by bossfight1

Chapter 9: Preemption

It had been about a week since Luna’s nightmare. The city had been abuzz the following morning about the screams from the castle, but concerns died down after a while. It was uplifting, in a way—they were concerned for the wellbeing of the Princess, in a way that suggested they’d completely forgotten about her being Nightmare Moon. Though Luna seemed to be feeling immensely better, she was rather quiet for the rest of the day, when she wasn’t in her room. I supposed she just had a lot to think about. Twilight finally went home to Ponyville after being reassured countless times that Luna would be okay; to my surprise, she didn’t shoot me any further glares as she left. Had Luna talked to her? As a matter of fact, Celestia seemed to have calmed down; I know for a fact that she saw me and Luna walking in the garden the following day. At the time I was certain she would follow through on her threat, but she didn’t—maybe she felt she was being hasty at the time?

The first night, though, she seemed hesitant at the thought of exploring dreams again; she knew it was just my own dream that had affected her, but it seemed to have left an impact on her. She hated the idea that some of her subjects may suffer nightmares because of her anxiousness, but every time she tried to enter the dreamscape she would quickly withdraw.

So on the second night, I figured she’d need some support. I stayed up throughout the entire night at her side, giving her reassurances and promising she wouldn’t face that nightmare again. She started out small, simply peeking into the dreamscape and finding happier dreams; like helping an aquaphobe treat their fear by putting them in a kiddie pool. She was quickly able to get back into her element, though, and before long it looked like nothing was wrong in the first place; it might have helped that she knew I wasn’t asleep at the time and, therefore, wasn’t dreaming. When the evening’s nightmares were sorted out, Luna and I just sat there on the balcony, chatting amicably; she’d occasionally peek back into the dreamscape to see if any dreams had taken a turn for the worse, but otherwise we essentially had the entire night free.

We spent a deal of the night discussing what she saw in the dreamscape; she said it looked mostly like the real world, only without color. In her dream form she could travel across the land at vast speeds, capable of seeing, even sensing dreams through any surface. While unable to clearly see ponies, awake or asleep, she mentioned ‘seeing’ dreams as auras floating over the heads of those sleeping. She could tell what manner of dreams they were by their coloring; if they were white, they were happy dreams, if a little neurotic. Darker dreams reflected the overall mood of the dream—pitch black was a full-blown nightmare. Luna would seek out the darker dreams and help bring the dreamer back into a more light-hearted one.

By the time we started slowing down with things to discuss, it was already nearing dawn; Celestia came on schedule to relieve Luna, ending the night on a rather awkward note. She and I hadn’t spoken since our ‘chat’ outside Luna’s room, but she didn’t object to us hanging out like this.

Since she didn’t protest, I decided that, on the third night Luna and I would do the same thing; not that I doubted she could handle it again, but because I just liked… talking like that.

Also because staying up the entirety of the previous night completely knocked my internal clock out of loop.

Because we had a great deal of fun chatting on these nights, before long we made it a regular thing. We spent every night sitting on her balcony, chatting and swapping stories after she finished what I’d dubbed the ‘dream sweep’; she seemed to enjoy the company, same as me.

On the seventh night it was more of the same; I was some distance behind her as she sat, in a trance, observing the dreams of her subjects. I began wishing I’d been out here before; she had sense of tranquility while in the dreamscape, the look of a kind, loving guardian that would guide and comfort those who needed it. It was… nice to look at. Since she wasn’t in a position to chat, however, I was left with the stars as my only company, for the moment.

The stars were another of Equestria’s ‘pros’, which I’d been listing since I’d learned I couldn’t get home. While back home the night sky wasn’t that impressive, Luna’s sky was actually hers to command—her own little canvas to shape, form and design. You’d never see something like that on Earth.

I glanced at Luna, wondering whose dream she was in, and what they were dreaming…

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There were many things Luna had missed dearly during her banishment—one of them being her watch over the dreams of Equestria. When she’d returned, however, she felt that her subjects wouldn’t respond well to their dreams being ‘haunted’ by the being who had, once again, attempted to plunge their world into darkness. So, she had waited; it was a good year and a half before she finally decided to venture into the realm she’d so longed to see again. She practically felt ashamed to fear it after the backlash she suffered from entering Dread’s dreams; now it was like being embraced by an old friend.

There weren’t many nightmares tonight, thankfully, and she was just about finished with sorting them out. There was just one more to cleanse… in Ponyville, no less. Luna flew gracefully through the night sky and traced the darkening aura to…

…the Golden Oaks Library; the residence of Twilight Sparkle. Feeling more of a personal stake in clearing the nightmare, Luna hastened into the hollowed-out tree, located the troubled dream and quickly entered it.

She was floating above Ponyville; the town was bathed in flames, spouting pillars of smoke that painted the sky a mixture of black and red. Luna shrugged off her initial terror at the display—neither she or Twilight would have to see this for very long, if she acted quickly. She flew over the streets, scanning the destruction; there wasn’t a sign of a single pony among the ruins. The devastation wasn’t what terrified Twilight… there had to be something else.

There. She was standing in the town center, stock-still. Luna hastened to her, landing some distance behind her. She opened her mouth to call out, when she realized Twilight was staring at something.

She followed Twilight’s gaze down the road; for a moment, there was nothing there save for another few burning buildings, billowing pitch-black smoke.

Suddenly, movement. As if drawn by some unseen force, the ash from the surrounding infernos suddenly began to fly towards the middle of the street; it piled and gathered quickly, until it formed a mound about fifty feet tall. The crackling of the fires and the crumbling of the buildings was suddenly drowned out by a low, ominous rumble from the ash.

It began to mold itself, rising upwards as it sprouted four long, pony-like legs for which to stand on. A tail sprouted from the rear of the mass, dancing as wildly as the flames that bathed the town. A tall black unicorn head emerged from its front, the smoke forming its curved horn slowly beginning to glow a bright red. A pair of red and green eyes formed in the head, glaring malevolently at the pair. The muzzle split into an immense maw, lined with razor-sharp, black teeth.

Luna frowned at the abomination; it was, quite clearly, Sombra, but… What had he become?

Her eyes fell on the mouth again, and felt a sense of familiarity.

The skies suddenly flashed with a distant boom. Luna and Twilight glanced skyward at the interruption, the sounds of the dream fading out completely.

With another boom, so did the dream altogether.

Luna was thrown backwards, tumbling as she flew from the collapsing dream and out of the library. She recovered quickly, seeking to regain her senses. Before she could slip back into the library to check on Twilight, she noticed a number of other dreams around the village suddenly flickering out; something was awakening those in Ponyville.

                -                -                -                -                -

Luna suddenly broke out of her trance with a jolt, making me jump. “Luna?” I asked. “What’s up?”

“I don’t know…” Luna said, standing up. “Something is happening in Ponyville. We must wake Celestia.” She turned towards me. “Stand beside me and brace yourself.” I stood up and moved to her side, frowning in confusion. Her horn lit up.

A flash surrounded us and, with a rush of wind, we were suddenly standing in one of the castle’s many corridors. I was familiar with teleportation—I’d spent a week working with an MHA, Blink, who had that power. Still, the effect left me disoriented, likely due to my unique physiology. Luna hurried to a pair of illustrious double doors and knocked. “Tia! Tia, wake up!”

For a moment there was no response; then the door opened slowly, revealing a tired-looking but otherwise alert Celestia. She glanced at me for a moment before regarding her sister. “What is it, Luna?”

“I think something is amiss in Ponyville, Sister,” Luna said. “Something is waking up its citizens, and… I’m concerned. Could you send a letter to your student? Just to check in?”

Celestia frowned for a moment, then swiftly nodded. “Of course.” She turned and retreated into her room, leaving the door open for Luna to enter. I made to follow her, but stopped myself at the door frame. Don’t give her a reason…

Her room looked more like a library than a bedroom; the only ‘bed’ was a thick, cushioned rug surrounded by a number of pillows of various sizes and colors. The walls, like Luna’s room, were covered in bookshelves, broken apart by a pair of double doors to another balcony. Celestia approached a desk near the doors, opened a drawer and withdrew a piece of parchment, quill and inkwell. She quickly penned a message on the scroll, rolled it up and enveloped it in a yellow field of magic; the field quickly formed into a wisp of energy that flew out the window and into the distance. “Spike should get that… Assuming he doesn’t sleep through it,” Celestia said.

“Well, if he does, perhaps everything is okay…” Luna said. “...Hopefully…”

                -                -                -                -                -

Spike cowered in the cupboard beneath the sink, quivering uncontrollably. He could hear the intruders tearing the library apart, from books being pulled off the shelves and tossed to the floor to entire pieces of furniture being upended and smashed. He’d been in here for a good two minutes, fearful tears forming in his eyes; Twilight had woken him up when she’d first heard their attempts at forced entry. When she realized what was happening she told him to hide while she ‘dealt with it’, and to send a letter to Celestia if things went poorly. It was only when he heard her shouting as she was dragged from the library that he realized that he didn’t have anything to send Celestia; he couldn’t risk getting the quill, ink and parchment necessary without being caught by the unknown assailants.

He was feeling so helpless… Even more so than when he and his friends were dropped into that Power Ponies comic, landing him as Hum Drum; now Twilight actually needed his help, yet here, he was just plain useless!!

He felt something rising up his throat, making him stop shaking; could it be?

Spike kept his mouth shut as he felt the burst of green flame fly out of his throat; he spat out the crumpled scroll, staring at it in disbelief. He risked opening the cupboard door just a crack so he could read it.

My faithful student,
Is everything alright? Luna says something is waking up the citizens of Ponyville, and expressed concern.

Spike blinked in shock; it was a miracle. Peering through the crack to make sure he wouldn’t be seen, Spike unfurled the scroll and flattened it against the floor of the cupboard. Without a quill, he was left with carefully digging his claw into the parchment, scratching an urgent reply into it as best as he could.

His work done, he rolled it up; he needed to give it a clear route back to the Princess… He peered from his hiding spot again; nopony had entered the kitchen. He glanced at the window; all he needed was a few seconds… He could make it.

He opened the doors, climbed out of the cupboard then, quickly but quietly, moved to the window. He clambered up to the sill and threw it open; it was caught in a very poorly timed breeze that made it slam loudly against the outside.

“What was that?” Came a voice from the library.

Nearly dropping the scroll, Spike held it out in front of him. The door behind him slammed open. “YOU!! STOP!!”

He took a deep breath; he heard several figures running up behind him.

He blew out a burst of green flame that enveloped the scroll, sending it to Canterlot as per usual. Spike was able to feel an all-too-brief sense of relief and pride before he felt himself being violently grabbed from behind, and was pulled from the window with a yell.

                -                -                -                -                -

“Luna, take it easy…” I urged, hoping to get Luna to stop pacing. “It’s only been like thirty seconds, chill.”

“I can’t…” Luna said. “I have a bad feeling about whatever’s happening there…”

“Ponyville has been through a great deal, Luna,” Celestia said calmly. “I’m sure whatever’s happening will be easily sorted out.”

“I just don’t like not knowing…” Luna said. “What if they’re--”

She was cut off by a stream of green flame flowing through the open doors of Celestia’s balcony. The flame swirled in front of Celestia and formed into a scroll—the same scroll she had sent, only crumpled up. Frowning, Celestia unfurled it; it looked like something had clawed into it.

Her eyes widened; she turned the letter for us to see.

The word ‘HELP’ was, literally, scratched into the parchment.

“Oh, shit…” I breathed.

Celestia turned and hurried onto her balcony. “Guards!!” She called.

A pair of pegasus guards flew up to her immediately. “Yes, Princess!” They said in unison.

“Prepare two chariots to bring Luna and I to Ponyville!” She ordered. “And have a battalion prepared to join us, we must leave within the next five minutes!” The guards saluted, then split off to see her orders through.

I slithered towards her. “I’m coming, too.”

Celestia turned to me, a stern look in her eyes. “No. You’ll stay here.”

I shook my head. “Nope, not gonna happen.”

“Dread, if this is about earning my trust…” Celestia began.

“It’s about keeping people from getting hurt!” I snapped. “I don’t know what’s happening there, but I refuse to stand by while people—or ponies, rather—are at risk.”

Luna stepped towards me. “Dread, Celestia’s right, you should stay here… It’s our people at risk.”

I glanced at her. “Aren’t they my people now, technically?” Luna frowned in contemplation.

“Dread…” Celestia said firmly. “Listen to me. You are going to stay here…”


I suddenly bolted past the shocked Princesses, threw myself from the balcony and began to plummet towards the courtyard below. “DREAD!!” I heard Luna yell behind me.

With a loud ‘FWOOMPH’ I stretched my mass into wings; I was still very bad at flying like this, but it would get me there. I scanned the moonlit horizon and noticed a small town not too far from Canterlot; it had to be Ponyville. I gave myself a few powerful flaps and, like a bat who’d had too many, flew jerkily towards the town.

                -                -                -                -                -

I landed some ways outside the small town and ducked close to the ground, slithering from cover to cover in the shape of a snake. From what I could see, the town wasn’t in flames, but a few distant shouts told me things were far from okay. I reached the outskirts of the town, slipping into a dark alleyway, and peered down the street.

I saw a few winged figures flying overhead, up and down the street in a very professional, militaristic manner, carrying nasty-looking spears. Some of them were on the ground, glancing at each door and ordering any inquisitive denizens to get back inside. One of them got close enough for me to see in the moonlight—body of a lion, head and wings of an eagle; a gryphon, I realized. Celestia had mentioned them. What were they doing here?

A high-pitched scream down the street made me flinch; I glanced in its direction, and found that it was coming from a large, purple building that looked somewhat like a carousel. The screaming sounded like that of a child. I shot a glance at the rest of the street; no one else was in any immediate danger. I slipped down the alleyway and headed towards the building, sticking to the shadows and avoiding the gaze of the watchful gryphons. The front door was hanging loosely on its hinges; I deduced that the owner wasn't exactly consenting to a 2am visitor. I slithered into the building, quick and quiet.

The place looked rather similar to some joints back home that designed uniforms for MHAs, only with a much higher sense of taste and class; there were a few pony-shaped mannequins scattered throughout the room, some outfitted with elaborate dresses and ensembles, and there was a large, circular platform that looked like what a bride would stand on when being fitted for her gown.

The place was trashed; mannequins were laying on the floor, some broken, or the outfits they wore were torn to shreds. Several dressers had their drawers violently pulled out and searched, pieces of fabric and other loose objects tossed carelessly at the floor. Some mirrors were smashed, though I got the sense that it was more for the sake of “hey, while I’m trashing the place”, unlike the rest of the mess which implied the intruder was searching for something.

“NO!!” A voice screamed from up the stairs behind the fitting platform. I heard a figure coming down the stairs; I ducked beneath a nearby dresser, hoping to get a clearer idea of what was happening before being rash… That’s what had gotten me on bad terms with some folks here.

A gryphon with black and red plumage stomped down the stairs, his talon gripped tightly around the hoof of a small, white, unicorn filly; her mane was a light shade of purple, which gave me a vague sense of deja vu. “Let me go!!” She yelled, pulling against the gryphon’s grip.

“Sit down!!” He barked, swinging his front leg forward and sending the filly sliding into the corner. He towered over her, glaring intensely. “Now listen closely, hatchling... Where. Is. It?

“Where’s what?!” The filly said; it was clear she was trying, and failing, to be brave.

“Your sister’s Element!” The gryphon hissed. “It’s here somewhere, I know it is!”

I narrowed my gaze at him; those Elements?

“It’s not here!” She said. The gryphon stepped towards her and gripped her face hard in his talons.

“You’d best avoid lying to me…” He growled. “I think we’d all prefer it if we left with the Elements, rather than their Bearers… Your sister…”

“Where is she?!” The filly cried angrily, tears spilling from her eyes as she fought against his grip.

“She won’t be harmed…” He said. “So long as you cooperate. Now, I will ask one last time… Where. Is. The Element?!

“It’s not here!!” The filly cried desperately. “I swear, it’s not here!!”

The gryphon snarled, furious. He released the filly’s face, but wound his claw back in the manner that usually preceded a backhand. “It seems you must learn your place!” He said.

I streaked towards from beneath the dresser; I’d had plenty of reason to act before, but I wanted to learn what I could before she came at risk of actual harm. I formed up behind the gryphon and seized his raised claw with a low growl; the filly shrieked in fright as I spun the gryphon around to face me. “Your place is on the floor,” I said.

I spun and hurled the gryphon over my shoulder, throwing him at the wall with a loud slam. The thug slid to the ground with a squawk, but quickly recovered, getting on his feet and scowling at me. “What manner of demon…” he breathed.

“If a ‘demon’ stops you from harming a child…” I said, jerking my head towards the filly behind me. “Then maybe you should think about what you’re doing with your life.”

The gryphon charged towards me; as he got close he reared on his rear legs and slashed horizontally with both of his claws. Both of his swings cut deeply through my mass like a hot knife through butter, but to no effect. The gryphon’s eyes widened in surprise just before I grabbed his head and slammed him to the floor. He raised his head dizzily before I punched him in the face, knocking him out cold.

I turned towards the filly; she was cowering in the corner, front hooves half-covering her face, more terrified of me than she had been of the gryphon. Using an old method of mine, I shrunk myself to a less threatening size and withdrew my teeth, making my mouth more like a pair of enormous lips. “It’s okay…” I said softly. “I’m not gonna hurt you.”

“Wh-Who are you?” The filly whimpered.

Thanks for not asking ‘what’, I thought. Though I can tell you were about to. “My name’s Dr--” I stopped; my ‘alias’ may not be the most comforting. “...Joel. My name’s Joel. What’s your name?”

“Sweetie Belle…” the filly said, relaxing somewhat.

“Okay, Sweetie…” I said. “These jerks, they’re here looking for the… Elements?”

She nodded. “My sister’s the Element of Generosity… Her name’s ‘Rarity’.”

That’s it…” I said. “I’ve met Rarity, you look a lot like her.” Sweetie gave a little smile, lowering her hooves from her face as she grew more comfortable around me. “Now, Sweetie, what happened in here?”

“I was woken up when I heard someone banging on the door down here,” she said, glancing at the entryway. “Rarity hurried into my room and told me to hide, that she’d handle it. I did what she said, but I... heard her being taken away…” Her eyes filled with tears again. “Then he came up to my room and started searching it, then he found me and… you know the rest.”

I nodded, reaching out and gently laying a claw on her hoof. “You’ve been very brave, honey… So you don’t know why they want the Elements?”

She shook her head. “No, but I know that my sister and her friends, they don’t have the Elements anymore… She said they put them back ‘where they came from’, but she never told me where that was…” Her face contorted as she fought back a sob. “...Joel, they took Rarity… They took our friends…”

I remembered the gryphon mentioning ‘the Bearers’. I gave Sweetie’s hoof a reassuring squeeze. “Listen, Sweetie… I promise, I’ll get them back. I won’t let anything happen to them.” I withdrew from her and regained my normal shape; I turned towards the gryphon and noticed something strapped to his chest—a satchel. Curious, I popped it open; there were a few scrolls stowed inside. I snatched and opened each of them; most of them looked like recent scouting reports on the town, but one of them was a hastily drawn sketch of a map—leaving an X on a particular point not too far into the woods outside of town.

“Huh. That’s convenient,” I said. I patted the gryphon on the head appreciatively. “Thanks, buddy.” Tossing the map to the side I hoisted the gryphon onto my shoulder and headed towards the door. I stopped and turned towards Sweetie. “Get back upstairs and hide again. Don’t come out unless you hear someone you know. Okay?”

Sweetie nodded quickly. “Thank you…” She said before standing and hurrying up the stairs.

Creeping outside, I heard a distant horn being blown. Any gryphons still in sight flew off towards the forest. They’re regrouping, I thought. I hurried into an alleyway, tossed the gryphon into a dumpster and shut the lid, praying I wouldn’t forget him later.

                -                -                -                -                -

Luna jumped out of her chariot as soon as it touched down in Ponyville, glancing about in panic. Ponies were peering out of their homes in concern, even before the Princesses and their guards arrived. “Question the citizens!” Celestia ordered her guards. “Find out what’s happened!”

“Your Highness!” The pair turned to see Mr. Cake sprinting from Sugarcube Corner, where they saw that its door had been broken down. Mrs. Cake was standing in the battered door frame, cradling and comforting her two bawling foals. “It’s awful!! They took Pinkie!!” Mr. Cake cried.

“Mr. Cake, please, we need you to remain calm…” Celestia said, taking hold of the baker’s shoulders. “Now… Who took Pinkie? What’s happened here?”

Mr. Cake took a deep breath. “Gryphons… Several of them. Three of them barged into our home, stormed upstairs, and one dragged Pinkie away! The other two tore our bakery apart! They wanted her Element!”

Celestia blinked in shock. “Why would they want her Element?”

Mr. Cake shook his head. “I don’t know, but…” His eyes widened in realization. “If that’s what they wanted, it’s a safe bet they’ll want the others, too!!”

“Twilight…” Celestia said, horrified. She turned to Luna. “Go check on the homes of the other Bearers; I will check Twilight’s, Applejack’s and Fluttershy’s, you take Rarity’s and Rainbow Dash’s.”

Luna nodded. “Be careful, Sister…” She said before taking to the skies.

She headed for Carousel Boutique first, the home of Rarity; it was closest to where they’d landed. The streets were now flooding with ponies, awoken by the clamor outside. Luna found herself glancing at every street, into every darkened corner, searching for any sign of Dread...

She grit her teeth in anger; how could he be so stupid? He didn’t know what to expect here—she wouldn’t be surprised if he was doing this out of bravado…

She shook her head; there’d be time to be mad at him later. Luna arrived at the boutique to find the door smashed open. Fearing the worst she immediately flew inside, finding the place in tatters. “Rarity?!” She called. She bolted up the stairs, checking the upper floor. She hurried into what looked to be Rarity’s bedroom. “Rarity!!”

“Princess?” Luna glanced at the closet to the side; the sliding door, slightly ajar, slid open a little more, allowing a pair of eyes to peer out. “Princess Luna!” The door slid open all the way and a filly leapt out.

“Sweetie Belle…” Luna said, relieved. “Are you alright?”

Sweetie nodded. “Yeah… A gryphon found me, but… Joel saved me.”

Luna gaped at her in shock. “‘Joel’?

Sweetie tilted her head to the side. “Do you know him?”

Luna nodded. “Yes, he… came here ahead of us. Do you know where he is?”

“He said he was gonna save my sister and her friends,” Sweetie said. “...I think he found a clue, actually! Follow me!” She bolted out the door, Luna right behind her, and down the stairs. Sliding to a halt in front of the dressing stand, Sweetie picked up a discarded scrap of paper in her mouth and held it out to Luna. “Here!” She said through her teeth.

Luna took the paper in her magic; it was a rough map of the town, with an X marking a spot some distance into the Everfree.

                -                -                -                -                -

The mood of the forest clashed with the town it neighbored; its treeline hung low over the ground, blocking any hopes at seeing the Sun or Moon overhead. The canopy and plantlife looked almost ill… maybe even evil. As I slithered through the wood I could spot a deal of glowing eyes glaring at me through the darkness, but, thankfully, no ‘scary beasties’ jumped out—they were probably scared of me. Big surprise.

I headed towards the spot indicated on the map, slowly peering around every tree and triple-checking that it was clear before making every move. For about five minutes I didn’t see anyone; I cursed the thick treeline overhead for obscuring my view of the gryphons as they flew back to what I assumed to be their camp--

Wait. I froze at the sight of a campfire a fair distance away. I scaled a nearby tree and jumped my form to the branch of another, then another… Before long I was coiled within the dark leaves of a tree on the perimeter of a small clearing, illuminated by a campfire that sat in the center. The place had about thirty gryphons, all armed with spears, their brows furrowed in grim determination. One of them, larger than the others, thereby identifying him as the leader, was adorned in thick, silver armor; his chest plate had a sizeable hole in the back for his wings to poke out of, and his helmet obscured his whole face, save for his heavily-scratched beak, in a way that made me wonder how well he could see through it.

On the far side of the camp were Twilight, Pinkie, Rarity, Fluttershy and Applejack, their legs tied in thick rope and mouths gagged with cloth. Fluttershy was quietly crying in her binds, while Pinkie and Rarity were making silent, vain attempts to comfort her. Applejack, whose hat and braids were missing, was violently fighting at her bonds, to no avail. Twilight was completely still, a gryphon at her side with a spear to her throat, discouraging her from any magic. To Twilight’s side was a new creature; it was reptilian, about four feet tall with purple scales and green fins. Luna had mentioned Twilight having a ‘dragon’ for an assistant, named ‘Spike’.

I became aware of rapidly-approaching shouts. “Come on!! COME ON!! You want it?! Get me out of these and we’ll have a real fight!!” A pair of gryphons came flying into the clearing, carrying a tightly-bound Rainbow Dash, her wings tied down in rope; one of the gryphons was flying a bit jerkily, the disjointed feathers on his right wing indicating an injury. Her handlers tossed her carelessly alongside her friends.

“Shut her up!!” One of them yelled; another came forward, bearing cloth, and tied it around Dash’s muzzle, muffling her shouts.

“Crazy bitch nearly broke my wing…” The injured gryphon said bitterly. giving his wing a tender flex.

Uh, WHOA, I thought. Profanity’s a thing here, apparently… among gryphons, at least.

The leader approached the Bearers, leering at them through his helmet. He glanced at his cronies. “Did anyone find their Elements?”

Several of the gryphons shook their heads. “We searched their homes thoroughly in the time we had, Legionnaire,” one of them said. “We couldn’t find them.”

“We’d best work quickly, then…” The Legionnaire said. “If the whelp managed to get word to Canterlot, we haven’t much time.” He turned towards the Bearers and approached Twilight; he removed her gag. “I do not wish to harm you, or any of your people. I would much rather leave here with the Elements, not you. Simply tell me where they are, and you have my word, you will be released.”

Twilight blinked at him. “Why are you doing this? What do you want with the Elements?”

He leaned towards her. “To both relieve you of one of your most powerful weapons,” The gryphon said. “And to stand a better chance against what you still have, that we cannot also… confiscate. Now, I ask again… Where. Are. The Elements? It’s either them… or you.”

Twilight’s friends glanced at her; it was clear they didn’t want her to tell him. She gave them an apologetic look, however.

“We don’t have them…” Twilight said softly. “They’re… They’re at the Tr--”

“Fiends!!” Everyone present jumped at the sudden, booming voice that sent vibrations through my mass. I glanced towards the other edge of the clearing; Celestia, Luna and a large group of guards were emerging from the forest. Luna’s eyes were glowing white, her mouth set in a furious scowl. “Release them at once!!”

The gryphons immediately formed a defensive formation between the Princesses and the Bearers, spears at the ready. A pair of them hung back, holding their spears at the Bearers in a threatening gesture. “Hold!!” The Legionnaire yelled, stepping forward. He moved through the formation and stood boldly before the Princesses. “You’re here sooner than I’d thought.” With the majority of the gryphons distracted, I slid down the tree and moved swiftly along the edge of the camp towards the Bearers, keeping to the shadows.

“Who are you?” Celestia said. “What business do you have here?

“I am Legionnaire Pridefall,” the leader said.

Celestia narrowed her gaze. “I remember you… Your Emperor mentioned you.”

Pridefall nodded. “Our Emperor, wise and beloved as he is, is blind to the danger you pose. I was forced to address it myself.”

I reached the Bearers; their guards were focused intently on the Princesses. Silently, I formed into a puddle, keeping to the shadows made by the ponies in the firelight. I moved up behind Applejack and gave a very gentle prod with a small tendril.

She glanced back; her eyes widened in shock and recognition. I formed a very tiny head and tendril and made a ‘shoosh’ gesture. Applejack gave Rainbow a nudge; the pegasus glanced at her, then at me. Her eyes froze, then narrowed in distrust, but another nudge from Applejack convinced her not to act.

Carefully, I reached out towards Rainbow’s binds and, with a tiny blade, cut through the rope. A third nudge from Applejack kept her from opening up a can of whoop-ass right there. I moved to start cutting Applejack’s binds, but she quickly, subtly, shook her head; she worked her gag away from her mouth. “Just untie it,” she mouthed. I was confused until I remembered her attempt to ‘wrangle’ me on the day we’d met. Carefully, I reached a tendril into the knot tying her binds and undid it. She nodded gratefully, then jerked her head towards the others.

“What do you mean?” Celestia asked as I moved towards Rarity; Luna seemed to spot me, her eyes slightly flexing in surprise. I gave Rarity a tap; she glanced at me as I cut her binds, then to Applejack and Dash. She seemed to realize what was happening and gave me a nod.

Pridefall dug his talons into the ground in anger. “Did you think your nation’s growth wouldn’t be noticed?” He asked. “When the Elements first emerged I gave you the benefit of the doubt; they were your means of defense against monsters like Nightmare Moon and Discord…” He glared at Luna. “But then, Nightmare Moon returned and threatened the entire planet; rather than return her to her rightful prison, where she belongs, she was allowed to stay, thus giving your nation another ruler with the powers of a god.”

He turned to Celestia again. “Then the Crystal Empire returned, only to fall under the leadership your own niece… A land that can affect, bolster the entire nation? Then you fools sought to… ‘reform’ Discord; you earned the loyalty, however flimsy, of a being that can warp reality as he sees fit…” I was busy cutting Pinkie’s binds now; she actually looked like she was going to loudly greet me, but a harsh kick from Rarity kept her quiet.

“And then... her…” Pridefall turned and pointed a talon directly at Twilight; I froze completely. “Another alicorn… Another means of strengthening your nation…” He faced Celestia again; I heard Rarity make a very soft sigh of relief as I moved on to Fluttershy. “Do you think everyone else to be fools? Do you truly expect everyone to believe that you’re not on the warpath? Did you think no one would see through your illusion of ‘peace’, while you’re busy building an arsenal that would lay waste to all you saw fit?!”

Celestia frowned, feeling some sense in the gryphon’s words. Then she glared at him again. “Even if you were correct, do you truly think this is the solution? To threaten innocents?”

Pridefall sneered. “Given how loyal they are to you, I’d say they’re as far from innocent as one could be.”

“You don’t understand!” Celestia cried. “War is… it’s not what we do! It’s something we haven’t known in eons! Since before Luna and I were even born!” She gazed past him, at the Bearers. If she noticed me at work on Twilight’s bonds, she hid it well. “All we seek is to learn, to see the lessons these six ponies have learned taught to our children and theirs!”

Pridefall glowered at her. “Retrieve the artifact.” One of his soldiers withdrew from the formation, pulled out an item from a satchel near the campfire, and brought it to the Legionnaire. Pridefall held the object out for Celestia to see; it looked like a grey music box, its lower half consisting of four diagonal sides, its upper half consisting of six. Each face on the upper half had a differently shaped keyhole. “And this?” He asked softly. “I don’t believe you’ve mentioned this in passing… Will opening this teach these ‘lessons’?”

“I…” Celestia said; the look in her eyes didn’t say that she’d have preferred the box to be kept secret, but I could tell that, whatever it was, wouldn’t help her argument. “I don’t…”

“Or perhaps you seek what lies within…” Pridefall said, his voice growing louder. “You wish to use a deep, hidden power to further sate your lust for power!”

“That’s not true!!” Celestia cried desperately.

YOU WOULD SEE US SUBJUGATED!!” Pridefall screeched. “YOU WOULD ENSLAVE THOSE YOU SEE AS BENEATH YOU, AND DESTROY THOSE WHO DEFY YOU!! I WILL NOT LET THAT HAPPEN!!” Pridefall stopped, taking a deep breath as he lowered the box. “But… I would prefer to do it with no bloodshed, on either side. So I give you this one chance, Princess… Relinquish the Elements of Harmony, and I will release your protege and her friends. You have my word.”

Twilight kept glancing between me and the Gryphons guarding her and her friends. I formed another small head and nodded; I positioned myself so that I could reach them both.

I’m just gonna wait… I thought. Pridefall still sounds like there’s a trace of reason in him...

“And you think this will sit well with your Emperor?” Luna challenged. “Lest you forget, he is a good friend of ours… He will see you imprisoned for this!”

“When I deliver this…” Pridefall nudged the box. “He will see that you have been keeping your share of secrets from your ‘good friend.’ Now, perhaps I haven’t been clear…” He pointed a talon back at the Bearers. “We leave here either with the Elements or the Bearers. It is your choice.

“We will not allow you to abduct our subjects, cretin!” Luna yelled. She stepped forward.

The line of Gryphons tensed; the guards pressed their spears to Twilight’s and Applejack’s necks.

“Perhaps I’ve been too lenient…” Pridefall said hotly. “I was willing to give you the chance to prove you weren’t arming yourselves for war, but you clearly value your precious Elements more than the lives of your own people…” He stepped forward, wings flared in anger. “This… is your last chance… Give me the Elements, or I will kill their Bearers!!

Fluttershy flinched in terror, breaking into a fresh wave of horrified tears and muffled sobs. Celestia gazed painfully at her endangered subjects, clearly hating to see them like this. Celestia glanced towards me, adding me to the equation; if she told him where the Elements were, I would hear it as well. I wouldn’t do anything with that knowledge, sure, but she didn’t know that.

She glanced at her subjects again.

She shut her eyes. “...We no longer have them…” Celestia said finally. “They were returned to the Tree of Harmony… Beneath our old castle in the Everfree...” She hung her head in mild shame.

Pridefall was silent for a moment. His men kept glancing his way, awaiting orders.

Then he clawed the ground again in fury. “You expect me to believe that? To send my men deeper into the most dangerous place in your land, on your word alone that the Elements are in the possession of some tree?!

This really sounds unbelievable in a world of magical talking ponies? I thought, baffled.

“Another one of your lies, ‘Princess’!!” Pridefall spat; his voice cracked in a way that implied reason had left the building. “Another way to desperately conceal your true nature!!” He turned towards the gryphons guarding the hostages. “Execute two of them!!”

The guards blinked. “But, what if she’s…” One of them began.

You would allow your nation to fall because of your hesitation?!” Pridefall screamed. “Execute them and show their beloved Princesses who they’ve made an enemy of!!

The gryphons grasped their spears tighter, a heavy sense of reluctance in their eyes.

That didn’t stop them from raising their spears, ready to plunge.

“NOW!!” I roared.

I sprang up, extending tendrils that ripped the spears from the gryphons’ talons before they even realized what was happening. I snapped the spears in half, then reached out again, grabbed the pair and slammed their heads together, knocking them out.

Pridefall and his gryphons spun around at the noise, their eyes wide with confusion and fear. The Bearers sprang up around me, free of their binds, and bent into defensive stances. Pridefall’s gaze fell on me; he pointed a quivering talon at me. “DO YOU SEE?!” He yelled. “DO YOU SEE WHAT MANNER OF MONSTERS THEY COMMAND?!”

“The only ‘monster’ I see is the one that just ordered the execution of unarmed innocents!!” I roared.

“KILL THEM ALL!!” Pridefall screeched. His gryphons charged, both towards me and the Bearers, and towards the Princesses and their guards.

Two of the braver gryphons flew up and divebombed me, their spears aimed directly at my chest. I didn’t even play the ‘oops, that didn’t work’ game where I simply let them hit me and savor the startled look; I caught the spears by their points and pulled them downwards. The gryphons fell to the ground with a pair of squawks; they made to get up, but I grabbed their heads, pulled them close and snarled monstrously in their faces. “Stay. Down.” I released them, and the pair silently laid prone on the ground, eyes wide in terror. With them taken care of, I moved on to another combatant, mainly focusing on keeping as many off the ponies as possible.

As the fight went on, I noticed the other ponies were handling themselves well; Twilight and Rarity unleashing countless blasts that peppered their foes, Dash was using her speed to hit her enemies hard and fast, Applejack was using the ropes that had bound her and her friends to tie down opponents, and Pinkie was happily firing a barrage of confetti-filled air blasts from a multicolored cannon… though I could not fathom where she’d got it. The pegasus guards were dealing with the gryphons well, too, and any sucker that charged one of the Princesses was immediately sent flying with a powerful blast. The gryphons didn’t seem that into the fight; it seemed not all of them agreed with Pridefall’s sudden order to attack, mainly just acting in what they viewed as self defense. There were some who genuinely obeyed his orders, though, given how they were occasionally heard shouting something like “pony scum” or garbage like that.

Which was probably why I spotted one moving in towards Fluttershy, off to the side, away from the major skirmish; she was cowering in fear against a tree as he approached, his spear primed. She seemed to be trying to call for help but, once again, her naturally quiet voice seemed to keep her from being heard. He was scowling with a hateful fury that implied he shared the same mindset as Pridefall. “Be silent, little coward, and die!!” He snarled as he raised his spear.

He was stopped when I snatched it from his talons like a toy from a misbehaving child. He spun around as I glowered at him. “Once again, you guys prove to be world-class intellects…” I said. “Calling others by terms that would better suit you…

The gryphon screeched and threw himself at me; I ducked beneath his lunge, grabbed his hind legs, then swung him around and slammed him into the tree. I dropped his unconscious form to the ground; Fluttershy looked between him and me. “Couldn’t you have been a bit more gentle?” She asked feebly.

A yell made me glance back; Pridefall had pinned a pegasus guard to the ground. He didn’t seem aware that he was one of few still fighting, most of his troops having either been defeated or been forced to surrender altogether. He was slashing viciously into the guard’s wings, sending blood and white feathers everywhere. The guard was yelling in pain, trying to push the crazed gryphon off of him to little effect. Celestia and Luna were still dealing with a couple other overconfident goons, but they were glancing in horror at their guard’s plight.

“HEY!!” I roared. Pridefall glanced over at me, ceasing his frenzied attack.

Scowling, he grabbed his helmet and threw it to the side; his eyes were bloodshot and baggy, like he hadn’t slept in days, and there was a faint hue of purple in his pupils. He stepped over the moaning guard and lurched towards me, wings spread. “You claim to be peaceful…” he growled, addressing everyone present. “Yet you employ monsters to fight for you!! I see through your deceit!! I KNOW YOUR TRUE FACE, PONIES!!”

There was a look in his eye I recognized; I’d seen it many times before. This was someone making decisions out of blind, overwhelming fear, unable to see even the faintest glimmer of reason. Something had happened to make him do this. I slithered towards him, and he readied his claws for a fight. “COME ON, THEN!!” He bellowed. “COME AND FACE ME, MONSTER!!! YOU DON’T SCARE ME!!

“No, but something does…” I said. He swung his claw at me, but I casually caught it and stole a glimpse at his fear.

I could see what must have been his homelands; gryphon architecture looked more like it had a bit of Greek influence, with coliseums, forums and the like. The city was in flames, the skies painted blood red; towering in the distance were the shapes of ponies, their eyes glowing a cruel red as gryphons cowered, ran, burned and died under the devastation.

Yet there was something wrong with this vision, beyond just the subject matter; the very edges looked… wrong, like a picture that had been caught in a fire. There were glowing purple cracks around the edge… This implied some level of manipulation. This fear, it had been exacerbated, made worse by someone; turned a minor worry into a full blown… Nightmare.

I stopped looking at Pridefall’s fear just as he began swinging his other claw into me, repeatedly (and ineffectively) stabbing me in the side. Whatever had affected him, it was driving him to do this. I just wished I knew what.

I glanced over at Celestia; if she figured out Pridefall was being driven by fear, she’d suspect me… I had to keep this quiet for now. I didn’t like letting Pridefall be punished for something he’d been manipulated into doing, especially to cover my own ass. But I promised myself that, once I’d figured out what did this to him, I’d clear his name; I may not be able to do that with Celestia’s further distrust.

I suddenly realized that I’d been just standing there for about twenty seconds while he ‘mutilated’ me. I pulled a claw back and punched the crazed Legionnaire in the face; he fell to the ground, unconscious.

-                -                -                -                -

With the last of the gryphons rounded up, Celestia organized some guards to have them prepared for transport to Canterlot, to be held and released to officials from the Gryphon Empire. The only major injury was the guard whose wings Pridefall had mutilated; it was likely he wouldn’t fly for a long time. Thankfully, though, no one else was hurt save for some bruises and minor cuts. Since the Bearers had been through a very rough night, Luna suggested that they all stay under one roof for the time being; when the six of them all volunteered to have their homes open, they ended up drawing straws and settling on staying at Fluttershy’s.

While the guards dealt with the restrained gryphons, the Princesses, the Bearers, Spike and I walked through the forest, back to Ponyville. While I was on my way in, I could hear the curious growls and chirps of surrounding wildlife; with Celestia and Luna, however, the creatures in the forest didn’t even make a peep. The ten of us were left there, walking in near complete silence; the Bearers kept close together, still shaken from their traumatizing experience.

I glanced at Spike; he was sticking close to Twilight, in a way that implied he was more than an assistant to her. “You’re Spike, huh?” I asked casually.

He glanced at me and nodded stiffly. “And you’re Dread.”

“Yep,” I replied. “...You did good getting word to us, you know?”

He grinned sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head. “Well…”

Twilight nuzzled him affectionately. “You really did, Spike. We might not have gotten out of there if it weren’t for you…”

Applejack walked closer to Spike and gave him a friendly nudge. “Gotta stop savin’ our hides like this, sugar cube…” She said.

“You make it sound like it’s a habit,” Spike said, grinning.

“Twilight?” Rarity asked. “I hate to ask, but… Sweetie Belle may not have… responded well to what happened tonight, and she may not like…”

“Yes, she can stay with us, Rarity,” Twilight said, before she could ask.

“Thank you, darling…” Rarity said earnestly. She glanced over at me. “...And… thank you as well, Dread…”

I waved her off. “Don’t worry about it…” I began.

“Aw, no…” Applejack said, bumping into me with a mock-stern look. “None o’ that malarkey. You saved our lives tonight.”

“Was kinda hoping I wouldn’t have to…” I mumbled. “Not that I wouldn’t, mind you… The point is, I’m glad to help.”

Something suddenly latched onto me from behind; turning around I saw Pinkie wrapping her forelegs around me in a tight hug. I only had time to notice the onset of tears in her eyes before she suddenly started wailing. “OHMYGOSHDREADI’MSOSORRYI’VEBEENSOAWFULPLEASEFORGIVEMEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASE…

WHOOOOAAA…” I said loudly, slipping out of her grasp; she fell to the ground, her mane suddenly losing its usual ‘puffiness’ and hanging straight from her head as she gazed sadly at me. “Pinkie, slow down, okay?”

Pinkie sniffled. “‘Oh. My. Gosh. Dread. I’m. So. Sorry…’”

“No, I got that…” I said. “How have you been ‘awful’?”

“I never threw you a party!!” Pinkie bawled, throwing herself on the ground in front of me. “I wanted to, but my friends told me it might not be a good idea, so I didn’t, but now you’ve done something really nice for us and now I feel really bad for not throwing you a party to begin wi-i-iiiiiiiith!!!!!”

She quickly fell into incoherent, almost comical sobbing, tears practically gushing from her eyes in a manner very similar to fountain. I glanced between her and the others, unsure of how to tackle this. Slowly, I reached down and gave her a gentle pat on the head. “...There, there?” No effect. “...Pinkie, if I let you throw me a party, will it make you feel better?!” I asked, taking a shot in the dark.

With about as much graduality as a light switch, Pinkie stopped crying, sat up, and her mane suddenly popped back into its usual poofy shape. “Okay!” She said cheerfully. “It’s gonna be the most fantastical, amazingest surprise party ever!”

She suddenly leaned into my face, stretching her neck to rather alarming lengths, and put on a grim, frightening face. “You won’t see it coming…” She said, as if predicting the coming of some dark, ancient god. Then she returned to her normal stance, resuming her good cheer, and continued bouncing happily down the path. I remained where I was, trying to process what had just happened.

“Don’t question it…” Twilight said.

I shrugged it off and continued walking alongside them. “Parties mean a lot to her, huh?”

“You have no idea…” Dash said casually. “You’d think they’d get old after a while, but she always finds a way to… spice ‘em up, you know?”

She glanced at me, and suddenly remembered who she was talking to. Instead of the usual glare, however, she simply looked away, brow furrowed in thought. Fluttershy, showing unusual assertiveness, moved up beside Dash and gave her an insistent nudge. Dash bit her lip for a moment before sighing and looking at me. “Thnksh...” she mumbled through her teeth.

I felt a need to be a bit of a jerk; smirking, I raised a claw to where my ear would’ve been. “Sorry, what was that?”

“Thanks for…” Dash began, her words fading into quiet mumbles again.

“One more time…?” I said, gesturing with my other claw.

Thanks for the help…” Dash said finally; she was rolling her eyes, but I heard a trace of earnestness in her voice.

Fluttershy nodded approvingly at her, then walked around her and over to me; she hesitated for a moment, then rubbed her head into my mass affectionately. “Thank you…” She whispered. “Really, thank you…”

I gently ran a claw down her head. “It’s no problem… Happy to help.”

We finally reached Ponyville; a small number of guards were there keeping the citizens calm. The worried chatter stopped when they saw the Princesses return with the Bearers in tow, and the relieved sighs and exclamations ended when they saw me. Having already seen pretty much every possible reaction they could have, I simply gave a passive wave and paid them no mind. Judging by the more curious nature of their whispers, however, it was safe to assume they weren’t gonna lob rocks at me, since I was hanging with the Princesses.

We headed towards the center of town, where a pair of chariots were waiting, harnessed to a pair of large pegasus guards. As we approached, we heard a voice cut through the chatter. “RARITY!!”

I turned to see Sweetie Belle sprinting through the crowd, leaping up and tackling Rarity to the ground in a hug. “You’re okay!” Sweetie cried, happy tears streaming down her face. “You’re really okay!!”

Rarity winced somewhat when she took a look at the dirt that was covering her, but didn’t complain as she hugged her sister close. “Yes, Sweetie, I’m fine…”

Sweetie glanced up at me. “You got her back…” She said happily. Rarity shot me a confused look, surprised that Sweetie seemed to recognize me.

I nodded at her. “Well, it wasn’t just…” I began.

Sweetie suddenly climbed off of Rarity, ran over and hugged me as well, wrapping her little forelegs around my lower body. “Thank you! Thank you thank you thank you…” She said repeatedly.

Smiling, I shaped myself into a smaller form and hugged her back. “No problem, honey…”

Celestia was staring at me, once again trying to figure me out. Now I was getting a little irritated; what did I have to do to get her to loosen up? I mean, that wasn’t what I intended from tonight, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a small part of me that hoped she would.

I released Sweetie from the hug, and she hurried over to Rarity. “We’re sleeping at Fluttershy’s tonight, darling…” Rarity said to her before glancing at her friends. “I’ll meet you girls there, okay? There are just a few things I need from the Boutique.” She looked at me again. “Thank you again, Dread…” She turned, and departed with her sister in the direction of their home.

“Luna, why don’t you and Dread return to Canterlot?” Celestia asked. “I’ll stay here and make sure everypony’s okay.”

Luna nodded and turned to me; I glanced at her chariot. “Guess we’re sharing a ride, huh?” I asked. Luna nodded as she climbed inside without a word; frowning, I climbed in beside her. I turned back to the ponies. “I know it’s a bit late for it, but… Have a good night, alright?”

The ponies waved, with varying levels of gratitude. As the pegasi began pulling the chariot for takeoff, Pinkie began running after it; she stretched her neck again to meet my face. “Never see it coming…” She said in that grim voice again before stopping and resuming her wave of farewell as we went airborne.

As Ponyville faded into the distance, I turned around towards the front of the chariot; Luna was facing me, her expression impassive. “Uh…” I said.

She smacked my face with a hoof, which was like swinging a hand across the surface of water. My face regained its usual form. “Okay, you’re mad…” I said.

“What were you doing?!” Luna said angrily.

I gaped at her. “...What I’ve been doing for years!!” I said. “What’s the problem?!”

“You could have been…” Luna began.

“No, I really couldn’t,” I said flatly. There was a minor lie in there; if the problem had been, say, some kind of fire god, then I could have been killed. Jackasses with spears, though, weren’t so bad.

“You don’t know that!” Luna said. “You said you don’t know what you’ve become, you don’t know what does and what doesn’t affect it! You’re not invincible, Dread!”

“It wasn’t about being ‘invincible’!” I argued. “It was about helping people!!”

“You just felt a need to rush headlong into the fray without so much as thinking about the consequences!” Luna snapped. “You could have gotten hurt, or someone else! Or have you not gotten enough--”

She stopped with a shrill gasp, slapping her hooves over her mouth.

She didn’t have to finish for me to get the point, though. I didn’t feel much physical pain nowadays, but emotional pain and I were still well-acquainted, and her outburst hit me like a punch in the gut. I stared at her blankly. “Really?” I asked, disbelieving. “You’re really going there?”

“Dread, I…” Luna said softly. “Dread, I’m so sorry, I… I don’t know where that came from…”

I turned around and faced out of the chariot, stiffly gripping the edge. Was I just being an overconfident idiot? Did I just feel a need to throw myself into the fray?

Was this just a way of earning Celestia’s trust?

My thoughts fell to the skirmish in the woods; I felt that familiar sense of adrenaline during the fight, knocking goons senseless, especially getting that sadist away from Fluttershy… Did I just miss… fighting? Did I jump at the first chance I got to pummel some morally bankrupt jackass into the dirt?

Suddenly, a pair of legs wrapped around my mass in a hug; Luna’s head came to rest on my back. “I was just so scared you’d get hurt…” She whispered.

I slowly put a claw on her hoof. “I know… You’re right. I… I might’ve just missed a good brawl, you know?” I said with a laugh.

“No, that wasn’t it…” Luna said. “You wanted to help. I understand… Maybe that’s what you missed. Helping people.” She gave a soft laugh. “You certainly liked the look on Sweetie’s face when she saw Rarity again…”

I nodded in consideration. “Maybe.” That certainly sounded better…

                -                -                -                -                -

The gryphons were bound tightly together, their wings tied down and beaks muzzled. Celestia watched as they were marched from the Everfree Forest, into the prisoner carriages to be transported to Canterlot; she would write to the Emperor as soon as she returned and tell him of his Legionnaire’s transgressions.

She watched as their leader, Pridefall, marched stiffly into the carriage, glancing about in what she couldn’t tell was hatred or...

She noticed something; a shade of purple lining his eyes…

...or FEAR… She realized. Their gaze met; Pridefall leered at her furiously, stopping at the edge of the carriage. One of the guards needed to give him a few less-than-gentle shoves to get him into the carriage.

Celestia stared, shocked, at the spot he’d been, even when the carriages were fully loaded and sealed.

Had someone… manipulated the Legionnaire into doing this?

Someone close to home?