemed to have rubbed off on Octavia and, while she would never have the proper mindset to be a paladin herself, she had found a way to repurpose her skills to serve Celestia, to the point that Shining had made her a warden herself. Though her ward gave Righteous all the more reason to doubt Shining's mental state.
However matters such as those could wait a bit longer. Their relationship was certainly a strange one, but Octavia was the closest pony Righteous had to a friend, and she was glad to see her again.
"Hello, Miss Melody." Righteous took a seat across from her, sporting a small smile as she did. "I trust you will excuse my tardiness; I had a minor altercation in my travels."
"Quite alright, Miss Fury." Octavia's Trottingham accent was surprisingly thick for most ponies. However, Righteous had long since grown used to it. The other mare returned her smile as she waved a hoof and a unicorn waitress floated a second cup over to them a moment later. "Nothing you couldn't handle, I hope."
Righteous took the cup in her hooves and sipped it, though she was a bit more noisy about it than Octavia. "No, just an argument with a mare who can't see what's right in front of her."
"Ah, Sweetie Drops." Octavia gave Righteous a knowing smirk. The relationship between the paladin and the necromancer she had once tried to kill had been the topic of many a rage-induced rant. "Have Captain Armor's orders regarding her changed at all?"
"Not as far as I know; she's still free to walk about." Another sip of her drink followed. "And what of your ward, anything to report regarding her?"
Octavia set her cup down on its saucer, the light 'tink' of the ceramic barely audible above the general din of the ponies around them. "She is... aggravating. More so than usual."
"Have you slain her?" Righteous was used to judging the morality of others based on how they reacted to certain questions, but Octavia had always been tough to read. She saw something twinge in Octavia's eyes in response to the question, but she couldn't tell what.
"She has not broken the terms of her sentence, so she lives." It was another moment before she picked her tea up once more. "She has just been acting fairly unusual lately." Catching a look Righteous gave her, she quickly added. "For her, I mean."
"Have you considered the possibility that she may be altering your memories?"
Octavia scoffed. "She is not nearly subtle enough to perform such a task; I would notice anything she tried to change. The wards I placed in my bedroom prevent such magic from working while I sleep, and I check them every night before I go to bed. She has no opportunity to play around with my mind."
"Then maybe she's working a different angle, lulling you into a false sense of security so she can strike when your guard is down."
"My guard is never down, Righteous. You know me well enough to know that; more to the point, she still lacks the subtlety to pull off such an act."
Righteous frowned. Octavia was right, of course, her ward had never been the most subtle of beings. Even when captured, she hadn't resorted to the usual mind games of her kind and just opted to rush headlong into things. It had not been a very long battle, even with her level of power.
"Then I suppose I will have to examine her for myself; see if I can make sense of her actions."
The smallest of frowns darkened Octavia's features, but was quickly wiped away. "I suppose that would be best, maybe an outside perspective is just what I need. But first, let us finish our tea."
The rest of their meal was spent in relative silence, broken only by the occasional question about their own lives or an old joke that only held meaning to the two of them. Octavia seemed to be prolonging the meal, asking for a second helping of some of the biscuits and a third cup of tea at one point, prompting Righteous to bring up her previous concerns.
"I am not 'stalling', Righteous. I am merely enjoying a moment of normalcy in an otherwise very stressful life."
"Ponies like you or I can't have 'normal' lives, Octavia, hard as we may try." Righteous shifted slightly, rubbing at a portion of her upper foreleg. "And I still need to make a report with the Order, one I'd prefer not be late with."
Sighing, Octavia placed her mostly empty teacup back on the table. "Yes, I suppose that is true, isn't it?" Finally, she stood up and turned from Righteous. "This way then, I already told the owner to add the bill to my tab."
Righteous blinked a few times. "You have a tab here?"
Octavia gave a small smirk as she looked back. "He owed me a favor, and they make the only decent tea this side of Canterlot."
Righteous rolled her eyes as she stood to follow her. "You really need to start drinking something besides tea."
"I refuse to even touch that disgusting excuse for a beverage you call 'coffee', Righteous; that will never change."
The two of them chuckled; their taste in drinks had always been a point of contention between them. Octavia had simply proven too stubborn for even Righteous, but it was still fun to bug her about it.
As they walked, other ponies gave them quite the berth, taking great pains to avoid getting too close to the two mares. Being in the Solar Guard, it was something Righteous had long grown used to; everypony had something in their history or their habits that they would be quite happy to forget. Be it a minor theft, a violent outburst, or even just a mean streak that they never really quite curtailed while growing up. Paladins, as symbols of justice and enforcers of Celestia, had a way of making other ponies self-conscious about all their past failings; there wasn't anything mystical about it, it was just simple, old fashioned guilt. It wasn't good for the social life, but it certainly helped with travel times.
Despite the streets crowded with ponies out wandering on various shopping trips, they made the journey to Octavia's house in a matter of minutes.
It was a simple building, with a thatched roof and white wooden walls like most of the buildings in town, and there didn't seem to be much in the way of decoration either, which made sense. Even though those under Celestia's name weren't required to live within a certain monetary level, their salary was not a large one, and they were required to give a portion of their adventuring spoils over to the church for funding. It was very rare to find a paladin with a large pocketbook.
As they walked to the door, Octavia held up a hoof for Righteous to stop, then placed the same hoof on a spot next to the doorknob. Leaning in close, she whispered something under her breath and Righteous felt her mane briefly stand up at the sudden release of magic. Her lips parted in small smile. "That's the same locking spell I taught you when I was your warden. I would have thought you'd found a better one since then."
Octavia looked back, smiling as well. "You know what they say about old habits." Chuckling, she pushed the door open. And came face to face with a screaming unicorn hanging upside down from the ceiling.
Righteous, instinct taking over, reacted first and called upon her magic. "Lancea!" The word pierced the air as a spear of pure light energy was formed in her hoof. With an aim born of years of training, she rose up on her back hooves and hurled the weapon at the unicorn. The entire process had taken no more than a few seconds.
The scream was cut off as abruptly as a record being stopped. Righteous swore she could almost hear the scratch of a needle being lifted off one, and the unicorn flattened herself against the ceiling as the spear flew past her, just barely singeing part of her electric blue mane. Taking advantage of the momentary lapse in her concentration, Righteous started to charge in; before she even entered the doorway, however, she suddenly found a silver blade within inches of her throat.
"Calm yourself, Righteous." Octavia's voice was shockingly level, given the circumstance. "There is no need for a battle now. As I said, Vinyl is being difficult lately. This isn't the first time she has tried to scare me like that." She actually paused to give a look at the mare still standing on the ceiling. "Though, I must admit, I was expecting a bit more creativity. She tried this same approach yesterday."
The unicorn frowned, sticking her tongue out, then dropped off the ceiling. She righted herself in midair, landing on the floor with a clatter that didn't sound very much like hooves. Now that she was on the ground, Righteous could see the ends of her legs seemed to sport a set of claws more like a diamond dog's than anything a pony should have. However, even as she looked, they were coated in blood-red flames, shifting into a normal set of hooves.
Righteous backed away from Octavia's blade, then rounded on her. "You let a demon wander about your house when you're not around!" She snorted, blowing steam from her nostrils. "I taught you better than that, Octavia!"
"The locking spell keeps her contained," Octavia responded simply. "And, as I have stated, I check all my wards nightly before I turn in."
With a slight flick of her wrist, the blade she'd used to restrain her former warden was pulled up by some sort of spring-loaded mechanism attached to her foreleg. Even though she was watching it, Righteous suddenly found it very difficult to focus on the device once it was in place again.
"Perception spell," Octavia supplied, noting her stare. "One can not always wear overly flashy outfits to conceal their weapons, especially if she wishes to eat, so one must... adapt. And I could never quite get outright invisibility spells to work."
Righteous still glared at her for a moment, then turned to the demon, who had plodded over to a couch while the two of them had argued. "I still question the captain's judgment in allowing this... demon to continue to stay in Equestria."
"It is not my place to question Captain Armor, only to follow his orders." Octavia finally entered her house, heading down a hall toward the back. "I'll get my full report for you; afterward, we can discuss what you feel can be done regarding Vinyl's attitude."
I already know what can be done, Righteous thought bitterly. However, she entered herself without a word and shut the door behind her. But she didn't relax, not when she was alone with a demon; that would make any tricks or subterfuges it had in mind all the easier. "Don't think I'm not on to you, bitch."
The demon blinked her magenta eyes.
"I know exactly what you're doing; you're making her think this stupid idea of the captain's is working, that there actually is something good buried under all that evil."
Vinyl rolled her eyes and shifted about on the couch, taking up about half of it as she laid down.
"It won't work, she's too smart for that." Righteous stomped a hoof, more light energy flaring up around it like fire. "When you finally do make your move, she'll be ready for it. And then this little farce of a rehabilitation will finally be over."
Vinyl opened her mouth in a yawn, covering it with a hoof, them smacked her lips and stretched her limbs until her joints popped.
"Nothing to say for yourself, Demon?"
She stuck her tongue out at Righteous.
"Don't you dare mock me, Demon! Speak!"
Vinyl scoffed, turning away from Righteous and pulling one of the couch pillows over with telekinesis.
"In the name of Celestia, I command you to speak!"
The demon mare flinched at Celestia's name, but only turned around to stick her tongue out at Righteous again, then turned right back to rest some more.
"Speak your mind, Demon; reveal your true nature!"
"She can't." Octavia was back, walking on three legs as she held a folder close to her barrel with her fourth. "Speak, I mean. She hasn't said a word since her capture. The captain thinks something might have gone wrong with her initial summoning. I'm not even sure she ever could talk."
Righteous blinked a few times. "But... that scream..."
"She can still make sounds, with her magic, but only simple ones. A scream isn't all that complex; beyond that, it's mostly just music. She's helped me with my practice a few times."
The room was suddenly filled with the sound of a string instrument being played. Both mares looked to the demon, who was sitting upright and moving her hooves as though playing an instrument only she could see. Her horn was glowing the same shade as her eyes, and the intensity changed in time with the pitch of each note.
"I know what she means, Demon!" Righteous turned back to Octavia. "I just can't believe you let her in the same room as your cello."
"I need to keep an eye on her," she said. "You know how I can be when I play; it's safer to have her in the same room so I don't forget she's here entirely."
Righteous slowly nodded, conceding the point. The few times she'd seen Octavia play her cello, the mare had seemed only vaguely aware of the outside world. Additionally, the one time Righteous had interrupted her playing had seemed almost painful for the other mare. "Doesn't she... distract you? You said she was being more aggravating than usual lately."
As Vinyl glared, at both of them this time, Octavia shook her head and placed the folder on a table. "Not as much as you would think. A few times she's proved useful when I got stuck in my composition." Vinyl sat up a bit straighter, actually smirking now. "Oh, don't get cocky; your ego is massive enough as it is." She slouched back down, crossing her forelegs in a pout.
"Octavia? A word, in private." She narrowed her eyes at the demon, who merely rolled hers and went back to sprawling on the couch. Righteous, meanwhile, followed Octavia down the hall to a room with several warding seals painted upon the door. While Octavia gave them a once-over and merely nodded, Righteous spent several moments examining them and testing them with simple spells. It was only when she was sure they met her standards that she finally joined Octavia in the room and shut the door.
"I assume this is the part where you berate me?"
Righteous, who hadn't even drawn her full breath yet, was left wrong-hoofed by the sudden question. "You know damn well it is!" she hissed out. She jabbed a hoof in the general direction of the living room. "What was that?"
"It's called a laugh, Righteous. I think even you know what one is."
"What was there to laugh about? She's a demon, Octavia; she's not somepony you meet for drinks and to share a laugh with, she's an unholy abomination from the pits of Tartarus. She has no soul, no empathy, no remorse for all the lives she's ended! The only reason she's even still here is the captain's misguided belief that something like her can just stop being Evil."
"I was ordered to help facilitate her rehabilitation," Octavia countered impassively. "Regardless of the captain's reasoning or my own thoughts on the matter. Orders are orders."
"It is not our job to just blindly follow orders, Octavia! Shining Armor is far from infallible, and he has always had too much of a soft spot in him, just like his father." Righteous paused, then shook her head. She could reminisce about that later, there were other concerns now. "I taught you better than this!"
"As you have already stated." Octavia's voice still held the same detachment about it; she was clearly listening, but Righteous's words were just rolling off her back. "But you are no longer my warden, Righteous, and part of becoming one myself was learning my own way of handling these sorts of things."
"Learning what? To be so casual as to let your guard down around a demon?" Righteous was starting to pace now, a nervous habit whenever she couldn't simply confront something. "You’re treating her like she's a normal pony, like she's done nothing wrong." She suddenly stopped as something clicked in her mind, then rounded on Octavia. "You're treating her just like Sweetie Drops treats her necromancer!"
Octavia's features darkened and, for just a moment, Righteous Fury saw the face of the assassin she had fought several years ago. "I am not being nearly so unprofessional with my ward as she is, I assure you." The moment was gone, and Octavia's face was as unreadable as stone once more. "Though, yes, I have treated her like a pony on rare occasions. If only because, every now and then, she actually does seem to be a normal pony; admittedly one who needs to learn proper etiquette, but a pony nonetheless."
Righteous narrowed her eyes. "Don't forget, Octavia. A demon's greatest strength is in their ability to lie. Just because she doesn't speak a word doesn't mean she's not deceiving you." Her statement was met with nothing but silence from Octavia, as she knew it would be. Octavia knew the nature of demons and devils as well as she did; there was no denying their nature, as much as the captain thought otherwise.
Octavia opened her mouth at last, preparing to say something, before being interrupted by a frantic pounding on the door.
Both of them blinked in shock, turning to it. Righteous's stern glare actually hardened when several random, very loud sounds blared out from the other side. "What does the damned thing want now?"
Octavia was sporting a similarly dark expression, only hers was more indicative of troubled thoughts. "I'm not sure; I've only seen her act like this once before. And nothing good followed it." She opened the door, and was nearly tackled by Vinyl. Her earth pony strength kept her on her hooves, and she raised an eyebrow at the demon. "What is it?"
In response, Vinyl grabbed one of her hooves and began pulling. Chaotic sounds and snippets of a few musical scores still filled the air thanks to the demon's magic, and her face was panicked. Something was agitating her, and she wanted Octavia to see what.
"Careful, this could be a trap." Righteous stood her ground as her remark earned a seething glare from the demon, but Octavia shook her head.
"No, not something like this; like I said, I've seen this before. Something's happening, something bad." She pulled her hoof out of Vinyl's grip, then rushed over to another room in the house. A moment later, she returned, holding something Righteous recognized in her mouth. Though why she held it boggled the paladin's mind.
"Why are you bringing your cello bow? Are you planning on playing something?"
Octavia just smirked around the bow, then took off after an increasingly impatient Vinyl, leaving Righteous to hurry to catch up.
The demon mare led them outside, becoming agitated again when Octavia paused to restore the locking spell, before galloping off again. Smoke billowed in the distance, indicating a fire somewhere in town, and ponies were running around wildly, meaning this wasn't just some random blaze; something was attacking the town.
"What in the name of Celestia…?" The demon staggered at the goddess's name, shooting a glare at Righteous again, before ducking into an alleyway between two buildings and leading them to the next street over.
"Vinyl, wha ish go'ng on?" Octavia's voice was distorted by her mouth-hold on the bow, but the demon didn't seem to mind. Instead, she pointed a hoof upward and toward the smoking part of town. When Octavia and Righteous followed it, they were met with the sight of a deep blue pegasus stallion with a light gray mane and tail hovering a short ways away. They couldn't get a good look at his Cutie Mark from where they stood, but both of them could easily see the staff held in his hooves.
The pegasus raised the staff to the heavens, seemed to speak some sort of incantation, then pointed it down at one of the other buildings. Hellfire erupted from the head of the staff, spilling over the building like it was water, yet sticking wherever it fell. Even the wettest of materials would kindle Hellfire. Righteous had even heard rumors that it could set water itself ablaze if enough of it was summoned, but now was not the time to test something like that.
"I've got him, you handle the fire; put your demon to good use."
Ignoring yet another glare from the unicorn, Righteous Fury charged forward as light gathered about her hooves. She'd always been good at summoning such things; her own Cutie Mark, a golden flame, attested to that. It was yet another of her abilities that made her all the more suited to fight an evil sorcerer such as this one. As the pegasus raised his staff to call forth more Hellfire, Righteous pushed up into a jump and gathered all the excess light energy into one spot. "Lancea!" She hurled the light spear at the apex of her jump; her earth pony strength sent it sailing into the sky, and her aim was true.
Were it not for the natural speed and agility of all pegasi, the battle would have ended right there.
The stallion faltered in the air, his wingbeats becoming erratic and ungainly. She had clipped him in the shoulder with her spear, meaning each flap had to be all the more painful for him. Still, she could almost give him credit; even with what had to be severe pain, he was still flying.
Okay, maybe not as much credit as she thought.
"That's no way to talk to a lady. Lancea!" Another spear was hurled; if she could ground him, then he would lose the only real advantage he had here. A flying mage was a difficult opponent to fight, especially for a pony like her who specialized in more melee types of combat. The spear was her only real distance attack, and it wasn't even a terribly powerful one. She needed to get him down.
"Let your grace shield us!" Just before her construct could hit him, a translucent sphere of dark red energy surrounded the stallion. Her spear hit it and shattered into useless shards that faded away into nothing.
Down on the ground, Righteous's eyes were wide as saucers. She knew that spell, she'd seen it cast multiple times; in fact, she'd actually cast it herself when she simply couldn't outright overpower an opponent in combat. That was one of the Solar Order's many prayers, granted to them from their devotion to Celestia herself; the very same prayers that would become nothing more than mere words if they ever strayed from her holy path. A path which, last she checked, did not include the random burning of buildings.
He should not have been able to use that prayer!
"Let your fires cleanse the land of your adversaries!"
Righteous was brought out of her shocked stupor by the stallion's shouted prayer, and only just managed to dive out of the way of another gout of Hellfire. She managed to roll as she finished the leap and came up on her hooves, galloping to avoid the rolling flames. She had no doubt one hit would be survivable, but Hellfire could burn the very soul, leaving you with a pain that could never truly heal.
"Run, little mare, run all you like." The stallion's voice held an edge of pain to it, but he was still taunting her. "There is no escaping my goddess' wrath."
"She's not your goddess!" An arrow streaked through the air, hitting the stallion through the wing. As he cried out and had to make an extremely quick and awkward landing, Octavia stood on two legs with her bow in one hoof and the other raised. "Flèche!" An arrow of light energy, similar to Righteous's spears, was conjured in her free hoof and placed into the bow like it was an actual weapon. The bowstring extended far more than it should have been able to as Octavia pulled back, and it was only another of the stallion's bastardized prayers that prevented him from being shot again. Still, the first shot had done its job; he was grounded for now.
The stallion turned to Octavia, his eyes filled with fire. "Let your enemies fear your rage!" The shield fell as he pointed his staff at her, blasting a ball of Hellfire in her direction.
There was a minor explosion of sound, and a chaotic ball of multicolored light intercepted the fireball. The two met in an eruption of Hellfire and – to Righteous's shock – electricity. Neither was truly canceled out, but both attacks had expended all their energy on meeting the other, effectively ending them both. The demon mare stepped silently out from behind Octavia, her horn glowing fiercely.
"Three mares at once," Octavia said, then a smirk ghosted about on her face. "You know, most stallions dream of this sort of thing."
"Too bad for you, I'm not most stallions." The pegasus raised his staff once more. "Let your fires cleanse the land of your adversaries!" Only, this time, he slammed his staff down on the ground. Whereas the same prayer had resulted in a fireball before, this time it sent a wave of fire rolling out in a circle from the point of impact.
"Ègide!" Octavia shouted, landing back on three hooves.
"Clipeus!" Righteous held up one of her hooves.
A glowing wall appeared in front of Octavia, meeting the flames head on, while a buckler of light energy attached itself to Righteous's leg and forced the Hellfire to arc around her. Vinyl, in complete contrast to the two earth ponies, simple charged right through the flames. As a demon, Hellfire couldn't really do much to her beyond singe her a bit; a fact that left the strange stallion momentarily stunned when she emerged from his wall with barely a mark to show for it.
Her horn glowed with magenta light as the two earth ponies charged forward. Another blast of light and sound was shot at the stallion, knocking him back since he couldn't dodge fast enough to avoid it. Still, even though he was clearly in pain from the attack, he managed to force himself to his hooves once more.
"May your enemies feel the heat of your light!" He raised his staff and blood-red light erupted forth from the head. The demon staggered, the light from her horn vanishing, and Octavia hit the ground a moment later. Righteous found herself suddenly gasping; it was as if she had been placed in a desert at midday. The air was so dry her every breath seemed to suck out more and more of her body's vitality, and she could feel sweat already pouring down her legs and back. The grass around them was turning brown and brittle, the ground beneath it turning into sand; the heat was just unbearable!
"Lan-" Righteous choked on her own words as the heat shot up another ten degrees. She could almost feel her skin starting to blister from the intensity.
"Getting real sick of hearing you say that word." The stallion stood on three legs, staff raised over his head and still shining out it's blood-red light. "But don't worry; the pain won't last much longer. Solar Flare isn't as sadistic as ponies like to say."
Somewhere in the back of her mind, the name he'd mentioned brushed a chord with Righteous. She recognized it, but only just barely, and it wasn't helping that mind felt like it was boiling right now. Then, just as suddenly as it had risen, the heat dropped. It was still oppressively and painfully hot, but it seemed she was no longer getting his full attention. Wha-?
"Well, you're just full of surprises, aren't you?"
Righteous looked toward the stallion, squinting through the waves of heat filling the air. The demon mare, Vinyl, was on her hooves and slowly trudging her way toward him. Some of the light from his staff was more focused on her, actually causing the ground to smoke and kindle a bit, but she still managed to stay on her hooves.
And the stallion just couldn't seem to understand how.
"First you run through Hellfire itself, now you have the wrath of Solar Flare focused on you and still you don't burn?" He narrowed his eyes, directing more of the light toward her until the grass around her actually was burning. "You should be dead! Or near death at least, how can you–"
"Flèche!" One of Octavia's arrows sailed through the air before he could really start his monologue. Her aim was understably horrible, given the circumstances, but it was close enough to panic the stallion and cause him to dive out of the way. The heat dropped again, becoming more akin a sweltering summer day than the inside of the oven, but it was enough. Octavia stood on two legs yet again and raised her hooves upward. "Arrêtez!" A ball of light appeared between her hooves, shrank in on itself for a moment, then blasted out with a shock-wave that washed over Righteous.
The temperature dropped about thirty degrees in an instant, and Righteous found herself glad she could shiver for once. The fires that had been lit on the grass near Vinyl were wiped away by the force, while Vinyl's form flickered momentarily into something very clearly inequine; she managed to reassert her pony form, though, and gave a tired smile to Octavia.
"You're welcome, Vinyl." Octavia dropped back down, panting and wiping sweat from her brow. "Now, grab him before he–"
"Whoa-whoa-whoa~!" The sound a mare singing a few notes interrupted Octavia's words; then, what Righteous could only describe as a literal wall of sound slammed into her and sent her tumbling back painfully. Octavia didn't fare much better, actually being flipped over twice by the force of whatever this was and landing on her back with a cry of pain. Vinyl got the worst of it, careening into a flower cart and smashing it to bits; however, as a demon, she was a lot tougher than most mortals and managed to get back up first.
She rushed over to help Octavia to her hooves, who was hacking and wheezing from having the wind knocked out of her by the impact. "Wh–," her body was wracked with a coughing fit, "what was that!"
"That would be me, baby~." Their eyes snapped toward an alleyway, where a mare sauntered, no, sashayed into view. She was an earth pony, with a cobalt-blue mane and tail, and a coat that seemed a mix of gold and gray. Her half-lidded eyes were a rich amber in color and, perhaps the oddest thing about her, she seemed to lack a cutie mark entirely. "Go right ahead and take it all in, ladies~." Her voice seemed to possess a strange sort of melody to it, like she was always teetering on the edge of a full-on song. "I know the effect I can have on ponies~." She actually struck a pose, one that accented her lack of a cutie mark in the process.
Righteous felt the immediate urge to buck her face in.
"Took you long enough to show up!" The stallion grunted in pain, leaning heavily on his staff as he stood back up. "I told you I was going to need help here over two hours ago, and there's no way you only just got here!"
"What can I say, babe~?" The new mare fluttered her eyelashes. "Sapphire Shores loves to make an entrance~."
A blush flashed on his face for a moment, but was quickly wiped away. "Ugh, whatever; just deal with them for a bit, I–"
"Lancea!" Righteous hurled a light spear a the two of them, only for Sapphire to whistle a sharp note in response. The sound seemed to solidify in midair, turning into an energy spear of her own and meeting Righteous's with a minor explosion of light and sound.
"I would really like to finish a damn sentence!"
"Don't worry, babe~." Sapphire sauntered forward, putting herself between him and the other three mares. "Won't be the first time I've had a little mare on mare action~."
"Tell me," Octavia deadpanned. "Are you trying to sound that suggestive, or are you really just that clueless?"
Sapphire smirked. "How do you know I'm not being serious~?" She actually shook her hips. "Interested~?" Before Octavia could refuse, a blast of Vinyl's magic that left Righteous's ears ringing shot through the air. Sapphire jumped away in a motion reminiscent of a dance move, and the magical attack gouged out a chunk of ground where she'd been standing. Sapphire just giggled. "How rude~. You're more than welcome to join in, you know~."
"Oh, shut up already!" Octavia tossed her bow up and caught it in her mouth as she broke into a gallop. She managed to close the distance between her and Sapphire in the time it took Vinyl to fire off another blast of her magic. When Sapphire danced around the attack, Octavia released her bow and went back to two hooves, holding the bow with one of her forehooves.
The cello bow shot forward as Octavia lunged, with Sapphire dancing away again. However, Octavia's own rhythm seemed to match the other mare's; she corrected her thrust at the last moment, and the bow slid along Sapphire's cheek for the briefest of moments, leaving a thin red line in its wake.
"Whoa-whoa-whoa~!" Octavia was blasted away by Sapphire's spell, again, but managed to roll with the force and came up on two hooves this time. Sapphire raised a hoof to her cheek, her eyes wide as she drew it away and saw the blood.
Octavia just smirked. "Ironwood," she said. "It cost me a bloody fortune to get a proper bow made out of it, but it hasn't let me down yet."
Now it was Righteous's turn to stare in shock. Ironwood was an exceedingly rare tree that only grew in the deepest and most dangerous of wild areas, and it required specialized enchantments to even cut the trees down, much less shape them into something like a bow! A 'bloody fortune' was probably a severe understatement for the value of such a thing.
Sapphire's chuckle broke through Righteous's thoughts. "Well then, aren't you full of surprises~?" An evil smirk slowly spread out over her features. "Then again, so am I~." She danced out of the way of another blast of Vinyl's magic, then spun away as Octavia thrust her bow again.
"Lancea!" Righteous shouted out her spell the moment she had a clear shot, only to have Sapphire meet it with another of her whistles yet again.
"You need a new trick, babe~."
Righteous scowled, then charged into the fray and jumped up. "Gladio!" A glowing broadsword appeared between her hooves as she shouted out her spell word, and was brought down at Sapphire's head. However, the other mare just danced out of the way, and Righteous had to jerk her head to the side to avoid being impaled by Octavia's bow. "Careful!"
"Sorry, you threw off my rhythm." Octavia spun as Sapphire whistled out, her ironwood bow slicing the sound spear in twain as it got near them. "And hers is rather difficult to pin down."
"So throw it off! Then she's wrong-hoofed and we can end this!"
"I've been trying!" Both of them were forced to move now, as Sapphire sang out again, and wall of force tore up the ground they had been standing on. "But she’s proving annoyingly adaptive."
Another wild blast of sound interrupted them again, this one courtesy of Vinyl. As Sapphire had to dance away again, the demon mare cast a disapproving gaze at the two of them and stomped a hoof on the ground.
"Yes, yes," Octavia sighed. "You're right, I suppose."
"How can you understand her at all?" Righteous questioned, then raised her hoof. "Clipeus!" The buckler from earlier returned, deflecting the blow of another whistle spear. "She's not in your head, is she?"
"For the last time, no! It's just something I picked up about her from being her warden for so long." She spun around another whistle spear, taking more of her own dance-like steps toward Sapphire to try for another thrust. She was rewarded with another nick on the other mare's shoulder, but it was a far cry from what she needed to actually stop her.
"Been a while since I've had a dance partner as good as you, sugar~." Sapphire ducked under another thrust of the blade and surged forward into a body check, but only managed to clip Octavia as she spun away. "I've been looking for a back-up dancer for some time now, I can even offer a few 'benefits', if you–"
The ground rumbled as a wave of sound so deep it was felt more than heard passed through it. Righteous was knocked off her hooves, her bones and teeth rattling from the force, and Sapphire hadn't fared much better. Only Octavia had remained upright, having moved with the deep vibration as it passed over her; and, in doing so, was left with a perfect opening. She thrust her bow forward, going for the center of mass to end the battle now.
"Let sinners be blinded by your might!"
Octavia cried out in pain, her eyes clamping shut and her aim going wide. Her bow still cut Sapphire, opening a nasty gash along her side, but the wound wasn't a fatal one. And it was paid back several times more when Sapphire whistled out another spear. Octavia tried to move out of the way, and was almost successful, but the spear still struck her in the left side of her barrel, and the force of the attack actually hurled her several feet away. Her bow was knocked out of her hooves and her body hit the ground with a painful thump, unmoving.
"OCTAVIA!" Righteous galloped toward her, eyes darting around madly. That prayer meant that impossible cleric was back in the fight; she had let him slip her mind while they were trying to deal with Sapphire and now they were all paying the price for it.
"Whoa-whoa-whoa~!" Speaking of her!
Righteous skidded to a stop and gritted her teeth; there wasn't time to cast a protection spell, so she'd just have to try and tank the hit and hope her earth pony nature would lessen the blow. However, a flash of white and blue out of the corner of her eye broke her concentration; Vinyl, her hooves coated in Hellfire, dashed in front of her and reared up on her hind legs. Her horned flashed with magenta light, and she stomped back down with a look of wild rage burning in her eyes.
A blast of sound so deep Righteous felt it in her chest and a blue-white light erupted from the demon's horn, meeting the wall of force with a thunderclap, before overpowering it entirely. The beam continued on until it met Sapphire, who had crossed her hooves in front of her and sang out "Heeeeeeeey~!" A barrier appeared in front of her, meeting the attack but not truly able to stop it; Sapphire was forced back, leaving drag marks in the ground as the remaining force crashed into her.
When it was finally over, Vinyl was silently panting from exertion while Sapphire was sporting several more cuts, and there was a shallow trench from the sheer force of the sonic blast now splitting the street.
There was a lull in combat, as it usually happened following such displays of power, but it wouldn't last long. Sapphire was already blinking away her stupor, and Righteous quickly raced over to Octavia, uttering a prayer of her own as she ran. "Mare Celestia, let your ethereal fire bless our allies and ease their suffering, so that we may uphold the light of justice once more." The glow from her hooves flowed into Octavia and congregated on her open wound.
It wouldn't be a perfect fix – healing magic had never been Righteous's forte – but it was enough to remove any immediate danger of death. "Thank you, Righteous." Octavia grabbed her friend's proffered hoof and pulled herself up with only a minor wince of pain. "And, Vinyl, you know you shouldn't use that attack as anything other than a last resort.
The still panting demon turned to Octavia, and favored her with a wild grin.
"I didn't think you would," Octavia gave a small chuckle. "Thank you all the same, though."
"Hellfire!" The cleric dropped out of the sky, landing between the group and Sapphire with his eyes wide. "That was Hellfire, I saw it when you ran!" He stared at Vinyl. "You're a demon!"
The expression on Vinyl's face that followed this almost seemed to radiate sarcasm.
The cleric suddenly raised his hoof. "In the name of Solar Flare, I declare your chains broken! May you be free to spread corruption and suffering once more!" A blood-red light appeared around his hoof, then a matching one appeared around Vinyl. She looked momentarily panicked, then blinked several times as the light vanished.
Octavia and her shared a few looks, which only elicited a shrug from the demon. "Was... was something suppose to happen there?"
The cleric gaped at the pair of them. "That should have released her from whatever binds you put on her. She should have been set free and turned on you immediately."
Vinyl narrowed her eyes in an icy glare.
"There are no binds on her," Octavia said. "She either conducts herself in a manner becoming a good pony, or I slay her; that was the only 'deal' that I ever struck with her. So far, that hasn't been necessary."
The cleric angrily stomped a hoof. "Servants of Solar Flare are not–"
"Again with that name," Octavia cut in, not interested in a monologue. "Who is this Solar Flare you keep talking about."
"Blasphemy is what it is." Righteous finally recalled where she'd heard the name before. "A few years back, a bunch of whiny teenagers who never grew up started claiming that the history books were wrong. They said it was actually Celestia who caused the Nightmare War, and took to calling her Solar Flare just like Luna called herself Nightmare Moon at the time.
"We still hear about it from the occasional anarchist we arrest; either trying to defile a temple in defiance of her, or claiming to do her work by hurting ponies." She scowled at the cleric. "Personally, I think they all need a few whacks upside the head."
"Silence, sinner!" the cleric spat. "I am not going to be deceived by one who worships a false goddess."
"Then let’s settle this entirely." Righteous looked at Vinyl. "You ever heard of a deity called Solar Flare."
The demon mare blinked, then shook her head.
"There you go, right from a demon herself. Still think I'm lying?"
The cleric only smirked. "My goddess is real, this much I know; and if you require proof..." He suddenly raised his staff again. "May your light lay bare all who stand against you!" The blood-red light returned, only this time it wasn't heat that accompanied it. Righteous suddenly felt her throat go bone dry, as though it had been days since she'd last drank anything; even swallowing was a wasted effort, her mouth felt so dry she could barely even attempt to get some spit going.
"Arr–" Octavia could only croak out part of her spell before she started coughing.
"Not so easy to cast now, is it?" The cleric was grinning wildly, then shifted his focus to Vinyl, who was struggling to stay standing now. "Yes, even you're having trouble now too; that mortal body you have is weak." He took a few steps toward her. "Please, I can help you. I can find you a new body, a better body; I can even remake whatever ritual summoned you and fix what made you weak to begin with." The pleasant smile on his face was a sickening contrast to the words coming out of his mouth. "If you want, I can even sacrifice these two in your name; think about it; you'll be free to wreak havoc again, and you can torture their souls to your black heart's content." He held out a hoof to her. "Deal?"
Vinyl swayed about under the light, looking right at the cleric for a long moment. Righteous was already getting ready to try and banish the demon when she inevitably accepted, when Vinyl suddenly reared up again and slammed her forehooves together. The resulting 'clap' was more akin to the roar of thunder and left Righteous momentarily disoriented, and was apparently loud enough to be painful for the cleric. He had dropped his staff and fallen to the ground, holding his ears in agony, while Vinyl had fallen on her side, panting and looking slightly more pale than usual.
Righteous, the thirst in her throat gone with the interruption of the spell, charged at the incapacitated pegasus. "Gladio!" Her broadsword returned as she advanced on him, and she raised it up to finish this battle, only to receive a painful sucker punch right to the eye that sent her sprawling. Twice in one battle! Even through the pain, Righteous was already berating herself for being so sloppy.
"Time to go, babe~." Even panicked, Sapphire's voice still held its melodic timber. She bent down and pulled the pegasus up onto her back, then grabbed his staff with a hoof
"You're not getting away that easily!" Octavia galloped forward; she hadn't had time to search for her bow, but she didn't seem to care. Besides, she knew more than one way to kill a pony.
"Wasn't planning on it, sugar~." Sapphire forced her to dodge a whistled spear, then tapped her hoof against the ground with a rhythmic pattern just as Righteous was getting back on her hooves. The air went unnaturally still around them for a moment, then, seemingly from nowhere, there was music! It was a fast-paced, drum-heavy beat that sounded like a conga song, leaving Octavia and Righteous very confused. "Oooh, I love this one~." She placed the staff in her mouth, then started dancing and jumping around to the music as she carried the stallion away.
However, when Righteous tried to follow after her, she suddenly cried out in pain. A wound had suddenly opened up on one of her legs with no apparent source, causing her to stagger.
"Righteous!" Octavia, her naturally fluid movements now matching the beat of the strange song, literally danced over to the paladin. "What?"
"I don't know, I–" She cried out in pain when she tried to move again, opening a gash along her back. "Why is it only me and not you?!"
A hoof tapping against the ground in time with the rhythm drew both their attentions; Vinyl, still on the ground from overexerting herself, was moving again, pointedly looking at Octavia as she continued to tap out the beat.
For a time, Octavia looked just as confused as Righteous as to what Vinyl meant. However, when the unicorn deliberately broke rhythm and was wounded much the same as Righteous, her eyes widened. "The song! You have to move in time with the song!"
Righteous felt her heart sink. "...I can't dance."
Octavia scowled, glancing back up and down the destroyed street; Sapphire and the cleric had vanished, and the song was slowly fading in volume, which could only mean they were getting further away. "And I don't think I could take both of them on right now... she's almost as good as I am; and if he got back into the fight..." She stomped her hoof in frustration as the last notes of the song were swept away on the wind. "Celestia damn them both!"
Righteous groaned, wincing as she tried to put some weight on her wounded leg. She could already feel her eye swelling shut, and the pain in her back was just as bad. She was every bit as angry with the way things had turned out as Octavia. "This needs to be reported, immediately."
Octavia nodded in agreement, helping Vinyl back up and examining the demon's wound. "Let's get to the healers, then we can–"
"I don't have time to wait for healers to say I'm ready to travel, Octavia. If I leave now, I can get to Ponyville in less than a day and get word to Bon Mot. I don't want anyone of the Order facing those two without knowing what they're up against."
Octavia scowled, but said nothing against the matter. "Very well, Righteous. I'll see about tracking them once things are sorted here." She winced slightly. "I could use a proper healing myself, no offense."
Righteous nodded. "I will see you again soon; and we still need to discuss the matter of your ward."
Vinyl, swaying on her hooves, gave a tired glare at Righteous, and stuck her tongue out once more.
"...so I ran here from Trottingham as fast as I could." Bon Mot hadn't spoken a word through Righteous's story, though he had glanced to his daughter several times. Bonbon, in turn, had kept shooting glances toward Lyra and Roseluck, none of them saying a word but all four of them thinking the same thing; there was no way this was a coincidence. "I know it sounds–"
"I believe you." Bon Mot turned and headed back to the alter. "Both of you." While Righteous blinked a few times, he pulled out a book emblazoned with Celestia's cutie mark as well as pencil. "I will be contacting the Order and see they are kept informed. In the meantime, I want you to go to the healers and get patched up, Righteous, then go back to Trottingham; you'll be helping Octavia track down those two." He turned to Bonbon. "And you and your ward are going to work with the druids, to see if they can give us any information about this 'blighter' and where she might have come from. Something is going on, and we need to know what."
Bonbon and Righteous both saluted. "Yes, sir!"
While Righteous hobbled out the door to go see the local healer, Bonbon turned to Lyra and Rose. "Come on; if we're doing this, we're going into it prepared this time."
Rose raised an eyebrow. "Meaning?"
"Meaning: Shopping trip," Lyra clarified. "And we're still going to talk about earlier when we have time, Bonbon."
"Yes, dear," Bonbon said pointedly. "We have quite a lot to talk about when we have time."
Lyra gave her a look, but finally just gave up. "Okay, whatever." However, as the three of them were walking out, Bon Mot called to Bonbon once more.
"Oh, and before I forget, Sweetie Drops." Bonbon turned to her father once more. "Post Haste was the one making the rounds today, saying the lich was otherwise occupied. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
She frowned. "Ditzy is not a ward of the Order, Father, nor has she done anything to merit being one. And, for what it's worth, she will probably be back to delivering the mail in a few days or so."
Back in Whinnistrad, Ditzy Doo sat at a table in the town's only pub.
The city still had a few paladins wandering around, directing the dismantling of Shoeshine's tower, so she preferred to be as out of the way as possible. While she had no specific issues with the Order itself, and even called a few of its members her friends, she was filled to the brim with more dark magic and necromantic energy than most ponies would ever see in their lifetime. And, while she would be difficult to re-kill, she was well aware that it was by no means impossible. Plus, fighting the paladins would set a bad example for–
"Mommy!" A grayish-purple streak suddenly zipped through the pub, startling some of the patrons, before colliding with Ditzy as she blinked. A unicorn filly with a mane very similar to Ditzy's own, and a pair of off-gold eyes was hugging her tight around the barrel. "I missed you!"
"Dinky?" She blinked several more times as another pony trotted over to her. This one was a unicorn mare with a magenta coat, a two-tone mane of violet and light purple, brilliant amethyst eyes and a cutie mark of three diamonds upon her flank. "Sparkler?"
The older unicorn smirked at her, then joined the filly in hugging. "Good to see you again too, Mom."
Ditzy shook herself out of her stupor long enough to return the hug to both her adopted daughters, a smile upon her face as their warm bodies were a nice change from the cold of her own dead flesh. "It's so great to see you both." She pulled away from the hug after a moment. "Not to sound upset, but what are you doing here?"
A male's voice with a pronounced accent answered her question. "I figured you could do with a visit from them, given your letter and all."
Ditzy's smile only widened as she turned to the speaker. He was an earth pony stallion, with a light brown coat, a spiky dark brown mane and tail, blue eyes, and an hourglass for his cutie mark; around his neck he wore a white collar with a green bow-tie, which he fiddled with before returning her smile. "Time Turner!" She flew over to give him a hug as well, making him grunt a bit when she let her enthusiasm get the best of her. "Oops, sorry about that."
He merely chuckled. "No need to apologize, my dear. I am quite happy to see you as well." He took one of her hooves in his own and raise it up, kissing it on the fetlock. "And may I say, you are looking positively radiant today, Miss Doo."
Dinky giggled from near the table while Sparkler merely glared at the stallion. Ditzy, for her part, sported a goofy smile and found herself grateful her lack of a pulse meant she couldn't blush. Time Turner smiled pleasantly as they all took a seat at the table and the topic of dinner was brought up.
And not a one of them noticed the pony in the far corner, with their eyes practically glued to Ditzy.