Twilight was no stranger to fatigue. Between her all night study-a-thons and Pinkie's parties, she fancied herself quite the night owl. Which is why, even though a murky haze enveloped her every thought, she was certain her sleep deprivation had been going on for days. Or whatever qualified for the equivalent of sleep when her consciousness took shape and wandered the shadowy vastness of her mind. In any event, her patience was waning, and with it, any care for semantics.
She wished for the caress of a dreamless sleep, the sweet nothingness that could truly rejuvenate her. Just the thought set off a massive struggle, one that pitted her eyelids against herself. And one that she was losing.
'No!' Her eyes snapped open with a start. She clung desperately to her awareness, a sinking ship in a whirlpool of nightmares.
'No... no more...' she whimpered, the words barely leaving her lips. The unicorn lay on her side, shivering in the darkness, her horn of little help. She tried to reach down, that she might stroke her tail, that she might indulge in a fillyhood comfort. But the purple pony was met by apathy, her limbs remaining inert.
The fight was lost, lashes touching down upon her cheeks. Tears entered the mix as a wing, plumage painted crimson, crept into her vision.
Twilight found Misty staring back at her. The grey mare's image shifted below the polished surface, head tilting as her eyes traversed her unusually unruly mane. A glint in the lower corner caught Twilight's attention. Wood of a cheery, natural brown held the mirror to a similarly coloured dresser top. A couple jars, one without its lid sat in a neat row against the mirror. The open jar held a fine, pale blue powder. A moment's thought caused Twilight to giggle inwardly, certain she had seen the very same product at Rarity's.
A black handled hairbrush hung in the air, drawing Twilight's gaze each time it slid over to tame the next blue tangle. The mane scrutinizing continued for a while, long enough for Twilight to wonder if Misty was some level of great grandmother to Rarity.
Twilight's concentration drifted. Ever since she lost control, the mist had shown her nothing but horror. Brutal killings, mass murders, mutilation. In fact, she would wager she could go into her copy of Equestrian Law, run through the major felony section like a checklist and finish without a single entry left blank. To see something so mundane left her baffled. She supposed the simple explanation was something was about to go wrong. The only thing about that theory was the other memories were less indirect.
The next possibility to enter her thoughts was even less pleasant. As a filly she had once done an experiment involving two buckets of water, one hot and one cold. After soaking a hoof in each bucket, swapping them resulted in sensitivity far beyond the initial dip. She was being set up. Realizing her musing had allowed her to escape the memory, she wondered if she might be able to think her way to safety. However, Sea Breeze's voice quickly burst her bubble.
"You're really, really sure you can't take me?" The colt's question floated in from behind. The vision snapped to a section of the mirror and Twilight thought she caught a glimpse of blue playing against the smooth white wall.
"For the last time, this is not a vacation." The mare sighed, brush continuing to stroke her mane. "And what would you even do, anyway?"
Breeze's form strode into view on the right side of the mirror. "Join the academy too, duh!"
"No, you wouldn't," Misty replied, a slight edge in her voice. "Among other problems, you're at least four years from being eligible."
"I'll convince them to let me in early," Breeze said, smiling proudly.
"With what? Your amazingly bad combat prowess?" the grey mare laughed.
"Ha, ha. No, I'll use my wit and charm. Again, duh."
"Assuming this inane plan of yours works, then what? Going to talk your way out of combat courses too? What happens when you come face to face with an enemy that can't be persuaded?"
"Well, uh... " the colt looked off to the side, then snapped back at Misty, his face alight. "Then you can protect me!"
Misty rolled her eyes. "I can't always be around to bail you out."
"You're going to be an officer, right? Just pull a few strings and..." Sea Breeze's pace was slowly, but surely, picking up.
"Oh, for the love of... " The hairbrush clattered to the dresser as Misty spun around. "Breeze, I don't know anypony that influential and there's no guarantee I will. If you want to see the big city so bad, go bug mom and dad about it."
"But that's not the same," the colt looked down.
No answer. Misty continued to watch her brother, as though she were still expecting a reply. Finally Misty covered the short distance between she and her brother and spoke again.
He looked up, eyes shimmering. Misty leaned down and nuzzled the top of his head, speaking with a sisterly affection not unfamiliar to Twilight, "I'll miss you too."
"You'll write us, won't you?" Breeze asked anxiously, nuzzling back.
"Of course. Besides, it's just school. Stop acting like I'm going off to war."
"Okay." He pondered for a moment. "You're going to miss out on all the great adventures I'll be having while you're gone."
"You mean trouble."
"It's the same thing, isn't it?"
"Hah, I guess you're right."
Breeze froze, Twilight's heart skipping a beat as his chest stopped moving so much as an inch. The shadows began to expand, crawling up and down the walls until the gleaming white surface was completely consumed. Next was the off-white floor, lost in the same way. Breeze faded a little slower, darkness falling evenly across his features. Little by little he melded with the blackness until he too was gone.
Twilight was alone again, staring into the abyss of her mind. A smile crept up on her lips, apprehension forgotten. Instead she was trying to remember the state of supplies in the library. If she recalled correctly, they had restocked just a week ago. Surely that should be enough for Spike to last on his own for a while. And if not, he knew where her stash of emergency bits was. She wished she could see what he was doing, mundane as it might be. She missed him so much.
The unicorn felt her consciousness fading, but this time she did not fight. With visions of Spike warming her heart, she drifted off, for the first time in ages, without fear.
Everything was a blur, river of green and brown flowing between the black spots. Twilight tried to squint, only realizing she was having another vision when she failed. A sigh carried up and down her thoughts.
"Ugh," Shine groaned. Twilight's sight wavered, a couple successive blinks doing little to alleviate the problem.
"Shine!" somepony distant, watery and sounding vaguely like Misty, shouted.
A blob of grey slinked in from the right, its elongated form wrestling with patches of blue. With a grunt, the stallion's vision steadied and the blob mutated, bit by bit, into a unicorn mare, a backdrop of mottled green and brown cloth framing her features. She was fixed with a short frown, inquisitive eyes topped by knit brows.
"You okay? What happened?" Misty tilted her head.
"Just a little banged up," Shine said, pausing intermittently as he worked his way to his hooves. "As for what happened, I remember fire... coming from the sky. Then I was flying backward and... nothing."
"Hmmm, so it was here." The grey unicorn walked to the right, looking the stallion up and down as she disappeared from his vision. "But you're not burned, not even singed."
The mare walked back in from the left.
"I must have got the shield up in time." His calm quickly fading. "Wait, what do you mean, 'it?' Don't tell me we're talking about-"
"A dragon, yes. I think we got it, though."
"The contingency wasn't meant for something quite that large. We saw it fall, but haven't been able to locate the body," Misty paced a little as she explained.
"Great..." Shine sighed. "So now what?"
"We'll have to retreat. This camp is no longer defensible. Especially if that dragon is still around."
This time the vision was gone in an instant, the sudden darkness sending Twilight into a short panic. She clung desperately to her train of thought, smiling as she reeled it back in. Not too long ago, the unicorn and her friends had faced a dragon. Her smile broadened. Even though the struggle was fraught with failure, everypony had done their best and brought the conflict to a quick end.
Her smile drooped, recalling that the last time she was with her friends, she was throwing lightning at them. Mist or not, it was still her body that had done them harm. She should have looked harder. Found a spell. Gone to the princess sooner. Something, anything.
But the time for preventative measures was long over. There was no way to go back, only to make things right. She could only hope that they would forgive her.
She shook her head.
No, she knew they would forgive her. She just needed to ask.
Misty's rump waggled as she worked, blue tail flicking erratically, lashing out at an invisible annoyance. Her snout was practically crammed into the bookcase, its simple red-brown frame reaching about half a meter above her head. Cabinets of an identical make sat on either side, each shelf fully stocked with tomes of various colours.
"But why?" Breeze whined.
"You still suck at fighting," Misty sighed, throwing a dismissive glance behind her.
The colt pounced, his words smooth and obviously rehearsed. "No, I don't. I even learned a destruction spell, watch!"
A faint light washed down from Breeze's forehead, which quickly disappeared as he took to the air. He crashed onto the floor, floorboards creaking in protest. He looked up from the planks, catching the second layer of magic dying away from his sister's horn.
"Hey, what was that for?!" Breeze yelled, letting out a huff as he rose to his hooves.
"I don't need you accidentally burning down the library," the elder unicorn snapped. "And besides, offensive magic is useless if you don't get a chance to use it."
Several books pulled away from the shelves, flipping open as they answered the whims of the mare.
"I wasn't ready!" the younger unicorn stomped, a dull rattling slinking out of the room. "If you'd told me that's what we were-"
"Ugh, that's the point, Breeze!" Misty spun, giving the colt a hard, bloodshot stare that startled Twilight. "The enemy isn't going to just waltz up and tell you they're attacking. If you can't even handle the basics, you'll just get yourself killed."
"No buts," the mare cut in. The corners of her eyes glittered the grey pony turned back to the bookcase. After a moment she spoke again, low, yet firm.
"There will be no more tears for our family. Not so easily."
Breeze trotted up beside his sister, struggling over a few useless syllables. "Don't you see? That's... that's why I want to help."
The colt's vision blurred as he pressed himself against the blue strands of Misty's mane. "You're all I have left, sis... What if..." He took a deep, audible breath. "What if something happens and I stood by and did nothing?"
Misty turned her head, resting it against Breeze's. Neither sibling moved for a long time. A gentle creaking crept in and out of existence. The air whined as it passed through. Outside, somepony was shouting. Finally, the mare pulled away, eying her brother up and down.
"I'll find you a job with supplies. Just... promise me you won't go looking for fights."
"Okay." Breeze nodded solemnly.
"Okay what?" The mare smirked, arching an eyebrow.
"Okay, ma'am!" Breeze chuckled.
"Much better," Misty said, the faintest touch of a giggle on her lips.
Twilight was sightless again, lost with the rest of the memory to the darkness of her mind. The unicorn shook her head, a warm wetness sliding across her cheeks.
The purple pony could see her mom's face, blue eyes bright and cheerful, peering out from under her neatly styled purple and white mane. A gentle smile lit up her white coat. Her father stood nearby, the blue stallion's yellow-brown eyes shining with approval.
Twilight could hardly remember the last time she saw them. Heck, she could barely remember the last time she even thought about them. Time had swept her away. Always something to do, something demanding her focus. Even when she returned to Canterlot, she went straight to the Gala. How easy it would have been to stop by. No doubt they would have been happy to let her friends stay the night. And yet she had returned to Ponyville, not a single thought cast their way. More than ever she wanted to hold them, to tell them she had not forgotten them, that she still loved them dearly.
Sleep was creeping in again and as Twilight's eyes fell shut, she could feel them nuzzling up against her. She let out a contented sigh.
Twilight's sight shivered, ragged gasps filling the air. A couple dark blue feathers lay scattered across the grey stone floor, illuminated by strong candlelight.
Her vision swung upward, revealing a white alicorn, pained weariness in her eyes. After a moment of confusion, Twilight was ashamed to think she took so long to recognize her mentor, even if her coat was layered in grime. Despite the smaller, skinnier stature, missing patches of fur and the smattering of crimson stains, the princess carried her air of majesty, pink mane billowing around her like a mantle. In place of the princess' usual tiara sat the Crown of Harmony. Light danced off of the blue, green, pink, orange and red jewels as they held formation around her.
"Do it," Princess Luna rasped, the grating of her voice almost sounding like a different pony.
"You can't be serious! I won't condemn you to years of that... thing in your head!"
"Then kill me," the moon princess replied flatly.
"No!" Princess Celestia's eyes were wide, her mouth contorted into a horrified frown. "You... you're not thinking straight!"
"Damnnit, Tia, you're... the one... who isn't thinking straight. You can't save everypony... Not this time!"
"You don't know-"
"Yes, I do! I can feel myself fading. Nameless... It will be back soon." The younger princess rose unsteadily, toppling to the floor with a dull thud. "It's me... or our subjects. You know... what the right choice is. Keep them safe."
Twilight's mind froze, fixating on Princess Celestia's eyes. The purple discs quivered like foals lost in the night. Candle light flickered across the dampness as it streamed down the alicorn's cheeks.
"I... I can't lose you, Luna."
The moon princess' own eyes became blurry, but several blinks later they were clear again. Her words leaped forth with renewed passion.
"Fine, then do it because you love me. Seal me and figure something out while I'm gone! Just... don't let me hurt them anymore... please."
The sun princess closed her eyes, tears continuing to flow as her horn came to life. With each passing moment, the dancing magic grew in radiance until the room was nearly washed out. Her eyes snapped open, blank sockets overflowing with energy.
"I'm so sorry, Luna!" she sobbed.
The vision faded away, those final words echoing in its wake. In all her years with the princess, Twilight had never seen anything like that. Seeing her mentor's composure break so thoroughly sent a wave of terror through her body, dread latching on to her heart. And yea, part of the unicorn felt relieved.
Princess Celestia was neither perfect nor, invincible. A thousand years knowing she locked her sister away with a monster. A thousand years knowing nopony else could ever stay by her side. All beneath that mask. Twilight could never pretend to understand. Even thinking about such a long span threw her mind into a whirl. But what she did understand was that at the princess' core, there was a pony like any other. And her heart ached.
All this time she had been looking at her mentor the wrong way. A perfect being must demand perfection and as her protege, Twilight's job was to be the perfect student. Or at least that was what she used to think. But the purple pony finally saw that in her eagerness for formality and excellence, she, like everypony else, had been alienating the princess.
Twilight's cheeks flushed. She had nearly given up, the horrors bringing her lonely mind to its knees. But even in the bowels of her mind, she was not truly alone. Her friends were there, if only she would remember. And they were waiting for her. Her mentor, the girls, Spike, her parents... she could not let them down. She refused to let them down. With fire burning in her eyes, she resolved to reclaim her life. The unicorn pushed herself to her hooves.
'Time to turn the tables.'
"Oh, I don't know about this." Fluttershy's eyes flitted side to side, returning every so often to the butterfly jewel around her neck. The pegasus was shrunken, taking cover behind her pink locks as she plodded down Ponyville's main road. Pinkie Pie began circling her, looking for what ailed her friend.
"Why? Is it too tight?" the orbiting pony asked, tilting her head.
"No, it's just that, um, well, everypony keeps staring."
"We have to be ready to go at anytime. So they'll just have to deal with it," Rainbow said.
They walked on in silence, Fluttershy shifting uncomfortably every time somepony glanced her way. The curly maned pony gave her a quick, sympathetic nudge, hoping it would calm her nerves long enough to get her into the library.
Pinkie turned her attention to Dash. "Are you sure they'll let us in?"
"If they won't, then we'll just have to sneak in," Rainbow declared.
"Um, is that really a good idea?"
"Stop." Dash commanded.
"Oh, good, I was afraid you wouldn't agree."
"No, not that." The blue pony hissed. "The guards are gone."
"Isn't that good for us since we don't have to be all sneaky and stuff?"
"Maybe. Just be quiet for a second. Fluttershy, if I nod at you, I want you to go get the others okay?" Rainbow whispered. Pinkie gave her a worried glance. The pegasus was never this cautious.
"Um, okay." The yellow pony answered uncertainly.
Dash crept up to the door, easing it open about a hoof's width. Pinkie Pie followed closely, peeking over the pegasus' shoulder. The pink pony caught a glimpse of Twilight's rear, the unicorn seemingly enamoured with whatever was in front of her.
Rainbow looked over at Fluttershy and nodded. The yellow pegasus stood stock still, simply staring back. However, a stern look from the other pegasus sent her sneaking off.
"What now?" Pinkie mouthed at the blue pony.
Dash leaned up to the pink pony's ear. "We distract her until the others get here."
Pinkie Pie nodded and was about to ask her friend how when the pegasus shoved the door open and strode in. The earth pony paused. Maybe Dash had a real cool speech about how uncool that big meanie was, stealing their friend like that. And then everypony else would get here just as she finished and then they would save Twilight and Pinkie would throw a great big party to celebrate. She chased eagerly after the rainbow tail.
With the unicorn fully in view, the pink pony noticed several objects orbiting her. A faint twinkle of magic danced around each object as it lazed along its course. One was a mostly transparent crystal ball, another a star shaped locket. The last one appeared to be some sort of golden bracer.
"Uh, hi, Twilight."
Pinkie stared. Her friend shrugged.
"Hello, Rainbow Dash." The purple mare turned slowly. "Have you come to join me?"
"Soon I will replace Celestia. I will take her knowledge, her power, her throne. Help a good friend out and you can have anything you wish. Such as captainship of the Wonderbolts. Quite the deal, yes?"
"No way! Twilight would never say something like that!" Rainbow snorted defiantly.
"Are you sure about that?" The unicorn's eyes narrowed, her voice low, almost seductive. "Have you ever seen into my mind, the deepest, darkest desires of my soul?"
"Even good ponies think bad things," Pinkie conceded. "But that doesn't mean they'll do those bad things! And Twilight is a good pony!"
"Yea! You can't fool us, we know who you are, Nameless!"
"Hah, they're still using that? How amusing. Well then, have they told you that nothing you do can possibly harm me?"
Rainbow opened her mouth, but quickly snapped it shut again, forming a scowl.
"I'll take that as a yes. Well, if you won't join me, perhaps you can still be useful." Nameless' horn glowed brightly, the gadgets racing around her. "I wonder what broiled pegasus tastes like."
The blue pony's eyes widened, leg muscles visibly tensing.
The unicorn grimaced and looked away, the artifacts grinding abruptly to a halt. Pinkie took a step forward, hope filling her eyes, only to be met once more with a malicious grin. The pink pony blinked. Surely she was not just been seeing things.
"You know, fireballs are so boring. But this one will be something everypony can appreciate," Nameless cackled.
The air tore in two, wavy black voids cleaving through like a knife. The spot of library convulsed as it separated, mutating into a set of dark, bluish-grey ridges. The patch rippled erratically, as though struggling against its own existence.
The earth pony squinted, the movement of several strange white things catching her eye. They skittered across the rocky hills, crawling into the library with unnerving speed. Pinkie tried to step back, but her knees were locked. She continued to stare, not daring to let the monsters out of her sight.
Their body was round, almost worm like and about four hooves long. They had short, stubby legs, the kind that might look cute on a woodland creature, but these were no woodland creatures. The monsters had no eyes, the tooth lined mouth consuming its face as surely as it could flesh. Saliva dripped to the floor and the pink pony cringed. She knew just what kind of flesh they were hungry for.
Pinkie gave Dash a sideways glance. The pegasus shifted restlessly, letting out a challenging snort.
With blinding speed, one of the worm things charged forward, leaping at Rainbow Dash. A sickening crack echoed through the library as the blue pony's muscular hind legs struck the monster in the belly. It sailed through the air, hitting one of the bookcases and bouncing twice before rolling to a stop. With a flick of her tail, Dash turned back to Nameless.
The remaining creatures began their own charge, half of them splitting off to attack Pinkie. Panic gripped her and she took several steps backward. While Dash boasted a black belt, the pink pony had no such luck. Yet her body shook with anticipation, a ferocity she never knew she had surging through her veins. Without a thought, her head was flicking to the side, barely getting clear of the monster's lunge. She brought her cranium back, swinging wildly into the creature Her world blurred for a moment, but when it cleared, her opponent was tumbling across the ground.
The second creature was upon her, staying low as it clattered noisily across the wooden floor. She pulled her foreleg away, but the sharp pain drawing across it told her she was too slow. Ignoring the stickiness that followed, she stamped down.
"Hey! That wasn't very nice!" she yelled, turning her side toward the monster. It had already doubled back. But this time she was ready. She pulled back, the thing falling just short of her wounded leg.
Seizing her opportunity, Pinkie slammed both forehooves down, pinning the creature. She alternated her legs, each blow more violent than the last. After a few strikes it became gross and mushy. A half dozen more and her hooves were wet and sticky and something smelled really bad. She looked down at the mess she had made and thought she was going to be ill.
"Pinkie! Look out!"
She had hardly begun to react when something rammed into her flank, tossing her to the floor. The pink pony landed awkwardly on her side, gasping as the impact stole all her air. She lay there wheezing, her body allowing her to do little else.
Rainbow Dash's agonized scream startled Pinkie from her stupor. The pink pony's friend stood over her, body and wings spread wide. Rapid wriggling drew her eyes to the pegasus' left wing. The earth pony winced as the monster continued to dig in.
"Get. OFF!" Dash raged, buffeting forcefully. Her prismatic mane swirled violently as the creature collided with the wall again and again. On the third or fourth strike, the monster dislodged and the wounded pony wasted no time, driving a hind leg into its head with a decisive crunch.
Rainbow breathed heavily as she turned back to Nameless. "That... that all you got?"
"As a matter of fact? No."
More of the creatures entered the rocky area, swarming from every direction. Counting at least a dozen Pinkie froze. There was no way they could win. As the monsters skittered closer, she felt something pressing against her rump.
The pace almost pushed the pink pony into a canter, bewilderment spread across her face as she glanced behind her. Dash gritted her teeth, the shame of defeat on her face. She shook her head. They needed to go. The ponies burst from the library, growls and maniacal laughter echoing out from behind.
They fled down the street, past a small residence and around the corner, each poking an eye out. Pinkie tensed as several of the creatures clambered out of the library. She let herself breathe again when they just stood there, unmoving. A moment later, they charged the nearest pony, whom screamed and galloped away at full speed. As other bystanders began to notice the monsters' presence, panic erupted in the street, spilling over into the park.
"Oh, no! What do we do?"
"We can't leave them hanging. We gotta get those things' attention. C'mon!"
"But, then what? What about your wing?" Pinkie asked, eyes glued to her friend's stained feathers.
"Don't worry, I'll improvise." The blue pony flashed her a cocky smile.
Before the pink pony could say another word, Rainbow Dash leaped out into the open, yelling "Hey, you, ugly! Yea, you! Over here!"
The majority of the monsters paused, an eerie synchronization to their turning as they faced the pegasus. They scrambled straight for the pair.
"We have to get them away from here!"
Pinkie nodded, following Dash down one of the side streets.
"Hey, over there!" Rainbow yelled, veering off to the side as they reached the top of a short incline. The blue pony disappeared behind a couple stacks of crates. A grating crunch was preceded by a barrel making its way out.
"Ohhh, I see!" The pink pony dove in, helping her friend fish two more from the pile.
"Eat this!" Rainbow's container sped off, the momentum from her hind legs driving it relentlessly through the mass of monsters. Many were knocked aside, but little else came of the attack. Pinkie launched her barrel anyway, with Rainbow Dash's second quickly overtaking it.
"Well, that didn't work. Let's get out of-" Dash turned around. "Horse apples!"
"Huh?" Pinkie Pie gave her friend a strange look. Her heart sunk when she saw the monsters coming up on their flank.
"They're smarter than I thought. Hurry, Pinkie, get on my back."
"Okay!" The pink pony did not have to be told twice.
Rainbow Dash spread her wings, flapping vigourously. They were barely a meter off the ground when agony escaped the pegasus' lips. The next thing Pinkie knew she was rolling across the ground. She ignored the aches in her body, scrambling to stand again.
"Ow! Hey... Rainbow Dash, are you okay?" She rushed over to her crumpled friend. The battered pegasus let out a string of curses as she untangled herself.
"I couldn't get enough lift."
"Your wing..." the earth pony stared at the bloody feathers again. "I make us too heavy, don't I?"
"N-no! I just..."
"You're hurt." Pinkie gave the blue pony a concerned look. "Don't worry about me. Get out of here."
"And leave you? No way. Never!" Rainbow insisted, standing tall.
"Dashie..." A weak smile crept onto Pinkie Pie's lips.
"I've got this side," Dash said cockily, tail brushing up against Pinkie's. "You ready?"
The pink pony dug in, finding Rainbow's bravado infectious, "Yea! I'll teach these ones not to be such Meanie Pants!"
The creatures were quickly closing in, dozens of teeth rising and falling in a tidal wave of ravenous death. The pink pony bowed her head and snorted. She would protect Rainbow until the end.
Something crashed down in front of the pink pony's opponents, fragments exploding everywhere as the shattering of glass echoing up and down the street. Flames spilled all over the ground, creating a deadly wall that ignited each of the monsters unfortunate enough to be caught in the flood. Pinkie Pie stared as they screeched and writhed, but when the stench of burning flesh reached her nostrils, she buried her snout in the nook of her foreleg.
More glass broke, followed by a "Huh?" from Rainbow Dash and the crackling of another hungry fire. Smoke, roaring flames and the stink and screams of the dying filled the air, fighting for dominance over Pinkie's senses.
"Hey, you two okay?" The voice was barely audible.
Taking her best guess, the earth pony glanced up and grinned broadly when she saw the two airborne pegasi, "Dusky! Ditzy! Am I ever glad to see you!"
As the two winged mares descended, Pinkie noticed Ditzy's mailbag was bulging, but not with mail. The tops of cloth stuffed bottles protruded from the open sack. On top of that, the blond pegasus carried a small torch in her mouth.
"Ugh, it's even worse down here," the charcoal pegasus cringed, wrinkling her snout.
Pinkie leaned in as Ditzy attempted to speak, but try as the pink pony might, everything just sounded like "mmph." The mailmare's partner seemed to have similar problems, a baffled look crossing her face. After a few more moments, the grey pegasus simply nodded.
"Rainbow, your wing, is it-" Dusky began.
"I'm fine," Dash cut in firmly, turning her body to place the bloodied wing out of view. "Just give Pinkie a hoof, okay?"
"Okay. Hop on." the charcoal pegasus beckoned. Pinkie nodded, giving Ditzy a quick nudge as she passed by. She draped herself over Dusky's back.
"We had it under control." Rainbow bit her lip.
"Sure," Dusky shook her head, the barest of giggles escaping into Pinkie's ears. "Let's get out of here."
Beating her wings, the black pony rose from the ground, rocking unsteadily at first. After a few moments she leveled out and off they went.
The earth pony took a quick glance behind her. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Dash gliding along without so much as a flinch. Ditzy trailed by a couple meters. With her heart set at ease, Pinkie turned her attention to Dusky.
"How did you know where we were?"
"We didn't." The pegasus shook her head. "Princess Celestia shipped a crate of those things Ditzy has to the mayor. I was helping her lug it into the town hall when those
things showed up. Luckily, the princess' instructions were pretty clear. The mayor sent a batch out with any pegasi whom happened to be there. It's just dumb luck we were able to find you."
"Ohhh, that makes sense. Thank you, anyway." The pink pony smiled, pressing her snout into the back of Dusky's mane. "I wonder if the princess knew Twilight would be here."
"Why would the princess send weapons after Twilight?" the charcoal pony shot back a concerned look. "Wait, those rumours about the castle... were they true?"
"No! I mean, kind of, like..." Pinkie wondered how she could even summarize such a long story. "It wasn't really Twilight. See, she's possessed by this big meanie ghost thingy called Nameless and it makes ponies do bad things. But it also makes them really strong. And the princesses have been fighting it forever!"
Dusky was silent as they descended. The pink pony surveyed the ground below, watching the tower-like town hall rise to meet them. Once Pinkie's hooves were on solid ground, the pegasus turned to her, a dreadful fear in her eyes.
"It was the cave, wasn't it? Everything that's happened, it's..."
"Because of some jerk who's really good at tricking ponies," Rainbow Dash interjected. "Whatever happened probably would have happened if any of the team was with her."
"Dash?" Surprise washed over the black pony's face, which quickly melted into relief, like a weight had been lifted from her back. Aside from Pinkie Pie, anyway. "Can she be fixed?"
"Yea. We can do it with the Elements. We'll have our Twilight back and Nameless will pay for thinking it could even lay a hoof on her. Just leave it to us."
The charcoal mare looked at each of the ponies' necklaces, then nodded. "Okay."
The town hall's door burst open, one tearing a hinge, leaving itself hanging precariously. Out strode Nameless, more than a half dozen trinkets circling her. Pinkie squinted as she thought she recognized one as the receptionist's flower vase.
"Return those at once!" the mayor's voice followed the unicorn.
"Oh, please, so your hall is less pretty. At least I'm not wasting their potential," the purple mare shot back.
'I knew it!' Pinkie giggled, allowing herself a moment to bask in the absurdity.
"Nameless! Stop!" Rainbow Dash fell into a low, confrontational stance as she stepped into the unicorn's path.
"Huh? You're still alive? I don't have time to play with you anymore." The purple pony's sprung to life, a large, crackling ball of darkness forming above her. It launched into the sky, drifting casually for a few meters before exploding, giving birth to a hail of black stars.
Pinkie let out a stunned yell, hunkering down, as she clutched her forehooves over her head. She shook profusely, her coat already feeling like it was searing away. But the pain never came. She eased an eye open and gaped at the shimmering silver bowl of light hanging over her.
"Ah, Luna... stepping in again, I see?" Nameless arched a brow at thin air. Pinkie arched hers in turn. A moment later, the princess of the night simply materialized, her body bearing the same faded, almost transparent appearance as at the castle.
"Let Twilight go," the princess demanded.
Nameless blinked. "Have you gone senile? Why would I do that?"
"Because her friends want her back." Princess Luna flourished both forehooves. Pinkie followed the princess' hooves, glee spreading across her face as she noticed the arrival of Applejack, Rarity and Fluttershy. As she pushed herself to a standing position, she noticed the apple embroidered bags hanging off the orange pony's back. This was it. She could already see the real Twilight's smiling face.
"Yea! C'mon, Twi! You can beat that damn body thief!"
"Certainly. What kind of classless buffoon steals somepony else's body?"
"A buffoon AND a meanie pants!"
"And a punk, don't forget that!"
"Um... yea, give her back... if you don't... no, even if you mind."
"Gah! Shut up and get lost!" Nameless' horn flashed. Pinkie's jaw dropped as a beam of white light surged toward her. The thing had to be the size of a house. She scrambled to get out of the way, but it was too late. She stared dumbly, wondering what went wrong.
When the beam was a few meters away, it suddenly shot skywards, a translucent silver wall blocking its path.
In the wake of the attack, the purple pony was left visibly hunched. She fumed angrily between laboured breaths, sunlight glinting off her brow.
"Having trouble?" the moon princess taunted, a smirk creeping over her face.
"You! I... don't... Gaaahh! Enough! Fine, we'll play it this way then!" The unicorn's collection of artifacts spun wildly, her horn becoming as blinding as the sun. Pinkie Pie winced, taking cover behind her forehooves.
"What? No, are you crazy?!" Princess Luna yelled. Pinkie's stomach flip flopped. That was not something she wanted to hear.
When the pink pony could no longer see through her eyelids, she cautiously forced an eye open and gaped.
"Gehehehe... wouldn't you like to know?" Nameless' irises were shrunken, a deranged smile spreading over her face. Surrounding her were dozens of those strange tears from earlier, their collective shimmering nearly mesmerizing.
Magic danced around the princess' horn and several of the portals collapsed, vanishing into the air. But she was too late: the others had already begun to spew monsters by the dozen. They waddled about erratically, no doubt searching for victims.
"Enjoy my gift," Nameless yelled shrilly, disappearing in a flash of white light.
A split second later, another flash of white caught Pinkie's eye. The purple pony stood on the road, a bewildered look on her face. Seeing everypony staring at her, she let out a "Bah!" and turned, galloping away.
"After her! Don't let her escape!" Princess Luna yelled.
"But what about Ponyville?" Dash asked, eyes flitting between the monsters and the fleeing pony.
"I'll handle that! Stick to the plan! Your princess commands it!"
"You heard her, c'mon girls!" Applejack shouted, speeding off as she finished.
"You two! Get those bombs back in the sky!"
"Me? Er, I mean, yes, princess!" was Dusky's hasty reply. Pinkie stole a glance at the charcoal pegasus, smiling weakly at the surprise written all over the other mare's face. After a moment, she noticed the pink pony, calling out a "Good luck!" before departing.