• Published 20th May 2012
  • 6,051 Views, 200 Comments

My Little Balladeer - Ardashir



The Elements of Harmony find themselves facing an evil beyond their knowledge, armed with an alien magic. In desperation they use their Elements to summon aid and get - a hillbilly with a silver-strung guitar?

  • ...
7
 200
 6,051

Chapter 18

My Little Balladeer
Chapter 18

“Oh, no! Please, Celestia, no!”

Twilight would never remember who screamed those words as the things that had once been three fillies and Spike, her little brother Spike, charged at them screaming and howling so loud and shrill it hurt her ears. Twilight just stared for a second at champing fangs and hooves like a rooster’s spurs and at those flayed bloody marbled-white bodies and the final mocking touches, Spike’s fire ruby and the CMC capes, hung out to let them know who came to kill them.

Spike came slithering at her with the speed found only in nightmares, his green eyes blazing with rage and pain as he snapped at her with dripping fangs.

“Spike!” Twilight yelled as she fell back from him. She gagged to see that his hind legs hung useless and broken. He hurried after her and hissed and whimpered as they bounced over rocks. Twilight yelled again, “Spike, this is me! Twilight! Please, Spike, if that’s still you, then say something!”

He stopped and stared at her, the nictitating membranes sliding over his eyes. Twilight dared hope, only to jerk her head back as he thrust his long neck out and snapped at her. Madness and pain chased each other in his gaze. He threw himself at her with a scream, only to drop as John stepped forward and cracked him hard alongside the head with Zecora’s staff. Spike curled around to strike at John, rearing and hissing like the largest snake Twilight had ever seen. She wondered why he didn’t breathe dragonfire and reminded herself to be grateful he didn’t.

“John!” Twlight moved back in on them both. Fighting the revulsion she felt, she yelled, “John, please don’t hurt him! Thorn did something to him, to the girls! They don’t know what they’re doing!”

“Whatair he means to be doing, he seems to be handling it right well!” John yelled back at her as he held the stick sideways, forcing it into Spike’s open mouth and holding him back. Spike chewed furiously, his fangs scoring the wood and iron but not breaking it. He brought his tail, now longer and set with barbed spines, up and around to coil around John. Twilight grabbed it with her magic and held it, eliciting another shriek of raw rage from Spike. Choking down a sob, she threw him to the ground where he coiled, stunned.

“Thankee, Twilight,” John yelled at her, “but how are the rest doing?” He dropped on Spike’s back and held the stick across the back of his head, holding those snaggle-toothed fangs away from him. Spike shrieked and lashed wildly.

Twilight heard screams from the others, shrieks of pain and rage from the transformed fillies and of grief from their sisters. She turned to see and felt her heart sink.

“Not good,” she said, her voice thick in her throat. “Not good.”

* * *

“Apple Bloom,” Applejack choked the words out, “Lil’ sis, what did they DO ta ya!”

The thing charging at her stopped and stared. Applejack hoped it recognized her, that it would stop. She took one step close, then another.

And she hurled herself back as those fanglike teeth snapped shut where her muzzle had been a second before. It screamed, high and wild, as Apple Bloom wheeled suddenly and lashed out with her hind legs in a kick that might have broken Applejack’s neck if it landed. AJ dodged, the breath hissing between her teeth as she saw the hooves lash by her eye. They looked broken and jagged, like something out of a foal’s scare-story for Nightmare Night. AJ yelled one more time.

“Apple Bloom! It’s your big sis! Applejack!”

If the monster recognized her words, it gave no sign. Instead it charged in close and reared up to bring its hooves down in a classic hoof-boxing move. Applejack knew it expected her to dodge aside and strike back, hitting ‘Bloom in the side. She’d taught Apple Bloom that one herself, as her father had taught it to her.

So instead she charged in under those broken and sharp-jagged hooves, ramming into Apple Bloom as she reared. The blood stench and the slippery feel of that flayed hide almost made her vomit. The knowledge that this thing, this howling maddened monster that sought to kill her, was her little sister, didn’t help. But ‘Bloom fell on her side with a crash, screaming in shrill agony.

“’Bloom, Ah’m sorry!” Applejack fell back and snatched her lasso. ‘Bloom rolled on her back, trying to rise. AJ deftly hurled her lasso, getting it around her forehooves. She charged in, ignoring another snap of those jaws, to wrap it tightly around Apple Bloom’s hind legs, hogtying her and leaving her to flail helplessly. Applejack fell back from her as ‘Bloom snapped at her and shrieked her pain and fury.

“Little sis,” Applejack said as she slowly stepped closer, watchful for a sudden attack. ‘Bloom stopped moving and stared at her as though pleading from the empty eye sockets set in that flayed skull. Please, big sis, I don’t wanna be like this. It hurts, it hurts so much!

“Don’t worry, baby sis,” AJ said, her voice cracking as she began to plan just how she’d most quickly break her transformed and monstrous sister’s neck and put her out of this torture, “Ah won’t let ya hurt no more. I wish I coulda worked harder, done something, and not let this happen to ya. Ah’m sorry. An’ after this is all over and I’m done with Thorn, I’ll be with ya forever, I promise.”

* * *

“Sweetie Belle! Oh, Celestia, why my little sister? Why – EEK!” Rarity barely dodged to the side as Sweetie Belle’s horrid horn slashed at her. Rarity felt a tug along her side, and then something flowing, warm against her coat.

“Rarity, you’re hurt!” Fluttershy ran up to the white unicorn. Rarity shook her head.

“It’s only a scratch. But my poor little sister!”

Only a few feet away, Sweetie Belle lowered her head and snorted, scraping at the ground with jagged hooves. Her once-fluffy mane and tail both hung tattered and limp, clotted with blood. Fresher blood dripped slowly from the tip of her horn. She shrieked, her once musical voice turned into a berserker scream, and charged them both.

Fluttershy moved faster than Rarity could ever remember seeing her move before, putting herself in between Rarity and her transformed little sister. She opened her eyes wide and Stared harder than ever before in her life. Sweetie Belle froze, her horn ready for a thrust that would have gone through Fluttershy’s skull, as the yellow Pegasus snapped an order.

“Now you just stand right there! That’s it, like that!” As the monster froze, its empty eye sockets locked on Fluttershy’s gaze, the Pegasus said, “How dare you! This is your sister! We are your friends! Sweetie Belle, we want to help you, but you have to stop fighting us!”

The monster groaned. It twitched and jerked, the muscles jumping on its body, as though it fought against bonds. Rarity stared at it in horror, trying to see her little sister in that hulk of muscle and bone and blood. I promised to bring her back, she thought, fighting her own grief and pain down. I promised, but mom and dad would never want to see her like this!

“Fluttershy, can you hold her?”

“Just a little bit, she’s fighting me so hard! If she breaks free I don’t think I can stop her again!” Fluttershy looked like she strove to hold an avalanche back with her hooves. Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes, and she braced herself against the earth. “Rarity, what can we do?”

“The only thing I can do,” Rarity said as she took several steps back from Fluttershy and her maddened and monstrous sister. Rarity lowered her head, setting her horn in line for one quick charge and thrust. She heard Fluttershy gasp in horror, heard the creature before her rumble menacingly in its chest.

Don’t think of it as your sister, Rarity told herself, wondering how she could think at all right now, telling herself to forget things like the Sisterhood Social and birthday parties and the saddle she’d made for Sweetie for when she got her cutie mark. It’s an animal, an animal in so much pain there’s only one mercy left for it. Through the eye into the brain or through the chest into the heart? She eyed the spot right behind the shoulder blade, judging where the best place to strike would be. And then, after we stop Thorn, if I’m still alive, I’ll go and be with her again.

Through the chest into the heart. One quick charge-and-thrust. There would be an instant of pain and realization if anything of her sister remained, and then nothing.

“I’m so sorry, Sweetie Belle.” She braced herself for the charge. Her sister looked at her in sudden fear. Rarity searched for more words, and could only find: “I love you. I’m sorry.”

* * *

“Scoot! It’s me, kiddo, it’s your idol Rainbow Dash, remember?”

If the beast charging at Dash knew what she said, it showed no sign. It just howled, wild and pitched so high Dash could feel it stabbing into her head through her ears. Dash dropped back before it as it lashed out at her with snapping teeth and razor-edged hooves and even those batlike wings. She noticed the little fishhook claws set on their leading edges and wondered how something so small could stick out in her mind.

“Scoot, don’t do this!” Dash tried to fly out of reach. She yelled as she felt something take a firm hold of her tail. The yell turned into a scream as what had been Scootaloo flung her to the earth and dragged her along her wounded side. Pain flashed as her raw skin tore on sticks and rocks. She kicked out, hitting Scootaloo in the jaw and sending her stumbling back. Dash hovered nearby as the maimed Pegasus rose back up, blood oozing along her exposed muscles and tendons. She cried, “Scoot! Please, ya gotta be in there somewhere! I’m Dash, I’m your friend!”

“So’m I!” Pinkie said as she charged under Dash and hopped up on Scootaloo’s back, her mane straight as Rarity’s after a dousing. The transformed filly gave an agonized shriek at the touch of Pinkie’s hooves on her raw flesh. Before she could do anything else Pinkie whipped out some of her party ribbons from her saddlebag. Working fast, she wrapped them around Scootaloo’s forelegs, hobbling her. The Pegasus-thing tore at them with her teeth. Pinkie hopped away.

“Dashie, if you’re gonna do something, better do it quick!”

Dash just stared, wishing she could think of something, anything else. Only one plan came to mind. She flew as high as she dared before winging over and power-diving down towards Scootaloo, aiming for her neck and head like she’d done back in town with the timber wolves.

I’m sorry, squirt, she thought as the thing grew in her sights, everypony, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry I let Scoot and Spike and my friends’ little sisters get hurt like this, I’m sorry I didn’t get Thorn when I had a chance, I’m sorry I’m such a big failure who always lets everypony down, I’m so sorry…

* * *

I fought to hold Spike down, and I tell you all, I felt like Pecos Bill from some old story a-fighting to ride a tornado. He hissed and shrieked and tried a-lashing at me with his tail even while Twilight held him down with her magic. I saw the spikes on it, sticking out like rusty nails. If they hit you it’d be like being whipped with a logging chain studded with Bowie knives. I tried to ignore that thought, like I tried to ignore remembering how just the day afore I’d played music for Spike and Apple Bloom and her friends and they’d all laughed and enjoyed it.

And I began remembering something else from that, something that Twilight told me from what the Letters of Cold Fire did to her. How she’d been pulled out of herself and her friends saw her changing, and then that Princess Celestia of hers spelled her to pull her back from whereair she’d been sent.

“John,” Twilight said as she came up to us both. Spike tried snapping at her, but she held him with her magic and all he could do was hiss like the world’s biggest kettle, “John,” she said again, her voice hurting, “Please, let me do what I have to.” I hope to never that I don’t air again see such a hurting look in any eyes as I saw in hers then. Her horn glowed brighter still. I saw something like a spear of purple light forming out of her horn, just like those unicorn soldiers in the town square. “I’ll make it quick for him.”

“Wait!” I hollered at her, “Remember what you said to me the other night? About what Thorne’s magic tried a-doing to you? If that might could be what Thorne did to Spike, then if you can do what you say Celestia did to you…” I got no further. The look on her face changed right fast.

“Oh my gosh, yes!” I saw how she concentrated. Spike just hissed and snarled. He tried to snap at her, but I used the stick to hold him down, forcing it across his neck. I saw how Twilight timed it, and then she went in, her horn glowing like hot iron, but more gentle somehow. She set it to Spike’s forehead. “Spike! Little Brother!” she said, half pleading and half a-telling him, “Return to us immediately!”

One second a thing like a serpent crossed with an alligator snapped and fought beneath me. The next second just little Spike again, looking tired and confused. Just like someone switched a picture on you, only no screen, just me and Twilight and Spike, all of us as real as life.

“Ooooh…” Spike groaned and rubbed his scaly forehead. “Twi? John? Yeesh, pal, what’s wrong with you? Get that thing offa my neck!”

“I’m rightly sorry,” I told him as I got up and stepped back, “But you weren’t yourself there for a time.” Twilight rushed past me to hug him with a sob. Then she looked around on her friends. I looked too, and I didn’t much like what I saw.

Applejack turned around and made ready to kick, looking ready to break what I thought must be Apple Bloom’s neck. The flayed mare screamed at her before she lowered her head and gave a sudden snap of her jaws at the rope binding her legs. Her jaggedy teeth sliced through that good strong rope like scissors through twine. She snapped at Applejack, who threw herself back just in time to dodge that bite.

Past her, I saw how Fluttershy stared in the eyes of a flayed unicorn with a horn like a sawblade sword. Off aside of her, Rarity with her head down and her horn straight out like she meant to charge in and thrust it through her sister’s heart. That jagged-horned unicorn jerked her gaze away from Fluttershy’s at near about the last moment and sliced at Rarity with hooves like axes as she charged in. Rarity dodged and cried out. She and Fluttershy ran back to where Twilight and I stood.

And last of all, Pinkie a-running up to us with Rainbow Dash slung across her back. Dash groaned in a weak-sounding voice as she came up to Twilight and me.

“She dived down to,” Pinkie gulped and spoke more, “To stop Scootaloo, but Scoot threw me and rolled aside at the last moment. I kinda hadda hoof Scoot in the face before she hurt Dashie.” She winced at that last part, like she felt shamed to do even that much to Scootaloo when those three fillies were a-trying to kill us all.

“Twilight, you, you saved Spike?” Rarity said that when she saw the little dragon getting up on his feet. He smiled at her, not very strong, and hurried up to stand beside her. Rarity said to Twilight, “Our sisters, Twilight, look at them! What can we do?”

Those three ruined and mangled ponies were coming at us slow-like, that flayed and full-sized Apple Bloom in front and center, stomping her hooves against the ground so hard I think I saw them strike sparks from the rocks. Sweetie Belle went on the right of her and Scootaloo was on the left. Their heads were down and they snorted and screamed like dying horses. They came at all of us like three of the four horses that’ll be ridden on the last day by War and Conquest and Famine and a certain fourth fellow I reckon you know of without my saying.

“John,” Twilight said, and she talked right fast, “Play some of your music. Maybe they’ll remember it.”

I pulled my guitar around me. I saw Apple Bloom and her friends stopped coming forward to stare at me. I hoped it was a good stare.

“Play,” Twilight bade me again before she said, “Girls, help me.”

I wondered myself what in hell I could play right then, with those three looking at me like they wanted either music or maybe my heart to rip between them. I started in on that song I’d heard nights ago before I air even heard of Equestria, those five notes that had called me into all this, over and over. I hummed along with it as I played, soft and gentle. Those three began to relax the least little bit as I did. I recollected how it’s said that music has charms to soothe a savage breast, though most think it says beast. Well, we had three savage beasts right there, and if I didn’t charm them I‘d nair have to worry what any soul thought of how I said airy thing.

I played my best, because I played for my life. I caught sight of Twilight out of the corner of my eye. She had her eyes closed and was concentrating while the power built up around her horn. Just as I began to wonder if she’d burst or what, it came out from her in a rush. And as it washed over me I remembered things I’d forgotten long ago, like the first book my old granny gave me, or the Christmas we spent together with old Uncle Hinnard when he taught me some songs, or what it used to feel like when I went swimming in the old creek by her house.

I saw a light come into the eyes of the three horse-things. Apple Bloom lowered her head and shook it slowly, and she began to speak. The girls all came closer as she did.

“Applejack?” She said, her voice hoarse and shaky with pain. It looked like tears began to come from where her eyes had been, trickling down her bloody cheeks. “Is that you, big sis? Ah was Apple Bloom once, but not anymore… Ah don’t know what Ah am now…”

“Ah know what ya are.” Applejack went up past me and nuzzled against her. Apple Bloom flinched like even that small a thing hurt her, but she nuzzled her sister back as Applejack said, “Yer MAH little sister, and y’ain’t no monster!”

Rarity and Dash went by me too. “Keep playing,” Dash hissed at me as she went past, heading for the one with the tattered bat wings. I heard her begin talking soft and low to her, calling her “squirt” and suchlike. Rarity went to the horned one and embraced her, paying no never mind to the way blood seeping from that flayed hide smeared over her neck and side.

“Rarity?” I heard Sweetie Belle say to her big sister in a voice that shook with pain. I saw how Rarity blinked her tears away as Sweetie said, “Don’t ever say ‘This is the worst possible thing’ ever again, because THIS is…”

“I won’t,” Rarity promised her back as she hugged her, giving no never mind of how she got her little sister’s blood in her mane and on her coat. “I promise, never again Sweetie, never again.”

Twilight followed them and worked her spell again, touching her horn to their heads, one after another.

“I hope this works,” I heard Fluttershy say beside me.

“So do I,” I responded her, “And it looks to be doing just that.”

Those flayed and bloody raw forms before us dwindled, going from full-grown pony mares down to the little fillies I’d seen the night afore. Apple Bloom looked up at her sister, cried out for joy, and the next few moments they spent hugging and weeping and acting like any human folks will when they see their little children safe again. Twilight sighed to see it and walked back by me to where Spike stood.

“Ooh, Twilight,” he groaned and rubbed along his skull. “I had such a crazy dream! I was in this town full of zombie ponies, and Lyra was there, and all of a sudden everything went dark like it did when Nightmare Moon attacked. That Thorne guy was there too, but he turned into an alicorn again and looked like a stallion Nightmare Moon…” He might could have said more but Twilight just hugged him with a happy sob. I looked around at all those ponies with their little brothers and sisters, and I say no lie when I say it made me feel right happy to see them all safe and alive.

But I think maybe I wondered me some what kind of a welcome I’d have when I went back home, if maybe I’d find long years and decades gone in the blink of an eye; and what sort of a welcome we’d all get in Sunny Town, and if a single one of us would go away from it alive.

* * *

“An’ then we were in this cage, an’ I saw alla them zombie ponies I tol’ you an’ Twilight about before!” Twilight heard Apple Bloom telling her sister as Applejack held her close, hugging her tightly. She walked closer, Spike on her back, as the little filly spoke on. “Ruby sneaked in later on an’ tol’ me she was gonna get help. I tol’ her ta go to Zecora’s place, ‘cause I figured you’d go there ta try an’ find help, an darn it, big sis!” Apple Bloom squirmed in Applejack’s embrace. “Do ya gotta hug me so darn tight? This is embarrassing!”

“Just take it easy, there,” Applejack said. Twilight heard the relief in her voice as she said, “Right now I just wanna be sure you’re you again, sugarcube.” Then, hesitantly, “Do, do ya remember anything ‘bout it?”

“Kinda,” Apple Bloom said, furrowing her brow. “It felt like we were there for years after it got dark, like so much time went by we couldn’t even ‘member Equestria or all of you. Then Thorn came in waving his spellbook around, saying how he was going to fix you an’ John an’ Miss Twilight for fighting him. First he made himself look like a stallion version of Nightmare Moon. Then he said he was gonna send us back to meet you all on the trail, an’ that it was gonna be so funny when you killed us…” Apple Bloom’s voice trailed off as Applejack snorted, her ears flattening and mane almost bristling. Looking past her Twilight saw Rarity and Rainbow Dash looking almost as angry. Rage clawed at the edges of her own self-control as she thought of what she nearly did to Spike.

“Are you mad, big sis?” Apple Bloom asked in a small scared voice. Applejack looked at her and smiled, tousling her mane.

“Ah am.” she said, “But Ah ain’t mad at you. Ah’m mad at Thorn right now.”

“It hurt a lot when he put that spell on us,” Sweetie Belle said, her sister embracing her. “It felt like we got tugged out of our skins. Everything hurt us when we touched it, and when we saw you, we remembered what Mister Thorn said, about how this happened because you wanted us to be hurt, and…”

“That was a lie, Sweetie,” Rarity hugged her sister tight. “Thorn tells a lot of lies, and he did it to hurt you. But he won’t hurt anypony else.”

“Yeah, and how do we do that?” Dash rose into the air from where she’d been talking with Scootaloo. She pointed at Scoot, and then at Spike and Sweetie and ‘Bloom. “And what about them? We can’t take them with us.”

“We’re going to have to,” Twilight said unhappily. As her friends gave her shocked looks, she said, “What other choice have we got? We can’t send them back by themselves, not through all this.” She indicated the twisted trees and other plants around them. The little fillies flinched back as branches seemed to reach out for them. The girls quickly surrounded them for protection. Twilight nodded and added, “We can’t send someone along with them, either. It’ll need to be all of us when we’re facing Thorn. And I don’t think he’ll give us another chance at this.” Twilight sighed and looked at Spike. “I’m sorry to do this to you, Spike. I want you out of here. But right now, there isn’t any safe place.”

“Can’t we just go back along the trail ta Ponyville?”

“Okay, Applejack,” Twilight told her. She pointed her hoof back the way they’d come. “Just show me where it is.”

The girls turned and looked and stared in disbelief. Only a few moments before Twilight knew that they’d been walking on an old trail of some sort from Zecora’s cabin to here. But now? Now trees and rocks and all were grown in and tumbled over it, hiding any evidence of any trail. Even as they watched, they saw one of the trees slide itself out over it. Its bark looked almost like an angry face as it moved into place.

“Ah, maybe that’d be a bad idea,” Rainbow Dash said. She flew a little higher up, but not too high. She looked around over the trees and dropped back down with a frustrated scowl. “This don’t make any sense! I just tried looking back at Ponyville. There oughta be some lights or something, but all I can see is more of this weird creepy forest!”

“I kindly expected that,” John said. He walked closer, Pinkie and Fluttershy staying close by. A thorny vine tried to drop down on him but recoiled at a glare from Fluttershy. He ignored it to say, “This minds me more of what I heard about Thorn in my world, how he got the Letters of Cold Fire from the Svartaskoli.”

“What the hay’s a swart-a-whatever?” Dash asked the question before Twilight could. She paid close attention as John spoke.

“It’s a foreign word,” he said, “From Iceland, that’s an island way off up north all set with glaciers and volcanoes. They used to have some trouble with witchcraft and bad magic there, like how we’re doing here and now. Anyhow, the way I read it and the way some folks explained it to me, the Svartaskoli was like a school for witchcraft. It lasted long years in Iceland. The man who faced Thorn most times back home once had to stop some folks who had their own Svartaskoli in a basement in Manhattan…”

They have their own Manehattan? Twilight told herself once more, we have got to talk after this!

“…they said it looked to be just a basement from the outside, an old room, but when you went inside of it you found a whole other world in there. They saw some right strange things, and they were glad to get back out again.” He paused, and then added, “They even brought back out the one man who’d gone in maybe an hour or so before them, taken in for a prisoner. When they found him, he looked like, well, like how the girls and Spike all did. And when they brought him back, he said it’d felt like years went by in those hours.”

“Ah can believe it,” Applejack said, looking around with a shudder. “Say, John, how did these fellas ya spoke to ever get out o’ that place?”

“They burned it down,” he said, grimly. “They burned it and they ran.” Twilight felt a chill at his words. She shifted uneasily from hoof to hoof as she wondered if the magic that created and sustained this place was also causing time to flow differently for them, the way John worried it would for him. What if they came back out and found Equestria itself gone? As she thought, Rarity spoke up.

“Twilight, dear, couldn’t you teleport out with them?” Rarity’s hopeful look fell when Twilight shook her head. She hugged Sweetie Belle closer as Twilight spoke.

“I’d be teleporting blind, with no idea of how far I need to go or what I could find when I arrived,” she said. “This place, I think it’s another world of some sort. Right now it’s overlaid on the Everfree, but if I tried teleporting inside of it I could end up even deeper in it with Spike and the girls, and that’s not a good idea.”

“Maybe you could have Spike send a message back out to the Princess, then?” Rarity looked hopeful. “Or to anypony who might be able to help at all?” Twilight looked at Spike. The little dragon sadly shook his head.

‘Sorry, Twi,” he said, “but Thorn did something to me right after he snatched me and the girls here. I tried breathing fire a few times to send you a message, but see,” Spike tried spitting some fire, but only a few smoky sparks came out. “Nothing.”

“Hold still, Spike,” Twilight said as her horn began to glow. “Let me take a look here.” She magically examined the spell set on Spike and groaned in misery. “It’s some sort of binding I’ve never seen before. I can break it, but not quickly or easily. Sorry, Spike, but I think it’ll have to wait until after this is all over with.”

“So, the only way out is through, huh?” Applejack said. Twilight nodded tiredly at her. Applejack walked by her and said, “Okay, then let’s do this like we did it afore. Girls, Spike, y’all walk along with us on the outside. You’ll be by John, an’ he oughta be able to keep ya safe.”

“I’ll kindly do my best,” John said. He set his guitar over his back and picked up Zecora’s staff. “Can air soul see where Ruby’s hoofprints are?”

“Right here it is!” Fluttershy pointed it out where it ran among the trees. They stood wide of it, giving a broad lane for them to walk down. Twilight flinched when she saw how obvious it looked. From what she could see, her friends and John all looked as unsettled as she felt.

“It’s gotta be a trap,” Dash said.

“Probably,” Twilight said, “but have we got any other choice?” She looked around at her friends and they all looked back at her. She sighed and went to the front, looking back to make sure that the fillies and Spike were surrounded by her friends. They all wore their Elements. The long cut down Rarity’s side had stopped bleeding, and Dash was still oozing through the bandages, but both looked about as well as they could be under the circumstances.

“If we don’t stop Thorn,” she said, “This is going to be every part of Equestria that Discord doesn’t rule. And we saw what he’s willing to do to hurt others. So let’s go and get this over with.” Twilight wondered if she ought to feel heroic or determined or even furious at Thorn for what he’d done. All she felt was scared and worried and desperate to make sure that no other pony ever even saw what Thorn wanted to do to them all.

And so six mares, three fillies, one baby dragon, and one human all headed down the trail Ruby left for them. To Sunny Town, and to Thorn, and to whatever end he had planned for them.