Loss and Sorrow
MLP FiM: Copyright Hasbro
The den had been easy to find with Zecora's direction and Fluttershy's past experience with the Forest and the bog, but that didn't mean that the five weren't given pause. The ponies hunkered down behind a large bush, peering through the leaves and branches at the cleverly concealed door hidden in the crack of a large stone. Even knowing where it was they didn't have an easy time spotting it, until the door had swung open and six armored dig dogs had walked out into the open with their spears resting back against their shoulders. The canines didn't wander far, just lounging around the entrance and talking in guttural growls to themselves as they tried to start a greasy little fire with what wood was available.
"So what's the plan Twi?" Applejack whispered urgently, "Are we goin' to try talkin' things out with'em again?"
"I don't think we have anymore time for that. The parents in Ponyville will be in an uproar soon, even if the Princess' guards arrive, we have to at least have something to tell all of them before things come to a head." Twilight whispered back, touching a hoof to her chin, deep in thought about what they should do. It'd be easy to just try to fight the dogs, but that would cause an awful lot of noise that what undoubtedly draw more dogs from inside the cave. They could end up with a full-scale brawl that'd give the dogs time to move the foals again! No, they had to find a more subtle way to get the dig dogs out of the way...
"Okay, I think I have an idea..." She finally said.
"Whys we get da guard duty?" One of the dig dogs grumbles aloud, poking miserably at the fire with one stick, "Should be inside, polishing mah gems."
"Haha, yeah, likes you have gems ta polish!" The second one around the small fire laughed, rocking back on his seat, "Hahaha, you ain't got any gems to speak of! Your mate took'em all, remember?"
Hehe the third chuckled, "Or maybe he thinkss he knows betta den Rex! Crunch thinks he can be top dog!"
Hey! Maybe I's could! Crunch says defensively, sullenly hunkering down a bit, "All I need to do is beat'em after all. I could do that! Plenty of dogs would follow me!"
The comment was met by the laughter of his companions at the fire, the second even falling off of his seat to roll around on the ground.
"Hahah Ah ha! I's can see it now! Crunch da Top Dog! Master of alls he sees!" the dog on the ground howls, clutching at his sides.
"Y-yeah! All yous haf to do is beat...beat hahahahahaha Rex!" the third hoots, slapping his paw down on his knee at Crunch's discomfort, the dog sinking down into his seat, ears going limp.
"Is could beat Rex...if Is wanted too..." Crunch grumbled, to the mirth of his fellows, "Is just...been too busy for it. 's-sides, he's been busy wit...her, Is didn't want to bother him!"
"Hah! You's just scared of her!" The third barked out, pointing an accusing finger at Crunch.
"Sso? You is too!"
"Ohhh boyyyyyssss!" A prim voice called naively from the edge of the brush that surrounded the hidden den entrance, it's source a prim looking white unicorn sauntering out of the foliage like she was just taking a simple jaunt through the forest, most of the dog's eyes going to the three diamonds on her flank and a few dirty gems sticking out of the saddle-bags she wore, "I don't suppose any of you could give a lady a paw? I was just trying to find some gems for a little project of mine and I'm afraid I got a little lost!"
The six dogs looked at one another, dumbfounded. What on earth was a unicorn doing out here all by herself? Last they had heard, ponies avoided the Everfree forest like the plague!
"Hello?" the unicorn asked, giving a toss of her beautifully coiffed mane, "Are you even list...?"
"Grab the horse!" The six dogs roared, springing for Rarity as she hopped back!
"Agghh! Get your filthy paws away from me!" she gave a lady-like scream before bolting back the way she had come from in the forest, the dogs in hot pursuit! Their loping stride gave the dogs an advantage in cross the treacherous tangle of roots, rocks, and bushes, but somehow the unicorn managed to just stay ahead of them as they chased her into the forest.
"Hurk!" One of the dogs grunted when a noose on the ground was yanked tight around one of his rear paws, hoisting him up helplessly into the air to flail around, dropping his spear to the ground. Another was caught by surprise when a tree branch, glowing purple, was snapped around from where it had been bent, smacking the dog right between the legs. It left the poor canine falling to his knees with a strangled whine, unable to do anything more then clutch at himself at how cruel the world was.
A cyan blur intercepted one of the dogs who had been mocking Crunch, just as he had leaped over-top of a low rock, carrying him up and into a tree, it's branches quickly closing about the dog to hold him nice and tight with a distraught whimper!
"Hah! Easy as pie!" Rainbow Dash smirked, turning quickly to look at the remaining three dogs. Everything was going according to Twilight's plan, now all they needed was for Fluttershy to pull through on her part!
Despite the sudden loss of their numbers, Crunch and his remaining fellows only had eyes on the fleeing Rarity. With the gems in her satchel and a new work horse for the mines well...they'd surely be rewarded for their prize! It was Crunch that skidded to a stop, raising up his spear and lobbing it after the fleeing unicorn with practiced ease, seeking to hobble their prey!
"Ahh!" Rarity shouted in pain as the spearhead bit into her back right leg, her sprint interrupted and skidding to the ground on her side as the dogs quickly closed in with grins growing on their ugly faces.
"Rarity!" a voice called, a buttermilk yellow pegasus galloping out from her hiding place to the unicorn's side, looking horrified at the deep spear wound and the awful blood seeping out from the wound.
"More work horses!" Crunch crowed as he stumbled to a halt and reached out to grab the pegasus before she could fly away from them! This would show the others! He was grinning like a fool as his big paws wrapped around the pegasus' mid-section, pressing her wings down against her back, as she gave a startled squeak.
"Oh no you didn't!" The pegasus abruptly growled, tensing up in Crunch's grasp as the dog looked down at her in surprise.
"Huh?" Was all he had time to said before Fluttercruel's hooves smacked him right between the eyes, sending the dog stumbling back as the pegasus fluttered up into the air with a smug look on her face, even as the two other dogs joined them.
"What ares you waitin' for?! Grab da ponies!" Crunch screamed, tenderly touching the bridge of his nose with one paw as the other two nodded and raise their spears, stepping towards the pegasus with grins on their faces.
"I wouldn't if I were you." Fluttercruel warned, her grin turning smug, "He doesn't like anyone hurting his friends."
The dogs looked at one another.
"He?" They said in unison, looking confused as a dark shadow fell over the trio of dig dogs.
"RRRRRRAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWRRRR!" The manticore roared, infuriated, as it swung it's scorpion tail around to swat the spears away before falling upon the two in a savage frenzy of teeth and claws.
"Hah! That's what you get for screwing with me!" Fluttercruel laughed, watching the growing dust cloud until her demeanor changed and Fluttershy floated down by the edge of the scraping, peering into the tangled mess. "Oh! Mister manticore, you don't need to go that far! I think they've had enough! I'm sure they're very sorry! You can stop now!"
Reluctantly, the manticore stopped mauling the two dogs, holding each of the ravaged dogs up by their tails while they hung listlessly from it's mouth. With a growl, the beast dropped the two down to the ground and planted it's front paws on their backs when they tried to crawl away. Crunk stared at the manticore, wide-eyed and began to crawl away as quietly as he possibly could. To Tartarus with this mess! He should have just stayed back in his cave! He'd just get back, crawl into bed, and...his paw landed on a muddy white hoof and he looked up into the coldly angry eyes of the unicorn he had chased out into the forest and speared.
"Ah heh heh....sorry?"
Rover stood silently outside of the tomb, keeping his back turned to the horrific happenings still going on within. The wet smack of lips, claws tugging through meat...it was disgusting and he had lost his stomach to watch it after the first time, but he had a job to do. At least the screaming had stopped. The screaming always stopped once the...meat realized there wasn't anyway to escape and no one was coming to help them. Inevitable silence when that thing in the hollowed out crypt finished it's meal and became docile again. Or at least docile enough that he could enter the crypt and clean out the leftovers before they spoiled and began to rot.
The scrape of claw on stone had him blinking, out of his dark thoughts and back to reality just as Fido and Spot hesitantly came down the passage way towards the only open tomb. They'd never come down here before, none of the Dogs did if they didn't have to, so to see them now of all times was more then a little surprising!
"Iz it...over?" Spot said hesitantly, trying to lean around Rover to get a good look at the interior of the tomb before he thinks better of it and shudders, stepping back before he could glimpse anything within the shadows of broken tomb.
Rover didn't answer...he couldn't, dropping his yellow gaze down to the floor and giving a solemn nod instead, drawing disgruntled grunts from his fellow pack-mates. Until Rex had arrived, they had this entire territory to themselves and, sure, they had stumbled here and there but they'd stuck together through thick and thin! As vicious and callous as Diamond Dogs could be, Rover knew that Fido and Spot would always tell him what he needed to know and he'd do the same for them. You couldn't buy that kind of honesty and trust with all the gems in the world! He could still remember the day he'd met the two of them, scrounging around in the tunnels of their future lair, barely a bucket of gems between them. It had actually been Fido that had challenged Rover when he tried to assume leadership, and he had tried again and again over the years...but an understanding had sprung up between them. Rover knew that Fido only challenged him when he felt the bigger Dog was doing the wrong thing...had messed up somehow. He forced Rover to look at what he was doing and examine the situation.
He was a bit slow, but loyal. He didn't tolerate any of the dig dogs or work horses (when they had them anyway!) slacking off, an invaluable quality in a right-paw dog. Besides, every would be contender for Rover's position, aside from Fido, had always tried to get the lug's support first, giving Rover plenty of time to prepare for the inevitable challenge. As a trio they had been nearly unstoppable! They had gotten their licks every now and then, a thought that brings to mind a guilty image of that whiny unicorn the trio had ponynapped, but they'd always risen above it! Until now...
"Thiss isn't right! How come yous always da one who bring...Why don't you let us do it sometimes?" Fido demanded, bouncing from one paw to the other anxiously as the first scent of what happened began to hit their sensitive noses. Both Dogs turned green in the face before Rover stepped away from the entrance, quickly pacing to the front of the crypt and away from Fifi's tomb.
That monsster iss as much my responssbility as Rex's!" Rover snapped out, silencing the whining before it could truly start. They had this argument every time the thing was to be fed. "Ass long ass it exists, I'm going to make sure nobody is exposed to it that doesn't need to be. No dog, pony, griffon, or anything else should go in there if they don't have to..."
"Rover, you can't blames yourself for yer Pa." Spot rumbled, looking to the smallest of their trio and getting a nod of support from Fido, "And you's don't need to torture yerself by coming here so often! Does Fi...?"
The larger dog froze solid, the blood turning to ice in his veins as Rover whirled on him with an infuriated glare that could have melted the stone and metal around them.
"Er...I means...does dat thing even recognize you?" Spot finished with a whine, putting his paws up defensively in front of his chest before Rover could do something foolish like punching him.
"...Sometimes." He reluctantly answered, a haunted look coming into his yellow eyes, shuddering at the memory of that thing reaching out for him with it's blood-caked claws, muttering his name like it had used to. The confusion in it's eyes, like it didn't realize what had happened to it...where it was...what it did.
"Rover..." Fido began, before falling silent with a look of panic on his face.
"Is it done?" the soft voice came from the entrance of the tomb, Rex's shadow cast over the trio from the dimming light of the fire from the trenches alongside the wall. The top dog's cane was tucked under one arm, the other paw holding his fanciful top hat. The gleam of the fire-light on his monocle blocked out sight of the dog's eye as he stepped forward.
"Yesss..." Rover said, looking away from the top dog's scarred expression as he reached into his vest to pull out a dripping red bow...the same bow that had been worn by the troublemaker who had escaped.
"And the crown?" Rex growled, stepping past the three and adjusting his suit as if off to a formal meeting.
"I lefts it in there, like yous wanted." Rover mumbled, feeling like just a pup again as Rex walked past, dwarfed by the dog's reputation and history. What wasn't to be intimidated by? Rex was famous, infamous now, in that in all of recent Diamond Dog history...he had been one of the few to stand up against a tyrannical dragon that had enslaved a half dozen packs to it's cause of harvesting gems for it's hoard, but the only one to have succeeded in tossing down their scaled oppressor, distributing it's hoard among all of the dragon's 'slaves'. He was a hero among the Diamond Dogs, the kind of male that mothers told their pups about 'be like the great and powerful Rex!' they said but none of them knew, could know, what he was doing now.
" Good, good..." Rex muttered to himself while he fixed his tie with one paw, the other clasping his cane underneath of it, "She'll be pleased then...good boy, always put your family ahead of a bunch of degenerate ponies. You've made me proud today. "
Rover felt his guts twist up inside of him, making him turn green in the face as he heard his father climb into the tomb, his words echoing inside of his head.
'You've made me proud today.'...You's no idea how sick that makes me.
"Oh no, Rarity! Are you okay?" Twilight exclaimed as Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and herself galloped up to where Fluttershy and the white unicorn were, eyes immediately going to the spear lodged in her haunch, blood dripping from the wound as Rarity sat down slowly, wincing as the grabbed the spear with her magic and attempted to pull it out.
"Unn!" Rarity flinched, releasing her grip when the spear only begrudgingly moved a few inches back, "It's in deep...Applejack, can you grab one of my scarves?"
"What? Why in tarnation did ya bring scarves?" Applejack asked aloud, even as she dug into the unicorn's saddle-bag to pull out one of them, "What do you need me to do?"
"I always bring at least one scarf in case of an emergency." Rarity said with a sniff, even as the glow of her magic surrounded the spear again, "Just...wait for me to pull the spear out, then tie the scarf tight."
Applejack nodded, holding the scarf in her mouth before Twilight stepped forward, the nimbus on the spear changing to a mystic purple.
"Let me Rarity." Twilight said, waiting until Rarity nodded and bit down on one hoof before she yanked the spear free, a muffled shriek from Rarity as it was torn out even as Applejack swiftly tied the scarf tight about the wound. Rarity's pale blue glow surrounded the scarf after Twilight's left it, tightening the cloth around her leg before standing up tenderly.
"There! Right as rain, now we must hurr...!!" Rarity tried to say, settling her weight on her injured leg and almost collapsing to the ground with a grimace of pain on her pale face.
"Oh Rarity, you can't! You'll just make it worse if you try to walk on it now!" Fluttershy fretted, hovering above the fashionista anxiously before darting around to the nearby to see if there wasn't anything she could ferret out to try and alleviate the other pony's pain.
"Fluttershy's right! Besides, the dogs will sniff us out a mile away if you start bleeding in there." Rainbow Dash pointed out, alighting on the ground in front of the unicorn to block Rarity's path back towards the den, "Just let us handle this, it'll be done in no time!"
"Just let you...?! That is Sweetie Belle in there!" Rarity growled out, blue eyes darkening, "I will not let my sister sit in slavery while I stay behind in the forests just because of a little injury! She is my sister and I will rescue her!"
The other four ponies looked in surprise at the sudden heat in Rarity's voice and demeanor, even as they were uncomfortably reminded of Rarity or rather 'Greedity' as Pinkie had dubbed her. Before Rainbow Dash could even respond though, Rarity limped towards her, glowering at the cyan pegasus as if it was her fault this had happened.
"You don't have a sister Rainbow, you don't have anyone! Sweetie is a kind, caring, sweet little filly and I won't stop until I've brought her back home safe and sound! And if those Diamond Dogs have laid so much as a single claw on her then I'll tear them apart with my bare hooves!" The unicorn snarled viciously, bearing down on the surprised pegasus, "So don't you dare try to tell me...!"
"Rarity!" Applejack hollered, quickly interposing herself between the two, even as Rainbow Dash recovered from her shock and straightened, a look of anger coming over the pegasus' own face, "Yellin' at Dash won't get ya Sweetie back and neither will limpin' about the place! As much as Ah admire yer sisterly instinct, ya'll do more harm then good if ya come with us! Ah want Apple Bloom back as much as ya want Sweetie, but that's no reason to go snappin' at yer friends when they're only tryin' to help!"
Applejack's stony expression brought Rarity up short, the unicorn's eyes shifting from anger to embarrassment before it finally settled on contrition and remorse. All of them seemed surprised by the fashionista's abrupt outburst, no more then Rainbow Dash who looked shocked and spoiling for a right at the harsh words that had been leveled against her.
"...I am still a unicorn, even if I can't help more directly, my magic could be of use." Rarity finally said, sullen as she was forced to realize that Applejack was right, "I should..."
"You're right!" Twilight exclaimed as an idea donned on her, "You can help! Rarity, one of the fillies taken was Diamond Tiara! Do you think you could...?"
"...find the gemstones in her crown!" Rarity finished the thought, her blue eyes sparkling, "Why, I wager I could lead you all right to the little darlings!"
"Or you could just make sure we're in the right place so we don't go exploring another dead-end." the purple unicorn responded gently, "You can scan much deeper for the gems then I can, but you're still injured Rarity. Once you're sure we're in the right place, I can use your gem-finding spell once we're inside but it's still a bad idea for you to come along."
"Besides sugar cube, we don't know if're might be more of these dogs out here in the woods! We're gonna need some pony t'watch the entrance, to make sure we don't get boxed in if nuthin else." Applejack said kindly, giving Rarity a comforting nuzzle, "An' right now, the best pony fer that job is Ponyville's number one fru-fru dress-maker, cause if we haf to make like a tree and leave, we're gonna need a way out."
The orange earth pony's words seemed to mollify Rarity some what, even if it still looked like she was ready to argue for her being allowed to storm the Diamond Dog den as well. Despite that, Rarity drew herself up and began to focus intently, her horn glowing a soft blue as she stretched her spell into the ground. Here and there she found the odd pocket of gems, but nothing in the configuration or make of Diamond Tiara's tiara, but then she began to hit the motherload! Large pockets of equally large gems, some laying in the earth like they should be while others were too closely packed together to have naturally formed like that. Those simply had to be clusters of gems that had already been mined, a fact proven when one such bundle began to trundle along below the earth in a straight line. So, at the very least, they had discovered a Diamond Dog den but, as it stood, there was no evidence that it was the right one. No, she had to reach deeper into the rock and stone, past the taunting gleam of all those gems before she finally found what she searched for. There, down far into the old stone and rock, was the unique glimmer of diamonds in an arrangement she had become most familiar with over the past week or so. It could be nothing else then the tiara and yet...it took a work of mental fortitude for Rarity to withdraw her spell back from the teeming masses of gemstones that she had seen just waiting in the ground for some one or some pony to dig up.
"This is the right place." Rarity said softly, a touch of awe in her voice before excitement bubbles up in her, "And I simply can't believe how many gems there are! Oh, we simply have to come back here some time! Oh, but...uh...yes. I was able to find Diamond's tiara, but it is deep. As long as you're heading down then you should be going in the right direction, it seems to be close to the bottom of the den from what I can tell."
As a group, the five ponies trotted back to the concealed entrance that the dig-dogs had been guarding and lined up briefly for Rarity to wish each of them luck before climbing into the hole in the earth. She lingered at the entrance, gazing down fitfully as her four friends descended into the earth to try and find the missing foals and get to the bottom of this mess.
"Why is it always caves?" Rainbow Dash grumbled aloud, her voice carrying to the entrance.
Within the Den
Trouble was brewing by the time that Rex emerged from the catacombs, a motley ring of Diamond Dogs had gathered outside of the tombs' door in a ragged half-circle with each of them looking expectantly at their ring-leader. Behind them, the ranks of the dig dogs were five thick, the lower canines hovering anxiously around the edges with the occasional attempt to force themselves closer to the confrontation that they knew was coming but were unable to see. Each time, the more powerful Diamond Dogs shoved them back to the rear of the group with a snarl of contempt. The air was thick with tension and the expectation of violence as the scarred leader paused at the entrance of the passage way and looked all around at the faces gathered before him.
"I didn't know there was a break scheduled now." Rex said evenly, letting the copper tip of his cane tap against the stone below, "Did you all come a'calling on my mate? Come now boys, she's a taken, classy lady...You're just embarrassing yourselves courting her like this."
In another time, another place, it might have drawn some good natured laughing from the other Dogs but now it just made them turn green in the face, some of them looking away from Rex's monocled face. Others looked to their ring-leader for reassurance, who stepped forward with a low growl.
"This has gotta stop Rex! Youss holdin' on to dat...dat monster instead of the pack, youss had ponies kidnapped! Ponies! We alls know how you took down da dragon, but do youss think you can fight gods now?!" Fido growled up at the much taller dog, stalking forward and jabbing a claw into Rex's chest, a bemused expression on the top dog's face as the smaller Dog continued, "And what'ss about us? You have the dig-dogs worked to da bone mining gems but den you just leave them in da carts! Theys don't get divvied up. They don't get sold. They...they don't get anything! We'ss getting worked to da bone and for...what?! You to play mate wit dat thing youss making your pup feed?!"
"That's enough Fido." the larger dog growled back, the smile of amusement dropping from his face, "I have put up with all manner of incompetence from your pack, but I will not tolerate you insulting my mate like that. One more word and I will rip you in half."
At that he leveled his one visible eye on the gathered throng, the sheer malevolence in his gaze prompting them to take a quick step back. Except for Fido that is.
"Now...does this little club meeting have a purpose or is it just for all of you mutts to whine and complain about my leadership?" he asked levelly, taking a step forward himself to keep the rest of the pack back on their heels. This was too precarious a time, too delicate, to allow inner strife to tear the pack apart. No, if he was going to keep control then he needed to remind the Dogs about just who was tog dog in this den. Even as he looked for one to make an example of...one provided itself like a lamb on a platter.
"Yes! Iss challenge you for leadership of the pack!" Fido declared hotly, yellowed eyes burning with rage and indignation, bearing his small but sharp bottom fangs up at the larger dog with his ears flattened back against his head. A mirthless grin came to Rex's face, even as he snapped his cane out to crack the smaller Dog in the side with the polished metal pony head on the tip of it, sending Fido spiraling away to land on the ground with a thump.
"Challenge accepted." the top dog spat as Fido began to pick himself up off the ground, leaning his cane against the wall and beginning to strip off his fine jacket and hat to set aside from the rest. It simply wouldn't do to get blood on his clothes, she'd never be able to look at him again.
Elsewhere in the Den
Spot sat with his hunched back against the wall, working his ragged claws over a piece of wood he had told one of the dig-dog patrols to bring back into the den for him, carving out little furrows in the wood before scrapping the curls away. There was a shape in his mind slowly taking shape in the wood, one that he couldn't forget now, despite how much he wanted too. How many animals had been taken down into the crypt to feed Fifi? How many dogs had gone in just to be attacked by that thing? ...How many ponies had just been...? He couldn't remember, that was the thing that bothered him the most. How many foals had they kidnapped? It hadn't been right what had happened to them, all the dogs knew that, but Rex was a vicious bastard and hadn't allowed for any dissent to be risen on the topic.
"It's ponies or dogs, make your choice boys." He had said and, without another option, the dogs had chosen ponies.
Sure, some had tried to leave, to just get out of the Everfree and find a new pack somewhere else that would be happy to take them in. If it wasn't for Fido and Rover, Spot would have done so himself already but when he had mentioned the idea to Fido and Rover the two had gotten spooked and argued with him to just try and weather Rex's insanity rather then try to escape it. Only later had he found out that those who left had either stumbled across some dangerous denizen of the Forest or simply 'disappeared' after Rex had gone out on one of his walks. Honestly, it still seemed like a good idea to him but Rover had always done right by him and if he said it wasn't safe to leave then he'd trust his pack leader.
But this? This was too much. Spot didn't mind ponies, he really didn't, not even Miss Rarity. They were honest enough folks from his dealings with them, hard working, and they left well enough alone most of the time if the Dogs didn't cause a problem. He respected that, even if he had tried to capture a pony or two back in the day as a source of labor. Spot would have even tried to pay them in gems, but then again that's why he wasn't pack leader. You were supposed to accumulate wealth, not give it out for something you could just take. They made all sorts of tasty smelling food, they didn't have to live underground with Quarrey Eels, Spot was actually a little jealous of ponies to be honest with himself. Even more then that though, they'd kidnapped foals this time, straight from their beds! It was different with adult mares and stallions, an unspoken agreement that they should be able to take care of themselves and no one would be too angry no matter how things turned out, but this was different! A while back, when Rover had just been a pup, he had gotten lost in the far tunnels and he could remember how Rex and Fifi had torn the mines apart to find him...the ponies wouldn't be any different in that regard, he could feel it in his bones. Even now they were probably on their way and when they found out what had happened...
Spot shivered, looking down at the wooden foal that had only just begun to take shape in the wood he held, still not clear enough for any definition to have begun to take shape but he didn't need it. Spot's own guilty conscience imposed the faces of the foals unto the wooden figure. The stout one with the scissors on his flank with his orange furred friend. The pink-coated filly who never shut up and the gray-pelted one with broken glasses. A blue colt with a bow cutie mark. The one with the big red ribbon on her head, giving them such a fuss. Those and more. Too many more. Claws curled, digging into the wood and disfiguring it as Spot's vision swam before his eyes, taking him back to the entrance to Fifi's tomb, the horrible smells and sounds coming out of it with Rover standing in front of it dejected...
The scrape of claws on stone brings him back to the present, sitting up as a trio of dig-dogs went barreling past him down towards it. His big shaggy head swiveled to watch them mutely, distracted from his own darkening thoughts by the sudden commotion he could hear echoing up through the tunnels.
"Hey, what's yous doing?" He called out after the retreating shadows of the dig dogs.
"SPOT! Come on!" There came a familiar voice, Rover's muscled form bounding out of the tunnel with a look of panic on his face.
"What's going on?" Spot replied, lurching to his hind paws and stumbling after Rover, confusion replacing guilt on his ugly mug.
"That little runt challenged Rex, c'mon!" Rover replied in a panicked bark, already bounding down the tunnel once more as Spot moved in quick pursuit. Down and down they ran, until they could hear the snarls and growls of combat echoing up off the old stone around them. A circle of canines surrounded the fight, a slow-moving wall that edged along in the path of the combatants and all trying to press in close and catch a glimpse of what was happening. From the interior of the circle, they could hear the scratch of claws in cloth and on stone, the muted growl as teeth sank into flesh, not to mention the frenzied barking and growling.
A feeling of dread began to well up inside of Spot as he bodily pushed aside the dogs in front of him and Rover, forcing himself to the front of the pack. Fido edged in an anxious circle with Rex, his paws spread wide and short form crouched even lower to make himself a smaller target for the larger dog. His already bloodied ear had been ripped and torn violently, but that was just the most obvious of his injuries, long scratch marks lined his back, through ugly purple bruises from the vicious beating that had been dealt to him. Even one of his bottom fangs had been knocked out of his mouth, leaving a bloody trail down his split lip.
Rex didn't look much better as he stalked the smaller down, his vest and dress shirt ripped and torn, exposing the scarred flesh and missing patches of hair underneath, his cane lost at some point in the struggle. Teeth had been sunk into one leg, leaving torn flesh behind, as well as deep furrows from sharp claws kept that way for inevitable challenges. Even as Rover and Spot forced themselves to the fore, the two broke out into open violence again with Fido running forward on all fours as Rex tried to scoop up his opponent with his shovel-like hands, or to disembowel him, only for the smaller Diamond Dog to slip through his legs and leap unto his back like some sort of evil gremlin. Fido's small teeth sank into Rex's shoulder as he began to claw and rip into the larger dog's back, sending off tufts of fur and blood, adding new scars to his opponent even as Rex roared and spun about, trying to reach back and grasp at his prey only for Fido to nimbly evade his clutches.
"Agh!" Rex growled as he stumbled, almost losing his footing before rushing straight at the crowd, the look of fury on his face more then enough to drive them before him until finally he reached what he wanted too...a wall. He ran towards it, picking up speed as Fido struggled to keep hold, turning around at the last moment to crunch his back, and the small Diamond Dog, against the unyielding stone wall, cracking it with the force of the impact and finally gaining relief from the little beast's claws.
"Fido!" Rover yelped, forcing his way to the fore again and watching, dumb struck, as Rex took a step away from the wall to let his pack-mate's crumpled body fall to the stone below him. A low snarl of a chuckle came from Rex then as he adjusted his clothes and straightened his monocle, which had somehow managed to stay on through out the fight.
"The little runt was tougher then I expected. Hmph." Rex grunted as he kicked his downed opponent, frowning when he heard Fido wheeze in pain, "Still alive runt? Hmph. I guess destiny has a different plan in mind for you...or maybe I'm supposed to come up with a more fitting fate."
As Rex stepped away from Fido, he leveled a glare that could have boiled blood to steam on those Dogs who had arrived to support the little usurper, each bowing their heads in fear until finally one scampered forward, bringing with it Rex's hat and coat.
"...Take that pile of offal to the crypt. And let him be a lesson to you all of what will happen if you rise against me." He said finally causing a ripple of revulsion to run through the assembled bystanders. They didn't like the command, they resented him for it, but after Fido's defeat they'd be quiet for a while yet. Long enough to suit her purposes and his. "And get back to...!"
"NO!" came the shout from behind him, mutters of surprise from the Diamond Dogs who had reluctantly stepped forward to carry out the top dog's command. They stepped back at the look of raw, seething fury on Rover's face, "You's not feeding him, a Dog, to it! That'ss the last straw!"
"What did you just say to me you impu...?!" Rex began to shout until the younger dog stormed up to him, snarling right in his face.
"I'ss said no! Fido iss my pack-mate! I'll handle hiss punishment, not you and not it!" He hissed back, not backing down at all from the top dog's monocled visage, even as surprise at Rover's sudden stand sweeps across it.
"You would choose that pathetic runt over your own fam...!" Rex was caught off again, this time by the loud yelp of a dig dog as it came running up to the group, panting.
"Ponies. Cave. Storming. Need. Help. Stop. Them!" he wheezed out before falling flat unto his face, leaving the rest of the canines blinking in surprise and looking at one another.
"Well?! STOP THEM!" Rex roared, setting the Diamond Dogs to scrambling back up towards the surface, turning to eye Rover hard, "This isn't over pup."
"You'ss right, it'ss not." Rover promised back as his father went to organize the defense of the den, turning back to Fido as Spot delicately picked him up and began to carry him away, "I'ss done with this place. Let'ss go Spot."
As one, the duo began the trudge back to their quarters to care for Fido.
Let the ponies come. Either Rex will stop them or he won't, it's none of my business.
"Dash, on your left!" Twilight called out as she focused, shooting a beam of magic from her horn that pinned a dig-dog to the wall with a purple gak substance, leaving it to wriggle fruitlessly against it's bindings.
"Got it Twilight!" the pegasus replied with a cocky smirk, spotting the trio of dogs trying to creep up a side-tunnel towards them, scooting back a bit in the air before barreling down the tunnel as fast as she could, bowling the armored canines over in a ball of confused limbs and groaning.
Things had gone well so far, a little too well even. The four of them hadn't even encountered many of the Dogs, and those they had were quickly taken out of the fight one way or the other. They had penetrated deep into the lair, fair enough that Twilight was beginning to wonder just how far they had to go and if she should start looking for Diamond's tiara herself. Then, it was like a dam had burst! Dig dogs had started creeping out of all the side-passages, trying to surprise the four ponies and corral them, only to find resistance a bit more...difficult then they expected.
"Giddup little dawgie!" Applejack hollered as the third dig-dog tried to leap unto her back, bucking him around like a ping-pong ball as he desperately tried to hold on and let go at the same time until eventually his metal helmet cracked off the stone ceiling and he fell limp to the ground, as out of it as Pinkie was. There was no time to watch her friends though, even as they pushed forwards into the den more dig dogs desperately threw themselves at the group, enough to grind their progress down to a halt. Some even began to eek out of the back passages and creep up on Fluttershy.
"Ah! What was that? AHH! What is that?!" Fluttershy screamed when she saw the brutes charging towards her with outstretched paws, ducking down to cover her head, just in time to send them careening over-top of her as they tripped on the meek yellow pegasus and crash to the floor. "Oh come on!"
With a sudden snarl, Fluttershy leaped up and unto the pile of dogs, kicking out quick and hard at their guts and heads. While Fluttershy's wings were a bit weak when it came to flying, trotting around all the time had made up for that small weakness with more powerful legs that Fluttercruel put to good use in subduing her 'victims'. "Take that and that and that!"
"Fluttershy, c'mon already! We ain't got time ta be screwin' around!" Applejack called as the others continued to press on down into the tunnels, shaking the pegasus out over revere and sending her scurrying after the others in a panic.
"Don't leave me!" Fluttershy squeaked in response.
How many dogs could possibly be down here? Twilight thought to herself in bewilderment, freezing two more in place when they charged out of hiding with spears at the ready, blinking back at the purple unicorn and just barely able to wiggle within the ice.
Deeper and deeper. Down and down.
More dig dogs tried to stop them, even some Diamond Dogs who proved cagier foes, all got blasted out of the way even as the constant fighting began to take it's toll on the four ponies. Rainbow was slower on her charges, sweat streaming down her face and body at a few near misses that had almost pulled feathers out of her wings. The confines of the tunnel were too small for her to properly evade and build up momentum, the steel armor of the dog's starting to make her hooves hurt from the impacts even if she left ruined armor in her wake.
Even Fluttershy's bizarre spurts of anger seemed to be wearing her out, she spent more time trying to hide then she did lunging at the Diamond Dogs for quick and brutal beat downs that left the dogs and her friends stunned.
Only Applejack seemed un-phased by the constant battle, her green eyes narrowing down to laser-like points as they drew ever closer to their goals, to Apple Bloom.
"Don't ya worry one little bit 'bloom, big sister is on her way!" She whispered to herself, seeing her sister's smiling face as she bucked a Diamond Dog in the groin before sharply kicking the underside of his jaw to send him sprawling unto the ground. A quick stamp on his solar plexus launched her through the air down the tunnel as adrenaline pumped through her veins, drowning out everything else. Even the calls of her friends as they began to fall behind.
She didn't need Twilight's magic to know where her kin was, she could feel it in her bones that they were in the right place now and Rarity had already said that Bloom would be at the bottom of this dirty pit of a mine! A veritable wall of claw, fangs, and fur rose before, trying to impede her path.
"GIT OUT OF MAH WAY!" Applejack snorted, charging head first at the Diamond Dogs in her path, bashing her path through them with her head. She apologized silently to the spirit of her Pa as she tossed them aside, letting instinct guide her. Duck to the side here, ram this dog in the stomach with her head, duck underneath this one's claw, buck this one where Granny Smith told her never to hit a colt! They scrambled over each other to get away from her punishing hooves, but closed ranks behind her, cutting the farm pony off from her friends.
It didn't matter, the hot rage that had been boiling up inside of her since this morning burned through her like a wildfire, consuming reason and self-preservation. These beasts had broke into the home her ma and pa had built! They'd hurt Winona! They had taken her sister! And she was going to make every last mutt pay for that!
"Applejack, wait!" Twilight's voice tried to call out to her, unable to force her way through the mob of canines that Applejack had barreled through, desperately trying to reach her friend. Applejack just couldn't hear her though, she couldn't hear anything.
As she fought her way down through the tunnels her anger burned brighter, seeing how grim the tunnels became and the smell of blood in the air, her blows became more vicious. It wasn't enough to just sent the Diamond Dogs scrambling for safety, they had to be punished for what they'd done! Applejack struck with all the power years of apple-bucking had given her, caving in breastplates, crushing paws, breaking jaws...it was all the same and the smooth flow of battle began to fall apart around her. She couldn't see how to get through the dog's anymore, too angry, and now they struck back with a vengeance as she hunted for her kin. A claw along her flank, the cut of a spear on her ear, none of it mattered. Any dog that struck her found the earth pony returning the favor ten-fold, smashing them into the walls and floor as she bound deeper.
Her body ached from exertion and from a multitude of small wounds she had picked up in forcing her way as deep into the den as she could go, but it was all worth it. It'd all be worth it so long as she found Apple Bloom safe and sound, but the pain was mixing with the protective anger that had driven her this far. She wouldn't, couldn't, stop now! Not when she was so close!
When had she left the other Dogs behind? The constant press of violence had fallen back and now Applejack found herself...alone. Nearby torches turned shadows into guttural, primitive things that danced and cavorted on the walls like mad jesters. A welcoming party on the slow incline to what felt like the bowels of the earth. Far behind her Applejack could still hear the sounds of her friends fighting to get to her but...she needed to find Apple Bloom! Still, after the recent pickle with Discord Applejack couldn't avoid the twinge of guilt that she was abandoning her friends.
Abigail, that's no way to be thinking! You aren't abandoning them, you're trying to rescue your sister before something terrible happens to her, Applejack thought to herself, giving a brisk shake of her head. Besides, once you're sure that she's safe, you'll be right back to them anyway to clear the way out!
With that thought in mind, AJ determinedly continued down that sloping path. She couldn't explain it, but she just knew that she was on the right path! As she descended though, she began to hope that she wasn't. A tomb. The slope lead her to the entrance of a tomb, fire burning along one wall in an oil-filled groove to illuminate the hard, cold stone. Something in the air just plain didn't smell right either, made her uneasy and nervous. Was this really where Apple Bloom had been brought too?
"Are you looking for someone? Sorry, some pony?" a gravelly voice asked. Its source was one of the meanest looking dogs that Applejack had ever laid eyes on, swinging out from beside the doorway into the tomb.
He must have been waiting for someone to come along. Applejack thought triumphantly to herself. I have to be in the right place if they have a guard down here!
"Ya'll took my sister and Ah've come to get her back!" Applejack declared, stamping one of her front hooves on the stone, looking to plow past this mutt as well.
"You've wasted your time. There aren't foals here left to save, they've passed on." the dog said bluntly, leaning his hat on the floor beside him.
"What in tarnation are ya talking about? Do you mean to...?" Applejack's eyes widen as the words begin to sink in. "No, there ain't no way that's the...!"
Rex didn't wait for the earth pony to finish grasping the concept of what had happened, he sprung forward in the middle of her words to crack the orange pony across the jaw with the heavy head of his cane. Applejack staggered to the side in shock, but she didn't go down...green eyes widened as the dog suddenly loomed above her and brought his cane down on her back as hard as he could.
"Gahh!" Applejack cried out as she fell to the stone, one hoof clutching her hat atop her head, the other floundering on the ground to try and pull herself away from Rex.
"You. Ponies. Won't. Get. In. The. Way!" Rex said, bringing the cane down again and again with each word to brutalize the orange pony. "I've come too far! I've sacrificed too much!"
Again and again the cane rose and fell, thudding down against flesh as Applejack floundered back from the beating and the revelation. Apple Bloom was...? No! It couldn't be! She hadn't seen anything like this in the Truth! Apple Bloom couldn't be dead, the dog had to be lying! Oh Celestia, it was some terrible nightmare and any minute Apple Bloom would come charging in to leap on to her bed, catapulting Applejack into a new day! More pain, both mental and physical burned through her body to scatter away her thoughts like a flock of startled birds.
The cane broke with the next blow, the crimson spattered cane head toppling to the ground with a clatter, the other now a jagged spike that matched the half still in the dog's grip. Rex was panting as he glowered down at the quivering pony beneath him, tossing his cane down in disgust before he stepped back.
"What a waste! You would have been a fine treat for my beloved, but she prefers to tenderize her own meals," Rex muttered to himself, certain that the pony was unconscious or, even better, on the verge of death. "I suppose there's still the others though if they could be taken alive."
The top dog leered at Applejack, unable to see her face beneath her hat even as he squatted down next to her.
"You know, for the trouble that your kind has caused me today, I hope your sister was the first one that Fifi feasted on. And you know what? She likes to take her time with her prey...savor every bite...every morsel to make the meal last as long as it can," Rex confided.
"Please..." Applejack squeezed her eyes shut, tears of grief welling up in them. "She was just a'little filly...she had a red bow an' no Cutie Mark...Tell me...tell me you didn't kill her..."
"..." the dog stared down silently at the pony for a moment before he reached into one pocket, pulling out a crumpled thing. He dropped it unto the ground in front of Applejack's face, a wrinkled red bow still strained a darker red with blood in places. "You're pathetic. You couldn't even manage to save your own kin, I would do anything for my family. I have done everything for them. But you? You sob on the ground a pathetic wreck in the face of death. I stood up to it. I fought Death. I found her and she rewarded me with my mate for all I agreed to do."
Rex rose from his crouch and spat on the shivering pony who laid on the cold stone in front of him before he turned and began to walk up the incline towards the louder and louder sounds of fighting. The other ponies who had come must be getting closer, maybe he'd be able to capture some of them alive after all. Something grabbed one of his feet though, keeping him from walking any further. A quick look showed him that the earth pony had dragged herself over and was clutching him with both fore-hooves.
"Get off of me you nag!" Rex pivoted in a swift turn that brought his foot around thud into the side of Applejack's head, kicking off her hat to the far side of the tunnel, "You're finished! Your sister is dead and you will be soon too! Just let go and die!"
Anger over-took the Dog at this impertinent pony who clung to him as if her weight would be enough to stop him from leaving. He knew she was finished but the look in her green eyes as they opened up...it infuriated him. He lifted his paw and stomped down on Applejack's head once, twice, and a third time when the earth pony refused to release him. It was when he lifted his foot for a fourth stomp that one hoof fell from his back leg...grabbing the lifted one in a cold grip.
"You bastard!" Applejack pushed on the leg she held in the air, forcing Rex to fall unto his backside and scramble up to his feet again as Applejack forced her broken body to stand. "That...that was my little sister! You...you...you killed Apple Bloom!"
Her voice was a raw mix of anger and loss, the pain of her body a dull thing compared to how her heart ached in that terrible moment, a terrible darkness yawning forth in her mind. No! She couldn't go unconscious yet!
"She..she had an older brother, Big Macintosh. A grandma, Granny Smith! A family that loved her!" Applejack took a trembling step forward, tears running down her cheeks as her teeth gritted together, "Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo! Her friends, they played almost every day! There were ponies that loved her! Cherished her! You've taken her from all o'us! Ah'll...Ah'll never hear her laugh...hear her voice...smell her mane as she crawled into bed cause of some silly nightmare...Ah'll never be able to tell Apple Bloom how much Ah love her, how much Ma and Pa loved her...because of YOU!"
The earth pony was on him in a flash, slamming her front hooves into his chest with enough force to send him stumbling back with a grunt of pain. Applejack didn't relent either, she pounced on the reeling Dog and smashed her hooves into his scarred face as a primal scream welled up from deep inside of her, tearing past her lips.
"AAAAAAGGGGGGHHH!" Applejack screamed out her loss as she hammered at Rex, forcing him back with each kick, dodging away from his clumsy counter-attacks blindly. One swipe found his arm caught between her fore-hooves and with a sharp twist she dislocated his arm, followed by a fierce head butt that she could hear bones creak in protest. IT WAS HIS FAULT! She'd make him pay! She'd make all of the Dogs pay!
"THIS IS Y'ALLS FAULT! AH'LL BUCKING KILL YOU, YOU SON OF A BITCH!" Applejack screamed at the dog as her hooves slammed into him again and again, driving him before her up the incline. Pain and exhaustion both fell away in the face of her sorrow, she could hurt later. She could rest later, but not so long as this beast still walked! A quick spin and buck shattered the dog's jaw and knocked out a few of his teeth, his claws raking deep furrows of fire down her back.
HE DID THIS!
It didn't stop her, nothing Rex did stopped her, she bite and kicked at him, doing everything in her power to inflict pain on the miserable creature that had taken Apple Bloom away from her until finally he fell in a bloody pile on the stone.
"AGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHH!" There was less rage in her scream now, she was running out of righteous fury now...this scream was nothing but loss. She could see Apple Bloom's smiling face in front of her, fell her sister's hooves on her back as they watched the meteor shower together, the excitement on her face after the talent show.
It's all gone!
Rex lay on the ground, breathing heavily through what he knew to be cracked ribs at the mad-pony who reared above him, ready to bring her hooves down in the finishing blow that would end his life. And yet...he couldn't help but smile up at her.
"Go ahead. Finish it pony." He demanded as doubt flickered across Applejack's face. Even after all he had done, all of the foals who had died...she couldn't bring herself to do it. No...she wasn't a monster like him, she was better then this. Applejack wouldn't be so selfish as to deny everyone else who had lost a foal to this thing their justice. But still, another memory of Apple Bloom and she screamed again and slammed her hooves down.
"Applejack!" cried a trio of voices as they descended the slope to find Applejack standing above a battered and beaten Diamond Dog, her hooves stained with blood that was not entirely her own.
"Oh Celestia..." Twilight gasped, her mouth falling open in horror.
"You couldn't do it," Rex groaned through the pain, pushing himself up to lean against the wall. "You should have. I'd have never hesitated."
"Ah ain't you." Applejack whispered, face turned towards the ground as tears fell to the uncaring stone below.
"That's why she'll never come to you. Why you'll never get a chance to see your sister again, like I got to have my Fifi back. You don't want it enough," Rex laughed, a short and ugly noise as his head tilted back to rest against stone, his shattered monocle falling from his face.
"Applejack, what happened?" Raindow Dash landed and trotted closer, worry for her friend etched on her face.
"They're gone. Apple Bloom...Sweetie Belle...All of'em are gone." Applejack moaned out, sagging to the floor as if every bone had been ripped out of her body. Each of the other three ponies could only stare at Applejack in mute horror at her words. Twilight was the first to snap out of it, storming up to Rex and lifting the Dog by the front of his shirt.
"Why?!" She demanded, horn glowing bright enough to chase away the leering shadows. "Why would you do something like this? Tell me!"
"Ghhkk! I did what I had too! I would do anything for her! For Fifi!" Rex thrashed in the telekinetic grip, snarling out at the four ponies even as Twilight dropped him out of shock.
"Sweet Sun, what's wrong with his eye?" She gasped out, stepping back from the Diamond Dog in revulsion. Rex's eye, the one hidden behind the monocle, lay revealed to the four. It was the same green as Rover's but instead of a pupil...it looked as if someone had jammed a piece of black steel into the sickly green orb as it rolled to gaze at the ponies.
"This is my price. She gave me back Fifi but she demanded something in return," The mad dog grinned. "Stupid she-devil...I never needed to see Fifi, I already know what she looked like."
He sagged back against the wall, collapsing to the stone floor as the loss of blood swept him away to the depths of unconsciousness. Fluttershy looked as pale as a ghost, ready to faint at every moment until a look of steely anger came across her face. She turned towards the end of the tunnel and looked over her shoulder at the others.
"C'mon. He might have been lying so let's see what this Fifi is all about!" Fluttershy growled out aggressively as she stomped down towards the tomb with Rainbow Dash in furious pursuit and Applejack as well until she stopped just outside the entrance to the tomb. Twilight paused beside her as well, following her friend's gaze down to what Rex had dropped.
A bloody red ribbon.
"Applejack, you don't need to..." Twilight started to say before Applejack fell to the ground, sobbing openly as she clutched the ribbon to her chest.
"Oh sugar cube, he wasn't lying...Ah just know it!"
Pinkie Pie looked around, a thick mist covered everything with a few colorful paper lanterns hanging from streamers. Pinkie Pie couldn't tell if she was standing on floor or ground but she didn't really care. After trotting for a few seconds she proudly declared, "Oh! A dream sequence! I always wanted one of these!"
"Keep waiting." Said Pinkie Pie's own voice in a sullen sarcastic tone.
Pinkie Pie turned her head and galloped straight towards the source dead ahead, "Hii Pinkamena!"
Sitting on a stool from Sugarcube Corner, sat another Pinkie Pie, but this one with a straight mane and tail and darker shades, unlike Angry Pie who had faded colors, she had her front hooves crossed in front of her chest and with a somewhat sour look on her face.
Pinkie Pie reached out to hug her alter-ego but ended up squashing flat against a thick two story tall glass wall right between them.
Pinkamena kept a straight even almost bored face. "Wish I could say it was a pleasure."
Pinkie pried herself from the transparent barrier and trotted back and forth keeping her eyes on her other self. "Oh oh oh this is so cool! I can't remember the last time we got to talk like this! Are we gonna have a big fight scene in tribute of the hit anime Narutrot reenacting the famous fight scene between Master Jiraiya And the Six Paths Of Disharmony? Can Madame LaFlour be the Alicorn Path?"
In a perfectly straight voice Pinkamina said, "No. That scene got scrapped."
"Oh darn!" Pinkie somehow managed to snap her hoof in spite of not having fingers.
"Look, as much I love that you're finally willing, or rather -have to- speak to me, we have more pressing matters."
"Yes, yes we do." Whispered a soft voice, floating one the wind as both Pinkie and Pinkamena looked up in confusion.
"Huh? This isn't part of the script..." Pinkie said, peering about with wide blue eyes.
"Pinkie my dear, I wouldn't have it any other way."