The cabin stood dark, silent, and empty... untouched since its owner had been taken several hours earlier. Outside, the night was originally still, but it slowly grew more violent. Through the whipping of the wind, the screeches and booms of fireworks began to echo inside the cabin, the bright lights from outside casting harsh flashes of light through the windows.
The light and sound of fireworks grew closer and closer until the pyrotechnic display was just outside the cabin’s front door. The sound of heavy hooves on the steps outside prelude a stallion throwing his weight against the cabin’s door, breaking it open with a thud.
The stallion stumbled and fell to the floor after breaking down the door, struggling to his hooves as a pair of pegasi zipped in. The last pony outside was a unicorn, Twilight Sparkle, who levitated in the air above her head a small swarm of fireworks. With sparks of fire she lit the fuses, launching the fireworks out into the night and into the swarming horde of Taken. When she had cleared enough of a gap Twilight retreated into the cabin.
From her own saddle bag the unicorn levitated three fountain fireworks, lighting the fuses as she set them out in front of the cabin. The firework fountains began to erupt, putting up constant streams of sparks that forced the Taken back as Twilight slammed the door of the cabin shut, levitating a nearby bookcase in front of it.
“There... there are so many.” Fluttershy whispered, looking out one of the cabin windows as the army of Taken that lingered just beyond the light of the spark fountain fireworks.
“The darkness took everyone in town.” Alan pointed out, moving over to the window as well. “Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s spread farther.”
“You... you don’t think it's reached Ponyville yet?”
“I... I don’t know.”
“Listen to you; you actually sound like you’re sorry you made all this happen.” Dash grumbled.
“Dash, stop it!” Twilight snapped, knowing her friend was just trying to pick a fight. While the pegasus wasn’t openly trying to attack Alan anymore, she still hated the writer for what he had done. It was a feeling Twilight shared... but one that only lingered at the back of her mind. They had other things to worry about right now. They could be mad at Alan later... if they survived.
“How many fireworks do we have left? The spark fountains outside won’t last much longer and we need to be ready to keep going the moment they start to run out.”
“I’ve got most of mine left.” Alan said, the saddle bags across his back still laden with fireworks.
“That’s because you’ve been running so far behind she hasn’t been able to use any of your fireworks.” Dash cut, tossing her saddle bag to the floor. “All I got left are a few bottle rockets and a spark fountain.”
“Fluttershy, what about you?” Twilight asked.
“You used the last of mine just before we got to the cabin.”
“And all I’ve got are a few large rockets.... we burnt through over half the fireworks and we’re barely halfway to the castle.”
“That’s because you’ve been attacking every Taken you’ve seen.” Alan lectured. “The Taken are only going to keep coming, and wasting our ammunition on the ones that don’t get close is pointless. You need to focus just on the Taken that are starting to get close.”
“She can’t wait for them to get close.” Dash argued. “If she does, the fireworks will start exploding near us, and I’d rather not get my tail caught on fire.”
“She can’t keep using fireworks like she has been either.” Alan snapped back, glaring at Dash. “Otherwise we’ll run out before we reach the castle and then what will happened? We’ll be sitting ducks.”
“Stop it, both of you!” Twilight scolded, putting herself between the stallion and blue pegasus. “I’ve had enough of this fighting. Dash, I promise, you can chew out Alan all you want and I won’t stop you... AFTER we beat the darkness.”
“Fine... but the second this is over I’m gonna make you pay for what you did to our friends. You’re going to get what you deserve, you monster.”
Alan’s gritted his teeth, trying to hold back his anger but failing. He burst out, his voice filling the cabin. “I KNOW!!!”
Dash shrunk back, a little surprised by the stallion’s rage... a rage that continued as Alan ranted.
“I realized I screwed up, made a mistake... and I know nothing I can do can make up for what’s happened to you and your friends. But I don’t need you reminding me every ten seconds that I was an idiot!
“And you’re not the only one that’s lost something. I don’t think you realize what I gave up to save you, Twilight, and Fluttershy. I’m not a pony, I’m a human... I gave up my humanity to write myself into the story. Do you realize what that means? It mean that once I get back to the Dark Place, back to my typewriter, not only do I have to figure out a way to write myself back into my own world but now I have to figure out how to turn myself back into a human.
“I mean, I can’t go back to my wife, Alice. She can’t be married to a pony, even if can talk. I can’t even go back to my world like this. Not only would my writing career be over because of the simple fact I don’t have fingers anymore but I’d probably be locked up in some government testing facility. That or paraded around the country as a sideshow freak.
“I know I messed up, I know this is my fault... and I’m doing my best to help you three fix it. So BACK OFF!!!”
Alan breathed heavily at this, trembling a bit from his anger. Twilight glanced over at Dash, the pegasus a bit wide eyed. It had been a scary moment, seeing the stallion so enraged, but Twilight had a feeling that this was for the better. Maybe now Dash wouldn’t keep trying to pick fights with Alan, and the writer undoubtedly felt better getting all that pent up anger out of his system.
“Uh... Twilight... I don’t... I don’t mean to interrupt but the fireworks are starting to run out.” Fluttershy quietly noted.
The unicorn gave a node in the pegasus’ direction before glancing at Alan. “You going to be okay?”
The stallion nodded, starting to calm his breathing.
“Good.” Twilight replied, her horn starting to glow. She gathered all the remaining fireworks and stuffed them in Alan’s saddle packs. “I want you to take the lead as we head up the mountain. Now that you have all the fireworks you set the pace. Dash, Fluttershy, and I will follow. Hopefully, between the headlamps and the last fireworks we have we’ll make it.”
The light from the firework fountains outside dimmed, one of the three spitting out the last of its cascading sparks. The moment of rest was over. Alan shifted, making sure the fireworks that had just been placed in his bag had settled into place before he moved to the door. The three mares followed.
“Start running on my signal.” Twilight said, already levitating a few bottle rockets out of the saddlebag and moving the bookcase away from the door. The others nodded, lowering themselves down like track stars waiting for the starting gun. The second of the three firework fountains outside puttered into darkness, the third remaining the one that was just in front of the cabin’s front steps.
Its outpouring of sparks began to dim, a few final surges popping out as unspent gunpowder inside ignited. Then, the last of the firework fountains fell dark and silent. The only light that remained came from the headlamps each pony wore, the cones of light spreading out into the darkness.
For a time there was nothing, but slowly the Taken began to move in on the cabin’s steps. Twilight waited, eyes focused as she waited for shadowed ponies to get just a little closer. Then, she lit the bottle rockets, the fuses burning quickly before the rockets shot free of Twilight’s levitation spell. The explosion of cascading color destroyed a number of Taken and illuminated the rest, allowing Twilight to aim a few more fireworks into the horde, clearing a path.
“KEEP RUNNING!!!” Twilight bellowed out between pants, all four of the ponies breathing heavily. They had been running at a full gallop for the past several minutes, but for good reason. The darkness was pulling no punches, offered no quarter. A platoon of Taken soldiers charged along the path just behind the ponies. Shadowed ravens filled the sky, ready to strike the moment Dash or Fluttershy tried to take flight.
And finally, Nightmare Moon had unleashed the greatest force of destruction available to her. A towering tornado of pure darkness ripped at the ground and the forest just behind Twilight and her friends, threatening to engulf them if they slowed down at all.
The iron taste of blood was filling Twilight’s mouth, a result of the sheer amount of running she had done. She had never run this hard, even back during the Running of the Leaves. The unicorn was impressed she had managed to last so long, suspecting that the adrenaline in her system was somehow keeping her on her hooves.
The end, however, was looming close. The castle was close, maybe a few hundred yards away. The length of a couple football fields, give or take. Twilight’s legs burned as did her chest, but they were so close. They could make it.
At least, Twilight thought they could make it. Still, not all in the group were as physically fit. Twilight and Fluttershy were tired but would make it, Dash was fine, but Alan... Alan was obviously struggling. His panting was the loudest between the four and he was starting to have trouble just coordinating his hooves. More than once he almost fell, but he managed to regain his balance and continue.
“You will not save them!” A voice called from the tornado, echoing across the trees and distant castle. It was Nightmare Moon’s voice, though it didn’t sound the same as Twilight’ remembered it. It sounded more hollow...and a lot more evil... and it sounded like there was another voice behind it. The unicorn, however, couldn’t linger on those thoughts as the tornado began to rip trees from the forest, the giant trunks swirling in the wind for a time before being hurtled as the fleeing ponies.
The trees crashed to the ground with heavy booms, bouncing not an inch as if they were being forced down by a dark force, which was probably a very accurate summation of what was happening. The trees blocked the path ahead at first, forcing Twilight and her friends to make detours as they ran around or leapt over the trunks to continue their sprint towards the castle.
Then the trees started falling closer, landing within feet of the group. They had to skid to a stop a number of times just to avoid crashing into the thick trunks and heavy, needle covered branches. The vortex’s aim was improving, each tree becoming a murderous projectile thrown with the sole purpose of crushing them.
But they were so close, the castle steps were just a few dozen yards away. Dash began to run ahead, a smile spreading on the pegasus’ face. “We’re almost there, come on!”
“Dash, stay with the group.” Twilight scolded, but her voice was lost in the wind. She would have shouted again, but the sound of another tree being flung through the air made Twilight, Fluttershy, and Alan turn their faces to the sky. This tree was aimed at the very base of the stairs, and would reach its destination just as Dash did.
“DASH!” Twilight called, trying to warn her friend. The pegasus, however, just glanced back, offering a smile as she powered on. The tree continued to tumble from the sky, and in her panic Twilight stride to stretch out her magic. She couldn’t stop the tree from falling, it was too big, but maybe she could slow it down.
Still, Twilight winced in pain as her magic was cast back. The tree was being controlled by the darkness, and like the shop doors back in the town Twilight’s magic couldn’t touch the darkness, just as no pony could physically touch it with their hooves.
Twilight feared the worse, taking her eyes off the looming tree and looking back at Dash. The pegasus was still charging at the steps, keeping pace with the tree. They were going to get to the same place at the same time, and Twilight couldn’t keep herself from imagining the tree dropping down squarely on Rainbow Dash.
Her mind spun, trying to think of what to do next, but fatigue and the long gallop up the mountain was making it difficult to think. So difficult, in fact, that it was only as the tree was within feet of the ground that Twilight took notice of something: Alan had almost caught up with Dash.
The stallion, tapping into some last reserve of strength and energy, had managed to actually catch up with Dash, despite being the one having the most difficulty running. He was right on Dash’s flank as the tree’s shadow loomed over them. With a few final strides Alan put all his weight into a single leap, crashing into Dash’s back.
Twilight didn’t see what happened next, the tree slamming down hard. She couldn’t see Dash or Alan, and the unicorn feared the worse. She and Fluttershy leapt over the tree, being first greeted with the sight of Rainbow Dash lying on the stairs, in a crumpled heap.
“Dash, are you okay?”
The blue pegasus got to her hooves, giving her head a shake before putting lifting a hoof. “Yea... but who pushed me?”
“It was... ALAN!” Twilight realized, spinning around. The gray stallion was lying on his back, tears running down his face as he tried to bite back the screams of pain that wanted to escape his lips. Just behind the stallion’s head, his two back legs were extended, crushed and pinned beneath the heavy trunk of the tree.
The three mares quickly circled around the stallion, already trying to help, but he pushed them away. “You don’t have time!”
“GET INSIDE THE CASTLE NOW!!!” Alan barked. Fluttershy and Dash nodded, the looming vortex of darkness urging them into the safety of the castle just as much as Alan was. The writer, however, caught Twilight’s tail in his mouth, holding the unicorn back for just a few more moments.
“Twilight, remember the song... don’t forget a single word of it. It told you how to defeat the darkness. Take my saddlebag. We don’t have many fireworks left, but enough to help. Leave me the last firework fountain though, and the moment before the vortex is about to engulf me I want you to light the fuse.
“Remember, trust nothing in the dark; you are only safe in the light. Don’t forget that.”
The unicorn nodded, her horn glowing as she took the saddle bags off of Alan’s back. She mouthed him a silent thank you, and then raced up the stairs after Fluttershy and Dash.
Alan groaned, the pain in his legs was making it difficult to think. Still, in his front hooves he cradled the last firework fountain, keeping the fuse exposed and in the light of his headlamp. He waited, waited for the Taken soldiers to catch up... waited for the vortex of darkness to reach him. He waited... and his mind began to spin.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy.” Well, that suited him, didn’t it? He had tried to be the hero, writing himself into the story to save Twilight and her friends. He had tried to be the hero to save Dash from the falling tree... and now his story was going to end in tragedy. Still, that’s what happens to side characters in a horror story. They die, hopefully helping the story’s true protagonist reach the end safely. At the very least, he had ensured Twilight would be with her true friends for a little longer.
Alan was able to smile, even as the darkness loomed. Alice... Alice would be proud of what he did, of how he died. She’s be sad, but happy to know he died fighting the darkness. He wanted... had to believe that.
The fuse of the fountain firework in Alan’s hooves lit, drawing the stallion’s attention to the castle doors which swung shut a moment later. He then looked back, seeing the towering vortex of darkness was just about to roll over him. The stallion grunted through the pain, smile being replaced with a serious look as he twisted his back, pinching the firework fountain between his hooves and aiming it into the heart of the darkness.
Twilight flicked her horn, the large locks on the castle doors snapping shut just as the windows lit up with the cascading light from the fountain. A horrible roaring sound shook the castle, along with the sound of several more trees crashing to the ground. It could only mean that Alan had been able to stop the vortex of darkness using the firework fountain, but Twilight had little doubt that the writer had already been taken into the darkness by the shadowed solider stallions that had been pursuing them.
She should have felt pain, but she was becoming numb to it. So many ponies had already been lost... and not just ponies she knew. All of Emblem had been taken, all of the staff and guards at the castle... all of Equestria could have fallen to darkness for all the unicorn knew. They may be the last three still able to fight back.
Twilight turned from the door, seeing Dash and Fluttershy staring back at her. She didn’t offer a single word, no pep talk or anything. She didn’t have the words nor the strength to lift anypony’s spirits. They were in a bad situation, there was no sugar coating it... a bad situation that had stretched on for too long.
All they could do was what they had been doing. They had to keep pushing on.
“Come on, we need to get up to the top floor.” Was all Twilight said, replacing her own saddle bags with the firework laden ones Alan had been carrying as she walked past her two pegasi friends. Dash and Fluttershy took flight, hovering in the air just behind Twilight as the trio began to work their way up the castle.