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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 chuckled.

Righteous blinked.

"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.

"You... bitch!"

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.

" 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.
The Necromantic Adventures of Lyra Heartstrings 4
Hoo boy, this one took a while, didn't it? Really need to get better at typing these things.

Special thanks to the following people, for helping make this semi-legible: Star_Catcher, Icefox, Nicktendonick, Sutetsu, FutureJohny, nightwalker, ChasingResonance, Rest, Noble Cause, R5h, Nyerguds, and one other person I only know as TABrony on the Writers' Group IRC.

If you are that person, or are another editor I forgot to mention for whatever reason, please let me know so I can link to your account.

Other than that, I really hope you enjoyed this chapter and I promise the next chapter isn't going to be focused on another fight scene.
A Big Adventure by Dragon-of-Twilght
A Big Adventure
Art by :iconstampydragon:

Bonbon slammed her armor-clad hoof down with all the fury of a goddess behind it. "In the name of Celestia, I banish you, unholy abomination!" Light flashed under her hoof and a hissing screech answered her challenge, before being finally silenced. She lifted the limb up, leaving a sizable crater behind in her wake, and glared around the dark forest.

Formless horrors shrank back into the shadows, still lurking but unwilling to challenge the giant mare any further.

Bonbon waited a moment longer, then sighed through her nose; that would do, for now. She turned around slowly, even her most careful movements causing minor tremors and deforming the ground with each step. "Well then, when where you planning on telling me you learned this spell?"

Down on the path, Lyra smirked up at her marefriend as her horn still glowed. "I only found the scroll with it yesterday, and we've had a bit of a busy day."

Bonbon gave a grunt of acquiescence, 'busy' would have been an understatement. Losing her hammer had just been the start of things; and this little ambush in the Everfree probably wouldn't be the end of it. "Fine, I suppose." A moment passed. " can cancel the spell any time, Lyra."

The unicorn never lost her smirk, nor her horn its glow. "Yes, I can."

Another moment came and went. "Well?"

"Well... I am rather curious about how this spell works; like, say, what would happen if I cast it again."

Bonbon felt her eye twitch; this was going to be a long NIGHT as well, it seemed.


Okay, so... yeah; Lyra and Bonbon in a similar manner to how they would be in my MLP Fanfic The Necromantic Adventures of Lyra Heartstrings.

I can't exactly say this describes a scene in the story, since it doesn't... but, knowing me, there's actually at least a 45-50% chance of something similar to this playing out in the future. Eh, I guess we'll have to see.

Seriously, though; major props to :iconstampydragon: for doing this, it's probably the weirdest commission he's gotten in a while.

Insert closeup:
No-Insert Version:
Cleaning up the cart hadn't taken all that long, not with two ponies working at it. Ditzy, however, had needed to stay with the cart until her supervisor could travel down, assess the damage and determine what disciplinary actions needed to be taken. So, Bonbon found herself traveling the rest of the way alone.

Still, talking with the lich had greatly improved her mood; Ditzy always seemed to know how to make her friends just that little bit happier when they needed it most. The rest of her trip passed much quicker than she had expected, and she even managed a smile when she finally caught a glimpse of her town.

Ponyville wasn't big --  the average pony could cover it in a brisk trot without too much effort --  but the residents made it feel far larger than it actually was.

She paused as a colt galloped past her, followed by an identical colt a moment later... then a small herd of colts, each one identical to the first and giggling wildly. Finally, a mare galloped past her in hot pursuit, shouting at the crowd of clones.

“Don't think I can't tell you apart from your friends, Morning Star!” she bellowed as she passed one; green flames burst from the disregarded duplicate, and a tiny changeling buzzed away. Seeing this, several more split from the colt group, reverting to their natural forms, but most stayed disguised as they each picked a direction and bolted, the mare following one in particular. “When I catch you, you are grounded for a month!”

Bonbon shook her head, watching the mother gallop down the street. She knew the tricks to see through a changeling's glamour, even when she only saw the disguise for a moment. So, she was well aware that the mare was chasing the wrong image of her son. But there wasn't much she could do about it now.

She stopped, then turned around as everything's colors inverted. It only lasted a moment, before a skilepony* darted out of the shadows with a giggle and the colors went right. She considered chasing after the half-kitsune, but the troublemaker looked less than ten years old, and color shifting was hardly a punishable offense. Besides, she'd just lost sight of his fox tail, so he was in the wind by now.

Just another day in Ponyville.

Bonbon paused suddenly, something feeling even more off than usual. Living in Ponyville was an exercise in preparedness, instinct, and luck, and it had an effect on ponies. She took several wary steps back and away from nearby structures, crouched down slightly to brace herself, and tensed her body up for whatever was coming. She wouldn't have to wait long.

A building not far from her exploded, blasting a gaping hole in its upper level. Several ponies screamed in shock, but most were already running from the falling debris or knocking the few too stunned to react out of harm's way. Bonbon herself took several bounds around to dodge masonry flying toward her, but her eyes never left the smoldering hole.

Three tiny blurs shot out of the new exit: white, yellow and orange. Bonbon quickly moved to the side, letting them zoom by her with a sigh. She counted down from six, reaching zero as an earth pony mare with a light brown coat, a gray mane and tail galloped up, shouting out several curse words in Abyssal.

She turned from shouting at the retreating forms, now directing her attention to Bonbon as she continued to speak the dark tongue, gesturing wildly between the paladin, the damaged house, and the three figures that had almost vanished from sight.

Bonbon, for her part, blinked.

“Madame Mayor,” she said, “I can't speak the devil language.” This was met with a blank stare from Ponyville's mayor, as though Bonbon's words were as foreign to her as hers were to the paladin.

Before she could pursue the matter further, another earth pony mare galloped up. Her white coat was matted with sweat and she had to pause to brush her black mane out of her glasses.

“Sorry, sorry about that. Got – got separated from her after the explosion. I can handle the translation.” She turned to the mayor, then started speaking Abyssal as well, though with a very clear accent, even to Bonbon's untrained ears. Still, the mayor responded easily enough, speaking the tongue fluently as she gestured around. “She wants to know if you saw the ones that did this,” her assistant translated, “and could identify them.”

Bonbon raised an eyebrow, but let it be for the moment. She'd had a feeling it would be something like that anyway. “Who do you think it was? Probably trying to get cutie marks in something or other again.”

The other mare groaned, her hoof slapping against her face, but she translated for the mayor anyway. A fresh stream of curses was spewed and ignored, and the mayor, still muttering to herself, wandered off. The other mare held back for a moment to speak with Bonbon. “Sorry about this, I’m guessing you’ve never met her while she was stressed.” And she took off after the mayor.

Bonbon quirked an eyebrow once again but took that as her cue to leave. She was, technically, a civil servant as part of her job, but the mayor was in no state to do anything more than shout incoherently until she calmed down. Plus, given the age of the perpetrators involved, all this would entail was informing their guardians and having them help fix the hole. Hardly something they needed a paladin for.

Besides, she wanted to see Lyra again.

“Speak of a devil, and she will appear.”

Bonbon grunted as she felt the weight of another pony drape itself across her back. She smirked as she glanced back, her blue eyes meeting her marefriend's golden ones. “I never said your name, hon.”

“No, but you had that wistful look you get whenever you think of me.”

Bonbon chuckled, rolling her eyes as she resumed walking. The added load was a challenge, but it wasn't anything she couldn't handle. Earth pony strength had its benefits. “You seem to be feeling better.”

Lyra sighed, watching the ground go by as she lay draped over Bonbon's back. “Yeah, took most of the day to recover from the hangover, and a bit longer to get over the guilt... I'm sorry, by the way, for getting drunk like that.”

“Don't worry about it; holding a grudge over that isn't going to help either of us. One back-slide isn't going to be the end of you.” Righteous's voice echoed in her mind, berating her for giving a known dark magic user an inch, saying she'd take a mile. Bonbon pushed the words back down, never in the mood for the other paladin's zealotry. The Lyra she knew wasn't Shoeshine... she wasn't.

“Equestria to Bonbon. Anyone in there?” The necromancer in question tapped the top of Bonbon's head.

“Sorry about that," Bonbon apologized, pausing to wave Lyra's hoof away from her head. "last job was worse than usual.”

“Want to talk about it?”

Bonbon bit her lip, thinking for a moment. There was something to be said for voicing her problems, especially when they could relate to the other pony... but something in her just wouldn't let it come out. “Not yet, hon. I.. I need some time to make peace with something I did first.”

The moment that followed was tense for her, but Lyra just made a grunt of acceptance.

“Okay, I know how you paladins can be about these things. Take your time, I'll even take care of dinner tonight so you can think.”

Bonbon smiled, doing her best to hide the guilt stabbing in her heart as she continued on. “Thanks, sweetie. I knew I fell in love with you for a reason.”

“Oh stop being sappy, babe. You're supposed to be a big, tough paladin; mushy stuff doesn't suit you.”

She chuckled at the old joke, shaking her head as she managed to slip into the familiar routine. “Oh? Should I start ordering you around like a more traditional warden?”

Lyra's tail twitched about wildly. “Oooh, will you use the collar again?”

She burst out laughing. “Lyra, you are a bucking pervert.”

“A shameless bucking pervert, hon, get it right.”

Lyra joined in on her laugh this time as she finally reached their house. It was nice to act like a normal couple now and again. Away from all the necromancy and holy quests.

She was still chuckling as Lyra's magic touched their warded lock and opened the door for her. A chuckle that quickly died, along with the good mood that had been building, as she spotted a certain mare in a brown cloak standing in their living room.

“You two need a better locking spell,” Roseluck said.

To say that neither of them were happy to see the druid was an understatement.

They were friends, true, but there was a time and a place for friends. Between Bonbon's concerns about Lyra and Lyra's wanting to make up for what had happened, neither of them wanted to be around friends right now.

“I could arrest you for breaking and entering!” Bonbon growled. She hadn't even gotten out of her armor, and – for a mare of average size – she could manage a fairly intimidating presence. “So, think very carefully about the next words out of your mouth.”

“Technically, nothing was broken, and that locking spell was as basic as they come, so you can't have any expectation of privacy with it.”

“Wrong!” Bonbon made to cast her usual binding spell, but only got out “Constr-” before the golden aura of her marefriend's magic clamped her mouth shut.

Lyra, who had remained silent since she'd climbed off Bonbon's back, was staring intently at Roseluck. Her gaze was narrowed and calculating as she scrutinized the other mare. “Rose,” she started, “are you... sober?”

The druid gave them a humorless smirk. “I was wondering when you'd figure that part out.” She turned away from the pair, sighing to herself as Lyra and Bonbon exchanged looks. They had known the druid for several years, ever since an embarrassing incident involving too much wine, a semi-sentient plant and a night both of them were uncertain they wanted to remember, and the few times either recalled her sober were far from good.

Lyra was the first to ask what she felt was the obvious question. “Did somepony die?”

Roseluck snapped her head toward Lyra, glowering fiercely for a moment. “No...” she finally said, “somepony didn't.”

Bonbon could already feel the awkward silence forming, so she cut it off. “Did something happen to the forest?” At Roseluck's nod, she continued. “And it's not a natural thing, not if you're looking for us.”

The druid scoffed. “What you call natural and what I call natural are two wildly different things, Bon... but, yeah, got it in one.”

Lyra and Bonbon both exchanged a glance, each silently trying to apologize to the other for the way things had gone. But, deep down, both of them knew what was going to happen next.

Lyra pulled over a chair with her magic and plopped down in a strange slouch nopony else had ever been able to imitate. “Okay, Rose.” She watched as Bonbon started to get as comfortable as her armor would allow. “Let's hear it.”

“Where do I begin...”

Lyra held a cup of tea in her magic, while Bonbon balanced a cup of coffee between her hooves. Both tried their best to stay silent while Roseluck had explained her experience in the forest.

Lyra finally gave in, unable to hold her tongue any longer. “So... you're saying you were attacked by zombie... trees?”

Roseluck frowned at the necromancer. “A little less skepticism would be appreciated, Lyra.”

“Excuse me, but which of us has been doing this since she was a pre-teen? I've never heard of undead trees, either in myth or any sort of lesson. So I've got a bit of a right to be skeptical.”

“Can we please not argue now? There are more important matters at hoof.” Bonbon set her coffee down, trying to head off a confrontation as soon as possible. Her drink had calmed her down considerably, and she had sported a serious expression throughout Rose's story. She turned to Roseluck. “Given your history, your claims are a bit hard to believe.”

She turned to Lyra before the unicorn could even get her gloating face on, though. “However, Roseluck has never bothered us with trivial matters. So, giving her the benefit of the doubt – as outrageous as her claims may be – might be prudent.”

Lyra frowned. As much as she loved Bonbon, there were just times she hated how the paladin could defuse things like that. Half envy, half annoyance at being made into the wrong party. “Okay, fine. But you owe me for this, big time.”

“Of course, hun, of course.” Bonbon calmly sipped her coffee and turned back to Roseluck. “Could you find the area again if you had to?”

“I could find it blindfolded, the land is still screaming in agony.”

“... I'll take your word for it.” Bonbon turned to Lyra now. “Even if you don't believe her, we need to at least check out a potential threat to the town. And, if necromancy is involved, then we both know you're the best pony for the job.”

Lyra's frown remained, but mostly out of spite at the situation. She wasn't truly mad at Bonbon, or even at Roseluck, she was just frustrated. And she knew her marefriend was right, Roseluck may have been stoned out of her mind most of the time, but she had never lied to them or steered them wrong.

Finally, she sighed and dropped the frown, shifting out of her strange slouch. “I'll get Orpheus.”

She left the two earth ponies alone for the moment, heading upstairs and into the main bedroom. Her horn flared, and the chest at the end of the bed unlocked with an audible click as she approached it. Lifting the lid was like taking a forceful trip into her memories. The trunk was full of everything she had collected over her life. Some were good memories, like the scarf she'd been wearing when she'd first started dating Bonbon, or the pictures of the two of them with Ditzy and her daughters. But most of them were memories of fear, hatred and especially regret.

The item she finally removed, however, had the dubious distinction of being associated with both.

It was a lyre, very similar to her cutie mark in design, and almost as old as she was. It was well taken care of, but its age was showing through regardless. This was Orpheus, the lyre that Lyra had earned her cutie mark with, the one given to her father as a birthday present while she was still a foal. And the one good thing the stallion had ever given her.

Harpsichord, her father, had practiced necromancy most of his life, and started training her once he saw the signs of her sharing his talent. He had also shown her, albeit unintentionally, the effects losing yourself to the magic could have on a pony.

Lyra shuddered at those memories, but closed the lid and kept a telekinetic hold on the instrument. Orpheus was what she needed now, and her father wouldn't take that away from her.

Still fighting the mental images of her past, she opened the door of her wardrobe and selected her preferred cloak. Black, of course, since the color of a cloak had a significant effect on the flow of mana around you. It was why practitioners of magics like hers were always seen wearing black cloaks; she really wished magic wasn't so picky about these things. At least the enchantment to add extra billow had gone on without a hitch – that was one cliché she had no trouble indulging in – and the other simple spells to regulate her temperature and offer basic protection in battle seemed in working order when she checked them.

She slipped the cloak on with a sigh, fastening the clasp with a practiced hoof and snagging her saddlebags from the wardrobe bottom. They would still have to stop to pick up supplies for this whole wild goose chase, but she was as ready as she could be right now.

Lyra started back downstairs with her items, her ears twitching as she heard the two earth ponies discussing something as she neared them again.

“ – too busy for something like that,” Bonbon said. “It's nearly harvest time for her. And you know her brother is retired.”

“Well... you said Ditzy had other responsibilities, and getting into contact with other druids would take some time... what about that other 'Doo' pony?.”

Bonbon scoffed at this. “Daring? You actually trust that glorified thief?”

“I thought she was a scholar of some sort.”

The paladin gave a rather undignified snort. “Oh please, if she ever actually cared about her studies, I'll eat my hammer. She's a grave-robber, nothing more. Not to mention all the rumors of her consorting with demons.”

A sigh followed this. “Well, that was my last suggestion, unless you have any other ideas, it's just the three of us.”

Lyra entered the room in silence, watching as Bonbon and Roseluck debated about who they should ask for help with the matter. Lyra had to give her credit, she didn't do things in half-measure.

“Well...” Bonbon hesitated. “There's always Octavia.”

“WHAT?!” Lyra didn't react to the stares she was getting for her outburst, only gaping at her marefriend. “I did not just hear you say that!”

Bonbon fidgeted in her seat, avoiding her gaze. “Sweetie, she's one of the best at what she does, and – even if I don't approve on principle – having a pony around skilled at killing other ponies is usually useful for these sorts of things.”

“Provided she doesn't try to finish one of her other jobs.”

“Lyra, you know she hasn't killed anyone that hasn't had a list of crimes longer than your leg. Not since she willingly surrendered to us.”

“She didn't surrender, Righteous stopped her! And we both know the only reason Righteous didn't kill the bitch is because I was Octavia's target!” Lyra was turning red with anger, furiously glaring at Bonbon now. “She would have killed me, and Righteous probably wouldn't have done a damned thing to stop her!”

“You know that's not how Righteous works, Honey.” Bonbon had to work to keep her temper, since she didn't want to start yelling at Lyra, but it was getting difficult. And Righteous's words filtering into her mind weren't making things any easier. “And besides that, she's the only option either of us can think of, and more to the point, I am your warden.”

A dead silence followed those words, with even Roseluck gaping at Bonbon. Lyra's eyes were wide with shock, her mouth opening and closing wordlessly.

Bonbon kept her face set through the oppressive silence. She wasn't truly glaring at Lyra, but her expression was stern. Roseluck glanced rapidly between the two of them, fidgeting in her seat. And Lyra only gaped.

The unicorn in question finally found her tongue, and she leveled a seething glare at her lover. “Yes, you are.” With that, she turned from the room.

“Lyra,” Bonbon called out, “where do you think you're going?”

“I'm going to prove to you that we don't need somepony like Octavia around, Warden!” Lyra spat the word out like it was poison. “I'm going to show you that this whole thing is just a stupid hallucination of Rose's, and nothing more!” She yanked the door open with her magic, stomping out.

“Lyra, just-” Bonbon never got to finish, the door slammed shut just as she was getting to her hooves and she was left with her hoof outstretched to nothing. Silence fell on the house again, broken only by the soft 'clop' of Bonbon's hoof falling to the floor. “I just... I didn't mean to...”

Roseluck stood, leaving a patch of dirt where she'd been sitting. “And they call where I live uncivilized.”

Bonbon leveled a glare at the druid, not in the mood for her normal disdain for civilization.

Roseluck, for her part, didn't react to the paladin's displeased glare. She merely trotted toward the door. “Well, assuming you haven't completely written her off, we should go get her before she does anything stupid.”

Bonbon feared her teeth would crack if she clenched them any harder. Dark magic just wasn't something you could afford to take chances with. As much as the Gray Guard claimed otherwise, even they admitted that it took great strength of character to not be lost to the darkness.

With a grunt, the she stood and popped a few joints before starting after the two of them.

Lyra would understand; it was for her own good.

She sometimes didn't understand her lover.

Bonbon was a good pony, Lyra knew that for a fact, but she was so confusing at times!

Bonbon knew her history with Octavia, knew Octavia's history with the assassins' guild. Octavia herself made no secret of the ponies she'd killed before Righteous had arrested her. It utterly baffled Lyra that the former assassin was not only able to walk free, but was actually a warden herself! What was Shining on when he made that decision?

Plus, this whole thing was just plain stupid; they were on the hunt for zombie trees, for Luna's sake!

She could, without being egotistical, say she was a very powerful necromancer. She had never heard of any necromancer that worked with trees of all things. As far as she was concerned, she was just going to debunk Roseluck's stoner dreams, then go back home and have a long talk with Bonbon about crossing the line.

At some point, the other two managed to catch up with her and they switched positions so Roseluck was leading them. However, they hadn't spoken a word to each other the entire time. Rose was too busy listening to her sixth sense, but Lyra just couldn't find it in herself to talk to Bonbon right now, she was just too angry with her.

“We're nearly there.”

Lyra glanced to Roseluck to acknowledge her, but remained silent. She turned her head to Bonbon, opening her mouth to try and at least speak a word or two to her, only to find her suddenly absent.

She blinked a few times, then glanced behind them.

Bonbon stood several pony lengths behind then, her eyes bulging and her skin looking rather pale. As Lyra trotted back, she noticed the earth pony breathing heavily and sweating noticeably.

“Uh... Bonbon? Is something wrong?”

“Th-this place,” Bonbon gasped, “N-need, need to stop.” She stumbled over to the closest tree and lay on the ground, panting and coughing.

Lyra sat down with a clear line of sight to the paladin and called to Roseluck to pause for a moment. Then, she turned back to Bonbon with concern in her voice. “Bonbon, what's actually wrong?”

Bonbon took several deep breaths, pushing herself up to a sitting position and leaning against the tree. Even resting, she still looked pale and about to be sick. “There's something wrong with this place. It’s… it’s just… evil.”

Lyra blinked a few times, tilting her head just a bit. “Uh… is this an earth pony thing? Or a paladin thing?”

“Little of both, I’d guess.” Roseluck had finally returned to the group, herself looking just a bit green. “We’re almost to the edge of the rot I mentioned, and I can already feel something wrong with this soil.” She almost smirked. “Guess you haven’t completely lost who you are under all that metal.”

Bonbon glared at Roseluck, still panting. “Not remotely the time, Rose.”

The druid barely even reacted to the glare, turning her gaze to the trees around them. “These trees are dying, a few of them are already dead and just aren't showing it yet. Whatever... whoever did this... they're not leaving my forest alive.”

“No, you're going to let me take them in and let the Order decide what will be done with them.”

Now it was Roseluck's turn to glare. “Your laws have no place in the wild, paladin. This is my forest, I will handle it my way.”

“You asked for help dealing with the problem, not with your desire to hurt someone.”

The druid started to respond, but Lyra interposed herself between the two. “Look, we can worry about what we're going to do with whoever this is after we've caught them.”

“I thought you didn't believe me.”

Lyra locked eyes with Roseluck. “Still not sure I do.” She turned to look at Bonbon as the paladin stood once more. “But something's doing that to her, and I want to know what. Now, find this place.”

Roseluck's eyes narrowed at the necromancer, but slowly turned away. “We're nearly there, try to keep up.”

Lyra's gaze followed her, then glanced back to Bonbon. The paladin was returning to her hooves, but still looking worse for wear. “Might want to head back. If it's hitting you this bad, and we're not even there yet, it'll probably just get worse as we go.”

“Your concern is appreciated,” Bonbon said with a grunt, “but I'll manage.” She took several steps forward, staggering just once, and continued on.

Lyra frowned, shaking her head at her lover's actions. “Whatever you say... warden.” She watched for a flinch, but none came, and she quietly sighed.

Silence reigned again as they continued on. Bonbon's sickly appearance didn't change, but she walked on without complaint, and Roseluck was too focused on what could be ahead to do much in the way of talking. This left Lyra with plenty of time to think.

Bonbon could sense evil, that was just part of being a paladin. All paladins felt a slight buzz in the back of their mind when around something their beliefs labeled as 'evil', with touch making the sensation stronger. However, she had been told that paladins that fought great and corrupting evils wore some manner of protective talisman or armor, so as not to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of evil they fought.

Thanks to her running off like she had, and Bonbon and Rose immediately following her, preparations for their little quest had amounted to: Snag whatever you could afford in the marketplace and hope it was enough. A few healing potions and some liquid mana suddenly seemed severely lacking.

Of course, it was a little late for those type of thoughts.

“We're here.” Roseluck's words jarred Lyra out of her contemplating and she recoiled at what she saw.

The trees around them weren't just dead, they were rotting. Several appeared to be close to falling, and many sported large fractures along their trunks. Even more were discolored to a charcoal gray and creaked ominously in even the slightest breeze.

The ground beneath their hooves might as well have been ash and dust. Every movement sent up a minor cloud in their wake, filling the air and giving every breath the taste of decay.

And, although Bonbon seemed to be handling it the worst, even Lyra couldn't deny that something just felt... wrong with the place.

“So,” Rose said. “Is this still all in my head, or… ?”

The necromancer and the paladin both managed to spare the time to glare at the druid, but neither said a word. Then, Bonbon turned her gaze to Lyra.

“Well, you're the expert in death. Any ideas?”

Lyra frowned slightly, but stepped away from the group and touched one of the dead trees around them. Something was definitely not right here, even discounting the fact they were surrounded by dead and decaying plants.

There was magic, in the trees and in the ground below them. But it wasn't the usual magic that pervaded the world; this magic was just so... black. There was more than just the usual anger and rage that fed dark magic behind this, there was hatred. Raw, biting, ice-cold hatred for living things.

And, in its own way, it was absolutely fascinating.

Having practiced necromancy for so long, she had seen a lot of different variations on her craft, but this one was entirely new to her. It made sense in a way, since trees were technically living beings and all, but she had never heard of anypony actually working with them.


“In a second, Bonbon.” She reached out her own magic, getting a better feel for how this kind of necromancy worked.

The strongest part was in the core of the tree, coming up from the roots like a poison. It seeped up, slowly killing the tree, and then started slowly raising it one part at a time. In theory, they could probably follow the spell into the ground, and then start working their way back to the source and just eliminate it.


“I said 'In a second'.”

She was starting to wonder just what could be capable of something like this. From what little she understood of their magic, it almost seemed like the work of a dr–


She rounded on her marefriend. “What?

And immediately found several black roots wrapped around Bonbon's legs and midsection.


The paladin glared at her, grunting as she struggled to pull free of the dead and rotting limbs. “Thank you for finally noticing. Now, mind getting me out of this mess?”

Lyra trotted over, inspecting the vine-like bindings closely. “Not to used to working with plants, that's more a druid thing, but I'll see what I can do.”

Roseluck glared at Lyra. “I work with living plants, not undead ones.”

“Yeah, yeah...” Lyra walked around Bonbon a few times, examining the vines from more angles.

“A little more haste would be appreciated, Lyra!” Bonbon grunted, biting at one of the bindings on her hooves, then spitting to get the taste out of her mouth. “I'm not exactly comfortable right now.”

“Relax, Bonbon, they don't seem to be all the strong right now. Your armor's going to hold.” She paused, then chuckled a bit. “You know, this is pretty much what I wanted you to do to me the other night.”

Roseluck groaned as Bonbon blushed furiously.

“Now is not remotely the time for those comments!”

“TMI, you two; just... TMI.”

Lyra chuckled a bit more at their responses, still examining the roots. It wasn't exactly easy to separate something from a spell that wasn't your own, but it could be done. Besides, she was right; Bonbon wasn't in any immediate danger. The roots were just holding her in place, wrapping around her hooves, her mid-section, her barrel, her neck-

Lyra started as she watched the roots suddenly snake themselves around the paladin's neck, strangling her.

“Horseapples! Rose, I need-” She turned to the druid, only to watch her be pinned to the ground by more roots, her hooves splayed far away from each other and bound in place. She still struggled, shouting words that only held meaning to other druids, but her magic wouldn't react without the proper hoof movements.

Bonbon let out a strangled cry, the roots tightening around her neck like a noose. Her struggles, already weaker thanks to her previous state, started to slow and her eyes began to roll back in her head. Her struggles grew weaker and weaker, until finally stopping altogether. The decayed limbs, not satisfied with the cessation of movement, squeezed harder, creaking and cracking in their quest to utterly end the paladin's life.


With a tightly focused burst of magic, Lyra tore open two gashes just about her hooves. Blood gushed out from the cut arteries, but that was exactly what she wanted. Her magic flared as one word echoed in her mind.


The blood flowed around her hooves and the inky darkness of black magic came at her call, mixing and twisting with the blood she provided it. The miasma enveloped her forehooves, growing and solidifying as it went. Images danced in her mind, of dragons and the deadly claws at the ends of their forelimbs, and the magic responded. The blood and the miasma became a set of dark red claws at the end of her legs, each 'finger' as sharp and hard as the finest sword and responding to her will as if it had always been there. And all more than ready to rip and tear whatever she so desired.

She twisted in the roots' grip, swiping at the ones that held her and slicing them apart. Once severed from the magic source, they became loose and brittle, easily breaking. Then she jumped, crossing the distance between her and Bonbon in an instant. Her claws didn't even slow, slicing into the roots around Bonbon's neck with vicious precision. They were severed from the spell source and loosened immediately.

Bonbon inhaled sharply, gasping for air now that she could breathe again. Her body was weakened from the evil infecting the area, but she would survive. Earth ponies were hardy like that.

Earth pony...

Lyra's mind was a rage-addled mess, not helped by the inherent corruption of the magic she was using, but something of her old self lingered beneath all that rage. Just enough that thinking about earth ponies kindled a memory in her.

Earth pony...

Earth pony...


Lyra turned toward the druid, finding her slowly being pulled into the ground by the roots.

Her claws flashed again sundering the roots at her hooves and allowing Rose to pull them free.

A moment later, Roseluck shouted a spellword in her kind's secret language, slamming her hooves back into the ground. The sandy earth burst open, razor sharp rocks shooting up in a circle around her. One seemed to have severed the roots binding her mid-section, as its grip was lost a moment later and she stood again.

“I already nearly died here once, not in the mood to give it a second chance. Time to go.”

“No!” Lyra snarled. The dark magic was coursing through her, fueling the fire of her rage, and her desire for revenge against anything that hurt Bonbon.

Even if that included trees.

Her claws slashed into the root of another tree as it tried to bind her again, then turned her ire on the nearest tree itself. They found purchase, the dead wood splinting at her slice, and violently tore a chunk out of the trunk.

More roots came out, attempting to bind her, but she just hacked away at the tree, heedless of them all. At one point, her claws curled in on themselves, balling up like some sort of deformed hoof, and she lashed out. The claw-hoof hit the mangled tree with all the force of an enraged unicorn behind it; the limb itself felt no pain, but the tree finally toppled over, withering before it even hit the ground. For added satisfaction, she impaled her claws into the stump and forced her own magic into it. Even in her addled state, necromancy was necromancy, and she could manipulate it.

With a final burst of energy, the tree (as well as several more nearby) was severed from the source keeping it animate and each rotted where they stood.

Not that this stopped all the other trees from sending roots their way, of course.

Lyra hacked away with her claws, slicing every limb that neared her, but they just kept coming. A quick glance at Rose showed her faring about as well, having pulled a sickle from under her cloak and holding it using that 'sticky hoof' trick of the earth ponies. It wasn't as effective as her claws, but Lyra was glad for one less pony she had to worry about.

She suddenly jumped away from Roseluck, her bloody claws tearing into more roots as they got close to Bonbon once more. The paladin was moving again, which gave Lyra some comfort that her marefriend was going to be okay.

“Lyra...” Bonbon groaned, her eyes just barely staying open. “Lyra... dark magic... you have... you have to stop... you can't use it.”

“I don't–” she sliced into a particularly thick root and tore a good chunk of it out, finishing it a moment later. “I don't have a lot of options right now, Bonbon! I need all the power I can get!”

“I'm with her on this one!” Roseluck had managed to clear some of the roots away with her sickle and charged up to one of the undead trees. She stopped short, pivoting her body around, and slammed her back hooves into the dead wood. The tree splintered under her earth pony strength and toppled over, decaying as it fell. “I want to live to see another day.”

“Co-corruption!” Bonbon gasped out. “Can't let the corruption get a hold of-”

If I can't use this power to keep you safe,” Lyra shouted, “then what's the point of having it?”

Bonbon's eyes widened at the words.

'I have all this power, and I'm supposed to just not use it? What's the bucking point of having it then?'

Bonbon watched as Lyra hacked and slashed at the roots around them, her lover's eyes wild and full of anger and rage. Her teeth were gritted in a manic grin, and her movements imprecise and unfocused as she stumbled about on her hind legs.

No, she thought. No. NO! I will not lose her!

With a strained grunt, Bonbon forced herself to stand, and then reached into her saddlebags, still holding items from her last mission.

She retrieved a glass bottle bearing the mark of Celestia, and, not having much time for finesse, pulled the stopper out with her teeth. She threw the contents about randomly, sprinkling the ashy ground with water flecked with gold. Some got on Roseluck and Lyra, but that wouldn't affect what she was about to do.

“Mare Celestia,” she spoke, raising a hoof to her sun amulet. “Unconquered Sol, heed my cry from out of the darkness, and make this once holy land yours again!”

Bonbon reared, then slammed both of her hooves down. The amulet flashed with white light, which traveled down her legs and into the cursed ground. A wave of force washed over her, then spread outwards. Some of the dust and ash was blown away, and Lyra staggered as the wave passed her, but the immediate area remained mostly untouched; the trees, however, were blasted into rotting splinters, most of which didn't even make it to the ground before turning to dust.

When the wave finally settled, the three were standing in the middle of a sizable clearing. There were clearly more trees visible at the edges; but, for the moment, they were safe.

Roseluck was the first to recover, slowly lowering her sickle and returning it to under her cloak. “Nice trick. Don't suppose you could do it with the rest of my forest?”

“Not without at least six more paladins. And a lot more holy water.”

Lyra, currently balanced on her hind legs, panted slightly from all the leaping about she'd done. The fact she was using her own blood to form her claws (even if the spell kept it circulating back into her body) was starting to catch up to her, even more so now that the heat of battle had passed. She did not drop the spell, however.

“Okay,” she panted. “Now might be a good time to call for help.”

“Agreed.” Now that the evil had been purged from the land, even in this small area, Bonbon was feeling significantly better. “And, after we do, you can I are going to have a very long talk, Lyra.”

Lyra flinched, gritting her teeth, but held her tongue and nodded. She could argue later.

“Right, follow me.” Roseluck turned and started to gallop away. She staggered a bit as she reached the edge of Bonbon's consecrated area, but she kept her footing and barely slowed.

Bonbon had her own difficulties, but would manage for the run And Lyra brought up the rear, her speed hampered by the dragon's claws she still sported.

However, the trees were no longer able to trap them thanks to their movements. Undead and animate they may have been, but they did not seem to possess the higher thoughts of most ponies. The three of them honestly dared to believe they would get away.

Then, Roseluck fell.

She landed hard on the ashy ground, rolling to a stop a moment later, and lay without moving.

“Rose!” Bonbon made to gallop over to her, only to gasp and fall to the ground herself. She panted heavily, black spots flashing and swimming before here eyes. She heard the sound of another pony hitting the ground and had to assume Lyra was in the same boat as her. Something was wrong, some sort of spell.

Bonbon panted, inhaling and exhaling as evenly as possible. Magically induced or not, lightheadedness could be managed if you didn't panic.

Slowly, her vision returned to her. Though she could still feel something in her chest, specifically over her heart, she managed to stand and keep her focus. Rose seemed to be stirring as well, so she moved as quickly as she dared back over to Lyra.

The unicorn's spell was gone, lost as her concentration had left her, so now the blood from her cuts was flowing freely. The blood that had formed her claws had been spilled, so she was barely conscious.

Bonbon, still fighting the spots that occasionally popped in and out of her vision, trudged back to her lover. The paladin touched a hoof to her amulet again, and prayed. “Mare Celestia, let your ethereal fire bless our allies and ease their suffering, so that we may uphold the light of justice once more.” She touched her hoof to Lyra.

A golden glow flowed from within the paladin, down her leg, and into Lyra. The glow concentrated on the cuts, sealing them, then spread throughout her body. It wouldn't stop the dizziness, but it would at least keep the blood loss from doing her in immediately.

“You should have let her pass,” said a new voice. Bonbon whirled to face the voice, but staggered from the sudden movement; her dizziness was getting worse and worse. “It would have been the kind thing to do.”

Blinking away the spots, Bonbon finally got a decent look at the speaker.

It was a mare, a white earth mare. She had a pink, disheveled mane that hung about her shoulders and a pink tail that was similarly messy. Her hooves bore the dirt of endless travel and what looked like dried blood discolored her fur. Her blue eyes seemed distant, even as she looked at Bonbon, and her expression was blank. The white mare slowly walked passed Bonbon, giving her a chance to spot the stranger's cutie mark: A red cross with hearts at each corner.

The stranger casually walked around Lyra's frighteningly still form, her distant gaze now focused on the necromancer.

“This one... the scent of Death is on her.” The mare touched a hoof to her, shivering slightly. “Yes... the scent is very strong. Would she not prefer to journey into the realm she dabbles in?” She then turned back to Bonbon. “And you... a warrior in the Sun's name. What would mean more to you than to meet your goddess? To walk the streets of her kingdom of light?”

Bonbon felt her dizziness return, sending her to her knees once more. Her vision was nearly gone, the spots of blackness crowding out the light. She had to... had to focus...

“You shouldn't resist, paladin, your goddess is waiting.”

“And she can wait a bit longer, blighter bitch!”

An almighty crash and a plume of dust broke the mare's gaze, and some of Bonbon's vision returned. She blinked away some of the spots and coughed as the dust began to settle. She could hear some more coughing, meaning Lyra was still alive as well. Whatever had been strangling her heart to a stop was still there, but its hold was much looser, so she could stand once more. And she could finally see what had happened.

One of the rotted trees lay on it's side, decaying before her. It was right where the strange mare had been standing, and the hoof prints still visible in its dead bark told the rest of the story.

Sure enough, Roseluck jumped over the fallen tree a moment later, her sickle swinging wildly. “You are not welcome in my forest! None of your kind will ever be welcome here!”

The strange mare gritted her teeth slightly. “You should know, best of all, Druid, how everything eventually d–”

Roseluck shouted a druidic word, pulling a small snake's skin from under her cloak. She threw the skin, and it burst into fire as soon as it left her hoof. The flames snaked about like a mad serpent, and the stranger let out a shrieking whinny as she reared away. “I don't care what you have to say.”

The stranger growled, then shouted a druidic word back. She stomped her hooves, and black vines slithered out from beneath them. Rose made to dodge them, but they moved too quickly and ensnared one of her hooves. Her sickle proved ineffective, no matter how much she hacked, and her other hoof was snared a moment later.

“Now then, where were we?”

“Right here!” Bonbon's hammer smashed into the mare's side, sending her flying. However, Bonbon herself nearly dropped her weapon afterward. Her heart was still struggling to beat at its normal pace, let alone the rapid heartbeat of battle.

Even without the strange mare to guide them, the vines still held Roseluck, but she was slowly working herself free, so that meant at least one ally back in the fight soon. A glance toward Lyra showed her to still be recovering, but she was moving, just not fighting ready yet.

“Why?” The stranger was speaking again. “Why do they always resist?”

“Because we don't want to die!” Roseluck finally tore her hooves out of the vines, glaring at the other mare. “Not before you do at least.”

“So afraid, so misguided, so uninformed.” The mare stood once more, barely slowed from what had to be several broken ribs. “Your suffering will end soon.”

Bonbon gritted her teeth as her heart slowed just a bit more. She was expecting it, and it still left her head swimming. They had to end this quickly, or they were as good as dead.

Sharp notes that Bonbon had heard many a late night suddenly pierced the air, and all eyes turned to Lyra.

The necromancer's lyre was out, held in her hooves as she stood on two legs. Her forehooves flashed across the strings, plucking out a song in rapid tempo. She panted, still pale from the blood loss, but giving the stranger a manic glare.

“What are y–” The white mare suddenly gasped. Her eyes widened and her breath quickened as she took several steps back.

“Not so cocky now, are you?” Lyra smirked, getting more of her wind back as the stranger's concentration went. Her magic enveloped Orpheus, holding it and letting her go back to a more normal stance. “Amazing how far a little fear goes, isn't it?”

Roseluck made to charge forward, a druidic word already spilling out of her mouth, but Bonbon snagged her by the tail. “Think for a moment, Rose! You can't pretend you don't feel what she does to us, and that fear won't last forever. We need to get away.”

Roseluck growled at her, but didn't raise an actual objection. “Follow me, I have an idea.” She turned and ran, Bonbon following her a moment later.

Lyra was, again, last, though she took the moment to pluck another short tune on her lyre. The strange mare screamed as her eyes lost focus and blindness took her. Lyra chuckled a bit, but did remember to gallop after the other two.

The weight atop their hearts faded as the left the white mare behind, but a shrieking cry followed no more than a minute later and they pushed their speed just a bit more.

“I,” Rose gasped as they ran, “think. We're. Almost. There!” Rose stopped so sharply her hooves slid across the damp ground. She had led them to a gorge, one that looked to be several hundred feet deep.

Lyra blinked a few times. “...well, I can't say this is an overly-complex plan. Any idea how we're going to get little miss creepy into the hole?”

“What do you want? I made this 'plan' up on the spot!”

Before Bonbon could intervene, however, the three of them suddenly felt their hearts constrict once again.

“You three are very annoying ponies.” The mare walked slowly into view, the plants withering and the ground drying beneath her step. “I have ended the suffering of many before you, and only a hoof-full have been as troublesome about it as you.” She glared at Roseluck as the druid tried to stand, sending her back to the ground. “Though, I really should have expected as much from a druid. None of your kind will ever understand my mission.”

“Why do they always talk so much?”

The stranger's eyes snapped to Lyra now, causing the unicorn to gasp for air. “You'd think a necromancer, of all ponies, would understand.”

Lyra groaned, but managed to look the other mare right in her eyes. “You know, I get kinda sick of hearing that all the time. Is there a newsletter or something I can write into? Let the bad guys know that I don't understand their psychosis?”

The stranger blinked, then scowled. “Damn snarky adventurers, never go quietly.”

“Well, you guys never shut up either, so I thought I'd try it out.” The mare opened her mouth to retort, but Lyra interrupted her again. “So, mind telling me when you took the Hypocritical Oath, Nurse?”

The stranger narrowed her eyes and Lyra fell back to the ground, gasping and holding her chest. “You have no idea... no idea what it's like. You've never seen a pony begging, pleading with you to end it! You've never seen a pony just linger on the edge of death because the family won't let them go! Clinging to the false hope that they can recover! Doctors, Healers, Surgeons, they keep fighting a battle they can never win. Death is the only end to their suffering, Death is the only kindness that they can ever find!” She walked closer to Lyra. “You've spoken with the dead, you have to know what comes after, what awaits them. How can you say life has more worth, knowing what you know?”

Lyra's breaths came in sharp gasps as her head swam and her heart struggled for every beat. But she managed a weak chuckle. “I'll say anything I want, as long as it distracts you.”

The stranger froze, just for a moment, before Bonbon's hammer smashed into her from the side once more.

Lyra felt the hold fade yet again, and she magically snatched up Orpheus once more. She rolled onto her back, not having the energy to stand, and quickly strummed a, rather flat, tune on her lyre. Black energy surrounded her instrument, and with one final pluck of the strings, shot at the white mare.

The stranger cried out in pain, first from hitting the ground, then from the blackness hitting her.

Lyra smirked as she panted. “Taste of your own medicine, Nurse?”

The 'nurse' growled, panting heavily herself now. “Your banter is weak, necromancer.” She inhaled deeply, then breathed out sharply, spewing forth a cloud of green smoke that flooded through the area.

Lyra and even Roseluck started coughing almost immediately, but all the cloud did to Bonbon was make her eyes sting a bit. Blinking away some of the water in them, the paladin charged toward where she'd last seen the stranger.

Her hammer swung down and... nothing. She had moved, her movements hidden by the vision obscuring cloud and and sounds covered by Lyra and Rose's coughing fits.

“So, what they say is true then.” The mare's voice spoke, but Bonbon was driven to the ground once more, that damnable hold back. “I had heard paladins enjoyed protection from the sicknesses, but I figured it was just a rumor. Soon, it won't matter.”

Bonbon found herself starting to fight for each breath, the disease-ridden air seemingly growing more virulent by the moment. She struggled to stay on her hooves, the nurse's black magic not helping, tightening on her heart with every passing moment.

“Don't worry, Paladin, you'll be meeting with your goddess soon.” The mare slowly stepped out of the smoke, a sadistic grin upon her face. “And I'll be all the more powerful.”

Bonbon couldn't even form a retort, collapsing in a heap. Every beat of her heart felt strained and she could barely even see anything anymore. Her hoof slowly moved to her amulet, mentally praying to Celestia for help, any sort of help...

Suddenly, a druidic word cut through the fog and heat washed over Bonbon. She felt the stranglehold on her heart weaken and her vision returned just in time catch the fading flickers of a column of flame. The noxious fog had been partially burned away by the flames, allowing her to see the 'nurse' had been forced away from her and was favoring one of her legs, seemingly badly burned from the attack.

Roseluck walked out of the fog, sneering at the white mare, her nostrils stuffed with herbs. “It doesn't matter how thick you make the fog, or what you do to hide yourself," she declared, pointing a hoof. "You don't belong in this forest, I can hear the land screaming in pain wherever you step.”

Lyra followed her a moment later, Orpheus held in her telekinetic grip and her black cloak wrapped around her mouth. She glared at the 'nurse', her eye twitching every now and then. “I will end you.”

The stranger gritted her teeth. “Not happening, I have to end the suffering.” She inhaled again, and breathed out more of the green smoke.

“Let the Sun burn away all evil!” Bonbon held her amulet up and golden light burst from it. The fog around her vanished, then more and of the noxious plume burned away in the light. It was slow at first, with the 'nurse' pouring her own will into the other spell, but Lyra plucked out another tune on her lyre, then wiped her forehead and pointed her hoof at the white mare. Black energy shot out and hit the stranger, breaking her concentration and causing what little fog she could still muster to dissipate in the light of Bonbon's amulet.

“Damn you, damn all three of you!” The 'nurse' took several steps back, but stopped once she realized where she was. During all the confusion with the fog, she had ended up near the cliff's edge, exactly where they had wanted her. She glared at the trio. “Don't think you've won. I still have one trick left.”

The three of them felt the ever-present hold on their hearts constrict, more than it had the entire fight. None of them could remain standing and they each fought to stay conscious. To black out now meant nothing but their death.

“I could have made this painless for you! Could have sent you all to a paradise like none that exist on this gods forsake lump of dirt and rock! But no, you all had to be >i>stubborn</i> and stupid about it! You all had to cling to your worthless lives, as though they held some greater meaning!” She stomped over to Bonbon and kicked away her amulet. “No! No more dispelling, Paladin!” She stomped a hoof and black vines bound Roseluck once more. “And no more fire from you, Druid!”

She finally turned to Lyra. “And you! You disgust me, Necromancer! You could do so much more with your gifts! Yet you help the very ponies who would kill you as soon as look at you! You are such a… a waste of talent!”

Lyra, still on the ground, muttered something.

“Oh, of course, now comes the rebuttal, where you talk about friendship and love and all that other stuff. Come on then, maybe you can think of something I haven't heard before.”

“I said, Shut! Up!” Lyra suddenly surged up, her hoof slamming into the white mare's jaw with a sickening crack.

The hold was loosened as the 'nurse' staggered back in pain and Lyra snatched up Orpheus. She strummed out a short, sharp tune and the other mare screamed out, her hoof going to her eyes as blood leaked out of them. She took another step, and nearly fell of the cliff, now out of room.

Lyra panted, her manic grin back. “Nopony hurts the ones I care about.” She plucked out another another tune, then inhaled sharply. The necromancer let loose an unearthly wail, focused directly at the 'nurse'.

The white mare gasped, feeling her strength and her very life ebbing away. Her legs grew weak and her balance faltered, until – finally – one of her hooves moved a bit too close to the edge. She slipped and made to grab the edge, but her enfeebled state left her without the strength to grip at the ground, now sandy thanks to her very presence.

Lyra stopped screaming, just in time to hear the stranger's own wail fade away as she fell. “Good riddance.”

Her face met the ground as she passed out from exhaustion.

The first thing she noticed was the lingering smell of rotted flesh and something warm and wet touching her face. Not all that unusual for her, given her profession, but still not something she wanted to wake up to.

Lyra groaned, making to push whatever this was away. When she touched something very furry, she slowly forced her eyes open and found herself face to face with a wolf.

“Ahh!” She awkwardly scuttled several feet away from the beast, pulling at her cloak and practically sitting on Orpheus.

“Oh relax, he's not going to hurt you.” Roseluck trotted out from behind the wolf, idly petting it as she did. “Orion is an old friend.”

Lyra blinked a few times, then gave Rose a look. “Really? 'Orion'?”

“Oh shut up, the constellation was in the sky when I met him.”

Lyra just shook her head, inspecting her lyre for damage, noticing a familiar hammer nearby. “Where's Bonbon?”

“She went looking to see if that psycho murder-nurse had any friends. I don't sense anything, but she wanted to make sure.”

“One can never be too careful, Rose.” Bonbon's return was heralded by the crashing of the undergrowth. “But you're right, the area's clear.”

“Never doubt a druid in her own environment.” Roseluck continued to pet Orion, the wolf laying down beside her. “Anyway, now that the blighter is gone, the rot should finally stop and I should be able to start taking my forest back.”

“There's that word again,” Lyra said. “What is a 'blighter'?”

“A worthless rotter, disgusting and vile in all–”


“Alright! They're druids that turned against nature and Epona, they exist to kill nature and cause strife.” Roseluck scowled at nothing. “They deserve to die.”

Bonbon gave her a look. “You're starting to sound like Righteous.”

“Did you miss all of that monologuing she was doing  during the fight? Don't you dare start claiming she was just 'misunderstood'.”

“I saw how she was, and yes, she was clearly a violent psychopath. But I don't take one pony as the blanket example of every member of their group.”

"Obviously. Why am I surprised to hear this from you?"

“Can we worry about other things?” Lyra suddenly got between the two of them. “Like, say, what in all the hells she was actually doing here? I don't think somepony like her could just show up without being noticed a lot sooner than this.”

Silence followed Lyra's statement, neither of the other two able to refute it.

Finally, Bonbon spoke up. “Roseluck, you're coming back with us. We need someone who understands how someone like her works and can track where she's been.”

“Great,” Rose deadpanned, “more 'civilization'. Whoopee.”

“Complain all you want, you're still the only druid we know. And I'd rather let Shining know about this as soon as possible.” Bonbon hefted her hammer once more. “Let's go, it's a long walk back to Ponyville.”

Lyra was quick to follow, ready to get home and shower after all of this, and slipped Orpheus back under her cloak.

Roseluck grumbled, but spoke to Orion in the Druidic tongue and sent him off into the woods. She watched him go, then fell into step behind the other two.

At least the bitch is dead.

Down in the canyon, the white mare's body lay on the craggy ground. Several of her bones were sticking through her skin and dried blood was staining her coat. Her lifeless eyes were unfocused and wide, staring out at nothing.

And then, she blinked.

The light slowly returned to her gaze as she shifted around, several of her bones popping back into place from the movement alone. “Been a while since I've fallen off a cliff.” She shoved the bones poking out of her skin back inside, only an occasional grunt to show any pain from the act.

Once she'd mostly pieced her legs back together, she stood and took several shambling steps, each moderately better than the last. That'll sort out by the time I run into anypony, she thought. But I need to get going.

Still shambling a bit, the mare started walking along the canyon. They're going to start the meeting without me if I'm late.
The Necrmantic Adventures of Lyra Heartstrings 3
*Skilepony - Half-Kitsune/Half-Pony hybrid. They have a fox's tail from birth and gain another if they become more powerful. They specialize in illusion magic and are mostly playful tricksters. They live for an average of 200 years.

Look at this, a new chapter! I had Lyra work her necromantic magics on the fic, so now we're up and moving again. Thank you for all of you who stuck with me.

And some extra special thanks for some editors: Nintendonick (And, if you haven't already, check out his story Flash's Demon, it's set in the same universe as this.), R5h, Oroboro, Ephraim Blue, Orlunu], Pixel Pony, ThEvErYdErPyBrOnY, and one more author who wishes to remain anonymous. Thank you guys for making my stuff passable.


United States
Favourite genre of music: Country
Personal Quote: Yes, I am insane
  • Mood: Tired
  • Listening to: Nightwish
  • Reading: Pony fics
  • Watching: Atop the Fourth Wall
  • Playing: Nothing
  • Eating: Pizza
  • Drinking: Mountain Dew
I should have done this a lot sooner, but FimFiction seems to give a faster response and more attention. Anyway, a while ago, I gave a call to all interested writers to put their own hand in the same universe as The Necromantic Adventures of Lyra Heartstrings. Well, someone has taken up the challenge.

Flash's Demon by the author Nintendonick offers the misadventures of everyone's favorite waifu stealer as he deals with a demon who may be more than she appears.

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SomeRandomMinion Featured By Owner May 26, 2015
"No, Rainbow; that's NOT what 'in-flight meal' means!"…
Dragon-of-Twilght Featured By Owner May 26, 2015
Hah, I've seen that pic before.
SomeRandomMinion Featured By Owner May 26, 2015
Whoops. ^^; Still, wonder how Dash got the idea planes make good lunches...
Dragon-of-Twilght Featured By Owner May 27, 2015
Same way Thunderlane decided tanks are tasty :p
(1 Reply)
alexwarlorn Featured By Owner May 13, 2015… Zombie Derpy may be a zombie, but she's still Derpy.
Dragon-of-Twilght Featured By Owner May 14, 2015
And she always will be Derpy, she just has to put a bit more effort into maintaining her appearance now.

That said, if you want to get technical about it, she's actually a lich; a zombie animated by and possessing very dark powerful magics. However, Derpy has no talent for magic (even in a setting where it's not strictly a unicorn thing), so it was turned inward; this, coupled with her lack of pain and fatigue, effectively makes her as strong as the strongest Earth Ponies and has the added benefit of causing weaker spells to just bounce right off her.

The downside, she has the misfortune of being summoned by novice conjurers looking for petty revenge. Summoning spells without a specific target in mind lock onto the most powerful dark creature in their range; and, 9 times out of 10, that's her.
alexwarlorn Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2015
How goes things?
Dragon-of-Twilght Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2015
I just wrote 2300 words in 5 hours...
alexwarlorn Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2015
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