• Published 19th Oct 2014
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Bookworm's Delight - naturalbornderpy



Twilight Sparkle tries to pry herself from a book that she cannot stop reading. The author of such text would love nothing better than to watch her die.

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Chapter 3: A Rise/A Fall

CHAPTER THREE:

A RISE/ A FALL

1

Princess Celestia crossed the room and glanced out the window to the burning sun in the sky. Twice she turned her head to her and both times Twilight hoped she’d come to some conclusion that she herself hadn’t seen all along. Bitterly, her mentor’s demure expression only solidified what she’d been expecting to hear since arriving in Canterlot.

“I am sorry, Twilight,” Celestia said dourly, “but unlike your past battles against the forces of evil, I have no word of caution or guidance to assist you in your plight.”

When she noted Twilight’s ears flatten against her head she came closer to the weary alicorn. Since her and her friend’s discovery of the remains of Mr. Leaf, Twilight hadn’t wasted much time on sleep or even food at all. What few minutes she spent alone on the ride over were spent pondering about whoever had started this vendetta against her. Every other minute was spent contemplating on whether her friends would respect her parting wishes.

“Whoever has pooled all this hate towards you,” Celestia continued, “appears determined to remain in the shadows for as long as they can. So far they do not appear as though they want a one on one confrontation—as many of our other foes would rather have.”

Twilight perked up for a moment. “Isn’t there a chance it could be someone from before? Merely changing the way they operate?”

Celestia shook her head. “I highly doubt it. Tirek wanted power; Discord wanted chaos; Chrysalis wanted love; and my sister only wanted never ending night. They may have been evil in their time, yes—but I doubt many were the murderous type. And already your opponent has laid claim to a single live, if not more that we are not yet aware of.”

Twilight nodded along without much energy. It had been the answer she had been expecting and truthfully she had only wanted to hear another pony agree with her own deductions. Sadly, that only meant…

“So that means we know nothing at all,” Twilight said deflated. “This mystery stalker is still a step ahead of us and now they remain that way. Not only do they want me gone, but alongside all of my friends.” A rush of bitter fear gripped the alicorn, forcing her to tighten her jaw as her eyes threatened to well up with tears. It wasn’t for her own safety she was concerned; only those that didn’t deserve this type of punishment at all. Yet there was still that burning question she hadn’t spoken aloud to anyone. “Princess?” she asked timidly.

“Yes, Twilight?”

Suddenly, she found the words hard to come by. “This stalker said that I did something to them—that I deserve what’s coming to me. Do you think that could be true? Do you think I actually did something so bad as to warrant this type of retribution?” She found she couldn’t meet the other alicorn’s eyes. “What if I did something to someone that I don’t even know about? What if I put my friend’s lives as risk for something I did? And now I can’t stop wondering if I have…”

Feeling a warm wing wrap around her small body, Twilight gazed up to discover that small smirk back on her mentor’s lips. If she could bottle such a reassuring feeling, she would. It was an expression that said everything would work itself out right, even if it might not have appeared as such from the start.

Celestia said warmly, “I have known you for close to your whole life, Twilight. And in all that time I have never considered you to have done a single thing worthy of such venomous hate. If what you’ve told me about the first book holds much merit, it’s that this individual is only mad because of your accomplishments, and perhaps because most in Equestria would consider you a hero in their eyes.” She paused to smile again. “This pony has obviously targeted you because they feel like playing the villain. Whether their means to harm you are justified, I hardly care and I hardly doubt they could be. By the sounds of it, this pony has poisoned themselves over time—created lies to feed themselves on a daily basis. As hard as it is to hear, I believe they think of you as a tool to their own ends—whether they actually have an attachment to you or not. They are dangerous, yes, but only if we give them the opportunity to be so. That’s why we take precautions and we take them now. Coming to see me was the best choice so far and now we can plan what next course of action to take.”

And it just those few tense sentences did Twilight not feel as alone in her troubles. She had things that she honestly doubted her enemy could lay claim to. She had friends, and she had numerous ponies that cared about her and loved her unconditionally. She had wonderful family dispersed to all areas of the world that would drop everything in a second to come to her aid. It made her feel warm… while it also made her feel more exposed than ever. They could protect her easy enough, but how could she protect every one of them? All from some target that had remained unnoticed until a few days ago?

She said with a little more vigor, “For their safety I already told my friends to stay with Spike in my castle. I think as long as they stay together and out of the public view, they’ll be safe. I trust they’ll do what is right.”

2

“I’m dying in here!”

Rarity scanned the ceiling for the shouting blue pegasus before continuing her eyes onward until they rolled a three-sixty. Sighing loudly, she said, “It’s only been a day and a half, Rainbow Dash. Twilight’s given us simple instructions to stay put and stay safe and until such time as things are deemed less ‘deadly’, we will stay put and pass the time as best we can.”

Rainbow did another lazy pass around the ceiling light, crossed two legs behind her head. “You know how many hours are in a day? Twenty-four! You know how many hours are in a day and a half? Thirty-six! Thirty-six hours stuck inside with nothing to do!”

Placing a hoof to her temple, the white unicorn lifted a thin game box. She said sheepishly, “We could play another round of manticores and stairwells?”

“Bah!” Rainbow screamed, landing in a huff at the center of the open kitchen. “You know what you’re doing? You’re killing independent Rainbow! That’s what you’re doing!” She roughly scooped up the box to glare at it with a raised lip. “Pegasus’ aren’t supposed to sit around all day and play games. They’re supposed to fly!”

Rarity flicked a sharp hoof over to the silently sitting Fluttershy in the library. “She seems content enough.”

Pulling out a stool at the table, Rainbow inelegantly plopped down before lowering her sagging face to the surface. She said stubbornly, “Fluttershy doesn’t count. She’s like… point-five pegasus at best.”

Rarity couldn’t help but pat Rainbow’s multi-colored mane with a leg—perhaps harder than she meant to. “Now you’re just being mean. And we need to think of the larger picture right now. Someone tried to kill Twilight and then said they’d do the same to each one of us. I don’t think that’s something to scoff at.”

Her little speech did little to sway the pegasus. Still with her head on the table she said, “Ponies and junk are always trying to kill us. Nothing new.”

Rarity pursed her lips. “But this one almost succeeded, Rainbow. If Pinkie hadn’t have found her like she had, what do you think might have happened? Things are different now. This is different. And that means we need to stick together and trust Twilight. She told us to stay put and that’s what we’re going to do. Simple boredom won’t kill us. Once she’s back from talking with Princess Celestia, I’m sure she’ll have a surefire plan to thwart our latest nemesis and then you can go back to zipping through the air all the while complimenting yourself as you go.”

Rainbow was silent for a moment. “That sounds nice. The part about zipping through the air, I mean.” She lowered the rest of her face to the table for a moment before both ears perked up. Quickly following that was the rest of her head, eyes wide and mouth drawn tight.

“Now what in tarnation is going on outside?” Applejack asked near the window in the library. She pressed her face against the glass until her hat lifted from her head. “It looks as though every pony in Ponyville’s headed to the same place at once. Was something planned for today that I forgot about?”

Trotting towards the window, Rarity watched the dozens of passersby lightly chat and giggle as they made their way up the street. It was more than she’d seen stroll by Twilight’s home in the day and a bit they’d been there. So why did this sight make her anxious exactly?

The hurried flap of wings caused her to turn away.

Already Rainbow was hovering in the air, her slack jawed expression working away on some tough equation inside. “What day of the month is it?” she blurted.

Instantly Rarity could tell any type of answer to the question wouldn’t end well. “It doesn’t matter, darling. We’re staying put and that’s—”

“It’s the sixteenth, silly!” Pinkie Pie trumpeted from nowhere at all. “Don’t you all travel with your pocket-sized calendars nearby?” From her elastic mane she snapped out a mini-calendar—the picture above one of Gummy on a log. “Yep! Sixteenth!”

This answer only seemed to cause Rainbow more anxiety than before. Picking up speed, her wings carried her to the ceiling where her head lightly bumped against the roof. She appeared not to notice as she held two hooves to her temples. “Why does that date seem so familiar? What am I missing out on right now? Was there something I was supposed to be doing today?” Now she sounded close to frantic. “Was there something I had to do today? And where are all those ponies going to?

“It doesn’t matter, Rainbow Dash!” Rarity blurted from down below. “We are to stay inside and wait for Twilight and that’s it. If you’re bored then figure some way to pass the time—besides trying to annoy everyone past their wits end.”

While Rarity shot the pegasus a minor death glare, Rainbow defiantly crossed her legs over her chest and let out a huff. Even though the area between them might have been full of pure negative vibes, Pinkie jumped in-between them.

“You two big sillies!” she announced happily. “There’s a simple solution and you both don’t even realize it!” In a huff of pink smoke she disappeared, while the front door shot open and then slammed shut a moment later. When the fumes dissipated, the returning pink mare held a confused and bewildered dark blue stallion in her grasp. He stared at each one in turn before Pinkie crushed him into her side. “So what are you up to today, my good sir?” she asked pleasantly.

“I was…” he began timidly, forgoing the overwrought loathing from Rarity’s glare. “I was going to the Wonderbolts show. You know… the one on the posters.”

The next thing to wallop into him was a blur of light blue. Once stopped, an anxious Rainbow stood atop of him—not exactly concerned with his trembling chin.

“A Wonderbolts show?” she shouted/questioned directly into his face. “Happening right now as in, ‘Right now?’ right now?”

The stallion turned his strained head in the direction of anyone that could lend assistance. When he saw none available, he said sheepishly, “Yes?”

Rainbow’s plot collapsed to the floor. “I was supposed to perform…” she said reflectively. “I was supposed to end the show. That’s what I remember now.”

The pinned stallion added helpfully, “You still can, you know. The show’s not for another twenty minutes. And if you’re in league with the Wonderbolts, I’m guessing you could make it there with time to spare.”

The stallion was released from under the near-panting pegasus and she lunged for the open doorway. Rarity, however, had already positioned herself in the space, slamming the door at the precious moment.

A disgruntled Rainbow stammered away from the door, muzzle flattened a good few centimeters. “Out of my way, Rarity! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m not going to waste it sitting around here!”

The stern unicorn barely flicked an eyelash. She said bluntly, “We’re under orders from Princess Twilight Sparkle. We are to wait around here and that’s just that. I’m sorry, Rainbow, but I’m putting my hoof down. I’m sure there will be more shows to come that you can perform at. Things are just too dangerous right now.”

Rainbow blanched. “Too dangerous to go outside? What are we? Trapped inside a bubble? This makes no sense!”

“It makes perfect sense, darling.”

“No, it doesn’t!” Rainbow finally found her legs again and began pacing back and forth in front of the entryway. “All we have to fear right now is some book! And wasting time around here counting tea cozies isn’t going to help any. And isn’t this just what this anonymous enemy would want us to act like? Scared, terrified, too afraid to leave the house?”

Rarity grimaced. “That’s not what this is about, Rainbow, and you—”

Rainbow laid a heavy leg around her neck. “Plus, think about it like this, Rarity. Right now, there’s only the five of us watching out for one another. At the show, there will be hundreds, if not thousands around! How could anyone possibly try something in an open area like that?”

Rarity closed her eyes and took a breath. She had to defuse the situation as best she could, even though it might hurt her friend to do so. Although at a time like this, hurt feelings always had the chance to heal. A date with whoever was sending out deathly texts might only lead to a bittersweet finale.

Slowly, she said, “I’m sorry, Rainbow, but the answer is still no. Even in a public space like that… I wouldn’t want to take the chance. At least here we can plan and formulate and look out for one another. Outside, it becomes an entirely different beast altogether.”

Savagely, she felt the tight leg around her shoulders slump and fall away. She turned to view the downcast expression of her soured friend.

Rainbow sighed. “Then I’m sorry, too. For this.”

A burst of hard air pulled at Rarity’s mane as her eyes widened while her pupils shrunk. The door directly behind her ripped open and then slammed shut—Twilight’s house currently one blue pegasus short.

A wash of cyan and several other colors flew across the bare library window. Rainbow called back to them, “If you all still want to stick together, then come to the show! ‘Cause that’s where I’ll be!”

Consumed with raw anger, Rarity visibly shook in her spot, unable to move her head from the direction of the stairs. A small thread of heated air escaped her tight knit jaw, sounding close to a whistle.

An obviously concerned Applejack approached. “What do you think we should do now? Should we follow her to make sure nothing happens? Or stay and wait for Twilight to come back?”

Rarity could only continue to silently rage as Fluttershy decisively entered their conversation.

“I think we should go…” she said quietly. “We can keep an eye on her and still stay together. I think that’s most important right now. It shouldn’t matter where we are, only that we’re all in the same spot.”

The slowly seeping air from Rarity’s mouth finally gave way as she felt her tense muscles relax. Dourly, she said, “You better remember to hold me back from Rainbow Dash when the show comes to an end. With the way she’s been acting today, I’m finding myself oddly tempted to squeeze her until she pops.” She huffed again. “And isn’t she supposed to be the Element of Loyalty?”

Applejack rubbed at her mane. “Usually. But then sometimes she botches it so bad she learns a lesson afterward. Maybe now’s one of those times.”

Begrudgingly, the four remaining friends followed along to the show.

3

“What do you believe to be the next course of action, Twilight?”

For close to a minute Twilight had been staring out the large bay windows of Celestia’s quarters, admiring the view and trying to distance herself from her overhanging misery. She had come to her mentor seeking advice and had received words of encouragement instead. As much as she had wished Celestia could just point her powerful horn at her troubles and make them all disappear, this was something not even the Princess of the Sun could fully comprehend. Even with all that knowledge in place, she tried to hold her emotions in check.

“That’s the problem, Princess,” she said slowly, “I have no idea of what to do next. Our only clue is that book which I burnt and then that second book found in the store. And even that one had been a mere single line of text and nothing more.” She paused, visibly troubled by her next thought. “At this point it almost feels as though the only course of action is to react once prompted. Meaning ‘they’ get to perform the next move while I only sit around and wait. And what if that next move is against one of my friends?”

Celestia came to her side by the window. “If that is the way this plays out, you must be ready for the possibility. Even now you’ve taken precautions against your enemy. So far you’ve done as much as you can and I’m proud of how you’ve handled things. This is something much different than—”

Princess Celestia! Princess Celestia!

Both alicorns turned to face the near shrieking guard pony trotting into the room. In a thin aura of magic he held a single letter—red candle wax seal still unbroken.

A few paces from them he stopped and huffed in some air. Awkwardly, he said, “A letter came. Just now.”

Celestia only watched him indifferently.

The guard calmed himself. “You said to be cautious of all letters and books coming into the castle.”

Celestia said evenly, “Yes, I did. So why is this one necessary for me to see?”

The guard gulped dryly. “Because it’s addressed to Princess Twilight.”

A quiet lull found the large chamber. Both sets of eyes found Twilight’s as she carefully hovered the letter over to her. As if it contained a plague all its own, she nevertheless placed it on her upturned hoof.

With little emotion, she said, “No one besides my friends knows I’m here. This has to be from them.”

“Thank you, guard. You may go.” Celestia paid the anxious stallion little heed as he scrambled out the room, obviously happy to be distancing himself from such somber material. Eventually, she found the stock still Twilight again. “What do you want to do? Should we open it and see what it has to say? Or do you only believe it to be another trap?”

Twilight contemplated the thin letter on her hoof. A single page at most on the inside. Would her enemy honestly try the same tactic against her? Would they actually send a hoofwritten letter to her and address it to ‘Princess Twilight Sparkle’ and expect her to perish while reading it?

“I can’t imagine they’d try the same thing twice,” Twilight said, “especially in the heart of Canterlot. I will open it and I will read it. And if it’s anything like last time, it’ll be nothing more than a series of blatant verbal attacks. Yet in the slim chance it holds something more, I should read to find out.” She faced her mentor. “If I disappear or appear different than when I start to read, rip the letter from me and destroy it as soon as possible. This enemy has the ability to wrap spells around simple lines of text better than I’ve ever seen. Any look of distress or change… snap the letter up and burn it.”

Celestia nodded. “I will do my best, Twilight.”

With little care of damaging such a note, Twilight ripped off the seal and unfurled the letter—far, far shorter than their last correspondence. With a last deep exhale, she read:

“Hello, Princess. I hope this reaches the right Princess, as last time I counted there were around four in Equestria. Are there more now? Has another lucky soul from some hovel of a home been chosen to protect the realm? Along with a new fancy set of wings? I hope it doesn’t take me that long to finish this letter.

“Anyway, Twilight, we should talk. Even though it may not seem like it now, we in fact have a lot in common. And we actually have a lot to talk about. But I’m sure before the end of all this, you and I will get that conversation you’ve been more than likely yearning to have. Isn’t that how most of your troubles settle themselves now a days? Through gentle words and not actions? I would imagine so, being the Princess of Friendship and all. Do you get a tax break for such a title? Wait, what am I thinking. You don’t pay taxes at all, do you? But we’re getting off track.

“I want to be your first, Twilight. I want to be your very first. You will not be mine, but perhaps I can be the first in your life that forces you to earn that title of savior many have placed on you. All your life you have been regarded as brave and good-natured; only now do I want you to be regarded as something else entirely. Will you deem it all worth it, in the end? Knowing you as well as I do, I can’t see it any other way. You were supposed to die a quiet death in the warmth of the pages of my book and now something else awaits you. I have come to accept that death may be too kind for the likes of you. Now I only want you to live forever in the new light I will shine onto you. At first you may hate this light—this grotesque ambiance. But like the light you cast down onto me, you will grow to except it, especially when no other choices remain. So I only ask that you embrace it and stand proud, my beautiful Princess. Once in this new light, you will find it nearly impossible to shy away from. As much as you will try.

“Was that cryptic enough for you, Twilight? You like riddles and puzzles and games, so why not mixed messages? Here’s a less garbled statement then:

“You went to your mentor to seek advice about me. You left your friends back at home to stay out of trouble. I told you I wanted to punish everyone involved in your creation but are you not forgetting about a particular pair involved? Perhaps the pair that allowed you to live such a life in the first place?

“And yet I tend to forget: The Princess of Friendship… not family.

“Talk to you soon, hugs and kisses,

“Your biggest fan.”

Twilight could barely keep the hoof holding the letter from trembling. Slowly her jaw added to the mix, quivering both out of fear and of anger. She had read the entire thing to herself, mentally preparing for some unseen spell to try and inflict undue harm. None had come. Yet something far worse had replaced it.

Already Celestia could sense her rising trepidation. “What did it say, Twilight? Are you all right?”

“They’re going after my parents.”

Twilight had spoken the statement aloud but it had sounded as though someone down a hall had muttered it. Her mind was too alight with just how fast she could get to her parent’s house—a mix of flight and teleportation seeming the best option available.

“My friends and I weren’t enough and now they’re going after my parents…”

Celestia held a leg out towards the letter. “Let me see the note, Twilight. And then we’ll decide what to do. They obviously want to keep you on edge and this might have just done so. We need to keep a level head and—”

They made my parents a target! All because of me!

Something was already burning behind both eyes. She tried to fight the urge to scream and just keep screaming where she stood.

Cautiously, Celestia said, “It may be nothing more than a rouse, Twilight. We need to calm down and think rational. We can send guards to your parents to check on their wellbeing. But we mustn’t—”

Twilight muttered, “I’m sorry, Princess, but I can’t take that chance. I need to see them with my own eyes.”

She then teleported from the room, forgotten letter tumbling to the floor.

4

Rainbow Dash could feel each small batch of apprehension drop to the ground as she hastily trotted around the circular stadium. Even after getting a small tongue lashing from Spitfire due to her tardiness (she could have easily mentioned the dark, foreboding figure that had tried to kill her friend and then went on to say they’d do the same to her), every last care in the world melted away as soon as she donned her Wonderbolts uniform. Well, perhaps ‘costume’ was the more apt term, considering she wasn’t a full member of the academy at the time. Still, she’d take what she could get.

Suited up and raring to go, Rainbow sadly forgot she’d need to wait around a while before performing her trademark Sonic Rainboom. She was the show closer and had agreed to it weeks before the event. Now that only left… a lot of time to kill.

“Go Ponyville!”

“We love you, Rainbow Dash!”

Already since leaving her little dressing room, Rainbow had heard the warm calls from several dozen attendees. More than a few had on limited-edition Wonderbolts T-shirts and even a few had foam hoofs on their legs (making walking around that much more difficult). On each face was a smile and even the smell of fresh popcorn and candied apples tempted her senses. With the gorgeous sun out it was beyond a peaceful event. Walking from stall to stall and stopping with every few spectators to pose for a picture, Rainbow could hardly believe she’d been cooped up for so long and had almost missed everything.

Just the thought of her friends caused her to wince. “They’ll be here. I know they will,” she tried to tell herself, laughing awkwardly in the hall leading to the exhibition area. Even feeling as good as she was, she found the need to talk aloud to help settle her nerves. If only her friends would show up already…

“Thank you so much, Rainbow Dash!”

Another fan clamored away after a quick picture and autograph and before she knew what was happening, another pony caught her by surprise and enveloped her in a hug. Wrapped perfectly around her forelegs and wings, the fan pulled tight and mumbled a few words out of ear shot. Pulling back, they awkwardly stood in place.

“Sorry about that! But I’m just your biggest fan and couldn’t wait to meet you, so have a good show!”

And just like that they were gone, Rainbow more puzzled than ever. Not only had the pony that had embraced her wore a Wonderbolts T-shirt, but they also had on a rainbow wig in the style of her own mane—nearly concealing most of their face. But considering ponies had been hugging and ruffling her mane since she arrived, she wasn’t all that concerned by the encounter.

Rainbow turned to a ticket ripper near the entrance to the stadium. “Since when do they sell rainbow-color wigs here?”

The mare ripped another ticket and appeared uninterested. “They don’t. As far as I know.”

A tad bemused, Rainbow was now oddly curious if she’d truly met her biggest fan of all.

5

Once out of view, the watcher did away with their rainbow wig and threw it in the trash. Same with the Wonderbolts shirt they had—warily—purchased only minutes prior. Although it could never be tossed aside so easily, even the thin hint of emotion seeped from their face, as they regarded the rest of the crowd with as much enthusiasm as a hill of sand.

They had thought they’d feel better once the spell was attached. Only this time it felt far too easy.

They had known Twilight would talk to Celestia the moment she could; they had known she’d leave her friends together in a single location; they had even placed the odds of Rainbow Dash actually appearing at the show fifty-fifty at best. And now that she had arrived and now that her wire was set in place did it all seem so simple.

But not everything must be a struggle, right?

The moment the watcher had wrapped their thin legs around that multi-colored pegasus’ shoulders and connected both hooves around the other side did their spell become active. Along with a few carefully selected words, there was now a thin invisible band around Rainbow’s chest and wings. At that particular moment, it was resting comfortably around the mare’s body, allowing her to move and flex her wings with no resistance at all. But once the watcher deemed it time to do so, they could finish the spell and slowly and surely the magic wire completely naked to the eye would close in on her. And it would not stop until it connected at its center.

Months ago they had tied the same magic band around a thick tree trunk, to witness its strength. That same tree had now been filling their fireplace since that test.

Once the wire began to tighten, it would either cut or crush whatever lay in its path—skin and bone and organs and whatever else that may try to interfere with its journey.

As much as the watcher wanted to pity the poor mare and the slow and painful death coming her way, they couldn’t help but laugh internally at the logic behind it all. Each one of Twilight’s friends embraced the other on countless occasions. All the watcher had done was hug one of them a little too hard.

Grabbing a bag of popcorn and finding their seat, they could barely contain themselves in the minutes before the show. They had always wanted to glimpse a star falling to the earth.

6

Twilight Sparkle had teleported in between a pair of pegasus’ in the air and didn’t stop to apologize. Instead, she lunged off the startled couple and propelled herself in the direction of her parents’ home. With any luck, she would be there in a matter of seconds. With any added luck, she would find nothing of interest once inside.

Crashing into the dirt outside and folding in her wings that felt close to iron, Twilight wasted no time and galloped towards the door. She reminded herself that even if she found an empty house and nothing else, she would need to search every last inch of it. She had almost died because a book had caused her to become invisible—the same fate may have found her parents, as well. Before opening the door she’d need to be prepared for anything.

Steeling herself, she entered.

“Oh hello, Twilight. Didn’t know you were stopping by.”

Her father greeted her from his arm chair, a newspaper folded open in front of him. Her mother was doing close to the same on the couch, a paperback propped on a hoof.

Her father’s warm demeanor gave way as he regarded the out of breath alicorn. “Is there something wrong, Twilight? Why are you looking like that?”

“I thought you’d be…” Twilight stammered out, not entirely sure of how to perceive the situation. On the surface her parents seemed fine, so why did that sight not quell her nerves? Was it because some dark fate may still be heading their way? Or because now it feels as though she’d only wasting a large amount of time coming here and checking on them? “I’m just glad to see you’re all right,” she finished lamely. “Has anyone sent you anything in the mail recently? A book or a letter or anything odd?”

Her father shook his head. “Nope. Just bills and the usual. Free books would be great though!” He tried for a small smile but found Twilight’s bewilderment all too much. “Are you sure you’re all right, Twilight? Want to sit down for a bit?”

Twilight was missing something. Something large. It was nibbling at the back of her head and she couldn’t place it all together. All she knew was that she’d been tricked and without hesitation fallen for it. Even if Princess Celestia had forewarned it from the start…

Still pondering internally, she said, “No, thanks. I’m good. I just need—”

Her mother set aside her book. “Why aren’t you at the Wonderbolts show, honey? Isn’t your friend supposed to be performing this time? We thought about going, but the tickets were too…”

The alicorn stopped listening the moment it all clicked into place—like some puzzle missing its center piece; the one that tied it all together. She had gone to Canterlot of her own accord and her stalker had only pushed her in a different direction. She only hoped her friends had followed her guidance and stayed inside. Sadly, she should have remembered the event all along.

Without another word she left, folding out wings that hurt to move. Gritting her teeth, she took to the air and prayed she wasn’t too late. Then she told herself she’d make sure to never let them out of her sight again.

7

The cool air felt wonderful in her lungs and for the third time in ten minutes, Rainbow Dash spit on her goggles before whipping them clean. At the time, she was on the sidelines in the breathtaking blue sky, waiting patiently for her cue to start the big finale. As bored as she should have felt flapping in place for so long, she couldn’t help but admire each well-trained Wonderbolt soaring through the clouds, performing dives and flips and obnoxiously choreographed maneuvers. By that point in her life she had seen at least three-dozen aerial shows by the team; this only happened to be the first to feature her and the best trick she could perform.

She could hardly wait to hear the gasps from the crowd.

“Come on, come on, come on,” she muttered to herself, glimpsing Soarin fly directly through the center of a wind tunnel created by the rest. “Let’s get this over with already!”

A few minutes later the stadium erupted into a chorus of cheers, as Spitfire flew up to give her the signal. Not wasting a single second to potentially bore the crowd, Rainbow charged upward into the air as her cheeks wrinkled from the force. Once at the desired height she straightened herself and viewed the oddly small stadium below—each attendee now the size of a parasprite.

Taking a breath, she calmed her nerves. By that point in time she had done her famous trick more than a hooful of times and since then had done nothing but train and excel. So why did she still feel anxious? Was it the foolhardy stunt she was about to pull off in front of hundreds? Or the fact that she went against her friends’ best wishes when they were only looking out for her safety?

She sighed. “I messed up big time.”

In the bright glow of her fans and members of the Wonderbolts, she had taken that new energy and placed it over that of her friends’ disapproval. Only at that moment, hundreds of meters above the earth, did that small voice inside tell her how wrong she had been. Even if nothing were threatening to claim them one by one, Twilight had asked them for one thing and one thing only. And now she had broken that trust. She could only cherish the fact that in time she knew she would be forgiven; perhaps when all this ‘stalker’ silliness came to an end.

She said wistfully, “One Sonic Rainboom, and then I find my friends and apologize. With any luck, they’re at the show already. I’ll just laugh this off and—”

In midsentence she stopped to stare at one of her wings, where it felt as though something thin and hard were pulling it inwards. At the same time her other wing felt close to the same, as if her wings suddenly wanted to close on their own.

“What… is…” she huffed, pushing back against the unseen force.

Her efforts did little to stop her wings from slowly folding back down and before she could fully comprehend it, the ability to even move them at all came to a stop. With rising panic, she watched as some invisible band pressed against her feathers, steadily drawing inward towards her. Only a moment later did she lose the ability to hover in the air at all.

“No. No!” she yelled, as she plummeted to the ground.

Cutting through hundreds of feet every few seconds, what concerned her most wasn’t the complete lack of flight but the overwhelming notion that whatever had pulled her wings to her sides wasn’t done with her. Once held tight against her, she could only glimpse with widening dismay as the invisible band closed in again, painfully pinching her wings and forelegs to her body, as well as tempt to tickle her chest.

Momentarily forgetting she was falling at all, she was gently halted in midair.

“Rainbow Dash! What kind of stunt do you think you’re trying to pull?”

Spitfire regarded the struggling pegasus angrily, holding her up with both forelegs. Then she quickly noted the fear in her eyes, as well as the concealed band that was steadily cutting into her chest.

“What’s going on? What is this?” Spitfire screamed, trying to get them to the ground as quickly as possible.

Rainbow’s eyes whirled around in her head as she tried to make sense of what was happening. Already her chest felt on the verge of caving in and each breath came in shallower than the last. The worst pain overall was that of her wings, which felt as though they were being ripped in two against her sides.

“I don’t know!” she pleaded. “Something’s trying to strangle me! I need help! Someone help me!”

When the first bone in her left wing snapped against the tightening wire she screamed into the air. Now it seemed as though the hundreds of onlookers had a completely different show to admire.

8

As the blue pegasus reached a height far above the clouds, the watcher grabbed another hooful of popcorn and pleasantly munched on its overly salty contents. Still chewing, they brought their binoculars to their eyes and waited for that special moment to finish the spell and begin the show. True, they had been enduring an hour long flight spectacle up until that point, but what truly interested them is how it would all end.

Had Twilight’s friends even followed the naïve pegasus here? The watcher hadn’t checked and could hardly care. The only one with a horn was the white fashion designer and they believed her magical abilities ended with a needle and thread. And so what if they came? It would only be fitting to say goodbye to their hotheaded friend, as she was slowly divided in two.

Feeling the time was right the watcher cleared their throat and finished the incantation. Next, they brought their binoculars to their eyes and with bated breath waited for it all to begin. More than anything they wanted that feeling again. That wonderful feeling.

They hoped they wouldn’t be disappointed this time.

9

Outside the stadium, Rarity and her friends were still arguing with the ticket ripper when the yells from inside increased a dramatic amount. No longer were they the shouts of joy and wonderment, but of fear and unknowing.

As something cold gripped every one of her limbs, Rarity hurriedly nudged the worker to the side. Once open, the remaining three followed after her.

“Rainbow! Rainbow!”

The white unicorn heard the shrieks grow in volume and pursued the noise. Rounding almost a quarter of the circular building, she glimpsed the widening crowd packed into a lone hall that fed into the stadium. More terrified than she could remember, she forcefully parted the watching throng of ponies and galloped inside. The sight alone was enough to cause her to stop and tremble in place.

“Someone help! Someone help! Why won’t it stop?”

Spitfire was kneeling by her side, her eyes eating up most of her face as her jaw hung limp. Splayed out on the grass was the struggling Rainbow Dash—fully suited in costume and goggles. Both wings had been oddly pulled into her middle, more than a few bones broken and bits of blood already leaking from dozens of cuts. Something thin and unseen was burrowing its way into her chest, which was rising with less and less ease. Rainbow’s face had gone horrifically red and her tear-filled eyes stared at the sky as if waiting for someone to come swoop down and come to her aid. A small trickle of crimson dotted the corner of her gasping mouth.

On numb legs, Rarity came closer to her. “What’s happening? What’s happening to her?”

As the band tightened once again and Rainbow’s ribs began to crack from the increased pressure, Rarity slumped to the dirt and couldn’t help but cry.

Twilight had been right all along.

Author's Note:

...sorry.