“No! Please, I beg you! I’ll do anything, just don’t—”
Another filly sacrificed. I’ve stopped counting them a while ago. My attention was better spent on the prison door. Being trapped inside, I couldn’t help the foals, but I was sure there was a way out, I just had to find it.
Iron bars were mounted to the walls to form a prison cell. This must have been just one of many carved caverns, as they haven’t come here to take anypony, yet they’ve dragged off so many foals down the corridor.
The wall was weak near the bolts where iron doors were mounted, but I didn’t have the right tools for the job. It would take me days to break through using just my hooves.
If only I could find something hard to offer me some torque against the wall. I looked back on the sorry bunch of fellow foals.
They were hugging each other in the corner on the far side of the cell. The torchlight was shining inside through the bars. They stayed in the false protection of the flickering shadows, trying to remain unnoticed. Not an easy thing to do when you’re a pony, sparkling in the dimmest of lights.
All ten of us were foals, but unlike me, the nine of them were Earth ponies. Besides their natural shiny coats, they owned nothing. Only I wore a pendant around my neck. In the whole cell, there was nothing I could turn into a tool. I needed to find a different plan to escape.
If I used the same tactic as them, I would probably be sacrificed last. Due to my black coat, I sparkled the least and could just lean my back against the wall, thus hiding my red tail and mane. After closing my glowing red eyes, I could blend with the shadows almost perfectly. In the end, however, I would still get sacrificed. Hiding in the cell was not the right solution.
It would be helpful if I could figure out why I had been brought here, but I didn’t have much to go on. I didn’t remember anything from before and I had only a few clues about the past events. Waking up on the stony floor of the cell was my first memory. I didn’t know any of the fellow inmates, nor anypony that the guards dragged down the corridor to the slaughter. I wasn’t the only one with a damaged head. Nopony else knew one another or remembered anything from before, either. It was like our minds were wiped clean.
The guards, however, seemed to be able to recall events from the past. They were talking about the return of the Crystal Empire and bringing back King Sombra. Speaking in anger about the invading forces from Equestria, they said that only by bringing back the rightful king could they hope to establish their rule from a thousand years ago.
They seemed motivated; I hoped to use that against them. Despite not remembering anything from my past, it was clear that I was more courageous than the whimpering foals that were trapped with me in the cell.
My flank was blank, just like theirs were, but I didn’t let that bring me down. I knew what my purpose was in the situation, even without my cutie mark telling me of my destiny. I was set on finding a way out, no matter what.
Looking at the pendant around my neck, I wondered why I had it and if I could use it in any way. The sides were charred and the middle bent. It didn’t seem sturdy enough to be of any use in breaking out of the cell.
As I opened it, pictures of a red mare and a black stallion caught my attention.
“Is that your mom and dad?” asked a white foal as she stepped closer to me. She pointed her hoof at my opened pendent.
“I don’t know, but I assume that they are.”
“Do you think they’ll come and rescue you?”
“I believe they cared for me, but I don’t think they will come. Judging from my bruises, I think I was dragged away from them by force. If they couldn’t help me then, they probably can’t help me now.”
“There’s no hope for us, is there?” She bowed her head as her ears flattened.
She turned to me for hope and I failed her. I could see that she was about to start crying. If she did, the sadness would spread, and the rest of the foals would start whimpering also. I didn’t want to see the whole cell turning into a chamber of moaning again.
They needed something to hold on to. I needed it too, but I couldn’t let them see it. Instead, I decided to become a beacon of hope that they could put their trust onto. If we are to save ourselves, it will be through courage, not desperation.
“Hope is the one thing we have on our side. Look.” I closed the pendant and showed it to her. ”This necklace has been through wear and tear, yet it still clings on to me. I too will hold on, and break free, no matter the odds. I won’t let my life go to waste, and this pendant shall serve as a reminder of that.”
“But … There is no way out of here.”
“There’s always a way. I’ll find it!”
“What about the rest of us?”
I heard several hoofsteps echoing in the distance. “Don’t you worry, filly. I’ll make sure that nothing bad happens to you, I promise!”
She looked up to me with her big eyes as I drew my head closer to hers. My gaze captivated her and she stopped shaking.
I bowed my head and let the golden chain slide up my neck and over my head. Swooping it off with my hoof, I held it in front of me and read a part of my engraved name that was still legible. “I, Ravenblood Flame Blaze Shadow Fire Heart Nightshade”—looking over to the group of innocents at the wall, I raised my head—“will save you all!”
Wrapping the necklace around filly’s neck, I reassuringly smiled at her. “Here, I want you to hold onto my pendant for a little while. Know, that it’s very precious to me because it’s the only thing I have from my past. You can be damn sure I’ll want it back!” I winked at her.
I nodded and smiled at her, then turned around, facing the barred door.
“What are you doing?” asked the filly. “The door is locked.”
The sound of hoofsteps rustled my feathers. They were drawing near. I spotted two guards coming from around the cave’s turn. Unicorn ponies, both wearing black metal armor, approached toward the cell. “I’ll make them open it.”
After swiveling my ears forward, I could hear another set of hoofsteps coming from behind them. I figured there were three ponies altogether.
If I was going to solve this, I first had to break free from the cell. After that, I planned to poke at them for some information that I could use against them.
From behind me, I heard the little filly run to the other foals at the wall. Besides saving myself, I wanted to help out the fellow inmates, too. They surely didn’t deserve any of this. First thing’s first, though.
“Any volunteers?” jested one guard.
They both laughed.
“Just me!” I leaned forehooves on the barred door.
The laughter stopped. That seemed to catch their attention. I grinned.
The guards stepped aside as an unarmored white mare moved between them to the bars.
She too was a Unicorn, but she was very different from them. Her coat wasn’t sparkling at all. She must have come down with some really bad disease to lose all the sparkling. She wasn’t acting like she was sick, though.
“You’re actually volunteering?” she asked.
“Yeah, this cell is boring. I want some action.”
She magically floated a key into the lock on the bar doors. “Well, I hope we can provide some for you.”
The guards laughed again.
I knew I would need to gain their trust if I wanted to gather more information on them, and find a way to outsmart them. The only way to do that was to become more than just another victim in their eyes. I took a step back from the bars.
The lock clicked and the door opened.
I jumped through the opening and slid through their legs.
Looking back at them, I saw that their horns were glowing.
Having had seen them drag foals with their magic without any strain, I knew I couldn’t run away from them. They would just levitate me up then haul me the rest of the way down the corridor.
I stopped in my tracks and jumped repeatedly on the spot. “Finally, some room to stretch my legs.”
The glow on their horns dissipated.
Approaching the sick mare, who seemed to be in charge, I asked, “So, which way to the action room?”
The guards raised their eyebrows as they looked at each other.
The mare leaned down to me. “You do know we’re going to kill you, little foal, don’t you?”
Not if I have any say in it! I grinned at her. “I’ve never died before.”
A guard facehoofed.
I started walking backward toward the direction screams had been coming from when I had been stuck in the cell. “Don’t keep me waiting, guys!”
The mare sighed. “You’ll have to excuse us, little colt. We’ve been up the whole day and night. We’re in desperate need of new members, but we just don’t have time to go through official recruiting procedure.“
They started to move toward me along the dark corridor. The mare took point. “You may think we’re having fun, but this has been quite strenuous on all of us. Even monsters need rest, you know.”
“I don’t think you’re a monster. There’s always a reason behind everything. I bet you’re just trying to make do.” I picked up my pace to match the mare’s. “What’s your name?”
She glanced at me, then faced forward. “Killjoy.”
“Hey, Killjoy!” I poked the side of her chest with my hoof. ”Wanna race me to the slaughter room?” I stomped my hooves on the ground.
Her horn lit up. She forcefully nodded toward me, and a blast of energy burst forth.
The force smashed me against the wall. Stone edges pinched against my back. Clenching my teeth, I tried to hide my pain from her. I lifted up my head from my chest and looked straight into her eyes.
Half-closing her eyelids, she raised her head and levitated me up toward the ceiling. “Did anypony ever tell you how annoying you are?” she asked, frowning.
I leaned my forehooves behind my back, against the wall. Pushing myself forward, I positioned my head snout to snout with hers. “You’re the one who knocked on my barred door; now face the consequence that is me!” I grinned at her.
“Ugh!” She dropped me on the ground and started walking down the corridor again.
I jumped on my hooves and skipped sideways by her. “So, how are you gonna do me?”
She stopped and faced me. “Look, you pest! We don’t enjoy doing this as much as you seem to. We only joke around from time to time to keep us sane. We’d all have snapped by now if we didn’t have some outlet.
“We’re in a very difficult position. If we could bring back our King without any bloodshed we would, but we’ve run out of options. Our empire is about to be invaded. Celestia of Equestria has sent her goons to gain control of our capital. Only our King can save us now, but he’s dead. She killed him a thousand years ago! If we don’t bring him back, she’ll probably banish all of the Crystal ponies to the Moon.”
Her eyes started to tear up. “I won’t let that happen. I’ve served you Crystal ponies all my life, and I’ll protect you by any means necessary, even if it means sacrificing a few of you to save the empire.”
I stood up on my hind legs and put my hoof on her shoulder. “I thought you had a good reason for doing this, but I had no idea it was this important. I wish there was something more I could do for you all.” I looked at her and raised my eyebrows.
“I wish we had more ponies with your kind of spirit.” She bowed her head. “They’re all full of words when it comes to protecting our kingdom, but when we try to test their determination, they curl their tails or even directly oppose us. It’s really hard to get new members for the cause.”
She left a conversational opening for me and I took it. I knew what she wanted to hear. “I want my death to be meaningful. Like giving up my life for the cause or something like that.”
“You really are something, aren’t you?” She looked up to me.
“Tell me, what needs to be done?” I removed my hoof from her shoulder and stood on all four legs again.
“The whole kingdom is in disarray. Most ponies lost their memories and are in no condition to protect our kingdom. Especially since the King isn’t around to—motivate them.”
I turned and trotted forward.
She followed me. “Ours is an elite group. Only the bravest of Unicorns capable of leading can become involved in the King’s Guard.”
I slowed down and raised my foreleg. “So, only ponies that have a horn, like the one I have?.” I poked my hoof on a bony surface.
“Right...” she muttered.
Putting my foreleg down, I quickened my pace, marching us forward.
“It must feel weird, not being able to recall anything from your past,” she said. “The wards in this lair protected us from losing our memories. It’s funny that I know more about you, then you do.”
I stopped in my tracks. “You know who I am?”
“You are more special than you think. You’re not just a Unicorn. What you are is an Alicorn.”
“An Alicorn? ’Cause of these?” I spread out my wings and flapped my primaries.
“That and the power potential within you. Ponies tried to keep your existence a secret from us, but nothing could stay hidden from King Sombra. After all, he had well-established methods to help ponies come in touch with their inner honesty.”
“Why would anyone want to hide me?” I slowed down and walked alongside Killjoy.
“King Sombra was reasonable and practical. He tried to establish a kingdom where everypony could be involved. However, some ponies didn’t want to be a part of something bigger than them. They were lazy and wanted to sate their own desires, disregarding the greater good.
“We tried to motivate them the best we could, but their laziness spread like a disease. Rebel groups formed almost faster than we could annihilate them.
“Out of the blue, things suddenly turned for the better, and ponies didn’t complain so much anymore. It took us a while before we found out the cause behind their raised obedience. You were the reason for it.”
“What did I do?” I asked.
“Nothing. You were just born. The rebel group had used forbidden and detestable white magic to give rise to you. They had bred you in secrecy for one purpose only—to assassinate King Sombra and bring chaos into the kingdom of order.
“It wasn’t just us motivating everypony, anymore. They were encouraged by the last rebel group to stay compliant, and to draw as little attention as possible. All the rest of the terrorist cells were disbanded, with intent to lower our guard until the time you were ready.
“The resistance leaders wanted to play us with their foolish plan. They bet everything on it and convinced the populace to not endanger it in any way. Their empty promises helped us kept the commoners at bay. For the most part, however, it was the false hope that you sparked in the hearts of everypony that turned them docile. Their minds focused more on making up new inspirational names for you than finding ways of abandoning the orderly community. They patiently endured as they waited for their savior—bearer of laziness and selfish content.”
“I had the potential be all that?”
“Well, no. We were tracking your progress throughout your childhood. The only reason we let you live was the motivation that you inspired in the servant ponies. We had the most productive day when rumor spread through the pony population that you had cast your first spell. Ponies’ hope for the future laziness—freedom, they called it—kept them inspired, despite their daily struggles.”
“Why did you capture me then?”
“Most of our units were outside when the memory erasing spell hit. There just aren’t enough of us left to keep the order in Crystal Empire and fight off the invading force from Equestria, at the same time.
“With our numbers cut thin, there was a possibility that we would lose track of you, so we brought you here for safekeeping.
“None of it matters now, though. The King is the only one that can protect us at this point. Without him, below average productivity of the pony population is the least of our concerns. Luckily, we have the means to bring him back.”
“Yes, they are like beacons in the netherworld. They draw attention of the spirits. Blank-flank foals with yet unfulfilled life potential have extra potency. Their destinies are not yet bound, and can be deformed for a different purpose.
“However, a mere glimmer of a passing soul in the void is not enough for our plan to come to fruition. We need to end enough lives in succession to create a rip in the very fabric that separates this world from the next one.”
I turned to her. “Then our King can return and protect us?”
“That’s right. I’m glad to hear you support our cause.” She nodded to the big opened door on the side of the corridor.
The two guards stopped in the corridor. They positioned themselves at the sides of the door. Killjoy and I entered the hall alone.
There were more than a hundred torches mounted on the walls. Metal bars covered the floor in the middle of the room. A rectangular stone table rested on top of them with blood-stained restrains leading from the corners. In the back of the room lay a big pile of bodies.
I cringed at the sight, but I couldn’t let it get to me. I had to refrain from showing any weakness.
“I know this all looks scary to you, but it’s just what it takes,” Killjoy said.
I forced my muscles to relax. I had to sink to their level if I was going to beat them at their own game. “I understand.”
The corners of her mouth turned up. “You’ve really impressed me, brave pony, and that’s no easy feat.”
“This is bigger than all of us. We need to work together for the good of the cause.” I nodded at her suggestively.
“I agree with you completely. Here, let me introduce you to somepony.”
We walked on the floor of metal bars. I saw a pool of blood through the slits.
“I wish we had more members like you.” Putting her hoof on my shoulder, she looked at the pony by the stone table.
He was dressed in crude brown robes stained with blood. Leaning his head sideways, he glanced at me.
“Death Stroke, meet the new blood that will help us in our crusade,” said Killjoy
He looked at her and she nodded at him.
Killjoy turned to me. “Death Stroke is a very good friend of mine. He sacrificed more for the cause than anypony else. Literally.”
“Take a seat, young one.” He pointed to the stone table.
The blood on the stone was already hard, so it wasn’t too gross when I climbed up.
Killjoy waved her hoof at Death Stroke and took a few steps toward the back of the room.
He followed her.
She waved her head in my direction then whispered something in his ear.
“Really? Well, that’s a pleasant surprise.” He smiled. “I trust your judgment completely.” He looked at me. “I’ll do as you ask of me, Killjoy.”
She smiled at me, then walked to the exit. “I’ll see you soon.”
Death Stroke trotted toward me.
I waved my hind legs alternately back and forth off the edge of the table. “What was that about?”
“It was a private conversation!”
“Oh, come on, what did she say?”
“Fine, I’ll tell you. I guess there’s no point in keeping secrets between us anymore. We’re all honest ponies here if nothing else. After the initiation tests, we learn to trust each other with our lives. Being honest comes as second nature when you know that the dark family has accepted you.”
Right there. That was a hint of a future interaction with me. Somepony might have missed this sign, but not me. He had betrayed himself, and there was nothing to fear anymore. I have gained their trust, and with that, the first part of my plan was almost complete. It was only a matter of time before they let their guard down. I just needed to play my part for a little bit longer, and then I could put a stop to all the sacrifices for good.
I grinned at the thought of my nearing victory. My sense of perception and determination was what made me different from the other ponies. It made me the winner.
“Are you sure you aren’t scared little foal?” He grabbed the knife from the edge of the table in his teeth and raised his eyebrows as he looked at me.
“I’m not scared. Nothing can scare me!”
I put my forelegs behind me and leaned back on them. My lips drew into a smile as I observed his attempts to scare me. The obvious charade initiation to their ranks was amusing me.
He swung his head.
The knife pierced my chest.
My jaw dropped, but no sounds came out of my mouth. The pain spread out from within my girth.
Letting go of the knife embedded in me, he stood up on his hind legs.
I leaned forward, grabbing the knife with my forehooves. It was in me—all the way to the handle. I opened my eyelids wide and stared at Death Stroke.
Leaning on the sacrificial table with one forehoof he drew closer and caressed my head with the other hoof. Looking into my eyes, he spoke softly. “Killjoy invited me to have lunch with her after you die. I think she likes me.”
I bowed my head. My vision blurred.
As my forelegs slid from the knife, a tear fell from my eye onto my hind leg and drifted across my flank.
The coat color on my plot started to change. A shape formed where the tear had fallen. It was an image of a black-coated head with a red horn.
The pool of blood beneath us started to boil.
Death Stroke turned toward the exit and yelled, “Hey, Killjoy, I think we have a winner!”
A black cloud seeped out through the steaming blood. The edge of the smoke morphed into a head. My newly-formed cutie mark matched the face in front of me exactly.
My vision was narrowing.
I wasn’t just afraid, anymore; I was terrified.