Twilight Sparkle tries to pry herself from a book that she cannot stop reading. The author of such text would love nothing better than to watch her die.
Twilight Sparkle is reading a book she can't seem to put down. It's not even a very good one, as the author keeps on writing directly to the alicorn. For three days now this is all she has done, as her friends desperately try and find her. Oddly, the author of the book knows more about Twilight than most... even if their only goal appears to be her death.
Twilight Sparkle watched as another page in her new book flipped open as her eyes instantly went to the upper left corner to start the new paragraph. With a horn that was no longer hers to control she had turned the page. Her eyes were not hers, either—dry, bloodshot, blinking in intervals as she continued further and further into the book that had been sent to her three days prior.
I should have read in the library, she reminded herself again, a part of her scanning the latest page and reading every single word carefully and articulately while another part of her disparately clawed at any possible solution to her plight. No one will find me in here… if only they had noticed me that first time.
For three days now Twilight had been hunched over the thick tome, legs curled up underneath while both forelegs rested on either sides of the book. That had been the position she had taken when first cracking open its front cover and reading those first few lines directed to her specifically. Once she completed just a few odd lines, her body had seized whole while her eyes only continued on with the small additive of her horn to turn pages.
Maybe they’ll try again, she hoped. There’s still time. I trust them. I know they’ll find me.
She could tell she had started three days ago when the light cascading through the bare windows went dark and then repeated hours later. Even in near pitch black her weary eyes read on, seemingly knowing just where the next series of words would be found.
For another, far more looming fact, Twilight could already tell it had been three days.
She had never been more hungry or thirsty as then.
Since the decimation of Golden Oak Library and the creation of Twilight’s eyesore of a castle in the center of town, the donation of new and old books had been a constant occurrence. All those ponies that had bared witness or simply heard of how Princess Twilight had defended them all in the vengeful presence of Tirek had more than eagerly donated their books or purchased ones anew in hopes of jump starting the small Ponyville library again.
Each day dozens of books were left in helter-skelter stacks by the doors, waiting to be sorted in the newly built library on the first floor of the castle. If Spike felt a tad more alert than usual, he’d search the new piles for possible comic books or adventure stories. On the morning Twilight had found the book that was slowly killing her, he had placed it right on top of their latest arrivals. He was only trying to help.
“I placed the biggest one on top, Twilight,” he told her that sunny morning, wiping a bead of sweat from his brow. “I think you’d like it. The title’s practically written for you!”
Twilight tried to blink the sleep from her eyes and stared at the closest stack of precariously leaning books. On the very top was a heavy brown text with thin gold lettering near its top. She read the title and then tried to remove more of that sleep that seemed to hang from her. And still the title remained.
“Bookworm’s Delight!” Spike said helpfully, both short arms working away on a pile that had recently collapsed. “I can’t think of anything you’d like more than a whole book about bookworms, Twilight. And it’s thick, too. You love thick books.”
“I love all books, Spike,” Twilight said bluntly, scooping the tome up to search for its author. When none became evident, she said, “Perhaps it’s a joke book. Several authors or something—writing about a single topic.” She shrugged and placed the book under her wing, trotting to the kitchen in search of her morning tea.
She had thought some light reading before breakfast might prove the best start to the day.
With steaming cup held in a thin purple aura, Twilight first went to her reading room before trying her bedroom near the top of the castle. Both she turned away from soon after entering. “Why so cold?” she asked no one. After checking both sets of windows for leaks, she gently nudged open a few of the guest bedrooms in search of a less drafty space. Since not a single room had been fully furnished yet (complete with bare windows), the golden morning sun poured brilliantly in the lone room, touching a corner of the wide bed near the wall and giving the room a welcome breath of fresh air.
For a toasty moment Twilight stood in the rays of sun before setting her lemon tea on a nearby nightstand. Fluffing the pillow behind her, she settled in and once again checked for some author of note. But I’ve read hundreds of books without authors, she thought, before remembering that most of those books had names like “The Arcanean Discovery of the Fourth Dynasty,” and were usually several hundred years old.
She thought of sipping her simmering tea but put in on hold. It was still far too hot. (Only hours later, when her tongue felt close to sandpaper and any attempt at swallowing came close to choking her, would she abundantly regret such a decision.)
“All right. Let’s see what you’re all about.”
She eased open the heavy cover and the oddest of sights greeted her.
“Hello, Twilight Sparkle. Long time fan, first time writer. I hope you’re seated comfortably, because I guarantee this is a book you won’t be able to put down. It’s my first, and it’s taken me quite awhile to get right. I’m very excited for you to read it. I don’t think I’ll be able to get much of a response from you about it, but just the knowledge that this’ll be the last book you ever read warms my small heart. You’ve always been a bookworm, wouldn’t you say? Then what better way to go then with your head buried in a book?”
Twilight wanted to raise her head—to try and blink the sleep from her eyes once more or attempt to shake loose the thick cobwebs in her thoughts—but her skull only remained rigid where it was, carefully scanning each word before dropping down to the next sentence. She tried the same for the rest of her body, each leg and her torso. All were strictly held in their spots—her natural reading pose.
It continued on:
“Did you find a few spots in the castle drafty this morning, Princess? A simple spell. Anything more and you might have been curious. Where did you go, I wonder? You never like to read around Spike, because he’s the type that likes to talk or distract. So where did you settle down this morning? Did you have breakfast before you started? Or simple tea as always? I’d like to think I’m above such redundancy as lines such as these, but I have a very long book to finish and several pages to cover, so why not? Living in the public eye as you do, anyone can read you like a book, Twilight Sparkle. I’m sure your face must decorate the walls of many young fillies, wishing to save the day and turn into a beautiful Princess when the time comes. How perfect your life must seem. How irregular this little detour must look during your beautiful, blissful morning. All things come to an end, Princess. Only know that you’ve lived a far better live than most could ever dream.”
Feeling something very cold enter her stomach, Twilight unwillingly flipped to the next page.
The strong urge to panic gripped her chest like a vice. It was there—a tight-knit ball that desperately wanted to expand to the rest of her—but she held it in place with some comforting thoughts. I still have my horn, she reassured herself. I could knock the book away. And there’s still Spike. I could call to him or he’d find me eventually and then get help. This writer thinks they might know all there is to know about me, yet they could never imagine what’s all inside. I bet I could crack this wide open before my tea even gets cold.
Such a triumphant speech helped ebb away some mild anxiety. The series of events soon to follow only proved to scoop out what little hope she originally laid claim to.
The first test was of her horn, which every few minutes eagerly flipped to the next page. It was such a small amount of magic she could barely consider it a blink… and yet it was happening without her consent. Tightening her already hardened expression she felt the outlines of the thick book in her mind’s eye. Now the next step was tossing it to the floor and out of her sight. She pictured its rectangular frame and every page that lay within; she imagined its concealed cover pressed against the bed sheets and gave weight to it all. In her lifetime she had lifted thousands of novels and texts and far heavier things than this with her magic—it would be as simple as breathing, she knew.
And away it GOES! she screamed inside while pushing with everything she had.
Along the soft covers of the bed, the book did not budge an inch.
“Not all villains are monsters that claw out from the earth, Twilight. Some only want to prove a point to the world. I like watching stars as much as most, but I’ve always wanted to see one fall to the ground more than anything.”
As much as she had tried to control that ball of panic deep in her chest, tiny threads started to spread to each of her legs, which had already become restless from lack of movement. When that came to her attention, a throbbing sore in her lower back made itself known. Her body was scared and was acting accordingly. Her mind would not, though.
The wide text ate up most of her vision, but she had known the room well enough to picture what lay beyond her dull frame of view. She could smell the cooling cup of tea only a leg’s reach from where she sat, so she concentrated wholly on the small object. With the same amount of force that she gave to the book, Twilight tried to knock it from its perch. More than anything she wanted to hear it smash against the ground; possibly stain the carpet near the bed. The most it moved was a few millimeters towards the edge of the table. And behind that push she had given everything.
Someone has thought about this for a long time, she hurriedly thought. Someone has studied me and this type of spell. She flipped another page, eyes already darting to the new paragraph. A horrible notion found her. Why haven’t I called for Spike yet? Why haven’t I said a single word since this all started?
Like her eyes and every ligament she held dear, her mouth and voice had been taken from her. It seemed whoever had sent her such a book only wanted her to read and keep on reading.
So she did.
“Two cups flour mixed with three whole eggs. Whisk together then add four drops of vanilla. Combine with a quarter cup of oats and a quarter cup shredded carrot. Pre-heat oven to…”
When the author of the book grew tired of rambling directly to Twilight to tease her during her anguish, they slipped in whole pages of muffin and bread recipes as well as entire chapters of history texts that the alicorn could remember reading some time ago. Back when reading used to be for leisure… and not something altogether malevolent.
Trying to forget about the cold cup of tea near her side or the pains that were slowly coursing their way through her thin limbs, Twilight took the book to heart to try and determine who might be behind it all. Continually she reassured herself that Spike would come look for her sometime in the afternoon. Already he had called up to her about breakfast—something about waffles and fruit. Twilight moaned internally as her stomach finally gave out its first cry of emptiness.
The number of worthwhile villains she eventually surmised was brutally short and lacking sufficient evidence. Tirek had just recently been placed back in Tartarus; Queen Chrysalis and her hive would never bother for such an elaborate death of a Princess; and although the book contained many jabs of mockery towards the alicorn, Twilight had never thought Discord would go so low as to try and actually hurt her. He would probably find the whole thing laughable once he heard about it, but that would only be if she stopped reading from her magnetic book.
So that leaves no one, she thought sourly. Someone new—someone I’ve hurt in the past or possibly not at all.
Such little evidence crippled what small glimmer of hope Twilight had of uncovering her wrongdoer, even while a good portion of her attention was still directed at the steadily flipping pages right in front of her eyes.
“I have yet to try a single one of these recipes but I hope they keep you satisfied for the moment. Did you skip breakfast this morning? I hope not, otherwise you must indeed be hungry by now. How are you feeling, Princess? Helpless? That must be new for you. But I wouldn’t fret just yet. I’m sure another purple alicorn is waiting just around the corner—ready to save the day and trot off towards new and breathtaking adventures! Unless, that is, she has her head stuck in a book…”
Faintly, Twilight heard the tap of footsteps ascending the stairs. She could not look up but could make out the quick patter of small feet on marble floors.
“Twilight?” Spike called out.
Oh thank Celestia! Twilight thought. He’ll find me and then he’ll get the others. He just needs to stop in here and then he’ll see me!
Spike creaked open a door down the hall—her bedroom or reading room. “You in here, Twilight?” He pushed open another. “You didn’t come down for breakfast so I thought maybe you’d want to spent the afternoon in town, grab a bite to eat. You around here?”
He paused in the opening of each room, obviously not glimpsing the mare. A few quick paces afterward placed him in the doorframe of the room she was in. He nudged it inward. “Twilight?” he said.
Head bent and neck sore, Twilight kept reading and waited for her trusty assistant to come enter the room. Once he would see her on the bed and not responding, he’d need to come pester her. That was in his nature and at that moment Twilight was so very thankful of that nature. If it could pry her dry eyes from all those hateful words then she’d stuff his face full of gems until he couldn’t walk straight. Any moment now, she ruminated. Any moment—
“I guess you went out without telling me,” Spike said at the door, before turning around and heading back down the stairs. “I’ll see if she’s in town,” she heard him mumble as he left.
No, she told herself, as something large slipped from her solid grasp of the situation. He must have seen me. There’s only one thing in this whole room and that’s a bed WITH A READING ALICORN ON IT! So why didn’t he—
She flipped to the next page.
“The bread dough will be ready to enter the oven when it is one inch above the baking pan and sinks when prodded. Oven should be pre-set to four-hundred degrees and a small dollop of oil so be used to help make removing the bread easier.
“Hello dear, Twilight. Are you ready to get cooking yet? Or has that always been Spike’s job in your odd relationship? I’m still curious as to where you’ve ended up in your lavish castle to read for a spell. Or are you on the toilet? Wouldn’t that make for one embarrassing obituary column? ‘Alicorn Princess that’s saved everyone and their mother countless times found dead in washroom of own unnecessary castle. Doorknobs, one—Twilight Sparkle, zero.’ Has Spike come to find you yet? I hope so. You might have been nervous before but I’m sure now things are starting to sink in a little deeper. As long as you continue to read the pages of this book (and you will—I guarantee you will) not a single soul will be able to see you. You are now invisible to everyone that might clamor to your aid. But don’t feel alone, my friend from a distance. I’ll be there for you. I may only be a series of words but I’ll be with you until the end. How many days does it take to starve? Or will thirst claim you first? Sorry if I seem a little longwinded, but you and I have time to kill. Now the biggest curiosity of all becomes when you’ll break down and stain this book with your tears. I know you so well, I’ll say a few hours from now.”
Twilight did not cry that first day, flipping and reading through that horrendous book. Only at night did the tears come, when the sun seeped from the horizon and left her shivering on her lumpy bed, the small shakes painfully agitating each of the sores that were beginning to rise on her legs.
In the dark she read on.
With the early morning sun came renewed hope. Twilight had time on her hooves—plenty of time. Her tormentor wanted to antagonize her during her long and overwrought ordeal, but going down such a route meant she had ample opportunity to solve her dilemma and uncover the cause of such pain. The writer of said book had made a very powerful enemy that day.
I need to make a noise. I need to let the world know someone’s here.
Twilight refocused her attention on the cold cup of tea on the nightstand. Using the same amount of force from before, she mentally shoved it towards the edge again. By the sounds it made, it must have moved a millimeter at best. It would do, she thought, as she slowed her breathing to try again. A few hours later and the cup must have been nearing the tipping point. More than anything she did not want to send it over while being the only pony in the room. She would hedge her bets and hope as best she could that a few more strong shoves would be all it would take.
“I’m sure your friends will be arriving soon, but will they find you? I’m sure you’d love to yell to them—to call to them and say you’re in here or over there or anywhere at all. Maybe they think you’ve left the castle? I could have made this worse, you know. I could have left an open envelope in your room explaining how you’d been suddenly summoned to Canterlot. I could have done that and removed what faint chances you have, but risks have always added to what I set out to accomplish.”
Twilight could hear a good many sets of hooves on the stairs—the springy sound of Pinkie Pie heading up the rear.
Spike was already explaining things. “So I don’t see her all day yesterday, and this morning she’s nowhere to be found. Not in her bedroom or any other room! Did she mention she was going anywhere to any of you?”
Her friends collectively disagreed as they parted at the landing. A few went to her bedroom down the hall, while the rest walked closer to the room.
“Did anyone see her outside, yesterday or this morning?” Spike asked them.
The same shower of disagreements followed.
“I do hope she’s all right,” Fluttershy said in the doorway to her room. “Maybe she only forgot to write and had urgent business that needed tending to. She would never want to leave us worrying about her.”
From the all consuming view of her book, Twilight heard as Fluttershy and another entered the room. One went towards the window while another came closer to the bed. It has to be now, she thought, as she mentally shoved against her cup.
It crossed another fraction of surface but did not topple to the floor. It must have been close, though.
“Did you even know Twilight had so many spare bedrooms?” Rainbow Dash asked Fluttershy near her bed. “And to think I could’ve been crashing here this whole time!” The blue pegasus stopped near the nightstand, while Twilight mentally prepared to push the glass again. “Wait a minute. This is odd.”
Yes. Yes! Please say you can see me! Please Rainbow, PLEASE!
“Twilight would never leave a full cup near the edge of something. If it spilled she’d probably go into a coma.”
With horrific clarity of what must have been happening, Twilight could only listen and read as Rainbow Dash pushed her cold cup of tea back to the middle of the stand. All that morning’s arduous work undone by the simply flick of a leg—a leg that thought it must have only been helping.
So close to rescue, Twilight soon discovered she was almost in tears once more.
“I just have such a bad feeling this time, Rainbow,” Fluttershy said, while she crossed the room. “What if she’s somewhere that we don’t know about and needs our help right this moment?”
“You always think like that,” Rainbow reassured. “I’m sure she’s fine. Maybe she went out yesterday, spent a night on the town, and is only sleeping a night of bad decisions off right now. A gal like her could use a break once in a while. I’m sure it’s all nothing, Fluttershy.”
“I hope so,” Fluttershy mumbled, before she collapsed against the edge of the bed. “I really do.”
Out of the corners of her eyes, Twilight saw a hill of soft pink mane spread out across the lower half of the bed. Splayed out on her stomach, Fluttershy softly moaned into the sheets, only picking her head up to watch as Rainbow Dash continued to circle the room. Being a far too large bed, Fluttershy was still a few leg’s reach from the concealed Twilight, but something had entered her space.
They must see this—oh please see this, Twilight thought desperately, as she scanned over the corner of her book that now had a few inches of pink hair draped over it. If the book and myself are invisible to everyone, then Fluttershy’s hair should be levitating at least an inch above the covers. Come on, Rainbow. Notice! COME ON!
“Over here, ladies! I think we’ve found something!”
That was not the voice Twilight had wanted to hear.
“There’s a book wide open on Twilight’s desk!” Rarity called again. “Maybe there’s something to it!”
Fluttershy quickly left the bed and trotted to the door with Rainbow Dash, unobserving as Twilight mentally flicked at her hair with what marginal amount of magic was left to her. A few moments later and all of her friends chatted briskly from the end of the hall, believing there to be something to the book she had (carelessly) left open. It would lead them nowhere close to the truth.
Once they’d reached an agreement, a series of fast hoofs raced down her stairs in search of the next clue. The only set that remained was the steady bounce of Pinkie Pie, as she hopped to each room on the landing one last time.
“You comin’, Pinkie?” Applejack yelled to her from below.
“Just a minute!” Pinkie answered.
For close to thirty seconds, the pink Earth pony skipped in the doorframe of Twilight’s room, not entering but not exiting either. Twilight had always been skeptical of her unexplainable senses, yet never before had she wanted her to use them right then and sense her somewhere in the room.
Before Twilight could even get enough energy to try her cup trick again, Pinkie hopped from the room and directly down the stairs, her squeaky springs slowly fading to nothing. Twilight had never felt as emotionally crushed as following that moment, when each plan of rescue only ended in a silenced whisper. But of course she still had that one friend that would hold her close until the end.
“Do not believe your friends will not be included in this, Princess. They were part of your creation as much as you were, as they will meet their ends, same as you. Now let’s get back to some good old Equestria history…”
Following those stark statements, Twilight silently raged internally while her body remained motionless. When that eventually abated, an overwhelming wave of despair sent as many warm tears to her eyes as they could. No longer was she afraid for herself—she still had time; solutions could still be uncovered—only now she was scared for her friends; friends that had done nothing to deserve such retribution unknowingly coming their way.
In the last few hours of light during that second day, Twilight noticed the tome coming to an end. The pages that she read she placed gingerly into the growing pile on the left, while only a few slips of paper remained before its heavy back-cover. Either the author of such a terrifying thing thought the alicorn must have been one of the slowest readers in Equestria, or that she’d somehow perish in a single day and a half.
Finally looking forward to something written in the book before her, Twilight turned the second last page and found the two most beautiful words in existence. “THE END”, it said, in thick block letters. She read those words and waited for the hold on her to let go—no more sentences to devour, no more spell to keep her in place. But her eyes only went to the upper right corner of “THE END”, where a small black dot menacingly sat.
No. Celestia please, no.
It was an asterisk.
Her dry and tired eyes found the faint hoofnote in the lower corner, where this time no willpower could stop the tears from seeping onto the open page.
The individual that had sent Twilight Sparkle the book that she simply could not look away from raised their binoculars to their eyes to glimpse the tall castle down the hill and in the center of town. Spread out along a blanket was a basket of food close by their side. To anyone passing by they must have appeared like just another hungry individual spending their time out in the sun, maybe even bird watching.
They had already spent a day and a half on that grassy hill—sometimes watching, sometimes eating, sometimes writing in their little notebook they always kept beside them in their travel bag. Sometimes they even allowed themselves to nap for a few minutes, even if whole sleep was unaccustomed to them.
Spike the dragon had left Twilight’s castle numerous times since their book had entered their home. Each time he exited without Twilight in tow, the watcher’s thin lips curled into a tight grin. They had never been the type to laugh at such a situation—death was serious business, they knew.
When Spike returned with Twilight’s friends in an obvious frantic search for her, the watcher had actually been reading from a book with their back leaning against a tree. (The book was probably not as all consuming as Twilight’s must have been, but it wasn’t bad.) When the first pony crossed the threshold of the castle entrance, a small blare shot through their head. To either side of the doors had been set two immense stacks of donated books, left there on the morning everything had begun. The two on the bottom of each stack were connected by an unseen and unfelt wire. Whenever a pony or dragon-like creature would cross that invisible wire, the watcher would be informed.
Now things get interesting, they thought, as they munched a fresh apple from their basket and honestly wondered where Twilight might have gone in that far too lavish castle of hers, and if her friends had an actual chance of uncovering her. But it’s been so long already…
Months before that blissful morning up upon that hill, the watcher had knocked down Spike while he hurried home with both arms close to bursting with miscellaneous supplies. Spike had apologized profusely and the watcher had done the same—more emotion entering their monotone speech than perhaps in years. They even helped him with the items they had knocked away, and while doing so touched the dragon near the temple on his head. A few whispered words later and that was all it took to get an inside view of Twilight’s home.
For hours on end the watcher would close their eyes and see the world from a much shorter view. Bobbing to and fro on stubby limbs, Spike went about his business taking care of Twilight’s opulent castle, all while the watcher got a fine layout of everything beyond the walls.
Of course they had visited the library on more than a few occasions, even briefly chatting with Twilight about a book they were pondering checking out. Only two visits later did they stop coming altogether. Anymore than that and Twilight might start to recognize faces—or detect the falseness that lay behind each cherry-picked word. The watcher always had trouble adding a glimmer of life to their eyes. It seemed they had seen all they wanted to in this life.
On every chilling night on the hill, the watcher would wrap themselves in a thick blanket and sip from a thermos filled with black coffee, which had to be reheated often. Times like these, they would not bother with the binoculars at all, for the castle down the mound of dirt only remained dark and unmoving.
Since that day when their life had felt gutted from the inside out, the watcher had known they were destined for something big—something that would live on in books and in stories forever. They were going to accomplish the impossible and destroy the alicorn that had saved everyone, time and again. Or perhaps they’d do something worse.
Sipping their hot coffee and seated comfortably in total darkness, the next question that came to mind was just what page of their thick book Twilight might be on.
Or have you reached the end already? they wondered.
Pinkie Pie trotted along with the rest of her friends, every few moments coming to a stop to talk with different ponies on the sides of the street. The first dozen or so, Pinkie had been hopeful for a definite answer, so her delivery came off as loud and inarticulate. When this only proved to startle off any possible clues, she dialed it back and left most of the talking to the rest.
The day had started with a spring in her step. Now the idea of prancing around felt silly and out of place. Already her hair was on the verge of collapsing inward.
“We’ve been doing this for hours and we’ve gotten nowhere!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, hovering meters above them. “No one has seen Twilight and that’s all we’ve been hearing! We need to try something different.”
Rarity came to a halt in the road, rubbing an anxious hoof through her mane. “Spike, any luck with the letters to Canterlot?”
Spike shook his head. “Everything I got back says they haven’t seen her—that they didn’t even know she was coming for a visit. Same with the other locations I’ve sent to.”
Rarity nodded solemnly, before facing the rest. She fixed them a worn smile. “Well then, we keep trying! I’m sure if she was kidnapped or if some villain had done something to her, they would’ve tried to blow up all of Ponyville by now or at the very least tried to enslave every dignitary. So in that regard, I would still consider this a case of missing pony… and not something by and large hazardous.”
With that speech out of her system, Rarity spun to start back up the block, stopping the first set of wandering ponies to ask about their friend. Everyone in Ponyville had already known of Princess Twilight, so most statements were a quick, “No,” followed by, “What happened?”
For the sake of the general populace, none of them offered up a conclusive answer.
While the rest of her friends trudged onward, Pinkie Pie found herself held in her spot, a notion working away in her mind as another—far less conclusive—idea wormed its way in.
As much as they had checked through every room in Twilight’s castle, something still didn’t sit right. Something had been missed and had been meant to. Some item didn’t belong and desperately Pinkie tried to remember what it was.
“Gotta go!” she hurriedly told the shuffling plots of each of her friends.
Without another word (and even before the burning thoughts in her mind could come to a justly conclusion) Pinkie galloped back down the street and in the direction of Twilight’s home.
If Pinkie hadn’t have rediscovered that spring in her step when pushing through the castle doors, the watcher would have made note of her invigorated arrival. But since she had begun bouncing along the earth again, she had completely cleared the invisible trip wire that guarded the entrance.
If the watcher hadn’t have overeaten during their lunch and then taken a quick nap in the shade of a tree (they had known the multi-colored friends were still in town, so they only thought time was on their side), they would have seen the pink on pink mare with their own eyes and possibly done something about it.
But risks had always been part of the equation.
Pinkie Pie wasted no time on the first floor of the castle and ascended the stairs at once. Although they had found an open book in Twilight’s bedroom earlier, the contents led to absolutely nothing and nadda. They had been grasping at straws but not a single one had wanted to admit it. But still something far more glaring had been missed.
“Cup, cup, cup, cup…”
Pinkie bounced from one room to the next, unsure of which one she could recall from before. She had briefly heard Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy speaking in one of the empty bedrooms—Fluttershy distinctly pouting while Rainbow tried her best to avert her anguish. Yet she had said something else, as well.
“Coma, coma, coma, coma…”
Fourth room in and Pinkie stood in the doorframe. Something about it felt different from the rest; if she had to put it into words she knew her vocabulary would fail her entirely. Even Twilight had once tried to understand the workings of the pink mare’s otherworldly senses, only to come away with more questions than answers. Pinkie had never been curious about her own gifts. She only used them for the benefit of others. Mostly.
“Twilight?” she asked the room.
When the room did not answer she entered a few steps, listening intently.
Something small had moved in the stillness of the room. Now Pinkie remembered just what it was that had brought her there in the first place.
Quietly edging along the carpets, she came to the bed and closer to the nightstand. Near its edge was the cold and filmy cup of tea Rainbow Dash had made mention of earlier. Hadn’t she heard her move it back on the stand, though? she thought. Again the cup was close to spilling over.
The cup sluggishly forced itself another millimeter to the edge.
Both of Pinkie’s eyes bulged out while her mouth turned into a chasm of hanging tongue and teeth. Softly, she asked the room, “Twilight? Are you doing this?”
Standing on pinpricks, Pinkie did not move a muscle from her place. Over and again she viewed the still cup and then the remainder of bare room. Something was in here. She could feel it. She could sense it.
Finally the cup scooted its way to the edge and toppled over, cracking into half a dozen pieces and spreading the old tea (complete with lemon wedge) along the floor.
It took a lot of steel in her system to not completely freak from the sight.
“If this is Twilight then why won’t you answer me!”
A full minute went by before a thin thread of her pink mane detached from the rest and was pulled toward the back of the bed. Timidly, Pinkie followed her own hair, before reaching out and feeling something that wasn’t there at all.
“Twilight?” she asked a final time.
Less than an hour later and Twilight was still shaking in the cozy confines of her kitchen, gripping the warm soup she held tight in both hooves all the while stretching out each leg every few moments. As much as each movement hurt, it somehow felt better than anything she could remember… after being frozen in a single pose for three painful days.
Her five friends and trusty assistant were either seated along the table with her, or anxiously watching as she took in each trembling spoonful. Having not eaten in a very long time, her stomach at first didn’t know how to react to such treatment. Eventually it found its old ways again and accepted nourishment greedily.
The thick tome of her despair sat closed in the center of the table. Once it had been eventually knocked from her sight by the wandering legs of Pinkie, she had quickly closed its cover before only touching it with the aura from her horn. Using Pinkie for support, she cumbersomely found her way downstairs, before the pink mare literally bounced into the streets to yell to the entire town, “I found her! I found her!”
Each friend appeared openly concerned.
Twilight’s eyes were dry and bloodshot—the bags under both darkened and heavily lined. Not having drunk any liquids at all in the past while, her cheeks were sunk and she looked gaunter than ever. Although Twilight knew each of her friends would have loved to wrap her up in a set of legs upon her discovery, they kept their distance for the moment. She had been hurt. Hurt worse than anything before. And all from some donated book.
“Maybe you should get some sleep, dear, after your soup.” Rarity gave Twilight a reassuring pat on her resting foreleg. “You’ve been up for days, as is.”
Painfully Twilight shook her head, the aches in her neck causing her to shut her eyes. “Not yet,” she told her, even while the steaming bowl directly in front of her blurred in her vision. “Someone has made a threat to my life and all of yours, simply because of your relationship to me. As far as I can tell, they don’t want to toy with me or try and rule Equestria. For reasons unknown they have a vendetta against me… and if what they’ve written in those pages holds any merit, which I’m sure it does, they hold one against all of you, as well.”
“But what did we do?” Fluttershy asked to her right, head bent and worry on her face. “What could you have possibly done, Twilight? You’ve always helped everyone. Done what needed to be done to save ponies.”
Twilight nodded, seemingly not able to keep her tired eyes off the closed book on the table. “I do what I always believe to be the right thing to do. That’s all. Whoever wrote this book and the spell attached to it doesn’t care about any of that. That’s the reason they targeted me in the first place. Although I’d never call myself a hero or use the term at all, that is what they’ve labeled me as. And now they want that hero to fall. Along with her friends.”
Rainbow Dash shot into the air. “Simple! Then we stop reading books! At least ones that don’t cover the continuing adventures of Daring Do, obviously. But what else could they plan on doing? I think if they were stronger than any villain from before, they’d have challenged you out in the open. So what are we up against now? A coward who likes to write? We’ve dealt with worse.”
Twilight glanced up to the blue pegasus. “But we’ve also dealt with villains we’ve known about—weaknesses, history, whereabouts. This is something new. Something very dangerous. We need to move forward with caution.”
Rarity tugged at her leg again. “Then maybe some sleep would be the best course of action.”
Twilight barely had the energy to argue much more. “Only for a few hours. And no one can leave the castle during that time.” With her horn she levitated the brown book from the table and whipped it into the fire at the center of the library. A modicum of glee entered her pained chest as she watched the flames first lick the edges of the book before devouring its thick center. “And no reading, either,” she told them all bluntly. “We don’t know if other books have been tampered with.”
Applejack played with her hat on the table before raising a single brow. “Umm, Twilight, not to sound so negative after all this negativity, but shouldn’t we have been holding on to that book? I mean, isn’t it a piece of evidence now? Maybe there were some clues written on the inside.”
Twilight finished her soup and slowly found her hooves, wobbling in place. “Anything of worth in that book I memorized days ago. I wouldn’t be able to sleep unless I knew it was on its way to being nothing but ashes.”
Stumbling from side to side, Twilight then went to the library to crash on the couch. Only seconds later did the blankness of sleep overwhelm her.
“I found her! I found her!”
The watcher shot awake from the sudden noise and instantly brought the binoculars to view. They grimaced as the pink earth pony danced in the street before darting back inside the castle. When they crossed the threshold the mild alarm went off in their head. This time they ignored it fully.
Only minutes later did the rest of Twilight’s friends gallop to the scene. It must have only felt natural to them—to race to potential danger with the knowledge they would always come away unscathed and unchanged. This must have been like any other adventure to them, later turned into some story to kill time when conversations lulled between them. But those stories always had happy endings. The villain was either defeated and turned to stone or reformed or banished or sent to Tartarus to think about what they’ve done. Twilight has never gotten her hooves truly dirty before, maybe because she’d never had the chance to try. But there was a first time for everything.
“Now what will you do?” they asked to no one.
Although they had a good idea.
Two hours and twenty-two seconds later Twilight Sparkle opened her heavy eyes and for a wonderful moment forgot just why she was lying on the puffy couch in the library; one blissful second where the events of the past three days were forgotten and replaced with serene thoughts that used to swim around in her cranium. But with renewed energy came a whole wallop of pains—mostly the ones seizing each joint as it had grown rigid during her downtime.
Slowly she motioned off the couch and to a seated position. Then she placed her cumbersome head onto a hoof.
Rainbow Dash hovered into the room. “So what’s the plan then, Twilight? How do we find this pony and then shove our collective hoof down their throat?”
Twilight pressed her other hoof into her temple. “It might not even be a pony, Rainbow. Most of our other villains haven’t been ponies at all—only creatures.”
“Then how do we stop it from trying something else?”
Twilight got to a standing position and methodically stretched out each leg. “We find them first. And then we go from there. And more than anything we try and stay a step ahead of them, even if that might prove difficult.”
Rainbow swooped down to wrap a leg around her. “Cheer up, Twilight. You got your friends watching your back. What could go wrong?”
“I hope nothing,” Twilight answered dourly. “But first things first, we need to figure out who sent that book here.”
An hour later the seven of them stood in front of a decrepit bookstore near the other side of town. Its windows had been whitewashed and a sign hanging from the overhead awning boasted a “FIFTY-PERCENT OFF SALE”. If its rundown condition was of any indication, it meant that such sale hadn’t done all that much to boost business. Crossing into its dimly lit interior, Twilight’s first thought was if it was still open at all.
“Hello?” she asked the empty entryway. “Anyone here?”
A mare with brown hair and thin reading glasses popped up from under a circular desk, a lock of her mane already swinging in front of her eyes. She appeared more startled than the rest of them. “Sorry about that!” she said earnestly. “Sometimes when business is a little slow I try and sneak in a good read under the desk.” She paused to ponder a moment. “Now that I think of it, business has actually been very slow, as of late.” The mare fixed her slanted glasses and regarded the seven of them, ending with Spike near the floor. “Oh wow! A lot of customers. What can I help you with today?”
Twilight placed both forelegs on the counter. Any good-natured expression clearly left back at the castle. “I want to inquire about a book that was sent to me. A used one. A very dangerous one, in fact.”
The mare appeared unfazed. “Can I see the book?”
“I burnt it in my fireplace.”
The worker blanched at the notion. “Well that’s no way to treat a book.”
Twilight did not budge from her stance. “The book in question tried to kill me, as well as threatened the lives of my friends.”
“Well… that’s…” The mare readjusted her glasses unnecessarily. “That’s just odd.”
“Yes it is,” Twilight agreed. “The mail-mare that delivered a stack of books including that one left an invoice that they all came from this book store. Some used, some new—purchased or donated to the new library. I need to know if you have any information on who brought in that book. I have no doubt in my mind it was a one of a kind text.”
“A one of a kind item that you burned in your fireplace,” the mare corrected.
Twilight nodded and felt her jaw tighten. “For the good of us all.”
A pregnant pause later and the mare behind the counter got to work opening drawers loaded with old receipts and slips of crumpled paper. Once she’d given them a quick once over, she tossed them to the counter where one of the seven would gingerly glance over in search of something worthwhile. Twilight took a long roll and hastily scanned down the list of purchased books, only to crumple it up between both hooves.
“This isn’t getting us anywhere,” she huffed. “I need to know what ponies brought into your store, not what they bought to read later.”
The mare with the glasses shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you then. If ponies bring in books to donate, we’re usually more than happy to except. There’s very little reason to keep track of such a thing.” She fell back in her chair, sighing loudly. “If only the manager was in. All week and I’m the only one in.”
Suddenly Twilight felt anxious. “You don’t own this place?”
“Nope. Mr. Leaf does,” the mare said. “Although I haven’t seen him in days.”
Now Twilight felt a shiver inside the stifling shop. “Did someone send him a book, perchance?”
The mare stared at her awkwardly. “We’re sent dozens of books a day. I wouldn’t know.”
“The last time you saw him, was he leaving the store?”
She shook her head. “No. The last time was when I came back from lunch and found the place completely empty. No note or anything. So I’ve been opening and closing only when I have the chance. Although business oddly hasn’t changed all that much…”
Twilight’s pulse quickened. “Where’s his office?”
Nearly stumbling against overturned books and sideways tables, Twilight crept through the darkened hall at the back of the store. A single door to the right had been left open ajar, a thin strip of light cutting across the opposite cracked wall.
Twilight approached quietly, hoping to catch the sounds of something—anything at all. Yet the first thing to find the searching mare wasn’t a noise at all, but a smell. Something rotten.
Nudging open the door, she first glimpsed the empty desk and then the table lamp still aglow near its edge. Approaching timidly, she placed both hooves along the surface, carefully edging them across. Only at its center did she feel what she had hoped she wouldn’t.
In the middle of the desk was the invisible outline of an open book, along with something that felt like the wispy edges of a mane.
“Celestia, why?” she whispered, before grasping the invisible tome and flinging it into the corner.
The still head of Mr. Leaf came to rest on the bare surface of his desk, his dry eyes now focused on the wood and not the book that had stole his attention until he stopped breathing. His cheeks had sunken in considerably and his skin appeared frail and thin. It was hard to tell how long he might have been lying there for.
The first thing Twilight did was turn his head to close his eyes. For no reason at all, this innocent pony had died. He had not known why but somehow he had become a target of a vendetta against her. Twilight knew then she would see this through to the end.
“You might wanna have a look at this, Twilight,” Applejack said nervously, somewhere behind her.
Twilight spun around and found the book she had shoved from the desk, propped open against the floor. Upon its many pages was a single sentence, repeated a thousand times over.
“What do you think it means?” Rarity asked them all, although none would respond.
A deep chill found Twilight’s stomach as she read and reread each carefully written line.
It said: “A single event can change our perception on most everything.”
There’s a feeling you get. When everything works out the way you’d imagined it would and no one seems to be the wiser. When everyone’s screaming at the top of their lungs or their mouths are stuck open in that shocked expression and you can barely hide the small smile that wants to bloom on your lips. Moments like these I try to find the most startled pony of them all in an effort to copy their mannerisms. If their eyes are as wide as their head, I open mine just the same. If their hooves tremble as they hold the sides of their jaw due to disbelief, I can copy it exact. To not do such a thing would be unwise. To do it better than them would be even worse. You need to stay in the middle as best as you can.
What was I talking about before? Oh yes. That feeling. That wonderful feeling that I can’t quite explain but I wish you could understand. It’s bliss. It’s magic, really. It’s simply something that once you taste a single time you will search for it as hard as you can. I have only tasted it completely a few times in my life. And I will let you know it isn’t for the faint of heart.
It had only been a few months following what Twilight Sparkle had done to me and only a few weeks after something altogether different would occur. The change had happened and now it was my first test to see if the road I wanted to travel down would accept me openly. I had always known in my heart I was destined for something big. Now to see for myself if this was what it had been meant to be.
I was still in grade school when I killed my first pony of choice. This one I had known for so long now and had even grown to care for. Yet sometimes opinions can change horrendously.
When I talk about having ended someone’s life I do not mean I held a sharp instrument to their throat or shoved a pillow over their peacefully sleeping face. What I mean is that I set up a series of events that could have ended in a vast multitude of ways. I always hope for the outcome I desire. Just as I hoped that Twilight would read her way into the next life—but sometimes plans change. And when they do you find you have to adapt along with them. Only how odd it was to find, that my first attempt worked itself out to perfection.
The first pony to give me such a feeling was a colt the same age as me. In fact, we were in the same class together and had sat beside the other for months on end. If only I had known what he would do; then maybe things would have been different. He would have been alive and perhaps my life would have gone in an entirely different direction. But I’ve been doing so well at all this, haven’t I?
It was in the middle of winter when the event occurred and I used it to my advantage. The trio of stairs leading out from the school had always been kept sanded to keep small foals from tripping over themselves, going up and down that icy entrance. Same with the sidewalk outside. The colt that would give me such a feeling for days on end lived further away from the school than most—so much so, that a large carriage would take him along with several other classmates both to school and back home each day. It was such a large vehicle that carried them all. So heavy and so tall. Each one of its wheels close to twice my little height at the time. It always took four full grown stallions to pull such a monstrosity.
The art of timing has always been something I’ve admired. One could also argue it’s the reason I’m doing what I’m doing at all. Timing. It can be used against you or it can be carefully used against others.
At 3:30 each day the school bell would ring merrily atop the building, as dozens of well-behaved little children would run for the doors. The carriage that plucked up all those lucky out of town individuals would arrive anywhere between 3:33 and 3:38. I had been staying behind at the end of each day to monitor their varying times. They were never early, but they were never too far behind. To see to the colt’s conclusion, it would be a combination of timing and chance.
Since him and I had become something far different than friends in the past few weeks, I studied his backside as he trotted to the doors at the end of the day. He appeared eager to get outside—perhaps to roll some snowballs or create some snow-ponies until the transportation arrived. But that was something I couldn’t let happen. If it was not perfect it would not work at all. And it had to be perfect.
According to the wall clock it was 3:31 and my individual of interest had just finished donning his coat and scarf. Like a simpleton he giggled as he spoke to his chums—another joke that would be better suited for a rock than for a pony. That small laugh dried up the instant he caught me staring. I have since become more aware of how odd I look when I forget to add emotion to my features. In the years that have followed I have become much better at expressing normality when prompted to.
Hastily I turned away from him, but not before tugging at his scarf with an invisible aura of my magic. To the wet floor it fell and to the clock inside my head did I add another sixty seconds. Given his short conversation, we were now somewhere around 3:34. It would be now or I would perchance rethink everything come tomorrow. Yet with that in mind, why did it feel like such a once in a lifetime opportunity?
Before he had a chance to exit the doors I ran past him as unobservant as I could. With little care, I crashed through the front entrance and waited by the head of the stairs. When I heard the doors open again, I knew he was behind me. When he took that first single step down, I did the same. Only when I stepped down did I pretend to trip on nothing at all, gasping in the cold winter air while my plot and sides hit against the hard stone step. By that point my pony of interest turned in my direction, as his front legs slipped over the other and he collapsed face down onto the ice.
The night before that wonderful day I had carefully swept up each bit of grit or sand that had been delicately laid across the entryway. Two buckets of water later and a thin coat of ice was all that remained around the entrance to the school.
If he had been paying attention to what he had been doing, he might have saved himself from the fall. If there had been a small sprinkling of sand, he might have even stopped before his head dipped over the curb. If the carriage pulled by four stallions had arrived a few seconds too late or a few seconds too early, his head might not have been crushed underneath one of its massive back wheels like some rotten pumpkin hit with a hammer.
So many ifs…
So many damn ifs…
Perhaps that’s why I find that feeling so rewarding. That wonderful feeling. It is precarious to come by and even harder to hold onto. But oh how I crave it now.
So many of them screamed at my work. My wholly invisible work. I, too, screamed right along and in the days that followed I pretended to cry for the first time in my young life. Maybe if I wasn’t so good at toppling over well-placed dominos I might have succeeded as an actor. What, exactly, do they do all day besides wear fake masks for the public’s amusement?
So many variables. So many ifs.
Although the only if he should have been worrying himself with was if he should have wronged me at all. And the obvious answer, was no.
Princess Celestia crossed the room and glanced out the window to the burning sun in the sky. Twice she turned her head to her and both times Twilight hoped she’d come to some conclusion that she herself hadn’t seen all along. Bitterly, her mentor’s demure expression only solidified what she’d been expecting to hear since arriving in Canterlot.
“I am sorry, Twilight,” Celestia said dourly, “but unlike your past battles against the forces of evil, I have no word of caution or guidance to assist you in your plight.”
When she noted Twilight’s ears flatten against her head she came closer to the weary alicorn. Since her and her friend’s discovery of the remains of Mr. Leaf, Twilight hadn’t wasted much time on sleep or even food at all. What few minutes she spent alone on the ride over were spent pondering about whoever had started this vendetta against her. Every other minute was spent contemplating on whether her friends would respect her parting wishes.
“Whoever has pooled all this hate towards you,” Celestia continued, “appears determined to remain in the shadows for as long as they can. So far they do not appear as though they want a one on one confrontation—as many of our other foes would rather have.”
Twilight perked up for a moment. “Isn’t there a chance it could be someone from before? Merely changing the way they operate?”
Celestia shook her head. “I highly doubt it. Tirek wanted power; Discord wanted chaos; Chrysalis wanted love; and my sister only wanted never ending night. They may have been evil in their time, yes—but I doubt many were the murderous type. And already your opponent has laid claim to a single live, if not more that we are not yet aware of.”
Twilight nodded along without much energy. It had been the answer she had been expecting and truthfully she had only wanted to hear another pony agree with her own deductions. Sadly, that only meant…
“So that means we know nothing at all,” Twilight said deflated. “This mystery stalker is still a step ahead of us and now they remain that way. Not only do they want me gone, but alongside all of my friends.” A rush of bitter fear gripped the alicorn, forcing her to tighten her jaw as her eyes threatened to well up with tears. It wasn’t for her own safety she was concerned; only those that didn’t deserve this type of punishment at all. Yet there was still that burning question she hadn’t spoken aloud to anyone. “Princess?” she asked timidly.
Suddenly, she found the words hard to come by. “This stalker said that I did something to them—that I deserve what’s coming to me. Do you think that could be true? Do you think I actually did something so bad as to warrant this type of retribution?” She found she couldn’t meet the other alicorn’s eyes. “What if I did something to someone that I don’t even know about? What if I put my friend’s lives as risk for something I did? And now I can’t stop wondering if I have…”
Feeling a warm wing wrap around her small body, Twilight gazed up to discover that small smirk back on her mentor’s lips. If she could bottle such a reassuring feeling, she would. It was an expression that said everything would work itself out right, even if it might not have appeared as such from the start.
Celestia said warmly, “I have known you for close to your whole life, Twilight. And in all that time I have never considered you to have done a single thing worthy of such venomous hate. If what you’ve told me about the first book holds much merit, it’s that this individual is only mad because of your accomplishments, and perhaps because most in Equestria would consider you a hero in their eyes.” She paused to smile again. “This pony has obviously targeted you because they feel like playing the villain. Whether their means to harm you are justified, I hardly care and I hardly doubt they could be. By the sounds of it, this pony has poisoned themselves over time—created lies to feed themselves on a daily basis. As hard as it is to hear, I believe they think of you as a tool to their own ends—whether they actually have an attachment to you or not. They are dangerous, yes, but only if we give them the opportunity to be so. That’s why we take precautions and we take them now. Coming to see me was the best choice so far and now we can plan what next course of action to take.”
And it just those few tense sentences did Twilight not feel as alone in her troubles. She had things that she honestly doubted her enemy could lay claim to. She had friends, and she had numerous ponies that cared about her and loved her unconditionally. She had wonderful family dispersed to all areas of the world that would drop everything in a second to come to her aid. It made her feel warm… while it also made her feel more exposed than ever. They could protect her easy enough, but how could she protect every one of them? All from some target that had remained unnoticed until a few days ago?
She said with a little more vigor, “For their safety I already told my friends to stay with Spike in my castle. I think as long as they stay together and out of the public view, they’ll be safe. I trust they’ll do what is right.”
“I’m dying in here!”
Rarity scanned the ceiling for the shouting blue pegasus before continuing her eyes onward until they rolled a three-sixty. Sighing loudly, she said, “It’s only been a day and a half, Rainbow Dash. Twilight’s given us simple instructions to stay put and stay safe and until such time as things are deemed less ‘deadly’, we will stay put and pass the time as best we can.”
Rainbow did another lazy pass around the ceiling light, crossed two legs behind her head. “You know how many hours are in a day? Twenty-four! You know how many hours are in a day and a half? Thirty-six! Thirty-six hours stuck inside with nothing to do!”
Placing a hoof to her temple, the white unicorn lifted a thin game box. She said sheepishly, “We could play another round of manticores and stairwells?”
“Bah!” Rainbow screamed, landing in a huff at the center of the open kitchen. “You know what you’re doing? You’re killing independent Rainbow! That’s what you’re doing!” She roughly scooped up the box to glare at it with a raised lip. “Pegasus’ aren’t supposed to sit around all day and play games. They’re supposed to fly!”
Rarity flicked a sharp hoof over to the silently sitting Fluttershy in the library. “She seems content enough.”
Pulling out a stool at the table, Rainbow inelegantly plopped down before lowering her sagging face to the surface. She said stubbornly, “Fluttershy doesn’t count. She’s like… point-five pegasus at best.”
Rarity couldn’t help but pat Rainbow’s multi-colored mane with a leg—perhaps harder than she meant to. “Now you’re just being mean. And we need to think of the larger picture right now. Someone tried to kill Twilight and then said they’d do the same to each one of us. I don’t think that’s something to scoff at.”
Her little speech did little to sway the pegasus. Still with her head on the table she said, “Ponies and junk are always trying to kill us. Nothing new.”
Rarity pursed her lips. “But this one almost succeeded, Rainbow. If Pinkie hadn’t have found her like she had, what do you think might have happened? Things are different now. This is different. And that means we need to stick together and trust Twilight. She told us to stay put and that’s what we’re going to do. Simple boredom won’t kill us. Once she’s back from talking with Princess Celestia, I’m sure she’ll have a surefire plan to thwart our latest nemesis and then you can go back to zipping through the air all the while complimenting yourself as you go.”
Rainbow was silent for a moment. “That sounds nice. The part about zipping through the air, I mean.” She lowered the rest of her face to the table for a moment before both ears perked up. Quickly following that was the rest of her head, eyes wide and mouth drawn tight.
“Now what in tarnation is going on outside?” Applejack asked near the window in the library. She pressed her face against the glass until her hat lifted from her head. “It looks as though every pony in Ponyville’s headed to the same place at once. Was something planned for today that I forgot about?”
Trotting towards the window, Rarity watched the dozens of passersby lightly chat and giggle as they made their way up the street. It was more than she’d seen stroll by Twilight’s home in the day and a bit they’d been there. So why did this sight make her anxious exactly?
The hurried flap of wings caused her to turn away.
Already Rainbow was hovering in the air, her slack jawed expression working away on some tough equation inside. “What day of the month is it?” she blurted.
Instantly Rarity could tell any type of answer to the question wouldn’t end well. “It doesn’t matter, darling. We’re staying put and that’s—”
“It’s the sixteenth, silly!” Pinkie Pie trumpeted from nowhere at all. “Don’t you all travel with your pocket-sized calendars nearby?” From her elastic mane she snapped out a mini-calendar—the picture above one of Gummy on a log. “Yep! Sixteenth!”
This answer only seemed to cause Rainbow more anxiety than before. Picking up speed, her wings carried her to the ceiling where her head lightly bumped against the roof. She appeared not to notice as she held two hooves to her temples. “Why does that date seem so familiar? What am I missing out on right now? Was there something I was supposed to be doing today?” Now she sounded close to frantic. “Was there something I had to do today? And where are all those ponies going to?”
“It doesn’t matter, Rainbow Dash!” Rarity blurted from down below. “We are to stay inside and wait for Twilight and that’s it. If you’re bored then figure some way to pass the time—besides trying to annoy everyone past their wits end.”
While Rarity shot the pegasus a minor death glare, Rainbow defiantly crossed her legs over her chest and let out a huff. Even though the area between them might have been full of pure negative vibes, Pinkie jumped in-between them.
“You two big sillies!” she announced happily. “There’s a simple solution and you both don’t even realize it!” In a huff of pink smoke she disappeared, while the front door shot open and then slammed shut a moment later. When the fumes dissipated, the returning pink mare held a confused and bewildered dark blue stallion in her grasp. He stared at each one in turn before Pinkie crushed him into her side. “So what are you up to today, my good sir?” she asked pleasantly.
“I was…” he began timidly, forgoing the overwrought loathing from Rarity’s glare. “I was going to the Wonderbolts show. You know… the one on the posters.”
The next thing to wallop into him was a blur of light blue. Once stopped, an anxious Rainbow stood atop of him—not exactly concerned with his trembling chin.
“A Wonderbolts show?” she shouted/questioned directly into his face. “Happening right now as in, ‘Right now?’ right now?”
The stallion turned his strained head in the direction of anyone that could lend assistance. When he saw none available, he said sheepishly, “Yes?”
Rainbow’s plot collapsed to the floor. “I was supposed to perform…” she said reflectively. “I was supposed to end the show. That’s what I remember now.”
The pinned stallion added helpfully, “You still can, you know. The show’s not for another twenty minutes. And if you’re in league with the Wonderbolts, I’m guessing you could make it there with time to spare.”
The stallion was released from under the near-panting pegasus and she lunged for the open doorway. Rarity, however, had already positioned herself in the space, slamming the door at the precious moment.
A disgruntled Rainbow stammered away from the door, muzzle flattened a good few centimeters. “Out of my way, Rarity! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m not going to waste it sitting around here!”
The stern unicorn barely flicked an eyelash. She said bluntly, “We’re under orders from Princess Twilight Sparkle. We are to wait around here and that’s just that. I’m sorry, Rainbow, but I’m putting my hoof down. I’m sure there will be more shows to come that you can perform at. Things are just too dangerous right now.”
Rainbow blanched. “Too dangerous to go outside? What are we? Trapped inside a bubble? This makes no sense!”
“It makes perfect sense, darling.”
“No, it doesn’t!” Rainbow finally found her legs again and began pacing back and forth in front of the entryway. “All we have to fear right now is some book! And wasting time around here counting tea cozies isn’t going to help any. And isn’t this just what this anonymous enemy would want us to act like? Scared, terrified, too afraid to leave the house?”
Rarity grimaced. “That’s not what this is about, Rainbow, and you—”
Rainbow laid a heavy leg around her neck. “Plus, think about it like this, Rarity. Right now, there’s only the five of us watching out for one another. At the show, there will be hundreds, if not thousands around! How could anyone possibly try something in an open area like that?”
Rarity closed her eyes and took a breath. She had to defuse the situation as best she could, even though it might hurt her friend to do so. Although at a time like this, hurt feelings always had the chance to heal. A date with whoever was sending out deathly texts might only lead to a bittersweet finale.
Slowly, she said, “I’m sorry, Rainbow, but the answer is still no. Even in a public space like that… I wouldn’t want to take the chance. At least here we can plan and formulate and look out for one another. Outside, it becomes an entirely different beast altogether.”
Savagely, she felt the tight leg around her shoulders slump and fall away. She turned to view the downcast expression of her soured friend.
Rainbow sighed. “Then I’m sorry, too. For this.”
A burst of hard air pulled at Rarity’s mane as her eyes widened while her pupils shrunk. The door directly behind her ripped open and then slammed shut—Twilight’s house currently one blue pegasus short.
A wash of cyan and several other colors flew across the bare library window. Rainbow called back to them, “If you all still want to stick together, then come to the show! ‘Cause that’s where I’ll be!”
Consumed with raw anger, Rarity visibly shook in her spot, unable to move her head from the direction of the stairs. A small thread of heated air escaped her tight knit jaw, sounding close to a whistle.
An obviously concerned Applejack approached. “What do you think we should do now? Should we follow her to make sure nothing happens? Or stay and wait for Twilight to come back?”
Rarity could only continue to silently rage as Fluttershy decisively entered their conversation.
“I think we should go…” she said quietly. “We can keep an eye on her and still stay together. I think that’s most important right now. It shouldn’t matter where we are, only that we’re all in the same spot.”
The slowly seeping air from Rarity’s mouth finally gave way as she felt her tense muscles relax. Dourly, she said, “You better remember to hold me back from Rainbow Dash when the show comes to an end. With the way she’s been acting today, I’m finding myself oddly tempted to squeeze her until she pops.” She huffed again. “And isn’t she supposed to be the Element of Loyalty?”
Applejack rubbed at her mane. “Usually. But then sometimes she botches it so bad she learns a lesson afterward. Maybe now’s one of those times.”
Begrudgingly, the four remaining friends followed along to the show.
“What do you believe to be the next course of action, Twilight?”
For close to a minute Twilight had been staring out the large bay windows of Celestia’s quarters, admiring the view and trying to distance herself from her overhanging misery. She had come to her mentor seeking advice and had received words of encouragement instead. As much as she had wished Celestia could just point her powerful horn at her troubles and make them all disappear, this was something not even the Princess of the Sun could fully comprehend. Even with all that knowledge in place, she tried to hold her emotions in check.
“That’s the problem, Princess,” she said slowly, “I have no idea of what to do next. Our only clue is that book which I burnt and then that second book found in the store. And even that one had been a mere single line of text and nothing more.” She paused, visibly troubled by her next thought. “At this point it almost feels as though the only course of action is to react once prompted. Meaning ‘they’ get to perform the next move while I only sit around and wait. And what if that next move is against one of my friends?”
Celestia came to her side by the window. “If that is the way this plays out, you must be ready for the possibility. Even now you’ve taken precautions against your enemy. So far you’ve done as much as you can and I’m proud of how you’ve handled things. This is something much different than—”
“Princess Celestia! Princess Celestia!”
Both alicorns turned to face the near shrieking guard pony trotting into the room. In a thin aura of magic he held a single letter—red candle wax seal still unbroken.
A few paces from them he stopped and huffed in some air. Awkwardly, he said, “A letter came. Just now.”
Celestia only watched him indifferently.
The guard calmed himself. “You said to be cautious of all letters and books coming into the castle.”
Celestia said evenly, “Yes, I did. So why is this one necessary for me to see?”
The guard gulped dryly. “Because it’s addressed to Princess Twilight.”
A quiet lull found the large chamber. Both sets of eyes found Twilight’s as she carefully hovered the letter over to her. As if it contained a plague all its own, she nevertheless placed it on her upturned hoof.
With little emotion, she said, “No one besides my friends knows I’m here. This has to be from them.”
“Thank you, guard. You may go.” Celestia paid the anxious stallion little heed as he scrambled out the room, obviously happy to be distancing himself from such somber material. Eventually, she found the stock still Twilight again. “What do you want to do? Should we open it and see what it has to say? Or do you only believe it to be another trap?”
Twilight contemplated the thin letter on her hoof. A single page at most on the inside. Would her enemy honestly try the same tactic against her? Would they actually send a hoofwritten letter to her and address it to ‘Princess Twilight Sparkle’ and expect her to perish while reading it?
“I can’t imagine they’d try the same thing twice,” Twilight said, “especially in the heart of Canterlot. I will open it and I will read it. And if it’s anything like last time, it’ll be nothing more than a series of blatant verbal attacks. Yet in the slim chance it holds something more, I should read to find out.” She faced her mentor. “If I disappear or appear different than when I start to read, rip the letter from me and destroy it as soon as possible. This enemy has the ability to wrap spells around simple lines of text better than I’ve ever seen. Any look of distress or change… snap the letter up and burn it.”
Celestia nodded. “I will do my best, Twilight.”
With little care of damaging such a note, Twilight ripped off the seal and unfurled the letter—far, far shorter than their last correspondence. With a last deep exhale, she read:
“Hello, Princess. I hope this reaches the right Princess, as last time I counted there were around four in Equestria. Are there more now? Has another lucky soul from some hovel of a home been chosen to protect the realm? Along with a new fancy set of wings? I hope it doesn’t take me that long to finish this letter.
“Anyway, Twilight, we should talk. Even though it may not seem like it now, we in fact have a lot in common. And we actually have a lot to talk about. But I’m sure before the end of all this, you and I will get that conversation you’ve been more than likely yearning to have. Isn’t that how most of your troubles settle themselves now a days? Through gentle words and not actions? I would imagine so, being the Princess of Friendship and all. Do you get a tax break for such a title? Wait, what am I thinking. You don’t pay taxes at all, do you? But we’re getting off track.
“I want to be your first, Twilight. I want to be your very first. You will not be mine, but perhaps I can be the first in your life that forces you to earn that title of savior many have placed on you. All your life you have been regarded as brave and good-natured; only now do I want you to be regarded as something else entirely. Will you deem it all worth it, in the end? Knowing you as well as I do, I can’t see it any other way. You were supposed to die a quiet death in the warmth of the pages of my book and now something else awaits you. I have come to accept that death may be too kind for the likes of you. Now I only want you to live forever in the new light I will shine onto you. At first you may hate this light—this grotesque ambiance. But like the light you cast down onto me, you will grow to except it, especially when no other choices remain. So I only ask that you embrace it and stand proud, my beautiful Princess. Once in this new light, you will find it nearly impossible to shy away from. As much as you will try.
“Was that cryptic enough for you, Twilight? You like riddles and puzzles and games, so why not mixed messages? Here’s a less garbled statement then:
“You went to your mentor to seek advice about me. You left your friends back at home to stay out of trouble. I told you I wanted to punish everyone involved in your creation but are you not forgetting about a particular pair involved? Perhaps the pair that allowed you to live such a life in the first place?
“And yet I tend to forget: The Princess of Friendship… not family.
“Talk to you soon, hugs and kisses,
“Your biggest fan.”
Twilight could barely keep the hoof holding the letter from trembling. Slowly her jaw added to the mix, quivering both out of fear and of anger. She had read the entire thing to herself, mentally preparing for some unseen spell to try and inflict undue harm. None had come. Yet something far worse had replaced it.
Already Celestia could sense her rising trepidation. “What did it say, Twilight? Are you all right?”
“They’re going after my parents.”
Twilight had spoken the statement aloud but it had sounded as though someone down a hall had muttered it. Her mind was too alight with just how fast she could get to her parent’s house—a mix of flight and teleportation seeming the best option available.
“My friends and I weren’t enough and now they’re going after my parents…”
Celestia held a leg out towards the letter. “Let me see the note, Twilight. And then we’ll decide what to do. They obviously want to keep you on edge and this might have just done so. We need to keep a level head and—”
“They made my parents a target! All because of me!”
Something was already burning behind both eyes. She tried to fight the urge to scream and just keep screaming where she stood.
Cautiously, Celestia said, “It may be nothing more than a rouse, Twilight. We need to calm down and think rational. We can send guards to your parents to check on their wellbeing. But we mustn’t—”
Twilight muttered, “I’m sorry, Princess, but I can’t take that chance. I need to see them with my own eyes.”
She then teleported from the room, forgotten letter tumbling to the floor.
Rainbow Dash could feel each small batch of apprehension drop to the ground as she hastily trotted around the circular stadium. Even after getting a small tongue lashing from Spitfire due to her tardiness (she could have easily mentioned the dark, foreboding figure that had tried to kill her friend and then went on to say they’d do the same to her), every last care in the world melted away as soon as she donned her Wonderbolts uniform. Well, perhaps ‘costume’ was the more apt term, considering she wasn’t a full member of the academy at the time. Still, she’d take what she could get.
Suited up and raring to go, Rainbow sadly forgot she’d need to wait around a while before performing her trademark Sonic Rainboom. She was the show closer and had agreed to it weeks before the event. Now that only left… a lot of time to kill.
“We love you, Rainbow Dash!”
Already since leaving her little dressing room, Rainbow had heard the warm calls from several dozen attendees. More than a few had on limited-edition Wonderbolts T-shirts and even a few had foam hoofs on their legs (making walking around that much more difficult). On each face was a smile and even the smell of fresh popcorn and candied apples tempted her senses. With the gorgeous sun out it was beyond a peaceful event. Walking from stall to stall and stopping with every few spectators to pose for a picture, Rainbow could hardly believe she’d been cooped up for so long and had almost missed everything.
Just the thought of her friends caused her to wince. “They’ll be here. I know they will,” she tried to tell herself, laughing awkwardly in the hall leading to the exhibition area. Even feeling as good as she was, she found the need to talk aloud to help settle her nerves. If only her friends would show up already…
“Thank you so much, Rainbow Dash!”
Another fan clamored away after a quick picture and autograph and before she knew what was happening, another pony caught her by surprise and enveloped her in a hug. Wrapped perfectly around her forelegs and wings, the fan pulled tight and mumbled a few words out of ear shot. Pulling back, they awkwardly stood in place.
“Sorry about that! But I’m just your biggest fan and couldn’t wait to meet you, so have a good show!”
And just like that they were gone, Rainbow more puzzled than ever. Not only had the pony that had embraced her wore a Wonderbolts T-shirt, but they also had on a rainbow wig in the style of her own mane—nearly concealing most of their face. But considering ponies had been hugging and ruffling her mane since she arrived, she wasn’t all that concerned by the encounter.
Rainbow turned to a ticket ripper near the entrance to the stadium. “Since when do they sell rainbow-color wigs here?”
The mare ripped another ticket and appeared uninterested. “They don’t. As far as I know.”
A tad bemused, Rainbow was now oddly curious if she’d truly met her biggest fan of all.
Once out of view, the watcher did away with their rainbow wig and threw it in the trash. Same with the Wonderbolts shirt they had—warily—purchased only minutes prior. Although it could never be tossed aside so easily, even the thin hint of emotion seeped from their face, as they regarded the rest of the crowd with as much enthusiasm as a hill of sand.
They had thought they’d feel better once the spell was attached. Only this time it felt far too easy.
They had known Twilight would talk to Celestia the moment she could; they had known she’d leave her friends together in a single location; they had even placed the odds of Rainbow Dash actually appearing at the show fifty-fifty at best. And now that she had arrived and now that her wire was set in place did it all seem so simple.
But not everything must be a struggle, right?
The moment the watcher had wrapped their thin legs around that multi-colored pegasus’ shoulders and connected both hooves around the other side did their spell become active. Along with a few carefully selected words, there was now a thin invisible band around Rainbow’s chest and wings. At that particular moment, it was resting comfortably around the mare’s body, allowing her to move and flex her wings with no resistance at all. But once the watcher deemed it time to do so, they could finish the spell and slowly and surely the magic wire completely naked to the eye would close in on her. And it would not stop until it connected at its center.
Months ago they had tied the same magic band around a thick tree trunk, to witness its strength. That same tree had now been filling their fireplace since that test.
Once the wire began to tighten, it would either cut or crush whatever lay in its path—skin and bone and organs and whatever else that may try to interfere with its journey.
As much as the watcher wanted to pity the poor mare and the slow and painful death coming her way, they couldn’t help but laugh internally at the logic behind it all. Each one of Twilight’s friends embraced the other on countless occasions. All the watcher had done was hug one of them a little too hard.
Grabbing a bag of popcorn and finding their seat, they could barely contain themselves in the minutes before the show. They had always wanted to glimpse a star falling to the earth.
Twilight Sparkle had teleported in between a pair of pegasus’ in the air and didn’t stop to apologize. Instead, she lunged off the startled couple and propelled herself in the direction of her parents’ home. With any luck, she would be there in a matter of seconds. With any added luck, she would find nothing of interest once inside.
Crashing into the dirt outside and folding in her wings that felt close to iron, Twilight wasted no time and galloped towards the door. She reminded herself that even if she found an empty house and nothing else, she would need to search every last inch of it. She had almost died because a book had caused her to become invisible—the same fate may have found her parents, as well. Before opening the door she’d need to be prepared for anything.
Steeling herself, she entered.
“Oh hello, Twilight. Didn’t know you were stopping by.”
Her father greeted her from his arm chair, a newspaper folded open in front of him. Her mother was doing close to the same on the couch, a paperback propped on a hoof.
Her father’s warm demeanor gave way as he regarded the out of breath alicorn. “Is there something wrong, Twilight? Why are you looking like that?”
“I thought you’d be…” Twilight stammered out, not entirely sure of how to perceive the situation. On the surface her parents seemed fine, so why did that sight not quell her nerves? Was it because some dark fate may still be heading their way? Or because now it feels as though she’d only wasting a large amount of time coming here and checking on them? “I’m just glad to see you’re all right,” she finished lamely. “Has anyone sent you anything in the mail recently? A book or a letter or anything odd?”
Her father shook his head. “Nope. Just bills and the usual. Free books would be great though!” He tried for a small smile but found Twilight’s bewilderment all too much. “Are you sure you’re all right, Twilight? Want to sit down for a bit?”
Twilight was missing something. Something large. It was nibbling at the back of her head and she couldn’t place it all together. All she knew was that she’d been tricked and without hesitation fallen for it. Even if Princess Celestia had forewarned it from the start…
Still pondering internally, she said, “No, thanks. I’m good. I just need—”
Her mother set aside her book. “Why aren’t you at the Wonderbolts show, honey? Isn’t your friend supposed to be performing this time? We thought about going, but the tickets were too…”
The alicorn stopped listening the moment it all clicked into place—like some puzzle missing its center piece; the one that tied it all together. She had gone to Canterlot of her own accord and her stalker had only pushed her in a different direction. She only hoped her friends had followed her guidance and stayed inside. Sadly, she should have remembered the event all along.
Without another word she left, folding out wings that hurt to move. Gritting her teeth, she took to the air and prayed she wasn’t too late. Then she told herself she’d make sure to never let them out of her sight again.
The cool air felt wonderful in her lungs and for the third time in ten minutes, Rainbow Dash spit on her goggles before whipping them clean. At the time, she was on the sidelines in the breathtaking blue sky, waiting patiently for her cue to start the big finale. As bored as she should have felt flapping in place for so long, she couldn’t help but admire each well-trained Wonderbolt soaring through the clouds, performing dives and flips and obnoxiously choreographed maneuvers. By that point in her life she had seen at least three-dozen aerial shows by the team; this only happened to be the first to feature her and the best trick she could perform.
She could hardly wait to hear the gasps from the crowd.
“Come on, come on, come on,” she muttered to herself, glimpsing Soarin fly directly through the center of a wind tunnel created by the rest. “Let’s get this over with already!”
A few minutes later the stadium erupted into a chorus of cheers, as Spitfire flew up to give her the signal. Not wasting a single second to potentially bore the crowd, Rainbow charged upward into the air as her cheeks wrinkled from the force. Once at the desired height she straightened herself and viewed the oddly small stadium below—each attendee now the size of a parasprite.
Taking a breath, she calmed her nerves. By that point in time she had done her famous trick more than a hooful of times and since then had done nothing but train and excel. So why did she still feel anxious? Was it the foolhardy stunt she was about to pull off in front of hundreds? Or the fact that she went against her friends’ best wishes when they were only looking out for her safety?
She sighed. “I messed up big time.”
In the bright glow of her fans and members of the Wonderbolts, she had taken that new energy and placed it over that of her friends’ disapproval. Only at that moment, hundreds of meters above the earth, did that small voice inside tell her how wrong she had been. Even if nothing were threatening to claim them one by one, Twilight had asked them for one thing and one thing only. And now she had broken that trust. She could only cherish the fact that in time she knew she would be forgiven; perhaps when all this ‘stalker’ silliness came to an end.
She said wistfully, “One Sonic Rainboom, and then I find my friends and apologize. With any luck, they’re at the show already. I’ll just laugh this off and—”
In midsentence she stopped to stare at one of her wings, where it felt as though something thin and hard were pulling it inwards. At the same time her other wing felt close to the same, as if her wings suddenly wanted to close on their own.
“What… is…” she huffed, pushing back against the unseen force.
Her efforts did little to stop her wings from slowly folding back down and before she could fully comprehend it, the ability to even move them at all came to a stop. With rising panic, she watched as some invisible band pressed against her feathers, steadily drawing inward towards her. Only a moment later did she lose the ability to hover in the air at all.
“No. No!” she yelled, as she plummeted to the ground.
Cutting through hundreds of feet every few seconds, what concerned her most wasn’t the complete lack of flight but the overwhelming notion that whatever had pulled her wings to her sides wasn’t done with her. Once held tight against her, she could only glimpse with widening dismay as the invisible band closed in again, painfully pinching her wings and forelegs to her body, as well as tempt to tickle her chest.
Momentarily forgetting she was falling at all, she was gently halted in midair.
“Rainbow Dash! What kind of stunt do you think you’re trying to pull?”
Spitfire regarded the struggling pegasus angrily, holding her up with both forelegs. Then she quickly noted the fear in her eyes, as well as the concealed band that was steadily cutting into her chest.
“What’s going on? What is this?” Spitfire screamed, trying to get them to the ground as quickly as possible.
Rainbow’s eyes whirled around in her head as she tried to make sense of what was happening. Already her chest felt on the verge of caving in and each breath came in shallower than the last. The worst pain overall was that of her wings, which felt as though they were being ripped in two against her sides.
“I don’t know!” she pleaded. “Something’s trying to strangle me! I need help! Someone help me!”
When the first bone in her left wing snapped against the tightening wire she screamed into the air. Now it seemed as though the hundreds of onlookers had a completely different show to admire.
As the blue pegasus reached a height far above the clouds, the watcher grabbed another hooful of popcorn and pleasantly munched on its overly salty contents. Still chewing, they brought their binoculars to their eyes and waited for that special moment to finish the spell and begin the show. True, they had been enduring an hour long flight spectacle up until that point, but what truly interested them is how it would all end.
Had Twilight’s friends even followed the naïve pegasus here? The watcher hadn’t checked and could hardly care. The only one with a horn was the white fashion designer and they believed her magical abilities ended with a needle and thread. And so what if they came? It would only be fitting to say goodbye to their hotheaded friend, as she was slowly divided in two.
Feeling the time was right the watcher cleared their throat and finished the incantation. Next, they brought their binoculars to their eyes and with bated breath waited for it all to begin. More than anything they wanted that feeling again. That wonderful feeling.
They hoped they wouldn’t be disappointed this time.
Outside the stadium, Rarity and her friends were still arguing with the ticket ripper when the yells from inside increased a dramatic amount. No longer were they the shouts of joy and wonderment, but of fear and unknowing.
As something cold gripped every one of her limbs, Rarity hurriedly nudged the worker to the side. Once open, the remaining three followed after her.
The white unicorn heard the shrieks grow in volume and pursued the noise. Rounding almost a quarter of the circular building, she glimpsed the widening crowd packed into a lone hall that fed into the stadium. More terrified than she could remember, she forcefully parted the watching throng of ponies and galloped inside. The sight alone was enough to cause her to stop and tremble in place.
“Someone help! Someone help! Why won’t it stop?”
Spitfire was kneeling by her side, her eyes eating up most of her face as her jaw hung limp. Splayed out on the grass was the struggling Rainbow Dash—fully suited in costume and goggles. Both wings had been oddly pulled into her middle, more than a few bones broken and bits of blood already leaking from dozens of cuts. Something thin and unseen was burrowing its way into her chest, which was rising with less and less ease. Rainbow’s face had gone horrifically red and her tear-filled eyes stared at the sky as if waiting for someone to come swoop down and come to her aid. A small trickle of crimson dotted the corner of her gasping mouth.
On numb legs, Rarity came closer to her. “What’s happening? What’s happening to her?”
As the band tightened once again and Rainbow’s ribs began to crack from the increased pressure, Rarity slumped to the dirt and couldn’t help but cry.
Twilight Sparkle stood by her bedside and wanted to do a number of things all at the same time. At the onset, she wanted to curl into a ball and weep at what had happened to her friend, perchance due to some unforeseen event from her past. Next, she wanted to yell at her, say every deplorable word she could lay claim to and tell her how stupid she had been for leaving the safety of her home and going out alone. In truth she had done both already, in the quiet of the still room; gentle tears running down her cheeks while an army of choice words danced in her head. She would keep those statements to herself, though. Now was not the time.
Rainbow Dash’s chest barely crept upward a single centimeter. Some machine to the side of her filled her crushed lungs with fresh oxygen every few seconds before pumping it back out. The string that her stalker had wrapped around her fragile chest still held tight to the mare, organs pressed and the entire body close to failing. Twilight wanted to touch her friend—hold her and embrace her—but not like this.
Rarity entered the small room and placed a leg around the alicorn. She, too, must have been crying only recently. She tried for a smile. “I’m sure once we figure out what to do we’ll be able to reverse what it is they did to her. There’s still time. We were lucky, in a way.”
The ‘luck’ her friend was insinuating at was from the fact that once Twilight dispersed from Canterlot castle in a hurry to catch her parents, both Celestia and Luna went in the direction of her friends. Once in Ponyville, it didn’t take long to locate them, due to the hundreds of other gatherers around. The same as the rest, they could not contain their horror at what was happening to the wriggling mare on the grass. It was a spell neither Princesses had seen before and the solution wasn’t coming to mind fast enough. Instead, both alicorns froze the gasping pegasus—along with the wire that had been hungrily digging into her narrowed chest.
Twilight sighed, watching her unconscious friend. “I should have been there. I should have seen right through that simple trick and gone to help her. My parents were never the target and I should have known.”
Rarity’s leg pulled her close. “Don’t blame yourself, Twilight. You don’t know what might have happened if you came to us instead. Perhaps then ‘they’ might have gone to your parents. This murderer of ours doesn’t play fair and anything they write to us shouldn’t be believed at all. You did what you had to do and Celestia and Luna did the same. Our stalker hasn’t bested us yet.”
Twilight barked out a harsh laugh. “Yet,” she said bluntly. “As in it’s all a matter of time.”
Rarity shook her head. “You know that’s not what I meant. I mean… we’ve done everything—”
Twilight cut in tiredly, “Any word from the Empire?”
“Yes, actually. The train along with the guards has made it there and everyone is already secure in the Crystal tower. You and I both know your brother and Cadence will keep them safe.”
The moment Rainbow Dash’s life had crossed into a precarious state, Twilight went to work gathering up anyone their stalker might have linked her to. Wanting to keep them as far away from her as possible for the moment, she had sent her parents along with Rarity’s family, Applejack’s family, Pinkie Pie’s family, and anyone else that might have had a connection to them all the way to the Crystal Empire. More than a few had protested, but by that point Twilight had had enough. So with little care for hurt feelings, she had told them what their stalker had done to her friend all the while in the thick of hundreds of others. Soon after, they agreed to the makeshift vacation and boarded only a few hours later.
Twilight had nothing but faith in her brother and his wife. Same with the small army he had trained and set on patrol. But truly, she didn’t expect a single one of them to be the next target of choice. That was why her next step of business was in bringing everyone else close to her to the center of Canterlot—in the bulk of the castle and under scheduled guard. Maybe more to the point: to stay under her watchful eye until the situation cleared itself out.
Already, she could sense Rarity’s apprehension. “How are you finding your room so far?” she tried to ask, with a little more energy.
Rarity rubbed at a leg. “It’s nice. It’s big and all that. I think once I put up a few things, it’ll feel more like a slice of home.” She paused. “I only wonder how long we’ll need to stay here. I hope not for too long—I’d like to get back to the boutique, eventually…”
Twilight glimpsed the crumpled remains of her inanimate friend—her shut eyes completely oblivious to everything that had happened… and everything that was to come.
She told her, “No one can leave. Not until I know that each one of my friends is safe and the threat is gone. They will not catch me off guard again.”
“Try your best to remember what happened.”
Twilight was sitting at the head of the circular table in one of the castle’s upper chambers. Filling each immediate seat was her four remaining friends—a somber and weary expression filling every face. In less than a couple hours the threat they had only heard whispers of acted in the most vindictive way imaginable. Not only that, they had seen it up close and happening to one of their closest friends. Now they had been forced from their homes and placed under guard. And all from some enemy they knew not a single thing about.
“But we already went through this, Twilight,” Applejack started. “You know as much as the rest of us do and that’s all there is to it. Sorry to say so, but everything that the rest of us saw only came near the end. And, truthfully, I wish I could forget about every last second of it.”
In the half-day already spent at the castle, Twilight had heard the testimony from both members of the Wonderbolts and dozens of staff from the stadium—along with any spectators she could gather in short order. Every answer appeared close to the same. They had seen Rainbow Dash trotting around the complex, posing for pictures and receiving hugs in turn. Hundreds among hundreds were around that day, and not a single soul stood out about the rest. Sadly, their enemy didn’t seem to be as visually threatening as their past foes… which made them all the worse.
“I know, you guys,” Twilight eventually said, deflated. “I just can’t understand how no one could have seen anything. Dozens of ponies talked with Rainbow before the show, so any one of them could have been the one responsible. Sadly, all that does for us now is narrow our list of suspects to some pony—which dismally, isn’t in short supply in Equestria.”
Twilight slumped in her seat, bringing her hooves together to think.
“But… but there’s still…”
Fluttershy had spoken so timidly that she had barely caught a single word.
“What was that, Fluttershy?”
“Well… I…” It seemed as though Twilight’s renewed interest did little to calm her friend’s nerves. Sinking into her own chair, she finally said, “While we don’t know who exactly is doing this to everyone, they do claim to have a reason to, don’t they?”
Already Twilight felt something cold splash in her stomach.
Fluttershy continued, “You said in that first book, Twilight, that this pony wanted revenge for something done to them in the past. Something that… you had done to them. I’m not saying you’ve ever been capable of doing anything wrong to someone… but perhaps they only thought you did. Was there ever anything you could remember doing to someone? Maybe when you were really young? Or hadn’t even realized that you had?”
What replaced that cold chill in Twilight’s chest was a small burning ball that licked at her heart. Placing both hooves on the table, she got to her legs abruptly and said a little too loudly, “You think there’s a chance I somehow deserve what’s happening to me? Is that what you’re telling me? That I deserve this? Or what’s happening to all of my friends outside of my control?”
Fluttershy’s pupils shrunk while her face flushed a bright red. Slowly, she melted into the back of her chair until she was nearly under the table. She mumbled, “Well, you know, we were only thinking of ideas and I never really thought you were capable of something like that, maybe they only thought it was bad and you didn’t, but then again you’ve never done anything bad, so I’ll just go under the table now.”
Twilight put a hoof to her temple. “Fluttershy, please don’t. I’m sorry to snap at you. It’s just… it’s just I’ve never felt this on edge before—even surrounded by my friends. I couldn’t bear to see another one of you hurt. And the truth of the matter is… I honestly can’t think of anything I’ve done that could deserve this.” Slowly, she surveyed the rest of the group. The ones she would fight until the end for without hesitation. “As much as others might perceive me as, I am not the savior or hero that this stalker has made me out to be. I’ve only tried to do what’s right when I can and if I can. I’m not perfect, but I’m not a monster either. And no one deserves this type of wrath. So as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter if they have a good reason or not to inflict this type of harm. If they attack again, I will stop them, and I will make sure they never hurt another single pony again.”
Fluttershy watched as Twilight checked the windows of her overlarge room for a third and final time. The last time she encased it in a thin aura of magic, so in the small likelihood it was tampered with or shattered, it would raise one very large alarm. The same type of alarm placed on every one of her friend’s bedroom windows.
With that completed, Twilight sat on the bed beside her. “That should do it. No one from outside should be able to enter—and if they try, everyone in this entire castle will know.” She wrapped her in a hug, pulling oddly tight. “I’m so sorry to put you through this, Fluttershy. But after that Rainbow Dash incident, I couldn’t bear to see anything else like it. Inside and together we will be safe. And I will make sure of it.”
She released her from her warm embrace and smiled at her. Never had Fluttershy seen her friend so tired… or so anxious.
She asked casually, “You think all my animal friends are missing me yet?”
“Maybe tomorrow, Fluttershy. Already half of Ponyville agreed to check in on them and feed them routinely. If this thing lasts more than a week, then I might see them getting a little lonely.”
Hearing that this could all last more than a few days pained the pegasus to hear. “If it goes on any longer, Twilight, do you think I could bring my animals here, too? Do you think Celestia would have a problem with that?”
Twilight smiled again. It was a nice expression to find back on her face. “It might take a little convincing, but I’m sure she’d be all right with it. But it’s late and it’s been a terrible series of hours—for everyone. When we wake up tomorrow, we’ll start anew and decide as a group what our next step should be. Until then, just try and feel better and know I’m only a few doors away. If you can’t sleep, just come bug me. I’m sure I won’t be sleeping much anyway.”
With one final embrace the alicorn left the pegasus to herself, where under some of the largest and most elegant linens she had ever felt cover her body, drifted into sleep faster than she could remember.
In the middle of the night Fluttershy opened her eyes, a hint of smoke in the air, tickling at her nose. Her room was pitch-black, the bedside lamp a good leg’s reach away. Still under the soft mound of covers, she was tempted to turn to her other side to find sleep once more, only to realize there was a warm body pressed against her back, a single leg already wrapped around her forelegs and chest.
In an instant all the air in her lungs felt sucked out from her, as she immediately began to tremble.
“Shhhhh…” the pony cooed, obviously a younger mare. “Shhhhh….” Their other leg began to pet the top of her head, starting from the top and ending near her neck. It was oddly gentle, given whom this must have been wrapped around her. “I will not harm you tonight, Fluttershy. Tonight can be about dreams and better thoughts. You must be very sad from what’s happened to your friend and I can understand. I’m sorry to go to such great lengths to prove my worth, but… I have my reasons why I do what I do.”
The mare’s words did little to stop Fluttershy from visibly trembling, as a few small tears tickled the edges of her eyes. She managed to squeak out, “Please don’t hurt me! Please oh please don’t hurt me!”
The mare only continued to stroke the top of her head. “I already told you. I will not harm you tonight. I’ve only come to talk. I’ve only come to… set things in motion.” She let out a small sigh on the back of her neck, inhaled again to steel herself. “If there was one member of your little ragtag group that I wish hadn’t been included, I can only say I wish it was you. I’m sure that gives you little comfort, but I only thought you might like to know. You know… I…” The mare holding onto her quivered out another shaky breath, pressing her muzzle into the back of her head. Fluttershy felt the dull edges of a horn tickle her hair. “If things had turned out differently between Twilight and I, it might have been us as friends. Could you imagine it? All six of us? It’s so hard to believe sometimes.”
Even with such a small opening, Fluttershy went for it. What else was there to do at such a time? She whispered, “But we could still all be friends, you know? Sure we could. We’ll just put everything behind us and move on like nothing happened. You stop that spell you put on Rainbow Dash and maybe stop scaring me as badly as you are right now, and we could stop all of this! Everything would be so much better and no one would have to get hurt.”
Following her little outburst was a moment of silence. Fluttershy prepared for the worst and was surprised by the result.
The unicorn behind her hitched in a breath and Fluttershy felt something warm and wet drip into her mane. The mare’s breath on the back of her neck became ragged and unsteady.
“Of course you’d say that!” the mare told her bluntly. “Everything can be solved by friendship, can’t it? No. No, not this time. Not like that!” She buried her head deeper into her mane and shook it from side to side. “It’s too late for that. I’ve made my choice and if I can’t see this through until the end then there’s no point of having started at all. Just like the rest of you, I want to be remembered forever. When ponies speak of Princess Twilight Sparkle, they will soon mention my name along with hers. Over the years I have come to accept the course my life has taken—that I’m not the hero I could have been. Yet I think I can be the greatest at something else. I am sorry to say that you will not be around to witness Twilight’s change, but take comfort in that your punishment will be quick and you will not even understand what is happening to you. That will be my gift to you, Fluttershy. So take it willingly.”
As much as it hurt to do, Fluttershy had to try one final time. “You don’t have to do this, please. You can stop and we can help you. We all can. Whatever Twilight has done, she does not deserve this—none of us do. We only help those that need it. And we can help you too.”
A long time passed before the mare spoke again. At this point it sounded as though she had herself back under control, a large amount of emotion missing from her voice. “Not this time, I’m afraid.” The hoof rubbing along her mane fell away as she reached out for some unseen object near the edge of the bed. “Now before I go tonight, Fluttershy, I only need to you read something for me. It’s not very long and I even made it about rabbits for you. You like rabbits, don’t you? Here, let me give you some light to read with my horn.”
Twilight Sparkle wasn’t all that surprised to find her friend sitting in one of the empty stools that lined the castle kitchen’s long prep table. Fluttershy’s eyes were oddly focused on her resting forelegs. The light from the moon through the bare windows behind her cast the pegasus in an icy glow.
“Couldn’t sleep, I take it?” Twilight said as she took the stool next to her. Up close, she could finally glimpse the dryness of her friend’s lips, and the way her eyes barely moved at all. She backed away a few inches. “What happened, Fluttershy? Why do you look like that?”
She said softly, slowly, “She petted my mane.”
Twilight could only narrow her eyes as she felt her pulse quicken. “Who, Fluttershy? When?”
“She was in my bed. I don’t know how she got there, but she did. She’s a unicorn. And she says she doesn’t plan on stopping, even though I asked her to.”
Although Twilight knew exactly who her friend was referring to, she still had to get out those final words before she tore up the castle entire. “Who, Fluttershy? Who did this?”
Hauntingly, the hollowed out pegasus found her friend’s eyes—dried tears on both cheeks. “The mare that tried to kill Rainbow Dash and you.”
“Tell me how something like this could possibly happen!”
Twilight could barely contain her voice in the lull of the night as she watched Princes Celestia speak with a few guards before turning back to them. Only a few minutes had past since Fluttershy’s admission and Twilight had wasted not a single second. In Celestia’s upstairs chambers were all four of her friends, along with Princess Luna, who sat patiently in the corner. Unsurprisingly, she appeared the least tired of the bunch.
“I…” Celestia started, before trying again. “I don’t know, Twilight. Since you and your friends had arrived, the only ponies allowed in the castle had been employees and guards. If anyone besides those wanted in, they’d need clearance from one of the Princesses here.”
The answer did little to settle the alicorn. “Could they have teleported in? I thought we put up a barrier against that type of magic.”
“We did,” Celestia agreed. “And as far as I know it’s still active and secure. Meaning your stalker—this unicorn mare, as we believe her to now be—must have entered through other means.”
“So either she somehow snuck into one of the most protected places in all of Equestria, or she flat out works here?”
Twilight’s latest outburst silenced the room. All eyes were on her and the taller white alicorn.
Celestia turned away from her, a hint of her upmost regality slipping away. Twilight hated to see it—hated to be the one to be the cause of it, most of all—but at that moment she felt close to bursting with raw emotion.
Twilight said meekly, “I’m sorry to take it out on you, Princess. However she did it, we cannot be certain—not yet. It’s only that… It’s only that for the second time this monster has gotten close to one of my friends. And both times I hadn’t been around to stop them. I can’t help but feel as useless as I am.”
Celestia shook her head. “Don’t you dare think that, Twilight. Don’t you dare. All you’ve done since this began is try and look out for your friends. You care about them and in turn they care about you. This is only something we haven’t come across before.” She paused to look at each one in turn. “But at least this time your friend went away unscathed, and now we know more about our enemy than before—if what your friend has told us proves correct.” She focused on the yellow pegasus, propped in a thick chair with Rarity by her side. “Are you certain it was a mare that spoke with you tonight, Fluttershy? A unicorn mare?”
Fluttershy jerkily shook her head. “Yes. I didn’t see her but I felt her horn. And her voice was far too light to be anything else… I’m sure of it.”
Celestia nodded. “Then that’s enough assurance for me.”
Twilight took a step towards her. “What do you plan on doing then, Princess?”
Levitating a scroll from her desk, Celestia got to work on a list with a quill. “First, I’m going to speak with the head of the guards from each quadrant—see if any lower ranking guard of the day- or night-watch caught sight of a mare that doesn’t belong here. While that’s happening, I’m going to round up each mare guard and employee that is either still in the castle or lives here permanently. As much as it pains me to believe one of my own employees or guards may be your stalker, Twilight, I must admit I do not know them all by heart. And if your unicorn mare has planned this out for some time, as it seems she has, they may have secured themselves a role here sometime ago, in the off chance you and your friends would collect here once under hardship. She may think she has the upper hoof in this castle, but she does not. She is surrounded by guards and alicorns and the Elements of Harmony themselves. I truthfully believe tonight we will find our stalker and end things for good.”
Chaser, the overnight guard, shifted in his chair and propped both back legs on the counter. With a quick turn of the seat, he eyed the half dozen heavily armed guards standing adjacent down the hall, and thought for a moment how his job could actually be worse. While the rest had to stand, he could at least sit and watch the front doors to the castle—ones that had been locked shut for hours now and would remain that way until the sun came up and Celestia said it was safe to open up.
Still, even with a comfy seat in front of an overlong desk, the hours and hours of grinding night could wear away on any stallion. So what if he wanted to hurry the time along just a bit? Who would it hurt?
Carefully edging the magazine from one of the desk drawers, Chaser hastily glanced at the rest of his compatriots before making mental note that not a single eye was upon him. Laying the thin book on an upraised leg (sadly of Celebrity gossip and not much else), he got ready to kill a few minutes at least.
It had only been a few days ago when Celestia informed every guard that each piece of mail coming into the castle had to be search and then tested—meaning reading it aloud for a group to check if it might have been tampered with. Obviously nothing had come of it. Begrudgingly, that also included Chaser’s once-a-week rag magazines. But this stuff was printed by a company; one that had been doing so for years. How could someone curse a pre-made text?
Flipping open the first page and skipping the colorful index, Chaser was curiously surprised to find a small card fall out onto his lap. His first thought was to turn away and yell for the others, but without effort he had already read the first line. “Do not make a sound,” it read, and Chaser (of course) found he could not, although he might have wanted to. “I have something very important to tell you—something urgent.” With rising anxiety Chaser read what the rest of the card had to say, each line of text causing his blood to boil while small specks of white danced in his eyes.
The small card read: “It may be hard to believe, but you need to act fast. While you were gone from your post, the guards of the Canterlot castle stole away your children and wife. Right now they are being held in the basement and if you do not act soon they will be sliced to ribbons before the sun rises. The guards will of course deny what they have done, as will the alicorns above them, yet it is all true. Now it is up to you to save your loved ones. And the only way to do that is by forcibly removing every guard in the castle. Only then will your family be returned to you. I trust you will do what is right with this knowledge.”
When he finished the last word on the small card, Chaser looked back up and found his chin trembling while he had trouble breathing. The card made no sense at all and yet to him every word came out as overwhelmingly real. He could almost see each horrific action done to his family. How they had come to his home while he had been away in the castle, stringing them up before dumping them in a cart, laughing as they worked. He could even see his family in the basement now—cold, scared, waiting for him to come rescue them from their plight.
“How could…” he managed to say, a small part of his mind trying to clear up the card’s staggering impossibility. But when he turned to face the hall behind him with its many lined guards, did those thoughts crumble away. Were they not grinning right that very moment? As they stood with their spears by their sides? Did they know he had only moments ago found out about their plan? And only now how clear it all seemed to him.
They had taken pleasure it what they had done—in what they still planned on doing. No longer were these the guards Chaser would share a beer with at the end of each week; no longer were these the same upstanding stallions he had called friends until only minutes ago. They were sick, and they were monstrous. And now more than ever did they need to be put down.
Before he even got up from his comfy seat, Chaser knew he would not stop until every guard in that castle lay in a puddle of blood by his hooves. He had to save his family. He had to do it for them. He would do it for them.
From below his desk he plucked up his bronzed spear and tucked it into a loop on the side of his chest plate. It made it awkward to move, although he wouldn’t have far to go.
Halfway down the hall of stoic guards he came to a stop by the first one that spoke to him.
“You making a coffee run, Chaser? I’ll take one with milk, if you don’t mind.”
Chaser leaned towards the floor so his spear clanked loudly against the marble. Just the tip of the handle remained in his loop.
“You need help with that, Chaser?”
To the rest of the guards it had sounded like an honest question. To Chaser it only came out as near bubbling mockery. It made the next move far easier than it should have been.
He said openly, “Tell me where my family is.”
The guard by the wall fixed him an awkward smile. “What did you say?”
“I said tell me where my family is.”
The guard paused to glare at the stallion next to him, only to receive a shrug in return. Chaser decided he would be the next to go.
“What—” was all the guard got out, as Chaser lifted his spear with his teeth to slash through the air, directly under the motionless stallion’s chin. From the fine cut came a small river of red, which the guard gurgled on before placing both hooves across the widening gash. It would do little good.
As every other guard in the hall unsheathed their own weapons, Chaser only thought calmly, One down, several more to go.
With any luck, the sunrise would still be hours away.
It had only been a few days since Twilight had wronged me in the simplest of ways and for the briefest of times I had deliberated in which direction to go. I was not always evil, as I’m sure you’ll all come to call me when the dust settles and the bodies are removed. I still don’t consider myself some element of chaos; as good as I might wield it. It has been nothing more than a tool to me and I have changed the way I’ve used it, time and again. I have never been one to stick to basics.
In the several hours that had past since Twilight usurped me in one of the more precious moments of my life, I had consoled my overwhelming anguish with my colt friend from school. We had been friends. We had been such good friends and it would still take me time before I realized that our time together had been spent with each other and no one else. In my youthfulness I had thought nothing of it. The same level of concentration he must have spent deliberating what kind of cutie-mark was surely heading his way… and not the heavy wheel of some carriage rolling over his skull.
We can’t predict life, but we can prepare for it. Sure we can. Possibilities can be predicted. Possibilities can be planned to a tee. If you have the time, that is.
Days had floated by since my short time with Twilight and each hour spent with the only colt that would talk to me seemed to allow me to let go a single piece of my resentment. He had told me there were other things I could do—other avenues of life I could travel down. Since I had been born I had set my sights on one single thing. So knowing THAT IT COULD HAVE BEEN SO MUCH MORE THAN I COULD HAVE POSSIBLY DREAMED still hurt all the way into my bones. It was such deep-seeded hate—such rage. And yet my friend, with each reassuring word he spoke and with each small pat he gave me on the head, seemed to pull me away from that dark and bleak place.
“Why are you crying?” he had asked me that fateful day, in that lonely corner of the schoolyard. “You can’t still be sad about what happened. It wasn’t meant to be and that’s all. You’re still beyond talented—believe me.”
I shook my leaking head. My naïve little leaking head and told him they weren’t tears of sadness at all. They were of joy. And it was because of him that they were there.
When I told him this his cheeks flushed red and he awkwardly glanced around from side to side. I could tell he was touched as the edges of his mouth pulled up into a smile. The next thing I knew he was leaning down and nearly closing his eyes. I might have held most of my emotions in check even before I planned on what I would become, but at that time I still knew what a kiss looked like. My heart must have known it as well, for it came alive in my chest like the wings of a butterfly over fire.
I closed my eyes same as him and the next sound was not one of paradise but of laughter. Cruel, mocking, childish laughter. As I opened my eyes I found my childhood friend backed away a few paces—his flushed face now close to cherry red. His eyes darted from me to the trio of peers standing in a row in the yard. Small smiles tickled curious little faces. Mischievous eyes came alive as the intricate gears working away underneath began to turn.
Children have been known to speak their minds with little reason to care about the feelings of others. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always hated them with such a loathing resolve.
“You were about to kiss her?” the middle one said snidely. “She’s a loser! She’s nobody! She couldn’t even pass a single dumb test!”
My childhood friend debated which direction to go for all of ten seconds and in the years that had past since he’d been buried in the ground I think I’ve come to understand his decision. With just a few words he could have become stuck to me—everyone in our class regarding him the same way as me: weird, boorish, failure, loser. Or with even less words than that he could leave my side and deny everything between us. Join the rest of the normal world and forget about that odd mare that had been down on her luck during one of the most important moments in her life.
I have come to perceive the position I had placed him in and the relative ease it must have been to cast me aside. But at that tender age, I simply could not. It was merely another slight to add to my growing pile and my only feelings at that point were disparaging at best.
The next day in class, when my friend would not even grace the seat next to mine, I found a sudden interest in long and sharp objects in the room. I omitted the pen, the pencil as boring, before settling on the teacher’s thin utility knife she kept on the top of her desk. Ordinarily she only used it to cut large swatches of colored paper apart for arts and crafts, although that day I felt like cutting something else.
When I lodged the sharp end of the tool into my (old) friend’s ear with the use of my magical gifts he crumpled to the floor with blood already pouring down his face. I did not try and mask what I had done, so only moments later was I whisked away for proper punishment. Yet still, in even that short tenuous moment I had felt it. A feeling so great it overshadowed that disparaging one I’d been feeling for too long and brought something new into my body. Something warm. Something thrumming against my heart.
Maybe there actually were a few more things to do in this life, I had thought, as I watched the crimson pool of my own creation start to congeal on the classroom floor.
And to think it was only a taste.
Only a brief whiff of that wonderful feeling I would go on to crave.
Princess Celestia had barely set down her lengthy scroll before a stallion guard nearly collapsed through the doors. Panting desperately, he said, “There’s… fighting downstairs! Only… it’s one of our own guards! And he won’t stop screaming! He says that we’ve done something to him!”
Celestia did not blanch at the update but instead regarded the shocked stallion gravely. As the thunderous sounds of clanking metal and lunatic shouts found their way into the room from another part of the castle, the white alicorn allowed herself a brief moment to shut her eyes and think.
In just that small motion, Twilight knew they had both come to the same dim conclusion. It would all end tonight, and any chance of getting ahead of their stalker had been painfully pulled away from them. From the shouts and yells and grunts of pain from downstairs, the end to all this was not to be as silent as reading a book unto death.
Twilight turned to her friends, all eyes already on her. “Take Fluttershy to Rainbow Dash’s room and stay there. Lock the door and no matter what you hear, don’t come out. This pony has hurt too many already and that stops tonight. I’ll come for you all when it’s safe.”
Applejack raised a hoof anxiously. “But Twilight! We can help! This isn’t just about you, you know. She’s made a death wish on all of us!”
Twilight shook her head. “I know Applejack, but at the moment I don’t care. If they want me then they can have me. Not my friends. Not anymore. But I think I’m needed downstairs.”
A curt nod in Celestia’s direction was all it took to get her moving. Following close behind was a wordless Princess Luna—determination already set in a scowl.
Twilight had honestly never been so happy to be surrounded by such powerful figures.
The gore splattered body of a guard pony lay crumpled against the last few steps of the curving stairway. Long gashes across his chest and face told Twilight all she needed to know. Quickly the loud and sharp sounds found her ears. Near the middle of the hall were three more guards desperately trying to surround a single blood-soaked stallion—one who was hurrying around in senseless like spasms. Already he had been cut in more than a dozen places, a large wound above his brow leaking heavily into an eye. It appeared as though he felt not a thing, as he rhythmically clashed with the remaining guards, spear held tight in his teeth.
Twilight did not have time to count the far too still bodies that littered the castle corridor.
Dropping his spear to one leg, the murderous stallion drove his shoulder into a wavering guard. Crashing into a wall, bits of plaster fell to the floor.
With his mouth free to scream, the attacking guard yelled, “Where is my family? What have you done with them?”
He left little time for answers. He grabbed his dripping spear again to swing behind him, clashing into another guard’s chest plate and sending him reeling to the slippery floor. A second later that same spear was coated in a thin purple aura, before being delicately plucked from his mouth and flung towards the entrance of the castle.
His eyes bulged at his missing weapon. “No! You can’t!”
He lunged for a fallen sword on the floor but that was when Luna flung the stallion against a wall with her horn. The instant he shrugged off the hit he scrambled to get back to his hooves, only for the combined magic of all three alicorns to tightly hold him in place. Regardless, he struggled against them as if he was about to be dipped in a pool of acid.
He hollered, “What’s wrong with you? You can’t do this! I need to finish with them so I can save them all! You damn monsters! Give them back to me! Give them back!”
Luna cut a quick glance to her sister, prompting her to start a dialogue (if one truly could). Celestia knelt down beside the flailing guard, bits of his spit dangerously close to dotting her coat. “Who do you believe has taken your family?” she asked calmly.
“You did! You did! And don’t you dare deny it!”
Celestia took a moment, appearing to ponder which direction to go. Twilight thought she chose the easier of the two. “Where do you think I’m keeping your family?”
“In the basement! They need me! They’re waiting for me!”
“What do you think I want with them?”
This time the fighting guard did more than shout in her face. Welling up a ball of phlegm in his mouth, he spat on the side of her cheek, before it ran down to spatter on the floor. Celestia, meanwhile, appeared unobserving of the slight.
He finally said, “You’re going to slice them up! You’re going to kill them! Every one of them!” He shook his head forcefully from side to side, banging it into the wall. “Don’t you deny it! Don’t you dare!”
Casually, Celestia got back to her hooves and flicked off the excess spit from her cheek. “Luna,” she said, “put that guard to sleep and make sure he doesn’t come out of it for some time.”
Luna crossed over and placed both hooves to the struggling stallion’s temples. Far stronger than even the most well-trained guard, she held onto him like a vice. Closing her eyes, Twilight watched as the red-stained guard first stopped shouting altogether, before his eyelids drooped. Finally with his eyes completely shut, did his legs stop thrashing about. Letting go of the magic barrier against him, he slouched to the floor to begin snoozing loudly.
“So what does this all mean?” Luna asked as she stood. “That he’d been coerced into believing we were planning on killing his family somehow? In a basement that doesn’t even exist in the castle?”
Celestia hadn’t taken her eyes from the guard. “It appears so. Either Twilight’s stalker has physically hypnotized the guard, or more likely made him read one of her cursed texts. I don’t know how yet, but I will find out. In the meantime we need to get the injured guards to the medical wing and seclude this guard before he comes to. If we’re lucky, her spell might wear off by then.”
Now that the present danger had been quieted, Twilight surveyed the immensely damaged area. The bodies, the blood, the shattered armor and battered weapons. She wanted to feel sad for so much senseless loss. She wanted to nearly cry because she soon realized all this destruction was somehow still all about her. And yet covering everything was an overwhelming feeling of hate—so pure and so raw it almost felt like static in her limbs.
A few more summoned guards were standing by the entrance. One of them glimpsed passed the glass doors and then to the alicorns in the hall. “There’s something going on outside, Princess. And I think it’s getting closer.”
From beyond the clear glass and into the endless dark beyond, Twilight could finally make out the small pin-prinks of light, steadily growing closer and larger. Already she thought she knew what was coming.
Once outside in the cool night air, Twilight Sparkle hovered a few meters to stare at the dozens upon dozens of lit torches dotting the darkness and enveloping the castle. They were either held in the mouths of ponies or held aloft with a horn. The glow of each small fire illuminated the set and determined eyes of each marching mare or stallion. Those that weren’t holding torches (and even some that were) held onto makeshift weapons that must have been lying around the house. Rake. Broom. Cleaver. Fire Poker. Sledgehammer. Scythe. Even the select few that had nothing but sticks in their teeth made good by sharpening its edges to a fine point.
When the mass of gathered ponies touched the outskirts of the castle grounds, Celestia’s rigid voice rang clearly to all. “You are not allowed in the castle at this time. You are all now trespassing and must return to your homes. Whatever may have brought you here is—”
“Where are they? What have you done with them?”
A shriek from the crowd, following by the outmost support by the rest.
“They won’t tell us! They’ll only lie! We need to get in there NOW!”
Twilight felt air flick at her mane as a rock came dangerously close to hitting her. In the moonlit gloom of the night, she hardly saw it coming. She lowered back to the ground to stand near Celestia.
“They believe the same thing that guard does,” she said breathlessly. “My stalker’s made them all believe the same thing—sent out some hypnotic invitation. What are they going to do when they don’t find anyone inside? They could seriously injure someone. Especially themselves.”
Celestia listened while scanning the faces of the approaching throng. “I will have to agree with you, Twilight. Only now there’s far too many for Luna to possibly put to sleep in a safe manner, and now I believe either option available to us might only antagonize them more. If we let them in the castle, they’ll tear apart everything inside, including any pony that gets in their way. If we deny them access, it’ll only confirm what they’ve been led to believe—that we’re somehow holding onto ponies they know inside.”
Celestia ducked out of the way as a lit torch flew over her. Twilight did the same, crouching against the ground. “So what do we do?” she shouted.
More rocks and heavy objects collided with the sides of the castle, some thrown, some levitated. Windows were smashed and glass debris sprinkled across the ground below.
Celestia created a small bubble around herself and Twilight. “Luna and I will create a field around the castle, keeping them out. As long as we concentrate, it should be enough. But that still leaves your stalker somewhere inside. If you can get to her, you can get her to stop her spells. I have a feeling this time she’ll allow you to find her. I don’t believe she’s hiding anymore.” She turned to her sister, who was busily blasting away thrown objects with her horn. “We do it now, Luna!”
Luna silently nodded and together they raised a protective barrier that started from the middle of the lawn all the way around the castle. The first few gathered ponies bounced into its unyielding side before becoming angrier than before. The same tools they had carried with them they now leveled into the shield. Not a single blow did noticeable damage. Those that laid claim to not a single weapon, instead bashed against it with their hooves.
“Go, Twilight. While there’s still time.”
“Thank you, Princess.”
Twilight wasted not a moment more and galloped into the castle. More than a hooful of guards passed her by as they went outside to help (as little good it would do). Gingerly avoiding the mess in the hall before the stairs, she bounded up and instantly went in the direction of her friends. That was when a thin wisp of smoke suddenly appeared behind her, before a thin set of legs wrapped around her chest.
“Hello again,” the unicorn said, before teleporting them away.
Rarity was oddly the only mare to scream out loud as a heavy rock came crashing through the window. Luckily, it merely clipped the edges of Rainbow Dash’s bed, pushing it off-kilter but hitting no one. A sprinkling of glass followed and instantly Applejack got to bucking the bed away from the gapping hole. While Rarity delicately tried removing as many pieces of glass from Rainbow’s covers, she heard Pinkie Pie exhale at whatever was going on outside.
“Holy-moly, girls!” she trumpeted. “There’s like... a hundred ponies outside! And by the looks of it they don’t look all that happy. Was there some late-night event scheduled here that I didn’t even know about?”
Forgoing good manners, Rarity lightly pushed Pinkie from the window to stare at the castle grounds below. Hundreds of ponies stood in an angry mass. Breakable objects clattered to all sides of the castle. None, thankfully, came close to their window.
Applejack joined them. “We should get down there! I guarantee this is just another trap from that lunatic mare. Even with three Princesses, I think they’d still need our help.”
Rarity pursed her lips. “As much as I’d hate to go against Twilight’s wishes for the second time, I’m inclined to agree. But we still can’t leave Rainbow Dash alone. Fluttershy could—” Rarity turned to find only Pinkie Pie left in the room, rigorously bouncing to get a better view out the window. The door to the castle had been left open a crack.
Applejack noticed. “Where’d Fluttershy go?”
“I hope not far,” she said, before glaring at Pinkie. “Pinkie, stay here and look out for Rainbow Dash. Applejack and I will go look for Fluttershy. It shouldn’t take long.”
Before the pink earth pony could even agree, the pair scrambled out the door.
The moment they landed in the center of the throne room, Twilight unfurled her wings while expanding a thick band of energy. The mare holding her released easily enough and landed softly on one of the long carpets covering the floor. Slowly she regained her composure, lifting a stray piece of hair from her eyes.
The unicorn mare was light-green with orange eyes. Her mane was yellow with hints of something brighter underneath. It only took a moment for Twilight to glimpse her over and even in the gloom of the unlit throne room did she come away with one sickening word: normal. The pony that had nearly killed her and her friends; the one that had tricked others into doing her dirty work; the one that was still planning on bringing destruction to everyone around her… looked as normal as could be. A tad thinner than her. Same height as her. The only noticeable difference was from her eyes—desperate and longing, sad and tired.
The unicorn tried for a meek smile before giving up. Almost like a smile one would give an old acquaintance in the market place.
“You?” Twilight blurted, her voice ringing in the tall open space. “It’s been you this whole time?”
The unicorn nodded. “Yes.”
Twilight took a step towards her. “You tried to murder me. You tried to murder my friends. And now you’ve unleashed Celestia-only-knows what on this place!”
“Yes. I have.” The unicorn spoke near monotone, her eyes hardly blinking from the alicorn.
“Why? What do you have against me? What could I have possibly done to you?”
The unicorn sat comfortably on the ground. “I did it to prove a point.”
Twilight shook her head, teeth gritted in anger. “No more drivel. No more notes hinting at things. You wanted me and here I am. Are you planning on killing me then or is your little spell-induced ‘army’ outside supposed to finish the job for you?”
The unicorn ignored her questions. “Do you believe your friends will last the night, Twilight? Under your protection? Thus far I’ve gotten to everyone close to you and only when I reveal myself, do you finally have your answer.” She said slowly, “You are failing, Princess. You’re not doing as well as you used to. Do you not recognize me?”
Twilight huffed out some air. “I don’t recognize you and I don’t care. I don’t want to talk to you. I want to help my friends and protect this castle. So you need to stop your spell on that crowd right now.”
“That’s it?” The unicorn almost looked confused. “You were going to defeat me in a battle of words? Do I need to remind you of what I planned on doing to your pegasus friend? What I am still doing to her upstairs? Do I need to tell you of what I’ve done to your little pink-and-yellow friend? Even she is not exempt from me. None of you—”
A thin ray of purple magic hit the unicorn in the chest, scraping her across the polished floor. With a thud she hit the adjacent wall. Twilight had to fight herself from striking her again.
Princess Celestia tried to tune out every hateful slur shouted her way. Closing her eyes, she focused her attention on the thin shield that guarded the castle along with her sister. A few beads of sweat dotted her brow and she glimpsed at Luna to check on her wellbeing. The blue alicorn, in an almost meditation-like pose, seemed to be fairing the magical strain better than her.
“Luna!” she called to her. “We can’t keep this up all night. Already they’re starting to hurt themselves trying to get in.”
She had seen with upmost horror as one of the larger stallions in the group broke their flimsy weapon against the barrier, only to come back to it with their hardened hooves—hooves that were already cracked and starting to bleed. Against an almost invisible wall, the floating streaks of blood became a gruesome sight indeed.
“What do you purpose?” her sister asked, heavily concentrated on the task.
“We need to move them somewhere safe,” she answered. “Some place where they won’t be able to free themselves. They’d still be under the spell but at least it would put them a distance from the castle. With them gone, it would allow us to help Twilight inside.”
“Where should we send them?” Luna sounded oddly strained.
Celestia motioned to a nearby quivering guard, awestruck by the group of hateful ponies only paces away. Nevertheless he came to her side.
“Princess?” he stammered out.
“I need you to gather as many pegasus guards that are on duty or in the castle and bring them here. Once we’re ready, we’ll open a small hole at the top of the shield to allow them through. After that, we’ll hold the barrier until we’re sure we’ve given them enough time.”
“Enough time for what?”
“I’ll tell that to them.”
Fluttershy could not believe the string of bad luck she was having. Dozens of times already she should have caught the small bunny. Since when had he gotten so fast?
Dashing around another corner, she hurriedly dived to the floor, sure that she would claim him. Nothing but air and dust. She turned to stare down the hall as the small white animal hopped through another open doorway and up a winding set of stairs.
“Angel Bunny, come back!” she called, although by that point she didn’t think he was listening.
With little thought given to just how her favorite pet managed to get all the way from her cottage to the castle and inside, Fluttershy hurried after him and up the stairs.
Up and up and up.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
The unicorn sat up against the wall, a hint of red on her lips. She didn’t seem all that surprised by the sudden attack. She said somberly, “I don’t think that’s true, Twilight. I think you’d like to do a great many things to me. And that’s all right. That’s the reason I’m here, actually.”
Twilight approached her again. “Stop your spells. End them all, and then we’ll talk.”
The unicorn disagreed. “No. I think I’ll keep them in place. They will be necessary for what’s to come. But regardless, you and I still need to converse. So you can either fling me into another wall and we can have the same conversation over there… or we can end things right here.”
Twilight could hardly keep her nerves from shaking. “I can’t promise where you’ll end up… depending on the conversation.”
The mare tried for a smile again, the hint of blood on her lips creating something close to ghoulish. “That’s okay. It’s to be expected.” She placed both hooves atop the other. “Do you remember the day you passed your entrance exam? When you hatched that little friend of yours, Spike, and became Celestia’s personal protégé?”
None of Twilight’s anger lifted from her. Instead, she only felt a new layer of unease.
The unicorn continued: “Eighty percent of applicants that want to attend Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns are accepted after their test. Not a bad number. And not only had you been accepted given your outstanding magical abilities, but then the largest ruler in the land decided you were far more talented than the rest. All from one… little… test.”
Twilight found she couldn’t let this go on much longer. She said thickly, “I studied for that test. And while I may have had trouble completing it, I deserved getting accepted. What happened with my encounter with Celestia was by chance and don’t you dare think I’m not thankful for it every single day I’m with her. It’ll always be a moment I’ll treasure forever.”
The unicorn nodded. “I’m sure you will. But there’s one glaring, multi-colored fact that you’re forgetting.”
“Rainbow Dash’s Sonic Rainboom,” Twilight answered evenly. “I haven’t forgotten about it.”
“Do you think you would have passed your test without it?”
“I don’t know. I’d like to think so, but it’s something I’m not completely sure of. It’s just another thing that I’m thankful for. Without it I might not have passed or gotten my cutie-mark that day at all… along with the friends that Celestia introduced me to years later.”
The unicorn nodded slowly, seeming to listen. “I’m not surprised you don’t recognize me. It was on that day we met—briefly, I’ll grant you. But it’s a moment I’ve come to ponder about more than I’d like to. I would also call it a moment that shaped the outcome of my life… a moment’s that’s led up to the events of tonight. I’m sure you’d consider that day close to the same, only in a far warmer light.” She paused, sighing. “I was next to you in line. Behind you, in fact. You were as nervous as me and together we tried to chat away our apprehension, as little good it would do. When we moved up in line, you peered through the glass to the examination room and couldn’t believe your parents hadn’t arrived yet. You panicked. I tried to tell you it would all be okay, but you were not listening. You said you needed time. You said you needed them to be there for you.”
The unease in Twilight’s chest blossomed out as she slowly put the blurry pieces in place. They came sluggishly and with minor detail and yet each scene slowly found its way to her. She had remembered her test well enough—had told it to so many she had completely lost count. The party her parents had thrown that night was another memory she could never forget. But the nerve-wracked few minutes before the test she blotted out from her mind. Not due to embarrassment or any such thing. Only due to lack of interest.
Twilight shook her head. “No. No, please tell me there’s more to this than that.”
The unicorn appeared to enjoy the lackluster reveal. “You asked me to go in front of you—give your parents time to arrive. I did, and I failed my test. Nerves got the better of me and my mind went blank. I’ve come to realize I work better with patience and strategy. How do you think I felt, Twilight? In tears and in one horrible state, watching through the glass as you entered the room and struggled just as I had, only to be saved by some fluke outside the window. That could have been me and since that day that’s all I’ve thought about. I could have been the savior of Equestria—an alicorn with loving friends with the sun beating down on my special tiny head every day.”
Twilight said slowly, “I couldn’t have known what was to happen. That was fate and you need to deal with it… not try and blame it on others. There’s no way you would have known if you would have passed at all, Sonic Rainboom or not. You and I are not the same and just because you were denied that chance on that day does not mean you would have lived the same life as mine. I have my friends and my family by my side because they want to be there. They choose to. Do you honestly think you would have been able to keep those friends if they were introduced to you?” She paused. “I know you need help. I know you need a very large amount of it. But spending your entire life believing in a dream that might not have happened at all due to simple chance has rotted you to the core. And now you only want to punish me for something I had no idea I did—for something I don’t deserve in the slightest.”
She tried to meet the unicorn’s eyes, only to find them focused on the floor. “You could have been great, regardless of what school you went to. The magic you’ve performed—as horrible as it is—still takes more talent than most. All that hate. All that anger. All that time spent miserable and blaming others for the way your life has gone… what has it gotten you? In your mind, how does tonight end? With my death? Along with the death of every one of my friends?”
The unicorn finally appeared interested. “After tonight, I will find myself in the thoughts and minds of every pony in Equestria. After tonight, when they think of you they will then think of me—forever and always. I will become known as the first one to push you over that edge. I will make you do something you never thought you’d need to. And you will have no choice in the matter.”
After desperately charging into a dozen and more empty rooms and nearly colliding with an equal number of guards, Rarity and Applejack took a breath to witness the growing commotion outside. Celestia and Luna continued to hold back the small army of townsfolk, desperately trying to carve their way through the magical shield. Although Rarity never thought they could possibly breach a barrier created by the most powerful alicorns in existence, the harm they were causing themselves and the others around them trying to get in was enough to cause worry. Cuts and bruises and bloodied muzzles appeared in fine display through the mass. Bloodied and cracked hooves stamped uselessly against the invisible wall.
As appalling as the sight outside was, the fact that neither mare had come across—
“Fluttershy!” Applejack yelled too close to her ears, making her jump.
Rarity glared in the same direction and was tempted to scream in turn. Craning her neck to get a clear view, the unicorn could only gape as she watched her timid yellow-and-pink friend precariously balance near the edges of the castle roof. Already a single hoof was tempting to dip over the side.
“What’s she doing?” Applejack asked.
“It looks like she’s…” Rarity strained to watch more. Leaning out the open window, it almost seemed as though Fluttershy were chasing after some hidden object on the roof, every few trots sending her closer to the brink.
Rarity said, heated, “It doesn’t matter. We need to get to her now!”
Twilight could hardly believe what she was hearing. Her mind was already reeling from lack of sleep and constant worry, and now it had all amplified in the last couple minutes… all with a few tense words.
“Kill me, Twilight,” the unicorn repeated, slowly rising to her hooves. She pointed to her chest. “Hit me with everything you got and end this nightmare, once and for all. It’s so simple. It’s so effortless. All the pain I’ve caused you comes to an abrupt end. All the sorrow. All you need to do is end my life tonight.”
“I don’t kill,” Twilight said bluntly. “I never have and I never plan on doing so.”
“Don’t you understand how few options you have, Princess? Think of it like this: If I continue to breathe of my own volition tonight, your comatose pegasus friend remains under my spell; same with every scraping civilian outside. Sooner or later they’ll get in and tear every guard and pony inside apart. You can stop them if you’d like, but you’d more than likely have to kill them in turn for your troubles. And aren’t you forgetting about sweet and innocent Fluttershy? It hasn’t been long since I’ve spoken with her. She even read from one of my personal books—the same type that you read from.”
A harsh glow erupted around Twilight’s horn as the unicorn was slowly shoved against the wall; the raw power from the alicorn causing her cheek to squish against her barred teeth.
Twilight shouted, “What did you do to her?”
“I merely sent her on an errand.” Her mashed lips caused her words to slur. “At the moment she’s chasing rabbits that don’t exist. On the roof. And worst of all, that poor pegasus forgot how to fly. Even though she won’t understand she’s falling at all.”
Twilight screamed in rage and fury, lifting the unicorn’s head from the hard wall to crack back down against. Creating a spider-web of crevices and blood on the wall, she levitated her to the middle of the throne room, careening her to the floor with a sickening thud. It was disparaging to note how badly Twilight wanted to continue the onslaught.
“Stop the spells!” she yelled. “Every one of them!”
The unicorn held up a leg, gasping for air. “I won’t. And you won’t beat me into submission. The only way to save your friends is by ending my life… and I’m sure by now the thought’s become more than tantalizing. So do it. Do it now and let’s carve our names together in stone forever.”
Twilight’s horn shinned again, dragging the unicorn to her hooves. “And what do you get out of it? Death? There are thousands of ways you could have achieved that before tonight! You didn’t need to attack me to claim your reward.”
The unicorn spat at her through bloodstained teeth. “The moment you kill me is the moment I stop being your enemy and become your greatest rival. Your foes in the past have either been defeated by love or by friendship or from rainbows in the sky. I will not be slain like that tonight and I will not yield.” She held a hoof to her chest again. “Right here. One shot and make it count. You took my best chance of becoming a hero in this world. I only wanted to be something bigger and better than normal. I only wanted to be remembered for all time. If I can be the one that pushes the great Twilight Sparkle over the edge—causes her to take a life for the very first time—it would all have been worth it.”
Tears were nearly brimming in Twilight’s eyes. “You’ve lost your mind long ago.”
The unicorn smiled heinously. “I’m sure they’ll come to say that. And once they find my well-placed journal, I’m sure they’ll go on to say a lot more. Many will think like you; that the gears in my head had fallen from their axis. But I’m sure some will think that I might have still been worth saving; that I led a troubled life and deserved redemption. I won’t be alive to hear of such things. But you will. And you will live forever as something new. A murderer. Same as me.”
Combined with her sister’s magical strength, Celestia could have left the barrier covering the castle up and secure for hours more. But that was not what was making her uneasy. It was instead the mass of clamoring and barbaric ponies only steps away from her.
“Let me in there! Let me in there, you damn monsters!”
Most of them were yelling at the top of their lungs, shoving the individual in front of them to get closer to the castle. The ponies in front smashed at what they could and came away bloodied and broken. Even in more pain than Celestia could imagine, they continued to hammer on, small bones in their muzzles snapping while clipped teeth fell to the grass.
She thought she had waited long enough.
“Luna,” she called to her sister. “When I give the command, we need to concentrate our magic and teleport every pony away from here. All to the same location.”
Luna regarded her wearily. “Won’t they only come back? And attack whoever gets in their way?”
Celestia only hoped that what she was about to say next held true. “Earlier, I sent every pegasus in the castle to the stadium in Ponyville. If we’re lucky, we’ve given them enough time to set up a tarp above the building as well as seal shut each door. After we have teleported them there, we will open a lone gate to allow a single few out at a time. Together with the guards, we should be able to hold them long enough to bound them or put them to sleep.”
She could tell her sister was uneasy about the idea.
Celestia added, “At least then they would be trying to get out, instead of in. And with a bottleneck in place, we could control their movements. It will be slow, Luna, but I believe it to be the safest means possible.”
Although Luna barely moved her chin, Celestia knew she had her agreement. Steeling herself, Celestia shouted, “On the count of three! One… two—”
The cool night wind nipped at her stylized mane. Her teeth chattered together noisily, not completely from the cold. The snug rope around her waist helped stave off a bit of her nervousness, but not nearly enough to feel calm walking around the top of the Canterlot roof.
“Fluttershy, dear!” Rarity called calmly, eyeing each slow step with a lot more care than the pegasus. “Come over to me, please. Then we’ll go back inside where it’s warmer… and lower.”
Fluttershy seemed to not hear a word as she continued to chase the rabbit that only she could see. It must have been running in steady circles, looping closer and closer to the edge of the covering. Even though she had almost slipped a number of times already, the pegasus’ wings were still held tight against her body. Instantly, Rarity knew her friend’s encounter with their stalker had done more than scare the poor creature, and here was the proof.
Rarity turned to the open window where Applejack held tight to her lasso, a large grit of determination causing her to grimace. Rarity whispered over the wind, “I’m going to grab her. Be ready. I don’t know if it’s possible to spook her or not in whatever state she’s in, but I don’t want to take that chance. I’ll try and take it nice and slow.”
Applejack’s eyes bulged while she took in a breath. “I don’t recon you’re going to have that chance. Get her, Rarity! Now!”
Rarity spun on the uneven roof to glimpse at what she was hollering about. Fluttershy had stopped her lazy circles well away from the roof’s edge, now facing the drop with avid interest.
She heard her friend say, “There you are, Angel bunny! Now don’t you move again!”
As Fluttershy galloped forwards with her head down, Rarity did the same, hooves scraping awkwardly against helter-skelter shingles. She leapt for her floating tail and missed it by a few inches. Fluttershy kept going until her first hoof trotted into nothingness. With one last jump, Rarity lunged ahead with legs outstretched, uncaring that she had overshot the lip of the roof and was now staring at the ground, dozens of meters below.
Gripping hard enough to make her legs shake, Rarity gripped the still trotting Fluttershy’s tail and yelled for Applejack to hoist them back up. When her legs felt on the verge of giving out, Rarity angrily shoved a batch of pink tail into her mouth to lighten the load.
Inch by heavy inch they were slowly heaved back onto the roof, where once there she and Applejack tied their running friend into a neat bow before carrying her back inside.
Feeling some blood rush back into her body from her flushed face, Rarity kissed the first marble floor she found.
“You won’t get the end you’re looking for from me,” Twilight said, regarding the unicorn for the first time not with loathing but with something else. Sadness? It was likely. As much as she knew she was a far different pony than the one bleeding in front of her, there were still parts of her that sounded oddly at home. She was a gifted unicorn to be sure, same as her. The major difference was that she had clung to a single disparaging moment in her life in an attempt to cloud out everything else. Twilight, as fortunate as she was, could not remember a time when she had been beaten to such lowly a place. Sure, her and her friends fought trouble countless times a year, both large and small, but those had always resolved themselves in a matter of days at most.
How would Twilight have acted if she had failed to save someone entirely? It had never happened, but it always could have. She could have failed at the Canterlot wedding with her brother; the same could have happened at the Crystal Empire or even during her first encounter with Nightmare Moon. Every time she had triumphed above them all, yet how would she have acted if she lost just a single time? Would she continue past it and move on? Or would it fill her thoughts like some darkened gas, toxic and deadly?
All this unicorn wanted was someone to blame for the way things had worked out for her. She had chosen a moment in time that she thought would have been her life’s turning point but hadn’t been. More than anything, she wanted to prove herself better than her—possibly better than everyone. Even if that meant a field of death and destruction left in her wake.
Without a doubt, this was clearly the oddest pony Twilight had ever met in her life.
“What more must I do to you?” the unicorn pleaded. “If you do not end this tonight then I will only come back until you finish this. I will not go out with a whimper! I will be inked in history books until the end of time!”
“I think you’ll find yourself somewhere in the middle of those two places.”
The unicorn barred her teeth. “You can’t save everyone, Princess! Someone will be hurt tonight! Someone will die because of what I’ve started!”
From the bare window on the other side of the room, Twilight watched as the steady glow of the bright shield outside faded from existence. When she did not hear the sudden sounds of anarchy and anguish, she found she could breathe normally again.
Twilight shook her head. “But there’s something you’re forgetting I have… something that you do not. I have friends. And I have family. Ponies that care about me and my wellbeing and my feelings and everything that comes along with me. Right now, I’m sure they’re doing what they can to stop your spells and I’m going to trust in their judgment. They may not have believed in your depravity before, but I’m sure they do now.”
The unicorn moaned aloud as specks of tears dotted the corners of her eyes. “I’ve worked too hard for this… I don’t want to exist in this world as some normal pony.”
Twilight almost wanted to laugh. “I don’t think anyone will ever consider you normal. And there’s one more thing you’re forgetting.” She trotted closer to her, placing a hoof on her shoulder. “You’re not the only one that can teleport.”
A burst of energy enveloped them both as they disappeared from the room.
The fresh air from outside felt like a gift to her lungs. Twilight surveyed the castle lawn and found only a sprinkling of guards standing idle. She turned to the other side and glimpsed each one of her friends save for Rainbow Dash, huddled together. Fluttershy, obviously bound by Applejack’s rope, was lying on her back as she attempted to trot in the air.
Twilight quivered out a breath.
“Get up! Get up now!”
It didn’t take long for the guards to notice the one mare that didn’t belong. Six of them had their swords and spears near her head, as she silently climbed to her hooves. Staring at the ground, her tears dried on her cheeks.
Heavy chains were called for and a few guards scurried after them. Twilight didn’t know if they’d be necessary or not.
Twilight’s original idea had been to transfer as much magic from the unicorn as she could—hold onto it before she could try something reckless. Yet after viewing the visibly broken mare—and knowing most of her advantage came from planning and not full on battle spells—she abruptly changed her mind.
Applejack watched as they carried the chained unicorn away. “That was her? Little ol’ her did all of this?” Twilight wasn’t sure if she sounded pissed or impressed. “I see the angry mob’s taken care of, Twilight, but what about the spell on Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash?”
“When the Princesses come back, I’ll have Luna place her in the deepest sleep possible. If we put her down far enough we should be able to lose that connection, and it should unhook them both. And if it doesn’t, we’ll find another way to get her to stop.”
Applejack removed her sweat soaked hat. “Why did she do it, Twilight? What did she want?”
The alicorn thought for a moment. “She wanted to die tonight by my hooves. To prove she could be someone to be remembered. She thought I had slighted her in the past for something miniscule, and then formed an identity around it. She wanted to be the opposite of me. She thought I was the ‘savior’ of Equestria and in-turn wanted to be the villain of the piece; someone that couldn’t be left alive in the slightest.”
Applejack had fewer words for the mare. “She sounds like a nut-bar to me.”
Twilight sighed. “In a way, Applejack, you’re right. But imagine if someone cut in front of you while entering a building, locking the door behind them. Imagine they hadn’t even known they had done it. Now you live outside in the cold, while a window allows you a glimpse of the pony that had stepped ahead of you, toasty and warm, happy and content. Some would shrug it off and move to the next open door. Others… like her… would revolve their lives around it.”
Applejack fidgeted with her hat again. “So… nut-bar, then?”
Not feeling the need to discuss the topic further, Twilight turned and gathered with the rest of her friends. Soon the night would end and the morning sun would glimpse over the horizon. Honestly, she couldn’t think of a better sight to behold. Or a nicer feeling than warmth.