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Rainbow Dash and Zecora were pinned down behind a fallen chunk of ceiling as magical blasts and lightning rained down upon them. On the other side of the shaking throne room, the Shadowbolts fought to stay upright as their enraged Mistress shook the room with her spells.
“Master!” The lead Shadowbolt called out a warning. “The palace is falling apart!” She quailed under the furious gaze of Nightmare Moon but apparently her warning was heeded for she stopped her attack.
“Find them!” She snapped at the Shadowbolts. “Do not let them escape!” This was easier said than done, for all the dust and debris still hung in the air, effectively shielding the pegasus and zebra from sight as they planned their next move.
Rainbow Dash crouched low as one of the pegasi of darkness flew overhead, looking this way and that for them. “Do you still have that weird illusion powder of yours?” She whispered softly. Zecora nodded, not understanding what the hot-tempered pegasus was up to. Dash smiled. “Good. Here’s what I want you to do…”
The Shadowbolt captain flew around the large throne room, brushing aside the dust and smoke in the air as she beat her wings, looking for her captives. Then out of the corner of her eye she caught a flicker of movement from behind one of the pillars holding up what was left of the roof. She quickly flitted behind it, voice ready to let out a shout of triumph for her fellows—instead she was greeted by a ghostly green apparition. A small unicorn filly so young that she didn’t even have her cutie mark yet. Her eyes wavering as she looked up, she let out a soft “Mama?”
Something in the Shadowbolt’s heart constricted as she recognized her…or what she was a representation of, at any rate. It was Dinky Doo, daughter of Ditzy Doo. The Shadowbolt squelched the feelings from the body she was wearing as irrelevant. She turned to walk away but her hooves refused to budge. “What sorcery is this?” She spat.
“Mama…” The ghostly Dinky begged, her face crunching up in a sniffle as she fought the urge the cry. “I want my m-mama…”
The Shadowbolt covered her head with her hooves. “Stop it! Show yourself!”
Rainbow Dash stepped out from behind a pillar, the mist gently curling around her. “I’m right here Ditzy.”
The captain’s twisted gargoyle-like wings flapped angrily, her gold goggles flashing. “I am NOT Ditzy Doo!”
Dash shoved her muzzle right into her face. “Yes, you are! You. Are. Ditzy Doo! You live in Ponyville—you’re a weather worker and a mail mare. You love muffins and are one of the sweetest ponies around. You’re clumsy, off-kilter and a silly pony sometimes, but you always try your best and everypony loves you for it. You’re always cheery and a great friend.” She wrapped a wing around her. “Whenever I needed somepony to give me a hoof, you were always there for me…just like you’ve been there for your daughter.” She pointed at Dinky.
“D-daughter…” The Shadowbolt stuttered.
“Yeah…the sweetest little filly ever and she’s your daughter. She loves you to death and right now, she misses you. You’re her hero. She NEEDS you. Come back to her.” Rainbow Dash urged.
The Shadowbolt covered her head with her hooves. “You…belong to me.” Nightmare Moon’s voice echoed within Ditzy’s own head.
“C’mon Ditzy, I know you’re in there!” Rainbow Dash hugged her. “Fight it!”
"I—I belong t-to…to….” The Shadowbolt closed her eyes. It was Ditzy Doo who opened them. “I belong to…no…pony!” With an agonized scream, something snapped. The other two Shadowbolts—formerly the royal pegasi guards Steelwing and Silver Lining, also held their heads and screamed as Nightmare Moon’s hold was broken, the three of them bound together by her dark magic.
Perhaps Nightmare Moon had expended too much of her magic in her rage-fueled attack. Maybe there was something in Zecora’s powder or her wards that weakened the Nightmare’s hold on Ditzy Doo and the others. Or maybe, just maybe, the love of a mother overpowered all else. “Dinky!” She desperately reached out with both hooves to embrace her daughter, only for them to pass through, the illusionary Dinky fading out of existence. “No!” Ditzy stared at her own hooves, discolored by Nightmare Moon’s magic to a dull, ashy gray peeking through the holes in her dark Shadowbolt uniform. “M-muffin?!”
“It’s okay Ditzy, it’s okay! Dinky’s safe!” Rainbow assured her, holding her tight as they both sank to their knees. “It’s gonna be okay.” Zecora stepped out of the shadows, kneeling down next to Ditzy to check her pulse. She nodded. Ditzy would be fine.
“That is where you are wrong.” The three mares looked up to see Nightmare Moon towering over them. Her eyes flashed with cold fury. “You have doomed your own friends with this act. I withdraw my countenance from them!” With a discharge from her horn, Ditzy and the others writhed in pain, their Shadowbolt uniforms gone and returned to their normal forms. The shock had rendered them all unconscious, like it had Shining Armor.
Rainbow Dash held the unconscious Ditzy to her as the green illusion mist dissipated around them. “Ditzy…” she said softly, as she looked up at Nightmare Moon with pure hate in her eyes.
“I shall create new soldiers, untainted and pure!” The dark alicorn announced as her eyes crackled with energy. Soon new Shadowbolts appeared, congealing out of the smoke and mist of Nightmare Moon’s own mane. First one, then two, three…soon there were dozens of them. “Did you really think that depriving me of a few lowly servants would stop me? You haven’t even inconvenienced me. I shall crush you as easily as I have crushed all who have dared to oppose me throughout the world. I am power unlike any you have known! Absolute, infinite, and unrelenting! You have no choice but to prepare for a long, dark future as my subjects... and my slaves.”
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, her face twitching. “You know what you need to do? You really need to take the opportunity to shut the hay up.”
“As far as final words go, I’ve heard better.” Nightmare Moon turned to her Shadowbolt army. “Finish them.”
“Not so fast Nightmare Moon!” A call came from behind them. In the door way of the throne room stood Applejack, Pinkie Pie and Rarity. Applejack stepped forward. “S’all over fer you!”
The mare of darkness laughed. “Am I supposed to be intimidated? You’ll have to do better than that.”
“Alright then.” AJ stepped aside, revealing Twilight Sparkle magically levitating six gray stone rocks each carved with a unique symbol. “How do you like THEM apples?”
Nightmare Moon drew back. “The Elements of Harmony?! But how-?!”
“You’d be surprised what you find lying around your own house.” Rainbow quipped cheekily.
“GET THEM!” Ranted the evil princess. The Shadowbolts leaped into the air, rushing at both groups. The air was thick with dark wings flapping.
“Get down!” Applejack called as everypony hit the floor. And just in time. From behind the group at the door came a shower of rocks and dirt that hit the Shadowbolt charge head on.
From her place on the floor, Rarity peeked behind her. “Good job boys! You’re such good dogs!” Roughly thirty Diamond Dogs were bent over, their back to the door, frantically digging at the ground, tossing broken bits of floor and dirt between their legs and over the crouching ponies. A sea of happily wagging tails was Rarity’s answer as the digging increased.
The other contingent of Shadowbolts meanwhile kept heading for Rainbow Dash, Zecora and the unconscious Ditzy Doo. From above they heard the softest cry of “Charge!” ever uttered. They looked to see a soft yellow pegasus with a pink mane fluttering over them. “Um please?” She added. Half a beat later the Shadowbolts found themselves also being attacked from above! Swooping down with a fierce cry, talons outstretched, a swarm of gargoyles tackled the Shadowbolts out of the sky.
To add to the confusion, a sudden swirl of water flooded into a pair of wrecked fountains that occupied the corners of the throne room. Out of the fountain bows sprouted the gilled pony-shaped heads of the seaponies, spraying water out of their mouths and knocking Shadowbolts out of the air with concentrated water jets.
Rainbow Dash turned her head to Zecora and winked. “Told you I had a cunning plan. Now, tell us how to use the Elements so we can blast her!” Zecora opened her mouth but what she said cut off by a blast from Nightmare Moon that struck between the two of them, forcing them to split up.
Rainbow went sprawling, rolling over until she came to a stop against the wall. She looked up to see Nightmare Moon looming over her. “You!
The pegasus looked up weakly. “Um, hi?”
“RAARGH!” Dash rolled away just before Nightmare Moon’s hooves smashed down where her head had been a second earlier. Scrambling to her hooves, Rainbow ran to where her friends were gathered at the entrance. As tense as things were, she was smiling. They had an army. They had the Elements of Harmony and they had each other. She just KNEW the second she was with her friends, everything would be alright.
She was about halfway across the room when she heard somepony shout her name. She turned, it was Zecora. The zebra pointed at a place across the room. Nightmare Moon’s horn was crackling as she aimed it at the doorway where her friends were standing. With all the chaos in the room, the others hadn’t even noticed her. “NO!” Rainbow Dash charged ahead, unfurling her wings. She streaked ahead, her mane swept back. Twilight saw her approaching, waving her over with a hoof. “GET DOWN!”
Several things happened at once. Nightmare Moon fired. Rainbow swept out her legs and succeeded in knocking all five of her friends away. She barely had time to sigh before the lightning struck her in the side. She screamed at the burning, charring sensation even as she felt herself being propelled through the wall, rock shattering upon her impact.
Rainbow Dash’s vision swam as she was knocked out of the throne room, and out of the castle altogether. Below her, she saw the Everfree Forest growing closer as she fell in spin. She faintly heard somepony—maybe several someponies—shout her name. Then she closed her eyes and everything went black.