Gathering Storm: Things In Motion
"What are we going to do now?" mumbled a rust-colored unicorn with brown mane to himself.
He was sitting in a bar somewhere in the depths of Zebrica. The exact name of the country mattered little to him for two reasons. The first one was that thanks to crazy warlords the countries around here changed their names on monthly basis and the second, more important one, revolved around the fact that ponies and countries would soon be completely irrelevant. For now, though, he was enjoying his beer. It wasn't too good but it was cheap and in large quantities.
We have to get Void out of the picture.
"I thought you were a god. Can't you just summon some army of darkness and kill everything?"
If that was the case I wouldn't need you.
The unicorn had to admit it made sense. After his success in the Griffon Empire he'd dropped his Holy Light disguise and flew south as the voice who had been leading him up to this point ordered him to. His real name was unimportant and so was his past life. He'd suffered scars beyond healing and over time he'd come to a conclusion that there was nothing in this world to live for.
The voice had told him he was wrong. There was always revenge on those whose fault it was his life ended in such state. Having nothing and nopony to rely on, he had accepted the offer. Not for the shortest moment had he believed his life might have been his fault.
"So? How do we deal with the alicorn of Death? He stopped us in the desert rather easily."
Yes. Not even I know the source of his power but there are ways to work around it. Void spends most of his time in the underworld where souls pass through after making amends in Tartarus. He has to stay in a place detached from Equus otherwise his power would turn it into ruin even without our interference.
"He unleashed himself in the desert. I've never thought sand could rot. Can't we, I don't know, just lure him out, lock him on the face of Equus, and watch the world die?"
Good idea but one that needs a lot of preparation. When elder alicorns grow too powerful they usually build a pocket dimension for themselves where they can really, let's say, stretch their muscles. Void, however, cannot do that on his own. Such feat requires either a massive amount of magic or a power centered around creation. He is the only living alicorn who has neither.
"You said he lived in the underworld."
Indeed. He wasn't the one who created that place though. Out of the few alicorns who still choose to interact with the 'real' world the only one powerful enough to make something stable enough for Void to reside in is his marefriend - Scream, the alicorn of Lust.
"Can we actually go against a magic user this powerful directly?"
Yes, we can. Fortunately, Scream's last engagement with me ended up rather poorly for her and now she's just a mindless piece of meat who follows Void around. The magic is linked to her and if she disappears Void will either have to use his weakened form and not be a threat or eventually wipe all life out.
"I suppose you know where to find this Scream."
Yes. However we'll have to go back to Equestria for that. Your magic isn't sufficient enough to break into her own pocket dimension from anywhere. We'll have to find a point where the dimension is linked to Equus. Just like Tartarus is linked to a cave in the Equestrian mainland and the underworld access point is somewhere in the griffon deserts the entrance to Scream's home is in the Everfree Forest.
"Are we going right now or...?"
As much as I hate giving Void time to analyze the situation we have other things to do. This is just a backup plan, we still have the world to ruin on our own.
"Alright. How about we start with an army of undead? Will Void stop you here?"
Not a chance unless he wants the underworld to suddenly become very overcrowded.
"Good," Holy Light stood up from his table, looked around at zebras relaxing after hard day's work, and drew his sword.
"Sir, please, put that away," said a muscular bartender in a heavy accent, "We don't like our customers getting hurt."
A flick of Holy's horn later his golden-glowing sword pierced the bartender's chest. Unlike anywhere in Equestria, the patrons didn't try to run away but charged the rusty unicorn.
Few minutes later Holy walked outside of the tavern into the streets of a small town. A group of zebras previously drinking beer and various brain cell killers followed him on unsteady legs.
Well, he needed to amass a force big enough to attack Equestria. Why not start right here and now?
In a different bar, in a different city, and on a different continent Heavy Hoof waved at Brick the bouncer and looked around. This mercenary bar in Canterlot went by the name Sole Regret and used to be a frequent place of solitude for Blazing Light. Now, though, Heavy was looking here for somepony else. For once he didn't wonder about how a place where everypony was armed and most of the patrons must have come against one another on various jobs could be so peaceful. Few unicorns in the back were playing darts, a group of mercenaries were telling a story about their exploits, often correcting one another about who really killed which monster, while being listened to by several young colts with eyes wide as soup plates, and a griffon accompanied by a thestral sitting quietly in a corner table.
"Evening," Heavy greeted the duo and sat down, "Never pegged the two of you to come here. I thought Lucky Horseshoe was more your taste."
"Liar," Choking Darkness smirked, "What do ya want?"
"He wants to yell at me," Cromach mumbled into his beer, "for messing everything up. Rightfully so."
"Come on," Choking smiled at him but he wasn't looking, "Ya couldn't have known."
"Actually, Crom, I'm not here to chew you out," Heavy nodded at the passing bartender, "One Sister's Grace, please."
"Thanks, I guess," the griffon sighed gloomily, "but all I really want to do now is drink until that little voice in the back of my head shuts up."
Heavy took Cromach's head into his hooves and forced him to look him in the eyes. Green met brown and Heavy smiled.
"You did all you could. You did nothing wrong. Blazing told me exactly what happened in Golden Sands and you were strong enough to resist the Nightmare and make him happy for as long as you did."
"I could have done so much more if only I wasn't so hot-headed."
"If you weren't you, you mean. Well, if you weren't you then Blazing wouldn't have been happy around you. You are also forgetting one important thing. Most of what happened was HIS fault, not yours."
The blow caught Heavy by surprise but he recovered quickly and continued.
"Cromach, you told me what bothered you the most was that you left him hanging in the town square but you did the right thing. Darky couldn't have handled the situation while Blazing was smashing the undying soldiers. If he wasn't an emotional idiot seeing the worst in everything he wouldn't have given up there and then."
"Shut up!" Cromach growled.
"HE told me that. I'm not making things up. He understood what went wrong and came to terms with it. All he wanted was to talk to you about the transformation but... things happened."
The bartender brought a cocktail the upper half of which was white while the bottom half was dark blue. Heavy downed it in one go.
"All I wanted," Cromach covered his eyes, sobbing, "All I wanted was..."
"All you wanted was what all of us wanted at one point in time," Heavy smiled comfortingly, "Listen to me, Crom. You too, Darky. You might be forgetting one thing - Blazing killed my coltfriend. It wasn't exactly his fault but he did. Crom, you have no idea how I felt after Sharp died, Darky does. Both of us came to terms with it and loved our idiot even more after knowing HE took it the hardest. What I'm trying to say is that things will get better. You will find somepony else and you will never make the same mistake thanks to this experience."
"I just... every time I'm sitting back in our... my apartment I think of him. I can't help blaming myself."
"Why don't the two of you stay together for a while?" Heavy suggested, "It's not like you aren't friends with benefits anyway and not being in an empty room alone might help."
Cromach shook his head but Choking nodded.
"Hey, not a bad idea. It's not as if I have no experience in fixing broken guys," she nudged the griffon.
"I don't know... it feels like I'm betraying him."
"Pfff," Darky waved her hoof, "And sitting here being miserable doesn't? He wanted ya to be happy so ya can't just throw it away like this."
"Don't dwell on what will never be and just remember the good times," quoted Heavy.
"Hey, who said that?" Darky grinned and withered when both of them stared at her, "That was a joke, a joke. I listened to Blaze too from time to time. Stop looking at me like that!"
Cromach smiled weakly.
"Fine, I'll move in for a while. I wanted to get rid of my place for a while anyway and now I'm actually getting paid enough to afford something bigger."
"And I know a place that sells custom life-sized plushies," Heavy added. This time he was the focus of two scorching stares, "What? I gave Tio one of me to keep around in the camp."
Choking was glad to see the conversation shift elsewhere.
"Is he still staying with his unit in Ponyville?"
"Well, Chrysalis' order to monitor the Bearers is still in order and prince Shining Armor keeps visiting from time to time to play whatever the pen and paper thingy is called."
"Damp cellars and firebreathing lizards or something," Darky coughed, admitting said knowledge.
"Yeah, that. They play it live, Tio changes into the monsters and Shining fights him. Starlight does the succubi and desire demons while Shadowstep does the boss fights."
"Princess Cadance doesn't object?"
"I'm not sure Shining told her about how he wrestled the six-breasted hippogriff broodmother with his bare hooves... in blueberry jello. Anyway, it's not like anypony actually has a chance with the prince, he loves his wife way too much."
"So, just a little bit of spice in their lives."
Not for the first time Cromach wondered about the strangeness of living among ponies but, as he listened to Heavy's story about Shining subduing the enchantress of Zanzebra in her tentacle pit, he suddenly didn't feel the need to order another drink.
Piles of skulls filled a cavern on top of an unnamed mountain. A black alicorn was resting atop one of them, carefully observing multiple squares with flickering images floating in mid-air around him. As he stretched and turned around to find a better position the bones didn't crack or break but just shifted into a comfortable to observation this place wasn't the underworld although the decor and the company hinted at it.
Void moved his hoof and some of the images floated away and disappeared while the others sat still. Something felt off. It was simple enough to spot the disturbance in Zebrica but there was nothing he could do about it. Void didn't have an army at his disposal and he couldn't rely on his power unless attacked directly. His best choice was to steer events towards a favourable engagement between what would become Nightmare's army and whoever was willing to defend the world of living.
The images around him showed various parts of Equus where Nightmare's agents began their campaign to gather forces which would eventually head... where? To Equestria, obviously. Zebrica was too shattered to form a united front against the growing army. The Griffon Empire was crippled by politics to decide quickly enough on a reasonable course of action. The northern minotaur tribes were barely civilized enough to understand the threat and no other faction was strong enough to fight. Equestria would have to be the final stand unless he found a way to stop things before they got serious.
There was one thing he could do though. Nightmare wasn't subtle in its efforts and its agents were hotpots of dark magic and divine power. Even if he was using his sealed form he should be enough to clear all but the strongest agents and at least give Nightmare only one way to attack. Direct threat, although devastating, was still easier to read and react to than multiple revolutions and areas of growing corruption. Void's form changed from a blackfire alicorn into a purple-maned black unicorn and he stood up and cracked his neck.
Before he could teleport outside though something nudged his neck gently. He smiled and looked at a golden alicorn with platinum mane whose thin black streaks in her coat made it look like changeling armor. Scream licked his face as his muzzle booped hers.
Void might forget friends and he might forget allies but in front of him there was the one and only reason he wasn't allowed to fail.
The grim reaper picked his metaphorical scythe up and disappeared.
Scream just tilted her head as her lover suddenly wasn't there. She was calm. Even in her simple mind she knew he went away and came back often. He always came back to her.
"Well well well," a voice laughed from the entrance to the cavern, "The timing couldn't have been better."