Chapter Six: The Light
MLP FiM: Copyright Hasbro
Diamond Dog Den
This wasn't how things were supposed to go.
Nothing was supposed to happen like this.
In all of their adventures, the four had never experienced a loss like this one, to have failed the ponies who were relying on them at the worst possible time. They had defeated Discord and Nightmare Moon! The Diamond Dogs had barely even been a stumbling block once Rarity had been given time to whine at them in their first encounter, so how had this happened?
Her eyes drifted back to Applejack who struggled to stay on her hooves despite exhaustion, loss, and pain weighing her body down, leaning up against the wall. Her injuries needed tending to but she refused to let her take a look at them.
Its' her own fault then, you offered. Fluttercruel's voice whispered in the back of her mind, though it was subdued now. The fight to get down into the tunnels had taken it's toll on Cruel and herself, but mostly on Cruel. She would have thought the filly would have been happy to get her hooves dirty in something rough and tumble but she just seemed confused.
“That doesn't mean I can't worry anyway. If what that Diamond Dog said was true then she's going to need us more then ever!” Fluttershy murmured under her breath, her long pink bangs hiding the sight of her mouth moving as they carefully entered what appeared to be a tomb. Applejack had already guessed that something was going on with her and offered to listen to whatever Fluttershy might want to say, but she couldn't bring herself to talk about this...not now. Besides, she didn't think that 'Cruel was ready to meet her friends just yet.
I can make my own friends, I don't need yours!, came the retort from within the confines of her own mind.
“Of course you can, I didn't mean you couldn't,” Fluttershy hesitated for a moment before whispering again, “...thank you for helping with the fight earlier. I don't know what I would have done and Twilight and the others were relying on me.”
...Pfft, I was just enjoying the ride in your body, don't get sappy on me.
There was an awful stink in the air as the four carefully made their way further into the tomb, something that rankled at the senses and had her hair standing up on edge. Her heart fluttered and for a moment she wanted to let 'Cruel take over again, if only for a moment, to handle this but one glance at her friends steeled her nerve. They needed her right now and she had to be here for all of them, not to fight but for support. She walked quietly besides Applejack, continuing to cast worried looks at the cuts that had been opened up during the fight, the horrible bruising already starting to swell on her head and face, but most importantly the tears trickling down from her cheeks.
“What?” Applejack asked bluntly, reaching up with one hoof to tug her pa's hat down a bit to cover up her face a bit from the pegasus' constant attention.
“Oh Applejack, just please stop for a minute and let me put some bandages on you. It will only take a minute!” Fluttershy burst out, loudly enough that Dash and Twilight stopped their own advance.
“No,” came the terse reply from the orange earth pony.
“Please? Those cuts need to be tended to right away, especially down here in a dirty cave,” the buttermilk pegasus pleaded, giving Applejack a hopeful look.
“No!” Applejack snapped out, pushing herself forward past Dash and Twilight, staggering further down the cold stone tunnel.
“Why not?” Dash asked, zipping around in front of Applejack to block her path, crossing her hooves in front of her chest. The act brought Applejack up short but she quickly tried to go around just to find the cyan flyer blocking her path once more.
“None of your business, now git out of the way Rainbow!” the earth pony glowered, but didn't make a move to try and go around the pegasus again. It wouldn't have helped much in her condition.
“Yes it is! Applejack, we're your friends and you're hurting right now,” Twilight said as she came up alongside Applejack with Fluttershy on the other side. “That dog was crazy, he probably didn't even know what he was talking about by the time you got down...fighting him. There's no possible way that he would do something like that when there's nothing to gain at all, it only would have brought more and more trouble down on him. I mean even if we turned back, Princess Celestia would just send the Royal guards down here to stop the whole mess and punish the ones responsible. Even if he escaped, no other pack would take him in considering it would just provoke a fight with Equestria over one dog.”
Twilight's reasoning made sense, even Applejack was begrudgingly forced to admit that it seems as she paused and sat back heavily on her haunches.
“But Twi, Ah saw the look in his eye, he ain't lying!” Applejack sighed out. Still, Fluttershy wasn't going to waste this chance for one moment, she swooped down on her friend and quickly began to bandage her wounds and smear a soothing ointment from her saddlebag on the earth pony's bruises. Her own concoction to help out her woodland friends should work just as well on Applejack!
“Well you can't be sure Applejack, it's not like you're a living lie detector or anything,” Twilight said, but all of them could tell that was a bit forced. Applejack had always been the most honest out of all of them and she had always been difficult to fool with even a white lie. The purple unicorn was trying to keep Applejack's spirits up and they could all tell.
“...anyway, even if he wasn't that doesn't mean you shouldn't let Fluttershy take care of you,” Dash cut in. “We owe it the parents to find all of the foals and some of them could still...even if something happened to some of them doesn't mean it happened to all of them. Apple Bloom could be perfectly fine for all you know.”
“That...that's right,” Applejack said with a weak smile, but they could all tell that she didn't believe them one bit. Twilight gave her friend a worried look before the glow from her horn flared brighter, chasing away the flickering fire-light to replace it with a soothing purple glow that made the tomb less cloying.
“Heads up girls, I think we reached the end of the tomb,” Twilight said solemnly, drawing the others attention as she stepped up to the ravaged opening leading into the tomb of 'Fifi'. The four stepped up quietly as they heard something moving around in the cold darkness within.
“Huh...? Wuzzat?” the gravelly voice growled, one eye blearily opening as the voice pounded in his head as hard as his own head did.
Get up. You aren't done yet.
“Nnngghh...yes I am. We're done,” Rex growled as his shaking paws planted on the stone and pushed him up to his feet. It felt like a ton of bricks had dropped on him, which was surprising considering the orange pony had been so small. “I've done everything you asked of me down to the smallest detail and I have my Fifi back. Our business is concluded.”
I hope that's a joke, for your sake. I brought your beloved back from the dead, isn't that worth more then the piddling tasks I've asked you to perform when you wanted to repay me?
The comment brought a burst of wry laughter from the dog, even as he forced his reluctant legs to carry him forward up the incline. His rear paws dragged with each step, bringing a scream of protest from his aching body that made him give a vicious growl to the uncaring darkness.
“Oh no, I think we've settled our debt in full. After all, I have what I want...and I made an attempt at what you wanted just to get a beat-down from ponies. You have nothing less to offer me, there's no reason for me to do anything else for you.”
“Oh really? Maybe I need to remind you of a little story...”
“Once upon a time there was a brave and noble Diamond Dog...he was a hero to his people, having accomplished a deed that they had long since thought impossible. His peers wanted to be him and his enemies respected him, as a good Dog's life should be. His position gave him everything he had always thought he had wanted...respect, wealth, privilege, and status and yet he felt...empty.
Once he had risen to the top, the Dog realized just how lonely it was there by himself. Every day he saw other Dogs had their significant others to confide in and keep them company while he had to return to an empty den...it made jealousy take route in his heart. At first he tried to the tried and true Dog method of gaining a mate, trying to wrest one away from a weaker male in a show of strength. He was strong and fierce, winning many such competitions through his ferocity. However, he still wasn't fulfilled. These hard won prizes resented him for tearing them away from their loved ones no matter his efforts and each he reluctantly released back to their families, not finding what he wanted most...love.
That is until he meet a lovely female who seemed to be just as alone as he was. Finally he had found a kindred spirit and the Dog used his wealth and status to try and impress her...only to fail over and over again. No matter what he tried, he just didn't seem capable of winning his heart's desire's affection with the spoils of his victories in life. Finally, frustrated, he gave up and retreated back into himself. Loneliness claimed his heart when he realized he would be alone forevermore until, at long last, she came to him.
The woman explained how she didn't care about his gems, his title, or the respect the rest of the pack gave him...she cared about the man inside and she had finally gotten to catch a glimpse of him. She told him that she liked the man she saw and finally he saw hope. Finally there was a light at the end of the tunnel!
They were married soon after and had a pup that the man was proud of. He wasn't alone anymore...he had his mate and a son to carry on his name. Life couldn't get any better...but it could be worse. His wife became sick while their pup was young. Despite all his efforts, he could do nothing more then watch as his beloved wasted away before his eyes, nothing more then try to keep their son from seeing his mother like that.”
“With all his strength, he couldn't do anything to save her. His wife died before his eyes, still in her prime and leaving him to the task of raising their son by himself. He failed in this as well, driving his son away in his attempts to make his pup like himself. To make him into a male that would make his mother proud. In no time he was alone again...Does this story sound familiar Rex?”
“Mmmhhmmmm, I thought so. I saved you from that loneliness Rex. I brought Fifi back from death's grip. I found your son and returned him to your pack. I guided you to enough wealth to increase the size of your pack tenfold and make a dragon seethe with jealousy. I did. Me. I gave you everything that you ever wanted just because I knew you were in pain.”
“I..I know,” Rex's voice broke as the voice in his head reminded him of what all it had given him. Reminded him that at his darkest hour, someone had reached out to give him the paw he needed to pull his life back together without a single thought for their own gain. “Forgive me, my lady. I forgot the gifts you had given me. What do you...what is this last task?”
“Thank you...And it's simple, I need you to flee from the den and tell the other packs how Equestria launched an unprovoked attack on your den.”
“Unprovoked? That is twisted and a half, I was honestly expecting guards and armies, not four pastel colored ponies after what I did.”
Those four pastel ponies reformed Nightmare Moon, defeated Discord, and have stood hoof to claw with hydras, dragons, and an ursa minor. The sharpness of the voice's response made him wince, his only free paw clutching the side of his head. They're heroes of the highest caliber and I warned you not to underestimate them!
“And apparently you were right,” he grumbled softly to himself in reply as he began his ascent once more.
“Of course I was! Now you need to hurry, they'll finish with Fifi soon and you'll need to be long gone by the time they do!”
“What?! They're going after Fifi?” He shouted in surprise, lurching around in a circle to almost fall back down the ramp towards the tombs.
“STOP! There's nothing you can do for her now! What is going to happen is going to happen, it's that simple...but so long as you escape, I can return her to you again so you must hurry up.”
With those parting words the weight that usually settled over his head when the voice spoke to him like that lifted and Rex knew that he was alone. Despite the order he had been given...the dog lingered. He couldn't leave Fifi behind again but fighting all four of the ponies at once was simple not an option for him in this state.
Oh, he'd leave alright...but he'd come back with reinforcements to stamp out these horrible little ponies!
“What's in there? I can't see anything in that gloom,” Dash said, hovering closer to the entrance with a fore-hoof raise up to her eyes as she peered into the open tomb, making a face as stink from inside hit her. “Ugh, it smells like a mix of a dirty barn inside!”
“T-that's not the smell of a barn,” Fluttershy squeaked out as she followed Applejack and Twilight up to the entrance.
“Ah'll say, no self-respecting cow-pony would let their barn get this dirty,” Applejack huffed out, stepping over the lip of the entrance and into the tomb itself.
“That's not what I meant, I mean...” the yellow pegasus started to say, shying back from the entrance even as Twilight followed her friend inside.
“Hold on a second, I've go this,” Twilight said as she focused, the light from her horn brightening to chase away the darkness inside of the tomb. When Applejack and Twilight saw what they were standing in, they almost tried to throw up, even if ponies couldn't do that.
“...I smell buh-blood..” Fluttershy finally said as her theory was confirmed. The stone floor of the tomb was stained dark brown and red from blood old and fresh. Not just blood, but gnawed on bones had been tossed carelessly after they had been picked clean of meat. A butchery was what the chamber smelled like...and they weren't alone either.
“Oh, new dinner guests! What a delightful party! First those delightful little colts and fillies then you fine mares show up!” came the bright and cheerful voice from a rotted throat. An emaciated figure rose from where it had been crouching at the far side of the tomb, standing up straight and extending it's lanky arms out to the side as if in welcome. Matted, dirty white fur seemed like it was stretched over top of a canine skeleton, formerly poofy curls atop the thing's head and around it's wrists had become straight and stringy from lack of care. Black lips had been pulled back from the creature's lips to reveal it's stained, pointed teeth in a skeletal grimace. SharpHowever, the worst part were it's eyes...burning red embers that brimmed with madness. Simple good cheer warred with a craven hunger that Twilight just couldn't place as the Diamond Dog...no...the thing stepped closer to the accompanying noise of heavy chain links rattling behind it. Twin lengths of chains stretched from it's wrists into the darkness. “Why, Fifi hasn't gotten this many visitors in a dog's age! Haha, 'dog's age', Fifi is a howl, even all alone like this!”
“AHH! What in Equestria is that?!” Twilight shouted, back-pedaling away from the grisly visage presented to them, the surprise of what she saw causing her horn's light to flare and reveal even more of the chamber. Primarily the large pile of bones that 'Fifi' had inadvertently been hiding behind.
“A-ah don't rightly know, Ah'm hoping ya'll would have a better idea,” Applejack stared at the creature, her jaw dropping in horror even as the two pegasus joined them in the tomb. Fifi's gaunt, skeletal appearance reminded her of the glimpses she had caught of Sunnytown and its cursed denizens in the Truth...or what had happened to Apple Bloom during the Day of Chaos.
“Is it even alive?” Rainbow Dash asked aloud, eying the chains on Fifi's wrists carefully as she hovered closer, gauging the length to stay just out of reach.
“Bah! Of course Fifi is alive! Does she not speak? Does she not bleed when struck?” the ghastly apparition said huffily, crossing her paws across her rib-cage as if sulking. “All ponies are so rude! First the young ones screaming and hollering, now the mares insult Fifi! It's as if their parents did not raise them right.”
“W-wait, did she just say the 'young ones'?” Fluttershy asked nervously as she floated down to the ground, recoiling when one of her hooves struck a picked clean bone...a pony skull.
“She did,” Twilight said in a steely voice, her eyes narrowing on the undead creature. “You saw the kidnapped colts and fillies then? Where are they now?”
The Dog's eyes blinked twice in confusion before a haunting laugh bubbled up out of it's chest.
“All gone now! Fifi has to apologize, but she gets so very focused when she's FEEDING!” Fifi lunged forward with the last word, pulling the chains taut behind her as her paws clenched just a couple of inches from Rainbow Dash's face to give the pegasus an unpleasantly close look at the Dog's gnarly nails.
“Ah knew it! Ah could tell when Ah looked in that dog's eye!” Applejack wailed, voice full of despair, fighting the urge to collapse to the ground sobbing. The hot anger that had carried her this far had burned out, leaving the poor earth pony empty for the moment.
“That's it! This thing is going down!” Rainbow Dash said, pulling herself back a few feet to pick up speed before she flew forward, driving Fifi back into the stone wall with a thunderous blow to the creature's chest. It launched the undead Dog back to crack against the stone, landing in a crumpled heap against the base of the wall. Dash landed cautiously, stamping one hoof on the stone floor and snorting as if getting ready to charge her again.
“Rainbow Dash, stop! She's the only one here who knows what happened, we have to get that information before anything else!” Twilight admonished, appearing in a flash of in front of the pegasus to keep her impulsive friend from continuing the attack. Fluttershy took the chance to slip over to Applejack and give her grieving friend a reassuring nuzzle, trying to get Applejack to look up out of her hooves.
Only the two pegasus could see Fifi rise back up to her hind-paws and grip the chains on her wrists with both paws. Stone crumbled from the strength in that emaciated body as Fifi ripped out the moorings of her chains and swung them in a wide arc towards Dash and Twilight.
“Look out!” a tired voice called out, moments before Fluttershy ran into both of the two, knocking them down to the ground as the chunk of steel and stone whirled through the space where their necks had been just moments before. Without the two ponies there to take the hit, the stone cracked against the stone as Fifi loomed over the three.
“Fifi's so hungry these days...always hungry, no matter how much she eats. She eats and eats and eats but the hunger never goes away! He said that eating ponies would help with that but it didn't...maybe it needs to be older ponies,” Fifi mused nonchalantly, as if she was in a comfy restaurant, reaching down for the three mares with a growing hunger in her eyes. Twilight focused, surrounding the three in a magenta aura in a flash, teleporting them outside of the creature's reach so her claws closed on thin air.
“Wooh! I hit that thing across the room, how's it still walking?” Dash said, sounding a little surprised even as she got to her hooves and darted up into the air.
“Be careful girls, Ah don't think this thing is really alive,” Applejack said uneasily as she rose up and circled around Fifi, forcing the Dog to divide her attention between the two. “Whatever it is, we need to do something about it right...!”
The tomb was flooded with light as a stroke of lightning erupted from Twilight's horn, striking their enemy dead in the chest, burning a hole straight through it and out the other side. Applejack, Fifi, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash all gaped at the hole and then at it's source, the hard-eyed Twilight.
“It's not alive. And it...and it did something unthinkable. And it'll do it again if we let it, we have to put a stop to this here and now,” Twilight asserted as her horn flared again, but this time Fifi was the quicker of the two.
She scampered out of the way of the lightning bolt and loped across the littered ground toward the smaller unicorn, closing the distance with alarming speed. Dash was faster still, bolting into Fifi's hind-legs from the side to sweep them out from the Dog, sending her crashing down right into a powerful kick from Applejack. The hit brought with it the noise of bone cracking, however in just a moment the creature was back on it's paws, grabbing hold of one of Applejack's rear legs and swinging her bodily through the air to club Dash out of the air.
Still holding unto the flailing earth pony, Fifi hopped back over to Twilight to swing her 'weapon' down with a surprised 'Oohh nelly!' atop of the unicorn.
“Cheaty ponies, always using things like magic or flight to gain an advantage. They never have to struggle for anything, they have two goddesses looking out for them. They get to live up in the sunshine cause they just make all the friends. They don't have to worry about dragons or gryphons. They don't have to worry about their pups having to spend all their time underground because they're just so loved,” Fifi growled venomously, “Well Fifi is tired of it! Ponies should have to struggle just like everyone else!”
One paw closed around Twilight's horn, holding it in a crushing grip as the purple unicorn was pulled up to look the undead beast in the eyes.
“So no more ponies. And no more magic!” Fifi declared as dessicated muscles strained in her arm as she began to bend the unicorn's horn.
“AAAGGHHHH!” Twilight screamed in pain, kicking futilely at the Dog and yanking her head back and forth to try and wrest her horn from the Dog's tenacious grasp. However despite the furrows her horn ripped in dead flesh and holes kicked in her rib-cage, Fifi was relentless. “Stop, you'll snap it!”
Twilight's eyes widened in teary horror at the noise, already beginning to look up at her horn...
Fifi's right paw fell to the stone floor, twitching open and shut after being removed from the arm. Fluttershy, looking as fierce as Dash, pressed her advantage and kicked Fifi in the jaw once more.
“I'm sick and tired of these buckin' dogs in these buckin' caves! I'm going to kick your flank and them I'm going outside and out of these claustrophobic tunnels!” 'Fluttershy' stated flatly as she weaved through the air, avoiding Fifi's haphazard counter assault. A cocky grin came to the pegasus' face as she deftly stayed out of claw's reach until Fifi's remaining paw closed around her long, flowing tail and pulled her back down into the Dog's spine-crushing bear hug.
“D-damn Fluttershy's...tail extentions!” Fluttercruel wheezed as the Dog began to squeeze tight, leaning her maw close to open her mouth wide, exposing a mouth full of blood-stained fangs. The buttermilk pegasus wiggled back and forth, eyes widening as she spies the growing light behind the Dog. Just as Fifi's jaws were about to close on the pegasus, a length of hemp rope slipped over Fifi's head and across her mouth, yanking her head back just as the fireball hit.
The flash-heat caught Fifi ablaze in just a moment, making the poodle howl in surprise and release Fluttercruel, frantically patting at her back with her remaining paw. Everytime she started to get a handle on it though, Applejack gave another yank on her lasso, pulling Fifi in every which direction to throw her off balance.
“Dash, now!” Twilight shouted, prompting the cyan pegasus to snap a salute and zoom towards Fifi. A rainbow colored whirlwind formed around the Diamond Dog, turning the fire into an inferno that quickly began to consume Fifi as the Dog gave a long, miserable howl. Despite the heat and flames licking at her mane and tail, Dash persisted and spun faster and faster around the Diamong Dog until finally Fifi burned to a cinder, collapsing in a pile of blackened bones on the ground below.
In the after math of the short, brutal conflict, Rainbow Dash screeched to a halt on the ground covered in a thin sheen of sweat, panting hard as the other three hesitantly nudged the bones as if worried they'd get back up at any moment.
“I think..I think that did it,” Twilight finally said with a sigh of relief, turning to look at each of her friends in turn with a distant expression on her face. “It's...obvious what happened here. Or at least what happened to the kidnapped colts and fillies, enough so that we...I can tell the parents about it. When we get back to Ponyville I'll dispatch a letter to Princess Celestia immediately to tell her what happened here, maybe she'll have some better answers about just...what that thing was.”
“What about Rarity?” Applejack said bluntly, “What are we going to tell her? Sweetie Belle was one of the missin' fillies too. Which one of us is going to tell her what happen'd to her lil sister?”
Twilight flinched at that and chewed fitfully on her bottom lip. Honestly, she'd been wondering just what she was going to tell the fashionista ever since the possibility had emerged that there weren't any foals to save, but she had pushed it to the back of her mind with the revelation of that thing in the tomb.
“...I'll tell her.” Fluttershy said softly, a sad frown on her face even as Twilight gave the pegasus a guiltily relieved look. An awkward silence fell over the four as each looked at one another. Finally Applejack and Twilight moved to leave the tomb with the unicorn supporting her friend while Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash lingered for just a moment.
...Finally Rainbow Dash turned to give her friend a long look.
“...Sooo....tail extensions, huh?”