• Published 23rd Oct 2012
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Twilight Sparkle: Night Shift - JawJoe



Twilight Sparkle: librarian by day, monster hunter by night, and irredeemable cynic all throughout. Vampires? Simple. Zombies? Easy. Pretending not to see them every night? Now that is a challenge...

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Nightmares, Night Mares, part 2

Chapter 3:
Nightmares, Night Mares, part 2

So dark.

I've never felt so alone.

So cold.

Mother? Father? And that other stallion—

Why?

Blood splattered on every surface. Soaked bedsheets. And the knife—gore dried on the blade.

Is this just a nightmare?

I didn't understand. I still don't. They were gone. There was no changing it.

This shouldn't be.

I awoke in cold sweat.

An old clock on the wall ticked away above me, the sound bringing me back to reality. I pulled my hooves along the carpet to my eyes, brushing the crust away. The tears I wiped as well.

Light stabbed my eyes as I opened them. Standing up, I saw that the Carousel Boutique was empty. The yellowish aura still lingered in the air, yet it was quiet now, perhaps calm even. Sated.

Hold on... light!

I shook my head and slapped my hoof onto my forehead to completely shake off the shackles of sleep.

Stars! How long has it been?

I quickly turned and looked at the door. It was almost shut but not quite, exactly as I had left it. I cracked my bones and rushed outside, kicking the door closed behind me. The first reddish beams of the dawning Sun had just begun making their way across the town. Perhaps it's not too late, I thought. I can still make it home.

I trotted down the branching streets that connected the boutique and the library, only slowing my steps when I neared my destination. That's the thing I hate most about having hooves: you can't run quietly if your life depends on it.

From the outside, the library seemed calm. No lights on, no sounds coming from inside. I walked up to the door carefully, trying to avoid passing a window. I knew I hadn’t closed the door before I left, but I was still nervous as I tried the lock. It opened with a quiet clack; another weight off my chest. I didn't know what to expect when I stepped inside. As such, I simply closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and hoped for the best.

The harsh, wet sound of snoring would have made me want to do something terrible on any other day. On this one occasion, however, I couldn't help but let loose a relieved sigh when I saw Spike sleeping in the corner of the main room. My departure had gone completely unnoticed by this ever-vigilant fire-breathing protector of Rarity, it seemed.

Having calmed my nerves, I sat down right by the door. My legs were killing me; perhaps running halfway across town after falling down the stairs wasn't the brightest of ideas. At least now my thoughts could catch up with my body.

I recalled the events of the previous night. I still had no idea about what it was that I was fighting, but I had confirmation that it was connected to the boutique itself. It also either has a material form, or is at least capable of affecting the physical world. By all means, it could have easily killed me, and indeed, Rarity herself if it had wished to. Yet we were alive, but why?

Its weapon is fear. It doesn't kill, it just makes you afraid. Now, I'm no zoölogist, but I knew that in the animal world, that is a sign that the thing wants you gone, that it is afraid itself. Yet that could not have been the case here. No, the thing enjoyed what it was doing far too much.

This thought brought me to the most interesting part: the laughter and the nightmares. Rarity spoke of nightmares herself, of the feeling of being watched and observed. Why would the thing induce nightmares in its victims? Does it, perhaps, find it amusing? Could it be that simple?

Whatever the case, I needed to go back there. And when I did, I knew I mustn't be alone.

A sudden creak coming from up the stairs snapped me back into the real world, and sent a shiver down my spine.

“Twilight?” Rarity turned to me as she descended.

Oh dear.

“Heavens, what time is it?” Rarity then asked, looking out a window, then back to me. “Have I been asleep this long?”

Crisis averted.

“Yes, actually.” I nodded, smiling as warmly as I could. “Are you feeling better now?”

“Oh, absolutely.” She returned the smile. “My hair must be a mess though,” she said as she walked up to me.

“Well,” I chuckled, “I'm sure we can handle tha—”

“But my stars, darling!” she interrupted me. “Forget about me. Look at you! What have you been doing all night?”

“I...” I stuttered, taken aback. Such a terrible question to be asked. “I fell. I, er, I fell down the stairs when I was checking your room.” I shook my head quickly. “When I was checking my room. Where you slept just now. To see if you're alright.”

“But Twilight,” she said, her endless concern for a friend irritating me to no end. “Have you looked in a mirror recently? Your—”

“I've also been reading,” I said. “I've been reading a book all night. A book about nightmares.”

“Is that so?” she asked, leaning forward, looking in my eyes suspiciously. “Did you happen upon anything useful?”

“W-well,” I stammered.

Think of something, think! I darted my gaze across the room, hoping to find inspiration, all until I laid my eyes on one of the many bookshelves. From where I stood, it blocked out a good portion of the early morning light that came through the window right next to it. Oh, that is just too perfect.

“Yes, in fact I have,” I finally answered, looking back at Rarity confidently. “Tell me, have you ever heard of feng shui?


Rarity kept her teeth clenched around the backrest of a chair as she pulled it across the room. “Do you honestly believe this is it?” she mumbled.

We had been “rearranging” the lower floor of the Carousel Boutique all afternoon, emptying wardrobes and cupboards only to scatter their contents across the room in illogical patterns. At the centre, a gigantic pile of furniture formed something I could best describe as a pyramid. I was, of course, making everything up on the fly. I didn't know the first thing about feng shui, and luckily, neither did Rarity. Though I must admit, at first I was still worried that my complete ineptitude would shine through should my ability to talk nonsense fail me.

“Yes,” I said. “You see, the arcanax currents are blowing right through the Ponyville ley-lines right now, and I think the apparent arrangement of magicless substances present in this building might be causing a slight disturbance in these wafts by creating a full-blown interference pattern straight on top of your home.”

I was, however, surprisingly good at talking nonsense. I couldn't help but put on a proud smile at the achievement. That, and the fact that I had never seen Rarity's eyes any wider.

“Sooo, can you fix it?”

I nodded. “By reordering the spellfree objects and emancipating the spellknot-buildups, I aim to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

“So,” she asked again, “can you fix it?”

“Yes.” I smiled on.

“Okay,” she answered with a clear tinge of uncertainty in her voice. “Do tell me, though,” she continued, “what's in the bag?”

My black saddlebag was hoisted over my back. This time, I came prepared.

“Just a few books,” I responded. “About feng shui, nightmares, and similar, should we need them. I do think we're doing a good job, though. Oh, that reminds me: I would like to stay here tonight, just to make sure everything checks out. I hope that's not too big of a problem.”

“Oh no, not at all.” Rarity raised an eyebrow. “After all the trouble you're going through to, uh, help me,” she stuttered, “you can even take my bed.” She looked away, pondering. “I do have a spare mattress tucked away somewhere, I think,” she finished.

How eager to help, I thought. Perhaps even surprisingly so. Is it just her renowned generosity, or is there something more to this?

Either way, the plan was in motion. Rarity and I would spend that night at her home, and when crying changed to laughter, I would be there. The theory was simple: when the thing finds that Rarity has returned, it will no doubt come back to haunt her. For if it had preferred to prey on me, it would have made its way to the library already, yet instead chose to stay. Whatever it is, Rarity had to be its prime target.

With some more twists on words, I was also able to coerce Rarity to let me sleep on the mentioned mattress. I wanted her to be where the thing expected her to be: her own bed.

Thus, we continued making a complete mess of the place she called home. It may sound foolish of me to return after the welcome I received the previous night. What's the worst they could do to me, though? Give me another bad dream? I wanted to see them try, awaiting them with open hooves. And sharpened knives.


I sat on the mattress, my back pushed against the wall. The lower floor was quiet, save for the cadent ticking of the clock above. While Rarity slept upstairs—or was trying to, anyway—I stood watch for her, guarding her dreams. I slowly turned my head from side to side, inspecting the room over and over, keeping an eye out for the slightest movement. I slightly regretted, then, that I so hastily made that mountain of furnishing smack-dab in the middle of the floor, as it was blocking my view of the far side. Still, the two most important things—the door and the staircase—were perfectly in sight.

A few hours after sunset, I noticed that a strange feeling of tiredness—indeed, of exhaustion—was taking its toll on me. I was used to being deprived of sleep; in fact, insomnia had become a style of life for me over the past four years. For a long time, my sleeping hours had been interrupting my waking ones, rather than the other way around.

Yet this time it was different. It's not something I can explain to you. Suffice to say, I knew well enough what being tired felt like, and this wasn't it, but something bizarre. Even more so, when I considered that I had actually slept last night. Nightmares or not, sleep is sleep. It's as if someone else had slept for me, using my body.

A whitish gust passed before me, breaking my train of thought. It ran by so quickly, it took me a moment to even process that something had happened. I couldn't see what it was, or what it even looked like. I looked up at the clock, only to find that it was already half an hour past midnight. I had completely zoned out, and I knew what to blame.

Only then did I realise: the thing had been headed for the stairs.

Rarity!

I jumped up and ran, hopping over all the things we had scattered on the floor, my bag flying through the air as it followed me upstairs. Seeing Rarity's door closed made me stop; it was meant to be open. There was no time to waste, however. As the saddlebag fell to the floor behind me, a crossbow came floating up at my side, loading itself with a silver-tipped bolt. Without further hesitation, I bucked the door open with a quick turn.

And there they stood, two of them, their hairless skin pale white, laughing manically at their paralysed victim. Rarity groaned and whined with closed eyes, twitching slightly but unable to flee.

One was pressing its muzzle at her chest while the other rubbed its featureless face into her hair, both leaning on her with their front hooves. Their slender bodies throbbed and pulsated like those of feeding leeches.

I could never have imagined that a mannequin could be so terrifying.

Normally, Night Shifters are encouraged to keep their operations a secret, and I had always fully supported that sentiment.

“Get your horrid hooves off her!”

This time, however, I let my emotions get the better of me.

The puppets froze for an instant; then, they lifted their heads and turned towards me, emitting a high-pitched hiss. The first of the two, in turn, received a bolt in between its eyes, collapsing onto the ground like a rag doll. The other leapt onto me and pushed me to the ground before I could reload. Its screaming sounded more like something sucking air in, rather than pushing it out. As it readied its wooden hooves to bash at me, my crossbow also came falling down by my side, the purple aura that surrounded it fading quickly.

Just as its hooves began their descent, a blue glow surrounded the mannequin, stopping it from pounding my head into a pulpous mass. The small moment that the aura lasted was enough for me to kick it off. For all the strength with which it had pinned me down, it now flew across the room as if it had no weight whatsoever.

“What's happening?” Rarity panted, standing up on her bed.

“You do what I say,” I said, “that's what's happening.”

Behind Rarity's bed, the mannequin with the crossbow bolt stuck between its eyes stood up, lifting its body and head as if being pulled up by strings. It groaned in an unearthly voice, some sort of blackish, bloodlike substance pouring from the wound on its forehead. It reached for the bolt, and with a snap, it broke the shaft clear off, but was unable to remove the silver tip. I couldn't tell whether it was confused or angered. Most likely both.

“Come here!” I directed Rarity. “How many?” I then asked, setting my hooves well so as not to be knocked down again.

Seeing the thing behind her, Rarity yelped, then hopped over to me quickly, turning to face the monsters as well. “What?” she asked, still breathing heavily, turning her head back and forth between me and the mannequins.

“How many mannequins are there in your home?” I asked quickly, trying to stay calm.

The mannequins had both got up by now, ready to attack, but for the time being they only stood there, hissing and screaming at us erratically.

“Well, there's,” Rarity stammered, “I keep five downstairs, and I keep one in my room.”

“That means two up here and four down there,” I said, backing towards the open door. “Run!”

She turned quickly, rushing out of the room. As she passed by me, I was already pulling the doorknob, backing out as well, closing the door just in time to hear the heavy knocks of the mannequins leaping at and colliding with the wooden barrier.

Rarity stood next to me, completely wordless, awaiting my next order. I grabbed the straps of my black bag with my mouth and began running for the stairs, beckoning for Rarity to follow me.

While I wasn't used to physically carrying the bag, you would be amazed at what a sudden rush of adrenaline can do. And do I love it.

As we reached the stairs, a third and fourth mannequin were already making their way up with careful steps. Refusing to stop, I swung the saddlebag at them, tripping their delicate balance. They fell and rolled down the steps as Rarity and I jumped over them. Revenge is sweet.

Now on the ground floor, Rarity darted past the pile of tables and chairs in the middle and trampled over anything on the ground, dashing for the front door.

“Stop!” I quickly shouted, my teeth still clenched on the saddlebag's harness. “Don't open it!”

She froze, then turned to me. “What?!”

“If they see you leave, they might follow you,” I answered to her eloquently put concerns, finally spitting the bag out. “We're not letting them out of here. Duck!”

Without delay, Rarity cowered to the ground, evading a swift strike from the fifth mannequin's hoof. She bucked its chest with her hind legs as she jumped up. The puppet fell with the grace of a feline, twisting mid-air and landing on its hooves without making a sound. Luckily, even this small leeway was enough for Rarity to run up to me.

We stood at the middle of the dark room, our sides pressed against one another's and facing in opposite directions, watching as the evil dolls surrounded us. In front of me, down the stairs came four of them; and I could guess that straight behind me, Rarity's attacker was readying itself for another strike as well. From the corner of my eye, I could also see the sixth creeping up on us.

Their movement was balletic; they seemed to almost float above the floor, like marionettes being danced forward, touching the ground with nothing but the tips of their wooden hooves. Some were hissing, and some were laughing, their heads and necks twitching and twirling unnaturally quickly with no regards to their body's posture.

“Stay close,” I advised, opening the bag with a hoof, not taking my eyes off the nearing dress-dummies. I quickly flicked a heavy knife out of the bag and up in the air, catching the handle in my mouth. The blade was as sharp as it was thick; in a dire situation, it might as well have doubled as a hammer. Having barely ever held it in my mouth, I only now realised just how unwieldy it really was. Still, I thought it was my best bet at the moment.

I didn't care for the small, ferrous gush of warmness that accompanied the grip of the knife inside my mouth; I had more pressing issues right now.

One by one, the mannequins formed something resembling a circle around us, leaving roughly equally wide gaps between themselves. When their formation was assembled, they stopped their screaming and cackling. On one hoof, I was grateful for being relieved of the chilling noise, but on the other, I was also terrified by it.

Then, the one straight in front of me—its head still seeping with blood—cocked its head to its left, its timber-neck making a loud snapping sound. After a few seconds, the mannequin closest to its left copied the motion. Then the third, and fourth, and I heard the last two snaps come from behind me as well.

Perhaps it was part of some otherworldly ritual; perhaps they had never had to deal with two ponies at once, and were now pondering their options. Either way, I wouldn't give them time to show me the answer.

“Get ready, Rarity,” I said. “The plot thickens,” I whispered to myself, taking a deep breath. I couldn't help but grin cheekily in anticipation.

I leapt forward, ramming the knife into the top of wounded mannequin's neck, right below its jaw. The soft wood that composed it cracked and splintered, more so as it struggled, trying to push me off. Two other mannequins also jumped towards me, one wrapping its hooves around my neck from behind, pulling at me, and the other kicking my face repeatedly to make me let go of the blade.

I kicked at the one at my back with a hind leg and took a step to the side, the blade still firmly in my mouth, placing the damaged mannequin between me and the third. Pressing my entire weight against the doll, I tripped it over, the one behind it also falling over like a domino. Using one to pin the other to the ground, I strained the blade, pulling down on the handle with all of my might.

A loud crack echoed within the room; the doll's head came off, but chips of wood weren't the only thing that were sent flying. The weighty blade itself was snapped in half, and flew straight at my already bashed face, gashing me across my right cheek and liberating me of a patch of purple fur.

Although decapitated, an eerie shadowesque substance was sprouting from the mannequin's broken neck, retaining the rough shape of the original head. This inner thing seemed more malleable than the wood that was its host, though, as its outlines—already hard to make out in the darkness—moved and shifted continuously.

It opened its shadow-mouth to scream at me, then braced itself for a powerful kick to knock me off itself. I failed to deflect the blow, getting hit straight in the stomach, causing me to recoil in pain. I staggered back, straight into another white hoof at my face, courtesy of yet another mannequin. I fought it off, then turned back to see the “headless” mannequin coming at me. I struck out at the shade in place of its head, but my hooves passed right through it with no effect.

It was then that Rarity drove a bolt of silver sideways through its head. More of the same, bloodlike substance spurted from the entry point and the thing groaned in pain. Then another bolt came through, and a third; Rarity huffed furiously with every strike. It seems that lacking the crossbow does not make its bolts any less deadly.

The spectral head burst like a bubble, spewing its tarlike blood all over the room. Then, in an instant, all of it evaporated. The mannequin fell stiff onto the ground like a tipped chesspiece. It seemed, now, completely inanimate.

Rarity and I exchanged a swift look—confusion and gratitude in our eyes—then, without a word, I quickly picked the three bolts up from the ground and threw them back into my bag.

“Come on,” I said, rushing to take my bag into my mouth. “Keep moving!”

I ran across the main room, Rarity trotting right behind me, pushing any mannequin in front of us to the side with sheer speed. I ran into the kitchen and Rarity soon followed me.

The kitchen was much smaller in relation to the other room, and—thanks to my own earlier laziness—not completely rummaged in the name of feng shui.

“Pray tell me, Twilight,” Rarity said, sounding as plainly irritated as she was terrified, “what is really going on here?”

“Your mannequins are trying to kill us,” I said as I kicked my bag to the side. I also noticed Rarity's dining table, round in shape and wide in diameter, that stood by the wall. “Any other inquiries?” I flipped the table onto its side quickly.

Without further ado, Rarity rushed for the kitchen sink and began filling a small glass with water.

“What are you doing?!” I yelled as I pushed the flipped table to barricade the doorless passage that connected the kitchen with the wide room on the other side. As the mannequins began pressing their bodies against it in their efforts to get at us, I pushed myself at it as well to stop them.

Still wordless, Rarity rushed towards me and threw the glass over the makeshift bulwark. I heard the glass break and the dummies hiss in surprise on the far end.

“I thought maybe water dissolved them?” Rarity shrugged. “What with silver hurting them and all.” She pressed herself against the table by my side to help me keep the dolls out.

“That was the Wicked Witch of the Everfree!” I yelled.

“Well excuse me, Twilight!” she replied. “What do you propose we do then?”

“Well, you saw it: the mannequins seem possessed somehow. We need to crack open their bodies to get to the vulnerable spirits inside. Then we'll make short work of them with the bolts.”

“Oh, of course. How did I not think of that?”

I ignored Rarity's sarcastic remark, focusing on creating a kinesis spell. Protected by the thick layer of wood from the draining glares of the mannequins, I felt my magical power slowly rejuvenating. I enveloped the table with my magic, lifting it slightly off the ground, hoping for them to take the bait. They did.

Not one, but two, in fact. The pair stuck their heads under the table, and in the very moment that I locked eyes with their empty sockets, I felt my strength being sapped. The edge of the heavy table came down on them, cracking their necks open with its weight. Black blood oozed from their wounds and they screamed.

“Hold them!” I told Rarity as I rushed to pick a few bolts out of my bag. Driving two in each splintered neck, I ended their torment. The mannequins hissed and groaned, then stiffened as their bodies became motionless, the blood they had shed disappearing without a trace.

“Three down,” I said. “Three more to go.”

“Well I don't think they're going to fall for that again.”

“Neither do I.”

“So,” she asked, “any other ideas?”

“Actually, yes,” I said.

Pulling the table away, we kicked the three mannequins before us out of the way as we ran back into the showroom.

“Their strength was in secrecy,” I said as we ran. “Exposed, they're no real threat.”

“No real threat?!” Rarity burst out.

“Not if you know what you're doing,” I replied as we got to the large pile of furniture in the middle. “There, go around!”

Rarity did so, going the other way around the pile. The mannequins followed her single-mindedly, paying no attention to me. With a strong kick at the side of the pile, it all came crashing down on them. Wood and hard metal met the mannequins, breaking their backs and long legs.

When the sounds of breaking and cracking died off, I dug them out one by one, finishing them by stabbing the silver bolts into the cracks of their crippled bodies.

“One, two,” I began as I threw the last of the lifeless dolls to the ground, “three, four....”

Rarity was speechless, her jaw hanging open.

“Count them, Rarity!” I exclaimed, turning to her. “One plus two plus three equals all six mannequins.”

“That is...” she said, “quite the feat, Twilight.” She put a hoof to her forehead, breathing in and out slowly. “I think I need a moment.”

I nodded. “You've earned it.”

She walked around the collapsed pile, passing by me without looking in my eye, towards the first mannequin I downed. Next to it, the handle of my heavy knife and what remained of its blade rested on the floor. She picked it up slowly, looking at it closely, then dropped it to the ground.

“Really, Twilight?” she asked with a tone of disappointment.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Books, huh?” Rarity sighed, shaking her head, then looking in my eyes.

Where countless monsters have failed to scare me, that simple question coming from my friend now struck terror in me. I tried to hide my gulping. “Oh, that?” I asked, giggling girlishly, as everything began to sink in. “I got that knife from your kitchen. Don't you remember?”

“Is that so?” She tilted her head. “Did you also get the crossbow from my kitchen?”

“Well, Rarity, it's funny you should mention that decorative crossbow that I found among all this stuff!” I pointed across the thoroughly dishevelled room. “I wanted to mention how interesting it is you have one of those. Maybe even you forgot that you—”

“Twilight, please stop lying to me.”

“What?” I asked. “Please, Rarity! Look at all this. Do you think that after everything we have been through, after all we've done together as friends, that I would lie to you?” I looked in her eyes, taking a deep breath. “Please, drop this matter,” I asked her with more sincerity than I wanted to admit.

“Twilight,” Rarity said, “your eyes are yellow.”

I opened my mouth, but the air got stuck in my lungs.

“They have been ever since last night,” she finished.

I couldn't respond.

The seemingly endless stream of white lies that had been flowing from my mouth for the better part of four years suddenly came to a stop.

“Is this every day to you?” Rarity's words echoed in my ears like a disembodied voice whispering inside my head. “The way you acted just now? How you wielded the crossbow and the knife?” Only hearing her say these words did I come to realise what I had been doing. “What's happened to you, Twilight?”

My hind legs gave away. I fell down. I sat there, gaping speechlessly as Rarity walked slowly towards me. I knew what happens to agents that reveal themselves: code blank. A complete memory wipe of their time at Night Shift, conducted personally by none other than Princess Luna herself.

Yet it wasn't even that which frightened me. In fact, having lived in this knowledge for all this time, I've made peace with it long ago.

I closed my eyes, unable to look Rarity in the eye.

I've been lying to all of my friends, all this time, and for what? We were the ones who redeemed Luna herself by vanquishing Nightmare Moon. We stopped Discord and defended Canterlot against a full-scale changeling invasion. They weren't someponies off the street, not ones who would lose their minds after they realise how dangerous their fragile world really is. Were these ponies really worth lying to? I guess I never thought about it that way.

Too late now.

I felt Rarity's forelegs wrap around me as she rested her head on my shoulder, pressing her soft cheeks against my swollen, battered face.

“Don't cry,” she whispered. “It's okay. I can keep a secret.”


“Dear Princess Luna,

I have recently undertaken a solitary operation, in which I investigated the apparent sleep deprivation that my dear friend Rarity had been suffering from.

I have, ultimately, determined its cause to be a very peculiar offshoot of animation magic. As you may already be aware, Rarity is something of fashionista; she creates and sells dresses and other items of clothing for a living. Her business has been slowing down these past few weeks, however, and with her little sister Sweetie Belle being away, she had been left alone in her shop and home with little to do.

Her apparent fear of loneliness and natural affinity to levitation and animation magic caused her to unwittingly animate the mannequins she worked with. It is safe to assume that she spent a great deal of time talking to them, perhaps even singing to them, causing them to come alive.

The mannequins fed on her loneliness and fear to stay “alive” by inducing nightmares in their maker. Unless otherwise and directly provoked, they continued to haunt Rarity with little regard to anything else. This led to Rarity's unwillingness, and later, inability to sleep, along with other curious physical symptoms, such as the white of her eyes turning yellow.

I had rashly foregone asking for your advice in the matter, and instead chose to act on my own. The situation has since been dealt with. I have broken the mannequins into small pieces which I can deliver to Canterlot at a moment's notice, should you decide that further examination is required. You will also find a much more detailed account of everything transpired attached with this letter.

I must, however, admit that I have given away my position as an agent of Night Shift.

I would like to take this opportunity to raise my voice against performing Code Blank on my friend Rarity. As you are no doubt aware, she is the bearer of the Element of Generosity, and as such, after her promise that she will not talk of what transpired that night to any pony, I am willing to place my complete trust and confidence in that she will keep her word.

I, personally, accept any and all consequences you may deem necessary.

Your faithful assistant,

Twilight Sparkle.”