Chapter Seven: Resolution
MLP FiM: Copyright Hasbro
Diamond Dog Den
He was getting close to the surface now, able to smell the fresh loam of the Everfree Forest on the faint breeze gusting in from above...but that only made each step harder. Deep in his gut, Rex knew he should have gone back to help his beloved, but she had promised that no matter what happened in the tomb he would get Fifi back again if only he could escape. Running away, especially from ponies, rankled at him but there wasn't a choice this time and he was forced to admit that as the light from the torches grew dimmer around him.
“I can't believe they all ran, cowardly mutts. Should have known they weren't made of sterner stuff if they couldn't stop a quartet of mares but where's the loyalty? I treated them right, amassed a fortune, and even gave them a lovely figure to serve under but where are they now?” he said in a raspy voice to himself, giving a shake of his scarred head. From the others he could have accepted this treachery, but that didn't excuse Rover! His own pup should have been down there by his side waiting to defend his mother to his last breath, just like his father.
Rex growled and shook his head to rid himself of the thought as he reluctantly stepped forward again. The only reason he was leaving was because his benefactor had told him to, if it hadn't been for that he'd never have left! He hadn't backed down from an angry dragon or countless rivals, he'd never have willingly left Fifi behind. Besides, that nag didn't know him as well as she thought she did if she thought a reassurance that Fifi could be returned again would keep him from helping out his beloved.
I saw how exhausted and tired they all were. If I can gather up enough packs then I can trap them down there and finish this grizzly business in the mine instead of in a war. My wife will have a grand feast and I can get back to the original plan. Now where did those mutts get to?
The burrows looked as if they had been ransacked by wild animals, unimportant belongings tossed aside with crude shelves and dressers over-turned in the searcher's haste to get out the true essentials. Beds were unmade and ripped open to get at the hidden caches of gems hidden within; there were even spots on the wall that had been torn down to reveal hideaway caches that would have been all but undetectable to even an experienced eye. There wasn't even a glimmer of gem dust to be found, so thorough was the looting and the sight of it brought a flush of panic to the old top dog's chest.
They had truly abandoned him. There was no other explanation for the thorough excavation of the Dog living quarters as he slumped through them, feeling like an intruder inside his own den for walking across this panicked scene. It was the only reason he could think of for why the Dogs had taken everything of true value but left the essentials of comfortable living behind, they never intended to return to this den or the alpha. Every now and then a Dog heard about something like this happening, a top dog screwing over his pack so royally that it wasn't even deemed worthwhile to stay and fight for leadership to steer the group back towards profit, but to think it would happen to him!
Rex's lip twisted up in a snarl as he slammed one paw against the stone wall, sending a spider-web of cracks through the stone as his heart pounded with rage and anxiety.
“After all I did for you mongrels, this is how you repay me?!” he roared to the empty warren, stalking about in a circle to toss around the debris that had been left behind, “I kept you fed! I kept you busy! All I asked for was loyalty! For obedience! You were my pack!”
He ranted and raved to vent his anger at the situation, throwing aside crude tables and chairs with one hand while his mace-like tail clubbed the ground in aggravation. In his fury, Rex didn't notice the noise of padded paws approaching him from behind.
The ruffled Dog spun to face the voice, eye widening in delight as he spied his pup standing in the entrance to the warren with a surprised look on his face.
“What are youss doing here? Shouldn't youss be down below defending it?” Rover asked coldly as he went to the trio of bunks he had claimed for his two friends and himself, ripping the pillow case off his remaining pillow to begin stuffing it with the reminder of his belongings.
“Watch your mouth pup, that's your mother you're talking about,” Rex growled back even as a cold smile creased his face. “It's good that you're here, where's your two tag-a-longs? I need the three of you to round up some of the Dig Dogs and we'll corner the ponies down belo...”
“No,” Rover said simply, stuffing the last bone into the pillow case before turning to face his father.
“Excuse me?” Rex replied, eye narrowing with rage at his own pup's impudence.
“I's said no. This isn't business. It issn't even about family, it never wass. It's about you and its always has been. You made a deal with a demon to breath life into my mothers's corpse. You's are the one tearing this pack apart trying to make it more like how she's really was by feeding it people. You's brought this fire down on our heads,” Rover snarled back, “You's can burn in it by yourself. I'm done. We're done. The Dogs are done with your madness. If you's want to crawl back down into that pit to wallow in the tatters of your delusions of happiness, you'll do it withouts a pack.”
“You ungrateful...!” Rex roared as he leaped at his pup, raking his claws down at Rover, just for the younger Dog to duck out of the way. Rover dropped his pillow case to the ground and swept his mace-like tail at Rex's legs, sweeping out the older Dog's legs to send him sprawling unto his belly.
“I's challenging you Rex for leadership of our pack,” Rover said simply, green eyes narrowed hatefully as Rex clambered back up to his feet and dusted himself off.
“I knew you were an idiot, you said it yourself, I made a deal with a demon...you think she'll let me lose to an insignificant, worthless pup like yourself?” Rex chuckled grimly at his own words as he cracked his knuckles. “You've had this coming for a while pup, I'm going to have to try and remember this is for your own good...and not just my own pleasure.”
The two Dogs lunged at one another, a chaotic mess of ripping claws and gnashing teeth that fell to a level of violence most ponies would never even consider was possible...
“Twilight? What are you doing?” Applejack finally spoke as the four slowly made their way out of the mines they had fought so hard to enter in the first place. It was disconcerting, they had certainly expected to come back the way they had come but at the head of a group of colts and fillies...not by themselves.
“I'm writing my report and inquiry to the Princess,” Twilight said back, obviously distracted as her telekinesis moved the quill across the parchment. “I want to note down the details while they're still fresh in my head so I can send off the letter as quickly as possible. The parents are going to want answers that we don't have but the princesses might so I think it's best if they're given time to think about how they are going to address them.”
They could all tell that it was just busy work, something Twilight had given her mind to work over while she processed what she had seen and how she felt about all of it. At that moment, she actually reminded them of the bookish mare who had just arrived from Canterlot, caught up in her own head even in the middle of a crisis since that was the one place she felt most comfortable and at ease.
Each of them was finding someway to distract herself from what had happened, except for the orange earth pony. Dash was adamant that the Dogs could get their courage back and trap them down there if they weren't vigilant, especially after the one that Applejack had beaten to a pulp had escaped from them. Thus she kept zipping by over-head to peer down every tunnel and crevice they passed for the tell-tale shine of a Dog's eyes in the gloom in-between anxiously hovering by Applejack's side as if waiting for her friend to break-down once more.
Fluttershy busied herself with applying bandages to the tiniest of scrapes or bruises, murmuring softly to herself (or so it seemed) every so often as she began to run out of injuries to tend to. In truth, it felt like her heart was about to crack in two from what had happened and what they had to do now. Part of her wanted to do nothing else but comfort Applejack about the lose of Apple Bloom, but another part knew that she would become a teary mess herself and then how would she be able to be there for Rarity as well? What about when they got back to Ponyville and they told the other parents? There was going to be so many ponies in need of a shoulder to cry on and there was no way she'd be able to be there for all of them by herself! Especially not with Pinkie Pie still out of commission herself, it seemed like the worst possible thing that could have happened had happened after the Day of Chaos!
And Applejack...Applejack was the only one who wasn't throwing herself into some minor task to try and forget about what had happened in these caves, if even just for a moment. If anything, it seemed like Applejack was trying to in-grain everything that had happened this into her memory for the rest of time, staring intently at the stones around them as she bit down harshly on her bottom lip. For a moment, Fluttershy was reminded of what Applejack had told them that Discord had said to her and the thought struck her then.
Applejack wasn't running away from the truth this time
I'll say. The look on her face is more like the truth owes her bits and she's going to collect on it. Fluttercruel commented from inside of Fluttershy's mind, sounding as if she had regained some of her spunk since the brawl to get down into the tomb in the first place. Fluttershy herself still felt tired and sweaty but not as much as she had expected to. Did Fluttercruel take some of the effort when she was borrowing the body? It felt like a question she should have asked herself a while back but...she didn't want to make it a habit to let Fluttercruel take the reigns until she was sure her newest friend could handle being around other ponies and wouldn't do anything irresponsible.
You're a real wet blanket, you know that? Fluttercruel grumbled huffily.
It only took a brief sniff of the air to tell the pegasus that they were close to the surface now, a touch of fresh breeze on the air to wash away the stink of Dogs that was everywhere in the caves. Rainbow seemed the most relieved when she noticed it, finally landing with a sigh of relief as she lifted her wings to catch that faint breeze.
“Hold up ya'll, Ah don't think we're alone anymore,” Applejack said tersely, snapping them all out of their funks and to full alert. The farm pony was right too! A mass of Dig Dogs hovered further up the tunnel, anxiously watching the ponies approach but making no move to run away...or attack. Not that they needed too, Applejack looked ready to tear into them with her bare hooves with Dash hot on her hooves!
“Why Ah outta...!”
“Applejack, wait!” Twilight called out, stepping in front of her friend and cautiously approaching the nervous group of canines that stood before them, her horn glowing in case one of them tried something funny. “What's going on here? We're trying to leave your warren and we don't want another fight, if you just stand aside then no one needs to get hurt.”
“Too late for that.” a voice in the pack called out as the armored Dig Dogs began to shift to the side and open up a path for someone to make their way through to the fore. Twilight recognized the Dog instantly, her eyes narrowing as the leader of the Diamond Dogs stepped forward.
Rover panted heavily and almost glared down at the purple unicorn with his one good eye, the other swollen shut from a recent blow to the head. He didn't look anything like how Twilight remembered him, but that wasn't surprising since it looked like Rover had just been mauled by a dragon. The other two dogs she had met before when rescuing Rarity stood by his side, the large gray one carrying the small brown one on his back.
“Well if it's a fight you want, it's a fight you'll get!” Dash promised as she took to the air by Twilight, just for Spot to hold up his paws in protest.
“We's no wants a fight! There's been too much fighting today, we's come to help da little ponies!” the big oaf said quickly, filling the silence between Rover and Twilight.
“Peace?!” Applejack spat, “After what ya'll did there won't be a chance for peace!”
“Yeah! Or did you forget that you robbed over a dozen parents of the chance to raise their children?” Dash added in, rearing to continue the fight that had carried them this far.
“That wasn't our idea, we's didn't even wanted to go along with it,” Rover wheezed out, one paw gingerly holding his chest as if that eased the pain of broken ribs. “We's learned our lesson the last time we messed with little ponies.”
“Who's idea was it then? This whole thing seems a little out of place for Diamond Dogs,” Twilight asked suspiciously, however she wasn't disregarding what was being said like Applejack and Dash were. In fact, she looked almost curious.
“It was dat Rex! It was hiss idea to kidnap little wee ponies from the town,” Rover said after a few moments of silent thought, carefully choosing his own words. “He forced all of'us ta help him, he went mad”
“W-well that's not a good excuse,” Fluttershy said nervously, looking out from behind Applejack where she had taken cover. “If you knew he was doing s-something horrid then you s-s-should have asked him to stop or just left.”
“Some of us tried,” Fido replied bluntly. “Did'ya see dat thing in da tomb? Not all da bones were pony and animal bones. The ones who tried to resist or leave got fed to dat monster in da tomb.”
That brought the ponies up short...none of them had really considered that the rest of the Diamond Dogs could have been victims just as much as the colts and fillies had been. That didn't mean they weren't lying about it, but...now that they were thinking about it they couldn't just forget it either.
“That doesn't make up for the fact you helped him kidnap a bunch of colts and fillies!” Dash snapped aggressively, hovering closer to the pack. “That makes you just as responsible as he is!”
“Rainbow! That's not fair to them...if they're telling the truth then they had to choose between their own lives and the lives of complete strangers, strangers who weren't even of the same species,” Twilight said. “If you were forced to choose between putting yourself or one of us in danger or say....some random griffon, what would you pick?”
The question brought Rainbow Dash up short and she drifted down to the ground with a pained expression on her face.
“That doesn't excuse them none Twi,” Applejack growled.
“No...no it doesn't, but we need to keep a level head girls,” Twilight said gently before looking back up at Rover. “If you're telling the truth, then you'll help us find Rex? We don't know what he looks like but if he's the one responsible for this tragedy then we should take him to Canterlot to face justice. I know it's not your way to give up a member of your pack and you're probably reluctant to turn over one of your own...!?”
“Take him,” Rover said with a growl, twisting to gesture at the Dig Dogs. Two of them brought a bound figure forward, the Diamond Dog that they had found Applejack fighting with in front of the entrance to the tomb. It looks as if he had been beaten unconscious recently and he was tightly bound up with ropes and chains. “...Wes know dat this doesn't make things even little pony...but as da new top dog, I hope dis shows dat we didn't want to help him and dat we know someone needs to face da music.”
The four mares stood in stunned silence, staring at Rover before their gazes dropped down to the bound and tied Rex, Twilight most of all! She would have figured the Dogs would have wrangled and fought against helping them find and subdue their leader but...there he was! They hadn't even tried to work out some kind of deal that would give them protection from the punishment for their aid in this crime! It was almost unthinkable from what Twilight knew of Dog culture that they'd give so freely!
“Uh...yes...well...this is a good...start. I'm sure Princess Celestia will want to put him on trial right away but...um...yes. This should help,” Twilight found herself at a loss for words as her mind blanked, trying to think of the proper protocol for something like this. “Can one of you come with us as well? To send messages to any other packs in the area so they don't think this was an unprovoked attack?”
“Fido's already packed all dat he owns. He speaks for me in dis matter, Rover said as he gave a pained breath. I make sure da other packs know what really happened and Fido will be witness to events.”
The smaller Dog gave a tentative, sheepish wave from his perch before he clambered down off of Spot's back and approached the small group of ponies hesitantly. For a moment, it looked like his fears were founded since Applejack looked like she wanted to buck the little Dog into next week but in the end the farm pony was able to clamp down on her temper.
“W-w-what about the rest of you?” Fluttershy asked timidly, surprised herself about this sudden change of events.
“We's gonna move towards da dragon lands and find da other packs. They aren'ts gonna be happy that a Dog is facing pony justice so I's gonna explain the situation to them. Make sure dey know dis is Rex's fault and he has dis coming,” Rover explained with another wheeze. “Den we're going to get back to...normals. Digging up gems.”
The four ponies stared at the Dogs, each dumbfounded by what had just been laid out in front of them. In the end it was Applejack that spoke up first about the matter.
“Well...that's mighty big of ya but Ah still don't want to see another Diamond Dog until the end of mah days,” she said bluntly as she reached up to pull her Pa's hat low over her eyes, turning her head down towards the ground. Several of the Dig Dogs and even Spot shuffled uncomfortably at that, unwilling to look at the orange pony now that they could guess how they had wronged her.
“I guess there's nothing else that needs to be said here,” Twilight finally said, words that made the dogs sag with relief as Applejack attached her lasso to Rex's chains to pull him back to Ponyville. Silently the dogs made way for the four ponies, Fido, and their captive to get past them and finish their trek back to the surface.
“Awww yeah! Back out under the open sky with the wind under my wings! There's nothing better!” Rainbow Dash gave an excited whoop when they emerged back out into the open air, zipping up into the sky to enjoy the sheer openness after having been confined to the cave. The excitement drew a couple of odd looks from the other three.
“Rainbow Dash, you started acting weird ever since we went down into the den, are you feeling alright?” Twilight asked with a touch of worry in her voice. She couldn't afford to have another pony shutdown, not with everything that had to be done! There was breaking the news to Ponyville, informing the princesses, making sure Applejack was alright, comforting Rarity, and that wasn't even counting she still had to help Trixie!
“Huh?! What? No, I'm fine! It's just when you spend most of your life being able to fly where-ever you like and living in buildings that you can just kick a hole in if you feel claustrophobic that you get a little uneasy staying underground for too long.” Dash said with a sheepish laugh, rubbing the back of her head even as her friends looked up at her in concern.
“D-dash, you're claustrophobic?” Fluttershy asked.
“...Uh...no! Of course not! Cause that would be totally, completely, one hundred percent un-cool!” Dash replied quickly, “Just...happy to be able to fly where ever I want to again.”
“GIRLS!” called a worried voice from the tree-line as a white unicorn bounded out of her hiding spot.
“Rarity!” the other four returned the call, rushing forward to give their friends consoling hugs even as Fido took the chance to hide behind Rex with a little squeak.
“You were gone for so long I was starting to get worried about you! Where is she? Where's Sweetie Belle?” Rarity asked quickly, looking back and forth between her friends with a bright-eyed look. That very same look seemed to sap the relief her friends felt at seeing her right out of them.
“We...uh...we have some bad news Rare,” Rainbow Dash said as she landed beside the unicorn and protectively extended a wing around her as Fluttershy did the same. The fashionista looked back and forth between the two of them as her eyes began to narrow.
“Come now, this isn't funny, where's my little sister? And all of the others?” Rarity demanded, extracting herself from the wing hug and stepping back from the gathered four.
“That's just it Rarity, after the Diamond Dogs took Sweetie Belle, they took her down into a...tomb,” Twilight began, unsure of just what to say. “There they...fed them to some thing they were keeping down ther..”
“No's we didn't!” Fido protested peeking out from behind the unconscious bulk of Rex, causing Rarity to notice him for the first time. The unicorn bolted over and lifted the small dog up to eye level by his collar.
“You!!! What did you do to Sweetie Belle?” Rarity demanded harshly, blue eyes narrowed to hard-edged sapphires.
“N-nothing at all p...Mees Rarity!” the small dog squeaked.
“What? Yes you did! We saw 'Fifi' and all of the bones! We know that's what you did with the foals!” Dash replied, a suspicious look coming into her eyes.
“Ah heh heh..well...yes we's did do dat, but we never took anypony from Mees Rarity's house!” Fido whined as Rarity leaned in close to him, her face pressed up against his own.
“What?! Rarity, you said Sweetie Belle had been taken!” Fluttershy gasped out, looking back and forth between the unicorn and the Dog.
“She was, but she hadn't been staying at my house either! Father and Mother came back early from their vacation for a few days so Sweetie was staying with them until they left again. I found out when I went to pick her up to get her a fitting for a new dress,” Rarity explained in a frosty voice that brought a chill to Fido's spine. “You took her from my parent's house, now where is my Sweetie Belle?! The white unicorn with the curly pink and purple mane!”
Fido shrank back from that voice like a turtle trying to pull his head into his shell, another uncomfortable whine escaping from his throat.
“I's...I's don't know! We's didn't take any little ponies like dat, I's swear! Me, Spot, and Rover were da ones who took the little ponies and we didn't grab one that looked like that, I's promise on all of mah jewels!” Fido pleaded, giving the other dumbstruck ponies a pleading look! The white unicorn looked ready to gore the Dog for trying to hide what had happened to her sister until Applejack stepped up beside her and laid a hoof on her shoulder.
“Ah think...he's telling the truth sugarcube. Ah don't think the Diamond Dogs took Sweetie!” Applejack said slowly as her expression slowly brightened. With a huff, Rarity dropped Fido only for Applejack to excitedly lean down to look him in the face.
“What about a'little filly named Apple Bloom? She had a red mane and a yellow coat like the inside of'an apple, did you take her?” Applejack asked excitedly, feeling an ember of hope begin to light inside of her chest. If they hadn't taken Sweetie then maybe they hadn't taken Apple Bloom either!
“Erm...ah...yess, we's did,” Fido said awkwardly, “I's da one dat grabbed her actually and gots in a fight with a mean dog...S-sorry?”
The walk back to Ponyville was quiet with Applejack begrudgingly dragging the bound Rex and the unconscious Fido out of the woods with her lasso, having lost her argument to 'leave'em in the forest for a cockatrice to find!'. Now the farm pony seemed withdrawn and sullen, giving the equally quiet Rarity a few jealous glares. Even if deep down Applejack knew she should be happy that Rarity's little sister hadn't been taken, it didn't keep her from thinking that she wished Apple Bloom had been the one still unaccounted for. It was a shameful, dirty little thought that Applejack kept to herself since she knew how...vile it was and soon guilt grew. How could she wish such heartache on Rarity just so she wouldn't have to feel it herself? What kind of friend did that make her?
Fluttershy was still close-by trying to console her but as they got back to Ponyville the pegasus quietly excused herself and flew back to her cottage to give all of those critters their evening meals, but not before she promised to meet them back at the library to talk about what had happened. The only one who wasn't quiet was Rainbow Dash...she drifted around Rarity in a slow orbit, peppering the fashionista with reassurances that she'd go out and find Sweetie Belle herself and she'd get the weather team to help if she could!
“Don't worry Rare, I'll have Sweetie Belle back home in no time! You just have to stay optimistic and keep your head up so you'll have a smile on your face when I bring her through your door,” the cyan pegasus said helpfully, giving Rarity an encouraging smile that Rarity faltered in returning to her.
“...What's all that noise?” Twilight asked as they walked down the road into Ponyville proper as the moon began to rise into the sky. There was a lot of light coming from the direction of the library and even more clamoring noise. As they got closer they could make out a large crowd of ponies clustered around the door to the tree, angrily waving around torches and pitchforks in the air in their commotion to get inside.
“What in tarnation is goin' on here?” Applejack exclaimed, the four ponies mouth's dropping open in surprise at the mob before them.
“Back, back you savages! I'm not letting you inside the library until Twilight gets back!” the voice came from Spike, the only thing standing in the way of the mob and the door to the library, waving a mop back and forth to keep the ponies at bay! “Don't make me use this! Back!”
“Spike! What's going on here?!” Twilight shouted as her friends and her pushed through the crowd to join Spike in front of the library, finding themselves on the angry end of the glares from the assembled ponies.
“Twilight! Thank goodness your back! Some of the ponies heard about your 'special patient' and somehow the rumor got around that she was responsible for all this!” Spike explained in a rush, threateningly pushing his mop at one stallion who was edging a little bit closer. “I tried to tell them that Trixie couldn't have done it, but they just won't listen to me!”
“What?!” came the exclamation from Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity.
“I'll explain in a minute, we have to calm these ponies down! Spike, send this letter right away!” Twilight replied, pulling a crate out of the library and stepping up on to it before passing off her pre-written letter to Spike. The purple unicorn cleared her throat several times until the mob began to pay attention to her, gradually dwindling down to silence.
“Ponies of Ponyville, I have some terrible news to give you all but let me assure you first that Trixie is not responsible for what happened...” And with that out of the way, Twilight began to tell the parents what they had seen and learned about what had happened that fateful day. She delayed her story long enough for members of the Dawn Guard to arrive to help control the crowd but that night no one in Ponyville slept easily...