• Published 24th Jun 2017
  • 2,170 Views, 26 Comments

Rise of the Shadow Empire - Splash Surfer 216



When King Sombra returns to Equestria with an army of shadow ponies, Twilight and her friends travel west to seek out an old Equestrian ally to help them save their homeland.

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Chapter 1: Dark Dreams

Tick...tock...tick...tock…

A large clock hung above the railway platform, steadily keeping time as the second hand rhythmically moved with the mechanism that made said ticking sound which echoed throughout the nearly empty station.

Aside from the sound of the clock’s ticking and the occasional hoofbeats and distinct conversations of ponies moving to and fro on the platform, the train station in Canterlot was seemingly calm and quiet that morning. Occasionally, a few ponies would gather near the platform to watch for arriving friends or wait to board the train. Others such as porters and the stationmaster hustled about, carrying parcels and luggage. However, while most ponies only stayed on the platform for a few minutes, two individuals remained among those that came and went.

A young lavender coated alicorn stood alongside her companion, a small, adolescent dragon. The alicorn, keeping a vigilant eye on the platform, while her scaly, purple friend watched the time on the clock.

“What’s the time so far, Spike?” Twilight Sparkle asked, looking down at her friend.

“So far, we’ve been standing here for almost an hour.” Spike rubbed his half sleepy, bloodshot eyes, trying to maintain focus on the clock. “How much longer do we have to wait for them?”

“They should be on their way right now.”

“I still don’t know why you dragged me out of bed just so we could fly to Canterlot before Celestia completely raised the sun!”

“Stop complaining,” the alicorn laughed. “I told you that Rarity was finishing up work on our dresses and wanted us all to meet in Canterlot early not only to help out with the preparations but to show off her progress! Now let’s keep looking, the train shouldn’t be long now.”

Now, besides wanting to see Rarity’s progress on her gown designs, there was more of a reason why Twilight and Spike were waiting at Canterlot’s train station so early in the morning, for that night was the eve of the Grand Galloping Gala. Sure, preparing for a much-anticipated event seems to be simple enough, but this year, the Gala was being celebrated for a very special occasion as it was about fifteen years ago that Twilight had ascended to her current status as the Princess of Friendship. Therefore, it was decided that this year, the Grand Galloping Gala would be held in her honor.

Now, the event was all but ready for that night. There was still much to do, and Twilight and her friends were asked to help finish up the last-minute preparations.

The sudden sound of a distant whistle caught the duo’s attention, growing ever so closer and louder. Twilight and Spike took a few steps back as the locomotive pulled in and came to a screeching halt, bumping a few coaches in the process. As the conductor stepped out and opened the coach doors one by one, several groups of ponies came trotting out to either greet their friends or collect their luggage. At last, Twilight spotted Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash among the very last few to exit the train.

“Ah, Nice to see you two up bright and early!” the white unicorn said.

“Morn’n sugarcube!”

“Good morning, girls!”. Twilight smiled warmly, then she paused and eyed her assembled group of friends. “Wait a minute, where’s Pinkie Pie?”

“Well, I know she was with us while we were on the train.” Fluttershy answered.

The others began glancing around the station looking for the bouncy pink earth pony. At that moment nearby, a tower of suitcases pushed on a trolley by a porter began to shake, until suddenly a blur of pink rocketed out from atop the highest suitcase, and finally landed right on top of Twilight, pinning her to the ground.

“Hiya Twilight!” Pinkie Pie chirped, wearing the biggest, goofiest grin on her face.

Twilight chuckled as the earth pony quickly climbed off her chest and held out a hoof to help her stand back up. “Nice to see you too, Pinkie. So, I guess everypony’s present and accounted for.”

Her friends all nodded in agreement.

“Can anypony else believe the day is finally here?” Pinkie bounced up and down excitedly.

“Well, we have been anticipating this for some time now.” Fluttershy explained.

“Indeed,” The alicorn said, “Speaking of which, how has the progress on our gala dresses been coming along, Rarity?”

“As a matter of fact, I finished with Applejack and Fluttershy’s the other night,” the unicorn replied. “They’ve simply never looked any better. I know Rainbow Dash doesn’t need one since she’ll be performing with the Wonderbolts, so I also spent my time last night putting the finishing touches on yours. Take a look, what do you think?”

Using her magic, Rarity opened up one of the many suitcases she brought along with her and took out a neatly folded, beautiful gown. The dress was a mix of purple and pink with white sparkling sequins and holes for Twilight’s wings to pop through. It also included a purple ribbon around the neck and back areas of the dress and a purple train tied with ribbons to match. To finish the piece, a pair of regal golden horseshoes, like the ones Twilight wore at her coronation, floated beneath the dress.

“Oh my,” Twilight gasped in awe, “It looks amazing! I can even say that it looks familiar.”

“I knew you’d be impressed, darling!” Rarity beamed proudly. “All I had to do was take a look at the design for your old coronation gown and that’s when the inspiration hit, then I just changed up the colors, added a few jewels, and the rest, you could say, was a piece of cake.”

“Ooh! Did somepony say cake?” Pinkie’s mouth began to water at the mention of said “cake”.

The other ponies chuckled at her reaction. Typical Pinkie… they all thought to themselves.

“So, shall we be off?” asked Twilight.

The others nodded.

“Spike, would you be a dear and carry some of these suitcases?” Rarity asked, levitating a few suitcases to the young dragon.

“Uh… sure thing… Rarity?” Before Spike could do anything, the suitcases dropped down onto him. Despite having gone through a growth spurt and having gotten taller in the past couple years, Spike still wasn’t as strong as the other dragons he knew. As he flapped his wings rapidly to flutter off the ground, Spike struggled to lift the heavy load in his arms and hold the luggage steady as he began moving. The things I do for her… he thought to himself as he followed the ponies further into the streets of the city, on the path to Canterlot Castle.

As tradition, the Grand Galloping Gala had been held in Canterlot for many generations, usually as a way to celebrate the completion of its construction. This year, however, with the fifteenth anniversary of Twilight’s coronation around the corner, was dedicated to the young princess. Many predicted it to be one of the biggest events in Equestrian history.

“Oh my, Canterlot looks like they really went all out for this celebration!” Fluttershy took a look at the many decorations that were strung up around the city. Banners and posters with Twilight’s likeness littered the area, spreading the word of the princess’ anniversary and the Gala celebrating it.

“Ah haven’t seen that many decorations since Twilight’s coronation,” added Applejack. “Well, that and th’ Royal Wedding an’ all.”

“I think the city looks absolutely stunning,” Rarity said. “Well, more stunning than it usually is whenever the Gala was being set up in the past, and to think they upped the elegance to honor our dear friend...”

“I’d say it needs more balloons and streamers.” Pinkie critiqued. “Not a problem for my party cannon, I can whip it out later before the Gala begins!”

“Maybe some more posters or even a statue or two wouldn’t hurt,” Rainbow added. “But I guess that’s what I‘d want if I had a celebration this big dedicated to me.”

Rarity then turned to the young princess. “What do you think, Twilight?”

Twilight’s only answer was a rather strange, long and loud yawn.

“Are you all right, dear?” The white unicorn asked.

“Huh?”

“That yawn sounded more exhausted than one usually sounds...”

“Yeah, it was kinda weird….” Rainbow Dash agreed.

“Pardon me for asking, darling, but did you manage to sleep well last night?”

“Oh, it’s nothing, Rarity,” Twilight shook her head to keep herself focused. “I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?” asked Fluttershy.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Are ya really-” Applejack was about to ask.

“Yes, I’m fine! Everything’s fine!” Twilight shouted assertively, wanting to change the subject. “And yes, Rarity, Canterlot looks simply amazing.”

Just as she had finished speaking; A cry of pain rang out amongst the group.

“Ahhhh!”

The five ponies turned their heads to find Pinkie in an uncomfortable position.

"What is it, darling?" Rarity asked.

"I think I got something in my teeth!" The pink earth pony moaned, rubbing the sides of her sore mouth.

"Hold on Pinkie, let me see if I can find the problem. Just open up," Twilight stepped forward as Pinkie opened her mouth wide enough for the alicorn to inspect.

"It's probably another jawbreaker case," Rainbow sighed. "Pinkie, I keep telling you, you're supposed to suck on those things till they shrink in your mouth, not bite them!"

"It's nuth thath, Dashie," Pinkie mumbled, as Twilight continued inspecting her mouth. "It duthen't hut as mutch as that, and I nuh about gobstoppuhs, but they aways luk so colorful and chewy like bubba gum..."

"All right Pinkie, I think I see something in there on the left," said Twilight. "Just don't talk with your mouth full."

Twilight reached in Pinkie's mouth with her magic and pulled out a strange object. It was colorful and it had a red bow on top of it, a present. The alicorn eyed it with surprise.

"From us ta you, sugarcube," Applejack said, proudly.

"We all decided to chip in and make you a little something," Fluttershy added.

Twilight took a closer look at the present; it was a small music box that featured an alicorn figurine looking just like Twilight on top.

"Well girls, I don't know what to say... it looks beautiful!" Twilight exclaimed. "And pretty clever, yet dangerous, Pinkie. Hiding it in your mouth...."

"Fluttershy, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash found some parts for the platform," explained Rarity. "I built the little figurine of you, and Pinkie painted it. Not the colors I would’ve used, but all in all, it’s the thought and effort that truly counts."

"Well, what are you waiting for, Twilight?" Pinkie clopped her hooves excitedly. "Turn the key! Turn the key!"

Twilight noticed the small winding key, and levitating it in the air, turned it a few times. Immediately, the music box played a small melody as the mini-Twilight figurine slowly revolved. The melody seemed very familiar....

"Gosh girls, this not only looks great and sounds wonderful, but..." Twilight slowly spoke.

The smiles on her friends' faces faded.

"But what, darling?"

"Ya don't like it?" Applejack’s ears drooped.

"No, no! I really love it, girls." Twilight quickly said, putting the music box away in her saddlebag. "It's just you really didn't have to do all that for me..."

"Well, you're only a princess for fifteen years once...." Rainbow Dash replied.

"I can't believe it's been that many years already! It doesn’t seem like it should be such a big deal...."

"Aw, come on, Twilight..." Spike set the suitcases down and came over to her side, stroking her neck gently. "You're only as big of a deal today as you feel. Not only to yourself, but to all of us as well!"

"Thanks, Spike," Twilight smiled. "You and the girls are the best friends a mare could ever ask for. And you're right about one thing, we've all been here for years and are pretty well known for spreading good will and harmony across Equestria. I know for a fact tonight is going to be the biggest night in Equestrian history!"

"Indeed, it will be," Rarity agreed. "After all, there's so much to do! Princess Celestia agreed to let Applejack and Pinkie Pie cater for the event and decorate once more, we have the most glamorous gowns designed by yours truly, Fluttershy's older cousin, Starsong is performing a tribute, and maybe... you'll even get to dance with a certain pegasus stallion..."

The young alicorn laughed. “That's true, all of that and... wait..." Twilight froze. "What was that last part?"

"Oh, you mean getting to dance with that Flash Sentry dude?" Rainbow Dash asked.

"Yeah... I'm going to pretend you did not just bring that up..."

"Oh, come on, dear," Rarity smugly rolled her eyes. "It's very much obvious you’ve had a small thing for him ever since you visited the mirror world a few years ago."

"Rarity, please..." Twilight groaned, a small tint of pink forming on her face.

"Don't deny it, Twi..." Applejack teased.

"I mean come on, girls. The whole thing with Flash is different. Just because I bumped into him a few times and he's sometimes there when Cadence visits from the Crystal Empire, doesn't mean I know more about this pony than the one from the human world!"

"That may be, but it doesn't mean you don't have a chance to get to know this world's Flash tonight..." replied Spike.

"And even if I had a small crush on him, which I'm not going to say I do, a princess asking a guard to dance?"

The six ponies and dragon finally approached the palace gates as the guards formally greeted Princess Twilight and her friends, letting them through.

Princess Cadence was in the main hall to greet them warmly.

"Hello, girls," she said. "It's so great to see all of you again!"

"We're happy to be here, Cadence," replied Twilight. "Where's everypony else?"

"Celestia's currently talking with somepony in the throne room, Shining's giving the guards a last minute drill on making sure the Gala is secure, and Luna's currently resting for tonight. Oh, and I almost forgot...." she turned away to address someone in another room near the main hall. "Flurry! Auntie Twilight and her friends have arrived!"

"Coming, Mom!" A small voice called.

"And I can't wait to see my favorite niece again, too!" Twilight exclaimed.

"She's grown up a lot these past few years." Cadence chuckled. "I should warn you though, we're having a small issue with her."

"Come on, Cadence!" scoffed the sky blue pegasus. "What sort of problem could anypony have with a nine year old alicorn filly? She’s not a baby anymore!"

At that moment that a small light pink blur zoomed down the stairs of the hall and screeched to a halt, revealing an alicorn filly with a mane of light cerise and arctic blue highlights, and dressed in a Crystal Guard's armor with matching hoof gauntlets standing before them.

"Hi, Auntie Twilight!" Flurry Heart said, chipperly. "Happy anniversary."

"Why, thank you, Flurry," replied Twilight. "And sweet Celestia, have you grown!"

"She does look a lot bigger..." said Applejack.

"And a lot prettier..." added Fluttershy.

"A bit tougher looking too!" finished Rainbow Dash. “I’m really digging the armor.”

Flurry blushed at everyone's comments. Then she noticed Spike coming in last, still struggling to carry Rarity’s suitcases and gasped.

"Aha! As the mighty purple dragon stands to his knees weakened, the brave warrior princess strikes!" Before anyone else could say anything, and before Spike even knew it, Flurry let out a crazed war cry and pounced him rather rowdily, pinning him to the ground, knocking all the suitcases out of his grip, and sending them flying.

Twilight lit up her horn and quickly caught all of the cases before they hit the ground.

When the dust had settled, Flurry Heart stood on top of Spike, whom she had tied up and gagged with rope and a bandana. The six other ponies stood utterly speechless while Cadence put a hoof to her face, embarrassed.

"Yes! Flurry Heart, the warrior princess of the Crystal Empire, saves the day again!" the filly cheered, proudly standing on Spike's back.

"Nice to see you too, Flurry?" Spike dizzly moaned..

"Uh, Flurry, sweetie. Why don't you untie Spike and show everypony where they'll be staying tonight and help them finish setting up for the Gala?" asked Cadence.

"Okay, Mom." Flurry sighed, disappointed.

The filly quickly helped Spike up and freed him from her rope before leading him and the five other ponies upstairs, Cadence stayed behind to talk with her sister-in-law. "I am so sorry about that, Twilight," she sighed, "She's been like that ever since Shining brought her with him when he was training new recruits at the Crystal Empire. Now she keeps telling us she wants to be a warrior when she grows up."

"That's alright, Cadence. She just caught us and even Spike off guard. I don't even think it's a problem that she wants to follow in my brother's hoofsteps, or go on adventures like me and my friends do."

"I know, I'm just concerned that she's taking it too seriously. She's still young, and doesn’t understand that there’s more to being a princess or a warrior for that matter than just beating up ‘bad guys’."

Before Twilight could reply, she noticed a familiar looking orange stallion clad in golden armor exiting from one room, and entering into the main hall.

"Uh, Cadence? Is that who I think it is?" she whispered, motioning towards the stallion.

"Oh, yes, that is Flash.” her sister in law turned toward the direction Twilight was pointing, “Why? Is something wrong?”

"N-no, I was just surprised."

"We brought him along from the Empire. He’s filling in for the day shift because the guard that normally does it is ill."

"Right..." Twilight raised an eyebrow.

"Oh, alright." Cadence chuckled. "I also thought that maybe some time together might help you two bond finally..."

"Ugh... for the last time Cadence, I don't have a thing for him!"

"You can't fool me, Twilight. I'm the Princess of Love! I can tell," the pink alicorn laughed. "And since it's pretty obvious, tonight's your chance to talk to him! Trust me, it wouldn't hurt to at least try..."

Just like the others... Twilight thought. "Alright, Cadence. Let’s say I just randomly ask somepony who doesn't know me very well to be my date for something like the Gala. Do you know how awkward that would be?"

"Almost as awkward as this?" Cadence grinned sneakily.

Before Twilight knew it, Cadence had used her magic to push her right in Flash's direction, and the princess once again crashed into him.

"Ow! What the?!"

Twilight gasped. "I am so sorry, Flash! I didn't see you there!"

"Oh, it's alright, it just caught me off guard," Flash sighed, brushing the dust off his hooves.
He turned around to see who had bumped into him. "Oh! Greetings, Princess Twilight!" he bowed respectfully. "I knew you were coming today for last minute preparations, but I didn't expect it to be this soon. Uh, happy anniversary!"

"Thank you, Flash," The lilac alicorn smiled. "And you don't have to be that formal with me, just call me Twilight."

"As you wish." It didn’t take long for Flash to notice that the princess had a peculiar look of sheepishness painted upon her face. "Are you alright, Twilight? You look like you just saw a ghost."

"Oh, I'm alright, Flash. Everything's fine. But as a matter of fact, I, uh, actually wanted to ask you something..."

Without warning, a loud voice rang out, "OH, WILL YOU TWO JUST BUCK ALREADY?!"

From nearby, Cadence quietly stifled a laugh as she caught a glimpse of a sky blue pegasus quickly darting back behind a corner atop the stairs. Down below, Flash raised an eyebrow at Twilight.

"No, no, wait! It’s not what you think! I actually..." Twilight’s face turned crimson red.

"I-it's alright, Twilight," The guard calmly spoke. "Just slow down, and tell me what you need to tell me."

"I was actually wondering... If you aren't busy tonight, I wanted to... excuse me real quick..."
Twilight's mind had, once again, gone black. She attempted to maintain a calm and collected look like she usually did, but inside, she was losing it. She had the same feeling like that one time she panicked over not having written to her mentor in a week, she was blowing it. Cadence could see that her sister in-law was internally struggling to talk to her "kind of" crush. She once again focused her magic to put Twilight's hooves together. Twilight felt her mind finally relax and slowly, she heard herself blurt it out, "Would you like to dance with me tonight at the Gala?"

For a brief moment, there was silence. Flash scratched his chin with his hoof as if he were thinking. Twilight’s ears began to slowly droop, embarrassed. Surely he’s going to decline, I just know it! She thought to herself.

"Okay, that was a very awkward thing to ask..." She finally said, deciding to forget the whole thing. "Sorry to bug you like this, Flash. I'd... better get back to talking with Cadence and..."

"Sure.."

"Wait, what was that?"

"I said sure, Twilight," Flash replied. "I’ll dance with you tonight..."

Twilight felt her body stiffen. "Y-you’re actually serious?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" he said. "As a matter of fact, I've got my partner taking the night shift tonight, and I've been looking for something to do. So, it’d be an honor and a privilege to attend the Gala off duty..."

Twilight breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Flash gently patted her on the back before turning away to continue his patrol.

"So I'll see you later, Twilight," he said. "Have a nice day!"

"Thank you..." she called back. Twilight felt her legs turn to jelly as she suddenly collapsed barrel-first on the floor with a thud, exhausted from being so internally worked up over nothing.

"See? That wasn't so hard, now was it?" Cadence trotted over to her sister-in-law, a smug grin on her face.

"Cadence..." Twilight muttered indignantly.

The pink alicorn could tell Twilight wasn't in the mood for any more teasing and immediately shut up and helped her back on to her hooves. As she brushed the dust off of her hooves, Twilight let out another yawn.

"That's strange..."

"What do you mean?"

"That yawn, that's not like a usually exhausted yawn," replied the pink alicorn. "Forgive me for asking, Twilight, but have you been able to sleep this week?"

"Well kind of... a little." Twilight paused for a second before continuing. "I don't know, Cadence, but for some reason I've hardly been able to sleep since last week. I keep having these strange dreams every now and then. Actually... the more I think about them, they seem more like nightmares..."

Cadence was surprised. "About what?"

"I'd rather not say."

"You can tell me, Twilight. And just like always, it'll be just between us."

The lavender alicorn thought for a moment, growing up with Cadence as her foalsitter, she knew she could trust Cadence to talk about anything, especially how much closer they had become over the years. “Alright,” she took a big breath. "Well, at first it starts out happy and peaceful. I'm at my coronation, and the parade is going on. Everypony is there, my friends, family… It's exactly as it was that day. But then they disappear, and I'm all alone in this dark void, there’s this horrible deep laugh ringing in my ears, and then... he... appears..."

Cadence began to piece together the identity of who Twilight was describing as she continued to describe her dream, the events she described so greatly concerned and shocked her sister in-law.

"He mentions that I'm much more fit to be a queen, rather than a princess. He claims that we're not so different because I used similar powers to his. I manage to stand up against him and claim that we are not equal. He... he then tries to kill me, but I manage to resist and defeat him... but then... that's when things get... disturbing..."

"How?"

"I then see this image, of Canterlot in ruins... he’s overlooking an army of ponies descending from this black hole in the sky, and then I... see something much more shocking... a young grey colt lying on the floor... he looked like he was in pain... he was crying and holding his hoof out toward me for help...and then this smoky black mist appears and engulfs him and myself... and then... that's it," she finally finished.

"I'm sorry you've had this dream for a while now..." Cadence held Twilight close under her wing.

"I've tried to keep my mind off of it for the past week or so, but in the back of my head, that dream leaves me to wonder... What if we haven't seen the last of King Sombra?"

"I sometimes wonder the same thing, even though we all saw him get shattered to pieces once we found the Crystal Heart and returned it back to its rightful place in the Empire." The pink alicorn said. "I know I promised not to tell, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't tell Princess Celestia and your friends about this dream."

"Maybe you're right, Cadence," Twilight nodded. "But I should probably think first. I shouldn't worry them right now when the Gala is tonight. Maybe I’ll talk to them when we’re alone."

“Take all the time you need…”

Just then, a lone unicorn guard trotted into the room and faced Twilight. "Pardon my interrupting, Your Highnesses, but Princess Celestia asked me to bring you to the throne room. There’s somepony who would like to see you."

"Yes, of course, sir." She then turned to Cadence. "I'll see you later, Cadence. If Shining shows up later, tell him we've just arrived and I'll meet him as soon as I can."

Cadence nodded in agreement and waved goodbye to Twilight as she left with the guard for the throne room. Shortly after they left, Shining Armor returned to the castle after having finished up the drilling for the day.

"Welcome back, my love," Cadence smiled, kissing her husband on the cheek.

"It's good to be back, as well," Shining beamed. "Say, where's Twily? She and her friends were supposed to arrive today."

"Oh, they're already here, Twilight had to take care of some business in the throne room, but she told me she'd say hello later, and the others are setting up for tonight."

"Anything else happen while I was gone?"

"Not much," his wife said. "Flurry tackled Spike when they arrived and I gave her a small talking to, Twilight and I chatted for a bit, and I have the most incredible news."

"What?"

"Twilight has a date with our guard, Flash Sentry, at the Gala tonight..."

"Oh, is that all?" Shining asked, then he suddenly froze. "W-w-wait, my little sister has a WHAT?!"

"Oh, Twilight asked Flash to dance with her tonight and he accepted. Boy, you should've seen the look on her face!" Cadence exclaimed, clopping her hooves eagerly.

"M-my sister... is dating our guard?!" Shining gasped.

THUD

Before Cadence knew it, her husband had collapsed on the ground.


Meanwhile, in the throne room, Princess Celestia watched with intruige as a pink unicorn mare dressed in a black scarf and beret, meticulously applied brush strokes on a large canvas.

"Well, I must say, Pastel," The princess said to the mare. "This painting will be perfect for display tonight!"

"Ah! Yes, princesse..." replied Pastel, speaking a very distinguished foreign accent. "The painting, she is almost finished, and when the final image is inserted, she will be even more magnifique!"

"Even still, the way you've perfectly captured every single member of royalty from each part of Equestria, it's almost as if you kidnapped them and trapped them inside the painting!"
The two ponies laughed at such a silly idea. But it was true, Pastel's painting featured a collage of every single royal member and dignitary from Equestria's history, from the main rulers such as Celestia and Luna themselves, all the way to others such as the Duke and Duchess of Maretonia and the dignitaries of Saddle Arabia.

Her brush strokes melted flawlessly into each other, capturing the slightest smiles and tiniest details of the regalia the royalty sported; it was the work of a true master. However, something in the painting happened to catch Celestia's eye in a rather strange, unsettling way as she leaned in closer to study it further.

"Is something... wrong?" Pastel asked.

"Well, not really. The rest of it looks beautiful, but I have a thought about that one spot near Princess Cadence and Shining Armor. The pony next to them looks off. As if.... he shouldn't be there..."

"Well, I did my research to make sure every single royal member of Equestrian history, present and past, was included in the painting," the artist explained. "And I wasn't sure at first about including him in there, but then I just thought that... and you want me to paint him out, yes?"

"Not exactly, but I'd think it'd be better if..."

"Say no more, mademoiselle," Pastel quickly interrupted. "After all, the princesse, like any other customer of Pastel Colorsplash, is always right!"

Soon, after a few strokes, some blending, and some fresh fitting colors, the unsettling image in the painting was obscured, and rendered unable to be seen to the naked eye.

"Well, there you are, Princesse Celestia, hors de vue, hors de l'esprit. Or in other words, out of sight, out of mind. You can hardly see him."

"Pastel," the princess smiled. "You and your family have been designing and painting the architecture of our old castle, our historical stained glass windows, most of Canterlot, and so on for many generations, and I mean it when I say, after a thousand years, you haven't lost the touch of your ancestors."

The two old friends shared a friendly laugh together when the guard came into the throne room, followed by Twilight.

"I've brought Princess Twilight, as you requested, Your Highness..."

"Thank you, Sun Shield, you are dismissed," Celestia said. "And I welcome you once again, Princess Twilight."

"I came right after Sun Shield informed me of your request, Princess Celestia," Twilight replied.

"And not a moment too soon," the older alicorn explained. "There's still much to prepare for. Now Twilight, I'd like you to meet Pastel Colorsplash, she and her family have worked alongside me and my sister since we first started our royal duties."

"Well, it's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Colorsplash," Twilight trotted over to shake hooves with the unicorn painter.

"Enchantée, princesse..." Pastel greeted.

“Say, you seem familiar, haven’t I seen you before as a filly in Ponyville?” Twilight asked, taking note of the artist’s colorful mane.

Pastel chuckled, “You must be mistaking me for my younger cousin, little Toola Roola. The resemblance is uncanny, no?”

“That makes much more sense.”

The unicorn artist started to examine the young alicorn.

"My word, what a face! Such detail! I have the perfect spot for you in the painting!" she cried.

Pastel dragged Twilight over to a cushion behind the easel.

"What painting?"

"You see, Twilight," Celestia began, "I've commissioned Pastel to create something to help celebrate this milestone occasion, and her answer was a painting to be unveiled tonight at the Gala."

"It’s almost complete. All it needs now is the finishing touches. That means you..." added Pastel. "Now if you don't mind, Cherie, just sit right there and hold still, si vous plait." Twilight sat down on a pillow right behind the artist’s easel.

"Maybe…Perhaps you could?" Pastel stretched her hooves outward in a flapping motion. Twilight caught on to the artist’s request and spread her wings outward until her full wingspan was on display. Pastel nodded approvingly and began painting the final image on the canvas while the lavender alicorn held still, daring not to move or even itch until at last, Pastel painted the last strokes of color onto her image.

"And... she is finished..." She sighed proudly.

As Twilight got up from the cushion, two unicorn guards came in to help cover up the painting and bring it into one of the halls used for the Gala.
"And be careful with that..." The artist sternly warned as she followed them out of the throne room. "That masterpiece of mine will someday be worth more bits than you make in a year!"

The two alicorns could only chuckle to one another as Pastel and the guards levitated the portrait out of the doors.

"Just think, Twilight..." Celestia wrapped a wing around her former protege, "That it's been fifteen years since you've ascended from being my student into a strong pony responsible for spreading friendship and harmony all across Equestria."

"And to think that it all started when you sent me off to Ponyville," Twilight added. "If it hadn't had been, I would've never met my friends, we never would've recovered the Elements of Harmony, and we would've never defeated Nightmare Moon and saved Princess Luna."

"And even still, I couldn't be more proud of you." The elder alicorn smiled. "And what better occasion to celebrate you, than the Grand Galloping Gala?"

"Thank you, Princess..."

The two alicorns embraced for a long nuzzle. At the same time, Twilight still had Cadence's advice circulating in her head.

Should I tell her? she thought to herself. I really don't want to discuss something so dark at a time like this. It's my anniversary after all, it's a big celebration and everyone's happy. But then again…

"Twilight?"

"Huh?" Twilight noticed Celestia’s expression changed into a look of concern, almost as if she could see Twilight knew something that she didn't want her to know.

"Is something the matter? You seem like you have something on your mind."

"Oh, no. I'm fine, Princess. I'm probably just a little anxious about tonight, that's all," Twilight replied nervously. "I should probably go see if Rarity wants me to try on my dress before it's too late."

"Very well."

The young alicorn trotted out of the throne room and into the hall to recollect her thoughts.
Come on, Twilight... she argued in her own mind. You're gonna have to tell her sometime. Sometime, but not right now...


Later that night, by the time the Gala was about to begin and guests would be arriving soon, everything was set up to near perfection. Pinkie's trusty party cannon decorated the celebration halls with balloons and confetti of all different kinds, Applejack had been helping the cooks bake the numerous kinds of apple related treats and other kinds of delicacies. Rarity had also called the girls in one by one to try on their dresses for a last minute check up. With all this going on, it would be certain that once again, the Gala would be a success.

Within her chambers, Twilight watched from above her balcony as guests from all across Equestria poured into the castle one by one, with royal guards checking everypony that showed up.

She was dressed in her special gala gown and was waiting for Flash to show up. The hilarious events that had occurred throughout that day soon once again became clouded by the uneasiness of the fact that Twilight was still debating with herself on whether or not she should discuss the disturbing nightmares she had with her old mentor.

Without warning, the door to her chamber opened suddenly, causing her to jump slightly. "Oops! Sorry, Twi," Applejack said, slowly stepping into the room.

"It's alright, I was just finishing getting ready." Twilight sighed.

"Are ya alright, sugarcube?"

"I'm fine, AJ. We should probably get downstairs, Princess Celestia wants me to help greet the guests for a bit," Twilight began to make for the door before Applejack stepped in front of her.

"Ya can't fool me easily, Twilight," the cowpony frowned and raised an eyebrow toward the lavender alicorn. "Ta be honest, Ah've noticed these past couple of days leading up ta today ya looked like you didn’t sleep well at all. An’ ya seem ta be acting like something Ah'd expect from Fluttershy, a nervous nellie. It's almost as if you're struggling ta keep a secret that ya don't want anypony ta know yet."

"Applejack..."

"It's those nightmares, isn't it? Ya still can't stop thinking about them?"

Twilight’s eyes widened in shock. How did Applejack know about the strange visions she'd been having? "H-how do you know?" she asked.

"Ah can't lie ta you, Twi. Ah left the kitchen an’ went out ta search for some extra ingredients an' Ah overheard you talking ta Cadence."

Twilight sighed. "It's true, AJ. Even with all the excitement of tonight's festivities, they still linger in my mind like a disgruntled flash bee's sting."

"Sugarcube, it's been fifteen years. Sombra's dead an' long gone. We all saw him get shattered ta pieces when t' Crystal Heart was returned to its rightful place in the Empire."

"That may be, yet I still have that bad feeling. It's almost as if his presence lingers from far away," Twilight looked outside up at the night sky. "You know what I mean?"

"Ah suppose so," Applejack replied. "Twilight, if ya know what's good for you, when t' time is right, you've got ta share this with t' princesses. Trust me, you'll never feel better 'til you get this off yer chest."

"You're right, Applejack." The young alicorn sighed. "She needs to know about this eventually."

The two ponies quickly turned upon hearing three knocks at Twilight’s door, then a voice.

“Twilight? It’s Flash, are you ready?”

Applejack smirked at the lilac alicorn.

"C’mon..." she said teasingly. "We’ve got a gala to celebrate, and you’ve got yerself a date..."

Twilight blushed and slowly made her way to the door. Upon opening it, the alicorn found herself staring at one of the most gorgeous sights she had laid eyes on. Flash had changed out of his golden guard’s armor and into a very nice, formal blue officer’s uniform, his mane and tail were neatly combed. I’ll admit he looks handsome, the princess thought to herself. With that, the three ponies trotted down the hallway to the castle foyer to greet the other guests.


Unbeknownst to anypony, but from the comforts of his new castle, Sombra had been listening in on Twilight and Applejack’s conversation.

The unicorn king was watching the scene and the festivities in general from the magic mirror that his new, loyal minions had used to resurrect him. Alongside him stood three of his subjects, Maldark, Nightshade, and Shadowy Eclipse.

"How delicious..." Sombra chuckled, as the image in the mirror faded. "Even though I've been gone, I still haunt that pesky little pony's dreams!"

"Won't they all be surprised when we show up out of thin air after all this time!" hissed Nightshade.

"I'm especially intrigued that you, Lord Sombra..." Maldark began, "were able to find a spell that would grant us temporary access to the living world of Equestria..."

"Some of our soldiers have asked me to inform you that they wish to understand why they must be in disguise," his comrade added.

"As far as Celestia and the rest of Equestria know," Sombra explained, "we're both long gone and far away in time and space. Therefore, a surprise attack on Canterlot during such a frivolous yet joyful event such as the Grand Galloping Gala is a perfect strategy. Once there, a few of you will sneak into the gala in disguise while a few others keep watch from the shadows of Canterlot, and when nopony expects it, we attack. You'll be able to strike fear into their souls and get your much desired vengeance on the ones who banished you to this dark, cold and lifeless void while I get to rub my oncoming victory in the princesses’ prissy little snouts. And judging how everypony is in such a good mood, I say our time to commence such a devastating surprise has come..."

“And what about these pendants you’ve given us?” Nightshade pointed to the silver necklace, encrusted with a green crystal, that hung around his neck. Maldark and Shadowy each had their own as well.

“Those pendants will allow me to communicate and assist you all, but only when necessary.”

With that, the king left his throne room, followed by his three minions to the balcony of his castle, overlooking a sea of Umbrum soldiers of all kinds, gazing up at their king.

"You all have your orders..." Maldark announced. "Tonight, we attack Canterlot. FOR FREEDOM!"

"FOR FREEDOM!" The Umbrum chanted in unison.

The three Umbrum ponies leapt down from the balcony, gliding down to join the others.

With his eyes closed and mind focused, Sombra's horn became engulfed in a mist of dark magic.

Black crystals began to surround Maldark, Nightshade, Shadowy, and the other soldiers, charging Sombra’s magic power to ensure a successful spell.

A green ball of light appeared from above, enveloping around the Umbrum, and in a flash, they were gone.

Returning to his throne room to watch the magic mirror, Sombra grinned a most frightful, deranged kind of grin as he watched the fireworks going off from above Canterlot Castle.

"Soon the door will be opened..." he said to himself. "And finally, all of Equestria will be mine..."

Author's Note:

Hey guys, I'm really sorry for the long wait throughout most of 2017, but I had gone through a lot recently, including, a writer's block and crisis, school and other projects had gotten in my way, and also there was the fact that I hadn't finished all of Season 7 or saw the Movie yet. But I'm fine now, so don't worry.

All of that aside. I hope you enjoy this tough-to-make real chapter 1, think of it as a very belated Christmas gift and as always, feel free to comment and constructive criticism is welcome as always. If there’s nothing to critique, tell me what you liked best about the chapter! Thanks, and stay tuned for Chapter 2 coming soon!

Update: Edited on 7/26!