CANTERLOT - CELESTIA'S THRONE
"It is, of course, my pleasure to serve, your highness." The Ambassador bent his forelegs downward into a bow, grinning at his newly earned appointment. Celestia stood above him, upon her dais, a gentle smile upon her face.
"Your service is always appreciated, Ambassador. Your escort will be ready in the morning." And with a bow of her head, Celestia dismissed the last piece of business for the Royal court that day. With graceful poise, she stood from her throne, parting a curtain behind the dais to walk out of the court, breathing a sigh, "Business as usual."
A tall stallion moved to trot alongside her, resplendent in his golden armor, "I don't like it."
Celestia laughed, "Please spare me, Bellerophon. When are you ever happy with the situation in court?"
Bellerophon shook his head, his wings twitching a bit in agitation, "This whole situation reeks of darkness. The death of Princess Aeolian is most unfortunate, but I am more concerned with the vulnerability it creates."
The Princess of the sun merely shook her head, "That, Lord, is my worry, not yours. The Ambassador will simply be assisting the Empire's Regent until we find a pony capable of controlling the Crystal Heart."
The Knight-Captain snorted, "And how long will that take? A year? Five years? Longer? As long as the Crystal Heart is dormant, we are vulnerable. Equestria is vulnerable."
"As long as it is dormant, we are fine. It's not as if another pony could stroll in and assault the heart, it requires a very specific talent, a talent we will discover, and find a pony worthy of taking the throne."
Bellerophon sighed, "I pray you are right, your Majesty. I see Dark times approaching..."
Celestia nodded, "Ambassador Sombra will handle things with his usual efficiency, and a new Princess of the Heart will be discovered soon. We really have nothing to worry about."
CANTERLOT - ROYAL ARMORY - 6 MONTHS LATER
The clock towers in Canterlot rang out as the Midnight hour passed. The darkness of the hall was pierced only by the glow of the moon as Bellerophon walked towards the Armory. His mood had fallen darker over the past few months, a mood that reflected an increasingly hostile world. Terrible omens, skirmishes upon the border, and all attempts Celestia made to broker some kind of peace had fallen through. And now, silence from the Crystal Empire.
He made no attempt to conceal his efforts as he opened the door to the armory, walking to the chest that contained his sacred blades. His last ties to his fallen kingdom, Olymponis, blades born in the heat and magic of the Forge. Drapak, the Claw of Justice. Tesak, the Fang of the Innocent. He had personally crafted them, and they were bound to him. And now, he would put them to use again. With or without permission, he was sworn to protect this land.
"And just what do ye think you are doing, Ser?" Bellerophon turned, already knowing just who to expect from the formality of the tone.
"Princess Luna. A pleasure. I am going north."
Luna stepped out of the moonlight into the darkened armory, "To the North? Is Sister sending you out? We had no discussion on the matter." Her eyes narrowed slightly, her distrust apparent, but the question lingered in the air if it was directed at him.
Bellerophon mostly ignored the tone in any case, working to affix the blades to his forehooves. Fiercesome blades, they curved back when not in use, allowing him to walk on all fours easily, while they could be easily deployed in an instant, flowing like a part of him when he took flight. "None of your concern, Highness. I go where I am needed."
The Princess gave out a delicate *hmph*, "Lord Bellerophon, you are arming for War. I am entirely certain my Sister would not approve of such an action. Especially to the North! The Crystal Empire is ever our ally! We shall send an appropriate envoy to ascertain the truth of the matter there."
He finished setting the blades in place, and began to put on his armor. Not the ceremonial Guard armor he wore at court, his battle armor. "I already know the truth. Darkness is coming, Highness. If the Crystal Heart has fallen, it would explain much. Ambassador Sombra's failure to respond to our requests only confirms it."
Luna swiftly levitated a piece of armor out of Bellerophon's hooves, moving in close to confront him eye to eye, "Lord Bellerophon! You overstep yourself! You are a Knight-Captain, sworn to serve Equestria!" She raised the volume of her voice, dangerously approaching the Canterlot Royal Voice, "We forbid you from journeying North!"
Bellerophon 's face flashed with rage as he retrieved the armor, "Well, your Highness, I am loathe to inform you that I am sworn to your Sister. And seeing as you have neither the weight of authority, nor even the personality to hold a candle against her radiance..." he strapped the armor into place, "I shall take your recommendation with the weight it's worth." And with an air of finality, daring her to stop him, Bellerophon pushed past the Princess, his face set in determination.
Luna stood in shock as Bellerophon exited the armory. She quivered with rage, stepping into the hall and back into her moon light. The stallion was infuriating at times, stubborn, single-minded, but, in this case he was right. She found herself gritting her teeth in frustration before slipping out, back into her darkness.
EQUESTRIA - NORTHERN GARRISON
Bellerophon set down upon his hooves from the long flight from Canterlot. The winds had been rough, as if trying to push him away, but he had persevered. He never really tired anymore, not from flying. Not from much of anything. Sleep was not something he desired, every time he closed his eyes, to see his former home burning, tearing apart. The nightmares hadn't stopped, but his need for sleep had, part of the power he'd taken when he'd made his pact with the Dragon, Monolyth.
Knight-Captain of Equestria, that was what Princess Celestia had dubbed him. His own country was destroyed, a cursed land now, and he'd been forced to seek refuge for those ponies who'd survived in Equestria. He'd sworn to protect it, this new home. And when he'd been offered a boon, he'd taken it, the power to protect this land forevermore, to be undefeatable by any with hatred or corruption in their heart. The result? His already formidable strength had been multiplied without equal, and thankfully, he no longer required sleep. He would remain Bellerophon, immortal protector of Equestria, sworn to defend his remaining ponies, as well as those others who lived here.
And now, every instinct he had pointed to some terrible, terrible threat in the north. He trotted towards a distant light, the northernmost garrison on Equestria's border, a waypoint between it and their closest ally, the Crystal Empire. Bellerophon pushed his way inside the garrison, shrugging off the cold as he glanced about. Several guards turned to face the entrance, if they were surprised at the sudden entrance, they didn't show it. Weapons at the ready, they moved to intercept him. "Who goes there?"
He smiled, at least they were still well-trained, although the quick reactions disturbed him for a different reason, had they been expecting somepony else? "At ease, soldiers. Knight-Captain Bellerophon." He pulled back the thick flying cloak, revealing his armor and rank insignia. The soldier examined it closely, and then snapped to attention immediately, "Just a routine stop before I continue up north."
"Up north, sir?" The soldiers eyed one another nervously. "No offense, Sir, that's suicide."
Bellerophon frowned, "Suicide? Why's that, soldier?"
The stallion raised an eyebrow, as if asking 'are you serious?', then waved a hoof and began to trot up the stairs of the structure. Bellerophon followed, and as they reached the second level, he began to see what the stallion was talking about. "Because of them, Sir." A dozen giants stood upon the horizon, behemoths carved out of Crystals, tainted things, practically oozing darkness. They stood, unmoving, each watching with a shadowy eye.
The soldier sighed, "They showed up about three weeks ago. Only two of them then. Just watching. First squad went to confront them. They didn't come back. We sent a messenger to Canterlot, but as soon as he took off, one of them moved, and moved fast. It stopped him. And then the numbers kept growing. They seem content to let us sit in here and rot, Sir. But I expect that won't last long..."
Bellerophon nodded, looking at the crystal golems. "No... I expect not." He looked over the soldiers, "Are any of you capable of trying to get out of here?"
A moments hesitation, then one of the Pegasi stepped forward, "Sir?"
"You'll be leaving to warn Canterlot."
"I'm going to stop them, clear this line, and continue north. If there is more up there, then I want Canterlot aware of what's happening." He smiled, "What's your name soldier?"
"Guarding Light, sir."
Bellerophon put a hoof against the stallion's side, "You'll be fine, Guarding Light. I'm going to protect you, is that clear?"
The stallion nodded, "It is, Sir."
Bellerophon's smile turned into a predatory grin, "Then, lets get ready. Time to go hunting."
ONE HOUR LATER
Guarding Light looked out into the darkness, flight satchels packed and ready, he kicked out of the Garrison in a gallop, building speed to take off. The first golem appeared in front of him before he could blink, the crystalline thing moving with an uncanny speed, but Guarding pushed on, determined to fulfill his duty. And just as it seemed he'd meet an unexpected end, Bellerophon was there, swooping in with the long hoofblades swung forward, kicking the monstrous Crystal beast aside as if it were made of paper.
Guarding pushed upwards, getting into the air as fast as his wings could take him. He dared to glance back over his wings, seeing the first golem shattered upon the ground, but two more approaching. One raised a limb, aiming for him, and as a few crystal shards fired forth, Bellerophon was already upon it, slicing off the crystalline appendage. Guarding dove left to dodge the few projectiles in the air. Quickly, he pumped his wings to push him upward into the upper atmosphere and out as fast as his wings would carry him.
Bellerophon flowed like water, a force of nature tearing through the creatures thrown against him. But once Guarding was away, the remaining golems focused solely upon him. The three which had pursued the fleeing Pegasus were nothing but shattered remnants upon the ground. Nine remained, and circled him now. Clearly animated by some terrible black magic, they moved with unexpected speed, and although his blades, Drapak and Tesak, were enchanted to tear through anything, even they were meeting resistance.
Four down. Five. Six. The seventh struck him in the side, but he used the momentum to cut down the eighth. He pulled the blade out of the crystal remnants, seven down, and five to go. Turning back, he frowned as he found the remaining golems doing something new. Instead of rushing in to crush him, they seemed to be keeping some distance. A new strategy, not good. Bellerophon snorted out a blast of air and darted towards the nearest, surprised when he tore it apart without resistance, the next went down too easily as well, he swung at the third and suddenly saw the trap. His blade buried itself within the creature, and rather than cutting clear, it was stuck. The creature lashed out, the crystals making its being rushing forward to engulf his blade, with the intent to swallow him as well.
He twisted, the blade unmoving. Instead, he pushed through, driving the blade in deeper, striking with a rear hoof to force the blade all the way through the beast, shattering it. But the damage was done, a dark magic eating at the blade. Bellerophon grit his teeth, looking at the other golems. Turning the blade, he smashed it down on the side, breaking the blade in half before the corruption could move further. With a flick of his hoof, the other blade folded back. "We'll do this the old fashioned way."
The last of the golems moved forward, clearly intent to smother him in much the same way the last had tried. This time, Bellerophon struck with his hooves, unleashing the full hell of his strength. The crystal golems struck, and while they lasted longer than they did against his swords, they still cracked and shattered into shards, just like the others. Landing, Bellerophon took a moment to catch his breath. He shook his wings, and threw off a few pieces of armor that had been smashed in the encounter. Nothing natural could have done that. Drapak was shattered, and Bellerophon enraged. Whatever was causing this would pay.
To the north, then. The Crystal Empire would hold the answers. He moved towards the Garrison once again, to tell the soldiers inside that it would be safe, before moving on into the growing storm coming from the north.
THE TUNDRID PLAINS - SEVERAL MILES OUTSIDE THE CYRSTAL EMPIRE CAPITAL - DAYS LATER
Bellerophon trudged with the frigid plains. The winds had grown stronger as he flew on, forcing him to the ground. Now, he reconsidered risking the winds. The evil was obvious here, the closer he grew to the heart of the Empire. The cold remained, and the snow upon the ground clung to him as if seeking escape. And all around, stretching out from the twisted castle in the distance, dark crystals grew slowly across the wasteland, filled with a fetid dark energy.
The darkness was nearly overwhelming, threatening everything it touched, consuming it, twisting it. There was not doubt in Bellerophon's mind, the Crystal Heart had fallen into corruption. The only questions now were, how? And who? A dark laughter answered his unstated query as one of the nearby pools of blackness began to boil.
He turned towards the noise, a bubbling, spitting whirlpool forming around a portal. A massive jutting crystal emerged from the portal, so dark it seemed to actively devour the light. And atop this plateau'd crystal stood the one being entrusted to watch over the sanctity of this kingdom, "Ambassador Sombra."
The unicorn hissed, his slicked back mane now flowing back in a wild mass, his horn a bright red, and his previously simple garb replaced by hard armor and a billowing red cloak, "Address me as King Sombra now... Whelp. Bow." To his side, chained, were two Crystal ponies, who immediately responded to his command.
Bellerophon scowled, "I shall bow when presented with one who is my better. Not the filth dredged from the bottom of this black abyss. Surrender yourself to my judgment, relinquish the Crystal Heart, and I shall make your death swift."
He laughed, trotting to the edge of the crystal. "You are a fool, Lord Bellerophon. I am so far above you, above any other in this world, even your vaunted Celestia and Luna. I have embraced a power they could never dream to hold, and It has told me much about this world."
Bellerophon rose up, extending his hoofblades, the shattered hilt and base of Drapak still had an edge to it. "Then, I suppose we shall have to see." He rushed forward towards the 'King', but ground to a halt as a black aura of magic gripped him.
Sombra lowered Bellerophon down towards him and snarled, "I shall enjoy breaking you." He grinned, his eyes fully corrupted with dark magic, "Just another Slave for my kingdom. In the end, all will bow to King Sombra."
Bellerophon screamed, not in pain, but in defiance. Gathering his power, he pressed forward, wrenching his hoof free to throw a killing blow straight at Sombra's neck. The King's eyes grew in shock, stumbling back, the only thing saving him from a fatal cut to the throat. The magic holding Bellerophon in place fell, and suddenly the Knight was upon him, swinging his blade down in an arc.
Sombra fell back under the assault, clearly unprepared for such a physical attack. Scrambling back, he snarled, magically hurling one of the slaves into the way of Bellerophon's cut. Bellerophon stopped his strike, adjusting to grab the pony. The crystal pony flailed, even as Bellerophon lowered down to set the pony in relative safety, "I shall free you from his tyranny."
The crystal pony, shuddered, her voice low, "N-no. The Master ordered me to stop you." She lunged, Bellerophon only just leaping out of the way, "He will punish me if I do not stop you."
Bellerophon hovered over the crystal pony, his mouth opened to respond, but a sudden jabbing pain in the back drew his attention away. He turned back to face Sombra, now surrounded in a whirling shield of crystals, sharp as knives. Several more missiles launched towards him, but these Bellerophon was ready for, smashing them aside.
Sombra smirked, a toothy grin with no humor, "Stalemate, Knight, for now. You cannot get close to me to cut, but eventually, you will tire, you will fall."
"I do not grow tired." Bellerophon lunged in, Sombra's blades firing out one after another, each deflected aside, and before Sombra could realize it, his shield was gone, Bellerophon standing before him. His shattered blade rushed forward, Drapak piercing through Sombra's armor, impaling the would-be King. "And you will fall."
Bellerophon watched as his foe bled out in grim silence. Satisfied, he removed the broken blade, and let the Ambassador drop to the crystal surface beneath them. He looked up towards the Crystal Castle, preparing to fly there and recover the Crystal Heart, but a sudden pain in his chest alerted him to something wrong. A low voice, sobbed, "I am sorry... he ordered me..."
The other slave. A crystal spear in her hooves, the tip emerging through Bellerophon's armor. He tried to cry out, but a warm sensation crept into his mouth. He tried to raise a hoof to dislodge the spear somehow, but his strength was rapidly draining. His eyes fell to the form of Sombra, lying upon the crystal. At least he had killed the tyrant. Celestia would arrive once Guarding Light made it to Canterlot. And... if Monolyth was to be believed, he would survive this... somehow.
Sombra's limp form began to laugh, rising up from the plateau. He flashed his fangs, sneering, "The invincible Lord Bellerophon." He waved a hoof, the damage done to him by the hoofblade sealing itself in a mass of dark energy. "Slain by a pure hearted puppet. How appropriate. I told you, this power told me. It has told me all about your bargain, with the Avatar of Death, as well as how to exploit it. It gave me all the power I could ever dream of to do so." He leaned in close to Bellerophon's ear, whispering, "Enjoy immortality."
Bellerophon stood aghast, the slave behind him letting go of the spear, and he dropped to the ground with the weapon still piercing through him. He... had failed? The dragon had betrayed him... light was fading...
Sombra waited for the stallion to die. He trotted over, levitating a bracer from the stallion's hoof. "How did you put it? The bottom of a black abyss?" He kicked the corpse unceremoniously off of the crystal pillar, into the bubbling black magic filth below. Carrying the bracer with him, he opened a portal to return to the Crystal Empire, "Come my dear, dear slaves. We must prepare for a Royal welcome."
DAYS LATER - AFTER THE DEFEAT OF KING SOMBRA
Celestia and Luna arose in the empty wasteland where moments before, the Crystal Empire had stood. Now, nothing by shadows and silence. "Sister... what has happened?"
Celestia breathed out, the old cold beginning to return now that the darkness had been banished, "Sombra did something... banished the Empire, along with himself..."
Luna gasped, "Then he retains control of the Crystal Heart?"
Her sister shook her head, "No... we banished him into shadow... but the Empire was sent somewhere else... I can't tell. It's as if it is still here... but waiting."
"Then, we have failed?"
"Failed to save the Crystal Empire... yes. But we saved Equestria. It shall have to do until we can learn more." The two began to trot south, waiting to recover before attempting to fly in the slowly growing glacial winds.
A glimmer of gold amidst the snow shined as the sun once again cut through the darkened skies. "Sister, there is something there! Perhaps a survivor!" Luna galloped to the source of the light, digging down to reveal a shining hoof bracer, the sun, the feather, and the scale upon it.
Celestia frowned, "That is Bellerophon's. No..."
Luna nodded, "So... it was indeed Sombra who defeated him. I had not wished it to be so."
Celestia trotted up behind her sister, taking the bracer from her, "He was headstrong, arrogant, and insufferable... but he was a friend. And I suppose in the end, he was right."
"I could have stopped him. I should have stopped him."
"There was nothing you could have done, Luna." Celestia looked upon the bracer, examining the symbols engraved upon it. "We suddenly find ourselves bereft of two of our greatest defenses, the Crystal Heart... and Lord Bellerophon... Dark times are indeed approaching."
Luna nodded slowly. "Sister... should we try again? To contact Ostfriesen?"
Celestia smiled sadly, "I think perhaps we should. If Tapioca still lives... she deserves to know. And this should be with her."
The two sisters continued their trek home in silence, unable to hear the silent screams of a single soul, trapped within the bracer, his promised gift of immortality, Bellerophon desperately raged within the confines of his armor, the Bracer of Bellerophon, his boon, and his curse.
UNKNOWN AGES LATER
Bellerophon screamed at the darkness for as long as he was able. Nothingness surrounded him. He had a vague sense of movement, after his 'death', his body slothing off like a filthy saddle. There had been pain, so much pain. And then, more disturbingly, nothing. He couldn't feel, couldn't see, couldn't hear. Even calling what he was doing 'screaming' was a generous assumption. He made no noise, no one could hear him. He didn't even have a mouth. Just a formless thing suffering the agony of non-existance.
It was after countless weeks, or months, or years that at last, he heard a voice, a terrifying voice that shook the world. "So the pact has been received. Hail, Bellerophon."
His soul trembled, and only his fear of the eternal silence returning prompted him to attempt to speak to this all-encompassing thing, "Who is it? What do you want with me?"
The presence almost seemed to laugh at that, but quelled whatever amusement it found in the situation, "I am the one who forged your Pact, granted you your immortality. The ponies of this era called me 'Monolyth'."
Bellerophon lashed out in rage, "YOU! Dragon filth, you did this to me! Your false pacts! I am not immortal! How can I defend Equestria like this?!"
"Hmmm... you misunderstood the pact you forged. A blessing, yes, immortality. But such a gift, it cannot be given without a price, least of all to defy Death itself." The darkness swelled, then seemed to release, less oppressive. "This is the price."
"Unending suffering? And how, praytell, is this the boon?" Bellerophon scoffed, "I was a fool to listen to you, to Tapioca."
The presence tsked, "You specified, undefeatedable by any of corrupt or evil heart... you were slain by a pony of pure heart, against her will, to be certain, but still... Your soul, however, is immortal, and grasped onto the nearest thing it associated with your self. A simple bracer, the only piece of your armor that remained after the battle."
"Semantics... you are telling me that all of... this, is because I was not clear enough?" Bellerophon would have spit, his next words dripping hate, "Well then... great one, tell me... how am I to be restored?"
"Immortality cannot be given to the body, only the soul."
"Riddles. You intend to keep me trapped for eternity, while you and your vile servants, the foulness you infested Tapioca, shall destroy everything I love. Everything I ever Loved. Maybe this hell is all that's left of that world."
Monolyth's silence lingered in the darkness, Bellerophon was nearly convinced it had abandoned him to his torment once again when it spoke, a hushed presence in the void, "Should a pony with a pure soul wear the bracer you have become tied to... you would be able to overpower them, burying their soul to let yours live again. The cost of a soul's immortality is the mortality of another soul."
Bellerophon sneered, "So... the truth is revealed. You expect me to destroy the innocent to stop you?"
"It is the curse you chose, I could not deny you once I had sworn to fulfil your boon. You would push the other soul aside. It would live inside your mind, for as long as it could hold a presence, until oblivion at last claimed it."
"You think I won't do you?" He began to laugh, "Oh, I see it now. The impossible choice. You think me too pure, too proud! I would not destroy an innocent to live again..." His laughter increased, rising into madness, "Know this, Monster! One day, I shall have my chance. I shall live again, and when I do, I shall hunt you down, but not before wiping out the Blood and Chaos you ushered into this world. And there will be a reckoning... Monolyth, the Great Destroyer."
This time, the silence really did last. Monolyth had at last departed, leaving him alone.
Darkness that seemed to drag on forever. The silence of eternity. And Bellerophon sat in the void, waiting. His time would come. And vengeance would be his.
OSTFRIESEN TREASURE VAULTS - FEBRUARY 27TH, 2012
Sue marched in an orderly fashion through the armory, mentally reviewing the various pieces of armor, weapons, and gems to find one with an appropriate enchant. "Crown of Fire? Too dangerous for an Equestrian. Torc of the Seapony? Ridiculous and impractical. Light Barding... designed for a mare. Shame."
She shook her head. Mary had gotten that ridiculous love-struck Equestrian injured, however unintentionally. But where Mary had felt bad, Sue had seen opportunity. That stallion's bravery and pure heart were written all over his face. All he needed was a little push, and perhaps something great would come from it.
An errant glimmer of gold caught Sue's eye. A innocous bracer poking out of a pile of coins. She raised an eyebrow, not recalling it from her meticulous records. Casting a quick spell, she reached out to sense the enchants upon it. "Simple protection spell, Armor of Light. This is adequate. I shall deliver it to sister to give to that pony when she sneaks out to visit him." Her jagged horn glowed bright as she levitated the bracer out of the armory with her, making her way towards the Endless Hall and back to find Mary, and to ensure the bracer reached its proper recipient, the stallion Night Flurry.