• Published 11th Jul 2011
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Pony Age: Origins - OmegaPony11

The Ponyspawn have invaded Equestria, and it is up to the newest addition to the Grey Wardens, Twilight Sparkle, to find the means to drive them back! With her friends and allies at her side, can Twilight win before Equestria is devoured?

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Familiar in the Fade

Chapter 8: Familiar in the Fade



“Is everything all right, Twilight Sparkle? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost!” Duncan chuckled, browsing the extensive library before him. Twilight stood by, her mouth agape. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Had Flemeth lied to her and Applejack about what happened in Ostequus? Was everything that had occurred in the observatory just some bad dream?

No! It couldn’t have been! That didn’t make any sense! Twilight would have felt the dream. She would have known she was inside the Fade.

Her head throbbed painfully, everything slowly seeping back into it as she tried to remember. Meeting Flemeth in the Wilds. Ponyring. Fluttershy. Pinkie Pie. The battle against Rainbow Dash. They had been in the Tower, trying to save the unicorns from certain destruction...

Were these memories just the fading after image of some horrible nightmare, or were they true? This could just as easily be the Fade as it could be the real world, cocooning her in some elaborate ruse. She had to know. It was too dangerous not to.

Still, the magic of the dream was something that she was particularly sensitive to. She would have known if it was the dream world. She would have felt it right away. Despite this, something still wasn’t right.

This couldn’t be real... but how? Unless...

A demon. Denizens of the Fade, they could manipulate it to construct whatever sort of fabrications they liked, constructing entire illusionary worlds out of a few stray memories if they so desired. They had the power to recreate places, ponies, and even feelings and physical sensations such as pain, pleasure, grief and happiness weren’t beyond their abilities.

The magic of the demons could not create a perfect copy, and the flaws could be exploited. Demons forced their uncanny dreamscapes onto ponies, and those who did not fall victim to their temptation could find a way to upset the imagery, or to anger the malign spirits who made this realm their hunting ground. Demons never want to let go of their prey, and quickly turned to force at the slightest provocation when subtlety failed them.

Twilight swallowed hard as she approached Duncan.

She had the utmost respect for the Grey Warden, but Twilight simply had to know if everything was real or a very elaborate hoax formed by a demon. “Duncan,” she asked, lifting random books from the shelves with her magic. “What exactly happened in Ostequus? Flemeth said everypony died after Loghoof quit the field.”

“All part of Loghoof’s grand strategy, I assure you,” answered Duncan, his large smile more forboding than comforting. “Never mind about the battle! The Archdemon was slain, and the Grey Wardens are heroes once more! If it were not for your participation, we would not have won the day. You earned your place in this peaceful village.”

“Village?” Twilight looked out the nearest window to see a small colourful town, bustling with activity from all kinds of happy ponies. She had not been outside the Tower for long, but the town held the same feeling of wrongness that the treehouse and Duncan had around them.

“This is the town of Ponyville,” Duncan explained, “It was built near Ostequus after the battle. All of your friends have found peaceful, fulfilling lives here. You would not want to ruin that, would you?”

Twilight narrowed her eyes at the image of Duncan. The smiling face was so outside of the Duncan she had known, it was too surreal. Mentioning Loghoof’s grand strategy was completely different from the practical general pony she had met. When he mentioned that she would ruin her friends’ happiness, it was then that Twilight knew it was not Duncan. The elder Warden cared only for duty, not for the happiness of ponies.

“Duncan died in Ostequus,” Twilight said with a challenging tone. “Even if the battle was won, the Duncan I knew would not have sat on his haunches looking for books to read. He would have been looking for more Wardens to recruit, or took the fight the ponyspawn in the Dark Tunnels. You are not Duncan!”

The false Warden quickly turned from jovial to furious, an angry snarl escaping his lips. “How dare you!” he shouted, “I fight, I suffer for peace and this is how you repay me! By spitting me in the face! I will show you to be grateful, little filly!”

“Duncan” reared, drawing his sword and charging towards Twilight. With a thought she channeled a spell of ice to consume the fake earth pony, but he managed to avoid the freezing spell. Twilight then remembered that the demon would have access to everything Twilight knew, including her knowledge of spells both offensive and defensive and would quickly discover counters to them.

The false pony took a swipe with his sword, the attack clumsy and random compared to the true Duncan’s expert swordplay. Twilight followed through with a different offense and quickly brought her magic ready for battle. The Fade was the demon’s natural hunting ground, and it would soon be joined by allies as long as its rage was strong and fierce.

Twilight turned quickly, taking a nod from Applejack’s repertoire, slamming both hind hooves into the demon’s chest. The swift applebuck kick caught the demon by surprise, leaving the Fade creature stunned. It was now time for another unexpected attack.

Her horn began to glow bright as Twilight began channeling the very magic of the Fade into a new spell. In front of the false Duncan a large orb of ice formed, its power lashing out against him. All around the orb, violent arctic winds ripped the library apart, yet harmlessly lashed around Twilight. Duncan cried out in fury as he was being battered by mystical ice, screaming out curses until at last he fell to his knees.

“You won’t escape foal,” the demon cursed as his very form began to crack like glass. “You will never find your friends in the Fade, and you will never defeat Sloth on your own.” The thing that wore Duncan's face spat one last time before shattering into pieces. The shards of the demon dissipated, leaving Twilight alone in the treehouse library.

“All right.” Twilight breathed as she looked out the door. “I’m in the Fade, but it feels real. I’m in a place called Ponyville which seems like an ideal town for everyone’s wants and needs. All I have to do is find all my friends and put a stop to a powerful Sloth Demon. What could possibly go wrong?”

With caution, Twilight opened the door leading outside. It was a bright summer day, with nary a cloud in sight except for a large nimbus hanging low over the town. As she walked through town, many of the other towns ponies greeted her happily, their smiles disturbing rather than friendly. It was as if they were being forced to be cheerful.

Twilight made her way to the centre of Ponyville towards the crossroads. There, a large sign post stood proudly, with multiple signs pointing in different directions. She looked up at the signpost, reading off the names of places.

“Carousel Boutique, Sugar Cube Corner, weather control, Riverside meadow, Sweet Apple Acres,” Twilight said aloud, “This must be where the demon took all my friends. But why make it so obvious?”

There was no time to thank good fortune or wonder about the machinations of the Fade. For all she knew, the will of her friends that had helped create such a useful signpost. Or it was likely a demon trap.

Twilight galloped at full tilt all the way down the beaten path towards Red Apple Acres. Soon she was in front of a large barn with huge tracts of ploughed land and hundreds of apple trees in all the hills and valleys as far as she could see. The sweet smell of apples and baked goods wafted through her nostrils, followed by a rumbling in her stomach.

“Well howdy there Twilight!” came a cheerful voice. Twilight turned to see Applejack with a large smile on her face as she carried two heavy baskets of apples. The blonde earth pony set the baskets down in front of the barn before wiping the sweat from her brow with a hoof.

“Ain’t nothing like a hard days work all done, am Ah right?” Applejack laughed before turning towards a water basin for a drink. Unlike the smile that the demon forced on the face of Duncan, Applejack’s smile seemed genuine and happy. It would be difficult to convince her fellow Warden that this was all just a dangerous fantasy.

“Applejack, we need to talk,” Twilight explained. “All this isn’t real, and we’re in the Fade. You need to reject this dream and…”

“Now hold on to yer apples.” Applejack began to look around, darting her head back and forth as if she was searching for something important. Twilight felt glad that maybe her friend figured out where Applejack pushed her towards a small table next to the barn.

“Ah heard yer stomach rumble from tree to tree,” Applejack said, “And no way we can do anything runnin’ on empty! Soup’s on everypony!”

Before Twilight could object, a venerable herd of earth ponies rushed over to the small table. “Meet the family!” Applejack announced. “This here’s Big Macintosh, and Apple Bloom, and Apple Tart, and Apple Pie, and…”

As Applejack went on introducing everypony, Twilight looked up at the huge stallion before her. Before her was the Arl of Red Apple Acres, as large as any boulder and appeared to be just as strong. With his red coat, orange mane and simple horse collar, he looked like a rustic earth pony that could move the land with a simple pound of his hoof. However, like Duncan, he and the rest of the “family” had that same unnerving smile.

“Isn’t it great Twilight?” Applejack beamed. “This is the life. A simple one, but a good one. Just buckin’ apples, living with my family, what more could anypony ask for?”

“Applejack.” Twilight tried to get her friend to snap out of the dream but it was proving difficult to dispute. “You have to listen. None of this is real. None of your family here is real. We are in the Fade, can you remember where we were before you saw all this? Do you remember Ostequus?”

The former templar pony held her head in her hooves, reeling from what appeared to be the same headaches Twilight had suffered when her memories clashed with the falsehoods the demons constructed. As Applejack struggled with her memories, Twilight noticed a few of the eerie earth ponies begin to vanish into thin air.

“Ah… Ah remember we were in a tower.” Applejack propped herself up against the table for support. “Ah remember Ostequus. Ah remember the ponyspawn. But we fought them off, we won! I remember that, we’re here aren’t we? Oh Twi, what’s goin’ on? Ah can’t keep my head on straight!”

The little filly Applejack called Apple Bloom looked up to the mare with big eyes. “Hey Sis?” she said in the same way as Applejack did. “Yer not gonna leave us are ya? Ya just came back from war. Me and Big Macintosh would be sad if we lost you.”

“Eeeeeyup,” said Big Macintosh. Applejack grimaced at the sounds of their voices, her confusion and frustration clearly showing as she struggled between realities. Twilight looked to see more ponies disappear, but not enough. She needed to end the demon’s charade now.

“Applejack, I know this is tough but you have to think of who you really are. You’re a Grey Warden like me. We have a duty to fight the ponyspawn, to save Equestria from the Blight. Remember who you are, remember Duncan. Remember what Duncan taught you about being a Grey Warden.”

At the mention of Duncan, Applejack opened her eyes, revelation shining in her eyes. She mouthed Duncan’s name before looking at Apple Bloom and Big Macintosh. She shook her head at the two before stepping away from the family herd.

“Twilight’s right,” she said, though she gasped for air and choked on the words. “Duncan always said we have a duty, an’ as much as I want nothin’ more than to be with my family, any family, I just can’t brush off the duty Duncan trusted me with.”

With Applejack’s clarity of the situation, Twilight smiled as the rest of the phony ponies disappeared leaving only the demons in the form of Apple Bloom and Big Macintosh. Like the false Duncan, the demons did not take Applejack’s rejection well. Their faces contorted into rage as they took steps to stare Applejack down.

“We just wanted you to stay with us!” Apple Bloom shrieked, her voice now piercingly high and unnatural. “We were gonna be a great big happy family! But all you want is yer duty! Well to hay with yer duty, and to hay with you!”

“Eeeeyup!” Big Macintosh moved with surprising speed for a pony of his bulk, but Applejack was faster. Anger flashed in her eyes over the actions the demons took to trick her, and she reared high with a shout, swinging her hooves towards the Arl of Red Apple Acres. Apple Bloom’s teeth grew large and jagged and she moved to bite Applejack’s favoured hind legs.

Twilight breathed deep as she channeled arcane energy into two energy blasts. With a shout, she flung the blasts towards the demons, both orbs slamming against their hides and breaking them like glass. Applejack took a couple of sharp gasps before offering a weak smile.

“Thanks Twilight,” Applejack said, “If it weren’t for ya, Ah’d be stuck in there. Ah’ve got a lot to think about after we get outta here.”

“No worries Apple--” Before Twilight could finish, a blue ring of energy surrounded the earth pony Warden. The ring glowed bright before vanishing, taking Applejack along with it.

Twilight stomped her hoof in frustration. The Sloth Demon surely knew she was going about freeing her friends. She felt her coat stand on end as the chilling laugh of the demon echoed in her mind.

“I know what you are doing, little filly,” said the Sloth Demon. “And I find it amusing. How long will it take for you to realize that your friends like the realities I have given them. Please stop resisting.”

She ignored the mockeries of Sloth as she ran down the dirt path away from the acres towards town. She looked up at the sign post, taking in the words of “Carousel Boutique.” That sounded like a place Rarity would have wanted, and the support of another unicorn in the Fade would be immensely helpful.

As she opened the door to the boutique, Twilight looked to find herself in the very lap of luxury. She was surrounded by the most exquisite and beautiful of equine dresses, each appeared lovingly hoofcrafted with every minor detail accounted for. Gemstones of all kinds were strategically placed, and the embroidery on many of the works seemed to have been spun with silver and gold. The actual room itself was no less impressive, a grandiose structure of immaculate architecture Twilight only ever recalled from books about Filais.

It was quite a surprise to see Rarity in the center of the room, dressed in likely the most stunning of gowns looking downright miserable. As Twilight approached, her fellow unicorn lit up immediately, getting up to her hooves while discarding the perfect dress.

“Oh Twilight, thank goodness you’ve come!” Rarity exclaimed. “It’s just awful here!”

“I don’t really understand.” Twilight looked around the boutique, a puzzled look on her face. “I thought this would be what you wanted?”

“It would be,” Rarity said, “And the demons did do a lovely job. The dresses are simply to die for, and this boutique is everything I ever dreamed of. But they had to add one tiny detail, and ruined the whole fantasy.”

Rarity pointed a hoof towards a stairwell. If Rarity was the epitome of elegance, then the bizarre Flemeth was the very avatar of gaudiness. The demon that took the form of the Mare of the Mire was smiling and dancing down the stairs, laughing haughtily in a bright orange and green dress with far too many bows.

"Flemeth" trotted happily up towards Twilight and Rarity, that same forced grin on her face as with all the other demons taking the shapes of ponies. “Guests, how lovely!” Flemeth laughed as she twirled around the room. Rarity rolled her eyes before heading to the door.

“You are not my mother,” she said, with more conviction in her voice than Twilight ever guessed. “Even if Flemeth ever had an inkling to wear my work, she would never be caught dead being near such hideous rags. I’m leaving.”

“How could you say such things to your dear old mother?” Flemeth’s face began to contort, only to receive a lightning bolt from Rarity’s horn. The demon broke into pieces, followed by Rarity‘s own dress. Rarity sighed, looking wistfully around her, then back to her old feathered vest.

“That was the easiest thing I ever did and the hardest,” she said. “That dress. My boutique. If only the demons had not added her. Ah well. I suppose we should be finding the others. Though I wonder if I could stay, take a look at some of the other designs…”

As she finished, the same blue ring that had whisked away Applejack formed around Rarity. Twilight gave a shout but could do nothing as the ring teleported Rarity to another location. The Sloth Demon echoed it’s frustrations inside the Fade.

“I am becoming rather upset at your actions, little filly.” The Sloth demon spoke into her mind directly. “I am just trying to be a good host. If you would be so kind as to stop breaking my gifts to your friends, I actually worked hard to give them the realities that would put them at rest.”

Twilight opened the door of the boutique and looked around, noticing that the amount of fewer ponies meandered about. They still held that eerie smile on their faces. Demons always tried to appear natural, but many did not know what the real world was like, and instead tried to force their own vision of what reality was like on ponies trapped in the fade.

There came the question as to why the blue ring did not capture her like it did Applejack and Rarity, but Twilight decided it would be prudent not to look too deeply into good fortune. She focused her thoughts on getting to the crossroads where the signpost was standing.

Twilight looked up to the signpost and noticed that the ways pointing to Red Apple Acres and Carousel Boutique were gone, leaving only the meadow, Sugarcube Corner, and the weather control directions. The sign pointing to the meadow seemed like the best way to go next.

Twilight cantered through the town, acting as natural as she can past the false ponies around her. Their eyes and their smiles unnerved her, but they said and did nothing as Twilight passed them by. She did not know what was more disturbing: their expressions or the fact that they were ignoring her.

She made her way over down the road, revealing a meadow filled with flowers and all manner of small birds and critters. Near the meadow was a small stream and in the side of a hill was a cozy little home built as part of the land. Twilight walked through the meadow, confusion on her face as she wondered why Trixie would dream of such serene scenery. When her ears picked up the sound of a pony singing from the house, Twilight realized that it was not Trixie’s dream she was in, but rather Fluttershy’s.

The door opened and Fluttershy trotted out happily with a basket of assorted nuts and vegetables in her mouth. Twilight looked at Fluttershy in shock. Gone were the robes of the Chantry and instead of the yellow pony she knew, there stood a pegasus with three butterflies for a cutie mark. It made sense the more Twilight thought about it; most Chantry sisters were earth ponies, and if Fluttershy wanted to be accepted in the cloister she would have to hide her wings.

The light pink maned pegasus looked at Twilight before lowering the basket to the ground, a small smile on her face. “Hello Twilight,” she said softly. “Isn’t it a beautiful day? I was just going to bring some food to all my little animal friends. Would you like to join me?”

Twilight followed behind Fluttershy as she began to distribute food to all the animals. Carrots for the bunnies, lettuce for the hedgehogs, nuts for the squirrels, and seeds for the birds were all delivered with care. Fluttershy hummed a happy melody as she worked, leaving the unicorn to feel bad about having to break the dream as she did before. It needed to be done though lest other demons took over their bodies and made it impossible to return to the real world.

“Fluttershy, we have to get out of here,” Twilight said, “This is the Fade. None of it is real. Not the sun, not the animals.”

Twilight could see Fluttershy’s ears droop as she explained the falsehoods of the environment. “Why do you have to say such things?” Fluttershy asked, tears brimming in her eyes. “This is where I belong, with all the little critters, in a nice quiet home where I don’t have to worry about bandits or ponyspawn or Filesians. Where I can be my own pony and not be ridiculed because I have wings?”

Twilight bit her lip, knowing full well that she would have faced similar animosity for being a unicorn, feeling the wary eyes of earth ponies during her travels with Duncan and being at Ostequus. Even then, she had lived most of her life in the Tower with other unicorns. What sort of life had Fluttershy lead in Filais? How long did she have to hide her wings?

“Do you know what it’s like to never know what a night of safety is? Where you have to sleep with one eye open because of some game the nobles of Filais play?” Fluttershy’s expression turned to anger as she flew in a circle around Twilight. “We are just playing pieces for the Filais Game, to be moved around at the whims of ponies who never had to suffer once in their lives. I left that life to be free of it all, but they hunted me. They said I knew too much. They hurt me.”

“I’m sorry Fluttershy,” Twilight said, cradling her friend with her foreleg. “You lived a hard life simply by being born with wings, and the scorn that comes with them. I don’t know much about Filais, and I’m sorry they hurt you. But I know that the Sloth Demon is giving you something you want, but it’s all false, a dreamworld. It will just hurt you worse than anything you faced before. Please Fluttershy. Remember your dream, the one from Celestia. We can’t stop the ponyspawn without you.”

Fluttershy looked over at the small animals that surrounded her. “The dream,” she muttered before turning to the assembled animals. “I’m sorry little ones. I can't stay with you anymore. Maybe there is a nice demon who can take care of you.”

“Don’t leave us, Fluttershy,” the animals said in unison. Fluttershy gasped and took a step back as the small army of critters moved closer. “We love you Fluttershy. We want you to stay with us. We want you to be happy and safe.”

“Fluttershy! Get back!” Twilight dove in front of the yellow pegasus, her magic already flaring into a protective barrier as the animals grew large fangs and rushed forward. They bounced off the shield, but with each attack, the sheild flickered, and it was beginning to grow more and more stressful to maintain her magic.

The animal-demons hissed before going around for another attack. Suddenly three arrows struck the incoming assault, shattering the demons. Twilight turned to see Fluttershy wearing Chantry robes and armed with her bow, firing arrow after arrow into each demon with conviction in her eyes.

“You are not my friends!” she said between each volley of arrows. “You are just mean bullies and thieves! Preying on those who can't fight back! Trying to take what doesn't belong to you! Begone!” The demons smashed like glass with each arrow, until at last the very scenery itself broke into pieces around them. Twilight rasped for air as she lowered her shield, but looked to see Fluttershy standing close with a faint smile.

“Thank you, Twilight,” she said as she put away her bow. “I’m glad Celestia guided me to you. It’s good to know-”

The blue ring that stole away Applejack and Rarity formed again around Fluttershy. This time, Twilight tried to interrupt the demon’s spell with her magic, but was easily rebuked by the demon’s arcane feedback. In an instant the yellow pegasus was gone, leaving only Twilight alone in the Fade.

“What do you want!?” Twilight cried out to prismatic sky of the dream realm. “How long are we going to keep fighting like this!?”

“As long as it takes for you to submit,” the Sloth Demon answered, an edge in its voice hinting at its frustrations. Twilight ignored the demon and began to gallop into Ponyville towards the signpost that had helped her so far. Less ponies milled about the idealist town, but now they were starting to take notice of Twilight and more importantly, staying away from her.

She looked over at the signpost, specifically the sign that read “Sugarcube Corner.“ Another one of her friends would be waiting there. Suddenly Twilight realized something; all her friends matched one location, with Applejack at the farm, Rarity at the boutique, and Fluttershy at the meadow. If Pinkie Pie and Rainbow dash were at the two last signs, then where was Trixie?

Twilight let out an exasperated sigh as she walked down the street. Standing before her as the sign indicated was a house seemingly made from sweets. She thought she was going to have a toothache simply by looking at the structure. The very walls seemed to have been built from gingerbread, and countless candies and other goodies made for the décor.

Pastries and cakes decorated the shelves and displays, and the aroma of baked sweets made for a pleasant picture. Twilight could only surmise that she was inside a bakery. It made sense, what with Pinkie’s love of baked treats and mixing ingredients in general. She was able to give a sigh of relief that her grenades were no where in sight. Yet, Twilight reminded herself.

Twilight could hear the sounds of Pinkie Pie’s easily recognizable signing from the kitchen, as well as the warbled sound of demons trying to emulate the song. Twilight was not sure what she would encounter when concerning Pinkie’s inner desires, but she was certain that seeing the pink earth pony dancing the pony polka with two Rage demons which were not even in disguises did not top her list of things to see.

Of course, that is exactly what they were doing.

“Hi Twilight!” Pinkie called with her usual good cheer. “You’re just in time! We were about to do another round of the pony polka! These two big softies were all ‘Rawr!’ and stuff, but then I started to dance like I said I would to try to stay awake, and they joined in! We are having a great time!”

The two Rage demons looked over at Twilight then back to Pinkie who started to sing and dance again. They surged over to the unicorn, but before she could attack they started to not only speak, but instead sounded like they were whimpering. “Please!” warbled one, “We cannot take anymore of the dancing, of the singing. She is too fleet of hoof, her voice too cheery. We do not think she has rage within her!”

“Sloth wanted us to attack, but we cannot!” said the other. “Before she started her infernal song, we numbered four. She vanquished two of our kind so quickly with her abilites inside the Fade. Her mind knows not of limits!”

Twilight smirked at the two Rage demons, impressed that Pinkie’s imagination had overcome the strength of the Fade. It was not unheard of; any pony with an incredible imagination could manipulate the land of dreams and nightmares as easily as if they were asleep. As the group of Rage demons learned, an intrepid dreamer even without a mastery of magic could still be a challenge to possess as long as their imagination was vibrant.

The two Rage demons vanished rather than shattered, fleeing from Pinkie Pie as she bounded over to Twilight. Seeing Pinkie bounce around the empty building, Twilight had an idea and had to explain it quickly to Pinkie before the Sloth demon captured her with his blue ring of magic.

“Pinkie, I need your help,” Twilight said, “A blue ring is going to take you away just like it did Applejack, Rarity and Fluttershy. I still have to find Rainbow Dash and Trixie. Wherever the blue ring takes you, I need you remember this: Get all our friends to my location.”

“But how will I know when to dream really, really hard?” Pinkie asked. Before Twilight could answer the blue ring appeared, wrapping itself around the pink pony.

“I trust you, Pinkie Pie!” called Twilight. “I trust you! I know you can do it!” Pinkie disappeared, leaving only a tired Twilight in the bakery, fatigue and stress weighing her down. Only two more from the party remained to be found, but the fact that the Sloth Demon was able to snatch up all her allies so easily gave Twilight pause. There was just so much she did not know about demons or the Fade, especially in regards to actually fighting against them in their domain.

Twilight took a deep breath as she burst open the door of Sugarcube Corner. There was little else to do but move forward and try to rescue Rainbow Dash and Trixie from their illusionary worlds. As she approached the center of Ponyville again, a swarm of demons surrounded the village, their true forms revealed. Rage demons and creatures of smoke and shadow moved throughout Ponyville, snapping at each other as they hunted for Twilight.

She quickly moved to a corner and watched as one of the demons snapped at each other, never speaking but letting loose guttural growls. Before, the town was filled with ponies. Now it was simply being swept by very small groups of demons. They were losing control of this section of the Fade.

Twilight was now alone in a hauntingly empty village. Without a second thought, she thought hard on the last location on the signpost, weather control, and channelled her own teleportation spell. With the demons now actively looking for her, she would have to expend what energy she had to traverse the Fade.

The violet unicorn stepped through the gateway to find herself in the middle of a wide expanse of land. The sun was shining and there was a light breeze from the wind. High above her sitting in the sky was a structure almost entirely made of clouds. A river of water with all the colours of the rainbow flowed from the cloud building to the ground below, disappearing into a shimmer of light as soon as the rainbow hit the ground.

The demons had likely used the dreams of Rainbow Dash to build this from the forgotten ways of cloudbuilding, an old pegasus art thought long lost to the years. The Pegasi of the Dales used to span a huge empire both on ground and in the air, but centuries of constant war and abuse of Dark Arts had grounded the mighty flying ponies. It was interesting to Twilight what she would encounter such imagery of the pegasi in Dash’s dreamscape.

Twilight was still uncomfortable of the idea on relying on Rainbow Dash, but even an assassin from Pura Raza did not deserve to be left at the mercy of demons. With a shout the unicorn called out Dash’s name towards the cloud home, hoping the cyan pegasus would hear her.

Dash poked her head out from high above the clouds. She gave a wave with her hoof as she flew from the top of the building with dramatic flair, diving around clouds with incredible speed. Her rainbow mane made her appear to be a streak of colour in the sky. With finesse Dash landed in front of Twilight on her hind legs, her body in a striking pose.

“Pretty sweet, huh?” The aerial display was very impressive and Twilight had to wonder how much of the show was Dash’s actual ability or just another illusion of the dreamscape. Dash laughed as she fluttered about, not seeming to have a care in the world. “This is the life! No worries, no stress, just flying as much as I want to, as fast as I want to!”

The rainbow pegasus zoomed up to her cloud home and pushed a small puff with her head, bringing it down to the ground. Dash then lay back on top of the cloud, pretending to be dozing. “All the naps I could ever want as well,” she said as the cloud rocked back and forth like a cradle. “But that’s not even the best part!”

Rainbow Dash turned back to cloud structure, calling out names Twilight did not recognize. From the nimbus house soared two pegasus ponies, a mare with an orange coat and a mane like fire, while the other was a stallion with a blue coat and indigo mane. They landed to Dash’s side, and she confidently wrapped her forelegs around the two pegasi’s shoulders. Oddly, they did not have the same smile as the other demons that took the shape of ponies. Twilight grew worried; the demons were learning.

“Meet Spitfire and Soarin!” Dash announced, “Not only are they Pura Razan Wonderbolts, but they are THE Pura Razan Wonderbolts! The best of the best, I have wanted to join them since I saw them perform for the nobility when I was just a little filly, and now they are hanging out. With. Me!”

“You wanted to hang out with an assassin group all your life?” Twilight asked, incredulous. At the mention of asssassins, Rainbow Dash put a hoof to her head, the headaches of memory causing her obvious discomfort.

“Assassins?” Rainbow Dash grimaced. “No… no, you’re wrong! The Wonderbolts are daredevil flyers, who perform for ponies all across the world! From Pura Raza to Equestria to Filais!”

“They’re assassins who sent you and a bunch of other pegasi to kill Grey Wardens! To kill me!” Twilight’s own frustrations were being let out, but she did not lose her focus on trying to snap Rainbow Dash out of the dream. “This is all fake, all a twisted reality made by demons! Try to remember!”

Without warning, Spitfire and Soarin struck. The demons taking their forms had learned enough from other encounters with Twilight that they were leaving nothing to chance. Never had Twilight felt such pain before, each attack causing more and more pain. Twilight tried to counter their assault with spells, but could not focus long enough to cast anything. They struck with blows to her eyes and to her chest, causing her to become dizzy, winded, and bloody.

Twilight fell to her side as Soarin and Spitfire continued their brutal beatdown until they revealed their true forms as two Rage Demons. The heat from their molten bodies burnt at Twilight, who could do nothing as their assailment kept going. Rainbow Dash was still incapacitated as the demons illusions and her own memories clashed.

“I can’t!” Rainbow Dash yelled, eyes shut as if hoping to ignore everything around her. “I can’t go back! You all hate me, and for good reason! At least here I’m living a dream. Living the dream! If I go back I have to face what I’ve done.”

“Rainbow,” Twilight said as the demons leaned in for the kill. “I don’t hate you. You said you wanted a better life, so you took what the Wonderbolts offered. I would have done the same in your horseshoes. To go home. To leave a place you don’t want to be. I forgive you Rainbow Dash.”

Twilight took a deep breath. She had to get through to the pegasus, had to break through the wall of despair she had made for herself. “Skywind. Roof Hopper. Cloudburst. White Streak. Redwing. Do you remember those names? You said you didn’t care, but you still remember those names. Please Dash. Remember our names.”

Rainbow Dash looked up from wallowing in her own woes to see the two Rage Demons paused above Twilight’s body. “Applejack,” she said as she stepped forwar., “Rarity. Fluttershy. Pinkie Pie. Twilight Sparkle. I remember. I remember everything!”

The demons shifted back into their Wonderbolt forms. “Hey Dash! Don’t listen to her! We’re your real friends!”

Without a word, Rainbow Dash flew into both demons from a surprising start, taking their pegasus forms high into the air. With a grunt, she turned in the air, aiming to slam both demons into the ground with her. They struggled, but could not escape from Dash’s incredible velocity. With downward momentum on her side, Dash let go of the Fade creatures before quickly ascending upward.

The demons smashed into the ground, their bodies bursting into shards and taking Rainbow Dash’s dream with them. Dash landed next to Twilight and helped the violet spellcaster up to her hooves.

“Do you really forgive me?” Dash asked, still ashamed. Twilight wobbled nervously on her legs, but was able to lift one forehoof to her friends shoulder.

“I do,” Twilight said, only to be on the receiving end of Dash’s embrace. Before they could say anything more, the blue ring engulfed Rainbow Dash and quickly teleported her away. Twilight’s ears drooped as she looked around the Fade; she barely had any strength left to stand and hardly any magic left to cast more spells, only enough to call on one last teleportation spell to find Trixie.

Her horn sparked with weak magic as she channelled the spell to bring about a Fade door. As she stepped through, instead of the white light she saw that she was in another landmass in the Fade. Standing before her was the same Sloth Demon that had trapped them all in the fade, with Trixie holding a magical barrier against the creature.

The Sloth demon took notice to Twilight as she staggered over to Trixie’s shield. His hushed laugh echoed throughout the Fade. If Twilight felt battered and weak, then Trixie looked ravaged, bloodied and bruised from her battle against Sloth. The blue unicorn’s eyes were closed tight as her lips weakly continued to recite a chanting spell, one that Twilight could not recognize.

“Twilight!” came a call from above her. She looked up to see Applejack and the others being held aloft in bright blue rings. The Sloth Demon laughed as his form shifted from an abomination to that of a powerful ornlock emissary.

“You have made me very, very sad, little filly,” the demon said, “I tried to give you and your friends everything they wanted. To be happy, safe and restful. But instead you cling to the darkness that is the real world. Why is that, I wonder? Why refuse the gifts I have so painstakingly made for you, to avoid such suffering. Avoid hatred. Avoid war.”

“The blue one was the first to break my gift. Something akin to ‘I must be Great and Powerful on my own’, or some such nonsense. Then she started to cast that horrible chant, the one that protected you from being captured like your friends. Even her magical shields proved impressive to my own abilities. But alas, she will soon fall. You know of the same fatigue she is feeling, don’t you?”

Twilight looked at Trixie with new admiration. Now everything was making sense as Twilight realized what her counterpart was doing inside the Fade. Trixie had cast a spell that had prevented Twilight from being caught with the blue rings, allowing her to move through the Fade and rescue her friends. Not only that, but she had manage to fight off a powerful Sloth Demon at the same time.

Sloth's words rang true, as Trixie could not maintain both of her spells any longer and Twilight could not face the demon in her own fatigued state. One chance remained though. She hoped her friends were ready for it.

“Tisk tisk tisk,” the Soth Demon continued. “You unicorns should learn that your power is finite. Whereas in my domain, I am boundless. It is a shame it has come to this, but I must ask you all to perish now. So sorry.”

“Trixie,” Twilight whispered. “Drop the shield.”

“Are you crazy?!” Trixie exclaimed. “It’s the only thing separating us from that!”

“Please, trust me.” Twilight nodded to Pinkie who returned a smile. Eyes closed tight, Pinkie began to tremble in her blue ring, before disappearing with a pop. One by one, the other ponies popped out of existence as well.

“What!?” Sloth shouted. “I have bound all of you! I have you all under my power!”

“You’re right, demon,” Twilight said. “Some unicorns do overestimate their abilities. We also make the same mistake demons do, and that’s underestimate the abilities of other ponies!”

The party reappeared beside Twilight, armed and ready to strike. The Sloth ornlock reared in anger. “You will all suffer! I will devour you slowly! Painfully!”

The monster’s horn began to spark with magic, a wreath of flame sprouting from the tip. In its rage however, it did not notice Pinkie tossing a small grenade between its legs as the rest of the fighters circled around it. The grenade burst in a medley of fire and noise, sending the ornlock high into the air before landing in front of Applejack with a thud.

“This is fer insultin’ my family!” Applejack shouted, kicking Sloth with a firm buck.

“Disgusting creature!” Rarity’s horn glowed, and a bolt of lightning fell from the sky onto Sloth.

“How DARE you try to hurt my friends!” With a flurry of arrows, Fluttershy launched her most vicious attack into the hide of the demon.

Rainbow Dash flew around the demon, slicing the demon’s skin open with her long dagger. “You think you can confuse me that easily? I know who I’m standing with, thick and thin!”

Trixie made it to her feet just in time to see the Sloth demon writhing in pain. Twilight smiled at her as her horn began to glow, summoning an arcane blast. “A bolt of energy is a pretty easy offensive spell,” Twilight said to her fellow unicorn with a smirk. “Think you can do better?”

Trixie returned the smirk with her own, but beneath it was a genuine smile of gratitude. “The Great and Powerful Trixie can certainly begin to show you up in offensive magic.” In unison, they launched their respective bolts of magic, violet and blue, into the Sloth Demon. With a scream it shattered like all the demonic minions it had sent before.

“At last,” Twilight said with a sigh of relief. “We did it.” The ponies smiled at each other as the dreamscape around them broke into pieces, a white light now surrounding them. The light of the Fade doors began to engulf her again, but this time she was not worried. This time she would wake up.

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