Imperius

Road of No Release Chapter 1: Try Jumping

Aug 27th, 2014
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  1. >”Wilt thou not jump?”
  2. >The voice might have startled you once or perhaps brought you relief, but now it barely registers.
  3. >As you gaze into the yawning abyss before you your muddled mind sluggishly registers the words, struggling to come up with an answer.
  4. “I’ve only just gotten here,” you murmur.
  5. >”Thou hast dwelt within this painted world for near a decade, brave knight.”
  6. Your armor creaks as you shift your attention to your companion. “Have I? I feel as though I’ve only just arrived.”
  7. >Priscilla’s scaled brows furrow in concern. “Dost thou not recall? For ten years I have kept thy company whilst thou persisted in this world.”
  8. You return your gaze to the emptiness below. “No. I… I do not recall. It feels as though only moments ago I walked the streets of… I cannot even recall that beautiful city’s name.”
  9. >”Canst thou remember why thou ventured here?”
  10. >Frustration gnaws at you as you ponder the question. Why are you here? Where is here?
  11. “I… cannot.” You breathe a sigh of frustration as the realization dawns.
  12. >Two great hands come to rest upon your shoulders, the weight strangely comforting.
  13. >”Cursed knight, devoid of purpose, thy fire is reduced to mere embers. Thy will hast finally faltered.”
  14. “My will?”
  15. >”Thy humanity is all but lost, thine own self gone to dust. I beg thee, o knight, leave this place and find purpose once more. Please, plunge down from the plank.”
  16. >As you ponder the abyss so too do you ponder her words. It takes time to make sense of them, as far gone as you are, but the truth in them rings clear.
  17. “I will find no purpose there. There is nothing left for me in that place but the ashes of greater mens’ glory. I have nothing.”
  18.  
  19. >Slowly the hands upon your shoulders slide forward to cross over your chest and you find yourself pulled into Priscilla’s warm embrace. An image of a golden liar crosses your mind.
  20. >”Do not despair, it will be thy undoing.”
  21. “How can I not? What I had was not my own, I was not chosen.”
  22. >”Then thou must choose thyself. None can hand thee thy fate.”
  23. “Fate,” you spit the word. “The serpent lied to me, the undead have no fate.”
  24. >”All that live have a fate, and though I cannot speak for thee I know that thy fate is not to hollow. Thou art possessed of a greatness that cannot be wasted here.”
  25. “Where then? I will not go back to that place were fathers’ sins are inherited by their sons. I cannot look upon that sun again knowing that another suffers in my place to make it shine.”
  26. >For a while silence is all that passes between you and you think of nothing but the arms about you.
  27. >“I once told thee that thou wouldst be unrequited if thou sought me. It was a falsehood I spoke then. Though thou mayest be wrathful, thou art possessed of a kind and gentle soul and have visited no hurt upon me or this world.”
  28. “I could never hurt you. You’re one of the few to have ever shown me any kindness on my journey. I only want to stay here.”
  29. >The embrace tightens a fraction. “I love thee, cursed knight, and it is for the love I bear thee that I cannot abide by this. I will not allow thee to hollow within my sight.”
  30.  
  31. >You raise a hand to hold one of the arms around you, gripping tight to the last shred of sanity that she represents to you. A shudder passes through you as you contemplate what it would mean if you were to succumb to the curse, and what it might mean for Priscilla.
  32. “It would pain me to leave, but the thought that I might seek to harm you after death hurts all the more. I will do whatever you ask of me.”
  33. >Slowly Priscilla’s hands draw back to rest on your shoulders once more, a gentle pressure urging you to turn. With neither the strength nor the will to resist, you give in.
  34. >She turns you to face her, her hands raising to gently grasp your helm.
  35. You raise a hand up to stop her. “Don’t.”
  36. >She remains undeterred and with a grace that belies her great size she lifts it from your head, exposing your face to the light for the first time in years.
  37. >With your flesh so withered and dead you appear for all the world as a walking corpse, though in truth that’s not far off.
  38. >You angle your gaze at the ground, staring at the stone in shame. The last of your humanity has long since faded and it pains you to allow Priscilla to see you in such a state.
  39. >Priscilla brings a finger up under your chin and raises your head up to lock eyes with her.
  40. >She kneels down to bring herself closer to your level, but the giantess’s stature is such that even on her knees she still casts you in shadow.
  41. >Closing the distance between you, she plants a light kiss upon your withered lips.
  42.  
  43. >As she lingers you notice a warmth beginning to permeate your being, the soul-hunger inherent to all undead abating slightly in its wake.
  44. >When she pulls away you can’t help but notice you feel just a little more whole, your thoughts a little less muddled.
  45. “What…?”
  46. >”I bestow unto thee a shard of my soul. Know that I shalt be with thee for whatever trials thou shalt face, that my love for thee might carry thee through thy times of hardship.”
  47. >The warmth of her soul spreads through you, though a far cry from the life giving humanity you hunger for, it’s enough to restore you to your senses. For now at least.
  48. >”My knight so brave, I wouldst ask thee to jump.”
  49. “That world-”
  50. >”Is not the world thou shalt be returned to. Shouldst thou plunge from the plank thou shalt find a land more fitting to thy gentle soul. Thou shalt find a home and, fate willing, a purpose.”
  51. >Anxiety fills you as you gaze back over your shoulder at the blackness of the pit.
  52. >You attempt to give voice to your thoughts, but as you return your gaze to Priscilla she replaces your helm upon you head, its comforting confines bringing you a sense of reassurance.
  53. >”I beg thee, do me this one kindness.”
  54. >With painful slowness you pull away from her touch and turn to face the void.
  55. “I don’t want to go,” you say more to yourself than Priscilla.
  56. >You feel the reassuring weight of her hand upon your shoulder.
  57. >“I beg thee, my knight. Jump.”
  58. >You close your eyes and lean forward, Priscilla’s hands slipping free of your shoulder. Darkness rushes up to meet you, and then all you know is darkness.
  59.  
  60. >Consciousness returns slowly to you and you can’t help but silently wish for just a few more moments of peaceful oblivion.
  61. >Unfortunately your wishes fail to keep the encroaching wakefulness at bay, however you find your efforts further foiled by a feminine voice at the edge of your hearing.
  62. >The presence of the voice catches your interest, reminding you that you aren’t actually alone.
  63. “Priscilla…” the word escapes as little more than a tired groan, but you notice the the other has been stilled by it.
  64. >For a moment you discern nothing but silence and you begin to wonder if there was ever a voice at all. As perilously close to hollowing as you are it wouldn’t surprise you to find yourself hearing voices were there are none.
  65. “Priscilla?” you groan again, a bit louder this time.
  66. >Again you are greeted by silence, but then after a moment the voice returns.
  67. >”Um, I’m sorry, but who’s Priscilla?”
  68. >Who’s Priscilla? Has she forgotten her own name? But she isn’t undead, where it might be expected of one in your condition, Priscilla has no reason to be so forgetful.
  69. >As your mind slowly drags itself towards wakefulness a gear turns and thoughts connect.
  70. >It must not be Priscilla.
  71. >Whatever drowsiness remains evaporates in the face of that one thought.
  72. >Energy surges through your sleep-numbed limbs and your eyes which only moments ago felt like lead bricks fly open as you lurch upwards, grabbing for the hilt of your sword as you do.
  73. >Though you fumble slightly, the blade clears its scabbard in moments, your eyes scanning for signs of danger.
  74. >Six humans surround you, each female and living as far as you can tell. They back away in fright as you level the point of your blade at them.
  75. “Who are you?” you demand sharply, raising yourself from the ground and grabbing for your shield.
  76.  
  77. >A girl with dark purple hair bedecked in the robes of a mage steps forward, hands held up in a placating gesture.
  78. >”My name is Twilight Sparkle, and we don’t mean you any harm, sir knight. We just found you lying here and wanted to make sure you were alright.”
  79. >As much as you’d like to believe that, past experience has taught you to be skeptical of anyone claiming to help.
  80. “Are you undead? Whom do you serve?”
  81. >Twilight gives you an odd look. “No, I assure you, we’re all very much alive. And we serve the Princess of the Sun, Celestia.”
  82. >Servants of the Princess of Sunlight? This puts you significantly more at ease, as much thoughts of a leonine dragon slayer might suggest otherwise. Was that her name though? Perhaps it is another sign of your ailing mind that you cannot even remember the names of the gods.
  83. >You lower your blade but make no move to sheathe it.
  84. “I too serve the sun. Followers of the daughter of sunlight are always welcome companions.”
  85. >The girls all seem to visibly relax at your words, though the pink-haired one’s cheerful demeanor remains constant.
  86. >”I’m glad to hear that. Now what are you doing this far into the Everfree? Are you part of the Royal Guard?”
  87. >”I am not, I’m just a simple knight. As to why I’m here, I couldn’t say. My last memories are of being somewhere else, I am not at all sure where I am, truthfully.”
  88. >”Well right now you’re in Everfree Forest,” she explains. “A particularly dangerous place to be traveling alone, I might add.”
  89.  
  90. “I’ve never heard of this forest.”
  91. >This troubles you; is this another sign of your sanity slipping or have you truly never been bere? It’s difficult to tell sometimes.
  92. >”Do you know of Equestria, at least?”
  93. “I do not.” Should you?
  94. >Twilight grows all the more curious with each answer you provide. “Where are you from?”
  95. “I… do not recall.” What was your own homeland’s name? You cannot remember even that much.
  96. >”Do you remember your name?” she asks after an odd pause.
  97. “I… My name is…”
  98. >What is your name?
  99. >Your look of exasperation is missed behind your visor, and you find yourself glad that they are unable to see.
  100. “I do not know.”
  101. >A girl with blue-feathered wings and hair of every color of the rainbow steps forward, eyeing you critically. “I don’t like this, I bet he’s one of Nightmare Moon’s cronies. He’s probably a spy or something.”
  102. >”Ya can’t just accuse everyone of bein’ a spy, ya know,” says a girl with a wide brimmed hat and a drawl in her voice.
  103. >”Um, I don’t think he’s a spy.” This one has hair of a bright pink, with yellow wings protruding from her back that flutter nervously as she speaks.
  104. >Twilight’s expression retains its curiosity, but you see a glimmer a skepticism enter her eyes and the blue-winged girl’s interjection.
  105. >”I have to admit that this is a little odd. How do we know you’re not just trying to trick us?”
  106. >The inability to pull forth any useful information frustrates you, and it is only compiled by this interrogation. You hardly remember yourself as it is.
  107. “I’ve told you as much as I know, if you do not trust me then kill me and be done with it.”
  108.  
  109. >”Cool your jets, buddy,” the chromatic girl says, hands raised. “Nobody’s thinking anything like that.”
  110. >“We wouldn’t kill you, we’re just a little skeptical is all!” Twilight says, eyes wide at the implication. “Please, just try to tell us as much as you can.”
  111. “I have told you everything I remember. I am a warrior in service to the sun and I find myself in a strange land that I do not know.”
  112. >”You said a name when you woke up,” offers a girl in a white dress. “‘Priscilla’. Does that mean anything to you?”
  113. “Priscilla,” you repeat. “Yes, I know that name.” You remember Priscilla and her painted world, but little else.
  114. >”Is that a girl’s name? A friend of yours maybe?” the timid girl questions you.
  115. You take a moment to think. “Yes. Priscilla was… is a good friend. She was my companion for many years. My most recent memories are of her.”
  116. >And falling.
  117. “I think… I think she sent me here.”
  118. >But why?
  119. “To... find my purpose, she said.”
  120. >”Your purpose?” Twilight asks.
  121. “Yes. I… I think I’m here to do something.”
  122. >Or fight something.
  123. >Piecing your fragmented memories together gives you more perspective on your situation. Priscilla wanted you to find a purpose here, and here you meet these girls in service to the sun. Your thoughts turn to an old friend; a warrior of the sun like yourself, but whose soul shone infinitely brighter.
  124. “I believe I am here to aid you,” you surmise. “Would you accept my help?”
  125. >The girls glance at each other questioningly, clearly trying to decide whether to take you at your word.
  126. >Suddenly the silence is broken by the girl with a tangled mess of pink hair. “I like him, he’s in.”
  127.  
  128. >”Are you sure about this Pinkie?” Twilight asks apprehensively.
  129. >”Yep. He’s good people, trust me.”
  130. >The Rainbow-haired girl cocks an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? And you can tell that from…?”
  131. >”Don’t worry about it,” she chirps cheerfully.
  132. >The girl with the hat shrugs nonchalantly and reaches a hand out to you. “Good enough fer me. Welcome ta the crew, partner, name’s Applejack.”
  133. >Slowly you sheathe your blade and reach out to clasp hands. As she gives your hand a firm shake you can’t help but notice how she seems to lock eyes with you even with your visor down.
  134. >”Fer what it’s worth I believe ya, you don’t seem much the lyin’ type.”
  135. “My thanks, I’m afraid I have no name to offer in return though, my memory fails me.”
  136. >“Oh think nothing of it,” says the girl in the dress as she takes an eager step forward. “A pleasure to meet you, sir knight, I’m Rarity.” She gives a quick curtsey as she greets you.
  137. >”Yeah, yeah, that’s great, but this is gonna take forever if we keep this up.” The girl points to herself and then to the others in turn. “I’m Rainbow Dash, and this is Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy.”
  138. >Fluttershy squeaks out a quick “Hi,” as Rainbow’s finger falls on her while Pinkie just smiles and waves.
  139. >”Now can we get moving? We’ve got stuff to do, remember?”
  140. >”Well if he’s coming along I suppose we should at least fill him in,” Twilight says.
  141. “That would be appreciated. What is the situation so far?”
  142. >Twilight takes a deep breath before she starts. ”A villain named Nightmare Moon has just returned from a thousand year banishment and she’s trying to throw the world into eternal night. We’re on our way to retrieve a set of relics that were used to defeat her last time.”
  143.  
  144. >Memories of a time long past float through your mind as you listen. The threat of a long darkness and a battle to restore the light; perhaps this is an opportunity to redeem yourself. Another preserved the light last time, perhaps this time it can be you.
  145. “Then on my honor as a warrior of the sun I shall aid you. I shall aid in in keeping the dark at bay.”
  146. >A malevolent laughter that seems to come from everywhere answers your oath, an unnatural gale picking up as it echoes through the forest.
  147. >Shadows leap from trees and shrubs and coalesce into a single point, rising from the ground and taking solidity as the laughter continues.
  148. >Your hand flies to the hilt of your blade and for a moment the laughter is drowned out by the scraping of steel as the sword clears its sheathe.
  149. >The darkness takes the form of a woman clad in shining silver armor, two great black wings unfurling behind her. Her billowing hair is pure midnight and the light of madness blazes in her serpentine eyes.
  150. >”Nightmare Moon,” you hear Twilight whisper.
  151. >So the enemy makes itself seen, with any luck this may make your job a measure simpler.
  152. >”Put your blade away, child, it won’t help you,” the villain mocks. “You’ll fall on it before you manage to harm me, I think.”
  153. >”You’re not going to win, Nightmare,” Twilight declares defiantly. “We know how to beat you.”
  154. >But you aren’t ready, and she clearly knows that.
  155. >For her part Nightmare takes no notice of Twilight, her gaze firmly fixed upon you, a sort of amusement in her eyes.
  156. >”The task set before you is a hopeless one. Walk away cursed knight, you are not fated to be part of this struggle.”
  157. >Fate, that word again.
  158.  
  159. “Neither gods or men may know the fate of the undead, it is ours alone to write.”
  160. >”Write it far from here, this is not your story.”
  161. “Would that I could, I am tired of fighting and I am weary of death.”
  162. >”You need only walk away and be done with it if that is your wish. You can have peace.”
  163. “If I walk away now I will never know peace. I have nothing, battle and my faith are all that is left to me.”
  164. >”This is one battle that you will not survive,” she warns. “Why risk your life when there are others to fight in your stead?”
  165. “Because I do not fear death, and so long as I may stand I will fight to keep the fire burning. I shall not see it snuffed out by the darkness.”
  166. >Those terrible eyes narrow in annoyance. “The long night has come and none may stop its passing, one knight will make no difference. Fight if you so desire, but you will fall.”
  167. “Then I will stand up and continue to fight. So long as I am able I will defy you.”
  168. >While you exchange words with your new adversary a sort of clarity starts to come over you. The haze upon your mind begins to recede and stagnant blood begins to pulse as your withered heart thumps in your chest.
  169. >”Very well then, knight, you’ve made your choice. You’re part of the game now; you’re cursed, you’re damned.”
  170. “Always will the gods play their games with mortal lives, but just as with everything else so too can the gods die. This curse of mine will be your undoing, and by the coming morn I shall praise the sun once more.”
  171.  
  172. >”If this is your wish then I will not deny you, but know that I offered you a way out. Remember that when tomorrow dawns in darkness and you all lay broken at my feet.”
  173. “Come then, demon, if you are so confident. Let it be ended here and now.”
  174. >Nightmare chuckles. “Now where would the fun be in that? I am nothing if not generous, by all means carry on with your fool’s errand. The night is still so young.”
  175. “Am I to believe that you would simply allow us free passage through the forest?”
  176. >The moon goddess laughs as though you’ve said something particularly funny. “Oh my no, of course not, my foolish little knight. I will haunt your every step, laughing at your pitiful struggles all the while.”
  177. “Your terms are acceptable. By your leave?”
  178. >The amusement returns to Nightmare’s visage as she holds out a hand to gesture to the forest before you. “Best of luck, my loyal subjects.”
  179. You cast a glance back at Twilight. “Which way to our destination?”
  180. >Twilight swallows nervously and nods towards where Nightmare blocks your path.
  181. >You regard the villainess through your visor for a long moment before returning your shield to your back and your sword to its sheath.
  182. >Foliage crunches beneath your armored feet as you stride purposefully up to Nightmare, coming to a stop when you’re barely a meter from her.
  183. >The two of you stare each other down as the moments tick on, the six girls behind you tense and watching with baited breath.
  184. >On a whim you raise a hand to your helm, flicking open your visor to give your newfound enemy a better look at her adversary.
  185. >Nightmare’s haughty arrogance briefly vanishes as she beholds your face, taking a step back as she recoils in shock.
  186. >”What are you?” she demands.
  187. >Another flick locks your visor back into place, obscuring your face once more.
  188. “I am cursed.”
  189.  
  190. >Without another word you shoulder past her to carry on through the forest leaving a shaken Nightmare to ponder the mistake she’s made.
  191. >With little idea of where to go you simply continue on down the path before you hoping the others find the nerve to follow.
  192. >After a short while the silence is broken by the flapping of wings, the girl called Rainbow Dash alighting on the ground beside you.
  193. >”As awesome as that was, I’d love to know what any of that even meant,” she says as she falls into step with you.
  194. >Twilight is next to catch up, appearing beside you in a burst of magic and favoring you with a quizzical look. ”I’d like to know the answer to that as well, actually.”
  195. >You maintain your silence until the other four rejoin you, taking the time to wonder at how to explain your situation to them.
  196. >Of what little you can recall about your home, one thing that stands out is the stigma the living place upon those afflicted with undeath. With so little knowledge of this land it’s difficult to guess at how they may react to it, though if Nightmare’s reaction was any indication it may be best to withhold a few details.
  197. >”What’s this curse you mentioned?” Twilight persists. “You mentioned it several times back there.”
  198. “It’s nothing you need trouble yourselves with. This curse is my own and I shall bear it as I always have.”
  199. >Your newfound companions hardly seem satisfied with your answer.
  200. >”There’s no such thing as curses,” Twilight replies in a tone of mild annoyance.
  201. >This irritates you more than it should.
  202. “I am glad to hear it, when the opportunity arises I shall return home to tell everyone that they need not fear the soulless husks that roam the world preying upon the living.”
  203.  
  204. >”Come again?”
  205. “It is the nature of my curse; one day I will lose my souls, my humanity, and my mind. That is the ultimate fate of all undead.”
  206. >The group is silent for a moment digesting what you’ve just told them, however the silence is soon broken by Rainbow.
  207. >”So what you’re telling us is that you’re a zombie?”
  208. “If that is your word for those fated to become one of the walking dead then yes, I suppose I am.”
  209. >”This is ridiculous, there’s no such thing as zombies or curses,” Twilight insists. “They’re just harmless, fictional tales told to frighten children.”
  210. >”I dunno, Twi’, I don’t think he’s lyin’.”
  211. >”I agree, what cause would he have to fabricate such a story?” Rarity adds.
  212. “It makes no difference whether you believe me or not, I only wish to aid you, I don’t require your belief in my story to do that. All you need do is point me at your enemy.”
  213. >”But why do you want to help us in the first place? You don’t even know us,” Fluttershy points out. “Um, not that we don’t appreciate it or anything.”
  214. >”You said something about a purpose, what does that mean?” Twilight presses you.
  215. “Those who lack purpose or hope succumb to the curse more quickly, helping you will give me purpose again and allow me to hold onto my sanity for a little longer.”
  216. >”So you’re only helping us because it benefits you?”
  217. “I am helping you because the only other way to resist the curse is to devour the souls of the living. I would rather that it not come to that.”
  218. >Shocked silence is the only answer you receive for a while as your companions try to think of a response.
  219. >”What do you mean by ‘devour the souls of the living’?” Twilight asks hesitantly.
  220. “I mean what I say. The only other way to reverse the process of hollowing is to slay the living and devour their souls and humanity. But I do not want it to come to that, I have seen enough death for one lifetime.”
  221.  
  222. >”Not long ago you couldn’t even remember your own name, how is it that you know so much about this supposed curse and so little about yourself?”
  223. >An irritated sigh escapes you as the girl continues her line of questioning. It’s not as though you can choose what to remember, coming so close to hollowing has all but stripped you bare.
  224. “What you must understand is that before you found me I was on the cusp of going hollow, I had given up all hope. My exchange with this Nightmare has… reinvigorated me. Even now the haze lifts from my mind and fragments of my past become clear, but it will take time to recover without the aid of souls. I truly wish I could tell you more, but at this point in time you know as much as I do.”
  225. >Twilight looks as though she wants to say something, but before she can utter a word a furious roar tears from the surrounding forest, seeming to come from everywhere at once.
  226. >The girls freeze in their tracks, eyes wide as they scan their surroundings for any sign of a threat.
  227. >”What on earth was that?” Rarity asks, a quaver of anxiety plain in her voice.
  228. >The roar sounds again, closer this time, and as you draw your blade the girl named Fluttershy speaks up.
  229. >"Oh, I believe that's a manticore," she remarks conversationally. "They're native to the Everfree, but they normally make their homes much deeper in. I wonder what one’s doing this far out.”
  230. >”Maybe it’s hungry,” Rainbow remarks.
  231. >It takes a moment to process the words, but Fluttershy quickly pales at the suggestion.
  232. >”Are we even capable of fighting a manticore?” Twilight asks.
  233. >”Lookin’ like we ain’t got any other choice,” Applejack says, her words punctuated with the cracking of her knuckles.
  234.  
  235. >”Fight a manticore? Are you mad?” Rarity exclaims in alarm. “I’m a tailor, not a fighter!”
  236. >”I’m a baker!” Pinkie adds helpfully.
  237. “I will draw the beast’s attention, strike when it’s vulnerable.”
  238. >The girls regard you as though you've gone mad, but any argument they might have put forth is immediately cut off as a gargantuan beast bursts from the surrounding foliage, placing itself squarely in your path.
  239. >The creature is easily six meters long and half as many tall, but has a familiar shape. Its partly leonine form closely resembling a half-remembered creature you once fought long ago in a distant land.
  240. >With the time for discussion now passed, you raise your shield and charge the beast.
  241. >One of the girls shouts something after you, but the words are lost, drowned out by the beast's challenging roar and the pulse thundering in your ears.
  242. >As you draw near the manticore takes a swipe at you, though just before it can connect you dive forward, rolling beneath the rending claws.
  243. >Without missing a beat you come up from your roll along the beast's side and lash out with your blade, scoring a hit and carving a long line of crimson along its ribs.
  244. >In that same instant you leap backwards and raise your shield, the manticore’s stinging tail missing you by inches and impaling the ground you’d just stood upon.
  245. >The tail retracts and the manticore whirls about to face you, a deadly claw lashing out at you.
  246. >Sparks fly as the beast’s claws rake silver lines across your shield’s faded face.
  247. >The force of the blow slides you back a short distance, dust flying as your armored heels dig shallow furrows in the ground, but your guard does not break.
  248. >While the manticore turns to face you Rainbow Dash darts by, the crack of fist upon flesh echoing loudly before she streaks off out of the beast’s reach.
  249. >As the beast reels from the blow Applejack steps in, delivering a solid right hook to the manticore’s head and sending it to the ground.
  250.  
  251. >You take the opportunity provided by your companions and leap forward, sword raised, fully intent on ending the fight here and now.
  252. >The breath is driven from your lungs as the manticore springs into unexpected action, leaping forward to meet you and driving its head into your stomach, sending you flying backwards to crash painfully into a tree.
  253. >Sensing your vulnerability it stalks slowly forward, wary but intent on finishing you.
  254. >Just then a fist sized rock connects with its head with a dull thud, but doing little more than aggravating it.
  255. >The manticore whirls to face the source of its irritation, the beast’s furious gaze fixing itself firmly upon Rarity.
  256. >Rarity freezes with terror, the second rock she’d been holding dropping from her limp grasp.
  257. >With a single beat of its bat-like wings the manticore propels itself towards a shrieking Rarity, though just before it collides with her a flash of pink darts by, carrying her out of danger.
  258. >Quickly losing interest in prey it can’t catch, it returns its attention to you just as you begin charging in for another attack.
  259. >Faster than you can react to it launches itself at you, crashing into you head on and pinning you beneath its claws.
  260. >As its fanged maw fills your vision your shield hand finds a small bundle of cloth on your belt and clenches tight.
  261. >A wave of holy force radiates outwards from you, lifting the manticore like a doll and hurling it away from you towards where Applejack stands.
  262. >Applejack brings both fists up under the beast’s chin in a furious dual uppercut sending it flying high into the air.
  263. >As the manticore reaches the apex of its flight Rainbow Dash streaks down from the sky, grabbing tight and carrying it straight into the ground.
  264.  
  265. >They collide with the earth with a thunderous crash, the impact sending great clouds of dust into the air and obscuring the aftermath.
  266. >You hoist yourself back to your feet, never taking your eyes off the settling dust cloud. Weapon clenched tight with anticipation, you begin to slowly creep forward.
  267. >You pause mid-stride, alerted by sudden movement within the cloud. A shape emerges, resolving into Rainbow and setting you slightly more at ease.
  268. >With a flap of her wings she propels herself away from the manticore, going to a knee in exhaustion as she lands before you.
  269. >Breathlessly she looks up at you, then back towards where the beast lay. As the dust settles you regain vision of your adversary, the manticore slowly regaining its feet and casting a glare your way.
  270. >The manticore is clearly reaching the end of its stamina, your last barrage evidently having battered it quite thoroughly.
  271. >Seeing that it won’t go down until it’s put down, you steel yourself and march forward.
  272. >Rainbow makes an attempt to rise, but as you pass you lay a hand on her shoulder to keep her where she is. You’re confident in your ability to finish it alone.
  273. >Twilight apparently has similar thoughts, a violet glow emanating from her eyes as she moves to join you, her robes flapping gently in an unnatural breeze that picks up about her.
  274. >The beast stands its ground, growling threateningly as you advance on it.
  275. >As you draw near you raise your blade and the violet glow envelopes Twilight’s hands, though before you can deliver the final blow a flash of yellow intersperses itself between you and your quarry.
  276. >”Wait!"
  277.  
  278. >”Please wait!” Fluttershy exclaims, arms spread wide as she stands protectively before the injured manticore.
  279. >Twilight regards her skeptically. “What are you doing, Fluttershy? That thing attacked us, why are you protecting it?”
  280. “We must finish it before it does the same to us.”
  281. >”Please, just hear me out,” Fluttershy begs. “Something has to be terribly wrong for a manticore to be so close to the forest’s edge, they never come so far out.”
  282. “The beast tried to kill us, what difference does the reason make?” A small tremor runs through your sword arm as anticipation grows within you, the thought of a much needed infusion of souls at the forefront of your mind.
  283. >All sense of timidness vanishes from Fluttershy at your words, a defiant spark entering her. “You said yourself that you were tired of death and fighting, if there’s a way to end this peacefully then don’t you think we should try it?”
  284. >You find yourself unsure of what to say. In truth you had meant that it was your own death that you were weary of, however…
  285. >The idea of a peaceful resolution feels utterly alien to you, the thought had never once entered your head. Nothing had ever ended peacefully for you, all of your conflicts had been resolved with blood.
  286. >After a moment of thought you lower your weapons and take a step backwards, though you make no move to sheathe your blade.
  287. >Following your lead Twilight lowers her hands, the power that had filled her now dissipating. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Fluttershy.”
  288. >Fluttershy glances back at the snarling manticore, swallowing nervously as she does. “So do I,” she all but whispers.
  289. >Tentatively she turns to face the wounded creature, hands held up placatingly, and begins to slowly creep towards it.
  290. >The monster growls at her approach and she visibly cowers, but continues to inch forward step by step.
  291.  
  292. >”I’m not going to hurt you,” she says, voice barely above a whisper.
  293. >The manticore continues to growl, but makes no move towards Fluttershy.
  294. >The seconds it takes for her to reach the beast feel like an eternity, both you and Twilight ready to move at the slightest provocation.
  295. >”I just want to help, I promise,” Fluttershy whispers reassuringly. Oddly enough the manticore seems as though it understands, the growl dying in its throat at her words.
  296. >Fluttershy slowly raises a hand and lays it on the manticore’s head as she reaches it. “What’s wrong? Show me so I can help,” she urges.
  297. >The manticore slowly extends a great paw easily half the size of Fluttershy herself and lays it pad-up before her.
  298. >A sharp gasp escapes Fluttershy as she looks upon it. A wicked thorn as long as a man’s forearm is lodged firmly in the center of the paw, the flesh around it raw and torn where the beast had tried to tear it free.
  299. >”You poor thing!” Fluttershy exclaims.
  300. >”Did she miss the part where it tried to maul us?” you hear Rainbow mutter behind you.
  301. >Oblivious to Rainbow’s remark, Fluttershy moves her hand from the manticore’s head to it’s paw.
  302. >”I’m sorry, but this might hurt a little.” Fluttershy’s hand closes around the thorn and the manticore growls low in its throat, but makes no move to stop her.
  303. >As Fluttershy starts pulling it begins to dawn on you just how ridiculous your situation currently is, any other day you’d have simply slain the creature and thought nothing of it.
  304. >The seconds tick by and it becomes apparent that Fluttershy lacks the strength to dislodge the thorn. Against your better judgement you take a step forward, then when the beast remains motionless you take another.
  305. >You sheathe your weapon and cross the remaining distance in two more steps, coming to Fluttershy’s aid and gripping tight the thorn.
  306.  
  307. >She’s briefly startled by your presence, but you catch a glimpse of the girl’s thankful smile, then without a word you both begin pulling.
  308. >For a moment the thorn refuses to move, but with a sharp, powerful tug you rip it free, the manticore releasing a pained roar as it comes out.
  309. >The beast lunges forward before you can draw your shield and you grit your teeth in anticipation of the coming pain.
  310. >It never comes, instead you’re enveloped in Twilight’s magic and jerked sharply backwards out of harm’s way.
  311. >But Fluttershy was too close; the magic barely pulls her back six inches before the beast is upon her.
  312. >Your dessicated heart stops in your chest as you see the girl disappear into the beast’s titanic claws, teeth like longswords bearing down.
  313. >One thought echoes through the fog of your mind.
  314. >She’s not undead.
  315. >A desperate oath tears from your throat as you fight against the magic and attempt to draw your weapon.
  316. >The magic wears off and you desperately charge the beast, a great spear of lightning blazing to life in your hand and half-remembered prayer of war on your lips.
  317. >The bones of your arm creak while muscles pull taut as you prepare to let the radiant bolt fly.
  318. >Though the instant before you release your arm encounters resistance. Faster than you can follow Rainbow darts to you and grabs hold of you, halting your throw.
  319. >You want to scream at her. Her friend is about to be devoured by a monster, what could she possibly be trying to accomplish?
  320. >Before you can give voice to your thoughts Rainbow points towards the beast. “Just look,” is all she says.
  321. >Perplexed, you take a moment to study the manticore and after a moment realize the situation is far different than you thought.
  322.  
  323. >Instead of maiming her as you had believed, it was instead licking her.
  324. >What could it possibly be doing that for? Is it… grateful?
  325. >The absurdity of it all is difficult to wrap your mind around.
  326. >After a moment’s hesitation you allow your lightning spear to fizzle into nothingness, your hand falling limp by your side as Rainbow releases you.
  327. “Just like that?”
  328. >”Looks like it,” Rainbow observes.
  329. “Why would it simply stop? Did it not attack us first?”
  330. >Rainbow takes a few steps forward to where you’d dropped the thorn and retrieves it from where it lay.
  331. >”Looks like it was just in pain. Can’t say I blame it after looking at this thing, this is an evil thorn.”
  332. >She casually tosses the thorn back your way and you deftly snatch it from the air, bringing it closer to better examine it.
  333. >It seems to you more of a shortsword now that you take a closer look. The midnight black thorn is twisted and warped, wicked barbs protruding all along its length. It’s a wonder you managed to free it from the manticore at all.
  334. “It is a wicked thing, I’ll admit, but this all feels far too simple. A thorn in its paw drove it so far from its home in search of a fight?”
  335. >”However we did it, we managed to stop a manticore from mauling us. I feel like it’s important to remember that.”
  336. >As you consider her words the thorn begins to discolor, beginning to appear almost insubstantial.
  337. >After a moment the thorn begins to collapse in on itself, dissolving into a starry mist before your eyes.
  338. >A familiar laughter echoes from the surrounding forest as the mist dissipates, your now empty hand clenching into a fist.
  339. “The demon.”
  340. >”She said she’d haunt our every step,” Twilight says. “I guess she wasn’t lying.”
  341.  
  342. >”Well she’s gonna have to try harder than that if she wants to stop us,” Rainbow boasts.
  343. >”Careful what ya wish for, Rainbow.”
  344. >”What? We beat the crap outta that thing, and that’s what we’ll do to anything else she sends at us.”
  345. >”Do listen to Applejack, dear. I’m in no hurry to do any of that again.”
  346. >”Did you know you have a big hole in your stomach, Mr. Knight?” Pinkie pipes up.
  347. >A glance at your midsection reveals an ugly, gaping wound in your abdomen. Armor and flesh had been torn like paper and organs bulge out through the hole.
  348. >It’s almost amusing that you had managed to miss something like a manticore clawing open your abdomen. Has being fatally injured really become so mundane to you?
  349. >Each of the girls begin to notice the wound, looks of horror slowly forming on each of their faces.
  350. >”Sweet Celestia,” Twilight all but whispers.
  351. >Barely paying attention to your audience you nonchalantly grab a rope of intestines and shove it back inside yourself, clamping the hand down tightly over the hole while you grab an emerald flask from your belt.
  352. >Raising your visor with a finger, you bring the flask to your lips and take a draught of liquid fire.
  353. >Warmth fills you and light shines through your fingers as the hole closes, the wound fully closing in a matter of seconds.
  354. >You pull your hand away to reveal the unmarred if still pallid flesh.
  355. >Your hand goes to one of the many pouches on your belt and you withdraw a small handful of golden powder which you apply to the rent in your armor.
  356. >As you rub the powder on your armor the metal begins to knit back together just as the flesh beneath, leaving no trace of the crippling wound save a few streaks of dark blood.
  357.  
  358. >”What the hell is that?” Rainbow demands, eyes glued to the flask.
  359. “Estus,” you reply as you slide your visor shut again. “Liquid fire, an undead favorite.”
  360. >”You certainly come prepared,” Twilight remarks. “Are such injuries routine for you?”
  361. “I recall that I fought long and often, and that my estus flask has kept me from death many times.”
  362. >”Sounds like wherever you came from kinda sucks.”
  363. >”Rainbow,” Applejack chides.
  364. “She’s not wrong, my memories of my world are… less than pleasant.”
  365. >”Called it.”
  366. >”So anyone know what’s going on with this whole manticore situation?” Pinkie interjects.
  367. >Glancing back towards Fluttershy, you see that she’s somehow produced a roll of bandage cloth and is in the process of tending to the manticore’s wound.
  368. >The sight is oddly bizarre. Even on its haunches the beast still towers over the kneeling girl, yet it makes no move towards Fluttershy and just sits there obediently while she works. The strange scene leaves you strangely unsettled.
  369. >After a moment she notices your attention and casts a brief glance your way before returning to her work. She swiftly finishes the job of bandaging the wound and sits back to inspect her handiwork with a critical eye.
  370. >Seemingly satisfied she smiles and looks up at the manticore who wastes no time expressing its thanks with a grateful lick.
  371. >Fluttershy simply giggles and rubs its head affectionately before gathering her medical supplies into a satchel and returning to the group, the manticore slinking along behind her.
  372. >As she reaches you she holds out the roll of bandages. “I always come prepared, is anyone hurt?”
  373. >You notice the girls all glance uneasily at you before Pinkie speaks up.
  374. >”Nah, I think we’re good. How’s your new friend doing?”
  375.  
  376. >”Oh he’s much better now that that thorn’s been taken care of. Where is it, by the way? I’d like to have a look at it.”
  377. >”It disintegrated,” Rainbow says bluntly.
  378. >”It what?”
  379. “It was a construct of the Nightmare creature’s, it was she who set the manticore against us.”
  380. >“Oh, I knew something had to be terribly wrong for this to happen!” Fluttershy exclaims, sincerely distressed by the revelation. “Manticores are naturally friendly creatures.”
  381. You cast an uneasy glance at the mammoth beast sitting behind her. “I shall take you at your word on that.”
  382. >”So we won’t be having anymore trouble with the manticore then?” Twilight asks.
  383. >”Oh no, he’s in a much better mood with that all taken care of. We should be able to continue on our way now.”
  384. >”Well thank goodness for that,” Rarity sighs. “The sooner we’re finished with this awful business the sooner we can leave this dreadful place.”
  385. >”Aw, don’t tell me one little manticore attack was enough ta ruffle yer feathers,” Applejack teases.
  386. >”I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.”
  387. >”We’ll have time to argue later,” Twilight says. “We can’t afford to waste anymore time. There’s no telling how long we might have.”
  388. >”I second that, the big bad’s not gonna vanquish herself,” Rainbow says.
  389. “Would that it were that easy.”
  390. >”So am I the only one who thinks we should bring the manticore along?”
  391. >You all glance at Pinkie, then at each other as you consider her idea.
  392. >”Can… can we do that?” Rainbow stutters. “Can we just recruit a manticore? Because that would be pretty awesome.”
  393. >”Could make things a darn sight easier, I’d say.” Applejack agrees.
  394. >Rarity looks at them as though they’ve gone mad. “You can’t possibly be serious.”
  395.  
  396. >”We couldn’t possibly do that!” Fluttershy protests. “He’s much too injured from the fight to be doing anything so strenuous.”
  397. “Nor does the idea of having such a beast so close fill me with confidence.”
  398. >”And let’s not forget how easily Nightmare set him after us just now. Who’s to say she couldn’t do it a second time?”
  399. >”So we can’t keep him then?”
  400. >”No Pinkie, the manticore isn’t coming along,” Twilight says with finality, already starting off down the path.
  401. >”Party pooper,” Pinkie pouts, following sullenly along.
  402. >As you and the rest follow suit Fluttershy turns to the manticore who lowers his head to nuzzle her affectionately.
  403. >”It’s time for you to go home now, it’s not safe where we’re going.”
  404. >The manticore stares at her for a long moment, then with one last affectionate lick it turns and prowls back into the forest, the shadows swallowing the titanic predator in a bare moment.
  405. >Fluttershy stares almost forlornly after the beast, her eyes rooted to the foliage it had just vanished into.
  406. >”Do hurry along, darling!” Rarity calls back to her, snapping her back to herself.
  407. >”Oh dear, coming!” she all but squeaks out, wings fluttering anxiously as she hurries along after you all.
  408. >”Well this adventure’s off to an interestin’ start,” Applejack remarks as Fluttershy catches up.
  409. >”It’d be more interesting with a manticore,” Pinkie grumbles.
  410. ”Interesting and good are not always synonymous.”
  411. >”That fight was pretty awesome though, gotta admit that.”
  412. “It was certainly… invigorating. The haze upon my mind lifts a little more.”
  413. >”And that lightning bolt? That was so cool!”
  414. >Rainbow’s comment clearly piques Twilight’s interest as she turns a quizzical eye on you.
  415. >”Yes, that was very interesting,” Twilight agrees. “It’s odd to see a knight proficient in magic, and I’ve never seen a spell like that lightning bolt before.”
  416.  
  417. ”They are not spells, they are miracles,” you correct her.
  418. >Twilight frowns. “That’s just arguing semantics, it’s all still magic.”
  419. “Sorcery draws upon the power of the soul, miracles come from faith in the gods. I could give you the scroll, but without faith it would be useless to you.”
  420. >Twilight hums skeptically to herself. “Is that so? I’d certainly like to test that.”
  421. >Wordlessly you plunge a hand into one of the myriad pouches and satchels fixed to your belt, shuffling through its long forgotten contents.
  422. >After a moment you withdraw your hand from the pouch clutching an old, worn scroll which you gently unroll.
  423. >Time and travel have faded the letters of the old document as they have your memory, but a sense of nostalgia overcomes you as you read over the old prayer, each word coming more easily than the last.
  424. >Feeling your resolve bolstered slightly you roll the scroll back up, once again reaching to your waist to retrieve a small bundle of cloth stuffed through your belt. With the scroll you hold it out, offering the two items to Twilight.
  425. >She carefully accepts the text and the talisman from you, unrolling the old scroll almost reverently and skimming over it.
  426. >”I don’t understand, where’s the spell? There’s just what looks like a prayer written on here. And what’s the cloth for?”
  427. “Simply recite the prayer while holding the talisman and if your faith is great enough the sun will grant you its strength.”
  428. >Twilight eyes you skeptically. “If you say so.”
  429.  
  430. >She clenches your talisman tight and raises a hand as she reads aloud the sacred words, the rest of the group watching on in silence.
  431. >You know the end result before it even happens; the girl is a student of the soul arts and the concept of miracles is likely foreign to her.
  432. >Twilight finishes the prayer and everyone stares at her hand with mild anticipation.
  433. >After a moment it becomes apparent nothing is happening and Twilight lowers her hand to the sound of disappointed sighs.
  434. “As I said, you lack the faith to cast miracles. There is no shame in that though, sorcery is an honorable pursuit.”
  435. >”So anyone with enough faith could cast this just by reading the prayer and holding this thing? That’s all there is to it?”
  436. “Aye, that’s all it takes.”
  437. >Twilight clearly remains skeptical. “There has to be more to it than that.”
  438. >”Well it’s not like we didn’t see him do it, so we know it’s possible,” Rainbow remarks.
  439. >Twilight sighs and hands the scroll and talisman back to you. “Fair enough. The simplicity of it just irks me, I suppose. It makes no sense to me.”
  440. “Aye, faith itself makes little sense,” you agree. “Even I find myself questioning it from time to time.”
  441. >Twilight responds with a hum and returns to her thoughts. None of the others make an attempt to fill the void in the conversation and the group lapses into silence as you progress through the forest.
  442. >The silence is familiar to you, long has it been your only company throughout your travels, and now it allows you an opportunity to turn your attention inward.
  443. >The group carries ever onward, the sound of a dozen footsteps providing a backdrop to your thoughts.
  444.  
  445. >Such a strange land you’ve found yourself in, the people stranger still. Your thoughts turn towards the conflict and the timid girl.
  446. >Such kindness is not something you’ve known in a long time save from a scarce few. A land more fitting to your gentle soul, Priscilla had said of this place. It would seem she was not wrong.
  447. >But what use is kindness against such a monster as the one you now face? This land and those who dwell upon it may have gentle souls, but darkness and evil appear to be universal. Only strength of arms can beat back the shadows, no act of kindness can offer you salvation here.
  448. >Footsteps and the clinking of armor plates fills your ears while you replay the conflict with the manticore in your mind. Your choler rises as you think of how you allowed the beast to simply go free. The demon turned it against you once, what’s to stop her from doing so again?
  449. >You clench your eyes shut and take a deep, shuddering breath. Your sword-hand unconsciously gripping the hilt of your blade as you exhale.
  450. >As you force down your agitation you notice Rainbow cast a curious glance your way. These thoughts aren’t your own, they’re merely born of the curse. The only reason you take issue with the manticore situation is because you had been hoping to sate your hunger.
  451. >In truth the great beast’s soul would have provided little in the way of sustenance, only a truly powerful soul holds what you need.
  452. >Thoughts of the Nightmare flit through your mind again. Surely such a being would be possessed of an exceptionally mighty soul.
  453. >The very thought makes your belly burn with hunger, and now not only for souls.
  454. >Unconsciously your gaze lands upon Twilight. A powerful mage, and untouched by the curse at that; she must be absolutely replete with humanity...
  455.  
  456. >Your heart stops as the thought crosses your mind and you avert your eyes in shame.
  457. >Suddenly Pinkie fills your vision, having apparently crept up on you while you were preoccupied with your thoughts.
  458. >”Whatcha thinkin’ about?” she asks with the innocence of the living.
  459. >Caught off guard you’re unsure of what to say, certainly not the truth.
  460. “These are our first quiet moments in the time since I’ve arrived, I’m merely taking the opportunity to ponder the situation.”
  461. >”Well you looked kinda down, everything alright?”
  462. >”How could you possibly know that?” Rainbow asks. “You can’t even see his face.”
  463. >Pinkie taps her head. “I know people, not much gets by these eyes.”
  464. >”Either way, I don’t think anyone here can really say everything’s alright considering the circumstances.”
  465. >”Even so, I still wanna know. You feelin’ alright, Knighty?” Pinkie presses, leaning closer as she does.
  466. >The girl absolutely radiates an aura of humanity. It’s almost overwhelming and only gets worse the closer she gets.
  467. “I am well, friend, you needn’t worry.”
  468. >Clearly unconvinced, Pinkie retreats a few steps.
  469. >”If you say so, Knighty. If you wanna talk then I’m here.”
  470. >”Well maybe he doesn’t wanna talk, Pinkie. You ever think of that?”
  471. >The unexpected outburst draws all eyes to Rainbow.
  472. >At the first sign of a questioning look, Rainbow practically explodes.
  473. >”What? All I’m saying is that maybe he doesn’t want a bunch of strangers prying into his affairs.”
  474. >You reluctantly accept that she’s not exactly wrong. It would behoove you to keep your hunger hidden for as long as possible.
  475. >”Calm down, Rainbow, no one’s prying,” Twilight says placatingly.
  476. >”I am calm!”
  477. >”That hardly sounds calm to-”
  478. >”Save it, Rarity.”
  479. >Rarity scowls and turns her nose up, turning to face anywhere but Rainbow.
  480.  
  481. “I assure you that I am well. Though I thank you for your concern.”
  482. >”Well that’s a lie if ever I heard one,” Applejack comments offhandedly. The remark draws your gaze.
  483. >She grins at you knowingly as she notices the slight shift of your helm. “Ain’t nobody here doin’ well, I can guarantee ya that. I’m willin ta bet each of us is shakin’ in their boots at least a little.”
  484. >Rainbow maintains her silence.
  485. >”I’ll admit, the circumstances are getting to me a little bit,” Twilight says. “I’ve never encountered anything like Nightmare before. It’s… unnerving to be dealing with such a powerful being.”
  486. >”That’s a bit of an understatement,” Fluttershy all but squeaks.
  487. “There is no shame in that, the feeling is the same the tenth time as it is the first,” you say.
  488. >”Have you encountered something like Nightmare before?” Rarity asks.
  489. For a moment you simply try to organize your thoughts. “Yes, many times, but the specifics are lost to me. I recall beings of immeasurable power with souls shining like stars. I recall the fear I felt as I battled each one. I recall the pain of my failures.”
  490. >You note the looks of apprehension the others favor you with and grimace inwardly. To dwell on the negative is counterproductive. You cannot afford to lose hope.
  491. “But with allies at my side I overcame each one. I recall that there was no wall that determination could not break down. Eventually every barrier fell before us.”
  492. >But at what price? How many lives will this victory cost?
  493. >”When you regain your memories I’d love to hear the stories of your adventures,” Fluttershy says.
  494. >A weary smile comes to your face at her words.
  495. “Should that time come I will tell you all you desire to hear.”
  496. >”What do you remember?” This comes from Rainbow.
  497.  
  498. >You close your eyes and try to force the scattered fragments of memory to arrange themselves in an order that makes sense.
  499. “I remember a fading flame and a looming darkness. I remember a quest with no end. I remember enemies at my fore and brothers at my side.”
  500. >And you lost every single one.
  501. >”Were they… like you?” Rainbow asks.
  502. “Undead? Yes. We wandered as moths to a flame in search of a way to escape our fate.”
  503. >”Did you find one?”
  504. >Here you hesitate. Had you?
  505. >Only vague concepts remain of your quest. It is as though you’re trying to watch the events of your past through a dense fog. Save for the odd parting of the mist, only shadows and echoes remain of your time spent in the land of ancient lords.
  506. >All but that one shining, burning sun.
  507. >A tired sigh presages your words.
  508. “We flew too close to the flame and our wings burned in anguish.”
  509. >Only anxious silence answers you. None of your companions make a sound.
  510. “There is no release from this curse,” you say in nearly a whisper. “We could only halt its spread.”
  511. >Twilight casts a glance your way. “You found a vaccination, not a cure.”
  512. “Something like that. I only remember that we did not find what we sought.”
  513.  
  514. >”But surely that must have been some manner of victory,” Rarity insists. “You ensured that no one else would fall victim to that terrible curse.”
  515. “Aye, in the end it was more than I had any right to expect.”
  516. >”What happened to your friends?”
  517. >Rainbow’s question catches you off guard and the hitch in your breath serves as a better answer than you could have given with words.
  518. >You notice a few of the group cast disapproving looks Rainbow’s way, though she pays them no mind and keeps her gaze directed into the forest before you.
  519. >”You don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to,” Twilight quickly says. “If it’s too touchy of a subject we understand.”
  520. “I couldn’t say much of what befell them, truthfully. I remember little of their fates.”
  521. >Only that none of their stories ended well.
  522. >”What about Priscilla?”
  523. >”Rainbow!”
  524. “It’s alright, Twilight. After my quest was completed I stayed with Priscilla because she was all I had left. I wasted away in her painted world for ten years, slowly going hollow. She could not bear to watch that happen and so sent me here in the hopes that I would find a purpose for myself and so resist the curse a while longer. She still remains there, I imagine.”
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