• Published 11th Sep 2013
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Second Princess of the Night - Senyu



With King Sombra gone, is Equestria truely safe from harm? Or will another foe as old as the Crystal Kingdom itself appear now that the dark unicorn's position of evil is vacant? What new danger will threaten the land and the Elements of Harmony?

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Act II - Chapter 25

Everypony within the room felt their hearts stop, staring fearfully at the panicked sentry working to regain his breath. Though the wished it in an afterthought, the warning was no joke, and it only took moments for them to begin to panic themselves.

However, their duress was short lived as Night Walker tore past the sentry and up the corridor.

“Ruby! Shade Flare!” he called without looking back. The two of them were startled from still processing the danger, then exchanged brief glances to each other, and followed behind him as fast as they could; with only Ruby sparing a moment to look at the rest of them.

“Let’s go! Now!”

The bat ponies watched as she darted up the passageway after Night Walker and Shade Flare, then they too followed; first in slow unsteady steps, then in quick gallops, and finally rushing as fast as their hooves could carry them.

Ruby however, did not wait to see them chase after them, for her mind was wrought with worry, and too focused on Shade Flare’s trailing mane, and the twisting turns of the passageway upwards to the main cavern.

How could they have found us? Is it a randomized search pattern? Or did we give something away? She bit lips as she searched for a reason, but changed her mind when her frantic galloping threatened to bite herself. What do we do? How do we get everypony to safety? And with the sun already up?

She ran over a dozen possibilities for evacuations in her head during the short trip up to the cavern. She knew fighting was no option, and they couldn’t hold their ground within the cave. Even if they could fortify it, it wouldn’t be long before reinforcements were called in to help flush them out. There was only one passageway in and out, and she did not know how far the guards were. Which means, we need to leave now while we still have the chance. Everypony needs to gather only the essentials, and make for the exit immediately.

But as she neared the end of the passageway, and nearly leapt into the cavern, she knew instantly that her plan was not going to work.

The cavern was in a state of flurry and chaos.

Every way she looked ponies were scrambling about calling about their loved ones names, tying together what supplies they could, or simply huddling in the middle of the floor in hopelessness. The children avoided the hoofsteps of the adults, all while calling for their parents to find them, and the seniors barked useless orders to get them to calm down. But no pony was having it. They were too terrified and too frantic to listen to reason.

Ruby watched with horror as the strong faces she has seen etched onto the ponies she had grown to love fall apart in broken pieces.

Why now? Why couldn’t we have had just a little more time? Ruby reached her hoof out towards them, and tried to call out to them, to tell them it will be alright. But she could not find her voice to issue a command, or a soothing lie. We’ve all been training so hard… We were almost there. We had just figured out how to turn them all back!

Ruby reasoned in the back of her mind that if they had had just even a week longer, then maybe they could have had a few vamponies to help the defend. Maybe then they would have stood a better chance.

But they had been found, and they were not ready.

“SILENCE!”

His voice ran out, only to be amplified by the cave and echoing it against it’s walls to near deafening volume. His shout had cut through the garbled commotion like a sword through cloth, and it held everyone's attention as they froze where they stood.

Looking upwards with fearful eyes, they spotted Night Walker standing tall on the ledge above them, and he looking sternly down to them. The sudden drop of noise was unsettling, and Ruby’s ears pounded as her heartbeat was finally able to be heard. Nopony even turned their head when the rest of the bat ponies from below galloped into the cavern, and skidded to a halt at the quiet scene before them.

“The Crown’s dogs approach,” he said in a much calmer voice, yet still loud enough to be heard clearly by everypony. “The sentries spotted them entering the borders of the forest. Unicorns and Earth ponies are sweeping the ground, while the Pegasi follow from above. And they have been reported to be numbering to be well over a hundred!”

Nearly every bat ponies face whitened at the news.

“However, I don’t believe they know we are here, as they would have brought more forces if they did.” Though their faces eased somewhat, and even began to take on hopeful expression, Night Walker cut them short. “But they will find us, and it will be soon.”

Before they could be dismayed further however, Night Walker turned a steely gaze to Ruby and Shade Flare, and motioned for the both of them to join him. With only a moments hesitation, they took wing and flew up to the ledge, landing on each of his side respectively, and stood only a few hoofsteps behind him.

“They expect to find and capture us,” Night Walker continued. “They think that you are still the submissive ponies that escaped Dusk Town only some weeks ago. They think that you are the same, and will submit to their spears and harsh decrees issued by the Princesses themselves.” He let his eyes pass over their faces, looking into the eyes as many as he could. “But they forget… that we… are vamponies.”

With a burst of speed, Night Walker raised his hoof and flashed it downward, cracking the stone surface below him and causing shards of the ledge to break off nearby.

You are vamponies! And you are of our blood!” He sweeped his hoof to gesture to himself and Ruby, then towards Shade Flare. “And as of this morning, your brother Shade Flare has joined us!”

Hushed voices speaking fervently filled the cavern, and the surprise and excitement could almost be felt as they all looked onto Shade Flare in awe. But Night Walker was not nearly done, and still held their attention prominently.

“You were not born to be bound beneath those who deem your existence as a curse! You were not meant to change who you are because a sun and moon goddess said that your very lives are unnatural! You were not meant to deny who you are!”

“You have suffered a thousand years of false promises! Told that you were a plague, that you were sick, and that it was wrong to have been born as you are! And now the very ponies that supported such lies are now at our doorstep!”

Night Walker thrusted a hoof into a random point in the ceiling. But there eyes were quickly drawn back at the swirling shadows that started to envelope Night Walker’s waist, and revealing leathery wings that flared out.

“But they forget that battle is in your blood! The hunt is in your blood! You were born to fight! To be your own masters! Each of you a force of reckoning that causes fear into those around as you prowl about the night!”

“We will not be prey to such dogs! We will not surrender today, or any other day! We will fight, and we will survive!”

Slowly they lifted their chins, hardened their eyes, and breathed more deeply. Their fears had not vanished, but it was making way for other feelings, feelings stirred by Night Walker’s passionate voice that spoke firmly.

“We are vamponies!” he shouted again. “And no one will deny us our existence!”

Teeth began to show behind lips, and hooves started to stamp onto the floor. As if a spell had been casted, they became more acute of their blood within their veins, moving as if it was being edged on by some unseen fire. It was a sensation that they knew, and found come easy to them. It was the very thing that bordered their senses the moment before a pounce, or would build from the glares of contempt from the guards. And it began to flow through them as if floodgates had been released, living in exhilaration in the moment of not holding back.

Ruby could feel the dense atmosphere within the cavern, causing her own blood to heat at the thought of fighting the ponies that steadily advanced unknowingly towards them. She could feel her lips beginning to curl as she looked into the deadset eyes below, eyes that almost shined by themselves as the cavern became darker and the shadows within crevices stretched outwards from their depths. But they were unwavering, and they bore a look of vengeance that mirrored the wrathful look Night Walker had himself, and it only grew more terrifying and horrible with each forced breath. They were all becoming blind to the blood haze that was washing over them with accompanying shadows.

And it nearly overtook Ruby, until a sudden shimmer within her broke the spells hold over her.

Gasping in surprise, she looked with sudden clarity at the ponies below, and caught her breath at their strange and cold eyes. They didn’t even look like the ponies she had come to known as darkness shifted about their hooves, slowly wrapping their forms as the atmosphere became thicker and thicker. It had become so much that Ruby had difficulty breathing, and felt that she could be dragged back into it at any moment.

But worse than the alien looks of her ponies below, or the dark feelings within her that reached out to match them, was the sense of dread that emanated from Night Walker beside her. So great was its presence that Ruby was only now becoming aware of how tense her muscles had become; they nearly screamed from the strain she had put onto them.

Despite her curiosity to simply turn her head and look at Night Walker, a deep and unreasonable fear prevented her from doing so. Her body would not respond to her commands, and for a moment, she thought that was a very wise idea. The only thing she could do was barely glance at him from the corner of her eyes, and hear his harsh breathing that increased in intensity.

For one single moment, she felt nothing but hunger and death from the vampony lord, so much that it seemed nothing else existed in the world.

Until, something within her shimmered again.

Finding herself able to move her eyes, she looked back out into the crowd of ponies, and to her surprise, saw that not all of them had fallen under the effects. Below her and scattered about the crowd, were ponies whose eyes did not hold the dark mood that had so tightly gripped the others, but were stuck in motionless fear just as Ruby had been.

Ruby flitted her eyes over them, until she rested her gaze onto Lily Wing, and the huddling form of Lunar Pearl that she stood protectively over. Her hooves were wrapped about her big sister’s legs tightly, so much that Ruby absently wondered if Lily Wing had any circulation in the leg.

And it was the sight of them that Ruby shimmered inside once again.

“Night Walker…”

Ruby had breathed the words, barely reaching above a faint whisper, and despite every urge within her to not speak, she uttered his name with every ounce of fear and courage within her.

The atmosphere, the shadows, Night Walker’s harsh breathing, and Ruby’s heart all stopped… and then, slowly receded. Like a held breath, the tension in the cave gave away, and Ruby felt the monster beside her become sucked back into the shadows deep within Night Walker once more. Only when it had completely gone could Ruby move again, and she felt as if collapsing onto the floor on the spot.

The ponies below shook their heads as their senses came back to them, and looked about in confusion, whispering to each other as to what had happened and how much they had remembered.

A great sense of relief filled Ruby, and her heart came fluttering back as it founds its strength to beat again.

“Ruby…”

Finally, she turned her head to Night Walker, and saw a very tired and very calm pony. His eyes were worn, and were creased tightly in a sorrowful way.

“...Thank you.”

She blinked in surprise at his apology, and only numbly nodded her head in response. Night Walker turned away to let out a long breath. Ruby looked over to Shade Flare, and saw that he had the same confused face as her that was etched with worry, making her wonder if he had been free of the effects like she had been. But she could not contemplate long as the murmurs of the ponies below steadily rose, and she knew there was still more to be done.

Whatever that was, it wasn’t entirely wrong, she realized as her senses returned to her. We still need to look at this as it really is; a decision of us or them. Kill or be killed. Though she still didn’t understand what had happened, or agreed that that kind of blood haze was needed, she knew it had only spurred what already lied within each of them; coaxing out their feelings into something that was nearly tangible. But it had not been wrong, and still held the answer they sought. Even though she felt another shimmer within her, she tossed it aside quickly, and buried it deep within her.

Casting her gaze downwards, she looked over the group of bat ponies. It’s kill or be killed at this point. And we have a hundred reasons to do it.

Without letting her clarity or determination a moment to fade, Ruby stepped pass Night Walker, and stood forward onto the ledge. Each pony eyes were immediately drawn to her, and looked up in wonderment and hesitation at what overcome them next. Night Walker’s head was lifted again, and without drawing attention, slinked backwards out of sight.

Ruby coughed to clear her throat, and to find her voice, then spoke, “All of you… are truly wonderful ponies.” Her words rang clear throughout the cavern, captivating the ponies as they twitched their tuft ears at the sound of her pleasant but regal voice.

“I’ve come to know each of you personally during our time here. And while I have yet to remember my past and the ponies I knew then…”

Her voice nearly cracked as she said the words, but continued with a strength that matched Night Walker’s, but with a much different kind of strength.

“I will never forget all of you who stand with us here tonight! I feel honored and proud to know each and every one of you!” Ruby stared long and hard into as many eyes as she could, willing with all her might for them to see how she felt with her eyes, and that she spoke the truth.

“Night Walker is right, we are vamponies! And though our strength is greater than that of a normal pony, guard included, and our fierceness unmatched in opposition, it is with our combined strength that makes us stronger than any force that presents itself to us!”

While Night Walker’s words stirred ire and bloodlust, Ruby’s moved their spirits and resolve, binding them together in hopes that whatever will happen by days end, they will see the night together once more. Lifting her head, Ruby shouted at the top of her lungs in a passionate scream. “We are vamponies! But we are more than that! We… are family! And we will not let anyone take that away from us!”

Resounding cheers and stamping of hooves erupted in the cavern. Each bat ponies wings were flared as they cheered and gave hopeful looks to her above them, their spirits renewed and unwavering unlike before when the news first struck them, but clear and even more driven than the blood lust only moments before. The atmosphere had changed greatly from both Night Walker’s and Ruby’s words, and had formed together into something that was unbreakable.

As Ruby nervously laughed at the cheering, and smiled as brightly as she could at them, Night Walker watched from behind, eyeing her intently.

Ruby… you really hold their hearts don’t you? And you were even strong enough to cut through the miasma I had so foolishly let out… It has been sometime since I have lead the call for battle. It was like looking onto those who had stood by me so long ago. Night Walker let his eyes shift out of focus over the crowd, blurring features that might have seen familiar in some way.

They aren’t vamponies who can withstand hoof and spear. They are still frail and perishable. If they had charged out with the aura I had so carelessly fueled them with...

It was a thought he found he could not finish, and instead, simply stared at her in silent contemplation.

But…

Refocusing his eyes, he forced himself to look at their faces again, intent on absorbing every detail about them.

Even if your children do not your physical strengths, my old friends, I suspect you would still look onto them with pride. They still have your fire, though dwindled it may be. I can only imagine how far they will be able to go in this world.

With that thought, Night Walker looked towards Ruby, and the building fire in her eyes.

And just how far will you go?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Afterwards, they had ordered preparations for evacuation, and gathered the senior and notable bat ponies into Night Walker’s alcove where they stand in a circle, discussing the details of their plan of action.

“After we finish the first group that enters the cave,” Shade Flare said, “we will rush the perimeter line and begin the distraction. The Pegasi are our number one priorities, followed by the unicorns. We must ensure that the path is clear for the fleeing groups”

“I don’t like it,” said a older batpony with silver ears and a built jaw.

“You have a better plan of attack?” Shade Flare asked skeptically, his new crimson eyes catching the focus of each pony; a transition they were still coming to terms with.

“No no, the attack is fine,” he replied while idly waving a hoof. “Our options are limited and that seems to be the only choice here. My problem is that we’re splitting into groups afterwards.”

“We cannot remain concealed as easily if we remain as we do,” Night Walker said.

The batpony coughed politely. “Excuse me, my lord…”

“If you must give me a title, sir will do just as well,” Night Walker replied, eliciting a small fluster from the batpony.

“Excuse me, sir… but what about everything Princess Ruby had just said.” Giving Ruby a small glance before turning to everypony else in the circle he continued, “She’s right in the fact that we need each other to get through this. Every other rebellion against the princesses failed because they were too low in numbers. I don’t like the fact that were separating ourselves and making us weaker targets.”

“I understand your concern, so let me explain my reasoning for this.” Each pony, including Ruby, leaned forward in curiosity. “This… is war. And ponies will die,” he said flatly.

The ears of the senior lowered back as he leaned away from him, along with every other pony. When nopony else spoke up, Night Walker continued. “We must ensure that we survive and to do that, we can’t put all our eggs in a single basket as we’ve done now. I thought that we had more time to this cave to undergo most if not all of our transformations. But fortune is not in our favor, and we must proceed ahead of schedule.”

“You’ve planned for us to split up?” Ruby asked.

“Yes.”

Furrowing her brows, she asked with an edge to her voice, “Why wasn’t I aware of this?”

“I was going to inform you in due time. I merely wished for all of your focus to be on the spell for the transformation.”

Ruby returned his simple stare and explanation for a few moments before lowering her gaze in acceptance. It made sense that he wouldn’t want to worry her with other more important happenings at the time. But she wasn’t the simple and clueless pony she had awoken with amnesia from before either. She was beginning to tire at being clued in to things at the last possible moment, and with her clan of bat ponies now facing mortal danger, she was set to be involved in every little detail concerning them.

“By separating into three groups,” Night Walker continued, “we can conceal ourselves in much more manageable locations. Though I don’t know why it happened so quickly, this cave would have been discovered eventually, and there are only a few other locations that can hold this number of ponies somewhat comfortably. In a worst case scenario, if a group is managed to be taken, the others will still have a chance at survival.”

“How will we communicate once were split?” asked another pony within the group. “From where you’ve told us we’re going, I’m having a hard time understanding how we will coordinate.”

“Unfortunately, that is another snag in this untimely happenstance,” Night Walker replied. “Even if not everypony had been turned, I had wished to have at least a few trained enough in vampony magic to enable speedy communication. While it may not be faster than a flying pony, it is quick enough in its own right and far more discreet.”

“But we will manage,” Night Walker said in a surprisingly cheerful tone. “I will see to it personally the communication of each group and ensure all goes well.”

“How will we pick where each pony goes?” another asked.

“That is up to the group leaders I choose ahead of time,” Night Walker replied. Pointing a hoof at the elder, he began to delegate the positions. “You, Mist Hoof, will take a group to Fillydelphia. I had a route for you to follow that will bring you to a certain train station. There you will meet the staff of our benefactor and be discreetly taken to a location within the city.”

“Hmpf,” Mist Hoof grumbled before folding his arms. He did not seem keen on the location, but did not offer any arguments against it.

“I will take a group to Hayseed Swamps,” Night Walker continued. “The amount of terrain there should provide plenty of concealment for us, as well as plenty of natural growing fruit to sustain the bat ponies with me.”

“Ruby and Shade Flare, you two will also be rendezvousing with our benefactors staff to deliver you to Vanhoover. Unfortunately, we were not able to secure a location within the city itself yet, so please stick to the outskirts within the wilds. There’s plenty of open terrain there for concealment and escape. If you meet any opposition, it should be simple to head in any direction as you see fit to secure your groups safety.”

Shade Flare nodded his head in affirmation, while Ruby’s eyes narrowed. She gave Night Walker a questioning look before answering, “No.”

Her answer caused everypony within the small group to become very still.

“I will lead the Fillydelphia group,” she simply stated, looking Night Walker directly dead in the eye.

“Ruby…” he said in a low tone. “I must insist you accompany Shade Flare with the Vanhoover group.”

“I’m going with the Fillydelphia group,” she repeated again, her tone and eyes unwavering.

Night Walker closed his eyes momentarily to compose himself before speaking in a more gentle voice. “Ruby, you are very important and the focal point for our long term success. If we are to have a chance at restoring vampirism in each batpony, you need to be protected at all costs. Having Shade Flare by your side will ensure your safe keeping so you may continue your work.”

“I can protect myself, or have you forgotten already?” Ruby quipped. The mood of the room became much more tense. Though it paled in comparison to the one in the main cavern, none of the bat ponies dared to draw any attention to themselves. With only brief glances to each other, they wordlessly and unanimously decided it would be best not to take sides in the argument, least they incur the wrath of either vampony.

“Do not speak so towards me,” Night Walker said darkly.

Ruby had never heard him speak like that, let alone to her. But she did not care in the slightest. “I thought it was our way for the one who bests another to be able to speak their mind?”

Night Walker’s attitude only became more grim as he stared harshly at Ruby, his lips quivering slightly at the urge to bare his fangs towards her.

“This is to protect our ponies correct?” Ruby asked.

“… Yes,” he slowly responded.

“Then it only makes sense to have the strongest guiding each group respectively. I will not stand by and risk a single pony if I am able to help it should something go awry. A vampony needs to accompany each group so that they will have the highest chance of survival in case something does happen. Thus, Shade Flare will still be in charge for the Vanhoover, while I commandeer the Fillydelphia. No offense, Mist Hoof.”

“None taken, Princess,” Mist Hoof replied, receiving a quick flash of Night Walker’s eyes that ensured that was all he would say.

“In addition,” Ruby continued, “it only makes sense that I go to the city.”

“And why is that?” Night Walker managed to say without clenching his jaw.

“I’m the only one who can blend in,” she replied with a sly smile. “All I need to do is hide my horn or my wings. I know I suffered a bit of amnesia, but I vaguely recall that alicorns are something of a rare sight, and I have a feeling that fact hasn’t changed in this age either. However, a unicorn in a dress, or a pegasus with a hat should be a very common sight.”

“Ruby, I still don’t think-“

“In addition,” she said over him. “It’s about time I begun to learn how this new world worked as well. Being in the city will suit perfectly in that.” Ruby raised an eyebrow to Night Walker as if she dared him to refute any of her points. “If we are ever to be successful, we can’t keep ourselves in the dark while letting one be our eyes and ears. Even if that pony is a vampony lord.”

“Ruby-“

“I’m going, Night Walker,” Ruby said suddenly in a voice that could have been mistaken as a growl.

The bat ponies beside her leaned away slightly upon hearing her how deadest she was on the matter as she and Night Walker remained in eye lock, both staring deeply into the other in attempts to back them down. However, Ruby was proving to be unyielding even in the slightest, and that fact only caused Night Walker to deepen the scowl that had become very visible.

This mare…

After a few heated moments of staring, Night Walker flared his nostrils, and lowered his gaze in defeat. “Very well,” he agreed reluctantly in a unsatisfied voice. It was clear he was not going to convince her otherwise of her decision, and he was not about to risk a fight with her with Royal Guards approaching, or with the bat ponies in the alcove.

“Thank you,” Ruby said in a more gentle tone, putting the argument behind her more easily as her frustration evaporated on the spot. I’m so glad vamponies handle matters like these. I can’t imagine worrying about something and having to be polite about it, she thought happily to herself.

Each pony within the room gave out a small breath of relief as the tension in the air cleared, happy the two of them had reached a compromise.

Coughing loudly, Shade Flare drew the attention of the group. “If you don’t mind,” he asked tentatively, waiting for the simple nod of Night Walker before continuing. “Let us continue with the rest of the preparations. We will evacuate them in a single file, with certain numbers calling off indicating how many are left as suggested by Ruby. I will be the last pony to ensure each one made out of the cave. During this the rest will-“

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Commander Wintermane! One of the pegasi has reported in what looks to be the mouth of a cave southwest of our current position,” a guard relayed with a snapping salute to the unicorn in front of him.

The older pony thoughtfully watched beneath his helm as the pegasus above dashed over the trees, on his way to spread the rest of the new. He ignored the still saluting earth pony guard for some moments as he thought it over. But thankfully for the guard’s arm, he answered sooner than later.

“Send pegasi to have the rest of the force converge. We are to make steady advancement to this cave. Nopony enters its depths until I have arrived on scene.”

“Sir,” the pony acknowledge before trotting over to the nearest group pegasi.

Wintermane watched as each one took to the air in their respective directions, all of them armored in a similar fashion as he was, such was the standard of equipment of the Royal Guard. However, his mind was not on the disappearing forms of the pegasi, but rather on this recent expedition that he was leading his stallions on.

A cave deep within the forest? How dangerously convenient that is.

He mulled over the situation as another member of their squad began to issue orders for the direction change, keeping to himself as they trekked through the forest. Even when they ran into another squad of guard, he only mentioned a few words of acknowledgment to that squad’s leader upon greeting. As the leader of the entire platoon currently searching the woods, he had little reason to speak more than he felt needed.

But it was a well-known fact that he was never much of a talker to begin with. Indeed his exterior expression left much to imagination on his internal workings, and if anypony had been suspecting that he was currently performing a mental retrospection of all that had happened the last few weeks weighed heavily on his mind, they would have been right.

The last few years of his career had been filled with more excitement than what had been normal throughout his earlier years. Perhaps even more than any guard had seen in a very long time. Normally the soldiers of Equestria had little to do that involved their training and combat expertise. Often performing recovery, rescue, and restoration operations from natural disasters or missing ponies.

But with the return of Nightmare Moon, Discord’s first release, a changeling attack that made them all feel like freshly shaved foals, and the return of the Crystal Kingdom, Equestria suddenly seemed a much more dangerous place. Even though he nor any other troops saved Shining Armor were present for the Crystal Empire, the idea of an age old unicorn with dark intent appearing from the pages of history made him feel uneasy for the safety of his homeland.

And now it appears another evil from a long forgotten time had decided to enter Equestria, and if that wasn’t the worst of it, the recent kidnapping of the freshly crowned Princess Twilight send a shiver down his spine. No matter how he looked at it, everything was becoming less sure and stable in the world.

When Princess Celestia and Luna had summoned him to their chambers to inform him of her disappearance, they issued him command of a large search and rescue mission that intended to check every inch of Equestria. And while he agreed with their reasons to keep the operation dark in its exact purpose, he still wished he had more ponies to assist him on such a large endeavor.

The Princesses explained they could simply not risk another nationwide panic. Each force that had assaulted Equestria recently had left deep impacts on the daily lives of Ponies from coast to coast. They, like him, were starting to become less sure of the world and how safe it really was. Cross town businesses halted shipments whenever a new threat had arrived, travelling was suspended, and the economy faltered significantly to the point it even affect the few trades that existed with the other races of the world.

To his thankfulness, he, and many other members of the guard, had responded well during each situation and in the aftermath. Their training had been tested, displacing some notions of an inactive military. Though Princess Twilight Sparkle and her friends had been at the forefront for each situation, the guard had still done their part where the Elements of Harmony could not be. And if their capability was not enough for his satisfaction, the large influx of new recruitments made his heart swell with pride. Equestria would soon have many more capable bodies during the unfortunate times that were on the rise.

But that did not mean that the rest of the population would learn handle these troubling events nearly as well.

How Equestria’s citizens would react to a Princess missing, he could only fathom at the chaos it would cause. Such news would probably make even Discord himself proud at its results, he thought half amusedly. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on the day, the unnatural thing is nowhere to be found to aid in the search for Princess Twilight. Sometimes I wonder why the Princess’s even considered releasing him if he can’t even assist in something as urgent as this.

“Cave sighted,” the front line pony of his squad announced ahead.

Wintermane narrowed his eyes and refocused his attention at the task at hoof. Now was not the time to reminisce on how things unfolded to where they were now. The only thing that mattered was the recovery of Princess Twilight, and if possible, avoiding at all costs the monster that had kidnapped her.

He was still skeptical at the danger such a creature potentially presented, but the Princesses would not have warned him so if it were not true. From their descriptions of the damage he could cause, he had sounded like a bloodthirsty demon that escaped Tartarus itself.

He would of course see to the first priority of their mission, but that did not mean he would go out of his way to avoid a fight with the damned thing.

Turning his head about, he scanned over the remaining squads that were approaching the small clearing before the cave entrance, taking note of their positions around and even behind it at its sides. He directed his vision upwards to the elements of pegasi in the air, spread about in an organized fashion should any pony try to escape. Each of the supposed bat ponies he had only recently learned about were capable of flight, and aerial control would be key if they were to succeed in capturing them should the opportunity present itself.

In truth, he was had been slightly hurt when he had been informed that even he had been kept in the dark of the supposed town the Princesses had kept hidden away. His new knowledge of it certainly explained why so many of his old friends had been tasked on a new mission that they would always remain exclusive about.

Boring outpost out in the middle of nowhere my flank, he had thought when thinking over his past discussion with them when they would describe some details of their new job.

“Platoon, standby in ready,” Wintermane spoke to his nearby officers. “Inform the pegasi to detain all escapees if possible should they appear, but to focus their efforts on the main goal.” He always kept a few pegasi nearby to spread word to the rest of the platoon should he issue any orders, ensuring a speedy delivery of his command. “Alright boys, let’s see if we got another dud today. Scouting group, advance forward.”

He and everypony else watched intently as four unicorns left the forward positions, and began to make their way into the cave. If this is another false confirmation, I’m going to be yanking trees left and right.

Wintermane did not like delays in his operations, and so far they had uncovered nothing throughout the parts of Equestria they had searched thus far; which still left plenty of places to look. He could only hope that the local tip he received from a senior pony would prove correct, and today they would finally find something conclusive. Him, and his two hundred some stallions under his command were itching to finally meet their opposition.

He remained calm and collective as he watched the scouting group alight their horns, and begin their descent into the cave.

Come on you damned monsters, prove my theory that you're nothing more than a bunch of selfish vampire bats and come out of that cave.

In all honesty, he was not sure if he would sigh or laugh if they had ironically took shelter in the cave, a trait that would seem almost entirely too predictable considering many species of bats did the same save for some of the larger fruit eaters.

Minutes passed slowly as the waited the return of the unicorns, trying to keep their attention sharp should they find their targets for the first time. Wintermane glanced upwards now and then as they held positions within the trees, figuring that it was a little past noon. Exploring only during the day was also another warning the Princesses had given him, claiming that he would prove too risky to continue under the cover of darkness. Though it would have helped to keep their activities more concealed from the public, the aid it would give the bat ponies was too great to allow.

Then, a sudden flash of blue light was seen, snapping each pony to alert as one of the unicorn’s suddenly teleported into the clearing, his bloody and battered form showcased for all to see.

They looked on in shock as him somehow being able to have casted the spell despite the damage that was prevalent about his body, such as large bruises, and slash marks caused his white fur to adopt hints of pink from his oozing blood. He opened his mouth in what looked to be an attempt to shout something, but he nopony could hear his voice as a much deeper color of red color began to spread across his neck. The stallion reached a hoof to grasp at the appearing wound, staring at his bloodied hoof in disbelief, then collapsed forward into the ground, and became very still.

A cold wind blew across the clearing, and sent a shiver down the one-hundred and ninety-six ponies who stood mouths hanging at the unicorn.

Wintermane’s grey coat almost paled to his mane’s color namesake at the sight of the stallion’s demise, wondering what had befallen to the other three who had yet to appear. Their absences could only be viewed as a similar if not more gruesome fate.

The sound of a pony stepping on a branch snapped Wintermane from his shock, and he looked down to a nearby new recruit who was in the middle of taken a step backwards. The recruits hanging mouth quivered slightly as his eyes remain locked on the fallen body of the unicorn, his eyes wide with confusion and terror.

Wintermane was about to call out to him to pull him out of his panicked state, but his eyes caught even some of his more seasoned guards —some who had even been present during the changeling attack— share similar expressions of fear. Everypony was having difficulty processing what they had just seen, and despite their training, all of them were too caught up to react differently. The number of ones who seemed coherent though their faces were grim, were far fewer than the ones who weren’t.

“STEADY YOURSELVES!” Wintermane shouted for all of them to hear, bringing back to the dire situation that had gruesomely made itself known. They blinked themselves back to focused and shifted about as they nervously prepared themselves. Many of them still held horrified looks upon their faces, but their tense muscles showed they were at least ready for whatever came next.

It felt like minutes past as they waited apprehensively around the cave’s clearing, not a flicker of courage of anyone to be the first to head into the cave, and Wintermane began to feel his earlier pride fade the longer he stared at the unicorns body.

Knowing something must be done, he cleared his throat and prepared himself to issues orders. His words however, were cut off when a roaring sound of screams a shrieks were heard from the cave, causing the hairs of each pony’s mane to rise. Then, a group of bat ponies burst from the cave, some flying straight into the air towards the pegasi, while the rest darted across the ground.

But if the sight of them performing a head charged into the shocked line of soldiers hadn’t been the worst of the matter, the red eyes that Wintermane spotted attached to the blurry shape leading that charge drove it home, along with the sight of an orb as black as any night floating behind him, and growing larger with each step they took. Wintermane had only a moment to see that it had been sprouting from the cave, before it grew in such size and speed that it enveloped the entire clearing.

And everything became dark.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Night Walker had used vampony magic to quickly establish communication with their benefactor, setting up last minute plans to receive their arrival in multiple locations. Ruby was equally curious on how he managed to do it, as well as who it was they were working with, deciding she would no longer be kept in the dark on such a important matter. But Night Walker had simply said that she would meet him in due time, as he would personally greet her group in Fillydelphia.

Then they dispatched the scouting unicorns that had appeared with ease, leaping upon them from the shadows from all directions. Though the unicorns fought valiantly for some moments, they were subdued quickly. Three of them were quickly dispatched, and the fourth was left alone as per Night Walker’s orders. When the unicorn saw he was outmatched, and had been given a moment, he had immediately prepared a teleportation spell.

Though he was quick, Night Walker was quicker. And so it was to the unicorns horror, during a heartbeats moment before the spell was completely, he had been faintly aware of a razor edged wing flashing past his head, and the sensation of being able to breath from his throat.

Afterwards, Night Walker and Ruby quickly drained the remaining three bodies, and to her bewilderment, Night Walker also drank a mouthful of her blood as well. She had been initially against it, but he explained that alicorn blood was stronger, that it would be needed for what he was about to do, him mentioning they had done similar tactics in the past, and the direness of the situation was all that was needed to convince her.

The plan then was for him and a preselected group of bat ponies to rush outside and distract the guards. Some bat ponies were to knock down the pegasi from the air, while the others held a defensive line with Night Walker on the ground. To tie the plan together, he would cast a spell that would engulf the entire area within a black sphere, siphoning the shadows of the cave and maintaining it with Ruby’s blood, as well as any additional guards his fangs would chance upon.

It had taken no less that three stern glares to silence Ruby on her curiosity of the mechanics of the spell.

With the sphere reaching the tree line to prevent the ground forces from seeing the sky, the pegasi were effectively isolated, leaving the bat ponies a chance to ground them to clear escape routes as well as prevent them from seeing the directions in which they would fly to.

Night Walker explained to the first group that the center of the spell will be pitch black even for the bat ponies, effectively hiding them completely should they need to retreat. But the edges were thin and would only filter some of the sunlight.

When the spell had been cast, the majority of the pegasi had been caught within the outskirts of the spell, feeling as if they were just below the surface of a colorless ocean, and below them lay uncharted murky depths where unknown things slept. And before they could pull themselves out, they were greeted with the sight of hooves and snarling faces of bat ponies appearing from those depths and dragging them under.

Their screams were easily heard when Ruby cleared the cave.

“First group head on out!” Ruby shouted as she stepped aside for the ponies behind her. The sound of their beating hooves and flapping wings indicated to her that they had jumped airborne and were quickly pouring out of the cave. The elders and children, along with their parents, were the first groups to flew out, hoping to get as much of a head start as possible while the rest brought up the rear.

It was Ruby’s job to ensure as many bat ponies left the cavern before she joined her group, shouting directions in the shadows when they were clear of the cave and which way to take off so that they could begin towards their designated destinations.

The sounds of combat were heard clearly inside the darkness, causing her look out in the direction the sounds came from now and then even though she could not see them. The bat ponies on the ground were not supposed to engage directly with the guard, but rather to taunt them from the edge of the shadows and take down any pony that dared to stray into its depths. The same could not be said however, for the ones focused on the pegasi, tackling them in the air and throwing them down towards the ground so that they could become lost in the darkness.

“Incoming!” a pony shouted before the sudden glow of red light tared across the darkness. Ruby looked on with wide eyes as the illuminating shape of a fireball seared across the blackness, revealing the silhouettes pegasi who stumbled about the ground in a daze for only a few moments. It kept coming towards her until collided into the side of the cave, only some feet away from the mouth where Ruby stood, causing her to throw her wings up to protect herself from the debris of earth that exploded from the impact.

She squinted her eyes at the sudden projectile before it snuffed itself out in the dirt. The unicorns! They must be firing blindly into the spell.

Their time was shortening, and everypony needed to get out of the cave and fast, least one of the unicorns score a lucky shot and hit the evacuating ponies with a fatal inferno.

“Keep going! You’re almost there!” Ruby shouted urgently, straining her ears past the sounds of fighting to listen for the passing groups.

“Number sixty reporting!” one pony yelled as she ran by.

Good, Ruby thought. Only twenty-five left before evacuation is complete.

The darkness was illuminated again as another fireball careened through the air, causing the ponies within the clearing to scatter before it landed just before the cave, throwing embers that touched the hooves of the fleeing bat ponies taking flight.

Why hasn’t that unicorn been dealt with? What is Night Walker and the rest doing up there? What if it hits the ones who are busy in the distraction?

Gritting her teeth, she charged down the small slope and took off in the direction of the fireballs.

I don’t care what kind of fuss Night Walker makes, I am not allowing a single bat pony die from those flames.

Even though another fireball could already be seen, briefly lighting the area around her, she shut her eyes instead, only to open them moments later as glowing white orbs, and made for the edges of the spell.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I SAID STOP SHOOTING THOSE SPELLS!” Wintermane yelled to the unicorn some distance away, glaring in anger at the frightened but very skilled magic user who had recklessly began firing into the darkness.

“SECOND GROUP! ADVANCE!”

The next group of unicorns and earth ponies began their charge into the shadows, fearfully glancing about them as the unicorns lit their horns as brightly as possible to reveal as much area as they could. But regardless of how strong they were, they would vanish out of Wintermane’s sight when they went further than fifteen feet in. He was unable to send all his forces at once, for the sheer number of them in the darkness would cause too much confusion and they would break ranks easily if they were attacked from above. And it would also prove to be too close of quarters to fire any spell without hurting their own, making them vulnerable to whatever would fly above them in the blackness.

Wintermane clenched his jaw tightly at the developing situation. How that demon managed to summon such a spell, I have no idea. But it’s proving disastrous for us.

He did a double check on the remaining troops, cursing that they had to fall back further into the forest to stay clear of the shadows. He had been tempted to get the pegasi above to see if a gale could disperse the darkness, but they were effectively cut off, and the sounds of familiar voices yelling sent a sense of dread that ground forces weren’t the only ones dealing with the bat ponies.

Thus he had given the order to begin advancing into the shadows, despite the warnings they received from its inhabitants. The bat ponies taunted them from within, promising them cruel fates if they entered. Wintermane knew it was a trap as the bat ponies retreated further in as the guard drew closer, but he could not risk time standing around while the pegasi were being attacked. It was all escalating far too much for him to effectively control, and he needed to end it now.

The Princesses had urged that nopony be harmed if possible, and they had stressed to him to attempt at all costs save for his troops lives that the bat ponies were to be caught alive and well. But from what he and his soldiers had seen thus far, he knew mercy was at the back of every stallions mind. The sound of spells crackling and the faint smell of searing flesh drifting into the forest showed that he had guessed his soldiers feelings correct

Forgive me, my princesses, he had thought to himself when he had issued the next group to advance.

Then, the cry of a stallion in pain rang out from the darkness, before suddenly being cut off, sending a shiver down Wintermane’s spine at its eerie echo; the sudden silence bring about the realization that another guard had met a gruesome fate. Its sound was followed by another, and another, until multiple voices could be heard in alarm. Guards he had sent in with the initial waves appeared as they fled away and looked back with horrified faces.

“MONSTER!”

“ITS RIGHT BEHIND ME!”

“BY CELESTIA! IT TOOK FLINT SPARK!”

Wintermane watched in anger and confusion as they stumbled back into the ranks. “What’s going!?”

“S-Sir! It’s that demon that created this mess! It’s slaughtering us left and right!” one of them reported, his already white coat somehow taking on an ethereal appearance from the events he had just witnessed.

The sudden wail of a pony who was momentarily seen being flung out of the darkness and directly into their rows grabbed everyone's attention, then were drawn back to the black spell as a muffled voice could be heard.

Amongst the noise of a spell being shot off or a scream there, the growing sound of a low laugh reached the ears of Wintermane and his nearby by guard. It was a humorous laugh that caused them to stiffen, and send a primal fear deep into their chests. It was the sound of something that defied everything he believed in.

Two twinkling orbs of white were spotted within the blackness, giving the appearance of a creature watching them from a void. The flashed out a few times in what he assumed was blinking, before disappearing entirely. And the body those eyes belong to, purposely strode out from the shadows.

The surrounding darkness trailed off him in thin wisp’s as if they tried to remain attached to his body. And when they cleared, they saw clearly for the first time the creature that had been murdering their comrades.

A black stallion with blood oozing down his lips and neck stood regally before them, his matching crimson eyes slowly taking in the horrified expressions of the guards. His silver mane similarly had left over blood splattered on it here and there, causing it to become damp and cling to his body, and his wide leathery wings that flashed out with hooked ends gleamed dully from the innards and bits of flesh that hung from them.

It truly looked like a monstrosity out of the worst nightmare to Wintermane, a monster that merely regarded them with a sly smirk that indicated little more than a playful mood.

“Gentlecolts…” he spoke, causing them to stiffen at how eloquent and calm his voice was. “As delightful as a time I am having letting off some steam onto you all, I would not recommend continuing anymore, least you wish to suffer more casualties in this foalish endeavor of yours.”

The black stallion looked over them as he awaited a response, looking as if he was caught between a demeanor of silent amusement, and that of a predator selecting the next prey he would pounce upon.

“Night Walker… I presume,” Wintermane said clearly.

Night Walker shifted his eyes to him, and stared intently at him. “Yes, that is one of my names.”

“You…” Wintermane paused to gulp to swallow the crack in his voice. “You are hereby judged by Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. Release Princess Twilight from your custody, and surrender yourself and the bat ponies.”

“No,” Night Walker responded promptly, his grin unfaltering in the slightest.

Like I expected any different, Wintermane thought. “If you do not surrender, you give us no other option but to execute you on the spot. You are out of the cover of your conjuring’s, and there are over fifty Guards here, ready to cast their spells and spear you.”

Wintermane spoke as loud as he could muster about Night Walker’s situation, and felt a kindle of hope as the sounds of metal clinked into position, and every horn began to flare with magic.

“What is your name?” Night Walker asked, completely ignoring the glares of the guards shifting about him.

“...Wintermane.”

“Wintermane, have you ever heard of ‘der Letzte Drang?” Night Walker asked with a smirk that unnerved the closest ponies to him.

“Can’t say that I have,” he replied, already igniting his own horn as he felt the conversation come to a close.

“Well, as you can see, I’m quite fed right now,” Night Walker cheerfully replied. “But if you happen to prove yourselves competent in a fight, and manage to make me expend some of this extra energy, then you just might be lucky to see it.” Then in one moment, Night Walker’s facade fell, and his pupils dilated as he revealed his fangs with a wicked grin, and his body shook with excitment. “Or maybe not!”

“FIRE!” Wintermane shouted at once.

The last thing the guard saw was the maniacal expression on Night Walker’s face, then the darkness behind him rushing forward and engulfing them all. The air became filled with the sounds of magic crackling and roaring shouts that quickly turned to haunting screams. It was only the few who experienced surreality of the moment in full that were able to hear another sound; the faint soothing whispers of the one would appear illumination for only a moment, and leave with a faint afterimage that would plague the dreams of the ones who lived.

Oh fair stranger,

I greet you this night,

Stay for awhile,

Do not fear my bite.

It will swiftly come,

And ease your pain,

Listen closely now,

The blood in your veins.

Sweetly pass,

Into better dreams,

Rest your eyes,

And fall asleep.

As I sing... your final… reprise…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ruby galloped onward through the pitch black. She had yet to see another fireball light up the depths of Night Walker’s spell again, but she didn’t discount the chance one wouldn’t be cast still. By her calculations, there were only a few more ponies left to escape the cave, and all of them would most likely be out in the air by the time she even reached the edge of the spell. But that still left the ones within the spell, still open to any outside magic, and she didn’t want to risk waiting for Night Walker to be the one rounding them all when there time came to flee.

She nimbly dodged around the bodies of grounded pegasi, easily seeing their flickering souls like shining beacons in the suffocating black. They called out for others nearby to regroup, or moaned unintelligibly from the pain of broken wings in their fall. Ruby passed them by silently, and carefully approached each batpony she came across. Identifying herself quickly, she told them the evacuation was successful, and send them off in a clear directions to catch up with their groups.

But even as carefully as she avoided the differing shape of the guards souls, her hooves caught on an unforeseen object, and their glowing lights twinkled out as her chin hit the ground. Stunned for a moment, she propped herself up and silently cursed herself for tripping on a rock. Her self berating however, ended when her back legs brushed against the object again, and felt that it was soft.

Confused, she lit her horn only enough to reveal just enough around her immediate area, then gasped in shock at what she had fallen over. A batpony; dead on the ground, and with half their body burned beyond recognition. It was only then that the smell of searing flesh reached her nose.

Ruby shuffled away quickly while forcibly holding down the urge to vomit, her eyes locked onto batpony as she shook her head back and forth slowly.

“No…” she choked. This wasn’t supposed to happen…. We were only supposed to attack the pegasi and leave them stranded. The rest were going to hold of the unicorns and earth ponies near the edges of the spell.

Ruby felt her eyes watering, unable to tear her eyes away from it.

I don’t even know who that is… I can’t recognize them…

The face had taken the brunt of the damage, leaving most of the back end untouched. Ruby noted this and more, hardly aware of the stream of tears sliding down her face, or the change of light within the area as a soft blue began to mix with her purple. It was only when the sound of a horn crackling with magic preparing to cast a spell did she take notice, and numbly turned her head around.

Behind her stood a white stallion staring grimly at her, his cheeks damp with drying tears as he glared at her. What caught her attention the most however, was his eyes. They were still red on the edges, but they were narrowed and set with a look of pain, judgement, and vengeance. From the stories she had heard, she imagined that the guards who treated the bat ponies poorly must have looked at this just like this.

Ruby had only a moment to see the expression however, before it vanished into one of disbelief and hope.

“P… Princess Twilight?” the stallion asked.

Ruby stared blankly at him, wondering why he hadn’t unleashed the spell he had been charging onto her.

“Princess Twilight!” he then shouted with joy, and quickly discharged his horb, leaving only enough magic to light the space around them, his blue mingling with her still glowing purple. He then thrusted a hoof towards her. “Quickly! We must get you out of here!”

Ruby flinched away from his hoof and stared wordlessly up, her mind still caught in the lock of everything.

He nudged his hoof to her again. “Come on! We need to get you out of here! We must return you to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna at once!”

Ruby did not know why the stallion was referring to her as Twilight; it wasn’t a name she recognized. But she did recognize the last two he had said, and the mention of them was more than enough to snap her out of her daze.

She threw open her wings and slapped his hoof away with a scowl. “You can’t take me back! I won’t be their prisoner ever again!”

The unicorn opened his mouth, and fidgeted on his hooves as he withdrew he hoof. “But… but I… we’re here to...”

He however, did not finish his explanation or his attempt to understand what was happening, and was instead suddenly tackled into the ground by a batpony who had leapt from the darkness nearby.

Ruby blinked in surprise as she watched the two of them rolled on the ground, the guard grunting in effort to wrestle off the batpony who snarled above him.

“PRINCESS TWILIGHT! GET OUT OF HERE WHILE YOU CAN! I’LL HOLD THIS MONSTER OFF!” the unicorn shouted.

“PRINCESS RUBY! GO! I CAN HANDLE IT!” the batpony yelled in kind.

“E-…Ebon Wing?” Ruby asked in disbelief.

Before she think further on it, the guard managed to get the upper hoof in the struggle, and flipped the slightly smaller Ebon Wing onto his back, and pinned him down with his hooves. The guard gritted his teeth as he stared hatefully down at Ebon Wing, illuminating the area around them with more light as his horn filled with magic. Ebon Wing fruitlessly beat his hooves against him, snarling in a furious fashion that only caused the guard to look onto him in disgust.

The guard grunted as he prepared the last moment of the spell and threw his head back, readying himself to snap it forward and unleash all his magic onto Ebon Wing. But before he could, a feral scream ripped loose in the darkness, and his body froze as his heart nearly stopped, and time dramatically slowed for him. Within a moment that lasted between the time a heart would take to beat, his eyes turned to his side, and saw a sight that sent a primal fear deep into him.

Ruby was in mid lunge, and nearly upon him. The purple light from her horn clung about the shadows around them in a eerie glow, an effect he had originally mistaken was the reason for the odd coloration in her eyes the first time he saw her, thinking it was a simple reflection. But now he could clearly see they were red. Even more odd he thought, were the pearly white fangs she was baring towards him.

An image past in his mind; a moment from another time. Princess Twilight had passed him in the castle, nodding to him in a friendly matter and looking at hit with warm purple eyes. She had such a glow about her, an air that spoke of gentle compassion and soft understanding. She had taken her time to look at him directly, and nod cheerfully at him, bringing a smile that made him want to turn around on the spot and assist her in any way he could. That chance encounter with her had made him happy for the rest of the day.

Another image; this time in departing Canterlot with the rest of his platoon on a secretive and important mission. Princess Twilight had been taken, and they were going to find her. He had been apart of the initial response team to Ponyville, he had been in her library, and even spoken to her friends. It was a day that had set a firm resolve within him, one that had kept him diligent and determined since. He was going to find Princess Twilight and bring her home. He was prepared to give anything.

He then saw himself only minutes before, steadily advancing into the spell that had engulfed the clearing. He was terrified to enter it, and nearly turned tail on the spot, ready to face desperation than to step a single hoof into the darkness that emanated the promise of death. But he had thought of why they were there, and of Princess Twilight’s smile in the hallway, and went in, the courage from his internal promise of bringing her home giving him strength move his hooves.

A guard died next to him, another screamed nearby which turned into gurgling of blood, a batpony hissing defiantly as guard chased after him. The last expression of a close friend as he was yanked out from his horn’s light, bringing on a entirely new moment of time of the years they had spent with each other. Tears at the loss around him, confusion as to why it was all happening, and bitter anger for revenge. He damned everything and plunged deep into the spell, pushing his hooves for the goal that would make the deaths of those around him justified; to the thing that would make all this terrible and unnatural situation somewhat bearable. Find Princess Twilight.

Then he found her.

But it wasn’t Princess Twilight.

The mare that was inches away was not the alicorn he had seen in the hall. It did not have her eyes that made him hold his breath in awe, but instead ones that looked upon him cruelly. Nor it did have the air about her that tempted his heart for the chance to serve her, but rather stop it’s beat and whisper coldly of his death. The thing that was slowly sinking its teeth into his neck was not the Princess Twilight he remembered and had come to rescue; it was only a monster.

And as the world spun back into time, he wondered, Where was she?

Ebon Wing blinked in confusion from the weight that had been holding him down was suddenly gone, and the blue light that lit the area gave way, leaving only the color of purple coalesced with the shadows. Shakily, he sat himself up and looked around, wondering how he was still alive. The reason though, was immediately clear when he saw Ruby a short distance away, standing over the still form of the stallion.

She breathed heavily as she lifted her head from the body, letting her disheveled mane hang haphazardly about her. Blood was splattered upon it and her lips, matching the red in her eyes as she scanned the darkness around them, her ears splayed back at the sounds ponies fighting around them that had returned with sudden clarity.

It was the first time that Ebon Wing had seen her acting in the supposed role as a vampony princess, a stark contrast to the happy and caring mare he had come to known in the cavern that would annoy him with constant questions and patient urging to get him to talk. This was an entirely different pony that stood before him. Everything about her leaked of power, authority, and death.

“Ebon Wing, are you alright?” Ruby asked as she turned to him.

“… I… yeah, I’m okay,” he shakily replied.

“Good, where’s Night Walker?”

“I-I saw him only a little bit ago. He said that the guards were coming into the darkness and that he was going to take care of them.” Ebon Wing gathered himself and stood back on his hooves. “He told me to find the rest of the bat ponies and tell them to join up with the rest while he held off the guard.”

“He went by himself!?”

Ebon Wing flinched at her tone. “H-he said that he would be fine, and that he will catch up with the Hayseed Swamp group when he could.”

Ruby let out a ‘tsk’ and bit her lip as she turned her eyes downwards. Ebon Wing glanced about nervously as he waited for her to say something, his ears twisting about at the sound of shuffling guard ponies that were beginning to become far to close for his comfort.

“Okay, we’re leaving then.” Ruby announced. “You were with my group, right?”

“Y-yes.”

“Then let’s go.” She opened her wings, then gave him a curious glance up and down his body. “Can you fly?”

“I should be good,” he said quietly but quickly. He was more than ready to leave. Ruby gave him the first smile he had seen on her all evening.

“Alright then, follow my light. We’re flying out of here.”

Without wasting another moment, they two of them took wing and made their way upwards. Though it felt much longer, they shortly saw daylight filtering above then. It was as if they were swimming from the depths of the ocean, and had closed their eyes when they burst out and sunlight flooded their vision.

They continued straight upwards while blinking the blindness away, then took in their surroundings. With a quick glance down, Ruby saw the black sphere below them. It engulfed the entire clearing and had even elongated partially into part of the forest she suspected most of the guard resided in. The sounds of spells firing and ponies shouting were faint, and appeared small and out of place compared to the rest of the world that was within sight around her.

“I see them, I think” Ebon Wing announced while holding a hoof above his eyes.

Squinting, Ruby turned to where he was looking, and spotted the blurry spots of figuring flying in the distance.

“Good catch. Come on!” Ruby said before the two of them pushed themselves in hot pursuit.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was some miles before Ruby and Ebon Wing had finally caught up with the groups quick pace, now far away with the forest and Night Walker’s no longer in sight. A heavy expression lifted from Mist Hoof’s face when he saw the two of them, and slowed the group until Ruby met with him in the front. Ruby inquired how the group did on their evacuation, and Mist Hoof on her delay, followed by Ebon Wing filling in the gaps on what he had experienced at the edge of the spell. When they neared the end of their discussion, it became sorrowfully apparent that they were missing five ponies. Mist Hoof had hoped that they would arrive with Ruby, but she and Ebon Wing stated that there were none left that they saw. And though it was expressed that it was possible they had gone with a different group on accident, the hopeful thought was dashed when Ruby reluctantly revealed her grim encounter with the burned bat pony.

They flew on in silence for the remainder of the flight.

By the time they reached the rendezvous coordinates, night time had fallen on Equestria, shrouding the land in a much more visible and comforting darkness for them. Soon the lights of a small town appeared in the horizon, and they flew along it’s outskirt until they arrived above a dimly lit train station sitting at the towns edge. Below, the figure of a single pony standing in the loading area was clearing seen.

They circled above the train station well above and out of sight, carefully inspecting the surrounding area to ensure sure there was no pony else. When all appeared clear, Ruby had them land a distance away in the shadows, and much to the reluctance of Mist Hoof, trotting carefully by herself to the platform. She glanced warily around for the potential guard that might leap out of some hiding spot as she approached, and walked onto the loading area where the pony stood..

The moment she saw him, her initial thoughts was that his entire appearance screamed the word ‘butler’ in every possible manner. From the way he held himself, right down to his cutie mark of a decorated platter. He was a brown unicorn with grey edges about him indicating his age, equally matched by his grey mustache. His mane was slicked back in a professional manner, and his eyes—to her suspicion—held not a single flicker of surprise or of any emotion for the matter when he saw her.

A moment of silence passed between them, before he spoke duly, “Princess Ruby, I presume?”

“… Yes, that's me,” Ruby replied cautiously.

Nodding his head slightly in affirmation, he turned fully to her direction and sweep his hoof over the train. “Please aboard the train along with your guests. We are running a bit behind schedule and we have ground that must be made up.”

Ruby narrowed her eyes as she sized herself up. “We’re late because we were attacked. Ponies died so we could get here.”

“My condolences,” he simply replied.

The urge to leap upon the old stallion and rip his throat out nearly overwhelmed her, but she forced herself not to act on the instinct, and instead focus on the more important task of seeing her ponies to safety. With hesitation to pull her eyes from him, she called out to the group, and watched intently as the bat ponies quickly rushed from the shadows and onto the train, glancing about them with fear and worry.

No sooner than had all of them boarded did the trains engine began to churn, and steadily begin its way down the tracks.

The rooms within the train were a godsend compared to the living conditions they had in the cave. Here they had beds, already prepared fruit, and soft pillows to rest on. The exhausted and weary bat ponies heavy spirits lifted slightly at these welcomed amenities, finally allowing themselves to rest after the day’s ordeal. The children apart of the group seemed to recover some of the energy as they bounced about on their beds in their respective cabins, causing the parents to gently usher them under the covers so they could get some rest, though not without a much needed smile at their antics.

The butler pony who had yet to reveal his name escorted them through the carts, seemingly have no difficulty navigating the darkened rooms and hallways as well as they did. He recommended to keep the lights off as too not reveal themselves through bright windows, and the suggestion was taken unanimously, if not for the sole reason of comfort the darkness held.

Though he initially began to lead her to her room, Ruby stated that she would see to every other pony first, and followed him as he guided them to their rooms. She was unwilling to put her head to rest until she saw each of them at ease.

“Your room, Princess Ruby,” the butler duly announced as he opened the door to a rather large room. Each cabin had been as series of bunks allowing four to six ponies to sleep somewhat comfortably. Her bed however, nearly filled the entire room.

But she was simply too tired to argue against it, and did not feel like dealing with the butler’s dry attitude of insisting she stayed in her instead of a simpler room. She instead mumbled a ‘Thanks’, and flopped onto the bed.

“Sweet dreams,” he said in what she thought was in the most non-concerning manner she had ever heard, then left while closing the door.

Everything about him screams cliché, she thought to herself.

Groaning out the last of her frustration, she sprawled out onto the bed and focused on the softness of the mattress and comforter beneath her. I really shouldn’t be enjoying this so much… she lightly scolded herself. But it had been a long day, long enough for her and every bat pony to sleep despite it being night time.

This is really going to screw with my sleep schedule.

*Sigh* You're telling me...

Ruby snapped her eyes open as she looked about the small room. “What was that?”

Silence passed, until she heard a voice ask hesitantly,Can... can you hear me now? When Ruby stiffened at hearing the voice again, it became very frantic and excited. Oh my gosh! You can hear me! Finally! Oh how I've been waiting for something like this!

Shuffling herself into an upright position, Ruby looked each and every way for the source of the feminine voice; even resorting to checking under her pillow.

“Who’s there? Where are you?”

You... you don't know who I am? the voice then said dejectedly.

Why does it sound so familiar?

Well, probably because I'm you. it answered. In bewilderment, she realized that she was hearing the voice inside her head.

Ruby let out a small gasp at its reply. With her eyes still wide, she looked thoughtfully down onto the covers.

H-… hello?

Hello.

Laying herself back down, she hesitantly thought aloud, Who… Who are you?

I already told you. I’m you. Well... a part of you of least.

Ruby narrowed her eyes, and had a sudden idea.

We’ll see about that. Closing her lids, she brought out the familiar feeling of Soul Sight and directed her gaze inward, searching her soul for the source of the voice, not entirely sure she would find it. But it wasn’t long before she recognized something she did not remember seeing before, and felt a sinking feeling within her as she examined it closely.

When did that get there?

I, the voice emphasized, appeared when you kept shoving me away. You had no intention of listening to me, so I did what I had to do so you couldn't bury me down anymore.

Really? Ruby thought sourly. Let's put that to the test.

Directing her focus, she worked her magic on the odd part within her, willing it to disassemble or reshape as she had done with Shade Flare during his transformation.

I don't think that's not going to work.

Shutup! Ruby replied as she scrunched her face in concentration. But the voice was right, no matter what she did she was unable to affect it in even the slightest of ways. It was as if it was but wasn’t a part of her; a separate section of her soul that remained outside of her influence. Finally realizing that she was inexplicably powerless to modify it, she looked to its structure for some clue.

The thing was only a small piece with only a minor amount of bridges to the other parts of her soul. It was mainly attached to her emotions, possibly its source location when Ruby recalled the various times she felt an odd sensation over the past few weeks. If it was what she suspected, then she believed it to be that exact feeling manifested. Ruby attempted to isolate it by dismantling the bridges, but they too were protected by whatever force was responsible for not allowing her to tamper with its design. Unable to fully understand it let alone affect it, she reluctantly continued the unusual conversation.

What are you? Why are you here?

Ruby waited in frustration for it to explain itself, ready to snap at whatever reason it could muster. But when it did not reply, her scowl fell. She craned her head to see if she could hear it again, thinking that whatever it was might have vanished as sudden as it had appeared. But it did eventually speak again, causing Ruby to flinch with its sullen tone.

”I don't know.."

You... don't know why you're here? Ruby asked tentatively, feeling her guard against the voice beginning to slip at the knowledge it might know as little as her.

I'm afraid so.

The tension in Ruby eased some as she turned her head to stare idly at the window, running over possible ideas on what was happening. She was too tired to deal with whatever was happening, and only had little energy and willpower to figure it out. She didn’t know what it was, but it did not pose an immediate threat from what she observed, and now looked onto it with tired curiosity. Before she could ask a series a questions she came up with however, it spoke first, and did so in an unfriendly attitude.

But the thing I do know is that I don't like what you have been doing lately. You have been awful and cruel. And... I'm not going to stand for it anymore!

Ruby raised an eyebrow in annoyance. Really? Because If you are apart of me then you should know why I've been doing the things I have done. Right?

Of course I do, it snapped back.

So you don't think I should be helping the bat ponies?

No! I never said that! it replied. I just don't agree with how you've been doing things.

Well, that's going to be tough because unless you can control my body, you're not going to have a say on things. Ruby dared. It was however, only a few moments of quick retrospection before she cautiously asked, Are you able to take control of my body?

No, I don't think so... it sighed. But I do have say on what you do whether you like it or not.

Which I can already tell I'm not, Ruby interjected smartly.

But, it said in annoyance to her comment. Despite what you think, I am an important part of you I believe you are neglecting. So I will be verbally reminding you of things you have apparently forgotten.

And what's that? Ruby asked sarcastically, not entirely certain if she should listen to the voice or ignore it until she could find a way to get rid of it. She briefly considered if it was a mutation from the alicorn magic, or some sort of feedback from the transformation with Shade Flare, which only reminded her that she never had the chance to study in detail the anomaly that appeared in his soul.

I don't know, it answered matter of factly, ignoring a frustrated snort from Ruby who did not liking the repeating and useless answer.

Flick your tail about as much as you want, but the fact is I'm here and I can talk now. And regardless of how you feel about me, I’m not going away.

Author's Note:

NOTE: If you are interested in side stories for 2POTN, then now is the time to read Hunter, Slayer, Corpse located in the side stories chapter.


Longest chapter I have written yet for my fanfics. I know it's only 14k, but I considered it an accomplishment. I now have much more respect for authors who manage to pump out 10k+ words per chapter.

I hope this chapter made up for how late I was. I have been going through some tough stuff in life right now, and I expect even more difficulty ahead as my deployment begins to wind down and I start to head back home. There will probably not be to many chapters during that time, but I have a certain part that we are rapidly approaching that I want to reach before I cut you guys off for a bit.

In this chapter we see the arrival of Commander Wintermane, a character I made up completely on the spot while typing and never had any attention of having in this story. However, I kinda like him and we will probably be seeing more of him throughout these stories. Also there will be a side story coming up soon when I can manage it. It ties into the anonymous tip Wintermane received, and the unfortunate mare who died in Ruby/Twilight's maw a few chapters ago. I will announce when that is ready so be on the look out for that if you are interested in more world building in this verse.

Now I know some of you were hoping that when Ruby heard Twilight, something magical would have happened. But nothing did. To her right now, it is simply just another word. But don't worry, revelations on her past will be coming soon and in a similar setting as that of the guard that found her.

Additionally, that nagging little feeling I kept hinting at finally has its role in the story! Let me know what you think of it if you like the idea or not. I will say right now however, its knowledge of things does not exceed what Ruby currently knows. All its memories are shared with her and knows just as much as she does. It simply has different feelings on how to behave in certain situations that it will now scream at her. Think of it as her consciousness, though I know you all are pretty smart to see what is going here. A part of her that she cannot affect? Almost as if it's protected from some magical force?

Anyways I hope you all enjoyed this lengthy chapter and know that I stayed up late yet again to release it all for you. Thanks for your views, comments, and interest in this story. Would not have made it this far if it had not been for all of your wonderful input and interest in this story. Also this chapter celebrates the fact it broke the 200 like barrier! Hoping to continue to deliver, and thank you for your time.

Lastly, for those who are curious as to how Ruby looked like when she killed the stallion, please direct your attention to this link. For those who are reading this story past 8 Aug 2014, this link was the original cover art for the story.

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