by scion

First published

Evil has come to the Everfree and Ponyville. The Elements must stand against it... but they will not be alone. The mysterious blue-eyed wolf will aid-or hamper- their efforts to bring harmony back to Equestria.

Loyalty; Generosity; Laughter; Honesty; Kindness; Magic;
These are the pillars upon which Equestrian society stands. Upon these principles, Harmony is maintained, and civilization flourishes.

But there are other magics in this world. Intelligent life requires three things:
Wisdom, to decide upon an action.
Courage, to go through with the action.
Power, to carry out the action.

An individual with Wisdom, Courage, and Power... can change the world.

Evil unlike any Equestria has ever seen has come to the Everfree, and through proximity, Ponyville. The Mane 6 must attempt to overcome the darkness they are faced with; it will not be easy.

But they will not face such evil alone.

The Hero has come.

A Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess and MLP crossover.


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The Everfree Forest.

For ponykind, it is a source of mystery and danger, an untamable wilderness that stretches for miles and miles. It is full of many dangerous beasts; hydras, manticores, and even the occasional dragon have called the Everfree ‘home’ over its existence, welcomed into the green depths with open arms. Few ponies or other creatures of civilization have ever called it home; the perils of the depths appeal to few.

It has resisted all attempts to tame it over years longer than many could count; the weather there will never be regulated by Pegasi, the plants never tended by even the bravest of earth ponies. The magic of the unicorns is inadequate, like a single candle trying to light a mansion in the dead of a moonless night. The immortal gods themselves, the Sun and Moon, have tried to tame or conquer the forest; the ruins of the last attempts to civilize the Everfree lie broken and abandoned, slowly being reclaimed by trees and animals. Even Chaos has found itself stymied, for all the power and potency it possesses.

And the Everfree has power, greater than any know. The Sun and Moon have some inkling of this. They have even used it to their advantage in their immortal lives, for the forest provided safe haven when they were young and the evil of Tartarus roamed the world, for while the Everfree is no stranger to death, it does repel evil. And when Chaos reigned and brought their first attempts at civilization crashing back to the ground, they and their mortal charges fled to the Everfree, where Chaos could not harm them. This relative safety led to the attempt to control the great forest; ponies, at the command of their immortal gods, split wood and stone to create a safe haven within the dangerous jungle. But it was not to last. For while the strange magic offers safety from evil, it also abhors civilization. The homes came under siege from nature itself, and despite the efforts of even the greatest mages, or even the Sun and Moon themselves, it was a lost cause.

No pony knows how, or why, any of this is; even the immortal gods of this realm have long since stopped their questioning and have accepted that the forest will never be tamed, or conquered, or even answer their questions. It has existed for longer than recorded pony history, and it will likely remain until the stars themselves succumb to time. It has been, and always will be, ever free.

Deep within the forest is a spring, clear as glass, with a small, sandy island in the middle. Large and deep enough to swim in, it feeds a small waterfall that leads to a stream. Fish dart around in the spring, feeding off the algae and insects. Peace reigns upon its shores, and even the hungriest manticore will gently help a newborn foal to drink from its cooling water. The Sun and Moon know of it, though they do not grasp the significance of the spring; they sheltered there when they were young, when demons and monstrosities roamed the earth, for at the banks of the spring, there are no predators, or prey. Just equals, great and small.

Today was not so peaceful, for the first time in centuries longer than a mortal can count. The forest was silent, not so much as a bird chirping. Something was wrong, and every creature in the Everfree knew it.

Every creature in the forest feared it.

Darkness began to creep towards the pool, even with the sun high in the sky. Movement came from within the shadows- large, gangly creatures with heads as flat as a sheet of paper, with hands, not hooves, on the ends of their forelegs. Arcane lines were painted onto the skin, but the pattern in the center of their chest and back glowed a malevolent red. They moved slowly, with purpose and utter confidence towards the spring.

The pool glowed a brilliant white, as though lit by an inner sun. From the sandy island in the center, a glowing white ball rose into the air, where it stayed momentarily. From behind the island, an ethereal creature leaped up and seized the ball, cradling it protectively.

It was a hodgepodge mix of many animals. Its head and front were that of a pony of unusual size, with a horn sprouting from its head. The forelegs were also that of a pony, the hooves cradling the ball protectively to its underbelly. On its back, a pair of glowing bat wings sprouted, wrapped protectively around the ball. Its rear legs were that of a lion, and instead of a tail a wicked-looking stinger arched up.

The creature eyed the dark gangly ones that looked on impassively at the shores of the spring. As one, they began to wade into the spring, heading for the island in the middle, and the guardian of the ball of light.

A scream was heard as the ball was torn from the guardian, a scream that pierced the very fabric of the world. It faded, the guardian becoming nothing more than a dimly glowing star as the pool returned to its normal watery state.

The dark creatures, clutching the stolen treasure, each plunged a long arm into the very heart of the ball. It turned black and hardened, then burst into many pieces. Each piece became an insect, larger than a pony’s hoof, sparking with energy. The black insects spread their wings and flew, heading away from the spring.

In the Everfree and the lands closest to it, the twilight fell like a veil.

It Begins...

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Applejack trotted through the trees of her farm, blissful and happy in the beautiful afternoon. The apple trees around her were in full bloom, a result of plenty of water from the weather team and the encouragement that Applejack and her family, as earth ponies, provided. Her nose twitched, smelling the scents of her beloved apple trees as she continued her brisk trot through the orchard.

Farm life was unique. During harvests, the pace was breakneck as the family tried to harvest their produce and livelihood; working until past nightfall only to rise before Celestia’s sun the next morning was common during those times. But in the spring, when their apples had yet to bloom, the pace was far more sedate; there were chores, slopping the pigs, talking to Betsy and the other cows, and there was maintenance work to be done, certainly, but a farmer had free time after all was said and done. To that end, Applejack chose to spend her time today among her trees, checking for parasites and other bad signs ostensibly but really just enjoying the rare time she had off.

A flash of color brought a grin to her face and a change in direction. A few seconds later she stopped, standing below a chromatic spectrum of color made of hair. Following said tail hair up to the body, the apple farmer beheld a particularly familiar sight; a rainbow-maned cyan-blue pegasus, sprawled between the branches of one of her apple trees like a cat. And also like a cat, she was napping, her eyes closed as her hooves and wings twitched.

Rainbow Dash was the laziest pegasus Applejack had ever known. Laziness was not something that Applejack had ever really approved of- hard work was the only thing that kept a farm afloat, and so it was hard work that Applejack respected. Still, that being said, the pegasus was a good friend, and after spending time around her Applejack had come to realize that Dash worked hard when she was motivated, and that there was never a more true or loyal friend.

Still, on a day like today, something deep in Applejack told her that her good friend had the right idea. Just lie down, take a nice little nap, and let the world go by. It wasn’t something she would ever admit to doing, lest others believe that she was just as lazy as her layabout friend. But it also was necessary sometimes to stop and smell the flowers. On a day like this, with her chores done and no place to be until supper, it would be nice to sit and watch the world go by.

Sitting down and leaning back against the tree, Applejack tilted her Pappy’s hat down over her eyes so she could grab a little shuteye too.


Fluttershy smiled softly as the family of squirrels gathered around their late lunch. Helping animals was something she would never tire of; all life was precious, even the smallest of little fuzzy creatures. Her cutie mark attested to her passion, a talent only surpassed by her unique ability to understand the creatures around her.

The pink-maned, butter-yellow pegasus loved animals because they were uncomplicated. Ponies were nice, but there were so many things and social rules that had to be followed, and she always came off embarrassed and worried that everyone could see everything she did wrong. Animals were different. They did not judge, they did not make snide comments behind your back, they did not tease you about how you couldn’t fly; no, if you gave them love and respect, then they gave you unconditional love in return. It was simple.

Not that she didn’t have pony friends, oh no. Rainbow Dash had always been her friend since Flight School. More recently, four other mares had come into her life, Twilight Sparkle the Princess’s Protégé/Librarian, Rarity the Dressmaker, Applejack the Farmer, and Pinkie Pie the Party Pony/Confectioner. Fluttershy did not know how she had ended up with so many friends, but she would do anything for them. Still, her job, and indeed her passion, were animals. There was only one other place she would rather be than watch the family of squirrels daintily eat the assorted nuts she had set out for the, and that one place would be with her friends.

The squirrels before her scattered without warning. Alarmed, Fluttershy flared her wings and looked around for what/who had startled them. When she looked immediately behind her, she jumped ten feet into the air and into a tree with a shriek.

Below her was a contrite-looking manticore. He gave a few soft meows. Fluttershy sighed, then flared her wings as she dropped back to the ground, landing gracefully.

“Mr. Manticore, I know you’re sorry, but please don’t do that again,” she told him softly. Mr. Manticore was not often seen by Fluttershy. He was very much a wild animal, and a predator as well, and much preferred to live as nature intended deep in the Everfree forest. Still, after the debacle with Nightmare Moon and the thorn that Fluttershy had removed, he had been open to visits from the demure pegasus. It wasn’t often, but he occasionally sought her out if he had injuries or if he felt like it. She was hoping to convince him to come more often, and perhaps go on an all-fish diet so that her little critter friends wouldn’t be scared of him, but such things had not happened yet. She had to be patient with him to win him over. The manticore yowled softly at her.

“What do you mean?” she asked. Fluttershy hadn’t sensed anything wrong. He yowled at her again, before ending in a pathetic mewling that in no way befitted a fearsome predator of the jungle. Fluttershy then noticed that Mr. Manticore, one of the more fearsome predators of the Everfree forest, was shaking like a leaf.

“Wh… whha… what do you mean?” she stammered out. A short meow answered her. Fluttershy’s wings clamped to her sides as her eyes went wide in understanding… and horror.

“Ohhhhhh dear… oh dear… ohdearohdearohdearohdear-“

She was cut off by a scream that seemed to tear reality itself. Before her very eyes, the world changed. All Fluttershy could do was look on, wide-eyed, as Mr. Manticore collapsed in a trembling heap and the very reality of the world around her shifted sideways.


Something roused Applejack’s consciousness from its drowsy state. Without opening her eyes, the mare tried to divine what it was that had forced her from near-sleep to fully awake.

Not sound, not touch…. Sight?

Her eyelids were no longer light, meaning it had gotten dark.

Ah swear ah hadn’t even got t’ sleep…

Applejack opened her eyes under hat, confirming that it was, indeed dark out. Pushing her hat up, she saw more. Something wrong. She shot to her hooves.

There was no moon or stars, like Princess Luna’s night. There was no sun, like Celestia’s day. It was both, yet neither, a darkness that was not complete, a light that was not bright. The world seemed… greyer as well, less colorful than before. But what really got her attention was the wall.

It towered from the ground to as far up as the eye could see, a black mass with what looked to be glowing red glyphs inscribed into it. It was all around, as far as she could see, extending well into the distance around the Everfree and around Ponyville as well.

This was not good.

“Rainbow, wake up!”

“SSNNNKKTtt huh…” the Pegasus trailed off as she shifted. Applejack didn’t try to wake her with words again, the layabout wouldn’t do anything to disturb her nap until it was necessary. No, time to get her out of that tree the old fashioned way. Applejack cocked her legs and bucked.

“HHHHSSSSS Ouch that buckin’ hurt!”

Applejack lay on the ground as her hind legs ached painfully from hitting them against a tree. Normally, such an action would have caused ripened fruit, or in this case, napping pegasi, to fall from said trees, but for some reason that didn’t happen this time. It had also hurt. A lot. As Applejack rose gingerly to her hooves, she decided against trying again. Probably some voodoo magic that the great wall and scenery change had brought with it, either way she wasn’t ready to try bucking a tree again quite yet.

Still, she had to get that lazy Pegasus out of that tree. Applejack eyed the muted rainbow tail, and after a moment of intense contemplation, jumped.

“huh WAAAAAAA ooof!” The cyan Pegasus fell out of the tree with all the grace of a brick.

“Applejack! What the hay!? That was NOT cool!” she scolded as she got to her hooves.

“Ain’t time t’ be nappin’, Rainbow. We got a problem on our hooves.”

“Problem? What are you talking abou….” Now that she was up, Rainbow saw what her friend was talking about.

“What… the… buck…”

“Ah know. C’mon, we gotta get-“

A scream pierced their thoughts, the high pitched scream of a filly. It was joined by two others.

“Applebloom!” Applejack cried out. She took off towards the Crusader’s clubhouse, where her younger sister and her two friends had been enjoying the day.

Rainbow Dash instinctively flapped her powerful wings, to get to the younger ponies as fast as she could. But she wasn’t in the air. She flapped again, harder, and rose perhaps a hoof off the ground. She couldn’t hover, she couldn’t fly for some reason.

Rainbow almost started to panic. Her wings were an inescapable part of her very being, to have such skills inexplicably useless left her nearly in shock. Only one thought stopped her from outright breaking down and crying in terror. Her friends still needed her. Applejack needed her. After one more fruitless flap, she took off after her best friend on the ground, uttering something she never thought she would ever have to say.

“Applejack! Wait up!”


Inside a tree in the center of Ponyville, a certain lavender-coated unicorn was doing what Rainbow managed to avoid: panicking.

“It’s not working!” she cried out in confusion and fear. She tried again to lift the book sitting on the floor in front of her, and once again she felt no magic, saw no horn flare. She sat down heavily on her flank.

“This… this can’t be happening! First the Sun disappears, but the Moon and stars don’t rise, then magic goes away? It’s impossible! SPIKE! SSSSPPPPIIIKKKEE!”

A small, bipedal, purple-scaled and green-spined dragon ran into the room. In his little hands he held a scroll of parchment and a feather quill.

“Ready!” he saluted. Twilight swallowed and took a deep breath before she started to dictate to her number one assistant.

Princess Celestia,

Something has happened in Ponyville, something disastrous I fear. Even as I write I can see the town panicking, and beyond I can see the black wall that has surrounded our town. I have no doubt that you can see it from the castle in Canterlot. Worse still is the loss of magic- I am unable to lift even the slimmest of papers with my levitation, and based on my observations of the other ponies out the window, and those in the library when the event occurred, I have no doubt that this has happened to every pony encompassed by these walls.

Looking at the sky, I cannot see either the Sun or the Moon in the sky- only a murky type of twilight, neither light nor dark. It scares me, but the implications scare me more. I only hope I am wrong.

Please, send help.

Your faithful student,
Twilight Sparkle

“….. Twi-light Spark-le!” Spike finished. He took a deep breath, then blew on the now rolled up parchment.

But there was no flame, no magical sending spell. Only a piece of parchment, still in one purple claw, now bent from the force of his blow. Spike coughed.

“Heh, sorry Twilight. Must have forgotten… somehow… let me try again!”

Another blow, harder even than last time, but there was still no flame. No sending spell. Only a bent and now slightly damp piece of parchment, holding their one and only hope for outside help.

Twilight’s pupils contracted to pinpricks as both she and Spike stared at the piece of parchment in shock and despair.


Celestia felt the disturbance immediately. It was her connection to the Sun; somewhere on Equestria, the Sun was blocked; she could feel it. Despite the implications, she remained calm. Centuries of self-control and discipline squashed the panic before it even fully formed; indeed, to her subjects in the Court, it appeared as only a minor twitch and a falter in the smile of their benevolent idol. She even finished listening to the plea of the pony before her, a farmer who had come to tell her of a particularly insidious loophole in her property laws that the nobility was now using to swindle him out of his farm and livelihood. Celestia nodded graciously, as expected of her, as the farmer finished.

“Thank you, Corn Husk, I will look into this matter immediately,” she said with a regal smile. The golden pony with tan hair bowed before turning and leaving. Before the next petitioner could be announced, Celestia made her move.

“I apologize for the inconvenience, but I am afraid I must cancel court for the rest of the day. All petitioners in line will be accommodated in the Royal Suites. Notary Scribe, please tell the Captain to arrange the accommodations. I am afraid I must take my leave,” she told her secretary.

She was out the door before the announcement was finished. It would have taken a practiced eye, one that would have taken more years than a mortal had, to notice the slight increase in her gait as she headed for her sister’s room.

The doors to Luna’s bedroom were ornate; hoofcrafted by the most exquisite artisans from the past one thousand years, they were as ornate as the doors that lead to the throne room itself. Celestia had never had a desire to have such ornate doors, she was far more simple, but she knew her sister well- presentation was everything to Luna. Show; theatre; perception; such things, while utterly lost upon Celestia, were practically second nature to her younger sister. The doors were important to her younger sister; a piece of her image as Princess Luna Immortalis Noctum, diarchic of the great state of Equestria.

Celestia slammed them against their stops.

Luna was already awake, likely for the same reason that Celestia had cancelled court.

“Sister, what hast happened?!” A recently awakened Luna, complete with sleeping mask hiked up over her horn, was the sight that greeted Princess Celestia Solaria Invictā.

“I do not know, Luna. But whatever it is, it was enough to rouse you from your slumber,” noted with some amusement. She raised the blinds to her sisters bedroom- only to frown. “I do believe I have found the source.”

Luna, now out of her sumptuous bed and slightly awake, saw what her sister had revealed- her pupils expanded in awe and fear.

“Sister, what is this sorcery? If this is one of thy tricks…” she warned.

“No, Luna. This is not a trick. There really is a great black wall in the southeast of our kingdom- and no explanation as to why it is there….”

Eternal Twilight

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Just outside the city limits of Ponyville, the great black wall stood, rippling slightly as though it were made of liquid instead of stone. The red arcane lines glowed brightly at times, but in the sunlight they appeared dimmed and diminished.

Celestia and Luna stood before the wall, both horns aglow with golden and blue light as they inspected the barrier. Around them, guards milled about, conducting their own investigations or tending to the Royal Chariot, waiting upon their rulers. Celestia sighed as she let her spell go, shaking her head.

“I have never seen magic such as this before,” she told her sister quietly.

“Nor have We,” Luna replied absently, her horn still ablaze with magic. “But… there is something familiar here, sister…”

“What do you mean, Luna?”

Luna extinguished her horn. “We- I, cannot put my hoof on it,” she confessed. “But.. it feels…familiar, like We- I have felt it before… but not?”

Celestia lit her horn and magically examined the wall again, attempting to see what her sister saw. She ‘felt’ the magic… and Luna was right, now that she was looking for it… the magic was all at once familiar, and yet not. Like an old friend you had not seen for many years.

“You are correct,” she said, puzzled.

While Celestia and Luna debated among themselves, a young pegasus guard by the name of Wind Waker landed near the wall. Curious about the flowing nature of the monolith before him, he gave it a poke with one hoof, and watched, fascinated, as the black wall rippled from his touch.

“Don’t touch it, Wind!” his wingpartner, Storm Wall, hissed at him.

Wind Waker was about to respond when a giant black hand grabbed him by the throat, cutting off his response and his air.

“Princess!” Storm Wall cried out.

The Princesses, and indeed the entire guard detachment, whipped their heads around just fast enough to catch a glimpse of a monstrous black hand pulling Wind Waker through the wall as though it was a sheet of water. Storm Wall dove, but was too late to do anything more than grasp at his wingpartner's tailhairs.

“Wind Waker!” he cried out, beating his hooves against the great black wall.

“Private, GET BACK!” the Guard Captain shouted.

A golden glow enveloped the pegasus, yanking him backwards. Moments later, a black hand, thin, long, and fast, whipped out of the wall right where Storm Wall had been, grasping at air. It retreated just as quickly.

A heartbeat later, a lightning discharge that Luna had unleashed hit the same spot, scouring and blackening the ground but doing nothing more than splashing harmlessly off the wall itself.

“Captain, cordon off the wall. All of it. Do whatever it takes, but nopony is allowed to go within fifty feet of this wall without permission from Luna or myself,” Celestia ordered, her voice hard as she trotted over. The Captain saluted and began barking orders to his men.

Celestia coolly eyed the wall, now smooth and nondescript, as though nothing had ever happened. Beside her, though, Luna fumed.

“Ponyville is lost, now it hath kidnapped one of Our Guards!” she glared. “We cannot let this pass unanswered!”

“How, Luna?” Celestia mused. “You said it yourself- it is impenetrable. It would likely exhaust both of us just to open a small breach. Though apparently, one can be… invited… in.”

“We cannot do nothing, Sister!”

“No. But neither can we act without information. We must wait until the wall has been thoroughly examined and a weakness identified. But for now, Wind Waker, and all of Ponyville, are on their own.”


It hadn’t taken long for Rainbow Dash to catch up- she was too awesome, even grounded, to be outrun by anypony, even Applejack!- and together the two ponies barreled down the path towards the Crusader Clubhouse, where Applebloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle had been working on their next plan to get their cutie mark. The screams only grew louder as they reached their destination. Applejack was the first there, and the first to ascend the ramp and barrel into the clubhouse, followed closely by Dash.

Inside the clubhouse, three young fillies cowered in the corner as an enormous bug, snapping with blue energy, buzzed ominously. Suddenly, it darted forward, causing all three Crusaders to scream at the top of their lungs and duck; the bug missed all three fillies by a hair. The three galloped away from the corner in a panic.

Applejack had seen enough. She grabbed the filly-sized table in her mouth and threw it with all her strength. Without her Earth pony magic, her throw was not as strong as it once was, but years of applebucking nevertheless gave her enviable results as the table smashed against the wall and the bug, breaking into splinters.

“Applejack!” came a distraught cry. In the next moment, Applejack was bowled over by two sobbing fillies, one yellow with a bow in her hair and the other white with a horn on her head. Scootaloo had instead chosen Rainbow Dash as the target of her tears and was currently sobbing into a cyan foreleg.

"It flew in through the window an' started chasing us!"
"I hit it with my book and nothing happened!"
"It was HORRIBLE!"

"Now, now," Applejack told the pair of fillies sobbing into her mane. "S' all right you three, s' alright, we're here, we're here now..."

Beside her, Rainbow had a wing wrapped around her own filly and was whispering her own reassurances.

The pile of kindling buzzed.

Applejack was back on her hooves in an instant. "Get to th' house. Run!"

Three fillies barreled down the ramp at a panic driven pace and galloped as fast as their little hooves could take them towards the farmhouse. Behind them, Rainbow Dash and Applejack ran side by side, ensuring the fillies were safe.

The insect, snapping with an angry red energy, buzzed its wings and gave chase.

Both adults heard the buzzing. Applejack looked back just in time to duck as the insect dive bombed her. It came back for another pass at her, forcing her to dive sideways to avoid it. A third attack forced her to abandon her run to the house as the insect hovered menacingly in her path.

“Rainbow, get Applebloom an’ her friends to the house!” she shouted at the pegasus, who had stopped uncertainly as the fillies continued to run.


Applejack dodged another attack run from the angered insect. “Don’t you go arguin’ with me now! Get them to the house an’ let Mac know to start boardin’ up the place! Now git!”

Applejack didn’t wait for an answer- she didn’t have time, what with the maddened insect attempting to latch on to her face. She ducked and dove, dodging left and right- her rodeo skills came in very handy in staying one step ahead of the irate bug- making her way to the barn. Applejack dashed into the wooden structure and slammed the doors shut, breathing heavily. There was a thump, and Applejack felt her hooves slide against the ground, but the doors held. She breathed a sigh of relief.

Now t’ get rid of that varmit fer good.

Applejack skipped the small can of bug killer they had on hoof- the can was only about half the size of the bug that was still attempting to get into the barn! No, she needed something big enough, hard enough, to smash through that bug’s carapace. Her eyes lit upon the sledgehammer on the tool rack.

“Watcha doin’?”

Applejack let out a startled scream and swung the long-handled sledge at the sound. Air, barn door, multicolored mane, barn door-

Applejack rolled her eyes as she arrested the momentum of the tool in her mouth.

“Hey, watch where you’re swinging that thing!”

“Rainbow Dash, I thought I told you to git yourself into that house and stay there!”

“Hey, I wasn’t about to leave my best friend hangin’! Besides, you never said ANYTHING about staying there, you just said get them to the house and tell Mac some stuff.”

“An’ did you?”

“Of course! You know how awesome I am, AJ!” Applejack just rolled her eyes.

“Sugarcube, I’ve got me a bug that needs smashin’, so if you don-”

Wait. Where is it?

“Uhh… you alright there, Applejack?”

“Did you see where that bug went, sugarcube?”

Dash shook her head. “Last I saw it was chasing after you.”

“An’ last I heard it was tryin’ to break down these here doors,” Applejack said cautiously.

“So…. where’d it go?” Rainbow asked slowly as she glanced around suspiciously. Applejack grabbed the sledgehammer as she looked for the missing equicidal insect.

The ground at their hooves exploded upwards in chunks of earth and a sparking-red bug.

“HOLY HORSEAPPLES!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed. She jumped into the air with a beat of her wings, and even though they did no good for flying anymore she still hit her head on the barn door frame.

Applejack was just as startled as Rainbow, rearing her front legs and whinnying in fear. Then she remembered she had a sledgehammer in her mouth. She grinned and put all her strength into the blow.

The hammer swung in a deadly arc, perfectly leading the angry insect as it charged her, and hit with a metallic ring.

The next moment, Applejack was on the ground, her eyes spinning. Grabbing her head, she forced her eyes straight, and wondered why her jaw ached so much. A glance at the sledgehammer showed her why.

The metal sledge head was cracked and split down the center, along with a good chunk of the wooden handle.

Before her on the ground, the bug struggled to right itself, extremely annoyed but clearly unharmed from a blow that should have thoroughly smashed it.

With a buzz, it righted itself. It was no longer sparking red, it was glowing red. Applejack struggled to get to her hooves. It buzzed into the air, then darted forward- all Applejack could do was stare stupidly.

“Watch out!”

Rainbow Dash tackled Applejack, causing the insect to miss once again. Both ponies scrambled to their hooves and shot out of the barn at breakneck speed.

“What happened?!” Rainbow demanded.

“It broke my hammer!”

“WHAT?! How?!”

“I don’t know!”

“Well that’s just great! What do we do now?!”

As the pair raced around the barnyard at frantic speed, Applejack had to admit she didn’t know what to do. That insect had been smashed by a table, then taken a sledgehammer without even blinking. As a matter of fact, the only thing that had really given it pause was the barn doors…

Applejack chose to ignore how it was stumped by a door after taking a sledgehammer and just run with it. Fortunately, she had the perfect place to shut the little bugger up.

“Dash, this way!” she called, veering hard to the left. Rainbow was right behind her. The glowing red insect buzzed after them.

“We got a storm cellar over here,” she explained as they galloped. “Yer gonna open th’ doors, ah’m gonna lead it into the cellar, then we’re gonna slam the doors shut before it can get back out, got it?”

“Got it!”

Rainbow Dash bowed her head and ran. She instinctively beat her wings, and with that little bit of effort pulled ahead of her friend just far enough to carry out the plan. She hit the cellar doors and used that momentum to pry up one side enough for a pony to enter.

No sooner was the door open than Applejack barreled through it, rushing full tilt into the storm cellar with the abominable insect hot on her tail. Half a second later she was out- her rodeo skills were getting a real workout today. Rainbow slammed the door and both ponies leaped upon it.

The insect hit the door hard enough to jar them, but not enough to escape- it was trapped. If they could keep it that way.

“Rainbow, hold it shut!” she told her friend before darting away.

“WHAT!?” She was interrupted from screaming more at her friend by another thump against the door, jarring her. Another thump almost threw her off.

“Oh no you don’t!” Dash threw herself against the storm doors.


Applejack slammed a plank of wood through the door handles. A moment later, another thump tested the integrity of the makeshift lock.

It held.

Applejack let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding.

“Heh… heh heh heh…”

Once Rainbow started laughing, neither could stop- sheer adrenaline made it impossible. The two fought to keep from rolling on the ground as their sides stitched with laughter.

“Heheheheh heh heh … landsakes, I think I needed that,” Applejack finally said, wiping tears from her eyes.

“Meeee too,” Rainbow agreed with a grin on her face. The storm door thumped again. They both ignored it.

“C’mon, we need to get the girls together,” Rainbow said. Applejack shook her head.

“Firs’ things firs’, Dash. I need to make sure ‘Bloom's all right, then help Mac board up the house. Then we can go an’ get our friends,” she stated, turning for the house.

“But AJ-”

“Ain’t changin my mind, sugarcube. C’mon, it’ll get done faster if ya help me.”

Rainbow swore under her breath, but set off at a fair trot for the farmhouse.


Ponyville was deserted. In a town that somehow saw catastrophes every month, the populace was quite keenly aware of what their response should be in an emergency situation. That response was ‘go inside and bunker down until the Element Bearers sorted it all out’. While Twilight would have normally prefered if they did something useful, or at least something rational, right now she was thanking Celestia that the response of the townsponies was to hide.

Because that meant that none of them were outside with the monsters.

They were big, black, lanky, and dangerous looking. Flat-faced as though they had run into a wall, covered in tattoos, some of which glowed a menacing red, the creatures were larger than even Princess Celestia. But that wasn’t the worst part.

No, the worst part about these creatures was that they weren’t in a single one of the books she had on mythical creatures in her library!

And she should know! She’d memorized all the dangerous ones after the incident with the cockatrice. She even had them all on a list- List of Dangerous Creatures to Avoid- and THEY WEREN’T ON THERE!

On the bright side, this also meant that they must be a new species and that she would be the first to document them! So while Spike ran around the library compiling all the monster books he could find in, Twilight studied them.

From a distance.

Through her telescope.

Poked through the curtains.

Both Spike and Twilight had agreed the moment those things had come into town that they weren’t going near them unless Spike was a giant dragon AND Twilight was an alicorn. Or she had her friends to back her up. Preferably the latter. Though the latter with the former would be even better. In the meantime, magicless Twilight would lay low, study the monsters, and find some way to defeat them. She turned away from the telescope.

“Spike?” she whispered. “Have you found anything?”

“No, nothing,” he whispered back, flipping through the book with his claws. Something Twilight envied right now. “And this is the last book, too.”

“Even Mysterious Monsters of Myth?” There were only thirty copies of that book ever made- the only reason she had one was because Celestia had gotten it for her when they had been studying the creatures of Tartarus.

The young drake nodded his head.

"By the way, don't go upstairs. There's some sort of huge bug in our bedroom."

Twilight sighed. She couldn't say she was surprised, not after seeing similar insects flying around Ponyville. She considered herself fortunate that the door between the public part of the library and her bedroom was normally closed- she shuddered at the mere thought of meeting one of those bugs up close. She'd studied one through her telescope and that was as close as she was willing to go.


She turned to her number one assistant.

"What are we going to do, Twilight?" The baby dragon looked tired and scared. It broke Twilight's heart to see him like that.

"Come here, big guy," she said with a tired smile. Once he waddled over, she wrapped the little drake up in a great big hug.

"Now, I know this is all scary, but I'm here for you, okay? I promise I won't let anything hurt my little assistant," she assured him with a nuzzle. The little drake burrowed deep into her hug.

"Pinkie Promise?" he asked, muffled by purple fur.

"Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye," she told him softly. "Celestia will send help. Then me and my friends will use the Elements, and this will be nothing more than bad dream. So you be brave, alright?"

"Ok Twilight."

She nuzzled him one last time, nipping lightly at the spines on his head. "Good! Because I need my Number One Assistant to take some notes for me!"

"Right! I'll go get some parchment!"

While Spike was off getting parchment and a quill, Twilight reflected on her situation. Of the fears she herself held. For Spike’s sake, she put on a knowing front, but deep down… she was just as scared as he was.

Celestia hadn’t gotten their message. Even if she did send help, there was no guarantee they could get there- having studied the wall closely, she saw no cracks, no flaws, nothing that could be used against it. Given that help hadn’t already arrived, it must have been able to block magic as well. And to block off the entire Everfree, it must have taken as much energy as Celestia and Luna combined! The only thing that could stop this, whatever it was, was the Elements.

But the Elements were in Celestia’s hooves, outside the wall.

Even inside the wall, she couldn’t get to her friends. The creatures outside- they were too fast, and too aggressive. She had watched one of those giant bugs fly into Cherry Blossom’s house. Moments later, Cherry came tearing out. The monsters saw her immediately, and chased her with unnatural speed. Only the fact that she was going across the street at a full gallop saved her- those things were fast! But they also only seemed to go after ponies that showed themselves-


Twilight shook her head, then arranged her thoughts. As she began to dictate them to Spike in a precise and organized manner, she wondered how they were going to get out of this situation.


Deep within the corrupted Everfree, the light above the spring flickered as it struggled to maintain conscious thought. It had failed; the dark magic of old now held this land by the throat, twisting and corrupting the creatures within. The ponies, which it had watched over for so long, were embroiled in a battle that they were unaware of, indeed, should never have been aware of. After all, that was the purpose of setting this spring so far in time and space from the others; then, if evil returned, it would not be able to reach the final spring to complete its domination over the land.

Obviously, this logic had been flawed. Now, powerless, deposed, the light held on to the consciousness that would be so easy to let go. It had hope, as dim as it seemed. Darkness had ruled at times in the past. But it had always been beaten back, even when it appeared evil had won and all hope was lost. A Hero would appear. It must. Such was fate. And so it waited.

Out of the woods slunk a ghostly figure. A wolf, lithe and powerful, standing nearly as tall as a pony, emerged from the underbrush around the spring. The wolf had black fur, with a white underbelly that spilled out slightly on his sides and up over the shoulder in a whorl, and a shaggy section of longer dark fur about the head and neck that could be mistaken for a mane of sorts. An intricate pattern of white fur adorned the wolf’s head, unusual and beautiful in its own right. Fixed around the left forepaw was an iron cuff, with a small length of chain attached that clinked softly every so often. Blue eyes, wild and powerful, fixed themselves on the ball of light.

On the wolf's back rode a small impish creature, black with a white underbelly and face. Green patterns traced across the small creatures’ arms and legs, glowing brightly in the twilight. It wore a stone crown of sorts, broken, partially covering one eye. The other was unnatural, with a red pupil and yellow sclera. An orange thing flowed behind her, almost like hair… yet not. A grin with a single snaggletooth fang adorned its face as it sat bareback upon its mount.

The wolf padded to the edge of the spring and sat, black and white tail flicking every so often. The light could not smile. But it knew.

The Hero had come.


View Online

Deep within the Everfree lived a pony the likes of which were rarely seen in Equestria. Neither Earth pony nor pegasus nor unicorn, the Zebra shaman known as Zecora lived within a hollow tree, where she had ready access to some of the most magically active and rare plants in the world for her potions.

Of course, living in the most dangerous forest known to ponykind meant one had to be quick on their hooves. Zecora was no stranger to the dangers of the Everfree. She knew how to avoid hydras and manticores; how to fight off the timberwolves that would sometimes stalk her; how to ward cockatrices away from her home and pathway. She knew, neigh, expected, that dangerous creatures would hound her, but she had prepared herself against such threats.

She had not prepared herself for this.

Zecora, frazzled with stress, kept a close eye on the opposite wall of her small tree home as she quickly dumped the ingredients she needed into the simmering cauldron in the middle. The masks that had once held welcoming and friendly faces now held nothing but terror and-

She started, dropping the ingredients as she hid herself behind her own cauldron. A thrumming buzz came from the wall of masks as the insect, larger than both her hooves together, darted from out from behind a mask. Snapping with blue energy, the insect scuttled to another mask, causing them to rattle ominously. As the rattling died, Zecora warily peeked out from behind the cauldron.

“A more fearful creature I have never seen. Even the timberwolves could not be so mean! Quickly- a dash of thyme and a bit of honeycomb, and soon this abomination will be gone from my home!”

Zecora tip-hooved to get her final ingredients, an ear cocked to track the buzzing of the pest. It was an anti-vermin potion, one of the most potent and rarely brewed; unlike the potions she had spread to discourage insects and mice from taking up residence, this potion killed on contact- insects, mice, rats, it made no difference; if they were pests, it would kill them. Which was, of course, the reason why it was not often used.

That said, her normal anti-vermin potions she kept bottled on the shelves had done nothing more than irritate the beast- it had viciously chased her out of the house when she had tried it the second time, with no better results than the first.

It pained her to have to brew this potion, especially in such quantity, but she could think of no other brew in her extensive list that might defeat this insect.

Zecora carefully added the last ingredients to the cauldron. It was almost done. It had to be allowed to simmer for several minutes, more if she wanted it to be potent. And she needed it to be potent.

For nearly half an hour, Zecora waited, her ears twitching with every rattle of her masks as the bug moved. The potion was nearly complete… when the door to her home opened. Zecora’s head whipped around… and saw that nopony was there. Zecora studied this for a few moments, wary, before a buzz brought her back to her senses.

“I must focus on this evil first,” Zecora told herself. “Then may I find out if everything has gotten worse.”

Buzzing sounded from behind the masks- Zecora backed away, the buzz sounded angry, like when it had begun to chase her.

A thump sounded, hitting the wall- the masks all fell to the floor, revealing the insect. It took off, sparking blue, and headed towards the zebra. Gasping, Zecora scrambled away- but the insect never reached her.

It buzzed suddenly to the side, before quickly charging towards a random open spot in the room. Halfway through, it jumped to the side again, as though avoiding some unseen attacker. It buzzed around inside the tree, high enough that she could not reach it even if she had jumped, as though stalking something.

Zecora kept well clear of the insect, spooked by its strange behavior.

It paused, then charged again towards a random spot in her home.

This time, it did not make it. It was blasted backwards halfway though, as though it had been hit by the Ponyville Express. Falling to the ground, the insect hit, then bounced, and came to a final rest on its back, legs in the air. The legs curled in on themselves before the insect exploded into a blinding light, forcing the Zebra to look away. When she opened her eyes again, it was gone.

Zecora tentatively looked around, expecting it to pop out somewhere like Pinkie Pie. Checking around, she found no sign of it anywhere in her home. Sighing, she began to set the traditional masks of her people back on their hangings.

“I do not know what just happened, but I am so very glad that insect has been flattened.”


Applejack fixed a wooden plank over the window, the sharp sound of a hammer striking nail and wood sounding throughout the house. It was not alone, as Rainbow Dash boarded up some on back while Mac finished the other side of the house.

It was an old farmhouse, built well before Applejack was alive, and was spacious enough to fit the entire Apple family of old- grandparents, Uncles, Aunts, nieces and nephews, all had once had a place under this very roof. The Apple Clan was a bit more wide spread out these days, but the house remained, even though there were only four ponies currently living in it.

That, of course, meant lots and lots of windows that needed to be boarded up.

She fixed another board in place and began to hammer that one in next to the first, boarding up the window to the kitchen. As she hammered, she kept an ear cocked towards the front of the house, where her younger sister Applebloom stood guard with her three friends, watching the storm cellar and the orchards for any sign of movement. A job harder than it sounded; the confounded twilight twisted and distorted shapes at a distance and made it hard to see colors. Still, they had to have at least some sort of warning against more bugs… or the bug breaking free… or anything else that showed its face, and with the set of lungs those three had-


Speak of Tartarus. Applejack dropped her hammer like it was on fire and ran to the front porch like demons were nipping at her hooves.

“What is it?!”

“Look!” Sweetie pointed.

The cellar doors were opened, the burning red insect was loose, but… it wasn’t coming after them. It was… dancing?

The insect dove left, right, forward and backward, buzzing with a furious intensity. Sometimes it would burrow into the ground… only to burst back up and continue the dance. It was like it was attacking something… but there was nothing there!

“Rainbow, what d’ ya make of that?” Applejack asked, scratching her head beneath her Stetson.

“I have no idea,” Rainbow swore as the insect dove again. This time, though, it seemed to hit something, as it came to an abrupt stop in front of nothing before flying away again.

It came around for another pass… only for it to be swatted out of the air. For a moment, Applejack though it was just going to right itself again, madder than a nest of yellowjackets… but instead, it keeled over and died! That thing took a SLEDGEHAMMER and kept coming, then something invisible just kicked its flank! What the hay…?

“I get the feelin’ we’re missin’ somethin’ here,” Applejack muttered.

“Eeeeyup,” Mac drawled behind her.


Rarity Belle, proprietor of the Carousel Boutique, maker of fine dresses and suits, eyed the supply room cautiously as she made her way across her own showroom floor with a rescued dress.

Business had been slow today, so she had been working on a few orders that were due weeks down the line when the… whatever had fallen. The first she noticed was when all the pins and scissors in her telekinetic grasp had clattered to the floor. She had found that she could not pick them up again, or even light her horn. A single look outside had informed her of the most likely reason.

She had been about to head over to Twilight’s library, certain the magically inclined student had some theories or a plan (likely a list, knowing her), and had just opened the door when it had happened. A huge bug had buzzed over her head and into her Boutique, eliciting a short scream. When she had turned around, horror awaited her.

A great big, black, ugly insect had invaded her home and landed upon one of her dresses! Worst, it had thrown off the stitching on the incomplete fabric and torn the hemline! It was -gasp- ruined!

Before she could regain her wits, the insect had taken off and flown into the storeroom, to her horror. She had rushed over and attempted to shoo the ugly thing out, but an angry warning buzz had made her stop. So she let it have her fabrics, and gems, for now, until she could get her friends to help her chase it out.

She had been about to leave, a second time, when a chance glance through the window had made her re-think such action. Great black creatures, larger than Celestia herself, covered in tattoos, some of which glowed with an eerie light.

The way they moved, they way they looked… unnatural, predatory…. there could be no mistaking their intentions. Going outside suddenly had much less appeal- galloping to Twilight’s would mess up her hair and maybe chip her hooves! Oh, and likely get her killed. Mustn't forget that part.

With her only escape gone, trapped in a building with an abomination of an insect intent upon destroying her supply of fabric, Rarity did the only thing she could think of and began to discretely take her dresses to somewhere she considered ‘safe’- in this case, her bedroom upstairs. As the insect appeared quite thoroughly happy in the storeroom, things had so far gone well, with many of her stock upstairs. Now, she merely had to rescue her showpieces.

Tiphooving as quietly as she could, she made for the relative sanctuary of her bedroom, laying the work in neat order with the others. Another dress saved! On to the next!

Making quite certain to close the door behind her, Rarity headed towards the stairs once again to save some more of her hard work. She was in the middle of tip hoofing gracefully back down when the bell above her door chimed.


Rarity caught herself before she could say anymore of her distinctive greeting. Now, who would would have braved the monsters outside to come to her fabulous shop?

A few more quick steps saw her far enough to see the door- open!? Who in their right mind would leave it open with dangerous things roaming the streets!?

Rarity rushed over and shut the door, a ding signaling its close, before turning and sighing with relief.

Who could that have been? She was more than willing to give shelter to any poor soul wandering the streets, but now that she was looking around, it seemed as though nopony had come in.

"Heelllooo?" she called out as loudly as she dared. There was no reply.

A thump from the storeroom startled her and sent her hiding behind one of her own ponyquinnes. She cautiously peeked over her cover... And watched in utter shock as the insect tore out of her room, followed by a ragged cut of forest-green fabric that was floating in midair.

The fabric got closer… closer… then it leapt up at the bug, but the bug dodged. Instead, the fabric headed right for a portable dividing wall- and knocked it down! There was no way her fabric was chasing the bug away! That was something very distinctly real, something pony sized, something invisible. Looking closer at the wall as the fabric once again set off in pursuit of the bug, she noticed claw marks marring the surface.

Something invisible and predatory. She gulped.

She watched as the insect buzzed around erratically, followed closely by the floating fabric and the invisible predator beneath. Right towards the ponyquinnes who were modeling some of her best showpieces.

“No!” she gasped. Her hooves shot to her muzzle as she imagined horrifying scenarios in her head.

The fabric leaped again, no doubt in another attempt to attack the bug, but once again the bug dodged.

Rarity gasped in horror as Fluttershy’s Gala dress, something she had managed to convince the mare to loan her as a window article, was hit and toppled by whatever invisible force was carrying the fabric. Moments later, the fabric was flung aside violently, drifting slowly to the floor.

Now there was some invisible predator loose in her Boutique. But, worse than that, Fluttershy’s beautiful dress was on the floor! The only thing stopping her from running over to it right that second was where the insect was now.

Her fitting area. With a dress, incomplete, that could not be moved.

A dress for the Pony of Pop herself.

The insect was hovering right over it.

“NO!” she screamed. She could guess what was coming. And she wasn’t wrong.

The insect attempted to dodge, but this time it did not succeed. It blasted out of the air as though hit by a battering ram, but Rarity had no eyes for it. Her attention was on the dress.

It did not move. Whatever had been chasing the insect had gone right over it. Rarity breathed a sigh of relief. It was quickly followed by panic.

“Oh my goodness!” she rushed over to Fluttershy’s dress, ignoring the disappearing insect and the invisible predator. There were more important things to worry about.

She righted the ponyquinne and threw the dress back on, examining it with a detailed eye. Said eye began to twitch.

Across the back of the dress, three slashes ran from one flank to the other.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Rarity screamed to the heavens.

Unnoticed by the distraught fashionista, the front door opened and the bell above the door dinged.


The General surveyed the battlefield with a practiced eye. The enemy was not within her limited range of sight, but the General was not fooled; it was there. Lurking. Waiting. Preparing. Soon, it would attack, and it would lay waste to everything and everyone she loved.

The General clenched the unlit cigar firmer between her teeth. She could not let that happen. She would not let that happen. She had to take the upper hoof; it was time to lead her troops into battle.

General Pinkie Pie, Four-Star General (according to her helmet), sharply about-faced and headed back to friendly territory.

"Private Cake, Private Cake," the General saluted her troops. "Is everything ready?"

Both Cakes, wearing strange bowl-like, acid-green military helmets that Pinkie had gotten somewhere, nodded.

"We've got a little bit of everything. Cakes, muffins, cupcakes, euclairs, pies..."

"Good. Private Gummy, is the party cannon ready?”

The little alligator, wearing a small military helmet of his own, said nothing. Nevertheless, Pinkie seemed to know what he was thinking.

“Yes, that might be a problem. But is it ready?”

The little alligator’s eyes flicked two separate ways, then back again.

“Good. Troops, prepare to attack!"

“Pinkie, no smoking around the twins,” Ms. Cake said absently.

“Oh, don’t worry Mrs. Cake, it’s a joke cigar! See?” Pinkie promptly chomped down on the end, only for it to blow up in her face, blasting her hair straight backwards and blowing her helmet off.

From their crib, hastily moved and stuffed into the corner, the twins Pumpkin and Pound giggled. Catching a reflection of herself in a pan, Pinkie giggled too.

Mr. and Mrs. Cake stared for a moment, before shrugging to each other.

With a quick shake of her head, Pinkie's hair was back to its normal, frizzy state. She slapped another four-star helmet on her head (you just never knew when you would need a good helmet, so she kept them handy, hidden in various strategic positions around Ponyville in case of emergency) and grabbed a pair of pies for ammunition. Together, the three ponies, and one alligator, crept from the kitchen to the main dining area of Sugarcube Corner, and took up positions hidden behind the counter. Even the alligator that was riding the a self-propelled party cannon. The Cakes chose not to question.

Pinkie motioned for the others to keep out of sight, then slowly peeked over the counter. She spotted her enemy sitting agreeably still on top of one of the tables. Ducking back under the counter, Pinkie shot the Cakes a series of gestures involving a square, her back stroking through midair, a tube of toothpaste, and a cupcake doing the wave.

The Cakes shared a long-suffering look. Gummy blinked.

Pinkie rolled her eyes before giving some more incomprehensible gestures, this time including some hoof puppets dancing around.

The Cakes shared the look again. Gummy's left eye shifted.

Pinkie facehooved. Sliding across the floor on her belly, Pinkie got muzzle to muzzle with her troops.

“it’s on the table over there. I’m going to make a run to distract it, then you throw everything you have at it. Including the kitchen sink- you brought the kitchen sink, didn’t you? No? Well alright then, not the kitchen sink, but everything else. Gummy is your backup, if that thing gets near you-blammo! He’ll take care of it. Ok, ready?”

Both the Cakes nodded. This was likely the most serious they’d ever seen Pinkie Pie. Not the craziest, that belonged to the Pinkamenia incident, but the most serious. And when Pinkie Pie got serious….

The door creaked open.

General Pinkie motioned for her troops to stay hidden, then peeked over the counter. She was just in time to see the door close. But nopony had entered…

Pinkie ducked back down, pondering this new turn of events. Could the enemy have received reinforcements? This could throw off her cunning plan…

A buzzing was heard. Alarmed, all the ponies stuck their head up.

The insect was off the table now, and buzzing around erratically. What made it strange was that chairs were shifting and tables were getting scratched on a direct path from the door to the bug. The three watched, wide-eyed, as the insect suddenly dodged- and the table behind it was knocked over by some invisible force.

Pinkie’s mane exploded outwards, blasting her helmet off.

“Yea! Get ‘im! Show ‘em the good ol’ one-two!” Pinkie shouted. Standing on her hind legs, Pinkie enthusiastically boxed empty air with her hooves.

The Cakes stared at her like she was crazy. Or like she was Pinkie Pie. The only real difference in their mind was Pinkie could be counted on to save the world with her friends as the Element of Laughter. That, and bake a mean batch of cupcakes.

The insect made another dodge in midair.

“Aw, so close! Don’t worry Wolfy! You’ll get him next time!”

The Cakes quietly crept back to the kitchen while Pinkie continued to shout encouragement to something only she could see.

The great chase ended quickly enough, with the insect being swatted out of midair before bursting into light. When Pinkie looked back, the insect was gone.

“YAY! Wolfy defeated the big mean bug!” she cheered loudly. “Go Wolfy, it’s your birthday, go Wolfy, it’s your birthday…”

If one listened closely, one could hear a confused whine in the emptiness of the room.


The monsters had congregated. Right outside her treehouse, there were five- FIVE!- fast, scary, huge monsters milling about. Twilight had locked the door and piled every bit of furniture she owned up against the door to her library. If she had still had her magic, she would have conjured several locks on the door as well, or fused the entire thing into the tree itself! If they saw her… she shuddered to think what would happen.

In the corner of her eye, she watched anxiously as Spike lifted the barest corner of curtain to peek out the window. One second. Three seconds. Six seconds.... Too long!

"Spike!" She hissed desperately. "Get away from the window! They'll see you!"

"I think they're a little tied up right now, Twilight," Spike said aloud. Twilight hurried over to her assistant at the window and peeked out. She immediately forgot about berating him.

There was something that looked like a cage just outside her home. Pillars had appeared, covered in red-glowing arcane patterns. Between each pillar, a red semi-shield extended, appearing to trap the monsters. The academic in her eagerly wanted to study this, as it appeared unlike any magic she had ever seen. The more primal, survival oriented side of her noted something else.

Two of the monsters was lying motionless on the ground. The others were congregating around a single point and taking large swipes with their forelegs at.... Something, she couldn't see between all the bodies.

Just then, one of them reared onto its hind legs as though struck. It convulsed and batted weakly at its neck area before going limp and falling heavily to the ground. Twilight's critical eye could not find its attacker. Maybe an invisibility spell? But the power and focus required to maintain one meant one couldn't really fight! Or so she thought....

A mind-warping scream tore her from her thoughts. Her hooves went to her ears, but it did not help- it was like it was screaming within her head! Tears leaked from her eyes as she squeezed them shut, desperate for anything to keep her mind from twisting. When the scream stopped, Twilight found herself on the floor of her home, with Spike a mere hoovelength away. Crystalline tears leaked from his eyes as well as he panted heavily, no doubt trying to recover from the same ordeal Twilight had just gone through. Reaching out a hoof, Twilight pulled him close to her barrel in an awkward hug on the floor.

"What... was... that..." Spike heaved.

"I don't know... But I don't want a repeat," Twilight shuddered. Slowly she got back to her hooves and peered out the window again.

Wait, weren't there three monsters lying on the ground before?

Only one was down now.

And she could swear it was in a different position!

As she watched, attempting to puzzle out how the monster could have moved if it was quite clearly unconscious, when another monster once again was attacked by the invisible pony and collapsed, unconscious. The last three congregated around a single area- they must have somehow seen through the spell!

Twilight found herself uttering a small prayer to Celestia, praying for the safety of whoever was out there.

With a piercing wail, all three creatures threw their hands in the air, clearly hurt, before collapsing to the ground.

Thank Celestia that’s over.

She was about to turn away when, as one, the monsters exploded into inky bits before disappearing into the twilight. Sparkle just stared at where they had once been, wide-eyed. She barely even noticed the columns ascend into the sky and disappear themselves.

“Is… is it over?” Spike asked.

The doors to the second floor balcony slammed open, giving them the obvious answer.

The sudden surge of adrenaline gave Twilight speed the bookish mare never would have imagined. Within half a second she had Spike on her back and was galloping for the cellar. She and Spike were through the door in record time, at least for someone used to opening doors with magic rather than their mouths. Spike slammed the door in panic as soon as they were through, leaving them in the murky light their lives had become.

They both winced as they heard -and felt- a thud. Twilight grimaced as her sensitive ears heard the sound of books falling to the floor. But fear stayed her normal impulses. More thumps sounded. Twilight thought she heard buzzing as well, and double checked the lock on the cellar door. With a final few thuds, and the sound of precious books hitting the ground, the library went silent.

After a few minutes of silence, both silently agreed to take a peek. From behind the cellar door, both peeked out as cautiously as they dared. When nothing happened, they risked opening it more.

The library was a mess. Books, precious books, were everywhere. Worse (and the sight brought a twitch to Twilight's eyes) was the fact that a fair few were lying open, face down on the floor. That would damage the spines!


Snapping out of her thoughts, Twilight turned her head to face her Number One Assistant riding on her back.

"What's going on, Twilight?"

It was a simple enough question. One she would normally be able to answer in a heartbeat, with the notable exception of anything having to do with Pinkie Pie. But this time...

"I don't know, Spike," she sighed heavily. "I just don't know."


Deep within the Everfree, the spring began to glow. Every crevice of the spring radiated light, dimly at first, but soon it was as bright as the midday sun.

The spirit of the spring would have smiled, if it could. The Hero had suceeded. The Vessel had been filled with the stolen Tears, restoring the Guardians' power. No longer did it have to struggle to maintain the barest semblance of form; now, with its power returned, it could return to its full form. It could restore the land, this land it had grown to love, back to its original splendor.

Power channeled through the waters of the spring, becoming a fountain of light reaching into the murky twilight. It grew, brighter and brighter, concentrating itself, before bursting forth across the sky. The twilight turned to day in the wake of the blinding light. The Walls of Shadow could not stand against the power of the light and shattered, burned away by the power of the Light. Only the area where the Shadow was strongest was able to stand against the might of the Light, and even then it was unable to prevent a return to the normal land.

The Everfree had been saved.... mostly. There was one last task the Hero had to perform, vanquishing the remaining Shadow from this land. With that in mind, the Guardian once again took corporeal form, leaping from the waters to cradle the Light to its belly. At the edge of the spring, a wolf waited.

"Welcome, blue-eyed beast, to the land of Equestria."


View Online

Celestia knew the moment the wall dropped; the Sun was shining on Ponyville again.

She did not even take a door out of the castle, choosing instead to throw open the nearest window she could fit through and fly out, much to the surprise and consternation of her startled guards. She barely even took the time to shout out where she was going. Then she was falling through the air- Canterlot, being built precariously on the side of a mountain, had a more than two thousand foot drop right outside a fair few of the palace windows.

She took a moment to enjoy the sensation of free fall. It was something she and Luna used to do, when they were young and the world was an adventure just waiting to be discovered. Here, in this timeless moment of falling, the adrenaline rushing through her body, Celestia was a giddy young filly again.

Then the moment was over. Celestia spread her wings to their unmatchable full wingspan and caught herself, gliding gracefully out of the fall before turning and climbing. Behind her, the few pegasus guards that had managed to follow her fell further and further behind. There was only one thing in Canterlot that could rival the Solar Diarch’s wingspan or speed.

Luna joined her sister as the guards continued to fall further and further behind, now little more than dots in the distance. Flying over the countryside now, faster than the Ponyville Express, the two princesses made for the now re-appeared town.


Twilight packed her saddlebags as quickly as she possibly could, without even a checklist. Such a thing made her cringe, but time was of the essence; she promised herself she would make a checklist later.

Satisfied, she telekinetically seated them on her back. It was nice being able to do magic again; one never really knew what they had until after they lost it. She had read that same statement many times before, but she had never really appreciated it as deeply as she did now.

"Sppppiiikkke! I'm headed out to get the girls," she called as she descended the stairs. "Spike?" When no immediate answer came, she began to look for her number one assistant.

The library was a mess right now, even more so than when she went on one of her studying binges. She didn't usually move all the furniture around and knock shelves full of books to the ground. Usually.

"Can I come?"

Twilight gave a startled scream and jumped a good three feet into the air as a pile of books right next to her suddenly moved to reveal the little dragon.

"Don't do that Spike!" she admonished him, trying to calm her racing heart. "And not right now. I need to gather the girls. What YOU need to do, my number one assistant, is try to find any mention of that phenomenon we were in."

Spike drooped. "Aw, I never get to do the fun stuff."

Twilight opened the door as she smiled. “You’re still just a baby dragon, Spike. I’m sure there will be plenty of excitement and adventu-”

Twilight vanished in a prismatic rainbow and a puff of feathers.

“Wow, I guess you’re right, Twilight, that was pretty exciting!” Spike told empty air.

At the bottom of a freshly made pile of books, a rainbow tail and cyan limbs were mixed in with a purple horn and various purple limbs. A moment of struggle, culminating in a bookslide, revealed Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash, eyes still slightly unfocused.

“Rainbow Dash!” Twilight Sparkle shouted at the pegasus. “What was that for?!”

The cyan mare gave a shake of her head. When she was done, her eyes were focused again.


“Yes, Rainbow Dash, I’m right here!” Twilight said testily, crossing her hooves. “And how many times have you crashed into my library now? Spike?”

“Five… Ten… four… fourteen times,” Spike counted the tick marks on the scroll on the wall.

“At least it was through the door this time. I think that’s a first for you, Rainbow.”

Rainbow ignored it all and grabbed Twilights head in her hooves.

“Not important! We need to get the girls, stat!”

Rainbow grabbed her in her hooves and headed for the door, her wings a blur.

"I was about to do that before you crashed into meeeee!" Twilight protested into the distance.

Alone now, the little purple and green dragon looked around at the mess that was the library.

"Right. You head off on another exciting adventure to save the day while I clean up the library. Again. Sounds great to me," he grumbled to himself.

Setting aside his thoughts, Spike picked a book up off the floor and began searching for the proper shelf to place it on.


The last member of the group to be rounded up was Fluttershy. Twilight and Rainbow had split up to gather the girls, Rainbow heading for Fluttershy as she dropped Twilight off in the center of town. From there, Twilight found a confused yet active apple farmer, an irrepressible pink pony already planning a 'We Survived the Twilight Realm!' party, and a distraught fashionista. However, a brash cyan Pegasus accompanied by a demure yellow Pegasus never materialized. As the four friends closed on the house, they saw the reason why.

Rainbow Dash flew around the house at top speed, attempting vainly to find a way into the small cottage. She appeared to be having little success, mainly due to the fact that the windows had been barricaded and were being viciously defended by various small critters. Her front door, the top half ajar, was guarded by Angel Bunny, who was waving a carrot around as he directed the defenses, and by an irate manticore. Fluttershy was nowhere to be seen.

"Twilight! Thank Celestia you guys are-OW!"

A well-aimed acorn from the Upper-Story Squirrel Defense Force pinged off of Rainbow's skull, distracting her enough that she couldn't finish her maneuver and ended up crashing into the ground, right in front of the rest of her friends. She was back on her hooves in an instant, none the worse for wear for crashing into the ground, though an angry welt was forming on her head from the acorn.

"Buckin' squirrels!" she cursed, shooting an angry glare at the window she had been hit from. "They won't let me even SEE Fluttershy! I've tried everything!"

Before them, the manticore hissed, teeth bared and stinger tail waving threateningly. The mares all took an involuntary step backwards at the display.

"I never seen a critter so riled up 'afore!" Applejack said, wide-eyed.

"How are we going to get to Fluttershy now?" mused Rarity.

"I go in and get her," Twilight replied. Her voice held resolve in its tone.

"You can't just walk in there! They won't let you, believe me I've tried!" Rainbow snorted.


"Oh. Right."

Putting words to action, Twilight's horn glowed brightly, and with a faint *pop*, she was gone.

Twilight re-appeared in Fluttershy's bedroom. Fortunately, before the animal defenders could act, Twilight had found her objective. A pink tail stuck out from under the bed. Twilight managed to duck under just as the first acorns were thrown. Under the bed, she found herself nose to nose with the Pegasus.


"Yes, Fluttershy?"

"Um, why are you under my bed?"

"We need to get the Elements together."

"S-so that means that weird darkness is gone?"

"Yep! Didn't you notice?"

"It's kind of dark under here. That way I didn't have to see any of the monsters."

"Well, the monsters are gone and we need all the girls together."

"O-oh. Um, couldn't you have knocked?"

"Nope. Angel Bunny organized a defense of your house and wouldn't let anypony in."

"Oh no! I have to stop him!"

Fluttershy bolted out from under the bed. Twilight, glad her friend was no longer hiding from the world and could come help the rest of her friends, scooted out from under the sumptuous bed herself.

"Well, that's done, now to- uh oh." Twilight's pupils constricted to pinpricks- she knew she had forgotten something.

The Bedroom Defense Force moved to defend the yellow caregiver's house from the intruder. As one, the cute and fuzzy creatures of death leapt at their target.



"Alright girls, we need to find out what happened, and what to do next."

Twilight led the group from a sitting position. The Squirrel Brigade had been aggressive, severely mussing her mane and tail to and giving her many small scratches and even some bites before Fluttershy had managed to get them to cease their attack. Assurances from Fluttershy that her little friends were only trying to protect her, and yes, she was sure none of them had rabies or any other diseases, equine or otherwise (she made a mental note to double check this with the list she had at home), had staved off retaliation. For now, Twilight was content to begin puzzling out the mystery of what had happened while Rarity fussed over her with a brush.

"Dunno 'bout you girls, but me an' Rainbow didn't see it happen. All we know is some sorta' explosion happened jus' before that darn twilight lifted, right over the Everfree," Applejack supplied. Rainbow nodded in agreement.

"I was baking a cake! Maybe taking the cake out of the oven caused all this? GASP! But that would mean I can't bake triple chocolate cakes anymore, and there's no way anything with triple chocolate in it is bad! Except for maybe ponies who hate chocolate, but who hates chocolate? Besides somepony who's lactose, but even then you don't really hate chocolate, you just hate that you can't eat it and project your hatred onto the cake itself. Anyways-"

"Sugarcube, you actually see anythin' happen?"


"Right. Rarity?"

"I'm sorry darling, I was in the zone and didn't notice a thing. There, now you look... well, almost presentable," Rarity told Twilight. Her fur still looked mussed, but her mane and tail were back to normal at least. She turned to the last pony.


"Oh, um, I never actually saw anything... but Mr. Manticore told me something... something evil was happening in the Everfree... and that it would go to Ponyville."

And she had hidden under her bed. Well, Twilight couldn't blame her friend for acting like herself.

"Did he say anything else?" she asked. Fluttershy shook her head.

"No. He didn't even like to talk about it, whenever I tried to ask him he would start shaking. I don't think he knows exactly what it is, all he knows is that its very, very bad."

Twilight thought for a moment, her friends waiting anxiously for her decision.

"We don't know what caused this, or why it stopped. At the moment, all we know is that our best guess is that it originated somewhere in the Everfree, that it brought terrible things to Ponyville, and that something in the Everfree appeared to be the reason it went away."

Twilight sighed.

"We need more information, and I just brought bestiary and magical phenomenon books. We need to research the Everfree, see if there's any precedents for this or if there's anything about the Everfree that can help explain this. We need... a research project!"

A loud groan came from Rainbow.

Twilight ignored her friend. She was beginning to feel excited, the mere prospect of a research project buoying her spirits. Oh, this was going to be so much fun!

"To the Library!"


Fluttershy lived at the edge of the Everfree, but Ponyville was still small enough that it was only a few minutes to her library at full gallop. Twilight was excited, even she had not read every single book in her library, and now she had an excuse to read some new ones. Most of the others ranged from weary resignation to silent contemplation, though Pinkie remained unflappably happy as always. Rainbow was the only one who seemed truly unhappy at their destination- or rather, what she would have to do once they got there. She wasn't keeping it quiet either.

"C'mon Twi, can't we just, ya know, go into the Everfree and check it out? It wouldn't take too long, especially if it was just me! I bet I could figure out this whole mess in under an hour!"

"Too dangerous, Rainbow. We don't know what we'd face. It's already bad enough that it’s in the Everfree, but throwing those monsters on top of it? Not good."

"Rainbow, one of those bugs took mah sledgehammer and broke it like it was a twig. What makes ya think you'd fare any better?"

"I'm awesome, duh! Nothing can stop Rainbow Danger Dash!"

"Too late, we're here." Twilight grinned wryly. A groan came from the pegasus. Using her magic, Twilight opened the door.

"Everypony in! We need to start looking for books on the Everfree. I'm sorry the library's in such bad shape, but- Princess Celestia!"

Twilight had been so focused on giving her friends instructions she hadn't even noticed them bowing... or the great big white pony in gold regalia in the room... or the slightly smaller blue pony wearing silver regalia also in the room. Twilight froze.

Celestia smiled at the six mares. "Rise, my little ponies. There is no need to stand on ceremony here," she told them, walking forwards. She smiled gently down at her student for a moment as said student attempted to stammer out a reason why the library was such a mess. Celestia gently cut her off.

"I am glad to see you are alright, my faithful student. Your life, and the lives of your friends, mean more to me than all the books in this world," she said, embracing her student with a wing. Twilight blushed at the contact, but did appear to be less stressed. Celestia gave her a motherly smile.

"When we found the library in such a state, I must confess I thought my student had had another one of her 'episodes'," she told them. Twilight's cheeks burned again, this time from shame more than embarrassment. "Still, Spike told us what had happened, and mentioned that you would likely be coming back, so we decided to wait here for you and start tidying up." She smiled conspiritorially at her student.

"Luna has been spending so much time in the Royal Library, I would not be surprised if she could set all these books back on their proper shelves in her sleep," she whispered to Twilight. A small giggle escaped from both ponies.

"We heard that, Tia," Luna said flatly. Luna ignored the stifled snicker from her sister and turned towards the other mares.

"We are glad to see the Elements," Luna greeted, her formal speech still not fully gone yet. "We feared for the worst when Ponyville was attacked."

That drew a gasp from the six mares. A tiny frown found its way to Celestia's muzzle.

"That was actually an attack, yer Highness?" Applejack asked.

"We cannot be certain yet," Celestia replied diplomatically. "Whatever forces did this have taken our ponies, but it does not appear to have damaged the town nor its inhabitants."

"Sure tried," Rainbow muttered under her breath. Celestia appeared to have heard though, and fixed the mare with an inscrutable gaze.

"My sister and I were blocked by whatever magic covered Ponyville and the forest. We know nothing of what happened here. Perhaps it would be best if we heard it straight from the source. Rainbow, could you tell us what happened to you when the wall was raised?"


Celestia maintained silence for many long seconds after her student, the last of the six ponies, finished relating her tale.

It was worse than she had thought, better than she had feared. Whatever force had taken Ponyville, and she could not deny now that some faction had clearly done so, had clearly been intent on subjugation, perhaps even murder. That the town had not lost a single pony - her guards had finally caught up with her, and she had asked them to take a census- was nothing short of a miracle. The guards had even found Wind Waker, disgruntled and alone but unharmed, on the road in to the town.

The descriptions of the monsters, and of the giant insects, gave pause. Never in her long, long life had she heard of such things, even from the times when Discord had ruled the world... or when her sister, twisted in her darkness, had made her own creations. The description of their capabilities had her concerned as well. What if they were to come back? From what she now knew, ponies would be hard-pressed to defeat the creatures, even in numbers.

Most disturbing of all was the dissolution of magic when the wall had been up. The loss of ability alone had clearly rattled her student and most of the girls. What they did not know, what they could not know, was just how serious such an event was. A pony was a magical creature by nature; every part of their body was infused with magic. To be without magic meant that Twilight, and all of Ponyville, had somehow 'lost' their bodies for a time, and had become nothing more than spirits.

Celestia pushed such thoughts aside and offered a smile to her student and her friends. They did not need to know her troubles, though she would be enlisting her faithful student to attempt to get to the bottom of this mess.

"Thank you, my little ponies. It may not feel like it, but you have helped me and my sister a great deal by telling us such things."

Beside her, Luna nodded gravely.

Getting to her hooves, Celestia stretched her wings-even a god was prone to the aches and pains of sitting for too long. She looked right at her faithful student, anticipating the reaction to come.

"Twilight. The phenomenon was not a natural event, of that much I am certain. That being said, I can tell you that events such as these have never been seen before in Equestrian history. If we are to counter this, we must first understand it."

Twilight's eyes lit up in understanding. Celestia smiled, and said the words her student was waiting to hear.

"My student, you have a new assignment. Find out as much as you can about this phenomenon, and compile your conclusions into a report for me."

It was a rare pony that relished being told to write a report, but to her student, Celestia knew that every report was an excuse to bury her nose in a good book. It was a passion Celestia both encouraged and hoped would never dim with age; such passions brought forth the greatest magical and cultural advancements to grace the world, and she had high hopes for her student.

"You can count on me, Princess!" Twilight told her. Celestia gave her a mischevious grin.

"And you girls? Can can I count on you to make certain my student doesn't lock herself in the library?" Celestia asked.

"Of course!"
"Can do, Princess!"
"Certainly, Princess!"
"Um, if she's alright with it..."

Celestia chuckled. Twilight glared.

"Your friends are most loyal," Luna said with a smile. "Treasure them. Trust them, each and every one of you. Together, you can overcome anything."

"I could not have said it better myself. Come, my sister. Duty calls. We should leave my student to her studies. My thanks for your hospitality, Twilight, and to all of you for help. If anything should happen, let us know," Celestia said, turning for the door. Luna followed at her side, and Celestia let them both out, closing the door behind her.

Outside, a Royal Chariot awaited- no doubt at her guard's beckoning. Celestia was thankful for the thought though, as it meant time with Luna, time they could discuss this in private. The sisters boarded the carriage and the hitched pegusi began to pull, lifting the carriage off the ground in a matter of moments and heading towards Canterlot. With a few quick spells, Celestia ensured they would not be overheard, and that they could hear each other.

"Most disturbing, sister," Luna said with a deep frown. "I do not like leaving Ponyville alone. This could happen again at any time."

"Yet we have no way to combat it, sister. Leaving yourself, or myself, or even Cadence in Ponyville would likely only make another event even more devastating, especially since we have no hard evidence as to what caused it, or even how it was restored back to normal."

"I feel another party has made itself known, sister. One who takes issue with the evil in the Everfree."

Celestia's eyes narrowed. "Pinkie's invisible wolf?"

Luna nodded."I am not convinced that it was a hallucination on the part of Laughter. She may be a trickster, but I do not believe she would exaggerate something like this. And what of Rarity's phantom predator? A wolf would fit nicely, would you not agree? And if there, then why not at Applejack's farm, or in Twilight's house as well?"

Celestia frowned. There were too many unknowns here. The wolf, the event, the unknown monsters, the lingering, faint sense of evil around the forest and town; it all was a deadly mystery, one she wished she did not have to solve.

Still, she had faith in her student. Twilight, with the help of her friends, would be able to figure this out.

She hoped.


The wolf padded around the area in silence, sniffing carefully as he attempted to find the entrance to the lair. His nose led him in circles, a myriad of scent trails criss-crossing back and forth, before coming across a hole in the soft dirt.

The Guardian had told him where to find the location of the evil, and find it he had. Now, he needed to retrieve the Fused Shadow and lift the taint from the land once and for all.

The wolf leapt fearlessly down into the black depths.


View Online

The wolf padded quietly along through the jungle, ears cocked and alert. He had indeed found the lair of the next piece of Fused Shadow, but had been unable to gain full entry into the lair. Unable to bypass the obstacle, the wolf had decided to explore, hoping to find something that could help him in his endeavors.

It was night now, but that did not bother the wolf. He had other senses to see for him, his nose following the trail he had used to get. The moon was particularly bright tonight as well, casting silvery rays onto the land below; while not particularly bright, it did allow the wolf a decent amount of sight as he jogged through the forest.

A growl caused the wolf’s ears to prick up. Facing the source, the wolf bared his teeth as three creatures rushed at him from the undergrowth, growling and snarling at him as they surrounded him.

They looked like wolves. About as large as he was, they were nevertheless quite different. These wolves appeared to be made from gnarled and blackened tree branches, sporting moss and leaves for hair and crackling like dead wood with every step they took. Soulless red eyes stared at the wolf as he crouched, ears pricked to listen as the wolves circled.

The wolf to his left rushed in, hard wooden fangs bared to bite into soft flesh. The wolf heard.

The wolf charged back, surprising the wooden wolf. In that crucial moment, the wolf leapt, teeth bared, paws extended. The wolf hit the wooden wolf with the force of a runaway carriage. There was a sickening *crack*, and the wooden wolf simply collapsed. The red eyes faded, and in the next moment, there was nothing but a pile of wooden twigs and branches on the ground.

The wolf turned sharply and darted away as the second wolf, attempting to use the attack as a distraction, closed its wooden jaws mere inches from his tail. The wolf ignored it and headed for the third, who was now closing as well. He growled and snarled at his target, managing to cause it to pause for a fraction of a second from the sheer ferocity it contained. It was enough. Another pile of blackened twigs and branches joined the first.

The third was hot on his tail. The wolf dodged, just missing the snapping wooden fangs. The wolf turned on his own tail and went for the throat, closing his own fangs in the wooden neck.

The wooden wolf yelped and attempted to struggle flee, scratching with wooden claws, but the wolf held fast and pushed forward, keeping the wooden wolf off balance. Twigs and branches splintered as the wolf bit down. With a jerk, the wolf tore out the wooden throat. The wooden wolf fell to twigs in front of him.

The wolf spit the twigs and branches out from his mouth and continued at a light jog down the path, ears perked for any other dangers this forest could throw at him.

The wind picked up, and a faint whistling sound reached the wolf’s ears. The wolf perked up immediately, head swiveling as he attempted to find the source. Another small gust caused an ear to swivel, and the wolf set out towards the sound.

He came upon a small clearing in the forest. In the center, the wolf found a stone, standing slightly taller than he. Through the center of the upper part was a hole, clear through the stone. Around it were markings, triangles facing outwards on top, a raised section around the hole, and a single prominence pointing downwards. It looked like a radiant eye, shedding a single tear. From the hole, a tune came, a whistling from the wind that rose and fell in pitch, almost like a song. A lullaby.

The wolf sat, eyes closed and ears perked, listening to the tune.

Then, he began to howl.


Applejack shot awake in her bed, her ears twitching.

Her window was open to the cool spring air, and through the opening a chilling sound came. A wolf howl. A-


-single, solitary wolf howl. It rang through the night, loud and clear, as Fluttershy stuck her head out of her window. It was coming from the forest, and it may have been far away, but she could nevertheless hear it-


-clearly. Rarity, her mane in curls and a sleeping cover hiked just over her horn, listened to the haunting sound.

The howl changed pitch. Then it did again. And again. A tune formed. Rarity frowned, her mind attempting to puzzle why a wolf would howl a-


-lullaby. Twilight listened out her window, Spike beside her. The tones of the howl were familiar; it was the same basic tune that Celestia had sung to her a few times when she was younger, an ancient tune said to rival the age of the Princesses themselves.

As haunting as the sound was, Twilight nevertheless found herself listening intently. It should have been a fearful omen, but instead, it was just… beautiful.


High above the world, on a stone pillar that extended out of nothing, the black and white wolf finished the song.

Set against a starry backdrop with a large, silvery moon, the wolf found himself high above a forest- the one he was in, he supposed. To the south, a desert sprawled out. To the east and west were oceans, with woods a plentiful in between and hints of buildings in the distance. To the north was a solitary peak, a marble-white city built precariously into it, waterfalls flowing down and glittering in the moonlight, with a city that appeared to be made of clouds just off to the side. Below was a town, small and simple, with a homey feel to it.

Across from him, on a mossy stone just like his own, a golden spirit wolf let the last notes of the duet fade away. The only sound, high above the world, was the panting of the ethereal wolf, echoing through the night.

Excited, the flesh and blood wolf circled once before he managed to force himself to calm down, standing expectantly on all fours. The golden wolf regarded him with an implacable stare from a single red eye.

“Let teachings of old pass to you… gather your courage and find me.”

The golden wolf sprang forward, vaulting off the ledge and disappearing down onto the world. Around the wolf, the world faded away as though blown by an invisible wind. In the end, he found himself in the clearing once again.

The wolf was still, gathering his thoughts. Then he set off at a light pace, a new destination in mind.

He headed towards the small village at the edge of the forest, the one he had vanquished a number of Shadow Insects from.


On the side of the path towards the town, no more than twenty feet from the abrupt edge of the forest, an ethereal golden wolf sat, waiting.

The black and white wolf padded slowly out of the forest, eyeing the town to see if there were any witnesses. There were none. It was late into the night right now, most of the inhabitants of the village were asleep. Those who weren’t were not outside, the recent howling having spooked them- one did not live close to a forest such as the Everfree without being cautious.

The wolf padded slowly towards his golden counterpart, wary. He knew what was going to happen, and just because it was necessary did not mean he had to like it.

A few steps closer, and the golden wolf growled. It got to its paws, ready to attack as it continued to growl threateningly. The black and white wolf growled back but did not approach further, front legs splayed and low to the ground, ready for anything.

The golden wolf darted forward and leapt at his flesh and blood counterpart. The black wolf entertained the thought of attempting to dodge, but decided against it. Not that it would have mattered. Before the wolf could move a muscle, the golden wolf was upon him… passing through him…

His vision swirled as the wolf lost consciousness.


The wolf awoke on a white plain. Fog surrounded a single clear area, allowing only glimpses of what lay beyond- one could see the tops of a castle, occasionally, or houses. Shaking his head to clear his senses, the wolf got to his paws.

Sitting in front of him was the golden wolf, the single red eye watching as the wolf got to his feet. Satisfied, the golden wolf threw back his head and let out a howl. Engulfed in blinding white light, the golden wolf disappeared- in its place was something new.

Standing tall on two legs was a creature never before seen in Equestria. Covered in battle-worn golden armor that appeared to have vines growing on it in places, carrying a hand-and-a-half sword in his left hand and a large metal circular shield in his right, the figure before the wolf could not be mistaken for anything but a warrior. His helm, one of the three horns broken off, covered a ghostly face from which a single red eye silently watched.

The Hero’s Spirit seemed satisfied with what he saw.

“We meet again,” the Spirit’s voice boomed. “You have become stronger since last we met. You are on the path to becoming the hero that is needed. But your progress has been halted. You need a new skill to continue forward.”

The wolf nodded. Then he looked himself over, as though he did not expect to look like this. The Spirit noticed.

“The skill I will teach you now is not a sword technique, and is indeed most potent when one is a beast. It is not an attack, and will cause no lasting damage to any opponent. Yet of all the skills I have taught so far, this may be the most important.”

“’A sword has no strength unless the hand that holds it has courage.’ No matter your skill with a blade, you cannot damage a foe if you do not attack it. For that reason, your mind is just as important as the sword that you wield in a battle. You must treat it as such, as both a weapon to be honed... and as a vital resource to be guarded. You armor your body to defend against physical attacks; so too must you armor your mind, to defend against mental attacks. This is the next skill you need: the Warrior's Spirit.”

“The most common attack against a warrior’s mind is fear. Some of your opponents will attempt to manipulate your emotions, creating a fear so great that the warrior flees the field in defeat. To combat this, you must focus your courage and steel your will against such attacks.”

The Spirit sheathed his sword in a single fluid motion. In his now empty hand, a green glow began to form.

“I will attempt to generate fear within your mind. Use your skills to force it out.”

With no warning, the green ball flew from his hand and struck the wolf. The wolf collapsed to his belly, fighting against nausea. When he opened his eyes again, the Spirit was… distorted. It was growing taller, larger, by the second. The mouth doubled, then tripled in size, razor sharp fangs replacing normal teeth. The armor grew sharp, as much a weapon now as protection. Through it all, the red eye glared, unceasingly, watching its prey writhe on the phantom ground…

The wolf closed his eyes, forcing the image out of his head. It was not true. And there was nothing that could force him to believe otherwise. He repeated this mantra in his head, his eyes closed, as he got to his paws. His lips pulled back into a growl, and he opened his eyes once more to find the Spirit, completely normal, standing before him.

“Well done. It certainly appears you are capable of learning my lost art,” the Spirit nodded, satisfied. “This technique is also useful in shrugging off magical attacks that affect your body. By taking your conviction and forcing it through the rest of your body, any foreign magics will be forced out as well. Indeed, it is even possible to affect the magic a short distance away from your body using this skill. We shall try it now. I will lift you using magic. You must escape.”

The Spirit’s hand cupped, as though holding a bowl, then raised it into the air. The wolf was momentarily startled when he rose along with it. Concentrating, the wolf gathered his courage and will and forced them through the rest of his body. A slight blue sphere formed around him as the telekinetic field dissipated, dropping the wolf a foot to the ground. He stumbled slightly, but recovered into an attack position.

The Spirit nodded. “Very good. The next hidden skill, Warrior's Spirit, has been passed on!”

“Do not relax your vigil. There are still more skills for you to learn, and you shall need them all in order to save the land from darkness. We will meet again, hero.”

The white around them faded, and the wolf suddenly found he could no longer keep his eyes open. The wolf passed blissfully into unconsciousness.


The wolf awoke at the edge of the Everfree to a pounding headache. As much as he enjoyed and needed the guidance of the Hero’s Spirit, it was not pleasant to wake up from it. Staggering to his paws, the wolf shook his head violently in a vain attempt to clear it. It would not go away.

Tired and with headache, the wolf decided that he needed rest before he went back to the dungeon. Combing through his mind, the wolf decided that the best place would be the farmhouse he had cleared one of the bugs from. The spirits there had seemed like good, honest folk, much like most of the friends he knew from his home.

He could sleep in the barn without raising concern, he was sure.


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Applejack woke before dawn, as was necessary all year round. Farm life never stopped. There were chores that needed doing before breakfast.

She kicked her blanket off and headed, bleary-eyed, for the bathroom. She turned the water in the shower for her customary quick rinse, the ice-cold water waking her up before turning warm enough to relax her muscles and soothe her aches.

Fifteen minutes later, Applejack was toweled off, dry, and almost ready to face the day. Opening the door, she left the bathroom just as her brother opened the door to his room. The two siblings exchanged greetings as Applejack headed towards her bedroom and Macintosh entered the now vacated bathroom.

In her room, Applejack grabbed a brush and tamed the frizzy mess her blonde mane and tail had become when she had toweled it off. While she was nowhere near as prissy as her good friend Rarity, and cared relatively little if she had to get it dirty, Applejack was still a mare and took time to maintain her appearance. Idly, she brushed it into an elaborate little coif, as she had seen her Aunt Orange do, and had indeed even done for little Applejack a few times.

She examined herself in the mirror, slipping back into the dignified posture of a Manehatten socialite. The mare in the mirror looked regal almost, noble. Sophisticated. Dignified. She gave a smile and let her hair down, the socialite in the mirror disappearing, replaced with the farmer. As pretty as she looked with her hair like that, with her back straight and her expressions hidden, it wasn’t her. She wasn’t some high-society mare, like her Aunt and Uncle. She was Applejack, farmpony. Rarity and the nobility could keep their fancy hairdos and their etiquette lessons and overpriced food; she had everything she could ever want, right here on the farm.

Applejack brushed her mane and tail until they flowed straight, then tied them off with a pair of hair bands near the ends. Wouldn’t be winning any beauty contests that way, but then, she didn’t care. Farm work didn’t care how beautiful you were, only that you had the strength to do the job. Her mane and tail style was quick, easy to maintain, and wouldn’t get in the way when she was buckin’ or doing her other chores.

Ready for the day, Applejack set her Pappy’s hat on her head and headed out the door. In the hall she met Mac and fell easily into step with the red stallion. Together, the two of them descended the stairs and headed out into the pre-dawn. Stepping off the porch, they split their separate ways and headed off to do their chores.

An hour later, Celestia’s sun now high in the sky, the two siblings returned to the house for breakfast.

Granny Smith, with help from young Applebloom, had prepared a hearty breakfast of eggs, toast, hash browns and hay bacon for the Apple family. Together, the Apple clan, Ponyville branch, sat down at the old dining table for breakfast, plates piled high with food. One quick prayer to Celestia later and the food was disappearing at a prodigious rate.

“Mac, you hear anythin’ last night?” Applejack asked.

Big Macintosh took a big swallow of milk before answering. “Nnnoope.”

“I did Applejack!” Applebloom said excitedly. “I woke up and there was this timberwolf, just howlin’ his heart out somewhere! First I was scared, but then it started to sound like that lullaby you always sing to me when I can’t get to sleep! It was so cool!”

Applejack scowled around her haybacon. So she hadn’t been dreaming last night.

“Mac, I need you to check the fence along th’ Everfree. I heard that howlin’ last night too, an’ I don’t want whatever was doin’ that payin’ us a visit. Betsy an’ the other cows would darn near have heart attacks if some timberwolf up and came near them,” Applejack said with a scowl.

“Okay, AJ,” Big Mac replied before lowering his muzzle back to his plate.

Applejack eyed her younger sister warily. Applebloom was a good Apple, and she knew the dangers of the Everfree better than most, having lived next to it her whole life. That being said, she and her best friends had yet to find their Cutie Marks, and had an alarming tendency to try to find them in the most dangerous ways possible. And if it wasn’t inherently dangerous, they often made it dangerous somehow. This excitement was all well and good, but it was a miracle she and the other Crusaders hadn’t been injured yet; she didn’t want them chasing after something that could actively kill them; they had enough danger as it was.

“Applebloom?” she asked. She waited until her younger sister had swallowed and turned to look at her.

“You remember what I’ve told you ‘bout not goin’ in the Everfree, right?”

“Of course!” she replied, indignant.

“Well whatever’s happenen’ around here is comin’ from the Everfree. So I don’t want to hear you an’ your friends have done somethin’ dangerous now, ya hear?”

Applebloom rolled her eyes. “Yes, Applejack.”

Applejack wasn’t completely mollified- Celestia knew those girls did the dumbest things sometimes, looking for their Cutie Marks- but she was at least satisfied Applebloom would give their next little crusade a deeper thought than normal.

Ducking her head back to her meal, the four ponies continued their idle chatter, discussing and assigning various jobs that would need to be done around the farm. Duty was still relatively light, thankfully, which meant that Applejack might actually have time to run around with her friends and figure out this whole mess with the darn twilight. But for now, she still had chores to do.

“All right, ‘Bloom, time to get goin’ to school,” Applejack told her younger sister. “You go’n get ready while Granny an’ I clean up.”

“But I heard they were canceling school today ‘cuz of all the mess yesterday!” Applebloom whined.

“An’ exactly who’d ya hear that from?”


“Uh huh. Well, yer headin’ in to school anyways, an’ if it’s canceled then you can come on home an’ help Mac an’ I out with our chores.”

“Aww, but me an’ the girls wanted to get some Crusadin’ in after school!”

“Well, you girls can do that too. But I don’t want to hear ‘bout you playin’ hookey from school, ya hear? Now go on, get ready for school,” Applejack nudged.

Applejack began deftly clearing the table as her younger sister headed up the stairs to get ready for the day. A few minutes into hoofwashing the dishes, heavy tromping came down the stairs- Big Mac was off. Applejack stuck her head out of the kitchen.

“You be careful near the Everfree, ya hear?” she told him.

“’Course, AJ,” came his reply. Pausing only to set his yoke around his neck, Big Macintosh headed out the door.

The skittering clatter of much smaller hooves followed a few minutes later, just as Applejack finished washing the dishes. She left the kitchen just as Granny Smith entered- she’d dry and replace the dishes then putter around the house doing the small but important tasks it needed- cleaning sheets, repairing fabrics, dusting- before starting on to lunch, while Applejack and her brother were out working in the field.

“You ready, Bloom?”


“Well alright then,” Applejack chuckled. Together, the Apple sisters headed out the door and down the road towards the schoolhouse Ms. Cherilee ran, chatting idly with her younger sister as they walked. Fifteen minutes later, Applejack waved goodbye as the school bell rang, standing with the other parents and guardians as they saw their foals off to a good education. Satisfied the youngest Apple was doing her job, Applejack turned and headed into town.

Normally she’d head back to the farm and get working again. Today, though, she had a job in town- she needed to replace the sledgehammer she had broken. At a light trot, she made it to the local hardware store just as he opened his doors.

The proprietor, an older earth pony with spectacles and a greying muzzle by the name of Tool Steel, gave her a friendly smile as she sauntered up to the counter with a new sledge. He knew all the farmers and craftsponies in the area, having served as the local hardware shop owner for nearly two decades now, and gave Applejack a warm welcome.

She left a few minutes later a few bits lighter and a new sledgehammer slung across her withers. Trotting through town, she slung out friendly greetings to the ponies she met, none of her friends, but then she didn’t expect to see any of them right now. Pinkie was working, Rainbow was probably sleeping, Rarity was likely fussing over the dress she saw get ruined, Twilight was probably in a coma after having a studying binge and Fluttershy was hopefully trying to convince her animals that everything was fine and that she didn’t need protecting. Applejack shuddered at that last thought- that manticore had looked right angry.

Applejack pushed the thought from her mind as she left the town and returned to the dirt and grasses of Sweet Apple Acres. The ponies she saw were a bit more apprehensive and wary than usual- three guesses as to why. Still, they were going about their business and acting fairly normally. Likely ready to bolt at the drop of a hat, but still, so long as nopony dropped their hat, everything would be fine.

Applejack nosed open the barn and trotted inside, heading for the tool rack. Setting the new sledgehammer on its pegs, Applejack smiled. One job done. Turning around, Applejack head-

There was something in the barn with her.

Applejack froze.

It wasn’t a conscious thought, but nevertheless Applejack knew somepony else was in the barn with her. Worse, something had put her on edge, and she fought a quick battle to go running out of the barn with the heebie-jeebies.

She heard it first, the soft hiss of steady breathing. It was coming from the far corner of the barn, where there should have been nothing but straw. Reviewing her memories of when she came in, she found something out of place- something black.

Applejack turned as quietly as she could. It was all she could do to put her hooves to her mouth to stifle the startled expletive.

Lying in the corner on a bed of straw, curled and looking rather peaceful, was a black flesh-and-blood wolf.

Oh… my… stars…

Applejack backed out of the barn as quietly as she could, her eyes never leaving the wolf. She shut the barn door, wincing at the squeaking that now seemed as loud as… well, Rainbow Dash’s Sonic Rainboom.

She then put a wood plank through the door, once again making a makeshift lock to keep a creature at bay. Then she took off towards the Everfree fence as fast as her hooves could carry her.


The wolf woke slowly. It was easily the most, and best, sleep he had had in days now, and his body was enjoying it. He gave a mighty yawn before flopping back over onto the straw and closing his eyes again.

The wolf’s shadow stirred, then jumped. The wolf’s shadow stretched off the wolf, before forming into a small, dark imp creature. Only the bright yellow and red eye held any color other than black, yet the frown on the creature’s face was unmistakable.

It said something in a strange language, stubby little arms on its hips.

The wolf burrowed further into the warm straw.

The creature seemed to go into a rant before throwing its little arms up in exasperation. The wolf flicked an ear but gave no other sign it had heard. Frustrated, the shadow creature grabbed a paw.

The creature tried to coerce the wolf up, punctuating each word with a pull.

Annoyed and not getting the sleep he had envisioned, the wolf let out a huff and pulled his paw away from the shadow creature, rolling onto his belly and getting to his paws. He turned to face the shadow creature, annoyed blue eyes meeting annoyed red/yellow eye. The shadow creature defiantly put its stubby little arms back on her hips.

The little shadow imp gave a few satisfied sounds, then it literally jumped at the wolf’s paws, becoming nothing more than an ordinary shadow once more.

The wolf let out another mighty yawn, then splayed his legs forward and backwards in a great stretch, working out the kinks in his muscles. Shaking his head one final time to clear the cobwebs, he headed for the barn doors.

He tried to nose them open, but they wouldn’t budge. Figuring more force was needed, he threw himself against the doors, sinew and muscle straining. A small crack appeared, which he stuck his nose through.

The wet nose was roughly pushed back inside. The wolf caught a glance of red fur before the door was slammed shut, drawing a startled yelp when it pinched his nose slightly.

Growling slightly, the wolf backed up, then ran at the door, bashing it with his shoulder. He could hear wood splintering, but it didn’t open yet.

Backing up, he ran again, bashing the wooden door. This time though, it didn’t yield. The wolf snorted as he ignored the pain in his shoulder- looks like he wasn’t getting out that way.

Still, this wasn’t exactly a prison. It was a barn. There had to be another way out.


Applejack galloped like her life depended on it. At this point though, it didn’t- her brother’s depended on it. And the cows, and pigs and chickens and all the other animals on the farm. Having a wolf prowling around, even if it was still locked in the barn, just wasn’t a good thing.

Behind her, falling slowly but steadily behind, was a very tired Twilight, a pink pony with a HUGE smile on her face, and a vengeance-seeking Rarity. If there had been more time, Applejack would have gotten Fluttershy too, but she didn’t want to leave that wolf on her farm any longer than she had to; of course, nopony could get to Rainbow’s house where the layabout was likely still sleeping.

There was something going on here, and that wolf was part of it, no doubt about it now. When Pinkie had told Princess Celestia about the wolf, Applejack had thought her even crazier than normal. Pinkie might be able to do the impossible, but seeing things? Lying? That just wasn’t Pinkie Pie. Personally, Applejack suspected stress- Celestia knows how she acted under stress, maybe Pinkie’s reaction was to conjure up stuff she could laugh at (Pinkamena aside- that wasn’t stress so much as feeling abandoned). It would certainly explain her first reaction to the trees in the forest when they were heading to defeat Nightmare Moon.

But the wolf… half way to getting Big Mac, before she went for the girls, Applejack realized just what she had inadvertently dropped at her hooves. The wolf was real. Pinkie’s wolf was real.

And if half of what Pinkie said was true, it knew what was going on around here.

That meant that if they could capture it, maybe Fluttershy could work her animal charms and they could figure out what this whole mess was about.

If they could capture it. Applejack was confident she and her trusty rope could do it, but she was taking no chances- if that wolf escaped, the cows could very well throw a fit and go on another stampede, not to mention terrifying all the other animals around the farm. But her friends could stop it, even if they were missing two.

Applejack left the others in the dust when she saw Big Mac bracing the barn doors.

“Mac! What happened?!”

“It tried t’ get out.”

Applejack nodded in concern as the rest of the group caught up.

“Where is that creature?!” Rarity demanded, fire in her eyes.

“In the barn. Now, hold on there Rares,” Applejack said, stepping between Rarity and the barn door. “We’re not here to kill ‘im.”

“Of course not! We’re going to throw him a party!” Pinkie exclaimed, throwing streamers into the air. “A great, big, “Thanks for Saving Ponyville!” party! There’ll be cake, and Pin the Tail on the Pony, and-“

Applejack shut Pinkie’s mouth with a hoof.

“No, Pinkie, not a party. We’re here to capture this critter so we can figure out jus’ what’s goin’ on around here. An’ that means it has to be alive, Rarity.”

Rarity turned her nose up. “Of course, dear, I know that. I simply intend to register my… displeasure… with the beast for having ruined some of my finest work!”

Applejack rolled her eyes again before grabbing her trusty rope off her back.

“Right. Everypony ready?”

There were two yesses and one yes that turned into a yawn. Poor Twilight had been up all night researching, and it showed in the bags under her eyes. But she was still on her hooves and awake, if barely. Even if she was being dragged along to search for something she didn’t think was real.

Rope at the ready, Applejack signaled her brother. He stepped back, allowing them to see the plank- it had splintered and bent, but not quite broke. One good hit would do it though. Twilight and Rarity readied themselves, horns aglow.

Applejack twirled her rope, ready for an angry wolf to come barreling out, then gave Mac the signal.

In one smooth motion, Mac ripped the door open, splintering the wooden makeshift lock.

Nothing came barreling out at them. Only the sights and smells of a normal barn greeted them. Applejack frowned.

She poked her head cautiously around the door. Nothing was there, thought the ladder to the loft was open. Strange.

“Well Applejack? Where is this wolf?” Rarity asked.

Big Mac poked his head in the barn too. “It was here a few minutes ago,” he told them.

The sound of splintering wood drew their attention up to the loft of the barn, where the loft doors on the far end had just been slammed open. Applejack gasped and started forward.

She made it to the bottom of the ladder in time to hear the scrabbling of claws on the wooden floor, and saw a dark shape through the cracks in the wood.

Applejack tore out of the barn.

“Mac, don’t let it get near the cows!” she shouted as she tore around the side. Startled, he nevertheless complied and took off towards the shelter where the cows were. As she rounded the barn corner, she saw a black shape barreling off.

“C’mon girls, we got a wolf t’ catch!”

The four took off after the wolf. It was more than a little strange for them- the only wolves in the Everfree were made of wood, not flesh-and-blood. There were differences, differences that became apparent very quickly.

It was fast as a thief. Put the timberwolves of the forest to shame, and just about every pony Applejack knew too. The only one she could think of that could keep up was Rainbow Dash- Applejack regretted not trying to find the rainbow-haired mare now. The ground-bound group slowly but steadily fell behind as they chased the black wolf through the Acres towards the Everfree.

It didn’t even pause as it jumped over the fence and vanished into the forest.

“Horseapples!” she swore as she dropped to a walk. Behind her, Rarity and Twilight greedily sucked in air. Pinkie… well, Pinkie bounced around like she hadn’t just run across Sweet Apple Acres.

“I… will… never… do… something like that… ever again!” Rarity declared. “Just look at my coat, all covered in dirt and sweat...”

“The wolf is real,” Twilight’s voice cut through Rarity’s complaints. “And it’s not a timberwolf.”

“Ah told ya that…”

“I know, Applejack, but seeing is believing,” Twilight continued. She looked absolutely terrible, her mane and tail frizzy and mussed, with large bags under her eyes and now covered in dirt and sweat. But her eyes were lit with an inner fire.

“We have to have Fluttershy talk to it. I’ll keep researching, but that wolf… if what Pinkie says is true, that wolf could tell us everything.”


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Deep within the dark, smoky caves that made up his home, Fido pondered the new turn his life had taken.

Pondering wasn’t something he did often, or with any kind of depth- indeed, he was not particularly smart, not compared to a pony. Nevertheless, sometimes events happened that forced an individual to think as deeply as they could upon this issue. This was one such time.

The Diamond Dogs knew something was going to happen before it had actually happened. They could smell it in the air around their home; something bad was coming. Rover, the Alpha, had agreed, and had drawn back all the pups and mothers to the deepest caverns, guarded by the fiercest and most well-armored dogs they had. The other dogs had ceased their digging and taken up arms, moving in small packs as they began to patrol their homes. All the entrances and exits were guarded; whatever the bad thing was, it would not get into their pack’s home without a fight.

Then, they had learned that no amount of armor could protect them from the badness. From the pony-magic.

The pack scattered like frightened sheep in the strange world they found themselves in, so much like their home, yet not. They could see the others of the pack, hear them… but there was no smell! With no smell, dogs of all ages had panicked; mothers had been unable to find their pups, guards had been unable to find their charges, dogs in the tunnels had gotten lost. It had been chaos.

When the strange magic had lifted, the dogs began gathering again. The pack looked for leadership. They had found Fido and Spot first.

Then Rover had come.

He was… different. Bigger than Fido now, much bigger, with arms like trees and claws that could scratch granite. He wore a black jacket made from leather and decorated with glowing gems that pulsed slowly with what even Fido could see was power. His eyes glowed a pale yellow, preventing dogs from making eye contact- not that any would dare do so. The dogs had immediately submitted before their Alpha. Fido had submitted, even though he could smell the badness coming from him.

Rover then did wondrous things. He tamed the Quarray Eels, claiming to use magic to subdue them and make them loyal servants- and they were, as far as Fido could tell. They would not attack a dog even when attacked themselves, as a particularly jumpy guard found to his relief.

When this was done, he told the pack that he could use his magic to make the guard dogs stronger. All submitted before their Alpha. All rose stronger than before, their armor new and intimidating, smelling like Rover, their eyes glowing just as Rover’s now did... Fido was beginning to believe that maybe what they were smelling on the Alpha was not badness, but greatness.

Now… now Rover had called for Fido and Spot to meet him alone. Passing a pair of the new guard dogs, they entered the Horde chamber, where the wealth of their pack was buried in a single, secure location. Rover sat upon a new throne, made entirely of precious gemstones fused together into a single, grand throne. A show of the wealth, made from the new magic power of the Alpha. Rover surveyed the two dogs with his burning eyes.

“Have made Mudclaw territory safe. Have made Mudclaw dogs strong. But Mudclaw pack still weak,” Rover spat. Beside Fido, Spot trembled, fearing the anger of their Alpha. Fido could practically smell it. It worried Fido- Spot was smarter; if he was afraid, maybe Fido should be too? But he should not be afraid of Alpha. Alpha looks after his pack. What Rover did was good for the pack.

Rover got up from his throne, prowling around the gem throne. Even on all fours, he was bigger than Fido now. Strong. Strong leader for a strong pack.

“Gems make power. Must find more gems. But dogs no good at finding gems. No smell, no find. But pony… pony find gems easy.”

Rover fixed them with a stare.

“Take dogs. Go and take ponies. Many as you can. Find gem pony, whiny pony. Bring here!” Rover commanded.

Both dogs nodded and left, their tails low in the presence of their superior. Passing the guards, Spot looked around carefully.

“Bad thing still here,” he whispered. “Growing. Alpha has bad, now guards have bad.”

“Not bad,” Fido argued. “Rover make Quarray Eels defend pups. Rover make guard dogs stronger. Maybe is not bad.”

The smaller bulldog shook his head. “This not good.”


Twilight woke slowly, gradually fading into consciousness. She was loath to leave her bed, a soft and warm cocoon that could not have possibly been more comfortable if it had been made from clouds. Still, it was time to get up. She had research to do! Well, after breakfast… make that lunch. What exactly was the time?

Twilight cracked her eyes open enough to see the alarm clock on her bed stand. It read 3:47. In the afternoon. She groaned.

She’d set it for noon! She had to get research done! There were so many leads to chase down, so many possibilities. She needed to start narrowing her research, but that couldn’t happen until she had some sort of lead on what might be going on! She needed to start research on wolves that weren’t made from wood-

Twilight shook her head, and mentally filed that thought away to be completed later. Stick to the checklist. The only way to achieve harmony was to be organized, to be prepared for the day. Fortunately, she was prepared. She already had a checklist written for this general situation.

Throwing her covers off, Twilight rolled off the bed as her magic opened one of her bed stand drawers, taking out a rolled up parchment. She unfurled it and began reading the precise script, stopping at the first tick box.

Mid-Afternoon Wake-Up Checklist

1. Check clock

Twilight put a check next to that box, and then scanned to the next.

2. Hygiene (See Bathroom Checklist v2)

For the next twenty minutes, Twilight proceeded to get ready for the day, ticking off tasks on her various checklists and sub-checklists. By the time she reached the end, she was ready for the day… or at least, what was left of it. Scanning a practiced eye over the checklist one last time, Twilight nodded in satisfaction before magically wiping the checklist clean of checkmarks and replacing it in her bed stand drawer. Twilight Sparkle, student of Princess Celestia, Librarian of Ponyville, was ready.

She opened the door from her room and trotted down the stairs, frowning as she did so. Books were still piled everywhere on the floor, offending both her honor as a Librarian and her personal sensibilities. Still, after the mess that had been made during the Event, as she had taken to calling it, it was not a surprise that it had not been cleaned up yet. Especially since she was focusing more on looking for specific books rather than putting them back on their proper shelves.

Twilight winced at that. Poor Spike. She made a mental note to get him some nice, juicy gems at some point, and have Pinkie bake them into a cake. He was working hard to put the library back into some semblance of order while she researched; he had moved most of the furniture back to their original positions yesterday by himself. The poor guy had been so tuckered out he had gone to bed nearly an hour earlier than normal, and had barely woken up when she got back from Applejack’s farm. Though he wasn’t there now- where was he?

Twilight shook her head and opened the door. Probably off with Rarity doing Celestia knows wha-

Twilight stared in stunned amazement as Carrot Top bounded by, rope around her muzzle in a makeshift reins, bucking desperately, with a Diamond Dog with eerie yellow eyes riding on her back.

Twilight closed the door. The sounds of the screams faded out immediately, the result of a Silence is Golden spell she had placed upon the Library some time ago. All the windows were closed, completing the spell and not allowing sound in.

Twilight banged her head against the door. Hard. Then she opened it again.

The screams of hysteria returned with a vengeance. Carrot Top was now bucking the other way down the street, with the Diamond Dog refusing to be thrown off.

Twilight let out a long-suffering sigh. Then, charging her horn, she let out a blast of energy at the Diamond Dog riding Carrot Top. It connected square in the face, blasting the dog off the bucking pony.

Carrot Top paused only to get the constricting rope off her muzzle before running screaming into the nearest house and slamming the door.

Twilight sighed again. Looks like it was up to her and her friends. Again.


Ponyville was in chaos. Diamond Dogs had invaded the town, taking whomever they could get in a small but steady stream heading into the Everfree forest.

Still, the ponies were not making it easy; while many ponies had never actually bucked professionally, like Applejack, they could all do a very good impression of it when given the proper motivation. Like, say, a Diamond Dog landing on their back and throwing reins around their muzzle. Some, of course, failed to get away, and were prodded or dragged off. Others succeeded in throwing off their unwanted mounts, and invariably found their way into the nearest house, where they promptly locked themselves in.

Some, however, chose to stand and fight.

Pinkie Pie flung the cherry merengue pie with unerring precision. It sailed through the air before striking a guard dog in the side of the head. The glowing eyes went cross-eyed as the dog toppled over like a tree in the forest. The ground shook when he hit, his tongue lolling stupidly from his mouth as cherry juice began to dribble down the side of his head and onto the ground.

“BOOM, headshot!” Pinkie cheered, before ducking behind the overturned table that was serving as her cover. The thick wood tables, set up outside of Sugarcube Corner, provided excellent cover

Beside her, Caramel chucked a peach cobbler at a dog who was trying to hold on to a bucking pony. While not as precise as Pinkie’s throw, the cobbler nonetheless knocked the dog off-balance enough to be bucked off. Another recruit swelled the ranks of the defense force.

A dog tried charging in, growling like a feral monster, but was met with no less than three different pastries, one thrown at near supersonic speed by a unicorn, and went down hard. Off on the left flank, a grey pegasus mare with straw blonde hair was pelting flankers with all different varieties of muffins (and having some snacks along the way).

Growling, three dogs charged at once- only to be lifted off their feet and bashed into each other by a pink aura of magic. The dogs went down in a heap of armor and limbs as Twilight galloped past them, a pair of dogs hot on her heels. They didn’t last long- a chocolate cake and a cheesecake took them down as Twilight approached the fortress.

“Hiya, Twilight!” Pinkie said enthusiastically.

“Pinkie, what’s going on?” Twilight asked, ducking low behind the table.

“The Diamond Dogs are attacking! Can’t you see them?” Pinkie replied. She peeked over cover just long enough to throw another pie with unerring accuracy.

“No, I mean why are they attacking?” Twilight asked. Pinkie shrugged.

“I dunno. Maybe it’s ‘Kidnap a Pony Day?’”

Twilight facehooved.

“Pinkie, you knew all about the wolf and what was going on before, and you have your Pinkie Sense and…” Twilight was interrupted by a pink hoof in her mouth. Pinkie smiled a reassuring smile at her good friend.

“Twilight, you silly pony. I may be Pinkie, but that doesn’t mean I know everything. I mean, when I get a twitchy tail, I don’t know WHAT is falling, I just know something is going to fall. I mean, I don’t even know Wolfy’s name! Just that he beat up some meanie insects for us,” Pinkie said patiently.

Her grin became less comforting and more mischievous. “And how am I going to throw him a ‘Thanks for saving us from the Twilight Realm’ party if I don’t know his name? I mean, what am I going to put on his cake?”

Pinkie grabbed a pie while Twilight facehooved. She threw it with precision and watched it send another Diamond Dog to the ground, out for the count.

“Pinkie, could you PLEASE stop calling it that?” Twilight whimpered. “I swear whatever happened had nothing to do with me! I don’t want the town to start thinking I had anything to do with what happened!”

“Hmmm… okay! How about ‘Shadow Realm’?”

“Better,” Twilight agreed. “But why ‘realm’?”

“Realm makes it sound like we’re in an adventure! Now c’mon! We need to send these dogs packing!”

Pinkie grabbed a pie and offered it to Twilight. Twilight merely grinned, and levitated six others from the pile of pastries that served as ammunition. Peeking over the barricade, Twilight let them fly.


“I think they’re retreating, everypony!”

A ragged cheer went up from the defenders. For more than an hour, they had held their own, unable to advance but staving off attack from the dogs. Now, though, the dogs were clearly retreating, running towards the forest. They had held out. They had won! As the cheer died down, Twilight Sparkle took charge.

“Alright, everypony. We need to make sure everypony’s okay. Split up into twos, one pony knocks on doors, the other ties up any dogs they see,” Twilight told everypony. “Everypony meet in front of the mayor’s office in thirty minutes!”

“TWILIGHT!” came a small yet masculine scream. As the ponies began to split up, Twilight turned towards the voice. She recognized it immediately.

“Spike!” she called out. He grabbed her by the hoof and started pulling, though she didn’t know why.

“Twilight, they took Rarity!”


It hit Twilight like a kick to the gut. She hadn’t actually seen any ponies get successfully dragged away, even though that is what the dogs had been trying to do. Somewhere, deep in her mind, she had told herself that nopony had been taken, that the worst they would have to deal with were some minor sprains and injuries from trying to buck off the dogs. That everything was going to be fine.

But now… Rarity…

Beside Twilight, Pinkie’s mane deflated, leaving it stringy and flat. One of their friends… was… taken…

“Come on Twi! We gotta save her!” Spike insisted as he pulled furiously on one foreleg. Magic wrapped around him, lifting him into the air and onto Twilight’s back.

“We will Spike. We WILL save Rarity!” Twilight swore. Beside her, Pinkie nodded in determination, her mane inflating back out.

“Well what are we waiting for?!” Spike asked. Twilight shook her head and reared into the air.

“Nothing! Come on Pinkie, let’s get the rest of the girls!”


Feelings ran high at the meeting in front of the town hall. Many had wet eyes, if they were not openly crying or shaking with rage. Mayor Mare was absent, kidnapped from her home by the dogs. And she was not alone.

A quarter of the town was unaccounted for, dragged or ridden off by the dogs. And the girls had not been unaffected.

Rainbow was practically shaking with rage- Scootaloo, her number one fan, was missing, presumed ponynapped. Sweetie, already distraught with the news of her elder sister, was practically catatonic.

Beside her, Applebloom sniffled and tried to hold back tears- Big Macintosh, escorting her to safety, had put up a good fight, but when the odds turned six on one, he had told her to run and not look back. She hadn’t seen her elder brother since. Applejack paced restlessly, an angry scowl on her features- she was no doubt ready to enter the forest alone to bring her brother back.

Behind them, Fluttershy whimpered, wondering exactly what to do. She had been saved, for while the diamond dogs had indeed attempted to get at her, none of them had been willing to brave the manticore that defended her.

Pinkie was unusually quiet and contemplative. The absence of so many ponies she had gotten to know weighed heavily upon her mind.

Rarity was absent, a noticeable hole in the circle of friends.

Twilight sighed as they finished the census. They looked to her to lead; the whole town did, in the absence of a higher authority. Her organizational skills and critical thinking last Winter Wrap-Up had seen to that. And while Twilight had no official authority or obligation, she had nevertheless had taken leadership of the town, just as she had earlier at Sugarcube Corner.

“Spike,” she called out. Spike jumped from his sitting place and headed for her.

“Spike, I need you to send these two scrolls to the Princess,” she said, levitating him the documents.

One was a census of the town. A copy of the list she had just finished seconds ago, it showed exactly how many were missing.

The second was a plea for help.

But help wouldn’t come in time. She had to rely upon herself and her friends if they were going to get Rarity, and the rest of the townsfolk, back. She turned to her friends.

“Alright, girls. I’ve told everyone to go home and lock their doors, but we need to go help Rarity and save the others who were taken,” Twilight said.

“Darn right,” Applejack snorted angrily.

“Those dogs won’t get away with this,” Rainbow agreed vehemently.

“What are we waiting for? Let’s go save Rarity!” Spike chimed in. Five pairs of eyes turned to him. “What?”

“Spike… you’re not coming,” Twilight told him, a pained look on her face. Spike’s hopes fell.

“But… but Twilight,” he protested weakly.

“No buts, Spike. We need someone to tell whoever Celestia sends where we’ve gone. I know you want to go rescue Rarity, but we need you here,” she pleaded. Getting down on her knees, Twilight looked her Number 1 Assistant in the eyes. “Please. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

Spike hung his head. “Okay.” One word conveyed his depression and defeat. Twilight made a mental note to make it up to him.

Twilight took a deep breath, then got back to her hooves.

It was time to go get Rarity.


“This dirt is murder on my hooficure! I’m tired! I’m hungry! I want to go home! This cave smells funny!”

The whiny pony had not stopped her whining since Fido had taken her. It was an endless stream of high-pitched verbal assault that grated on his ears in ways that no pony could understand.

But Fido endured it. The Alpha wanted the pony alive. So Fido continued to lead the whiny pony deeper into the caves.

He passed a pair of guards and entered the horde room with the pony still grating upon his ears. The Alpha was not there.

Fido cringed as he covered his ears. Whiny-pony was still whining. He wasn’t certain how much more he could take…

“Gem pony still whiny,” came the Alpha’s voice from behind them. The pony whirled.

“I say, what most un… sanitary… conditions…” the pony trailed off, wide eyed. Rover, already on all fours, had to lay flat on his stomach to even try to make it to eye level with the pony.

“Pony will find gems for Diamond Dogs,” he growled. “Pony will dig gems for diamond dogs. Pony will not complain.”

“I… I really must protest this treatment! I am a lady and-“

The Alpha growled, lips pulling back to reveal razor sharp teeth.

“Pony will not complain. Pony who complains is useless to dogs. Useless ponies are… meat.”

The whiny pony gulped. She opened her mouth to say something, but thought better of it when Rover idly lifted a claw to pick at his teeth. Her mouth closed and she did not utter a peep.

“Good pony.”


View Online

The wolf padded silently out of the forest, blue eyes fixed on the small town.

He had gotten further into the dungeon than before, with his new skill, but had once again hit a dead end. A simple problem, one made impossible in his current form. He did not know why the Spirit of the spring had not changed him as the others had done, but it was unfortunate. He needed something no wolf would ever have.

With that said, the wolf resumed the hunt for the next skill he would need to continue his quest and the dungeon. Perhaps the next was in the town?

The wolf padded silently forward, across the grassy land in between the buildings and the edge of the forest. The town was silent and unoccupied.

The wolf’s hackles rose and he pulled back his lips in a threatening show of teeth. Something was wrong. He was not expecting his own kind, but it appeared that the ponies here were almost the same. But a town like this should be bustling. But there was no movement. No sound.

The wolf padded through the streets, chain clinking softly against the cobblestones, keeping close to the buildings, well within the lengthening shadows. Tense, ready for anything. He began seeing signs of struggle- a flower stand, overturned and abandoned, the flowers scattered haphazardly across the road. A broken-in door, with what looked like claw marks on the frame. He sniffed faintly at the door, attempting to discern something of what had happened here. He could smell the scents of what he assumed to be a pony, not dirty or grimy but a faint smell of lilacs. It was mixed in with a different smell, one of rock- it reminded him of the quarry where the Fused Shadow resided, somewhere.

It also smelled wrong. Something about the second smell made his hackles rise again, growling faintly as he did so. The wolf backed out and moved on, blue eyes sharp and alert for any sign of movement or trouble.

A faint sound caused him to pause. Ear cocked, the wolf heard it again. He headed for the sound as silently as he could manage, sticking to the alleyways and the shadows.

Within a small alleyway, shrouded in shadows cast by the falling sun, the wolf found that he was not alone in the town. The large square was filled with ponies. Ponies who wept openly, clearly distraught about something. Perhaps this had something to do with the all the dogs he had smelled as he had left? Come to think of it, there had been pony scents mixed in as well…

A flash of light caught the wolf’s attention. Upon the stairs, with several other ponies, was something that was most definitely NOT a pony. Small, purple, bipedal and scaled, it looked like some kind of reptile. But what caught the wolf’s attention most was the fire.

The hungry flames, breathed by the small reptile, devoured a scroll of paper in front of him, the ashes drifting up and away into the sky. Moments later, the dragon-child did it again with another scroll, burning it to ashes that floated away.

A plan began to form in the wolf’s mind as the crowd dispersed.


"'Let's go save the day!' 'Don't worry Spike, we'll save everypony, just like we always do, without you!' 'No Spike, we can't let you come, it's too dangerous for a BABY dragon!'"

Spike continued to grumble and complain as he picked books up off the floor. A quick look at their spine gave him a general idea of where it would go, and he would add it to the growing stacks of books at the foot of any given shelf. Twilight had been working on her own personal categorizing system for a while now, but for convenience sake she kept to the standard Dewhoof Decimal system, at least for the public part of the library. With the amount of books that had been knocked from the shelves, the task was slow. For a baby dragon, the pace seemed glacial.

"I should be out there," he complained under his breath, picking up yet another book. Spying the proper stack, he lifted the books up and deftly slotted the one he had into its proper place. "I should be helping save Rarity. But noooo, it's too dangerous for the BABY dragon!"

He slammed the book he was carrying on top of the pile where it belonged. The loud *whump* of book striking book sounded through the library.

"I'm not a baby! I'm an adolescent dragon! Almost a teenager!" *whump*

"This is my chance! My chance to save-"

*thump thump thump*

Spike paused. That had come from the door, but it wasn't the normal sound of hoof striking wood. Sill, it was quite clearly a knock. Which meant Spike had to answer it and explain the 'Closed' sign on the front door.

With a deep, long suffering, exasperated sigh, Spike trudged over and opened the door.

"I'm sorry, but the Books and Branches Library is.... currently.... closed?"

It was not a pony staring at Spike, inches from his nose. No, the black furred, pony-sized, shaggy maned, blue-eyed, timber wolf look-a-like staring down its muzzle at him was one of the last things Spike was ever expecting to see. His reptilian pupils shrunk until they were little more than a black vertical line as the truth of the situation overwhelmed his dour mood and replaced it with something else: primal terror.

"AHHHHHHHHHHHH!" he screamed, running back into the library as fast as his little feet would take him.

The wolf was not far behind.


Five ponies galloped towards the rock quarry, where the dogs had no doubt taken their friend.

It may have been wiser to wait for the Royal Guard to get there. After all, they were heading right into the belly of the beast, the lair where the dogs had taken all the ponies captive.

Of course, these five ponies were five of the six Elements of Harmony. They had faced danger before, an enemy that had bested the Royal Guards as though they were no more than foals. Their tenacity, their friendship, their courage had stood before the wrath of a god- and had emerged triumphant. There was no doubt in their minds; they WOULD save their friend, and they WOULD save the town.

That being said, there was plenty of room for other doubts.

Twilight galloped alongside her friends, but her mind was elsewhere. These events… they had to be connected, somehow. There was no other explanation. So how did they fit together?

It was a question she had been puzzling over since she had seen the wolf that morning, and it returned to gnaw at her even as she tried to concentrate on rescuing her friend. And it must have showed on her muzzle as well.

“What’s up, Twi?” Rainbow Dash asked. The pegasus, star flyer of Ponyville and fastest mare around, had slowed down to let her friends keep up as she flew several feet above the ground. It was enough to startle Twilight out of her thoughts, almost causing her to trip- she caught herself and refocused on galloping.

“Just thinking,” she said distractedly.

“About what?”

As much as Twilight wanted to just brush her friend off, she knew Rainbow wouldn’t be asking if she wasn’t concerned. She also knew that the mare wouldn’t let up until Twilight got what was bothering her out in the open.

“The wolf.”

“Wish you guys had gotten me this morning,” Rainbow groused.

“Wish we’d a gotten you this mornin’ too, Rainbow,” Applejack threw in. “Maybe then we’d know what all this is about.”

“Or maybe not,” Twilight said. “We know nothing- NOTHING!- about what’s going on, girls. And yet all this is happening- Ponyville attacked, twice! And we don’t even know who’s doing this, or even HOW they’re doing this, much less why.”

Twilight slowed to a walk, as did the rest of the group. They had just emerged into the quarry.

“I just can’t shake the feeling that the wolf is the cause,” she confessed.

“Don’t be silly, Twilight! He got rid of those meany insects for us, he HAS to be good!”

Twilight sighed. “No offense, Pinkie, but you were the only one who ever saw it getting rid of those bugs. It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s just that… well, there’s no guarantee that was a good thing. Or if it was even related to the Shadow being lifted at all. For all we know, the insects were good and the wolf is the evil one here.”



Spike ran, his arms waving wildly as he ran at full pelt around the library. The books he had spent so much time stacking were being thrown to the floor once again in the mayhem that was the little dragon running for his life.

Behind him, dodging book after book, the wolf was gaining on his slippery little target.


Pinkie's eyes narrowed. "You can't prove that, Twilight."

“I know. But you can’t prove that it’s good, Pinkie,” Twilight rebutted. Pinkie frowned at that truth. Twilight sighed.

“Look, my point isn’t that it’s good or bad. My point is that we have to come to a proper conclusion based on the facts. And right now, I believe that we can safely assume that the wolf killed those bugs for us, like Pinkie says, but we don’t know why, or if that even has any bearing on the Shadow, so that little fact is useless. Second, I believe we can assume that the wolf is involved in some way, good or ill, which means that if we can talk to it, we might find out what’s going on.” Twilight took a deep breath before turning to the orange cowpony.

“Applejack, what did you notice about the wolf as it ran away this morning?”

Applejack fidgeted with her hat. “Well, it’s mighty fast on the ground, big as a pony, an’ strong enough to break out of our barn.”

Twilight nodded. “All true, but not what I was looking for. Pinkie?”

Pinkie raised her head. Her expression lacked her usually bubbly smile, though her friends weren’t concerned yet as her mane still appeared the poofy, frizzy mess that it normally was.

“He’s smart,” she said softly. “He managed to figure out how to drop the loft ladder and go out the loft doors.”

“True, but still not what I was looking for,” Twilight replied. Glancing over a rock at the dirt of the quarry, Twilight motioned for them to stop. They had reached their destination. A wrought iron gate stood open in the mouth of a cave, guarded by two of the glowing-eyed dogs with spears.

“Girls. The wolf… it had a manacle and chain on its left forepaw. That means somepony thought it was dangerous enough that it had to be chained up,” she told them quietly. “And now… now it’s free.”


The wolf jumped, forepaws outstretched to pin his target. He slammed into the little dragon, pinning it beneath his paws. He did not hesitate.

The wolf clamped its jaws down on the back of the little dragon's neck.


Twilight sighed and sat down, head low in thought.

“Or maybe it was a prisoner and broke free. Maybe it really is good and I'm blowing this all out of proportion. I don’t know, girls, I just don’t know. I need more information before I can draw a proper conclusion.”

Silence reigned as the others contemplated their friend’s thoughts.

“Well, I dunno ‘bout the wolf. Personally, I think it’s bad news, ‘specially since it seems t’ have taken a liking to mah farm. But right now, we need t’ get Rares an’ the rest o’ the town back. We can worry ‘bout the dang wolf an’ what it all means later,” Applejack said.

Twilight, deep in thought, shook her head before looking up. “You’re right, Applejack. It’s just been bothering me since we left town…”

“You’ll figure it out, Twilight,” Rainbow said encouragingly. A grin appeared on her face. “But right now… CCHARRRGEE!”

Rainbow streaked across the field and slammed into one of the diamond dog guards, sending them tumbling to the ground. Surprised, startled, the guard tried to fight back, but a vibrant headbut sent him to the land of dreams.

The other dog, flabbergasted, got its wits back and readied his spear, heading towards the cyan mare. Before he could move more than a step, he heard hooffalls coming. He turned just in time to see an orange pair of hooves slam into his chest, knocking him back against the rock wall. Hard.

Twilight, Pinkie, and Fluttershy trotted up just as the two mares exchanged hoofbumps.

“Honestly, you two, couldn’t you have at least waited until we were ready?” Twilight asked.

We were ready, weren’t we, AJ?” Rainbow said with a cocky grin. “Besides, AJ’s right. Less thinking, more action! Come on, we’ve got ponies to save!”

The two ponies charged through the gate and entered the mine. Fluttershy shared a look with Pinkie, and with a gulp, followed her pink friend into the darkness of the mine.

Twilight Sparkle shook her head. Applejack and Rainbow were going to alert every Diamond Dog for miles if they tried what they did on the guards.

On the plus side, she was no longer thinking about the strange circumstances or the enigma that was the mysterious wolf. Now she was thinking about how to successfully pull of an area invisibility spell or a five-pony teleport. So maybe Rainbow was right- less thinking, more action!

Head high, Twilight trotted after her friends, into the depths of the Diamond Dogs lair.


View Online

“Lemme go!”

Spike squirmed and struggled as only a young reptile could. He tried to reach back and do something, anything, with his claws, but he couldn’t reach. Couldn't do anything more than tickle the wolf's chest with his short little tail. Couldn't do anything except squirm.

The fangs of the wolf were clamped firmly around the nape of his neck. He could feel the pressure on his scales- enough to firmly hold him in place, but not enough to pierce them, like he was almost certain they could.

Still, after being carried from town and through the Everfree for nearly fifteen minutes now, his terror had worn off and was being replaced with annoyance.

It- a wolf, a flesh and blood wolf, a creature he had never even seen before, that didn't even exist- was carrying him around like an errant pup. When he’d had this little realization, he’d crossed his arms and snorted a bit of smoke. Even animals thought he was a baby! Well, he was going to show them... he'd show Twilight that he didn't need protecting anymore. He'd show Rarity he was old enough to win her hoof, and her fair heart-

"Wah- ooof!"

Spike dropped to the ground unexpectedly, face planting as he was abruptly reintroduced into world beneath his feet.

It didn't curb his annoyance, especially not the stick he found lodged in his mouth.


He spit the stick violently from his mouth and pushed off his belly, determined to give the wolf a piece of his mind.... Only to stop dead.

The quarry.

It had brought him to the quarry, where the diamond dogs dwelled.

Where his Rarity had been taken.

Why had the wolf taken him here?

Did it matter?! Now was his chance! He could save Rarity! He could save all the ponies taken from Ponyville!

Spike, Savior of Ponyville. He could get used to that. Maybe then Rarity would see-


Spike had lived in the royal castle for most of his life. He had been close to Celestia, as a motherly figure and later as the assistant to Celestia's personal student. That meant, of course, that he had been surrounded by guards all his life.

He knew the sound of a sword being drawn.

He gulped, and slowly turned towards the source.

The wolf had moved back, standing far enough away that Spike would have to take a few steps to get within arms reach. Held gently within his mouth, in the canines which had so recently held him, was a sword.

The wolf took a slow step forward. Then another. And another, the blue eyes fixed upon the draconian eyes of the little dragon. Then, the wolf stopped. The wolf twisted its head, presenting the pommel of the sword to the little dragon, one blue eye watching the dragon closely.

I... guess it wants me to have it?

Slowly, cautiously, Spike reached towards the proffered pommel. His little clawed hand grasped the pommel. The wolf dropped the blade gently as Spike hefted the sword.

It was different than the swords he was used to seeing. Pony swords were short and thick, with a specialized grip meant to be grasped in a pony's mouth without impeding breathing. This sword, though... it was long, as long as a pony almost, with a thinner, almost elegant, blade. The hilt was not the specialized setup used by the Guard, but a simple straight grip, fitting into his claws as though it belonged there.

The sword itself was relatively simple. The handle was wrapped in some sort of fabric that spike had never felt before, letting him hold the sword comfortably. The cross guard and handle itself were dull metal, simple in design and execution. A shine caught his attention on the blade- looking closer, he could see small patterns within the metal- what looked like a pair of horns, in a pattern he had never seen before, decorated the lower part of the blade. As simple as this sword was, someone had put love and skill into its creation.

Spike hefted the sword, bringing it upright. Despite being more than twice as tall as he was, the sword was surprisingly light and easy to handle- heck, it was lighter than some of the books that Twilight regularly made him carry. On a whim, he swung it from side to side- the sword responded smartly.

A giddy grin came across his face. He had a sword! Now he could be a real knight! A fantasy crossed his mind, a dream he had often- a Knight in shining scales, big, powerful, majestic and dashing, always willing to defend the honor and life of the fair Lady-


Spike turned back the quarry.

"I have to save Rarity!"

He managed to take two steps before a growl stopped him in his tracks.

Spike spun, both hands on the sword, raising it towards the wolf. His little heart thumped faster in his chest as he stared deep into the wolfs blue eyes. Then he looked at its mouth, and gave a little gasp.

The wolf carried a shield now. Metal, nearly as large as he was, pointed in a shallow triangle on top and curving to a point near the bottom, the front of the shield was ornately decorated in a style Spike had never seen before. Most of the face had been painted a deep blue. Near the top, three golden triangles were arranged in a triangle pattern themselves; underneath it, an intricate red symbol involving what looked like wings and triangles for a body dominated. It had also clearly seen some action of some sort, he decided- the paint had scratches all over it.

Apparently it wanted him to have this too.

It gently released the shield from its jaws into his waiting arms. Turning the shield around, Spike found a strap of the same sort of material that wrapped the hilt of the sword, and a metal handle. It took him a moment to puzzle out what these were for- the Royal Guard rarely ever used shields, as a pony could only ever wield either a sword or a shield and the Royal Guard had only ever been issued swords. Still, it didn't take long for him to slip his left arm through the strap and clench the metal handle with his claws.

Spike hefted the sword in one hand and the shield in the other. The combined weight was substantial, but Spike was a dragon, and assistant to Twilight 'I need every book in the library RIGHT NOW!' Sparkle. He could handle this, no sweat!

Now he really WAS a Knight! Now he just needed to save his fair Lady!

Spike turned, only to find the wolf lying on the ground next to him. It looked pointedly at its empty back, then back at the young dragon. It didn't take long for Spike to puzzle it out.

"You... want me to ride you?" he asked uncertainly. He was no stranger to the act- Twilight would often throw him on her back when the two were going somewhere, his little legs unable to keep up with the large strides a pony could take. It was strange, though, that this animal was practically asking him to get on its back.

The wolf simply stared back at him with cool blue eyes.

There were many reasons why he shouldn't do it, his inner Twilight nagged. This was a strange animal. It was too dangerous, he shouldn't even have a sword, he could hurt himself. The wolf had ponynapped him from the library-!


The little dragon threw his weight up over the back of the wolf, awkwardly long sword in hand, shield grasped in the other, and grasped the longish 'mane' that the wolf sported with his shield arm. He rocked back as the wolf stood up underneath him and padded silently forward.

I don't know what this thing wants. But it trusted me with a sword and wants me to go to the quarry.

Towards Rarity.

I will save you, my love.


A rainbow appeared in the air of the dimly lit, surprisingly large caves. One end led to a downed Diamond Dog, askew in a clatter of armor, his yellow-glowing eyes rolling as his tongue lolled from his mouth and onto the cave floor.

The other end led to a cyan coated, rainbow haired mare, who was in the process of driving two very hard hooves into the armor of another dog. With agility second to none, the mare twisted her body and slammed her back hooves into the dog in a vicious buck, using the force to jump start her next attack run.

Behind her, the dog crumpled to the floor.

The rainbow-haired pegasus was already streaking towards her next target.

Awwwww yea!

Rainbow Dash lived for this. The rush of adrenaline as she pulled off yet another daring move, pushing herself to the limits in gravity-defying acts. Action was her lifeblood, and Danger was literally her middle name.

Kicking flank and saving ponies? Where else would she be?!

Certainly not sleeping! No, she'd never let her friends down like that!

Okay, so she was a bit of a heavy sleeper, but it came with the job! The weather lead was on call 24/7! She didn't get a full night's sleep most nights; it wasn't her fault her hours weren't always the normal of everypony else! So she had strategically spaced naps throughout the day, to keep her in tip-top shape.

Rainbow's ears drooped slightly. It hurt a little that AJ hadn't come and got her to catch the wolf, but she couldn't blame her; the only one of their friends who could fly was Fluttershy, AJ never had a chance at waking her up from the ground. No, her shame came from later that afternoon.

She'd taken her usual nap on a nice and fluffy cloud, out of the way and hard to find. Halfway through, the diamond dogs had attacked; she hadn't heard a thing. Rarity had been taken; Rainbow had continued to snooze. Scootaloo had been ponynapped; Rainbow had dreamed of performing in the Wonderbolts. She hadn't woken until the attack was almost over.

Rainbow snorted and refocused on beating the snot out of the Diamond Dog in front of her. Her friends had been taken on HER watch. These dogs wouldn't get away with that, not if she and her friends had anything to say about it!

Rainbow rocketed past Twilight, the magical prodigy using her large array of spells to confound and disable the dogs. Right now, she had three dogs with their feet literally rooted to the floor, a partial transformation that disabled those dogs. The harness connecting a pony to a ore cart full of gems was held in a magenta glow- the egghead was doing alright.

To the side, AJ bucked and kicked and lassoed dogs. A pile of unconscious canines was growing quickly. Rainbow grinned and swerved towards the orange cowpony. Picking her target, Rainbow sped towards the dog, planted her front hooves in the ground and delivered a devastating buck that sent if flying into a cavern wall. She flashed a smile at AJ.

"Thirty seven!"

Applejack grinned in return.

"Forty! You got some catchin' up to do, Dash!"

Rainbow set her jaw. She wouldn't let that cowpoke beat her!

"Won't be there for long, AJ!" she shouted back. It. Was. On!

Movement caught her attention. Near the entrance to the cave, beyond where Pinkie was causing her own trademarked brand of havoc, Fluttershy was directing the freed ponies out of the caverns; such action had also attracted the attention of several dogs, which were heading for her now.

Well, Dash wasn't about to let them get there.

Powerful flaps of her wings accelerated her faster than a normal pegasus could manage. Moments later, she delivered a flying kick to the jaw of the lead dog. Twist, buck, flare, fly, buck, headbutt- the battle was short and vicious, but in the end, Rainbow stood over four dogs, all knocked silly. Forty-one. She looked over her shoulder.

"All clear, Fluttershy!"

Rainbow chuckled at the squeak she received- good old Fluttershy. Flutters would always be there to pick Rainbow's spirit up, and in return Rainbow would always defend her friend.

Situation clear, Rainbow took off again, looking for dogs to defeat and ponies to free. She ducked into a corridor, followed it, and found another large cavern, with more ponies and more guards. Rainbow grinned.


The guards never stood a chance.

"That. Was. Awesome!" came the excited voice of a young filly. Scootaloo, wings bound to her sides with buckles and a shovel by her side, looked at Rainbow with stars in her eyes. Rainbow landed next to the excited young pony.

"Yea, I guess I am pretty awesome," Rainbow said nonchalantly, idly examine her hoof. She grinned at her Number 1 Fan.

"You alright there, squirt?" she asked, taking the straps that bound the young filly's wings in her mouth. A quick tug here, a pull there, and the harness dropped to the ground.

"That was so cool it was like bam! Whoosh! Pow! Pew pew zoom!" The young filly acted out her words with exuberant hoof motions. Rainbow grinned- the squirt was obviously alright.

"Alright, kiddo, I've got a big job for you," Rainbow said, cutting off the dramatic reenactment of her awesomeness. Scootaloo looked up at her idol with expectant eyes.

"You and me? We need to free everypony, ok? Problem is, there's still more ponies out there who still have dogs guarding them. I gotta go show them just who they're messing with. So, you think you can free all these ponies and head down the corridor I came from?"

"Yes Ma'am!" Scootaloo said with a wing salute. Rainbow chuckled at the sight.

"Knew I could count on you, squirt," Rainbow said, tousling the filly's mane. She liked this kid.

She watched Scootaloo go towards a stallion from Ponyville to help remove the straps attaching him to an orecart before taking off and heading down another cave corridor. They were safe now. But they hadn't found everypony yet. They hadn't found Rarity yet.


A particularly girly scream split the air. Rainbow could practically feel the horror and distaste.


Yep, that was Rarity alright.

Rainbow zoomed down a corridor- which turned out to be a dead end, with no pony or guard there, only iron gates. Cursing, she backtracked and tried another route.

This time, she emerged into a large, smoke filled, torch-lit cavern. Much like many of the other caverns she had flown into in the last hour. The difference was the white unicorn with purple curled hair that was being bodily dragged away by a large dog.

Rainbow sped towards them, prismatic color in her wake.

The dog dragging Rarity away by the horn saw her coming. With a bark, soldiers abandoned their pony charges and jumped between Rainbow and Rarity.

She dodged one, bypassed another, but was forced to swerve and take one dog out with hoof-to-paw combat. She didn't let up though, barely even blinked- she had eyes only for her friend.

The dog was getting close to an iron portcullis now. Rainbow cursed and put on more speed, only to get dragged back by her tail. She didn't even look back as she kicked the dog responsible with a hoof and poured on more speed, only to be blocked by two more of the yellow-eyed freaks. She blasted through them, body-checked another dog out of the way, reached out her hoof to meet Rarity's as the unicorn cried out to her-

The portcullis between Rainbow and Rarity slammed shut with grim finality. Rainbow, unable to slow down in time, barreled into the wrought iron bars. She stuck her hooves through, trying in vain to reach her best friend- something, anything!

"RARITY!" she screamed.


Rarity was cut off by a vicious yank on her horn by the dog dragging her- the hulking dog, without the strange yellow eyes of his compatriots, looked strangely familiar- and the rest of Rarity's plea was cut off by sobs. Moments later, she was dragged out of sight around the corner.


Rainbow Dash had failed her friends for the second time that day.


Fido dragged the whiny pony away from the caverns where there was fighting. When the ponies had attacked, the Alpha had turned to Fido with one command: get the whiny pony. Fido did not know why Rover wanted whiny pony so badly, but he would not disobey.

Pony had stopped resisting, so Fido cautiously let go of pony's horn. Pony did not resist or bolt, so Fido picked up the leash and pulled pony along. Pony was not resisting now, Fido was thankful. Fido even more thankful that pony was not whining- Fido could deal with faint pony noises pony was making.

He turned a corner and found himself face to face with his Alpha. He yelped I surprise, but quickly recovered.

"I have whiny pony," Fido said. Pony did not speak- pony had even stopped faint pony sounds.

Rover nodded.

"Good. Put pony in cell by eels. Place best dogs there to guard," Rover commanded. He hesitated a moment.

"Hide key," Rover told him. "Keep safe."

Rover nodded and put a paw to his breast pocket. Inside was an ornate key, one with a ruby-carved skull of a Diamond Dog on the end. Created with Rover's new magic, the key was the only way to get into the throne room, where the wealth of their clan was stored. Rover had given one to him, one to Spot, and kept one for himself.

A thought occurred to him.

"Boss, what we do about ponies?"

"Ignore. Leave all dogs on other side of one way gates. Nothing gets in."

Fido was slightly shocked at this. Leave them? Pack was strongest with numbers, most dogs were on the other side of special gates! But...

Pack was losing. Special gates only ever let dogs out, never back in unless opened from inside. Maybe it would keep ponies out.

Rover growled, a clear warning to Fido. Alpha was in charge.

"Yes, boss, yes boss!" he hurriedly placated. Tugging on the leash, Fido led whiny pony away, thinking as hard as he could about where to hide the key he had been entrusted with.


"There we go, all free ma'am!"

Spike held the remains of the harness in his claws as the creame colored mare gave him a quick nuzzle of gratitude before cantering off towards the exit. Spike smiled.

He and the wolf had entered the caverns by way of a series of tunnels, and had found themselves in the midst of a pony-slave mining operation. The wolf had taken out the guards while Spike freed the ponies; the wolf was surprisingly understandable for not being able to talk. It made Spike wonder just how smart it was.

Still, better to have the wolf on his side, rather than against him. The guards had never stood a chance.

Spike walked over towards the last pony, who was currently being freed by the wolf. Bon Bon didn't seem very comfortable with the fangs near her belly, but trussed up as she was to the orecart, she didn't have much of a choice.

Spike watched as the wolf gently nosed her belly, working his teeth through the buckles that held the harness fast to the mare. Bon Bon shuddered, the contact reminding her just how vulnerable she was to this predator. The wolf carefully worked his teeth into the space between the harness and the mare; she froze as the ivory canines touched her belly. Then the wolf pulled, loosening the buckle and freeing the mare. She practically jumped away from the wolf, but hesitated once she was a few feet away.

"Th-thank you?" she said uncertainly.

The wolf said nothing, merely stared at poor Bon Bon for a few awkward moments. Then it turned towards Spike and padded over.

Spike just shrugged at the poor mare's confusion and pointed towards the exit where the others were heading. She turned nod galloped off.

"Well, that's all the ponies in here," Spike said. "But still no sign of Rarity."

The wolf cocked its head as it settled in front of him.

"We have to find Rarity. Rar-it-ty," Spike said with emphasis. The wolf ignored him, only an ear turned towards the little dragon any indication he was not being completely ignored.

"Fine, fine," Spike grumbled, slinging himself up onto the wolf's back, careful not to let his new sword hit anything. He settled onto the back in a comfortable position, shield covering his left leg and holding on to the wolf's mane, sword held relaxed away from his new mount and himself. "We'll do it your way. But we'd bettered find Rarity."

The wolf did not respond as it rose to its paws and padded forward. It started down a another corridor, one with torches at long intervals.

Riding a wolf was very different than riding a pony, Spike reflected. Ponies were not quiet or particularly subtle creatures; each hoofstep slammed into the ground on their hardy hooves, sending impacts through their body, shocks that Spike could feel through his mount. Additionally, a pony, even even one as muscular and strong as Applejack, had a rounded belly, a natural side effect of being a herbivorous species; Spike's legs were always spread wide around the soft stomach of a pony.

But the wolf... its appearance was deceptive. The fur layer was surprisingly thick, and beneath it, Spike did not find the soft belly of a pony; no, his legs met corded muscle, hard as a rock, no fat or softness to his feet. And the way it moved... it moved like water around a stone. Riding it was smooth, no matter the speed- Spike did not feel the speed of the wolf on his spine, only in the movements of the shoulderblades and muscles beneath him.

After riding on a wolf, Spike had to say that no pony would ever compare. A pony could never be as graceful; a pony was powerful, stately, maybe even majestic, but not even Celestia could compare to the grace and fluidity that came naturally to the wolf. To a predator.

The wolf slowed in an area with precious few torches- darkness encompassed them, the light from the torches ahead barely able to light their way, the light from behind unable to reach them. Spike held his sword at ready, but the wolf wasn't acting like there were Diamond Dogs around. The wolf began sniffing around, as though looking for something. When the wet nose raised again, something was clutched between its teeth.

It was a lantern, Spike saw in the dim light, a wrought iron cage with a candle and wick in the center, the handle firmly clenched between the wolf's fearsome teeth. It turned its head to the side, letting Spike see the unlit wick at the center.

He took the hint. He inhaled, and let forth an emerald green flame from his maw. The candle showed bright through the darkness now, revealing a corridor that had been hidden in the inky black depths. The wolf turned down the new path, lantern showing the way.

It was not long before they came to the portcullis. Spike could feel the power contained within the steel bars- it felt like Celestia when she raised the sun, and something else he didn't know. The lantern showed other things as well- four raised bowls, two on the near side of the gate and two on the other side, with wood piled inside.

The wolf set down the lantern and went close to one of the bowls.

Spike felt an icy ball of fear in his gut, and involuntarily readied his sword and tightened his grip on his shield. The darkness beyond the portcullis was something he had never seen in his worst nightmare. It devoured the lantern light like a ravenous beast, revealing nothing. A manticore could be twenty feet away and he would never even know it was there.

Spike shook his head and steeled himself. The wolf hadn't steered him wrong yet. If it thought this was the way to go... then he would trust it knew what it was doing. If it wanted him to light these torches, he would do it.

Spike took a deep breath and lit the wood within the bowl.

Fire crackled into existence, changing from emerald-green to red-orange as the wood popped and burned. He lit the other moments later.

The sound of protesting gears rang throughout the corridor. Slowly, achingly, the portcullis rose in the light of the fires.

The wolf grabbed the lantern and went through with Spike on his back, sword at the ready.

Behind them, the portcullis slammed shut and the torches went out as though snuffed.


View Online

There is a saying in Equestria: All roads lead to Tartarus.

This saying has fallen out of common use in Equestrian society. Modern equestrian sociologists attribute this to a lack of applicability in modern equestrian life. Taken literally, the saying is not very accurate. These days, with cities such as Manehatten and Fillydelphia, it is quite clear that all roads do NOT lead to the very tangible, very real destination of Tartarus. Taken metaphorically, the saying seems to mean that all life paths lead to damnation, a particularly dark line of thought not reflected in the general psyche of the equestrian public.

At the end of the day, sociologists shrug and move on, attributing its existence and origin to misinformed ponies during the days of Discord, or even during the Tribal era.

In truth, the saying comes from even earlier than the Tribal era. When the Sun and Moon defeated the demons that roamed the planet in their final stages of puberty, they could not fully destroy them. Tirek, Mephasm, Kolsheim the Corruptor- they and their myriad brethren could not be allowed to roam the surface of the world. Unfortunately, it was also physically impossible to kill them; their power was too great, too fundamental, for even the Gods to destroy. So the Gods were forced to look into alternatives.

In the end, they created Tartarus, a prison. Held in check by the most powerful of enchantments, and more importantly, several layers of unique magic-damping stone and rock, guarded by the toughest, most loyal guardian they could find, Tartarus would house every known evil from the days of fire and pillage. But the Gods had to get them in, first. With no others to help them, they had to do it themselves.

Years passed, decades passed, as the Gods systematically defeated their foes. Without alternative methods of transportation, the Gods dragged their defeated enemies to Tartarus behind them. Over the years these formed pathways, pathways that would be used by the young and impressionable ponies of the land as a matter of convenient transportation between burgeoning communities.

But of course, in those early days, travel down the road far enough… and you would find yourself at Tartarus, prison of all evil.

Hence the origin of the saying, deeply enough ingrained into the pony psyche that even after millennia, the phrase is still used as a warning.

After successfully locking up the evil that had dominated those early days, the Gods went about ensuring that their prison was as secure as possible. More enchantments. More defenses. More safety from the evil that was locked inside. Not all roads that led to the pit of Tartarus could not be touched, now that they were in use by the communities of mortal ponies, but what about the pathways through the mountains? The caverns and connecting passageways in the underground depths of the land, that ran close to Tartarus?

Those could be closed.

Gates, possessed of many of the same defensive enchantments as Tartarus itself, buried deep within the rocky caverns of the earth, was their answer. These gates would serve as a buffer between the world of ponies, and the world of evil. They would contain any prisoners that escaped through ways other than through the entrances guarded by Cerberus. They would contain any creatures twisted by the evil of the prison.

One must be thorough when dealing with matters such as these. After all, evil never dies...


The only sounds that reached Spike's draconian ears were the creaking of the lantern that the wolf carried and the occasional clink of the chain that was inexplicably attached to its foreleg. Something he hadn't noticed until then; it was too late to back out now, though.

Spike had never seen anything this dark before. Nights were usually bright and starry, and there was usually the Moon shining down its silvery rays as well. Even when the curtains had been closed, he had a nightlight in the bathroom that would leak light. This.... this was something else.

The lantern was the only source, a lone oasis of soft golden light in the never ending sea of darkness around them. Initially, there had been walls and even a ceiling caught in the glow, casting shadows that danced as Spike and the wolf moved ever forwards. Now, though, the walls had been swallowed by darkness and the ceiling was lost above their heads. Still the wolf forged ahead, as though it had a map.

Spike forced his fears back. He had never been really afraid of the dark, but the utter silence and black that surrounded him was more than a little unnerving. He could just imagine it now, creatures of darkness and teeth and sharp claws simply appearing from nowhere before making him their new chew toy...

Spike tightened his grip on the tools he had been given. The feeling of the sword in one claw and shield in the other gave him courage. The thought of finding Rarity and rescuing her put a fire in his chest and gave his little arms strength. He would do anything for her. Even brave the darkness and silence of… wherever they were.

The wolf stopped beneath him; Spike shifted uncomfortably on its back. He watched as the wolf raised its head and pricked its ears, wet black nose twitching as it sniffed at the air.

A rumble came from between his legs; it came out of the wolf as a feral growl as the wolf's ears pinned back. Spike saw the hackles rising on the wolf's neck.

Uh oh.

Before him, a pair of red glowing eyes appeared in the inky darkness. Followed by another pair. And another.

Spike gulped and raised his sword and shield as the wolf set the lantern down, growling all the while.


Spot, smallest of the pack leader trio, cowered behind a gemcart and covered his eyes as dogs all around him were taken out by the whirlwind of color and ponies around him.

He didn't want this, he had never wanted this. He wanted the pups- his pup, who he loved more than anything in the world- to be safe. He wanted the pack to prosper. He wanted gems to bury and food in his belly.

Everything had gone wrong since the darkness. The badness. The evil. His pack was prospering, true, but so many other things were... wrong. All the guard dogs smelled wrong, and even though they followed him, Spot could tell they were only doing so on Rover's command. They were different since he had blessed them. Worst of all, his mate was now near Quarray Eels; he had seen far too many dogs get ripped apart by the monsters to believe they were tamed, and now they were guarding his mate and pup. It made him very, very nervous.

Then there were the ponies. After the incident with the Whiny One, Spot wanted nothing to do with the ponies. They had lost many gems, to say nothing of the pain and suffering they had undergone while that pony had been there. Ponies were nothing but trouble, as they were proving quite thoroughly now.

"Hey, I recognize you!"

Spot yelped as he was yanked from his hiding spot and roughly thrust into the center of the room by a rainbow-haired pony. He stumbled, his foot hitting the blackened armor that the guards blessed by Rover wore. The guard was out cold. As were the rest, down in piles all around him.

"GET UP!" The rainbow pony screamed in his ear. Spot obeyed immediately.

The ponies' friends were gathering. A purple one with a horn; one orange pony with a hat; a yellow pony with wings; a pink pony that didn't seem to be able to stand still. Rainbow pony suddenly came into his vision.

"WHERE IS SHE!?" rainbow pony screamed into his face.

Spot curled into a ball and began shivering. Everything was going wrong. Why, why was everything going wrong for him?

"Rainbow Dash! No!" came a voice. He recognized it from last time- it was the voice of the purple magic-pony.

"Why the BUCK not, Twi! They have Rarity, and I bet HE knows where it is! So he's going to tell us, even if I have to beat it out of him!" the rainbow one screamed back.

"Rainbow... screaming at me and beating this poor diamond dog won't help Rarity," the purple one said quietly.

The rainbow one almost screamed again, but cut herself off. She turned and blasted away, leaving a rainbow trail in her wake. For a moment, Spot thought he saw tiny glistening tears dripping from her eyes. The purple one sighed.

"Fluttershy, could you go talk to Rainbow?"

The yellow pegasus nodded and trotted off, leaving Spot alone with the purple and pink and orange ponies.

"Soooo... what are we going to do now, Twilight?"

The purple one shook the frown off of her face. Her eyes narrowed on Spot.

"Now we are going to find out where Rarity is, Pinkie."

The pink one started hopping up and down excitedly.

"Oh! Oh! We can do the 'Good Cop, Bad Cop' routine, you can be the good cop and I can be the bad cop!"

The pink one suddenly had a police officer cap on and a stick of some sort, which she thumped threateningly against one hoof with a scowl on her face. The purple one and hat pony stared at her.

"No, Pinkie-"

"Oh, you wanna be the bad cop? Okay! Here, you'll need this and this, and ooohhh, this too..."

Spot buried his face in his paws. He needed to get him and his family out. He needed to get away from all the badness that was in the air. He needed to get away from the ponies-


A thought struck Spot. A terrifying, wonderful thought. One that may well mean his survival, and that of his pack... rather, what remained of it that was not tainted by the badness. It was crazy. It was stupid.

He did it anyways.

Spot dropped to his knees and begged.

"Please! You must save us!" he implored, paws outstretched towards the purple one.

The three ponies stared back at him with wide eyes.

“Uh.. come again?” the orange one asked.

“Pleeaaasee, you must help us! Pack leader has gone crazy! Made all guard dogs crazy, has Quarray Eels guarding females and pups, ordered us to get ponies for gems! You must stop him!” Spot begged, dropping to the floor in a submissive position.

“Wowsers. Didn’t see that coming,” came the high-pitched voice of the pink one.

“Wait. Waitwaitwaitwaitwait. What happened to the, uh, pack leader?” the purple one asked.

“The darkness,” Spot said. “When the darkness passed, Rover was different. Smelled bad, just like darkness. He used magic! Used magic to bless guard dogs. Used magic to tame Quarray Eels!”

“Ain’t no way this is jus’ some coincidence, Twi,” the orange one said. “That darn twilight-”

“Shadow!” the purple one interrupted. The orange one rolled her eyes under her hat.

“Fine, that darn SHADOW was all ‘round the Everfree. Makes sense t’ me that the Diamond Dogs here got hit by it too.”

“But we didn’t have anyone get… I dunno, corrupted like their pack leader was,” the purple one replied.

“Maybe it just affects dogs different,” the orange one shrugged.

“Will you help?” Spot asked in the contemplative silence that followed.

“As long as you help us find Rarity,” came the sing-song voice of the pink one. Spot turned that over in his head for a few moments before he realized what the pink pony meant.

“Yes! Yes!” he nodded vigorously. “Will help find Whiny One if you get females and pups to safety!”

“Wait, you want us to-”

“Deal!” the pink one cut off, holding out a hoof to shake. Spot shook rapidly, sealing the deal and the fate of his pack. He would rest easier knowing the females and pups were safe, even if that meant the pack would be disbanded.

Ponies were trouble… but maybe he needed a little trouble on his side.

"Alright, dog, you going to tell us where Rarity is?" came the voice of the rainbow pony as she trotted over, the yellow one behind her. The rainbow one's eyes were red and very wet.

"No! Show you where Rar-it-y is! Come, this way!"

Spot took off at a lope. Through two tunnels and a cavern he went, feeling the thunder of pony hooves behind him, before he slowed and stood again. Before them was a wrought-iron gate, sealing off access to the next cavern. On the other side, two dogs with glowing eyes stood vigil.

“Open gate!” Spot commanded.

“Boss said no opening gates for anydog until ponies long gone,” the guard said. Spot’s hopes sank.

“Ponies gone!” he insisted.

A clattering of hooves as the ponies came into view gave lie to that statement.

“No open gates until ponies are gone,” the guard dog reiterated, leveling his spear.

“HEY! You think some silly gate’s going to hold us back? C’mon, Twilight, show ‘em what you can do!” the rainbow one challenged.

Spot turned as well. He knew the horned ponies could use magic. Maybe the ponies could get the gate open?

The purple one’s horn lit in a pinkish glow as the same glow enveloped the gate. Spot looked on eagerly.

Nothing happened.

He could hear the purple pony grunting as she worked, but the gate remained closed. Finally, the glow faded, and the purple pony gasped for breath, defeated.

“Well, if magic can’t open this door, maybe a good ol’ fashioned buckin’ will do the job!” the orange one said.

In a flurry of motion, the orange one burst into a gallop. Time seemed to slow as the pony planted her two front hooves and swung around, lining up with the gate lock. Spot gulped- he knew the power in those hooves, having watched his pack be taken apart by them. Hoof met iron with a resounding CLANG.

The orange pony fell to the ground, whinnying in pain, unable to stand on her rear legs. The gate was unharmed.

“APPLEJACK!” the rainbow pony cried out. The rainbow pony flew to the orange pony's side, supporting her as the orange one limped back to the group. The ponies crowded around their wounded friend.

“Omph, give me a minute and I’ll be fine,” the orange pony insisted over their concerned questions. "Twi, whatever magic hocus-pocus they got on that gate, I think it's the same as what happened to us during the twilight."


"Pack leader enchanted doors with new magic," Spot told them heavily. "All gates to inner chambers. Can only be opened from other side."

"There's gotta be another way!" the rainbow one snarled. Spot cringed, if he hadn't seen the pony talking he could have sworn she was a dog.

"All other ways have same gates," he said softly. "No way around."

"You will not pass," the guard dog on the other side told them.

"We'll see about that," the purple one said, eyes narrowing. "I might be able to unravel the spells they placed on the gate. Watch my back, girls. This is going to be a while."


The sword glinted in the candlelight, the polished surface shining as it sang through the air. The arc ended as it hit a skeletal pony in the back. The force behind the blow cut clean through the spine, causing the undead pony to fall apart into nothing more than a pile of bones.

Spike drew the sword back, readying it for another blow. Beneath him, the wolf lunged with a terrifying growl at very large black spider. Claws dug into the spider as the wolf latched onto its back, growling and biting and snarling. For his part, Spike thrust his sword downwards, attempting to break through the hard chitin of the warped monster.

One thrust... two thrusts... the spider gave a surprisingly loud hiss and shook itself violently, throwing them off. Spike held on tight with his legs and to the wolf's shaggy mane with his shield arm as the world tilted, but the wolf was surprisingly capable- it landed on its feet, splay legged and ready for whatever the world could throw at it.

The spider hissed and screeched as it slunk back into the darkness, injured and unwilling to fight any longer. Around them, the undead ponies slunk back into the darkness with the sound of bone upon stone, their red eyes glowing faintly in the utter black that consumed their skeletal bodies.

Spike let out the breath he had been holding as the wolf rose from its crouched position. The skeleton ponies were unnerving, but they never attacked on their own. At least, not yet.

The wolf grabbed the untouched lantern it had set down and headed off at a light trot. The wolf never wavered in his path, never seemed disturbed by whatever monstrosities they faced, and never stopped. Whenever the monsters stopped attacking, as they had now several times, the wolf would just pick up the lantern and keep moving.

As for Spike, he rolled his aching arms. He had never handled a sword and shield before, and despite being a dragon, his strength was beginning to fade. Still, he held himself ready for the next attack, his eyes scanning over the red eyes that stared at them, trying to anticipate their next move.

It was strange, really. He should be scared witless. He had been, at first, when the eyes had first appeared and a very large, very demonic timberwolf had attacked them. He'd practically frozen up, the only reason he hadn't fallen off or lost the sword and shield had been the sheer death grip he found himself exerting on the implements and the wolf. The wolf had defeated that first attack without his help. In the end, Spike had found himself hyperventilating as the undead ponies had slunk back into the dark, his heart racing fast and his breaths short, but otherwise completely unharmed.

The wolf just picked up the lantern and continued on like nothing had ever happened, despite the red glowing eyes that they could now see around them.

The second time they were attacked, Spike found it within himself to overcome his paralysis and strike back, a feeble and half-hearted swing at an undead pony that was trying to come at them from his sword side. His confidence soared when the skeleton fell apart under the pathetic blow. So he swung at another. And another. And another. And suddenly, things didn't seem so scary anymore. Not even when a vaguely bear-like creature swatted his shield hard enough to unseat him from the wolf; Spike just picked himself up off the ground and fought his way back into the circle of light cast by the lantern just in time to slam his shield down on the bear-thing's foot as it was distracted by the wolf.

The bear-thing had limped off into the dark, growling and roaring but not daring to come anywhere near the light again. Spike puffed up his chest in pride. His first real foe, defeated!

They had continued on. They had braved more attacks, yet nothing could stop the black wolf or his armed dragon mount as they continued on through the darkness.

Until something barred their way.

A gate.

Spike's smile widened as the flickering lantern light revealed the iron crossbars of a portcullis gate, with two bowls full of wood on this side, and another two on the far side. Just like the one they had come through earlier!

He needed no encouragement in using his fire breath to light the wood.


Spike let out an involuntary exclamation as the fire spilled out from the bowls. The wolf scrabbled back, teeth bared and ears low as both pairs of eyes darted back and forth in confusion.

The fire spilled over and curled around them in a semi circle, cutting off any retreat back into the darkness. For a moment, Spike saw the bones of the undead ponies that had been following them, but they retreated back into the darkness. The red-glowing eyes did not return.

He didn't have time to cheer. Before him, two forms were beginning to take shape, one drawn from the fire of the ring around them, one drawn from the darkness that could not be fully chased away. Within moments, the balls morphed into a familiar form- a pair of ponies. One made of pure fire, the other made of sparkling darkness, the pair of ethereal earth ponies turned to look at the wolf and the young dragon.

"Be ye warned," the dark one said, "If thou art pure of heart and untouched by evil, thou mayest pass."

"But if evil has taken root in thy heart, thou shalt be cleansed in fire, and Our gate shall never open to thee," the fire one finished.

"Step forward and be judged, or step back and leave in peace," the phantom ponies intoned together.

There was no hesitation on the part of the wolf. Even as Spike pondered his options, it set the now superfluous lantern on the ground to the side and took a firm step forward.

"Um, don't you think we should-" he said a nervously.

"Thou hast chosen to be judged," the fire pony said, bowing its head.

Spike gulped and grasped the sword and shield a little tighter.

The two ponies looked at each other. Then, without a word, there were no more ponies. A formless black cloud, sparkling as though lit by fireflies, and a fiery yellow ball were in front of the pair.

Faster than either dragon or wolf could respond, they moved. They blasted towards the pair... and disappeared inside them.

Spike felt an icy chill settle upon his brain as the dark cloud speared his chest. Vaguely, he knew that he had not been harmed, that his scales were fine, yet the cloud had passed completely through them as though they were paper. He felt the chill on his spine.... in his heart, beating quickly... in his head. He caught glimpses of his own memories- Twilight, towering over him when he was younger, riding on her back, writing a checklist as she dictated to him- he shut his eyes tight and brought his claws to his skull as his brain throbbed even as the icy sensation moved to his chest.

Then it was gone. In its place, was fire.

It was a roaring, raging inferno. His very blood felt as though it was on fire, but it wasn't painful. No, it was energizing. Starting from his breast, the liquid inferno spread with every beat of his heart. It spread through his limbs, burning away the fatigue of his arms, leaving them feeling stronger than ever before. Finally, it reached his head. Spike was only vaguely aware that he was roaring as loud as a young dragon could, emerald flames licking from his maw as the fire within boiled out. Then the fire retreated, slowly, until it was only a flickering warmth in his chest, before disappearing completely.

Spike found himself on his hands and knees, breathing as though he had just sprinted the Running of the Leaves. His sword and shield were on the ground next to him; he had dropped them at some point. Beside him, he heard the heavy breathing of the wolf, perhaps the first time he had ever seen the wolf even slightly tired. He slowly straightened.

Before them were once again a pair of ponies, one made of fire, the other of darkness. They exchanged glances, then turned back to the pair of shell-shocked companions.

"Thy heart is pure and thy body is untainted by the evil that corrupts this place," the dark one told them. The fire pony nodded.

"You may pass," the fire one finished.

The two ponies bowed to them before vanishing as the portcullis gate behind them rose, creaking, out of their way.

Spike gave a sigh of relief. Finally, that was done. It took two tries to pick up the sword and shield, his body sluggish and unresponsive. He then stumbled over to the wolf, which was shaking its head vigorously. He gave the wolf a prod.

The feral growl startled Spike, causing him to jump back and ready his shield. The wolf bared its very sharp teeth at him in an intimidating display. He was all of a sudden reminded that, as much as he would like to think he understood this creature, it was still very much a wild animal. A wolf. A predator.

The wolf laid down as it relaxed, the ferocious canines which it had just showed him disappearing into a more neutral expression.

"Oohhhh-kay... no poking the big wolf," Spike said aloud to no one in particular. He clambered on to the wolf's back cautiously this time, not wishing to provoke the wolf anymore by accidentally pulling out its hair.

The wolf stood, and seemed slightly unsteady on its paws for a moment before clutching the lantern between its teeth and setting off through the open gate.

The fires conjured by the magic of the gate cast bright flickery light down the corridor as they passed under the wrought iron bars of the gate and continued on.

With a crash that startled them both, the gate slammed back into the stone and the fires went out as though snuffed. The gate was once again lost in the dark, lit only by the flickering candlelight of the lantern held in the mouth of the wolf.

The lantern creaked and the chain around the wolf's forepaw clinked as the pair continued down the dark corridor.


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The wolf padded down the corridor, lantern in jaw and dragon mounted. The chain around its left forepaw clinked and the lantern handle creaked as the wolf continued forward at what Spike judged to be a fast walk.

Spike didn't know where they were, only that they were underground and on the other side of the gates from somewhere he never really wanted to go again. He hoped the wolf was taking him in the direction of Rarity, but that was all he could do. Hope, and pray to Celestia.

Beneath him, the wolf stopped. Spike readied himself, but the wolf did not appear to be aggressive, so it was probably nothing.

He was surprised when the light went out with a huff of air from the wolf.

"What was that for?!" he protested to the dark. The wolf didn't respond, just began walking again.

"Great," Spike grumbled to himself. "I don't know where we are or where we're going, I'm riding a wolf that growled at me, and now the only light we have is- oh."

Up ahead, the soft orange of flickering torchlight could be seen, lit from around the corner. Peeking around, Spike saw that the light was spilling from a large cavern, though he couldn't make anything in particular out.

The wolf stepped cautiously into the glow, ears pricked and body tense as it rounded the corner. Taking ques from his mount, Spike held the sword at the ready and the shield close, ready for anything. Or so he thought.

The first thing Spike saw was a Diamond Dog. The grey Doberman was hunched protectively and stared at them with wide eyes, clearly not expecting anything to appear where Spike and the wolf had come from.

The second thing he saw was the pup.

Sitting between the female doberman's legs was a young diamond dog, not even as old as Spike if his size was any indication. He squirmed, irritation plain upon his face as his mother clutched him tightly to her breast, eying the upraised sword that Spike held fearfully.

Spike swallowed, his mouth dry, and lowered the sword so that it was no longer ready to strike the diamond dog or her pup. Then he looked around.

All around the dragon and his mount were dogs. All were female or young, and not a single one had yellow glowing eyes, like they had seen earlier with the guard dogs. All stared at the wolf and the young dragon like they had two heads.

A hiss snapped all attention to one of the entrances. Three Quarray eels, eyes glowing yellow like the guard dogs, appeared from one entrance and headed towards the intruders. Another two appeared from other entrances to the cavern, hissing as their long red bodies undulated inexplicably through the air. The diamond dogs scattered before the eels, but it was quite clear that the eels had eyes only for the intruders.

Beneath Spike, the wolf growled savagely, its hackles rising.

Spike tightened his grip on sword and shield, determination in his slit eyes. He know he should be scared, but after everything he had been through today, with the wolf helping, quarray eels didn't faze him.

The dogs had scattered to the edges of the well-lit cavern, eyes watching as the newcomers challenged their enemies/protectors.

Without warning, the wolf sprang to the left, towards the single quarray approaching from that side. Spike felt the shoulderblades of the wolf pumping beneath him as the wolf charged down the quarray at a speed that bordered on reckless; Spike rose the sword, preparing for an attack of his own.

The eel hissed back and coiled in on itself, like a snake preparing to strike. The moment they came within range, the great head and jaws lunged forward in a lightning quick strike.

The wolf sprang to the left, allowing the eels' head to go harmlessly past... Though still well within striking distance. Then Spike brought the sword down in a chop, right on the back of the eels' neck. The scales of a quarray eel are tough, unlike their maritime counterparts; they have to be in order to protect the eel from loose rock or stone that may strike them in their homes in the cliffs. Even so, Spike's blade hit hard, and the edge was sharp. The eel yelped and coiled back in on itself, a small red line at the base of the head.

Spike knew the wolf now, after fighting with it through the dark tunnels. It wouldn't be content to let its opponent slink away and lick its wounds, it would press the advantage. Sure enough, the wolf darted forward even as Spike raised his sword for another blow.

The eel swiped its tail at them, hissing, but the wolf leaped over the appendage with a snarl. It hit the eel in the side of the head with all its weight, to which Spike added another vicious chop with his sword across the bridge of the eels snout. The double blow seemed to daze the creature, but the wolf could not keep the position- the shifting coils threatened to compress around them, trapping them within. The wolf darted out as the eel came out of the daze.

Its eyes were no longer glowing yellow.

It looked around and hissed, as though confused, before it spotted Spike and the wolf. It recoiled with a sibilant hiss, before turning and quickly undulating out of the cavern.

Spike smiled and puffed up his chest in pride. Another creature defeated by Sir Spike, sworn guardian of Ponyville!

The wolf turned around. Spike's smile fell as he realized there were four more to defeat.

The resulting brawl was a blur in his mind. The wolf moved fast, somehow managing to keep one paw ahead of the eels, even if only just. Dodge, run, jump- at one point, Spike found himself riding a wolf that was somehow riding two quarray eels, much to everyone's confusion, including the wolf and the eels. The eels struck quickly, but their own numbers turned against them, often comically preventing them from properly attacking Spike and the wolf- two managed to tie themselves into a knot at one point, and another two managed to bang heads together hard enough to knock each other out.

One by one, the wolf and the dragon eliminated their foes as threats. The eels, when hit hard enough, would go into a daze, and when they came out, would no longer have the yellow glowing eyes like the guard dogs did. Once that happened, they would usually take one look at the wolf and its sword-wielding, fire-breathing mount, and quit the field.

In the end, Spike and the wolf stood victorious in the center of the well lit cavern, watching as the last eel squirmed through a crack in the ceiling of the well-lit cavern and disappeared. Spike grinned to himself.

"Thank you," came the scratchy voice of a diamond dog from their left. Spike, startled, attempted to whirl around, but the wolf was not cooperative and so he only managed to turn his head to face the dog.

A smaller terrier, this female dog had a small pup with her, a few years younger than Spike by the looks of it. The wolf turned slowly, allowing Spike time to take a few deep breaths and relax.

"You're welcome," he said. "Have you seen a white unicorn around? She's white as snow, with perfectly curled hair and dreamy eyes, blue like sparkling sapphires..."

The diamond dog looked on uncertainly as the young dragon trailed off, eyes lidded low with a dreamy expression on his face. She could almost swear she saw little pink hearts floating above his head.

The wolf noticed the dog's expression and turned his head to view its mount. A low rumble came out as the wolf shook his head. Without warning he shook, jarring the dragon out of his stupor.

"Ah-hem.... Heh heh heh... Uhhh, so have you seen her anywhere? Her name is Rarity."

The dog had to think for a moment on that. "Rar-it-ty? White pony who whines?"

Spike nodded quickly. The dog thought for a moment.

"Can't tell for sure. But if pony here, she is in heavy cell. Take this corridor, turn left, second right, and you find it. Rex!"

The young dog had curiously reached out towards the wolf, sniffing at the unfamiliar canine boldly. The wolf appeared, while not extremely interested, not outright hostile or dismissive, sniffing the young pup's scent before loosing interest. The pup, deciding the dog in front of him was a friend, had promptly pounced, only to be caught by his mother.

"Mom!" He squealed out.

The wolf turned and headed for the indicated doorway. If one was looking, one could almost see a smile on the muzzle.


Inside of a small, dank, muddy and dark cell, cut off from the world of ponies by bars of iron, was a single pony.

A white pony, though the dust and underground atmosphere had taken their toll and dulled the normal sheen of her coat. With purple hair, curled in a tasteful manner, yet dulled and showing split ends.

Rarity ran her hooves through her hair, attempting to clean and make it properly fabulous. It was a vain effort, it would take nothing less than a trip to the spa and perhaps several gallons of her special shampoo and conditioner to get her mane and coat back into proper lady-like beauty, but for once, Rarity was quiet. She was not bemoaning the horrible dirt, or the state of her pony-pedi, or crying for her lost beauty.

She was silent as she attempted in vain to get her hair back to its normal fabulous state. Distracted. Thinking.

When she had been capture before, the dogs had been smelly, dirty, and uncaring of her high standard of beauty when they attempted to put her to work. Uncivilized. But they had not made death threats to get her to cooperate. They had not ponynapped an entire town to put them to work slaving for gems. At some point, they had gone from merely uncivilized to positively barbaric.

She was scared, and she was not too proud to admit it, unlike stubborn Applejack or brash Rainbow. She was not as skilled with magic as Twilight was- she had never attended a unicorn specific school, all her magical learning had come from her parents. She was quite talented at finding gemstones, and her telekinesis had impressed Twilight with the way she was able to handle a multitude of small objects simultaneously, but beyond those skills she was a rather ordinary unicorn.

She did not know how to conjure anything more complicated than a comb, could not shoot balls of energy from her horn, was incapable of transfiguring an apple into an orange. Her magical skills were limited, and her power was about average. This, combined with her large guard dog, Fido, and the other guard dogs around, meant that she was incapable of escaping through magic alone.

Still, she held out hope. Rainbow Dash had nearly reached her when the brute of a dog had dragged her off, but had been just a hair too slow- and if Rainbow Dash was too slow, then it simply was not meant to be. But if Rainbow was here, that meant the others could not be too far behind.

They would get her out. Somehow. Some way. Her friends would never abandon her.

Still, it couldn't hurt to try to escape on her own. Perhaps it would help her friends. With this in mind, she trotted over to the bars, gave a flick of her hair, and addressed one of the guards to her cell.

"Hem hem... Excuse me, gentledog, could I perhaps go to the lavatory? I-"

"Go in cell!" the glowing eyed guard dog cut off, not even looking at her.

Rarity recoiled in revulsion. "In my cell? Why, that is simply unhygienic! I must prot-"

Rarity scrambled backwards as the dog struck his spear against the iron gate.

"Pony no complain! Pony does as told!" the dog growled at her.

Or pony is useless. Useless ponies are... meat.

Rarity gulped and backed away. The threat made by the big alpha dog was not idle; she did not doubt that she would pay dearly if she pushed these dogs too far.

All she could do was wait, and hope and pray to Celestia that somepony rescued her.

"Let her go, you dogs!"

Oh... Oh...

Make that somedragon. Rarity rushed back to the bars to catch a glimpse of her savior.

"No get whiny pony. We stop you!"

Outside her cell, a wolf- THE wolf, the one that had ruined Fluttershy's dress!- paced, growling viciously at the guard dogs circling around. In the center, and her heart leapt to her throat at the sight, was Spike.

Young Spike, a sword in one claw and a shield nearly as large as him in the other, stood alone in the center of a ring of guard dogs, facing down Fido, the brute that was her captor. The dog had a a long spear in one hand as he stood between Spike and her cell.

"Don't worry, Rarity! I'll save you!" The young gentledrake called out.

Rarity felt light headed. A dashing young swordsdragon, come to save her from the vicious brutes that had captured her! Oh, it was almost like a storybook...!

The clash of metal on metal brought her to her senses. What she saw brought her hooves to her mouth in a gasp.

Spike, sword glinting, was dueling the big diamond dog. The spear, aimed for the young dragon's belly, deflected off his raised shield, sending him staggering back a step. Even so, he swung his sword at the big dog's legs, which the dog jumped back to avoid.

Rarity pinched herself. Surely this was a dream, and she would wake up in her bed and find that the day was beginning and that none of this had happened. But no, she felt the pinch...

Her little Spikey-Wikey was fighting for her honor! Truly, he was more of a gentlestallion than Blueblood...!

Movement caught her eye. One of the dogs was attempting to move in and help Fido fighting Spike. That... That coward! Interrupting a duel to strike her champion in the back...!

Incensed, she lit her horn- but was beaten to the punch by the wolf. Rarity watched, surprised, as the four-legged canine slammed into his more evolved counterpart. The diamond dog yelped in surprise and batted at the wolf, managing to get out from under his attacker and retreat with his tail tucked between his legs. Rarity let glow in her horn die as she revised her opinion of the wolf.

The clash of metal once again tore her away from her thoughts and focused her attention on the duel. Spike let out a bit of dragon-flame as the large dog struck, using the proximity of the dogs' attack to unleash his own. The big dog yelped and jumped back, his tail singed.

Good job, my little Spikey-Wikey! Teach him what happens to those who do not respect a proper Lady!

The dog went in for another attack, spearing towards her little champion. He fearlessly knocked the attack aside with his shield before retailiating with a low swipe at Fido's legs with his sword. The dog jumped, but landed awkwardly and fell to its belly. The large dog barely had time to look up before Spike slammed his shield into Fido's head.

Fido did not get up, his large tongue lolling from his mouth and his eyes spinning crazily.

Rarity clapped her hooves giddily before catching herself. A lady is elegant and poised when she is rescued! The thought reminded her of her general condition, and she frowned the barest frown, before ignoring it altogether. A lady is elegant and poised when she is rescued, no matter her condition!

She watched as Spike rifled through the pockets of the large dog, barely aware of the pitched battle that was happening around him as the wolf subdued the rest of the guards. She had eyes only on the gentledrake who had defeated her captor and saved her from this dark and dirty prison! The young drake unlocked the door with one hand while holding both sword and shield in the other. He swung the hinged bars out of her way and bowed, claw outstretched towards her freedom.

"Milady," he said, head bowed.

Rarity nearly giggled with glee- such a true gentlestallion!

"Thank you, Spykoranuvellitar," she said softly. She took a few graceful steps out of her prison, before turning to her savior with a smile. Lowering her head, she closed her eyes and kissed him soundly on his scaly little cheek.

Rarity raised a hoof to stifle a giggle as the young drake stiffened, then fell over backwards in a clatter, stars in his eyes and hearts flying around his head.

She knew quite well that the young drake had a crush on her. It wasn't exactly hard to discern, what with his besotted little figure attempting to help her at every opportunity. It had been quite the subject of conversation in those early days when he and Twilight had just moved to Ponyville; why, every spa visit with Fluttershy had ended up conversing about the young drake, what with Fluttershy's interest in the baby dragon and her own amusement with his crush. And Rarity did indeed love the young drake, and enjoyed spending time with him on those occasions when Twilight would bring him along, or when he would help her by himself. Still, with his age and his species, not to mention her own romantic endeavors and dreams at the time, she had firmly lumped him into the same category as Sweetie Belle: sibling. A young and impressionable mind to be nurtured, taught, disciplined, and molded into what could eventually become a fine and productive member of society.

Now, though...

Blueblood had thoroughly crushed her dreams of high society, and had left her adrift in the world of romantic relationships. No stallion had yet to fill that void, and she was still too off-put by that vile princes' performance to actively seek out a romance. She had resigned herself to looking again in a few years, a little older and a little wiser, for a stallion of good, agreeable character to settle down with, his money and looks be damned.

And then, right here, right under her nose, Spike had come in and become a dashing knight... Fought for her hoof, and her honor... all to save her. The baby dragon had become a gentledrake when she wasn't looking. It set her heart aflutter in a way that only the cheesy romance novels she and Fluttershy shared ever had.

He was still too young, she decided as she watched the young drake struggle back to his feet. Far too young to properly court. He was, after all, just reaching the cusp of puberty, only a few years older than Sweetie Belle. But.... the young drake had caught her eye. She solemnly swore to herself that, when he was a more appropriate age, she would take another look at him. For now, he was still the younger sibling; but if today had proven anything to Rarity, it was that the young dragon showed all the signs of being the the gentledrake of her dreams.

Still, now was not the time to be reflecting on such things. They needed to leave this horrible place get away from these filthy, smelly diamond dogs where she could properly clean herself up.

"Thank you, Spike. Do you know the way out of these dreadful caves?" she asked.

"Uhhh... errr...." Spike turned around, looking around the cavern at all the entrances. He scratched a headspine with his claw, wondering what was missing...

"Where's the wolf?"


The wolf padded towards the room where the Fused Shadow lay. When the large dog had fallen, it had not taken him long to dispatch the other enemies while the dragon was occupied. With that, the wolf had promptly sniffed out the location of the key (it was not well hidden, under a pile of dirt not far from where they had fought), and had left.

He had kept his end of the bargain- the white pony, Rarity, had been found. The dragon had kept his end of the bargain, getting them there in the first place, bypassing the one-way gates by going through an unguarded area. Their partnership, while very useful to both, was done. The wolf would not risk taking another in to face the final enemy. His experiences so far had taught him that the enemy controlled by the Shadow was not something to be taken lightly. The wolf would not put him in unnecessary danger.

The wolf stopped in front of a large, solid metal gate. A great lock made of gold, held by chains of gold, stood in the middle.

Putting his forepaws on the gate and standing on his hind legs, the wolf carefully managed to get the ornate key from his mouth and into the lock.

The key turned itself as he stepped back. The lock came undone, allowing the chains to hang loose as the lock itself dropped to the floor. The door slid into the ceiling, allowing the wolf to see the great pile of gems inside... but they would not be alone.

The wolf stepped fearlessly into the throne room. Behind the wolf, the door slammed shut, and the chains and lock magically reset themselves.


Twilight lay on the ground, eyes closed and horn aglow, meditating. Studying. She had to get through a door. To do that she had to unravel and understand the spell or spells that held the gate before her in check. What she had learned so far was astounding. Potentially world-changing, if she was interpreting things correctly.

It was another kind of magic. Just as there was emotion-based magic versus inherent pony magic, this appeared to be another separate kind. She was tempted to call it Shadow magic, though further research would be necessary. It appeared as an almost oily haze to her senses when she sought out the magical signature, a dark and fluid substance that reacted to her magical touch almost like water did to her hoof. It was absolutely fascinating to watch as it simply absorbed her magical attempts to change it, like water backflowing into a trench she had dug.

Her childish enthusiasm at having discovered, and having the privilege of first examining, a brand new field of magic was heavily damped by the fact that it was holding one of her best friends against her will. And the fact of this situation was that she was looking at a brand new field of magic, of which she was blindly stumbling around, attempting to discern the rules while simultaneously trying to unravel the spell.

The result was that the whole experience was as fascinating as it was frustrating. Every failure made Twilight want to simultaneously squeal in glee and grind her teeth in frustration. She settled for a grimace on her muzzle. Still, she was making progress, however immeasurable it may be.

Pity she didn't have the time. One of Twilight's eyes slid open as voices came into focus around her.

"Try again!" Rainbow Dash insisted desperately.

The diamond dog, Spot, shook his head furiously.

"Tried already! Will be same! Can't dig under gate, Alpha magic stops me!"

"Well, what about around?! Over?!" the rainbow mare asked desperately.

"Sides rock, not dirt! Break claws on rocks, no dig around fast! Same over!" Spot insisted. For at least the third time.

Twilight sighed and opened her eyes. She had been at this for what felt like hours now, and her hooves were asleep. She struggled to them as her friends gathered around their friend.

"Did ya figure it out, Twi?" came Applejack's country accent from behind her.

Twilight shook her head as she stretched her stiff legs.

"It's absolutely fascinating, but I haven't found anything I can use to help unravel the spells on it. I could spend years just studying this gate-"

"We don't have years, Twilight!" Rainbow interjected desperately.

"Don't interrupt, Rainbow," Twilight told the mare. "Believe me, I haven't forgotten that Rarity is on the other side. My point is that we need to look for alternatives. We might be able to get some Equestrian mining crews down here and blast a way around, or maybe a team of unicorns could overpower the enchantments on this gate and blast their way in, but unless someone opens the gate from the other side-"


Necks snapped around so fast Twilight thought it was a miracle nopony hurt themselves, herself included. But they had to see. Because there was only one possible source for that battle-cry...

Rarity Belle, looking more than a little worse for wear, used a forehoof to throw one gate guard off balance before viciously bucking him in the chest. The glowing-eyed dog sailed through the air and out of sight.

The clang of metal on metal turned Twilight's attention to the other guard, and what she saw made her heart stop beating. For there, dueling with the gate guard, was none other than Spike.

The young dragon sidestepped a thrust of a spear and slashed at the dog's legs. The dog was too slow in dodging, and fell to the floor in a clatter as the sword slammed into his shin armor. Before the dog could so much as move, Twilight watched as Spike slammed the shield he was holding into the dogs head, knocking it out. Spike smiled triumphantly at nopony in particular.

"Girls! Am I ever so glad to see you!" came Rarity's voice. Twilight forced her attention back to the fashionista, who was idly flicking her hair to get a dull purple curl out of the way.

Her poise and her grace were as flawless as ever, but Twilight found herself wondering just why the dramatic fashionista was not bawling her eyes out; she looked, while not an absolute mess, at least dirty, grimy and out of sorts.

"Rarity!" Rainbow cried in relief. "Could you get the gate open? We're stuck out here!"

"Of course, just a moment... no... no... Ah-ha!"

The sound a lever being pulled was followed by the creaking groan of the portcullis rising into the ceiling. The moment the gate was high enough to get under, all the ponies rushed to embrace their friend in a crushing group hug, chattering their relief. Tears came unbidden to eyes, from Fluttershy at the very least, though there seemed too many to be attributed to just the pegasus, but nopony commented. Nopony cared. They had their friend back, and that was all that mattered.

Twilight broke out of the hug and the excited babble going on there. It wasn't that she wasnt excited to see Rarity again. But there was something else on her mind. Looking around, she found her target, and with a pinkish glow of her horn, picked the little dragon and all his new accessories out of the group hug, and set him down a short distance away.

Spike stared up at her, his expression defiant.

"Spike," she started softly.

"I'm not a baby anymore, Twilight!" he cut her off.

"You're still MY charge, given to me by the Princess herself! What do you think she'd say to me if you got hurt? Do you know what it would do to me if you got hurt?!" she demanded. "I told you to stay in the library because I knew this was going to be dangerous, and it was no place of you to be, and now I find you here with a sword and watch you go after diamond dogs and hurt them and they're trying to skewer you with a spear and I don't want to ever see my Number One Assistant with a spear sticking out of his scales because that means I've been a terrible pony by not protecting you!"

The young dragon had the sense to look abashed. Twilight closed her eyes and breathed deeply, as Cadence had taught her, coming out of her hyperventilation and letting go of her feelings. When she opened her eyes again, she was calmer.

"Spike, you're my Number One Assistant. I didn't leave you in the library because I thought you needed punishing, or because I thought you couldn't help, but because I knew this was going to be dangerous and I don't ever want to see you get hurt. Do you understand?"

Spike nodded guiltily.

"Now now, Twilight, don't be too hard on him," Rarity's voice came from behind her.

"After all, he did manage to fight his way all the way to my prison cell and save me from those brutes," Rarity told them. She nuzzled Spike affectionately, and Twilight watched as the young dragon went rigid. The sight did bring a slight smile to her face, Spike was such a cute little dragon sometimes.

"Still," she cleared her throat, squashing the smile. She needed to be the mature one here, and that meant punishment. "Spike, you deliberately disobeyed me-"

"It wasn't my fault! The wolf ponynapped me!" Spike protested.

That brought all conversation to a screeching halt.

"I saw the wolf when Spike was rescuing me," Rarity said quietly. "It was helping him by keeping the dogs off his back. But I don't know where it went."

Before anypony could properly respond to this new and very confusing set of information.

"Please!" came the grating sound of the diamond dog that was with them. "Need to save mothers and pups from eels! No time for talk!"

"Oh, we already did that," Spike dismissed. More goggling.

"Spike. Explain," Twilight ordered.

"So the wolf ponynapped me a little while after you guys left and took me to the quarry. It gave me this sword and shield and let me ride it around rescuing ponies. Then we went through this weird gate that needed torches lit to be opened, where we fought off undead ponies and really evil looking stuff before we got to another gate and went through that. Then me and the wolf were in the cave where all the diamond dog females and pups are, and we fought off a bunch of eels and drove them off. Then one of the dogs told us where Rarity was, so me and the wolf went there and fought one of those leader diamond dogs from last time and freed Rarity, but the wolf left us so me and Rarity decided to head out of the caves and here we are!"

It took a few moments for everybody to digest that one. But when they did, the questions flew thick and fast.

"Where did the wolf go?"
"Pups and mothers safe?"
"Oh, that's terrible. Why would a wolf ponynap you?"
"You fought undead ponies? That sounds awesome!"
"Ooohhh, now I need to make a separate party for..."

"QUUIIIIEEEETTTT!!" Twilight screamed. Everypony stared at her. She pointed a hoof at Spike.

"You and I are going to have a long talk when this is over. But, for now, we need a plan. You said you drove the eels off?"

Spike nodded. "The wolf and I managed to stop their eyes from glowing and then they all ran away."

"Spot," she said, shifting her hoof to him. "You can lead us to the chambers the Alpha is using, right?"

The dog nodded. "But don't forget deal, pony. You save mothers and-"

"Rarity freed herself. So the deal is changing," Twilight cut off. "You show us where alpha is, and we get your pups and females out. Deal?"

The dog had to think about that for a few seconds.

"Deal," he said, shaking her hoof. "Come, mothers this way-"

"No, alpha first," Twilight said.

"Need to make sure pups are safe!" Spot protested.

"The eels are all gone. Spike and the wolf drove them off. So the best way to keep them safe is to defeat the alpha. So, alpha first, then pups and females."

Spot did not look happy, but the dog headed off in a different direction.

Twilight ducked her head, and in one smooth motion, slid Spike onto her back. He was heavier with his sword and shield, she noted. Another thing to talk about later, she thought, her mood dour. She caught herself. These last few minutes had left her temper rather short- she was going to have to apologize later.

Later, later, there was time for everything later. Right now, they needed to defeat this alpha dog.


The gigantic dog gave a snarl and charged forward, attempting to trap the wolf.

The wolf dodged nimbly to the side and ran out of the way. Behind him, the gigantic dog stopped before he hit the wall- he had already done that one too many times, and would not fall for that trick again.

The gemstone vest the dog wore was tattered but still intact, and fluttered as the dog stood to two legs, towering over most everything else in the room. The gigantic dog seized a piece of the ceiling and pulled. The rock groaned and screeched, but with a deafening CRACK, relented.

Twilit Tyranus, or Alpha Dog, hefted the multi-ton fragment over his head, searching for his target. He would crush that wolf, and his power would be safe, his territory secured, and-

The wolf sunk his ivory fangs into the gigantic dog's heel.


The Alpha grimaced in pain and reached down to swat the wolf away, but the wolf had already released his hold. The next second, the huge boulder the dog had been holding came crashing down on the Alpha's head before falling to the ground.

The Alpha staggered once, twice, almost regained his footing... then fell to the dirt floor of the cavern, momentarily stunned.

The wolf was upon him in a second. It jumped upon the great dog's back and continued what it had started; ripping the gemstone-studded leather vest to shreds. Claws scored marks across the vest; canines ripped through sections; tearing and biting and clawing, the wolf ripped the vest to shreds-

With a burst of strength, the Alpha stood, throwing the wolf to the floor.

The Alpha growled and held his head as he began staggering around the area, trying in vain to get away from his foe. His eyes covered, not watching where he was going, the Alpha rammed into the throne he had created from his own magic, shattering it.

It was the last straw. Dazed, confused, the Alpha sat back onto the ground as its huge body turned jet-black. On the leather jacket, a single gem, larger than the rest, shaped like a diamond dog skull, burst, sending a small heart-shaped glowing gem rocketing away.

The dark figure exploded, little black squares going everywhere, leaving behind the small figure of a diamond dog, no larger than a typical pony, clutching his head and moaning.

The dark squares danced, then drew in upon the center of the chamber, coalescing into a dark shape. A piece of a crown, made from dark-grey stone, intricately decorated with carvings, hovered above the ground.

The wolf, having taken the small heart-shaped jewel, ignored the moaning diamond dog and walked up to the stone crown. He waited for a moment, as though expecting something to happen.

A soft voice came from beneath the wolf, saying a few words. The wolf looked towards the entrance to the chamber- sure enough, he had an audience, consisting of six ponies of multiple colors (most of whom he recognized from his time clearing out the shadow insects, and one was the 'Rarity' the dragon had been so desperate to rescue), the young dragon he had recruited (still brandishing the sword and shield the wolf had loaned him), and a very concerned diamond dog that did not have yellow-glowing eyes.

The wolf rolled his eyes. But he did take the stone crown into his mouth, before stepping into a circle of turquoise light that hadn't been there a few seconds before....

And disappeared.


Twilight stared, open mouthed. Most of the other girls did too. They had seen the last part of the battle, and all were speechless.

The first to move after the wolf disappeared- in a similar manner to the shadow beasts!- was Spot. The dog rushed over to the other dog, the one that seemed to have been possessed and was still holding his head and moaning loudly. The second to do anything was Rarity.

"I do believe that that wolf is something good," the fashionista declared. "He may be a bit uncouth, but I do believe that wolf is here to help. Mostly."


The wolf appeared at the edge of the calm waters of the spring. It promptly dropped the stone crown, which did not drop but instead floated in a gentle light. His shadow jumped, and turned into the small imp-like creature.

A drop of golden light splashed in the center of the spring. From it, a golden ball rose into the air, which the Guardian caught just as it reached full height. It looked at the pair before it, and at the floating piece of crown before it.

A piece of Fused Shadow. A tool with potential for evil unlimited, as had been proven before those who were more powerful had taken it away. It was what the Guardian had sworn to protect, all those long years ago. To seal away from mortal grasp, so that its powers could never again be used to twist the minds of sentient creatures.

An oath it had failed. As it had always known it would fail.

"Another piece of Fused Shadow is within your possession, Hero," the Guardian said. "You have already seen what it is capable of; do not let it corrupt your senses or your mind, or all is lost."

The imp creature giggled and said some words in her language as she seized the crown piece in an orange limb that came from her head. The Guardian tilted his head.

"I have guarded that piece of Shadow for many years. It is indeed powerful, and I have no doubt it can aid you against your enemy, but it was locked away for a reason; I ask that you remember that."

The Guardian sighed, insomuch as a ethereal creature can sigh.

"But I digress. You have come far, and accomplished much. But your journey is not yet at an end. Go to where you entered. Help the other spirits, and you shall find what you seek."

The Guardian vanished back into the spring, leaving the water crystal clear once more.

The wolf turned his head towards the imp-creature. She said something to him before retracting the orange glowing appendage, the crown vanishing in the creatures' grasp.

The wolf turned, but the imp creature adopted a reclining position and called out in its strange language.

The wolf turned back to the creature, annoyance in its blue eyes.

The imp-creature nonchalantly made a sword sheath appear out of thin air. Just the sheath, no sword. The wolf's eyes widened.

The imp-creature said a few sing song words before jumping at the wolf's feet, becoming nothing more than a wolf shadow once more.

The wolf hung its head as it headed back towards the town


View Online

Precious few ponies were awake in the Royal Castle at three in the morning.

The Night Guard, of course, watching over the domain of the Princess of the Night, as they had done for millennia, even during their Princess' exile to the Moon. A janitor or three prowled the hallways, polishing floors, cleaning messes made during the day, and readying the castle for the next busy day. Perhaps a waitress-one had been recently hired by the Lunar Sister, with culinary skills and familiarity with the kitchen, so that drinks and refreshments could be served to attendees of the Night Court (of which there were precious few, if there were any at all), or more often, so that the Lunar Princess could order meals and drinks during the night. And of course, the Lunar Princess Herself would be awake, either presiding over the Night Court, or more often than not, policing the dreams of her subjects and keeping them free from the night terrors.

This night, there was one more occupant of the castle who was not in the land of dreams.

There would be no sleep for Princess Celestia this night.

Celestia sat in the Royal Library at a small study table, her normal golden regalia absent, as she idly finished some paperwork. Orders for an inquiry into the behavior and buying practices of certain members of the nobility, an addendum to Equestria's property laws, and compensation, to be delivered to the farmer who had brought the loophole to her attention; she had not lied to Corn Husk when she said she would look into the matter immediately. But the paperwork was just a distraction; busywork, to keep her mind off of the true reason why she was up at this unusual time: Ponyville.

It was often Ponyville these days, she thought, looking over the inquiry papers before placing her signature upon them. Ponyville had been a relatively quiet town for as long as she could remember, despite being so near the Everfree. Still, ever since her faithful student had moved there, the town seemed so much more exciting; Ursas, a zebra shaman, a certain violet unicorn putting the entire town under a spell... Whether or not it had been so active before, Celestia did not know, but it certainly was now.

Celestia checked the wording in her new property laws, attempting to find some way around them. It would prevent the current exploitation, of that much she was certain. Still, there was no doubt some flaw somewhere that somepony would one day exploit; in the game of crime, it was inevitable. Content with the wording, Celestia signed this as well, before moving on to the compensation papers.

The moment she had received Twilight's letter, and the census of Ponyville, she knew she would not be sleeping until the situation was resolved. Ponynapping on such a scale was unheard of; that Diamond Dogs were the aggressors was not surprising, but Celestia had made certain that any dogs within Equestria's borders were relatively docile. Something had happened, nothing good if her students letter was any indication. She would need to-

Celestia refocused on the paperwork in front of her. The lands of those who had already been hit would be returned to their old owners. Corn Husk would receive additional funds equal to one and a half times the value of the land they had been trying to steal from him, to be paid out equally between the two noble houses in question. Those two noble houses would be publicly reprimanded, though Celestia did not find enough fault with their affairs to remove their titles. Yet. The inquiry would reveal more about that, and proper action could be taken then, if such action was required.

Celestia sighed as she signed the compensations document. This was the last paper she had brought with her- the last paper she would need to sign for a week, in fact, despite it being only two days in. A thousand years of handling the paperwork of an entire government had left their mark upon her. Golden magic organized the papers into a pile as Celestia got to her hooves; perhaps assisting Luna would take her mind off things, she thought as she turned the reading lamp off, plunging the library into darkness.

Celestia headed towards the aisle where she had last seen her sister while uncomfortable thoughts buzzed around her head. The Guard could handle things. They didn't need her, and she couldn't simply go charging off, not even if it was her own student. Not without good reason. Her little ponies could take of themselves, she reassured herself. Especially Twilight, if recent history was any indication.

A faint light came from down the aisle she had reached; a mote of white, hovering in the air. In the darkness of the library, it stood out like a beacon. Behind it, cloaked in the dark, was her sister. In full regalia, her mane flowing and her fur brushed to perfection, her form fading in to the inky black beyond where the light could reach, Luna looked every bit the part of Princess of the Night.

At least, she would if her tongue wasn't stuck out of the side of her mouth in concentration while she read.

"Find anything yet, Lulu?" Celestia asked softly as she sidled up the narrow isle.

Luna started and nearly dropped the book she was reading. "Sister! We did not hear you there!"

"Silencing spell. We are in a library, Luna. We can't disturb others," Celestia replied with an innocent look upon her face. Luna gave her a deadpan look.

"Considering we are alone, I do not believe we have to do such things," she said in a flat voice. "Still, in answer to your question, no, I have not yet found anything. The mystery of the Everfree continues to elude me."

"As does everything about that forest," Celestia mused. She had, for her part, had ordered her top scholars on magic to search for clues, but Luna was convinced that she knew something about this matter and was researching it herself on her off-time. Results on both fronts had so far been lacking, but Celestia was hopeful.

Luna fidgeted, her wings twitching. Finally, she closed the book in her magic and turned to her sister.

"Tia, art thou- are you certain that we should not go to Ponyville?" Luna asked, looking up at Celestia. Even without her golden platform shoes, and with Luna in her silver ones, Celestia towered over her sister. "Should we not be getting on our armor, and flying-"

"Our little ponies can take of themselves, Lulu," Celestia said softly. "That is perhaps the hardest lesson I have had to learn during your absence."

Luna bit her lip and shook her head. "It does not feel right, sister, sitting here while ponies are in danger. Especially not Ponyville."

"I know, Lulu, believe me. But we cannot take care of every petty matter ourselves; taking care of these Diamond Dogs ourselves would be overreacting. Our little ponies can resolve this without our help," Celestia told her sister.

Did she really believe that? That her ponies could take care of themselves? Yes. But it was still hard. Like a mother watching her foal take her first shaky steps, or a father waving goodbye from the doorstep as his little colt went off into the world on his own. She could help, yes, but there were some things that needed to be done without aid.

"The Guard can handle this," she said without conviction. It wasn't that she did not believe in the Guard; merely that she would, just like Luna, much rather be strapping on her battle armor and heading out there herself.

Luna, of course saw through her sisters' hesitation, but did not have the heart to call her on it.

The sisters were started out of their thoughts by a small *pop*. Long experience let Celestia catch the dragonfire mail before it fell to the floor. Golden magic unrolled the scroll and held it where both Princesses could read.

Princess Luna, it began. Celestia was surprised to note that it was not Spike's neat handwriting on the scroll, but rather the elegant hornwriting of her student.

Princess Luna,

Please give this letter to Princess Celestia as well once she is available, I am certain she would like to read this herself.

The situation in Ponyville has been resolved. I will be writing a full explanation once I have interviewed all the appropriate parties, but will endeavor to summarize my early conclusions here.

Right now, the Guard has occupied the Diamond Dog cavern in question and has the entire pack under guard until this can be sorted through. All residents of Ponyville have been returned unharmed, and nodog was killed.

Celestia sighed in relief. The situation had been resolved without her, or her sisters', intervention. Her faith was not misplaced. Though she found it almost beyond belief that not only had nopony been hurt, but nodog had been killed. She had been expecting casualties, at the very least for the dogs, if not for the guard.

However, the situation is more complicated than I first thought. My friends and I decided to mount a rescue of our own-

Celestia made a mental note to impress upon her student (and the rest of the elements, now that she thought about it) to be more responsible in the future. She already knew nothing disastrous had come of it, but the tragedy that could have happened was unthinkable; if even one of the bearers had been severely injured, or worse, killed, the most powerful tool of harmony ever known would be useless. If it had been Twilight... well, the last time Celestia had truly unleashed her fury was before even Luna's fall to darkness and had passed into the realm of myth and legend. A fact that she was very thankful for because it meant that her little ponies assumed that much of the story was an exaggeration.

Still, she allowed, it did show that she and her friends were more than capable of taking on more conventional threats. Even if they should have let the Guard handle them.

-and fought our way into the caverns, freeing most of the ponies. Almost all the dogs had the same yellow-glowing eyes and new armor that I described in our call for aid. Just as we finished freeing the ponies, we came upon one of the leaders of the Diamond Dogs, one without glowing eyes, and he told us that his Alpha had been affected by the shadow event that recently happened in Ponyville.

According to the dog, one of the secondary leaders by the name of Spot, the Alpha, named Rover, had been changed by the shadow, and had been given 'magic'. He used this to 'bless' his followers, making them stronger and more obedient, and even managed to use it to mind-control a few Quarray Eels. Spot then begged us to help him rescue the females and pups, who had not been 'blessed' but had been put under the protection of the eels, which Spot feared would end badly.

Spot then led us to a gate, which had been enchanted by the Alpha to be impassable except when opened from the other side. It was something I have never seen before, Princess, but I can confirm that the magic was real, and was impervious to every physical attack we tried and my own magical attempts to bypass it. I theorize it is a completely different field of magic than any I have ever studied before.

Celestia's pupils widened. A brand new field of magic...

We would not have gotten through if Spike and Rarity had not opened the gate for us from the other side. I do not know how Spike managed to free Rarity, especially since I had told him to stay at the Library, but the story does involve the wolf in some manner or other. I am sorry I can't provide anymore details, Spike is asleep and absolutely exhausted. I will get the story from him as soon as I can and send it to you.

Celestia's eyes narrowed. The wolf...

Once the gate was open, we decided to take care of the Alpha before helping the females and pups, as Spike claimed he and the wolf had already driven the eels off. Princess, there is something very important about this wolf; when we arrived at the treasure room where the Alpha was holed up, we found the wolf and the Alpha already fighting.

First, let me tell you that whatever happened to Rover, he was no longer a normal Diamond Dog. He was easily as large as a one-story house on all fours, and we watched as he tore a rock out of the ceiling as large as all six of us put together.

The wolf seemed unfazed. We watched as it took down the Alpha and began ripping the gem-studded vest the Alpha was wearing to shreds. It seems that whatever magic power Rover posessed, it was bound to the jacket, as once it was torn sufficiently, the Alpha reverted back to just Rover, shrinking back to the size of a normal Diamond Dog.

At this point, every single guard dog lost the glow in their eyes and their armor reverted back to its normal steel appearance. Most began to regain conciousness just as the Royal Guards you sent arrived, and after interviewing a few of them, I have found that they do not seem to remember anything that has happened since they were 'blessed'.

As for Rover himself, the poor dog was in such pain from a splitting headache that he was unable to even remember his name. I put him to sleep with spell when it became clear he could not do anything more than clutch his head and whine in pain.

When Rover was defeated and returned to normal, whatever spell was upon him seemed to condense into an artifact of some sort. I wish I could tell you more, but all I can tell you is that it looked to be made of stone, and that it was broken. I didn't get a long look before it was taken by the wolf. It must also have some sort of magic, as the wolf teleported out of the chamber using some sort of portal the likes of which I have never seen, taking the artifact with it.

This seems to me to be a clear-cut case of artifact possession, and both Captain Steel Shod and I agree that the dogs were not in their right minds when their crimes were committed. As such, he has ordered his units to guard the dogs, but, under Spot, they are allowed to continue their normal day-to-day lives. Rover and all the 'blessed' guards are being kept under watch.

As for the artifact itself, it seems that the wolf is now in possession of it. I am unsure of how I feel on this. The artifact is quite clearly dangerous and should be contained. The wolf, however, has helped us, possibly twice now if we believe Pinkie (I told you he was good!)

Sorry, I don't know how Pinkie did that. Anyways, based on its actions so far, the wolf seems to be a friend, or at least not hostile to ponies, but until I know what its real intentions are, I still find myself wary of it.

I will try to have something more comprehensive to you by tomorrow night.

Your Faithful Student,
Twilight Sparkle

It was a good thing that alicorns had an endurance that far outstripped their mortal counterparts, and so she could do with a few sleepless nights, for there would be no sleep for Celestia tonight.

First, it had been for worry and restless need to do something about the situation. Now, it was about contemplating possibilities. The potential of an entirely new branch of magic. What to do about the once-possessed Diamond Dogs. What exactly had happened to Ponyville, and perhaps the entire Everfree. How exactly this wolf was involved in all of this.

That last question was going to become maddening, especially if-

"I told you that wolf was important," Luna snickered, a grin upon her muzzle.

Ah, the joys of younger sisters.


"Thank you, Spike," Twilight whispered.

Her Number One Assistant had already closed his eyes.

Spike may insist otherwise, but he was still a very young dragon. As a result, he still needed his beauty sleep, and it was never more evident than those times when he had stayed up past his bedtime.

And boy, had he managed to do that tonight. Twilight and her friends hadn't gotten back to town until nearly two in the morning by her clock, so late that even the irrepressible party pony among them knew to put off the inevitable celebration until later. Spike, the poor little guy, had fallen asleep on the way back, and had been getting cranky when she tried to question him about the wolf.

While Twilight was disappointed that she wouldn't be able to get the full story out of him until some point tomorrow for her report to the Princess (Celestia would understand that she couldn't give her a full report now. She hoped.), Spike being asleep did mean that she would be able to examine his newest toys without having to worry about his reaction- a dragon was well attached to their horde, which she now suspected included the new items held in her magic given that he had refused to release them until he was too physically exhausted to stay awake.

Twilight tiphooved down the stairs with the items in tow, closing the door to her bedroom, avoiding the random piles of books lying on the ground and lighting a candle. She would have to be careful; a dragon guarded his horde jealously, and Spike was no different. This was natural, and in fact, completely healthy for young Spike from what she understood, whose horde up until this point consisted of various small assorted items from his days in Canterlot. If he didn't have a horde, he wouldn't grow and mature as a dragon. It only became a problem if he became excessively greedy for more, like so many infamous dragons did; then, a dragon became little more than an animal, a fire breathing reptile obsessed with treasure.

But Twilight wasn't worried about that. Spike had learned his lesson on that matter, she trusted. No, she was more worried about setting off his natural draconian defense mechanisms. As a dragon, his bond with his horde was uncanny, and like any other dragon he would attack any threats, as Twilight had once found out when she stole one of his favorite toys a few years ago. Singed tail aside, she didn't think anything bad would come of examining the sword and shield. It helped that she had a close relationship with him, and that he trusted her completely- that was likely the reason why he hadn't protested her taking it in the first place.

Twilight set the sword down as she inspected the shield, levitating a quill and parchment over to take notes on. It was unique in crest, which she traced upon the parchment for later research. She did not recognize it as the crest for any of the modern noble houses, though perhaps it was one from antiquity, or a minor noble house. Research would have to be done, something that excited the scholarly unicorn- perhaps it could even help identify the wolf!


The wolf in question was not far away.

The wolf watched from a small window as the purple unicorn set the sword aside and began to carefully examine the front of the shield. The pony looked tired in the dim golden light, with large bags around her eyes and her hair mussed, but she ignored her condition as she studied the shield with a critical eye, drawing the crest on a piece of parchment held within a pinkish glow.

Words snapped his attention away from the window and towards the tree limbs above.

The shadowy figure, recognizable only by the single yellow/red eye and fluorescent orange magical limb from the crown on her head, used said limb to point directly at her feet as she floated above a branch.

The wolf steeled himself, crouched, then exploded upwards, leaping into the dark.


Turning the metal shield around, she noted the precise size with a tape measure. It was nearly as large as the young dragon was, and was too large for a pony to properly wield on a hoof, yet too small to be used as a front-line damage soaking shield as modern military strategy would dictate. Even more interesting, the shield was quite blatantly set up for a bipedal creature- the metal handle was clearly for grasping with a clawed appendage like Spike had, not for the mouth of a pony. The strap- now that she was examining it, she found it suspicious for some reason. She leaned in closer to examine it-

Twilight jerked back and covered her mouth with her forehooves as she gagged and fought down what little she had in her stomach. It was leather! Animal-hide leather! Twilight fought a short but successful battle against her own stomach.

She had heard of leather before. She had read of it. She knew, intellectually, that Griffons used leather on much of their arms and armor and even as some of their clothes. But she had never expected to come muzzle-to-muzzle with the material, seeing as how the griffons know of pony ethics on the matter and generally thought it best not to antagonize their premier trading partners.

Twilight forced herself to examine the strap scientifically. It was strong and adjustable, likely capable of being used in conjunction with the handle to anchor the shield to a biped's forehooves. She fought down a gag as she touched it- it was soft and pliable and-

Well, she was sure it served its purpose well enough and she wasn't going to examine it anymore, thank you very much! She was going to find a substitute material at some point, the animal it was made from may be long dead but that did not ease her mind and she was NOT going to let Spike run around with that so long as she knew about it!

Twilight put the shield aside hastily and began examining the blade. It was longer than the typical pony sword, though much thinner as well. On a hunch, she held the sword well away from herself and gently tried to bend it. The longer, thinner blade responded as she suspected and began to bow under her gentle pressure. Whoever had made this sword had a different combat philosophy than the Royal Guard, whose short, thick swords would not react the same way to her simple test. The advantage in reach was undeniable, though the strength of the sword suffered for it. Examining the blade closer in the light, Twilight saw a small pattern. She traced it with her quill and parchment, noting that, like the crest on the shield, she had never seen such a pattern before. It looked almost like a ram's horns, but she had never seen that arrangement in nature before on any animal.

She tested the edge with a hoof-ouch!

Swords are sharp, Twilight! she berated herself as she sucked her hoof. This time, she examined the edge in the light rather than run her hoof along it. The edge was very sharp, and she saw no nicks or any cracks in the cutting edge. This sword was in tip-top condition.

The hilt showed a much simpler design. While it was obvious this blade was made by someone of good skill, the hilt was simple, and functional. It had minimal decoration, and was thick- simple, strong, effective. The handle was interesting- rather than the specialized grip a pony was used, it was simple and straight. Clearly it had also been designed with a grasping appendage in mind, as this sword would be functionally useless in the hoof of any pony bar a unicorn.

Twilight, intent upon her notes, did not notice as the door to the upstairs creaked open, admitting a dark figure.


The wolf padded noiselessly through the darkened library, careful not to disturb the purple pony. He kept to the dark- any movement in the light and he would be discovered.

Fortunately, the mare was so focused upon the sword that she did not notice the shield vanish from where she had set it. The wolf very carefully manouvered into a separate, darkened room, whereupon he struggled to get the shield properly placed upon his back so that it would not fall off. He managed to get his head and a paw through, securing the shield to his back.

Now he needed to get the sword. Quiet as a mouse, the wolf returned to the main room, careful not to disturb the books strewn about on the floor as he waited for the right moment to retrieve his sword.


The dark figure moved closer, and though it was not particularly quiet, the unicorn was far too focused to notice the noise. A clawed hand grasped her hoof.


Twilight leapt into the air in fright and alarm. However, gravity would not be denied its victim; the purple unicorn fell gracelessly to the floor in a pile of tangled limbs.

"Sorry, Twilight," Spike said.

"I thought you were asleep," Twilight accused as she got back to her hooves. Dead asleep, too. How was he up?

"I was," he defended. "But... I dunno, I just... felt something was wrong..."

"Horde?" She asked.

Spike nodded.

Twilight sighed. Even a dragon as young as Spike had an almost supernatural sense of when their horde was in 'danger'. It seemed as though it was even capable of overriding his sleep time. Probably not for the best either, he would be tuckered out all tomorrow at this rate.

Spike's eyes fell upon the sword on the table.

"Hey-" he started, reaching for it.

"Spike, it may be yours now, but a sword is still a very dangerous thing," Twilight cut off, levitating the sword out of his reach.

"But Twilight-"

"No buts. I will keep this safe until a sheath is made for it. After that, you'll get it once you're old enough to be responsible for it," she told him, setting the sword on top of a bookshelf. She'd find a better hiding spot for it later, right now all that mattered was that it was out of his reach.

"I'm old enough to be responsible!"

"Spike, it's not that I don't trust you to be responsible. The problem is that this is a very dangerous weapon and I don't want to see you get hurt," she told him.

He eyed her, as though trying to judge her intentions and resolve, before relenting.

"Fiiinnnee. But I can have the shield, right?" he asked hopefully.

Twilight nodded. "Yes, Spike, you can keep the shield, once I've made some, er, minor modifications."

"What kind of modifications?" he asked suspiciously.

"Oh, I, uh, saw signs that the strap might be getting old and worn, so I was going to get it replaced," she made up on the spot.

"Oh. Alri-"


Both dragon and unicorn whipped around to the source of the noise.

They found the wolf, shield upon its back, gathering up the sword in its teeth.

"HEY!" Spike shouted, running as fast as his little legs would carry him, dodging piles of books.

The wolf darted away before the young dragon could reach him.

Thinking quickly, Twilight conjured a pink shield in front of the door and all the windows in the room. That may have worked, if that was where the wolf had been headed. Instead, it darted towards the stairs leading to their bedroom, its movements fluid and powerful even with the inflexible shield upon its back and the long sword held in its maw.

"TWILIGHT! Stop him!"

It was nearly to the door when Twilight, in desperation, lifted the entire wolf off the ground, just outside her bedroom door.

The wolf continued to run in place for a moment- before her telekinesis simply failed. The wolf dropped back to the floor and darted into their bedroom.

Spike was through not a moment later, yelling at the wolf to give his sword and shield back, but Twilight stood back in the center of the library, utterly dumbfounded.

She had felt it. The wolf had managed to break her magical hold!

Twilight buried her head in her hooves in despair.

Why? Why couldn't she just be allowed to find even a single answer before some new question came up?


The wolf darted into the bedroom with the dragon, Spike, hot on his tail.

He was glad now that the techniques the Hero's Spirit had taught him also seemed effective against the magic of these ponies. If every unicorn could use magic as this purple unicorn had done, it could become a very valuable tool. Though the purple unicorn seemed special...

The wolf leapt through the open window and fell into the darkness. It was high up on the tree, and the wolf landed with a bone-jarring thud. Still, the wolf took off at a fast clip out of town, hearing the curses of the dragon behind him. As much as he would have wanted to let the little guy keep his sword and shield (he seemed quite attached to them), the wolf would need them for the coming trials.

At the edge of the forest, the wolf slowed to a walk, then stopped. In the inky black of the night, he could not see his shadow jump, but he could see the red/yellow eye form, and the glowing orange of the imp’s head appendage.

The imp smirked as it held out the empty sheath. It took a moment to align, but the wolf slipped the sword back in with a clink. Grinning, the imp snapped its fingers, and the wolf saw the sword and sheath vanish. On his back, he felt the shield vanish as well.

The imp giggled a few words, then once again disappeared. The wolf turned and headed in to the forest, towards the portal that would take he and his companion to the next part of their adventure.


View Online

To say the last few days had been eventful would be an understatement.

Ponyville had been magically cut off from the world (potentially even invaded, by who was not yet known to even the Princesses). They had been attacked, and a fair portion of the town taken, by possessed Diamond Dogs, forced to slave in the caves searching for gems. Two disconcerting events in as many days; the ponies who chose to make their lives next to the most dangerous forest in Equestria were tough, but even they could be worn down. The entire town was stressed, nearly to the breaking point.

As such, when Pinkie Pie had come back from the caverns that night, she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what she had to do.

She had to throw a party.

A party for an entire town!

Just the thought got her bouncing as she brushed her teeth. Oh, this was going to be SO MUCH FUN! She knew a pony with a bouncy castle for the foals, and she knew a pony who knew a pony who could set up one of those huge carnival tents-

Pinkie smiled, her teeth squeaky clean, and bounced towards her bed.

- and she could get the Cakes to make all the pastries, and she could help, and Applejack could make pies, and Berry Punch could mix the drinks, and she knew a pony who knew a pony-

Pinkie Pie crashed face first into her pillow, simultaneously flinging a hoof out to flip the light switch and using the other to get the covers over herself. The moment her head touched soft pillow she was asleep, a gentle smile upon her muzzle, with nothing but the quiet sound of her breathing in her room above Sugarcube Corner.


Her eyes shot open, exposing her brilliant blue irises to the world.

-who could get balloons, and she knew a pony who's uncle can get all the streamers she would need, and-

Pinkie Pie exploded out of bed and landed on her hooves. Behind her, the sheet drifted lazily down, before coming to rest on the bed, perfectly made.

She headed down to the kitchen silently, despite the huge grin on her face, as she continued to think of everything she would need for The Party. The Cakes weren't up yet and neither were the twins, and so every sound that Pinkie made was somehow muffled, no louder than a whisper. Even the exuberant bouncing down the stairs produced no more than a slight creak; the shuffling of the pots and pans as Pinkie began to make that morning's first batch of pastries was no more than a gentle ringing as opposed to the banging one would have expected.

Flour, milk, eggs, sugar- mix em' all together, and what do you get? Delicious pastries! Confections! Treats! Baking was not her cutie mark, but one would be hard pressed to argue otherwise, what with the pink pony expertly tending to nearly seven different mixing bowls at once. She was moving so fast one could almost believe there was more than one Pinkie Pie in the kitchen.

She put the preliminary pastries in the preheated ovens and closed the doors. Euclairs, lemon bread, scones, croissants, and breakfast cupcakes of all varieties went into the ovens to bake. Okay, so they weren't really called breakfast cupcakes, they were muffins, but Pinkie liked cupcakes so much and they were the same size and shape and everything and some of them were even frosted, so they were totally breakfast cupcakes! Or maybe cupcakes were dessert muffins... hmmmm....

While they baked, Pinkie moved to the frostings and other sugary drizzles that would adorn the future yummy treats. While she continued her frantic pace, her grin never abated, nor did her internal dialogue of Party Items she would need. Parties were serious business- one did not just start a party! There. Were. Rules. Rules that needed to be followed for maximal party enjoyment for all ponies involved.

And wolves, too. Ohhhhh... but it wasn't time for that party yet.

Half way through the bake times, the door to the kitchen opened, admitting a tired looking Cup Cake. She took one look at Pinkie and bowed her head- Cup just wasn't a morning pony like she was. Of course, Pinkie was a night owl too- the Cakes had no theories as to how the pink pony who rented their room and helped them bake could function beyond an eternal sugar high.

"Hey Mrs. Cake! I need to go talk to the Mayor, can you handle the second batch?" the pink one asked quietly.

Mrs. Cake nodded with a yawn. "I think so."

"Thanks Mrs. Cake! Here!"

Mrs. Cake's eyes opened wide as a slice of lemon bread was shoved into her mouth by a pink hoof. She chewed the bread. It was delicious as always, and when the buzzer dinged for the lemon bread oven she would no doubt find a slice missing. Mrs. Cake shrugged. She didn't know how it happened, or how Pinkie did what she did, but it always worked- she was awake now.

Blinking the last few bits of sleep out of her eyes, she set about gathering the ingredients she would need for the next round of pastries.


Pinkie giggled as she bounced out of the room. It was time to get this party started! Pinkie stopped bouncing, took a step sideways through reality, and knocked on Mayor Mare's house door.

She waited patiently for nearly three minutes before a tired and stressed looking tan pony with grey hair wearing reading glasses opened the door.

"Hiya, Mayor!" Pinkie beamed.

"Pinkie, it's seven AM. Celestia hasn't even risen the sun yet-"

As if on cue, the moon and stars dropped from the sky, only to be replaced by the fiery orb of Celestia's sun at an equal pace. Mayor Mare's head drooped in exhaustion.

The next moment she was caught up in a warm, comforting hug. Mare could feel herself relaxing into the other mare.

"I'm sorry I had to get you up so early," Pinkie said with a warm, knowing smile. "But I really, really need your permission to throw a great big party for everypony in town today, because everypony in town really needs some time to have a little fun. So can I?"

The mayor had to think about that for a moment. Pinkie was scrupulous when it came to public parties. She knew that she had to get permission, or permits, or fill out all the paperwork when it was required. And it was true, after all the things that had gone on in the last few days, the town was very close to snapping- Celestia knew she was after being kidnapped by the Diamond Dogs and forced to haul a gem cart around for hours.

This town needed to take a deep breath, settle down, and have a little fun. This town needed a Pinkie Pie party.

Mayor Mare smiled a tired smile as she disengaged from the hug. Some of the sleepiness left her eyes as she looked into the bright eyes of the Element of Laughter, eagerly awaiting her response. Mare knew what was going to happen, and it was absolutely going to make Pinkie's day.

"I can do one better. We have an entertainment budget that is doing very well for itself, thanks in part to you. I want you to take as much as you need to throw this town the best party it has ever seen!"

The squeal of joy that came from the pink pony's mouth was something Mare had only ever heard from foals who had just earned their cutie mark. She then found herself wrapped in yet another hug by the exuberant Pinkie Pie.

"Ohthankyouohthankyouohthankyou! I'm going to make this the BESTEST PARTY EVER!"

And then she was gone- Mayor Mare saw a vaguely pink blur run down the street and out of sight.

She chuckled to herself. That pony was strange even at the best of times, but it was truly a privilege to know the Element of Laughter.

A frown creased her features.

Oh, I do hope she doesn't use more than the entertainment budget has allotted..

The frown disappeared. Even if Pinkie Pie went overboard and did use more than the budget, she could move some money around from some other places. This party was going to be worth it.

*YAWN* First though, I need another few hours of sleep...


By seven thirty, all the ponies on Pinkie's list knew what was going on. By eight thirty, Pinkie was putting the finishing touches on her decorations around town, just in time for mid-morning risers to drag themselves out of bed and stare, bleary-eyed, at the transformed town.

There were streamers and balloons of all shapes and sizes, everywhere. In the center of town was a great big carnival tent, near which a unicorn DJ with tinted glasses was setting up her equipment. The Cakes and many others were setting up tables outside their shops. All the food and drink had been paid for by Pinkie, though when told what was going on and why, most of the ponies had agreed to a lower fare than they normally would have. There was a bouncy castle, an inflatable slide, a ball pit- which of course Pinkie had to make sure was working!- a water slide, several stations of 'Pin the Tail on the Pony', a dunking tank, strategically spaced piñatas, a pie chucking game, and many, many more. The sun shined bright on a freshly cleared sky, the scheduled spring rainstorm having been cancelled.

And when every pony opened their door, they found a party hat, their favorite breakfast pastry, and a balloon attached. A balloon that read:

By nine, the party was starting. DJ Scratch began playing some gentle, rather pleasant music as ponies trickled out of their doors and into the town, most ignoring the games for the moment in favor of gossiping with their friends and polishing off their delicious breakfasts. The foals looked on, wide eyed, as though Hearth's Warming had come early. Everypony began sizing up the entertainment, unconsciously planning their activities for the day.

By eleven, the party was in full swing. The murmur of the crowd was cut only by raucous cheers from ponies as they entertained themselves, or sometimes by screams as ponies of all races tried some of the more extreme activities, like cloud bungee jumping. It was undercut by the rhythm of the DJ, who had moved from gentle music to more upbeat as food vendors switched out their breakfast stock for lunch food. Ponies were up and about, laughing joyfully, dancing and drinking and feasting, their cares forgotten as they danced and sang and made merry like it was going out of style.

Except for one.

Two, if one counted the young dragon as a pony as well.

Pinkie Pie frowned at the untouched party invitation in front of the Library. Twilight should be here- after all, the Elements were the Very Important Ponies for this party, having personally saved most of the town! Spike doubly so, he had saved Rarity all by himself! She had even baked him a great big cake with crushed emeralds and sapphires she had gotten from Rarity, with diamonds and rubies on the inside and frosting that read Best Dragon Ever! on it with a frosting doodle of him holding his sword and shield, but she wasn't going to be able to give it to him if he didn't come out of the Library!

"They've been in there all day, haven't they?" Rarity asked from beside Pinkie.

"Eeyep," Applejack said. "Ah've seen bunch'a flashin' lights, too. Think Twi's experimentn' again, don't know with what but Ah don't wanna find out neither."

"Uhm... maybe we shouldn't bother her then?" Fluttershy asked weakly.

Pinkie shook her head. "No," she said decisively. “We promised the Princess we weren’t going to let Twilight lock herself in her library, and I won’t break that even if it wasn’t a Pinkie promise! Come on!”

With that Pinkie marched up to the door, threw it open, and went into the library.

To say it was a mess was an understatement, and Pinkie Pie had seen messes before. The shelves were almost completely bare, and the books that were supposed to be on them were scattered across the floor in disorganized piles with more than a few outliers. But there was no pony to be found, nor any little dragon.

Pinkie's eyes narrowed as a pinkish burst of light filled the central library, coming from the cellar.

In the cellar, Spike sat in a chair in the center of the room, little arms crossed as he glared angrily at nothing in particular. Pinkie guessed it might have to do with the fact that he was currently wearing a pasta strainer on his head, connected to a bunch of wires leading to the ceiling.

Twilight Sparkle paced around him, and she looked terrible. Large bags under her eyes, mane sticking out wildly in all directions, her coat smudged and stained. Her eyes twitched as she muttered under her breath, a quill and parchment floating around after her.

"Hey," Spike grunted by way of greeting, then resumed scowling. Twilight's head whipped around at that.

"Oh, hi girls," she started. "Listen, now isn't really the time, I have to have this report completed by tonight and I just can't seem to make any headway-"

She was cut off by a pink hoof.

"Twilight, did you even get my party invite?" Pinkie asked softly.

"Pinkie, I don't have time for parties, the Princesses are counting on me to tell them all about this Shadow Magic, and I need to-"

“Twilight dear, you are working yourself to pieces. Why, just look at yourself!” Rarity cut off.


“No ‘buts’ about it, sugarcube. Y’ need to take a break,” Applejack told her.

Desperately, Twilight looked to Fluttershy. There was sympathy in those big eyes… but the concern in them was just as palpable. Twilight hung her head in defeat.

“Okay,” she said in small voice.

Pinkie gave Twilight a big hug.

“It’s okay, Twilight. Leave this to Auntie Pinkie Pie, I know juuuusst what you need!”


Pinkie Pie, psychologist extraordinaire, plopped a tub of fudge chocolate ice cream down on the kitchen table, along with three spoons.

“Ice cream?!” Spike shouted. “Oh boy, thanks Pinkie!”

The young drake proceeded to chow down at a pace only a foal could achieve. Pinkie smiled- that had sure got the little drake out of his grumpy-mcgrumperpants mood!

Twilight looked up despondently, before taking a spoon in her telekinetic grip and lethargically taking a few bites.

“Better?” Pinkie asked.

“A little,” Twilight sighed. “Pinkie…. I just…”

“It’s okay, Twilight. Take your time,” Pinkie encouraged.

Twilight took a deep breath and another bite of fudge chocolate ice cream. Then another deep breath.

“Okay. Okay! In… in the last two days, we’ve been attacked and exposed to a completely new form of magic. But… I can’t study it!” she wailed. “I’ve seen it, I got to study it for a few hours, I’ve seen and felt that wolf USE it- but all I have is more questions and now I can’t answer any of them because it’s all gone!”

Pinkie nodded sympathetically as she pushed another big scoop of chocolate fudge ice cream towards the mare. She took it and shoved it in her mouth, and had another few scoops for good measure, before she spoke again.

“There’s nothing. Not a scrap. The wall is gone, and even when we were in it, we couldn’t use magic. And there’s no trace of the magic left! NONE! How can I study something that isn’t there? How?!” she demanded of Pinkie desperately. Pinkie used the opportunity shove another mouthful of ice cream into her friend’s mouth.

“I thought I had another opportunity in the caves. There was a lot of it there, when we were there. I even examined it! Then when Rarity appeared, we had to go. I wanted to study it some more, but surely it couldn’t just disappear when I turned my back, right?” she asked. A bit of mane sprung out from her already disheveled hair.

“NO! It did! Whatever that stupid wolf did got rid of all the Shadow! Nothing was left! Nothing! All I got out of it was a bunch of notes on what doesn’t work! What am I supposed to tell Princess Celestia? I promised her a full report tonight! What am I supposed to tell the Princess?!” she demanded. Her eyes wild, her mane popping hairs all over the place, she opened her mouth for the tortured laugh of a madpony- only to be cut off by a scoop of ice cream.

"Silly Twilight!" Pinkie bopped her on the nose.

"The Princess isn't going to be mad at you for something you can't control," she said softly.

Twilight flattened her ears as she finished her bite of ice cream. Her head bowed in shame.

"I know, I know, she isn't going to send me back to magic kindergarten. But... it still feels like I've failed her."

"It's okay, Twilight. You'll figure it out. Just give yourself a little more time," Pinkie reassured her. Twilight smiled weakly took another few bites of ice cream, her expression brightening a little with each bite.

"Thanks, Pinkie. I…I needed this," she said with a ghost of a smile.

"Mmmhmmm. Now, you need to go get cleaned up so you can go to the party!"

Twilight gave herself a quick look over before shooting Pinkie a wry smile.

"I suppose so, Pinkie. Now..."

A pink glow lifted the tub of ice cream into the air, away from the chocolate-smeared little dragon.

"Hey! Aw, come on, Twilight!" he complained.

"Nuh uh, you've had enough for now," Twilight told him. "We'll save the rest for later."

Twilight made a quick stop at the kitchen fridge for the ice cream, then headed around all the bookpiles towards the private part of the library, where a quick shower awaited her. After all, she had a party to get to!

Pinkie turned a sly smile towards the little dragon, who was currently holding his belly as he laid on his back across the chair.

"Now, why were you such a grumpy-mcgrumperpants?” she asked with a sly smile.

The young drake crossed his arms. His chocolate covered muzzle did nothing to help his pout.

“The wolf stole my sword and shield!” he said petulantly.

“Oh, you mean the sword and shield he gave you in the first place to rescue ponies with?” Pinkie asked.

“Uhhh… huh…”

“Well, don’t worry about it! I’m sure Wolfy will give them back when he’s done with them!”

“But why does he need them in the first place?” the young drake protested as he attempted to right himself on his chair.

“Letter opener! That’s totally what I’d use a sword for!”

“Pinkie, it’s a wolf. It doesn’t get letters,” Spike told her.

“GGAAASSSPPP! No wonder he didn’t RSVP to my party invite!”

Spike facepalmed. “Pinkie, it’s a wolf. It doesn’t need a sword. It doesn’t need a shield.”

“Well, maybe somepony else does! Maybe its like, a timeshare sword and shield, so he had to go give it back to whoever is next in line,” Pinkie said aloud. “Or maybe he's a super awesome wolf that magically uses swords to fight evil or maybe it’s a minotaur-like creature that was cursed to turn into a wolf and it really is his sword and shield but he let you borrow them so you could help fight those meanie-pants possessed dogs and eels but then he needed them back because they were really his to begin with.”

Pinkie adopted a thoughtful pose as Spike tried to work his brain through that last run on sentence. He didn’t get to finish that line of thought before she interrupted again.

“I’m prreeeetttyyy sure I just made that last one up,” Pinkie told him. “But I really, REALLY don’t think Wolfy would be such a meanie pants as to steal your sword and shield without a REALLY good reason. So he must need it!”

“Well, I guess that’s alright,” he grumbled. “So long as he brings it back!”

Clip-clopping down the stairs directed their attention towards Twilight, who, after a quick rinse and brushing, was now looking merely sleep-deprived instead of full on madpony. She levitated a dishrag over as she approached the table and began using it to clean chocolate off of the little dragon’s purple scales.

“TTTwwwwiilllliigght!” he complained, squirming and batting at the rag.

“Come on now, Spike. You want to look your best for Rarity, don’t you?” she told him with a chuckle.

Spike instantly stopped squirming, though annoyance was still clear in his eyes. With one final swipe, she finished her ministrations and levitated the little dragon onto her back.

“Well Pinkie, I think it’s time I went to this party I was invited to, don’t you?”

“Oh Twilight, you’re going to love it!” Pinkie said, bouncing out the door, her purple unicorn friend following close behind. “There’s pin the tail on the pony and a water slide and eating and drinking and music and…”


View Online

Hooves pounded in the Everfree.

She galloped, past the whipping branches and the vines of the forest. Fear drove her faster down the dirt path. Fear of her pursuers.

Behind the mare, red-eyed wooden wolves gave chase. While the Shadow was gone from the land, some of the inhabitants of the forest had been indelibly changed. The normal, green-eyed timberwolves of the forest stayed well away from their new, aggressive, red-eyed brethren, and for good reason. While they no longer were influenced, or even had any shadow taint in their bodies, their minds had been changed for the violent, and they would lash out at any living creature they could find.

And so she galloped, as fast as she could, primal fear in her mind.

A growl came from up ahead. A red-eyed timberwolf jumped onto the path, then leapt at the mare.

She reared her head and whinnied in fear, but had not the time to do anything more. Ironically, it saved her life. The leaping wolf had just enough time to register that its target, the jugular of the mare, had moved out of its reach, before it impacted her barrel chest. The mare was at a panic driven full gallop, the wolf jumping towards her at a full run. The wolf broke into kindling against the mare's body, leaving her with nothing more than twigs at her hooves.

The mare stumbled, then continued forward at a frantic pace, fear lending strength to her legs and speed to her flight as the thundered down the path.


Applejack swung the hammer, pounding the final nail into place. Satisfied, she took a few steps back and admired her hoofwork.

Fixing the family fence along the Everfree Forest had proved to be a more involved task than she had originally thought. Especially once she decided she was going to replace some of the older and weaker looking sections with some new wood. What with all the hubub the last few days, 'specially with the dogs invading Ponyville, the whole family agreed that anything that could be done to fortify them against the Everfree was a good thing.

So it was that, a few days after the town-wide shindig Pinkie had thrown, Applejack found herself repairing the fence, replacing the old and repairing the damages. The work was not particularly demanding, not for someone used to it, and AJ found her mind wandering as she worked.

Applejack had manned the cart for a little while at the town party, selling some of the preserved fruits and beverages that the Apple Family offered out of season. 'Course, once Twilight finally appeared, tired but smiling, the mare had managed to get Mac to take over while she hung out for a little while. Pinkie had insisted, something about them being 'important ponies' 'cuz they'd saved the town. They'd all just rolled their eyes at that- except for Rainbow, that pony stuck her chest out and strutted around town like she was the best thing since sliced bread. They'd all rolled their eyes at that too, but not even AJ took the pegasus speedster down a peg- after all, she deserved the praise, at least for today. They all did.

Most importantly, they'd all had some good 'ol fashioned fun. Pinkie really knew how to throw a party. There was a little something that everypony could enjoy- music for the dancers among the crowd, food for snacks, and plenty of fun and games for ponies of all ages. It was practically like Nightmare Night again, except this time nopony was wearing costumes and all the fun and games weren't Nightmare themed.

Applejack's ears twitched as she heard the faint sound of hooffalls. She listened intently for a few moments, before putting her hammer down and getting to her hooves.

Big Mac usually made that kind of racket when he was chargin' something down at full speed. His big, heavy hooves had a different sound than the lighter hoofsteps of a mare, or even that of the average sized stallion. Problem was, Mac was workin' on the fence somewhere else.

So why was he comin' in from the Everfree?

"Mac?" she yelled out as the hoofbeats got closer. "Mac, what's wrong?"

The thunder of hooves cleared the trees, and Applejack's pupils got as wide as dinner plates.

That wasn't Macintosh! It was big, though, and headed right for her, not slowin' down.

"SWEET CELESTIA!" Applejack cried out as she dived out of the way.

She expected to hear the splintering of wood, or the hurt whining of a creature that had failed to get through the newly repaired fence. At the very least the thundering of hooves.

'Nothing' was not on that list of expected things.

Applejack turned back to look just as the gigantic pony-creature cleared the head-high fence with room to spare. A pair of hooves, as large as Mac's, pounded into the soft grass, then another pair- and then the heavy hooffalls returned with a vengeance as the gigantic mare galloped away at a speed that even Applejack couldn't have matched.

A growl startled her, and she turned back to the fence just in time to see a red-eyed timberwolf try to jump the fence- only to collide heavily with the top wooden crossbeam, sending it yelping back to the ground.

Applejack scrambled back as more red-eyed timberwolves emerged from the forest. Growling, they began to test the fence for weaknesses as they eyed the apple mare. AJ was suddenly very glad she hadn't taken down the next section of fence yet.

Eyeing the timberwolves one last time, and satisfied that they weren't able to make it over the fence, Applejack turned and galloped off after the gigantic mare.


The mare ran through fields now. Even if they were unfamiliar, she was more at home here than she was in that jungle she had come from. Out here, with nothing but widely spaced trees, she could run.

Fear had clouded her mind even through the fields until she finally realized that she could no longer hear the growls and crackling of the wooden wolves. She risked slowing her pace- and when nothing jumped out at her, slowed to a trot. Primal fear receded from her mind, and with the fight or flight instinct gone, the mare began to examine her surroundings in earnest.

There were trees, lots of trees, all spaced evenly around her, with the most delicious smelling flowers. She stretched her neck up, lips quivering as she tried to reach one of the delicious smelling flowers, and stripped one off of a branch. She chewed contentedly, enjoying the flavor, before catching sight of the building.

It was big and red and made of trees, like the one she sometimes helped him herd the goats into. Maybe he was there?

The mare began ambling her way there, easily distracted by a clump of tasty-looking grass that she would promptly eat, or, once, by a bucket of water. The water was cool and refreshing, but she had accidentally spilled it before she had drunk her full fill. But she was always making her way towards the big red wood.

She was nearly there when her ears flicked behind her, hearing the clop of hooves on the ground.

"Uhh... ma'am?"


It took quite a few minutes before AJ managed to catch up. It wasn't hard though- the gigantic mare had left hoofprints the size of Big Mac's, maybe even larger. Once she finally caught sight of the mare, though, it took more than a few moments for her to believe what she was seeing.

She was quite clearly a pony of some kind. Hooved, brown furred with unshorn fetlocks of white and a mane and tail of the same color, though there was no cutie mark that AJ could see. Thing was, Applejack had never in her life seen a pony so huge. Why, this mare would stand head and shoulders over even Celestia, includin' her horn! Heck, she’d be even a bit taller than the cows, maybe even a buffalo! The only chance Applejack had of reaching her withers would be to rear up and stand on two legs!

For all that, though, she was clearly a pony, and a mare. Though… something seemed off about her from a distance. Something about her just seemed…. off, not quite right. Beyond her size.

AJ found herself apprehensive about approaching the mare.

She berated herself. She’d learned her lesson from the Zecora incident! What was she doin', sittin' around starin'? 'Taint polite! She needed to introduce herself!

"Uh... ma'am?" she called out.

The mare looked back at AJ. The muzzle was too long and narrow for a pony, the eyes too small. She remembered some old photos of Saddle Arabians she had seen in school- this mare was more like that, like a horse rather than a pony. Ah ha! That’s why she looked so different to Applejack’s eyes- she was more horse than pony!

"Hello," she replied, turning to face Applejack. She stared down at the apple mare even as AJ craned her neck upwards to look at her.

"Howdy, ma'am," AJ replied automatically, tipping her hat. "Ah was jus' wonderin' what you were doin' out in the Everfree. It ain't the safest of places, what with the timberwolves an such!"

"Timberwolves?" the mare asked. Her pronunciation was slow, as though it was the first time she had ever said that word.

"Yea, timberwolves. Y' know, those red-eyed wolf things you were- whoa, whoa! Settle down there, they ain't anywhere near here! Just calm down, yer safe here..."

The moment AJ had mentioned 'red-eyed wolf things', the mare had panicked. Her ears pinned back, her eyes got wide, her hooves shuffled and she let out a slight whinny of fear. She hadn't panicked badly, and Applejack was able to calm her down quickly with assurances that the timberwolves weren't anywhere near them and wasn't going to hurt her.

Landsakes, mare's as panicky as Betsy an' the cows, she thought to herself. Gotta be doubly sure not t' spook her.

"So anyways, what were ya'll doin' in the Everfree?"

"What is the Everfree?"

"The Everfree?" Applejack repeated, confused. How could this mare not know about the forest she just came from? "Well, uh, it's that great big forest ya'll just ran through, 'afore ya jumped that fence and made it onto Apple land."

"Oh." Pause. "Are these apple trees?"

"Yes ma'am," AJ said with pride. "Mah family an' I have been tendin' these apple trees since the day Ponyville was founded! You'll find no better apples in all of Equestria!"

Smile. Silence.

"Well, uh, so what brings you out here, Miss...?"

"I am looking for someone," the huge mare replied, either oblivious to or ignoring AJ's attempt to get a name.

"Well, maybe I can help, Miss....?"

"Oh, thank you!"

Once again, the attempt to get her name went completely over her head. Applejack decided to try the direct approach.

"Anyways," AJ continued. "Names Applejack, pleased ta meet ya! What's you're name?"

The mare sniffed at the proffered hoof curiously.

"My name is Epona."

The Old Days

View Online

Celestia walked idly along through the corridors of the Royal Castle.

Court was over. Meetings with the nobility, listening to them attempt to convince her to instate higher taxes for everypony but the rich (again), were done. Meetings with her advisers, magical, financial, physical- they were all done. Her Sun close to setting, and Celestia was heading towards two things.

The first was dinner. This would be good, but what Celestia was truly looking forward to was the slice of cake at the end of it- a scrumptious little piece of heaven as a reward for making it through another week.

A slight frown came to her face. It would be smaller than normal- the royal physician had set out a diet for her to follow, and while Celestia did not want to the chefs had been informed and would loyally follow the prescribed recommendations, much to her dismay. He had wanted to do away with cake altogether, but Celestia had flat out refused. As a result, she would now be eating a leaner meal for dinner than normal, and her little slice of heaven had been cut down slightly, but it was all worth it for her little treat.

The second thing she was looking forward to was, of course, her sister Luna. Since her return from her banishment, Celestia had made it a point to make time for her younger sister, and the time between dinner and bed was one of them. Though for Luna, it was the time between breakfast and the beginning of her duties as Royal Diarch of the Night.

A faint *pop* signaled the arrival of a scroll, and she caught it expertly in midair. Golden light unfurled the parchment as she walked down the final hallway to the private dining room.

Her eyes widened.

She sat down almost unconsciously, still reading the scroll from her most faithful student as her meal was put in front of her.

"What is so interesting that thou- you cannot put down that parchment, sister?" Luna asked.

"See for yourself, Luna," she replied, passing the scroll across the table. Blue magic replaced the gold as Luna took the scroll from her, allowing her to get her first look at her new adversary.

It was a salad. A delightful salad she was sure, but of a smaller portion than she would have liked. She frowned, but nevertheless levitated the salad fork with her magic and took a bite. She almost rolled her eyes- the dietician had even replaced her favorite dressing with a similar but low-fat alternative. The difference was noticeable.

The maid finished pouring her a cup of tea, and Celestia took the cup into her magic gratefully. "Thank you, Grace."

Graceful Touch smiled and bowed, leaving the teapot on the table. Her physician may have limited her diet, but had insisted that she keep her tea habit. Something she was very grateful for. Either way, the tea that she sipped from her favorite teacup was as calming as ever. It helped her think.

Already she was planning some serendipitous trips to the kitchens.

"Most interesting," Luna muttered, rolling the scroll and setting it down upon the table.

"I agree," Celestia replied, taking another bite of her salad.

"I believe I need to visit Ponyville on the morrow, sister," Luna said idly, hooves steepled over her breakfast as she thought. Celestia shot her a look.

"Whatever for?"

"First, W- I can take what we talked about yesterday morn to Twilight Sparkle and her friends. Second, I wish to see this mare for myself. And finally, I believe I may have found something on the issue of the Shadow."


"Perhaps," she said, a small, mischievous smile upon her muzzle. "Tell me, sister mine, dost thou remember the Spring?"


"What time is it?! What time is it?!" Twilight frantically asked.

"Eight-thirty, Twilight," Spike replied, glancing at the clock as he hefted a book.

"GAH! She'll be here any second! Whatdoidowhatdoido-"

The library was still a mess. Spike had been making good progress before Twilight had woken up with a letter from the Princesses on her bed, telling her that Princess Luna would be dropping by to discuss her research. And some other things too, but the moment she saw the words 'discuss your research', Twilight had quit caring about the rest of the letter.

The quill and parchment held in her magical grip began to smoke, she was writing so fast, but Twilight didn't notice or care. She had to have this report finished by the time Princess Luna-

Knocking came from the front door.


Twilight wrote faster, using magic to put out the small licks of flame that were beginning to char the parchment. Just a few more seconds... a conclusion... done!

Twilight smiled.

Then she looked around the room.


Knocks came from the door again. A hair sprung out from her mane.

"Just a minute!" she shouted to the door.

Spike, blissfully unaware of what was happening, picked up another book- only for it to be ripped out of his grasp by a pinkish magical aura.

"Twilight-" the little dragon started to complain. Before he could finish, he was hefted into the air by a pinkish aura too.

"AHHHHHHHH!!!" he screamed out as he sailed around the room, along with every other book in the library. Twilight, floating several inches off the floor, her eyes white with arcane power, was shelving books by the bookshelf. Within a few seconds, the floor of the library was book-free for the first time since this whole mess had started.

She set back down onto her hooves softly as her eyes lost their white glow. Looking around at the library, she gave a firm nod of satisfaction. Everything was in place. Everything was ready.

Smoothing her mane, she trotted over to the door of the library, opened it, and bowed.

"Twilight Sparkle," Princess Luna, saddlebags slung across her back and a strange box floating in her magical grip. She turned to Twilight, a small smile upon her muzzle as the door closed.

"I have my report right here," Twilight said, producing the parchment with a flourish and a bow. Princess Luna frowned, ever so slightly, as she set down her belongings and took the report in her magical grip.

Oh no, had she done something wrong? Ohhhhh, this was bad, this was bad-

"I am impressed. I was not aware you were so far along in your research," Luna said, studying the parchment. "'Tis far more than the scholars in Canterlot have on the matter."

Twilight beamed under the praise.

Then a book fell on her head. Followed by a baby dragon, and the rest of the books on the shelf.

"I wish you wouldn't do that," Spike complained as he dragged himself out from under the new pile of books.

"Do what?" Luna asked, confused.

"Shelve me along with the rest of the books," he replied as he pulled on a purple hoof. He removed a book off of the pile to reveal Twilight's muzzle, and her rolling eyes.

"Ah. Well, as I was saying, I believe I have a potential lead on the matter," Luna said.

The Princess quite suddenly found Twilight staring at her, muzzle to muzzle.

"You do? But how?! I've read every book on the Everfree and I'm the only one who's been in contact with it-"

A silver-shod hoof silenced her.

"Peace, Twilight Sparkle," she said. "I will give you your answers soon. First, there is other business which must be taken care of."

The box which she had brought to the library once again floated in her magic, and was set before Twilight. With a nod from Luna for confirmation, Twilight Sparkle opened the box- and gasped.

Before her, set into velvet inlays, were the Elements of Harmony.

"We do not know what has caused this disturbance, nor the dogs," Luna intoned as Twilight stared. "It is possible that, should it return, the Elements will be able to combat it. As such, We have agreed to remand the Elements to your possession. When thou-you have time, distribute them to your fellow Elements; tell them to keep them safe, and secret, and should you have need of them, do not hesitate to use them."

Twilight nodded reverently.

"Very good. Second, your letter to my sister yesterday mentioned a gigantic mare of horse-like proportions. What else can you tell me?"

Twilight's cheeks burned as she closed the lid on the box.

"I- I'm sorry, Princess, I haven't had time to research her much. I wrote down everything my friends and I found out in the letter," she stammered out. Luna made a thoughtful hum.

"Understandable. We- I would very much like to speak to her myself, if possible," she said aloud.

"Applejack offered her a place to stay, and she said she wasn't planning on leaving just yet, so she should still be over at Sweet Apple Acres."

Luna smiled. "Excellent! Now, with those taken care of, we can discuss your research!"

"Spike, take a note!" Twilight called out excitedly. A few moments later, the young dragon appeared at her side, quill and parchment in hand.


"Now, the first thing you must understand is that not everything is written down. This is doubly true of the Everfree, which has confounded scholars for ages now. Perhaps the most knowledgeable on the subject are myself and my sister, if only because we have lived for so long."

"When we were investigating the great wall around Ponyville before it was destroyed, We-I thought I felt something familiar in the magic. After everything had been settled, I took it upon myself to find out just what was so familiar about that magic."

Luna wrinkled her muzzle. "'Twas a most frustrating search through the Canterlot libraries. But, yesterday, in the early hours of the morning, I had a breakthrough-"


There was hardly time to react as a cyan and rainbow missile plowed into the library. Rainbow Dash's flight was abruptly stopped by a rather soft violet unicorn, and then by a bookshelf- which then dumped all the books off of the shelf and on to the pair of ponies.

Luna simply stared wide-eyed at the spot formerly occupied by Twilight Sparkle.

"Tell me, young Spike. Doth this happen often?"

"Often enough," Spike shrugged, putting another tally on Twilight's 'Rainbow Dash Crash List'.

A few books on the new pile parted, revealing the twin heads of Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle.

"Heh heh, sorry. Lost control," Rainbow chuckled nervously. Twilight Sparkle was obviously not amused.


"Already did it, Twilight."

"Good," she replied, getting to her hooves. "I'm sorry about this, Princess Luna, I can-"

Luna held up her hoof. "No apologies are necessary, Twilight Sparkle. As I was saying, I was searching through the Royal Libraries for any clue as to my feeling of familiarity, when I came across a book entitled Legends of the Everfree. I have it here," she said, levitating it from her saddlebags. "It revived an old memory, a very old memory of mine. And I knew where I had felt that magical signature before. It was the Spring!"

"THE spring?" Rainbow Dash asked, shaking books off of herself. "There's a lot of springs in the Everfree."

Luna allowed herself a small, knowing smile.

"My apologies. What I speak of has gone by many names over the centuries- Wellspring of the Alicorns, the Peaceful Spring, Retreat of the Gods... Perhaps the single most famous name, and the one that survives to this day, is the Font of Harmony..."

Both Twilight and Rainbow's eyes got very wide at that. Luna almost laughed.

"...but to my sister and I, it is merely the Spring."

"The Font of Harmony..." Twilight whispered reverently.

"Yes. But it has been many centuries since I have been there, even before Nightmare Moon. For Celestia, it has been even longer. We cannot be certain that it is the magical signature that I sensed within the walls of the Shadow. And we must be sure. As such, I will be traveling into the Everfree to find it... and I was hoping to enlist your help, Twilight Sparkle."

There was silence for a moment as both ponies stared in awe.

"I...thank you, Princess Luna! Of course I'll help!" Twilight said excitedly.

"Can I come too?" came the innocent question from Rainbow Dash.

"I do not see why not-"

"YES!" the pegasus practically exploded. "Oh Celestia, this is going to be just like Daring Do!"

Princess Luna was startled backwards a few steps by the outburst, but smiled uncertainly at the mare's enthusiasm.

"My thanks to both of you," Luna replied as Rainbow Dash continued her victory dance. Her sister had assured her that Twilight would be willing, and the events of Nightmare Night had given her further hope, but it was still nice to know that ponies were willing to associate with her, even help her, after what she had become.

"I would suggest packing bags for an expedition, we should leave as soon as possible," she continued. "Though there is one stop I wish to make along the way."


"There she is," Applejack said, gesturing to the open field where the cattle were grazing. Off to the side, but not too far away, the large horse-like creature Epona grazed as well in the spring morning.

"We made a bed for her in th' barn last night, she's jus too big to come in the house," Applejack continued. "I gotta tell ya, Princess, there's something not quite right 'bout this mare. When I came to give 'er some breakfast this mornin', I found she'd already eaten a good amount of the hay we'd used fer her bed and was tryin' t' get out of the barn, 'cept she couldn't figure out t' lift the beam on the door. Wherever she's from, I don't think she's had the benefit of an education. Or real civilization, fer that matter- claims she usually sleeps out under the stars."

Luna nodded in understanding, but her eyes never left the mare in the field.

"I am not surprised. Horses were always more... wild than their pony counterparts."

"Wait... Princess, you've actually seen something like Epona before?" Twilight asked incredulously. Luna chuckled.

"Yes, I have, though 'tis been a very long time..."

Luna looked at Twilight and saw the question plain upon her face. That mare was almost too curious for her own good. Luna held up a hoof to forestall it.

"Long ago, when the world was young, many creatures that do not exist today walked upon the earth. Among them was a race we called 'horses', and they looked much like Epona here does; large enough to stand taller than even the race of bovines, yet unmistakably pony-like in many ways."

"The world was very different then. Ponies were only just beginning to build the semblances of civilization- simple mud huts were shelter more often than not. And the race of horses... well, they were much more animalistic than their pony cousins. Much as cows are today, as I understand it. They travelled in herds and were content to live in the moment, with the wind through their manes and the grass under their hooves. A simple life, but from the ones my sister and I talked with, a very contented and happy life as well."

"Beggin' your pardon, Princess, but... why ain't they around today?"

A shadow came across Luna's muzzle.

"A calamity befell them. The same event that happened to so many other creatures in this world... can you not guess?"

"Err... Windigoes?"

"No, the race of horses survived the troubles of the windigoes. No, I speak of another calamity, one which we are not free from even in these enlightened days."

"Discord?" Twilight guessed.

"Discord," Luna confirmed. "He has never truly been truly 'evil', but he is thoughtless, negligent, and vainly self-centered. He does not purposefully kill, nor intentionally torture, but he plays with creatures like they are his toys. When he came into power, any creature that did not flee to the Everfree was subject to his machinations. This included the race of horses, who had moved to the area that would become Saddle Arabia in the wake of the windigoes."

"From what my sister and I understand, Discord grew bored with ponies and left for other parts of the world for a time, and came across the horses. His first attempt at... entertainment... did not go well for him. The sheer size of the horses, as you can see, allows them to buck at about Discord's eye level. Did you ever wonder why he had only one fang? Horses do not have the same magic as ponies, but it is potent nonetheless; Discord's mismatched other fang was knocked out, and not even his prodigious power could replace it. 'Tis unfortunate it takes far more than a buck to the face to stop a creature of Discord's power; deciding that he did not like playing with toys that could harm him permanently, and inspired by the race of ponies, Discord decided to 'ponify' the entire race of horses."

Luna did not miss the looks of shock on the two ponies faces.

"Yes, he can do such a thing. He even had practice- many creatures who roam this world, such as cockatrices and manticores, owe their existence to Discord's chaotic magic. Even ponies were not safe- the seaponies of the great oceans are a result of his meddling. In the case of horses, he shrank them, and gave them a number of more-pony like attributes, among them the distinctive larger eyes; though, as a side effect, it bestowed upon them greater intelligence as well."

Luna sighed heavily. "By the time my sister and I found a way to stop him, it was already too late. Discord reigned for more than twenty years. The Elements reset the world, but they would not undo life that had been created in the chaos. And so any surviving horses returned to their original form... but their foals remained as Discord had changed them. Those foals became what is known these days as Saddle Arabians, and the name ‘horse’ attributed to their kind."

"But... shouldn't, uh, horses like Epona be around then?" Twilight asked uncertainly.

"I wish that were true, Twilight Sparkle. Horses like Epona do not live as long as ponies; when the Elements restored their forms, the horses found that the vast majority of mares were now too old to foal. They limped on for several decades, their numbers growing fewer with every generation, before finally succumbing to their fate. A quiet and mournful end to such a unique and majestic species."

"Or so We had thought... until now."

Luna levitated her saddlebags off of her back before taking off her regalia and setting it down as well.

"Wait here. I shall not be long."

The Town

View Online

Applejack waved goodbye to the Princess, Twilight, Rainbow. They were headed into the forest looking for somethin' or other, and frankly, after all the noise and excitement with the Everfree recently, Applejack was more than happy that they didn't need her.

Heck, she was already gonna have her hooves full with Epona, if what the Princess told her was true.

She is more animal than pony, like a cow; her instincts are close to the surface, and while she is not dumb, she is not what a typical pony would consider smart. Her body is very different despite its similarities- she will not be able to shake your hoof, nor manipulate a fork and spoon with them. Likely she will not be able to open many doors, not that it will matter- her great size will likely prevent her from entering most buildings.

Applejack sighed. Well, horse or no, that mare deserved a roof over her head, food in her belly, and a nice bed to sleep on. With applebuck season still months away, and the trees just blooming, Applejack had time on her hands. And with the barn, and the wide-open spaces, she had the perfect place for the mare to stay. It wasn't a hard decision.

It was made even more official by Princess Luna, who charged Applejack with her care and told her that all expenses would be paid by the Crown. All she had to do was give Epona a place to stay and help her out.

A friend.

Applejack could do that easy enough.

She set off at a light trot back towards the fields, thinking idly about what to do first. Food wasn't going to be a problem, they had more than enough feed for the cattle and if what Luna said was true, Epona'd appreciate that as more than enough. Though Applejack was also sure she wouldn't be opposed to the occasional treat. They all had plenty a' water too. 'Fact, the only real problem she could see was goin' ta be-

"Hey Applejack!"

Applejack jumped nearly a foot in the air as Pinkie stepped out from behind an apple tree.

"Landsakes, ya scared me there Pinkie!" Applejack said as she picked herself up off the ground. "What the hay are you doin' sneakin' around ma orchard?!"

Pinke wore an unusual expression of concentration on her muzzle.

"I was baking cupcakes yesterday afternoon when all of a sudden, out of NOWHERE, I got a twitchy hind leg! And you know what THAT means..."

"New pony in town?" Applejack said. She'd been to enough Pinkie Pie parties to know that one pretty well. And she had a sneaking suspicion as to who it was...

"EXACTLY!" Pinkie exclaimed. "So I went straight down to the trainstation to see who it was so I coud start planning their surprise party, but there wasn't a train coming in! So I went and looked at all the roads into Ponyville and nopony had seen any new ponies in town! And then I thought to myself, 'Pinkie, you know what, maybe it wasn't an earth pony or a unicorn and somepony flew into Ponyville!' So I went to Twilight so I could get her to cast a cloudwalking spell on me but she wasn't home, so I just went with my cloudcopter, and boy was that tiring, but I searched and I searched and I couldn't find any new ponies in the clouds! And then I thought to myself 'Pinkie, this new pony is REALLY good at hiding- wait a minute, that means I'm seeking!' So I spent all night looking EVERYWHERE for this new pony but I couldn't find them-"

Pinkie continued to talk with Applejack's hoof in her mouth. Applejack considered it a victory, as her brains no longer felt like they were leaking out of her ears, even if the pony was still talking. She took a moment to process everything the pink motormouth had said, and arrived at one conclusion.

"Pinkie, ya mean ta tell me the reason we couldn't find you yesterday was 'cuz you were looking for the new pony in town?"

Pinkie nodded rapidly, hoof still in her mouth.

Applejack facehoofed. The irony was astounding. They hadn't found Pinkie yesterday to introduce her to Epona, because she was too busy looking for the new pony in town.

Well, that would certainly help things along, she supposed.

"Now Pinkie, ah think ah can help you out. Ah found the new pony in town," Applejack began.

Pinkie's eyes got comically wide as she began blabbing again. Fortunately, Applejack had had the foresight of not to remove her hoof.

"-an' if ya stop talkin' my hoof off ah'll take ya to her!"

The blabbing stopped immediately. Applejack cautiously removed her hoof, ready to slap it back on the pink motormouth at any second.

Pinkie smiled impossibly wide, but made not a sound.

"Right. C'mon, this way," Applejack started walking. Pinkie began bouncing along beside her, barely managing to keep her excitement in check.

"She's gonna be stayin' on the farm with us, so feel free t' use the barn fer the party. There she is."

Applejack didn't think it was possible, but Pinkie's smile got even wider as she saw Epona trotting over towards them.

Applejack knew what was going to happen next. Pinkie Pie was going to give a great big -GASP- and impossibly levitate in midair, before turning tail and running off to plan Epona's surprise-!

Uh oh.

Applejack could see it now; Epona, happy at the end of a long day, with Pinkie and the others running interference to keep her away from the barn, trots up to the barn doors and gets the scare of her life when Pinkie fires her party cannon and shouts 'Surprise!'

And given that Discord got his teeth knocked out by a horse, and given the way she reacted to the mere mention of timberwolves... nopony was going to win there.

Beside her, Pinkie gave her signature intake of breath as Epona backed away, slightly alarmed at the very pink pony that was defying the laws of physics by hanging in midair.

Applejack grabbed her friend out of midair.

"Pinkie, listen to me! Ya can't throw her a surprise party!" Applejack whispered furiously.

Pinkie's hair deflated at that. Her eyes got watery and huge, brimming with tears. Looking her square in the face, Applejack felt as though she'd just kicked a puppy.

"B-b-but... everypony deserves a surprise party when they come to town," Pinkie whispered back, holding back tears.

"Pinkie, listen to me," Applejack said, grabbing the pink ponies head between her hooves. "You remember when ya tried to throw a surprise party fer Betsy when ya figured out her birthday?" Nod. "An' ya remember that they all panicked and had a stampede and trampled all over our crops in the east field?" Nod. "An' do you remember why they said they stampeded?"

"B-because they were scared of the party cannon?"

"'Cuz cows are real easy to startle. Well, Epona here's real easy to startle too."


"I ain't sayin' ya can't throw her a party, I jus' don' think surprisin' her is the healthy way to do it."


Pinkie Pie thought on that for a minute. Applejack could see the gears turning in her mind as her hair slowly re-inflated to it's normal size.

"Is she alright?" asked the distinctive voice of Epona behind her.

"Yep!" Pinkie said in a chipper voice. "Hi, I'm Pinkie Pie, nice to meet you!"

"Hello, my name is Epona," she replied, looking at the proffered pink hoof.

"She can't shake yer hoof, Pinkie," Applejack said. "Anyways, whatcha' doin, Epona?"

"I was going to go and search for my friend," she told them. "I was hoping you would come with me, Applejack."

"You're searching for somepony? Ooo, it's like hide and seek all over again!"

Applejack rolled her eyes. "Pinkie, don't you have a party t' plan?"

"Nope! I've already got it ALL planned out! Here!"

You are invited to Epona's Welcome to Ponyville Party!
The Barn, Sweet Apple Acres
Come and welcome our new friend into town!

"Epona, we're going to throw you a party tonight! Does that sound like fun?" Pinkie asked.

"What is a 'party'?"

"What's a party? Only the bestest thing ever! There's food and drinks and sugary treats, music and fun and games, and lots of other ponies to talk to! We're going to have this one to welcome you to town, so you can make lots of new friends and then you won't feel lonely! Maybe we'll even find that pony you're looking for!"

It looked like Epona didn't understand a lot of that (and given what Applejack knew about her, this wasn't surprising), but she had perked up at 'lots of other ponies', and looked positively excited at the prospect of finding... whoever it was. Ya know, maybe ah should get some more details on who Epona was looking for.

"Okay! I'll go!" Epona sounded quite happy at the prospect.

"YES!" Pinkie exclaimed. There was a small pop, and suddenly Epona was showered in streamers. For a moment, Applejack was scared she was going to panic, but the gigantic mare surprised her by only being slightly startled.

"Nice to meet you Epona! I'll see you tonight at the partyyyyyy!" Pinkie trailed off into the distance.

"Is she always like that?" Epona asked.

"Yep. Kinda gets annoyin' after a while, but she's a good friend, and her heart's in the right place," Applejack told her. She hesitated for a moment, then turned to the huge mare.

"Epona, ah was headin' in t' town today for a little while, and I think it'd be a good thing if you came with. I could show ya around town," Applejack offered. In truth, it was more than that. She wanted the town to get a handle on her and see that she was just another pony. Just like Zecora. Applejack wasn't going to let this turn into another Zecora incident.



It was another few hours and a few chores later before Applejack was ready. After a quick lunch (for her size, Epona ate surprisingly little during mealtimes- but then, she was more than willing to eat grass at all other times), the pair of them headed out towards town.

After a few minutes, Applejack settled into a light trot- Epona's stride was so long that it was the only way to keep up with her.

"Ya know Epona, ah don't think you ever told us 'bout this pony you been looking for. Ah mean, ya haven't even told us her name. It'd be a lot easier ta find her if we knew who we were lookin' for."

Epona dipped her head in acknowledgement.

"I guess so. His name is Link." Pause. "He is my best friend and master."


"Whoa, whoa, hold on there," Applejack protested, turning to face Epona. "Ya mean yer a slave?!"

Epona looked at her with that simple, quizzical expression she had whenever she didn't understand something.


"Yea, 'slave'. Ya know, work for free, can't disobey, owned by somepony else... slave! How the hay can you not know what a 'slave' is?!"

"I don't know."

Applejack fumed. It all made sense now- neglecting her education, forcing her to sleep outside, not a bit to her name... how could she be so calm about this!

Why, if ah ever get mah hooves on this 'Link' character, ah'm gonna buck him t' next Tuesday, an ah'm pretty sure ah wouldn't be alone.

"I don't work for free."

Applejack snapped her head up.

"He feeds me and gives me water. He gives me blankets to keep warm. He lets me run free through the forest meadows during the day, and gives me shelter if I want it at night. So I help him, by carrying things too heavy for him, or by helping him herd the goats back into their pen, or carrying him when he needs me to."


"I like him."

It took a moment for Applejack to digest that one. On the one hoof, now that she was thinking about it, that still sounded a little bit like slavery- slaves, after all, didn't exactly function well when starved or left to the elements. On the other, Applejack could tell that Epona genuinely believed what she was saying... and genuinely liked this 'Link'.

"Isn't that what I am doing on your farm?"

"O' course not!" Applejack practically shouted, shocked. "I ain't gonna make you my slave!"

"I don't want to be a burden. If you take care of me, I will help you too."

Well, that was a mighty fine offer.... and t' be honest, there were some things around the farm that could use a mare of her strength. But-

"'Taint right! If yer workin' on the farm, then we pay you, in bits! Did Link do that, huh?"

"I don't need bits. But food and a warm bed to sleep on is nice."

There wasn't any arguing with that. It was the kind of simple logic that was undeniably right when you looked at it from their point of view. And if she really was telling the truth, then all this Link had ever done was look after her needs too. Same deal, different pony.

Applejack snorted.

"Well, ah suppose we could use a hoof. But if you ever want somethin' more than that, you tell me an' ah'll see what I can do."

Epona smiled and continued walking.

Applejack resolved to watch this 'Link' character very closely whenever they found him.


It caused quite a stir when they entered the town. Everypony they passed stopped and stared at the truly gigantic mare walking next to the Element of Honesty. And when they passed, whispers sprung up as the townsfolk began to gossip about her- her ungroomed appearance, long and unshorn fetlocks, her strange eyes, her massive size, and the absence of a cutie-mark upon her buttocks.

But they weren't panicking. They weren't galloping about, screaming their heads off about how the end was neigh. Part of it was the familiarity- she was huge, yes, but she undoubtedly pony or pony-related. It helped that, unlike Zecora, horses had a general exotic mystique of the Great Sands attributed to their species in Equestria, as opposed to the more shaman-esqe and vodoo reputation that had followed the zebra to Ponyville. The gigantic, horse-like mare was a curiosity, not a curse waiting to happen.

Neither of the pair cared though, as Applejack continued to show her companion around the town, pointing out the various shops, restaurants, and sights around town. For two hours they idly wandered the streets, letting Epona get her bearings as Applejack showed her around town.

"An' this here's Sugarcube corner. It's run by Mr. and Mrs. Cake, an' Pinkie Pie works here. Hmmm... I'm feelin' a mite peckish, what d' ya say we stop in?"


Sugarcube Corner was a larger building, and had even managed to host Princess Celestia herself once, with room to spare. That being said, Epona was considerably larger than even the Princess. With the door wide open, Epona had to duck her head nearly to the floor, and her flanks scraped the frame, top and sides. It was that close. But she was able to get inside, where the ceiling was just high enough that she only had to duck her head a little.

Applejack followed her to find Epona already looking at the confections in their glass showcase, and a fair few ponies staring at her in awe and curiosity. Including Mr. Cake.

"Anythin' catch yer eye?"

"What is this?" Epona asked, ducking her head low to press her nose against the glass.

"One raspberry croissant, coming right up," Mr. Cake said with a chuckle.

"An' one apple fritter t' go with it," Applejack called out.

"Eight bits," Mr. Cake told them, putting the treats in napkins on the counter. He swiped the bits Applejack threw down on the counter off and into the register.

"Thank you and-"


The raspberry croissant disappeared down Epona's throat, along with the napkin that had been holding it. Her tongue licked the crumbs off of her lips, though some inevitably fell to the floor.

"That was good!"

Applejack just shook her head. "Thanks Mr. Cake, we'll be seein' ya tonight, ah take it?"

"Yep, Pinkie gave us the invitation first thing before running off to invite more ponies. Nice to meet you, Ms. Epona, me and the missus will be there to welcome you tonight!"

"Thanks," Applejack said as she headed for the door. She idly nibbled on her fritter as Epona repeated the process of getting through the door.

"Well, that's just about it fer the town. Jus' one last place t' show ya, c'mon, this way."

Applejack led Epona to one of the more distinctive places in town; a circular white building, a few stories tall, immaculate and tastefully decorated. Home of Rarity Belle, who upon seeing that Epona had absolutely nothing had insisted on giving her at the very least some saddlebags.

The door dinged as Applejack opened it and held it for the larger mare, who had to squeeze in much the same way she had to at Sugarcube Corner. The ceiling inside the Boutique was much higher though, allowing the mare to stretch her neck a bit.

"Just a mi-nute," Rarity called from the back room. A few moments later, she came trotting out.

"Welcome to the Carousel Boutique, where everything is- oh, hello Applejack. And Epona! I was wondering where you two were, I've been waiting for hours now!"

Applejack rolled her eyes. "Sorry Rares, Princess Luna stopped by an'-"

"The Princess is in town?!" Rarity demanded. Applejack suddenly found herself nose-to-nose with the white unicorn.

"Was," Applejack replied as she took a step back. "She an' Twi an' Dash set out on some expedition into the Everfree, but they stopped by the farm on the way so the Princess could talk a little with Epona. I figger' she'll be at the party tonight."

"Hmmm, yes, I suppose so. Pinkie stopped by a few hours ago with the invitation, though it is most unusual that it is not a surprise party."

"Trust me Rares, that's for the best."

"Perhaps you are right. Either way, it is time!" she said dramatically. "Epona, would you be so kind as to stand over here, in front of these mirrors?"


Normally, a pony client would stand upon the small raised platform while Rarity took their measurements, but she had to make an exception for the huge mare- there was no chance in Tartarus that she would fit on the platform. Even so, with her client in place, Rarity set her red-rimmed glasses upon her muzzle and levitated the measuring tape up.

"Tell me, dear, how are you enjoying Ponyville so far?" she asked as she levitated the tape around her legs, making a note on her notepad.

"I like it," she replied happily. "There are so many ponies here and so many things to do! Applejack took me to Sugarcube Corner, they have the best cros-sonts!"

"Yes they do," Rarity agreed. The tape measure slicked its way around her barrel, and Epona twitched a step backwards. "Please hold still dear, I can't get accurate measurements if you move."

"What do you need measurements for?"

"Why, to size your saddlebags, of course!"

Epona thought for a moment. Applejack had given Mr. Cake those shiny little circles in exchange for their pastries, and called them 'bits'. Was she supposed to give Rarity bits? She didn't have any bits...

"How many bits are saddlebags worth?" she asked.

"Normally, I charge around forty bits for a basic saddlebag, and a hundred or more for my more decorated and personalized ones," Rarity said, squinting. This would have been absolutely impossible if she was an earth pony, Epona's sheer size meant that she couldn't reach most of the places she needed to measure. Magic was a considerable help, but that didn't change the fact that the numbers were small and much further away than normal.

Epona shook her head and stamped her hooves a little. "I can't give you that," she said ashamedly.

"My dear mare, merely getting to work with you is payment enough!" Rarity gasped, scandalized. "I must admit, I was hoping to convince you to let me make you something else, it is so rare that I get a true challenge on my hooves! This is all, as they say, on the house, you do not owe me a single bit and I won't hear otherwise!"

"Thank you," Epona replied with a smile. "I..."

"Yes, dear?"

"I could use a new blanket," she said softly, pawing at the ground with a forehoof.

Rarity smiled widely. "Why, I thought you'd never ask. Just let me finish taking measurements and then we can talk about what else you want. And, like I said, all of this is on the house."

"Thank you!"

"Pish posh, it's nothing," Rarity said, her cheeks growing rosy. "You are new here, it would be remiss of me not to help you settle in."

Rarity continued her measurements at a quick pace, noting them on her notepad as she went. And this mare truly was astounding in her proportions. Her legs were relatively thin compared to her body, and her body was long compared to that of a pony. Rarity had never had the pleasure of catering to one of the horses of Saddle Arabia, but it had been in her mind, and she had some of the relative measurements in a book she had on fittings. Epona had the same relative dimensions, if one took them and scaled them up.

Soon enough, she began to bring out fabrics, and began to size them, idly chatting with the mare while Applejack fell asleep in one of her waiting chairs. A large pair of saddlebags began to take shape in her expert hooves, and as the hours passed, they became more and more customized to the great mare, and nearer and nearer to completion.

But as she continued to work, something bothered her. Something that had been bothering her ever since she met the mare yesterday. She continued her measurements and alterations, but finally she simply had to say something.

"You know dear, you could really use a trip to the local spa. I hate to criticize, but your fur seems to have lost its luster, and your mane and tail are an absolute mess!"

"What is the spa?"

Rarity dropped everything she was holding and stared at Epona in open-mouthed shock.

Applejack chuckled from under her hat. "Yea, Epona ain't exactly been raised the way you an' I were, Rarity."

Rarity shot Applejack a scathing look, one that the farmer didn't see under her hat.

"Well, I will simply have to rectify that," she said, throwing her nose into the air with a 'hmph'. "Well, dear, the spa is a simply heavenly place. They offer a great many treatments that a lady can use to keep herself looking fabulous; massages, beauty treatments, mineral-water baths, hooficures, mane cutting and styling, brushings- the list goes on and on. I know the two ponies who run it quite well-" Applejack snorted at that. Rarity ignored her. "- and I assure you, they are simply the best at their craft. They could have you looking absolutely stunning in no time! Why, we could go over there right now! Oh, this is going to be-"

"Hate t' rain on yer parade there, Rares, but..." Applejack pointed a hoof at the clock.

It read just after 6:00, which meant that the party was going to start in a little under an hour now. It also meant the spa was going to close in a little under an hour, which may have been enough for a normal mare to get some things done, but for Epona... well, Rarity didn't want her first impression of the spa to be lacking, and adding on her already gigantic size, it was going to be far more than an hour.

"Drat. Well, I absolutely insist that you accompany me to the spa at some point, Epona. It would do wonders for you, I assure you. You would feel practically like a brand new mare!"

Epona looked intrigued.

"Well, I hope yer almost done with them saddlebags, 'cuz we all need to head out t' the party soon," Applejack said as she stretched.


Epona walked slowly along the road, the sun low and the shadows lengthening, with a small white horned mare and the small orange mare with the hat trotting along beside her.

Today had been interesting, Epona thought upon reflection. She had learned so many new words, seen so many new things! It was just like back at her home, all the small buildings and homes, but bigger, and with ponies!

She felt the weight of the saddlebags on her back, just where Link normally put his saddle. She could even turn her head far enough to put things in them! Rarity was amazing with her blue floaty magic, to have crafted this bag in so little time. And so generous, too, to have given them to her without asking anything in return. She would have to help her sometime, somehow, to make it up to her.

And Applejack. The mare had been so helpful, showing her around town. And that... 'raspberry cros-ont'... had been delicious! Just thinking about it made her mouth water, though the brown papery thing hadn't been quite so good, but Epona wasn't one to complain. It had cost bits, though. She was lucky that Applejack had already offered to pay her in bits for her help, though Epona swore to herself she would only take as much as one... ohhhh, maybe two, raspberry cros-sonts worth every so often. Applejack was already doing enough, like feeding her and sheltering her and letting her run free.

Just like Link.

She was worried about him. He was different now. It was because of all the shadowy stuff, but it hurt her to see him like that. But, he still needed her help, and she would give it. For Link.

As they all approached the barn where she had slept the night, Epona saw lights and heard sounds coming from it. Was this a 'party'?

Applejack and Rarity opened the doors.. to reveal so many ponies! And so much light and color!

She barely noticed Pinkie Pie counting down.

"Three.... Two... One! WELCOME TO PONYVILLE!" the whole barn shouted.

Epona smiled. She liked Ponyville.


View Online

Luna, saddlebags secured just behind her wings, trotted down the narrow worn path through the Everfree. Ahead of her, with saddlebags upon her back as well, was Twilight Sparkle. Rainbow Dash, wielder of Loyalty, flew a little off the ground with a pith helmet upon her head. The resemblance to Daring Do from the books was striking, but Luna barely noticed.

Her mind was occupied by other thoughts.

It had been an age since she had last seen a true horse tread upon the world. Simply seeing such a sight once again had brought a smile to her face- she was glad that the race of horses had not truly died. They had not deserved the end that had been forced upon them.

That being said, time had colored her memories. She remembered that horses had been rather simple and carefree, but meeting Epona had brought back the simple truth that horses were not as smart as ponies. Were there any other horses around? Yes, she'd seen a few around. Did she know where they were? No. Where did she come from? The Everfree. And before that? Somewhere where there were cliffs of red stone and nice open fields of grass. Was there anything that she could tell them? Yes, but nothing that was capable of shedding light onto the situation.

In light of recent events, it was an annoying, yet unsurprising, turn.

'Twas a most frustrating puzzle. Luna suspected that she did not yet have all the pieces. What pieces she did have seemed unrelated; they were, at best, unhelpful, and at worst, misleading.

Still, if today's expedition bore fruit, another piece would be added. Perhaps from that, Twilight Sparkle may be able to draw a more comprehensive conclusion...


Luna was jolted from her thoughts by the voice of Twilight. Both she and Rainbow Dash were waiting on her.

"Apologies, I was lost in my thoughts," she muttered. Twilight nodded in understanding.

"I was just wondering why we didn't go to the Castle of the Royal Sisters. You said you had visited it from there several times, wouldn't that make a better landmark to navigate from?"

Luna kept her face a regal mask of calm. Inwardly, though, she cringed. She and her sister had lived at the Castle for centuries, but whenever she thought of the Castle these days, of her home, she saw only the destruction she had wrought as Nightmare Moon; the vine-covered stones, the ruined archways, the scars in the stone that magic had left. Her stomach twisted with shame and guilt whenever she thought of it; there were no happy memories there for her, not anymore.

"Perhaps," she forced out. "But there are other landmarks which W- I can use to navigate to the Spring. One of which has been lost to time, and I wish to find again. It should be this way... somewhere..."

Luna stopped, and looked around, ears cocked, listening for the slightest hint of something that was not birdsong. Nothing.

"We should be getting close. Listen for anything out of the ordinary. It will be like a pony is whistling a tune," Luna commanded.

The three continued down the path, ears alert as they attempted to find the mysterious sound.

It was a few minutes later, Rainbow Dash stopped, her ears flicking and head bobbing as she tried to zero in on something.

"You guys hear that?" she whispered, looking off the path.



All three ponies started when Twilight stepped onto a pile of sticks that were sitting in the middle of the path. A very suspiciously spread out pile of sticks, that was matched by two other piles strewn about the path...

Luna's ears twitched and swiveled as a faint tone reached them over the ambiance of the forest. The piles forgotten, Luna listened closely to the phantom sound. After a few moments, it became clear that what they were hearing was a phantom tune.

Luna smiled. "We have found it. Come, we must find the source!"

Rainbow led the way, walking instead of flying. She pushed her way through an overgrown trail, Luna and Twilight right behind her, and came upon a small clearing. In the middle was a stone, standing as tall as Princess Luna, with a hole through the middle top. The tune came from stone, as though a wind they couldn't feel was blowing through it.

"The Whistling Stone," Luna whispered.


In the fading twilight of the day, little Luna frolicked.

She giggled and laughed as she chased a butterfly around in the green grass. The butterfly stopped to rest upon a colorful purple flower, and Luna stopped with it, her eyes wide as she watched with rapt attention.

The butterfly alighted, and after a moment, landed daintily upon her little blue nose. Luna went crosseyed staring at her colorful passenger.

It opened and closed its patterned wings for a time, then took off again, climbing into the darkening sky.

"Wait Mr. Butterfly! Don't go!" Luna called out to her little friend, but the butterfly did not respond to her voice and fluttered into the canopy.

"Luna! Luuuunnnaaa!" came a call from behind her. Luna recognized the voice of her sister, and abandoned the search for her butterfly friend.

"Luuuunnnnaaa!" Celestia called again.

Luna leapt out from the underbrush, her little wings spread regally. "Here I am!"

Celestia started, her wings flaring.

"Luna don't do that!" the older sister chided. "Now, come on, it's time to raise the moon. You want to do it tonight?"


Luna scrunched up her face and lit her horn, reaching out to the heavens with her magic. She found the moon there, just below the horizon, waiting to rise.

RISE! she commanded.

Ever so slowly, the moon began to appear in the sky, as Luna poured more and more of her magic into the moon. Raising the moon wasn't as hard as the Sun- Luna had tried that once, the Sun was HEAVY!- but it did require a bit more concentration, to set the stars in the sky as they rose simultaneously. She lost track of time as she continued to push the moon through the sky, as she set the stars into a pattern she liked. It was hard. Once or twice, she almost thought about giving up and letting Celestia finish...

NO. I can do this!

After what seemed like an eternity, Luna sensed that the moon was in the right spot. She let go of the great orb in her magic, and collapsed, panting, to the ground.

"I... Did... It..." She got out between breaths. The next moment, she was picked up in a warm and gentle hug.

"Mmmhmmm! Good job, sister!" Celestia congratulated, swiping a strand of blue mane out of Luna's face with a white wing.

"First... time...." *YAWN* "All... by... myself..."

Luna's eyes drooped even as a blissful smile appeared on her muzzle. She was only vaguely aware of riding on her bigger sister's back.

Her head tilted upwards. The moon.... the stars.... HER moon and stars...

Luna's ears swiveled as a sound reached them. A tune, like a whistle, faint but steady, carrying through the air.

Luna, draped over her sister, opened her eyes just as they came into the clearing.

In the middle was a large stone, thick around as a hydra's leg, taller than either of them and rounded at the top, with strange markings on it and a hole through the middle, whistling in the wind. Flowers and grass grew short around the stone, with no trees enroaching upon the small space. On the far side, set between two trees, was a small hovel.

Golden magic opened the door, revealing what lay inside.

Built by the little hooves and magic of the two sisters, the mud and wood hut was small, but cozy and homey. Within lay everything the sisters had managed to scavange or transform- a pair of blankets, beds of straw, a small chest to store their things in.

Luna closed her eyes as Celestia lifted her off her back and onto her bed. She snuggled into the comforting softness of the straw as Celestia drew a blanket up over her.

"Goodnight, Luna. Good job," Celestia told her, kissing her forehead.

Luna smiled as she snuggled into her bed. "Goodnight Tia."

Luna heard Celestia settle into her own bed. With one final yawn, she closed her eyes, smile upon her muzzle, and let the whistling tune of the stone outside lull her to sleep.


Luna found her eyes beginning to water as memory after childhood memory flashed into her mind. Celestia and Luna had lived in this very spot through most of their childhood; the potency of the memories here was overwhelming.

Blinking back tears, Luna took a step forward- only to be stopped by a cyan hoof.

"Wait! There's always a trap around ancient artifacts," the cyan pegasus muttered suspiciously.

Luna closed her eyes and shook her head. Now was not the time to be nostalgic! The Everfree was not so kind anymore, and even if it was, they had not come here to waste time!

She could do that later, with her sister by her side.

While the pegasus scouted about the stone, and Twilight examined the area for traps as well, Luna removed a map from her saddlebags. Using her magic, she levitated her sextant from her bag and took a reading on her sister's Sun, and noted the angle and time on the map. She then proceeded to sight on the Canterhorn, noting the angle for that as well. Finally, she cast a small direction spell, and added the angle between North and the Canterhorn to the map. Now, with a few simple geometry equations and an abacus (or perhaps she could use one of those newfangled calculating machines everypony used these days...) she could pinpoint the location of the Stone.

Luna smiled. It would be an excellent birthday present for Tia.

Both Twilight and Rainbow were examining the stone. A parchment and quill were in Twilight's grasp as she copied the pattern. The pegasus, having found no traps, was examining the stone in more detail as well. And she found one thing particularly puzzling.

"There's no wind. How is it whistling?" Rainbow asked.

Twilight frowned. She closed her eyes and focused upon the stone, attempting to sense if there was magic within. The puzzled look upon her muzzle said everything.

"There's... magic, but it's like nothing I've ever felt before," Twilight stated, puzzled. She contemplated this for a moment, before shaking her head and continuing to sketch the paterns she saw.

"And like nothing you will ever feel again, Twilight Sparkle."

Luna walked over to the stone and touched it. Her eyes had a faraway look to them, and her lips twitched upwards in the slightest of smiles. Then it was gone- but a twinkle remained in her eyes.

"The magic within this stone is unique to the Everfree. No other place in Equestria, nay, the world, will you find it," Luna stated. "And it is why we are here. When Ponyville was trapped, We sensed the magic in the wall that held you, and W- I believe that it was fundamentally similar to the magic you sense within the stone."

Understanding dawned in Twilight's eyes. "You want to compare the magical signature of the wall to that of the Everfree..."

Twilight frowned.

"But... the magical signature here is so faint, you couldn't be sure of an accurate thaumatalogical reading..."

"Correct. However, as I have said, we are here for the Spring, not for this. The Spring has a far more concentrated magical signature. While interesting, this is nothing more than a waypoint to our destination."

Luna looked around suspiciously for a second, before gesturing for both mares to come close.

"And W- I, would appreciate it if you did not tell Celestia that we came here," she whispered. "At least, not until her next birthday."

Luna smiled as both ponies went through the motions of what she recognized as a 'Pinkie Promise'.

"We should proceed to the Spring. Come, this way."


Calling the route they took through the Everfree a ‘path’ would be generous. It was, in fact, a relatively rarely-used game trail, if Twilight’s knowledge on the matter was correct. It was barely wide enough for them to walk in single file, and was often overgrown to the point where Princess Luna was forced to cut a way through using her magic. It was also long- they had been walking for nearly an hour at that point through the jungle of the Everfree, barely making a sound- Twilight and Rainbow knew better than most the dangers of the Everfree, and talking in such a small group was dangerous. Even with Princess Luna near her, Twilight’s eyes darted to every sound, and her ears were constantly swiveling.

The logical part of her mind knew it to be the herding instinct inherent to all ponies. That the more ponies there were in a group, the safer they felt; conversely, the fewer there were, the more agitated and alert the ponies became. She had read several studies upon the subject before moving the Ponyville; for a pony, the smallest number where a pony would feel ‘safe’ in an unfamiliar or hostile environment was six. And three was definitely less than six.

Just ahead, Twilight saw the Princess stop. She held out a wing.

“We are here,” the Princess whispered to the two mares behind her. “But we are not alone. There is a hydra at the Spring.”

Twilight blanched. Beside her, she saw Rainbow blanch as well.

Luna lowered her head to the two mares. "Turn out your fears; there is no need for it here."

And with that, Luna retracted her wing and strode purposefully into the clearing.

Twilight looked on, horrorstruck. Too late, she thought to grab the Princess and pull her back- but her hoof merel passed through Luna's ethereal tail as though it was mist. She could only watch in terror as her Princess walked over towards the very dangerous creature as though it wasn't even there.

It had seen her now- all five of the heads turned towards the Princess. Twilight cringed and prepared herself for the worst.

Luna dipped her head towards the hydra.

The hydra dipped all five heads, one at a time, in acknowledgement to the Princess.

The hydra turned back to the spring, as though nothing had happened.

"What.... was that?" Rainbow whispered in her ear.

Twilight's mind went into overdrive as she recalled every scrap of knowledge she could think of on the subject. Every single source on hydras agreed they were bad tempered, nasty, foul smelling and dangerous creatures that considered ponies a rather tasty snack. There was no logical reason as to why the Princess was simply able to walk up to it without even provoking a territorial response. There was no logical reason....

Twilight blinked.

The legends of the Font of Harmony were well known. Supposedly the birthplace of harmony, and the source of the Elements themselves, it was said that those who found themselves at the edge of the Font knew not violence or death. That nothing, be it pony or beast, would ever dare to sully the sacred waters by spilling blood, or raising a hoof or paw against another creature. That harmony itself would not allow such a thing. She had dismissed it as myth...

Could... could the legends really be true?

Twilight gulped, preparing herself for what she knew she needed to do... but was beaten to the punch by Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow, pith helmet tilted low over her eyes, stepped out of the underbrush towards the spring as well, to the approval of Luna. Her face was a mask of impassivity, but her eyes darted back and forth across the hydra very quickly, and Twilight could see the tension in her wings and legs.

Rainbow jumped slightly as the hydra turned to regard her. But she held her ground.

All five hydra heads regarded her inscrutably for a few seconds, before dipping in acknowledgement. Rainbow bobbed her own before heading towards Luna at a pace that was a fair bit quicker than normal.

Luna smiled warmly at the mare, then turned her attention to Twilight.

Twilight gulped, screwed up her courage…. and stepped into the clearing.

She deliberately kept her steps slow and calm, forced herself to breathe normally. The hydra was not there, it was not there and she did not need to worry about it… it was normal for it to look at her, no need to panic, it wasn’t about to attack her! NO, she could do this, just nod back and keep walking calmly over to Luna…

Twilight collapsed to the ground, hyperventilating, when she reached her Princess. The beautific smile upon her face, so reminiscent of her sister that Twilight suddenly imagined it was Celestia smiling at her, set her at ease.

“Well done, Twilight Sparkle. And you as well, Rainbow Dash. It took great courage for you to do what you just did. To approach a full grown hydra, in the middle of the day, alert…”

“It’s the Font, isn’t it?” Twilight asked as she got her breathing under control.

Luna nodded in acknowledgement. “It is. Not every legend about this place is true, but there is indeed some magic that calms mind and beast alike; now that you are closer, and your head is not screaming at you to run, you should feel it. Not in your mind; in your heart.”

“Like… like calmness?” Rainbow Dash asked. She seemed uncertain.

“Peace. Contentment. Harmony.”

As Twilight calmed her breathing and stilled her heart, she found herself relaxing quickly. An easy smile found its way onto her muzzle. Luna smiled back at her.

“I see you can feel it as well, Twilight Sparkle,” she stated. “The Spring has a way of soothing the emotions of pony and beast alike. My sister and I have seen dragons, manticores, lions, even great Ursae and star-bears upon the banks of the Spring. Not once have we ever witnessed an attack. I assure you, you will never have to fear the beasts of the Everfree upon these banks. You are safe.”

Rainbow didn’t look so sure, eyeing the hydra with a bit of unease. The hydra ignored them as one head drank from the spring; a fish darted into the open jaws, but the hydra waited patiently until the fish lost interest before closing its mouth and withdrawing its head.

Twilight was a bit unsure herself. She lived on the edge of the Everfree, and had adventures into its depths many times; she knew the dangers well. But if Princess Luna said it was safe… she’d trust her.

“Come,” Luna said, standing to her hooves. “Let us begin.”


Rainbow Dash was bored out of her skull.

When she’d signed up to go on this trip to find an ancient artifact- the motherbucking FONT OF HARMONY no less!- she been ecstatic. It was going to be just like Daring Do! There’d be adventure in the jungle, some traps to get through, and a lost temple of some sort. Maybe even a cult of Nightmare Moon worshipers that were plotting to resurrect Nightmare Moon using the powers of Harmony so that she was immune to the Elements this time or something. She’d get captured, have to escape and rescue Twilight and Princess Luna, then save the world from the cultists all while being awesome in the process.

Instead, she was dipping her forelegs into the Font and watching the ripples while Luna and Twilight ran so many magical experiments with this and that and this over here that she wanted to throw up. They’d seen a total of one other ancient artifact, and all they’d used it for was a guide. It didn’t even do anything cool, like throw up rainbows on command; it just sat there whistling since… since forever! And then, they go to the Font of Harmony, one of the most legendary shrines ever actually known to exist, and all it is is a pool of water in the middle of the Everfree! Sure, it was a cool pool of water, it could tame a hydra just like Fluttershy, but still, no crumbling temple, no mysterious pictograms or passages to explore, nothing.

And not a single trap of any type to test herself against!

Even the hydra had left hours ago now.

Rainbow thunked her head against a convenient stone. She couldn’t decide if she was trying to wake herself up or knock herself unconscious with that. Unfortunately, the pith helmet on her head ensured that she barely even felt it.

Rainbow got to her hooves. She couldn’t take it anymore, sitting around on her rump. She wanted- she needed!- to be active! She had to do SOMETHING!

“Hey, I’m gonna… go look around for a little while,” Rainbow called out to the two eggheads.

“Do not stray far, Rainbow Dash,” Princess Luna called out.

Do not stray far, Rainbow Dash,” she parroted to herself with a snort. “Thanks, Dad.”

Rainbow trotted a short distance away, then decided on a better direction. The thicker jungle around to one side held more appeal to her than the direction they had come from. Maybe she’d actually find something interesting or fun in the trees.

She had just finished that thought when she saw something in the corner of her eye- a flash, like sunlight on a mirror. She took a step backwards, and saw it again, coming from under a bush a few yards away.

Rainbow’s pulse quickened. Could this be…? Could she have actually found something?

She was cautious. Her eyes darted every which way, her ears swiveled, her nose smelled, attempting to detect any traps as she approached.

Nothing. Rainbow snorted. But she kept going, curiosity pulling her towards the object. It was mirror-like, and black, but most of it was obscured by the bush. Rainbow fished it out with a hoof, then sat down and held it up into the light to examine.

It was a piece of what looked like obsidian stone, as black as night. It was clearly hoof made- she identified an outer edge, a smooth curve like it was once a circle, and a pattern of circles and lines was inlaid into the flat surface that had been polished to a mirror shine. It was also quite clearly broken- somepony had snapped whatever this originally was into pieces.

Squinting at it closer, something about it seemed… off…

“What did you find, Rainbow Dash?”

Princess Luna’s voice behind her startled Rainbow.

“Ah… nothing… ummm..” she said, wings twitching nervously.

Luna ignored her words in favor of studying the stone in her hooves, a frown of concentration upon her muzzle. Her horn lit as she examined the piece.

“Most… interesting…” Luna intoned.

“What is it, Princess?” Twilight asked.

“Rainbow Dash appears to have found an artifact of some sort… something which I believe warrants further study.”

Twilight sighed. “Alright, I’ll take it back to the Library and…”

“Nay. You have enough to investigate already, Twilight Sparkle. I shall investigate this, and report my findings to you, just as you are reporting your findings to my sister.”

Twilight frowned but said nothing.

“I know you wish to investigate everything yourself, but I believe it would be best to split the responsibilities here, so we may cover more ground. Rainbow Dash… could you, ah, let go of the artifact?”

It was at this point that Rainbow Dash discovered that she was hugging the black stone to her chest protectively. Her one find, the one interesting thing she’d done all day, and it was gone just like that? She found it, she should be the one to keep it-

“Rainbow Dash?”

Jolted out of her thoughts, Rainbow was too flustered to think straight. She held out the artifact in her hooves as commanded, and Princess Luna’s blue magic enveloped it. She watched, longingly, as the Princess secured the artifact in her saddlebacks.

Rainbow sighed and hung her head. Back to the pool for another few hours of boredom before-

“I believe we have enough, Twilight. Besides, according to this invitation, the party will be starting in a few hours now, and we shall need time to properly organize this once we return to your Library.”

Rainbow’s ears perked up. “Party?”

“Yes, W- I do not know how the Element of Laughter managed to get us this invitation, but-”

“No time! We gotta get back to town! C’mon!”

Rainbow Dash, happy to be moving again, trotted into the forest at a fair pace, with Luna and Twilight right behind her. This treasure hunting stuff wasn’t as awesome as Daring Do made it out to be.

The Call

View Online

There were few times of the day Celestia had to truly relax.

Her days were, for the most part, almost completely full. Day to day affairs of the government affairs took up most of the morning with various meetings. Afternoons were often spent listening to the affairs of the common pony during the Day Court, and afterwards, listening to the proposals and complaints of the nobility; a necessary evil to keep them placated and not attempting to actively sabotage her and her efforts, which she knew from unfortunate experience. Even after-dinner was filled, working from her private study to review and sign documents, or to keep herself abreast of events and new magic in Her Own School for Gifted Unicorns. What precious little time she had to herself was further reduced by spending much of it with Luna- not that Celestia wasn't glad to do so, it was just that, well, every so often, she needed a bit of time to herself. The pace of work had lessened recently, what with her personal student now out on her own, and with Luna now helping, but the government never slept, and there would always be work the next day.

But she tried, every evening, to find a little time to herself. Even if only for a few minutes.

Which was why she sat in front of a cozy fire on this clear but chilly spring evening, curled in her favorite comfy chair, with a good book. An entertaining book, not a tome of spells or a treatise on magic (though she did greatly enjoy her students' friendship reports). Something, she could enjoy in the little private time that she had to herself.

In this case, Daring Do. Daring Do and the Griffon's Goblet.

She'd been enjoying this particular book for two months now; it had been an exciting ride through the high mountains of the griffon airies, but now Ahuizotl had captured the artifact explorer and was holding her captive while he gloated over the Goblet's capture.

She was, no doubt, coming up quickly on the flash finish. There were not many pages of the book left now. Even so, it would likely take another few nights before the book was well and truly finished; speed reading was a useful skill in the government, but Celestia preferred to thoroughly enjoy the books she read on her own time.

A door slamming pricked her ears. Hoofsteps reached her senses.

Luna was back.

Celestia set a bookmark in the page; Ahuizotl's monologue could wait another night. She got up, and made her way to the door in the side of her bedchambers.

Many times over the last centuries, palace staff and visitors alike had wondered about the room next to hers. Sumptuously decorated in a theme of the starry night, much as hers was decorated in the theme of the radiant day, the room had, for many centuries, been something of a mystery, one that Celestia had always refused to elaborate on. Now, though, it was clear; the room was her sister's, the resting place of the Night, adjoining the chambers of the Day. Two sisters, forever together, both in the heavens and in pony.

Celestia opened the door adjoining the rooms in her golden magic to find Luna depositing her saddlebags upon her coffee table.

"Tia," she said without turning. She turned to the bathroom, shooting only a fleeting apologetic look at her sister "Apologies, I must get ready for the Night Court."

"Don't let me keep you," Celestia replied with a smile. She caught a glimpse of Luna's own smile before the door closed.

"Did you find what you were looking for?" Celestia asked through the door. On the other side, she could hear the servants brushing away, preparing the Diarch of the Night for her Court.

"Yes," Luna's voice floated through the door. "Your student was most helpful. With the notes We took of the wall, and comparing those to the Spring, she was able to ascertain that the magics were indeed related."

Celestia frowned.

"Whatever it was, it is no longer there; we detected no traces of what we believe to be the aberrant thaumatic signature today, at least, not in the Spring."

"What do you mean, 'not in the Spring'?"

"The Bearer of Loyalty found something. An artifact; tis in my bags. The signature is too weak to make out, but... it feels like the thaumatic signature of the wall. Slightly."

Celestia, curious, nosed the bag open. There were a number of scrolls, and writing utensils, but there was indeed something strange within. Celestia pulled the black stone piece out and examined it closely. Behind her, she heard the doors to the bathroom open.

"I have never seen anything like it, sister," Luna continued as she approached, silver-shod hooves clinking with every step. "I do not know why, but... it feels important."

Celestia nodded absently, eyes never leaving the fragmented stone. "I take it you intend to study it?"


Celestia reluctantly tore her eyes away from the fragment. "Be careful, Lulu."

Luna rolled her eyes at the nickname. "Yes, yes," she grumbled. "Now, I need to be going to Night Court. And you need to go to bed."

Celestia harrumphed good naturedly at her sister before giving her a quick nuzzle.

"I love you, sister."

"... I love you too, Tia."


Epona wandered around the barn in the morning sun, waiting for Applejack to come out of the house. Applejack had said there was a lot of work that needed doing around the farm, and Epona was more than willing to help out in return for her hospitality.

Her thoughts wandered to the night before, and the 'party', as she idly waited. There had been so many little ponies! Just thinking about it made her head spin. And there had been food, more like the raspberry cros-sonts- it was all she could do not to eat them all. And the drinks- the pink one, Pinkie... Pie! that was it!- the pink one had brought something called 'punch', a red color that tasted sweet on her tongue. And she had brought games too, which Epona had tried to play- she wasn't certain why pinning the tail on the pony was so popular, but it had been fun once she had tried it. Even the nice winged-horned pony- Luna!- came.

But Link wasn't there.

Epona nickered and shook her head. She was worried for him. He wasn't... himself these days. Not quite. But there was nothing she could do except find and help him.

The sound of a wooden door shutting brought her attention to the house, where Applejack beckoned to her. Together, the two set off at a brisk trot- a fast walk for Epona- in the direction of the Everfree.

"After all the ruckus goin' on in th' Everfree, we decided we needed t' replace the fence along the forest. Now, me an' my brother got that under control, don't you worry. An' Big Mac cut all the boards 'afore we began, so we don't need help with that either. That said, we could use some help haulin' things 'round. We got all the boards in a pile over here, an' ah think we could get you hooked up t' the big wagon. Then ya can go back an' forth between mah brother an ah gettin us the stuff fer the fence. Sound good?"

It took Epona a few seconds to wrap her head around that.

"Okay." I can do that.

Applejack chuckled as she trotted up to a pile of wood and boards.

"Alright, let me see if I can get these straps a little looser..."

Epona had stopped listening. Something very different sounded in her ears.

A tune. Played on a blade of grass. A very familiar tune.

Link needs me.

"I have to go!" she whinnied out, rearing into the air.

"Wha... whoa, settle down! Wait up!"

Epona was already galloping, and gaining speed with every stride. Heading towards the sound. Heading towards the great forest she had found herself in when she had first come here. She didn't know why, or how, but she knew that was the way to go.

"Where you going!" she heard Applejack shout over the wind.

"I have to help Link!"

Applejack's response was lost as Epona launched herself into the air and cleared the fence with room to spare. Her stride never broke as she ran, full tilt, into the yawning depths of the forest.

She knew that was where the wooden wolves were. She had heard how dangerous it was. She didn't care. All that mattered was getting to where Link was.


The Guardian felt the call, echoing through the forest it guarded.

It was the Hero. He was in need of his most faithful companion, and she, she had heard his call and answered it.

It would take time for her to get to the spring. Perhaps too much time. The Hero had called upon her for a reason; she was needed now.

The Spirit contemplated the problem for a moment.

Then, the Spirit poured its magic into the surrounding forest, reaching out towards the galloping horse...

A white glow began as Epona galloped, shining in a corona around her. For every stride she took, it grew brighter... and brighter...

There was a flash of blinding light. And Epona was no longer there.


Epona nearly stumbled as she was blinded for a moment, but recovered quickly. She felt the familiar weight of a saddle and blanket on her back- when had that come back? She thought she had lost it when she had gone through that cave after Link's smell...

Epona's eyes widened. There he was.

Epona slowed to a walk as she approached her friend and master. Preparing herself.

He had called her for a reason, after all.


Applejack had an uncharacteristic frown upon her muzzle as she put up a new section of fence.

It wasn't that Epona wasn't helping her; she would have been helpful, sure, but in truth Applejack had just latched on to the first thing that had come to her mind. She didn't want that mare to feel left out. And they hadn't even started yet when she had run off.

No, it was why she had left that was bothering her.

Applejack understood family. It was in her blood as an Apple. You didn't abandon your family for nothin'. She didn't understand how the mare had known something was wrong, but Applejack wasn't one to question instinct and magic, not where family was concerned. Nor her reaction. Applejack would do anything for her family, she wasn't about to judge another for doin' the same.

But.... this 'Link' character....

Now, maybe he was family. Maybe he wasn't. Whoever this stallion was, though, he had the undying loyalty of Epona, a rather... eh, simple-minded mare. And she viewed him as her 'master', in her own words. Now, it could be that he was just doin' the same thing Applejack was doin' an' giving her shelter whenever she wanted it and food whenever she needed it, but... there was always that other possibility. The one where Epona was a slave without even knowing it,and this 'Link' feller was taking advantage of her.

And Applejack had no real idea as to which it was.

"There we go, Applejack!" came a voice.

Applejack forced the frown from her face.

"Thanks, 'Bloom," she told the three little ponies behind her. "Ah'm just about t' finish up this section of fence, you girls want t' help?"




Applejack turned around to find the three fillies looking distinctly nervous, with the boards they had gotten from the pile in a heap behind the cart the three of them had, together, managed to pull.

"Now, girls, you need to be more careful, specially 'round hammers and nails an' such," she scolded lightly. "Now, 'Bloom, you get the hammer, Sweetie gets the nails, an' Scootaloo, you can help me set the board right. Okay?"


The three girls were real hellions on their own. The adventures (or, more appropriately, misadventures) the three had gotten up to trying to find their cutie marks on their own were well-known, and usually ended up with Applejack having to help her little sister scrub tree sap, or oil, or cotton candy, or peanut butter milkshake out of her coat and mane.

Applejack didn't mind though. She knew the frustration and desire to gain a cutie mark. And as long as they came home in one piece, she was fine with letting her little sister run around with her two best friends. The may have started their little club just to find their cutie marks, but Applejack knew those three would be friends the rest of their lives.

Heck, as long as they were supervised (very closely!) they made three very good little helpers- even if their cutie mark, much to their dismay, wasn't in carpentry.

The sound of galloping hooves broke her from the routine the adult and three fillies had gotten into. Ears cocked, she listened for the sound- it was heavy hoofsteps. Either Big Mac was rushin' around fer some reason, or Epona was comin' back. The fact that it was coming from the Everfree ruled out Big Mac.

Epona burst from the treeline at a sedate gallop and jumped the newly put up fence as though it was a hurdle at a rodeo.

"I'm sorry I had to leave like that,” Epona said, bowing her head in shame.

A severe frown Applejack didn’t even know she had lessened. Before she could get a word in, though, Applebloom spoke up in her place.

“Hi Miss Epona!” she waved. “You sure can jump high! Did you get yer cutie mark in hurdle jumpin’?”

“Cutie mark?” Epona asked plaintively.

“Yeah! You know, your special talent!” Scootaloo said, wings flaring.

“I wonder what a hurdle jumping cutie mark looks like,” Sweetie Belle mused.

Before Applejack could rein in the three fillies, they were scrambling around, trying to get a good look at Epona’s mark, much to her confusion.

“Ah cain’t see it from here,” Applebloom complained, craning her neck upwards. Compared to the three little pony fillies, Epona was absolutely gigantic.

“We’re too close,” Sweetie replied.

“Here!" Scootaloo jumped on Applebloom's back.


"Now, you three take it easy..."

"C'mon, Sweetie!"

The little white unicorn wasted no time in jumping up the little filly ladder. Epona craned her neck back, confused, as Sweetie stared in open mouthed shock at what was before her.

"Well? What is it?" Scootaloo wanted to know.

It took a few seconds before Sweetie could answer. "She.... she doesn't have one!"

All three fillies let out shocked gasps. Then gravity took over and all three fell in a heap on the ground. Applejack rolled her eyes.

"Girls, Epona ain't got no cutie mark cuz she's a horse. Don't you worry, she ain't lost nothin'."

"But... but Saddle Arabians can get cutie marks!" Sweetie protested as she untangled herself.

"That's cuz they're more closely related t' ponies," Applejack told them. Thanks to Discord. "Horses don't get cutie marks, just like buffalo and griffons don't get cutie marks."

All three girls adopted thoughtful expressions at that. For a few moments anyways.

"How could you not notice she didn't have a cutie mark!" Scootaloo demanded, poking Applebloom.

"Hay! You were at th' party last night too an' you didn't notice!"

"Yea, but that was the first time I've seen her! You've been around her for days..."

"Now girls," Applejack cut off. "No fightin'. Now, me an’ Epona need t’ talk about some grown-up stuff- why don’t you girls head on over to yer clubhouse?"

Applejack barely noticed as the three fillies trotted off. She was eyeing Epona, trying to find some mark or any other sign of just what had happened to her with Link.

Her fur showed signs of sweat, showing she had worked hard, wherever she had been for most of the day. There were signs of a saddle, or some other harness, had been strapped around her midsection. Her hooves were dirty, and the fetlocks tinged slightly green, wherever she had gone she had run through dirt or mud, and a grassy field. But to be honest, she looked no worse than Applejack after a hard days' work.

Sure didn’t look like she’d run off into the Everfree on her own. Or that this ‘Link’ was working her too hard…

“I’m sorry I had to leave,” Epona said, hanging her head.

Applejack blinked. Then she smiled.

"S' alright. Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do. C'mon, y' can help me finish up this section. Grab one of them boards, would ya?"

It took a minute for Epona to work out the best way to put a board into place, but she managed to get her mouth around a board and get it into position. Applejack adjusted it slightly with a hoof before pounding a nail in, anchoring it in place.

"Where 'xactly did ya go?" AJ asked as they finished up the board.

"Link," she answered. "I had to help Link."

She grabbed another piece, and when it was in place, she continued.

"There was a wagon. With... Link's mate. And a foal. A very sick foal."

Applejack cocked her head. "An' you were pullin' it?"

"I was helping Link defend it from the monsters."

Applejack nearly dropped her hammer at that. "The what?"

"There were... great birds that would try to swoop down on the wagon... and boars, with creatures on them that shot fire at the wagon."

"Wha.... who? Why were they attacking!?"

"I don't know. But... I helped Link fight them. And the wagon made it to safety."

Ever since Epona had called Link her 'Master', Applejack had been suspicious. She'd wanted, so badly, to hate him, to punish him, because that one word was, to her seasoned ear, absolutely true. And if that one word was true... it implied certain, ugly things. Ugly things about Epona's past, ugly things about Link, and her relationship with Link. But so far... he was proving extremely hard to hate. Rescuing foals... taking care of Epona... maybe he wasn't so bad.

Maybe. Applejack wanted a good hard look at this stallion before she made final judgement.

But, back to the other matter at hoof…

“So yer a guardsmare?”


“Ya know, a soldier. Somepony who protects other ponies."

"Oh. No."

"So... you fought monsters because... Link asked you to?"

"I herd sheep because he asks me to too."

Applejack sighed. Talking with Epona was giving her a headache. Trying to figure out just what was going on with her, and Link, not to mention the whole matter of that infernal wolf and the disappearing shadow magic, was a real humdinger. Applejack didn’t like guessing games; so much better to get things out in the open where ponies could DO something about it than prance around the issue in the first place. Which made this situation all the more frustrating to Applejack, because nopony knew the answers to give them to her in the first place.

Maybe it was time to give up and let Twilight try and figure this all out. That mare liked puzzles.

She looked up; the sun was low in the sky now, dusk coloring the sky. Epona had been gone for most of the day, and had come back just in time for the sunset.

With a final few swings of the hammer, Applejack finished the section in front of her just as Celestia's Sun set beyond the horizon, making way to Luna's starry night.

Perfect timing.

"Well, thanks fer helpin out. C'mon, time fer dinner ah suspect. We'll keep goin' tomorrow."


Applejack set her hammer down on the pile of wood and piled up all the nails into a bucket (wouldn't do to step on a nail) before turning to head to the house- what was that?

Applejack whipped her head around just fast enough to see it before it went behind a tree. It was startlingly blue, a glowing pale cerulean lantern that floated above the ground. Then she blinked, and it was gone.

She rushed over to the tree, intent on finding the mysterious lantern, but it had disappeared. Not a trace of it remained.

Applejack stared for a second. Then she shook her head.

"Must be seein' things," she muttered to herself as she trotted off after Epona.


Deep in the Everfree Forest, a flesh-and-blood wolf padded softly along a seldom-used path.

He had come back here, following the scent of his good friend, trying to find where she had gone. She had seemingly disappeared when he wasn't looking, and while he knew she could take care of herself, with all the dangerous creatures running around these days, he would sleep easier knowing she was safe.

With that thought driving him forward, the wolf lifted his head and continued to follow the scent trail to his good friend.

The Missing Link

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Epona slept soundly that night. Her dreams of running through green fields and gentle forests were calming and restful, and she knew neither fear nor worry. Nothing disturbed her sleep until the crow of the rooster woke her just as the sun rose.

She opened her eyes and righted herself on the bed of straw Applejack had laid out for her. Epona was relaxed, more relaxed than she had been in days.

Epona snorted, then breathed deeply, taking in the scents of the barn— the smell of painted wood, of well-kept metal, of hay and straw, and a little bit of a forest smell, something she thought she would smell back home...


She looked around, trying to find the source of the familiar scent.


To her side, behind where her back had lain, was a black-furred mass.

Epona smiled as the rooster crowed again, eliciting an ear twitch and a whuf from the wolf that was her friend before shifting slightly and falling into a deeper sleep. He always had been a little bit slow in the mornings.

Epona nickered as she shifted her bulk around. Time to get him up!

She nosed Link's exposed belly gently, feeling the soft, warm fur. The ears pricked and the head came up to look at who was disturbing his rest. After a second, he laid his head back down, nosing his way deeper into the straw.

"Oh no you don't. It's time to get up, Link!"

Link whined plantively before batting gently at Epona's head as she brought it around to bump him again. Rolling over, he stood and stretched before giving a great big yawn, showing off his sharp canines.

Epona was not afraid. This was Link. She knew he would never hurt her.

Rising to her hooves, Epona stamped around and shook to get the straw from her mane before heading towards the door, Link padding along beside her. It took a few moments for her to manipulate the pony-sized bar on the barn doors, but she managed it all by herself this time!

Applejack would be happy for her.

The dawn was beautiful over the apple trees, the light blues and oranges of the rising sun playing off the few clouds that were in the sky and among the blossoming branches of the trees themselves.

The soft clink of metal brought her attention back to Link. He was in front of her now, looking up at her plaintively. A small whine escaped his throat as his eyes grew big and sad.

"What is it?" she asked, lowering her head.

Link responded by touching her nose and giving her a small lick on her forehead.

"I'll be safe here. The ponies who farm here are very nice." She paused, before bumping him. "I'm more worried about you. You don't belong like this. Get back to your normal self soon..."

Link and Epona both started as a crash was heard.

Applejack was on the porch, frozen with one hoof in the air, a platter with a large upturned bowl on the ground as she stared, slack jawed, at the two of them.

The clinking of metal brought Epona's attention back to Link as he warily began to leave.

"Link!" she called out. A few trots found Epona giving him one last nuzzle. "Please be careful..."

Link nodded, then resumed his light jog away from them. Epona watched him leave, then turned back to Applejack on the porch.

The mare was still open-mouthed as she stared at where Link had disappeared to. She hadn't even noticed that her hat had fallen off. Epona looked to the ground where the platter had fallen.

"Ohh, oatmeal!"


“Hey Sweetie, hey Scoots,” Applebloom greeted her fellow Crusaders. They chorused their own back, then promptly strapped on their helmets as Applebloom strapped on her own.

Applejack had been quiet all morning, muttering to herself and barely noticing Big Mac or Applebloom. When she finally had noticed her little sister, it had been to kick her out of the house a bit earlier than normal before telling her to be careful. Applebloom just shrugged and went to the clubhouse early. Her fellow Crusaders were there soon enough.

It was Saturday. That meant it was time for some serious crusadin’. They’d been planning all week for this weekend, just like they did every week. Weekdays were the small stuff after school. Weekends… weekends were the ones she looked forward to. That’s when they tried to get their campin’ cutie marks, or their bungee jumping cutie marks, or their catapult building cutie marks…. the list went on and on.

This week, inspired by the troubles of the town and the newest occupant of Sweet Apple Acres, they were trying for some new cutie marks.

First on the list: hurdle jumping, with high jumping, distance jumping, and maybe even some pole jumping in there. If they could find a pole.

Two hours later, the three foals staggered away from a number of boards, slightly bruised and disappointed, with no cutie marks upon their flanks. Together, the three of them got their helmets on, shook off their aches and pains, and headed off to their next adventure;

“Cutie Mark Crusader Ancient Artifact Finders YAY!”


The intervention Pinkie had held cleared Twilight's head.

A good thing, too. There was so much that needed to be done! She had to go over the notes she had taken of, she had research to do about magic and wolves and diamond dogs, experiments to run!

At the moment, she was perusing a book she had found on the subject of extinct species, which was the first real mention of wolves outside the realm of myth and legend. Her first real lead on the subject, and so far, it was telling her that wolves shouldn't exist...

Twilight set aside the book as the door to the Library opened. "Welcome to the Books and Branches Library, can I help– Applejack!"

"Twilight," she drawled in greeting. Her eyes darted left, then right, and she shut the door carefully behind her and flipped the sign to 'Closed'.


"Sorry, Twi, ah...."

She took a deep breath to compose herself. Twilight noticed her ears were flicking and one hind hoof tapped gently against the wood floor. She was nervous. Twilight waited for her friend to calm herself.

"Wheeww.... sorry, it's jus... it's kinda unbelievable," she began.

"Ah got up this mornin' and did the normal chores, as usual. When it came time fer breakfast... well, Epona's too big t' fit in the house, so ah usually take breakfast to her outside or in the barn. Well, this morning, ah got a big ol' bowl ah oatmeal an ah was takin' it out t' her, and ah found her standin' outside the barn... with the wolf."

"Wait, what?"

"You heard me. Epona was jus' sittin' there, talkin' t' the wolf, that big black one that we chased out of the barn. Same one that rescued Rarity an' helped Spike out. She was jus' standin' there, nose to nose with it, talkin' to it like Fluttershy does with her animals, an' it looked like it understood her!"

Twilight’s eyes widened comically. "Wha... where? We need–"

"Hold up now, sugarcube, ah ain't done yet. Ya see, when they were talkin’, Epona called out t’ him. She called the wolf ‘Link’.”

Twilight’s eyes bugged out and her mouth opened in shock.

"Yea, that was about my reaction."

"Why didn't you come get us?!" Twilight demanded. A stack of scrolls unrolled themselves in front of her and, after examining them, she furiously wrote something on one. She looked around the floating scroll to eye the mare accusingly. "This just proves that is all the more important to get Fluttershy to talk with him!"

Applejack blushed.

“Ah know… Ah’m sorry, Twi,” she apologized, pawing at the ground with a hoof. “It’s just… after the wolf— Link, after he left, ah… had a drink.”

“Hmm?” Twilight asked, furiously scanning the scrolls in front of her.

“Ya know… a drink… or three…” Applejack admitted nervously.

Twilight peeked around the scroll at that, eying her friend who suddenly couldn’t meet her eyes. A few careful steps forward, a slight sniff of her friends breath…

“It’s not even ten in the morning yet, Applejack,” Twilight stated.

Applejack stamped her hoof indignantly, fire in her eyes. “Ah know that Twi!”

Twilight shushed her friend. “I’m not judging you, Applejack. It must have been quite a shock, for you to need a drink some of your family's hard liquer to cope with it at eight in the morning.”

“Seven-thirty,” Applejack admitted. “It just…. seein’ those two together felt lahk the most natural thing in the world, a real wolf and an honest to Celestia horse…. ah jus’ couldn’t think of it that way. Mah nerves were so bad ah needed a few drinks t’ settle down.”

Twilight lay a hoof on her friend’s withers. “It’s okay, Applejack. We may not have gotten to talk to the wolf, but discovering his name and his relation to Epona is just as valuable.”

Applejack relaxed. “Thank you kindly, sugarcube. You goin’ t’ be…”

Applejack stopped when she saw Twilight’s eyes furiously jumping between the scrolls levitated in her magic. A quill darted back and forth between the two, and as she watched a fresh scroll took it’s place among the floating parchment and was promptly written on at a furious pace.

Applejack backed out the door as quietly as she could, making a mental note to check up on Twi in a few hours to make sure she wasn’t going off the deep end again.


“Are you sure this is the way?” Sweetie Belle asked.

“Of course,” Scootaloo replied immediately. The oversized pith helmet on her head wobbled as she swung her head left and right, betraying that statement.

In the wagon, Applebloom sighed. The stories from Twilight and Luna at Epona’s party had captured all three of their imaginations, though strangely enough, Rainbow Dash had barely mentioned it. Nevertheless, all three were already familiar with Daring Do, and the lure of a treasure-finding or exploration cutie mark was too much to resist.

The wagon lurched as Scootaloo made her decision. “This way!”

Behind, sitting in the wagon, Sweetie Belle and Applebloom held on as the scooter-propelled wagon bumped along on the uneven path through the Everfree. After five minutes of hair-raising speed, the foals found themselves at the edge of the rock quarry where the Diamond Dogs lived. They weren’t as worried as they normally would have been— in fact, they wouldn’t have done this at all if it wasn’t for the fact that the Royal Guard had set up a headquarters here to keep an eye on the Diamond Dog clan after what had happened to Ponyville. White stallions in golden armor were everywhere in the rocky quarry.

“Aw shoot we missed it again,” Sweetie complained.

“Ah didn’t see anythin’. We were goin’ too fast,” Applebloom said accusingly. Scootaloo snorted.

“Fine, I’ll go slower this time,” she said, turning around and heading back into the forest.

They didn’t know where that pool or stuff was, but Twilight had mentioned they had found some sort of other artifact just off some path between Ponyville and the quarry that had pointed them in the right direction. The three had reasoned that if they could find that, they could find their way to the spring whatever, and then they would get their Ancient Artifact Finder cutie marks!

It wasn’t going well so far.

And to be honest, Applebloom was having second thoughts. Scootaloo had insisted it was safe— they weren’t too far from Ponyville, and the guard had a serious encampment at the other end of the trail. They were just goin’ a little ways into the Everfree, after all. Not even as far as Zecora’s hut. But the little voice in the back of her head nagged at her about the promise she had made to her older sister. But this wasn’t any more dangerous than normal… was it?

Applebloom shook the thought from her head and focused on trying to find something that looked old and valuable as they bounced down the road. She didn’t really see anything through the dark underbrush of the Everfree; no pathway, no mystical glowing artifact, not even—

Applebloom suddenly found herself airborne as she was flung from the cart.

She screamed before she landed, rolling across the dirt and rocks of the pathway before hitting her helmet on a tree and coming to a stop.

“Wha… what happened?” she asked as her eyes spun. She heard bleating nearby.

Why is there a goat out here?

Applebloom vigorously shook her head and took a good look around, searching for her friends.

Instead, she found a great lion, a goat’s head emerging from its back, and a snake instead of a tail. All three had glowing eyes as red as blood. All three heads were fixed on her as the lion opened its mouth, showing sharp fangs.

Applebloom screamed.


Three simultaneous, extremely high-pitched screams brought Link up short. He lifted his head from the hole he had been digging and listened, ears cocked, listening for something, anything.

A roar echoed through the forest. Three more screams echoed after it.

Link barrelled through the underbrush towards the sounds.


A small part of Applebloom's mind recognized the creature as a chimera. Cheerilee had assigned homework on wild creatures before and while she wasn't perfect, she knew a fair few of the creatures of the Everfree. From what she could remember, they were a competitor for the manticore, and–

Braying gave her warning and she ducked behind a tree. A heartbeat later flames licked around the tree. Applebloom breathed a sigh of relief, before noticing that her tail was smoldering. A roar from the creature stopped her furious attempts to blow it out as she galloped as fast as her little hooves could carry her.

"Sweetie! Watch out!" came Scootaloo's voice.

Applebloom turned her head back just in time to see Sweetie Belle dodge the snapping snake that was the chimera's tail. The lion roared again and swatted at Scootaloo, who only barely managed to get behind a fallen tree in time.

"C'mon, we gotta run!" Applebloom cried out.

"Easier said than done!" Scootaloo shot back from her hiding spot under the tree. Sweetie Belle screamed as the snake snapped at her again.

The goat head, eyes glowing red as blood, turned to face Sweetie Belle and bleated. Applebloom's eyes shrank to pinpricks— she knew what was about to happen. The goat opened its mouth... Sweetie looked at it with terror on her face, there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide....

A snarl echoed through the little path. The wolf, canines bared and fire in its blue eyes, slammed into the goat's neck. The two tumbled into the underbrush.

Applebloom rushed over to the frozen Sweetie Belle as growls, snorts, hisses, roars and fire came from the bushes.


Link dodged a blast of fire from the goat head with a snarl as he rounded and leapt at the lion head. He latched on to the lion's throat, but was batted into a tree before any real damage could be done. He landed with a pained yelp, before scrambling out of the way of the irate, red-eyed beast.

He was not quite fast enough. The snake tail lashed out, coiling around Link in the blink of an eye, trapping him. Link thrashed, trying to get free, as the snake hissed at him, preparing to sink venom-laden fangs into its prey even as it continued to tighten around him like a vise. He could feel his ribs groaning under the pressure.

Giving up attempts to get free, Link instead thrashed his head around enough to get his teeth in range of the snake, and bit down on what he could reach, hard. The snake tail hissed in pain and went limp, the red in its eyes dimming before finally going dark. Link scrambled free of the now limp coils as the goat bleated, and managed to just barely dodge another blast of fire.

He was limping now. Something about that tree hadn't done him any favors, and the pain in his side as he circled the chimera indicated the snake had done some damage as well. The chimera was hurt as well, the snake tail dragging limply behind it and blood leaking down its front.

Voices filtered through the underbrush– the little ponies! The chimera growled deep in its throat, turning to face its intended prey as the goat head kept watch on the wolf in front of it. It was a mistake.

Ignoring his injuries, Link sprang forward with a snarl. He leapt, canines bared, just as the lion turned to face him. Link sank his fangs into the lion’s neck and his claws into its shoulders and held on.

The chimera let out an awful screech and thrashed wildly. Claws unsheathed from its forepaws batted and tore at Link, trying to get him to let go, but Link stubbornly held on to his death grip even as the claws raked his sides. He clenched his mouth and focused entirely on keeping the animal in his teeth, no matter what.

Desperate, the red-eyed chimera slammed into a tree. The impact was enough to knock the lion head out, but it was also enough to cause Link to black out for a few moments. He came to lying on the ground, with his ribs aching and his hind right leg hurting and his sides screaming at him in pain. But the chimera was down.

The goat head bleated.

Link staggered to his paws as quickly as he could, but overstretched himself and fell back to the ground. He watched and tried desperately to rise as the goat head peered over the body of the chimera. Red eyes zeroed in on him, and the head opened its mouth to unleash a storm of fire—

An orange bolt of energy slammed into the prone form of the chimera. The goat head instantly went limp. Link managed to lift his head enough to see his shadowy imp companion lowering one of her arms, orange energy crackling around it. She turned to him.

She said some words in her strange language, concern evident in her voice and face. An arm reached out for his muzzle—

The clop of little hooves stopped her. She gave a quick gasp, then retreated back into the shadow from whence she came.

Link collapsed back on to his side, whimpering in pain, as three little ponies parted the underbrush in front of him.

Intermission: Wolves

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Extinct Species
Careful Watcher

Overview: Wolves

The wolf is a creature lost to time, which I shall explain later on, but suffice to say they are dog-like in many attributes- pointed muzzle with prominent canines, four clawed padded paws, a fur coat of varied coloration (though usually dull as opposed to the bright colors of ponies), pointed ears and a thin, furred tail. A predator and carnivore, the wolf ate meat, and was well adapted to its role. A very social animal, they would travel and hunt in groups of between 5 and 20 called packs, making quick work of any animal that was alone, be it pony or other prey.

In the days of our ancestors, wolves were possibly the greatest threat to ponies, and the most feared as well. Even ponies today will instinctually seek companionship upon hearing a howl; safety in numbers, as they say. In the time of our ancestors, it is without a doubt that many ponies met their end in the jaws of these extremely efficient pack predators.

It is also around this time that we see the first signs of dogs, of the domestication of wolves. Ponies, ever empathetic, would often adopt wolf pups when circumstances orphaned the poor creatures, and would raise them, often as though they were their own foals. Those who did found that these domesticated wolves identified the ponies as their ‘pack’, and proved to be extremely loyal, caring, and helpful companions. And so, the great partnership between ponies and dogs was born, which has continued to this day; but I digress.

In the ancient world pre-Unification, it is thought that wolves in their many variations inhabited many forests in respectable numbers, ranging from the icy tundras of the Crystal Empire down nearly to the lush tropics of the Lacandon Rainforest. Seven different species of wolf have been identified, each uniquely adapted to their chosen environment, be it the cold and icy tundras of the Crystal Empire or hot and humid jungles that dominate the land past the Macintosh Hills.

Perhaps the most terrifying canine during this time was the Direwolf. It bears special mention here; whereas the wolf was a relatively normal, if predatory, animal, the direwolf was a creature twisted by the evil of Tartarus into something more monstrous. Larger than a pony, strong, supernaturally fast, the direwolf was a true terror in the ancient world, having been twisted by the likes of Mephasm and Tirek to serve as their minions. It is said that Princess Celestia fought against entire armies of these creatures to defeat the likes of the Lords of Tartarus; from the oral stories and myths of that time, we should count ourselves fortunate that the Princess has sealed them in Tartarus along with their masters.

The rise of true pony civilization in the Tribal Era brought about great changes to the wolf’s way of life. With the advent of the written word, we can begin to trace the path of the wolf through history.

Wolves slowly became much more cautious of ponies during this time; part of it was no doubt fear, for the early ponies in those days would organize hunts to slay the wolves out of a sense of self preservation. The result was that wolves moved away from population centers, and it is theorized that wolves began to actively avoid what they considered a dangerous species— though this did not stop them from attacking lone ponies when they were hungry.

The Windigoes brought the wolf to near extinction, as it did with everything else in the world. Evidence and fossils suggest that the species of wolves that were not adapted to cold climes died at this time, as so many other species did. However, wolves that lived in the icy north, most notably the species known as the Grey Wolf (or by their more common nickname, ‘Timberwolf’), found the change of climate dramatically expanded their normal hunting range, and the populations increased.

The Grey Wolf was a species nearly as large as a pony. With thick, typically off-grey coats, they were well adapted to the cold and were one of the few species that increased in number during the time of the Windigoes. With the Unification of the pony race and the defeat of the Windigoes, the Grey Wolf found itself with an extensive range of temperate climate, and became the primary predator of Equestria, living in the woods of most of Equestria. With the advent of true civilization, and the beginning of true record-keeping, the Grey Wolf became synonymous with the term ‘wolf’, and the majority of depictions of wolves today are based upon their look.

The Grey Wolf survived and thrived up until the time of Discord. The tales of Discord’s reign outside of those who fled to the Everfree are fragmented, but there is enough information that was remembered after sanity was restored to the land to learn of the fate of the species.

It appears that Discord heard the name ‘timberwolf’, and decided to see if it was true. When the Grey Wolves he met were not to his liking, he decided to make the name literal, and turned the species into wood. We recognize these wooden wolves as the timberwolves that haunt the woods of Equestria to this day.

Sadly, it would appear that Discord was remarkably thorough in his transformation, and additionally did not distinguish between the Grey Wolves and wolves of other species. It appears that no real wolves survived the troubles of Discord; there have been no accounts of a live wolf since the time of Discord, and no fossils of flesh-and-blood wolves since that time.

At this time, the wolf, and all its feral family, are extinct. The only remaining member of the wolf family is the domesticated canine, the dog.


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"Fluttershy! Fluttershy!"

Fluttershy paused in taking a dainty sip of tea as she heard the call. Barry the bear did likewise, the flower-print teacup dainty in his huge claws. Beside them, Mr. Manticore laid idly, scorpion tail idly swaying as he sampled the delicious little pastries she had brought. He too paused in the sampling of his little morsel. Beside them both, the dour little rabbit that was Angel Bunny scowled at the interruption.


Fluttershy recognized it now; the voice of young Scootaloo. Though she was surprised that she was only hearing one voice, she and Applebloom and Sweetie Belle were practically inseparable, especially on the weekends.

Ohhh, this sounded urgent. But... what could Scootaloo need? And why was she coming from the Everfree?

"Oh... I'm so sorry.... um, could you excuse me? Thank you."

Fluttershy carefully set her teacup down and began uncertainly trotting towards the edge of the woods where she heard Scootaloo's call. As a result, she jumped halfway to the clouds when the little orange pegasus came barrelling out of the treeline.

"Flutters– AHHHHHHHHH!"

Scootaloo shot into the clearing on her scooter and was forced to swerve violently to avoid both a startled bear and a startled bunny. Brakes squealed and the little pegasus frantically beat her wings, but she was going too fast and her load was too heavy. She crashed into the firm yet yielding side of the manticore, bringing her journey to a sudden halt.

With the exuberance of foals everywhere, Scootaloo bounced back to her hooves.

"Fluttershy! You have to help! Please, you have to–"

Scootaloo's voice faded away as Fluttershy noticed what was in the wagon attached to her scooter.

It was alive, true, but it was not the normal two little foals that were her friends. No, in the wagon was what she recognized as THE wolf, the same that Rarity claimed to have helped Spike save her. The one everypony had been trying to find for days now.

But what was even more important than that was his condition. It lay in the wagon breathing heavily, with four long red streaks from shoulder to haunch, bleeding freely. One hind leg lay out of the wagon, and from the way the wolf whimpered whenever it touched the side, it was clear it had been hurt. It was a miracle it was conscious, though it was clear to Fluttershy from the way that it whimpered in pain and the way it's eyes were lidded. The wolf was hurt, badly.

It broke her heart when she found animals in a condition like this.

All this went through Fluttershy's mind in the blink of an eye. In the next, she acted.

"Barry!" her voice was stern, effortlessly commanding attention and obedience. "Pick him up, get him inside on the coffee table! Angel, go inside and fetch all the clean sheets and towels you can find, spread the sheets on the coffee table and the towels on the couch!"

Fluttershy zoomed into her house with a speed that rivaled Rainbow Dash. Inside, she cleared everything she could out of her living room at the speed of a madmare, single-hoofedly pushing her display cabinet out of the way at lightning speed. She cleared the coffee table of the vase just in time for Angel to tear back into the room with a stack of towels so high it nearly touched the ceiling. She trusted Angel to get the rest of the room ready, and hurried to her room to prepare her first aid kit.

She was back downstairs in record time, just in time to see Barry gently lay the wolf on the table with a pained whine. Fluttershy straightened the nurse smock she was wearing and used a wing to grab a needle and thread from her bag. In her mouth, a needle leaked anesthetic.

This.... this would call upon all her considerable veterinary skills.

Outside, a manticore and one anxious and worried little pony was joined by two more little ponies in peeking through Fluttershy's living room window.


Rarity Belle trotted idly along the path to Fluttershy's house.

It was a trip she made often enough. Of their group of friends, Fluttershy was perhaps her best friend. When the shy pegasus who was rarely seen in town had stepped up to help Twilight that night, Rarity had honestly been surprised. When that ordeal was over, and the six of them found themselves close friends, Rarity had taken it upon herself to get to know the mare. Her efforts had been wildly successful; the two went to the spa every week these days, gossiping and enjoying themselves under the ministrations of the spa sisters.

Still, it was not often that Rarity came this way. Fluttershy valued her privacy and her animals, and Rarity respected her space. So when young Scootaloo had buzzed into her boutique, looking rather down, and told her that Fluttershy wanted her friends to meet her at her cottage, Rarity was surprised. And suspicious. Something was up, but Scootaloo had refused to elaborate, making an excuse and leaving to take the message to Twilight and the others.

It was curious. A mystery.

Rarity loved a good mystery, though her mind invariable made up the most scandalous things she could think of. Could it be that Fluttershy had finally found a colt to court? Oh! Who was it? Time Turner? He was an eligible bachelor, nice toned flanks and a gentle attitude, he would be a fine stallion for her. Or was it Big Macintosh? Half the town's mares had dreams of that stallion, Rarity included; if Fluttershy had managed to ensnare him, it would be quite the catch! Oh, good job Fluttershy!

Rarity found herself squealing as she pranced in place. With effort, she forced herself still and collected herself. She was a lady, not a schoolfilly. If Fluttershy had found a proper stallion to settle down with, it was her duty as a friend to support her and to be happy for her. Collected, she cleared her throat in a lady-like manner and continued down the road to the cottage where her friend and her groom awaited.

A bend in the road revealed the cottage of her shy friend, and additional figures to boot; the whole herd was here, idly chatting as they wondered what their good friend was doing. Rarity smiled as she trotted up.

"Good evening, girls!" she greeted them. They chorused back various greetings of their own before gathering together in one large group.

"Does anypony know what's goin' on?" Applejack asked plainly. She sounded a bit annoyed.

"Now now, Applejack, I'm sure that Fluttershy has a perfectly good reason for calling us here," Rarity scolded her friend.

"Fluttershy wouldn't waste our time!" Rainbow said heatedly towards the apple mare.

Rarity sighed as the two of them locked eyes. Those two were the best of friends, but they were also both stubborn and rather physical. They would lock horns over just about anything. Fortunately, their staredown was interrupted by a blast from a party noisemaker.

"She's here to introduce us to a new pony!" Pinkie cried out exuberantly. The party pony was practically vibrating, no doubt excited to get the introduction to Ponyville party started. Likely she'd already prepared all the various foodstuffs and drinks and was simply waiting to find out the new pony's name before sending out invitations.

"Well now..." Rarity thought to herself. Fluttershy and a new stallion in town? It was, no doubt, love at first sight! He no doubt fell for the graceful angel that he had encountered on his way in to town, and she fell head over hooves in love with a dashing stallion!


Rarity snapped out of her daydream as Twilight called out. Lo and behold, Fluttershy was exiting her small home…

She looked particularly ragged, with puffy red eyes and– was that a spot of blood on her forelegs? No, it wasn't just one spot, there were several. Oh dear…

Rarity made a note to schedule a spa appointment with her friend as soon as possible. It was quite clear now that there was no stallion behind the door, only a poor woodland creature in a frightful condition. She would need a pick-me-up, or maybe something more drastic if it went badly...

"Hello girls," Fluttershy greeted. Her voice was laden with exhaustion, and there was no doubt the others picked up on it.

"Fluttershy? Is... something wrong?" Twilight asked hesitantly.

She shook her head… then thought better of it and nodded. “Well… yes and no, I guess,” she said softly.

“Don’t worry, dear, we’re here for you,” Rarity encouraged.

“The Crusaders were in the Everfree,” she began.

Rarity’s heart leapt into her throat. What was Sweetie Belle thinking?! The forest was dangerous, even more so these days with all the events surrounding it. She had told Sweetie to be careful! Beside her, Rarity heard Applejack's intake of breath as well. No doubt she had had the same talk with her sister and was just as worried.

"They were attacked by a chimera. I think it was mad... the girls said it had glowing red eyes..."

"Are they alright!?" Rarity demanded desperately. "Is Sweetie alright?! Please tell me the blood on your forelegs isn't Sweetie Belle's!"

Applejack had gone pale at that. The rest of their little group reacted similarly, from open-mouthed horror from Rainbow Dash to Twilight's hoof-stifled gasp. Rarity barely noticed; she stared at Fluttershy, at her best friend, begging, pleading with all her soul for Fluttershy not to confirm her worst fears.

"No! The Crusaders are fine," she exclaimed, shaking her head frantically. "Nothing more than a few bruises and scratches."

The ponies all let out sighs of relief, none more so than Applejack and herself. Their sisters were alright, despite all the odds...

"How did they get away?" Twilight asked.

The sad look returned to Fluttershy's muzzle. "The wolf."

"What do you mean, 'the wolf'?" Rainbow asked suspiciously.

"I don't know everything... but the wolf came out of nowhere and attacked the chimera, saving all three of them."

Well now...

Another heroic act from a predatory creature that did not exist; first, helping Spike rescue her, in perhaps the most romantic way she could imagine. Now, saving her sister? Rarity was the Element of Generosity; she knew the value of giving. This wolf had given her her freedom, and had given her back her sister. It was a debt she would likely never be able to repay.

She saw the same looks mirrored on her friends muzzles. They too were silently judging the wolf now in light of this new information. Twilight frowned, as did Applejack, but Pinkie simply grinned and Rainbow Dash looked rather thoughtful.

"He was hurt though," Fluttershy continued.

Rarity's eyes flicked to the drops of blood on her friend's coat. "A chimera is no creature to trifle with. Is he going to be alright?" she asked hesitantly.

"A fractured hind leg, three cracked ribs, a concussion, and more than two hundred stitches... but he should survive," Fluttershy replied with a hopeful smile. "A-anyways, I thought you might like to know..."

"Epona ain't gonna be happy when she hears this..." Applejack muttered.

"Excuse me?" Rarity asked, startled. What did Epona have anything to do with this?

"Applejack saw the wolf talking to Epona this morning. The wolf is Link, the one she's been looking for. Her 'master'," Twilight filled in absently.

It took a moment for Rarity to process that. The wolf was Link, the same Link that Epona spoke of? If so, the wolf was certainly smarter than his appearance suggested. He may not look the part, but his deeds certainly marked him as a good pony...

"Ahem," Rarity cleared her throat, breaking the silence. "Well, thank you, Fluttershy, for letting us know. I know I certainly owe the wol– Link a great deal. I'm sure he won't be a problem, surely we can see him as a friend...?"

"Mayyyybbeee…" Rainbow Dash said suspiciously.

Rarity rolled her eyes. The mare representing loyalty probably wouldn’t be satisfied until she met him in pony.

"Ah have to admit, ah don' like this much," Applejack said with a frown. "There's a lot o' animals on the farm that'll startle real easy if they see a wolf walkin' around. An' with Epona bein' so close t' him... well, Link's a hero in mah books, but ah sure wish he'd stop comin' round mah farm an' givin me heart failure."

Pinkie Pie practically exploded as they turned to look at her.

"I told you he was nice! And now, I can put his name on his cake and we can have the best 'Welcome to Ponyville' party ever thrown for a wolf!" she said excitedly.

Eyes turned to Fluttershy, who shrank before the attention.

"Ummm... I think he's nice..." she meeped out. Rarity had expected no less from the Element of Kindness, especially not when such a creature was injured and vulnerable. All eyes turned to Twilight.

Twilight sighed. "I don't like not knowing what's going on. But he did help save Rarity and half the town, and now he saved the Crusaders." A smile came to her muzzle. "He's a friend."

Fluttershy's happy smile was a beauty to behold, and it made Rarity happy as well. At least until she remembered the heart failure she had gone through in the last few minutes.

"Fluttershy, where is Sweetie Belle?" she asked, her voice hard.


Fluttershy's ears cocked as she heard the whistle of the teapot, signaling that the water was boiling. She poured it onto a dishcloth, wetting and warming the fabric, then took the teapot in her mouth and headed for her living room.

Outside, she could hear the scolding tones of Rarity and Applejack as they berated their younger siblings. A quick peek out the window saw all the Crusaders with their heads bowed in shame as the two took turns talking.

Oh, she hoped it wouldn't go on much longer. They'd been scolding the Crusaders for nearly twenty minutes now. She agreed that something had to be done to prevent them from doing it again, but she didn't think scolding them too much would help. Discipline was necessary, but too much of a negative atmosphere was not good for a creature, or for ponies for that matter.

Fluttershy set the teapot down on the cleared coffee table and approached the couch, tuning out the conversation outside. On the couch, bandaged on a freshly cleaned sheet, the wolf lay, unconscious but alive and breathing.

Fluttershy took the wetted cloth and continued the long and arduous process of cleaning the wol– Link. His fur was long, trapping liquids quite well, and as a result of his injuries his back had a lot of blood now trapped within the fur. The wet cloth helped, but even so it was going to take time to properly clean his fur by hoof— she didn’t want to risk moving him too much yet.

All in all, Fluttershy found the wolf a sympathetic curiosity. She had never seen such a pattern of fur before on an animal, especially not the forehead pattern, nor had she ever seen one with a small blue earring, or an iron cuff. What had this poor creature been through to bear such a thing? But for all his sharp teeth, all his claws, all the fighting that she had heard he had done, she wasn’t afraid. Something about him reminded her of the forest- not the Everfree; more like Whitetail Woods. A gentle wilderness, wild and free yet beautiful at the same time.

She idly put a hoof to his forehead to check his temperature— if those wounds became infected she would need to head it off right away. When she took it away, an icy blue eye was visible.

Fluttershy started. "eep!"

But when the wolf struggled to rise, forepaws working as the hind legs quivered, and he let out a pained yelp, all timidity left Fluttershy.

"No, please stay down," she told him, gently pushing on his back. "Please, don't hurt yourself. You need to rest."

Icy blue eyes met her own, and for a few moments, the two stared at each other, examining what they saw.

For her part, Fluttershy saw intelligence in those eyes. She saw the mind behind them, silently judging her friend or foe. But it was cloaked behind a veil of raw energy that she could only describe as bestial, wild. Power in its primal form. No, power wasn't the right word to describe that...

The w– Link slumped back onto the couch, breaking Fluttershy out of her thoughts. He turned his head and idly examined his wrappings, and his braced leg. In the meantime, Fluttershy went to her kitchen and got out a bowl before filling it with water. She set it down in front of him, and after a moment, he dunked his muzzle in and drank greedily. She waited patiently for him to finish.

"Uhm... Link?" she asked quietly.

His head swung around.

"Uhm, is it alright if I call you Link? Epona said that was your name," she asked.

Understanding animals was her special talent. It was very hard– she doubted that anypony without such a cutie mark could ever manage what she did. There was, after all, a reason why they were called animals; they had no written language, and most did not even have a complete audible language, and that wasn't counting the myriad of creatures that depended upon smells or other signals that the average pony could not see, much less understand. Understanding an animal, any animal, meant looking for those subtle signs and correctly interpreting their meaning, something nearly impossible for the average pony.

That being said, anypony could have interpreted the nod that the w- Link gave her. She smiled.

“You were pretty hurt by that chimera. Everypony really, really appreciates what you did, saving the Crusaders. You did a brave thing today. Thank you.”

Link looked a bit sheepish at the praise. Fluttershy stifled a small giggle with her hoof.

“Well, we appreciate it anyways. All of us do. And if you need anything… well, let me know.”

Fluttershy took the now empty water bowl and trotted to the sink to refill it. On the way, her eyes brushed over a scroll of parchment, and she remembered what she had promised to Twilight.

Her friend had been insistent upon getting answers, but Fluttershy had been equally as adamant that what Link needed right now was rest, not Twilight demanding answers from him. She could be scary sometimes when she was asking questions, and he was in absolutely no condition to be scared right now. Fluttershy had managed to get her to let Link rest by promising to ask him the questions herself and write down the answers. Twilight must really want to know the answers, she already had all the questions written down and everything! Taking the scroll in her mouth, she returned to the couch and sat down, unrolling it to see what Twilight wanted to ask.

“Um… Mister Link?”

His ears pricked and he lifted his head to face her.

“Uhm… my friends and I have some questions about, uhm, things… and we were hoping you could answer some of them?” she asked timidly. “That is, if it’s alright with you right now?”

The wolf gave a nod.

“R-right. Uhm… first question…”


It was late that night. The yellow pony was fast asleep in her room, cute little snores sneaking their way through the door. The animals were all asleep in their various nooks and crannies, resting for the next day. The moon cast a slight shadow on the wolf as he slept on the couch, his paws twitching as he dreamed.

For a moment, the shadow seemed to waver. Then it jumped, forming into a small imp-like creature.

She was not made from shadow this time, despite having come from them. No, this was her real, solid self, every bit real from the stone crown upon her head to the tips of her stubby little feet.

Midna, companion of Link, floated around the room on magics unseen, examining her companion from every angle. Worry mixed with a frown upon her face as the small imp floated in to land gently on the couch next to him. Small five fingered hands clumsily adjusted one of the bandages, tightening the loosened material.

She fiddled with it for several minutes, making several small corrections, before forcing herself away. She floated up to his head, looking Link in his closed eyes.

She bowed her head and said some soft words in her strange language, soft enough that even Link would have barely been able to hear them.

Then she adjusted his pillow to a better position, and floated over to the coffee table, seating herself on the edge. Staring at Link's injuries.

She remained there for a very long time.

Intermission: Questions

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What is your name?

Where did you come from?
A small village. I’m sorry Twilight, I can’t understand the name he’s trying to tell me. He did say it was in the woods, but not the Everfree or Whitetail.

Why are you here?
He had to come here to retrieve something to help him on his mission.

Are there any others like you? Are there any more wolves where you come from?
There are other wolves, yes, but he says there are no others like him.

What is your relationship with Epona?
She is my horse. I take care of her. I use her around my home to do things I cannot. I have had her for several years now.

If you were involved in the Shadow Event, do you know why it happened?
There was an invasion. A bad pony? I can't make out the name he keeps telling me. And he insists that 'pony' is wrong too, but he can't tell me what is right and I don't understand his description. Tall, metal head, black clothes, two legs...? I'm sorry, I don't know what he's describing.

Anyways, the bad pony invaded the castle where the Princess lived.

I asked him about this, and he insists that it wasn't Celestia and Luna or Canterlot castle, and I can't understand his names for the Princess or the castle, but he insists that the Princess was the ruler of the land, and that she abdicated to the bad pony to save her subjects.

The bad pony did something. He did something to the ghosts? I'm sorry, he says ghost isn't the right word, but I can't understand what he wants to say. Anyways, the land under their protection was turned to shadow.

He says the same thing happened here, to Ponyville. I asked if he was the one who went through Rarity's shop and Applejack's farm and your library, and he said yes, it was him.

If you were involved in the Shadow Event, were you the one who ran around and got rid of those huge black insects? We think it was you. If so, how did you get rid of them? If not, do you know who did?
He was the one who killed the insects, and he says he is the only one who can harm them. Every other creature was turned to ghosts? He was the only one who who was not turned into a ghost? so he was the only one who could harm them.

What is the significance of the stone piece you took from the Diamond Dog pack leader after you defeated? It seems as though it was a magical artifact of some sort powerful enough to possess somepony. What can you tell us about it?
It is one of five pieces of some sort of powerful crown. He doesn't know what exactly it can do, but he claims he's gathering them so that he can fight the bad pony. He said the one he got from the diamond dog was the fourth. He also said that the other pieces he retrieved were in similar situations, having possessed some creature or rock pony? I don't know what he means by rock pony but he insists that is the closest words to what he means and I can't understand the name.

Do you know of anything that may happen next? Something we need to be preparing for?
He says he doesn't know, but that we should be prepared. He also says he'd try to help if anything else happened.

What did you do to disrupt my telekinetic grip? It felt like you took my thuamatic signature then projected an identical signature of an opposite polarity and amplified it until my the thaumatic waveform was completely negated. Is this right?
I'm sorry, Twilight, neither one of us understands what you said. Link did say he doesn't know exactly how it works, only how he can use it.

Where's my sword?
Spike, he says he's sorry but he needs to use it for a while.


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Applebloom was grounded.

It was not the first time, not even close. She'd been grounded for a great many things– playing with the farm machinery in the barn (that plow was sharp!), trying to get her knife-thrower cutie mark, not doing her chores, the list went on and on and on. It wasn't even the first time she'd been grounded for going into the Everfree, she'd been grounded for that at least three times before, but the lure of an exploration cutie mark, or wild animal taming cutie mark, or any of the other myriad possibilities had proved far too tempting.

She had always known in her mind that the Everfree was dangerous. Upon reflection, Applebloom realized that the proximity of the forest to the farm meant that the danger, while not diminished, was familiar. She knew it was dangerous, but she had thought she had known all the dangers and how to evade them, and had therefore believed that she was ‘safe’. Even these days, with her big brother and sister putting up new sections of fence and talking about ferocious, mad timberwolves with red-glowing eyes whenever they thought she couldn’t hear, she hadn’t really considered what they were doing to be too dangerous. After all, there were guards all over the place at the quarry, they would protect her, surely. And Zecora, she wouldn’t stay so deep in the forest if it was so dangerous, would she?

And so she hadn’t listened. Not like she should have. And she had nearly paid the price.

That was the worst part about all of this. Applebloom could have done so many things differently– she could have talked to Sweetie and Scoots and done something different, she could have listened to her sister and gotten her friends to listen too– but she hadn’t. The mistake was hers. And while she was grateful that she had managed to escape the chimera in one piece, such thoughts only brought her shame. Because by saving her and her friends, Link had paid the price for their mistake.

A price that had nearly proved fatal.

Looking at him through the window as Fluttershy had worked to save his life was all the punishment Applebloom had needed. The grounding, the yelling and lecturing by Rarity and her sister, all of that was merely a formality. The real punishment was watching the wolf's still form, his sides barely moving as he whimpered in pain, the long furrows left by the chimera’s claws welling with blood….

And it was all her fault. Her and her friends.

That thought bothered her through the night and into the following day. It bothered her when she should have been paying attention.


“Applebloom! Y’ alright?” Applejack asked.

Applebloom picked herself up off the ground, massaging the back of her head with a sigh. Her mind was so far off in her own head that she hadn’t noticed the plank being handled by Applejack, nor heard the warning, and had therefore gotten smacked on the back of the head.

“M’okay,” she mumbled out, staring at the ground.

“No you ain’t.”

Applebloom looked up to see Applejack looking down at her, concern written on her muzzle.

“Ya barely ate dinner last night. Ya barely ate breakfast this mornin’. Granny had t’ ask ya three times ta pass the pepper. Ya ain’t said more than five words all mornin’. Normally I’d say yer upset with bein’ grounded, but this–” Applejack gestured to all of Applebloom “–don’t look upset. You look down. So c’mon, Bloom. You know you can tell me anythin’. What’s wrong?”

Applebloom kicked a stone with her hoof. “Ah wish I could help, with Link. Somehow,” she moped.

“Link’s in good hooves. The best. Fluttershy’s the best vet in town, so don’t you worry ‘bout him,” Applejack told her younger sister.

“Ah know that!” Applebloom shot back, her temper flaring. She forced it back down. She wasn’t angry with her big sister, she was angry with herself. “It’s just that he got injured real bad because of some stupid mistake ah made, and ah want to try to make it up to him in some way but ah cain’t!”

Applebloom paced, head focused on the ground as Applejack watched. “First ah wanted t’ try t’ bandage his wounds, help Fluttershy that way, but then ah remembered the last time we tried to be Cutie Mark Crusader Doctors.”

That had been a fiasco. They were fortunate the medicine they gave Mr. Gear only caused hallucinations instead of something more serious. And by the time they were finished with Ms. Skie’s small cut she looked more like a mummy than a pony. They weren’t allowed in the hospital anymore to try getting their cutie marks.

"An' ah don't think Fluttershy would like it ah tried to help her anyway."

The last time they had tried to help Fluttershy, most of the animals ended up overfed and the three of them had ended up being chased around the cottage by a flock of very angry chickens and one ill-tempered bunny. Fluttershy had very nicely asked if they wouldn't do that again, if they wouldn't mind.

"Then ah thought 'bout tryin' to cook him a meal, but the last time we tried for our cooking cutie marks, Sweetie almost set the kitchen ceiling on fire and everything we made tasted like charcoal. Not even Winona would eat it, an’ if Winona wouldn’t eat our cookin’, why should ah give it ta Link."

Applebloom sat down with a thump.

"Ah really wanna make it up to him somehow, but ah cain't think of anything ah can do!"

Applebloom hung her head in shame. She just couldn't do anything right, could she?

A hoof tilted her head up. Applebloom, her eyes shimmering with held back tears, looked at her elder sister's smile.

"You helped him enough, Bloom. You an' your friends saved his life by takin' him t' Fluttershy in yer wagon. And he's in good hooves with Fluttershy lookin' after him. You done all you can, Bloom, an’ it was enough to save his life. Sure, he might be bed-ridden in Fluttershy’s for a week or two, an’ he won’t be doin’ any more heroics for another month, but he survived because of you, an’ that’s what’s important.”

Applebloom found some comfort in those words. But still…

“Ah just wish there was somethin’ more ah could do t’ help,” she said to nopony in particular.

“Ah know the feelin’,” Applejack sympethized. “Still, ain’t nothin’ that can be done now ‘cept let him heal in peace. That, an’ don’t get into any more trouble that would make him feel like he needs t’ save you,” she scolded slightly.

Applebloom snorted. The Everfree held no more allure to her, and she was fairly sure it didn’t to Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo either anymore. Heck, the only thing she could think of that was for sure good ‘bout the Everfree was a certain Zebra mare and her potions–

Shaman. Potions.

Applebloom sat bolt upright. Of course! Why hadn’t she thought of that before?! Zecora knew how to brew tons of potions, right? Well, maybe she knew some sorta healing potion! She had to try!

“Applejack! We have to go to Zecora’s!”


It took a good amount of cajoling, convincing, and pleading with the big filly eyes, but Applebloom managed to get Applejack to let her go to Zecora's hut in the Everfree. With an escort, of course. Applebloom knocked on the door of the tree that served as the zebra's home.

The door opened a sliver, showing the striped mowhawk of the zebra.

“Applebloom! Applejack! Come in, sit!” she greeted, gesturing inside with a hoof. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”

Applejack simply turned her attention to her younger sister, a move not missed by Zecora. She listened quietly and intently as Applebloom told her tale, about the wolf and how he had come to their aid, and what he had done before during the shadow as well. Zecora sat deep in thought after Appleblooms' tale finished, before speaking slowly.

"This Link is brave indeed, to rush to your aid in such a time of need. His body may be fearsome to behold, but inside is a hero bold. You wish to help this gentle canine? I have a potion… that may do just fine.”

“You do?!" Applebloom exclaimed. "Yes!"

Applejack was a little more suspicious. "A potion that can fix broken bones an' ribs?"

"That and so much more, my dear apple mare. It can heal wounds to the point that it is not even there."

"He won't need stitches anymore!" Applebloom was prancing with joy.

"Now why in the hay ain't this miracle potion in hospitals?" Applejack asked.

“It takes great effort to make; I may be the only one who has the skill it takes,” Zecora said as she began looking through a shelf filled with bottles. “The ingredients also come from only the forest here, a place of which most ponies steer well clear. Miracle potion you may see, but plentiful it will never be.”

She plucked a bottle from the shelf, as big as any normal jar, and contained a thick liquid. It was a soft golden color, and seemed to sparkle in the the light as Zecora held it up to examine it closer.

“The root of the gysula tree, which only grows in certain parts of the Everfree. Mixed with Alicorn's Mane and a healing draft of traditional design, it becomes a healing potion with powers divine," Zecora spoke. She held the bottle out to Applebloom, who took it reverently.

"Wait, that’s it? Jus’ like that?” Applejack asked. “Ah mean, it’s awful nice of you, but you don’t even know ‘im…”

“A friend of Applebloom’s is a friend of mine, no matter if he is pony or canine. It is the least I could do for such a hero true. It is also repayment of kind, to save him from his fate; his aid against an insect most foul I do appreciate.”

Applejack nodded in understanding. So she’d had to deal with an insect too and Link had helped her out.

“Well, it’s mighty fine of ya t’ help Bloom out. She’s been tearin’ herself t’ pieces tryin’ to make things right.”

“Thank you Miss Zecora!” Applebloom chipped in, a big smile on her face.

“The pleasure was mine; but you have taken enough time, I think. Go, run along, and help Link!”


“Sweetie, could you bring me those pins?”

Rarity kept her concentration on the correct spot while her younger sister brought the pincushion over. A few deft pins had the fabric properly held in place. She smiled in satisfaction, then went back to work.

It wasn’t her normal fitting room in her boutique. She hadn’t the heart to try to move her client there, and she would no doubt have refused anyways. There were, of course, good and bad things about this. Space was severely limited. She had to be extremely careful where she put things, and Sweetie Belle was very busy running back and forth between rooms, bringing strips of fabric in when she needed them, there simply wasn’t room to store the roll in the room where she currently was.

On the other hoof, she was able to discretely size up Link, and the fact that she had already done this dress once meant that her creative muse was free to imagine the possibilities…

“ow,” came a small voice from Fluttershy. Rarity refocused to find a pin rather uncomfortably poking Fluttershy. She quickly took it away.

“I’m so sorry, my dear, my mind was somewhere else,” Rarity apologized.

They were in Fluttershy’s cottage, the living room to be precise. They had cleared out all the furniture to let Rarity re-make Fluttershy’s Gala dress, something that Rarity insisted was absolutely necessary over Fluttershy’s token resistance. On the couch, the lounging, bandaged form of the wolf known as Link alternated between mild interest and sleep.

The most interesting fixture, however, was the large head that was coming in from the living room window. Epona, upon hearing from Applejack about Link's injuries, had become frantic. She had run off the farm, only to come back when she had realized that she didn't know where Fluttershy's cottage was. She then demanded that Applejack take her to Fluttershy's; Applejack had discovered that an angry horse was very scary indeed, especially when one took into account that Epona was three times her weight and more than twice her height. Once there, having stuck her head through Fluttershy's open window, she had been reassured of Link's alive but convalescent condition and had finally calmed down. She now watched Rarity's work with interest, her brown eyes following the needle held in Rarity's magical grip.

The audience was unusual, but not bothersome to the fashion mare. She knew she was among friends. No, the bothersome part of all of this was that she had yet to think of something she could make for Link.

Oh he could certainly do with a good washing and a manecut, but under the treatment of the spa sisters his coat would be positively lustrous. The problem was what to do after that. Rarity was of the opinion that most everypony needed clothes or accessories of some sort to bring out the best in them; even Princess Celestia's natural radiance was enhanced by her peytral, crown and shoes of gold, complementing her pure white fur.

Still, she had never designed for something so foreign as a wolf. Cats, certainly, Opal had given her plenty of practice there. Dogs, sometimes, though for the most part dogs were ungrateful beasts who fidgeted and scratched and ruined her designs. She had hopes that, what with Link being far better mannered, that whatever she designed would survive longer than a few uses. She hoped.

Though perhaps she should go the Applejack route and design something more practical. Practicality was sometimes a variable that had to be considered, and she was forced to admit that Link had so far proved as rambunctious as the Crusaders. Lowering her artistic sights and designing something sturdier than normal may well be the only way he would wear such things longer than a few days.

Still, one could design something practical and fashionable.

She continued to muse as her hoof and magic went through the motions of fitting the Gala dress she had already made on Fluttershy. It was not hard, she had forced herself to re-make the dress to be identical to before; her improvements could wait until the next Gala. She simply had to make sure her mind did not wander too far off the dress and into what she could make for Link.

Her thoughts were derailed by a fast knocking on Fluttershy's door.

The manticore yowled in protest at the noise, causing Epona to pin her ears back, but a bark and a whine from Link seemed to calm her down.

Rarity scowled at the interruption. "Sweetie, could you see who's at the door?"

She did not pay it much heed until she heard excited muffled shouts that were distinctly filly-sized coming from the front door. Then the rushing of small hooves.

Followed by a bellow with a distinct southern twang. "Darn it you two! Watch where ya'lls goin'! No runnin' in the house!"

It was all the warning she got before two excited fillies barrelled into the room and promptly skidded to a halt, thankfully before they managed to make a complete mess out of everything.

Rarity let out a breath she hadn't known she was holding.

"What did Applejack just tell you! No running in the house!" she scolded. "You'll scare poor Fluttershy half to death!"

She had indeed already frozen up.

The girls had the sense to look abashed, but Applebloom was unapologetic.

"We came as soon as we could! We got this potion from Zecora an' she says it'll cure him and mend his bones and make it so he don't need stitches an' everything! We gotta give it to him as soon as we can so he can–"

"That's enough, Bloom. Yer talkin' like Pinkie Pie. Take a deep breath an' calm down," Applejack told her younger sister. Applebloom complied, taking deep breaths like her sister said.

"What exactly is this all about, Applejack?" she asked, setting her glasses down. "I believe I heard something about a potion that could mend bones?"

Fluttershy perked up at that.

Applejack waved her hoof. "Bloom had the idea t' ask Zecora if she had any healing potions o' some sort, and Zecora said she had just the thing. Claims it can heal anythin'. Gave Bloom a bottle."

"Can it?" Fluttershy asked hopefully.

"Ah dunno..."

"Don't you believe Zecora?" Applebloom asked, disbelieving. Applejack looked at her younger sister.

"It ain't that I don't believe Zecora. Guess it jus' seems too good to be true t' me," Applejack said softly. She shook her head. "Don't matter. Fluttershy, would it be alright if we gave Link this potion?"

She took her hat off, revealing the glass bottle, which she took and held out to Fluttershy. Rarity thought it a most interesting color, like liquid gold. It even sparkled in the light.

"It certainly won't harm him. I trust Zecora," Fluttershy said quietly as she examined the bottle. "Uhm..."

Fluttershy fidgeted around, and Rarity instantly saw her dilemma. If she moved to give Link the potion, it would throw off the incomplete dress and Rarity would have to start over. Still, the look on Applebloom's muzzle gave her an idea.

"I can have you out in a jiffy, darling, just give me a few moments. But maybe Applebloom should be the one to give it to Link in the meantime?" she threw out.

"You sure?" Applejack asked. Recieving no denial from Fluttershy, she sighed. "Well, alright then. Here ya go Bloom, fer goodness sakes be careful!"

Rarity hurridly undid the delicate pins holding the unfinished dress in place, enough to let Fluttershy slip out of it as Applebloom carefully approached Link, making her way through the mess that was Rarity's workspace without dropping the bottle.

Rarity watched out of the corner of her eye as Applebloom went from excited to somber. The poor filly must have blamed herself for Link's injuries. She knew Sweetie Belle did, she saw it every time her younger sister came into the room. Scootaloo was likely doing the same thing.

"Ah'm real sorry you got hurt," Applebloom mumbled to him, opening the jar. "But Zecora said this should heal everything."

She held the jar out to Link with the biggest eyes she could muster. Rarity could feel her heart melting, and she wasn't even the target. It worked, too, she saw the hard lines of his muzzle slacken into something a bit more friendly.

Link took the edge of the jar, and with a little cajoling and help from Applebloom, managed to drink every last drop. He licked his lips as everypony waited with baited breath for what would happen next.

Nothing happened.

"Did it work?" Sweetie Belle asked hopefully.

Link sucked in a deep breath, then let it all out at once. He seemed satisfied with something, and began to struggle to his feet on the soft couch.


Fluttershy was next to him in an instant, pushing his shoulders gently back down, which he accepted. It was absolutely amazing how quick she could be when she put her mind to it, Rarity hadn't quite finished undoing the dress yet suddenly she was out of it and over by her couch.

"Let me check first," she told him.

The first to come off were the bandages around his trunk, and they yielded absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. The stitches simply fell out of the bandages, like they hadn't even been in in the first place. Even so, Fluttershy was careful and thorough– she prodded his ribs with a gentle muzzle, then parted the fur on his back to examine where the stitches had been in minute detail. The splint was the last checked, but it too was now in perfect condition, as good as new. Fluttershy smiled.

“Well, it looks like it did everything Zecora said it would. So I guess you can, uhm… go back to… whatever you were doing before?” she told him uncertainly.

Link responded by jumping to his paws and dismounting from the couch before giving a great big stretch- Rarity could hear the pops.

“Uhm, you can stop by anytime, uhm, if you want…” Fluttershy trailed off as Link looked at her. There was no mistaking the nod.

“Indeed. We all owe you a great deal. If you ever need anything, anything at all, just stop by my boutique,” Rarity threw in.

“Me an’ Epona will be down on the farm, ain’t that right Epona?” Applejack said.

Epona let out a nicker of agreement.

“Jus’.. try not t’ scare the cows, alright?” she pleaded.

Another nod.

He was then accosted by two missiles, one white and one yellow, that latched onto whatever they could reach and hugged.

“Thank you, Link!” Applebloom and Sweetie Belle chorused together.

A minute of hard breathing later, they let go. Link took a few deep breaths, gave a small lick on the cheek to each of them, then padded towards the front door. The crowd silently followed, though he gave them no mind.

Outside, Epona stood waiting for him, having galloped around while the rest were saying their goodbyes. A few words were spoken, none of them overheard by Rarity, before Link gave a bark, then padded off into the forest that was so near the cottage, disappearing quickly into the underbrush.

“There he goes. Off again into that darn forest,” Applejack muttered.

“Oh, I think we’ll be seeing him again,” Rarity opined. “After all, I highly doubt Epona would approve of him simply leaving.”

“I hope he doesn’t get hurt anymore,” Fluttershy said softly.

“I’m certain he will be fine, darling. He can take care of himself,” Rarity reassured.

“Yea. It's the Crusaders he can't handle. Whelp, back t’ the farm fer me. C’mon, Bloom, we still got chores t’ do,” Applejack gestured to her younger sister.

“I will come with you,” Epona trotted up. The three left together, heading off towards Sweet Apple Acres. Rarity turned to Fluttershy.

“Would you mind terribly if we continued, dear? I am so very close to being done…”

“Oh, of course, Rarity.”


Link padded through the woods alone, occasionally sniffing at something, but generally heading for the portal that would take him back to his land.

There were things he had to do there. It would keep him away from his village, his friends and family, just as it would keep him from coming here more often. Still, he promised himself he would visit occasionally. He liked it here. It was rather relaxing, once you were in town at least.

Yes, he would have to stop by from time to time.

Adventures In Ponyville: Chicken Chaser

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Fluttershy was taken completely by surprise. In hindsight, she should have seen it coming, or at least something like it. After all, Mr. Manitcore was by no means a domesticated cat, and even domesticated cats were not necessarily divorced from their instincts. Mr. Manticore was a predator, no matter how sweet he was by insisting on protecting her.

The first she heard was the frantic squawking of the chickens. To her animal attuned ears, they were a call for help, and she rushed outside to find out what was wrong.

She found the chicken coop door askew and Mr. Manticore with Elizabeak, helpless, between his jaws. The rest of the chickens were scattering, panicked beyond reasonable thought, flying and running away from the fearsome predator as fast as they could go. The scorpion tail swished playfully and the bat wings quivered in joy. His prey was caught, and now he would fea–


For such a timid pony, Fluttershy was very loud when she wanted to be. Mr. Manticore paused as Elizabeak continued to struggle in his mouth, eying the pony who had interrupted his meal–

“NO! BAD KITTY!” Fluttershy chastised. Very loud and very intimidating. She stalked up to him without fear and without a single hint of weakness. Mr. Manticore drew back from the pony in front of him, ears flat against his skull as he raised a paw as if to ward her off.


The jaws of the manticore opened on their own accord. Elizabeak scrambled away, squawking her head off. Fluttershy did not let up.


The manticore, mighty predator of the Everfree Forest, King of the Wild, cowered at the hooves of the normally-timid yellow pegasus from Ponyville. She let him cower there for a few seconds, her face carved from stone, before she decided that he had been chastised enough and her features softened.

“Mr. Manticore, you have to understand, all the animals here aren’t for you to eat or to play with. They are my friends, and it’s my duty to look after them. I know you normally hunt in the Everfree, and I know you miss that, but this isn’t the Everfree. These aren’t your hunting grounds. Every animal here and in Ponyville is not to be eaten, because we ponies promised them that we would protect them in return for their companionship, or their services. I won’t let you eat them.”

The manticore mewled something from beneath his quivering wing, daring not look at her. Fluttershy sighed.

“If you were hungry, you should have told me! As long as you want to be here, it’s my job to feed you. All you have to do is ask,” Fluttershy told him kindly. The wing stopped quivering as a single eye poked out from underneath. He hissed something to her.

Fluttershy smiled. “Well then, lets get you all fixed up with a nice trout! Is that alright?”

The manticore sprang to his feet and enthusiastically licked her mane. Fluttershy giggled.

“Well come on then!”

The manticore, fearsome predator of the jungle, trailed after the yellow pegasus like a little duckling.

He hadn’t been hard to please. A few fishes and he was happily napping in the sun. Which left Fluttershy with a problem. She needed to get her chickens back. They wouldn’t want to come back on their own though, not with Mr. Manticore still around. They knew her well, knew she would protect them, but like most animals were ruled by their instincts; Mr. Manticore was now a threat, they would not come near him willingly. Even worse, they were all gone, scattered to the four winds.

Fluttershy sighed. It was going to be a long afternoon, rounding up all her chickens. She turned around and promptly squeaked like a mouse as she came face to face with a wolf. Her wings clamped tightly to her sides and she froze in place.

Link cocked his head to the side curiously.

“uhm, you startled me,” Fluttershy whispered.

Link looked apologetic.

“No, it’s okay. I just wasn’t expecting you,” she said quietly. “A-anyways, I’m very sorry, but I have to go. All my chickens were scared off by Mr. Manticore and I have to go find them…”

Link, ears pricked, gave a small whuf.

“Y-you would? That would be, uhm, nice. Thank you,” Fluttershy told him. “Uhm, I’ll look around and wait here in case any come back…?”

Link nodded as he padded silently towards the town.


The town was almost in a panic. It was a strange state for most ponies in Ponyville; it was usually either full-blown panic or everything was (relatively speaking) normal.

Having a wolf the size of a mare padding down the street in broad daylight would normally have fallen under ‘full-blown panic’ and sent everypony running for cover. However, this wolf had saved a good portion of the town no more than a week ago now, freeing them from their diamond dog captors. Word had spread. And as such, most ponies gave him a wide berth, kept a sharp eye on him for any sudden moves, and straddled the line between panicked and merely stressed.

The wolf, however, paid them no mind. It seemed unusually focused on something. His nose led him behind an empty flower stall (one normally run by Daisy; however, she had decided that panicking was the better part of valor and had bravely abandoned her post). The surrounding ponies looked on curiously as the wolf disappeared behind the wooden stall.


Half the ponies started, ready to bolt, and a quarter of the ponies watching the scene did bolt, eyes wide with panic. Those who remained saw a squawking chicken rush out from behind the stall. The wolf was after it quickly, but did not pounce or otherwise try to catch the chicken in front of him.

The crowd watched, stunned, as the wolf proceeded to herd the chicken down the street and out of the town.


This continued throughout the day at various points around Ponyville. A chicken would be hiding, behind stalls, in backyards, on patios. Link would appear. He would chase them, root them out, and herd them through the streets of Ponyville, out of the town, and into Fluttershy's chicken coop. Quite expertly, it must be said, almost as though he had been herding his whole life.

Most ponies continued to be wary of him throughout the day. He paid them no mind though, simply continued rooting out chickens. At least until he came to a particular-looking establishment, one that a very pink pony lived in.


Link let out a startled gasp and very nearly fell off the roof of Sugarcube Corner. He looked around quickly to find the pink pony standing next to him on the roof. How she got there, without him noticing, he didn't know.

"I've got a letter for you!"

Her hoof went into her pink, curly mane, and came out with a letter. A letter with Link's name written on it in energetic pink hoofwriting.

“It’s a party invite! I always invite every new pony in town to a surprise party when they first get here, and even though you aren’t a pony you’re smart like one and Epona likes you and she said it would be a good thing for you so I’m throwing you a “Welcome to Ponyville” party! It’ll be fun!”

With that, Pinkie Pie promptly shoved the letter into his mouth and threw herself off the roof. Link gasped and ran over to the edge just in time to see Pinkie get flung back into the air at about the same height.

“Woo hoo!” she cheered, doing a backflip. “I knew it would be a great idea to put a trampoline out back!”

Confused and slightly alarmed at her attitude, Link backed away slowly as Pinkie continued to bounce. He then decided the best thing to do would be to get back to what he was doing before. He dropped the letter at his forepaws and began stalking the chicken that was resting at the crest of the roof once again. Nopony noticed the sliver of shadow detach itself from his form and grab the invitation.


It was nearing nightfall now, and it looked like Link was almost done. She’d spent the time reassuring the chickens that everything was alright as Link herded them expertly into their coop, one or two at a time. There was, as a matter of fact, only one remaining.

Fluttershy watched as Link herded Elizabeak towards the farm. She did not seem to need much convincing to get into the coop, much to Fluttershy’s relief; Elizabeak was a flighty one. Still, all the chickens were back in their coop, and everything was once again back to normal.

“Thank you so much,” Fluttershy told Link. She gave him a pat on the head and got a little tail wag in response. “I’m not sure what I would have done without you.”

Fluttershy paused. She felt compelled to at least try to offer him a reward of some sort, considering he had done so much for everypony. But what could she offer him?

Fluttershy ruffled her wings nervously as she tried to think of something she could offer him. As she did, a single yellow feather fell from them onto the ground. She didn’t even notice until Link padded forward and picked it up.

“Oh… uhm… you can have that… if you want it…” Fluttershy trailed off.

Fluttershy got the impression that Link was smiling as he walked off into the twilight, a yellow feather grasped between his teeth.

Adventures in Ponyville: Rainbow Road

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Link padded towards the town, his gait a brisk walk.

It had been several days since his last visit to this quaint little town of ponies, and he was more than looking forward to a day of relaxation. His normal home just didn't feel right with all the little ones missing. He had seen them, in the town where they had taken shelter, but for now, he just wanted a soft place to sleep with his favorite companion nearby.

That, and the party that he had been invited to (and which Midna insisted he attend) was tonight. Midna was being strangely stubborn on the subject and insisted that he go. He was not too opposed to the idea; if it was anything like the feasts and festivals that were held in his home village on occasion, he would enjoy it.

Link suddenly stopped. He had seen something. It was a small plant, a clump of small grasses with an oddly shaped tip; it looked almost like a hawk, wings outstretched, taking to the air.

What surprised him was not the shape, but that it was here at all. He had yet to see one of them in this area though.

Link shrugged, sat down, threw back his head, and howled.


Rainbow Dash awoke to the sound of howling.

Her first instinct was to kick and groan and turn over on her cloud, ignoring it for the sake of continuing her important nap. She snuggled deeper into the cloud that was serving as her afternoon bed and flicked her ears at the sound.

It didn't go away. Rainbow drowsily roused herself just as the call ended.

"Hey, some ponies are trying to sleep here!" she called out irritably. Why the hay was somepony howling anyways?

Coherent thought caught up with her right as she saw that it was not a pony that was howling, but a wolf. A pony-sized, very distinctive black wolf.

Rainbow burst the cloud beneath her and shot to the ground, landing with a flare of her wings a mere instant before she was about to crash.

Link, that was his name, got to all fours.

So, this is the one who saved our friends in my stead. The one who saved Ponyville when I couldn’t.

“What are you doing here?” she asked bluntly.

Link cocked his head, giving him a rather innocent look. Rainbow wasn’t fooled.

“Don’t give me that innocent look. The last time you came here, half the town got ponynapped. For all we know, you’re the reason they’re here in the first place,” Rainbow said heatedly.

Link’s lips pulled back, showing canines as he let out a short growl. Rainbow wasn’t put off. Years of time with her griffon friend told her it was just a display, for now. Ponies would become timid in the face of a challenge, but predators would stand firm. Fluttershy may know animals far better, but Rainbow had experience in dealing with the predator mindset. She advanced.

“I suppose you did save them. And you did save the Crusaders,” she mentioned nonchalantly. “So I guess you’re alright. For now. But I’ll be watching you, so don’t try any funny business.”

In truth, she was feeling a bit envious, not that she would ever admit it, even to herself. The role of town hero belonged to her and her friends, not some mutt! They could have overcome all those things without him, he just had to swoop in out of nowhere and solve it first, that was all! Right? I mean, there was just no way he could match up to the awesomeness that was Rainbow Dash and her friends, the Elements of Harmony!

Especially not in a race.

It was good he was out of his bandages. She could sympathize with him there, lying useless in a bed was no place for either one of them. Now that he was out of them, she could get a good measure of her competition.

Rainbow slowly trotted around him, examining this ‘Link’ from every angle. He may have been the size of a typical mare, but his head was low and his neck thick, giving Rainbow the impression of strength. A fighter. It was hard to tell beneath the thick layer of fur, but a simple prod of his side with a hoof revealed that he was all muscle. Looking closely, she could find no blemishes in the fur, or scarring indicators; for someone who Epona claimed was a warrior and regularly went into fights, he was remarkably unharmed. Which meant that either that healing potion was really, really good, or he was really, really good.

Outside, Rainbow kept her stoic, judging face, but internally she was nodding in approval. And grinning. He showed all the signs of being fast; not as fast as her, of course, but maybe she could bring herself down a notch and get a good race out of it.

She finished her little circuit around Link and returned to standing in front of him. Then she did her stood in front of him and snickered.

“Applejack said you were fast, but so far, I haven’t seen it. I bet I could beat you with both my wings tied to my flanks,” she goaded. He growled at that, and Rainbow knew her barb had struck home. Bingo.

“Tell you what. Why don’t we settle this, right here, right now. A race,” Rainbow grinned.

“It was from over here!” came a filly’s voice. Applebloom and Applejack followed right after at a dead gallop.

“Rainbow. Link,” Applejack greeted as she slowed to a trot. “Everythin’ alright over here?”

“Nothing wrong. He just woke me from my nap, so I challenged him to a race,” Rainbow replied.

Applejack shook her head. Only Rainbow Dash…

“Can we watch, Applejack? Please?” Applebloom asked.

Applejack shrugged. “Sure, don’ see why not. Gonna need someone makin’ sure all the rules are followed and t’ declare the winner.” She turned to Rainbow and Link. “So what’s the race?”

“Through Whitetail Woods. The Running of the Leaves course,” Rainbow stated. Link turned to look as she gestured in the general direction of the starting line with a hoof.

“What, yer gonna fly the course while he runs?” AJ asked.

“Nah, that wouldn’t be fair. Besides, I bet him I could beat him with both wings tied to my sides. Just like when we ran running of the leaves. Completely even,” Rainbow replied.

“So you wanna lose then.”

“Wha- of course not!” Rainbow protested. “But he doesn’t have wings, so how else am I supposed to make it fair?! Besides, I can beat him on hoof!”

Applejack shot Rainbow a look that clearly conveyed her disbelief of that statement.

“Tell you what, sugarcube. Why don’t you an’ Link have a quick race to that tree over there an’ back, no wings, an’ you tell me whether or not you can beat him in a race then. Sound good?”

Rainbow considered for a moment. “Fine! This’ll be a good warm up anyways,” she justified. Link said nothing as he padded next to the cyan mare. Both crouched, preparing themselves for the sprint.

“Applebloom, ya wanna do the honors?” Applejack asked as she stepped to the side.

“Three… Two…. One…. GO!” Applebloom punctuated the final word with an official start by dropping a raised forehoof to the ground.

Rainbow Dash exploded into action. She was no rodeo pony like AJ, but she kept herself in tip-top conditions for flying, and that meant she had to keep her running muscles in shape too. Flying was a workout for the entire body, not just the wings like some ignorant ponies thought. She was fast on the ground, faster than even Applejack (AJ would snort at that statement, but Rainbow knew she was faster).

This was her best start yet. Even better, the tree was no more than a hundred or so yards away. There and back? Foal’s play. She’d be able to gallop at full speed the whole time. There was no way she could lose!

She was thus very surprised when the wolf exploded off the line even faster than her. Eyes wide, she put it all on the line, every last bit of energy she could scrounge up. Her hooves raced faster than she had ever been before (on the ground, at least), and not only was she not catching up, he was pulling away!

Link ran with long, powerful strides, his head low, mouth open against the exertions. Every so often he would lunge forward in a burst of speed. He was quickly at the tree; with flexibility no pony could match, he planted his feet and pulled a hairpin turn with a small hop, jump starting the way back, passing Rainbow Dash as he did so.

Rainbow was so focused on winning she didn’t even notice her wings flare and beat powerfully as she came up on the half-way point, letting her duplicate his impossible turn.

It did not help. Rainbow galloped past Applejack with the bitter taste of defeat in her mouth, Link having already finished well before her. She dropped to a standstill and panted heavily, trying to get air into her starved lungs.

“Ah told ya he was fast,” came Applejack’s smug voice. “You still wanna race him now?”

“Hay yes!” Rainbow said through pants. “This guy… might be… the first… thing that can… maybe keep up with me!”

“Looked more like the other way ‘round t’ me, Dash.”

“I mean flying!”

“Rainbow, he don’t have wings. NOTHING can keep up with you flying, ‘cept maybe a Wonderbolt.”

“C’mon AJ!” Rainbow said, stamping her hoof. “There’s got to be some way I can race him!”

It would be really, really disappointing if she couldn’t.

Applejack opened her mouth, then stopped. Rainbow recognized the look of hesitation; Applejack had just thought of something.

“What is it?!” she demanded. Applejack scowled at her.

“Wouldn’t quite be the same. But if you really want a race, ah might have an idea.”


Rainbow and Link crouched at the starting line, waiting for Applebloom to signal the start of the race.

It was simple, at least for Link. Follow the path through Whitetail Woods, and the finish line would be at the end, a few hundred yards down the way after a winding trail through the woods.

For Rainbow, though, it was slightly more complicated. She was flying now, which put her at a very distinct advantage. To mitigate this, she had to fly the same path, at below tree level. In addition, she was going to run the path twice, flying from end to start and then doing the whole thing over again. Their first race where she had simply flown straight through had been a predictable blowout, but by much more than anypony thought; Link had finished in nearly double her time.

Which meant that, if one doubled her path, then they might actually have a race on their hooves.

Of course, by that point, Link had begun to lose interest in racing. So Rainbow had offered something to sweeten the pot; if he won, she would give him whatever he wanted, within reason. He wanted a trophy? She'd get him one. Cupcake? No problem. Personal caretaker for Epona for a day? Well, if that's what he wanted.

She was really looking forward to this race. Those who knew her very well may have guessed the proper reasons; yes, it was true she was looking for a good challenge, a way to push herself, but the need to beat him- this was a way to prove to herself that she was just as good, if not better, than he was. After all, if she could beat him in a race, she could at least equal his other accomplishments, right?


"Three... Two... One... GO!"

Applebloom waved the green flag she had gotten somewhere. And then Rainbow was off like a shot, zigzagging between trees at an almost dangerous pace, rainbow mane and tail streaming behind her.


Behind her and falling further and further behind every second, Link ran, pounding down the trail after the rainbow haired pegasus.

This race may have been a simple diversion, but it was a fun one. He loved stretching his legs like this, it was both invigorating and rather relaxing. No problems to worry about, no ponies to save, no enemies to fight, just the open path and a competitor who was ahead of him.

Link rounded a slight corner and put on a burst of speed.


Rainbow burst out of the treeline, climbed, and turned back to the start line. Below her, she saw Applejack and Applebloom idly chatting at the finish line, but that was all she had time for. Folding her wings, Rainbow dove like a falcon into the starting line and the trees therein.

The speed boost made things dangerous for the first section, but it was nothing she couldn't handle. She continued at a fast pace, the trees whipping by as though she was on a rocket-powered Friendship Express. Her quarry was now ahead of her again, and she knew it.

She began to worry when she neared the end without any sight of him. Had Link already finished? No, he couldn’t have. There’s just no way he could have beat her! Rainbow poured on more speed.

It was the final stretch before she saw him. The edge of the woods were in sight, and with them was a black wolf making a mad dash for the finish line. Rainbow pushed herself even harder, her lungs burning, her wings screaming–

She shot past him in a blur or polychromatic hair, then zoomed to the finish line half a second later. Rainbow laughed as she bled off speed by climbing. She glided down to the finish line, giddy, just as Link crossed it. Both collapsed, panting, on the ground.

“Well. Rainbow Dash, you won by twenty seconds. Good race, too, ah’d say, considerin’ yer both winded the same.”

Rainbow laughed. “Yea, that was a good race. Hey, come back when you’re ready for a rematch. That was the best workout I’ve had all week!”

Adventures in Ponyville: Party Hard

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Link walked nearly silently in the growing dark towards the farm where the party he had been invited to was being held.

The party was at the barn, according to Midna. He honestly couldn't make out the writing, but he trusted her. Besides, that's where Epona was, so it made sense to him to hold it there. He was looking forward to it, as having it in the barn meant that once it was all over he'd get a nice soft bed again.

As he approached, he saw that the barn doors were wide open. Light and sound leaked out, and it was not hard to tell that there were quite a few ponies there and that the festivities had already started.

Link approached slowly. He was very aware of the reactions of the ponies during his last visit to Ponyville. With his appearance, he was surprised they were giving him a chance. He wasn't exactly the kind of animal a pony would like to see around town. How many ponies could there really be here?

"Hey, he's here! Everypony, one, two, three!"

"Welcome to Ponyville, Link!"

A giggle came from his shadow at his look of utter bewilderment.


"Ah! Good, he's here, now I can ask him–"

"Silly Twilight!" Pinkie cut off. Twilight looked around frantically as the stack of papers she had suddenly disappeared. "This is a party, not an interrogation!"

"I know that Pinkie, I just wanted to ask him some questions! I need more information and this might be the only time I can get him and Fluttershy in a room together long enough–"

Twilight found herself cut off by a pink hoof in her mouth.

"Nope. We are here to give him a great big warm welcome to our town, not ask him pointed questions about things he doesn't know the answer to. This party is about letting everypony get to know him!"


"Nope! No questions. He needs to meet some ponies, and relax, and he can't do either of them if you're being a party-pooper."

Twilight lowered her head. She raised it with a determined grin on her muzzle.

"You're right Pinkie, I'm sorry. I should be enjoying the party, not badgering him for answ– NOT THAT BOTTLE!"

Twilight raised her voice to be heard over the din of the DJ just in time to prevent Applebloom from pouring part of a bottle of hot sauce into a dog bowl that they were using to give Link punch.

"Sorry!" came Applebloom's voice back. Twilight shook her head.

"Why do you even put a bottle of hot sauce near the punch?" Twilight asked Pinkie. In all the parties she had been to, it had appeared at a disturbing amount.

Pinkie just giggled and bounced away.


"Bon Bon, why are we here?" Lyra hissed at her friend. Her eyes were wide as she carefully watched Link, her tail swishing nervously behind her.

"Because he saved me from the diamond dogs," Bon Bon replied, finishing her punch. A tail swish betrayed her nervousness despite her calm reply. "Besides, Pinkie and the others aren't scared."

"Fluttershy is," Lyra shot back.

The pegasus in question was uneasily looking around, as though something could pounce on her at any moment.

"She looks like that every time she comes to town," Bon Bon argued back. She swished her tail nervously.

Both mares watched as the wolf everypony was calling Link approached the yellow pegasus. She then proceeded to chat with him more than she had to most ponies in town.

"Huh," Lyra said.

"See? He can't be that bad," Bon Bon told her friend. "I hope."

"What was that?"


Link, his 'conversation' with Fluttershy finished, was heading their way. Lyra drew back a bit but Bon Bon stood firm.

"Hey," she greeted. Lyra drew up several cautious steps behind her friend. Link regarded them curiously.

"So... uh... how do you like the party?" Bon Bon asked with a forced smile.

Link cocked his head.

"Yea.... anyways, I brought over some homemade candy as a 'thank you' for saving me from those diamond dogs," she continued. She offered him a hoof with a bag of hard-boiled sweets in it, neatly wrapped with a small bow.

Link eyed it for a minute. Then he sniffed it. His ears perked up at that. He gave Bon Bon a little whuf, then picked it up and continued on, his tail wagging ever so slightly as he did so.

"See? Not bad at all."



Link's ears perked at the call. There were many equines here in this barn, but there was only one horse. He would know her anywhere.

"There's a game you need to play!" she said, bumping him with her head to try to get him up.

Link whined. He wasn't done with his cupcake yet. The little pink confection was only half devoured.

"You can finish your cupcake on the way over," she assured him with another head bump.

Link rolled his eyes as he rocked back onto his belly. Then he got to his paws and, with a single bite, inhaled the rest of the cupcake. He licked his lips as he followed his friend through the path she cleared.


Link found himself involuntarily pushed into a small clearing in the party. Then his vision went dark.

Link yelped in surprise as a blindfold was tied around his head, obscuring his vision. He shrunk back, tail between his legs, even as he felt something that tasted like hair shoved into his mouth just as firm hooves grasped him and spun him around.

He'd played a variant of this game before, so he knew what to do. He just wished he hadn't been led into an ambush for it. His ears pricked and swiveled– there was no noise in front of him, that must be where the target was. He guessed the picture was in the center, and since they had all called out pin the tail on the pony, he assumed it would be slightly off center, he guessed to the right. He hadn't gotten a good look.

With that, he began cautiously walking forward. When he felt he was getting near, he began probing with his forepaw, trying to get a sense of where the wall was. He felt it soon enough, and stretched out his neck, cautiously shuffling forward so he didn't slam his nose into the wall–

His nose bumped wall and he pinned the tail– it must have really been tailhairs at some point– to the wall, hopefully near where it was supposed to go.

Laughter told him he must not have hit his mark even before he managed to get the blindfold off his eyes. A single look confirmed it. The pony on the wall now sported a straw-yellow moustache that reached below its hooves.

Link yelped as he was dragged back to the clearing.

"You get three tries!" came the enthusiastic voice as it tied the blindfold around his eyes again.


Link was wiped out. The night had passed in a blur of ponies, especially one particular pink one. His stomach was filled with sugary treats and tasty drinks. He had played games. He had watched others play games. He had been petted (and had managed to discourage repeats with a few growls. Except for the foals. Those huge eyes were just too much even for him).

It had been a long night.

But now, the party was at it's end. Most of the ponies had left more than an hour ago, and the party planner Pinkie had taken his attempt to rest his eyes as a signal that it was time to end the party. And so, the last of the party goers headed out the door just as Pinkie herself gathered the last of the decorations, threw them in a barrel that was stuffed full of trash, and closed the barn door behind her, Link found himself alone at last with his friend.

Epona nickered, then walked over to a large pile of hay that was serving as her bed and settled herself.

It took Link a few moments to get himself up, but he followed his good friend to her warm, soft bed. As his friend flopped onto her side, he climbed up the hay behind her, circled once, then lay down.

He stretched out, rolling until he was back to back with his horse. One great big yawn later, Link was well on his way to being fast asleep.

Adventures in Ponyville: Bug Hunt

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Fluttershy went through her morning chores with a happy little song on her tongue. The day was young, the birds were singing, the flowers were in full bloom, and Celestia's Sun was shining brightly down upon a cloudless sky. It was a good day.

She had finished feeding the animals and was tending to her small garden (she was no earth pony, but the vegetables from her garden were just as good to her taste buds) when she heard chirped greetings from the birds. Peeking her head out, she saw a familiar form with something new.

Link had not been seen around in a day, disappearing off to wherever he went in the Everfree. Some said he was off fighting evil; others claimed he was going back to his home on the other side of the forest. A few (mostly Scootaloo) claimed he was single-pawedly making the forest safer by wrestling Ursa Minors and beating hydras to become the undisputed King of the Everfree forest. Fluttershy didn't know where he went, but she suspected it was dangerous and had resolved to make whatever time he chose to spend with her as relaxing as possible.

It was interesting, her relationship with him. Fluttershy was as shy as her name implied, much prefering her animal friends to the typical pony. She always seemed to blunder through social interactions with other ponies, and always made a complete fool of herself. Link was a smart as a pony, but his particular form and his animal speech made her far more comfortable with him than with a pony. It helped in that he seemed to have a rather laid back nature, and looked past her social faux pas without judging her for it, just as the other animals did. Consequently, she found herself opening up to him in a way that she didn't to even her close pony friends, though she was still quite a bit shy.

"Good morn– oh!"

Oh indeed. Link was not alone this time.

Seated upon his back was a small creature of around Spike's size. Also like Spike, the creature seemed to possess two legs and two arms, each with five little stubby claws on the end. But there the similarities ended.

Like her mount, she was black with white sections liberally spread about, particularly her belly, her right leg, and the area around her mouth. Her skin was not hard-scaled like a dragon, and was not covered in fur like a pony, something Fluttershy had seen in precious few animals. On her head sat a stone crown, broken, covering one eye, with fiery orange hair poking just over the crest. The uncovered eye was red with a yellow sclera, making her appear rather fierce. And for some reason, she had glowing patterns on her body, a muted florescent turquoise.

A slight grunt brought Fluttershy back to her senses. The creature was looking at her with its forearms crossed and a slight frown to its flat muzzle. Fluttershy 'eep'ed as she realized with a start that she had been staring. She felt her cheeks heat up as she hid behind her large mane.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I didn't mean to stare."

Link looked back at his mount. The creature held that position for a moment, then relented, relaxing.

"I'm sorry," she repeated. "It's just that I've never seen a creature like you before. What are you?"

The creature cocked her head. Then she opened her mouth and spoke some words in a tongue that Fluttershy, for all her animal prowess, did not understand.

"Uhm, I'm sorry? I don't understand you."

The creature looked at her mount. He gave a bark, but the creature shook her head.

"She can't understand me either?" Link nodded. "But you can understand her. And you can understand me." He nodded again.

"Is there any chance... you could tell me her name? Or what she is?"

Link barked, but Fluttershy encountered the same problem she had had when attempting to answer Twilight's questions; intent was easy to glean from his language, but names were not. She found she could not make out the name or what she thought was the species as any more than unintelligable barks and growls. She sighed.

"No, I didn't think so," she said softly, looking away. Then she brightened.

"Is there anything I can do for you two?"

Link whined.

"Of course. Let me get you a bowl," Fluttershy smiled.

Far be it from Fluttershy to deny a creature or pony who simply wanted to slake their thirst. She took a conveniently sized feeding bowl and filled it up with purified, chilled water from her refrigerator before heading back out.

She found Link sitting, waiting patiently for her. His little companion was idly sitting on the bird bath, observing the birds as they twittered about. She set the bowl down and he began greedily drinking.

The water was nearly gone when his little companion (she wasn't staring, she wasn't. Really!) sat up sharply. She stared at something in the bird bath, then called out to Link in an excited manner. His head came up, dripping water from his mouth, and he moved to the birdbath. Curious, Fluttershy followed. The creature was pointing at something in the bath, and as Fluttershy followed the hand, she saw it too.

It was a bug, a little water strider, but it was not an ordinary water strider. This one looked as though it was made from gold; it glinted and sparkled in the light as it skittered across the water.

Beside her, Link gave a little whuf. The little creature grinned, exposing a single snaggletooth fang. Fluttershy flinched back– such a visage suddenly reminded her of Discord and all the horrible things he had done to her and her friends.

But no horrible things came. The creature gently scooped up the golden water strider from the bath and held it out to her canine companion. Link sniffed it, then met the eye of his companion and nodded. She grinned and–

Fluttershy flared her wings and stepped back as a small bag appeared from nothing. The watched, still slightly alarmed, as the creature put the golden water strider in the bag, and with a flick of her hand, caused it to once again disappear. The creature giggled.


Fluttershy watched as the creature levitated herself onto Link's back. He turned to look at Fluttershy, as the creature on his back slapped his sides in a gesture of familiarity.

"Feel free to come back... if you want..."

Link nodded, then turned and began to pad off. On his back, his mount waved at Fluttershy, saying something that was unintelligible, yet clearly friendly.

"Bye," she whispered, waving her hoof at the retreating pair. That little creature reminded her a bit of Discord and his horrible ways, but she herself did not seem very bad. And she doubted Link would put up with her if she was, he seemed the sort who would not stand for that.

Fluttershy resolved herself to treat the little creature just like she would treat Link.

Then she picked up her humming and restarted her chores, listening to the birds join in on her melody.

Adventures in Ponyville: Cupcake

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Link broke from the Everfree forest at a moderate walk, and headed for the farm where Epona was staying. It was a nice farm, so he thought, and he greatly appreciated that Applejack had been agreeable to him coming around and seeing Epona, so long as he did not scare any of the other farm animals off. Since he had no intentions of running around and doing such a thing, it worked out nicely.

On his back, Midna stretched, then patted his sides in a friendly gesture.

She was different now, than the little imp that had coerced him to help. It wasn’t easy to pin down where or when it had happened, but recent events seemed to have made the most impact on her. Mortality, it seemed, was something that she had needed reminding of. She was less manipulative, more honest with him. Like he was friend now, as opposed to a convenient tool to get what she wanted.

It seemed that she was also getting a bit less shy about appearing with him, more willing to help him out. As evidenced by the fact that she was riding him around in broad daylight, as opposed to his earlier escapades when she had lurked in his shadow, barely lifting a finger to help him.

It was a welcome change.

Epona was not in the barn, but this was no great surprise. It was the midday, after all. A few quick sniffs revealed the newest scent trail leading into town. He quickly weighed going after her, the panic he would cause versus finding his friend for a little down time. Or perhaps not, the ponies had seemed wary but not overly hostile to him last time, unlike most places he visited.

Bored and wishing to get a slightly closer look around town, Link decided to follow his nose.

The buildings were looming large on the road when Link got the shock of his life.



Pinkie Pie is a rather unusual pony, on that most everypony would agree. Bad, certainly not, but she was able to do inexplicable things, even in a land where a third of the population could do magic. So it was that she was able to get the drop on Link, and his rider.

“Hey!” she greeted suddenly, popping up next to him. A box of cupcakes she had been in the process of delivering bounced to the ground, completely unharmed from its flight.

Link yelped in surprise and flinched so hard he nearly fell over. But Pinkie suddenly didn’t care about that.

Because the creature that was riding him let out a high-pitched shriek and then jumped into Link’s shadow!

“Wait!” she cried out. Then she tried to jump into his shadow too.

The result was that Link and Pinkie ended up in a tangle of limbs on the ground. Link snorted once then growled, irritation clear in his eyes, but Pinkie wasn’t paying attention because she was already back on her hooves and still trying to jump into his shadow after the creature. And trying to talk to his shadow too.

“Wait! I just wanted to talk to you and find out your name and your birthday and your favorite place in Ponyville and invite you to a ‘Welcome to Ponyville Party’ and…”

Link was not amused. He began to walk away, taking his shadow with him. Unfortunately, that was the wrong thing to do because Pinkie was still trying to jump into it.

He whined as he picked himself up off the dirt again, a long suffering whine that conveyed the torture this pink pony was putting him through.

Then his shadow jumped off his body, forming into an inky black version of the creature that had been riding on his back before and leaving Link, inexplicably, with no shadow at all. Said shadow creature then tried, in a language that not a single pony could understand, to shoo the pink pony away. It failed.

“Welcome to Ponyville!” she exclaimed, throwing confetti into the air. “Here’s an invitation to your party, I figured since you hang out with Link and Epona that you would like… to…”

Pinkie trailed off in confusion as the shadow creature produced an invitation of her own. Scrawled, in her own hoofwriting, was Link’s name.

“You were at Link’s party?” she asked quietly. The creature nodded and pointed at the name.

“But… I didn’t have a cake for you,” Pinkie said sadly. “And you weren’t there. How can you make friends with ponies in town if you don’t have a super-funnerific party where you can meet everypony?”

The shadow looked confusedly at Link. Only to discover he was no longer there.

Link licked his lips as he gazed down at the cupcakes in the dropped box. They weren’t his, but those cupcakes at the party had been so good… he could dream…

“No! I’ll give you a cupcake later Linky, but this is a delivery for Clear Weather!” Pinkie told him, scooping the box out of his reach. For some reason, it still felt lighter even as he whined at her…

A quick check confirmed that there was a cupcake missing. That fiend the cupcake thief had visited again! When she got her hooves on him she was going to…

Giggling cut off that thought as both Link and Pinkie turned to the sound. They found the creature, no longer a shadow, floating in midair, and etching lettering on to the frosting of the cupcake with her fingers with careful motion. She gave a satisfied nod, then floated down and held it out for Pinkie to see.

It was some sort of writing, she could tell, but why would-

Pinkie’s eyes narrowed.

“You’re trying to get out of your ‘Welcome to Ponyville’ party, aren’t you?” she asked the creature suspiciously. There was an innocent smile on the creature’s face as she held up Link’s invitation.

Pinkie scrutinized the cupcake carefully. Then the letter. Then back to the cupcake. A hoof came to her chin as she thought.

“I suupppoooossseee that since you now have a cupcake just for you, and you were at Link’s party the whole time, and met all the ponies that Link met, that I can let it slide.” Her eyes narrowed dangerously. “This time.”

She raised a hoof threateningly at the little floating creature.

“But don’t think this means I won’t forget this! Next time there’s a party, you have to come out and talk to ponies just like him!”

The creature shot a confused look at Link. Link nodded his head, so she did the same.

“Okei-dokie, Smokey!” Pinkie grinned. “Now, I have to go find that cupcake thief and give him a piece of my mind! Toodles!”


Link and Midna watched silently as the pink pony bounced her way back into town, the rest of the cupcakes in their box bouncing along with her.

Link shook his head. Every time he met that pony, she came up with new and interesting ways to surprise him.

A sudden weight on his back caused him to turn his head and growl at the source– but it was only his companion, as usual. She took a bit from the cupcake, smiled, then pointed. Turning his head, Link saw it was Epona and Applejack, heading out of town towards them. Epona had also noticed them, as she had picked up her pace to a light trot, forcing Applejack to a slow gallop to keep up.

Link sat down and waited for his faithful companion as Midna enjoyed her frosted treat.

Adventures in Ponyville: Brewmaster

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The Everfree had settled into an uneasy peace after the defeat of the shadow and the Diamond Dog which had been possessed. The animals were more cautious than normal, prepared to bolt at the first sign of trouble. The myriad predators found themselves uneasy as well as they hunted their prey, constantly ready for what trouble may present itself. Some even found their flight instincts had overpowered their fight instincts and were more prepared to bolt than to fight.

Zecora felt this unease at all times, as it translated to her as well. She was more alert than normal during her outings into the jungle, her eyes constantly watching, her ears constantly swiveling. Even her sense of smell, a skill neglected by most 'civilized' ponies, got a workout, constantly searching for signs of nervous predators or any hint the shadow may return.

The only true place she felt safe these uncertain days were the times when she was in Ponyville, and the times she was in her home, safe from even the most determined of predators. She relaxed as she secured the door behind her, then set her saddlebag down upon the table to begin sorting her latest haul from foraging.

A great variety of mushrooms, some poisonous, some not, all handled with care and put into their proper places– some were for dinner, others had more magical properties and were for potions. Berries, fruits, roots, some stems... long experience allowed her to properly sort and put away her latest haul in only a few minutes. Satisfied, she prepared a fire and was just about to start it in the traditional method when a scratching came from the door.

Zecora paused. Scratching was not something that typically happened to her door, unless a predator was attempting to get to her. But the predators around here had given up on that many months ago after failing. Any predators stalking her now either awaited in silence or left. And it was not a pony.

But there was one non-pony who might be scratching at her door these days.

Zecora grabbed her staff and very carefully opened the door.

Her suspicions were proven correct. On the other side of the door, a wolf as large as a mare looked back at her.

"You are Link, I think?"

Link nodded. Zecora looked around quickly, then made her decision.

"Come in, with haste. The Everfree is not the safest place."

She was careful to shut the door after his tail was well within the door. It would not do to antagonize such a guest. She turned around, and had to lift a hoof to cover a smile.

Link sat, waiting patiently, with an empty jar in his mouth. She could guess what he wanted.

"I see that you liked my healing brew. But I am sorry to say that there is no more left, for me or for you."

His ears wilted at that and he made a small whine. Zecora shook her head.

"It would not be difficult, to make some more. But it will require ingredients that I do not have in store. Alicorn's Mane is rare, but can be found here and there. The real challenge will be the final ingredient; finding the root of the gysula tree will be the least expedient. It grows only in a single place, I fear; deep within the forest, here."

Zecora pointed with a hoof tip to a spot on an old, weathered, hoof-drawn map of the Everfree. She had made it when she had first come here. The drawing was crude, but it had helped her to memorize the forest, and had served her well in those early days when she had gotten lost or turned around. Her hoof hovered over a crude drawing of a pool of water, deeper into the forest.

"With recent events it is too dangerous a journey for me to make. The forest is too unsettled, and I fear my life it would take."

Link cocked his head, and she suddenly realized that the jar he had been carrying had disappeared. He padded over and looked at the map, where her hoof was pointing, then at her. She guessed his question.

"If you bring back all that I need, then with the potion brewing I will proceed. With one piece of root and one piece of Mane, and enough shall be brewed for both our gain."

Link nodded decisively and headed for the door.


Link did not know if it was normal or not for creatures to appear for a fight every so often, but from the zebra's comments he guessed not. Still, it was not an issue for Link.

With Midna's help, he managed to locate some of what the zebra had called Alicorn's Mane. It was hard to get to, hanging from a tree, but he got it. It was a hanging moss that was a white in color, and was so fine that it seemed almost ethereal and billowed in even the slightest of winds. With that found he turned his attention to the final piece: root of the gysula tree.

It was near the spirit's spring, a place Link knew well. And he knew the tree she was talking about as well. It wasn't as different as some of the flora he had seen around, but it was unique in that the tree in question only grew along the shores of the spirit spring. He had never seen it anywhere else.

A bit of scouting, and he soon found a likely prospect, a tree that was partially blown over, but still alive. Powerful paws dug into the dirt, and powerful jaws found purchase on a piece of root.

Link was quickly headed back to the home of the zebra.


Zecora had not been idle in the time that Link was gone. She kept the ingredients for traditional zebra healing potions close at hand; one only survived the dangers of the Everfree if they were prepared.

It was a potion of moderate complexity that required precise attention, but it was not a long recipe, and to a talented shaman of Zecora's caliber, it did not take long at all to make. She kept it simmering in the cauldron in preparation for the enhancements that would turn the liquid from merely a potion useful for speeding recovery into a near instantaneous miracle healing draft.

The key was, of course, the two ingredients she had found in the forest.

When she had first come to the Everfree Forest, she had set about gathering as many samples as she could, from all areas of the forest. For months she had slaved away, carefully testing, examining each ingredient and attempting to discern the hidden qualities held within. She had discovered things that, had she wished it, would have no doubt made the most deadly poison to been seen on the face of the world. She had discovered things that would remove all pain; that would liberate the spirit from the body; concoctions that would incinerate with great light and noise when lit by a match; but her greatest discovery, the one which she was still attempting to understand, was the root of what she had named the gysula tree.

She had not thought much of it at the time. It was a new flora, and so she named it the first name that popped into her mind. But her investigations had proven there was so much more to this than met the eye; the root seemed to act as a magical infuser.

Alicorn's Mane, while well known for its healing properties in the past, was never an ingredient in the healing potion of any nation because, when simply added, the gains were insignificant. Patients would only truly recover perhaps a few hours sooner than a normal healing potion; the Mane simply did not give up its magical properties, imparting little benefit for the enormous trouble of finding it.

The root seemed to change that; it was almost as though it let the magical properties of the two materials combine, much like heating and stirring would do to the physical components. Potions with the root added to them could benefit greatly, as she had found by mixing her healing potion with the root and the Mane. Though she had to be careful; physical properties and magical properties of an ingredient were not always aligned, as she had discovered early on when a plant which would normally take away pain caused her brew to harden into a useless, foul tasting mass.

Scratching came from the door.

Zecora opened it carefully, then all the way once she had determined that it was merely Link.

"Am I to guess that the ingredients you now possess?" she asked as she let him in.

He simply set a small, worn satchel upon the table. A leather satchel, but Zecora had encountered such things before and merely opened it. It was there, a root of good size and the Mane, which billowed as she opened the bag. Zecora took them carefully from the bag and set them upon the wooden alchemy table–

A yellow feather fluttered to the ground. A large, yellow feather. One that would no doubt belong on a pegasus.

She stooped to pick it up when a thought occurred to her. What would happen if...

"The draft I can make, and little time will it take. But there is a question I wish to ask of you. Will you allow me to add this feather too?"

Link cocked his head.

"In truth, I do not know what it will do, but I believe that the magic of the pegasi would come through. Control of the clouds, lightning, weather and rain; these properties I believe the new potion would attain. You have brought me the ingredients for a potion to create; the decision, then, is yours to dictate."

The great wolf hesitated for a moment. Then, there was a decisive nod.

"Your faith in me is humbling, my friend. Come, let us see what new brew awaits us when these ingredients we blend!"

Quick work with a knife reduced all three ingredients into nothing more than chopped bits. She carefully set aside the root pile for now before mixing the pegasi feather with the Mane. She then dumped the mixture from the bowl into the simmering cauldron and stirred until the ingredients were well mixed in.

Taking the cutting board, she dumped the root pieces into a bowl and proceeded to grind the root until it was little more than a powder. With stirring stick in one hoof and the bowl in the other, she began gently adding the powdered root into the cauldron.

There was a flash of light where the powder contacted potion, and smoke as well. Part of the potion turned a rich yellow. The other part turned black.

Zecora pulled the bowl back just slightly, enough to reduce the flow of powder over the edge. It was a balance on the knife edge, this potion. The black was part of the potion that had been magically drained, nothing more than useless waste now. No matter what she did, she could not seem to get rid of it– she had accepted for now that it was a necessary part of using the root. However, if used in the wrong quantity, it would create more waste. If she stopped the flow of powder once it started, it would be even worse; the whole cauldron would congeal into useless black. It was a careful balancing act, giving the potion enough to keep it going while simultaneously limiting it based upon how much potion it was producing.

A few cautious minutes later, and the powder ran out just as the last of the potion turned yellow. It was time to see what she had made. She dipped her hoof in and licked the tiniest drop, tasting the new potion. It tasted almost the same, but now there was an undercurrent like... butter? Warm and soft and rich, but otherwise it was the same as before.

Satisfied that the potion was not poisonous, she took a jar and scooped as much of it out as she could. She came away with a mostly full jar, but it contained some of the black waste as well. She siphoned the yellow liquid off, filling a single jar, then did the same with all the remaining liquid she could scrape up. It was just enough to fill Link's jar. She offered it to him.

"I do not know where it is that you go, but I shall always be here if you wish to say hello. I wish you luck upon your journey, my canine friend, and hope that you do not need to use this potion, before the end."

Link nodded, took the jar, and quietly left.

Adventures in Ponyville: The Spa

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Rarity awoke to a glorious morning. The Sun was shining, the birds were singing, Sweetie had yet to try to make breakfast and had therefore not filled the boutique with the smell of burning toast... yes, it was a glorious morning. It was going to turn into a glorious day, too, of that Rarity was certain. For today, was the day. THE day.

She was taking Epona to the Day Spa.

The arrangements were made. Rarity had taken the Spa sisters aside and explained the situation, and they too were looking forward to making such a magnificent mare look dazzling. Rarity had even managed to get a discount out of it, what with Epona being a first time customer and with having her expenses paid for by crown (a good word with the Princesses, after all, was a payment all its own). Even better, her friends had agreed to come and be pampered as well, even Rainbow Dash.

It was going to be simply the best. Day. Ever!


At 9:30AM sharp, Rarity set out upon her mission. It was time.

Her heart was so giddy that the moment she stepped hoof out of her boutique, she simply could not keep it in anymore. Rarity Belle burst into spontaneous song, as the ponies of Equestria sometimes did, and sang her way over to her first stop at Sugarcube Corner as the chorus of ponies who joined fell into step behind her.

Pinkie Pie bounced out, adding a verse of her own, before the two made their way over to Twilight's tree home. Twilight too added to the song before continuing the chorus as the three marched towards the spa. Rainbow Dash found them on the way, adding an uncertain bit before falling in step with the rest, Rarity in the lead.

Coming in the opposite direction the saw Applejack and Fluttershy with their large companion, already singing their own versus as Epona twitched her ears. The two groups met just outside the spa and sang the final verse with great fanfare and accompaniment just as the spa sisters opened the door.

Rarity proudly escorted Epona to the front desk, her heart still singing as she told Aloe their appointment. It was quite obvious, but still, pleasentries must be observed. A proper lady never let their emotions run away with their manners, only their heart.

"Of course," Aloe replied. "I assume it is going to be the same for everypony?"

"Ah, no hooficure or mane styling for me," Rainbow interjected hurridly.

"'Fraid ah can't do them either, Rares," Applejack said, a bit more apologetically. "Ah got t' get back t' the farm soon as this is all over, ah don' wanna see yer hard earned bits goin' t' waste fer somethin' ah ain't gonna be able t' keep fer more than an hour."

Aloe looked to Rarity, who grudgingly agreed to the requests. It was a shame, those two. Rainbow's vibrant colors were simply a wonder to behold when properly primped and pampered, and when Applejack's mane was fresh-washed it was the most beautiful golden color. Why, give these ponies at the Day Spa a few hours with those two and they could look like princesses! Rarity banished the thought from her mind. Today was about Epona, not Applejack or Rainbow! She had time to work on those two later.

Lotus trotted up with towels for everypony. "If you would please follow me to the steam room."


Epona lay down in the small, tiled room.

She did not much see the point of the 'steam room', as everypony called it. It was small, it was hot, she could not see the other side of the room for all the steam, it was most certainly not made with a creature of her size in mind... the list went on. She was beginning to overheat, her coat beginning to foam with sweat even though she was not working at all. And for some reason, they had done up her mane in a towel. She wasn't sure why. All she knew was that her hair, all of it, was damp with steam and the beginnings of sweat.

She was about to raise her voice and say that she had to get out there in the vague direction of Rarity when the door to the room opened.

"If everypony would follow me to the showers," Lotus told the cloudy haze.

Epona was first out. Even if she hadn't been blocking the door because she couldn't fit on the normal benches she would have been first out the too-small door. That steam room was absolutely miserable and she did not intend to spend another moment in it. A bit of squeezing and her own powerful muscles finally got her through the door.

"This way, please," Lotus said with a smile as the others came piling out behind her. Epona followed her with long, slow strides as the pony trotted in front of her.

She could see why Rarity said she would feel like a whole new pony. Every pony here was so neat, so prim and proper and clean that she felt very dirty for walking through the clean corridors with sweat clogging her coat.

The hoofsteps behind her vanished and she found that Rarity and her friends were splitting off, directed into small rooms by other neat ponies.

"Miss Epona?"

Epona turned back around to see Lotus.

"I apologize, but you are too big to fit in our normal showers. Please, this way."



The next time Rarity saw Epona, she was relaxing in the mud bath with the rest of her friends. The horse was cautiously climbing the stairs to the large tub that made up the mineral bath. It took some coaxing from the spa sisters, but in the end Epona noisily splashed into the raised tub.

It was truly staggering just how large the mare was, Rarity reflected. The same tub that could fit five full-grown mares and Epona took most of it up– even now, she was standing with no trouble in the great wooden barrel that was taller than Rarity when she reared.

"Epona dear!" she called out with a hoof wave, catching her attention. "How are you enjoying things so far?"

Epona looked around uncertainly at the water she was in.

"I am not sure why you are giving me so many baths," she confessed. "Isn't one enough?"

Beside her, Rarity heard Rainbow Dash cover up a snort of laughter and saw Applejack grin. She ignored them.

"Dear, that isn't just a bath. The spa has put a very special concoction of herbs and minerals into your bath to bring out your natural radiance. Your coat will be positively sparkling by the time you finish your soak in there."

Epona looked around at the water uncertainly before taking a cautious sniff.


Soon enough, after a quick shower, their positions were reversed. Twilight and the others chatted happily in the mineral bath while Epona took up most of the mud bath. Facial mud was smeared liberally on her muzzle and head and cucumbers were across her eyes. Rarity took some time out of the gossip to check on her.

"Epona dear? How does it feel?"

A cucmber fell off as she swung her head towards the noise, revealing her large brown eyes.

"Strange. I have been washed twice and bathed once and now you want me to get in the mud?"

Rarity tittered at that.

"Just like the mineral bath, the mud has natural minerals and textures that help the skin. The mud smooths wrinkles and other signs of aging quite nicely," she explained.

Epona nodded uncertainly.

"I did not think mud could help me so much."

"Normal mud won't, dear," Rarity said with a shudder. "The mud here is specially prepared to rejuvinate the skin and fur, without all the ickyness that would be found in mud lying on the ground."

"Yea, otherwise Applejack would be beauty queen of the world," Rainbow called out.


Rarity sighed as the farmer and the athlete began a splashing competition in the expensive herbal bath, spilling frangranced water everywhere.


This is much better, Epona thought to herself.

She hadn't seen much point in getting rinsed off and put into different baths, especially when one of them was literally mud, but this... this 'massage' was much, much better.

After getting everypony out of the shower after her mud bath, Epona found herself getting a trim of her mane, tail, and fetlocks. They then moved on to massages, but for Epona, this was more than one thing. Her size was now a blessing, because it meant that multiple ponies could work their magic upon her at once. One spa mare was brushing and braiding her mane. A stallion (whom she could hear her friends giggling about) was giving her back a heavenely massage. And a final mare was brushing and braiding her tail.

She rested her head upon the massage table (they had, of course, abandonded it for her, what with her being far too heavy to get upon it. But it did provide a perfect headrest) and closed her eyes. The gentle pulling sensations on her neck and tail combined with the firm hooves of the stallion made her feel so relaxed, she just had to close her eyes for a moment. And then another moment. And another.

"So, Epona, what do you think now?" came the low, amused voice of Rarity.

Epona opened her eyes slowly. "Good. I like it. Massage is better than Ilia can give."


"She will be Link's mate," Epona stated, unaware that she had managed to stop all other conversation with that.

"'Will be'?" Applejack asked. Epona nodded.

"They are not mated yet. They prance around it like foals, but they will be mates. It will be soon, I think."

"Well, I am glad to hear one such as him has found somecreature to share his life with," Rarity said wholeheartedly. "She normally massages you?"

Epona shook her head at that.

"No. But she will take me to the spring sometimes and brush my mane and tail and coat. It feels so nice, especially in the spring. But she has never given me a massage to go with it," Epona said.

"Epona, do you know anypony else from where Link is from?" came Twilight's cautious voice. Epona thought about that for a minute.


"What about a town name?"


"Then why do you know Ilia's name?"

"She is close to Link."

Epona closed her eyes again and lost herself in the sensations of the Spa.


The doors to the Ponyville Day Spa opened wide to admit six mares with immaculate, almost shining coats and perfectly styled manes.

Behind them came a horse. Her fur had gone from a dark, dull brown to a lustrous chestnut color. Her ragged, wild white/grey mane and tail were gone, trimmed and replaced with a beautiful braided pattern. Her white fetlocks were no longer ragged, and her hooves had been thoroughly cleaned in the first hooficure she had ever had. A sunflower was tucked behind her ear, completing her ensamble.

Rarity smiled. No matter what she may think, the Spa visit had been a success. She enjoyed bringing out the best in a pony, and Epona looked as stately and elegant as a Canterlot noblemare.

"So, Epona, what did you think of the spa?"

"I feel so clean," she commented, craning her neck to look at herself.

"Ya look pretty good there, sugarcube. Ah don' go t' the spa that often, but ah have to admit the spa sisters sure know how t' make a pony look good."

A chorus of agreements came from the rest of the girls, even a rather small and rather embarrassed one from Rainbow Dash.

Epona agreed too.

Rarity smiled. Her job here was done.


The howl echoed through the night as Link called to his companion. He had need of her once more.

Behind him, in the distance, he heard a neigh that signaled she was close. Link shut his mouth and lowered his head, standing to his paws. He turned around to greet his friend–

Link cocked his head in confusion and his eyes widened a little bit in shock. He was quite certain he had never before in his life seen Epona looking so well-groomed, not even for festivals when Ilia had done her up. He didn't even know her coat had such a rich coloration to it.

"What? Is something wrong with my mane, Link?"

Intermission: Progress Report

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Dear Princess Celestia,

Life in Ponyville remains quiet for now. Well, mostly.

There have been no new issues, sightings or rumors of anything related to the Shadow. My research on the matter continues, however. I have attached a copy of my notes and calculations, and while I have been unable to duplicate the thaumatic signature, I believe I am on the right track to duplicating the unique magical characteristics of the shadow magic. My experiments have yet to produce any magical results greater than simple flaring, but they show promise in the way that they duplicate the thaumatic effects of the shadow magic.

Has Princess Luna been making any progress with the shard that she was studying? I have not heard anything from her.

In other news, my friends and I have had a slight breakthrough on the matter of the wolf. He was recently injured while saving three foals in town from a chimera, and during his convalescence Fluttershy was able to talk to him. I had put together a list of questions to asked, and received some interesting answers. His name is Link, and he knows Epona quite well, but much beyond that is not clear. I've attached a copy of the answers that Fluttershy was able to translate.

While I still do not know where he came from, and why this is happening, it appears that Link is at least on our side. I do have to admit he seems to be a bit of a softie despite his wild and dangerous exterior.

It would also appear that he has a friend of some sort, a small creature of approximately Spike’s size that rides Link around. I have only seen this creature from a distance, but Fluttershy has seen her much closer and described her as clearly intelligent but unable to understand or speak our language. The creature also appears to be capable of magic to some degree, as Fluttershy witnessed the creature (I shall call her an ‘imp’ for now, from Fluttershy’s description that seems to be the closest creature that we know of, and she claims it is also female) manifesting things, floating in midair, and vanishing things. Pinkie as well claims that she saw the imp vanish into Link's shadow, literally. Applejack has likely spent the most time with her, as she never leaves Link and he seems to enjoy spending time with Epona, and confirmed all of Fluttershy's and Pinkie's observations.

Unfortunately, the imp seems very shy, and I have not yet been able to examine her up close. I will attempt to interview or study her if I can, as I have no doubt she would be able to help me tremendously with my research if only I could spend some time with her.

They have come around town several times now, for various reasons. While the local ponies are understandably a bit wary of him, he has conducted himself well. With Pinkie having thrown her obligatory Welcome to Ponyville party, it seems that the town has at least accepted him in their midst.

I will continue my research here in Ponyville, and continue to keep an eye out for trouble. With the Elements here with their bearers, we are ready for anything that the Shadow may throw at us next.

Your faithful student,
Twilight Sparkle


My most faithful student,

I have turned your calculations and theories on Shadow magic over to the experts for further analysis and research. As the only magician trained by my school to have encountered this magic close up, your opinion and research is highly valued. By the way, Professor Huckleberry sends his regards.

I find myself more concerned about this Link. I have read the transcript and your other notes on him, and find his assertions rather intriguing. It implies that the Everfree holds far more than anypony has ever imagined, or than my sister and I ever expected, if it is true. An entire kingdom, toppled, their Princess captured and a usurper on the throne, and yet there is nowhere in this land where such a thing has happened. It is most unfortunate that neither Epona nor Link can, or are unwilling, to tell us more. Such information would be quite useful in the face of this Shadow.

His choice of companion is also curious, as imps were one of the primary servants of the Lords of Tartarus. They were never truly powerful, but could be dangerous in large numbers. More often than not, though, they were tricksters; I would recommend caution when dealing with this imp.

But I digress. No matter his confusing story, the two of them seem to oppose the Shadow and its minions, and for that I am grateful. If you believe he can be trusted, then I trust your judgement on the matter.

Luna has been working all hours of the day and night, studying and experimenting upon the shard of stone that she recovered from the Spring, to little progress I am afraid. I must admit, I am becoming concerned for her. She has not slept in several days, instead working with it all hours of the day and night. She has even missed a few of her responsibilities as Princess lately. Her lack of sleep has shortened her temper, but not her drive. She insists that examining the object is her responsibility alone and refuses to allow some of the members of my school to examine it as well.

I will talk to her and see if I can get her to send you a report of what she has learned, and perhaps get her to take a nap as well. Between the two of you, I have faith that we shall unravel this shadow mystery.

Stay safe, my faithful student.

Princess Celestia

Adventures in Ponyville: Ghostbuster

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Thursday night was bowling night.

Bon Bon and Lyra were big fans of it. Lyra had started it some time ago, fascinated with the game for some reason, and had dragged Bon Bon along with her. Since every Thursday was half-off after 9:00PM and she had nothing to do better anyways, she hadn't protested. The result was that it had become a regular affair that the two roommates engaged in, something of a tradition. A lone constant in the ever more interesting small town.

Lyra was a little tipsy, and so was Bon Bon. Happy hour at the bowling alley had successfully parted them from a number of bits, but neither was unhappy, and now it was time to go home, hit the hay, and get ready for the weekend.

"Hey, what's that?"

Lyra pointed her hoof at something. Something floating. A glowing turquoise lantern. Something that should not normally be floating through their yard.

Bon Bon blinked.

"Did I have too much to drink?" she asked her roommate. Lyra cocked her head and squinted.

"Maaayyybbbeee," she concluded.

Then the floating lantern laughed at them. It was not a nice laugh. And began to float towards them.

Both ponies lay their ears against their skulls and began backing up slowly.

"I vote we bolt," Bon Bon whispered, her eyes wide with fear.

"That'll provoke it," Lyra hissed back.

The lantern laughed again. Both ponies whinnied in fear and turned to bolt–

A terrifying growl sounded from behind them. Before they could do more than take a step in any direction, panicked beyond any sense of reason, a black furred mass appeared out of the dark behind them. It cut right between them, fur brushing the flanks of both ponies as they parted like water, and leapt at the floating lantern with canines bared.

Bon Bon, frightened beyond belief, bolted for the nearest cover she could find, which happened to be her neighbors' yard and front door. She leapt the fence like it was a hurdle and desperately tried the door, hoping it was unlocked and finding that it unfortunately was locked and holy Celestia she could hear the growls and unnatural laughs and screams and they were right behind her oh Celestia she was going to die she was going to die she was going to die...

The growls stopped. Silence descended upon the night. Bon Bon stopped trying to claw her way through her neighbor's door and looked back.

There, standing in the pale light of the moon and the nearest street lamp, Link stood victorious over the glowing blue lantern, canines flashing in the light as he took heavy breaths. On his back, a small creature of some sort the likes of which Bon Bon had never seen smiled. Stooping his head over the bare ground, he fastened his powerful jaws about something, and pulled savagely.

It took a few tugs, but whatever Bon Bon couldn't see gave way, and he stepped back. For a moment, she could swear he glowed blue, just like the lantern...

Bon Bon blinked as Link turned in her direction, fixing her with a glare. He gave a firm nod in her direction before beginning to walk off as the little creature on his back seemed to praise him.

Bon Bon waved an uncertain hoof at him and watched them disappear into the night.

It was the second time he had saved her, and this time he may well have saved her life.

"Bon Bon!" came a shout. A moment later, Lyra rushed up and collapsed next to her.

"Bon Bon! Are you alright? He didn't get you did he or I'll–"

Bon Bon pushed the hooves off her face.

"I'm fine, Lyra. Really!" she assured her roommate. "He saved us–"

"He growled at us and scared us both half to death!"

"He fought that thing and saved us both!" Bon Bon shot back.

Her roommate wasn't in a listening mood. She could see it in her eyes– Lyra was still ready to bolt, adrenaline coursing through her veins, making her jittery. Bon Bon grabbed her friends head and forced Lyra to look into her eyes.

"Lyra. Calm. Down. We are ok. Link saved us from that... That thing. Everything is alright," she said firmly and slowly. Lyra's breathing slowed and her pupils lost their frantic edge.

Bon Bon looked around. They were alone, nopony was in sight in the dark night. Link was gone.

It was over.

Bon Bon shook her head. With the adrenaline wearing off, lethargy was spreading through her like wildfire through a forest. Fortunately, she knew exactly what to do to counter that.

"Come on, Lyra, let's go home and get to bed."

Adventures in Ponyville: Rainbow Road REMATCH

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Rainbow Dash woke to a howl. Her afternoon nap was being cut short, again.

She yawned and turned back over, trying to get the vaporous cloud to muffle the sound and go back to sleep. Then her eyes shot open and she kicked the cloud underneath her, causing it to pop and putting her into free-fall.

The fall was just the spike of adrenaline she needed to fully wake up. Rainbow grinned as she flared her wings for a landing. It was time for a rematch!

Link waited patiently before her, watching as she came to land.

"So, you ready for another round?"


"All right. On yer marks," Applebloom called out.

This wasn't their first rematch. Link had challenged her more than once since their first race, and he was getting closer and closer to beating her. He was only five seconds behind her time last time. She was still better than him, but only just. If she wanted to win this race, Rainbow was going to have to put it all on the line.

"Get set!"

Rainbow grinned. She was going to win. She was the fastest pony in Equestria. Future Wonderbolt. The only Sonic Rainboom in more than a thousand years! There was just simply no way she could lose!


Rainbow took wing and shot into the lead, so fast she appeared as nothing more than a blue and rainbow blur.


Link ran, his paws pushing powerfully off the ground with every stride. His opponent would be nearly half way done by now, nearing the end of the finish line only to start again. She was, in truth, the fastest living creature he had ever seen, and it was only through these convoluted rules and the limitations imposed by trying to fly through a forest at near ground level that he was able to get close to her at all.

But she was still ahead. He had been closing the gap every time he came back for another race, slowly but surely. Repeated runs through the forest had honed his knowledge of their race track, and for every little shortcut he found, another few seconds of her lead would vanish.

Link jumped onto a fallen tree just to the right of the path and ran up it, avoiding a limb that had fallen over the trail. Critical seconds that would have been wasted slowing down to go around the side and squirming through the snagging branches were avoided. With a leap, he jumped back onto the trail and landed without a break in his stride.

Link put on a burst of speed. He would win, this time.


The trees passed in a blur to Rainbow. If she hit one of them, it would hurt. A LOT. It would probably break her record of the longest hospital stay.

Rainbow grinned. Like she would hit a tree. She was Rainbow Dash! There was just no way she was going to– whoa!

Rainbow swerved just in time to dodge a limb in her path. She wiped the sweat from her brow and continued forward. Maybe she shouldn't boast in the middle of a race... not even to herself...

She continued at her blinding pace, following every curve and turn the trail had to offer. She was significantly slower in these trees than she was in the open air, but she liked flying like this. It was more of a challenge, and quite a workout to boot.

She recognized the beginnings of the final stretch, and suddenly became worried. Where was that wolf? She hadn't passed him yet... of course, she hadn't passed him before the final stretch in any of their races yet...

She poured on more speed, flapping her wings powerfully, every bit of her straining against the resistance of the air in front of her. She was forced to brake to make the final turn, and then... she saw it.

Link, further ahead of her than he had ever been before, nearing the finish line.

Oh no you don't!

Rainbow put on every bit of speed she could muster for the last straightaway, every ounce of energy. Even so, he was far ahead. It was going to be close...!

Rainbow flashed across the finish line and turned upwards, bleeding off speed before turning it into a gentle glide. She grinned. She had won again. She had to have won. There was just no way she could have lost to something that had to run along the ground–

Applejack was grinning like the cat that had got the canary. No... no way...

"And the winner is... Link!" Applebloom announced enthusiastically.

Rainbow was so dumbstruck she forgot to stick the landing. She unceremoniously skidded to a halt at Applejack's hooves.

"Wha... but... there's no way... he couldn't...." she protested weakly from her position on the ground.

"He beat ya fair an' square, sugarcube. At least, as much 'fair and square' as that means in this whole convoluted race," Applejack refuted. "Came in a whole half-second ahead of you. 'Course, he looks like he just ran the race of his life."

Rainbow looked over to see that Link was, indeed, still panting heavily. He was stretched out on the ground, belly on the cool ground and all four paws in different directions, tongue lolling out of his mouth as Applebloom spritzed him with a little fan/water bottle thing.

Time passed in a daze, and after a while Rainbow was only vaguely aware of Applejack helping her to her hooves. I lost...

"So you know what he wants as a prize?" Applejack asked. Rainbow instantly became nervous.


She wasn't going to like this, was she?

Applejack snorted.

"Well, me neither. Looks like we get t' find out together. So, Link, ya won, and Rainbow promised t' do whatever you wanted within reason–"

"What about all the times that I won!" Rainbow yelped in protest.

"That wasn't part of the deal, Rainbow," Applejack said with a sly grin. She leaned in close. "Bet you never thought he'd win, didja?"

Rainbow snorted and ignored the farm mare. She threw out her chest and marched up in front of Link.

"Well, you won," she told him. "So, what do you want me to do? What do you want?"

Link stared past her, just to her side.

"Uh, hello?" she said waving her hoof up in down in front of his face. He looked her in the eye and growled before flicking his eyes back to something else. She snorted her frustration.

"Ah think he wants a feather, Rainbow."

Rainbow turned her head to see that her wings were spread and that Link was staring very intently at a feather that was out of place. After a hard workout like this, it wasn't surprising to see feathers out of alignment and other such things.

"You want a feather?" she asked him.

He looked her in the eye and nodded once.

Rainbow took a few steps away, just enough to get some space, then folded one wing against her side and brought the other as far forward as she could. Then, she craned her head back, and began to preen.

She felt her tension melt away as she straightened and maintained her feathers. Preening was supremely important to any and all pegasi, a necessity to keep their wings clean and flightworthy. Straighten this feather here, tuck it back under there...

One feather was broken. It had to come all the way out. She grabbed it, and with a little tug and a prick of pain, it came out. Good, just what Link wanted.

"Here," she said around the feather. Link carefully took the blue feather from her teeth into his own canines, then stepped back.

"I sure hope today doesn't go to your head," Rainbow told him, a bit of her old bluster back. "I mean, after all, I did beat you all those times before. You won't find it so easy next time you race me!"

Rainbow caught the tail wag and the ends of her lips twitched upwards ever so slightly.

"Come back when you're ready for the next race!"

Adventures in Ponyville: There's Treasure Everywhere

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Equestria was a curious place compared to the world that Link knew. Having observed the town for some time now, he had seen many incredible or even downright impossible things that to the ponies were completely normal.

Example: ponies of the pegasus kind were capable of walking on clouds.

And sleeping on clouds. And causing rain to fall from clouds. And causing thunderstorms. Rainbow Dash was the most visible, her tail hanging over a cloud near the race line, but he hadn't really seen the full extent of their control over the clouds until he had broken the treeline one day to find himself in a thunderstorm.

Important distinction there. It was completely sunny in the Everfree forest, but the moment he had stepped across the invisible line that separated the forest from the edge of the town, he had become absolutely soaked. He'd even tested it by standing halfway across the invisible line; his rear half was being rained on, his front half was drying as the sun beat down upon his fur.

Then a bolt of lightning had struck nearby, causing him to jump out of his fur. Midna had laughed at him for that one, but he'd gotten revenge by shaking all the water out with her right next to him. Deciding that he didn't fancy walking through an artificial lightning storm to visit the town or Epona, Link had decided to come back another day.

Today was another day, and while he had been quietly walking his way through the forest on his way to Ponyville, he had found something... curious. A cloud, floating above the forest, that had a very distinct wooden object on top of it. A treasure chest.

After several minutes of watching the cloud float around the sky with a wooden chest that likely weighed nearly eighty pounds on top of it, Link finally thought of a way to get to it. Flying was, unfortunately, out of the question in this area. But, there were other clouds in the sky; most seemed to drift in a pattern, and from his view on the ground it did not look too far to jump from one cloud to the other. It would take careful timing and patience, but if he could get to the clouds...

It took a few minutes of searching, but Link eventually managed to find a cloud that was at at a height that he could jump to, floating peacefully next to a large cliff face that had recently suffered a rockfall.

Link turned his head back to see his mount and whined. Midna conjured his pack and, after a moment's' search inside the magical bag, found what she was looking for, a bottle with blue sparkling liquid inside. She held it out for him to inspect, and asked him a question.

He chuffed in response. With a bright and cheery demeanor, Midna used the orange tentacle arm that sprouted from her head opened the bottle, then carefully held it to Link's lips for him to drink. He drank carefully, attempting not to spill a single precious drop of the liquid. After several slurping gulps, the potion was gone, and Midna put the empty bottle away for later use.

Link gave himself a quick look over, to confirm the potion had worked. His paws were now glowing with a rosy red light, and the white sections of his fur had gone from white to cyan. On his back, Midna giggled, then conjured a mirror for him to see himself. His shaggy 'mane' of hair had gone from black to all colors of the rainbow, just like a certain rainbow-haired pegasus that he had recently managed to beat. He looked rather ridiculous, a black wolf with a blue underbelly and a rainbow 'mane'.

Well, it seemed like the potion was working, no matter the way he looked; the last time, when he had used the potion made from Fluttershy's feather, he had gained a yellow belly, bluish/green glowing paws, and a pink 'mane'. It seemed as though the potion results were affected by the identity of the pegasus feather donor. No doubt Zecora would wish to know, he would have to see if he could make it to her hut after he got this treasure chest.

Confident the potion was working, Link stepped onto the cloud. The water vapor, which normally would have simply parted and sent him plummeting to the ground at least a hundred feet below the cliff face, held his weight. It was semi-soft, wet, and cool to the touch as he stepped fully onto the little cloud, and held his weight with no problem.

Link was standing on a cloud.

From there, it was just a matter of timing and careful jumps between the patches of cloud in the sky. With Midna floating around spotting for him, the process was relatively simple, if a little time consuming. In fact, he had nearly made it to the chest when he managed to disturb something.

It squawked like a bird, but it was nothing nearly so simple. It was feathered like a bird, true, and resembled one in some aspects, like the wings, but the long undulating body was covered in scales, and beyond the wings there were no feathers, or even other limbs. It also sported a pair of vicious looking fangs, and the way that it bared them as it turned around and headed back for him made it clear that it whatever the thing was, it wasn't friendly. With a hiss, it launched itself at the wolf and his rider.

Link was quick with the dodge, jumping to another section of cloud to dodge the incoming coatl. It had forced him back a cloud, and as long as that thing was flying around, there was no way he would be able to get the precise timing he would need to get to the treasure chest. He would have to handle this threat if he was to continue forward.

His rainbow hackles rose as he bared his teeth at the flying feathery snake, and between the hairs one could see small jolts of electricity. His tail too began to spark as he stood in one place, charging up for what was next. On his back, Midna grinned a menacing snaggletooth grin as the orange tentacle hand extended, like a finger pointing, in front of him; a few small shuffles, and Link aligned the finger to his opponent.

The coatl gave a hissing screech as it turned back for another pass, coming straight for Link.

The sparking tail dropped, sending the built up electricity flowing from his body and into the cloud he was standing on. The cloud turned black and spat a bolt of lightning, directly where Midna was pointing, and right into the face of the flying snake/bird.

The creature convulsed as the lightning struck it head on, letting out a hiss/squawk of pain. Then the lightning bolt was gone, leaving behind an unhappy and slightly smoking coatl. The look it shot Link was murderous, but unfortunately for it, all its flight feathers had been burnt off. The coatl hissed at them as it began a slow and only slightly controlled descent towards the ground below.

On his back, Midna retracted her tentacle hand and clapped her hands together in the manner of a worker solving a particularly annoying problem. Link merely padded to the edge of the cloud and looked down, allowing him to see the particularly incensed snake/bird as it hissed up at him from a tree partway down the cliff face.

Satisfied that their opponent was taken care of, Link returned his attention to getting to the chest. A few more minutes of carefully timed jumps, and he was standing on the cloud with the chest.

Midna flicked her hands, and the lock on the chest broke and fell to the ground before cantilevering open. Link sat and watched as a clear heart-shaped container floated out; inside, a pink gem took up approximately one fifth of the volume of the heart container. He stared at it for a few moments, examining it for traps, and for the beauty of what it was, before Midna giggled. A snap of her fingers and the heart was gone, and something in Link felt... heartier, tougher.

A few moments later, the feeling was gone. Link stood, and after a careful judgement of the ground relative to his height, jumped off the cloud. It was approximately a three story fall, high enough that he had to be careful where he landed but not too high that he was worried about major injury.

He landed back on the path he had been on earlier perfectly. With a shake of his head, he headed back down the trail into the Everfree, the only evidence of the jaunt one irritated coatl and a rainbow hairdo.


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It was evening in Canterlot, nearing sundown. The sun was low on the horizon, casting long shadows across the city.

Celestia ate her dinner in the waning light, the small salad portion her dietician had given her. The majority of her little ponies would no doubt be doing the same, enjoying a good meal before bed. At the same time, she knew that there would be some, not many but some, ponies that were just waking up and eating breakfast.

She smiled slightly to herself. The local night scene was something that Celestia had never even dreamed of. She had done a great many things to encourage acceptance of the night and darkness over the last thousand years, but the night life had evolved on its own. She had encouraged it, of course; such things would make Luna so happy. How her sister had loved it when she had found out that first week back, going out alone for a midnight stroll only to come upon a pony who was a kindred spirit of the night. If only there had been such a phenomenon a thousand years ago, perhaps her sister would not have become Nightma-

Celestia bit down harder than she meant to on her salad fork, causing a tink that could be heard across the table.

There was nopony there to hear it. The place, all set for her sister, was empty. The food which had been set out along with her own was cold by now.

She hadn’t dined with her sister all week.

Celestia sighed. Luna had been so wrapped up in her work these last few days that she had ceased coming to meals. This morning, the sunrise was late– Celestia had waited and waited for her sister to lower the moon, but her sister had not touched her celestial orb. She had finally done it herself, prepared for a verbal haranguing from her sister for touching her beloved Moon, but no such thing happened.

She was worried. This obsession in some ways reminded her of Luna's fall; a thousand years ago, she had begun skipping meals and shutting herself away from the world as well. She had withdrawn, coming out of her chambers only on the most dire of reasons. Of course, it had all ended when she had come out in the middle of the day and had declared that the night would last forever.

With a practiced smile, Celestia excused herself from the table as one of her faithful ponies began to clean up the table. She caught one last glimpse of Luna's untouched meal before it too was swept out of the room with her own dishes.

For a thousand years she had eaten meals without her sister. She would not see such a thing come to pass again, not if she could help it.


Celestia had optimistically checked her sister's bedchambers first in the hopes that her sister had finally decided to sleep, but she was disappointed. Then she had checked the astronomy tower, in the hopes that her sister had decided to take a break and do some stargazing, as she often did when she was stuck or needed time to mull things over. She was once again disappointed. She hoped, nay, prayed, that Luna would raise the Moon and her beloved stars when the time came for the changing day, but Celestia was disappointed in this as well. She gave up and brought forth the night, as she had so rarely done in the last two years, when it became clear that her sister would not be doing so herself.

It was the last straw, in Celestia's mind. Something had to be done. Now. Before she lost her sister for another thousand years, or worse.

She made her way towards her sister's Arcanum, deep within the cliff that Canterlot rested upon. Celestia had never been much for magic; oh, she was good enough at spells, quite adept at those she chose to master, but the inspiration and drive to create new forms of magic, to tease out the arcane secrets of the world, that talent belonged to her sister. It always had. She had built the Arcanum to cater to those interests, deep enough and far enough away to be safe for her more dangerous tests. More recently, her Arcanum had become her makeshift home as she examined the artifact that she had brought back from the Spring.

A short conversation with one of the bat-winged Night Guard standing outside revealed that Luna had not left the Arcanum for nearly two days now. She had not been requesting meals for last day, though the Guard outside had ordered and delivered meals to her. The guard told Celestia that her sister had been unusually focused; she had barely acknowledged his presence, or the food. His delivery this evening had found that she had not eaten her lunch.

Warning bells rang inside Celestia's head, even as she smiled and thanked him before making her way into the Arcanum herself.

The large, hemispherical chamber was full of archaeo-tech objects, from thuamatic resonators to archaeo-spectral detectors. It was a place that had quite clearly been built and designed by her sister; the lone light in the room floated above the water chalice in the center of the room, and everywhere Celestia looked, it was dark– the stone, the counters, her sister...

Luna sat facing away from the door, unmoving; even her mane appeared still. A tray of food, untouched, sat on the counter near her, the only noticable thing on the table as it appeared all the other arcane equipment had been cleared away from the area. All except the object, of course. It hung in front of her, the flat reflective surface turned such that Celestia could see her reflection as she came up behind her sister.

Her sister did not respond to her presence, not even to the hoofsteps that Celestia did not muffle that sounded throughout the chamber. Her mane flowed ever so slowly, her fur was unkempt and messy, and Celestia's nose detected a certain staleness about her sister that indicated that she had not bathed in several days. Nothing highly offensive, mind, but every pony developed an odor after time without a cleansing, something that she and her sister, powerful as they were, were not exempt from.

More concerning to Celestia was the unbroken stare of her sister into the reflective surface of the artifact, marred only by an occasional, likely involuntary, eye twitch.

"Luna?" Celestia asked softly. There was no response.

"Lulu?" she tried again, poking her sister slightly. Luna did not respond to this any more than she responded to her name.

Celestia sighed. She had feared that her sister was becoming obsessed and it appeared that her fears were justified. Given her state, it appeared that she had perhaps even waited too long to intervene. Nevertheless, the situation was still salvageable in her opinion. Separation from the artifact, a few days rest, and Luna would no doubt be as good as new.

"Sister, this has gone on long enough," Celestia said as she gently yet firmly pushed her sister with a hoof. "You haven't even taken the time to eat, much less perform your–"


Luna reacted violently once her sister had pushed her to the point where she had lost eye contact with the reflective surface. Celestia was not prepared for her sister to shove her aside. She now stood, eye still twitching, a mere half hoof from the mirror, her eyes wide as they peered into the black depths of the mirror.

For a few moments Celestia simply stared. Then she tried a different angle of attack.

"Sister, you have to get some rest," Celestia stated as she reached for the artifact. "Please–"

The next thing Celestia was consciously aware of was the sensation of flying through the air– without the aid of her wings. After that, it was the very intense pain in her skull and back that came with being slammed through three separate tables filled with glassware and arcane equipment followed by an unfortunate encounter with the solid rock that made up the walls of the Arcanum.

She lay there, dazed, before she was suddenly grabbed in a turquoise aura. It began to drag her across the floor, through the wreckage her sudden and unexpected flight had left. She lit her horn, attempting to clear her mind enough to counteract the spell, but before she could do so her horn was doused in turquoise and her magic forced painfully back into her skull.

"Well, well, sister," came a silky voice. Even through her pain-induced haze, Celestia recognized that voice. Her eyes widened and her hooves struggled, but the grip was too strong and her magic was blocked.

Her journey stopped just in front of the mirror, at hooves that were covered in silver slippers. Turquoise magic began to lift her, starting with her head and dragging the rest of her body up with it. Up, past the silver hoof slippers, past the silver armor that adorned her sister's now midnight-black barrel, past the armored neckline, past the muzzle that greeted her with fangs, up to the teal, dragon-irised eyes.

The eyes of Nightmare Moon.

"You should know better than to take something that belongs to me, Celestia," Nightmare Moon smiled, revealing the full extent of her pointed fangs.

"And it does belong to me," she continued, running a hoof teasingly along Celestia's jawline. "It will ALWAYS belong to me and me alone, now and forever." She smirked. "Just as the night shall now last forever more. And you did it all yourself, sister; you set your own Sun for the last time, and have raised my beautiful Moon, all on your own." She giggled, a deceptively innocent sound, as she leaned in closer to Celestia.

"Luna–" Celestia tried to say.


The force of the blow to her cheek sent Celestia reeling back to the floor. Her golden crown clattered against the far wall.

"There is no more Luna, Celestia. There is only the Nightmare! And I SHALL NOT be denied!"

Nightmare Moon threw her head back and laughed as she stood victorious over the struggling and defeated form of Celestia. Her horn lit and her starry mane billowed behind her armored helm as tendrils of magic began gathering around Celestia, focusing upon the horn.

"With your defeat, SISTER, there remains only ONE thing in this world that can stop me. The Elements, those precious little jewels of yours. Only now, they answer not to you, but to six little ponies." She smiled predatorily. "Six vulnerable, mortal, insignificant little ponies. Once they are taken care of, nothing can stand before me. The Mirror is mine! Equestria, is mine! And the night! Shall! Last! FOREVER! HAHAHAHAHAHA!"

It was the last thing Celestia remembered before the spell sent the Goddess of the Sun to her prison.


“Twilight! Supper!” Spike called. His voice was muffled by the thick wooden door leading to the basement currently serving as her laboratory, but experience at listening to muffled words through doors allowed Twilight to make out his call.

“Coming Spike!” she shouted back through the door.

Her mind was still buzzing with thaumatic theories and calculations as she sat down at the table. She was breaking new ground here in every sense of the word, attempting to invent a new magic that would match the signatures and properties of a magic she had only really examined for a few hours. The fact that she had managed to flare her horn a fluorescent turquoise in color, with a similar signature to that of the shadow, was nothing short of a miracle.

She was so preoccupied with her thoughts on magic that she wasn't even aware she was eating dinner. In fact, she only stopped thinking about it when a certain drake loudly announced that he was going to eat the rest of the ice cream, and she was half-way through automatically agreeing to it.

After giving him a scolding and restricting him to two scoops, along with herself, Twilight decided that maybe it was time to take a break. As her friends had been reminding her every so often since the Smarty Pants Incident, breaks and sleep were an essential part of life and she was not allowed to go without either of them for extended lengths of time, on pain of Pinkie Pie intervention. As such, Twilight decided that, since the sun had now set and the moon and stars were out, she would take a break and stargaze for an hour before going back down to her lab.

Luna's Night was always such a beautiful thing. Twilight had always enjoyed looking at the stars, those little points of possibility and inspiration, but she had to admit that the last two years since the true Princess of the Night came back had been the most spectacular, and she was eager to see what Luna would do tonight.

She had barely finished setting out her telescope on the balcony when she heard the door to the library open.

"Spike, could you go see who that is?" she called out. Behind her in the bedroom, she heard the drake grumble out a reply (something about interrupting his bath time, but she hadn't heard running water yet so he couldn't have started it) before he headed downstairs.

She focused her telescope and eyed the sky, trying to decide what she wanted to look at first, but before she could look a thump reached her ears.

"Spike? Is everything alright?"

There was no response.

"Spike?" she called out, trotting back inside. She called downstairs, but he still didn't answer.

Her ears folded back. Something was wrong here, her instincts were telling her. Even though to her eyes, the brightly-lit library looked no different than–

A candle blew out in a puff of sparkling blue smoke. Then another. Then another. Twilight watched, frozen, as the candles blew themselves out one by one, until the only light was the moonlight that streamed through the windows.

Twilight gulped. Her hoofsteps as she descended the stairs were deafening in the silence of the room.

"H-hello? Is anypony there?"

A sinister chuckle from behind caused Twilight to nearly jump out of her hooves.

"I am here," Nightmare Moon crooned.

"Wha... ba.... Luna?"

Nightmare Moon's smile widened to show her fangs. "No. Not Luna."

Twilight flared her magic as the Nightmare's horn lit, but the sleep spell was too powerful. Twilight collapsed into an unconcious heap on the floor.

Nightmare Moon took a moment to make certain that her spell was stable, before her horn flared again, picking a single book off the shelf. The Complete History of the Rise and Fall of the Griffin Empire, Volume 4, AE 189–329. The front cover opened, revealing it to be a hollowed out book; inside, was the crown with a pink starburst gem. The tiara of the Element of Magic.

The grin on the Nightmare's face widened.


Metal-shod hooves clicked on the stone floor. A single pony walked down the barely-lit corridor of rough stone. Green vines and moss covered the walls; as the pony continued to walk, he passed a great hole in the stone wall, showing the starry night in the sky and dense jungle beneath. He did not notice.

One might be tempted to call this pony a member of the Night Guard; he was slate grey, wearing official-looking armor, and had yellow eyes. That, however, was where the similarities became warped. His armor was different, darker, with a different design; his crest was not made from hair, but seemed to be webbed like the wing of a bat; his tail was dyed a deep, almost black, purple color; but, most tellingly of all, were the reptilian diamond pupils of his eyes.

A second pony, looking nearly the same and clad in the same armor, joined the first from another corridor. A little further down, a unicorn of this new guard joined them, followed by another. The four continued down the dimly lit hallways until a pair of pegasi guards joined the group.

Together, the six guards marched past the multi-armed pedastal that had once held the stone representations of the Elements of Harmony, and into the throne room. The great room was in disrepair; parts of the ceiling had fallen in, and the columns were cracked. Despite this, it was still an imposing and awe-inspiring room. Even more so with the large form of Nightmare Moon on the dias that once held the throne.

She did not turn at the steps of the six guards behind her, instead continuing to gaze out the window into her beautiful night. Not until the guards stopped and bowed did she acknowledge them.

"Is it done?"

"Yes." The six guards answered in unison.

Nightmare Moon's gaze slid away from the night and onto the six guards before her.

"Very good. Set up a patrol, and seal all entrances. None may enter except by my will," the Nightmare commanded.

"Your will be done, Mistress of the Night."

Nightmare Moon smiled, showing her fangs, as the six guards turned and left with military precision. The guards that had been charged with guarding and running the Diamond Dogs had not been cooperative with their new Queen at first, but a bit of the power she had gained from the mirror had turned them into her obedient servants without breaking their discipline.

The Castle of the Royal Sisters was not Canterlot, but to Nightmare Moon, it was perfect. Only the most foolhardy would enter the Everfree. There would be no prying eyes, no heroes coming to stop her; the forest itself would defeat her foes for her, leaving her unchallenged, and the Mirror, her precious Mirror, safe from all.

Her grin widened at the thought of heroes. Celestia was banished from the disc, her body and will imprisoned upon the very Sun from which she drew strength. She would not be a problem; she was as helpless as the Nightmare was during her imprisonment on the Moon. More, even; Celestia did not have the ingenuity or the connection to manipulate the stars to do her bidding. There would be no escape for the Sun Nag.

The Elements, too, were no threat. Finding them had been foals' play. No hiding place could disguise the power that each Element exuded, not from her. And the Bearers, those oh-so-trusting mortal ponies that Celestia was relying upon to save the day, had been dealt with as well. All six of their minds were trapped within her realm of dreams, the plane over which the Nightmare held total dominion. Their bodies too had been taken by the Nightmare to her new Castle, as further insurance against potentially meddlesome foals. And all she needed was to turn one to her side, apply the slightest pressure in the right place, a stick here, an apple there... and the Elements would be broken, never to threaten her again.

Even better, with the chaos the return of the eternal night would bring, Equestria would be paralyzed; the whelpling Cadence would not be able to restore order, not when it was clear where the real power lay. Equestria would be ripe for the taking; all the Nightmare had to do was bide her time.

And with Celestia gone, with the Elements divided, with Equestria under her hoof... there would be nothing that was capable of stopping her.

The black obsidian mirror shard reflected her form as she threw back her head and her laughter sounded throughout the halls.

Eternal Night

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It was dark when Link broke from the trees at the edge of the town of ponies. It was slightly concerning to him; the day and night cycles of this land seemed to mirror those of his home, and as such, it should be day by now. Then again, the night did not seem unnatural to his senses, with the bright stars and the clear moonlight, nothing at all like the spirit world of twilight he had forced back earlier. Unable to come to a satisfactory answer on his own, Link decided to head to town, where the townsponies may be able to let him know what was going on.

A familiar slap on his shoulders signaled that Midna was ready to go. Link set off at a moderate walk towards the light of the town in the dead of the night.


Mayor Mare had been dreading this moment ever since it had become clear that the sun was not going to rise this morning. She had spent the time frantically requesting information from Canterlot using every method she could think of, but the response had been far worse than she could have imagined.

The situation is under control; please remain calm. Please send the Element Bearers to Canterlot as soon as possible by Friendship Express, an urgent matter has arisen.

Her Royal Highness,
Princess Mi Amore Cadenza

Having spent a life in politics, she knew the language. They had no idea what was going on any more than she did.

Even worse, after she had sent for the Bearers, she was forced to write back with terrible, terrible news. The Bearers were gone. The runner she had sent out for the six heroic mares had returned with word that there were signs of a struggle at Fluttershy's house. Spike, who had been found in the Library, was able to tell even more. He remembered, right before he fell asleep, seeing Nightmare Moon.

Mayor Mare gulped at the mere thought. Nightmare Moon. The boogeymare of foals everywhere, once thought to be a myth, once redeemed, now returned. It became clear as to why Celestia's Sun had not risen this morning.

Mayor Mare swallowed through her suddenly dry throat and nervously straightened her glasses before leaving her office and heading to the podium outside the town hall. As mayor of the town, she had to try to keep the populace calm.

How she was going to do that she did not know.

"There's Mayor Mare! She can tell us what's going on!"

She hadn't even realized she had reached the podium in the dim light of the torches. Then she found herself being stared at by the majority of the population of the small town, each clamoring for an answer.

"Quiet! Please, everypony, settle down, settle down!" she shouted above the din. It took a few seconds, but then she had their undivided attention. She almost wished she didn't. More out of habit than anything, she made a show of organizing the papers she had brought with her, even though they had nothing on them. With nothing else to tell them, she brought the letter to the forefront and began making it up as she went along.

"Citizens of Ponyville, please, remain calm–"

"Why hasn't the Sun come up!" demanded a hysterical pony from the back. The uncertain and panicked chatter came back in full force.

"Please, everypony, remain calm!" she shouted across the din.

"But what if it never rises again?! What if Nightmare Moon has returned and Celestia has been defeated and the night will last forever and she demands our candy as tribute and–"

Mayor Mare grimaced as Roseluck, through sheer paranoia, managed to hit the nail on the head. Well, mostly. She was pretty sure that Nightmare Moon would not be demanding candy as tribute to her reign, nor was it likely that Moon Pies be the only food that could be eaten forever more. She was also suddenly aware of just how silent the crowd was after the random accusation. They were all waiting for her to deny it.

"Ah-hem." She adjusted her glasses nervously. "Please remain calm, Canterlot is doing everything they can in this crisis–"

Mayor Mare got no further as the crowd of ponies dissolved into a panicked stampede in every direction. Unnoticed in the confusion, Link slipped away down a darkened alley, having heard everything.


Link had been all over the town, looking for some pony that knew what was going on. His first move had been to find Fluttershy, considering she was the only one who even partially understood him. It appeared that she had been taken, however. From the signs of struggle and the unfamiliar smell, she had not been taken without a fight, but she was nonetheless gone.

He had then run back to town to find it still in the throes of panic. By this point, it looked like the majority of them were stocking up and fortifying– windows had planks over them, doors were locked tight, and every pony out on the streets was galloping at full speed with saddlebags stuffed full of supplies of every sort.

Which, to be honest, was nice because he wasn’t getting any particularly strange looks. Then again, he nearly got trampled several times.

By the time he reached the circular house where Rarity lived, the streets were emptying. He had scratched and whined at her door for several minutes, but no one answered. Link contemplated going directly to the farm where Epona was, but decided on one last stop before he left town. The hollow tree in the middle of town housed Twilight Sparkle, who seemed to be the leader of the little group of friends he had come to know. Perhaps she would be able to point him in the right direction, or tell him what was going on.

By the time he reached the tree library, the streets were devoid of life.

He scratched on the wooden door, then sat down, feeling Midna clamp into his sides as he did so. Hopefully someone was home and could tell him what was going on.


"Food, check. Water, check. Backpack, check."

Spike had lived for many years with Twilight Sparkle. Even more so, he had learned her obsessive compulsive habits, mainly so that he could help to prevent them, or so he knew when to hide. The checklist was her most powerful. It was almost mystical how a proper checklist, dictated by Twilight and written by yours truly, could make even the most complex or demanding task simple, so long as it was well planned and all the steps were meticulously followed. As such, Spike had written a checklist of his own.

Checklist to Save Twilight and All of Ponyville from Nightmare Moon

1. Food.
2. Water.
3. Backpack.
4. Go into Everfree Forest
5. Defeat Nightmare Moon

Unfortunately, Twilight was usually the one that came up with the checklist, not Spike. He usually just wrote it down.

As Spike looked over his supplies in his little backpack, he felt as though he was missing something. Something important. He paused. He had food, he had water, he had something to carry it in.... what else did he need to defeat the Nightmare?

Spike smacked his forehead.

A sword, of course! And a shield.

The brainwave caused him to frown. Link hadn’t returned that stuff to him yet! How was he going to find Link and get his stuff back so he could save the day and rescue Rarity again?

Scratching came from the door of the library.

Now, scratching was not the normal sound of something at the door, since ponies made more of a dull thud with their heavy hooves. Spike instantly made the connection and rushed over to open it.

“Link! Come on!” He had barely opened the door before rushing off to get his backpack and finish packing it. He had spread out all the items on the floor, to make certain they were there before ticking them off. As he did so, he rushed to tell Link everything he had found.

“Nightmare Moon is back! She put me to sleep and she must have taken Twilight and all the other Elements! She went into the Everfree, the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, you can’t see it normally but through Twi’s telescope I could see pegasi guards and turquoise lights coming from it! It’s gotta be where she took them!”

Spike struggled with the zipper on the pack for a moment. A ruby shard fell out of the top as it did so. Shrugging, Spike popped it into his mouth, savoring the juicy flavor of the gem, before getting his pack on and turning around.

“C’mon, we gotta–”

Spike stopped dead. On Link’s back was the little imp creature they had been telling him about. He hadn’t really seen it yet, so he was able to dismiss it in his mind, but now he saw her. Sitting on Link’s back, in HIS spot.

“So, uhh, yea, if you could scootch up a little bit I could fit behind you…” he said timidly.

Link chuffed. The imp on his back looked at Spike, then back at Link.

“C’mon,” he implored Link. “I helped you with the Diamond Dogs, if you give me my sword and shield back I can totally help you with– HEY!”

Feelings of deja vu abounded as Spike found himself picked up off the ground by his backpack. He thrashed, to no avail.


His protests rang throughout the town as Link set off for Sweet Apple Acres at a steady sprint.


“What are we gonna do ‘bout this, girls?” Applebloom asked.

“We can’t just let Nightmare Moon take them!” Scootaloo shouted angrily at nothing.

“We have to do something,” Sweetie Bell agreed.

“Nnnnope!” came a rather distinctive bass voice. All three looked up to find that Big Macintosh had invaded their clubhouse.

“But Big Mac…”

“Nope. Ya’ll are comin’ with me to the house,” he told them on no uncertain terms.

“No way!” Scootaloo thrust her chest out and spread her wings defiantly. “We’re going to go defeat Nightmare Moon and get back Rainbow Dash!”


Scootaloo was about to say something else, probably something along the lines of ‘You’re not the boss of me!’, but was cut off when Big Mac hoisted her into the air by her mane. The look he shot at the other two foals made it clear they would suffer the same fate if they argued. With Scootaloo kicking and complaining, Big Mac set off to the farmhouse with the other two foals trailing meekly behind.

Despite being just past noon, it was as dark as midnight out, and it was not likely to end soon. Big Macintosh had woken up to find the dreaded Nightmare Moon levitating the unconscious body of his sister out of the house, the Element she had been keeping in her chest in her room clutched in the wicked mare’s magic. He’d charged out to try to rescue his younger sister, something, anything to stop Nightmare Moon from taking not just a member of his family but possibly the only hope they had of defeating her, but before he had taken a single pace out the door he just… went to sleep. By the time he had woken up to the taste of dirt and grass and failure in his mouth, Nightmare Moon was long gone. The clock told him six hours had passed; well into mid-morning now, yet the world was as black as the night before.

With AJ gone, it was down to him to take care of the rest of the family. Granny was just too old to put up with a pony as young as Applebloom for any more than a few hours, and Bloom was just too young to know how to stay out of trouble. Now, with the eternal night closing in, Mac found himself without any chores to do but sit at home and watch the house. It was good he suddenly didn’t have any chores outside; making sure ‘Bloom, and by extension her friends, didn’t do anything stupid, may well be the only thing he had time for.

He stomped up the dark porch and dropped Scootaloo just inside the threshold of the door, before holding the door for the other two. He had just stepped inside himself when Granny let out a holler that echoed around the house.

“Soups’ up!” came her voice from the kitchen. Mac wordlessly ushered them to the dining room, where the right number of places had already been set out. Granny came in a second later, a pot with piping hot soup jittering and rattling on her back, yet somehow none spilled. She set the steaming bowl down in the middle of the table, next to the mashed potatoes, bread, and hay fries. Sweetie Bell reached for a roll, but a sharp rap from Granny’s wooden cooking spoon stopped her short.

“Ain’t no food ‘till we say graces, young’n,” Granny reprimanded. “Bloom?”

Applebloom put her hooves together and bowed her head, as did Granny. Scootaloo tried to use the opportunity to grab a roll, but a firm look from Mac and she thought better of it. Then he bowed his head too.

“For food, for raiment, for life, for opportunity, for friendship and family, we thank thee Celestia Morningstar and Luna Nightbringer. A-men.”

The prayer still sounded strange to Mac’s ears. He’d grown up praising ‘Celestia of the Heavens’. Still, only made sense what with Princess Luna returning. Though with the Nightmare having returned he doubted many ponies were saying that last part on this dark day.

The others dug in, grabbing rolls and soup and fries and veggies, but Mac stood up and went into the kitchen. Lunch had been served here, but there was still one last pony who needed lunch to be served.

Mac grabbed a bowl of oatmeal from the kitchen and headed out the door to the barn. It was unlocked, and she was free to roam about wherever she desired, but she had been sticking close to the barn all day, nopony knew why. In the dark of the eternal night, it was just one more mystery that nopony worried about because there was too much else going on. Epona was resting on the hay in the barn in the flickering candlelight when Mac opened the doors; he trotted over, careful not to spill her lunch, and set it down before her.

"Thank you," she told him.

Mac smiled a bit and tilted his head in acknowledgement. It was a real shame she couldn't fit in the house. In times like these, everypony needed to stick close together. Strength in numbers; many ponies, one herd.

Mac started as the barn door creaked open behind him.

"C'mon, please, I just want to help, just a little bit..." Spike complained from his hanging position. The wolf, Link, made eye contact with Mac.

They'd seen each other before, what with Epona making her home on the farm. He visited her often and in him, Big Mac saw something of a kindred spirit. A creature who let his actions, not his words, do the talking. Someone who wasn't afraid to do the dirty or hard jobs, if that was what it took. Between the simple farmer and the heroic predator, there was understanding that went far beyond words.

Mac slid the hay sprig over in his mouth as Link dropped Spike to the ground, then headed over to Epona. He headed for the young dragon as Link set about rousing his companion.

"C'mon, young'n. Plenty a' room in the house for ya," he told the dragon with a slow drawl.


Mac lay a hoof on the dragon's shoulders. "Nope."

They stood like that as Link loped out of the barn, followed by the quick, heavy clops of Epona. He could feel Spike wilting as the two disappeared into the unnatural night. With the last sight of Epona's tail, the young dragon collapsed to his knees.

"Why? I could help," he whispered.

There was so much more behind those words. Helplessness. Hope. The desire to be meaningful in some small, insignificant way, even if for a moment. A feeling Mac sometimes struggled with himself, with his sister putting herself in harms way so often. He was silent for a few moments as he struggled with the right words.

"Ya already helped enough," he finally drawled. Spike looked up at the big stallion. "It's dangerous, what he's doin'. May not come back. He wants you safe." He shuffled his hooves. "S' not that he doesn't want yer help. He just doesn't want t' see you get hurt."

He looked down at the little dragon at his hooves.

"C'mon. Lunch's up in the house."


Epona followed Link without hesitation and without fear into the night. She followed him into the forest. She stood by his side even as they were attacked by red-eyed timberwolves, her hooves sending several to a splintery fate. Together, they passed twisted trees, swam a raging river, and with significant magical help from the little creature on his back, crossed a very deep and dark ravine.

Before them now stood the ruins of a castle. The stonework may have been rather dilapidated, but it was clear even to Epona that the place was not empty. It was lit with soft blue and purple light in places, and a tuquoise shield covered the door and all holes in the wall. It was clear that somepony did not want them to get in.

This did not seem to deter Link, even though to Epona it looked impasssible. She idly waited as he sniffed around, before heading off towards the left; Epona followed. Together, the two descended down, past closed ruins of the castle, on a trail that seemed more imaginary than real at times, the big horse trailing after her master. Until finally, he stopped.

It was dozens of feet below the nearest section of castle; nothing more than an indent in the cliff the castle was perched upon. But after a few moments of observation, Epona spotted what Link saw. At the back was a rockfall, partially blocking an old iron gate. Beyond it, a small, dark hole beckoned. A way in.

Link was already tugging at a chain when she made the connection. His feet scrabbled on the rock as he struggled in vain to pull the chain. A particularly vicious tug managed to lift the gate a hair off the rock, before the weight overcame his grip and it settled on the floor once more. Link growled in frustration.

Epona considered for a moment.

"I could do it," she offered. She hesitated for a moment. "Maybe. I don't think I can do it without a harness though."

Link looked up from the chain.

Epona heard the snap of fingers, then started backwards in alarm as something orange appeared from nothing. It took a moment for her to calm down, but it quickly became clear what had happened. A harness, made from orange magic, was attached to the chain. A harness that was open, and would fit her perfectly.

It took only a moment for her to back into it. The orange magic sealed itself around her, securing the chain to her as Link looked on.

Epona pawed at the ground, shod hoof clacking against the rocks. Then, she put her hooves to the ground, and pulled. Behind her, the iron portcullis gate creaked and groaned as it rose.

Link looked her in the eye as she held the gate. She gave him a nod. He nodded back.

Link padded over to the hole; it was not much larger than he was, and the creature on his back vanished into his shadow as he approached. After a moment, he also vanished into the yawning blackness.

The orange magic-harness disappeared, and with it the gate crashed back against the stone.

It was all up to him now.

Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters

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When the Sun and the Moon were finished banishing all the evil to Tartarus, they decided to travel the world. Leaving behind the pony societies that were developing in the lands that would eventually become Equestria, they traveled far and wide, wandering and wondering at the world; grazing in the great plains, slaking their thirst in the mountain waters, exploring the vast deserts. When they reached an ocean, they would build a boat and continue their journey, visiting islands with white sand beaches and coconut palms along the way.

They traveled for centuries. By the time they returned from their journey, the Windigoes had been defeated by the rulers of the three pony nations and their advisers; the Sun and the Moon had not heard, as the nascent threat had been defeated before it could spread beyond the borders of what would become Equestria. They returned to curiosity; having been gone for so long, the ponies of the land had dismissed tales of a great white horned pegasus and her slightly smaller sister as nothing more than hearsay. The Sun and Moon too were curious, as they returned to their homes to find stone buildings, magic, homes, and towns, something which they too had never seen before.

Before events could truly settle, Chaos reared its mismatched head. His power was great, and when he was confronted by the Sun and Moon, they found themselves outmatched. There was only one place that was impervious to his touch; their home, the Everfree forest. The forest proved to be their salvation as well, when many years later the Elements were found in the Tree of Harmony, allowing the sisters to vanquish Chaos. Driven by nostalgia and the desire to guard the source of power that was capable of defeating Chaos, the sisters built a castle from which they could rule deep in the Everfree.

The Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters. It is said that the sisters themselves assisted in the building of the Castle, their home, first by helping to quarry the rocks, then to enchant them, and then by making... modifications. The Sun in particular was known to add hidden passageways, trap doors, and other small things that could be used to entertain through the use of practical joking, and many more were added later by her sister to try to take harmless revenge. On the outside, it was the largest building of its kind, build entirely from solid stone, expertly fitted together and intricately decorated. A beautiful and spacious garden with many fountains was hidden within expertly trimmed hedges, grasses, and flowers. Truly, there was no equal in all the world at the time.

For many centuries, it was the home of the two sisters and the seat of government in the rest of the land; lacking a leader after the chaotic times, all three tribes had folded in to the followers of the Sun and Moon as well. Despite the dangers of the Everfree, the castle flourished, though it took much effort to keep the surrounding forest at bay.

Until the Nightmare came.

The fight between the Sun and the Nightmare devastated the once proud home of the sisters. Walls were torn asunder, stone was split in their battle, and even the sky itself fought between light and dark. In the end, the Nightmare was banished, leaving behind only the Sun in the abandoned castle.

She too soon left, taking only those treasures closest to her heart. And so the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters was abandoned, left to the elements, and to the Everfree, where it continues to crumble to this day.

Until the Nightmare returned to her old haunting spot, intent upon making this place the heart of the world once more.


The Nightmare lay upon a cushion in the throne room, her eyes lidded as she meditated. Dream diving was not simple, but a unicorn of sufficient power and mindset could do it, after many, many years of study. Being invited, so to speak, made it easier; as did making oneself known, such that the dreamer could help the dream diver by adjusting their own dreams to compensate for their presence. To go, unseen and unnoticed, even just to observe? That was much more difficult. To make changes to the dream without the dreamer noticing? A skill that took generations to learn, much less master.

Nightmare Moon was a master. Centuries of experience were called upon to subtly manipulate the dreams of the six ponies in her castle. They were strong; the Elements would not pick mere shadows of their power to represent them. The changes had to be subtle, else they would realize they were dreaming and remember what had sent them there in the first place, and all the progress the Nightmare had made would be lost– dreams were as fleeting as they were potent at times, after all.

But she was making progress, with each and every one. Driving them apart. The Elements would never threaten her again, she would be sure of that.

Until she was interrupted by the opening of the doors to the throne room.

Nightmare Moon's eyes snapped open as a snarl came to her lips. Distractions were ill-afforded during this time. One tiny slip, and all the progress she had made would be lost. Even now, with her concentration broken, the dreams would evolve without her precise control, and would likely begin to 'mend' the changes that she had done.

"Who disturbes me?!" she snarled out, eyes flashing with anger. Nightmare Moon turned to find a pair of her guard stallions, bowing to her in supplication.

Her ego was soothed by the show, her anger lessened. "Why do you disturb me?"

"Mistress, an intruder has broken into the Castle," one guard stallion reported as he stood.

"Our guards are having trouble subduing him," the other reported, standing as well.

Her anger flared again.

"Who would dare?" she growled at them. "And can you not contain him, you foals?"

"A wolf," the one on the left tonelessly supplied.

"He has found all six of the Elemental stones," the other supplied. "Stallions who are defeated by him are left without your guiding grace, and have turned against you, Mistress."

A stab of fear lanced through Nightmare Moon. She smothered it with her anger before it could show, then glared at the two stallions before her.

"Subdue them, and bring the rebel guards to me. I will deal with them myself. I care not what happens to the wolf, so long as he is stopped," she ordered.

"By your command," both stallions intoned, before turning and leaving.

Nightmare Moon had miscalculated. It appeared that there was one left who could threaten her rule. Link had proven himself to be a formidable force, the Diamond Dog incident had proven that. There was no doubt in her mind that he was coming for her now.

Her guards were foals. They would not be able to stop the wolf, at best they would merely delay him. Her plans for the Elements would have to be put on hold. She would need time to prepare.

When Link came for her, she would be ready.


The wolf in question was well on his way to confronting her. He had managed to identify what he believed was the path to this ‘Nightmare Moon’, a room with a multi-armed pedestal in it and a very large, door that led to the throne room. There were, of course, many other passages in there, but this one was clearly the final door.

However, activation of the seals on the door would require not one but six different keys, all in slightly different shapes. Even more interesting, the six slots he had identified as the keyholes were scattered throughout the room, and from what Midna had examined, it looked like they had to be used simultaneously. Given that there weren’t six of him, he would need to find another solution.

Still, he was making progress. Tracking down the keys had been, for the most part, uncomplicated. Each smelled slightly different to his sensitive nose; apples, animals, books, the smell of rain before a storm, cupcakes, and clothing. Following the scent trails had been easy enough, though this castle was an absolute nightmare to navigate at times. There were a great many false doors, false floors, secret passageways, strange dark pony guards, animated suits of armor, and lots of crumbling stone. He had to admit that, while being a wolf was the preferable state in here (mostly because of low doorways), the ability to shift had come in handy several times already.

In the end, he had found the keys. He had, however, been no closer to getting into the throne room (the map had called this place the ‘Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters’. Who that was he still didn’t know, but he thought ‘labyrinth’ would have been a more accurate term), until Midna mentioned that the little dragon had said Nightmare Moon had taken ‘Twilight and the Elements’. He didn’t really know what the Elements were, but if Nightmare Moon had taken Twilight, he reasoned there was a good chance she had taken other ponies as well. From the smells and his own experience with Twilight’s friends, he guessed it would be the whole gang here, one for each of the keys. If all six were here, perhaps he could free them, and in turn they could help him.

He had nearly found one, he believed. Behind some magical traps and a few of those strange guard stallions he had been subduing, some pony was hidden in the center of what could only be considered a giant puzzle/maze. Huge blocks had been moved, with Midna’s help, and after a few false starts and wrong placements, he pushed the last block out of the way.

In the flickering torchlight, he saw a small room, and a single pony lying unconscious in it.


Twilight Sparkle sat alone in her library.

Spike was out, said something about wanting to be with Rarity as opposed to her now. That had been hurtful, but she had put on a brave face and let him go. She tried to be glad for him for chasing his dream of a true relationship with Rarity.

Her and Rarity’s relationship had soured afterwards, why Twilight did not know, but the fashionista was giving her the silent treatment for now. She was sure she would snap out of it soon enough; surely she couldn’t have done something too bad, right?

Fluttershy, too, did not want her around. It had been an accident, Twilight swore, but it was nevertheless a fact that Twilight had managed to single-hoofedly injure every single animal under her care at the time following a trip over misplaced birdseed bag and her attempts to help afterwards. Fluttershy had yelled- screamed!- at her, then had proceeded to give Twilight the sternest lecture Twilight had received since she had attempted to teleport without a proper spell matrix and end destination, finishing it off by telling her that she was no longer welcome to come to her cottage. All Twilight could hope was that all her animals would heal and that Fluttershy would forgive her eventually.

She hadn’t seen Rainbow Dash all day, nor Pinkie Pie, nor Applejack, but that was alright. They were all busy. Rainbow had cloud watch today, Pinkie had her job, and Applejack was out on the farm most of her time.

So for now, Twilight sat in her library with a book, but she couldn’t keep her mind from wandering. How could she patch up her relationship with Spike? Was it just a phase, hormones acting up upon his arrival into his soon-to-be teenage years? Or was it something else? Had she done something wrong? Why was Rarity acting so aloof? Had Twilight insulted her in some way? What could be so bad that she was unwilling–

Sensation, and therefore wakefulness, returned to Twilight rather quickly, thanks to the cold, unyielding stone which she was laying upon. This was NOT her bed. It was not soft, it was not supportive, and it was certainly not warm. Why was she here? Was this Rarity’s idea of revenge… no, that was a dream. A bad dream.

A whine caused her to open her eyes and look for the source. She quickly found it, in the form of a wolf.

"Link?" she asked in confusion. With some effort, she managed to get upright and get a good look at the situation.

It was dark, lit only by sparsely spaced torches. She was... on an alter? Link was looking at her with his blue eyes, torchlight flickering within the reflections. On his back, the little imp sat with what Twilight thought was an interested expression on her face. Beyond them was a rough-cut stone door, the only entrance to the boxy stone room that she was in.

Where was she? Why was she–

Twilight's eyes widened as she remembered how she had gone to sleep. Nightmare Moon was back! She shot to her hooves. Ohhhhh this was bad! Why, why was Luna doing this? What had happened? She needed to find her friends, she needed to get her tiara and the Element of Magic! They needed the Elements so they could defeat Nightmare Moon!

"Where am I?" she asked frantically. Her head swiveled as she attempted to discern something, anything, that might give her a clue as to where she was. But the walls were bare.

Link chuffed, drawing her attention back to him. He gestured to the stone door, then headed off at a moderate walk. On his back, the little imp gestured with a ‘come on’ before turning back to the flickering torchlight in front of them. Twilight thought for a moment, then trotted to catch up with them. Link was a good wolf; she could trust him.

As the passage opened up, Twilight carefully studied her surroundings in what little light was thrown off by the flickering torches. It was obvious that the blocks were not one piece, but why would someone place a bunch of blocks here instead of just building a wall–!


She nearly face planted as her hard hooves slipped on the floor underneath her, and it took a few very ungraceful seconds to get herself righted again. This part of the floor was much slipperier than normal stone! A few ginger steps and she managed to make it to more normal stone. Why would anypony do something like this? What possible use could giant blocks and slick stone have in common? The question eluded her.

In front of her, Link had turned around, and was waiting patiently on a piece of slick stone, his claws digging in enough to hold him securely in place. When he saw her paying attention, he turned back and began walking again.

Lucky wolf, Twilight thought to herself, eying the slick floor warily. With what little technique she had learned from Winter Wrap up, she stepped onto the slick rock and began to follow him again. A short time and several face-plants later, she made it to the edge of what she now realized was a large puzzle. The slick rock (enchanted; one side effect of face-planting was that her horn was close enough to the floor to detect the small enchantment upon the surface) allowed one to move the large blocks very easily once one started it moving, as Link had demonstrated for her once.

Glad to be off the stone ice rink, Twilight followed him up a flight of stairs, and was greeted by a wide-open expanse dimly lit by torches. A quick look showed her the solved puzzle below her, where she had been imprisoned by Nightmare Moon.

But she still couldn’t recognize where she was.

Twilight trudged after Link and his little imp companion, through dimly lit corridors and crumbling stonework. The thought that she should know where she was nagged at her incessantly.

“Where are we?” she asked Link. She wasn’t expecting an answer, not without Fluttershy, but still, hearing herself talk made the corridor seem a little less creepy.

Link and the imp riding on his back both glanced back. Link whuffed before continuing forward.

Twilight blew a stray hair out of her eyes as she followed. She hadn’t been expecting an answer, true, but it was disappointing all the same. There was nothing about this place that could give her a hint! The walls were stone cut and overgrown with moss, blocks were missing from places in the walls at times, what little carpet she had seen was torn and moth-eaten, and the moonlight shining down on the remains of the tower and the jungle outside only indicated that it was night, and with Nightmare Moon running around it’s not like there was going to be a sunrise… wait a minute.

Twilight froze; there was only one abandoned, crumbling castle in a jungle in all of Equestria. Which meant that, barring being outside Equestria, she was at the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, deep in the heart of the Everfree.

A whine brought her back to her senses. Link stood in a doorway, and beyond, Twilight finally saw something familiar.

“Epona!” she exclaimed. The large horse turned to face her.

“Hello, Twilight,” she greeted rather contently.

“Epona, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be safe in Applejack’s barn?” Twilight questioned.

"Link needed me," she answered.

"Mmmhmmm," Twilight replied, not really surprised by the answer. She took a moment to look at the surroundings.

This room was completely enclosed, with a very solid looking ceiling that Epona just barely fit under. It would have no doubt been a very dark room had it not been for the multitude of torches that had been lit, filling the room with flickering artificial light. It was filled with debris, the remains of what she guessed had once been wooden chairs; by now, the only discernable feature of the room was a hoof-high circular platform in the center of the room.

"Epona, do you know where we are?"


Twilight facehooved. She should have seen that coming. "Epona, did you go into the Everfree to get here, or did you have to go somewhere else?"

"Oh. We went through the forest."

Right, Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters confirmed, Twilight thought to herself. Now, we just need to find all my friends, find the Elements, and defeat Nightmare Moon. Great.

"Link, we need to find my friends," Twilight called out. "I am certain Nightmare Moon has taken them too; is there any chance... Link?"

Link, it seemed, had disappeared when she wasn't looking.

"He went over there," Epona helpfully supplied with a nod of her head.

Twilight trotted over to the indicated door and found it ajar. Pushing it open, she found her way blocked by rubble and debris; the ceiling had caved at some point, exposing the corridor to the room above. But there was no sign of Link, despite the fact that there was no way he could have made the jump up to the next floor. The corridor above was lit, true, but the only thing that showed was a bull's eye like painting on the ceiling above.

Twilight sighed. Link had a habit of disappearing just when she wanted something from him. Still, his loyalty to Epona meant that Twilight had no doubt he would turn up again. From all the other times she had seen him, he would probably have a defeated Nightmare Moon in tow.

Twilight turned back around and headed back into the room to see if there was anything else she could do other than wait.

The Bearers

View Online

Rarity trotted sedately behind Link as he led her down crumbling corridors. She followed him without hesitation; this was, after all, the same wolf that had saved her from the diamond dogs with Spike, who had helped them against that horrible shadow. There was no doubt in her mind that wherever he was leading her, it was for her benefit. He nosed open a door and she found that she was correct in her trust; he had led her to her friends.

"Girls!"she greeted as she trotted behind Link into the room.

"Rarity!" Twilight was the first to respond. Twilight, Fluttershy, and Applejack all gathered from different spots around the room near Epona.

"Rarity!" Epona greeted from her towering position at the center of the room.

"Hello dear. I take it you came to help Link?" Rarity inquired.


"Well thank you. And thank you, Mister Link, for... where did he go?"

"Over there," Applejack pointed a hoof. A pair of doors were semi-open; Rarity trotted over to investigate, but found that the corridor had collapsed upon itself at some point. The only way out was a several story jump, which nopony but a pegasus or a unicorn capable of teleportation could make. And yet Link was not there.

"Are you certain?" she asked as she continued to peer around, looking for someplace he could be hiding.

"He does that every time," Twilight supplied, coming up next to the confused fashionista. "Somehow he is capable of getting out of this room. I tried following him after he brought Fluttershy here, but the little imp creature shut me out of the room, and by the time I got in he was gone."

"He's come back every time," Applejack continued. "An' with Epona here, ah figure here's safe enough."

"We are still missing Rainbow and Pinkie, I assume?" Rarity asked as they trotted back into the room.

"I'm here."

Rarity turned to the voice, a question on her tongue as to who it was, and stopped dead. Pinkie Pie sat alone, back to her friends, in a darkened corner of the room. Her voice was depressed, her hair was razor straight, and her normally bright pink fur seemed duller than usual. After a moment, of holding Rarity's gaze, she turned back to the wall, head drooping.

"Is she alright?" Rarity whispered to Twilight. There was almost nothing more unnerving than Pinkie not acting like, well, Pinkie.

Twilight pulled the group over towards the center where Epona was idly standing. "I think she'll be alright. She just needs a little time," Twilight said uncertainly. She shook her head.

"Nightmare Moon has ponynapped us and put us all in a dreamstate. From what I remember of my dream, she was trying to do the same thing Discord did. Cause us to lose hope, or even turn on each other. She was slowly but surely driving all of you away from me in my dream, making me think I had betrayed you or otherwise hurt you girls to isolate me. It didn't work, but... well, until Fluttershy got here, I had to spend some time alone thinking about it too, like Pinkie."

"She was tryin' t' convince me my family didn't need me," Applejack confided. "Ah was fine afterwards, though. Ah've had worse nightmares before." Applejack refused to elaborate further, though knowing her, it was easy for Rarity to see that Nightmare Moon had not had the time to convince the stubborn farmer.

"She had everyone act cruel to me," Fluttershy spoke softly.

"Oh my dear Fluttershy," Rarity sympathized, putting a hoof on her withers.

"It's alright. I know you girls would never do such a thing," Fluttershy said with a timid smile. Rarity beamed back. It appeared that Nightmare Moon had, like Discord before her, chosen the wrong pressure point on the Element of Kindness. Her smile turned to concern.

"And... Pinkie?"

"We don't know. She... didn't want to talk about it. Said she needed some time alone to think about it," Twilight said uncertainly.

"I'm done thinking about it now," came Pinkie's voice. She joined the rest of the group at a pace significantly less than her usual bouncing self. Her mane was still mostly straight and her coat was dull, but she gave them a grin that was reminiscent of her old self. "Sorry, I just... needed some time..." Her smile flickered.

Rarity pulled the pink pony into a hug, one that was quickly joined by the rest of the ponies there. By the end of it, Pinkie's coat had regained some of its luster and her hair was mostly curled, though still a bit flat.

"Feeling better, Pinkie?" Twilight asked.

She nodded, a bit less exuberant than normal. "Yea. I think Nightmare Moon manipulated my dream so everyone hated my parties. I threw a great big one, in celebration of my birthday, but no pony came. Then, ponies started un-friending me, one by one..."

She held back a sniffle and rubbed her eyes. "Sorry, I... don't really want to talk about it anymore..."

"There there, Pinkie. It was only a dream," Rarity soothed. "Now, I must say that I think my own dream was a bit harrowing as well. Every client that came into my boutique absolutely hated the orders I had made for them! Even worse, I found that I simply couldn't look my normal fabulous self at all, no matter what I tried! Every shampoo I tried would cause my mane to frazzle, Sweetie had replaced my coat conditioner with honey, and– do you mind, Applejack?!"

Fluttershy was highly sympathetic, Twilight was listening intently, but Applejack, who had been holding back snickers, began outright laughing. Pinkie too had a smile on her muzzle that was far more reminiscent of her usual self.

Rarity adopted an offended air as Applejack continued to laugh.

"Sorry... Rares... it's jes'.... yer worst nightmare..."

She couldn't continue and collapsed laughing to the floor. Fluttershy tried to hide behind her mane, Twilight looked abashed, and Pinkie's mane was curling every second she held that grin of hers. If Rarity was honest with herself, all the embarrassment in the world was worth getting Pinkie back to her old self. However, that part of her was buried under the indignation she was currently suffering.

"I will have you know, Applejack, that appearances and impressions are important," she said, stomping the ground with her hoof. "And I would hardly call it my 'worst' nightmare. While it was *shudder* something that does not bear thinking about, believe it or not there are worse things that could happen." After all, hair can be re-grown, and makeup re-applied. There are other things that cannot be so easily replaced.

It took a few moments for the laughter to die down, but in the end, Applejack managed to catch her breath and Rarity stopped giving her the stink eye.

"It's like Discord, or Nightmare Moon- err, the first time," Twilight corrected. "She is trying to split up the Elements so they won't be a threat to her. She must have been manipulating our dreams to try to drive us apart."

"I daresay she may have succeeded, given enough time," Rarity opined. "We should thank Celestia that Link and Epona came along when they did."

The girls all nodded in acknowledgement of the fact.

"The question is, why is Princess Luna doing this? What could have happened to cause her to revert to Nightmare Moon?" Twilight asked. "The only thing I can think of is that Celestia mentioned that Luna was studying that artifact that Rainbow Dash found. According to Celestia, Luna was missing meals and hadn't been sleeping."

"Well, ah never saw that artifact you an' Rainbow found. Y' really think it could have caused this?"

"I don't know," Twilight replied, her mind working furiously. Rarity quickly slipped out of the way as Twilight began to trot back and forth, her mind racing. "Whatever it was, the ambient magical signature was like nothing I've ever felt before, though I can't be certain because I only had a few moments to examine it. Luna was the one who insisted that she study it thoroughly as opposed to letting me study it... she seemed to think it was in some way related to the Font of Harmony, or the shadow that invaded Ponyville."

"Do you think it has possessed her? The way it did to that diamond dog, Rover?" Rarity asked.

"I don't know. It could be. Or it could be that..."

"Ah hate t' interrupt, Twi, but ah really think we should focus on what we need t' do, not what happened. We can ask Luna once we use th' Elements on Nightmare Moon an' get her back. An' that means we need the Elements."

"Figuring out how this happened may help us defeat her," Twilight moderated. "But you're right. The best chance we have of defeating Nightmare Moon is the Elements of Harmony. The only problem is, we don't know where they are."

"Aw shucks, that's easy. Ah put mine in mah chest in mah room and locked it in," Applejack said confidently.

"And is it still there?" Twilight asked. "Discord was able to summon them from the most secure vault in all of ponydom with a snap of his claws. Luna and Celestia know the power of the Elements too; if Nightmare Moon was willing to kidnap us, the Bearers, why wouldn't she do something to the Elements themselves too? For all we know, Nightmare Moon took the Elements and hid them in, I don’t know, Manehatten."

Twilight sighed.

"But you're still right, Applejack. The first place we need to look is where we hid them. But, before we do that, we need to find Rainbow Dash. Or, given what happened to us, we need Link to find Rainbow Dash and lead her here."


Finding the blue pegasus was easy. It was getting to her that was hard.

The Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters included several towers and turrets. Even crumbling and decaying as they were, they towered over the land around them, and it was at the top of one of these towers that Link had pinpointed the resting place of Rainbow Dash. The problem was that time and the forest had taken its toll; only something with wings could easily get to the top.

And so Link was forced to take the hard way up.

Crumbling stairs, worn and unstable ledges, thousand-year-old ropes hanging by a thread… the climb was dangerous, laborious, and more than once Link found himself dangling over the edge of a drop all the way back down to the ground. But he persevered. He was almost to the top.

This next section would be tricky. Midna had scouted around, and there was only one path that would work… and she wasn’t certain it would hold. The stone, a jutting piece just on the inside of the tower, was large but thin. The jump on either side was at the limit of his jumping ability, and the pieces looked well anchored, but that middle stone was precarious.

Midna floated over and indicated the stone, the spot she thought was thickest. Link eyed it warily, but there was no alternative. A few moments of intense contemplation, and he leaped.

He sailed through the air and landed just barely on the platform, and it immediately began to break. Link kept his momentum up and kept running even as Midna looked on, hands covering her mouth, horrified at what was happening. Even as his hind paws found nothing but falling stone. Even as a crack raced ahead of him, beginning to split the slab before he even got there.

Link desperately launched himself off the stone as it disintegrated beneath him. He almost didn’t make it to the next ledge; only his forepaws managed to make it, knocking the wind from his chest with a huff as he hit hard against the side of the slab. But he managed to dig his claws in and hold on, hanging half off the ledge as the remains of the platform he had been standing on fell into the inky depths of the tower.

It took a moment for his hind paws to find enough purchase to get him moving, but he hauled himself onto the platform without any further trouble. He took a few deep breaths, calmed his racing heart, and looked back.

The slab was gone. Broken clean off at the wall. There would be no returning the way he had come up now, the gap was too far to jump.

Midna asked a question in her language, to which Link harrumphed. She said a few more words, before settling on his back once more. Link padded onwards, into the room that held the unconscious blue pegasus.

There were no other obstacles, though Link thought he saw the figure of a pegasus pony out the window that vanished when he looked at it. Apparently this Nightmare Moon had been counting on the isolation to protect her captive.

Link approached the sleeping pegasus on her stone bed. A quick moment of focus and a dim blue glow surrounded him and the pegasus, his Spirit breaking the magic that had the pegasus in its grasp.


The first thought Rainbow Dash had upon waking up was 'Why is this bed so stiff? This isn't a cloud.'

Her second thought was 'Meh. Whatever. It's still dark out. I'm going back to sleep.'

True, she hadn't been having a good dream- something about losing her wings, then the Wonderbolts coming around to the hospital to inform her she was off the team now that she couldn't fly- but as someone very experienced with napping, Rainbow knew every time she went to sleep meant a new dream.

Her third thought, several seconds later, got her wide awake and bolting to her hooves. Said third thought was somewhere along the lines of ‘Why was Nightmare Moon in my house?’, and it sent her mind reeling through a series of further questions, such as ‘Where am I?’ and ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘What the buck is going on?!’

A chuff got her attention. Rainbow whirled to find Link, the little imp upon his back.

“Hey! You guys know what’s going on around here?” she asked.

The imp grinned, showing a single snaggletooth fang reminiscent of Discord, then said some words in a completely foreign language. Link barked unintelligibly (at least, unintelligibly to everypony except Fluttershy).

“Yea, kind of figured,” she sighed to herself.

Well, time to take stock. Rainbow flashed out of the dark stone room and into the night. High up in the sky, she could see forest, she could see crumbling ruins all around her, and from the lights that spilled into the sky, she could see Ponyville off in the distance -not that she could get to it; there was a huge turquoise magic dome around the ruins. The egghead would have to figure a way out, there was no way Nightmare Moon would just let her fly away. Still, with all the evidence in front of her, there was only one place she could be.

She was in the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, in the Everfree.

Nightmare Moon must have ponynapped her here so Rainbow and the rest of her friends couldn’t stop her evil plans, just like Azuhoital always captured Daring Do, heck, she'd turned the old castle into her secret (well, maybe not so secret) lair.

If Nightmare Moon thought Rainbow Dash was just going to roll over and let her win, she had another thing coming! Well, just as soon as she found her friends.... and the Elements... and she had no idea where to start looking for everypony... man, this was going to take some work.


Link had helped before. He’d run around the entire town helping out her friends. He'd saved the Crusaders. He'd faced down a huge freakin' diamond dog that had been possessed, all by himself! If he wasn't already on track to defeating Nightmare Moon, she would eat her own tail. Rainbow didn't have to find her friends; if they were here, he would have already found them! And if they weren't, she could help him kick Nightmare Moon's flank!

Either way, following Link was the way to go.

A howl jolted her out of her thoughts. The exact same howl that had woken her up over the last few weeks to challenge her to a race.

Rainbow flew back to the tower in a polychromatic blur to land on the exposed balcony.

"Seriously? Is that all you know how to howl?" she asked Link with a grin. Link just cocked his head.

“So, you know where to go?”

Link nodded.

“Well, where are we going?”

Link padded over to a crumbling section of the balcony, where the stone railing had broken, and looked down. Rainbow floated over, and saw him very pointedly looking at a small dot in the distance- a corridor on the ground with a hole in it and a single torch illuminating the passage.

“Right. I can fly, how are you getting down there?”

Link turned those soulful blue eyes on her.

“... Really? Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to give you a lift, but how did you get up here if you couldn’t get back down?”

Link gave a whine.

“Yea yea, hold your horses,” she replied. She was about to grab under his forelegs when all of a sudden something heavy landed on her back, right behind her wings.

“What the buck?!”

Putting words to action, Rainbow bucked as hard as she could, trying to dislodge whatever it was. The weight went flying over her head and off into the night- a peculiar, dark figure with an orange mane and little turquoise lines over its limbs…

The imp vanished, then reappeared right in front of Dash. The arms were crossed, and a frown was evident on her face as she berated Rainbow unintelligibly.

Rainbow frowned right back. “Nuh uh, no riding. You understand? N-O, R-I-D-I-N-G. Twi may let Spike do that, but I don’t.”

The little imp looked ready to dispute the point but Link barked, breaking the stand off. The imp rolled her eyes, shot one more look at Dash, then disappeared into his shadow.

“Right. Now, let’s get moving.”

Dash picked Link up by his front legs, leaving his rear paws dangling towards the ground far below, and propelled them into empty air. He was heavy, but she could hold him.

They hadn’t gone a few wingbeats before shadowy figures, pegasi with leathery wings and black outfits with golden eyes, began to fly up to meet her.

Rainbow hovered for a moment, then grinned.

This was going to be fun!


Link had flown before in a very similar manner, thanks to Midna and an ornery giant bird. Those flights, and the ones he had done before as a part of a very interesting and enterprising bird’s game, had followed the course of an underground river and as such Link had come to terms with some very questionable aerial maneuvers and so had his stomach. Or so he had thought.

Rainbow Dash was smaller than his normal ride, and much more mobile. She was also, from the races he had challenged her to, fast. True, he had known these things, but being a creature of the ground, he had never really thought about what that would mean for flight.

It meant the flight was a hair-raising full-bore adrenaline rush from the moment it started, and all Link could do was pray to Zelda, the Spirits, the Gods, anyone, that he would survive this.

Link's stomach flip-flopped as he went temporarily upside-down, courtesy of the barrel-roll that Dash performed at break-neck speed while holding on to him. Said maneuver meant that the bat-winged pegasus guard who had been attempting to catch them missed cleanly, hitting nothing but air.

"Ha! Can't catch the Rainbow!" his ride taunted.

Then she sheared a ninety degree turn to avoid another pegasus, stretching out Link's legs horizontally four stories above the ground. It was followed, a moment later, by a sudden and very startling drop in altitude as Rainbow Dash folded her wings, allowing gravity to take a hold of the pair as a pair of dark bat-winged pegasi collided with each other right where they had just been.

Link's eyes widened and he gave some very frantic barks and whines as the ground rapidly approached. He had jumped off a bridge once, true, but he had known at the bottom there was a lake filled (well, partially filled) with water to cushion his fall. The ground, more specifically the unbroken stone passageway with a torch-lit hole in it that was rapidly approaching, was far more rigid than water.

Link yelped in alarm as his hindpaws barely cleared the entranceway, and braced himself for the inevitable impact, but it never came. Instead, he felt the drastic pull of the pegasus as she beat hard, pulling both of them up in a perfectly executed maneuver that had them careening down the lit passage. A moment later she threw out her wings and pulled up, bringing them to a short and quite sudden stop, before setting him down gently on the floor.

"Nopony following us, they can't pull the same trick!" the rainbow menace stated, looking behind them.

Link didn't care. On shakey and numb legs he moved to the side of the corridor, ears flat against his head and eyes wide as he panted and tried his best not to throw up. The rainbow pegasus had the decency to let him recover for a few moments and settle his stomach a little bit.

"I take it you don't fly often?" she smirked at him as she hovered.

Link growled at her. Then, with still recovering legs and a slightly unsettled stomach, he set off down the torchlit corridor. She followed, which he could tell from the wingbeats, rather than hooffalls as the others had. It did not take long before they reached a torch that illuminated a very large hole in the floor.

Link jumped down the hole, falling just short of three stories in a blocked off corridor. But he didn't hear wingbeats behind him.

"Uh, you sure this is the way to go?" Rainbow asked plaintively, looking over the edge.

Link barked at her, then turned back to the only exit from this hole.

"Did you girls hear that?"
"Sounded like a bark!"
"Hmm, I daresay our fearless hero has returned."

Link nosed open the door as he heard the clop of hooves land behind him. The door opened fully just as Rainbow Dash landed, wings spread. The moment the pegasus saw what was beyond the doors, a cocky grin came to her face.


The Nightmare

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It took quite a few moments for everypony to settle down again. Pinkie especially seemed to have gotten over her melancholy and was back to her old, bouncy, hyperactive self. After Rainbow relayed her self-proclaimed (and mostly acknowledged) awesome story about how she carried Link down from the tower, dodging Shadowbolts the whole way, Twilight felt that the time had come to get things back on topic.

"Alright, girls," she said loudly, cutting through the conversation. That her friends immediately stopped their chatter and listened to her was a sign of just how far she had come from being a lonely bookworm less than two years ago. She cleared that thought out of her head and got back on topic.

"We need to get back to Ponyville and find our Elements so we can use them to defeat Nightmare Moon," she said, laying out the first objective of her plan. She had written a mental checklist, which while not quite as good a parchment one, would have to suffice until she found a scroll and quill. She already had steps one through one-hundred and thirty seven fully planned, and was prepared to add more based upon the inevitable difficulties that were encountered.

Step 1: gather information on exits to the room.

"Rainbow, Link always left through that door, was there a way out of the castle that way?"

Having interviewed all the others, Twilight had come to the conclusion that the three doors the others had come through had not led anywhere recognizable. Nor had her passageway she had come down. Having been outside, perhaps Rainbow knew a way out.

"Yea, I guess. There was a hole, but there were a bunch of Shadowbolts out there."


Epona cut them all off before Twilight could continue her questioning. All heads turned towards her.

“I think Link wants us to get on this stone,” Epona said, before putting words to action and stepping up onto the large circular stone platform herself. In the middle, Link eyed them all patiently. The little imp was making ‘come’ gestures with her clawed hands.

Twilight had spent a great deal of time studying the room, both magically and otherwise, for clues as to where they were and how to get out. There was an enchantment upon the stone platform, but it was a simple triggered levitation spell, though why anyone would put such a thing on a stone slab in the middle of an underground room was beyond her. She theorized that it was a conference table of sorts that could be lowered to save space.

So why did he want them to get on?

Rarity was the first to trot over, followed closely by Rainbow Dash. Pinkie, then Fluttershy, then Applejack all followed. After a moment of contemplation, Twilight followed as well. Link seemed to know more of what was going on than she did. If he wanted her to stand on a conference table, well, she was willing to do it. Even if all that ended up happening was that they all looked silly standing on a table.

Twilight hopped the little lip and clustered with her friends around Link, the seven of them and Epona easily fitting on the large circular platform.

“So, what now?” Applejack asked.

Link responded by backing up and hitting a button directly in the center of the platform.

The grinding noise of stone upon stone could be heard for a second, and everypony stumbled when the aged platform finally lurched free of its home after nearly a thousand years. Slowly but surely the levitation spell did its job, lifting the platform and the mares upon it higher and higher.

Another grinding noise turned all eyes to the roof directly above their heads. It started slowly at first, and she could not tell what was going on, until quite suddenly a clean crack opened up above her. It began to grow wider, like a door opening. Beyond it was starry sky with crumbling pillars of stone.

When the ponies were finally able to see just over the lip, they were all quick to identify where exactly they were: the first room of the Castle, where the pedestal that once contained the Elements of Harmony was. And as the platform finished moving and locked into place with a dull thud, they were all just as quick to see what had happened.

The pedestal that had once held the Elements had split in two down the middle, parting to allow access to the platform.

“My, this must have been quite an entrance when this castle was in use,” Rarity commented. Twilight had to agree; coming up framed by the Elements of Harmony must have been important. Perhaps it was used for formal occasions, or to make an impression upon visiting diplomats.

Twilight shook her head. She could ask and research later. Right now, there were more important things that need to be done.

“Alright girls, we need to get back to town and find the Elements…. of…. Harmony…..”

Twilight trailed off as her own tiara, bearing the starburst Element of Magic, came into her vision range, held by some sort of orange tendril. Startled, she followed the tendril back to the source, and found that the little imp’s orange mane had split into six different tendrils.

“Oh hey look, my Element!” Pinkie exclaimed.

“Well, this sure is convenient,” Applejack intoned from behind Twilight.

Twilight shook her head to clear her thoughts. Mentally, she checked off steps one through one hundred and thirty on her internal checklist.

“Now we just need to find Nightmare Moon and use the Elements to save Celestia, Luna, and all of Equestria,” she summarized, reaching out with her telekinesis to take the tiara. The tiara didn’t budge.

The startled and confused exclamations of her friends told her she was not alone in trying to retrieve her element. But before she could do more than protest, the tendril moved her tiara over to a crumbling pillar.

Twilight shot a confused look at Link, only to find he was eyeing the imp on his back with an annoyed or scolding expression. The imp was smiling innocently back. Twilight rolled her eyes before trotting towards her tiara. As she neared, a curious hole in the pillar made itself known; curious, because it was shaped exactly like her tiara. Looking around, she saw each of her friends standing in front of various sections of the ruins, all with suspicious looking holes that looked exactly like their Elements.

Well, Link had helped them out so far. He must be doing his for a reason.

Twilight took her Element in her magic and slotted it in to the wall. It fit perfectly, though there was a small amount left out of the stone.

Curious, Twilight gave it a small telekenetic push, and heard a 'click' sound from the stone. It was almost like a-

"It's a switch. They're all swiches," Twilight called out to her friends, all in varying stages of progress. "Put your Element in the hole and push until it clicks."

At her direction, each managed to successfully activate their switch; unfortunately, nothing happened.

"Perhaps they all need to be pressed at once?" Rarity suggested. It was a good suggestion; Twilight's tiara had popped out when she had not had any pressure applied.

"On three, girls. One, two, three!"

Twilight heard her own switch click, and heard a creaking from behind her. Keeping pressure on her tiara, she turned to see the doors that led to the throne room swing open. Link was already heading for the throne room.

"Hey, wait for us!" Rainbow called out.


The moment she let go of her Element, the doors began to close. This wasn't a problem for Link, who had made it through the threshold, but by the time Rainbow realized her mistake and went back to her Element, they were already half way closed. Worse, even with Rainbow cursing as she held her Element in place on the switch, the doors continued to close, creaking shut with grim finality.

With an unspoken command, they all let off their switches and then pushed again, hoping to re-open the doors.

The doors to the throne room did not open.

"Well, what d' we do now?"


The Throne Room had no doubt once been grand. The size alone was imposing, a sign of the wealth and respect of the Royal Sisters. Tapestries would have hung from the buttresses and rafters of the ceiling, one side of the hall with the fiery eight-armed Mark of the Sun, the other with the veiled Mark of the Moon. Further fineries would have once been lavished throughout the hall– hoof-carved wooden chairs with velve seat covers, a soft Saddle Arabian carpet running the length of the hall from the grand entrance doors to the steps of the Twin Thrones, tapestries, paintings, sculptures; the seat of power that had no equal.

But that was a thousand years ago.

The Twin Thrones were broken and much of the roof was open to the sky, a testament to the battle that had once taken place. The great banners were faded and tattered by time, the carpet gone, the tapestries and paintings and sculptures ravaged and crumbling. The Throne Room was now nothing more than a ruin, a reminder of the mistakes of the past.

Unless the Nightmare had her way.

Link padded silently into the room, lit only by the moonlight that spilled in from the open room. On his back, Midna clenched her legs into his ribs; a silluete, distinctive in the billowing, starry blue mane and turquiose colored armor, watched them with diamond pupiled eyes. Behind her, hung upon the wall between the the two broken thrones, Link saw a glint of light that could only be the mirror.

The sound of metal upon stone set Link on edge as Nightmare Moon shifted. Link bared his fangs and considered asking Midna to shift him to a form he was more comfortable fighting with. He did not know if the Sword of Evil's Bane would affect a creature such as this, but it was his best chance of fighting his way to the Mirror Shard and wresting it free from her–

Shuffling from his side caused both his and Midna's head to swing to the shadows. Before either could do more than widen their eyes, a bolt of turquoise magic slammed into the pair.


Nightmare Moon stepped from the shadows with fangs showing in a highly satisfied grin.

Her slitted eyes shot a glance towards the throne; the Nightmare Moon that was standing upon the raised dias flashed her own fanged grin back at her, then turned into nothing more than a black cloud that headed for the Nightmare.

Nightmare Moon seriously considered laughing as her doppleganger rejoined with her. This was the hero that she had feared? Ha! She had had more trouble with the Element of Kindness than she had with this beast! The Nightmare was expecting the whelpling Cadence, who had yet to reach three decades of age and whose talent was love, to put up more of a fight than this!

"I expected more from you, Beast," she taunted, nudging his unconscious form with a hoof. "I must admit, you seemed a formidable foe until now. Defeating the Diamond Dogs; vanquishing the Shadow..."

Now the Nightmare did laugh, a satisfied chortle.

"I had thought you might be the only legitimate threat to my reign. I see now that I was mistaken."

Nightmare Moon closed her eyes. When she opened them again, they blazed white with power.

"Now live your greatest nightmare! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"


The world was burning.

Link tried desperately to put out the fires that had been spread by the boar riders, running back and forth to the well with nothing but a bucket at frantic pace, but a bucket was nothing to the hungry flames that consumed his home and his village.

Still, he tried. He couldn't give up, not on Epona, not on Colin, not on Illia–

"Link!" came a desperate scream.

Link turned to look, and found Illia trapped in the burning wreckage of her home. He made it to the door when the wooden rafters collapsed in a shower of flames. Beyond them, he saw Illia reaching out to him.

"Link, please, help," she begged him.

"Beast!" came a cry from behind him.


"Leave her alone!" came a cry fiercer than most. Little blonde-haired Colin, timidness gone from his eyes, holding Link's wooden training sword at the ready, his friends behind him cowering in fear.

Shocked, Link looked down and saw black-furred paws. He whimpered and tucked his tail between his legs as Colin advanced, wondering where Midna was. If only he could turn himself back...

A scream cut the air, and Link whirled to face it. Illia pointed at him, a look of naked fear upon her face. He slid his ears back and lowered himself, trying to look as unthreatening as possible, but the merest movement sent her screaming back into her house; he heard the deadbolt lock as she barricaded–

Link paused, then frowned to himself. Hadn't this house last been on fire when he had seen it?

For that matter, Illia could not have called out his name because she did not remember it right now; Colin and the other children were not in the village; and despite what the boar-riders had done in kidnapping the children and Illia, they had yet to purposefully set fire to any settlements.

There was something wrong here.

Link ignored the form of Midna sneering at him and chose to go to the waters of the small pond at the back of his home village. The waters there were always cool and calm. Peering over the edge into the water, he saw his face looking back at him.

The face of a blue-eyed wolf.

As he watched, his reflection began to morph. The ears pinned back in aggression. The canines came out. The eyes lost their intelligence, replaced with feral intensity and aggression. A snarling wolf looked back at him from the pond, no trace of what he had once been in his reflection.

Link closed his eyes and gathered his will.

It was not real. None of this was.

The Warrior's Spirit flared within him.


Nightmare Moon had yet to cease smiling as lifted the beast and his little imp friend in her magic. There was even a bit of a prance to her step as, using the power now at her disposal, she created a cage from nothing.

The imp was gently placed into it, but squirmed and moaned in her sleep despite the care that the Nightmare took. She would have to look in on her dreams at some point and see what it was that had her reacting so, once she had corraled her guards and disciplined them. Yes. The dreams of the little imp and the wolf may be able to tell her much, if properly... controlled... and when she had learned all she could, he would no doubt prove an excellent servant, once he was properly broken in...

Nightmare Moon's chuckle was cut off by a meaty thud.

She turned to see the wolf stagger to his feet. Though his steps were uncertain, the teeth he bared her way and the look in his eyes showed it would not be that way for long.

"So, you are stronger than you first appear," she told him as he steadied himself. "Shame. You should have stayed in the world of dreams, beast. The real nightmare... is right here."

Link snarled and lunged, powerful legs propelling him forward. Nightmare Moon laughed as she turned to nothing more than inky blackness, allowing the beast to pass through her harmlessly.

However, it appeared that she was not his target. The wolf latched onto the bars of the onyx cage with his canines and pulled with all his strength. A small blue sphere seemed to surround him, but the cage was solid stone now, and was so large that the faint blue sphere could not reach the little imp.

"Fool," she called out to him. A blast of magic from her horn forced him away from the cage and his little imp friend. The wolf darted away, towards the throne–


Nightmare's horn lit and lightning flew, only narrowly missing the beast as he jumped back to avoid it. A stomp of her foot and black onyx erupted from the thrones, putting her precious mirror shard well out of reach of the wolf.

"You shall be sent whimpering back to the realm of dreams, beast," she hissed at him. She pawed the ground. "And when I am through with you, this world. Shall. Be. MINE!"

Twilit Noctus lowered her glowing horn and charged.


Twilight and the other Elements had been at a loss for how to proceed. The door simply wouldn't open again, no matter how much they tried, no matter how many times or in what order they pressed the switches. Link was in there, fighting Nightmare Moon, and they had been stopped by a door.

Until Rarity had noticed that a second set of doors had opened.

With no way of getting through the throne room doors, and no desire to leave Link to face Nightmare Moon alone, they had agreed to see where it led. With Epona following behind, they made their way through the crumbling stone passageways, up a set of questionable-looking yet actually quite solid stairs, and made a right turn at a partially-collapsed forked passage.

And then they heard the sounds of battle.


There was no doubt it was Nightmare Moon.

A vicious snarl that sent shivers down her spine and images of ivory teeth closing about her neck echoed a few moments later. Followed by the impact of magic upon stone. The girls all exchanged looks before galloping towards the sounds. With Nightmare Moon's constant shouting, it was not hard.

They emerged onto what had once been a balcony overlook of the throne room. Once, nobles would have lined the walls, watching from the rafters as petitioners and other members of the nobility tried to curry favor from the Princesses. Now, they were falling down; stones had fallen from the floor, leaving holes in some places, and the majority of the stone railing was gone from what looked to Twilight like spellfire.

From their vantage point, they had a clear view of the battle between the columns.

It was clear Nightmare Moon was in control, and she was winning. Lightning, fireballs, and magic compressed into bolts of turquoise light lashed around the arena from her central position as Link ducked and dodged, trying to close the distance. Unfortunately, every time he tried, she would simply laugh at him and turn into a dark cloud, vanishing into the darkness before re-appearing somewhere else and continuing her assault. Every so often, he would have to 'break' a telekinetic grab, or fight off a sleep spell; those moments were the most harrowing, as the Nightmare used them to slow her quarry enough to hit him.

Through all of it, Link could do nothing but nimbly dodge and growl at his opponent, unable to close to do damage to the Nightmare.

"We gotta help him!" Rainbow took off.

Applejack was quicker though, grabbing her tail before the pegasus could go streaking into the fight.

"AJ, lemme go!"

"Rainbow, we need you to use the Elements!" Twilight begged.

"Well then what are we waiting for!" Rainbow zipped into place behind Twilight.

The others were quick to assume their places as well. Twilight closed her eyes, concentrating upon the feeling of friendship deep within her, in her heart. She felt her friends do the same, like singers tuning their voices. Then she felt her hooves lift off the ground, gently supporting her until she was upright as their friendship, their harmonization, reached its peak.

Twilight's eyes glowed white with power as a blaze of rainbow light arced towards the oblivious Nightmare Moon.


Link was in a bad place.

Midna had been shut up in a cage, no doubt reliving a nightmare like the one he had broken out of, and he was unable to reach her to break her out of it with his Spirit. The Mirror Shard was now out of reach, and would take time that he did not have to reach it. Above all else, he was under attack from the Nightmare, a constant flurry of attacks that he had to dodge, and sometimes a direct use of magic that he would have to throw off. Worst of all, he could not reach her, not with the Nightmare simply moving to another place whenever he tried. She was toying with him.

But he tried nonetheless. He would not give up. Perhaps at some point, she would make a critical mistake and let him get close. Perhaps he could slip her attention enough to break Midna out of her cage and wake her up. All he had to do, all he could do, was duck and dodge and hope.

The Nightmare shot a bolt of turquoise magic at him. Link sprang sideways with all four paws, leaving the bolt to impact against the stone behind it, and sprang forward, intending to close, but was force to skitter sideways to dodge a blast of lightning from his foe.

"Haha! Run all you want, beast. Growl, all you want. There is nothing you can do. When you grow tired, and you finally realize the futility of your actions, you shall be miAAAAAAAAGGGGHHH!"

The Nightmare cried out in pain and surprise as a rainbow of light impacted her back, encompassing her in a multitude of colors. Link stopped and panted as his foe was consumed by the light, her cries cutting off and her form encompassed.

His eyes tracked the rainbow back to their source, and what he found surprised him. The six mares, the ones he had left behind in the Hall of the Elements, were on a stone balcony several stories above. Each glowed a radiant color of the rainbow and was levitated into the air, sustaining the multicolored storm that they had unleashed upon the Nightmare.

After a few more moments, Twilight and the others collapsed onto the balcony, the rainbow of light cutting off. A few moments later, the rainbow storm dissipated.

"If you foals thought me defeated so easily, you are sorely mistaken," Nightmare Moon hissed at him. She did look a little worse for wear; the purple mascara around her eyes was smudged, her armor looked duller, her ethereal mane seemed disheveled, even parts of her coat seemed to be blotches of a bluer shade.

All of that disappeared as she channeled turquoise power, glowing like a lantern in the moonlight. When it faded, she was once again as he had seen her first, immaculate, strangely beautiful and terrifying at the same time.

"The Elements shall not defeat me, cannot defeat me, not this time," she declared to the balcony. "No, the Elements are weak against me now. Still..."

Link growled at her and charged, unwilling to give his foe further opportunity to recover. He had nearly reached her when her attention returned to him. He could feel the dark mist under his feet, and through his fur, as she laughed and turned to nothing more than smoke.

When she reformed on the dias of the thrones, there was not one, but two, Nightmare Moons.

"I shall continue our education here, beast, while my other self deals with your friends."

Link sprinted across the room and threw himself at the Nightmare Moon that was spreading her wings for takeoff, but was intercepted by a pair of hooves from the one who had spoken. There was nothing Link could do as the second Nightmare Moon beat her wings powerfully, taking her to the balcony where Twilight and the others were.


Using the Elements took a lot out Twilight and her friends. The first time they had done so, against Nightmare Moon the first time, the Elements had left them weak and unconcious for several minutes. A few questions to her mentor revealed that the Elements drew upon their bodies to fuel the magic; friendship was its power, and the stronger the frienship, the stronger the Elements, but the necessary magic to spark it came from the inborn magic of the ponies themselves, like a piece of tinder ignites a fire. For stronger creatures, like Celestia and Luna when they had wielded the Elements, the draw was negligible. For mortal ponies, the draw was small, and temporary, but significant; only the absolute strongest of ponies could stay awake, much less stay standing.

As such, Twilight was less than surprised to find herself forcing her eyes open. Her legs felt like jelly and for a few moments she was more than content to lay on the stone, not moving.

Then Nightmare Moon landed heavily in front of her.

"You are foals if you think that I can be beaten by the Elements again," Nightmare Moon hissed at them. "You should have stayed in your cells and left well enough alone, but instead you have come to MY throne room, the height of my power, and you dare, you DARE to challenge ME?!"

She pawed a hoof at the ground. "Thank your precious Celestia that I show mercy on you, Bearers," she spat, "and do not give you the full punishment that your actions deserve."

Twilight struggled to her hooves as Nightmare Moon lit her horn. Around her she could hear her friends beginning to stir as well, but not even Rainbow was shaking this off fast enough to avoid whatever spell the Nightmare was charging.

Twilight closed her eyes and braced herself for what might come next.


The sound of massive hooves upon stone brought her eyes back open.

"What?!" Nightmare Moon gasped in surprise. Then it turned to an emotion that was unmistakably fear as Epona, the last horse on the face of the world, who towered over even the alicorns of Celestia and Luna like they were foals, charged directly at the Nightmare.

Nightmare Moon barely managed to get out from the path of the trampling hooves at the last moment, regaining enough wits to send a blast of magic at the horse. Epona accepted the blast to her chest with nothing more than a grunt, then wheeled about, her hind hooves facing the recovering Nightmare Moon.

Both hooves kicked out and hit Nightmare Moon like a pair of sledgehammers, one in the soft belly, the other on the side of her armored shoulder. The force was enough to send Nightmare Moon flying off the balcony. The Nightmare flew without the aid of wings through the throne room, bursting into a cloud of black as she hit a crumbling support pillar.

"You will not hurt my friends!" Epona declared with a snort.

Twilight, now on her hooves, forced herself over to the edge of the balcony, where the fighting had not stopped. The black cloud of the doppelganger rejoined with the Nightmare as she fought off Link's attack, sending him skittering across the floor.

Nightmare Moon shot Twilight, and Epona beside her, a look of pure malice.

Then Link lunged at her exposed neck, forcing the Nightmare's attention back to the threat at hoof. But now, she kept a weather eye on the balcony when she could.

"It didn't work," Rarity whispered behind her.

"You hurt her," Epona said, bringing the panic to a halt before it could begin.

"What do you mean?" Twilight asked.

"When you did the rainbow thing. It hurt her. She was spotty. And her hair looked like Applebloom's when you make her do the morning chores," Epona elaborated.

"If it hurt her once, it can hurt her again," Applejack said slowly.

"Maybe it could even return Princess Luna to us if we do it enough," Twilight theorized.

"Well? What are we waiting for!?" Rainbow demanded.


Link was glad his ever-faithful companion had stepped up to the plate and helped to defend Twilight and her friends. The look Nightmare Moon had shot at them showed just how quickly her plan was crashing around her.

She was weaker now, and more distracted. He had even managed to sneak up on her a few times, forcing her to fend him off with hoof instead of horn.

She was, however, fighting fiercer now. Before, it seemed as though she was toying with him, her voice never ceasing with taunts about what fate she had in store for him or the futility of fighting back. Now she was focused; gone was grin, replaced with a frown on her muzzle and a constant spell on her horn. She also did not shy from hitting him now; one magic blast had sent him flying and now his right foreleg twinged with every step he took.

He ignored it. His time had come. She was vulnerable, and if he could distract her long enough for Twilight and the others to perform their rainbow trick again, then she could be brought down.

Link saw the balcony begin to glow; a sign that they were beginning to strike again. If Nightmare Moon saw it, she would no doubt try to stop it, or dodge.

Link barked at the top of his lungs, charging recklessly at Nightmare Moon. Not far enough or fast enough to cause her to turn to smoke, but enought that she thought he may be a threat. She responded with a fireball that singed his fur as he flattened against the ground to avoid it; he nevertheless continued doggedly forward, growling and snarling at the Nightmare, trying to keep her attention.

It worked. Nightmare Moon had her eyes fixed on him, spell ready against what move he may take next. She didn't see the ponies on the balcony lift in a white glow, nor the rainbow that arced nearly to the ruined ceiling that crashed down upon her.

She screamed in rage and pain as she was once again swallowed in a vortex of color. For a few moments, as the rainbow swirled around the location where the Nightmare was, Link entertained the thought that this might be enough to stop the Nightmare and that this battle was over.

Then the rainbow receded. Nightmare Moon looked ravaged; her ethereal hair was wild, spots of blue covered large sections of her body, and her armor was both askew and looked beaten. She panted as though she had just run a long distance.

She shot Link a glare of fiery anger before a wave of turqoise flames exploded from her form. Link had to scramble to get behind a pillar as the wave of fire erupted out from her in all directions.

"ENOUGH!" Nightmare Moon commanded, once again back to her pristine self. "I will not be stopped by some mutt and a few broken artifacts! The world is MINE, and the night SHALL last FOREVER, no matter what you array against me!"


It was harder, fighting for conciousness the second time. The effects of using the Elements may have been temporary, but they simply could not afford to wait until they felt good again. They had to stop Nightmare Moon now.

"Ugh. I hate feeling tired like this," Twilight heard Pinkie say from behind her. For the party pony on a constant sugar rush, feeling this tired must have been pure torture.

"Did it work?" Twilight asked to nopony in particular.

"No," came the reply from Epona. Groans sounded from everypony, except for Rarity, who sighed. Ladies did not groan.

"She looked worse this time," Epona continued.

Twilight managed to stagger to her hooves, before nearly falling over again on unsteady legs. "Well, that's something, I suppose." She staggered over to Rainbow, who appeared to be out for the count.

"Rainbow, get up," she said, nudging her companion. Rainbow groaned in response. "Come on, Link needs our help."

One eye opened, followed by the wings spreading themselves out.

"Ah'm not sure how many more times we c'n do this, Twi," Applejack said on wobbly legs. Behind her, Fluttershy was standing but breathing hard.

"We can't give up," Twilight told them all. "This may be our only chance at stopping Nightmare Moon, rescuing Celestia, and preventing Eternal Night!"

"There is nothing that will prevent the Eternal Night, foal," Nightmare Moon hissed at them as she landed on the balcony.

Unable to use the Elements again yet, all Twilight and her friends could do was stare, and hope that Epona helped.

She did not disappoint. With a snort, Epona charged at Nightmare Moon. The Nightmare sneered and conjured a turquoise barrier of magic– which promptly shattered when Epona slammed into it. She staggered, then continued her charge at the Nightmare.

Fear once again crept on to the Nightmare's face even as another spell built upon her horn, but it was too late. Epona barrelled into Nightmare Moon, knocking her to the stone floor hard. Then she reared, kicking her forelegs into the air, intent upon bringing those hardened hooves down upon the Nightmare.

Nightmare Moon dissipated into black smoke with mere moments to spare. Epona's iron-shod hooves struck sparks upon the stone as she landed.

The smoke flitted over the edge and back down to the floor of the throne room before reforming into a pony.

"I had promised myself that I would take mercy upon you, if for no other reason that you could prove useful, Elements! Now, I see that was an error. An error I shall cor-omph!"

Nightmare Moon did not finish her threat as Link leapt upon her, teeth bared. The Nightmare screamed in fear and rage as the growling wolf doggedly held on during her attempts to shake him of. A small sphere of blue sprang surrounded him, and Twilight's eyes comically widened as Nightmare Moon's ethereal mane turned to normal hair when in the field.

"Well, ah'll be damned," Applejack commented. Nightmare Moon began bucking in a vain attempt to get her unwanted passenger off, but Link held on. And as long as her attention was focused on Link, they had a chance.

Twilight felt her hooves steady underneath her. She did not feel fully recovered yet, but she felt well enough. It would have to do. "Alright girls, formation!"


Through a combination of sheer determination and more than a little luck, Link remained on the back of Nightmare Moon as she bucked her way around the hall. With the Warrior's Spirit, she could not dislodge him with her magic, nor could she turn to smoke as she had done so many times before; no, so long as he was suppressing her magic locally, all she could do was attempt to buck him off. Unfortunately for her, Link was rather experienced with farm animals and their handling, and he also had an excellent grip in the form of her mane in his teeth.

He rode her as she weaved and bucked through the hall, cursing him all the while in a voice that was so loud that he thought he could hear an echo off the nearby mountains.

And then his vision went rainbow.


View Online

Celestia did not begrudge her time in her Sun. Her corporeal body was gone, her very soul subsumed into the strata of the celestial body. The fiery orb was as much a part of her as a tail or a mane was to any of her little ponies, and to find herself re-united with it was like seeing an old friend again.

She allowed such thoughts and feelings to keep her occupied so that she would not worry. The last time she had been imprisoned here, she had had a plan. Tenuous, more than she would admit, but she had faith and confidence in her faithful student. This time, however, she was more worried. Whatever had possessed Luna had done so without warning; there was no thousand year wait, no time to prepare, no time even to send a message to Twilight or alert her guards.

If somepony managed to stop the Nightmare, then this would be a nice and refreshing break from her normal duties.

If nopony did so, then she would no doubt have many, many years to worry about her little ponies.

So it was that when she felt a familiar pull upon her incorporeal form, Celestia knew that her faith had not been misplaced. Twilight Sparkle had come through, once again; the Elements had released her. She took one last moment to bathe in the fiery furnace of her Sun before allowing the pull to take her back home.

The pull took her to the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, not very surprising from what she knew of Nightmare Moon, and directed her towards the throne room. Once there, she began the process of re-constituting her corporeal body.

And so the day dawned.


Awareness returned quickly to Link. His body felt energized and alive, with no sign whatsoever that he had been asleep. Even his usual lethargy was not present.

He was in the throne room still, lying on broken stone next to a still, large pony with wings and horn- not black, like Nightmare Moon, but deep blue, and slightly smaller. Her mane flowed slowly, and looked almost as though someone had taken a piece of the night sky and animated it into her hair. She breathed slowly in her sleep, still out from whatever the rainbow had done to them.

With a grunt, Link pushed himself up- and then did a double take at the appendages he was staring at.

It was long, green, and ended in a hoof.

He was a pony.

This... was certainly new.

Slightly curious, he turned his head to look at his behind that was planted on the floor, allowing straw-colored strands of hair to slip into his vision, and looked at his buttocks. They weren't covered by the loose tunic he was wearing, or the small saddlebag that had appeared on his back. Each pony had a different marking upon their buttocks, seemingly identifying themselves, impregnated into the fur, and he was wondering what his was, if he had one at all.

He did. It was the head of a black wolf, like the one he became, down to the pattern of fur upon its brow. The only difference was that the forehead of the wolf mark also bore a sequence of triangles, one of which was golden, while the others were a duller yellow.

His curiosity sated, he stood to his hooves and found two things. The first was a gold rimmed gemstone, hollow, and cut into the shape of a heart, with a smaller pink heart contained inside. The other was about the size of a dagger, was black, jagged, and pulsed with florescent orange light. Shadow magic.

Whatever that rainbow had done to him and Nightmare Moon, it had been powerful enough to remove the taint from its host and simultaneously remove the piece of evil magic from his body that forced it to wolf form, a feat that had before only been possible with the Master Sword.

Whatever they had done, it had been as powerful as the Sword of Evil's Bane.

He grabbed the heart shaped container first, somehow managing to grasp it with a hoof and put it into the saddlebag. The enchanted pouch readily accepted the heart. Then he moved over to the magic shard, grabbing it, letting the evil magic flow through him, transforming him into a beast just as light filled the throne room.


There was always a moment of disorientation for Celestia when she reconstituted her physical vessel. As a drop of sunlight, all her senses were spread out, and she was capable of hearing, of seeing, in all directions at once. Returning to the sensations of balance, of having two eyes and two ears, all the trappings of a physical body always gave her a moment of pause.

The first thing she saw in the morning sunlight that poured in was her sister. Not the Nightmare, but Luna, her younger sister, diarch of the night. Strangely, she had not been de-powered by the Elements this time; her ethereal hair was on full display. Perhaps a sign that the stone fragment she had been studying had not completely possessed her? Or that is was otherwise differentiated enough that the Elements could readily separate the two?

Such thoughts were derailed moments later when a wolf stepped out from behind her form.

The wolf that she knew as Link only through Twilight's correspondences padded around her sister and sat before her, cool blue eyes meeting her own as he sat with only the very tip of his tail twitching.

"I suppose I have you to thank, for the return of my sister," she said quietly.

Link inclined his head ever so slightly.

"If everything my student has told me is true, then this is the second time that you have aided not only Equestria, but those who are personally close to me. I am not certain I can ever thank you enough."

Link inclined his head. Then he looked at something to her left. Celestia followed his gaze and found the small slumbering figure of an imp. His companion.


Celestia looked to the voice and saw Epona, the horse her sister had met, who was currently sheltering in Applejack's barn. They had yet to meet in pony, but she had heard much about her through the letters from her faithful student. What she was doing on the upper balcony of the old castle, however, was another question entirely.

"Did it work?" she wanted to know.

Celestia smiled. "Yes, my sister is back to her normal self. Though still unconscious from being struck by the Elements. She should wake soon," she replied. "I assume that Twilight and her friends are there with you?" They were not down along the floor where Celestia expected. Had they not fought the Nightmare directly?

"Yes," Epona said back. She looked behind her at something. "But they are all asleep."

"They will be fine," Celestia assured her. Using the Elements was trying for any mortal save those that approached immortality, such as an elder wyrm. "Please, go stand by them."


Celestia turned her attention back to the wolf to find that the small imp was sitting up, shaking her head as though she was confused. The care in his eyes as he lay next to her, supporting her, made it clear to Celestia that the two were very close friends.

“What now?” Epona called out, hidden by the stone of the balcony.

Celestia lit her horn and prepared a spell. Once, this had been her home, and she would have never used this spell. Now, though, golden light cut through the stone as though made of butter, in the shape of a perfect square around the horse and her six friends. The block broke free into the grip of gentle golden light, and Celestia carefully maneuvered it to the center of the hall before gently setting it down.

She set the block down just as as both the ponies upon it and her sister began to stir. Celestia instantly headed for her sister.

"Ohhh.... have We been drinking agai-"

Celestia could see her sister's pupils eyes shrink. They darted to her, then away... away in shame and fear as she shot to her hooves.

"Sister, We, I, am not the Nightmare, please, the shard of stone-"

Celestia cut off her sisters hurried and panicked protests with a gold-shod hoof, before wrapping her wings around her.

"I know, sister," she said softly. "And I forgive you. I'm not mad. I know you were not yourself."

It took a moment for her trembling and tense sister to relax and reciprocate the hug. Oh Luna...

Then her sister suddenly tensed again.

"Sister, the wolf and the imp are taking the shard," Luna supplied calmly. Despite her tone, Celestia could feel the magic taking shape around her horn and the muscles tense in preparation for action.

Celestia calmly let go of her sister and turned to face the two thrones, hoping that the Elements would not be necessary again. Twilight and her friends were still out cold, why she did not know.

The imp upon his back held the shard in a fluorescent mane of sorts, studying it intensely. Beneath her, Link looked at it curiously as well.

"We would advise against such course of action," Luna said, catching their attention. "Such an artifact would be safer secured within a vault, where it may harm nopony."

Link looked at the imp on his back. She raised her arms with a shrug, and suddenly there were two more black stone fragments floating in the air. They fit perfectly with the fragment they had taken from the wall, making a stone circle, little more than half filled.

Celestia's mind raced. If Link and this imp had already dealt with other such pieces, it was possible that they did not know the danger that they were in; more likely, it meant that they knew the power that it wielded and knew not to fall prey to it. Given that whatever it was was not yet complete, and their actions here, they must be seeking other pieces, though given what it had done to her sister Celestia did not wish to see what the full artifact could do.

Could they afford to let such power, such evil, into their hooves? Were their intentions noble, or malign?

He had single-pawedly saved the town of Ponyville, including her personal student and the Elements of Harmony.

He had passed through the wards that she and her sister had set deep in the caves surrounding Tartarus, proving that, at least at that time, he was uncorrupted. He had then gone on to save the Element of Generosity and single-pawedly defeat the evil that had infested the local diamond dog clan.

He had saved the lives of three foals at great cost to himself, nearly giving his life to successfully defend them against a fearsome chimera.

He was a companion of the last horse in Equestria, who trusted him implicitly, and was willing to assist him whatever the cost, even in battle.

And now, he had played at least a small, more likely a very large, part in the cleansing of Nightmare Moon and the return of Luna, her only sister.

Did he deserve trust? The answer in her mind was unquestionable now that she reviewed what she knew.

"Let them take it," Celestia proclaimed.

Luna raised an eyebrow and flicked an ear, the subtle question plain upon her face to her sister. Art thou certain? she could imagine Luna saying.

Celestia replied with a subtle wink. Trust me.

Luna flicked her tail. As you wish.

The wolf nodded, and with a flash, all the pieces of the stone were gone. The imp said a few words, gave the wolf underneath her a pat on his side, then pointed her hand at a spot on the floor. A ring of turquoise fire appeared on the ground, a magic that Celestia had never before seen.

"Link..." A voice called out.

Celestia turned to see her student, awake but still collapsed on the floor.

"Thank you. For everything."

Link inclined his head, then stepped into the ring of fire and disappeared.

What an interesting creature. She could see why her student was so intrigued. She could see why her sister was so intrigued. He was a mystery that nagged like an itch that cannot be scratched.

Still, with Link gone with the piece of stone, peace could return. To her sister, to Ponyville, hopefully to all of Equestria.

And speaking of Ponyville, it was probably best to see to her student.

Twilight was shaking like a newborn foal as she got to her hooves. The rest of the Elements were not even trying to rise. Celestia knew the Elements were taxing, but her student had not been so weakened when she had faced Nightmare Moon the first time, nor against Discord. What had happened?


Celestia gave Twilight a gentle nuzzle. She promptly gave up the fight and collapsed back to the ground, to which Celestia gave a small chuckle.

“Relax, my faithful student. Lay down, if you wish, there is no need for ceremony here,” she soothed. “This is the second time that you have returned my sister to me, and for that I am eternally grateful. But I must ask, why are you so tired? Surely it was not the Elements that have done this to you?”

“‘Twas the Elements,” Luna supplied from her side. “They were not enough to remove the magic of the shard in one blast. We know. We saw through the Nightmare’s eyes. Thrice they used the Elements against me before the Nightmare was vanquished.”

Celestia raised a questioning eyebrow at her student. Twilight nodded in return.

“And are you alright, my little ponies?” she asked.

The resulting chorus of grunts and affirmatives led Celestia to believe that the Elements were indeed alright, though they appeared exhausted by their ordeal. It was fortunate that the Elements had managed to cleanse Nightmare Moon when they did; given the way her student and the rest were moving, they would not have had the strength to use them a fourth time in a row. The fact that they had done so three times in a row was beyond her wildest expectations.

Celestia was distracted from her thoughts by the sound of wings. She turned just in time to see one of her guards land in a clatter of hooves and stand to attention.

"Princess Celestia!" he said with military precision. Then his eyes fell upon her sister.

The guard instantly became alert, crouching and backing away as though expecting a fight.

"Stand down," Celestia ordered. The guard froze.

"Princess, Nightmare Moon-"

"Has been taken care of. Princess Luna is no threat to anypony here," Celestia cut in firmly. "What is your name?"

"Private Storm Wind, of the 12th Royal Guard Division, your Highness."

The guard division she had assigned to the diamond dogs...

"Private Wind, find your commanding officer and report our position at once. I wish to speak to him."

Wind saluted with a wing, and with one last uncertain glance at Luna, took flight.

Beside her, Celestia could almost feel her sister sagging in on herself. She had worked so hard over the last two years to be seen for Luna, not the Nightmare, and now because of one small mistake that work would all come crumbling down.


"Luna, I have an idea. Play along, and do not worry," she whispered to her sister.

The longing on her face was clear, the hope against all hope that what she dreaded would not happen. Celestia gave her her best smile. Her plan would work. It had to.

Twilight had barely managed to get to shaky and uncertain hooves when the doors to the throne room creaked open to admit several ponies in guard armor, led by a rather large earth pony whom Celestia recognized.

"Ah, Colonel Barricade. Please, help the Elements to their hooves and send your soldiers to scout the path back to Ponyville. We have much to discuss on the way."

Public Relations

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Canterlot Enquirer

Princesses Test Nobility in Nightmare Scare

This past Tuesday, the sun did not rise over Equestria. Nightmare Moon, alter-ego of Princess Luna, had staged a coup, banishing Celestia to the sun and thrusting Princess mi amore Cadenza onto the throne. For a time, it looked as though the night would indeed reign eternal, for though Nightmare Moon did not directly seize the throne, she would not need to, not with the sun permanently set. Going into Tuesday night, not that night or day meant much that dark day, hopelessness reigned as it seemed as though we had all seen our last sunrise, without ever knowing it.

But when the day dawned this Wednesday morning at the proper time, it became clear that Celestia had been released, either through her own means, through the Elements of Harmony, or, as unlikely as it seemed, by choice by Nightmare Moon herself. Further deepening the mystery, Princess Luna was sighted beside her sister, with no trace of Nightmare Moon to be seen and no apparent ill will between the sisters.

The rumor mill around Canterlot was thrown into overdrive until the afternoon after their return to the castle, at which point the Sisters released a statement to the press.

"I know that many of my subjects are concerned with what has happened the last two days. Let me be the first to assure you that I am alive and well, and that Nightmare Moon, or rather, Princess Luna, is of no threat to Equestria. Please, I know there are many questions, but first, allow me and my sister to explain.

"We have faced several trials as a nation these last few years, from the return of Nightmare Moon and the restoration of the Lunar Throne to the return of Discord not more than eight months ago. While these incidents have been quickly solved by the Elements of Harmony, they have revealed several inadequacies in the Diarchy in a crisis situation. While my sister and I are capable of mitigating a crisis as it arises, both the incidents mentioned so far have started with the removal of the head of the government. This naturally causes a great deal of confusion and alarm, but in both instances the Equestrian government have been paralyzed by indecision and inaction. This cannot be allowed.

"After the incident with Discord, a plan was put into place, to prevent the debilitating paralysis of the Equestrian Government should both my sister and I be incapacitated. The nobility and key members of the guard were given responsibilities according to their station in the expectation that their service could one day prove useful. But how were we to test the effectiveness of these measures? With the events of Nightmare Night in mind, my sister had the inspired suggestion one evening of faking an attack by Nightmare Moon.

"Such a fake surprise attack would allow us to observe how the procedures that have been put into place were executed, and allow us to measure and observe the effect on the nation as a whole. However, to best judge all involved parties, it was necessary to make this fake crisis feel as real as possible. To that end, only myself and my sister knew of the plan.

"When the time was right, my sister acted, pretending to take on the guise of the Nightmare and 'banishing' me to the Sun. In keeping with her act, we did not raise the sun yesterday morn, and 'Nightmare Moon' took certain measures so that she would seem to be a legitimate threat, chiefest among them using magic to 'convince' the 12th Royal Guard Division to serve her. The Elements of Harmony were similarly 'neutralized', to add a sense of urgency to the situation.

"Of course, things do not always go as planned, and the Elements of Harmony were able to escape and use the Elements upon my sister early this morning, though since this was all merely an act, such action merely broke the illusion upon her and undid the spells she had cast through the night. With Nightmare Moon 'defeated', my sister and I stood side by side in the ruins of the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters while Princess Luna set the Moon and I raised the Sun.

"Now, before we go into the details and our evaluation, my sister would like to say a few words.

"Citizens of Canterlot. I know that I have frightened you this past day, and I would like to sincerely apologize. I have come to know that there is a time and a place for things such as Nightmare Moon, but Nightmare Night is seasons away. Still, when my sister broached the idea of testing the new procedures, I could not but help and offer my assistance. As a...

Nightmare Scare, Continued on Page 2


The headlines of all the major newspapers the next day all said the same thing, mostly. Only a few of the more paranoid and conservative papers wrote their own stories, decrying Nightmare Moon and extolling on how Princess Luna was merely playing at being a 'good pony' to deceive her sister before bringing back the eternal night; most simply opted to repeat the press release and offer their own statements and analysis to go with it. That it wasn't really Nightmare Moon, just Luna acting like it so that they could get a proper fire drill of sorts to test the new system in case of emergency.

And in truth, it had made for a good test. Twilight's old foalsitter and her brother had acquitted themselves well, trying to restore order in the chaos; quite frankly, everypony was lucky not to wake Discord with all the havoc and confusion at the castle. Others had stood out as well; Fancy Pants, Fleur de Lis, Crown Jewels, and perhaps most surprising of all, Prince Blueblood, had all performed well enough to get mention in the papers. Others, however...

House DuVal, already under investigation by the Equestrian Government for questionable land-buying practices, had attempted what amounted to a robbery, using a combination of blackmail and their strategic agents throughout the government to keep the confusion going long enough to gain access to the Royal Vaults. They were foiled by a rather unlucky guard who had been reporting directly to Shining Armor; he had come searching for his messenger after a short delay only to find agents of the House had tied the intruding messenger up and were attempting to get through one of the most heavily warded vaults in the world.To protect the treasures inside from Nightmare Moon, was their token defense. Needless to say, House DuVal was no longer a part of the nobility.

It was masterful public relations. The story adequately explained everything in a reassuring manner, shifting attention away from Nightmare Moon, and thus, Princess Luna. Nightmare Moon returning suddenly? No, it was merely a test, and Princess Luna had reluctantly shouldered the burden of acting the villain. Celestia had run the government alone for nearly one thousand years, and in that time had garnered a public trust that was unparalleled; her word would be trusted, even in the absence of facts.

It was a fact lost to time, but Celestia had not been the one to wield the Element of Honesty.

Still, there were a few that knew the full truth. Ten, to be exact. Two unicorns, two earth ponies, two pegasi, two alicorns, a horse, and a wolf.

Twilight and her friends had been too tired to walk after their ordeal, so Luna had fashioned a carriage of sorts to carry them. Epona had volunteered to pull, so they were all together, and none had heard the discussions their Princesses had had with the commander of the Guards that were escorting them. By the time they got to the Library, all six of the friends were capable of standing, and it was at that time that Celestia asked if she could speak to the Elements in private. She took them in to the Library, leaving Luna to organize things with the Guard, cast the most powerful anti-snooping spell Twilight had ever seen, and explained everything.

Most of the Elements were naturally confused. Applejack, as the Element of Honesty, was outright incensed. Lying?! That ain't right! They needed t' tell ponies th' truth of what happened, not lie like a foal that got into trouble!

Celestia bore every accusation. She remained quiet as each of Twilight's friends expressed their doubts that Equestria would believe it, their doubts about the morals of what Celestia wanted, their doubts that they would be able to keep such secrets. And when they were all done, Celestia quietly laid out the alternative that she believed, with all her considerable experience, would happen should the full truth come out.

That Luna, her ever-hopeful little sister who was only two years removed from her return from the Moon, who had only recently managed to build enough confidence to put on a first public appearance, would be branded a danger to society. Her name would be forever linked to Nightmare Moon, and she would be viewed at best with suspicion and at worst as a ruler to be deposed. The nobility would shun her, with even the most progressive wanting nothing to do with such political poison. The public would fear what she had the potential to become. Luna, diarch of the night, would be publicly shunned; it would devastate her personal life. She may well withdraw completely, becoming nothing more than a depressed loner that only left her bedroom for meals. At best she would live a solitary existence, feared by the castle staff as she went about her duties, with Celestia and perhaps a hoof-full of others as her only companionship. At worst, well, such conditions as these had led to the initial Nightmare Moon incident; the public’s belief in such a possibility may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What was the price of the truth of what had happened this day? Nothing less than the social destruction of Princess Luna.

Everypony had pause at that. What was better? Tell the truth and potentially damn Luna, the kind, enthusiastic, yet shy ruler, someone they called friend? Or keep quiet, tell a small lie about the whole thing, and let Celestia take care of the rest?

Every one of Twilight’s friends balked at having to live with such a secret for the rest of their lives. But even Applejack could not bring herself to tell the full truth when it would destroy someone they called friend over something that was not necessarily her fault.

In the end, they agreed, even Applejack, to go with Celestia’s story. Not that there was much of a lie to tell, Celestia had woven the narrative so that the Elements would not have to lie about much, but still, they would all know it was a lie, or rather, a partial truth. For most, it was better than the alternative, and in the end even Applejack relented, though she didn’t think she could hold up the lie if asked directly about it. Celestia had been quick to assure her that nopony would do such a thing.

With that, Celestia and Luna had left, leaving orders for the guards to resume their posts at the Diamond Dog mine. As for the Elements, well...

All six of them found themselves rather tired in the slowly recovering shell shocked community of Ponyville. Merely walking over to Sugarcube Corner, where Pinkie promised everyone a cupcake for a job well done, was done through empty streets; though there were signs that ponies were contemplating going out to find out for themselves if the sun was really out.

They arrived to find that the Cakes were more venturesome than other ponies, and were beginning to tidy up in preparation for a return to business. The six were quickly offered a booth, which they graciously accepted, and were joined a few minutes later by some unexpected but not unwelcome guests.

Big Mac, escorting the Crusaders and Spike, were just in time to get confections of their own- Epona had wandered back to the farm and told the family and their charges that the Elements were back. What followed were cookies all around and smiles on everypony's faces. The Crusaders and Spike had all wanted to know what had happened, how they had defeated Nightmare Moon, how awesome it had been to fight against the boogeymare again.... they were saved when Big Mac saw how awkward everypony was and covered for them.

The rest of the day went by sedately, at least for Twilight. They all went their respective ways after Sugarcube Corner; Twilight and Spike went back to the Library, where they spent the time organizing and putting books on shelves. Not even doing research; her mind was far more occupied with what Celestia had asked her to do. What she had asked of all of them, for Luna's sake.

Twilight put the paper down, returning to her breakfast. They really did need to do this. Luna had come to Nightmare Night full of righteous purpose, but it had all quickly crumbled in the face of a scared population, and when it had she had gone off alone. Only Twilight had brought her back and turned the night around. She could see Luna backsliding very easily.

And what did it matter? They were not outright lying about everything. Just one small little thing- that everything had been under control. That it wasn’t really Nightmare Moon, just an act…

But Celestia solved it so easily! Almost like she had done this before! How many times has this happened before? I’ve read all the history books, how much of it is not the full truth? Will what happened here ever make the history books?

She took some comfort in the fact that Celestia had done so for a good reason, to preserve the image and mental well-being of her sister. No doubt Luna was taking this hard; she had worked tirelessly to distance herself from the Nightmare, to have everypony so suddenly reminded, to have herself reminded of that wicked mare….

“That’s not true,” Spike mumbled at the newspaper. “Twilight, is this what really happened?”

“W-what do you mean, Spike? Why do you think that?”

“There was no Link!” Spike scowled.

Twilight hadn't even thought of that. She had been so wrapped up in the events surrounding Luna, she had completely missed that there was no mention of Link. Given that he was instrumental in releasing all the bearers from enchanted slumber, then again in finding the Elements, then a third time in the battle against Nightmare Moon, it seemed a disservice to not even mention him at all. The Elements may have cured Luna, but it was Link who had done all the heavy lifting and had made everything possible.

He was the real hero of the day, and nopony would ever even know even he existed.


Twilight reigned in her thoughts to the matter at hoof. As somedragon who had been close to the events of the past few weeks, Spike knew more than most ponies about what was going on. He knew that Celestia's story wasn't accurate.

But still, she couldn't have him run around telling everypony.

"Only if you Pinkie Promise that you won't tell anypony else, okay Spike? It is very important that everypony believes what is in the paper," she told him with a serious expression.

"Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!"

"Alright, Spike. I trust you. So, after I was ponynapped by Nightmare Moon...."

She knew the truth, or most of it at least. Soon, Spike would know what she knew. Her friends knew the truth. Celestia and Luna knew the truth. For now, that was enough for Twilight.

Final Days

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Life slowly settled back into the normal rhythm of spring in the small and traumatized town of Ponyville. Over the course of the next week, the papers slowly began to print something other than analysis and news of Luna and the nobility shakedown that continued; the townsfolk slowly began to come out of their houses for more than work; and slowly but surely, the paranoid atmosphere receded from the minds of everypony, and life continued.

The hype about the upcoming annual rodeo in Canterlot was perhaps the first major thing to break everypony out of their rut. With the fence along the Everfree now mostly updated, Applejack was now practicing for the rodeo that was a little over a week away, letting Big Mac and Epona finish the fence work. She was Ponyville's best chance at winning, and everypony in town knew it, to the point where Mayor Mare was planning an official send-off when she left to go to Canterlot.

Even with her vigorous regimen, she still found time for her chores around the farm, and some of the ones that weren't. Epona, after all, wasn't always at the farm.

"Why are you running around barrels?" Epona asked as she walked towards the town.

"Practice, fer the rodeo," Applejack replied as she trotted next to the large horse.

She had her new Rarity-made saddlebags on, and they had fair days' wages for the last few weeks of work in them. Applejack had made a promise to pay her for her work, and she wasn't about to back out on it. As a result, Epona was now richer than she had ever been in her entire life, and when informed that she could collect her money, had asked if they could go and buy a raspberry croissant.

Applejack just had to chuckle at that. This mare knew where her priorities lay.

"What is a rodeo?"

"It's a competition," Applejack told her friend as they entered town. "All sorts of contests, strength, agility, speed, ropework- anythin' ya do on a farm, really. Best pony gets a trophy an' a big prize."


She'd been around intermittently, leaving nearly every other day to go wherever she went to help Link. He'd been around just as seldom; only a few hours in the last week or so, just staying long enough to do one thing or the other before disappearing back to wherever it was that he went. He'd raced Rainbow Dash again, visited Fluttershy's, stopped by Sugarcube Corner for a cupcake, and she'd even heard that he had visited Zecora once or twice, usually with the little imp on his back. Usually he would stop by the farm to see Epona during these visits, even if only for a few minutes (though he had stayed the night at least once, sleeping with her in the barn), so Applejack had likely seen him the most out of anypony. But still, he appeared quite busy, and unlike Epona seemed to have no interest in staying near town.

"Do you think I could go?" Epona asked as Applejack trotted towards the Corner.

"What, ya mean t' watch?"

"I can run around barrels just like you."

Applejack chuckled at the thought. "Ah'm not sure what they'd make of you, Epona. Most events ain't meant fer somepony yer size. An' there's a few events tha', no offense, you woudn't be able t' do. But yer free t' come and watch."

She thought about this for a minute.



Far from the mundane and ordinary day that was taking place in Ponyville, a battle was unfolding. It was not a clash of armies; indeed, involved less than a half-dozen figures. Nevertheless, it was a battle that would decide the fate of an entire world: the final confrontation between the ruthless and ambitious Power, and those who would stand against him.

The Guardian of the spring was the first to feel it. A call, a cry for help. But not from the Hero. No, this was not from Courage, this cry was from Wisdom. There was a fight, something that they could not win on their own; a weapon was needed to defeat Power.

The Spirits of the Light congregated in the Spirit realm, pulling Wisdom and Courage there to protect them from Power. The first time mortals, even those chosen by the Gods to wield the pieces of their power, had ever been to the realm. Then, with the combined might of the spheres of the Spirits, a weapon was forged.

The Arrows of Light. Only Courage could stand against Power and bring him to heel, but the Arrows, wielded by Wisdom, could weaken Power. And when he was brought to his knees, then Courage could finish him with the Sword of Evil's Bane.

But Courage would need his faithful steed before this was over. Fortunately, the Guardian knew just where to find her.


Getting in to Sugarcube Corner was, as usual, an ordeal for Epona. She was forced to take her saddlebags off to squeeze in, but squeeze she did.

"Hheeeyy!" Pinkie greeted enthusiastically from behind the counter. The place was moderately full, but empty enough that Epona could move around freely. She made a beeline for the display case, Applejack thanking Celestia there wasn't a line at the moment. She likely would have trampled anypony in the way.

"Hey Epona! Here to get some tasty-licious treats?" Pinkie asked.

Epona nodded. "I want a raspberry cros-sont!" she said proudly.

"Celestia have mercy, Epona, ya brought all these bits just for one?" Applejack asked. The bags over her shoulders, comically over-sized on the pony mare, were filled with bits. The Equestrian Government had made good on their promise to pay Epona's upkeep, on top of the bits that Applejack had paid her, and it appeared that she had brought everything she could find.

"Is it not enough?" Epona asked sadly.

"Celestia's sake, no! Ya' probly brought enough bits t' buy every croissant they have, and all the muffins, eclairs, donuts, brownies, cookies, and pieces of fudge too!"

"Wow, really?" Pinkie zipped over, opening the oversized bags. "Onetwothreefourfivesix-"

"Pinkie, get outta there!" Applejack flailed, trying to close the bag.

"-fourhundredseventysix! Wow, you were right Applejack!" Pinkie zipped back behind the counter, prepared to take an order.

"So... I have enough bits to buy a raspberry cros-sont?"

Applejack facehooved.

"Sugarcube, you got enough bits to buy as many raspberry croissants as you want."

Epona looked elated at the news.She screwed up her long muzzle in concentration, then pressed her wet nose against the glass.

"I would like TWO raspberry cros-sonts!" she declared.

Applejack facehooved again as Pinkie began getting the order.

"One and two! Seven bits please!" Pinkie said, ringing it up. Epona looked at Applejack in askance.

Applejack sighed, then put the saddlebags down and began counting out bits. She was so focused that she almost missed the sudden light that emanated from the mare.

It started with her hooves; light glowed beneath them, almost as though she was standing upon it. By the time Applejack noticed, the light was climbing, both in intensity and vertically up Epona's legs. Everypony in Sugarcube Corner stared at the horse even as she looked down with curiosity at the light that becoming brighter by the second.

"Link," Epona breathed, barely loud enough for Pinkie and Applejack to hear. Then the light became blinding, making Sugarcube Corner shine like a star as everypony was forced to look away.

When the light cut out, Epona was gone.

"Epona?" Applejack asked hesitantly. She honestly wasn't expecting an answer- whatever had just happened had looked an awful lot like Twilight's teleports. That, and it wasn't exactly easy for somepony of Epona's size to hide.

"But... you forgot your crossoints!" Pinkie called out.

"Ah'll take 'em back t' the farm, Pinkie," Applejack sighed. "Ah bet she went t' help Link again, she did mention his name."

She sighed.

"Whelp, ah'll go get Twi. She'll wanna examine this place fer magic somethin' or other ah'll bet."


As with all the other times that Epona had run into the forest to go help her wolf friend, it was several hours before Epona returned. Applejack heard her approaching through the orchard at a light trot as she practiced with her rope, and went to meet her. She found Epona tired, and with a few scratches that were turning to scabs, but in a happy mood.

"You helped Link?" Applejack asked as she fell into step with the mare.

"Yes," she replied.

"What happened this time?"

Epona was silent for a moment.

"There was a fight. In a big field. A bad creature, with hair like fire, in black metal with a glowing white sword." She shuddered a little bit. "I didn't like him. He was bad. But Link needed me. He and a female rode me. She shot arrows at the bad pony and I got Link close to the bad pony so that he could use his sword."

An image of a wolf riding on Epona's back, hanging on for dear life with a sword of his clutched in his teeth, made for a truly ridiculous picture. The little imp, which must be what she meant by 'female', must have been riding on Epona too; though she seemed a little small to be using a bow that could do any significant damage. Under less serious circumstances, seeing such a sight may have even made Applejack laugh.

"An' you and Link an' the imp defeated this pony?"


"That little black creature with the glowing lines an' that weird orange mane."

"Oh. No. It was not her. She was white, and like Link."

Now Applejack had the image of a pair of wolves, one white with a bow held in her canines and another black with a sword in his mouth, both riding on Epona as she charged down a huge creature in black armor. Strange, perhaps. But she almost felt sorry for that evil black armored thing. Almost.

"Well, glad t' see ya came out of it in one piece, Epona."

"Mmmhmm. It is all over. Time to go home."

"Wait, what?"

Applejack sputtered for a moment. Just like that, she wasn't going to be at their farm anymore? It would be nice to get the barn space back, she really didn't deserve to live there, but it was all rather sudden. Pinkie was going to have a fit when she found out. And...

"Ya don't want to stay? Ponyville would welcome you. You don't have t' go back, if'n you don't want to."

Epona smiled. "It is nice here. I like it. But it is not home. I belong with Link." She stamped and shook her mane. "It will not be long, before I have to go. But it is not right now. Link has some things to do, so I came back until he is ready. I never got my cross-onts. Can we go back to Sugarcube Corner?"

"Uh, sure, sugarcube," Applejack replied. Her croissants had been victims of Applebloom and her friends when it became clear that she would not be returning before they got stale. Getting some more would be good opportunity for AJ to tell Pinkie the news, and from there, word would spread.


Once somepony got Pinkie Pie on the case, word would spread faster than the speed of light. Especially if there was a party involved. By the time Applejack and Epona had gotten a few more croissants (just two, despite once again dragging all her bits down there) and walked back to the farm, there were party invitations waiting for them.

Linky and Smokey and Epona are leaving us! Come wish them a happy goodbye!
The Barn, Sweet Apple Acres
Tomorrow, 6PM

There were, of course, two things confusing about this. First, who was Smokey, and second, why was it tomorrow night instead of tonight, if Epona didn't know when she would leave? Still, long experience with Pinkie Pie let Applejack push such concerns aside. She would no doubt meet Smokey at the party. And there was no doubt at all that Epona would be there; Pinkie would make certain of it.

The next day, Epona went into town and did not return until it was nearly time for the party. Applejack caught up to her just as Pinkie headed into the barn to set up.

"Ain't seen ya all day, Epona. Been enjoying yer last day?"

"Yes! But it is not my last day, is it? I don't feel bad..."

Applejack scratched her head. "Ah didn't mean it literally. Pinkie-"


"Ah didn't mean it was yer last day alive, jus' yer last day in Ponyville. Anyways, Pinkie Pie ain't usually wrong. Don't know how she does it, but she just knows these things."


"So, whatchya been up to all day?"

"Well, I went into town to get another raspberry cros-sont," she started.

An' thank Celestia ah managed t' convince her t' only take three bits in a little pouch this time.

"I saw Applebloom, Sweetie, and Scootaloo there. They wanted to go and get their painter cutie marks."

Well, could be worse.

"I went with them, I thought that maybe I could get a cutie mark too. But the only one we got was the one they painted on me at Rarity's."

"Oh? And what cutie mark did you get?"

"I don't know. I couldn't tell. Scootaloo said it was a cutie mark for bravery, but Applebloom said it looked more like Rainbow Dash's cutie mark. Then they had a paint fight. Rarity didn't like it when she came home to find us in her dressing room with the paint. She grounded Sweetie and gave them all a bath. Then she took me to the spa. She said she wanted to give me the best impression of Ponyville. So I got more baths and another mud bath and a massage and had my mane and tail braided. It was nice."

"It sure is," Applejack chuckled.

"Fluttershy came with me and Rarity, and after she invited me and Rarity to tea at her house. Rarity said she could not go, but I went. She had more cros-sonts, and tea, and I learned how to drink tea, and then we said goodbye."

"Fluttershy ain't comin' tonight?"


"She said goodbye, that means she ain't goin' t' see you again," Applejack explained patiently.

"Oh! No, she was saying goodbye to the big cat with the strange tail. He was leaving. Something about how she was safe now."

"Ah. So what'd ya do next?"

"Twilight came by the tea party. She asked me a lot of questions, but I couldn't answer many of them." She paused. "I think she was frustrated. Her mane kept springing up hairs."

Probably a tryin' to get every last bit of information she can before Epona leaves. Doesn't sound like she got what she wanted though.

"And then she went back to the library to get Spike while me and Fluttershy came over here. Where did she go?"

"Fluttershy? She's probably in the barn waitin' fer ya. Just like the rest of the town."

"But Pinkie only went in there two minutes ago! And nopony went by us!"

"Epona, never doubt Pinkie Pie."

Applejack opened the barn doors to a fully lit and decorated barn, goodbye banner high in the air, with dozens of ponies just waiting for her.



It had been a long few days for Link.

With the land now safe for travel, organizing the children to get them home had taken quite some time. Especially since one of the mischievous scamps had somehow managed to literally set up shop in town. He knew he was going to be in trouble for that, too, because for some reason, the child was one of the few merchants in business in such turbulent times, and one of the few willing to sell him things for a reasonable price. Despite the fact that he was no more than eight.

Still, he managed to get their temporary caretaker and Ilia to take them back to the village where they belonged. They should be setting out right about now, as a matter of fact. A few hours and they would be home, back where they belonged with their parents. But Link had a few more things to do before he could return home.

He'd spent the morning trekking through the desert, to the temple that housed the now reconstituted Mirror of Twilight. Midna had confessed to him that she had enjoyed her time with him greatly, but as with him, it was time to go home. The goodbye had turned far harder than he had thought though, when Midna, true ruler of the Shadow Realm, destroyed the Mirror of Twilight as she used it to travel back to her home. He had had hopes of meeting her again, somewhen, somewhere, but now that the bridge between the two worlds was closed, the odds were slim.

He found himself rather sad that he would never be able to see her again. But there was nothing he could do about it now.

There was, however, one final task that remained before he could return to his home. He had to fetch his faithful steed.

Across the windy desert, over the great lake, and through the mighty jungle he came, scaling the new boards of the fence that Applejack had put up, heading ever towards his final goal: the barn. As he got closer, it quickly became clear that there was another party going on. Bright light and multicolored ponies spilled out, as did the strange music he had only ever heard here at parties, the kind that almost felt like a dragon was stomping around nearby.

He passed a few headed out, and they greeted him exuberantly. Enough so to draw the attention of the pink one.


Link jumped out of his fur as a horn blared net to his ears. He suddenly found he was wearing a party hat and had a little streamer thing in his mouth, something that whistled with every hyperventilating breath he took.

He forced his hackles down and spit out the thing in his mouth. He knew better than to paw at the party hat, the pink pony would just put another one on him. The price he had to pay to get some cupcakes, he supposed. Speaking of the pink pony....

"Where's Smokey?" she asked, prodding at his shadow questioningly. Another party hat and streamer thing were grasped in her hoof.

Link whined, bowing his head and tucking his tail in between his legs.

"She's.... she's not coming?" the pink one asked. All he could do was whine.

The music may have been blaring, and the party had barely even noticed him, but the silence between the wolf and the pink party pony was palpable.

"Link! You made it!" The sound of heavy hooves tromping over could only mean one thing.

Link perked up as Epona shuddered to a halt in front of him, party hat on her head, mane partially done into braids, and a huge smile upon her muzzle.

Midna may not be here, but that did not mean that he was alone, or that he couldn't enjoy the party.


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Applejack and Big Mac rose at their usual times, taking care of the morning chores as was necessary. But this morning, Applebloom, and Granny Smith rose earlier than normal to begin breakfast.

The reason was quite simple; they had company.

All of Applejack's friends had spent the night, in various rooms and couches around the old farmhouse. So had Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, a little sleepover in Appleblooms room. None of those who had found themselves wrapped up in events that he had unraveled had wanted to miss Epona and Link's departure.

They were not alone. Before Applejack and Big Mac returned from their morning chores the moon set and the sun rose, heralding the arrival of perhaps the most unexpected ponies: the Royal Sisters.

They landed just after the sunrise, bereft of their usual adornments, and alone. If one listened closely, one could hear the quiet giggling about how they had slipped their guards. There was a note, when the guards managed to find it, and Cadence and Shining Armor knew as well. The Royal Sisters fully intended to enjoy a well-earned day off together, and they intended to start by giving a good send off to the two who had done so much for them. The first thing they did was knock on the door, and after a few quick bows, the young filly and old mare quickly set them to work.

And so it was that Big Macintosh and Applejack returned to the farmhouse to find Celestia and Luna putting up the tables the family used for the family gathers. After getting over the shock, and getting yelled at by Granny Smith, they proceeded to help. Over the next fifteen minutes the rest of the slumbering ponies in the house were awakened, sometimes gently, and in a few cases, rudely. But all of them were outside just in time for breakfast, and just in time for the emergence of Epona and Link from the barn.

"Oh! Breakfast!"

Epona made a beeline for the table, where a mixing bowl full of oats, grains, and hay awaited her. Link followed sedately, after before patiently lying down.


Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo waved from a filly-sized table. There, waiting for him, was another plate, this time with more dog-friendly treats- Fluttershy had brought over some fish and other carnivore-friendly snacks before the party last night. Link cocked his head, then headed over for a breakfast of his own.

"Where do you intend to go?" Celestia asked as she ate her own breakfast. It was not as refined or sophisticated as her usual breakfasts, but she nevertheless was enjoying it. From the sounds around her, it seemed as though her sister was as well.

Epona looked up from her breakfast. "I will go back home. To the village where Link lives."

"What will you do?"

"What I have always done. Help Link. Herd goats. Carry firewood. Draw carts."

"Are you happy?"


"'Tis all that matters," Luna declared, raising a cup of apple juice in toast.

Meanwhile, at the end of the table closest to Link, there was considerably more chatter going on.

"Link, how do you get back to your village? Is there some sort of magic portal in the Everfree? Where is it?"

Link, having been pestered nonstop since the beginning of breakfast, bared his teeth and growled at Twilight.

"Twilight, stop pestering Link!" Applebloom said as she petted his head.

"Uhm, Twilight? Link would, uh, really appreciate it if you could stop asking these questions," Fluttershy meekly translated. Satisfied that he had got his message across, Link returned to his breakfast.

"But... but..." Twilight sputtered.

"Sugarcube, this ain't an interrogation, it's breakfast," Applejack threw in.

"But I'll never get another chance to ask them now that they're leaving!" Twilight protested. "What if this happens again? What if this other kingdom that's somewhere in the Everfree gets invaded again and all this happens again and there is nopony to stop it because we don't know anything about it and everything happens again and-"

"Deep breaths, dear," Rarity cut in. Twilight proceeded to hyperventilate as Rarity continued. “Given Link here, I highly doubt that he would allow such things to happen. And if I know you, Twilight Sparkle, you aren’t worried so much about the politics of this as your are interested in the magic behind it.”

“What can I tell Princess Celestia?!” Twilight demanded, turning wild-eyed to Rarity. “I promised her I’d figure all this out, but now they’re leaving and they’re my only source of knowledge for what happened! What am I going to do? What am I going to do!?”

“First things first, stop shakin’ Rares, sugarcube,” Applejack drawled.

“Oh.” Twilight hesitantly let go of the white unicorn, who wobbled dizzily for a second before regaining her composure. “Sorry. But what am I going to do?”

“Are you sayin’ yer never gonna be able to figure this out on yer own?” Applejack asked.

Twilight hung her head in shame. “Yes.”

“Then it is a good thing I am not asking for such a thing, my most faithful student,” came a voice from behind Twilight.

Celestia and Luna stood there, along with the massive form of Epona (Celestia’s horn reached just over Epona's withers).

“But Princess, I… I…”

“I made peace long ago with the fact that I cannot know everything. I applaud your efforts and what you have done so far, but we will have to accept that we may not ever know the full extent of what went on here and why. This should not stop us from looking for more answers, but so long as it does not happen again, I am content to leave sleeping dragons be.”

“I… I suppose so, Princess,” Twilight said, troubled.

“Come now, Twilight. It will not do for you reflect on such things now. We are here to give a friend a good sendoff, not conduct research. Speaking of which, I do believe it is time for final goodbyes.”

Link, his breakfast finished, had padded over to Epona, who was in quiet conversation with Luna. At the approach of her friend and master, Epona perked up and moved towards him. At the table, all the ponies stood and trotted over, surrounding the strange pair.

"Do you have everything, darling? Blankets? Saddlebags?"

"Yes! Thank you, Rarity."

"All that an' more. You got them bits, sugarcube?"


"Good," Applejack said. She turned to Link next. "Now you take good care of Epona, you hear?"

Link barked an answer, though no one but Fluttershy really understood it. Still, it got the message across.

"I hardly think we need to worry about that, Applejack. But still, Epona is very much a lady, and she deserves to be treated as such. I've packed some shampoos for your Ilia to use the next time Epona wants a proper bath, they will make her feel like a whole new mare. I expect you to use them," Rarity told Link. Link cocked his head.

Rainbow Dash approached next.

"Epona, keep being awesome," Rainbow said. A cocky grin came to her muzzle as she turned to Link. "You too. I bet you one of your earrings that I win next time!"

The earring in question twitched as a canine smile flitted across his own muzzle.

"Uhm, goodbye, Epona," Fluttershy stammered out. "I hope you have a safe trip home. Oh, you too Link. Please, stay safe."

Link barked and gave the timid pegasus a nuzzle. She blushed and squeaked at the contact, and quickly backed away.

"Hey you two!" Pinkie interjected. "I brought you both a "Get Home Safe and Sound" cupcake!"

She held out both forehooves, a cupcake in each one. Moments later they were gone, cupcake crumbs coming from both wolf and horse.

"And I packed as many raspberry croissants and cupcakes into your saddlebags as I could! Make sure to eat them before they go stale!"

Link barked as Epona frantically nodded her head.

"Epona, Link, I wish you both a safe trip through the forest, and that your find home safely. Be careful out there, and thank you," Twilight told them.

Three missiles with hooves then interjected themselves onto the scene. Moments later, Link wheezed under the fearsome hugs that three particular foals were giving him.

"Thank you Link"
"Have a safe trip!"

“Goodbye Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo. I hope you find your cutie marks,” Epona told them.

Spike was promptly pushed out into the circle by Twilight as the Crusaders returned to the group. He crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes, glaring at Link.

“I still want my sword back,” he said petulantly.

"Spike!" Twilight reprimanded. They had talked about this! It was not his sword, it did not belong to him, it was not a part of his horde!

"Yea, yea. Thanks for all the help, hope you have a safe trip, blah, blah," he grumbled to the ground.

Twilight almost missed the wink that Link sent to the young dragon. Almost. She made a mental note to look for a sword when they went back to the Library.

Last but not least, the Royal Sisters approached the pair.

"Link, Epona," Celestia began. "I know I have already told Link this, but it bears repeating: I can never thank you enough, for what you have done for Equestria, and what you have done for me personally. Without your efforts, Ponyville would no doubt still be struggling beneath the Shadow, or fallen prey to the influence of Nightmare Moon."

“As such,” Luna continued, “we have seen fit to reward you for your bravery and your aid.”

Luna held up a necklace in her magic. It was a simple stretchy and sturdy band that held a golden alicorn pendant, shaped as though rearing into the air. On one side was a brilliant diamond that shined in the early morning sunlight; on the other was a black diamond, dark as night. With her magic, Luna put it on Link, who tilted his head down to get a better look.

“Should either of you find yourselves in great need, touch the crystals and think of my sister and I,” Luna continued solemnly.

“And we shall be summoned to your side, wherever you are, to aid you however we can,” Celestia finished.

“Take it with our blessing, and our thanks. May you have a long and fulfilling life, and have a safe trip to your home.”

Link, to everypony’s surprise, tilted his head down and bowed to the diararchs, as did Epona. Then, with a look to Epona, he gave a little whuf before turning and heading towards the Everfree

“Thank you, everypony,” Epona told them as she turned to follow. “Goodbye! I hope I see you again someday!”

“Goodbye!” everypony replied, waving towards the retreating pair, Pinkie and the foals the most exuberant of the bunch. The group continued to wave until the pair was out of sight, in the rolling hills of the apple orchard on their way to the forest.

“Do you think we shall ever see them again?” Luna asked her sister quietly as the ponies returned to finishing their breakfasts, or beginning cleanup.

“Perhaps,” Celestia replied. “After all, not even we know what goes on deep in the Everfree.”


It was a bright and sunny day deep in the forest. There was no trouble for either wolf or horse, no timberwolves to stalk them, no manticores or chimeras to haunt their steps. They headed on at a smooth pace, a fast walk for the horse, a slow jog for the wolf. It was not long before they came upon the spring.

The spirit of the spring rose as the wolf and the horse came near. The Guardian bowed as both came to a stop, showing respect for the Hero and his ever-faithful mount. The two approached, dipping their paws and hooves into the water.

“I wish to thank you, Hero, for your efforts. This land was not meant to be spoiled by the evil that was contained by Hyrule, and I deeply appreciate your efforts to restore peace to this land.”

The Guardian paused, taking a moment to examine the pendant that was swinging from the wolf’s neck.

“I suppose that with my presence here, it is only fair that the land of Hyrule gains a token from Equestria. Guard it well, Hero.”

The two mismatched wings rose, and golden light began building upon them.

"Safe travels, Hero."

The spring lit up in a blinding golden glow.

When the light died down, Link, Epona, and the Guardian were all gone.

The water burbled and peace reigned on the shores of the spring in the Everfree, as it had for centuries, and as it would now continue for centuries.


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Dear Princess Celestia,

I have attached a report with all my findings and conclusions from the Shadow Incident and the subsequent Nightmare Test. After three weeks with no further insights, I am forced to admit that I have reached the limit of what I can draw from the data I have. At this time, per your directives, I will continue my studies in the magic of friendship foremost, with the studies of shadow magic as a secondary or even tertiary goal.

I must admit I have little hope for further breakthroughs in my lifetime on shadow magic. The thaumatic structure is so radically different that it will likely take many years to fully understand how to create a spell, and a mana source must be found if any progress is to be made beyond flaring. I will continue to keep it in my mind, but will focus on my other studies as you suggest.

However, this is not the main purpose I have for writing this letter. Having thought on the matter for the last few weeks, I have come to see both Epona and Link as a friend. Furthermore, I have had some thoughts on the relationship we had, and I believe I have enough to write a friendship report.

I am not particularly close with either Epona or Link. Epona spent the majority of her time with Applejack, and it is likely that Applejack is the closest friend to Epona. Link, well, we rarely ever saw him. Even when he was changing our lives, by rescuing the Crusaders or by rescuing us from Nightmare Moon, we never saw him. And Fluttershy is the only pony I know that managed to understand his speech.

And yet I consider them both to be my friend, even though I do not know what Epona’s favorite color is, or even what Link is telling me. And I realized that I considered them a friend, not because I knew them, but because despite the lack of a deep relationship I could count on both of them to help us out.

A friend does not have to be someone you see everyday, or even know very well. A friend can be anyone that you trust enough to be a friend.

Your Faithful Student,
Twilight Sparkle

Non-Canon Deleted Scene: Chicken

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These scenes are officially not a part of the story. They are non-cannon. They were written because they were fun to write.
Both take place during the chapter 'Adventures in Ponyville: Chicken Chaser'.

Scootaloo the Chicken

Scootaloo buzzed down the streets of Ponyville at top speed, her wings nearly a blur as she tore through the town on her scooter. Behind her, the wagon carrying her friends zoomed along was well.

Link had been seen around town, and all the Crusaders wanted to see what he was up to with their own eyes. Ponies claimed he was herding chickens, which was so ridiculous that nopony who heard could take it seriously. Herding? Chickens? Applebloom had experience with chickens, and had never heard of such a thing. They would panic for sure, no way a pony or a wolf could actually herd a chicken. But everypony who had seen him so far had insisted the same thing.

So it was up to the Crusaders to find out what he was REALLY doing. After all, why would someone who goes around saving ponies from slavery in Diamond Dog mines, or saving the town from something even Twilight couldn't solve, run around town chasing down escaped chickens?

They sped through the town two or three times before they caught sight of their elusive quarry. Link was padding along, following his nose down the middle of the street, oblivious or uncaring as to the berth of ponies around him and the stares he was receiving. Scootaloo stopped the scooter and attached cart so that the three of them could observe.

"What's he doing?"

"Looks like he's lookin' fer somethin'. Winona always does that when she's lookin' fer her bone."

"So, what is he looking for?"

All three took a long look at each other, and no answers were forthcoming before Scootaloo shrugged her shoulders.

"I dunno. Chickens I guess?"

The next moment, Scootaloo was hefted into the air, the jaws of the wolf firmly fastened around her tail.

"What?!" Scootaloo cried out, flailing madly. Her wings buzzed, but immature as they were they were unable to do more than add extra limbs to her struggles.

The townsfolk, slightly alarmed now, all watched as Link hefted Scootaloo along, heading out of town.

"Hey! I'm not a chicken! Put me down!" Scootaloo protested into the distance as Applebloom, Sweetie, and everypony within sight stared dumbstruck at the retreating wolf.

Revenge of the Chicken

Fluttershy was tending to her garden when she heard the faint sound of protests coming down the pathway to her cottage. She set her little hoe down and turned the corner of the cottage just in time to see Link padding down the road with the most curious cargo.

She was expecting him to be herding another chicken, and to hear the squawking complaints, but it wasn't one of her chickens; Scootaloo, held by her tail, helmet still on her head, was being carried by the pony-sized wolf like she was an errant kitten.

Link seemed almost bored by the task, paying no attention to the thrashing foal as he neared the chicken pen.

"Uhm... wait..." Fluttershy feebly called out.

Link ignored her, padding into the the chicken coop before dropping the young pegasus.


Link had dropped Scootaloo when she wasn't expecting it, and she had landed awkwardly on one hoof. Fluttershy rushed over as the foal held her hoof with an expression of pain, but there were no tears. A few quick looks told her the whole story.

"It's just a little bruise, Scootaloo. You'll be fine," Fluttershy reassured. She turned to Link, intending to tell him that Scootaloo was not one of her chickens and ask why he had done such a thing, but stopped when she became aware of his very wide eyes and the sudden silence around her.

Almost dreading to look, Fluttershy turned her head to see every single one of the chickens that Link had herded in were staring at him. Every single one had a look of hateful concentration. Some she could swear were turning red.

Link took a single step back, and in that moment a chicken crowed. By the time Fluttershy translated it for the battle-cry that it was, it was already too late.

Link yelped as the ballistic enraged chickens swarmed towards him, pecking at every exposed piece of fur and skin. Feathers flew everywhere as Link, tail between his legs, retreated under the avian assault. Fluttershy could only watch in shock and surprise as Link ran down the path leading to Ponyville, a horde of angry chickens in hot persuit.

"What just happened?" Scootaloo asked, her injury forgotten.

Fluttershy had no answer for her.

Canon Deleted Scene: Angel versus Nightmare

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This scene happened during the story, but I did not include it because I felt it would have broken the flow of the chapter.
This scene takes place during the chapter Shatter, after Twilight's scene but before the castle scene.

Nightmare Moon grinned as she stood over the unconscious body of Kindness. It had been an amusing little game, simply getting close to the mare; her animals had been quite fearsome in their protection of her. The manticore especially was aggressive; he would serve her well now that he had been brought to heel. The mare on the other hoof, true to her nature, had cowered before the Nightmare, begging for Luna not to do this. Foal. Could she not see that Luna, weak, pathetic, sniveling Luna was no longer here? She did not exist anymore. Nightmare Moon was everything Luna could be if she but used a fraction of her power. Luna was weak because she failed to take the respect and power that was her birthright, something Nightmare Moon would do without hesitation.

Musings done, the Nightmare lit her horn, probing for the subtle pull of power of the Element of Kindness.

It was close, like all the others. Celestia and Luna may have thought giving the Elements to their bearers made them easier to use, but it also made them easier to find. The subtle pulls upon her magic brought her to a hole in the wall, a well kept and very nice hole but a hole nonetheless.

Her horn flared as she magically reached into the hole and tugged at the source of the pull. A moment later, a golden necklace with a pink butterfly gem floated out of the hole. Unexpectedly, so did a small white bunny, who clutched the Element in a death grip as she hefted it to eye level. The glare he shot at the Nightmare was so at odds with his appearance that she had to laugh.

"Hahahaha! What is this? This was her plan? Of all the animals she could have as a guardian, the manticore, the bear, even the boars, she gave it to you? How pathetic. Let go of the Element and I shall not send you- oof!"

Nightmare Moon reeled from the blow- the rabbit had kicked her in the muzzle hard enough to cause her to stumble sideways. She brought a hoof to her jaw, feeling the area of the kick for damage; there was no blood, nor would it bruise, but the force the rabbit had put behind the kick had been tremendous in order to snap her head sideways-

The rabbit, hefting the Element, hopped out of the room.

Naked fury replaced outrage and surprise. With the bearer of Kindness forgotten, Nightmare Moon thundered through the door after that despicable rodent; down the stairs she flew before she spotted the bobbing white poof of tail of that spiteful rabbit. She wasted no time in seizing it with her magic, dragging him up to eye level by the tail, this time making sure to keep him well out of kicking range of her face.

"You will pay for your insult, bunny," she hissed at him, baring her fangs. "I shall enjoy your punishm- yeouch!"

Nightmare Moon clutched her hoof in pain. The infernal rabbit had thrown the Element- the Element of Kindness, no less!- into her fore left hoof with such precision and force that it had caused the Nightmare to flinch in pain. Her magic fizzled around the rabbit, dropping him, and he was just as quick to grab the Element from where it had landed and take off towards another room. But Nightmare Moon was not so easily beaten.

Before the little white rabbit could make good on his getaway, magic ripped the Element out of his little paws, coming to a stop just in front of the Nightmare.

"I tire of this game. Your insolence will be punished, but for now, I require-omph!"

Nightmare Moon collapsed as her hind hooves were kicked very forcefully out from under her. A half second later, another kick caused her head to snap back, before the bunny tried to use her head as a springboard to reach the still floating Element of Kindness...

"Enough!" Nightmare Moon roared. A wave of magic blasted out from her horn, rattling dishes and causing paintings to knock against the wall. The little rabbit was sent flying out the kitchen window, his cottonball tail alight with flames even as he made a rude gesture towards the Nightmare. And then he was gone, into the depths of her night.

The Nightmare slowly got to her hooves, before snorting towards the window. When this was done, and her throne secured, she would find him, and she would visit punishment upon his little body for every insult he had dealt her, oh, yes.... It would not be quick, but it would be oh so satisfying.

But she could not do so now, no matter how much her anger screamed and raged. Business before pleasure, after all.

With a bit of magic, Nightmare Moon picked up the unconscious body of Kindness and threw the windows open to the night before leaping out, Bearer and Element following in her wake as she climbed into the sky.

Extra Scene: Every End is a New Beginning

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Spike was in a foul mood as he rode on Twilight's back to the Library from Sweet Apple Acres. It was his sword, not Link's! He was the one who had wielded it to save Rarity, not Link! He was a wolf, he couldn't even carry it right! It was HIS!

Spike felt himself grow nearly an inch.

He quickly clamped down on those thoughts, focusing instead upon some of the meditation readings Twilight had given him after his greed-induced stint. Deep breaths... in... and out... think non-greedy thoughts...

Spike slowly felt himself shrink back to his normal size. He breathed a sigh of relief; after his greed-induced growth last time, he had no desire for a repeat, not after what he had done, what he had almost done, what he could have done...

He wasn't able to think on the topic more before Twilight swung open the door to the Library, and both beheld a new sight. A shield, with the painted unidentifiable crest unmarred and shiny, and a sword just behind it, leaning against one of the bookshelves.

Spike was off Twilight's back and running as soon as his brain processed the sight. He rushed over inspecting the sword and shield that were obviously meant for him with a critical eye..

"It's not the same," he pouted, crossing his arms and sitting down on the floor. The shield he had never been particularly attached to, he was happy with that, but the sword was clearly not the one he had used to help save Rarity, the only sword that mattered to him, the only sword that would let him win fair Rarity’s heart. The hilt was all wrong.

Then Twilight clocked him on the back of the head.

"Ow! Hey, what was that for?!" Spike asked, surprised. He wasn't hurt at all, his scales were thick after all, but he hadn't been expecting to be hit from behind.

"I thought you would have learned your lesson after the giant dragon incident," Twilight scolded with a frown. Spike drew back from her 'I'm very disappointed in you' voice.

"That sword and shield were never yours, Spike, and you know it even if your instincts say otherwise. We've been over this. He loaned them to you, Celestia help me, so that you could aid him and he took them back likely because he needed them. By all rights you should not have a sword and shield at all. The fact that Link has been good enough to gift you another pair is extremely generous of him, and yet you turn your nose up at it? I know you are better than that, Spykoranuvellitar, no matter what your instincts say on the matter," Twilight lectured.

"But Twi-"

"No buts, Spike. I felt you grow on the way home, and that means that your greed is getting the better of you again. And I know that Princess Celestia, and Mom, and Rarity all expect much better from you. So, what was it that you learned from last time?"

"I have to control my instincts or they will control me," Spike repeated, still a little petulant.

"Good. What does that mean here?"

"That the sword Link loaned me was never mine," Spike grumbled. He hated to admit it. But, as much as he hated to admit it, he knew he needed to do it, otherwise he would always think of that sword as his, and his greed for it would overtake him, like last time.

"Good. And these?"

"I should be grateful that he gave me a different sword and shield," Spike said, defeated. Twilight's stern frown softened.

"There. That wasn't so hard, was it, Spike?" she asked softly. She pulled the little dragon into a hug, and he buried his spiny head in her barrel. They stayed like that for a few moments before Twilight pulled away, turning to the (thankfully sheathed) sword and shield.

"Now, since it is clear that these aren't for me, I will give them to you-"


"-AFTER I do some research. And some modifications. And after your punishment is done," Twilight told the little dragon as she examined the shield. It had the same leather strap as the other one did, as did the hilt of the sword; those would be replaced first.


"No buts, mister. You were very rude to Link and Epona saying goodbye because of this, and so as punishment you are grounded for a week, and you won't get these until that's done."

"Aw ponyfeathers."

"Eight days. Swearing any more will only get you more," Twilight warned. Using her magic, she unsheathed the sword. It was not as decorated as the other, but there was some unfamiliar lettering on the blade that she made a note to take down. She ran the frog of her hoof over the edge (carefully, this time) to check the sharpness; it was just as sharp as the other one. "And you won't be getting this until you are at least sixteen."

"But Twilight..."

"A sword is a dangerous tool, Spike, and I will not have you waving it around until you are old enough to understand what that means."

Still, if he has taken an interest in swords and swordplay, I had better get him started on the right path.

"You know, Spike, I'm sure Shining Armor would be happy to teach you how to use these," she baited. The look in the young dragon's eyes showed she was not far off the mark. "And even if you can't use this sword yet, I'm sure Shiny wouldn't mind giving up his old wooden practice sword for you to learn with."

Even with the impending grounding, Spike smiled.