Second Princess of the Night

by Senyu

First published

With King Sombra gone, is Equestria truely safe from harm? Or will another foe as old as the Crystal Kingdom itself appear now that the dark unicorn's position of evil is vacant? What new danger will threaten the land and the Elements of Harmony?

King Sombra came from an old age, a time where darkness and evil were prevalent across the land. The Princesse's power and influence were weaker in those days, for the land of Equestria was divided amongst many kingdoms of lesser Princesses and Princes. But out of all their ruling neighbors, The Four Shepherds held the most power of all, even threatening Celestia and Luna's kingdom. However, all of that changed when they vanished for a thousand years, ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity. Until that is, when the Crystal Kingdom reappeared, along with one of the Shepherds. King Sombra, however, was thankfully vanquished swiftly, but the following peace of his defeat would not last as long as anypony might think. A new force sets its eyes on the recently coronated Princess Twilight Sparkle, one that seeks to restore a lost heritage and remind the land of who is the true owner of the night. For when one evil is smitten, another appears in its place. And King Sombra was only the first in line.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Set before Season 4

Note: Dark tag is meant for Light Dark

Special thanks to my editor Ladrian for his diligent and superb work. I wish I had him when I first started this story because maybe then the early chapters would have been much better.

Special thanks to Stanku for revisions and prereading this story. It would be at a much worse state had it not been for his detailed opinions to each and every chapter, and letting me know where I can improve.

10/2/2014 : Woah... it's on the featured list... *cue squealing and fist pumping* THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!

Act I - Chapter 1

View Online

Once upon a dark night,
Four ponies ruled with unholy might,
Shrouded in darkness both heart and soul,
Let their evil be remembered never more…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Within a dark cavern, water dripped to the rock floor, slowly forming the stalagmites that littered the space over the last eon. It was an undisturbed place deep within the mountain, a final resting place for the crystal coffin that lay between the formed rocks. No sunlight could reach this place, and even if some source of light were to appear, the coffin would remain pitch black, the after effect of the magic swirling within the crystal structure. But between the echoing droplets of water, and within the dark crystal, voices whispered. They were faint and weary, quietly recounting things that had happened long ago, or random thoughts that came from maddened frenzy. For a moment they would become quiet, bringing an eerie silence to the cavern before slowly picking back up again. Telling the same story once more, remembering a worn thought once more. Trying to stay sane once more.

But when the coffin gave a low rumble, and the black magic began to recede, the voices became quiet, and they waited. Stifling seconds became minutes, and soon minutes became hours. Yet, in all that time, the black magic did not return, and eventually, sanity finally returned to the coffin's inhabitant.

His bones creaked as he moved his leg, and with a gentle prod at the starkly clearer crystal, he pushed the lid open, and found that it could finally move. The coffin lid fell onto the floor, echoing its thud within the cavern, the first new noise since he had arrived.

Pulling himself out, he looked about the cavern, easily seeing the naturally formed rock around him even though there was no light. He sat still for some time, taking in the mounds of rock and dripping water, a welcomed sight from the black surface that was burned into his memory.

He looked down at his coffin, and searched for an inkling of the darkness within the crystal, but found it plain and transparent. With a dry voice he whispered, “S… Sombra…”

Flexing his legs, and sweetly remembering what movement felt like, he pulled himself out of the coffin and slowly departed the cavern. Though no trace of hoofsteps remained from that far away day, memories of the path became clear in his mind, and he slowly navigated his way out from the mountain.

When he finally exited the earth, he paused beneath an expanse of glittering lights, and he stared up in awe at the sight he had missed beyond all others. The stars.

Slumping on his hind legs, he kept his head pointing skyward, refusing to blink even once lest he see pure darkness for even a moment instead of this wondrous night. And as he stared, the voices within his mind slowly began to fade, pulled and collected into order now that there was something else that could occupy his time. It was only when the last voice was silenced and he breathed deeply to savor the night scent did a sudden burst of colors fill the sky, followed by a boom that sent his ears flat.

He winced at the deafening noise and shied away from the blinding light. He sprung onto his hooves and prepared himself for the foe, but as another explosion of color appeared, followed by more, he slowly let go of his tension. The noise was becoming bearable again, and his eyes adjusted to the intruding light, and he saw that it was simply fireworks decorating the sky.

Curiously, he stepped forward and found himself at the cliff's edge, high above the celebrating kingdom within the valley. Crystal buildings shimmered from the colorful fireworks, and the lights of the town casted a soft glow on the surrounding countryside. Focusing his senses, he could hear the subtle roar of a crowd, shouting in celebration.

He pondered this sight for sometime, and it was only when a brilliant light within the center of the kingdom, beneath the base of the tallest tower, did he pieced together his memory of the place, and smiled as the familiar aurora borali stretch into the night sky. “Crystal… Heart,” he croaked, and a thin smile appeared on his lips.

“Sombra… thou lost?”

A guttural noise escaped his lips, the first laugh to come. “L-Looks like somepony did away with thee. Whome… Whomever they were, I thanketh them for freeing myself from thy gifted tomb.” He looked about the landscape, leisurely taking in the crystal mountains and the running valleys. “I wonder... if the others art free as well, or already have been. How far thou hath fallen now, Sombra. Thou might have bested the three of us, but even thou would fail in time… Always in time...”

He straightened his back, and breathed deeply once again. The air was fresh, and ever so faintly on the passing breeze, he could smell ponies. The sweet scent was more than enough to rekindle the burning sensation in his throat, and he gasped, revealing his fangs.

“This… will perhaps be… the most delicious meal I’ll have yet.”

He raised his hoof upward, and grunted in exertion from magic. At once shadows swirled about his hoof as though they were alive, and they twisted down his arm and around his torso. He winced at the forming flesh, pushing through the spell until completion. Once finished he casted the shadows aside, and he experimentally flapped the leathery wings that he now bore.

“Still… Got it,” he whispered, flinching at the ever rising burning sensation in his throat. Breathing alone was becoming difficult, and so he moved with haste towards the cliff edge. Leaping from the rock, he free falled down the mountain side before opening his bat-like wings, and he glided into the night.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Months later...



"Do you think you can make it?" Pinkie Pie asked hopefully.

Twilight turned towards her with a smile. "I think I can attend, Pinkie. I managed to finish Princess Celestia's assignment ahead of schedule, so I just need to catch up on some sleep and I should have no problem coming tomorrow."

"I'm so glad!" Pinkie Pie exclaimed with a bounce, followed by a few pranciful trots before falling into an easy pace next to her alicorn friend. The two of them were on their way back to Twilight's library after having spent some time catching up over dinner, the first time the princess had spent more than a few fleeting moments outside the library during her assignment.

Twilight reflected on the evening she had spent with her smiling friend. Pinkie Pie had dragged her out of the house after having spent two weeks straight in studious research for Princess Celestia. She could hardly argue against Pinkie Pie, considering she had declined every other social event the party mare had hosted during the project. And just when she had finally finished allowing herself some room for something other than a book, Pinkie Pie appeared unannounced at her doorstep, her entire evening schedule cleared in last minute effort just to spend some time with Twilight.

With a muffled sigh, Twilight reflected on just how little she had been in contact with her friends lately. Pinkie can be a little tiresome at times, but it has been a while since I've spent any real time with everypony. But at least the rest of the girls had the decency to give me some space during my assignment.... Twilight recalled the numerous times her work had been interrupted by the party mare. And while it was mildly annoying and borderline infuriating, all of it was in such good intentions that Twilight found she wasn't able to remain mad at her for long. Usually it was just little things like checking on her if everything was alright, or to see if she wanted to do something fun to cheer her up during a few particularly stressful nights. She, of course, declined any and all offers due to the commitment she always held for anything regarding the princess. But as annoying as Pinkie Pie could be, Twilight couldn't help but appreciate her friend’s caring — if not constant — annoying and loving attention. Leave it to Pinkie to be there when you need a break and some cheer-up time

"So what's the occasion for this party again?" Twilight asked.

"It's Miss Cake's birthday tomorrow!" Pinkie Pie exclaimed.

Twilight halted on the spot, a guilty look spreading across her face as she gushed apologetically, "Oh my gosh! Is it really? I can't believe I didn't know. Of course I'll be there!"

Pinkie Pie giggled before speaking over her shoulder, "It's no problem, Twilight. I know you've been really busy with your work. I just thought you might enjoy a nice party with some friends to celebrate a birthday and the fact that you finished your studying. Don't tell Miss's Cake, but tomorrow is a Happy Birthday slash Congratulations on Finishing your Study party!"

Twilight shook her head as she trotted forward and caught up to Pinkie Pie, walking beside her again with her ears lowered and, despite Pinkie Pie’s reassurances, still feeling guilty at the thought of almost missing the baker’s birthday. "Pinkie, of course I wouldn't miss one of the Cakes’ birthdays. It would have been no problem to put aside my studying for one night for something like that."

"I said don't worry about it, Twilight," Pinkie Pie cheerfully replied. "You finished early anyways so it's no problem!"

Twilight gave a small sigh in agreement. "I guess you're right. Still, I would have felt awful if I had missed somepony’s birthday that I knew."

"That's why I'm here! Nopony in Ponyville needs to ever worry about accidentally missing another pony's birthday. Not while Pinkie Pie is in town," she exclaimed boldly while throwing a hoof in the air, looking off into the sky with her still-grinning, but determined, expression.

Twilight shook her head in amazement. "Pinkie, I have no idea how you manage to remember every little detail about everypony."

"The same way I also know when a friend is done studying and needs some fun time to relax," she quipped with a wink. Twilight simply shook her head, unable to shake off the smile the infectious mare had given her. With that final say on the matter, a different conversation passed between the two ponies as they walked through town. It wasn't long before they had reached the library and their farewells said and done before Twilight faced the door in hesitation.

Her return to the library dreadfully reminded her of the cleaning she would have to do before anything else. She had left with Pinkie Pie the moment she had finished the project and completely forgot about the mess of books, parchments, and quills left scattered about the tree house.

She looked out across Ponyville as the setting sun cast long shadows across the buildings and trees. A small groan escaped her lips at the thought of having to stay up late to reorganize everything. "So much for getting restful sleep tonight," she mumbled, already feeling tired from just thinking about cleaning the large library..

Sighing at the daunting task ahead of her, Twilight opened the door and walked in, only to let out a small gasp in surprise at the sight before her. Instead of a mess of materials scattered about the room, she was instead met with a neat and spotless library. Not a single book was out of place or a quill left out. Even all of the parchments she had been working on were stacked neatly on the dining table for delivery to the Princess. "Wha-how... huh?" Twilight fumbled, unable to find any appropriate words for the sight.

Before she could express her confusion anymore on the spectacle, Spike jumped out of a nearby hallway with his arms raised.

"Tada!"

"Spike? Did you clean everything?" Twilight asked in disbelief.

"Surprise!" Spike shouted again, gesturing widely at the organized room. "I thought I'd help out since you seemed so frazzled by all the work you've done. So I cleaned everything up so you didn't have to worry about it," he stated proudly.

Twilight’s eyes kept glancing back and forth across the room as she walked further into the room, her mouth agape as she looked everything over again and again, still taken aback from what the little dragon had done for her.

"Spike... this was so thoughtful! I can't even describe how thankful I am," she exclaimed happily. Twilight shook her head in disbelief at how she managed to have such a wonderful assistant."This would have taken me hours to finish. I would have been up all night! Oh thank you so much. You have no idea how much better this makes me feel."

Spike dragged his foot across the floor, never failing to miss or appreciate a moment of praise directed towards him. "It was nothing. And to top it off, I'm going to be gone for the night so you can get some undisturbed sleep for the birthday party tomorrow."

"Oh Spike I... what?" Twilight had started with a relieved smile, only to catch herself at that last bit he had mentioned. She raised an eyebrow at the little dragon, who was still dragging his foot across the floor suspiciously. “How did you know about me going to a birthday party tomorrow?” she asked flatly.

Diverting his eyes, he answered, "Well, I was invited to a pre-birthday slumber party and-"

"Pinkie Pie?" Twilight interrupted. A nod from Spike along with a hard-to-suppress smile confirmed the hostess of the party.

Before Twilight could say another word Spike quickly dove into an explanation. "I knew you would finish Princess Celestia's assignment today and that you wouldn't have gotten to cleaning until later tonight anyways. And Pinkie Pie was so excited to hear you were done and-"

"Wait a minute, are you saying you and Pinkie planned everything that happened this evening after I finished my work?" A half smile from the dragon confirmed the question. Twilight looked over her shoulder to the front door, half expecting the party mare to throw it open in a shower of confetti. "I had wondered how she knew exactly when I was done. I just thought it was her being Pinkie Pie but now..." Twilight trailed off from shaking her head at the realization of the setup the two had done. "So you're telling me Pinkie Pie dragged me out and distracted me for the evening purposefully, so you could clean everything up without me?"

"Don't get mad! It actually works out when you think about it. I did all the cleaning so you could relax and get some food in you. And that would give me time to be at Pinkie's slumber party while you catch up on sleep for tomorrow," Spike desperately said in an attempt to convince her it was all for a good reason.

Twilight let out her umpteenth sigh of the evening. Even with night time approaching, she couldn't help but admit she was indeed tired. Cleaning the library all night would have probably prevented her from going to the party or at least make her feel bad for being dead tired from the amount of sleep she would have missed tonight. "I'm not mad, Spike." Twilight let a faint smile spread across her lips. "I guess in some half sense it does make... sense. I probably should go to bed early, something I couldn't do if I knew everything was still a mess."

"See, exactly, you need some quiet and alone time."

"And you needed some time to have fun and party?" The guilty look that crossed the dragon’s face made Twilight let out a small giggle. "It's fine Spike, you need it anyways. You've been more than helpful during my assignment and deserve some fun for yourself. Especially after cleaning my mess."

Spike relaxed while raising his arms in a gesture. "Well not all of it was your fault, I helped on that part a little bit too." He tried to modestly take some of the blame, but failed with the smugness still showing from the earlier praise.

Letting him revel in a deserved compliment, Twilight walked over and gave the little dragon a hug. "Thanks again." Spike wordlessly returned it with an embrace of his own.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Twilight let out a large yawn as she walked up the stairs to her bed, having waved goodbye to Spike, with his packed items in tow for the slumber pre-birthday party, only a minute before. All the lights had been turned out after one more check to see if everything was in its correct place. And when satisfied all was well and orderly within the treehouse, she finally allowed herself to relax as she climbed her way into bed. After a bit of shuffling to get under the covers, she hummed contently. All of the stress of the last few weeks finally pulled away from her as she closed her eyes, letting the comfiness of the bed take her away.

It was only thirty seconds before a tap against a piece of glass broke the peace and quiet of the household. With a look that could kill, Twilight sat straight up in bed while bringing her horn to life. Squinting her eyes, she scanned the room as her purple light pierced the shadows of the house. It had only taken a few passes for her to shine her horn brighter, causing the darkness to meld away before she made out the source of the noise that had repeated during her search. Across the room she saw Owlowiscious standing in front of the window he taped with his beak against. The owl turned his head around in response to the light that revealed him, a look of desperation on his face in his yearning to leave the library and fly out into the night sky.

"Whoooo."

Twilight’s frustration immediately died down at the sight of the owl. "Oh I'm sorry Owlowiscious, I didn't know you were still inside. Here, let me get that for you." Her horn flared briefly as she unlocked the window from bed, wrapping it in a glow and opening it wide enough for the owl to comfortably fly through. "I'll leave it open for when you decide to come back."

"Whoooo," the owl responded before hopping onto the sill and taking off into the night.

After watching the owl depart the through the window, Twilight ceased her magic, bringing the library back into a comfortable darkness before letting herself fall back into bed. "Ahhhhh," she softly exclaimed, sure there would be nothing else between her and some much needed sleep for the rest of the night.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A pair of gleaming eyes peered from the shadows beneath a pair rafters in the two story house. It had been keeping a vigilant watch of the tree house since darkfall, waiting patiently for every resident inside to settle down for sleep. When the dragon had left, it had prepared for departure until the movement of one of the windows caused it to pause. Watching curiously, it quietly waited for leaving owl to take off into the night air before resuming its watch; the unexpected critter having made it decide to proceed more cautiously lest anything else appear within the library.

Only when it had waited for an hour and nothing else had disturbed the silence of the dark house did it dare to open its leathery wings and flit rapidly across the street. The tiny bat quietly flew towards the open window of the tree house, landing on the edge of the sill before becoming still once again.

A few more minutes passed as it listened intently for any noise inside the building. When all was quiet, it hopped over the window threshold and onto the small shelf inside. With a near-silent shriek of echolocation, the little bat scanned the inside of the building. It saw no movement amongst the walls of books or wooden floor, nor the forms of anything that would appear to be a resident potentially awaiting its arrival. Flicking its ears in anticipation, it hopped further along the shelf and flapped its way to the ceiling.

Gripping onto the wooden knots of the ceiling, it let out another silent shriek to scan from the superior position. Its ears twisted this way and that as it focused its hearing towards the outline of the figure that lightly rustled below it. The bed, having been in an elevated part of the house, had been out of sight from the window, but the lying form of a sleeping pony was easily seen from above by the bat, silently regarding her as it waited again in caution. Another few minutes passed before the bat saw the covers move, her hooves shifting beneath the blanket as she turned about in her sleep.

Confident that the movements below were that of a dreaming and unaware pony, the bat opened its wings again and flitted towards the nightstand next to the bed, landing with a faint thunk. The light of the moon shined across the bed from a nearby window. It revealed the sleeping pony's face which faced towards the light, her purple coat holding a soft glow from the moonlight. She held a peaceful expression as she slumbered, her soft breaths hardly moving the blanket atop her.

The bat hopped tentatively towards the pony, pausing with each movement to see if it stirred the mare even in the slightest. With another hop, it left the dresser and landed on the covers, looking warily towards the mare who still slept peacefully, unaware of the little intruder makings it way to her.

Taking no further chances with hopping, the bat gently clawed its way across the blanket and atop the motionless mare. Moving stealthily, it made its way towards her head before pausing at the edge of the blanket. It regarded the face of the pony for a moment as it sat atop her. If one had been close enough to see, they might have spotted a tiny smile flash across its mouth as it looked upon her face.

When the mare let out a mumble in her sleep, the bat decided to do what it had come for, lest she might rustle in her sleep again with it on top. Hesitantly, it reached out with a wing tip, pushing gently to see if its touch would disturbed her. Feeling confident that she was still fast asleep and would not wake, it climbed towards its goal: the pony’s neck.

Once in place, it inspected the exposed nape before it. It clung slightly behind her head, still able see the cheeks and eyelashes from the left side of her face in case she should flutter awake. Opening its mouth to reveal tiny fangs, it slowly leaned down and bit into the naked neck of the sleeping pony. Its eyes glanced to the mare’s ears, which twitched reflexively from the bite, but nothing else followed in response. With another smile that spread across its full mouth, it sunk its fangs deeper, drinking the mare’s blood in silent delight.

Oh my… an alicorn’s blood is tastier than I imagined. The bat grinned in ecstasy while plunging its fangs deeper, savoring every drop of her life force it could lap up. The flavor was incomparable to anything else it had ever tasted before. There is power in this blood. I always thought an alicorn would make a fine subject, but I can only dream of the potential this one has. The bat's eyes peered towards her ear, watching it flick bemusedly in unconscious irritation. Your blood will be the key, Princess Twilight.

The little bat laid on Twilight's neck for the better part of an hour, grateful in the fact that not once did she roll over in her sleep. It was not able to drink quickly due to its tiny fangs, but the amount of blood that entered its small body seemed more than even half a dozen bats of its size could hold. It continued to drink gleefully even when she let out small moans of discomfort in her sleep.

Finally, after having its fill, the little bat let go of her neck and began to lick the wound it had caused. Mustn't take too much. I don't want you to die from the lack of blood. After all, it will take time before you're mine, the little bat thought happily, its stomach bloated from the delicious meal. Satisfied the wound was healed as best as possible, leaving only a tiny scar, which a pony would have to look very closely to notice, it hopped off Twilight's neck and crawled to the edge of the bed away from the mare. Opening its wings and flapping few times, it prepared to fly its heavier body across the room and out the window.

However, before it could take to the air, a flurry of feathers descended on top of the furry bat. "WHOOOOOOO!"

Twilight woke to the sound of Owlowiscious whoo's quickly turning to piercing screeches. "Wha-What's going on!?" she cried as bolted upright, a little too quickly she realized, when she suddenly became light-headed from the action. Raising a hoof to her head, she groaned at the odd dizziness while the commotion of flapping and shrieks could be heard all about the room.

Struggling to focus, she weakly flared her horn to life, the strain of magic almost escaping her control from the haze in her head. With effort she was able to reveal the inside of the house with her purple light, and worriedly looked for the source of the noises that was beginning to add to a building headache. Twilight stared in disbelief at the sight of Owlowiscious flying about and screeching madly in hot pursuit of what looked to be a tiny bat. The unfamiliar critter was giving its own angry shriek as it was chased about the house, dodging furious pecks from the furious avian.

"What!? Owlowiscious! What are you doing? It's just a bat, leave it alone!" Twilight shouted before holding her hoof to her head again, her yelling bringing forth another wave of overwhelming dizziness. Owlowiscious, however, ignored her plea completely, being dead set on mercilessly pursuing the furry invader. It managed to scrape the little bats wings somewhat with his talons with a lucky grab here and there, but the little bat refused to give up as it continued to evade most of his attacks with surprising dexterity.

"OWLOWISCIOUS STOP!" Twilight yelled, again ignoring the growing dizziness. The owl paused for a moment to regard her sudden outburst, giving the bat just enough time to make a mad dash towards the window unhindered. Owlowiscious gave a small "whooo" of a curse beneath its breath before chasing after his slipping quarry. But he was too late to reach with his talons as the bat frantically flew out the window and into the night sky. Landing on the window sill with a puffed-out chest, Owlowiscious stared angrily after the bat, giving another "whooo" and daring it to come back again.

"Owlowiscious, what has gotten into you? And why do I feel so light-headed?" Twilight asked desperately, trying to figure out what was happening. She realized she wouldn't receive any answers as the owl continued to stare out into the night, wanting to slap her head were it not for how strange she felt in the expectation that the owl would have replied. With a groan, she laid back in bed, her head thankful to be resting at a comfortable position again. "Of course you're not going to answer, you're an owl... "

With a final sigh for the day, Twilight whispered in annoyance, "So much for getting restful sleep tonight."

Act I - Chapter 2

View Online

"Mail's here!" Spike shouted as he shut the front door. He had just returned from collecting from the mailbox and was idly shuffling through the stack of letters. Moving absent mindedly towards the dining table, guessing aloud what each envelope contained while tossing them into a pile on the table. "Lets see... RSVP, bills, coupons, bills, RSVP, bills, magazine subscription offer… "

Ever since Pinkie Pie started mailing invitations instead of performing a song-and-dance number, she was quickly matching the quantity of bills. Why do we still even get bills? Twilight's a princess now. Shouldn't that make it so we’re debt-free? Spike flared his nostrils recalling the arguments he had gotten into with Twilight, stating that she should be taking at least some of the benefits that came with her new status. But thus far, she’d only become even more of a recluse and shunned nearly every perk of being a Princess. She simply wished to remain the librarian who saved the world now and then and, in her spare time, advance the worlds of magic and science.

While Princess Celestia had hinted that further responsibilities would begin to fall under Twilight's wing, Spike felt that she would delay them as long as possible to continuing living the life she had come to love. She could at least make it so we don’t have to pay for groceries.

"Advertisement, bills, RSVP for what looks like Carrot Top's birthday next week. Hmm, maybe I should get her a new gardening trowel. I don't think her roommate has found out where she accidentally delivered it yet. Coupons, newsletter, loan advertisement, and... what's this?"

Spiked leaned closer to read the tiny print of a particularly blank letter. Only when he read the sender's address did he realize what it was. "Pony Park lane 64... TWILIGHT! It's from the hospital!" Spike held the letter sideways as he attempted to discern its contents. "I think it's the test results!"

"Coming!"

It was only a few short moments before her hooves were heard trotting about the house. She entered the main room just as Spike finished separating the letters into messy piles, eliciting a small scowl from Twilight, who wondered how the same dragon who had cleaned the library spotless earlier this week could still be so disorganized. Deciding to let it slide, she focused on the letter he extended towards her. "It's this one right here."

Twilight magically grasped the envelope and yanked it from Spike's grasp. In one swift motion, she ripped it open and unfolded the letter. Her wings instinctively unfurled in anticipation. However, her brow furrowed as she read the paper once, then twice, just to be sure she read it correctly. After a third time, Twilight's wings drooped in disappointment of its contents, followed by a confused expression across her eyes.

"It says they found nothing unusual... I could've sworn it was something medical." Lost in thought, she levitated the letter back to the table before dropping it atop the messy pile that was the rest of the mail, her mind too focused on the news to realize she had added to the disorganized stack. She was concerned they found nothing after a check up she requested the day after experiencing the mysterious lightheadedness earlier in the week.

In the end, she could only guess that her body was just tired after focusing so hard on her recently completed assignment. The only suspicious thing was she hadn't experienced something like that in quite a few years. She thought she’d built a tolerance to the stress her work ethic caused.

"Well that's good then right?" Spike said, pulling her from her thoughts. "Better to have nothing wrong with you than something, that is." The look on Twilight's face, however, refuted his logic. "Isn't it?"

Twilight sighed. "I guess you're right. It just bothers me that I was so out of it for a couple days. I felt like I ruined Miss's Cake's birthday by not feeling so well at the party."

"Relax, Twilight. Everypony was glad you were there, even if you weren’t well enough to join in on some of the games."

"I know, I know," Twilight said, having already undergone this discussion before. "I over worry things. I can't help it. I just... feel like something's off about the whole thing." She headed towards the kitchen with Spike following behind. "It just seems so strange. I wake up to hear Owlowiscious chasing a poor little bat that accidentally snuck through the window I left open, and then I felt so light headed that I was dizzy just from sitting up. And it didn't go away for almost three days!" Twilight grunted in frustration as she opened the fridge to bring out a jar of juice. "Want some?"

Spike hopped onto a tall stool. "Yes please."

As Twilight poured two glasses she continued, "And Owlowiscious is still acting funny. He rarely goes out anymore and just stays near the window. I keep opening it to let him out but he just stays put. I don't understand it."

Spike grabbed the levitating glass floating in his direction. "Maybe he just doesn't want another bat to come in. He might be territorial."

Twilight put everything away before she drank from her glass as well. With a satisfying gulp of the sweet liquid, she exhaled reluctantly. "Possibly. I know some owls are protective of their homes. I just feel bad for the bat that somehow found its way in here and got in a tangle with him. And Owlowiscious acts like he thinks he's going to have another chance again." Twilight, scowled in the direction of the room where the owl slept atop his perch.

Spiked shrugged as he began to drink. As they sipped in silence for some time, a knock came from the front door and interrupted their thoughts. "I'll get it," Spike announced while hopping down from the stool.

Twilight floated Spike's glass to the counter as she took a quick swig of hers, gulping down the sweet juice before setting it down next to his, letting out a happy 'Ah' from the refreshing drink. She tidied up the rest of the kitchen, which was still quite clean from earlier in the week, and no longer held the stacked plates and take out boxes. Giving a small nod at the joy of having a clean house again, she followed Spike to see who knocked on their door. Twilight stepped into the room just as Spike opened the door for their guest.

Their guest however, bounced, rather than walked, into the room.

"Twilight! Spike!" Pinkie Pie exclaimed. "There's a new pony in town! I was just on my way to greet him and thought you two would like to come!"

"A new pony is moving to town?" Twilight watched the still-bouncing mare, her tolerance for the behavior forged from years of experience; Pinkie wouldn’t stop until she met the aforementioned pony, and maybe not even for a few hours afterward. But like many things about Pinkie Pie, it only took time for her odd and annoying habits to work their charm and eventually become pleasantly familiar, and even looked forward to.

"Yes! He bought that house on the edge of the forest. You know, the one on the way to Fluttershy's? I'm so happy he did because I’ve been thinking lately that that house was so sad to look at with nopony living there."

"Wow. He could afford that place?" Spike commented in surprise.

"Wealth aside," Twilight said. "I'm surprised anypony actually moved here. When was the last time that happened?"

"Well there was you and Cranky," Pinkie Pie said, thoughtfully looking up into the ceiling, which either moved closer or further because of her bouncing. "But that was so long ago, and it's been forever since I've thrown a 'Welcome to Ponyville' party. Oh my gosh I'm so excited I can hardly bounce! This almost calls for a pogostick!"

Twilight and Spike found the statement hard to believe, since some of Pinkie’s bounces could still clear Twilight’s head.

"Cranky... Cranky..." Spike mumbled. "Do you mean that old donkey I see now and then?"

"Mmhm!" Pinkie Pie hummed. "He's the old and bald one. But don't tell him I said that. Especially now that he's got a new wig. Why, you can hardly tell he was ever bald to begin with!"

"So, Pinkie," Twilight said. "You said you were going to meet him?"

"Oh thats right!" Pinkie Pie said, dashing to the door, standing on her hind legs, and throwing her forelegs wide. "What are we waiting for! Let’s go welcome him to Ponyville!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Twilight, Spike, and Pinkie Pie stood at the edge of the fenced-in yard, watching large stallions move all assortment of boxes, furniture, and other items up the paved front walk and into the house. There were four jam-packed carriages on the street in front of the property and over a dozen movers working quickly to unload everything.

"Wow, lots of stuff," Spike commented as his eyes followed each object that passed them by.

“I think that one’s a globe,” Pinkie Pie said while motioning to one of the boxes.

“How do you know?” Spike frowned.

“Just a hunch!”

“Hmm, I bet it's a statue. Look how heavy it is. That pony’s having a hard time just trying to get it off the carriage.”

“Nope. It's a globe.”

“Really? Then what about that one?”

“Obviously a lamp!”

“No way! It has to be stool.”

Pinkie Pie and Spike made their guessing into a game as they watched the ponies work.

"Ooh! That's a painting!" Pinkie Pie pointed a hoof eagerly in direction of the newest object. All three of their heads followed the two ponies carrying a rather large oil painting wrapped in clear plastic. It was a picture of a mare in what appeared to be old-fashioned clothing posing on a stool, a feathery fan displayed in front of her as if she meant to hide behind it. The frame was trimmed with gold filigree.

"No fair! That one’s not even wrapped!"

"Yes it is. It has plastic all around it!"

Spike groaned for even attempting to argue with her, while Pinkie Pie merely shrugged with her usual grin, her tongue barely sticking past her lips. Spike dug his chin into his folded arms while he leaned against the fence, wondering like every other pony in Ponyville if Pinkie was truly aware of how silly she was, or if she was just that innocently simple.

Twilight's eyes moved from the ponies to the house that they were bringing everything into, quietly admiring the large residence’s charm. The movers had a good twenty feet of yard-space to walk across every trip, their path leading past a modest garden with a cobbled walk and neatly trimmed hedges. The house itself was larger than most in Ponyville. Nothing compared to Filthy Rich's mansion, she thought. But still, this house could fit a family of eight. Why would one pony ever need this much space?

On the roof were two chimney tops, one for the kitchen and the other for a fireplace she suspected. Without even looking inside, she figured it could easily have at least a dozen rooms. Tall, arched windows decorated the front of the house, revealing thin strips of the furniture already inside. Twilight squinted upwards at what was easily the largest window on the property, trying to see past the sun’s glare, but the edges of a chaise lounge were all she could make out. Beyond the sofa, she could barely see the top of a bookcases, and a pair of hooves setting rows upon rows of books into the empty shelves.

A private study perhaps? Ooh, I hope whoever this pony is holds a passion for reading as well. I would love to see their collection.

The property was located on the edge of town, one of the few buildings on its street that were close to the forest. It wasn’t the Everfree, but there still hadn’t been many inhabitants near its edge. Because of its size and location, nopony had bought it during Twilight’s stay in Ponyville. Thinking back, the grounds were always vacant save for the gardener that came now and then to tend the grounds. He would always say that he was just waiting for some fancy pony from the big city to take notice of his ‘charming abode’ and move in for retirement or a perhaps a summer home. She could only imagine his excitement when a pony had finally taken interest in the property, and could afford his exuberant price, which left Twilight wondering what kind of pony was moving into their town.

Turning to Pinkie Pie, Twilight asked. "So, where is our new neighbor?"

"I don't know. Let’s ask." Pinkie Pie hopped forward a short distance before calling out to one of the nearby movers on his way back to grab more furniture. "Hey mister! Where’s the new pony?"

The mover turned his head towards the small group, wiping a bit of sweat off his brow as he responded in a gruff voice, "You mean the owner?" The enthusiastic nod from her was enough clarification. "I think he's still on his way from Fillydelphia. Said that he would meet us here after finalizing a few things. Though I don't think he'll be here till after dark." The mover pony looked towards the sky, frowning at the declining sun. “Probably around four o'clock now. At this rate we’ll be here til night too if we don't get a hurry. Excuse me, miss." The stallion nodded to Pinkie Pie, and another to Twilight who was still near the fence. It wasn't everyday one got to see royalty. While he wasn't much for formalities or gushing over high class ponies due to how many times he had moved their stuff, he felt it necessary to at least acknowledge her presence.

Pinkie Pie's face turned to a frown as he went to the back of a carriage to unload the next item. "Awww... I was hoping to see him sooner."

"We’ll just have to welcome him tomorrow, I guess," Twilight said, not particularly bothered at the fact. "Spike and I have some stuff to do around the library before dinner anyways."

The two of them were only allowed to leave after they promised Pinkie Pie they would try again tomorrow. With their goodbyes out of the way, Twilight and Spike headed back to the tree house.

"I gotta admit, I'm still wondering who the new guy is,” Spike spoke as they walked back. “I mean, look at the house he bought! That place could have probably fit all our books with room to spare. How come we didn't get that house when we moved here?"

"Because,” Twilight replied, “the treehouse was already Ponyville public property. We're lucky the mayor lets us live there without rent as long as we continue to run the library since nopony else will. There's no way we could have afforded a house like that when we first moved here.”

"Yeah, but Twilight, you're a princess now. Shouldn't you, I don't know, be able to have any house you want? You probably won’t even have to pay rent!"

Twilight shook her head. "Spike, just because I'm a princess doesn't mean I’ll accept free gifts like that. Honestly, I don’t want anyone else treating me different from before. I just want to do what I have been doing ever since we've moved to Ponyville."

"You mean run a library while simultaneously saving all of Equestria now and then?"

"Exactly."

Spike sighed at the fading dream of living in a house that wasn't a tree and had plenty of room to spare for his growing—albeit slowly due to Twilight's monitoring to prevent a repeat of last time—hoard of items.

"Besides,” she continued, “the treehouse has some charm to it. It's kinda grown on me since we've been here. Also, what would it even be if we moved the library? All the shelves are cut into the tree itself."

"I suppose that's true..." Spike admitted reluctantly. "It's been a good home I guess." They walked on for a minute before Spike perked up to try one more attempt at convincing Twilight. "But that doesn't mean we couldn't live nearby and walk to it every day."

"Spike, we're not leaving our home," Twilight said as an end to the discussion.

"Speaking of home," Spike spoke as his attention was drawn ahead. "Who's that outside of ours?"

As Twilight and Spike approached the library, they watched an unfamiliar pony attempting to peer through the windows. His head moved about as he tried to look past the reflective glare in a vain attempt to see the inside. Twilight and Spike shared a curious look before moving towards him.

"Um, may I help you?" Twilight asked as they walked up to the pony.

"Yes, it appears the library is closed even though their sign says it’s open until seven. Honestly what kind of librarian does that? Would you happen to know–" he paused mid sentence as he realized who he was complaining to.

"P-Princess Twilight!" he quickly said before kneeling. Spike smirked at the sudden change of behavior while Twilight rolled her eyes. If there was one thing she was tired of since becoming a princess, it was the way most ponies acted around her. It took forever to get just about everypony in Ponyville to stop bowing.

Twilight sucked in a breath and put on a cheerful disposition in spite of her irritation at the gesture. "Please, you don't have to kneel before me. And you can call me Twilight. I would prefer if you dispensed with the formalities mister...?"

"Trail, Princess Twi–, I mean... Twilight." He lifted his head in a much calmer demeanor than a few seconds prior. Still kneeling, his head continued to rise until he made direct eye contact with her. When Twilight saw into his eyes she froze.

Everything around her faded away. Her whole focus was on his eyes. Eyes that gripped her entire being and caused her chest to quiver within its grasp. It was as if every part of her being ceased to work for that single moment.

It wasn’t a horrible experience, but it wasn’t pleasurable either. If anything, she found it confusing and strange a single glance from a pony caused her to halt so suddenly. It was unnerving to be caught completely off-guard in a way she didn't know was possible. There were no feelings or thoughts to accompany the moment, only the sensation of everything slipping away and leaving only his eyes the moment they had made contact with hers. For that one moment, everything else was irrelevant save for his stare.

After they exchanged looks, he slowly rose to all fours. If time stopped when they had made eye contact, it came to a crawling pace while he stood up. In a heightened state of focus from the sudden sensation of his eyes, she was able to make out each detail of him in the second it actually took for him to stand.

The black coat that defined his form was dark as coal. It lacked the usual sheen brought out by the sunlight. His long silver mane hung elegantly about him, long strands falling down the side of his head in a way that would cause even the highest of fashion-focused ponies to halt at the sight him. His body was lean, without a trace of fat; if anything he seemed a little thin at places, but it didn't compromise his authoritative posture.

Red cuffs adorned his forehooves, an ash-colored tie hanging neatly at his neck, and a pair of reading glasses perched on his nose. The eyes that had stopped the world for an instant were colored a sanguine red.

With his movement, Twilight was able to make out a cutie mark, a crescent moon matching the color of his eyes with small horseshoe prints below it. It looked liked a pony had left a trail of hoofprints underneath a red moon on his flank.

For him, even the simple act of standing up held composure and regality so great, Twilight knew few ponies who could match it. "Midnight Trail, but I prefer that ponies simply call me Trail, your highness."

Act I - Chapter 3

View Online

I met a stranger the other night,

His sudden appearance causing a fright,

But he assured me quickly, that he meant no harm,

And so I believed him, and never saw the dawn.


Twilight was at a loss for words for the stallion before her. She didn't know what to say, feel, or even think as he stared expectantly towards her for a response to his introduction. What was beginning to develop into an awkward silence was thankfully broken by Spike speaking first.

"Nice to meet you, I'm Spike," he said without care, oblivious to Twilight’s frozen composure.

Trail turned his head to look at the little dragon, while smiling, the ominous atmosphere that had engulfed Twilight's moments before now vanishing like an afterthought as his attention focused on Spike. "A dragon? How academically wonderful!” Trail coughed into his hoof to recompose himself for another introduction. “It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance as well, Spike," he said in cheery disposition.

Twilight remained quiet and motionless as the two exchanged greetings. Still shaken by the moment that had passed between her and the stallion, she hadn't noticed Spike poking her until a rather painful jab broke her out of thought. "Uh, Twilight?"

"Wha—oh! Sorry," Twilight quickly said, her cheeks holding a touch of pink.

Trail leaned forward. "Are you alright, Twilight? You seem preoccupied, is now a bad time?"

Twilight shook her head in reply. "I'm fine. Just a little... tired, that's all. What was it you were looking for?"

Trail's face quickly returned to the frustrated mood—though at a more respectable level with a princess near him—they had met him with as he waved a hoof at the library. "The library is closed even though their time says they should be open. I don't know how ponies conduct business here, but I, for one, become greatly bothered when I am not able to peruse books."

"I’m sorry, I hadn't intended to be gone for so long," Twilight said apologetically. As the conversation became more casual, the intense atmosphere from before faded into an afterthought for Twilight.

Trail's eyes went wide as he processed what she had said. A flash of panic passed over him. "Y-you mean to tell me that you're the librarian?” The look on his face showed desperation that she was not the owner of the establishment.

"Yes, I am."

Trail immediately knelt again, this time spouting apology after apology. "My sincere apologies, Princess Twilight! I had no intention of disrespect to you or your library! Please forgive me!"

He continued apologizing profusely and asking forgiveness, not allowing Twilight a chance to stop him. It only took moments before his actions drew the attention of other ponies. Twilight felt a wave of embarrassment as the everypony’s eyes turned towards at her and the kneeling pony that still was babbling apologies.

Unable to handle the growing attention, Twilight used her magic to quickly lift Trail onto his hooves. Before he could speak again, she pushed him into the library, wiping the dirt off his tie and cuffs while blurting, "Okay that's plenty, thank you! We should probably go inside and get you a book! We can't have anypony not being able to get a book when they need it, right?” Twilight nervously laughed. “Lets go in now and get you a book!"

After they had hurried inside with Twilight’s laughter and pushing, she slammed the door and let out a deep breath. Trail looked towards her with confusion at the alicorn's hasty hustle before asking hesitantly, "Did I do something wrong?”

Calming down from the embarrassing scene,Twilight replied, "Yes. Well, no. I just don't like being treated like that in public. Or at all for that matter. Still getting used to the whole ‘princess’ thing."

"Oh, well I am very sorry. I didn't mean to bother you such. I was just trying to be as courteous as I could be. Like you said, you are a princess, an... alicorn."

Twilight raised an eyebrow. "You call groveling in the dirt at my hooves courteous?"

This time it was Trail that became embarrassed. He rubbed one forehoof against the other. "No, I don't suppose that would classify as being courteous. My deepest apologies for my... apologies. It's just I have never meet royalty before having lived in Fillydelphia."

"You're from Fillydelphia?" Twilight’s mind was already matching up the pieces.

"Why yes, allow me to introduce myself again." With a small bow, the stallion said once more, "My name is Midnight Trail, and I am a therapist. I have spent a number of years of getting into ponies minds to treat symptoms and disorders as well as lending an ear. I am qualified for colts, fillies, stallions, mares, and I prefer Pearl Grey Tea."

"Don't you mean Earl Grey Tea?"

"I like to add a fair amount of cream, so I call it Pearl Grey Tea. As you can imagine, it takes on a, well, pearl-like appearance," Trail replied before chuckling.

Twilight and Spike exchanged a brief glance, not finding the comment nearly as amusing implied. A little unusual, but seems friendly enough, she thought. All traces of the stallion’s intimidating presence had vanished throughout the course of their conversation, causing her to wonder if she had just imagined the tense atmosphere to begin with. Now whenever he spoke, it was like he couldn’t contain his excitement. It reminded of her of a certain pink pony she knew.

"So, I take it you are our new neighbor then?" she asked even though she was more than confident of the answer now.

"Why yes!” Trail replied with surprise. “I just recently purchased some property in Ponyville and was moving in today. How in Equestria did you know that?"

"We stopped by your home to welcome you to the town, but the movers said that you probably wouldn't show up until later tonight."

Trail nodded. "Ah yes, I mentioned that to the company. I gave them the key to the house to start without me just in case I was late. You see, I had a few final affairs to settle before leaving Fillydelphia, but thankfully they did not take as long as I thought."

“However, I must say,” Trail continued, “the thought of you coming to welcome me personally is a little flattering. I don’t think I have ever had somepony so prestigious welcome me before.”

“Well, we don’t get many ponies moving here, so it’s only natural to say hello to a new resident. But to be honest, we had no idea you were moving to Ponyville until Pinkie Pie told us.”

“Pinkie Pie?”

“Don’t worry, you’ll meet her soon enough. I’ll see you again at the party,” Spike chimed in.

“Oh, I see.”

The three of them stood around for a moment, neither of them sure what to say next. Once again, it was Spike who broke the silence. "So what book were you looking for?"

"Oh yes of course!" Trail replied before turning to look upon the many shelves lining the library. "You see, I’ve sort of adopted the habit of purchasing a new book whenever I do something as significant as moving.” His eyes played over the various titles. "I would love nothing more than breaking in the new house with something I haven't read prior. Although, I dare say that I have found it increasingly difficult as time goes on, due to the amount that I read during my spare time. I suppose sometimes I like to think moving as an excuse to get another."

Twilight perked up as he examined the rows of books. Now this is something I can work with. A smile forming at the idea of another pony who might read as much as her, she trotted to Trail's side as he continued browsing. "Well, we have a large selection to choose from. Any particular genre or topics?"

"I'll read just about anything: comedy, action, romance, technical manuals, and theories." Trail followed a row of books as he talked. "But if I had to choose one thing… You wouldn't perhaps have anything on mythology, would you?"

"Mythology?" Twilight raised a hoof to her chin in thought. For a moment, she was silent, and her eyes drifted towards a row of books near the ceiling. A smile appeared on her face as she spotted the shelf that contain the genre he was looking for. "Yes, I believe we have a few that you might be interested in." She motioned for Trail to join her as she walked towards the bookshelf.

With a glow of her horn, a dozen books off the top row were wrapped in a purple hue and brought down to eye level. Turning them about, she floated them in front of Trail; showing the titles of each book while keeping them separated and in order.

Trail leaned forward to inspect each book, mumbling beneath his breath as he read off the various titles. "Old Mare's Tales, Fantastical Forgotten Legends, Mystifying Creatures..."

Trail's voice dropped to a barely audible mumble as he continued to read the covers. As he moved down the line, he paused when one caught his eye. Flipping open its front page, he quickly inspected its table of contents. A grin formed on his face after a once over, and he reached for the book. "I think this will do nicely. ‘Thousand-Year Old Tales’ sounds right up my alley. Nothing like seeing each authors opinion of history."

Twilight floated the rest of the selection back to its proper shelf, a satisfied look on her face at accomplishing once again, finding the perfect book for a customer. "If you like old mythology, then that one should be just perfect. To be honest, I wish I had it earlier when I first moved to Ponyville."

"Oh? And why might that be?" Trail said as he flipped through the book idly.

"As you know, the Mare in the Moon is a thousand-year old legend that turned out to be real. Nightmare Moon escaped her prison and threatened to plunge all of Equestria into eternal darkness. Thankfully, the books I had at the time were enough to help my friends and me in defeating her, turning her back into Princess Luna."

Twilight vacantly stared in reminiscence of the first time she had come to Ponyville, vividly recalling the adventure and experiences she and the girls had shared. Her attention was brought back as Spike spoke.

"Geez, that was a long night," Spike said. "It threw off my sleep schedule for a week! With the sun not coming up until hours later and all."

Twilight giggled. "Funny how the longest day of the year turned out to be the shortest."

Annoyed by the memory, Spike asked, "Why didn't Princess Celestia keep the sun up for a little longer? Maybe then the day could have gone on as normal."

"Spike," Twilight replied with a narrowed glare. "You know full well the consequences of keeping the sun or moon out longer than they need to be. Besides, Princess Luna had just returned and it would have been unfair to hold off her night for any amount of time."

"Even if she held off the sun first?"

"Even if she held off the sun first," Twilight replied in a tone that meant the end of the discussion. "Honestly Spike, you need to think of how things will affect other ponies more often. We don't want a repeat of that growing incident do you?"

"No..." Spike answered as he crossed his arms.

Satisfied, Twilight turned to Trail to talk further about the book he had selected. But she paused when she saw his eyes widened and his mouth hanging open slightly. "Is something wrong?" she asked.

Trail shook his head in response as he recomposed himself. "No it's... talking about Nightmare Moon and the princess so casually is... just a bit to take in. But I suppose you are an Element Bearer and a princess to top it off. I understand that it might be a normal conversation for you and the residents of Ponyville but for somepony who doesn't live here, well, it would catch one off guard.”

"Oh!” Twilight said in realization. "I'm sorry. I guess I forget sometimes that other ponies aren't used to it. To be honest, I haven't traveled across Equestria much, so I'm always around ponies that are normally involved."

"Then you might be surprised of the gossip that floats around Fillydelphia.” Trail chuckled. “Everypony somehow manages to slip in talk of the powerful Element Bearers that reside in Ponyville, fending off untold dangers and threats. Some of them even have come to think that Ponyville is the first line of defense against any threat, as they seem to happen so often here."

“First line of defense? Ponyville?” Spike asked, already chuckling at the notion.

“Absurd, isn't it?” Trail an replied with a chuckle. “I couldn’t believe it the moment I laid my eyes on this place. I know Ponyville has had its fair share of events. But honestly, some of the things ponies fuss about would cause any sane pony to giggle. Why, just the other day, I overheard that Manehattan suffered a power outage due to some sea monster attack, when in fact it was just some crabs that had snipped a few cables for a single building.”

Spike and Trail laughed together as they shared over-the-top tales. Twilight pitched in now and then, but she mostly stood back and watched the two laugh. For her, seeing a pony talk so casually to Spike was a nice sight, and an experience he did not have often save for the ponies who had grown accustomed to him.

During their discussion, Twilight took the time to observe Trail. The color of his coat was the first thing to catch her attention, since black was not a common color for ponies. In fact, she knew the gene for black coats had become extinct over six hundred years ago. Maybe he dyed it, the cities are known for stuff like that. His silver mane however, wasn’t too out of place. If anything, he had it longer than what she figured most stallions preferred. Mane extensions?

But for some reason she couldn’t quite place a hoof on, his general appearance made him seem older than what she assumed he was. Some parts of him such as his face were that of an adult stallion, while everything else appeared more aged or thin. It was, in fact, the subtle differences about his body that kept Twilight’s eyes moving back and forth, not entirely sure what it was about him that felt so off. Her focus however, returned to the conversation when Spike asked him why he had left Fillydelphia.

"Actually, the gossip is why I decided to come to Ponyville."

"Why would that make you want to come here?" Spike asked.

"Ponies living in a town constantly on the verge of destruction? That is exactly what my line of work could thrive in!" Trail said.

Twilight opened her mouth to ask what it was he did exactly again, before recalling he had already explained. Right, therapist. That does make sense I guess. Come to think of it, I never thought about the mental health of everypony in Ponyville. With the disasters and monsters we have experienced, maybe it is something that could be needed. I wonder how everypony has been coping with everything?

"Excuse me, but are you alright?" Trail asked Twilight.

"Huh, what?" Twilight blurted.

Spike rolled his eyes as he answered for her again, "Don't worry about it. Twilight gets lost in her thoughts a lot."

Twilight shot a glare at Spike and opened her mouth to retort. Trail however, spoke before either of them. "Is there any place better to be lost in?" Twilight and Spike exchanged glances before looking at him questioningly. "The mind is a wondrous place, after all! It contains the essence of who every pony is, and who they can be. It is the gateway to a pony’s emotions, and if you look deep enough, their very soul. If you ask me, I'd rather be lost in my own thoughts than on any dirt road or spooky forest."

Spike was at a loss for words for a moment before slowly responding, "I guess. I never thought about it that way..."

Twilight beamed. That is a great way to look at it!

"And with that insight, I'm afraid I must request my absence. If that is alright with you Pri— I mean, Twilight! Almost said it again, my apologies."

“It’s fine,” she said, rolling her eyes quickly. "I'm sure you have a lot to do with your new house. If you need anything just ask. And you don't need my permission to leave."

"I suppose I will have to get used to that," Trail said with an embarrassed smile. "If only some of my clients in Fillydelphia could see me now though. Casually talking to a princess! And on a first name basis!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Afterwards, Spike had fetched a bag for Trail’s new book, and with goodbyes said, he departed the library. As he left, he invited Twilight and Spike for dinner once he had settled into his new home. Both of them agreed, Spike a little more quickly at the mention of some northern mist sapphires Trail had laying around that he said he wouldn't mind parting with.

With the promised engagement set, Trail proceeded to make his way to his new residence, greeting ponies along the way and stopping for a quick, idle chat when he was able to. If his uncommon coat color did not hold the attention of passing ponies, his introduction of being the town’s new therapist grabbed their interests. Most of the ponies he spoke with confessed they had never even thought about seeking help for any mental problems, but his assurance that every customer's visit was confidential and would only serve as a checkup with additional appointments if necessary made more than some curious.

The rest of the way back was spent admiring the town itself in the evening sun. Everything was bright, cheery, and welcoming. Considering the town’s reputation, it wasn’t quite what he had expected when he had first laid eyes on the town.

As he approached his front lawn, one of the lead moving ponies paused to greet him. They exchanged details of the trip and where the movers had left everything they unloaded. Trail voiced a few changes on where some items would be deposited, thanked them for their assistance, and walked up the front path and into his home.

Some hours later, the last of the items was unloaded and placed within the house. A quick exchange of paperwork and signatures was given before the movers tipped their hats, and departed while wishing him good luck in his new home.

Trail watched from the doorway as the ponies left on their carriages, their silhouettes disappearing down the road. It was well past sundown when they left, and the only source of light was the bright windows of the homes of Ponyville.

Trail had set up a few candles around the first floor, bringing in for the first time in months lights in the windows of the house. Shadows from objects still wrapped in sheets bounced across the room as the candles flickered. Everything except a few large items still needed to be unpacked, something Trail figured he would surely spend all day tomorrow doing.

Trail then made his way up to the second floor of the house, which still remained shrouded in darkness. Silently, he made his way over floorboards that should have creaked, passing through halls that should have been too dark for a pony to navigate, a shadow amongst shadows.

It was not long before he stepped into a grand room with a large window opposite the door, revealing a wide view of the town. Moving towards it, he regarded the quaint scene before him: The soft glow of lights from windows cutting across the shadows of the streets, tuffs of smokes rising from chimneys, and the muffled voices of the few ponies still walking about. It was, without a doubt, a pleasant night in Equestria.

"Quite the charming little town here. I must say, it’s not what I had in mind." Trail watched as two ponies passed by on a evening walk, their heads turned to the lit rooms of the house that normally remained dark and empty. "It seems that the lifestyle of everypony here is safe and peaceful, even with the dangers of the Everfree forest threatening them, albeit less than they used to. They hold no fears in their hearts, or worries in their minds, save for the daily grind. Much more... relaxed, than what it used to be."

Trail's eyes closed as he drew his focus inward. After a few moments of inward concentration, he exhaled and postured himself into a more regal stance. While his body had remained the same, his composure and presence took on a drastic change. If it wasn’t for his coloring, a pony would have thought him to be somepony completely different than the cheerful ‘therapist’ trotting about earlier that day. Even the atmosphere itself had changed with his new demeanor. And when he opened his eyes, his red pupils flashed momentarily and he looked out into the town again.

After a sigh, he spoke in a low tone, all traces of his high inflections or random volume increase in his sentences gone. "That persona is tiresome at times, too excitable for my taste. But I suppose it is needed for this."

He faintly smiled at the day’s events. The power of an alicorn's blood still astounds me. The little that I had drank from her earlier easily powered the magic for me to walk in sunlight without difficulties. It seems I no longer have to go through the trouble of rounding up over a dozen ponies and draining them of all their blood. I can only imagine the difficulty of such a thing in today’s time.

Trail's smile faded at that last thought. "Today's time..."

Watching a happy couple walk down the street caused Trail to scowl. "The ponies of today have no idea of what it was like a thousand years ago. They know not of the fear that would freeze their hearts, despair that would ruin even the bravest of heroes, or the sacrifices one would make just to even survive. They only know of the carefree days of Celestia’s rule."

His gaze adjusted to focus on the faint reflection in the window, his red eyes staring back at him from darkness; eyes that have haunted him since the day he had walked down the path he intended to repeat.

"Celestia... you have certainly accomplished what you set out to do. I commend you for that. And in the end, your sister was able to join you after all. I imagine you are very happy with this world you have created, a place where everypony can live in relative peace. You also had done well in glossing over the past, much lighter in tone than what I remember."

Trail stared out across the town as he reminisced, watching the lights of homes flicker out one by one as the ponies went to sleep. He ran over the events from so long ago that eventually led him to why he was here now, and his tongue licked the tips of his fangs at the thought of the potential that laid before him. Laughing softly, he spoke aloud again. “All of Equestria is open to me now. Sombra was vanquished, and the other shepherds remain sealed who knows where, leaving only the sisters to deal with.”

“Celestia and Luna, while you might have refused my offers, I think your new royal sister will find it more difficult to pass the opportunity. She knows not of the forces that once walked this land. She is unprepared, vulnerable, and so… tempting. Just the thought of tasting her blood again stirs a fire that I have not known in such a long time. Its texture, flavor, and power... "

The night scene suddenly became brighter as a dim white light flooded the land. Looking up, he saw the moon beginning to peek behind wisps of clouds and steadily climb into the sky. “Oh Luna, how I missed your light. The only consistent source I would draw comfort from during those times. As you imagine, I was quite pained about your refusal to join me. How we could have ruled together still burns my thoughts from time to time. You could have been a true Princess of the Night, to walk its shadows without fear, powerful and singular. You would have even been able to resist that thing that whispered to you while you dreamed, haunted your waking thoughts,and eventually turned you into another monster of the night. But as that delightful mare I chanced across, c'est la vie.”

Trail remained at the window for some time, watching as it vanished behind another row of clouds that drifted across its face. “I wonder… How will the raising of the moon work? When there is a second Princess of the Night.”

Act I - Chapter 4

View Online

One week later…


"Welcome! Please, come in and make yourself at home," Trail greeted. He stepped aside while opening the door, giving a small bow as Twilight and Spike entered. The two of them replied their thanks, and looked about the abode.Trail watched his two guests expectantly as he closed the door, taking in pride at the fact that they were looking about his home in interest.

"I have to say," Twilight said as she spied the open rooms within sight and their various decor. "This house is really nice. If I hadn't been placed at the library when I first moved here, I might have scooped this place up." Twilight immediately winced afterward from a claw poke from Spike. She returned the gesture with a glare.

Trail moved next to them and proudly waved a hoof in the air. "It is quite the home, especially after I got everything settled in place. It took me a full day, but I managed to get everything where it should be. I know you only saw a part of the house and my items during Miss Pinkie's party, but I assure you, it is more lovely and charming without streamers and confetti."

"I have to admit, I was surprised at the time to hear it was going to be at your house. Normally she hosts them at her work because its much more convenient. If she had been to pressing, you could have told me.”

“Nonsense, it was my pleasure to welcome everypony into my home. And Miss Pinkie was right, this ‘gloomy house’ needed to be celebrated-in for finally being open.”

“Oh dear, she didn’t actually call it that did she?”

“It’s fine, I assure you,” Trail replied honestly.

“I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t bothersome for you. I know Pinkie can be... a little enthusiastic at times. And we had left a large mess…”

“And if you recall I insisted that you leave it. Miss Pinkie and I were capable enough to set everything back in order. She was wonderful through and after as the party cleaner. She was thorough enough to not leave a speck of glitter or confetti, and she even made a batch of cupcakes just for me after everypony left! Oh they were fantastic, I wish I saved some for later."

"That's Pinkie Pie," Spike said.

"She certainly is a delightful mare,” Trail continued. “I imagine she is very well practiced with parties from what I saw."

"You have no idea," Twilight and Spike said at the same time.

“Speaking of which,” Spike said. “Why are you still calling her miss? Didn’t she ask at party that she asked you to just call her Pinkie.”

“It’s merely a habit of mine. When in company of the aforementioned company, I address them as they request. But when they are not present, I still retain a very formal and polite reference, and will continue to address the spoken individuals as Miss or Mister. I am a professional after all, and I must retain proper appearance," Trail said proudly.

“That's really weird,” Spike said, only to momentarily receive a hoof smack on the head by Twilight.

Trail chuckled as he begun to move towards the dining room. "Please follow me, dinner is just about ready. I have a lovely salad prepared for us, Twilight. And of course those sapphires I promised for you as well, Spike. In fact, I prepared each sapphire differently based on some recipes I had. I've never had use for them before of course, but I've always wanted to try them."

"Aw yes!" Spike exclaimed before hurrying in after Trail to grab a seat at the table. It was the same large wooden table that held three punch bowls and over a dozen gifts from the party only a few days before. But tonight, it held a simple bowl of fruit and some coasters on its polished surface. It easily held enough room for eight ponies to eat on, and looked like it had seen its fair share of use from the tiny scuff marks on the edges. The table itself had intricate details carved into its trim and legs, much like the rest of the furniture in the house, each of them much more extravagant than most of the furniture in Ponyville.

Twilight noted little details like these as she sat next to Spike. "I am curious," she called out to Trail who had continued moving into the adjacent room that she assumed was the kitchen. "How do you have recipes on preparing gems for dragons? I don't think I've ever seen a book that covered something like that before."

"I wouldn't be surprised," Trail called back. "Hold on just a moment!" A few seconds later, a large crash and banging noise was heard from the kitchen, followed by a muffled grumble. Twilight and Spike exchanged a glance before turning back towards the doorway.

"Uh, Trail?" Twilight called out. "Are you okay?"

"Fine! I'm fine! Just... a little misstep, that's all!" he shouted back. Moments later, Trail appeared through the doorway with a push cart, his hind leg shaking off a ladle that had fallen onto his back. After delivering an angry glare to the kitchen tool, he lifted his head up high and directed the cart towards the table with his hooves. It held atop of it two bowls of salad, one bowl of blue sapphires, and three glasses of water.

Trail paused when he arrived at the table, then as pompously as he could spoke, "Dinner... is served." Trail let out a bemused chuckle at his waiter impersonation, oblivious to the silent responses of his two guests. "Apologies for the delay, here they are now. This one is yours Twilight, this is yours Spike, and the last one is mine."

Twilight and Spike both gave their thanks as Trail pushed the cart away after laying out the dinner. He then sat opposite of the table from them, a gleam in his eye at being able to make something special for his guests.

"Now as I was saying, I wouldn't be surprised if you hadn't seen a book like that before. I hold a very rare collection, some of which you will not find anywhere else in Equestria. Oh Spike, before you dig in, let me tell you which one is which,” Trail diverted as seeing Spike’s hungry eyes.

“That one right there has been chilled all day in the freezer, to simulate the cold weather the Blue Northern Mist sapphires are normally found in. So you will find that one best suited as the dessert of the four. This one, has been subjected to certain vibrational frequencies with the help of tuning forks. It supposedly helps draw out the flavor and adds a more, how would you say... a glass like crunch to it?"

"That sounds delicious!" Spike nearly shouted. "Glass texture gems are always the best!"

Trail let out a chuckle at Spike’s anticipation and increasingly growing eyes. "Well I hope so, I certainly wouldn't able to tell. Oh, and the one with the greenish hue to it, that one I sprinkled crushed emerald dust onto it. I read those two gems mixed together bring about a fine flavor, I trust you like emeralds?"

"Definitely!"

"Fantastic! And the very last one, it was subjected to a slow heat in the oven. Nothing really special, but it is supposed to add a pleasant warmth to it. I recommend eating that one first and ending with the chilled one."

Spike licked his lips, catching the small drop of drool that had began to trickle down his chin. The longer he stared at the gems and heard about how each one was prepared, the hungrier he grew to finally eat them. His stomach rumbled for the tasty gems like he hadn't had a bite in a week. "Can we eat now?" he blurted out.

"In due time, first I need to explain how I prepared the salads. A very long and lengthy explanation for that. You wouldn't believe were the plants I used originated from," Trail said, giving Twilight a sly wink.

Spike's face fell at hearing that he would have to wait longer before being able to taste the gems. "But-but... I wouldn't want them to lose their temperature!"

The two ponies stared silently at his pleading face before they couldn't hold it anymore, and they both broke out into playful laughs.. "Of course you can eat it now!" Trail exclaimed. "I just wanted to see how big your eyes could grow. Go on, dig in!"

Both ponies held off their remaining giggles as Spike bit into the various gems immediately, nibbling each one first to see how they tasted. The look on his face as he sampled them was one of pure bliss and delight.

"Well the salads look just as delicious," Twilight said, smiling how how much Spike was enjoying his dinner. While she had never tasted a gem herself, she had come to know which ones he liked the most based on his reactions while eating them. And she could tell, that he was enjoying them immensely. .

"Thank you very much,” Trail replied. “Now, let us join our scaly friend in some dinner.

~~~~~~~~~~

"If I may, would it be possible to see your collection?" Twilight asked after dinner. Ever since Trail had mentioned his book collection, she had been waiting politely for an opportunity to ask further about what he held in his possession, and if possible, browse it as well.

"Of course!" Trail replied quickly. "I forgotten to have shown it to you earlier, what with the party and all. It's upstairs in my study slash workroom." After putting away the last of the dishes, he lead them towards the stairs and continued to speak as they moved up them. "Miss Pinkie originally wanted the party to be in the study room due to its size. But since it's where I do my work, I wanted it to remain private and isolated from the world. I can't have any potential clients imagine the room a place other than— OOF!" Trail moaned, having slipped on a step and fallen forward onto the stairs.

"Are you okay?" Twilight asked quickly.

"Fine, I'm fine. Just... still a little clumsy I'm afraid." Trail lifted himself off the ground and laughed nervously, "If you hang around me long enough, you'll find that I'm not the most coordinated of ponies."

"Don't worry," Spike said reassuringly. "There's plenty of ponies in Ponyville that bump around accidentally. There's this one mare who delivers mail, you wouldn't believe the goof ups she can make."

"Yeah, she can goof up alright," Twilight said sarcastically, recalling the same mare was also responsible for the large and heavy pegasus's household items to fall from the sky onto a certain unicorn at the time who was directly below.

Trail gave another one of his small chuckles that he frequently did, always finding some amusement in just about everything. "Maybe she should visit me sometime. I have been successful with a few ponies before in correcting clumsiness. I believe most of the time it's from the lack of concentration. A pity I can't seem to do it to myself."

Spike raised an eyebrow as he asked, "How would you fix clumsiness?"

After reaching the top of the stairs, Trail led them down twisting hallways, ever closer towards the study Twilight was growing eager to see with each moment. "You see, while I am a therapist, I specialize in a particular type of therapy. I found it to be quite useful during my career and capable of astounding results. Although most of my clients are a little resistant to it at first, what with not believing it to be real."

"Believe what to be real?" Twilight asked.

"Why Hypnotherapy of course!"

"Really?" Spike said flatly, nearly stopping in place. "Isn't hypnosis all fake and stage acting?"

Trail's cheery tone dropped to a low frustration as he replied, "Now see, it's ponies like you... I mean, dragons...I mean... you know what I mean! That are misinformed, on what hypnosis actually is. I assure you, that when done by a professional, that it is a real and practical form of therapy with results. You could ask my clients back in Fillydelphia and they will tell you the same. Most of them were neighsayers at first, but after a few sessions, they improved greatly. Ah, here we are."

They paused in front of a pair of double doors. With a small cough and pause for dramatic effect, Trail pushed opened both doors and moved aside to let them in before him.

Twilight gave a small gasp at the sight of the room as she entered. Opposite of the doorway from where they stood and across the floor, was a large window that looked out onto Ponyville. It was as tall as the room itself and reminded her of a small version of the large wall windows she had back in her Canterlot suite before moving to Ponyville. The room itself was built wide, with its walls extending past the doorway on both sides, creating a rectangle room shape with the doorway in the middle of its length. Decorating the room was a wide assortment of objects: Globes, a desk, fancy carpet, drawers, a few filing cabinets, and the typical chaise chair set facing away from a more comfier looking chair.

But what caught Twilight's eye more was of course, the books. Each section of the walls was covered in rows of books. The shelves filled the entire wall space from floor to ceiling. With a grin she was barely able to contain, she quickly walked towards the nearest shelf and began to browse. Not only is this an amazing room of books, the best part is I don't even recognize half of them!

"Oh my gosh, where did you find all these? I've never heard of some of these titles before," Twilight excitedly shouted out as she walked down the particular row she was on.

Trail walked to the center of the room, a proud smile that he didn't even try to hide spreading across his face. "I may be from Fillydelphia, but I've done my fair share of traveling. As I said, I like to collect books. Rare ones if possible. I've been doing it ever since I inherited my grandfather's belongings. In fact, most of the items in this house where once his, which he inherited himself from an older family member. It's something my family have been doing for generations, passing down history to another."

Spike paused from spinning a globe on its axis as Trail finished his sentence. As gently as he could, he slowed it down to a standstill and stepped away with nervous laugh.

"That makes more sense," Twilight said; her eyes still glued to the collection in front of her. "I noticed some of the your furniture to belong to some famous crafting ponies. Some of it even looked to be of Norchevez Woodmane design."

Trail's proud smile vanished in surprise at the her knowledge. "You- you recognized Woodmane's works?"

"I've read about him before in Origins of Antique Furniture. He was considered to be the father of Scandiequinen furniture design. Most of his works were blessed by unicorns so they would be preserved over the years. I've never seen a real piece before tonight, thankfully I remembered he used more of a ‘jevn kurve’ design, rather than the popular ‘ujevn kant’ at the time. Besides some of these books, I'm sure your furniture is worth a fortune alone! His last piece I believe was finished over one-thousand and a hundred years ago."

Trail's stunned expression slowly turned into one of amusement as he shook his head. "Twilight Sparkle, you do amaze me. It takes a good eye to pick out things like that."

"Well I only recognized it tonight, now that they weren't covered in streamers and confetti! Honestly you should have never let Pinkie Pie have a party with such antiques around! For Celestia's sake there was sherbet cake spilled on the chairs!"

"Oh it's no problem,” Trail said waving a hoof dismissively. “What use is something if you aren't afraid to get it dirty and scuffed up now and then. And besides, Miss Pinkie was able to clean every smudge and stain that was left over."

Twilight still held a frown on her face as she replied; her eyes having not left the rows of books yet, "Still, next time I'm inspecting a ponies house before Pinkie gets there. I can't in good faith allow more rare history be used in such a way. I'm sure your grandfather would be very upset at them being used like this."

"Well they weren't all passed down to me. Some of them I purchased myself," Trail said while putting a hoof onto a antique lamp desk, admiring its wooden detailing on the drawers.

"You must have saved up for such a long time to obtain them," Twilight remarked. "Like I said, some of this stuff is worth a fortune."

Laughing as he always did he replied with a knowing eye, "Well in my line of work, you meet certain ponies. And sometimes those ponies can be great boons if you do you job well. I must admit, some of the bits that helped purchase the various items I did not already possess were generously donated by a benefactor I had acquired in Fillydelphia. He was such a fan of my work that he even contributed to the expanses of my moving here to Ponyville."

"Wow, you got to be good thing to get a rich pony on your side," Spike commentated. His impressed expression changed into a frown as he spoke, "Surprisingly we don't get nearly as much as I think we should."

Still scanning the shelves intently as she half listen in on the conversation, Twilight’s eyes suddenly lit up as she spotted a certain title. “Ooo, is this the book you got the recipes from?"

"Ah yes, Draconian Delights," Trail replied moving to join her.

"Let me see too!" Spike cried as he rushed over.

Twilight turned to the room with the book held a short distance away so the three of them could see together, its pages turning one by one by her magic. Spike's eyes intently followed each recipe on its pages, his stomach almost growling again at the idea of eating some of the dishes the book held. "Oh my gosh! That looks looks great! No, that one too! Oh oh! Can we have that one next time?"

"Spike," Twilight said interrupting him. "Some of these look difficult to prepare, and we don't even have the correct gems right now. Maybe we can jot a few of the simpler ones down and make them for you when we are able to gather everything for it."

"Can't we just borrow it?" Spike asked insistently.

"No! We can't borrow a book like this! Do you even have any idea how valuable this could be? You know we couldn't find anything about dragons, and this one somehow knows what their favorite treats are!" Twilight exclaimed.

Spike's face fell as he dragged a claw on the floor, "I guess you're right.” Turning to the stallion Spike pleadingly asked, “Trail, would it be to much trouble to come back now and then to get recipes?"

"I'll do better than that, I'll give it to you!" he replied with a cheerful tone.

"Really?" Spike immediately shouted, accompanied at the same time with Twilight shouting, "What!?"

"Trail," Twilight began to say. "We couldn't accept something like this. I would much rather just stop by now and then to write things down, I wouldn't even dream of taking it to our place and somehow damaging it."

"Oh come now Twilight, think of it as a gift for everything you all have done for welcoming me here. And as payment for the book you gave me earlier."

“That’s a lent copy. You borrowed from a library,” Twilight said flatly, the look of her face not approving of where the conversation was going.

“Was it? Oh dear, then that serves a bit of a problem,” Trail said, feigning distress. “You see I seem to have lost that book and will be unable to return it to the library. You better accept this as payment for it, an eye for an eye you know.”

Spike didn't need to hear another word as he dashed forward and held the book tightly against his chest, thoughts of the delicious gems he would eat dancing in his head.

"Trail, I really don't think we could. That book is way too valuable historically. It belongs in a museum! Not a kitchen!" Twilight continued to argue.

"Twilight, I already gave it as a gift and payment for the loss book. And I accept no refunds on gifts or payments!" he stated simply. "Besides, you can't live your life on material possessions purely. Yes they are nice and it's fun to collect them as you can see from my home. But you can't fret on keeping them the way they are forever. Few things last forever and it certainly isn't furniture, although they do a darn good job at trying. I would be a very petty pony if I couldn't part with a book in a show of friendship."

Twilight opened her mouth to protest further, but nothing came out. She was still not convinced it was the best idea and wanted to argue against it further. But looking at Spike and the grin he held on his face for having the book, her urge to preserve the it as best as possible faded away at the idea of his happiness. I've never seen Spike hold onto a book so tightly before, I suppose if it makes him happy...

"Fine, we accept your gift… and payment," Twilight admitted, not to happily. "But Spike, that book is only allowed in the kitchen when you are specifically preparing something from it. It needs to be safely far away from any ingredients and to be stored in my private shelf near my bed when not being used. It’s the libraries now and it is going to be kept as preserved as possible."

"Anything you say!" Spike immediately replied, causing Twilight to wonder if he even fully heard her.

"Um, Twilight." Trail asked hesitantly, drawing her attention. "I also have a gift for you. Well to be honest, it's more like a free sample and advertising."

"What it is?" Twilight asked curiously.

"Well, I was hoping... if you would allow me to do a session with you."

"Excuse me?" Twilight said raising an eyebrow.

"Just a introductory one! I have to admit, I've been curious of what's been going on in your mind and have been dieing at a chance to evaluate you."

Twilight was silent for a few moments before giggling lightly. "Evaluate me? Oh come on Trail, you honestly expect me, of all ponies, to have mental problems?"

"I would," Spike replied quickly.

Twilight shot him a glare for the second time that night as she responded, "I do not, have problems."

"Remember that time you forgot to send Princess Celestia a letter?"

"Yes, but that was a one time thing. And she fixed that so—"

"Or that time you visited yourself from the future?" Spike interrupted.

"Well... I.. that one became resolved on its own."

"Or the time you obsessively followed Pinkie Pie around all day trying to prove her Pinkie Sense was wrong?"

"I got over that!"

"How about the time-"

"That's enough!" Twilight shouted.

An awkward silence filled in the room from Twilight’s shout and the growing red on her face. It was some time before Trail coughed politely and said as reassuringly as he could, "Twilight, even the most stable of ponies can still have problems. It would actually be odd to not have problems. It's really nothing to worry or fret over."

"Worry is all she does," Spike said.

Twilight glared at both of them for a few seconds. When she saw they weren’t going to budge she finally exhaled in defeat, "Fine, I'll do one session.” Turning her head away she mumbled, “I guess a check up... wouldn't hurt..."

Trail's face lit up at her acceptance of his offer, "Great! I promise you won't regret it. Please, seat yourself comfortable on the chaise while I prepare for the hypnotherapy."

"Um," Twilight said before moving. "Does it have to be with hypnosis? I'd only read a little bit about it before but to be honest, I share Spike's opinion on it."

Trail's face took on a sour look as he replied, "Not you as well! Honestly, I expected a mare of your knowledge to see the truth between false information. Very well, I'll just have to explain it as I see it. If you would please have your seat, I'll explain how real hypnosis works and why I use it."

Twilight held a skeptical and unenthusiastic attitude towards the whole thing, but reluctantly followed his directions and moved towards the chaise.

"Spike, I'm going to have to ask you to leave please," Trail requested.

"Aww, why do I have to go? I promise to be quiet!" he pleaded.

"Doesn't matter. All my sessions are one on one with customer to therapist confidentiality only. Everypony deserves their privacy, and they need to be by themselves to feel fully comfortable to truly become open."

"Fine," Spike groaned. As he began to walk out his attitude suddenly picked up. "I'll just... be downstairs reading." His excitement to read more about the future meals he was already planning showed easily as he hurried down the hall.

Chuckling at the dragons behavior, Trail moved towards the door and closed both of them, then came back and settled himself onto his chair behind Twilight.

"Now please, lay back comfortably while I explain. To begin, hypnosis is very real. But it does not work how some ponies think it does. There is no mind control and falling asleep. Instead, you are being put into a state of hyper focus. Think of it as being in a dark room with only a small flashlight, you are only able to be aware of exactly what it is revealing within a large room. That is effectively, what is happening in your brain when you are under in a trance like state."

"...Okay," Twilight said, paying full attention to the stallion behind her. "But why do I need to be put under for talking about... me?"

"I find that patients aren't very comfortable at opening up fully. Sometimes it can take multiple sessions just to get them to reveal a tiny detail that I could have addressed long ago. Hypnosis puts asides one's worries or embarrassment so I can more effectively deal with it during treatment. I assure you I can quite experienced in this.”

Twilight’s ears flicked in irritation but despite her reluctancy, she remained in the chair, and listened.

“Now just relax,” Trail said. “There are multiple ways of going about an induction, and I feel two are the best options for you. One is the typical method of talking you into a focused state, while the other is a confusion induction which I think will be more successful for you."

"What's that?"

"It's an induction that is most effective against analytical minds that pick apart anything and everything it doesn't understand or agree with. Sound familiar?" Trail asked teasingly.

Twilight held some comfort that from his position he couldn't see the small blush that formed on her cheeks.

"But before I start, I have to ask one question. Hypnosis will not work unless the patient willingly accepts it. You have to trust me and let go, otherwise it will not work and I'll look foalish sitting here for however long it takes for me to realize it's not working for you. So I ask... do you trust me... Twilight Sparkle?

Twilight was about to automatically answer yes, but paused as she really thought about it. Do I really? she thought. She recalled everything she knew about him that she had learned over the last week. He was odd, eccentric, quick to become happy, and laughed at things only he found funny. But he had been nothing but kind since she's met him. To top it off, he was kind to all her friends as well. Not even counting the fact that his love for books might even match Twilight's, he willingly gave a potentially valuable book to Spike just to make him happy.

While there was the tiniest notion inside her that she shouldn't be completely opening up to him in such a vulnerable way, she dismissed it for paranoia of being introduced to something she never full heartedly believed to work. He has been nothing but friendly and kind. I suppose I should return the favor and give him the benefit of a doubt.

With a deep breath she softly answered. "Yes, I do."

Trail's lips parted in the faintest of smiles," Good. Now, let us begin..."

~~~~~~~~~~

Halfway through the induction, Trail noticed Twilight's breathing becoming more regular and even. Her body slowly becoming more relaxed and limp as he spoke to her, his voice having changed from his usual cheerful and eccentric demeanor, to a much more calming and soothing one. And though he wasn’t able to see how her eyes glossed over and slowly closed themselves shut, he didn’t need to. For as he continued to speak to her, his eyes that were once red, transitioned themselves into a soft glowing white light.

While before he was only able to see her hair and horn poking over the top of the chaise, and her hoof hanging limply over the edge, his magical vision revealed even more.

Through the chair, laid an orb that was both translucent and opaque. It was located exactly where Twilight’s chest was, nestled within her core. The room around Trail began to fade away as his vision drew closer onto it, causing a distorting effect as if he was actually moving towards it. The longer he stared at it, the larger it appeared to him, almost as if was standing directly behind Twilight, close enough to feel her coat.

Then, the opaqueness gave away, and an impossibly multilayered structure could be seen within it. Strange shapes coalesced together into separate sections, each flickering in their own pace and color. Between those shapes, fiber like bridges connected them in an intricate framework. More numerous than a pile of christmas lights, yet more defined as if woven by a master weaver, they bridged the various sections in an eye dizzying display of connections.

Looking upon it further, recognition formed within his mind as he began to piece the function and purpose of each section, built from countless experiments and trials from similar attempts.

What makes the Night Walker so dangerous?

What makes his presence to stifling and tempting?

It is not the threatening fangs he bares,

Nor the offers you find hard resisting.

It is the gift, known to all of his kind,

And by the Shepherd known as Dead,

That unknown force mortal ponies know not,

That twisting and turning of the soul we dread.

Soul Sight, an unholy command,

Piercing deep within your being,

To feel his gaze is to know fear,

And to know secrets are fleeting.

He seeps into your thoughts,

Snatches your heart and mind,

Changing the very pony you are,

To suit whatever he designs.

Mad you could be,

Or calmer than the eye of a storm,

You could be set free,

Or bound more than any stone.

That is what makes the Night Walker so,

What makes him more fearsome and cunning,

Though others have wielded such power before,

None have mastered it as naturally as running.

Not even the Dead.


And how I’ve missed using it, Trail thought to himself smugly. To Trail, looking into Twilight’s soul was being able to see nearly every aspect that made her Twilight Sparkle. Though it did not hold direct memories, it allowed him to see her emotional strengths and flaws, her morals and patterns. It was the ability to see how a pony had grown in their lives, whether they would be quick to anger or not, their consideration for others, the very traits that form their personalities and how they act. It was to him, like reading an open book titled ‘Twilight Sparkle’ that held more information than what could ever be conveyed in words.

Had she not been under hypnosis and falling deeper by the moment, he would have been able to watch in motion her soul flicker and fire flashes of lights on the various sections within her as she interacted with the world. Her apprehension growing as an unsightly stranger approached, the warmth and happiness that would spread at the sight of a friend, or the rare moment of watching fibers connect new sections together if she had gone through a life changing moment, permanently altering her view on the world.

But it was because she was under hypnosis that allowed him such easy access, and left her internal defenses unchecked. For when altered and manipulated, one can feel as if their very chest was being plucked apart from a variety of emotions spewing forth without reason or control.

And as her soul began to ease it’s flickering, its colors slowing dulling due to inactivity, he knew the time to begin his work was quickly approaching.

It seems the confusion induction worked wonders. Her mind is more alert and analyzing than I thought, though a little bit of pushing the right spot never hurt to help sooth a timid soul.

Satisfied that she was deep enough, he began analyzing the routes he would need to modify or create. At this point, his words could go anywhere or change anything within her. It will take a couple sessions to lay the foundation, but why don't we start with your problems.

“Now then,” he said soothingly, his voice coaxing her attention obediently. “Lets add some more confidence to your ability to solve problems. You are a smart pony, capable of handling whatever life throws your way. Though you have always had friends to depend on, you were always able to make yourself push through. In fact, I believe I can see that you are already holding doubts about others opinions of you on whether or not you should be doing something on your own, that you should be who you are and figure things like like the capable pony you are.”

“But if it wasn’t for who you are, you would not have defeated the challenges that have presented themselves to you. You are a very capable pony, and you can do anything if you put your mind to it. All you need, is the information to work off of, and that unyielding determination you only let out onto your desire to read. Perhaps you should exercise your ability to solve things, try your hoof at more challenges. You wouldn’t be here otherwise if you weren’t able to. You are a capable pony aren’t you?”

"...Yes..." Twilight whispered.

“Afterall, you are a princess. You are expected to handle more responsibility, and to do that, you need more experience.”

As he whispered within her mind, he ever so delicately connected and disconnected certain fibers to the sections he coaxed brighter. More assertiveness and pride, and less humility and urge to seek help. As he did, he watched as her confidence began to establish itself further within her.

“Good, you should feel confident. Your smart, capable, and alert. There is nothing if you put your mind to it that you can’t solve.”

As Trail snipped a section, a sudden flare burned within Twilight, causing him to grimace. She’s more skilled that I assumed.

Twilight, once a unicorn that had wielded more magical ability than most could ever hope for, was used to dealing with a variety of sensations and complex multitasking. Summoning magic required a mind that could consciously and subconsciously deal with fluctuations or errors as quickly and skillfully as possible. And though her soul was not an area she had ever experienced first hoof, it was part of the source for her magical abilities, and not outside her field of attention.

A pity I never had to chance to work with alicorns before. If you were not so important, you would make a fine learning experience.

At this point, even the slightest error in the guiding process could potentially snap her out of the trance. Even while under, her subconscious continued to constantly scan and calculate, searching autonomously for anything wrong or out of place, a habit she had developed out of years of dealing with magical energy and her own paranoia. Trail needed to direct its attention to where he wanted it to go, and never realize that it was his voice that guided it. He needed to create the illusion that it was looking over exactly what it wanted to, without know it was being kept blind to where he worked on.

“It appears to me that you worry too much, it stops you from fully realizing all the variables in a situation. You must be calm and collective. I see you already built up some resistance to the stress of worry, from a close friend perhaps? A technique or gesture that will calm you down?”

"...Yes..."

“That's very good. Why don't we increase its effectiveness?”

His lips parted into a sly smile as he patiently worked through Twilight's mind, heart, and soul. There was much to do, and he little time for tonight. But before I forget...

Walking across the room, he quietly opened a wooden box on his chest, pulling out a empty vial with a cork on the top. "Why don't we drain out some of that worry? Just imagine it fading away and bringing your entire being into a more calm like state. Fading away from your hind hooves as it's drawn away from your body..."

In her trance like state, Twilight was unaware of the wisp of shadow that seeped from Trail’s mouth and over her hind hooves, effectively dulling the senses to the area, or the tiny cut he created with a fang. Slowly, he coaxed the blood to pool out and into the vial, all while keeping Twilight's mind relaxed and wrapped in his words.

"You're beginning to feel more calm, more open. You enjoy feeling like this don't you? Not a care in the world as the worries flows out."

"...Yes..."

~~~~~~~~~~

An hour later, Trail had laid the foundation and changes he was able to create during their time, and had a full vial of alicorn blood for later use. He had cleaned her wound expertly, and if she did manage to notice the small cut on her back legs, placed where ponies wouldn’t question where a nick or two came from.

Having tucked the vial away, and seated comfortably on his chair once more, he began the final process before waking her up. "Now remember, these changes are there because you want them there. They will help you, but only if you act on them. Laying the foundation for something means nothing if they aren't used. The pathways you have created tonight will fade away if you do not actively use them. Do you understand?"

"...Yes.."

“Good”, Trail thought in satisfaction at his handiwork. While she may be aware of the positive changes that she herself will be responsible for keeping up — if she truly desires them that is — the safety precautions I implanted will be rather more... difficult, to fade away.

"Now then, let’s wake you up."

Act I - Chapter 5

View Online

Listen, listen!

I swear I’m not mad!

There’s a monster in this town,

And your lives he will have!

Why do you not listen?

Why do you not believe?

Has he turned you all against me?

Has he all of you deceived?



“Ah’m heading out now,” Applejack announced as she trotted of the porch.

Granny Smith nodded in response and looked to her warmly from her rocking chair. “Alright dearie. Ah’ll save some pie fer you tonight incase you’re still hungry after Fluttershy’s.”

“Thanks Granny,” Applejack replied with a wave, then proceeded down the path. Celestia knows ah’ll need it. It’s no wonder how Fluttershy always looked so dainty giving what she considers dinner.

But despite the stomach grumbles Applejack knew would come even after finishing their meal, she looked forward to having dinner at Fluttershy’s house. It wasn’t something that they had done regularly; just a nice change of routine now and then that allowed them to spend time with each other.

While Applejack wasn’t as passionate about animals as much as Fluttershy was, her daily contact with them gave her some expertise, and she found it to be one of the few topics of conversation that was easy to hit-off with Fluttershy before branching out into other things; a pregamer as Rainbow Dash once commented.

Speaking of, ah better stop by Floral’s for some of the flowers Rainbow Dash said Fluttershy really enjoys as a topping. Ah can’t let the poor girl pay for all the food each time.

~~~~~~~~~~

“Oh! Hello there, Applejack.”

“Howdy, Daisy,” Applejack greeted as she entered the small store. “How have you been doing?”

“Really good actually,” the pink earth pony replied with a smile. “Can I help you look for anything?”

“Nah, ah got it.”

“Alright, just let me know if you do,” Daisy nearly sang before returning her to work on a bouquet she was creating.

Applejack gave a small smirk at Daisy’s good mood, then turned around and began walking slowly down the shelves of flowers. From seeds to full grown flowers, the shop had it all. Normally she was always near the seed section, keeping an eye on any plants that Granny Smith might like around the farm. But today was for food, and she swung herself to the isles of flowers displayed in various vases.

She was tempted to buy some of the one she had passed initially due to how pleasant they smelled, feeling her stomach already beginning to protest for something to eat, but remained diligent and searched for the flower Rainbow Dash had said would be easy enough to find.

And true enough, It only took a minute of searching the spot the orange rose with blue tints that Rainbow Dash had described to her. “Night’s Sun huh?” Applejack said as she read off the name. “Hope it’s as tasty as it looks.” Applejack began to fish out a couple of the roses, when her ears pricked at the sound of humming coming from Daisy.

It was a sweet melody, and it made Applejack try to suppress a smirk that threatened to overtake her. Ah see. Surprised I didn’t notice right away.

Applejack grabbed the flowers, and proceeded back up to the counter, watching Daisy closely with a knowing smile.

“Will that be everything, Applejack?” Daisy asked as she noticed Applejack approaching.

“Yeah, this will be all fer now,” Applejack said while setting the flowers on the counter, her eyes not having left Daisy for a moment.

“Let me just ring you up…”

Daisy began the checkout, all while humming her melody throughout her actions. If anything, it only made Applejack smile more smugly.

“So, Daisy…”

“Hm-hmm.”

“When did ya ask him?”

The humming stopped at once, and the bag Daisy had been unfolding nearly slipped out of her hooves. As her cheeks began to turn a darker shade of pink, she ran a hoof behind her green mane while failing to hide her cheerfulness. “W-what do you mean?”

“I’m asking when ya asked Meadow Song on a date.”

Daisy eyes flitted left and right, before she tucked her chin and looked up with Applejack sheepishly, a full grin plastered beneath her dark cheeks. “...Last night.”

“Good fer you!” Applejack said while gently thumping Daisy’s shoulder over the counter. “Ah knew you had it in ya.”

“Y-yeah, I finally managed to work up the courage to ask him.”

“About time too. Ah was wondering if you would ever get your nerve.”

“Well, it’s thanks to you and your constant encouragement,” Daisy said, the red from her cheeks beginning to vanish as she began checking out the flowers again. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for you telling me to go after him, I never would have tried asking him.”

“Ah’m just glad it worked out,” Applejack said, a small blush forming on her cheeks as well.

“No really, I do want to thank you.” Daisy reached over the counter and grasped Applejacks front hooves. “You’ve always been supportive Applejack, and I just want to thank you for listening to my small problems. In fact, I would give you these flowers for free, or even a discount, if I knew you would take it.”

“Shucks, ya don’t have to thank me that much,” Applejack said while turning away.

“But its only thanks to you that I realized my own problems of being so terribly shy with him, and finally realizing I need help, like from Trail.”

“Well, ah… pardon?”

“Trail,” Daisy said cheerfully. “The new therapist in town? I thought you had already met him at Pinkie Pie’s party two weeks ago?”

“Ah did,” Applejack said while pulling her hooves away. “But what does he got to do with you and Meadow Song?” she asked skeptically.

“Well, I do have issues around stallions and he is a therapist,” Daisy said with an eye roll, thinking Applejack was having fun with her.

“Ah suppose so…” Applejack said slowly.

“Really though,” Daisy said as she finished bagging up the flowers, “he is such a nice stallion. And skilled too! Did you know he cured Lily’s fear of bunnies?”

“Were not talking about the same Lily that fainted from the stampeding bunnies way back?”

“Yup! She’s trauma free and everything now! I heard she even went over to Fluttershy’s the other day to ask about buying a pet bunny.”

“That’s… great…”

“Isn’t it?” Daisy replied, unaware that Applejack had stopped smiling along with her sometime ago. “That’ll be five bits please.”

~~~~~~~~~~

Applejack’s eyes were focused on the ground ahead of her, deep in thought as she weaved her way through the streets of Ponyville. She was replaying the conversation she had with Daisy over and over in her mind.

Trail…

Just thinking his name caused her to scowl. Gosh darn it, what is it about him that sets me off? He was polite and nice enough at his welcoming party.

Even recalling the first moment she met him caused her leg muscles to tense up. There was just something about him, some unknown sense of warning that fired off Applejack’s internal alarms. It had been when she looked him in the eye and shook his hoof. At that moment she knew she something was off, and it had been the root of her worries ever since then.

But he seems like a good pony, she reasoned. He’s a therapist, something ah still think is phooey in needin, but it looks like he has been helping other ponies.

As if to confirm the fact, Applejack looked about her and at the other ponies in Ponyville. The mood was pleasant and relaxed, like any normal day for it. But she wasn’t sure it was her imagination, or if it was indeed thanks to Trail, that ponies seemed just a little extra chirpier. An extra smile, a relaxing breath, or a content sigh, all of it seemed possibly a little more than usual.

She didn’t know how many customers he had taken since his arrival, and knew it was foalish of her to think everypony had visited him. But she couldn’t stop her mind from jumping from one conclusion to another, looking for anything, something, to justify her feelings towards him.

As if fate gave her an opportunity to search for a reason, she stopped dead in her tracks at the realization she was currently standing at the edge of Trail’s property.

Shoot, ah forgot ah have to pass this place to get to Fluttershy’s.

Applejack looked onto the expansive house with an uneasy feeling in her gut that was only worsened by her growing hunger. The place was charming enough even if it was a little ‘fancy’ as she would describe, and she had often wondered when a pony would move into it whenever she passed. Twilight Sparkle was the last pony to move to Ponyville, and it seemed odd to Applejack that nopony else had moved in since.

Applejack had intended on the next resident that moved in, she would be as neighborly as possible. Which was why she was so frustrated with herself for feeling the way she did towards Trail without any seemingly good reason that came to mind.

Applejack stood near the edge of the property for some minutes reflecting on everything, when the door to his house suddenly opened. Fearing that she had been seen just standing near his house, she began to walk at a brisk pace down the fence and to the other end. Her fears however, were quelled when she saw a different stallion exit the house with Trail behind and standing in the doorway.

Slowing down just a tad, she peered out of the corners of her eyes as the Trail and what she assumed was one of his clients shook hooves, the stallion wearing a bright smiling and looking to be thanking gratefully.

Why does it bother me so much that ev’ry pony likes him? It’s not that ah’m jealous is it? I’ve never been a green apple of envy before.

As the stallion turned and made for the walk up the lawn, Trail’s eyes drifted over Applejack who had been in the moment of passing his front gate, and gave her a smile and a wave.

Applejack gave a nervous laugh that she hoped he could not hear, and waved in return with the best smile she could muster. Only a few feet left. Just keep smiling. Almost there...

As soon as she cleared the fence line and was already disappearing into the last few houses before the woodland trail to Fluttershy’s, Applejack let out a large sigh of relieve.

“Celestia’s sake, ah’m more bothered than beehive facing a bear.” She slowed her pace and continued onwards to the cottage, her eyes back to focusing on the path ahead intently. This is driving me up a wall, just why does he bother me so much?

Searching inwards until the soft sound of the stream that ran past the cottage grabbed her attention, she looked up and found herself having already arrived.

“Maybe Fluttershy has some advice on this…”

~~~~~~~~~~

“Trail?”

“Yeah, what are your thoughts about him?”

Fluttershy thought for a moment as she poured herself a cup of tea. “Well, he seems like a nice pony. A little strange at times, but nice enough.”

“That’s what I keep telling myself,” Applejack said as she looked into her cup. With a heavy sigh, she looked back to Fluttershy. “Look, ah suppose ah should just get to the point of bringing this up. As nice as a pony Trail is, for some reason ah can’t shake this…feeling I have of him. And it ain’t a good one. So ah was wondering how you felt about him, see if ah can figure out myself from hearing your thoughts.”

“Oh, um… okay,” Fluttershy said. “Uh… he’s… nice?”

Applejack gave a deadpan looked to Fluttershy who began to fumble with her hooves.

“I’m sorry, Applejack, but I don’t know if I can help you with. He’s-”

“Please don’t say nice again.”

“Um… he’s… interesting, to say the least. He’s unusual in some ways, but he always seems to mean well and… I’m sorry, I just can’t talk bad about a pony behind there back.”

“Ah’m not asking ya to talk bad about him sugercube,” Applejack said while setting down her cup. “Ah’m just trying to see what you honestly think of him. If ah am the only pony who feels like there’s something wrong with him, then ah’ll just have to chalk it up to it being something wrong with me.”

“I understand, it’s just… well, I really do think he’s nice.” Fluttershy ignored the looked Applejack gave her and continued on. “He’s considerate, his job is about helping other ponies. In fact, he even offered to give me a free session.”

“Yer not thinking of doing it are you?” Applejack said, not concealing her scowl in the slightest.

“Oh no, I don’t think I could.” Fluttershy meekly smiled. “I know I have some issues, but I don’t really feel comfortable seeing a therapist about it. At least, not yet.”

“At least we share the same opinion about his line of work,” Applejack said with a sigh as she leaned back against her chair. “So maybe it is just me then…”

Fluttershy stared into her cup for a few moments, searching her memory for anything that might help. “Um… I don’t know if it counts… but, he has turned down my offer for him to have tea at my house a couple times.”

Applejack looked at her in surprise. “You invited him for tea? All on your own?”

“I’m trying to get better about being more open with other ponies. And I thought if he saw me offering to spend time with him, that he wouldn’t know I was so shy.”

“...Yeah, don’t think he would have picked that up otherwise.”

“But,” Fluttershy continued, “he has turned it down each time.”

“So?”

“Well… it’s just… he’s been to Twilight’s, Rarity’s, and Pinkies house a few times. I thought, maybe he would like to see mine. But he keeps saying no, but politely of course. It’s starting to make me think theres something wrong with me...”

“That’s mighty odd and impolite if ah do say so,” Applejack said. “You have any idea why?”

“I’m not sure… Has he been to your hou-”

“Heck no.”

“Oh… sorry…”

As Fluttershy was thinking of something else to add, Angel appeared from nowhere, hopping up into her lap and immediately began to take bits out of her sandwich. Fluttershy gave him a soft look and patted his head, while Applejack gave a glare at Angel. Sometimes ah wonder if Fluttershy would even be able to spot rude if it came and bit her on the behind.

“Oh, thats right,” Fluttershy spoke.

“Hmm?”

“The other day when we met up for our weekly pet play date, Pinkie and I had stopped at his house.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Oh, sorry… was I supposed to?”

“No, I suppose not,” Applejack sighed. “What happened?”

“Well, Pinkie knocked on the door and asked if he wanted to come play with our pets. Trail cracked the door open only a little and politely said no. When Pinkie pressed on it, he said something about being allergic to alligators.”

“Alligators?”

“I know, odd isn’t it? And even more strange was that Angel was holding onto me as tight as he could while we were talking to him. He doesn’t normally act like that except when Discord is around.”

“Speaking of, where is he?”

“Last I heard was that he was on some errands for the princesses.”

Ain’t that always the excuse for why he’s never around when he could actually be useful for a change. Applejack quickly pulled back the small sandwich on her plate when Angel made a move for it, giving him a scowl before propping herself back into her chair while holding the plate.

“Okay, so he may a weird thing with animals. Anything else?”

“No, not that I know of. I’m sorry I can’t help anymore.”

“It’s alright,” Applejack sighed. “Maybe ah am just chasing my own tail on this…”

“Have any of the other girls said anything that was helpful?”

“No, not really. Ah asked Twalight but you would think that she believes Trail is the next best thing besides apple barrels. Ah asked her once about how odd of a stallion he was with his name and coat color, and she locks me down in a two hour study lecture about how his name is apparently old as dirt and common back in tha day. And how about something about coat colors would skip generations and pop back up. Did you know apparently ponies weren’t as colorful as they are today?”

“That is strange, I guess.”

“Ah can’t even spend time with Twalight without him being brought up in one way or another. And to be honest, as annoying as it is hearing how everypony else likes him, I’m starting to feel bad that ah’m the only one who doesn’t like Trail.”

“Have you spent time with him with just the two of you?”

“...No…”

“Maybe you should start there then, and see where it goes.” Fluttershy offered her most supportive smile, and held it until Applejack gave a small smirk.

“Yeah, maybe you’re right.” Applejack stared thoughtfully into her cup for sometime, until she exhaled heavily. “Tell you what, ah’ll invite him to my house later this week. Spend some time with him and properly introduce him to mah family. And, ah’ll figure out why he hasn’t come to your place,” she finished with a soft smile.

“Oh, you don’t have too. I just want it to go well for you.”

“You know you are one of the sweetest ponies around?

“I just like helping other ponies,” Fluttershy said with a smile. “Like Trail,” she added with a wink.

Applejack did not know which one to be more taken aback from. The fact that even Fluttershy was squeezing him name into conversations as well, or the fact that she tried to make a joke.

~~~~~~~~~~

A few hours later and the sun almost below the horizon, Applejack was waving goodbye to Fluttershy and crossing the stream. “We’ll have to do this again sometime,” Fluttershy called out to her. “It was such a lovely time.”

“Sure thing, Just let me know the next time you’re planning on it!” Applejack replied back.

Glad to have made some progress on her dilemma, she headed back to the farm with silent appreciation of the coming night. The edge of the sky held a soft red hue as the stars slowly made their way out above. Luna’s moon had yet to rise, waiting respectfully at the edge of the sky for Celestia’s sun to fully disappear from the horizon.

Applejack took in a deep breath of the night air and let it out in a happy smile. The air had a crisp sensation to it that almost made it magical. Nights like these, she would just want to spend on a hill on the farm, listening to the crickets play in the tall grass while she stargazed into the night sky. She really hasn’t had the chance to enjoy a night like this in a while. She was always caught up in getting enough sleep to work the next day or to recover from whatever adventure she and her friends wound up on.

Applejack briefly reflected that tonight might be a good night to star watch with Apple Bloom if she wasn’t asleep yet. It was something Applejack grew up on with her father, him keeping her up past her bedtime to sneak outside into the night much to mothers distaste. Together they would find a nice patch on a hill to lie down on and just stare into the endless array of stars above them. He would teach Applejack some of the constellations he had known about.

Of course she knew most of them now, a perk to being a friend to Twilight Sparkle. But the time she spent with her father just staring into the sky was one of her favorite memories. However Apple Bloom never had gotten the chance to spend time like that with them; she was too young when they had passed away to remember much. Something that tore into Applejack’s chest time to time whenever she thought about it.

But a night like this shouldn’t be wasted, and even if her parents were gone, she could at least be there for Apple Bloom and do what her father did for her. Applejack smiled at the thought of getting Apple Bloom out of bed if she was asleep already and walk out into the orchard to find the perfect star watching spot. She may not be a replaced for her father, but she could be the best big sister should could. She could be there for her and be her star watching partner. Applejack gave a small chuckle at the idea and decided she would drag Apple Bloom out with her, maybe even Big Mac too.

Her peaceful mood however was broken at once again seeing the sight of a particular house coming up. Even at night when Trail would probably be getting ready for bed if not already being asleep, just passing the place alone caused Applejack to give it a scowl of uncertainty and suspicion, despite the good will she had spoken at Fluttershy’s cottage. She still could not place a hoof on why she felt this way, but it seemed to become clearer with each day that it was not going to go away; no matter how much she convinced herself otherwise.

Before she could mull further on the matter, the sound of a door closing brought her out of thought. Squinting into the darkness, she could make out movement behind Trail’s house. From where she was on the road, she had yet to walk by the house and had a full side view of its front and back garden. She was only able to make out the shape of a pony leaving the house and heading towards the woods some distance behind it.

Ears twitching, she detected the faint noise of a voice, but she was unable to make out anything it had said or if she had just imagined it. Paying closer attention, she stared hard into the growing darkness as the figure moved closer to the woods. Her eyes widened in surprise as she made out a shadow within the trees stir and move out to meet the form. It looked to be another pony from what she could see, but she was unable to make out any details other than that there were two of them now heading towards each other.

The two finally closed in on one another, and after a short moment, both began to head back into the woods. Now what in tarnation is he doing this late at night? Applejack thought to herself. The whole thing seemed shady with her already preconceived notions on the pony. Meeting mysterious ponies at night and moving into the dark woods certainly did not help paint a good picture of somepony either she reasoned.

Ah wonder what he’s up to? Maybe if I stay quiet and follow close I can find- Applejack stopped herself as she had lifted up a hoof to begin pursuit. “Steady girl, you’re just being paranoid on tha whole thing. Don’t need to be acting like Twalight.” She took in a deep breath and exhaled. “There’s no reason 'ta follow him into the woods. Whatever he does is his business, not yours. Just… be a good pony, and head on back home.”

Shaking off the moment, she stepped forward again on the road and began to walk past Trail’s house. She was determined to keep her focus on moving on, but could not help but let her eyes drift over the house as she passed by. To her, it was such a shame that such a charming house, even it was a little large, suddenly seemed so unwelcoming to her since Trail moved in.

But as to not dwell on the matter further, she huffed and whipped her head forward and resolutely continued to walk by it. She had made past the house and was well towards the end of the street before she would have to turn into town to get to the road that led home. However, she halted before making the turn, her eyes still locked ahead of her. As much as she kept telling herself to just leave it alone and head on home, to get Apple Bloom and spend some time with her, a nagging feeling pulled at her chest that said otherwise. She never had any leads as to what may explain her feelings for the eccentric pony; but that this might be the only chance she could get to find out why she did.

Slowly turning her head around, she stared hard at the spot she had seen on who she assumed was Trail and the mystery pony had entered the woods at. Her teeth began to grind together as her muscles twitched with anticipation for a chase, and it was taking all her strength to not follow her instinct.

After a minute of silent frustration, she whipped her head forward again, and continued around the corner. “Ah am not going to act like a foalish filly and chase a stranger into the woods at night.” With that she pressed on and the sounds of her hoof steps steadily faded into the distance as she moved away.

The street grew silent as all sounds of life drifted away. A lone cat crawled out from under a fence hole and sat in the middle of the street to give itself a bath, satisfied that it was alone now. However, it wasn’t until some minutes later before its ears pricked up in alarm at the sound of a commotion coming towards it. The noise of the pitter patter of hooves started soft and distant, and grew resoundingly loud as they closed in. The cat twitched its tail in agitation and dove back under the fence to flee the oncoming noise.

Shortly after, Applejack burst from around the corner and barreled towards Trail’s house. Leaping clear over the front yard fence, and without pause, dashed towards the rear of the house. Skirting the edges of the house she reached the back yard, and continued forward, charging headlong into the dark woods just some distance across a field; an orange streak before she became engulfed in the shadows the trees.

Buck it. Ah’m getting to the bottom of this tonight!

Act I - Chapter 6

View Online

He approached me one night,

Within the cobble streets of our town,

I thought him a lost stranger,

But he was more I soon found.

History and secrets he spoke of,

Things that I had not known,

He promised me salvation and power,

For in each of us, his blood was sewn.

What lies did the Princesses tell us?



“This is really becoming too easy,” Trail spoke aloud. He sat back against his cushioned work chair, idly whisking about a red liquid within his wine glass. He held it at a hoofs distance in front of him, directly in the path of the dimming sunlight that shone through the large office window. With him in the shadows, and the glass held out in the light, he pondered over the way the light shined on its glossy surface as it was sloshed about the glass, casting shimmers like of a body of water.

“How good it is to enjoy moments like these. It’s a pity I didn’t appreciate the simple things such as this. Or the moon crossing a barren tundra, a feather of a bird suddenly appearing, or the sight of a lone balloon making its way up into the never ending sky. Truly, life is full of wonderful little moments, and only the wise are aware of it.”

Trail brought the glass to his lips, and sipped it’s contents, enjoying each drops flavor as it slide down his throat. With a satisfied hum, he returned the observing the glass in the fading sunlight. “Or maybe one just needs to be locked in a box for a thousand years.”

He chuckled at the memory of his imprisonment. “Even that seems like a distant memory now...”

The sun’s color was beginning to bring a fiery red to the room, casting a dull glow onto the carpets and wooden floor. The light’s beams were fully visible as they cut across the air, showing the stark difference of what the light touched, and what remained in the darkening shadows. It reminded him of a scene he had once seen during a sunset in a forgotten monastery so long ago. The imposing and awe inspiring sight of monolithic columns that looked to reach to the clouds themselves in height, shouldering a wide expanse of roof and ceiling decorated in the finest details. A scene that could not be fully expressed in mere words on how it would capture the eyes and soul of a viewer, lost in awe of such a grandiose and beautiful sight. Something that could only be understood when witnessed.

“But such sights do not exist now,” he said with a grimace. The thought of the things that were now lost in history forever, fated to be buried within the sands of time, bothered him greatly. Now the only thing that was left, were simple things like a red glass sparkling in a setting sun. Though lacking in palatial and moving form, it was still something beautiful to consider.

He briefly pondered the deeper meanings of the scene. The red glass lit up by the sunlight, representing todays age that was full of life and light. Under Celestia’s rule, the ponies of Equestria truly had shifted to a time of relative peace and splendor. There were no famines, no wars, no monstrous acts of cruel ponies. There was only simple pleasure, sunlight, and life.

While in turn, Trail sat in the shadows of the room, inches away from the beams. He was from a time before such happiness was prevalent. And he remained in it, destined to be swept away with the rising sun and tossed aside like a bad dream. He knew very well that he did not belong in this new world, and was constantly reminded of it each and everyday. From how the ponies acted, down to the very furniture he owned. Everything reminded him that he was a part of history and separate. A creature that was willed by powers that overcame him to never exist or be repeated again.

But I will not be forgotten…

Trail narrowed his eyes as the last rays of sunlight began to dim further, the sun approaching its final descent.

I will not fade away into history like an old mare’s tale, I will not yield to such demands, he thought darkly. I will not be swept away by this world, nor will I squeeze into its fabric and design. I, one of the Four Shepard’s of Darkness, The Night Walker, Soul Poisoner, will stand and make my mark in this age.

Trail’s face turned to a scowl after his vow, fully determined to reach whatever means necessary to carry it out. But after a moment of quiet anger and focus, he let go of the feelings and relaxed back into the chair. The brief respite of internally fighting the world brought forth the memory of one of the poems that had been sung during his time. Lifting his head, he stared out through the window.

“Day Light, Moonlight,

Turn to shadows sight,

Pass on in silent grievings,

Fade fast to the walkers might.


Traveling by wood,

By mountain and snow,

Fear his reaching grasp,

For his domain he has sowed.


Fear the Beast, his rage mighty,

Fear the King, his magic corrupting,

Fear the Dead, her touch chilling,

But least not forget, the Shadow alluring.


Do not tempt The Night Walker so,

Least you feel his fangs beckon,

With your life, blood will flow,

And sate the soul you so foolishly reckoned.”

Swirling the glass again, he chuckled. “Not the most eloquent pieces written in homage, but always a favorite while enjoying a drink.”

The last rays of sunlight were vanishing slowly beyond the horizon, masking the room in growing shadows as that chased the remaining slivers of light. Trail lifted the glass into the last beam, watching as the golden glows of light fade, turning the reflective liquid surface into a dark color.

“May this world see its last sun, and be brought back into the shadows of truth and reality, as cold and hard as they might be. Or let the shadow forever leave his mark, never to be forgotten...”

With said prayer, Trail brought the glass towards his mouth. Tipping his head back, he drank the red liquid with a single gulp, and happily sighed as his tongue licked the edges of his mouth, savoring the few remnants of the taste. Inside, he felt the internal pulls and yanks of fabricated forces settle down, and yield back into submission once again. A wide grin spread across his face as he set the glass back down onto the table, simultaneously with the last of the sunlight fading completely into the night.

“But still…” Trail repeated after a moment. “This is really all too easy.” He leaned forward and brought both his hoofs under his chin as his mind worked over the progress he had made during his time in Ponyville. He had built a decent client pool amongst the town’s residents, making him more familiar and earning the trust of practically every pony. He had access to as much blood as he needed, easily obtained by the multitude of post hypnotic suggestions augmented by his magic. It would be easy to summon anypony for a quick drink if he so desired.

In addition, he had already befriended Twilight Sparkle, Alicorn Princess and Element of Magic within the first week of his arrival. Since then, he had spent almost every other day with her either talking about some item of his, or in discussion of today’s theories on magic. He had to study quite a bit to become knowledgeable enough to remain somewhat even hoofed with the mare given how much things had changed over a thousand years, but anything was worth the effort for the rewards that would come. It was even worth the trouble of spending time out in the sunlight to keep up appearances, but only after a quick sip of the alicorn’s or others blood to fuel the spell.

Thankfully she didn’t give a second thought as to why Trail requested to meet with her primarily in the evening and inside most of the time. A simple explanation of him being busy during the day with clients was enough to cease any suspicions that she might have formed. Even her friends had been graciously accepting of him and showed no ill will, save one.

Trail recalled the moment he had shared with Applejack only a few hours prior. He had just finished a session with a client, a stallion with a B+ blood type with self-esteem issues. Trail was making great progress in fixing him, and was seeing him out the door. It was then that he caught sight of her. He, of course, was friendly and waved in hello towards her, to which she naturally returned. But the way she quickly left and the cheapness of the smile she gave hinted to him that she did not feel as her actions implied.

He was very well aware of the many other times she was simply standoffish towards him. Anytime he would attempt to converse with her, or even the rarer times he had met her outside, she was always quick to end the conversation and be on her way. When he was able to, Trail risked a moment of soul sighting her as she departed. After a few successful attempts, he was able to confirm her feelings towards him as they flared brightly from her interaction with him, and none of them showed anything positive.

“I suppose she might be the trouble I’ve been expecting to happen at one point or another,” he mused out loud. “But even then it’s not much to deal with.” His mind spun over possibilities of how to handle the situation. From various ideas of befriending her, to wondering if it was possible to force her to comply with magic. After contemplating for sometime however, he sighed and pulled himself out of his thoughts. “I can’t become too wrapped up on this, creating further trouble where there might be none. This world is just too lax for my taste it seems. It lacks any of the dangers I would normally have to prepare for.”

Trail sat in his chair for a few minutes before suddenly turning his head back towards the window. “Probably about time now.”

Getting up from his chair, he made his way to one of the desks within the room. Upon reaching it, he whispered beneath his breath words that were bound to a spell, causing the desk to flare once with a red light. Reaching down, he pulled open one of its drawers. Inside was a simple wooden hinged box. With a small flip of the lid, he verified all its contents were in order. Soon, this blood will be the key to our salvation.

Closing the lid, he extended his hoof out before him, then whispered words beneath his breath. Immediately afterward swirling shadows began to wrap around the box's wooden frame, engulfing it until even his entire hoof was lost within its darkness. A moment later, he raised his hoof from the shadows, revealing nothing but open air as the wooden box no longer sat upon it. The shadows faded away as they trailed after his hoof, closing the still open chest drawer. Assured the spell had safely stored the box, he proceeded out of the room and the house.

Opening the back door, he walked out into the cool night air, his hoof steps swishing the grass of the back garden. He briefly glanced over the carefully tended flowers and bushes, maintained by the gardener filled with great pride at keeping the grounds at their best. Trail often gave an extra tip to the older pony for thanks of his hard work, a few bits more than the agreed price. The gardener graciously took the extra payment when given, but never once declined towards the offer. Lately he even had begun to hang around longer than need be in expectation of a tip. Modesty would be becoming of him.

Walking past the tended plant life, Trail continued towards the expanse of woods only a short distance from his home. As he approached, the figure of a pony melted out from the shadows of the woods, and met him the rest of the distance.

“Good evening, Shade Flare,” Trail greeted, a smile spreading across his lips as he made out the full form of the pony. The stallion’s coat was a smokey grey color, perfect for blending into the night. Even spotting the pony within the trees would have been impossible for most, but even without the enhanced vision Trail possessed, nopony could mistake the other features of the stallion once they were close enough to see him.

His eyes were amber in color, and instead of a round pupil, a slit was in its place instead. Small tufts could be seen on the top of his ears, making them appear slightly longer and more angled. But most striking of all, was instead of feathers on his wings tucked to his side, they were more resembling of a bat, leathery and loose. The pony that stood before Trail was none other than a batpony, and also, a member of Princess Luna’s Lunar Guard.

“Good evening, my lord, how does thy fair tonight?” Shade Flare responded, bowing in respect.

“Please dispense with the formalities, if there is one thing I like about this age, is that they are trivial and unneeded. And I’ve already told you before, you try too hard on old talk.”

“I… apologize. What would you ask of- I mean… what would you prefer to be called?”

“For now, Trail will do. Best to stay in character as much as possible.”

“As you wish,” Shade Flare replied.

“Are the others gathered?”

“Yes, they are awaiting your arrival within the woods.”

“Good, let’s not keep them waiting.”

Trail and Shade Flare moved towards the treeline and were soon engulfed by its foliage and shadows. They quietly crossed across the dirt ground and underbrush, neither of them making noticeable sound as they passed through the woods.

“Mr. Trail,” Shade Flare began..

“Trail will do.”

“…Trail, may I ask how goes your progress in Ponyville?”

“Disturbingly easy. I have not encountered any setbacks or troubles as of yet. So far all the ponies accept me and I seem to be earning their trust rather quickly. Fortunately Princess Twilight has had little contact with the Royal Sisters of late. You have positioned members to inform me should they hear word of either of them coming to visit Ponyville correct?”

“Yes, we have connections in place to catch any official word of travel. I of course, would know of anything concerning Princess Luna, but we also are in works with members of Princess Celestia’s guard, claiming it to be a security measure for both parties to know the locations of both Princesses at all times.”

Trail gave a small grunt. “They didn’t have that before? My goodness have things changed. I suppose that’s the best that can be done for now, but given how un-official the Princesses act these days, I would be lucky to hear anything at all should they choose to visit.”

“Would they really recognize you on sight?”

“Without a doubt,” Trail replied. “I can do many things, but masking a cutie mark is not one of them. There are some parts of the soul even I cannot modify. Princess Celestia and Luna would know me the moment they laid their eyes upon me, something I wish to avoid as long as possible.”

“And are you still sure Princess Twilight is the best course of action? Would it not be simpler to build your forces far away from the Royal Sisters and Elements of Harmony?”

“It would,” Trail said nonchalantly. “But it would lead to my inevitable downfall.”

“Sir?”

“I cannot face the Elements of Harmony. From what I've gathered, they are beyond my strength to deal with. Eventually my presence would be revealed, the element bearers gathered, and their power used against me. My return may as well be as short as Sombra's was; a fate that I would do best to prevent.”

“Which is why I am choosing this course,” Trail continued. “To deal with the issue head on before it may become a larger problem, as well as solve our current dilemma.”

“And you still plan to turn her?” Shade Flare asked.

“Yes.”

Shade Flare opened his mouth to ask another question, but decided to keep it closed and return his attention back on walking.

Trail however had not missed the behavior, and spoke after a few moments. “What do you want to ask?”

“It is not my place to question your plans.”

“Honestly, does the little knowledge of me that survives paint that bad of a picture? I will not deal punishment out to my subordinates that question for good reason. If I do not want you to know the details, I will make it clearly known.”

“Y-yes sir,” Shade Flare hesitantly replied, nodding in understanding.

“Please, ask away.”

Shade Flare remained silent as they trekked deeper into the forest before he finally coughed and voiced his concern. “Trail… is it really wise to turn Princess Twilight into a full vampony?”

“Your worries are?”

“She is already an alicorn, why in Equestria would you want to give her your gift? Believe me, I am forever thankful for what you are trying to do, but wouldn’t it be easier to avoid reversing our fate and beginning with normal ponies?”

“I will not abandon you,” Trail said firmly.

“But would Twilight not become even more powerful and present an even greater threat?”

“Yes, she most likely would become even more dangerous.”

“Then why?”

“The full answer… I cannot delve into for now. You must trust me on this, and know that even augmented with the power in our blood, I will still pose a threat to her in turn. And I will see to her downfall personally should she ever become a true threat.”

Shade Flare regarded him, still worried of the reasons behind his plan to continue with the princess, but he stopped himself from pressing the matter further. It is as he said, he will reveal to me when he desires. I must simply trust him for now. Glancing at Trail briefly, Shade Flare regarded him fully as he had done so many times; something that he had yet to tire of. For the sake of our kind, I have to trust him.

They continued the remainder of the walk without speaking, passing through small glens and overgrown ferns like sifting shadows.Eventually, a break in the trees could be seen ahead, revealed a small clearing that was larger than any that had come across yet. Halting on sight of it, Trail’s eyes briefly scanned the opening in the forest and the trees on the edges.

Twenty-three. Small, but a good start, Trail thought. It had been easy for him to spot the various ponies standing about in and around the clearing. Some of them were directly in the middle of the small field, deep in personal conversations, while others preferred to be away on their own near or in the trees, watching from the shadows or high vantage points. While the most of their coloring were various shades of greys, browns, dark greens and blues, there were a few brightly colored ones such as yellow and red.

While some ponies may find it odd that a darker palette of coat color was the majority of the group, the fact that each and every one of there was a batpony like Shade Flare would send the strangeness home.

“We have twenty-four, sir, all trustworthy and willing,” Shade Flare stated.

“Twenty-four?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Where is the last one?” he asked, his head on a swivel to pick out the remaining pony. He wondered if Shade Flare had miscounted, for a pony that was able to remain undetected by the Night Walker would be certainly most talented.

“I… do not know, sir,” Shade Flare replied, taken aback at the assumed knowledge Trail was somehow able to see each of them so easily. Not even we bat ponies have that good of sight, he thought. Clearing his throat, Shade Flare continued. “I’m assuming it must be Ebon Wing, he has an odd affinity with the shadows. At times, even a full guard is unable to find him if he so desires.”

So, Trail thought. It seems that some traits managed to survive the test of time. How fortunate some thing’s were able to be passed down. Still looking for the final pony, Trail asked, “Is it common for one of your own to have such a gift?”

“No, sir, abilities like Ebon Wing possesses appear randomly every few generations. However we have been lucky that these last few years. There have been a large influx of ponies possessing rare traits.”

Fate, you beautiful thing, Trail cheerfully thought.

“Would you happen to have something to do with it, sir? Given your recent release.”

“It’s possible, but it is something to be looked at another time. First, let us locate our hidden friend.”

Trail closed his eyes and focused his attention inward, Shade Flare looking at him in a questioning manner. When he opened them again, his eyes were pure white in color and held a soft glow to them. Shade Flare stifled a small gasp upon seeing them, unsure of what exactly he was intending to do.

Ignoring Shade Flare’s fascination, Trail squinted his eyes as much as possibly to prevent the small amount of luminescence they gave to reveal their location from the gathered ponies. It would be after all, unfitting for a pony of his stature to be noticed during the night.

Chuckling at the various attitudes and responses, he returned his focus back to the search. Before him, various translucent orbs twinkled into sight, located exactly in the chest of each pony. From a quick glance, he could see a multitude of emotions affecting each of them, namely anticipation and nervousness being the prominent ones. Trail passed over each and every orb, looking for the missing one that he knew would be different than the others. However, as scanned, he quickly did a double take on one particular soul, it was the kind he did not expect to have been brought to the meeting.

“Why is there a filly?”

“That’s Lunar Pearl, sir,” Shade Flare said with a sigh. “She… well, it wasn’t an option to leave her behind. I was actually hoping you might be able to do something about it.”

“What’s the problem?”

“She overheard a conversation about the gathering and had insisted to join. We, of course, denied her but she then threatened to reveal the whole thing to everypony. No matter what threats we made, she wouldn’t budge between either coming with, or turning us all in.”

“I see,” Trail merely commented..

Shade Flare looked back and forth between the clearing and Trail. “Are… Are you upset that we brought her, sir?”

“No, it’s quite alright. Better now than later I suppose. Our success depends on the future generations such as herself. She can be the first of her age to learn.”

Shade Flare nodded in reply and remained quiet, waiting patiently for Trail to finish scanning the members.

He would inspect each one in detail later, but for now he returned his focus on locating the twenty-fourth orb, a feat that took less than a minute as his vision expanded outside the clearing. Nestled within the tall branches of one of the trees, a reddish orb flickered. It appears they can use some powers, most likely passed down by family bloodlines of the more powerful members. I wonder which one he had descended from.

Trail closed his eyes once more, and opened again, now returned to his normal red color. “Let us greet our guests,” he announced. Shade Flare nodded his head, slightly wary at sudden change of his eyes.

The soft lull of conversation became noticeable as they neared the group. From what Trail could tell, they whispered with a mixture of eager tones, and nervousness. While he knew how the majority felt, he could only wonder what they were thinking, knowing that they would soon meet a pony that had only be told to them in old fables behind closed doors.

When the first pony spotted them, her ears immediately dropped, her legs locked into place, and her eyes became impossibly wide. Trail could faintly detect her rising heart rate, and politely suppressed the urge crack a smirk. It was only a few more moments before they entered the clearing before the rest of the group responded in similar fashion.

Some visibly locked up like the mare, while others twitched with anticipation, their ears pricking forward as they watched Trail’s every movement. All conversation ceased in the clearing, causing it to become eerily silent. The sound of blood rushing through their bodies nearly drowned out their hearing as looked onto Trail with awe, still grasping with the idea that he was indeed walking towards them.

Heading straight to the middle, Trail strode purposely forward, only making eye contact with the few in his way that scrambled quickly when they realize he was heading right for them. When he did reach the center of the clearing, he stopped, and gave a long look out into the crowd surrounding him. All their eyes were on him, and a warm feeling spread through his chest at seeing their faces. Though their features were different, many similarities remained. And in truth, he welcomed the new changes openly. Having known Shade Flare the longest, he had grown fond of their tuft ears, leathery wings, and slitted eyes. And having a group gathered before him, caused even more heartfelt feelings to flow out. They were the only thing familiar in an unfamiliar land and time.

His mood to them however, remained unknown and passive, as he held a stone set face while looking out to each and everyone one of them. To his delight, only a few turned their gaze away from him, the majority keeping full eye contact with him when he looked upon them.

When he had reached the last one within the clearing, he turned his gaze upwards and towards a specific tree at the edge of the clearing. When nothing stirred upon his stare, he loudly spoke out for all to hear. “Please, come down from there, I would like to have everypony within easy sight.”

The crowd’s heads followed Trail’s gaze and watched as the branches of the tree shift slightly. Shortly after, a form dropped from its branches and onto the ground with a small thud. Looking closely, Trail saw a young batpony, barely a stallion; stare up at him with wide and fearful eyes.

The rest of the ponies began to murmur quietly, unable to believe that he had spotted Ebon Wing so easily, a feat nopony else had managed ever since he first learned of his ability.

Shade Flare let a small smile break his lips. Ebon Wing always depended on that trick of his. I can’t imagine how he feels on seeing his best defense be shattered so easily.

“Please,” Trail spoke in a more gentle tone. “Come, join the rest of us.”

Ebon Wing hesitantly stepped a hoof forward, his body shaking visibly at having been found. With a gulp, he moved to join the rest of them, preferring to stay closer to the back to have some protection between him and Trail.

Trail waited until the murmuring died down and each pony was quiet, waiting expectantly for him to speak again. Finally, breaking his passive mood, he let out the first smile they had seen of him, and he spoke on to them with a compassionate voice. “My brothers, sisters, I have returned.”

Lifting his chest, he assumed a regal pose as his hooves dug into the grass, the stance bringing back memories of calling out to a crowd so many times before. “I want to thank each and every one of you for coming here tonight. I know that doing so was a great risk, and not an easy one to make. You are all gathered here because I requested it. You heard my whispers, and desired to see if they were true or not. You wished to know the truth, one that only a short time ago, you were denied of by being completely unaware. I am stricken with grievance to the fact that none of you know your heritage, your true heritage. To know that I, a forgotten relic of the past that walks the land again, am a part of your family. And that you all are my brothers and sisters.”

Trail paused to gauge the reactions of the small crowd, their eyes still wide with awe.

“I will not speak out harshly against the Princess’s that you have served over these thousand years, only that they have done you a large injustice. I am not entirely aware of how they manage to accomplish what they did to you, nor the full extent of your treatment during my absence. But I promise you, the lies of the Royal Sister’s will be no more. For tonight, you take the first step to reclaim who you once were!”

“Look upon me, and see your history. For I, am the Night Walker of old, Lord of the Vamponies, and I have come to reclaim my kin.”

They crowd remained quiet, many with their mouths open. Each of them was transfixed by the pony standing before them, filled with awe and wonder. His stance was regal, his coat blacker than night, his mane silver as the stars, his eyes a piercing red, and his voice so clear and commanding that it demanded attention and respect. Everything about his presence radiated a power that matched the Royal Sister’s themselves. It was as if they had seen a long lost king come straight from the pages of an old novel.

“If you’re a vampony, where’s your wings?” a small voice called out in the moment of hushed awe.

Every pony turned around and moved aside to reveal a small filly in the far back that had interrupted Trail’s speech. Tension grew within the crowd as some began to nervously flicker their eyes between her and him in fear of what punishment may occur to the little filly. Shade Flare stared dumbfounded towards her until his teeth came together in a slow grind. “Sir, I deeply apologize for her actions, I take full responsibility. Please do as you-“

“Nonsense, I will handle it.” Trail interjected. Shade Flare shot a concerned expression, unsure of what he intended. He did not want to see the filly incur his wrath, but he would be unable to stand up to him should he decide to punish her.

“My dear, what is your name?” Trail asked.

“Lunar Pearl,” she answered calmly, unaware of the thick atmosphere that was settling onto every other pony.

“And how would you, Lunar Pearl, a filly, know anything about vamponies?”

Each pony turned to Lunar Pearl for her reply, their breaths held for fear of how the conversation might turn out.

Much to the dismay of everypony, Lunar Pearl puffed up her cheeks. “Just because I am a filly, doesn’t mean I’m stupid. If you’re part of our family, then why don’t you have any wings? Every batpony I’ve seen has wings.”

For the crowd, it was like watching a pony dig her own grave with each uttered word. To their surprise however, Trail merely chuckled in reply.

“An astute observation my dear. To answer it simply, you are the product of tampering by the Royal Sisters. As I said, I do not know what they have done, but its obvious there were certain features they were unable to remove, your wings being one of them. Tell me, does this seem familiar?”

The closest ponies jumped back as streaks of shadows immediately began to circle around Trail’s torso, spinning around him like possessed ribbons wrapping a present. Moments later they faded away, leaving two appendages to the stallion’s body that were not there before. With a swift motion, Trail unfurled his wings, causing a soft ‘thwamp’ sound.

Each ponies mouth, and Lunar Pearl’s, were open as they stared in disbelief at what had just happened. All except for Shade Flare.

I bet I looked a lot like them when he had first shown me. Who would expect an earth pony to know magic, and the kind of magic that can use darkness itself to create wings? Something that hasn’t been seen in Equestria in a long time.

“Now let me educate you on vamponies, Lunar Pearl,” Trail said coldly, causing Shade Flare’s smug smile to dropped instantly. Trail took a step forward towards Lunar Pearl with his wings still flared, while she in turn, stepped backwards reflexively. “Do not move.” Trail said, his voice holding her still as if he had casted a spell.

It was then that Lunar Pearl finally felt the fear that the rest of the crowd had been feeling, the fears of a small filly who had pressed the wrong button to many times. Trail, who for all her care, appeared as a normal pony only moments before, was now the source of all her fears she had felt. She contemplated on running regardless of how he spoke to her and whatever further trouble she would be in, but when her eyes met his, the urge was dashed in an instant.

His red eyes seem to pierce her very being and plant her firmly to her spot. As red as they were, they seemed old, unmoving, and more terrifyingly, unknown. She was not able to see the emotions or reason behind those eyes, or why they were now moving towards her.

The rest of the ponies felt a tightness in their chest at the horror what was surely about to be cruel sight, some fidgeting while they internally battle themselves, ready to stand to her defense if it were not for the crippling fear of receiving whatever punishment she was surely about to be dealt. Even Shade Flare found himself unable to speak up for her, for he too had once witnessed they way Trail approached her, and wished with all his being that it would end in a similar, and non-damaging, fashion.

Trail stopped his approach on a few hoofsteps away, looking down at Lunar Pearl who had fell to her knees and was now shaking, a small whimper escaping her lips as she stared up towards him. She didn’t even dare to blink.

His face was unrevealing as he glared down to her small form while his wings shifted above his head, his body appearing as if to ready himself for what would surely be a strike. Lunar Pearl ducked her head and threw her hooves over herself to protect herself against the coming attack the best she could, waiting for the imminent pain of who knows what to lash at her. She heard the other ponies in the crowd gasp and she gulped, waiting for what seemed to be forever on whatever was to come. But instead of a sharp pain, his voice spoke instead.

“Feel them,” he said softly.

Still shaking, she reluctantly removed a hoof and peeked up. What she saw was not an angry vampire lord of the past, ready to deal what surely would have been a harsh blow or an evil spell. But instead, saw one of his wings dipped down towards her, and his cold stare replaced with the stony expression he wore when he first entered the clearing. She stared at him, then his wing in confusion, not entirely sure of what he was asking of her.

“Go on, touch them.”

Looking at him, his face still held a passive mood that she was unable to read. She wasn’t sure if he was tricking her or not into something even worse, but decided to tempt fate anyway. A brief thought of being banished to some evil dimension the moment she touched his wing crossed her mind.

She slowly reached out a hoof and placed it on the wing membrane, flinching slightly when she made contact. But instead of rippling magic, she felt soft skin. Crossing her brows, she brushed her hoof along the membrane, feelings its almost fuzzy surface tickle her hoof. She followed it all along to the wing forearm, and felt the hard bone that supported the form, and small tufts of fur outlining it.

“See, not so different than yours are they?”

She looked back to Trail, and found that his face had turned into a gentle smile, his eyes no longer foreboding or threatening. With her mind trying to catch up in the turn of events, and in not being in troubles, she answered his question by moving her other hoof to touch her own wings, and compared the feeling between the two. After a strokes on both wings, she quietly mumbled in surprise, “No… they feel the same.”

“That’s because we are connected,” he said. Trail knelt down and tucked his hoofs beneath him to look at her at eye level. “We may seem different on some of the things on the outside, but I assure you, little Lunar Pearl, we share the same blood. Vampony blood. And that, my dear, makes us family.”

Lunar Pearl stared up to Trail in awe, still figuring out how he had turned from such a scary pony into the nice one that was smiling at her now. Her brain was unable to form any words, and so she simply nodded to him.

A collective sigh was heard as everypony else let out a breath of relief. Many of their worries now vanished into the night at seeing the kindness of their claimed to be ancestor. Any doubts they had before of his behaviors were settled in the safe knowledge that he was at least kind to small fillies and colts.

They were all quiet as they took in the comforting moment, before a sharp noise cut through the night air.

*CRACK*

Trail’s ears flicked at the sudden noise of a twig breaking within the forest. Immediately he stood up and stared coldly in the direction of the noise in the shrouded woods. The rest of the group followed in suit and joined his gaze, some looking into the darkness fearfully on who might have discovered their secret meeting, others with anger in their eyes for the intruder that dared to track them.

Trail shot Shade Flare a questioning glance, in which Shade Flare replied in a hushed voice, “There should have been no evidence to go by that this meeting was in place, I have no idea who it might be, sir.”

Trail narrowed his eyes before turning them back to the forest. He ran over the options in his mind, unsure if whatever lurked in the shadows was a true threat or not. Quickly, he decided a course of action, and issued a low command. “Hide yourselves, and prepare for a potential fight.”

The bat ponies gave each other unsure looks; they had not expected a fight to happen during the meeting, especially for a pony they had just met. Some began to worried if they had made the right choice in even agreeing to come here. Shade Flare however, cut short any hesitations or doubts the ponies had as he repeated the orders. “You heard him, get into formations! Ebon Wing, take Lunar Pearl,” he hissed.

As silent as possible, the group of bat ponies scattered into the surrounding trees of the clearing, blending into the low shrubbery and tall branches of the trees with stealthy trots and flaps of leather wings. Using their familiarity with the night and their dark coat color, they pressed themselves against the darkest shadows they could find, and braced themselves for whatever foe that might appear from the woods. Ebon Wing quickly scooped up Lunar Pearl and flew to one of the highest branches, her eyes still locked onto Trail as she was taken away. Once they were all in place, Trail glanced over where they had all gone, ensuring none of them were revealing themselves in some manner. Although his eyes that saw the night as day were able to pick out a few here and there, he knew that no normal pony would be able to spot them. He huffed quietly with pride. They aren’t as skilled as their ancestors, but they do not disappoint.

Checking once more each one was securely hidden and receiving a nod from Shade Flare on completion, Trail withdrew his focus once more from everything around him, and brought forth his Ponyville personality.

“Now, let’s see who’s causing a fuss this late at night,” he cheerfully spoke.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Applejack treaded deeper into the woods as carefully and quietly as she could. The fire and determination that minutes ago had thrust her into the situation were cooled when it became very apparent she could not continue running recklessly through the dark woods. One reason was due to the noise, and the second was because of the near misses she had of nearly crashing head first into the trees.

Now she was stepping gingerly across the forest floor, squinting hard into the shadows to make out anything else that wasn’t a tree or a bush, all while trying to watch her own footing.

“Dangnabbit, how in Equestria did Trail and his partner get through here?” she grumbled to herself in a hushed voice. She couldn’t imagine them having gotten far ahead of her, but due to the rate she was traversing the forest now, she was afraid she might fall back behind or even worse, lose them.

Seconds turned to minutes as Applejack steadily made her way between the trees, her eyes starting to become sore due to the constant squinting. Each time she thought she might have spotted something, it turned out to only be a trick of the shadows. The constant trudging unknowingly placed terrain and lack of any hints of the ponies she pursued began to become disheartening; she was afraid that she had already lost them and was wondering aimlessly through the woods late at night.

“Shoot,” she whispered. “They can’t have gone too far in.”

Twisting her head around, she was met with the same sight in every direction; outlines of trees followed by inky thick darkness. She was beginning to consider it was pointless to continue searching and focus on getting back out of the woods least she become lost herself.

Not yet, just a little farther. Ah’m sure they’re out here, she thought, convincing herself to keep going.

Determined again, she trudged on purposefully. However, her focus on her will to find the two hidden ponies made her fail to notice the thick twig in front of her, just below the knees. With a deaf defying crack that echoed throughout the darkness, Applejacks heart froze and then promptly sunk. She remained perfectly still at the realization of her action; her heart pounding loudly as her ears flipped about to hear anything that might have responded to the loud noise.

After a minute of silence, she finally dared to move her hoof off the twig and stepped over as quickly as possible. Ah sure hope whatever's out here didn’t hear that, she desperately prayed. Her heart still pounding, she began to continue making her way through the woods.

Shortly after the twig crunch, she squeezed her eyes again in attempt to see what lay ahead of her. From what she could see, it looked like a break in the forest; a brighter section only a small gallop away. Hoping that everything she had done so far had not gone to waste, she quietly and quickly made her way to the clearing, taking extra care to not step on any more branches.

Eventually she reached the line of trees and peered from behind a trunk she leaned against at what might be occupying the clearing. Her body froze when she made out Trail standing in the middle, his head pointed towards the sky.

What is he up to out here? And where’s the other fella? Applejack took a long look around, attempting to spot any other pony that may have been hiding within the trees as well. But she was unable to spot a single thing besides trees and shadows.

Having been so focused on spotting the second pony, Applejack failed to notice Trail was now heading towards her hiding spot until it was too late. When she turned her head back to him she immediately jerked it back behind the tree, he was too close for her to move away from her hiding spot without being seen. Applejack panicked, unable to decide what to do in such little time, that she did the first thing that popped into her mind.

Become a tree.

Trail’s soft steps could be heard as he drew nearer, but they were hardly heard over the sound of Applejacks heart beating furiously. With her eyes squeezed tight she repeated in her mind, Please don’t let him see me please don’t let him see me please don’t let him see me please don’t-

“Applejack?”

Pony feathers.

Applejack opened her eyes to see a very confused Trail paused in mid stride staring directly at her, his eyebrows narrowed in attempts to discern her behavior. “May I ask… what are you doing to that tree?”

Applejack stared wide eyed at Trail, realization how she looked towards him. Her entire body was plastered as tight as she could manage against the tree while standing on her hind hooves. With a brief eye shift from him to the tree and back again, she disembarked the tree and fell onto four hooves. “Ah… could… ask you the same thing as to why you are out here,” she retorted.

“You mean my stargazing?”

“Is that what you’re really doing?” she asked skeptically, no longer embarrassed on her discovery and completely focused on catching him red hoofed.

“Of course,” Trail responded with a smile. “I’m sure you’ve seen the stars, they are absolutely beautiful tonight! And, afterfall, is it my cutie mark.” Trail briefly flashed his mark, a red crescent moon with hoof prints beneath it.

Applejack eyed his mark skeptically, then glanced at the stars. “They are pretty tonight. Almost pretty e’nuff to maybe watch with a friend maybe?”

Trail’s demeanor became unsure as he replied, “I… suppose so. Are you… are you asking for me to watch with you? I never pegged you for astronomy.”

Applejack sighed and reached up to tilt her hat forward. “Let’s cut to the chase, who are you out here with and why are you here?”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“You know what ah mean! Ah saw you and another pony meeting up at your place and heading off into tha woods!”

Trail eyes shifted about as he took a step back, “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about. Are you sure you weren’t seeing things? The shadows can play tricks on the eyes you know.”

Gotcha, Applejack thought as a satisfied smile crept on her face, her eyes narrowed in accusation. “Ah wasn’t imagining things, and I know you’re lying to me. You’ve been lying this whole time! Ah’m tired of you prancing around like you got every pony wrapped around your hoof. You’ve been nothing but suspicious since the day you’ve arrived. Ah know you’re up to something and you’re gona tell me right now what is!”

Trail eyes shifted about the darkness as if he was looking for a way to escape the mare. This only made her surer of herself as she took a step forward in case he did decide to bolt for it. As she did, she thought she heard the faint sound of leaves rustling in the trees around them. As she began to turn her head to find the source of the noise, Trail suddenly shouted, “OKAY I’LL TELL YOU!”

Applejack paused and turned back to Trail.

“I’ll tell you,” he repeated more calmly. He took a deep breath in and exhaled as he sat onto the forest floor. His eyes then locked onto hers as he spoke in probably the most serious tone she had ever heard him speak in. “Applejack, what do you know of vamponies?”

Applejack stared blankly at him for a good ten seconds before replying, “Vamponies?”

Trail confirmed with a nod.

“Ya mean... tha monster costume ponies dress up as on Nightmare Night?”

“No, I’m talking about real… vamponies.”

Applejacks eyebrows became furrowed as she pointed a hoof at him, “You do know vamponies aren’t real right?”

“No,” he replied, a smile growing on his face. “They’re real alright. In fact, I’ve spent a large portion of my life studying them. You see, vamponies are actually real and hidden about Equestria!”

Applejack stared at the stallion as if he had just gone mad. When his grin didn’t disappear Applejack spoke in an unsteady voice, “Uh, Trail, ah know you’re the therapist and I’m not… but… doesn’t that sound just a tad bit crazy to you?”

His grin vanished as he took on a hurt face. “No no! You see, they are real! I’m sure of it! I’ve been collecting data on them to prove their existence, and I almost have enough to go public! You see, that’s why I met one of my partners tonight to exchange information!”

“So you were out here with another pony,” Applejack accused, once again a hard look on her face.

“Yes I was, but I swear it was only to share information on vamponies! Please, you’ve got to believe me! They are real and I’m afraid there might even be one or two in Ponyville. You have to promise you won’t tell a soul about this! I can’t afford them knowing that I’m onto them and so close to exposing their existence!”

Applejack took a step back as he began to shuffle towards her, his face desperate and begging. Her mouth fell open and she took on a confused look as he rambled on about vamponies. Of all the things she was expecting, this was definitely not what she had in mind. She thought that Trail was scheming some evil plot to take over Ponyville or something similar like Queen Chrysalis during the wedding. But to believe in the existence of vamponies? What was worse, is that she felt like he was telling the truth, that he actually did full heartedly believe in their existence. Before she at least had a feeling that he was deceiving her and her friends, but now she knew that Trail was telling the honest truth. It worried and confused her, part of her feeling foalish suspecting him of something dastardly, another for worry of a full grown stallion believing in something like vamponies.

“Trail,” she interrupted, but paused as she saw his pleading face. With a sigh she said, “Ah promise ah won't tell anypony.” Who would believe me anyways? she thought. “But I think you should maybe get your head checked out. I know it’s your business to get into other ponies heads, but maybe you should let one in yours.”

Trail’s face sunk lower and lower, his behavior becoming more erratic. “B-but... I have books! I’ve been collecting for years on any material that has information on them! For example, they will burn in sunlight! And they hate garlic! It’s all there I swear!”

Applejack backed away a few steps as he reached out for her. “Whoa now, take it easy. Just, calm down now okay?” Poor fella has been reading too many stories, she thought. “Look Trail, ah will keep my word about not spreading the word, but just please don’t expect me to believe something like vamponies. Look, ah’m sorry ah followed you out here and suspected you of something okay. Let’s just… call it a night, and maybe talk about it more some other day. That sound good?” she said as sweetly as possible.

“Would you… mind if I did show you what I had on vamponies at least? I promise they are real and I have been collecting data on them.”

“Weeeeeeee can do that…” Applejack hesitantly replied. “Maybe later like... next week?”

A glimmer of hope shined back in Trail’s eyes as he stood straight up. “Yes of course! Next week. I’ll get everything I have so far and show you what I’ve discovered. I promise that you won’t be disappointed!”

“Well then, it’s a date. But for now, I really ought to be getting back home. You uh… take care now, okay?” Applejack said turning away from him.

“I will, have a lovely night!” Trail called out to her.

Applejack awkwardly waved back until she was unable to see him anymore from the blocking trees. With a large exhale she sighed as she trudged her way out of the woods. “Celestia do I feel like a foal, letting my imagination run wild like that.” She trudged through the forest and was shortly back at the stick she had broken. “Vamponies…” she mumbled. “I knew there was something wrong with that fella, but vamponies? He’s not a little colt anymore. And to think I was going to invite him to my house!”

As she continued on, not caring in the slightest of the trudging sounds she made, she ran her mind over the recent revelation. Ah suppose it does fit with his personality though. An eccentric stallion needs eccentric beliefs. I guess that’s why I’ve been getting such a weird vibe off him. He actually believes in vamponies! Ah mean, that mumbo-jumbo hypno stuff is already a stretch, but vamponies! Really? I sure went on a wild goose hunt tonight.

Applejack eventually saw the break in the trees and found herself on the outskirts of Ponyville. With one last look over her shoulder to the woods behind her she threw a very dissatisfied grunt and began to head back home.

“Vamponies… Of all things…”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Trail watched with cold eyes as Applejack began to make her way off, her face holding the most unbelievably fake smile while waving back awkwardly. Little did she know that there were over two dozen other eyes locked onto her since she had arrived.

Trail exhaled once she vanished into the woods and the sounds of her breaking branches faded. He felt like he should not have been surprised to see who it was that tailed them, but he had to admit it was better than an informant of Celestia or Luna that had manage to discover their meeting. At one point in the conversation he knew he was not going to be able to squirm by her without pressing the matter dangerously further.

Applejack, you are very lucky tonight that I didn’t allow the five bat ponies above us act out in fear.

Trail played a gamble in confessing part of the truth to her, hoping the rest of them would not intervene and do something that would have been hard to deal with later. But it had thankfully paid off, and now Applejack thought of him as crazy stallion instead of somepony that needed to be watched; at least in the suspicious sense, something that was much more manageable.

Once again, he closed his eyes and shifted personalities to his former self. Straightening his form, he turned around and walked out into the clearing again, the bodies of other ponies slowly revealing themselves as they came to join him.

Shade Flare was the first to approach him, a look of concern on his face. “Was it wise to reveal something like that to her?”

“Applejack is the Element of Honesty,” Trail replied. “I do not think she is aware of it but, but I suspect she has the innate sense of being able to tell if a pony is lying or not. Whether that is from being the Element of Honesty, or a natural talent, I cannot say. It would have been foalish of me to continue with that charade in any case. Telling her some of the truth without lying is the best option for now.”

Shade Flare stared out into the forest where Applejack had disappeared into, mulling over the possible implications of the nights events. “So,” he said as the rest of the bat ponies appeared into the clearing. “Vamponies hate garlic?”

“No, but I do. Always hated the taste of it.” Trail replied.

Trail turned back around to face the crowd, giving a nod towards Shade Flare who bowed before stepping aside to join the rest. Clearing his throat, Trail resumed. “With that out of the way, let us continue.It is time you knew our history. Our true history.”

Act I - Chapter 7

View Online

I’m sorry, so terribly sorry,

But this thirst I cannot contain.

I see your tears, and hear your prayers,

Just please know, I feel the same.



*Knock Knock*

“Trail? Hello!?”

Twilight stood at the doorstep as she waited for him to respond, wondering if he could even hear her from wherever inside the house he was. “Trail! Are you there?” When there was still no reply, she brought her hoof to her chin. “Did he forget that he invited me over? Or maybe I got the time wrong. I could have sworn he said four-thirty. Or was it five-thirty?” Just as she was considering trying again at a different time, a sudden crash from inside the house nearly made her jump.

“Trail?”

Worried that he may have finally injured himself due to his clumsiness, Twilight decided to risk intrusion over pointlessness and hesitantly opened the door. Pushing in enough to fit her head, she crane her neck and peered about the house.“Hellooooo… Trail?”

“Twilight! Is that you?” Trail’s muffled voice replied, indicating that he was on the second floor.

“Yes, it’s me! Is everything okay? Should I come back another time?”

The thud of hoof steps above her pounded about as he shouted down, “No! Actually, you had picked a perfect time to stop by! I’m in desperate need of help for something!”

But you were the one who invited me, she thought. However, during the time she had come to know him, she found it wasn’t unusual for the eccentric stallion to set up a time and place just to forget he had even made the arrangement in the first place. It was one of the few irritating traits she tolerated due to his other more positive behaviors.

“Please come upstairs as I finish packing!” Trail said.

“Packing?” After closing the door behind her, she curiously made her way up the stairs, her head peeking between the rails as she ascended. Judging from the sound of his rapid hoof steps, she figured he was in his study room. Wondering what could possibly be the reason for a sudden departure from Ponyville, she trotted down the hall and into the study.

While the room may have been somewhat messy at times for one reason or another, Twilight was shocked to find the entire place in disarray. Furniture were shifted from their usual spots from what she assumed was him running into them, books and papers were scattered about the floor, and even some of the carpets were partially upturned from his hooves catching beneath them.

Besides the mess however, her eye had caught the sight of a large and open brief case set atop of the chaise she had laid on during their sessions. It haphazardly held various trinkets, books, and wrinkled papers as if he had simply decided to stuff them in without any organization.

“What in Equestria are you doing?” Twilight asked as she entered. Without answer however, Trail suddenly appeared from the right and dashed past her to the book shelf on the other end of the study. He quickly began to mumble off titles his hoof past over, his face holding a look of panic and worry. She had never seen him like this before, and found herself speechless for some moments as she watched him move about in a flurry, picking up things here and there and either throwing them aside onto the floor, or into the open briefcase.

“Trail... what is going on!?” Twilight asked.

He did not pause his frantic searching in the slightest as he answered her. “Something has come up and needs my immediate attention!”

“What is it? Is it serious? Do you need any help?” Twilight asked as she moved towards the chaise, inspecting the various items within it.

"Can't say, very much so, and yes!” he answered in succession. As he glanced about in case he spotted something he might have forgotten, he returned to the briefcase and began shoving its contents down so he could close the lid.

“Twilight, I need you to watch my house while I’m gone. I… I don’t know when I’ll be back, but until I return, please come by every few days to check if everything is in order. Can you do that for me?” he asked between heavy breaths.

“I... y-yeah.... I can do that," Twilight stuttered at the suddenness of his request. "But you need to tell me what is going on. What’s so urgent that requires you to leave Ponyville? I mean, look at this place! What has you so worked up?” Twilight’s eyes widened as she pointed a hoof toward him. “What about your clients!?”

Trail’s eyes darted away as he answered, “They will just have to reschedule. I promise to make it up to them when I return.”

“Trail, you're worrying me. Please, tell me what is going on.”

“I… I can’t," he replied while looking away. "I deeply apologize for my inability to explain everything to you, but this isn’t something I can reveal. Not yet at least.” Twilight opened her mouth to question him further, but paused when he did finally look her in the eye. And they held a look of sorrow she had not seen in him before. “I promise soon that I will, after what I have to do is done.”

Unable to understand exactly what was happening, Twilight's fear and confusion of the situation only grew as she begged. "Please, whatever it is... it sounds important. I’m here to help you in anyway I can. Sure I can watch your house, but there must be something else I can do. You’re really starting to worry me...”

Trail visibly squirmed under her pleading face, but shook his head in unwavering resolution. With one last shove, he squeezed in the last of the contents and shut the briefcase. “I’m sorry Twilight, but I can’t go into the details. Not now.” Without looking directly at her, he passed her with a dead set expression.

“Trail…” Twilight spoke as she followed him out the room.

“A couple things about the house,” he began to explain. “Don’t worry about the dusting, I won’t be gone that long I think. There are a few items in the kitchen that need to be eaten soon or they will expire. Please keep most of the doors closed when not using a room. Don’t let anypony in while I’m gone.” Trail ran off the mental list he had prepared for her in his head while Twilight followed closely. He even continued spouting off things as he went down the stairs. “Don’t worry about the garden, as you know it’s already maintained by the previous landlord. But if you see him, please tell him to lay off the roses a bit next trimming. Also, I have a few potted Moon Drop flowers in the living room. I trust you are aware of their special needs?”

“Y-yes,” Twilight responded, trying to keep up with his quickening pace. Her mind was still reeling over the sudden development of everything that was happening.

As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Trail glanced briefly back at her and gave a smile in satisfaction she had caught everything. “Good. I already watered them last full moon. And the next one will come in a few days, so please make sure you tend to them during that night. It’s up to you if you want to sleep here or not, and you are more than welcome to scratch the rule of no guests if it's only your friends. I don’t mind if they come over. Just… don’t let Miss Pie throw any parties that are too wild. The spare key is under the front side hanging flowerbed. Additionally, while I’m gone, you of course have full access to the house, including my study. So please feel free to read any of the books.”

Twilight practically skidded to a halt as a gleam crossed her eyes. “Really!?” she asked with sudden excitement.

“Of course, just make sure you take good care of them.” Trail paused momentarily with a blank expression before chuckling and moving forward again. “Look at me, telling a librarian to take care of books!”

Twilight’s smile over the sudden privilege and prospect of reading quickly vanished as she swung back into the present. “W-wait! Is there anything else I need to know? Also, for the hundredth time, will you please just tell me what is going on!?”

“There’s no time, I need leave right now.” Trail gripped the briefcase in his teeth and continued out the front door. Twilight could only wordlessly follow, her mind running a mile per minute over why he could possibly be leaving, why he couldn't tell her, and trying to remember everything he had delegated to her control. She however, did stop as she stood in between the doorway, watching him walk up the front path with worry. Before he cleared the threshold of the yard fence, Trail stopped and set the briefcase down onto the cobble walk, and turned to look back at Twilight. “And Twilight, promise me that you will be careful while I’m gone.”

“Trail… I don’t understand,” she simply said.

“Just promise me,” he repeated

The look in his eye didn't hold the normal juvenile or academic look he usually had. Instead, he looked at her with a gravely serious expression that she wasn't even sure it was his, so contrast it was to his normal behavior that it almost seemed unnatural for the eccentric stallion to wear. She was so caught off guard by that look, she found any further arguments inside her head quelled beneath his gaze, and could only agree to his mysterious requests.

“Alright… I promise," she softly said. "But you have to promise when you get back, that you will explain everything to me. Okay?"

Trail's serious expression gave way to a much more reassuring smile. “I will, of that you can be sure of.” He bent down to pick the briefcase in his teeth again, and began to walk at a expedient pace down street. Not once looking back at his home, or at her for that matter.

Twilight stood in the doorway, her eyes following him every step of the way until he shortly disappeared behind a building after turning a corner. She continued to stare after the spot he had vanished at, still trying to grasp what had just happened and the unknown severity it implied. She could not imagine what would cause him to act so, and it must have been grave indeed to cause him to drop everything he had in Ponyville.

“What in Equestria are you doing?” she asked forlornly.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Trail had been gone for five days. Of which Twilight had so far visited his house five times to check how everything was doing, though she knew that such frequent checking was perhaps a bit unnecessary. In truth, it was partly in hopes of catching him home one evening from wherever he had gone; finally having to no longer need to worry about him and to receive an explanation of what it was he was doing. But not a letter arrived or a sign of his return. She didn’t even know how long he would away.

Twilight had gone to her friends for advice on the situation, even asking if they had noticed something different lately that may explain his behavior. None of them were particularly helpful, especially Applejack who already had a slight unfavorable opinion of him. She simply told her that he was probably off chasing some legend he found in his books and that he had a weak grasp on what’s real or not.

Receiving no help from outside opinions on the matter, Twilight was left to brood by herself on the reason for his actions. Her mind reached to far highly unlikely conclusions to simple family related explanations, neither of which satisfied her any more than his answers when she had asked him at the time. She was left in the dark with no answers or hints, something that gnawed deeply inside her.

It was on the fifth night that it was supposed to be a full moon, and she had made a promise to him that she would keep everything in order. Something she took to right away the moment he had left, putting everything he had left out of place during his scrambling that first evening into their proper place. Tonight, she had just finished putting away dishes from dinner at Golden Oak Library and was heading towards the door to fulfill her granted duties.

“Spike, I’m heading over to Trail’s, and I might stay for a while,” she announced.

“This late?” Spike asked looking out the window, the sun had already been gone from the sky for an hour. “Are you sure there isn’t a book here you want to read?”

“How do you know I’m going over to read?” Twilight asked. Her answered being returned as a raised eyebrow of skepticism from the little dragon. “Okay okay, so I’m going over to read,” she admitted. “But I’m also going over to water his Moon Drop flowers. I can’t help it if I get caught up in a little reading as well.

“Spike, he left me his entire library to peruse while he’s gone! Do you know how long I’ve been chomping at the bits for a chance like this? Normally he distracts me or comes up with a reason to avoid reading more than a book or two. And during the day I’m normally busy with one thing or another to even get a chance for a solid reading session.”

Spike raised his hands over his head and began to walk out of the room. “Alright I get it, you don’t have to explain anymore. But I’m going to bed once I’m done sweeping over here. And I expect you to not wake me up when you do come back home.”

“Like that would ever happen,” Twilight said rolling her eyes. “I’ll be back, goodnight!”

“Yeah yeah, goodnight,” he called over his shoulder.

With a relieved sigh, followed by a quick squeal for the upcoming few hours, Twilight trotted out the door and down the street.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Twilight reached the house she had been visiting every day, its dark form large and familiar as trotted up the stone path to the door. Humming a tune, she floated the spare key from underneath one of the hanging flower beds and levitated it into the lock. But instead of hearing a resounding click, the door swung partially open from the slight push.

Twilight raised an eyebrow, having sworn she had locked it yesterday after her usual check up. Cautiously she pushed it open the rest of the way with her hoof, and gave out a small gasp as she peered inside. Everywhere she looked, objects were strewn about the house in a mess. Furniture from rooms within sight were on their sides, and the floor was littered with small antiques and nick knacks.

Oh no, somepony has broken in! Oh my gosh oh my gosh! What if they took something? Of course they took something, look at this place! Who did this!? Twilight internally panicked and fumed at the same time.

Feeling her responsibility of taking care of the house fly out the window, she cautiously stepped into the house, her hoof steps creating an echo throughout the building. Her eyes panned over every object, taking note of what she could see and cross referencing with what she knew belonged in each room.

She had only entered a few rooms before the sound of the back door slamming shut snapped her head and ears up. The robber’s still here! What do I do? Should I go get help?

Running towards the back end of the house, she threw her hoofs onto the window sill and peered out into the night. Running through the garden and out into the field, she spotted the form of a pony racing away from the house. Her mind briefly considered the option to run for help on the matter, but the sight of the pony growing farther away ignited something within her. Oh no you don’t. You don’t rob the house I’M charged with watching and get away with it!

With a burst of light Twilight appeared in the back garden. Squinting her eyes towards the fleeing figure she filled her lungs and yelled, “STOP RIGHT THERE!”

The pony paused at the sound of her voice and turned around, regarding her for a heartbeat before resuming its charge towards the woods with renewed speed. Gritting her teeth Twilight disappeared in another flash of light and reappearing behind the pony as it broke through the tree line. The trees broke Twilights line of sight before she could grab him or her with her magic.

Grunting in frustration she tucked her wings and began the pursuit, determined to not let them get away with stealing Celestia-knows-what. Flaring her horn, she casted a simple spell to illuminate the path before her. The close knit of trees made the forest much darker than the streets and fields around Ponyville, only allowing her to see a short distance ahead even with her magic. Had a pony seen her from a distance, she would have appeared as a purple willow-wisp zipping through the forest, casting a soft glow on everything she passed.

Twilight held a steady pace, always keeping sight of the pony’s heels kicking in a mad dash, a dark cloak billowing behind that covered most of its form.. How the pony was able to find a clear path through the sudden trees that sprang from the darkness as they sprinted, Twilight was unsure. But somehow the pony managed, jumping over bushes and dashing past trees as if they knew the woods by hoof. Besides the pony’s ease of navigating the woods, she was growing confident that who she pursued was in fact a stallion. From the appearance of his build beneath the cloak and the sound of his heavy breaths, she was sure the robber was a ‘he’. Unfortunately for her, was proving to be very quick and agile despite his size; he would probably take first in the running of the leaves on how he ran.

Every time Twilight flared her horn brighter to cast a spell to hold the robber and freeze his moments, he immediately ducked behind a tree from the increase of light, breaking her line of sight. She would give a small ‘tch’ in annoyance before speeding up to try once more.

As many time as he did vanish for a moment within the forest growth, she always managed to be on his heels again. The increasingly hard pace gave her no time to wonder how she always managed catch up, only briefly thinking that it was mere luck or chance she always found him again. But what started out as seconds for the chase quickly became a minute, then a couple more. For Twilight, the pursuit seemed to stretch out much longer, her mind completely zoned in on keeping sight on the pony while dodging at the last second each shrub and tree that appeared before her from the darkness.

She briefly crossed over the fact that she was unable to track where and how far they were woods, their path having been haphazard and random, but she didn’t pay much heed to the concern while in the heat of the moment; however far they had come a quick teleport would bring her back.

The pony dashed behind another tree for the umpteenth time, causing Twilight to surge forward to clear the corner as quickly as possible and catch sight of him again like before. But as she rounded the corner, she immediately skidded to a halt. The pony that should had only been a few hoof steps behind from was suddenly gone.

Catching her breath, she began to swing her head frantically to and fro to spot some sign of where he had gone. With a few shifts of her narrow eyes to spot something in the gloom, she flared her horn brighter to reveal more of the area. He can’t have just disappeared! she thought in disbelief. There was nothing close enough to the tree for the pony to have hid behind during the brief amount of time it took Twilight to run past, which meant that he somehow found a hiding spot somewhere very close.

“Where are you!? Show yourself!” she demanded, her head still on a swivel as she began to pace in circles, staring at every nook and shadow for some sign of the pony. Eyeing trees and bushes, she scanned everything near her meticulously, her horn storing more magic in case she had need for a sudden spell.

Her gaze had passed over a shrub as big as her before snapping back to it. She had spotted a flicker of movement from underneath it; her brows furrowed as a small grin formed upon figuring out where he had hid.

Like a cat sneaking upon a mouse, she cautiously moved towards the bush, her horn continuing to store magic for a large area freezing spell; she was determined to not let him get away again. “I know you're there, come out and surrender or I’ll blast you away!” she threatened once she had enough magic, attempting to scare the pony out of hiding.

Twilight warily kept her distance, waiting for him to make the next move, or until she got tired of waiting and ripped the shrub out from the ground. As she considered the option, flares of movement came from underneath the brush, confirming something was indeed hiding within it. But it was shifting about in an odd way, and without sound. With her eyes squinted, she carefully bent down to look under the brush from her position, unable to discern exactly what was hiding beneath.

As she peered towards the bush, the movement suddenly ceased, causing her ears to prick forward in response. Frozen in apprehension for some kind of movement to follow, she became aware how quiet the forest suddenly seemed; her heartbeat echoing faintly in her ears with each pulse as her apprehensive grew. After a minute of silence, she started to open her mouth to call out again, but was cut off by the sudden rush of movement towards her, causing her to gasp instead.

Something thin and black had burst from beneath the shrub and latched onto her horn, gripping it tightly and pulling her closer with force that surprised her. “WHAT IN HARMONY-!?” Twilight shrieked while leaning back to resist its tugging. Her eyes shot up as she tried to make out whatever it was that had her in its grip. As impossible as it seemed, it appeared as if nothing but pure shadow was extending through the air and yanking her downward; its form blocking out chunks of light that was emanating from her horn, causing the woods around her to flicker between light and dark as she wrestled against it. Whatever it was that was pulling her, she had never seen or heard about it in any lecture or book. But she had neither the time or desire to figure out what it was at the moment, her instincts kicking in on urge to fight or flight.

“GET… OFF!” she screamed. She dug her hooves into the ground and began flapping her wings backwards in attempts to pull away. She managed to take a full step back before more shadows sprang from all around her, wrapping across various parts of her body and pulling with just as much strength. With her eyes darting about, she now had at least one or two were around each leg, and likewise for her wings; all of them pulling her apart in different directions and downward, forcing her down to the forest floor. She felt like Rainbow Dash when they had to lasso her down to restore her from Discord’s tampering. Even more similar, she felt as angry as Rainbow Dash had been during the ordeal, if not even more.

“NGH! THAT’S! E-ENOUGH!” she growled. Focusing on her horn, she gathered as much magic as she could to cast a spell that would hopefully disperse whatever was attacking her. After a few moments the light from her horn began to shine through the tendril of shadow that had wrapped around it, causing it to become thinner and see through from the amount of magic she was preparing to release. She was able to make out some of the trees again as the light spilled outward, but before she could let loose her magic, a voice cut through the noise of her struggles.

“Magic Gone.”

Immediately the energy that had been in her horn fizzled out, having whatever was left over drift away harmlessly. Even her spell that was illuminating the area around her before was no longer active, throwing everything into total darkness. Twilight’s eyes went wide in confusion as to what had happened. Looking back up to her horn even though she could not see it, she tried focusing on it once more, attempting to draw forth her magic to cast the spell again. When she found no charge building, a sense of fear began to build inside of her. She quickly tried to cast the same spell that had illuminated the darkness before when she first entered the woods, but it was met with the same result.

“No…” she whispered in realization that her magic was not heeding her call. Her mind unable to understand how such a thing could happen, she started throwing her body in every direction, kicking out and rocking against the shadows that held her; all the while still trying to draw forth an inkling of magic for any spell that might help. Her heart sunk when she finally began to realize that nothing was coming to her no matter how hard she tried, not an ounce magic was building in her horn despite her efforts.

Twilight’s heart began to race faster, panic and anxiety kicking in as she continued to desperately thrash about in defiance. The shadows tightened their grip and seemed even stronger now that her light spell had ceased, pulling her down in greater force than before. With a quick yank from the right, she buckled and fell to her knees. With another yank from the front, her head was forced down, causing her horn to dig into the ground and become covered in dirt.

Tears where forming around Twilight’s eyes as she continued to struggle to fight against whatever was overwhelming her; trying to bury the fear of knowing full well that she was powerless to stop them. It was futile without her magic; her body was just not strong enough to resist their strength. But even knowing that she was not going to win, she continued to frantically twist and pull back. Reason and logic were forgone for the pure desire of survival, to fight with every breath and not succumb to the growing sense of dismay and anguish.

With another forceful yank, the shadows pulled her hooves out from under her, letting her body hit the crash to the ground and soliciting an ‘OMPF!’ from the mare. The moment she had buckled and fell, each tendril pulled outward and held her fast. Her legs were now completely extended in each direction, unable to bend or find any footing to continuing fighting back.

Twilight let out ragged breaths from the exertion of fighting the shadows coupled with the fact she had chased the stallion through the woods, her momentary flight of panic subsiding for a minute from the struggle. Her heart was pounding, she had bruises on her legs from falling, and her muscles were beginning to become sore from resisting and the shadow’s grip.

Unable to continue fighting for the moment, she took the time to catch her breath while trying to figure out her next move. Her eyes drifted upwards the dim form of the tendril wrapped around her horn, thankful for the small fact that now that she pinned down, at least her horn was no longer in the dirt. With her eyes still adjusting to the night, she was barely able to make it out in the darkness, even more so from spots and blinking colors that filled her vision from her spend effort and energy. “Why… isn’t my magic working?” she thought aloud, trying to come to reason as how she got into the situation in the first place.

The crack of a broken branch sounded through the woods, freezing her in place as it echoed around her. Throughout the struggle, she had completely fazed over the fact she was previously chasing a pony. A pony that was apparently still very near. Is this his doing? she thought.

The sound of a thud hitting the earth from behind caused her entire body to stiffen. Sweet Celestia, he was above me in the trees!

With a small gulp, her ears pricked back and forth for any other sound. Eventually, she was able to make out soft hoof steps slowly circling her; she was barely able to make them out over the pounding of her heart in her ears. They flicked madly to follow the sounds the pony faintly made as he was moved from her behind and to her front. She tried to turn her head to catch sight of him but the shadows held her still, only being able to manage a short twitch in her effort. Her eyes kept to her left, the side she was hearing the noise of the pony walking, a growing feeling of apprehension overwhelming her. Her eyes by now were well adjusted to the darkness since her spell had ended, and she was even beginning to make out the shapes of the trees nearby by. Of course the inky black tendrils that held her still appeared to be made of pure darkness; a notion that was that still ridiculous in the back of her head.

Flinching slightly, the pony finally made his way into her vision. She opened her mouth to demand an explanation of him of who he was and what he was doing; though she knew she wasn’t in the best position to demand anything. But her voice caught in her throat and killed any words she had planned to say as she began to make out his details.

Still circling towards the front, was the pony that she had many glimpses throughout the night. But not once had she been able to see the face of the pony masked beneath the hood still thrown over his head, or the eyes that stared down at her in such a cold expression. His face was masked by a scarf wrapped around the nose and chin she duly noted, but those eyes… they stared at her in a brilliant and bright red. Her thought process paused for a moment as she took in those red eyes, not entirely sure she was correct on their color in disbelief. She gulped when she found her voice again, and asked hoarsely from exhaustion, “…Trail?”

The pony remained as he regarded her and her question, before speaking in a low unfamiliar voice that was harsh and un-empathetic, “No.”

Twilight’s heart began to pump faster again, the knowledge that he was indeed a strange pony with even stranger powers setting in her mind. “Let me go!” she yelled, struggling once again against the shadows. Despite the black tendrils holding her she thrashed around on the ground with all her might, rubbing dirt and grass into her coat in her wild movements.

“Freeze,” the stallion said flatly.

Twilight's entire body froze upon hearing the words, the will or ability to move any of her limbs suddenly gone, even her mouth. What in the name of Harmony is happening to me!? Why can’t I move? Twilight’s thoughts began to race around her head, the momentary anxiety from before settling back inside her chest in force at the inability to move an inch. Her eyes still had their movement and they darted around in sheer panic, her mind trying to will some part of her to move again. How is he doing this? What is going on!?

Burrowing deep inside her, she screamed internally for something to happen, something to save her; to keep fighting with all she had. That deep internal strength she called upon many times during the dangerous battles and adventures she had faced so many times before. She called on the strength she had felt whenever she summoned the Element of Magic within her.

In response her front hooves began to twitch slightly with movement, and her horn beginning dimly light up. Had she been watching the pony in front of her during her internal focus, she would have seen his eyes widen in surprise.

She can’t be… he thought. Narrowing his eyes he quickly moved towards her. I need to end this before she breaks loose. Reaching his hoof up he unwrapped the scarf covering his face, revealing a wide mouth with two glistening fangs that grew longer as he moved to her. Not giving the mare a moment’s chance more, he dipped her head to the side with a hoof, and sunk his teeth deep into her neck.

*Bump*

Twilight’s eyes shot open from the sudden sharp pain, and her focus on the building magic faltered. Her body shuddered as the shock of the pain began to set in, and her limbs began to feel cold. Small gasps escaped her lips as she tried to form a word, a scream, any sound at all in response to the pain in her neck, still unable to understand exactly what was happening. She wasn’t even sure if she was still breathing.

*Bump*

The only the things Twilight seemed capable of focusing on, was the sensation of the the warmth from her body being drawn away, the way her body refused to respond, the growing sound of her heart beating, and the dim awareness of the strange pony’s body close by. She didn’t know when it had happened, but her head was now cradled between his arms and nestled above his shoulder. She didn’t know if she had leaned into him, or if he had pulled her to him. Everything was just becoming so hard to focus on.

*Bump*

Her eyes lazily began to drift upwards as a bright light flooded the woods. Above them, the moon had suddenly broken clear of the heavy cloud cover. It was a full moon tonight, its white face looking down upon like a silent spectator. It being the only of light in the woods around them caused her to briefly wonder when her magic had ceased flowing in her horn.

*Bump*

She remained wide eye as stared up to the moon, unable to break her gaze from it. Her brows arched even higher on her forehead as she felt the odd pain in her neck grow as whatever was violating her deepened. Reflexively her quivering mouth opened further to produce a soundless scream. But she could not focus on what was happening much longer. And soon, her vision slowly became fuzzy at the edges, and her heartbeat became louder as its noise was the only thing she could still hear.


*Bump*



And slowly… its sound too, faded away along with her unconsciousness.




*Bump*…




*Bump*…




*Bump*…

Act I - Chapter 8

View Online

So I set out into the night by his side,

Learning our secrets the first obstacle,

How little did I know however,

That I would die more times than I thought possible.



“Again.”

Shade Flare breathed heavily where he kneeled, his head lowered from his efforts over the hours he had been spending. Mental exhaustion had already taken a hold of him some time ago, making the already difficult concentration even more tiresome. His body was not too affected, but sweat had already begun to appear on him, feeling cool on coat in the night air. His mind’s focus on the task was slipping more and more easily the longer he had kept at it.

“I… need a moment…” Shade Flare panted.

“We will break when I say so.” Trail replied unempathetic. He towered over Shade Flare, staring down at him with his crimson eyes. “Again,” he said.

Shade Flare cracked open an eye at the stallion, his pupil dilating for a moment as he refocused his vision; picking out Trail from the forest around them. He matched the vampony’s gaze with an eye that was equally red to his.

The two of them held each others glare for a moment, before Shade Flare gave in and closed his eye; lifting his head once more to repeat his efforts he had been spending all night on. After a minute of gathering his thoughts in concentration, he tried again.

The darkness around them shifted, as if a lumbering beast’s heavy footsteps were able to shake the shadows themselves. Gritting his teeth, Shade Flare willed the shadows to move at his command, trying to make them obey with a sense and ability that seemed foreign and familiar at the same time. It was like as if he had been given his wings for the first time, they may have flapped senselessly in the air while he soared, but the sensation of the wind beneath them, the feeling of the air flowing across his coat, it was something that he wondered how he had never noticed or lived without. Those were the types of feelings he had while urging the shadows to come to life, coaxing them to form and construct shapes from his mind. Something he had never had been able to do, but now felt that it should have been there all along.

Slowly the shadows around them began to take shape into long tendrils, their lengths appearing as they coalesced in midair. Shade Flare opened an eye to follow his efforts, daring to give a small smile as a one was completed before him. The moment was short lived as a hoof came smashing through the shadow, dispersing it back into the night air. “Hey!” Shade Flare shouted in frustration, the rest of the tendrils vanishing on his lost focus.

“Again,” Trail simply repeated.

Shade Flare gritted his teeth, wanting to snap angrily at the stallion. His mind was not yet dull enough to know not to argue deeply with Trail, but the hours of relentless work was wearing him and his sound judgment down. But even so, he was growing tired of him and relentless pushing.

“How am I supposed to make them, something that took almost half the night to do, if you keep smashing them?” Despite his efforts to remain as respectful as possible, his voice held an edge of anger.

“How can you expect to hold a pony with these if I can break them so easily?” Trail said in the same tone he had spoken with throughout the entire session; flat, even, and without care.

“Maybe if you let me just make the damn things before I focus on strengthening them, I would actually get somewhere.” Shade Flare hissed.

“You wouldn’t get that chance if this was a real situation." Trail paused for a moment before repeating, "Again.”

Shade Flare stared coldly at him, a growing feeling of resentment building within him. “At least give me another drink… I’m thirsty.”

“No.”

Shade Flare’s eyes opened wide as his wings flared out. “NO!? I’ve been spending the whole night out here busting my flank on this, something you said would drain my blood, and you won’t even give me some to replenish my strength!?”

Trail’s brows furrowed as he regarded Shade Flare in front of him, shifting his hooves slightly apart. “Do you know who you are speaking to?”

“Yes I do! And right now I don’t give a damn!” Shade Flare almost shouted. “Give me a drink!”

Trail grunted at the request before raising his hoof in the air. Momentarily darkness swirled around his hoof, leaving a small vial of red liquid resting on top as it dispersed. Shade Flare’s eyes widen even further and even sprouted a small smile at the sight of it. Without thinking he moved towards the vial, a small burning sensation beginning to flare in his throat.

His eyes were so focused on the blood that he never saw the other hoof coming, landing a hard blow onto his cheek. Shade Flare was lifted off the ground and thrown back some yards away, skidding across the dirt. In a flash he was on his hooves and facing Trail in a defensive stance, his eyes blazing red as they looked at him in a wild glare. He held a mixture of questioning and anger on his face from the blow. Trail on the other hoof remained rooted and composed, un-revealing to his thoughts as he calmly stared in return.

“Give… me… that... vial!” Shade Flare growled.

“You’re not getting a single drop of this. Not until you do it right,” Trail simply replied.

Shade Flare’s coat felt like it was standing straight as his body began to visibly shake from the growing frustration inside him. His mind held no reason or cooling effect to the fire that built within his chest, anger filling him towards Trail for daring to deny him something he wanted, no… needed. That vial was going to be his and be dammed to Tartarus anything that would be in his way. Reacting on the instinct that was pouring through him, he gave a growl and lunged towards Trail.

Trail nimbly jumped to the side, the vial remaining perched in his raised hoof. Shade Flare spun around after landing and began to chase him after him, pushing him through the woods. Trail remained facing towards Shade Flare as he ducked and dodged his wild swings and kicks.

“GIVE IT TO ME!” Shade Flare yelled, revealing two large fangs now very noticeable in his mouth. With a spread of his wings, he kicked lunge at him with a murderous intent.

Trail replied with another swift hoof, a blow that even looking out for Shade Flare was unable to react towards. Hitting his chin, Trail knocked him back once again, but Shade Flare was relentless. The moment he had hit the ground he was already on his hooves and pursuing him once more, his attacks becoming more furious.

In the darkness of the forest the two danced about like wraiths, only appearing in fleeting blurs in the shadows if a normal pony had been watching the spectacle. Shade Flare flashed his fangs and swiped with his hooves, missing Trail by inches most of the time. As close as he was, the constant distance Trail maintained infuriated Shade Flare, causing him to strike with renewed effort on each failed attempt to land a hit. A hoof kick here, a wing slap there, even an attempted head butt or two all missed his target. Trail held the vial on his still raised hoof, taunting him with, showing how close yet so far he was away from soothing blood his body was demanding.

But as Shade Flare continued to pursue, he began to close the distance of his strikes. Trail’s swifter movements were starting to become more recognizable as they darted around. To Shade Flare’s mind, the once quick paced fight started to become slower and slower to him, his concentration becoming more focused and his attention singular. He was beginning to read Trail’s steps and understand them, noticing tensions in his muscles before followed by the movement. At times, it even felt like the entire fight came to a time still for a fleeting moment during their spar. It almost surprised Shade Flare that he was able to dodge the next blow Trail delivered. He had been able to follow it with his eyes and adjust accordingly without a thought, reacting as one would when an object in the distance was making its way to you quickly but with plenty of time to avoid; a feat that he mind have paid mind to where it not for the burning sensation in his throat and the raging tenacity to claim the vial of blood.

Trail had to step up his pace to stay ahead of Shade Flare who was quickly catching up with his movements. His ferocity in his attacks increased as he struck wildly, yet each one with deadly precision. Regardless of how angry or furious Shade Flare had become, his movements never became sloppy or haphazard. Instead, his skill and aim only became better and more dangerous. A lesser pony would have been killed long ago from Shade Flare's assaults. Even a member of the Royal Guard would have gawked at the strength and speed he was fighting with. But it was a behavior that Trail was very accustomed to, and knew how to handle.

Before Shade Flare could make a grab for him again, Trail thrust the vial out to him. Shade Flare’s focused eyes widen at the sight of it moving towards him, locking onto it and its contents immediately. It was so reactionary that he could not control himself, nor steady his concentration to defending himself when Trail once again struck a blow to him. This time however, had been much harder than his previous hits.

Shade Flare was knocked back into a tree with a force that would have broken a normal pony’s back. But he had given up being a normal pony a short time ago, and even being an average batpony as well. Though Trail had still chosen to call him a batpony, he was more durable than the rest of his kin now. It was because he had given up his old life, that he was able to once again able to stand up onto his hooves, albeit more slowly than he had before. He may not be a normal batpony anymore, but the blow still left him heavily bruised.

Snapping his head up he bared his fangs and glared at Trail with blazing red eyes, they held an intensity that would have frozen a pony on the spot. “YOU WILL GIVE IT TO ME!” The shadows around them visually shook at the sound of his voice, vibrating from their positions as if something disturbed them. Trail eye’s shift about the darkness around him, watching the darker spots between the nooks and crannies within the trees and bushes for the incoming assault he was counting on.

With a roar from Shade Flare tendrils of shadow’s burst all around Trail, latching onto him with unyielding force. They coiled about his body and tightened their grip. So many had appeared, that one could barely distinguish the tendrils from the stallions black coat. Even his silver mane was almost completely hidden beneath them. They varied in size and strength, one was even as large as a pony’s leg. Trail tugged at the tendrils as they wrapped around him, testing their strength and durability. When they did not give to his pulls he finally let slip a suppressed grin.

Shade Flare however didn't notice the vampony’s bemused attitude, his eyes instead locked onto the vial one shadow had delicately secured from the wrapped hoof. It stretched out away from Trail and towards Shade Flare, holding it right side up for him to see. Shade Flare let out a weak laugh as it grew closer, revealing in the fact that he at last finally caught it. At last he would be able to soothe his thirst that burned in his throat; to douse the fire that urged to be drowned with the only thing that would sate it.

The tendril brought the vial right before Shade Flare’s eyes as he stared into the red liquid sloshing around, its color and movements beckoning him to drink it. He was ready to rip off the cork and down its contents in one gulp before Trail’s voice cut through.

“Congratulations, you did it.”

“Huh?” Shade Flare said as he turned towards him. He was confused as to why he said that. The was the only thing that mattered was that he got his drink. Nothing else was important or demanded his attention. So why would he congratulate him? He was an enemy that was holding blood away from him. An opponent that needed to be beaten. But it was when he reflected that line of reasoning that he noticed what else he had done. Before him Trail was wrapped in shadows that he had summoned, and they weren’t being broken. In fact, they were the most solid things he had created all night, one particular one around Trail’s waist was also the biggest he had created. Without realizing, he had done what he had been attempting to do all night. The notion sobered him out of his blood craze, and the shadows fell away.

Shade Flare stumbled back a few steps as he regained control over his mind and emotions, the vial creating a soft thud as it landed on the ground. “I… I…” he struggled to say as everything came back to him in a rush. “I’m so sorry… I didn’t mean to attack you. I was just… so…”

“Thirsty?”

Shade Flare took on a petrified face, his fanged mouth hanging in horror with the fact he had attacked Trail, just to get a drink. A few times, he had even felt the urge to kill him to get the blood. A notion that he was confused for ever having. “I’m so sorry… I don't know what came over me. Please… forgive me,” Shade Flare began to softly say. He was still coming to grips with his actions and how punishable it was that he had just tried to.

“Why should I forgive you?”

Shade Flare looked up with shock and fear, resentment at his unexplained loss of control that led him into the situation. But before he could utter another apology and beg for forgiveness, Trail raised a hoof to indicate he wasn’t finished.

“I already told you, congratulations. You did it.”

Shade Flare’s brows twisted in confusion. “You mean… almost kill you?”

Trail laughed at the absurdity of the statement. “Kill me? You would have to do a lot more than that. No, I’m talking about your shadow manipulation. You managed to create them, and decently sturdy as well.”

Shade Flare had almost forgotten the fact that he did manage to create the tendrils, so caught up was he in the blood craze and feelings of regret that followed. “I… did, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did.”

“But how? Why now? And why did… I lose control like that? It just came over me and I… I didn’t even realize what I was doing,” Shade Flare exclaimed in awe and fear.

"To put it simply, your survival instincts kicked in.” When Shade Flare brought another questioning look Trail continued. “I already told you, your vampiric powers are dependent on blood. You can avoid using them and be set for a while after feeding. But using them drains them. The more you use, the sooner you need to feed again. What you experienced was the “der Letzte Drang“, the Last Urge. Originally defined in Germane, it is the final strength of a vampony before the remaining blood stored in your body is used.“

Shade Flare plopped onto the ground in a sitting position as he listened to Trail, his mind still reeling somewhat over the ordeal.

“As you experienced, a sudden burst of power fills the vampony when facing extreme thirsts. Just even the sight of blood can cause even the most experienced vamponies lose control depending on how thirsty they are. With that increased strength, comes more powerful abilities as well. It was regarded back in the day actually, that there was nothing more dangerous than a cornered vampire. When a foe has spent your strength and your abilities, attempting to weaken you and tire you out with a long fight, they suddenly find themselves facing an opponent that is often more ferocious than they bargained for. A tip for you should you ever need it, end a fight with a vampony as quickly as you can.“

Trail walked towards the still sitting Shade Flare, whose gaze locked onto the vial on the ground, looking at it as if he was unsure to grab it or throw it away from him. Trail paused just before the vial, given him a few a moments to process the experience. “This is something you needed to experience in a controlled situation. As you can imagine, the damage or consequences you could cause in that state is not something we can afford right now.“

Shade Flare pulled his gaze away and looked to Trail in realization. “That’s why you made me spent the whole night trying to use my powers?“

“Yes.“

“You... You needed me spent... So you could control it when I experienced it," Shade Flare reasoned aloud.

“No. I did it so you could learn control it.“

“But, you said-“

“Yes, I did say even experienced vamponies can lose themselves to it. But a warrior does not rise and overcome the occasion when the moment calls for it, they only sink to the level of their training. You must learn to suppress it as much as possible. Reverting fully into it, is only used as a very last resort when all else fails. Because if you spend too much time going wild like that, you will die.“

Shade Flare closed his mouth at that last bit of information.

“But don’t despair over your potential near death experience, it was also an opportunity to draw out your powers. As you saw, you were able to create them.“ Shade Flare looked about the forest, watching the shadows with awe and curiosity with his new-found power. “But,” Trail continued, “don’t rely on it too much. It won’t be until sometime you practice that you will reach that level normally. For now, you still have much to work on. Which brings me to my other point to all of this. You need to be ready and able to use your shadows in five nights.”

“Why five nights?” Shade Flare asked turning his attention to Trail.

“Because, you are going to capture Twilight Sparkle. And turn her into a fledgling.”

“ME!?”

“Yes, you.”

“But, why? Shouldn’t you be the one?”

“Do not worry, I will be the one to turn her into a full vampony when the time is right. For now, all I need you to do is turn her into a fledgling.”

“S-sir, with all due respect,” Shade Flare began, finally remembering his courtesies. “I am still too inexperienced for something like this! I’ve only been a vampony for a short time! She’s a Princess! She’s much stronger than me! And what if I revert back to normal before then?” Shade Flare looked down towards his hooves. “I don’t think I have another transformation in me…”

Trail looked at Shade Flare, then let out a sigh and moved towards him, plopping himself down beside him. “I know this has been difficult for you. I can only imagine what it is like passing through the gates of death more than once.” Shade Flare visibly shook. “But it will last long enough. And do not worry so much about Twilight Sparkle. You forget the element of surprise is greater than you think. She may be a Princess, but she is not ready for battle or tasted its experiences. And even if you do not have it either, it runs in your blood. You will know what to do.”

“But she is the Element of Magic, how will I defeat her with the spells she’s able to cast?”

“That is where I come in. I’ve planted a few fail-safe commands into Twilight Sparkle during our sessions. No doubt her magic would destroy any construct of shadow you could create, but the triggers I will give you will make sure it never comes to that.”

Shade Flare looked down at his hooves, still unsure of his newly informed role.

Trail chuckled softly to himself. “Do not fret, I am confident in your ability to handle this. I would be there beside you in the event anything goes wrong, but unfortunately, I have other pressing matters I must attend to. Time is of the essence, and I cannot waste anymore. We will turn Twilight Sparkle into a fledging, and it will be in five days.”

“But…” Shade Flare said trying to find the right words. “Why me?” Lifting his head, he looked into Trail's' eyes for an answer.

In returned, he was met with a gentle gaze as the previously cold and meticulously red eyes now held a softness to them. “Because, “ Trail began. “There is nothing more crucial to a leader, than competent followers. As I keep saying, Shade Flare, you are of my blood, a descendant of ancestors I lived beside a very long time ago. To me, you and every batpony are my family. And family helps one another to become strong.”

Trail gave him a reassuring smile. “You can do this, I believe it to be within your ability. You have proven to be helpful ever since I approached you, loyal and willing to everything I have requested of you, and courageous and brave enough to die the multiple times I have asked you too. In return, I will make you strong, strong enough that I can depend on you, strong enough so that others can depend on you. And for that, I must put you out into the world. You must experience things and learn from them. You must become capable not only for yourself or I, but for the rest of our kin.”

Shade Flare stiffened at his last remark. That’s right, this is bigger than myself. Everypony is whether they know it or not is counting on us pulling this off. We need Princess Twilight Sparkle. If he can trust and believe in me to do this, then I can’t fail him, or everypony else.

“O-okay,” Shade Flare replied. Gritting his teeth, he grunted as he stood onto his hooves once again. Even though his body was starting to become fatigue, and his mind felt more dull than staying awake for two days straight —a side effect of coming down from the Last Urge possibly, he thought briefly— a renewed sense of determination was rekindled within him. “Again,” he said.

Trail gave a nod accompanied by a proud grin. You have lots of potential Shade Flare, he thought. You will be invaluable to your brothers and sisters in the coming nights. Trail took a few steps forward drawing Shade Flare’s attention. “Before we continue…” He reached down for the vial and tossed it towards Shade Flare, causing his tuft ears to flick in surprise. “Have a drink. You’ve earned it.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Six days later…

Sunlight beamed through the leafy forest, breaking apart cold mist that still clung to the ground. The shrill sound of birds chirping randomly echoed throughout the woods, welcoming another morning to the land. Below the trees, the soft grass and moss held specks of dew from the night prior, creating a fresh scent throughout the earthy smelling undergrowth. Everything was as normal as the forest could be. Save for one purple form lying within a spot of grass and dirt that looked to have been scuffed.

Twilight laid unconscious on the ground, unmoving even to the slight cold that chilled the air. She laid in her position throughout the early morning for hours until the warm sunbeams eventually drifted into an angle that crossed over her body. The warming touch of the sun eased into her coat and muscles, bringing her out of the deep sleep she had been in.

<”You will break into my home on the fifth night from today. Damage up the place, but be careful with some of the furniture, I intend to reclaim them someday. Remember to leave out what she needs to find. Then, wait near the back door until she enters. Bait her into the woods, get her as deep as possible. Whatever you do, don’t let her grab you with her magic. You can avoid it by staying out of sight. Being what you are in addition with your new enhanced traits, guiding her through the dark and staying ahead should be an easy feat.”>

A soft mumbled escaped Twilight’s lips as consciousness returned to her slowly. The first thing she was aware of was how sore her muscles were, and the smell of the forest floor.

<”After you lead her deep through the forest, you will restrain her. I’ll provide you her trigger words when she attempts her escape. Then you will bite her, and do as I showed you.”>

“Nghh…” Twilight mumbled again as she stretched out a hoof weakly in front of her, feeling the dirt as her mind struggled to figure out what was going on and where she was.

<”I understand, sir. But may I ask a question?”>

Her ears flickered at the noise of the forest around her as the rest of her senses began to kick in. Even though her eyes were not open yet, faint memories of where she had gone last night and where she was most likely now trickled in.

<”Why wait to turn her into a full vampony? Why keep her as only a fledgling for now?>

She was beginning to feel an uncomfortable sensation. She couldn’t place a hoof on exactly what it was, for she had never felt something like it before. It was as if her body was becoming too hot, sending tingles across her skin in an agitating manner. She was unsure what was causing it, only that it had appeared when the sun had touched her coat.

<”You know why we need her, and why she would not assist us on her own accord. I must convince her in the only way that will make her help us. But to do that… she needs to be willing. And its much more difficult to affect the soul of something that has died once, than something that is halfway there. You of all ponies should be aware of that.”>

With a groan Twilight eyelids fluttered open, bringing in a hazy view of the forest around her. It took a few moments, but her eyes eventually adjusted and refocused, allowing her to see the greenery around her. She numbly stared out at the approaching day with her purple eyes as she woke up; eyes that held a tinge of red on the edges of her irises.

Act I - Chapter 9

View Online

Twilight groaned as she stirred, and weakly moved her limbs in a daze. Her body felt numb except for the sensation of pricking needles, almost as if she had fallen asleep on a leg for too long but throughout her entire body.

As the feeling returned to her limbs, she hazily looked about the forest clearing she laid in, before laying her head back down and shutting her eyes in pain from the headache that assaulted her.

“Ow…” she breathed quietly.

Holding her eyes firmly shut, she struggled to get her hooves beneath her to stand herself up, but found she was at the moment only able to appropriately control her front legs. While sucking in tiny breaths, she braced her forelegs into the ground, and propped herself. She held still for sometime as the soreness in her legs, and the pain in her head, began to dull, and only then did she open her eyes again.

Blinking wearily, she looked about the forest once more.

W...What’s going on? Where… Where am I?

With half open eyes, she stared dumbfounded at the greenery around her, before the memories of last night finally caught up with her mind, and made her eyes snap fully opened.

With a startled gasp, she instinctively leapt to a standing position, bracing herself for the next attack. But she was only able to hold it for a few moments before her back legs gave out, and she sat herself down. She shut her eyes again as the headache flared once more.

Feeling the remnants of sleep fade from her mind, Twilight remained as she was, letting the strength come back to her body as she attempted to recall everything that had happened.

You’re alright Twilight, they’re not here. At least, I don’t think they are.

Feeling some of the pain dwindling, she opened her eyes and looked about again, albeit much more slowly than she did before. There was nothing around save the trees, and the only sounds she could hear were the morning bird songs beginning to settle, and the faint rustle of leaves now and then.

It's morning already... Which means whatever they wanted to steal from the house is probably gone by now. She bit her lip at the thought of the fleeing pony. I can’t believe he escaped! If I get my hooves on him again…

Her frustration of the incident quickly cooled as she replayed the events again.

No… that’s not the real issue. What happened last night? What was that strange magic he had used?

Twilight sat down to give her legs some respite, feeling a sense of deja-vu of how her limbs refused to move in a similar fashion when he had caught her. As her headache began to fade further, more memories jumped in and filled in the events, bringing about each moment with chilling clarity.

She could remember everything now. From the strange shadows that had become corporeal, to her magic strangely going out. Nothing about last night made sense in her mind, or fell in line with how magic worked as she knew. And surprisingly, that bothered her more than she thought it would.

She sat there for some time, working out hypotheses as to how such things happened, during of which her body recovered more quickly than she realized. It had caught her by surprise when she realized her limbs were not protesting any more.

To make sure it wasn’t just her imagination, she tentatively stood back up, readying herself for a flash of pain she felt would surely come. But nothing of the sort happened. She felt normal, without a hint of soreness to indicate she had even experienced it in the first place.

“Huh…” she commented.

Now curious about the rest of her, she turned her eyes upward and focused on her horn. Like always, she felt her magic pooling within it and flowing freely, much to her relief.

“Well, guess I can check that off the list.”

Still tentative that the pain would come back in any second, she stepped forward a hoof step, then another, trotted in place, and even jump up. Her body felt fine, and she was confident any spells she would cast would also have similar results.

“Hmmm.”

As she reflected over the strangeness of it all, a speck of dirt falling caught her attention. She blinked in confusion before she realized that it must have been some of the remnants of the dirt from last night.

“That jerk!”

She carefully began wiping the rest of it off her horn. How dare he shove my horn into the ground like that! Shadow magic or not, when I get my hooves on him! When she cleared off as much as she could, she looked down at her legs and saw grass stains covering them. The sudden awareness of how dirty she was too the point that she didn’t even bother to check how bad it was on the rest of her body.

Grinding her teeth, her eyebrow twitched meticulously as she called on her magic again. I need to get back so I can start figuring out what the hay had happened. Nopony gets away with stealing under my watch, assaulting me in the middle of the night, and shoving MY horn into the ground!

With a flared nostril, she casted her spell, blinked out of the forest, and arrived in front of a startled Spike.

“Twilight! What happened to you?” he exclaimed immediately.

A wave of dizziness washed over Twilight, but past in moments. “I… uh… I’m okay… still recollecting myself.” Twilight looked about the library as the sensation faded, letting relief fill her at being somewhere familiar. “I’m okay, I just need a bath as I… um, sure you can tell,” she said while gesturing towards herself. “I’m going upstairs to fix up. Afterwards, you and I are going to Trail’s. His house got broken into last night and I want to account for everything missing.”

“Seriously? What in Equestria happened last night? And why are you so… messy?” he said carefully.

“I’ll tell you on the way,” she sighed. “And can you get me some breakfast please while I wash up? I'm starving.”

“Uh, yeah, sure thing,” Spike replied hesitantly, fumbling with his hands as he contemplated staying by her side between doing as she asked. But she left him little time to choose, and was quickly up the stairs and into the bedroom. Biting his teeth with worry, Spike rushed into the kitchen and began making breakfast.

As the sound of pots and pans falling echoed dimly to the second floor, Twilight drowned out the noise by turning the faucet for the bathtub on full. A steady stream of hot water shot forth and quickly began to steam up the room, causing Twilight to breath in deeply at its relieving sensation. While waiting for it to fill before switching to cold water to even the temperature out, Twilight turned towards the mirror. She stared blankly at her reflection before muttering darkly, “Rarity, would have a heart attack.”

Messy, as Spike described, was an understatement. She had leaves and twigs in her mane, dirt and grass stains completely covering her coat and legs, her feathers were completely ruffled and displaced, and her eyes were red from still waking up.

“Wow, I am a mess.”

As she waited for the water to fill, she began the tedious process of removing all the foliage from her mane and tail, and them aside into a neat pile on the floor nearby. She even had somehow ran into a bush with tiny ball shaped green stickers that were resilient on letting go of her.

Just before the tub was full, she quickly switched to cold water, and turned it off. The room was still misty from the heat, but it was doing wonders for Twilight as she breathed the warm air into her lungs. Tipping a hoof timidly into the water, she sunk it deep enough for it to reach passed her coat. She sucked in a breath of air as the heated water made contact, then relaxed as the sharp pain began to fade away. Oh Celestia does that feel good.

Carefully, she eased her body into the tub with hind legs first, dipping them slowly while supporting herself on the edges with her forehooves, wincing now and then at the sensation of the water touching the little cuts across her body beneath her coat. But as painful as it was, the feeling of the warm liquid enveloping her was worth it, and its warmth worked its magic. As she slid the last bit of the way, a happy sigh escaped her lips, and she looked up to the ceiling with a smile. This is what I needed, she thought, and her body couldn’t agree more with her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After washing away all the nature that had clung to her, Twilight stepped out of the tub and began drying herself off; the muddy water slowly sinking into the drain as the tub drained. She felt ten times refreshed and ready, the only thing left to pick her up and prepare her for figuring out everything being the anticipated breakfast Spike had been preparing for her.

Enjoying the brief reprieve of relaxation before getting down to business, Twilight hung the towel on the rack and began to preen the feathers, before sighing at the notion she would have to ask for help for some of the more difficult ones.

“Fluttershy had just helped me settle these in recently too,” she said in disappointment. As she considered asking for her or Rainbow Dash’s help later in the day after marking all the stolen goods, she blinked her eyes, and looked at her feathers. “Actually, I bet I can do it now on my own. I don’t need to bother them with this.”

After spending some extra time getting her feathers in place—of which she hoped meant Spike was preparing more food—she magically grabbed her brush, and began stroking her tail and mane back into their proper positions, all while staring at a much more familiar and clean looking pony.

As she was working on her bangs, she stopped in mid stride at the noticed of a detail that still remained from her messy state from before.

Setting the brush aside, she leaned closer to the mirror and opened her eyes as wide as she could. She had figured it was just the after effects of being tired, or a tiny blood vessel that had popped during the fight. But neither of those explanations, or any others that she could come up with, explained the red coloration on the edge of her purple irises. Had she not been staring idly into the mirror while brushing, she may have not even noticed it.

“Huh… that’s weird.”

Propping herself onto the sink, she spent some time looking at it from every angle and length, while running over in her mind on possible spells that might be able to revert it if it did not go away. It might be a side effect from the magic last night. I better take a look at some dispelling formulas just incase. I wonder if I can make one into the form of eye droplets.

“Twilight! Your breakfast is ready!”

Perfect. I am absolutely starving.

Giving the red tinge once last scrupulous glare, she lowered herself from the sink, and head out. “Coming!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“So he was just gone when you woke up?” Spike asked as he kept up with Twilight’s quickened pace.

“That’s pretty much it,” Twilight grunted.

Spike looked up at her worry for the umptenth time. He opened his mouth to say something, but held back at the expression of her face. Her brow was furrowed, her chin tight from clenched teeth, and her eyes were unwavering as they stared forward. I haven’t seen Twilight worked up like this before. The last time she even acted remotely like this was when Nightmare Moon came back.

The tight feeling he had in his gut made him want to say or do something, anything, that might helped her feel better. But he could not. There was nothing to say. Twilight had been attacked, and he had not been there to help her.

Which means there’s only thing I can do then. Gripping his claws tightly, he turned his eyes forward as well, and blew out a puff of smoke from his nose. I got to be there for Twilight here on out. I am not letting something like this happening ever again.

To deepen his resolve, he imagined himself catching the would be robber from last night, himself clad in armor, and breathing terrible fire to burn their tail off.

“Any idea why he broke into Trail’s home?” Spike said with a deep voice in attempt to show his resolve.

“No idea,” Twilight simply replied. Her dead set expression however, soften as she imagined the state of the house. “I feel so bad that I let him get away. I hope Trail isn’t too mad that he managed to get away with his stuff.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t think he’ll sweat it too much,” Spike said.

“I hope so…” Twilight replied. “I just hate the fact that something I was in charge of got ransacked…”

The rest of the quick walk was done in silence, and the path to the house seemed longer than usual despite it taking only a few short minutes.

When they did arrive, they wasted no time in walking up the front path and opening the door, only to pause as soon as they saw inside. They simply stood in the entrance way, nearly all their determination having been swept away at the sight of the mess littered about; a mess that they would have to clean up.

“Wow…” Spike remarked.

It was just as bad as Twilight remembered. Everything was toppled over and on the floor, or pulled from their position if not completely thrown on its side. The sight of it all made Twilight’s heart sink in dread. The last time she had been standing in the doorway like this but looking outside instead of in, it was to see Trail off; the same worry in her chest nagging at her. Is this what you warned me about being careful? The memory of Trail flashing her a weak smile and telling her everything would be alright flashed across her mind. Trail… what is going on? Just what are you apart of?

“Well,” she breathed reluctantly. “We better get started cleaning up and cataloguing what’s missing so we can report what was stolen to the local guard.”

“I’ll be right back,” Spike said before quickly trotting back down the front path.

“Spike! Where are you going?”

“To get a bigger broom and some snacks! It looks like we’re going to be here all day!”

Twilight opened her mouth to call him back, but stopped, then shook her head with a smile on her lips. She knew better than to stop him when he was so set on things, and she hadn’t seen him so worked up in sometime.

Spike on the other claw, had seen her smile, and ran even quicker back to the library. If there’s one thing I can help out on, then I'm gona do it the best I can!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The two of them spent all morning picking up various items, tidying up broken pieces of ceramics and glass, turning furniture right side up, and ensuring everything was in their proper place, all while going over what happened been taken.

To their bewilderment however, nothing appeared to be missing. Everything was either pulled from their original spots or broken. As they moved about the bottom floor, a suspicion that the situation had nothing to do with an ordinary robber grew more and more. To her, it was as if they were looking for something, something that was very important.

Each piece they found caused her heart to sink further of the damage that was caused under her watch, and the determination to figure out exactly what it was they wanted. By the time they finished the first floor, everything had been swept into piles and repositioned, it was past noon, leaving only the second floor. The fact that not a single piece was missing from the bottom floor only confirmed further her suspicion.

As they explored the second floor, they found it in a similar disarray; everything shattered or moved from their spots. Even the beds were flipped over and torn apart. If anything had been within it, Twilight would never know. She began to worry that whatever the robber had been looking for may have already been found.

But if they found what they were looking for, then why is the entirety of the house destroyed? Unless two things happened. They either A, found it at the end. Or B, never did…

Humming to herself in thought, she made her way out of the bedroom and to the pair of doors she had been dreading to open since she first stepped into the house. With a gulp at what she may find on the otherside, Twilight slowly pushed open the door to the study room.

When she did, she wished she hadn’t.

“How could anypony do this!?” she exclaimed.

Across the entire floor, was every single book from the shelves; the majority of them lying open face down, causing small folds in the papers or bends in the spines. The sight of such books—and some priceless ones in her opinion—filled her with a sense panic that only the injust treatment to literature could cause.

“Oh no no no no!” repeated over and over as she immediately began to levitate them back into their places while inspecting the damage done to them. “Some of these books are incredibly rare and first edition to! I can’t believe he left them like this!” When she lifted one book and found its pages were literally ripped from the spine, she nearly fainted.

“Besides the damaged ones, doesn’t seem any different than when you leave books lying around,” Spike casually commented, ducking beneath a few novels that were being floated back to the shelves. He was quickly silenced by an angry glare from Twilight, then bit back the urge to sigh and began to help picking them back up. After collecting a few, he headed over to the nearest shelf before they were suddenly pulled out of his claws with magic.

“Those go over here,” Twilight stated, her head turning every which way to read the various titles of the books floating around before putting them neatly back into their spots.

Of course she’s memorized where they all go by now.

Wanted to stay out of the way of her frantic work, Spike set about fixing the other items in the room. While the globe he was fond of was a little heavier to put back than he’d care to admit, he was thankful everything else was within his power to move.

As he walked towards one of the corners of the room to re-stand a knocked over lamp, his attention was caught by an unusual coloration of the floor. Leaving the lamp up straight, he headed towards what was apparent as he became closer was a piece of a floorboard missing, looking to have been torn or smashed in.

Cautiously, he moved over it and stared into the hole that was about two pony hooves wide. In the dimness, he could make out the boards for the ceiling below, as well as a visible rectangular spot that wasn’t covered in dust. If he had to have guessed, he would have figured a book had been lying there before the floorboards were torn.

Curiosity filling him, he attempted to stick his head into the hole and looked around, an let out a toothy grin when his eye caught the edges of what appeared to be another book that was covered in dust.

“Twilight Come here! I found something!”

Twilight paused for a moment, then let out a whine at Spike’s head disappearing into the floor. “Oh no, did he deal structural damage to the house too?”

“No! I mean, yes! I mean...I found a book!” he voice shouted from beneath the floorboards. “I think there were two of them cause it looks like one’s missing!”

“A book?”

Intrigued, Twilight gently set down the remaining books that had yet to be shelved, and trotted over to him.

Spike lifted his head out and grinned up at her. “Yeah, it’s a book alright. I think the robber was looking for these because the first one is missing. But it’s a little too far for me to reach, so I think it was for him too and he had missed it! Heck, if I hadn’t stuck my head in, I wouldn’t have found it,” he said excitedly, a thin layer of dust covering his facial scales.

Twilight craned her neck around the hole and peered inside. It took a bit of angling, but she was barely able to make out the edges of the book Spike was talking about “I think you’re right! From what I can tell, nothing else is missing in this room either.”

Immediately the dusty book was wrapped in a purple glow as Twilight carefully pulled it out from beneath the floorboards and into the air.

Spike eyed it with a building sense of adventure. “What do you suppose it says? Do you think it’s directions for a really powerful spell?”

“I don’t know,” Twilight said as she expected its cover. From the looks of it, it was a plain green journal with no title on cover. Judging from the removed floorboards and the state of the rest of the house, her suspicions were now confirmed that this was exactly what the burglar was looking for, if the shape of another missing book directly below the hole wasn’t proof enough.

Unable to hold her curiosity back any longer, she blew off the dust and opened to the first page. Squinting at the hoof written ink, she read aloud the first page.

“Corpus Nocte Morsu.”

“What’s that?” Spike asked.

“It’s a collection of knowledge on something called a Night Fang… I think,” Twilight answered as she flipped through its pages. “It’s really old…”

“Night Fang?” Spike asked. “What the hay is that?”

“I don’t know. We don’t even know if who broke in was even looking for this one…” Twilight replied. This is becoming more and more mysterious. First a robber who turns out to be something more than your run of the mill bugler. Then magic I have never seen before, and now this? While it had all been terrifying and frustrating at the same time, the situation was beginning to become more interesting each step of the way, as did her determination to figure things out. But how is Trail involved with all of this? And why does he have this book?

“Twilight,” Spike said.

“Hmm?”

“Are you just going to stare at it or are you going to read?” he said.

“Oh! Right,” Twilight said while snapping out of her thoughts. Coughing into her hoof, she closed the book and set it aside the nearest table. “As much as I want to now, we’ll read it later today. First, we need to get the rest of the books back in their place. And after we’ve done a triple check to ensure nothing else is missing, we're going to report the robbery.”

“Right…” Spike said, all tone of excitement having gone from his voice.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Corpus Nocte Morsu,” Twilight read aloud. She and Spike were back at the library, having just finished dinner and now were at the table together with the book before them. Putting the house back in order and verifying nothing else had been stolen —which only affirmed Twilight and Spike’s hunch the books under the floor board was indeed the true goal of the break in— and submitting the report to the local authorities practically took all day.

A few of the more enthusiastic guard ponies were slightly upset that she had removed all if any evidence of the burglar by cleaning the house, but informed Twilight in the most respectful way possible due to her Princess status. They of course, were immediately on edge when Twilight informed them of the pony attacking her and stated that the report will be going to Canterlot for Princess Celestia and Princess Luna themselves to look over. As much as Twilight tried to assure them that it was unnecessary, she was unable to convince them otherwise due to certain protocols they had to follow. Being treated in such a way was still something Twilight was getting used to. It had been one thing being an Element Bearer. Though she received attention, nopony regarded her as something that couldn’t handle her business on her own. Now that she was a Princess, everypony took extra care with her and acted like she can’t or shouldn’t do anything. And it was becoming more and more bothersome to her she found.

“Well, what are we waiting for? Open it,” Spike enthusiastically demanded. Twilight simply nodded her head—suspense weighing on her as well as to what could be so important in the book—and flipped towards the first page. Clearing her voice, she began to read the introduction.

“Contained inside this book, is a compendium of knowledge regarding the dark creatures that roam the night. Their strengths and powers having easily allowing them to secure a position of power and fear throughout the land. Not all is known about them, but what we do know… is here in this book. From weaknesses to traits, all and more lie inside in this tome, a more complete reference and gathered collection of knowledge to face these deadly beasts than the majority of other books on the matter. For truly, the might of the Vampony is a fearsome thing, and more must be known about them to effectively defend ourselves.”

Twilight paused reading from that last sentence, her brow rising as she reread to make sure she saw it correctly.

“Vamponies?” Spike asked aloud. “It’s a book about vamponies?”

“I guess so…” Twilight said, her hopes faltering somewhat. Really? This entire book is dedicated to vamponies?

While Twilight looked a little downtrodden from finding out what the book covered, Spike on the other hoof grew more excited as his eyes widened. “Vamponies are real…” he whispered softly.

Twilight gave him a scrupulous look. “Honestly, Spike, you can’t expect this to be real. I mean vamponies? Really?”

“I don’t know, Twilight, you said yourself that he used some kind of strange magic on you. Maybe it's vampony magic?”

“Just because it was magic I haven’t seen before, doesn’t mean a vampony did it,” Twilight said with an eyeroll. “Come on, Spike, you expect vamponies to be real? You know Trail had some pretty enthralling fictional books.”

“Then why was this one under the floorboards?”

“Because it-“ Twilight began to say before stopping. In truth, she had no idea why it was underneath the floor nor could she come up with an explanation. Turning back to the book she gave it a hard look while in thought. Why was it under the floorboards? If it’s just another one of his eccentric fictional novels, then it should have been on the shelf… shouldn’t it?

Spike flashed a knowing grin at stumping the mare. “See?”

“Just because I can’t answer the question doesn’t mean vamponies are real,” she replied with a glare. “But… I suppose it doesn’t hurt to read it. Maybe we can find something else out insides its passages.”

“Alright! I’m going to get some Emerald Popcorn!” Spike said as he scooted off his chair and ran into the kitchen, eager to whip up a recipe from his favorite book of late for a nighttime snack.

“You are not allowed to touch its pages with buttery covered claws! Normal popcorn will do!” Twilight shouted after him.

The response was a loud, “Aww,” of disappointment from the adjacent room.

“And please bring me a sandwich! Everything that has happened today has really worked up my appetite!”

Eyeing the kitchen entrance for a moment, she turned her focus back to reading the rest of the passage. “Be wary should you find yourself in need of the information in this book. For even when shielded with the knowledge and defenses listed, they are not always enough to save you from the fangs of the Vampony…”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Garlic is one of the more useful tools in everyday protection. The stench of it for yet to be discerned reasons, have a discomforting effect on Vamponies that will ward off all that cross your path save the most hungry.”

Twilight and Spike had spent the last two hours reading the book. Her speaking aloud the passages that Spike seemed most interested in, and him munching away on popcorn, tossing one at Twilight’s way now and then for her to catch in magic and pop into her mouth.

But after reading late into the night, and Twilight devouring more popcorn than Spike, eventually they decided to call it a night and have a fresh start in the morning. And no matter how helpful the warm bath had been, Twilight’s body still needed rest to recover from her recent ordeal. Reluctantly, Spike went to bed while Twilight went to brush her mane in the bathroom; as well as throw out the mess she had made that morning

While finishing the last chapter of ‘Produces of Protection’, she flipped back to the table of contents and skimmed down the rows for another section to quickly skim before finishing her brushing. Her eyes stopped on ‘Suspicious Symptoms Indicating Infection’. Humming aloud, she flipped to the chapter and began reading.

“The signs of a Vampirism are often subtle, but very straight forward. Red colored eyes have always been one of the easiest defining factors even though it can be found naturally on some ponies.”

Twilight paused reading, and halted her brush in midair, a sudden memory flashing in her mind from last night. She can’t believe she had forgotten it until now, but the pony that attacked her had one of the reddest eyes she had ever seen.

Dismissing the notion, she resumed her brushing. It must be a coincidence, I know some ponies here in Ponyville with red eyes. It doesn’t mean he was a vampony.

But despite her protests, she lifted her head as she thought over the ponies she knew, cross referencing the physique of the ones she knew off the top of her head with that of the attacker; highly unlikely since she trusted everypony here, but it was still something she shouldn’t overlook.

It was doing so that her train of thought stopped, and the sound of a falling brush hitting the floor echoed in the bathroom moments later. She had been staring idly in the mirror while thinking, when her gaze passed over her eyes. Leaning forward with a held breath, she looked closer at the unfamiliar coloring she had found earlier this morning. If wasn’t sure, but she could have sworn the amount of red on her iris edges had grown slightly. The same color of red the pony that attacked her had.

Having been lost in her eyes for some time, she shook her head sideways and pulled away from the mirror. “No, I will not accept that as proof that it was a vampony that did this to me. For all I know it’s a side effect of something else.” Twilight shoved the very thought aside, her skepticism ungiving for a single coincidence with the listed symptom. But when she looked down again at the book, another thought crossed her mind. Trail owns this. And he… has red eyes… Twilight’s mouth opened a little as she tried to make some understanding of it all. That’s right, I thought he was Trail at first because of his eyes…

Feeling less sure of her stance on the matter, Twilight continued reading. “The second definitive sign is the bite marks that are left after being bitten by a vampony. Though it has been recorded to appear on other parts of the body, the neck is often the preferred location for drinking blood and/or the spreading of the vampiric curse. This trait though does require some cooperation with the suspected individual as a thorough examination of their coat must be performed. When unable to cooperate, delicate use of force is recommended to ensure purity of the individual.

With a chill down her spine, Twilight paused once again as another memory flashed in her mind. She recalled in clarity her attacker moving towards her, and the gripping paralyzing sensation of something piercing her neck, of which she had lost consciousness shortly after. Not realizing she was holding her breath again while recalling the event, she quickly moved back to the mirror and began parting the hairs on her neck. She revealed small sections at a time with her magic, looking for anything that might have indicated she was indeed bitten. And her blood felt like it had froze when she did.

Right in the mirror, under her parted coat, were two scars an inch or so apart. They looked to be the marks where two fangs pierced her skin, and by the width of the scar, they had appeared to have punctured deep.

Twilight’s magic ended as her mind reeled over the scars. She slowly turned her neck to face herself fully in the mirror once more, her breathing becoming shallow as she regarded herself in a new and terrifying perspective. She returned the gaze of the mare in the mirror, the mare with red tinged eyes that now seemed different. She couldn’t look at her without thinking that inside; that she secretly might be turning into something awful, something that she had never believed in before, but was now staring her in the face. She held the opposing mares gaze with wide eyes and crease lines on her forehead in worry until she began to shake her head side to side once more.

“No, vamponies are not real! This has to be some elaborate trick or the work of some foal who still believes in such crazy ideas!” Whipping her head back to the mare in the mirror again, she spoke to it with a commanding tone. “You are not turning into a vampony, and you are going to figure out what really is going on. Got it?” The reflection nodded once in response at the same time as her. “Good. Now I’m going to sleep, and figuring out more in the morning.”

Act I - Chapter 10

View Online

‘Mirrors are friends,’

“Read it.”

‘Evasive Night Movements’

“Read that one too. “

‘Regenerative Powers’

“Fascinating, but read it.”

‘One Hundred and One uses for Vampony Teeth’

“Sigh… read it.”

Twilight slid her hoof further down the table of contents of the Corpus Nocte Morsu, scanning the various chapter titles for one she had perhaps somehow missed, or only vaguely recalled so that she could refresh herself on its topic. While the book did contain a wealth of information on what she still considered to be a fictional creature, its size was no match for Twilight’s prowess of reading. It had quickly succumbed to her twelve hundred words per minute reading skill, a feat that had secured her a spot in the ‘Hoovensens World Records’ book. No pony had even come close to matching her reading speed since her admittance into the records, and the ponies who came even close to her speed lacked her level of comprehension; she seemingly absorbed every word like a sponge. It was with such ability that Twilight now found herself with a fully read book by noon, not even a having spent half a day scouring its pages.

“Ugh… There has to be more than this.” She leaned forward and rested her chin onto the desk, narrowing her eyes at the open pages. There has to be something in here, something I missed or hidden between the words. Trail is a smart pony, and if he suspected somepony was after him, then he would have taken some precautionary steps.

Whoever that pony was the other night obviously meant to take both books. Or maybe he did see it and left it behind intentionally. But why would he do that? No, no, he must have missed it. What possible reason would he choose leave behind something that could give me clues?

Twilight sighed again. “Look at me, I’m thinking this over as if vamponies are real. I’m getting too wrapped up into this. Just because this book has some good explanations on how they might work,” Twilight said with a wave of her hoof,” doesn’t prove they are. I mean really, I’m supposed to believe that a vamponies muscles are built in such a way that allows them increased strength without extra muscle mass? That isn’t even possible with magic!”

Silence filled the library as her question hung in the air.

“And supposedly they need blood to survive? How does that make sense!?”

Again she was met with silence.

“What’s so magical about blood anyways…” Twilight mumbled. “It’s not like it has any special properties or applications, and who would want it to have any? Even if it did, drinking it would be the least unfavorable way of activating it.”

Twilight lazily looked over the table of contents again, before blinking in curiosity at one of the chapters. “The Vampony’s Diet… Wait a second…”

Propping herself up as she flipped through the pages, she began to reread the chapter. “Consists of blood… frequency unknown… reasoning unknown… favorable positions are the neck… reports of a ‘burning’ sensation in their throats when cornered and…”

Twilight skimmed the rest of the page before moving back up to the section that had caught her eye. “Reports of a ‘burning’ sensation in their throats when cornered and prepared for detainment. The burn appears to be a common occurrence in thirsty vamponies—blood being the only thing to have any diminishing effects on it—and they will go to any lengths to sate it.”

Twilight furrowed her brow. “Why a burning sensation? That would mean something is becoming inflamed or irritated, or…”

She picked the book up in her hooves and brought it closer in contemplation. “Or… heat? No, why would heat be generated? It’s not like they need to melt anything down or break apart something, and what could even be broken down with low temperature that doesn’t risk the safety of-“

Her eyes widen. “Break something down....”

Flipping back to the table of contents, she searched for another chapter, and then opened to book to its page number, simultaneously saving her place magically from before. She ran her hoof down the paragraphs until she found the section she was looking for. “However, once a vampony has received an ample supply of blood, strength, recovery, and behavior returns to normal levels, if not in excess at times. It has even been reported from witnesses that their bodies seemingly becoming thicker as their muscles became more apparent and defined.”

“That’s it,” Twilight whispered as the proverbial clogs clinked into place. “They burn blood, releasing its magical properties and utilizing them to sustain their existence.”

Twilight stared widely at the page as the revelation settled in, but then flared her nostrils and plopped her chin back onto the desk. “That’s probably how it would work if blood did have magical properties, or if vamponies were even real to begin with!”

The notion however, did not cease the flurry of reasoning and deduction in her brain, and shortly, she found herself burrowing holes in the wall with her eyes as her brain ran through loops of theory after theory of how vamponies might work; eventually wandering into the realm of the absurd. She was in the middle of a tangent of the possibilities that revolved around unexplained magical theories concerning enchanted food poisoning, before a knock of was heard on the door accompanied with a cheerful voice. “Twilight, darling! Are you ready for our luncheon?”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed as she shifted her gaze to the door. This only supports Page Hoof’s theories on magically moldy spaghetti causing oddly related and highly coincidental events, Twilight thought as her ears flicked in irritation. Exhaling with frustration, Twilight answered loudly, “I’ll be right out. Just give me a minute to clean up.”

“Alright, I’ll be across the street window shopping,” Rarity replied, shortly followed by the muffled sound of her retreating hoof steps.

Twilight remained still for a few moments before reluctantly sitting up in her chair, and letting out an exasperated sigh. What am I supposed to do? I’ve tried every eye-changing spell I know, this fictional book about make believe creatures isn’t telling me anything, and Trail’s house is still a mess.

Twilight’s dropped her head forward while her ears splayed back. All of this is becoming so confusing, and I don’t even know where to begin.

The echoing calls of birds outside the library rang through the quiet library, reminding Twilight that despite the uncertainty and dread that she was feeling right now, there was a perfectly good day waiting for her, and a friend whom she promised to meet for lunch.

No, I can’t get too wrapped up in this. I’ve learned to take breaks, and I should take one right now. Maybe things will become more clear after something to eat.

Straightening her back, Twilight closed her eyes and brought a hoof up to her chest. With a deep breath, she exhaled slowly while extending her foreleg out in front of her. Once performed, Twilight ears pricked up and she found a smile spreading across easily. Wow, that was easy. This trick getting better and better each time.

Opening her eyes again, Twilight’s smiled changed into look of curiosity as she regarded at the open book before her. Her confusion however, abruptly changed to light-hearted giggling. “Right, I was studying about vamponies.”

While humming a cheery tune, Twilight saved the page and floated the book, along with others she had pulled out for the possibility of references, to an out of the way spot atop a high shelf. “I’ll get back you to later.”

She then proceeded to clean up the pile of dishes she had collected through the morning, and the fact that not a single crumb was left on them did nothing to lessen the growl from her stomach in anticipation of lunch. After depositing them in the kitchen and taking one last look around the library, ensuring that there was nothing else she could clean up, Twilight departed the library while still humming, and cheerfully trotted across the street to Rarity who stood in front of a store's window display.

“Oh, look at this one, Twilight,” Rarity said whilst still looking inside when she saw her reflection approach. “See the way its shape accents the color? My, isn’t it just the most beautiful shade… of… red…” Rarity trailed off when she turned to face Twilight.

With her interest piqued, Twilight leaned forward to peer through the glass at the one that caught her attention. “Are you talking about that one? It looks nice, but I’m pretty sure it’s green, not red.”

“Not the jewelry, darling, I’m talking about your eyes,” Rarity said, her own staring widely at Twilight. “Are you trying a new color, dear? I know there are some spells to do that—I was never good at them myself unfortunately—but from the looks of it, you were only… partially, successful at an attempt on yours.”

Twilight blinked blankly before looking into the window, regarding her faint reflection and the pair of lavender eyes that had thin trails of crimson around the center. “No, it wasn’t a spell, at least not one I casted,” Twilight replied casually.

“Oh? Well do tell, how did you get them? I would love to replicate it if possible, although I think I would choose a more fitting color.”

Twilight’s eyes focused on the ground as she answered, “I don’t know exactly how I got them yet, just that they appeared the morning after I was attacked.”

“ATTACKED!?” Rarity shouted, causing Twilight to wince.

Right, nopony knows yet except Spike. How could I have forgotten to spread the news?

Despite Twilight’s calm and carefree attitude to the matter, Rarity was the complete opposite. “Are you alright? Did you get hurt? When did it happen? Who was it? Do I know them?”

Twilight raised a hoof. “Rarity, it’s okay, really. I’m fine. I’ll… I’ll tell you during lunch, okay?”

Rarity scrunched her nose and looked as if she was about to tell Twilight off, but somewhat relaxed her stern features, if only a little. “Very well, but I do expect to hear every little detail about what happened.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“And that’s it?” Rarity asked skeptically.

“That’s everything,” Twilight repeated before biting into a celery sandwich.

They had decided on eating outdoors to enjoy the lovely summer weather, but beneath one of the large umbrella tables at Twilight's request, leaving her and the fashionista sitting comfortably in the shade. Rarity did not mind at all at the chance to enjoy the day while still remaining protected from the sun’s heat, nor did she pay mind that they were at the edge of the open seated restaurant, well away from anypony also at Twilight’s request.

“Um, I hope you don’t mind me saying,” Rarity said. “It’s nice to see you’re well after such a dreadful thing and all, but…”

“Buf whad?” Twilight said with her mouth full.

Rarity paused at the sight of the Twilight, watching with silent horror as a few crumbs fell from her mouth. “…Chew your food, darling,” Rarity eventually said. She was answered with an audible gulp and sheepish grin from Twilight. After she motioned to Twilight to wipe off a few crumbs that had fallen onto her coat, Rarity continued. “It’s good to see handling it so well, but you seem a little bit more… how do I say… at ease, then you should be. For goodness sakes Twilight, you were attacked! And by the sound of it, a ruffian that doesn’t know better than to not shove a unicorns horn into the dirt. Why, if he had done such a thing to me…”

“But I’m alright,” Twilight insisted. “Save for these eyes and scars on my neck.”

“Yes, another thing that concerns me,” Rarity continued. “Who in their right mind bites somepony in the neck? That strange shadowy magic you mentioned alone is concerning enough. I know I am not an expert in magic like yourself, but I have never heard of something like it. The fact alone that you haven’t is even more worrisome.”

Twilight shrugged her shoulders as she picked the sandwich up in her magic, preparing to take another bite. “Well there’s no sense in worrying about it right now when I have nothing for a lead. You know how things turn out when I obsessively freak out about stuff I can’t fix right away.”

“That I do…” Rarity agreed. She observed Twilight in silent thought, shuddering slightly at the unlady like behavior of her licking her lips clean of mayonnaise, before plunging her muzzle deep into the sandwich again, only to reapply the mayonnaise she had licked off moments before. I must admit seeing her more relaxed about things is comforting, but something seems off. She is simply acting too… too... well, like Pinkie.

While Rarity watched Twilight eat her lunch in a way she would never dare act in public, her eyes drifted over Twilight’s shoulder at a familiar pony walking down the street. “Why, if it isn’t Applejack,” Rarity commented. “I wonder what brought her into town today.”

Twilight turned around to follow her gaze. “Of yhe,” she said with another full mouth.

Scrunching her nose at the thought of telling Twilight to chew her food again, she let it slide; instead choosing to raise her hoof to wave at Applejack. “Yooohooo! Applejack! Over here!” Applejack’s turned at the sound of her name, sporting a smile at the direction of the two as she trotted over.

“Afternoon all. Enjoying some lunch?” Applejack as she stood next to their table.

“Yes, Twilight and I are just enjoying a little luncheon we had set up together. What are you up to?”

Applejacks demeanor changed from happy to annoyance in the blink of an eye. “Ah’m looking fer my little sis and her friends. Those three took Bic Mac’s yoke for some crazy reason or another, and now we can’t till a new plot that we were planning to work on. Me and Big Mac have been looking fer them all morning, you haven’t seen ‘em have you?”

Twilight shook her head as she chewed while Rarity spoke, “No I’m sorry dear. We haven’t seen them all day, at least not since I saw off Sweetie Bell this morning. I promise I had no idea what she was planning to do today.”

Applejack puffed out a breath of air in frustration that flipped her hanging locks. “It’s alright. Celestia knows nopony can imagine what’s going on in their heads.”

Rarity and Twilight nodded in agreement before Rarity narrowed her brow. “While the mischievous actions of our sisters is worrisome, I actually called you over if you had heard that Twilight was apparently attacked a few nights ago, something I just only now found out about.” Rarity’s shot a Twilight a glare, causing her to shrink back somewhat.

“What!?” Applejack exclaimed as she looked between the two, her demeanor having immediately washed away into concern. “No I did not hear! What happened?”

Rarity and Applejack looked towards Twilight expectantly who still had a piece of food in her mouth, swallowed and let her eyes drift to the side as she muttered, “Why does everypony have to act so worried. It’s not like I haven’t been in dangerous situations before.”

“Twilight,” Rarity began, “We know you're more than capable of defending yourself most of the time. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be concerned when something does happen. That stranger could have done anything to you when you became unconsciousness.”

“Wait a minute, are you telling me you got beat!?” Applejack asked in disbelief.

Twilight’s eyes narrowed as a bit of red flared on her cheeks. “It’s not my fault that he used some magic I’ve never seen before. If I had been able to use mine he never would have kept me pinned to the ground like he did.”

“You weren’t able to use your magic?” Rarity asked. When Twilight’s eyes avoided her gaze once again while flattening her ears, Rarity grimaced. “Twilight, I thought you told me every little detail.”

Twilight began to fidget in her seat as she took another large bite out her sandwich, chewing a few bites before mumbling, “Mufth’ful… cahnt tahk…”

Rarity skeptically raised a single eyebrow at Twilight’s pitiful attempt to avoid the discussion, while Applejack’s were up from confusion at her behavior as she looked back and forth between the two for an answer to some joke or sign she had perhaps missed as clued by Twilight’s odd behavior.

When it was clear Twilight was going to continue her charade of a very large mouthful, Rarity sighed and turned to Applejack. “It seems Twilight had been attacked a few days ago by somepony she was chasing through the woods.”

“Why was she chasing a pony?” Applejack asked, her eyes still locked on Twilight who was chewing slower even now and still avoiding her gaze.

“Apparently, it was a thief that had broken in Trail’s house.”

That had caught Applejacks attention, drawing her attention back to Rarity. “Trail’s?”

“Hmhmm. Twilight had chased the pony into the woods after catching him in the act, and a fair distance too it seems before she lost sight of him. Before she knew it, apparently some strange shadowy things restrained her and pinned her into the ground. I’ guessing it was at that point her magic stopped working?” Rarity asked while glaring at Twilight disapprovingly, looking for some kind of response or confirmation she had guessed the order of events. All she got was a single head nod in return. Replying with a cold stare, Rarity turned back to Applejack. “Afterwards, it gets a little weird as he… well, I guess there’s only one way to say it. He bit her.”

“Bit her?”

“That’s correct. She even has the scars on her neck to prove it.”

Applejack glanced back to Twilight. The whole situation sounded weird from the get go. After all, it was Twilight, a powerful alicorn who’s very cutie mark was about magic, and the idea that she had somehow been subdued by a pony worried Applejack to no end, but an odd feeling nagged at her even more than her concern. The last sentence Rarity said about the attacker lingering in Applejack’s mind. A bite to tha neck

“After that,” Rarity continued with a raised hoof. “She woke up in the forest with the mysterious pony gone. A quick search of Trail’s house later found nothing stolen, but there were some floorboards damaged. Apparently, there was a book beneath them that went missing.”

“A book?” Applejack asked turning back to Rarity.

“Hmhmm, but,” Rarity paused for dramatic effect, “the robber had missed the second book next to it. Spike and her found an old and no doubt, dust laden book that they think is about whatever he was looking for.”

“And that is?” Applejack asked.

Rarity leaned forward slightly as she answered. “Vamponies.”

Applejack froze at mention of the word. Vamponies… she repeated in her mind. The memory of chasing Trail out into the woods, apparently the very woods Twilight had ventured in, and finding him out in the clearing spouting off nonsense of a creature that existed only in stories and fables came rushing back into her mind. She was lost in her recollection of the night until the sound of Rarity repeating her name snapped her out of it. “Oh, sorry,” Applejack apologized.

“Are you alright?” Twilight finally spoke, conveniently having decided to have chewed enough of the food in her mouth before swallowing.

“Yeah, Ah’m fine it’s just… You don’t believe in it do you?” Applejack asked both of them.

“Of course not,” Twilight replied. “They’re just an old mare’s tale.”

“I don’t mean to be rude, dear,” Rarity interjected. “But didn’t you once say that everypony else thought that the Mare in the Moon was just an old mares tale as well?”

“Yeah, but that’s different,” Twilight replied.

“Really? How so?”

“Well, it’s just…” Twilight began, but found she had nothing to say in definitive.

Rarity seized her pause before she could come up with an argument. “I apologize if I am to direct, but I don’t think you should put it off the table considering the recent events that happened to you,” Rarity said. Twilight tilted her head down, still racking her mind for something to say in return. While she did, another thought popped into Rarity’s head. “Do you know when Trail will return? I’m sure he will be shocked to hear that his home was broken into.”

Twilight shook her head in reply. “No, I have no idea when he’s coming back. He just took off and left.” Twilight looked thoughtfully into what little was left of her sandwich as she went over her last few moments with Trail. “Come to think of it, the last thing he said was for me to be careful…”

Rarity’s focused zoned in on at that little tid bit of information, her mind connecting points together to paint a picture of this mystery, a suspicion already forming on how it may end up looking like. “Do you suppose he knew of the pony coming to his home?”

“It seems likely,” Twilight said, the option having crossed her mind as well.

“Do you think he also knows of that book you found and the one the robber was looking for?”

“I’m not sure, for all we know that book had been there for years. Somepony could have placed them there long before Trail moved in.”

“Uh… ah don’t think so,” Applejack hesitantly chimed in.

The two of them turned up to Applejack curiously. “How would you know?” Twilight asked.

“Ah, well… ah would say it’s from something that had happened with me and Trail some time ago,” Applejack answered slowly. When she received further questioning looks from the two she quickly stammered, “Look ah’m not saying ah believe in tha stuff, but I had a run in with Trail about… well, about vamponies a bit ago.”

“Really?” Twilight asked immediately, shifting herself closer to Applejack. “What happened? Did he say anything about them important?”

“Nothing particular that ah can remember. He just spouted off a bunch of stuff about how he knew they were real and had been collecting information and what-not about their existence. I took him for a crazy pony at the time, and it sounds he’s not the only one if somepony else is going around and biting others on the neck.”

Twilight looked slightly disappointed as she eased back into her chair. “I suppose I shouldn’t be expecting anything less. I still can’t bring myself to believe in them either. All of it just sounds too absurd to be real.”

While Applejack and Twilight held the similar opinions on the matter, Rarity on the other hoof, was still stitching together the pieces that had been revealed throughout the conversation. “So what you’re saying, Applejack, is that Trail had mentioned to you earlier about the existence of vamponies. And sometime later, Twilight is attacked as well as finding a book about vamponies, a book that was found in Trails house who believes in vamponies.”

“Are you implying it's Trails fault?” Twilight asked, a little more defensively than she had intended.

“No, I'm not saying that," Rarity emphasized. "But you can’t ignore the fact he is somehow tied into this. It was his house after all, and from the sound of it, his book as well.” As Twilight began to mull over it, Rarity continued, “But there are two more pieces that support the idea that maybe Trail is on to something that I feel has been neglected somewhat during this discussion.”

“And that is?” Twilight asked.

“Applejack, look into Twilight’s eyes.”

Applejack looked at Rarity curiously before complying. Alright, what the heck am ah looking fer in Twilight’s eyes that’s… oh. Applejack blinked a few times to make sure she saw correctly. “They’re… red. Right there on tha edges.”

“Yes, my eyes are red. How many times do we have to bring it up?” Twilight grumbled.

“My second piece is this thought,” Rarity said, before waiting patiently until she had their full attention. “It had crossed my mind while we sat here as Twilight ate,” she said tossing a disapproving glance towards Twilight. “How does a pony, which I remind you two, whom have flat teeth, leave fang marks?

The two of them were silent as that fact rang across their minds, both of which felt like the final nail had been struck into the proverbial coffin that was the serious consideration of vamponies being real. The realization that she had been bitten by a vampony and could potentially turn into one, finally became an option she could no longer dismiss.

Act I - Chapter 11

View Online

“H-hello…?” Twilight’s called out, flinching as her voice echoed about her. She was in the middle of a void, a pitch black darkness that replied with a distorted version of her voice. Oddly enough however, her echo repeated several more times with volume, before eventually, it faded away for good, almost as if the mimicker had moved far away.

“Is anypony there?”

“There?.....There…? There…….? There…………? There…………….?

Twilight flattened her ears as her voice echo around her again, noting that that it sounded as if it was resounding off nearby walls within the void. She remained quiet during the time it took for the echo to finally became silent.

Where are am I?

Looking about, she found nothing but blackness around her, except for the odd fact she was able to make herself out clearly. Lifting a hoof to her face, she blinked in curiosity at being able to see her foreleg as normally as she would during the day. She then tested it by extending it out, and found it was still perfectly visible. There was no source of light that should have made it possible to see herself but not the ground beneath her. But despite being able to see her own form, the absolute darkness around her was beginning to cause a sense of vertigo, and she brought a hoof to her head in attempts to steady herself. It was as if the sun had blacked out everything save her.

Then another noise that did not emanate from her echoed faintly about her, causing her ears to prick forward. Looking around again but more fearfully, Twilight attempted to pinpoint the source of a slow but steady, “Plip……. Plip…….. Plip……”

Steady, Twilight. It’s sounds like it’s just water… It’s just water… Twilight brought a hoof to her chest to ease her beating heart which thrummed loudly in her ears, nearly encompassing the sound of the water. It’s alright, calm down. Just… figure out where you are.

Waiting sometime for her heartbeat to become calmer, Twilight took a step forward, and nearly jumped out of her skin as the resounding echo of her step. Her heart skyrocketed at causing such a loud disturbance, and her lungs worked mouthfuls of air through her body. Her tongue felt dry, the blood rushed through her ears, and her chest was beginning to hurt.

Why am I so afraid? Come on! Calm down!

Swallowing, Twilight attempted to breath out her nostrils only to calm herself. But the nervousness inside her prevented her from doing so for long, and she returned to open mouth breathing. There was no getting around it; she was terrified.

But despite her feelings, she decided it would be worse staying where she was. And against the instinct that if she moved, that even one step would spell her end for whatever lurked in the dark, she moved forward, each echo sounding off loudly that made her insides quiver.

It was unnerving for her to move without being able to see anything in front of her. Were it not for the thankful reassurance at being able to see her legs beneath her, she wouldn’t even have been sure if her eyes were open or not. But even seeing her legs in motion, it did not quell the suspicion that she walking in place, unable to use any other source at a point of reference. It was then the soft sound of water dripping was heard again, ahead, and then behind as she past it. What started out as one trickle in the darkness, soon became a symphony of water dripping about her.

The air feels damp.

Noting the atmosphere of wherever she was, Twilight took in a deep breath with her nose. Ugh, it smells musty and stagnant.

Exhaling, Twilight was surprised to see mist leave her mouth. She watched the vapors trail away from her and vanished in moments, and as if on cue to seeing her breath, the air about her suddenly became much colder than it was before. A shiver traveled down her spine as she clung her legs together for warmth.

How did I not notice this chill before? she thought with squeezed eyes. What’s going on? Where am I? This place… it doesn’t make any sense. What happened to me? Why can’t I remember how I got here?

With question after question firing from her mind, Twilight huddled herself onto the ground, desperately trying to keep every fragment of warmth she had left.

“I just want to go home, take me home…”Twilight rocked her head forward and back. “Just go home, this isn’t real… just take me ho-NHEA!”

Twilight lept off the ground at the sensation of water splashing in front of her and onto her face. She breathed heavily as she felt the droplets of water slide down her cheek, and shakily raised a hoof to wipe it off. Letting out a miserable groan, Twilight sank back down to the floor, feeling a tear sliding down the path of the water droplet. I don’t like it here… I just want to go home…please...

The sound of another splash of water, just as close as the first time made Twilight’s ears perk. She flinched her muscles in preparation to leap away again, but held herself still. That water splashed on something… something that isn’t the ground considering it hit my face.

Forcing herself to breathe normally again, Twilight summoned her courage, and tentatively extended a hoof out to the nearest sound of splashing. It was unnerving to watch her arm extend into nothingness, and it took all her strength to not scream as she did touch something, causing her to immediately recoil.

Finally in the overwhelming darkness, she had touched something, and whatever it was, it was hard. Twilight timidly poked at the object again, growing more confident with each prod. After a few faint touches, she placed her entire hoof onto it, rubbing it across what was a craggy and wet surface. After blindly searching the object, she blinked in realization of what it was. A rock…

The moment her recognition of the object came to, the rock she had been feeling immediately appeared into view. She drew her hoof back again on its sudden appearance.

“A stalagmite?”

She stared blankly at the rock formation as water continued to drip onto it from somewhere above. With her breathing becoming more even, Twilight stood up and inspected the rock in closer detail. There’s a stalagmite in front of me, the air is chilly, and everything feels wet. Which means… Twilight turned around to stare out in the unending dark. “I’m in a cave.”

Cave….. cave……..cave……...cave……….

In kind with the stalagmite, a world suddenly flashed into view in the empty space around her. She gazed about as she slowly turned around in circles in awe of finding herself in a massive cavern. Everywhere she looked, grey and craggy rock formations filled the floor and ceiling with long reaching spires of stone, and water dripping steadily from them and onto the bottom. The floor itself was uneven and covered in a variety of sizes of rocks or broken stalactites, making her wonder how she had even walked about in the first place when before, she found nothing but a smooth and flat floor.

She noted that there was no visible light source, and no magic flowing through her horn. No explanation for how she could see things, only that she was just somehow able to. But while she was able to finally see where she was, the large cavern still held plenty of dark shadows that she could not see into. Squinting her eyes, she was only able to make out lager spires off into the distance that faded into the never ending darkness.

Just how big is this cave? It looks like it could fit nearly half of Ponyville in here.

As Twilight stood with a open mouth in wonderment and curiosity as to where such a cave could be, she sucked in her breath as a new sound broke through the unending dripping of water. Her heartbeat began quickening again, much to her confusement. She brought a hoof to her chest and felt it beat against her ribcage much more noticeably than it should have been normally possible. “What is going on?” she breathed quietly.

Her ears pricked back in forth as she attempted to discern the source of her rising anxiety. It echoed about the pillars of rocks in a garbled fashion, before slowing coming into clarity the sound of high-pitched squeaks, and the scrapping of tiny claws against stone. What had started out as a few noises, steadily grew in chorus as more unseen things added their voices and claws, working their way into a maddening chittering that easily drowned out the sounds of falling water.

Twilight flattened her ears to block out the sound as it jumped to something that was near borderline painful to hear, and stumbled backwards in a desperate attempt to get away from whatever was causing it. But it was all about her, and it activated a primal fear deep that was buried deep within her. A fear that she could not escape nor grasp reasonably.

She swung her head frantically about to shake the noises from her ears, and to see where and what horrible things were causing what was now hundreds of voices shrieking, only becoming worse with each moment from the added echoes of the cavern. But she could not spot a thing besides the pillars of rock, and the dark shadows; shadows capable of hiding anything within the nooks and crannies of the rock.

With a moment of clarity that appeared suddenly amongst the deafening noise, Twilight turned her gaze upward into the crevices above, peering into the depths of the shadows. At first she was not able to spot them, but slowly, their forms were able to be made out. She didn’t know how she could not have noticed them before, but what was once a barren and rocky ceiling, was now covered in an endless dark swarm of tiny bodies, their movements jarring and chaotic as each one twisted and flapped about individually.

The distance and darkness of the cave alone should have made it impossible to make them out any further than a blur, but Twilight found their forms beginning clearer and clearer to see. She looked wordlessly up to them, unaware of her body relaxing somewhat at the fact the noise they had been making was becoming more bearable despite their volume not decreasing.

High above her, was bat after bat after bat, so many that there wasn’t a speck of rock left on the ceiling. Most shrieked and cried with all their breaths, some hung still in content, and others flapped about wildly with unknown fury.

As Twilight looked over the endless waves of bats, her mouth became dry, her panicked breaths doubled, nearly borderlining hyperventilation, and her chest began to hurt with each pounding beat of her heart.

This doesn’t make any sense! Where in Equestria am I!?

Twilight fumbled backwards and bumped into a stalagmite, and slide down to the ground as her legs refused to respond any further.

I just want to go home… Please, someone, anyone... take me home…

Through the deafening roar of bats, through the pounding that filled her ears, and through the darkness all around her, a strange yet familiar voice whispered clearly, “You are home.”

Twilight gasped as her eyes darted upwards and onto the body of a bat she had not noticed before until that very moment. It hung in the middle of the throng of furry bodies, a massive form that was larger than any of those around it. From where she stood, Twilight idly reasoned it was a large as her; a thought that sent shivers down her spine. It hung motionless while wrapped within it’s leathery-wings, looking something akin to a beacon tower in a stormy ocean of bodies.

As Twilight looked onward with awe and fear, she flinched as one of its wings twitched. Its sudden movement froze Twilight in place more so than any spell of holding she had ever experienced; her body simply not allowing her to move, nor allow her eyes pry themselves away while she watched helplessly as the massive thing unfurled itself.

One wing slowly extended away, shortly followed by the second jerking out with a snapping motion, before it too slowly spread. The large leathery appendages were wicked looking and even more expansive than they had appeared while wrapped up, stretching out over a large number of bats beneath it, somehow adding shadow atop their already dark forms. Twilight's heart pounded more painfully in her chest as she stared at the revealed figure, and what was an attempt at a terrified scream died weakly in her throat. It now made sense as to why its voice sounded so familiar to Twilight, for the large hanging creature that stared down from above her, was herself.

It was a Twilight doppelganger that perched menacingly above her, its feathery alicorn wings traded in for those of a bat, its flat teeth now pointed fangs extending past its lips, and what was once purple eyes were now a cold and dominating gaze of red. Twilight stared at the abomination in absolute horror, unable to comprehend how such a thing could exist. Everything about it was familiar yet so different. It was like staring into a dark version of herself she never knew existed. If its appearance was unsettling enough, the way it watched her was akin to something she only had a few chances in life to have witnessed. It was the look of the rare predator eying its next prey; cold, unforgiving, and hungry.

To Twilight, the monstrosity above her was the embodiment of death itself.

If there was a inkling within Twilight that her situation could not become worse than it already was, some unnatural force answered that silent hope, and removed it thoroughly. What was once the splattering of water on top of jutting rocks, now became a deep splunk as the previously clear liquid turned into a darker color. Twilight found she was able to pry her eyes from the creature, and hesitantly looked at the nearest rock formation beside her.

A sickly color of red splattered across its surface as drop after drop of blood began to rain down from the ceiling. The ichor like substance oozed down the edges of the rock as it grew thicker from further drops, some of it splashing directly on her cheek like the water before.

Twilight’s veins felt as if they had been filled with ice, and a sickly feeling overtook her stomach. However, she had only a few brief moments to take in the ghastly sight before she felt the odd sensation of falling, much to the despair of her already queasy insides.

Looking back up, she saw the ghoulish look-alike still standing in the ocean of bats, continuing to stare at her in a hungry fashion. She nor Twilight had not moved at all, but it somehow had felt like they had reversed their positions. Twilight then felt the strong pull of gravity creep from below her, to her sides, and finally above her. Blinking in confusion as she tried to processes what was happening while simultaneously keeping the contents of her stomach inside, she realized in horror what had happened when her bangs suddenly flopped above her. What had been the ground was now the ceiling.

The creature that was now below had never moved its eyes away from her during transition, its red eyes orbs taking note of every little detail about Twilight in either fascination or hunger; which one it was, Twilight did not know. Small panicked gasps for breath escaped Twilight's lips as her lungs attempted to pull more air in. She was unable to prevent herself from hyperventilating any longer, her reasoning and logic that would have eased her having already left her long ago. For the briefest of moments, the thought that perhaps the creature had casted some spell similar to the one she had used on the staircase in the crystal kingdom, and how she could dispel it. But to her unending horror, her reflection on ending it caused whatever force was holding her to cease, and then she fell.

It was a slow descent as if she had jumped up, but continued to rise with increasing speed, almost as if gravity was still working out which direction she should be going. Beneath her, the throng of bats shrieking took on an even higher volume at having taken spotted Twilight’s body coming towards them; their movements becoming more erratic as they flapped their wings and swung their heads to and fro. All of them moved frantically except for one; the bat-like doppelganger who remained motionless and calm as Twilight descended, a toothy smile that looked towards her expectantly. Its wings were stretched out wide as if it was greeting Twilight in a friendly manner, waiting with open embrace to catch Twilight. And Twilight was falling directly towards it.

I’m going to die… Twilight numbly thought as she fell closer. By Celestia, I’m going to die…

She could only stare helplessly in terror as she was nearly upon it, her last breath seemingly a lifetime ago and her heart pounding as if it would rip itself out of her chest. But just before she touched it, she dimly noticed that its once alien and dominating eyes, now held a softer look about them, almost as they were welcoming a long lost friend into a protective embrace.

Then, Twilight closed her eyes, and fell into its grasp.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It seemed as if hours passed, feeling lost in the dark similar to the one she had awoken to. Twilight was unable to move during the time or able to see her own body like before. She was simply trapped in what was a black purgatory. It was a lost and lonely place with nothing appearing before her eyes no matter how much she willed something to. There was no sound and no light, only darkness and her worries. Then, through that darkness, a voice called out again. Her voice.

“Welcome home…”

Sensation returned to Twilight’s eyes she felt them locked in place by some force. Fighting, she willed with all her might to open them, to see something else besides the darkness. With a groan she turned her neck about before finally breaking loose and opening them. A relieved gasp escaped her lips at being able to see again. As her vision focused the blurry objects around her, she blinked sorely as if her eyes had been closed for years. When painful sensation passed, and her vision clear again, her entire body clenched as she found herself sitting in the middle of the sea of bats she had watched from afar before.

All about her, were the small forms of bats tightly pressing their bodies against each other and hers, their soft furry bodies rubbing lightly against her coat. She looked about fearfully of now being so close to them, taking in each face of the one immediately next to her with as little movement on her end as possible. Their chittering voices still echoed about the cavern, but at a much calmer level now. She was even able to hear the droplets of liquid again, and the sound of her own breathing.

As Twilight took in the strange scene, her eyes locked onto one of the bats at random, and to her surprise, she found she was able to separate its cry amongst the rest, its own voice a distinct sound amongst the chorus of their cries. Twilight’s mouth hung open at the new ability, before she realized where she was again, and began to desperately look for an escape. She tightened her body each time of them brushed further against her, causing her to lean away futilely as it only pushed her into more. But as she looked about to flee, her eyes passed over more bats, and began to hear their voices amongst the rest as well. And as she did, their cries became calmer, and more oddly enough, familiar.

Twilight bit her lip in worry, and winced at a sharp sensation. Crossing her eyes, she looked downwards as her tongue poked a sore spot on her lips. As she explored with her tongue, she brushed up into her teeth, and narrowed her brows as she felt her canines were pointy instead of flat. As if her new teeth were not jarring enough, Twilight froze as something large moved within her peripheral.

Glancing at the corner of her eyes, Twilight saw the massive wingspan of the doppelganger pony from before, except what she saw was the tip of the leathery wings, their form stretching back towards her. For a moment, Twilight feared that it was behind her, waiting any second to sink its teeth into her and rip her apart. Yet when it did not come, Twilight realized its wing was instead her wing.

While watching it wordlessly, she flexed leathery appendage, causing a soft swishing noise through the air as she pulled it back and forth. In tune with her command, Twilight felt the tug of the other wing, which after a turn of her head, confirmed both of her feathered wings were gone. She flapped them once, then twice in unison, feeling the air pull across her membranes. What should have been an odd sensation considering she was used to feathers, was instead a familiar and even comfortable one as she moved them about.

Breaking her attention on the changes of her body, a single bat cried out in a new shriek, drawing Twilight’s towards it. She able was to differentiate its voice and location easily enough, and looked in confusion at it. Before she opened her mouth ask what in Equestria it wanted, another bat nearby replied in kind, then another, and another, until each bat near her and more by the second began to reply in the same fashion. Twilight’s ears were on a constant swivel as she processed each bats call, unable to understand exactly what they were implying but somehow knowing that whatever it was, they were referring to her.

What was once unintelligibly noises escaping their mouths, slowly turned into a word Twilight was able to understand. They called out in unison, their voices raising to new heights as they chanted together in single call.

‘Princess.’

Understanding filling her, Twilight felt a tug in her chest. It wasn’t the painful or sharp pull she felt before, but a gentle thud of her heart as a new wave of emotions washed over her. Before she had felt fear, worry, and even a small amount of hate towards the creatures about her when she had looked at them from below. But how she could have felt like before did not make sense to her when she reflected on the memory. Now, she felt nothing but the warmth of love, loyalty, and the need for her. She needed to be there amongst them. She did not know how or why, or even cared at this point, she only felt the urge to protect them within her wide wings, safe from anything outside of her grasp; to keep them safe in her shadow.

It was then the black and beady eyes of the little bats began to reflect a reddish color. Twilight opened her mouth to ask why their eyes were changing, but then realized it wasn’t their eyes that were turning color, it was the addition of a new light source that had not been there before. A soft glow of red washed over Twilight and the plethora of bats, and after looking up to see what was causing it, she gasped.

The previously rocky floor that had flipped into a ceiling, was gone and replaced with an ocean colored red.

Blood.

Twilight stared in awe at its wide expanse, lighting up what remained of the cavern in a colorful glow as it illuminated everything beneath it. She couldn’t tear her eyes away as she watched waves of blood roll about its surface, cascading about itself endlessly, unable to tell if she was looking from above the ocean or from deep within it. Its color and reflections captivated her and invited her to swim amongst its crimson waves. She felt a craving build inside her, one she had not felt before that overpowered her other senses. The need to drink, filled her more than any hunger or lustful thought she had ever had in her life.

That ocean of blood was life. It was the source for everything. All would stem from it, and end their journey within its depths. Twilight now knew that she and she alone was capable of skimming across its surface, her wings touching into its depths briefly as she flew by like a gull would across the ocean. It was the world, and she was the being that could travel its never ending expanse and beauty. She, and the bats around her, could fly onward forever above its surface, never pulling far from its glow, and never sinking beneath its waves. She knew that this was where she belonged, to forever fly over the ocean that was life, her home for all of eternity. Trapped in an in-between state of life and death itself. On cue, Twilight’s mouth moved automatically, her voice now fully hers, and without anything adding to it save the reassuring shrieks of bats.

“I’m home.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“GHAAA!” Twilight screamed as she bolted upright from underneath the covers, sweat dripping profusely beneath her coat. She took in deep breaths as she gulped in air, her heartbeat pounding in her ears from the dream. After a minute of reassuringly touching the blankets and her feathered wings to make sure they were real, Twilight began to calm down and leaned back against the headboard of her bed.

“It’s alright… it was just a dream… Just a dream,” she whispered between breaths.

She laid there for a few minutes, trying to recall every detail of it before fading into hazy memory. She had been in a cave of sorts, surrounded by winged creatures. She thought they were scary at first but eventually, they became familiar and she felt as if she even cared for them. Somehow she became attached to the things that had terrified her within the darkness. And even more confusing, she felt at home beside them. Like it was where she belonged.

Twilight ran over the dream in her mind again and again as she woke up, some details drifting off as her brain kicked started from her sleepy state. Unable to shake the strange feelings that had been solicited from her in the dream, she turned her head to look out the window to watch the morning sunlight brighten Ponyville. Yet instead, she saw an already well lit town outside her window. Her brain took a moment before finally clicking the sight together.

“Horse-apples! How much did I sleep in!?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“There you are, I was just about to come up and wake you out of your sleep,” Spike said as he shelved a book. “It’s already twelve-thirty.”

“I know I know, I’m sorry! I don’t how I didn’t wake up when I normally do,” Twilight answered as she trotted down the stairs.

“It’s alright, Twilight, I’ve been handling the library myself okay. A few ponies checked out some books, got about five returns, pretty much normal routine stuff.”

“I know you can handle things on your own, it’s just…. I…. URGHHH!” Twilight groaned as she walked across the floor.

“Uh, Twilight… you okay?”

Twilight snapped her heads towards him. “No I am not alright! I just had a horrible dream and I’m feeling absolutely awful from it. I feel angry, scared, and frustrated so much that I could punch a wall and cry at the same time!”

“I… uh…. I’m sorry?” Spike said hesitantly.

“Sorry? SORRY!?” Twilight stamped a hoof into the floor, causing a nearby pile of books to topple over.

“Twilight, please calm down! Why are you so angry!?” Spike said with his claws up in defense.

Twilight glared at him menacingly until she blinked in recognition of her actions, and pulled back, her scowl replaced with a sheepish and sorrowful look. “I’m sorry, Spike, I don’t know what came over me…”

Spike tentatively lowered his hands as he regarded her with a newfound sense of respect and worry. A few moments passed between them until he asked, “Was it that bad of a dream?”

Twilight sighed as she turned away from him and headed towards the kitchen. “You have no idea…” Spike started to trail her, but stopped when she spoke again. “I’m going to make myself something to eat. Just… give me a few minutes to regain myself again and wake up.”

Spike wanted to stay by her side into the kitchen and help prepare a meal for her, but the ringing of the doorbell opening stopped him from continuing. He eyed the kitchen entry with worried eyes, before turning around to help assist another customer.

For the next hour, Twilight remained in the kitchen while Spike dealt with the few ponies that entered the library. Just as he was waving off the last one, Twilight trotted out of the kitchen, a smile on her face and her general demeanor much friendlier. “Ah, that hit the spot. Got some dishes to do tonight, but Celestia did it make me feel better,” she said.

“Dishes?” Spike groaned. Like I need more work for my evening chores. How has she been able to eat so much lately?

“Spike, I just wanted to say thank you so much for taking care of the library while I slept like a log.”

“And when you stuffed your face,” he added.

Twilight rolled her eyes, but was unable to contain her smirk. “Yes, and even when I was having breakfast. I just wanted you to know that I appreciate you and everything you do.” Twilight moved over to Spike and wrapped a foreleg around in, pulling him close for a tight embrace.

“Awww, Twilight, you don’t have to thank me. You know your number one assistant is always here to help.”

“I know, but I just wanted to let you know.”

A few moments passed between them before Spike coughed politely.“So, where are you going this time while I watch the library?”

“You could tell?”

“I don’t mind the compliment, but next time drop the prolonged hug when you don’t want something.”

“Sorry.” Twilight pulled away from him and made for the door. “I’m just going over to Trail’s to do a little more digging around. I have a spell I want to try that is supposedly helpful for finding hidden things. I figured there’s a chance that there might be something else beneath the floorboards or in the walls that might be able to shed some light.”

“Let me know if you need help. Oh, I almost forgot!” Spike dashed over to the table and swiped a scroll off its surface. “You got a letter from Princess Celestia!”

“A letter from the Princess? I mean, Celestia?”

“I haven’t read it yet, but I bet it’s about the report you filed with the guards. She’s probably sending a whole platoon just to come over and watch you!” Spike exclaimed.

Twilight unrolled the scroll and scanned its contents. “Looks like she’s sending an investigator over to help with the robbery.”

Spike smirked as nodded his head with crossed arms. “And the a platoon of guards right?”

“Nope, just the investigator.”

“What? Just a single investigator!? No guards, or unicorns mages, or other protection?”

“Nope.”

Spike stared slack jaw at Twilight. “But you were attacked! By something you’ve never seen before! Twilight, this is serious!”

“Come on, Spike, it’s not like I’ve never been beaten before,” Twilight said nonchalantly as she floated the scroll back over the table and began to fetch her saddlebag.

“But your Princess Twilight! An ex-unicorn that knew more spells than any other unicorn! The unicorn that was probably on par with Star Swirl the Bearded! Who’s also an alicorn now!”

Twilight sighed as she brought down the Corpus Nocte Morsu into her pack along with other books for possible references. “Spike, for one, I don’t even come close to Star Swirl. Two, I don’t even know what powers I’m supposed to get for being an alicorn. So far I’m still just using the same spells as I did before. I guess some of them might be a little more powerful, but Celestia told me it would take time before anything begins to show. Until then, I’m still same old me but with wings.”

“But-but, you’re a princess now! Doesn’t a princess being attack mean anything?”

“Well… Princess Celestia may not know that I was… attacked,” Twilight said as she closed her saddlebag.

Spike stared in disbelief at her, hoping like before he had heard wrong. “Uh, Twilight, you said you were attacked in the report… right?”

A embarrassed smile spread across her face before she quickly turned towards the door.

“Twilight… why didn’t you mention it?” Spike asked quietly. “Don’t you care that you could have been hurt?”

“Spike… If I had told the guards about the attack, they would have whisked me away to Canterlot and I would probably be stuck there under watch from Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. I wouldn’t be able to figure this out on my own.”

“But what if you get hurt? Is figuring this out is more important than what happens to you?”

Twilight sighed. “Why is everypony so concerned about my welfare now that I’m a princess? Nopony bothered to stop me before when I was just an Element Bearer. I could face dangers without being coddled or being told I should leave it to others to deal with. That I didn’t need to remain somewhere safe and out of harm’s way. Spike, I…” Twilight turned away from the door and faced him.

“I can’t just sit back and do nothing while others handle everything for me. Guards? Investigators? Royal advisors that insist on taking care of every little thing? How will I ever be capable of leading if I just get pushed away from every little problem that appears in front of me? Especially the big ones like this. I need to experience the world and face them on my own, or at least with my friends. Something I couldn’t be doing if I told the guards everything…” Spike opened his mouth to speak, but Twilight continued, cutting him off. “Spike… as much I feel grateful of turning into alicorn, I sometimes hate it too...”

“What do you mean?” Spike asked. His scales were drooping now and he was fidgeting with his hands.

“Everypony has been treating me different ever since I got these wings. I know everypony from Ponyville has gotten better about it but… sometimes I just wish I could go back to being just a regular old unicorn. Maybe then I wouldn’t get treated so differently…” Twilight lowered her head. The sound of scuffling feet and sudden grasp of small arms wrapping around her neck however, caught her by surprise, and she craned her neck back so she could look down at Spike.

“I’ll never treat you different. You’re Twilight, and you always will be. Just… please make sure you stay around so I can keep being there for you.”

Twilight opened her mouth to say something, but thought others, and instead, pulled him closer. “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. No matter what, I’ll still be the same Twilight,” she sniffed as she finished. “Always.”

Act I - Chapter 12

View Online

Twilight walked out of the library and into the streets of Ponyville, her eyes focused on the ground in low spirits of her predicament that had yet to yield a clear solution.

I’ve read the book the book more than five times now, and I still haven’t found out anything useful. What am I missing?

At this point she knew all the charms, protections, and markings of a vampony by heart, most of it having been inline with traditional folklore, only causing her to be more skeptical about it all.

Despite having no lead to go off on now, she still held a fierce determination to figure it out, trusting that like all her problems, it just took dedication and resilience. But while her mind worked tirelessly for the crack in the proverbial wall that was stopping her, her heart felt heavy from the concerns of everypony else.

Though she felt comforted by her friends worrying over her, it felt like it was tearing herself into two pieces. One end was the safe knowledge that they would be there for her, ready to help when she needed it, and the other an inner voice telling her that she could do it without dragging them in. There would be times as a princess where she wouldn’t be able to turn to them, and would have to face things on her own now and then eventually.

But what if their only worried about me because I am a princess? a sudden thought spoke.

Biting her lip, she began to imagine that them trying to do everything for her, in which turn due to her paranoia, spread out to what everypony else outside her friends would do as well. Memories of how Ponyville treated her when she first became a princess rang through her mind, digging up buried feelings of her uneasiness and even contempt for their behavior towards her. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more she realized they were still behaving differently towards her.

A sudden straightening of posture, a deep conversation put on pause to greet her and ask about her day, or the store clerk keeping an eye on her specifically while she browsed the store—eager to run over at any moment to assist if she even looked remotely confused when comparing two similar products.

While the attention had been nice at first, it had quickly become situations that Twilight began to dread.

It wasn’t that she was unfamiliar to attention, for she some experience naturally from being an Element Bearer and Princess Celestia’s protégée, both prestigious in their own right, but not so bothersome for Twilight. However, both paled in comparison to the popularity that came with becoming a princess.

Save the world a few times, you might get a discount on a train ticket. Become a princess, and book stores offer you so many free books that they might run out of business. She almost paid double the price for a stack of books from a store in Canterlot to spite the offer of having them for free.

And if she found such reactions in both Ponyville and in Canterlot, the idea that everypony else in the world doing the same thing no matter where she was sent a queasy wave through her stomach. So far she had only been away from Ponyville a few times since becoming a princess, mostly on official business that required her presence, or upper class social gatherings held in her honor by the elite of pony society. And each time, she had been meet with the same greetings, responses, and behaviors, turning anticipation for such events into apprehension.

The growing fear of any social function caused so much worry that she felt that she never wanted to leave Ponyville again. Everypony here could at least remember her as the simple librarian sent from Canterlot; when she wasn’t saving everypony from complete disaster that is. Nopony elsewhere would see her as avid book worm that would sometimes became a complete shut-in whenever a new book series or scientific journal came out, a lover of mint chocolate chip cookies, or just a simple mare that just likes to hang out in the sun with her friends. Nopony outside of her home would see her for who she was, and who she wanted to remain.

All of this, with the addition of the unnerving experience with the pony in the woods, rattled about her brain so much that she found it hard to focus on any one subject.

As if her mind wasn’t already hazy enough, the blazing sun above was not helping her in the slightest. Twilight brought a hoof to her head as she squinted upwards. She wasn’t sweating, but the heat was certainly getting to her. In fact, the day seemed so hot that she was half tempted to head back to the library to retrieve a sunhat and pair of sunglasses. But before she made up her mind on the matter, her attention was drifted towards a familiar pair of ponies she spied in the corner of her eye just down the street.

Some hundred feet away, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie were crouched behind a building corner, their heads peeking around the edge; with Rainbow Dash hovering just a few feet above Pinkie Pie. They were looking in the opposite direction of Twilight, appearing as if waiting for something to happen. Following their gaze, Twilight spotted a cupcake sitting in the middle of the street, and the gears in her head clicked as to why they were so patiently watching it.

Those two are just dangerous when pranking together. I don’t even want to know what they put into it this time.

Twilight briefly felt a twinge of sorrow for the poor pony that would happen across the seemingly delectable cupcake, but then gave a sly grin when an idea popped into her head as she watched the two of them; or rather more of an impulse.

The sight of the two ponies hiding behind the building, completely unaware of Twilight’s presence, was simply too tempting for her to pass up. Deciding to have a bit of fun with the two pranksters, Twilight crouched down and snuck towards them. She rushed as much distance as she dared before slowing down in fear that they would hear her approach, her hoof steps becoming softer and quieter. Their heads remained by the building’s corner, completely focused on the cupcake down the street, their bodies noticeable tensing up each time a potential victim walked by the treat.

Hehe, they haven’t noticed me yet!

The idea of catching the two of Ponyville’s most notorious pranksters by surprise sent a large surge of excitement through Twilight. But despite the growing thrill, she slowed her breathing as much as she could while continuing to inch closer, her attention entirely focused on her targets. She was only dimly aware of the steady rise of her heartbeat.

Suddenly, Rainbow Dash pulled her head away from the corner and started talking to Pinkie Pie below her. “Maybe we should pick a different spot Pinkie, nopony here is biting.” Twilight froze the moment she saw her move, remaining locked in a half step and crouched position. She was so intently focused on Rainbow Dash and the potentially to be discovered, the curious fact that she could hear her so easily from where she was didn’t cross her mind.

“Just a bit longer, I’m pretty sure Mr. Gumdrop will take the bait. He comes out every day at one for a quick break. I just know he won’t be able to resist it!” Pinkie Pie assured.

Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow before shrugging and turning her attention back to the cupcake. “Remind me to ask you someday how you know everypony’s schedule.”

Pinkie Pie giggled as quietly as she could manage. “It’s easy, you just have to pay attention to everything!”

Twilight waited until they were both entirely focused on the cupcake once more before moving again, her heart pounding at the prospect of almost being seen. If Rainbow Dash had only turned her head a few more inches, she would have easily spotted Twilight. The very idea that she had almost been caught by the ponies she was stalking sent another thrill of excitement through her. If they had seen her, she felt as if she would have attempted to leap onto them from where she was. She didn’t understand why sneaking up on them was compelling or so much fun, but she didn’t care. Right now, the only thing that mattered was getting as close as she could to the two of them, and pouncing. She was going to scare them in a way she had never done before, in a manner they would have never expected from her.

The rising excitement was so much that Twilight nearly threw all of her efforts away to jump at them right there and then.

But after managing to ease her muscles from performing the premature action, Twilight cautiously took the rest of the distance, and was left with only ten feet between her and her still unsuspecting friends. She had positioned herself a little ways behind Pinkie Pie, deciding to slink over directly behind and along the buildings side. Having gotten so close sent another surge of excitement through her again, causing her body to twitch side to side as she readied herself to jump at them.

I can’t believe it! They haven’t spotted me yet! They’re just sitting there completely unaware how good I’m about to get them! This is so much fun! Why haven’t I done something like this sooner?

“Rainbow Dash?” Pinkie Pie suddenly asked.

“Yeah, Pinkie?”

“I’m getting a ticklish hoof and an shaky lip.”

Twilight shifted about as a cat would when preparing to leap onto a completely open and vulnerable prey, her entire body loose and tense at the same time.

“What’s that mean?” Rainbow Dash asked in half interest.

“Normally it means that I’m being stalked…”

Sensing the moment of surprise would pass soon, Twilight coiled her legs. One… two… three! Twilight’s pushed off the ground with all her might and leapt the remaining distance, landing directly behind Pinkie Pie while shouting at the top of her lungs. “RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

Rainbow Dash and Pinkie pie screamed in unison, they jumped high into the sky, and somehow at equal heights. Rainbow Dash on instinct, grabbed Pinkie Pie before she could fall back towards the ground, both their faces holding a look of complete shock as they turned their heads Twilight below, beaming them the biggest smile she could muster.

T-Twilight!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed.

Twilight began giggling uncontrollably at a successful scare on the two, holding a hoof to her sides as she spoke between her laughs. “I- hahah! Got you two! Oh Celestia- hahah! Was that fun and just perfect! Y-you should see the look on your faces! Hahahah!”

Indeed Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie faces were completely stunned as their hearts slowly began to calm down inside their chests. Rainbow Dash was still getting over the surprise while Pinkie Pie on the other hoof, quickly changed from a scared and shocked demeanor into a silly grin of amusement. She joined in Twilight’s laughter accompanied by a cute snort now and then. “Oh my gosh, Twilight! You really got us good! Haha! That was great! Wasn’t it Dashie?”

Pinkie Pie twisted her head around to look at the still stunned pegasus. After few moments of being expected to answer, she snapped out of it and she began to lower themselves to the ground with a weak laugh. “Haha… yeah, that was a good one. Nice scare, Twi’, but it’s going to take more than that if you really want to catch me by surprise.”

Twilight lifted an eyebrow with a knowing smile. “Really? Because by the looks of it I made you jump higher than Pinkie Pie did when she found out there was a cake festival.”

“It’s true!” Pinkie Pie chimed in.

“So what are you up to Twilight? Besides trying to jump us I mean…” Rainbow Dash quickly changed the topic, both her and Pinkie Pie on the ground near Twilight.

“Oh, I was just on my way to Trail’s to see if I can find something. I just wanted to say hi to you girls on the way. I should probably be going now, this heat is becoming unbearable!” Twilight exclaimed before trotting off. Looking over her shoulder with a very satisfied smile she called back, “See you girls later!”

Pinkie Pie waved enthusiastically after Twilight while Rainbow Dash looked to the sky with a touch of concern. “What is she talking about? I worked my flank all week to get the weather this nice. It’s not that hot… is it?” she asked turning to Pinkie Pie, who only a shrugged in return.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One day later


“Fluttershy, over here!” Rarity called out as she spotted her down the street. Fluttershy turned at the sound of her voice, and gave a small smile before trotting nimbly over.

“Hello, Rarity, you’re looking well this evening,” she said softly.

“Oh why thank you! Your mane is looking wonderfully groomed as well. I take it you were already on your way to Twilight’s for the dinner tonight?”

“Yes I am. Did you come all this way to walk with me?” Fluttershy asked with high hopes. She normally was always one of the last ponies to arrive at any social function in hopes that it might be too full for her to still attend, but for something that was just her and her friends, she sometimes liked to be the first pony there; it was the only type of situations she felt comfortable enough to be left alone with the host before everypony else arrived.

“Yes I did, but not exactly for the reasons you’re probably thinking,” Rarity answered. “I wanted to get with the rest all of the girls before we head over to Twilight’s. There are a few things I want to ask.”

Fluttershy meekly nodded her head, curious as to why Rarity wanted to gather everypony up. But simply kept quiet, and followed behind her as they crossed town to wait at the street sections they knew the other girls would normally take when heading to the library. As they waited, the shadows of the houses became stretched as the continued to fall beyond the horizon, and one by one they caught each of their friends. Once they had all five of them, they were a block away from the library.

“I’m glad to have caught all of you here before we begin tonight’s dinner,” Rarity said happily.

“What’s the deal Rare’s?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Are we planning a surprise for Twilight?” Pinkie Pie asked excitedly.

“Sorry, darling, but no surprises tonight, at least not the kind you’re expecting. I actually wanted to talk to you all about a serious matter regarding Twilight.”

“Is this about the thing?” Applejack asked.

“Indeed it is,” Rarity replied.

“Well, ah suppose it’s better now than later. Ah’d be lying if ah didn’t say that ah was worried myself about how she was dealing with it.”

“Dealing with what? What’s going on that we don’t know about?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Let me ask all of you something first, dear,” Rarity replied. “Have any of you noticed Twilight behaving, well… oddly lately?” With the exception of Applejack, the rest of them looked about as they ran over their recent days.

“Is this about how Twilight scared me and Pinkie? Because she totally didn’t,” Rainbow Dash said.

"Scare you?” Applejack asked. “When did that happen?”

“Like I said, she didn’t scare me. But yesterday, she snuck up on Pinkie and me while we were doing a prank. I mean, it was a good attempt and all, but I guess I never really thought of Twilight being sneaky or playful like that. I didn’t think much of it at the time though.”

“Yeah, I’d never figure Twilight would be able set off my stalker combo,” Pinkie Pie replied happily.

“Stalker you say?” Rarity asked aloud. “You mean to tell me Twilight stalked you?”

“Uh… yes?” Rainbow Dash said. “I mean, she must have been quiet to have gotten close enough to scare us like that. Which she totally didn’t!”

“Hmmmm,” Rarity hummed before turning to timid pegasus. “And what about you, Fluttershy, have you seen Twilight act odd in anyway?”

“Oh um… not that I can think of…”

“Are you sure? It can be any little thing, anything at all,” Rarity pressed as gently as she could, a reassuring tone in her voice.

Rubbing a hoof on her leg, Fluttershy lowered her head as she thought it over. “She’s been acting normally as far as I can tell… nothing like scaring me or anything of the sort. She was nothing but sweet when she had visited me yesterday for a cup of tea after spending some time over at Trails. She was even concerned about one of the injured animals I was taking care of.”

“Injured animal?” Rarity asked.

“Oh yes,” Fluttershy beamed. “It was a sweet squirrel who had cut himself on a thorn bush while playing. Poor thing needed his bandages changed constantly until it could fully heal. Briar’s Ink is a nasty plant that stops the wound from healing properly if not cleared frequently.”

“And what did Twilight do?”

“She offered to help change the bandages. She was really concerned about the wound and the leaking blood. She stayed beside me the entire time until he had a fresh set of wrapping on his arm,” Fluttershy replied happily. When she looked back up to and saw Rarity’s face in set in deep thought and scrunched mouth, Fluttershy flattened her ears in worry. “I didn’t say anything wrong did I?”

“No, dear. You just help add some details to an already mysterious puzzle,” Rarity said.

“Oh, I just remembered something!” Pinkie Pie said with a jump.

“What it is Pinkie?”

“I saw Twilight later yesterday and I really wanted her to help on making some treats with me, but she got so angry that she snapped at me.”

“Pinkie,” Rainbow Dash sighed. “I think that’s pretty normal even for Twilight. I hate to say it but you sometimes get really annoying when you ask us to bake stuff with you, especially when you ask us a question for every single thing in your cookbook. If we don’t want to make the first fifty things you said, what makes you think we want to make the other hundreds of things you got?”

“I expect everypony to act like that,” Pinkie Pie said sticking her tongue out to the pegasus playfully.

“Then why do you do it!?” Rainbow Dash asked in annoyance.

“That’s myyyyyyyy little seeeeeecret!” Pinkie Pie sang. When Rainbow Dash face hoofed, Pinkie Pie continued, “But I don’t mean Twilight snapped and yelled at me. I mean she literally snapped at me.”

“Ya mean she tried to bite you?” Applejack asked worriedly.

“Hmhmm! Teeth and all!”

“Oh my, this may be worse than I thought,” Rarity said while sharing a concerned look with Applejack. “Well onto my next question, I suppose. Which one of you has not heard about Twilight being attacked a few nights ago from a burglar?” The sudden shocked faces of Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and a gasp from Fluttershy answered her question.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Oh my gosh! So Twilight’s a vampony now?” Pinkie Pie asked enthusiastically. “That explains that Pinkie Sense a few nights ago!”

“We don’t know fer sure yet,” Applejack answered, not even spending a moment to balk at Pinkie Pie. “Celestia knows even ah’m having a hard time buying it, but we’ve faced stranger things before that were supposed ta be only the stuff of legends. Everything just seems to be adding up ta the fact Twalight might be a vampony. And what Pinkie Sense went off this time?”

“It was a new one. Scratchy lip, right hoof shake, and hair flattening.”

“Yer hair went all flat?”

“Yeah, but that combo didn’t feel good at all…” Pinkie Pie said suddenly sadder than she was a moment ago. “It was actually kinda scary…” The idea of a combo that bothered even Pinkie Pie worried the rest of them even more so than they already were.

“What I want to know is why she never told us this herself,” Rainbow Dash said, hovering over the ground to vent her frustration.

“It seems she hasn’t been telling a lot of ponies,” Rarity answered. “She even skipped some details with me until I pressed them. Right now, I think it is safe to assume that Twilight is currently not reliable on recounting her issues on the matter. Which is why I convinced her to host a dinner with all of us tonight. I was hoping we could have an intervention of sorts and help her figure it out together.”

“So it is a surprise?” Pinkie Pie asked with a hint of returned excitement.

“I… suppose you could count it as so…” Rarity slowly replied.

Pinkie Pie giggled at the thought. “I just love surprises! I don’t care what kind they are as long as they aren’t sad.”

“Well, shall we get this show going?” Applejack interrupted.

“Let's,” Rarity agreed.

The five of them walked the short distance between the end of the street and the Golden Oak’s Library, arriving at the front door in only a minute. Coincidentally, the last rays of sunlight dipped past the horizon, leaving the fiery red sky as the only source of light while shadows became darker and night encroached upon the town. With the reason for their visit fresh in their minds, each one briefly thought about the potential consequences of being in a house with a vampony at night, even if it was a friend.

Taking in a deep breath to still her nerves, Rarity lifted a hoof and knocked on the door twice. Come on, Rarity, it’s just Twilight. Don’t let your superstition get a hold of you and run away with your mind. The girls behind her shared similar thoughts while they waited for a response. A few moments passed before the pattering of tiny feet were heard approaching the door, followed by it being pulled wide open and basking them in the indoor lights of the tree house.

“You’re all here!” Spike exclaimed, looking happier than normal at their appearance. “Come on in, Twilight is almost done with dinner.”

They entered the library and stood at the entrance, a slight hesitation building inside them. “Hey girls! Make yourself at home, I’ll be out in a minute!” Twilight’s called out from the kitchen.

“Thank you, darling! We’ll just be at the table,” Rarity replied, looking back to share a nodding glance with the others to reassure them, wondering herself on how they were going to tackle the issue tonight with the alicorn. The five of them headed to the table, Spike walking just ahead to pull out a chair for Rarity. “Why thank you, Spike,” she said sweetly.

“No problem,” he replied happily.

Rarity gave him small nod, then waited for him to seat himself or head back into the kitchen. When he hadn’t moved and instead brought a claw to the back of his head, Rarity asked, “Spike, is everything okay?”

Spike raised his hands and waved them up and down in a gesture to speak softer. Leaning towards the table he whispered to them, turning his head back to the kitchen. “Keep your voices down.” The girls exchanged brief glances with each other before leaning forwards as well, all their heads near the center of the table. “Twilight’s been acting weird lately and I don’t know what to do. I was hoping one of you might know something about what’s going on.”

“We're all caught up to speed, I think,” Rarity said in a low hush. “We know Twilight was attacked in the forest and that there is a possibility she, as impossible as it sounds, may be becoming a vampony.” The look on Spike’s face changed to relief as she confirmed his concerns. “I’m assuming you’ve noticed some things as well?”

“Are you kidding?” Spike hissed. “She’s been harassing me nonstop! She’s gotten so quiet walking around that I never know where she is. I don’t know how many times she’s scared me half to death for the fun of it. She’s way more energetic in the evening than usual, and I’m pretty sure her hearing has gotten better.”

“Her hearing?” Applejack whispered. Spike nodded once in reply. “How in Equestria did ya figure that out?”

“Applejack, ask in a normal voice if Twilight can get some lemon for your water,” Spike said.

The farm pony scrunched her nose as she harshly whispered, “As if ah would ever dare.”

“So what, just ask if we can have some lemon in my water?” Rainbow Dash asked aloud, forgetting to keep her voice down.

“No problem, Rainbow, I’ll get it for you,” Twilight’s voiced called from the kitchen.

The five ponies stiffened their backs at the response. There was no way a normal pony should have been able to hear Rainbow Dash clearly from across the room, let alone from all the way in the kitchen. “See?” Spike whispered, giving each of them a knowing yet troubled look.

“Alright, here’s dinner!” Twilight said cheerfully as she walked out of the kitchen, plates of salads, fruits, veggies, and glasses of water wrapped in purple magic behind her. The girls quickly sat back in their chairs as if nothing was happening between the six of them, Spike moving to his own chair and scooting himself close to the table. As Twilight approached them the series of plates floated around her and onto the table, filling every inch of the wooden surface. “And here’s your lemon water, Rainbow.”

Twilight floated the single glass that contained a lemon in front of Rainbow Dash while the rest of the glasses went to the other girls and Spike. “Uh gee… thanks, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash said with a forced smile.

“I know I can eat some ponies under the table during contests, “Applejack spoke up. “But isn’t this a little much?” She eyed the large amount of food before her; all of it looking delicious but wondering on they were supposed to eat it all.

“It’s not that much is it?” Twilight asked. “I mean, I was practically starving so I figured you girls must have been hungry too… which I guess is kinda silly of me to assume…”

“It's… lovely dear, really it is,” Rarity said in attempts pick her mood back up. “We’ll… just have to wrap some of it for home and have a meal for tomorrow.”

“Alright,” Twilight replied smiling, her sadden demeanor vanishing instantly. Pulling a chair out for herself, she folded a napkin on to her lap and grinned to her friends around her. “Let’s dig in!”

“Dig in!” Pinkie Pie echoed happily.

The rest of them hesitated before joining Pinkie Pie and Twilight on the meal, deciding to take the evening slow on confronting Twilight. They spent the next better part of the hour eating food and talking about frivolous or mundane things, keeping the conversation to simple things that wouldn’t reveal the true topic they wished to discuss. The dinner was delicious and neither of them wanted to skip such a lovely meal. Applejack tried to go toe to toe with Twilight on a bowl of celery after both of them knocked back a few plates of cucumbers, but was unable to keep up with her new ravenous appetite. Her hunger was immediately noticeable to them all, each one thinking the same thought as the reason for why she was eating so much.

At least it's veggies and not blood, Rainbow Dash was unable to help herself but think.

In truth, they didn’t know how they would exactly begin the serious conversation. It was Twilight after all, and while they didn’t think she would attack them out of the blue for bringing it up, it was hard to not look at her differently from their runaway thoughts. All except for Pinkie Pie, who couldn’t get the image of Twilight baring a set of fake vampony teeth with a billowing cape behind her, poised over and ready to strike a platter of red cupcakes. I vant to suck your frosting! Hehehe.

Eventually, the meal concluded, not a single leaf of lettuce or uneaten fruit left on the table. As hard as it still was to believe, they had watched Twilight devour most of the nights meal feverously, Rarity holding herself back from commenting more than a few times on Twilight’s eating manners. “Ah, that was good,” Twilight said with a satisfied grin. “Did you all like it?” She was met with series of quickly nodding heads and half muttered yes’s. “That’s good.” Letting out a happy sigh, Twilight looked across the table full of empty plates and bowls before sitting up in alarm. “Oh no! We ate all of it! I’m sorry girls, I meant to leave some for you to take home!”

Ah wouldn’t say we as much as you.. Applejack thought, looking at the cores that were the remains of a pile of apples.

Rarity was the first to speak. “It’s alright, darling, it was a delicious meal.”

“Still… I feel bad…” Twilight said softly.

“It’s quite alright, how about we do something else after putting the dishes away?” Rarity subtly suggested.

Twilight instantly perked up at the idea of continuing the evening with her friends, half expecting all of them to have said their goodbyes and leave after dinner. “Really? You girls want to do something? I mean it’s not that late… well it is, but okay! I’m ready for anything!”

“Sure!” Pinkie Pie chipped in. “We can play games, or tell stories! Or play story games!”

“Games! We should play a game!” Twilight replied, placing her front hooves on the table as she lifted herself up in excitement. “We could go outside and play tag! I haven’t played something like that in years! What do you think? Sound fun?” A large grin was plastered on her face at awaiting for an agreed approval of such an activity from the rest of the table. “Come on, Rainbow, I bet I could even beat you! I’m feeling lucky tonight!”

The image of a toothy Twilight pouncing onto Rainbow Dash, biting her neck and smiling gleefully as she drained her blood flashed across Rainbow’s mind. “Uh… maybe we shouldn’t do something outside… where it’s dark…” she said while avoiding her with her eyes. “F-Fluttershy would be too scared, right?”

“Oh um,” Fluttershy replied, almost lowering her entire body beneath the table. “I uh… would prefer to stay inside… if that’s okay…”

“Oh, okay,” Twilight said simply, lowering herself back into her seat. “Well, what do you girls want to do?”

“I think… we should have a talk,” Rarity said, deciding to get to the point.

“About what?”

“Well… truthfully…” Rarity began, trying to figure out the rights words to say the matter as delicately as possible.

After a few moments passed with nopony speaking, Pinkie Pie cheerfully said at the end of the table, “Lets talk about you being a vampony!”

Two face hooves along with a face claw, a defeated yet eloquent sigh, and a soft meep was heard across the table. Twilight opened her mouth in shock, but slowly lowered herself back into her chair, her face becoming dejected at such a serious topic being brought up instead of something else that may have been more lighthearted and fun. With the rest of the table silent at her statement, Pinkie Pie threw her hooves up into the air.

“Surprise!”

Act I - Chapter 13

View Online

“All of you came over… to talk about me being a… a…” Twilight began but was unable to finish. Her friends averting eyes confirmed what Pinkie Pie had said was true. Twilight felt a sorrowful swell in her chest at the realization that her friends had come over for dinner on false pretenses, not actually wanting to spend time with her, but instead talk about her potentially being a monster.

No, that’s not true. Calm down, Twilight, you know your friends. They’re just concerned, is all, she internally argued. Taking a deep breath to quell the rising emotion inside her, she sat back against her chair, suddenly looking very tired. Taking a few moments to gather herself, she finished her question. “So you all came over to talk to me about being a vampony…”

They all slowly nodded their heads, preferring to take the conversation as cautiously as possible. They had not missed Twilight flashing them a mixture look of sorrow and confusion, the kind of face one would see if they had tricked a young filly into believing something and only to tell them later it was a lie. Seeing her behave so emotionally differently throughout the evening put them all on edge, none of them entirely sure just how stable she was.

“Twalight…” Applejack said first. “We’re just worried about you. Try not to… well, take anything in the wrong light.”

Twilight put on a weak smile before replying, “It’s okay, Applejack, and everypony. I know how odd I must have been acting lately. I’ve been so caught up with everything that I have even lost focused on what I am supposed to be doing. Instead I’ve been goofing off like a silly filly…”

“Twilight,” Rarity said immediately. “We understand that whatever is happening to you is a lot to handle, and as much as I shouldn’t have to tell you this, we are here to help you. We care about you and your well being immensely. You don’t have to confront this all on your own, right girls?”

Resounding ‘Hmhmms’ and ‘That’s right’ were heard across the table, each one giving Twilight the biggest and most reassuring smiles they could. Spike had even scooted his chair closer and put a claw on her hoof, gently grasping it for her comfort. “You would think you would have learned about not doing things by yourself by now.”

Twilight felt a tear build in her eye as she gasped softly, suppressing the sudden urge to cry. Keep it together, girl, she told herself. “T-thank you all… I don’t know how many times I’ve said it, or how many times I’ll say it again. But I don’t know what I would do without all of you.”

None of them said anything. None of them needed to. They simply waited patiently for Twilight to collect herself, and give her warm reassuring smiles during.

After wiping away a bit of wetness that had managed to build around her eyes, Twilight brought a hoof to her chest. Taking in a deep breath, she exhaled while extending her hoof out, feeling better instantly on completion of the ritual. “Okay, I’m alright now.” The idea of asking again if the girls really didn’t want to go outside to play a round of tag instead of talking about something so serious crossed her mind, but she mentally told herself this was important and needed to be addressed. There’s time for something fun later. At least there better be, she thought. “So… where should we start?”

“Were all caught up to speed as of yesterday,” Rarity said. “Perhaps you should tell us what you have learned reading that book you found, and anything else you might have come across at Trails. Did you happen to find anything when you went back?”

Twilight nodded her head in reply. “Yes, I managed to find a personal journal of Trails, stashed away under a floorboard in his bedroom. It held an assortment of maps, charts, and a variety of numbers regarding something that I can’t discern yet. Most of it is gibberish to me until I can learn as to what it pertains to, but I was able to find a few things in his logs.”

“What did they say,” Rarity spoke with intrigue.

“Some of the information in the passages were already covered in the Corpus Nocte Morsu, but I did find one piece of information that is… well, is good news and bad news.”

“What’s the good news!?” Pinkie Pie asked cheerfully.

“The good news is that I’m not a vampony, I’m actually what is called a fledgling.”

“A fledgling?” Rainbow Dash asked. “What the hay is that?”

“Well, a fledglingis a pony who has been bitten by a full vampony,” Twilight explained. “In a short, they are the beginning stages of vampirism. They… could be considered like a kitten growing into a cat.”

“Kitty Twilight!” Pinkie Pie said throwing her arms up. “Oh my gosh that would be so cute! You covered in whiskers with a teeny nose and UUUUUUAAAAHHHHHH!” Pinkie Pie said at the newest idea. “Little kitty ears!”

“Pinkie… I’m not something cute for you to adore over,” Twilight said, her voice becoming low as she narrowed her eyes towards her.

The glare Pinkie Pie received from Twilight made her sit back in her seat, remaining quiet on any other cute imagery she had thought of expressing verbally. The atmosphere felt tense as the rest of the ponies watched the intimidated but now silenced pony. A few moments passed before Spike coughed to break the mood. “So, you’re a… a developing vampony?” he said carefully.

“It looks like it,” Twilight said, her mood immediately changing back to the astute and logical pony they all knew. A few of them wondering if Twilight had even known how she had stared at Pinkie Pie.

“Um… it sounds like to me… if you don’t mind me saying that is,” Fluttershy piped up. “You’re developing the instincts of a predator… I think…” When everypony looked at her, she scooted herself about her chair nervously. “Well, please don’t get mad… but I would say… a kitten is a good comparison. They start off playful and energetic, often practicing their hunting skills in a friendly manner. They do this so they can become better hunters when they grow up. I think that… what you have been doing is something similar to that."

Twilight was initially taken aback from the comparison, finding that it hit true more than she first thought. Looking down in thought, she mentally ran over everything she had done the last few days, realizing that there would most likely be behavior changes with her situation, but not to the extent everypony was telling her about she was apparently unaware of. “Actually… that does make sense,” she finally said. “I didn’t even notice but, I fit those descriptions pretty well. Wow, that’s really weird and unnerving to say the least. I guess I just got so caught up in the moment that I didn’t think the things I was doing as being not normal.”

“Something else that's related that I wanted to bring to attention dear,” Rarity said. “I don’t know if I can put this delicately, but you have been a tad… moodier lately.”

“Excuse me?” Twilight said with her wings extending, the previous edge to her voice returning. She glared at Rarity, ready to verbally attack her for even saying such a thing. But before she could release an assault, she snapped to, blinking her eyes as if to clear a haze. Slowly she sat back into her chair, her wings drooping at the realization of what she had been about to do; a guilty look crossed her face. “I’m sorry, and you’re right, I have been getting a little more emotional lately. It’s one of the perks of being a fledgling,” Twilight said sarcastically. “My guess is that because fledglings go through such a large change, physically and mentally to prepare for predator like traits, that their emotional states become very unstable.”

Twilight looked up to each of as she spoke sorrowfully, “I’m sorry for how I have been treating some of you. It’s becoming harder to notice when I do…”

“It’s okay, Twilight,” Pinkie Pie said, her cheerful tone having returned. “You can never say something that’ll hurt me too much. I know you can’t help it so well just have to be a little patient with you!” Pinkie Pie’s returned mood along with how confidently she spoke—so casual and not a hint of worry in her voice—made Twilight’s lip quiver slightly; she had to hold herself back again from letting out a few tears at how understanding and helpful her friends were being so far.

“Ah don’t mean to interrupt, but what’s the bad news?” Applejack asked.

Taking another moment to breath and exhale, Twilight let her head drift downward as she spoke the words she was afraid of. “The bad news… is that eventually, I will turn into a full vampony. And there’s no mention of anything that can stop it...”

Each pony went silent once again as Twilight’s words seem to hang in the air, the weight of them taking time to settle into each of their brains. None of them were quite sure what to say at such a statement, or were able to come up with comforting words for Twilight and her apparent sealed fate. When neither of them moved or said anything for some time, Twilight decided to break the ice. “I’m going to take the dishes in…”

With her horn glowing Twilight head into the kitchen, all the dishware from the table in tow floating behind her. Once the noise of the sink faucet being turned on was heard, the girls and Spike quickly began conversing amongst themselves. “Oh dear, this is more serious than a thought,” Rarity confessed.

“There has to be something we can do to help her,” Spike pleaded.

“There is, ah just know there is. But what the hay are we gonna do?” Applejack said. “How do we get Twalight turned back to normal?”

“Duh, isn’t it obvious?” Rainbow Dash replied. When nopony spoke right away, she shrugged her shoulders and leaned far back into her chair. “We use the Elements of Harmony, no sweat.”

“That’s a great idea!” Twilight shouted from the kitchen. In only a few heartbeats she was already back inside the main room with the dining table, her horn glowing as she grabbed the Elements of Harmony from their glass case at the other end of the room. When she turned around she noticed the stunned look of everypony. Twilight rolled her eyes as she replied simply, “Better hearing remember? But anyways, why didn’t I think of this before!? We should have just done this from the beginning!”

“Let’s not waste any more time then,” Applejack said.

Twilight floated each Element to their respective pony, a hopeful smile on her face at the thought of being able to rid herself of being a fledgling. Once each one was locked in, they gathered together in the middle of the room, standing in a circle in their usual positions. Closing their eyes, they mentally prepared themselves for the oncoming magic that would wash over them.

Looking inward, they each drew upon their Element and allowed the sensation to fill them from head to tail, the warm and tingling magic leaving a rush that they could never become used to no matter how many times they used them. It wasn’t long before they pulled away from the floor, lifted up from the amount of magical energy gathering within themselves. Rainbow colored arcs of energy poured out from their necklaces, twisting and turning as they meet the adjacent bearer, eventually completing a full and complete circle. Twilight’s eyes opened, her red and purple irises now a shining pure white as the magic was channeled into her body, ready to be cast upon anything that presented a danger to her, her friends, and Equestria.

Please, cure me, Twilight thought; willing the magic to purify her body. Before the magic released inside of Twilight, something occurred that she had not experienced before when wielding the Elements of Harmony.

Her eyes slowly passed over the floating forms of her friends, seeing past them their bodies and into the tiny orbs nestled in their chests that drew Twilight’s attention. She could see streams of energy pouring out from them, up their body into the necklace, and out across the connecting rainbow of magic. Each sphere was a different color, matching a single color in the streaming rainbow. They’re the same colors… the Elements of Harmony aren’t rainbow colored to begin with, they get it from the colors of those orbs!

Before Twilight could dwell on this new information, she felt the surge of energy cascade through her body, unable to contain itself any longer. She threw back her head and willed the Element’s to do their work, like so many times before. A low hum quickly rose as the crescendo of building power, a bright light beginning to envelop them and cast blinding rays through the tree house's windows. It continued to gathering energy until it would release it and cast forth all its might and then … nothing. The magic simply fizzled out as each one fell onto the wooden floor with a solid thump.

Blinking their eyes, the ponies shook off the residual effects of using the artifacts; their vision hazy as the powerful magic slowly diminished in their bodies. “Twilight!” Spike said as he rushed to her side, having stood a respectful distance from them while they activated the Elements of Harmony. “How are you feeling, are you back to normal?” Spike rested a claw on her shoulder while she regained her senses, shaking her head side to side as she came to.

Fluttering her eyes open, Twilight looked towards Spike and asked desperately, already well aware of the likely answer. “Well? How do I look? Are my eyes back to normal?” Spike’s already worried expression worsened as his ear fins dropped on making eye contact with Twilight, his response confirming the worst. “Oh no,” she whispered. Hopping onto her hooves, she rushed to the closest mirror. “No no no no no no no!”

Peering closer, Twilight spread open one eye with her hooves and stared at herself, a single purple iris with a tinge of red on the centers returning her gaze. “It didn’t work…” was all she could mumble, falling backwards and ending up sitting on the ground with her head staring forward. “It didn’t work…” she repeated. “Why didn’t it work? It was supposed to work… why didn’t...”

“Twalight?” Applejack asked once she was on her hooves, a single hoof on her temples as she steadied herself. When she did not respond at first Applejack moved towards her and rested her raised hoof on her shoulder. “It’s alright, Twalight, we’ll find a way to get you back to normal. We’ll figure something out.” In reply, Twilight’s body began quivering as a muffled gasps in between heavy breaths was heard. Applejack immediately became even more concerned than she already was, and began gently tugging on her shoulder to have her turn around. “Twalight?”

Twilight started to visibly shake and the distinct sound of sobbing was heard. Slowly she turned around to face the farm pony, revealing a stream of tears running down her face as her mouth was open, sucking in air between each sob. “A-Applejack… I’m… r-really scared…” Twilight stuttered in-between her choked tears, unable to hold herself back any longer from crying.

Applejack without pause pulled Twilight into her arms, letting the her sink her head into her chest as the tears began to flow freely from her eyes. Twilight’s muffled but loud wail was heard as she poured everything she had in her to uncontrollable crying. The rest of the girls remained motionless only for a moment to take the sight in, watching in disbelief that the Twilight they had come to know well was crying so hard, before they too silently came over and wrapped themselves around Twilight in a large embrace, each one resting a hoof on Twilight, letting her know that they were all there.

Twilight bawled louder than she had ever before, letting out all the stress, worries, anxiety, and fear that had accumulated over the past few days. Some of it might have also been due for some time now, the stress of being a princess something she never relieved herself of in the notion she was supposed to keep everything together like a princess should. But right now, she didn’t care if she was crying because it was all becoming too much for her, or if it was being a fledgling that was tossing her emotional states into limbo. The only thing that mattered now, was letting out all pain and sadness inside her chest with large tears and wailful crying, and the warm embrace of her friends around her; who held her in reassuring comfort as her body shook uncontrollably, not a care in the world on how messy their coats might become at her weeping.

They held her in their group hug with her in the center for the rest of the night, for as long as it took for their pained friend to let out everything; remaining by her side throughout her dire moment of need.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“They’re all gone now, Twilight,” Spike said once he reached the top of the stairs. It was late in the night, dinner put away, lights were off, and everypony ready for bed save one. The girls had remained with Twilight in their protective hug until she had eventually cried herself dry, feeling like she had no water left in her body. Her eyes were even redder afterward and her nose stuffy. She looked like a horrible mess and felt like crying again after she had seen what she had done to their coats during her bawling, mainly Applejack. But they told her to not worry about it and said it was alright. Rarity said she could even repay them back by treating them to a spa day after this whole ordeal was done with, a perfect way for them to put the dreadfulness of everything behind them.

They agreed they would first get a good nights rest before continuing in the morning, ready to tackle the issue head on. They managed to convince Twilight that now might be a good time to finally clue in Princess Celestia to the situation. Twilight had refused at first, but the direness of the situation and the convincing of her friends won out in the end. First thing in the morning, they would write to Celestia about Twilight's condition and see if she had any knowledge on curing her- perhaps some long forgotten spell or knowledge stashed away in a dusty library shelf only the Royal Princess's knew of.

Twilight shifted underneath the covers of her blanket, already well aware they had left from being able to hear them when they walked out the door. “Thanks, Spike…” she said softly.

Spike fidgeted with his claws. “Is… is there anything else I can help with?”

Twilight slid her way out of the covers and looked at Spike standing at the top of the stairwell, staring at her with large and sad eyes. Seeing him act so worried brought a smile to her face, thankful she would always have him as a friend as well. Watching him behave like that gave her an idea on how he could help, something that the two of them had not done in a very long time. “Actually… would you mind sleeping with me tonight? I… I want somepony close by…”

Spike’s face grew a small smile as he nodded his head and ran over to the bed, hopping up in one leap. Growing up, Spike had slept next to Twilight a lot, being her best and only friend in the world while the young filly studied her way through magic school. He was her comforting stuffed animal and reassuring friend during the hard times as she grew up. It was actually mostly Spike that had wanted to get his own bed and sleep by himself, wanting his own personal space as he grew older. But he was more than willing to give up his bed for tonight. Right now his closest friend needed him, and he was more than happy to oblige.

After tucking himself under the covers and Twilight wrapping a hoof around him to pull his body closer, she let out a soft sigh and whispered, “Thanks... I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have you or the girls.”

“Don’t worry about it, Twilight,” Spike said over his shoulder. “We’ll always be here, you can count on us to get through something like this.”

“…Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Twilight and Spike performed last minute shuffling to get their heads just right on the pillows, finally settled in and ready to go to sleep. Twilight closed her eyes as she slowly began to drift off into sleep, running over the wonderful feelings her friends brought her, creating a feeling of hope in her that somehow, someway, they would figure how to get her out of this situation. And she would go back to being a normal alicorn, not needing to worry about vamponies at all. She let such thoughts pass through her mind as her eyelids closed, before a loud resounding noise echoed throughout the tree house.

*Knock Knock*

If this is Rainbow Dash’s sick idea of getting back at me for scaring her, Celestia help me, she will be the first pony I bite if I become a vampony, Twilight thought darkly. “Ugh… I’ll get it, Spike.” Twilight grumpily removed herself from the warm bed and moved down the stairs, telling herself along the way she wasn’t allowed to maim anypony yet.

*Knock Knock*

“I’m coming! Hold your horses!” Twilight yelled as she approached the door. Flicking on the light, she magically grasped the door and swung it open. “This had better be good to be pulling me out of bed this late of night, what in Equestria do you-“ Twilight said but stopped immediately at recognition of the pony standing on her doorstep. “Trail!”

“Ah, hello Twilight,” he said, a look of embarrassment at disturbing her. “Sorry to bother you this late at night, but I was wondering if you happened to notice the hole in my study room. You see, I had something stashed away there and… oh dear… you’re eyes have a tinge of red.”

Twilight stared blankly at the stallion, her mind forming a couple hundred questions on the spot to ask him.

Trail brought a hoof behind his head as he laughed weakly before continuing. “Well, seeing that you appear to have been infected, I suppose I should start explaining things now.”

Act I - Chapter 14

View Online

Trail brought a hoof behind his head and gave a weak laugh. “Well, seeing that you appear to have been infected, I suppose I should start explaining things now.”

“Twilight, who is it?” Spike called from atop the stairs.

“It’s Trail,” Twilight replied without taking her eyes off of him, still in disbelief that he was actually standing on her doorstep.

“Trail!?” Spike shouted before running down the steps and rushing to her side. “It is! You’re back!”

“Ah, Spike! Good to see you as well,” Trail replied cheerfully.

“You have no idea how happy we are-”

“Where have you been?” Twilight said with a low tone, cutting off Spike.

Her voice caused Trail to stiffen, and he cautiously turned his head towards her. Twilight was expecting some sort of apology, some form of grievance for all the heartache and troubles that had been plaguing her since his absence. But what she got instead, was the carefree smile he always wore.

“Oh, I was just away on some important business.”

Twilight’s eyebrows twitched at what he said. “More... Important... THAN THIS!?” Twilight growled between gritted teeth. “Do you have any idea what I have been going through? What I have been turning into?” With each word that she spat at him, the louder her voice grow, and the closer she moved towards him. “And you have the gall to tell me that whatever it was you were doing, it was more important... than what has been happening to ME!?”

The air became deathly quiet as Twilight stood on the tip of her hooves and staring down at Trail, glaring at him furiously for his reply. A few house lights down the street flickered on, curiosity filling the inhabitants on who was causing such a ruckus. Spike felt like biting the ends of his claws were he not too terrified to move and draw her attention, her unwavering and unblinking attention she held for Trail that drowned out the rest of the world.

Her world however, snapped as she saw Trail give a slow but deliberate nod of his head.

Snarling, she threw a hoof at him, throwing all her strength into the blow. For her at that moment, she was convinced that he was to blame for everything that had happened, convinced that it was all his fault for even daring to have left her alone when he was fully aware of such a creature existing that could do this to her.

Bust as fast as Twilight swung with a strike that would have broken his jaw, Trail moved quicker.

Catching her hoof against his own, he held her forearm mid-strike. The hoof on hoof contact sent a loud echo throughout the night, more than she or Spike could believe be generated by a hoof-five. Twilight looked at him, then their hooves in disbelief, before sanity retook her. The muscles in her leg relaxed immediately as she withdrew her hoof and brought against her chest, staring at it as if she was worried it would move again on its own. Trail however, held his grin throughout the entire event, not flinching in the slightest.

“Woah…” Spike said in awe. Twilight had attacked so quick that everything had been a blur for him. At moment they were standing, then the next were touching their hooves together.

“I… I’m so sorry,” Twilight breathed, taking a few steps back into the library. “I… I was just so angry and… my hoof… it was already moving before I knew it and-”

“Twilight,” Trail interjected. He waited until she tore her gaze from her hoof and looked towards him. “You don’t have to apologize. I was a little hot headed when I had first become a fledgling as well. It’s something that takes time to get used to, and the reason why I made it a habit to always smile like this.”

“Wait… so you’re a fledgling as well?” Her voice was still shaky from the outburst, but she was quickly recollecting herself.

“That’s right. It’s not an easy thing to be either of which, I’m sure you have been figuring out."

Spike brought a claw to his chin. "So if you're a fledgling ... then what about all those times you fell down or bumped into things?"

"A good actor will go to great lengths to not appear as who they are," Trail said with a wink. "Discretion is best for a pony with my condition. If you can’t already tell, I’m fairly far along the process. And from the looks of it, I’d guess that you’re beginning to pull out from the initial stage.” Trail’s carefree smile then for the few times they had known him, drop into sorrowful demeanor. “I’m terribly sorry this has happened to you, Twilight. I never wanted another pony to suffer the same fate as I. It was foalish of me to ask you to watch over my home during my absence. My careless actions have dragged you into a world that you should have never seen…”

“Trail…”

But the sad tone in his voice did not last long, and was quickly replaced with his grin. “But after tonight, you and I will no longer have to worry about it anymore.”

“What do you mean?”

“I found it, Twilight,” he said quietly with excitement. “I found the key to my, and your, salvation.” Turning his head to the saddlebag strapped onto him, the very one Twilight had seen him depart with what felt like months ago, he placed a hoof over a bulge that poked from the bag. “Inside… I found what I have been looking for ever since I arrived in Ponyville.”

“Ponyville?” Twilight asked. “You mean… you moved to Ponyville, to find whatever is in there?”

“That’s right,” Trail he replied. “I’ve been searching for something like this ever since I became infected, it was only thanks to an informant of mine that I found out that it even existed, and was somewhere within the Everfree forest.”

“The Everfree?” Spike asked, hanging onto every word that was being spoken between the two.

“Yes, I managed to find it in an ancient and abandoned tomb. I dare say that I was the first pony to step inside of it for what could have been ages. It might even be from the era when the Royal Sisters ruled together,” he said with a touch of awe. But he paused before continuing, picking up his head instead and glancing about the area, having forgotten they were having such a serious discussion while still on the front steps to the library in the middle of the night. “If you don’t mind, might we take this inside? I wouldn’t want to chance a pair of ears listening to our conversation.”

“You’re not referring to…” Twilight said but found herself unable to finish.

To her relief and dismay, Trail confirmed her suspicions. “Yes. The pony who had attacked you, also happens to be the very one pursuing me.”

“He’s chasing you?” Spike asked eagerly, a sense of adventure filling him.

“Indeed he is,” Trail replied wearily. “He is the one responsible for my transformation as well if you hadn’t already guessed. I’ll explain more once we’re inside if that’s alright.”

“Uh yeah, I mean… yes, of course. Please come in,” Twilight stammered together before stepping aside to make way for him. After he entered she couldn’t help but peer warily out into the darkness, half expecting to see the shifting of a shadow withdraw from her gaze. Despite her suspicions, the streets around her house were utterly empty, seemingly devoid of any movement or life. Even the lights that had turned on had gone out now. But that did not convince her that meant there was nopony around, watching her from some unseen shadow or hiding place. With one last sweep, she closed the door and flipped the lock, then moved to join Trail and Spike who had gathered at the table and around the saddlebag resting atop it.

“Well then, what would you like to discuss first?” Trail asked. Pulling out a chair, he sat himself comfortably for what would be no doubt a long discussion.

“I want to know more about this artifact. What does it do?” Twilight asked immediately.

“Straight to the point eh?” Trail commented with a smirk. “That’s alright. There will be plenty of time to talk about things later. We’ll probably look back at it all like it was a bad dream hopefully.” Placing a hoof near the bag, Trail answered, “This artifact, which was painstakingly difficult to get mind you, is something that can reverse the vampirism inside of us.”

“How in Equestria did you figure that out?” Twilight asked, her eyes drifting over the saddlebag in wonder if it could really do as he said. “I couldn’t find anything in the Corpus Nocte Morsu that said it was reversible.”

You have my book?” Trail replied astonishingly. “I was afraid both of them were taken when I saw the floor boards damaged.”

“The book was actually a little ways from the hole,” Spike chipped in. “I managed to see it when I stuck my head in. I think it was too far for the burglar to see so it got left behind.”

Trails facial expression hesitated for a brief moment before looked downward, a weak smile mixed with relief spreading across his face. “That’s good. I’m glad you were able to find it. Celestia knows what would have happened should my main source of knowledge have been taken.”

Ahem… back to the artifact,” Twilight pressed softly.

“Oh yes, of course. Like I said, this item is capable of sealing away the vampirism inside a pony, returning them to their original state.”

“That’s incredible,” Twilight exclaimed, itching to open grab it from the bag and use it at once.

“Yes, but as good as the sound, there are some issues regarding its use.”

“Such as?” Twilight said, her eyes having not left the saddlebag.

Eying her intent focus, Trail replied, “It requires a strong magician to cast the spell, a pony capable of powerful magic.”

“Check,” Spike said aloud with a smile. “Anything else?”

“Spike, we don’t even know if I could activate it,” Twilight replied, running through possible problems and solutions of using such an item.

“But you’re the most powerful uni- I mean, alicorn out there!” Spike exclaimed.

“No, Princess Celestia and Luna, are the most powerful alicorns. For all we know they need to be the ones to activate it.”

“Normally, Twilight, I would agree,” Trail spoke. “But I believe you are sufficiently powerful enough to use it, and unfortunately, time is of the essence.”

“How so?” she asked, pulling her gaze away from the bag and towards him.

“I fear you are drawing near to the end of the initial stage of your vampirism. Judging from your state from what I can tell, it won’t be long until you proceed into the next stage.”

Twilight gave Trail a questioning look, before she visibly shrunk and widened her eyes. “You don’t mean…” She had hoped there would be more time, that what she had read in the Corpus Nocte Morsu wasn’t true. But a knowing nod from Trail confirmed her fear. Twilight then slumped to the floor, and let her eyes stare ideally at some spot in the floor as if she was looking somewhere distant.

“What happens at after the beginning stage?” Spike asked worriedly, glancing back and forth between the two.

With an audible gulp, Twilight began to explain. “After the initial stage, the fledgling enters the second and longest part of the transformation. The irises will become completely red, just like Trail’s. In addition, increased strength, speed, and various other minor traits will develop, which are most apparent during the night. But what marks the transition between the stages is the… the…” Twilight tried to finish, but found she was unable to.

“The urge to feed,” Trail finished for her calmly.

Spike’s eyes widen as he took in the implication. “You don’t mean…”

“Yes.” He turned towards her, looking pitifully towards her as each word caused her to shiver. “Twilight will begin to crave blood.”

“But you would never do that, Twilight!” Spike said as he rushed towards her. “I don’t think you’re capable of hurting another pony, even if it’s because you’re hungry!” But no matter how he might have smiled reassuringly to her, or gently shook her shoulder, she would not respond.

“Spike,” Trail said softly. “It does not matter if she was the sweetest pony in Equestria. Once the urge begins, she will feed. And she will kill a pony while doing it. She won’t be able to control herself.”

“K-kill?” Spike stuttered, taking his claw off of her in recoil, before tightening it into a fist and moving back to her side. “Twilight, I know you won’t hurt anypony,” he began again pleadingly, trying to get her to look him in the eyes. “If there’s anypony who could resist this, it would be you!”

“There is only one option for Twilight now,” Trail said cutting off Spike, well aware of the few tears beginning to form in his eyes. “You must use the item I found, and rid yourself of this curse before it makes you do something you will regret for the rest of your life.”

Twilight lifted her head up, looking towards Trail with despair in her eyes, completely desperate for the potential promise he was speaking of. “You really think it will work before… I will…”

“Yes,” he said confidently. “I believe it will. I know you are more than capable of using it. And the reason I suggest it is because we do not know how long it would take for either of the Royal Sisters to arrive. Even at their most hasten pace, I fear it may be too late. You could easily have killed a pony before then, or attack them yourself upon their arrival.”

“How do you know?” Spike shouted. “How do you know that Twilight will kill another pony? You can’t! She wouldn’t do it!”

Though he tried to hide it, it was clear how sudden and how hard the severity of Twilight’s condition was finally hitting him. Before it had been an uneasy worry with fun and unexpected moments. Now, it was the real thing, and he cursed himself for treating it differently this entire time.

“You were bit how many days ago, Twilight?” Trail asked.

“... Five…”

“I’m surprised you haven’t done it already then, as it normally begins on the fourth day. Which means we cannot wait a moment longer.” Trail turned to Spike who stared helplessly at Twilight. “Spike, I know how difficult this is for you, but you must be strong right now, for Twilight.” Spike sniffled, then slowly turned his head to Trail who gave him a nod in return.

In understanding, Spike threw his arms around Twilight and held her close. “You’re gonna be okay,” he whispered. “I promise, I won’t let anything bad happen to you.”

A faint smile manage to squirm it’s way onto Twilight’s lips as a tear fell down and collided with Spike’s. “I know you won’t… I know…”

The two of them sat on the floor for some moments, before Spike gave a one last tight hug and then pulled away. Twilight cleared her face with a hoof, breathed outwards, and narrowed her eyes with determination. She stood herself back up and turned to Trail, all hints of hesitation or fear gone from her voice as she spoke, “Let’s do it. Right here, right now.”

Trail gave a small chuckle, before standing up from his chair.

“And on that night,

Of decision most dire,

The princess stood firm,

Challenging the monster’s desire.”

There was a moment of silence at his sudden poetry before Spike asked, “Did you just make that up?”

“Indeed I did,” he replied with a grin.

“Cool.”

“Trail,” Twilight said, grabbing the attention of the two with her stern voice. “Let’s get this over with.”

“As you wish, your highness,” replied sarcastically.

“Please don’t call me that.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Trail turned back to the saddlebag and began fishing their an assortment of journals and papers. It wasn’t long before he found what he was looking for, and he pulled out a golden chained necklace that held a brilliant diamond as the center piece that swung freely.

“That’s it?” Twilight asked breathlessly, the air of confidence around her receding for a moment on sight of the object.

“Indeed it is.”

“How do we do this?”

“First, you must wear the necklace. Then, activate the magic residing within it. In theory, it will pierce into your very being, extracting the vampirism inside and sealing it in the diamond. Supposedly, you will know it’s working when the diamond turns into a brilliant red. Once that is complete, you will be purified of all of its traces, including returning your eyes to their normal color.”

“Okay,” Twilight said. “Which of us will go first?”

“You will.”

“Are you sure?” Twilight asked, pulling her eyes away from the object.

Trail gave a kind smile before replying, “Twilight, I have already been living with this curse for a while now. I’m sure you have already pieced it together now, but I have already done things I have regretted. A few more minutes won’t be the end of me. Right now, it is more important that you do not share my burden.” Trail turned his head downward as he spoke with a forced smile, staring off into the distant past. “Trust me, you do not want the things I have done on your conscience.”

Twilight and Spike stared at him wordlessly, images of what horrible things such a kind hearted stallion might have done. It was a tragic chapter of his life the two of them had never known, and wondered if it was the source for his constant happiness at all things small. “Okay…give it to me first then,” Twilight said.

“I must warn you first. From what little I know, it will be very uncomfortable initially as it pries its way into you. It will not be successful unless you willingly let its magic in, otherwise its magic will end.”

“Don’t fight it, got it,” she replied with another nod.

“And second,” Trail said turning to Spike. “I highly recommend that you, Spike, move to another room.”

“What? Why?” Spike whined.

Trail lifted the amulet as he explained, “This is powerful magic that we do not fully understand. The artifact is supposed to draw out the vampirism and store it inside itself, but we do not know if it will seek another vessel should one be nearby. I am already possessed so I should be safe from harm, but I will take no risks or chances of this curse spreading onto another. The nature of vampirism is a dark and wrathful one. You do not take it lightly or else it will corrupt or destroy you.”

“Says the earth pony,” Spike remarked.

“Hey! Just because I am not a unicorn, does not mean I can’t read and be knowledgeable about magic,” Trail replied in a huffy voice.

“We’re wasting time arguing,” Twilight snapped, interrupting the childish spat. “Spike, please go into the kitchen. I’m sorry but I agree with Trail. I don’t want to risk you becoming infected if there is even a remote chance of it.”

Spike looked to Twilight silently with begging eyes to be able to stay, to which she kept a hard stare at him before sigh and softening her features along with her voice. “Please, Spike, I don’t want to risk you. You can be there for me the moment it’s done okay? But during the process, please stay in the kitchen. I couldn’t live with myself if you somehow became infected.”

Spike opened his mouth to argue further, but decided against after seeing how Twilight looked at him, the plight her eyes all too visible. “Fine…” he said in defeat. “I’ll be in the kitchen. Let me know as soon as you’re done though okay?” Spike said with a claw point as he turned around.

“Of course, and thank you,” Twilight said with a smile, the first one he had seen from her in hours.

He returned it willingly. “Good luck, Twilight.” Walking out of the main room, Spike turned to Trail and asked in worry. “You will take care of her right?”

Trail gave him his usual grin. “I promise, Spike. Twilight will be safe under my care.”

Returning the smile and feeling reassured that Trail would be there, Spike went into the kitchen, closing the door behind him. With a sigh he moved over to the counter and hopped onto a stool, trying to figure out what to do until Twilight and Trail called him back in. He sat there for a few minutes, his ears straining to hear anything from the adjacent room while he waited. He heard them talking for a bit, then Twilight’s familiar twinkle of magic, followed by a gasp and some other indistinguishable noises. As much as he wanted to burst back into the main part of the library, Spike held himself in check atop the stool, promising himself if he did not hear something again in half an hour he would crack open the door and check on them.

Another minute passed as he swung his hanging feet idly, when the sudden urge to burp rose up within him. Expanding his cheeks at the familiar sensation, Spike belched emerald fire that materialized into a scroll. “A letter from Princess Celestia this late?” he asked aloud as he grabbed the falling parchment. Turning it over, he looked over the sealed insignia. “A letter from Princess Luna?

Turning his eyes back to the door, he contemplated using the scroll as an excuse to go back into the room. But he decided otherwise when remembering how Twilight looked at him, and how important it was what they were doing. I don’t want to mess it up, but when did we ever get a letter from Princess Luna?

Turning his eyes back to the scroll, suspense filled him to do something during the tense moment of waiting. Tearing off the seal, he unrolled the scroll and began reading.


Dear Princess Twilight Sparkle,

Thy presence is requested in Canterlot tomorrow regarding concerning news. An old and dangerous artifact has been stolen from the Royal Vault, an item of power that holds only sorrow and false promises, and should ever remain locked away. The theft of such an item is most alarming to myself, and no doubt my sister when she wakes in the morn’. I believe this situation will be good practice for handling state affairs regarding dangerous items and weaponry, as well as benefiting from thine expertise in magic. I hope to see thee in Canterlot soon with swift haste and safe journey. I do apologize for how late in the night this letter arrives, but such is the time I perform my royal duties. May thou find pleasant dreams for the rest of the night.

Princess Luna


Spike looked at the letter with growing concern, wondering how powerful an artifact it must have been for the Princess Luna to have sent a letter, and what kind of pony would be even capable of stealing from Canterlot. However, before he could muse further on the fact, a piercing scream tore throughout the tree house.

Spike jumped at the sound, then stared dumbfounded at the door to the living room, taking a moment to understand what he had just heard. “Twilight?” he asked quietly. After a few heartbeats of silence, Spike shouted, “TWILIGHT!”

Hopping off the stool he ran for the door and swung it open, almost freezing at the sight of her body lying still on the floor. “TWILIGHT!” Running to her side, he began tugging on her shoulders gently. “What happened!? Is she alright? Did the amulet work?”

“She is alright. The amulet performed its purpose,” Trail said calmly.

Spike gave a relieved smile as he wiped his eyes. “I’m so glad! She’s going to be okay. How did it go? Where there any-” Spike asked as he began to turn, but stopped as the necklace caught his eye. Turning back, he saw it was still a brilliant white, not a hint of red inside it at all. Narrowing his eyes in confusion, Spike also thought he saw a flash of movement inside the diamond, then another.

Looking closer, he attempted to peer inside to see what it contained, before Trail spoke his name, much closer than from before. “Unfortunately, Spike, this is where I must take Twilight and part ways with you, and all of Ponyville for good.”

Spike blinked at what Trail was saying, reluctantly pulling his attention from Twilight and the diamond. “What are you saying? What do you-” he said before pausing, taken aback at Trails close proximity to him. Trail’s face was passive and unreadable, and he had his hoofed raised between him and Spike, of which Spike noticed a pile of gold powder resting atop it.

“What I’m saying is goodbye,” Trail simply said, and then blew the powder onto Spike’s face.

“Aaaaagh!” Spike shouted as he tried to wipe the powder off him, coughing at the pieces that managed to get into his mouth and down his throat. “What are yooouuuu… dooo… dooooinnngggg…” was all he was able to say before he fall backwards, blacking out before he even hit the floor.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Spike slowly awoke as the morning light hit his face, rousing him from a very deep sleep that he felt like he could remain in forever. He was having a wonderful dream, full of gems, damsels, Twilight making delicious meals from said gems, it was a life he wished he could remain asleep to relive over and over again. “Hmm… more Topaz Dust please…” he muttered as his mind kicked into gear painfully slow. He lay still for a few seconds more before popping his eyes wide open and jumping onto his feet. “TWILIGHT!”

Standing so quickly left a rush in his head, almost causing him to lose his balance. But he shook aside the grogginess that was more difficult than usual to get rid of. “TWILIGHT!” he called again, a claw on his head to steady himself as he wobbly walked across the room. Blinking the sleep from his eyes, he looked about in a panic, unable to spot where she he had seen her collapsed the night before.

“Oh no, TWILIGHT! Where are you!? Answer me!” Spike began to shout across the house, ignoring the shooting pain in his head at yelling so loudly. Even in a state of panic, he was still having a hard time bringing himself to be fully awake.

*Knock Knock* “Spike?” a country accent called from the other side of the front door. “Is everything alright in there?”

“Applejack! H-help! Twilight’s missing!”

That was all she and the rest of the girls needed to hear before they barged through the door and filled the living room. “SPIKE!” Rarity cried as she saw him nearly fall over. She rushed over and lent him a hoof to lean against. “Are you okay? You’re not hurt are you? Where is Twilight?”

“I don’t know! All I remember was her screaming last night!”

“Screaming!? What the hay happened!?” Rainbow Dash demanded. But before he could answer, she flared her nostrils and took off upstairs, intent on checking every inch of the house. The rest of the girls closed in on Spike to listen as he explained what had happened, giving him a some space breath.

“I got a letter from Princess Luna, something about a robbery in Canterlot. Then I heard Twilight screaming! And ran back into the living room to see what happened. Then I saw her on the floor not moving! And the amulet Trail had found still around her neck and-”

“Trail?” Applejack interrupted. “He was here last night?”

“Y-yeah, he said he found something that would remove the vampirism from him and Twilight. But when I ran up to her, he said something about him taking Twilight away from Ponyville for good! Then he blew some weird dust into my face and then… I don’t remember anything after that!”

Applejack’s anger showed immediately as she gritted her teeth. “I knew there was something off about that stallion! I knew it from the day I first saw him! And he was a vampony to!? That no good rotten…”

Rainbow Dash matched the farm pony’s mood, her nostrils flaring in anger. “So Trail lied to us this whole time? What’s the deal!? And why did he take Twilight!?” Her feathers were bristling with the building rage inside of her, and her wings cut through the air with more force with each stroke. “When I get my hooves on him he is going to pay! No one messes with my friends!”

Applejack whipped around and bolted towards the door, the look of determination plastered on her face. “Ah’m going to look for Twalight at Trail’s house, then the clearing I found him at the other day if she’s not there.”

“I’m going to do a flyby around Ponyville. I’ll spread out wider with each pass,” Rainbow Dash said, following in suite.

Applejack merely nodded her head in response as the two rushed outside to begin the search. “Applejack! Rainbow Dash!” Rarity called after them, but they were either already too far away to have heard, or flat-out ignored her. Rarity’s face scrunched up at the two girls leaving without even discussing a plan of action, having decided to head off without even a word to her or the rest of the girls.

But her scowl gave way at the sinking thought of Twilight was missing hit her again. As much as she wanted to scold them for just running off, she couldn’t blame them for acting so when it was a friend on the line. “What we do…?” she asked aloud. “Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie,” Rarity spoke while turning around. “Do either of you have any ideas for-“she paused in mid sentence at spotting Pinkie Pie sitting on the ground, her mane completely flat, and the faint sound of sniffling emanating from her. “Oh dear, Pinkie,” Rarity said forlornly as she trotted over to the mare. “It’ll be alright. We’ll find Twilight soon, you’ll see. Everything will be okay.”

Pinkie Pie gave a gasp as she tried to speak, something she was finding very difficult to do from the tightness in her chest and being on the verge of bawling, her sniffling growing louder with each moment. “W-why… didn’t I-I…” she tried to speak, catching herself in between words with gasps and sniffing.

“Why didn’t you what, darling?” Rarity cooed as she rested a hoof on her shoulder, trying her calm her down.

“Wh-why didn’t… my Peh-Pinkie Sense… know that… Twa-Twilight… WAS GOING TO BE TA-A-A-KEN!” Pinkie Pie cried loudly, tears flowing freely from her eyes as she latched onto Rarity.

Rarity was initially stunned at her sudden behavior, but returned the gesture by wrapping her hooves around Pinkie Pie, painfully aware of the tears run down her face and soaking into her coat; the second time in two days. “Don’t blame yourself, Pinkie darling, it wasn’t your fault!”

“YE-EH-EH-EH-ESSS IT ISSSSSSSS!” Pinkie Pie wailed dramatically. “MY PINKIE SENSE DIDN’T TELL ME AND I COULDN’T STOP TWILIGHT FROM BEING STOLEN FROM US!” she bawled as loudly as she could. Her distress worse than Rarity had ever seen or believed her capable of being, her breaths completely erratic as she continue to sob and her words becoming indistinguishable from her crying. Rarity wasn’t sure if Pinkie Pie was still talking or if it was just gasps for air in-between her wails.

“There there, it’s not your fault, Pinkie dear, it’s not your fault,” Rarity repeated as she slowly rocked the still clinging pony back and forth, stroking her flat mane with a hoof gently in a motherly fashion. She repeated the action over and over again until Pinkie Pie eventually got the worst of it out, but remained sobbing as she kept her muzzle buried into Rarity’s coat, her shakes and cries still continuing but at a much quieter level. Rarity lifted her head to see what Spike and Fluttershy had been doing during the time it had taken her to calm Pinkie Pie down, hoping one of them were coming up with a plan of action.

Fluttershy was off to the side, her face clearly marked with tear stains; it looked as if she had just finished weeping herself and was now standing solemnly. Spike was on the other side of Rarity, simply staring at the ground where he had last seen Twilight, his scales dropped in a similar manner to Pinkie Pie’s hair and Fluttershy’s wings. Nopony else seemed to be in a position or mood to do anything, to caught up in the despair of the situation. Come on, Rarity, think of something. You need to stand up, for them, for Twilight! Do something! She coerced herself, realizing somepony needed to take command of the situation, to get something done regarding Twilight’s disappearance. As difficult as it was to even do something else besides wanting to become lost in the fact Twilight was missing along with them and share the pain, somepony needed to do something.

“F-Fluttershy,” Rarity stuttered, snapping Fluttershy back to the present from wherever her mind had spiraled down. With a deep breath and exhale, Rarity forced herself to focus on the situation. “Fluttershy, I want you to go to your cottage. Speak to some of your animal friends if they had seen Twilight or Trail since last night.”

“O-okay…” Fluttershy mumbled.

“Spike,” Rarity said without skipping a beat.

“Huh?” he replied, also being brought out from somewhere else.

“Get a quill and parchment, were sending a letter to Celestia this very moment.”

Spike remained motionless, his mind taking a moment to catch up to the fact Rarity had asked him to do something before nodding his head slowly. He shuffled to a nearby drawer and grabbed the items, bringing them to the table; so caught up in everything he hadn’t even realized whatever had been affecting him when he woke up as gone. Once they were laid out he hopped up onto a stool and turned to her. “Wh…what do you want me to write?”

“Fluttershy, please go now while Spike and I write to the princess,” Rarity said.

“Okay…” Fluttershy softly responded. Once Rarity saw her moving towards the door, she cleared her throat and spoke to Spike, her hoof still brushing Pinkie Pie’s mane.


”Dear Princess Celestia,

I write to you now on a matter most urgent and dire. We believe Twilight to have been pony-napped and require your assistance immediately. Her whereabouts are unknown and we fear she might be in danger. We suspect that the pony named Trail who arrived in Ponyville a short time ago is responsible for her disappearance as Spike found Twilight unconscious after wearing an amulet he claimed to have found in the Everfree Forest. A necklace with a large diamond. Spike said that Trail had told him Twilight and him were departing Ponyville. Even more concerning is that we believe this may have something to do with, and mind you it may sound crazy, vamponies. No doubt you have read the report of the burglary at a house here in Ponyville, but what Twilight had for whatever reason failed to mention was that she was attacked that night, pursuing the robber, and becoming bitten by what we believe to have been a vampony. Please respond at once.

Rarity”


“Please… respond… at… once,” Spike repeated as he scribbled the last sentence. “Got it.”

“Send it now,” Rarity said.

Spike had already begun rolling the letter when she asked, bathing it in emerald fire moments later. As they watched the sparkling dust swirl away, Spike turned to Rarity and said with a small grin, a tiny improvement to his sunken features. “You sure know how to take command of something.”

Rarity looked down to Pinkie Pie to hide the bit of blush that grew on her cheeks. “Well, somepony has to do it. If Rainbow Dash or Applejack were here I’m sure they would have written to Princess Celestia sooner and with more detail.”

“The letter was fine, I don’t think anypony would have been more qualified or level headed right now as you are being,” Spike said. Rarity only smiled a little more at the compliment. Seconds later, Spike’s cheeks puffed out before he burped flames, a scroll appearing from the ashes.

“Thank goodness she responded so quickly,” Rarity remarked. “What did she say?”

Spike quickly unfurled the scroll and began speaking its message aloud. “I am dispatching a contingent of guards immediately. They, myself, and Princess Luna will be in Ponyville within the hour. Signed, Princess Celestia,” he finished. Rarity gave a small sigh of relief at the Princess’s hastiness, confident they would do everything within their power to return Twilight as soon as possible. “What do we do now?” Spike asked?

“Now, dear, we simply wait. The Princess’s will know what to do. Twilight will be back before we know it with their help,” she said in a matter of fact tone. But as much as she tried to reassure Spike, Pinkie Pie, and herself, the awful fact of the situation still ate at Rarity deep inside her. She could deny or yell at it in anger all wanted to, but nothing would change the sinking feeling in her gut that threatened to swallow her in despair. The single disturbing fact that Twilight was gone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Forty Eight minutes later, the princess’s had arrived in Ponyville by flight, a contingent of armored pegasi charioting other Royal Guard Unicorn’s and Earth Ponies. The sight of their mass quickly descending upon Ponyville caused a commotion amongst its residents, gathering a crowd of ponies that only grew with each minute as to what could have possible demand such an unannounced entrance. The moment they had set hoof onto the ground, they were met by the girls and Spike rushing towards them from the library only a stone throws away.

“Explain what has happened,” Celestia spoke, her voice holding a regal and commanding authority, the type of voice she had rarely shown to them.

“We’ve looked everywhere!” Rainbow Dash blurted out immediately. “Twilight is nowhere in Ponyville!”

“It was Trail!” Spike added afterward. “It all happened last night! Trail and Twilight were alone! Then I heard her scream! And when I ran in the room, he said he was taking her away before he blew some weird golden powder onto me! And I don’t remember anything after that, but when I woke up she…she…”

“Was missing,” Rarity finished for him.

Celestia whipped her head towards the guards around her and shouted off orders. “I want a team of unicorns in the library! Find this ‘golden powder’ and analyze it. Send a second team to Trail’s house to uncover anything that may be relevant. Earth Guards! Speak with every resident, if anypony had seen either of them last night, I want to know where and when! Remaining Pegasi! Begin searching Ponyville and expand outwards! If you meet up with the first wave already performing the search that had broken off during our transit, combine your patterns and continue to extend your flight paths outward! I want all the nearby countryside covered and searched by the end of today!”

Each pony gave a shout accompanied by a snapping salute, before dashing off to fulfill their orders. Princess Celestia turned to the girls, speaking with a less demanding tone but still with the same urgency. “I will need one of you to guide the team to Trail’s house.”

“On it!” Applejack replied immediately. Trotting off to the group of unicorns that had remained outside, she called them to follow her, all of them galloping off into the town.

“If you don’t mind, Princess, I want to help with the search by air!” Rainbow Dash requested with a puffed out chest.

Celestia gave a single nod before responding, “Go.”

Rainbow Dash responded with a haphazard salute and shot into the sky, meeting up with the nearest group of pegasi guards. Celestia gave a silent pray to the search parties before turning her gaze to the remaining girls. It was noticeable how hard they were taking Twilight’s disappearance. They looked lost, tired, and even more bothering to the matriarch, hopeless. She had to do a double look at Pinkie Pie to make sure she was the same pony she knew. Knowing what she did of the always energetic outgoing pink mare, it made her worry her even more than she already was at seeings its discouraging effects.

Clearing her throat, she spoke as politely as she could in the distressing situation. “I want you to tell me of everything from Trails arrival in Ponyville to this moment. Do not spare a single detail. But before that, my sister and I must put to rest a grave concern that has grown upon us.” Celestia exchanged a brief glance with Luna, their faces filled with worry as if they were not entirely sure they wanted to hear an answer.

Luna took in a breath as she prepared herself, and then asked as calmly as she could, “What does Trail look like?”

“Trail,” Rarity spoke up, deciding to answer for everypony, “is an earth stallion. His coat is black accompanied by a silver mane. His eyes are red, we believe due to the fact he has vampirism as hard as it may be to believe. And he has the cutie mark of a red, crescent moon with hoof prints beneath it.” She figured that of course the princess’s would want to know the identity of the pony they were searching for, but did not expect to see their faces pale and become filled with dread as she listed his features. They look as if they had seen a ghost escape from Tartarus itself.

“It cannot be…” Luna whispered, her eyes wide in despair, a reaction Rarity had never seen in the Lunar Princess. Seeing the two alicorn’s show fear brought a new and very unnerving feeling to Rarity. “Sister…” Luna said as she turned to Celestia.

Celestia’s mouth was open as she tried to find her breath, but seemed unable to draw one in. Her gaze drifted downwards as the implications of everything Rarity confirming the pony set into her mind. After a few moments she was able to breath once again, exhaling deeply as she replied. “It is as we feared… Sombra… was not the only one to return…” The two princess memories of a darker time were brought back in full, still having difficulty believing the evil of the past had managed to survive into an age of peace that had been worked towards for so long.

Luna softly whispered, thinking they would be words she would never have to utter again. “The Night Walker travels the land once again.”

Act I - Chapter 15

View Online

The evening prior



The lights of Ponyville twinkled in the approaching night, casting long shadows that fancifully decorated the streets from window designs. Families began to tuck into bed, birds roosted peacefully in their nests, and a quiet stillness settled over the town. Even the pony who strolled in content through the town at the late hour hardly made noise, enjoying the summer night breeze that gently swept across the trees.

Smiling at the relaxing atmosphere, Trail proceeded down the street, humming an old tune that was hardly louder than a whisper.

Settled down to sleep,

Pull your blankets tight,

Rest easy young one, and have no fright.

Today is gone, and the night creeps by,

But in the morn’, you will find…

A new hill to climb, and a river to cross,

New adventures to find, awaiting your mark.

You will march through the woods, and tumble through thorns,

And tomorrow you’ll find, a world you’ll have not known before.

Inhaling deeply, he let out a happy sigh.

How I did miss these summer nights. And what a town to enjoy it in.

Turning his head, he casually looked in to a passing open window, spying a couple resting atop the couch.

This really is a pleasant town, much like the ones I used to know without all the interfering politics and danger. Much better than some of these towering cities they have now.

Letting his mind wander to places long gone, Trail glanced at his saddlebag, smiling at the piece of history that sat carefully inside.

Out of all the artifacts I have had the pleasure of using, I think this one will quickly take my favorite place. How nice of the Sister’s to keep it locked away in a forgotten vault, and with the most scarce guard detail I have ever seen. Times really have changed if relics like this are so casually protected.

His smile became wider as gave a skip to rustle the bags contents.

I simply cannot wait to use it.

Another breeze came, and Trail let out a happy sigh.

It’s a shame this will be my last night in this town. Such a nice charm, and such sweet blood from its residents. Perhaps I’ll make a summer home here if all goes well.

Humming the rest of the way through the town, Trail gave an eager smile when the library came into view. He licked his fangs in anticipation of the nights event, and strode purposefully forward. However, as he reached the door and lifted his hoof to knock, he twitched his ears at the sound of commotion within the library.

Flicking his tail in irritation, he leaned forward to make out the voices of Twilight and her friends, apparently having just seated themselves for dinner by the sound of the conversation.

Of course, he thought in annoyance. But with a patient sigh, he moved to the side of the library, carefully placing himself between the bark and pony-high bushes and flower beds that adorned the tree.I suppose a last meal is acceptable. After all, one should eat well before their death. Settling himself in a position that allowed him plenty of room duck down, he glanced about the street, and cautiously peeked through the library’s window.

Looking in, he was able to see each of the girls along with Spike seated about a large dining table, Twilight having just brought out food and taking her spot at the end. Straining his ears, he could hear their conversations, but pushed their dialogue to the back of his mind for a far more serious observation.

Time to see how you are coming along, my dear.

Sitting himself down, he closed his eyes momentarily, and reopened them until they were only thin slits, a dim glow of white escaping from them. Turning his head, he peered through wood and space, pushing his limits to see the flickering souls of ponies within. One by one they appeared into view, translucent orbs that shifted from their movements at the table, each of them unique.

Spotting the one that he was all too familiar with, he turned to Twilight first, he noted the details he could from his distance, and gave a content smile at red coloration spreading within her.

It appears to be progressing along nicely. It’s intertwining with her emotions quite well from the looks of it, the predatory side appears to be a little underdeveloped, and her anxiety looks to have only flared severely a few times. All in all, a smooth transformation.

He placed a hoof on the edge of his bag, feeling the bulge of the amulet within.

She looks stable enough to move forward with the transition. It shall be a very long night.

However the amount of work he would perform tonight, he could only look forward to the delicate and tedious maintenance he would perform on her, a challenge that he eagerly sought that would become much more difficult given the amulet’s effects.

While idly thinking the possible hurdles that would require his attention the most during the process, a curious inclination crossed his mind. I never did have much of a chance to fully explore the rest of the girls. Given that it might be sometime since I see any of them again, now sounds like a wonderful chance to peek.

Shifting his eyes to the other orbs, he gave each of them a brief glance, noting the sense of unease that permeated them unlike Twilight, and academically gazed deeper upon them.

My, my... you all really do bear your elements. Mark my theory of Soul Resonance being the source of power for the Elements as confirmed, Trail mused. How Celestia and Luna managed to find such items, I haven’t the slightest, but I wonder if they even know the very magic they had forbidden is the working mechanics of their greatest weapon? Taking a few moments to appreciate the slight irony, he focused on assessing the finer details.

Well, your diva certainly shows inside, as well as out, Miss Rarity. Your ego attaches to many parts of your being, but hardly to the negative emotions that are usually the source of such a thing. Your giving nature certainly holds a large position, with many connections to other parts of your thoughts and feelings. I’d say you would be even more generous if you were able to remove some those overriding concerns that plague you so on often petty things. Before he turned he turned away from her however, a small detail caught his eye, and he refocused on the spot. Well, well… I hadn’t expected to see their bloodline this far from their tightly guarded circles. How the self imposed righteous have fallen. Though, what to do about it…

Trail brought a hoof to his chin in pondering, moving his eyes back and forth between Rarity and Twilight. After some moments, he smiled. Let’s leave your budding nature alone, Rarity. I’m more than interesting to see how things play out between you and Twilight down the road, should the encounter ever come.

With the mattered settled, he turned to Applejack. Hardly has any negatives in her, rather an overabundance and growth of positive I’d say. But she seems to suffer her own concerns as well, mainly self doubt. Your theme for honestly must get in the way a lot with your indecision whether to speak aloud the often hard but truthful words to others. You are also quite confident in your own choices when it comes to something you feel right in. I’m sure that must have caused a few situations to arise when anything fell inside your area of expertise. But like with Rarity, you appear apprehensive about something… a topic that you perhaps do not wish to bring up?

Reaffirming the general mood among them all, he gave a smirk.

If I had to wager, I would bet thirty bits that you are all here to talk to Twilight about her condition. That would explain why she is so carefree right now while hesitation, worry, and self-doubt flares within you all brightly, despite those smiles you are all wearing.

Still half listening should anything important be said during their conversation, Trail inspected the rest of the girls. Fluttershy, what would they think of you if they knew the very strong, but still budding courage buried deep down inside of yourself? You really are so concerned with others that it prevents you from focusing on yourself even in the most minor of things. At least it is very intertwined with your happiness, or else I would suggest you to become my client.

Rainbow Dash, the only surprise you hold is that forced down feminism behind all of the bravado you bring forth. Not false, but perhaps a little more built over your softer side than it should be. You’re not quite ashamed of not being the tough pony you appear to be, but it still holds a sore spot for you. Looking closer, Trail inspected the connections it held within the rest of her. A memory perhaps? Something from your filly hood? Maybe someday you can tell me the story if you aren’t threatening to smash my face inward, he chuckled lightly. Then, his lips parted into a smile at the prospect of finally being able to see the most curious and exciting pony of the bunch.

Now, Pinkie Pie, let’s see what makes you tick. Turning his head towards the other end of the table, he rested his gaze onto her. As he observed her soul coming into focus, the grin on his face steadily gave way into a hanging open mouth, his eyebrows contorting at the sight before him. What… in the name of Tartarus… is that?

Before him was unlike a soul he had ever seen before. It had some of the typical structure and traits of a pony, however rest of it form made zero sense as to what exactly he was seeing. A soul was a complex and intricate thing, but the one resting inside her was built in a way his mind was having difficulty even fathoming. Where a connection that would normally tie a certain feeling with another trait, it just seemingly ended, only appearing elsewhere not even remotely close to where it should be. Parts that were unidentifiable warped in towards themselves, and impossibly out again in elongated shapes.

The strange structures that speckled her soul clung or mixed into random parts did not in the slightest obey or conform in the manner Trail knew souls to work. Unable to even identify the various parts of her soul, he regarded her with a new found awe, respect, and fear as she munched happily away at her salad. That pony… disturbs me, he thought in concern, a statement that even in his mind, was one he would have never believe to have uttered.

Shaking his head, he pulled away from the maddening orb, finding his eyes straining at attempting to follow its impossible layout. What little he did gleam from it in the parts he could understand, were things he was already aware of from the easy going nature of the pony. It’s not important right now, nor do I have the unimaginable time it would take to begin even understanding whatever that was. Forcing the thought away, Trails ear pricked up as he caught the tail end of a sentence.

“-came over to talk to me about being a vampony…” Twilight’s voice spoke.

Closing his eyes and returning to normal vision, Trail peered through the window once more, intent on hearing shift in conversation, watching silently as the ponies spoke regarding Twilight and her vampirism. Eventually Twilight broke off and went into the kitchen while the rest conversed amongst themselves, to quietly for Trail to pick up on what they were saying. It wasn’t until Rainbow Dash loudly suggested they use the Elements of Harmony that Twilight shouted and ran back into the room, and straight towards the window Trail was at. He ducked himself down and tensed his muscles, ready to flee should she have spotted him. It would be easier to explain a fleeing shadow as somepony else than explain why the therapist was currently squatting in her hedge of petunias.

Moments later he heard the shuffling of her hooves away from the window, sarcastically responding to Rainbow Dash about vampony hearing before what he assumed was her handing the elements out. Assured he had remained unseen, Trail cautiously lifted his head and peered through the window once again, taking notice of the items he had always briefly seen locked away now equipped to their bearers. Trail watched curiously as they gathered into a circle, eyes closed in what he assumed was in activation of their Elements. Slowly but surely, the atmosphere began to tingle with magic, even reaching to him through the other side of the tree. Watching with fascination, he saw their bodies became charged with energy as they were lifted off the ground, encompassed in a soft but bright light. Seeing the powerful magic be put to use as arcing rainbows streamed from their necklaces and to each other, a chilling thought gripped him.

What if they work…?

Cursing himself for under estimating the powerful energy the Element’s wielded; Trail began to consider the option of charging in himself and putting a stop to the act, weighing the risk of risking a smooth transition for a potential disastrous and failed one. But the Elements decided for him before he could act as a blinding light filled the tree house and shot out through each window, causing him to retreat into the hedges with an audible curse. It wasn’t sunlight, but that didn’t mean was protecting from its blinding light. But as soon as the magic had begun, it ceased.

Trail spent the next few moments blinking away stars from his vision before shaking his head side to side. Having his vision cleared again, he became aware of the sound of crying coming through the window. Cautiously he lifted himself up again and observed the room, almost letting out a suppressed laugh at seeing the girls huddle together in what was obviously a failed attempt. Equestria’s greatest weapon my flank. I don’t know how they managed to defeat Princess Luna when she was taken by the nightmare, but these Elements would have been laughable during my time. To think I was actually worried about their use against me. If they can't handle even the vampirism in a thrall then what would they expect turning it onto me? Trail continued to smile at the prospect everything would go according to plan, confident that all that was left now was a little bit of waiting. But as he watched their huddle mass, his previous thought echoed in his mind. They defeated Princess Luna…

Berating himself for almost underestimating the Elements again, he closed his eyes to switch to Soul Sight, worried at the possible unseen problems they might have caused. It would be foalish of me to assume I am immune to its effects. A grave slip up on my part considering how many others thought the same against other weapons. The peaceful time I have spent here must be making me soft. But still... that kind of magic doesn’t leave without a trace, I just hope it isn’t beyond my ability to correct. With partially open lids that glowed faintly again, he peered past the souls around Twilight, forcing himself to avoid looking upon the strange one, he inspected the alicorn.

After a minute of close observation, he concluded that they had impacted her, but nothing that was too worrisome. It’s hard to see past the despair currently flooding her, but the vampirism remains intact. It’s possible that some of the triggers have been removed due to the lack of connections I had set in place, but they would have ran their use eventually anyways. He had hoped his control over her magic would have at least remained, but sighting no bridge connecting her magical well to the specific placed in the mental section indicated it was gone. Looks like I only got one shot at this. It would be troublesome if I have to perform tonight’s process with force.

When the group embrace looked to be not ending anytime soon, Trail decided to wait it out and sunk back into the bushes. Ensuring that he was seated within the bushes comfortably and out of sight from anypony that might have walked by, he propped his back against the tree and listened to the crying that still took place inside. Confident that all he had to do was wait them out until Twilight was alone, a problematic thought appeared in his head. I hope they don’t spend the night…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Please, Spike, I don’t want to risk you. You can be there for me the moment it’s done okay? But during, just please stay in the kitchen. I couldn’t live with myself if you somehow became infected.” Twilight looked pleadingly towards Spike, unwilling to compromise his safety.

He opened his mouth as if to argue further, but sighed in defeat. “Fine…” he said. “I’ll be in the kitchen. Let me know as soon as you’re done okay?” he asked while pointing a claw.

“Okay, and thank you,” Twilight replied with a smile.

Returning it, he replied, “Good luck, Twilight.” As headed toward the kitchen, Spike turned to Trail and in a worrying tone. “You will take care of her right?”

Trail gave him a wide grin. “I promise Spike. Twilight will be safe under my care.” With that, he kept his eye on Spike until he left the room completely before turning his attention back to Twilight. “Are you ready?” A resolute nod gave him his answer. “Then let’s begin.”

So far everything had managed to work. Trail had convinced Twilight to use the amulet tonight, and he was able to keep Spike out of the room during a no doubt worrying spectacle he would rather have him avoid, least he run out to her and ruin the process. He had silently fumed at the earlier mention it was only because Spike had dunked his head into the floorboards that they were able to spot the book he intended them to find, half tempted to scold Shade Flare later for having it so far away. But in the end, it somehow turned out favorable as any other position might have been too suspicious.

“Okay,” Trail began. Circling around Twilight, he gave her the instructions. “First, you will send your magic into the amulet. Will it to life and purify you, let its magic respond to your calls and work. As I mentioned, initially it will be unnerving and unnatural, but so it must be to remove the vampirism. Accept it into yourself, and it will take care of the rest.”

“Got it,” Twilight replied. Taking a couple deep breaths in preparation, her horn began to glow. “Okay, here I go.”

Trail watched intently on the alicorn, his muscles beginning to tense in apprehension of the moment and wishing all went according to plan. He moved himself out of sight, and behind Twilight; knowing full well that once it begun, she would be unable to move, unable to turn around and see what would obviously be a happy mood at her soon to be desperate and silent plight to turn it off.

Twilight on the other hoof, was purely focused on the activating the amulet, squeezing her eyes shut as she poured her magic into the diamond. Soon, she felt its own magical energy responding to hers, bringing a hopeful smile to her face. “I think it’s working!” Twilight said, not noticing Trail failed to reply. She watched as the diamond began to glow dimly, feeling the tingling of its magic emanated from it, and into her. Twilight let out small 'eep' as its magic struck deep within her. Unnerving was right! she thought to herself. She could literally feel the magic pouring into her body, stopping short of her center by her own natural resistance to such an invasive feeling. It felt alien, dangerous, and wrong to let something pierce so deep within her. It was similar to the sensation she had experienced when she became an alicorn, but that was much more pleasant than this.

Taking in further, deep breaths to calm her nerves down, Twilight slowly gave way to the magic, and let it inside of her. The moment she did, it rushed it with more force than she had anticipated. Gasping aloud, she fell to her knees as it poured deep within her. It squirmed within her very fiber, touching places physically, mentally, and magically she had never known could feel. No… no no no no no, this isn’t right! This is wrong! So very very wrong!

I need to stop this, Trail got the wrong amulet or something because this… this isn’t right! Twilight opened her mouth to call out for his name, but found she could utter a sound. M-my voice! Why can’t I talk!?

In addition of losing her voice, she found she was beginning to lose control of her body, her limbs becoming unresponsive as she slunk onto the floor with a small thud. Becoming more panicked with each passing moment, Twilight silently pleaded for Trail.

HELP! STOP THE AMULET! IT ISN’T WORKING! Scratching her hooves pathetically against the floorboards, Twilight visible shook as she felt something ripped from her body. WHAT IN CELESTIA WAS THAT!? WHY ISN’T HE HELPING ME? WHERE IS… Twilight screamed in her head, but became silent at the startling realization. She could not remember the stallion’s name.

Wha…what’s going on? Why can’t I remember his name? Another wave of magic shook her as she felt another piece of her being torn away. I… I can’t remember what he even looks like anymore. OH CELESTIA! WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME!?

Tears began to fall from Twilight’s face, her eyes unable to move as they glazed over and looked outwards as if they were staring at some distant object. The realization of what was happening beginning to set in as she pieces of her begin to steady rip away. My… my memories… this thing, is taking my memories away…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Twilight didn’t know how or when, but her vision of being on her side in her living, lying motionless on the floorboards, was replaced with her standing outside. Finding herself a short distance from the treehouse, she looked about what was in the middle of the day in Ponyville. All about her were all of its residents, somehow fitting within the open area around her. Everypony she had ever known was there, the cakes, ponies she knew in Canterlot, her parents, all of them were there. The closest ones however, was Princess Celestia, Spike, and her friends. All of them, even ones she knew who had been mean to her, were smiling.

“What’s going on? Why am I here?” Twilight asked aloud. But nopony responded to her, they only stared at her with silence as they wore comforting and heartwarming smiles.

They were giving warm and comforting smiles that Twilight wondered if any of it was actually real due to the bizarreness of everything. There were so many ponies that they stretched out into the street of Ponyville that was the main road out of town. But as her eyes followed the stretch of road, something that did not belong caught her attention. Sitting on the outskirts, was an impossibly tall object that drew Twilight’s eyes upward. It was a menacing wall that was pure black, and it somehow stretched from horizon to horizon along the sides “What is that?” she asked nervously, taking note that it even towered above the few clouds in the sky. But nopony responded to her question, they simply remained locked onto her. Then, the wall visibly flared, flurries of darkness sparking off its surfacing. Twilight shrunk somewhat at the sight of the massive thing shifting, before it slowly began to move towards her.

Fearfully, she watched it approach the farthest house in the distance, convinced it would be flatten by the thing. However to her surprise, the house was merely swallowed by the darkness, sucking it in as it moved through it. She watched as the edges of the thatched roof become covered up as the wall progressed, unable to see anything it brought into its dark depths. “What in the hay is going on!? It just ate that…” she stopped in mid-sentence. Wait… what’s happening? I can’t remember what it just swallowed. She knew something had just been taken, but she couldn’t recall what. Watching intently, she saw objects she could identify with ease, vanish from her mind as they too became enveloped in the darkness. It was as if everything it passed over ceased to exist to her, yet she knew there something was supposed to be there. Steadily it drew closer as it continued to devour the world she knew, Twilight now fully aware of what was happening with a heart stopping chill.

"No...no this can't.. this can’t be happening! THIS CAN’T BE!" she shouted in panic.

Watching in growing horror at what was to be swallowed next; she let out a cry as she saw it approached the furthest of ponies away. “Get out of there! Run!” she screamed to them, but they did not move. A tear fell down her face as she watched it consume the first few ponies, painfully realizing their names and her memories vanishing at the same time. Now in shock, she looked to ponies she could recall easily, suddenly become impossible to remember as they were eaten one by one. Worst of all, she knew they were ponies she was supposed to remember. Her mind was perfectly aware of the gaping holes that were beginning to spread across her memories. Large, empty, blank spots that should have contained something she could no longer recall. And she couldn’t remember anything that had been there for the life of her.

“NO! This can’t be happening!” she yelled. “I can’t forget everything! I Have to think, have to think, have to remember!” she screamed at the top of her lungs, terrified at the approaching wall continued to slowly envelop ponies and buildings alike. She couldn’t even remember anymore what lay beyond the town, now not entirely sure there was anything outside of it. She could only remember everything she could still see that hadn’t been eaten yet.

Stamping her hoof onto the ground, she wailed again, “No, I can't let this happen! I can't forget everything I've done here in Ponyville! A-all the adventures… all the things I've learned about the magic of friendship… all the things I've done!” Sniffling, she threw her head into the air as she screamed once more. “I CAN’T FORGET ABOUT THAT!”

But despite her protests, the black wall grew closer. The shops she knew, the parks she'd read in, the places she ate at, all vanishing as it swept through the town. It continued devouring things all while Twilight shouted for it to stop, tears flowing freely down her face in despair.

But with a large earth shattering shake, the wall jumped the remaining distance between her and it, consuming hundreds of feet of memories, before stopping just shy of ten feet. Twilight’s eyes were wide as her mind and body went into shock, unable to comprehend how such a large part of her mind suddenly cease to exist. Her breaths became erratic at the jarring sensation of knowing so much, only to now know so little. The only thing that had yet to be touched was herself, and her friends.

They stood before her, watching her with the same comforting smiles as the darkness pulsed all about them. Twilight never noticed when it had circled around her, cutting off whatever had been behind her. She wasn’t sure what it was, but she could have sworn there was something there moments ago. Some distant emotion signaling that a comforting place had been there, a place she felt safe at. But it was gone, and her head slowly turned to the next victims she could still remember every little detail about.

“No…” she whispered. “This is the one thing I have to remember. I can't forget them. I can’t forget my friends! Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Spike, Princess Celestia....

The only things the alicorn could still recall, was the tiny little world she now sat in. Even the memories with her friends where in strange places she felt she had seen before, but could not put a hoof on why. They were strange places, with other strange ponies, but she could at least still remember her friends and mentor. Unable to give them up, Twilight began reciting their names in a mantra like fashion, her eyes passing over each of their faces as she called their names over and over again, forcing herself to remember them. She spoke their names faster as she looped around, trying to keep everything she could remember about them fresh in her mind, unwilling to let them be taken away from her. I have to remember them, I can’t let them go! Not after everything we’ve been through!

“Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Flu-...what was her name again?” Twilight asked, before she gasped in understanding of why she couldn’t remember the yellow pegasus’s name.

“Oh no… NO NO NO NO! I CAN’T FORGET!” she screamed, on the verge of hyperventilating from the sheer panic and terror gripping at her. “Uh..uh... Pinkie Pie, Rainbow....flash? No that's not it! Lemonjack? No! That's not it either!”

Desperately, she kept yelling the few names she could remember of the ponies in front of her; still trying to recall the ones she could not remember the names of but yet still knew their faces. She could still remember who they were and what she had done with them, but eventually, even after her repeating over and over again, she wasn’t able to remember the name of a single one. They were all now familiar faces with no names to her.

Then, she could feel her memories with them, all the things she did by their side, slowly escape her. Being stretched away as if overpowering and unseen force peeled them from her mind. “NO! DON’T TAKE THEM! LEAVE THEM ALONE!” she screamed once more, falling to her knees as she gasped for air in between her wailing cries for them to stay. All their adventures, like pictures in an album, were eaten by black fire, fading from her mind forever. Remembering parties where they all laughed with each other, slowly become an happy occasion with strangers, then cease altogether. Sunsets shared, became moments where there just happened to be other ponies nearby, then forgotten entirely. She watched as each memory of her smiling face sharing moments with her friends, turn to a confused look as to who each pony was at that moment, then in wonder if it had even happened at all.

Each moment she had spent with them faded before her eyes, and each moment threaten their disappearance from her forever. No, I can’t let them leave! she thought in renewed affirmation. I am not going to let them be taken away from me! Shaking her head, she stood straight and looked at them once more again, trying to force them to stay, making sure they wouldn't become swallowed up themselves. Ready to tackle the black wall again and force them to stay, Twilight looked to each of them, but gasped from what she saw.

Their faces were gone.

They were just simply blank. No eyes, no muzzles, just a blank face with a familiar body. Why can’t I see their faces! Why can’t I see them?! They were there, they were just there! ...I-...I can’t remember what they look like!

Collapsing onto the ground, Twilight became too overwhelmed at what was happening to stand up anymore. It was only her sobbing form, the blank face ponies, and the wall of darkness around her that made up her world. I don't want to forget, I don't want to lose them. I can't lose them! I don't want to forget my friends! I want to remember! Letting loose painful, sorrow filled screams, she cried on the ground.

I....don't want to forget… They taught me so much that… I wouldn't be here or be the pony I am today without them. They're so close to my heart, I just… I can’t forget them!

Her body wracked uncontrollably from her tears for the ponies she didn't even know the names or faces of around her. They were important, she couldn't exactly remember why, but somehow she knew they were. It took minutes for Twilight to calm herself down, before she looked back up again. Furrowing her brows, she tried to make sense of why there was a group of ponies and a dragon around her. Who... who are they? Why does my chest hurt from seeing them? Why do I feel like I can't live without them? Why are they so special to me..... why.....

Then the ponies themselves began to fade into the darkness. She could hear their voices calling out her name. “Twilight...Twilight...” they echoed together in hauntingly familiar voices.

“NOOOOO, I'M HERE!” Twilight shouted, desperately reaching a hoof out towards them. “I'm right here! Don't Go! Don't leave me alone in this place!”

“Twilight…” they kept calling, their voices growing distant as the surrounding blackness slowly began to pass over them.

“I… I don't know who Twilight is! I don't know who that is! But please... don't leave me alone!”

They called for Twilight one last time as their featureless faces were slowly pulled back into the blackness around her, their bright and reassuring colors the only contrast to her environment.

Then they were all gone, leaving her the only one left in this tiny world of hers, and the darkness that surrounded her. But even that wasn’t enough. Shifting again, it inched towards her. The mare cringed away from it, feeling more scared, horrible, and sick to her stomach then she knew what to do with. Tears still flooded her face as she looked at her hoofs confusion.

Why am I so sad? Why am I crying? Who... who am I?.... What’s.... happening.....

Then, the blackness overtook her. And there was nothing left of her world.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Trail flinched when Twilight let loose a scream, eying her carefully for any signs that might give away her condition. She had lost consciousness over half a minute ago, her body twitching as she faced off some nightmare. Seeing a tiny sparkle shine from the diamond after her scream gave the sign he had been hoping for, Twilight’s memories had been sealed. The time to enjoy the accomplishment was short lived however, as Spike shouted from the kitchen, throwing the door open and running to the mare’s side.

“TWILIGHT!”

Trail’s smile fell at the sight of him, giving a sigh at what he would have to do next. With an extended foreleg, shadows whipped around his hoof, leaving a small pouch atop his hoof as they faded away. Taking it, he dumped out a golden powder onto his hoof and moved towards Spike.

“What happened!? Is she alright? Did the amulet work?” Spike asked while trying to wake her up.

“She is alright. The amulet performed its purpose,” Trail replied, closing the distance between him and Spike quickly and quietly. “Unfortunately, Spike, this is where I must take Twilight and part ways with you, and all of Ponyville for good.”

Spike looked up to Trail, confusion in his eyes as he asked, ““What are you saying?” What do you-”

“What I’m saying is, goodbye,” Trail interjected, before blowing the powder into his face.

Spike yelled as he frantically attempted to wipe off the substance, but fell quickly to its power. “What are yooouuuu… dooo… dooooinnngggg…” he said before collapsing on the floor.

Trail chuckled at his now sleeping form. “It is a good thing you have me to deal with, Spike. A pony with less experience in dealing with dragons might have resorted to killing you, which would have be a shame really. You never know how useful a dragon will become a hundred years or so down the road. You may be of use yet. But for now, sleep pleasantly.”

Trail turned away and focused on a more important matter. Moving beside Twilight’s still form, he carefully slipped the necklace off her neck and peered into the diamond. Gazing into its depths, he was able to see images fade in and out, the memories of Twilight’s whole life trapped within its crystalline prison. “Well, it seems all is in order,” he said happily.

Wrapping the amulet within appearing shadows, he whisked it away from his hoof and turned his attention back to Twilight. Now for the tedious process of a smooth transformation. There are many traits you possess I wish to keep intact, and I can’t risk the vampirism damaging your sense of reason and logic, nor your kind heart. Save of course, when you must bare your fangs, Trail grinned, imaging her hunched into a predatory pose with a gleam in her eye, fully capable of killing any that would stand in her way. Now that is a sight I wish to see someday.

“Oh, before I forget,” Trail said aloud. Before he began his search, he turned off all the lights of the house, intending to not draw attention during the precious hours of night left, hours we would be spending on ensuring Twilight’s soul remained intact as he desired during the transformation. After flicking the last light, he turned to the various book shelves, scanning the various titles in the dark quite easily for a specific book. After a few minutes searching he found the one he was looking for atop a high shelf.

Bringing it down to his hoof, he idly admired the cover of the Corpus Nocte Morsu.

“Despite how many times I use you, I never tire of the endless tricks you can perform,” he said in reminisces. Muttering a phrase, the book shook as its magic activated. After it settled, he flipped through its pages, nodding in satisfaction at the blank and empty pages that filled it from cover to cover. Not a word was within it, nor were there any hints that there had been. Slapping it shut, he brought it over to his saddlebag. “I dare say, if I had never found you, my wrists would be sore from all the writing I would have to do manually; much easier to let a book write itself as you speak aloud then write yourself, especially one that can be re-written.”

Tucking it away into the saddlebag and ensuring everything was in order, Trail turned his eye towards the alicorn, a pair of fangs extending in anticipating over the next few hours. “Well now, Princess, shall we get started on making you a full vampony?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wind.

It was the first thing the alicorn mare was aware of. Rushing wind. She felt the airflow around her body, ruffling her feathers and causing her mane to blow in its breeze. As her mind began to take in the sensation, she became aware of a warm body beneath her. It took her a few moments, but she eventually realized that whatever was beneath her was also carrying her body, her forearms and legs dangling to the sides in the breeze. Scrunching her face at the sensations that brought her out of the darkness she was in, she groaned while opening her eyes.

“Your highness? Are you awake back there?” a voice said in front of her. Opening her eyes slowly, she took in the sight of a stallion head halfway turned around and looking back at her. “You are! How are you feeling?” he asked. She simply stared at him in her groggy state, not quite sure how to respond to him. His coat was black, and his silver mane tasseled before her face from the breeze.

Wind.

She remembered the first thing that woke her, was the wind. Lifting her head, she looked about where she was, and widen her eyes at the sight before her. Everything was dark like where she remembered being, but it wasn’t empty. Thinking about it, it actually wasn’t that dark out. She could see clearly even though she was aware of the shadows. And what a sight it was she saw.

She was high in the sky, resting on the back of the stallion, his leathery wings gliding them across the night sky. The moon was high above, casting a glow onto the land below. Everywhere she looked, she was met with beautiful green landscape. Hills that rose up in small bumps on the ground, dense trees that swayed gently in the breeze like grass, and rivers that reflected speckled moonlight, glittering at times like the stars above. She had no memory of one, but she somehow knew that she was witnessing what was without a doubt, a beautiful night. Her gaze turned upward at the sight of fluffy clouds drifting past them, their undersides dark while their top glowed as if they were made of silver. The mare stared opened-mouth at the spectacles before her, only becoming aware in the middle of their descent that the stallion was on a course to land on the ground.

He glided slowly, ensuring a smooth descent before flapping forcefully at the last feet, trying to land as smoothly as possible. “If your highness so wishes, you may step on the ground now,” he said gently. She simply looked at him blankly, before turning her head to the grass below them. She had never seen grass, but she knew what it was, much like everything else she had seen. Watching the ground as if it was some strange creature, she timidly extending a hoof towards it, unsure if something bad would happen. When she first touched it, she flinched back a bit, not entirely sure she liked the feeling of the ground. But with a reassuring smile from the stallion when she looked to him for help, she cautiously tried again, this time keeping her hoof in contact when she set it all the way down. “See? Ground isn’t so bad,” the stallion said. He waited patiently for her to remove herself from atop his back, her eyes locked onto the green stuff before her in caution and wonder.

After she stood by herself, she shifted her hooves at the new sensation of ground. This… feels different. I think I like the air better, she thought to herself.

“Your highness,” the stallion asked, waiting until she drew her attention from their surroundings and onto him. He wore a look of concern as he eyed her up and down. “Do you… remember anything?” The mare stared at him for a few moments, before shaking her head side to side. “Do you know my name?” he asked. She shook her head side to side once again. She was afraid it was wrong of her to not know, but the stallion simply smiled as he bowed low. “My true name, my dear, is Night Walker.”

“Night… Walker?” she repeated, speaking for the first time. She had no memory of speaking, yet she knew what to say to express her thoughts.

“Yes, that’s right. I am a stallion who enjoys the night, and loves walking within its enchanting beauty even more so,” he said while gesturing to the scenery around him.

“Night Walker!” she said, smiling at finally knowing what to call him. Night Walker simply smiled at her calling his name, bowing once more towards her.

“It is my name and my title, for even though many travel the land at night, The Night Walker, I am the only one.” The mare smiled at him and his odd way of speaking. For a reason she could not place a hoof on, she felt comfortable around him. It was like she knew him, and yet did not at the same time, only the odd emotion that she felt when looking upon his face. “But now I must ask you in turn, do you know your name?”

The mare was about to shake her head again, before her face turned into a thoughtful look and turned to the ground. A name… everypony has a name. Names are so a pony knows who another pony is. What is my name?

Night Walker waited a minute before asking again, “Do you not know?”

Her eyebrows furrowed as she rattled her mind. Eventually she opened her mouth and spoke slowly as she sounded out the words, “My name…” Night Walker looked towards her expectantly as she stared hard at the ground. “… Sparkle…” she whispered.

Had she been watching, she would have noticed his body stiffen suddenly at the word. “My name is… Sparkle…” she repeated slowly, but with growing confidence.

“No wait… that’s not all of it. I… I can’t remember what goes in front of it. I only remember Sparkle,” she said, turning to him with a look of worry. He remained motionless as he regarded the mare, his eyes searching her as if he expected her to say more.

“Is that wrong?” she asked in concern.

Seeing her face take on such a troubled look, he simply smiled as he returned to his reassuring mood she had first seen in him. “No, Sparkle is part of your name. Would you like to know what goes before it?” The mare grew a small smile as she nodded hopefully. “Your name, my dear, is Ruby.”

“Ruuuby,” she said, sounding out the word.

Night Walker smiled as she repeated it, a sense of relief filling him. “That’s right, your highness. Your name… is Ruby Sparkle.

Act II - Chapter 16

View Online

She fell away,

From the sunny day,

Far from light and warmth.

But find she did,

Those that hid,

Who called the princess forth...


“We’re here,” Night Walker announced while stepping aside and extending a hoof. They were at the mouth of a large cave, deep within a forest Night Walker had flown them towards for the last few hours. Even as Ruby looked at the cave with curious eyes, the sun was steadily rising, bringing dawn to the land. She had been transfixed at the growing light, having not seen something like it before but yet knowing full well what it was. Like everything she had seen so far, each object or sight was a new mystery that she somehow knew the name of. It was this fascination with everything she laid her eyes on that kept her quiet during their travel, her heart fluttering in excitement at slowly recognizing the world piece by piece.

But now, she was undecided, torn between two emotions that rose from standing before the dark cave. A part of her said to stay away and remain in the growing light where everything was safe and known, while another reassured her that the darkness was not something to be afraid of, even doubly so at being able to see easily into the shadowed crevice. Ruby remained motionless in hesitation until her ears flicked at the sound of Night Walker coughing poiliety.

“If you wish, I could go in first,” he offered. A timid nod in reply caused him to chuckle before moving in front of her. “Stay as close as you like, and follow me.” Reassuring her with a smile, he turned around and moved forward.

They entered the cave with Night Walker in the lead, both of their wings tucked to their sides and moving at a steady pace, their hoof steps echoing softly about the rocky interior. Ruby’s senses picked out each detail vividly, becoming lost in observation of every moment they spent walking. Her ears flicked this way and that at the sounds within the cave, listening intently to how many times their hoof steps repeated back to them. The scent of damp but moist air tickled her nose, nothing alike with the open air they had left behind. And her eyes observed each nook and cranny that appeared before them, never left bored at the repeating environment throughout the entire cave, instead inspecting every inch with new fascination.

They continued through the winding cave, a slight descent in their path that lead them steadily deeper. Their journey into the earth however, was put on hold as they soon became aware of voices echoing towards them. Ruby stopped at hearing them, understanding they were the voices of ponies yet unsure on how to proceed. Night Walker paused at noticing her stopping, turning his head back to her with a questioning glance. “Ruby? Are you alright?”

She did not answer as she continued listening to the voices, her heart beating quicker from her nervousness rising. “Are you worried about meeting the others?” Night Walker hazard a guess, receiving his answer in a slow nod from the mare. Flashing her his usual and comforting smile, he attempted to convince her. “I promise nopony will hurt you. In fact, they will be most joyed at your return.”

“My… return?” Ruby asked, haven been too caught up taking in everything to have asked any meaningful questions.

“That’s right. Just a little ways ahead, your subjects await you. They have unknowingly waited for over a thousand years for your return.”

“Why would they wait for me?” Ruby asked, her uncertainty of continuing forward growing even more. She could not imagine as to why anypony would be awaiting her, especially when she didn’t even know who she was; which was a thought that had not crossed her mind until now when it became relevant, ringing new questions for her to contemplate. With an audible gulp, Ruby nervously asked, “Who… who am I?”

“Why, you are Ruby Sparkle, Princess of the Vamponies,” Night Walker answered right away, throwing in a bow at the same time.

“Vamponies?” she asked, not immediately understanding the word unlike everything else.

“Yes, it is what I am. And what you are,” Night Walker said pointing a hoof to her. Ruby tilted her head in confusion before looking down to inspect herself. “Do you see your cutie mark?” he asked.

Arching her head to take a look at her rear she replied, “Yes.”

“See the red colored stars? Those signify that you are a vampony, a creature of life and death whose domain is the night and its shadows.”





“Life and death?” Ruby asked aloud. It was not because she did not understand the concepts, but because she felt squirmy thinking about them, yet excited and alive at the same time. The polar opposite emotions ebbing inside her were beginning to make things more difficult than they already were at the barrage of new information whenever she looked upon something.

“Though such topics are not suited for this moment, rather we should be focused on more comforting and happy ones should be taking place, such as our kin learning of your survival,” Night Walker said, gesturing down the cave with his head.

Ruby mulled over her apprehension a few moments more before slowly continuing forward again, Night Walker smiling approvingly as he resumed the lead. I guess I shouldn’t keep everypony waiting me from what Night Walker is saying. But... am I really that important to ponies I have never meet before?

Continuing on for some minutes, the two had reached the end of the path, a wide naturally forming arch way that looked to lead to a very large area where multiple voices came from; the pathway glowed with a soft blue light that emanated from the ahead open space. Ruby halted again at the sight of a pony waiting in front of the entrance. Unlike everything else she had seen, nothing came to mind upon seeing him. Not his name, or the type of pony he was for the matter.

Most strikingly, he had tufts of hair on his ears, making them appear larger and more elongated than they were, and his pupils were slits instead of ovals, nestled in the center of his amber eyes that watched them approach intently. The only reassuring look about the grey pony was his tucked leathery wings, the same kind Night Walker had. She briefly wondered why it was that she had feathered wings and not ones like theirs.

“Good morning, Shade Flare,” Night Walker greeted as he continued on.

“Welcome back Tr-…” Shade Flare at first responded before coughing suddenly. After clearing his throat and giving a quick glance to Ruby he finished, “Welcome back, Night Walker. I trust everything went well.”

“Indeed,” Night Walker replied with a smile before gesturing a hoof towards Ruby. “May I introduce, Princess Ruby Sparkle.”

Shade Flare bowed low to her upon hearing her name, eliciting a nervous shift of hooves from Ruby at the behavior. “Ruby, meet Shade Flare, my second in command.”

“Um… You don’t have to bow to me…” she said hesitantly, not entirely sure why she felt so uneasy about the action.

“Ruby,” Night Walker said. “I understand this may be uncomfortable for you, but you will have to learn to adjust. You are a princess, and princesses are treated as such.”

Ruby shifted her eyes to the side of the cave, unable to come up with a reason as to why she shouldn’t be treated like that, and also unwilling to speak against Night Walker. He had been the first pony she had come to known since waking up in the sky, and looked to him a source of protection in a strange yet familiar world. She felt as a filly would to an adult that knew much more than they did and sought their approval.

Seeing her unease, Night Walker moved close and cupped her chin gently, and flashed her a warm smile. “This may be confusing and difficult, but you must learn to accept such behaviors from your subjects. They do not do it because it is out of obligation, but because they look to you for guidance.” Ruby lifted her head as Night Walker spoke, listening intently. “A ruler must direct her followers, and protect them beneath her wing at the same time. Do not doubt your authority or claim at such a position, for they will love you for what comes naturally in your heart and mind. It is why you of all ponies, are fit to be a princess. And why you should not feel so undeserving.”

Ruby still did not look convinced, but she took the words to heart, reducing the squirminess at the idea of ponies bowing to her somewhat.

Night Walker removed his hoof as he continued back toward the archway, looking at her over his shoulder. “It will take time for you understand and come to terms with. But for now, let us introduce you to the rest.” With Night Walker once again in the lead, the three of them moved into the large cavern ahead, Shade Flare waiting graciously for Ruby to pass before falling behind.

Entering the expanse, the three of them took in the sight of a cavern. They stood atop a ledge some few ponies height tall, looking down in what looked to be a natural rocky stadium of ledges and flat spots. About these platforms and nooks large enough for a large wagon, they saw much of the space filled with ponies sharing Shade Flare’s features. Numbering in what Ruby guessed was nearly a hundred ponies, they sat about the cavern in various spots, many gathered in conversation around glowing crystal’s poking from the ground that gave off an ethereal blue light.

The age of the ponies ranged from tiny colts and fillies, to even a few more senior stallions and mares. It looked as if a small town lived within the cave, but the scarcity of supply crates and lack of other items suggested they had only been here for a short amount of time. Upon seeing saddlebags still strapped to some of them, she reasoned that they perhaps had only recently arrived like her.

Lichen and other fungi adorned much of the rock, more prominently near the crystal’s Ruby noticed. The lichen seemingly appeared to be comfortable as most of the ponies laid atop of it, their hooves tucked beneath them or completely laying down on their sides. Transfixed at the sight of the cavern and how many ponies were about, she sucked in a breath as the softly echoing conversations died suddenly, and all heads turned to them.

Each pair of amber eyes stared widely once they took in the three forms above them, causing Ruby to shrink at the attention. Night Walker on the other hoof, strode proudly to the edge and looked down upon them warmly.

“My brothers and sisters,” he called out. “It brings me much joy to see you all gathered here. Happy I am to have you by my side, to fight against the unjust isolation and slow but sure extinction of our species. Here you are now because you answered the call of your true heritage, to acknowledge the bloodline of your ancestors. The blood of the Vamponies.”

Each pony was now standing up on their hooves, craning their heads upwards as they listened intently.

“I know you have sacrificed much to get here, and how you risk the wrath of the Royal Sisters who kept you away from the world, away from the prying eyes of everypony least they fear your appearance, or remember who you once were. But know that from this day onward, that I, The Night Walker, shall return you to your former glory! Return you to the strength your ancestors once wielded when they stood by me so long ago.”

His crimson eyes twinkled as he paused momentarily to take in the look of how captivated they all were, feeling the surge of excitement that he and they had managed to make this far.

“But, there is another reason for joy tonight. For it is not just I who has returned from the past of a forgotten time to ensure the restoration of the vamponies.” Turning to Ruby, he extended a hoof in her direction, and gestured for her to join him by his side. Nervously, Ruby stepped closer to the edge, and peered down at the faces that were now entirely focused on her.

“I, your Prince, who was locked in a crystal coffin for more than a millennium, have brought back the Second Princess of the Night, who had been held captive by the Royal Sisters for as long as I was sealed. Princess Ruby Sparkle!”

The face of the ponies lit up at hearing just who the alicorn was atop the ledge, and joyful smiles spread like wildfire at the idea of not one, but two important figures from history had come to their aid. Soft murmuring was heard as they began whispering the word ‘princess’ amongst each other.

Ruby lowered her ears at what she thought was surely was their disapproval of them. But to her disbelief, their confused faces grew into smiles, and their eyes began to look energetic and alive.

“A princess…”

“We have a princess!”

“Can you believe it?”

“A real princess!”

Ruby unfolded her ears and leaned forward in curiosity as they became more excited and animated, some even beginning to stamp their hooves in joy. Then, a single pony’s voice called out clearly in the cave. “Ru-by!”

All heads turned to the back of the crowd, seeing the little filly who had cried out her name. The fillies eyes was wide with excitement as she stared upwards at her, shouting out her name again. “Ru-by! Ru-by!”

She repeated the name in the chanting like fashion, until shortly another pony echoed the name in tune with her, then another, and another. Swiftly their voices grew as each pony joined in the chorus, shouting her name and filling the cave with a roaring applause.

“RU-BY! RU-BY! RU-BY! RU-BY!”

Ruby was stunned at the cheer of her name, slowly moving her eyes from each smiling face to smiling face that called out to her enthusiastically. A part of her recoiled at the chanting of her name, wanting to say it was some mistake and she really wasn’t the pony they shouted for. But she would be lying if a small part of her didn’t become overwhelmed by another feeling, one that she couldn’t easy describe with words, but left her chest fluttering as a sense of belonging filled her. It was a small but very heartfelt joy to say the least.

Night Walker eyed her carefully, taking notice of her subtle reactions to the crowd’s cheers. Seeing her locked in shock at the attention, he spoke loud enough for only her to hear.

“See Ruby?” Drawing her attention away from the faces—which she found hard to do as they looked so happy to see her, especially when their meet eyes with her—she looked to Night Walker questioningly. “They look to you with hope in a time of need, something they have not had in an age. They now depend on you.”

Ruby was speechless to the idea that other ponies could ever look to her for help as they did, especially since she knew so little of the world. But even when she turned back to them, she heard Night Walker continue. “If you ever feel uncomfortable in ruling because of your personal feelings, then simply look to them. Look upon their faces, and remember you command not for yourself, but for them. You rule, so they may be happy, just like they are now upon seeing their princess who has returned. It is because of you that they can be so hopeful of the future.”

She remained silent as the words sunk in, the echoing cheers of the ponies having yet to cease while she internally took in everything that had happened. I don’t know how I gotten into a situation like this, or why anypony could depend on me. But… Gazing across the crowd again, she saw the light in their amber eyes, a light that showed more than any words could begin to describe.

As Night Walker said, they looked to her with hope. But… I can’t turn away from this. Not from so many ponies who need me. Nodding to herself, a look of determination came onto her previously taken aback face. In response to the cheers, she took a step forward, bringing herself right onto the edge of the rock formation. Spreading her wings in a drowned out *thwump*, she gave a wide grin to them all. Her recognition of their voices and her regal pose she now held only drove them to call her name louder. “RU-BY! RU-BY! RU-BY! RU-BY!”

I may not know who I am, or how things ended up like this, Ruby thought. But I do know that I could never turn my back on ponies who need me, not when they are counting on me for so much. Of that, I am certain.

Passing over the faces of each pony once more as the idea of actually being a Princess of Vamponies began to sink into her mind, that it was truly who she was, she turned to Night Walker. She no longer held the look in her eyes he first saw her with, fearful and uncertain of everything. Instead, she now looked to be a completely different mare than the one who had only opened her eyes to see the world for the first time a few short hours ago. They were now ablaze; a light behind their crimson color that showed a burning sense of purpose. “Night Walker,” she said confidently. “I want to be caught up on everything I missed. I want to know what happened to me, and I want to help these ponies. I want to help our ponies.”

“Then it shall be,” Night Walker replied simply with his typical grin. “Welcome home, your highness.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After the commotion eventually calmed down and Night Walker said a few last words regarding their situation —mostly how they would be spending some time here until more suitable accommodations could be made or if the situation changed and required them to move—he had lead Ruby into an alcove within the cavern that was to be her very own, one adorned with naturally growing blue crystals for light, and a whole floor covered in the soft lichen.

Walking about, there were many other alcoves, tucked away either in the back of the main area or in branching passageways. But so far hers was the biggest she had seen, able to fit ten ponies with room to spare. She had underestimated how comfortable the lichen was from above, understanding immediately as to why everypony was intent on remaining on it.

“You should get some rest,” Night Walker said to her as she inspected her living space. “You have been through a rough transition, and you need time to recuperate.”

Ruby turned her attention from a particularly squishy mushroom to him. “Walker…,” she said before catching herself. Guiltily she folded her ears and cleared her voice. “Is it okay if I call you that?”

“You may call me anything you like,” he said with a smile.

Rubbing her foreleg idly with her other hoof, she casted her eyes about the room. “What… happened to me? Why don’t I remember anything? I mean, if I’m a princess of vamponies, shouldn’t I know that myself?”

Forcing herself to not look away, she locked her gaze with his, the desire of wanting to know showing clearly in her questioning eyes. She felt even more lost and confused than she had when she awoke on his back, the idea of a whole life and persona that she wasn’t even aware of weighing heavily on her now that she knew she wasn’t just some pony.

Night Walker’s smile faltered as he spoke forlornly, “The entire story is too long for now.” Seeing her ears droop, he let out a sigh. “But to put it in short, you were captured shortly before I myself was sealed.”

“Captured? By who?”

“The Royal Sisters, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna,” he replied, eliciting a tilted head from Ruby at hearing the names. Night Walker paused to check if their names rang any bells, then continued when she only held a questioning look. “They are the rulers of Equestria,” he said simply, taking note at the look of realization at the name of the country but not its rulers.

Curious, she remembers the country but not its rulers. I’ll have to test the amulet further on others in the future to see if that is intended or coincidence.

“The princess captured you,” he continued, “and locked you away deep beneath the royal city. I am not entirely sure what they had done to you, but it is clear they made some modifications to you, perhaps even to go as far as experimentation. It is obvious your lack of memories is from their doing.”

“But... why would they do that to me?”

“Because…” Night Walker began, trying to choose the words carefully. “The princesses don’t approve of our… diet, to put it simply.”

“Our diet?”

“Well, we are vamponies,” he said, hoping she might catch the hint. When she did not he slowly explained, “And vamponies feed… on blood.”

“B-blood?” Ruby gasped, but the confirming nod from Night Walk ensured she had heard correctly. “Are you really telling me that we, as in all the vamponies here, drink blood?” she asked with a squeak.

“I understand that may seem alarming at first, but it is a part of who we are. Something that everypony else in here besides you and me have lost,” Night Walker replied as he looked behind him into the cavern.

“What do you mean?”

Turning back to her he explained, “We, are vamponies. They, are bat ponies as it were.” Receiving another tilted head in confusion he continued. “After you and I were sealed from the world, the remaining vamponies had nowhere else to go. I learned from today’s descendants that the Royal Sisters took them in, granting amnesty from their previous actions of feeding on blood. In return, they would allow what the Princesses could do to reverse the vampirism that had affected them. One indicator is the amber in their eyes, they do not share our red coloring.”

“My eyes are red?” Ruby asked.

Night Walker blinked, then out let a chuckle. “I forget you haven’t seen your reflection since you awoke. But yes, your eyes are red.”

Turning her head down in thought, Ruby ran over what he had told her, multiple questions forming in her mind at the same time. “Walker, if they aren’t vamponies anymore and no longer need blood, why would we want to return them to how they were?”

“Because, what the Royal Sisters have done to them isn’t working. It’s killing them,” he replied angrily, his mood suddenly transitioning to a much darker one.

Her head snapped up at the word, her brows creasing from worry. “Killing them?”

With a slow nod he replied, “That’s correct. You see, when I had first awoken from my imprisonment, deep within the Crystal Kingdom, I began to search for our kin immediately, and rally them under our rule once again.”

Ruby opened her mouth to express that the Crystal Kingdom did sound familiar to her, but remained quiet as she listened.

“But what I found was not our allies having lived throughout the ages, or even remnants within hiding. I found their descendants locked away in a town that does not exist on any map, and their very souls modified beyond measure.”

He turned his eyes towards her, and she nearly flinched at the cold stare that came from him.

“Whatever magic the Royal Sisters had conjured up to make them who they are today is slowly driving them to extinction. With each generation they grow weaker, more affected by the changes. It has gotten to the point that some of them are even sterile, no longer able to have children like the sisters promised they would be capable of having once undergone the modifications. They have been so tampered with that they don’t even have cutie marks anymore. Birth defects are becoming more common as well. Some are born blind, others malformed. And each generation has more stillborns than the last.”

At that last bit, Ruby brought a hoof to her mouth, and she turned her head in the direction of the bat ponies, while Night Walker’s dark mood only grew as he pressed on, his wings quivering as he extended them outward.

“They promised life to our ponies, but instead have given them centuries of suffering. They are sick, Ruby, and are becoming even sicker with each generation. Some of them never even make it to full grown ponies, they simply just die off randomly in early youth or adolescence. Eventually, the entire batpony race will die out, and it will be an undignified and regretful last whisper of our kind when the very last batpony departs this world. We will be nothing more than a memory, if the Princesses ever see it fit to reveal our existence to the world after shuffling us into forgotten lore.”

Ruby was unable to stand up while processing the information, her stomach and heart becoming far too bothered by the idea. Her back legs bent down as she sat, her eyes locked onto a nearby mushroom as she ran over the what he had said in her mind.

“This is why we need to help them Ruby,” Night Walker continued. “We must restore the vampiric bloodline within them, but to do so, to undo what the Royal Sisters have done. We must save them from their cruel fate that they have suffered with for over a thousand years, a fate we were unable to protect them from!”

Ruby’s heart twinge at this last words, her earlier feelings of wanting to help them becoming further kindled with an even more intense passion. It was her duty to guard over her ponies she mulled over, and she hadn’t been able to do that for a very long time. And to top off everything off, from the fact of losing her memories of them, or rather stolen she realized, a raging spark ignited inside her, gnawing at her from the inside out.

Her eyes gleamed as a sudden rush of anger flared inside of her, the very blood in her veins calling out for a hunt on the ponies responsible for everything that had happened to her and her subjects. If she had to put a word to it, vengeance came to her mind on how she felt. Unbridled, furious, and justified vengeance. And it came easy to her, much to her delight and dismay at the same time.

“But,” Night Walker suddenly said in a calmer tone, snapping Ruby from her haze. Resuming his familiar smile, he continued, “Tonight is not the night to dwell on such things. I will inform you of the details I know of later on. For now, you must rest.” Ending the matter, Night Walker turned away and began to walk out of the alcove. Before he left completely he paused to glance back at her. “Sleep well today, we will continue on in the night.”

“Oh, uhm… sleep well,” she replied, caught off guard from the change of moods. She waited for him to leave, even waiting a minute or two in case he came back, before slumping down onto the soft lichen below. She felt torn between exhaustion and the urge to do something, her chest still holding an ember at the burning anger she that had overwhelmed her just a bit ago. Taking in a deep breath, she flared her nostrils as she exhaled at not being able to decide what to do now. It had been a very long night that had so much that happened.

Though it had been only a short time ago, it already felt like an age since she had awoken ontop of Night Walker’s back, captivated at the sight of the night sky and land below, to finding out she was apparently a princess of a lost and battered race, to becoming absolutely furious at these so called ‘Royal Sisters’ for doing such horrible things to them. Thinking about them again threatened to bring about her ire once again. But before she could dwell on it any further, a soft noise of scuffling hooves made her ears flick.

Lifting her head she looked to alcove entrance, able to pick out the sound of tiny hooves stepping lightly near its edges. She was well aware that a pony was moving about in what sounded like uncertainty around the corner, and it brought her no surprise when eventually a tiny head poked around the corner.

A little batpony peered around the corner, and then promptly squeaked before pulling her head back, having not expected Ruby to be staring at the exact spot she had been hiding.

Okay, that was just too cute, Ruby thought happily, all feelings of her anger vanished on the spot. Smiling at the filly’s action she gently called out, “Is somepony here to see me? I could sure use some company.” She didn’t know why she talked like she did, she just had a feeling it was the right thing to say to entice the filly to come back.

Sure enough, her little head poked over. She had it so only one of her eyes was shown from the corner, but the sight of her tuft ear sticking out only made the sight even more adorable. “Hello there,” Ruby cooed. “Have you come to see me?” The filly’s head nodded once, her eye very large at the sight of a real princess in front of her. “Well, you’re welcome to come join me in here, what’s your name?”

“L-Lunar Pearl,” the filly answered as she stepped out from her hiding spot.

“Hello, Lunar Pearl, I’m Ruby Sparkle.”

Lunar Pearl shuffled in a few steps, taking in the mare for a few moments now that she was so close to her. Eventually she straightened her posture and looked surer of herself, raising an eyebrow as she asked, “If you’re a vampony, how come you’re wings are like that?”

Ruby Sparkle had opened her mouth to answer, but truthfully she didn’t know. The fact that she was the only one with feathered wings did not escape her, and she did not know what to say to Lunar Pearl. Thankfully, somepony else spoke before she could.

“Lunar Pearl! What are you doing!?”

Lunar Pearl flinched at the scolding tone as another and older batpony mare stood at the entrance of the alcove. “What are you thinking barging into the Princess’s room like that? Get out of there!” Turning her gaze towards Ruby she lowered her ears and took on an embarrassed look. “I’m terribly sorry for my little sister, she can be a little too confident for her own good sometimes.”

“But Lil’s, she said I could come in!” Lunar Pearl cried, quickly turning back to Ruby and asking in what could have been the biggest puppy dog eyes Ruby had seen. A brief thought passed over at the fact it was the only one she had seen since waking up, and its effects were completely effective against her.

“Please, Princess Ruby, can I stay?”

Only able to smile at how cute she was being, Ruby replied, “Of course you can, and you are welcomed to come in as well, Miss Lil’s, was it??”

Flustering at the invitation, the mare quickly replied, “Please, call me Lily Wing. Lil’s is what my sister calls me.”

“Well then, Lily Wing, it’s quite alright for you two to keep me company,” Ruby replied cheerfully as she gestured to the lichen in front of her.

“Yay!” Lunar Pearl cried as she bounced over to Ruby, her wings flapping lightly for a few inches of air in her hops. She ran to Ruby’s side and plopped herself down with legs tucked underneath, trying to imitate exactly how she laid. Then, Lunar Pearl looked up with large eyes. “Are you really a Princess?”

Ruby laughed lightly before replying, “I guess I am. You see, I don’t really remember me being a princess, or a vampony for the matter.”

“Really?” Lily Wing said with a raised eyebrow.

“I know it sounds silly, but the only memories I have is from a few hours ago before I entered this cave. I woke up on Night Walker’s back as he was flying. All of you know about me as much as I do.”

“But why is that? What happened to you?” Lily Wing asked in concern.

“Night Walker said it was the Royal Sister’s fault. From the sound of it, it looks like they are capable of it considering what has happen to you over the years,” Ruby said as voice became quieter, trying to tread carefully on what she assumed was a sensitive topic. “May I ask what has happened to you?”

Lily Wing sighed as she looked down. “Of course you can ask, you’re our princess like Night Walker said. But where do I even start… Do you mind if I sit down?”

“Please, feel free.”

Lily Wing tucked her legs beneath her and made herself comfortable a respectable distance from Ruby, giving a scolding glare at her sister now and then who held no concept of personal space.

As Lunar Pearl was fidgeting with excitement, Ruby blinked her eyes in recognition, and smiled. “I remember you now. You were the filly who first called my name.”

“Hmhmm!” Lunar Pearl hummed loudly. “You looked a little shy up there on the ledge, so I thought shouting your name as a welcome home would help.”

“That was very kind of you, and it did help,” Ruby said.

The two of them laughed with each other, and even more so as Ruby angled her wing to tickle Lunar Pearl with a feather. She is just too precious.

“Ru-by! Stop that tickles!” Lunar Pearl giggled in protest.

“That’s Princess Ruby, Lunar Pearl,” Lily Wing said hesitantly, unsure how loudly she should speak up with Ruby in the room.

“It’s quite alright, I don’t mind not being called princess,” Ruby commented.

“Oh… right, sorry.”

“Lily Wing…”

“Yes?” Lily Winy stammered loudly.

“Please relax, your nervousness is making me nervous. I’m not really one for formalities, at least, I don’t think I ever was.” Sharing one last smile with Lunar Pearl, Ruby turned her eyes back to Lily Wing. “Please continue.”

“O-okay,” Lily Wing said, before taking in a breath. “From what I know... we’ve been under the Princesses protection for what has been forever. Countless generations have been born and raised in the town they had set for us. Our history isn’t well documented, so a lot of it has been passed down by storytelling.” Lily Wing let out a half hearted laugh at her next statement. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard about Night Walker and him being our ancestor, that we were once a strong warrior race of vamponies that ruled the night. I know of a few stories saying how we were powerful knights when the sun was down, but I never imagined we were vamponies.”

“You mean you never knew?”

“Not at all.”

“What about all of you being sick?”

“That part is true,” Lily Wing said solemnly. “We are sick, and it’s a well-known fact it’s been getting worse. The princesses had told us that we were infected with something bad and that they were trying to get rid of it. I guess that we just eventually forgot it was about us being vamponies…”

“Did the princesses ever think to let somepony else look at you if they weren’t successful?”

“They did," Lily Wing said, her voice in a half interested tone on the matter. "There were a few unicorns now and then that came Dusk Town while I grew up. They spent their time studying us, collecting samples, and casting spells on us. Each time they always said that they were a hoof closer in finding a cure for us. But years later they still say the same thing, not once have they gotten anything that seems to really help.”

“If the princesses couldn’t find anypony, how come none of you didn’t leave to search on your own?” Ruby asked, her reasoning being if a pony wants something and it’s within their power, they should seek it out whatever it is. It only made sense to her that if you wanted something, you went for it.

But Lily Wing shook her head. “It’s forbidden for us to leave. There are always guards posted to make sure we don’t wander out. To be honest, this is the first time I have ever left the town,” Lily Wing said in a doleful smile.

“Not me, this is my second time!” Lunar Pearl replied proudly.

Lily Wing’s scowl quickly returned as glared at her. “And you got into a lot of trouble for doing that. Do you know what could have happened if you got caught?”

“No, but if I didn’t I would have never been able to tell you what Night Walker said to us and we wouldn’t be here,” she retorted, sticking her tongue out for good measure.

“You met Night Walker before tonight?” Ruby asked in interest.

Tempted to return her sister’s childish behavior had it not been for a princess occupying same space, Lily Wing turned back to Ruby. “Well, tonight is the first time I met him, but who else could have planned our escape? I don’t think anypony would have dared to leave if it was anypony else besides the Lord of the Vamponies. I had a hard time believing what he said was true let alone believing him and vamponies even existed. But everypony else that was there that night were able to confirm it was all true. After that, we spread the word around the town as discreetly as possible, only telling other ponies we believed would come with us and not turn us in to the princesses for planning to leave.”

“Not that I don’t appreciate you leaving for us,” Ruby said. “But may I ask why you chose to come?”

Lily Wing’s face turned into a forlorn smile as she glanced down to Lunar Pearl, still nestled close to Ruby’s side. “I did it for my sister.”

Lunar Pearl rolled her eyes but still blushed slightly on her cheeks from the statement, only making Lily Wing smile more so. Turning back to Ruby, she continued in a wistful voice, “I worry about her and what may happen. You see, our mother died shortly after giving birth to her. She had grown weaker over time and wasn’t strong enough to keep going after bringing Lunar Pearl into the world. Some years later, our father also became seriously ill, and passed a few months after that.”

“Oh my stars,” Ruby gasped before turning to look at Lunar Pearl beside her. But Lunar Pearl had turned her head the other way, refusing to show her face to her.

“I worry about what kind of illness she might gain as she grows up. She has a chance of growing old as a normal filly like I’ve managed, but these days... it’s becoming less promising for a batpony to make it that long.” Lily Wing took a moment to catch her breath, pained to even bring up the subject. After some seconds she continued, her voice became sharper, “Which is why I decided to take her along with the others to follow Night Walker. He promised he would fix us, make us well again, and at this point I’m willing to believe anything if it means my sister can live a happy life.”

The three of them remained silent in the alcove, Ruby and Lily Wing not sure what to say anymore, and Lunar Pearl still staring away at the wall. Ruby watched her with a growing sadness, trying to imagine the life she and so many other bat ponies have been living, all because she was not there to protect them. It ate away at her heart, so much that every bit of her maternal instincts flared at how much suffering and heartbreak her ponies had suffered, even if the intentions had been good.

Lunar Pearl gave out a gasp as saw soft feathers move in front of her vision, then felt them against her as they rested on her body. Looking back over, she watched Ruby shift herself closer until their bodies were touching, her wing extended over the filly’s body in a protective embrace.

Too taken aback from Ruby’s movements to realize she had a bit of wetness beneath her eyes she forgot to wipe away, Lunar Pearl stared up in awe as the smiling crimson eyes that looked down onto her.

“You have been so strong through all of this,” Ruby said gently. “And you have been put through so much. Even if I can’t remember being a vampony, I’m still proud to call you family. But all the suffering you have experienced ends today now that I’m back. From now on, I’ll taking care of you... all of you,” Ruby finished as she glanced briefly to Lily Wing.

Lily Wing watched in hopefulness as a smile spread across Lunar Pearls face, staring intently at the princess in a way she had never seen before. Her heart tugged sharply at her as she recognized that look, the very one she used to show when she was just a filly. The look she would give to her mother…

Lily Wing suppressed a tear that nearly broke out, her insides twisting at the sight of the two. She had tried her best to be there for Lunar Pearl as she grew up after their dad passed away, and it was not that she didn’t do a bad job. It was just that she would always be a sister to her. And while Lunar Pearl would always have some memory of their father, she never knew her mother. She could not blame her little sister in the slightest for giving the long fabled lost princess such a look; the princess has been nothing but welcoming and kind to them. I pray that you are able to help us Ruby Sparkle, you have to now. You can’t fail now that you have given her hope like this…

The three of them shared a comfortable silence for minutes, the two girls sharing a close hug that only brought a giggle to the filly when she was tickled by a feather now and then, and Lily Wing staring on happily at the sight of her sister smiling without having to force it for once. Eventually they heard the noise of other hoof steps outside the alcove, and turned to find more bat ponies gathering around the entrance.

“Eh, excuse me Princess,” one of the senior bat ponies asked wearily, his ear tufts extra fuzzy as well as his eyebrows, and streaks of white within his grey coat. “We were just wondering if you perhaps had a moment of your time to spare. As you imagine, the news of a having princess is a fairly big deal, and we’d like to welcome ya personally.”

Ruby beamed him and the others a wide smile. “Of course! Please, all of you come in. I can’t wait to meet all of you.”

Murmurs of approval and excitement spread through the small and growing crowd as they huddle around the alcove, all eager to see the Princess of the Vamponies, the Second Princess of the Night. Against Night Walker’s suggestion, she stayed up well into the late morning conversing with each pony, learning their names, their family members, and their troubles. Listening with a happy and heavy heart at the same time. Yet, Lunar Pearl, who happily remained by her side the entire time, helped remind her to stay strong for them, showing them confidence that she would be able to help them. Eventually, other fillies and colts wiggled their way to the front, and also got the chance to sit next to Ruby much to Lunar Pearl’s dismay. There was a small squabble between the children but it was quickly ceased by the bark of an elder for them to behave in front of their princess.

Ruby sat through the rotating crowd of bat ponies, each taking turns to fit in the alcove and to see her up close. All the while her worries of who she was slowly becoming a distant thought, for there was no question in her heart and mind now that she had spoken to the ponies that looked at her so. She was, and will be again, The Princess of the Vamponies.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Well, that went better than expected. Wouldn’t you agree, Shade Flare?”

“Their reception of Princess Ruby was more… enthusiastic, than I thought it would be,” Shade Flare replied. Night Walker had met up with him after taking his leave from Ruby, the two of them along a passageway far off from anypony might hear them. “I had my doubts of how well she would take to the role, but it seems you once again predicted accurately.”

“When it comes to one’s behavior, all you need to know is the soul, and what buttons to push, “ Night Walker replied. “But I believe the fortune lies in the fact that nopony recognizes who she really is, courtesy of Princess Celestia never allowing you to leave that concentration camp.”

Shade Flare nodded in agreement, well aware that he would have bought the story too had Night Walker not included him since the beginning. An honor that he still had trouble accepting at times. Every preconceived notion he had of the Vampony Lord was dashed aside, not entirely sure if it was because of how eccentric he was, or how his isolated of an upbringing he had, unaware of how real ponies were supposed to act. Or both.

“How long do you expect until she will be ready?” Shade Flare asked, his amber eyes glinting at the prospect of returning to their previous shade of red once more.

Night Walker mulled over the question for a few moments before answering, “I want to make sure she is fully stabilized, that will require her to feed as well. That ordeal alone will be take some time for her to adjust, both mentally and emotionally. Though she does not know it, she is a new vampony, and with that comes some growing pains of adopting the behavior of one.” A smile crept up on Night Walker’s faced as he regarded his second. “Are you so eager to be a vampony once again? I figured you would scared of dying yet another time.”

“I’d be lying if I wasn’t.”

Night Walker let out a laugh as he moved past him into his own quarters. “Do not worry, soon enough she will be able to remove the alicorn magic. It will be then that you will become a vampony once more, and it will be permanent this time.”

Act II - Chapter 17

View Online

Tell me, oh bloodless one,

What do you dream when you slumber?

Do you chase fanciful mares,

While ripping their hearts asunder?

Do you dream of purer times,

When your heart was not so cold?

Do you wish you could go back,

Before your soul was not sold?

What nightmares does evil have?



“Get away!” Ruby shouted while simultaneously jumping up onto her hooves, her wings flared out and her entire body crouched in a defensive position. Her teeth exposed in a snarling expression, fangs bare and ready at whatever had dared to approach her. Her mind was completely focused at the foe that had managed to sneak up, but would not allow any closer as expressed in her threatening body language. However, the behavior disappeared immediately at the recognition of the stallion standing just a little ways before her, a perplexed but wary expression on his face.

Night Walker stood at the entrance to her alcove, leaning back slightly as he regarded her posture. They stared at each other for a few heartbeats before he spoke up to break the silence. “If I had disturbed your sleep that much, I can always come back another time.”

Ruby quickly shuffled up from her low crouch to a more proper and upright position, a small flare of pink built on her cheeks. “I-I’m sorry, I just reacted and… I guess I was asleep…” she said while shifting her eyes away.

She had been in a deep slumber living out a dream she could no longer recall now that she was awake. But at some point during her sleep her ears twitched at the sound of approaching hoof steps, and a fierce instinct overtook her at not allowing a threat to sneak up on her vulnerable form. It was with that emotion and mentality that she had leapt from the dead of sleep onto her hooves, ready to attack whatever had dare to challenge her. A reaction she was beginning to feel more embarrassed of having with each second.

But the sound of Night Walker’s laughter brought her out of her self-embarrassment and her head up. “It looks like you're returning back to your good old self.”

“How does nearly attacking a pony in my sleep count as good?”

“It means your predatory instincts are coming back to you,” Night Walker simply said. “But we can discuss that later tonight. Come, there is a matter we must address.”

“Is it about your missing wings?” Ruby asked with a tiny amount of worry. She noticed that the leathery wings that had carried her to the cave and the ones she had slept on were no longer tucked at his sides. In fact, they weren’t even there anymore.

Night Walker gave a quick glance at his sides before replying, “I forgot you don’t remember. To answer your question, no. My ‘missing’ wings are not the issue and I will bring you up to date on why that is later on as well.” Turning around he called over his shoulder, “Come along now, I would like to take care of this as quickly as possible."

Ruby’s mind puzzled at what he was referring to as she followed him out of the alcove. When they entered the opened cavern, her eyes passed over the wondrous sight of the glowing blue stadium like area that bat ponies had been living in. There were tents now pitched on some of the larger ledges, and bits of carpet along with packed baskets set neatly around the cave. The first thought that came to her mind from the scene was ‘refugee’, as it looked to be only essential items stacked about. She had wondered when they had time to set it all up, thinking perhaps it was during her time with the two batpony sisters before the rest of the crowd came to greet her.

Her thoughts quickly changed from curious yet sad realization at the state of her ponies, to simple and happy observation as she watch them move about, some of them having looked to have just woken up. Adults were moving out from their tents or beds of soft lichen, stretching their wings and giving wide yawns. Some of the fillies and colts were chasing each other about, appearing to have already been awake for perhaps some time now. Though they wore silly grins, their voices never became too loud as to flood the cavern with their laughter. Ruby didn’t know why, but she had expected them to be louder while the played, surprising her at how quiet they were. All in all, seeing them begin their night was a happy and satisfying thing to watch. And to know despite the dangers that are now surrounding them, that they could look so normal and carefree. It made her proud at how strong they could be in the face of strife.

As she and Night Walker climbed up the slope that lead to the ledge she had first stepped out on to show herself to the bat ponies and inevitably lead back topside, one of the fillies stopped running and began to wave to her. Lunar Pearl had spotted the two of them and was waving good evening towards them, shortly accompanied by the rest of the children when they had followed her gaze as to what was so important to stop playing. Ruby returned it with a wave of her own, smiling at the group of children and a few adults who had also taken notice.

A small grin of satisfaction grew on Night Walker at the sight. Things are progressing even more smoothly than I had expected. Which means sometime soon, something will most definitely go wrong if the literature of today has any say on it. He held off a light chuckle at the anticipation of what kind of disastrous and inevitable event may occur, an outlook he had to forcibly foster onto himself due to the many unexpected and often negative events or outcomes back in his time. He found reveling in unfortunate circumstances would work more often to his advantage than be in distraught over them. After all, life is about ups and down. All you can do is prepare for it.

Night Walker and Ruby left the cavern and made their way up the winding path to the surface, a trip that seemed much shorter than on the way down to Ruby. It wasn’t long before they stood at the mouth of the cave, the last remnants of the orange sky becoming dim as the sun set.

Ruby happily took in a deep breath, reveling in the fresh air that held the coolness of the coming night. As comfortable and safely inclosing the cave was, she much preferred the open air over the damp and stuffy atmosphere of underground. Here, she was free in the open world, able to see the land around her should she choose to fly high enough. That is, if she could fly high enough.

She had forgotten she hasn’t exactly flown by herself, yet she already knew what it would feel like and the sensations it would bring. She began to pass it as a side effect of the tampering the Royal Sisters had done to her and what else they might have, before a scent that wafted on the wind locked her entire body and shut down her mind.

She suddenly became very aware of a burning sensation that began to fill her throat; it was like she had swallowed a mouthful of scorching sand that clung to her insides, remaining locked in her esophagus and threatening to burn even greater the longer she waited. Her eyes scanned the area immediately, easily piercing through the building darkness for whatever it was that was emanating the smell. Autonomously she moved forward, mouth hanging open as if to taste the smell in the air, driven by an unknown urge to seek out the scent.

It held a metallic smell to it, but it was sweet at the same time. She couldn’t begin to explain how tantalizing it smelt, or understand why it made her mouth water slightly. Leaving the mouth of the cave, she began making her way past the small clearing and into the dense forest.

Her eyes darted about as her nose wrinkled with deep but shallow breaths, picking up the faint trail of what she sought. The rest of her senses became heightened in kind, how the soft grass felt when it became crumpled beneath her hooves, the rustling of the tree branches and scurries of critters while her ears flicked to and fro, to how tense but loose her muscles were as she walked, ready to spring to action in a moment’s notice.

The only thing that was not behaving in superiority was her mind, for it was too locked up in the uncontrollable urge to find the smell. In fact, not even a single thought had crossed her mind since she first caught wind of it.

Then as she turned a tree, she spotted the source.

With her dilated eyes, she easily spotted the bowl of red liquid, sitting perfectly serene atop of a stump. She froze on its sight, taking in the way the bit of moonlight that filtered through the branches shined across its surface. She had never even had notice when the moon came up, or cared. All that mattered was the liquid that bombarded her senses and whispered for her to do one thing.

Drink.

She gulped as the burning in her throat flared at the sight of the liquid, somehow knowing that it would be able to ease her soreness. Instinctually, she moved forward again, her eyes remained locked onto the bowl, not even daring to blink as she approached it. She didn’t know why she felt like this, or what exactly the bowl contained, but then again, she never had a moment to consider such things. The only thing that made her even pause at downing the liquid immediately was the sudden noise of a branch snap on her left.

Whirling her head around, she fell into the same position she had woken up in earlier in the night, fangs bare and muscles tensed as she glared at what had made the noise.

Standing calmly some twenty feet away, and just as equally far from the bowl, was Night Walker. He held his usual grin as he stared at her, and watched her intently. Ruby had never even noticed him following her, in fact, she had completely forgotten about him when she first picked up the smell. Yet unlike this morning, her posture did not flinch in the slightest.

Her brain then finally began to churn, assessing him as to what he was doing, and wondering automatically if he was going to get between her and the bowl. She didn’t care she was being aggressive to him, nor did an ounce of embarrassment come to her from her behavior. The only thing she cared about, and was deathly serious on, was that he did not get in the way of her drinking from that bowl.

He let out a bemused chuckle that made Ruby’s feathers quiver and her muscles flinch, having nearly lunged at him on the spot. Then, his head slowly turned away from her, and onto the bowl. Her eyes widen at the forced conclusion that he had the same target, that he was going to drink it instead of her. In suit, he took one step forward toward the bowl, flashing his eyes at her as what she saw was a mocking gesture, that he was going to drink it all before she could.

But she was not going to let that happen.

With a bloodcurdling shriek that would even give a manticore a pause, Ruby lunged at Night Walker, easily covering the distance with a single leap. Night Walker jumped to the side just shy of Ruby’s fangs, giving a growl in kind as he pulled away from her and raced towards the bowl. Hissing in anger, Ruby chased after him immediately, fury overcoming her at the notion he would dare challenge her for the liquid.

Flapping her wings again in time with a kick, she thrusted herself with enough momentum to catch and tackle Night Walker, knocking them both to the ground in a tumble. Snarling in fury she moved on top of him and shoved her hoof down onto his back, pinning him beneath her. Then, she mercilessly began stomping down onto him with her other hoof, striking with force that caused Night Walker to roar out in pain.

But he would not yield to her right to drink so easily. Flipping over, he threw a foreleg crossways, catching her side with force that sent her flying off of him. With a stabilizing flap Ruby caught herself nimbly as she landed away, wincing slightly at the soreness that spread from the hit. She gently placed the hooves down on the side that received the blow, but her attitude did not falter as she hissed menacingly at him.

The pain of the attack had given her a hint of the strength her opponent possessed, and it was more than she could muster. Her eyes narrowed as he resumed a standing pose, flexing his shoulders and eliciting audible pops from his bones. Though he tried to shake off the soreness as a harmless, the deep bruised marks on his back indicated she had done some damage to him.

Now they stood across from one another, watching the other intently. Though her opponent was closer to the bowl, she held his attention and knew he would not risk another move to the bowl while he had to contend with her. He was stronger of that she was sure, and possibly more durable than her. If she wanted her drink, she would need to disable long enough to swig it all down. Even the idea of killing Night Walker if necessary had crossed her mind.

She needed to get around him, use her wings as an advantage, and bite on one of the six locations on his body she had already selected; throat, the artery under each leg, and the back of the neck. She needed to end this as quickly as she could, one for not wanting to prolong the fight and take a chance at receiving more blows, and because the burning in her throat was beginning to become painful.

All of those thoughts were decided during intense stare down they held that had only lasted a few seconds. Her body, mind, and behavior were all running on pure instinct. Faster than thought, and with no room for questioning the morality of her actions. Only survival.

She slowly moved to Night Walker’s left, while he moved to the right. Both of them circling each other as a predator would, patiently waiting for the tiniest of openings to exploit and finish the job. Her breaths were shallow as wild red eyes remained locked onto his, waiting for some hesitation or sign of weakness in him. But he held her gaze evenly, his similar eyes focused and unwavering. Though they regarded her as an opponent as well, they held a calm about them that Ruby lacked, a sense of confidence and control over the fight, some superior advantage she did not have. And that attitude only infuriated her even more.

From the mixture of the burning pain that tore at her throat and the inner rage that had steadily rose throughout the fight, Ruby’s horn glowed from building magic that she beckoned. Night Walker’s eyes widen at the glowing light, betraying his control of the situation and creating an opening, one she did not hesitate to use.

Wrapping him in her magic, she threw his body up thirty feet, and then promptly slammed him back into the ground with the same force. Not waiting to see how he fared after the blow, she flung him against a tree, then another, and another. On the fifth tree she threw his body against, she had done it with such force that it cracked the trunk, causing the tree to bend at a lopsided angle and seemingly ready to break off with the rest of the splinters that fell out.

Ruby dropped the motionless body onto the ground, watching closely as he fell with a solid thud onto the forest floor. Her horn remained aglow, waiting for him to move again in case he needed to break apart another half a dozen trees. When he continued to remain still, Ruby let out an exasperated breath.

Her vision became hazy as her breathing became ragged pants in desperation for air, something that was becoming harder to inhale as the pain in her throat that had started to spread into the rest of her body. The sensation was that of her flesh searing from a flame and she could not wait any longer. Content that her foe was no longer capable of impeding her desire, she moved shakily toward the bowl. Once she had reached it she stared longingly onto its surface, the crimson color of it calling her like a siren. Wide eye and with drool leaking down her chin, she threw mouth into the bowl and begun to gulp large mouthfuls of the liquid.

The sensation was incomparable to anything else.

The fire in her throat was doused almost immediately, cooled by the crimson liquid as slide slowly down after heavy swallows. While the soothing effect it held on her body was amazing, the taste of it was even more so. It held a copper like taste but it was not displeasing, rather it mixed well with how else it tasted. Not bothering herself on how she knew, the closet thing she could describe it was something that was as sweet as honey yet held a rich, deep, and refreshing flavor similar to strawberries. The faint taste of the metal somehow complimented it perfectly, giving the taste a weight on top of the sweetness that made her feel like she could bite into it at times. The way her tongue tingled from touching it as it slide down it was like having soda and pop gems in one’s mouth, eliciting a fuzzy sensation that exploded about her mouth in euphoria, making her let out soft moan as she continued to drink. The feel of how her tongue lapped more of it into her mouth, the way it oozed past her teeth and down her throat, and how her body cooled while her brain send waves of pleasure after mind forcing pleasure and contentment… it was like being in ecstasy simply from drinking. It simply tasted too good, and made her brain send euphoric signals to keep drinking, all while letting out soft moans of satisfaction.

It wasn’t long before she downed the entire bowl, licking her muzzle on the left overs that stuck to her coat. “Oh sweet Equestria was that good…” she said happily, her eyes half opened as the lingering but rushing sensation of the drink died down. She sat down in a slight daze, her mind somewhat fuzzy after the matter, and her body to decide to simply relax and let the good feeling work its course. But it did not last long as her brain caught up on the fact of what happened before she began drinking.

Snapping her eyes open, she spun around. “Night Walker!”

She spotted him sitting up near the tree she had last thrown him into, rubbing his hoof against his back as she gave a careless smile. “Well… that went a bit differently than I imagined.”

“Night Walker!” Ruby shouted as she ran over to him, frantically spouting off apologies. “Oh my gosh oh my gosh! Are you okay!? I’m so sorry! I don’t know why I did those terrible things to you!”

“It’s okay,” he said with a forced grin. “I guess… I forgot, how strong and proficient you were with magic, especially levitation.”

“I’m so sorry,” Ruby said dejectedly, falling onto her rump as she stared at the deep bruises left on his body. How could I have done something like this? Not entirely sure she wanted the answer, Ruby asked hesitantly, “Wh… why did I do those things?”

“Well,” Night Walker replied while flexing a foreleg. “You smelled the blood I left out for you and followed it. Then you saw me, returning immediately to the lovely mannerism that you had greeted me with this morning.” Ruby looked down at her hooves as he repeated the experience, almost unable to believe everything he was saying was true were it not for her memory of it. “I took a step toward the blood, fully intent on drinking it before you,” Night Walker said with a smirk. “And you took exception to that.”

“Why… why did you have to get between me and the… blood,” she said, her voice cracking over the word. She should have known what it was, and a small part of her said that she had the entire time. But she was too caught up in the situation to put a thought to it. “Why did I crave it so much that I… that I hurt you?”

Night Walker regarded the Ruby who was still staring at her hooves like she was a monster, unable to come to terms with what she had caused with them. “Ruby…” he said drawing her attention. “You did what you had to do to survive.” When Ruby’s face still held a confused expression, even having a bit of wetness around her eyes that had built up, he continued. “When I had freed you from the Royal Sisters, you were in a bad state. I had to give you my blood to return you to what you once were, but that wasn’t going to be enough for you long. For all intents and purposes, you are like a newborn vampony, and you will suffer through the initial stages.”

“And… what are those?” she asked slowly, her mind now come to grips on what she had done and focused on what she could do to prevent it from happening again.

“I don’t know if now is best to explain everything, you should probably take some time to rest and-“

“No,” Ruby interrupted. Putting her front hooves back down onto the ground she looked at him, her face holding a half hearted look of determination. Her demeanor might have looked more serious if it wasn’t for the recently wiped away tear and the stain of blood on her chin. “I want to know now.”

He gave her a once over before sighing and shuffling himself in a more comfortable and less sore position. With a calm voice, he began what was to be a long winded explanation. “Much of the vampirism inside of you had been warped or somehow removed, and it needed to be restored or else you would have died. To do that, I needed to feed you my blood. With that the vampirism was restored, but it will take a toll on you as it is recouping many things that once were there. No matter how the stories of this age portray it as, a significant change such as becoming a vampony isn’t an easy and instantaneous process. It requires time and energy for it to develop. That is why even the amount of blood I had given you only lasted a night. You needed to feed again, and I wanted you away from the bat ponies.”

“In case I…” Ruby tried to finish objectively, but found it too difficult to say. Even the brief thought of hurting them such as Lunar Pearl flashed crossed her mind before she forcibly shoved it away, to disturbed at the notion to even let it play out.

Night Walker’s nod confirmed the awful conclusion. “You would have eventually smelled their blood, and being at the beginning stages again, you would have done anything it would have taken to sate your needs. Right now your body is going through a difficult process, and you need plenty of blood to fuel the transformation until it settles.”

“So… it’s not permanent? How I acted?” she asked hopefully.

With a reassuring smile he answered, “No, it’s not.” A relieved sigh escaped the Ruby’s lips, feeling better at the fact she wouldn’t treat ponies with such disregard once everything settled. “But that doesn’t mean that instinct won’t kick in should you become severally hungry again,” he said, dashing her hopes slightly. “It becomes much more manageable the more you experience it, only taking control of you during dire times, and only for survival. It actually has a name, often called in germane der Letzte Drang.”

“The Last Urge?” Ruby replied.

Night Walker blankly blinked at her understanding of germane before letting out a chuckle, “Yes, that is the translation.”

“And what is it?” she asked, her curious and analytical nature coming back despite the horrible topics and experiences that had come up within the last hour.

“It’s when a vampony spends too much of the energy, or are simply starving and need to feed. The more you spend the blood inside of you, the quicker you approach the der Letzte Drang.”

“And how long does a vampony last if they don’t use their powers?”

“About two, maybe three weeks if it’s a good meal and they don’t use any powers and only come out at night,” Night Walker replied slowly.

“Sun light has a detrimental effect on a vampony’s blood reserves?”

“Yes,” he said, a little taken aback at her questions that were starting to come faster.

“Can a vampony eat or drink things besides blood?”

“If… they so choose...”

“Does it have any effects?”

“I guess you might be able to stretch out another week before you need to feed again…”

“Does vampiric power's burn through normal food first before blood?”

“I’m not entirely sure…”

“What about-“

“Ruby,” Night Walker interjected quickly.

“Yes?”

“Could we perhaps talk about this another time? I would like to heal a little first,” he said, nodding towards the marks over his body.

“Oh!” she replied, her demeanor once again becoming sullen as she looked once over the nearly splintered in half tree then over his battered body again. “I’m sorry, I should probably let you rest those injuries which… don’t... look as bad now…” she trailed off. Taking a closer looked, she was sure that the size of the bruises had lessened.

“One of the perks of being a vampony,” Night Walker grinned. “We're tougher than your everyday pony, and heal faster. But even that takes a toll on your blood preserve. In fact, I think I will head back to my alcove and have a drink myself so help the process.”

“Um… Walker?” Ruby asked tentatively.

“Yes?”

Her eyes shifted back and forth as she squirmed over the question. “Whose… blood did I just drink?”

Night Walker was silent for a moment before responding, “It was blood I had saved over some time. One of my natural talents that I will show you later. Do not fret, no pony died for it.” Ruby’s face brightened immensely at the fact, glad that she did not have to kill anypony for her first remembered taste of blood. As delicious as it was to drink, she didn’t quite see herself willing to kill another pony for it. In her mind she hoped that in the future she might find a way to get her nourishment without much harm to the pony; dim fragments of pony anatomy flashing in her head as to where the safest location to draw blood from would be.

And while she looked hopeful to the future, Night Walker’s mind was concerned on the present. I hope the beginning feelings of regret for one’s food does not last long for her. I would hate to think all of this would go to waste if I had preserved too much of her former self from the vampirism.

“Oh! One last question, I promise,” Ruby suddenly said.

“Ask,” Night Walker said as stood up.

“What do bat ponies eat?”

Popping his back he replied, “From what I understand, the Royal Sisters used a type of fruit bat as a template for the transition back to being normal ponies. It was supposed to be an intermediate stage but they never seem to have gotten past it. They can eat normal food but they have strong cravings for fruit, one of the reasons we picked this forest as it has some naturally growing fruit trees within it, enough to keep supplies stocked if rationed, but not enough to seem like a likely place for us to hide.”

“Oh, okay,” Ruby replied. She had more questions to ask just from the information alone if she ignored every other one in her mind, but held herself in check, deciding to spare the poor aching pony from further harassment from herself tonight.

“Let’s get back to the cave. If you want I have some books you can read to bring yourself up to date on some things. You just fed so you shouldn’t have to worry about harming anypony,” Night Walker preemptively answered before Ruby could ask, her mouth open and hoof in the air in preparation of asking if she was safe or not.

As he began to walk back through the woods, only wincing now at putting down a single hoof, Ruby mulled over the experience. She wondered if nopony else’s mind mulled over multiple facts at once, seeing how nopony else had yet to show the multitude of thoughts and question. But one notion did nag at her, a question about herself that had been spurred after learning the violent capability she and Night Walker possessed; a first hoof learned lesson that still made her feel awful just thinking about.

“Walker…” Ruby said softly, making his halt and turning around unenthusiastically at another question. “If we are so harmful to everypony, why do we even exist? Isn’t the world better off without us?”

Night Walker’s brows furrowed as his mouth fell instantly and his teeth flashed, grinding against each other in a flash of anger that made Ruby recoil. She could see his muscles visibly shake in what she assumed was a silent but hot fury before he took in a deep breath and closed his eyes. The sudden change from calm, to angry, to calm again threw the Ruby for a loop, not daring to speak as he remained still least she draw out his flash of anger again.

After some moments he let out a breath and opened his eyes, regarding her coolly before turning away. Speaking softly but loud enough for her to hear he said, “Don’t you ever tell yourself you shouldn’t exist. Not yourself, nor anypony else in this world.”

Act II - Chapter 18

View Online

“Are you sure you don’t need help?” Ruby pressed, having refused to be more than a few feet away from him.

“I told you, I’m fine,” Night Walker replied for the umptenth time. “I just need some time to rest, and I’ll be good as new.”

“If you say so.”

Ruby bit her lip as she watch Night Walker wince while climbing up the small slope, then hobbled into the cave.

Figured it would be another day or two at least before she began using her magical abilities again, Night Walker thought. I suppose this is punishment for underestimating things again. At least it’s not a crystal coffin like last time.

He cracked his spine as joints rearranged themselves, causing him a feel good pain as joints rearranged themselves back into proper positions.

Been awhile since I’ve had a toss up like that. Makes me miss the times Grousom would argue against a plan of action. You really can’t compare a friendly bludgeoning followed by a refreshing feast to todays way of talking and apologizing. Still, I suppose it saves some trouble in getting things down.

Closing his eyes momentarily to feel the regeneration spread across his body, Night Walker’s ears twitched at the lack of hoof steps behind him.

Turning around, he looked back to the entrance and saw Ruby standing there, her eyes looking far off into the sky. She stood sideways as if caught in decision of coming inside or going back into the woods.

Night Walker watched her for sometime, waiting patiently for her to make up her mind before moving himself. Though he thought little of it, he had to admit that she had an air about her as she stood gazing into the night, her mane fluttering from the occasional breeze, and the moon reflecting her crimson eyes that appeared to be searching for something. For what however, he did not know, but he didn’t need to. To him, she appeared very much as he did so many years ago. Young, fresh, and searching the night, going wherever his hooves took him.

I hope you will enjoy nights such as these as I do, Ruby. They will bring you much comfort in troubled times.

As he looked onto her, a fanciful thought crossed his mind, causing him to smirk. If I were my younger self, I might have pursued such a beautiful mare. Perhaps someday once you’ve had a few hundred years under your saddle.

As time passed, a sudden sharp pain from his shoulder socket finally setting back in place caused him to grit his teeth. After it subsided, he looked back up to her and asked, “Ruby, what’s on your mind?”

She breathed in sharply as her ears twitched at the sound of his voice, acting as if she had forgotten he was there. Turning her head towards him, she looked at him with wide eyes, eyes that were all too familiar to him.

Of course, how could I forget the look of a new vampony?

For what he had mistaken as appreciation for the night, was in actuality the searching of the unknown for answers. He could see it plain on her face, her uncertainty of the world, of others, and of herself. It was that self contemplation of when everything had suddenly changed and your life was thrusted onto a new course. And he could only imagine how it was for a pony who had less than forty-eight hours of memories in her life. It was a short time to come to terms with everything, but it came with a lifetime of emotions to sway and guide her.

There were only a few things that had helped Night Walker in such confusing and thoughtful times, and he decided to gift her with it.

“Ruby, I’m going inside to rest. Stay out here as long as you need.”

She blinked in surprise at the sudden freedom. “Are you sure? Shouldn’t I not be alone?”

“It's fine. You’re a grown mare and a vampony at that,” he said dismissively. “If you need help there should be a guard around the cave entrance, and there should be some bat ponies collecting food in the forest. Just call out and somepony will come. All I ask is that you don’t go far from the sanctuary. Your subjects and I would not like to lose you a second time.”

“O-okay! I promise!” Ruby called after him as he descended into the passageway, a feeling of excitement and nervousness filling her. She waited until he fully disappeared, then looked out into the night, before she too moved, and made her way back into the forest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Night Walker carefully treaded his way back into the cave, thankful that the more severe injuries were nearly healed leaving only the finer cracks and damaged nerves. When he entered the main section, he paused briefly to look over the groups of bat ponies. To his satisfaction, they appeared to have settled in well, and held overall good spirits.

I should get with some of the elders later and see if there is anything they can recommend in helping everypony’s stay. Then Mist Hoof and Shade Flare to begin training sessions. Hopefully they have found a suitable stalking teacher now that everypony is here. The ones gathering food should be back shortly, then-

Night Walker ran over list and plans in his mind, ensuring that everything was in place and prepped for the various events and plans he had. Eventually however, the beginning signs of a burning sensation appeared in his throat, and a sudden shift within him brought out urges that were not there moments before.

Scowling, he continued making his way down to the main floor, and towards the side passage that would lead to his alcove. He was able to afford small delays of greetings to bat ponies that crossed his path, and having quick conversations on how they were adjust and if they needed anything.

After fervent thank you’s and assurances they were alright, he quickly headed down into the twisting passage, and into his own alcove, well away from prying ears and eyes. Immediately he made his way past various items, and straight to a chest that held a gem fixed onto its front, then flipped it open.

Within it, were many flasks that were chilled to the touch, as well as having a slight charge to them thanks to the magic that enchanted the chest. As he pulled one out and uncorked it, he felt the magic that kept it cool vanish, then slowly sipped at its contents.

Not as good as fresh, but it will do.

After a few mouthfuls, he pulled it away to let out a relieved sigh from the taste that tingled within his mouth, and at the fading sensation of the internal urges and burn in his throat.

I shouldn’t have gone so long before testing Ruby like that. I of all vamponies know I can’t afford letting such alter-egos out.

Feeling better already as his body absorbed the blood to help his regeneration, he admired the chest before him. Quite the feat todays magic and technologies can create. We will probably need another ten or twenty units once things begin.

A smile spread across his lips as his mind begun imagining the possible scenarios that could play out. From the restoration of the hundred bat ponies within the cave, to the liberation of the rest of their kind in Dusk Town, to the feats they could achieve coupled with modern magic and technology.

Our dear benefactor is right. Today’s time is truly one of opportunities.

As he settled himself to relax for his body to finishing healing, his thoughts were interrupted at the sound of hooves echoing down his passage. With a sign, he straightened his posture into something more dignified, then waited patiently for whoever was approaching.

“Good evening, sir,” Shade Flare greeted as her round the corner, halting a respectable distance just shy of being inside the alcove.

“Good evening, Shade Flare. Is there something I can help you with?”

“I… I just wanted to see how everything went,” Shade Flare said hesitantly.

Night Walker gave him a passive stare, before giving up and letting out a chuckle. “Really, you are too serious sometimes. You mustn’t draw all your mannerisms from the guards that watched you. I assure you, you are not a bother. Please, come in.”

Night Walker watched humorously as Shade Flare fidgeted at the entrance, then smartly entered and sat himself across from him.

“Forgive me, I just… I don’t always know what is appropriate behavior I should strive for.”

“Were you looking for appropriate behavior when you punched me that night during your training in Ponyville?”

“I… uh…”

“The answer is no, you weren’t,” Night Walker spoke for him, a grin on his face. “The most appropriate way for you to behave however, is by being yourself. I’ve had enough share of acting and being somepony else, so much that it is rather dull being able to tell when someone else isn’t acting themselves. And to be honest, I much rather avoid the guessing games. Now, whether you are actually a military figure, or just the simple batpony who’s trying to figure out the future of himself and the rest of his kin, I leave for you to decide.”

“I’m sorry, I will…” Shade Flare began, before catching himself. Clearing his throat, he looked straight at Night Walker. “I’ll will be myself.”

“Good.”

“... May I ask one thing though?”

“Of course.”

“How can you remain so calm and carefree?”

Night Walker let out a laugh. “Why, whatever do you mean?”

Shade Flare’s eyes flickered about with uncertainty, before he forced them straight again and pushed himself to continue. “We are fugitives of the Crowns, we are with no doubt being hunted as we speak. If we are found and caught, all the effort we have spent so far could go to waste. We could even…”

“Die?”

Shade Flare blinked in surprise as Night Walker looked at him coolly.

“Yes, we could very well die,” Night Walker said. “But such is the fate of those who deal in death. I figured you of all ponies would have learned that by now.”

“F-forgive me, it’s just…”

“Shade Flare,” Night Walker said suddenly without a hint of humor in his voice, drawing his attention towards him. “Everything is alright. If anything, you should expect things to go wrong. You should be prepared for everypony in this cave to be dead by tomorrow in the event we are caught by surprise. Such is the way of life of a predator.”

Shade Flare looked at him thoughtfully, before turning his gaze downwards to contemplate what he said. “But… you wouldn’t let them die, would you?”

“Rest assured, Shade Flare,” Night Walker said, drawing his gaze again. However, when Shade Flare looked to him, he felt his very blood freeze at the piercing glare Night Walker gave him. “Anypony that harms our family, will face a very painful and bloody death.”

The air became very still as Shade Flare felt his neck hairs rise under his eyes, before the mood passed and a much calmer expression washed away the vengeful demeanor. It had been such a dramatic change, that Shade Flare hadn’t realized he had been holding his breath throughout it.

“Now to answer your question, things went well.”

“I take it then that Twi… Ruby’s, performance was good?”

“It was exceptional,” Night Walker said with a grin. “She was utterly ruthless, proficient, and acted without hesitation. She quickly took control of the fight and acted splendidly in all accounts. Had I not lain still after the last tree she shattered with my body, I imagined she would have continued mercilessly for awhile longer.”

“She… she injured you that much?” Shade Flare asked in disbelief.

“That she did.”

“To imagine that even I had been unable to even moderately hurt you…”

“Oh come now, you don’t have a unicorns horn to assist you. Nor should you doubt your own abilities. I would say on a hoof to hoof fight, you have a fairly good chance of winning against her.”

“Really?”

“Indeed. It actually makes me look forward to sparring sessions with the two of you later on. Maybe then I can start actually using my full potential.” Night Walker gave a smug look at Shade Flare, who in returned exchanged it with a determined stare.

“Sounds like something to look forward to Midni- I mean… Night Walker,” Shade Flare corrected once again.

Night Walker raised an eyebrow before letting out a sigh in understanding. “My apologies, one moment.” Closing his eyes once more and focusing inward, a gesture Shade Flare had come to grown accustomed to, he visibly shook then exhaled outward. “There, much better.” Opening his eyes again his face took on a more serious and less eccentric outlook. If Shade Flare had to give it a word, emotionless would be the best descriptive. “I’ve been rusty since my unsealing, easy to let a personality slip out now and then.”

“Onto business then,” Night Walker continued. “I need you to go to the southern edge of the forest. A delivery of supplies is arriving soon. Take one of the older bat ponies with you, and that bag over there as payment for it.” Night Walker motioned to a brown coin pouch set aside by the cave wall.

Shade Flare went to retrieve the coins, curious as to whom the pony might be. “Is it wise to let him see us?” he asked while feeling the weight of the bag.

“He will be taken aback by your appearances, but certain… agreements, his higher up and I have made will ensure he does not report you to the Crowns.”

Shade Flare nodded in understanding. “Is there anything else?”

“That’s all for now,” Night Walker said simply.

With a respectful bow, Shade Flare dismissed himself and began heading back up the passageway, his mind focused on his new task. He decided he would pick one of the older batponies, one that would not question the obvious reasoning of remaining hidden in case something should go awry. The mentality of remaining hidden was well ingrained and practiced in the older ponies, the younger ones not having learned the lesson yet or were simply to energetic for it. The only pony near his age that held such outlooks was Ebon Wing, and he proved impossible to find if he did not want to. Only Night Walker was capable of finding him in his shadows and he was not about to disturb his healing time for such a frivolous search. When he left the passage and stood at the edge of the cavern, looking over the various nearby ponies to choose from, a sudden reflection crossed his mind.

It had hit him a few times before, but here he was, with a group of his fellow kin, outside in the world; no longer the prisoners he believed them to be in that town the princesses had built for them so long ago. Here they had a chance to be free, to live out a grander life than rotting in some town that nopony could find on a map. They had a chance of living outside those walls, but even the promise of escaping their slow and decaying fate came with a price that had seemed affordable at first but grew more concerning over time.

Ruby attacked him, no doubt in a similar manner to how I had. She probably was even willing to go as far as to kill him…

The action made sense to him having lived it himself. He understood how a pony could become so wrapped up in their thirst that nothing else mattered besides that desperate and burning urge to drink. But even then he felt conflicted at the idea he was capable of such a thing, now even more so that the vampirism continued to wear off him much to his and Night Walker’s dismay. It seemed that they truly needed an alicorn to fully reverse the effects the princesses had put on them. He did not understand the subject matter entirely, but what little he gleaned from Night Walker was that there were few magic’s more capable than that of an alicorn; exampling its power a few times by referencing King Sombra, a unicorn Shade Flare heard to have sought and wielded alicorn magic ruthlessly.

But now that he was a batpony again, his own internal conflict at the path of life he had set himself and the rest of the ponies around him down upon nagged at him. Hunting things in good fun came naturally to bat ponies, even fighting. Perhaps it was the remaining after effects of generations from being descended from vamponies, but to do it in such a hostile manner, and to even kill?

Even if he would only kill ponies just to feed in survival, Shade Flare found it difficult to find a clear answer if everything he had done so far was indeed for the better. Yet, even considering the alternative was not an option, as he could not accept the state the bat ponies had fallen into, their stagnant and dying way of life only becoming worse with time. At times he had seen it in the eyes of the elder ponies, eyes that were dim and held no life. And even if he could not find an easy answer, and that becoming vamponies once again was the only way, he could never allow himself or the rest of his kind to live ever again with eyes like those.

He would never allow those lifeless and hopeless eyes appear again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ruby walked quietly through the woods, staring wistfully into its shadows and greenery. Her brain had spun endlessly at the two conflicting sides within her, both of them in the back of her mind facing each other off. She had grown tired, or rather overwhelmed at the struggle on how she felt over the fight with Night Walker ,and the knowledge that she needed blood to survive.

The blood of a pony.

That line had run back and forth so many times that she couldn’t muster the energy to even contemplate it anymore, simply wishing to distance herself from everything and enjoy the cool night. And so she picked a random direction that did not lead to the bowl that was still sitting on the stump, unwilling to return to the scene of the self-induced debate.

The breeze played with her tail and mane now and then, bringing a slight chill that did not bother her, but rather felt refreshing. Watching the moon rise into the sky, she kept her attention on the environment around her, not wanting to give her mind a chance to come back at her in force with the internal conflict.

So she focused on the woods, to lose herself and enjoy the beauty of the night. The way the moonlight filtered through the trees, the soft grass beneath her hooves, the looming shadows the trees casted, all of it seemed so peaceful. Whatever instincts that had told her to be fearful of the dark before no longer existed, leaving her only content as she walked through the dark.

While the night held a certain mystery to it, she felt as if nothing could escape her attention should she choose to focus closer. The owl perched on a branch in the distance, a family of squirrels with young ones that scurried about their hollow, the sleeping figures of birds in their nests, to the slithering snake that she decided to give plenty of space to as she walked around it. Everything was revealed to her while she herself felt comforted in being shrouded in the shadows, a silent observer that confidently wandered the sleepy woods with all seeing eyes.

It was when she passed by a low series of bushes that the sound of a mouse squeaking caught her attention. Turning her head, she became very still as she noticed the tiny movement within tall blades of grass, and the lurking red form some distance away that had also taken notice of it.

Crouched low was a fox staring intently at the movements of the disturbed grass, its ears pointed forward and eyes unblinking. The mouse’s continued shuffling indicated it remained unaware of the fox, similar to the fox being unaware to the silent spectator watching the unfolding event in awe.

Ruby was transfixed at the scene as it stealthily crept up to the flickering grass, only moving ever so slightly forward in tune with each movement the mouse gave. It was hunting that much was obvious, but the way it looked as it did, it somehow left Ruby feeling privileged to see such a thing. The way its body was perfectly dispersed in an even but loose stance, the graceful way it crept forward, the intensity of its focus on its prey, the twitch of its whiskers and the brilliant gleam in its wide eyes, all of it displayed the true markings of a hunter, a predator that was dealt death to those that were its prey. It was a creature that lived on the line between the beautiful and warmth of life, and the cruel and permanence of death. Ruby found it hard to breath in apprehension as she watched it hunt, noticing all of its performed behaviors with a sense of familiarity, each motion held in some recognition or understanding on an instinctual level..

Then, the fox became very still, and its muscles became tense. Ruby watched in awe at the approaching moment, when it would leap upon the unsuspecting mouse and flash its deadly fangs. A part of her felt appalled at being so drawn to such an event, but sure enough another part felt appreciation at the sight, seeing its cruel yet beautiful moments play out before her. The fox twitched slightly, readying itself for the burst of strength and speed, waiting for just the right moment to pounce. And just as the mouse inched forward yet again, still unsuspecting of the awaiting danger only some feet away, the fox leapt.

It had lasted only a moment, but to Ruby it seemed to have paused in time. The way its form held in the air, basking through the beams of moonlight that shone through, the red fur covering its body ruffling from the wind, and the intensity in its gleaming eyes. Its eyes held a depth of emotion and focus that she found impossible to put into words. They were eyes that if the mouse had seen in its final moments, it would have been petrified in their gaze at the overwhelming will they held. And just like that, it was over.

The fox landed, the mouse was caught, and promptly finished off with the snap of a jaw. The hunt had ended, and hard won meal had been claimed. Lifting its head from the grass, the fox held its kill tightly in its maw, the lifeless limp body of its prey dangling between its lips. It stared off into the forest, ears pricked forward for the signs of any other movement that may betray more prey or a competing foe. Slowly it scanned the undergrowth, turning its head until its gaze rested upon Ruby. Finally aware of the spectator, the two of them locked eyes, both remaining motionless as they contemplated one another silently.

Ruby felt her chest tighten at the exchange between them, wondering what to do in the sight of the hunter she had just witnessed perform beautifully. But as they regarded each other, the battle that had raged inside of her earlier gave away slightly. It was like a moment of calm and understanding suddenly swept over her. Staring at this predator who could only live through the death of others, whose eyes had once been cold and merciless as it hunted but now held a more lively and yet relaxed expression, she could not help but see apart of herself.

Here was a creature that killed, and did so to live. It did to survive so it may continue to walk these forests and exist apart of life. It wasn’t evil, it was natural, part of nature as were so many other things. And as simple as that realization came, so too did Ruby’s perception of the world she had come to only know for a short time. While a part of her still argued against everything she had learned so far of being a vampony, she now felt more at ease with it, a step closer to being at peace with who and what she was. She would need to drink blood, and she might have to kill ponies for that which still bothered her thinking about it.

But now, she felt a step closer to possibly accepting that fate in full. Night Walker’s words rang softly in her mind, that she too had the right to exist. And nopony could argue against that. It was like arguing against nature itself. It was like saying that even the fox should starve, and never hunt again. That only the mouse had the right to live.

Then, the fox twitched its whiskers once, and slinked away, disappearing into the undergrowth. Ruby stared thoughtfully at where it had vanished, trying to understand all that she had gleaned from the spectacle. It may have just been a simple fox going about its daily life, but to her this night held a deeper meaning to it. It was a step closer to accepting a part of her that she struggled to find peace with or even agree upon.

And she wondered, would she ever fully accept her vampony side that conflicted her so?

Act II - Chapter 19

View Online

Ruby retraced her steps back to the cave, and while her body stepped lightly throughout the undergrowth, her mind was a mile away; finding herself lost in her thoughts as she sifted through the emotions that had sprung forth since she had left the cave earlier that night. From seeing the hunting fox, to feeling the soft breeze caress her mane, everything about tonight seemed to have some hidden and deep revelation just waiting for her to understand and make sense of it all. It felt like all the answers in the world were around her, but she was unable to hear what they were. Even something as mundane as walking through the grass felt like it had some soul searching answer to a question she did not even realize she had.

But she wasn’t plagued with only hidden answers, for her violent actions against Night Walker earlier over the bowl of blood still lingered in her thoughts. She still wasn’t sure what to make of everything that had happened since she woke up tonight. She felt like she was trying to find some peace between what seemed to be two sides of the same coin, one that justified all of her actions, and another that was appalled for some unknown reason. Thinking about it logically, everything that had happened made sense and she came to the same conclusion no matter how she spun it. Everything was justified.

She was a vampony. Vamponies needed blood to survive. They preyed on other creatures and are thus predatory in nature. They need to be violent if they want to survive. There wasn’t any way around it.

But yet… some tiny part of herself, deep down inside of her, just could not agree with everything, that it was all some horrible mistake, a nightmare that she will eventually wake up from. It was all these thoughts and feelings that caused her to feel such turmoil inside, a raging clash of thoughts and emotions that were only now beginning to subside in favor of her accepting everything that had happened.

Though she was coming to terms with the world around her, she was still trying to understand the turmoil of her inner world, and looked to everything else for some possible answer to quell it.

But how she would quell the conflict within would have to wait for another time as she realized she was already heading up the small slope into the cave, and was only minute away from her ponies. Just thinking about them caused the divide within her to cease, as if two forces were aligning for a common goal.

At least I can be certain about them.

Before she made the rest of the way up the short slope and into the mouth of the cave, the sound of hoofsteps from above her caused her to pause. Looking up, she saw Shade Flare and another, older batpony standing on the edge of the slope, their wings spread in preparation of taking flight. However, Shade Flare caught side of Ruby below him, and tucked his wings to his side and gave a small bow.

“Good evening, Princess Ruby,” Shade Flare greeted. The batpony beside him quickly looked over him and nearly snapped to attention when he saw her. Tucking his wings as well, he bowed with Shade Flare.

“Good evening, Shade Flare and… Mist Hoof, was it?” Ruby said with a returning nod.

“Yes, your highness,” Mist Hoof replied. “It makes me happy you remember my name.”

“Of course I would remember,” Ruby simply said, causing Mist Hoof to blush somewhat.

“Were you returning to the cave, your highness?” Shade Flare interrupted.

Ruby replied with another nod as well as a sigh. “Yes… I was just enjoying a walk through the woods. I figured it was probably time I should come back.”

Shade Flare stared passively at her, before speaking slowly, “You do not have to explain yourself to us, your highness. You… are our princess… and whatever you wish to do is for your knowledge and your knowledge along if you so will. If you wish to take a walk through the woods, we can only oblige your desire.”

Ruby flattened her ears as she looked back up to him sternly. “I’m not be the type of pony that keeps others in the dark. At least, I don’t think I ever was…”

She looked up to them with a much more uncertain look, wondering if they were judging her in a similar way as the Royal Sisters.

Shade Flare felt his eyebrow twitch in annoyance, but Mist Hoof answered before he could.

“We meant no disrespect, Princess Ruby. I think Shade Flare only meant that you don’t have to act so timid about your actions. It is a lovely night, and if you want to enjoy it, then you shall.” He looked towards Shade Flare with a supportive smile. “Isn’t that right, Shade Flare?”

“Yes… that is exactly what I meant…”

Ruby smiled shyly at the two of them. “T-Thank you. And I promise, I won’t keep any secrets from you.”

Mist Hoof gave her a smiling nod, while Shade Flare averted his eyes back to the sky.

“I apologize for cutting this conversation short, but we have an important matter to deal with.”

“Oh… I’m sorry for keeping you…”

“Have a good rest of the night,” he simply said before jumping off, and soaring across the clearing and near the tree tops, skimming their branches as close as he could.

Mist Hoof gave him a scowl before flashing Ruby a smile. “Have a pleasant night, Princess Ruby.”

Ruby simply nodded to him, then he too lept and flew off, cutting through the air to catch up with Shade Flare.

When he did, and they were well away from the cave, he gave Shade Flare a curious look.

“Rather rude of you to jump off like that wasn't it?”

“I did not want to keep her from resting. She is still recovering, and needs all the time she can get.”

“Didn’t seem like it to me,” Mist Hoof commented before turning his eyes forward.

Shade Flare raised his eyebrow, then did the same, the two of the spending the remainder of the flight in silence.

If only you knew as well that the mare masquerading as our long lost princess is actually royalty, the same kind that have kept us in that town for our entire lives, Shade Flare thought darkly. I don’t understand how everypony else can like her so much. It’s obvious that she isn’t our princess by how weak she is. She’s far too timid and unsure, it’s almost sickening that so much depends on her.

Shade Flare flicked his tail in irritation, knowing he could express it in very little ways while Mist Hoof flew alongside him.

I hope Night Walker plans to get rid of her once she has served her purpose. I don’t know how much longer I will be able to stand her otherwise…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ruby had watched the two vanish into the expanse of trees before reluctantly she crossed the remaining distance of the cave and began the trek back underground, away from the open night sky that calmed her so.

Her mind once again lost in an ever searching state of mind she walked the enclosed underground path, her mood having only been distracted momentarily by Shade Flare and Mist Hoof.

Once she had reached the large cavern, she paused to take in the sight of the bat ponies going about their nightly lives. She held mixed feelings towards them that ranged from fascination and curiosity, to sorrow and motherly protection. She was their princess, and though they needed her help, she didn’t know how she could yet.

She had just finished her trek down the high rise and to the main cavern floor before the soft yelling of a filly accompanied by a plethora of hoof steps reached her ears. “Princess Ruby! Princess Ruby!”

Turning to Lunar Pearl, she saw her as well as a small group of other ponies her age, their bright faces bringing a smile to her lips as she waited for them to run towards her. “Hello, everypony,” Ruby greeted.

“Princess Ruby, you have to help us!” Lunar Pearl quickly said, wasting no time for pleasantries.

Ruby’s face immediately flashed to concern as she tensed her body. “What’s the matter? Is something wrong?”

“We need your help to find Ebon Wing!” Lunar Pearl cried, followed by murmurs of agreement from the other children.

“Ebon Wing?” Ruby asked. The name did not ring a bell from any of the introductions she had with the bat ponies last night. Feeling awful she had already forgotten a pony so easily, she quickly asked, “Is he okay? Where was the last time you saw him?”

“Over in one of the back passages!” A colt jumped in.

“Come on, Princess Ruby, we’ve got to find him!” Lunar Pearl shouted.

Ruby nodded her head firmly, ready to face the plea for help and do her royal duties of protecting her ponies.

“Lead the lead way!”

The group of children gave a small shout in joy and began trotting over across the cavern to one of the archways, Ruby following closely behind with a determined expression. It was when they had crossed half the distance when a stallion they passed by asked in alarm, “Is everything alright?”

Ruby skidded to a stop on her hooves as the fillies and colts continued onwards. “No, we need to get a search party formed immediately. The children told me Ebon Wing is missing. Were about to head down that passage there, can you gather more ponies and begin searching the rest of the cave?”

The stallion stared blankly at her before much to her surprise, began laughing. “I guess they got you in a lost cause to hunt for Ebon Wing again.”

Ruby’s mouth hanged open at how easily he dismissed such a worrying situation. “H-How can you act so calm? Ebon Wing is missing!”

A few other ponies nearby who had overheard the conversation began laughing light heartedly at her distressed behavior. Before she could snap at them for being heartless, the stallion raised a hoof to explain. “Ebon Wing is always missing. He finds some spot to hide and lets the children try to find him. He’s their baby sitter, though how good of one he is can be debated.”

Ruby stared blankly at him for, then shuffled back into a more composed standing position as her cheeks flushed red. “Oh… I see.”

A mare that was still laughing walked up to her and lowered her head respectfully. “It’s alright, your highness. The young ones act like it’s the most important mission in the world. We should have seen it before they startled you and stoped them. Our apologies for them roping you into a goose chase.”

“It’s okay,” Ruby said quickly, trying to defuse her reddening face at acting so brashly. And here I thought I was finally able to do something to help… “So Ebon Wing isn’t in danger?”

“No, not at all. He does this kind of thing all the time,” another and much older stallion chipped in. “That boy is almost always away on his own. He’s probably the worst pony to be put in charge of the children actually, but they become so focused on finding him that it completely absorbs all their time and energy. He’s actually saved a bit of headaches on the days they are really rambunctious,” He gave a loud laughed at the end, and Ruby’s breathed out a sigh of relief.

“But I suppose in the end he does look out for them,” the senior continued. “Why, I remember when little Moon Tear had somehow managed to climb onto a roof to find him. Poor thing was scared senseless, but she decided to it anyways on a dare from the other children,” he said with reminiscing eyes. “She had slipped and fell, caused my old heart to almost stop in fear. But Ebon Wing zipped out from the shadows at the last second, catching her in his arms.”

He gave another laugh, this time ending in a horse wheeze as he cleared his throat. “He’s a lazy and shy one for sure, and his ability probably doesn’t help him get over that… but he has a good heart.”

The red on Ruby’s cheeks had completely faded at the end of his story. “I see, thank you for clearing everything up for me.”

“Not a problem at all,” the senior said with a wink.

“Princess Ruby, Are you coming?” Lunar Pearl’s voice called from across the main room.

As Ruby turned her head to reply, another one of the bat ponies began moving towards the children for her. “Don’t worry, your highness. I’ll explain to them that they shouldn’t be bothering you with things like this.”

“No, it’s okay,” Ruby replied. When the ponies around her looked at her curiously, the saw her with a beaming smile. “I don’t mind playing a few games with them. It’s a tough situation we are all in, and they need to know everything is okay. What’s better to help with that than their princess playing along with them?”

They were silent as they watched her make her way towards them, albeit at a much more relaxed and less urgent pace. She called out to the children as she approached, and let them gather around her, some tugging on her gently to get her to hurry up for the hunt. And soon, she and the loud group had entered the tunnel, their voices a gentle echo that faded away.

A loud ‘humf’ was heard from the senior, catching the attention of everypony who had witnessed the event. Looking to him, he raspy wheeze. “I like her.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Ebon Wing! Where are you?”

‘Oh, Ebon Wing! Come out, come out!”

The group of fillies and colts called out as they made their way through the cave, knowing full well he wouldn’t answer, but had fun calling out regardless.Their voices echoed throughout whichever corridor they were currently searching, but even though they found no sign of the elusive pony no matter how many passages they had traversed down, their spirits remained high as they simply enjoyed the thrill of the hunt and Ruby’s company.

They were simply content to prancing along side her, running ahead then back behind, and then returning to her side, asking if she thought a rock they found was neat or what was on her mind. Ruby answered each question happily, content at the wave of calm the rambunctious bunch of children brought her.

“Princess Ruby?” Lunar Pearl asked, possibly the filly most enamored with her.

“You can call me Ruby,” she replied with a giggle. There was no way she could hold the adorable children on calling her by her royal title, not with how young and sweet they were. Her heart couldn’t take the idea of separating them by status, and felt it right to remain as normal as possibly around them.

“Ruby,” Lunar Pearl said in correction along with a smile. “How long have you been a vampony?”

“I’m not exactly sure.”

“Oh, right,” Lunar Pearl replied. She scrunched her face up slightly at attempting to come up with another thing to ask, but was beat to the punch by a young colt.

“Wuby?” he spoke softly and with possibly the most adorable lisp that made her heart melt. “Awe you going to help us become betteh?”

“If I can,” she replied sweetly. “Night Walker and I are still trying to understand what is exactly wrong, but when we do, I promise we’ll make everything better.”

The colt gave her a big smile, then immediately ran ahead to a filly that Ruby noticed had been keeping some distance from the group.

“Night Gwass! Pwincess- I mean, Wuby!” he corrected, causing Ruby’s heart to melt again. He bounded right up to her and stepped in front of her. “Wuby said that she can fix us! That means she can fix you to!”

“Really?” the filly she assumed was pronounced Night Grass replied.

“That’s right,” Ruby called over.

“What did she say?” Night Grass asked the colt.

“Well, I said that-“ Ruby began before receiving a shaking head from the colt who briefly glanced her way.

“She said she was she was going to figueh out whats whon with us with Night Walkeh and then they can make you betteh!”

Curious as to why she was replying to her, Ruby made her way to them. Could be that’s she’s still shy or nervous around me?

When she only but a few steps away, Night Grass turned to look at her, then squeaked in surprise.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to sneak up on you,” Ruby said soothingly.

Night Grass merely tucked her chin to her chest, and looked up at Ruby between her bangs. “Can… can you really fix me?”

“I’m going to do my best,” Ruby replied. But as she did, she then noticed one detail about Night Grass, something she began to suspect to correlate as to why she did not respond to her. For when she spoke, Night Grass eye’s were glued to Ruby’s mouth, paying close attention to how her lips moved.

Is she… deaf?

A hopeful smile grew on Night Grass, before it was replaced with a scowl, followed by her promptly hopping away from Ruby. “Come on Cobalt Cloud, let’s look over there!” Grabbing his hoof, Night Grass lead him away from her and the rest of the children, with Cobalt Cloud looking back towards Ruby apologetically.

Ruby watched her leave, her mouth hanging open with worry.

“Don’t worry about, Ruby,” one of the children said. “Night Grass doesn’t like ponies thinking she needs help.”

“Well she does!” another one exclaimed. “Her hearing is the worst! Sometimes I wonder if she can even hear at all sometimes. You see how she always has to look at our mouths to know what were saying.”

“Hey, be nice!” Lunar Pearl shouted.

“What? It’s not like she can hear us unless were like... talking right into her ear,” another replied.

“I don’t think it’s nice to be talking like that though…” another one chipped in.

Ruby paid half attention to their conversation, for she was still watching Cobalt Cloud and Night Grass just ahead. Every now and then, Cobalt Cloud would glance back at them, a worried look on his face at being able to fully hear what they were saying. But it would always replaced with a smile whenever Night Grass turned her head to him, asking him to look at whatever she had found.

“I wonder how she can even read Cobalt’s lips?” a colt asked in simple curiosity.

“Now that’s enough! All of you!” Ruby snapped with a flap of her wings, having had her last straw on their conversation.

The group immediately crouched low and flattened their tuft ears, some of them even covered their heads with their wings. They had only ever seen Ruby a happy mare that was willing to play with them, but her new tone coupled with her flash of fangs quickly reminded them she was more than that. She was an adult, and even more so, the Princess of Vamponies, and they felt a sense of dread at having angered her.

Ruby on the other hoof, quickly retracted her wings and closed her mouth when she saw how terrified they had become of her. Even Cobalt Cloud had shrunken somewhat while Night Grass poked at a mushroom.

Taking a breath to recollect herself, she spoke softly, “It isn’t nice to make fun of Night Grass. Just because she can’t hear you, doesn’t mean you should talk about her like that. Understand?”

Each one of them nodded their heads fervently.

“Good. Now, let’s go find Ebon Wing.”

Slowly, they picked themselves up, and continued through the cave with Ruby. Their timidness however, did not last long, and in no time they were back to their joyful selves of hopping off rocks and seeing how far they could glide. But as easily as their spirits came back, Ruby’s firmly remained on Night Grass’s dilemma.

I can only imagine how long it took her to learn how to lip-read. I wonder if she is completely deaf, or partial. The fact that she has a level speaking voice indicates she has some hearing.

Though Ruby’s heart twanged as she saw her scurry about, looking over her shoulder every few moments to see where Cobalt Cloud was, the way she had scowled at Ruby when speaking about fixing her continued to flash across Ruby’s mind, and with it, Lily Wing’s words about Lunar Pearl.

<”She has a chance of growing old as a normal filly like I’ve managed, but these days... it’s becoming less promising for a batpony to make it that long.”>

What do I do? Ruby thought helplessly. I want to help her and the rest, I really do. But helping them means that they would be turned into…

Images of the laughing children were replaced with those of snarling faces, their tiny white fangs that normally drink the juices of fruit covered in blood. Ruby found her stomach almost doing a flip at imagining them acting so violently.

How can I ask children to be turned into what I am? I understand the adults wanting to, that’s their decision, as it was mine when I became a vampony. Or at least, it might have been… I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask Night Walker later if he knows how and when I had transformed. But regardless, how could I turn them into me?

I’ve been looking at this to simply, and I’ve been caught up with myself that I have hardly considered everypony else thoroughly. Even if we turn them back to vamponies—something I’m still unsure on how we will—how would we take care of over a hundred vamponies? What would happen to the children? Would they become more prone to violence at their young emotional states? How would everything be kept secret if the Royal Sisters are looking for us? What if they regret becoming vamponies and want to go back to their old life? Can we reverse it?

Her mind began to race faster and faster as scenario after scenario played across. She was caught between two extremes. Change the fate of every bat pony to forever feed on others, or doom them to a slow and crippling extinction. And neither seem possible for Ruby to pick.

She quickly wiped away a tear that had formed before any of them saw it, her insides split into two at the dilemma of the entire situation, and she couldn’t come up with an alternative to their plight, not until she at least had a closer look at the cause of their problems.

Making a mental note to get with Night Walker immediately at his plans for curing them, a change in the air stale air occurred, and with it, a scent that did not belong to her or any of the fillies and colts around her.

“Do you smell that?” Ruby asked. Immediately, each filly and colt turned their noses upwards, with Night Grass following shortly after seeing what everypony else was doing, and began to sniff the air. They eventually gave a collected ‘No’ when they could not pick up anything besides the natural smell of the earth.

“I think… it’s over here,” Ruby stated, following the direction she believed it to be coming from. It smells like a batpony. Maybe it's…

Moving more quickly, Ruby moved down the passageway with the children closely following behind, their eyes transfixed on her as she lead the hunt. The smell lead Ruby to a particular section of the rock wall and upwards, towards a small collection of stalactites above them. Narrowing her eyes, she could see clearly between them from the dim glow of the mushrooms, but was unable to spot any pony. Yet, her nose told her otherwise, and for some reason, the dark shadows seemed more prominent amongst the ceiling formations.. Focusing more closely, she stared unblinking at the section, willing for whatever was hiding to reveal itself to her.

After a minute of concentration, a strange tingle flashed across Ruby’s face, and she could have sworn she saw a reddish light amongst the soft glow of blue on the stalactites. There was a pony there, of that she was sure. And she had a good idea as to who it might be and how it was so hard for them to find him.

“Hello there, Ebon Wing,” Ruby said devilishly.

The children were about to open their mouths at why she was speaking to the rock, before the shadows above them began to blur, and drifting aside to reveal a troubled look of a batpony hanging upside down.

“Great, not only can Night Walker find me, but now you can too.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“So, Ebon Wing, how were you able to hide like that?” Ruby asked in earnest interest, smiling slightly at the bouncing children as they chanted victory at finding Ebon Wing.

The almost stallion aged pony kept his gaze away from her as he mumbled, “I… can wrap myself in shadows…”

“That’s amazing!” Ruby exclaimed, genuinely excited about such an ability, and in part to pick up his mood. He had been acted distant and sour ever since they had found him, something the children were promising to never let him forget about.

Ebon Wing only nodded in reply to her praise, keeping his eyes cast ahead and downwards on the cavern floor.

“Well, I think you're very lucky to have something that like,” Ruby said coaxingly. “And I also think you’re a very nice pony to be looking after these fillies and colts.” Ebon Wing gave a halfhearted hum in agreement, still not having lifted his eyes. Come on, there’s got to be something of you I can pry at, Ruby thought.

“Don’t mind him, Ruby, he’s always like this. Even when we don’t find him!” Lunar Pearl said teasingly. “He’s just a big doofus that never wants to talk to anypony.”

“Hey!” Ebon Wing snapped, giving her a scowl as she stuck her tongue at him. “Who was it that scooped you up that night we all met Night Walker for the first time when we were almost caught?”

“Pssh, anypony could have done that,” she responded nonchalantly.

“Wait, you were there too, Ebon Wing?” Ruby asked in interest.

He eyed Lunar Pearl for a moment longer, before glancing back at Ruby and turning his eyes forward again. “Yeah, I was there.”

“You also said you were almost caught?”

“Yeah, some orange mare with a goofy hat. She apparently knew Night Walker from the way she talked about him, though she called him a weird name.”

“Wait, she knew him?”

“Hmhmm,” Ebon Wing replied lazily. “But I don’t think she knew who he really was, if you get my drift. He acted all weird in front of her like he was somepony else. He even told her about vamponies. But he sounded like a lunatic from the way he was raving about them. Kinda reminds me of some of the unicorns that visit us...”

“Well, I think you were very brave in protecting Lunar Pearl like that. Something she should be grateful for,” Ruby said while giving a stern look towards her. Lunar Pearl simply rolled her eyes and kept walking forward.

But still, Ruby thought to herself. I wonder what Night Walker was doing with her. Who is she? After making another mental note, she continued. “Well, I’m just glad nothing went wrong by the sound of it. I would have hated to think if she had discovered you all.”

“It’s not like we could have taken care of ourselves,” he said defensively. “Even if Night Walker wasn’t there, we could have handled her no problem. She wasn’t even a guard from the looks of it.”

“You… would have fought her?”

“Well yeah, if it came down to it I guess,” Ebon Wing said in surprise, finally turning his head to her. “It’s not like we’ve been doing nothing all these years you and Night Walker had apparently been locked away.”

“Oh? And what have you been doing?” she tactfully edged on.

“Well, we practice with the guard for training.”

“You practiced with your captors?” Ruby asked in disbelief.

Ebon Wing shrugged. “They weren’t all bad. Princess Celestia rotated them out now and then for some reason, but we were on pretty good terms with them most of the time. You’d only get the bad ones sometimes. But they would teach us some of the basics in their training, while we would practice by ourselves stuff like hunting. In fact, when Princess Luna came back, she even let some of us pull her carriage when she went on important visits.”

“That… sounds pretty important,” Ruby hesitantly replied, concealing the irritation that flared up at the idea of even a single batpony pulling the carriage for either of the Royal Sisters. She still could not remember who they are, but if they were indeed responsible for her holding and the tampering on the batpony race, then they were certainly not in good first impressions for Ruby.

Ebon Wing on the other hoof misinterpreted Ruby’s pause and gave a small realization how much he had talked to her. He quickly diverted his gaze again and returned to his distant and standoffish mood from before.

Ruby painfully took notice of this, and opened her mouth to try and coax him out of his shell again as they entered the main cavern. But Night Walker’s voice called out to her before she could. “Ruby! Please come over here.”

Looking across the cavern, Night Walker along with Shade Flare, Mist Hoof, and various other bat ponies, were standing around a wagon that she figured was the delivery they had picked up. Ruby and the children curiously made their way over awhile Ebon Wing slinked away. As she approached, she noticed the wagon was filled with a variety of books that were being dumped out of large bags.

“What are all those books for?” Ruby asked curiously, a strange feeling of familiarity washing over her at the sight of the pile; her body automatically moved closer the wagon to begin inspecting the covers.

“Those,” Night Walker said passively, “are a collection of books regarding magic. From Magical Basics 101, to Advance Theories of Transmutation. These, along with a few tomes of my own, will help your research.”

“Research for what?” Ruby asked, her eyes still not having left through the various titles she shuffled about.

“For refreshing your knowledge of your immense magical abilities. And to help you devise a spell. The spell that will undo the tampering of the Royal Sisters, and restore everyponies vampiric heritage.”

Act II - Chapter 20

View Online

One week later…


Ruby cracked her neck, deciding afterward that it would be a good time to take a break from her reading. Saving her spot, she set the book aside and stood onto her hooves, stretching out the soreness that had accumulated from laying in one position for the night; much like she had done every night since the wagon full of books had been delivered.

She had been initially apprehensive at the amount of reading material Night Walker had procured for her, but discovered quickly she had a ravenous appetite for reading that was hard to sate. She dove into the books like a fish in water, and absorbed everything she read. In truth, she found that reading was now one of—if not her favorite—things to do; a fact Night Walker had confirmed for her after walking in and finding she had read three books in only a day and a half.

While she was well over halfway through the material and in a particularly interesting section regarding enchantments, she felt the need to take a break and get some much needed social interaction. She had felt bad locking herself away in her alcove and not mingling with her ponies as much as she wanted to, even if they all of them had expressed their understanding how important it was for her to study, and even support her isolation.

Ruby didn’t know how many times the adults had scolded the young ones to not bother her during her research. But to her pleasure, they relented now and then when the children convinced them to at least allow them to bring her some food, and managed to sneak in a few minutes of time with her.

Though whenever they did, Ruby took her time eating the fruit they brought her. Had she not forced herself to eat them out of politeness, some of it would have surely spoiled from being left unattended in a corner. While the taste of the fruit they gave her wasn’t bad per say, it just seemed lacking to her. She couldn’t place a hoof on it, but anything she had eaten saved that bowl of blood seemed tasteless. It wasn’t that they had no taste whatsoever, just that they seemed bland. But she ate them anyways, unable to deny such thoughtful gifts.

What was more odd for her though, was that since drinking the blood, she had yet to feel hunger but could still eat the food they brought to her. It was like constantly being stuck between a state of feeling satisfied in appetite but still being able to eat more. In all honesty, she doubted her hunger levels would have changed much had she eaten not eaten at all.

However, despite her desire to spend time with them, she had diligently put time into relearning all she could of magic, and to devising a spell to reverse the princess’s magic. But she could only do it for so long, and decided now would be a good time to take a much needed break.

After all, what kind of a princess would I be if I couldn’t even say hello to everypony now and then?

Looking over the pile of books she had organized three piles that were marked as ‘have read’, ‘read again’, and ‘yet to be read’, Ruby gave her wings a quick series of flaps to shake the stiffness in her muscles, and proceeded out into the main cavern.

The underground sanctuary had become very much of a home in such a short time, becoming more familiar each time she walked about its expanse. It was hard to believe she had only been released from the Royal Sisters in little over of a week, yet it felt like she had been here much longer.

Everypony had seemed to have settled comfortably in their temporary home, now having stocked and organized supplies, pitched tents and blankets, and even a rug here or there to spruce up the cavern floor. The mysterious benefactor that Night Walker was in contact with had delivered more items a few days later, bringing in various items such as the things that now adorned the cave that brought about a more homely feeling.

Ruby had questioned if it was wise to risk contact with a pony that wasn’t one of them, but was assured by Night Walker that his contact would not betray them to the Crowns. He simply left the matter that a pony of his status would not risk the benefits of working with them against the loss of his status in society for being discovered working with them, or the trouble that would come with angering a Vampony Lord.

While Ruby had initially felt appalled at the hinted violent and no doubt unpleasant act that would be delivered onto whoever it was, it left quickly at the reasoning of why it would needed to be done. She would be lying if she said that she didn’t feel her blood boil somewhat at the idea of trusting a pony only to have them backstab her and her ponies later.

At times she wondered how much the Royal Sisters had tampered with her, figuring that it was their doing for the internal split sides of her struggling against her thoughts and actions. But she need only remind herself that she was a vampony, and grew to accept that sometimes unpleasant things needed to be done to survive; an attitude that thankfully was beginning to overcome her impulse that caused knots to develop in her chest anytime something besides sunshine and rainbows would become the topic.

The internal struggling was becoming less and less each day as she willed herself back into her old behaviors before being sealed, cornering whatever the sisters had inserted or removed from her against a metaphorical wall. In fact, that part of herself felt much tinnier than it was on the first day she had awaken, but still found it was very much alive whenever the matter of her subjects came up.

As she made her way, she looked about the cavern happily at the sight of her ponies going about their nightly routine. A few were carefully walking down the slope from the exit to the outside; fruit packed in their saddlebags from the surrounding forest. Some were going through supplies, checking through their stocks and deciding what would be preserved and what would be handed out. And besides the ones who seemed to be in relaxed conversation or otherwise, the rest were deeply involved in combat practice.

Night Walker had said that fighting was in their blood, having been the descendents of ancient warriors that the vamponies had been revered as, and needed to further connect to their roots as well as hone skills that they would no doubt need in the near future. He would often delve into stories by request at the prowess of their ancestors, how they were the masters of the night and could not be bested in any war in which they fought while in numbers.

As usual and much to Ruby’s dismay, such stories did not bring any memories back to her. It seemed she could only recall fragmented various facts of the world rather than her interactions with it, which further confirmed on how quickly she grasped her reading material covering magic. It was like recalling memories of a past life in startling clarity as the words almost read themselves to her. But seeing the bat ponies train at first hoof, it made her wonder just how much more proficient they were in combat back in the day than they were now.

While they did not have weapons to practice with, they seemed very adept from hoof to hoof fighting to hunting; the latter being more stressed for in practice from Night Walker. It wasn’t that they were bad at it, only that he forewarned that stealth and ambush would be very crucial for them to secure their previous positions in the world.

It was when Ruby was transfixed on watching two bat ponies duel in the air above the cavern floor that she heard the soft footsteps of a pony approaching her from behind.

“I never believed it growing up, but it seems all these generations of keeping tradition alive is finally paying off,” the mare said behind her.

Turning her head, Ruby saw Lilly Wing standing next to her, also watching the aerial dogfight. Happy to see the elder sister again, Ruby spoke. “Ebon Wing had mentioned that you all were practicing back when you all lived in the Royal Sister's town. Did the princess’s really allow such a thing?”

“They did and didn’t,” Lilly Wing replied. “For whatever reason, Princess Celestia allowed some practicing, even having a member of the guard teach a class on basic counter attacks. I kind of remember somepony explaining that it was to keep some familiarity in our heritage. But I found it weird how she and the guard would behave when they learned we were practicing things like hunting.”

Lily Wing laughed suddenly as she recalled childhood memories. “The guards would always throw a fuss when they caught us in alleyways sneaking up to each other. Even more so when a filly or colt was brave enough to try sneaking up on a guard. Our parents would always scold us for doing such things in public, and especially on Princess Celestia’s personnel.”

Her reminiscent face took on a more distant look as her happy mood was dampened somewhat. “I would remember the how some of them would look at us whenever we did stuff like that. Not all of them had it, but some held a look of contempt in their eyes. Like… there was something wrong with us…”

Ruby looked worryingly towards her, eating herself even more at the fact she had been locked away and unable to help them. But just as soon as Lily Wing’s smile faltered, it was back up again, her cheerful attitude she always managed to have except when worrying about her sister. “But I guess it makes sense since we’re related to vamponies. To be honest, a lot of things now make sense. I always wondered what so different about us that would prevent the Princess from allowing us to leave the town.”

Lilly Wing stiffened slightly when she felt Ruby put a hoof onto her shoulder, and looked to her questioningly.

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” Ruby said warmly. “The only thing that is, is what has been removed from each of you.”

Lilly Wing was taken aback from such a personal gesture from Ruby. As much as Ruby kept proving to her and the others, and as much as Lily Wing kept telling herself that she was a vampony, Lily Wing still had a hard time accepting the princess inwardly. Lilly Wing had grown all her life as a batpony, and had learned in time that bat ponies are the only ones you can fully trust. It was difficult to suppress her initial feelings whenever she looked at Ruby who lacked the leathery wings, tufted ears, and everything else that was so familiar. And she had to forcefully tell herself over and over that she was not like all the other non-bat ponies she had met, and was most definitely not like the Princesses who while always put on a friendly face, still always emitted an off feeling Lilly Wing felt towards her and her kind.

But the more she interacted with Ruby, the more she grew over those initial feelings of hesitation and resentment. Every day, she was slowly becoming the beacon of hope that Lilly Wing had feared would never arrive in their lives. However, when she realized she had not said anything, and had been staring wordlessly at Ruby for some moments, she quickly bowed her head. “T-Thank you... for coming to our aid.”

“Please, you don’t have to bow,” Ruby said as she gently guided her back upwards. “I may be a princess, but I am a Vampony Princess. And as such, I don’t expect my subjects to act like that.”

“Your memories are coming back?” Lilly Wing asked hopefully.

“No,” Ruby replied as she turned back to watch the practicing bar ponies. “But Night Walker has been filling me in what we were like during our rule. Turns out that vampony leaders are in combat as much as their subjects are, treating each other as equals on the field of battle. Apparently, it’s only in very formal times do we act so regally.”

Lilly Wing laughed at that. “I guess that’s good to hear. I would hate to think of you as a princess like the sisters who seem to let others do the work for them.”

The two remained quiet for some time as they looked out to their kin, silently observing in interest whenever one would get the upper hoof on another in a duel. Eventually, feeling of the need to say something with the princess nearby, Lilly Wing coughed and decided to ask what had been going on in every other ponies mind.

“So… how is the research for the spell coming along?”

Ruby sighed in exhaustion. “It’s going, but I’m still not there yet. I haven’t even touched on any material that could even remotely do what the princesses had done to all of you.”

Lilly Wing waited patiently for her to continued, but grew concerned at the thoughtful yet worried face Ruby held as she stared off. When it was clear she had been lost in her own thoughts, and had no indicator on when she would come back, Lily Wing asked hesitantly, “Is something bothering you?”

“Hmm? Oh… no, not really,” Ruby said after snapping out of her mind. “It’s just all this studying is getting to me, that’s all,” Ruby put out a weak smile, but its effect was lost.

Lilly Wing had a feeling that she was holding back, something she was hesitant to say to her, something she had seen many times from the faces of her elders whenever they dodged difficult questions like if she would be ever allowed outside the town. At first thinking it would not be wise to press her further, she recalled how Ruby had just mentioned such formalities were lost on vamponies, and that they were supposed to be equals in the field of battle. And from what she knew, comrades in arms did not let others suffer silently in whatever ailed them.

Taking in a deep breath for bravery, and hoping she wouldn’t receive a backlash at pushing things, Lilly Wing asked, “What’s really bothering you?”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s something else,” Lilly Wing said, daring to even narrow her eyes at her to send the point home that she wasn't going to be able to hide it from her. “You’re worried about something. Can you please tell me?” While she was being assertive in the matter, she did not forget to at least be somewhat respectful..

Ruby was about to continue with the feign, but the stern glare from Lily Wing convinced her otherwise that she was not going to get away with it. Not even thinking on how easy it would be to use her royalty to tell her off, Ruby sighed and let her head hang down slightly.

“I guess… I’m just worried that the spell will work…”

Taken aback in surprise, Lily Wing had to find her voice before asking, “W-What do you mean? Why would you be bothered on it working? Isn’t turning us back into vamponies a good thing?”

“But that’s the thing,” Ruby said as she lifted her head. “Do you really want to become vamponies?”

“Of course!” Lilly Wing answered immediately. “That’s why all of us are here. We risked our lives to escape to have a chance at restoring our heritage. Why wouldn’t we want to become vamponies once again?”

“Because… you will have to drink blood…”

Lily Wing became quiet, taking the deeper meaning of that sentence in full. In truth, the idea of possibly killing another caused her chest to tighten, but another resolve overpowered it easily as she puffed out her chest with a deep breath.

“Princess Ruby,” she said, ignoring her known dislike for the full title in casual conversation. “I know you know of how we beat ponies are currently living. And I understand why you are concerned for us on that regard. But everypony knew full well of the things necessary to be vamponies. Each of us knew exactly what we were getting into, and still chose to come because we believed it better than living the alternative.”

Lily Wing looked Ruby dead in the eye, her amber slits holding a fierce determination as she spoke. “We know this isn’t something easy, and ponies will die because of it. But we’re not going to sit by and watch ourselves fade away into history. We’ve already been lost to who we once were already…”

Before Ruby could respond, the shrieking of a filly in joy cut through the cavern. Turning both their heads, they watched as one of the stallions was tickling the belly of the children, pretending to be a monster chasing them about the cavern. Ruby looked to them sorrowfully as she mustered her next sentence.

“But… what about them? Is it right for them to have to been thrown into that kind of life? Even if it’s better than what it was before, can we really put blood onto their hooves?”

Lily Wing was silent for a long time as they watched the group of children play, eventually ganging up and tackling the stallion onto the ground. Although they were using hunter and prey tactics on their larger foe, bringing him down with commendable precision for their age, their smiling and laughing faces made it hard to imagine them performing said action with the goal of not tickling back their opponent, but instead to kill.

Eventually Lily Wing spoke, and it was quiet as she did.

“It’s funny…” she started off slowly. “I overheard one of them asking their parents when they were going to go back home, that they were missing their bed and other friends.” She smirked at the sight of the stallion breaking free and running a short distance, only to be tackled again by the group of children with fits of laughter.

“We brought them with us because we believed it was the best decision for them. We convinced ourselves it was for their future, so they wouldn’t have to live a life locked behind walls lined with spears. We wanted them to see the world… even if the world resented them for who they were.”

Swallowing a tightness that had built in her throat, Lily Wing finished confidently, but even then her uncertainty of it was heard in the tone of her voice. “Their vamponies… and that kind of blood that spills others already runs through their veins. And as awful as it might sound… I prefer the loss of another to that of my sister.”

The two of them watched the children in silent thought as they eventually hopped off the stallion, laughing all the while as he ruffled their manes and commented on their hunting skills. Eventually one of them turned to Lily Wing and Ruby’s direction, giving out a happy shout at finally seeing the princess outside of her alcove. Once the rest of them had caught noticed of one of them rushing towards her, the rest followed in suit, their happy facing quickly surrounding Ruby in a bombardment of questions.

Eventually, Ruby and Lily Wing got them all to calm down from their initial excitement, reassuring them that Ruby would be able to spend some time with them before locking herself into deep study once again. It was then that Ruby got the idea of a way to spend some quality time with them, and still give her a chance to do her new favorite pastime.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Night Walker watched with a critical eye on how the bat ponies were performing combat wise, throwing a word of advice to them now and then between the duels. They were fairly skilled in his opinion, but still lacked much experience they would need in real combat. He needed them trained as quickly as possible, least their current hideout be discovered by the scouring forces of the Royal Sister’s.

His benefactor had revealed that they were searching the land fervently for Twilight Sparkle, but there were only rumors of her disappearance outside of the scouting forces. Much to Night Walker’s surprise, they had not made an official announcement of her kidnapping, possibly to keep everypony from a state of panic he reasoned. But given the state of Equestria, he understood such startling news would be met grievously from the country, even potentially causing mass panic at the idea of a princess going missing.

But the word was spreading nonetheless, causing a slow but steady build of unrest within Equestria. Twilight Sparkle’s absence was not to be taken quietly it seemed, and the news would only grow as time wore on. Eventually, he concluded that the growing situation of fear and worry could be put to use later down the road.

But for now, he only needed to bide his time until he could muster a sizable force of vamponies before reestablishing a hoof hold in Equestria. With the combined strength of Equestria and the Crystal Kingdom, he would have to move carefully and precisely. While a group of vamponies was no laughing matter, they could still be defeated by the more advanced magic of today’s age and the princesses, both of them a force to be contended with.

He had briefly flipped through all the books he had given to Ruby, verifying all of it would be useful to her and skimming the latest collective knowledge of spells. He had made it a point during his first few months of release to ascertain the state of today’s world and its magic, both of them exceeding his expectations with new marvels everyday that surprised him. Even the cities were far above that than the olden times, housing sprawling expanse of stone and concrete that reminded him of a jungle of rock.

Speaking of which, Night Walker thought to himself. I should check on Ruby’s progress.

Excusing himself from the senior bat ponies that helped oversee the training, Night Walker made his way to Ruby’s alcove. During his previous checkups, he was amazed at how quickly she poured through the tomes, doing what should have been a months’ worth of reading in only a week. Her speedy re-absorption of magical spells and theories only pleased him that things were progressing ahead of schedule. It was in hindsight, that the magical book he had left her to help bide time and distract her during her fledgling phase was probably devoured immediately. He had greatly underestimated her abnormal reading skills, but was confident that the next time he introduced the book to her, its quality of content would keep her occupied longer.

As he drew closer to the her room, her voice could be faintly heard speaking aloud, accompanied soft giggles now and then.

“-and Sir Feather Man dashed through the wood, nimbly dodging between the various monsters and plants that swiped at him for their nightly dinner…”

Curiously, Night Walker peeked around the corner of the alcove, and saw a sight that might have melted the heart of any other. Ruby was sitting with her legs tucked beneath her, her horn glowing softly as she held the levitating a book in front of her, while around her, was every filly and colt that resided in the cave, each snuggled up against each other and to her as close as possible.

Some lay flat beside her front hooves, their heads resting against her forelegs as they looked at the floating book, others laid beneath Ruby’s outstretched wings, snuggled beneath a blanket of feathers as they looked to the ceiling in imagination to her spoken words. And one of the smallest of the group was standing on her back, their head resting against her glowing horn as the colt attempted to look down at book from his vantage point. In fact, the only ponies who weren’t pressing themselves to the alicorn was a colt and filly laying in front of her, the filly intently watching her face as she spoke.

“Oh! Hello, Night Walker, I didn’t hear you coming,” Ruby said when she took notice of the him peeking in, causing the head of everypony to turn his way.

Tossing on a smile, he strode purposefully into the alcove. “I see we’re having a lovely reading session here.”

Ruby blushed slightly, hoping he wasn’t upset that she was spending her time reading to the small group instead of studying. “I was just taking a quick break from my research, and thought the children could use something to pick their spirits up. Spending so much time in a cave like this can be a little much for them.”

To her relief, Night Walker chuckled as he replied. “Do not worry, you are only doing your duties as Princess of the Vamponies. You are looking after our kin.” Ruby blushed even more at the compliment. The children watched in silence at the exchange between the two, Lunar Pearl especially who started off with a blank expression that slowly turned into a suppressed grin as she hid her mouth between her hooves, thinking she knew exactly what was going on between the two.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to interrupt the story telling anymore,” Night Walker announced as he turned to leave. “But when you are done, I would like to find me so we can continue with your studying.”

“Do you have another book for me?” Ruby eagerly.

“No, what I am going to teach you on cannot be found in any book,” he said with a sly grin. “With how much you covered already, I think it’s time we re-familiarized yourself on a very important ability.”

“And what’s that?” she asked, growing more curious by the moment.

His lips parted faintly at the prospect that another step was about to be taken on restoring his vampony subjects to their former glory, only having a little ways more to go before his work would see fruition. He replied to Ruby’s question with two words.

“Soul Sight.”

Act II - Chapter 21

View Online

Later in the night, after having spend some quality time with the bat ponies, Ruby made her way to Night Walker’s alcove. To her surprise, she found a bat pony standing by the entrance, who relayed to her that under Night Walker’s orders, no pony was to disturb them.

Though Ruby thought it was a bit extreme, she merely nodded and continued past, even more curious at exactly what Soul Sight was and why Night Walker included the extra measure of not being bothered.

Shortly she made her way through the twisting passage, and knocked lightly on the side of his room even though she suspected he already knew she had arrived.

“I’m here.”

“Please, come in and have a seat,” he called.

Entering, Ruby glanced about his alcove, having only been in it a few times herself. To her initial surprise on her first visit, she found that his room was smaller than hers. However, his was more cluttered with items, even after she received the large volume of books. There were chests and saddlebags that made her curious as to what they contained, as well as various scrolls and parchments stacked in neat piles.

She made her way to a spot on the circular carpet that sat in the middle of the room, large enough to allow at least half a dozen ponies to lay down albeit close to each other, and sat down, tucking her legs beneath her.

“How are the children doing?” Night Walker asked as he rolled a parchment and made his way to join her.

“They seem to be doing well. Besides a little boredom of having explored all the passageways, they're finding things to keep them busy.”

“I’ll see to it that some trails are made in the forest so they can stretch their legs and wings more.”

“That’s… actually a good idea,” Ruby said, surprised that he had made the suggestion. “But aren’t you worried about them being caught?”

“I’ve had Shade Flare position more scouts near the edge of the forest. If any guard approach, we will soon know about it. Besides, it will be good for everypony to be able to get out the cave. Despite some similarities, we aren’t bats, and I think you would agree that it would be best for now not to induct the children into the combat training.”

“Y-yes, your right,” Ruby stammered. “I’m sorry, I guess I am just still a little worried.”

“And you should be,” Night Walker said flatly, drawing Ruby to stare at him directly. “We are refugees and fugitives. Everyday we spend here risks a chance for us to be discovered. But we must make due with what we have, and keep morale high. Despite how well of a face each of them put on, fear and worry still plague their hearts. It is our job to rectify that.”

“Of course,” Ruby agreed quickly, caught by the speed and control Night Walker had over the conversation. He was the only pony that had such an effect with her, and she found it hard to establish something that he had not already somehow accounted for. If anything, no matter how much she worked, she always felt as if he was one step ahead and more prepared on any subject they discussed. He even held a large amount of knowledge regarding magic much to her surprise.

“But I cannot monitor and defend them myself,” Night Walker continued. “For you to help and read the hearts of our ponies, it is time you relearned an ability some are privileged to use. The fear and often misunderstood power, of Soul Sight.”

Night Walker cleared his throat for what Ruby was sure would be a lengthy discussion, and shifted her legs beneath her to make herself as comfortable as possible.

“Soul Sight,” Night Walker began, “as it is aptly named, is the ability to see into another creature’s soul. While many ponies have pondered over the ages exactly what it is, including the Royal Sisters who refuse to acknowledge it as a proper form of magic, its secrets are known only to those who are capable of seeing it. If you can observe it, you can manipulate it. And if you can manipulate it… then nopony is outside your reach,” he added with a sly look. “Their has been very rare instances of ponies being able to use it since birth, but it is more common for those who have faced death to develop the ability. You and I fall into the latter,” he stated with a pointed hoof.

“I… died?”

Night Walker paused for some moments, before closing his eyes. “Forgive me, I sometimes forget what you do and don’t know. Yes, you have died, but it was only for a short time.” Thinking to himself for a moment, he let out a defeated sigh as he finished, “I supposed I should just probably re-introduce you to everything regarding vamponies, seeing as you still don’t remember anything.”

“I would like that,” Ruby said gratefully. “But I’m curious as to why that kind of knowledge isn’t coming naturally to me like everything else. If I’ve been a vampony for so long, shouldn’t I remember things like that like I do with magic?”

“The princesses were trying to remove your vampirism, and no doubt they would probably remove your memories of it as well. As I said, I had to return you back into a vampony,” Night Walker coolly answered.

“So I died twice?”

“Well…”

“I guess it depends on how much of the vampirism was removed,” Ruby continued, bringing her hoof to her chin. “I still don’t understand the mechanics of how it all works, but I guess if I knew how they kept me sealed and what they did to me, I could deduce if I did indeed died twice. I wonder how that would affect me in performing Soul Sight. Would it make it easier for me to manipulate? Or would it simply allow me to see it more easily? How many times can a pony even die?”

“Ruby.”

“Yes?”

“…May I please teach you the basics first?”

“Oh! Of course! I’m sorry, please continue,” she said with a blush.

This mare… Night Walker thought to himself, suppressing an twitch in his eyebrow at how she always remained so analytical regardless of the situation. He had been learning quickly that her thirst for knowledge could potentially outweigh his thirst for blood.

“As I was saying,” he resumed followed by a deep exhale. “A soul holds the essence of a pony. When you see the soul, you will see the complicated and ever shifting structure of who that pony is. While it won’t reveal particular details such as their name or exactly what they are thinking, you can see their emotional responses to events in real time, their general personalities, and overall health and structure of their mind.”

“Should I be writing this down?”

“…”

“Sorry, I’ll do it later…”

Night Walker shook his head in reply. “Don't bother, there's no point in recording any of this at this stage.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I believe experience is a better teacher than a teacher. Or a book,” Night walker said with a smirk. “Let’s start by making you aware of your own soul.”

“Oh! Okay,” Ruby said cheerfully, unable to contain herself as she shifted her legs beneath her.

“First, you need to relax,” he emphasized with a small smile. “You’re much too excited to be able to sense the subtle sensations you will be picking up.”

“Right,” Ruby replied in affirmation, looking much more serious about the matter than a few moments ago.

“Now, close your eyes, and listen to what I say…”

Night Walker guided her into a twenty minute relaxation exercise, easing her anticipation into a much more manageable level that would not distract her focus. During his guiding, he reminisced briefly on the days that were only a month or two ago when he could put her into a trance at the flick of a hat, something he was unable to do so now. Hypnotizing her was simply no longer an option now that she was a vampony, a fault that he sorely thought over much back in the day. While it wasn’t impossible, the effort required simply was not worth it. A command here or there might eventually settle in, but impactful changes he always enjoyed setting were just not possible on something that had died before.

But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t take pleasure at teaching her how to hypnotize others by herself. Night Walker always found some joy at spreading one of his favorite techniques to another pony. It was one of the many reasons why he was referred as the “Alluring Shadow” in poems, showcasing how ponies would become captivated by his presence the most out of the Four Shepards; tempting others to fall before him or to spread his techniques.

“Now that you’re relaxed,” Night Walker said soothingly, “draw your focus inwards, and imagine a sphere nestled within your chest. It doesn’t matter exactly how you imagine it right now as we’re just practicing and getting you used to the concept. But eventually you will be able to see how it really looks and-

“I see it,” Ruby whispered.

Night Walker paused, and tilted his head towards her. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“I said… I see it,” she repeated softly, an edge of wonder on her voice. Night Walker was utterly speechless as a small smile spread across her face and her eyes fluttered lightly beneath her lids. “It’s… beautiful. There’s so much to it that I don’t even know where to begin.”

Ruby saw a soft glowing sphere within herself, becoming aware at the same time of its ethereal yet tangible feeling that made it appear like a balloon made of Jell-O within her chest. Its insides were a series of rounded shapes and strings; connecting to each other with such complexity that she felt that she could easily become lost within its web work if she tried to trace each line. She could literally see how her emotions would connect to certain parts of her, and how much they would react if other aspects of her became active. How what she assumed was her ego, could so very easily flare up when anypony besides those not close to her would doubt her capabilities, or how her mind was held in a very rigid and firm shell that could lock out any connection it held, allowing it to override anything else that may affect its decisions. It was the flowcharts of her entire personality that defined her as who she was.

But what made her catch her breath, was the deep crimson coloring that accented her soul. She did not fully know, but she was certain that what she was looking upon was the vampirism inside her, and she could only admire how beautifully it was placed within her, evenly balanced across nearly every fiber of her soul.

“This is incredible,” Ruby breathed out in awe.

“I… am pleased to see you took to it so quickly…” Night Walker replied.

His hesitation drew Ruby’s focused away from herself, causing her to wonder about his reaction. Is he disappointed? Did I do something wrong? She was sure he would be happy that she was easily able to use Soul Sight again, an ability that seemed to be crucial in being a vampony. Maybe… she thought slowly, an idea forming within her head. Maybe I can see why he’s bothered.

She cautiously opened her eyes, not wanting to make any sudden movements that would cause the second sight to fade away; its use took constant concentration from her, and she did not want to lose so quickly something she had become so captivated on. With her eyelids half open she locked her eyes onto Night Walker, and stared deep into his chest, and what she saw made her gasp.

She was no expert on how a soul should look, or at least couldn’t remember if she was. But even she could not deny that what she saw within the vampony lord made her pause in shock and worry, for it was nothing close to hers.

Night Walker’s soul was an organized chaos of colors, fibers, and shapes. Each piece of emotion appeared grotesquely shaped, yet was separated into different sections, almost as if each emotion could be activated to varying degrees. The bridging fibers that were the connections for each piece of the soul appeared to be multiple pieces merged into one, branching off where Ruby somehow felt they should not naturally be able to. And even stranger were some fibers that appeared to be floating off, completely separated from any adjoining pieces, but still vibrating slightly in efforts to reposition themselves back into whatever place they could fit.

To her, it seemed as if his soul was a massive collection of connections and overly formed pieces that strained to move and snap in random and haphazard ways; none of them seeming to be natural positions in the slightest. And while her soul held beautifully blended variations of her soul and the vampirism, Night Walker’s soul was drenched with varying mixtures of the red. It permeated into just about every ounce of his being, causing her to wonder exactly what kind of effects that would bring onto a pony. The sight of it almost made her not want to know as a feeling of dread crept into her. But what was more shocking than the amount of it and how it was placed about him, was the addition of the color black set strongly into the darkest and deepest recesses of his soul. Of all the things that he was composed of, those jet black pits entranced her with a growing sense of wrongness at their presence.

During the few seconds she had managed to glimpse into his soul, wondering how in Equestria he was even able to function, a loud and disapproving cough snapped her out of her second sight.

“It’s considered rude to view another pony’s soul without their permission, especially another vampony” Night Walker said darkly.

With her sight of their souls vanishing in an instant, Ruby shook her head at a lingering sensation from her eyes and flattened her ears apologetically. “I-I’m sorry…”

Night Walker held a slight scowl to his face, eyeing the mare with a glare she had not seen on him before, but eventually sighed and turned away from her. “The lesson is over.”

“Walker, I really am sorry,” Ruby pressed. “I had just gotten so caught up in it all that I couldn’t help myself but take a peek.” She waited for a few moments for a reply, and continued desperately when he still said nothing. “Please forgive me…”

When it was clear that he did not intend to respond Ruby guiltily hung her head and proceeded to stand up. “I-I’ll go…”

As she turned around to leave the room her ears twitched at the sound of a sigh escaping the his lips. “No… it is I who should be sorry.” Turning his head towards her, he suddenly looked very tired, an expression she had never seen on him she realized. “You did not know, and I should remember how curious you were. You’re intentions were innocent… and I shouldn’t blame you for wanting to know who I am.”

Ruby swallowed in hesitation. She was happy that he forgave her and was not shutting her out, but she wanted to inquire further on what was obviously a very personal matter for him. “…M… May I ask why your soul looks like that?”

Night Walker’s eyes drifted away as he stared off into a piece of the room, taking his time to answer. “...Having to do what I have done… does not come without consequences.”

Ruby instinctually opened her mouth to ask more, but decided otherwise when she looked upon him. He always held a certain mood to him, a passive calm that dictated how he saw things with only rare spurts differing behavior now and then. She believed it to be how he always saw things so logically and level-headed, a trait she very much admired in him. And though physically he looked like a stallion who had only been an adult for a few years, at that moment, he looked as old as his true age.

She wasn’t sure if it was because of the way he held himself, or the way his eyes stared out in some unseen world he saw within his mind, but Night Walker looked old, worn, and very tired. She was smartly reminded then of how many centuries he has lived, and what things he might have seen during those times.

She wondered if her memories ever came back to her, if she would look like him as well.

“Let’s call it a night, the sun will be up soon,” he simply said.

“Okay… good morning…” Ruby said gently as she turned to leave again.

“Oh, I nearly forgot,” Night Walker said in a slightly more cheerful tone. He pointed a hoof onto a chest in the roof, directing her to a book lying atop its wooden lid. “That’s for you.”

“What it is?” she asked while moving over to pick it up.

“Just something I figured you would enjoy reading through. I promise I haven’t looked at it myself. After all, a diary is such a personal thing.”

“My diary?” Ruby exclaimed in surprise.

Night Walker finally gave a grin that seem to fit his face so well. “Yes. It had taken a bit to find, but I knew you would want to see it again. Even if you can’t remember writing in it, I’m sure it will help clue you in on your past.”

Ruby flipped open the cover and flipped through a couple pages, eyeing with wonder at the written words that filled the book, still coming to terms with the fact that she would ever find something so personally from her time of ruling so long ago.

“Night Walker… I don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t say anything, just read it, and get a good day’s rest.”

Ruby gave an appreciative smile. She had no idea that she was the type to keep a diary, but was glad that she was. She could only imagine what was written inside, and had to hold herself in check from running out of the room at that very moment to retreat into her alcove and dive right into it. She had been so caught up with everything else that had been happening that there had been little time left for her to explore herself, who she was before this mess and what she had done. But now that she had such a personal item written by herself of all ponies, maybe now she would finally have a chance to remember who she was.

Ruby clutched the book against her chest at the excitement and hope that fluttered in her chest. “Thank you, Walker, really… thank you.”

Night Walker only gave a content humph and laid down all the way. He still looked tired to the her, but he seemed better now. She made a second mental note to not bring up such a sensitive topic regarding himself again until she knew more. She didn’t like seeing the usually calm but jubilant stallion so down or passive.

Turning away from him to head out and back to her own room, Ruby gave him one last glance, taking every detail she could about him before she left. When he raised an eyebrow at her curious behavior, she simply flashed him a smile and proceeded out. “Sweet day, Walker. See you later tonight.”

Night Walker waited until she had gone some distance down the rocky passageway, before resting his head back onto the ground again, staring intently at the wall in front of him as he brooded over the situation.

Recapping everything that had just happened with her to bring some order in his thoughts, he picked apart each instance in reverse in attempts to focus on each troubling aspect to understand them better.

Firstly, she has the book, and it is filled with personal encounters, thoughts, and feelings written as closely to her personality as possible. It is the only evidence to show that she was truly alive back in the day. The dam thing did take some time to write, but hopefully it will take her longer to read and think about than its previous contents of the Corpus Nocte Morsu.

He still had trouble believing how quick she could read, always peeking into her alcove and staring in disbelief at how many she had read in that day alone.

Second, she peered into my soul…

Even recalling the moment caused Night Walker to grimace. He had not expected her to see her own soul tonight, let alone his. But when she had opened her eyelids, and that familiar glow of white shined out from her eyes, he realized that she saw him for who he was, even if it was a single glance.

And out of all the things the vampony lord would tolerate with a smile, or simply push aside as if did not matter or was worth his thoughts, having somepony else see into him was one of the few things that had always greatly unnerved him to no end. He could never find the exact words to express why he was so bothered by the fact, thinking it was perhaps due to him not having the advantage in a situation, or the fact somepony else would be able to see what he had done to himself over the years. But either way he hated it, and would not tolerate it if possible. Even if it was from the mare that was the key to the bat ponies restoration.

I can only imagine what she thought about it, he mused in his hot flash. The amount of red permeating my soul has only been matched by few vamponies. And none of them were strong enough to overthrow me.

But thinking of all the times he had inspected other souls of ponies, the final and perhaps most pressing issue rambling in his brain came into focus. While she had been looking at him, he had been looking at her.

When she first said that she could see her own soul, Night Walker immediately switched to his sight, wondering how such a thing could have been possible. No vampony has developed their powers so quickly, and he figured that it would at least taken a month for her to develop the ability; an amount of time that would be unimaginable for anypony to achieve but reasonable estimate for such a talented pony. But on a first try? That was simply unheard of.

But when he did gaze into her being, he was left in awe at the sight before him. Never before had he seen vampirism placed about a pony in such a way, never before had he seen it so delicately balanced and reinforced, and never before had he seen one’s soul become so beautiful after being accented by its touch. It was almost as if her soul had been created with the fact that one day she would become a vampony.

But he knew such an ideal was foalish to consider.

He was there when she did become a vampony, and her soul most certainly did not look like that. While he was good at his work, he wasn’t that good. Although he had not peered into her since her transformation, partly because he was confident the changes would progress in the way they always would, and partly because he did not wish to expend the energy in checking on something that should be normal. But it was very apparent now that he should have invested more time into check ups. At least then he would have become aware of her quickly her vampirism was developing and could have been more prepared for it. Which now begged the question that had been rattling around in his brain since he first saw her soul.

What in the Night happened to have her turn out this way?

He spent a long time running over the possible answers in his mind, staying up late into the morning in brooding thought, considering each possible answer from her being an alicorn, to her cutie mark and affinity of magic. But none of those seemed likely answers based on his experience with them.

He growled softly in frustration at what could have been responsible for such a change in her, a change he had never seen in any vampony in his entire existence. There had been nothing else that was so different that could have warranted these results.

All except one…

With widening eyes in realization, followed by narrowing them to slits at what was the only possible answer, he gritted his teeth and whispered darkly.

“The Elements of Harmony.”

Though he had never seen such a soul of a vampony, and could only dream at the potential Ruby Sparkle would have, he did not like being in the know or working with variables he was unaware of. He had underestimated the Elements of Harmony, something he berated himself for. They had exceeded his expectations that night when he observed the girls trying to reverse the vampirism in her, but this was far beyond anything he had considered.

“Elements of Harmony… how so appropriately named. I never figured they could literally bring harmony to something like that of the soul.”

With a deep breath that made his nostrils flare, he mulled over the nights experience over and over to make sure some other detail would not be missed or unaccounted for.

And to prevent himself at being risk of such a situation again, he stared resentful at his cave wall when a chilling notion crossed his mind.

What else could the Elements have done?

Act II - Chapter 22

View Online

-and while I feel that the others may feel difficulties in carrying out my decision, I none the less believe it is the right choice. Night Walker has expressed minor concerns, but overall stands by my choice, just as I have done for him.

I hope the repercussions of this act will not estrange us further than we already are, but it will ultimately secure our positions and livelihood in this region. And we cannot lose any more ground…

Ruby stuck a purple feather into the book, feeling it an appropriate bookmark for such a personal item, and closed it with a thoughtful look. She had just read an entry where she had come to a decision on wiping out a village of troublesome ponies that were the main resistance in the area. They had been gathering other local towns in efforts to combat the vamponies encroaching onto their lands, and were building a sizable force.

From what she gleamed from her journal entries, the amount of land and villages purely under control of vamponies were few and far between, completely dwarfed by the neighboring countries and kingdoms. Vamponies seemed to have favored mercenary work in the stead of conquering armies, taking out high targets or even at time armies with a small but elite force. And while they would have loved to increase their numbers, it was a fine balance to have well feed troops when your livestock was ponies. Thus it came down to slowly over the years expanding territory when a new influx of vamponies had been initiated, or more workers were needed for more trade goods.

The ponies under the vamponies rule were separated, but treated fairly by Ruby’s account of her mentioning them. It seemed that they were given plenty of supplies to fund their own operations and increase their productivity. Ponies under their watchful eye rarely were ever attacked for fear of their master’s wrath, and income was almost always inbound due to the quality of their goods or spoils of war. Ruby had even read a line of her being amused at a saying that had reached her ears from the surrounding towns.

Life is good when vamponies war, for they drink the blood of our enemies rather than our kin. May they never be given a moment of peace for the sake of our health, and our trades.

And while Ruby did not find the same feeling amusement from the line, she was in awe at the type of pony she had been all those years ago. She was strong, cunning, fair, and often thought of others so that their lives may be good. But she was equally deadly as she was kind, and there had been a few recounts of times where foalish ponies had aroused her ire in such a way that she had left none alive. She was to be feared as much as she was to be loved, and she cared about her ponies so much that she had been willing to go great lengths for them.

That part of her she still felt was alive and strong. The urge to protect those around her that depended on her guiding wings, to ensure they lived comfortable lives while growing all the while to reach higher in life. So it was with renewed pain that she felt her chest torn in two, created by the fact that she had been kept away from her ponies for over more than a thousand years. And to top it off, the Royal Sisters were the ones responsible for casting her ponies into such a state of degradation and suffering. They even had the gall to remove Ruby’s memories of them so that she could never help them again.

Just the thought of it brought forth a rancor in Ruby, causing her fangs to grind against each other and her hair to stand on its edges.

To her delight and anger, she had found an entry or two that mentioned the Royal Sisters. It seemed they were during those times, simply other players in the struggle for control of the land. Though they were alicorns like Ruby, they did not have the foothold they held today. They were one of the more promising candidates to gain control over Equestria, but were rather passive in their actions, preferring diplomacy over violence against the other kingdoms.

Ruby had wanted to tear out the pages that mentioned them after reading, but decided against it in favor of nursing a cool anger that had been building since she learned about them. She still didn’t know how she and Night Walker had been imprisoned, or why they did what they did to her, but at this point she simply did not care. Her curiosity was to the reasons of their actions was a tiny flame dwarfed by a bonfire of anger and vengeance.

She mentally made a note to ask Night Walker later the details of their capture and anything else of the Royal Sisters that he knew of. She would need as much information as she could muster if she were to stand up against them and restore her ponies to their former status, something that would be inevitable now that they held all of Equestria under their hooves.

Which led her to another question, one that doused her burning flames quickly. This new world is so different than the one we used to live in. Just where exactly do we fit in? Sighing to relieve the trailing bits of frustration leaving her chest, she looked thoughtfully to the ceiling for some answer. What are we supposed to do now?

Having no answer come to her mind, she decided now would be a good time for a break reading, and perhaps take a walk outside. Night Walker had said that tonight’s moon was very lovely and that she should take some time beneath its glowing light. While she would have preferred flying beneath its light, ducking above and below the clouds like she wished to do ever since they had arrived to the cave, she knew it would be too risky to expose herself like that. Even if they were being searched for by normal pegasi who lacked her night vision, she couldn’t take a chance at them being discovered and putting them in danger.

A walk will just have to do, it’s been awhile since my last one, she mused, trying to muster hopeful thoughts at the disappointment of not being able to fly. She had been outside a few times since her encounter with the fox, having found a particular path she enjoyed that made a loop with the forest back to the cave. Her spirits brighten as she thought more about it, itching to stretch her legs after spending the last few days in more study and practice.

She had made much more progress in her magical studies, and she had thankful found out there was no shortage of bat ponies to be willing practice subjects for her Soul Sight practice. Ever since Night Walker snapped at her for peering into his soul, she had made it a point to always ask before looking into another. And now that she had done so, she believed she was getting a grasp on exactly what was wrong with them.

It took some time to figure out the general portions of the soul and what they represented, even with only her soul to reference from, feeling that it better not to pry into Night Walker again, but she slowly began to find the anomalies plaguing the bat ponies.

Similar sections inside herself where the vampirism held strong bonds, appeared nearly torn and fragmented within the bat ponies. It was almost as if it had been ripped from them barbarically, and was healing as best as it could. To her surprise, the only thing keeping those sections together was a faint trace of magic.

Night Walker had explained that the Royal Sisters had used alicorn magic to transform them over the years, and with some experimentation, Ruby found she was capable of casting the same type as well. But it’s power proved difficult to handle, and it fell out of her grasp easily. What was strange to her however, was the method of how it worked. It was unlike any other magic she knew, or even vampirism from what little Night Walker had explained to her. Alicorn magic used something Night Walker had called Soul Resonance, the effect of bouncing energy back and forth within your own soul to build a powerful wave. It had only taken a few tries for it to quickly fall out of control and break apart, while also leaving residual effects that were not physical pain, but close to it as if her very soul had cracked under the pressure; if such a thing was possible. Though she did not know if it was.

Even worse, was that the magic was a sickly black and green, and had left purple trails emanating from her eyes. Since then, she had kept away from it, and chose to only study it within the bat ponies, preparing herself for the eventual time she would need to remove it from them.

And so it was with all her thoughts of study, Soul Sighting, hypotheses on how to fix the bat ponies, reading her diary, and the vengeful desires within her that she felt now was a good time to go for a walk, and clear her head with some fresh air.

Ruby exited her alcove and passageway with a relaxed pace, taking her time to reach outside as she let herself de-stress and simply enjoy the moment. She entered the cavern and glanced about with a smile, giving hellos to anypony that had come near her as she made her way up the slope. A quick inspection of everything showed that most of them were either busy with combat practice, or in deep conversation amongst themselves. The pile of fruit looked to have been restocked recently, and everypony seemed fairly relaxed within what some were beginning to call a sanctuary.

Ruby felt a longing desire to spend more time with them, enjoying their company at every moment and helping in any way she could. Some of them had been taken aback at the request she had once made on helping them weave baskets, and had given her reassuring pleas that it was alright to not trouble herself on such a mundane task. But she had insisted and plopped herself down onto the cavern floor anyways, and had attempted trying to make one herself. She quickly learned that she was terrible at it.

The bat ponies had suppressed their amusement at seeing a fabled vampony princess grow frustrated at jumbled pile of supplies which quickly became broken pile, but were unable to contain themselves when she had looked up sorrowfully to them with twigs and leaves that somehow had manage to lodge themselves into her mane. They had immediately shut their mouths at the sound of their laughter, but a low giggle from Ruby that eventually became fits of laughter put their worries aside as they joined her laughter.

She felt they were still uneasy on exactly how they were supposed to act around her, but they seemed to be understanding that she was a princess they could be themselves around, and enjoy even the little moments instead of a distant and ruling figure. Ruby wondered on how she had become such a ruler, mingling amongst her subjects in a way that was not often reflected in her diary. Perhaps she was just always like this, or maybe she had learned by example from another pony. Either way, she thoroughly enjoyed her time with them.

She had even learned exactly how they lived in the town that was called Dusk Hoof, what their daily routines were like, and how they were treated by the guards. Some of them had been nice, but others ranged from distant or troubling caretakers that simply wanted nothing to do with them. She even learned of a tale of one guard that had fallen in love with a mare batpony and risked his life and position to be with her some few hundred years ago. Unfortunately, it was a story that did not end well.

As she approached the top ledge before the exiting passageway topside, a tiny voice called out to her.

“Ruby wait!”

Turning around, Ruby smirked at the sight of Lunar Pearl rushing up to join her, her wings flapping lightly to help her gain ground.

“And exactly what do you think you are doing Lunar Pearl?” Ruby asked teasingly.

“I wanted to go with you on a walk!”

“Lunar, you know young ones aren’t allowed outside,” Ruby stated.

“Yeah, but that’s only without adult supervision! If I’m with you, then it’s alright. And what pony is better for watching than the princess?”

Ruby lifted her chin as she stood in a royal pose, looking to think heavily on the matter. When Lunar Pearl’s initial smile dipped into a unsure frown that her foalproof reasoning was going to be rejected, Ruby chuckled softly and wrapped a wing around her. “Of course you can come with me. If you had let me finish what I was saying, I would have said the same exact thing. You got to stop rushing everything.”

The words of advice were lost on Lunar Pearl as her grin returned with force and she cried out with a happy ‘yay’.

The two of them made their way topside together, Lunar Pearl slightly in the lead and Ruby just shortly behind keeping a watchful eye on her, both of them smiling along the way. It wasn’t long before they stood at the mouth of the cave, looking out into the forest as the moon peeked behind various clouds that drifted lazily across the sky.

Ruby looked upwards in yearning, wishing to feel the wind beneath her wings and soar the open sky she had first been introduced to since she had woken up. She would at times have dreams of flying the sky once more, and she could not await the night she would be able to soar freely once again. But for now her duties and responsibilities of being a princess were more important, and she already promised to herself that she would put them above her own whimsical desires.

The two made the short trek down the loose stones that separated the cave entrance and the clearing, but Ruby paused in her descent as she noticed off to the side of the clearing were two young bat ponies sitting in the grass. Narrowing her eyes as in attempts to make out who they were, a the voice of a mare from above answered for her.

“Young Night Grass and Cobalt Cloud, your highness.”

Craning her neck up, she saw batpony perched above the cave mouth, only a part of her body revealed from a crevice she appeared to be hiding herself, a quick reminder that a guard was stationed near the cave at all times; though some of them Ruby had never seen them.

“What are they doing out here?” Ruby asked.

“I’m not entirely sure, but I’ve been keeping an eye on them so they don’t enter the forest.”

“Night Grass likes to come outside and sit in the tall grass,” Lunar Pearl said. “She doesn’t hear much, but the few times she does hear is when there is nopony else around to make noise. I think that’s how she got her name is because she likes to sit in the fields and listen to the wind blow and move the grass.”

“She can’t hear other things, but she can pick up those kind of noises?” Ruby asked.

“I don’t know… maybe she just likes to feel them brushed against her?” Lunar Pearl replied.

Ruby decided to leave it alone and turned her gaze back onto the two ponies in the distance, noticing that Cobalt Cloud become aware of them and was staring back.

“And what about Cobalt?” Ruby asked.

“He just likes to keep her company, and sometimes tell her if anypony is coming close I think,” Lunar Pearl stated.

“Hmmm,” Ruby simply responded. “Do you think they would like to join us on our walk?” she offered.

“No, Night Grass likes to do her thing and not be bothered,” Lunar Pearl said grumpily, recalling a few times the filly had attacked her, all because she didn’t find the idea of sneaking up and catching her by surprise fun. Since then, she had learned to be a bit more mindful of Night Grass, but had somehow managed to become somewhat friends with her; at least more than other fillies and colts were. But she still didn’t come close to how she always tolerated Cobalt Cloud’s company.

“Well, if they are still out here when we come back, how about we pick them up and I read a story to you three?”

“That sounds perfect!” Lunar Pearl exclaimed before rushing down the rest of the way and onto the grass.

Ruby smiled at her energetic behavior, then turned up to the guard. “Has Night Walker returned from his trip yet?”

She shook her head. “Not yet your highness. Shade Flare had instructed me that he won’t be planning to return for at least another day. But rest assured, I will keep a diligent eye out for him in case he decides to come back early.”

Ruby gave a simple nod in affirmation, then made her way down to join Lunar Pearl.

Cobalt Cloud kept his gaze locked onto them as they entered the forest on the other end of clearing where he and Night Grass laid. Ruby was confident that while he had heard their voices, he had not heard what they said. Her heart melted somewhat at the sight of him and his watchful but protecting eyes while Night Grass laid motionless in the tall grass, her head up in the air and her eyes closed as if she was focusing intently.

Ruby watched them as long as she could before the trees eventually blocked her vision, then she turned her attention to the makeshift trail she had carved out for herself during her time here. It wasn’t recommended to explore far on your own, but everypony needed some exercise and fresh air. To her surprise, her simple trail had become a popular path for the bat ponies to stretch their legs. The young ones would be lost in awe at being in a new place they had never seen before, and the adults felt safe as it was the same route she would used, and was still within the patrolling routes the guards on the forest’s edge watched. With all the walking on it, the trail had quickly becoming flattened with each set of hooves, making it easier distinguish from the rest of the forest and all its turns and twists.

Ruby discussed whatever topic that came into Lunar Pearl’s mind, deciding to let her take control of the conversation. They talked about her life back in Dusk Hoof, and whatever new thing caught her eye in the forest. Many of the plants and animals they saw while they walked were ones Lunar Pearl had never seen before, and quickly became captivated by the way they looked or moved.

Though Lunar Pearl was very interested in the forest, she had heard from the other children that there was a bear seen in the forest, and if you got lost on the trail, it would come and gobble you up. But whenever she heard a rustling that might be the noise of a hungry bear, she only needed to look up to Ruby, and felt her fear dissipate, confident that she and her could handle anything that would dare cross their path.

But it was when a strange smell that wrinkled her nose caused her to halt, and quickly end what she had been talking about. Ruby opened her mouth to ask what was the matter, before she too caught wind of the smell. It made Ruby’s pop open and a tingle run down her spine.

“Ruby?” Lunar Pearl asked quietly. “What’s that smell?”

Ruby did not respond, for she was too captivated by the tempting scent that nearly all of her thoughts were completely focused on it. The smell, of blood.

It was only when Ruby felt a tug at her leg did she snap too and look down. ”Ruby? Are you okay?”

“Oh… oh yes. Sorry about that, I just… got a little distracted by that… smell,” Ruby said slowly.

“Is… is that what blood smells like?” Lunar Pearl asked.

“Uhmm…”

“It is blood, isn’t it?” Lunar Pearl pressed.

“I…” Ruby replied hesitantly, before another sound reached their ears. The sound of a pony moaning in pain.

The two of them turned their heads to the source of the noise, sounding like it came from only a short distance away and slightly off the trail. It was the voice of a mare from what Ruby could tell, and she was most definitely hurt by the way she sounded. She was even able to make out a few words between the groans of ‘help’ and ‘please’.

Ruby was completely frozen on what to do. She was sure it wasn’t a batpony from the cave, which meant that it had to be a normal pony from outside. A pony that somehow had stumbled through hole in the patrol route, and was uncomfortably close to their hiding spot only a twenty minutes’ walk back the way they had come from.

Is it a guard? Or is it just a normal pony? What do I do? Should I go get help? Or… do I leave them there. But they’re in pain! UGH! What should I do?

Ruby found herself locked in internal conflict as how she should respond, trying to call back on her diary entries on how she might have handled the situation back in the day.

Do I help her? Do I just leave her there and hope that she doesn’t the cave? Or do I…

She felt her tongue threaten to slide out her mouth as the smell of blood wafted across her nose again. Or do I drink?

Still unable to come to a decision, her focus was brought back as Lunar Pearl started making her way towards the noise. “Lunar Pearl!” Ruby hissed. “Don’t go any closer!”

“But she’s hurt,” she said in a worried tone. “We got to help her!”

“We don’t have to do anything,” Ruby said, trying to not breathe in any more of the smell. As tempting as it was to perhaps put herself in a situation for the opportunity for a drink, she was not about to risk Lunar Pearl in case something went awry, let alone let her witness Ruby feeding if she chose to. “We’re going back to the cave.”

“But, Ruby!” Lunar Pearl shouted, eliciting a shush from her. Lowering her voice, she said again, “But, Ruby… she’s hurt. And she might be a nice pony.”

Ruby’s eyes shifted back and forth between her and the direction of the noise and smell, finding it harder with each moment to convince herself to just turn away there and then.

Eventually she reasoned a single glance at exactly what they were dealing with wouldn’t hurt. With a sigh she said, “Fine, but we’re just going to check on her. That’s all.” Lunar Pearl nodded quickly as she turned back to make a trail through the undergrowth. “But we’re to be quiet and not reveal ourselves. And you’re staying behind me!” Ruby hissed.

Slowly they made their way between the trees, careful not step on anything that would make a noise as their eyes glistened in the night, picking up every detail of the forest easy as the moved forward. They followed the sound and smells, until they froze after passing the corner of the tree, Ruby immediately putting a hoof in front of Lunar Pearl to prevent her from continuing forward any further.

Ahead, beneath the shadows of the trees, was a mare lying on the ground, her hoof held to her side. “Ugh… I’m in trouble if somepony doesn’t help me soon…” the mare said softly. With a groan as she shifted about again, she sucked in a breath to shout louder, “Is anypony there? Hello?”

They watched the green colored mare shakily lift her head and glance about the forest, her eyes desperately searching the woods for some sign of rescue. She had a saddle bag lying beside her, its contents spilled out. The mare looked to be just a simple traveler or perhaps a camper by the look of the items and the sprawled out sleeping bag they had failed to notice the first time. It seemed that she had an unfortunate experience that had left her on the ground in pain, and near a the cave full of on the run bat ponies.

Ruby sucked in another breath as the mare removed her hoof to inspect her wound on her side, revealing the blood that had matted her coat. It didn’t look like a fatal wound, rather more painful than life threatening, but it was still enough to make Ruby’s tongue salivate, and to stir a small burn in her throat.

The last time she had drank blood was from the bowl that night when she fought Night Walker, and had been careful to not use any of her powers since so as to prolong the inevitable thirst that would come again. But she figured she had at least another week or two before the cravings would kick in. At least, she would have if she had not practiced her Soul Sight as much.

Ruby mentally berated herself at forgetting that Night Walker had warned her at one point that even Soul Sight would drain her reserves, and now it had led her to a difficult position. She assumed by now that the pony was just a hiker exploring the countryside, and that she had three options on what to do with her.

A, leave her here and hope she doesn’t stumble to the cave, as well as warn the nearby guards to not interfere with her. B, help her and send her on her way. Or C… drink…

Ruby figured that while it risked revealing herself, that option B would be the best bet. Even if the mare did not die, Ruby had no idea if she was expected to come back to her home wherever it might be. If she went missing, there would be no doubt a search party sent to find her, and there was simply no way to know if she had told anypony where she had gone to.

And the same scenario would play out if Ruby killed her, another option that despite the growing burn in her throat she was heavily against with Lunar Pearl nearby. Either way, those two options would possibly give a time limit on when a search party would enter these woods, and eventually find the cave. Ruby still didn’t even know if there were any towns nearby, but she could not discount the possibility.

After reasoning, she decided though the riskiest, she would help the mare out of the woods, and hope she didn’t come back. A nagging feeling in her chest that seem to emotionally agree with the decision also supported the choice, leaving Ruby little doubt in her mind that it was the way to go.

“Lunar Pearl,” Ruby whispered, drawing her wide and astonished eyes from the mare. “I want you to head back to the cave while I deal with this.”

“But why?” she asked back in a low tone. “If it’s because you’re going to drink I don’t mind. I promise!”

Ruby looked aghast as she turned to her. “Lunar! Why in Equestria would you want to watch that?”

Lunar Pearl rubbed her foreleg with a hoof as her eyes shifted away. “I know it’s not something the grownups like to talk about around me, or any of the other fillies and colts. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know it’s going to happen. It’s no secret that we eventually will have to drink it…”

“But that doesn’t mean you should be watching it at your age!” Ruby exclaimed as softly as she could. Bringing a hoof to her forehead she sighed in frustration. “Lunar… even if I was going to drink from her, which I’m not by the way, it’s not something I want you to see, let alone have you experience someday.”

“But why?”

“Because you have to hurt other ponies to do it!” Ruby hissed. “I don’t want you to have blood on your hooves if I can help it!”

Lunar Pearl’s tuft ears flattened as she crouched down, her eyes looking away from Ruby who was currently giving her a stern glare. But the hard facade faded away she Ruby heard the quiet sound of sniffling.

“H-Hey… what’s wrong?”

Lunar Pearl buried her muzzle into the ground as a tear dripped down her face, mumbling something that Ruby couldn’t hear. Ruby immediately took on a much more concerning outlook as she knelt down by her and wrapped a wing around her. “Shh, shh, don’t cry. It’s okay…” she cooed while she rubbed her back with a hoof. “What’s the matter?”

Lunar Pearl mumbled again with her face in the ground, still muffled enough by the earth and grass for Ruby not to hear. “I’m sorry, Lunar, but can you please say that again? This time, without your face in the dirt maybe?”

Still sniffling as she lifted her head, Lunar Pearl took in a ragged breath before she squeaked every so quietly,”… I don’t want to die…”

The words had barely left her mouth before Ruby scooped her up, and wrapped her with her arms and wings, covering her as much as she possible could. “Shhh,” Ruby cooed again with a voice that threatened to crack. “You’re not going to die. Who told you that nonsense?”

With her sniffles and hard breaths becoming more relaxed as she felt the warmth of Ruby all around her, Lunar Pearl quietly whispered, “N-Nopony told me… I … overheard it from one of the guards and unicorns that look at us. T-They… they said that we might all die someday… and…” Lunar Pearl dug her face deep into Ruby’s chest as she gripped her with her tiny hooves, nearly shouting into her coat, “I don’t want Lil’s or me to die!”

Ruby held her even tighter as her own tears started to leaked from her eyes, pulling her wings around the filly as close as she could. Oh Lunar… I can’t imagine how hard this has all been for you… I can’t imagine how confusing everything seems right now… Ruby tilted her head down so she could rest it against the filly’s cheek, pressing into her softly but firmly in a protective embrace. By the night… what am I supposed to do!? I just want you and every batpony happy…

But the moment ended as quickly as it begun, when the voice of the strange mare reached their ears. “H-Hello? Is somepony there? I heard something… hello?”

Ruby scooted herself and Lunar Pearl closer behind the tree, making sure they were still out of sight. She warily peeked around the corner, eyeing the mare that was currently looking in their direction. It still wasn’t too late to just leave now and never let her see them, but that still didn’t solve the issue of somepony coming to find her if she wasn’t able to make it back to wherever she was from.

“R-Ruby?” Lunar Pearl managed to say after a catching her breath.

“Yes, Lunar?” Ruby replied while still watching the mare from the shadows.

“I think… I think that we should help her…”

Turning her gaze back to the filly, Ruby looked questioningly at Lunar Pearl who took another deep breath before continuing. “Sh… She looks like a nice pony… and she’s hurt. So… shouldn’t we help her?”

Ruby’s eyes fell as she replied, “It isn’t that easy of an answer Lunar, we don’t know how she will react.”

Lunar Pearl was beginning to look much better after her outburst and seemed to be returning to her usual self as she wiped away the last remnants of a tear. Speaking more confidently, she said softly to Ruby. “But weren’t we looking for somepony to do the same for us? I mean… we’re hurt and nice, so shouldn’t somepony help us like we should help her?”

Ruby opened her mouth to argue, but stopped herself in defeat. This wasn’t a world that was so simple or innocent as the eyes of a young filly might perceive it to be, but she couldn’t argue any further against her pleading or the accompanying feeling in her chest that seem to resonate with her words. Looking back to the mare one last time, Ruby narrowed her eyes in deep thought, and eventually sighed.

“Alright… we’ll help her.”

Lunar Pearl’s eyes lit up and opened her mouth to mutter something, but was quickly shushed as Ruby continued, “But you are still going back to the cave, got it?”

She was about to argue against it, but the glare she received from Ruby was clear enough she wouldn’t have it any other far. So far she hadn’t seen her command another pony to do something, but if this is how she did it, then Lunar Pearl understood fully as to why anypony would jump right away on the task.

“…Okay…” Lunar Pearl said quietly.

“Good,” Ruby replied with a nod of her head. “Now run along while I deal with our guest.”

Ruby waited until she couldn’t see Lunar Pearl down the trail, and waited a minute or two to check if she could hear anything, but the little batpony was simply too quiet to begin with to even hint if she had indeed continued onward. Trusting that Lunar Pearl would follow her directions, Ruby turned to the matter at hoof; a still talkative mare that had managed to get herself into a sitting position.

Taking a deep breath in mental preparation for whatever may come from this risky move, Ruby tried her best to ignore the smell of blood as she called out loud enough for the mare to hear. “Hello? Are you hurt?”

The mare’s head quickly turned to the sound of Ruby’s voice, her eyes wide and shifting as she scanned the darkness. “Y-yes! I feel from a tree I had been climbing and hurt myself! Can you please help me?”

“You fell from a tree?” Ruby asked in disbelief as she stepped into view.

The mare’s eyes locked onto Ruby right away after revealing herself and wearily laughed, happy to see a pony was indeed nearby for her rescue. “Heh heh, yeah… It was kinda stupid of me when I think about it. I was trying to find a good spot to see the stars from a high branch, but slipped and fell. I nicked my side on a sharp bit on the way down.”

“Uhm… wow. Yeah, I agree, that’s probably something you shouldn’t be doing,” Ruby said with a forced laugh, trying to feel out the situation and deciding to roll with the mare’s humor. “Do you need help getting out of here?”

The mare nodded thankfully. “That would be wonderful, but there’s no town for miles. Honestly right now I just need help bandaging myself and getting a fire going. Maybe I could join your campsite?”

Ruby hoped the mare wasn’t able to see her panicked eyes in the darkness as she approached closer. “Well… to be honest, I don’t really have a campsite.”

Ruby was able to clearly see the green mare rise in eyebrow in confusion. “Then, what are you doing out here?”

“Uhm… going… for a walk?”

There was an awkward pause in the conversation before the mare responded, “Wow…. You must really like long walks then.”

“Yeah, I do... A-anyways, you said you need help bandaging?”

“Oh, yeah. I have some wraps in my saddlebag right over there. I would do it myself but I don’t think I could get it tight enough without being a big baby about it and stopping. The pain’s finally starting to dull enough that I can sit up.”

“Okay, just a moment,” Ruby replied in what she hoped wasn’t a nervous tone. Walking around the mare Ruby moved to the saddlebag, and began rummaging through its contents with her hoof.

There was some silence before the mare suddenly gasped and said excitingly, “Oh my gosh! Are you an alicorn!? I didn’t even see your horn with how dark it is!”

“Uh… yes… yes I am,” Ruby nervously responded, having just found the wraps and beginning to walk over to the mare.

“That is so cool! I never thought I’d meet an alicorn,” she commented happily.

“Well, I’m glad to be the first for you, I guess,” Ruby said with another forced laughed. At least everything seems to be going good so far. But it sounds like I was a real BONEHEAD to not realize alicorns may not be common, she thought to herself as she wore a fake grin. Breathing as shallow as she could as to not smell the blood more than she already did, she cheerfully spoke as she approached the mare, “Alright, lets wrap you up and get you on your way!”

Ruby flared her horn to life as she magically grasped the bandages and floated them around the mare’s torso, unraveling them as she prepared to loop them around her chest. But as soon as she had, the mare looked up to her and became pale as a ghost, her eyes widening in terror as she let out a scream at the sight of the crimson eyes and noticeable fangs before her.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHH! MONSTER!”

Ruby nearly jumped out of her skin from the mare’s outburst, watching in confusion as the strange pony suddenly sprang to her hooves and began swinging at her, all while screaming at the top of her lungs, “GET AWAY! GET AWAY!”

Ruby retreated a few steps from her reach and rose a hoof up in protection, a look of fear and confusion on her face. “What's wrong with you!?”

“SHUT UP YOU MONSTER!” the pony shouted, her scared demeanor quickly becoming replaced with rage as her eyes dilated and her muscles tensed. “I’LL KILL YOU!” she screamed before lounging at Ruby.

Too taken aback by the turn of events, Ruby closed her eyes and threw up her hooves in protection as the mare swung at her with every bit of force she could muster, dealing blows that would leave slight bruises on another pony, and would soon enough leave them even on her.

But Ruby was still in shock at how the mares entire demeanor changed so drastically and sat in a half protective stance as her mind tried to work out what was happening. It even seemed that the mare was oblivious to her injuries as she continued to attack wildly.

What the hay is wrong with her!? I don’t want to hurt her but I can’t let her keep wailing on me!

But she was unable to make a decision in time for the situation when suddenly the beating stopped the same time a small voice cried out, “LET HER GO!”

Opening her eyes, Ruby watched as the mare slid onto the ground a short distance away, a small furry figure on top of her that she assumed had been the projectile that had knocked her away.

“L-LUNAR PEARL!” Ruby cried in surprise and worry.

However, the mare in her fury was quick to react, and bashed Lunar Pearl’s head on the side with a foreleg, knocking her off and onto the grass next to her. Not even giving her the chance to even register the hit, the mare rolled on top of her and pushed a hoof into her throat. Lunar Pearl’s eyes went wide as she felt the suffocating force dig into her airways, causing her to immediately tear up struggle with her hooves as she desperately reached for air.

“DAMN YOU VAMPONIES TO TARTARUS!” the mare screamed as she raised her other hoof above her head.

Lunar Pearl’s eyes followed as she raised a hoof, filled with fear at the sight of the snarling and wild expression the pony held on her face. The way she stared at her caused Lunar Pearl an unimaginable terror to build within her, unable to fully understand why she was staring at her with such hatred in her eyes. Lunar Pearl could only weakly grasp at the mares strong hoof, feebly trying to pull it off her with her tiny forelegs. She began choking on the tiny amount of breath she had left as the pain increased along with the pressure of the strong hoof, forcing her to remain still to watch as the mare fully raised her other foreleg above her head.

Then swung down with all her might.

Act II - Chapter 23

View Online

The music that held the motivation for this chapter, give it a listen during your read for setting if you wish.



Today, we succeeded in our defense against the Orz Kingdom, though not without great cost. They believed we would have turned the entire village into vamponies, and so they deployed cruel countermeasures. With unicorns armed with lit arrows, they rained a firestorm onto the village, burning many of its inhabitants, as well as a few of our own.

I have heard ponies call us mad and cruel, but never have I done something as dreadful as killing our own. To me, that is true evil…

After the conflict, we regrouped and rallied the survivors, including the villagers. I’ve never seen a more terrified group. They were for all intents and purposes considered dead from their own kingdom, and they cowered before us as if we were the executioners. No one would take them now, which is why I have decided to escort them into our lands, and allow them to pick the village of their choosing to live at.

During our return, I will do my best to explain how things work, and that they needn't fear for their lives. Only the judged criminals and the old who are willing sacrifice themselves to us are feed upon. And even then, that is only when we are not at war.

And we will war. Nopony should abandon their subjects on a fearful whim as their previous leaders have done.

I will have to speak to Night Walker when we return, and discuss plans for the Orz Kingdom…


-Ruby Sparkle



As the mare’s hoof came down with force, Lunar Pearl re-actively shut her eyes, flinching the parts of her body that would still respond to her. She held them tight in the fearful anticipation of the blow, briefly wondering how it had come to this.

But when the strike did not come, and instead the pressure on her throat loosened enough for a gasp of air to reach her lungs, Lunar Pearl’s snapped open. While her chest rose up and down furiously for the return of oxygen in her lungs, she watched with awe and fear at the mare above her, and her hoof inches from her face that was wrapped in a purple glow.

“Get. Off. Her,” Ruby said between her gritted teeth. The mare whipped her head to Ruby with a wild scowl, her eyes wide with rage. She glared at Ruby with an expression of pure hatred. But for they were a candle’s flame compared to the steady but burning fire in Ruby’s eyes.

With the tilt of Ruby’s head, the strange mare found her world turned sideways and meshed into a blur, quickly followed by the blinding pain of her back being slammed into a tree.

Ruby had swung the mare through the air by her hoof and straight into the tree next to her. The mare’s eyes went wide with shock and pain, her mouth hung opened as if she gave off a soundless scream. But she hardly had anytime to register the fact that her back had been broken upon the tough tree, and found herself quickly pulled towards Ruby, and the sudden pain of fangs piercing her neck. Ruby had brought her straight into her grasp, and she bit down onto the mare's neck as hard as she could, crushing her windpipe in the process.

And the taste of the blood that began to ooze out from the bite was delicious beyond comparison to Ruby.

The bowl of blood she had before was an experience she thought could never be topped, but the taste of fresh blood from a warm and still living pony was far greater. Ruby’s crimson eyes that burned in rage for the mare’s actions glazed over as the euphoria of the taste and the soothing sensation it provided in her throat began to take her. Closing her eyes and letting out a soft moan through her closed mouth, Ruby drank heavily from her prey. The experience of warm blood soothing a fire within her throat was something that could not be described in words, and she was unable to stop herself.

The mare simply laid limp in her deadly embrace. With her back broken, and her windpipe squeezed between a death lock of teeth, she could neither move a muscle or scream in pain as the last moments of her life approached her. And it was as she was unable to breath, her body screaming in a cold like fire, and the feeling of her heart becoming irregular as the blood within her veins was forcibly drawn, did her eyes finally change from a wild rage, and into a confused and utter look of agony and terror.

The last thought that crossed her mind, was the simple word of Why, and the dimmed awareness of a drop of water falling onto her face from the sky.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ruby sat on the ground panting heavily, blood dripping down her lips and off her chin from the excess that had leaked during her drinking. Some of her facial coat had even become matted and discolored as it began to dry. But with the steady drizzle of rain that was steadily beginning to build into a downpour, the residual blood would not last long before being cleaned off. She was sitting above the limp body of the green mare that had attacked her and Lunar Pearl, staring down at her with a mixture of emotions that played around Ruby’s crimson eyes.

The mare was dead, broken and drained by Ruby’s ferocity, and that caused a heart wrenching feeling inside her. Yet at the same time, elation already filled her from the soothing but overwhelming taste of the mare’s blood coursing through her. It was fresh and warm, sending a comforting tingle to every inch of her body. The energy it provided for Ruby almost caused her to shake her forelegs as one would do after sitting themselves in front of a fire from a cold trek, To shake off the sluggishness of the body and let in the soothing warmth that made you feel alive.

And even if she felt guilty about the mare or renewed by her blood, the sense of protection that still burned within her remained the strongest feeling as she stared down at the lifeless mare. She didn’t even know her name, but resentment of what she had tried to do cause the vampony princess to narrow her eyes in a grim but determined scowl. Ruby knew it before, even telling herself mentally multiple times, that she was ready to defend and protect her ponies. To allow nothing else to further harm them or threaten their existence. And when the time for it finally came, Ruby had acted swiftly and mercilessly.

I don’t know who you are, she thought as she stared that the eerily motionless eyes that were wide, the last expression of the mares face before death. Or why you felt the need to attack us. But I was not going to let you get away with it, and nor will I allow anypony else to do the same. Ruby closed her eyes as she took in a deep breath, pushing aside all her thoughts and emotions that had been stirred from the event for the clear and singular determined thought.

Opening her eyes she glanced at the mare one last time, muttering beneath her breath. “I’m sorry… but nopony is going to hurt the ones I care for. Even if I have to kill them.”

Ruby then felt a flaring in her chest, the same one that had arisen every now and then in defiance to her thoughts or actions, and to her realization, the same one that pushed her to helping out the mare in the first place. But she shoved away as quickly as it had come, and whispered, “And I will do it gladly.”

Resolved on her stance, Ruby directed her attention to the one who still needed her, glancing at Lunar Pearl some distance away. She had propped herself up onto her elbows and looked towards Ruby with large eyes, her mane becoming slowly flattened from the wetness of the rain. Ruby’s expression softened somewhat as she wonder exactly what she thought of her, little doubt in her mind that she had witness everything of what she had done to the green mare.

When the she remained frozen in her behavior Ruby softly called her name. “Lunar Pearl…”

Hearing her name caused her to flinch, and air rushed past her lips as she began breathing again, not having realized she had been holding it.

“Are you okay?” Ruby asked as Lunar Pearl began to show signs of awareness again.

Lunar Pearl blinked slowly shifted her eyes from the mare to Ruby. Everything was coming back to her now. She had been attacked, Ruby had rescued her, and then Ruby killed the mare. It was as simple as that. But it all felt so surreal to her, so much that she ran it over in her mind a few times. But when the rest of her finally processed it, the tears began to trickle, and her breaths changed to tiny choked sobs.

“R-…Ruby…” Lunar Pearl cried quietly before pushing herself onto her hooves. She couldn’t tell if her legs were shaky from the fight or from the overwhelming emotions inside her, but she still began to step towards her. Her legs were thankful that the trip was only a few steps before Ruby had already rushed over and scooped her up into her arms.

“Shhh… I’m here,” Ruby whispered in her ear.

Lunar Pearl was dimly aware of the blood spilling onto her from Ruby’s chin, streaking its way into her mane and coat from the drizzling rain. She thought it should have bothered her, she found that it did not in the slightest.There was nothing at that moment that could bother her. Not how she felt bad the mare had died, how scared she had been of her, or even how horrifying Ruby had been if only even a few moments.

The only thing that did matter to her, what was the focus of her whole world, was how safe she felt in Ruby’s arms.

It was the kind of safety that for the first time in her life, she unconditionally trusted and fully believed in. It wasn’t the kind that her sister had always provided her, though caring she might have been. Or the kind of a barrel provided when playing hide and seek, or hiding from the guard.

Every day of her existence had been one reminder after another that they were doomed, and nopony could help them, not even from the bad ones who were supposed to protect. At time, not even her sister or a barrel could stop them.

But Ruby had protected her. Though she had killed a mare to do it, she still protected her. For once, in Lunar Pearl’s life, something horrible that was going to happen to her had been stopped. It was that final reassurance that she no longer had any doubt Ruby would be able to help her and every other bat pony. She didn’t know how, but she then knew Ruby was going to able to cure them, and keep them safe while doing it.

And as awful as the thought tore at her, she knew she would accept it even if meant others had to die like the mare.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Shade Flare looked down at the corpse of the green mare in silently, reflecting on the expression on her face that had frozen in the last few moments of her life. He had seen dead bat ponies, having become fatally ill. It was an inevitably passing away when nothing else could be done for them. He had even seen a foal once or twice become still when they were struck by a sudden illness that should have not happened until later in life. But seeing a pony die from another, their body broken and the drips of blood on the ground from their very life force being drained, it caused something in Shade Flare that he couldn’t identify.

When the patrols found the source of commotion, saw the dead mare some feet away from Ruby and Lunar Pearl, both of them locked in an embrace. The guards had been of course, stunned at the sight, but were still quick to dispatch help to the cave. They had reported to Shade Flare right away, who encouraged the rest of the bat ponies to remain in the cave while he and the patrols handled the situation.

When Shade Flare made his way to the site, he passed Ruby and Lunar Pearl on their way back, Lunar Pearl holding tightly to her neck as Ruby carried her. Her chin was caked in blood that somehow persisted despite the rain, and her eyes were devoid of their usual glow of cheerfulness and curiosity. When he inquired to her personally as to what happened, Ruby simply told him that she and Lunar Pearl had come across a mare that had attacked them, and that Ruby had taken care of it. She informed him that she was on her way back to return Lunar Pearl to her sister and wash the blood of her face.

She then told him to take care of the mare, and left without another word. Shade Flare had watched her until she disappeared from the trail, issued the patrols back to their routes, and now found himself standing above the body of a dead green mare alone. Until a voice spoke from the shadows.

“She seemed to have handled it smoothly.”

Shade Flare looked up and saw Night Walker walked calmly from the forest and stand beside him, observing the corpse in front of them. “She certainly did quite a number on her. Throwing her opponents against trees seems to be her favored tactic thus far.”

“…Appears so,” Shade Flare said flatly.

Night Walker’s ears flicked at the tone of his voice, then turned his eyes to him.

Shade Flare immediately straightened his posture and lifted his chin more prominently. “Is there something wrong?”

Night Walker was quiet for a few moments, before casually responding, “Not at all. Just curious as to how you are handling the sight of death.”

“I have seen death before.”

“A pony dying from a sickness is different than one dying from a fight, even if it wasn’t by your own hooves.”

“I can assure you,” Shade Flare said with a tighter edge on his voice. “I will do whatever is necessary to help our kind.”

Night Walker regarded his stoic expression before turning his attention back down to the mare. “Don’t get ahead of yourself. You have yet to see a pony’s eyes become cold and lifeless, or how they turn to fear or hatred. Death is not something to be taken lightly, and it is not to be glossed over. This will be a difficult transition for you and every other bat pony. And it will not be pleasant. It isn’t for anyone...”

Letting the words sink in, Shade Flare eventually asked curiously, “Even you?”

Night Walker gave a small smirk. “I wasn’t always the pony you see before you now. Death is a bridge every pony must cross. And sending another on their own bridge isn’t easier.” Night Walker bent and grabbed the mare by the neck with his teeth, and heaved her with one go onto his back. “I’ll deposit the body while you run damage control within the cave. No doubt everypony will be worried that a mare had strayed into the forest.”

Shade Flare nodded. “When can we expect your official return?”

“Another few days, perhaps. I’ve touched up the final details of the next step with our benefactor, leaving only Princess Sparkle to begin her work on restoring the vampirism on everyone else. With a full stomach, she should be ready to begin the first transformation. After each bat pony has been cured, we will leave the cave and head to the new safe locations.”

“And what has been the word of her disappearance?”

“Surprisingly so far the Royal Sisters have kept it hush. I find it rather strange but they do know their citizens better than I do. I imagine they would not want such a traumatic event to spread panic across Equestria. From what I’ve heard, it was already chaotic enough when Nightmare Moon returned and the strange creature known as Discord appeared. But I’ve requested our benefactor to spread whispers amongst the court and other established positions. Without a doubt, word of her missing will trickle to every corner of Equestria and cause panic.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Shade Flare questioned in concern.

“Possibly,” Night Walker said as he began to turn away. “But there are few opportunities when everything is so still and stagnant. A little excitement will no doubt bring some interesting choices of what to do, as well as keep the Royal Sisters occupied in calming their sheepish country.”

Shade Flare remained silent as he watched Night Walker disappear back into the woods with the mare slumped over his back. The sight of her face looking lifelessly at him before turning behind a tree caused his him to shiver and turn away. After however, his aghast face was replaced with a scowl, and he determinedly began marching back to the cave.

For my sake, I hope Ruby finishes soon. I can’t stand being this weak anymore…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Night Walker whistled quietly as he made his way through the forest, reflecting on the proposals he still had to sort out back in the city and when the time would come, to begin turning each bat pony into vamponies. His chest felt as if it would almost burst at the thought of being surrounded by his capable kin once again, able to do whatever they willed across the land. And with him being the only Shepherd of Darkness walking the land, there was nothing to stop him for doing whatever he pleased.

Even the lands outside of Equestria’s borders had become options for him in the vacuum of power. The idea that someday he could walk their lands as well and see what was there left him wondering all sorts of scenarios. He had no doubt he would extend his borders somewhat, but the simple joy of exploring another world was entertaining enough. Perhaps in a few hundred years, he might see it fit to have them under his domain as well. For the night was, is, and always will be, the thing that pulls everything under its shadow.

After walking for some time, he reached a portion of the forest that had a deep gulley cut through it like a wound, completely littered with flowing mud and boulders of what once was a river bed. Turning his side to the edge, he unceremoniously tilted his body and rolled his burden over.

Oh little one, your time has come,

Rest easy now, your work is done.

Lower your head, close your eyes,

Let this melody, sooth your cries.

Sleep and forget, your sorrows,

Sleep and forget, your pains,

Sleep and forget, your troubles,

Sleep and forget, the cruel fate of...

.....your death....

He watched as her body rolled and tumbled down the crevice, flopping about every which way that would no doubt be painful for any living pony. Her fall was short however, and she eventually came to a full stop at the base of the crevice; resting in a pool of mud from the recent shower. Her green color seemed a stark contrast from the brown around her, standing out alongside the form of what was another pony that had been residing there for some time now; resting ever since Night Walker had drank from her and had used the leftover to fill what was about a bowls worth of blood was from.

Feel grateful I am giving you fresh blood, Ruby. The stock supply doesn’t nearly hold it’s tantalizing taste, or it’s seductive power.

Act II - Chapter 24

View Online

Two weeks later…


“Are you sure you are ready?”

“Yes, I believe I can do it now.”

“It really is no problem to wait a few more days to prepare yourself,” Night Walker cautiously pressed while lying on the floor.

“No, I can’t put it off any longer than I have already done,” Ruby argued. “I have a good grasp on Soul Sight, and I feel confident that I can bend the alicorn magic to my will enough to complete the process. I can do this, Night Walker,” Ruby said adamantly, further showcased by the look in her eyes.

Night Walker regarded her carefully, briefly thinking over the amount of dedication to studying she displayed over the last few days since his return. When she felt prepared enough for the task, she promptly closed her book, and marched to his alcove, and uncaring interrupted a conversation he and Shade Flare had been sharing.

“We can’t put it off any longer,” Ruby continued in a near lecturing like tone. “I may not know much of what is happening in the outside world, but given the circumstances of that we are being pursued, we can’t remain here much longer. And that means we need to make able ponies into vamponies.”

Night Walker stared long and hard at her, while she returned it unwaveringly. When it was sufficiently clear that she would not break eye contact first, he closed his eyes in defeat. “Very well, we will begin the process.” But when Ruby’s expression changed into a relieved one he asked, “The question is, however, who will be the first one to test?”

Before either of them could recommend a candidate, Shade Flare polity coughed.

“I will.”

“Shade Flare,” Night Walker spoke in surprise. “You are the second in command. We cannot risk losing you should anything go wrong. You are in charge when Ruby and myself are not present. Besides, you have already gone through the transformation more than once. I fear what might happen if any more attempts are done before we have the process perfected.”

“I may have to agree with Night Walker on this one Shade Flare,” Ruby added before Shade Flare could respond. “From what he has told me, you reverted back into a bat pony because of the alicorn magic embedded into each of you. Though I haven’t looked into your soul, I can’t imagine it’s current state after having gone through it multiple times. It would be dangerous until we know more.”

“I know the risks,” Shade Flare responded coolly. “And I will not endanger another if I can take their place. And unlike the rest, I can tell you if somethings wrong because I have been through it. You must let me do this.”

“I will not risk losing you,” Night Walker said more sternly.

“You don’t decide my fate!” Shade Flare shouted. His outburst caused a look of surprise to both Night Walker and Ruby, as well as himself moments later at the realization of what he did. “I… I’m sorry… I just…”

Night Walker looked him up and down, his eyes a mixture of scrutiny and astonishment. “...Ruby,” he eventually said..

“Yyes?”

“Please look into Shade Flare’s soul, and give me your honest opinion of whether or not it would be safe enough to use him.”

“Night Walker, you aren’t actually considering-”

“I am.”

“But shouldn’t you have first-hoof knowledge of his soul already to know it won’t work?”

“I’m not the one removing the alicorn magic. If you believe you can do it without risking his very being, then I should be able to help with the rest.” Night Walker stood up and moved towards Shade Flare who in turn, shakily locked his knees and stood firm, an act that was easily seen through even if Night Walker could not hear his pounding heart. “Shade Flare has expressed his decision, and it is not the vampony way to stand before one who has decided their path.”

“But this could kill him!”

“Which is why I am asking you to peer into his soul.” Night Walker turned his head to Ruby. “A simple look won’t hurt.”

“No, I suppose not…”

“Thank you,” Shade Flare breathed in relief.

“Rest assured, Shade Flare,” Night Walker said while turning back to him, “this does not guarantee you will be picked. And if Ruby deems you are not suitable, you will stand by that decision until we can figure out how to overcome it. Do you understand?”

“I do,” Shade Flare replied, throwing his chest out for added effect.

“You may proceed, Ruby.”

With that, Night Walker moved away and returned to his sitting position.

Ruby glared at the both of them, before sighing in defeat. “Fine, I’ll take a look. But I won’t allow it if I even believe for a moment that it is far too unsafe.”

“I’ll take that risk,” Shade Flare replied immediately.

Ruby gave him a disapproving look before shaking her head and stepping towards him. “Stand still while I inspect you please.”

Shade Flare straightened his posture even more so.

Muttering under breath at the boneheadedness of males, Ruby closed her eyes, and calmed herself. Moments later, they reopened as a brilliant white light, and gazed deep into Shade Flare.

Two things were immediately clear to Ruby when she saw within him. One was the anxiety and desperation that flooded his soul that should would approve of him, and the other was how strange his soul was compared to the other bat ponies. If she had to place an analogy, it looked as if he had been torn apart and pieced back together multiple times, leaving noticeable holes where there shouldn’t any. His soul looked like a tattered cloth that was holding itself together by just barely.

Shade Flare… what have you done to yourself? Ruby thought forlornly. Her eyes gazed over the parts where the alicorn magic in all of its black and green colors stuck to the most damaged areas, embedding itself into him as it slowly repaired fragments of the damaged area. It must have ripped the vampirism right out of you… and it doesn’t even know how to heal you correctly… it’s just piecing together what it can.

Ruby’s mouth unconsciously opened in wonder and sadness at the state of his soul, feeling awful that she had known him this entire time and had no knowledge of the state of his being. In fact, she knew very little of him. He was always stoic, quick to respond, and dedicated to whatever task she had seen him perform. But now she had the chance to see the real him, and she saw more than she thought was there.

Inside Shade Flare was a deep helplessness that permeated much of his being. It held prominent spots for many of his emotions, including one which was something akin for the desire of vengeance or retribution; which one it was, Ruby did not know, for it bordered both of them. And though she was somewhat perplexed at the flicker of hesitation of her being so close to him, it was easily buried beneath the fierce determination to be approved. His emotional stability needed her to approve him, so he could become stronger.

Ruby nearly cut off the Soul Sight right there and then, feeling that the male ego knew no bounds. But remained at the promise she would give an honest opinion after exploring all of him.

Following the desire for strength, she could see his confidence was dimly lit, one of the sections that had holes within it. Having a guess, she suspected that he drew much emotional strength from being a vampony. But on closer inspection, it did not tie into nearby sections of pride, vanity, or even self preservation. Instead, it was tied to his empathy, and that section was without a doubt the most build piece of his soul.

“Shade Flare,” Ruby asked aloud. “Would you really risk yourself if it means you can help everypony?”

“Without hesitation,” he replied.

And Ruby found that it was true within him.

Her brows narrowed as felt her previous impressions of him fade away. You feel so helpless that you can’t help every other pony. So much that it has driven you to a pit that I can’t even imagine being stuck in… You were alone for a lot of your life… But when you became a vampony, everything changed, and you felt like you could finally do something…

Ruby had seen enough, and closed her eyes as she dismissed the ability. You really are willing to go to any length to achieve power again, just so you can do something useful… Ruby opened her eyes, and looked onto Shade Flare with a sorrowful look.

Shade Flare’s confidence then faltered, and he blinked nervously at what she might say to him, fearful that she wouldn’t allow him to continue.

“Well?” Night Walker said after sometime. “What do you think?”

Ruby continued to stare at Shade Flare, feeling the last of her walls come down in new respect, and new empathy for him. “I… believe it can be done.” Shade Flare nearly coughed in relief as he relaxed and smiled in disbelief, causing Ruby to smile herself. “And I would believe it would be wrong to deny him of something he so passionately believes in.”

Shade Flare blushed at her words, and internally hoped that she had not seen his fast fading unfavorable opinion of her. Ever since the incident with the fear, she had only been aweinpsiing and strong to him. Things he would he would have again in full soon enough.

“Now that that’s settled,” Night Walker said as he stood up again. “Let’s begin.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The three of them had gathered in a larger alcove that lay deep below the main section, the place in which they would perform the transformation and allow him to rest. Nearby were bowls of soaked cloth to ease any suffering that may come, and flasks of blood for him as well as Ruby and Night Walker for what would be a long wait.

Around them and at the base of the walls, were various bat ponies; elders as well as the top marked fighters in training, the only ones who were allowed to watch the momentous occasion given the small space. They murmured amongst themselves in excited whispers and concerned voices. It was afterall, not everyday one saw the rebirth of their race.

Shade Flare stood in the center of the room, his faint form dimly lit by the blue light of the mushrooms that were not blocked by the observing ponies. He looked onward with a set stare, ready and confident to face whatever difficulties that may arise. Beside him, was Night Walker and Ruby, both of their eyes emitting a white glow that while noticeable, did not leave a reflection on Shade Flare’s body.

They were analyzing and coordinated together over Shade Flare’s soul in final preparation, discussing the problem areas that would need to be watched closely as the vampirism spread. The atmosphere was that of two doctors taking last notes before the start of a complicated surgery, something that nearly every pony in the room had witnessed before at the hoof of unicorn doctors back in Dusk Town. The difference this time however, was not to remove more vampirism or to cure a disease within one of their own, but to restore them to how they once were so long ago.

“Remember, the connections between the emotion centers and subconscious mind will fluctuate during,” Night Walker said to Ruby.

“I know,” she replied in reassurance. “And the majority of the alicorn magic lies within the third internal orb on the right, that’s what I need to focus on overcoming as it plays out.”

“You got it,” Night Walker said. The two of them closed their eyes, extinguishing their white glows to conserve their energy as much as possible for the inevitable constant checkups they would need to do during. Opening them again to reveal their usual crimson color, Night Walker moved in front of Shade Flare, staring hard into his amber eyes as he asked one more time, “Are you ready, Shade Flare?”

“I am,” he stoically answered as usual.

“Then… let’s begin,” Night Walker announced loudly, catching the full attention of each attended in the room. “Ruby, if you will,” he said as he stepped away.

Ruby took her place in front of him and apologetically smiled. “Sorry for the pain I am about to do.”

Shade Flare took a breath and replied with a small smirk of his own. “It’s alright. It’s just like a needle. I’m pretty used to those.”

Ruby was unaware of the ironic smile that threatened to break on Shade Flare’s face in the knowledge that she was now going to turn him into a vampony.

What goes around comes around, Night Walker thought amusedly.

Ruby took in a deep breath, and moved her head near his neck. Her mouth hovered inches from him, taking notice of the healed scars from previous bites. “Here I go,” she whispered, and then sank her fangs deep into him.

<“How does one go about turning another into a vampony?” Ruby asked.>

Shade Flare let out a small gasp as he flinched from the penetration of her fangs, gritting his teeth as he began to feel his heart pump in double time.

<“First,” Night Walker explained. “You must drain them as dry as possible, the neck is one of the more preferable options as the blood flows easily, the muscle does not get in the way like the thigh may, and victims cannot struggle easily. It is also a sensitive spot that normally freezes most ponies upon piercing.”>

Shade Flare’s eyes went wide at the sensation of his blood being pulled toward his neck, his heart becoming irregular from the forced suction. Without his control, his legs buckled beneath him and spasmed wildly; grunting all the while as he did his best to remain still as possible despite every instinct telling him to run. Ruby fell with him, never pulling away as she knelt down in a comfortable position and continued to drink from him.

<“How much blood do I need to drink?”>

Shade Flare’s vision began to darken as he tumbled fully onto the ground. But Ruby wrapped her hooves lovingly around his head, and cradled it towards her, all while stroking his mane soothingly. A ringing sensation began to fill his ears as the final beats of his heart throbbed loudly. He began to feel cold, and his head lightheaded. It was exactly as he experienced the few times Night Walker had turned him, but was slightly more comfortable he dimly realized. It was that thought that stuck with him as he prepared for the last moment of unconsciousness.

<"Enough for them to die.”>

His eyelids slowly closed, and his final breath left his body. Ruby pulled away after she was sure she could no longer feel his heart beating, eyeing him closely as she mentally prepared herself for the next step.

<“After… after they die… then what happens?”>

Ruby raised one of her forelegs to her mouth, and quickly nipped at her wrists..

<“Then you must have them feed on your blood.”>

Cradling Shade Flare’s head gently, she exposed wrist against his mouth.

<“How do I do that when they’re dead?”>

Ruby closed her eyes as she focused her concentration, feeling the sensation of her blood beginning to steadily ooze out.

<“By using vampony magic of course. Even though you have yet to learn it, this much you should be able to do.”>

Whispering beneath her breath, Ruby called forth the powers that flowed within her veins, and willed the blood from her wrist to make their way into Shade Flare’s body. In response, her blood quickly poured out of her cut and trickled their way down his throat.

The stream blood began to fluctuated as a few spilled droplets lifted themselves upwards, defying gravity itself as they gathered together. The crowd of bat ponies exchanged quick whispers of awe as they watched the blood move as if was alive. It drifted in the air before thinning out into multiple streams, then arced through the air around Shade Flare’s body, an encompassing embrace of life. Flowing about, it spun around him as it feed a steady stream down his throat, with one or two even pushing themselves into the bite marks on his neck.

The color of the red liquid moving through the air held each pony transfixed as the blue light from the mushrooms played off it surface, providing them a sight that could be called beautiful as it was strange.

<“Once you have giving them enough blood, the rest of the process will begin. All you have to do then, is simply wait.”>

The flowing blood came to an abrupt halt, the last few streams of it sinking their way into Shade Flare’s body as Ruby carefully set down his head and pulled herself away from him. She panted slightly at the use of the vampony powers and amount of blood she had given him, feeling as if she would need to drink again within a week even though she had fed heavily only a few days ago. Night Walker returned back to the center of the room as he moved to her side, both of their gazes fixed hopefully on his still form.

“How did I do?” Ruby asked worriedly.

“You did fine. Superb even,” Night Walker answered, eliciting a small smile from her. “Now comes the difficult part.” Looking down onto Shade Flare’s body, Night Walker narrowed his eyes. “Ridding the alicorn magic from him, all while seeing a smooth transformation.”

Ruby’s expression became serious once again as she nodded her head. “Right, let’s get to it.”

Both of them closed their eyes once more, and reopened them to reveal two sets of twinkling orbs. The two stood tall and commanding as they gazed downwards onto Shade Flare, seeing deep into his flickering soul as the red of vampirism slowly began to churn and spread within him.

To everypony else within the room, they would always remember the sight of that batpony lying dead at their hooves, slowly fighting death itself as new life coursed through his veins, and the two awe inspiring vamponies that towered over him; their eyes alight with a white glow that saw everything.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Night Walker and Ruby spent half the night working on Shade Flare. The tension was high in the room as each pony watched with bated breath. Ridding the alicorn magic embedded within him had been difficult, but Ruby was finally able to grasp ahold of it.

Each pony was taken aback when her eyes began to leak a purple mist, and her horn began to bubble with matching purple and emerald colors; the only pony who had not gasped at its sight was Night Walker, who instead, looked onto the familiar magic in memory of past encounters.

Ruby then directed the awful looking power into Shade Flare’s body, causing his form to twitch and jolt as the alicorn magic ran through him. The power she wielded felt powerful yet strange, a combination of might and disastrous temptation. She could feel the strain it took on herself, almost seeing the energy bounce back and forth inside her in resonance until it took on a twisted form of raw energy. But even with the difficulty wielding it took, she was in the end able to succeed in removing the alicorn magic within Shade Flare, disrupting its flow and sending the remnants of the spells energy into oblivion.

Afterwards, it was smooth sailing for the rest of the process with Night Walker stepping in to oversee the majority of the changes. When it was clear that it would run without any foreseeable complications, the two of them ceased their work and retired for the rest of the night, sitting next to Shade Flare’s body should anything arise. Most of the bat ponies took their leave after the exciting parts were done with, content they had seen enough and stated they looked forward to seeing Shade Flare awakening as a full-fledged vampony.

While the few remaining observers sat in idle conversation, Ruby and Night Walker spent the time discussing the finer details of how vampirism affected the soul, or any other questions related to modifying it that Ruby had. She was learning quickly that the possibilities one could do with a soul was practically endless, a near infinite possible combinations or changes one could do to each part of it, bringing about new changes and behaviors. And though while she felt some concern on tampering with such a delicate thing, her inquisitive side could not hold back the opportunity to draw a wealth of information from the well-practiced vampony lord.

The night dragged on in similar fashion, the two of them staying diligently near Shade Flare’s side with Night Walker only leaving for a few moments to fetch a flask of blood he held within his strange storage ability for them to refresh on since Ruby had already drank all of the original flaks they had set aside. Being reminded that he possessed such a trait, Ruby almost delved into a full discussion on vampony magic again on how he was able to do it, before a sudden yawn caught her by surprise. It was a little past sunrise now, and the nights work had left her tired. But it was as they were beginning to discuss on going to bed and who they would ask to watch over Shade Flare that his body began to stir.

“He’s waking up!” Ruby exclaimed, all feelings of tiredness vanishing quickly as their patient groaned in grogginess.

Shade Flare’s eyes were scrunched shut as he awoke, raising himself onto his knees as he turned his head side to side to shake off the strange tiredness.

“Shade Flare, how do you feel?” Night Walker asked eagerly, unable to hold himself back from the anticipated moment.

They and the remaining bat ponies held their breaths as Shade Flare slowly blinked open his eyes, and revealed a crimson orb.

“Success!” Ruby nearly shouted, feeling overjoyed along with relief that everything seem to have gone according to plan.

“Take your time, ease yourself,” Night Walker cautioned in concern, his eyes darting between Shade Flare’s two red eyes in relief as well.

Shade Flare blinked a few more times as he slowly pieced what was happening him together, shaking his head on more time in attempt to throw off the grogginess. Smacking his mouth at how oddly dry it was, he eventually spoke, “Did… did everything happen alright?”

“Yes, it appears so,” Night Walker replied.

The observers on the edges of the room drew closer to admire the new vampony, keeping a respectful distance for him to breathe while quietly congratulating him and expressing their joy that he was alright. Shade Flare managed a smile towards them, nodding his head and replying his thanks.

“So,” Night Walker said above the rest of them. “How does it feel?” His raised eyebrows along with a smirk, unable to hold back his mood.

Shade Flare opened his mouth to reply with a grin, but held short as it fell away and his brows furrowed. Tilting his head down, his eyes shifted about as he focused inwardly. Night Walker’s expectant smile slowly turned upside down.

Suddenly Shade Flare stood onto his hooves, wobbling slightly from the lack of balance.

“Careful,” Ruby said, raising her hoof up reactively should he fall. But Shade Flare ignored her warning as his eyes still turned about, the expression on his face becoming grim and confused. He opened his mouth to speak something, but paused again as if he wasn’t sure what to say. Taking a few breaths as each pony cautiously looked to him, he finally lifted his head and looked to the two of them.

“It… feels different…”

Night Walker and Ruby remained silent for a moment before the blinked their eyes and brought back their white glow, moving close to Shade Flare as they circled around him and looked at his soul from different angles.

“Night Walker… he’s like…” Ruby said in awe.

“Yes… like you… but not at the same time…” he finished with a stern voice. Indeed, Shade Flare’s soul held many similarities that Ruby’s had, an evenly laced red color on the various parts of his aspects. But the more noticeable difference was that the vampirism was spread about him in a completely different manner than he had ever seen.

In fact, it was like seeing an entirely new soul altogether.

Many traits that he held before from being a batpony were now solidified and stable, while others had changed so drastically that there were unfamiliar, but appeared strong and thriving. The new editions were complicated and intricately layered with vampirism, yet not at the same time. It was as if it was stuck in between a state of being a vampony and a batpony, somehow achieving a balance that defied reason.

“Night Walker, what is that?” Ruby asked when she too saw the unique structure. “What could have caused this?”

“I don’t know,” he answered with gritted teeth. But in truth, he had a very good idea. The Elements of Harmony… he thought darkly. Just what did those infernal contraptions do this time? And how!? He closed his mouth to prevent himself flashing his fangs in anger, putting his mind into overdrive to figure out how they had reached Shade Flare. He had never been exposed to them, let alone be remotely near them. The only possible connection that could exist was…

Twilight’s blood… he realized in shock.

Blinking out his soul sight, he looked towards Ruby who was still thoroughly inspecting Shade Flare, trying very hard to suppress a snarl that threatened to silence the entire room with his building rage. Her blood has been affected by the Elements!

He did not know how such a thing happened, or exactly what they had done to Shade Flare, but the idea that something so potent had wiggled its influence into his plans and could possibly jeopardized everything he had been working towards stoked a fire of bubbling anger within him.

“Prince Night Walker! Princess Ruby!”

Night Walker swung his head to the entrance of the room in time to see a bat pony running into the room and skidding to a halt before the gathered group, catching Ruby’s attention as well as she blinked out her soul sight to see the commotion.

“What is it!?” Night Walker growled louder than he intended.

“S-Sir!” the batpony said followed by an audible gulp, his eye's wide with fear. “Royal Guards have been spotted entering the forest just as dawn came. They are sweeping through the woods in a wide spread. It’s only a matter of time before they find the cave!”

Act II - Chapter 25

View Online

Everypony within the room felt their hearts stop, staring fearfully at the panicked sentry working to regain his breath. Though the wished it in an afterthought, the warning was no joke, and it only took moments for them to begin to panic themselves.

However, their duress was short lived as Night Walker tore past the sentry and up the corridor.

“Ruby! Shade Flare!” he called without looking back. The two of them were startled from still processing the danger, then exchanged brief glances to each other, and followed behind him as fast as they could; with only Ruby sparing a moment to look at the rest of them.

“Let’s go! Now!”

The bat ponies watched as she darted up the passageway after Night Walker and Shade Flare, then they too followed; first in slow unsteady steps, then in quick gallops, and finally rushing as fast as their hooves could carry them.

Ruby however, did not wait to see them chase after them, for her mind was wrought with worry, and too focused on Shade Flare’s trailing mane, and the twisting turns of the passageway upwards to the main cavern.

How could they have found us? Is it a randomized search pattern? Or did we give something away? She bit lips as she searched for a reason, but changed her mind when her frantic galloping threatened to bite herself. What do we do? How do we get everypony to safety? And with the sun already up?

She ran over a dozen possibilities for evacuations in her head during the short trip up to the cavern. She knew fighting was no option, and they couldn’t hold their ground within the cave. Even if they could fortify it, it wouldn’t be long before reinforcements were called in to help flush them out. There was only one passageway in and out, and she did not know how far the guards were. Which means, we need to leave now while we still have the chance. Everypony needs to gather only the essentials, and make for the exit immediately.

But as she neared the end of the passageway, and nearly leapt into the cavern, she knew instantly that her plan was not going to work.

The cavern was in a state of flurry and chaos.

Every way she looked ponies were scrambling about calling about their loved ones names, tying together what supplies they could, or simply huddling in the middle of the floor in hopelessness. The children avoided the hoofsteps of the adults, all while calling for their parents to find them, and the seniors barked useless orders to get them to calm down. But no pony was having it. They were too terrified and too frantic to listen to reason.

Ruby watched with horror as the strong faces she has seen etched onto the ponies she had grown to love fall apart in broken pieces.

Why now? Why couldn’t we have had just a little more time? Ruby reached her hoof out towards them, and tried to call out to them, to tell them it will be alright. But she could not find her voice to issue a command, or a soothing lie. We’ve all been training so hard… We were almost there. We had just figured out how to turn them all back!

Ruby reasoned in the back of her mind that if they had had just even a week longer, then maybe they could have had a few vamponies to help the defend. Maybe then they would have stood a better chance.

But they had been found, and they were not ready.

“SILENCE!”

His voice ran out, only to be amplified by the cave and echoing it against it’s walls to near deafening volume. His shout had cut through the garbled commotion like a sword through cloth, and it held everyone's attention as they froze where they stood.

Looking upwards with fearful eyes, they spotted Night Walker standing tall on the ledge above them, and he looking sternly down to them. The sudden drop of noise was unsettling, and Ruby’s ears pounded as her heartbeat was finally able to be heard. Nopony even turned their head when the rest of the bat ponies from below galloped into the cavern, and skidded to a halt at the quiet scene before them.

“The Crown’s dogs approach,” he said in a much calmer voice, yet still loud enough to be heard clearly by everypony. “The sentries spotted them entering the borders of the forest. Unicorns and Earth ponies are sweeping the ground, while the Pegasi follow from above. And they have been reported to be numbering to be well over a hundred!”

Nearly every bat ponies face whitened at the news.

“However, I don’t believe they know we are here, as they would have brought more forces if they did.” Though their faces eased somewhat, and even began to take on hopeful expression, Night Walker cut them short. “But they will find us, and it will be soon.”

Before they could be dismayed further however, Night Walker turned a steely gaze to Ruby and Shade Flare, and motioned for the both of them to join him. With only a moments hesitation, they took wing and flew up to the ledge, landing on each of his side respectively, and stood only a few hoofsteps behind him.

“They expect to find and capture us,” Night Walker continued. “They think that you are still the submissive ponies that escaped Dusk Town only some weeks ago. They think that you are the same, and will submit to their spears and harsh decrees issued by the Princesses themselves.” He let his eyes pass over their faces, looking into the eyes as many as he could. “But they forget… that we… are vamponies.”

With a burst of speed, Night Walker raised his hoof and flashed it downward, cracking the stone surface below him and causing shards of the ledge to break off nearby.

You are vamponies! And you are of our blood!” He sweeped his hoof to gesture to himself and Ruby, then towards Shade Flare. “And as of this morning, your brother Shade Flare has joined us!”

Hushed voices speaking fervently filled the cavern, and the surprise and excitement could almost be felt as they all looked onto Shade Flare in awe. But Night Walker was not nearly done, and still held their attention prominently.

“You were not born to be bound beneath those who deem your existence as a curse! You were not meant to change who you are because a sun and moon goddess said that your very lives are unnatural! You were not meant to deny who you are!”

“You have suffered a thousand years of false promises! Told that you were a plague, that you were sick, and that it was wrong to have been born as you are! And now the very ponies that supported such lies are now at our doorstep!”

Night Walker thrusted a hoof into a random point in the ceiling. But there eyes were quickly drawn back at the swirling shadows that started to envelope Night Walker’s waist, and revealing leathery wings that flared out.

“But they forget that battle is in your blood! The hunt is in your blood! You were born to fight! To be your own masters! Each of you a force of reckoning that causes fear into those around as you prowl about the night!”

“We will not be prey to such dogs! We will not surrender today, or any other day! We will fight, and we will survive!”

Slowly they lifted their chins, hardened their eyes, and breathed more deeply. Their fears had not vanished, but it was making way for other feelings, feelings stirred by Night Walker’s passionate voice that spoke firmly.

“We are vamponies!” he shouted again. “And no one will deny us our existence!”

Teeth began to show behind lips, and hooves started to stamp onto the floor. As if a spell had been casted, they became more acute of their blood within their veins, moving as if it was being edged on by some unseen fire. It was a sensation that they knew, and found come easy to them. It was the very thing that bordered their senses the moment before a pounce, or would build from the glares of contempt from the guards. And it began to flow through them as if floodgates had been released, living in exhilaration in the moment of not holding back.

Ruby could feel the dense atmosphere within the cavern, causing her own blood to heat at the thought of fighting the ponies that steadily advanced unknowingly towards them. She could feel her lips beginning to curl as she looked into the deadset eyes below, eyes that almost shined by themselves as the cavern became darker and the shadows within crevices stretched outwards from their depths. But they were unwavering, and they bore a look of vengeance that mirrored the wrathful look Night Walker had himself, and it only grew more terrifying and horrible with each forced breath. They were all becoming blind to the blood haze that was washing over them with accompanying shadows.

And it nearly overtook Ruby, until a sudden shimmer within her broke the spells hold over her.

Gasping in surprise, she looked with sudden clarity at the ponies below, and caught her breath at their strange and cold eyes. They didn’t even look like the ponies she had come to known as darkness shifted about their hooves, slowly wrapping their forms as the atmosphere became thicker and thicker. It had become so much that Ruby had difficulty breathing, and felt that she could be dragged back into it at any moment.

But worse than the alien looks of her ponies below, or the dark feelings within her that reached out to match them, was the sense of dread that emanated from Night Walker beside her. So great was its presence that Ruby was only now becoming aware of how tense her muscles had become; they nearly screamed from the strain she had put onto them.

Despite her curiosity to simply turn her head and look at Night Walker, a deep and unreasonable fear prevented her from doing so. Her body would not respond to her commands, and for a moment, she thought that was a very wise idea. The only thing she could do was barely glance at him from the corner of her eyes, and hear his harsh breathing that increased in intensity.

For one single moment, she felt nothing but hunger and death from the vampony lord, so much that it seemed nothing else existed in the world.

Until, something within her shimmered again.

Finding herself able to move her eyes, she looked back out into the crowd of ponies, and to her surprise, saw that not all of them had fallen under the effects. Below her and scattered about the crowd, were ponies whose eyes did not hold the dark mood that had so tightly gripped the others, but were stuck in motionless fear just as Ruby had been.

Ruby flitted her eyes over them, until she rested her gaze onto Lily Wing, and the huddling form of Lunar Pearl that she stood protectively over. Her hooves were wrapped about her big sister’s legs tightly, so much that Ruby absently wondered if Lily Wing had any circulation in the leg.

And it was the sight of them that Ruby shimmered inside once again.

“Night Walker…”

Ruby had breathed the words, barely reaching above a faint whisper, and despite every urge within her to not speak, she uttered his name with every ounce of fear and courage within her.

The atmosphere, the shadows, Night Walker’s harsh breathing, and Ruby’s heart all stopped… and then, slowly receded. Like a held breath, the tension in the cave gave away, and Ruby felt the monster beside her become sucked back into the shadows deep within Night Walker once more. Only when it had completely gone could Ruby move again, and she felt as if collapsing onto the floor on the spot.

The ponies below shook their heads as their senses came back to them, and looked about in confusion, whispering to each other as to what had happened and how much they had remembered.

A great sense of relief filled Ruby, and her heart came fluttering back as it founds its strength to beat again.

“Ruby…”

Finally, she turned her head to Night Walker, and saw a very tired and very calm pony. His eyes were worn, and were creased tightly in a sorrowful way.

“...Thank you.”

She blinked in surprise at his apology, and only numbly nodded her head in response. Night Walker turned away to let out a long breath. Ruby looked over to Shade Flare, and saw that he had the same confused face as her that was etched with worry, making her wonder if he had been free of the effects like she had been. But she could not contemplate long as the murmurs of the ponies below steadily rose, and she knew there was still more to be done.

Whatever that was, it wasn’t entirely wrong, she realized as her senses returned to her. We still need to look at this as it really is; a decision of us or them. Kill or be killed. Though she still didn’t understand what had happened, or agreed that that kind of blood haze was needed, she knew it had only spurred what already lied within each of them; coaxing out their feelings into something that was nearly tangible. But it had not been wrong, and still held the answer they sought. Even though she felt another shimmer within her, she tossed it aside quickly, and buried it deep within her.

Casting her gaze downwards, she looked over the group of bat ponies. It’s kill or be killed at this point. And we have a hundred reasons to do it.

Without letting her clarity or determination a moment to fade, Ruby stepped pass Night Walker, and stood forward onto the ledge. Each pony eyes were immediately drawn to her, and looked up in wonderment and hesitation at what overcome them next. Night Walker’s head was lifted again, and without drawing attention, slinked backwards out of sight.

Ruby coughed to clear her throat, and to find her voice, then spoke, “All of you… are truly wonderful ponies.” Her words rang clear throughout the cavern, captivating the ponies as they twitched their tuft ears at the sound of her pleasant but regal voice.

“I’ve come to know each of you personally during our time here. And while I have yet to remember my past and the ponies I knew then…”

Her voice nearly cracked as she said the words, but continued with a strength that matched Night Walker’s, but with a much different kind of strength.

“I will never forget all of you who stand with us here tonight! I feel honored and proud to know each and every one of you!” Ruby stared long and hard into as many eyes as she could, willing with all her might for them to see how she felt with her eyes, and that she spoke the truth.

“Night Walker is right, we are vamponies! And though our strength is greater than that of a normal pony, guard included, and our fierceness unmatched in opposition, it is with our combined strength that makes us stronger than any force that presents itself to us!”

While Night Walker’s words stirred ire and bloodlust, Ruby’s moved their spirits and resolve, binding them together in hopes that whatever will happen by days end, they will see the night together once more. Lifting her head, Ruby shouted at the top of her lungs in a passionate scream. “We are vamponies! But we are more than that! We… are family! And we will not let anyone take that away from us!”

Resounding cheers and stamping of hooves erupted in the cavern. Each bat ponies wings were flared as they cheered and gave hopeful looks to her above them, their spirits renewed and unwavering unlike before when the news first struck them, but clear and even more driven than the blood lust only moments before. The atmosphere had changed greatly from both Night Walker’s and Ruby’s words, and had formed together into something that was unbreakable.

As Ruby nervously laughed at the cheering, and smiled as brightly as she could at them, Night Walker watched from behind, eyeing her intently.

Ruby… you really hold their hearts don’t you? And you were even strong enough to cut through the miasma I had so foolishly let out… It has been sometime since I have lead the call for battle. It was like looking onto those who had stood by me so long ago. Night Walker let his eyes shift out of focus over the crowd, blurring features that might have seen familiar in some way.

They aren’t vamponies who can withstand hoof and spear. They are still frail and perishable. If they had charged out with the aura I had so carelessly fueled them with...

It was a thought he found he could not finish, and instead, simply stared at her in silent contemplation.

But…

Refocusing his eyes, he forced himself to look at their faces again, intent on absorbing every detail about them.

Even if your children do not your physical strengths, my old friends, I suspect you would still look onto them with pride. They still have your fire, though dwindled it may be. I can only imagine how far they will be able to go in this world.

With that thought, Night Walker looked towards Ruby, and the building fire in her eyes.

And just how far will you go?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Afterwards, they had ordered preparations for evacuation, and gathered the senior and notable bat ponies into Night Walker’s alcove where they stand in a circle, discussing the details of their plan of action.

“After we finish the first group that enters the cave,” Shade Flare said, “we will rush the perimeter line and begin the distraction. The Pegasi are our number one priorities, followed by the unicorns. We must ensure that the path is clear for the fleeing groups”

“I don’t like it,” said a older batpony with silver ears and a built jaw.

“You have a better plan of attack?” Shade Flare asked skeptically, his new crimson eyes catching the focus of each pony; a transition they were still coming to terms with.

“No no, the attack is fine,” he replied while idly waving a hoof. “Our options are limited and that seems to be the only choice here. My problem is that we’re splitting into groups afterwards.”

“We cannot remain concealed as easily if we remain as we do,” Night Walker said.

The batpony coughed politely. “Excuse me, my lord…”

“If you must give me a title, sir will do just as well,” Night Walker replied, eliciting a small fluster from the batpony.

“Excuse me, sir… but what about everything Princess Ruby had just said.” Giving Ruby a small glance before turning to everypony else in the circle he continued, “She’s right in the fact that we need each other to get through this. Every other rebellion against the princesses failed because they were too low in numbers. I don’t like the fact that were separating ourselves and making us weaker targets.”

“I understand your concern, so let me explain my reasoning for this.” Each pony, including Ruby, leaned forward in curiosity. “This… is war. And ponies will die,” he said flatly.

The ears of the senior lowered back as he leaned away from him, along with every other pony. When nopony else spoke up, Night Walker continued. “We must ensure that we survive and to do that, we can’t put all our eggs in a single basket as we’ve done now. I thought that we had more time to this cave to undergo most if not all of our transformations. But fortune is not in our favor, and we must proceed ahead of schedule.”

“You’ve planned for us to split up?” Ruby asked.

“Yes.”

Furrowing her brows, she asked with an edge to her voice, “Why wasn’t I aware of this?”

“I was going to inform you in due time. I merely wished for all of your focus to be on the spell for the transformation.”

Ruby returned his simple stare and explanation for a few moments before lowering her gaze in acceptance. It made sense that he wouldn’t want to worry her with other more important happenings at the time. But she wasn’t the simple and clueless pony she had awoken with amnesia from before either. She was beginning to tire at being clued in to things at the last possible moment, and with her clan of bat ponies now facing mortal danger, she was set to be involved in every little detail concerning them.

“By separating into three groups,” Night Walker continued, “we can conceal ourselves in much more manageable locations. Though I don’t know why it happened so quickly, this cave would have been discovered eventually, and there are only a few other locations that can hold this number of ponies somewhat comfortably. In a worst case scenario, if a group is managed to be taken, the others will still have a chance at survival.”

“How will we communicate once were split?” asked another pony within the group. “From where you’ve told us we’re going, I’m having a hard time understanding how we will coordinate.”

“Unfortunately, that is another snag in this untimely happenstance,” Night Walker replied. “Even if not everypony had been turned, I had wished to have at least a few trained enough in vampony magic to enable speedy communication. While it may not be faster than a flying pony, it is quick enough in its own right and far more discreet.”

“But we will manage,” Night Walker said in a surprisingly cheerful tone. “I will see to it personally the communication of each group and ensure all goes well.”

“How will we pick where each pony goes?” another asked.

“That is up to the group leaders I choose ahead of time,” Night Walker replied. Pointing a hoof at the elder, he began to delegate the positions. “You, Mist Hoof, will take a group to Fillydelphia. I had a route for you to follow that will bring you to a certain train station. There you will meet the staff of our benefactor and be discreetly taken to a location within the city.”

“Hmpf,” Mist Hoof grumbled before folding his arms. He did not seem keen on the location, but did not offer any arguments against it.

“I will take a group to Hayseed Swamps,” Night Walker continued. “The amount of terrain there should provide plenty of concealment for us, as well as plenty of natural growing fruit to sustain the bat ponies with me.”

“Ruby and Shade Flare, you two will also be rendezvousing with our benefactors staff to deliver you to Vanhoover. Unfortunately, we were not able to secure a location within the city itself yet, so please stick to the outskirts within the wilds. There’s plenty of open terrain there for concealment and escape. If you meet any opposition, it should be simple to head in any direction as you see fit to secure your groups safety.”

Shade Flare nodded his head in affirmation, while Ruby’s eyes narrowed. She gave Night Walker a questioning look before answering, “No.”

Her answer caused everypony within the small group to become very still.

“I will lead the Fillydelphia group,” she simply stated, looking Night Walker directly dead in the eye.

“Ruby…” he said in a low tone. “I must insist you accompany Shade Flare with the Vanhoover group.”

“I’m going with the Fillydelphia group,” she repeated again, her tone and eyes unwavering.

Night Walker closed his eyes momentarily to compose himself before speaking in a more gentle voice. “Ruby, you are very important and the focal point for our long term success. If we are to have a chance at restoring vampirism in each batpony, you need to be protected at all costs. Having Shade Flare by your side will ensure your safe keeping so you may continue your work.”

“I can protect myself, or have you forgotten already?” Ruby quipped. The mood of the room became much more tense. Though it paled in comparison to the one in the main cavern, none of the bat ponies dared to draw any attention to themselves. With only brief glances to each other, they wordlessly and unanimously decided it would be best not to take sides in the argument, least they incur the wrath of either vampony.

“Do not speak so towards me,” Night Walker said darkly.

Ruby had never heard him speak like that, let alone to her. But she did not care in the slightest. “I thought it was our way for the one who bests another to be able to speak their mind?”

Night Walker’s attitude only became more grim as he stared harshly at Ruby, his lips quivering slightly at the urge to bare his fangs towards her.

“This is to protect our ponies correct?” Ruby asked.

“… Yes,” he slowly responded.

“Then it only makes sense to have the strongest guiding each group respectively. I will not stand by and risk a single pony if I am able to help it should something go awry. A vampony needs to accompany each group so that they will have the highest chance of survival in case something does happen. Thus, Shade Flare will still be in charge for the Vanhoover, while I commandeer the Fillydelphia. No offense, Mist Hoof.”

“None taken, Princess,” Mist Hoof replied, receiving a quick flash of Night Walker’s eyes that ensured that was all he would say.

“In addition,” Ruby continued, “it only makes sense that I go to the city.”

“And why is that?” Night Walker managed to say without clenching his jaw.

“I’m the only one who can blend in,” she replied with a sly smile. “All I need to do is hide my horn or my wings. I know I suffered a bit of amnesia, but I vaguely recall that alicorns are something of a rare sight, and I have a feeling that fact hasn’t changed in this age either. However, a unicorn in a dress, or a pegasus with a hat should be a very common sight.”

“Ruby, I still don’t think-“

“In addition,” she said over him. “It’s about time I begun to learn how this new world worked as well. Being in the city will suit perfectly in that.” Ruby raised an eyebrow to Night Walker as if she dared him to refute any of her points. “If we are ever to be successful, we can’t keep ourselves in the dark while letting one be our eyes and ears. Even if that pony is a vampony lord.”

“Ruby-“

“I’m going, Night Walker,” Ruby said suddenly in a voice that could have been mistaken as a growl.

The bat ponies beside her leaned away slightly upon hearing her how deadest she was on the matter as she and Night Walker remained in eye lock, both staring deeply into the other in attempts to back them down. However, Ruby was proving to be unyielding even in the slightest, and that fact only caused Night Walker to deepen the scowl that had become very visible.

This mare…

After a few heated moments of staring, Night Walker flared his nostrils, and lowered his gaze in defeat. “Very well,” he agreed reluctantly in a unsatisfied voice. It was clear he was not going to convince her otherwise of her decision, and he was not about to risk a fight with her with Royal Guards approaching, or with the bat ponies in the alcove.

“Thank you,” Ruby said in a more gentle tone, putting the argument behind her more easily as her frustration evaporated on the spot. I’m so glad vamponies handle matters like these. I can’t imagine worrying about something and having to be polite about it, she thought happily to herself.

Each pony within the room gave out a small breath of relief as the tension in the air cleared, happy the two of them had reached a compromise.

Coughing loudly, Shade Flare drew the attention of the group. “If you don’t mind,” he asked tentatively, waiting for the simple nod of Night Walker before continuing. “Let us continue with the rest of the preparations. We will evacuate them in a single file, with certain numbers calling off indicating how many are left as suggested by Ruby. I will be the last pony to ensure each one made out of the cave. During this the rest will-“

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Commander Wintermane! One of the pegasi has reported in what looks to be the mouth of a cave southwest of our current position,” a guard relayed with a snapping salute to the unicorn in front of him.

The older pony thoughtfully watched beneath his helm as the pegasus above dashed over the trees, on his way to spread the rest of the new. He ignored the still saluting earth pony guard for some moments as he thought it over. But thankfully for the guard’s arm, he answered sooner than later.

“Send pegasi to have the rest of the force converge. We are to make steady advancement to this cave. Nopony enters its depths until I have arrived on scene.”

“Sir,” the pony acknowledge before trotting over to the nearest group pegasi.

Wintermane watched as each one took to the air in their respective directions, all of them armored in a similar fashion as he was, such was the standard of equipment of the Royal Guard. However, his mind was not on the disappearing forms of the pegasi, but rather on this recent expedition that he was leading his stallions on.

A cave deep within the forest? How dangerously convenient that is.

He mulled over the situation as another member of their squad began to issue orders for the direction change, keeping to himself as they trekked through the forest. Even when they ran into another squad of guard, he only mentioned a few words of acknowledgment to that squad’s leader upon greeting. As the leader of the entire platoon currently searching the woods, he had little reason to speak more than he felt needed.

But it was a well-known fact that he was never much of a talker to begin with. Indeed his exterior expression left much to imagination on his internal workings, and if anypony had been suspecting that he was currently performing a mental retrospection of all that had happened the last few weeks weighed heavily on his mind, they would have been right.

The last few years of his career had been filled with more excitement than what had been normal throughout his earlier years. Perhaps even more than any guard had seen in a very long time. Normally the soldiers of Equestria had little to do that involved their training and combat expertise. Often performing recovery, rescue, and restoration operations from natural disasters or missing ponies.

But with the return of Nightmare Moon, Discord’s first release, a changeling attack that made them all feel like freshly shaved foals, and the return of the Crystal Kingdom, Equestria suddenly seemed a much more dangerous place. Even though he nor any other troops saved Shining Armor were present for the Crystal Empire, the idea of an age old unicorn with dark intent appearing from the pages of history made him feel uneasy for the safety of his homeland.

And now it appears another evil from a long forgotten time had decided to enter Equestria, and if that wasn’t the worst of it, the recent kidnapping of the freshly crowned Princess Twilight send a shiver down his spine. No matter how he looked at it, everything was becoming less sure and stable in the world.

When Princess Celestia and Luna had summoned him to their chambers to inform him of her disappearance, they issued him command of a large search and rescue mission that intended to check every inch of Equestria. And while he agreed with their reasons to keep the operation dark in its exact purpose, he still wished he had more ponies to assist him on such a large endeavor.

The Princesses explained they could simply not risk another nationwide panic. Each force that had assaulted Equestria recently had left deep impacts on the daily lives of Ponies from coast to coast. They, like him, were starting to become less sure of the world and how safe it really was. Cross town businesses halted shipments whenever a new threat had arrived, travelling was suspended, and the economy faltered significantly to the point it even affect the few trades that existed with the other races of the world.

To his thankfulness, he, and many other members of the guard, had responded well during each situation and in the aftermath. Their training had been tested, displacing some notions of an inactive military. Though Princess Twilight Sparkle and her friends had been at the forefront for each situation, the guard had still done their part where the Elements of Harmony could not be. And if their capability was not enough for his satisfaction, the large influx of new recruitments made his heart swell with pride. Equestria would soon have many more capable bodies during the unfortunate times that were on the rise.

But that did not mean that the rest of the population would learn handle these troubling events nearly as well.

How Equestria’s citizens would react to a Princess missing, he could only fathom at the chaos it would cause. Such news would probably make even Discord himself proud at its results, he thought half amusedly. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on the day, the unnatural thing is nowhere to be found to aid in the search for Princess Twilight. Sometimes I wonder why the Princess’s even considered releasing him if he can’t even assist in something as urgent as this.

“Cave sighted,” the front line pony of his squad announced ahead.

Wintermane narrowed his eyes and refocused his attention at the task at hoof. Now was not the time to reminisce on how things unfolded to where they were now. The only thing that mattered was the recovery of Princess Twilight, and if possible, avoiding at all costs the monster that had kidnapped her.

He was still skeptical at the danger such a creature potentially presented, but the Princesses would not have warned him so if it were not true. From their descriptions of the damage he could cause, he had sounded like a bloodthirsty demon that escaped Tartarus itself.

He would of course see to the first priority of their mission, but that did not mean he would go out of his way to avoid a fight with the damned thing.

Turning his head about, he scanned over the remaining squads that were approaching the small clearing before the cave entrance, taking note of their positions around and even behind it at its sides. He directed his vision upwards to the elements of pegasi in the air, spread about in an organized fashion should any pony try to escape. Each of the supposed bat ponies he had only recently learned about were capable of flight, and aerial control would be key if they were to succeed in capturing them should the opportunity present itself.

In truth, he was had been slightly hurt when he had been informed that even he had been kept in the dark of the supposed town the Princesses had kept hidden away. His new knowledge of it certainly explained why so many of his old friends had been tasked on a new mission that they would always remain exclusive about.

Boring outpost out in the middle of nowhere my flank, he had thought when thinking over his past discussion with them when they would describe some details of their new job.

“Platoon, standby in ready,” Wintermane spoke to his nearby officers. “Inform the pegasi to detain all escapees if possible should they appear, but to focus their efforts on the main goal.” He always kept a few pegasi nearby to spread word to the rest of the platoon should he issue any orders, ensuring a speedy delivery of his command. “Alright boys, let’s see if we got another dud today. Scouting group, advance forward.”

He and everypony else watched intently as four unicorns left the forward positions, and began to make their way into the cave. If this is another false confirmation, I’m going to be yanking trees left and right.

Wintermane did not like delays in his operations, and so far they had uncovered nothing throughout the parts of Equestria they had searched thus far; which still left plenty of places to look. He could only hope that the local tip he received from a senior pony would prove correct, and today they would finally find something conclusive. Him, and his two hundred some stallions under his command were itching to finally meet their opposition.

He remained calm and collective as he watched the scouting group alight their horns, and begin their descent into the cave.

Come on you damned monsters, prove my theory that you're nothing more than a bunch of selfish vampire bats and come out of that cave.

In all honesty, he was not sure if he would sigh or laugh if they had ironically took shelter in the cave, a trait that would seem almost entirely too predictable considering many species of bats did the same save for some of the larger fruit eaters.

Minutes passed slowly as the waited the return of the unicorns, trying to keep their attention sharp should they find their targets for the first time. Wintermane glanced upwards now and then as they held positions within the trees, figuring that it was a little past noon. Exploring only during the day was also another warning the Princesses had given him, claiming that he would prove too risky to continue under the cover of darkness. Though it would have helped to keep their activities more concealed from the public, the aid it would give the bat ponies was too great to allow.

Then, a sudden flash of blue light was seen, snapping each pony to alert as one of the unicorn’s suddenly teleported into the clearing, his bloody and battered form showcased for all to see.

They looked on in shock as him somehow being able to have casted the spell despite the damage that was prevalent about his body, such as large bruises, and slash marks caused his white fur to adopt hints of pink from his oozing blood. He opened his mouth in what looked to be an attempt to shout something, but he nopony could hear his voice as a much deeper color of red color began to spread across his neck. The stallion reached a hoof to grasp at the appearing wound, staring at his bloodied hoof in disbelief, then collapsed forward into the ground, and became very still.

A cold wind blew across the clearing, and sent a shiver down the one-hundred and ninety-six ponies who stood mouths hanging at the unicorn.

Wintermane’s grey coat almost paled to his mane’s color namesake at the sight of the stallion’s demise, wondering what had befallen to the other three who had yet to appear. Their absences could only be viewed as a similar if not more gruesome fate.

The sound of a pony stepping on a branch snapped Wintermane from his shock, and he looked down to a nearby new recruit who was in the middle of taken a step backwards. The recruits hanging mouth quivered slightly as his eyes remain locked on the fallen body of the unicorn, his eyes wide with confusion and terror.

Wintermane was about to call out to him to pull him out of his panicked state, but his eyes caught even some of his more seasoned guards —some who had even been present during the changeling attack— share similar expressions of fear. Everypony was having difficulty processing what they had just seen, and despite their training, all of them were too caught up to react differently. The number of ones who seemed coherent though their faces were grim, were far fewer than the ones who weren’t.

“STEADY YOURSELVES!” Wintermane shouted for all of them to hear, bringing back to the dire situation that had gruesomely made itself known. They blinked themselves back to focused and shifted about as they nervously prepared themselves. Many of them still held horrified looks upon their faces, but their tense muscles showed they were at least ready for whatever came next.

It felt like minutes past as they waited apprehensively around the cave’s clearing, not a flicker of courage of anyone to be the first to head into the cave, and Wintermane began to feel his earlier pride fade the longer he stared at the unicorns body.

Knowing something must be done, he cleared his throat and prepared himself to issues orders. His words however, were cut off when a roaring sound of screams a shrieks were heard from the cave, causing the hairs of each pony’s mane to rise. Then, a group of bat ponies burst from the cave, some flying straight into the air towards the pegasi, while the rest darted across the ground.

But if the sight of them performing a head charged into the shocked line of soldiers hadn’t been the worst of the matter, the red eyes that Wintermane spotted attached to the blurry shape leading that charge drove it home, along with the sight of an orb as black as any night floating behind him, and growing larger with each step they took. Wintermane had only a moment to see that it had been sprouting from the cave, before it grew in such size and speed that it enveloped the entire clearing.

And everything became dark.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Night Walker had used vampony magic to quickly establish communication with their benefactor, setting up last minute plans to receive their arrival in multiple locations. Ruby was equally curious on how he managed to do it, as well as who it was they were working with, deciding she would no longer be kept in the dark on such a important matter. But Night Walker had simply said that she would meet him in due time, as he would personally greet her group in Fillydelphia.

Then they dispatched the scouting unicorns that had appeared with ease, leaping upon them from the shadows from all directions. Though the unicorns fought valiantly for some moments, they were subdued quickly. Three of them were quickly dispatched, and the fourth was left alone as per Night Walker’s orders. When the unicorn saw he was outmatched, and had been given a moment, he had immediately prepared a teleportation spell.

Though he was quick, Night Walker was quicker. And so it was to the unicorns horror, during a heartbeats moment before the spell was completely, he had been faintly aware of a razor edged wing flashing past his head, and the sensation of being able to breath from his throat.

Afterwards, Night Walker and Ruby quickly drained the remaining three bodies, and to her bewilderment, Night Walker also drank a mouthful of her blood as well. She had been initially against it, but he explained that alicorn blood was stronger, that it would be needed for what he was about to do, him mentioning they had done similar tactics in the past, and the direness of the situation was all that was needed to convince her.

The plan then was for him and a preselected group of bat ponies to rush outside and distract the guards. Some bat ponies were to knock down the pegasi from the air, while the others held a defensive line with Night Walker on the ground. To tie the plan together, he would cast a spell that would engulf the entire area within a black sphere, siphoning the shadows of the cave and maintaining it with Ruby’s blood, as well as any additional guards his fangs would chance upon.

It had taken no less that three stern glares to silence Ruby on her curiosity of the mechanics of the spell.

With the sphere reaching the tree line to prevent the ground forces from seeing the sky, the pegasi were effectively isolated, leaving the bat ponies a chance to ground them to clear escape routes as well as prevent them from seeing the directions in which they would fly to.

Night Walker explained to the first group that the center of the spell will be pitch black even for the bat ponies, effectively hiding them completely should they need to retreat. But the edges were thin and would only filter some of the sunlight.

When the spell had been cast, the majority of the pegasi had been caught within the outskirts of the spell, feeling as if they were just below the surface of a colorless ocean, and below them lay uncharted murky depths where unknown things slept. And before they could pull themselves out, they were greeted with the sight of hooves and snarling faces of bat ponies appearing from those depths and dragging them under.

Their screams were easily heard when Ruby cleared the cave.

“First group head on out!” Ruby shouted as she stepped aside for the ponies behind her. The sound of their beating hooves and flapping wings indicated to her that they had jumped airborne and were quickly pouring out of the cave. The elders and children, along with their parents, were the first groups to flew out, hoping to get as much of a head start as possible while the rest brought up the rear.

It was Ruby’s job to ensure as many bat ponies left the cavern before she joined her group, shouting directions in the shadows when they were clear of the cave and which way to take off so that they could begin towards their designated destinations.

The sounds of combat were heard clearly inside the darkness, causing her look out in the direction the sounds came from now and then even though she could not see them. The bat ponies on the ground were not supposed to engage directly with the guard, but rather to taunt them from the edge of the shadows and take down any pony that dared to stray into its depths. The same could not be said however, for the ones focused on the pegasi, tackling them in the air and throwing them down towards the ground so that they could become lost in the darkness.

“Incoming!” a pony shouted before the sudden glow of red light tared across the darkness. Ruby looked on with wide eyes as the illuminating shape of a fireball seared across the blackness, revealing the silhouettes pegasi who stumbled about the ground in a daze for only a few moments. It kept coming towards her until collided into the side of the cave, only some feet away from the mouth where Ruby stood, causing her to throw her wings up to protect herself from the debris of earth that exploded from the impact.

She squinted her eyes at the sudden projectile before it snuffed itself out in the dirt. The unicorns! They must be firing blindly into the spell.

Their time was shortening, and everypony needed to get out of the cave and fast, least one of the unicorns score a lucky shot and hit the evacuating ponies with a fatal inferno.

“Keep going! You’re almost there!” Ruby shouted urgently, straining her ears past the sounds of fighting to listen for the passing groups.

“Number sixty reporting!” one pony yelled as she ran by.

Good, Ruby thought. Only twenty-five left before evacuation is complete.

The darkness was illuminated again as another fireball careened through the air, causing the ponies within the clearing to scatter before it landed just before the cave, throwing embers that touched the hooves of the fleeing bat ponies taking flight.

Why hasn’t that unicorn been dealt with? What is Night Walker and the rest doing up there? What if it hits the ones who are busy in the distraction?

Gritting her teeth, she charged down the small slope and took off in the direction of the fireballs.

I don’t care what kind of fuss Night Walker makes, I am not allowing a single bat pony die from those flames.

Even though another fireball could already be seen, briefly lighting the area around her, she shut her eyes instead, only to open them moments later as glowing white orbs, and made for the edges of the spell.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I SAID STOP SHOOTING THOSE SPELLS!” Wintermane yelled to the unicorn some distance away, glaring in anger at the frightened but very skilled magic user who had recklessly began firing into the darkness.

“SECOND GROUP! ADVANCE!”

The next group of unicorns and earth ponies began their charge into the shadows, fearfully glancing about them as the unicorns lit their horns as brightly as possible to reveal as much area as they could. But regardless of how strong they were, they would vanish out of Wintermane’s sight when they went further than fifteen feet in. He was unable to send all his forces at once, for the sheer number of them in the darkness would cause too much confusion and they would break ranks easily if they were attacked from above. And it would also prove to be too close of quarters to fire any spell without hurting their own, making them vulnerable to whatever would fly above them in the blackness.

Wintermane clenched his jaw tightly at the developing situation. How that demon managed to summon such a spell, I have no idea. But it’s proving disastrous for us.

He did a double check on the remaining troops, cursing that they had to fall back further into the forest to stay clear of the shadows. He had been tempted to get the pegasi above to see if a gale could disperse the darkness, but they were effectively cut off, and the sounds of familiar voices yelling sent a sense of dread that ground forces weren’t the only ones dealing with the bat ponies.

Thus he had given the order to begin advancing into the shadows, despite the warnings they received from its inhabitants. The bat ponies taunted them from within, promising them cruel fates if they entered. Wintermane knew it was a trap as the bat ponies retreated further in as the guard drew closer, but he could not risk time standing around while the pegasi were being attacked. It was all escalating far too much for him to effectively control, and he needed to end it now.

The Princesses had urged that nopony be harmed if possible, and they had stressed to him to attempt at all costs save for his troops lives that the bat ponies were to be caught alive and well. But from what he and his soldiers had seen thus far, he knew mercy was at the back of every stallions mind. The sound of spells crackling and the faint smell of searing flesh drifting into the forest showed that he had guessed his soldiers feelings correct

Forgive me, my princesses, he had thought to himself when he had issued the next group to advance.

Then, the cry of a stallion in pain rang out from the darkness, before suddenly being cut off, sending a shiver down Wintermane’s spine at its eerie echo; the sudden silence bring about the realization that another guard had met a gruesome fate. Its sound was followed by another, and another, until multiple voices could be heard in alarm. Guards he had sent in with the initial waves appeared as they fled away and looked back with horrified faces.

“MONSTER!”

“ITS RIGHT BEHIND ME!”

“BY CELESTIA! IT TOOK FLINT SPARK!”

Wintermane watched in anger and confusion as they stumbled back into the ranks. “What’s going!?”

“S-Sir! It’s that demon that created this mess! It’s slaughtering us left and right!” one of them reported, his already white coat somehow taking on an ethereal appearance from the events he had just witnessed.

The sudden wail of a pony who was momentarily seen being flung out of the darkness and directly into their rows grabbed everyone's attention, then were drawn back to the black spell as a muffled voice could be heard.

Amongst the noise of a spell being shot off or a scream there, the growing sound of a low laugh reached the ears of Wintermane and his nearby by guard. It was a humorous laugh that caused them to stiffen, and send a primal fear deep into their chests. It was the sound of something that defied everything he believed in.

Two twinkling orbs of white were spotted within the blackness, giving the appearance of a creature watching them from a void. The flashed out a few times in what he assumed was blinking, before disappearing entirely. And the body those eyes belong to, purposely strode out from the shadows.

The surrounding darkness trailed off him in thin wisp’s as if they tried to remain attached to his body. And when they cleared, they saw clearly for the first time the creature that had been murdering their comrades.

A black stallion with blood oozing down his lips and neck stood regally before them, his matching crimson eyes slowly taking in the horrified expressions of the guards. His silver mane similarly had left over blood splattered on it here and there, causing it to become damp and cling to his body, and his wide leathery wings that flashed out with hooked ends gleamed dully from the innards and bits of flesh that hung from them.

It truly looked like a monstrosity out of the worst nightmare to Wintermane, a monster that merely regarded them with a sly smirk that indicated little more than a playful mood.

“Gentlecolts…” he spoke, causing them to stiffen at how eloquent and calm his voice was. “As delightful as a time I am having letting off some steam onto you all, I would not recommend continuing anymore, least you wish to suffer more casualties in this foalish endeavor of yours.”

The black stallion looked over them as he awaited a response, looking as if he was caught between a demeanor of silent amusement, and that of a predator selecting the next prey he would pounce upon.

“Night Walker… I presume,” Wintermane said clearly.

Night Walker shifted his eyes to him, and stared intently at him. “Yes, that is one of my names.”

“You…” Wintermane paused to gulp to swallow the crack in his voice. “You are hereby judged by Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. Release Princess Twilight from your custody, and surrender yourself and the bat ponies.”

“No,” Night Walker responded promptly, his grin unfaltering in the slightest.

Like I expected any different, Wintermane thought. “If you do not surrender, you give us no other option but to execute you on the spot. You are out of the cover of your conjuring’s, and there are over fifty Guards here, ready to cast their spells and spear you.”

Wintermane spoke as loud as he could muster about Night Walker’s situation, and felt a kindle of hope as the sounds of metal clinked into position, and every horn began to flare with magic.

“What is your name?” Night Walker asked, completely ignoring the glares of the guards shifting about him.

“...Wintermane.”

“Wintermane, have you ever heard of ‘der Letzte Drang?” Night Walker asked with a smirk that unnerved the closest ponies to him.

“Can’t say that I have,” he replied, already igniting his own horn as he felt the conversation come to a close.

“Well, as you can see, I’m quite fed right now,” Night Walker cheerfully replied. “But if you happen to prove yourselves competent in a fight, and manage to make me expend some of this extra energy, then you just might be lucky to see it.” Then in one moment, Night Walker’s facade fell, and his pupils dilated as he revealed his fangs with a wicked grin, and his body shook with excitment. “Or maybe not!”

“FIRE!” Wintermane shouted at once.

The last thing the guard saw was the maniacal expression on Night Walker’s face, then the darkness behind him rushing forward and engulfing them all. The air became filled with the sounds of magic crackling and roaring shouts that quickly turned to haunting screams. It was only the few who experienced surreality of the moment in full that were able to hear another sound; the faint soothing whispers of the one would appear illumination for only a moment, and leave with a faint afterimage that would plague the dreams of the ones who lived.

Oh fair stranger,

I greet you this night,

Stay for awhile,

Do not fear my bite.

It will swiftly come,

And ease your pain,

Listen closely now,

The blood in your veins.

Sweetly pass,

Into better dreams,

Rest your eyes,

And fall asleep.

As I sing... your final… reprise…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ruby galloped onward through the pitch black. She had yet to see another fireball light up the depths of Night Walker’s spell again, but she didn’t discount the chance one wouldn’t be cast still. By her calculations, there were only a few more ponies left to escape the cave, and all of them would most likely be out in the air by the time she even reached the edge of the spell. But that still left the ones within the spell, still open to any outside magic, and she didn’t want to risk waiting for Night Walker to be the one rounding them all when there time came to flee.

She nimbly dodged around the bodies of grounded pegasi, easily seeing their flickering souls like shining beacons in the suffocating black. They called out for others nearby to regroup, or moaned unintelligibly from the pain of broken wings in their fall. Ruby passed them by silently, and carefully approached each batpony she came across. Identifying herself quickly, she told them the evacuation was successful, and send them off in a clear directions to catch up with their groups.

But even as carefully as she avoided the differing shape of the guards souls, her hooves caught on an unforeseen object, and their glowing lights twinkled out as her chin hit the ground. Stunned for a moment, she propped herself up and silently cursed herself for tripping on a rock. Her self berating however, ended when her back legs brushed against the object again, and felt that it was soft.

Confused, she lit her horn only enough to reveal just enough around her immediate area, then gasped in shock at what she had fallen over. A batpony; dead on the ground, and with half their body burned beyond recognition. It was only then that the smell of searing flesh reached her nose.

Ruby shuffled away quickly while forcibly holding down the urge to vomit, her eyes locked onto batpony as she shook her head back and forth slowly.

“No…” she choked. This wasn’t supposed to happen…. We were only supposed to attack the pegasi and leave them stranded. The rest were going to hold of the unicorns and earth ponies near the edges of the spell.

Ruby felt her eyes watering, unable to tear her eyes away from it.

I don’t even know who that is… I can’t recognize them…

The face had taken the brunt of the damage, leaving most of the back end untouched. Ruby noted this and more, hardly aware of the stream of tears sliding down her face, or the change of light within the area as a soft blue began to mix with her purple. It was only when the sound of a horn crackling with magic preparing to cast a spell did she take notice, and numbly turned her head around.

Behind her stood a white stallion staring grimly at her, his cheeks damp with drying tears as he glared at her. What caught her attention the most however, was his eyes. They were still red on the edges, but they were narrowed and set with a look of pain, judgement, and vengeance. From the stories she had heard, she imagined that the guards who treated the bat ponies poorly must have looked at this just like this.

Ruby had only a moment to see the expression however, before it vanished into one of disbelief and hope.

“P… Princess Twilight?” the stallion asked.

Ruby stared blankly at him, wondering why he hadn’t unleashed the spell he had been charging onto her.

“Princess Twilight!” he then shouted with joy, and quickly discharged his horb, leaving only enough magic to light the space around them, his blue mingling with her still glowing purple. He then thrusted a hoof towards her. “Quickly! We must get you out of here!”

Ruby flinched away from his hoof and stared wordlessly up, her mind still caught in the lock of everything.

He nudged his hoof to her again. “Come on! We need to get you out of here! We must return you to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna at once!”

Ruby did not know why the stallion was referring to her as Twilight; it wasn’t a name she recognized. But she did recognize the last two he had said, and the mention of them was more than enough to snap her out of her daze.

She threw open her wings and slapped his hoof away with a scowl. “You can’t take me back! I won’t be their prisoner ever again!”

The unicorn opened his mouth, and fidgeted on his hooves as he withdrew he hoof. “But… but I… we’re here to...”

He however, did not finish his explanation or his attempt to understand what was happening, and was instead suddenly tackled into the ground by a batpony who had leapt from the darkness nearby.

Ruby blinked in surprise as she watched the two of them rolled on the ground, the guard grunting in effort to wrestle off the batpony who snarled above him.

“PRINCESS TWILIGHT! GET OUT OF HERE WHILE YOU CAN! I’LL HOLD THIS MONSTER OFF!” the unicorn shouted.

“PRINCESS RUBY! GO! I CAN HANDLE IT!” the batpony yelled in kind.

“E-…Ebon Wing?” Ruby asked in disbelief.

Before she think further on it, the guard managed to get the upper hoof in the struggle, and flipped the slightly smaller Ebon Wing onto his back, and pinned him down with his hooves. The guard gritted his teeth as he stared hatefully down at Ebon Wing, illuminating the area around them with more light as his horn filled with magic. Ebon Wing fruitlessly beat his hooves against him, snarling in a furious fashion that only caused the guard to look onto him in disgust.

The guard grunted as he prepared the last moment of the spell and threw his head back, readying himself to snap it forward and unleash all his magic onto Ebon Wing. But before he could, a feral scream ripped loose in the darkness, and his body froze as his heart nearly stopped, and time dramatically slowed for him. Within a moment that lasted between the time a heart would take to beat, his eyes turned to his side, and saw a sight that sent a primal fear deep into him.

Ruby was in mid lunge, and nearly upon him. The purple light from her horn clung about the shadows around them in a eerie glow, an effect he had originally mistaken was the reason for the odd coloration in her eyes the first time he saw her, thinking it was a simple reflection. But now he could clearly see they were red. Even more odd he thought, were the pearly white fangs she was baring towards him.

An image past in his mind; a moment from another time. Princess Twilight had passed him in the castle, nodding to him in a friendly matter and looking at hit with warm purple eyes. She had such a glow about her, an air that spoke of gentle compassion and soft understanding. She had taken her time to look at him directly, and nod cheerfully at him, bringing a smile that made him want to turn around on the spot and assist her in any way he could. That chance encounter with her had made him happy for the rest of the day.

Another image; this time in departing Canterlot with the rest of his platoon on a secretive and important mission. Princess Twilight had been taken, and they were going to find her. He had been apart of the initial response team to Ponyville, he had been in her library, and even spoken to her friends. It was a day that had set a firm resolve within him, one that had kept him diligent and determined since. He was going to find Princess Twilight and bring her home. He was prepared to give anything.

He then saw himself only minutes before, steadily advancing into the spell that had engulfed the clearing. He was terrified to enter it, and nearly turned tail on the spot, ready to face desperation than to step a single hoof into the darkness that emanated the promise of death. But he had thought of why they were there, and of Princess Twilight’s smile in the hallway, and went in, the courage from his internal promise of bringing her home giving him strength move his hooves.

A guard died next to him, another screamed nearby which turned into gurgling of blood, a batpony hissing defiantly as guard chased after him. The last expression of a close friend as he was yanked out from his horn’s light, bringing on a entirely new moment of time of the years they had spent with each other. Tears at the loss around him, confusion as to why it was all happening, and bitter anger for revenge. He damned everything and plunged deep into the spell, pushing his hooves for the goal that would make the deaths of those around him justified; to the thing that would make all this terrible and unnatural situation somewhat bearable. Find Princess Twilight.

Then he found her.

But it wasn’t Princess Twilight.

The mare that was inches away was not the alicorn he had seen in the hall. It did not have her eyes that made him hold his breath in awe, but instead ones that looked upon him cruelly. Nor it did have the air about her that tempted his heart for the chance to serve her, but rather stop it’s beat and whisper coldly of his death. The thing that was slowly sinking its teeth into his neck was not the Princess Twilight he remembered and had come to rescue; it was only a monster.

And as the world spun back into time, he wondered, Where was she?

Ebon Wing blinked in confusion from the weight that had been holding him down was suddenly gone, and the blue light that lit the area gave way, leaving only the color of purple coalesced with the shadows. Shakily, he sat himself up and looked around, wondering how he was still alive. The reason though, was immediately clear when he saw Ruby a short distance away, standing over the still form of the stallion.

She breathed heavily as she lifted her head from the body, letting her disheveled mane hang haphazardly about her. Blood was splattered upon it and her lips, matching the red in her eyes as she scanned the darkness around them, her ears splayed back at the sounds ponies fighting around them that had returned with sudden clarity.

It was the first time that Ebon Wing had seen her acting in the supposed role as a vampony princess, a stark contrast to the happy and caring mare he had come to known in the cavern that would annoy him with constant questions and patient urging to get him to talk. This was an entirely different pony that stood before him. Everything about her leaked of power, authority, and death.

“Ebon Wing, are you alright?” Ruby asked as she turned to him.

“… I… yeah, I’m okay,” he shakily replied.

“Good, where’s Night Walker?”

“I-I saw him only a little bit ago. He said that the guards were coming into the darkness and that he was going to take care of them.” Ebon Wing gathered himself and stood back on his hooves. “He told me to find the rest of the bat ponies and tell them to join up with the rest while he held off the guard.”

“He went by himself!?”

Ebon Wing flinched at her tone. “H-he said that he would be fine, and that he will catch up with the Hayseed Swamp group when he could.”

Ruby let out a ‘tsk’ and bit her lip as she turned her eyes downwards. Ebon Wing glanced about nervously as he waited for her to say something, his ears twisting about at the sound of shuffling guard ponies that were beginning to become far to close for his comfort.

“Okay, we’re leaving then.” Ruby announced. “You were with my group, right?”

“Y-yes.”

“Then let’s go.” She opened her wings, then gave him a curious glance up and down his body. “Can you fly?”

“I should be good,” he said quietly but quickly. He was more than ready to leave. Ruby gave him the first smile he had seen on her all evening.

“Alright then, follow my light. We’re flying out of here.”

Without wasting another moment, they two of them took wing and made their way upwards. Though it felt much longer, they shortly saw daylight filtering above then. It was as if they were swimming from the depths of the ocean, and had closed their eyes when they burst out and sunlight flooded their vision.

They continued straight upwards while blinking the blindness away, then took in their surroundings. With a quick glance down, Ruby saw the black sphere below them. It engulfed the entire clearing and had even elongated partially into part of the forest she suspected most of the guard resided in. The sounds of spells firing and ponies shouting were faint, and appeared small and out of place compared to the rest of the world that was within sight around her.

“I see them, I think” Ebon Wing announced while holding a hoof above his eyes.

Squinting, Ruby turned to where he was looking, and spotted the blurry spots of figuring flying in the distance.

“Good catch. Come on!” Ruby said before the two of them pushed themselves in hot pursuit.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was some miles before Ruby and Ebon Wing had finally caught up with the groups quick pace, now far away with the forest and Night Walker’s no longer in sight. A heavy expression lifted from Mist Hoof’s face when he saw the two of them, and slowed the group until Ruby met with him in the front. Ruby inquired how the group did on their evacuation, and Mist Hoof on her delay, followed by Ebon Wing filling in the gaps on what he had experienced at the edge of the spell. When they neared the end of their discussion, it became sorrowfully apparent that they were missing five ponies. Mist Hoof had hoped that they would arrive with Ruby, but she and Ebon Wing stated that there were none left that they saw. And though it was expressed that it was possible they had gone with a different group on accident, the hopeful thought was dashed when Ruby reluctantly revealed her grim encounter with the burned bat pony.

They flew on in silence for the remainder of the flight.

By the time they reached the rendezvous coordinates, night time had fallen on Equestria, shrouding the land in a much more visible and comforting darkness for them. Soon the lights of a small town appeared in the horizon, and they flew along it’s outskirt until they arrived above a dimly lit train station sitting at the towns edge. Below, the figure of a single pony standing in the loading area was clearing seen.

They circled above the train station well above and out of sight, carefully inspecting the surrounding area to ensure sure there was no pony else. When all appeared clear, Ruby had them land a distance away in the shadows, and much to the reluctance of Mist Hoof, trotting carefully by herself to the platform. She glanced warily around for the potential guard that might leap out of some hiding spot as she approached, and walked onto the loading area where the pony stood..

The moment she saw him, her initial thoughts was that his entire appearance screamed the word ‘butler’ in every possible manner. From the way he held himself, right down to his cutie mark of a decorated platter. He was a brown unicorn with grey edges about him indicating his age, equally matched by his grey mustache. His mane was slicked back in a professional manner, and his eyes—to her suspicion—held not a single flicker of surprise or of any emotion for the matter when he saw her.

A moment of silence passed between them, before he spoke duly, “Princess Ruby, I presume?”

“… Yes, that's me,” Ruby replied cautiously.

Nodding his head slightly in affirmation, he turned fully to her direction and sweep his hoof over the train. “Please aboard the train along with your guests. We are running a bit behind schedule and we have ground that must be made up.”

Ruby narrowed her eyes as she sized herself up. “We’re late because we were attacked. Ponies died so we could get here.”

“My condolences,” he simply replied.

The urge to leap upon the old stallion and rip his throat out nearly overwhelmed her, but she forced herself not to act on the instinct, and instead focus on the more important task of seeing her ponies to safety. With hesitation to pull her eyes from him, she called out to the group, and watched intently as the bat ponies quickly rushed from the shadows and onto the train, glancing about them with fear and worry.

No sooner than had all of them boarded did the trains engine began to churn, and steadily begin its way down the tracks.

The rooms within the train were a godsend compared to the living conditions they had in the cave. Here they had beds, already prepared fruit, and soft pillows to rest on. The exhausted and weary bat ponies heavy spirits lifted slightly at these welcomed amenities, finally allowing themselves to rest after the day’s ordeal. The children apart of the group seemed to recover some of the energy as they bounced about on their beds in their respective cabins, causing the parents to gently usher them under the covers so they could get some rest, though not without a much needed smile at their antics.

The butler pony who had yet to reveal his name escorted them through the carts, seemingly have no difficulty navigating the darkened rooms and hallways as well as they did. He recommended to keep the lights off as too not reveal themselves through bright windows, and the suggestion was taken unanimously, if not for the sole reason of comfort the darkness held.

Though he initially began to lead her to her room, Ruby stated that she would see to every other pony first, and followed him as he guided them to their rooms. She was unwilling to put her head to rest until she saw each of them at ease.

“Your room, Princess Ruby,” the butler duly announced as he opened the door to a rather large room. Each cabin had been as series of bunks allowing four to six ponies to sleep somewhat comfortably. Her bed however, nearly filled the entire room.

But she was simply too tired to argue against it, and did not feel like dealing with the butler’s dry attitude of insisting she stayed in her instead of a simpler room. She instead mumbled a ‘Thanks’, and flopped onto the bed.

“Sweet dreams,” he said in what she thought was in the most non-concerning manner she had ever heard, then left while closing the door.

Everything about him screams cliché, she thought to herself.

Groaning out the last of her frustration, she sprawled out onto the bed and focused on the softness of the mattress and comforter beneath her. I really shouldn’t be enjoying this so much… she lightly scolded herself. But it had been a long day, long enough for her and every bat pony to sleep despite it being night time.

This is really going to screw with my sleep schedule.

*Sigh* You're telling me...

Ruby snapped her eyes open as she looked about the small room. “What was that?”

Silence passed, until she heard a voice ask hesitantly,Can... can you hear me now? When Ruby stiffened at hearing the voice again, it became very frantic and excited. Oh my gosh! You can hear me! Finally! Oh how I've been waiting for something like this!

Shuffling herself into an upright position, Ruby looked each and every way for the source of the feminine voice; even resorting to checking under her pillow.

“Who’s there? Where are you?”

You... you don't know who I am? the voice then said dejectedly.

Why does it sound so familiar?

Well, probably because I'm you. it answered. In bewilderment, she realized that she was hearing the voice inside her head.

Ruby let out a small gasp at its reply. With her eyes still wide, she looked thoughtfully down onto the covers.

H-… hello?

Hello.

Laying herself back down, she hesitantly thought aloud, Who… Who are you?

I already told you. I’m you. Well... a part of you of least.

Ruby narrowed her eyes, and had a sudden idea.

We’ll see about that. Closing her lids, she brought out the familiar feeling of Soul Sight and directed her gaze inward, searching her soul for the source of the voice, not entirely sure she would find it. But it wasn’t long before she recognized something she did not remember seeing before, and felt a sinking feeling within her as she examined it closely.

When did that get there?

I, the voice emphasized, appeared when you kept shoving me away. You had no intention of listening to me, so I did what I had to do so you couldn't bury me down anymore.

Really? Ruby thought sourly. Let's put that to the test.

Directing her focus, she worked her magic on the odd part within her, willing it to disassemble or reshape as she had done with Shade Flare during his transformation.

I don't think that's not going to work.

Shutup! Ruby replied as she scrunched her face in concentration. But the voice was right, no matter what she did she was unable to affect it in even the slightest of ways. It was as if it was but wasn’t a part of her; a separate section of her soul that remained outside of her influence. Finally realizing that she was inexplicably powerless to modify it, she looked to its structure for some clue.

The thing was only a small piece with only a minor amount of bridges to the other parts of her soul. It was mainly attached to her emotions, possibly its source location when Ruby recalled the various times she felt an odd sensation over the past few weeks. If it was what she suspected, then she believed it to be that exact feeling manifested. Ruby attempted to isolate it by dismantling the bridges, but they too were protected by whatever force was responsible for not allowing her to tamper with its design. Unable to fully understand it let alone affect it, she reluctantly continued the unusual conversation.

What are you? Why are you here?

Ruby waited in frustration for it to explain itself, ready to snap at whatever reason it could muster. But when it did not reply, her scowl fell. She craned her head to see if she could hear it again, thinking that whatever it was might have vanished as sudden as it had appeared. But it did eventually speak again, causing Ruby to flinch with its sullen tone.

”I don't know.."

You... don't know why you're here? Ruby asked tentatively, feeling her guard against the voice beginning to slip at the knowledge it might know as little as her.

I'm afraid so.

The tension in Ruby eased some as she turned her head to stare idly at the window, running over possible ideas on what was happening. She was too tired to deal with whatever was happening, and only had little energy and willpower to figure it out. She didn’t know what it was, but it did not pose an immediate threat from what she observed, and now looked onto it with tired curiosity. Before she could ask a series a questions she came up with however, it spoke first, and did so in an unfriendly attitude.

But the thing I do know is that I don't like what you have been doing lately. You have been awful and cruel. And... I'm not going to stand for it anymore!

Ruby raised an eyebrow in annoyance. Really? Because If you are apart of me then you should know why I've been doing the things I have done. Right?

Of course I do, it snapped back.

So you don't think I should be helping the bat ponies?

No! I never said that! it replied. I just don't agree with how you've been doing things.

Well, that's going to be tough because unless you can control my body, you're not going to have a say on things. Ruby dared. It was however, only a few moments of quick retrospection before she cautiously asked, Are you able to take control of my body?

No, I don't think so... it sighed. But I do have say on what you do whether you like it or not.

Which I can already tell I'm not, Ruby interjected smartly.

But, it said in annoyance to her comment. Despite what you think, I am an important part of you I believe you are neglecting. So I will be verbally reminding you of things you have apparently forgotten.

And what's that? Ruby asked sarcastically, not entirely certain if she should listen to the voice or ignore it until she could find a way to get rid of it. She briefly considered if it was a mutation from the alicorn magic, or some sort of feedback from the transformation with Shade Flare, which only reminded her that she never had the chance to study in detail the anomaly that appeared in his soul.

I don't know, it answered matter of factly, ignoring a frustrated snort from Ruby who did not liking the repeating and useless answer.

Flick your tail about as much as you want, but the fact is I'm here and I can talk now. And regardless of how you feel about me, I’m not going away.

Act II - Chapter 26

View Online

There is a celebration tonight, one to signify our recent and successful contract issued from the Noble’s out in the Highlands, and to congratulate our newest family members. They performed exceptional during the ambush, and reacted appropriately when the enemy's reinforcements arrived. I have decided to recognize them tonight during the initial ceremony. It will do their spirits good, as well as make their chooser’s proud for selecting them.

No doubt that their actions will be popular during the next few weeks, of how they devastated the opposing forces and drank more than their fill multiple times over. At times, I wonder how other ponies see us when we arrive on the battlefield. How do they feel when they see our fangs and crimson eyes? Do they curse us when we slip past their guard and disrupt their defences? Or do they weep at the knowledge that only a few—if any—of them will survive or be spared and allowed to retreat?

I wonder what they are thinking of as they drag their tails home…


-Ruby Sparkle




Despite how hard everypony tried, and how soothing the gentle rocking motions of the train was, the majority of the bat ponies found they were only able to manage a few hours of sleep, and were now mulling about the train compartments in either the common areas or their bed cabins.

Ruby shortly joined them to see how each pony was doing, finding herself also unable to sleep in addition of finding the strange voice in her head silent and unresponsive. In one moment it had been there criticising her, then after what seemed only like a few seconds of shuteye, it was gone. How it had appeared or even its purpose, Ruby did not know, but decided it would be a mystery to solve another time. Right now, her ponies needed her, and she desperately hoped to rekindle their spirits.

Her presence however, did not have the entire effect she desired. No matter how supportive she was, or condoling to the ones that stared at the empty bed across them that should have had a friend, she found it was a mood that would not fade anytime soon. The weight of the day’s memories hung heavily on their faces, even the ones who managed to smile when they saw her.

Though Ruby knew the dark mood would not fade easily, and that by just being there was the best thing she could do, it still made her feel helpless. Sitting beside them and listening was all she could do, and would do. She was intent on being present for the ones who had been closest to the ones that were lost, and would stay by them for any length of time they requested. It was as she thought, her duty as their Princess, and punishment for have being unable to protect them.

Ruby and the parents however, found some joy at the fact that the children were at least managing sleep. So as to not disturb them, Ruby only spent a few moments in the family cabins, passing on that others were in the food cart and to make sure they eat soon. But when she entered Lily Wing and Lunar Pearl’s room, she was invited to say, and sat across in the bed across from them.

As Ruby and Lily Wing talked, Lunar Pearl remained fast asleep next to her sister, tucked beneath the covers and huddled against Lily Wing’s body. Were it not for her tuft ears twitching in agitation, or the scrunching of her face at who knows what in her dreams, Ruby might have thought she might have escaped the days ordeal without the pains everypony else had suffered. Whenever Lunar Pearl squeezed her eyes tightly, or let out a meek moan of discomfort, Lily Wing would turn her weary eyes to her, and rub her hoof gently up and down her back through the covers, easing her back to what the two mares hoped might be a more peaceful dream.

“I can’t believe Gravel is gone…” Lily Wing said quietly.

“How well did you know him?” Ruby replied equally quiet.

“More than most. He was one of my best friends growing up,” Lily Wing said with a sigh. “Him and me, along with a few others, were inseparable as kids. We were always running around the town causing mischief where ever we could, just to do anything to pass the time within the walls. We had some pretty good times growing up…”

Though Lily Wing was looking at her sister, Ruby saw how distant they were actually looking. “What kind of pony was he?” Ruby asked tentatively.

Lily Wing made a half snort as she smirked. “He was helpful to a fault, always was willing to lend a hoof or wing to anypony that needed it. It got him in trouble a few times, but he would still help out even the pony that got him in trouble anyways, regardless of his punishment. Some bat ponies took advantage of that for a while. But when he was around us we’d make sure he was alright.”

Lily Wing then manage to let out a small laugh. “I remember this one time, we were hiding on one of the rooftops. Him, me, and a few other friends. We brought some rocks with us to chuck at different stuff, seeing who could throw the farthest or hit the smallest target. But we ran out and nopony wanted to fly down and get more. So we asked Gravel to get more because some thought it was funny since his name meant he would be the best for it, and because we’d knew he would be the only one to do it.”

Lily Wing turned to Ruby smiled weakly. “So when he flew down and gathered as many as he could, he tried to fly back up to us. But every time he would get a few feet off the ground, one of the stones would slip out and he would go right back down to pick it back up.” She closed her mouth as she held back a laugh that might have woken Lunar Pearl. “H-He probably landed and took off a dozen times because he was too stubborn to leave a few stones behind. Eventually, we flew down to help him, but all of us were laughing the whole time because his face was just so funny when he kept glaring at the rocks.”

Lily Wing’s chest quivered as she held giggled quietly, reminiscing the time with a fondness she had never held for it before. “It was such a silly thing, how he wasn’t able to hold all of them. It was so stupid and small, but I can’t get it out of my head.”

Ruby watched quietly as Lily Wing tried to hold back her laughs. She couldn’t bring herself to say anything, and only found her heart sinking as she watched her play over some invisible street in another time. Her distant eyes became dull, her silly grin slowly turned upside down, creating creased lines for the stray tears to follow, and her breathing turned into something hollow and ragged.

It took every ounce of Ruby’s strength to not pry her eyes from her, and to not let her vision become blurry as she saw every moment of Lily Wing’s pain.

It was only after sometime when Lily Wing manage to breath again normally, and began wiping her eyes did Ruby dare to speak. “Did… you love him?”

“Huh?” Lily Wing replied, taken aback by the question. “Oh… oh no,” she said, followed by a short laugh as she cleared the moisture from her face. “No, me and him weren’t anything like that. He was nice and all, one of the best friends I’ve ever had, but that’s all we were. He actually has a special somepony back in…”

Lily Wing’s voice trailed off as brought her hooves to her mouth. “By the night… I had almost forgotten about Wisp. Oh my goodness… she… she doesn’t even know that he’s… he’s…”

Lily Wing choked, unable to even finish her sentence. “She doesn’t know… and his brother in the Vanhoover group doesn’t… he doesn’t…”

“Lily, I…” Ruby had started, fearful that she might panic further and distress herself beyond her control, but still found nothing to say.

But she didn’t need too as Lily Wing lowered her head, profusely wiping away fresh tears, and forcing herself to breath deeply and hold back her quivering chest. Slowly but surely, her shakes calmed her tears dried, and her breathing became normal, causing her to look as normal as she could be with only the small edition of red eyes and stained cheeks.

“I’m… I’m alright,” she breathed. “It’s okay…”

“Lily Wing, you’ve lost a friend,” Ruby said softly. “It’s not okay…”

“I know, but he hasn’t been the first,” she replied, swallowing the breaks in her voice as she regained her composure. “Maybe the first in a fight… but I think if he had to die, he would have preferred this than lying in a bed around some unicorns who wouldn’t be able to do thing.”

She lifted her head and looked back to Ruby, and wore a neutral face that betrayed the last few minutes. “If there is one thing we’ve learned living in Dusk Town, it’s being able to accept hard things.” Her eyes however, remained distant if not indifferent. “From learning that you are different than other ponies, to realizing that you can never go outside the walls, that you have to live your entire life in that place, to never seeing ponies you know ever again…”

Lily Wing took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. “I don’t know if it’s because we’re part vampony... or if it’s just how we we’re raised to think, but we’ve had to learn to accept the hard facts of life. Death… is just one of them.”

Ruby wanted to say something. She wanted to say a lot of things. But like with everypony that night, she found she couldn’t say anything. There were no words that she could put together that would make any of what happened even remotely okay or better. Yet, she could not let that first sentence slide.

“By becoming vamponies,” Ruby began, “you will still have to deal with it, if not more…” Lily Wing opened her mouth to object, but Ruby spoke before she could. “But… even if you still have to deal with it, it won’t be the same.” Ruby turned her gaze out the window, staring wistfully into the night. “You dealt with the difficulties of life without freedom, and suffered by the decisions of others. But by becoming a vampony, you can get your freedom back. After that, anything is possible, even your own death can be something you can say no too…”

Lily Wing stared long and hard at Ruby, looking onto her with awe like she had before during her speech. When it became apparent Ruby had become lost in thought as she looked out the window, Lily Wing gave a small smile, and returned to rubbing Lunar Pearl’s back, both of them content to share each other’s company in silence for the time.

It was then that sometime later that Lily Wing had guessed to be no more than an hour, Lunar Pearl let out a small yawn and she rose from the bed, rubbing her eyes as she woke from her semi-restful sleep.

“Lily…” she asked groggily.

“I’m here,” Lily Wing cooed, before pulling her gently into a hug. “Did you have a good sleep?”

“Hm-hmm,” Lunar Pearl hummed, still blinking herself awake. She eventually looked around her in her dazed state, taking a few moments to notice Ruby across from ontop of the other bed. “Princess Ruby? What are you doing in our room?” Lunar Pearl asked as she rubbed her eyes.

“Your sister and I were just having a talk,” Ruby replied. “How are you feeling?”

“Hungry…”

With a giggle, Ruby hopped off the bed and took a few steps to the door. “I’ll get you some fruit from the dinning cart.”

“Actually, can I go with?” Lunar Pearl asked, all traces of her sleepiness already gone. Before Ruby could answer, Lunar Pearl craned her head upwards to her sister. “Can we go with her?”

Lily Wing failed to miss the emphases on ‘we’ in her question, something she hadn’t heard her do in a long time, and smiled in reply. “Sure, let’s go get some food.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The three of them left the cabin and headed down the dark narrow corridor with only the moonlight filtering through small windows to light their way. As they passed the few doors and transitioned into the next cart, Ruby’s mind churned in concentration at the chance to finally analyze their situation.

So far it seemed the train had been prepared specifically for them, having been completely empty save for the small staff that she assumed operated it in the front along with the butler. But thus far, there had been no sign of any pony besides the stoic servant. Ruby gathered that perhaps the train had been readied in advance with only a minimal but isolated crew to manage it, keeping them apart from their mysterious guests as to not reveal they were actually transporting a fugitive group wanted by the crowns.

It seemed whoever had funded and supplied their speedy transportation had done well to ensure everything remained as discreet as possible from what she gathered. While she still had her doubts about the butler, he seemed hardly fazed at her and the group of bat ponies he saw to. While no reaction was as worrying than reaction, thoughts of accidentally bumping into a cook or other staff member played across her mind, and she wondered if they were as reserved as the butler. But at this point, there was simply no telling who knew about them, or how they would behave.

While their supposed benefactor had appeared prepared and thus far trustworthy, Ruby had never met him nor even learned his name; a detail she now scolded herself over for never getting back in the cave. Night Walker seemed to have trusted him enough to put her and the bat ponies in his hoof for safe keeping, but he was no longer here. And that fact troubled Ruby greatly.

The vampony lord was who knows how far away, unable to assist them in any fashion should their situation turn dire. Which meant from here on out, the safety and well-being of her bat ponies was entirely dependent on her. She alone held the final decision in whatever actions that concerned them, and she would be responsible for the results. One wrong choice, could mean the death of her ponies.

Suddenly, Ruby realized how much she had depended on Night Walker presence, and how little she knew of things. There were much she was kept in the dark and not aware while Night Walker was beside her, feeling that perhaps he was giving her time to recover from her thousand year ordeal that she still could not recall. While that was understandable, it now left her in the precarious role of being the sole leader of the group, and it was a burden that weighed heavily on her mind.

Maybe I should have gone with Shade Flare… No, I can’t think like that.

Narrowing her eyes, she glanced over her shoulder to Lily Wing and Lunar Pearl following behind. They looked to her curiously as they passed through another empty cart, wondering why she was looking at them so. But when Ruby gave out a relaxed sigh and smiled warmly to them, they responded in kind with smiles of their own.

Despite how afraid I am for them, I can’t let that stop me, Ruby told herself as she looked forward again. I can watch out for them by myself. I’ve done it in the past, I can do it again.

With renewed faith in her ability to make sound choices on her actions there on out, Ruby adopted a protective bearing towards anything that could potentially pose a threat to her or her ponies, telling herself she would not allow her guard to drop while they were under her wing. Even the mysterious pony who had provided this luxurious train for them would be held in scrutiny.

I don’t care if Night Walker trusts him. I will decide what is safe to trust or not. And no pony is beyond my suspicions of being a threat.

The memory of a wounded green mare who appeared as a simple but friendly traveler flashed across her mind. She recalled vividly how quick that cheerful disposition turned into one of hatred as she struck at her and Lunar Pearl. From that mare, to the guards who had called them monsters inside Night Walker’s spell, Ruby felt that there were no ponies save her own kin that she could trust at this point.

She could not afford false and naive hope with her ponies on the line.

Eventually, they made their way up to the food cart, having past multiple barren rooms as a result of how the little the bat ponies filled the expansive train. There, they found a few bat ponies already sitting about the booths positioned near the windows, munching away silently at the fruit that was brilliantly displayed on nearby tables with white cloths, or staring thoughtfully out into the passing nighttime landscape.

“Wow!” Lunar Pearl exclaimed before rushing over to the confections displayed in fanciful styles. Everypony in the cart turned their heads at the sound of her excited voice, easing themselves back to their seat at their recognition of her running across the floor, and the comforting sight of their princess behind her.

Ruby gave a nod of affirmation to all of them while Lily Wing walked to join her sister who was already staring hungrily at the different types of fruit available. Deciding to leave the two of them to prepare their plates, Ruby moved to an available seat at a booth occupied by a few bat ponies, Mist Hoof being one of them.

“Princess Ruby,” he respectively spoke at her arrival, his gruff voice sound as scratchy as ever.

“Hello, Mist Hoof,” she replied as she sat next to him, giving similar hello’s to the other two across the table shortly; a mare and a stallion. “How is everypony holding up?”

“The food is good,” Mist Hoof simply answered. Ruby noticed that while the fruit his plate before him indeed looked more delicious than the ones that were picked from the forest by the cave, hardly any of them appeared to have been touched. The other two ponies plates seemed just as nibbled on as well she realized with a quick glance.

Narrowing her eyes, Ruby lit her horn and floated a piece of mango from Mist Hoof’s plate and delicately plopped it into her mouth. Despite its hollow like taste it had as with any food besides blood, she still enjoyed the hint of sweetness on her tongue while chewing it thoroughly.

The three bat ponies around her stared blankly at her action, not entirely sure of what to say as she looked skeptically back at them. After gulping the fruit down, she raised an eyebrow.

“What? If you aren’t going to eat them, somepony else might.” When they remained stunned at her behavior, Ruby glanced to another plate and spotted a lumpcious strawberry. “Ooo, that looks good.” Smiling, she grabbed ahold of it and brought it towards her.

“H-hey!” the stallion the plate belonged to started, raising a hoof with intent to snatch the strawberry back in midair. But he immediately clammed up and brought his hoof beside him with a nervousness that held him in check.

“What’s the matter?” Ruby asked with a mischievous grin. “Do you want it?”

“N-no… you may have it, Princess,” he mumbled while looking away, lowering his tuft ears in submission.

Ruby narrowed her brows at being unable to elicit a reaction from the stallion. Closing her eyes to let her frustration cool, she calmly spoke, “If you are going to eat, then why have you all barely touched your food?”

“Princess,” Mist Hoof spoke up, starting to become cross from her actions. “We’ve lost good ponies today. So forgive us if our appetite is lacking.”

“I’m fully aware of that,” Ruby replied. Mist Hoof was about to open his mouth again in retort, but caught himself when she opened her eyes and looked directly at him, her face stern and beset with a multitude of emotions hidden subtly on her. He had seen similar looks before during his life, the kind only those who stared defiantly at everything that made life difficult, but unable to do a thing about it. The difference between others and hers however, was that she believed something could be done about it.

“I know there are some who can’t be with us right now, sharing this feast and comforts on this train,” Ruby spoke. “But that does not excuse yourselves in denying food, especially when your strength is needed now more than ever.” Turning her head to the other two she continued, “We are on our way to a city. A large city full of ponies who may or may not be aware of our existence. If the guards were any indication, then I doubt they will accept us with open hooves if they discovered us.”

“But Night Walker said we would be safe there,” the mare said.

“I don’t care what Night Walker said,” Ruby replied, an edge to her voice that she only caught after the matter. “We don’t know what will happen while we’re there. We didn’t know that the guard would find the cave in the middle of nowhere, who’s to say that they won’t find us whatever our hiding spot is in a city full of ponies?”

The three of them were quiet as she tore away through the illusion of safety that the train had brought to them, and feeling foalish that they let themselves believe it if even for a moment.

“We need to be strong, for each other,” Ruby said, bringing a hoof to Mist Hoof’s shoulder that caused him to blush faintly. “Regardless of whoever we meet, we can only truly trust each other. Which means we need to be prepared for anything that could happen, and that includes even an attack on this train.”

“You don’t think we would be betrayed do you?” Mist Hoof asked, his voice quickly becoming deep as he put on a serious outlook on things at the mention of danger.

“As of right now, no. I think we are okay,” Ruby answered. “But that doesn’t mean we can let our guard down.” Returning to her stern expression, she finished her thoughts. “Ponies gave their lives today so that we can continue. And we cannot risk that happening again because of something silly like you being famished because you didn’t eat when you had the chance.” A guilty expression crossed the bat ponies faces as they turned to look back down at their hardly touched meals.

“So eat, replenish your strength, and be ready. Because right now, we only have each other. And we have to remain strong.”

They sat in silence for a moment as Ruby’s words sank in, thinking over the faces they would not see again, and that if they were not careful, become themselves in the future. The harsh reminder of their situation however, was quickly flipped as the happy moan of a filly behind caused them, and every other pony in the cart, to turn their heads to the source of the noise. In a booth, Lunar Pearl stood on the seat with her front hooves outstretch onto the table, her mouth leaking fruit juice as she chewed away happily with a silly expression. After gulping a large mouthful down, she opened her eyes and revealing that they were wide with joy. “This is the best food I’ve ever tasted!”

Lily Wing gave a nervous smile to each pony staring, and turned red in embarrassment as Lunar Pearl stuck her head into the pile of fruit again and began to munch loudly. “Lunar Pearl! Some manners please!” Lily Wing hissed beneath her breath before smacking her on the head with a leathery wing.

Ruby giggled along with the growing smiles of each pony who had witnessed the moment, their moods being somewhat lifted at the carefree smiling of Lunar Pearl munching away despite her sister’s wing thwacks.

“See?” Ruby said. “Even Lunar Pearl is eating. Now, are you going to finish your meals?”

Slow but sure nods from them, along with a grunt from Mist Hoof, relaxed Ruby’s worries. She did not know if it was because of her, or if it was the fact that she was a vampony, but the idea that one should eat during a hard time seemed like a simple notion that everypony should already follow. Maybe it was because her diet was consisted of the life force of other ponies, something that to her seemed to be a respectful way to honor the lives lost by those close to you. If a pony takes away a life, you simply take it back. Such was the way of nature and predators.

I think that’s an awful way to look at things.

Be quiet, Ruby replied, before blinking in surprise that the voice had spoken out of nowhere, and seemed to vanish just as quickly.

“Um, excuse me Princess Ruby?” the stallion hesitantly asked.

“Hmm? Oh, yes?” Ruby said snapping back to the conversation.

“May… may I have my strawberry back?”

Ruby tilted her head at the fidgeting stallion, before remembering she still held the small piece of food currently floating in the air between them. “Oh!” she exclaimed, before giving him a mischievous grin. “If you want it, you’re going to have to take it,” Ruby stated.

The face the batpony made at the bold dare she set on him was absolutely priceless.

“What? A vampony’s diet is about taking. So if you want this strawberry, I suggest you take it before I eat it,” Ruby said with a smirk. Opening her mouth wide, she slowly began to float the strawberry towards her revealed fangs and hanging tongue, letting out a quiet ‘ahhhh’ as she inched it closer.

“No!” the stallion shouted before propping himself up onto the table and swiping the floating strawberry, followed by shoving it into his mouth and chewing it quickly, visibly reveling in its sweet taste.

Mist Hoof let out a small chuckle, then erupted into a series of laughs as his wings threatened to open from pure amusement. His hearty laughing caught the attention of everypony in the cart. When all of them looked at him as if he had gone mad, he turned to Ruby with an approving grin.

“Princess Ruby, I was hoping you weren’t an uptight princess like Celestia and Luna. And that little act there sealed the deal that you aren’t. I think I’m going to like having you lead us.”

“You’ve meet the princesses?” Ruby asked in interest.

Still dwindling down from his laughter, Mist Hoof replied. “Celestia I’ve meet a few times. When you manage to live to my age, you get to see her visits more than most. And while Luna had only shortly returned from her banishment, she has been more active with us than her sister. To be honest, we’d hoped that her return meant that something could finally be done about our predicament. But we all know how that turned out. If you wish to do so now, I can speak to you all I know of them.”

“Later will be fine,” Ruby replied, not wanting to ruin the first light hearted mood they were having since last night. “For now, let’s eat.”

“As you wish,” Mist Hoof said before licking his lips. Bringing up large mouthfuls of food, he ate ravenously with an intensity Ruby did not know he was capable of. The conservative senior that seemed to always hold an opinion about anything that he did not agree was necessary, always saying something was too much or risky, ate with gluttony that put even Lunar Pearl to shame. With a twinkle around his older and beginning to wrinkle eyes, he decided to impart an important lesson of life he had learn to the princess. “When there’s food about, eat like there’s going to be a drought.”

When Mist Hoof saw the deadpan look Ruby and the other two gave, he simply shrugged his shoulders. “It’s my belief that a big appetite is what I think got me to this age. And from the looks of it, that youngster over there is going to easily outlive me.”

Ruby followed Mist Hoof’s smiling gaze and saw Lunar Pearl rubbing the top of her head while wincing at the sametime, no doubt feeling the discipline of manners from her sister who held an outstretched hoof that had smacked her. Giggling at the two siblings, Ruby’s eyes passed over their shoulders to see the young stallion behind them eating alone.

“Ebon Wing is here,” Ruby commented as she watched him nibble his food quietly, his eyes focused on the small debacle the sisters put in front of him.

“Yeah, was surprised myself to see him about,” Mist Hoof commented after wiping his mouth with a napkin, having been reminded of his own manners from the same sight. “Normally he’s always off on his own in some spot, out of sight and out of mind. Guess he feeling the need for familiar company after today. I don’t blame him for it either.”

Ruby was tempted to pick up a piece of fruit and toss it over to him, seeing if he would reactively open his mouth if she yelled ‘catch’ to include him in on the fun and pull him out of his isolated world. But decided otherwise and simply chose to let the young batpony become social on his own accord. She felt that eventually he would come out of his shell, it would just be a matter of time before he did.

“Look everyone!” Lunar Pearl suddenly exclaimed with an outstretched hoof, the other still rubbing the sore spot on her head. When they all turned their heads to see what had caught her attention, a collective breath was exhaled in awe at the sight of a distant city that blazed with light.

The train was currently parallel to the city that they assumed was Fillydelphia, its far away splendor slowing inching its way to the front of the train as the tracks slowly turned them toward it, an indicator that it was indeed their destination.

“Wow…” the mare at their table breathed. “I’ve always heard the cities were big and dazzling, but this… it looks beautiful.”

“Do the ponies the ponies really stay up through the night there like us?” the stallion asked.

The cart was filled with gentle murmurs as the bat ponies looked on in awe at the rising splendor that none of them could take their eyes off of. The towering structures looked to rise above even the clouds from their massive height, and the amount of lights that sparkled the city made it look like it had its own sun powering it, a bustling hub of activity even at night, defying the idea they were the only ones to be awake for it.

Ruby looked on with awe as well, scanning the broken skyline that the buildings made. She was curious, and even looking forward to see it closer, but found that she lacked the excitement that was clear in everypony else.

Looking around, she saw how their eyes took in every detail, the distant city lights creating tiny stars in their eyes. They were captivated, and Ruby could not fully understand why. She turned to Mist Hoof to see if he had perhaps was unaffected as her, but held her tongue when she saw how he looked out to the city.

His jaw was tight as he sat rigid, and his eyes were crinkled with an edge of wetness to them. He stared so intently at the city that began to shift to the front of the train as they turned, that he did not notice Ruby watching him with a saddened demeanor. Even though he was among the older bat ponies, Ruby could not help but think of a young foal finally seeing a dream, a simple dream of being able to see the city, and all of it’s dazzling splendor. And Mist Hoof she realized, had been waiting for that dream for a long time.

Turning her head so as to not embarrass him should he notice her staring, she refocused herself back onto the city, searching for same excitement and awe it had brought the rest of them. When it’s light’s had no effect, she concentrated on the details of the buildings that could be made out, thinking it’s architectural design might have some appeal.

Hmm, those skyscrapers are awfully tall. I wonder how many floors they have? Ruby thought to herself. It took a few moments for her mind to catch what she had thought, and furrowed her brows in contemplation afterward.

How did I know they're called skyscrapers?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When the train pulled into a brightly lit and large overhanging station, they ducked beneath the windows at the realization that other ponies may be in the area and would be able to spot them within the darkened train. However, their fears proved to be fruitless as they carefully peaked over the edges to find the entire station empty.

After gathering everypony, they made for the exit where the butler exited onto the platform who politely urged them to hurry along as they tentatively poked their heads out and glanced about barren place. He explained to them that it was a private train yard and no employees were currently nearby, but that such a rare moment would not last for long if they waited aboard the train any longer.

With hurried movements, they walked through the back passageways of the train station, twenty-eight bat ponies warily following Princess Ruby who in turn, followed the butler. Their eyes shifted about at every noise and corridor they came across as if they were expecting a contingent of guards to catch them by surprise, somehow already aware of their location and simply waiting in ambush.

They were lead out of the structure and directly to a large and strange carriage near the bay doors to what Ruby figured was the loading docks where cargo was transitioned to and from the train station. The carriage looked to be made out of metal and wood, with solid metallic beams holding it together while boards covered most of its surface area. The back end of it was wide open, revealing a hollow interior that ended abruptly after a short distance. From the side, it appeared its space was walled off from the covered sitting section in the front that she assumed a pony would sit at. However, it looked like nothing she could describe as it sat atop something that was completely covered in metal, and there were no reins in front of it for ponies to pull the large thing.

“What is that?” Ruby asked as she eyed it over.

“It is called an automobile, cargo truck specifically,” the butler replied dully. “It is the result of the master’s effort in increasing work productivity in his transportation business.”

“And exactly how is anypony going to pull that with us in the back? You know, the end with the wide open hole where anypony could see us?” Ruby asked skeptically.

“The door closes and it is powered by charged gemstones, a new method of combining magic and technology together to create something that is called an ‘engine’. Now if you will please aboard the back, we are still behind schedule.”

Ruby gave a glare at the elder pony, wondering how in Equestria he was still focused on something such as being timely of all things. She wondered if his blood would be as sour as his mood before dismissing the violent thought and turning back to her ponies. “Alright, let’s get everyone on quickly.”

After Ruby leapt onto the floor of the contraption, the last one to board, the butler’s horn glowed white and the door slide from above them and downward, slamming hard onto the bed of the cargo truck and sending them into total darkness.

Ruby heard the worried whispers of the group as they moved closer to each other in the already tight space, causing her to give reassuring words despite her own second thoughts on the matter. She flared her horn to give some them light so that they could see each other, and felt her chest tighten as she saw twenty-eight faces look to her for guidance, their literal shining beacon in this uncertain time in their lives.

They gasped when they felt the vehicle rumble to life and the sound of something churning in front of them. And sure enough, their bodies shifted about as it began to move and steadily pick up in speed.

Being inside the cramped space made it hard to indicate how long the trip lasted, their bodies swaying to and fro slightly from the turns of the vehicle. But eventually it had come to a stop for the last time, and the doors were suddenly thrown open as the butler stood before them again. They were at another loading dock, albeit much smaller than the one at the train yard. Except this time however, they were in the heart of the city, and at the base of possibly one of the tallest towers within it. Their heads craned upwards as they tried to spot the top of the structure, wondering how long it would take them to fly to the top. It was far beyond the height limits the guards of Dusk Town had in effect.

With the same process as before, they were hurriedly ushered inside and made their way through the empty halls of the building, never spotting another soul. But they knew some ponies were about as they heard the muffled shouts of conversations, or the sound of distant hoof steps echoing through thin walls. They quickly made their way to a large door and paused in front of it, and then the unicorn butler wrapped his magic around a strange dial beside it. After a single spin, the rumbling of machines similar to that of the cargo truck began to churn behind the walls.

Staring warily at the door, the bat ponies flinched as the doors opened by themselves without the aid of hoof or magic, and revealed a small space that apparently lead to nowhere.

“What is this supposed to be?” Ruby asked, trying to sound like she wasn’t overly concerned as she currently was. While she had strangely recognized some things on their secretive journey since leaving the station—the train being one of them she realized in retrospect—she had only a hint of what this windowless room was supposed to be.

“It’s called an elevator,” the butler replied.

“I know that!” Ruby retorted. “But where are the unicorns that are needed to lift it up?”

“Like the automobile, this is powered by the combination of technology and magic. It only needs to be told which floor you wish to arrive at and it will take you there. Now if you will be so kind, please enter in groups of ten. It can only safely hold so much weight.”

It had taken over twenty minutes in total to chauffeur all of them in turns to their destined floor, Ruby having decided to go with the first group incase wherever they were being taken to did not suit her liking. But as waited for the remaining bat ponies to be brought up, she found herself speechless in what was her opinion a very fancy and high-class waiting room with double doors across from the elevator.

Textured walls were lined with an assortment of paintings and artwork elegantly displayed along with potted plants, and the detailed marble floor with intricate details gleamed beneath their hooves. It was polished enough for them to see their faces in. The bat ponies had never seen a room like it in their whole life, and stared about their environment in awe. Their amazement was compounded even more when the butler appeared with the final group and led them through the double doors, and out into a large space that took their breaths away.

“Welcome to the penthouse atop of Skyline Tower. Please, make yourself at home within the various rooms,” the butler announced as he gestured them inside.

It was like walking through the front door of a mansion as they walked into an open area that held two large double staircases beneath a balcony, indicating a second floor above them. From the crystal chandler, to the sculpted statues, everything screamed that somepony important lived here. Even the view through vertical arched windows that looked out onto the adjacent buildings and brightly lit city below made them look about with hanging mouths.

“This must be what a princess would live in,” one of them commented as he turned in circles, trying to take in all the details at once.

“Actually, more like a prince,” a voice answered above them.

Turning their heads, they looked upwards to see a unicorn stallion standing atop of the balcony, a smug smile etched onto his face in what was obvious amusement and content at their reactions to his abode. His pose was that of royalty and lordship as he held himself upright and in confidence. Not a strand of hair was out of place on his white coat, his well brushed golden mane hung about his neck in a neat fashion, and the cutie mark of a compass rose adorned his flanks.

The butler moved to the base of one of the stairs and gave a small cough. “Princess Ruby, and honored guests, please welcome your benefactor and owner of Skyline Transportation. My master, Prince Blueblood.”

Blueblood finally looked down onto them, appearing as if he had not truly looked at them until he had been announced. His eyes passed over the ragtag group of ponies with silent mirth, before his grinned faltered at the sight of the alicorn staring cautiously up to him.

He nearly called out to her in surprise as to what she was doing here, but the warning Night Walker had given to him before came back to him as he recognized the fact she held crimson eyes. To took a good amount of effort to suppress his grimace.

So that’s what he meant by a ‘familiar’ princess. I knew she had gone missing, but he never told me it was her who had become a vampony. To think, she would receive such a gift before me.

Without hesitation, Blueblood coughed to clear his throat, and swept a hoof over the railing. “Please, make yourselves at home. All my services are free for your own use within this floor. We have rooms, food, and entertainment for your pleasure. So please, bat ponies, make use of your new sanctuary. And a special welcome to you as well, Princess Ruby.”

Act II - Chapter 27

View Online

A merchant has come to our home, along with a dozen ponies that towed his wagons. He claimed he had wares and weapons for us that we would be interested in, and wished to demonstrate them for us. So we made room in the grounds clearing before the woods, and allowed him to set up his performance. It was amusing how his staff never knew quite where to keep their eyes, always darting between us and the woods, almost as if they thought they had a chance to flee should we chose them as dinner that night.

The merchant however, despite his inner fear that was quite prevalent, held a strong front and charismatic face. Most ponies that do not react respectively do not live long, but he was well aware of his lines and when to not cross. Night Walker actually had taken an interest in him, and I cannot say if it is for good or for ill on the merchants part yet.

Though his demonstration was only an hour long, he piqued our interest at what he was offering. Top of the line bows for the unicorns that were stocked with a newly fashioned type of arrows that held freezing properties, hoof-attached blades high in quality, and even cloud containers that would hold low charged thunderclouds. However innovated or crafty he was in theft on acquiring such items, we bought some of his products.

Regardless their applications and advances in technology however, I felt some unease at dealing with the merchant, and even more so at his offer to return when he creates the next latest product. Night Walker was more than happy to offer him a return visit, but I wonder if he saw the merchant as I did. His cunning eyes that calculated each move, product, and pony, or the hunger within in soul that was more prominent than most I have seen.

This pony is dangerous, even if he is beneficial. I have no doubt he would switch clients without a heartbeat should a better opportunity arrives.

But as always, Night Walker addressed my concerns and put me at ease. He mentioned that should he ever catch the merchant wishing to do such business with somepony else, it would be the last time he would ever make a sale. I don’t consider myself as eager to spill blood as some vamponies, but I would not think twice if such a pony departed our world.


-Ruby Sparkle




Two days later


“Princess Ruby, Prince Blueblood has requested a moment of your time for introductions.”

Ruby’s crimson eyes shifted up from her current page and to the butler standing in the doorway to her room. She did not reply at first, feeling that perhaps she had misheard him and was giving him a chance to correct himself. But his silent and waiting posture confirmed that the master of the house did indeed wish to meet with her, and she lifted her nose from her book with a deadpan look.

“Really now?”

“That is correct, Princess,” he simply replied. “If you would be so kind as to save your place, I will escort you to him”

As if the purposefully delayed introductions to Blueblood weren’t irritating enough, the butler’s habit of always speaking in such a dull tone only added to Ruby’s displeasing mood. Since she had first met him, he had not once displayed an ounce of personality or emotion. He always remained predictable, stoic, and utterly lackluster in all his responses and mannerisms. And it had begun to bother Ruby a great deal, though she did not entirely know why.

It might have been perhaps the fact that she and her bat ponies were refugees in hiding, despised creatures that were being hunted by the Royal Guard whose recent actions proved they were willing to kill if they were not able to capture them. If anything, her experiences with anypony besides those of her own kind had proven fruitless and unfortunate, which meant that she would need to be on guard against everyone else. She needed to ascertain any threat that would present itself, and deal with it appropriately and swiftly. She could not fail to hesitate even for a moment, for if she had, Lunar Pearl and Ebon Wing might have suffered damage had she not acted quickly.

Ruby at times would find herself thinking of two attackers, the green pony who was lost, and the Royal Guard that attacked them. Both of them had worn hateful glares towards her ponies, and both had tried to injure them. And when she thought of her angry faces, her mind would always drift to how quickly those glares turned to expressions of surprise and horror. It seemed the only way to make it so no pony would look upon her kin with such faces, was for her to deal with them forcefully, as they had attempted to do so.

She did not know why everypony she had encountered thus far showed such animosity towards her subjects, viewing them as if they were indeed the monsters they shouted them out to be. But she could no longer stand those types of looks made to her and her ponies. She could not, and would not ever again allow others to view them as such. It was her royal duty to ensure the protection of her subjects, and she would do it by any means necessary, a violent and swift end proving to be the most useful method of correction so far. But for her to judge effectively so that she did not kill without reason, she needed to know how the various ponies around them would react to her kind. She need to know what they were thinking, and if they would prove to be a threat.

But she could not get a reading from the butler, and that put her in a unending state of unease and suspicion.

She had wondered at times if he had learned how to behave so stoically from a school dedicated for butlers, or if he had just been born as the most boring pony in Equestria.

Silver Platter, you are by far the most cliché butler I have ever seen, she thought to herself with distaste, an opinion that had only been reinforced from reading the variety of literature that lined the many bookcases of the penthouse. Some of her worries about him had somewhat lessened when she had finally learned his name. However, it was something that in retrospect was obvious to the point of irritation, an experience that only added to her already sour mood.

Being around the bat ponies had caused her to forget all about cutie marks, being that they were unable to receive one due to the Sister’s tampering over the years. So when she had learned the butler’s name was Silver Platter, showcased by his cutie mark of a fancifully decorated tray, her frustration towards him only grew. Ever since she had first met him on the train station, where he had commented on the deaths of her ponies like an idle conversation about the weather, she found herself having difficulty just tolerating his presence.

She had more than once considered draining dry so that he no longer bothered her, but the voice that had appeared in her mind since they had fled the cave adamantly opposed the notion; it was proving to be another annoyance to stack on her already frustrated mood.

But with all things considered, Ruby could only imagine the type of pony who would hire such a dry servant. At least she would now be able to finally answer that question.

Placing a bookmark on her page of her book, she rose to stretch her legs and wings, then promptly hopped off the bed and trotted through the door. “I’m ready,” she announced as she passed him, knowing full well he would wait for her to leave the room before guiding her to Blueblood.

With a single nod of affirmation, Silver Platter took the lead and began to escort Ruby down the decorated corridor.

“I take it then that Prince Blueblood has finally found sometime between his busy scheduling to meet me?” Ruby asked with suppressed irritation as she fell behind him, her curiosity overcoming her desire to speak as little as possible to him.

“He managed to fit you in between his five pm appointment and his seven-thirty. It appears that an individual with prospect had failed to impress him, and was dismissed early.”

Hearing the she was merely something to occupy a recently opened time slot made her lips curl. “How polite of him.”

Ruby’s legs began to take swift and rigid steps as she held herself in check, resisting the urge to either race to Blueblood’s office or lash at the nearest decor.

One would think meeting a vampony princess who was capable of drinking a pony dry would be a priority, she thought in grimace. Honestly, we’ve been here for nearly a week and he is just now finding time to talk about the situation?

The two of them made their way through the penthouse, or as most of the bat ponies called it, the mansion. Blueblood’s office was at the top of the three story building, above large rooms and luxurious bedrooms that had no expense spared. However, despite there being enough space to give each batpony a bed, all twenty-eight of them choose to stay together as much as possible, leaving only just above a dozen bedrooms occupied, and they managed to do it so that they were all in one hallway.

As Silver Platter and Ruby turned to the corridor the bat ponies slept on, Ruby’s mood immediately brightened, and her ears perked up as she greeted passing ponies and peeked into rooms as she passed by.

“Princess Ruby! How are you today?” one of them asked, immediately eliciting a few head pokes from the rooms.

“Just fine,” Ruby replied with a grin. “How are you all doing? Is everypony comfortable?”

“More than ever!” a colt exclaimed. “The floors here are softer than my old bed!”

When Ruby opened her mouth in concern, his mother quickly put a hoof around his shoulder and gave a small smirk. “Don’t worry, Princess. The beds weren’t that bad. He’s just a little excited.”

“Oh, I see,” Ruby laughed nervously. “While it makes me happy to see all of you so close to each other, are you sure you still don’t want a bed for each of you?”

“Thank you for worrying, Princess,” the mother replied, “but we’re really alright. The extra blankets and pillows Silver Platter gave us have been more than enough.” Turning her head to Silver Platter who had been waiting patiently and quietly, she gave him a soft smile. “Thank you for your help.”

“Of course, madam,” he duly replied.

As she gave a nod to both of them and began leading her colt back into their room, her ears pricked and she turned her head back. “Oh, I almost forgot. Silver Platter, we’ve put all the linen in the fourth door down the way you just came. That was the right room wasn’t it?”

“Yes, madam. It will be clean in a day. If you require any additional linen, please let me know.”

“Will do,” she replied happily, and retired to her room.

Ruby and Silver Platter continued down the rest of the hallway, stopping every few doors to talk to various ponies who were checking one thing or another with Silver Platter, and reassuring Ruby that everything was going good. As they did, Ruby’s eyes kept drifting to Silver Platter at every request that had been given to him, wondering just how much he had been doing while he had been doing her best to ignore him.

When they left the hall and continued their way upwards, Ruby eyed him closely for some minutes, before giving a gentle cough..

“Um...Silver Platter?”

“Yes, Princess Ruby?” he said without looking back.

“Why is it I haven’t seen another pony besides yourself and Prince Blueblood?”

“Is discretion of your stay not in your interests?”

“No it is,” Ruby quickly replied. “It’s just… I kind of expected to see more ponies considering how many of us there are. I mean, you can’t possibly be taking care of this entire penthouse yourself.”

“As a matter of fact, I do.”

“Really?” Ruby asked in disbelief. “That’s… wow, you must be busy.”

Silver Platter did not respond, and continued to dutifully lead her through the penthouse, leaving her to her own thoughts a slight perspective change of him, and the meeting ahead.

Regardless of how helpful Silver Platter had been so far to her bat ponies however, the fact that Silver Platter remained stoic throughout any situation still bothered her. She had already soul sighted him in an attempt to put to rest some of her suspicions, but her prying yielded little answers. It seemed his emotionless attitude was mirrored equally in his soul, having but a simple and bare sphere with little connections. Many parts of him had been formed in a rigid fashion and were confined in an orderly design cluing her to some traits, but she couldn’t reveal more with her current level of understanding of the soul. She still had a long way to reach Night Walker’s knowledge of souls, and even further if she would ever hope to manipulate it as well as he did.

In the end, she had no choice but to remain passive and alert around Silver Platter, having no evidence he would do anything that might threaten her or her ponies, but not wanting to leave anything to chance.

Which brought her back to Blueblood, and the many questions she had for him.

He had graciously accepted her and her ponies into his home, provided fresh fruit for them daily, and allowed them to roam freely within the penthouse. But all of that would mean nothing if Ruby felt some possible threat or danger from the prince.

Regardless of the fact Night Walker had trusted him, Ruby would never be at ease with a pony that could potentially threatened the well being of her ponies. The Royal Guards that were supposedly supposed to keep an eye and protect the bat ponies had been responsible for those who were unable to take part of their new comforts.

“Here we are,” Silver Platter announced, snapping Ruby from her thoughts.

Before her was decorated set of double doors that held simple yet curving designs. She had first thought the wood to be painted, but quickly realized their golden color was actually natural. “What kind of wood is this?” she asked without thinking, her curiosity overcoming her apprehension in a heartbeat.

“Golden Oak, directly imported from Unicorn Range.”

Wow, that must have costed him a fortune. That wood has such quality that it’s one of the most preferred materials for enchanting. And given that they grow the slowest amongst the all the flora in Equestria, they are rarely available for sale, she automatically recited in her head with wonder.

Taking a moment to admire the swirling designs of metal etched onto his surface, Ruby wondered if she had ever owned something fashioned from the mythical wood before she was imprisoned.

“Shall I introduce you?” Silver Platter asked, having waited respectively for Ruby to take in the various details.

Closing her eyes so that she could regain her focus on the meeting, she exhaled and straightened herself. “Please do.”

With a nod, Silver Platter’s horn wrapped the handles with a white light, and pushed inwardly. The doors to the artisans skills, opened without making a single sound. Ruby half mindedly strained her ears to hear a peep from them, but found the craftsmanship too high in quality to give away any noise. Her impressed opinion on such skilled designs however, was barely given any thought as her eyes locked onto the pony across the room.

Sitting behind a polished desk, horn aglow as he penned over various parchments, Prince Blueblood worked.

At first, the sight of him quickly flared Ruby’s negative predisposition of the unicorn, but was pushed aside as she took in the details of his form, easily visible from the darkening sky behind him. The room was built with the wall behind his desk that was made entirely out of glass, casting his silhouette before the horizon that the sun had set under only an hour ago. Outside, the windows looked to be an aerial balcony, creating a potential recreational viewing spot of the land around them, and a landing point for guests with the ability to fly.

Around Blueblood desk were stacks of papers and books, neatly organized into piles of ones he had finished, and ones that awaited his attention. The quill he held in his magic twirled about various pages with a tenacity that caught by surprise, its rhythmic motion of scratching paper being the only source of sound in the room. And while he levitated it with precise skill and speed, his attention seemed to be focused on a stack of papers he held in his hoof. His eyes hardly left the held papers, and he only partially glanced now and then for the next piece of parchment that needed his signature or required some sort of editing.

It was in that first moment of meeting the prince where he worked, seeing his unhesitating movements towards the various items that demanded his attention, that Ruby’s had nearly questioned if he was indeed the same pony from before.

This was not the egotistical stallion that seemed to find his own reflection in a nearby mirror more pleasing than anything else. Nor was it the never content brat that had practically ignored Ruby during chance meetings in his home, choosing instead to speak with Silver Platter about some petty task before leaving. She had even managed a quick glance into his soul when she did spot him roaming the house, finding the initial surface of him to be shallow and frivolous.

But none of those traits were apparent in him now as he diligently worked before her. Now, his entire persona and atmosphere were drastically different than her previous moments with him. Ruby was quickly reminded that despite her initial opinions of the stallion, he was still of royal blood and the owner of an expansive company.

With this new impression firmly planted in her mind, there was little doubt from Ruby that regardless of his self-centered behaviors or odd mannerisms, he had worked to get where it was at. And he was more than aptly qualified for such positions of rule.

Silver Platter stepped past Ruby gave a polite cough to indicate their arrival. “Prince Blueblood… I present Princess Ruby.”

The quill that scratched across the paper paused in mid writing, bringing about a sudden silence to the room. Blueblood’s eyes lifted from his held pages, and looked towards them with a calculating intensity that Ruby had not seen, nor believed him to be capable off. Her foul mood and list of questions faded quickly from her mind at the imposing presence he currently gave, finding that her initial assumptions of his shallowness were possibly entirely unfounded to begin with.

After giving the two of them a quick observation, Blueblood immediately began to stack the papers he was working on and set them aside in small piles. He did not even take the time to finish the sentence he had been currently writing during his cleanup, yet Ruby had an odd feeling that after she had spoken with him, he would be easily able to continue his flow of work and thought as if she had never interrupted him in the first place.

His potential of being threat had risen dramatically within the few seconds she had met him, and she could only wonder what he was truly capable of.

“Thank you, Silver Platter,” Blueblood said after he had finished putting his work away. Silver Platter gave a respectful bow and proceeded out of the room, closing the silent doors behind Ruby. They didn’t even generate a click when they had fully shut. “Princess Ruby, it is a pleasure to finally have your acquaintance,” he said calmly.

“Likewise,” Ruby replied nonchalantly, having already moved past her initial surprise of the stallion and now entirely focused the details that would be discussed tonight.

“Please, let us have a seat,” he said motioning to his right.

Ruby followed the gesture to a pair of cushioned chairs seated in front of a unlit fire place, a small table beside each with what looked like sealed bottles next to upside-down wine glasses.

So he is as cliché as his butler, she thought with slight amusement.

As she moved towards the chairs, Blueblood sat up from his and gave a small stretch. After a quick glance to ensure all his papers were positioned as he wanted them to be, he moved to join her. “Do you mind if I get a fire going?” he asked.

“Not at all,” Ruby replied. She tried to show disinterest in the action, but secretly held a level of interest of the unicorn’s magical prowess. While creating fire with magic wasn’t particular an uncommon level of ability, it would at least show that he was more competent than the average unicorn. And it would show some of his potential in a fight.

Ruby discreetly watched from the corner of her eyes when his horn became a glow with a golden color. However, much to her dissatisfaction, he instead magically grasped a hold of a dial built into the trim of the fireplace and slowly turned it, bringing the fireplace to life with a steady flame.

Ruby’s ears twitched in irritation not being able to see some example of his skill in magic, but it was quickly replaced as she considered what she had just seen. He had not used his own magic to ignite the fireplace, nor had used a match to spark some kindle. In fact, there was no wood within the fireplace at all, leading her to only guess at its origin.

“Interested on how it works?” Blueblood asked with a sly smile.

Ruby’s eyes quickly snapped from the fireplace and refixed an expressionless glance towards him, mentally berating herself for acting like a foal who had just seen a magic trick. Yet despite her recovery, she knew she had been caught with her curiosity, and had given up her aloof appearance she had attempted to display. Forcing herself to not flare her nostrils in annoyance at losing the upper hoof so early in the discussions, she yielded to her natural curiosity and the expectant look from Blueblood. “Please, explain how it works.”

His sly smile only grew as he placed a hoof onto the fireplace. “I assumed you already know a little of my patented charged gemstones?” A simple nod from Ruby was his answer, easily recalling the butlers short explanation of the item and how it was a core feature of the driverless carriages that brought them here. “Well, with a few modifications, it is also able to produce a flame without the need of timber or coals.”

He paused to gauge Ruby’s reaction to his short explanation, hoping that she might question it further or display some level of being impressed. However she only stared at him with a neutral expression before eventually speaking, “So it lights a fireplace. Is that it?”

“Really, you can’t see the applications of this new combination of technology and magic?” he replied with a bemused tone, acting like he knew the punch line to a joke that he had yet to tell. When a raised eyebrow from the vampony princess was all he received, he removed his hoof from the fireplace.

“Imagine this in the home of everypony. In every fireplace or kitchen stove. It does not require magic to operate, so pegasi and earth ponies can use it just the same. In fact, we are already developing prototypes that can remain in place without the need of precious cloud stone. Imagine everypony having access to a fuelless fire for heat.”

Ruby’s neutral expression slowly turned into one of genuine interest as her mind began to run through the implications of his statement. “A fire that doesn’t require wood or coals…”

“I’m sure you can imagine the benefits of not having to pay for burnable material, or the amount of wood that could be spent on other purposes,” Blueblood hinted as he watched Ruby begin to comprehend its full potential.

“But it can’t be fuelless,” Ruby said aloud as she rubbed a hoof over her chin. “Everything needs a source… so I assume it’s from the magic stored in the gems?”

“Right you are,” Blueblood replied, pleasantly surprised at her quick attack onto the mechanics of the device. From little I know of her previous life, she no doubt is more than capable of understanding how it works. Turning his attention back to the flame that seemingly came from nowhere, he resumed his explanation.

“As I’m sure you are aware, it does require some upkeep to continue producing a flame on demand. As of now, it is still not economically feasible to mass produce. We still need to increase the lifespan of the spell as well as make its recharging as simple and easy as possible. There are a few possibilities we can choose from, but the kinks are still being worked out. Much better than the pony I had kicked out only minutes earlier. He had suggested supplying flammable gas to each household in Equestria. Imagine the absurdity of that,” he said while laughing. “Setting up the infrastructure to deliver the gas alone would be an engineer’s nightmare straight from Tartarus!”

“While also remaining highly dangerous,” Ruby added.

“Most certainly,” Blueblood agreed. “Killing ponies is not something I want to make apart of in my business. I could not imagine the lawsuits it would garner.” Blueblood chuckled at the half proposed notion before shifting his focus back onto Ruby. “You know, perhaps if we become more familiar with each other as our… current arrangements hold, you may even be able to assist on some of my companies designs. Night Walker had mentioned that you were a very capable problem solver,” Blueblood commented. As Ruby thought to herself, he finally took his position on the chair across from her, and awaited her reply.

“To be honest,” Ruby began, “From what I have learned from you, I never expected you to be this type of pony.”

Blueblood was about to reply in defense, feeling that she was referring of his actions during the Gala sometime ago. But he quickly caught himself at the folly of mentioning the event.

“What did you expect?”

“That you were a selfish, egotistical, and spoiled brat that had everything handed to him due to his family ties,” Ruby said without hesitation.

Blueblood merely chuckled at her assumption, a response she did not expect. He raised hoof into the air while at the same time leaning his head onto his other that he propped up. “I won’t deny the first two, but I will have you know that besides my summer home in Los Pegasus, everything I own I had worked for. Anything that I hadn’t I’ve have passed on or sold.”

“And what is your line of work?” Ruby asked, hoping he may reveal something of interest that she did not already know.

Smirking at the question and at the chance to show off his exploits, he happily answered. “Transportation, innovation, and advancement for ponykind.”

“That’s specific,” Ruby quipped as she settled herself back into her chair.

“Well, my talents are broad, and I could never chain myself down to one prospect,” he simply replied. “I am responsible for over two-thirds of the latest advances in technology and magic in Equestria for the last eight years.”

“Surely you alone did not design all of your products,” Ruby said slyly as she began to fall into pace with the banter.

“Despite how capable some believe me to be, I am actually quite the intelligent pony. However, I cannot take full credit for all of my accomplishments. How very perceptive of you, my dear.”

“Don’t call me that,” Ruby interrupted, her smile not faltering in the slightest as she partially revealed her fangs.

“Noted,” Blueblood replied, his pleasant voice and mood remaining strong as well. “But no, I did not invent all of my items. Instead, I owe that to the ponies that work for me, courtesy of my special talent.”

“And that is?”

“As you can see, my cutie mark is a compass rose. It had appeared when I took ownership of my first company, a reputable train line.” Blueblood shifted about his chair as his horn grabbed a bottle of wine next to his personal table, uncorking it with ease and pouring himself a glass. “It signified my love for travel. I knew the moment it came that, regardless of what other endeavors I would pursue, transportation and travel would always remain my most beloved interest.”

After he finished pouring his glass, he brought it in front of himself and began to idly swish it about. “But that is not my only talent.”

“Two talents?” Ruby said in amusedly. “Surely you are not so self-centered to believe that you have two special talents.”

“Indeed I am,” he replied without pause. Ruby’s took on a skeptical appearance as he sipped from his glass, of which he placed back onto the table. “You see, I don’t just have a knack for those particular industries, but I happen to have a sixth sense when it comes to ponies. Not only do I know how to steer products across the land…” he said with noticeable pride. “But I also am able to steer ponies onto their own successful paths.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“It means I have an uncanny ability to know a pony’s destination in life based on their potential,” he explained with a smile that made Ruby want to smack off him. “I would not have gotten to where I am today if it were not for the skilled and talented ponies I have found throughout my life. With proper guiding, I have been able to steer them onto very successful career paths. And the ones with the most potential, I hire on the spot to work for me and my company. So far, not a single one has let me down. And they themselves have made advances in their respective talents that would not have been possible alone or unsupported.”

Lifting his glass again, he finished, “While I may be the most self-centered pony in all of Equestria, and very much justified in believing as such, I do not fail to miss the benefits others can bring.”

“Benefits that mainly aid you it seems,” Ruby said. “Why do I get the distinct impression that you view them only as investments and tools?”

“I do,” Blueblood answered immediately. “They are perhaps the most valuable investments I can make. That is why I ordered every pony within one of my factories to evacuate and leave behind all our work when a fire had started. I much prefer the loss of a device that can be recreated over that of a valuable employee.”

“Even if you had jumped in the fire yourself, that is still a low way of looking at others,” Ruby replied, her smile vanishing from the stallions cold look on life.

Blueblood chuckled to himself as he prepared to take another sip. “Is it any different than you viewing them as food?”

Ruby’s eyes became narrowed as her hoofs gripped the arms of the chair. She was spending a lot of effort to leap onto him from her seat right there and then. Her teeth grated each other as he held her jaw tight.

Don’t do it!

Quiet!

No! the voice shouted back. You’ve been becoming more and more violent in your ways of thinking! It won’t solve anything if you kill him!

Ruby wanted to fight at the inner voice, still very much upset that it even existed to begin with and that she could not do anything to silence it. But even with her foul disposition, it had spoken a measure of truth.

Blinking her eyes from sudden clarity, she instinctively brought a hoof to her chest to calm herself down, ignoring whatever looks she may have been receiving from Blueblood.

She had gotten angry. Far too angry. Her nerves were already high strung from the not too long ago escape for their lives, and had little time to fade from the pressure of being in the middle of a city of ponies who could very well attempt to kill them. That along with having to trust her ponies safety to Blueblood on top of it, she was more or less not in the best stable state of mind.

After a minute of breathing exercises, she looked back up to him as a sign that she was ready to continue. She was about to apologize, but the prince beat her to it.

“My apologies. Given who you are, I did not think it to be a sensitive topic.”

“No, the fault is mine,” Ruby said while shaking her head. “Please forgive me. With all that has happened over the last few days, everything has just been a little… stressful.”

“Is there anything I can do to help put those worries at ease?”

“There is one thing that might help,” Ruby said as she readjusted herself in her seat. She closed her eyes and drew her focus inward; summoning the magic she had started to become more familiar with. With a finally soothing exhale, she opened her eyes and stared intently at Blueblood with a brilliant white light escaping her pools.

“Promise me that you will not endanger my ponies, or betray us to the thrones.”

While Ruby’s request had been simple and clear, the edge to her voice that almost seemed to echo with an unnatural force sent an even clearer message of what the consequences might be for breaking such a promise.

Blueblood held a stoic expression as he listened to her request, choosing to make his response at careful as possible lest he angered her further. His skin beneath his coat took on an odd feeling of being cold but clammy at the same time. He had developed a talent for sensing things outside of reason and logic, a crucial ability in picking out the potential of others despite their appearances and current standings. But no matter what logical conclusion he came to, no matter how much his mind may have denied it, his body was reacting to his honed natural instincts without his control. Though he may have never voiced it to another soul so long as he lived, he would never forget the sensation that swept over his body from her gaze and voice.

He would never forget the fear she had induced straight into his core.

With more effort than he ever believed such an action require, he answered her question without his voice wavering or cracking. “I promise.”

Ruby remained motionless as she stared at him for some moments longer, searching what she needed to see in his soul before being satisfied with his answer. Closing her eyes once more, she extinguished her soul sight, and let out a breath at her expended effort. Blueblood had done the same thing after he felt her piercing gaze leave him.

He didn't lie, Ruby thought to herself. And it appears I scared him more than he is willing to accept. Holding back a smile at the events she had witnessed within his soul, she finally let go some of her worries she had held in her mind since their arrival. She could trust that her ponies would be safe within Blueblood’s home. For now.

This experience with Blueblood however, proved to be a useful one. She had learned a few things from him during her prying, and coupled with his attitude while they had spoken, gave her a base picture of what she could expect from the stallion. He was truthful on his outlook on himself and others, viewing them simply as valuable items that could benefit him and his interests. He was confident, intelligent, and could take control of any situation that presented himself. He was indeed a capable pony that deserved a level of respect. And Ruby could sense his attitude from before was quickly manifesting itself again, something that would allow him to take back some of the control he had lost. He was a pony that could face adversity in strides, and not be afraid to use other ponies to get into very powerful positions. In short, he was dangerous, and could never cease to be a threat regardless of whatever peace may be currently in effect.

But she had established her dominance over him. And for a vampony, it was one of the most important things one could do.

“Do you happen to be thirsty?” Blueblood suddenly inquired.

Ruby looked at him with a confused expression, curious as to why he would ask it but impressed that he had managed to regain so much control of himself so quickly. What effects that had been left over from her intimidation were only faint traces now.

Blueblood glanced towards the bottle and glass that stood on her side table, shifting her focus to its contents.

With half a mind already knowing what it contained, Ruby wrapped it in her magic and brought it between her and the fire, watching it contents reflect the light in a unique way. Needing to confirm it, she uncorked the lid and wafted its smell beneath her nose, immediately causing her throat to tighten at its scent.

It was like an addiction whenever she smelled it. While her throat would begin to irritate her whenever such a scent wafted by her nose, she desired it in a level that could not be met by anything else. It was like a fix that even if you had just taken it, should it present itself to you again, your body would immediately begin to crave more as if you haven’t had it in years. If she simply enjoyed the sweet smell the bottle emitted for some time, her throat would no doubt eventually begin to burn like a patch of desert, desperately crying out for the only thing that could sate it.

It was a cruel thing she thought in retrospect. The thing that caused you pain, was also the same thing that soothed it. It was a painful experience that took, then gave.

“Who died for this?” Ruby asked after taking the contents smell in.

“No one,” Blueblood replied.

She looked towards him with a bewildered expression, watching his previous sly smile spread across his lips again at his obvious amusement in her reaction. “That… came from a blood donation from Southern Field Hospital at Brass Wagon Lane. When you are in influential positions, buying a few odd items can be easily done.”

“So… no pony had to die for this?” Ruby asked as her eyes became wide, looking onto the bottle as if it was some brilliant invention that seemed impossible.

“With today’s medicine, blood can be obtained easily without harm to the donor.”

“Of course,” Ruby breathed in excitement. “Why didn’t I think of this before? This could solve many of our problems! We should have done this a thousand years ago!”

Blueblood felt it was in his better interest to not correct her that such things did not exist a thousand years ago. Night Walker had said her memory had been fragmented into unknown sections. If I am not careful this charade he insists putting on may fall apart. But I hope he does not expect me to decide what she does and doesn’t piece together. I fear that level of control is even beyond my reach.

Ruby’s dark mood had completely vanished over the events of tonight. She had established a baseline of expectations from Blueblood, secured the fact that her ponies were not in danger, and had discovered an alternate method to sustain her diet. For her, the evening could not have gone better as she happily poured the deep red liquid into her glass, smiling at the way it settled and how the light reflected off of it.

Blueblood sat in silence as he observed her swirl about the liquid, savoring every part of it before daintily sipping it, her fangs causing a soft clink onto the glass as her lips wrapped around its edge. Ruby… I am very much looking forward to see how you might develop in the future. How long will this play that you so confidently believe to be real last? What will your reaction be when everything you know comes apart at the seams? Hopefully, I will be able to watch it from afar.

Blueblood covered a certain smile that parted his lips ever so slightly with a hoof. I’m getting that sensation again. You have potential for events that have yet to pass. It was a smile whenever a pony was able to travel towards a direction in their life that would help him immensely. I don’t know what you will do, or how it will come to be, but you will prove to be very beneficial to me. Somehow, someway, I’m going to reach even greater heights because of you.

Ruby let out a satisfied ‘ah’ after gulping the last drop from her glass, having switched from small sipping to enthusiastic chugging. She could not help but try out the delicious liquid in every manner possible, and she was already pouring another glass while considering how long she could hold it in her mouth before swallowing.

Then it’s decided, Blueblood thought to himself smugly. I will help you on your path, wherever it may lead. For one day, it will be of use to me. Blueblood magically grasped his glass and raised it in front of him. “A toast?”

“Hmm,” Ruby happily hummed, feeling more content and at ease than ever over the last few days. “Yes, a toast.”

“To the future,” Blueblood announced. “And with it, good fortune on both parties.”

“To the future,” Ruby replied before sucking in a mouthful of liquid, not caring in the slightest how Blueblood might think of her. In her mind, she had already established she was in the superior position, and she could act however she wanted.

Blueblood held back his distaste for her actions, but it was easily suppressed at the possibilities springing forth in his mind. I am so very curious to see what kind of pony you will become Princess Ruby. Or even possibly… Princess Twilight.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Your late,” Blueblood snapped at his guest atop the balcony.

The griffin tried to catch his breath as he set his parcel down, stretching his wings from the speedy flight. “It ain’t our fault we met ‘sum headwind,” the griffin retorted in a gruff voice. “That, and your requested replacement learning ‘ta ropes of things.”

“As I said before, Feathermane,” Blueblood said while he magically grabbed the wrapped package. “I desire griffons who are accustomed to ponies. If I ever want to establish a regular trading system between our empires, I need representatives that understand pony culture to help justify my requests.”

“Aye, you needn’t ‘ta repeat that sphiel to me again,” Feathermane replied. “Still, ah suppose the lass is having better luck than tha ponies back in ‘ta kingdoms.” With a laugh that was more of a bark, the griffin added, “I hear they are still having a hard time eating with a griffin at tha same table. You leaf chewers sure do a’ve a weak stomach.”

“Hmm,” Blueblood idly replied as he opened the parcel and inspected its contents. “Where’s the rest of your group?”

“Oh, they be coming in shortly. Ruck decided to grab a bite to eat before landing. He hates doing business on an empty stomach. And Fen ah suppose is helping the lass catch up.” Feathermane turned his eye to the night sky, awaiting the distant forms of his comrades to come into view. “She’s a strong flyer no doubt, but I fear she doesn’t have much of a gut when it comes ‘ta something’s. The seasonal winds don’t take too kindly to her it seems.”

“I am hoping after we have setup a profitable trade business, we can begin securing air streams rights for faster shipments. If we can show your rulers the positive effects of mass continental trading, they will help make the trip more bearable,” Blueblood said at the mention of the winds.

Feathermane laughed again in his rough voice at the notion. “Good luck with that! If you don’t ask nicely, you might find a blizzard chasing ya all tha way home.”

“Well, I better not disrespect the Griffon of the Seasons then,” Blueblood replied as he begun to move inside.

“Ah, there they are,” Feathermane announced while looking up into the night sky. Blueblood stopped and craned his head upward in attempts to see the approaching griffins, but his eyes could never be as sharp as that of the older griffin.

“RUCK! FEN! HURRY UP AND GET YOUR TAIL FEATHERS DOWN HERE!” Feathermane shouted, causing his neck feathers to bristle from his polite motivation. His eyes then narrowed the form that was a short distance behind them. She was wobbling about from the heavy package she was carrying, and even from his distance he was able to tell she was having trouble holding onto while remain aloft.

“AND TELL GILDA TO NOT DROP THAT PACKAGE AGAIN OR ITS COMING OUT OF HER PAYCHECK!”

Act II - Chapter 28

View Online

Ruby closed her eyes as the warm water flowed onto her forehead, letting herself become lost from the showers pressure and steam that filled the spacious bathroom. It felt wonderful to inhale the hot steam that had built up in the room, to feel the water trail down her mane, giving it an extra weight that tugged at her scalp, or how it gently tickled every inch of her body with its warm embrace. It was as if an invisible burden was slowly being tugged off of her, draining down the tube of the mosaic tile pieces of the shower. Many of her worries had been settled with Blueblood the previous evening, finally allowing her to have a day’s rest of sleep. And after she had spent a minute just sitting in the stream of water once all her cleaning had been done, to just simply enjoy the sensation, she turned it off, feeling refreshed and weightless.

The first shower she had taken the night they arrived had washed the weight of all the dirt she had accumulated in the cave, and this one had washed away the weight of worry that had been nestled in her chest and mind. For now, she could relax on the concern of her bat ponies safety.

Which only meant that her mind could now allow her to focus on other priorities.

Snapping her eyes open and bearing a determined grin, she gently stepped onto the bathrooms main floor and magically grasped a nearby towel. A happy hum escaped her lips as the feeling of how soft and fluffy the towel was as she walked towards the misted mirror.

Wiping it away with another towel—the bathroom seem to have a never ending supply—she looked at herself thoughtfully while she dried her coat off. She did not know if it was because she had lost her memories, or if she had always done this, but she thought her reflection looked familiar yet strange all the same.

Since she had awoken, she had only known herself to be two things. The first was a vampony, a powerful creature that was strong, intimidating, and freely took the life of others to survive. The second was a princess, a royal authority that had the wellbeing of her subjects always at the forefront of her mind. To ensure they were taken care of, to protect them, and decided the course of their fates on her decisions.

Both of these aspects demanded respect, and by no means were they things that Ruby could take lightly. And if she wanted to add to the list, being an alicorn certainly demanded its own tributes. But when she removed those notions, and simply looked into the mirror, she saw a very different pony.

She was just a mare.

Ruby had unknowingly stopped drying herself some time ago as she stared into her reflection, becoming lost in the silent introspect search of who she was. Because when she removed those defining titles, stripped away everything that had defined her from a time she could not remember, she began to wonder a question that she had not consider before.

Who was Ruby Sparkle?

And after a minute of staring into the unflinching sanguine eyes of the mare in the mirror, she found she could not answer that question.

Sighing, she resumed her drying and drew herself away from the moment of self-questioning. I can figure out more about myself as I go. There is a laundry list of things that still need to be answered and understood that are more important than that. And as she looked upon herself once again with a focused mind, one of those things on her mental list came to mind.

Hey, you.

After a minute of silence, she attempted again.

Hey voice! I’m talking to you!

When it became apparent that she couldn't summon the strange voice at will, Ruby let out a flustered ‘tsk’ and closed her eyes. She was beginning to become more proficient in activating soul sight, finding that on a good day with the right state of mind the process only took a few seconds to complete. But instead of opening her lids again, her eyes flickered beneath in random direction, moving idly as she inwardly focused the ability.

Shortly her soul became visible and clear, a glowing white sphere of elegant but complex structure that was highlighted in many places with a brilliant red. Ruby briefly thought that if such a design such as the soul could be reproduced in the physical world, perhaps as a building or statue, it would no doubt become one of the greatest works of art in the world. There was simply no comparison or aptly description that could match the sight of seeing a soul.

Moving past her fascination of its design lest she lose focus and find herself lost in some section, she turned her attention to the recently formed part of herself that remained strangely outside of her influence. She noted mentally that its structure had subtly changed since she last looked at it, and the beginning of new fibers for connections could be seen. However, they did not appear to stretching to their supposed destinations, instead choosing to remain in place as they built up in length and stability.

As she studied the anomaly in detail, she recalled the many discussions she had with Night Walker regarding the soul. The existence of the bridging fibers were to allow connections within the soul, acting as a highway between thoughts and emotions. The stability and thickness of them reflected how strong of connections the various segments of the soul had amongst each other. A pony that had very thick and numbers bridges from the emotional center that housed anger indicated how quick tempered they may be. And while another pony may have similar thick fibers, they could lead to completely different parts, showcasing that the reason for activation of such a hot emotion would be entirely different.

And like many things in life, the soul was not a stagnant or rigid thing. It can change as the pony themselves change. Some mental or emotional aspects could grow or diminish in size over the years. Kindness could dwindle as despair or hate become more prominent, buoyant energy could become more refined and still with maturity, and reserved peace could give way to a flurry of emotions.

She had even learned that a soul goes through rapid changes when a pony happens to have a mental breakdown. Apparently spontaneous bridges would be formed nearly instantaneously, firing off signals between sections that may have normally been so developed with weak and unstable connections. It was possibly one of the reasons why one may feel so jumbled and various levels of emotions that normally don’t mesh together.

But regardless of how well one could inspect and understand the multitude aspects of the soul, their understanding of a pony would still remain on a crude and basic level. Which is why Ruby felt so lost and frustrated at the section before her now.

Its connections still held the same places as before, giving her some clue as what triggers may activate it even though the sections still remained shrouded in mystery as to their functions. She still had a lot to learn to know the inner workings of the soul as well as Night Walker, but she had deduced so far that it was not prone to violent and fatal actions. And it’s forming but repressed bridges held some concern for her. She did not know if and when they might stretch out to whatever destination inside of her, and having more sections she could not influence only made her worry deepen.

And yet… it also felt familiar at the same time.

The only thing it even seemed remotely similar to was the brief glance she had into Night Walker’s soul. How he had different sections and even separate bridges nestled next to each other, almost as if he had different layers of souls lightly set over each other in different configurations. However, her glance into his soul had been so short and she had been so taken aback from its design that it gave her little information to work off of. It was obvious that this section inside of her was not even remotely close to the vampony lord’s chaotic design. But as unlikely as it seemed, Ruby could not help but feel they were similar in a way.

Unable to discern its capabilities or purpose further, or be able to stir it into conversation, Ruby sighed and ended her soul sight.

She brought a hoof to rub her temples from the soreness that had built around her eyes. Prolonged use of the ability brought extra strain and could often manifest as full blown headaches. Though she had shouldered through the pain during Shade Flare’s operation that had lasted hours, her mind and body were still recovering from the recent ordeals that had plagued her thoughts.

“Speaking off,” Ruby said.

Quickly drying the rest of herself off, she exited the bathroom and her room, and began her search for Mist Hoof throughout the expansive apartment.

She figured he might be in the main living room, a wide space that in some ways reminded her of the cavern were it not for one section being entirely composed to glass. It was an open area that included each floor multi-level house, having them end prematurely with railing and leave nothing but open air. From the bottom floor, the second and third floors were in view and even reachable with flight. It was almost like a section of the house had been removed that was large enough to fit a tree. Except instead of leaves and bark, chandeliers, art pieces, and comfy furniture decorated the place. There was even a bar beneath the overhang of the second floor to the side, a popular hangout place for some of the batponies.

Besides the view of the city, there were normally two things her ponies were actively engaged in while in the large room. One was to her displeasure was drinking, and the other to her infinite joy was reading. Being sheltered in Dusk Town their entire lives had limited their knowledge on the world. And while the princesses had at least been kind enough to give them some literature and basic knowledge of Equestria, they were still frighteningly uneducated about the world. So it was thanks to the many shelves of books Blueblood owned that Ruby could tolerate the drinking some of them had taken to.

When she had arrived, she quickly spotted Mist Hoof amongst the few batponies already in the room. He was sitting atop a chair to himself, idly sipping from a glass that was no doubt from the bar while reading a book.

She had expected to at least wait an hour or so for him to wake up, given that the sun had not yet fully descended from the sky. Its golden glow held a dim reflection on the metallic objects within the room, and would have been glaring bright itself were it not for the dimmed windows that filled the entire outer wall. It served an additional purpose of not revealing to any passing by flier a view of the inside due to its design. She and the batponies would only risk walking outside onto the large balcony on the other side when it was completely night time. Ruby had been concerned of unintroduced visitors landing while they lounged outside, but had been reassured any pony that had business at the penthouse landed on another balcony on the other side of the building. Blueblood’s residence was a well-known spot, and decent pegasus etiquette prevented any nosy guests.

“Good evening," Ruby said as she sat next to Mist Hoof.

“Evening, Ruby,” Mist Hoof replied while closing his book.

“What are you reading?”

“Some mystery novel about a detective named ‘Sky Steel’,” Mist Hoof said. He took a sip of his drink and winced slightly at the burning sensation of the alcohol while Ruby brought a hoof to her chin.

“Is it the one about the mare held by the Trotting Dogs gang?”

“That’s the group who kidnapped her?” Mist Hoof said in with interest.

Ruby lowered her ears in apology. “Oh sorry, I take it you haven’t reached that point yet.”

Mist Hoof let out a small gruff. “Well just don’t tell me how Steel gets her back. However, I’m surprised you’ve already read it. I thought I had the only copy when we first arrived.”

“Actually… that is one of the reasons why I am looking for you,” Ruby admitted. “But there’s something else more important. Have we received a letter from Shade Flare yet?”

“No, I’m afraid not,” Mist Hoof answered with a shake of his head. “I’ve asked Silver Platter to let me know immediately once it arrives, and I’ll let you know as soon as I do.”

“Okay,” Ruby replied sullenly. “I’m just worried about him. His transformation did not go as expected, and I can’t help but wonder if something may be wrong with him.”

“Is that why you are holding off on transformation any of us?” Mist Hoof asked, already figuring that was the reason for her delay.

“Yes,” Ruby sighed. “I just can’t bring myself to do it again until I know what happened. If Night Walker were here I might since he’s much more experienced with everything, but…”

“It’s alright Ruby,” Mist Hoof said. “No one would blame you for your decision to wait.”

Ruby’s head sunk lower. “But I’m supposed to be the one to fix all of you. What if whatever happened to Shade Flare wasn’t a fluke? What if I just can’t fully heal you?”

Mist Hoof didn’t answer right away. Instead, he chooses to think it over for a few moments while taking another sip of his drink. After staring thoughtfully into the glass, he finally answered. “To be honest, if you were never able to cure me, and I just happen to die today, I would still be happy.”

Ruby’s ears perked as she lifted her head. “How can you say that?”

“Because,” Mist Hoof said with a smile, “regardless of what you may not be able to give us, you still brought us a freedom we have never known before.” He swept his foreleg across the expanse of the open room. “I mean, look at this place. Look at the city were in. Look at this drink that burns my throat! All of these are things I never would have seen had it not been for you. Ruby, even if you didn’t give us vampirism, you still gave us the world. You brought back a dream I and many others had given up long ago. A dream that I can truthfully say, would still be happy to die for.”

“Mist Hoof…”

“Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the rest of us,” he finished dryly. “Not everypony is going to live to my age. So I hate to be the bearer of bad news, you are going to have to figure out how to fix us. But… since you don’t know what went wrong, or if something is even wrong… and you just happen to need a test pony…” Mist Hoof ended openly.

“Are you… saying what I think you’re saying?”

“What I’m saying,” Mist Hoof said while crossing his arms, “is that if you need a pony to work out the kinks on, or if things may not go as expected… feel free to use me to iron out wrinkles.”

“Mist Hoof, I can’t ask you to do that,” Ruby said. “I’d much rather wait for word back from Shade Flare than to just put your life in jeopardy as a guinea pig.”

“And what if we don’t hear from him?” Mist Hoof countered. Before Ruby could speak, he continued. “I know you already are aware of this, but this isn’t a game. We split into groups so we could better our chance of remaining hidden. If one gets caught, the other two at least have a chance to keep fighting.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Ruby replied sternly.

“But if it does,” Mist Hoof replied in kind, “we need to prepare for the possibility we may never know what happened to Shade Flare.”

The two of them locked eyes against each other, silently willing the other to accept their side of the argument. And after a long length, Ruby sighed in defeat. “One week. That’s how long were waiting.”

Mist Hoof smiled. “Thanks for accepting an old codgers last request.”

“You’re not an old codger, nor is it your last request,” Ruby said sternly, but the smile that grew on her lips reduced its effect.

“Well given that I manage to be old enough to get some salt onto my coat, I’d say I qualify enough,” Mist Hoof replied. “But back on topic, what was the other thing you wanted to talk about.”

“Actually, it’s two more things,” Ruby said. “The first ties into my memory.”

“Has it come back?” Mist Hoof said eagerly, his eyes wide with hope.

“No. At least, not in the way I’m hoping.”

Mist Hoof settled back into his seat and waited quietly for Ruby to explain.

“Ever since we arrived in Fillydelphia, I’ve been getting weird moments of recollection. I was apparently sealed away for over a thousand years, but I still somehow know what a skyscraper is.”

“You recognized them?” Mist Hoof asked in disbelief.

“Hm-hm.”

“I didn’t put much thought into it, but you did seem to handle everything pretty well.” Mist Hoof stroked the bit of scruff on his chin while he thought aloud. “All of us were taken aback from the sights this place has, but at least we were already aware of that they existed. For you to have lived in another time, I figured you were just to speechless to comment on any of it.”

“And that’s not all,” Ruby said. “I haven’t read that book since we’ve been here.” She pointed a hoof to the novel sitting in front of Mist Hoof.

His face was confused at first, but eventually the meaning of the comment dawned onto him, and left his mouth open in disbelief. “Then… how did you know about what happens in the story? There weren’t any books like this back in the cave.”

“That’s the thing… I don’t know.”

“That… is concerning,” Mist Hoof commented. He leaned back against the sofa in deep thought, running over his mind on how it was possible his princess was aware of such things.

As if she already could guess the scenarios he was thinking, Ruby said, “I’ve already spent awhile trying to figure it out. At best I think it may have to do with me being sealed by the princesses.”

“So they let you read books?”

“Who knows,” Ruby replied while shrugging. “I don’t know how I was treated while being their prisoner. But it could be very well the case I could read books depending on my situation. But that doesn’t explain how I knew what a sky scraper was.”

“You could have read about them,” Mist Hoof offered.

“No, I don’t think so,” Ruby replied hesitantly. “I’ve had this feeling now and then, and it only appears when I actually see something. Like your book for example. I only knew what happened in the story when I saw its cover.”

“You don’t remember it that you… remember it, until you see it?”

“At first I have no idea that it exists at all. Then I see it and it’s like, ‘poof!’ There it is!” Ruby’s hooves came to her temples and exploded outward to gesture the effect. “And it’s only until afterwards that I realize that only a moment ago I had no knowledge on whatever it is, but then suddenly find myself knowing everything about it. It’s really weird and raises so many questions.”

“Indeed,” Mist Hoof agreed, finding his the situation even more perplexing than her.

“Which leads me to the final thing I wanted to talk about,” Ruby said. She took a breath in preparation of what she was about to say, then turned to Mist Hoof with a serious expression. “I want to go out into the city. Alone.”

“What!?” Mist Hoof exclaimed.

“I feel like it’s the only way I’m going to figure this out,” Ruby continued over him in attempts to explain. “If I see what I can recognize within the city, maybe I can slowly piece together other memories and understand what happened to me.”

“Princess Ruby!” Mist Hoof said, causing her to flinch at the use of her title. “I cannot condone you to go out into the city and even worse alone!” His worry and anger at her request was very apparent, but he respectively held himself as much as he could. “We cannot risk you being by yourself or being noticed.”

“I was able to be on my own before,” Ruby countered.

“Yes, but I heard what had happened with that lost mare. This isn’t the woods anymore. This is a city full of ponies! And while I know you are very capable of taking care of yourself, there are simply too many ponies. If they found out who you are…” Mist Hoof said, unable to finish the sentence.

“Which is why I am going out in disguise,” Ruby said. “I already mentioned that back while we were preparing to leave the cave before the attack. I’ll just cover up my wings and horn, maybe even wear a wig, and it will be no problem.”

Mist Hoof gave Ruby a very hard look, who also happened to return it in kind. It was another silent battle of willing their side of the argument against each other. But this time, Mist Hoof knew he was not going to win. “At least allow one of us to accompany you,” he said without breaking eye contact.

“No. I won’t risk any batpony, which is the reason I have to go alone.”

“Ebon Wing them. He can hide in the shadows.”

“Not taking the chance. I may go inside buildings or become lost in the crowd. And Ebon Wing can’t maintain his spell if he’s almost moving.”

The two of them remained locked in a staring contest, until Mist Hoof finally yielding and took a swig of his drink. “You are a stubborn princess. But I suppose in the end all you have to do is order me.”

Mist Hoof then felt the gentle touch of Ruby’s hoof against his arm. He looked back to her face and found a sweet and warming expression as she spoke, “You’re more than my subjects. You’re my family. And I’m not pulling the princess card unless I have to. I want to be able to discuss our situations and come to an agreement ourselves. That’s what you do with your kin after all.”

Mist Hoof was taken aback at first, but then too let out a small grin at the kindness of her words. It amazes me at times at how we are somehow related to you, Mist Hoof thought to himself. We couldn’t have asked for a better princess. I just wish you wouldn’t endanger yourself. I don’t know if we could survive another dream being shattered…

“Okay,” Mist Hoof said. “But at least wait until the sun is completely down.”

“Will do,” Ruby replied happily.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Make sure you stay away from stranger ponies. Always keep the exit in sight. Here, let me look at you from this angle,” Mist Hoof said. He had been fussing over last minute details and whatever thoughts popped into his head while he stood with Ruby by the elevator.

Ruby had been able to acquire some clothing from Silver Platter to mask her alicorn features, and now sported a concealing outfit that was apparently ‘fashionably old enough to remain low key’. She wore a simple turtle neck black shirt that was tight enough to accent every curve of her body, a similar fabric akin to the Yoga pants she had initially considered wearing. But she had given the pants up for a less constricting decorative red saddle piece. It was a common enough article of clothing in the city, and it was wide enough to hide her cutie mark.

A simple wide brim hat covered her horn as she wished her wings to be free lest she require a speedy escape, but was advised against it by Silver Platter who–uncharastically–offered advice that it was not common for unicorns to be able to perform teleportation so well, and that she did not know the layout of the city well enough to risk it. Just when she thought it was odd for him to offer helpful advice like that on his own free will, he even finished saying she looked much better in a unicorn outfit than one fitted for pegasi.

While it made sense in the end, it was only with reluctance that she chose to follow the advise and cover her wings.

With all those items along with a pair of sunglasses and a deep blue wig—that had matching clip-on tail-highlights—her outfit was complete and her true appearance completely covered. She had asked about why they had a wig in the first place, thinking that she might have had to wait for Silver Platter to buy one. But the butler had simply commented it was an item that was stocked in the house for the more ‘eccentric’ parties Prince Blueblood hosted now and then.

With all of that taken care off, she only had Mist Hoof attempting to not sound so worried as he fretted over details.

“Shake your head side to side, I want to see if your glasses or hat will fall off. We may need a smaller size to stay on.”

“Mist Hoof, it’s fine,” Ruby sighed.

Lowering his ears in embarrassment at knowing full well he was acting like a doting mother, he added, “Just make sure you keep this building in sight. I don’t want you losing track of where you are.”

“I’ll be fine,” Ruby said in a much more relaxed tone. “Thank you for worrying. But everything will be okay.”

“I hope so,” Mist Hoof said solemnly.

“Keep an eye on everyone until I get back. And make sure Ebon Wing doesn’t try sneaking into the hard cider again,” Ruby said as she pressed the button for the elevator.

“If you didn’t want him drinking, you should have taken him with you,” Mist Hoof replied.

Ruby only smirked before the doors open, and then proceeded into the space. “See you in a few hours.”

“Good luck, and stay safe,” Mist Hoof called as the doors shut.

Ruby was then at that moment, completely alone.

She exhaled in apprehension at the idea. She felt it was necessary to go out on her own, but it would be the first time she would be completely away from the batponies. The notion that she couldn’t reach them or they her should something come up, was proving to be a more freighting thing than she realized.

I need to do this, she told herself. I need to explore this world so I can better understand it, and perhaps even learn more about myself.

Recalling the number Silver Platter had told her to press, as well as repeating the combination required to return back to the penthouse, she touched the panel and felt the floor shift beneath her as it whisked her down to the lobby.

When she had reached the bottom and the doors opened, she nervously peered out into the main floor. It was just as fanciful as the penthouse from the polished floors to the cut columns. But across the way was a view she had yet to see since her arrival in Fillydelphia; a pair of glass doors that on the other side held a bustling street full of passing ponies.

Suddenly the idea of going out into the crowd by herself seemed much more foalish than before.

Raising a hoof to her chest and exhaling, Ruby picked herself up and began to trot confidently towards the door.

“Have a good evening,” a voice suddenly spoke to her right.

Ruby’s heart nearly leapt from her chest as she swung her head to spy a pony sitting behind a counter; a young mare that merely smiled in her direction.

“O-oh,” Ruby stammered. “Actually… I’m just going for a short walk. I’ll be back later.”

“Very well, have a good walk then,” the pony corrected herself.

“T-thank you,” Ruby said before resuming her path to the doors. It’s alright. She doesn’t know who you are.

Ruby wanted to pause in front of those doors and take a moment to adjust at the fact she was about to go out onto a busy sidewalk, but the following stare of the mare kept her moving forward and she quickly found herself standing outside the tower.

Ruby remained petrified for a few moments, before gingerly stepping out of the way of passing ponies. She looked worryingly to each ones face that passed her by, lowering her ears as if she was about to be caught. But besides receiving a few odd looks, none of them gave her a second glance and simply went on their way. Ruby’s fearful demeanor slowly changed to a one with confidence.

I did it… I went outside and nopony recognizes me. Standing more upright and looking about the new world she had just stepped in, a grin spread across her face. I did it! Haha!

With her false perceptions of persecution out of the way, Ruby walked down the sidewalk and headed to the heart of the city, her eyes looking about with wide fascination at all the sights before her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ruby’s experience that night was a mixture of joy and confusion.

She had found many things of interest that she made sure to visit again on her next outing, having decided that this time she would just walk around and sightsee instead of browsing the insides of buildings. And while some things were not immediately recognizable, she chalked them up to being some sort of new product she was not aware of. But everything else that was not decorative and actually held some function, came into her mind like a floodgate of knowledge she previously had no access to. Though she could not remember being in a city, the familiarity of everything was enough to convince her that she had visited one at least once or twice.

Theaters, bars, clubs, restaurants, and more were all things she was confident did not exist a thousand years ago. And the mannerisms and behaviors of ponies were also a strange and familiar memory. It was nighttime in a bustling city, and every type of pony imaginable was roaming the street beneath the bright lights. She had done her best to avoid any conversation with ponies, least she give away some clue to her identity. But when she had boarded a multi-pony trolley she had the unfortunate luck of sitting next to a very chatting pony. The only reason why she had decided to get on because it was one of the very few but interesting transportation options in the city, and suspected it to be one of Blueblood’s inventions given that it was not being pulled by any ponies. So when she sat down on the benches inside the long vehicle, the stallion next to her began to talk.

“First time on a bus?”

“Uh… yeah,” Ruby said as she secured her sunglasses. “Is it that obvious?”

The stallion chuckled. “It is when you keep looking around like the way you did. To be honest, I still catch myself doing the same thing. These things haven’t been out too long but they're starting to grow in popularity. I heard one of the drivers that they were going to manufacture a dozen more for Fillydelphia before they start selling ‘em in other cities.”

“Oh, interesting,” Ruby said. She turned her attention away to hint that she wasn’t to interested in the conversation. Unfortunately the stallion did not pick up on it.

“So you from out of town then?”

“Hm-hm.”

“What brings you here?”

“...Business.”

“Oh really? What kind?”

“Uhm… with Skyline Tower?”

“Not a bad place to work at. My cousin is one of the janitors there. Where do you work in it?”

Tailfeathers.

Ruby’s salvation came when the bus suddenly lurched to a stop and began to pick up more passengers. “I’m sorry, but this is my stop. I’ve got to get going now.”

“Alright then,” the stallion replied cheerfully. “I wouldn’t want to hold you up. See you around.”

“Hm-hm, have a good night,” Ruby mumbled as she quickly exited the bus. Not waiting for it to pull away to give some distance between her and the chatty pony, Ruby headed off into the throng of ponies. Apparently the stop it had dropped her off at was one of the more bustling part of the city. It was actually becoming to a little overwhelming as she tried to spy anything of interest within the crowd or amongst the multitude of bright lights and signs.

Overall at the end of her short but tiring walk, and as enlightening as the experience was, it only raised more questions as to the details of her thousand year imprisonment. Had the princesses let her out a few times to see the world? Or had she escaped before being recaptured? As wonderful as it was to know the things that rushed to her mind during her walk, none of it was truly helpful in figuring out her problem.

Feeling that she had enough for the night, Ruby turned around and began to make the long trek back to the penthouse, her mind a mile away as she attempted to solve her mysterious puzzle. She however, had become so lost in her thoughts that she failed to take notice the pony in front of her, who in turn, had not been paying attention to their surroundings as well.

With a painful collision, the two of them bumped heads into each other, knocking Ruby’s sunglasses off her face and disheveling her hat and wig.

“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry,” Ruby apologized as she hurriedly repositioned her disguise, hoping that the other pony had not taken notice of her dark purple mane beneath now poking at the sides. In a fluster, Ruby haphazardly straightened her wig, and bent down to pick up her glasses, only paying half attention to the other pony that was picking themselves back up.

At first, the pony had only given a mumble of annoyance that Ruby was unable to make out, but was turning into something she figured was also an apology. It was a mare by the sound of her voice, pleasant and sweet if anything unlike the accents she had heard in the city. But when the mare said her first few words, her voice rang through Ruby’s mind, causing her to halt in mid reach for the sunglasses.

Ruby’s entire body froze as the world around her became muffled and drowned out, leaving her feeling suddenly very isolated and very odd. With a fleeting thought, Ruby was dimly aware and confused as to why her limbs were refusing to move, why her breath had been caught in her throat, or why her heart began to beat faster.

The mare spoke again, and a sudden tightness came in Ruby’s chest, causing her to feel as if the wind had been knocked out of her. Her body was becoming numb, and the world became quieter and quieter as her mind began to registered the mare’s voice more clearly.

For Ruby, it was as if her body was drifting sideways and standing still at the same time, causing a moment of surreality that sent her mind spinning. The mare spoke again, this time each of her words been heard and understood vividly, causing an intense vertigo as Ruby’s world began to spin.

“Twalight? Is that you?”

Act II - Chapter 29

View Online

Shadows came and stole away,

Memories that should never fade

Robbing her of heart and mind,

Taking her home and friends alike

At first she forgot their names,

And then she forgot their faces,

But etched in the approaching darkness,

Was the calling of their somber voices…



“Twalight? Is that you?”

Ruby ever so slowly lifted her head, feeling as if there was a great weight holding her down every one of her muscles.

When she was able to finally look up, she saw in front of her an orange earth pony. She was sporting golden locks that were set into a flowing ponytail, along with a worn looking cowboy hat atop her head. Her cheeks were speckled with freckles, and her green eyes were large and wide as she returned Ruby’s stare. Upon first glance, there was nothing familiar about the mare in the slightest, and yet, her voice held a firm grip of nostalgia that made Ruby’s head spin.

“That is you, ain’t it, Twalight?” she asked again as she stepped forward, speaking softly as if in awe. Again her voice went through Ruby, and continued to firmly fix her in place. Ruby didn’t know who she was, or why she was calling her Twilight, but regardless of why in Equestria the pony thought she was someone else, her mind screamed in the back of her perplexed and froze state to run.

But try as she might, she found it impossible for her to move her legs.

The cowpony peered closely with a mixture of scrutiny and disbelief, before her eyes became even wider, and the largest and happiest grin Ruby had seen spread across her face.

“It is you!”

“Applejack? Whatever is the matter?” another voice said, impossibly doubling the weight that Ruby felt within and on top of her. It was the voice of another mare, and though it was the exact opposite of the southern accent of the cowpony before her—sounding as if she was from Fillydelphia herself—her words were equally as holding.

“Rarity! Come here! It’s Twalight!” the cowpony replied before sweeping Ruby into a firm embrace. “It’s really her! We found her!”

“What!?” the voice shrieked.

Ruby gasped for breath from the strong embrace of the cowpony, and frantically looked about for some way to escape before she spotted the approaching figure of a white unicorn with an elegant flowing purple mane. She looked upon Ruby with a look of scrutiny that was even more intense than the pony swinging her around. But when Ruby’s wig shifted further, revealing her purple mane beneath, the white unicorn’s face changed into one of excitement similar to the cowpony, except with the addition of tears beginning to stream down her face.

“Oh, Twilight!”

She then ran forward and wrapped her hooves around her, sandwiching Ruby between the two of them. “Oh my heavens! We’ve been looking all over for you!”

“Ah told ya, Rarity! I knew we’d find her!”

Ruby stared out helplessly as the two ponies gripped her tightly in their arms and pressed their heads against her.

“I can’t believe we finally found you!” the unicorn exclaimed as she manage to wipe a tear without letting her hold on Ruby loosen. “We must tell the girls and Princess Celestia and Luna right away!”

“WHAT!?”

This time, it had been Ruby who shouted.

At the mention of the Royal Sister’s names, Ruby found herself able to move again, and forcibly squirmed her way out between the two of them.

“Ow! Twilight! Careful!” the unicorn complained as she rubbed her ribs from a swinging hoof from Ruby.

“Are you okay, sugarcube?” the cowpony asked with concern, reaching out a hoof towards her.

“Get away!” Ruby shouted again before smacking the offered hoof away.

“Twalight…” the cowpony said as she looked at Ruby with a hurt expression.

Catching her breath, Ruby was semi crouched as she shifted her eyes between the two of them, then onto the crowd of ponies that were beginning to stand around them.

“I’m sorry, but you must have mistaken me for another pony,” Ruby replied as she slowly backed away.

“Twilight, it’s us!” the unicorn said. “Rarity and Applejack! Don’t you recognize us?”

“No, I don’t!” Ruby replied. In truth, their appearances and names held no meaning to her. But their voices, they still held a mysterious grip that kept her retreating steps small and forced. If it wasn’t for that, she would have torn off long ago before the orange one would have even grabbed ahold of her, something she was cursing herself for even allowing.

Come on, legs! Run! Ruby yelled internally.

The one she gathered that was called Applejack moved towards her with a sorrowful expression, but then stopped as she narrowed her eyes and gritted her teeth.

“This is Night Walker’s doing ain't it? Princess Celestia was right, he messed with your head!”

Ruby paused for a brief heartbeat, then spun around and sped off into the crowd as nearly all of the strange sluggishness in her limbs vanished.

“WAIT! COME BACK!”

Ruby didn’t respond, and kept her gaze focused forward as she nimbly ducked through the crowd without wasting her momentum.

What’s going on? Why are Celestia’s agents walking about the streets like this? And why didn’t they attack me?

Ruby leapt through the a hotdog stand that had been occupying the bulk of the sidewalk, and turned down the first road that appeared.

Why did they call me Twilight? Is that a name they coded me while I was held captive? Where they the guards? A small inkling of desire to turn around and find out what they knew past by her thoughts, but she shook her head and added to her speed. No, I can’t risk them catching me, or me leading them back to the tower. I need to make sure I lose them and make my way back carefully. Just a few more streets and-

“TWALIGHT! GET BACK HERE!”

Ruby caught her breath as she nearly halted from shout from behind her. Her body wanted to obey the command with practically every fiber of her being, but she forced herself to continue on, and quickly picked up the speed she had wasted. Once she was sure of her footing, she warily risked a look behind her, and saw Applejack in hot pursuit.

Though she wasn’t as agile as Ruby, she had plenty of speed and strength, and had no issue barreling past ponies that were more than glad to make way for her.

Who in Equestria is she? Ruby thought in panic. Seeing Applejack cover the ground between them at an alarmingly rate, Ruby pushed herself forward again, clenching her teeth as she moved her reluctant legs that made her feeling as if she was running through mud.

How are they doing this? What kind of magic did Celestia give them?

Ruby didn’t know where the one called Rarity had gone, or if she was even behind her, but she wasn’t about to let herself become caught by some earth pony that thought she could out race her.

With a growl, Ruby sped onward through the streets of Fillydelphia, ducking past corners and even skirting across traffic once or twice. But no matter how she tried, Ruby could not shake off Applejack who always managed to keep her in sight, and was steadily closing the gap between them.

I can’t lose her, Ruby thought in annoyance. Looks like I’m going to have to fly.

Ruby scanned for the next alleyway that she would pass, readying herself to duck into it at the last second and rip off the outfit so as to free her wings. She would just have to hope that nopony saw her flying through the sky.

So when her eyes flickered to a dark line between two buildings only some distance ahead of her, she pushed forward with all her strength, and rounded the corner in a full on gallop. But as she did, she halted immediately as she found herself skidding to a brick wall that blocked off the rest of what should have been a longer alleyway.

She stared up in disbelief at the shorter building that was apparently wedged between the two taller ones on her side.

With a frustrated ‘tsk’, she turned around to find another one as quickly as possible, but the pony that had been hot on her heels was already standing between her and the street, panting as heavily as Ruby was.

“Yer… not getting away… Twalight,” Applejack said between breaths.

“I… told you… I don’t know… who that is!” Ruby replied in kind.

“Give it up… and come with us. Were only here to help ya,” Applejack stated as she took a step closer.

“Stay away!” Ruby shouted, instinctively backing up.

“No, ah’m not leaving ya,” Applejack said with another step.

“I’m warning you!” Ruby shouted, but Applejack continued dutifully forward.

Ruby inched backwards as she ran possibility after possibility in her head as to how she was going to escape, wondering if she even could with the strange power Applejack held over her. When Ruby’s rear legs brushed against the brick wall behind her, realization set in, and her mind shut down.

She was cornered, and there was only one thing she could do.

Crouching low, Ruby flared her horn, and curled her lips and gave a low snarl. She made her fangs clearly seen, and instinctively twitched her muscles, preparing herself for a leap.

Applejack stopped immediately, and felt a cool chill run down her spine. The way Ruby held herself, and the look in her eyes, was exactly how Applejack once saw a Timberwolf look when confronted by a group of ponies. From what she remembered, it hadn’t ended well.

With a fresh bead of sweat, Applejack nervously gulped, and whispered softly, “...Twalight… hold on a minute now…”

Applejack stepped one hoof back, and it was all Ruby needed.

NO!

As Ruby began to flex her muscles, the magic in her horn faded out, and her legs became slack, causing herself to fall forward onto herself.

Groaning, she propped herself up and tilted her eyes to her horn in disbelief.

“Twalight? Are you okay?”

Ruby snapped her eyes onto Applejack who had taken a few steps closer but still holding a somewhat safe distance. Snarling again, Ruby summoned her magic and stand up to lunge at her again. But even as she tried to grasp her with her horn, a sudden pain flared in her head, and sent her back to her knees with a anguished cry.

“Twilight! What’s wrong!?” Applejack asked frantically as she rushed to her side.

“GET AWAY!” Ruby screamed, blindly throwing her hoof in Applejack’s direction

“Twilight…”

Applejack stared helplessly at Ruby, fidgeting on her hooves at the urge to rush to her side even though a flailing hoof kept her back. As Ruby shakily stood up and fell against the wall for support, Rarity turned the corner with heavy breaths.

“There… you… are!”

“Rarity! Something’s wrong with Twi!” Applejack said without taking her eyes away from Ruby.

“What is it?” Rarity asked as she pushed herself to trot the remaining distance. She stopped next to Applejack, and gave a small gasp of fright at the sight of Ruby keeping herself propped up with the wall, her hooves near her head as she growled in pain, and her crimson eyes staring fearfully and hatefully towards her.

“Stay… away…” Ruby growled as the pain began to subside.

Some moments passed between the three, Rarity catching her breath as she eyed Ruby worriedy, Ruby glaring at the both of them as she tried to formulate a plan, and Applejack biting her lip as to what to do.

When Rarity’s breaths became easier, she took a single step to gain Ruby’s attention, and swallowed a lump that had been in her throat.

“You… You really don’t remember us, do you?”

“No, I don’t” Ruby growled.

Rarity’s lips quivered and her eyes watered, but she quickly shut them, and took a deep breath. After a visible shudder ran through her body, she straightened her posture, and opened her eyes.

Her eyes did not have the softness and hesitation that were there moments ago.

“It appears we have only one options then,” Rarity said heavily. She glanced at Applejack and gave a small nod. Applejack lowered her ears and opened her mouth to protest, but clenched her jaw as she looked back to Ruby. Hesitation was still in Applejack’s eyes as well, but they were resolved as Rarity’s.

“I’m sorry, Twilight,” Rarity said, “but for your own good… you’re going to have to come with us.”

“Don’t you even dare,” Ruby hissed.

“Sorry Twi, but like Rarity said, its fer your own good,” Applejack said as she drew forth a rope. “Were only here ‘ta help ya.”

“Get back!” Ruby threatened. But Applejack did not cease as she continued forward, and Rarity flared her horn to levitate a small object in view that Ruby did not recognize.

“Please, sugarcube, don’t fight this, ” Applejack said softly.

Ruby’s breath quickened as her eyes darted between the two of them. She couldn’t outrun them, and for some impossible reason, she couldn’t kill them. Which only left her her original plan, and it would take all her willpower to see it through.

With one swift motion, Ruby threw her head to the side, magically tearing apart the outfit she wore and flaring her wings out. Applejack and Rarity paused only a few seconds in surprise, but it was more than enough than what she needed. Jumping as high as she could, Ruby kicked off the brick wall and flew over their heads.

Applejack spun around and readied a lasso, but Ruby was already moving to swiftly pass her. A glimmer of hope appeared inside her, before being snuffed out in but a moment, as a new voice shouted, one that made her wings lock up instantly.

“NO YOU DON’T!”

Her escape plan however, was countered by a sudden blur of a rainbow tackling her from the sky, and back to the alley floor below.

Ruby didn’t have a chance to react; she hadn’t even seen where the pegasus had come from. The blur of rainbow collided with Ruby, and crashed them both onto the alley floor with a thud.

Whether if it was because she was a vampony, or the way the pegasus had hit her, she had not broken a bone and could only feel the warning signs of bruises. But even that sensation was dim for the air in her lungs had been expelled by the force of the impact, and she remained dazed as she attempted to recollect herself.

“Rarity, Do it now!” the pegasus shouted above her before pinning Ruby down with all her might.

The pressure of the pony’s grappling her back legs and sitting on her back brought Ruby into a more aware state, and she began squirming with all her strength. “GET OFF OF ME!”

In the few seconds Ruby flailed, it was clear the pegasus was not going to be able to hold her down for long, and some relief filled her as she began to slip away from her hold. But for all her might and will, the sudden sensation of an object wrapping around her horn, followed by the sound of metal locking onto itself, Ruby found her strength to keep fighting vanishing.

And before she knew it, she had slipped into darkness.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The first thing that came to Ruby’s mind was how weak her body felt. It was like a heavy blanket had been draped across her, making even her attempt to stir as she woke nearly impossible. A groan died in her throat at not even having the strength to open her mouth. Even opening her eyes seemed beyond her power.

Why… is it so hard to think?

Narrowing her eyes in confusion, or at least an attempt to, Ruby tried to clear the haze from her mind, all while trying to will her limbs to move. Slowly, her thoughts gathered, and involuntary twitches spread across her. She realized that she was on something soft, and actually had a blanket laid over her.

That’s right… I was being chased…

If she had been able to, her eyes would have snapped open.

Where am I? What’s going on? Wh-

“Did you have to be so rough Rainbow Dash?”

Ruby faintly sucked in a breath at the familiar sound of one of the mares nearby her.

“If I didn’t tackle her when I did she would have gotten away!”

“But still, I think-“

“Relax, Rarity, Rainbow’s right. She would've gotten away if it weren’t for her. None of us wants ‘ta hurt Twalight, but we have to protect her, even if it’s from herself.”

“I know I know… I just still don’t like how this is turning out.”

“Duh, none of us are.”

Ruby let her mind drift as she listened to their voices intently, focusing on remembering who was who. It was easy to remember Applejack from her country twang, and the articulate voice of Rarity. The more raspy one however, was unfamiliar, until she recalled a similar voice yelling just as she had been tackled. If she had to guess, her name would be Rainbow Dash.

“You okay, Rarity?” Rainbow Dash asked

“Hmm? Yes, I’m fine.”

“Then why are you staring at Twilight like that?”

Ruby swore she could have felt her eyes on her the moment it had been said.

“It’s just… I was hoping more than anything that it wouldn’t come to this.”

“Ah hear you there,” Applejack said, followed by the sound of her hoofsteps. “Ah mean, look at her.” Ruby tried her best not to recoil what little she could as a hoof gently brushed across her bangs. “Sleeping like this, it’s like none of this has happened at all… It’s hard to think that only an hour ago she looked like she was about to do away with me...”

Some moments of silence passed, of which Ruby spent in relief at how short of a time had passed since she had been captured.

“...So what happened when you first found her?”

“She didn't recognize me or Rarity, and high-tailed it when we talked to her.”

As Applejack relayed the tale, along with snippets of Rarity’s side of trying to catch up, Ruby found her thoughts drifting, and her muscles easing into the blankets. The way the talked around her, their unique voices and accents, it felt familiar, soothing even.

It was when she felt her herself hum gently that she realized she was faintly smiling.

Wait…

Her good mood vanished, and she furrowed her brows, finding that her body was still steadily becoming more responsive.

Why in Equestria would I be happy to hear them? No, this isn’t right. This has to be a trick. They must be using some weird power again.

These mares were dangerous, and Ruby needed get away from them. Even if she was bound helplessly as she was, she still needed to try.

I can’t feel anything holding me… Why do I still feel so weak?

Refusing herself to become lulled by their voices again, Ruby forced her attention away from them. She tried drawing magic into her horn, but found it unable to gather past the base, almost as if something was blocking it. It was then she noticed the extra weight that was on her head.

Ruby struggled to pull her hoof from beneath the blanket, and cautiously touched her horn. She drew her hoof over something metallic that was clasped around her horn, and weakly tried to undo it.

“Uh, girls? Twilight’s awake,” Rainbow Dash announced.

Ponyfeathers…

With no options left, Ruby brought her hoof back down, and opened her eyes. She half expected them to rush about her and put her back into a sleep, or bound her limbs together so that she could not move. But as her vision cleared and the room came into focus, she saw the three of them simply standing around her bed, staring at her in what could only be described as concern.

“Wh… who… are you?” Ruby asked.

“Well, darling, to put it simply,” Rarity said quietly, “we're your friends.”

“F-friends?” Ruby asked, before giving them a sour look. “You really… expect me... to believe that?”

“Were not lying, sugarcube,” Applejack said as she leaned forward. “All three of us are your friends from Ponyville. Can you remember that?”

“…No,” Ruby answered. Seeing that they weren’t trying to put her back under, she decided to risk sitting up.

She gave a grunt as she pushed herself upright, her limbs struggling at the exertion alone. When she slipped once, Rainbow Dash by immediately by her side, and much to her chagrin, assisted her the rest of the way up.

“Easy there, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash said gently.

Ruby scowled but let her help. Once she was seated up she tried to shove her away, but ended up only gently nudging her.

“Get… off me, and stop call me that.

The more she pushed the more strength she found coming back to her. Even speaking was becoming naturally easy again. Yet, she despite how reassuring it was, she bettered that whatever they had done to her, would not allow her full strength to return, let alone enough to resist them.

“But that’s your name,” Rainbow Dash said slowly. “Twilight Sparkle.”

“No, it’s not,” Ruby corrected while glaring. “My name is Ruby Sparkle.”

The three of them stared dumbfounded at her.

“It must be Night Walker’s doing,” Rarity commented, eliciting agreeing nods from the other two.

“What is going on? Why have you captured me?” Ruby asked as she looked back and forth between the three of them, remaining as inconspicuous as possible in taking in where they were.

From first glance it looked as if they were in a cheap motel. They were in the corner of the room near the only bed, with two windows with blinds drawn on the adjacent walls, and two doors; one to the left, and one to the right. She assumed one of them lead to the bathroom, and the other out into the hall. She had to figure out a way to get out of here, but she had no clue how with the strength she had now. Even if she had managed to get herself through a window, she doubted she was capable of flying right now. And since she had first awakened, she had still yet to draw forth her magic. Whatever was sapping her physical strength, was completely nullifying her magic.

“Were here ‘ta rescue ya,” Applejack said with a gentle smile, something that only made Ruby grimace.

“Rescue me?” Ruby scoffed. “By chasing me through the city and restraining me? For what? To give me back to the princesses so I can be a prisoner again?”

“Twilight-“ Rarity began.

Ruby,” she corrected again.

“Er… Ruby,” Rarity said, appearing discomforted as the word rolled off her tounge. “I know you are currently experiencing some memory problems, but you must believe us, we are here to help you.”

“And what exactly are you helping me from?” Ruby asked, still icing each word with her obvious distrust and frustration.

Rarity looked as if she was about to answer with a pleading face, before she inhaled and recomposed herself.

“Ruby, I know all of this seems very strange. And I can only imagine what you have been falsely-lead to believe in. But the fact remains is that you are Princess Twilight Sparkle, and for nearly a month you have been missing. You were kidnapped by a pony named Night Walker, a dark stallion who threatened and killed ponies nearly a thousand years ago. And as we have feared, he has stolen your memories and filled your head with lies.”

This time, it was Ruby who stared dumbfounded at the three of them.

“Your… Your crazy,” Ruby muttered in disbelief. “What makes you think I would believe such an obvious lie?”

“Then, you tell us who you are,” Rarity calmly asked.

Ruby glared at her for some sign of deceit or trickery. She needed to get as much information from them as possible while at the same time, reveal as little of hers. She didn’t know what games the three of them were playing, but she hoped that she wouldn’t spill anything that they didn’t know.

“I, am Ruby Sparkle, Princess of the vamponies, and co-ruler alongside of Night Walker. I have been imprisoned for the last thousand years, in which my memories were stolen, but by Princess Celestia and Luna. And now their minions have captured me and are trying to convince me that they have my best interests in mind. But in reality, you captured me and are probably going to ship me back off to the princesses!”

“Well, while you are right on that last bit, the rest I’m afraid, are the lies I had mentioned,” Rarity said. Her expression however, changed back to her concerned look before. “Twi-… I mean, Ruby, you are in need of help. And right now, only Princess Celestia and Luna can do that. I don’t know if they can restore your memories, or reverse this… disease that has infected you, but I assure-“

“It’s not a disease!” Ruby screamed as loudly as she could muster. “The disease is the fact that your princesses removed it! Do you know how many bat ponies have died because of their tampering!?”

“So it is true,” Rainbow Dash said with a frown. “He took off with a bunch of bat ponies, and now he’s trying to make a vampony army!”

“Rainbow, yer not helping,” Applejack commented. “Look umm, Ruby, I know you’re going to find it hard to believe what we’re saying is the truth, but if you just come with us, we can prove everything we’re saying.”

“There is no proof in all of Equestria that what you are saying is true,” Ruby growled. “And if you think I’m going back to the princesses willingly then you’re even crazier than I thought.” Ruby lowered her chin and stared darkly at them. “I will fight you at every chance I get, resist every inch of the way, and if I get the opportunity... I will kill you.”

All three of them held their breaths at the intense glare Ruby gave them. A lump built in their hearts at the reminder that the Twilight they once knew was no longer her. Instead, they were left with a dangerous and distrustful creature named Ruby, whose red eyes stared with a hate their purple counterparts had never shown before. And from her demeanor, she meant every word she had said.

Rarity suppressed a gulp as she recollected herself. “Then, we’ll just have to make a change in plans, and call Princess Celestia and Luna here.”

Ruby’s glower fell at her words on the stop. “No, please don’t!”

“I’m sorry, Ruby, but you leave us with no choice.”

Ruby’s ears fell, and her desperate hope for a chance for escape vanished in a snuff. I… I’m going back into imprisonment. Her body felt numb as her head drifted downwards and hung limply, letting herself stare idly at the blanket on top of her. I’m going to be taken away from everypony...

“Ruby? What’s wrong?” Applejack asked.

They are going to take me away from them... Everypony won’t have me around...

“Ruby, please answer me?” Applejack pressed, her worriment growing exponentially when the first tear fell onto the blanket.

I won’t be able to save them… I won’t be able to save them… I won’t be able to save them…

Unable to handle the gravity of the situation, and the implications it meant for all of her ponies, she fell onto the bed, and sobbed into the blankets, desperately covering her head as to put something between her and the mares that were going to take her world away.

“Way to go, Rarity, now you’ve gone and made her cry,” Rainbow Dash scoffed.

“That’s not helping, Rainbow Dash,” Rarity said with a frown. “You know as well as I do that this is what must be done. You think I enjoy this?”

“Of course not! But we weren’t trying to make her break down and cry!”

“Then how would you have handled it?”

While Rarity and Rainbow Dash began to argue over the situation, and Ruby laid down with a growing wail, Applejack stood quietly to the side. She was ignoring what Rarity and Rainbow Dash were doing, unable to pull her eyes away from Ruby. Her ears however, perked from the faint mutterings beneath Ruby’s hooves.

“Girls.”

“Like that would have helped!”

“Oh, and what you have done so far that has?”

“GIRLS!”

The two of them nearly jumped at Applejacks shout, and flusteredly turned to her, before they two heard Ruby’s words during their moment of silence.

Rainbow Dash tilted her head as she leaned closer. “What’s she saying?”

Applejack bent down and carefully put a ear closer, straining to make out Ruby’s pleas between her crying. When she pieced it together, Applejack’s eyes went wide, then lowered sorrowly, and she pulled herself away. Instinctively she reached out a hoof to console Ruby, but withdrew it when she barely brushed her coat, causing to Ruby to gasp and flinch at the contact as if her very touch caused pain.

“Ah think… she’s saying ‘Ah can’t save them’...”

“Them?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“The bat ponies,” Rarity answered immediately. “She must be talking about the bat ponies.”

“Big deal,” Rainbow Dash said with a wave of her hoof. “We get her fixed up by Princess Celestia, and then she’ll fix them. Simple as that.”

“Unfortunately, dear, Princess Celestia said that ever since the bat ponies had come under her protection, that she had been unable to fully cure them. Don’t you recall what she told us?”

Rarity and Rainbow Dash set off into another series of arguments, leaving Applejack to stare at Ruby. Her gut was being contorted by the whole thing, and she gritted her teeth at the thought of what to do about it. “This isn’t right…”

“And secondly, Rainbow Dash, I… APPLEJACK! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?”

Rarity and Rainbow Dash looked in horror as Applejack reached for the magical lock strapped onto Ruby’s horn, and unfastened it.

“Are you crazy!?” Rarity and Rainbow Dash shouted simultaneously. Rarity’s horn was already glowing to grab the lock and put back in place.

Applejack however, held it tightly in her hooves and pulled backwards. “We can’t do this!”

Ruby’s crying ceased the moment she had felt the stifling pressure on her horn vanish, and her strength began to flow back again. She flexed a limb, then another, and was in awe at how quickly their movements came back. Unable to believe what had just happened, Ruby lifted her head up looked to Applejack, searching for some reason as to why she would set her free.

Applejack gave one last scowl to Rarity for trying to take back the lock, then turned to Ruby, speaking loudly so as to address them all.

“Were your friends, and friends help each other in any way possible. And ah don’t think turning you over to Princess Celestia is what you need right now.”

“Applejack!” Rarity shouted.

“Listen ‘ta me! This isn’t right! Look at her!” Applejack said pointed a hoof to Ruby. “Our friendship has been tha thing that gotten us through every trial and hurdle we’ve faced. And if we abandon her now, were just throwing all that away!”

“We aren’t abandoning her!” Rainbow Dash yelled. “Were helping her!”

“Not like this!” Applejack declared. “If we really want to help her, then we need to treat her just like a friend! It’s obvious she doesn’t trust us and would fight every moment we have her. And you all know we can’t do a darn thing until we get that amulet back from Night Walker!”

Applejack stared at Rarity and Rainbow Dash, daring them to refute what she had said. When uneasy silence was their only response, she continued. “If we are going to help Twi-, I mean, Ruby, then we need ‘ta be honest with her. And not just honest.” Applejack pointed to them in turn. “We need ‘ta be loyal, and generous. We need to trust her first, before she trusts us.”

Applejack threw the lock to the other side of the room, and looked back down to Ruby. “You’re free to go.”

“What!?” all three of them exclaimed.

“Ya heard me,” Applejack said, giving a scowl to Rarity and Rainbow Dash. “If Ruby is going to trust us, then we need to trust her. And the first step ‘ta doing that is not keeping her captive. If she wants to talk to us, then she’ll talk to us on her own.”

Ruby still looked at Applejack in disbelief, unable to comprehend the fact that she had decided to just let her go. Feeling enough of her strength return to be able to walk, she cautiously sat up in her bed and stepped onto the floor, her eyes remaining locked onto Applejack the entire time, who returned her stare without wavering.

Ruby then turned to the other two, noticing how they visibly stiffened upon her gaze. They didn’t plan for this, Ruby realized. She really means to let me go. But… Ruby turned back to Applejack, flattening her ears as she asked, “But why?”

“Like ah said,” Applejack spoke without hesitation. “Your our friend, and we need ‘ta treat ya as such. I don’t believe what we were doing is going to help ya in the way you really need it.”

“And what makes you think that?”

“My gut tells me.”

Ruby blinked at that statement, having difficulty that she had made her decision to set free a vampony that could kill them based entirely off intuition.

Trust her.

You!

Ruby shifted her eyes downward, pretending to be mulling over the option. What in Tartarus are you doing!? Why didn’t you let me kill them when I had the chance?

They’re telling the truth.

And how do you know?

I don’t know.

You don’t know!? Ruby screamed mentally. Well, for all I know, you’re simply a spell the princesses put inside me to reel me in whenever their minions are near! Tell me, how can I trust you!?

Ruby heard the voice sigh in what was either in exhaustion or uncertainty. Like I said before, I’m apart of you that you have grown detached from. And despite your theories, you know I’m telling the truth.

Ruby revealed her fangs in frustration, eliciting a raised eyebrow from Applejack. On an afterthought, Ruby had to admit that despite being face to face with a vampony queen, Applejack was handling herself well, unlike the other two behind who gulped when they heard the low hiss emanating from her.

Ruby did not understand what was going on, but she decided this was neither the time nor place to figure out how she had managed such a stroke a luck. She needed to get out of there, and she wasn’t going to waste another moment as to why she had the chance.

“I’m going now,” Ruby declared.

“Haycart street, Rosebud motel, room thirty-six,” Applejack said. When Ruby frowned in confusion, she continued, “That’s the room we're in. We’ll be here when you feel like coming back and talking to us. We’ll answer any questions you have, and tell you everything you’ve missed. Including tha things Night Walker hasn’t told you.”

Ruby stared questioningly at her for a few moments before closing her eyes in what appeared to be another moment of deep thought. In truth, Ruby felt enough of her strength had return to muster at least one look, and she briefed a glance into the soul of Applejack.

And what she saw inside of her supported everything she had been saying. She was being honest, down to her very core.

While that alone did not shake off Ruby’s suspicions this was all an elaborate ploy, thinking that maybe the princesses even warped their agents minds to the point of unwavering and blind loyalty, it was enough for her to trust that she was indeed letting her go, and would wait for her like she said she would.

Dismissing the soul sight, Ruby opened her eyes and gave one last glare at Applejack, before wordlessly turning away and heading for the door. She gave a quick glance to Rarity and Rainbow Dash, both of them clearly unnerved by Applejack’s decision, but were not voicing further complaints. It seemed to have taken forever for Ruby to walk across the room, exit the door, and close it behind her, feeling as if at any moment their trap would spring, or common sense would kick back in. But it had only taken seconds for the tense moment to transpire.

Ruby gave a quick glance at the room’s door, confirming that it was indeed room thirty-six. And with a flustered ‘tsk’ to the strange and alarmingly evening, she quickly made her way down the stairs, and out the motel.

Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash stared wordlessly at the door for a full minute. Eventually though, Rarity broke the silence.

“Well, Applejack, I hope you have a well thought out plan for all this.”

“Like ah said, Rarity, it just felt right.”

“For her sake, darling, I hope it is.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Down the street and by a corner, a stallion watched the motel. He jotted down into his notebook its address, and the description of the ponies that entered and exited its doors. However, his eyes shifted back to the establishment as purple head poked out of the doors and looked around. The street only had a few ponies at this time of night, one of the rare moments of emptiness that the city had. But with dawn already beginning brighten up the skies to the far east, this barrenness would not last for long.

He watched curiously as she stepped out a few steps onto the street, the pumped her wings skyward and away from the motel. His eyes watched her ascending form as it became increasingly difficult to spot in the night sky. However after a few circles, she headed off into the direction he had predicted she would go; Skyline Tower.

Smiling to himself, he closed his notebook and heading down the street, wondering what this new turn of events would mean for his orders, and the plan set for the unsuspecting bat ponies, and Twilight Sparkle.

Act II - Chapter 30