Sunshine Forever

by Nug TWH

First published

Ponyville suffers one of its worst droughts as Celestia battles her inner demon - Daydream Flare.

Follow the mane six as they face the harshest Summer in Equestria's history. Meanwhile,
Celestia faces an inner demon that threatens to turn her into a tyrant and destroy natural order with eternal day.
I will release weekly updates as regularly as possible. Thanks for reading!

Cover image by discordthetrollest, used with permission. Go to his site and shower him with praise here:

http://discordthetrollest.deviantart.com/

Part I: Long Days

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Sunshine Forever

Part I: Long Days

As she stared at the late sunset, Applejack slowly removed her hat, wiped off her face, and sighed. Another long hot day, she thought as she found a place under the comfort of a nearby apple tree in her family's orchard. And they just seem to keep on getting longer and hotter, she mused while sitting down. Summer had arrived, which meant Celestia provided more daylight for Applejack and her family to work with during Applebuck Season. Now, night was so late that Granny Smith and Apple Bloom were already long in bed before the sun set.

Applejack looked off into the distance as she sat snugly between two buckets of red apples with her hat placed on her stomach. Her back lay propped against a fruitless tree. She could see Big Macintosh in the distance among the rows of ripened apple trees and an auburn sun which was just now beginning to relent in the late evening.
Maybe, she hated to admit to herself as she rubbed her aching knees, maybe planting so many new rows last year was a little too ambitious. She had been working hard all week trying to gather all of the family's apples before insects or some natural disaster took them first. Sitting there, she realized that her knees hadn't hurt so badly since she was just a filly learning how to properly buck a tree.

After a few minutes of peace she began to relax and allowed her mind to wander to matters other than work. She thought of family reunions, competitions, her friends, and eventually she allowed herself to think of nothing at all but sleep. And just as Applejack's eyelids began to sink shut she was startled by a sudden rustling and a deep voice.

"Come on AJ, wake up. Let's get back home," Big Mac said as he approached his sister towing a cart stuffed full with apples. Applejack was slightly startled, though her brother didn't seem to notice. "We'll just have to play catch up tomorrow, I reckon," his worried voice said as he stared off at nothing in particular in the horizon and waited for Applejack to rise.

The sun finally thought to let up, she noticed with some relief.

She rolled over onto her legs and grabbed her hat. "I wasn't sleeping," Applejack feebly mumbled as she found her balance. "I was just relaxin', is all." After shaking off dirt and fatigue, she placed her hat on her head and followed her brother towards the two-story silhouette that jutted out against the dim moonlight in the distance - their family home.

"You shouldn't overwork yourself, AJ," Big Mac spoke in his typical monotone drawl. "Applebuck season only just begun last week. We already cleared out a decent bit of the red delicious. We're just a little behind, is all." Then he spoke with a slight grin, knowing exactly what Applejack's response would be. "You can take a break now and then."

"What the hay are you tryin' to say? Are you sayin' that I don't have what it takes for this year's harvest?" Applejack responded indignantly though tiredly as she slowly stepped up next to her brother with a mean stare.

"Eeee-nope," Big Mac said reassuringly. He paused for a moment and allowed her to catch up. "Just saying that you don't have to overdo it. You've got a whole family to help you," the stallion continued to speak in his unhurried manner.

" I don't need... I don't need no breaks. I can out-buck any pony, and I'm --" She stopped speaking as a deep yawn took hold of her. "I'm sure as shoot... not going to sleep on the job when the Apple family... is behind... on Apple... buck... Season..."

Big Mac turned around as her voice trailed off and saw Applejack's head pointed toward the ground. She slept peacefully still on her hooves and snored lightly. Big Mac chuckled quietly and lifted up Applejack onto his shoulders. He carried her the rest of the way home in his gentlest trot.

But today bothered Big Mac more than he would like to own up. This summer was only starting and these days were some of the hottest and longest he had ever endured. What the bucking didn't take out of Applejack the blistering sun did. And even Big Mac felt like he might reach his limits given a few more days like this one.

He reached home and entered the door slowly, careful to avoid startling the house where every floorboard creak was heard among the outside voices of insects and nocturnal birds. He climbed the stairs and lowered Applejack carefully into her bed. After tucking her in, he climbed into his own bed and easily fell asleep.

But morning came all too soon.
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I think you know what is best, don't you?

There needs to be balance.

Balance for what purpose? Why allow evil to exist in your kingdom at all?

No, not evil. All creatures require both to survive.

Yet one gives life, and the other a shroud for misdeeds. One provides warmth and the other coldness and fear. Why permit it?
This is the natural order. I can't disrupt it on a whim.
You have control. Why compromise?
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Rainbow Dash was beginning to feel like today was going to be a long day. She knew it early at dawn as she began her weather duty. There was a call for rain, yet not a single cloud could be seen from any direction in the clear orange-ribboned sky. And before she even really began the day's hard work, she was interrupted by an approaching courier pegasus.

"I brought you a letter!" the mail mare quipped eagerly as she approached Rainbow and began to ruffle through her mailbag. She rummaged aimlessly through the disorganized bag, checking all of its pockets. She accidentally dropped a few of the scattered letters which flittered like leaves to the Earth below. After a tortuous minute, Rainbow Dash crossed her hooves with impatience and stared at the struggling mail pony with plain frustration. Finally, Derpy picked up one envelope, looked at it for a few seconds and said, "Here! Here it is!"

She handed Rainbow Dash the letter. A bold red stamp reading "URGENT" was pressed neatly in the center of the envelope. In a very formal script at the top of the letter, Rainbow Dash saw it was an "Official Correspondence from the Office of Mayor Mare."

While she examined the letter, she noticed an odd panting sound. Lowering the envelope from her face, she saw the mail pony looking at her with crossed eyes and an eager face that sought approval.

"Uh, thanks," Rainbow Dash said distractedly as her eyes went back to the envelope.

Derpy's eyes lit up with delight. As she departed, she happily exclaimed, "You're very welcome! Have a super day, Rainbow Dash!"

She opened the letter and unfolded the crisp letter headed stationary inside. After quickly skimming it, she dashed towards town hall.

A huge gathering of pegasi had arrived in front of the town hall - many of whom she knew and some whom must have been called from other cities. I guess they have quicker mail ponies wherever they're from, Rainbow Dash thought with boredom. She scanned the crowd as she approached. And when her eyes stopped on the group standing on the platform, what she saw almost stopped her heart.

The Wonderbolts! Standing along with Mayor Mare at the podium were her lifelong heroes, looking courageous and waiting for the mayor to begin her inevitable speech. Rainbow Dash quickly soared into the front row next to a brown pegasus she recognized only faintly - not that she was paying much attention to him.

"Omigosh, even the Wonderbolts are here!" Rainbow Dash thought out loud as her wings darted up in excitement and her hooves pressed onto her cheeks in disbelief.

"Oh, I know," the pony next to her spoke, "They were supposed to be doing a show in Manehatten today, where I work. Anyways, they're here to help with the relief effort, I hear."

But Rainbow Dash barely realized that someone was talking to her amidst the growing chatter that rose as more pegasi glided into their crowd. The minutes passed in anticipation while the growing crowd buzzed with the sounds of voices and flapping wings. Finally, even Derpy swooped into the group with an empty mail bag to join the crowd.

When Mayor Mare recognized that all the pegasi had arrived, she approached forward. In the short time that it took to arrive at the podium, the restless crowd instantly hushed. It was such a silence that all that could be heard was the sound of breathing and the mayor clearing her throat. She began in her ceremonial way of speaking:

"Greetings, pegasi of Equestria. Thank you all for arriving in such short notice. Before I begin, I would like to thank all of you sincerely for your dedication and service - especially those among us from neighboring cities and towns. As mayor of our humble town, I commend you all for your dedication to fellow pony folk. Ponyville will never forget your aide in our time of need.

"Without further ado, I must address the problem we face. As I am sure everypony is aware, we have gathered here to help overcome what may come to be one of the worst droughts ever suffered in Equestria. Although this recent drought has surely affected all of you in some way, no town has experienced this problem quite as severely as Ponyville. Our economy is largely agricultural; the drought has already affected our way of life signifcantly. Entire fields of carrots and apples, among other crops, have already suffered terrible losses; crops have withered and died before even ripening. Our farmers are working themselves sick trying to save what they can. It is up to us to relieve these hard workers and save our harvest before a terrible famine strikes Equestria.

"Now, I am sure you are all curious about the group I have with me today - a group which everypony should be familiar with. To inspire us and lead our efforts, it is my pleasure to introduce to you: The Wonderbolts!"

With this, Mayor Mare stepped aside from the podium and the Wonderbolts moved forward. All of the pegasi erupted in cheer, filled with clomping, whistling, and shouts of enthusiasm. Rainbow Dash hadn't been paying attention to a single word spoken until this point, but now she became completely entranced as one of the Wonderbolts, Spitfire, began to speak.

"We would like to say 'thank you' for the warm welcome, Ponyville. While we were rehearsing for our next show, we heard about the growing drought problem and how it affected you all. We never realized how serious it was until yesterday, when we heard from Ms. Mayor. We had no problems with immediately cancelling our show to be here. We are honored to help this cause."

Another even louder round of cheers rose out of the pegasi as Spitfire finished. Afterwards, each of the Wonderbolts separated and began organizing their own groups of pegasi to lead. Many of the pegasi began to stir and mingle from the excitement, making it nearly impossible for Rainbow Dash to find her way through the crowd to locate one of the Wonderbolts. But ultimately, Spitfire found Rainbow Dash herself amidst the crowd and chatter.

"Hey, there you are, Rainbow Dash! We meet again. Great to see you. How would you like to join my squad?"

At first, she couldn't think of what to say due to her surprise. "Oh, uh, of course! I'd love to!" she stammered and blushed.

Keep cool, Dash. You're just talking to one of the Wonderbolts; it's no big deal.

Rainbow rubbed a hoof nervously behind her mane. "I mean... uh, sure thing!" Rainbow Dash said evenly, trying to compose herself. Spitfire looked at her quizzically. After an awkward pause, Rainbow decided against embarrassing herself anymore. She saluted and said with some forced bravado, "I'm ready!"

Spitfire chuckled and said comfortingly, "That's good to hear. I'm sure you'll do well." She then turned around and walked towards a smaller group of pegasi. "Come on, let's join up with the rest of our group."

Rainbow Dash, blushing with embarrassment but thrilled to be working directly with one of the Wonderbolts, followed her idol to join the rest of her squad.

This is finally my chance! A real chance to prove myself to the Wonderbolts! I'll swoop in, punch this stupid drought in the face, and WHAM! I'll be sure to get a shot at joining them!

She followed Spitfire, thinking all about the glory to come after her important new mission. She thought about cheering crowds, about how she would look in her new Wonderbolt outfit, about...

"Oh, hi again, Rainbow Dash!" A familiar voice shouted and popped the dream cloud floating above Rainbow Dash's head.
No, Rainbow Dash thought. It can't be.

"We're gonna make the best team ever!" Derpy shouted blissfully among their five other hoof picked squad mates.

Spitfire smiled at her enthusiasm and said, "That's right! Now, let's all get organized. We've got a long day ahead of us!"

That's one way to describe it, Rainbow Dash thought in disbelief.
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The creatures will learn to adapt. They should also learn to not compromise in the face of evil.
You're wrong. There is nothing evil in it.

Think of how the night corrupted your sister. It transformed her entirely. She became a monster and a tyrant.
I will not be controlled. I will not be manipulated. You are an evil spirit.
I am only a voice of reason. There is nobody to stop what you decree but yourself.
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-To be continued-

Written by Nug TWH, published on FiMFiction.net on January 27th, 2012. Please give credit or link if you copy.

Part II: Sunburned

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Sunshine Forever

Part II: Sunburned

The air shimmered with heat and the sun's light flared intensely in the noon sky. The grass was becoming brown and brittle and it softly cracked as Applejack moved through the orchard. She couldn't help hanging her tongue out of her mouth; she hadn't had a decent drink since breakfast. Today's heat had already stolen whatever moisture remained in her body. Her mouth felt like sandpaper from dehydration and the precious, rare breezes felt better than nothing.
She looked over near the barn where even Granny Smith and Apple Bloom were trying their best to help save what they could of this season's harvest. For Apple Bloom it was a day off from school. But even in her youth, she understood the gravity of their situation. The filly put on a face of determination, perhaps more convincingly than Applejack could since she had the luxury of not being worn down by the past week of work. Apple Bloom wasn't yet big enough to buck the thicker trees but she helped her three older family members by dragging full apple buckets, dumping the fruit in nearby carts, and moving the empty buckets to new trees.

It saddened Applejack to see Granny Smith working in these conditions, but she insisted on helping the family in this time of need. Applejack watched as the elderly pony hobbled to a tree, placed her front hooves firmly down, and kicked one leg out into thin air, throwing herself off balance.

"Whoa-oh-oh nelly!" the staggering pony shouted helplessly as she teetered her way to what might soon be a broken hip.

When Applejack saw what was happening, she galloped over to her grandmother as Granny Smith wheeled her other back foot wildly, trying to regain balance. In the corner of her eye, Applejack could see Big Mac running towards her too, with a face stuck somewhere between shock and concern.

"I'm comin', Granny!" Apple Bloom shouted as she also sprang to her aid.

Applejack stopped in the open near an apple cart when she saw that Apple Bloom was there for Granny Smith to prop herself up on.

"Whew, thanks there little Bloomie. My legs just ain't what they used to be. Heh," Granny Smith mumbled, "I'm fine now." After regaining her stability, Granny Smith turned her head to notice Applejack looking concerned but exhausted. She squinted at her with a serious expression, slowly turned back to Apple Bloom, and spoke with concern. "Go on and help your sister, Apple Bloom. She's lookin' plum tuckered."

Only then did Applejack realize how she must have looked, standing there breathless and with her tongue lolling out of her mouth. It made her seem worse that her tired eyes couldn't bear the intense brightness reflected on everything around her and she shirked at every glare. For a still moment, her family stared at her as if suddenly realizing her condition. Apple Bloom began to approach her with a worried face.

"Are you okay, sis?" she asked with a pouty expression.

Straighten yourself out, AJ. You're supposed to be the strong one, Applejack thought.

"I'm fine," she managed to say through her parched mouth, "Granny needs your help, can take care of myself, sugar cube."

Big Mac approached her. "By the looks of things, I'm surprised you didn't fall over yet," Big Mac said. Applejack looked at him grumpily in response, which made him recoil. He then paused for a moment, looked at the ground ponderously, and chose his next words carefully while nudging a loose rock with a hoof. "We're all in this thing together, AJ. Why don't you rest a spell?" He regarded his sister cautiously and almost pleaded as he said, "We'll get along fine for an hour. Take a break."

No, she thought. We don't have an hour to spare. We don't even have a minute; our crops are dying by the second and everyone in Equestria is counting on us, her mind rambled on. But what came out of her mouth was:

"Ah-all right," she said, unable to control her own mouth. Big Mac sighed with relief. Powerless to control her limp body, she found shade next to the apple cart beside her and lied down without bothering to remove her hat. Big Mac looked towards his other two relatives and nodded them forward. They left Applejack to let her rest as they continued their work on another part of the farm.

But Applejack couldn't immediately fall asleep, regardless of how much as she wanted to. She was too apprehensive for sleep and too thirsty to think about anything but the awful feeling of dryness at the back of her throat. Instead, she looked beside her where a few apples fell out of the cart and rolled onto the cracked patchy earth. She picked up a stray apple, looked at it briefly see if there were any worms, and took a generous bite to sate her thirst with juice from the fresh fruit.

Instead, she realized that the apple was soft and dry to the core. She immediately spat it out in disgust and grumbled, "What in tarnation?" She took a closer look at the apples beside her.

The bottoms of the apples were dark and the skin somewhat shriveled. Stunned, she looked at a nearby tree to realize that large dark spots had become seared on those fruits as well. Her heart sank.

Sunburned. Sunburned apples. Cookin' on the trees.

She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, spirit too heavy to do anything but want to cry and wish that her friends were there to help. And that made her feel even more desperate.

Twilight had already come yesterday to help, after all. She saved a good chunk of their harvest with her magic, but when she was done, she barely had enough mental power to concentrate. Rarity couldn't do much farm work besides simple stuff. Although she half-heartedly offered, Applejack knew that Rarity wasn't much of a manual laborer, even measured up to Granny Smith in her old age. She would only fuss about dirt anyhow. Fluttershy was probably busy frantically figuring out how to save all of her fish with the sun turning every pond into a kettle. And who knew what Pinkie Pie could be up to?

She rolled onto her side feeling alone and helpless while a tear rolled down her cheek. She reached up and touched it, enjoying the coolness against her hoof and face. Apparently not entirely dried out, Applejack thought sullenly.

Wait.

She looked up at a massive shadowy blot directly above her in the air. In the distance, a flock of dark clouds soared across the otherwise crystal clear sky. Slowly at first, the sounds of big raindrops splashed and pattered against the arid ground around her.

As the flock of clouds got closer, she saw that pegasi were leading the clouds directly above Sweet Apple Acres. She stood up with a grin that grew wider and wider. The farmer pony looked over where the rest of her family were working. Big Mac's mouth was agape with wonder while Apple Bloom and Granny Smith hopped up and down, dancing and cheering.

Applejack removed her hat as the group of pegasi approached and caught what water she could with her tongue - before deciding to grab an empty bucket. She held it up to the generous sky. After gulping a few mouthfuls of the cool rain water from the quickly filling bucket, another group of pegasi arrived close above her.

"So, glad to see us or what?!" Rainbow Dash shouted with a smirk, perched on a raincloud above her.

Applejack looked up in amazement and didn't know how to respond. She wasn't sure if she was dreaming or not. She was also too happy to care.
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I told you they could adapt to a new order.

Yes, my subjects are resourceful. But it is just a matter of time. They cannot hold out forever; they're panicking. They cannot fix all of this. They are going to starve or burn. This is pointless and cruel.

My, I never thought you'd turn out to be such a pessimist. Certainly, you should realize that not every creature will survive. The weak ones will suffer, of course. But those who adapt will pioneer a stronger generation. Weakness is yet another evil to be purged from our new order.

You may try but you will not corrupt my mind. Release me now and I might spare you an eternity of banishment.

Aw, you're not even giving me a chance.

You have been warned.

Those who cannot bend will undoubtedly break under pressure. I have a range of ways to compel you, my Princess. And if you cannot be reasoned with, then let us see how your resolution stands against power.
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"This doesn't make any sense!" Twilight Sparkle repeated yet again as she paced back and forth in the greeting area of her library. Her uneasiness was making Spike feel anxious.

"Maybe she's sick?" the young dragon weakly offered. "Well, I mean, that's guessing that she can get sick. Can alicorns get sick?"

"I don't know, Spike! There isn't exactly much study on alicorn illnesses! But how could that stop her from responding to my letters?" She stopped pacing and looked at Spike with an angsty expression. "Is she even getting them? Are you sure you're sending them right?"

Spike answered quickly, thinking as he talked. "I think so. I mean, I don't know how to do it wrong, but how would not getting your letters stop her from changing the day?"

Twilight groaned in frustration and stomped a hoof on the floor. She looked up over at her sleeping pet owl perched on his stand. Over the past week, the day has lasted progressively longer. Now that night only lasted two to three hours at the end of each day, her owl was barely awake at all. Twilight was concerned that its inactivity might lead to some serious health problems later if she didn't figure out how to fix this.

But it wasn't just owls hurt by these longer days; everyone in Equestria was being hurt in some way. She recalled her visit to the Apple family yesterday, and was saddened by how helpless and troubled they seemed. Every pony looked tired. Not to mention the terrible heat, which put every pony in an inconsiderate mood. And the worst of it was that she didn't know why this was happening; Celestia wasn't responding to any of her letters. She bowed her head in thought.

Focus, her thoughts screamed at her. What is Celestia trying to tell us? What am I missing here? Her thoughts spun in circles and her addled mind could only raise more questions.

Is she sick? Or hurt?
Did I do something wrong?

She wouldn't abandon us - would she?
Spike approached the nervous unicorn and hesitantly poked her side.

"What!?" Twilight snapped at her assistant. "Can't I have a moment to think!?"

Spike jumped at her sudden response with a look of bewilderment. Twilight immediately regretted her sharp tone.

"Oh, Spike, I'm --"

"The door," Spike timidly interrupted.

"What?" Twilight said.

"The door, Twilight. Somepony's here."

Only then did Twilight realize that someone had been knocking at the door for quite some time.

"Ms. Twilight Sparkle?" A familiar voice called out her name from outside the door in a very proper but nervous manner. "Is anypony home?"

Twilight glanced at Spike for a second, then towards the door. She shook off her daze. "I'm here. One moment," she managed to call out steadily as she approached the door to greet her visitor.

The unicorn wasn't too surprised who it was given these circumstances.

"Hi, Ms. Sparkle, " Mayor Mare began. Her mane was frazzled and she looked restless. "Can we talk?"
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Please stop.
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Despite the fact that Celestia was her mentor for most of her life, nopony was more frightened by the trip than Twilight Sparkle. The mayor approached her to join in a journey to Canterlot, along with a group of a half dozen or so other influential politicians from across Equestria. They were headed to Canterlot to discover the cause of Celestia's judgment to phase out the night. All of them had a common concern; Celestia seemed to be ignoring their correspondence, whether it be mail or messenger. The leaders of Equestria unanimously decided to settle whatever ill caused her disastrous abuse. They would make amends for whatever wrongs they might have committed to bring about Celestia's punishment, if her cause was indeed punishment. They would offer all of Equestria's resources to find her a cure, if her problem was indeed illness. But no matter the course of action, they needed Twilight - she knew Celestia better than any of them.

Their carriages crossed higher and higher towards the towering city of Canterlot. Twilight shared her carriage with Mayor Mare and her faithful companion, Spike. They were too apprehensive to do anything but stare out of their carriage and think except for Spike, who held onto Twilight's tail to prevent bouncing around in the rickety carriage. But in the carriage in front of them, two politicians from Fillydelphia bickered loudly.

A deep voice argued that ponies were too wasteful, and that this drought was meant to show ponies the meaning of famine to make them more appreciative of Celestia's work. The other insisted that Celestia was sick or dying from age; nobody was sure how long an alicorn lived. The deep voice retorted with a mocking laugh and stated that it was common knowledge that alicorns couldn't die of age. This was as much of their argument that Twilight heard before she groaned with unease and placed both hooves over her ears for the remainder of the trip.

They finally arrived to the gates of Canterlot at a late hour, though the high sun betrayed that. They rode through the gate into the stables to leave their carriages and approached the elaborate entry towards Celestia's castle. The group began to climb the wide and massive set of stairs that led to the grand entrance. The two politicians from Fillydelphia had finally stopped arguing - much to Twilight's relief - but the tense silence was hardly comforting. The only sound they could hear were the sounds of their own hooves clacking on the flawless polished marble of the steps on the path.

The student almost didn't want an answer to Celestia's behavior. She felt like fleeing. She wished that she could simply not have to think about it. But she pressed on to her ever closer destination.

The group silently climbed the stairs towards two royal guard pegasi, who stood in front of the main entrance fixed like statues. But even they seemed somehow less dignified while drenched in sweat and visibly uncomfortable in the intense light and heat. And their presence was unsettling. If Celestia had abandoned them, who could know what her guards would do? And if they passed the guards, how could they know if there wasn't a trap lying in wait? Although nobody among the group spoke, it was evident in their shaky eyes and shared glances that these concerns were among them all.

Despite these concerns, Mayor Mare bravely assumed the front position of their group. She cleared her throat and began to speak in her finest diplomatic manner. But before she could finish a word, the sky flickered for a fraction of a second. And again. And again.

And yet again.

The typically stoic faces of the royal guards turned to alarm. They immediately abandoned their posts and sprinted into the castle. One turned so quickly that he threw off his helmet, which clattered against the ground and noisily rolled down the stairs.

Their group looked backwards to witness the horizon that left such an impression on the guards.

The sky flickered again, and in between every flash, it appeared as if all of the light and heat of the sun was being funneled into a blinding white line that beamed downwards while the remainder of the sky turned into a black void. As the sky flickered like a breaking light bulb, the sporadic energy shot down and cut a massive swath against the Earth before disappearing. The ground began to glow in spots where the light struck. Then the flickering ended as quickly as it began.

For a moment, no pony could say anything.

"Wh-what was that?" the deep voiced politician finally asked with terror shaking his accent.

Before long, the horizon began to become dotted with plumes of an ominous black smoke that soared upward from the towns below. From a distance, Twilight could hear the sound of a female resident of Canterlot shrieking.

As if this were their cue, most of the politicians in their small group immediately ran back from the path they came, clambering around each other towards the flames that were rising from afar. Only a thin earth pony politician, Mayor Mare, Twilight Sparkle and her assistant remained. They stood silently, still registering the impossible events taking place.

"It looks like Celestia really has abandoned us," the thin earth pony finally said in an apathetic voice. "It’s a shame. I was betting on an illness."

He sighed while the others remained motionless. Then, he added: "I was hoping that it was something so innocent, really. I wonder how badly Fillydelphia is going to suffer."

He then slowly trotted down the steps. The other escaping politicians had already made it far down the steps and were nearly out of view.
Twilight opened her mouth to say something - she wasn't even sure what - but found that she couldn't even breathe. The world was spinning.

"Twilight?" Spike murmured to his master as she stared blankly in the distance.

"Twi...?"

The last thing she could feel before blacking out was relief. Now she didn't have to ponder those terrible questions anymore.
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- To be continued -

Written by Nug TWH, published on FiMFiction.net on January 28th, 2012. Please give credit or link if you copy.

Part III: Bright Eyes

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Sunshine Forever

Part III: Bright Eyes

Derpy's eyes had been playing tricks on her all day.

It happened first when Derpy arrived at Sweet Apple Acres with Spitfire's team, which was where her squad had been assigned for today's relief efforts. Each of them brought a big tuft of dark spongy cloud that they had plucked from the skies of the Everfree Forest. Derpy was surprised by how heavy a fully saturated cloud could get. It slowed her down a great deal, but at least it felt cool against her body. Along with three other teammates, she struggled to keep up with the two racer ponies who always managed to stay a great distance ahead. Rainbow Dash stopped on occasion to look back with impatience or to look at Spitfire and shrug with frustration. But Spitfire was professional. She encouraged them with shouts that they were "almost there."

Derpy gasped for air as she flew as hard as she could. The dry air punished her efforts by quickly drying out her throat. The ground below looked thirsty, too. There were more patches of dried up dirt than she could ever remember seeing before on her mail routes, and the grass was losing its color.

When they finally arrived at Sweet Apple Acres, the pegasi all began stomping on their clouds in unison - except for Rainbow Dash, who shouted something at one of her farmer friends as the downpour began. Rainbow then floated over to Spitfire to quietly ask a question, to which the Wonderbolt nodded. The blue pegasus swooped down to speak to her friend under the pouring rain.

Meanwhile, Derpy took a brief moment to tear a chunk off the dark cloud she stood upon to pop into her mouth and chew. It tasted strangely metallic like a battery, and it tingled and popped as she rolled it around on her tongue. The electricity caused her mane to frizz up, but the fresh water was worth the bizarre side effects.

She had thought that the electricity was doing something to her vision too, because what she saw next didn't make any sense. As she finished up her cloud snack and spat out a plume of cottony cloud into the air, she took a quick look to see if Rainbow Dash was ready to go. But Rainbow Dash was still on the ground, now soaking wet from the monsoon they brought with them. She looked back up at Spitfire with an embarrassed face as she was receiving a big double hoofed hug around her neck from her friend. And although it was raining and it was impossible to tell for certain, it looked like the orange earth pony had been crying an awful lot. She looked really tired, and maybe even a little crazy. Or maybe she was going crazy from being tired.

In either case, Derpy had never seen a pony look so sad and so happy at the same time. It didn't seem normal, so maybe the electricity was messing with her eyes and that changed the way she saw it.

Rainbow slowly rose to the group with a weak smile, but she somehow appeared sort of sad now like her farmer friend. That didn't make any sense either; why would two ponies be sad about a job well done? So Derpy just shook her head and hoped that she wouldn't get thirsty enough to need a second helping of dark cloud. She wanted to get back to seeing things like a normal pony.

But her eyes messed up what she saw later, too. It was after they had darted back into the woods to retrieve more rainclouds between the thick canopy of pine trees, the high sun, and the distant view of Canterlot's castle. Rainbow Dash was beginning to act like her old cocky self, which made Derpy feel a little relaxed. She was flying backwards with her knees crossed and her front hooves tucked behind her head. She flew blind and backwards with her wings fluttering towards the slower pegasi of her team. Her eyes were closed and she loudly pretended to snore so that everyone could hear her. Derpy delightedly giggled at Rainbow's joke, but when the gray pegasus looked over at her other team mates, she noticed that they looked annoyed. So Derpy stopped giggling.

Suddenly, the blue pegasus feigned to spring awake, barrel rolled through the sky while twisting her torso, and resumed flying in a normal position. Although her team mates were getting even more annoyed with her showboating, Derpy couldn't stop herself from giggling again. Rainbow Dash looked back at Derpy over her shoulder, flashed a small grin, and teasingly winked at her - like they had just shared an inside joke. Derpy felt very happy although she didn’t entirely understand what the gesture meant.

Spitfire tossed an impatient glance over at Rainbow which immediately caused her to become serious. She sped up next to their leader and began to mumble a flurry of apologies to Spitfire for being silly when --

Derpy's eyes seemed to mess up again. And again. And again.

And again.

It looked like the sky was flickering, but Derpy supposed it must have been a trick of her eyes.

But she began to wonder if something strange was happening when they all stopped flying to hover in place. They looked around themselves with dumbfounded looks. In random bursts around her, Derpy could feel an intense heat flare up. The gray mare felt panicky. She was unsure if something was wrong with her way of seeing things or if there was something wrong with everything else, so she stayed in place until whatever was happening stopped. But her friends had started buzzing around, dodging these pillars of light that would appear as everything else in the world turned black.

"Derpy! Focus!" Spitfire shouted at her as she deftly avoided the sporadic blasts of energy flashing around them. Her team was now a blur of colors around her as they outmaneuvered the beams of light. The ground began to roar and hiss. Smokey rainclouds began to slither up from the ground far below. It spread everywhere and it burned hot in her throat. None of it made any sense.

But in that brief moment of panic, Derpy considered a lot of things. She considered what it would mean if all of this were real; what would it mean if her eyes never played a trick on her that day? And what if this flickering never stops?

But the flickering did stop, just as the thought occurred to her, and as suddenly as it began. She could feel herself being dragged upwards from under her front hooves.

"Derpy, concentrate!" Derpy could hear Spitfire scream over the crackling below and right into her ear. "We're getting out of this smoke!" Derpy noticed that her team mates were flying up around her, too. They rose high above the smoke and fanned it back while they regrouped. High up in the air, they could see that the smoke signals were rising from all around.

"Okay," Spitfire said with a shaky and hurried voice. She had a frightened expression that none of the pegasi thought a Wonderbolt could make. "We're not far from the storm clouds. Only a few hundred yards away. We need to get these fires out right now. Cloud Kicker, you--"

"Where's Rainbow Dash?" Derpy said all of a sudden as she thought out loud.

Spitfire paused, and stared at Derpy as if she didn't understand her words. After a second of processing what the question meant, she looked around her surroundings. She began to bite her lower lip with anxiety and returned her gaze to Derpy.

"Oh, Celestia," Spitfire spoke, barely audible.
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You will submit to my purpose.

I have submitted.

And you will listen to reason?
I will do as you say.

Oh, come now, we will create something glorious together. Understand me - I'm not asking for ownership. Think of it as a partnership. You have the power and I have the vision and ambition.
View it as you must. I will not resist your control any longer if that is your concern.

Always so glum. Always so reserved. But watch what you can do with your powers; watch what you never had the drive to achieve. I think, given some time, you'll even grow to enjoy this.
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Celestia remained laid down on an elaborate mosaic of the sun in front of an enormous window. The massive frame of glass provided an extraordinary view of her domain from high in her quarters in Canterlot's castle. Whether it was a ceremony or just something Celestia found pleasure in, she always sat in this spot as she beckoned morning to arrive. She'd seen dawn break innumerous times here from the spot where one could see every palette the sky could offer. But she remained immovably rooted to the spot as of late, stiff and unresponsive, ever since the start of summer.

Despite the window's enormity, most of her spacious quarters remained dim except where the natural light filtered through. Such was a dark place that Luna stood, shyly peering into Celestia's quarters from the sophisticated metalwork of the golden door leading to her chambers. Celestia had become despondent as of late as if she was not entirely present. Luna feared the worst as she stood partially in the corridor with her muzzle nudging the door to observe.

Having spent what seemed like an eternity in isolation under the influence of a dark spirit, Luna became disconnected from her sister and even with society in general. But when she returned to the castle, she slowly began to reestablish a relationship with her. She wasn't practiced in socializing, but Celestia had been accommodating, understanding, and even somehow apologetic towards her sister upon her return. She made it relatively easy for Luna to adjust to life in Canterlot.

But recently, she dropped her warm manners. Celestia lingered in her sun room longer every day. And when Luna tried to speak to her in that position, she would simply not respond. It was as if she were in an unshakable slumber while her eyes yet remained open and fixed on a point somewhere in the vast view in front of them. At first, Luna thought that her sister had become tired of her presence and regretted her return. But in studying her sister, Luna found that her behavior was more distracted than irritated.

Her catatonic state filled Luna with concern. Her status began to drastically affect how she balanced day and night. But Celestia would not - or could not - listen to the night princess's pleas. How could she approach her sister in this state? And what greater authority could she refer to about Celestia's condition?

Now Luna stood hidden at her sister's door while she once again laid in her position on the sun mosaic. However, Luna's thoughts were interrupted when she noticed that if she listened carefully and leaned an ear towards her sister she could hear a hushed whisper amidst the utter stillness of the castle.

"...Eternity of banishment," Celestia muttered, only just perceptibly.

Luna stopped breathing as she heard the words.

After a long pause, Celestia tensed stiffly from her position as if she were struggling to rise. She spoke deliberately and loudly:

"You have been warned."

Her first thought was that Celestia was talking to her. Her first instinct was to retreat from the room and flee, having been caught peering in on some forbidden moment. But instead, she remained even stiller than before when her sister made no other acknowledgement of her presence. Luna took a step forward and pried the door open slightly.

"Sister?" Luna called to her nervously. As she expected, no response. But something new was happening; Celestia was subtly writhing, as if a force that Luna could neither see nor hear was pinning her down.

She couldn't just watch her sister struggle any longer. For her sister's sake, she had to try to reach her in whatever internal struggle she faced. She opened the door fully, which gave way with a creak. She slowly approached Celestia, who still seemed tense.
"Sister," she announced in her bravest voice, "I am here for you." But Celestia made no motion to suggest that she recognized her existence. Luna waited for a moment to no avail.

"If you can hear me, sister... Please, show me a sign of what I am to do," she continued. "There must be some way I can --"

Celestia suddenly stood up poised towards the window. Her legs shook with effort and her body heaved with exertion.

Luna approached her closely and spoke louder. "There must be a way I can help you. Try to focus through whatever ails you," she spoke with an increasing boldness. "Your subjects suffer. I know that this isn't what you would truly want."

No response.

"Please, Celestia. Hear me!" she continued, her voice becoming desperate.

But she didn't seem to hear.

"Sister!" she pleaded once more.

Celestia's eyes instantaneously began to shine like lanterns and her horn began to glow with magic. Luna stepped back and cautiously stared at Celestia. Then the sky blinked several times. Only a few beams of light illuminated the world in utter blackness like silent lightning bolts. But Luna was not looking on the horizon; she was looking upon her sister who seemed to be transforming right before her.

"Please stop," Celestia said in a low voice, while her head jerked with resistance and her eyes glowed ever brighter. After a few seconds, the sky suddenly returned to normal as if in response to her plea. Smoke was already spiraling up from where the pillars of light touched ground. "I have submitted," Celestia said in a tired voice. Her head dropped and her legs gave in. She returned to her sitting position.

Luna was awestruck and horrified. She stood back, aghast.

"I will do as you say," Celestia said with a tone of finality. She stopped struggling and her body became limp while the transformation rapidly came over her. Her coat, already white, became luminescent. Her mane dissipated into a radiant wisp that trailed her head. Her crown was replaced with a gold helmet and armor began to appear grow out of thin air onto her body. Her eyes changed from their ordinary tranquility to a set of intensely violet eyes without irises. Finally, her body appeared to regain life and she stood slowly. And she began to talk now in a voice that Luna had never heard before.

"No!" Luna shouted, taking several steps back as the shimmering figure consumed her sister's form.

"Oh, come now," the being who was once her sister spoke in a seductive and sinister tone as she rose, gazing towards the burning land below. "We will create something glorious together."

Luna wasn't sure if the being was addressing her or if she spoke to whatever remnant of her sister that remained inside; but she knew that a great wickedness had been born. She wasted no time contemplating what this being meant in its words or what its intentions were. Luna now knew what was necessary to redeem her sister. She immediately retreated from the room even as the insidious figure continued to speak. She sprinted down the dim winding halls, all the while hoping that she would not be too late.
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-- To Be Continued --

Written by Nug TWH, published on FiMFiction.net on February 2nd, 2012. Please give credit or link if you copy.

Part IV: Cracked

View Online

Sunshine Forever

Part IV: Cracked

Derpy glided above the spreading flames, her eyes rapidly scanning the ground as best as she could despite the smoke and heat that engulfed everything. She could hear the roaring grow louder as the inferno thickened and an occasional cracking as branches gave way to cinder. Somewhere deep below her emotional shell she was deeply disturbed. She wanted nothing more than to fly up to some cloud somewhere far up in the atmosphere and far away from the frightful scene. But she kept her cool so far; she was on a mission. She had to find Rainbow Dash.

Before, when Derpy realized that she vanished after the sky attacked, Spitfire had to think swiftly about how to best apply her team. Spitfire said that they should spare a pegasus to scout for Rainbow but that everypony else needed to work with her at bringing rainclouds to towns and cities that were burning. When Spitfire posed the plan, nopony spoke up to volunteer for the task of finding Rainbow at first. Derpy couldn't understand why they were silent. Maybe it was because they were too shaken up to talk, or maybe it was because they didn't like the way Rainbow joked around with them earlier.

In the short pause during Spitfire's plan, Derpy managed to find some courage even though the thought of losing Rainbow left her wanting to cry. Having a quick thinking leader like Spitfire around helped her move past her emotions. After all, if Rainbow was still alive in the forest below, Derpy would only be hurting her chances if she wasted time crying. She raised a hoof and volunteered.

"Me," she said while moving forward with an air of determination. "I'll do it."

Spitfire, with a deeply set frown and concerned eyes, fluttered close to her to speak. The others stayed in their places, stared down at the rising fire, and spoke a few words amongst themselves as their leader spoke to the gray mail mare.

"I know that you can do it, Derpy. But you need to stay focused," the Wonderbolt said as she now looked closely at her face. "We can't be sure that another attack won't happen again, and there won't be anypony around to help you if you blank out next time."

Derpy saluted her leader and managed her most soldierly voice. "Don't worry about me, Ms. Spitfire. I won't let Rainbow Dash get hurt, no matter what."

Spitfire leaned in closer for a few hushed words before she gathered her squad to depart. "I know you'll do your best," she said. "It's just that I owe her too much to abandon her. And she saved my back before. Just--" She paused for a moment. "Just don't get yourself hurt looking for her, okay?"

Those were the last words that Spitfire had for her before she hurriedly regrouped with the squad and departed on their sudden new mission of saving what they could from the rampant fires.

So now Derpy soared over the Everfree Forest, cupping a hoof to her mouth to shout while her eyes scanned over the inscrutable flames.

"Raaaainbow! Rainbow Daaaaaaash!" she called out to the distance below.

Her voice was fast becoming hoarse, but she still shouted as loudly as her lungs would allow. Derpy knew she couldn't have gotten too far away from this area. This is where they were during the attack. She should be right here, Derpy thought with worry.

Unless she didn't land on the ground, she considered. Maybe she flew far away to safety when the fiery lightening began. Maybe she flew to Ponyville and now she's putting out fires with another team.

The gray pegasus calmed her nerves by imagining that Rainbow Dash was just arriving to Ponyville on top of a giant dark cloud stuffed with an unending waterfall of cool rain to tug from fire to fire. Derpy pretended that Rainbow was just now extinguishing a flame as it began to spread close towards her home. Afterwards, Rainbow would zip off to save the rest of Ponyville before everything was burned and everypony was hurt. She fantasized that everything would return to like it was before this terrible summer began. But it was hard to pretend for long with the fire right below her.

And she had a realization which ruined her imaginings; it was a possibility that her rainbow-colored friend was somewhere within the foreboding fire. She didn't like the odds and her emotional shell splintered more with every passing second.
Focus, she reminded herself. Concentrate.

She drew in a deep breath to resume calling the name of her friend but was interrupted when a nearby burning maple buckled with an intense crack and smashed into the ground. It teetered briefly before falling and sent a looming trail of flames across a previously untouched clearing. She nearly ignored the event to resume search elsewhere - until she heard a much softer sound from that direction that made her sick to her stomach.

It was a voice, indistinct and mewling. It sounded like the voice of a pony who was dying.
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My kingdom. Our kingdom. Are you blind to its beauty? A world without night; no space for evil to dwell or secrets to lurk. A bounty of light and fire to nourish the strong and uproot the inferior.

Only a monster sees beauty in destruction. You can only justify your atrocity with grand metaphors.

Another pithy, tedious dismissal. Why are you incapable of seeing the good in my order?

Why do you persist? Is there a purpose in controlling my thoughts, or do you truly believe in your own words? What do you stand to gain from my concurrence? You have stolen me. I have surrendered.
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Rarity lounged back on a lime green futon beside the window. A fashionable oriental-style fan levitated in front of her covered by a purple haze as she magically fanned herself. Opalescence lay curled under the shade of the stairs across from her. Fluttershy held a porcelain tray by her mouth, containing sweet biscuits, a tea kettle, and two petite glasses. She gingerly placed it on a coffee table besides Rarity, who was desperately trying to cool herself in the comfort of Fluttershy's home.

Fluttershy seemed more timid and apologetic than usual. The unicorn immediately noticed the crow's feet that had begun to appear under her eyes. The yellow mare made no movement to sit and instead stalled for a moment while looking distractedly at the tray.

"You don't have to trouble yourself for me, Fluttershy, dear," Rarity said. "Why don't you have a sit and rest for a while?"

Fluttershy stared at the tray as she talked and shyly pawed the floor. "Oh, it's no trouble, really. Angel made these, anyways. But I appreciate your visit; I'm just so sorry I couldn't make it to the spa for our weekly get together."

"Don't be. I completely understand how busy you must be," Rarity reassured her. "As for me, this heat has wreaked havoc on my complexion - especially with Ponyville's concern in water conservation. Some days, I only have enough water to rinse my mane," she continued, while taking a glance at her napping cat. "And Opalescence has been even grumpier than usual in this awful weather."

She then refocused her attention at Fluttershy. The white unicorn softened her voice and empathetically said, "But I imagine it's been far more difficult for you. You have a whole nursery of animals to care for."

For an awkward moment, Fluttershy cringed and gazed sadly at the tray she brought.

"Darling, why don't you sit?"

"Oh, no, I shouldn't. I couldn't. There's just too much to do. Several new bunnies were born earlier this morning -- I mean, ah, a few hours ago. They aren't used to this heat," she mumbled as she continued to stare at the tray. "Not to mention all of the animals getting sick from dehydration."

Rarity sat up, levitated a large cushioned lounge chair from near the book case and carried it behind Fluttershy. Meanwhile, the kettle came to life and slowly filled a cup with the freshly brewed tea.

"You have to care for yourself first, dear. I'm sure it must be hard for you. And I really wish you asked for my help sooner," she said in a concerned and motherly tone while the tea cup drifted gently towards Fluttershy. "Why don't you sit, have a nice cup of tea, and talk for just a few minutes? I can help you right after. We can more than make up for lost time in your work."

Fluttershy looked at the cup hesitantly, released a gloomy sigh, and grabbed it with her hooves as she positioned herself comfortably on the lounge chair that had appeared behind her. Rarity's fan suddenly stopped to swerve delicately through the air. It began fanning lightly towards Fluttershy's face.

"Um, okay," the shy pegasus said, her voice cracking. "I suppose a few minutes to rest would be fine." She looked down into the tea water which gleamed from the sunlight pouring in from her window. Fluttershy sat and stared in silence at her cup without taking a sip for a long time. She couldn't stop herself from tearing up and she wasn't even sure why.

"Fluttershy, goodness! Please, tell me what's wrong."

The pegasus tried to wipe her eyes with the back of her foreleg as Rarity spoke, but it was futile to try to hide it. She felt too emotional from the stress of the past week. She coughed and tried to speak calmly. "I'm not any more worse off than anypony else. You don't have to worry about me, Rarity."

Rarity stood up from the futon and approached her with a compassionate expression. "Oh dear, you're more distressed than I imagined," she said.

The tea water rocked precariously against the lip of Fluttershy's teacup as she became less in control over her emotions. She looked at Rarity directly for the first time and spoke. "The long days are hurting all the creatures. So many of them are sick and hurt," she said in a quivering voice. "I just don't know what to do. They can't sleep and water is so hard to come by. I don't know what went wrong or why our days have to be like this now. Or why all of the little creatures --" her voice stalled as tears began to form fully in her eyes. "Why all the little animals have to hurt."

Fluttershy returned to stare mournfully back to her cup. "I... don't deserve tea," she said wearily. "They need me. I... I don't want to abandon them just because I'm selfish. I... I..." The tears began to stream down her cheeks now. A droplet of tea splashed onto the floor.

Without saying anything, Rarity stepped onto the lounge seat next to Fluttershy as her friend began to sob openly. The unicorn politely placed a hoof around her shoulder and let her cry against her while she murmured, "Shh. It's okay. I'm here. I can help you." They sat for a quiet moment in that position. Eventually, Fluttershy's sobs subsided. She finally sipped her tea, which was now cool.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cry," she said resignedly.

"Oh, hush. You needn't apologize. You shouldn't have to do all of this work by yourself in these conditions, anyhow," Rarity said reassuringly as she retracted her hoof from around the pegasus's neck. "You just take your time. We can take care of your duties whenever you like."

Fluttershy smiled faintly and was glad that her friend visited."Thank you, Rarity. I --"

Her voice cut as the sky blinked outside. Her tea cup slipped between her hooves, fell quickly towards the floor angled at its side, and cracked noisily. The fall sent the tea splashing long against her floor. A chunk of the cup fractured and bounced about foot away from the mess. At first the two friends looked at each other with confused expressions. Each wondered if the other saw the sky flicker. Their silent question was answered when the sky blinked several more times.

Reflexively, Rarity stood up and jumped from the sofa. Fluttershy buried her face into the cushion.

"What's happening!?" Fluttershy shouted feebly from under the seat's cushion.

Rarity took a few hasty steps towards the window next to the futon and watched intently outside for a few seconds. She opened the window, examined the sky for a few seconds and pondered about a familiar odor that began to fill the air.

That smell... I know that smell, she thought.

"Rarity, what's going on!?" the curled up ball of yellow and pink continued.

"I smell something. Smoke," Rarity said.

Fluttershy lifted her head from her hiding place with a face of absolute terror. Her wide eyes still appeared sore from crying. "Smoke!?"

"No time to panic, dear," she loudly spoke as she assessed the situation. The white unicorn quickly scanned the room. Her eyes stopped on a large cauldron meant for cooking soups near the fireplace. She levitated it towards herself and turned to speak to Fluttershy.

"Darling, find something that can hold water, would you?" she politely demanded of the yellow pegasus.

"Wuh-what?" Fluttershy responded in her still stunned state.

"It looks like our break has been cut short," Rarity stated impatiently. "Why don't we get outside and try to save your nursery?"
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I want you to understand because I honor you as our princess - despite your lack of vision. There could be no nobler blessing than yours.
This is a strange show of honor, demon.
I did what I had to for the greater good; assuming full control over your form was an unpleasant but necessary consequence when reason failed you. I once thought your wisdom was infinite, you know.

I fear you truly are a demented spirit unaware of its own delusions. It is some bitter irony that I doomed my kingdom to spare it from a quicker death.

I have only acted upon what is necessary to achieve paradise. You will understand me soon enough.
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Rainbow's vision was blurry. Something hit her, though she didn't know what. She tried screaming, though she couldn't get her voice to work. Something was burning - she was hurting enough to worry that it might have been her own body. A great weight was pinned down against her lower right leg. She tried shifting the weight off, which resulted in a sickening crack. A shot of pain trailed up through her body from her leg and nearly caused her to black out. But before she lost consciousness, she heard a familiar voice.

"Rainbow! Is that you!?"

Rainbow Dash turned her face to the noise and saw a gray figure descend towards her. The shape with the familiar voice continued to scream something, but Rainbow Dash couldn't understand its words now. It approached very close to her.

The last three things that Rainbow Dash could remember before blacking out was a feeling of release, a sense that she was being lifted upwards, and a dim certainty that she wasn't dead. Not yet.
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-- To Be Continued --

Written by Nug TWH, published on FiMFiction.net on February 7th, 2012. Please give credit or link if you copy.

Part V: Cinder & Smoke

View Online

Sunshine Forever

Part V: Cinder & Smoke

Even in the fog and stench of the smoke that permeated every inch of space around her, Derpy saw the colorful mane and heard the whimpering voice which belonged to her friend. The gray mare dove swiftly into the dense hot air of the raging inferno to approach the clearing where she laid below. Derpy fanned away smoke to catch her breath while coughing hard.

"Rainbow! Is that you!?"she shouted roughly at the unmoving figure ahead as she continued to draw closer. She neared close enough to the flame-surrounded clearing to see that Rainbow Dash was looking towards her direction - though she didn't seem entirely awake. Her mouth was moving, but silent. Her eyes were wincing with pain. But more significant was the maple tree that fell upon Rainbow's leg; fire was spreading from the trunk. It would quickly burn up Rainbow if Derpy didn't take action.

She approached the middle of the tree where the blue pegasus's leg was pinned. It was easy to tell up close that the leg was severely twisted, if not broken. The rest of her body was bruised and lacerated from the great fall she must have endured. Most distressing was her right wing, which had been concealed from afar by the tree. It was charred black and partially destroyed, either by one of the sun's rays or from the consequential fire. The mail mare's nerves were already shot, and seeing Rainbow's condition now sent her into incoherent screams and blubbering. But she made her body work, even if her mind didn't want to cooperate.

She began to flutter upwards while tugging on the heavy wood that had been crushing the blue pegasus. Rainbow looked up at her groggily and groaned in agony with every motion. When Derpy saw that her friend was at least partly aware of what was happening, she forced herself to turn her fretful screams into actual words.

"Rainbow, you can't sleep now!" Derpy shouted hurriedly in her ragged voice. "Wake up! Please! This --" She stopped speaking to grunt with the exertion of another tug. "--Is not nap time!"

Rainbow's head nodded back and she began whimpering while her body rippled with spasms of pain as her rescuer tried to pry the fallen tree off of her mangled leg. The fire climbed upwards on the trunk, ever closer towards the injured pegasus. Derpy looked back at the approaching fire as she hooked the thinner part of the tree under a foreleg. She lifted again while fanning the fire back with her free hoof, which only made the fire persist even stronger. It licked up onto a branch, where leaves were consumed instantly by flames.

"Rainbow!" Derpy shrieked. " No, no, no, no, no!"

Unsure if the fire had yet reached her friend, Derpy sucked in as much air as she could and gave the tree one final tug. Already reduced halfway to cinders, the tree didn't move as much as it buckled and fell to the side. It sent a shower of embers backwards as it broke.

Immediately, Derpy felt an incredible heat on the right side of her own body. Her left wing flared with pain and reflexively retracted, causing her to plummet towards the ground several yards below.

Fire! I'm going to die! her mind screamed, though what came out of her mouth was a wordless yowling. Her panic returned tenfold, but she willed her body to begin rolling out the fire that had started on her wing. The mail mare squirmed on the parched dirt for a few frantic seconds. After she felt the heat was gone, she scrambled off of the damaged wing. She stood up and took a cursory glance at the charred feathers at her side.

She paused for a split second, feeling queasy and weak at her knees. Only a little crispy. It's okay. I'm okay, she thought to herself. The burns were only slight. But Derpy grew faint when she realized that she was smelling the stench of her own burnt wing. Focus, she reminded herself. Concentrate. Derpy snapped her crossed gaze to Rainbow Dash.

The gray mare galloped the short distance to her fallen squad mate. She was limply curled over on her side and clutching her wounded leg with her front hooves. Her whimper had now been reduced to near silence.

"You'll be fine. I promise. I won't let you burn up," Derpy muttered breathlessly as she wondered how to lift her. "Tell me if this hurts, okay?" She placed one front hoof under Rainbow's shoulder and tried to lift her up straight to avoid pinching her bad leg. Rainbow's head slumped limply forward, splaying her mane across her shoulders and exposing her damaged wing. The injury was even worse that Derpy first realized; the wing was almost entirely blackened and brittle. Derpy consciously avoided eye contact with the wound and gently scooped up her up with her other front leg. She was much too large to hold like a filly, but Derpy struggled to hold her like one to avoid worsening her injuries. She was slightly relieved that her own wing was still usable, although very sore from the burn.

Derpy rose carefully, high above the inferno. Both of them were thickly covered in soot. "You'll be okay. I promise," Derpy spoke as she looked down into Rainbow Dash's face. The sky blue pony's eyes were concealed by her mane. If she still breathed, her breath was shallow. "You'll be okay," Derpy repeated again, partially to herself. "You'll be fine." She repeated those words like a jumbled chant as she began her slow journey across the woods which were blanketed in smoke.
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The dark vacant halls were illuminated only by the light coming through the thick stained-glass windows. Luna sprinted down the familiar corridors of the castle as quickly as her hooves could take her. Her mind was set. She needed to unite the Elements of Harmony. She had just seen her sister fall victim to a spirit - one with enough power to break the will of the Sun Princess. But it did not simply possess her sister as Nightmare Moon possessed herself; this spirit was subversive. It spoke to Celestia. The spirit was trying to turn her mind as well as her soul. Celestia's few audible words repeated themselves in Luna's head; she sounded resentful at first, and eventually pleading as it broke her resistance. That spirit wanted more than mere control of Celestia's form. But what does the spirit seek in corrupting her mind? Luna silently questioned the fresh memory, mostly to maintain control of her anxiety through reason and determination while her legs carried her further towards the entrance.

Her thoughts were broken when she saw two guards gallop back from the direction of the entrance towards the armory and guard quarters, one lacking a helmet. They scarcely noticed Luna approaching from the opposite hall. She continued past them with her gait undisturbed. Soon after, as she approached the entrance, she slowed her step and cautiously peered around the corner to discover the result of what spurred the guards' retreat.

Luna's eyes darted straight towards the distance above the long set of marble steps. Only then did the magnitude of the spirit's attack sink in; long trails of smoke spiraled countlessly across the cloudless blue horizon for as far as the eye could see.

The spirit was indiscriminate in its assault. Not even our own Canterlot was spared from the firestorm. Oh, sister... Luna thought in astonishment. Luna furrowed her brow. All the more reason that there is no time to waste. She leveled her eyes and took a step forward - when she heard a gasp.

The Mayor of Ponyville stood before her, along with a familiar unicorn who seemed to be unconscious. A small dragonling who looked to be near tears sat close at the unicorn's side and turned his head towards Luna. "Ni-- Nightma--," the baby dragon stuttered with a fatigued look of bewilderment. The Mayor interrupted him with an incredulous tone. "Princess? Princess Luna?"

Luna ignored their trepidation and trotted quickly towards the unconscious unicorn. The Mayor resisted the instinct to back away from the alicorn's quick approach. Luna's appearance was a startling mystery for her. The mayor was among many to have speculated about Luna's role in this strange nightless order. Some thought she had disappeared; some thought that the prolonged daytime was due to some disagreement between the sisters. And now, here she was right before them. Between the supernatural assault that they had just seen and Luna's sudden appearance, the Mayor nearly began to question her sanity.

"How is she injured?" The Night Princess demanded sharply without removing her eyes from Twilight Sparkle.

The dragon remained unmoving next to his master while he cautiously watched Luna. His arms gripped one of Twilight's forelegs. "She's, uh -- fainted. I can't wake her up," the dragon said hesitantly without moving his wide eyes from Luna's direction.

Luna gauged their reactions for a brief moment. She stared at them intensely. "You have nothing to fear from me," she authoritatively began to speak to the two. She looked down upon the unicorn.

"I know this to be the Element of Magic, Twilight Sparkle," Luna continued. "If she has indeed only fainted, a recovery is cause for hope. We have no time to waste upon explanations of what has transpired, or on why I should be trusted. We must reunite the Elements of Harmony."

Twilight rose off of the ground in a haze of magical energy and hovered onto Luna's back. The princess walked forward, now shouldering the unconscious unicorn. "We must depart immediately," her voice said, determined and detached. "Follow me. We may discuss more when there aren't lives at stake."
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"Come out, please! You can't stay there!" Fluttershy cried out in a soft shout that only she could manage. She gripped a large pot filled with murky pond water and hovered near a bush where several rabbits were huddled for shelter. "Move, please!"

"You're going to have to focus on the fires if you want your nursery to survive this, darling," Rarity shouted towards her direction. The fires were spreading into the woods surrounding the nursery. The white unicorn was intently focused on the heavy cauldron she took from Fluttershy's fireplace. It was surrounded in a purple mist as it flew through the air.

Fluttershy spotted Angel scurrying to and fro with the kettle, extinguishing fires among the shrubs and saplings. "Angel," Fluttershy called. "Mama will take care of the fires! You worry about getting the little animals to safety, okay?"

Angel looked up at her, kicked the kettle away, and silently saluted her in acknowledgement. With Angel helping the more helpless critters, Fluttershy felt a little more relaxed about her task. Alright, Fluttershy, she told herself. No more dawdling. She gripped her pot and floated upwards.

Rarity's cauldron careened back towards the small pond that ran under the bridge at the entrance of the nursery. It ran very thinly due to the drought - perhaps half of what it once contained. The cauldron dunked noisily in the shallow water, rose high into the air, and locked onto a tree that was entirely covered in flames.

Fluttershy looked over as the cauldron dashed through the air towards its target. With a grimace, the pegasus shouted worriedly, "Please, just try to use as much water as you must! The animals need it!" She paused thoughtfully for a second and continued. "And, ah, be careful not to catch any fish!" She clenched her teeth as Rarity seemed to ignore her and dumped the full cauldron haphazardly on the blazing tree.

"Priorities, dear! Focus on the fires! The animals will have to fend for themselves for now! If we don't extinguish them quickly, you won't have any --," Rarity stopped herself before finishing the harsh sentence. "Just keep filling your pot, okay!?"

"Uh, okay, Rarity," Fluttershy replied breathless and panicky, too low to be audible. But Rarity knew Fluttershy well enough to know she had responded, even if her voice was too quiet to be heard.

Fluttershy struggled with the heavy pot in her hooves. She rose up towards a maple tree that had begun to crackle in the spreading flames. The yellow mare grunted lightly as she tipped the pot forward. The water hit the flames below with a hiss. As she tipped the pot further, she began to cough from the smoke which was beginning to overwhelm her lungs. She dropped the pot as a coughing fit took hold of her. It fell with a heavy thud and began to roll down a slope on its side.

This is no time for clumsiness, Fluttershy, the pegasus silently scolded herself. She darted after the rolling pot, which was just now turning over onto its top. Fluttershy swooped down next to the pot hurriedly. She gripped it to turn the pot upright - when something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye.

On the road leading towards her house, she could see indistinct figures approaching through a haze of smoke. The pegasus strained her sore eyes. She was uncertain if it was a trick of the light or if perhaps they were shapes that she imagined in the formless smoke. After a moment of studying the shapes, she grew certain that there were indeed visitors.

"Rarity, somepony is coming!" Fluttershy called without breaking her gaze at whatever approached. Rarity was emptying another cauldron full of water.

"Unless they brought buckets, they are hardly relevant to our current situation! Keep putting out the fires, Fluttershy!" Rarity shouted back with an edge of impatience.

But Fluttershy couldn't focus back on the task. She abandoned the pot and took several steps towards the shapes. They approached closer, now taking distinct forms and colors. She recognized them.

"Rainbow Dash?" Fluttershy murmured in shock. Limp and lifeless, Rainbow Dash lay cradled unevenly in the arms of an approaching gray pegasus who fluttered slowly. But the pegasus seemed to notice Fluttershy then, because she sped up towards the nursery. As she flew closer, Fluttershy could see how injured Rainbow appeared. She was covered in soot, burns, and blood. Her leg was clearly broken and a wing been reduced to ash.

Derpy approached close and set Rainbow as gently as she could before her. Fluttershy only then recognized the mail mare, though her eyes remained on Rainbow Dash. Derpy was also in a bad condition. She was burned and shook uncontrollably from exhaustion, likely both mental and physical.

"Help her, please!" the gray pony pleaded in a torn voice, ravaged by smoke and sobs. "I know this is the nursery and not the hospital, but can't you fix her anyways? I've never doctored a pony before. I don't know how to fix ponies." Tears ran carelessly down her cheeks.

Fluttershy felt sick with sorrow as she approached Rainbow wordlessly. She began to sob openly as she nuzzled her lifeless friend on the ground.

Rarity heard the sound of her friend weeping as she filled the cauldron once more. She approached the entrance where Fluttershy was nudging something below her. "Fluttershy, what's wrong!? We don't have the time to --" she began before once again clipping her sentence short.

Rarity approached the two mares gathered around Rainbow Dash. She placed a hoof over her mouth and her eyes began to water. The fire continued to spread around the nursery. All that could be heard was the sound of Fluttershy's sobs and the relentless ambiance created by the flames.

-- To Be Continued --

Written by Nug TWH, published on FiMFiction.net on February 18th, 2012. Please give credit or link if you copy.