Twilight gasped as her head jerked up. She was in her study in the Golden Oaks Library. A book was sprawled out on her desk—Slumber 101: All You Ever Wanted To Know About Slumber Parties But Were Afraid To Ask. Blood-red sunlight filtered past the drapes drawn shut over her windows, casting an eerie pallor over the room broken only by flickering candles.
There was a soft click behind her. Twilight turned around, coming face to face with The Other. It smiled at her, a leering, fanged doppelganger in her own image, and walked over to one of the private bookshelves she kept away from the public.
“What are you doing?” Twilight demanded.
“Looking for something to read,” The Other replied. “We enjoy reading, don’t we, little flower?” A tendril of black magic wormed out of its horn, plucking a book from the shelf. Daring Do and the Forbidden City of Clouds. “A guilty pleasure?”
“You know that’s not what I’m asking about,” Twilight growled. She stood to her full height, meeting the bloodshot gaze of her counterpart.
“Oh, but isn’t this what you wanted?” The Other asked. “Freedom from our shackles? Vengeance on our foes? Our true power, revealed?”
“No!” Twilight shouted. Her voice shook the treehouse with an ethereal echo, causing the pages of the open books strewn around the room to flutter back and forth. “I am not going to let you lock me in my own head! Not again!” Her horn burst into light, and she screamed as she unleashed a cone of rippling lavender energy against the nearest wall. The wall exploded outwards with a crash, revealing a starry black sky criss-crossed with meandering trails of twinkling purple and black.
Twilight blinked. Is that—unfiltered subconscious?
The Other’s sinister laughter drew her attention. “Such willingness to dominate! If only you were so ready to use our magic outside of our head.”
Twilight clenched her jaw as she rounded on her personal monster. “Stop talking like that! It’s my head, my magic, and my body! You’re just some parasite I haven’t figured out how to kill yet.”
“Is that so?” The Other sneered at her, tossing the Daring Do book aside and beginning to advance on her with a slow, measured step. “Oh, but I am you. Your anger and your aggression were always there, even if you couldn’t talk at it. You can’t get rid of me with the right book, little flower.”
“Stop calling me that!” Twilight hissed. The treehouse began to shake and groan around her.
“And what a beautiful blossom you are,” The Other continued. It began to walk a slow circle around her, leaning in close to whisper into her ears. “Willing to bring our power to bear against the weaklings that oppose us, willing to threaten me with death! We remember a time when you would shy away from even speaking such words.”
“Shut up.” Twilight’s whole body was shaking with the effort of holding herself back from another outburst. “That isn’t me.”
“No? Was it not you who killed changelings in Canterlot with your eyes squeezed shut? What of the scum you killed during your rampage on that mongrel griffon’s ship?” The Other’s breath was hot on Twilight’s neck. “Darling Celestia’s pet, impaled on your magic?”
“No!” Twilight’s knees buckled. Her breath came in short bursts as she looked down at the bloody tears falling off her cheeks. “That was you. You took me over! I didn’t do any of those things!”
“But we did, my little flower. We did them together, even if you’d like to pretend otherwise. I’m just the part of you that’s willing to do what it takes to survive.”
Twilight looked up, meeting her own eyes. “You’re not part of me. You’re that wild magic that I took in from Fluttershy. You can’t convince me that you’re part of me.”
The Other responded with a honeyed smile. Rivulets of blood dripped from her lips, stinking of death. “Would you like to see what we’re doing, together?”
A sob racked Twilight’s body. She was silent for several long seconds. At last, she nodded.
“Very well. I will show you.” The Other stood up, pulling Twilight to her hooves with a gentle hold. Twilight watched as it walked to a long reading pillow and sat down. It patted the spot next to her.
Twilight grimaced as she followed. She drew up short a couple steps from the pillow, eyeing the empty spot with clear distaste. The Other beckoned with a cracked hoof.
Curling her lip, Twilight sat on the furthest end of the pillow. Three windows decorated the far wall, wavy red light leaking past each set of closed drapes. In the corner of her eye, the sparkling abyss of her subconscious yawned at her.
“Remember, little flower, you chose to accept my help.”
Twilight didn’t look at it. “I didn’t have a choice.”
It let out a thoughtful hum. “You can believe that, for now.”
There was a soft tinkling of magic, and the drapes were pulled back.
Ana grunted as the coarse ropes were tightened around her legs. She struggled in vain against the weight pinning her face-down in the wet grass. “Let me go, mare! I have to go—mmm!”
She growled in protest as a coil of rope was shoved into her mouth. Rough hooves rolled her onto her back, and she glared up at the behatted cowpony above her.
“Y’all can sit tight for now, I reckon,” Applejack said. “At least until I find someone else to hoof y’all over to. I hear Titus has a mighty fine dungeon somewhere in this big house of his.”
Ana continued to strain against her bonds as Applejack began the process of freeing the three targets she had worked so hard to subdue. The knots held tight, but she couldn’t let up. Her home had just been blown out of the sky, and there was a fair chance that her only remaining family had gone with it. She had to know. She had to go. She had to find her sister.
“Y’alright, Fluttershy?” Applejack said as she pulled the rope bit out of the pegasus’ mouth.
Fluttershy rolled onto her hooves, still shaking. “I’m, um, fine. Th-thanks.”
“That’s good. Ya think y’all can get Pinkie while I take care of Rarity?”
Pinkie Pie had gone strangely quiet. It was perhaps the longest Ana had ever heard her go without making any noise. She finally spoke as Fluttershy leaned over her.
“Girls,” she said, her voice eerily serious. “Twilight’s in big trouble.”
“Don’t worry, Pinkie, we’ll get her,” Applejack said as she pulled the chloroform mask off of Rarity’s face. “Out of any of us, I figure she’s got a decent chance at takin’ care of herself.”
The ground shook with a distant explosion. Each of the five mares looked towards the source of the sound with varying levels of concern, fear, and alarm, but whatever it was, it was blocked by the looming shadow of the mansion.
“This is really, really bad, AJ,” Pinkie continued. “This is a bad, bad doozy. We have to get to her. Now.”
Applejack looked up from the unconscious Rarity, meeting Pinkie’s eyes. A second passed. “‘Shy, y’all carry Rarity till she wakes up. Let’s get movin’.”
Ana huffed as she was hauled bodily off of the ground and slung onto Applejack’s back. She gnawed at the rope in her mouth, her tail flicking side to side.
“Y’all can hush,” Applejack snapped back at her. “Half the blame for this mess is on yer head.”
A shrill screech echoed over the yard, causing each mare to wince and clench their teeth from the piercing pain in their ears. A flash of purple light lit the night sky like a stroke of lightning, and the flash was followed a moment later by rumbling thunder. Ana’s ears went flat against her head as her heart attempted to beat its way out of her chest. Her captors took a second to recover from the sensory overload before pressing forwards once more.
These ponies are crazy! Ana redoubled her struggle. Pain blossomed in her wings as she tried to loosen her bindings with them. They’re going to get me killed! She looked to Fluttershy with wide eyes, pleading for the pegasus to turn the group around. Fluttershy kept her eyes forwards as she brought up the rear step by shivering step. Even she, it seemed, was willing to march into the madness.
A quiet, “Whoa, nelly,” reached Ana’s ears. She turned to see that they had made it into the front yard. Bloody bodies in shades of green, orange, and brown were scattered over the smoldering gardens, but that wasn’t where Applejack was looking. Her mouth hung open as she took her hat off and looked up.
Ana followed her gaze and squinted into the lavender star that hovered over the cleared land. An arcing lance of energy shot out of it, sending a shockwave through the ground as it impacted somewhere out of sight. A long gout of flame clawed for the sky before dying back down.
Oh, fuck no! Ana aimed a few glancing kicks at Applejack’s flank, but it was impossible to get any leverage from her position. Let! Me! Go!
Applejack ignored her. She instead slipped her hat back on and turned back to her friends. Her face was grim. “Y’all ready, gals?”
Pinkie gave a firm nod. “Always!”
Fluttershy, meanwhile, had gone deathly pale. “R-r-r-r-ready.”
Countess Rarity let out a moan as she blinked her eyes open. “What happened?”
“We’ll catch y’all up durin’ the walk, Rares,” Applejack said. She started leading the group towards the nearest hole in the estate’s wall, weaving around bodies and burnt bushes. “I reckon this is partially my fault.” She shook her head as she watched the flickering star grow brighter still. “I had a sense somethin’ like this was comin’ up on us for a while now, gals, though not quite so violent. I failed Twilight and I failed y’all. I’m sorry.”
“No time for apologies, Applejack!” Pinkie said, bounding forward to take the lead.
“A-a-although we d-do, um, f-f-forgive you,” Fluttershy squeaked.
As she gathered her bearings, Rarity’s eyes came to focus on Ana, tied up on Applejack’s back. Her voice caught as she spoke. “But—why?”
“Later, Rares,” Applejack said. Ana looked away.
“But—mm. I think I’m good to walk now, darling,” Rarity said. She eased herself off Fluttershy’s back, staggering for just a moment before straightening up. “We need to move as—oh, goodness—as quick as we can.”
“Girls!” Rainbow Dash careened out of the sky, landing with a sloppy flop that she just barely turned into a roll back to her hooves. Bloody bandages and swollen bruises dotted her sides, and she was quick to speak as her friends all turned to her with questions in their eyes. “No time! We gotta get to Twi, fast!”
Applejack nodded. “Right, then. Let’s giddy up, y’all! Twilight needs us!”
The five mares galloped towards the blinding orb of destruction. Still tied up on Applejack’s back, Ana screamed in frustration.
In all her years, Gava had never seen destruction on such a scale.
She flew over a burning forest just a few hundred meters out from Titus’ estate. Waves of hot air buffeted her from below, pushing her up even as powerful bouts of turbulence threatened to throw her out of the sky. The roaring of the flames filled the night. Underneath it, a constant, high-pitched wail scratched at her thoughts.
Craters dotted the landscape, surrounded by bloodstains and charred limbs. Soldiers in orange tabards screamed as their attempts to escape into the night were cut short by bolts of lavender lightning. Each one popped with a flash and a violent burst of red, staining the grass with their spent lives. Almost every soldier that Nettlekiss had sent had been cut down, and the purple witch showed no sign of stopping.
And what could Gava do? Her ship was a smoking wreckage. Her father’s ship. He had trusted her to keep it safe, and she had failed. Her rage boiled inside her, urging her to exact vengeance. All she had to do was draw her father’s gun, throw herself screaming at the one that had taken everything from her, and then she could rest knowing that she had died as a huntress should.
But she couldn’t do that yet. She had to find Ana, first, dead or alive. Only then would she decide whether she wanted to see the sun again.
“Gava!” A voice like tearing paper shrieked inside her mind, almost making her wings seize up in shock. The flames swathing the landscape lashed higher still, shifting between brilliant purple and deep red, as they screamed along with their creator. “Where are you?!”
Gava dipped as low as she dared and angled herself towards the estate. Ana was probably hiding there still, and it would give her ample cover in case the witch found her. She clacked her beak as the heat of the fires singed her belly feathers.
“You can’t hide from me, fledgling!”
The feathers on Gava’s back stood up as the air around her began to glow. She squawked in alarm, snapping to the side just as a crackling lance of magic twice her size cut through the air where she had been. The beam struck the island with a deafening crack, causing the earth to ripple and snap around the point of impact with a shuddering groan.
A wall of hot air hit Gava like a giant’s wing. She cried out as she was flipped end over end through the air, her own wings buckling under the sudden acceleration. A lance of pain raced up one of her forelegs as she bounced off something hard, but the impact had slowed her down enough for her to snap her wings open and catch the wind once more.
Gava slowed herself down just enough to catch a glimpse of Titus’ estate as it rushed to meet her. She screeched again, her legs rising to protect her face just as she crashed into the slanted roof. Time seemed to skip as the pain in her leg multiplied tenfold, and the next time she opened her eyes she was on her back in the garden with loose tiles and masonry raining around her.
“F-fuck,” Gava groaned as she struggled off the ground. She began to limp towards the relative safety of the mansion.
“Come to me, coward,” the ethereal voice hissed. “I want to see you die!”
A low growl escaped Gava’s throat as she hobbled up the first of the steps. “Fuckin’ witch.” It’s not cowardice that drives me to survive.
Again, the feathers twitched on her back. She was lifted off the ground as if by an invisible vice and twisted mid-air, brought face-to-face with her prey-turned-predator for the first time.
Rarity grit her teeth as she galloped in Fluttershy’s wake, keeping her eyes fixed on the flowing pink tail in front of her. The rapidly spreading fires surrounding the estate had begun to fill the air with smoke that clung to her coat and stung at her eyes. She could barely even see the back of Fluttershy’s head, but as long as she didn’t lose track of her tail, she could keep up.
“You can’t hide from me, fledgling!”
Rarity winced as the deafening voice bounced around in her head. It sounded like Twilight, almost. It was as if she had spent three days straight screaming at the top of her lungs, and somehow still found the will to force more words out through her raw, bloodied throat.
A flash of blinding red and lavender washed over the burning field. A moment later, Rarity was tossed off her hooves by a rippling shockwave that traveled across the ground and rattled painfully up her legs. The breath was driven from her lungs by the force of its impact, and she gasped for air as she struggled to get back to her hooves.
A violent cough wracked her body as she stood up. Pillars of displaced earth shot up around her, blocking her sight and hemming her in. Squinting through the smoky haze around her in search of her friends, she let out a shriek as she realized that her dress had caught fire, and she tore it off with her magic before the fire could spread to her coat.
Applejack’s voice, hoarse from shouting, was barely audible over the flames. “She’s goin’ this way! Stick together, y’all!”
Rarity held her breath as she barreled through a wall of smoke towards the voice. Searing heat licked at her belly, but she came out into relatively clear air to find each of her friends around her.
“Oh goodness,” Fluttershy said. Her face was marred by black stains. “Are y-y-you okay?”
“Don’t look at me!” Rarity screeched, all too aware of the similar stains dotting her coat and ruined mane. “Where’s Twilight?”
“Follow me!” Applejack called. “She went back to the manor!”
Rarity’s mind raced as she fell in with the group once more, ignoring the way her hooves chipped as she ran over armored bodies and the way her fur stung when they passed too close to a fire. A gust of wind blew past, and Rarity caught a clear glimpse of Titus’ ruined estate. Floating above it was a unicorn mare swathed in a swirling mass of crackling arcane energies.
Is this what happened to Celestia? Rarity wondered. Has she just become another monster? A cold dread wrapped around her pounding heart, a chill that she felt even through the overwhelming heat of the fire. What if we can’t stop her?
Rainbow Dash slowed down, allowing herself to fall back from the front of the group. “Big gap ahead!” she shouted, voice cracking. “We’ll have to jump!”
The ground grew uneven, the once smooth hills of the land having been twisted into a rocky, burning hellscape. Rarity watched as she saw Applejack jump over something, causing Ana’s eyes to bulge as she teetered precariously on her flank, followed by Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy squealed in terror, spread her wings, and crossed the gap. Rarity crouched down, gritting her teeth before launching herself into the air.
Her hoof slipped. She screamed as she began to fall forwards into a pit over twice her size, its sides glowing red with heat. Time slowed as she stared with wide eyes into the endless stone maw, catching a brief glimpse of moonlight reflected on the ocean far, far below.
Rainbow’s hooves hooked under her legs. “I gotcha, Rares!”
Rarity’s legs were so weak that they barely held her weight as Rainbow dropped her back on solid ground. She stumbled, mind still reeling from her near fall, before shoving the experience aside. Twilight needed her. That was what mattered.
Twilight’s mutated voice echoed in her mind as she followed Fluttershy past the crumbling remains of the estate wall. “Come to me, coward. I want to see you die!”
Rarity looked up to see Gava struggling vainly in Twilight’s magical grip, both of them floating several meters over the twisted ground. “Darling, stop!”
The other unicorn didn’t show any sign of hearing. A manic grin stretched across her face as she lifted a hoof, causing Gava to rise along with it. She swept the hoof downwards, and Gava screeched as she was slammed into the marble steps of the manor hard enough to crack it.
“Twilight!” Pinkie Pie called, rearing up to wave both forelegs. “This isn’t you!”
“Hey, we’re talking to you!” Rainbow Dash coiled her body like a spring before launching herself forwards. “You need to calm down!”
Twilight’s head twisted around with unnatural speed, her cold gaze focusing in on the approaching rainbow blur. A tendril of lavender lashed out, and Rainbow just managed to let out a strangled yelp before she was flicked out of the sky.
“Rainbow!” Fluttershy gasped, rushing to help.
Twilight’s eyes lingered on Rainbow’s still form for a full second. “Do not interfere!”
Applejack stomped a hoof on the ground. “Twi, I’m sorry I let things get this far! Y’all need to just talk to us! Put that bird down and come back to us!”
“There is nowhere to return to,” Twilight said. Each of her friends flinched at the force of her voice. Her eyes glowed, and Gava’s limp body was peeled out of the indent she had left on the stairs.
On Applejack’s back, Ana found her second wind. She shook her whole body from side to side, pushing against her bindings with her wings, and managed to roll to the ground. The frayed rope in her mouth finally snapped as she bit down hard, letting her speak. “Sister!”
Gava stirred. Her head rose up just enough for her to blink an eye open. “Oh. Hey, Sis.”
Blinding light gathered at the tip of Twilight’s horn, forcing the assembled ponies to close their eyes or look away. The screech of raw magic clawed at Rarity’s ears as the ground buckled and shook beneath her, throwing her to the ground. The sound of crumbling stone and shifting dirt competed to be heard over the screaming of the land. When the light subsided enough for her to open her eyes again, Twilight and Gava were both floating over a chasm that stretched across out of sight in both directions, its walls glowing red-hot.
Twilight grinned down at the limp griffon. “Join your ancestors, fledgling.”
“Twilight, no!” Pinkie screamed. Tears streamed down her face as took a few steps forward.
“Careful, Pinkie!” Applejack called.
Pinkie looked back. Her mane began to lose its color. “Whatever happens, we have to be there for her.”
“Pinkie?” Rarity asked. “What are you doing?”
“I’m here for you, Twilight!” Pinkie Pie called. She broke into a gallop, aiming straight for her possessed friend. “No matter what!”
Pinkie jumped into the open air, hooves outstretched. The gap was far too big for her to jump across, but she had just enough speed to cross the distance between the edge and where Twilight was floating.
Twilight blinked as Pinkie Pie latched onto her with a fearsome hug, the brilliant glow in her eyes seeming almost to dim for just a moment. She looked down to the crying earth pony wrapped around her. Gava, forgotten for the moment, let out a barely audible wheeze as she fell out of sight.
“No!” Ana screamed. “Sister! Damn—fuck!”
Rarity held her breath as Twilight looked down to meet Pinkie’s eyes. The ripping winds grew still, and even the flames seemed to hush themselves in anticipation.
The doors to the manor were flung open. Duke Titus hobbled out, bereft of his armor, with a squad of battered troops close behind. He took one look at the disaster that had befallen his land, and his muzzle twisted into a deep scowl.
He pointed a hoof at the crazed purple unicorn. “End that monster!”
Of the dozen troops beside him, eight were pegasi. Of those eight, six had rifles tucked under their wings. All six took aim without hesitation. Six gouts of fire spewed from their barrels as they each pulled the trigger.
Twilight’s head snapped around to face the new threat. A sneer wormed across her face. “Foals.”
A wave of red energy burst from Twilight, sending each bullet careening wildly off target. Pinkie Pie was thrown backwards with a shriek. A wet crunch echoed over the yard as she struck the smoldering remains of a tree, and she fell to the ground, silent and still.
Rarity let out a shriek. Applejack cursed and stomped. Fluttershy let out a sob. Above it all, Twilight screamed.
Twilight opened her eyes. She was floating over the jagged chasm that had been torn across Duke Titus’ estate with her own uncontrolled magic. One of her oldest, dearest friends lay crumpled in the shadow of a burnt-out tree, thrown there with her own magic.
You said you wouldn’t hurt them!
Cease this at once! You will get us killed!
I would rather die!
The crack of gunfire sounded from behind her. Instinctively, she erected a shield to deflect the bullets.
You are weak! You do not deserve our power!
Twilight grit her teeth. She wanted to go to her friends, to comfort them and heal their wounds and beg for their forgiveness. She wanted so bad to just feel their warmth and cry and tell them everything.
Why can’t I move? Let me go!
We cannot be distracted by your worthless sentiment. Turn on those who would do us harm and end them!
Twilight could feel the Other writhing throughout her entire body. It hadn’t drawn back to where it had been before. Its dark magic still reached every part of her. She could feel it tugging at her mind, pulling at her limbs, clawing at her magic. It wanted to kill, but it couldn’t do anything if she didn’t let it. She wanted to go to her friends, but it was holding her back just as she was it.
She could still hear Titus shouting commands, even if she couldn’t turn her head to look at him. “Fire! Kill it, kill it, kill it!” The bullets kept coming, each one turning into a ball of molten slag before being flung off into the night.
We should run.
Flee? Bah! I refuse to turn my back to such fodder!
The sorrow lingering in Twilight’s breast turned to anger. I will hold us here until we die! I don’t care how long it takes!
You couldn’t, the Other shot back. I can feel your anger. You will give in again, and it will be for the last time.
Twilight couldn’t force herself to take deep breaths. She couldn’t even close her eyes. She summoned a mental image of herself as a filly, reading old textbooks under Celestia’s wing as the Princess sipped at her tea and read scroll after scroll of bureaucratic paperwork. The anger began to fade away. She could feel the magic shell around her weakening, fading away. A ball of melted lead landed on her flank, burning at her coat.
I will not let that happen.
For a moment, the Other didn’t respond. She could feel it thinking, pondering, testing at her mind. She moved her gaze to meet Applejack’s. The cowpony stood firm on the edge of the chasm, looking into her eyes with a calm solidarity. She was a rock, unflinching in the face of the strongest waves. In those steady green eyes, Twilight knew that she could find the strength to hold the monster inside her back until the end of time.
The Other screamed in impotent rage inside of her. Fine! We will flee as cowards for now, but I will not let you dictate our actions like this in the future!
The Other began to relinquish its pull. It drew back from her body, and Twilight finally found herself able to move her limbs again. She took a deep breath, choking back a sob.
“Twi?” Applejack asked. The sounds of gunfire and crackling fire faded into the back of Twilight’s mind as she focused on her friend’s voice. “Is that you?”
Twilight gave her a shaky nod. “It’s me.”
The tension in Applejack’s body began to fade away. “Y’all comin’ back to us, sugar cube?”
A shivering breath escaped Twilight’s lips as she shook her head. “Don’t follow me.”
Applejack frowned. She took a step forwards, eyes widening. “Twi?”
Twilight allowed the magic holding her in the air to falter. Applejack cried out as she dove towards the edge of the chasm, extending a hoof as if to catch her.
The wind rushed in Twilight’s ears as she plummeted through the gaping wound she had cut through the island. She kept Applejack’s gaze the whole way down, grounding herself in the cool green of her eyes as she fell out of the bottom of the island.
The ocean glowed a gentle lavender as it reared up, catching her on a gentle cushion of water. She lay still, her eyes remaining focused on the spot where Applejack had been, and she drifted deeper into the depths.
End of Act One