The black alicorn looked over the crowd. A small smile escaped form her lips.
"My beloved subjects," she eyed the crowd, "It's good to see you again after so long."
I looked back up at Captain Wingfleet. He had a look of uncertainty on his face, and he wanted to attack. I subtly raised my hand at him, telling him to hold his position. I had my knife on me, but it was hidden under my coat. Over time, and with the help of Rarity, I had modified the strap on my sheathe so that the knife was fitted under my right arm. I wasn't sure what was going to happen, but I was ready in case things turned ugly.
The alicorn carried on talking, "You surprise me. I expected at least somepony to recognise me after one thousand years."
She started to move among the ponies in the crowd, each of them stepping back in fear, "Do you not show me respect because I have been imprisoned for so long?" She moved to another group, who shrank away form her, "Did you really forget me? Did you not see the signs of my return?"
"I know who you are," came a voice from the ground floor. I looked over, and saw it came from Twilight Sparkle, "You're the Mare in the Moon: Nightmare Moon!"
The whole hall gasped. I didn't know who this 'Nightmare Moon' was, but she was obviously feared. Even Captain Wingfleet looked nervous. Nightmare Moon turned to Twilight, and the smile returned.
"Well well, somepony remembers me," the blue cloud engulfed her again, and it rose back to the central balcony, where she reappeared, "Then you also know why I'm here."
Twilight shifted where she stood, "You're here to... to..." she didn't finish her sentence, fear was starting to get to her too.
Nightmare Moon chuckled to herself, "Remember this day, my little ponies, for it will be the last time you see it, as well as your precious princess." She let out an evil cackle, and the blue fog around her rose to cover the entire ceiling.
Ok, it's official, she's a threat. I looked over at the guard on the other side of the entrance. He was staring at me, waiting for orders. I pointed at him, then at Nightmare Moon. I glanced up at Wingfleet and did the same. The three pegasi flew towards the alicorn to restrain her.
She saw them coming.
Her eyes glowed white, and lightning bolts flew out of the fog above us. They struck the pegasi, and sent them flying against the wall. I heard something crack as they hit. Nightmare Moon took this opportunity and turned to fog, flying out the room and into the darkness.
I ran over to Wingfleet, who was still dazed from the fall.
"Are you alright?" I asked, helping him to his hooves.
"Yeah, I've suffered worse. Just some bruises," another guard was getting to his feet, but the third was groaning on the floor, and his hind leg was bent at an unnatural angle, even for a horse.
I was about to speak, but Rainbow Dash flew in and came straight up to me, "Hey Dutch, that purple unicorn's hightailing it to the library. I think she knows something we don't."
My mind was racing, "Right. Wingfleet, stay here, tend to your wounded guard and keep everypony calm. Rainbow, get the others who were organising the celebration. We're going to the library." Rainbow nodded, and flew into the crowd.
She quickly returned with our other friends, and we left the town hall. As we approached the library, Rainbow flew on ahead and burst through the door. When we got there, Dash was right in Twilight's face, "Are you a spy?" She said accusingly.
Sensing peace was required, Applejack trotted up and grabbed Rainbow's tail, pulling her down, "Simmer down RD. Twilight ain't a spy."
"Agreed," I added, "But you know something, don't you." I made sure my tone wasn't aggressive.
Twilight sighed in submission, "I was researching the tale of Nightmare Moon before I came to Ponyville. One thousand years ago, Princess Celestia used some objects called the Elements of Harmony to imprison her in the moon. As far as I know, they're the only things that can stop her."
"What's the catch?" asked Rainbow. Everpony gave her a look, "What? It's never that easy."
"The catch is that the Elements were lost hundreds of years ago," Twilight said, "I don't know where they are, what they look like or what they do."
Suddenly, Pinkie bounced over to Twilight carrying a book on her head titled, The Elements of Harmony: A Reference Guide. Twilight stared in amazement, "How did you find that?"
"It was under eeee~." Pinkie sang.
Twilight opened the book with her magic and turned to the introduction, "Let's see," she read the book aloud, "The Elements of Harmony contain the most powerful magic known to ponykind. They are used to bring balance and peace to the land."
She flipped over a few pages before continuing, "Ok. There are seven Elements of Harmony, but only six of them are known: Kindness, Honesty, Laughter, Loyalty, Generosity and Bravery. The properties of the seventh element have eluded scientists for centuries," she moved further into the book, "Ah, location. It is said that the last known resting place of the Elements of Harmony is in the Ancient Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters."
"Great," I said, "So where's the castle."
Twilight kept reading, then shock came over her face, "I'm afraid that's another catch. It's the Everfree Forest."
We stood outside the entrance to the forest. It looked as uninviting as ever, and the darkness didn't help. The ponies seemed releuctant to go in, and for a moment, so did I.
"D-Do we have to go in there?" Fluttershy whimpered.
"We don't have a choice," I said, "If we don't find the Elements, we'll never see the sun again."
We started to enter the forest, but we heard a voice behind us say, "Wait everypony," we all turned to see Twilight still standing in the entrance, "I appreciate the help guys, but I would rather do this alone."
"No dice Twilight." I replied. The others nodded their heads.
"Yer a friend to us," Applejack added, "And we ain't lettin' a friend walk in there alone." We carried on into the forest, giving Twilight no choice but to follow.
We walked for about thirty minutes, before arriving at a cliff. It got extremely narrow at one point, and I volunteered to go first to test the strength of the earth.
"So, has anypony else been here before?" Twilight asked, trying to ease the tension among us.
"Not really," Dash replied, "But I remember Dutch saying he's been in here once or twice."
I laughed, "Yeah, but that doesn't mean it ended well."
"What happened?" Twilight inquired.
I stopped walking, forcing everypony else to as well. I pointed to the scar on my face, "Day one in Equestria," I showed them my missing finger, "Day three," I resumed walking along the path, finally reaching a wider path, "Let's just say that me and bad luck are old acquaintances."
Fate must have heard me say that, because the ground we were standing on suddenly gave way, and all of us except Rainbow and Fluttershy started rolling down a steep hill towards a cliff. I pulled out my knife and tried to dig it into the ground, trying to find soft earth to create an anchor. The pegasi managed to grab Pinkie and Rarity, but Twilight, Applejack and I were still going.
Applejack managed to grab onto Twilight's forelegs, and they stopped rolling. After grabbing Applejack's tail, I managed to do the same. We were still heading for the cliff though, and as Twilight and Applejack slid over the edge, my knife found soft ground, and we came to a halt. I was dangling off the edge with one arm holding onto my knife, the other supporting Twilight and Applejack as they hung in mid-air.
"Phew," Applejack let out a sigh of relief, "Dutch, can ya lift us up?"
"I'm afraid not," I replied, "You guys are too heavy."
I could lift a single pony with both my arms, but with twice the weight and half the strength I was surprised my shoulder wasn't dislocating. I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore the pain.
"What do we do?" Twilight was panicking, and with good reason. It was a long way down.
I couldn't see Applejack's face, but I heard her say, "Twilight, I need you to let go."
"Let go, and you'll be safe. I promise."
I looked past Twilight and saw Rainbow and Fluttershy underneath Twilight, ready to catch her, "It's ok Twilight," I said, trying to reassure her, "AJ's telling the truth."
Twilight looked Applejack straight in the eyes. Her panicked expression disappeared, and she closed her eyes as she let go. She still screamed the whole way down, but the two pegasi caught her easily.
Without Twilight's weight, I managed to swing Applejack back onto solid ground, before pulling myself up. As I dusted myself down, I saw Applejack climbing down the cliff on an easy path to the others below, and I quickly followed her.
"Everpony alright?" I asked, checking everyone for injuries. Rarity had grazes on her stomach where she had grinded on the rock, and Pinkie had a few scratches on her legs, but they were only minor, and we continued through the forest.
While Dash boasted about how they had saved Twilight, I kept scanning the trees. I was suspicious; the cliff didn't just collapse by chance, and I had a feeling someone was trying to stop us getting to the castle, I wonder who that could be.
As we approached a gap in the cliffs, I heard a faint growling from a cave halfway up the face. I didn't have to guess what it was, as a manticore leapt from the cave and landed in front of us and let off a loud roar.
"Stay back," I shouted, drawing my knife again, "These things don't mess around."
The ponies started to shuffle backwards, even Rainbow seemed a little scared. Fluttershy however, gave me a look of confusion before flying towards the manticore.
"Fluttershy!" Twilight called, "Get back. He'll kill you."
"No he won't," Fluttershy sounded confident as she appraoched the manticore. It growled at her, and raised it's paw to strike, but she stood her ground, a calming smile appearing on her face.
The manticore noticed this, and his anger disappeared. He lowered his paw, and Fluttershy noticed a thorn embedded in the pad. She removed it, and the manticore roared with pain. I was about to intervene, but the manitcore simply picked Fluttershy up and started licking her in the same way a dog would lick its master.
I couldn't help but smile as we walked past the manticore, giving time for Fluttershy to catch up.
"How did you know that thorn was there?" Twilight asked.
"When he shouted, it sounded more like pain than anger," Fluttershy answered, "Sometimes all it takes to end a conflict is a little bit of kindness."
As they walked through the forest, no one noticed the small blue cloud following them. It skulked from tree to tree, watching the ponies make their way toward the castle.
Nightmare Moon had heard them talking about the castle and the Elements, and was bent on stopping them. At first she only meant to hinder them and give herself time to find the Elements and destroy them. But after seeing what they could do, and how determined they were, she was thinking about other means of taking them out of the picture.
On their own, these pathetic ponies wouldn't be much of a threat. But when they were together, they supported each other, and that thing that was travelling with them made them all the more dangerous.
She had seen this creature attempt to defend them from the manticore, and had saved two of them when she had collapsed the cliff face. She had also noticed that he had a weapon, that made him a serious threat.
They had beaten her two times now, and they were getting close to the castle, but it didn't matter. She had several plans in place for when they got close, with a contingency if they failed, and she made sure that wouldn't happen.
The rest of the journey through the forest has been slightly more bearable than my previous experiences. It turns out that having company when travelling through a dark and hostile place can really liven things up.
After Fluttershy had dealt with the manticore, we came across two other incidents where something tried to stop us. The first one involved trees which had been disfigured with terrifying faces. The girls were about to run for it, but Pinkie showed us that you can deal with scary things simply by laughing at them. I was more than surprised when it happened, but we still managed to get rid of them.
Later on we found strong rapids blocking our path. It turned out that the currents were being caused by a giant purple sea serpent, who was distraught about losing half his moustache. Rarity was deeply hurt by this "crime against fabulosity" and used one of the serpent's scales to cut off her tail as a replacement. The serpent was more than grateful, and assisted us in crossing the river.
Now, finally, the castle was in sight. It was a few hundred metres away, on the other side of a chasm, with a broken rope bridge being the only way across. Rainbow quickly flew down and brought the bridge back up. As she tied it to the other side, I spoke to Twilight.
"What do you expect we'll find in the castle?"
"I'm not sure. I doubt the Elements of Harmony will be just waiting for us on shining platforms. I don't even know if they'll be there at all."
We waited for another minute, but Rainbow still hadn't returned. I squinted through the fog, and saw Rainbow talking to three figures, each of them wearing a dark outfit.
"Uh Twilight, do you know who those guys are?" I lifted her up to see through the fog. Upon seeing them, her eyes went wide.
"Rainbow, no! Don't listen to them!"
Before Rainbow could register what she had said, the mist in front of us became thicker, and we lost sight of them, "What do we do now?" Applejack asked.
"I guess we have to wait and see if she returns," I answered.
"Don't worry," Rarity said, "Rainbow Dash might behave like a ruffian sometimes, but she knows who her allies are."
Shortly afterwards, Rarity's words were confirmed as Rainbow reappeared through the fog, "What had you guys worried? I'd never leave my friends hanging."
Suddenly, a blue cloud of smoke shot out of the mist and smashed into Rainbow Dash, disappearing just as quickly. I ran over to Rainbow, and found her to be conscious, but dazed. I turned back to the others, and saw them backing away in fear from something. I went back to them, and found them facing three wolves.
Except they weren't wolves. They were more like something out of a nightmare.
They were big. Slightly larger than a Great Dane, and as thick as a Rottweiler. Their bodies weren't covered in fur, but whatever it was glistened in the moonlight, which was reflected off their black, shark-like eyes. Their mouths hung open, with sharp, serrated teeth jutting out beyond their lips. Their heads were high and uneven, their bulging skulls topped by two tiny ears, like horns. Slowly, one of the creatures raised its head to the sky and released a ghastly howl. Then, as one, they moved towards us, their heads slanting unnaturally as they walked.
I pulled my knife out from under my coat, flipping it so the blade pointed downwards, "Get Rainbow across the bridge, now!" I ordered, not even turning to look at the ponies. I heard the pattering of hooves though, so they must have registered my command.
The first wolf leapt at me, strings of saliva dangling from its jaws. I was more ready than I had been with the wolves on my first night in the forest, and I sidestepped the beast, bringing the knife down into its neck. It left of a howl of pain, but I didn't stop. I stabbed it a few more times before it turned into cloud and floated back into the bushes.
The other wolves decided to attack as a pair, and pounced at me. They were faster, and I was knocked on my back with one of them standing over me. I brought my leg up and kicked it in the stomach, throwing it off me. But before I could get up, the other one landed on top of me. It also landed on my knife. It let off a cry of pain, and I used its weakened state to roll over and land on the wolf, slicing its neck as I stood up.
The third wolf was still trying to stand up from the kick, and I used this opportunity to run across the bridge. As I ran, I felt the bridge shake, and looked back to see the wolf gnawing on the ropes. I forced myself to run faster, and I started to make out the girls on the other side. I felt the bridge give way, and I flung myself at the other side. As the bridge fell, I grabbed the edge of the earth and lifted myself up, with Twilight and Applejack giving me support.
"Thanks," I said, looking around, "How's Rainbow?"
"She's fine now," AJ replied.
"Good, let's go."
I got a look of surprise from the others as I stood up and walked towards the castle. I stopped when I realised that nopony else was following me. I turned round and noticed their confused expressions, "What?"
"Honestly Dutch, how do you do it?" Rarity asked.
"Just keep goin'," Applejack said, "We just got attacked, and ya don't even stop fer a breather."
"I don't need one," I replied simply.
"H-How about the fact that you almost died?" Fluttershy joined in.
I sighed, "Alright then, I'll tell you. But first, tell me what inspires you?" I got looks of confusion, "What drives you to keep going? To never give up?"
"Mah family and farm."
"The animals that I care for."
"The day I join the Wonderbolts!"
I chuckled at the last one, "Well, when I was younger, I found inspiration in a poem."
"A poem?" Rainbow asked, "You didn't strike me a the literary kind of guy."
"Neither did I when I read it," I said, "But this one stood out for me, and it told me to keep going in life when everything and everyone around me was saying "give up"," there was no reply from the girls, "Nevermind, let's get to the castle."
We crossed the last few hundred metres fairly quickly, and walked through a rotted wooden door to reveal a huge stone hall, with a stone sculpture in the middle. When we got closer, I saw that there were six stone spheres resting on platforms attached to the stone.
"Is this what we've been searchin' for?" Applejack asked.
Twilight looked at the spheres. Each one had a different symbol on them, "The Elements of Harmony, we found them!"
Fluttershy, Rainbow and I lifted the stones from their platforms and rested them in front of Twilight.
"Wait," Pinkie counted them out loud, "There's only six. Where's the seventh?"
"Well, the book said that when the six are together, a spark will cause the seventh to be revealed."
"Great," Rainbow said sarcastically, "I hate cryptic metaphors."
Twilight lay down in front of the Elements, "Can you guys give me some room to concentrate? I want to try something, and I don't know what will happen."
"Sure thing Twi," Applejack said, and we all left the room, leaving Twilight alone. We sat down outside, and saw a faint glowing from inside as Twilight cast her spell.
"So how are we going to find the seventh element?" Rarity asked.
"I'm not sure," I said, "But we've come too far to fail now."
"Maybe afterwards, we can throw Twilight another Welcoming Party," Pinkie said, "I think the last one could've gone a little better."
We all started laughing, but it was cut short as we heard Twilight cry out from the hall. We all got to our feet, and ran back into the castle, where we saw Twilight disappear into a large blue tornado, along with the Elements.
"What they hay just happened?" Rainbow said.
We called out for Twilight, and Rarity saw that a tower further up ahead had started to glow from its windows. We ran down a hallway, which connected into what looked like a banqueting hall. The long wooden table had long since rotted from neglect, and the room was covered in cobwebs. We heard Nightmare Moon cackling from the tower, along with a large bang. We quickened our pace, and went into an outside area to climb a stone set of steps to the tower.
As we got closer, we started calling out to Twilight. We didn't know where she was, but she was our friend, and we needed to be there for her. As we got closer, we saw Nightmare Moon standing on a podium, the Elements lying in front of her, in pieces. Then Twilight spoke.
"You didn't destroy the Elements of Harmony, Nightmare Moon. Only their bodies. But the spirits of the Elements live on, inside them!" She gestured to us, and the shards of the Elements began to rise and glow.
As Twilight described our events, each of the Elements drifted towards us, one at a time. Applejack became the Element of Honesty, Fluttershy got Kindness, and it continued until only I was left, at which point Twilight said, "And Dutch, who defended us from your nightmarish minions, represents the Element of Bravery!"
The final shards of the Elements began to circle me, giving off a dim white glow.
"And what of the seventh Element?" Nightmare Moon demanded. She tried to remian calm, but I could see her becoming nervous, "Without the spark, you'll never find it."
"It wasn't that kind of spark Nightmare Moon," Twilight continued, "The spark came from inside me." She turned to us, each of whom had the Elements surrounding us, "I felt it when I heard your voices. I felt so happy to hear you, and I became proud to accept you as my friends."
There was a shine of light above us, and a seventh stone sphere appeared. It drifted down towards Twilight who turned back to Nightmare Moon, "You see, when the six Elements are combined and ignited by the spark, the seventh Element will reveal itself. The Element of Magic!"
Each of the Elements gave off a blinding glow, and I felt myself getting lifted off the ground. A beam of light shot from the Elements surrounding me, and joined with identical beams from the other five ponies. They all headed towards the seventh Element, and the light intensified. I closed my eyes as I recalled all the memories of my friends. All the events that had happened over the past two months, and how happy I felt to be part of this world.
I heard Nightmare Moon scream, and I was thrown back by some unknown force. When I came to, the other ponies were lying around me, and Nightmare Moon was nowhere to be seen. I groaned as I lifted myself up, and walked over to the others, helping them to their hooves.
"Is everyone alright?" I called.
"Everything's better than alright," Rarity said, and I turned to see her hugging her tail, which had returned to full length, "It's like I feel complete again."
I then noticed that Rarity had a golden necklace around her neck, "Hey Rarity, what's that?"
She looked down at the necklace, gasping, "I don't know, but it must be something to do with the Elements. We've all got one."
I looked around, and sure enough, the other ponies had similar gold necklaces, each one emblazoned with a symbol that held resemblance to their cutie marks. I looked down at my own neck, and saw a necklace their too. It had a thin, gold chain, which carried a gold plate with a picture of a shining white shield on it. I figured this is what my cutie mark would have been if I had been a pony.
We all turned to Twilight, who now had a golden diadem on her head with a purple star, "Well Ah'll be," Applejack said, "Ah guess we do represent the Elements of Harmony."
As she spoke, the sun started to rise in the distance. I noticed a second light break off from it, and it drifted towards us. It floated through the window, and came to rest on the stone. The light grew, and then disappeared to reveal a white alicorn, as tall as Nightmare Moon, though much less intimidating. The alicorn spoke, "Indeed you do."
Everpony gasped at the sight, and Twilight cried, "Princess Celestia!". She ran up to her, and I saw everpony else bowing before her. I did the same, lowering myself onto one knee.
While Princess Celestia addressed Twilight, my mind was racing. How would the princess react to me? Surely it would be positive. After all, I did help defeat Nightmare Moon.
I had my head facing the floor, so I only heard the hooves approaching me, and a voice said, "Rise, Element of Bravery."
I stood up, and came face to face with the Princess. She was as tall as me, but her horn gave her additional height. Her mane was a mixture of green, blue and pink, and it seemed to flow gracefully, despite there being no wind. She stared into my eyes, but her expression remained neutral.
Finally she spoke, "I don't know who or what you are, but you have helped my little ponies, and for that, you have my thanks." Her voice was calm and soft, but at the same time, it was strong and demanded attention.
I nodded, and replied, "My name is Dutch, and I am part of a species from another world called humans. I have already been told about you, and you have my thanks for accepting me.
She smiled warmly, and turned to the rest of us, "You have done well to allow this friendship into your hearts, enough for the Elements to choose you as their bearers," she turned to the back of the room, and I noticed a small figure lying there, "Now if only another would do the same. Princess Luna."
Where Nightmare Moon had been standing, there now lay a pony about the size of Twilight and the others. Her coat and mane were shades of blue, and she had a small crown resting in front of her horn.
"Wait, Nightmare Moon is Princess Luna?" Twilight said to herself, "But Luna is Princess Celestia's sister."
Celestia walked over to Luna, who shrank back in fear, and began talking to her. I couldn't make out what they were saying, but Luna's face went from fear, to regret, and finally sadness as she embraced her sister, "I'm so sorry for everything I did. I've missed you so much."
Celestia released her sister, and walked over to us, with Luna at her side, "Come. We should return to Ponyville," she glanced at Pinkie, a smile appearing on her lips, "I think we need to have a celebration."