• Published 19th Feb 2018
  • 9,587 Views, 512 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 4: Princess of Thieves (Part 3)

“See, Flurry? Everypony is fine,” Twilight said softly, giving Flurry Heart a slight nudge. She responded by pulling her head away from Twilight’s chest. Her cheeks were wet with tears, and there was a trail of snot running down her nose.

“Fine? We're great!” Pinkie exclaimed. With a flick of her hoof, she tossed a large amount of confetti into the air that was mysteriously accompanied by the sound of a small horn. “Good enough for a party!”

The gesture didn’t appear to have any effect on Flurry. She let out a whine and snuggled closer to Twilight. Ever since they had returned, Flurry Heart clung to her aunt and refused to let go.

“Come oooon,” Pinkie gently urged, determined to cheer her up. Rummaging a hoof through her own mane, she pulled out a small flute and piped out a quick note. Flurry’s ears twitched, and she turned her head with a quieted sniffle.

“That’s it!” Pinkie backed up to a nearby crate and jumped in as if she were diving into a swimming pool. When she appeared again, there were a pair of drums slung over her flanks, and Fluttershy squeaked with fear when Pinkie tossed a round tambourine her way. Harry caught the object and offered it to Fluttershy, who hit it tentatively with her hoof.

“See? We’re all okay! Thanks to you!” Pinkie started playing a bright tune, pulling Rainbow Dash behind her to form a conga line around the bonfire. Fluttershy tapped out a quiet chime with the tambourine, and Pinkie carried a small mallet in her tail to create a beat with the drums. Flurry Heart’s hooves began to clap, and she eventually giggled. With a slight flap of her wings, she fluttered over to Spike and laughed when he caught her to gently lift her over his head.

Twilight let out a relieved sigh, sitting back to watch her friends celebrate their freedom. Pinkie, Rainbow, and Applejack danced around the bonfire, while Rarity twirled with Flurry and Spike. Sunburst sat next to Harry, swaying to the cheerful music and bobbing his head. Everypony was joining in on the fun. Everypony, that is, except for Sombra.

She didn’t think he would leave camp with the guards on alert, but without telling them, he had disappeared around nightfall. Wondering if he was nearby, she turned to search the surrounding trees. Though the shadows could possibly hide him from view, near the edge of the clearing, Twilight noticed a pair of glowing orbs flicker from the reflected firelight.

While her friends were distracted by their merriment, Twilight found it easy to slip away. Despite the darkness that concealed him, she saw Sombra frown when she approached. “I am over here for the quiet,” he grumbled. “Do not bring your jovial celebrations into my peace.”

“I’m too tired to celebrate. We may not need food and rest, but I wouldn’t say no to a good night’s sleep right now.” Twilight motioned over to her dancing friends. “I don't see how they can keep going like that.”

“Apart from your charges, they are all golems and illusions.” Sombra closed his eyes as if resting them. “They only sleep if it is by the script of the story.”

Sombra said nothing more after that, appearing to ignore her. In the quiet of the chirping crickets, she cleared her throat with a soft noise. “I never did thank you.”

Sombra didn't move. He didn't even bother to open his eyes. “And I never thanked you, so now we’re even,” he snorted. “Your friends would not follow me unless I helped you. So you can throw your appreciation at them and continue to not thank me.”

He fell silent again, apparently expecting her to leave. It wasn’t as though he were shooing her away, but the feeling she got practically screamed, DO NOT DISTURB! However, his current air wasn’t enough to demand that sort of request. King Sombra had always been a sight of terror, a figure that might strike fear into those who dreaded what he could do.

Now, as he lay with his legs curled beneath him, bare of his usual armor and his eyes shut, he looked just as exhausted from the day’s events as Twilight felt. It was an opportunity, and she was going to take it.

With a hesitant step, she prodded the grass to prepare a soft spot next to him.

“What are you doing?”

She lifted her head to see him watching her with narrowed eyes. He was definitely annoyed, but he didn’t make a move to push her away.

“You’re right, it’s quiet over here.” She looked back at her friends, their dancing forms illuminated by the fire. The music was soft over the distance, and the light of the flames was not as harsh from where she stood. With a sigh, Twilight settled down and folded her legs beneath herself comfortably. “And after a day like today, I’m exhausted.”

“I came over here to be alone.” Sombra glared at her. “By myself.

A soft giggle grew louder over the distance, announcing the arrival of Flurry Heart as she flapped into view. With large, curious eyes, she gazed down at the two of them before wiggling her legs at Twilight in a hugging motion. Twilight patted the area between her hooves, and Flurry Heart dove into her embrace. She curled up and adjusted herself, snuggling against Twilight’s chest and closing her eyes with a contented sigh.

“Yes. I want to be alone. So everypony feel free to join me in solitude,” Sombra grumbled through grit teeth and narrowed his eyes at Flurry’s small form cuddled against Twilight. “That little maggot is really attached to you.”

“Stop calling her that!” Twilight whispered angrily, covering Flurry with a protective wing and briefly forgetting any plans to make friendly conversation. “Why do you have to insult everypony you talk to?”

“Because you are all my enemies,” Sombra snorted. “I'm not concerned with your feelings.” His eyes slid to Flurry’s sleeping form. “Or hers.”

“Can’t you at least consider what she did?” Twilight tried. “After all, she’s the one that saved us. Including you.”

“How?” Sombra muttered, sounding irritated. “Our own magic is limited, yet she was able to teleport a large group of ponies across an entire forest.”

Twilight looked down at her snoozing niece. Flurry, in the midst of their quiet disagreement, had already fallen asleep. “She does have alicorn magic, and the storybook has manipulated us before...”

“I don’t know what’s more aggravating.” Sombra wrinkled his snout. “That despite all my planning and preparation to instigate a war, I was rescued by a foal, or that this story is so poorly written it used a cheap tactic to advance the plot.”

The scowl in his expression surprised her. It wasn’t anything new from him, but his unusual tone made her curious. Her gaze lowered to the sleeping Flurry Heart before returning to him with a realization. “Are you… jealous?”

Sombra made a scoffing sound that was something between the cross of preparing a loogie and holding in a sneeze. “I’m annoyed. There is a difference. I am not jealous of a diaper-wearing worm.”

Twilight didn’t realize she was glaring at him until he snorted at her disapproval.

“I should just go back to the king’s guard,” Sombra grumbled. “At least they didn’t prattle on about respecting others.” His lips curled into something of a smile. “I called them mindless constructs to their faces, and they didn’t seem to mind... until I attacked their king.”

“That’s because they’re following the script.” Twilight frowned at him, recalling what he had said earlier, and remembering how her own friends had ignored certain aspects of conversation. “They can’t comprehend beyond what’s written in the text.” She thoughtfully tapped her chin with a wing feather. “‘All the world’s a stage,’ and we’re the only ones who can break the fourth wall.”


A shout over by the campfire caused Twilight and Sombra to look up in surprise. Pinkie Pie stared at them from across the clearing. She simply narrowed her eyes before making a motion with her leg, pointing at her own face, then jabbing her hoof towards them. With a twist of her body, she integrated herself back into the celebrations as if nothing had happened.

“You know Shakespur?” Sombra asked, ignoring the strange interruption.

You know Shakespur?” Twilight parroted back with astonishment.

“I met him,” Sombra said. “He was a playwright in my time.”

She waited for him to elaborate on that, but he didn’t continue. His eyes were half-lidded, and he was staring off into the distance as if she weren’t there.

There were too many questions, but she didn’t feel like pressing anymore. He wasn’t telling her to leave, and he wasn’t complaining. Maybe he was just too tired to bother, but it could have been some kind of progress. Twilight made a mental note in her head on an imaginary list: Break the ice, check!

Maybe Spike was right. Maybe Sombra could be something more than an enemy or a mutual ally. She just had to figure out a way to show him what friendship could be.

With the warmth of Flurry nestled against her in sleep, and weariness pulling at her eyelids, the two of them settled into a comfortable silence, nothing but the sound of cheerful music and laughter to lead them into the night.

In the early hours of darkness, Twilight had managed to get some rest, but she didn’t get much sleep. A thought had crossed her mind, floating at the edge of her consciousness even while she tried to dream. In the end, the epiphany won, and caused her to sneak out of the camp, long after the others had already settled down and the logs in the bonfire pit were nothing but glowing embers.

When her friends woke, they were surprised to find her surrounded by mountainous piles of books and scrolls.

“Wowie, wowie! Where did you get all of this, Twilight?” Pinkie bounced around the meticulously organized stacks.

“The library, a monastery, several stalls at the market… a few houses from town…” Twilight chewed on the end of her quill while she stared intently at a scroll floating before her.

“You mean to say you stole all these?” Applejack waved her hoof at the piles.

“Borrowed!” Twilight corrected her. “I just needed them for very important research! Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to write down all of the possible scenarios of every Robin Hood legend, story, and fairy tale.” Twilight flipped the scroll over to show her friends the timeline she had been working on all night. “And I’ve read most of them! So it wasn’t too difficult to gather.”

“Uuuh… what’s happening?” Spike wandered over to the group, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and giving a loud yawn. “Did you stay up all night reading again?”

“For a very important cause, Spike,” Twilight said. “I needed to cross-reference what’s happened in this version of the story with other collections to determine how this one will play out. I should be able to predict what happens… aaaaaannd—” She struck her pen against the parchment in a quick motion. “I know how this story ends!” She turned to her friends with a big grin, showing the large bags beneath her eyes from lack of sleep. They simply exchanged looks with each other and shrugged.

Twilight’s ears dropped at their lackluster reaction. “I thought you’d be more excited about dethroning Nightmare Moon.” Twilight’s voice sounded dejected, but all of their faces suddenly lit up.

“Dethrone Nightmare Moon? Why didn’t you say so in the first place!?” Rainbow Dash shouted with excitement.

“I did! Sort of… I think so?” Twilight looked at the papers scattered around her. “I had it written down.”

A loud, angry shout caused all of their heads to turn and watch as Flurry Heart flew across the clearing, letting out a fearful wail. With a choked sob, she slammed right into Twilight’s embrace, nearly knocking her over from the force of the impact.

Twilight looked up with a fierce expression to see Sombra stomping over with a sour look on his face. “What did you do?!” she demanded.

“I am not that worm’s pillow!” Sombra shouted back, before his expression shifted to confusion at the sight of the books stacked around him. “Did you steal an entire library?”

“Borrowed! For research!” Twilight yelled crossly.

“So, uh, what’s the big plan,Twilight?” Spike asked. “You said you know how the story ends?”

“Right!” Twilight juggled the scroll of parchment in her magic while holding Flurry Heart to her chest. “I’ve managed to figure out exactly what our next move should be. Nightmare Moon is only king because the real ruler is missing, so it’s up to us to find the rightful heir.”

Twilight unrolled a large sheet displaying a mess of diagrams that Spike simply tilted his head at. Sombra stared down at the graphs and looked mildly impressed, if his arched eyebrow was anything to go by. “Based on what I’ve found, we try to infiltrate the castle treasury to steal enough money to pay for Princess Celestia’s ransom, because we were told that she’s being held prisoner by griffons. But the ransom is just a lie!” Twilight smacked her hoof against her step-by-step plan laid out on the parchment. “Even so, we still need to get into the castle, because Nightmare Moon is actually the one holding the Princess!”

“Wait…” Spike asked groggily. “Did you say ‘Princess Celestia?'”

“It’s only a guess, but I think that’s how the story cast her.” Twilight nodded. “Even if I’m wrong, it should adjust, since we haven’t met that character yet.”

“So… what does that all mean?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“We’re going to storm the castle and rescue Princess Celestia!” Twilight declared, causing the rest of her friends to let out startled shouts.

“After that fuss at the tournament, the King is certain to be furious! I imagine she’s tripled security since then. How will we ever get past all the guards?” Rarity asked with concern.

“Sunburst has our solution,” Twilight said and turned to him. “You were Flurry’s caretaker in the castle; do you know any way we could get in?”

“Of course!” Sunburst answered. “How else could I deliver that message to you? As long as they haven’t found it, we can use it.”

“It would be simpler to storm the gates,” Sombra suggested. “Gather the villagers willing to follow you and overwhelm the guards.”

“This will be a covert operation,” Twilight said curtly before smiling at Flurry Heart as she chewed on one of her hooves. “Our main priority will be stealth. Pinkie Pie?”

“Yup?” Pinkie bounced over and squished her nose against Twilight’s.

Twilight pulled away with a soft giggle. “You have the most important job of all.” She lifted Flurry Heart in her hooves. “Can you stay behind and watch her? We need to make sure she keeps out of danger.”

“Okie dokie, Twilight!” Pinkie lifted Flurry into her embrace, and Flurry giggled happily. “I’ll be sure to take super good care of her!”

“This could still be incredibly reckless,” Rarity huffed.

“Ha! I’m in!” Rainbow Dash volunteered with a smirk.

“We’ve got your backs!” Applejack nodded and stepped up.

“Yaaay,” Fluttershy added, peeking out from behind Harry.

Even if they weren’t her actual friends, Twilight felt a warmth inside give her courage at their support. With a look back at Sombra, she smiled softly. “It’s not an army, but will you come with us?”

Sombra was quiet, before snorting through his nostrils. “I suppose I couldn’t stand back now. Besides.” He grinned with a glittering smirk. “I have a debt to pay with the usurping sister.”

Rainbow Dash leaned over to Twilight and whispered behind her hoof. “I think that’s a yes.”

Twilight nodded, and without further discussion, they gathered together to begin their preparation. Pinkie Pie bounced up and down, watching the group travel into the trees. “Bye, bye, girls!” She cheerfully waved while Flurry Heart sat on her head and mimicked her. “Have fun storming the castle!”

Once again, Twilight found herself quietly moving through the veil of night, but this time, she felt more confident in the company of her friends. Through the muffled silence of darkness, Sunburst led the way towards the walls of the castle, careful to avoid the path of the guards patrolling the outer fields.

Ducking beneath the cover of the bushes, Sunburst waved them all forward and they gathered at the base of the ramparts where the trees were thickest.

“I was careful to keep this spot hidden from them while I was here,” Sunburst whispered as he moved aside a section of the leaves. There was an old grate set into the base of the wall that looked impenetrable, but Sunburst demonstrated its weakness when he carefully lifted one of the bars and slid it out of the stone.

“Fluttershy,” Twilight addressed her quiet friend while Sunburst removed the rest of the gate. “You stay here and keep watch. Make sure the way is clear when we need to escape.” Fluttershy nodded while the rest of her friends slipped through the opening. Twilight was last to crawl inside, following Applejack as they all trailed behind Sunburst along a dark wall. He ushered them through a doorway, ensuring the coast was clear before shutting it behind them.

Even though they had made it inside, they weren’t in the clear yet. Without a sound, they moved into the hallways and kept to the shadows, away from the path of the diligent guard. With Sunburst’s knowledge, and all of them keeping their eyes peeled, they made it safely to the dungeons without incident.

When Twilight entered, she knew where they were before Sunburst announced anything. The cells were dark, but there was a rank and sour odor that hit her like a brick wall. Twilight wrinkled her nose and lit her horn with a dim glow. Weary and tired eyes reflected back at her in the soft light, and withered forms shied away from her to shield their faces.

“How absolutely dreadful!” Rarity’s hushed voice echoed her friends’ sentiments. They all wore equal looks of astonishment by the conditions of the ponies inside. They were frail and weak, covered in a layer of grime with matted manes and tails.

“How could she do this?” Twilight whispered.

“She just don’t care about ‘em,” Applejack said with a stern frown. “If a pony can’t pay taxes, they’re useless to her.”

“We need to open the cells.” Twilight turned to her friends. “Somepony distract the guards—”

A woosh of air flipped her mane into her face, and when Twilight shook it away, Rainbow Dash was already standing before her with a ring of keys twirling around her hoof. “Got ‘em!”

“Rainbow!” Twilight hissed, but the deed had already been done. They set to work opening the doors and helping the weakened prisoners out. As frail as they were, with the prospect of freedom, they appeared able and eager to escape their dark confinement.

While they worked their way through the row of cells, Twilight’s eyes shifted around the shadows of prisoners behind the bars, but none of them were the princess she was searching for. “I don’t understand...” She trotted closer to an older couple that Applejack was helping. “Excuse me, have either of you seen Princess Celestia?”

“Princess Celestia?” The old mare answered with a shake of her head. “I’m sorry dear, we haven’t.”

“We’ve been here for quite some time, too,” the old stallion added.

As Applejack helped the couple away, Twilight heaved an exasperated sigh. “She should have been here.”

A heavy presence from behind made her turn to see Sombra stepping closer. “Perhaps you jumped ahead of the story.”

“What do you mean?” Twilight blinked in surprise.

“You already know how everything is supposed to play out, so you came to the most logical place to find a prisoner. But you said it yourself, your Robin Hood discovered this princess by trying to steal from the treasury, right?” Sombra asked.

“So… by coming here first, I changed the story?”

“More like you skipped a step,” Sombra corrected her.

Twilight rubbed her forehead with a groan. “This doesn’t make any sense! How do the rules keep changing? It’s manipulated things before, why not now?”

“Because you’re in the right location, just not the right setting. And how do we know it isn’t manipulating you now? Or me?” Sombra glowered. “I am the very reason you realize you’re in the wrong spot.”

“Spike.” Twilight quickly caught his attention. “Stay here with the girls and help them get the prisoners out. I’m going to the treasury.”

“But, Twilight—”

“Don’t follow me,” she interrupted him and set off down the hallway before he could argue against her. She was swift, and she was silent, enough so that the guards didn’t even notice her searching through the castle. In no time at all, she stood before the doorway to the treasury, a heavy padlock the only thing standing between her and the inside.

There was obviously something wrong. No guards had been posted to protect it, and she couldn’t detect any hint of spells. Approaching with caution, Twilight lowered her horn to the lock and concentrated a great deal just to build up a small amount of magic. She would have preferred to use the lockpick, but along with her saddlebags, the valuable tool had been lost at the tournament when the soldiers caught her.

Her horn briefly fizzled to life and zapped the lock. With a heavy clank, the padlock fell open and hung uselessly on the latch.

Sweat beaded on her brow, and a small trail of arcane smoke rose from her horn. What little magic she had in reserve was now spent, until it replenished itself again with time. For the moment, she could only rely on the innate skills of Robin Hood.

She lifted the latch and gently pushed the door open, keeping her eyes peeled for any sort of defenses. It was too easy, and that unnerved her more than if she had actually encountered anything to impede her. Regardless of whether the story was making it so, or because something sinister awaited her, Twilight didn’t like the chilling sensation that ran along her nerves.

As expected of a treasury, when she stepped inside, there were mounds of coins piled up in loose hills. Generous amounts of treasure had been stuffed into bags, while stacks spilled across tables near weighing machines. Jewel encrusted crowns and weapons stuck out of chests with beads of pearl that sat atop silk throws and exotic rugs.

The room was large, softly lit by dying embers in the wall sconces, but it was obvious that there was nopony else with her. The treasury wasn’t made for keeping a prisoner, but that didn’t mean Princess Celestia wasn’t there. Though she couldn’t feel anything before, now she was aware of a faint hint of magic permeating the air. It wasn’t much, but just enough to possibly hide a captured princess from her view.

So she hadn’t been locked in the dungeons at all, but hidden away where nopony would expect to find her. The question was, what kind of enchantment affected her? Was she simply invisible? Or transformed into one of the thousands of gold coins littering the floor?

In the soft flickers of light, everything sparkled and gleamed back at her. Twilight searched around for tell-tale signs of something off… anything different. As her keen eyes swept over the glittering treasure, she spotted a piece of jewelry that didn’t offer a display of radiance like the other valuables.

Twilight moved closer to the unassuming necklace. A pendant, about the size of her hoof, lay atop a small pile of scattered coins. Unlike the expensive looking and polished riches in the rest of the room, this bronze amulet in the shape of a sun was dull and dented.

She reached for it, when a sharp hiss from the floor startled her. Twilight jumped back as a slim form slithered from behind the mound of coins, blocking her way and flicking its tongue at her. With the snake’s mouth parted in warning, she could see the needle-thin fangs drip with venom.

Twilight couldn’t recall any trials that Robin Hood might have faced, but if the story book was changing certain aspects, this wouldn’t seem so far-fetched. Though her instincts screamed at her to run from the predator, she took a hesitant step forward, and the snake let out an agitated hiss.

Twilight gulped. It could have been an illusion. A trap created to deter would-be thieves. But the snake swayed slightly in a threatening manner, and the way its pupils narrowed into thin slits as its attention focused entirely on her made it feel all the more terrifying.

She reached out again, a bead of sweat rolling down her forehead. The snake tensed, and so did she. It struck out and bit into her hoof... but Twilight felt nothing. It quietly vanished in a burst of glittering dust that floated harmlessly to the floor.

Twilight let out the breath she had been holding. In a rush to leave, she grabbed the tarnished necklace and threw it over her neck to decipher later, tucking it into her cloak. All at once, the fires in the unlit braziers burst to life along the walls. Before she could react, there was an explosion of light from behind, followed quickly by a familiar crack of magic.

“YOU!!!” Twilight didn't even have a chance to turn when a beam of blue light shot past, singeing her feathers. With a yelp, she ducked behind a large chest.

“I knew you would somehow worm your way in here.” Nightmare Moon fluttered above the piles of wealth. “My treasury will be your tomb! I will put you on display with the rest of my trophies!”

Another arcane shot sliced through the air, and Twilight grabbed a large shield from the floor. The magic pinged off the golden surface and bounced right back at Nightmare Moon, rebounding off of her armor and knocking her into a brazier along the wall. Her shrieks echoed around the room as the hot coals landed against her fur.

“Curse you!” Nightmare Moon screamed, flinging the ashes away and kicking at the metal bowl. Twilight’s eyes followed it with fear, watching as it spilled its contents and the still-burning coals across the rugs.

“Wait—!” Twilight grabbed one of the heavy tapestries to try and smother the resulting flames, but before she could get close, she took a headbutt in her side that sent her flying into a pile of treasure. She only managed to catch a glimpse of a dark form charging before Nightmare Moon slammed her down, pressing her hooves heavily against her neck to choke her.

“Now, this ends…” Nightmare Moon hissed and readied her horn with a crackling display of magic.

Flecks of burning ash exploded into the air when a banner on the wall fell heavily against the floor in flames. Fire crackled hungrily as it quickly spread to anything that would burn.

“W-what is—” Nightmare Moon looked up, realizing what had happened. The fire had already traveled up the walls, spreading along the decorative silks and into the wooden support beams above. “My treasure! My castle! Noooo!”

Twilight thought that she might have been able to escape while Nightmare Moon was distracted, but her fury quickly shifted back to her before she could squirm free. Nightmare Moon lunged, clamping her jaws down painfully around Twilight’s neck and yanking her into the air.

Twilight kicked out with her legs and flapped her wings frantically, but Nightmare Moon did not lose her grip. The air around them sparked with blue magic and in a bright flash, she suddenly found herself looking down into the courtyard from an extreme height. Below them, guards were shouting while an alarm rang out. Trails of thick smoke could be seen pouring from places where the fire had already spread to.

She felt Nightmare Moon’s long legs wrap around her middle and squeeze her tightly, the bite of fangs releasing from her neck when she cooed softly into her ear. “If I cannot see you a proper execution, then I’ll settle for crushing you beneath the stones.”

Twilight screamed when Nightmare Moon flung her into the air. She flapped her wings in a frantic effort to right herself, but a searing pain burst against her side and tossed her through the glass window of a nearby tower.

Wicked shards shattered and fell with her as she bounced heavily against the floor, only coming to a stop when she slid into the side of a bed. Fragments of glass littered the stone around her, and she groaned while trying to carefully stand. Nightmare Moon’s maniacal laughter echoed beyond the broken window.

She grinned through the opening, hovering at a safe distance as plumes of smoke from below obscured her. “Though I may lose my castle, it is an unfortunate sacrifice if it will rid me of you!” She laughed gleefully again, her horn glowing with another flash before the wall exploded and began to collapse. Twilight scrambled out of the way of the crumbling bricks, coughing at the dust that showered her.

The stones beneath her hooves rumbled, but not because of the damage from the fire. She could hear muffled blasts of magic from outside. Nightmare Moon further ensuring that she would not escape. The walls began to groan, and rubble rained down around her as something on the previous floor crashed down.

Without much choice, Twilight sprinted to the stairwell, pulling her cloak around her to shield herself from the heat of the flames and slipping over steps flecked with ash. She barreled through to a hallway below, flaring her wings to clear some of the smog, and plowed into a raging turmoil. Her vision clouded from the smoke, and as she frantically ran, Twilight felt her leg catch against a fallen beam. She tumbled to the floor with a cry of pain.

The entire ceiling behind her groaned and fell with a deafening crash. Bits of debris and rubble rained down around her, hissing as they burned in the inferno. Darkness consumed her vision when a wall of black smoke rolled over her.

Despite the pain in her leg, she began to crawl, helped by the fact that she had fallen to the floor where the fumes were less thick. Not that it was any easier to see through the mess surrounding her.

Against the soot and blinding embers, Twilight saw a spark of green and wondered at it for only a second before she realized what it meant. She took a smoke-filled breath to scream above the chaos. “SPIKE!” Her groggy voice managed to reach his ears and she saw a growing shadow gallop towards her through the haze.

Heavy hooves stomped over the floor, and she had to look up to see Spike sitting on Sombra’s shoulders. His scales were dull and covered with soot, but he was otherwise fine and unaffected by the heat. It was hard to tell Sombra’s condition with his dark fur, but his mane did appear to look frizzled from the hot ash.

“Twilight!” Spike jumped down and hugged her briefly before lifting her head and pulling her leg over his shoulder.

“S-Spike…” She coughed weakly. “I told you not to follow me.”

“You said that nothing bad happens to Robin Hood.” Spike grinned and squeezed her hoof. “I knew you had to be okay. I couldn’t leave you.”

Ignoring their happy reunion, Sombra leaned over and demanded in a strained voice, “Where is the princess?”

“H-here.” Twilight’s voice sounded raspy, showing them the amulet around her neck. “B-but I don’t know how—”

Without warning, Sombra caught the pendant in his jaws and broke the chain with a hard tug. He then swung his head, and flung the trinket into the roaring flames.

Twilight let loose a wail in her dismay, before rounding her narrowed gaze at him in anger. Despite the exhaustion and pain in her body, Twilight rasped at him with a fierce growl, “Why did you do that!?”

Sombra glared back at her without explanation, as a sudden explosion from the flames whipped up the burning air around them.

“Dragon!” Sombra shouted above the firestorm. “Lead us out!”

Spike nodded hesitantly but didn’t delay in helping Twilight with him over the floor. Using his own fiery breath, he kept them safe from the rubble and burning debris as it disappeared in his emerald blaze. The hot winds whipped around them, drawing the fire dangerously close. The unnatural swirl of the smoke behaved strangely, and the haze in the air appeared to be clearing as they moved toward a hole in the collapsed wall.

“Just a little further, Twilight. Through the moat. Hold on to me,” Spike encouraged her as they slipped into the chilly water—a shocking contrast to the heat they had just escaped, but it felt soothing against her fur. Spike was diligent in helping her keep afloat, and they eventually waded their way to the other shore.

Twilight flopped against the grass with a heavy groan, laying still and keeping her eyes closed in defeat.

“Twilight!” Her ears twitched, and she cracked her eyes open, affording a weak smile when she spotted her friends galloping down the road. Even though her body screamed in pain, she stumbled to her hooves and fell into a warm embrace, surrounded by her friends.

“How many times must I kill you!?” A furious voice shrieked from above as Nightmare Moon swooped low and glared down at her with an angry sneer. “I have lost my castle thanks to you! The least you can do is die when I command it!” Her horn charged up, preparing to strike them all down.

A roar of air knocked Nightmare Moon from the sky. She slammed into the dirt, wings flailing, and sputtering indignantly while trying to shout for her guards.

All attention turned to the castle as the flames lifted away from the burning towers. The fire slowly faded and dissipated, leaving nothing more than smoking pillars and singed stones.

“The fire’s goin’ out!” Applejack shouted, pointing up to a shining light rising above the smoke.

Nightmare Moon pulled her head from the dirt and spat, “You will pay for your crimes! I will have you all hanged! Beheaded! Roasted on a spit!” Her desperate shrieks were ignored as the magical glow moved towards them, fading when it floated closer to the ground. “Roasted, I said! Are you ignoring me!? I am your ruler!!!”

“Not anymore.”

Nightmare Moon froze at the stern voice, a look of fear dawning on her face as she spun around. A shadow fell over them all as Celestia’s form shaded them from the rising sun, flapping her impressive wings to land gracefully before them.

“S-s-s-s-sister!” Nightmare Moon stammered. “You’re back!”

The expression that Celestia bore was enough to quiet anything else Nightmare Moon tried to say. “No thanks to you.” Celestia’s hooves were light as she stepped closer, and Nightmare Moon appeared to shrink as the distance between them closed. “You were the one who imprisoned me.”

“I-I...I am royalty, same as you!” Nightmare Moon’s fierce tone quieted, while Celestia’s frown only deepened with each word. “Why should you be the only one to rule!?”

“The throne belongs to the eldest, and rightful heir.” Sombra’s deep voice surprised Twilight, and she turned to see him glowering darkly.

“Nightmare Moon, though you are my sister, I hereby strip you of your power.” Princess Celestia spread her wings in a show of grace, looking to the gathering of guards and ponies drawn over by the commotion. “You will work to return the stolen wealth of the citizens. Maybe one day, when you command their respect instead of their obedience, you may rule by my side.”

Dwarfed by the proud alicorn standing before her, as guards from the castle gathered at her side, Nightmare Moon only grimaced and nodded silently in acceptance.

Twilight hung her head in relief and leaned against her friends. Everything appeared to be concluding with a happy ending.

“I have seen enough curses to know how to break them.”

Twilight looked up to see Sombra standing close by. His eyes were closed, even though he spoke to her. “It was foal’s-play to guess that a sun amulet should be thrown into fire to lift its magic.”

“Twilight Sparkle.” Celestia’s voice caused Twilight to jump, wincing a bit at the pain of her injury. Celestia moved with that renowned grace, and Twilight couldn’t help but feel a pang of yearning to be with her actual mentor. While the creation of the storybook was impressive, it was no replacement for the real one.

“Yes, Princess?” Twilight stumbled when she left the support of her friends, bowing awkwardly with her injured leg.

“Please, bring no more harm to yourself simply to honor me.” Celestia smiled gently and lifted her chin up by brushing it with a soft feather. “I wanted to thank you for everything that you have done in my absence.” She then stood tall, and looked out at the crowd of ponies that had gathered around them. “Hear this! Twilight Sparkle, known as the outlaw Robin Hood, has been exonerated of all crimes! She and her friends are hereby pardoned!”

The gathering of ponies answered back with a roaring cheer, one that did little to drown out an excited voice that called over the distance.

“Twiliiiiight!” Pinkie shouted while a giggling Flurry Heart lifted off of her head and flew over to land against Twilight’s neck. Even though she was battered and bruised, Twilight caught her niece and nuzzled her, happy that she was safe.

“Thank you for looking out for my niece while I was gone.” Celestia smiled.

“It’s was nothing, Princess,” Twilight answered, giving Flurry a gentle squeeze. “She’s my family too!”

“Indeed.” Celestia winked while Flurry Heart gave Twilight a peck on the nose. The laughter and celebrating began to fade into the background, and the world around them slowly dimmed to shift into the setting of another fairytale.