• 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 4: The Black/The Red

CHAPTER FOUR:

THE BLACK/ THE RED

1

Twilight Sparkle stood by her bedside and wanted to do a number of things all at the same time. At the onset, she wanted to curl into a ball and weep at what had happened to her friend, perchance due to some unforeseen event from her past. Next, she wanted to yell at her, say every deplorable word she could lay claim to and tell her how stupid she had been for leaving the safety of her home and going out alone. In truth she had done both already, in the quiet of the still room; gentle tears running down her cheeks while an army of choice words danced in her head. She would keep those statements to herself, though. Now was not the time.

Rainbow Dash’s chest barely crept upward a single centimeter. Some machine to the side of her filled her crushed lungs with fresh oxygen every few seconds before pumping it back out. The string that her stalker had wrapped around her fragile chest still held tight to the mare, organs pressed and the entire body close to failing. Twilight wanted to touch her friend—hold her and embrace her—but not like this.

Knock-knock-knock.

Rarity entered the small room and placed a leg around the alicorn. She, too, must have been crying only recently. She tried for a smile. “I’m sure once we figure out what to do we’ll be able to reverse what it is they did to her. There’s still time. We were lucky, in a way.”

The ‘luck’ her friend was insinuating at was from the fact that once Twilight dispersed from Canterlot castle in a hurry to catch her parents, both Celestia and Luna went in the direction of her friends. Once in Ponyville, it didn’t take long to locate them, due to the hundreds of other gatherers around. The same as the rest, they could not contain their horror at what was happening to the wriggling mare on the grass. It was a spell neither Princesses had seen before and the solution wasn’t coming to mind fast enough. Instead, both alicorns froze the gasping pegasus—along with the wire that had been hungrily digging into her narrowed chest.

Twilight sighed, watching her unconscious friend. “I should have been there. I should have seen right through that simple trick and gone to help her. My parents were never the target and I should have known.”

Rarity’s leg pulled her close. “Don’t blame yourself, Twilight. You don’t know what might have happened if you came to us instead. Perhaps then ‘they’ might have gone to your parents. This murderer of ours doesn’t play fair and anything they write to us shouldn’t be believed at all. You did what you had to do and Celestia and Luna did the same. Our stalker hasn’t bested us yet.”

Twilight barked out a harsh laugh. “Yet,” she said bluntly. “As in it’s all a matter of time.”

Rarity shook her head. “You know that’s not what I meant. I mean… we’ve done everything—”

Twilight cut in tiredly, “Any word from the Empire?”

“Yes, actually. The train along with the guards has made it there and everyone is already secure in the Crystal tower. You and I both know your brother and Cadence will keep them safe.”

The moment Rainbow Dash’s life had crossed into a precarious state, Twilight went to work gathering up anyone their stalker might have linked her to. Wanting to keep them as far away from her as possible for the moment, she had sent her parents along with Rarity’s family, Applejack’s family, Pinkie Pie’s family, and anyone else that might have had a connection to them all the way to the Crystal Empire. More than a few had protested, but by that point Twilight had had enough. So with little care for hurt feelings, she had told them what their stalker had done to her friend all the while in the thick of hundreds of others. Soon after, they agreed to the makeshift vacation and boarded only a few hours later.

Twilight had nothing but faith in her brother and his wife. Same with the small army he had trained and set on patrol. But truly, she didn’t expect a single one of them to be the next target of choice. That was why her next step of business was in bringing everyone else close to her to the center of Canterlot—in the bulk of the castle and under scheduled guard. Maybe more to the point: to stay under her watchful eye until the situation cleared itself out.

Already, she could sense Rarity’s apprehension. “How are you finding your room so far?” she tried to ask, with a little more energy.

Rarity rubbed at a leg. “It’s nice. It’s big and all that. I think once I put up a few things, it’ll feel more like a slice of home.” She paused. “I only wonder how long we’ll need to stay here. I hope not for too long—I’d like to get back to the boutique, eventually…”

Twilight glimpsed the crumpled remains of her inanimate friend—her shut eyes completely oblivious to everything that had happened… and everything that was to come.

She told her, “No one can leave. Not until I know that each one of my friends is safe and the threat is gone. They will not catch me off guard again.”

2

“Try your best to remember what happened.”

Twilight was sitting at the head of the circular table in one of the castle’s upper chambers. Filling each immediate seat was her four remaining friends—a somber and weary expression filling every face. In less than a couple hours the threat they had only heard whispers of acted in the most vindictive way imaginable. Not only that, they had seen it up close and happening to one of their closest friends. Now they had been forced from their homes and placed under guard. And all from some enemy they knew not a single thing about.

“But we already went through this, Twilight,” Applejack started. “You know as much as the rest of us do and that’s all there is to it. Sorry to say so, but everything that the rest of us saw only came near the end. And, truthfully, I wish I could forget about every last second of it.”

In the half-day already spent at the castle, Twilight had heard the testimony from both members of the Wonderbolts and dozens of staff from the stadium—along with any spectators she could gather in short order. Every answer appeared close to the same. They had seen Rainbow Dash trotting around the complex, posing for pictures and receiving hugs in turn. Hundreds among hundreds were around that day, and not a single soul stood out about the rest. Sadly, their enemy didn’t seem to be as visually threatening as their past foes… which made them all the worse.

“I know, you guys,” Twilight eventually said, deflated. “I just can’t understand how no one could have seen anything. Dozens of ponies talked with Rainbow before the show, so any one of them could have been the one responsible. Sadly, all that does for us now is narrow our list of suspects to some pony—which dismally, isn’t in short supply in Equestria.”

Twilight slumped in her seat, bringing her hooves together to think.

“But… but there’s still…”

Fluttershy had spoken so timidly that she had barely caught a single word.

“What was that, Fluttershy?”

“Well… I…” It seemed as though Twilight’s renewed interest did little to calm her friend’s nerves. Sinking into her own chair, she finally said, “While we don’t know who exactly is doing this to everyone, they do claim to have a reason to, don’t they?”

Already Twilight felt something cold splash in her stomach.

Fluttershy continued, “You said in that first book, Twilight, that this pony wanted revenge for something done to them in the past. Something that… you had done to them. I’m not saying you’ve ever been capable of doing anything wrong to someone… but perhaps they only thought you did. Was there ever anything you could remember doing to someone? Maybe when you were really young? Or hadn’t even realized that you had?”

What replaced that cold chill in Twilight’s chest was a small burning ball that licked at her heart. Placing both hooves on the table, she got to her legs abruptly and said a little too loudly, “You think there’s a chance I somehow deserve what’s happening to me? Is that what you’re telling me? That I deserve this? Or what’s happening to all of my friends outside of my control?”

Fluttershy’s pupils shrunk while her face flushed a bright red. Slowly, she melted into the back of her chair until she was nearly under the table. She mumbled, “Well, you know, we were only thinking of ideas and I never really thought you were capable of something like that, maybe they only thought it was bad and you didn’t, but then again you’ve never done anything bad, so I’ll just go under the table now.”

Twilight put a hoof to her temple. “Fluttershy, please don’t. I’m sorry to snap at you. It’s just… it’s just I’ve never felt this on edge before—even surrounded by my friends. I couldn’t bear to see another one of you hurt. And the truth of the matter is… I honestly can’t think of anything I’ve done that could deserve this.” Slowly, she surveyed the rest of the group. The ones she would fight until the end for without hesitation. “As much as others might perceive me as, I am not the savior or hero that this stalker has made me out to be. I’ve only tried to do what’s right when I can and if I can. I’m not perfect, but I’m not a monster either. And no one deserves this type of wrath. So as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter if they have a good reason or not to inflict this type of harm. If they attack again, I will stop them, and I will make sure they never hurt another single pony again.”

3

Fluttershy watched as Twilight checked the windows of her overlarge room for a third and final time. The last time she encased it in a thin aura of magic, so in the small likelihood it was tampered with or shattered, it would raise one very large alarm. The same type of alarm placed on every one of her friend’s bedroom windows.

With that completed, Twilight sat on the bed beside her. “That should do it. No one from outside should be able to enter—and if they try, everyone in this entire castle will know.” She wrapped her in a hug, pulling oddly tight. “I’m so sorry to put you through this, Fluttershy. But after that Rainbow Dash incident, I couldn’t bear to see anything else like it. Inside and together we will be safe. And I will make sure of it.”

She released her from her warm embrace and smiled at her. Never had Fluttershy seen her friend so tired… or so anxious.

She asked casually, “You think all my animal friends are missing me yet?”

“Maybe tomorrow, Fluttershy. Already half of Ponyville agreed to check in on them and feed them routinely. If this thing lasts more than a week, then I might see them getting a little lonely.”

Hearing that this could all last more than a few days pained the pegasus to hear. “If it goes on any longer, Twilight, do you think I could bring my animals here, too? Do you think Celestia would have a problem with that?”

Twilight smiled again. It was a nice expression to find back on her face. “It might take a little convincing, but I’m sure she’d be all right with it. But it’s late and it’s been a terrible series of hours—for everyone. When we wake up tomorrow, we’ll start anew and decide as a group what our next step should be. Until then, just try and feel better and know I’m only a few doors away. If you can’t sleep, just come bug me. I’m sure I won’t be sleeping much anyway.”

With one final embrace the alicorn left the pegasus to herself, where under some of the largest and most elegant linens she had ever felt cover her body, drifted into sleep faster than she could remember.

4

In the middle of the night Fluttershy opened her eyes, a hint of smoke in the air, tickling at her nose. Her room was pitch-black, the bedside lamp a good leg’s reach away. Still under the soft mound of covers, she was tempted to turn to her other side to find sleep once more, only to realize there was a warm body pressed against her back, a single leg already wrapped around her forelegs and chest.

In an instant all the air in her lungs felt sucked out from her, as she immediately began to tremble.

“Shhhhh…” the pony cooed, obviously a younger mare. “Shhhhh….” Their other leg began to pet the top of her head, starting from the top and ending near her neck. It was oddly gentle, given whom this must have been wrapped around her. “I will not harm you tonight, Fluttershy. Tonight can be about dreams and better thoughts. You must be very sad from what’s happened to your friend and I can understand. I’m sorry to go to such great lengths to prove my worth, but… I have my reasons why I do what I do.”

The mare’s words did little to stop Fluttershy from visibly trembling, as a few small tears tickled the edges of her eyes. She managed to squeak out, “Please don’t hurt me! Please oh please don’t hurt me!”

The mare only continued to stroke the top of her head. “I already told you. I will not harm you tonight. I’ve only come to talk. I’ve only come to… set things in motion.” She let out a small sigh on the back of her neck, inhaled again to steel herself. “If there was one member of your little ragtag group that I wish hadn’t been included, I can only say I wish it was you. I’m sure that gives you little comfort, but I only thought you might like to know. You know… I…” The mare holding onto her quivered out another shaky breath, pressing her muzzle into the back of her head. Fluttershy felt the dull edges of a horn tickle her hair. “If things had turned out differently between Twilight and I, it might have been us as friends. Could you imagine it? All six of us? It’s so hard to believe sometimes.”

Even with such a small opening, Fluttershy went for it. What else was there to do at such a time? She whispered, “But we could still all be friends, you know? Sure we could. We’ll just put everything behind us and move on like nothing happened. You stop that spell you put on Rainbow Dash and maybe stop scaring me as badly as you are right now, and we could stop all of this! Everything would be so much better and no one would have to get hurt.”

Following her little outburst was a moment of silence. Fluttershy prepared for the worst and was surprised by the result.

The unicorn behind her hitched in a breath and Fluttershy felt something warm and wet drip into her mane. The mare’s breath on the back of her neck became ragged and unsteady.

“Of course you’d say that!” the mare told her bluntly. “Everything can be solved by friendship, can’t it? No. No, not this time. Not like that!” She buried her head deeper into her mane and shook it from side to side. “It’s too late for that. I’ve made my choice and if I can’t see this through until the end then there’s no point of having started at all. Just like the rest of you, I want to be remembered forever. When ponies speak of Princess Twilight Sparkle, they will soon mention my name along with hers. Over the years I have come to accept the course my life has taken—that I’m not the hero I could have been. Yet I think I can be the greatest at something else. I am sorry to say that you will not be around to witness Twilight’s change, but take comfort in that your punishment will be quick and you will not even understand what is happening to you. That will be my gift to you, Fluttershy. So take it willingly.”

As much as it hurt to do, Fluttershy had to try one final time. “You don’t have to do this, please. You can stop and we can help you. We all can. Whatever Twilight has done, she does not deserve this—none of us do. We only help those that need it. And we can help you too.”

A long time passed before the mare spoke again. At this point it sounded as though she had herself back under control, a large amount of emotion missing from her voice. “Not this time, I’m afraid.” The hoof rubbing along her mane fell away as she reached out for some unseen object near the edge of the bed. “Now before I go tonight, Fluttershy, I only need to you read something for me. It’s not very long and I even made it about rabbits for you. You like rabbits, don’t you? Here, let me give you some light to read with my horn.”

5

Twilight Sparkle wasn’t all that surprised to find her friend sitting in one of the empty stools that lined the castle kitchen’s long prep table. Fluttershy’s eyes were oddly focused on her resting forelegs. The light from the moon through the bare windows behind her cast the pegasus in an icy glow.

“Couldn’t sleep, I take it?” Twilight said as she took the stool next to her. Up close, she could finally glimpse the dryness of her friend’s lips, and the way her eyes barely moved at all. She backed away a few inches. “What happened, Fluttershy? Why do you look like that?”

She said softly, slowly, “She petted my mane.”

Twilight could only narrow her eyes as she felt her pulse quicken. “Who, Fluttershy? When?”

“She was in my bed. I don’t know how she got there, but she did. She’s a unicorn. And she says she doesn’t plan on stopping, even though I asked her to.”

Although Twilight knew exactly who her friend was referring to, she still had to get out those final words before she tore up the castle entire. “Who, Fluttershy? Who did this?”

Hauntingly, the hollowed out pegasus found her friend’s eyes—dried tears on both cheeks. “The mare that tried to kill Rainbow Dash and you.”

6

“Tell me how something like this could possibly happen!”

Twilight could barely contain her voice in the lull of the night as she watched Princes Celestia speak with a few guards before turning back to them. Only a few minutes had past since Fluttershy’s admission and Twilight had wasted not a single second. In Celestia’s upstairs chambers were all four of her friends, along with Princess Luna, who sat patiently in the corner. Unsurprisingly, she appeared the least tired of the bunch.

“I…” Celestia started, before trying again. “I don’t know, Twilight. Since you and your friends had arrived, the only ponies allowed in the castle had been employees and guards. If anyone besides those wanted in, they’d need clearance from one of the Princesses here.”

The answer did little to settle the alicorn. “Could they have teleported in? I thought we put up a barrier against that type of magic.”

“We did,” Celestia agreed. “And as far as I know it’s still active and secure. Meaning your stalker—this unicorn mare, as we believe her to now be—must have entered through other means.”

“So either she somehow snuck into one of the most protected places in all of Equestria, or she flat out works here?”

Twilight’s latest outburst silenced the room. All eyes were on her and the taller white alicorn.

Celestia turned away from her, a hint of her upmost regality slipping away. Twilight hated to see it—hated to be the one to be the cause of it, most of all—but at that moment she felt close to bursting with raw emotion.

Twilight said meekly, “I’m sorry to take it out on you, Princess. However she did it, we cannot be certain—not yet. It’s only that… It’s only that for the second time this monster has gotten close to one of my friends. And both times I hadn’t been around to stop them. I can’t help but feel as useless as I am.”

Celestia shook her head. “Don’t you dare think that, Twilight. Don’t you dare. All you’ve done since this began is try and look out for your friends. You care about them and in turn they care about you. This is only something we haven’t come across before.” She paused to look at each one in turn. “But at least this time your friend went away unscathed, and now we know more about our enemy than before—if what your friend has told us proves correct.” She focused on the yellow pegasus, propped in a thick chair with Rarity by her side. “Are you certain it was a mare that spoke with you tonight, Fluttershy? A unicorn mare?”

Fluttershy jerkily shook her head. “Yes. I didn’t see her but I felt her horn. And her voice was far too light to be anything else… I’m sure of it.”

Celestia nodded. “Then that’s enough assurance for me.”

Twilight took a step towards her. “What do you plan on doing then, Princess?”

Levitating a scroll from her desk, Celestia got to work on a list with a quill. “First, I’m going to speak with the head of the guards from each quadrant—see if any lower ranking guard of the day- or night-watch caught sight of a mare that doesn’t belong here. While that’s happening, I’m going to round up each mare guard and employee that is either still in the castle or lives here permanently. As much as it pains me to believe one of my own employees or guards may be your stalker, Twilight, I must admit I do not know them all by heart. And if your unicorn mare has planned this out for some time, as it seems she has, they may have secured themselves a role here sometime ago, in the off chance you and your friends would collect here once under hardship. She may think she has the upper hoof in this castle, but she does not. She is surrounded by guards and alicorns and the Elements of Harmony themselves. I truthfully believe tonight we will find our stalker and end things for good.”

7

Chaser, the overnight guard, shifted in his chair and propped both back legs on the counter. With a quick turn of the seat, he eyed the half dozen heavily armed guards standing adjacent down the hall, and thought for a moment how his job could actually be worse. While the rest had to stand, he could at least sit and watch the front doors to the castle—ones that had been locked shut for hours now and would remain that way until the sun came up and Celestia said it was safe to open up.

Still, even with a comfy seat in front of an overlong desk, the hours and hours of grinding night could wear away on any stallion. So what if he wanted to hurry the time along just a bit? Who would it hurt?

Carefully edging the magazine from one of the desk drawers, Chaser hastily glanced at the rest of his compatriots before making mental note that not a single eye was upon him. Laying the thin book on an upraised leg (sadly of Celebrity gossip and not much else), he got ready to kill a few minutes at least.

It had only been a few days ago when Celestia informed every guard that each piece of mail coming into the castle had to be search and then tested—meaning reading it aloud for a group to check if it might have been tampered with. Obviously nothing had come of it. Begrudgingly, that also included Chaser’s once-a-week rag magazines. But this stuff was printed by a company; one that had been doing so for years. How could someone curse a pre-made text?

Flipping open the first page and skipping the colorful index, Chaser was curiously surprised to find a small card fall out onto his lap. His first thought was to turn away and yell for the others, but without effort he had already read the first line. “Do not make a sound,” it read, and Chaser (of course) found he could not, although he might have wanted to. “I have something very important to tell you—something urgent.” With rising anxiety Chaser read what the rest of the card had to say, each line of text causing his blood to boil while small specks of white danced in his eyes.

The small card read: “It may be hard to believe, but you need to act fast. While you were gone from your post, the guards of the Canterlot castle stole away your children and wife. Right now they are being held in the basement and if you do not act soon they will be sliced to ribbons before the sun rises. The guards will of course deny what they have done, as will the alicorns above them, yet it is all true. Now it is up to you to save your loved ones. And the only way to do that is by forcibly removing every guard in the castle. Only then will your family be returned to you. I trust you will do what is right with this knowledge.”

When he finished the last word on the small card, Chaser looked back up and found his chin trembling while he had trouble breathing. The card made no sense at all and yet to him every word came out as overwhelmingly real. He could almost see each horrific action done to his family. How they had come to his home while he had been away in the castle, stringing them up before dumping them in a cart, laughing as they worked. He could even see his family in the basement now—cold, scared, waiting for him to come rescue them from their plight.

“How could…” he managed to say, a small part of his mind trying to clear up the card’s staggering impossibility. But when he turned to face the hall behind him with its many lined guards, did those thoughts crumble away. Were they not grinning right that very moment? As they stood with their spears by their sides? Did they know he had only moments ago found out about their plan? And only now how clear it all seemed to him.

They had taken pleasure it what they had done—in what they still planned on doing. No longer were these the guards Chaser would share a beer with at the end of each week; no longer were these the same upstanding stallions he had called friends until only minutes ago. They were sick, and they were monstrous. And now more than ever did they need to be put down.

Before he even got up from his comfy seat, Chaser knew he would not stop until every guard in that castle lay in a puddle of blood by his hooves. He had to save his family. He had to do it for them. He would do it for them.

From below his desk he plucked up his bronzed spear and tucked it into a loop on the side of his chest plate. It made it awkward to move, although he wouldn’t have far to go.

Halfway down the hall of stoic guards he came to a stop by the first one that spoke to him.

“You making a coffee run, Chaser? I’ll take one with milk, if you don’t mind.”

Chaser leaned towards the floor so his spear clanked loudly against the marble. Just the tip of the handle remained in his loop.

“You need help with that, Chaser?”

To the rest of the guards it had sounded like an honest question. To Chaser it only came out as near bubbling mockery. It made the next move far easier than it should have been.

He said openly, “Tell me where my family is.”

The guard by the wall fixed him an awkward smile. “What did you say?”

“I said tell me where my family is.”

The guard paused to glare at the stallion next to him, only to receive a shrug in return. Chaser decided he would be the next to go.

“What—” was all the guard got out, as Chaser lifted his spear with his teeth to slash through the air, directly under the motionless stallion’s chin. From the fine cut came a small river of red, which the guard gurgled on before placing both hooves across the widening gash. It would do little good.

As every other guard in the hall unsheathed their own weapons, Chaser only thought calmly, One down, several more to go.

With any luck, the sunrise would still be hours away.