“I had him on the ropes,” the young man said.
“I know you did,” she agreed, despite having just saved the young man’s life.
The sound of a familiar weapon powering up had them both spinning around. Blue light filled her vision.
“Get down!” Fluttershy sat up with a scream. Instantly she dove for cover, only to wind up tangling herself in her sleeping bag and tent.
“Fluttershy?” Rainbow Dash came out of her own tent a moment later, having been awoken by the scream. Twilight also appeared from another tent, having been startled awake by the, to her, piercing sound.
Fluttershy took a steadying breath. After a moment, she let it out and began to untangle herself. “I… I’m fine. Just a bad dream.” She shook her head. “Just a bad dream,” she repeated to herself.
Twilight frowned. “Another one? Is something the matter?” she asked.
Fluttershy shook her head. “No, really. I’m fine,” she said, smiling at her friend.
Twilight’s frown remained, and then her eyes glowed and odd purplish blue for a moment. She sighed. “Alright. But please remember that we’re here for you, Fluttershy.”
Fluttershy didn’t immediately respond, bowing her head.
“Alright ponies, here’s the deal. The climb up the mountain isn’t going to be the easiest thing we’ve done.” Twilight conjured an illusion of the mountain in the middle of the circle her and her friends had formed. “Rainbow and I have scouted out a path that will be relatively safe.” A dotted line formed, slowly circling upward around the mountain. “Unfortunately, even that is still dangerous. The ground isn’t stable, so we’re moving slowly.”
“Question!” Pinkie raised a hoof.
Twilight blinked, a bit startled by the interruption. “Yes?”
“Can’t you just carry us up there?” Pinkie asked. “According to you, something like that would be really easy.”
Twilight opened her mouth to say no, but then she actually considered it. It wouldn’t tire her out in the slightest, and Fluttershy and Rainbow could already fly, so… why not? “Huh. I’m kind of surprised I hadn’t thought of that myself.” She looked at the illusion she had conjured and sighed. “So much for that plan,” she mumbled to herself, letting the illusion fade.
Fluttershy had taken Twilight’s offer of carrying her up the mountain out of habit. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a bad idea.
“You only got a ten second window! You miss that window… we’re bugs on a windshield.”
“Mind the gap.”
“Better get moving bugs!”
Fluttershy shuddered, gasping and curling in on herself.
“Should I hurry up?” Twilight’s voice sounded in her ears.
“Please!” Fluttershy whispered hoarsely.
Twilight nodded and held Fluttershy closer, moving a good deal faster.
Once she landed with Fluttershy on a ridge close to the top, she eased the Pegasus onto the ground. “Hey, we’re here Fluttershy. You’re on solid ground.” she said calmingly to the shivering Pegasus.
Fluttershy slowly uncurled and, shakily, stood up. “T-thank you, Twilight.” she said. She adamantly refused to look at the edge of the ridge.
“I don’t get it,” Twilight said after a moment. “From what you’ve told us, you were a soldier, and a good one at that. How are you being affected by heights?”
Fluttershy looked away. “Fear isn’t something you can fight easily…” she muttered.
Twilight nodded thoughtfully. “True… Very true.” she agreed. “Will you be alright on your own for a moment?” she asked.
“I’m fine now, thank you,” Fluttershy said, visibly looking better now that she was on solid ground.
Twilight nodded, looking uncertain for a moment, before taking off in a blur over the edge and towards the base of the mountain. Fluttershy watched her go.
Suddenly, the landscape below wasn’t that of a grassy plain, but a mountainous snowy region. Alongside one of the mountains was a train track, and on that track was a particularly fast moving train.
“Remember when I made you ride the Cyclone at Coney Island?”
“Yeah, and I threw up,” she recalled with fond exasperation.
“This isn’t payback, is it?” her friend asked.
Fluttershy turned and looked up. There was a zipline from the edge of the cliff all the way to the tracks.
“Now why would I do that?” she asked with a smirk.
Fluttershy gasped as the vision vanished, but found herself giggling at both the byplay between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, and the context behind it she could remember.
She would be fine.
“Oh my stars and stripes…” Fluttershy heard Twilight whisper in horror. Honestly, as terrified of dragons as Fluttershy was at the moment, that fear was currently overridden by her empathy towards any creature that suffered unnecessarily. And this dragon…
Once everyone had made it to the top, they all all collectively made their way into the cave, ready for anything. Fluttershy had forced her own fears and doubts into a tight little ball and locked it up, knowing her friends needed her at this moment.
Due to what Twilight had said before about the possible intentions behind this situation, everyone had been half-expecting a massive fireball to be the first thing that greeted them. Either that, or a pile of riches and a rather indignant dragon laid upon it.
Instead, they have found a barren cave, not glimmer or sparkle of gold or jewels… and a red dragon slowly tossing and turning on the ground and groaning in obvious anguish. Thick smoke billowed from his mouth.
What had Twilight horrified, and everyone else nearly rushing out of the cave to vacate their stomachs, was the fact that a black and green smoke, clearly not part of the smoke the dragon was creating, was slowly eating away at this dragon’s flesh.
The dragon’s eyes snapped open, revealing green irises and a narrowed pupil. He zeroed in on Twilight and Fluttershy. A claw shakily reached out towards them. He coughed. “The smoke… The flame...” he wheezed.
Twilight and Fluttershy approached. Fluttershy nearly ran over to the dragon in an attempt to help, or at least ease its suffering.
The dragon’s tail slammed down between them. “No…” he coughed. “Stay… away…”
“But I can help!” Fluttershy tried to urge. She looked at Twilight in betrayal when the Mare of Steel grabbed her and dragged her away. She was shocked to see Twilight glaring at the dragon. Or, rather, at the greenish black smoke. “Twilight?” she asked.
“Stay away Fluttershy,” she said. “That is very potent dark magic.” Her gaze caught the dragon’s eye. “What happened?” she asked.
The dragon grunted. “Stellar Beast…” He rolled again. “So many lost…” he sighed, but then his eyes hardened and he tried to stand. “Must… warn…” With a trailing groan, his limbs failed him and he flopped to the ground.
Twilight once again stopped Fluttershy from moving forward. “Is there anything we can do?”
The dragon made an effort to focus on Twilight, but only ended up coughing up blood while trying to speak. Giving a silent prayer of hope, Twilight threw a numbing spell at the dragon.
It did absolutely nothing.
“Twilight, we have to do something!” Fluttershy cried, her enhanced strength useless against Twilight’s super strength as she struggled.
“No,” Twilight said, holding her friend back. “I have no idea what that is, other than it’s some kind of dark magic. I can feel that much. I don’t know what will happen if you get close.”
The dragon suddenly focused on Twilight with a startling intensity. “Warn them!” he growled, physically dragging himself towards the two mares. “Tell the council! Tell them!”
Twilight frowned. “Council? What council? Warn them of what?”
But the dragon was out of it again, and had stopped struggling. Smoke stopped billowing from his mouth, and the green-black smoke slowly faded away. Hesitantly, Twilight used her X-Ray Vision to see his vitals.
She lowered her head and directed Fluttershy towards the entrance. “Let’s go…” she whispered. “He’s gone.”
Twilight had made sure Applejack knew the route back to town and had the map before she took off straight for Canterlot. She spared no hesitance, and cared not who saw her flying through the air. She had passed more than one startled Pegasus on her way.
Every noble and petitioner in the Throne Room had jumped when Twilight slammed the doors open and strode in with a purpose.
“Twilight?” Celestia asked in mild surprise, before noticing the hard expression her student wore. “Clear the room and ensure our privacy,” she ordered the Royal Guard.
Once the room was clear, Twilight approached. “Dark magic killed the dragon,” she said without preamble. “It was some kind of greenish black smoke that ate away at his body. He was delirious with pain, and mentioned something about a Stellar Beast. He also said to, “Warn the council,” but he… passed on… before we could get him to elaborate.”
Celestia frowned. “That is… not good.” she said, thinking quickly. “I can’t say I recognize the type of magic of the top of my head, but… At the same time, it sounds strangely familiar.” She shook her head. “ And the council...He may have been referring to the Council in the Stars, the ruling body of the dragons. As for this Stellar Beast… It could be any number of things.” She sighed. “I suppose the only thing I can do is send a message to the Council and inform them of these events, and hope they know what’s going on.” She refocused on Twilight. “What of the Dragon’s remains?”
Twilight shuffled nervously. “I wasn’t entirely sure what to do, so I left the body there. I didn’t want anyone touching him in case the dark magic was still there, and it spread on touch.”
Celestia nodded thoughtfully. “Likely a wise decision, despite the fact that the Dragon nobility will be clamoring about disrespect.” After a moment, she nodded to herself. “If that is all Twilight, you may leave. Thank you for this, and I’m sorry you and your friends were exposed to it.” She paused. “Are your friends okay?” she asked.
Twilight nodded. “They’re fine. They were all a bit a sick when they saw the state the dragon was in, but otherwise fine.”
Celestia nodded, and Twilight left afterwards, knowing there wasn’t much else to discuss.