• Published 20th Oct 2011
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Death Note: Equestria - Nonagon



A deadly notebook called the Death Note lands in Equestria. Chaos ensues.

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Branch

9
*Branch*

The Death Note can only influence a single pony for a maximum of 23 days (in the pony calendar). If the written details of death exceed this limit, the pony will die immediately of a heart attack. This is called the 23-day rule.

With a box in his arms and a large basket balanced on his shoulders, Spike entered the underground base to the sounds of fighting. "If I catch you laying a hoof on Minty again I'll tear off all your limbs!" Jazz yelled towards the ceiling, his normally stoic exterior replaced by a look of outrage. "And I mean all of them!"

From above Rainbow Dash stuck her tongue out. "Whatever, old-timer," she called down. "I was just looking. I wasn't gonna break your stupid machine."

Around the arguing pair the base was business as usual. Colgate sat in her corner with her hooves over her ears, muttering to herself as she watched Mayor Mare go about her day. L occupied her usual position at the opposite end of the room, sucking on hard candy. Behind her, Locket and Bon Bon quietly discussed mane-curling techniques. Spike made his way over to the trio, making sure to give the furious Jazz a wide berth as he continued to shout. "Stupid? Minty is a very delicate device! It takes the highest level of precision and elegance to operate her. You wouldn't know elegance if it nipped you on the flank, you foal!"

"Who are you calling a foal, old-timer?"

"Old-timer? Why, you..." Jazz started to prepare a blistering retort, then abruptly seemed to run out of steam. He sighed. "I’m not an old-timer."

L twirled around to face the pair. "Rainbow, old-timer, keep it down. Some of us are trying to work." She blinked and her eyes focused on the little dragon. "Ah, Spike. Welcome back. I trust your stay was enjoyable?"

"Yeah." Spike walked over to his station next to her, shrugged his sleeping basket off his back - he would carry it to his room later - and put down the large box he'd been carrying with him. "I brought all the copies of my letters like you asked. I don't think anyone's touched them."

L stared, her eyes wide. Spike couldn't tell if the gaze was meant to be searching or accusing. "Are you certain?"

He shrugged. "I dunno. I don't keep track of all my stuff at all times, unlike some ponies."

"Spike!" From the opposite end of the room Colgate leaped from her seat and ran towards him, smiling widely. "How's Twilight? Is she okay? Is everything fine with you two?"

"Everything’s great. We spent all day working on an enchantment project she’s come up with. She seemed kind of upset when I told her I was moving out for a while, but I think she’ll be fine. It was nice to spend time with her for once."

"That's good to hear," Colgate sighed with relief. "Hey, Harpy, did you know Mayor Mare cheats on her taxes?"

"Fascinating," L replied flatly. She turned to focus on her own screen. "Let me know if anything relevant happens."

Colgate blinked. "I thought you'd..." Her eyes narrowed. "You don't care about Mayor Mare at all, do you?" she realized. "You just want Twilight. Ever since her name came up, you've been referring to Kira as female."

"Twilight Sparkle is the pony who most closely fits the profile of a potential Kira," L said without looking up.

Spike opened his mouth to argue, but Colgate beat him to it. "After what we saw? Clearly she has her... reasons... for her privacy. Privacy we’ve already violated. Haven’t we done enough?"

"It’s too contrived." L shook her head, cracking a sweet between her teeth. "She kept her room locked up because of some books and her night-time habits? No, that’s too obvious; it’s what she wants us to think."

Colgate scrunched up her face in disgust. "This is not how a proper investigator works," she said. "You're not being objective. You're obsessed."

"That's right, and that's why I'll win."

"Win? This-"

"-isn’t a game? Colgate, do you know how many brave young detectives have stood right where you are now and said those exact words to me?" L's voice was completely flat as she spoke. Onscreen, Twilight Sparkle was arranging a series of tiny crystals inside a disassembled compass. "You see that? She's been working on this project for nearly a day now, ever since Spike arrived yesterday. Strange that she'd spend so much time on this and not with her number one assistant, isn't it?"

"Hey, that's not fair," Spike interrupted. "We worked on that together. We do projects like this all the time."

"Please, she hardly noticed you were there." Twilight seemed to be wrapping up. A magical glow enveloped the little device and all the pieces snapped together decisively. She flipped the newly assembled compass open, smiled, and then slipped it into her saddlebags by the door. "She appears to be heading out. Jazz, activate the mosquitoes."

---

The road to Sweet Apple Acres was unusually quiet; normally there would be at least one or two ponies out walking at this time of the morning, but now everypony seemed to want to stay indoors. Twilight Sparkle made it all the way to the clubhouse of the Cutie Mark Crusaders without interruption, blissfully unaware of the faint buzzing following wherever she went. Even Byuk had gotten fed up and stopped following her around, so she was mercifully free from his constant whining and pleading as she went.

By comparison, the clubhouse was deafeningly loud. Even from outside muffled shouts and crashes could be heard over a terrible fast-paced soundtrack. At Twilight’s knock the sound cut out and Sweetie Belle opened the door. "Hello, miss Twilight," the young filly said, smiling.

"Hello, girls." Twilight stuck her head inside. The clubhouse was a little more well-furnished than it had been the last time she'd visited; Apple Bloom had thrown together some chairs and a table out of some old boxes. From the far wall a cheap stratoscreen blared out a low-budget action film. Apple Bloom sat boredly watching, her eyes occasionally flicking to the window. Even Scootaloo, who months ago had been fascinated by the moving picture device (and had been the one to insist they pool their pocket money to buy the screen) was now lying on her back in a near-catatonic state. "Good to see you’re keeping busy." Twilight turned back to the little unicorn. "How’s Rarity? I haven’t seen her lately."

"She’s... fine." Sweetie Belle’s smile drooped slightly. "She’s real busy all of a sudden, and she keeps telling me to leave her alone. I think she wants me to go live with mom and dad again..."

"Oh..." Twilight coughed awkwardly, mentally kicking herself for not anticipating this. "So, uh... how would you girls like to try some magic?"

"Magic?" Scootaloo rolled over and looked up boredly. "But Sweetie Belle's the only unicorn, and she can't even zap bugs yet!"

"Can so!" the white filly huffed. "Watch this!" She strained for a couple of seconds and managed to produce a few sparks from the end of her horn. "See?"

"Very good, Sweetie," Twilight said encouragingly. "But actually, I meant a kind of magic that all ponies can use." Silencing the fillies' questions, she reached into her saddlebags and pulled out a short stick with a small crystal embedded onto the end of it. She tossed this gently towards the trio. It flashed once and spun slowly in the air, landing and balancing perfectly on its flat end. "But that's not the best part," Twilight added as the girls stared in wonderment. "There's also this." She pulled out a small, round object, the compass from earlier.

"A compass?" Apple Bloom asked. "Ah've seen those before. Applejack says they work with mahg-net-ic fields, or somethin'."

"Not this one." Twilight flipped open the cover and held it up so the fillies could see. Instead of pointing north the needle was fixed in the direction of the stick in the middle of the floor. As she moved the compass around it changed directions to follow it. "This compass works using enchanted crystals. No matter where you are, it will always point back to the staff here."

"Cool," the Cutie Mark Crusaders said in unison.

"I’ve got a lot of work to do in the library, so I need you girls to test it out for me. To make it fun, you should get lost somewhere and then use the compass to find your way home. Sound like fun?" The three fillies nodded, eyes already wide with possibilities. Twilight smiled mischievously. "You never know, you may even get your cutie marks."

The trio gasped. "You really think so?" breathed Scootaloo.

"You never know until you try, right?" Twilight walked back outside. "Come to the library tomorrow and tell me how it went. Have fun, girls!" She covered her ears as she heard a deep intake of breath from inside.

"CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS MAGIC TESTERS! YAY!"

---

In the underground base, the atmosphere was much calmer. L made several long, drawn out sucking noises on her latest sweet before swallowing it whole. “Now this is an interesting move on Twilight’s part,” she said thoughtfully. “I wonder what her intent is here.”

Colgate rolled her eyes. After her outburst earlier she’d refused to return to her station, remaining stubbornly by the detective’s side. Locket and Bon Bon had taken over her spot at the other end of the room. Spike had stayed by L’s side as well, standing on the rim of his basket to see over the desk. “Harpy, that’s ridiculous,” Colgate said. “All she’s done is give a new toy to some fillies. That’s probably the least suspicious thing she’s done so far.”

“Perhaps.” L raised another candy to her lips. She stared for several long seconds at the retreating form of Twilight Sparkle. “Perhaps we should spare a mosquito to watch over the three fillies as well,” she mused. “Just to be safe.”

The blue unicorn breathed in sharply. Her left eye twitched once. Before she fully realized what she was doing she’d swatted L’s candy out of the air, which bounced off one of Spike’s spines, and slammed her front hooves down on both sides of the bizarre chair where the detective sat. “No,” she growled. “We’re not going to do that.”

The other ponies in the room turned to stare. Bon Bon gasped and raised a hoof to her mouth. Only L appeared to remain perfectly calm. “Would you care to explain your position?” she asked without a trace of anger in her voice.

Colgate slowly lowered herself to the floor. “Because it’s crossing a line,” she said, glaring. “We’ve already done enough wrong here today. I refuse to let you invade the privacy of three little girls just for talking to Twilight.” Her frown deepened. “Where will it stop? Will we have to spy on her friends, too? Her neighbors? Everypony she passes in the market? You can’t watch everypony, Harpy. You just can’t.” She lowered her head. “I won’t let you.”

L nodded slowly. She turned to her left. “Spike, what is your take on this matter?”

“Uh...” The little dragon looked from one unicorn to the other, starting to sweat. He didn’t quite follow the debate, but he knew for certain which pony scared him the most right now. “I agree with... uh...” He gulped. “Colgate?”

L nodded again and turned back to the other unicorn. “There’s no reason to work yourself up so much,” she said in the same flat tone. “If you feel so strongly about it, we won’t watch over the three fillies. Does that satisfy you?”

Colgate’s breathing slowed. She looked back to the stratoscreens, feeling herself becoming calmer. The Cutie Mark Crusaders’ clubhouse was still in view. “No,” she admitted. “But it will have to do.”

L spun around. “Back to work, everypony!” she yelled. Locket and Bon Bon simultaneously blushed and turned back to their own screens. “Jazz, take us back to the library.”

---

Once Twilight had left and the chaotic excitement had died down, the Cutie Mark Crusaders sat in a circle around the magical compass to discuss their plan. "Where do we go with it?" Apple Bloom asked. "We've been all over Ponyville already."

"Ooh!" Sweetie Belle said, raising a hoof out of habit. "We could go to the construction site near the park."

"No, dummy," Scootaloo said. "Twilight said we should get lost, remember? There's no fun if we can just walk back on our own."

"But where, then?" Apple Bloom complained. "Between the three of us we know every bit of Ponyville. It's already the afternoon, so we don't have time to go walkin' out any further."

Scootaloo's eyes lit up wickedly. "I know one place we haven't explored."

There was a pause and then Apple Bloom shook her head. "Nope, that is a bad idea. Mah sis said we shouldn't go there without a big pony with us ever again."

"Where?" asked Sweetie Belle, not catching on as quickly.

"The Everfree Forest!" Scootaloo stood up and stretched out her tiny wings defiantly. "Come on, chickens. It's safe during the day, and with Twilight's magical compass there's no way we can get lost in there!"

"But, uh..." Apple Bloom scratched her head but couldn't find fault with her friend's logic. "I guess if we're out by dark we'll be okay."

"Well..." Sweetie Belle said nervously. "Maybe if we just stay on the path to Zecora's?"

"No, we're getting lost. And then we're getting un-lost! Come on, guys!" Scootaloo picked up her crash helmet from by the door and ran outside, the others following.

---

A few minutes later Scootaloo buzzed to a halt at the border of the Everfree Forest, parking the trio's wagon safely behind her. "Ready, guys?" she asked excitedly, jumping down from her scooter.

"Ready!" Apple Bloom yelled, pulling off her helmet. Ah'll show mah big sis Ah can take care of mahself, she thought. Ah don’t need a big pony to look after me. Ah am a big pony! Sweetie Belle didn't answer but only nodded meekly, holding the magical compass in her mouth.

"Let's go!" The three ran in, two laughing excitedly.

After a few minutes of running the excitement died down. The three slowed to a quick trot, then a walk. The forest was oddly quiet around them. Whatever strange presence inhabited it at night was gone, leaving only a peculiar emptiness. "Are we lost yet?" Sweetie Belle asked.

"Are you kidding?" Scootaloo shot back. "We're still on the path! Watch this!" Without warning she charged off to the right, disappearing into an oddly-coloured bush. After a moment's hesitation Apple Bloom followed, laughing loudly, followed by Sweetie Belle. As the three crashed around in the bushes the little unicorn started to smile. Her fear of the forest was starting to leave her; after all, they could run around and play in it just like they did everywhere else. An impromptu game of tag began, made all the more exciting by the unfamiliar territory and the cover of bushes.

Half an hour and a tumble down a big hill later, the three fillies lay panting and out of breath in a small clearing. "That was fun!" Sweetie Belle declared, a little surprised at herself. "The Everfree Forest isn't so scary after all."

"Yeah! We should come here more often." Scootaloo stood and tried to shake the dirt off her wings, only to find them glued shut by a strange, sticky substance. "Aw, really? I didn't even touch any trees!"

"Speak for yourself." Apple Bloom was covered nearly head to tail in tree sap and clumps of grass, making her look more like a mud monster than a pony. "Ah think Ah fell through a couple forests on the way down the hill." The trio laughed. "Scootaloo, you reckon we're good and lost now?"

"Yeah," the pegasus confirmed. "I don't know about you guys, but I have no idea which way the path is now. Sweetie Belle, you still have the compass, right?"

"I..." the little unicorn had a moment of panic before remembering she'd tucked the device into her thick mane for safe keeping. "That's right! Here." She pulled the compass out and flipped it open.

The surface of the device popped and sparked. The needle spun around rapidly in all directions, seemingly trying to point every which way at once. The trio stared, faces dropping. "Uh-oh."

---

Twilight tried not to pace. She’d done her best to go about life as usual, but every time she settled down with a book she found herself unable to concentrate. Instead she was trying to keep herself occupied by putting away the books she’d been leaving around the library. Even after a single day without Spike’s help, there was more than enough to keep her busy for awhile. Still, every few minutes her eyes would flick either to her wristwatch or the clock on the wall.

Suddenly a loud pounding started at the door. "Twilight!" a familiar, accented voice called out. "Twilight, are you in there?"

With only a little more haste than usual Twilight ran to the door and opened it. "Applejack! Wh-"

"Have you seen Apple Bloom?" the orange mare interrupted, panic in her voice. "She didn't come home for dinner and Ah'm getting awful worried. Nopony’s seen her or her friends all afternoon. The clubhouse is empty, Scootaloo's mom hasn't heard anything and Rarity ain't answering her door, so..." She stopped and took a deep breath. "So Ah was wondering if you'd seen hide or tail of the three of this afternoon."

"No, not since..." She paused and frowned. A few seconds passed, then her eyes widened. "No, no, no! They couldn't have gotten lost, there's no way they could have gotten lost!"

"What?" Applejack charged inside, putting her hooves on Twilight's shoulders. "Twi', what have you done?"

"I... I gave them a tracking device to test out for me. I told them to get lost somewhere and then use it to find their way back home. I thought it would be safe because there's no way they could get lost with it! The whole point was that it would always point them towards home!" She pushed Applejack off of her and ran over to her desk, tearing through her notes on the enchantment. "No, no, everything went perfectly! No matter where they are, the compass should always point them in the right direction. The only way it could have malfunctioned is if there was some kind of magical interference, and the only place where that could happen is..." Twilight gasped. Under Applejack's astonished gaze she seemed to visibly shrink. "The... oh no."

Her friend frowned, worry turning into anger. "You don't mean..."

"Yeah." Twilight bowed her head meekly. "The Everfree Forest."

Applejack stomped furiously. "Consarn it, Twilight!" she yelled. "How could you be so stupid? If you tell three little girls to get lost, of course they're going to go someplace they ain't allowed!"

"I'm sorry!" Twilight squeaked. "I wasn't thinking. I just thought it would be something fun for them to do. I had no idea this would happen!"

Applejack sighed and glared. "You weren’t thinking," she said darkly. "Fine. Well Ah’m going to get mah sister back. And if you know what’s good for you, yer’ coming with me."

"Hang on." Twilight ran to the kitchen and threw together a quick first aid kit, just in case, then ran back to the door and stuffed the supplies into her saddlebags. "Ready." They thundered outside.

Twilight screeched to a halt as they passed Sugar Cube Corner. "Hang on," she repeated to Applejack. With a flash she teleported up onto the roof and knocked on Pinkie Pie's window. "Pinkie Pie! Are you in there?"

Less than a second later the window sprang open, almost knocking the unicorn off the roof. "Well where else would I be, silly?" the pink pony asked, leaning dangerously far off of the edge.

"Pinkie." Twilight recovered her balance and fixed the filly with a serious look. "The Cutie Mark Crusaders are lost in the Everfree Forest. We need you to organize a search party as quickly as possible and help us find them."

Twilight regretted her choice of words right away as the pink pony's eyes widened. "A search... party?"

"Yes, that's right. We need as many ponies as possible, as quickly as you can get them all together."

"Oh, thank you Twilight!" Pinkie Pie wrapped her friend in a massive hug, somehow managing to not tumble out the window as she did so. "After what happened at my last party I thought nopony would ever want me to throw another party ever again!"

"That's... nice." Struggling to breathe, Twilight teleported back to the ground and looked up at Pinkie Pie. "Remember: lots of ponies, and quickly!" Applejack tapped a hoof impatiently. "Don’t forget, the girls might be in danger! Hurry!" Together they galloped in the direction of the Everfree.

Pinkie Pie sat back, rubbing her hooves with glee. A search party? They could have a jelly bean hunt, and a big game of hide and seek, of course pin the tail on the pony... if only she had more time! She looked around the room desperately, hoping for inspiration. After her last fiasco of a party, what could she use to get so many ponies together in so little time?

Her jaw set. "It’s time," she said to nopony, then giggled at how serious her voice sounded. She reached around under her bed, pulling a large box covered in warning symbols towards her. Her face lit up in a maniacal grin as she read the words scrawled on top of the box.

In case of emergency, break out the glow sticks.

---

Back at the base, L stroked her chin thoughtfully. "Colgate," she said quietly, “You are acting like you are waiting for something.”

“What?” Colgate released the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “What do you mean?’

“Do you believe that somepony is going to blame you for this turn of events?” The detective gave a small smile as Colgate opened her mouth, then closed it. “That will not happen. You were right to refuse my offer to observe the trio. It was unethical.”

The police pony stared. L’s face was as unreadable as ever. Is she serious? Is she mocking me? I can’t tell. She ground her teeth in silent frustration. I... I can’t bucking tell!

“In the meantime,” L continued, “take Derpy and Rainbow Dash and help Pinkie Pie. She will need your assistance."

"Really?" Colgate blinked. "What about Twilight?"

"Three little girls are lost in the dark, scary woods. I believe it's our civic duty to help them, don't you?"

"R-right." The blue pony started to trot away, then paused. "This wouldn’t have anything to do with tracking Twilight while she’s in the forest, would it?"

"Oh, perish the thought. The children are my primary concern." There were a few long seconds of silence between them. "Go on, Colgate," L said more gently. "Time is tragedy."

"...right."

---

The two ponies paused as they reached the forest's edge. "Oh no!" Twilight cried, spotting the wagon parked by the path. "They did go inside."

"So they did." Applejack pawed at the ground aggressively. "Then that means every second we wait is another second mah sister might be danger."

Twilight nodded. "You're right. Wait, I’ve got an idea." She closed her eyes for a second and her horn lit up, sending bright beams of light into the darkness around them. "Okay, let's go." The pair ran on, crashing through the underbrush as they went.

Applejack kept up a furious pace, ignoring the path completely and plowing through any small bushes or shrubs that got in her way. "Apple Bloom!" she yelled, peering into the darkness ahead. As they continued she became more and more frantic in her shouting. "Apple Bloom! Little sis! Are you out there?"

Conversely, Twilight took a much more cautious approach to her search. She made her way carefully around obstacles to avoid tripping, struggling to keep up with her friend's frenzied speed. "Sweetie Belle? Scootaloo?" she called, though at a much lower volume. She was deathly aware of the danger they were both in; while the light from her horn was allowing them to see, it would also alert any nearby predators to their presence. Something moved in a bush next to her and she jumped in fright, causing Applejack to glare at her impatiently.

Suddenly another sound pierced through the night air: a distant, high-pitched wail, the sound of three fillies screaming in unison. The two mares froze, then began looking in all directions. "Did you hear that?"

"Ah sure as sugar did." Applejack hopped around in a small circle in frustration, then froze and cocked her head to the side. The screams rang out again, a little louder and a little closer than before. "That way!" she yelled, pointing. Without a moment's hesitation she charged towards the noise. "Don't worry, Apple Bloom!" she yelled, panting as she ran. "Ah'm coming!"

With barely a second's pause Twilight took off after her friend, lighting the way as the pair ran. The bright light had a secondary purpose, though: it disguised a second burst of magic as she tore the Life Note and a pencil from her saddlebags. Levitating the two objects along beside her, she flung the notebook open and pressed it against her side both to hide and steady it as she ran. Slowing slightly from the extra concentration, she began to write as quickly as she could. She'd prepared the message earlier and had been practicing in her head all day, so barely thirty seconds had passed when she reached the final word. Allowing herself a split second to look back and make sure what she'd scrawled was at least partly legible, she hurled the notebook off into the forest. With any luck it would never be seen again. She put on a burst of speed and caught up with Applejack, who in her single-minded gallop hadn't looked back once throughout this.

The screams ahead of them grew louder and louder as they approached. It was one of the peculiarities of fillies that they seemed to be able to exhale mountainous volumes of air without pause for minutes at a time; the three had once caught on to this fact and attempted to acquire cutie marks for screaming. They might have carried on all week if Rainbow Dash hadn't been woken from her nap and dropped a thunderstorm on them. Now the noise was serving a useful purpose, guiding the two towards them through the impenetrable darkness.

Twilight did some quick mental arithmetic and realized something strange: while they were moving towards it the sound also seemed to be moving towards them, much faster than the three fillies should have been able to run. She didn't have time to reflect on this, though, as the volume grew to deafening levels and in front of her Applejack skidded to a halt, causing the pair to nearly collide. "Whoa, Nelly," she half-whispered. "Twilight, move!"

"Huh?" As the apple farmer leaped to the side Twilight could make out a faint red glow in the darkness, quickly obstructed by a large tree falling directly towards her. "Eep!" Instinct took over and she teleported away, stumbling slightly as she reappeared several feet away and about three inches above the ground. A massive shape trundled by, paused momentarily at the spot where she had been, then carried on at the same pace. "What in Equestria..."

"Get it!" Applejack leaped from the bush she’d landed in and charged towards the creature, Twilight close behind her. Its long, heavy strides carried it more quickly than most ponies could run, but it was slowed as it crashed thoughtlessly through trees instead of walking around them. Because of this Applejack was able to quickly catch up, brace herself and give the nearest leg the strongest buck she could. To her surprise her hooves actually sank into the creature’s flesh, leaving deep indentations and causing her to stick momentarily before almost falling over. "What in tarnation..." She backed up a few steps, lip trembling and eyes widening in realization. "Yer supposed to be just a story!"

The creature turned to face them, becoming fully illuminated by Twilight’s light. The unicorn’s jaw dropped. This monster was like nothing she’d ever seen, nor even read about. At a glance it resembled an overgrown Diamond Dog, standing on two legs and using two longer limbs as arms. But not only was it many times the size of any canine, but its entire body appeared to be made out of clay; a dark, earthen brown material, covered in many irregular lumps and folds. In place of a face, a huge, glowing ruby was set into the monster’s head. Twilight felt a shudder run through her as the gem faced towards her. Though featureless, she almost felt as though it was looking at her.

Perhaps most significantly, however, in each of the monster’s three-fingered hands it held a tiny, screaming pony: Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo bundled together in its left, Apple Bloom clutched tightly in its right. The latter had paused for breath just long enough to notice the two ponies who had come to rescue them. "Applejack! Twilight" she screamed, waving her one free leg desperately. "Help us!"

The older farmer stomped furiously. "Now you listen here, you... you golem," she snarled, silencing the girls’ screams. "That’s right, Ah know what y’are. That’s mah sister and her two friends you’re carrying, and you can’t have ‘em. You got that? They ain’t yours and you can’t have ‘em. So you put them down right this instant and nopony has to get hurt."

The creature didn’t move. Twilight took a step forward and whispered to her friend. "Applejack, what’s a golem?"

The mare gave her friend a puzzled sideways glance. "How do you not know- Oh, horseapples." As she spoke the golem reached out towards her, wrapping Apple Bloom up in one finger and stretching out the other two to pick up the larger pony as well. Applejack jumped to the side and prepared to launch a kick, flinching when she saw how close her sister was. "Twilight, help me!"

Twilight stared, transfixed, as her friend leaped and dodged around the reaching fingers. There was a strange deliberateness to the golem’s movements; it would reach out quickly and then pause, as if having to think hard before making a move. No, Twilight, think! she scolded herself, snapping out of her stupor. She tried to recall the lectures she’d listened to on combat magic. I’ve never done anything more complicated than a stunning spell... and I don't think that's going to cut it. Maybe if I try a focused beam? Bracing herself, she gathered energy in and around her horn, manifesting as a swirl of bright purple light. At the last second she released the energy, sending a pulse of pure magical force rocketing out in a beam of blinding light.

Instead of cutting through the clay flesh, however, the beam quickly fizzled out as it glanced off the golem’s shoulder. Waves of deep red light sprung from the great ruby and washed over the creature’s surface, cancelling out Twilight’s magic on touch. "That won’t work, Twi!" Applejack yelled, dodging the reaching fingers yet again. "You have to aim for the words!"

Twilight tapped her horn a few times to clear her head. Magical feedback was ringing through her skull, and the effort of the blast had taken a lot more out of her than she would have liked to admit. "What words?" she yelled back.

Applejack pointed. "Are you blind? The words on its- whoops." Taking advantage of the mare’s momentary distraction, the golem wrapped two fingers around her middle and hoisted her into the air. As she struggled it cradled her in its palm, pressing her tightly against her little sister, then gripped them firmly together. Applejack beat her hooves uselessly against the thick clay, leaving indentations but not bending or breaking it. "Apple Bloom, you okay?" she called over her shoulder.

"Can’t... breathe..." the filly gasped.

The golem looked at the one remaining pony before it, then at both its hands, then back at Twilight. It seemed to decide it had all the ponies it could carry and turned away, carrying on in the direction it had been heading. The two fillies in its left hand started screaming again, and Applejack let out a long yell as she was carried away into the darkness.

Twilight’s legs buckled beneath her and she fell, trembling, onto her haunches. She’d failed. In the past it had always taken a villain powerful enough to threaten all of Equestria to make her feel this helpless; now, a monster had simply strolled in and snatched up her friends like it was nothing. Some Element of Magic you are, a voice in the back of her mind taunted. Can’t even protect the ponies she cares about.

Some Kira, a deeper, darker voice joined in. What kind of defender of justice are you if you can’t even protect three fillies?

"This wasn’t... supposed... to happen..." Twilight gasped, struggling to breathe. The light from her horn abruptly blinked out, leaving her in all-consuming, suffocating darkness. "My friends..." She shook her head miserably. "What would Rarity think... what would Pinkie Pie do?” She sniffed, falling back on an old saying of hers. “What would a brave pony like Rainbow Dash do?"

Something sparked.

"Rainbow Dash?" Her head shot up, light exploding from her horn. "Of course! What would Rainbow Dash do? Oh my gosh, it’s so simple!" New life bursting within her, she leaped to her hooves and let a rush of energy flow over her. Concentrating hard on the rumblings from up ahead, she disappeared in a flash of light.

Twilight reappeared a few steps in front of the golem, her hair a little singed from traveling the distance. The monster paused, somehow managing to appear confused without any facial features, then took another tentative step forwards. "Not this time," Twilight said. It's bigger than any earth pony, and it's obviously been treated to stop unicorn magic... but what about pegasi?

With a grunt Twilight focused the energy in her horn again and sent it out in a beam in front of her. This time, however, she looped the magic into a ring around the golem's left arm. Ruby-red light covered the affected area, not letting Twilight’s magic touch the surface. She applied everything she knew about pegasus magic into manipulating the energy she sent out. Pegasi were the masters of the weather; with the right training they could create clouds out of the air, make rain and lightning, and, crucially, control the temperature. It was this latter ability that Twilight tried to tap into as she strained against the elements.

A faint roar sounded as magic shifted the air in unnatural ways, changing moisture levels and superheating the air around the golem's arm. It made no attempt to move itself as Twilight cast, only watching calmly as she exerted herself. At first nothing appeared to happen, save a faint roar and a rush of air. The ring of light grew slowly and steadily brighter.

Then, little by little, the golem's arm began to crack. Heat from the air around it hardened the clay beyond what it was able to take, and chunks and splinters began to fall away from the surface. With a great groaning noise the arm crackled and, unable to support its own weight any longer, snapped off at the joint completely. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo screamed once as they fell, then stopped as the mighty hand hit the ground and instantly crumbled. They stood up and ran towards Twilight, tears streaming down their faces.

Applejack stared open-mouthed at the crippled arm. "Well, Ah... Woo! Twilight, you did it! That was amazing!" As the pony cheered the golem looked down at the escaped fillies and wiggled the stump that was left of its arm. It paused, then looked down at the severed limb. Like a confused child it stared at the stump of its arm, then the fallen limb and back again, seemingly unable to connect the two. After some long seconds it gave a motion resembling a shrug and started forward again. "Twilight!" Applejack yelled. "Whatever that was, y'all need to do it a second time!"

Twilight swayed slightly. Applejack's words seemed to come from far away, and she was having a hard time making out the two fillies who now crowded behind her. Using her magic in such an unnatural way had drained her, both physically and mentally. "Uh..." Twilight shook her head, trying desperately not to fall over. "Right." She raised her horn and tried to summon power into it again. A faint glow came up, much weaker than before.

"We’ll look through here and look through there and look out all around..."

A new sound broke into Twilight’s consciousness. There were the sounds of hooves, and raised voices, and... singing?

"We’ll never stop our searching when there’s fillies to be... Ooh! There they are, guys! They're over there!"

Her concentration broken, Twilight felt the spell fade as she looked around for the source of the noise. The golem, too, halted its advance. Suddenly, bright lights burst through the foliage from all directions. As Twilight gave in to exhaustion and her light spell faded, a new source of illumination lit up the area. There were glow sticks everywhere, around ponies' necks, braided in their manes, or just waved about in the mouth. Pinkie Pie herself bounded through the crowd, leaving a trail of streamers and confetti behind her. Within seconds the clearing was full of colourful, chemiluminescent lights, completely surrounding both Twilight and the golem.

Gasps and shouts rang out from the assembled ponies. Soft colours danced over the clay creature, illuminating its massive bulk and the two ponies in its remaining hand. Accusing eyes stared the monster down from all directions and a cacophony of threats and pleas filled the air. One cyan pegasus broke away from the group and hovered directly in front of the golem’s face. True to her name, she’d chosen one of every colour of glow stick and strung them haphazardly through her mane. “Hey, punk!” Rainbow Dash yelled angrily, directly into the softly glowing ruby. “You put my friends down right now, or else!”

At first the golem didn’t move. It stood stock still, the gem that adorned its face unreadable, simply staring at the pony that floated before it. Then with a slow, gentle motion that brought gasps from all sides it leaned forward, lowered its remaining hand to the ground, and released Applejack and Apple Bloom from its grasp. They tumbled out together, stuck firmly to each others’ sides thanks to the copious amounts of tree sap covering the filly. Then without any hesitation the golem turned around and trundled back the way it had come. Ponies parted to let it pass and it vanished out into the darkness.

Applejack stood shakily. "Yeah, and you'd better run!" she called after the retreating golem. Cheers sprang up from all around, and instantly the tense fear turned to dancing and celebrating. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were whisked away into waiting hooves and Apple Bloom was quickly and painfully unstuck from her big sister. Applejack trotted over to Twilight, beaming happily. "Well, Twi, I never... Twilight?" Her expression faded to one of worry. "Twilight, are you all right?"

Twilight smiled wearily. "All thanks... to my friends." She gave a small sigh of relief before collapsing.

---

"She's okay!"

Twilight opened her eyes to find Pinkie Pie's face uncomfortably close to her own. She leaped up in surprise and breathed in sharply. "What... what happened?" she asked in a panic. "How long was I out for?"

"Fifteen seconds!" Pinkie Pie chirped. Twilight breathed deeply and looked around, realizing she was still in the forest. Now that the three fillies were safe and sound, ponies were starting to gather together and head back to town. "Look, Twilight! A party! You asked me to throw a search party, remember? And I thought, what kind of party can you have in the middle of the night without punch or balloons or pin the tail on the pony? And then I remembered, glowsticks! So I-"

"Not now!" The party pony was rudely shoved out of the way by an irate Nurse Redheart. "Twilight, dear, let me have a look at you." Before the unicorn could object she was subject to a series of hoof prods and searching glances. When a hoof brushed against her horn it sparked loudly and let out a small puff of steam. "Oh, my." In typical nurse fashion Nurse Redheart poked the offending area again, resulting in a wince of pain from Twilight. "Goodness, that’s quite a bad sprain. Dear, what on earth were you trying to do?"

"I..." It took a few seconds for Twilight to remember. "I um... I modified a fire spell to change the weather in a localized area."

The nurse tutted sympathetically. "Well, no wonder you ended up like this. You were trying to move all kinds of muscles your body simply doesn’t have, magically speaking of course. Just get plenty of rest and don’t try anything too strenuous and it should heal in a few days." Job done, she rushed away to check on the rescued fillies.

Applejack looked over her friend with astonishment. "You mean you really hurt yourself doin’ that fancy trick of yours back there?"

"It was nothing," Twilight said dismissively. They started to follow the group in the direction of the forest’s edge. "It was just a workaround. My magic wasn’t doing anything, so I had to try something I’ve never done before." She paused momentarily to rub her eyes. The powerful resistance the ruby had put up was still leaving a faint ringing inside her skull. "It doesn’t make sense. What kind of creature has defenses like that?"

"Don’t you know?" Applejack asked. "Golems ain’t natural. They’re hoofmade. Somepony has to build them themselves. And that means..." She bit her lip. "That means somepony out there wanted this to happen."

While the pair absorbed this two more ponies approached them from opposite sides, one pink and one blue. "Hey, Twilight?" Pinkie Pie whispered in her friend’s ear, her voice much more somber than usual. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure, if it can wait until we’re out of these woods." Twilight looked around and shuddered. "I don’t think I want to spend another minute in here."

From the other side Colgate nodded, an exhausted Sweetie Belle sprawled across her back. "I was going to ask the same thing. Applejack, can you spare a minute?"

"Sure can."

The four ponies continued walking. The golem’s tree-crushing path had led them fairly close to the forest’s edge, and they soon exited out into a moonlit field where the impromptu party was continuing. Somepony had set up a turntable and some speakers and was pounding out music for the glowstick-clad ponies to dance to. The group split up, Pinkie Pie dragging Twilight away by her hoof while Colgate pushed Sweetie Belle in Nurse Redheart’s direction.

Once she felt they were a safe distance away Pinkie Pie stopped and turned towards her friend. "Twilight..." The pink pony leaned in conspiratorially. "Did you put us in an alternate timeline?"

Twilight blinked a few times. "Huh?"

"You know, teleporting spells gone wrong, accidental time travel, stuff like that. I won’t be mad if you did, I just want to know."

"What? That doesn’t even make sense. Why would you think that?"

"Why? Why?" Pinkie Pie fumed, abruptly shifting moods. "Because this isn’t supposed to happen! We were having a nice twisty crossovery mystery, and suddenly there’s a golem? Something’s not right, something’s not right at all." She stared at the unicorn suspiciously. “I know you’re up to something, Twilight.”

“Huh?” the purple mare repeated. What does she know? I have to be careful what I say. Don’t want to give anything away. “What makes you think that?”

“Because I’m your best friend, silly.” Pinkie smiled again and honked Twilight’s nose playfully. “I can read you like a book. A great big pop-up book with lots of pictures and words ten times the size of normal words so itty bitty foals can read them without hurting their itty bitty eyes. And right now that book is telling a very sad story, when it should read more like a non-stop comedy with occasional drama.” She giggled as Twilight’s head reeled. “You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to. Just remember that if you’re in over your head, you can always count on your friends to help.”

Twilight forced out a smile. “I’ll remember that, Pinkie. Thanks.” She waited until the pink pony had bounded away to join in the dancing before sighing in irritation. “Friends,” she muttered. “Can’t live with them...” A warm smile returned to her face. “Can’t live without them.”

Across the field, Colgate was speaking gently to Applejack. "I know this is going to sound strange, and I don’t want you to think I’m pointing hooves, but..." She gulped. Much as she hated L’s approach to the investigation, it wouldn’t be fair to anypony if she lost her objectivity now. "While you two were in the forest, did Twilight do anything... suspicious?"

"Suspicious?" Applejack eyed the unicorn warily. "Suspicious how?"

"Like... saying anything unusual, casting any spells you didn’t recognize, or disappearing, even if it was just for a few seconds."

The earth pony glared. "Jus’ what are you implying, missy?"

"I’m not-"

"Now you listen here," Applejack yelled angrily. Colgate winced, lowering her head as she saw that ponies were staring. "Twilight was right by mah side the whole time we were in there. She’s mah friend and she risked her life doing everything she could to save mah little sis, and we don’t need ponies like you accusin’ her of being up to no good!"

"Sorry!" Colgate squeaked. "I... thank you for your time." She bolted away, allowing herself a small smile of satisfaction. I’ll show you yet, L. I’ll show you.

The two friends reconvened closer to the middle of the field, though far enough from the music that they could talk. "Applejack, I’m so sorry about this," Twilight repeated.

"No, Twilight," Applejack interrupted, shaking her head. "Ah’m the one who’s sorry. For all your not thinking things through, Ah know you never meant any harm. Ah’m the one who lost mah head over it, and Ah shouldn’t ought to have shouted at you like Ah did. But it’s not just that," she continued as Twilight opened her mouth to speak. "Ah wasn’t just mad at you for putting the Crusaders in harm’s way. Ah was mad because Ah thought you cared more about yer experiments than you did for their safety. Even when we were in the forest, every time you slowed down or didn’t shout as loud as me, Ah thought it was because you didn’t care about mah sister as much as Ah did."

The orange mare smiled. "But that weren’t the case at all, were it? While Ah was rushing about and getting nowhere, you stayed calm and thought about what you were doing. And when the right time came, you really gave it your all. So Ah guess what Ah’m saying is..." She paused, trying to put what she’d learned into words. "That just because somepony does something differently to the way you do it, it doesn’t mean they’re worse at it or doing it wrong. And you shouldn’t think you know how somepony feels about something by the way they act, ‘cause everypony has a different way of showing that they care."

Twilight nodded slowly. "Should I write a letter to Celestia for you?"

"Nah, Ah’ll do it. Ah reckon it’s mah responsibility. But there’s one thing you can tell me." Applejack gave her friend a bemused look. "How is it that you of all ponies, who’s spent her whole life studying magic, doesn’t know what a golem is?"

"I was going to ask you something similar. How is it that you seem to know so much about a creature that I’ve never even heard of?"

The pair stared at each other in confusion. Finally Applejack chuckled. "Oh, Ah get it," she laughed. "You’ve only read the unicorn records, isn’t that right?" Twilight’s confused look answered for her. "Ah thought so. Those old magicians never did like to write down anything they weren’t too proud of. See, there’s an old earth pony legend about golems. A long, long time ago-"

"Big sis?"

Applejack hesitated. "Tell you what, come round to the barn tomorrow morning and Ah’ll tell you." She turned around to her little sister and scooped her up in a massive hug. "Apple Bloom! Ah’m never letting you out of mah sight again."

"Um..." Ordinarily the filly would squirm away from her sister’s grasp, but tonight she returned the embrace just as strongly. "Sweetie Belle doesn’t wanna be alone, and we can’t find Rarity anywhere, so... we were wondering if it would be okay if the other Crusaders stayed over for tonight."

"Sugar, you don’t even have to ask."

Seeing the pair reunited, a warm glow washed over Twilight. She smiled and sighed contentedly, allowing herself to relax for the first time that evening. Inside her head, however, an imaginary version of herself rubbed her hooves together with glee and grinned a very different kind of grin.

Just as planned.

Sure, we hit a few hiccups along the way – that golem sure came out of nowhere, and I need a horn injury like I need a nail in my eye. But everypony is safe, I completed my objective and L remains none the wiser. She whistled along with the music and trotted away to join the dancing. Now, all I have to do is wait.

---

While the rest of Ponyville erupted in music and dancing, one building in particular was still and silent. The Carousel Boutique was locked and barred. The lights were all out, only a single candle illuminating the desk where Rarity sat, hard at work.

The design room was a disaster area. Crumpled fabrics and sketches lay haphazardly around the floor, not even in a state of organized chaos but in genuine disorder. Rarity herself looked even worse; her coat was dark and spotted with dust, and the natural curls in her mane were beginning to unravel. She shuffled the pages on her desk back and forth, reading and rereading each one in turn, muttering softly to herself all the while.

In place of her design books and fabric samples, the unicorn mare now had her work space covered in sheets of paper. Page after page of notes spread all across the surface: names, times, and all manner of observations and queries. Some were written in her own elegant script, while others were marked as documents of the EBI. A stack of newspapers almost as tall as she was lay against the side of the desk, threatening to topple over at any moment.

Finally, Rarity sat back in her chair. She surveyed the notes before her and, for the first time since Ray Painter died, her face cracked into a smile. “I’ve got you, Kira,” she whispered. “I have you now.” Her smile widened as her eyes narrowed.

“It. Is. ON.”

---

Dear Princess Celestia,

I’m afraid I must report to you a new potential threat to the safety of Equestria. A gigantic creature called a golem has awoken within the Everfree Forest and just tonight attempted to ponynap three fillies for reasons unknown. With a strong community effort we were able to rescue the fillies and drive the creature away, but I fear for the safety of Ponyville if it should decide to strike again. A more detailed report from Applejack will follow soon, but I felt it would be best if I informed you of the situation as soon as possible.

I also learned that doing something special for a friend, it’s important to consider all the possible ramifications of what that gift will do. Somepony may take something in a way that you never expected, and even the best of intentions can turn into a disaster. While you can’t always know what others will think, it’s important to never act thoughtlessly around your friends.

Your faithful student,

Twilight Sparkle