• Published 28th Jun 2012
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A New Hero - Alex The Lone Wolf

What if there was another pony who joined the pony gang? (Look at longer description...)

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Shadow Play

I honestly couldn't say that things had really been the same ever since Athena had told me that. About how the one we knew as Red was apparently supposed to be some kind of version of me all along. She did stress the fact that it was only a theory, but it was easy to tell that she was nearly one percent sure of the reality of it.

In fact, based on what Athena had told me about her past, I probably should have been able to come to that conclusion as well, had I actually put the time to think about it. But, I didn't really care at the time. I thought he'd just be another villain we'd eventually face and defeat when the time came. Considering all the times we came out victorious through trials and tribulations, I felt like I had nothing to worry about when it came to someone like him.

But, how we were supposed to put a stop to him for good when he's supposed to be me? By using the Elements of Harmony? How exactly are the Elements supposed to work when I'm technically a part of those Elements? All these questions buzzed in my mind for the past few days nonstop. I hardly got any sleep because of them, and I kept to myself the majority of the time.

"I should have seen it sooner…" I remembered Athena telling me in my room. "But, I didn't think something like this could have ever happened! It sounds ridiculous, but…it's just…it's the only way I can explain it! He knew what he was doing when he told you to call him Red. He's was mocking you. Mocking me! Because that's the side of you I was afraid of the most! Your red side. The side of you that brings out your anger. And to know about your past memories? I can't bring myself to doubt it. I don't know how, but he's you, and you're him."

I couldn't offer any kind of input or feedback towards her outrageous discovery. I supposed I was in shock, if not completely ignorant of the situation. And at that time, we devised a very fragile way of approaching the situation.

As pathetic as it sounded, all we could really do was wait. We had no idea how to find this doppelganger, and even if we did, we had no idea how to face or end him. Athena made me swear to keep her updated on any changes to my mood, thoughts, actions, whatever. We even discussed letting Twilight know, but we decided to butt our heads together for a bit just a little while longer until we could figure out how to explain the predicament to her in a cohesive manner. At any rate, we both agreed that she'd be the first to know if things took a drastic and sudden turn.

It definitely wasn't long before we both decided to organize a private conversation with Twilight to finally let her in on the situation, but there was a sudden case of bad timing. Something came up between not only the three of us but our entire circle of friends.

Starburst had managed to get a hold of some dusty old book from the antique shop during his last visit here, but he explained to us that it wasn't just any kind of dusty old book. It was actually Starswirl the Bearded's journal, and he described a particular section of said journal to not only us but the princesses of Canterlot as well.

Heaps of research later, including a visit to some really outdated magical runes, we found that Starswirl, along with his team of other "pillars" who were actually spoken about in legends passed down from generations, worked together to send the Pony of Shadows to limbo. However, in doing so, they trapped themselves there as well, and that's where they've been spending the last thousand years of their nonexistent lives at.

Using the map in our castle, each of the girls set out to find relics that were connected to those pillars because these relics were supposed to be the key to bringing them back.

I think Athena and I both knew that it wasn't exactly the best time bringing up our own discovery when we were too busy saving Twilight's most adored idol along with some other five ponies I had hardly ever heard about before in my life. I was only familiar with one, and that was only after helping Fluttershy find a cure for Swamp Fever.

All Athena and I could really do was take care of this inconveniently sudden issue on hoof and hope that we'd get some time to do something about our own problem soon after. In fact, I could feel her gaze watch me like a hawk every now and then as we waited for the five other girls to come back with the relics Twilight needed to save the old pillars.

"I can't believe I'm gonna meet Star Swirl the Bearded! You know, outside of my dreams."

Just like the other day, Twilight was getting along pretty well with Sunburst as they both pulled in together at the journal they had been reading through multiple times.

"I can't believe you're actually going through with it." Starlight Glimmer seemed to contest as she pulled off large vines from the old stones around us.

From what I caught, it seemed Starlight had something against Twilight bringing back her fabled idol, but for some reason lately, I haven't really been able to pay much attention to these things.

"What do you mean?"

"I'm all for pushing the envelope, obviously, but this is pretty out there for you, Twilight."

"What's 'out there' about saving the most legendary ponies of all time from a thousands-year-old prison?" Sunburst stepped in, obviously standing on Twilight's side of the argument.

"Well... nothing when you say it like that. Unless 'the most legendary ponies of all time' knew what they were doing, and we shouldn't mess with it." Starlight refuted.

"I'm sure Star Swirl and the Pillars did the best they could back then, but magic has come a long way. Mostly because of the work they did."

"That's true. And you did get your wings from finishing one of Star Swirl's spells." Starlight directed towards Twilight.

"Exactly." Twilight extended out her wing as proof before digging her head into the journal again.

"But then I messed with one and nearly destroyed the universe, so..."

"Starlight, Star Swirl the Bearded is the greatest wizard who ever lived. The chance to have him back in Equestria is worth the risk."

"That's good news." We suddenly heard Spike's voice.

He had gone off with Rainbow Dash to find some kind of shield in the Dragon Lands, and it seemed they had just gotten back.

"Otherwise, we'd have brought this shield for nothing." Rainbow Dash came in flying with the relic and planted it firmly on the platform it belonged to."

"I hope you don't think you're the only one to find her artifact, because this here shovel says otherwise." Applejack soon joined in, doing the same with the shovel she had managed to bring back with her.

A light laughter escaped from the trees that she had emerged from. "Honestly, you two. Not everything is a competition. But, Mistmane's flower is by far the most attractive of the artifacts." Rarity walked in with a potted plant and placed it down.

"You're just saying that because you didn't have to scuba dive in a pit of green slime to get yours!" Pinkie dropped by with a slime-ridden piece of cloth.

"Or move a flash beehive." Fluttershy finally reconvened with us with a mask on her head, removing it and setting it down on the appropriate stone.

"Good work, everyone." Twilight pulled her head out of the book and closed it to set down the last remaining relic. "Let's do this!"

Sunburst, Twilight, and Starlight each worked a little magic of theirs to start the summoning, and after a beam of light extended out from each and every relic, they all rose up and filled our surroundings with a bright flash of light. Once the light disappeared, six ponies suddenly appeared out of nowhere as a result. Nearly every pony had to pull them away from danger since old pieces of the broken runes came tumbling down with them.

"What... What has happened?" A familiar face pushed himself up from the ground, looking extremely dazed and confused as if he had just been woken up from a deep sleep.

Of course, by a familiar face, I mean I had only ever seen it several times in different imagery and depictions from my time spent with Twilight. While I somewhat recognized the face, it was obviously so much more…real seeing it now.

"It worked!" Twilight exclaimed and immediately rushed over to the one she had been looking forward to meeting for the longest time I could remember. "We brought you back!"

"To where?" Star Swirl the Bearded rubbed his eyes heavily as he tried to get a grasp of his surroundings.

"You and the others have been trapped in limbo for over a thousand years, but I figured out how to get you ho—"

"What?!" He suddenly shouted out in horror cutting Twilight off in midsentence. "No, no, no, no! You must undo what you've done!"

"What? Why?" Twilight asked, heavily surprised by his outburst. "I mean, I don't think I can."

"You cannot bring us back!" He stepped forward towards Twilight, causing her to back away in fear.

"But I did. I brought all the Pillars back."

"You cannot bring only the Pillars back!"

As he said that, the sounds of thunder roared and flashes of light briefly blinded us as lightning struck nearby. Before we knew it, dark clouds had covered what once used to be a sunny sky above us. Then, all of a sudden, something began to emerge at the center pedestal where we stood around. The sight of this caused the others to quickly back away, giving, whatever it was, room to step out.

The sight of it was eerie, to say the least. It started off as some kind roundish ball, but it soon expanded and fell towards the floor like black tar. It was only a few seconds before this…thing grew what appeared to be wings and rose up from the ground as a gigantic pony of darkness. It nearly reminded me of Nightmare Moon, but there was no sign of color to this pony. It was as if he was purely made entirely of darkness.

Once he had been fully standing, a villainous laughter echoed in front of us.

"Your pitiful attempt to imprison me has failed, Star Swirl!" That was the first thing that came out from its mouth.

Star Swirl tried to counter with a spell, but just as the tip of his horn began to glow, his head immediately fell in exhaustion. I could only assume that being in limbo for so long somehow drained his energy.

"You must return us to limbo." Star Swirl turned to Twilight. "It's the only way to stop him."

"I only figured out how to bring you back." Twilight answered in a small state of confusion.

"Working on it!" On the other hoof, Sunburst was flipping through the pages of the journal like a madpony. "No table of contents!"

"Allow me to assist." The shadowed pony offered with a malicious grin. With a small grunt, sharp spikes suddenly protruded from his body, catching the book and ripping a hole right through it. As a result, it rendered the journal unreadable and useless. But, it didn't end there. More of these spikes not only attacked the book but the runes as well, causing for some of the others to duck or be pushed aside to avoid any injury to themselves. Finally, some kind of ball of energy traveled through those spikes and practically exploded the runes into pieces when they touched them. We were left with what now appeared to be a rocky wasteland.

"There! Without the power of Ponhenge, your banishing spell is useless!" He stated the purpose for doing what he did.

"You have studied my writings. Surely you have some other plan!" Star Swirl now seemed to scold Twilight as he carried a look of frustration on his face.

"No. I just wanted to save you. I didn't think—"

"Don't fret. When I extinguish the light and hope of this miserable world, you won't remember any of this." The villainous figure before us raised his head and threw it towards us as a beam of its dark magic was shot straight in the direction of Star Swirl.

"No!" Twilight cried out as she moved in to protect him, rivaling his magic with her very own.

In the next instant, his beam had been turned back to him, causing him to release a small cry of pain.

"Argh! This one is almost as... strong as you, Star Swirl. But even in my weakened state, she cannot stop the might of shadows!"

A ray of magic shot out from the tip of his horn once again. Twilight was more than prepared to fight back, but it seemed his magic this time was stronger than the last as Twilight strained to keep it away from her.

I stepped up, wanting to stand by her side and defend her, but just as I reached for the magic inside me, I suddenly felt an ache or pain. Whatever it was I felt, I had trouble using my magic to help her. Thankfully, Starlight raced to her side instead and poured in magic of her own.

"Lucky for her, she's not alone!"

The Pony of Shadows cried out once more as the second attack failed.

"Know this, fiend!" Star Swirl spoke out loud. "We will not rest until we find a way to return you to limbo!"

"Never!" He growled in response. "Your days of glory are through, Star Swirl. Now my dark power will reign, and you six will bow to me!"

In a matter of seconds, all of the darkness he had been made of melted into a huge lump before it escaped through the skies. And just like that, he vanished.

"Um... where'd he go?" Rainbow Dash asked, scanning the skies from her position.

"That is a riddle we must unravel." One of the old pillars by Pinkie said. "And quickly."

"How long have we been gone?" Mage Meadowbrook, the legend Fluttershy, Twilight, and I previously had to do some pressured research on, asked.

"Over a thousand years." Fluttershy answered.

"Then my spell worked…before it was meddled with…" Star Swirl exchanged a scolding eye towards Twilight, causing her to turn away and lower her head in shame. "…and the realm has been at peace for a millennia!"

"Well...we did have to save everypony from Nightmare Moon and Discord and Chrysalis and King Sombra and Lord Tirek, and there was that one time when Starlight traveled through time and almost destroyed life as we know it!" Pinkie Pie recollected all together at once, going as far as to bring an embarrassed Starlight Glimmer into the conversation before she went and pushed her back away. "But that's all in the past."

"If you are truly this accomplished, we will stop the Pony of Shadows twice as fast together." The pillar by Rainbow Dash seemed to take a tone of hope.

"We shall see." Star Swirl seemed to be skeptical of us on the other hoof. "It is an easy thing to say you have saved the world. It is quite another to do it."

"Why else would we say we saved the world if we didn't do it?" I brought up, suddenly feeling aggressively snarky.

"What he said, Beardo." Rainbow Dash approached him and flipped his beard rather disrespectfully, not that I had a problem with it. "And, we can do it again."

"Be that as it may…" He rolled his eyes and pushed her away from his sight. "…the problem of locating the Pony of Shadows remains, and this land is vast."

"It appears you need a map of some sorts, and I believe we have just the thing." Rarity mentioned.

"You have a map that is capable of finding the Pony of Shadows?" The pillar by her spoke.

"It isn't just any kind of map. It is a map we've used to spread friendship all over Equestria." Rarity clarified.

"We aren't trying to make friends with the Pony of Shadows." Star Swirled rebuked bitterly. "We are trying to stop him from destroying this realm."

"The map is magic is what she's trying to say." Twilight seemed to have recovered a bit from the guilt she had been burdened with, but she still took on a slightly depressive tone. "If you come with us, you can see for yourselves. After all, it's the only thing we can think of at the moment that'll help us find the Pony of Shadows."

"Very well." Star Swirl still didn't look too ecstatic about the situation. "Lead the way then."

As they all began to leave the area, I felt somewhat restrained for a brief moment. I wasn't physically restrained. Instead, thoughts began to cloud my mind, and before I could hear what they were, I picked up my hoof to walk on after the others.

However, another hoof pressed itself against me and stopped me from doing so.

"What happened back there?" Athena asked me. "I saw you try to use your magic, but you couldn't."

"I don't know." Those words felt like they had been slightly seared by the anger that was slowly bubbling inside me for some reason. "And, I don't care. I just want to be done with this."

I tried to move on forward, but she continued to hold on to me. "Stop. This isn't like you. I wasn't sure if the anger you're feeling was natural or not, but now I'm starting to get a bad feeling that it isn't. What happened with your magic can't be a coincidence."

"And what do you expect us to do about it?" I asked with a sealed fury. "Just as we thought we had enough to worry about me, all of a sudden we get roped into this with some old 'pillars' from over a thousand years ago? There's no way we can tackle two problems like this at the same time. All we can hope is that we get rid of this one before we move on to the next one."

"I'm just saying…maybe it's time to tell Twilight."

I shook my head. "We can't. It's painfully obvious she has enough on her plate with what just happened. That's why we need to take care of this first. I'm fine, Athena. I think I can hang on a little longer."

To tell the truth, I wasn't sure about my own words, but all I could do was force myself to endure it as much as I didn't like it. If we had known anything about what Red might have been planning or when he was planning to strike, it probably would have been a different story. But, just like what this land had been threatened with, the two of us felt entirely in the dark.

The two of us reconvened with the others back in the castle. As they gathered around the table with the map we used for friendship problems, I glanced over all the pillars and tried to recall the names we had learned through the others' recollection of their respective legends. I already knew about Star Swirl the Beadered first and foremost, and then there was Mage Meadowbrook. As for the others, their names were…Flash Magnus, Somnambula, Mistmane, and Rockhoof.

"This is the map you spoke of?" Star Swirl asked as he studied the map carefully.

"That's the one." Applejack replied rather confidently.

Star Swirl brushed through his beard a bit before his invisible lips opened. "Something about this magic seems familiar..."

Seeming to have regained a bit of strength, a beam of magic poured from his horn and collided with the transparent map on the table. There, an image of the Tree of Harmony with its Elements suddenly sprung up.

"This map, and indeed this very castle, are grown from the seed we planted over a thousand years ago." He mentioned to everyone with a triumphant smile.

Hold on. Seed?

"Then it did work!" Rockhoof suddenly spurred me away from my questioning thoughts when he pounded the table with his mighty hoof in glee.

"What worked?" Sunburst asked.

"Each of us infused a crystal seed with our magic in hopes that it would grow into a force for good." Somnambula answered.

"We wanted to leave something to protect the realm in our absence, but we never dreamed our gift would become so powerful." Mistmane added.

It was hard to believe that Mistmane once used to be a beautiful unicorn in her story, but in a split second, she turned out to appear like she had aged over many years like Granny Smith. I knew looks weren't everything, but I still couldn't imagine looking old when you were still supposed to be so young…

"Wait. The Elements came from all of you?!" Athena suddenly exclaimed out in shock.

To our varying degrees of surprise, each of them looked as if they didn't know what we had been talking about. They exchanged looks of confusion with each other as Star Swirl appeared to have not taken Athena's comment too seriously.

"You know, the sparkly crystal things that grow from the Tree of Harmony and represent each of us?" Pinkie Pie decided to help. "Laughter, honesty, generosity, loyalty, kindness, magic!" She demonstrated as she popped in and out between each of the girls before lastly coming to me. "And you can't forget about Purity!"

"They are reflections of our own elements." Somnambula returned as she went down the line of her own team. "Hope, strength, beauty, bravery, healing, and sorcery."

She apparently represented hope, strength was Rockhoof, beauty was none other than Mistmane, bravery was Flash Magnus, Mage Meadowbrook was healing, and finally, Star Swirl was sorcery.

However, soon after hearing that list, something Somnambula had said earlier returned to my mind and struck me odd.

"Hold on a second. You said that each of you 'infused a crystal seed' with your magic. If you're talking about the Tree of Harmony and each element representing each and every one of you, aren't you missing one?"

"He's right." Twilight spoke up, catching on as well. "Each of us makes up an Element. If each of the Elements is supposed to relate to each of you, then shouldn't there be a seventh pillar?"

"Perhaps you've been mistaken about there being a seventh Element all along." Star Swirl raised as he didn't look quite enthused about the matter.

"We can't be." Twilight refuted. "He's been with us all this time since we first used the Elements to defeat Nightmare Moon, and every other time we've used them, we needed him for the Elements to work."

"Maybe one of the pillars represent two of the Elements instead?" Rarity threw out a rather fragile assumption.

"Hm…" Athena thought to herself. "If you all remember, Alex never had a tangible Element. And that's not the only thing. When Somnambula mentioned how they all planted a seed and thus grew the Tree of Harmony we all know today, it reminded me of something else. In our past, I remember the Tree of Harmony speaking to me. It called Alex and me 'stripped seeds'. Of course, I didn't get it at first, but now that I think about it, could it mean we…somehow came directly from the tree? I know we originated from the light that Luna had in her, but did that light come from the Tree of Harmony?"

"'Seeds'? 'Light'? 'Luna'?" Star Swirl immediately questioned. "This is the first I've ever heard of such a theory! Preposterous!"

"But, it's true!" Athena stomped her hoof on the ground. "If you don't believe us, we've got a bunch of ways to prove it!"

"As the Element of Honesty, I can assure you she ain't lyin'." Applejack supported. "It's true that they're a mite different from us, and we've seen the kind of stuff they can do with our own two eyes."

"We've been gone for over a thousand years, Star Swirl." Somnambula reminded. "We've missed so much that has happened out here. I don't think it is right to refuse what she has to say."

Star Swirl closed his eyes and sighed heavily through his nose. "If that is indeed the case…then perhaps you two are merely fragments of light born from the Tree of Harmony. This 'Element of Purity' doesn't exist. Rather, it is only the light of the Tree required to use the Elements."

My Element doesn't exist?

I knew it was only a theory he came up with on the spot, but for some reason, I wasn't sure how to feel about that.

"That would explain the missing pillar…" Rockhoof mentioned as he exchanged looks with his comrades.

Star Swirl cleared his throat quite loudly. "Returning to the important topic on hoof, we no longer need Ponhenge to send our foe back to limbo in this case. We can use the stored magic in this Tree of Harmony."

"But doesn't a banishing spell take a lot of power?" Twilight questioned. "We'd have to sacrifice the Elements for that."

"'Sacrifice'?" Athena repeated and faced Star Swirl a bit furiously. "If you're going to have to 'sacrifice' the Elements, then does that include Alex as well?! If that's the case, then it's an absolute No!"

Star Swirl seemed to lack the patience to answer Athena's concern with a calm and assuring response. "Calm yourself, child. I told you that that pony has no Element, nor is he one."

"But, are you sure about that?"

"Even if he was, what is the problem? You two are nothing more than 'stripped seeds' from the Tree of Harmony. The whole purpose of your existence is to protect the land of Equestria, and that would include sacrificing you just as we would the Elements."

There was a considerable number of gasps that escaped around us.

"What are you saying?" Twilight questioned her idol, looking hurt by his remark. "There's no way we'd sacrifice either of them just like that! They're our friends! Not just some inanimate objects!"

"It is that way of thinking that only leads us down a road of despair." He responded bluntly just as I had expected. "Protecting this land is their purpose. I don't understand the means of how they came to act just like any other pony, but even if they were real, to begin with, that doesn't mean sacrifices shouldn't be made. After all, we sacrificed our lives for a thousand years to keep the Pony of Shadows from hurting any pony else. But, I suppose it isn't a surprise that the pony who worries more about friendship would actually be the one to break him out."

Once again, Twilight seemed to be hurt quite easily by his scolding tone, and this only infuriated me more.

"What's your deal?!" I nearly shouted out. "For someone who's supposed to be an almighty sorcerer, you don't seem to take other things into consideration besides yourself!"

Athena stepped in front of me as if to stop me from possibly getting myself into an unnecessary argument with the Star Swirl the Bearded.

"What he's trying to say, is that if you sacrifice the Elements, whether that includes us or not, we won't be able to return them to the Tree. Don't you think the Tree will die because of that? If it does, it won't be able to protect Equestria as you hoped for it to."

"If the Pony of Shadows has his way, your land will not exist. So, unless any of you have a better idea..."

He looked around the room, but no pony seemed to have anything to say, especially Twilight. Based on the looks of every pony in the room, it seemed like they were either just worried, confused, or not sure what to do. After all, ever since Star Swirl returned, he seemed to take charge of the entire situation. Considering he was supposed to be one of the wisest and experienced legends ever, I supposed it only seemed natural for him to do so.

After acknowledging everyone's silence, he faced the direction of the map and casted more of his magic on it. Several dark clouds reigned on top of certain locations on the map to which Star Swirl noticed and continued speaking. "Our foe will seek dark places from which to draw power. I will prepare my spell so that we may strike as soon as you find him."

Rainbow Dash turned and seemed to notice the mixture of sullen and agitated frowns on everyone's faces after what we had just heard. "Come on, you guys. Everything will be alright. We've gotten this far after kicking so much bad guy butt! We'll be just fine!"

"I like your spirit!" Flash Magnus approved Rainbow's small attempt at inspiring everyone in the room.

It seemed it uplifted the spirits of most of us by just a bit, but some of us still weren't exactly convinced. As I noticed Twilight dragging her hooves away as she left the room, I felt myself brooding over Star Swirl. I knew he supposedly didn't know much or even care about friendship, but I never expected him to be as bad as this. And, I was sure Twilight felt the same way, but instead of being angry, she was most likely feeling disappointed.

Aside from a few missing ponies, the majority of them continued to speak with one another. Star Swirl had already settled on staying behind to work on his spell to banish the Pony of Shadows, but the others decided to visit those dark places on the map to see if that was where the enemy lurking around.

Personally, I didn't care if Star Swirl was a great legend or not as Twilight did, but his words still bothered me. I was already in a far than great mood before all this had happened, but the fact that Star Swirl himself practically called me disposable trash took the cake. Since Star Swirl had already been treating me like a tool to use when needed, I decided to separate myself from the group and binge in silence in my room. As usual, Athena followed me back.

Neither of us said much until somepony else walked in the room.


Lying lazily on my bed, I turned my head towards the doorway to find Fluttershy somewhat cautiously stepping in.

"Yeah?" I simply answered.

"Are you feeling okay?" She asked as she approached me.

"I'm fine. Just waiting for this to be over already."

"Five of us, along with the pillars except for Star Swirl, are going out to find where the Pony of Shadows might be. So, we'll be back later."

"Alright. Be careful." I told her, but I felt the way I had said it was distant.

I was sure she noticed it because she continued gazing at me by my side for a short moment with a frown on her face.

"I don't know what's going to happen, but I want to believe Rainbow Dash that things will be alright." She started saying. "We've all gone through so much in the past, and things have always worked out in one way or another. I want to believe that whatever we'll have to do to defeat the Pony of Shadows won't hurt you or Athena at all in the end because if it did, I wouldn't know what I'd do. But, I think it'll be okay. After all, this reminds me of when we had to give up our Elements to the Tree of Harmony. Thankfully, we didn't lose you, so I'm sure that'll you'll be just fine when the Pony of Shadows is gone. However, I'm just a little concerned about what might happen to the Tree if we lose the Elements. If the Tree dies…then…does that mean…?"

"It'll be fine." Athena suddenly answered for her. "We may have been a part of the Tree of Harmony in some way or another, but we aren't actually the tree. We're 'stripped seeds', remember? When seeds fall out of a normal tree, those seeds keep on living even if the first tree dies. I still don't even know what exactly we're supposed to be myself, but I'm sure we'll be fine even if the Tree is gone. But, like we brought up earlier, I'm not sure what'll happen to Equestria if there's no Tree of Harmony to protect it."

Fluttershy seemed to release a sigh of relief. "Hearing the possibility that Equestria might be in danger if there is no Tree of Harmony is scary, but I'm more glad that it gives me all the more reason to believe that the two of you will be okay. Oh!" Her eyes widened a bit as if she had just realized something. "I almost completely forgot. The others must be waiting for me. We'll be back as soon we can." Before she left, she placed a caring kiss on my cheek and trotted out of the room.

"You know…" I began speaking after she had left the room. "I would feel hopeful if the Pony of Shadows was all we had to worry about, but I'll never stop feeling uneasy until the thought of Red doing something is gone completely."

"I know… I know…" Athena understood. "I wasn't expecting any of this to happen out of the blue, but we just have to hang on a little longer, okay?"

"That's just it." I sat up from the bed and faced my sister seriously. "What if he knows what's going on and is already planning to do something while we're distracted with the Pony of Shadows?"

Athena didn't answer for a solid moment. "Without knowing what he's up to, there's nothing we can really do. I hate to say this, but all we can do is just keep waiting until this is settled. Like I've told you, I'm keeping an eye on your body. I'm not sure how or why he's just started to have an effect on you, but the moment I catch him, I'll do whatever it takes to stall if I have to."

Despite her promise of keeping me safe, I returned to staying silent on my bed as many thoughts began to race in my head. For some reason, I began to feel as if I had no clue to what had been going on anymore. I was still willing to believe that everything that had happened since the return of the pillars had all been a dream, but just like with everything else, I simply decided to go along with the ride.

After constantly thinking about the situation we had been, I began feeling absolutely useless. Meanwhile, Athena had checked herself back into me to keep a watch on things for an unknown amount of time. As for me, I had stayed behind with the others that had been working together on the spell that would banish the Pony of Shadows, but it wasn't like I had anything worth contributing to that spell since I really only knew the basics of magic. In the end, I got tired of doing nothing in my room. Even if I couldn't help, I decided to look for Twilight to check up on her.

My first thought was the library, and that was exactly where I found her. However, she looked like she was extremely busy making notes from a certain book. I wasn't sure whether or not I should approach her, but I decided to anyway.

"Hey, Twilight…" I greeted her somewhat cautiously.

"Oh…! Alex. Hey…" She replied, glancing at me for a quick second before she returned her eyes to her paper. "I'm…really sorry about what Star Swirl said earlier. I can kind of see why he never really understood friendship heh heh."

Her attempt at a joke seemed a bit forced.

"Tell me about it…" I responded back. "How are things going in here?"

"Not so great at first, but I think I might have just found a way to keep the pillars here. Which is a good thing! Even if we lose the Elements, we won't be losing the ones who made them."

"Right… The Elements…"

It seemed Twilight caught on to my concern as she stopped writing momentarily to face me.

"Don't worry about leaving us if that's what's on your mind. Star Swirl said some…pretty surprising stuff, but he believed you wouldn't be sacrificed in the first place. I don't know what the deal is with what we thought was your Element, but to be honest, I'm sure all of us only really care that you stay here with us."

"That's true…"

I almost wanted to tell her about the other issue Athena and I had been dealing with, but seeing how busy she was with my own eyes, I couldn't even bring myself to start. I needed to remind myself that I needed to be patient long enough for this ordeal to be over. After all, Athena was keeping an eye out inside me. That had to be good enough.

"I've almost got this spell worked out!" She scribbled furiously at her paper as her eyes narrowed intensively. "Just…need…a little…"

Space was what she really needed. She wouldn't be able to focus on her work if I was there standing beside her. Like a child, I stepped away and positioned myself near the bookcase and waited as calmly as I could for her to finish.

Nevertheless, she immediately rushed out of the room to find Star Swirl by the time it seemed she finished. I followed her back out to the map room to find not only Star Swirl but everyone else that had left to find the Pony of Shadows.

"Isn't there some way to banish him without losing all of you?" Fluttershy had asked Mage Meadowbrook.

"Oh, I wish there were. But to save our home, we are willin' to leave it."

Twilight instantly vaulted in between the conversation with a great grin on her face.

"I don't think you'll have to! My spell isn't completely finished yet, but I think we can send the Pony of Shadows to limbo without all of you having to go as well!"

She dragged the long scroll over to Star Swirl for him to take a look at, but he didn't seem too interested in what she had to offer. "While I appreciate your enthusiasm, Twilight, this is hardly the time to take risks on half-baked spells." With that, Star Swirl simply moved the spell Twilight had worked so hard for on for some time now as if it had been a crayon drawing a foal made.

"Seriously?" I stepped forward, feeling my body inflate with anger. "Who do you think she is? She's studied magic her whole life. She's looked up to you for inspiration. If anypony here has 'half-baked' spells, it's you. After all, while you were spending your thousand years in limbo, Twilight managed to actually finish one of your spells! Her wings aren't just for show!"

Mage Meadowbrook had been studying the spell by his side while I had been unloading on him. I didn't know if he had any kind of response for me in return, but if he did, Mage Meadowbrook caught his attention before it could come out of his mouth.

"While it is an unconventional approach, I believe it could work."

It seemed he couldn't exactly dismiss any suggestion so lightly as he did with Twilight when it came to one of his long-time acquaintances. He finally picked the spell up for himself and studied it for a moment, looking a bit reluctant.

"Hmm. I suppose there is a chance."

His behavior continued to appall me. I knew Twilight technically had some fault in releasing the Pony of Shadows, but all it seemed was that he was much more interested in holding a grudge against her rather than coming up with the best solution that could be made. And, if Twilight knew this as well, it must have been hard for her to take it.

"But we still have no idea where to find the villain." Sunburst raised an important question.

And just as he said that, we all witnessed a familiar glow surface on the six girls' flanks. Just as if they had been summoned to solve a friendship problem, their cutie marks hovered over the map in unity and traveled towards a specific part of the map. It was definitely another area I hadn't been in.

"Maybe we should try there?" Spike pointed out.

"The Hollow Shades." Applejack stepped towards the map, seeming to be familiar with the location. "I think a branch of the Apple family lives there."

"They'd have to be pretty distant. The Hollow Shades was abandoned eons ago." Sunburst informed.

"Hmm, that's odd. The only time the map's called all of us to one place was Starlight's village." Rarity recalled.

Her recollection of the actual first time they had been summoned by the map caused me to remember something else as well. Just like when we were guided over to Starlight's village, my cutie mark was still missing from the map. When I thought about it, I couldn't remember a time I was ever really called by the map.

"And just like with Starlight's village, my cutie mark isn't anywhere in there with everyone else's." I thought out loud. "I don't think it ever has been…"

"I don't find it much of a surprise." Star Swirl joined in, seeming to direct his words at me. "A question I find perplexing is how a seed of the Tree of Harmony can even obtain a cutie mark in the first place."

"Whatever the case is, I think it has something to do with the Tree of Harmony trying to protect us, don't you think? If the map is really a part of the Tree of Harmony, then it could be using it to tell us where the Pony of Shadows is."

"Hmm... The Tree of Harmony acting to protect the light of the realm... Yes. A good thought, Twilight." Star Swirl actually praised Twilight for once ever since his return. He proceeded to hold up the spell Twilight had written as he raised his voice to everyone else. "I will make my notes on this spell. Ready yourselves for battle."

"Uh, I know I'm not as experienced as all of you, but is banishment really the only option?" Starlight brought up all of a sudden. "I mean, it's been a long time. Maybe the Pony of Shadows is ready to talk?"

"I doubt we can save our homeland with a conversation." He argued against.

Just like Athena earlier, Starlight seemed ready to fight back with her own words. "But we could try."

"If I may…" Twilight suddenly cut in as if she was trying to keep an unnecessary argument from breaking out. "I'm sure Star Swirl and the others did try." Twilight told her former pupil. "But, the Pony of Shadows isn't just any kind of pony. You know about Nightmare Moon, right? We had to use the Elements of Harmony to defeat her, and I'm pretty sure if it actually hadn't been Princess Luna underneath that magic, we probably would've had no choice to banish her some way in the end. I don't think an evil spirit like the Pony of Shadows is something you could just talk to. You tried that with Chrysalis after all, and all she was retreat and promise she'd get us back one day. If someone or something doesn't want to change, then there's nothing we can do about it except doing whatever it takes to protect Equestria. You understand, don't you?"

Starlight didn't answer. Instead, she looked away a bit disappointedly.

"I wish to know more about this…Nightmare Moon, but that's for a later talk." Star Swirl added in. "Twilight is exactly right. The Pony of Shadows was not interested in reconciliation. Once a villain, always a villain. Twilight, Sunburst, would you accompany me? I wish to refine this spell for our use."

He led Twilight and Sunburst out of the room and into the hallway, and all of the others soon followed after them.

"Come. We must prepare for the struggle ahead." Rookhoof guided with a confident voice.

In a matter of seconds, the only ones left in the room were Starlight, Spike, and me.

"I know Star Swirl is a great wizard, but this whole plan seems... wrong." Starlight shared with a hefty sigh. "The map's only ever sent us to solve friendship problems."

Starlight had a point about the map only sending the others on friendship problems, but, at the same time, it's not like we had a chance to see it being used for a major villain. We were all already in cocoons by the time Chrysalis attacked.

"Maybe so, but the Pony of Shadows doesn't really seem like the 'friendship' type." Spike answered.

"Honestly? We don't know anything about him."

"Well, nopony does."

Starlight rubbed her chin in thought. "That's not entirely true."

The two left the room, but I wasn't exactly so keen on joining them. I had a strong sense that all I had going for me with this mission was just doing what I was told. It didn't seem my input was going to matter much. Instead of leaving the room with them, I turned around and faced the map to stare at it absentmindedly.

"Things are really starting to get interesting, don't you think?"

I gasped lightly at the sound of his voice and immediately looked up to find him sitting on one of our seats. He had been eyeing me with a malicious smirk, but I didn't answer him. In fact, I was still on the line between him being a hallucination or actually being real.

"There you are." I heard at my side.

It was Athena, and there was no doubt she saw him too as she struck a punishing glare at him.

"Well, look who decided to show up." He leaned against the seat nonchalantly with his forelegs raised against the back of his head. "I was expecting to see you the last time, but guess you were just doing your thing and goofing off like always, huh?"

"It's true, isn't it?" Athena narrowed her eyes at him. "You're a part of Alex, aren't you? Calling yourself Red…what a bad joke."

He laughed out loud in response and pointed his hoof straight towards Athena. "Haha! Finally, someone gets it!"

"So, I'm not wrong then?"

"Mm." He turned his attention towards his hoof and observed it for a bit as if it made any difference. "I'd say you're still wrong."

"Then tell us what you're supposed to be!" Athena demanded in frustration. "You've been making Alex feel some kind of despair lately. You said it yourself. I couldn't find any trace of you until you showed up here all of a sudden, so how?!"

"Hm. You really care about him, don't you?"

"Of course, I do. He's my brother. I'd do anything to keep him safe."

Across the table, Red remained silent after that. Instead, we heard the sound of his hoof repeatedly hitting against the surface of something hard. This continued on for an uneasy moment before he slammed it against the hoofrest of the throne he had been sitting on.

"I never thought you'd be the type of mare to just stand there and lie like that…" He mentioned through gritted teeth.

"W-What are you talking about?" Athena seemed to be taken aback by his unexpected comment.

"You said something like that to me once, and look what happened."

"H-Huh?!" Athena was now completely confused. "Who do you think you're talking to?! Why would I ever promise you something like that?!"

He closed his eyes and sighed silently through his nose. Next, he stood up from the seat behind him and faced her directly. Then, he raised his hoof and pushed away the disheveled mane that had been carelessly covering his right eye.

"These ring a bell?"

When he opened his eyes, I was able to notice something different about the two of them. They had both been red for the most part, but just like with Athena, when compared together, one of them had been lighter than the other. I couldn't come to any kind of conclusion just by looking at these. However, I heard Athena gasp sharply by my side.

"N-No way. You can't be…"

"Finally figured it out?" He brought his hoof back to the ground, allowing for his mane to fall back over his eye.

"You aren't just a part of him…y-you're from…"

"The fact that you even have the nerve to say that to me drives me crazy! That's how you see me? The one who protected you for so long until you just decided to leave me without a care in the world? You're no better than she was."

Athena shook her head fervently.

"I don't care what you say. You're nothing like him. At best, you're just a messed-up version of him!"

"You're going to eat those words." He growled back. "You and 'him' both. We'll see who's who by the time we settle this."

In an attempt to have the last word, he immediately vanished into wisps of darkness.

"This isn't good." Athena admitted worriedly. "We've got to make sure to do whatever it takes to keep him in check."

"Hold on. What was that all about?" I questioned the conversation the two had prior.

Athena appeared to be strongly hesitant about answering the question. "I don't want to believe it…but he says he's you from our past life. And because of that, he thinks he's the 'real' you."

"But, I'm 'me', right?" I asked.

"You're the real deal. That's what I believe." She told me with a serious expression. "But, it's hard to ignore the fact that…somehow he knows about everything that happened to us back then. He's been around for a long while now, so, it's not something we can take lightly. At any rate, we've got to keep our guard up no matter what, Alex, okay? We can't rest until we deal with both him and the Pony of Shadows."

All I could do was agree with her. I hated that I was in this predicament, but there was nothing I, alone, could do to fix it right away. It felt like my heart continued to sink in pools of despair, but the most I could do was make sure it didn't sink deep enough to lose sight of it.

Once everypony was as prepared as they could be, including me, we all gathered at the Tree of Harmony. As we stood in front of it, I remained silent and waited to see if I'd hear any kind of words as Athena claimed to hear herself, but there was nothing of the sort.

"I am glad we have the chance to see what has grown from our efforts so long ago." Somnambula commented as her eyes seemed to gaze over its glory.

"It seems a shame to harm it." Mistmane mentioned next, urging a response from Star Swirl.

"A necessary sacrifice. With the Elements' power, we will bind the Pony of Shadows in limbo. And thanks to Twilight, we will remain to watch over the realm ourselves."

He approached the Tree and casted a quick spell. With one flick of his horn, all of the Elements that had been stored within the Tree of Harmony easily came and returned to their respective owners. Honestly, it was a little weird seeing these Elements again. In fact, they somewhat reminded me of simpler times.

"Um..." Rockhoof stared intently at the Elements that transformed into accessories for the girls to wear. "How do we use them?"

"Well, you..." Rarity was the first to respond to him as if she had the answer off the top of her head. "Oh. I'm not sure. They simply work for us."

"The Elements are attuned to you. We must use their magic in pairs." Star Swirl explained.

"No problem. We're used to banishing evil before breakfast." Rainbow Dash confidently proclaimed with a bold voice, sharing a hoof bump with Flash Magnus mid-flight shortly after.

Athena spared a glance at the Tree of Harmony before turning to Star Swirl as he was getting ready to leave the area with the others. "And you're sure nothing will happen to Alex?"

"As previously stated, there is no seventh pillar, so there is more than likely no 'seventh Element'. However, if it is true that he is indeed the one who bears the light required for the Elements to function properly, then it's possible that light may be completely drained in order to banish the Pony of Shadows. That is the worst-case scenario and completely varies on how long this banishing spell will take to cast."

Athena lowered her head in thought as Star Swirl passed her to reconvene with the others.

"So…even if I don't have an Element, there's still a chance to…?"

"I don't really know myself…" Athena mentioned a little sadly. "Despite being your light for all this time, even I don't know everything about this. Star Swirl did say it was a worst-case scenario, but I'm hoping that if the light does drain out, I'm the only one who takes the fall."

"Don't say things like that." I immediately drew closer to her and practically pleaded. "Things can't end like this for us. We have to get through this."

Athena nodded. "I know. And, that's why I don't plan to give up easily. I don't know what's going to happen to us in these next few vital moments, but I want you to know that I'll fight for you as hard as I can to the end."

"Right." I strongly agreed with her. "We'll defeat this 'Pony of Shadows' and find some way to make it the last time we deal with 'Red'."

Athena stuck close by my side as we made a fairly long trek to an area known as Hollow Shades. We trailed at the back of the group, mostly to keep to ourselves when it came to brainstorming certain scenarios and counters for Red. However, on the other hoof, I couldn't help but feel it was all to no avail. If Red really was a part of me, then it could have easily been possible for him to find out any strategy we could come up with, rendering it useless.

"I don't remember reading anything that said the Hollow Shades was like this." Sunburst said as we seemed to arrive at the core of the desolate village.

"Ohhh. The Pony of Shadows must have twisted it to his purposes." Mistmane stated as she took a cautious and fearful look around.

We gathered around what looked like an empty well. From there, we heard a faint but boisterous chuckle. In fact, it seemed to have been coming from the depths of the dark space below.

"Prepare yourselves. He is here." Star Swirl warned, but he didn't seem to notice the direction it had been coming from. "Stygian! Show yourself and face us!"

"Stygian?" I repeated, the name being unfamiliar to me.

Laughter broke out, and it sounded much louder than before. Before we knew it, several cracks surfaced on the ground around us. It was only a second after when these cracks grew to a tremendous size, and the ground below us gave away. It was a quick fall, so quick that I didn't even have time to try and use my wings. Everyone gathered together at the bottom, and I was hoping that I didn't land on somepony else.

"…everypony okay?" I heard Twilight's voice ask.

"Uh-huh…" Rainbow's voice sounded out the most in the collected group of okays said by the others.

I pushed myself off the ground, quickly searching around me for Athena. As soon as I spotted her, I helped her up and made sure she was okay.

"I definitely would've remembered reading about this." Sunburst mentioned at the front, adjusting his glasses at the sight of something in particular towards him.

A maniac laugh roared around us, and there was no doubt it was much closer than before when we were above ground. The Pony of Shadows must have been lingering somewhere here in the darkness that once filled this place.

Just at the moment, a dark fog began to envelop the area at a fast pace, causing Star Swirl to evoke a bubble of his magic over all of us. Seeing this made me wonder if that dark fog was somehow poisonous. Before that dark fog, the Pony of Shadows revealed himself to us, and I couldn't help but get brief flashbacks over the similarities between Nightmare Moon.

"Welcome to the Well of Shade!" He greeted. "When you turned your backs on me, I discovered this place. The darkness spoke to me of a power beyond any I could imagine, and I listened. The shadow and I became one. Soon, all of the realm will be the same. Then all ponies will feel the despair I did when you cast me out!"

"We did what we had to do." Star Swirl boldly rebuked. "You tried to steal our powers for yourself."

"No! It was you who were selfish! And now you will pay!" He winded his head backwards before lurching forward to shoot a black beam out of his horn. The force of his magic colliding with Star Swirl's shield was powerful enough to cause an unignorable crack as well as shake the interior as if a light earthquake surfaced.

"Ready yourselves!" Star Swirl yelled out. "Open the portal…"

The Pony of Shadows fired another beam, breaking the shield entirely.

"Now!" Star Swirl ordered.

Each one of the girls paired with the respective pillar, combining the magic of their Element and the other's artifact. Besides me, Athena closed her eyes and seemed to hold great focus. An aura of light permeated the space around her body, and a trail of light soon connected the two of us at my chest. All seemed fine as the Elements did their thing, but something inside me caused a sudden sharp pain that I couldn't easily ignore.

In front of me, the great beam of magic that came from both the Elements and the pillars launched towards the Pony of Shadows, but he managed to quickly duck underneath that beam to avoid it. Nevertheless, the magic from the Elements opened a rift behind him, causing him to be sucked in like a black hole.

He tried to move towards another, but another beam of magic from the Elements pushed him towards the hole, making it harder for him to escape.

"No! You will not trap me again!" Our enemy refused, working tremendously hard to keep himself in our realm.

"Twilight! Push him in!" Star Swirl called.

A headache had been settling inside me. I raised my hoof to my head and turned to Twilight.

Do it, Twilight. Do it so we can move on.

Just as she was about to focus the aim of her own Element, she stopped all of a sudden for some unknown reason. She stared back at the Pony of Shadows, and in the next moment, she suddenly dove straight towards the chest, vanishing inside as if it had been some kind of liquid.

"What?! What is she doing?!" Star Swirl questioned.

"Stop!" Starlight turned to her friends. "Twilight's inside! Don't push her in!"

The others ceased the firing of the Elements, but the pain I had been feeling didn't stop. It wasn't unbearable, but for some reason, I felt it growing slowly but surely. Was this the light being drained? If we didn't finish this soon, we could lose it and Athena will…!

"Are you... Stygian?" We heard Twilight's voice echo within the Pony of Shadows.

"I was, once. Until my friends betrayed me." Another rebounded from inside.

"But Star Swirl says you betrayed them. You wanted their magic..."

"No! I wanted their respect. I brought them together. I planned strategy, and I read all I could about the beasts we faced. But I didn't have magic or strength, so nopony ever noticed me. I went to Ponhenge to make my own copies of the artifacts. With them, I thought I could be a Pillar, too, and stand by their side in battle. I never wanted to steal their power. But instead of sharing and letting me help, my friends threw me out." From what I had noticed, everypony had been quietly listening to the conversation that had been going on. However, I turned to Athena to find her still focusing on the light, but since the Elements had stopped firing, it seemed it didn't take much out of her. On the other hoof, the voice that spoke to Twilight suddenly grew darker and deeper. "So, I became stronger than any of them! The darkness welcomed me when no pony would, and I will do what I must to protect it!"

"This is all a misunderstanding! If the Pillars knew how you felt, I'm sure they wouldn't have turned their backs on you. The shadow isn't who you really are. Let me help you be Stygian again."

At that moment, Starlight furrowed her brow and dove in after Twilight with the use of her own magic.

"Even if my friends did still care, what makes you think you have the power to help me?"

"Because it's what she does." Starlight's voice was now heard from inside. "I wasn't so different from you, and Twilight helped me change. If there's one pony in Equestria that can save a friendship, it's her."

"I... I want to believe you... But the darkness will not be stopped!"

What sounded like a scuffle ensued from within the depths of the Pony of Shadows. All of a sudden, Twilight was thrown out, but she had a strong hold of something on the inside with her magic.

"Fight the darkness, Stygian!" Twilight encouraged as Starlight appeared after. "You don't need it anymore! Revenge isn't what you want! Friendship is!"

As I heard those words, her voice unexpectedly became muffled. The ache in my head began to become intolerable, and my heart began to pound strongly against my chest. I was still able to tell that some kind of fight was occurring right in front of me, but everyone's voices became faint and inaudible.

I began panicking, but the strange thing was…I couldn't even do that. It was as if I was losing control of my body. Dark blotches began to fill my vision, and the last thing I was able to do was search for Athena. I didn't blame her for keeping her eyes on the Pony of Shadows, considering we had been on the verge of completing the current mission.

I tried to hold a hoof out to her and call out her name, but it seemed I was even unable to do that. All I could do at that moment was watch a petrifying darkness cloud both my vision and mind. And then, it felt as if I had fallen unconscious.


Don't worry, Alex! I'm still holding strong! We'll get through this!

I repeated those words in my head as I focused on helping the others drag the pony that had been inside the Pony of Shadows out.

Thankfully, with everyone's combined strengths, we finally got him out, and all that was left was a shell of that darkness that used to hold him hostage.

"Now! Push it in!" Star Swirl commanded.

Just as we were about to deal the final blow, something pushed me aside toward the ground, and the flow of magic between us suddenly cut off. The portal behind it closed, and what was left of the Pony of Shadows was able to remain. Although it didn't do anything right away, everyone was completely alarmed including me.

"What happened?! Why did the portal close?!" Star Swirl asked as he turned back to us.

From there, we heard an insanely hysterical laughter. However, it wasn't the same one we had heard from the Pony of Shadows earlier. Instead, this laughter was a lot closer and familiar. Each of us turned to the source of this laughter, including me.

What I saw drove me into a state of complete shock.

The pony responsible continued to laugh out wildly, and it felt like forever until it died down. But, when it did, it certainly wasn't enough to stop him from opening his now strikingly red eyes.

"You've gotta be kidding me! A shrimp like him was the terrifying 'Pony of Shadows' all along?! Give me a break!"

"You fool! What are you doing?!" Star Swirl scolded him.

"Alex! What's gotten into you?!" Twilight began to worriedly approach him, but I quickly stopped her.

"T-That's not, Alex! I-I-It's—!" I stammered, unable to finish my sentence.

"Oh, it's on now." He continued as a malicious smirk stretched over his face. "It's time to show you what a real Pony of Shadows is."

As soon as he said that, he immediately dove straight into the absent shell of what used to be the Pony of Shadows. This time, instead of appearing as a towering menace, it shrunk to a smaller size. However, that didn't make it any less dangerous, and we could hear what used to be Alex's voice echo loudly in the basement we had been in.

Star Swirl raised his magic and fired towards the new Pony of Shadows, forcing him to hold his place.

"Bring up the portal!" He commanded.

"No! You can't!" Twilight immediately intervened.

Nevertheless, the afflicted one in front of us found the odds against him to be absolutely hilarious, cackling out loudly.

"You think I'm scared, you old coot? I can do this all day, and guess what, you can do whatever you want. Let me go or send me to limbo, I win either way." His scary grin didn't falter against Star Swirl's magic, but I, for one, was absolutely petrified when he shifted it over to me. "What do you say, Athena? Wanna say bye-bye to your 'big bro' one more time before you never see him again? Oh, wait. That's right. He leaves and you go with him. Not much you can do about that, huh? Guess you'll finally know what's it's like to be thrown away like trash!"

The two of us locked gazes that didn't break. He was waiting for my move, but I couldn't make one. I couldn't move any part of my body. It wasn't that I was physically unable to, but it was because, in an entire instant, one of my worst nightmares was happening right in front of me.

How could I let this happen?

If I would've taken my promise of protecting Alex a lot more seriously, I could've prevented this! But, this entire time up until now, I had been so selfish, and now I was paying the price!

Because of me…



I'm so sorry.

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