• Published 9th Oct 2021
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The Once And Future Princess - Lets Do This



The return of magic has some unexpected consequences. So Sunny and her friends set out on a new quest: to find the fabled city of Canterlot...

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The Princess's Shadow

Sunny wasn't quite certain what to expect, as the five of them tramped along seemingly for hours through the unfamiliar land, under the burnt-orange, slanting light from the sun. She was hoping there might be villages or small towns, where they could rest for a bit and talk to ponies, find out what lay ahead. Maybe fill in a few of those blanks in the map before they got there.

But they appeared to have picked the one totally uninhabited region of all of Equestria to trek through. There were rolling meadows, forest glens, an occasional creek to ford or a bog to skirt around. And no signs of habitation anywhere. No houses, no roads, no tracks or paths. It was like nopony had ever lived there.

In the distance, against the darker half of the sky, there were mountain ranges, high and snow-capped. But not the mountain they were looking for. That was still far off yet, lost amid the dusk to the West.

As an exploring party, the group was kind of disorganized. Zipp and Pipp darted back and forth overhead, nominally acting as lookouts but mostly just enjoying the open air and the freedom of flight. Izzy was all over the place, scampering this way and that, chasing butterflies and frogs, fieldmice and milk-blossom seeds, anything that caught her eye.

Sunny strode steadily ahead, occasionally glancing at her map to check for landmarks, and serving as a kind of tangible anchor for the group. And Hitch stuck close by her, ever-watchful and on guard, striding forwards with a bold, confident attitude. Which wasn't helped by the small gray rabbit that was following him around. It bounded through the tall grasses practically at his hooves. Whenever he stopped, it stopped too, staring up at him with its pink nose twitching.

"Go on," he said to it. "Shoo. Go way."

Sunny laughed. "Face it, Hitch. You're a critter magnet."

"Yeah, I guess," he sighed. "But like, what good is that, Sunny?"

They found out towards evening -- or what Sunny assumed to be evening, since the Sun hadn't moved all day. She was hesitant to try moving the Sun below the horizon for the night, for fear she might lose track of it altogether.

Some clouds had gathered, and a light sprinkling of rain had started to fall. It wasn't too bad, but it did mean Sunny couldn't consult the map in her journal. Magic or no, she was afraid the ink would smear.

"Hey, no problem!" Zipp said, "Pegasi are the weather experts, right? I'll just head on up there and clear some of the clouds away. Clear skies only, for my friends," she added with a wink.

Ten minutes later, they were huddled in a dark and chilly cave that they'd hurriedly found, drenched to the skin and shivering.

"In my defense," Zipp said tensely, "it's my first day on the job. And they should put warning labels or something on those things, so you know which ones are loaded."

Izzy was busily using her telekinesis, gathering a small bundle of branches and kindling from the trees outside the cave. These she piled on the cave floor, and then added some rocks around them. Then she sat making faces at the branches for a minute or two. Finally, her eyes suddenly went wide. She scowled and waved her forehooves, her horn blazing bright orange.

And the pile of sticks burst into flame.

"Yeah!" Izzy clapped her hooves. "That's three for three for me!" She smiled proudly. "One of Sunny's books said unicorns had a kind of spell that sets fire to things. And I figured it out! I'm gonna be a spellcrafter for sure!"

"Pyromancy..." Sunny whispered, impressed. "But Izzy, that book also said it was one of a branch of magic spells that might be dangerous if misused. Shadow magic, I think it said."

"Yeah..." The unicorn nodded. "I did kinda have to feel like I didn't want the branches around anymore, before they'd catch fire. Which I suppose makes sense if you're gonna burn something up. But don't worry, I don't feel like that about anypony. So it should be safe, right?"

"Just... don't start any forest fires, okay?" Hitch said.

"Absolutely not, Sheriff!" She saluted. "I'm a responsible pyromaniac!"

The rabbit, standing beside Hitch, also saluted. Hitch rolled his eyes, then got up to explore the back of the cave, now that they could actually see it. At the same time the other ponies clustered around the improvised campfire, trying to dry off.

"Hey," Hitch called. "This cave extends back here a ways, and..."

Things happened quickly then. The darkness at the rear of the cavern suddenly grew eyes and large teeth, and bellowed a challenge at him. The ponies all gasped, staring. Hitch backed away slowly, trying to keep his gaze focused ahead while also making sure he didn't back straight into the fire.

Before him, out of the darkness, loomed a very large, very hairy, and very disgruntled bear.

"Sunny," Hitch called over his shoulder. "Don't make any sudden moves. And when I say go, you and the others clear out of here, got it? I'll try to keep it distracted."

"Hitch!" Sunny called, as she and the others readied themselves to run.

Hitch cleared his throat, as professionally as he could. "So sorry to trouble you... uh, sir or madam, as the case may be." He motioned placatingly with a hoof. "We didn't realize this was your home, or that we were trespassing. Which... would be a violation of Code 692. Ahem. If we woke you up, we deeply apologize, and we'll gladly clear out of here."

The bear paused, as if surprised. Then it leaned closer, snuffling at him curiously.

"Sunny..." Hitch warned over his shoulder, wide-eyed.

And then the bear grabbed him up with its huge forepaws. The ponies all shrieked in terror...

... and then started laughing. The bear was hugging Hitch, like a long-lost cousin, rumbling and growling happily.

"Uh... right..." Hitch gasped. "Friendly bear. Good to know!" Then he looked a little strangled as the bear hugged him harder. "Uhhp... friendly pony needs to breathe, okay?"

Shortly afterward, they were all gathered around the campfire: the ponies, the bear, and two small cubs who were sitting to either side of Hitch. They were staring at the fire, and around at the unexpected house guests, as if trying to figure out what it all meant. The rabbit was sitting in Hitch's forehooves, so it wouldn't get stepped on.

And Hitch had a seriously put-upon look on his face.

"You tell anypony back home about this," Hitch warned Sunny, who was smiling at him. "And you," he snapped at Pipp. "Put that thing away!" He motioned at the gilt-edged slab in her hooves. "I don't want to end up in some kind of weird ad for a nature travel package, or something."

"It's all right," Pipp sighed. "I don't have any bars here."

"Bars?" Sunny asked, puzzled.

"There's no connectivity." She rolled her eyes, and held up the phone. It was displaying a large blinking "X" icon. "And everything's streamed through the cloud these days. So, no photos, no music, no texts, no live-chat... and no fans." She tucked the phone away again, looking crushed. Then she glanced at Zipp. "I know you think I'm a little too attached to this thing."

"It would be good for you, taking a break for a bit," Zipp allowed. "I try to avoid getting sucked into the cloud myself. It just eats up your life."

"But that's who you are." Pipp sighed. "For me, my phone is my life. It's how I define myself. Interacting with ponies, bringing happiness to as many of them as I can. And yeah, the views and plus-hoofs are solid gold to a performance artist. But at the end of the day... I am who I impress. And that's just what gives me the greatest pleasure."

"I think it sounds nice, actually," Sunny said.

"You do?" Pipp looked surprised.

Sunny nodded. "You know how to talk to a crowd, how to reach them. Me? I'm lucky if I walk out of a room with ponies just laughing at me." She shrugged. "Until all this happened, of course. And now everypony looks to me to tell them what to do. And I'm not always sure what to say."

"Well, don't worry about that," Pipp said. "You ever need a press agent, or just friendly advice, I'm here for you."

The ponies fell silent for a bit, listening to the crackling fire, the pattering of rain outside, and the gentle grunting of the bear and her cubs. "So..." Hitch finally said. "What should we do to pass the time?"

"Oooh! I know," Izzy said. "How about we sing a campfire song? Isn't that what you do, when you're out camping?"

"Eeeh, bad idea," Zipp said, shaking her head.

"No," Pipp said, holding up a hoof. "Better idea: how about a concert?"

She briefly tuned up her voice. And then, without preamble, dove right into an acapella solo of her latest pop single, the one she'd been singing at the Royal Jubilee.

And they all sat staring at her, in wonder.

Pipp was right. It was like an entire other side of her that they didn't even know was there suddenly sprang into view. It filled the cave with a warmth that had nothing to do with the fire. The rain outside was forgotten. The long, weary hike that day was just a fading memory.

It was, in a word... fabulous.

When she'd finished, the bear cubs looked at each other. And then began banging their paws together eagerly.

"Somehow," said Hitch, "I get the sense that's bear for 'encore'." And he put the rabbit down and started clapping his own hooves. Izzy was applauding with wild abandon, her horn flashing on and off like a paparazzi's camera strobe. And Zipp was smirking at her younger sister, evidently proud of her, though she'd be the last to admit it.

Sunny just smiled in quiet relief. For the first time that day, she felt like things were coming together, just a bit. Like she and her friends could handle this.

Pipp bowed graciously, clearly pleased at having even as small an audience as this. And then, after catching her breath, she soared right on into her back catalogue, picking and choosing whatever seemed to appeal most to her closest fans... the ones she called her friends.

Afterward, it took a while for them all to get to sleep. Adrenaline and catchy beats will do that...

------------------------------

They set out again, soon after everypony had woken up. The bear and her cubs waved good-bye to them from the cave entrance, a little wistfully it seemed. Hitch looked from them to the rabbit, which was still accompanying him.

"Why do critters like me so much?" he sighed.

Sunny grinned. "Authority and kindness -- it's a good combination."

"Thanks."

There followed another lengthy day of hiking through rolling, gorgeous and very uninhabited landscape. Without the movement of the Sun, hour blurred into hour and it was difficult to judge the passage of time, save by hunger and thirst and their tired wings and hooves. It wasn't unpleasant, but the silent landscape was becoming increasingly unnerving.

"The land may have come back," Hitch said as they paused on a hilltop, looking around in the dimly-lit valley below for a likely place to camp. "But nothing else has. Maybe the three settlements really are all that's left of pony kind -- of the old Equestria."

"I hope not," Sunny said. "I hope there's somepony out there, and places that existed back then. They might have answers that we don't."

"No question there." Hitch glanced around. "Maybe we should keep to the higher ground for a while. There's a ridge here, we can follow that. And we'll be able to see more potential campsites that way."

Sunny was about to follow him, then she came to a halt, staring down into the valley.

"Hold up a minute," she called.

"What is it?" Izzy bounded over, and peered down into the gloom with her. "Do you see something?"

"Depends what you mean by see." Sunny summoned her horn and wings, and looked again. "There's these... I don't know what you call them, lines in the magic, where it's more concentrated. Kind of like rivers, where it flows together."

"Oooh, leylines!" Izzy said. She squinted, her horn glowing. "Yeah, I can see 'em too, kinda. But not all of them at once. I have to switch between magic types to find 'em."

"They all intersect..." Sunny pointed a hoof. "Down there. It might be a clue of some kind."

"Well, let's check it out," said Zipp.

It took a while to reach the location Sunny had spotted, because the tree cover became ever more overgrown and tangled. They had to work their way through it, using only Sunny's sense of direction as a guide. Fortunately, Izzy turned out to be a natural at this kind of thing. She quickly found gaps in the overgrowth and clambered over and under roots and branches like a ferret.

"This is nothing compared to the mess out back of my house," she said. "Gonna have to bust out the old horn and clean up a bit when I visit there again."

Finally they pushed through the last line of shrubs, and into a broad clearing. And stopped, and stared.

Before them was a circle of six broken stone plinths. They might have once been standing stones, but some cataclysm long past had shattered the stones, leaving their crumbled fragments scattered everywhere. In the center of the circle was a broad, flat ring of stone. It too might have been a platform of some kind once, but it had been pulverized, its granite blocks scattered across the clearing.

"Whatever this place was," Zipp said dismissively, "there's hardly enough left to fill a teaspoon."

"I think I know what it is!" Sunny was paging rapidly through her journal. She held it up, showing a sketch: six stones in a circle, surrounding a platform. "It's Ponehenge!"

"Pone-what?" Hitch asked.

"It's an ancient monument. It focused magic energy, probably from the leylines that converge here. It was the site of an epic battle with powerful magic forces. And in the process, it was destroyed."

"Cool, I guess," Zipp allowed. "But so what? It's just gravel with a pedigree now."

"Don't you see?" Sunny replied. "This predates even Equestria itself! If this place has returned, then Equestria likely has too. And Canterlot! In fact, judging by the maps we have, and where this place must be..."

She turned slowly about, then pointed. "That line of mountains, just above the trees. That must be the Foal Mountains. Which, if we follow them along, would put Mount Canterlot..."

She turned, and pointed again.

"... that way, maybe another day's hike from here. If it wasn't for the tree-cover, we could probably see it by now."

"Well okay!" Izzy thunked down onto a handy patch of grass. "Let's set up camp and get some shut-eye. We'll be there tomorrow!"

"Are we sure this is a good idea?" Hitch asked. "Hanging out in an ancient and powerful magic ruin? I mean, I wouldn't want to run into whatever turned this place into paving stones."

"That was a long time ago," Sunny said. "And it seems quiet now, as far as I can tell. Just the leylines, nothing else."

"Still... it might be a good idea to head back up to the ridge at least."

Zipp snorted. "You can fight your way back through those trees if you want. But my take is, anything tries to get through that mess, it'll be as worn out as I feel right now. Plus, we'd have plenty of warning, too."

"Sunny?" Izzy looked at her. "What do you think?"

Sunny glanced around, then reached for her journal. "As long as we're here, I probably should take a few notes and sketches at least, just to add to what we know. It might come in handy. But I promise, Hitch," she added, "we see anything that says this place isn't as dead as it looks, we're outta here."

"Okay..." he said resignedly.

"And you'll take first watch," Zipp said.

"And I'll take first... uhh..." Hitch frowned at her. "Can I just do my job, please?"

The two pegasi exchanged a smirk. Then they started helping Izzy gather wood for a fire.

Sunny wandered around the ruins, examining the stone plinths and making notes and drawings in her journal. And Hitch patrolled the perimeter, the gray rabbit marching right along behind him.

------------------------------

Sunny awoke, suddenly and alertly. It was late, long after she and her friends had turned in for the evening. She glanced around at the smoldering campfire, at her sleeping friends, at the ruined stone plinths of the circle, the encircling wall of the forest...

And let out the breath she'd been holding in. It all looked normal. Well, as normal as things could look, under the circumstances. She had to do something about that Sun. It was getting tedious, looking at the same near-dawn sky all day. Not being able to tell the time by looking at the sky just felt wrong...

She was about to put her head down, try to get to sleep, when she heard it again:

Princess...

It was a whisper, but only in the same way that a hurricane was a strong breeze. It was like the last, fading echo of a thunderclap directly overhead. It was soft, quiet, implacable... and all around her.

Getting to her hooves, Sunny peered around at the shadowy trees.

"Who's there?" she called, trying to keep her voice from wavering.

Shouldn't I be asking you that... Princess?

Sunny looked upwards again, at the circle of sky overhead. And drew in a terrified breath.

Eyes were staring down at her. Glowing, flame-orange eyes, surrounded by an outline, a shadowy suggestion of a pony head. It was massive, looming in the sky above her. Around it, wings spread wide with a span that could have touched a mountain peak to either side. Above the eyes, a spear-like horn stabbed the sky.

The apparition gazed down upon her. And chuckled, boomingly.

So, you're the new one, are you?

"Hitch! Izzy!" Sunny hissed through her teeth. "Wake up!"

Oh, let's not disturb them, the dark pony said languidly. This is between you... and me...

An immense forehoof waved, the sky-piercing horn blazed. In a whirl of darkness, the trees, the circle, her friends... everything vanished into shadow. Sunny found herself standing in a narrow circle of flame-orange light. And the titanic pony shape stood before her, gazing down upon her scornfully, pitilessly.

And Sunny suddenly recognized where she'd seen it before. On the posters that Canterlogic had put up, all over town, as warnings. The dark pony outline, fierce and threatening, with eyes of flame, looming over a small, terrified pony...

"I'm not afraid!" Sunny shouted at it. And then she winced. "Well... okay, I'm terrified, actually. If you really must know."

The dark pony tilted its head, amused.

Oh, goody... it said. Bravery and a sense of humor. I think I'm going to like you, Princess...

"Why do you keep calling me that? My name's Sunny! Sunny Starscout!"

Again there was the thunderous chuckle, like an amused avalanche. Is that all? Nothing more? You brought magic back, after all. You brought it all back. Hmph. I suppose I owe you one for that...

"I... I brought you back, too?" Sunny whispered, aghast.

Let's say you opened a door. And I walked through.

"This is bad," Sunny whispered to herself, glancing about fretfully. "This is really, really bad. What have I done now?"

What they needed you to. They needed somepony to bring them together, to lead them. A true Princess, unifying all the tribes under one banner of friendship. And that, it added coldly, is where I come in...

"Was it you?" Sunny demanded. "Did you drive us apart, make us hate one another? And now you want to do it again?" She summoned her ethereal wings and horn, set her hooves firmly on the ground. She had no idea if her new power would be enough to challenge this thing -- or even enough to defend herself at all.

But I'm darn well going to find out.

"We'll stand up to you!" she yelled. "We'll show you ponies can't be driven apart. Never again! I and my friends, we'll make sure! We'll fight you! We'll bring Equestria back, and we'll show them -- and you -- that ponies don't have to live in fear and hatred!"

The dark pony seemed mildly amused by her tirade.

Really? One day soon, Princess, you're going to have to make a choice. Between kindness, and keeping your subjects safe. You're going to have to realize that not everypony thinks the way you do...

It nodded, in apparent satisfaction.

Which is for the good. They need a new example, every now and again. Somepony to follow, even as they deny and reject you. Because they have no alternative, really...

The massive pony head lowered. The flaming eyes glowered at Sunny, like the headlights of an oncoming train.

And there's something else you need to realize, Princess...

It snickered sinisterly.

I'm not the one you should be worried about...

Its gaze shifted above her, past her. Look behind you.

Sunny stood her ground, shaking her head, unwilling to let the apparition out of her sight.

The dark pony snorted. Its breath was like a whirlwind of brimstone, all around her.

LOOK!

Gritting her teeth, Sunny whirled about, and stared.

Before her she saw the stone circle had reappeared. The ruined stones and the central ring were lit starkly by the flame-red glare of the huge eyes behind her. And from the central ring of the monument, a large, fulminating cloud was rising, lit with a sickly green glow. It towered above her, dark and mesmerizing. Something about it both fascinated her and disgusted her at the same time. She found it impossible to tear her gaze away, even as she felt it invading her thoughts, twisting her feelings, warping her very sense of who she was...

She felt the looming presence behind her lean close. She felt its hot breath whirl about her. It spoke softly... like a mountain whispering in her ear.

I could help you, Princess, it said silkily. Just say the word...

Sunny shivered. Something in the behemoth's tone suggested that, once asked, its help would be impossible to un-ask.

She felt herself freezing into immobility, caught between two horrid alternatives. She fought to speak, to even think. She was paralyzed, unable to do anything, as the cold green miasma in front of her steadily invaded her thoughts.

The dark pony behind her chuckled dryly.

Well, as I said, I owe you one. So we'll just call this a freebie... with absolutely no obligation...

Sunny felt her paralysis suddenly snap. She could think and move again. She looked up at the dark, flame-eyed shadow behind her, saw it raise one titanic armored forehoof...

... and slam it to the ground, with a thunderous crash...

In an instant, Sunny was back in the stone circle, surrounded by her still-sleeping friends, the smoldering fire, the surrounding trees, the dusky half-dawn sky overhead, as if she'd only just been startled awake.

But she knew somehow, it hadn't been a dream... it was a warning.

"Hitch! Izzy! Zipp! Pipp!" She rushed back and forth, shaking them awake. "Wake up -- we gotta get out of here!"

"Sunny?" Hitch squinted up at her, and then stared around in shock and mounting shame. "Aw, geez! I only shut my eyes for a second, honest!"

"That doesn't matter. We need to move! And --"

"And... what is that?" Hitch was staring past her, pointing a nervous hoof.

Sunny turned fearfully. And saw the dark, green-lit cloud, rising from the ruined center of the monument. It towered into the sky, glowing and fuming.

Izzy grabbed Sunny with a hoof, her blue mane-hairs practically standing on end. "Sunny! That's really powerful magic... and not the good kind!"

"I know!"

"You do?"

"We have to get away from here, right now!"

"No way! Are you kidding?" Zipp bounded into the air, and smacked her forehooves. "If it's made of cloud, it's time for pegasi to get loud. C'mon, Pipp!"

Uncertainly, the pink pegasus jumped into the air with her. Together they flapped higher, while Zipp sized up the challenge. Hitch worriedly darted forwards, putting himself between Sunny and the looming green thunderhead. And Izzy hid behind her, gritting her teeth, and wincing as pulsing, throbbing waves of magic energy washed over the clearing.

Sunny could feel that herself, like a tide of dark forces rising all around them. She thought desperately. She felt like she had seconds to make use of whatever chance she'd been given here. The dark pony had said it would help her -- but how?

Sunny stared at her own forehoof. And realized:

By example...

"Zipp! Pipp!" she called. "Get back down here! Everypony, stay close!"

Startled, her friends quickly complied, gathering around her. Sunny charged her wings and horn, raised a forehoof...

... and brought it down, hard.

And felt like she'd just stepped on a live electrical cable. The full force of the intersection of leylines flooded through her. Her eyes gleamed, her horn and wings blazed. Her teeth clattered uncontrollably.

"A-g-g-g-d-d-d-d-d...!"

The power welled up within her, reaching some kind of breaking point. There was an explosion of gleaming, shimmering energy, and a huge shield dome rose up. It encompassed her, her friends, the entire ruined stone circle. And cut off the looming dark cloud, forcing it up into the air overhead.

Momentarily thwarted, the gangrenous stormclouds settled around the dome, enclosing it, hiding the sky, the forest, everything except the ruins they were standing in.

"Okay," Zipp said, "that was an ace move. But now what? It can't get in... and we can't get out!"

Sunny looked around hurriedly. She wasn't sure how long she could keep channeling so much power. She was afraid that any second now she'd catch fire herself and fry to a crisp.

She shut her eyes for a moment, grunting in pain. And saw, in the darkness, the glowing intersection of three leylines that had led them here. Opening her eyes, she saw the ruined stone plinths, each positioned on one of the invisible lines of force.

"The stones," she cried. "Or what's left of them -- we can use those!"

"How?" Hitch shouted, over the thrumming of the field. "They're pulverized. This place is a wreck!"

"Doesn't mean it doesn't still work," Sunny replied. "Right, Izzy?"

"Oh, you betcha!" The unicorn grinned, apparently way ahead of her. Izzy darted ahead, bounding up onto the remnant of one of the destroyed standing stones.

"This thing needs foci -- which means us! Come on! We can fill in for the destroyed stones!"

The others followed uncertainly, arranging themselves on the other ruined plinths. Sunny looked around, checking they were in place. And then realized --

"We're one short! There are six stones! And only five of us!"

"Uh, wait for it..." Hitch pointed across the circle, at the empty stone plinth. The gray rabbit was hauling itself onto it. Then it turned to look at them, its nose twitching. And saluted proudly.

"Okay," Hitch called. "You just earned an extra carrot ration, my friend!"

"Hang on," Sunny warned. "I'm not sure what's gonna happen."

She gazed up at the shield, and the looming clouds above it. And then she willed the shield to come down, intending to reconnect it to the stones somehow, to let the circle itself power it.

But instead, the magic flowed back into her, then spread out through the monument to its six stone plinths. And to her friends, sitting on each of them. They all rose into the air, eyes blazing. Lines of shimmering force snapped into being between them, forming a hexagon. And in the center of it, a broad, swirling disc sprang open, like a hole in midair, poised above the stone circle at the monument's center.

The glowing stormclouds, which had just started to fall upon them all, were caught in a whirlwind, funneling vortex. The clouds were suctioned down into the hole, vanishing utterly.

The power cut out. The lines of force connecting them disappeared, their eyes returned to normal. And they dropped heavily onto the stone plinths. What little breath they had left was knocked out of them by the fall.

Hitch shook his head, staring around. "Wow... is everypony okay?"

"Woah-ho!" Zipp cried. "Now that is how we get things done!"

"Absolutely!" Pipp said, smiling. "That was amazing!"

"Yay, Sunny!" Izzy cheered. And then she stared worriedly. "Sunny? Are you all right?"

Sunny had sat up, wearily, and was staring down at her hooves, looking shocked and scared. Hitch trotted over to her and gently put a hoof on her shoulder.

"What's wrong?"

She looked up at him, miserably. "I... I wanted to bring magic back," she gasped. "I thought it would help everypony. I didn't even think about what else might have come back with it. Hitch, what have I done?"

"But, we dealt with it, right?" Hitch said. "We sent that thing back to wherever it came from."

"Are we sure? And what if there's something... else still lurking out there? Something we can't get rid of so easily?" She shook her head. "We're in over our heads here. Way over! And it's my fault..."

She fell silent, looking both scared and ashamed. Hitch, not sure what else to do, stroked her shoulder comfortingly. "C'mon," he finally said. "Let's get out of here. Maybe try to find some other campsite, a little further on."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Pipp agreed.

"Yeah, might as well," said Zipp. "No way I'm getting back to sleep now."

"I got point!" said Izzy. She clapped her hooves twice, making her horn light up. Giggling, she bounded away towards the tangled wall of forest surrounding the clearing.

Sunny managed a small smile at that, then followed along after her friends, letting them lead the way for once.

And glanced back fearfully, every now and then, at the dusk-filled sky over the circle...