• Published 19th Feb 2018
  • 9,583 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 3: Princess of Thieves (Part 2)

With the sun long gone and the moon traveling slowly across the sky, the darkness of town was almost absolute, save for the last scattered glows of candlelight in the shaded windows. There were few ponies on the street, most of them already retired to their homes. This didn't stop Twilight from being cautious, sticking to the shadows that hid her from view. She had already spied multiple guards patrolling the area, so she moved as silently as she could. With her cloak pulled around her, she was nothing more than a shape in the pitch black of night.

At Fluttershy’s discretion, she had put on a set of boots in order to help traverse the mercantile district quietly. The streets were paved with stone, and more difficult to move about without the soft soles to muffle her hoofsteps. She glanced every now and then at the surrounding buildings, following the directions given to her by her friends. Rather than searching for a bite to eat, she had been informed that an urgent message waited for her in the village.

Take a right at the blacksmith. Where is the blacksmith? It should have been— Twilight turned the corner and came to a sudden stop, blinking up at the sight that stood before her. Settled at the edge of a large square, the place she had been searching for was unmistakable from those around it. A pair of statues guarded the pillared entrance, and Twilight could practically smell the parchment from where she stood. She would have appreciated the view for longer, had she not heard the march of guards approaching on their patrol.

She hastily crossed the road and flitted up the base of a statue to hide between the talons of one of the stone griffons. Two soldiers stepped around a corner, and her eyes followed them until they strolled to the end of the street and eventually disappeared. She waited a breath longer before slipping out and slinking towards the arched doorway. Naturally, when she tried the handle, it was locked, but that wouldn’t be a problem for her.

Twilight made her way to the side of the library, finding one of the many windows on the ground floor. She peered inside, unable to help feeling giddy when she spotted row upon row of bookshelves housing possible new pieces of literature that she had yet to lay her eyes upon. Fishing around in her saddlebags, she triumphantly pulled out a slender tool and fit it into the small keyhole. Even though she had never used a lockpick before, after fiddling with it for a moment, the frame cracked open with a soft click.

Stepping inside and carefully closing the window behind her, Twilight wondered what kind of books might be contained in here. A library book inside of a book? What would it even be like to read one of them? For all she knew, they were simply blank, but she just had to see for herself.

“Hello?” Twilight called out quietly and lifted her ears, listening to the silence stretch on through the vast shelves. Whoever was supposed to be meeting her hadn’t arrived yet, so she wandered through the dark rows at a lazy pace and turned her head in awe as she examined the impressive collection of tomes and scrolls. She couldn’t resist a quick peek.

Nearly an hour later, and Twilight found herself lost in a section of books, almost forgetting that she had come to meet somepony. Somepony that was extremely late. Unless she was missing something that she was supposed to do. Was she supposed to do something? It might have been easier to figure out if Sombra’s blunder hadn’t made her question the possible paths that the story could surprise her with.

She might have been able to find a solution in the library itself, but it looked like she wasn’t going to discover anything new here. After searching through several different rows, it quickly became apparent that the only books in the building were ones she had already read. The storybook must have pulled them all from their memories to use as a filler. Twilight was certain of this after finding a copy of The Friendship Journal, as well as the entire current series of Daring Doo.

So she sat in one of the rows, letting out a bored sigh as she tossed another book over her shoulder into the growing pile behind her. When Twilight reached out with her magic for the next book on the shelf, she was surprised to feel an extra weight in her levitation. She looked up, and her eyes landed on a dark object that had been completely hidden by the shadows.

There was nothing written on its binding, and no lettering across the blank front. When she lifted the cover, the heavy spine creaked eerily in the quiet. Twilight carefully turned the pages, skimming over spells of a questionable nature.

A spellbook. Specifically, a dark spellbook. There was no questioning who’s memory this had come out of. She was ready to toss it away when a sketch on one of the pages caught her eye. While most of the curses had disturbing illustrations and grim depictions, this particular one had a drawing of a dark unicorn figure with a wickedly curved horn that reminded her of a certain king. She couldn't help her own curiosity as her eyes slid over to the text.

“Umbrum Appendicem,” she whispered to herself. “The oldest of spells known to the darkest of wizards. It can become an addition of power, or a force where none exists. In order to master this weapon of destruction, there must be a source from which it stems, to act as the anchor that will bring about its full potential. The essence of others may be used in place—”

She hadn’t gotten very far when a noise caught her attention. In her surprise, she slammed the book shut, too panicked to think over what she had just read. The sound echoed through the quiet of the library, and Twilight briefly wondered if she had imagined it all in her paranoia. If a pony had come in through the entrance, she would have heard the doors open.

“Who’s there?” she called out softly, but there was no response. In the stillness that followed, her senses picked up a quiet shuffling of hooves over the floor. It was the sound of somepony trying not to be heard.

Twilight immediately fled down the aisle, taking the spellbook along in her mad dash to escape. She hadn’t even made it around the corner when she suddenly slammed into a heavy body, throwing her backward to tumble to the floor. Twilight managed to catch herself when she slipped on the polished wood, and she was ready to take off, but she skidded to a stop at the groan the other pony let off.

Staring at the shape in the darkness, Twilight lit her horn with a soft glow and balked when she saw who it was. “Sombra!?” She stared down at his deepening frown. “What are you doing? And why didn't you answer me!?”

Sombra grumbled, “If an army of soldiers is after your head, it is not wise to respond. And I was hungry,” he complained while rolling over and dusting himself off. “Because somepony spilled my—” His eyes wandered to the book floating over her shoulder, and his annoyed expression faltered into one of surprise. “Where did you get that?”

If Twilight were to guess Sombra’s reaction upon finding her with an old spellbook of his, she would have imagined him responding with anger. Instead, the soft tone of his voice was… curious? Though his eyes were hard and piercing in the soft light, a smile twitched at the edge of his mouth. “I haven’t seen this in years.”

“I found it in the library. All of the books here are ones we've read,” Twilight explained as he took the spellbook with his own magic. She watched him warily. His eyes shifted over the pages while he snorted with soft amusement. "Are those your spells? Did you create them?”

Sombra let out a dark chuckle. “If I had the ability to construct spells such as these, I would have conquered more than just a single empire.”

That didn’t stop you from doing exactly that in another future… Twilight frowned and tried to flip the book her way, but Sombra’s magical hold didn’t release it. “Is there anything in there about a counter-spell for the curse you cast?”

He lowered the spellbook with a frown, his bright look replaced once again by the bitter expression he normally wore. “These spells don’t fix problems.” The cover suddenly snapped shut in his magic and floated back up to the shelves. “In fact, there is nothing beneficial in this book.”

“But… you’ve read it,” Twilight pressed, suspicious of his sudden shift. “If the book is here, didn’t you use it?”

“I have only used one spell from this.” Sombra’s look hardened, even more so than usual. “And I… was not satisfied with the results.”

Twilight wasn’t entirely convinced, and started to lower it back from the shelf. “But if there’s something—”

A dark shadow consumed the book and ripped it away from her magical grasp, thudding heavily as his magic slammed it back into place. The other books in the case shook violently from the jarring impact. “We do not trust each other, but heed this warning, princess.” He leaned closer with a low hiss. “You do not have what it takes to pay the cost of those spells.”

Twilight faltered and stumbled away from his menacing stance. “What do you—?” she began, when the sound of a squeaking hinge caught her attention. The two of them stared at one another in surprise before the obvious noise of hooves echoed near the entrance.

Twilight stumbled over the floor in a panic, trying to find a place to hide, when Sombra suddenly grabbed her cloak by the hood and hauled her beneath a nearby table. The hiding place was rudimentary, but in the shadows of the building, it plainly worked. A solitary set of hooves appeared, Twilight only able to see a portion of the pony’s legs in the dim moonlight that stretched from the windows.

“Hello?” a curious, and familiar voice, called out into the dark. “Robin Hood?”

Twilight’s ears perked, and before Sombra could stop her, she had slipped from beneath their hiding spot. The pony searching for her turned her way and she saw his face light up.

“Sunburst?” Twilight asked, walking over cautiously.

“Of course!” He grinned nervously, looking relieved that it had been her. “I’m terribly sorry that I took so long, but the guards are everywhere! Still, it was important that you read this as soon a possible.” As Sunburst dug into his saddlebags, she heard Sombra slither from beneath the table and grumble while he trudged up beside her.

“How can you be so trusting of this fool?”

“I know the real Sunburst. He's a friend,” she simply explained.

“Not this character. How do we know he isn’t after you or me?”

“Ah, here it—YIPE!!!” Sunburst had pulled out a scroll, but the rolled parchment launched into the air at his surprise and bounced along the floor. His stunned gaze did not leave Sombra’s face as his eyes stared, transfixed with fear. “T-the sheriff! No—not sheriff! But him—! Here—?!”

“It’s alright!” Twilight quickly interjected before Sunburst could hyperventilate. “He’s…” her eyes shifted back to Sombra, and he gave her a not-so-innocent smirk. “...trustworthy?” She grinned with uncertainty.

“Ah… I-I… heard only a little of what happened in town.” Sunburst tried to fix his skewed glasses, but his hoof shook too much to place them straight. “B-but I never imagined… I s-suppose it really is true then.”

“If what you heard is my turning over a new leaf,” Sombra stepped closer, causing Sunburst to flinch and lean away. “Then you heard—” He suddenly quieted and his eyes widened. Sombra lowered his head and sniffed around Sunburst’s saddlebags. “I smell something.”

“Oh! Uhm…” Sunburst dug in his bags and lifted out a bundle of cloth. When he pulled the fabric away to reveal the sandwich within, Twilight caught a whiff of the baked bread and crisp fixings, and her stomach reacted with an empty gurgle. “I-I actually brought it for—”

Sunburst didn't get a chance to explain. Sombra immediately snatched the sandwich up in a dark glow of magic. He tore a chunk out of the bread and chewed it loudly without any care for manners. Twilight watched him with an irritated glare, when he suddenly choked out a scattering of crumbs and opened the slices with a sour look. “There’s no meat on this.”

“I-I… uh… m-meat?” Sunburst stuttered while Twilight’s jaw dropped open.

Sombra snorted with a huff and tore off another chunk. “How do you ever get enough protein?” he grumbled, rudely spitting particles with his full mouth.

Twilight felt a shiver run from her horn, all the way to the tips of her hooves. With a high squeak in her voice, she turned back to Sunburst and snapped him out of his daze with her question. “You had a message for me?”

“Yes! Oh dear, this…” He picked the scroll up off the floor in his magic and floated it her way. A red wax seal stamped on it decorated the ribbon tying it together. “I don’t know what it’s about, but I was told to get it to you quickly.”

Twilight accepted the scroll in her own levitation, but didn't get a chance to open it. They all froze and listened intently when the heavy march of hooves could be heard beyond the library's entrance. None of them moved a muscle until the noise had faded.

“It sounds like they're getting more aggressive.” Sunburst started towards the door and spoke back to them in a whisper. “You should hurry to the woods. Don't read it here.”

Twilight nodded. “Thank you.”

Sunburst dipped his head, and without any further sound, they parted ways. As Twilight quietly moved to the window she had entered through, she heard Sombra’s heavy hoofsteps following along. In a few quick moments, they were out and into the night.

She kept a cautious tread, staying silent while Sombra, equally as quiet for once, made hardly a noise behind her. Leading the way down the streets, she kept her eyes open and her ears alert for any patrol. When she heard the tell-tale signs of approaching ponies, she stopped with a silent gasp and backed into Sombra. With a wave of her hoof to direct him, she flitted into the shadow of a nearby alley.

Twilight panicked when she met the walls of a dead-end, but not because it was a trap… it was too clean for her to find a place to hide. There were no objects to dart behind or containers to dive into. There was only the rancid smell of a rotting pile of compost in the back corner.

“Quick—!” Twilight had started to whisper, trying to tell Sombra that it was no good, but there wasn’t time to find another spot. The guards were nearly upon them. While the heavy hooves of soldiers stomped around the corner, Sombra darted forward and suddenly collided with her, pressing his weight down and holding her near the stench of decomposing materials. She started to protest, when his breath tickled her ear in a hushed hiss for silence. Twilight went still, close enough to hear the sound of his heartbeat… or was it simply her own blood pounding in her ears?

Neither of them breathed while the pair of guards stepped past. If they had looked down the alley, all they saw was a dark mound of shadow, and probably caught wind of a foul odor that dissuaded them from searching further. Twilight waited until she could no longer hear their hooves before letting out a soft sigh of relief. Sombra pulled away with a disgusted snort, and without a word, they continued towards the edge of town.

It wasn’t long before the woods rose up before her, and Twilight practically dove into the bushes for the safety of the trees. Well away from the danger of the guards, she settled into a dark respite in the forest, while Sombra let out an annoyed huff and flopped down nearby.

In the safety of their surroundings, Twilight took a moment to lift the scroll from her bags, unable to restrain her curiosity for any longer. She briefly studied the wax insignia in the soft glow of her horn. There was something off about the imprint, like the stamp hadn’t worked properly, leaving a misshapen circle. “This is probably from Maid Marian,” she guessed, breaking the seal and pulling the ribbon away.

Before she could unroll the message, Twilight felt a tap against her shoulder. She turned her head to see that Sombra had scooted closer and held up a small object that she couldn’t make out in the darkness.

“What is that?” she asked.

“Your share of the sandwich,” Sombra grumbled, looking reluctant in giving her even the tiny bit of morsel that was left. “A… small token for… assisting me.”

Twilight looked up at his face, with his dark fur partially hidden in shadows. “When I saved you?” She glanced down at the tiny bite in confusion. “Are you... comparing your life to a leftover piece of sandwich?”

Sombra quickly blinked, and shifted his eyes to the offering. He then made an awkward scoffing sound and immediately shoved the rest of it into his mouth. “No-ff,” he muttered around the crumbs.

Twilight turned back to the scroll with a sigh. “I don’t expect anything in return for that.” She paused while considering something. “Besides, you helped me out just now… back in the alley?”

Sombra quickly swallowed what was left with a grunt. “You were going to get us caught.” He prodded a hoof into her ribs and she coughed from the heavy poke. “My fur blends into the shadows. Pulling you with me was the only thing I could do keep myself safe.”

“I have my cloak,” Twilight grumbled, rubbing the sore spot on her chest while unrolling the parchment. The paper crinkled in her hold of magic. “And the story has a tendency to—” Her voice trailed off when she took a quick peek at the message. She had barely even skimmed it before her eyes widened in shock. “This… this is…”

Sombra’s curiosity was piqued at the astonishment in her tone and he shuffled closer to read over her shoulder. It didn't appear to take him long to understand the problem, because he quickly said, "This is chicken scratch."

The squiggly lines and looping curls of what one could not even compare to writing was scrawled across the entirety of the parchment. Twilight unrolled the rest of the scroll in confusion before spotting the crudely drawn images in a different array of colors. It almost looked like…

“Crayon?” Twilight squinted closer, able to pick out familiar shapes in the drawings. When she realized what it meant, a grin lit her face. “It’s from Flurry!” She burst into a fit of relieved giggling. “She’s Maid Marian!”

“Hmm.” Sombra frowned at the pictures. “They certainly look as if they have been made by a brat.”

Twilight ignored him and spread the scroll out on the ground, turning her horn up and allowing her to see more clearly. The depictions were crude, but she recognized the purple blob with a horn and wings as herself, while the pink scribble with a wiggly smile drawn on it must have been Flurry. There was also a circle of red and white rings that could have been an archery target set near a frowny-faced spot of blue. A jagged gold object above the figure’s head had to be implying none other than the king.

“She’s pretty good at this…” Twilight pointed to the target, putting it together with what she knew about the story of Robin Hood. “She must be trying to warn me about the archery tournament. The king will throw a contest tomorrow because Robin Hood is an expert archer. He wants to use it as a trap to capture... uh... me.”

“You actually understood all that?” Sombra motioned to the assortment of different colored squiggles. “How can you even read what that maggot wrote?”

Twilight shot him a glare, but he either didn't notice or care. “It’s an estimated guess going off what I already know from previous Robin Hood stories.” She rolled up the parchment with a huff, before hugging it to her chest for a brief moment. Tucking the scroll into her cloak, Twilight stood to leave. “She’s going to be at the tournament too. I don’t have much time to get ready.”

“You’re not serious?” Sombra sounded surprised as he fell into step behind her. “You already said it yourself, it’s a trap.”

“I know. I just have to be prepared.”

They began walking in silence, returning to the camp, followed by a loud chorus of crickets.

“I am not concerned for your well-being,” Sombra suddenly said, breaking the quiet of their walk. “At all.”

The muted sounds of the forest dropped around them again while a soft wind tousled their manes. Twilight looked at him in the grey moonlight and arched an eyebrow. “Okaaaay…”

“But I didn’t hide you from those guards to simply have you walk into their hooves,” he finally finished.

“So you admit that you helped me?” Twilight tilted her head.

Sombra let out an exasperated groan. “Helping you at this point… appears to be beneficial to me.”

“I know what I’m walking into.” Twilight continued through the trees. “It should be easy to avoid trouble when I don’t have to predict what’s going to happen. The story has already been written for me.”

“You seemed surprised by my choice,” Sombra pointed out. “What makes you think anything else will continue along the way you know it?”

Twilight stared into the darkness with a determined frown. “I don’t have a choice. Flurry Heart will be there, so I need to rescue her and move the story forward.”

Sombra snorted. “It is extremely infuriating that you would undo my efforts by blindly throwing yourself into such a blatant trap.”

Twilight sighed. “Well, thank you for being ‘not concerned’ for me, at least.”

“So, how do I look?” Twilight spun herself in a circle, allowing Spike to scrutinize the disguise she wore. Before putting it to the real test against the army of soldiers patrolling around the tournament grounds, she wanted to be sure it was absolutely perfect.

Spike rubbed his chin when he suddenly held up his claws. “Hold on!” She stood still and allowed him to adjust something at her neck. He fixed a loose strand of mane that had fallen out of place and pushed it behind the covering of feathers. “Alright, you pass, Twilight. You look like a real griffon!”

She gave herself another once-over, satisfied that it looked as if everything was ready. She lifted a “hoof” and subtly flexed the glove with her magic, making it look like an actual griffon moving her talons. She flicked her tail to ensure everything was holding, having simply wrapped it up in a white covering and leaving a bit of fluff at the tip to mirror the tufts griffons had. To finish it off, Twilight wore a white feathered hood that covered her neck and most of her face, with a pointed crest that hid her horn and a fake beak that fit snugly over her muzzle.

“Good. I know the story may help play up any kind of disguise I wear so I don’t get noticed, but it doesn’t hurt to go the extra mile, just to be certain.” Twilight frowned. “I don’t think I want to be captured if I can help it.”

“I thought you said the story won’t let you change key events?” Spike was pulling on his own disguise, which was simply to wear a more richly looking tunic and cape, complete with stylish boots, a hat, and mustache. Twilight’s magic may have been limited, but it was nice to know she could still cast good old number twenty-five.

“I’m not sure I can make that assumption yet…” Twilight paced about their small hiding spot in the trees. “The storybook spell seems to be contradicting itself, so I’m not certain. When we were in 'The Lost Foals,' it wouldn’t let me just abandon Sombra in the woods, because the siblings are inseparable in the original story.” She paused to tap her beak in contemplation. “But when Sombra attacked the king as the Sheriff of Trottingham, we had to rescue him! That’s nothing like any of the Robin Hood stories I know! But even so, the book is still going right on track!”

“Speaking of Sombra,” Spike mentioned while buttoning up his tunic, “where do you think he disappeared to?”

“I don’t know.” Twilight peeked out of the bushes to look at the tournament grounds. Soldiers were already patrolling around the fair tents. “But it doesn’t matter. He can do whatever he wants and it shouldn’t affect our parts.”

“Maybe he just slithered off into the shadows… literally,” Spike mused as he stroked the fancy mustache on his face. “Turned into one and just slid away.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Though I don’t doubt it, I don’t think he’s able to do that. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have let the guards catch him in the first place.” She released the branch she had been holding back and withdrew into the leaves. “The storybook gave him a solid form. He hasn’t turned into shadows since we’ve been trapped in here.” Twilight gave Spike’s completed disguise an approving nod and moved through the leaves. “C’mon, Spike. It’s showtime.”

The two of them stepped leisurely out of the forest, trying to remain calm as they neared a group of guards on their way to the registration booth. “Morning, boys!” Spike tipped his hat to them when they passed, and the guards nonchalantly nodded in greeting. So far, so good. With a little more confidence, Twilight led the way to the entry table.

A pony glanced up from the scroll he was reading when they approached and boredly asked, “Name, please?”

“Grizelda,” Twilight answered. “The griffin.” She nervously grinned beneath her beak.

“Mmhmm,” the pony absentmindedly hummed, not appearing to care about Twilight’s suspicious behavior while they leaned over to fill out the proper paperwork. Much to Twilight’s disappointment, it wasn’t anything more than simply writing her name into a slot. He then gave her a square of parchment with a number on it.

“Listen for the announcement before the tournament begins and just go up to the archery range right over there.” He pointed with his hoof to a large field located behind a stand of wooden bleachers. “The matches should begin soon.”

“Thank you.” Twilight nodded and pinned the number to her chest. She spun around and marched over to a tree, settling down nearby to wait for the contest to begin.

“So, what are you gonna do Twi-I-I mean… Grizelda?” Spike looked up at her with an apologetic smile. “Are you gonna try to lose on purpose?”

“I won’t stand out,” Twilight explained. “I’m not sure where this particular story goes since I didn’t get to read it, but I really don’t want to be captured if I can help it.” Twilight motioned to the soldiers patrolling the area. “If Sombra could change the role of the Sheriff of Trottingham, then I might be able to change a bit of my own.”

Spike looked ready to say something when a heavy thud from nearby shook the ground so hard that his teeth clattered together. Twilight stood up with a jolt as another thud pounded close to them, and she spun around just in time to see a huge shape pass by. They both stared and watched as the lumbering form, completely covered in black armor, made his way up to the registration desk. The clerk looked absolutely terrified when the armored pony leaned in close.

“N-n-n-name, please?” the clerk nervously asked.

The figure leaned in further and moved the front of the mask near his ear, nodding with motions that suggested he was speaking softly through the grate.

“Ah, t-thank you mister, uh... Sabueso. Here’s your number. When you hear the announcement, simply proceed to the archery range.” The pony pointed with a nervous smile while the armored brute nodded and slowly trudged away, pausing only to glance back. Twilight was certain he was looking in her direction, but it was only a brief moment before he turned away.

“Wow!” Spike exclaimed. “Get a load of that pony, Tw-darn! Grizelda! He’s gotta be an important character, right?”

Twilight smacked her forehead with a frustrated groan. “It’s obviously Sombra inside that armor! What does he think he’s doing in that getup!? He stands out like a—”

“A fine example of a warrior!”

Twilight’s breath caught in her throat as a voice cut through the air, one that she had heard only a few times in her life, but knew all too well. She exchanged a look with Spike before sprinting towards the bleachers to peek around them. Set up before the archery field in a prime viewing spot, an elegant seating area had been roped off for the nobility attending the event. A regal throne had been placed in the very center, and Twilight gulped nervously at the familiar and terrifying presence that filled it.

“I am impressed by your robust appearance, Ser Sabueso!” The fangs of Nightmare Moon shone perfectly in the sun as she smiled down upon the armored pony standing before her. “It would appear as though archery might not be your only skill.”

Sabueso nodded his head slightly, but didn’t say much in the way of words.

“Truly, you should try a hoof at jousting or swordplay! I would be delighted to have you as a champion should you show some skill with a bow.” Nightmare Moon clapped her hooves together and an attendant stepped closer to give her a deep bow. “Make the announcement that the tournament will be starting.” She waved her leg through the air. “We wish to be entertained!”

The attendant lowered his head in answer, and cleared his throat before shouting out well enough to be heard across the fairgrounds. “MAKE YOUR WAY TO THE FIELD! THE TOURNAMENT SHALL COMMENCE SHORTLY!”

Entrants slowly began to gather and shuffled past. Twilight jittered nervously on her hooves. “Well, this is it, Spike.”

“Good luck, Tw—!” Spike caught himself and sighed. “Good luck, Grizelda. I’ll be rooting for you!”

With a hesitant nod, Twilight joined the flow of other contestants onto the field. An attendant waved her way and directed her into place by one of the stakes with her number on it. Across the grass, about a hundred feet away, sat the rounded target with a matching label. The call went up again as audience members filled the stands, and the excitement permeating the air spoke of the tournament that would soon be underway.

Twilight turned to watch the throng of ponies filing into their seats, some waving flags and shouting words of encouragement to their favorite contenders. She could see a disguised Pinkie and Fluttershy shuffling into place before something else immediately caught her attention. The seats near Nightmare Moon had finally filled in with other nobles, but Twilight was only interested in the bright pair that sat to her right. Her heart jumped at the sight of Flurry sitting happily on top of Sunburst’s head.

“—BEGIN!” Nightmare Moon’s voice boomed across the field and Twilight heard the snap of strings, followed by a quick barrage of arrows thumping into solid targets. She shook herself, remembering she had a contest to place in, and quickly nocked an arrow before pulling back the string. She adjusted her aim slightly off center to the target, and released it. Her arrow shot through the air and landed with a heavy smack, dead-center. The cheering spectators let off a thunderous chorus at her impressive shot.

“And we have our first bullseye of the tournament!” an announcer's voice called above the noise.

Twilight sighed at her own luck, loading her bow again and aiming far too off the mark to ever hope to hit the target. She let the arrow go to the sounds of other twanging bowstrings. In a moment of absolute absurdity, a strong gust of wind kicked up, and she was shocked when her arrow alone appeared to arc through the air and lodge itself into the center mark right next to her first one. Against impossible odds, Twilight gaped in horror as a realization dawned on her. It couldn’t have been luck or coincidence.

Even though she was trying to lose on purpose, the story wasn’t going to let her do so.

Three rounds passed, and the first half of the tournament had come to a momentary pause, giving them all an intermission to rest and refresh. Twilight trudged over to Spike while he ran up to her, leaping and cheering.

“That was fantastic!” Spike pumped his fists into the air, bouncing around excitedly. “I guess you decided to drop the act and just win this thing, huh?”

“I’m not trying to win, Spike!” Twilight lowered her head and sighed in distress. “I was actually trying to perform modestly! I haven’t been able to alter anything. No matter what I try, I’m still winning! All of those shots were purposefully off! But they all hit the target! I mean, come on!” She threw her hooves into the air. “It was more than ridiculous when I shot straight up and still managed to get a bullseye! I’m just really glad Fluttershy was there to help that poor bird...”

“I did think it was pretty weird when you stomped on your bow. You hit the target then, too.” Spike frowned, thinking back on it. “Kind of figured you were going for a javelin shot or something.”

“No!” Twilight cried. “Now I know for certain that I can’t change the story, because nopony has even noticed anything weird about my behavior.”

“So, what happens now?” Spike asked, his voice trembling a little. “If you win the tournament, they’ll know you’re—”

He cut himself of at her sad nod. “Don’t worry, Spike, nothing bad happens to Robin Hood as far as I can remember, but we need to make sure Flurry is safe. Even if everything seems to be keeping itself on track, we don’t know what might pop up unexpectedly.”

“What do you mean?” Spike asked fearfully.

Twilight glanced over at Sombra… or rather, at Sabueso, as the armored pony rested quietly in the shade of a tree. “About—” she had started, before the shout of another announcement went up. The tournament’s second half was beginning.

“I guess I don’t really need to wish you luck.” Spike laughed nervously and gave Twilight a thumbs up. “So, instead… break an arrow?”

She patted him on the head and gave him a quick squeeze before heading back to the archery field.

“The winner, and tournament champion… Grizelda!”

Twilight trudged between two lines of cheering ponies, wearing a grim frown while they celebrated her victory. The crowd was alive with excitement and elation, tossing confetti through the air and stomping their hooves with joyous shouts. Despite all the noise, Twilight’s attention was focused on the solemn group of soldiers marching along behind her. They were blocking her escape, and the only other route led right to Nightmare Moon, who stood on the raised dais with a smirk. Twilight soon stopped before her, and gave her a respectful bow. “Your Majesty.”

“Ah! Our glorious champion. What a marvelous tournament! You are impressively skilled… perhaps the greatest in the land.” Nightmare Moon gave her an eager grin. “Have you looked forward to claiming your prize?” She motioned over to her right, where Sunburst held a cushion with a golden arrow resting on top. He appeared to be having difficulty keeping it still, as Flurry Heart babbled from atop his head while trying to take the plush pillow for herself. “We have been… anticipating this moment.”

I’m sure you have, Twilight thought as she nervously stepped forward. “It is an honor to receive such a trophy, Your Grace.” She tried to inconspicuously glance at the guards, searching for a possible opening. What was she supposed to do now? Would her friends have a plan? Or did she need to come up with her own way to escape this mess?

“Yes, quite.” Nightmare Moon nodded and motioned for Sunburst to bring the trophy, along with Flurry, forward. He had only taken a single step when Flurry suddenly squealed with delight and shot through the air. In an instant, she was clutching at Twilight’s neck and cuddling against her fur with a happy giggle.

Twilight’s fears for her own safety dissipated, and all her thoughts turned to her small niece while she pulled her into a tight hug. She wrapped her wings protectively around Flurry and nuzzled her carefully, mindful of the sharp beak she still wore from her disguise. “I’m so glad you’re safe!” she said softly.

Flurry babbled something, leaning forward to give Twilight’s cheek a quick kiss. She giggled when Twilight affectionately mushed their noses together.

“She is quite taken with you, Grizelda the Griffon.” Nightmare Moon chuckled darkly, ignoring their moment as she pounded a hoof against the stand. At the unspoken command, one of the unicorn guards standing by lifted Flurry Heart away in his magic, drawing a gasp from her. “You are certainly a unique individual to have captured the maiden’s heart so quickly. I have decided to grace you with a gift as well.” She lifted her leg and held it out to Twilight. “You may kiss the royal hoof.”

Twilight’s ears flattened while she hesitated, glancing at the curious looks of the crowd before giving a curt bow and stepping forward. She couldn’t see any kind of weapon, but that didn’t mean Nightmare Moon didn’t have something planned. Twilight knelt before her and reached out to lower the presented hoof closer.

Without warning, Nightmare Moon kicked her leg up and knocked away the false beak over Twilight’s muzzle. It spun through the air and landed before the line of guards, drawing a collective gasp from the crowd. Twilight’s hoof shot to cover her nose, but it was too late. Nightmare Moon grinned wickedly. “As I suspected! GUARDS! Seize her!”

Twilight didn’t even have time to crouch before the line of soldiers struck out and roughly shoved her against the ground. Many strong sets of hooves stomped around her and held her down. She tried to fight out of their grasp, flailing her limbs and kicking out in every direction, but they still managed to clamp a metal band around her wings, and her head rang painfully when one of them shoved an iron cone over her horn. What little of her magic she could feel, quickly dwindled into nothingness.

All the while, Nightmare Moon watched and laughed triumphantly. “At last! I have captured the illustrious Robin Hood! Now,” She motioned to her entourage of guards and they stepped away from Twilight, leaving a solitary pair to keep her pinned. “For your crimes against the crown of treason and heresy, you are hereby sentenced to immediate death!”

Twilight’s heartbeat raced in fear. One of the guards holding her had his hoof pressed against her skull, and she could only listen while dull, heavy steps announced the arrival of the executioner from behind. The crowd murmured in discomfort, while a few brave individuals shouted defiance, but the line of guards brandishing their weapons discouraged any ideas of rescue.

Over the loud pounding in her ears, Twilight heard the sharp wails of Flurry by a pair of soldiers that held her back. She struggled against their grip, but she was much too small to force herself free. How was Robin Hood supposed to get out of this?

“Ah, we knew you had many skills apart from archery.” Nightmare Moon grinned as Sabueso lumbered up, coming to a stop next to Twilight and the soldiers that held her. “Do you wish to do the honors?”

Sabueso stomped his hoof before the sword at his side made a clicking sound. An aura surrounded it with a dark glow of magic, and the heavy broadsword spun in an arc before sinking with a heavy thud into the soil. Twilight gulped, and tried to pull against the guards that restrained her, but their hooves kept her in place.

There was a slim chance that she might be alright… maybe. Sombra could have been wrong about their possible deaths. But most of it was his curse, and he knew more about its inner workings. Of course, the only way to know for certain was to… meet a grim fate. As much as she enjoyed field experiments, Twilight didn’t want to find out for herself through that kind of experience.

The metal of Sabueso’s sword slid out of the dirt with a grating scrape and drew her attention back to the blade. He appeared to be making a show of it, slowly idling and showing off the weight of the weapon, swinging it off to the side to test the balance. Some of the soldiers watched with interest while Nightmare Moon jittered with anticipation. At last, Sabueso stepped over and faced Twilight, looking ready to do the deed.

Nightmare Moon’s expression broke out into an elated grin. “Execute her… by beheading!”

A murmur of terrified cries rose from the crowd, and Twilight’s breath came out in quick gasps as her wide eyes turned to look at the towering pony at the edge of her vision. Maybe she had been wrong about him being Sombra in disguise… or maybe he still was. She might have been too trusting to think that he had formed a truce with her.

Either way, Sabueso lifted his sword and crouched into a stance to swing, raising the weapon to float high above her head. With a choked sob, Twilight squeezed her eyes shut and braced herself.

The sound of metal crashing against armor rang in her ears, and the weight of the soldiers’ hooves against her was suddenly gone. Twilight’s eyes popped open when a heavy leg wrapped around her middle and lifted her.

“What is this?” Nightmare Moon hissed while backing up behind a pair of her soldiers. “You dare defy your king!?”

“You are not my king.” Sabueso’s voice echoed darkly inside the helmet, and Twilight dangled in his grasp, still in a daze over what had nearly happened. His armor clicked, and the helmet rose in an aura of magic. “I do not bow.”

“You—!!!” Nightmare Moon flared her wings and screamed with a shriek of anger, “Seize the traitor!”

“DOWN WITH THE KING!!!” Sombra’s shout thundered over her head, and Twilight winced while echoed cries from the crowd answered his bellow. The cheerful audience from the archery contest turned into a mob of enraged ponies that suddenly surged against the soldiers. Calamity broke out as fights erupted between the mass of guards and citizens.

“Snap out of it,” Sombra growled, and gave her a rough shake. “Are you really that disturbed by a near-death experience?”

Twilight returned to her senses and glared up at him. “I thought you were trying to kill me!”

“I have a revolution to lead.” Sombra lowered her to the ground. “Unfortunately, it requires your cooperation.”

“Aahbabaaaa!” Twilight heard a childish squeal before Flurry Heart collided happily against her, hugging her neck and nearly blinding Twilight when she wrapped her large wings across her vision.

Sunburst barged out of the crowd after her, his eyes wild in a panic. “We should get out of here!”

“Cease this at once!” Nightmare Moon yelled from the dais, trying to regain control, but the villagers would hear nothing of it. A circle of guards separated her from the horde as she backed into her throne to keep herself safe. “Fools! Seize them all and protect your king!”

“The villagers will only follow you!” Sombra shouted to be heard above the noise of the clashing soldiers. His own sword swung against a pair of rushing guards, arcing back and tossing them above the heads in the crowd. “I had to use your name to even get them to plan this whole thing!”

“We can’t force them to fight!” Twilight yelled back, leaping away when a pony swung his sword at her. She stumbled into Sombra’s leg and caught his attention. With a clang of his sword, her attacker slid into the dirt, unconscious from the crushing blow to his helmet.

“What are you saying!?” Sombra nearly roared. “These villagers are not real! You can use them as fodder to defeat the king! NOW!”

Twilight hesitated, but only for a brief moment. Illusions or not, she couldn’t bring herself to command these ponies to rush to their fictional deaths. Before she could argue with Sombra further, a shout from the fray caused them to pause. “Yeeeehaaaa!”

“Applejack!” Twilight cried in relief when the story’s version of her friend lept out of the confusion and landed beside her. Spike sat safely atop her shoulders. “Both of you need to get out of here, it isn’t safe!”

“Horseapples, Twilight! We’re sick of that mare’s tyranny!” Spike looked as though he shared Applejack’s sentiments. “You been fightin’ for our sakes for too long! We’ve all got your back today! Even Rarity’s gettin’ her hooves dirty to give ‘em a good wallop!”

As if to confirm that, Twilight heard a dignified, and feminine shriek, followed by a heavy crash over by the tents. “Oh, you did NOT just do that!!!”

“Rarity’s here!?” Spike jumped up on Applejack’s back and turned in the direction that the yell had come from.

“You have been gifted an army on a silver platter! They are more than willing to fight!” Sombra snarled, his sword raised before him and holding off a pair of guards. “Order them to do it!”

“I won’t do that!” Twilight shouted, flaring her wings to act as a barrier to help protect Flurry. “We need to get everypony out of here!”

“Reinforcements are coming!” A shout from above caused Twilight to look up, interrupting whatever Sombra had been about to respond with. She blinked up at the sight of Rainbow Dash diving down overhead. “There’s another squadron coming from the castle!”

“FIND ME ROBIN HOOD!” Nightmare Moon’s voice screeched out above the chaos. Twilight instinctively ducked.

“Head for the forest!” Applejack suggested, rearing back before making her way through the crowd. “We’ll lose ‘em in the trees!”

Despite his furiously loud grumbling, Sombra stood with her friends and fought to keep the soldiers at bay while they tried to advance into the forest. Somewhere in the mess, Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Rarity joined them, but they weren’t enough to keep up with the surge of soldiers that pressed around them. They soon formed a barrier that prevented her and her friends from retreating.

“Clear a path!” The shrill voice of Nightmare Moon screamed over the guards’ heads and they moved aside, allowing their ruler room to march through. Only two remained to stand guard in front of her. “Robin Hood is the one I want! I will spare any who give her up!”

“Never! You’re no king to us!” Rainbow Dash spat and flared her wings angrily.

Nightmare Moon growled with a menacing sneer. “Then along with her, you shall all be executed!” She then grinned with delight. “You will be made a fine example of, when we spear your heads on a stake! Guards! Do not let them escape!”

The spaces between the soldiers shrank as they closed in. When Flurry Heart whimpered in fear from Twilight’s shoulders, she reached around and pulled her niece into a gentle embrace and backed into the protective circle of her friends. “Go with Sunburst, Flurry.” her voice cracked as she pleaded softly. “You’ll be safer.”

Flurry Heart resisted with a whine, clutching at Twilight’s neck and burying her face into her fur. When she choked out a muffled sob, Twilight glanced down at her niece, only to shut her eyes against a blinding flash.

The familiar feeling of a teleport spell crackled along her fur. With a sound that was like air being sucked out of space, they all popped out of existence, leaving behind the terror that was Nightmare Moon and her army of soldiers.

Before she could even blink, Twilight felt the usual resurgence of her body into a new area. She and her friends, along with Sombra, appeared to be far, far away from the tournament grounds. With a loud bang, they all dropped to the grass with various grunts and groans of surprise, each of them eventually looking around to realize they were no longer in danger.

“Where are we!?” Rarity stumbled up on shaky legs, finding support in Spike when he reached for her side.

“Oh, we’re in Marewood Forest.” Fluttershy gazed around at the trees with relief. “The camp isn’t very far from here.”

“Not that I ain’t glad, but just how in the blue blazes did we get here!?” Applejack searched around, as if expecting Nightmare Moon to appear out of the trees.

“Flurry Heart!” Twilight squeezed her tightly to her chest. Small tears rolled down the bridge of her nose while she rubbed a calming hoof across her niece’s back. Flurry trembled and sobbed into her coat. “You saved us, Flurry! We’re safe!” She breathed with relief into Flurry’s soft mane. “We’re safe, don’t worry…” Her eyes fluttered shut as she repeated quietly, “We’re safe…”