• Published 8th Apr 2013
  • 4,616 Views, 428 Comments

Dusk Dawns - AlphatheGriffin17

Book IV Now taking up lessons with the Princess of the Night, datingthe student of the Princess of the Sun, coping with some bad memories and being the Seventh Element, Dusk certainly has a lot on his plate. And that's just stuff to do with hi

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The Shadow Spectre

"Ha! I have you now, Dusk!" Luna charged forward, her horn glowing bright with magical light.

"I think not!" The stallion created a colour cloud, stepped on it and jumped over her, using shock absorbers to bounce away and round on her again.

"You think those moves will save you?" She took off into the sky, smiling devilishly. "Have at you!" A series of bolts were shot at him.

Dusk was ready for them. Some he dodged, some he managed to block and he barely even stumbled or faltered. He had enough energy to counter and he used it when there was a break in the firing, making Luna retreat.

"Is that your best?" he called. "Equestria will never succumb to the darkness!"

"Oh, but it will. I control the darkness and it will soon sweep all across this land!" At this, her horn glowed again and Dusk's vision clouded.

She had reduced the light around him in order to sneak up on him in the dark. A trick she'd tried before and one that he knew how to counter. He channelled his magic into an orb which, with a bright flash, pierced the darkness around him.

He suddenly felt light-headed, when he realised that he put more energy into the spell than he originally intended. Clearing his head by shaking it, he darted his eyes around, searching for any sign of the Princess of the Night.

Until he felt the point of her horn at his back and knew exactly where she was.

"The end for you is now." He yelped when she sent a mild shock up his spine, making him shoot into the air. "I am victorious once more!"

"Agh, I'm vanquished!" With an exaggerated move, Dusk collapsed to the ground in an act of death.

He opened one eye to see Luna, barely suppressing a grin. He let one of his own spread onto his face and soon the both of them were laughing, mainly at their own hyperbolic behaviour and phrases that they'd been using during their little sparring game.

"Once again, I have bested you," said Luna, helping him up. "You are getting better, but do you know where you went wrong?"

"I put too much energy into the brightness spell to counter the darkness," he affirmed. "You always pull that move when you're desperate."

"As I take it, villains aren't meant to play fair," she countered. "Do you know how you might improve for next time?"

"Perhaps do a series of smaller bursts instead of one big one."

"An apt solution, but we shall see if it serves you well in our next bout." She pouted a little bit. "I don't understand why I am always the villain."

"Typically, the villain is more powerful than the hero. That's what makes their triumph so much more admirable."

"A triumph that you, so far, haven't acclaimed to."

"Arrogance breeds negligence, Luna."

"And foolishness brings defeat, Dusk."

"It's a good thing I'm not a fool then."

"Not much of one." They laughed off their banter, knowing neither meant any malice behind the words. "In all seriousness, you have made great progress these past few days."

"That's kind of you to say so, Princess," he said humbly. "I still have ways to improve completely though."

"Yes, but the progress is hardly negligible," she said. "Soon, you will be able to best any foe in battle, combined with your mind and magic."

"I'd rather not be known as a fighter though," he reminded her. "Only when there's no other way and even then, I wouldn't do it lightly."

"As I have said before, I trust your judgement in that you will always strive to do what's right," she replied. "This is purely for a precaution, just in case you do need to fight."

"I know and I'm grateful for that, though I wish it wasn't necessary," he admitted.

"Patience, Dusk. Once I am confident that you have mastered this part of your training, then we shall move on to more pleasant aspects of your magic," she soothed. "Soon enough though, I think you may have to try sparring with a different opponent to truly test your skills."

"I understand, just so long as they're not too overzealous," he said.

"Of course, I wouldn't want to go to the trouble of finding a new student," she quipped. "Come, let us walk a while before you must retire."

Walking by her side, Dusk followed Luna through the halls of the Canterlot palace, thankful at least he was with a friend throughout all of this.

While his journey to the royal city hadn't been one of the best, it could have been a lot worse. At least he was going somewhere he knew, where he had a few friends to speak of. It was better than nothing. Upon arriving in Canterlot, he had been taken to meet Princess Celestia by a rather rude and curt guard, whom he caught glaring a little at him. The Princess of the Sun, who had met him because Luna was resting, had then showed him that he would be staying back at her school, in the old study suite that she had given to Twilight when she'd resided in Canterlot.

That had been a week ago and Dusk had been kept rather busy since then, so much so, that he hadn't really been given enough time to feel sad about having left Ponyville. Within almost a minute, a knock on his door announced the arrival of Mirror Shine, Prim Proper and their respective coltfriends, Jock and Muscles, who had heard about his arrival in Canterlot and had come to meet him. Thankful again that he still had some friends, Dusk had been more than glad to welcome them and spend a little more time with them when he wasn't busy studying.

Mirror, of course, had been the most sympathetic about him having to leave his friends behind and had done her best to make him feel better. Muscles, too, strove to cheer him up, suggesting that he could probably do with a workout. Prim had just sort of hung on the fringes, looking as eager to leave as possible. She never seemed to like him very much, something Dusk was too afraid to ask exactly why. Jock, while he had been friendly, had now and again been staring at Dusk, or rather glaring, which he usually hid. Dusk wasn't entirely sure, but if he didn't know better, he could have sworn that he was… jealous.

Again, Dusk found himself too afraid and too polite to ask exactly why and just let them take him places during the day, in order to make his time in Canterlot a little more enjoyable. When he wasn't studying or practicing, they would meet up for coffee, go and see a movie and tour the sculpture gardens, with some requests for him to retell the story of how he had helped to defeat Discord whenever they arrived at his statue and his discovery of the Element of Unity.

It was nice to have friends that he didn't need to feel guilty about hurting…

"… and I just felt this incredible, wonderful sensation at the announcement of what I was," he told them. "I could feel my hooves leave the floor, an incredible surge of energy flow through my whole body as a bright light consumed me. Then, when it faded and I looked…"

"You were the Element of Unity!" finished Mirror. "That really is incredible!"

"Like you've already said," muttered Prim.

"I thought so too. Still, it's not such a big issue, really…" he mumbled modestly.

"And again, like you keep saying," Prim sighed exasperatedly.

"Hey, the guy's telling his story," defended Muscles. "He took down the biggest, toughest guy out there. You gotta respect that."

"Yeah, but we've heard this story, like, a billion times," she reminded him. "No offense, but it's getting kinda dull."

"Sorry, I um…" Dusk lapsed into embarrassed silence and shuffled his hoof.

"Eh, don't sweat it dude," Muscles assured him, slapping him jovially on the back. "I still think it's pretty rad, what you did to that Discord punk."

"Whatever," grumbled Prim.

"I feel the same way," put in Mirror. "It was really a brave thing, what you did. You saved all of Equestria."

"It wasn't just me though," he noted.

"I know, but you helped," she replied. "Come on, take some credit."

Dusk smiled absently. "You sound like my marefriend. She sometimes tells me that I need to try and take pride in the things I do."

"That's Solitary Sparkle, right?" Prim snorted derisively. "Who'd have thought that she'd not only wind up with friends, but a coltfriend too. Not that the colt in question is much to speak of," she muttered quietly.

"Hey, cut the guy some slack!" hissed Muscles. Prim just rolled her eyes and said nothing.

Ignoring them, Mirror smiled at him. "I think it's really sweet that the two of you are together. You make a cute couple."

"Thank you…" His eyes diverted and he sighed at the thought of her.

"Oh, sorry," she muttered. "It must be hard for you, her not being here. It must be strange."

"It is," he admitted. "I keep waking up every morning, expecting to hear her voice and, when I don't…" He kept back the tears that threatened to take over and put on a smile. "Still, life goes on and I'll see her again soon enough."

"That's the spirit," she said proudly. "Put on a brave face, like you did with Discord. Just act like you did then and you'll have no problem."

"I guess," he replied, his cheeks growing red again.

"Yeah, it was pretty great what you did, I know," Jock added. "But uh, just so you know, I was acting pretty brave too. Fighting Discord's snake thingies, whatever-they-were-called."

Dusk looked unsurely at Jock. "I thought the Paraserpents never went beyond Ponyville."

"They didn't," giggled Mirror. "He's just trying to save face because he and Muscles were both prancing around, wearing some of the finest ball gowns whilst Discord was around."

"H-h-hey! I thought we agreed not to mention that!" flushed Jock, as did Muscles.

"I know, I know, but it's still kind of funny," she giggled.

Even Prim had a small smile tugging at her mouth.

"It wasn't really their fault though," pointed out Dusk. "They weren't really in control of their actions at the time."

"What are you saying?" Jock asked defensively. "You saying I don't know how to control myself?"

"I beg your pardon?" asked Dusk, surprised at this sudden outburst.

"You saying that you're better than me, that it?"

"No, no not at all-"

"So what are you saying, huh? What are you saying about me?"

"I… I'm just saying that um, you know, Discord… it's what he does, making ponies act the opposite of um… how they should be. It's just uh, how he works. You couldn't be blamed for your actions because… you weren't in control, that's all."

Jock, while he was still glaring at him, now looked a little bemused from his outburst, as did Dusk. What exactly had prompted that?

"Yeah, cool it dude," assured Muscles. "Everypony was acting nuts when that guy broke out, not just you and me. Like, Prim, I remember you just had flowers in your hair and were skipping all over the place, singing that little tune of yours."

"Hey, shut up about that!" Prim flushed angrily.

"Mary had a little lamb," chanted Mirror, now giggling uncontrollably.

"What about you, doing all of that dancing and singing, dressed up like a clown?" snapped Prim.

"I know, can you believe it?!" That just made her friend giggle all the more.

Dusk too, found himself smiling a little bit that, even though they had been acting oddly under the temporary rule of Discord, they could at least laugh about it. Well, Mirror and Muscles could at any rate.

"Yeah, I guess we all acted a little nuts," Jock admitted. "Sorry about that, dude."

"It's fine," assured Dusk, but, for some reason, he didn't feel like he meant it.

"What about you then?" asked Prim sharply. "How did Discord affect you or does being an Element protect you from that too?"

"Yeah, how did Discord get you?" asked Jock, a little eagerly.

Immediately, Dusk diverted his eyes from them, hearing the laughter echoing in his mind once more, those flashes of the things he'd done coming to the forefront of his thoughts.

"I uh… I'd rather not talk about it," he mumbled.

"Why not? We've all said what we did, what gives you the right to hide?" snapped Prim. "Come on, what's the big secret?"

"Yeah, be fair Dusk, we all did," added Jock.

"I… I… just… I don't…" But he didn't know what to say.

He didn't want to say anything but, at the same time, he didn't want to provoke another hostile reaction. They were, essentially, the only friends he had while he was in Canterlot. He might not know them too well and one of them didn't like him, for some reason, but they were still friends. In a sense, anyway.

What could he do? What could he say?

He was exempted from this by Mirror, who came to his rescue. "Hey guys, drop it. If Dusk doesn't want to say, then that's his business, not ours."

"What?! Why? Why does he get to hide it?" demanded Prim.

"Yeah. Come on, Mirror, that's hardly fair," protested Jock, quite desperately.

"You know what else isn't fair? Making somepony talk about something he doesn't want to," she retorted. "For some, that time was worse for them than for others. Am I right?"

Dusk nodded, silently grateful to her for understanding.

"What she said," agreed Muscles. "If he doesn't wanna talk about it, that's cool, right?"

Jock looked as if he was going to protest but, under the glare of Mirror, he lapsed into embarrassed silence.

"Why do you keep taking his side?" hissed Prim.

"What? I'm just saying," defended Muscles.

"Whatever…" dismissed Prim, diverting her eyes away again. Her mood didn't improve for the rest of the day and left Dusk wondering again why exactly she seemed to despise him so much…

He let the memory pass. Most times, he usually had a good time with them and they were decent company. It was better than doing nothing at all, at any rate.

But those were just the days. At night, that was when things got interesting. Though she sometimes visited him during the day, either to do a short session or just for small talk, Luna was taking full advantage of the fact that he was now readily available in Canterlot for her convenience. Now, instead of doing two hours of lessons a week, it was several hours every night when they would be training him up to master his magic or rather this particular part of it. The fact it was close to winter just gave them even more time to practice than normal, plus the activity kept them warm against the increasing cold.

Needless to say, Dusk was greatly improving where his spell casting was concerned. He was already starting to hold his shock absorbers for a great amount of time, was able to jump higher with the pink ones and punch harder with the orange ones, could fly for minutes on his colour clouds, maintain shields against prolonged attacks and hold longer sustained bursts of pellet attacks. There would be times when he would forget the limits of his strength, get light-headed and tired and have to cancel the spell he was doing, but that was proving to be his only difficulty so far. He knew he was getting stronger all the time.

He still had his convictions, of course. Every time he swung his hoof at a training dummy, he knew that, one day, he'd have to do that to a real pony. Whenever he was shooting down targets with pellet bursts, he suspected that he would be hearing those targets cry out when he would actually hit them. Of course, it would all be in the name of self defence, never a direct attack because somepony made him angry, but the idea of having to use these in battles, against ponies or against living creatures…

The idea still made him feel a little unsure of himself.

Still, he would rather not be at the mercy of some angry pony who preferred to settle things with hooves rather than words and accepted that it was necessary to fight. He should know, he had been in enough of them himself.

Luna, too, helped to make things easier, telling him always that nopony would think less of him if he had no choice but to resort to violence. She was a great source of comfort, not just in reassuring him for his pacifist views, but in also just making him feel welcome while he was in Canterlot. She always made their lessons enjoyable, their talks easy and their time together memorable. At times, with her new attitude towards having a little more fun, it was easy to forget her royal status and the obvious social barrier that should have existed between them.

There were no barriers where friendship was concerned.

The subject of conversation was still on their lesson, not just on what he'd learned, but also just humorous banter on the subject.

"So, who are you going to have as my new sparring opponent?" he asked her. "Who could ever compare to the dangerous grace in battle that only the Princess of the Night can bring?"

"Yes, I imagine that any other opponent would seem mediocre after battling me," she shrugged. "Possibly one of the royal guards, they are well-trained and should provide a challenge."

"Canterlot's finest," he remarked. "I suppose that shouldn't be too bad for me."

"Don't get too overconfident though. I'm still beating you and I'm just going easy on you."

"Confidence is one thing I rarely possess and every defeat brings wisdom," he countered. "Soon enough, I'll beat you too."

"What's this? My student, can it be possible you are growing an ego?" she asked incredulously.

"Don't be silly, just me believing in the impossible as always."

"That's a relief," she giggled. "Speaking seriously, however, you are coming along very well in your magic recently."

"I'm just doing my best."

"Then it's a good thing your best is exactly that," she replied. "We'll still need some more time before I'm sure you've mastered it completely, but we're getting there."

"Thank you, Luna, that's good to hear." His eyes wandered in the direction of Ponyville and a small pang returned in his stomach.

He remembered himself and returned his attention to Luna. While he was glad to hear that he might be going home sooner than he anticipated, he didn't want to hurt Luna's feelings by seeming too eager to go back to Ponyville.

The Princess, however, didn't miss a trick. "You really miss them, don't you?"

"Well um… yes," he admitted sadly.

"Dusk, there's nothing to be ashamed of. It's perfectly natural that you'd miss your friends and lover," she said understandingly. "I'd feel the same in your position."

He smiled in gratitude at her. "Thanks…"

"It's not necessary, a ruler should always make sure her subjects her happy, a friend that her friends are comforted," she dismissed. "Though, I will miss you as well when you go home. I've gotten used to having you around."

"The feeling is mutual," said Dusk. "I'm glad I'm not without friends here, at least."

"Indeed and, no doubt, you would have been to see your parents at some point," she added. "I assume they live here, since you were born and raised in Canterlot."

"They do and um… no, I uh, haven't been to see them…" he admitted uncomfortably.

"What? Well, why not? I would have surely thought that it would be among the first things that you would do," she questioned.

"You'd think so but… it's just… my parents and I we… we're not terribly… in touch…"

"May I ask why?"

"I'd…. I'd rather not talk about it…"

"But if you-"

"Please? I really don't…" He trailed off, leaving it at that.

He didn't really want to think about that, not when he had enough things to feel bad about already.

"If you wish," conceded Luna, not broaching the subject further and changing it. "Well, have you heard anything from your friends in Ponyville?"

"I get a letter from them every day," he replied brightly. "It seems quite a bit has been going on."

"In what way?"

"Well, big news is that Rainbow Dash has become something of the town hero," he told her. "She's rescued a filly who fell down a well, stopped a baby from falling off a cliff, rescued some pensioners from a collapsing balcony and some others from a rock slide. She's got quite a following."

"I can see why, those are noble deeds indeed." She frowned thoughtfully. "Rainbow Dash… she is the one who's ego is a near match of my nephew Blueblood?"

"She's getting there," answered Dusk, a little amused to see that, even with one of his aunts, the prince wasn't highly thought of. "Why?"

"It doesn't seem to me that she would be in need of more praise than she already receives," she said. "Such a thing isn't the best for a pony, I should know."

Dusk nodded, knowing what she was referring to. "That's the other thing. Apparently, she's really starting to get full of herself. Think of how confident she usually is and times that by a factor of infinity."

"How would you know?"

"Because I've been told it and because she herself sent me a ten-page letter, detailing her heroic deeds, complete with memorabilia and signed photo," he replied. "It was nice for her at first, but the girls and I are thinking that it's gone on too long."

"I see their thinking," agreed Luna. "Signed photo, seriously?"

"Seriously," answered Dusk. "The girls have a plan that involves dressing up as a different superhero and acting modestly to teach her a lesson in it. Rarity's going to start designs for it, as well as making it, tomorrow."

"I see," nodded Luna. "I can imagine you'd want to be in Ponyville to see that."

"Yes, but there's something else too. I haven't mentioned this to them but…" He paused and beckoned her closer.

After he'd told her, Luna had a rather thoughtful look on her face which she didn't elaborate to Dusk. She just told him that it was time to retire and that she had something to think about. Dusk didn't question it, but was pleased their lesson had gone well and fell into a peaceful sleep.

His last thought was of Twilight, wondering what she would be doing tomorrow and what she would be doing in this plan.

Twilight was accompanying Pinkie, Applejack and Fluttershy on their way to the Carousel Boutique. It was the day that Rarity had said that the costumes she had made for their shared role as the town's new hero would be finished and they were heading over to examine her work and to try them out. Knowing the fashionista, she'd done an excellent job and now it was just to see if the plan would actually work.

"Ooh, I can't wait to try out these costumes!" Pinkie squealed while she bounced along. "This is gonna be so much fun!"

"Remember Pinkie, we gotta save ponies in danger while we're doin' this," reminded Applejack. "It ain't just a game-a dress up."

"I know, but that doesn't mean we can't have some fun with it," said Pinkie brightly.

"Fair enough, ah guess," shrugged the farm pony.

"I'm going to like this, especially since I don't have to be stared at so much and, when I do, I'll be wearing mask, so nopony will know it's me," said Fluttershy happily. "Pinkie is right, this might be kind of fun."

"In addition, it'll help to reduce Rainbow's ego a bit. Celestia knows it's big enough already," remarked Twilight. "I'm just wondering if it'll actually work."

"Whaddya talkin' 'bout?" asked Applejack. "This whole thing was yer idea ta begin with. Why wouldn't it work?"

"It's still a bit of a long shot though, a lot of unknown variables and possible things that could go wrong in the course of events that will follow," answered Twilight, her analytical mind taking over. "We might not actually act in time, there might be no more accidents, we could be ridiculed rather than praised…"

"We're still going along with it though," Pinkie reminded her. "We gotta be doing something right."

"I suppose," she shrugged. "I guess I'm trying to have a little faith." She felt the pang in her chest that she had whenever she thought of Dusk these days.

He'd only been gone a week and Twilight felt like he had been gone for a month, if not a year. It was easy for her to forget at times that he wasn't here. She'd go to ask him to sort out a shelf or look over her shoulder, expecting to see him peering over it, that sweet smile on his face. Then, she'd see that there was nothing there, that he was gone and be reminded that she still wasn't going to see him today or the next day either.

She usually kept herself busy. She still had her studies to do, spells that she needed to practice and reading that she had to catch up on. There was still Spike, always keeping her good company and livening up the library as much he could, sympathising with her when she found herself missing Dusk. Her friends, too, were always a source of comfort and a welcome distraction by taking her out of the library for a bit. Those times, it was easier to enjoy herself and forget for a while that they were one pony short.

But then, something would remind her. The fact that they were one pony short, perhaps a bright colour or the fact the library was just a lot quieter than it should be and she would glance out of the window at Canterlot and wonder if Dusk was thinking of her too.

Twilight ended up worrying over a few things concerning him. What if he wasn't progressing in his studies and he'd need to stay there longer? What if he was really miserable but he didn't want to say so in his letters for fear of worrying her? It would be like him to do something like that. Should she be doing something, going to Canterlot to see him and make sure he was okay? Then, she'd stop her way to the door, calm down and be more rational.

She knew that there was no point in pining over him, that he was in Canterlot and there wasn't a lot that she could do about it. She'd tell herself that he was there for his studies, that it was important and that she'd see him again soon. They'd only been dating for a few weeks, and while they were close, she thought she should be able to focus more without her thoughts straying to him after longer than a minute. She'd berate herself for wasting her time and try to get back to work.

But that always sounded harsh. Of course she missed him. Why wouldn't she?

The others all missed him too, but they knew Twilight missed him the most. As such, they usually picked up when she did have these little moments, like now.

"Now, come on Twah," Applejack said. "Ain't no point in frettin' about the feller. He wouldn't want that."

"I know, I know," she sighed. "But it's just so easy to look and realise he's not here. I just… I miss him."

"We all do, Twilight," said Fluttershy sympathetically. "I know I do… my big brother… but, when I do miss him, I just remember what he'd say to me."

"What's that…?" She predicted what it might be anyway.

"Have faith!" piped up Pinkie. "He'd probably say it a little smarter, but that's what he'd say, I'd bet. He's not the only one who's psychic you know. I can get into his head just as easily."

There's certainly proof of that, Twilight thought to herself.

"Plus, he'd tell ya ta stop worryin' bout him and that ya probably have better things ta worry 'bout," added Applejack. "But, we all do anyway, jus' don' tell him."

"Yeah, you're right," she nodded, feeling a little better. "Sorry guys, that's just me I guess." They all gave her understanding smiles. "He did like the idea, he said so in his letter yesterday, though he is sorry he won't be here to see it. He wishes us all the best of luck and that he believes in all of us."

"Sounds like jus' the sorta thing he'd say," agreed Applejack.

"Now that he's wished us luck, nothing can go wrong." Pinkie suddenly shrieked. "Oh no! I jinxed myself!"

"Don't worry Pinkie," Twilight assured as they neared Rarity's abode. "I'm sure you're right and it'll all be fine."

She felt sure of herself from that sentiment and was positive all would go according to plan… until Rarity opened the door and she saw her face.

"Oh my, are you okay Rarity?" Fluttershy asked.

"Yeah, ya'll look like somepony's come inta yer room an' torn up all yer fancy dresses an' what-not, 'fore spittin' on 'em."

"Ah, girls, no doubt you're here to see my latest ensemble." She pursed her lips and smiled awkwardly. "Yes, I'm afraid there's been a slight… problem with the costumes."

"What kind of problem?" asked Twilight, when they were ushered inside.

"Well, what Applejack said isn't far from the truth," she admitted. "You see, I was so busy designing and making them and they looked simply fabulous, by the way, that I forgot to feed Opal. I was just so caught up in my work, you see. And Opal can get rather, well, tetchy, let's say, when she isn't fed or else being pampered."

"Now why does that sound familiar?" muttered Applejack.

"Yes, so, in return for my neglecting of her," Rarity continued, leading them to her work room, "she was sure to leave me her exact feelings on the matter, taking it out on my wonderful creations and… well…"

Twilight's eyes were wide when she stepped inside and saw the state of it. Four dress forms, one costume for each of them, stood, or were otherwise toppled over, in the middle of the room. Still attached to them, or else dangling or on the floor like strewn confetti, were tatters and remains of purple rubber, bits of boot and cape and hat, all strewn all over the floor, like it had been savaged by an angry animal. And it actually had been.

"Oh no," groaned the purple unicorn, examing one of the pieces. "These were supposed to be ready today."

"I know and I can make more but, until then, Rainbow Dash will be soaking up even more of the spotlight for a while," said Rarity sadly. "I'm sorry about this, girls."

"It's not your fault Rarity," comforted Fluttershy. "It's only a little longer, right?"

"Yeah, jus' depends if ya can stand Rainbow's ego for that long," said Applejack. "Ah was really hopin' we'd be able ta pull it off by taday."

"Me too, but there's not much we can do now," said Twilight. "Rarity, if you can make these again, that'd be-"

"Twitcha twitch!" remarked Pinkie, her tail vibrating suddenly. "Something's gonna be dropping out of the sky… specifically, a hot air balloon just outside of here."

"We might as well go and watch," sighed Twilight. They all exited the Boutique, an apologetic Rarity following behind.

They emerged from the dress shop to see that Pinkie was, as always, uncannily correct. A pink balloon, similar to the one that Pinkie owned, was plummeting out of the sky with a pink mare still inside it, screaming as it shot towards the earth. It looked like the entire top part of the balloon had burst open at the top, allowing all of the hot air to escape and the balloon to fall.

Despite the dangerous situation for the poor mare, Twilight couldn't help but wonder what exactly would cause that kind of damage to a balloon.

Her thoughts were interrupted when she saw Rainbow streak towards the falling basket, albeit in a very casual way, with her forelegs rested on the back of her neck and her eyes closed. Twilight couldn't believe her. Had her arrogance become so great, that she was as casual about saving a life in danger as one would collecting groceries from the market?

More than ever now, she wished that those costumes had been ready for today or at least hadn't met their end to Opal's claws. They could have acted today, shown Rainbow that an important part of being a hero was being modest, humble about their deeds. It was good to be proud of what you did, but she had been taking it to the extreme.

Dusk would understand… she wished he was here.

A shadow flew over her and the crowd, sailing above them in the sky. Suddenly distracted from the events at play, she looked to see where it landed… and stared.

Standing atop one of the roof tops was a pony, but not dressed like any pony she'd ever seen. He, or she thought it was a he, she couldn't really tell, wore a long black trench coat, which she could tell because of the sleeves on his forelegs, which billowed majestically in the breeze. Underneath, she could make out a tight-fitting rubber suit, though this was a midnight blue, with doubled letter S in a circle on the chest. The mask too, which covered his whole face, matched this colour, the eye-pieces being grey. The boots and the hat he wore, a fedora, were also jet-black, practically matching the shadow he cast.

She blinked in surprise and everypony else saw him too. Where had he come from?

He stood there, tall and proud for a second, before bounding effortlessly across the roof tops, barely even touching them before he jumped to the next one. Then, with one final leap, he soared towards the balloon, grabbed the mare in his legs and carried her off, landing back on the ground. Rainbow, who didn't realise what had happened, smacked right into the balloon and went down with it.

Twilight, overcoming her shock, applauded with the rest of the crowd as the pony helped the mare to her hooves. Without even staying to acknowledge the crowd, he galloped to the balloon, took something from it and, swift like the wind, ran out towards the hills.

"Holy turnips, that pony came outta nowhere!" another mare remarked.

"I've never seen such bravery in all my life!" agreed another.

"That's right! Ponyville has a new hero," the Mayor said, looking out at him. "A mysterious pony that arrived as swift and dark as a shadow, before vanishing like a spectre. I dub this new masked hero the 'Shadow Spectre!'"

Everypony all cheered again and Twilight was rather satisfied to see a disgruntled looking Rainbow emerge from the remains of the balloon, glaring after the newly dubbed Shadow Spectre. Looks like she would be learning her lesson after all.

She was discussing the topic at length with the others as to the sudden appearance of the pony, who exactly he was, where he had come from, where he'd gotten that costume (Rarity's most important inquiry) but none of them had any possible answers, just ideas and theories. In the end, they were just glad he showed up when he did.

"It was pretty cool, how he just showed up out of the blue like that and in the blue as well," remarked Spike in the library that night.

"He certainly seemed to show up at the right place, at the right time," agreed Twilight. "Still, I wouldn't mind knowing who he is. He had the same idea we did, but there just seems to one of him."

"Eh, I wouldn't worry about it," Spike dismissed. "If somepony just shows up and does my work for me, I don't complain. You don't look a gift horse in the… no, wait…"

"You would take that attitude, wouldn't you?" she said, though with a fond smile. "I suppose you have a point though."

"Yeah, I've got a few of them," he noted, gesturing to his spikes and yawning. "Well, I'm gonna hit the sack. Night Twilight…"

"Sleep well Spike, I'll be up in a bit," she told him. "I just want to sort out all of these books first."

"Suit yourself." With a shrug and another yawn, Spike headed off upstairs.

While she was putting away the books she'd been using for her studies that day, Twilight found her mind once again drifting to the mysterious pony and his identity. She didn't know what it was, but she just got the feeling from him that, even though he was wearing a mask, he just seemed somehow… familiar.

Dusk would know, if he was here, she thought.

Deciding that she was too tired to speculate any further on the appearance of the stallion, she shrugged and put away the last of the books. She'd consider this more in the morning, when she was well-rested and alert.

Suddenly, all she could see was black. The light had been turned out. Had that been Spike? If so, why wouldn't he say anything? She let her horn glow to provide a source of light, though it was only a pinprick against the dark.

It was probably nothing…

"Very organised, I'm impressed." Twilight jumped at the voice and whirled around, squinting into the dark.

"Who said that?! Who's there?!" she demanded, though she couldn't see anything in the dark.

"Well, quite obviously, I am," the well-spoken voice replied, confident and unfazed, but still with a polite tone. "I apologize for startling you, but my methods demand the secrecy and the security only the darkness can give."

"If you want to get out a book, the library is closed," she replied. "If you want something, come back tomorrow."

"Oh, believe me, as much as I'd like to, I have no intention of partaking in any literature, though I would like to speak to you," he added, like an afterthought.

"Show yourself!" she commanded. "Only a mad pony talks to thin air and you don't wanna make me mad."

"Please, keep your temper miss," the voice replied. "I will reveal myself, but before I do, you must first promise that you will not be alarmed in any way, shape or form. I have no hostile intent, to you or your dragon friend."

Twilight considered this, deciding she might as well. If things went wrong, she could always teleport herself and Spike out and find help.

"Okay then, I promise. Now, show yourself."

"You have kept your end of the bargain, I shall keep mine." With soft hooffalls, so soft she almost didn't hear them, he stepped out of the shadows and into the light she gave.

"You…" she whispered, beholding the pony who had saved the mare that day. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"

Instead of answering her question, he chuckled from beneath his mask.

"Sorry, did I say something funny?" she snapped.

"Apologies, miss," he said, "I simply find it a little strange how you would ask a pony wearing a mask his identity. It renders the question rather moot, don't you think?"

"Not if you tell me, it doesn't," she countered, not in the mood for games.

"Touché, but then that would rid the mask of its raison d'etre and my wearing it equally pointless," he replied lightly. "Though, while we are on the subject of reason, we arrive at the purpose as to my disturbing your rest tonight."

"Yes, I'd rather like to know that as well," she said, watching him warily in case he tried anything. "If you wanted to take out a book, you could have come here during the day, without that silly costume and just ask. You know, like everypony else."

"Well, that's hardly very interesting, is it? And again, it would eliminate the need for secrecy which, for me, is a great need indeed," he said conversationally. "I hope you can understand, Twilight Sparkle."

"How do you know my name?"

"In a settlement as small as this, everypony has a habit of learning their neighbour's names rather quickly," he elaborated. "As such, I know enough about you that I had to come here and to ask for your assistance."

"What, you want me to be your sidekick?"

"Something like that, though not in the act of the actual deeds, I can handle those myself, but more so with the causes of these events."

"How do you mean?"

He was silent for a moment before speaking. "Do you not find it slightly curious Twilight, may I call you that?" She nodded and he continued. "Do you not find it odd how, in a town that is usually so tranquil and peaceful that all of these life-threatening incidents are occurring and with alarming frequency and regularity at that?"

"They're just accidents," she answered.

"Really? A filly falls down a well, which could have been dismissed as an accident. The day after that, a baby almost falls off a cliff, after that those pensioners, then the rock slide, the falling removals truck and today that balloon. I think these are happening far too regularly to be simple accidents, which can mean only one thing."

"Something's causing them…" whispered Twilight. "But how can you be sure?"

"I can't and I might just be seeing dangers where none exist, but I'd rather be completely sure that there is no threat rather than ignore anything about it." He pulled something out of his pocket and gave it to her. "This is from the balloon that fell today. I took it before I left. Can I count on you for your help, Twilight?"

Twilight looked at the piece of balloon and at the Spectre. He had broken into her home, scared her in the dark and had just expected her to help him just like that? He was a pretty bold character, to just assume that she would help him out on a hunch.

Yet… she didn't know why, but even though he wore a mask, she felt inclined to trust him. He might dress strangely, sneak up on her and want to keep his identity secret, but she knew he that he was essentially a good pony, from what she'd seen from his actions. He wanted to do the right thing and help the town, the same thing she and the others had been planning to do.

She nodded in the end. "Okay, I'll have a look at this and see if there's anything unusual."

"I am indebted to you, Twilight," he replied happily. "Simply examine it and inform me of any abnormalities when next we meet, no matter how big or small. If I manage to retrieve any other pieces of evidence, I shall bring those to you too."

"Right," she nodded. He started to move back into the dark. "Wait! How will I find you again?"

Another chuckle from him. "When the time is right, Twilight, I will find you. Oh, and one other thing: don't mention to anypony that you spoke to me. I would prefer it if as few know about this little investigation as possible."

"If I have to," she said, hoping she'd be able to keep this a better secret than last time. "Who else have you come to?"

"Only you. Goodnight, Twilight Sparkle, pleasant dreams." With that, he melted back into the shadows.

She stood staring at where he had been. Only you… why did those words resonate so much in her mind?

Snapping out of her stupor, she rushed over to the lights and flicked them on. But he had already vanished, without a trace…

Flying high in the skies above Ponyville, Rainbow Dash wasn't happy. Over the past few days, she had plenty of reasons to be happy. She'd been saving all those ponies, she had a big following of ponies who idolized her, she'd been a hero. It was awesome and she had been loving every minute of it. Who wouldn't?

But then he'd shown up and started ruining everything for her, stealing her thunder and her fans, making her look bad. And Rainbow Dash hated to look bad.

The Shadow Spectre… his very name made her want to hit something. It had all started with that balloon yesterday. If she'd just flown a little faster, she would have made it before him. Then, out of nowhere, he'd pranced in and looked like the hero instead of her. Just today, a carriage had been careering out of control down a hill, a carriage she'd almost saved, almost! Then, he'd done it and made her look like an idiot.

She snorted angrily. Just who did that jerk think he was anyway? He could have been nice, just let her do all the saving and do whatever it was he was meant to be doing. But no, he had to have the stupid idea to copy her, he had to go put on a stupid costume and go out of his stupid way to do her job and steal her spotlight! As well as looking bad, Rainbow also hated losing and this stupid stallion was making her lose big time.

Well, she still had the upper hoof. Sure, he'd proven that he could be a hero like her and that he was stronger than her with the carriage today, but there was no way he could be faster than her and he sure as hay hadn't shown that he could fly like her, if he even had wings. Soon enough, she'd show him and the whole town that she still had it, that she was still the hero. That'd show him.

Now, all she needed was a chance to show that off, something to get her title back… but what?

Her answer came to her when she looked down at the sound of a disturbance. At a nearby construction sight, the crane there was swinging around out of control, a large piece of wood on the hook about to fly off. Perfect! This was her chance!

Letting her grin spread onto her face, Rainbow hovered and placed her hooves on her hips boldly.

"Never fear, your friendly neighbour- whoa!" She ducked as the wood sailed over her head and hit the framework of the building they were constructing.

The whole thing shook and started to collapse, raining bricks and pipes and bits of metal down on the construction workers, who started to flee in every direction. Another chance! If she could save them all, she's still prove she was the hero!

"Never fear-!" She was cut off by a piece of wood almost hitting her. No time for catchphrases now! "I'm coming- Hold on- whoa!"

Even with her speed and agility, Rainbow was having difficulty navigating the falling chunks that threatened to smack her head. Even the Spectre wouldn't be able to get through all of this.

"Look!" called one of them.

Speak of the devil, there he was, standing atop the end of the crane. He bounded off and started to lithely weave in and out between falling chunks, occasionally almost getting hit, but he always stayed out of the way. Whenever one was going to hit him, it was like some invisible force pushed it away…

She seethed as he started to rescue workers and carrying them to safety. Stealing her thunder, again! Ooh, he was going to-

Another worker was about to be crushed by a tonne of bricks. This one was hers! She darted forward and had him on her back, just as the bricks hit the ground. She couldn't fly with the worker on her back, but she still worked to gallop him to safety, dodging around debris as she noticed them and the worker called them out.

Then she made it, she actually made it! She felt the elation surge through her as she placed him on the ground, the remainder of the building crashing to the ground behind her. At the sight of it, the stallion fainted.

Ignoring him, she moved to the Spectre who stood with the other workers.

"Well, Shadow Spectre, or should I call you Slow Spectre?" she mocked. "You're gonna have to pick up the pace if you wanna compete with me, 'cause I move like lightning."

"Actually, he saved all of us!" announced another worker. "We owe him our lives!"

Rainbow was struck dumb, staring blankly while the Specter sprinted off, pursued by his latest fans. They should have been her fans!

"Okay. He's strong, fast, and looks like he knows what's gonna happen ahead of time," she summed up, stalking off. "I've gotta step up my game."

Just as she was about to leave, she saw a flash of black out of the corner of her eye. Suspicious, she turned around and saw the hem of a coat move into the seat of the crane. There, she saw the Spectre, who had opened the control point and appeared to be examining the wires.

"Hey, whaddya think you're doing?" she demanded.

He barely even glanced at her, continuing to look at the wires. "Nothing that concerns you."

"Oh yeah? And why is that?" she challenged, getting really ticked off at him now. "What are you trying to hide, huh? Are you the one making this happen, just so you can look like more of a hero than me? Is that it?"

Now, he looked up at her. "I can see that your bloated ego has blinded you to clear thinking, Rainbow Dash. For what reason would I have to cause these incidents?"

"So you can be the hero instead of me! Well, I got here first!" she shouted.

"If I wanted to do this for the praise, I would have not bothered with my apparel and simply pranced around like a peacock, as you have been doing," he countered. "What I do is for the good of everypony, not myself."

"Don't gimme that!" she snapped. "I bet you're loving all the attention, all the cheering and clapping whenever you jump in to save the day! Those should be for me!"

"By Celestia, I expected naivety, but this…" He sighed and shook his head, like she was a child throwing a tantrum. "Know that I do this for the good of all, not just the townsfolk, but for you as well, Rainbow. Soon enough, you will see that I'm right."

"Ooh, I have had it with you!" she growled, raising her hooves. "Let's go. You and me. Right here, right now."

"This is getting out of hoof. I have no wish to fight you, I only came to investigate the state of the electronics in the crane. Now, please, stand aside," he requested politely.

"Oh, you'd like that wouldn't you?!" Without another word, she swung her hoof at him, intending to get him in his thick head.

But he easily dodged around it and her, slipping by and back out of the crane, no doubt intending to run off again. But he wasn't going to get away that easily. She swiped out with her rear leg, the contact enough to make him stumble.

Rounding on him, she brought her hoof around to hit him in the head again. This would teach him to talk like that to her!

But he raised his own and caught it. He raised the other, swung her around and threw her back, making her skid across the ground.

"I said I didn't want to fight you, I didn't say that I wouldn't, if you force me." He bowed his head solemnly. "I apologise, but I really must get going now. Good day, Miss Dash."

"Hey, get back here!"

Before Rainbow could recover herself, he had gone once again, galloping away before she could stop him and vanishing in seconds, leaving Rainbow with only her rage and frustration.

Twilight was waiting in the library the following evening, waiting for the arrival of her secret contact, in the same part that he had contacted her last time. He'd said that he would be back again today and now all she had to do was wait for him to show.

She hadn't seen the Spectre since he had come to her when he'd first arrived on the scene, with his request to help him in an investigation into possible malicious intent behind the apparent accidents that had been occurring in the town. She'd glimpsed him, after he'd done another act of good for the town before running off or she would find in the evenings something he'd left for her to have a look at to further to investigation, but that was it.

Then, of course, she'd seen him today. She'd been in town when Pinkie's sense had started going off, announcing that the dam built above the town was going to burst. As she had something important to tell him and also because she wanted to see him in action again, she'd galloped off to the dam, teleporting some of the way, in an effort to find him and tell him her news.

Though she had been sceptical about his suspicions at first, now that he had given her the opportunity, she could see that there was some evidence to support it. Though it took some examining on her part, the piece of balloon had three, parallel marks on the edge of the torn bit, small but they were there. Claw marks. Similarly, a chunk of wood that he'd deposited from the carriage had indentations in the structure that were clearly made by teeth, enough to wear down the wood and cause it to break.

This hadn't been enough to narrow it down completely, but then he'd given her some pieces of wire from the crane's mechanisms, as well as a detailed description of the state of the electronics written on a piece of parchment. After doing a little bit more research, she had managed to narrow it down to only one possible creature that would be deliberately causing this much mayhem, not just from the claws and teeth but also the nature of the attacks themselves.

That was when she sought him out at the dam… where he had almost failed to save them. Almost.

But there was something else as well. Even though she had no idea who he was, she had begun to feel drawn to him. Maybe it was the mystery of his identity and origins that he presented, but there was something else too. Something else… that sense of familiarity with him had grown ever stronger than when she'd first met him, even though she was no closer to actually knowing who he was. The way he treated her, addressed her…

She knew him… but how?

She heard a slight rustle from fabric and looked around. "You're here, aren't you?"

"Your powers of perception grow ever stronger," drifted his voice, stepping out of the shadows. "I'm impressed, to say the least."

"I'm just very observant," she said. "Just like how I noticed today how you almost failed to fix the dam."

"Ah yes, that." For once, he didn't sound as sure of himself as he had been. "I regret that my magic is not as powerful as I would like it to be. But I was counting on something more than just my own ability."

"And what was that?"

"Yours, Twilight," he replied simply.

"You… you knew I'd help you?" she whispered disbelievingly. "How could you possibly know that?"

"I didn't know exactly, per se," he admitted. "More of a feeling that you would be there when I needed you."

"You… you performed that deed, which the entire town depended on, on a hunch?!" she asked incredulously.

"Hunch is such a negative term for this sort of thing. I prefer to think of it as a sort of faith, as incredible as that might sound."

"Incredible? It sounds foolish!" she voiced angrily. "How can you possibly act on something like that?"

He cocked his head to one side. "Twilight, let me ask you something: do you know who I am?"

"No, as I recall, that's what you said the mask was for," she snapped. "But that doesn't answer my question."

"It will," he said lightly. "So, you have no inkling as to who I am under this mask. I could be absolutely anypony at all because, from your perspective, my identity is a complete unknown."

"Obviously," she replied, mildly wondering where he was going with this.

"Yet, despite this, you know that I am here to save this town and its citizens, that I am here to do the right thing and make sure they come to no harm. My identity, where I came from, none of it matters because, deep down, you know that I will always strive to do what's right, for this town and everypony who lives in it."

"I… I…" She had no answer to that, because he was right. And again, that sense of familiarity grew… but he was in Canterlot…

"That's what I acted on, at the dam. Fact can only get you so far, one cannot hope to know everything in this world, however hard they might try. But faith… faith never ends and can be seen by all, that's the beauty of it. It was what drove me to put on the mask, even though I didn't know what the consequences might be." Though she couldn't see his face, she could tell that, under the mask, he was smiling. "Not everypony can know something, but everypony can believe in something."

Now, Twilight was smiling too. "You sound like my coltfriend. That's the sort of thing he would say, what he would act on."

"He sounds like an open-minded sort of fellow," nodded the Spectre. "I wouldn't mind meeting him."

"Well maybe, if you tell me who you are, I could take you to meet him. I'm sure he'd like to meet you too," she said with a smile.

He chuckled again. "You'll have to try harder than that to discover me, Twilight." There again, that sense of knowing… it couldn't really be him… could it? "On the subject of discovery, how is our little investigation coming? I trust by now you've uncovered something."

He was changing the subject and she knew she wasn't going to get it out of him now. Might as well do what he came her to do.

"As a matter of fact, I have," she said proudly, levitating a nearby bestiary. "I was coming to find you today and tell you, but it looks like you were right. I did a little digging and referring to those items you gave me and I've come up with one conclusion. This is what's been causing us so much trouble."

She had opened the page to reveal a text and image of a small, imp-like creature. The scaly-looking skin was green, the ears were long and large, the head pointed and narrow. Its legs were short, but the arms were long and gangly, ending in wicked claws. Matching them was the creature's face, with deep-set, yellow eyes and a wide grin, showing rows of pointed teeth and a sadistic mischief and delight as it tore at a piece of machinery frantically, frozen on the page.

"Gremlins," she explained to him. "Little creatures that delight in spreading chaos and mayhem, usually by doing things to put others in danger. They love it, but it does mean that ponies get hurt as a result of their antics, hence why they're considered a menace."

"Quite a malicious little thing, I shall say that much," he nodded. "So, they have been the ones causing all of this havoc?"

"That's right, but there's more. Usually, after they've spread enough chaos, they'll get bored and move on, but not in this case," she said grimly. "Because you and Rainbow have been preventing their antics, they don't like that and have been growing more and more bold in a bid to try and get some kind of fun out of it, hence trying the dam stunt today."

"I see… what can we expect from them?"

"Well, now, they'll conserve their energy for a bit, but it's very likely that now, they'll be so disgruntled and angry because you ruined what they consider to be fun, they'll attack directly, when they think they'll be able to spread the most panic and mayhem."

"That certainly doesn't bode well for us," he agreed. "How many of them are there?"

"It's hard to say, it depends on how intent the group would be on causing mayhem," she told him. "But if you were to beat them in a direct confrontation, it should be that they'll get scared enough that they'll run away and try their luck somewhere else."

He nodded again. "Then, I shall do well to remain on close alert. If this is what will rid this town of these despicable creatures, then I shall do it. That, I promise you."

Resting on a storm cloud in a depression, Rainbow Dash tried to not notice how lonely she was without everypony adoring her, even without her friends.

Things had just gotten worse and worse, as far as Rainbow's reputation as a hero was concerned. There had been no disasters happening that she could save ponies from and she couldn't prove her awesomeness with normal things, like she had been trying to do before. Even trying to open a jar! What kind of levels was she stooping to?

And it was all because of him. The Shadow Spectre. Everypony was talking about him now, all adoring and chasing after him, not her. Even her friends! Nopony now, no matter how sleek she looked, how stylish her mane was, wanted to even know her as a hero anymore. It was all him now, everypony wearing his hat and coat, rather than her mane or her wings. It was all him, it was all his fault!

What was she meant to do now? How could she win them back?

"Hey Rainbow Dash!" She knew that voice. It was Scootaloo, her biggest fan. She hadn't left her!

"I knew it!" She jumped off the cloud and dashed up to her, giving her a noogie. "No need to apologize, squirt. Anypony could make that mistake."

The filly looked confused. "Mistake? What mistake?"

"Wait a minute. Why are you here?" she asked.

"To invite you to join us!" she said, gesturing to her friends, both of whom wore Specter stuff. "We're heading off to the thank you parade for Ponyville's greatest hero, the Shadow Spectre."

"No! No way! Can't you see I- I wanna be alone? I love being alone," she insisted.

"Oh, ok. See you later then." Looking a little disappointed, she turned to rejoin her friends.

"Yeah, right, like I'm gonna thank him," she muttered, putting on a mocking voice. "Thank you, Shadow Spectre, whoever you are, for ruining e- " Then, she remembered she was still on her own. "Hey squirt! Wait up!"

The parade was being held on the edge of town, with everypony gathered out to honour him, banners, balloons and cheers, all for him. Rainbow scowled, the only face in the crowd who wasn't smiling.

"Welcome to Ponyville's first, but surely not last, thank you parade, in honour of our city's greatest hero, the spectacular Shadow Spectre!"

At the mayor's announcement, he burst out of the banner on the stage, accompanied with more cheers and claps. So, not in it for the praise, was he? What a liar! That did it, it was time to end this once and for all.

She flew right up to the stage, right in his face.

"The spectacular Shadow Spectre, huh?" she challenged, with gasps from the crowd. "So what are you hiding? Let's see how spectacular you are without that mask!"

She tried to bite it off, but he moved aside, galloping off towards town. Her wings beating, her anger burning, Rainbow darted after him. He wasn't going to get away, not this time.

She put her all into the chase, using every ounce of her speed to keep pace with him. The Spectre, whoever he was, knew the streets well, occasionally traversing the roof tops or trying to throw her off with a sudden swerve or feint in the wrong direction. Clever, but not quick enough. She wasn't going to miss this chance.

She kept pursuit, but it wasn't easy. Sometimes, it seemed like he was in more than one place at once. She'd be chasing him when he was straight ahead, before seeing something out of the corner of her eye. She'd dart after what she thought she saw, before realising that he'd somehow tricked her and was back on his trail again.

All of this just made her more determined to catch him. He thought he was just going vanish, he could think again.

Was that him? Yes, got him! No, that was a decoy. Where'd he go? There, down that back alley! Wait, was that another decoy? No! Wait… yes, no, wait, no! That was him!

Not after long, her efforts looked to be paying off, despite all his twists and tricks. He was running out of steam. She was closing the distance, he was getting slower. She could feel the elation of impending victory as she zoomed ever closer. She almost had him, just a little further…

Suddenly, he whipped around, held out his hoof and cried, "Stop!"

She screeched to a halt, just managing to avoid crashing into him, before regretting not doing so when she had the chance.

"What's the matter? Finally ready to give up?" she said triumphantly.

"No, I am simply done wasting time on this pointless nonsense," he snapped, panting a little. "I had hoped to lose you, but it seems that you are tenacious as you are egocentric."

"I've had enough out of you! You've been ruining my chance to be a hero, spoiling everything! Well now, I'm finally gonna-!"

"Will you stop centring your thoughts around yourself and listen for a moment?" he snapped. "Now, listen because I don't have much time. The only reason that I was at that celebration today was because the town, and its people, are in very immediate danger from a malicious threat that I must stop."

"What are you-?"

"I was meant to wait and see if they would appear, before sending them back to where they came from, but then you had to lead us both on that merry chase, simply because you couldn't see past your bloated ego, again!" He stamped his hoof down and glared at her. "There might still be time to save them, if we hurry."

"If we-?!"

"Yes, we! Since you are partially responsible for my predicament, you can help me to rectify it," he said sharply. "If you truly are the hero you claim to be, then you put aside your misplaced jealousy and assist me in stopping this menace."

They glared at each other in silence. Finally, Rainbow asked, "The town's really in danger then?"


"And you want me to help you?"


"Okay… just answer me one thing."

"Just one?"

"Yeah." She might as well have this. "Why'd you do it? You could have just told me, I would have stopped it. Why the get-up?"

"Because stopping this threat is not all that I'm concerned about," he replied. "It is quite apparent, to others, especially your friends, that you have been milking being the town hero. You have bragged about your accomplishments, professed your superiority and, quite frankly, it is getting tiresome. I put on my mask in order to demonstrate one thing: it is acceptable to be proud of your accomplishments. It is when you take it too far, as you have been."

Rainbow didn't have any retort or come back to that, because he was right. She had indeed been rather arrogant ever since this hero fad started up. Looking back, she really had been milking the whole thing when she really didn't have to. Her friends, now she thought about it, looked pretty annoyed with her when she was being braggy.

The Spectre was right… but wait, why was she listening to him? Why was she trusting the word of a pony that she didn't even know? Furthermore, if she didn't know him, why did she get the feeling she'd heard somepony talk like that before?

"Hold on a sec, why would you care about-?"

"That was your one question," he interrupted. "Now, are we to stand here and procrastinate or would you rather, as I believe the phrase goes, kick some flank?"

"Fine then, but you'd better be right about this." The Spectre said nothing, as they sprinted back towards the parade.

Rainbow could already feel the triumphant smile on her face when they arrived back to find nothing was wrong. There was nothing here, no danger at all.

"Imminent danger, huh?" she shot at the masked stallion.

"Give it a few seconds…"

"For what?" A pony screamed and Rainbow got her answer.

Leaping down from trees, bursting up through the stage, pushing aside tables and snarling at nearby ponies, about ten little goblin-things swarmed all over the party. They threw food, scratched and swiped at ponies unfortunate enough to be standing close and cackling like mad in high-pitched voices, horrid grins set into their faces.

"Yes, imminent danger," he replied smartly. "Gremlins, to be precise."

"Oh… so you were right?"

"Indeed I was."

"Ah, right…" Rainbow watched the scene of mayhem, and then looked to the Spectre. "So… kick some flank?"

"My thoughts exactly. Ladies first, I believe," he offered with a sweep of his coat.

"All right!" She shot forward, punching two of the gremlins hard in the face and knocking them to the ground. The others stared at her, cackled and charged.

The two of them worked together to take down the horde of little monsters, combining both their skills to be an unstoppable force. Rainbow could hit her targets, hard and fast, no matter how many times they came back, while the Spectre used both magic and hooves, sending foes flying.

It wasn't a complete memory, she remembered little flashes. She grabbed one gremlin, hoisted him into the air and threw him towards the Spectre, who caught him in a levitation spell and threw him into another. One of them jumped onto her back and tried to claw at her, but he was shot off by a magical blast from the Spectre. She returned the favour later, shooting in the middle of some when they tried to overwhelm him and saving his skin.

She may not have liked him all that much at first, but fighting with him now, working together to save the town from the gremlins… she had to admit, this was pretty awesome.

She realised that this was the first time she'd seen the stallion fight and it was quite impressive and, again, she felt she'd seen it before. The way he fought and moved, it wasn't anything skilled or fluid, but it was precise, controlled. Like he knew exactly where to hit them. Like somepony else who fought like that.

Occasionally, she saw something… he looked like he was jumping on clouds that were way too close to the ground. On his hooves, she thought she saw a flash of orange before it vanished…

She just shrugged and punched the gremlin that she had in a headlock.

She also wondered one thing before she just ignored it and went back to hitting them. The gremlins all seemed to have something around their necks, something metal that bleeped a lot. She didn't know what it was, what it was doing and she didn't really care. These things had been threatening her town and her friends. These were just one more thing to smash.

Soon enough, the gremlins had enough. Any that weren't knocked out or beaten scampered away frantically, no longer laughing, but now Rainbow was, waving to them mockingly as they ran. She then turned to the Spectre and grinned broadly at him. They'd done it!

"That was amazing!" called one pony.

"They both worked together to beat those monsters!"

"That was the most awesome thing I've ever seen!"

"Three cheers, for Rainbow Dash and the Shadow Spectre!"

Within seconds, they were both surrounded by fervent admirers and thankful ponies. Rainbow felt the elation she had before, the warmth the admiration and the cheering brought her, just like before. She was going to start claiming how awesome she had been, to get back in the spotlight like she'd hoped.

Then, she looked at the Spectre, who was gazing intently at her. She remembered herself, offered him a smile and looked back to the crowd, settling for waving.

"Aw come on, it was nothing," she insisted. "We both just did what we had to do, right Spectre?" She looked back and gasped in surprise.

"Hey, he's gone!"

"Where'd he go?"

"How does he do that anyway?"

Wow, the guy really didn't want to stick around. But she caught sight of him, a glimpse before he rounded a corner back into town.

Excusing herself from the group, or rather just pushing out of their way and shooting off before they knew what had happened and saying she'd be right back, she darted in the direction he had gone, soon finding him in a darkened alleyway.

"You take the whole shadow thing way too seriously, man," she told him with a small smile.

"I didn't exactly choose the name, you know. You go with what you're given," he replied.

"Fair enough." She frowned at him. "You're not staying, are you?"

"I have no reason to. My work is complete, the gremlins will no longer be a problem and it's time for the shadow to fade away," he said eloquently.

"You really weren't kidding about the whole 'no praise' shtick. Reminds me of somepony I know," she said. "Come on, stay a while. Take a little credit for yourself, you've earned it. You don't have to take off the mask."

"Thank you for the offer, but there are places that I must be." He bowed his again. "Allow me to apologise for any insults that I have offered you. I didn't mean any of them."

"Don't sweat it, I probably needed to hear some of it," she shrugged. "Sorry for being such a thick head, I guess."

"Think nothing of it," he dismissed. "In all honesty, you were quite spectacular in your actions."

"I know, but you were too and I don't often admit that." She punched his leg lightly. "You're all right by me, Spectre."

He winced a little from the contact. "I appreciate the sentiment, Miss Dash, to be sure."

"Hey, since you're retiring or whatever, how about showing me who you really are?" she prompted. "Come on, just for me? You owe me for helping you out."

"Techinally, since you were repaying me for almost tarnishing my plan in the first place, I wouldn't think so." He gestured to his mask. "This is one secret that I shall be keeping. Still, you've proven your determination for a goal, at any rate. You work it out."

"Bring it on!" She watched him bound back up to the roof tops and saluted him. "So long, Shadow Spectre!"

He returned the gesture with a sweep of his hat and a bow. "And to you too, Rainbow Dash! Until next we meet!"

She looked off at the spot where he'd run off, allowed herself a little laugh and returned to the celebration.

Everypony said that he had gone. They said that, now the danger had past, that he had hung up his hat and his coat and returned to being a normal citizen, never claiming the praise and thanks that so many wanted to offer him. They said the Shadow Spectre had left town and most believed it.

But not Twilight Sparkle, who was waiting again in the same wing of the library for one, last meeting with the masked pony. Even during the celebration that they'd had after the gremlins had been chased off, she had a feeling that he was still in the town somewhere, just waiting for this moment. She didn't know what it was.

Maybe it was faith, like he said.

She waited, to see if she was right and her suspicions would be confirmed. She was. He stepped out of the shadow, still dressed in his costume, but seeming a lot more relaxed now.

"How did you know I would come?" he asked.

"I didn't," she replied. "That was some good work, beating off those gremlins."

"There's no glory to be found it battle, nor praise to be gained from a fight," he said. "I simply did what I had to, nothing more."

"Even so, everypony thinks you're a hero, for what you and Rainbow Dash did."

"Ponies think a lot of things, especially when it's noticeable," he mused. "But, once it leaves, they'll stop thinking about it and eventually forget it even existed. Just as how it should be."

"I don't think anypony will forget about you very soon," she noted. "You're leaving then?"

"I am. My work here is done and the town is safe. I am content with that and I do have a life beyond this mask," he said lightly. "I really must be getting back to it, this vigilante business has been eating into my schedule."

"I can certainly understand that," giggled Twilight.

"I just came to thank you for your assistance, Twilight." He bowed his head respectfully. "It was invaluable and I couldn't have managed it without you."

"It was my pleasure, I'm glad I helped," she said humbly.

"There is, however, one last thing I might ask of you." He levitated an object to her, a metal ring, large enough to fit around a neck. "The gremlins all appeared to be wearing these. Most of them were damaged in the battle, this was the only one that was relatively intact."

"I'll have a look at it too, if that's what you're asking," she assured him.

"Thank you again. I don't want to seem presumptuous, but I believe this may have been more than just a random attack."

"Are you always this paranoid?"

"Just being cautious," he said, though she could hear the smile in his voice.

Now, for something that she hoped would confirm her thoughts on a particular matter. It still seemed unlikely, but she had to know.

"I just want to know something: why me?" she asked. "You could have chosen anypony to help you in your investigation, but you chose me. Why?"

He was silent for a long time before answering, "I think you know that already, Miss Sparkle. Farewell…"

That proved it. The way he said that, the inflections in his voice. It might sound differently for some reason, but it had to be him.

"Hold on." He paused and she approached closer. "You never gave anypony the chance to thank you, for what you had done."

"I don't need thanks for doing what I had to."

"You would say something like that." She was right in front of him now, but he didn't move away. "At least let me show you how grateful I am."

"But… how…?" His voice had lost its confident tone now. It even sounded like him… but was it?

Twilight didn't reply, at least not with words. She reached up slowly, lifted up his mask, just enough to expose his mouth, though she couldn't see the fur colour in the dark. But it had to be him. Closing her eyes, she leaned forward and pressed her lips against his.

The surge that shot through her, the way he kissed her and briefly held her… it was him. Even when his lips left hers and she opened her eyes to see that he had gone once again, Twilight still smiled and whispered into the dark.

"Thank you, Dusk."

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