• Published 27th Feb 2014
  • 807 Views, 18 Comments

A Night Too Long - Tumbleweed

Princess Luna recruits Fluttershy to save all of Equestria (whether she likes it or not).

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Chapter 3

“Is that it?” Rainbow Dash squinted through the cloudy skies, “I think I see a big tower up in the distance, but it's not screaming or skull-shaped or anything.”

“Technically, it's not really a skull, so I don't think they decorated too much.” Twilight panted between wingbeats. She wondered if the night's frantic flight was even longer than the time she had to fly to the Crystal Kingdom- she reminded herself to check the relative distances in an atlas later. “But if we've kept on course, that's going to be the only tower-shaped building in miles.”

“Got it,” said Rainbow Dash. “Is there supposed to be an airship there?”

“What? The Tower of the Screaming Skull is supposed to have been abandoned for centuries.”

“So it's not, like, the maintenance dudes, right?”

“Why would an ancient and cursed tower have janitors?”

“To reset all the killer deathtraps, duh.” Rainbow Dash said.

“That...makes a surprising amount of sense.” Twilight was forced to admit.

“But yeah, what's the plan, Twilight?”

“Plan?” Twilight blurted, “Eheh. Plan. Well, to be honest, I've kinda been...improvising.” she said the 'i' word like a mild obscenity. “We just need to get into the tower, find Fluttershy and Princess Luna, and ask them exactly what's going on.”

“Sure thing!” Rainbow Dash snapped a hoof to her brow in a sloppy but enthusiastic salute. “So what do we do about the janitors?”

“The Tower of the Screaming Skull doesn't have any janitors, Rainbow.”

“Got it!” Rainbow Dash suddenly snapped her wings close to her body as she angled in for a dive. “I'll take those suckers down like they weren't even there!” and she disappeared in a burst of color and speed.

“Wait, no! That's not what I meant!” Twilight flapped her wings frantically to keep up. She added a few quick, short-range teleports to close the distance, still decisive seconds behind Rainbow Dash.

“Take that, chump!” Rainbow Dash laid into the first hooded pony, putting all the force of her sudden crash-dive into the blow. The cultist flew backward as if he were yanked back on a line- that is, until he slammed into the stone wall behind him. “BOOSH!” Rainbow Dash cried in victory, rearing back on her rear legs and beating her chest.

The second hooded pony rose up behind the pegasus, clutching a dagger between his teeth. He held his blade high, preparing to plunge the wickedly sharp weapon into Rainbow Dash's quivering flesh.

Twilight Sparkle furrowed her brow, and the air itself around her horn began to shimmer and crackle with magical energy. The tiniest flick of her neck sent the gathered magical energy streaking through the air, and into the dagger-wielding assassin (who, conveniently, landed upon his comatose companion).

“Rainbow! You can't just go charging off like that!” Twilight Sparkle fluttered down onto the balcony. “That pony could have killed you!”

“But he didn't.” Rainbow Dash said, smug. “I knew you'd have my back, Twilight. Besides, it's gonna take more than some sucker-chump janitors to take down the one and only Rainbow Dash and her best friend, Princess Twilight Sparkle. BOOSH. C'mon. High hoof. We rule.”

Twilight left Rainbow hanging. “They're not janitors.”

“Then who the heck are they?”

Twilight Sparkle crossed the balcony and held up one of the not-janitor's cloaks to get a better look at it. A large symbol was stitched into the rough black cloth: a slitted pupil, like that of a cat or a reptile against a crescent-shaped moon. “Okay,” she said, very slowly, “the bad news is, it's worse than I thought. Princess Luna must have recruited some Nightmare Moon cultists to help her kidnap Fluttershy.”

“So what's the good news?”

“The good news is-” Twilight Sparkle swept the black cloak around her shoulders and pulled up the hood. “Now I have a plan.”

Nopony spoke.

Luna stared in shock, and the eldritch battle-glow faded from her eyes. The bowing, robed ponies dared not speak in the presence of their terrible warrior goddess. Fluttershy dared not speak on principle.

“What is the meaning of this?” Luna spoke slowly, choosing each word with the utmost care. “Explain yourselves, knaves. You have one chance.”

“Give only the word, and we shall die for you, Lady Nightmare!” A ruddy-red unicorn stepped forward from the rest of the cultists, but he still kept his eyes down on the floor. “I, Thistle Down, am but your humble servant. We have prepared the way for you, so you may have your glorious vengeance.”

“The only vengeance I shall wreak is upon you, varlet, lest ye stop babbling in riddles!” Luna stomped a hoof against the floor, cracking the hard granite. “What's your game?”

“The Screaming Skull, Lady Nightmare. With it, you may lend Taresk's power to your own, thus you shall cast the Pretender Celestia down. None will oppose you!”

“Are you mad?” Luna said, “My name is not Nightmare Moon- not anymore! I am Princess Luna, and I shall lay down my life before I allow the likes of you to wake Taresk. Not that I shall have to.” Princess Luna's hoofsteps echoed as she crossed the chamber, head held high in regal, martial disdain. “Abandon your foolish quest now, and I shall be merciful.”

A quiet murmur spread amongst the hooded cultists.

“No!” Thistle Down suddenly stood, eyes wide in panic. “Don't listen to her, my faithful! Nightmare Moon is not herself! She's been corrupted by the usurper's foul enchantments!”

“The only one here corrupted is you.” Luna's eyes began to glow anew. “I beg of you, take this honorable surrender and return to your homes. I shall not ask again.”

“Seize her!” The red unicorn pointed at Luna. “Take her, bind her limbs- once the Taresk is awakened, Celestia's illusions shall be lifted, and the true Nightmare Moon will reign once more!”

“I SAY THEE NEIGH!” Luna leapt into the fray with glinting eye and flared wing. The hooded ponies came at Princess Luna from all sides, to little avail. Untold centuries of battle had honed Luna's skill and power, both physical and magical. She threw the cultists about like discarded toys as she advanced on their leader.

“Nightmare Moon is dead!” Luna's voice bounced from the stone walls of the chamber and echoed to a near deafening volume. “She was born of weakness, jealousy, and dishonor. 'Tis an onerous burden to bear, and now you seek to throw that in my face, and claim it honors me? BAH!” Luna lashed out with both her front hooves.

Thistle Down scrambled out of the way of Luna's blow, but a hooded pegasus behind him was not so lucky; he was senseless before he hit the floor. The cult leader stumbled over his cloak, not daring to take his eyes away from the scorned night goddess even as he tried to escape.

“You don't know what you say, Lady Nightmare- the solar usurper's magic runs deep. I feared this might happen- thus, I have a contingency plan!” Reaching beneath his cloak, the unicorn pulled out a small glass urn and shattered it upon the floor in front of Princess Luna.

Humid, noxious green vapor rose up from the broken glass, and Luna took a step back. “Poison?” she said, already covering her mouth.

“In a manner of speaking.” The red unicorn said.

A figure rose from the green mists, rising where there had been nothing previously before. It grew taller and taller, even dwarfing Luna. The faintest rasping hiss was her only warning, and then the shadow struck. Luna saw little more than gleaming fangs and sleek coils as the enormous serpent went for her.

“A summoning jar? How quaint!” Luna shot off a quick blast of concussive magic, but it went wide of the giant snake. “'tis been centuries since I've seen one of those! Do you really think to stop me with some mere charlatan's trick?”

Luna smashed her hooves into the side of the snake, and it reeled away from her. Its undulating coils twisted over each other, and then, with all the rhythm and inevitability of the incoming tide, the snake struck again.

Luna caught the snake's maw with her hooves, prying the fanged jaws open. With a strength borne of inevitability, Luna pushed the venom-dripping fangs away from her neck. Yet, even as she did, the serpent wrapped its coils around Luna, tightening them around her like enormous steel cables. Any lesser pony would have been crushed within moments- but Luna was anything but average. Luna gritted her teeth against the terrible pressure and pushed the snake's jaws a little wider. The tip of Luna's horn began to glow as she summoned up her will, and she angled her head just so in order to aim directly down the snake's cavernous throat.

“Stop it!” Fluttershy suddenly appeared beside Luna. She hovered in midair, glaring sternly.

“Splendid!” Princess Luna choked out, “I knew there was a reason I brought you along, Fluttershy. Your mastery over beasts shall carry the day!”

“I wasn't talking to the snake, I was talking to you.”

“What?” The glow about Luna's horn fizzled out as she lost concentration.

“You heard me. You can be as loud and scary as you like, but I couldn't just stand by and let you hurt this poor defenseless animal!”

“Defenseless?” Luna said. A drop of yellow poison fell off the tip of the snake's fang and landed upon the floor, where it began to hiss. “You jest!”

“You may see a monster, but I just see a scared and lonely snake. Isn't that right?” Fluttershy reached up to rub at a spot just behind the serpent's lower jaw, and the beast gave a pleasant little shiver, loosening its grip on Princess Luna.

“It tried to eat me!” Luna said.

“Actually, it didn't.” Fluttershy nodded. “It hissed at you first- that was a warning. You just scared it, right after it had been let out of that magic jar thingie. If it really wanted to eat you, it would've been quiet when it struck. Now, if you take your hooves out of its mouth, this little guy will go on and leave you alone. Isn't that right?”

The snake managed a nod.

“Very well.” Princess Luna said, wary. Slowly, she eased the snake's mouth shut. In turn, the snake released Luna, slithering around her for a shudder-worthy moment. The serpent didn't even look back, silently gliding across the floor and up the stairwell.

“Impressive, fair Fluttershy. That was quite brave of you,” said Luna.

“Oh, um. Was it? I just wanted to make sure that the snake didn't get hurt. I mean, it's not his fault there are a bunch of crazy ponies trying to destroy the world in your name or anything.”

“Indeed.” Luna turned her head back to the red unicorn. “Speaking of whom...”

“You've forced my hoof, Lady Nightmare!” Thistle Down shouted from the other side of the chamber. His mad, desperate laugh sent chills down Fluttershy's spine, though Princess Luna remained resolute. The ruddy-red unicorn's horn glowed to a near-blinding white. He shot a focused beam of magical energy into the floor. The stones shattered, collapsing into a black pit below.

“Quickly, to wing!” Luna yelled over the rumble of collapsing architecture. Had she been alone, she might have been able to cross the room to smite Thistle Down, but she lost precious seconds in yanking Fluttershy along with her.

This gave the mad unicorn time enough to cackle further, and fire another blast- this one into the ceiling. Luna barely saw Thistle Doom duck into a hidden passage before a huge chunk of tile plummeted into her shoulder, knocking her off balance. She felt another hit, and another still, the heavy stones doing more damage than Thistle Down or his cultists ever could. “Save yourself, little one!” Luna said, and threw Fluttershy in the general direction of the hidden passage.

It was all she could do before the ceiling gave way, and Luna was overtaken by darkness.

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