Just outside the entrance to the Everfree Forest, Twilight, Sora, all their friends walked in silence to their greatest challenge yet.
Rarity was the first to break the quietude, "Seems like only yesterday we were heading into these woods to find the Elements of Harmony."
"Seems like only yesterday I was foolish enough to think I should go after them on my own." Twilight added, beginning the trek into the forest, "I don't know what we're going to face in there, but whatever it is...I know we need to face it together."
"Yeah! Let's do it!" Sora declared.
Everyone else voice their agreement as they pushed forward, ready for the trials that lie before them.
After an undetermined amount of time, they found themselves at a swamp within the creepy woods. Searching for a way to press on, Twilight noticed a line of stones just above the murky water.
"We can use those to cross," she said, then hopped on one of them, only to lose her balance as they wobbled.
The stones rose up to reveal that weren't just stones specifically, it was a type of crocodile made completely out of solid rock. It swung its tail, tossing Twilight back to her friends as it roared and chased after them.
Rarity gasped in fear, "A cragadile! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!"
Everyone ran in different directions, leaving Twilight and Spike cornered at a stray tree as the cragadile stalked them. Twilight tried to fly, but it was no use. The rocky reptilian roared as it got close enough to clamp its jaw on the princess and her baby dragon, only to have its meal denied by her friends wrapping one of the black vines around its tail and pulling it away from her. Applejack launched a bunch of lassos made from the vines around its limbs with Twilight using her magic to tie them to the trees, restraining the beast of burden.
"That...was close." Twilight said.
"A little too close, if ya ask me," Applejack added, "You sure yer alright?"
"I'm fine, I just can't seem to get these new wings to do what I want them to do when I want them to do it."
"Uh, you'll figure it out eventually." Rainbow said.
"Yeah! Then you'll be a great flyer," Goofy agreed.
"'Eventually' isn't soon enough." Twilight countered.
"You have been havin' an awful lot of trouble with those thangs," Applejack began, "and, well...who knows what else is gonna come after us? Y'know...maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea for Twilight to back to Ponyville and let us look for the Tree of Harmony without her."
"What? Why?" Twilight asked, offended.
"I second that; what!? Why!?" Sora asked.
"For starters, you jus' about got eaten by a cragadilly." Applejack said.
"We all did," Twilight corrected, "he wasn't after just me."
"Sure, but...well...the rest of us aren't princesses."
"What's THAT got to do with anything?"
"Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are gone; if somethin' happened ta you, A-Ah jus' don't think Equestria can risk losin' another princess."
"Applejack does make a valid point," Rarity jumped in, "even if we managed to save the Tree of Harmony, it won't necessarily mean that Princess Celestia and Princess Luna will return. Equestria will somepony to lead in their absence."
"But the Tree of Harmony!" Twilight tried to argue, "I'm the only one who has seen it and knows what it looks like!"
"Yeah!" Donald agreed, "We need her to help us!"
Rainbow flew down to eye level with Twilight, "Huge tree, Cutie Marks on the trunk, probably being attacked by something hideously awful, plus the Heartless? Yeah, I'm pretty sure we'll know it when we see it."
Twilight looked down with tears in her eyes, "All of you feel this way? Feel like I shouldn't be here?"
Everyone except Sora, Donald, Goofy, and Jiminy shifted their gaze away from Twilight, not baring to meet her eyes.
"It is probably for the best." Fluttershy says.
Twilight held a disheartened expression as she went back towards Ponyville.
She whipped her head back around to see Sora with his brow furrowed.
"...I'm going with you."
Twilight lightly gasped, while the others screamed, "WHAT!?"
Rainbow flew towards him with a scowl, "Are you outta your mind, dude!? What if we come across a massive Heartless!?"
"Hey, if she's not going with you, then I'm not either!" Sora shot back, making Rainbow recoil.
"Sora...don't." Twilight said.
She looked sorrowful as she gazed into his ocean blue orbs, "They need you more than I do right now; the Heartless are a threat that we can't fight on our own, and I doubt Donald and Goofy can help them without being overwhelmed."
"But...But..." Sora began to cry. This isn't fair, he thought, it doesn't matter what dangers there are, friends should stick together, even when things are at their darkest.
Twilight, noticing Sora's anguish, walked up and pulled him into a tender hug, which he recuperated. Once they separated, Twilight turned around and heading for the forest's exit with Spike following closely behind her. Until she was out of sight, Sora didn't budge or even averted his eyes from her retreating form, and when he did, he gave the group of ponies a brief glare and continued on the path.
"Oh, just give him some time, he'll cool off." Donald said.
With that said, the others continued on with Sora and, knowing his present anger toward the mares, keeping their distance from him.
Back in Ponyville, Discord was reclined on one of the vines, sharpening his eagle claw on a floating baby alligator, ignoring the cries of help from two of the townsponies.
Twilight and Spike arrived and scowled at Discord for his ignorance, "Discord!" She chastised.
At the sound of her voice, Discord made the alligator disappear and snapped the fingers on his bear claw, making the vine the ponies were trapped in vanish and them fall to the ground, then they ran away from him, making Discord call out, "You're welcome!" He huffed, then turned to the princess, "No luck finding your tree?"
"We, ran into some trouble," she turned and sat down as Discord floated down to her with his full attention, "and my friends decided it would be best if I returned to Ponyville while they continue the search. Equestria will need me if Princess Celestia and Princess Luna don't return."
"I'm just surprised that you agreed to their plan, I never you'd be the kind of pony who'd think she was better than everypony else."
"I don't think I'm better than anypony!" Twilight quickly defended.
Discord appeared above her and Spike, "Oh, well, how silly of me to assume that you would think that," then, out of nowhere, a purple cape with a white trim and black spots and a gold scepter with a ruby at the hilt and Twilight's head with a goofy smile on top, "all you did was choose to keep your precious 'princess self' out of harm's way while your friends thrust themselves right into it." Twilight tossed the scepter and the cape aside as Discord continued his monologue, instantly appearing in a shrunken form poking out of Twilight's ear, "I'm sure you'll all be the best of pals again when they return from their terrifying, yet deeply bonding experience that they're having without you." He concluded with a chuckle.
Twilight looked unsure for a moment, but then shifted into determination as she rushed back towards the forest with the mini Discord falling out of her ear and Spike following behind her.
"I never should've agreed to come back here." Twilight said.
"C'mon, Twilight," Spike began, "Discord may be reformed, but he's not THAT reformed, he's just trying to get under your skin."
"Well, it's working!" Twilight replied as she levitated Spike onto her back and continued galloping into the woods while Discord teleported in front of the entrance, waving them off with a smirk.
Deep within the Everfree Forest, Sora, who is still at the front, and the rest of the gang are still searching for the Tree of Harmony. Even now, Sora's mood still hasn't improved after what happened with Twilight.
"Anypony else starting to think this is a lost cause?" Rainbow asked. "We're almost at Celestia and Luna's old castle. Maybe whatever Twilight saw when she took that crazy potion wasn't real, maybe there is no Tree of Harmony, maybe—"
"Maybe it's right down there!" Applejack interrupted, pointing at a ravine just outside a ruined, old castle.
"It can't be!"
They all noticed a cave below the end of the ravine, the inside glowing a blue light as the black vines had already made their way in.
"How are WE supposed to get to it?" Rarity asked.
Pinkie grunted in pain as she stumbled down the ravine from something they didn't notice before until she made it clear, "Take the stairs, silly!"
"I had faith in Twilight when she said the Tree of Harmony would be here..." Sora began as turned to the mares and glared, "...which is more than I can say for you girls."
With that angrily said, he went down the stairs Pinkie mentioned. Rainbow scowled and was about to charge at him, but Applejack held hoof in front of her, with a sad look, she shook her head, and they all went down the steps just behind Sora and Pinkie.
Twilight and Spike followed the path into the forest, beginning to lose hope when they couldn't hide nor hair of their friends.
"Are we there yet?" Spike asked.
"I don't know where we are, we're lost!" She sat down as her forehoof reached for Sora's necklace and clutched it tightly, "I never should've left my friends."
Spike hopped off her back, "We can't just give up," he said as he looked up at one of the trees, "maybe if I get up there, I'll be able to spot 'em," he climbed the tree and made his way across one of the branches, he pulled a brush of leaves away and found the others heading down to the ravine, "well, whataya know?" he went back the way he came to tell his caretaker what he found, "Twilight?" He called, but then his eyes went wide at what he saw.
Twilight was surrounded by a bunch of moving black vines, but these were different; they had clamping maws that sprayed blue-green gas at her, making her cough as they prevent her from getting any fresh air to breathe. The sight made Spike gasp in panic.
When they all made it into the cavern, they saw the Tree of Harmony, but in a weakened state; it's turned completely gray and the black vines wrapped around it every which way and strangling it, causing a bunch of green goop to ooze from it.
Fluttershy gasps, "I think it's dying!"
"So let's save it already!" Applejack declares as she bites down on a vine and pulls it, only for it to snap her off, sending her back toward the group.
"Nice try," Rainbow comments as she flies up and tries to karate kick the vines, but was whipped out of the air by another one of the vines.
"Valiant efforts on both your parts, but the tree remains in jeopardy," Rarity says.
"An' Ah suppose you got ah better idea?" Applejack asks, making Rarity look unsure, she is pulled to her hooves by Fluttershy, "That's wut Ah thought."
Before they knew it, Sora had already dispatched three Shadow Heartless that sprang up from the vines and dismissing his Keyblade when he was sure they wouldn't come back for now.
"I know who would know what to do," Fluttershy said, then came somber as she continued, "but we sent her home."
Everyone looked down in sorrow and hopelessness, knowing that they sent away their best chance at saving Equestria, except for Donald, who was chuckling at the irony of the situation.
"Not very bright on your parts, huh?"
They all glared in his direction, including Sora, Goofy, and Jiminy.
"...What? Was it something I said?"
To Be Continued...