A fan-fiction author and computer programmer that lives in Pasadena. ======> TIp Jar <======
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Twilight Sparkle galloped through the forest, the only source of light coming from her horn. The Everfree Forest was never known as a welcoming place. Between Hydras, Poison Joke, and the rest of the forest’s mysteries it was a place most ponies avoided. Still, on this night the forest was at its worst. A thick mist hung in the air as a stiff wind caused the branches of the canopy to shift and groan. Shadows danced around, each one looking more threatening than the last.
The unicorn chanced a look back over her shoulder, searching for whatever she was running from. Why she was in Everfree, what was chasing her and why... these were all facts that escaped Twilight at the moment. Still, those facts weren’t important. She knew all she needed to know. She was running from something dangerous, and that her only hope of survival was at the end of the path ahead, a pillar of light that reached up into the sky from the ruins of the Ancient Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters.
Eyes up on the light, Twilight didn’t see the path ahead. Her hooves caught on an exposed root, and at such a dead gallop there was no hope of recovery. Twilight fell, the impact with the ground knocking the wind from her chest and forcing the light from her horn to go out.
For a moment she laid there, feeling out her body for any injuries as she breathed deeply, trying to return the air to her lungs. Despite the sourness in the spot where she hit the ground, Twilight didn’t feel anything broken. Getting back to her hooves, she looked into the darkness and felt fear grab at her heart.
As fast as she was able to, the unicorn attempted to relight her horn, but the magic wouldn’t comply. Magic takes a calm mind, steady concentration... and Twilight had neither as panic grew inside her. She needed the light; she didn’t know why but she knew she needed the light. Another one of those strange thoughts that would not leave her head, even though she didn’t know its source.
Finally, the magic took shape, the point of light at the tip of her horn radiating out. Grunts and groans from the shadows greeted the unicorn’s ears as shadowed figures retreated back into the darkness. These were the things hunting her, chasing her in the night... the things she had to beat to the light in the ancient castle.
With a deep breath, Twilight struck back into a gallop, though only chancing glances at the pillar of light in the distance. The rest of the time she kept her eyes focused on the ground, on the path ahead, to keep herself from tripping again. But the next danger, Twilight faced, would not be from an exposed tree root or stone.
The path banked to the right ahead, and as Twilight followed it a shadow wrapped figure loomed out of the darkness. Twilight had never seen something like this, where shadows would continue to linger on a pony even while they were standing in direct light. Still, she couldn’t focus on the shadows further as the stallion had a large ax secured to his side by a harness, an ax he was beginning to swing in her direction.
Putting all her weight into her hooves, Twilight managed to skid to a stop as the ax head fell down in front of her... had she been moving just a bit faster or had taken just a moment more to notice the dangerous stallion the blade would have met with flesh. Instead, it sunk into the soft ground of the path ahead, mere inches from Twilight’s hooves.
The shadowed stallion struggled to remove the ax from the earth. For how long, Twilight wasn’t sure. She did not linger to find out, bolting by the ax wielding pony and breaking into the fastest gallop she could muster, even as her legs began to tire from the effort.
Yet, even as she left the stallion behind her, he reappeared on the path ahead, taking another swing with his ax. Twilight ducked beneath the attacks, feeling aged blade brush against her hair. Another close call, and one that only made Twilight’s heart race faster. Her hooves found fresh speed and energy from the adrenaline in her system as she powered on to the pillar of light.
Again and again the shadowed figure popped out from the darkness, appearing from behind trees and bends in the path. The ax swings kept getting closer and closer, and despite how hard Twilight tried to run the stallion always seemed to get ahead of her. She was the only pony on the path, so either the stallion was very good at running through the trees or there was more than one ax wielding maniac out to get her.
Neither thought offered any comfort for the unicorn.
Rounding a bend, Twilight caught sight of a clearing in the distance formed by a river, which flowed lazily through the forest. A river she and her friends had crossed once before, aided by the sea serpent with moustache obsession. It was a sign she was getting closer to the castle. A thought that, for a moment, let hope flutter in her heart. Maybe she could make it.
A roar from behind killed the hope in Twilight’s chest. Looking back, she could see the ax wielding stallion was now chasing her in a full sprint. No longer hiding amongst the forest, his hooves slammed against the ground and his eyes glowed a haunting yellow. He began to bear down on Twilight, the stallion’s greater speed allowing him to close the gap.
Twilight turned her head forward, urging her legs to carry her faster even though they were at their limit. She could clearly hear the hooves of her pursuer, the sound slowly growing louder as he inched closer and closer. Tears began to pull at Twilight’s eyes, fear overcoming her. She chanced another look back, seeing that within a few moments the stallion would be close enough to strike her. His ax, flashing in the light from her unicorn horn, carried specks of blood.
Wrenching images played in Twilight’s mind as her hooves hit the cool water of the river, the path crossing the river along a shallow part barely hoof deep. This stallion was going to kill her and a fear driven imagination was filling Twilight’s heads with how the horrible murder would take place.
And again the path reached up to act against her. A stone in the river caught Twilight's’ hoof, and she splashed down into the shallow water. She turned over, eyes narrowing as she saw the ax wielding stallion jumping into the air. The blade of the ax began to move down, its target clearly set on the purple unicorn.
A single loud bang disrupted the scene. Between Twilight and the stallion a burning red light crossed into the air, trailing behind it a heavy smoke. The thing then exploded with a blinding brightness. Twilight forced to shut her eyes. She heard a howl of pain come from where the stallion had been a moment, and Twilight never felt the edge of the ax reach her.
Once her eyes had recovered Twilight chanced a look, seeing the stallion was gone. The burst of light that had exploded between them was gone as well, but the trail of smoke it left behind guided her eyes to the far bank of the river. There, a figure stood bathed in light from behind. It was enough that Twilight could only barely make out a silhouette of the figure. She could tell he wasn’t a pony, perhaps it was another monster that lived in the Everfree Forest.
The figure lowered its arms, a tool in each hand. The left hand held a flashlight, its beam pointed in Twilight’s face and further blinding her to the creature’s true shape. The other held another item Twilight didn’t recognize, possibly the source of the explosion of light that had somehow driven away the ax wielding stallion.
“The Taken are weak in the light. Burn off the darkness and then strike.”
The unicorn struggled back to her hooves, the hard landing in the river hurting more than her previous tumble in the forest. “Wh... what?”
“I don’t have much time. The Darkness is already gathering its strength again.” The light bathed figure offered, his voice male but not necessarily strong. It rung with a tremor of urgency. “I can only tell you so much. The Taken are weak in the light. Burn off the the darkness and then strike. You are only safe in the light. Focus your light to burn off the darkness and blind the Taken.”
“Wait, who are you? What is going on?”
“Stay out of the shadows... that is where the darkness is strongest. Don’t trust anyone in the dark. You are only safe in the light.” The figured offered, the light behind him starting to fade. Twilight jogged forward a bit, wanting to know more from this creature that seemed to understand why she was just attacked. Still, when she reached the far bank of the shore the light and the creature were gone, as if they had been one and the same.
Lighting her horn, Twilight looked for any sign of the creature. There were, however, no tracks on the ground or any sign of where the light had come from. It was there and then not, like the puff of steam that comes from your breath in the cold of winter.
A snap of a twig made Twilight spin, her light falling on another shadow enveloped pony. This seemed to be a mare, carrying a sharp knife in her teeth. Twilight backed up, the murderous intent in the mare’s yellow eyes reminding Twilight of the stallion that had come so close to putting an ax in her chest.
Still, the words of the light-bathed creature rang in Twilight’s mind. Focusing her vision and mind, Twilight bent the light from her horn into a single cone. The more intense light made the shadowed mare falter, and Twilight could see whisps of embers forming on the shadows that clung to the pony. The shadows began to burn off, and then, with a final flash, the shadows completely evaporated.
Burn off the darkness and then strike.
Twilight’s eyes glanced around, trying to find something to use as a weapon. Then her eyes caught sight of it, the ax the stallion had been wielding glimmered just below the surface of the river. Magic flaring, Twilight grabbed up the ax. The mare was coming at her again, the shadows gone but the murderous intent still present. There was a moment’s hesitation, when Twilight found herself realizing she was about to hit another pony with an ax...
The hesitation ended as the mare jumped at Twilight, survival instincts kicking in. The magically levitated ax flung itself through the air at the unicorn’s command, the sickening sound of metal sinking into flesh filling the air as Twilight held her eyes shut tightly. When she did venture a look, Twilight saw the mare was gone, as if she had vanished into thin air. All that was left was the knife the mare had been holding and the ax Twilight had used to defend herself.
The unicorn trembled, mind shaken not only by the things that had come from the darkness to attack her but what she had been willing to do to defend herself. Had she killed that mare? No, there was no body... was the mare even really there?
Splashing water... Twilight looked up to see more shadowed ponies were crossing the river, creeping slowly towards her. Despite her anxiety, the unicorn levitated the ax again. Still, instead of facing her attackers, she turned and galloped down the path. The words of the creature echoed in her mind. You are safe in the light.
The strongest light she could see was the pillar of light that rose from the castle ruins.
More of the shadow wrapped came at Twilight as she charged through the forest. Most she avoided, but a few she was forced to face. She used the lessons gained from her encounter at the river, burning off the shadows of the opponents she couldn’t run past before she swung her ax. She never kept her eyes open for the final moments of the blow. The sound alone would haunt the unicorn’s memories; she didn’t need to see the gruesome moment when the blade did its work.
Finally, after struggling through the forest, the unicorn reached the aged rope bridge. She charged across it, hooves clattering against the planks. The Ancient Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters loomed amongst the trees, its darkened walls standing like threatening forest giant sentinels in the moonless night. The light from her horn guided Twilight up the steps, through the ancient rooms, and eventually leading her to what had once been the grand hall of the castle.
There, in the center of it all, was an ancient statue that held six stone orbs aloft. The Elements of Harmony, which she and her friends had used to defeat Nightmare Moon. The pillar of light was emanating from the stones, and Twilight had never been happier or more relieved to see something producing light.
She moved beneath the stones, looking up the pillar of light as it cut into the nighttime sky. It was perfectly white, and in a way Twilight could feel it lifting up her spirits. It was like the light you turn on after having a nightmare, the light that let’s you look about your bedroom and see that you were still safe, that everything had just been a dream.
Yet, as Twilight basked in the light the stones flickered... and then grew dark. The shadows and darkness enveloped the area like a wave crashing against the shore, and as Twilight looked about in a panic she heard a familiar voice cackling from everywhere before something lunged at her from the dark.
The purple unicorn bolted up, soaked in a cold sweat and her heart racing. She looked around, brain shifting gears as she came to realize she had just been having a nightmare. She was in a train sleeper car, much like the one she had taken to Appleloosa when her friend Applejack was transporting a tree for transplanting.
The pony that had woken her was Rainbow Dash, the pegasus wearing a mixture of worry, concern, and fear on her face.
“You okay Twilight?”
“I... I think so...”
“That must have been one crazy nightmare. You were tossing and turning and you even screamed before I woke you up.”
“Yea... it was quite the doozy.”
“What’s a doozy?” Pinkie Pie asked, poking her head down from the bunk above Twilight. “I didn’t have a doozy twitch, so it must not have been a real doozy.”
“She was talking about her nightmare, Pinkie.” Dash said, using a hoof to push the pink ball of energy back up onto her bunk. “You sure you’re okay?”
“Yes... I’m fine... I just need to get some air.” The unicorn replied, getting out of the bed. She walked slowly to the end of the car, nosing open the door before stepping into the space between the train cars.
The train itself was charging along the tracks through the heavily forested Wintergreen Mountains. It was a northern region of Equestria. The air was rich and fresh, smelling like pine needles and sap. The scenery was beautiful, the sun just starting to rise over the eastern horizon and creating a breath taking sunrise.
It was a scene that helped calm Twilight, deep breaths filling her lungs. It had just been a nightmare... though one of the most realistic feeling dreams she had ever had. She could remember every detail, like it had really happened, where all the other nightmares she had faded from memory within minutes of waking up.
She didn’t know why this one lingered, but Twilight consciously tried to push it from her mind. It was just a dream.
“All passengers departing at Wintergreen Station, please prepare to disembark.” The conductor called from behind Twilight, his voice carrying outside the sleeper car. “We’ll be arriving in half an hour.”
The unicorn turned, lifting a hoof to step back inside. Wintergreen Station was where she and her friends would be getting off. Celestia had invited the six to the royal vacation spot, a small but stately castle in the mountain range where Celestia would escape from her royal duties once in a while.
On this week Celestia was hoping her sister, Luna, would be able to come to know and even befriend the six ponies that had saved her. Twilight was more than happy to give a friendship with Luna her best effort, not only because she understood the power that friendship held but in respect for Celestia, her teacher.
Stepping back into the train car, Twilight joined her friends as they gathered their things so that when the train arrived at the station they could disembark. They would travel from the station to a small town in the mountains, Emblem, before heading up to Castle Lakeside, named for the fact that the castle stood on the very edge of Moon Shadow Lake.
Nightmare Moon stirred amongst the shadows, grinning as she sensed the six ponies drew closer.
She was not a creature born of the Dark Place, but unlike the writer she found huddled in the aged cabin she did not see it as a place to be feared. She embraced the darkness, and relished in its power.
Celestia of the Sun.
Luna of the Night
And now, Nightmare Moon of The Darkness. She was her own princess, no... a queen. And as a queen she would take over all of Equestria, plunge it into darkness. This was the price they would all pay for casting her out.
It had been easy to trick the writer into weakening the veil; she just had to tempt him and he slowly broke down the barrier. Now she would be able to spread the darkness and take control. Equestria was a perfect place for the darkness. In other worlds, where the sun and moon did their celestial dance without aid, the darkness would always have to recede and hide for the dawn.
But Equestria was different; the sun rose not of its own will but by the prodding of Celestia. Take out Celestia, and the night lasts forever. And, in an eternal night, the darkness could spread without hindrance. All of Equestria would become swallowed up, all of its ponies her delightful minions.
They would all come to regret the day that she was defeated by the Elements of Harmony, for it was in that day she was thrown into the Dark Place... and it was on that day she found far greater power.
Nightmare Moon shut her eyes, feeling out the darkness. She would command it, but first she had to let it in... let it fill her. It was just a bit painful, a stabbing sensation in the alicorn’s heart signalling when the darkness was hers to control. Still, a little pain was easy enough to endure for the power the darkness offered.