• Published 15th Jan 2014
  • 3,608 Views, 235 Comments

Shadows of the Crystal Empire - AdrianVesper

Twilight Sparkle travels to Canterlot seeking justice. When one of her friends is taken captive, Twilight sets out with spell and sword to save her. (Sequel to The Sword Coast, inspired by the Baldur’s Gate series)

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“She will be the death of you, Star Swirl. She could bring the death of us all.”


I am it, the Shadowspawn.

When the second child killed Star Swirl the Bearded, my mentor and father, my life became a frantic scramble. I was pursued and hunted by individuals who cared about nothing more than the price on my head. They presented me with a choice between life and death. I chose to fight and kill my enemies. By choosing life, I chose death.

I tracked my hunters to the source. I caused the destruction of the organization behind the bounty. I found the second child, the Black Knight, and I stopped him from starting a war. Through a process I do not understand, I was able to absorb his divine essence without killing him. He was not my true enemy.

I am continuing the work of Star Swirl, a better pony than most of us can ever hope to be. In the following pages, I will be keeping notes on the topic of Shadowspawn. I have learned that I was born bearing a portion of the divine essence of the god Azrael. I suspect that learning this truth was the reason why the previous author of this journal stopped recording information about me.

My fate is tied to the shadows of the past, and I am one of many catalysts for the Shadow’s resurrection.

My name is Twilight Sparkle, and I am not a better pony.


Twilight Sparkle spinned, swiveling her head to cover all angles. In a split second, she scanned the courtyard of the Helping Hoof Inn. Rough, loamy soil shifted beneath her hooves, where the grass had been torn away by countless frantic movements. She held a sword in the air beside her, grasped firmly in her levitation. Where is she?! she thought.

At a safe distance, Fluttershy watched the fight unfold. She looked up, and winced.

Twilight tilted her head back and caught the silhouette of wings against the bright nova of the Sun. Reflexively, she tugged her sword into a guard position. It sluggishly jolted through the air like a drunken pegasus. Wooden slats covering the leading edge of a cerulean blue wing rushed at her. They slammed into her face with a sharp crack.

The blow carried Twilight off her feet, and she landed in the dirt. Her sword hit the ground beside her. Groaning, she cradled her face in her forehooves. Her jaw ached. She tasted salt, and the scent of iron filled her nostrils.

“You’re dead,” Rainbow Dash said, standing over her.

Twilight spat out the blood in her mouth. “You hit too hard,” she whimpered. A white chunk in the red liquid caught her eye. Is that a tooth? she wondered, furrowing her brows. She felt around the inside of her mouth with her tongue. Where one of her molars should have been, only a painful void remained.

Rainbow casually flipped a red lock of her mane out of her face. “Hey, I’m not holdin’ back too much. A real enemy wouldn’t pull any—”

Twilight snatched up her molar and shoved it in Rainbow’s face.

Rainbow’s eyes crossed to focus on the object in front of her nose. She took a step back. “Sorry Twi,” she murmured. She lifted one of her forehooves and sheepishly rubbed her leg. “I have to come in fast.”

Scowling, Twilight climbed to her hooves. “This is ridiculous,” she muttered. “You won’t let me use any spells!” Her voice built as she continued. “You get to zip around in the air!” She picked up her fallen wooden practice sword. “And this thing has the inertia and balance of an overweight brick on the end of a pole!” she shouted. With a roar of frustration, she whirled and threw her sword as hard as she could at the nearby stone wall.

The shaft of pine wood shattered into fragments. Twilight stared at it, panting. “Twilight,” Rainbow said, stepping up beside her, “all you’ve ever used is magic swords. You’ve never been challenged.”

Twilight rubbed her aching jaw. She closed her eyes for a moment and dipped into her innate divine power. It jumped to her command. After a brief tingle, the pain in her jaw vanished. She quickly checked her teeth with her tongue. The missing molar had been replaced.

“I’ve held my own so far,” she muttered.

“Um, Twilight? Do you need some healing?” Fluttershy said, approaching from her opposite side. “Was that a tooth you were holding up?”

Twilight waved a hoof at Fluttershy and shook her head. “No, it’s fine. I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?” Fluttershy asked. She stepped in front of Twilight and reached out to touch her chin. “Come on, let me see.”

Twilight swallowed the last traces of blood and opened her mouth. “’Ey’re all ’ere,” she grunted, then closed her mouth. “Satisfied?”

Fluttershy peered at Twilight, letting her hoof drop. “You healed yourself, didn’t you?”

Rainbow frowned. “Twilight, you know you should only use those powers when you absolutely have to. You don’t know what they could be doing to your head.”

Twilight snorted and turned away. She trotted toward the entrance to the interior of the inn. Before she could make it three steps, Rainbow blocked her path by moving between her and the stairs to the keep. “I promised Applejack I’d keep an eye on you,” Rainbow said. “I’m not going to let you take risks with this Shadowspawn thing!”

Twilight looked up at the sky and groaned. “Oh, you promised Applejack, because she’s an expert,” she muttered. Taking a deep breath, she focused on Rainbow. “Look, I’m fine. I haven’t had a nightmare since we left Manehattan.”

Rainbow’s eyes softened. “I know. Just tell me you won’t use the weird dark powers, okay?”

Twilight glanced at the ground, hesitating for a moment. “I can’t do that.”

Rainbow fixed her with a sharp glare. “You can’t? Why not?!”

Twilight met her gaze. “Why didn’t you cut the cord when you were fighting Lightning Dust? You risked your life for a pair of wingblades.”

Rainbow blinked. “It... meant a lot to me to win. The wingblades weren’t important. I had to beat her. I couldn’t let myself down.”

“I’m fighting a battle I have to win too, Rainbow.” Twilight smiled sadly. “I can’t hide from the dark.”

Rainbow glanced at the ground, her brows furrowing. After a moment, she said, “I think I understand.” She looked up, brightening, and picked up a replacement practice sword from where it leaned against the wall of the keep. “Ready for another round?”

Twilight grimaced. “I’d rather not.”

Rainbow’s lips twisted into a wry smile. “You’re not backing out now, are you, Sparkle? If you don’t know basic sword technique, what happens when you fight someone stronger than you?” She flicked the practice sword over to Twilight with the tip of her wing.

I already have fought someone stronger than me, Twilight thought, hefting the practice sword in her levitation. And I lost. The memory of the final, desperate moments of her confrontation with the Black Knight passed through her mind. If it weren’t for Cadance’s timely arrival, she would have died.

“Besides,” Rainbow said, “the deal was: you get to teach me to read, and I get to teach you to fight.” Her wing flicked through the air and connected lightly with Twilight’s shoulder. “Come on! Keep your guard up!”

Twilight lowered herself into a balanced stance and raised her sword, circling Rainbow. She smirked. “This time, you’re going to be the one with a bruise.”

Rainbow chuckled. “In your dreams.” She lunged.

Dear Princess Celestia,

In the past, I’ve written you to tell you what I’ve learned fighting evil, like Star Swirl did before me. I wish this were one of those letters. It’s only been a few weeks since I was named Baroness of Ponyville. I already feel so lost. The town’s elected Mayor, who I’ve kept in place, has been extraordinarily helpful. The people of Candlekeep are doing well, and the steps I’ve taken to integrate them into the town appear to be working, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not good enough for this job.

What qualifications do I have? I don’t know the first thing about governance, even with the books I’ve read on the subject. All I’ve done since leaving Candlekeep is travel and fight. I don’t know anything about being a noble, and yet, all these ponies are relying on me. I have the power to make their lives better, but if I make a mistake, I could ruin Ponyville’s prosperity.

I’m sorry. You’ve got more important things to worry about than my insecurities. I guess I’m seeking advice, if you have the time to give it. I outlawed slavery within the Barony. I’m taking measures to redistribute land, allowing the tenants to own the land they work. (I don’t understand tenanted farms. It’s an inefficient system. Don’t ponies deserve the fruits of their labor?) I did what I thought was right, but I’ve made some ponies very angry. I’ve been called a tyrant unfit to be Baroness.

Am I?

Your Faithful Student,
Twilight Sparkle

PS: Spike keeps growing, and he’s still sleeping a lot. He complains that it’s getting harder for him to teleport between the Celestial and Material Planes. Nothing I’ve found on fey dragons in the Celestial Library mentions growth. Perhaps you could point me in the right direction?

PPS: No news on Chrysalis?

My Faithful Student,

I read your letters as soon as I receive them, though this can take some time. I’m sorry my delays have given you the impression of disinterest. I care about you, Twilight. If you have questions, ask them, and I will give you the best answer I can.

Your current dilemma is one I have struggled with on more than one occasion. We are never good enough to hold the fate of others in our hooves. Do not allow fear of mistakes to paralyze you; they can be haunting, but they can also be overcome. Hold your head high, and stride forth. You are far better than a pony that believes they were born with the right to rule. You understand that you have a responsibility to your citizens, which is more than can be said for many of your peers.

When I took a larger role in Equestria over a millenia ago, I often made choices that shortsighted individuals could not understand. You will never be able to please everyone. You have the power to fight for the greater good. Do not let the indignance of your critics keep you from doing what is best for everyone. Years from now, ponies will look at the past and wonder how they could have been so backward.

The truth is: without ponies like you, they would never have moved forward.

As for Spike, have you read Ego Draconis? It was written by an old friend of mine.

Yours Faithfully,
Princess Celestia

PS: If I’d found Chrysalis, you’d be the first to know.

Twilight trotted down the main road into Ponyville from the Helping Hoof. Ahead, the spire of the Town Hall rose above the central plaza. She paused, glancing up to check the position of the Sun. I hope I’m not late, she thought. Even though I’m a Baroness, I can still be punctual. The Mayor never complained when she was late to a meeting, but she knew she’d been less than polite. She needed to make arrangements with the Mayor for a trip to Manehattan.

Before she looked away from the sky, she noticed a glinting blue shape closing on her from between the patchy clouds. Within seconds, Rainbow Dash flared her wings and landed beside Twilight. She wore her wingblades and her skymail.

Twilight eyed the weapons. “Something wrong, Rainbow?”

“You ever hear of the zebra that lives in the Everfree forest?” Rainbow asked breathlessly.

Twilight shook her head. “No.”

“Neither did I, ‘till today,” Rainbow said. “Word is, there’s a zebra enchantress named Zecora living nearby. She comes into town occasionally, twice a year or so. Usually, she comes to trade. Most ponies avoid her, but a few barter with her. This time, she came asking for you by name.”

“Why is this a problem?” Twilight asked.

“She’s after you!” Rainbow said. “What if Chrysalis sent her? Come on, we need to move.” She trotted off, heading down a dirt road intersecting with the main highway.

Twilight raised a brow. “What if she just wants to talk to me?”

“What if she doesn’t?!” Rainbow said. “She lives in the Everfree! Unless she’s a druid like Fluttershy, she’s gotta have some dark power to survive there.” She pushed Twilight along with a wing. “We have to get ready for a fight! Where are your swords?”

With Rainbow out of sight behind her, Twilight secretly rolled her eyes. “Fine.”

Rainbow pointed at a bridge over a stream running through town with her wing. “Too late! That’s her.”

Twilight turned to look. A figure in a brown cloak stood at the apex of the the bridge’s arch. Distinctive stripes ran down her exposed legs, marking her as a zebra. Golden circlets gleamed on her neck and her left foreleg. Beneath the cowl of her hood, her eyes flashed with yellow light.

Rainbow flared her wings and dropped into a ready stance. “I’ll hold her off.”

Twilight stepped past Rainbow and advanced toward the bridge. “Why’re you here?” she called out to the figure.

“Twilight!” Rainbow called out in protest. She rushed after Twilight, positioning at her side.

Zecora tossed back her hood. Her mane stood out from her head like the bristles on a brush. “If shadows and shifters you seek, then it would be wise to hear me speak.”

Twilight peered at Zecora as she took a careful step forward. Shifters? Is she talking about Changelings? she wondered. “I expected a letter, not a messenger.”

Zecora tilted her head. “Then I am not what you were waiting for. All I bring you is a bit of ancient lore.”

Rainbow extended a wing, brandishing one of her wingblades. “If you’re not a messenger, what are you? An assassin?!”

Zecora raised a hoof placatingly. “Relax, lower that blade. I have come only to aid.”

Twilight touched Rainbow’s wing with a hoof and pushed it back down gently. “We’ll hear what you have to say.”

“Could we take a walk? A secluded spot is where I would prefer to talk,” Zecora said.

“Course you would,” Rainbow muttered.

Ahead of Twilight, Zecora stopped and sat in the shade of a tree beside a stream. She dipped a forehoof into the water and hummed. Twilight glanced over her shoulder. Rainbow leaned against the tree trunk behind them, glowering. Past Rainbow, a few houses on the outskirts of town rose over a rolling meadow. If Rainbow was right, they were on their own.

When Twilight turned back to Zecora, the zebra held a steaming cup of tea in her forehoof. Did she conjure it? Twilight wondered. Or a trick. She walked up beneath the shade of the tree and stopped beside her. “How did you do that?” she asked.

Zecora smiled and held the teacup out to her. “Come, have a seat. This tea is quite the treat.”

Twilight settled onto a mossy rock and sniffed the tea. She grimaced at the bitter scent while she eyed the drink. I should be careful, she thought. “I’m not thirsty.”

Zecora chuckled and took a sip of the tea. “It will do you no harm.” She held the cup out to Twilight again. “You will find it has its charm.”

Twilight took the cup in her levitation and swirled the murky liquid. “Why do you do that?”

Zecora looked at her blankly.

“The rhyming. Why?”

Zecora turned her gaze to the stream. “Where I dwell, only discipline keeps the madness at bay,” she said. “Beneath the trees of Everfree, darkness howls and nightmares prey.”

Twilight smiled. “Finally, an answer that’s not completely vague. We’re making progress.” She absently lifted the cup to her lips. The steam reached her eyes, and she slid them shut as she took a sip. The liquid tingled slightly as it traveled over her tongue, and though she detected a hint of mint, she’d never tasted a flavor like it before, but it was not unpleasant, contrasting with the bitter smell.

When Twilight opened her eyes, the teacup, Zecora, and the brook were gone. She jumped to her feet. Thick, gnarled tree trunks surrounded her. A heavy canopy of mottled leaves blotted out the Sun, if it was even still day. Ponyville was nowhere in sight. A chill gripped her. Wherever she was, it was dark, and she was alone.

“Idiot!” Twilight muttered. What were you thinking, drinking that stuff? she asked herself as she slowly turned.

And came face to face with a set of four angry red eyes and open, grisly maw. With a startled gasp, Twilight scrambled backwards. Her hoof caught on a root, and she stumbled, falling onto a mossy cushion. She reached for a spell, looked up at her attacker, and blinked.

It was a tree.

As Twilight picked herself up off the ground, she peered at the tree. She could see the knots she’d mistaken for eyes, and the piece of jutting bark that looked like a lower jaw in the gloom. Swallowing, she touched her chest with a forehoof. Her heart thundered behind her ribs. It’s not real, she told herself as her heartbeat calmed.

She squinted. That can’t be right, she thought. It looked exactly like the tree she’d been sitting under before she drank the tea. She shook her head. “The dark is playing tricks on you, Twilight,” she said to herself.

This isn’t a trick,” an echoing voice rumbled, both behind her and inside of her skull. Twilight gritted her teeth and slowly turned around. She mentally reached for her prepared spells.

The shade of a pony stood between the trunks of two trees. It grew upwards, stretching. Black, writhing tendrils spilled from its mouth. “This is a nightmare!

Twilight’s eyes widened. No spells answered her call. She had no magic. Her gut twisted with fear. She took a step back, trying to light her horn so that she could at least see the creature clearly before it descended on her. Nothing happened.

The shade lurched toward her. It raised a foreleg. The limb warped into a tendril, reaching across the space between them. Twilight froze. Run! she screamed at herself, but her legs stayed rooted in place.

Before the monster could touch her, a blazing nimbus of light rushed through Twilight and crashed into its chest. Twilight clenched her jaw and shut her eyes tight as a screech like talons scratching on the inside of her skull reverberated through the forest. When it faded, and she tentatively cracked her eyes open, the shade was gone.

Zecora stood in front of her. Her stripes blazed with yellow light. “Twilight Sparkle, have no fear,” she said. “These creatures cannot hurt you here.”

“What did you do to me?!” Twilight cried. “What happened to my magic?!”

“We are inside of my memory,” Zecora said. “I will be your guide to discovery.” She turned and walked away from Twilight with long strides.

As soon as Zecora was more than a few steps away, a chill ran down Twilight’s spine. Shivering, she trotted to catch up. “What was that thing?”

“It is a Nightmare,” Zecora said. “A creature of despair.”

Twilight’s hoof hit a rock in the gloom. She yelped as she lurched toward a ravine that suddenly opened in the forest floor. Zecora extended a foreleg and caught her before she could tumble over the edge.

Mists wisped up over the edge of the ravine, and Twilight took a hurried step back. Across the canyon, ruined spires rose out of the fog. She squinted and raised her head, trying to get a better look. “Why did you bring me here?”

“I wanted you to see the secrets of the Everfree,” Zecora said. She tapped her hoof, and an old rope bridge rose out of the mist. Most of the planks were missing.

“What secrets?” Twilight asked.

Zecora smiled softly and stepped onto the bridge. Wherever she placed her hooves, a solid plank appeared. Twilight followed close, afraid that they would vanish just as quickly. She focused on Zecora’s tail and tried not to look down at the drop beneath her.

When she reached the middle of the bridge, it swayed in a cold breeze. The wood shifted out from under her feet, and she caught herself on the rope railing, glancing down as she stumbled. She stopped; a white orb transfixed her.

Far beneath her, the orb pulsed with a sickly white glow. Pockmarks marred its otherwise smooth surface. It loomed under the earth, threatening to swallow her whole. “What is that?” she murmured.

“It is a prison and a throne,” Zecora said. “It binds the Nightmare like a lodestone.”

Twilight tore her eyes away from the orb and hurried to catch up to Zecora. She reached the far side of the bridge, but even with solid ground beneath her hooves, the image lingered. She swallowed and tried to push it from her mind.

The mists fled from Zecora, revealing a ruin. The structure’s roof had crumbled long ago, but elegant arches and an old double-door remained. Zecora threw the doors open. A fallen pillar blocked their path on the inside of the door. Zecora caught a hoofhold in a crack and climbed over it. Twilight followed her steps.

“What’s the Nightmare?” Twilight asked as she lifted herself over the obstacle.

On the far side of the pillar, five identical stone spheres the size of her head rested on a pedestal. Designs and runes covered the base of the pedestal, telling a story of the Elements of Harmony. Twilight drifted towards the five orbs, as if drawn by a current.

Where’s Zecora? she wondered, turning away from the pedestal. The zebra was gone. “Zecora?” she tentatively called.

A shrouded figure wearing a black cloak stepped out of the mists beyond one of the crumbled archeways. Its eyes flashed with a silver light. “The Nightmare wishes to be free. Only the Elements can stop her, for they stopped her once before. In your darkest hour, look for the spark. You will find it where it has been all along: with the others.

Twilight flicked her eyes open. An empty teacup floated in front of her in her levitation. Bright light glimmering on shifting water shot into her eyes, and she squinted to keep it at bay. Her head throbbed.

A pink blur moved into her field of view. A forehoof gripped her shoulder. A voice called her name. It took her a moment to register that a pony was speaking to her. She blinked, and the blur resolved into Pinkie Pie. “Pinkie?” Twilight said.

“Twilight! Are you okay?! I came as soon as I heard someone was after you!” Pinkie said. “The zebra didn’t get you, did she?”

Twilight nodded and pushed away her hoof. “I’m fine.” She dropped the teacup and stood up from her seat, looking around. She was back beneath the tree by the stream. Zecora was nowhere in sight.

Faint snores filled her ears. She turned, searching for the source of the sound. Rainbow Dash lay curled between two roots with her eyes shut. Her nose twitched as a loose strand of her mane invaded her nostril.

“Are you sure you aren’t suffering from some horrible evil hex?” Pinkie said.

Twilight smiled. “Pretty sure. I don’t think she wanted to hurt us.” She walked over to the base of the tree and gently prodded Rainbow with a hoof.

Rainbow jerked awake and jumped to her hooves, flaring her wings. She whirled, forcing Twilight to step clear of one of her wingblades. “Where’d she go?!” she shouted.

“Rainbow, it’s okay,” Twilight said. “She’s long gone.” She closed her eyes. The last words she’d heard before the vision ended echoed in her mind. She remembered them clearly; someone other than Zecora had spoken to her.

“What happened?” Rainbow asked. “Her eyes glowed, and before I could stop her, everything went dark.”

Twilight opened her eyes and shrugged. “I’m not sure. I think she was trying to tell me something.”

Pinkie stared at her with wide eyes. “What was it?”

“I don’t know,” Twilight said.

Dear Princess Celestia,

Today, I met a zebra named Zecora who lives in the Everfree Forest. She spoke of a Nightmare imprisoned there. She showed me a vision of what lies within the forest. Do you know anything about the nature of the Everfree?

Also, I have a few questions about the Elements of Harmony. In the vision, I saw five stones on a pedestal in the remains of an ancient building. When we last spoke, you said you and your sister used them to defeat the Shadow. You said they were shattered. Are they destroyed?

I had Spike retrieve Ego Draconis from the Celestial Library for me and read it. It was fascinating. Until now, I’ve never read or heard anything indicating dragons could be anything but egotistical, spiteful, greedy creatures. It seemed like all of the dragons in this story were trying to help others. Still, I don’t understand what it has to do with Spike.

Your Faithful Student,
Twilight Sparkle

Twilight trotted through the gates of Cadance’s estate in Manehattan, a few paces behind Shining Armor. She fumed, kicking at a pebble. A few petitioners had sent her all the way to the city for a hearing. “What right did they have!” Twilight shouted. “The laws said I could confiscate property! I didn’t do anything wrong, and they tried to strip my title!”

Shining Armor glanced over his shoulder at her. “Granny Smith isn’t the only landowner in Ponyville. You need to be careful, Twilight. Wealth is power in Manehattan, and what you’re doing is irritating the wealthy.”

Twilight snorted. “It’s not my fault fairness makes them angry. What gives them the right to keep ponies in poverty and shackles? They act like they were born better.”

Shining Armor stopped at the front door to the estate. The two household guards flanking the door nodded at him respectfully. “For what it’s worth, I agree with you,” he said. “But if one lowborn Baroness can free slaves and cause an upset, what stops the others?” He pushed the double doors open with his magic and smiled at her. “But, as long as you have a Duke’s support, the lower council can’t stop you.”

Twilight stepped through the doors. Words Celestia had said flashed through her mind. ‘Forgiveness isn’t for him, it’s for you.’ She stopped short, half in the entry foyer “Shining Armor?” she said, looking at him.

“Yes?” he said.

“I...” She hesitated, glancing at the floor. She remembered Star Swirl’s head the way she’d seen it the next morning: crawling with flies. “Thanks.” She swallowed and stepped into the house.

As Shining Armor crossed the threshold and shut the doors behind Twilight, Cadance poked her head out of the door to the study. “You’re back!” she said. “It went alright, didn’t it? You look queasy.”

Twilight nodded and forced a smile. “It went fine.”

Cadance beckoned them over. “Come, Rarity and I are having tea.”

Shining Armor strode past Twilight, heading for the stairs to the second story. “I’ll be down in a minute.”

Twilight sat on a couch across from Rarity and Cadance. Tall glass windows let in light, illuminating the room. Bookshelves lined the walls around her. A greying stallion wearing a black suit set a tray holding three steaming teacups surrounded by a ring of wafers on the low table in front of her. She looked up at him and smiled; she remembered him from the hidden tramway station. He nodded curtly in return before turning away.

“So, how did it go?” Rarity asked as she lifted a cup off the tray.

Twilight picked up her own teacup. “Like Cadance said it would. They couldn’t take my title with Shining Armor there.” She smiled at Rarity. “Thanks for coming with me.”

Rarity dismissively waved a hoof at Twilight. “It’s nothing. I needed to take a trip to Manehattan for my foundation anyway, and the others were busy.”

Cadance looked at Twilight. “I told you the hearing wouldn’t be a problem.” She picked up a cup and smiled. “If there’s one good thing Chrysalis did, it was getting Shining elected by my house as a Duke. He’s not good at politics, but they can’t get rid of him now even if they wanted to.”

Twilight snorted. “It makes me wonder why she didn’t just do it herself.”

“It wouldn’t have worked,” Cadance said. “If she was a Duchess, any claim to the Crystal Empire would look like a foreign takeover, not a long lost princess taking her rightful place.”

“So, she went through the trouble to get him elected?” Rarity asked as she floated a wafer off the tree.

Twilight frowned. “It can’t have been easy to get her puppet in a position of power.”

Cadance swirled the liquid in her teacup, her ears flattening. “She was good. There are ponies in the palace that owe me favors, and I have no idea what she did to earn them. It’s hard. They expect me to be... different.”

“Let’s hope it was nothing that’ll come back to haunt you,” Twilight said, taking a sip of her tea.

Cadance nodded, still focused on her floating cup.

“Enough about Chrysalis!” Rarity said. She set her tea and her untouched wafer back on the tray and stood up abruptly. She beamed at Cadance. “I brought you a present!” With a flourish, she pulled an extravagant dress out of her Bag of Holding and held it up.

Cadance looked up and smiled slightly. “It’s lovely, Rarity.” She reached out with a hoof to caress the fabric. “I don’t think I’ll have much to wear it to.”

Rarity blinked. “Why not?”

“Most social functions are too risky. Chrysalis may have been exaggerating about the Empire’s interest in having me killed, but there are still factions in Canterlot that would rather I didn’t exist,” Cadance said.

“Besides, anyone could be a Changeling,” Twilight said.

Cadance nodded slowly. “Still, I’m planning a trip to Canterlot. Hopefully, I can convince them I’m not a threat.”

Rarity slid the dress back into her Bag of Holding. “Well, I’ll leave this with your staff.” She sank into her seat, sighing softly.

“Thank you, Rarity. I really do appreciate it,” Cadance said with a smile. She turned to Twilight. “Now, Rarity tells me you’re still living in a room at the Helping Hoof.”

“It’s simply dreadful!” Rarity said.

“You need to take care of yourself if you’re going to take care of others, Twilight,” Cadance said.

Twilight sighed. “I appreciate the concern.” She glanced at Cadance. “But why do you care? Why have you been helping me?”

“You saved me,” Cadance said.

“And I almost killed the love of your life,” Twilight said. “I wanted to kill him. Sometimes I still do.”

Cadance regarded her with a small smile. “I know you did, but instead, you saved him too.”

Twilight fished a floating leaf out of her teacup. “I’m going to take up residence in the library. The interior work should be finished when we get back.”

“The building Fluttershy sang out of that tree?” Rarity asked.

“Yeah. It’s bigger than the library I intended to build.” Twilight chuckled slightly as she discarded her tea leaf on the tray. “I’m glad Fluttershy had a solution to cutting down the old oak to make room.”

“It sounds perfect,” Rarity said. “With the books you ordered here in the city, it might remind you of home.”

“Of Candlekeep?” Twilight asked.

Rarity grimaced and looked down.

Twilight frowned. “Home isn't coming back. Not after what my magic did to it.” Twilight sipped her tea. Nopony said anything. Rarity seemed rather fixated by the pattern of the rug on the floor. What matters is that the ponies made it out, Twilight told herself.

She picked up a silver locket on the table and fiddled with it in her levitation. She flicked it open. Inside, two arrows pointed out the time on the face of a miniaturized clock. “What’s this?” she asked, breaking the silence.

“It’s a watch,” Cadance said. “An enchanted gear inside keeps the time.”

Twilight floated the locket closer. She heard a faint ticking within. She peered at the face, watching the long arrow slowly trek around the face of the clock. “That’s amazing.” She looked at Cadance. “You must never be late with this.”

“Would you like it?” Cadance asked, eyeing her.

Twilight shook her head and closed the watch. “I couldn’t. It doesn’t look cheap.” She set the locket back on the table.

Cadance shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. It arrived a few weeks ago, custom ordered from Canterlot. Chrysalis must have had it made and sent here while she was me, but I have no idea what she paid for it. It’s useful, but it’s just another reminder of what happened to me.” She picked up the watch and held it out to Twilight. “You keep it.”

Twilight eyed the watch, furrowing her brows. “What if—”

Cadance chuckled. “I thought so too, so I had it checked by a wizard. She said it was harmless.”

Twilight reached out with a hoof and took the watch. For a moment, she thought it felt warm to the touch, but the sensation quickly faded. “Thank you,” she said. I could use something to remind me who really killed Star Swirl, she thought as she slid the loop of the silver chain attached to the locket around her neck.

“Idea!” Rarity cried abruptly, looking up from the rug. “We should have a spa day before we leave! Cadance needs to get out, and we won’t get another chance for ages.”

Twilight looked up at the sound of hooves coming from the door to the central ballroom. Shining Armor stepped through the study’s doorway. “Great, I’ll come,” he said. “I suppose a spa won’t hurt me.”

Rarity shook her head. “Absolutely not. Cadance needs lady time.”

“She’s not going anywhere without me,” Shining Armor said. “It’s not safe!”

Cadance looked up at him. She smiled softly. “It’ll be fine, Shining.”

Twilight stood up from the couch. “I’ll protect her.”

Shining Armor narrowed his eyes and took a step forward. “I won’t let anything else happen to her. How do I know you can keep her safe?”

Twilight walked over to where Celestial Fury rested beside the door to the study, sheathed in it’s scabbard. She picked the sword up and held it out to Shining Armor. “See this?”

Shining Armor nodded slowly.

“You can trust me because Celestia gave her sword to me.” Twilight looked Shining Armor in the eye. “Celestia chose me.”

Shining Armor glanced at the floor, his jaw tensing. “They did,” he muttered. He turned away with a snort and walked out of the study. “Have your girl time. I’ve got things to do anyway.”

Twilight paced around the Ponyville library’s basement. Candlelight played on the tree rings at the base of the trunk of the old oak. The walls sloped out with the deep root structure. She stepped over a small open book with a black cover in the center of the floor, stopped, and reached back with her magic to pick up a silver locket hidden beneath a sheet of paper.

Twilight flipped open her watch. Half past three, she thought, reading the arrows. Unless she’d missed twelve hours, it was morning, not the afternoon. She sighed and dropped the watch. She considered trotting up the stairs and curling up in her warm bed.

You’ll just toss and turn, she thought. Frowning, she floated up a sheet of paper and re-read the short list written on it in charcoal.

1. Regeneration

2. Increased strength (levitation) – also physical?

3. Death Field

When the Black Knight fully succumbed to his Shadowspawn nature, he displayed all of the abilities on the list. She’d talked to Shining Armor about it. All he told her was he closed his eyes and jumped; he had to protect Cadance. Still, it should be theoretically possible for me to do this. It shouldn’t be any different from the healing I can do, she thought. If something is locking these powers away, where’s the key?

The third item was troublesome. When the Black Knight used it, it was out of his control. As far as Twilight knew, her own Shadowspawn nature protected her, but the deathly shadows spilling from the Black Knight nearly killed Cadance. I should be able to manage the other two, she thought. She stared at the list. She hadn’t been able to get it out of her head since she got back from Manehattan. I’ll give it a try, then I’ll get some sleep.

Swallowing, she closed her eyes. She felt the well of divine power within herself. It rippled like a pool, but she couldn’t see what lay beneath the surface. She couldn’t tell how deep it went. It’s my power, she told herself. It’s a part of me. When she used it to heal, she syphoned a bit away on instinct. This time, she allowed herself to slip in.

Her eyes flashed open. Darkness clung to the edges of her vision. Shadows boiled in her veins. She grit her teeth as it threatened to slip away. Breathing through flared nostrils, she maintained it at a low level.

She glanced to the side. Solstice rested on a low shelf near the wall. Its unsheathed blade gleamed in the light, as razor-sharp and polished as the day Star Swirl gave it to her. Any normal sword would be rusted and chipped after all the mistreatment Solstice had suffered. She reached out to the familiar blade with her levitation and pulled it closer.

Carefully, she placed Solstice’s edge against her leg. It grew weighter the closer it got to her flesh, as if it was resisting the motion. She ignored it and made a small incision on her foreleg just above her wrist.

A scarlet droplet oozed out of the cut. By the time the blood reached her hoof, the slit had sealed itself shut, leaving a pinkish mark. She pushed aside her fur with her other forehoof and watched the scar fade away in a matter of seconds.

“Yes!” she whispered excitedly. Her concentration slipped, and before she could catch them, the shadows ebbed away. She stamped her hoof. “Argh!” Frowning, she placed Solstice back on the shelf.

She took a deep breath. Progress is progress, she reminded herself as she sat in front the book on the floor. It was Star Swirl’s journal, and she’d been adding to the blank pages. She rotated the book to face her, and after freshly dipping her writing quill in an inkwell on the floor, she started a new entry.

The 28th of Leaffall 944

I managed to regenerate a cut.

By channeling the power at a low level, I was able to achieve some of the benefits the Black Knight gained. However, it remains fickle and resistant to use. Still, I think with enough practice, I might be able to maintain some regenerative powers almost constantly.

Regardless of this power’s source, it’s a part of me. I can cower in fear, or I can face it. I will not allow it to rule me. I have overcome it in the past, and I believe I can master it. The Black Knight beat me with it. I need to be stronger.

I think my friends would prefer it if I didn’t use my Shadowspawn abilities at all. They still give me odd looks if they catch me healing myself. Almost every time they see me, they ask about how I’m feeling. They wonder if I’m having urges, as if I’m about to snap due to a peaceful life. I can live without fresh blood on my hooves; it’s actually been easier this way.

I am in control, and I am tired of being mothered.

She set down her quill and blew on the page to dry the ink. The click of claws on the stairs drew her attention. Spike slinked down the steps, his body longer and lankier than it had been when she’d first met him. Gone were the days when she could easily carry him on her back.

“You’re still up?” he asked, rubbing one of his eyes with the back of his paw.

Twilight quickly flicked the journal shut. “I couldn’t sleep.” She quirked a brow at Spike. “Shouldn’t you be in bed?”

Yawning, Spike held up a rolled scroll. “Letter.” He sighed. “I was having a great dream.”

Twilight pushed the journal aside with a hoof, hiding it beneath a saddlebag she’d left on the floor. “Let’s see it.”

Spike descended to the bottom of the stairs and handed the letter to her. “I wish you ponies could keep more normal hours,” he muttered. “The middle of the night isn’t a good time for sending letters.”

Twilight laughed as she unfurled the letter. “Says Sir Nap-A-Lot.”

Spike grumbled something inaudible and plopped down on the bottom step. He yawned again, and this time, Twilight yawned with him. She blinked and focused on the scroll.

To my Faithful Student,

I apologize for the delay. I can’t receive letters when I’m not on the Celestial Plane, and you could say I’ve had a bit of an adventure. I took a trip to Canterlot and visited one of my clerics there. After I dealt with the fuss and ceremony over the presence of Celestia’s messenger, I learned about violence in the streets after dark. Allegedly, there’s a war between the Thieves Guild and a rival organization.

I wish I had more to tell you, but subtlety is first among Chrysalis’s strengths. She is hard to find. I do feel a shadow in Canterlot, but that city has always been darker than it seems. Perhaps your friend Rarity can use her connections with the Thieves Guild to discover more?

Immediately, Twilight jolted awake. She glanced at Solstice. Celestial Fury was upstairs, leaning beside her bed. She remembered blood running along their edges as they cleaved through flesh and sinew. She longed to use them in battle again. She looked back at the scroll, reading the rest of the letter.

As for the topic of the Everfree, I have heard of the zebra you met. She’s one of the few charged with keeping the forest in check. A long time ago, the forest was a brighter place filled with change and life. Like many things, it was scarred by the Time of Troubles. Nightmares lurk there now, and it is unfit for all but the hardiest of creatures.

The Elements of Harmony became little more than cold stones after I used them to banish Luna. The magical bond we shared that allowed us to wield them was shattered. There’s an old palace in the heart of the Everfree that Luna and I visited with frequency. I left the Elements there to remember her by. As for your question about whether the elements were destroyed, I’m afraid I have to answer it with a question. Can you destroy a virtue?

Faithfully Yours,
Princess Celestia

PS: You should talk to Spike. I’m surprised he hasn’t told you yet.

Twilight rolled the letter shut and eyed Spike. He stretched and stood up off. “Well, I’m going back to bed,” he said, turning to ascend the stairs. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Wait,” Twilight said.

Spike paused and looked over his shoulder. “What?”

“Is there something you want to talk about?” Twilight asked.

Spike shook his head. “No.”

“Celestia seems to think there’s something you haven’t told me. It’s about you growing.”

Spike slowly turned around. “I um... fey dragons do that?” he said, rubbing the back of his neck with a claw.

Twilight narrowed her eyes.

Spike looked at the floor. “I might not be a fey dragon anymore.”

Twilight blinked. “What do you mean?”

Spike sat back down, three steps from the bottom. He met her gaze. “If a fey dragon is bonded to a powerful enough wizard, they can become a dragon.”

“What?!” She took a step back. “How...” She shook her head and smiled. “So that’s why she had me read that book,” she murmured.

“I don’t know how it works,” Spike said, clasping his claws in his lap. “The keepers told me fey dragons used to be the only thing that could become true dragons, but Discord took most of them and made other dragonlings. There aren’t many fey dragons left, and I’m the first fey dragon familiar in a long time.”

“How long have you known?” Twilight asked.

Spike looked down at his lap. “I found out right after you killed Pyros. I could feel the fight happening, and I asked about it. When I teleported back to you after it was over, he was a corpse.” He looked up at Twilight. “I’m not going to end up like him, am I? I—”

Twilight stepped forward and swept Spike into a hug. “You’d never end up like him.”

Spike wrapped his arms around her shoulders. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.” He sniffed. “Dragons are bad, and I was afraid you’d think I was bad too.”

Twilight pulled away. “You’re not bad.” She smiled. “Remember what Rarity said?” She tapped him in the center of the chest with her hoof. “You’ve got a good heart, dragon or not.”

Spike smiled back at her. “Thanks, Twilight.”

The 19th of Rotting 944

Peace was easy.

For a time, I was able to focus on Ponyville. My friends are happy here. Rarity has the artistic career she always wanted. Pinkie Pie is a baker. Applejack is with her family. Rainbow Dash is a leader. Fluttershy can spend all the time she wants with the animals she loves. I used to be happy too, but now, this waiting is killing me. As soon as I heard there was a chance I could find Chrysalis in Canterlot, I wanted to cut her to pieces. She has to be stopped. She has to pay.

Peace is not for me.

A diamond glinted in the light cast by Twilight’s horn. She carefully adjusted its placement until it rested precisely in the center of an array of gemstones on the floor of the library’s basement. She referenced a book beside her, making sure her pattern matched the sketch of a gateway on the open page. Satisfied, she dipped a stick into a container of tarry black adhesive and placed a tiny bead on the diamond, then glued it in place.

With bated breath, she extended a tendril of raw magical energy toward the array. The gemstones filled with light. “Yes!” she cried. “It’s finally working!”

“What’s working?” Rainbow Dash said from the top of the stairs.

Twilight started. A ripple pulsed out from the array and evaporated her tendril. She grimaced as she turned to the stairs, her horn resonating with the feedback. “Rainbow, what’re you doing here?”

“Spike said you were down here. I had some questions about the book you had me read, so I figured I’d drop by,” Rainbow said.

Twilight rubbed her horn. “I should take a break anyway.”

Rainbow spread her wings and glided down. She landed lightly beside Twilight and eyed the arrangement of gemstones on the floor. “What’s this?”

“It’s a gateway,” Twilight said. “It’s for focusing long-range teleportation spells.”

Rainbow quirked a brow at her. “Can’t you already teleport?”

“I can,” Twilight said. “But, Dimension Door has a limited range, and I need to be able to see where I’m going to target it.” She gestured at the array on the floor. “With this and a Teleport spell, I can go anywhere, as long as there is a gateway I can use at the other end.”

Rainbow chuckled. “Why? Planning on going somewhere?”

Canterlot, Twilight thought. She looked at Rainbow and shrugged. “For now, all I’m planning to set up a corresponding gateway at the Helping Hoof, so I can get there quickly if I need to.” She swept her book up off the floor and snapped it shut. “So, you wanted to talk about your book? It’s not giving you too much trouble, is it?”

Rainbow shook her head. “Nah. I finished the whole thing.” She fished a book with a scratched cover out of a bag strapped to her side with her mouth. “You can put it back in the library,” she said around the spine.

“Already?” Twilight asked, floating the book away from Rainbow. “I got a contemporary version, but it’s a pretty old legend. I figured you’d get stuck on some parts.”

“There were some words I didn’t know, but I figured them out from the other stuff around them. ‘From context,’ like you said,” Rainbow said.

Twilight smiled. Rainbow was already reading at a functional level. Fluttershy still visited for a weekly lesson, but Rainbow had moved on. “So what did you want to ask me about?” she said, heading for the stairs up to the library proper.

“Daring Do,” Rainbow said, following her. “Is she still alive?”

Twilight shook her head as she climbed the steps. “Luna’s night guard were blessed with extraordinarily long life spans, but the legends about Daring Do are from before the Time of Troubles. She’s long gone.” She stepped out onto the ground floor of the library, and glanced around, looking for Spike. “Besides, I don’t think Daring Do was one pony.” She spotted Spike dusting a shelf near the back of the building on a low ladder.

Rainbow blinked. “Why wouldn’t she be?”

“It’s the way legends get told. Often, the deeds of many are represented by one character,” Twilight said. “It’s more likely than her actually surviving all the things that happened to her.” She floated the pair of books over to Spike. “Can you shelve these please?” she said.

“Sure,” Spike said as he snatched the two books out of the air. He climbed down the ladder and walked past them, headed for another section of the library.

Rainbow shrugged. “We lived.”

“Yeah,” Twilight said, walking toward the library's small kitchen in the next room. “We did. But, we have each other.”

Rainbow bopped her on the shoulder with a hoof. “Says the mare that kept running off on her own.”

Twilight paused and looked at Rainbow. “Only when the situation required it.”

Rainbow fixed her with a bemused stare.

“What?” Twilight said.

“Just... remember that we’ve got your back, Twilight. You need us.”

Twilight nodded and stepped into the kitchen. “I know.”

“So, how’re you doing,” Rainbow said, following her through the doorway.

“Restless,” Twilight said. She gestured at the cast iron stove against the wall of the kitchen. The glow of a live flame burned through a slit in the stove door. “Would you like some tea?”

Rainbow shook her head and sat in a chair beside the kitchen table. “Nah, I’m good.”

Twilight shrugged and filled a dented teapot with water. “I could use some.”

“Restless, huh?” Rainbow said. “You seem like you’re keeping busy. Running the town and the library. Making portal arrays. You’re probably doing other magic stuff down in that basement.” She leaned back in her chair. “I’m happy with the weather team, my three o’clock nap, and our sparring sessions.”

Twilight set the pot on the stove. “I have help with the town.” She turned around and leaned her forelegs on the table. “I don’t know why I’m restless.” She sighed. “I guess I never got the resolution, the justice, I wanted for Star Swirl’s death.”

Rainbow eyed her. “You want someone to kill.”

Twilight furrowed her brows. “Is there something wrong with that?” She sighed again and sank into a seat. “I wondered what made me revel in killing, afraid that I was an evil pony. But was I ever? I was always in control. I never killed anyone I didn’t have to.”

Rainbow snorted. “What about Lightning Dust? You took out her wing. You didn’t have to follow through. No one had to die on that bridge.”

Twilight lifted one of her hooves and peered at it. She couldn’t see the bloodstains, but she knew they were there. The memory of slicing Lighting Dust’s side open with Celestial Fury on the bridge into Manehattan flashing through her mind. Four months, she thought – four months to the day since her last kill. “She attacked me,” Twilight murmured. “I gave her a chance. Wasn’t that enough?”

“What about the bandits you took out. Did they get a chance?” Rainbow asked.

Twilight frowned, dropping her hoof. “I don’t need a lecture, Rainbow. You of all ponies should know things look different in the middle of a fight.”

Rainbow’s ears tilted back as she glanced down. “I didn’t mean...” She hesitated, running her hoof along the edge of the table. She focused on Twilight. “How do you know you’re in control?”

Twilight looked Rainbow in the eye. “I have to be. There isn’t another option.”

Rainbow nodded slowly. For a moment, she said nothing, but she flicked a tan envelope out from her bag with a wing and set it on the table. “Rarity said to give you this.”

Twilight snatched up the envelope. The wax seal had already been broken. She pulled out the letter inside and unfolded it.

To the mare formerly known as the White Widow,

Thank you for your letter inquiring about the well-being of our family. If anypony asks, what you have heard about a guild war is merely a rumor. The Thieves Guild is as strong as ever in Canterlot.

However, that is not the truth. Guild Houses are turning against me. Nobles I thought were reliable are refusing bribes due to Grey Wizard oversight. You asked if I had encountered any shapeshifters in my city. While I cannot confirm it, I have to consider the possibility. The sheer number of traitors is staggering.

I could use a mare like you, Rarity, someone from the outside; someone I can trust. Enclosed in the package is a sum of gold. If you would like more, come to Canterlot. You will be rewarded.

The Grey Fox

Chrysalis! She’s there, Twilight thought. She looked up from the letter. “We’re going to Canterlot.”

Twilight paced across the floor of the basement. The familiar weight of Celestial Fury rested across her back, and Solstice bounced at her side. Her Cloak of Protection trailed from her shoulders. Her watch hung from a chain alongside her crescent moon necklace.

Twilight surveyed her friends. Applejack wore her full suit of dragonscale armor and held Truthseeker wrapped around her tail. Rarity carried Amethyst slung across her back and her Bag of Holding at her hip. Commander Hurricane’s wingblades covered the leading edge of Rainbow Dash’s wings. Fluttershy wore her bark-covered cloak and carried Angel nestled between her shoulderblades. To the side, Pinkie Pie stood with her sash firmly tied around her waist. Spike sat on the steps, watching them.

“What’re we doing down here?” Applejack asked. “I thought we were headed for Canterlot.”

“We are,” Twilight said. She gestured at the crystal array on the floor. “Rumor has it that the Grey Wizards can teleport anywhere in the Empire. To do that, they’d need a network of gateways. I can tap into that network with mine. If Chrysalis gets word that we’re coming, she might flee before we can get there. This way, if she’s there, we’ll be on top of her.”

“Then what’re we waiting for?” Rainbow said.

Twilight nodded and turned to the array. She formed the prepared Teleport spell with her horn and closed her eyes. As the spell met the gateway, a vast distance rushed past Twilight. She fell through forests, rose over hills, and skimmed across rivers. Beneath towering peaks, ley lines thrummed in answer to her spell.

She tried to grab hold of a ley line leading to a city on the side of a snow-covered mountain overlooking a bay, but it resisted. A barrier coating it thrummed at her touch. They must have protective measures, she thought. They’re not going to stop me. She gathered her strength and thrust a spike of power at the ley line. With surprising ease, the barrier yielded to her, and the spell flashed into completion.

Twilight’s watch felt oddly warm against her chest. Ignoring the sensation, she opened her eyes. Light bled from the array in front of her and formed into a white disk floating in the air. She turned back to her friends and gestured at the portal. “That will take us to somewhere in Canterlot.”

“So,” Applejack said, peering at the portal. “We just step through?”

Rainbow’s skymail clinked as she took a step forward. “Let’s finish this.”

Twilight held out a hoof, blocking Rainbow’s path. She looked at each of her friends in turn. “This could be your last chance to stay in Ponyville.”

Rainbow shouldered past her and touched the portal with a forehoof. It shimmered at the point of contact. She looked at Twilight. “If you’re going, I’m going too.” She stepped forward. The portal swallowed her body, until only her multicolored tail slipped into it.

Applejack walked up to the portal next. “I told Granny I’d protect you. We may have dealt with the Black Knight, but this ain’t over yet, and I’m with you till it is.”

“What about the farm?” Twilight asked.

“My family can get along without me,” Applejack said. “They understand that you need my help.” Without another word, she followed Rainbow through the portal.

Rarity smiled. “So this is what you did with the gemstones I gave you, isn’t it?”

Twilight glanced at the floor. “Yeah. As soon as Celestia mentioned Canterlot, I couldn’t get it out of my head. If Chrysalis wanted to try again, Canterlot is the place to do it.”

Rarity strode past her. “An old friend asked for my help.” She winked at Twilight. “Besides, you’re not getting rid of us this easily.” She walked through the portal.

Fluttershy moved forward from the base of the stairs.

“You could stay here, Fluttershy. We’re probably not going to see a forest anytime soon,” Twilight said.

“I’m not going to let anyone hurt my friends,” Fluttershy said. She took one last look behind her before she stepped through the portal.

Last to join them, Pinkie walked up. She held up a hoof. “Friends forever?”

Twilight bumped Pinkie’s offered hoof with her own. “Through eternity.” She smiled softly. “You don’t have to come, Pinkie. The Cakes will worry, and... there’ll be killing.”

“I’m going to have to deal with it eventually,” Pinkie said. “It’s part of being what we are, isn’t it?” She plunged a foreleg into the portal. “Tingly!” she said, giggling. A moment later, she was gone.

Twilight looked at Spike.

“I’ll catch up to you on the other side,” Spike said. He smiled. “I’d rather take the Celestial Plane.”

Twilight nodded. “I’ll see you there.”

Taking a deep breath, Twilight stepped into the portal. The white disk assaulted her senses as she pushed her head into it. Darkness engulfed her, aside from a gleaming point in the distance. The moment she crossed the threshold, the world evaporated.

She raced across the black empty expanse between her and her destination. Ahead of her, she saw four lights pass through the opening. An instant before she could follow them, the portal slammed shut in front of her. A claw closed around her, ripping her from the ley line. Before it pulled her fully clear, a pink foreleg wrapped around her.

With Pinkie Pie clutching her, Twilight tumbled out of the portal and slammed into a cold, hard surface. Pinned between her and the ground, the watch dug into her fur, hot enough to nearly burn her. Groaning, she disentangled herself from Pinkie and climbed to her feet. Her hooves clicked on stone. She blinked, realizing she was in complete darkness.

“What happened, Twilight?” Pinkie whispered.

“I don’t know,” Twilight replied. “But whoever stopped us isn’t taking us without a fight.”

A spark of blue light flared in the darkness. Twilight whirled toward the source. A fiery-maned unicorn faced her with a glowing horn. Twilight triggered the Sequencer in Solstice and launched a Magic Missile spell at the unicorn. Stoneskin and Improved Invisibility cast instantly as five lavender orbs homed in on her target.

The orbs passed harmlessly into a smooth surface. Twilight spun, drawing her swords. She was in the center of a cavern. A laugh rang in her ears. All around her, hundreds of faces of the unicorn she tried to hit looked down at her, reflected on the countless crystal formations clinging to the stone walls of the cavern. They stared at her with icy blue eyes. All of them were laughing.

“You can’t hide from me, Sparkle,” a sharp, echoing voice said. “But you shouldn’t be afraid of me either. All I want is your potential.”

Author's Note:


Nightmare Prose