• Published 19th Feb 2018
  • 9,568 Views, 511 Comments

The Fairy Tale Fiasco - LaWombat

Trapped in a magical storybook with King Sombra, Twilight must escape by finishing a collection of fairy tales. All they have to do is reach the ending. But not all heroes get a happily ever after...

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Chapter 2: Princess of Thieves (Part 1)

Twilight didn’t even remember falling asleep, but when she groggily lifted her head and looked around, she was confused by the sight that greeted her. In complete contrast to the forest from before, the foliage surrounding her almost appeared to glow an emerald green as sunlight cheerfully filtered through a bright canopy. A wind playfully rustled the leaves, while birds sang in a chorus of quiet songs.

“Spike? Flurry Heart?” She moved to take a step forward and felt nothing beneath her hoof. Glancing down, she immediately scrambled backwards when she discovered that there was no ground where she had stepped. She planted herself firmly against the branch, legs shaking as she tried to orient herself and figure out what she was doing in a tree.

“Twilight!” Spike suddenly dropped into view and landed skillfully in front of her, digging his claws into the bark. He let the rope he had swung from fall away and ran forward to catch her in a tight hug. She happily wrapped a leg around him and returned the embrace.

“Spike!” she exclaimed with surprise, pulling away to look at him. “Have you seen Flurry?”

Spike shook his head. “I just woke up here. Sorry, Twilight.” He looked up at the forest around them. “At least this place looks better than the last one, but where are we now?”

“Hmmm…” Twilight spun as carefully as she could to get a good look at their surroundings. Aside from the cheery atmosphere and pleasant sunshine, she saw nothing of importance that hinted at the story they were in.

“I'm not… sure?” she said, eyeing Spike’s unusual attire. He had on a short cape and a hat with a wide brim that was pointed in front, like the beak of a bird. Realizing they were both wearing something new, Twilight looked down at herself and tugged at the large cloak covering her wings. There wasn't much, but the style looked familiar enough to remind her of a possible setting.

“This is Marewood Forest, and I think I’m Robin Hood. So you—” Twilight pointed at Spike with a giggle “—must be Little John.”

“Great! I’m your trusty companion,” Spike declared and jerked a thumb to his chest while posing proudly.

Twilight lifted her head to look over the woods again. “I hope we can find Flurry Heart soon. This place might be more dangerous than the last, and there are so many characters in this one.”

“More dangerous than being eaten by a dragon?” Spike huffed before wrinkling his snout. “What about Sombra? How did that happen, anyway?”

Twilight leaned back with a sigh. “He got pulled in with us. He cast a spell that corrupted the enchanted storybook I made for Flurry Heart and got us all trapped in here.” She stood and paced along the branch. “Then, when I tried to leave him in the forest from The Lost Foals, I wound up right back next him somehow. Since it looked like the spell wouldn’t let us separate, we sort of made a truce.”

“Sort of?” Spike asked with a skeptical look.

“Well, he didn’t actually agree with words.” She flattened her ears. “But he did stop attacking, so I was able to find you and complete the story.”

“But we didn’t exactly follow the book,” Spike noted. “By the book,” he added with a soft snort and Twilight rolled her eyes. “I don’t remember The Lost Foals happening like that.”

“We distracted the dragon instead of putting him to sleep…” Twilight listed out the important details that she could remember. “The cauldron didn’t really create a feast, but it did help keep Garble distracted. And we didn't have to trick him, but we still rescued Flurry and escaped.” She tapped her chin. “Maybe as long as the key elements of the story are followed, it works. We got out of the cave with Flurry, so that’s all that mattered.”

“Speaking of Garble, are all the characters gonna be like him?” Spike made a face at the thought of him. “Dragons or ponies that we know?”

“If Garble is anything to go by, then the other characters might be from our memories. They may look like our friends, but they’re just illusions recreated by the spell.”

“So, now that we’re in another story...” Spike carefully stepped to the end of the branch and peered around. “...we have to finish this one to get to the next, and then we can escape.” He pointed a claw into the air. “Just like that magical comic!”

“You might be right.” Twilight tapped her horn and got a small reaction of sparks before it lit in a soft aura. “I can use magic again, but it feels limited.” She quickly extinguished it, feeling an odd strain that she couldn’t explain. “We just have to finish the rest of the book the classic way.”

An unusual feeling dropped over her, and Twilight blinked in surprise. Her ears perked as she quickly became aware of the sudden quiet of the woods. Though the forest still appeared to be pleasant and sunny, the ambient sounds of nature had ceased. Normally she might not have noticed, but there was a perception about her senses that felt… heightened… or rather… trained?

“Spike…” Twilight whispered, but she could see he had noticed something too. In the silence, they could hear the steady clomping of several sets of hooves and the grind of wheels along a dirt road.

“Wow… this is weird…” Spike had his claw up by his fin, listening intently. “It’s like I can focus on their movements with my ears.”

“Robin Hood and his band were known to be very skilled.” Twilight pushed aside a small branch to see, while still remaining hidden. “Maybe the story did more than just dress us up to look the parts.” Through the opening she had made, she spied a rich-looking coach moving through the woods, pulled by a team of four armor-clad soldiers. “I think this is where we rob the king.”

“Rob!?” Spike barely suppressed his startled shout. “Twilight, I can't do that! I don’t want another growth spurt!”

“We’re not taking it for ourselves, Spike,” Twilight explained, watching them steadily draw closer. “Robin Hood steals from the rich and gives it to the poor.”

“Isn’t that still just stealing?” Spike pointed out with a flat expression.

“Maybe in the eyes of the king.” Twilight recalled the various versions of Robin Hood she had read, and there were a lot. It was such an old story that there were hundreds of variations from so many retellings over the years, but most of them all had the same basic elements. “He’s unfairly taxing his citizens into starvation and bankruptcy, and he’s not even the rightful heir. He’s just a corrupt king using his brother’s ransom as an excuse to collect more gold. So to finish this tale, we’ve got to stop him, and put the right ruler back on the throne.”

“Wait!” Spike tugged on Twilight’s wing. “Did you say, ‘corrupt king?’” He pointed below to the moving carriage. “I think I might know where Sombra is.”

“There’s a chance of that,” Twilight answered with a nod. “But our placement in the characters’ roles appears to be random. Just look at the last story! He was—” Twilight visibly shivered, “Bleeh… my brother!” She stabbed a hoof in Spike’s direction. “Nopony can replace my BBBFF!”

“Uh, maybe we should get back to the story.” Spike looked through the leaves to see the carriage passing below. “How do we do this?”

Twilight tapped her chin in thought, before wrapping a leg around Spike to pull him close. “I have a plan…”

She whispered her idea into his ear, and Spike nodded before dashing after her when she quickly jumped down from the tree. The carriage was already ahead of them, so she ran through the bushes to a point further along the road and waited quietly while Spike joined her.

It wouldn't take long for the coach to reach their new spot, but they were both already in position. Spike and Twilight hid out of sight by the roadside, preparing for the perfect moment to initiate their plan.

“You sure this will work, Twilight?” Spike asked nervously while he rubbed dirt over his scales to disguise them a bit. “Don’t the king’s guards know what Robin Hood and his ‘merry band’ look like?”

“If you stick to the script, they shouldn't notice who you are.” Twilight folded his cape and stuck it neatly into the saddle bag beneath her cloak. “If they're anything like Garble, then they'll go along with it, even if all you do is change your clothes. The main characters do something similar in the storybook, and it turned out fine.”

“If you say so,” Spike mumbled as he handed her his hat and finished up his lackluster disguise. Instead of his usual color, he had simply become a slightly dusty brown dragon with a purple tint. He crouched into a readied stance when the sound of stomping hooves drew nearer. When they had nearly reached their hiding spot, Spike dove out of the bushes, then put up a claw and shouted, “Halt!”

The guards pulling the carriage immediately stopped, but not because of Spike's command. Their curious eyes followed him and their rigid postures said that they were wary of the small dragon blocking the road.

“Behold, uh—yee travelers!” Spike waved his arm in a slow arc for show. “Lay before me your riches, and I will bestow a gift to thee! Your treasures I shall double… umm… verily!” He announced with a heavy accent as he struck a flourished pose.

“Spike!” Twilight hissed quietly from the bushes. “Don't change the script!”

“What’s that, I hear?” A voice asked from within the coach; Twilight ducked further back into the leaves. The door swung open, and a head popped out, but it was not Sombra. “What did he say?”

“That he would double our treasures,” one of the guards reiterated for Filthy Rich.

“Yep!” Spike happily confirmed. “Just gather all your gold, and I can turn it into more,” he said with more confidence once he realized they didn’t recognize him as a wanted dragon.

Filthy Rich, though intrigued at the prospect of extra riches, scoffed. “That sounds absolutely ridiculous. Why should we believe that?”

“Because I’m a magical, fire-breathing dragon?” Spike quirked an eyebrow at the obvious before spitting out a lick of flame to reinforce that fact.

“Huh,” a guard mused. “He’s got a point.”

“And you say you can double our gold?” Filthy Rich looked at Spike sideways, suspicious, but intrigued by way of his greed.

“It’s a dragon thing.” Spike casually inspected his claws. “We can work our magic on coins, but not on our own treasure. I just take a cut of the new total.”

“Hmmm…” Filthy Rich rubbed his chin before nodding to a guard by the carriage. “Bring out one of the bags.”

The guard saluted, and shortly after had retrieved a small sack from a compartment in the side. It clinked heavily with the sound of coin. Twilight took note of the hiding spot, even though the pegasus had tried hiding what he had done with his wings.

“Alright, now watch and be amazed!” Spike embellished as if he were performing, and Twilight rolled her eyes. They placed the bag before him and he opened it, sticking his claw inside to grab one of the coins from the top. In the process, he tipped it slightly and spilled out a few extra bits onto the ground.

Spike ignored the others and held the one coin up for her to see, and Twilight readied her magic. It might have been severely limited, but she could still use her standard levitation. At Spike’s mark, he flipped the coin into the air, drawing the guards’ and Filthy Rich’s attention as their heads lifted to follow. Spike let out a burst of flame around the airborne coin, and without any of them noticing, Twilight magically tossed one of the matching ones into the fire.

When the money dropped, Spike swung out his claws and snapped up the two coins, displaying them with a grin as if he had done a magic trick. “Tah-dah!”

Even the guards looked excited as Filthy Rich took the “extra” coin Spike offered and inspected it carefully. He then bit it before holding it up like a prize. “It’s as if it were a real minted piece!” he exclaimed with quiet surprise. “How much more can you do?” His eyes glinted with greed as he narrowed his gaze at Spike.

“The whole bag if you want,” Spike answered. “Maybe even more.”

“You’ll do this one then.” Filthy Rich pointed to the bag at his feet. “And after that, we’ll see about duplicating the rest.”

Spike took another pair of coins out, and Twilight readied a new matching set while carefully slipping from the bushes, out of sight of the guards. Spike kept their attentions drawn away as they watched, mesmerized, when he “magicked” them into a small pile of matching bits.

Stepping cautiously, Twilight snuck over to the spot where the guard had pulled out the first bag. Lifting the hatch over the rear wheels, she was elated to reveal three more sacks of treasure. Not that she would ever condone stealing, but it didn’t hurt to feel a little excited if she was stuck playing the role of a hero-thief. While Spike made a show of catching his breath, Twilight leaned into the compartment and delicately shifted one of the bags with precise and discrete movements.


The bag of coins slammed into the compartment with a heavy rattle when Twilight leapt back, startled by the appearance of another guard out of the carriage. He had been just as surprised to see her, and before he could make a move, she flared her wings and caught him in the face, knocking him back inside. “Spike!” With her cover blown, subtlety no longer mattered. “Run!!!”

“What!?” Filthy Rich’s head snapped around and his eyes practically popped out of his head when they landed on her. “Guards! It’s Robin Hood! GET HER!”

Now well aware of what was going on, the guards sprinted forward to follow his command, but Spike quickly stepped up and let loose a spray of fire directly over them. Filthy howled and immediately started running in a circle from panic. “Put me out! Put me out!”

While they tried to beat out the flames, they were distracted enough for Twilight to quickly snap up one of the bags in her mouth while Spike scampered away with another in his claws. He hopped up onto Twilight’s shoulders when she ran alongside him and wasted no time galloping off into the trees, leaving the bewildered guards to dash after the fading sound of her hoofbeats.

Twilight kept going, faster than the armor-clad soldiers could keep up. She was smaller and had less weight to pull, even with the two bags of bits they managed to take. The rhythmic clang of their metal armor and their frantic shouting began to fade until it could no longer be heard over her hooves thudding against the ground. The calm and quiet of the forest were the only sounds that reached her ears. She eventually slowed to a stop, her sides heaving while she caught her breath and listened for signs of pursuit. She heard none.

Once they were certain they had lost them, Spike jumped down from her shoulders, and the two of them fell over in an exhausted fit of laughter.

“I can’t believe we pulled that off!” Spike rolled onto his back, laughing so hard that he was letting loose tiny licks of flame.

Twilight managed to control herself and calmed down enough to explain, “When we were in The Lost Foals, we got away with a few odd changes. I think the storybook may let some things slide for plot convenience. Otherwise, there’s no way that would have worked.”

Spike wiped a tear from his eye and settled down with a fading chuckle. “So, what do we do with all this loot?”

“What Robin Hood does best.” She paused to sling the bag of bits over her back. “We give it to the poor!”

The quaint village of Trottingham reminded Twilight of Ponyville, with straw rooftops covering modest houses and wide dirt roads stretching between them. Villagers moved about on their daily routines, though they all appeared to walk at a tired pace and wore weary expressions that loudly spoke of the harsh taxes they had endured under their king’s rule.

Twilight ambled among them with a limp in her step and a crouched gait, a careful tread that made her appear frail and disguised her true health. She hid her face under the hood of her cloak, while the bags of coin hidden beneath gave her a disfiguring hump.

“Twilight,” the lump on her back whispered, and Spike lifted a small flap for air. “It’s stuffy under here.”

“Sorry, Spike, but you need to stay hidden.” She moved with caution, alert for anypony that appeared to be royal guards. “I’m just trying to find—” Her gaze landed on a large barn coming up on the edge of town. Out front in the yard, a familiar pony was loading stacks of hay into a cart. Twilight cried out in surprise when she recognized an exact duplicate of one of her friends. “Applejack!?”

The pony looked up at the sound of her name and spotted Twilight standing in the middle of the road. She squinted at her concealed form before straightening up with a shocked expression. “Land's sake—!” Applejack suddenly sprinted over to Twilight and began shoving her into the open barn, practically throwing her inside. Twilight didn’t even get a chance to protest when the barn doors slid shut with a heavy slam and Applejack laid an ear flat against the door, listening for something. When the quiet of the peace stretched on, she finally let out a loud sigh of relief.

“What was that about?” Twilight asked, wondering if this Applejack was the one she knew or simply a doppelganger like Garble had been.

“The town’s been all up in a state, that’s what!” Applejack turned and gave her a worried look. “There was some sorta commotion up at the castle. The guards have been on high alert all day! I reckon you pulled somethin’ to stir up the king again, didn’t you?”

“Guilty as charged,” Twilight said with a hesitant laugh, quickly realizing that this wasn't her Applejack.

“Can I come out now?” Spike’s muffled voice asked from beneath the cloak.

“Oh, sorry, Spike.” Twilight pulled the cape away and lowered herself so he could jump down. The money bags that he carried jingled heavily when he landed in the dust.

“Golly, you sure did.” Applejack looked over the bags with her jaw agape. “Although it don’t look near as much as that robbin’ you pulled last winter… ooh boy, that one was a hoot! Still, it’s mighty odd that the king would throw such a fit when it ain’t nothin’ new from you.”

“Maybe he’s just tired of having the taxes returned to their rightful owners.” Twilight motioned for Spike to hide the bags beneath the hay bales. “I trust you’ll get these out to the villagers that need help?”

“‘A course, Twilight.” Applejack pulled the ragged looking straw hat from her head and held it to her chest. “We can’t thank you enough for all the trouble you go through to keep us… well, afloat in these hard times.”

“Anything for a friend.” Twilight laid her hoof on Applejack’s shoulder, only to pull it away when the loud clanging of a bell caused her to nearly jump into the rafters. She spun around in alarm, expecting guards to flood the barn where they were hidden, but the commotion continued on outside as the voice of a crier yelled an announcement out across the town.

“Now what they hay is all that about?” Applejack slid the door open a hair and peeked out. Twilight crouched behind her, careful to remain out of sight.

“What’s going on?” Spike asked with impatience, dancing from one foot to the other. “They aren’t after us, are they?”

“Nope.” Applejack opened the door a bit wider, but waited until Spike had scrambled back under Twilight’s cloak and returned to their disguise before sliding it further. “There’s something goin’ on at the square, though. Can’t quite make out what the hollerin’s about.”

“As long as they aren’t after us, maybe we can go see,” Spike’s muffled voice proposed from beneath the disguise.

“I guess it wouldn’t hurt,” Twilight said with a bit of uncertainty. It was too early in the story for them to be in any danger… right?

She followed Applejack cautiously out the doorway, traveling along with other town ponies as they trotted towards the square. No guards rushed them or jumped out to take them by surprise, and that was enough for her to relax just a hair.

The movement of curious onlookers converged into a large crowd in the town’s square, where many of them had gathered near a raised platform in the very center. Twilight glanced around to see if she could spot any familiar faces and noticed a few individuals that looked like her own neighbors and friends from back in Ponyville.

“Hear ye! Hear ye!” The crier’s voice called out, and the noise of those gathered died down to silence. In front of a rigid row of guards, he stood at the edge of the elevated platform and loudly announced the reason for their congregation. “The Sheriff of Trottingham stands accused of treason, and has been sentenced to immediate execution for his crimes against the crown!”

A soft murmur rippled through the gathered spectators, discussing among themselves this turn of events. Usually seen as a lackey to the king, the Sheriff wasn’t a particularly liked individual, but it was still shocking to hear what he had been accused of.

“That doesn’t sound right.” Twilight frowned and lifted her head to see better. “The Sheriff of Trottingham is an antagonist in the story, but he wouldn’t attack the king, would he? He’s supposed to be Robin Hood’s greatest rival, and he works for—” Her words caught in her throat as her gaze found the aforementioned sheriff, partially hidden by the large group of guards. She spotted the unmistakable curve of his wicked horn and the glint of fangs as Sombra viciously grinned at the audience from behind his escort.

Twilight clamped her hooves over her mouth to keep from screaming at her discovery. What was he thinking!? What had he done!? And why couldn’t he just follow a simple children’s fairy tale!?!

“—guilty of treason!” The crier continued on while she had been lost in her own panic. “And you will be hanged until dead. Have you any last words?”

“I will not argue my defense against mindless golems,” Sombra snorted as the soldiers moved aside only a fraction to allow him some ability to be heard. Despite the restraints on his hooves and horn, the space between the congregation of ponies and the platform appeared to widen a bit. “But understand this: I wouldn’t bother trying to usurp the king!” He snarled with a laugh. “I meant to DESTROY HIM!!!”

Sombra’s maniacal laughter rang out over their heads, and Twilight heard a mixture of confused gasps scattered throughout the gathered ponies. This wasn’t something she had ever heard to happen in Robin Hood. She imagined that if the story was trying to correct for Sombra’s terrible decision, they were probably all baffled by the problem presented before them. They were no fan of the king, and had viewed the Sheriff as a tyrant alongside him, but did that mean they should see him as a martyr now?

If the story was allowing for this kind of development, maybe that meant she was supposed to do something. Would Robin Hood just stand and watch as one of his greatest nemesis was hanged before him? Or would he do what a hero might, even if it meant helping one of his enemies?

“I think the Sheriff might’a lost it, Twi...” Twilight heard Applejack begin to say, but she had already slipped off into the crowd, stealthily maneuvering around those gathered and sneaking over to a building that sat along the edge of the square. With an agility she didn’t normally possess, she quietly climbed her way up a stack of crates and settled herself on the roof, hidden in the shadow of its chimney.

“What should we do, Twilight?” Spike popped his head out from beneath her cloak and gazed at the scene below with wide eyes.

“Distract them somehow.” Her gaze flicked over the ground, looking for something—anything that she could use as a weapon. “I don’t have a bow, but maybe I can steal one from a guard before they notice.”

“Here! Use this!” Twilight nearly shouted when she was startled by the sudden sound of another’s voice and jumped up to face them, having expected an ambush. The sight of Pinkie Pie calmly sitting on the roof beside her was enough to fill her with instant relief. She wore a big grin on her face and held up a longbow in her hoof, with a quiver of arrows slung across her back. “You always keep a few spares around!”

“Oh thank goodness! It’s just you, Pinkie.” Twilight took the weapon and despite the scare, was grateful for her assistance. She returned to her original spot on the roof while Pinkie crouched beside her, being surprisingly quiet. The guards below fiddled with a hatch in the platform and gave a nod to another pony nearby. He rubbed his hooves together with anticipation and threw a nearby lever. The trap door swung down with a clatter and some of the guards grinned eagerly at Sombra, who only glared back quietly.

“Wowie!!” Pinkie whispered with a high-pitched squeal. “What’s gotten into the sheriff, Twilight? Attacking the king? Something like that is really out of his character!”

Twilight blinked, wondering if Pinkie meant that in an “out-of-character in the story” way, or a “sheriff's own personality” way. Even if this Pinkie wasn’t the real one, it was hard to tell with her.

“This doesn't happen in the original story… does it?” Spike asked with a nervous shiver. Even if it was Sombra, he didn’t appear to like the thought of watching what might unfold.

“No…” Twilight glanced quickly at Pinkie beside her, but she simply smiled back innocently and didn’t appear to be following their conversation about the storybook. “There are hundreds of retellings of Robin Hood, and in all of them, the sheriff is either an antagonist or the main villain.”

“Uh… quick question.” Spike gulped as he pointed down at the scene below. “If the story goes bad, do we…?” His voice faded as he failed to finish the sentence and simply stared at her.

“I don’t know, but I’m going to shoot the line before…” She took a nervous breath, nocking an arrow and drawing it back halfway. “...before anything serious happens.”

“Y-you can’t make that kind of shot… can you?”

“You’re right, Spike. I can’t.” She fell silent while she concentrated on the pony standing next to the lever that would drop the floor out from beneath Sombra’s hooves. Her eye focused on the mechanism hanging above while keeping watch for any movement from the executioner. A pair of guards led Sombra out onto the trapdoor, and he was surprisingly stoic when they slipped a noose around his neck.

She knew she couldn't make a shot like that. Twilight had never picked up a bow in her life. But there had been an inkling in her mind, a familiarity sparked when Pinkie gave her the weapon and arrows. Despite the panic shaking her nerves, there was a steely calm that she couldn't explain. It kept her thoughts from wandering and her aim from drifting. A small part of her own mind nudged her into believing she could do it.

She took a quiet breath and held it as she drew the string back all the way, flowing in motion along with the executioner as his leg reached out for the lever. The gears squeaked with a thunk, and Twilight saw Sombra’s eyes shut as if in slow motion. The floor had barely dropped a sliver before she released the arrow.

It sliced through the air like a needle just as the rope grew taut. The cord frayed in a shower of fragments as the arrow embedded itself in the wooden platform below. It hadn’t cut the rope entirely, but instead had slashed it into a single, thin strand. As Sombra dropped, the thread snapped, and he fell safely to the ground with a heavy thud.

“On the roof!” A shout from the soldiers caused heads to turn and search. “It’s Robin Hood!” The cry of alarm went up around the guards as they split into two groups, a few remaining to deal with Sombra while the rest started for her location.

“Are we doing this!?” Pinkie Pie bounced up with an excited giggle. “Oodalallee!” She jumped up with a cry and, before Twilight could stop her, dropped into the group of soldiers. Twilight could see them begin to converge on her before one of them yelled a warning and they all scattered away from the building. She only understood why after an explosion of confetti shook the foundation beneath her hooves.

“Twilight! Behind you!” Spike yelled; she turned to notice the pair of soldiers making their way along the roof and raising their swords.

“Halt! In the name of—” Twilight didn’t wait for him to finish. Without hesitation, she pulled up her hood and spread her wings, springing into the air to glide over the square.

Her first thought wasn't exactly to jump into the fray of things. Granted, there had been danger approaching, but below her was a turmoil of fleeing villagers and massing guards. She had only done it due to an instinctive feeling. It was the same that alerted her to the carriage in the forest, and the inkling that she could expertly fire the bow. While her inner thoughts screamed at her in a panic to come up with a strategy, something else, less like a voice and more like a sense, compelled her to believe that no plan would be the best plan.

While she was still in the air, Twilight loaded her weapon and fired off a volley of shots before any of the archers had even readied their bows. Soldiers quickly found their chain mail and robes pinned to the wooden platform by the steel tip of an arrow. In the midst of confusion, she landed on the ground, rolling upon impact to absorb the fall and slipping past the row of incapacitated guards.

“In front!” Spike pointed over her shoulder with a shout, where a pair of soldiers galloped at her with their blades brandished. Before they could get too close however, they suddenly tripped over one another after an arrow wedged itself into the dirt and caught their hooves. Twilight simply stepped aside as they uselessly tumbled by in confusion.

“Spike, can you see where—” Twilight tried to ask in a moment of pause, only to falter when an explosion from the platform shook the area. A cone of dark magic shot from the center of a group of guards and spread outward like an unstoppable wave, pushing them back. Sombra stood in the center of the mess, free of his restraints. As the spell spread, Twilight braced herself, but the pulse simply passed over her like a strong breeze that tossed her hood and mane.

“What was that!?” Spike’s muffled exclamation came from beneath her cloak after he hid away in surprise, but she didn’t answer him. A noise to their side had caught her attention, and Twilight whipped her bow around to quickly fire off a shot. It flew over a soldier’s head as he ducked and slid along the ground towards her. When he jumped up, he pressed his knife to her throat with a triumphant grin.

“You missed,” he chuckled darkly.

Twilight grunted as the sharp edge dug into her fur. He leaned against her to force her back, when Spike suddenly popped out from her cloak and took a deep breath before the pony could register what was happening. A cone of flame shot right into the stallion’s face, and he screamed while flinging himself backwards, beating at the wisps of fire flickering across his armor.

A shrill creak from above his head caused him to look up, all too late, when a shop sign dangling from a frayed cord snapped. It fell flat on his head and he collapsed to the ground, knocked completely senseless.

“Robin Hood doesn't miss,” she stated while gingerly rubbing the wound he had inflicted on her neck. It was only a small puncture, nothing worse than a paper cut, but the fact that it stung caused her to worry.

“That. Was. Awesome!!!” Spike jumped up onto her shoulder with a triumphant shout while pumping his fists. “How did you do all that?”

“I… don’t know?” Twilight gave him a sheepish grin. “I think we have a few magical advantages in this story, Spike.”

“Twitchy tail!” Pinkie’s voice shouted from behind shortly before she bolted past. Twilight’s confused gaze followed after her, but she didn’t get a chance to ask what she meant when an otherworldly hum turned their attention back to the town square. Sombra had his horn lit with another dark spell. His eyes had turned green with plumes of purple haze flowing from them.

“No king to save you now!” he shouted, before several streams of darkness shot away from him, slamming into soldiers and innocent residents of the town alike. Twilight ducked as one flew over her head, but Spike was not so quick to react when she felt him tumble from her shoulders with a sharp cry.

“Spike!?” Twilight jumped up and ran to his crumpled form, gasping as she hovered over him protectively. His scales were marred with dark soot, and he weakly coughed out a dusty cloud of smoke.

“I'm okay,” he wheezed, but Twilight held him tightly and didn't let him up.

“Just lay still.” Twilight’s voice wavered with concern. Her attention pulled back to the platform at a maniacal laugh from Sombra. The guards that had been surrounding him scattered with fear, even though his horn was no longer glowing from the darkness of his magic. Like her own, it appeared his had returned, but it obviously had its limits.

Ignoring Sombra, she tried to help Spike, but the heavy march of hooves approached them, and Twilight looked up to see a small circle of guards surrounding her with their weapons drawn.

“You are under—” The guard that stepped forward didn't get a chance to say any more, as a furious roar interrupted him. A large, heavy form barreled its way into the barricade, sending a few of them flying with a toss of its great, furry head. The soldiers backed up and tried to hold their ground, but they were flung like ragdolls by the backhand of a furious bear. The few remaining turned tail and retreated, leaving Twilight alone to stare nervously at the animal and freeze when it bent down to sniff her.

“Twilight!” She heard a quiet squeak and twitched her eye to see a pale form waving urgently at her from the trees.

“Fluttershy…?” Twilight started, her fear melting in understanding. With a grim frown, she caught Harry’s attention and pointed towards Sombra, who was laughing maniacally while chasing a pair of fleeing guards. “Can you grab him?” she asked, not bothering to wait and see if he would even listen to her request, immediately turning to flee. She gently lifted Spike in her magic and followed after Fluttershy, trying not to fret over the sound of more guards marching through town. They had obviously been drawn to their location by the spells Sombra fired off.

Ducking into the shade of the trees, Twilight found herself in a quieter place, where the shadows deepened with the setting sun and the noise of the village became a faint disturbance in the distance. Fluttershy acted as her guide, and they galloped further into the darkening forest, away from the danger back in Trottingham. In the calm, it was easy for her to pick up Harry’s lumbering footsteps and impossible to miss Sombra’s enraged ranting catching up behind them.

“—arrogant walking carpet! I will have you flayed and used as my chamber rug!” Sombra shouted from Harry’s armpit.

“Will you be quiet!?” Twilight spun around and hissed at him. “You’re going to get us caught!”

“There is nothing behind us!” Sombra raged, able to see more clearly since he was being carried backwards.

“Shh...” Fluttershy breathed softly, closing her eyes and twitching her ears at a sound Twilight did not hear. She tried to listen for herself, but obeyed the faint request and fell silent. A stillness settled over them, even Sombra turning to give her a glare without further complaint. Leaves rustled in a light breeze, and crickets chirped from the nearby brush. Other than that, there were no sounds of pursuit.

From the darkness of the woods, an owl noiselessly glided down to Fluttershy’s shoulders and gave a soft hoot. She nodded in response with a smile. “All clear. Thank you so much.” She nuzzled the owl, and it blinked slowly in answer before taking off into the trees with only a faint rustle of feathers.

“What were you doing!?” Twilight rounded on Sombra as Harry finally lowered him to the ground.

“Obtaining an army so that I may escape this waking nightmare sooner.” Sombra scowled. At Twilight’s doubtful expression, he added, “I may not have been as fully prepared as I first believed.”

“You think!?” Twilight snapped, then froze when Spike gave a soft groan.

“Oh! Is he alright?” Fluttershy tiptoed closer, watching Spike with a concerned look.

“Ahm hokay,” Spike mumbled woozily. He rolled over in Twilight’s magic and tried to speak again, but only coughed out another cloud of dust.

“Oh dear.” Fluttershy reached a tentative hoof towards him. “May I?”

Twilight allowed Fluttershy to take him and lowered him gently against her leg. He didn’t appear to be hurt, just dazed by the blow he had endured, but if this Fluttershy was anything like her real friend, Spike would be better off with her. Once he was settled in, she nuzzled him gently but hesitated with a glance at Sombra before stepping carefully into the trees, most likely leading them to the hidden base of Robin Hood.

“Where exactly are we going in the middle of these woods?” Sombra complained, stomping after her. “A hidden fortress with armored forces, I hope?”

Fluttershy rustled her wings with discomfort and only made quiet stuttering squeaks in answer until Twilight blocked his path and thrust her hoof into his face. “You’re not going anywhere!” She pointed back at Spike. “You could have seriously hurt him!”

“A small sacrifice in my moment of conquest,” Sombra answered without any hint of guilt. “Which would have been successful if I had my full magic to command.”

“But you don’t have your full magic! And you can’t just attack a king because you want his army!” Twilight rubbed at her temples, trying to stave off an oncoming headache. “That’s not how this works! It isn’t even how the story goes!”

Spike let out another groan and Twilight growled, fighting with herself over berating Sombra for his actions or letting it go and quickly getting Spike the aid he needed. She didn’t waste much time on making her decision, but that didn’t mean her anger had diminished.

She turned with a snort and stomped after Fluttershy. Her friend squealed in a panic and jumped up before picking her way through the woods again, back on track of escorting them to the hidden base. “How could you attack the king like that!?” Twilight continued. “You’re supposed to be his ally! You’re one of the main antagonists!”

“I was simply acting as I saw fit.” Sombra snorted, lifting his head while he followed behind her. Harry lumbered in the back, bringing up the rear. “I was not going to bow to that simpleton and be commanded like a dog. And even if I had knowledge of these events, this childish story is a waste of my time!”

“It wouldn’t be so much of a waste if it had helped you avoid that whole situation,” Twilight grumbled. “You were almost—” She paused, remembering why she had saved Sombra in the first place. With a fearful look, she touched the spot where the soldier’s knife had grazed her and turned to him. “Could you have been…?”

His calm expression only bewildered her. “I will admit...” Sombra’s eyes were unreadable as he stared back. “...I didn’t expect I might meet my end in a fairy tale.”

“So we can die?” Twilight’s breath quickened while her gaze flicked back to Spike. “If something happens to us in the storybook… that’s it?” Her eyes shook as she needlessly searched the ground. Her mind raced through frantic thoughts, more worried than ever about what could have happened to Spike... or what might happen to Flurry if they didn’t find her soon.

“I imagine knowledge like that would be common sense,” Sombra grumbled.

“I didn’t want it to be real.” She took a deep breath and gave a forced sigh, trying to calm herself down before looking back at him with a realization. “If it is true… then back in the square, you really could have…”

“Yes,” Sombra answered slowly and wrinkled his snout. “It does appear that you… might have done something of a significant benefit to me.” He paused and appeared to be glaring ahead of her with too much disgust. “An action that… allows me to continue... to...” He paused with a hoof in the air when she raised an eyebrow. “...perform daily routines of some such,” he quickly finished in one breath, scratching at his neck and looking anywhere but at her.

“That’s a very roundabout way of saying I saved your life.” Twilight blinked and stared at him in surprise. When he didn’t say anything more, she tilted her head. “You’re welcome?”

“I didn’t thank you,” he snapped. “You were only following your precious fairy tale.” Sombra took that moment to stomp ahead of her. Twilight reluctantly moved after him with a look of annoyance.

“I saved you because it was the right thing to do! How was I supposed to know you would attack the king!?” Twilight huffed angrily.

“You were knowledgeable about the previous tale. Did you not read this particular one?” Sombra snarled in irritation.

“I…” Her voice trailed off as she stopped walking, racking her brain to recall every version of Robin Hood she had ever read, but she couldn’t remember any ever playing out quite like this. “I didn’t get through the whole storybook. I had to finish my spell to be on time for the train to the Crystal Empire.”

My Empire,” Sombra corrected her, but Twilight ignored him. With his misstep, she realized she had no idea of knowing what could happen now. How was she supposed to guide them safely through a story she wasn’t familiar with!?

“You’ve completely derailed everything!” Twilight shouted out of frustration.

“How do you know? You just said you haven’t read it.”

“I… that…” Twilight tried to find the words to answer him, but he was right, and she didn’t like Sombra, of all ponies, being correct. “Because it’s a classic fairy tale collection!” she proudly said, finding her answer. “The author wouldn’t have put such a drastic plot twist in if it deviated too much from the original,” she finished before quickly adding, “that I have read.”

“Twists or no, could we not simply skip to the ending?” Sombra boredly asked. “Particularly the part where I am not stuck with you?”

“Key events are what eventually lead us to the ending. Besides, you're not stuck with us,” Twilight said with a smirk while trotting past him, seeing a soft glow ahead that suggested they had arrived at their destination. “You’re free to go back into town and stay with the king’s guard if you want.”

Sombra didn’t answer, but she could hear his heavy hoof steps stomping behind her as they stepped into what could only be Robin Hood’s hidden camp.

“You made it!” Pinkie bounced into view when they strolled through an archway of trees. Others grew close together to form a loose barrier around the clearing while their branches closed in above to create a canopy of leaves, almost like a roof over their heads. Various crates of supplies were scattered about and log benches had been set near a cooking pot to allow for lounging by the campfire. “Who’s your friend?” Pinkie asked as she hopped up and stood right in front of Sombra. He eyed her warily.

“Pinkie, you don’t know the sheriff?” Twilight asked, surprised.

“Oh, everypony knows who the sheriff is! Especially me!” Pinkie giggled. “But he’s always really, really mean! So we’ve never actually met!”

“Right.” Twilight rolled her eyes. “Pinkie, Sombra. Sombra, Pinkie.” Twilight quickly waved her hoof back and forth between the two.

“Peasant.” Sombra wrinkled his snout at her.

“Well, of course I am! I’m not rich, you know!” Pinkie snorted before leaving Sombra in a state of bewilderment and bouncing back to the pot of stew in the center of camp. “The soup should be ready soon!”

Tired of dealing with Sombra, Twilight left him to his own devices and followed after Fluttershy to a quiet corner where all sorts of baskets and blankets were set about. Most of them were empty, while others housed a few sleeping critters. Fluttershy brought Spike over to a soft cot and eased him on top of it. While she dug into a medical bag off to the side, Twilight sat nearby and watched him quietly.

“Spike? Are you awake?” she asked after seeing him stir slightly.

“‘Mm fine,” Spike mumbled, cracking open an eyelid. “Just tired… and sore.”

“Luckily Sombra’s magic is weak right now.” She reached out a hoof and wiped at the soot on Spike’s cheek. “Otherwise, he could have seriously hurt you.”

“Told you I didn’t trust him,” Spike grumbled and pointed a claw into the air before dropping it lazily over his chest. “King Sombra is bad news.”

“He doesn’t seem to care about anypony’s safety as long as he gets his way. He’s definitely more dangerous than the villains we might meet in any fairy tale.” As Twilight spoke, Fluttershy turned around and began wiping the dust away from Spike’s scales with a rag. Just like Pinkie Pie back in the village, she appeared unphased by a conversation talking about anything outside of the story they were in.

“But what if—ooh, yeah, a little higher,” Spike interrupted himself as Fluttershy moved to his shoulders. She must have used her skill to fix a knot in his back, because Spike suddenly stiffened before relaxing into the cot with a sigh. “What if he wasn’t an enemy?”

“A friend? King Sombra?” Twilight scoffed at the thought, not able to see him turning over a new leaf anytime soon.

“We showed Discord what friendship is like.” Spike eased himself up and took the rag from Fluttershy, cleaning his own face while she grabbed some bandages from the medical kit. “Plus, doesn’t Sombra owe you? I heard you two talking about it. You’re the one who saved him!”

“It didn’t look like he cared very much.” Twilight thought back to his expression when she had pointed it out. She couldn’t tell what he had been thinking, but he definitely looked irritated about it. “In fact, he seemed annoyed.”

“That’s because he's in your debt,” Spike said slyly. “You can use that to your advantage.”

“Show King Sombra the value of friendship under the threat of, ‘you owe me’?” Twilight took one of the medical rolls of tape and helped Fluttershy wrap it around Spike’s head, where a particularly bad scrape had appeared after cleaning his scales. “I don’t know, Spike. If he could be reformed, wouldn’t Princess Celestia have already tried?”

“Well, she asked us to help with Discord, but that’s because you had the Elements of Harmony to keep him in line,” Spike agreed while Fluttershy moved to bandaging his arms. “Sombra’s Elements of Harmony would be… the Crystal Heart? But we don’t have that here.”

“Soup’s oooooon!” Pinkie’s shout could be heard clear across the camp, and Twilight wondered how they had ever kept hidden so well if that was a normal occurrence. Despite his bandaged limbs, Spike leapt up with an eager expression.

“Great! I’m starving!” He sprinted away while Twilight trailed behind him, strolling up and sniffing at the wonderful aroma permeating the air. She licked her lips with a pleasant hum.

“Me too. I haven’t eaten since...” She had to think about when she had last eaten, and remembered that her previous meal happened long before they were trapped in the storybook. With the combined times between stories, it had to have been at least a whole day. After so much time had passed, it was surprising to realize that she hadn’t felt any effects of malnutrition yet. “Too long… Spike, how do you feel?”

“Great!” he exclaimed in between slurping mouthfuls of vegetable stew. Pinkie Pie had already dished out a bowl for him and he had wasted no time enjoying it.

Twilight rolled her eyes while Sombra sauntered up, snuffling at the smell of food. “Well, not now of course. But I haven’t eaten for a whole day! Other than being hungry, I feel fine.”

Sombra snorted and interjected, “What good would it do to starve to death when you are trapped in a curse meant to torture the mind and body?” His eyes watched Pinkie’s every move as she filled another bowl. “It siphons our magic at a rate that allows it to replenish itself naturally; that is why we are not up to full strength.” He tapped at his own horn. “It takes care of physical needs, so food and sleep are unnecessary, but not forgotten. The unfortunate souls caught up in my curse will still suffer the ill-effects of starvation and sleep deprivation. It is the perfect spell to ensure that a victim is forever trapped in an eternal nightmare,” Sombra finished with a dark chuckle and gave them all a smug grin.

They all stared at him in confusion and disbelief, even Pinkie and Fluttershy appearing to be flustered by his explanation, even if they hadn't understood it entirely. Twilight acted before her friends could recover, and stole the bowl out of Pinkie’s hooves, giving Sombra a heated look. “No soup for you.”

“Wench!” Sombra shouted, stepping around the cooking pot. “You have the audacity to deny me sustenance!?”

“If your spell can sustain our needs, then your hunger is only an illusion anyway.” Twilight backed away with the bowl levitating above her head. “Which means you won’t starve!”

“You will serve me, slave! I will not be denied my meal by a petty mare!”

“I can deny you food all I want!” Twilight danced away as he dashed forward. A shimmering mixture of fuchsia and darkness surrounded the bowl when he tried to tug it out of her magical grasp. “And you don’t get any because you hurt Spike and tried to use that kind of spell on him!”

Sombra lunged at her with a feral growl, but she simply sprinted away. “You and your little worm got in the way of my victory!”

“A victory that would have enslaved an entire empire and robbed them of everything that gave them joy!”

“Because they are the ones who robbed me of MINE!!!” Twilight tripped in surprise as he dove forward with a snarl, catching her off guard. When she stumbled back, he pinned her forcefully against the ground. The bowl dropped with an empty thud and Twilight stared at him with wide eyes, both of them out of breath and breathing heavily.

“Get. Off.” Spike’s voice growled softly, and Sombra turned to glare down at him. Spike didn’t look very threatening while wrapped in bandages, but the small flicker of green flame from his snout was enough to get Sombra to slowly step away.

“Are you gonna eat that?” Pinkie called from across the clearing, causing all of them to look her way. “Because I’m pretty sure it’s empty!” Both Sombra and Twilight’s heads turned toward the discarded bowl, its contents spilled out over the grass.

Sombra grunted, but didn’t voice any kind of further complaint. He simply mumbled with an irritated tone, “I’ve lost my appetite,” and sulked into a far corner of the campsite where there was less light. The message was clear that he wanted to be left alone, barring Twilight from asking him to explain what he had shouted in his fury.

“Well, that’s good!” Pinkie chirped. “Because Harry already got his share.” She pointed at the cooking pot, where Fluttershy’s bear had his head stuck inside. When he sat back up, he licked his muzzle clean of the stew and let out a satisfied belch.

“Twilight?” Spike’s voice pulled her out of a daze, and she shook her head to clear her thoughts. What Sombra had said piqued her curiosity, but now wasn’t the time to interrogate him further. For all she knew, he was just blowing hot air in his rage, because to her, he didn’t make any sense. In equal parts, she was too hungry to want to deal with him any further.

“I’m okay, Spike.” She stood up on wobbly legs and felt him touch a claw to her side for support. Her stomach growled angrily at the smell of the soup from the bowl he still held.

Standing right next to her, Spike could easily hear the rumble of her stomach, and offered the rest of his meal to her. “Here, Twilight, you can have what’s left. I wasn’t really in the mood for stew anyway.”

“No, you should eat.” She pushed the bowl back. “You need your strength. I’ll just... go into town and steal something from a rich pony.” She grinned for his benefit.

“Going to town? Oh, take this!” Pinkie jumped up and ran beyond the light of the fire, rustling around near a pile of stacked boxes before bouncing over with a scroll in her mouth. Twilight accepted it and unrolled the parchment.

“A shopping list?”

“What?” Pinkie shrugged. “We need more supplies!”

“Pinkie...” Twilight’s eyes skimmed over the paper. “These are for a party.”

“Well, duh! How are we going to throw a ‘We Beat the Big Mean King’ party without party supplies?”

“You appear to be skilled at overthrowing kings,” Sombra mumbled from the dark area he had settled himself in.

Twilight quickly uttered, “Only corrupt ones.”