• Published 12th May 2014
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The Elements of Friendship, Book I: Harmony - Amras Felagund

Twilight fails to defeat NightMare Moon, and the world is plunged into eternal night. Twilight must travel the world with her friends to unlock the secrets of the Elements of Harmony.

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CHAPTER ii: The Everfree Forest

“Seize her!” cried the Mayor of Ponyville, and the stunned Royal Guard stallions snapped to attention. Twilight blinked; she’d almost forgotten they were there. “Only she knows where Queen Celestia is!”

Even as the Pegasi among the Royal Guards rose up and prepared to dive upon NightMare Moon, Twilight had a sinking suspicion that they would not be successful in their attempt to subdue the former Mare In The Moon, so she scooped up Spike in her dwimmer shimmer and made for the exit as quickly as she could − which was taking quite a bit longer than she’d hoped, considering that everypony else was rooted to their respective spots. Behind her, she could hear NightMare Moon cry out to the Royal Guards Begone, you foals!, and a deep crack of thunder followed by fresh shrieks of horror told her all she needed to know as to their fate.

Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash was still struggling to get free from underneath Applejack’s tackle. The Earth Pony was not only larger than she was, but Earth Pony muscles were much denser than the other two pony races, giving them greater strength and resilience… and greater body mass to boot. Add onto that the fact that Pegasi had many hollow bones in their body to reduce body weight for the ease of flight, and Rainbow Dash was really in a tough spot.

But she did manage to wriggle out from under her day-to-day competitor, and beelined straight for NightMare Moon.

NightMare Moon cackled madly, her mane and tail of starry blue mist now a twister that encircled her completely and sent every Pegasus slamming against the walls of the Gazebo atrium. The mad mare of darkness then tore off towards the sky through the hole she’d just ripped in the roof.

“Wait, you!” Rainbow Dash bellowed, recovering quickly and shooting after the dark Alicorn. Though Rainbow Dash prided herself on being the fastest Pegasus in the Saddle Valley − in the air; on the ground, Applejack the Earth Pony would probably give her a run for her bits − NightMare Moon was proving to be a diligent pursuee. Still, she was closing in. Rainbow just needed to flap a little harder and she’d be on the usurper…

All of a sudden, NightMare Moon was knocked off course by a golden fireball. Rainbow Dash skidded to a halt in midair, eyes gaping at the near-miss.

A pair of azure-uniformed Pegasi bolting by, not even dozen-and-eight hooves above Rainbow’s head, snapped her back to her senses. Rubbing her eyes fiercely, she turned to look at the trajectory of those two Pegasi. They themselves seemed to be in hot pursuit of NightMare Moon.

NightMare Moon was presently in hot combat, firing blinding cyan dwimmer-beams arcing with violet lightning from her alicorn, with three Pegasi in azure flight uniforms emblazoned with golden lightning patterns.

Rainbow Dash gaped.

The Wonderbolts!

There was Captain Spitfire, leader of the Wonderbolts, crackling with a golden aura of fire that Rainbow felt the heat of even at this distance, her orange mane flaring like an inferno all its own. And Soarin, whose aura of shimmering wind deflected NightMare Moon’s dwimmer-beams into the empty night sky. And Fleetfoot, whose speed-bursts allowed her to deftly dodge the NightMare’s attacks and waste the enemy’s energy.

OhmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmyGOSH! Rainbow Dash thought excitedly, her mind abuzz with all sorts of wild fantasies of darting in there, delivering a decisive kick to NightMare Moon’s gut, ending the battle, coaxing the tearful admission by NightMare Moon of where she’d imprisoned Queen Celestia, being awarded the position of Honorary Captain of the Wonderbolts for her actions in the line of duty…

But a dwimmer-beam that whizzed by her left ear, singing part of her mane, snapped Rainbow Dash out of fangirl mode.

Which she snapped right back into when Spitfire, who’d spotted Rainbow Dash hovering stupidly just under a big battle, glowered at the rainbow Pegasus and barked, ”Clear the sky, rookie!”

A Wonderbolt just… talked to me! Rainbow Dash squeed inside.

But this turned out to be just the distraction NightMare Moon needed. With their primary offensive compromised, she came off of the defensive and sent her starry blue mane exploding outwards, sending the Wonderbolts tumbling. They recovered swiftly − as per their training − but the damage was done. NightMare Moon was tearing off into the night, off to who knew where.

Spitfire cursed under her breath; she’d hoped to buy a bit more time by engaging NightMare Moon in battle, but this

Rainbow Dash smiled nervously as the three high-ranking Wonderbolts hovered down to her level, glowering at her with looks that could have killed if they knew the spells for that. She scratched the back of her head with her right forehoof, chuckling casually, “Uh… I’m a big fan?”

A hoof struck Rainbow Dash in the face. Spitfire was blasting fire out of her nostrils in fury.

”What was going through your mind to be flying into a combat zone, civilian?” Spitfire shouted, with all the force of a drill-sergeant in the military days of old.

“I…” Rainbow Dash hesitated, her ears drooping slightly. “I was… chasing NightMare Moon…”

“Obviously,” said Fleetfoot shortly, her cerise eyes narrowed in severe distaste. “But you have no military training. Your mind clearly wasn’t on your objective.”

“Well… you guys are just so… awesome!” Rainbow Dash said defensively, reaching out her forehooves in plea.

“We would have kept her pinned down until our reinforcements arrived,” said Soarin coldly, his forelegs folded, “if you hadn’t been in the line of fire.”

Rainbow Dash withdrew her hooves in shame. She’d seriously messed up. She always dreamed of impressing the Wonderbolts with some of her sweetest moves − like the Super Speed Strut, the Fantastic Filly Flash, and the Buckaneer Blaze − but now, they wanted nothing to do with her. All because she’d gotten too close to one of their military operations.

But… they were just an aerial flight team! How had they held their own against somepony who was surely at a power level matched only by Queen Celestia herself?

“I… didn’t know you guys were military… guys,” she offered weakly.

Spitfire bowed her head slightly, glaring at Rainbow from under her brow. “The Wonderbolts have a strong military history, you know,” she hissed. “We’re not just pretty showponies who fart lightning storms. Maybe if you’d open up a book, you’d know that!”

And with that, the Wonderbolts bolted off, leaving Rainbow alone with her thoughts.

Well, Celestia, there go my chances of becoming a Wonderbolt, she thought miserably, looking down to the Gazebo. A lavender Unicorn had just emerged, and was beating a direct path towards the Golden Oak Library.

A rainbow eyebrow cocked itself upward.

“Where’s she off to?”

Twilight found a basket in the closet on the ground floor of the Golden Oak Library, ripped the tablecloth out from under the leftover food from Pinkie Pie’s surprise party the previous night, and tucked the tuckered Spike into the basket with the tablecloth as a makeshift blanket. She smiled warmly down on the baby drake in spite of herself.

Despite her clinical stance regarding her part in his birth, Twilight still cared deeply for Spike. How so, she did not know, but for some reason that drove Twilight to distraction, she could not allow herself to care for him as her son.

Although she was only smiling on Spike for a moment, Twilight shook her head vigorously to get her thoughts in order. She was just doing this because Spike needed his sleep. He was a baby dragon, after all, and he had already been up almost a whole two-dozen hours.

Nodding, Twilight turned to face the bookshelves along the circular walls of the Golden Oak Library…

And found herself completely lost.

The library was definitely a lot more spacious-looking now that scores of ponies were not crowding it trying to be her friends. However, some part of Twilight that Twilight herself could not understand found the library to be woefully empty now. Brushing this errant thought aside, Twilight tried to apply herself to the task of finding some information on NightMare Moon and/or the Elements of Harmony, but she had no idea where to even begin her search. She had no idea what sort of system of organization this library used. In a rube town like this, who knew how they set up their books?

Twilight cursed, muttering to herself, “As improbable and ridiculous as the very concept is, is it too much to ask for a reference guide to the Elements of Harmony?”

“And just what the hay are the Elements of Harmony?” snapped a hostile − and very scratchy − voice that Twilight immediately recognized. As soon as turning towards the voice, she found herself nose-to-nose with a very irate rainbow-maned Pegasus. She had a hoof-shaped bruise under her left eye.

Twilight had left the door open, apparently.

“And how did you know about NightMare Moon, huh?” Rainbow Dash continued, glaring deeply into Twilight’s eyes, her wings flapping irritatedly at her sides. “What are ya, some sorta spy?”

To Twilight’s relief, Rainbow Dash abruptly pulled back, but that was a short-lived reprieve. For Rainbow Dash had been pulled back by the tail, by Applejack, who had strided into the library while Rainbow Dash was grilling Twilight. And − Twilight screamed internally − the other three crazy ponies she and Spike had met yesterday were following Applejack!

“Simmer down there, Sally,” Applejack said coolly. “Ah reckon Twilight here ain’t no spah.” She gave Twilight a very direct gaze; Twilight couldn’t look her in the eye. “Butcha sure know an awful lot ‘bout these goin’s-on, don’tcha, Twilight?”

Faced with five ponies standing between her and the library exit, and no real chance to wink out without somepony tackling her − if she could even concentrate with the world being turned upside-down as it was − Twilight heaved a sigh, and confessed:

“I read all about the prophecy foretelling NightMare Moon’s return. It said that she would return on the longest day of the megagrosseth year of her banishment, and that unless she was defeated once and for all with the Elements of Harmony, that she would bring about…”

Twilight’s heart stopped.

“...nighttime eternal…”

Her pupils contracted.

“Oh no.”

She turned and bolted up the stairs without another word. Perplexed, and a little frightened, by Twilight’s sudden actions, the five other ponies slowly followed her up.

“No!” Twilight cried, throwing herself at the base of a pair of potted plants by the east-facing window past the bed. One was an agave, the other a cactus. Her ears were flat against her head, and the barrel of her chest was heaving. “No! This can’t be happening! You’ll die without sunlight!”

Fluttershy put a hoof to her mouth in sympathy, but the other four seemed befuddled by this seeming overreaction.

“They’re just plants, TS,” Rainbow Dash said, a rainbow eyebrow cocked.

“‘Just plants’?” Twilight mumbled, turning to face them. She was actually crying! Her eyes were bloodshot. “They’re my parents!”

This seemed to only confuse them more, and Twilight had to collect her thoughts and compose herself so that she could explain. It was very difficult; every moment lost was another moment of everlasting night, and another moment of her parents’ lives squandered.

Eventually, though, she calmed herself enough to where she thought she would do more than blubber incoherently.

“At my entrance exam… for Queen Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns…” She gestured towards the agave & cactus. “I accidentally… turned Mom & Dad… into these!”

Rarity gasped sharply, a hoof flying to her mouth. She was not alone; Applejack gave a shuddering hiccuping gasp herself, bringing a hoof up to lower her Stetson over her eyes. Pinkie gave a look of surprisingly sincere sympathy.

Twilight had collapsed into a sobbing heap, burying her face in her hooves. Her tail swished back and forth agitatedly.

“And now, after all this time trying to find a way to change them back, I’m going to lose them! What’ll I do? What’ll I do??”

A hoof slipped down under Twilight’s hooves, lifting her face up to make eye contact. It was Applejack, who was smiling sadly.

“Ya have mah sympathy, sugarcube,” she said levelly, despite the tears streaming down her freckled cheeks. “Ah lost mah Ma ’n’ Pa just after Apple Bloom was born, but you still kinda have yours. Ma & Pa are up grazin’ in the Elysian Fields for the rest a’ eternity. You cin still bring yours back. You just gotta buck up and get to it.”

Twilight rubbed at her eyes with her long fetlocks, wiping away the last of her tears. Of all the crazy ponies she’d met in Ponyville, Applejack seemed the most levelheaded, if a little too intensely familiar with her extended family. The aching in her heart started to ebb, but she pushed away the warmness that was flooding in in its place.

“You’re right, Applejack,” said Twilight as she got back onto her hooves, fighting the smile in her heart. “I can’t be blubbering here when there’s work to be done. Queen Celestia might be missing − my guess is, NightMare Moon imprisoned her in the Sun, as a form of revenge − but that doesn’t mean that I still can’t do something as her protégée.”

“What can you do?” asked Rarity.

“Ooh, ooh!” squealed Pinkie, pronking wildly about the room. “Is this another guessing game? I love guessing games! I love all kinds of games!”

“Can it, Pinkie!” shouted Rainbow.

After a moment’s tense silence, Twilight answered Rarity’s question.

“Well, not much,” she said offhoofedly. “I mean, I could create a temporary miniature Sun that arches over Ponyville for the day period that we expect, but it would have to be renewed every week or so…”

To Twilight’s surprise, the five ponies’ jaws dropped.

“Y… You can do that?” Rainbow Dash gaped. “That’s… amazing! You’re, like, some kinda magical projidy!”

“It’s prodigy,” Twilight corrected, “and no, I’m not. I’m not anything special…” Her ears flattened as she glanced sadly back at her parents. “Or I would’ve figured out how to fix my greatest mistake.”

She shook her head violently, as if trying to shake those nasty sad thoughts out through her ears.

“I always knew I had a time limit: how long I can stretch out the lives of these two plants. But now, with the Sun on the other side of Harmonia, potentially forever, time is even more of an issue. I can cast the heliogenesis spell, but I can’t guarantee it will last very long, not with NightMare Moon’s fury against the light of day. Then…” She dug her hooves into the polished wooden floor, grinning. “We find the Elements of Harmony!”

“Yeah, yeah, sounds great and all,” Rainbow said with a cocked eyebrow, forelegs folded over the barrel of her chest. “But you didn’t answer my question: What are the Elements of Harmony?”

“The Elements of Harmony,” explained Twilight, “Are the force of magic that Queen Celestia used to banish NightMare Moon to the Moon a meggrossium ago. There are supposedly six Elements altogether, but I have no idea what they are, how they work, or even what they do!”

“Umm…” Fluttershy began quietly. “You do know where they are, right?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know where they are,” Twilight answered, “but I have a very good idea. I’ll explain after the heliogenesis spell.”

Twilight stood a good dozen-and-three paces away from the entrance to the tree library, the five other ponies standing − or, in the case of Rainbow Dash, hovering − at least five paces away from her. In the distance, they could hear the screams of terror of many ponies who were spooked by the everlasting night, and the cries of foals who were confused as to the fact that the Sun was still ‘asleep’.

“So, what’s this fancy sun-summonin’ spell a’ yers like, Twilight?” asked Applejack.

Twilight turned to face the Earth Pony.

“Well, it’s nowhere near as powerful as Queen Celestia’s direct control over the Sun itself, but it’s no cantrip in and of itself,” she replied. “It brings forth a miniature facsimile of the Sun that mimics the movement pattern of the actual Sun, giving off the equivalent amount of heat and light, so don’t look right at it. And it’s also much closer to the ground, and faster, so some flyers will need to watch where they’re going,” she added in a cutting tone, glowering at Rainbow Dash, who glowered back.

Ignoring Rainbow’s glare, Twilight brought her head down, her alicorn glowing pink, then white. Sweat beaded at the base of her horn and her knees shook as a ball of heat and light appeared above her head. Her five companions gaped in awe as the blinding ball of light swelled in size, before it darted off to the edge of Ponyville, where its brightness flared. True to Twilight’s word, it brightened up the area around it, and the sky around it turned from a deep midnight-blue to merely a Wonderbolt-azure-blue, but only just around it. Apart from the sky, though, Ponyville looked as bright as it had the day before.

Twilight panted heavily; she’d never cast that spell before, even though Queen Celestia had personally taught her it. Now she knew why; was she perhaps prepared for this day? In any case, a weight in her heart eased; for now, at least, her parents had sunlight.

The sounds of hooves clopping reached her ears, and she looked up to see the five ponies whooping and cheering. But they weren’t the only ones. Standing and flapping about them were dozens of Ponyville ponies. Earth Ponies, Unicorns, Pegasi; all of them were stomping their forehooves against the ground, giving her bright smiles and cheers.

“Leave it to the pupil of the Queen herself to bring back the Sun!” cheered the Mayor, standing at the forefront of the herd.

“Long live Twilight Sparkle!” cheered the crowd.

Twilight waved a hoof about to hush the herd. “Everypony, listen.”

The crowd quieted itself… mostly. There was still an intermittent cheer now and again, but for the most part, it was enough for Twilight’s words to carry to the whole herd:

“That’s not the real Sun. That’s just a substitute that I called forth to keep Ponyville at least in daylight. It should last a week or so, if NightMare Moon doesn’t snuff it out by day’s end.”

She turned away from the crowd, preparing to gallop off.

“Wait!” the Mayor called out. “Where are you going?”

“To find the Elements of Harmony,” replied Twilight simply, looking over her shoulder.

Rainbow Dash let out a frustrated groan. “For Celestia’s sake… Where are the Elements of Harmony?”

Twilight narrowed her eyes. “I have a suspicion that they’re in the abandoned Palace of the Two Alicorn Queens, in the Everfree Forest.”

The entire herd gasped.

Except Pinkie Pie.

“Whee!” she said, bouncing into the air, where she seemed to hover as her hooves wiggled. “Let’s go!”

“Are you insane?” Rainbow Dash said, with genuine fear in her voice. “The Everfree Forest is, like, the most dangerous place in all of Equestria!”

“For once, Ah agree with ya, Rainbow,” said Applejack, stepping toward Twilight. “Ah don’t know how much ya learned ‘bout th’Everfree up in them ivory towers a’ yours in Canterlot, Twilight, but that forest…” She shivered. “T’ain’t natural. None of it.”

“How so?” Twilight asked. The Everfree was not the subject of much study by Twilight Sparkle. She only knew that it was also known as the Forest Of No Return, because nopony who ever went into the Forest ever came back out, and that it was a place of ancient and wild magic that nopony, not even Queen Celestia, could control.

“Well…” Applejack began hesitantly. “The plants grow…”

“Animals care for themselves…” breathed Fluttershy with a fearful shiver.

“And the clouds move…” whimpered the ordinarily cocky Rainbow Dash.

”All on their own!” the three of them cried.

Twilight shuddered. The Everfree did sound like a fearsome and unwholesome place. She couldn’t have imagined that the aura of evil magic around the forest was so great that no amount of pony magic could even control the weather and wildlife around it.

Still, the choices boiled down to braving the dangers of Everfree and its uncontrollable animal denizens, risking life and limb to retrieve the Elements of Harmony that only might be there…

Or remaining in the safe sanctuary of Ponyville, forgetting the Elements of Harmony, and submitting to the selenic reign of a madmare.

There was no choice in Twilight’s mind.

“I’m still going,” Twilight said, digging her right forehoof against the ground.

“Hold up there, sugarcube,” called Applejack, trotting up to Twilight’s side with a soft smile. “We’ve barely known ya for a day, but don’t get it inta yer head thatcha gotta tackle this alone. You can betcher bottom bit on it; yer friends are with ya, through to the end.”

“You really think any of you ponies are my friends?” snapped Twilight, trying not to let herself be affected by the looks of mingled shock, offense, and hurt on each of their faces. She pointed an accusing hoof at each mare in turn, who avoided her gaze in shame. “You stuff my face with every bit of food your family’s ever cooked, you drench me through to the bone and mess up my mane trying to dry me off, you try to fit me into an improperly fitted corset and waste hours of time I could’ve spent trying to find information on NightMare Moon, you throw a surprise party that I never wanted just because you think I want friend, and you…” She hesitated over Fluttershy. She couldn’t think of anything Fluttershy had done to offend her other than being cripplingly withdrawn. “You…”

With a frustrated shout, Twilight collapsed onto her haunches. By now, the herd had awkwardly dispersed, leaving just Twilight and the five flummoxed fillies. Applejack looked hurt, Rainbow Dash was gritting her teeth in poorly repressed frustration, Rarity had a forehoof to her chest as she looked down at the ground with drooping ears, Pinkie Pie’s mane and tail started to droop a bit as she actually started to turn blue, and Fluttershy looked on the verge of a breakdown.

The caw of a bird of some sort surprised the six of them, and Twilight looked up in shock. She knew that caw!

A burst of fire descended from the sky − Rainbow Dash recoiled − from the direction of Canterlot, and it materialized into the form of a gorgeous eagle-like bird with fabulous bright-red and burnt-orange plumage. It held a rolled-up piece of parchment in its golden beak.

“Philomena!” Twilight breathed, gaping at the phoenix. The bird nodded, her yellow eyes glinting warmly.

“Philo-whatnow?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“It’s Queen Celestia’s pet phoenix,” Twilight explained. “And it looks like she has a message!”

The moment Twilight’s dwimmer shimmer grasped the scroll, Philomena let go, before alighting upon Twilight’s back, her black talons not digging into her flesh, but still grasping firmly. Twilight undid the Sun-and-Moon seal of the Crown on the scroll, undid the red ribbon underneath, and read the letter aloud:

My deareſt and moſt faithful ſtudent Twilight Sparkle,

Should you be reading this right now, then NightMare Moon has ſurely claimed my throne and impriſoned me. Philomena is truly one of my moſt exquisitely loyal companions, and the only one on hoof whom I could truſt to deliver this meßage to you. I pray that she found you with great speed, and that the everlasting night is still young.

Even so, I have reaſon to believe that you did not take ſeriouſly my earlier assignment for you to make friends. That was no idle advice, my little pony. No one pony, not even me, can ſet things aright. Friendſhip is the greateſt, moſt powerful magic in all of Creation. If you have not yet made friends − or if your friends are not faithful to you − then all hope is loſt to you, to Equeſtria, to Harmonia.

You will need to make friends in order to ſave us all from NightMare Moon, and to ſave her from herſelf. Remember, it only takes a ſingle spark to ſtart a fire.

Your hopeful mentor,
Queen Celeſtia Apolinaria di Equeſtria

If Queen Celestia had assumed that this letter would answer any of Twilight’s questions, she was sorely mistaken. Twilight’s mind was buzzing with even more questions than before? Save NightMare Moon from herself? NightMare Moon was a monster who would sooner see the world freeze in unending night than let the world’s balance remain in check. Why in the wide world of Harmonia was Queen Celestia treating this like an exam? Many lives were at great risk from the return of NightMare Moon, all of which were surely very dear to Queen Celestia. Why were friends such an important part of saving the world? Everypony who’d previously called Twilight friend were only in it for the social benefits of being associated with Queen Celestia’s number one student. And these five ponies whom Twilight was being shadowed by were some of the most contradictory ponies she’d ever met. Even as ungregarious as she was, Twilight thought it highly illogical for these five to be a close circle of friends. One was loud and brash, one was immensely introverted, one had no sense of personal space or when to shut up, one was very prim and proper, and one was still tracking dirt on her hooves from her applebucking.

Still, Queen Celestia had never steered Twilight Sparkle wrong before, and she swallowed her misgivings with a nod to Philomena. The phoenix gave a short caw before taking flight for the South Equinus Mountains.

Looking back at the message again, though, another question came to Twilight’s mind. Seemingly random letters had been written in a darker ink, as did the word spark in the last sentence. It could have simply been a split nib in the quill that the Queen had used, but there was some sort of pattern that Twilight thought she could discern…

“I think Queenie Celestia needs to work on her spelling~” came Pinkie’s squeaky voice from over Twilight’s shoulder. “I don’t think that ‘deareft’ is a word. Or ‘ftudent’ or ‘furely’ or ‘imprifoned’ or ‘moft’ or ‘truft’ and she really needs to not put a big letter into ‘mebage’ − which I don’t think is a word, either − or ‘reafon’ or ‘ferioufly’ or ‘fet’ or ‘friendfhip’. ‘Loft’ is a word, though I don’t think it’s an adjective like that, and I don’t know where Equeftria is. And what does she mean by asking you to ‘fave us all from NightMare Moon’? And who is this ‘herfelf’ she wants us to fave NightMare Moon from? And what’s a ‘fingle spark’, how’s it different from a normal spark, and how can it ‘ftart’ a fire?”

Twilight’s eye twitched.

“Do you have any idea of personal space?” she shouted, to which Pinkie shook her head. Twilight sighed in frustration. “It’s the way she writes her ‘s’s, Pinkie. It’s how ponies wrote their letters over a dozen-gross years ago.”

“So, they didn’t have ‘s’s back then? That musta been a tough life to lead. What if you needed an order of soap and got a whole buncha foap instead? What would somepony do with a whole bunch of foap? What is foap, anyway? And what about Hearts and Hooves Day cards for your special somepony? Did they call each other fpecial fomeponies instead? Was the name Sassafras pronounced Fabafraf?” She giggled. “They were a bunch of silly ponies back then~”

”IT’S JUST A WRITING IDIOSYNCRASY!” Twilight screamed, breathing heavily. “Pinkie, du bist ein Schwachkopf!”

“Take a deep breath, sugarcube,” Applejack said levelly. “Repeat after me.”

Applejack placed a forehoof on her chest, inhaling slowly and fully. Twilight mimicked her. Next, the farmer mare slowly pointed her foreleg ahead, exhaling just as steadily. Twilight followed suit, and found to her surprise that the tension that had been building up the past day had ebbed considerably. She smiled; she would have to remember this for future tests by the Queen.

Taking a deep breath, Twilight faced the group of five again.

“Alright,” she said shortly. “My exclamation in Germane aside, you five can accompany me to find the Elements of Harmony. We’ll have safety in numbers.”

Applejack reared up with a joyful Yeehaw!, Pinkie pronked into the air with a Whoohoo!, Fluttershy nodded her ascension with a soft smile, Rarity let out a sigh of relief, and Rainbow Dash did a victory loop-de-loop.

“But don’t think this means that I’m overlooking how overbearing some of you have been,” Twilight cut in sharply. “The sooner we get this over with…” She hesitated. She was burning bridges that she would need to cross if she continued to say what she wanted to say. …the sooner I’ll never have to see you five again. “…the sooner we can bring back the day.”

Rainbow Dash nodded with a frown. “Fine, then. We’ll do things your way. Just don’t count on us to hold our tongues just ‘cause you’re the Queen’s little egghead.”

“Whoa there, Rainbow,” Applejack snapped. “Don’t get too uppity now. We’ve all gotta stick together if we’re gonna make it through the Everfree.” She shivered slightly, her ears drooping as she rubbed at a scar running down her right foreleg. “Ah never thought Ah’d be goin’ back there after…” She shook her head once or twice, fixing a smile on her muzzle and giving Twilight a bright-green gaze. “You ain’t got ta worry none, sugarcube. We’re gonna stick to ya like caramel on a candy apple.” She galloped past Twilight, beelining for the Everfree. After a moment, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Fluttershy followed suit.

“Especially if there is candy apples in there!” Pinkie squeaked in delight. Twilight quirked a sapphire eyebrow up at her. Pinkie looked back, confused by Twilight’s confusion. “What? They’re good!”

The six mares stood well beyond the borders of Ponyville, beneath the canopy of the trees at the very edge of the Everfree Forest. Each and every one of them shivered involuntarily; the Forest exuded a sickly aura that told them that they were plainly unwelcome. The lowest hanging branches seemed to be swaying of their own accord, as though they were claws trying to reach down and snatch up the nearest pony. Beyond the thicket which engulfed the crumbling stone boundaries of the olden settlement around the Palace, there seemed to be pitch blackness, even with the miniature Sun that Twilight had summoned on the other side of Ponyville.

Pinkie arched an eyebrow, rubbing her leg. “Hmmm… my knee’s gettin’ all pinchy.”

Applejack looked up at her fellow Earth Pony, and muttered darkly, “Ya better get used t’that here in Everfree, Pinkie…”

Twilight gave the two an odd look. “What?”

“Ah’ll explain after all this is over,” answered Applejack.

Do I even want to know? Twilight thought.

“I’ve never been this close to the Everfree before,” Fluttershy whimpered.

“And I hope that I never return after this day!” said Rarity dramatically, flinging a cloven hoof to her forehead.

Applejack was rubbing the scar on the forearm of her right foreleg still more vigorously. She was staring blankly ahead, as though she was trying to look at something beyond the Everfree Forest. Twilight noticed this. “Are you alright?”

Applejack gave a start, blinking at Twilight. She scratched the back of her head. “Sorry ‘bout that, Twi. Ah was just reminiscin’ on a painful mem’ry.”

Applejack held her head up high and fixed her face in a glare.

“But the past is the past,” said Applejack. “Ah got one job, and that’s to keep ya safe. Ah swear on mah honor as an Apple that you’ll make it outta this here forest!”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s cool and all,” drawled Rainbow Dash, “But we gotta hurry and snag those Elements before NightMare Moon does, and she’s got a major headstart on us.”

“Rainbow Dash is right,” Twilight said as she dug in her hooves, preparing to gallop. “Time is of the essence, and we need to get through to the Palace, and the Elements, as fast as possible. With me!”

And with that, six mares galloped and flew into the Everfree Forest.

If the Everfree was terrorful from the outside, being inside it was infinitely worse. The moment they crossed the threshold, it was as though the outside world had gone completely silent and subsequently fallen out of existence. The path was almost impossible to keep to, and there was a pervasive feeling that something was watching them. But whenever any one of them looked out into the darkness between tree trunks, they just saw empty blackness. If they could just know who or what was watching them, there would be some surety as to what to feel about it. It was physically and mentally exhausting, ears twitching at every little snap of a twig that one of the party of six would tread upon. It was as though the entire world had disappeared except for those six and the Everfree.

But mingling with the oppressive atmosphere of the Everfree around them was a blue filter of pure malice. Intermittently in the distance − sometimes off to the left, or to the right, or ahead, or even behind − a faint twinkle of stars could be made out.

NightMare Moon was watching their every move, but from where?

“So,” Twilight began, her head swimming, “None of the rest of you were in here, either?”

Heavens, no!” cried Rarity, looking aghast at the very thought. “Just look around − this place is positively dreadful.”

“You can say that again,” Applejack said. After a few moments, she turned to Twilight. “If you don’t mind, mind if Ah ask ya a question, sugarcube?”

“What about?” Twilight replied.

“Well… Ah didn’t have ya pegged fer one a them Germane ponies. Where’d’ja git it from?”

Twilight frowned to herself a little, before recalling her outburst at Pinkie earlier that… well, technically not earlier that day, but earlier nonetheless. She answered matter-of-factly, “My father, Nachtlicht, was an astronomer from Germaney who married into the House of Twilight. I picked up Germane as a second language from him.” She found herself smiling at Applejack. “I actually know quite a few languages apart from Modern Equus. I know Old Equus, Germane, Fancy, Neighponese―”

“I got a question for you, too, egghead,” Rainbow Dash cut in.

Twilight blinked, glowering at the Pegasus as she continued to trot forward. “’Egghead’?”

“Yeah. Egghead,” repeated Rainbow Dash. “You read a lot of books, so you should know exactly what made the Everfree Forest this way.”

Twilight narrowed her eyes at Rainbow Dash. “I’m not an egghead; I’m just well-read. And besides, I have no idea why the forest is this way.” She cast her eyes about uneasily. “It was not covered in any of the books I’d read, and I’d read plenty of theories by leading thaumaturgists regarding Everfree mana. Queen Celestia never told me why, either, though she hinted that it was related to a great battle long before NightMare Moon.”

“A great battle?” Fluttershy echoed. “Against who?”

Twilight shook her head, “She never said. But that’s not important right now. What is is getting through this Forest quickly and―”

At that moment, Twilight turned her head to face forward… and almost fell face-first off of a cliff into a ravine! It was only through Rainbow Dash’s timely clamping down on Twilight’s tail-skirt and pulling her back that she was saved. Twilight’s eyes widened at the near-miss she’d had. There were petrified wooden poles that doubtlessly were once a part of a wooden bridge across this ravine, apparently having rotted away grossenturies ago. She gave a gasp of relief.

“I never thought I’d say this, but, thank you, Rainbow Dash,” she said with a genuine smile.

Rainbow Dash grinned, her fangs glinting in the dim moonlight. “Don’t sweat it… Though it was kinda your fault to begin with. You were so distracted blabbing on with your eggheadedness that you almost walked off yourself!”

And then the cliff gave way, sending Twilight, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity down onto the steep slope under the cliff. Fluttershy, by instinct, took to the air to join Rainbow Dash.

“Let’s get ‘em, Flutters!” smirked Rainbow Dash, diving down towards the four fillies rolling down the slope.

“Oh my goodness…” gasped Fluttershy, following her old Pegasus friend.

The pair of Pegasi managed to grab up Pinkie Pie and Rarity before they rolled too far, but Twilight and Applejack continued to tumble. Applejack’s hooves began to glow a grassy green, and she planted her forehooves into the slope. She continued to slide, but far slower, eventually stopping.

Twilight was not so lucky. She was standing the closest to the edge of the cliff, and so was the furthest down the slope, reaching the point where the steepness became vertical. Desperately, she clung to the cliff face, trying not to fall, but it was proving fruitless…

“Hold on, Twilight!” called Applejack, the green glow of her hooves fading as she gently slid down the last few meters to Twilight’s side. She wrapped her hooves around Twilight’s as tightly as she could, stabilizing her hold.

Twilight took a deep breath of relief. “Thank you, Applejack. Just don’t let go, okay?”

“Don’tcha worry none, sugarcube,” smiled Applejack, her hind hooves glowing green against the slope. “Ah ain’t never letting ya go.”

Against her better judgment, Twilight looked around beneath her. Over two-dozen meters below, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy had respectively set down Pinkie Pie and Rarity, and were beginning to fly up to help Twilight.

Twilight looked to Applejack, and nodded. “Okay, Applejack. They’re on their way. Let go.”

Applejack blinked bemusedly at Twilight.

“Are ya sure, Twilight? Ah mean, Ah got a right firm grip ‘n’all. Ah ain’t lettin’ ya go till Ah’m sure you’ll land safelike.”

After another few moments, during which Applejack ascertained that the two Pegasi were close enough to catch Twilight, she slowly loosened her grip on the lavender Unicorn. She fell less than a meter into their waiting hooves. Fluttershy fumbled slightly, but managed.

“Oh, sorry about that, Twilight,” Fluttershy said softly as Applejack deftly leapt down hoofholds in the cliff face, her hooves flashing green as she made contact with each little ledge. “I’m not terribly used to carrying anything heavier than a bunny or two.”

“That’s alright, Fluttershy,” smiled Twilight. “I owe you three my life. Rainbow, Applejack, and you.”

Fluttershy blushed, the three of them settling down at the bottom of the ravine.

“Oh my stars, Twilight!” Rarity gasped, a relieved smile on her muzzle. “Thank the Maker you’re alright!”

Twilight waved a hoof in dismissal as Applejack landed amongst the party.

“I think I have some ponies closer than that to thank,” she said. “I’m really starting to question how far I’d have made it through here without you girls.”

Rainbow Dash scoffed. “There are just some things that some ponies can’t share without ending up liking each other, and taking a tumble off a cliff is one of ‘em.” The instant that she finished speaking, the rainbow-maned pegasus scrunched her lips shut, her pupils pinpricks.

Twilight smirked in spite of the situation.

“Oooh, looks like I’m not the only egghead around here,” she said slyly. “I didn’t quite peg you for a fan of the Daring Do series, Rainbow Dash.”

“I − I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about!” said Rainbow Dash hastily, her muzzle scrunched up and her eyes darting back and forth. Fluttershy giggled, and the other four joined in. Rainbow Dash frowned, her ears flattening against her head.

A loud roar like a trumpet blast broke the light atmosphere. Immediately, the six ponies tensed, prepared to gallop in an instant.

“Oh no…” Fluttershy breathed. “What was that?”

“I have an idea…” Twilight said in a dreading tone. “And I hope I’m wrong.”

A distant growling became clear to the party, and off down the ravine they could make out a large hunched shape approaching. Stepping closer, it became clear what it was: a large crimson lion-like creature with black spines down its back, a maroon scorpion’s tail and an albino equine face with golden eyes.

A manticore!” Twilight shrieked.

The manticore reared onto its hind legs and bellowed its trumpet-like roar once more, revealing rows of razor-sharp teeth, before charging the group on all fours, a pair of ebony pincers raised above its back. The Pegasi took to the air over it, dodging its pincers, while the Unicorns and Earth Ponies dodged to either side.

“If there’s a manticore here…” Twilight panted, galloping down the path the manticore had been blocking, the other five not far behind.

“Then its chimera mate has t’be nearby!” Applejack finished. “Let’s all get outta here before―”

Almost as soon as the words had left Applejack’s mouth, a large creature dropped down directly in front of them from a cloud of starry blue mist. It had the head and front half of a tiger, a goat’s head to the left of its tiger head, goat legs, and a snake for a tail.

“Where do you think you’re going?” rumbled the chimera’s tiger-head.

“Our husband was just inviting you to dinner,” bleated her goat-head.

“Yesss,” hissed the snake-head. “And you three… are the main courssse!”

“Oooh! Ooh, ooh!” Pinkie pronked eagerly. “Can I be the dessert?”

Her pony companions − and the manticore and chimera − tilted their heads to the side in confusion.

“Umm, Mrs. Chimera,” Fluttershy began softly, “if it’s not too much trouble, would it be alright if you and your husband let us go… just this once…?”

Twilight gave Fluttershy a look of complete bafflement.

The tiger-head purred in thought. “I think not,” it said. “Our husband and my sisters and I haven’t eaten in days.” (It was common for one head on a chimera to refer to its other two heads as its sisters.) “We were about to turn in for the day…”

“But the Sun is still asleep,” the goat-head said gleefully. “And while the Sun sleeps, we are awake!”

“Ssso prepare to become sssix sssupple helpingsss of filly filet!” growled the snake-head with mirth.

An idea flashed into Twilight’s mind.

“Everypony, grab on to me!” she shouted.

Her companions didn’t need to be told twice. She looked up to the cliff face above the ravine, taking careful note that it was the opposite cliff from the one she’d fallen off of. She knew they would not land on top of it directly, but maybe a meter or two over it, but it was better than to be devoured by a pair of chimericals.

The manticore and chimera were wise to the fact that their prey was up to something, and after a moment’s hesitation, both dived at the party of six at the same time.

Half a second too slow. The six of them vanished in a sparkling flash of purple light, leaving the manticore and chimera to crash into one another face-first. Infuriated by their loss, they began to maul one another.

Twilight Sparkle had seldom winked out before, and the sensation was as unpleasant as it always was. It was as though every single particle of her being were being squeezed through an extremely narrow keyhole. It couldn’t have been any easier for any of her travel companions; side-winking was not easy when Queen Celestia first demonstrated it for Twilight.

After an eternal instant of infinite compression, Twilight could breathe again, and felt herself flopping against grass. Down in the ravine, she could hear the chimericals tearing each other apart. Up on the cliffside with her, she could hear Rainbow Dash retching.

“What in tarnation was that?” Applejack asked woozily.

That,” explained Twilight, “was a last resort. I don’t like to wink out at the best of times, but that was the only way out of there with all of us in one piece.”

Rainbow Dash wiped her mouth off on her forearm. “Yeah, well, that was majorly uncomfortable, so please don’t do it again.”

Twilight glared. “You’re welcome for saving your life.”

“Girls, please!” declared Rarity. Her mane and tail were sticking out in every direction. “As… distasteful as I found that particular excursion into inner space to be, we simply must be pressing on.”

They pushed forward into the forest.

“Aww…” Pinkie mused at the back of the group. “But I wanted to be the dessert.”

The path through the Everfree Forest angled down, though not by much, and the thicket overhead forbade much moonlight from showing through. The path they’d followed at the mouth of the forest was not steady, but the one they were following now made that path seem like it was paved out of a mirror. Roots seemed to pull themselves up to trip the six travelers up, trod-upon stones had an unfortunate habit of dislodging just as a mare put her weight upon it, both such events leading to much stumbling and cursing by the mares. What spots were not eaten up by roots or rocks was moist and boggy, so that one could not keep her hooves in one place for too long, or the suction would make it difficult to move on. The air was stifling, and there was a stiff heat around them that made them bleary. Their coats stuck tightly to their skin.

Two-and-a-half-dozen minutes, a half an hour, had passed in such a manner, with little said of any substance, and any conversation was quick and hushed. Tension was mounting, as was a degree of impatience; how much further into the Everfree was Queen Celestia’s old castle, anyway?

“Remember when I said I doubted how far I’d make it into the Everfree?” Twilight said brusquely.

“Yeah…?” said Rainbow Dash slowly.

“I take it back.”

What?” the rainbow-maned Pegasus bellowed in rage. The other four stopped, making similarly affronted exclamations. “But I saved you from walking off the − GAHHH!” She smacked her face with her hoof.

“I’m grateful, don’t get me wrong,” continued Twilight, which lessened the tension somewhat, “But I wouldn’t have needed saving if somepony didn’t call me an egghead to begin with! I would not have had to worry about those chimericals if somepony didn’t try to reason with them!”

“YOU LEAVE FLUTTERSHY OUT OF THIS!” Rainbow Dash screamed, her nostrils flaring and her ears flattening. “SHE TRIED HER BEST!”

And,” Twilight pressed on, “I would probably have been able to wink across the gorge myself, not wasting potentially valuable mana winking five other ponies.”

“So, what?” Rainbow Dash snapped, folding her forelegs. “You want us to go back to Ponyville? So you can hog all the glory?”

“Guys…” Applejack said tentatively, raising a foreleg.

“Put a cork in it, AJ!” barked Rainbow Dash. “I wanna hear it, straight from the horse’s mouth.”

“You think I got involved in this mess for glory? Glory has nothing to do with this!” Twilight growled. “I just don’t want any blood on my hooves!”

Rainbow Dash growled, but Rarity placed a dainty − and muddy − hoof on Rainbow Dash’s shoulder, causing her to withdraw as Rarity advanced.

“As much as we appreciate your concern, darling,” interjected Rarity, “Did that not seem a remarkably… insensitive way to put it?”

Twilight gave Rarity an intense glare.

“Insensitive?” she repeated. “Well, I’m sorry that I lost my parents at a young age due to my own lack of control over my mana output. My sensitivity was trampled to pulp ages ago.”

“I don’t think so, dear,” Rarity said, and by the dim light, she seemed to be smiling faintly. “I have seen how you treat your surrogate dragon son.”

“He’s not my son,” Twilight interrupted. “I just hatched his egg with my magic.”

“Nevertheless, he’s still very fond of you. And you, too, hold him near and dear, do you not?”

“I… I guess.”

“Ah-ah-ah. No guessing. Yes, or no. Is little Spike dear to you?”

“…Yes. Yes, he is.”

“See that, Grumpy Gracie?” piped in Pinkie Pie, who was balancing on her forelegs upside-down, somehow not sinking into the mud. “You’re a real softie, after all~”

Fluttershy nodded in agreement.

“I still think you were being a jerk,” Rainbow Dash said derisively.

“Rainbow!” shouted Applejack, before facing Twilight with a gentle expression. “Now listen, sugarcube. We’re all gettin’ a little hot under the hitchcollar here in the Everfree. But that don’t mean we gotta be feudin’ ‘n’ all. Y’can’t be ruminatin’ on the coulda-beens or mighta-beens all the time; you could do that till the cows come home. ‘Sides, ya didn’t drag any of us out here; we came with ya ‘cause yer our friend. We ain’t leavin’ ya, come Tartarus or high water.”

Twilight looked down at her hooves. Now she felt ashamed of her earlier statement. She had not meant for it to come across as insensitive as it had. She had never exactly found the books on socialization to be all that important, and when she did bother to read them, nothing seemed to stick.

But why did she care? These ponies weren’t her friends! They just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and now they were all in some Maker-forsaken forest where their lives were in peril at any given moment!

Looking up, she saw each of them giving her an expectant look, except Rainbow Dash, who was hovering in the air, glowering off to her right.

“I’m sorry,” Twilight said softly, and sincerely. “I’ve just… never been with other ponies who’ve liked me for me before.”

“Canterlot’s swarmin’ with all sortsa social-climbers, ain’t it?” Applejack queried. Twilight nodded.

“Wait, waitwaitwaitwaitwaitwait!” Rainbow Dash bolted upright. “Aren’t we supposed to be nabbin’ some stinkin’ Elements so that we can get out of this stinkin’ forest?”

Twilight stood erect herself. “You’re right. Everlasting darkness has gone on long enough. We need to get moving!”

The sound of creaking branches was heard. Fluttershy let out a sharp Eep! and clutched Rainbow Dash in a vice.

“What… was that?” Rarity asked tensely.

It spoke to the atmosphere of the Forest that Pinkie did not ask if this was a guessing game.

“We’re gonna find out, and then we’re gonna run,” Twilight said, lighting up her alicorn with a basic illumination spell.

The undergrowth looked perfectly normal, save for a few oddly-shaped logs in the distance. There was no sign that any predators had been anywhere near them.

“Uhh, Twilight…” said a suddenly shaky and pale Applejack.

Twilight faced the farmer mare. “What’s wrong, Applejack?”

“Behind you!”

Twilight turned and impulsively fired a concussive force spell. Something large and wooden and alive went flying backwards into a tree, its eyes glowing with an unearthly green light. Its lupine body splintered into many pieces, the glow in its eyes fading.

“RUN!” Applejack screamed, galloping further into the Forest. The five others followed without hesitation.

The oddly-shaped logs ahead suddenly leapt up, exposing glowing-green eyes, branches for limbs, twigs for ears and tails, long thick thorns for claws and teeth…

The screams of five ponies echoed weirdly in the forest.

They might have covered the same distance in five minutes they’d covered the past two-dozen-and-a-half, but time was lost on the six galloping ponies. All that mattered was evading their pursuers, those monstrous tree-creatures.

Applejack leapt up over one of the monsters, coming down on top of another with all four, the beast shattering under her glowing hooves, before she propelled herself off with a powerful leap. Twilight caught the shrapnel in her dwimmer shimmer, sending the pieces flying at deadly speed at the other creatures, shattering them. Rarity kept her head down and charged blindly, crying out in fright and hoping that she did not run into the unearthly beasts. Fluttershy tried to fly as close as she could to the canopy of trees, thorny teeth snapping at her hooves. Pinkie Pie played hopscotch on the heads of the tree-creatures, burying their muzzles deep in the mud. Rainbow Dash barreled straight through the monsters, shrugging off the splinters that dug into her forearms shielding her eyes.

In time, the six ponies came to a thinning of the trees, and finally to a stream. Somehow, someway, they had survived that ordeal. Each and every one of them was panting heavily, trying to fight the stitches in their barrels. The ordeal had left them disheveled, sweaty, and mud caked around their hooves.

“What were… those beasts?” gasped Rarity.

“They were timberwolves,” Applejack replied hoarsely in answer. She doffed her Stetson. “Spirits of the Everfree inhabitin’ dead tree parts.”

“I think… I read… about them,” Twilight panted. “Not a single… thaumaturgist… was able… to successfully… find out how… their magic works.”

“Magic don’t matter to them abominations,” snarled Applejack. “All they want is to eat ponies. Don’t even need to, neither; they just eat ‘n’ kill things fer th’ sport of it.” Her eyes darkened. “A timberwolf pack attacked the farm the day Apple Bloom was born. Big Mac was too young to fight ‘em. So, Pa fought ‘em off. Alone.” She bowed her head. “He didn’t make it.”

Twilight gasped in horror. “I’m so sorry, Applejack.”

Applejack shook her head with a sad smile. “T’ain’t worth fussin’ over. I loved Pa, and he loved us. We had a swell time together in this life, and he laid his life down fer Sweet Apple Acres. Fer us. And, fer what it’s worth…” She smiled brightly at Twilight. “Not a single timberwolf’s dared come near Sweet Apple Acres the ten years since.”

A high, mirthful laugh reached their ears. The five of them leapt up, spooked, wondering where in Harmonia that laugh was coming from. Looking down, they saw Pinkie Pie, rolling about in the dewy grass at the stream’s edge, almost literally laughing her head off.

“Pinkie Pie,” Twilight queried, “Why are you… laughing?”

Pinkie Pie struggled back to her hooves, hiccuping through her last few giggles.

“Because… hee-hee-hee… We’re alive!” she said gleefully. “Those mean old timberwolves sure were a scary bunch − I mean, of course they’re scary. They’re trees that come to life and try to bite your patootie off! That would be like getting, like, a gigagross of splinters all over your body −” (“Yeah, isn’t that just terrible?” snarked Rainbow Dash, who was busy biting splinters out of her forearms.) “− and that’s if the timberwolf doesn’t try to body-slam you. Could you imagine how painful that would be? I mean, that would be like a rock falling on you! Well, I was fine that one time a rock fell on my head back at the rock farm, but that’s probably because I don’t let things like that bother me. A rock can’t keep on trying to body-slam you. (...Can it? I should ask Maud.) But anyway, we made it out, and I’m laughing because we made it out, and we’re that much closer to getting to the pretty shiny rainbow thingies!”

Twilight barely caught any of what Pinkie Pie had said, because of how fast she’d been speaking. And judging from the looks on her companions’ faces, they were not much clearer on it, either. But still, she got the basic message, and pretty soon, a bubbling came up from her lungs.

Before long, Twilight and her five companions were rolling on the grass laughing about their merriment and relief. For about five minutes, they forgot completely about their quest, and NightMare Moon, and the everlasting night. For five minutes, they just laughed.

Twilight brought a cloven hoof up to her eye, wiping away a tear of mirth. Regardless of how this ended, whether it ended with NightMare Moon annihilated by the Elements of Harmony, or with the Queen of the Night cackling triumphantly over their dead bodies, she would always remember this moment.

“How did that start, Pinkie?” she asked.

Pinkie giggled. “That’s a funny question, Twilight; I don’t get what you mean~”

“What I mean is, when did you start laughing about things like that?”

Pinkie put a pink hoof to her chin in thought. After a moment, a surprisingly pensive expression crossed her face.

“Well, before my Granny Pie went off to the Elysian Fields, she told me not to cry at her funeral, but to laugh. She wanted me to remember the good times I’d spent with her − like the time she taught me to giggle at the ghosties in my closet! − instead of letting all those sad feelings take over. ’Laugh to enjoy the good times, and to endure the bad.’ That’s what she always told me.”

Twilight gaped. She wasn’t expecting such sage from such a random mare as Pinkie Pie.

“Well,” Rainbow Dash said abruptly, stretching her forelegs. She was actually standing on the ground, as opposed to flying. “We made it out, so what say we take five, graze a little? Get our energy back.”

Truth be told, despite the urgency of their pressing on, Twilight had to agree with Rainbow Dash. She had not had any food to speak of since the “brunch” at Sweet Apple Acres the previous morning, and after the hurricane of events that had turned her life upside-down in the past few hours, she was feeling positively starved. She nodded her consent to the Pegasus’s idea, and the other four followed suit.

For the next several minutes, the six of them simply stood in a circle, kneeling down, taking clumps of grass in their teeth, and simply grazing. The Everfree grass was coarser and less enticing than any grass that any of them had ever eaten, but in such a desperate location, they could not afford to be choosy about what sustained them. Rarity, who fancied herself a mare of haute couture, was particularly hesitant to graze upon the Everfree grass, but she conceded in the end.

After she’d felt satisfied with the grass she’d grazed upon, Twilight trotted up to the stream to take a sip. Upon closer inspection, though, the water looked slightly stagnant, if not slightly tense, as though anticipating some sort of altercation. Thinking twice, she trotted back from the stream.

“Any idea how we’re gonna cross this?” Twilight asked her five comrades. “I don’t think we should cross by hoof.”

“Uhh, hello?” said Rainbow Dash dryly, flapping her wings.

“Oh. Right. Well, could you and Fluttershy…?”

“No can do, bookworm,” Rainbow Dash said with a shake of her head. (“Bookworm?” Twilight hissed.) “Pegasi are good at slowing down other ponies who are falling, not at lifting them up.”

“We’re so sorry,” Fluttershy whimpered, her ears drooping slightly as she hid her face behind her mane. Rainbow Dash gave her a sidelong glance.

“Don’t worry about it,” replied the lavender Unicorn lightly. “I can just wink everypony else across.”

“Not me!” said Pinkie, jumping back and forth on alternating forelegs and hindlegs. “I can make it across, with a hop, skip, and a jump!”

With each successive hop, skip and jump, Pinkie Pie made a higher and higher jump, finally bounding across the stream in a single leap.

Twilight gaped. “How did she do that?”

Applejack shrugged. “Ya get used t’ stuff like that when ya’ve lived with Pinkie Pie fer a while. Ah bet it’s somethin’ to do with that Pegasus grandma o’ hers.”

Twilight scratched her chin. “Makes as much sense as anything else…”

As Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy glided across the stream to join Pinkie, Twilight looked back to Rarity. The alabaster Unicorn was no longer quite alabaster. Her coat had been stained by mud and grass, and her mane and tail were lank and damp, respectively sticking to her face and hind legs. Granted, it looked better than the zebro look her mane produced when frazzled by a side-winking.

“You’ll have to wink out alongside me again, Rarity,” Twilight said simply.

Rarity sighed. “If I must.” She wrapped a hoof delicately around one of Twilight’s.

“Think you can make the jump on your own, Applejack?” asked Twilight to the farmer mare.

“Ah’d rather not chance it. Ah think Ah’ll tag along with y’all an’ the fashionista.”

Applejack approached Twilight and Rarity, circling around so as to be on Twilight’s other side from Rarity. She took Twilight’s other forehoof.

“I appreciate your distance from me, Applejack,” Rarity said aloofly. “Some of us are trying to maintain some semblance of sophistication in this dreadful place.”

“‘Sophistication’?” Applejack snapped. “Th’ Everfree’s no place for no sophisticatedness! We gotta get through an’ get the job done!”

“Girls, let’s not fight,” murmured Twilight.

“If you please, Twilight,” said Rarity with barely restrained irritance, “I would like to remind Applejack that some ponies take offense at looking an absolute mess all the time!”

“Well, sometimes ya gotta get t’be a mighty big mess if you wanna get th’ job done quicklike!”


“I’ll have you know, Applejack, that a mare of my standards takes great pride in her appearance. Do you have any idea how long it takes me to coif this mane and this tail?”

“Prob’ly longer than it’d take to find the Elements if we did things your way! Ah betcha we wouldn’t even’ve gotten outta Ponyville bah this point!”

“Appearances must be upheld! Without beauty within and without, what does a mare truly have?”

Look aroundja! It’s pushing noon already, and the Moon’s still out! And this eternal night’s gonna be a heckuva lot longer if we don’t get those Elements pronto!”


“That is simply no reason to allow one’s hooficure to go to waste!”

“Are you sayin’ mah hoofs aren’t well-kept? How d’ya think Ah’m such a good bucker?”

“Oh, you buck trees with your hooves? I thought that it was with your thick skull!”

Yer the one with the thick skull here!”


Twilight’s dwimmer shimmer grabbed hold of Applejack and Rarity, pulling them apart from her, and each other. In their anger, they had almost forgotten Twilight was there. The lavender Unicorn’s ears were flat against her skull, and her purple eyes were shifting between the two bickering mares.

“This bickering is not going to help us get to the Elements faster!” she growled.

She’s the one who started it!” said Applejack, pointing an accusing hoof at Rarity.

Started it?” Rarity gasped. “Ladies do not start fights…” She narrowed her eyes at Applejack. “But they can finish them!”

“I don’t care which one of you started it!” Twilight shouted. “Neither of you are making this any easier, not for me, and especially not for each other! This entire trip through the Everfree could have been so much easier if you five weren’t trying to be my friends! I don’t need friends, especially not if this is what friends do! All of this bickering back and forth between the two of you has only made my mind even more muddled, and I’ve got half a mind just to throw you two Dummköpfe across!”

With a last frustrated growl, Twilight made good on her threat, and hurled the farmer mare and her fellow Unicorn across the stream.

Her mind temporarily cleared by her outburst, she winked across to a spot five paces away from the three who’d already crossed, just as Rarity landed on her rump just on the edge of this other side of the stream. Applejack, who’d regained her bearings quicker than Rarity, had already flipped around, one hoof holding her Stetson to her head, her hind legs poised for a landing.

Just short of the riverbank with a splash.

The stream’s surface instantly began to violently roil, large rocky shapes clamboring fiercely for the apple-farming Earth Pony. Applejack gave a start, leaping straight over the other five and landing at the mouth of the trees ahead of them. Spooked, her five companions backed several paces away from the riverbank.

“It’s a bask a’ cragodiles!” she cried, the crocodilian rock-monsters snapping at the riverbank for prey that was no longer there. “That musta been why th’ water was so still! This here’s cragodile territory!”

“And I daresay we keep it that way!” quavered Rarity, galloping past Applejack deeper into Everfree.

“Ah never agreed with you more in mah life!” concurred Applejack, following her.

Twilight, Pinkie and the two Pegasi were about to take off after Applejack and Rarity, when the stream began to stir even more violently. Peering closely, Twilight understood quickly what was going on. A pod of chuul had apparently just encroached upon the cragodiles’ hunting territory while looking for more promising feeding grounds, and the blue crustacean beasts were currently locked in a turf war with the stony ambush predators. Claws and tentacles clashed with rocky fangs and tails.

“I think we better go after those two before one side wins and realizes that there’s four very tasty ponies waiting just on the shore,” Twilight said in a strained tone.

“I agree,” Fluttershy breathed, before galloping along the path Rarity and Applejack had taken.

Twilight turned to follow, and found herself muzzle-to-muzzle with Rainbow Dash.

“You really don’t know what friends do together, do you?” she asked.

Twilight, baffled by such a question from Rainbow Dash, found herself shaking her head.

Rainbow Dash sighed.

“Then I think you might be in for a bit of a shocker: Rarity and Applejack aren’t friends.”


“Yeah, you heard me right. They argue like that all the time whenever they meet at the market. I mean, they don’t hate each other, but they don’t like to spend more time together than they need to. I mean, what do they really have in common? Rarity’s a frou-frou fashion freak, and AJ gets dirty buckin’ apple trees from dawn to dusk. I’ll bet Tartarus will freeze over before they have a conversation that doesn’t end in shouting.”

Twilight breathed heavily out of her nostrils. “I feel really bad throwing them like that. They could’ve gotten hurt, even if there weren’t cragodiles in the stream.”

“Yeah, that was pretty lame.”


“I’m just callin’ it as I see it,” Rainbow shrugged, before she bolted down after Fluttershy.

With a heavy sigh, Twilight made ready to gallop after them.

Everypony needs friends, you know.”

Twilight found herself giving Pinkie Pie a wide-eyed look. Since when had this pony been so full of wisdom?

Pinkie just gave a wide smile.

“There’s nopony out there who’s happy without friends. Well, I mean there’s probably some kinda weirdo out there who’s sure that she doesn’t need ponies to hang out with and share jokes with and eat cupcakes with and prank each other with… but you’re not that kinda weirdo, Twilight!” Pinkie patted Twilight’s mane with a bright-pink hoof, her eyes twinkling. “You’re the funny kind of weird~”

And Pinkie took off with a skipping gallop.

Twilight simply stared after the pink pony, flabbergasted.

Did Pinkie Pie say that she thinks I’m weird?

Shaking her head, Twilight reared up and took off after them

Maybe I do need friends… But these five… Wouldn’t exactly be my first choices…

The third patch of Everfree Forest that the six of them walked through was less oppressively enclosed, and cooler to boot, which was a welcome reprieve from the stifling hotness of the one just prior to the stream of cragodiles. However, the tension had not let up; if anything, it had only escalated. The trees in this area were flowering with some of the most unwholesome-looking fruit that any of them had ever seen. Not a single one of them thought of bucking the fruit down for a bit of portable edibles, even before some of the fruits started to stir.

Twilight took a deep breath. “Applejack? Rarity?”

The two addressees turned to face Twilight.

“Yes, darling?”

“What’s eatin’ ya, sugarcube?”

“I’d like to apologize for throwing you two over the stream,” she said carefully. “Everything is just really piling up on top of everything else, and I lost my cool. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t want me as a friend anymore.” She bowed her head, closing her eyes.

“Twilight…” came Applejack’s voice, and Twilight opened her eyes to see that the farmer mare was smiling genially. “What kinda friend would Ah be if Ah stopped callin’ ya friend over one little ol’ outburst? Ah should be apologizin’ fer puttin’ ya in such a situation.”

“No, I should be the one who apologizes,” Rarity said, stepping forward. “I was the one who started the altercation, despite my otherwise ladylike demeanor, so I shall accept full responsibility for your fit of temper.”

“Betcher not as sorry as Ah am.”

“I do believe I am.”

“Are not.”

“Are too.”

“Are not!”

Are too!”

“Girls!” Twilight shouted, torn between screaming and laughing. “Let’s get a move on, get those Elements, bring back the Sun and Queen Celestia, and get out of this nasty place!”

“Well, you better scratch that first one off the list,” said Rainbow Dash slowly, and Twilight looked ahead from Applejack and Rarity, to see Rainbow pointing through the gap between the trees some ten paces ahead. “‘Cause I think we found something.”

Following Rainbow’s pointing hoof, Twilight saw across, through swirling clouds of fog and mist, the crumbling battlements and guard towers of an ancient castle.

Twilight beamed for what felt like the first time in her life.

“We’re almost there!” she cried, galloping forward.

“Wait for us, Twi!” Applejack shouted after her.

Twilight smiled back at Applejack, but almost immediately felt the ground vanish from under her forehooves. Flailing about somewhat, Twilight’s heart leapt into her throat at the slope she’d almost taken a nasty tumble down, into the foggy chasm. She felt her tail being yanked back, and looked back to see Rainbow Dash unclamping her teeth from the tuft at the end.

Rainbow Dash offered a light humor-filled smile, so unlike her cocky, borderline feral grin. “What is it with you and falling off cliffs today?”

Twilight looked out at the ancient castle again, just as the fog began to drift aside. She caught sight of five or six large towers, but little else. She squinted; the castle seemed far too low to have been the former capital of Equestria for a meggrossium and a half.

“The castle is sinking,” she concluded. “We’ll have to slide down the slope.”

“Whee!” cried Pinkie Pie, curling up into a ball and rolling down the slope.

“Pinkie Pie, wait!” Twilight called, reaching out futilely. With a grating sigh, she turned to the others. “Alright, everypony, we gotta follow her, but carefully!”

She lit up her alicorn, her hooves glowing as she slid down the slope at a brisk but controlled speed.

Rarity looked ruefully at her hooves. “But I’ll ruin my best horseshoes…”

“Then take ‘em off!” Applejack shouted, leaping down and bracing for impact, her own hooves glowing with a faint green light even before she touched the earthy slope.

Turning to watch Rainbow Dash bolt down the slope, Fluttershy meekly shadowing her, Rarity bit her lip, sat on her haunches, looked down at her forehooves, and…

“Whatcha waiting for, Rarity?” piped up Pinkie Pie.

“I’m contemplating taking off my − wait, WHAT?”

Before the alabaster Unicorn could say another word, Pinkie grabbed Rarity’s forehooves between her own and pulled her down. The whole slide down, Pinkie squealed with delight, and Rarity screamed with fright.

“I swear that I was the first one down here,” Rainbow Dash repeated. “I didn’t even see Pinkie on the way down.”

They were standing on the wrecked remains of what was once surely the great stone bridge that spanned a majestic moat now long dry. The bridge must have snapped at some point as the castle sunk into the earth, turning it into a large cobblestoned ramp leading up to the Palace.

Twilight rubbed her chin, her eye scrunched almost shut.

“That doesn’t make sense. Even with your speed, Rainbow Dash, she should have made it down first with that head-start. Could she have wandered off and around the bridge?”

Applejack looked down at the swirling eddies of mist undered the slanted bridge. “Doubtful.”

A delighted squeal reached their ears as Pinkie Pie and Rarity slide down to the four other ponies, Pinkie doing a double frontflip as she did so, landing on her hind legs with a bright Ta-da~! Rarity, meanwhile, was lying at Pinkie’s hooves, shuddering.

“H−How did you do that…?” Twilight asked.

“I thought the slide was fun, so I went back up to do it again and get Rarity~” Pinkie grinned.

Twilight stroked her chin again. She wouldn’t put it past Pinkie to do that, but… something didn’t quite add up. After a moment, she shrugged. Pinkie was probably just a fast runner, and might have just been covered in a cloud of mist, or maybe Rainbow Dash didn’t look properly. Besides, there were bigger issues at hoof than Pinkie’s weirdness.

“Well, guys, we’re almost there,” said Twilight with a degree of finality, facing up to the ancient Palace of the Two Alicorn Queens. She began to trot up the bridge with deliberation; the angle was treacherous, and one wrong step could see her tumbling down and potentially off. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that the fog was frustratingly thick down here, and they could barely see five paces ahead.

“Reckon ya could do somethin’ about this here fog, Twilight?” asked Applejack, squinting, with her Stetson pulled low past her forelock.

“Just give me a moment,” Twilight replied, already lighting up her horn with a basic wind spell that would disperse the fog long enough for them to scale this bridge… hopefully. In moments, the dwimmer shimmer expanded outwards with surprising speed, dimming as it sped away from its caster, creating a sound like a soft sonic boom. The fog cleared in a circle around them, at least twenty meters to each side.

And so Twilight Sparkle and her companions beheld the ancient Palace of the Two Alicorn Queens.

Tall, imposing, and proud, the Palace was once the crown-jewel of the Diarchy of Equestria. Now, time and neglect after a fierce battle had taken their cumulative toll upon the castle. Gouge marks and holes had been blasted in many walls, and some towers ended roughly and abruptly, likely during the decisive battle between Queen Celestia and NightMare Moon a megagross years before. The untamed weather of Everfree had worn the stone down, leaving the once-majestic Alicorn statues flanking the large wooden gates eroded and impotent. Vines and moss and other forms of creeping plant-life had invaded the walls. There was one other detail about the castle that could be seen now that the six were closer to its base…

“Is that… a tree…?” asked Applejack.

It looked that way. It seemed as though the ancient Palace was built upon the branches of a very large, very wide tree whose roots disappeared into the fog. The way that the dim moonlight reflected off of its bark, though, told them something else…

“Is it petrified…?” mused Twilight.

“Or… made from stone...?” Fluttershy wondered.

“No,” cut in Rarity. “Black diamond.”

Rarity was correct. The tree, roots to branches, seemed to be formed out of a singular piece of multifaceted black diamond. Five great branches supported ancillary wings that splintered off from the central hub of the Palace.

“It really is lovely,” Rarity said, more to herself than anypony else. “It seems such a shame that this place should have fallen to such ruin. If I could, I would see this palace restored to its former glory!”

“That’s pretty sweet and all, Rare,” said Rainbow Dash, “but we got some Elements to swipe.”

“Yes. We do,” Twilight said simply, galloping straight up the bridge, her five companions trying to keep pace.

This everlasting night had simply gone on long enough.

The main gate proved to be surprisingly simple to open, seeing as whoever had last left the Palace had not taken care to lock it down or even completely close it. Each taking a deep breath, they crossed the threshold.

The main hall of the Palace was easily large enough to contain the Gazebo and the Golden Oak Library and still have plenty of space to the front, the back and the sides. If Twilight figured the dimensions properly, it was probably even larger than Queen Celestia’s throne room up in Canterlot. Pillars as thick as redwoods were engraved with images of great pony warriors whose names escaped even Twilight’s mind. The carpet beneath them, and the tapestries depicting the Sun and Moon at the far end of the main hall, were faded with age and weathering, and the ceiling was caved in in many places. Debris littered the floor; abandoned weapons, the odd helmet or two of bygone armor design, and chunks of roof-rock made crossing the main hall slightly less straight-forward. Branching off from the main hall were many corridors, flanked by empty sconces that once held bright-burning torches and candles.

Circling the shattered remains of a long-derelict chandelier brought the six halfway through the main hall. Now they had a more proper look at the other end of the hall. There was a large dais easily higher than one pony standing on another’s withers, with a pair of circling staircases leading up to it. Up there, directly before each staircase, seemingly untouched by time, were a pair of thrones, side by side. The one on their right, beneath the Sun-based tapestry, was bright-yellow, and surrounded by all manner of engravings and heraldry depicting the Sun and the activities of the day. On their left, beneath the Moon-based tapestry, was a deep-blue throne, identical save for color, surrounded by engravings which depicted stars, constellations, and the Moon in its varying phases.

Between the circling staircases was a fountain overgrown with weeds and moss. It bore on it several large stones, each set with some unclear mark, and looking on them seemed to fill Twilight with a peace of mind as though her soul had been supplied with some spiritual balm.

“There they are! The Elements!” Twilight cried with joy, rearing up.

Collecting the Elements would have seemed to be a hassle; each orb, perfectly smooth and polished, as though they’d just been placed yesterday, was about as wide around as the gap under Twilight’s legs while standing fully erect on all fours. But when Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy flew up to grab one together, it lifted with surprising easiness. After they’d placed it on the ground, Rainbow then experimented with a single Element, tapping it with a hoof. It almost slid off, but Rainbow Dash quickly bolted and snagged it. Within a minute, all six of the Elements were collected and at their hooves.

“There’s only five!” Pinkie said, sounding a little fearful.

A lump appeared in Twilight’s throat. One of the Elements was missing?

“Do you think that the sixth Element might have been stolen?” Rarity pondered. “Or, perhaps, spirited away by NightMare Moon?”

“Or maybe it’s hidden somewhere?” Fluttershy asked hopefully.


A lightning bolt shot through Twilight’s mind, and she beamed.

I’ve got it!!”

“Got what? The sixth Element?” Pinkie asked, an eyebrow quirked up.

“No, but I just remembered,” Twilight used her magic to produce Philomena’s letter from Queen Celestia. “See all these randomly bolded letters? And the bolded word spark?”

The other five nodded.

“I just realized… they’re not random at all! The Queen always uses a fresh quill whenever she writes, so that her message is plain as day for anypony she sends it to. She had to have bolded these letters deliberately! Now…” She squinted down at the letter. “If I read this carefully, I should be able to decode her message…”

Her tongue curving up her upper lip, Twilight looked carefully down at the letter, looking carefully for a bolded letter.

“Let’s see… the s in should is bolded… ixth… Okay, so the first paragraph’s secret word is Sixth. So the second paragraph’s secret word should be… As I thought. Element.”

“‘Sixth Element spark’…” pondered Rarity. “It doesn’t seem much to go on, darling.”

“The Queen had to have written this knowing that NightMare Moon was just minutes away,” Twilight said. “She can’t have had time to give much. But I think I know how to produce the sixth Element of Harmony.”

“How?” all five asked at once.

Twilight smirked.

“If I understand this coded message correctly, then the sixth Element should appear when a spark ignites the other five,” she explained, trotting into the circle the five inert Elements formed. Her alicorn lit, her dwimmer shimmer casting an unusual amount of light off of the Elements.

“You girls might want to stay back,” she said cautiously. “I’m not quite sure what will happen.”

Applejack nodded to the others, “C’mon, y’all. She needs t’ concentrate.”

With varying degrees of reluctance, they retreated to the fallen chandelier.

Once she was sure that they were safely away, Twilight set to work. Closing her eyes, she lit up her horn again, casting her mind around to a spell that could create a spark.

But what sort of spell would generate a spark that would ignite Harmony? she thought. Think, Twilight Sparkle, think! This isn’t for them! This is for your parents! This is for Spike! This is for everypony you care about!

…This is for the Queen.

Meanwhile, the five Ponyville natives were convening among each other.

“I really don’t think we should’ve left her alone,” Rainbow Dash said bluntly. “I smell something funny about this.”

“We’re close enough that we’ll notice if anything funny happens,” replied Applejack, digging in a hoof. “You think Ah’d let somethin’ bad happen to one of mah friends?”

“Oh no. Rainbow Dash didn’t mean anything like that,” said Fluttershy, raising her head slightly so that her mane covered her eyes slightly less.

“What else could she have possibly meant?” Rarity said. “And besides, we do need to give Twilight her space. Why, it’s just like me when a client takes out a big order of Carousel Couture carousel-style wares!”

Hold it!” Pinkie shouted in a frightened voice. Looking at her, her fellow Ponyvillagers saw that she was holding her left elbow. “My knee’s super-pinchy!

Immediately, the five turned to face Twilight. A starry blue mist had gathered around her and the Elements and the lavender Unicorn, who had not noticed her peril.

“TWILIGHT!” the five shouted, breaking into a full gallop.

Twilight snapped her head up, her horn going dark in an instant. She cried out in shock as she saw the swirling mist and the floating Elements.

And heard the diabolical laugh.

The mist tore off down one of the side-hallways, having taken Twilight and the Elements.

“After her!” Applejack shouted, the five ponies galloping in hot pursuit. Their foe was fast, but she left a long smoky trail.

This was the opposite of the feeling of winking out. Whereas winking out felt like every particle of your body being compressed into a singularity, this felt more like her body was being broken down and spread across the universe. It was peculiar, but not an altogether unpleasant means of winking out.

The experience was short-lived, as Twilight felt her body reconstituting and her hooves making rough contact with hard stone. Collapsing onto her belly, she blinked the bleariness away and looked up.

She was in some dilapidated meeting hall, a large stone dais at the end of the long room. Behind it were three high broken stained glass windows.

And on the dais stood NightMare Moon, the Elements of Harmony held in her starry blue mane. She wore an expression of savage pleasure, her batlike fangs glinting in her razor-sharp grin. Lightning flashed outside the windows.

Twilight struggled to her hooves, a plan coming to her mind. A risky one, a crazy one, but if it worked…

She glowered at the Queen of Darkness, pawing at the ground as she lowered her head for a charge.

NightMare Moon narrowed her slitted eyes at Twilight.

“Surely you jest at me,” she snarled, a snakelike tongue flicking out of her mouth. Nevertheless, she accepted Twilight’s invitation to duel with her own pawing at the ground. She placed the Elements on the dais around her as she lowered her head, her own alicorn far longer than Twilight’s own. She had the clear edge.

The combatants charged, the hall echoing loudly with their hoofsteps.

Twilight grinned internally as she saw NightMare Moon’s alicorn lighting up with that bright-cyan dwimmer shimmer, purple lightning arcing up and down the dark Alicorn’s horn. Her own horn was already ablaze with bright-pink light.

But she was not preparing an offensive spell.

The instant before NightMare Moon’s horn would have impaled Twilight Sparkle’s skull, she vanished in a bright flash of pink light. NightMare Moon slid to a stop, momentarily perplexed by the lack of a corpse impaled on her alicorn.

On the dais, Twilight appeared amidst the Elements, her head bobbling back and forth. Going from practically inconstituent particles to solid to a singularity to solid again was not an experience that left Twilight in an altogether collected state. Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Twilight desperately set about trying to ignite a spark.

Come on… she thought as her horn crackled with pink lightning. Just one spark… Just one little spark… Nur ein Funke… Please…

Behind her, NightMare Moon had noticed what Twilight had done, whirled into the air as a twister of blue starry mist, and descended upon the dais. The impact sending Twilight to the floor again, hitting her head with a sickening CRACK.

Blinking spots out of her eyes, Twilight made note of her condition. She was probably concussed, but she would have to worry about medical attention later, and stay conscious to see NightMare Moon through to the end. She rolled over onto her belly, facing the dais.

The Elements were crackling back and forth, white lightning dancing between them. NightMare Moon’s eyes were wide with fear, drawing her forehooves back. Twilight smirked in victory…

Then the Elements of Harmony fell silent and dim. NightMare Moon raised a deep-blue eyebrow at them, then grinned her devilish grin at Twilight.

“But…” Twilight reached pleadingly towards the Elements. “The sixth Element…”

NightMare Moon let out a wicked cackle, rearing up and crushing two of the Elements under her forehooves, the stone shards flying towards Twilight.

Then she crushed two of the others under her hind hooves.

Then she drove her alicorn down into the fifth, the Element splitting into at least a dozen pieces.

“You little foal!” snarled NightMare Moon. “Thinking you could defeat me? Me, the Mistress of the Darkness?”

Tears streamed down Twilight’s muzzle. Without the Elements, all hope was truly lost…

“You have amused me, though, with your insignificant little rebellion,” the dark Alicorn said, idly trotting towards the fallen Twilight. “I won’t kill you, though; you will serve a fine example of those who defy me, and I would not waste my mana upon the likes of Celestia’s lap-dog.” NightMare Moon was now directly over Twilight, and she kneeled down so that she could meet Twilight eye-to-eye. NightMare Moon’s snake tongue flicked across her fangs and wolf’s teeth, and Twilight shivered. She had to stay awake. She had to. She didn’t want to die in her sleep…

NightMare Moon gave a feral smile to Twilight. “Instead, I will give you one last look at your Queen… and your Sun. Behold!”

NightMare Moon’s dwimmer shimmer lit up, projecting a large cyan circle in the air. The hollow middle turned to bright golden fire, and Twilight knew that this was the closest that she had ever seen of the Sun. And, that form, that silhouette in fetal position, with a horn and wings… Was that…?

But then the image dissipated, and Twilight blacked out. The last thing she heard was NightMare Moon’s declaration of, “The Sun shall not shine upon Equestria ever again!” followed by a mad cackle. The last thing she felt was the brush of wind as NightMare Moon took flight and departed for her new throne in what was once Canterlot.

Author's Note:

And... off the rails. It might not seem like much of a deviance, but the real story starts here. What will Twilight do with the shards of the Elements, and these crazy ponies who really want to be her friend? How will NightMare Moon be taken down? Where can Twilight find information on the Elements of Harmony, and why they failed her in her time of need? What are the Elements of Harmony, to begin with? How do they work? What do they do? So many questions, and such pressing time for answers...!

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