I woke up just before the sun rose, a habit I had developed over the week of my assignment. I slid out from beneath my blanket and crawled from under the tarp I’d put in place above my campsite to keep the rain off my belongings. Yawning, I stretched out my limbs and jogged in place, escalating my heart rate and helping to wake myself up more rapidly. I would kill for some coffee, but that was a luxury I didn’t have access to. Living in the field was unpleasant, certainly, but this place wasn’t as bad as some I had experienced. As my body warmed up from the light calisthenics, I felt my head clear. Smiling, I broke into a run, galloping away from my campsite and into the dark forest in a short circuit that brought me quickly back to my bivouac. It felt good to run; the wind tugging at my mane and sweeping through my coat invigorated me.
After a light breakfast of oats and vegetables, I moved out from my camp. I pulled my dark green cloak over my back and fastened it around my neck. From within one of the pockets hidden in my cloak’s inner lining, I retrieved the pocket watch that I’d acquired earlier, winding it and ensuring it was working, and then tucked it away once more. After briefly checking over the other concealed pockets of my cloak and the items held within, I determined that I was ready.
I moved out from my campsite, leaving the dense forest behind me and heading towards town. With a smile plastered on my face, I approached the edge of Ponyville, where I had been working for the past six days. Initially, I had started my job in Canterlot, but circumstances had changed and I’d ridden a train out to this small town in the valley below the capital city. After all, one must go where the work is.
Ponyville was a typically quaint example of small town Equestria, a sort of neo-medieval architectural design interspersed with many open-air markets and conglomerations of tents and pavilions. Its claim to fame was that it housed a group of six mares, all of which were the physical embodiment of the Elements of Harmony. One of these mares, Twilight Sparkle, was also the apprentice of Princess Celestia, the Goddess of the Sun.
Trotting through town, I observed as dozens of ponies rushed about, furiously cleaning the streets, decorating, and hanging banners emblazoned with the Celestial Crest: a sun motif not unlike the cutie mark of Princess Celestia. I smiled pleasantly at a few ponies who passed by, and they returned my grin. I continued on to my destination: Sugarcube Corner, a local bakery and home of the Element of Laughter, a shockingly pink and nebulous pony by the name of Pinkie Pie.
The mare in question was a blur of activity, her hooves busy decorating a massive mountain of cupcakes with all manner of different colored frostings. She paused her decorating and gave me a massive grin. “Heya there Flamey-wamey! What’s shakin’? You here for your usual boring breakfast muffin?”
“Nah, I already ate,” I replied. “Plus, anything baked by you is anything but boring.”
Pinkie Pie stuck out her tongue at me. “Candle Flame, you flatterer! You just love me for my free samples!”
I decided to change the topic. ”You look busy! Almost ready for Princess Celestia’s parade this afternoon?”
“Yeperroni! There’s going to be so many new ponies here in town, and I want to make sure each and every one of them has a smile on their face and a cupcake in their hooves!” Pinkie Pie giggled and hummed to herself as she climbed a stepladder to reach the cupcakes higher on the display. I stood back and watched Pinkie work, once again amazed by her artistic dexterity. Though I wouldn’t normally be one to call decorating cupcakes an ‘art’, in the capable hooves of Pinkie Pie, magical things seemed to happen with baked goods.
“So, Flamey-wamey, how about you? Are you as excited for the parade as I am?” asked Pinkie Pie, standing on one hoof to reach some of the elusive pastries.
“Sure am, Miss Pie!” I replied with a smile. “I’ve been looking forward to it for almost a week now!”
Pinkie Pie gasped and stared at me with wide eyes. “A week? It’s been a whole week since you came to town?”
“Oh my gosh! Flamey! We should throw you a party!” she squeaked excitedly. “A ‘happy one week anniversary of coming to Ponyville’ party!”
I laughed, despite myself. “After my last ‘welcome’ party, it better not involve confetti or cake batter.”
Pinkie Pie blushed. “Yeah, sorry about that. I always mix up where the cake batter goes in the welcome wagon. On the bright side, though, you got to meet Gummy when I took you home to get cleaned up!”
“Yes, he was... delightful. I don’t think I’ve screamed so girlishly in my life.” I smirked.
Pinkie giggled. “Oh gosh, that was funny! Sorry about that, too. I’m surprised you haven’t started avoiding me by now!”
“I couldn’t be kept away, Miss Pie,” I said with a gentle smile. “You’re a treasure. You always tell me all kinds of great stories and other useful information. Why, I feel right at home in Ponyville, thanks to you.”
Pinkie stuck her tongue out at me. “Don’t call me ‘Miss Pie’!”
“Why not? I’m just being respectful.”
“Well...” Pinkie hummed. “I don’t like it! My mom was ‘Miss Pie’, so call me Pinkie! We’re friends after all, right, Flamey?”
I chuckled. “Of course. Thanks, Pinkie.”
Pinkie laughed when I said her name. “Oh boy, that’s a step in the right direction! Not so stiff and formal! Now, if only I could get that grin of yours to get all the way up to your eyes!”
I tried to grin bigger, and Pinkie snorted. “Eh. I’ve seen better.”
I relaxed my mouth to a serious face and pouted at her. She resumed her decorating, but I persisted, edging closer to her and keeping up the puppy-dog eyes. She glanced at me and struggled to maintain her composure. I stuck my bottom lip out and gave her a whimper. She burst into laughter, nearly tumbling off the step stool. “Okay! Okay! It was a good attempt!”
Smiling at Pinkie, I sat back, watching the mare work on her cupcakes. I cleared my throat after a moment, catching Pinkie Pie’s attention, and the pink mare turned her sapphire eyes towards me, balancing on one hoof above the towering display of dessert. “Somethin’ on your mind, Flamey?”
This was the moment of truth. I’d spent six days with Pinkie Pie, getting into her good graces and earning her trust—which was a surprisingly easy feat to accomplish—and now it all came down to this moment. “Pinkie, I was wondering, would you be okay if I watched the parade from your room up on top of Sugarcube Corner? It’s going to have the best view in town, by my estimates.”
Pinkie Pie giggled. “Listen to you! ‘By my estimates’! You really should meet Twilight; you talk like she does sometimes!”
I smiled at Pinkie Pie. “That doesn’t sound like a bad idea. How about tomorrow?”
Pinkie gasped. Grinning from ear to ear, Pinkie Pie leapt off the ladder and landed in front of me, pulling me into a decidedly fluffy hug. “Oh, Flamey, this’ll be so much fun! I’ll get a cake and balloons and streamers and you’ll have the best time! Finally, a real ‘Welcome to Ponyville Candle Flame’ party! And it can be your one week anniversary party too!”
I laughed and returned the hug, smiling despite myself. When this was over, I’d miss her the most. “I can’t wait,” I uttered quietly. What I really wanted was an answer to my question, but I knew she’d get around to it.
Pinkie Pie bounced away, returning to her icing while humming a happy tune. I watched her for a few moments, quietly waiting, and her ears twitched my way. She halted her work and turned to face me. “Oh, and the answer is yes!”
Smiling, I gave her a nod. “Thanks, Pinkie! I’ll see you after the parade!”
I turned around to leave, and Pinkie waved after me. “See ya later! I’ll leave the windows open upstairs so you can see better!”
Chuckling to myself, I left the bakery, glad that things were falling into place. I moved into the town, passing by the growing crowds along the parade route. I had a few hours to kill, so I decided to make the most of it. I went down to the Ponyville Day Spa and pushed open the doors. One of the mares who worked there, Aloe, smiled at me and said softly, “Hello, Mister Flame. What can I do for you?”
“Aloe, I’ll take a soak in the hot tub and a massage.”
The pink mare nodded and led me to the sauna. I took off my cloak, careful to fold it so nothing would fall out, and stepped into the hot water of the bath. I sighed appreciatively, and looked to Aloe with half-lidded eyes. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’d just like to sit and soak for a bit. No need for the incense or bath salts.”
Aloe nodded demurely and left me to my own devices. Once she was gone I allowed myself to relax, my languid smile dropping away. I lay back in the deeper part of the tub, relaxing my tense muscles as best I could, letting my mane and tail float around me in tangled swirls. I closed my eyes, trying to center myself, but it was difficult. I flexed my forelegs and swirled them in the water lazily, visualizing my work for the coming day. I did my best to allow the stress to bleed away.
I heard voices echoing oddly through the water and sat up in the bath. Two ponies, a canary yellow pegasus with a straight pink mane and a cream-coated unicorn with a stylish violet mane, entered the tub area, talking to each other animatedly. I frowned slightly, blowing a few bubbles through my nose with frustration. I was certain that nopony else would be coming in today, what with preparation for the Princess’ arrival ongoing.
“I’m so delighted you agreed to come, Fluttershy,” said the unicorn, smiling at her friend. “I simply couldn’t stand to not look my best for Princess Celestia, don’t you agree?”
“Um, I don’t think she minds that much, Rarity. The Princess is... ah... very understanding,” replied the pegasus.
In the tub, I was in shock. I’d heard those names before from Pinkie Pie. Rarity and Fluttershy were two of her best friends, and moreover, were also two of the Elements of Harmony. This was, undoubtedly, a stroke of luck. I tried to decide how to play my coming interaction. Rarity made it to the edge of the tub before noticing me and smiling. “Oh, dear! I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t realize that this area was in use! You were so quiet!”
I poked my head up out of the water and gave the unicorn my best smile. “Nothing to be sorry about. I’m a quiet sort.”
Rarity waved a hoof in the air. “I’d hate to disturb you with my chattering, then!”
“Oh, not at all. Luckily, I’m also easy going. I promise you won’t disturb me, Miss...?”
The unicorn laughed gently and flushed, her ears tilting back. “Oh, how unladylike of me not to introduce myself. I’m Rarity, and this is my dear friend, Fluttershy.”
I perked up, feigning delight. “Rarity and Fluttershy? Why, I’ve heard of you!”
Fluttershy hid behind her long bangs at my declaration, but Rarity took a step forward, seeming pleased. “Oh? Then I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, dear Sir...?”
“Candle Flame. I’m a friend of Pinkie Pie’s! She’s told me all about you and the rest of your friends.”
Fluttershy peeked from behind her mane when I said my name and smiled hesitantly. “Oh! I’ve heard about you. Pinkie Pie was telling me about you the other day.”
With a toss of her lovely mane, Rarity beamed at me. “Yes, I believe my friend is rather taken with you! She’s told us that she’s been trying to get you to come and meet the group, but you’ve somehow managed to avoid all her surprise parties which, may I add, is no easy feat.”
“Well, I’ve heard plenty of stories about you both. Rarity, destined to be the greatest fashionista known to Equestria, and the caring and kind Fluttershy, friend to animals of all sorts.” I knew exactly what to say to these two mares. Pinkie Pie practically made me rehearse. Rarity held her head a little higher as I brought up her renowned career as a tailor, and Fluttershy smiled a little wider at the mention of animals.
I had them. I splashed a hoof in the water invitingly. “Ladies, I would be honored if you joined me for a relaxing soak. The water is exquisite.”
Fluttershy seemed a bit uncertain, but Rarity gave her friend a gentle nudge and smiled at me. “We would be delighted to!”
“Y-yes. Delighted,” murmured Fluttershy.
“We’ll have to make it quick, though, because we have to finish a full treatment and get prepared for Princess Celestia’s arrival. Will you be attending the parade, Mister Flame?”
I smiled. “Of course! I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Rarity and Fluttershy entered the tub, making appreciative comments about the water temperature. Aloe returned and added some bath salts to the water, filling the air with the refreshing scent of lavender and dandelions. I lay back on the edge of the tub and assumed a relaxed posture, and I waved a hoof at the two Elements of Harmony. “Please, don’t mind me. I tend to drift off in the hot water. I promise I don’t snore.”
Rarity giggled at my declaration, and I even managed to elicit a soft laugh from Fluttershy. They relaxed after a few minutes, chatting quietly to each other as I feigned a light nap, relaxing my breathing and closing my eyes, allowing my mouth to lull open slightly.
Rarity’s voice spoke a little louder, “Mister Flame, I—”
“Shhh! Rarity, I think he’s asleep!” interrupted Fluttershy’s voice gently.
Rarity spoke softly this time. “Oh, I believe you’re right.”
Fluttershy giggled. “Let’s try to stay quiet. He must need some rest.”
“Of course. I wouldn’t want to wake him.”
I kept my eyes closed and listened.
“Fluttershy, dear, have you heard anything more from Twilight about the plans for the parade?”
“Oh, yes. Twilight said that Celestia wanted to walk with us, but the guards insisted that she ride on a chariot. I guess it’s traditional.”
“Well, tradition is very important! Will we be riding alongside her?”
“I think we’re still going to be walking.”
“Oh, drat. I was hoping not to ruin a good hooficure. I suppose it can’t be helped, though. One must make sacrifices for the sake of the public.”
Fluttershy giggled. “Not much of a sacrifice if you ask me.”
“Do you know if we’ll be escorted? Ohhh, imagine me, being escorted by two of the Royal Guard, in their handsome golden armor! I think I have a dress that matches well with their uniform, in fact...”
“Oh... um, I’m not sure. I know that a group of the Royal Guard will be there. Twilight didn’t think there’d be too many actually in the parade. They would mostly be along the route, for safety.”
I smiled to myself, twitching a hoof slightly in feigned sleep. This was a gold mine of information. More than I could have ever hoped for from Pinkie Pie, even.
Rarity giggled. “Oh my, did you see his hoof twitch? He’s adorable. I can see why Pinkie Pie has taken a shine to him.”
Fluttershy laughed as well. “I’m glad Pinkie Pie likes him, he seems nice.”
“I think Pinkie Pie thinks he’s more than just nice, Fluttershy.”
My concentration broke and I jerked, my head dunking under the water. I came up sputtering and coughing, rubbing my eyes. The mares both chuckled, and I blinked at them, forcing my face from startled surprise to feigned grogginess. “Ah, apologies. I didn’t mean to fall asleep so suddenly.”
Rarity put a hoof over her mouth, her eyes twinkling as she shared a glance with Fluttershy, who flushed and ducked her nose under the water, blowing embarrassed bubbles. “Quite all right, Mister Flame. I hope we didn’t wake you.”
“No, I think I had a funny dream. Something about... cupcakes.”
The unicorn mare gave me a knowing look. “A good dream?”
I decided to indulge her romantic fantasies. “Very.”
Rarity stifled a giggle, fanning her red face with a hoof. “Oh my, pardon me, Mister Flame.”
“Not at all. Actually, I must be going.” I stepped out of the tub and was greeted by Aloe, who offered me a towel. I dried myself off, chatting with Rarity as I did so. “I wanted to get to Sugarcube Corner early. I was hoping to catch Pinkie Pie before the parade. I’ll be watching the whole thing from her room, you know.”
Rarity nudged Fluttershy, who completely submerged herself underwater as she blushed adorably. “That’s very sweet, Mister Flame. I’m certain Pinkie Pie will be delighted to see you.”
I gave Rarity my most charming smile. “And I’ll be delighted to see her.”
With that, I retrieved my cloak and pulled it on. Aloe spoke up, then. “Mister Flame, will you not be wanting a massage today?”
“No, thank you, Aloe. Keep my bits, though. I’ve got a good feeling about today. Miss Rarity, Miss Fluttershy, it was nice to meet you both.”
I left the Day Spa quickly, but I did not go to Sugarcube Corner. I couldn’t go back there. I scowled to myself, thinking back to what Rarity and Fluttershy had said. Pinkie Pie liked me. Had I been planning to spend more time in town, it was information that I might have used to my advantage, but now it was useless to me. More than useless, actually, it was distracting.
I walked downtown, simply passing the time I had left before the parade began, checking my watch almost obsessively as I counted down the minutes. As the time grew close, I returned back to the part of town I was more familiar with, and entered Sugarcube Corner when I heard cheers coming from the far edge of Ponyville.
Climbing the stairs, I made it up to Pinkie Pie’s room with ease. A riot of vibrant colors, party equipment, and even what appeared to be a cannon of some kind welcomed me into the space above the bakery, and I paused for a moment, glancing around with a small smile. Of course this was her room. I moved up the staircase to the upper level and stepped out of the open windows and onto the small balcony that crowned the roof of her home. I checked my cape’s pockets one last time, and then waited patiently for the parade to wind its way through Ponyville. The streets were now lined with expectant subjects, ponies young and old turning out to greet their Princess and the Elements of Harmony. From the vantage point of the third story of Sugarcube Corner, I had the distance I required from the parade route while still having a complete view of the streets where the parade would approach.
A cadre of royal guards appeared around the corner, ensuring the street was clear, and marched in lockstep ahead of a group of six mares, whom I immediately recognized as the bearers of the Elements of Harmony, Pinkie Pie among them. She waved up at me from afar, the parade still a few streets away, and I returned the gesture, my smile faltering only briefly. I found that I couldn’t match her expression, or meet her eyes. I lowered my hoof before my nerves betrayed me, and I felt a tremor run down my spine.
Behind the Elements of Harmony, two pegasus guards pulled a golden chariot of exquisite craftponyship. However, I couldn’t care less about the vehicle. My eyes were locked on the beautiful creature riding in it.
Princess Celestia smiled and waved at her subjects, and they cheered for her. Celestia was not reserved, as one would expect of royalty. Rather, her posture and facial expression spoke of her adoration for her subjects, a mixture of motherly love and the devotion of a monarch for her beloved little ponies. I did not doubt that she would have taken the time to greet each and every one of them if she had the chance, but this was a parade. Behind Celestia, more guards, a marching band, and many other ponies all cantered, keeping pace with their Goddess. I stepped forward, exhaling in anticipation, and slipped off the balcony.
I twisted in midair and yelped, gripping the edge of the balcony with both hooves, and I clung for dear life, dangling out over a three story drop to the hard packed ground. I fought panic, keeping my mind centered and calm. This was the moment of truth.
Nearer the parade route, I could hear the crowd of ponies gasp and murmur as they spotted my predicament. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Rainbow Dash open her wings, her eyes locked on me. Before the Element of Loyalty could move, Princess Celestia’s own majestic wings snapped open, carrying her into the air over her guards, friends and subjects. I gasped, and despite all my careful planning, I slipped.
I fell, screaming, only to be caught, enveloped in golden radiance and soft, white fur. I looked up, not daring to breathe, and found myself staring into the silver and magenta eyes of a goddess.
Princess Celestia smiled at me, and my heart nearly stopped. She was magnificent, truly the Goddess she claimed to be, worthy of the worship of her subjects. Her voice was gentle and calm, as beautiful as she was. “Don’t worry, I’ve got you. You’re safe.”
I didn’t respond. I couldn’t. There was nothing to say. I simply curled close to her chest, resting my cheek against her warm ivory coat, and reached one hoof into my cloak, picking something out of one of my hidden pockets. Reaching up, I thrust the tip of the syringe that I’d retrieved into her regal breast, sliding the thin metal needle beneath her golden, ornamental necklace. As the enchanted tip of the needle pierced through a dozen protective wards, I felt her muscles tense, and I leaned back to look her in her widening eyes as my hoof depressed the plunger. My work complete, I pulled the needle from her chest and let it fall, shattering on the street below. Finally, I closed my eyes and waited for the end.
Moments passed. When no blazing arcs of energy tore me asunder, I opened my eyes again, staring into Princess Celestia’s own beautiful orbs.
They were filled with tears.
She clutched me tight and her wings flapped once, twice, carrying us both down to the ground, landing delicately before the front door of Sugarcube Corner. She set me down with all the care in the world, and I sat before her, uncomprehending. Princess Celestia and I were alone, the crowds taking time to move towards the bakery.
Princess Celestia lay down next to me, her body shaking as the deadly toxin I’d injected into her heart did its work, and pressed her cheek to my chest. I felt tears flowing into my coat, and I sat, dumbstruck, as a goddess died before me. She gasped, exhaling through her tears, and spoke to me, her voice full of remorse.
I wasn’t ready to hear that. I jerked back, staring at her, unable to respond immediately. I should have run away, right then. Every piece of my training screamed for me to run, but I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Why?”
She didn’t reply. She shivered briefly before going limp. I stepped back, standing over the dead deity, and watched as the radiance left her being.
I stared down at Celestia’s unmoving form, willing her to speak, confusion rooting me to the spot. Before I could move, I heard shouting from behind me, and I leapt away from Celestia’s body. I broke into a run, dashing into a side street and heading for the edge of town and the relative safety of the forest. The shouting intensified as I slid around a corner, my hooves scrabbling for purchase as I moved quickly. I looped around, heading back to the parade route. Losing myself in the crowd would be the best way to shake any pursuit that might be going on. To my left, back towards where I left Celestia, screams and louder shouts suddenly erupted. I chanced a fast glance in that direction and almost tripped. Pegasus guards were everywhere, all over the sky and fanning out rapidly to cover the entire town. They touched down at strategic locations, covering streets and alleyways, ordering citizens to stay put or face dire consequences.
I didn’t have time to blend in, not anymore. I’d never suspected their reaction time to be so quick. These were guards that hadn’t seen action, or so I assumed. They were ornamental—colts of the Canterlot elite looking for a military career without so much crawling in the muck. I had underestimated them, apparently.
I dodged down another alleyway, winding between buildings. I heard a clamour overhead and jumped to the side, just in time to avoid a pegasus guard dropping out of the sky on top of me. He touched down hard, shouting after me. “Halt! Stay where you are, citizen! This town is under lockdown, effective immediately!”
I ignored him, letting the guard waste his breath as I widened the gap between us. I heard him take off once more, and I slid down another street, trying to break his line of sight to me. He was smarter than he looked, though, as instead of trying to chase me alone, he rose into the air, calling for assistance. I stopped in my tracks, reached into my cloak, and pulled out a marble-sized device. I hurled the item into the air, sending it arcing above the rooftops, and it exploded with a crackling discharge of electric energy. I heard the guard cry out in pain, and I moved on. That little trick would buy me some time.
I galloped swiftly towards the edge of town, arriving at one of the last buildings before a wide stretch of open fields between me and the Everfree Forest. I looked up at the sky and scowled as a pair of pegasus ponies flew overhead, looking to watch the open field between Ponyville and the forest for anypony leaving. I didn’t hesitate, sprinting into the open and following them as they flew and turned around to face the town. They weren’t prepared to see a pony galloping full-tilt beneath them, heading towards the forest. I poured energy into my run, pushing my body for all it was worth. I didn’t have much chance of outrunning them, but I wanted to have covered as much ground as I could before I was forced to confront my two pursuers.
The two pegasus ponies outdistanced me and landed, blocking my path to the forest. These two were smarter. They didn’t ask questions or shout warnings. They simply came at me, their eyes steely. I knew I was dealing with more than just toy soldiers, now, so I was ready.
As the first one came at me I slid sideways, kicking dirt and grit into his face. He winced away from the spray of dust, and I took the opening. I spun and kicked low, aiming for his fetlock, and was rewarded with the sound of snapping bone. The pegasus stumbled, going down to his knees, and I brought my forehoof up to meet his muzzle as he bent over his injured leg. I connected solidly and blood sprayed from his nostrils, leaving him dazed.
The other guard was on me then, and I dodged to the side, keeping his injured partner between the two of us. He took to the air and dove down at me. I crouched and accepted the charge. I felt the wind leave my lungs as the pegasus guard took me full in the side, his hooves slamming into me in a double strike. I crumpled with the blow, absorbing some of the impact, and I twisted around. His chest plowed forward after his hooves, his momentum pushing him into me, bowling me over onto my back. I shifted all my weight to my shoulders, kicked my legs up, and rolled, clutching onto the pegasus’ neck as I moved. All his momentum worked against him, and with an expert twist, I sent him face-first into the ground, grinding his teeth into the dirt as he screamed in pain. I rolled atop him and stepped back, wincing as my side ached. I’d be carrying two horseshoe-shaped bruises for a while.
Both pegasus guards were barely conscious and I left them in the dirt, moving away as fast as I could towards the forest. Before I could get very far, another pegasus guard caught up to me. I darted into the treeline, but he was dogged, dodging limbs and branches and coming down atop me. I yelped as I went down, the pegasus on my back pushing my face into the dirt as he yelled, “Stop resisting!”
I squirmed beneath him, and he hit me twice in the back of my head. I saw stars and went limp, feigning unconsciousness. After a moment, I felt the pegasus guard’s weight shift off of me, and I gave him a moment more to feel secure before leaping up, only to find myself confronted by three guards brandishing spears. They snarled at me, pressing the points of their weapons to my shoulders and neck. One of them motioned with his wing and mumbled around the haft of his weapon, “Move.”
I began to do just that, prodded along at spearpoint back out of the forest. I didn’t resist. I’d been caught. Escape had always been nothing more than a pipe dream for me. I’d expected to meet my end at the hooves of a Goddess. The guards were agitated well beyond their normal stoic demeanor. They growled at me and did not hesitate to jab me with their spears when they had the chance. I remained impassive, obeying their orders as I was moved into the open, back towards Ponyville. The two guards that I had left wounded stood nearby, the one with a broken leg leaning heavily on his bloody-faced compatriot, and they glowered at me with malice.
Then, without warning, the sun disappeared.
I stumbled as the world was plunged into darkness, and looked up to the sky with horror. The implications of what I had just caused struck me like a hammer blow, and all my plans were forgotten in a jumble of conflicting emotion. The guards seemed similarly stunned, gaping up at the sky. My training kicked in, and I broke into a run, breaking away from the shocked guards and heading for the forest, knocking over one of the guards as I made my escape.
Shouts came from behind me, and I heard the pegasus guards taking wing, but I reached the treeline and dove for the underbrush, my breath leaving me in panicked gasps. I had to escape, had to return, had to report. This was a worst case scenario made manifest.
I had just killed a world.
I crashed through the underbrush, losing my way rapidly in the pitch black atmosphere. Above me, I could hear the pegasus guards shouting to each other, spreading out their search. Below and behind me, I could hear more voices. The hunt was on.
I made for my camp, slinking on my belly through thickets of thorns and muddy riverbanks. The net spread above me, the searchers far more coordinated than I expected. I avoided them several times, more by sheer luck than any true skill on my part, arriving at my camp relatively safely.
I gathered my equipment quickly, tucking the evidence of my existence into my cloak and the saddlebags at my sides. I had lived simply, so there was not much to take. I had to make for the extraction point. The portal home would open there in twenty minutes, and I had just enough time to make it before it closed.
I resumed my escape, pausing only long enough to set fire to the tarp over my tiny camp. It would serve as a distraction for the guards.
I made it a few hundred yards before the flames became obvious, and soon I heard shouts converging on my previous location. I would have normally felt a spark of satisfaction at my plan working, but this mission had gone horribly awry; I was numb to any satisfaction. I had to escape, and so I moved on, driving deeper into the dark woods.
I arrived at a tiny thicket within the forest, and sat at the edge of the darkness, staying hidden within the undergrowth and simply waiting. It was not long before a blue spark of electricity suddenly appeared in midair. The spark became an arcing dance of electricity, and suddenly a tear in the fabric of reality appeared. A blueish glow solidified into a orb of rippling energy. The portal. My exit. It would only stay open for a few minutes. I stood up and approached the portal quickly, but something dashed in my way, blocking me.
“Candle Flame! Stop!”
It was Pinkie Pie. She was trembling, tear tracks staining the fur around her eyes, and her normally poofy mane was straight and limp. She stood between me and my exit, standing up on her hind legs and spreading her upper limbs wide. I stopped, staring at her numbly. “Pinkie Pie. Get out of the way.”
“No! Flamey, there must be some mistake!”
I frowned. “Mistake?”
She shuddered and sobbed, suddenly. “T-they said you... hurt P-princess Celestia! But... that can’t be true! I know you, Flamey! You’re a good pony! You wouldn’t do something like that!”
I exhaled slowly. “Thank you for your faith in me, Pinkie...”
Pinkie Pie’s face broke into a trembling smile. “See! A mistake! I knew—”
“...but they’re right.”
Her face fell, and her eyes grew wide. “No.”
“I killed Princess Celestia—”
“No, Flamey! No no no!”
“—and, I’m afraid, I might have killed your world in the process.”
Pinkie sank to her haunches, her upper limbs wrapping around her shoulders as she clung to herself, the shaking redoubling. “...W-why?”
I coldly scowled. “Because she was a goddess. She was more powerful than anything we can imagine, and so she was dangerous.”
Pinkie shook her head. “Princess C-Celestia isn’t... d-dangerous... she’s good.”
“She was powerful, Pinkie. Imagine having to face an angry god. A beast of chaos and evil. Nobody would stand a chance against such a creature. One such being nearly destroyed my people before, and something like that could never be allowed to happen again. Now, step aside.”
Pinkie hiccupped and coughed, sobbing. “I can’t. I... have to stop you.”
“You won’t though,” I said quietly.
She shook her head, sniffling, her mane waggling limply with the movement. “I’m... I’m an Element of Harmony. I’m powerful. D-does... does that mean you have to destroy me, too?”
I approached her until I was nose to nose with her. “I think I already have.”
Pinkie shuddered, her eyes locked with mine and, impulsively, I leaned forward, kissing her gently on the forehead. Her eyes widened with shock and confusion, and fresh tears began to fall down her cheeks. I felt nothing.
I brushed past her quaking form and stepped into the portal.
I exploded into being in a massive white room and fell on my side, smoke rising off my coat. Soldiers surrounded me, shouting, and I stood up slowly. Several weapons were aimed at me, and a soldier knelt down, looking me in the eye. “Authorization Code.”
I responded immediately. “Authorization Black, Code November One One Seven Seven Two Five Six Two Three Five Eight Lima Sierra Three Nine.”
The soldier stood up and nodded. “Stand down.”
The guns trained on me lowered, and I straightened my back, looking around. A uniformed officer approached, his face tense. He ran a hand through his greying hair and barked at me, sharply, “Report.”
“Operation Candle Flame complete. Mission accomplished.”