• Published 27th Aug 2012
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Live by the Creed - FoughtDragon01



Rainbow Dash discovers a dark secret in her family's past that could change her life forever.

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1: The Candles

Sometimes Spike wondered if Twilight enjoyed causing him stress of any kind, as silly as it sounded. On one end, she was the greatest friend he could have ever asked for, almost like a big sister. On the other end, Twilight would rarely ever hesitate to use him as a guinea pig for one of her many experiments.

Yes, he was resistant to magic. Yes, he always willingly complied. Yes, the experiments were rarely ever more life-threatening than a hair growth spell. However, that didn’t mean he always left without a few scorch marks, something he probably wouldn’t have minded so much if he didn’t have to clean up the mess afterwards. As though that wasn't enough, when it came to manual labor, Spike got the bad end of the stick too, always ending up with the heaviest lifting.

This was proven no better than on that one dreaded day: shelving day, the day when Twilight received a new bookshelf for the library. That meant that they’d not only have to assemble the bookshelf, but also fill it up with whatever books were still stored down in Twilight’s basement. Now, Spike wasn’t fearful of having to assemble the shelf himself. Twilight had that covered. No, it was what he’d have to do while she was busy with that.

While Twilight had the unfair advantage of magic to effortlessly put together the shelf, Spike only had his tiny frame and buckets of elbow grease to help him slowly, reluctantly, and laboriously carry book after heavy, spine-breaking book up from the basement.

Spike was no stranger to this kind of work, either. He had to do the same thing when Twilight first moved to Ponyville, and a few more times after that as Twilight added more and more bookshelves to the library. But there was a very crucial difference between then and now: all of the books back then were far lighter. Spike could complain all he wanted, but he couldn’t argue the fact that he never risked breaking his back carrying up a copy of Filly Sing-A-Longs. As for Everything There is to Know About Everything Vol. XXVII, that was an entirely different story.

With a final grunt of exertion, Spike dropped his literary burden at Twilight’s hooves, the resulting tremor sending the pair off of the ground for a brief second. Twilight just seemed to brush that off as she finished putting the final touches on the bookshelf, its various parts floating and arranging themselves in her magic. Once she finished, she finally looked down at Spike as the young dragon still tried to catch the rest of his breath.

“Thank you, Spike,” she said, a grateful smile on her face. “How many do we have left?”

Spike scratched the top of his head as he stretched his still-aching back. “Uh, I don’t know. Around fifty, I think?”

“All of them heavy?”

The young dragon sheepishly looked down at the floor. “Yeah.”

Twilight just rolled her eyes, unable to contain a small chuckle. Just what she expected from him. “Now do you see why I told you to balance out the light and heavy books?” she asked, her motherly side rearing its head.

Spike still didn’t look up. “Yeah.”

Twilight let out a small sigh. It didn’t take a genius to know that he’d be totally lost without her. She placed a hoof on his chin, lifting his head up until he was facing her again. “Tell you what,” she said. “I’ll help you with the rest. And since this will be the last of the books in the basement, we’ll stop by Rarity’s and get you some celebratory gems. How does that sound?”

Spike couldn’t have gone from worried to ecstatic any faster if he tried. With that promise, any thoughts of Twilight being some sadistic slave owner in her spare time flew right out of the window. “Really? You mean it?” he breathlessly asked.

Twilight nodded. “Yep. But only if you keep up the good work.”

That was all Spike needed to hear. With extra pep in his step, he skipped back towards the basement stairs. “Oh, boy,” he said to himself. “I get Twilight’s help with the books, then we go get gems, and best of all, I get to see Rarity! Oh, what kind of gems am I gonna get? Topaz? Ruby? I wonder if she’d give me a diamond or two.” Spike was on cloud nine. Absolutely nothing could put a damper on his day. Unfortunately, in his stupor, Spike forgot about one very important thing.

“Spike! Watch out for the—”

But it was too little too late. The last Twilight saw of Spike was him disappearing, head-first, down the flight of hard, unforgiving, wooden stairs. Almost as soon as he left her sight, Twilight heard the unmistakable sound of a bad tumble down the steps, wincing at the particularly loud impacts. It all came to a literal crashing halt when Twilight heard what must’ve been an entire shelf’s worth of supplies clatter onto the floor.

Then all was silent.

Twilight wasted no more time and darted down into the basement, not even acknowledging the small chinks in the wooden staircase. Once she was at the bottom, it took her little time to spot the result of her assistant’s little tumble. A pile of books, papers, pens, and other materials was lying right in front of her. It wasn’t exactly a stretch of the imagination for her to guess where Spike was.

“Spike, are you alright?” she asked, stepping closer to the pile.

Her question was swiftly answered when Spike poked his head out from the pile. He looked a bit out of breath, but otherwise, seemed unharmed. When he spotted the unicorn, his cheeks went a faint red. “Uh, you didn’t see that, right?”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Nope. Of course I didn’t,” she said, the sarcasm dripping off of her tongue. “You’re okay, right?”

Spike forced his arms out from the pile, giving them a nice stretch before smugly crossing them across his chest. “Yep. It’s gonna take more than that to bring this dragon down.” As if to test him on that sentiment, a small box fell seemingly out of nowhere and clocked him right on the head. “Ow! What the heck? Where did that come from?”

Twilight raised an eyebrow at the box’s sudden appearance. She certainly didn’t remember bringing such a thing with her. “That’s odd,” she muttered. Looking up at the wall, it didn’t take long before she found where the errant object came from. Amongst the numerous bricks making up the wall, there was a single empty hole. An alcove of some kind. Spike must've dislodged it due to his little tumble.

As Spike was busy rubbing his head, he took note of the object. It didn’t seem that fancy; just a wooden box that looked like it’d seen better days. The surface was chinked and worn. Age left what must’ve been a shining mahogany blackened and shriveled. However, despite its damaged appearance, there was one thing about it that managed to catch Spike’s attention.

On the box’s lid, faded with age, was something unlike anything Spike had seen before. A symbol of some kind. It was difficult for him to describe, but it seemed like some kind of stylized, upside-down ‘V’, but more than anything, it reminded him of the pincers on those beetles he hated so much.

He held the box up to Twilight, hoping she’d know more about it than he did. “Hey, do you know what this is?” he asked, showing her the logo.

Twilight took the box up in her magic, studying the symbol with her textbook scrutinizing gaze. “Hmm. What a strange insignia,” she said.

“What’s it supposed to be?”

Twilight shook her head. “I have no idea. I’ve never seen it before. I don’t know how this box ended up down here, either. It must’ve been left by a previous owner of the library, but just how long had it been there?”

Spike pulled the rest of himself out of the pile. “Maybe there’s something inside that’ll tell us who it belonged to.”

Twilight rubbed a hoof on her chin. “Maybe.” Following Spike’s advice, she lifted the lid off of the box, but instead of finding answers, she only found more questions. “Interesting,” she muttered.

Spike moved all around Twilight, trying to get a good look into the box, but she held it just out of his sight. “What? What’s inside?”

“Well, that’s the interesting part. Look.” Twilight held the box in front of Spike, allowing him to look inside. What he saw left him just as confused as Twilight.

The box only contained five off-white candles and an old, dusty, white journal. “Candles?” Spike asked, his face scrunching up in confusion. “Well, that’s, uh…”

“Interesting?” Twilight finished.

The young dragon shrugged. “I was gonna say ‘weird’, but I guess that works, too.” Spike picked up the journal. “Well, at least we’ve got this. It’ll probably tell us who owned the box.” Not one to respect personal privacy, Spike opened the journal and flipped through its pages. Just as quickly as he began, though, he shut it, an annoyed look on his face. “Yeah, I can’t read it,” he finally said, handing the book back over to Twilight.

“Let me see it.” Twilight took the book up in her magic and flipped through it as well. However, just like Spike, the moment she began reading, her mouth curled into a frown. “Oh. Oh, my. This is… this is…”

“Interesting?” Spike finished with a roll of his eyes.

Twilight shot him a quick glare before quickly nodding her head. She thought that the words would just be chicken-scratch, but it was actually in a different language entirely. Thankfully, all wasn’t lost just yet. “Hang on,” Twilight said, leaning in closer, eyes squinted. “I recognize this. It’s a very old version of the Equestrian we speak today. I think I have a book that can translate this. Shouldn’t be too hard.”

“And the candles?” Spike asked, picking one of them up.

“They were probably just so that the journal’s owner could see while they were writing. I suppose I could just put them with the rest. They still seem usable. Now, where did I put those translation books?” Twilight started off towards a nearby pile of books, but stopped when she heard a quick cough. She turned back towards Spike, who was tapping a foot on the ground.

“Something wrong?” Twilight asked.

Spike didn’t even need to say anything; his stomach was more than happy to answer. One loud growl was all it took for the mare to catch on.

“Oh, right. Your gems.” Twilight looked back and forth between her assistant and the strange journal. “Tell you what. You go over to Rarity’s and get your gems. Just tell her that I sent you. I’ll stay here and work on this journal.”

Spike raised a suspicious eyebrow as he looked past Twilight at the pile of books still awaiting shelving. “And what about the rest of the books?” he asked.

“Oh, those? I’ll take care of them for you. I think you’ve earned a break.”

Spike’s eyebrow didn’t lower just yet. “You promise?”

Twilight nodded. “I promise. Now go on. You’re not going to get your gems standing here.”

A smile cracked onto Spike’s face. “Okay, I’ll see you later, Twi.” With that, he ran up the stairs and towards the love of his life. And the diamonds, too.

As for Twilight, she took a few translators out of the book pile and took those, the journal, and the candles up to her study. Translating would only take her a few moments. Honestly, how long could it possibly take?

----

Six hours and far too much coffee later, Twilight, with a frazzled mane and bloodshot eyes, was still at her desk, hunched over that journal. Thanks to her translator, she managed to get through over half of the journal, with the translations written in a separate journal of hers.

It was clear from what Twilight could read that the journal belonged to a scientist, or at least some type of experimenter. It contained notes on experimental trials and such, listing successes, failures, and future ideas. There were also numerous lists of items that Twilight’s only ever heard of maybe once or twice. Mind root, dragon flowers, pixie dust, and numerous others. They sounded like things that Zecora might have had, otherwise Twilight had no idea where to even find those things.

Of course, translating all of that didn’t come without its hassles. Despite its relatively small size, translation was far more frustrating than it had any right to be. The overwhelming use of shorthand caught Twilight off guard on several occasions, resorting to her having to use context clues in order to figure out what some of the more obscure abbreviations and acronyms meant.

As for the experiments themselves, Twilight firmly believed that she had enough to at least take an educated guess as to what they were. Despite there being no diagrams, the experiments’ descriptions were more than enough to paint a picture. It seemed like this experimenter, whoever it was, was very interested in accessing certain memories inaccessible by normal means.

According to the notes, there were certain memories encoded into any living thing’s DNA. Memories from that subject’s ancestors. These memories could hide any number of things, from nothing at all, to secrets that even the princesses themselves tried to keep buried. Of course, the issue came in trying to access them. That was what the experiments were for.

Twilight didn’t get far enough to read the individual experiments, but there was a paragraph or two describing the theory that the experimenter made. By using a very precise combination of various, exotic ingredients, most that affected the mind, it would be possible for a subject to tap into their ancestor’s DNA, allowing them to ‘relive’ the memories encoded inside of them, so to speak.

Twilight didn’t even notice herself leaning closer to the notes as each word entrapped her attention further. In all of her studies, such a form of magic was never even mentioned, let alone attempted. Yes, she knew of many memory-retrieval spells, but none of them were anywhere near the scale described in that journal. While the idea itself was enough to keep her intrigued, though, what truly made her breath stop were what those ingredients were mixed into.

“Candles.”

For the first time in six hours, Twilight looked up from her desk and over to a nearby cupboard. With her magic, she swung it open, revealing the five candles she found in the basement. She took out one and brought it over to her desk. She turned it over and over and over again, observing every square inch, from its waxy base to the very tip of the wick. She was no longer looking at a mere candle. It was far more than a tool simply used to illuminate dark rooms. No, what Twilight was holding in front of her was something both revolutionary and dangerous.

Is it possible? she thought. Could I really relive my ancestors’ memories with this? The temptation to test it was there, and the temptation was strong. Twilight placed the candle in a candleholder on her desk. She stared at that candle with hungry, ravenous eyes. She tried to turn her attention back to the journal, but her eyes were glued to the tool before her.

Slowly, almost against her will, Twilight’s horn went alight with a faint glow. She could feel the warmth of her spell up against her forehead, sending trickles of sweat streaking down her face. A mere few seconds passed before the wick began to smoke and sizzle. Slowly, but surely, the twine glowed a very faint red as it grew hotter and hotter. Just a short while longer and Twilight would see if this experiment was a success or a failure.

Just then, a thunderous knock erupted at Twilight’s door. Her attention was immediately torn away from the candle, her spell dissipating just as suddenly, as somepony continued to bang away at the door with what must’ve been a small battering ram.

“Er, yes! Come in!” Twilight shouted, fixing her mane. The knocking finally stopped, but the silence was short-lived as whoever was knocking promptly bucked the door in. Before Twilight could protest, in flew a familiar blue blur that stopped right at Twilight’s desk.

“Twi! I gotta ask ya something!” Rainbow Dash frantically cried.

Despite the apparent urgency in Rainbow’s tone, Twilight only rolled her eyes, all too familiar with the pegasus’ lack of proper priority. “What is it this time, Rainbow?”

At that, Rainbow’s crazed, wide-eyed expression switched to a calm, stoic one. “Can I borrow a few candles?”

Silence promptly followed.

After a few awkward seconds, Twilight heaved an annoyed sigh. “They’re in the cupboard over there,” she said, pointing over to the one next to the front door.

A wide, dumb grin cracked onto Rainbow’s face. “Phew! You’re a life-saver, Twi.” Rainbow flew right over to the cupboard in question.

Twilight only shook her head before focusing back on the journal. “Just be sure not to take any from the top one.”

Rainbow nodded as if she was listening, but already had a candle in hoof. “Yeah, yeah. Top one. I hear ya. Thanks, Twi! See ya!” And just as quickly as she appeared, Rainbow darted out of the library, leaving Twilight in blissful silence once again. Granted, it wasn’t all bad, she supposed. That interruption was just the thing she needed in order to break her attention away from that candle. The last thing Twilight needed was some kind of tragic accident due to her foalish curiosity.

She took the candle up in her magic and trotted over to the cupboard containing the rest. There, she gently placed it in with the three others. Twilight closed the cupboard and started back towards her desk.

Then she stopped dead in her tracks as an indescribable sense of fear pierced her chest like an arrow.

Wait. Three?

Twilight darted back to the cupboard and nearly ripped the door open. “One. Two. Three. Four… Five?” Now, Twilight liked to believe that she was at least competent when it came to math. At first, the cupboard contained no candles. Then she added five. Shortly thereafter, she took away one. That being the case, unless her mathematical skills were failing her in an incredibly catastrophic way, she felt fairly confident with her conclusion.

Five minus one does not equal three!

Twilight looked all around the inside, but she couldn’t find the errant candlestick. “But that doesn’t make any sense. Where could it have—” Realization hit the mare like sack of bricks. “Oh no.”

In a brief, intense flash of light, Twilight disappeared from the library.

----

Most ponies liked to see Rainbow as an ‘in the moment’ kind of pony. They saw her as lazy, disorganized, impulsive, and a few other, not-so-classy words, some of which weren’t too far off. However, she did have a schedule for her days, it just wasn’t very substantial. It consisted of sleeping, working, and training, and not necessarily in that order. But if there was one thing that remained consistent from day one—or at least the day when she got into reading—it was the end of her day.

There were no nightly rituals, no side activities, nothing like that. After working, spending time with her friends, and training—again, not necessarily in that order—she just flew into her house and plopped down on her bed. Only on very special occasions would she even make an effort to try and stay awake.

Tonight just happened to be such a night.

Rainbow bucked open her front door before stomping inside, her mane hanging over her face in a dripping wet mess. As soon as she was in the safety of her thankfully dry house, she shook her entire body, sending a plethora of water droplets flying every which way, only to be immediately absorbed by the clouds.

Despite being drier, Rainbow still mumbled obscenities to herself. Whoever had the bright idea to have the storm going full force before Rainbow’s shift was over deserved to have a hoof shoved right up where the sun didn’t shine. It was probably Cloud Kicker. That walking buzzkill was riding Rainbow ever since Rainbow took up weather duty. Seriously, that mare probably wouldn’t have known fun if it hit her in the back of the head like a paintball full of laughing gas, which in retrospect, didn’t sound like a bad idea for a prank.

Rainbow made a mental note to run that idea by Pinkie when she got the chance, but that didn’t stop her from voicing her very clear disdain for her colleague. “It probably was her,” she muttered, dumping more water out of her ears as she approached her closet. “Snooty, stuck-up, pile of horseapples.”

As she reached out to open the door, a particularly loud crack of thunder made her flinch ever so slightly. In fact, just listening then, the pouring rain sounded like somepony was pouring buckets of rocks onto her house. Rainbow rolled her eyes. She was all for a good storm every now and again to water the land, but they were really aiming for overkill that night. Still, as long as nopony got hurt, it was no skin off her back. Besides, what she had planned for tonight was bound to get rid of any stress she felt.

With a push, she opened her closet. Just like she predicted, all of her day’s troubles just seemed to lift off of her shoulders as she inspected the contents inside. One item in particular really made her smile widen. A small, rectangular box that held everything she needed to make tonight like no other.

She picked the box up, gingerly placing it on her back before going back to her bed. She placed the box on the bed before hopping into the comfortable, warm covers herself. Snug and content, she lifted the lid off of the box. She would never, ever, ever admit it to anypony, but the smallest of squeals left Rainbow’s muzzle as she looked at the contents inside. Even if a pony did hear her, she honestly wouldn’t have cared. It was her night, and she was going to enjoy every second of it.

First, she reached inside and took out a beige safari hat with a green band wrapped around the crown. Just placing it on her head filled the pegasus with a foal-like glee. Next came the candle she borrowed from Twilight. She took it out and placed it in the candleholder on her nightstand.

With preparations nearly complete, Rainbow turned her attention towards the moment she was waiting for. With shaky, hesitant hooves, Rainbow removed the last item from the box: the latest issue of Daring Do, Daring Do and the Apple of Equestria.

It took almost all of Rainbow’s will to keep herself from bouncing around the room like an excited filly, and she didn’t even open the book yet. With her hat on her head and her book in her hooves, all that she needed was a light source. She turned her attention back towards the candle. Unfortunately, one, small problem presented itself to her. She didn’t have anything to light it with.

Rainbow’s hoof collided with her face as she let out an annoyed sigh. “Ugh. Stupid candles.” With the night brought to a short halt, Rainbow stomped off to find her matches.

----

Even though Twilight reached Rainbow’s place in just a few short seconds, it felt like an eternity knowing the potential danger the pegasus could be in. She should’ve been more careful. She knew how hard-headed Rainbow could be; she should’ve made more of an effort to make sure something like this didn’t happen. But it was too late. It was happening, and if Twilight didn’t get to Rainbow in time, anything that happened to her would be on her hooves.

As soon as Twilight rematerialized underneath Rainbow’s home, she was immediately soaked by the pouring rain. It wasn’t like she cared, or even registered that fact; she was far too worried for Rainbow’s safety to worry about a bit of water.

With the rain pounding every inch of her body, and the wind howling in her ears, Twilight looked up at Rainbow’s home, which was nearly invisible against the dark clouds above. With the desperation building up like a balloon ready to burst, Twilight took a deep breath and screamed at the top of her lungs, “Rainbow! Rainbow Dash!”

Even though her voice was nearly drowned out by the relenting storm, Twilight could only hope and pray that Rainbow heard her.

----

Rainbow came out of her closet, a book of matches in hoof. It was a minor setback to her otherwise perfect night, but it was nothing that she couldn’t fix herself. Returning to her place in bed, Rainbow took one of the matches in her teeth, and with a quick flick, lit it. She brought the orange flame closer to the candle’s wick until it was well within range.

Then Rainbow lit the candle.

Rainbow instinctively backed away as the candle wick burst into an emerald green flame. “Whoa,” Rainbow said as she stared at the flickering, green flame before her. “Even Twilight’s candles are weird.”

For a moment, Rainbow actually thought the candle looked pretty cool. The calming, green light it gave off definitely helped with setting the mood for her nighttime reading. But just as she started to make herself comfortable, something else happened. The candle’s flame, left absolutely untouched, cracked, sparked, and sizzled. The flame became larger, threatening to engulf the entire candlestick, as it grew more unstable with each passing second.

Rainbow, mere feet away from the spectacle, slowly slid away to the other side of her bed, eyes glued on the strange candle. “That… can’t be good,” she said, hovering over her bed. No sooner did she say that did the flame shoot up from its candlestick, the tip flying, gliding, and slithering through the air like some kind of snake.

At that point, Rainbow simply didn’t know what to do. Staring at the strange wisp of fire put in her in an almost hypnotic state. The way it flickered and slithered through the air was strangely calming in a way. Almost alluring. The movements weren’t sudden, jerky, or violent; they were graceful, as if the flame knew exactly what it was doing.

If it were any other scenario, if it were any other night, Rainbow would’ve been well out of the door five minutes ago, but something kept her frozen in place. The flame could do Celestia-knows-what to her, but she just couldn’t tear her eyes away.

“Rainbow! Rainbow Dash!”

The voice was faint, barely audible through the pouring rain, but Rainbow heard it. “Twilight?” Rainbow turned towards a nearby window. She only looked away for a second, but a second was all it took.

In that same second, the flame shot forward at a terrifying speed; faster than anything Rainbow ever saw before. She only had enough time to snap her head back towards the flame before it collided with her forehead. She didn’t even feel the impact, but if she didn’t feel paralyzed before, she certainly felt it now.

Her wings locked up and she fell on the bed, her entire body stiff as a board. Before long, though, her body grew loose and limp, but Rainbow still couldn’t move a single inch. Whatever the fire was doing, it had full control of her, and she slowly, but surely felt the effects.

Her face lost any and all emotion, losing its initial panic and replaced with a stoic expression. Her mind, like a tub with its plug pulled, drained itself of all thoughts. For that short moment, she couldn’t even think of her own name, let alone anything else. She was a statue, still and unmoving.

What felt like mere seconds went by before Rainbow felt something else. Thoughts, memories, and emotions poured back into her mind. They were barely noticeable at first, but they became more and more vivid as the seconds ticked by.

Unrecognizable imagery flashed through her mind. Visions of cities and castles fresh out of the history books. Ponies clad in armor. Ponies clad in stark white robes. Ponies fighting each other. Ponies killing each other. All of these things and more flashed before Rainbow's eyes within a matter of seconds. They weren't from her own mind, obviously, but it still felt like it. She was unable to think of anything else, not the Wonderbolts, not her friends, nothing, as if she completely lost control of herself.

Her vision grew blurred, but didn't blacken out. It seemed as though the world itself warped around her, growing distorted, becoming nothing more than an indiscernible blur of colors. The memories flashing through her mind slowly grew clearer, more vivid. Though she couldn't focus on it herself, she could've sworn that she felt cold air brushing over her body. She could smell... something. Rain, if Rainbow had to guess. It seemed obvious, since it was raining outside, but it felt different, somehow. Emotions, none of them hers, made themselves apparent. They felt cold. They felt unforgiving. They felt... lonely.

As Rainbow lay there, the reality slowly sunk in. Whatever was happening was changing her down to the mental level. She was no longer herself. She was somepony else.

----

Steel gray clouds loomed overhead, the familiar scent of rain filling the air. The faint rumbling of thunder boomed in the distance. The sky threatened to unleash a torrent of rain at any given moment, but that didn’t stop the townsfolk from going about their daily lives.

Dozens upon dozens of ponies packed the city streets, each one with a different agenda to attend to. The air was filled with the usual mixture of chatter and hooves clattering against the stone ground. Some ponies were in a clear hurry, pushing and shoving their way through the thick crowd, much to everypony’s annoyance. Others seemed to have all the time in the world, and simply went with the slow flow of the crowd through the maze of tightly packed, stone buildings.

Walking amongst these crowds of ponies, remaining as calm and stoic as a statue, was a single mare clad in stark white robes, contrasting with her black coat. Green eyes, hidden in the darkness of her hood, scanned the citizens around her. Nearly all of them wore a smile, some less intense than others, but a smile nonetheless. She almost pitied them.

Though nopony would openly admit it, all was not what it seemed in the city. All of those calm, happy faces were merely masks; a façade designed to hide what the city truly was at its core: a place ruled through violence and oppression.

The hooded mare took a moment to peer through the crowds. Everywhere she looked, she found guards sprinkled throughout their ranks; dozens of armed, armored stallions trotting down the streets, maliciously eyeing anypony who walked by. They spent every second of every day waiting for any slip-ups so that they could deliver their own brand of ‘Manehattan justice’. Some ponies still wore the bruises and scars from their last run-in with the law.

The overwhelming feeling of oppression not only killed spirit, but ambition as well, and it showed through Manehattan’s architecture. Nearly every building was a simple, one-story structure, carved from the greyest and dullest of stone. It didn’t matter if it was a house, a shop, or even a place of worship, they all looked the same, their signs serving as the only distinction.

There were none of the elegant, grand structures like the Royal Palace in Canterlot, or various temples such as those sprinkled throughout Hoofington and Trottingham. In fact, the tallest structures to be found in Manehattan were the numerous bell towers looming over the city. It didn’t take an expert analyst to realize that tension was thick in the air. That was what brought the mare there in the first place; the city needed her.

The only thing keeping these ponies in line was fear. Sheer fear. They were ready to explode, but fear of the consequences was the only thing holding them back. Some of Equestria’s more corrupted higher-ups caught onto that fact, and ensured that they were given reminders of who’s in charge. Today was the day for such a reminder.

At the heart of the city, a large crowd was gathered around the city’s infamous scaffold. Most ponies made it a point to never walk past this death display, but today was an exception. Criers all throughout the city gave news of an execution. Whether it was out of morbid curiosity or the fear of what would happen to them if they didn’t attend, nearly the entire city’s populace crammed themselves around the wooden structure.

Atop that structure, taking in the angry, heated stares of countless ponies, was a stallion covered head to hoof in armor. The only visible thing on him was the horn sticking out of a hole in his helmet. But it wasn’t his presence that made the onlooking crowd uneasy. In fact, most of them weren’t even paying attention to the stallion, or the duo of armed guards at the scaffold’s base. For most, their eyes, wide with shock and horror, were glued to the two corpses behind the stallion. Two young stallions, their lives cut far too short, hung by their necks.

“Thieves! Murderers! Plunderers! Let this be a lesson to all of you!” the stallion shouted. “This is what happens to those who don’t know their place. We are the ones in charge. Those who think otherwise, feel free to challenge us. We will ensure that your deaths are swift.”

The more the stallion spoke, the more uneasy the crowd became. Soon enough, insults and obscenities flew out from their ranks until the entire crowd became an unintelligible cacophony of angry chatter. The guards readied their weapons, raising them in their magical grip. A riot threatened to break out at any second.

In the middle of it all, remaining as calm as she was when she arrived, was a single mare clad in stark white robes. Her eyes were fixed on the stallion onstage ever since she arrived. She was just waiting. Waiting for that one chance, that one moment. The perfect opportunity to make her move. As soon as the ponies around her grew restless, she knew that the opportunity had finally arrived. It was time to make her move.

As the stallion continued to taunt the irate crowd with threats and insults, the mare started towards the front, lightly nudging ponies out of her way.

Each step towards the scaffold sent her heart rate up a notch. She could feel the rush of adrenaline surging through her veins. The stallion was still a good ways away, but she was already ready for anything to happen. She didn’t even notice when she broke into a trot, shoving more and more ponies out of her way.

Her less than subtle actions soon caught the stallion’s eye. The white figure moving through the thick crowd sent a chill right down his spine. “Stop her! Do not let her reach the stage!”

The pair of guards wasted no time in following their orders. Taking up their weapons in a magical grip, they rushed towards the crowd.

The hooded mare was practically galloping through the crowd. Forceful shoves knocked some ponies to the ground, not that she was concerned. She finally broke through just as the guards reached her. There was no more time for hesitation. No time for thought. There was only time for reaction.

A guard swung his sword, aiming it straight for her head. In the same instant, she ducked her head down. She felt the blade brush against the top of her hood. A second too late, and she would’ve received a rather unpleasant manecut, but that was besides the point. The guard was wide open, still recovering from his attack.

In one, quick motion, the mare reached her muzzle into the depths of her robes, mouth wide open. She firmly bit down on something strapped to her side; a handle, of some sort. The familiar taste of leather and blood danced on her tongue. Wasting no time, she pulled her head back up, removing the object from whatever sheathe it rested in. Though she didn’t look directly at it, she could see the glinting blade out of the corner of her eye.

There was no hesitation. No thought. It was simply reaction as she brought the dagger clean across the guard’s exposed throat. The magical grip on his sword dissipated, the weapon clanging to ground along with the guard’s bleeding corpse. She didn’t even bother with a glance. She still had one more in between herself and her target.

The remaining guard hardly seemed affected by the death of his comrade, and rushed forward with the same recklessness.

He didn’t take more than three steps before the hooded assailant flung the dagger from her mouth with a strong swing of her head. The weapon tore through the air as it flew towards the guard. By the time he gained enough sense to realize what had just happened, the dagger already pierced his helmet, and buried itself in his skull.

Before his body even fell to the ground, the galloped up the scaffold’s wooden stairs. There were no more distractions. No more obstacles. It was just her and the target.

Once she reached the top of the stairs, she pushed off of with back legs, leaping high and far. The stallion tried to draw his sword, but by the time he even got a magical sheathe around it, she was already in the air, ready to strike like a bird of prey.

She stretched out her right foreleg, exposing a silver vambrace attached to her hoof. Out the corner of her eye, she saw its silver exterior glisten in the dim sunlight. Then came that beautifully familiar sound. A blade shooting out of its confines, ready to strike. Ready to kill. There was no time for hesitation. No time for thought. There was only time for reaction.

In the blink of an eye, she brought her hoof down hard, driving the attached blade deeply into the stallion’s throat. All of her momentum forced the already dying stallion to the ground, her hoof still planted firmly on his neck. He struggled, he squirmed, he used every last bit of his remaining energy to try and fight back, but it was of no use. Soon enough, his movements ceased, whatever lingering life he had left leaving his eyes.

The mare gingerly removed her blade from his throat before it retracted back into her vambrace.

Her deed was done.

----

Twenty seconds. It had been twenty seconds and still no response from Rainbow. Granted, it was rather late, and Rainbow could’ve just been asleep. Twilight’s frazzled mind tried to convince her that, but she just had to make sure. That candle could be any number of things, from completely harmless to completely life-threatening, and if anything happened to Rainbow because of it, Twilight would never be able to forgive herself. Besides, Rainbow would’ve done the same for her; what reason did she have not to? The decision was clear.

Blocking out the pouring rain around her, Twilight focused her magic until she felt its tingly sensation wrap around her hooves. As worried as she was, she still couldn’t ignore precaution. She wouldn’t be of much help to Rainbow if she plummeted through the floor as soon as she arrived.

Once she finished her cloud-walking spell, she moved on to the trickier part: actually getting into Rainbow’s house. The distance wasn’t an issue. The same couldn’t be said for all the noise the storm was causing. The fact that she’d rarely ever been in Rainbow’s house didn’t help things, either. The image of her bedroom was blurry at best, but she couldn’t let that stop her. She was going to have to roll the dice.

Well, it’s now or never.

In the same instance that a flash of lighting illuminated the night sky, Twilight cast her teleportation spell. When the lightning was gone in that brief split-second, so was Twilight.

She reappeared in the middle of Rainbow’s bedroom, much to her short-lived relief. It didn’t take long for her to find Rainbow, either. In fact, it only took a sideways glance for her to spot the pegasus. But as Twilight approached her, she stopped dead in her tracks, frozen with shock. The sight before her left her completely speechless.

Rainbow lay collapsed on her bed, face blank, and body completely still. That, however, wasn’t what left Twilight speechless. The fiery tendril sticking out of Rainbow’s head was responsible for that. Fighting through the shock, Twilight used what little movement she could muster to find the tendril’s source. It didn’t take long before she found it, sitting tauntingly on Rainbow’s nightstand.

It was the candle.

Twilight felt her heart drop like a rock as a cold sweat trickled down her face. Her eyes, pupils reduced to nothing but pinpricks, looked back over to the still pegasus. She wanted to move, to help Rainbow, to do anything other than stand there. She’d have settled for screaming, but her voice kept getting caught in her already coarse throat.

Finally, the one thing that provoked Twilight to move was the terrifying thought of whatever was happening to Rainbow at that very moment. As soon as she regained enough of her senses to move, Twilight made a beeline for the candle. She could tell just from looking at Rainbow that trying to wake her up would’ve been a futile effort. She needed to solve the problem from the source.

While she was unfamiliar with a spell to that effect, Twilight was familiar with candle-based enchantments. Simply snuffing out the flame would do the trick. She reached out with her magic, extinguishing spell at the ready. However, as soon as she wrapped her magic around the flame, she cried out as a white hot pain shot down her horn.

“Ow! Ow! Ow!” Twilight cried. She immediately cancelled the spell, but the pain lingered, as if she just touched her horn to a hot stove. She caressed her horn until the pain became bearable before turning her attention back towards Rainbow.

Despite that little display, Rainbow didn’t budge a single inch. If it weren’t for her breathing, Twilight probably would’ve feared the worst. Regardless, she was wasting time, and every second was crucial.

Growing desperate, Twilight resorted to getting rid of the candle entirely. She snatched up the candlestick, which thankfully didn’t burn her horn, and darted towards the nearest window. Just as she was about to chuck it, the candle suddenly stopped, refusing to go any further.

“What?” After a second’s hesitation, Twilight tried to move it again, gritting her teeth as she struggled to make it budge. The candle, however, was putting up a fight. It was as if it was attached to a chain that simply refused to break. Taking another break, Twilight looked at the flame itself.

In a sight that defied simple laws of nature, the flame stayed connected to Rainbow’s head, resembling a taut rope stretched to its breaking point. Twilight didn’t even bother questioning it. She just needed to get it away from there as quickly as possible. With newfound vigor, Twilight tried again, putting all of her strength and concentration behind her magic. She clenched her teeth until they hurt. Her eyes watered with tears. It was taking all she had, but she felt the candle giving in, even if it was just by a few centimeters. She just needed to keep it up.

After a few strenuous seconds, the flame finally snapped in two, and the candle flew out of the window. The flame attached to the pegasus’ head finally dissipated, releasing her from its clutches. Unfortunately, Twilight’s victory over enchanted household appliances was short-lived; whatever relief she felt was quickly replaced with dread when she laid eyes on Rainbow again.

Whether or not she was free from whatever influence the candle had on her was unclear; she was just as still as she was before. Several scenarios, few of them good, flashed through Twilight’s mind, but she quickly pushed all of them out of her mind. She wasn’t going to jump to any conclusions until she knew for sure if Rainbow was alright.

She didn’t even need to think about rushing up to Rainbow’s side. Still, Rainbow didn’t budge, even with Twilight standing right over her. It did little to calm her nerves, and even less to dismiss that one dreadful thought itching at the back of her mind. Thankfully, she still had a pulse, but that didn’t change the fact the she still wasn’t breathing.

“Rainbow! Rainbow, wake up!” Evidently, frantically shaking her friend like a rag doll was the optimal procedure; just a few seconds passed before Rainbow’s eyes snapped open as she sprung back to life. She took in gulp after gulp of air in an attempt to regain the breath she’d been holding for the past two minutes. The relief that washed through Twilight was simply indescribable. “Rainbow! Oh, thank goodness.”

Rainbow wearily sat up on her haunches, rubbing her temples in a vain attempt to get rid of the pounding headache she felt. It took her a moment to regain her bearings, and even longer for her to notice Twilight standing right in front of her. But despite seeing her friend with a wide, relieved smile on her face, Rainbow couldn’t say that she felt the same, not after the things she just saw.

The images that she just wanted to forget about raced relentlessly throughout every square inch of her mind. Every single detail—from the faint scent of rain in the air, to the spine-chilling winds, to the taste of worn leather on her tongue, to the blood pooling around her hooves—was crystal clear. It all must’ve been some type of sick dream; Rainbow would never, not in a million years, even consider doing even half the things she saw. But it all just felt so real. Too real.

“R-Rainbow Dash?”

Rainbow finally snapped out of her shocked stupor when she felt a light prod on her shoulder. Still, she didn’t look up. She only backed away.

Twilight instinctively took a step forward. “Rainbow, what’s wrong? What did that candle do to you?”

“I… I…” Rainbow wanted to say something, but her mind was far too frazzled for her to think of anything coherent to say. That being the case, she resorted to the one thing she knew how to do best.

Rainbow turned tail and tore out of a nearby window, flying into the raging storm.

“Rainbow, wait!” Twilight cried. But it was too late. Rainbow was gone, engulfed by the storm’s encroaching darkness, flying off to wherever it was she was flying off too. Left there alone, Twilight had far more questions than answers swirling around in her head. One of the most prominent was also one of the most simple.

What happened to her?

Save for severe cases of stage fright, Twilight had never seen Rainbow act so… un-Rainbow, for lack of a better term. This was the same Rainbow Dash who would face danger head-on without so much as a second’s hesitation, yet here she was, flying out of her own home as if she saw a ghost.

Regardless, it was clear what was responsible for Rainbow being so shaken. It all had something to do with that candle, and Twilight was going to find out what that something

This called for more research.

----

What was all that about? Rainbow kept asking herself that question again and again as she blindly tore through the relentless storm.

The freezing rain pounded away at her body, matting her fur and mane until it clung to her skin. The howling winds lashed away at her flesh like frozen whips, each burst chilling her to the bone.

Her wings weren’t spared from the abuse, either. Every raindrop that pelted her wings may as well have been hot needles piercing the membrane. Every flap propelling her forward sent more cascades of pain down her back, but she didn’t let up. Her body had long since grown numb to it all, both from cold and shock. She just needed someplace quiet. Someplace to think, and she knew just where such a place was.

With the storm raging on, Rainbow flew higher up into the clouds. Flashes of lightning illuminated the entire sky for all of half a second. Claps of thunder boomed in her ears. The relentless rain pounded against her skin like tiny daggers. The wind only served to make her ascent all the more difficult, threatening to push her down to the ground far, far below. Her entire body screamed in agony with each flap, demanding that she turn back, but she wasn’t going to back down. Just as the cacophony reached its peak, she finally found bliss.

Rainbow finally burst through the clouds and found herself staring into the nighttime sky. In that single moment, it felt as though all of her troubles were washed away as she let out a long, calmed sigh. For a moment, she just hovered there, still sore, still sopping wet with rain, and stared out into the black, diamond-encrusted sky.

Unfortunately, her brief moment of tranquility was just that. Brief. She did, after all, fly all the way out there to think about what she saw, and it was only a matter of time before her mind drifted back to that subject.

“Alright, Rainbow. Calm down,” she muttered, settling down on a nearby cumulus. “Everything’s fine. You’re fine. No scratches. Head’s still on straight. Worst you’ve got is a bit of a headache.” As if on cue, another pang of pain shot through her skull. “A really annoying one, yeah, but take what you can get.”

Despite her reassurances, however, she still felt that unnerving sense of anxiety building up in her stomach. Trying to make sense of confusing situations was never her strong suit. She wasn’t very good at standing still for very long, either. Both of those were more of an ‘egghead’ thing. And just like that, Rainbow’s mind snapped to a certain, purple unicorn.

“Yeah. Yeah!” Rainbow perked up as an idea came to her. “She’d be able to help, right?” Of course, the obvious problem was figuring out a way to explain things without making herself seem crazy. If the things Rainbow saw was enough to put in her in a temporary state of shock and speechlessness, she couldn’t even imagine what it’d do to Twilight, if she decided to tell her at all.

The pegasus suddenly snapped back to reality as she realized she’d been sitting on that same cloud for the better end of ten minutes.

“Ugh! Forget this!” Rainbow shouted, throwing her hooves into the air. “I’ll think about it later.” After shaking herself dry, she took back to the sky.

She came all the way out there, braving a storm, in order to distract herself from the things she saw. Sitting on a cloud doing a lot of nothing was clearly not doing the trick. She was Rainbow Dash, for goodness sake, and when it came to distracting herself, there was one thing that never failed. With newfound vigor, Rainbow sped off into the night with the intention to do just that.

----

Night fell over the Everfree Forest. Anyone brave or stupid enough to wander in here would find it near impossible to see through the countless trees and vines during the day. At night, the darkness was near impenetrable. The forest was already notorious for its self-monitored nature and weather, but the variety of creatures, from manticores, to cockatrices, and even dragons, was more than enough to keep anyone from entering that forsaken place. This particular night was different.

Deep within the heart of the forest, a light shone through the darkness, casting shadows amongst the trees. The caster’s face was hidden by a black hood, as was the rest of his body. Slowly, he made his way through the forest, working his way around the various trees and vines blocking its way. The light shook a bit as its caster tripped over a tree root. After swearing under his breath, the mysterious unicorn continued his trip through the forest. Soon, he came to a cave. It was well-hidden by the various trees blocking it from view, but after a quick evaporation spell, those trees were nothing more than piles of ash.

The unicorn approached the mouth of the cave, but didn’t enter. Instead, he picked up a rock and threw it inside. As soon as it entered, it was vaporized in a flash of light and smoke. It was just as he expected; Celestia put up a protective ward. This would be child’s play.

A sudden yellow flash illuminated the forest for hundreds of meters, sending various creatures scattering for safety. It went on for several seconds before finally diminishing. Once it was dark again, the unicorn stepped inside the cave, remaining completely unscathed. The protective ward was gone. A smirk crawled onto his face as he went further inside.

“You make this too easy, Celestia.”