Shadow's Flare

by MrAlterad

6. Waxing Illusion

Applejack's the Bearer of Honesty?” Trixie asked as she looked to Sunset, as if she had all the answers. “Did Luna know?” She wondered, prompting Sunset to adopt a contemplative expression.

“I doubt it. She said she didn't have a clue as to who the bearers of honesty and magic were. She did say that the bearers were ponies close to us.” Sunset said as she approached the portrait in question.

“Close to us? Hah! Trixie sure isn't friends with her.” Trixie replied as she eyed the picture, “Still, her cutie-mark kinda stands out, shouldn't Luna have noticed it?”

“Maybe only we can see this.” Sunset offered as she indicated the crystal cutie-mark, “Since we're the Bearers of Harmony, we can see the other bearers, or something like that...”

“Well, Twilight will be happy to hear this. From what Trixie gathered, those two are quite close.” She said as she adopted a conflicted look, “Though Trixie admits, she wasn't looking forward to meeting the pony that fit honesty.” She then looked to Sunset, her hooves spread out in an exasperated manner, “Can you picture Trixie getting along with such a pony? Trixie spends most of her time tricking other ponies with her magic!” She let out, getting a small laugh from Sunset.

“I can see it working out.” Sunset said confidently, getting a surprised look from her friend, “After all, we get along, don't we?”

“If you can call it that.” Trixie said as she rolled her eyes, getting a smile from Sunset.

“We can worry about how well you and AJ get along later. For now, let's free Twilight from Nightmare, then we can talk to her about what to do next in regards of Ponyville's mayor.” Sunset said as she approached Twilight's portrait, Trixie rubbing her chin as she followed suit.

“Since Applejack's picture is here, does that mean you're friends?”

“I ... guess so.” Sunset said, a little surprised by the notion. “I mean, she's come to Canterlot a few times since Hearth's Warming, and I've made the effort to spend some time with her when she did.” She added, looking a little happy to admit it. “I like her; she's terribly stubborn, focused and a hard worker.”

“Trixie can't help but be reminded of somepony else.” She said, raising an eyebrow to Sunset, tilting her head knowingly, prompting Sunset to shake her head.

“Twilight said we have a lot of things in common, but I don't really see it.” Sunset stated. Her eyes then widened in realization, “Wait, why are we wasting time shooting the breeze, let's get moving!”

“Oh.” Trixie replied, blinking before nodding, “Right!” she said, taking a step into Twilight's portrait, being whisked away along with Sunset into Twilight's dream. Sunset was caught off guard by the fact that they were now falling down a corridor that matched Twilight's colors; the uncomposed look on her face making Trixie smile. Falling through the purple tunnel came to an unexpected end when the two of them found their hooves on solid ground. Trixie took a moment to take in their surroundings, then rubbed her eyes before doing a double take.

They appeared in the center of Ponyville. The atmosphere was bright and cheery, with the air brimming with energy, and there were stallions all over the place.

Some were working shop stalls, while others were moving carriages of hay and apples. All of them were busy with some task that looked particularly important. Trixie and Sunset looked on as the stallions worked about, and it didn't take long for the two mares to notice that they were the only mares present.

“W-What in Equestria is Twilight dreaming?” Sunset let out, her eyes widening as several stallions took notice of them, dropping their tasks and approaching them with a mixture of sheepish to handsome smiles.

“What, you've never dreamed of stallions before?” Trixie asked as she adopted a coy smile, eyeing a red stallion that stood taller than the others. Trixie decided to single him out, giving the other stallions warm smiles as they tried for her attention. She then moved to through the herd, intending to ask the stallion what was going on.

“No. Can't say I have.” Sunset quickly stated, forcing away the stallions that approached her with her magic, getting sad looks from the rejected herd.

“It's just a dream Sunset,” Trixie began as her grin widened, “Shining probably wouldn't mind.” She said as she reached the red stallion, who managed to blush despite being all red already.

“Don't even start, Trixie.” Sunset said warningly as she moved to her friend's side, looking to the red stallion. “You're Big-Mac, right?” Sunset asked, making Trixie raise an eyebrow to her.

“Eh-Eeyup!” The stallion replied in a deep voice that caught Trixie's ear, making her inquisitive look grow.

“How's Twilight?” Sunset asked, making Trixie all the more curious as to why Sunset seemed to know him.

“Doin' fine fer the most part.” He replied, pointing off towards the Golden Oaks Library, “She's been lookin' little down though.” He stated, reminding Trixie of why there were here.

“Not for long~!” Trixie let out with a confident grin. “Come on Sunset, let's see what this whole thing is about!” She let out, heading off towards the library, Sunset a step behind her. “So, how'd you know him?” She asked as soon as they were out of ear-shot of Big Mac.

“He's Applejack's brother.” Sunset replied sternly, giving a 'drop it' look to Trixie, prompting the blue mare to let out a disappointed sigh as Sunset looked to all the stallions waving at them. “This is a nightmare, and there's nothing but stallions here.” Sunset pointed out, “I thought Twilight would be afraid of the future, or worried about something, well, bigger than all this.”

“Big Mac waass pretty big-”

“Is Twilight afraid of stallions?” Sunset asked, making a point to ignore Trixie's comment.

“That has to be the silliest question you've ever asked." Trixie pointed out as she shook her head in mock dissappointment. "And the answer is no. Her nightmare is about something else. Let Trixie tell you, her first guess has never been right when it comes to nightmares.”

“Guess we'll find out once soon enough.” Sunset said as they reached Twilight's library. Trixie gave it a light knock, and it wasn't long before the door was opened for them.

“Sunset? Trixie?” Twilight said in surprise, her eyes carrying a tired look as she let them in. “You're back from your vacation?”

Vacation?” Sunset asked.

“Yeah, you know, the vacation that every mare went on?” Twilight said, giving Sunset a concerned look, as if her friend had hit herself on the head.

“Every mare?” Trixie asked, getting a confident nod from Twilight.

“Every mare in Equestria.” Twilight affirmed.

“Okay, Twilight, this is a dream.” Sunset said impatiently, making the dream shift, prompting Trixie to give Sunset a small sigh as Twilight looked to them.

“Every mare in Equestria.” Twilight repeated.

“Telling her its a dream isn't gonna work.” Trixie whispered to Sunset, before looking to Twilight, “So if every mare is gone, what has Twilight been up to?” She asked, causing Twilight to blush as she adopted a sheepish look.

“Weellll, with every mare gone, I thought I'd try to find my special somepony.” Twilight admitted, her face turning more red as Sunset and Trixie's mouths fell open. Trixie then shook her head, biting at the bit.

“And?” Trixie asked, “How'd it go?”

“...Not very good.” Twilight replied as her ears fell.

“So, just making sure I'm getting this right,” Sunset said as she rubbed her eyes in an attempt to dissuade a headache, “You're the only mare in Equestria, and you can't get a date?”

“N-no! Well, yes. But, you're both here, right? So I'm not the only mare in Equestria.” Twilight quickly replied, getting a cross look from Sunset.

“Oh. My mistake.” She said, before glancing to Trixie, “Is this, normal?”

“Be nice Sunset,” Trixie replied, her brow furrowed, “Everypony is afraid of something different, Twilight's is just less ... scary. Can you imagine not being able to get a date?” Trixie asked, then remembered who she was talking to. “Right, forget Trixie asked.”

“I don't really see what the big deal is.” Sunset said, making Trixie and Twilight frown at her.

“Of course you don't. You've already got a special somepony.” Twilight replied as she let out a long sigh, looking to the ceiling with a forlorn look in her eyes. “At this rate, you'll make grandparents out of mom and dad before I do.” She declared, causing Trixie to snicker as she saw Sunset start to turn a wonderful shade of red.

“Hear that Sunset,” Trixie began as she adopted a mischievous grin, “Twilight thinks you're gonna go all in before she can even join the game-”

“Trixie. Not. Another. Word.” Sunset said, placing her face close to Trixie's, glaring into her eyes.

“Fine fine.” Trixie said, still smiling as she glanced to the side. She then separated herself from Sunset, giving Twilight her attention. “You're scared of not finding your special somepony?” Trixie asked, hoping they wouldn't have to track down said pony to free Twilight from her nightmare bad dream.

“Am I?” Twilight asked as she looked away from the window, looking to her two friends for a moment, as if she'd never considered the question before. She then adopted a small smile. “Well, not really. Okay, maybe a little. But, I already have two wonderful friends here right now.” She said, making Trixie's eyes widen, while Sunset's blush maintained its momentum. “Even if I never find my special somepony, I've already have so many friends dear to me, who are very special to me.” She said, her words bringing about a bright smile from Trixie, while Sunset adopted a sheepish smile of her own.

“Still, it's better to act than to just rely on us.” Trixie said as her grin grew, “Go out there and try your luck again!” She said as she gave Twilight a small push, surprising the mare, before giving Trixie a nod. As she left the library, Sunset joined Trixie's side, giving her a skeptical look.

“You … think that's a good idea?”

“Why not? It's just a dream.” Trixie replied, seeing Twilight approach Big Mac from the back window, a sheepish look on her face as she started a conversation with him. Wait, didn't Twilight go out the front door? Trixie briefly wondered, before the dream shifted, and she found herself somewhere else.

Sunset and Trixie traded in their smiles for surprise as they found themselves inside Luna's library. They were sitting in front of a table, a set of scored tests sitting before them. Twilight was crying on the opposite side of the table, her head nestled between her hooves, tears streaming from her eyes in copious amounts, filling buckets lined up on her table's side.

“T-Twilight!?” Sunset let out, moving to her side, “What happened?” She asked in a confused tone.

“I failed!” Twilight let out, her crying redoubling as she showed Sunset and Trixie a tear soaked test. In red ink were the words 'Not Enough / All the Points' written atop the paper. The test itself composed of nonsensical scribbled lines which Trixie found oddly appropriate. Her eyes then went from the soaked test to the one in front of her, seeing a 100 / 100 score, making her brow furrow slightly. So I only get perfect marks in somepony elses dream? She wondered, not sure if she should feel insulted.

“Trixie,” Sunset began, pulling Trixie from her thoughts, “did we just get punted from one bad dream to another?” She asked as she left Twilight the nonsensical test.

“Sure looks like it.” Trixie stated, looking from Sunset to Twilight, briefly noting that the floor was starting to flood from the tears. She then moved next to Twilight, patting her gently on the shoulder as she said “There there.” She then noticed the odd look Sunset was giving her, “What? This is the first time this has happened. Trixie is just as confused as you are.”

“You don't seem to be all that bothered by it.” Sunset pointed out, getting an exasperated sigh from Trixie.

“Trixie's had to deal with vacationing work-a-holics, skyders, evil clones and possessed best friends. This,” she said as she indicated the slowly flooding room, “is quite welcome.” She declared with a nod, making Sunset roll her eyes.

“Right, so instead of having one big fear, Twilight's nightmare is a bunch of smaller ones?” Sunset guessed as she adopted a contemplative look. “Well, we're not getting anywhere wondering about it.” She said as placed a hoof on the balling mare's shoulder. “Twilight, it's okay. It's just a test. Maybe Luna will let you retake it?”

“Me? Retake a test!?” Twilight let out, “Only fillies are allowed to retake tests! Noooo! It's back to filly kindergarten for me!” She added as her torrent of tears redoubled, making Trixie roll her eyes as she grabbed Twilight's test. Trixie's horn then briefly glowed as she changed the score.

“Twilight, what are you crying about?” Trixie asked as she showed Twilight the paper, now saying '(All the Points) +1 / All the Points'. Twilight eyed the paper for a minute, rubbing her eyes as her tears died down, before a smile appeared on her face.

Everything started to change again, and for a moment, Trixie thought she felt the test catch on fire as the room vanished.

She blinked, unsure if she simply imagined it as she found herself and Sunset in a large room, the walls lined with metal bars with small gray elements-of-harmony-resembling-crystals resting where the bars crossed. The room had no door, but it did have a window, showing a group of foals playing outside on a beautiful spring day. A group of foals, Trixie noticed, that matched Twilight's friends. Wait, is that me and Sunset!? She wondered as she saw a filly version of herself playing with filly Sunset. Trixie then paused as she noticed the occupants she shared the room with.

They were in a classroom; an entire class of filly Twilights. At the front of the room stood a regular Twilight in a professor's robe, droning on about the importance of interspecies relationships between ants and sea-whales.

It only took two sentences from Professor Twilight's mouth to make Trixie's eyes glaze over. She spoke in a monotone voice and presented information in the most boring manner Trixie could imagine, writing what was in the book on the board. Trixie couldn't fathom how this topic had any relevance, and quickly gave up caring on the matter.

While Trixie had been distracted by the 'lesson', Sunset had been walking through the classroom appraising the fillies. They also had glazed looks in their eyes, and only one showed any interest in writing down what the professor was writing. She also looked like she was trying her hardest not to doze off. Sunset then slammed her hoof on the filly's desk, surprising her, and Trixie as well.

“Twilight, go outside and play with your friends.” Sunset said sternly, making Twilight adopt a sad look.

“I can't leave. The door's closed, and class isn't over for another thirty years.”

“T-Thirty years!?” Trixie let out in dismay, “We can't stay here for thirty years!” she added, prompting a hushing motion from Sunset.

“Twilight, this lesson isn't important. Now, go outside.” Sunset repeated, giving the filly a hard look, which she tried to shy away from.

“But, we're stuck in here.” She replied, making Sunset roll her eyes, her horn flashing as she teleported them outside of the room, to the field of playing foals. Twilight looked back to the boxed classroom, a look of wonder in her eyes as she looked to Sunset.

“Well, go on. Have fun.” Sunset said with a small smile as Twilight gave her a big grin, before she ran off to join the playing foals.

“So, even Twilight finds some things boring.” Trixie said in astonishment as she watched her filly friend run off.

“Do you think that was the last one?” Sunset asked, getting a small laugh from Trixie.

“Trixie thinks we'll know when we're at the last one.” She said, feeling the dream start to change as she looked to the caged room, still filled with young Twilights. As the scene faded away, she adopted a contemplative look. “Maybe Nightmare wants to trap us in a maze of bad dreams?” Trixie offered with a weak smile, getting an unamused look from Sunset.

They then found themselves back in Twilight's library. Its owner was wearing her glasses, and had her mane tied up as she prepared the lobby of her home for class. The front door then opened, a number of fillies and colts filtering in, getting a smile from Twilight as she greeted her students.

“Good morning eveypony.” Twilight said, pausing when she saw her students sharing looks. They whispered amongst each other as they reached their desks, some were hiding grins, while others looked embarrassed. Three fillies, a unicorn, pegasus and earth pony, looked up to Twilight wide-eyed as Twilight gave them a confused look. “Something wrong?” She asked, prompting the white filly unicorn to speak up.

“Ms. Twilight, did you forget to put on your cutie-mark today?” The filly asked, making Twilight look to her rump, a lack of a cutie-mark in its place. Twilight's face started to flush, and Trixie couldn't help but feel embarrassed for her.

“Going about your normal day without your cutie-mark.” Sunset said, also looking a little embarrassed for her friend, “I hate that dream.”

“Well, eh heh heh,” Twilight let out sheepishly as she pulled a curtain from the window to cover herself, “Give me a just a quick minute here.” Twilight said, charging up the stairs as several of her students started laughing at her. Trixie then teleported up to Twilight's loft, seeing her friend rummaging through her clothes in search of her cutie-mark. Trixie briefly summoned her magic, before coughing into her hoof, getting Twilight's attention.

“Looking for something?” Trixie asked as she pointed to Twilight's flank, an illusion of Twilight's cutie-mark resting in the genuine article's spot, becoming real as Twilight perceived it.

“Oh? Oh! There it is!” Twilight let out as she gave Trixie a thankful smile, “If it wasn't attached to my rump, I'd probably lose it!” She said, and before Trixie could make a witty retort, she heard the giggling from the students suddenly stop. Trixie looked to the lobby, but lost sight of the students as the dream changed again.

They were now in a large city that immediately made Trixie think of Manehatten. They stood at an intersection, with the city spreading out in every direction. The buildings were all a clone of each other, with no features to distinguish them apart. Well, besides the big orange building on the corner of the street, that is.

“Oh, hi girls!” Twilight let out as she gave Sunset and Trixie a smile, “What luck finding you here!” she said, making Trixie and Sunset share a look, giving small nods to each other before looking to Twilight.

“What brings you to Manehattan?” Trixie asked, getting a small sigh from Twilight.

“I wanted to surprise Applejack, but I can't find her place. Do either of you know where Orange Square is? I feel like I've been looking for days.”

“Uh, Twilight, is that what you're looking for?” Trixie said, a slightly worried look on her face as she pointed to the orange building.

“Don't be silly Trixie,” Twilight said with a kind smile, “That's Orange Cube Garden, I'm looking for the square.”

“Trixie's mistake.” Trixie replied as she let out a sigh.

“Twilight, they're the same place.” An unexpected voice explained, making Sunset and Trixie turn to see Cadance with an exasperated look on her face. “They've always been the same place. Didn't Applejack tell you?”

“Oh, uh, oops.” Twilight said as she lightly tapped herself on the head, “Guess I should have asked around.” She finished, as the dream began to change again, making Trixie and Sunset exchange confused looks.

“Did that last one seem strange to you too?” Sunset asked Trixie the city faded away.

“Really?” Trixie asked sarcastically, “They've all been strange. Still, Cadance appearing out of nowhere and solving the problem for us? What was up with that?”

“Beats me.” Sunset replied as she looked to their shifting environment. “Just how many of bad dreams does Twilight have?” She asked, and as if on cue, their surroundings solidified.

The sun and moon were in the sky, casting an eerie twilight glow across the heavens. It was quiet, and everything felt strange, causing Trixie and Sunset to share a concerned look.

“Okay, this one definitely feels like a 'last one'.” Sunset said, getting a nod from Trixie as they took in their surroundings. It took a moment for them to realize that they were in Ponyville. It was in ruins; many of the buildings looked like they'd been hit by the crossfire of an epic battle. “Let's … check out the library.” Sunset said as her eyes took in the desolation, leading on as Trixie followed a pace behind her. They didn't have to go far to reach the burnt husk of the library, their purple friend standing before it, a patient look on her face as they reached her.

“Sunset, Trixie, you're probably wondering what's going on-” Twilight began as she indicated their surroundings.

“You can say that again,” Sunset said in annoyance, “Working through your bad dreams was getting old. Just, what's going on here, Twilight?” She asked, her eyes then widening when she noticed that the dream didn't loop.

“Twilight's had a lot on her mind since Hearth Warming.” Twilight said, making her friends share a curious look, “Honestly, it would have been best if Luna had kept Clover's book to herself.” She added, letting out a long sigh.

“Twilight, is that you?” Trixie asked.

“Yes, it's me. Well, sort of." She said as her brow furrowed in thought, "I guess I'm a piece of Twilight. Or, maybe I'm a piece of the Element of Generosity?” She offered with an unsure look, getting a small gasp from Sunset, which Twilight took note of. “You know what I'm talking about, right Sunset?” She asked, making Trixie look to Sunset, who nodded.

“When Shadow Flare tried to possess me, I was helped by an apparition that was me, or some part of me. She also didn't know what she was; it was a little confusing.” Sunset stated, making Twilight nod.

“I'm not that different.” Twilight replied, “I'm some part of Twilight, working to help her through this dream.” She said, making Trixie look between her two friends, her head aching slightly.

“Trixie doesn't follow. You're Twilight, but you're not?” Trixie asked, getting a nod from the purple mare.

“I guess a good way of putting it is that I'm like Twilight's shadow. I resemble her, and I'm a part of her, but I'm not entirely her.” She added as she adopted a speculative look.

“How were you helping her?” Sunset asked.

“I was hiding her from her nightmare.” She said as she indicated the burnt Ponyville around them.

“So she was afraid of the future!” Trixie stated in an 'ah-ha!' tone, getting another nod from Twilight.

“I kept her consciousness from this dream, while trying to weaken Nightmare by segregating it into smaller dreams.” She then looked to Trixie and Sunset, “Those other dreams were a buffer from here, pulling on my weaker fears, such as being exposed, of my fears and insecurities being known to you. Or how I feel lost when I look through Clover's book; sometimes feeling trapped by the events it foretells. I'm also afraid of failing when it's my turn to gain my element, that I'll have to do it alone.” She explained, getting looks of comprehension from Trixie and Sunset as the dreams they went through to came to mind. Twilight then nodded to herself. “This is my nightmare. I'm scared of the future, that it'll be like this," she said as she indicated the ruins, "because of me. But, I know it won't turn out like this, because we're going to make sure it doesn't." She said with a determined look in her eyes, which was carried by Trixie and Sunset, "This isn't our future. Nightmare wants me forget that, but you're both here to set the record straight. So, here we are, at the end of my dream.”

“Right,” Trixie began as she looked between her friends, “you're a small part of Twilight, and Sunset's already gotten help from a small part of herself. Does that mean Trixie will get some help from herself as well?” She asked, getting a nod from Twilight.

“Assuming you haven't already.” Twilight replied.

“What do you mean?” Sunset asked.

“Trixie woke up without remembering a thing.” She said, making Trixie's eyes widen as she realized she couldn't recall the dream she had before Chrysalis woke her. “When Twilight wakes up, she won't remember this dream.”

“You're sure?” Trixie asked, getting a confident nod from the mare.

“'By Shadow's Flare, dreams swallowed in Nightmare.'” Twilight quoted, “I made sure to do some research into it. Though I'm not one hundred percent certain, I'm guessing that I've been asleep for at least five days. Ponies weren't meant to sleep that long. Our memory can't keep track of that much time while we're asleep. So when we wake up, we'll forget whatever it was we were dreaming.” She explained, getting an alarmed look from Trixie and Sunset.

“Then, what about all the help I did!?” Trixie let out in alarm. “If nopony remembers Trixie fighting their nightmares, then what good was it?”

“It still matters.” Twilight said resolutely. “We may not remember it, but it still touched our hearts. I'll still remember,” She added as she placed a hoof over her chest, “And, you'll still remember.” She added with a smile. “Which is very important. I don't think Twilight would be able to wake up if that was the case.”

“What?” Sunset and Trixie asked in unison.

“Something about this nightmare was very revealing to her. She saw something that needed to be shared, and now, you're both here.” She then hesitated, looking to the side before looking back to them. “Assuming you're fine seeing it.”

“If it'll end your nightmare, Trixie is all ears.” She said, then hesitated herself. “What is it we'll see?”

“The future that Clover the Clever foresaw.” Twilight replied as she looked the burnt library. Her horn then glowed, and a limp purple unicorn was levitated out of the ruins. “It's time for her to wake up, and for me to sleep. The nightmare will continue, and you'll see what I saw.” She said as she placed her sleeping self next to her, then looked to Sunset and Trixie. “Ready?” She asked, getting resolute nods from her friends. She the placed her horn on her other self, and disappeared in a flash of light. With that light's passing, the scene around them changed, making Trixie feel like an onlooker as something akin to a memory played out before her.

Cadance, Twilight, Trixie, Sunset, and Applejack were all gathered together, facing down against Luna and Celestia. Something was off about the two sisters, their colors were gone, as if they had both taken a bath in gray paint.

Luna and Celestia's horn glowed, their magic combining before firing off towards Trixie's friends. Their spell faltered for a moment as an emerald bubble protected the five mares, before it shattered like glass, sending them flying in each direction.

Words were shouted, but Trixie couldn't make them out. Twilight started to glow purple, tears in her eyes. She was followed by Applejack glowing orange; then Trixie glowing blue; Cadance pink and finally Sunset glowing red. Their glows brightened, a sixth light forming above them. A crystal reformed in essence alone, radiating magic to rival the heavens. The six lights gathered together, combining into a rainbow that connected with the follow-up attack fired off by the celestial sisters. There was a great explosion of light, and over the deafening sound, Trixie could hear someone chuckling. A cackle belonging to the source of this battle, a laugh befitting of chaos.

Six lights united, now divided. For between the Sun and Moon, Harmony's loss presided.

The blinding light gave way, revealing the two sisters banished, the five mares looking on with mixed expression on their faces. Sadness, confusion, and above all, fear. In their emotional delirium, they were to slow to react, as the spirit of chaos appeared in their midst, picking up the reformed element, and with a sinister grin, smashed it in his claws. Once again, the scene before them was bathed in blinding light.

One light lost, Magic's might, destroyed in spite. Its crystal shattered, its essence scattered. The loss cascaded, and three lights faded.

In a dark room lay Twilight. Her hooves and body were bound by string, all of which were connected to 'X' shaped boards of wood. Strings and boards of a puppet.

The Generous Spark, lost in the dark. Its giving nature bound, waiting to be found.

In the fields north of Canterlot, under the twilight sky, wandered Sunset Shimmer. Her mane and coat were lacking color, and she had a glazed look in her eyes as she traversed the plains, her head low to the ground.

A Loyal Radiance, gone in defiance. Now basked in shame, wandering without aim.

Near a small rock farm was a hut, its owner cloaked to conceal her features. A pony fond of rocks looks to converse with the cloaked mare, but was shunned away by an unnatural look. A look of spite that didn't suit the monochrome mare underneath the cloak; Trixie.

And the Laughing Flare, banished by hatred's glare. Now waiting for a smile, hiding all the while.

On the wall in a hidden room in Canterlot Castle rested three Elements of Harmony; Generosity, Loyalty, and Laughter. In the room's center was a large table covered by a map, being looked over by Applejack and Cadance. The two of them were having a heated conversation, their words unheard by the observers of the vision.

Two lights persisted, their glow untwisted.

Applejack was hugging a young mare with an white coat and light blue mane. She was assuring the young mare, tears running down her face as panic and an air of urgency permeated around them.

Honest tears, to banish those fears.

Applejack and Cadance were looking into a strange arcane device, the young mare disappearing in the light it gave off as the two mares adopted weak smiles. Cadance said something, getting a surprised look from Applejack. Her ears fell as she looked to the ground, the glowing device shined brighter as Applejack rubbed her eyes, giving Cadance a beaming smile, which was given in turn by the pegasus as they were both washed away in light.

And a Kind oath, to settle them both.

The vision then came to an end, returning Trixie and Sunset before the burnt husk of Twilight's home. Silence fell on them as the events Trixie witnessed played through her mind, questions springing forth without end, making her brow furrow as she looked to Twilight. There was one question that stood above all the others, a question that Trixie wanted an answer for immediately.

“Was that real?” Trixie asked, getting a look from Sunset as Twilight nodded. “And you're not surprised that Applejack is the fifth member of our merry band?”

“I had a feeling, but didn't speak up because I didn't want to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“We think Applejack is the fifth,” Sunset began “so believing that, we bring her into a position where she can become the fifth.” She explained, making Trixie's brow furrow further.

“There's something fishy about all of this. You happen to have this vision while in a nightmare? And why didn't it cover the rest of Clover's message?” Trixie asked, making Twilight hesitate for a moment. A moment that Trixie took note of.

“'By Flare, Spark, and Radiance, ignited, the faded lights divided, must be united.'” Twilight quoted, “This part is a warning of what's to come. What follows are choices.”

“Choices?” Sunset asked, looking a little disconcerted.

“'And Chaos's Spark, shall herald those ends. For Equestria's time, the last sunrise portends. And the Moon's reign, shall come to an end.' I am the herald that shows you the vision, and the following passage is offering us a choice. An outcome that meets the last two lines can dissuade the future we saw.” Twilight explained, making Sunset look more alarmed.

“'Or through Midnight's Radiance, the Sun extracts obedience.'” Sunset said, “Had I accepted Shadow Flare's possession, Luna's banishment would become permanent, and the sun would never set.”

“And your power combined with Shadow Flare would have subverted the future we saw.” Twilight said matter-of-factly.

So?” Trixie said, not sure where this was going, “That didn't happen, because it's stupid. Leaving Luna on the moon? Letting Sunset get possessed? Eternal daylight? As if we were ever gonna let that happen!”

“That's right. The choice was made, and we can't go back. But now, we're at another choice.” Twilight said as she looked to Trixie.

“Twilight, what are you going on about-” Trixie began.

“Trixie, if you let Nightmare win, then the future was saw will never happen.” Twilight said, prompting Trixie to raise an eyebrow to her.

“You're saying that Trixie should let Nightmare win?” She asked as she slowly approached her friend with a worried look.

“Over time, Nightmare will weaken. It may take a couple years, but eventually it'll be too weak to maintain itself, and the curse will lift.” Twilight explained, making Trixie pause as she looked to Sunset.

“Your thoughts?” Trixie asked, noticing Twilight give Sunset her attention.

“Well, Twilight's right. I did have a choice." Sunset said as her brow furrowed, "But, I can't see Twilight pitching that we just give up.”

“W-What?” Twilight asked, sounding surprised, before she was wrapped in Trixie's cloak, catching the mare off guard. As soon as her cloak made contact, there was a bright flash of light and a terrifying scream. Trixie was sent flying back away from Twilight, tendrils of shadow now present around her hooves. Twilight looked to Trixie, her eyes giving off a green glow as she glared at the blue mare.

How did you know!?” The unearthly voice asked as Trixie got on her hooves.

“Something's been off ever since we started switching dreams.” Trixie said as she stomped her hoof, “And Trixie wasn't buying Twilight telling her friends to give up! You messed up, Nightmare! Now, get out!” she yelled, getting a sneer from the monster before her.

Your blessing is spent, you cannot harm-” Nightmare was interrupted as it was hit square in the chest by spiraling beams of emerald and red light, causing the monster to scream.

Then, everything seemed to freeze. The red and emerald light striking Nightmare cascaded into the surrounding environment, the beams of light revealing unseen parts of the dream; parts they had already been to. Parts now tainted by Nightmare's poison.

Trixie looked from the now disjointed dreamscape before her to Sunset, seeing a fiercely determined look on her face as her horn and Element of Harmony worked to bring about what was transpiring before Trixie. Nightmare's scream was replied with a strange silence as Trixie found herself able to move and act in this frozen moment.

Giving the revealed sections of the dream her attention, her brow furrowed as she saw five instances of Twilight being alone.

Outside of her library, her ears and head lay low, as if somepony had just crushed her heart.

Sitting before an old desk in a decaying library, the ash remains of a test rested before her.

A caged classroom, words of mockery written about a smart purple filly.

The purple unicorn laying on her bed, without her cutie-mark, all her secrets and insecurities exposed to nothing but her own nightmares.

In a desolate city, she wandered, lost; wondering what became of the friends that had been there a moment before.

Five nightmares that grew worse after her friends had departed. As she saw the dreams lined up before, Trixie noticed the common thread that branched out into the dreams she'd been to before Twilight's. The only company they had in their dreams, was whatever dark intent Nightmare brought with it. In their nightmares, they were all alone.

Trixie took a step forward, but hesitated a brief moment as an idea came to mind. Seeing Nightmare caught in Sunset's magic, Trixie's horn glowed, as she brought forth an illusion; five illusions, of herself. She sent the illusions into each of the dreams, and with Nightmare's influence on lockdown, trusted her friends dreams would play out positively.

Trixie waited on baited breath as her illusions left her control, each becoming a part of the dream they entered; her act being born of a simple notion; a hope that nopony wanted to live in a nightmare. And that hope bore fruit.

Outside of her library, Trixie placed a comforting hoof around Twilight's shoulder, saying something encouraging and boisterous, getting a warm smile from the purple unicorn, as the dream vanished.

Ashes on a broken desk were gathered in a small spell, being turned into a ticket for the annual Clover Convention, getting a surprised look from the test taker as she looked to the smile the blue mare was giving her.

A chalk board of mean words vanished, replaced by a little filly's laughter as a wandering magician did what she did best.

An exposed mare laying on her bed was covered by a white cloak, and another smile was born.

And a lost mare was guided by her silly friend, who also had no idea where the exit was. But that didn't matter, because Twilight was lost with good company.

With each dream finding its smile, the scattered fragments of Nightmare vanished, along with the five dreams. The cascaded emerald and red light circled around its original target, and time resumed as Nightmare let out a painful cry. It then shattered into countless pieces, leaving Twilight free of shadows in its place, who collapsed immediately. Trixie blinked, feeling a little drained as she felt Sunset's eyes fell to her.

“Thanks for the distraction, Trixie.” Sunset said with a sharp smile.

“Did, did you see any of that?” Trixie asked, getting an odd look from Sunset.

“See what?”

“N-Nevermind.” Trixie replied as she looked to Twilight. “Maybe you were right about Trixie needing your help.” She added with a sheepish grin as she saw the glow from the Element of Loyalty die down.

“Good thing too,” Sunset replied as she glared at nopony in particular. “Nopony possesses my friends.” She said stalwartly as she moved to Twilight's side, followed by Trixie.

“...Did you hit Trixie with that back in your dream?” Trixie asked, and Sunset nodded as she tried to rouse Twilight. Twilight's form then shifted slightly, as her other self reappeared, slightly translucent, at her side.

“I am sooo sorry!” She let out with a pained look, “I didn't know that Nightmare had possessed my primary self, I would have warned you otherwise.” Twilight's other self said, getting a slightly surprised look from Sunset and Trixie.

“So all of this was just a trick set up by Nightmare,” Sunset said as she sat down, cradling Twilight's sleeping body as she looked to Twilight's 'shadow', “that terrible future was a bad dream, right?” She asked, getting an uncertain shrug in return.

“I wanna say yes, but I can't say for certain.” She said as her brow furrowed, “Nightmare's been around since before the founding of Equestria, it's possible it could have seen the future Clover the Clever saw through her dreams.”

“Real or not, it doesn't matter.” Trixie stated firmly, prompting her friends to look at her, “Like you said, that isn't our future.” She said confidently, getting a nod of agreement from Sunset.

“You're right.” Twilight said with a small smile, “We'll be sure to keep it from happening. All of us. But, let's deal with the more pressing problem first.” She said with a sheepish smile, putting her horn to Twilight's, disappearing in a flash as Twilight stirred, her eyes opening to see her friends.

“Ughh, I feel like I've been having nothing but terrible dreams for over a week.” She said as she rubbed her head, getting a small smile from Trixie.

“About that,” Trixie began they they helped her up, getting a confused look from the purple mare, “Twilight, Sunset asked a very important question earlier that Trixie feels a pressing need to have answered." She said, getting a confused look from Sunset as Twilight gave Trixie her attention.

"What is it?" Twilight asked, eager to provide an answer.

"Twilight, are you afraid of stallions?"