• Published 21st Jan 2015
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A World Without Kindness - billymorph



Celestia and Nightmare Moon are dead, Equestria has been torn apart by war, and Fluttershy struggles to survive in a world without kindness.

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For Want of Dawn

The deer was a rich and oh-so-tempting way of satiating that gnawing emptiness inside me, and I followed it on silent wings. She was young, not even a yearling, and separated from her herd by the vagaries of the Everfree forest at twilight. A chance encounter with one of my pit traps had shattered her ankle an hour before, and she’d struggled through the ice-crusted undergrowth for nearly half a kilometer before finally collapsing. It had been a remarkable effort; I would have done little beyond sob and scream for my mother in her place, but she’d fought every step for life. I could respect her for that, at least.

Hunger, true hunger, hunger that consumes your every thought and weighs down every action, had been alien to me before the War. There were times when I’d missed lunch because I was busy on some errand, or had been short a few bits for a sandwich, but that was an annoying twinge that passed within hours. A well-stocked kitchen waited for me, filled with all manner of treats to keep the desperate need for food from truly biting. I could look back fondly on those missed lunches, when breakfast was still settling and dinner was a mere eyeblink away, as a golden time. After three days without food, you begin to wonder how far you’ll go for a bite of a rotten apple. You wonder whether you will ever eat again, and what lines you’ll cross to fill your belly.

I landed near the doe, folding my leathery wings tight against my body. She screamed then; letting loose a brutal animal bellow of pain and fear, thrashing as she tried to scramble to her hooves, her laboured snorts misting in the frozen air of the forest. All her efforts got her no more than a dozen yards. I missed the gentler days when woodland creatures wouldn’t run in fear at the sight of me, but less than I missed the taste of celery. The doe collapsed again, her breathing ragged, blood-flecked foam pooling at the corners of her mouth.

At last I approached her; making familiar soothing noises as I approached. I made sure to always stay in sight, to keep eye contact, hide my more vicious features and avoid her one good hind leg. Deer were big animals; though young, she was almost my size, and I didn’t want an errant hoof to break a rib when I had so far to fly to get home. My calming tone seemed to reassure the doe, or maybe she was just done fighting, and I reached out to stroke her head.

“Hush now, quiet now,” I sang, my voice carrying across the silent clearing. “It’s time to lay your sleepy head.”

I pulled a worn carving knife from my pouch and, with practised ease, slit her throat.

“Hush now, quiet now, it’s time to go to bed.”

The poor doe’s eyes rolled backwards in her head as she shuddered and kicked; her struggle for life didn’t last long.

I managed to restrain myself for long enough to wipe the tears from my eyes before I dove into the carcass and, sinking my fangs into her ruined throat, I let the hot, delicious blood pour into my mouth. The Dawn denounced thestrals for drinking blood but it was a stupid thing to hate us for. I didn’t drink blood because I was a monster of the night, I drank blood because it was full of nutrients and I was hungry.

The flow eased to a trickle of dark ooze, and I let out a contented sigh; that screaming emptiness in the pit of my belly had been reduced to a familiar ache. Wiping the blood from my lips I stepped back from the carcass and huffed to myself as I regarded the task before me. I’d have to haul it back to camp, but hadn’t anticipated such a windfall of food. First, I would have to put together a litter, and that would demand a few sturdy sticks and something to bind it all together.

A simple solution was waiting for me, down a nearby narrow trail that wound through the undergrowth out of the clearing. A shudder ran down my spine, but I didn’t fancy weaving together vines that day, so with a deep breath I followed the trail. My own cottage lay at the end, and I stood staring at the ruined building for a long time.

The world loved its cruel ironies. An injured child in her hour of need had followed a half remembered myth, to try to find the kindly mare who looked after all the creatures of the forest. She hadn’t known that the same mare had been the one to set the trap that broke her leg. She didn’t know that no one was kind anymore. Especially not me.

I stepped out of the protective ring of trees and, my belly near flat to the ground, slunk over the frozen grass. Ponyville lay beyond my cottage; it was a haunted and terrifying place, the perpetual twilight of Equestria had filled the ruins with deep shadows and in my mind a thousand monsters lurked within. Half the town had blasted to shreds by some unicorn spell, but the other had melted. Glass, brick and bone merged together by an unimaginable inferno. Celestia’s handiwork, no doubt. The river had burst its banks since I’d last visited and flooded the town before freezing, locking what little remained of the ruins in ice.

Far in the distance, I could see the sun behind the Canterhorn mountain. The golden towers of the city had been torn down, and now the sun feared to rise upon Equestria. I looked away from the dirty smear on the mountainside that had once been Canterlot, the grandest city of our age, feeling no small sense of satisfaction.

The gate of my cottage had fallen off, but I didn’t bother propping it back up this time; the fence had been robbed for lumber months ago. Instead, I picked my way across the empty yard, sticking to the shadows before slipping through the empty doorway and into my home. The dark was all pervasive inside, along with the reek of rot, but Nightmare’s children have no fear of the dark. Fear of the dark was just another fond memory of happier times.

Scavengers, of both Dawn and Dusk, had picked the cottage clean many times over, leaving just a few fragments of furniture and a thick layer of frost. The little birdhouses, soft cushions and my beloved books had all vanished, and many had fed my own fire. Still, there were a few secrets I’d held close to my chest. Upstairs, in a small closet (now sans door) was a small compartment beneath the floorboards; it was not a secret compartment, just a little nook where I kept a few keepsakes.

The quilt had been knitted by my mother many years ago; it was sized for a foal but would do for the litter. I hugged the blanket close, a little blood rubbing off on the cloth. Once it had smelt of warmth and home, but the mildew seemed to be setting in. I’m not sure why that upset me so much.

My ears flicked up as I heard the sound of frost crunching beneath hooves.

For a moment I didn’t even breathe. There was no pony in camp beyond myself who would be foolish enough to leave the Everfree. And there was no pony beyond the forest I would call friend. My eyes went to the window, but the tiny portal was rimmed by wicked shards of glass and I would have to kick the whole frame out to escape. There would be no stealthy exit there.

Bundling up the quilt, I stuffed it under the strap of my saddlebags. The sounds from below had faded away to nothing, but I kept my ears high as I crept over to the stairs. The creaks and groans of the rotting boards sounds like cannon shots as I made my way down into the ruined living room, doing my best impression of a patch of living night. The room was empty and my wings twitched in anticipation as I eyed the empty doorway.

I was in a dead sprint when the unicorn unveiled herself, stepping out of thin air to block my path. She was a Dawn soldier, one of the last of Celestia’s champions. A mare with a pure white coat, she wore plate armour painted with a dull whitewash, the image of a six pointed star emblazoned across her breast. Her face was marred by a deep scar over one eye, but that was all I saw before a blade flashed into the air. The rapier was a ribbon of steel, grasped by her magic and danced through the air towards me.

Death kissed me. I caught the flat of the blade with my wing, sending it tumbling across the room as I ducked and rolled under the lethal blow. The unicorn danced backwards as I scrambled to my hooves. Her gaze focused on a point behind my head and the hum of the blade in the air raced back towards me. I leapt, pumping my wings, the steel slicing away a few dirty strands of my tail as it slid under me.

The unicorn was beneath my hooves suddenly and I lashed out, catching her helmeted head with a rear hoof. She staggered under the blow but didn’t fall. I hit the frozen grass and accelerated away, pumping my wings for more speed.

“Get back here, monster!” the unicorn howled, thundering after me.

I didn’t look back, bounding over the frozen earth at a frantic gallop. The sound of heavy hooves and muffled armour followed mere strides behind. I had the lead, but she had clearly had a few more square meals in her over the last couple of days. I ducked under another swing of her blade as I darted between the trees and dove into the undergrowth.

For a moment I lay there, stilling my trembling wings through sheer will. The Dawn army never came into the Everfree. Even when Celestia had been alive they’d never been so b--

The sword slammed into the ground half an inch from my nose. Letting out a squeak I leapt to my hooves and tore through the forest, that deadly blade harrying my every step. Fatigue dogged me, the adrenaline rush already fading away leaving my legs leaden as I pushed deeper and deeper into the haunted wood.

“Bring it back!” the unicorn called out.

I spared no thought on what she thought I’d stolen. The blood was pounding in my ears, my heart was racing, and the overriding need to escape blanked out all rational thought as I plunged deeper into the Everfree.

It was blind luck that saved me. One of my many hobbling traps loomed out of the forest before me and I darted around it without a second thought. The terrible blade licked at my fetlocks again, trying to hamstring me, and I felt a fresh ribbon of pain lance across my flank as I missed a step. Stumbling, I fought to regain my hooves when a scream rent the air behind me. The blade crashed to the ground, all magic gone in an instant.

Skidding to a stop, I looked back. The Everfree was silent, save for my own ragged breathing. No creature stirred, no bird song carried on the breeze, and the killing rapier lay on the ground; still at long last. All the little cuts and injuries my frantic flight had gained me came rushing upon me, demanding attention. None seemed life threatening. The thin wound on my flank from the blade had not even reached the muscle.

Placing the largest rock I could find on the blade, I slunk my way back towards the trap.

The unicorn had caught a hoof in the trap and shattered her hind leg. It was a nasty, compound fracture where the bone had pierced her skin, bright red blood marring the perfect white of her coat. Before the war I would have run for the paramedics within moments of seeing such a wound, but the paramedics were long dead. I crept closer, watching for the faintest hint of a trap. A few sparks from her horn froze me in my tracks, but no blade came whirling through the air, instead she let out a pitiful moan.

I sighed in relief. Unicorns could not cast magic while in extreme pain, since they couldn’t summon the focus required. It was how we killed them.

She saw me approach and whimpered in fear. I must have looked a sight. My muzzle and chest were still stained with the deer’s blood and a vicious scowl married my features as I glared at the unicorn who’d caused me so much pain.

“Just...” she said as I approached, drawing her forehooves up against her chest protectively. “Make it quick.” She closed her eyes.

Her helmet had vanished into the undergrowth, revealing a long shock of purple hair, bound into a tight bun. I recognised her then.

“Oh no,” I whimpered.

Rarity looked up at me, her good eye pleading. “You won’t make it quick?” she stammered.

I should have broken her neck then. She was going to die. It would take immediate first aid and surgery to save her life, taking up supplies we desperately needed. Even if she lived there was no future for her at the camp, she was Dawn and we were Dusk.

“Rarity,” I whined, trembling with indecision.

Realisation dawned on her face, along with horror. “Fluttershy.” Her eye swept across my twisted form. “Darling, what happened to you?”

I had to kill her. There was no way she’d survive the day alone with that wound. It would be mercy.

“The War,” I told her.

She nodded, trembling. “Nightmare Moon.”

“The War,” I repreated, my eyes narrowing. Nightmare Moon may have taken my wings, but it was Celestia who’d destroyed my world.

Rarity didn’t seem to have the strength argue. A shudder ran through her. “Are you going to kill me, Fluttershy?”

I had to. I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t even feed myself, yet alone add another invalid to our horde of hungry mouths. It would be best to make it swift than leave her to the mercy of the Everfree.

“Fluttershy?”

I pulled the knife from my bag. It would be just like the deer. One quick motion and her suffering would all be over. There was no room for kindness in this world. Even if I knew my victim. Even if she’d given me the warmest scarf I’d ever owned as a birthday gift that one time.

“Please...”

If I saved her, we would go hungry. I didn’t have the strength to take her home and the carcass.

“Don’t...”

My knife trembled.

There was no more kindness left in the world.


I landed in the courtyard of the ruined castle, letting the carcass of the deer fall to the earth with a weary sigh. The world loved its little cruel ironies. The castle used to belong to the Royal Pony Sisters. It was the very castle that myself, Twilight Sparkle and four other mares had set out for on the night of Nightmare Moon’s return, in an attempt to retrieve the Elements of Harmony and save the world.

We never made it. We were lost in the forest for days before making our way out, and by then the War had begun in earnest. Today I could have guided us all through the forest in under six hours. I often wondered whether it would have made a difference if I’d known the paths of the Everfree back then, but somehow I doubted it.

“Hey Fluttershy!” Pinkie Pie chirped, bounding over. I have no idea where she gets the energy. “What have you got there for auntie Pinkie?”

I regarded the pink mare with a flat look; years of war and hardship and war had had no noticeable effect on her beyond a distinct lack of pudge. “I’m a year older than you,” I pointed out softly, but it passed without notice as usual.

Pinkie leaned round me to look at the carcass. The lower half had been torn away by some predator, probably a lone wolf by the tracks, but I had saved the majority of the meat. “Eww. No cupcakes?”

I smiled. “When I find the cupcake tree, I’ll tell you first.”

“Good, because I know I planted that somewhere, I just can’t remember where.” Pinkie gave an exaggerated shrug. “Oh well. I liked the mare you brought in earlier more. She was more fun than an icky deer... well, probably, Applejack wouldn’t let me near her for some reason.”

With Pinkie’s help I began to disentangle myself from the makeshift sled, and clear the worst of the offal off of my quilt.

“How is she?” I enquired.

“Huh?” Pinkie asked, balancing a kidney on her nose. “Oh, the unicorn? Yeah she’s fine. Berry patched her up and gave her something to help her sleep. Captain is preeety mad at you though.”

A tremor ran down my spine. That was a conversation that I wanted to put off as long as possible. Maybe I could take a few days in Whitetail woods ‘scouting’.

“Auntie Pinkie! Auntie Pinkie!” En mass the foals tumbled out of the castle. A multicoloured cascade of little hooves, horns, feathers and leathery wings.

It had been a small miracle that so many young ponies had survived the War, and all in the care of a single mare. I’d never asked Pinkie what she’d done to bring them safely through the nightmare, but after the end she had been waiting for us at the castle with a dozen precious charges. I’d never seen the Captain cry before the day Pinkie Pie brought her sister back from the dead.

“Oh, is that dinner?” Scootaloo cried, the orange thestral circling my head.

“Not yet,” Pinkie replied, in her singsong tone. “But once we get a nice big fire together, we’ll be able to cook a feast!” There were many wide-eyed stares from the little foals; they were all so thin I doubted any of them even remembered their last proper meal. And I’d lost half the meat to a pointless act. “And it’s all thanks to Fluttershy!”

I suddenly was the centre of attention.

“Is it true you killed three Dawn soldiers Fluttershy?” Scootaloo blurted out, fluttering her bat wings and bouncing up and down excitedly. Like many pegasi, she had not escaped the Nightmare unchanged; she shared my over-large ears, slit pupils and bat-like wings. The changes never seemed to slow her down, though.

“Nopony could beat three Dawns on their own, Scoots,” Applebloom snapped, glaring at her friend. The pair were always fighting, a remnant of a long finished crusade for cutie marks. “Even Applejack couldn’t do that.”

“Girls...” I interjected, but they kept talking over me.

“Well that’s because she’s not Fluttershy,” Scootaloo proclaimed loudly, drawing herself up to her full height. “She beat five Dawn unicorns, and captured their leader, and brought us all dinner!”

“Ooo,” the rest of the foals chorused. Wide eyed.

“Um... there was only--” I tried again.

“Well, Applejack could beat a dozen Dawns, and Twilight Sparkle!”

“Girls!” I squeaked, backing away, blushing red with embarrassment.

Pinkie came to my rescue. “Come on, you silly fillies,” she called out, the carcass draped over her back. “We’ve got a dinner to prepare. Who wants to get the vegetables?”

The prospect of breaking into our dwindling store of vegetables distracted the foals in an instant, and I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

“No problem, Fluttershy,” Pinkie stage whispered back. “Come on, girls--”

“Hey!” Rumble protested.

“--and boys,” Pinkie continued without missing a beat. “Let’s leave the mighty hunter alone. She has to talk to the Captain anyway.”

“I have to what?” I asked, but the herd had already moved away.

“Good luck, Fluttershy!” Applebloom called over her shoulder.

“What?” I repeated, shaking my head. Oh. Of course the Captain wanted to see me. She would have to blame somepony for bringing the unicorn in.

“...um, Miss Fluttershy?” Sweetie Belle interjected, hanging back from the rest of the crowd. “Did you... did you really kill all those unicorns?”

I hung my head. “No, I couldn’t have even if I wanted to.”

The little unicorn smiled. “Could you ask the one you saved whether she knew anypony with a little sister called Sweetie Belle?”

I nodded. “I’ll do what I can.”

Sweetie Belle beamed. “Thanks so much Fluttershy!” She hurried after the group and I allowed myself a weary smile. I hadn’t known Sweetie Belle before the War. She’d lived in Ponyville, but her sister and the rest of her family were most likely gone. It was too much to hope that Rarity was a long lost relative.

Head hung, I packed up my quilt and followed them into the castle. The great hall lay in ruins, shattered centuries ago by some titanic battle, but much of the rest of the building was sound. At least, sound enough for fifty outcast ponies to survive behind its thick walls.

I picked my way past the multi-armed pedestal that was the room’s sole feature. According to Pinkie Pie, it held the Elements of Harmony, though I didn’t believe her. Even though one of the great battles of the war had been to prevent either side accessing the castle, the grey stones had never shown a spark of magic to me. Against my better judgement I didn’t follow Pinkie and the foals to the kitchen, despite the wonderful smells coming from that direction, instead I went to find the Captain.

Applejack was in the armoury, barking orders as usual. Captain Applejack was marked by the Nightmare like many of us, in fact more so. She’d been one of Nightmare Moon’s champions at the height of the War and even her cutie mark had been warped by the Princess. Three red moons sat on her flank in place of her old apples. Her slitted eyes narrowed as my soft hoofsteps reached her.

“Fluttershy,” she growled, and I felt myself shrink an inch lower to the floor. “Wanna’ start explainin’ why ah’ve got a Dawn mare laid up in a sick bed?”

I took a great interest in my blood stained hooves. “...I failed.”

Applejack sighed, taking off her hat and holding it to her breast. “And ah can’t blame ya’ for that. This ain’t a time we can be kind, though; we got precious little between us as is and she ain’t a lost bunny.” She fixed me with a commanding glare which I shied away from. “That mare is a soldier, a killer, and ah got foals to look afta’. She’s out the moment she wakes up.”

“She can’t walk,” I pointed out, still not matching Applejack’s gaze.

“Damn horns don’t need to move ta’ kill ya’,” the Captain growled, stamping. That wasn’t what I’d meant, but I didn’t dare correct her. Applejack had saved us all after the war, I couldn't go against her. After the Princesses died, and both Dawn and Dusk turned on themselves, she’d done the impossible and taught us to survive in the Everfree, safe from the roving bands of desperate killers beyond the trees.

I whimpered. “Please, she’s hurt.”

A long sigh escaped the Captain’s lips. “We can’t keep her. But we can use her. She ain’t the only one of Celestia’s--” She spat the word. “--ilk around. There’s a whole mess of ‘em on the edge of the forest and ah want to know why. If you can get that from her, then we’ll see about gettin’ her to her people.”

“Okay,” I said meekly. It was a better deal than I could have hoped for, really. Rarity had seemed well cared for; they probably could look after her better than us, anyway.

“Right,” Applejack said, putting her hat back on. “Well she’s in your room when ya’re ready for her.” My wings flew out in alarm. “Ah suggest ya get some vittles in ya’ and some sleep. It’s gonna’ be a long night.”

My breathing was short and rapid as the Captain strode away. They’d put Rarity in my room? Well, that was logical, as there weren’t exactly many soft beds anymore, but... my room!

Somepony put a hoof on my shoulder and I found myself beneath an armour rack with no clear idea how I’d got there. Trembling, I waited for the horrible monster to come and devour me.

“Wow, can you teach me to move that fast!” Pinkie exclaimed, and dragged me out from my hiding place by my tail.

“Aww, why so glum?” She cocked her head at me and reached out and lifted the corners of my mouth with her hooves. “You should smile more, Fluttershy.”

“They put Rarity in my room,” I whimpered.

“Oh don’t worry you silly filly,” Pinkie said, with a dismissive wave. “I made sure Angel stayed--” She froze. For a moment I thought she was having a stroke; every inch of her seemed to tremble all at once. “Wait, did you say 'Rarity'?”

I nodded, getting to my hooves and taking a half step back from the strange mare.

Pinkie exploded into motion, grabbing me in a bone-breaking hug. I hung limply from her grip. “This is great news!” she exclaimed, bouncing us up and down. “The bestest, most amazing, wonderful news ever!”

“Why?” I squeaked.

“Because tomorrow’s going to be--”

“--sunshine and rainbows,” I groaned.

“Sunshine and rainbows!” Pinkie continued unabated. “Ooo, I’ve got to get everything ready.”

She galloped away and I sighed. I should have known it was just Pinkie being Pinkie. It was easy to say things would be better tomorrow, when the sun never rose.


I slept fitfully in the gloom of my room, hugging Angel close. He was less than fond of all the hugs he’d received in recent months, but had never complained for my sake. I lived in fear that one day I’d return to the camp to find rabbit stew cooking over the fire.

“Fluttershy?”

I stirred, my back popping in protest. I slept on the floor in the end; Rarity was the one with a broken leg after all.

“Why is it so dark?”

It took me a moment to realise only my Night-touched eyes made the room appear bright. My little room had once been part of the servant’s quarters and the tiny window and lack of exterior walls had shielded it from the ravages of time better than most. There was little furniture, a bed salvaged from my cottage, a flimsy chest, and a few boxes that pretended they were a hutch.

“Just a moment.” I dragged myself over to the chest and pulled an old oil lamp out, then fumbled with a flint and steel until a dull orange glow filled the room. Rarity breathed a sigh of relief, then a little gasp escaped her.

Rarity had pulled the sheets up around her neck with her bound forelegs and was staring at her wounded leg. It had been a bad break, but Berry had years of experience patching up ponies. Despite the blooded bandages and a splint that looked like a table leg, she would live. It certainly didn’t look pretty, but maybe one day it would heal enough for her to walk again.

“Oh dear,” she murmured, before floating the sheets back down with a spark of magic. “I’d forgotten it was quite that bad.” She looked over to me and there was sadness mixed in with her gaze. I pressed my long ears against my head in shame; at least I’d washed all the blood off my face.

“Thank you for saving my life,” Rarity said at last. “I... acted hastily, back in your cottage. The idea of one of those Dusk monsters desecrating your home was too much to bear.”

I looked away, glaring at the floor. She didn’t have to call me a monster.

“I hope I didn’t hurt you too badly.”

I sighed. I’d got out of the whole mess with just a few stitches and a bandage wrap. “No, just scratches really.”

A long silence stretched between us. I wondered how Applejack expected me to learn anything from Rarity. Maybe it had just been a cruel punishment for saving the enemy, she knew how bad I was around other ponies.

“So... might I ask where I am?” Rarity broached at last.

“Our camp,” I replied, softly. “At the heart of the Everfree. You’re safe here.”

“Are you all... Dusk?” she asked with a shudder.

“Yes,” I said. “Except for some of the foals. The Captain lead us here after the War ended, saved our lives when things started going to Tartarus out there.”

Rarity nodded. “It has not been easy an easy few months since Celestia, heavens hold her, died,” she commiserated.

“And Nightmare Moon,” I added, hanging my head.

“Hff! No, there is one mare I am glad is dead.”

“I’m not...” Nightmare Moon may have started the war, but in the end, it was her care that had shepherded me through it. I owed her everything for that.

The Dawn unicorn seemed to regard me with horror for a moment, but it was gone in an instant beneath her iron self control. “Might I ask who this ‘Captain’ is?”

“Applejack,” I replied, sitting down next to the bed. “She lived just outside Ponyville.”

“Applejack!” Rarity echoed. “But she was there when we tried to defeat Nightmare Moon. Why would she turn her back on Equestria?”

I met her eyes at last. “She never forgave Celestia for burning Sweet Apple Acres,” I told her simply. Scorched earth tactics it had been called, a thorn placed in the path of the Nightmare as Celestia retreated.

Rarity’s seemed to realise she’d put her hoof in it again and looked away. “It was a terrible war,” she said, lamely.

I nodded in agreement.

“I have to ask,” she began, after a silence. “Your wings. Is it true what you have to do to earn them?”

I felt Angel wrap himself around my foreleg. The Nightmare’s armies hadn’t been as soft as Celestia’s. They didn’t let anypony drag them down if they couldn’t keep up in a march. And if you dropped out after you joined, then you were dead, as simple as that. Deadweight had no place in a war, and you had to earn your place with blood.

“The circle?” I croaked. “Two pegasi enter, one thestral leaves?” I shuddered at the memory of that bloody night. “No. Not everypony went through that.”

“Did you, Fluttershy?”

I’d made myself forget the name of the stallion I’d killed.

I could have died for him; it would have been the kind thing to do. I could have refused to make sport for the Nightmare, bared my throat and let him have his life. But, I had spent too many days surrounded by the dying. Too many days with an empty stomach and too many days enduring the drill sergeant's lash. I hadn’t even given him the chance to be kind. Not that I think he ever would have been. And in the end, I wanted to live more.

“Oh, Fluttershy.”

My head snapped up. The pitying expression on Rarity’s face cut me like a knife.

“How dare you,” I growled. “How dare you!” I rose into the air on my cursed wings. “You say that like you don’t have blood on your hooves! You say that like you’ve never killed for a meal! You tried to kill me in my own home, you sun-addled horn!”

Rarity tried to shrink back. She didn’t get far with a broken leg.

“I--”

“Don’t you dare pity me!” I roared, looming over her. “Not after what you Dawn scum did.”

There was a sudden tugging at my tail. Angel bunny gave me a reproachful look, and I at last noticed I was screaming at my patient. I dropped to the floor and swept the rabbit into a hug, he didn’t resist in the slightest.

Rarity wisely said nothing.

“I’m supposed to ask you why you’re here,” I murmured, at last releasing Angel.

“What?”

A little louder I repeated. “Why are you here? The Dawn don’t come into the Everfree.”

Rarity sighed, and closed her eyes. “I can’t tell you,” she admitted.

I shook my head. “I’m afraid you have to answer; we need to know.”

“What... what will happen to me if I don’t?” she asked, her voice trembling slightly.

If I’d had my way, nothing. There were no kind mares anymore, though. “Then we’ll let you go.”

Rarity didn’t seem to expect that answer. “Excuse me?” the porcelain unicorn exclaimed. “Then, what if I tell you everything?”

“Then we’ll let you go at the edge of the forest.”

The sheer terror on her face was the right response. On three legs, in the heart of the Everfree, I wouldn’t have expected her to last the hour.

“Surely you can’t--”

“Knock knock!” Pinkie Pie called out, the door already thrown open, two steaming plates balanced on her back. “Dinner call for hungry fillies. The hero’s platter for Fluttershy.” She placed the larger of the plates in front of me, it was mostly withered vegetables, but a large hunk of venison held pride of place. “And the vegetarian option for the long-lost Rarity!”

Rarity’s eyes couldn’t have been wider. “Pinkie Pie. You’re with the Dusk, too?”

“What? Oh no, I’m not with them,” Pinkie chirped. “They’re with me.”

Rarity and I shared a confused look.

“Anyway! Have you told her yet?” Pinkie enquired, beaming.

I frowned. “Told her what?”

Pinkie’s jaw dropped. “What? What!” I opened my mouth to speak, but she plugged a hoof into it before I could get a word out. “No! Don’t say anything, you’ll ruin the surprise. I’ll be back before you can say marvellous minty mega mint-als!”

She was off like a shot.

“Pinkie,” Rarity said, shaking her head. “Pinkie never changes.”

I’d learned to live with it. The grumbling of my stomach forestalled any further attempts at interrogation and I tore into the meal. Rarity watched with some distaste as I ripped apart the steak, but I paid her no heed.

“I guess that explains the blood,” she observed, picking delicately at her plate.

I sent her another flat glare. I didn’t tell her the meal would have been bigger if I hadn’t bothered to save her life. “The Dawn still has enough fresh food to be picky then?”

Rarity shook her head. “I wouldn’t call it fresh, but we still have our stores, and haven’t reached that level of...” She caught my glare and let that sentence finish unsaid.

Angel bunny hopped up onto the bed next to her. For a moment my heart leapt in my throat, but Rarity made no move against the rabbit. He stomped over to her plate and jabbed a paw at the platter.

“Oh?” Rarity gazed longingly at her dinner. “Well, I guess I can part with a one carrot.”

I smiled as my bunny effortlessly extorted a third of Rarity’s dinner from her, carrot slice by carrot slice. My own meal vanished far too fast for him to try the same trick, though I did set aside a few nice leaves of cabbage aside for him for later. The meat was all for me, though; it was hard won and tasted all the more delicious because of it.

“Ah don’t recall saying ta’ feed the prisoner,” Captain Applejack observed from the doorway. She frowned at Rarity. “Ya look familiar. We try an’ kill each other?”

Rarity shuddered. “Quite the opposite, darling. My name is Rarity, we grew up in Ponyville together.”

Applejack cocked a brow. “Ya’ from Ponyville, with that accent?” she said, sceptically. “Ya’ sound like ya’ve been huffing Celestia’s farts from the cradle.”

I backed slowly away from the altercation, hiding Angel beneath my wing. I’d never dared ask the Captain on whether we were allowed pets.

“How dare you?” Rarity snapped, puffing herself up as much as she could whilst bedridden. “Just because you chose to follow such a brute of a Princess, doesn’t mean you have to slander Celestia, the heavens hold her.”

Applejack regarded her with a flat glare. “Well, ya’ may, may, be from Ponyville, but ya’ sure found ya’ place with the Dawn murderers. Ya’ ever forgive her for destroying ya’ home?”

“There...” Rarity stammered. “There’s nothing to forgive.”

“Sure there ain’t, sugarcube,” Applejack said, in a monotone. “Ain’t nothing wrong with killing an old mare in her bed just because she don’t want to give up a hundred year of hard work.”

Rarity took a deep breath, drawing a hoof up to her breast. “It was a war, and not one Celestia, heavens hold her, started. Was she supposed to just let Nightmare Moon win?”

“Maybe. Don’t seem to have made much difference in the end.” Applejack turned her gaze to me. “Ya’ get anything from her?”

“Umm... not yet?”

Applejack sighed. “Ya’ going to tell us why ya’ friends are skulking around mah forest?” she snapped at Rarity.

“Hff.” Rarity huffed, turning her nose up.

“Thought as much.” Applejack walked forwards until she was stood at the foot of the bed. “Well if ya’ feel more cooperative, give us a holla’.” She pressed a hoof against Rarity’s wounded leg, making the unicorn gasp with pain. “And if ya’ hurt any of mine with that horn of yers’, I’ll rip it off and toss ya’ out for the Timberwolves.”

Tipping her hat she turned to go. I hurried over to Rarity, fussing over her bandages, but Applejack stopped me dead in my tracks.

“Flutters’,” she drawled. “Ah need ya’ for another errand. Bring those fancy blades of yours.”

I whimpered. Applejack trotted out without another word.

“I don’t think I like that mare,” Rarity said, softly, her lip trembling.

“I’ve got to go,” I murmured, slinking over to my chest. “Please keep an eye on Angel.”

“Of course, dear... but what is it you’re--”

I pulled my three knives out of the chest. The were short daggers really, curved along the length and with jet hilts; the blades were a brilliant silver even in the weak light of the lamp.

“Star steel,” Rarity gasped.

I nodded. Unicorn-killing blades. There was no question what Applejack wanted me to use them for.


The unicorn soldier was almost invisible in the twilight gloom of the Everfree forest, even to my Nightmare-gifted eyes. He had chosen his position well, with good lines of sight into the forest along the winding path, and a clear shout to his camp over his shoulder. He had trained to fight in the sun, though, his armour may have been the muted white of the Dawn army, but he’d polished his buckles to a mirror shine and I’d spotted the glint a hundred meters off. During the war he would have been dead within a week on campaign. I wondered how’d he’d survived.

Applejack’s errand had been part scouting mission... and part assassination. Dawn soldiers had entered the forest in force and we had to both know why, and stop them at all costs. Rumble and Thunder had come with me. The thestral brothers had never been mage hunters like myself, but all Dusk knew how to hide when needed.

I held up a blackened hoof. Every few minutes, the guard would look longingly over his shoulder at the camp and stamp his hooves. Wondering whether his relief was on the way, or maybe just pining for a cocoa. Either way, he was an idiot, leaving himself nearly blind and distracted.

“Five hundred count,” I hissed over my shoulder at the brothers. “Then make for the supply wagons. Burn or smash them, I don’t care. If the alarm goes up before then, pick off a few guards and pretend to be an army. Then fade away.”

“For the Night,” they chorused, nodding.

“The Night,” I echoed automatically. It was amazing how fast my training had come rushing back. I had a mission, a team, and best of all, a hot meal in me.

The stallion glanced over his shoulder and I moved, bounding from shadow to shadow with just the whisper of passing air to mark my passage. Not even breathing, I leapt past the blind fool and streaked across the open ground towards the camp. The camp itself was a large affair, a dozen good sized tents and two wagons half laden with supplies. It had been lit by guttering torches but the placement was sloppy, leaving deep shadows for me to shelter in. At last, in the shadow of the nearest tent I paused and allowed myself a quiet, calming breath. Getting in was always the hardest part. Ponies tended to be less sharp once you’d breached their walls.

A great roaring fire took up the centre of the camp, and I went to great lengths to avoid it. Dawn soldiers in various states of undress crowded around, most of them enjoying a hearty meal. My stomach rumbled, reminding me that while it had had one meal recently, there were a great many still owed, but I ignored it, picking my way through the ring of tents to the commander's tent. It was easy to find; the Dawn always hung pennants from their leader’s residence, and within moments I had reached it’s rear wall.

“Come on, Twilight,” a scratching voice whined, from inside. “We’ve got roast bell peppers. You love those.”

I pressed my ear up against the fabric, straining to hear.

“I’m working, Captain,” a second snapped. She had a far more refined tone, Canterlot or at least high class. Probably the commander.

“...Look. Twilight, you can’t keep beating yourself up about Rarity. We’ll find her, don’t you worry.”

My eyes widened. General Twilight. Celestia’s little witch. I thought she’d died with her mistress, or at least would have had the decency to succumb in the months that had followed.

“Let me repeat myself,” General Twilight growled. “I am not worried about Rarity. I am trying to find the best path through this Celestia forsaken forest so that we can save the world! That is a little more important than wondered where one scout wandered off to!”

“Rarity,” the other voice pointed out. “Not a scout, Rarity. Your friend and mine.”

“Return to your post.”

“Twi--”

“Go!”

I heard stomping hoofsteps as the other mare stormed away from the tent. Beyond the angry scratch of the quill no sound came from within and I sighed in relief. Things always went so much smoother when they were alone. Slipping a star steel knife out of its sheath I cut through the ties between the groundsheet and the canvas wall. Amateurs cut the cloth; if you wanted to survive to reach home, then you didn’t dare make that much noise.

I wiggled through the narrow gap and opened my eyes wide to acclimatise to the lamplight faster. The tent was well furnished, two camp beds against the side walls, a large folding desk in the centre and crates of books of all things. Everything was made of rich, dark wood and capped with polished brass; Canterlot made for sure.

General Twilight ‘The Witch’ Sparkle sat at the desk on a plush purple cushion. She had changed much since I’d last seen her; she was leaner, more muscled, she wore a nasty scowl along with her arming jacket. Many had tried to kill Twilight over the years; she’d been the first to stand up against Nightmare Moon and fought her with every breath. No matter the cost to those under the Dusk banner. I’d lost friends to Twilight Sparkle. I wondered just how many ponies would have lived if I’d known to kill her that first night in the Everfree.

I pushed myself into the tent, staying low and silent. My left was clear, just a few scattered tomes and scrolls, to my right was a small pet basket holding a slumbering d-- d-- d--

“Dragon,” I squeaked.

Twilight’s head snapped up. I moved faster than I ever had in my life, diving behind one of the open chests of books and pressing myself against the ground.

“Did you say something Spike?” Twilight said. How she didn’t hear my heart pounding in my chest I’ll never know.

After a long silence, she shrugged. “Huh,” she muttered to herself, and the comforting scratch of a quill resumed.

Right, Twilight had a dragon. But it was just a baby dragon. Not a big, scary, swallow-you-in-one-gulp dragon. Just a cute and tiny one. One that was firmly asleep.

I took my knife in my teeth, drawing a deep breath as I flowed over the chest. Twilight’s desk faced the half-open tentflap, firelight dancing across its surface. It was another little, lethal, mistake; you should never leave a large open space to your back. My knife vibrated as I passed through a ward, the magic slipping harmlessly off the bearer of star steel. I judged my best approach. She favoured her right hoof, so I would strike from the left, slitting her throat before she could cry for help.

It would be quick; an almost merciful end for Celestia’s Witch.

I shook myself. No. Mercy had no place in what I was doing. It was murder. A necessary death to save what little I had left. Without Twilight, we could go on living peacefully. Without Twilight, we’d live another day. And I would take no small sense of satisfaction for avenging all the blood on her hooves.

My breathing was shallow and silent as I crept closer and closer. Close enough to see the map of the Everfree she was pouring over. Close enough to count the rings on her horn.

That horn kindled suddenly, and I froze in place, but she merely lifted a book to her nose. It was ‘The Elements of Harmony - A Reference Guide’; I recognised it from the first night when Nightmare Moon had returned. Pinkie Pie had found it under ‘E’. She muttered as she flipped through the pages, though I didn’t listen to what she was saying.

Another half step brought me close enough to tap her on the shoulder. I’d been taught to strike without fear, but my stomach was still tied in knots. Twilight had maybe a dozen breaths left to her. There was no escape now. There was no kind mare left to stay my hoof.

“Alarm!”

The sudden cry cut across the silence of the tent. I moved on instinct, one hoof against Twilight’s chest to restrain her, star steel flashing in the firelight as I drew back to strike. Her horn burned with magic, but it wasted itself against my blade which rattled in my grip as it absorbed the spell, growing hot against my lips.

“Twilight, there’s--” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, bursting into the tent.

A whimper escaped me. Rainbow Dash looked radiant. She wore light barding of a bluish metal, trimmed with flashes of gold; her rainbow mane was dishevelled but full of vibrant colour, and slim blades had been strapped to her wings. Her expression of exuberance quickly twisted to one of revulsion.

“Assassin!” she roared, hurling herself at me.

There was plenty of time to kill Twilight before she reached me.

I couldn’t. Not in front of Rainbow Dash. I turned and ran.

Rainbow’s flashing wingblades licked at my flanks as I bolted through the hole at the back of the tent, but she came away with only a few muddy tail hairs.

“Get back here, monster!” Dash screamed, slashing her way through the canvas. I hurled myself into the air, pumping my wings, fighting for altitude, her words ringing in my ears.

Rainbow Dash exploded into the open air, taking off like a rocket. She was still fire blind, though, and I folded my wings, dropping past her in the twilight gloom and back towards the camp. The camp was like a kicked anthill, ponies rushing to and fro, all peering out into the forest to find the killers and not a one watching their own flanks.

I hit the ground hard and scrambled beneath one of the big supply wagons. There was no sign of Thunderlane or Rumble, nor that they had done any damage, but clearly they’d been spotted. I strained to keep my wings pressed against my sides and my breathing quiet amidst the chaos of the army.

Twilight stormed out of her tent. “Report!” she bellowed. “Somepony tell me what in the dead gods’ name is going on!”

“Dusk, ma’am,” a stallion clipped. “A sentry saw them, but they killed him when he raised the alarm and ran. We have stallions out hunting them.”

“Good.” Twilight scowled, rubbing her throat. “Bring me their heads... Still attached, I want to know why they are here.”

Rainbow Dash landed next to the pair, snorting.

“Back so soon?” Twilight snapped.

Dash glared at her. “It gave me the slip.” I quailed at her words. It?

“Rainbow,” the General said, glaring at the pegasus. “That was an elite assassin, one of Nightmare Moon’s chosen, bearing her personal steel. Are you telling me you just let her get away?!”

“Hey! I tried,” Dash protested, fluffing out her wings. “We’re in the middle of a frikkin’ forest. There are a lot of places for the filth to hide.” I pulled myself into a ball. Filth?

“Gargh!” Twilight lashed out at the bonfire with her power, scattering hot brands through the air. She stamped her hooves and snorted before finally continuing in a far more calm tone. “Well, I guess this means we know what happened to Rarity.”

Dash put a hoof around the General’s shoulder. “Come on, don’t say things like that. She probably just fell in a muddy puddle and has been running around looking for a hot bath.”

Twilight shrugged Rainbow Dash off. “No. I can’t believe that. The Dusk are here and they’re here to fight. They must be here to stop us getting the Elements.”

“Urgh, really Twilight?” Dash said, rolling her eyes. “Why would they even care?”

“Because they are evil, Rainbow Dash.” I squeaked as I heard the venom in her words. “The Elements are our last chance to bring back the sun and they want to stop us. They want the world to die along with their mistress. Equestria will freeze within a few months; even the Everfree is dying.”

Dash scowled. “Fine. But the flying rat is mine. Nopony threatens my friends like that.”

I folded my twisted wings over my face. Rat?

Tears flowed down my face, as they went their separate ways. I didn’t care. My first ever friend hadn’t even recognised me. She hated me. She hated what I’d become. What I’d had to do to survive.

I lay there for a long time before I finally found the energy to escape.


I landed in the decaying courtyard of the castle, bone-deep weariness dogging my steps. The Captain was waiting for me there with everypony capable of holding a sword. There were barely thirty.

“Ah’m surprised ya’ came back,” Applejack observed, regarding me with her cold eyes. “Ah heard that Nightmare Moon would flay her Children if they raised an alarm on a mission. An’ rip their wings off if they didn’t kill their target. Was Ah lied to?”

A shudder ran down my spine. She hadn’t been.

“Yet Ah got two wounded colts here, and a whole horde of Dawn soldiers on their way,” she continued. I hung my head as she approached. “What in the name of the night happened?”

“Rainbow Dash...” I murmured. It was the wrong answer.

“Ah don’t care if Twilight Sparkle herself was there!” Applejack snapped. “How’d you let ‘em get away?”

I kept staring at my hooves. “Twilight Sparkle was there,” I replied petulantly, doing my best to hide behind my mane.

For a moment, she just glared at me. “Great! Just great,” the Captain fumed, kicking a nearby rock so hard it shattered against a fallen wall. “And a hundred heavily armed Dawn ponies, no doubt.”

“Sixty,” I corrected.

“‘Cause that’s so much better?” Applejack continued her tirade, pacing up and down. “Sixty of Canterlot’s finest with blood in their eyes, when Ah’ve got twenty-five fightin’ ponies to match them. What am Ah supposed to do now, huh?” I shrank down further, trying to turn invisible. “They are going to kill us, and you just let them waltz away! And for what? Did ya’ feel sorry for them?”

I looked up at her then, my vision misted by tears. “Rainbow Dash was there,” I repeated, struggling not to sob.

“That don’t matter a--”

“RAINBOW DASH!” Pinkie exclaimed. The pink mare was suddenly right next to us, vibrating with excitement. “Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.” She hopped around us in a little circle, chanting. “What did I tell ya’? Sunshine and--”

Applejack grabbed her. “Pinkamena Pie!” she roared, sending Pinkie to her knees. “Will you shut your damned mouth! There ain’t gonna’ be any sunshine and there sure as Celestia ain’t gonna be any goddess-damned rainbows! There is an army coming to kill us, so will you please be sensible for once in your damn life!”

Pinkie Pie’s lower lip trembled. Wailing like a foal, she fled back into the castle as fast as her hooves could carry her.

Dead silence descended on the mob of ponies. Applejack regarded them with a glare. “What?” she demanded. “She needs to grow up; that’s just the honest truth.”

Nopony seemed to be able to protest that, and I began to slink away as Applejack went around barking orders.

“And Fluttershy,” she snapped, just as I’d reached the stairs. I froze in my tracks. “When you’re done with the misplaced kindness, Ah would appreciate it if ya brought those blades ta’ the battle.”

I nodded meekly and scrambled away.

Pinkie Pie’s foal swarm was waiting in the grand hall, most in various states of shock and confusion. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom had already started up a vicious argument, and I hurried over.

“Um... excuse me, girls,” I tried to interject, but neither paid any attention to me. Sweetie Belle, who’d been sitting on the sidelines, immediately perked up as I approached.

“Fluttershy!” she exclaimed, hurling herself at me. I wasn’t quite sure if she intended to tackle me, or was just a very enthusiastic hugger, but either way I found myself on the floor with an extremely energetic filly trying to squeeze the life out of me. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“You’re welcome?” I squeaked. “...why?”

Sweetie Belle released me just long enough to jump up onto my chest. “You found Rarity!” she cheered, bouncing up and down and driving the breath from my lungs. “You found my sister!”

Oh. I guess I did see the resemblance with it staring me in the face.

“You’re the best,” she squealed, still bouncing. “Thank you, thank you, thank--”

I caught her with my wings in mid-air and gently lowered her to the ground. “You’re very welcome, Sweetie Belle,” I gasped. “But I was looking for Pinkie Pie; have you seen her?”

Sweetie Belle wilted. “She--”

“She ran off crying, because somepony’s big sister is a big jerk,” Scootaloo cut in glaring.

“That’s it!” Apple Bloom hurled herself at Scootaloo. The two Night-touched children descended into a whirling pile of hooves and teeth. I sprang to my hooves and leapt into the męlée, dragging the two screaming fillies apart. Somehow I ended up with Scootaloo hanging off my forehoof with her teeth, and I shook her free, fighting the urge to shriek.

“Girls!” I chided, as the two fillies eyed each other up for round two. “This is not the time for fighting. Pinkie Pie would be even more upset if she saw you like this.”

That seemed to take the wind out from under them. “Sorry, Fluttershy,” the pair chorused, hanging their heads.

“She started it,” Apple Bloom added under her breath. I chose to ignore that.

“Now, I need to find Pinkie Pie, did you girls see where she went?”

Scootaloo nodded. “I think she was going to her room. That’s generally where she ends up when she’s sad.”

“Thanks, girls,” I said, smiling. “Now play nice.”

“Oh!” Sweetie Belle squeaked. “If you’re going to cheer Pinkie Pie up, I should get my sister. They used to be friends back in Ponyville!”

“Umm, actually...” I began, but Sweetie Belle was already off, into the bowels of the castle. I sighed. Oh well, it wasn’t like Rarity was very mobile.

Shaking my head I turned back to the rest of the fillies. “Okay children, no more fighting. The grown-ups are going to be very busy, so stay here and keep quiet for now. Can you do that for me?”

“Yes, Fluttershy,” came the sad chorus.

“We can help,” Scootaloo interjected, fluttering her bat wings and baring her fangs. It was intimidatingly adorable.

“No!” I said hurriedly, folding my own wings back down. “No, you mustn’t. Everything will be fine, I promise.”

Even with my best smile, they seemed sceptical.

Apple Bloom was the first to break. “Okay, Fluttershy,” she sighed. “Just bring Pinkie back.”

“I’ll do everything I can.”


Pinkie Pie lived in the kitchen, to be closer to the snacks, as far as anypony could tell. The kitchen was a cavernous expanse. The grand tables had rotted away but the room was still filled with light and heat by the red hot embers of the huge cooking hearth. An antique wooden screen divided the room from Pinkie’s own space. Little suns decorated the ancient wood and smiling faces had been carved on top of them. The sound of sobbing came from within.

“Just laugh and make them disappear,” Pinkie’s shaky voice echoed through the kitchen.

“Pinkie?” I began, peering around the corner of the screen. I had never seen inside before, Pinkie had always stopped us, and for a moment, I stared open mouthed.

She’d filled her room with pictures. Pictures of sunny days and crisp nights. Of parties and parades and carnivals. Smiling faces looked up at me from every surface; mares, stallions, fillies and colts, all beaming out from the time when the sun still rose. At the very centre, before a trembling Pinkie Pie held a hoof drawn picture of six familiar mares and a dragon smiling up at us.

“So, giggle at the ghostly.”

“Pinkie Pie?” I crept closer.

“Guffaw at the grossly.”

I put a hoof on her shoulder and Pinkie looked up suddenly. “Oh, hi, Fluttershy.” She tried to wipe the tears from her eyes. “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to see if you were okay?” I murmured. I couldn’t look at her. I couldn’t bare to see Pinkie cry; it was more unnatural than anything I’d seen serving the Nightmare.

“Oh, sure.” Pinkie hiccuped as she tried to fight down another sob. “I always sing that song when I’m sad.”

“I’ve never heard it before,” I admitted, staring at the floor.

“It’s the one I had to sing to save the world,” she explained, hunching over the picture, tears dripping onto the worn paper. “When we got turned around by those scary trees, it was the song I didn’t sing.”

I put a wing around her. Leather wasn’t as comforting as feathers, but was the thought as much as anything.

“It wasn’t your fault,” I told her. “It was a nightmare.”

“If I’d sung that song, we would have beaten Nightmare Moon,” Pinkie whimpered. “We would have saved Luna. Twilight would have moved into the library and we would have had all these adventures. Dashie would kick a dragon in the nose. Rarity would trick a dozen diamond dogs out of their gems. We’d all go to the Grand Galloping Gala, and explore the Crystal Empire and Twilight would become a Princess!”

She paused, and then seemed to deflate, her hair hanging straight down as if it had been drawn by a ruler. I squeezed her tight. It sounded a wonderful dream. I could see why Pinkie preferred to live her fantasy than the real world.

“You don’t believe me, do you?” Pinkie sighed. “Not about the song, or our adventures, or that there will be sunshine and rainbows at the end of all this?”

I shook my head. I wanted to. I really did. But the Princesses were dead, the War had killed too many, the sun didn’t rise and Equestria was long gone. There wasn’t going to a happy ending. There wasn’t that much kindness left in the world.

Thunk-thunk thop. Thunk-thunk thop.

My ears pricked up at the uneven gait.

“Fluttershy? Pinkie Pie? Darlings, are you in here?” Rarity’s voice echoed through the empty kitchen.

I scowled, pulling Pinkie closer to me. It would seem Rarity was better at walking on three legs than I’d thought. The Dawn unicorn found us a few moments later.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, softly, peering into Pinkie Pie’s sanctum. “Well this is certainly... colourful.” I shot her a warning look. “But charming, very... charming.” She forced a smile.

My glower intensified. “What do you want?”

Her horn glowing, Rarity hobbled inside, holding her strapped leg up with her magic. Somehow, despite being a prisoner in an enemy fortress, she’d managed to find the time to brush out her mane properly. Still caked in mud and with my hooves blackened, I felt every inch the monster before her.

“I just wanted to help,” Rarity protested. “Pinkie Pie was... is my friend.”

Pinkie Pie looked up from the picture, and stared mournfully at Rarity. “Do you believe in sunshine and rainbows?” she asked, very softly.

Rarity looked torn for a moment, then shook her head. “No. I’m sorry. Twilight still does, but I can’t anymore. I found Sweetie Belle again and that’s more than I could have ever asked for.”

“What does Twilight--” I snarled the name. “--want, Rarity? Why does she want to kill us?”

Rarity hung her head. “I can’t tell you. I took an oath.”

“An oath?” I snapped, rising to my feet, my wings spread and fang bared. “There are foals here! Families. Angel. What oath demands they die?”

“We are trying to save the world,” Rarity pointed out, shortly.

My eyes narrowed. “For every pony killed, every home burned, every family destroyed, the Dawn used that excuse,” I whispered, trembling with rage.

“Nightmare Moon was going to destroy Equestria,” Rarity pointed out, as if explaining to a child. “Eternal night would have killed everything.”

“And this is better?” I roared. Rarity scrambled back, dropping onto her haunches with a pained whimper as she stumbled. “The world is dying, Rarity. Celestia didn’t save it. All she did was draw things out.” I took a deep breath and sighed. “It would have been kinder if she’d just let Nightmare Moon win.”

“Fluttershy...” Pinkie whimpered.

“Oh Fluttershy,” Rarity sighed, shaking her head sadly. “What did the Nightmare do to you?”

I think I hit her then. Or at least she ended up on the floor clutching her face. There was fresh blood on my hoof.

“DON’T PITY ME!” I roared, bringing my hoof down next to her head. “And do not blame Nightmare Moon. I did this.” I gestured at my wings. “I chose this path because I was scared, and hungry, and alone. Nightmare Moon saved me. When I fought for her, I had friends, and a hot meal, and for once in my wretched life, a purpose. Celestia took those from me! Razor, Swift, Cloudy; they were my friends! We trained together, we fought together, and we should have died together!”

Pinkie hugged me. I tried to brush her off, but she’d pinned my wing to my side and refused to let go.

“The world isn’t that kind,” I murmured.

“It’s not too late, Fluttershy,” Pinkie said, smiling despite her tears. “Everypony will be here soon. It’s not too late to save the world.”

I stared at my hooves. There was no where else to look in Pinkie’s room that didn’t bear a smiling photo.

“Twilight’s coming for the Elements of Harmony, isn’t she?” I sighed.

“Yep! And when she does... Wow! Pow! Sun--”

“--shine and rainbows,” I completed, then shook my head. “No, I can’t let her have them. Not Twilight Sparkle.”

“But Fluttershy,” Rarity interjected, struggling back to her hooves. “You must. This is our last chance to save the world.”

“No,” I repeated. “I can’t help Twilight Sparkle.” Pinkie Pie’s grip relaxed and I pushed her way. “I’m sorry.”

I turned and slunk away.

“Why, Fluttershy?” Rarity demanded, her horn glowing as she tried to hobble after me. “What could she have done that’s so unforgivable?”

A weak smile tugged at the corners of my lips. “We were unicorn hunters, and it was kill or be killed. We never killed Twilight Sparkle.”

I went to take another step, only to find that Pinkie Pie had attached herself to my leg.

“Please, Fluttershy, please!” Pinkie begged. “We can do this. You just need to forgive Twilight for a moment. You just need to show a little kindness.”

I kicked her off.

“Kindness is dead,” I sighed, walking away. “The War killed it.”


I found Applejack outside the castle, supervising our defences. The castle was surrounded by a deep canyon, but it would be easy enough for the Dawn to bridge with magic or wings. My friends were busy driving sharpened stakes into the ground, but I doubted they would help. We had too few ponies and too little time to mount any serious defence.

“Captain?” I began, hesitantly. “Where do you need me?”

Applejack raised an eyebrow at me as I approached. “Ah was wondering if ya’ were going ta’ come back.”

“This is my home,” I murmured, shuffling my hooves.

“Good.” Applejack nodded. “Ah am... sorry for yellin’ at ya earlier. This ain’t gonna’ end well, but Ah shouldn't take it out on you and Pinkie.”

“You were just being honest,” I replied, still talking to the floor.

Applejack laughed. “Brutally honest. Ain’t fair, though. Pinkie’s a gentle soul and has done more for mine than Ah care to think, so Ah should let her have her... quirks.”

I didn’t want to talk about her. “Where do you need me?” I asked softly.

“Right, ah need ya’ to kill Twilight Sparkle. An’ no last minute bursts of mercy this time, she’ll squash on us like a rotten apple if’n we let her. Can you do that for us?”

I nodded. Rainbow Dash wouldn’t surprise me a second time and, if I was very lucky, she wouldn’t even recognise me.

“Good. Now, we’re tryin’ to take down the bridge without damaging it too much,” Applejack continued. “We could use a pair of strong wings to help us out.”

It took a couple hours for the Dawn army to find us, and our scouts to come streaming out of the forest like their tails were on fire. We’d done pitifully little to make the castle more defensible: trees had been brought down on the road approaching the canyon, stakes had been laid in lines between the castle and the gorge, and piles of stones and other missiles had been gathered behind the defences, but all our efforts could be defeated by walking a hundred yards to the left and attacking there. The old castle was filled with holes, it would be easy to slip through any number of soldiers past us.

The children, the sick and the old had been left in the care of Pinkie and Rarity. With luck, those two could forestall a slaughter if the worst happened.

“Alright all, listen up,” Applejack called, as ponies scrambled about, strapping on armour, gathering weapons and whispering short prayers to the night. “The Dawn is coming. They’re coming with steel drawn and Celestia’s Witch leading ‘em and nothing we say is gonna’ stop them. We’ve seen many battles before this one, and Ah dare say we’ll be seeing our fair share afta’. Ah intend to be standin’ to fight those battles once this is all done. It’s gonna’ be bloody. It’s gonna’ be tough. But it’s just one more fight for the toughest band of Night touched bastards in Equestria.” She reared up. “So what are we fighting for!” she roared.

“For the NIGHT!” we roared back.

“For the Dawn!” echoed back through the trees.

I shuddered. They were here.

The forces of Dawn always fought in the light. When Celestia had been alive, she kept the sun high above her forces, just as Nightmare Moon had cloaked hers with darkness. The Dawn though had kept the tradition after their Princess’ death, and so walked through the forest with their horns shining like lamps.

We melted into the shadows, which deepened and darkened as our few unicorns fired up their own magic. Sixty ponies emerged from the trees, mostly unicorns but there were earth ponies and a few pegasi amongst them. Stones began to fly, kicked over the canyon by our strongest ponies. Shields blossomed to meet the hail of deadly projectiles.

“On my command!” I heard Twilight Sparkle yell. “Advance.” She held the centre of the line, radiant in her Dawn armour with Rainbow Dash hovering at her shoulder like an overprotective falcon.

As a single mass the Dawn marched towards us. There was no subtlety nor guile to them, they knew where we stood and intended to keep marching until they ground our bones beneath their hooves. The Dusk preferred the running battle, striking and retreating until the Dawn bled to death. That wouldn’t be happening today with our backs against the wall.

“Strike hard and strike true, friends,” Applejack called, from behind a boulder. “Remember who you’re fighting for.”

A scream rent the field, as a Dawn unicorn’s shield failed and his leg was shattered by a flung rock.

“Charge!” Twilight’s cried. With a roar the Dawn army broke into a gallop, their horns flashing with power as they hurled fire and spell across the gap. .

“Make ready!” Applejack bellowed. I took my star steel blade in my teeth, my eyes fixed on the unicorn at the centre of the line.

Twilight’s horn burned with light. A pinkish wall of force leapt between the walls of the canyon, forming a magical bridge. The Dawn charge hit the shield without a moment’s hesitation, sweeping across the gap and suddenly they were in amongst the stakes.

“Attack!” Applejack roared, her words muffled by a sword.

Bellows, screams and the clash of steel on steel filled the air as I leapt from my hiding place. The battlefield was already chaos, filled with shifting light and shadows as black as pitch. I dodged under a sword blow before running up and over a stake, trying to block out the sobs of a dying pony as I spread my wings and bounded across the battlefield.

Twilight was before me in an instant. She had fallen to the very rear of the charge, and was momentarily distracted by dispelling her bridge. Some luck, or just long practice, had her look my way and she threw up a pink shield in the nick of time.

I hit the barrier hard, and my blade was blown from my jaws as the terrifyingly powerful spell discharged into the blade. Without missing a beat I struck with my wings. One flew clear over her head as she ducked, but the second caught her in the jaw, knocking her to the ground. The fall barely slowed her, and I had to leap back to avoid a killing blast of power.

We took a moment to collect ourselves, Twilight scrambling to her hooves and myself pulling a second blade from my belt. On an unspoken agreement, we charged each other, Twilight’s sword tore through the air as it raced ahead of her. I ducked and rolled under a vicious swing and sprung like a cat, my blade flashing in the magelight. Twilight twisted somehow, dodging the blow that would have taken her head. Instead, my blade bit into her flank, tearing through her mail coat as if it were paper and glancing off the bone.

Twilight screamed as we parted, her blade dropping to the ground as the pain and the star steel sapped her magic. As if dancing, I flowed over the ground back towards her, drawing my bloody blade back for the killing blow. Long dead friends screamed for vengeance in my ears.

A rainbow struck me. It was attached to two cyan hooves that sent me flying, striking the ground hard and rolling over and over until I found myself staring up at the twilight sky in a daze. Rainbow Dash was on me in a flash, delivering lightning fast punch after punch as I kicked and screamed and bit in a desperate struggle to survive. There was never any doubt as to how the struggle would end, though, I was a killer, not a fighter. A steel-shod hoof caught me in the head like a hammer blow and all my thrashing ceased.

Blinking the blood out of my eyes I saw Rainbow Dash standing above me, panting hard as she raised a hoof to crush the life out of me. I couldn’t move, my ears were ringing, my muscles felt like they’d been replaced by hot lead. All I could do was close my eyes, and wait for the end.

At least she hadn’t recognised me.

“Fluttershy?”

But of course, the world isn’t that kind.

I cracked open my eyes. Rainbow Dash was staring at me in horror, struggling to blink tears from her magenta eyes.

“It’s you, isn’t it?”

I tried to shake my head, but the merest twitch made me want to vomit.

“What happened to you?”

And just like everypony else she pitied me. I wanted to punch her. I wanted to scream and drive my final dagger into her throat and watch her suffer for what she’d done to me.

“You,” I croaked. “You left me.”

“Oh no, Fluttershy!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, hugging me close. “I never meant to... I didn’t want to... you were supposed to...”

She sprung back, her wings lifting her into the air as she looked around wildly, as if seeing the world with new eyes.

“Stop!” she cried out. A rock went screaming past her head but she paid no heed. “Stop, everypony. Stop. STOP!”

And somehow, they did. The clash of steel on steel, the sizzle of spells and the crack of hoof on rock all vanished. Muffled curses and angry screams faded into the whimpers of the wounded and dying.

“What are we doing?” Rainbow Dash asked us all. “Why are we killing each other in some Celestia-forsaken forest?”

“Rainbow Dash!” Twilight snarled, stalking over. “What is this madness?”

I struggled to my feet, sinking my fangs into my lip in an attempt to distract from the pain in my head. Twilight was a woozy blur ahead of me, quickly coming into focus as she trotted over.

“Why are we fighting, Twilight? Why are we fighting these ponies?” Dash sighed, her voice numb with grief.

“Why? They’re trying to kill us. They’re Dusk!”

Dash sighed. “No, they’re not. See that mare.” She pointed at the Captain who’d paused just about to deliver a coup de grace. “Her name is Applejack and she used to grow the sweetest apples I’ve ever tasted.” She continued through the frozen crowd. “And that’s Thunderlane, we used to be co-workers. Bon Bon, who single-hoofedly fed Pinkie Pie’s candy addiction. That other farmer whose name I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure had a massive crush on Applejack.”

Despite being in the centre of a battlefield Carrot Top blushed scarlet.

“They’re not Dusk, Twilight,” Dash continued, landing next to the bloodied General. “They’re ponies.”

Twilight’s voice was as cold as ice. “Rainbow Dash, you swore an oath to fight.”

“Forget the oath. I don’t care about any oath I swore. I never joined the Dawn to kill anypony, I never joined to win honour, or glory, or even protect the Princess. I joined to protect Equestria, and protect a land where the gentlest and kindest mare I’ve ever known could own a little cottage by the woods; with a passive-aggressive rabbit and a frankly terrifying number of pets.” She pointed a hoof in my direction, and every eye on the battlefield turned to regard me. I fought down the urge to hide under a bush. “I fought this war to protect Fluttershy, and I’ve failed at that. I’ve failed utterly.” She shook her head, her wings dragging against the ground. “I’m done. No more war, no more fighting. It’s over. Soldiers, lay down your arms.”

A sword clattered against stone as it was cast down. Followed by another and another, and the courtyard was filled with the sound of weapons falling to the floor. The final blade in my belt felt very heavy all of a sudden. Almost unnoticed, Berry Punch and a pink unicorn I didn’t know darted onto the battlefield. Already reaching into medical bags they raced towards the wounded ponies.

“Are you ponies insane!” Twilight exclaimed, stalking forwards, power rushing into her horn. “We are one battle away from victory! Twenty yards away from saving the world! And you want to give it all up just because you feel some misguided sympathy for an assassin.”

She turned to face me, her horn burning with pink fire as she prepared to unleash a killing spell. I was going for my knife when Rainbow Dash leapt between us.

“Not an assassin,” Rainbow Dash corrected, glowering. “Fluttershy.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “Fine. Burn with her, then.”

I sprang, star steel blade in my teeth, and wrapped Rainbow Dash in my wings moments before the inferno reached us. The blade burned in my lips as the magical fire licked at my trembling wings, the heat doubling and redoubling until it felt like I was trying to hold a red hot poker.

“Twilight!” I heard Rarity yell.

The fire ceased, and I let my final blade clatter to the ground where it sizzled against the stone, before collapsing to the ground, trembling with fear. Twilight rounded on the intrusion, looking ready to wipe the offender from the face of Equestria.

“Sorry for being so late,” Rarity called, in her airy tone. Supported by Pinkie Pie on one side and the Crusaders on the other she pulled five stone orbs through the air with her magic. “These are surprisingly hard to lift.”

“The Elements!” Twilight exclaimed, her murderous rage gone in an instant. She took a half step forwards, only to find Applejack stood in her way.

“Those?” the formidable Captain began, in her calm level tone that she only used when she was about to club somepony to death. “Ya’ came all this way for a bunch’a rocks?”

Twilight matched her gaze without flinching. “Nothing will stop me taking them,” she assured Applejack.

Applejack looked over the wounded and dying. “Ah can see that. If ya’ leave and never come back, ah’ll let ya’ take’m.”

“I swear.”

Applejack nodded and stepped aside. Twilight galloped forwards, snatching the Elements out of Rarity's grip and laying them on the ground with reverence. Moments later, tongue stuck out of the corner of her mouth as she concentrated, she began to cast spell after spell on the inert stones.

“Fluttershy?”

I shuddered. Rainbow Dash settled onto the ground next to me, shuffling her armour so it rested more comfortably.

“Are you okay?” she continued.

“No.” My wings stung from the fire, the fur around my lips was singed, my head was pounding and my chest felt like I’d lost a tussle with a bear. I was so very, very tired.

“What happened to you, Fluttershy?”

A whimper escaped my lips. “Don’t pity me... please.” I couldn’t survive Rainbow Dash’s pity.

“Hey now,” Dash said, wrapping a wing around me. “I could never pity you, Fluttershy. I mean, you did just totally save my life.” A half stifled sob escaped me. “What’s wrong?”

I buried my face in the soft fur of her chest. “You left me,” I sobbed, holding on to her tighter than a lifeline. “You left me.”

“No, no, no,” Dash protested, trying and failing to pull away. “I joined the Dawn to protect you. I spent months looking for you after Ponyville was destroyed!”

“You left,” I repeated, tears matting my fur. “And I couldn’t find you. All I had was Angel and I was so scared.”

Dash stopped struggling and pulled me close with her wings. “Fluttershy,” she groaned. “I’m so sorry. I should have been there to protect you. I never should have let the Dusk take you.”

I pushed her away, much to Rainbow Dash’s confusion, and took a deep, steadying breath. “They never captured me,” I admitted at last, my eyes fixed on a point between her forehooves. I should have met her eyes but couldn’t. Shaking I continued. “I volunteered.”

Rainbow looked like she’d been kicked in the gut. “But... why? Why Fluttershy, they wanted to destroy the world.”

“Because they had food,” I murmured. “And I was hungry, and scared, and alone.” Tears dripped down my muzzle. “And I didn’t want to die.” Dying would have been the kindest end, and there was no kindness left in the world.

Dash slammed a hoof down. “Well, that’s never going to happen again,” she declared, spreading her wings wide. “You hear me? Nopony hurts Fluttershy without going through Rainbow Dash first!”

I smiled. It was a thought straight out of a happier time.

A sudden crack rent the air. We all whipped around, just in time to see the Elements, glowing white with the power of Twilight’s spell, detonate one by one.

“Oh, no...” Dash murmured, eyes wide.

“No!” Pinkie Pie wailed, racing over to Twilight. The shattered remains of the dead Elements fell to the earth with a crunch.

“No! No! No!” Pinkie desperately scrambled through the remains of the Elements, trying to push the shards back together. “It wasn’t supposed to go that way. There were supposed to be tiaras and rainbows!” She looked plaintively up at Twilight. “Please! You have to fix it.”

Twilight shook her head. “That was my most powerful spell.” She stared at the broken husks of the world saving stones, and dropped onto her haunches like a bundle of rags. “I... I failed.”

Rarity hobbled over to her, sitting awkwardly next to Twilight as she tried to avoid straining her broken leg. Applejack stepped up next to Pinkie, placing a steady hoof on Pinkie’s shuddering shoulders. Pinkie paid no heed, tears streaming down her face as she stared at the dust of the Elements.

“I’m going to need to talk to her,” Dash said softly, before rising to her hooves and trotting across the silent battlefield. She took a seat next to the stunned General.

I sighed. “Rainbow Dash, loyal to the end,” I murmured.

The shards of the Elements glowed red for a moment.

I blinked, nopony else seemed to have noticed the flicker, but I hadn’t imagined it.

“Oh,” I said, as realisation struck me. Six ponies, six elements; Kindness, Laughter, Generosity, Honesty, Loyalty and a spark to bring forth the sixth. Years ago we’d set out on a quest; to find the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, retrieve the Elements of Harmony, and defeat Nightmare Moon.

We’d failed that quest.

But despite war and death. Despite the scars and the pain. Despite the hate and the fear. We’d all ended up in the quiet courtyard of that castle, the Elements before us and with a world to save. Perhaps it was our destiny. Perhaps it was a curse to try and fail over and over again until Equestria was just a wasteland, locked eternally in a frozen twilight. Perhaps it would have been kindest to just walk away then, to end the cycle before any more ponies could be hurt.

The world was not kind though, and I was too scared of death to just surrender.

I stepped forwards. “Rainbow Dash,” I declared, my small voice filling the silence. Who abandoned me when I needed her the most, and saved me when I’d just wanted it to end. “Who never gave up on her friends, she bears-- she is, the Element of Loyalty.”

A red flare, like a Roman candle leapt from the remains of the Elements and struck Rainbow Dash around the neck. As the glare faded we gasped; a golden torc had formed, capped by a ruby in the shape of a lightning bolt.

“Whoa, awesome,” Dash exclaimed, tapping the gem with her hoof.

“Me next! Me next!” Pinkie exclaimed, all grief gone in an instant. She beamed up at me.

“Umm...” I folded my ears flat against my head; everypony was looking at me. “Well...” I took a deep breath. “Pinkie Pie--” Who cried for a future never realised. “--who made us smile in the worst of times. She is the Element of Laughter.”

The Elements flared, a blue orb leaping towards the earth pony, who met it half way with her own wild leap. Her own necklace had appeared before she hit the ground, holding a party balloon of sapphire.

“Yes!” Pinkie exclaimed, leaping into the air and scattering confetti. “Keep it going, Fluttershy!”

I turned to Twilight, who was staring at me in disbelief. “Twilight Sparkle--” Whose spark had turned to a vengeful flame. “--who never gave up on a brighter future. She is the spark of Magic that drives us together.”

Twilight bowed her head as the magic struck her; her necklace was a pink six pointed star, almost identical to her own cutie mark. Light began to flow between the necklaces, a brilliant ribbon of colour that filled the air with life and hope. Applejack stepped up next.

“Applejack,” I continued without pause, swept up in the magic. Who wielded her honesty like a brutal maul. “Who guided us through the worst of times with simple truths. She is the Element of Honesty.”

Applejack looked rather perturbed by the sudden appearance of the golden necklace. A topaz apple sat at its centre, a mocking remnant of her long lost cutie mark. She ignored the slight though and took her place in the growing circle of magic.

“Rarity,” I continued, turning on the ivory unicorn. Who was so closed to the world that she couldn’t offer a single word of aid. “Who had nothing, but still cared for Angel. She is the Element of Generosity.”

Rarity gave an elegant toss of her mane as the necklace formed around her. A purple diamond, that sparkled almost as much as her. The power flowed into her, building to a fever pitch and wave of a calm warmth washed over me, like stepping into a hot bath after a long day.

“And... and...” my voice faded away as I realised what Element was left.

Kindness.

But there was no kindness left in the world.

I shrank backwards from the circle of mares, my wings trembling. I couldn’t be kind. Rainbow Dash’s kindly mare living at the edge of the woods was long gone, leaving a twisted parody in her place.

“Fluttershy!” Pinkie exclaimed, her Element flickering as her fragile smile wavered. “You can do it!”

“I can’t,” I whimpered, trying to hide behind my mane.

“Fluttershy, you’re the kindest mare I’ve ever known,” she continued, pleading. “You saved Rarity, you protected Angel, you’re the only mare I know with a heart big enough to forgive the War!”

I hung my head.

“No. I don’t. I can’t forgive.”

Pinkie’s element went black in an instant. The feedback seemed to ripple through the spell like a hammer blow. Rarity stumbled and fell with a yell of pain, her Element stuttering out, and I stood there frozen in horror.

The spell’s light doubled in intensity, becoming blinding to look at. The three mares left in the ring groaned in pain, hunkering down as if they were trying to hold up a mountain between them.

“Fluttershy, please!” Dash yelled, over the roar of power. “You have to do this.”

I couldn’t. I hated Nightmare Moon. Her war had taken so much from me, even my body. And I hated Celestia just as much for costing me what little scraps I had left. I didn’t have the strength to forgive them. I wasn’t that kind.

“Fluttershy?” a foalish chorus interrupted my spiral of despair. The Crusaders looked up at me with plaintive looks.

“Please,” Scootaloo begged, fluttering her leathery wings. “I want to see the sun again.”

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and stepped forwards into the ring.

I could never forgive the Princesses for what they had done. I couldn’t forgive Twilight for killing my friends. I couldn’t forgive Rainbow Dash for abandoning me, nor Rarity for trying to kill me, nor Pinkie’s cruelly misplaced faith, nor Applejack’s brutal honesty. There was no kindness left in the world. The world had taken, and taken, and taken from me, until I had nothing left to give.

It’s an easy thing to do. To be kind. When you have a warm bed waiting for you. And a hot meal. And friends.

I had nothing but hate. And a child’s wish to see the sun.

“I am Kindness,” I said softly, as the magic of Harmony roared around me. “Because despite this cruel world, I will save it.”

The final shard leapt towards me, striking me between the eyes and, for a moment, I was dazzled. A heavy weight settled on my forehead, but I didn’t have the time to examine my new headgear before the tiara burned white hot with power.

I spared a glance for each of the mares in the circle with me. Rarity was breathing heavily, struggling to stand but bearing the power with her usual grace. Applejack held her hat tight against her head, looking somewhat irritated by the whole display. Twilight’s eyes were wide with amazement. Pinkie was grinning from ear to ear.

“Here come the rainbows!” she exclaimed, bouncing on the spot.

Last I looked to Rainbow Dash, who grinned and called out. “Awesome work, Fluttershy. I knew you could do it!” My heart swelled with pride and there was an explosion of power, the courtyard cast into a sudden false dawn as light poured from the Elements.

It was a funny sort of Harmony. Bitter enemies matched against old friends by a common need to save the world. I wondered how long it could really last. Was this the start of a better Equestria? Or was it just the swansong, a final cruel glimpse of the sun before the long night?

I didn’t know. But I was willing to risk it.

A rainbow shot from the Elements, reaching higher and higher until it touched the heavens. Ponies across the land, dropped their weapons, gathered their loved ones and lifted their eyes to the sky, watching the long forgotten colours dance in the twilight.

Then I reached beyond the horizon and I raised the sun.