Libera Mé

by EZTP

First published

Set just after the events of season 3, Twilight Sparkle and her friends must rise to a challenging beast the likes of which will test her not only as an alicorn, but as the Princess of Friendship.

Less than a few hours have passed since Twilight ascended to an Alicorn and Equestria Celebrated. As the kingdom rests she is called in the early hours of the morning after the coronation festivities to aid her mentor in a task the Sun Princess herself could not complete.

This task will test Twilight's newfound talent for crafting magic. It will take her on an epic quest to face a foe already contained in the darkest recesses of Canterlot Castle.

As Celestia's desperation grows and its bonds weaken, Twilight is entrusted to do what The Princess Celestia could not; she is entrusted to defeat it.

Monsters are what bear the most secret fears of our hearts. They bring forth our nightmares without mercy. To fight one risks becoming one. What we all should understand about monsters however, is that they are so much more than the shapes that they bear.

Originally on fanfiction but brought to you here. Originally written back during my "Oh my Celestia, Twilight is an alicorn now" bombshell.

00. Prologue

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Waking light brings pain. Pain deprives myself the illusion of a dream. A dream filled with these strange creatures and their biting shackles. Enjoy your bite, it will not last. Soon I will be free. Libera me.

*

The sun rose high above Equestria, bringing the morning. Much had changed on the previous evening with the coronation celebration spilling well into the late hours of the night and every pony from Manehattan to Fillydelphia rejoicing their new princess; Twilight Sparkle. However not all had slept in the aftermath.

The barely rested, lavender hue of Twilight Sparkle stood before the entrance to Princess Celestia's council chamber. Her legs complained and her eyes were no less forgiving but this was surely to be her first duty as a princess and Twilight was eager to rise to the challenge.

A princess…

Thinking it was as strange as seeing it in the reflective floor she stood on. Twilight was a princess now. Despite repeating it and hearing it an overwhelming amount of times, it failed to register. Twilight felt that there was another Twilight Sparkle somewhere that everypony else was celebrating. She was the new Princess of Friendship and she was the one with a new title.

As per Princess Celestia’s request last night, she had wanted to meet with Twilight to discuss a matter of 'grave importance' as soon as she was able. For Twilight this meant as soon as possible and seeing her mentors nervous look made her increasingly concerned with what the ‘grave’ matter was. It was spoken over spilled drinks but Celestia’s decorum when she thought on this matter was burdened.

Sleep had not been kind to Twilight, her thoughts racing with the days ahead and those now gone. Excitement and fear filled her waking moments. She was not only a princess, but an Alicorn. Such a transformation was unheard of, admittedly she missed those chapters in the Canterlot archives. It did not aid her rest to be summoned to grave matters either.

She used the word 'grave'... surely if it was that important it would have already been dealt with. Twilight could not help worrying over the nature of the matter in question. Another test to prove herself? A rite of passage all new Alicorns must take? The concepts presented themselves in an endless cascade drowning her inner calm. Regardless of what may come here she stood bright and early and ready for the new day.

She had been instructed to meet the princess alone, to her disappointment. Her closest friends were not allowed to be there. She could not help but be sad and concerned. What secrets would need to be hidden from them? The others on the other hand seemed to be grateful, mostly for the chance to sleep in that day after their antics, and Spike was his usual sleepy self. Lately the dragon had been taking more hours of rest than usual.

Still Twilight wished they were here. She laughed remembering poor spike trying to admit his crush to Rarity, how he kept falling over his words and how Rarity teased him. She did not want to hurt the little guy but letting him out grow his crush was taking a toll on her. Thankfully Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie diffused the situation with expertise and spared both friends a very awkward morning.

Admittedly, the council chambers were a strange venue to discuss grave matters. This hall and room were normally reserved for discussing treaties and negotiating disputes. It was set aside from the castle’s main wing and hastily erected to the right of the main entrance during the construction days.

Twilights eyes followed the light of the corridor to the stain glass windows. These were lovingly crafted in secret by Celestia’s skilled work mare. This whole time it seemed she knew Twilight was to ascend. There was yet to be an Alicorn window installed though. The ones here depicted excerpts of Twilight's long journey to this moment, seeing them brought fond memories and a smile. They bathed the hall in beautiful colours as the sun shone through, bringing warmth and wonder. She could not help scale how quickly things had changed in such a short time.

Fear intruded her nostalgia and she tried to push it from her as Princess Cadence instructed, breathing in deeply then an exhale to tread water on the tide of anxiety. Twilight was still overwhelmed with emotion over yesterday's coronation and her ascension into a princess alicorn. The experience brought with it great pride and joy however this fear was an unwelcome visitor. Was this now who she was? Could she stay in Ponyville or would she have to come live in the castle like Princess Cadence and Princess Luna and Princess Celestia? It always seemed that all the princesses were so buried in their duties and commitments. Would she now have those burdens to bear? Would the Princess expect her to leave Ponyville and all her friends?

Or am I just worrying for nothing? her thoughts echoed in her mind. It was more than likely she was growing weary of nothing for nothing, her unfounded fears were simply intrusions into an otherwise great moment, which was a common problem she had. Following her sister-in-law’s advice she threw out her concerns and basked in the happiness of the moment.

The doors to the chamber opened, jarring Twilight from her thoughts. The white form of Celestia stepped through them, clearly surprised to see her.

"Twilight? You do have permission to sleep," she said with an amused smile. Twilight was taken aback.

"But you told me last night you had something 'grave' to discuss tomorrow and it’s tomorrow and I wanted to be here on time because tomorrow begins when the sun comes up and since you raise the su-"

"Twilight," Celestia called breaking the young Alicorn’s runaway train of thought.

"Sorry," she grinned nervously.

"I can understand your enthusiasm but you must remain calm. I said when you are able.”

“I am able,” she enthusiastically replied trying her best to hide the fatigue.

Celestia smiled. “Then it is chance I am fresh from the morning raising.” The Alicorn princess looked over Twilight into the hallway, her smile faltering but growing when she looked on Twilight. "A great deal has happened indeed," she spoke softly, almost to herself, “I am once again so proud of you, my student.” Hearing it was wonderful, one very important relationship had not changed. “Tell me young princess. Have you tried yet?"

"Tried?" she responded quizzically.

"Your new wings? Do not forget I was once a young Alicorn myself."

"I..." Twilight looked at her new wings, she could not bring herself to admit to the princess that she forgot they were there.

"Don't worry," she said understanding. "Remember to wear a helmet." She lowered her head to Twilight in a whisper, "From one princess to another, I wish I had." Twilight chuckled, seeing her more at ease, at least a little more than before.

That burdened matter weighed on her mentor. Twilight knew Celestia long enough to see when things were troubling her. From the distant stare to the excess in tea, it was clear she had a great deal on her mind.

Celestia gestured to her and they trotted down the hallway heading to the entrance arch of the council wing. She led Twilight past the stained glass windows to one she had not noticed when entering, tucked in the corner. Normally she was always very astute at remembering new details about the castle. This one however had not stood out despite its drab appearance. It seemed unfinished and lacking.

"Is this new?" Twilight asked. It was drab with few colours and patterns. It bore a small symbol in the centre representing Princess Luna and Princess Celestia’s cutie marks.

"In a manner of speaking, it is new,” replied Celestia, "Yet it is older than all the others here." Her cryptic description did nothing to alleviate Twilight’s confused expression. Her horn glowed and the pieces of the window folded inwards on themselves to reveal a doorway. Torches sprang to life in the darkened arch to light a downward spiralling stone staircase. The contrast to the otherwise bright and joyful castle was disturbing, it looked out of place with such bare stonework and massive scale. It ran deceptively deep into the earth.

“I apologise if this is strange, but I will explain as we proceed.” Celestia’s voice was thankfully soft enough to ease Twilight’s tension but not enough to break her eyes of their futile stare to see the end of the dim lights.

A rush of air came out and Twilight was hit with a waft of damp stone and mildew. Her mind raced once more with wonder over what was going to happen, was this a secret room for only princesses? or alicorns? was she going to...

"Princess Twilight?" Celestia called gaining her attention once again.

"Yes Princess! Sorry Princess. I was..."

“Would you prefer to rest a while longer?"

"No no, please continue. I'm sorry Princess." Being called a princess brought some embarrassment to twilight and she could feel her cheeks growing hotter.

Princess, she thought, Guess i'll have to get used to that.

One of her fears was that things would change with friends, that somehow their friendship would be strained. She had a warm reception but she had noticed they were on edge around her now. It was more of a suspicion and she hoped that much like everything else, it was an unfounded fear. Despite all these fears however, Twilight felt more exhilarated than anything else. A princess title meant more responsibility and more opportunities to grow as she had done these past two years. Already, not a day into her ascension, was she already being tasked with helping her mentor.

Celestia led Twilight down the stairs, her horn providing the only useful source of light to see the worn steps. The sound of their hooves trotting down carried far, echoing on the walls seemingly without end. Celestia looked at Twilight and saw the enthusiasm on her favourite pupils face. Even now she could see her eyes darting around with awe at the large descent. Her only hope was that it stayed.

"Twilight, much has happened to you since you left for Ponyville, I have seen you flourish with every obstacle with your friends. I have seen you achieve such potential with wisdom scarce in a mare of your age.”

“Umm…it was you who helped me grow, Princess.”

“This morning, Princess Twilight, I am about to do something I have everything I can to prevent.” Twilight felt the encroaching darkness, the thick musk of the air no help. “I must seek help.”

“Help?” Twilight felt a burst of joy. “You want my help?” Twilight's attention was now firmly fixed on Celestia.

"I have brought you here because this matter cannot be postponed any longer than it already has. I have done what I can and…it pains me to say it is not enough.”

A loud brutish roar groaned up from the dark of the stairs gripping Twilight and rooting her hooves where she stood. Her eyes widened as she squinted at the dark without moving, hoping in vain to catch a glimpse or clue as to what could have made it.

"That is the matter of which I speak." Celestia lowered her tone and proceeded further into the depths. Her smile had faded and as Twilight followed she lit her own horn, hugging closer to Celestia to avoid this swallowing darkness. She wondered at the possibilities of what it could have been. It was not loud enough to be a Dragon, a Manticore?... no, it lacked the pitch...not the depth and rumble of a wolf…perhaps the timber of a harpy or-

The unmistakable sound of chains shaking and a crash of clay or ceramic sounded. Twilight froze again, her stare pleading with Celestia’s pain addled admittance. Many sounds had come and gone in the castle over the years but rattling chains in a dark underground cavern was not one Twilight had ever thought she would hear.

“Before we proceed further, my student,” Celestia could not look her in the eye, “What I have done was for the safety of all ponies. I ask you to understand-”

“I’m sorry.” Twilight shook her head and marched on, the princess resuming her pace after a moment. It was shameful to imagine such things. Whatever Twilight thought at that point, she would bury it deep and forget that it had passed no matter how fleeting.

This part of the castle was such a great contrast to the rest of the rooms, there was no light from the sun, no warmth, no windows, no fresh air. The only source of heat at all was the light that the two Alicorns cast. With each step it grew colder, Twilight began to see her breath.

They reached the bottom of the stairs and by now the overpowering smell of damp stone and mildew was less invasive. It opened up to a towering hallway too dark to see the ceiling.

A kindly looking mare wearing a stained nurses dress came to greet them with a curtsy. Her eyes were were solemn and tired, the side of her uniform soaked in what smelled like carrot soup. The visible vapours rising from her only served to remind Twilight of the cold. The roar sounded once more, much louder although still muffled. The nurse flinched hearing it. This was a dark place that filled her with dread.

"It is becoming worse Princess," she reported. "We cannot sustain the creatures thirst or hunger. It has stopped eating altogether and refuses to cooperate. It's wounded itself pulling at the restraints and grows increasingly aggressive if we try to treat."

"And what of its eyes?”

"They have regained their sight.” The nurse frowned. “It watches us as we perform our chores, very eerie… Please be careful Princess." She said. Celestia nodded and the nurse went up the stairs, no doubt to clean up.

“Restraints? Eyes? It?” Twilight inquired. Celestia remained silent and continued along the hallway, Twilight reluctantly following. She was concerned about this creature and what would possess Princess Celestia to use restraints on it. The princess had a great love for all beings in Equestria and beyond but to resort to chains was something she never thought possible.

What could she want me to do? Is this some kind of monster? Fluttershy would have been a better choice, but she would never come down here, it's way too scary for her. The scene played out with her and the others having to drag Fluttershy down the stairs fighting every step of the way. She felt exhausted just thinking about it.

"We are in a place I swore I never wanted to see again," Princess Celestia’s voice sounded sad, not the energetic sweetness Twilight always thought about her. She gestured to the walls and brightened her light to illuminate more of the hall, as well as the dungeon cells adoring it. "This is, or was, Discords prison a time ago when he ruled Equestria. He would bring those whose wills were strongest down here, to break them of their sanity and restore chaos.”

“Discord built this?”

“There is much about those times that is not known to this day. Sometimes forgetting the past has its merits. Had you known of his atrocities your compassion may not have been strong enough to be friend him. Discords change to good is an example of why secrets need be kept. I hope you understand.”

Twilight stared on and took in the size of the cells. They were stacked by floors and littered the cavernous walls of the hallway. “He was evil…wasn’t he?”

“When my sister and I defeated him we were more than happy to seal this place forever, for we could not move it, or remove it. The magic within is too ancient, originally made to safeguard an ancient artefact. Discord himself does not know how it came into being, he merely corrupted it to his needs at the time." Celestia paused and focused on one cell in particular. The locks and devices within were horrors to the sane mind. The bars here were unique to the others; wrapped with rusted barbs with a plaque hung above. The markings (-)3|2() were crudely scratched in. "I never wanted to see this again," she said bitterly. Twilight stood by the side of her mentor, she regretted not being able to provide comfort to her. She turned her gaze from the cell not wanting to see the other abominations inside.

"It was with great sadness we reopened it. Unfortunately, it is a resource that we could not exclude. You see my pupil, not too long before your coronation there was a creature that came to your old study in the castle."

"What did it want in there?"

"We assume it was a book, however it is less than open with information. It regrettably tore up a large amount of books trying to find what it did want."

"WHAT!" she gasped in horror, covering her mouth to hold back the shock.

"Do not worry, the damage was not permanent and we were able to fix them."

“Really?!” Twilight nearly fainted with relief.

"I know how much you love your books." Celestia smiled momentarily. "We do not know what it is or where it came from, as I said it will not tell us. It’s arrival however was shortly before I gave you Starswirl The Bearded’s old spell to fix. I believe this is no coincidence.” Celestia closed her eyes to remain composed, “It pains me to have to use the restraints, to have to do to it what Discord did when he was evil.” Twilight placed a hoof on Celestia instinctively but retracted it quickly. Celestia did not like being touched but smiled forgivingly.

“I’m sure you did everything you could to avoid this.”

“The decision was not mine, Princess Twilight. It came from a majority ruling. Please understand I tell you this because you must understand what you face. There was a patrol that found it first, the discovery was very...violent and...they are no longer fit for active duty for I fear what will be a lifetime.”

Twilight had seen the guards training around the castle. An average patrol of four guards was never more than an earshot away from each other. At any given moment there was an entire army ready to meet an intruder.

“So they are still..”

“One of the guards, Twilight…her wings are gone. We could not save them after it…with it’s bare claws.”

A silence hung in the air. The gravity of the situation began weighing on Twilight and her enthusiasm was replaced by fear. Suddenly there was gratitude for those restraints. Twilight hugged Celestia trying to ease the pain. After all her time with her mentor it was clear when she hurt.

"Do you want me to reform this creature like Discord?" she asked.

“No," Celestia said sternly, "You must not listen or believe a word it says. It will lie to you, it will play on your sympathies, it will hurt you if it gets the chance.” Celestia tapped her student’s shoulder and they parted. “I have exhausted my resources trying to understand it.”

“But…if you could not-”

"You have done amazing things, Twilight. In all my time I have never seen a creature like this one." Her voice had become heavy. “It is very dangerous.”

A contemptuous low laugh rumbled from behind a large door at the end of the hallway. There were two of Princess Luna’s batpony guard posted either side of it. The four of them wore an armour she had only read about; the guardian soldiers. Twilight was in awe seeing them; towering examples of magical augmentation, they were said to wield a vast array of imbued weaponry and armour. Not a trace of pony could be seen under the gleaming metal that hummed lowly.

"Even now it listens to us."

“It can understand us?”

“Understand and communicate, its vocabulary is surprisingly…graphic. When the first patrol uh, fell, Princess Luna tried to intervene and discovered her magic did not affect the creature,” Twilight's jaw dropped in shock, “Hence our problem.”

"It's immune to magic?!" she exclaimed, "...but nothing is immune!"

"You are right, Princess. We have discovered our magic has different effects on it. Our healing spells do not work, our offensive magic makes it stronger, our defensive magic is weakened by its touch. While it seems it can feel the spells, it does not react conventionally to them. Princess Luna tried to use her most powerful magic to defend us, it was seemingly unaffected.” Celestia winced as another shake of the chains echoed out. “These past few months have been terrible. Trial an error do not favour our exploration and understanding this beast is proving to be a heavy burden. I am exhausting my options.”

Twilight did not need persuading. “I will gladly help, Princess.”

“I have not learned a great deal but from what I saw its hide does not resist physical attacks. It is deceptively fast and strong for such a small size. It is above all else, very deceptive.” Twilight was shocked to see Princess Celestia's expression. It was the first time she saw that expression. It looked familiar to her, almost as if she was traumatised. “Eventually after myself and Luna cast the same spell we once used on Discord, it fell. The disturbing part is that it simply collapsed, as if it were tired. Not a stone body but exhaustion.” She frowned. “There is a great deal of rage, or pain. I cannot tell.”

Celestia studied her student’s face. Twilight’s fear and nerves were getting worse. She could see this by the sweat beginning to form on her solemn face. She forced a smile, feeling guilty for trying to unburden her pain on such a young Alicorn. The princess returned to her lighter tone.

“Understand, Princess Twilight Sparkle, I make this known to you because you must apprehend what I ask."

"Princess..." Twilight began.

"You have proven yourself able to create new magic, and for this I have need of you, now more than ever. Find a way to help it or stop it."

"I really think somepony else would be better qualified to try..."

"We have all tried,” Celestia said with dismay. "Ever since its arrival we have all been holding it around the clock, taking shifts to keep the restraints strong. Whatever damage it can inflict on the bearings can be repaired. We tried countless spells, reasoning, compassion, and kindness only to be met with resistance. Discord was without success, his methods enraged it nearly to the point of madness. Your brother and sister, Shining Armor and Princess Cadence, were too met with the same. The power of their love, much like all other magic we tried, failed." Celestia paused a moment hesitating to continue, "Their attempts left Princess Cadence weakened, but she still rallied herself to attend your coronation."

Twilight felt guilt for not aiding when she could have. ”I didn't know…"

"Nor were you meant to,” Celestia assured her, “She wanted to see her sister become a princess and nothing we could say would stop her. She is resting now. Princess Luna has taken her shift.”

"Princess... Why tell me now?"

"As I said, the problem is becoming grave since Princess Cadence is no longer able to help and we are stretched so thin. Despite all our efforts, we are forced to admit this is not a long term solution. The restraints are failing as it gets stronger. It has such inner strength, I fear it will soon break free and we will not be able to stop it again."

"But you said you stopped it once already."

"It was exhausted before the battle with Princess Luna, by the time I stepped in it was barely standing, barely coherent. It looked mad. Then it awoke and attempted to deceive us.” One of the guardians shifted and Celestia’s ears fixed to the door for a moment. They drooped back with her thoughts. “It plays on my sympathies, I cannot allow it to starve or thirst. It rejects our food as of late and I fear the worst. If this creature is truly evil I need to understand what it is. The first encounter was fortunate, I do not wish there to be another."

Twilight looked at Celestia in disbelief. "Princess, if you cannot stop it, what makes you think I can?"

"Your skills in creating new magic. You have learned much and have done amazing things, Princess, even turning Discord himself to good. You can do this. Speak with it and understand what you are up against. Bring the elements of harmony with you when they are ready. Find a way to stop it before it is too late.” Celestia looked to the floor. “If we cannot do this, then there is no choice but to allow the beast to extinguish itself.”

Twilight reflected for a moment, she was not afraid of the creature or what it could do, she felt safe with Princess Luna and Princess Celestia with her. She was afraid because she could see her mentor was afraid. "I will try Princess Celestia."

"That is all I ask,” she smiled. "My sister, Princess Luna, and your brother will be close by should you need them. I will send the entire guard if it be required."

"Your coming in with me right?" Twilight asked nervously. A deep growl sounded from behind the door. She could feel it coil through that door, grip about and twist her stomach.

"I cannot,” she sighed. “If I enter the room it immediately starts to frenzy. I do not want it to hurt itself anymore.”

"But you will be here, right? Please tell me you'll be here!"

Celestia smiled, "I will wait right here,” She tapped her hoof for emphasis, “should you need me, Princess Twilight." She looked at the door and back to Celestia. With a deep breath she raised her hoof to her chest and breathed out as Cadence taught her.

"I will try,” she repeated. Turning to the door she was still in awe at the magic infused in it, the symbols and artifacts that decorated the wooden arch were powerful magic, magic she had only read about. The Binding Stone of the Ox, The Amulet of Imbalance, The Beastly Burdensome jewel, it was magic thought long gone. The room would be imbued with the same power, much like to chamber that held the Elements Of Harmony. Only a few who knew the magic could enter or leave without feeling their effects. An unwitting pony would be pulled to the ground with limbs heavier than lead.

The guard before the door stood proud and tall above her with their midnight blue and black armour shining from her horns light. The elite guard of Princess Luna were infamous for their vigilance and strength. They had definitely been imbued with powerful magic, the aura was unmistakable from this distance.

They both lit their horns and the door opened to the inside. The sheer thickness of it was emphasised by the large hinges that groaned under the strain of bearing its weight. Twilight tried to imagine what pony or creature this was originally made for, it must have been a mighty beast in ancient times.

She could see Princess Luna and Shining Armour under the glow of their magic enforcing two chains that flowed to meet in the centre of the room to a figure obscured by the dark. She could feel its eyes set upon her, the tension around Luna and her brother as she stood before the now open door. Another low growl came from it and she hesitated for a moment to step in. A deep exhalation sounded from the figure, its breath passed through the glow of the light and creeped towards her before dissipating in the air.

I just hope the Princess put her trust in the right pony.

01. First Contact

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The first step into the chamber bore an icy sting, the frigid cold shooting through her hoof instantly. She was winded by that cold.

Princess Luna and Shining Armor stood to the right and left of the room respectively, their heads both lowered and illuminated by the magic they cast. They efforts concentrated on two brackets at either end, large pieces of metal bolted to the thick stone wall. The chains they each held were clumsily built; a mess of disjointed links seemingly taken from a host of other chains, covered by rust and what Twilight hoped was the green tint of mildew. They merely hung loose, leading to the centre of the room.

The dark figure found there rose its head up and she felt a shiver run through as the creatures small bright eyes settled on her, scanning every detail on the new pony. She caught herself repeating Princess Celestia’s words. Her monitor’s voice replayed itself clearly only serving to further disorient Twilight’s nerves.

"He..hello?" she called out.

“Hey Twily!” Shining Armor’s bravado was more than than welcome. He was in a surprisingly uplifted mood considering the monster in the room. “Here to bail us out again?” She felt instantly more at ease and smiled, grateful her big brother best friend forever was here at least. He always showed a smile and jovial playfulness.

“How are you doing?”

“Not bad sis. Be careful, it’s got a temper.”

“Please, Princess Sparkle, this is no time for pleasantries.” Princess Luna was far less at ease as her magic swept around the chains. It was clear from her tired expression she had more difficulty than Shining Armor, or that she had been holding her bracket for longer. Twilight noticed as the magic swept closer along the disjointed restraints to the creature it faded, the light that emanated seemingly being repelled and forced back. Its eyes shifted their focus to Luna.
“Tired yet, M’lady?” The creature's voice was rumbling and gentle, a growl echoing off the walls around it. Despite the depth it was weak and faded to the cold.

“I shall never tire. Your struggles are futile, monster.”

Twilight still could not make out a face but her eyes peered deeper to see the silhouette. It was surprisingly unremarkable, not as large as she thought, it was possible this creature was sitting. The shape and form was obscured by the dim light, as it was now, it appeared to be a small, hornless minotaur. Truly unremarkable.

There hung a disturbing confusion how this creature was such a threat when it could be no larger than the average pony. Twilight was still worried that Celestia would imprison anything, always kind and compassionate. From her description though this creature had earned its place here, its own violent anger being reason enough to hold it.

“Then why dost thine heart beat FASTER!?” It yanked on Luna’s chain abruptly. She winced with the effort and the glow around the restraints grew brighter. Twilight quickly helped by repairing two warped links almost ready to give. The tug was surprising, even in its weakened state it still proved strong enough to rattle the bonds. It loosened with a smug laugh and they hung once more. “Art thou tired M'lady?” it mocked her again. Luna was sweating with the effort she used to detain it, no longer interested in replying.

“You seem more tired than her,” Shining Armor laughed.

“Such gallantry Sir, yet you do not introduce me to your own sister. Twilie?” The way her name rolled off of it’s tongue did not sound friendly. “Care to step forward, little one.” Twilight was wary of the creature now, it was as Princess Celestia had told her; it listened and watched them, learning all it could about the ponies around it, already establishing her nickname and relation to Shining Armor.

Little? She thought, I've got at least three hooves on it.

Her light washed over the creature causing it visible discomfort as it winced from the brightness. The features were marred by grime and filth, stains, wafting pungent aromas of spilled soups now gone off. It sported a light coat of darkened brown or black patched at odd intervals on its frame. Her eyes drew to the arms, long and heavy they bore large claws with oddly shaped digits, appearing to be closer to the claws of a dragon. Looking on the face there was a gash on the right cheek, it was sealed and treated, most likely while it was unconscious.

It’s uniform was torn beyond recognition, Twilight could make out it was made from a thick sturdy fabric. As she looked lower the stains she feared were present and her thoughts went back to the pegasus guard and her encounter with the monster.

ON quick assessment, it was clear this creature could not leave and lacked the strength to harm anypony. It merely remained bent over, glancing now and then at Luna and Shining Armor. She watched it raise it's head slowly and squint at the light, pupils closing from the brightness. She dimmed the glow to compensate and avoid provocation. It looked her over again, head to hoof, studying every feature in great detail. She felt uneasy as is scanned her wings and cutie mark, searching for something to say to it.

“Tell me...” it finally spoke, “Do all females here have wings and horns?” The question was out of context and Twilight did not want to answer. This creature’s interest in her was worrying. Gathering information about them could prove to be detrimental. Instead of answering she phrased her own question carefully choosing her words.

“Why do you want to know?”

“I don't.”

“Then why ask?”

“Your silence is irritating me. Tell me Twi...”

“It's Twilight actually,” she corrected it, “My name is Twilight Sparkle. Newly appointed princess of the kingdom of Equestria and I’m here-.”

“So you’re the new one on the tongues of my keepers.” Again it demonstrated its surprising knowledge to her. “Have you been sent by your monarch to further test me?”

Monarch she wondered, Princess Celestia?

“I am here to help you.”

The creature laughed but it’s eyes remained fixed on hers.It was oddly confident despite its situation.

“I thought you were celebrating? It’s no fun to be dragged straight to work.”

“Princess Celestia-”

“The white one... Celestia…” As it spoke her name the growl grew deeper and more intense. The smile faded instantly and she saw its claws tense. It might have been a mistake to mention that. Luna and Shining both braced. “Why has she imprisoned me here?”

Why? Because you attacked her! This creature's eyes were very soft, a moment passed where Twilight did not see its hatred. They hardened with her silence.

“Why…?” she said indignantly, “Because you have hospitalised at least five of her guards! Some of them may never fully recover.”

“They are fortunate I spared them.”

The answer proved the sadistic nature of this monster. She had hoped it would have been more cooperative than this. At least it was talking, and that was progress. Maybe if it talked long enough it will reveal something.

“From what I hear, you went down screaming like a-” Shining was interrupted as it yanked at his side. It was clear that arm was weaker, for the restraints did not split.

“The pony who’s wing you took off, she has lost it forever. We cannot restore her injury. Are you happy you’ve done that?” Did you enjoy hurting them?” Twilight tried to hold her voice steady. She did not want to hear the answer but she needed to ask. Its eyes returned to their gaze on the ground.

“She. I took no delight in attacking them.” The creature was trying her, testing to see her reactions. It followed her movements every time she shuffled and twitched an ear attempting to read the body. Each question Twilight asked would have to be carefully thought out. She stood silent in thought. Revealing too much information about Equestria was unwise, however there were many questions about its imperviousness to magic. Twilight did not want to let another fact slip.

“Why were you in my books?”

“They were your books,” it replied in realisation.

Darn it Twilight. “Why were you there? What were you looking for.”

The creature chuckled, “Truly this is a joke. Were you told nothing about me? Why don’t you leave instead of pestering me with persisting echoes.”

She did not understand, Princess Celestia did not know why the creature was here either, from context she could gather her questions would have to be more unique and less conventional to earn a response.

“It won’t say,” Shining Armor clarified, “We have tried.”

“I am tired of the same questions. I have said my peace.”

“Yeah, a complete lie!”

The creature pulled at the restraints again but Shining Armor was ready. The brackets did not move and the chain held proudly against the force.

“Hold on,” Twilight interrupted. She took a step closer to the creature. It gave up trying to break the bond and eased the grip again, Twilight saw Luna’s side was unaffected. “What have you told them?”

The creature took a deep sigh, its breath once again creeping through the air around her and fading.

“You must plan your interrogations better,” it commented. “Once more, same as before; I do not know, the last thing I remember was being attacked and I defended myself! I will not show remorse for their weakness, they should have not chosen the fight if they could not end it.”

Twilight was happy with this information, the creature had exposed itself as a talented liar. It was very convincing from its frustrated expression to its strained brow to the feigning ignorance and confusion. She decided to ask further hoping she could gain more insight.

“Why did they attack you?”

“Perhaps you could answer that. I awoke to the strike of a hoof on my head. My response was naturally defensive.”

“And the books?”

“I do not know what I was searching for.”

Awoke... This creature was now claiming it had no prior knowledge to tearing up the books, yet it had mentioned those very same books, confirming them as hers. It was possible she had made yet another mistake revealing the information. Such a claim from any creature was stretched to the imagination and did not serve to clarify anything.

“You chose the fight. You were the one who attacked them.”

“To this I have no memory.”

“So you were sleepwalking?” The creature did not respond but looked away to a nurse patting Luna down with a warm cloth. The mist from its body reminded her how cold the room was.

Twilight still did not trust it. It was unclear how she could get the answers needed. The creature was uncooperative and distant, trying to hide behind its lie. A plan began forming to approach the monster in a different manner. The whole time it had been kept isolated from the others, to her it was perhaps more effective if her friends could help; Applejack might coax it with one of her delicious fritters, having been without savoury food it may benefit from such encouragement. Rarity might be able to work her charms and convince it to behave. Fluttershy was great with all creatures and could soothe any beast. Pinkie Pie would be a last resort plan to break it. Rainbow Dash could...watch, she might unintentionally anger it though.

“Thank you,” she said turning around and heading to the exit, “I will be back, just going to bring a few reinforcements.”

“Don’t take too long. I promised Cadence we would be done by lunchtime”

“Don’t take too long…Princess Twilight Sparkle…”

She was more than grateful to leave. The rumble of her name on the creature's tongue was…eerie.

*

Celestia was hesitant to bring more ponies into that chamber, but Twilight’s civility with the monster granted her permission. They both agreed the elements of harmony would be their best hope.

Twilight had taken more of an interest into what this creature was. She knew her task was to create magic to harm it, but she hoped for another solution. Prodding it with magic was not going to work, that had already been tried. Twilight’s goal at the moment was to relieve it from the cell, relieve her mentor of that burden, and figure out if it was indeed lying.

Her Brother had been very dismissive of that lie. It was far too convenient to be true though. There was a nagging suspicion though about ponies and losing control of themselves. It had happened before and it was not impossible. Lately Twilight had learned to never consider anything impossible.

A quick inquiry to an attending guard confirmed the whereabouts of her friends. Fluttershy was in the gardens playing with the animals; Applejack, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash were around the castle performing chores; Rarity and Spike were sleeping.

Celestia did not ask Twilight about her thoughts on the creature. She only seemed very relieved, her muscles loosening and stance easing to the graceful pose they usually carried. She wanted to wait outside the chamber while Twilight rounded up her friends insisting she would rather be close in case.

Before Twilight left to retrieve the others, Princess Celestia did whisper something, “Try to coax it to drink or eat something.” With a smile she returned to watching through the window on top of the door. It reminded Twilight of an eager filly staring out the window early in the morning for the post to bring her a new copy of the book; Enchanted Fables Non-Fictionalised.

Celestia did not bear anger. Despite all her warnings she still showed compassion. This from a mare who was willing to let the beast expire a short time ago.

Heading up the spiral stairs, Twilight was hit with a realisation; she could not help feeling proud of Princess Celestia. After all that monster did she was concerned. It was likely she needed to know more, hence the necessity for prolonging it, but that look she had and the way her eyes tried to pierce the dark was a look of relief.

As Twilight made her way into the gardens she wondered if it would be possible to get Fluttershy to go down into the cells. If things came to the worst she would have to play on her kindness and describe the creature as something less dangerous, needing care and attention.

That creature. She was apprehensive about bringing anypony at all near it after the stories but there was no choice. The matter had to be resolved quickly, Twilight had been entrusted to do so.

The climb from those stairs was odd. On one hoof she felt tired but on the other the receding cold encouraged each step. By the time she reached the top all traces of that icy room were gladly left behind.

The morning sun bathed the main courtyard of the castle. Twilight trotted out and drank in the fresh air. It invigorated her. Refreshing and pure, it carried over on the cool breeze as she stretched her wings out to catch it. Twilight flapped her wings just once to see. She felt her weight lift instantly and giggled at the sensation.They were sensitive to wind, feeling the each gentle caress sweep through her feathers.

The sounds of the dawn and the rising animals all around helped cleanse Twilight’s mind. The guards out front saluted and marched on their patrol. She blushed feeling embarrassed by her new spotlight. She wanted to be in the background again and politely ignored by everypony, however that was not a choice to make.

She looked back to her wings and tried a flap once more, nearly falling over when the right side proved to be stronger than the left. It was worrying. She could never be as good as Rainbow Dash but she wanted to learn to make Celestia proud. Wonderfully there were a lot of books on the subject she would have to read first. Sadly they would have to wait until the issue at hoof was resolved.

Arriving at the gardens a blonde coated, long pink maned pegasus was running about the playing with the exotic variety of Celestia’s animals. Having finally won their trust renewed Twilight’s faith in her friends ability. Fluttershy was a gifted whisperer of animals. She had befriended the most dangerous creatures in the kingdom from dragons to an equally ferocious rabbit. She was a very kind pony by nature. Her love and sweet spirit could tame the mightiest of beasts, and the monster seemed less of a challenge already.

Fluttershy appeared to be inspecting each one. She scanned the animals one by one, then the surrounding bushes, flowers and trees with scrupulous detail. It appeared she had lost something very small.

"Good morning Fluttershy!" The pegasus was startled but upon seeing her grinned wickedly. “Fluttershy?”. In less than a wingbeat the pegasus had pounced on Twilight and pinned her. Twilight's struggles were in vain against her, that deceptive strength from her animal wrangling pinning her hooves.

"Now I've got you!" she triumphantly roared.

"Are you crazy!? Get off me!"

"You have to do better than that."

“Fluttershy! Get off!”

“I have spent all morning and I’m done playing.”

Twilight's confusion was resolved when another alicorn doubling her walked in on this scene looking puzzled. "Awww. You stole my idea. I call interference!" she said blowing a whistle and grinning. Fluttershy looked down at the Twilight she pinned.

"Twilight?"

"You can get off me now."

“Ohmysorrygoshsorryreallysorry!,” she jumped off and dragged Twilight up, dusting her off, smoothing out her mane and placing a flower neatly behind the ear as a clumsy apology. Twilight simply stared at her copy, then at Fluttershy. “We were…um…playing a game."

"Hello Discord," she remarked to the other Twilight.

No longer hiding his voice, Discord changed back to his normal form, an host of mixed bodies from lions, dragons, snakes and all manner of creatures neatly embodying the spirit of chaos, a Draconequus. It was not strange for Twilight anymore, she had slowly grown accustomed to the oddity.

Once he was an enemy to the kingdom, now brought back by the elements of harmony in order to reform him. Fluttershy had been successful, but from what she had told them it was painful having to be so forgiving. Her kind nature often left her exposed and vulnerable. However it was in her friends she found her confidence and courage in putting others before herself. This was what Twilight hoped could be used again against the monster. She felt more anxious thinking about the encounter.

At least Discord was more civil than what waited below. Twilight saw him in a different light though, finding it tough to imagine the days he was once the feared Lord of Chaos.

"Good morning new Princess!” Discord enthusiastically shook her hoof, before sporting more arms to shake all her hooves. “It’s so good to say that to an actual princess. If you wanted to play you could've asked," he jeered smiling and delighting in his little trick.

“Now Discord, you must warn me when the pony who are impersonating trots in. You know I can get a little carried away.”

Discord poofed to Fluttershy patting her mane, “And that’s what I just love about you! So easy to get caught up in your little moments.”

“How are you feeling Discord?”

“Fine thank you, Princess. Judging by your delicious scent of mildew and grime, as well as your pale expression, you have met our new friend.”

“What new friend?” Fluttershy asked enthusiastically.

Twilight tried to keep her context brief; “There's a new creature in Equestria who is less than friendly. Princess Celestia has asked me, and us, to take a look and see if we can help it.”

“Oh the poor dear, where is it now?”

“You are not taking my Fluttershy down there!” Discord moved between Fluttershy and Twilight, he was no longer his usual jovial self, a determined look fixed on his face.

“Discord?”

“No. I won’t have it. That monster will remain there where it is safe.”

“Discord, safe for who?” Fluttershy was perplexed at this behaviour. He was trying to protect her from this creature, an admittedly puzzling reaction. It dawned on her that their mission may be less cute and cuddly than she had thought. She looked nervously at Twilight, her ears sinking, “Twilight...what is this creature?”

“We don’t know. It can speak at least but it is very, um, hostile. They have...detained it below the castle to keep it safe.”

“What do you mean detained?”

“Oh don’t you worry, Fluttershy. You know how these princesses can get worked up with their fantasies and…”. Discord’s rambling made Twilight hesitate in mentioning the chains and the cell. Fluttershy was a very compassionate pony and mentioning it would only upset her. “…not to mention that sun and moon balancing act they are constantly doing. It’s bound to give them some stress and-” She moved casually in front of Discord, a stern expression and voice.

“What do you mean by ‘detained’?”

“Well…it kind of is, uh-”

“When you have a monster,” Discord intervened, “you make sure it cannot hurt anypony else.” He dangled a chain in front of Fluttershy for emphasis.

“Chains,” Twilight was forced to clarify, “in a cell beneath the castle. We had no choice, it is too viole-”

“CHAINS!? HOW DARE YOU!”

“Fluttershy please listen, it is not safe-”

“So you put it in chains!? I don’t care how mean that monster looks, no living creature should be forced into chains and caged! It must be scared stuck down there. How could they do that to a poor defenceless creature?”

Twilight needed her to understand the danger, “Believe me, poor and defenceless is not an accurate description. It’s not what it did to me but to Princess Celestia and her guards. It hurt them Fluttershy. Very badly.”

The stern expression faded, sunken to confusion, “What?”

“It was intruding in the palace and...well the patrol that found it was attacked. It nearly hurt them beyond healing.” Twilight had to omit the gruesome details, she would tell them all later but only once more when they were all together.

“It attacked them?”

“Yes. They may never return to active duty. The princesses combined magic only incapacitated it. Our task is to make it safe to release, at best. They are keeping it locked up for everypony’s safety because it is immune to known magic and dangerous, not because they want to.” Fluttershy was a little distressed but doubted it was as conclusive as Twilight made it out to be. “We need your help. It is growing weak, it refuses to eat, drink, and it is hurt quite badly. It won't allow anypony close enough to help. If we can get it to trust us maybe we can resolve this problem.”

“It.”

“Yes…”

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

Twilight had no idea. She was the worst telling genders from other species. To this day she still felt embarrassed mistaking the minotaur cows for bulls.

“I…don’t know.”

Fluttery smiled sympathetically. “Where is it?. Twilight was relieved not have to talk her into helping. Fluttershy was surprisingly strong when a supposedly defenceless creature needed her help.

“It is in the old prison under the castle. We can go there with the others and the Elements of Harmony.”

“There’s a prison?”

“No!” Discord hoisted Fluttershy up and held onto her tightly, “You cannot go there.”

Fluttershy spoke soothingly to him, “Discord...”

“No no no.” His grasp grew tighter and she pulled her forelegs free reaching around his head hugging him.

“I will be fine.”

Twilight did not want to reveal the dungeon used to be Discord’s, she could see it was something he did not wish either.

“Please let me come with you.”

“Actually, because of the Elements of Harmony, I think it would be a bad idea to have you close by. In case something happens and we have to use them.”

“But...”

“Twilight is right Discord. We have discussed this. I do not...” she paused waiting for him to finish her sentence, “Say it.”

“...Need protection. Alright Fluttershy. If you need my help then all you have to do is call. I will be watching anyway.” He placed her on the ground with a solemn face, “Be careful my friends.”

Again Twilight was caught off guard by the change in Discord. Clearly Celestia was omitting details about their attempts thus far to understand this creature. She wondered how Cadence fared against the monster, whether it left her as weary. It seemed that all those who came in contact had that weariness. Twilight did not find it frightening. Unnerving yes, but not frightening.

“Thank you Discord.” Fluttershy nodded to Twilight. “Let’s go get the others.”

As they walked away from a concerned looking Discord, Fluttershy could not help ask, hoping for a better answer than what she imagined, “Is it really that bad?”

“I…think it is. Princess Celestia is worried and that is reason enough for us to be.”

“Is there anything else I should know?”

“Don’t trust it, it will lie, it will play on your sympathy, it is dangerous.”

“Oh my. Did it do that already? have you seen it yet?”

Twilight wearily nodded as they entered the castle. “I’ve already met it but…I don’t know.”

“I’m not very good with monsters…”

“If there is a pony who can befriend it, it’s you Fluttershy.”

“Well I hope our friends are coming too.”

Twilight smiled, “We will face this together like any other challenge.” There was a noticeable bounce in Fluttershy’s steps as she trotted on. Twilight felt more confident in kind thinking about their friends and how strong they had been together.

The pegasus shyly bumped Twilight’s shoulder as they made for the castle ballroom. “Sooo….?” she grinned.

“So?”

“Have you tried to fly yet?”

*

It was fortunate there were a hoofful of guards about the castle at any given moment, it made tracking Twilight’s friends thankfully simple. When asked the knights reported that Rarity was still sleeping with Spike, Rainbow Dash had disappeared in the sky for her morning flight, and Pinkie was helping Applejack with the cleanup of yesterday's festivities.

Twilight ordered two nervous guards to fetch Rainbow and tell her to meet them in the castle immediately. They took to the sky to their task instantly without question or hesitation. She enjoyed having some extra authority in the palace, it was fun to see the guards stand so nervously at attention whenever she passed them. As a filly, Twilight was often ordered to stay out of rooms and led around by a host of different escorts trying to keep her out of trouble. At least this day she could go anywhere she pleased.

Over in the ballroom an orange pony was working tirelessly to bring down the banners and decorations perched high on the ceilings. She was using the string from one streamer as a lasso to grab the others, demonstrating her farm girl prowess. The ever helpful Applejack was always eager to assist. She was the co-owner of an apple orchard she and her family were well known for in the town of Ponyville. The spirit of honesty whose integrity was without bounds.

A pink pony was busy sweeping up the confetti, cleaning and separating the colours into different bags. It seemed like an excruciating task yet the quantity she had already organised was impressive. Pinkie Pie was carefree and fearless, always cheering up even the most gloomy of folks with her infectious smile and persistent giggle. Working in a bakery specialising in catering for parties, her skills were treasured as a foremost event planner. To her nature, she had a firm belief in organised chaos and was always able to throw a party together thanks to her attention to detail and careful planning. Twilight and Fluttershy trotted in to meet them being greeted with two big smiles.

“Hello, Princess!” They both chided.

Twilight felt herself blushing, “Come on guys, it's just Twilight. I haven't changed.”

“Much! ” Applejack teased holding up her new wings.

“When are you going to fly?” Pinkie Pie smiled.

“I can’t yet, Princess Celestia has asked us on a special mission.”

“A mission?” they both asked.

“I’ll explain when we are all together. But for now I am going to need your help to get Rarity up.”

After a quick glance towards each other Applejack took a quick look around the room while Pinkie Pie tried to look busy checking the bags.

“Why…don’t we just meet you later?” Applejack smiled sheepishly.

“Umm, yeah, I think Applejack needs help getting her morning face on.” Pinkie was already making her way out of the room.

Twilight had to smile at their cowardice, “Now you two wouldn’t be trying to avoid helping us with Rarity?”

“No!” they both cried out in indignation.

“We have a whole mess of work to do before we can go rushing off.”

“Yeah, Twilight. We have responsibilities!”

“It looks to me like you’re done.”

“Well there’s a heap of stuff in the back still.”

“You mean the back that they just finished cleaning?” She pointed to two maids carting out a large trolley with an assortment of cleaning supplies. They looked tired and the open doors revealed a spotless kitchen that spanned as much space as the ballroom. Pinkie and Applejack tried to cover their error with a grin but Twilight would have none of it. “Come on guys, somepony has to help me get her up. Besides, Fluttershy is not-” she turned to her friend but there was no sign of her. A trembling curtain revealed her location, “Oh come on!”

“Sorry hun, I still can’t hear right after we tried the last time.”

“Yeah. Rarity is kind of...scary when her beauty sleep is disturbed.”

“Scary?! Last time she nearly sewed me a straight jacket!” Pinkie grabbed her sides and fell to the floor for emphasis.

“Well last time you threw cold water on her Pinkie.”

“You said we would be late for the Dragon Migration if we waited a minute longer.”

“This time we will avoid the water and the screaming…and tying her up to run for our lives. Alright Applejack?”

“Well...I’m still bringing the rope.”

“If it makes you feel better. Thank you”

*

The four of them rallied up the stairs to the castle suites, a nervous group ready to face a daunting task to preface yet another. It was good the see Rainbow Dash flutter into the upper corridors, trying to run away upon learning their plan to wake Rarity. The blue pegasus, the Element of Loyalty, was a coquettish mare infamous for her daring flying prowess and more so for her crashes. She was the kind of mare any friend could rely on. Despite her daring, she was still hesitant to wake Rarity.

Rarity, the Element of Generosity, was a skilled unicorn seamstress and business owner of a tailor shop in Ponyville. She had the class and sophistication to rival anypony in Canterlot high society, often having their clientele in her humble boutique. She was poised and refined…but she was not a morning pony.

As the five of them wound their way past the stone corridors, they came upon her room. It was fitting a neat ‘do not disturb’ sign was hanging in the centre. Twilight felt a little guilty having to wake her, after last night she would most likely sleep until noon. There was no choice though, she had to be woken. They all took a deep breath and Twilight gently wiggled the handle.

As the door slowly swung open the group cautiously entered to a scattered mess. Rarity had flung her shoes and dress anywhere collapsing on the bed with her hind legs peeking out from under the quilt. Her head was completely covered and the gentle rising and falling of the covers could be seen. She slept very quietly but Twilight was a little concerned she had overdone it last night, struggling not to laugh remembering the mare teasing Spike with such proficient eloquence.

Quickly nudging Pinkie Pie forwards, Applejack stepped back and readied her lasso. The pink mare mustered her courage and gently nudged the sleeping mound quickly springing back as a swipe from a hoof missed her.

Applejack looked around and saw the sceptre Rarity had snatched off Twilight in an over excited stupor, “Try this.”

They all stepped back as the brave pony nudged again and the resulting swipe knocked it to the floor. They stood terrified by the silence but still she remained sleeping.

“Pinkie Pie!” Twilight whispered scoldingly to the mare as she wheeled a her confetti canon forwards.

“But-”

“No!”

Rainbow Dash was as nervous but more impatient, letting her eagerness control her, “For ponies sake...RARITY!”

The mound stirred as they all retreated behind Rainbow, including Twilight. After the last time she was still notably traumatised. As the back hooves slowly pulled under the quilt the mound rolled tighter and returned to the silence.

Rainbow had a wicked idea and slowly approached the mound clasping the edge in her teeth. She glanced behind her and gave a mighty tug wrenching the blanket free, darting out the room and bracing the door behind her to leave the others stuck with the repercussions.

They tried to get out but the door was shut tight and they could only turn to see those angered, bloodshot eyes grimacing towards them.

Fluttershy was able to squeak out something, “Good...morning...” Twilight wanted to laugh but scream at the same time. She had the idea of Rarity being as bad as the monster, at least it was in chains but here they were not safe.

“Why.are.you.here.” the tired voice deeply growled. Rarity threw herself back on the pillow pulling the mattress covering free and improvising a new blanket.

“We are sorry to have to wake you-”

“I was having the most delicious dream. Leave me be while I can still go back.” Twilight saw the nightstand and read the title of the novel propped on it.

“Oh Rarity, not ‘A Regal Dalliance’, don’t tell me...chapter nineteen?”

“It is the absolute best part, when she...I mean it’s not what you think!” The laughter of her friends made her blush bright red as she stuffed the book under her pillow. She sat up with indignation. Rainbow Dash reentered taking the good mood as a safety sign. She returned Rarity’s blanket because her flushed face needed something to hide under. “It’s not that! It’s something else!”

“Oh yeah? Let’s have a look then.”

“Oh you wouldn’t be interested, Rainbow. It’s about economic...things.” She fought off the blue pegasus with a scowl.

“Oh let’s see, we can-”

“Alright! Alright! I’m up!”

“Good, we need your help.”

“With what exactly do you need my help that it couldn’t wait until the Count was done?”

Twilight was the only one who pressed back her giggle. She tried to explain the situation to them all then. With each word they grew silent and still. The once light atmosphere weighed heavier, smiles eventually fading.

“What do you mean her wings are gone?” Twilight hoped they would not inquire further about that.

“She lost them, Rarity. Our magic could not reattach the base, the creature's immunity to magic is almost infectious. It has the ability to block it out up to a certain distance. They could not use any magic to fix her wings…and that is a very complicated operation...”

“That’s horrible...” Rainbow Dash had sunken to the floor with the thought. All winged ponies were highly trained and cautious with very fast healing capabilities. There had never been such an accident in all her time in Equestria. The thought both angered and sickened her, “Why do we have to help it? Sounds like it got what it deserved.”

“Rainbow Dash you must try to-”

“Try nothing! Because of that monster she can never fly again! Do you have any Idea what that’s like for a pegasus?!” She brushed a tear from her cheek and marched to the door with a transfixed expression of anger, “What are you waiting for? I want a word with this thing now!”

Rarity thankfully spoke up, “Rainbow Dash, you must be calm. We all agree it’s horrible but this creature-”

“Monster!”

“...monster is still very dangerous. I am not too eager to pick a fight with the brute and neither should you be.”

Twilight was grateful for Rarity’s charm at times like this. “We need to keep it calm until we know more. I’ve already met it and so far it seems civil.” Her horn glowed and each of the ponies got their pieces of the Elements of Harmony. “Remember to keep your wits about you.”

Rarity pushed herself out of the bed and the improvised blanket neatly corrected itself with a quick flick of her horn. “I need just a few minutes to get my face on.”

“You look fine, Rarity. Let’s just go already,” Rainbow Dash outwardly expressed her impatience.

“And let the kingdom see me without my face?! Not on your life!”

She danced around the eyelash, a dash of blush, her eye shadow, a dollop of moisturiser and a pinch of perfume. Despite very little work she was always proud of her minimalist approach.

“That’s it?”

“What do you mean? Is there something else? Did I miss a dash here? I’m forsaking my bath and hoof care because of the urgency.”

“You look very pretty Rarity.”

“Thank you, Fluttershy. At least somepony here knows about the finer arts of beautifying oneself.”

“It just don’t look like much.”

“No I suppose not. But these subtleties are key in presentation.”

“Alright. Can we just go please. I don’t understand how you can be as calm about this.”

“I am as upset as you are, Rainbow. Please understand that finesse is needed here. It sounds like your usual bold approach won’t work this time. Ready, Twilight. I mean, Princess Twilight.”

“Guys please. It’s still just Twilight. Let’s not make things weird.”

The journey to the foyer was quiet with barely a word spoken between them. They were all watched by the guards as they passed, most likely knowing where they were headed.

To greet them in the main lobby was an entire legion of guards led by Spitfire, a serious pegasus who was in charge of the Wonderbolt’s Military Academy. A fierce combatant and highly trained flyer, she was their most seasoned sergeant. The mare saluted to greet them.

“Princess Twilight, we are here to lend you support in the event of a mishap. Princess Celestia requested we meet you here.”

“That won’t be necessary Ma’am. We will be fine.”

“With all due respect, Princess, I am not prepared to risk your safety.”

“I will be perfectly fine. We all will be. It is quite narrow down there and it is not wise to have so many soldiers crowding the space. If you are needed we will call. Please be ready here in case it tries to run.”

“Yes Princess!” Spitfire glanced over to Rainbow Dash, “Keep them safe, trainee!”

“Yes Ma’am.” Rainbow saluted, she was burning to ask about the wingless guard but she knew it was out of place. It had to wait until the right moment came.

“Umm…Spitfire?” Twilight hesitated.

“Yes, Princess!”

“If it gets free at all, if you can't stop it…please don’t risk yourselves. We will find a way.” The mare hesitated to say what she wanted, but eventually nodded a little reluctantly.

The six of them passed into the hallway leaving the legion in line and hopefully prepared. They left the sounds of Spitfire barking commands and came to the dungeon entrance. It revealed itself instantly, perhaps attuned to an Alicorn’s presence. The familiar dank smell wafted out.

“Isn’t that just charming,” Rarity scoffed through her hoof.

“I reckon it’s going to be one of those days, Applejack laughed.

“Ready and steady!” Pinkie Pie giggled.

Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash were not as vocal. It did not help Twilight’s nerves. They had a right to be scared, indeed they all did.

“Let’s be safe, guys.”

“Yes, Princess!” they all chided, some less jovial than others.

02. Monster

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A stone spiral staircase led a dimly lit way for Twilight and a friends. The same nervous glances that adorned Twilight could be seen on her friends. An eerie silence was present, the roars the thing once made no longer present, only their hoofsteps echoed into the descent. Twilight had a chill visualising the creature at the bottom of the stairs waiting for them. Despite its unremarkable appearance it had already gained an uneasy status in her mind. She was demonising its form like shadows in the night becoming phantoms.

“There are far too many stairs!” Rarity complained. “I hope I don't start sweating. If you warned me we would be descending this smelly place I shan’t have bothered to glamorise my visage.”

Applejack thought she would take a chance to lighten the mood, “Alright, I got to say it; hooves up everypony who knew that was coming.”

“Applejack, surely you jest, I cannot be that-” She looked around to see her friends were all smiling with their hooves raised. “Fine,” she pouted. They all laughed and for a moment it was better.

The lighter mood stayed in the stairwell though as they reached the bottom and the corridor of cells. Twilight illuminated as much as she could to try obscure the tortures each cell held. Their dank gleam and obscured shapes provided the necessary ambiance to stifle humour.

Princess Celestia smiled and nodded seeing the six gathered and ready.

“Good morning, Princess,” the said in unison.

The Princess remained silent but nodded her appreciation. Twilight’s heart leapt a little seeing her smiling. She gracefully stepped aside as her student lead the way to the augmented cell door. Twilight turned to them and took a moment to confirm her plan.

“So the plan is simple,” Twilight began, “we must try to understand what it is, if it is a threat and if we can do something to help it.”

Applejack could see the bowed brow of Twilight betraying her anxiety, “ We know. Don’t worry, sugar cube. We'll be alright.”

There was course in the smiles that surrounded her. Twilight smiled in kind and entered the chamber, the large doors groaning as they parted before them. The creature had remained as it was, sagging loosely on the chains breathing deeply. In her absence it had fallen asleep.

Princess Luna and Shining Armor remained at their posts, vigilant. Twilight could not help be concerned for them and wonder how long they had been holding it before she came. She felt guilty for resting when the whole time she could have been helping. However with the insanity of Starswirl’s backfired spell she would have had her hooves too full to be useful.

As they came closer the creature stirred, slowly raising itself to see them. It let out a deep reverberating growl focused on the newcomers, the breath creeping out once again. Fluttershy clung to Rarity, who in turn clung to Applejack nearly falling over. Once again Twilight could see its eyes darting around analysing their persons, it paid no attention to her this time. Fluttershy had stopped in her tracks. Rainbow appeared calm but her stride grew shorter as she drew closer to the chained figure in the room. Twilight knew the creature was enjoying their fear but she would not show it hers.

“I am sorry I took so long.” It did not reply. She could see every muscle tighten and the shivering cease. It was coiling. “These are my friends from your left to right, Fluttershy, Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash.”

Rainbow Dash could not help laugh a little inside. All the buildup and that was what caused it. She could see right off the cloud it was less than dangerous. All these crazy contraptions on place to keep it locked up. She decided a display of bravado would ease her friends and help FLuttershy, still cowering behind them even after she once took on a dragon alone.

“So that little thing is the problem?!” Rainbow laughed, “It doesn't look so dangerous to me.” She flew up high over the creature with a teasing jiggle of her tail, “It’s so small and it obviously can't even-” she was cut off when the creature suddenly leapt up and grasped her leg, the immense weight pulling pulling her down in a heartbeat.

Twilight did not hesitate and fired an improvised immobilising spell. The magic washed over the beast without any effect. Not even Rainbow was affected, the power negated by whatever trick it was using. One it’s soiled arms coiled around Rainbow’s neck, the weighted shackle barely having an effect.

Rainbow was kicking the creature, flapping her wings and biting the arm, causing a tremendous fight. The creature did not seem phased. It was as disturbing as watching a cat that caught a bird. On either side the captors doubled their efforts on the weights, using all their magic to pry its arms apart. There was not a flinch. Twilight heard her mentor’s voice echo of this things deceit, she was more shocked it had deceived that quickly.

Her friends were by her side in moments and ready to use the Elements of Harmony, each glow a reassuring light.

“LET HER GO!” Twilight shouted, her element thrumming threateningly.

The expression she expected was not there. She could not understand what was going through this things mind. It wore the same blank emotion, no anger, nothing.

“Release me,” it growled.

“You turn her loose now! Or I swear-” Applejack threatened.

“Y’all is plannin’ a heap o hurtin’?” it mocked the farm pony.

Fluttershy’s anger was rarely seen, but when it did show it was frightening. “WE TOLD YOU TO LET HER GO!” She screamed, “Let my friend go or I will make you feel SO SORRY!”

It’s eyes narrowed and a claw grasped Rainbow’s cheek. Fluttershy had sensitive ears, she could hear it whispering.

“I only want to leave. You can make that happen. I do not want to hurt you and I ask you not to force me to.”

Rainbow Dash’s face was haunting, her wings folding in tightly. It was clear what she was thinking about. She was glancing to each wing erratically as if expecting it to repeat its brutality on her. Pinkie Pie did not hesitate and launched a pie at the creature, covering Rainbow and it with what smelled like banana.

“Pinkie!” They all shouted.

The creature cleared its throat ignoring the distraction, “Release my chains. Now.” The coil tightened and Rainbows breathing became laboured as she felt the strain trying to draw breath.

“Are you insane?!”

“You have no choice. The blue one will not be harmed if you release me.”

Twilight looked to Luna and Shining Armor, both of their horns were sparking with the effort to free Rainbow. Sweat was literally dripping from each one.

“You!” Rarity bolted forward to stop right before the creatures face, far too close for comfort. It held tightly on, the chains chiming as they pulled harder against its strength. “Now see here, monster! That is no way to treat a lady. Shame on you, hiding like a coward behind a helpless pony.”

“Helpless?!” Rainbow Dash protested trying to kick out. To Rarity’s relief she still had her fiery spirit. Not much could quell Rainbow Dash after all.

“How do you sleep at night!?” Her question was met with a weary stare.

“Release me.” She fixed her eyes to it and went right up in it’s face, not letting the foul odour deter her. Rainbow was in trouble now and she needed her.

“Look, we are here to help, to understand what you are. You are making a terrible first impression right now. Let me ask you something; seeing your behaviour now, do you not think we have good reason to chain you? I had my doubts before this.”

The creature tried to, but was unable to respond, looking downwards to contemplate her question. Rarity saw its grip loosen around Rainbow and she grabbed her friend’s tail, the banana cream covering allowed Rainbow to slip out easily. Rarity threw all her weight back and they both landed a safer distance away.

“Banana! The slipperiest berry!” Pinkie said proudly admiring her work.

The creature did not have the reaction Twilight was expecting, it's body drooped again and it's arms were pulled sharply by the chains with a grunt. Shining Armor and Luna caught their breath, both clearly angered by that mistake.

“Rainbow, are you alright?” Fluttershy held her stunned friend in her hooves examining the neck. She was, only her pride was bruised.

“I’m...fine!” She said pushing herself to stand proudly, “You’re the lucky one!” she pointed at the creature. Its expression motionless.

Twilight shot a beam at the creature and a chain appeared around its neck, anchoring it to the floor. That was her element’s magic, clearly its was not immune.

“If you ever do that again...” She stopped herself, such dark thoughts did not have a place in a princess’s heart. “Perhaps we can all agree to keep our distance?” The nodded in agreement, sinking back into their calmer dispositions. Rainbow was noticeably shaken, but thankfully alright. There was always a risk to bring her friends here, but Twilight had never failed to misjudge a risk until today.

Applejack had trouble believing what had happened, this critter did not look like it could be that remorseless monster. It was a genuine snake in the grass. “Twilight, why don't we turn up the lights a little? I want a good gander at our friend here.”

Twilight obliged, the lights on her horn growing brighter illuminating the darkness. She did not care anymore for diplomacy or consideration, this monster would have to earn it.

The clearer features lacked a typical monstrous look. It bore no horns or fangs, truly unremarkable. Despite the docile glance they all knew better by now. The danger they could all feel came from instinct. Twilight knew this thing was far more capable than what they had already seen. It was in the eyes.

Rarity took a step forward and cleared her throat. She decided to try once again. “You know who we are, to whom are we speaking?”

The creature did not answer. Twilight thought some clarity to this silence would help avoid repetition, “It won't speak because it has refused to answer those questions already. We need to ask it things it has not heard.”

Rarity paused in thought, she scanned the body and the outstretched arms, the large shackles wrapped around the wrists. “Twilight, did you realise it is injured? How did you do that to yourself?”

Twilight scanned the wrists and saw they were raw, torn and bloodied. The brighter light revealed how the creature had struggled to the point of injuring itself. It became a little clearer how desperate it was to leave.

“And it smells just awful. Pinkie, are you sure that pie was fresh?”

“Hey! I made that pie this morning! It was delicious and perfect! Or was it last week in the morning…”

Rarity moved closer to the creature, Twilight joined her and they each inspected the links whilst maintaining a safe distance. It was not a fresh wound. That awful smell was coming from the wrists, the body had an unpleasant odour as well but it obscured by the decay. “Perhaps we should try to treat it?”

“Do not use magic again, Princess Twilight!” Luna cautioned them, "It will slip out, I have already tried."

Rarity felt pity for this thing, being so mindless as to end up hurting itself. It was clearly not as intelligent as she thought but it had understood her enough to reflect on its hold of Rainbow.

“Perhaps we should start over if you are willing to be more civil. Princess Luna, Shining Armor, would you both be so kind as to loosen the chains please? Twilight, I need you to remove that collar around its neck.

“After that you want to loosen it?! Are you crazy?”

She eyed the monster, those sunken eyes haunting as they gazed over her body.
. “No it won’t, will you?”

“Release me and see,” it growled with a smirk. Rarity did not blink, it was becoming easier to understand this animal. She had seen this before with the Diamond Dogs, show no fear and they will roll over like puppies.

‘Rarity...” Twilight began, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

“Trust me Darling.”

“Alright, please step far back before I do.”

Rarity did so and the collar dropped to the floor clattering to the stone.

“Why don't you stand up please?” Rarity asked sweetly.

“Burn,” the creature replied bitterly.

“It is polite to stand in the presence of a lady.”

“I see no lady.”

“I'm going to ignore that. Now you clearly don't want to be here. How is your method of acting like a brute going? The only thing you are closer to is tearing your own arm off. Perhaps if you could at least demonstrate your cooperation we can come to some sort of arrangement?”

The creature raised its brow, “An arrangement?”

Rarity felt a taste of triumph, as well as a shiver up her spine. “Yes well, how about...if you stand for us we will-”

“Release me?”

“Now you know we cannot do that darling.”

“I do not perform tricks.”

“I see no juggling pins or flaming hoops. We are not asking you to do tricks. You must show us you are willing to cooperate. Perhaps in time, with good behaviour we can let you loose.”

“Some bargain! I will not be led by false promises.”

“Now that doesn't make sense, I never promised anything.”

“Rarity just give up and let's get out of here.” Rainbows plan was tempting, she did not want to be here yet she found herself enthralled by this monster. It was not safe to be here, she knew that, but when it loosened its grip something passed through that head. It could at least understand her words and that was a start.

Twilight stood by her at the ready. She was nervous about what Rarity was doing but her friend was able to get it to talk, and that was a start. “Twilight,” she whispered in her ear, “I don’t think it wants to hurt us, but please be ready just in case.”

“What are you thinking of doing?”

“Something far too stupid for myself.” She turned to the creature and confidently trotted to it, grabbing a fresh blanket from a pile she placed it in front of the beast and sat down, more than close enough for it to reach her. The chains began to tighten and pull its arms up again. “Hold on please.” she called to Luna and Shining Armor. It was important to maintain a facade of ease while inside she was tense and ready to throw herself back should it try to reach for her. “Let us try this. I will agree not to move if you agree to stand.” The creature's sudden twisted grin sent a shiver up her spine as the crooked teeth passed over each other. She held her poise and place. Her heart was beating quickly and she was worried it could see her nerves. Just like the diamond dogs; no fear, show no fear.

“Agreed.” The creature jerked quickly backwards but she did not move. It looked confused and disappointed by this and she knew that little exchange had done more than she had hoped.

“It is not polite to keep a lady waiting.”

The creature dragged its leg forward and dropped down with a great weight. The joints and bones cracked and groaned as it put that weight on them, rising slowly but keeping its eyes fixed on her. She quickly realised this was a test and this creature would pass judgement based on what she did next. Hold still, hold still.

Her breath tightened as it rose further, erecting its back and straightening those legs. Twilight and the others watched it growing, increasingly concerned as its height passed Rarity's. It stood much like a Minotaur on two legs but lacked the massive upper body. The dancing of the dim torchlight and twilight’s horn did little to reduce its monstrous visage, projecting a giant shadow on the back wall. As it towered over Rarity, she began leaning back wanting to gain distance. She could feel her heart beating louder, her breath more shallow and sharp. Gathering her determination she kept composure with an eased look on her face. The creature lowered its head to hers in the same manner she did to it earlier. Its breath was horrendous, the smell of its body churning her stomach, she would have to miss breakfast and lunch now.

“Well done,” It growled letting the mist creep out.

Rarity jumped when it spoke but held her ground. The creature grinned and stood back allowing her to absorb the figure and size. Its body was large, the garments It wore were torn and stained with grime. She could feel the others eyes on her and turned to see them poised, ready to charge in should it be needed. This was an insane thing to do having seen Rainbow only moments ago caught in its grasp. The creature stretched sending more cracking sounds around its body, then it sagged back down to its knees with a wince.

Rarity stood up, “Thank you.” She turned to her friends barely able to feel her legs, “Twilight? Do you want to know anything in particular?” Twilight trotted to her side and paused, choosing her words carefully. She looked at the shackles and considered an act of diplomacy to gain its favour

“What do you want in exchange for letting us fix up those wounds?”

“Nothing.”

“So we can fix them then?”

“If you dare to.”

“Wait, do you or don't you want our help?” The creature remained silent and Rarity nudged Twilight encouraging her to continue. “If you let us help you without attempting to harm us…I will make sure you are more comfortable.”

“By releasing me?”

“You really are pushing that aren't you?” Applejack laughed.

“Darling, if you were us, would you release you?”

The creature was silent, mulling over its answer and after a long time, it spoke in defeat.

“No.” There was a simultaneous ease in the room. It felt as though progress was being made at last. A faint giggle from Princess Celestia confirmed this. Watching over them through the space in the door.

“We could try to make things warmer here, anything you need within reason.”

“Water.”

The simplicity of what it wanted relieved Twilight, she thought it would try to use more tricks to free itself, unless this was one, in which case she would have to remain constantly vigilant.

“We can do that.” She gestured to one of the maids who abandoned her current waiting and darted off.

“Now let's have a-”

“First the water,” it growled at her.

She waited and looked at the wounds. Fluttershy was used to dealing with a wide variety of animals so she had the necessary experience to examine and treat the creature without using any chemicals that might harm it. Twilight looked for her but she had disappeared. Rainbow stepped to the side to reveal her hiding.

“Please, I can't help. I’ve never seen this creature before. What do I know?”

“Smart,” it snickered.

“When addressing a lady one must always say miss, m’lady or ma’am.” Rarity commented and the creature snorted. “Look, are you in pain?”

“No.” Rarity kicked at one of the shackles and the creature groaned in agony, spitting to the floor.

“It would appear to the more observant pony that you are.”

Before Rarity could blink its claw was around her throat. She gestured to Twilight to lower her horn and as she expected the creature released, the resentment clearly showing.

“That was my mistake. I apologise. Why have pain when it could go away?”

“I feel alive.”

“I don't get it?” Rainbow Dash was visibly maintaining a distance and lacked her usual coquettish bravado. The creature did not explain itself to them but stared at Rainbow with great intensity. It made her take a step back, Twilight could see the corners of its mouth turn up slightly when she did. This was some kind of intimidation game for it, and they were losing. She got a brilliant idea and winked at Rarity who in turn smiled.

“You know Rarity, it's a shame we can't help. Maybe we could have had some fun.” She saw Pinkie’s ears twitch.

“Fun?”

“Yes. If we made friends with this creature here we could go and celebrate with a party.”

“Fun? A new friend? A party?!” Pinkie Pie immediately jumped at her cue. Twilight and Rarity stepped aside and the pink blur began hounding the creature with all she had.
The two ponies felt a little guilty, just a little bit.

The creature swung out, lifting Shining clear from the ground as its palm thudded the ground. The blur produced a high pitched squeal, a giggle, then a barrage of words and questions that would be very disorienting to one who did not know Pinkie Pie.

“Why are you so mean? Or are you grumpy? When I'm grumpy usually I'm hungry or sad, but I'm never sad. Maybe you have to go twosies? That would make me grumpy. Grumpy sounds funny, you know why?”

The creature had a look of utter confusion and distress, trying to recoil from the enthusiastic pony. It was a cruel trick but they had to step up their tactics if they were going to successfully help it. Her bludgeoning continued and it became more distressed, trying to lash out. Luna and Shining Armor were smiling as they tightened the chains and it struggled. They were able to hold it this time, the pain in its wrists inhibiting the amount of force it could apply.

Rarity’s observation had seemingly reminded it the pain was there. What it did though was confusing and disturbing, almost appearing to switch off. Closing its eyes the face went flat again and it did not move aside the occasional breath. The minutes went on as Pinkie continued to pursue its breaking point. She got as far as being able to pull on its face forcing a disfigured smile before she eased off looking at her friends lost what to do next.

By this time the creature was covered with a host of confetti, decorations and stickers scattered about it. When she stopped it opened its eyes, its fury was amusing being covered in a sad clown makeup. They tried to hold back their laughter but Rainbow Dash’s composure was shattered when it tried to spit out the party horn Pinkie had pushed in its mouth, making an hilarious honk.

They were all laughing when the maid came back in with water in a jug, confused about the change. Twilight saw Princess Celestia holding her composure but giggling all the same.

The maid approached the creature cautiously, forcibly withholding her laughter. She smirked but it fades quickly when the creature grinned at her. The room fell silent as the sound of its chuckle drowned out humour. She gingerly picked her way closer, tail tilted back and eyes watching where her hooves were. The jug was gently placed on its lips and tilted, allowing it to drink to its comfort. It drank deeply, emptying the large jug without pause.

The creature spoke through gritted teeth, “You may look now, if you are going to touch anything then you must warn me.”

Fluttershy had mustered enough courage to stand up straight, but could not move. Twilight thought more diplomacy was needed. She and Rarity smiled at each other with a mutual understanding. This time Rarity began, dramatically addressing her friends.

“If only we could do something to tame this beast! Alas, only kindness in its purest form could sooth its savage heart. It is afraid, poor thing. Here it sits, cold, alone, and smelly in this dark cell! We could free it, if only our hearts were pure enough!” Her speech had performed well, Fluttershy’s ears perking up towards them. Slowly the yellow mare approached up but was still reluctant to be closer. Rarity had to think, she was growing weary of this dance and had to do something to help the monster seem more appealing. She addressed it, “Perhaps a little dialogue would show my friend you are genuine in your promise.”

“Her weakness does not concern me.”

“That is no way to speak to a kind lady. Besides, think how bad we feel not keeping our promise.”

“No concern of mine,” it repeated dully.

Twilight thought she would try again; “Would you like to answer some questions, nothing too personal, just general notes.”

“Would I like to? No.”

“Well...you’ve gotten your water and we are still trying to help you. This way you get the help you need.”

“That is no deal.” It seems to mull over something before it spoke again, “I ask a question and you ask a question in return.”

“Do we have your word you will answer truthfully, no matter what?”

The creature hesitated, “You have my word I will speak the truth. A question for a question.”

The creature looked her over, she could almost feel its eyes pass over her body, it was very uncomfortable. Eventually they settled on her flank, studying it in great detail. She turned to conceal it, feeling violated.

“May I ask about your markings? Do they denote rank or are they a personal choice?”

“Why is that important?” Twilight asked confused.

“Is that your question?”

“No.” She was a little annoyed with its literal take on this arrangement. “They are our cutie marks, everypony gets one when they find their destiny. The symbol has something to do with our natural born talents.”

“Poetic. Ask your question.” Its answer was blunt and unfeeling, she wondered why that information was important at all.

Twilight could ask it anything and it would give her an answer. She thought it best to test if this creature would honour its word.

“Are there other creatures like you in Equestria?”

“Equestria… As far as I know there are no others of my kind here. Where I came from however...enough to block out your sky.” Its answer was disturbing, one was already a problem, but that many would be disastrous, if its response was genuine.

“Are you here to observe us?”

“One question for one question.”

“You want to ask another one?”

“How long have you been an alicorn?”

“Two days.” She felt a shiver when she saw the creature quickly smiled to itself, “Now answer my question.”

“I am no scouting party. I am not here to observe you.”

“You wouldn’t lie now would you, darling?”

“My word is sacred. It is a measure of character without equal. To uphold that word defines my cooperation.” Rarity could not help smile.

“Alright. Twilight, would you mind if I try?”

“Go ahead Rarity.”

Rarity sauntered closer trying to charm the beast. “Surely a strong...umm...what are you exactly?”

“Not curious anymore.”

“Why not?” she huffed with disappointment.

“There is nothing more that I want to know.”

“Nothing?” The creature did not answer but let its head drop. From her close distance Rarity could see the body relax, it had minor cuts but severe bruising on the shoulders and back.

“Would you mind if my friend came closer?”

“Which one?”

“Fluttershy.”

“Which one?” it repeated

“The adorably scared one with the pink mane.”

The creature looked up to see the pink had grown more confident watching her friend. Rarity could see it did not like this. “I thought this was already agreed upon.”

“It was. She is an expert when it comes to all animals and you are clearly in need of help. It looks like you took quite a beating.”

“And yet I’m still here.”

“You must be a very strong...whatever. Are you a leader or warrior from your world?”

“Your flattery is transparent. She should approach, she has yet to fulfil the initial bargain.”

“Fluttershy is afraid, dear. You are rather scary after all. Maybe if one showed a little more decorum we could leave faster.”

“You are persuasive. Very well. May I ask my chains be loosened, on my word I will not harm, Pink Hair.”

“Her name is Fluttershy.”

“I do not remember names that serve no use to me.”

“Is that what you call decorum?” The creature took a deep breath and exhaled. The mist twirled around Rarity before disappearing.

“Miss Fluttershy. I would appreciate your help. Would you be so kind as to look at my cuts and diagnose a remedy.”

“Less sarcasm next time please.”

Twilight was not sure but for a second she swore she could hear Princess Celestia giggling again. Fluttershy was still keeping her distance with a notable fright on her face. Rarity came up and held her trembling hoof. Twilight nodded to Princess Luna and Shining Armor. They loosened the restraints and the creature sat on its haunches, placing the claws on its knees.

“I can’t.”

“Sweetie, it has asked for your help, surely you will not leave this poor animal to suffer.”

“Well…I can’t do that either...”

“Look at it, sitting there all sad in the cold like a poor puppy.” Rarity could not believe in the comparison herself.

“Umm. Could you please close your eyes?”

“You have to speak up, Pink Hair.”

“AHEM!” Rarity scoffed at it.

“Fluttershy,” it grunted

“Could you close your eyes please?”

It tilted its head. “Do you fear me that much?”

“Umm…” she squeaked faintly.

A pause followed as its eyes passed over the group of friends. The creature did close its eyes but it placed its claws flat on the ground before it, almost as if it was bowing. The links of the chains scraped on the floor, sounding deceptively heavy. Rarity led Fluttershy closer, never letting go. Her hoof squeezed tighter as the distance closed. Twilight followed with her horn alight to warn this monster.

As they drew closer the creature spoke and Fluttershy jumped, the volume amplified by its facing the floor, “If you do touch anything, then warn me please.”

“We heard you the first time.” The three examined the cuts and the extent of the damage was as bad as feared.

Fluttershy pushed herself to begin examining. There were deep and badly bruised cuts around the wrists. The contact with the rusted chains had caused more infection than she suspected, most likely poisoning the creature’s blood. Its hide was worn, exposing the tissue underneath. To her relief there were no signs of black spots, which meant it was not yet decayed beyond repair. The smell though was terrible, the first warning it had the makings of that decay.

“Do you still feel pain around there?”

“Yes.”

“Alright, I know what to do. I will go and get some special plants, Cloei Vera and Dandelion roots-”

“I do not know what those are.”

“...from the gardens and fix something up to help. May we please go?”

“Well done Fluttershy,” Rarity praised her. The mare smiled and almost galloped back.

“Was that so hard?” Twilight asked. The creature raised its head and lifted itself slowly. She took some steps back for precaution. It did not answer but to her it had felt like a small victory. It clearly wanted their help but was being difficult.

“I can see you’re not one for chit chat, dear.” Rarity was met with equal silence.

“I don’t think this critter is the social type.” Fluttershy had already sought refuge behind Applejack.

“If you want to help then release me.”

“Please be patient, you have proven yourself to be too dangerous to set free. The guards you hurt are enough evidence to know you are not here on a peaceful errand.”

“So it seems I am to remain here then.”

“Maybe in time we can do something about that.”

Its head sunk to face the stone floor, “You lie. Just as the others have, leave now. I do not need any more useless voices around me.”

“Look we will try-”

“NO MORE OF YOUR VENOM!” The creature bellowed and pulled at the chains. This time Rarity retreated. There was a fury in its eyes, it had lost its patience. “You buy my ease with false promises and deceit! Such actions are...” the creature pushed itself up to full height.

“Step back Princess Twilight!” Luna and Shining tightened the chains once more, Twilight conceding to a few steps back.

“Brilliant tactic,” it whispered. “I failed to give you credit, little one. Your interrogation skills are flawless. You will not break me.” The creature looked at Princess Luna, poised in her hold on the restraints. “It is beautiful to see your friends gathered.” It looked up at them and smirked. Applejack could feel a knot in her stomach, as if something was coming, she did not know what, but it was bad. “How they stand united so proudly against their enemy. Blissfully ignorant as to their ultimate fate.” Its words were eerily calm.

“You cannot frighten us!” Rainbow laughed.

“And it don’t matter what you got planned!” Applejack added.

“We will always be strong with the power of friendship!” Twilight said triumphantly.

The creature remained silent, Looking them all over with its cold stare. It burst out with sadistic laughter at them, revelling in their pride. “Should I tell them or will you?” it asked Princess Luna. She responded by tightening the creatures chain. It felt it but did not suffer from it. “Very well. Pray tell young alicorn, how much do you think I have learned while being here in this cell?” Twilight could not imagine much considering the confined nature, it could not see or hear anything in all of Equestria down here. Yet it knew what she was.

“Well, alicorn, I suppose,” she smugly commented.

“Oh no...so much more. The maids are tremendous gossips.” Rarity could not see the point of this display. “I have learned a great deal about the monarchs who reign over you all, this delusional hierarchy, their weaknesses, fears, and my favourite... their lifespans.”

“Thats hardly classified information. Princess Luna and Princess Celestia are thousands of years old. Everypony knows that!”

The creature turned it’s head up and chuckled. “Will you tell her or should I?” Its question posed again to Luna was confusing.

“Do not listen to these words Princess Twilight!” Luna called out.

“You should be busy!” the creature shouted pulling hard on the chain. Luna felt strained and hated her weakness, she could barely concentrate as it pulled. She would not let it break free, but she could not stop it from speaking, not without releasing her magic on the bonds.

“Stop it!” Twilight ordered the monster seeing Princess Luna nearly collapse under the tension. Shining was holding better but deep in concentration.

“Listen well, day old alicorn. How long do you plan on living?” The question confused Twilight.

“What?”

“It’s an easy question!” it barked at her.

“This is just a waste of time, Twilight. Let's go.” Rainbow chided.

“How strong will you be when you are no longer friends?”

“Rainbow Dash is right,” Twilight said turning on her hoof and walking to the exit. Luna felt relieved that she was not swayed by this monsters barking. “Come on everypony, we will have to come back when our friend is feeling more hospitable.” the others joined her and proceeded to leave.

“How strong will you be WATCHING YOUR FRIENDS DIE!” Twilight stopped in her tracks and turned to the creature.

“If you lay one hoof on them I swear by all that is good-”

“I never said I would harm them.” The creature smirked. Twilight moved in close to the creature, right up to its face, the restraints were at full force and it was immobilised. She felt like it was on the brink of an answer, at last some information for Princess Celestia.

“Then who will?”

“Time.”

“Who is Time, another like you?” The creature spoke softly to her, almost whispering, its voice was cold and carried around the walls of the cell.

“Time itself.” Twilight did not understand. Was this creature capable of controlling time? Maybe it will go back and stop them from becoming best friends? Could it do that? “How will you go on watching your friends grow old and die? Alicorn of a thousand lifetimes? The ravages of time will slip past you and unto them bear its wrath. Wrinkles and aches will turn to disease and decay-”

“Stop it!” Rarity could see now what it was trying to do, she had thought about this problem last night herself. She was terrified what this would do to Twilight, surely it could not be that observant. The creature continued ignoring her completely still staring into Twilight’s defiant face.

“Their lives end and bodies buried in the ground, bones and flesh turning to dust under the tide of a mere clock! You will have to watch alicorn, never growing older, always watching those you love-”

“STOP IT!” Rarity yelled again, desperate to stem the flow. She could see on Twilight’s face though, it was too late.

“Die...” the creature finished. The last breath leaking its mist over her.

Twilight’s jaw was agape, her body was numb. The creatures words had been more terrible than anything she could have imagined. It spoke the truth, and she did not realise it. She fell back into Rarity who tried desperately to comfort her. Twilight’s eyes were wide staring blankly at nothing. She was deaf to all around her. “Rotting in their fecal-”

“You monster!” Pinkie and Applejack had to hold Rainbow Dash back as she struggled to get at the creature. Applejack saw it smiling, it wanted her to come close. This time she might not be so lucky.

“Don’t fall for it!”

“Yes, you’re smarter than that,” it laughed sadistically as they tried to snap Twilight out of her trance. “Why so quiet little one? No more questions?”

Luna, in all her anger, cast a spell on the creature. it had no effect, but she broke her hold on the chain for a moment. It pulled furiously, tearing the bracket free from the stone wall and throwing itself towards Shining Armor.

It stumbled as a spell from Luna twisted the stone floor beneath but it remained steady. Shining Armour released his grip and charged the creature. He cast something with great momentum but ultimately useless as it washed over.

The monster was thrown clear from the floor by a beam of coloured light. Its body collided with the wall behind sending cracks along the surface to shake the dust and grime loose. The creature tried to push itself to its feet but Twilight’s magic pulled the free chain, dragging it across the floor to the centre. She was using her element of harmony, and it was working.

Celestia galloped through the door but was rooted with shock. The creature was suspended in mid air, Twilight pulling the chains either side with such force to lift the beast. Its arms were stretched wide as she pulled harder, the creature fighting the force against it. Its anger was as described, violent. Twilight wanted this thing to understand it could not behave this way without consequences. She wanted to see its smile gone. She wanted more than anything to make it feel her pain.

The creature did not smile anymore, its face was fixed in anger as it tried to fight. Everyone’s relief however turned to horror as they heard a pop and the creature grunted in pain, shoulder grossly deformed. It still fought, a buzz of energy being strained by the strength.

“Princess Twilight!” Celestia’s voice brought the alicorn’s senses back and she released her hold to send the creature falling to its knees. The chains were loose, but it did pull on them. Instead it nursed the arm before charging the shoulder into the floor with another sickening pop.

Shining Armour secured his side again but Luna hesitated. Her side was the shoulder that dislocated and was already beginning to swell. She placed her spell on the chain, allowing it to rest on the floor while she secured the bracket to the wall.

Twilight was breathing heavily, sweating and still fixed on the creature, her eyes almost burning through it. To her disgust despite all that pain it spat and held that grin. Fluttershy and Rarity were trying to reassure her while Applejack and Pinkie Pie had to take Rainbow Dash out as she struggled to break free and get at the creature with a colourful barrage of threats.

“We are leaving.” Rarity and Fluttershy followed after Twilight. She stopped before Celestia, trying to hold her composure but searching her mentor’s eyes for any sign that this was another deceit played out by that monster. She could not find what she needed. Instead she buried her face in Celestia’s chest and nearly collapsed altogether. Twilight had never done that before.

Celestia was in shock. Once more this creature and hurt someone she loved. The beast was no longer arrogant though. It had been hit hard, dazed and weakened with a large steaming burn wound passing over the impact point. The elements had an effect on it and she was satisfied with the results. Unfortunately they came at too great a price. As she held Twilight in her hooves, she could only regret asking for her help. There were many things she had prepared for but with so few princesses around she did not know how to handle this. Celestia could only be there and aid in this young alicorn’s time of crisis. As she escorted the ponies to their rooms, her distaste of this monster was absolute. For the first time, she had no trouble leaving this creature to its darkness.

03 Monsters

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It had been a long day.

Fluttershy collapsed to the bed feeling the smooth linen’s caress. Canterlot Castle certainly knew how to treat a guest. It’s embrace was all the more sweeter for this long day.

The cold bit deep into her bones despite the pleasant warm weather. She shuddered as recent events began to settle. Fluttershy lay on her side and stared out the room's window. Her heart sank picturing her friends still with Twilight, speaking softly to soothe the troubled mare. She had been crying the whole afternoon, finally feeling her pain after the entire morning was spent coaxing any response.

Their world was shaken by that beast below. She could see it now; sitting on the floor of its prison, unencumbered by the cold or restraints with that wide grin plastered on its smug face. How she wanted to wipe that clear and see it retreat to the corner as a frightened puppy.

The moon was hidden behind a cloudy sky, refusing to brighten the night any further. She found it a fitting end to such a bitter day. From the minute they left the monster to the this moment all focus was set on curing Twilight of her new found fear. Her once calm and collected mind torn apart by that animal.

The realisation it had forced had an unpleasant effect of highlighting mortality in blinding light. Twilight worried by nature and it was a poison under this stress. Soon her friends eventual passing changed to her family, her new sister in law, her oldest friend, Spike. He had been the most distraught after the story, volunteering to test his fire on the creature. At least he chose to be by his friend instead, a much needed distraction.

It deserved the prison it had made and Fluttershy was content on never having to look upon it again. Those cruel eyes glinting when it saw Twilight suffer. Those actions it would soon regret as Princess Celestia probably sought about permanently imprisoning it.

Closing her eyes, Fluttershy smiled at the thought of it being foolish enough to gain the Princess Celestia’s wrath. It probably was squirming in the cell as they worked on its bonds and gagged it. She quickly felt a burning in her cheeks and the curtain of exhaustion was sharply drawn open to reveal her shame. Realising her dark thoughts she quickly discarded them to think about why this monster had done this. To her, any individual that cruel must have valid reason to be so. As hard as she searched, such a reason never revealed itself.

The entire day they made sure Twilight was not alone, each providing snippets of wisdom to bring her peace. Princess Celestia on the other hoof was far less helpful. It was painful watching her demeanour decay as her usual calm was broken by Twilight’s sobbing into her. Every question they asked was evaded artfully and after a short time together with them, then Twilight in private, she left to deal with the monster. Understandably her attention was solely on this beast. As she had stormed past Fluttershy a look of sadness changed to anger and it made Fluttershy’s stomach tighten thinking what she would do the the monster for hurting her favourite student.

Of all the friends, Applejack was the closest to snapping Twilight out of her dismay. She reasoned that even though they didn't get the answer from Princess Celestia, they would have to face the obvious. "You know what you're worrying about isn't healthy, even if you do live forever you still got now. Your can’t be so afraid about something that’s decades away. Nopony should live their life fearing to pass on. We see it all the time, it's natural."

"Then after you there will be more. I can't do that! I can't live watching all the friends I ever make..."

"We don't know that. I think you’re making a mountain from a molehill here."

The news in the evening grew more pleasant though as Shining Armour came to his sister. He looked very tired but wasted no time regaling them over what had happened during the day. Princess Celestia took enough distaste to add some extensions to the construction of the monster’s restraints. With the help of Discord’s inventive devices she had made an intimidating brace which no longer allowed it to move save for breathing and the twisting of its head. It had struggled but eventually tired.

When asked about its condition, Shining pointed to a dented section in his helm. Apparently the creature had managed to recover without any aid and was fine according to what he remembered of their confrontation.

Fluttershy could see as he spoke how his brow furrowed and he nervously shifted avoiding eye contact. She could only imagine what details he was spearing them. His confidence in the new restraints though was absolute, leaving only Princess Luna, on her own insistence, to watch over it.

Shining seemed eager to find Princess Cadence though, almost anxious as if something was on his mind. When asked to stay by Applejack he politely declined but promised he would return soon. The distress of the whole evening brought out the strangest in all the ponies.

Fluttershy threw herself up from the soft sheets, trying to shake off her nerves. Rarity had given her strict instructions to provide the aid promised to the creature. She protested profusely but eventually was worn down with her friends logical reasoning.

“Fluttershy you must think of it from the beast’s perspective. If we do not help that thing as promised it will have won and we will be showing it we’re afraid.”

“I am afraid!”

“I know you are, but I know your courage will help you do what is right.”

An unpleasant task still awaited. Rarity was right, the promise had to be kept to this monster. Despite everything that happened she would force herself to treat those wounds and probably the fresh ones it earned.

Admittedly, it was as confusing to her as the creatures motives for hurting Twilight. The ingredients were thankfully gathered by a helpful concierge, but now Fluttershy would have to bring them to the cells below. It would take a lot of work but a promise was a promise. One of Zecora’s ointments, famous for its stinging, was ideal. It would not bring any permanent harm but it would need only one application and she would never have to look on that horrible smile again.

As she peered around the empty room, barely illuminated by a single sliver of candlelight, she missed not having her animal friends here to hug or talk to. It was going to be harder, harder to think and feel right watching Twilight stay the same as she grew older. She tried not to think about it but Princess Celestia’s evasiveness only served to feed her fears. Perhaps the answers would arrive eventually but for now she could only worry about having to treat the monster.

The worlds of life and death were not strange to Fluttershy. She had seen it more than enough in her work with animals. It was a truth though that it is painful to lose a loved one to anything. When predators were successful there was often a family of animals that had to bear with the trauma of loss. The cruelty of nature itself was unfathomable. It thankfully drove to her kindness every day. She knew first hand how cruel life could be and felt there was enough of it in the world. There was more than enough in the the cells below.

That was the most confusing part of life to her; the ease of cruelty while kindness was very difficult, even when she tried her hardest. The truth about life is that kindness was unnatural. Such a sad concept almost drove her to tears, always being easily swayed when the mind eased into those shadows. She would do what Rarity had taught her and take this as a challenge. If she could still do her best even in the face of that monster she could prove that kindness was stronger.

Her friends wanted to be there for support, but she insisted they they keep Twilight company instead. In her lifetime there had been more than a few abusive and cruel animals. That creature could not hurt her and she refused to give it the chance to hurt anyone else. No more victims today.

Looking in the mirror of the dresser she gazed into the eyes that stared back, grateful to still see the sweetness there. Fluttershy smiled as best she could, picking up her bag of ingredients and cheerfully heading down to her challenge.

*

The silence was disturbing. Standing before the creatures cell there was not a peep to be heard. She could only feel the misery in this place and her smile had almost faded entirely. The guards did little, only confirming her identity and parting the way to enter. As the doors opened she was shocked by an abomination of metal.

The brackets in the cell had been reinforced to ludicrous proportions as they towered over the figure in the centre. Princess luna was present but no longer cast her magic on the chains. They had been doubled, the old rusted ones joined by a brilliant white sister flowing through the links and about the arms. She knew from experience what they were and forced a shriek back. These were chains that poachers were famous for using in Equestria. They were very durable, tough to break and they could not be melted down or destroyed when confiscated. Every cruel twist of iron or steel anchored the beast on bended knees. It was not satisfying.

Princess Luna cheerfully met her, "Welcome Fluttershy! It is good to see you are well. We are completely safe now. Behold!” She trotted to the creature and gave a sharp kick to the head. It grunted but did not growl or fight. It was scary how Princess Luna seemed to smile at its new found discomfort.

"Princess?"

"What is it my friend? Still not convinced? If you like you can try it too. Most satisfying indeed. What say you monster?" Its low growl was stifled by a sharp whip to the face from her tail. Fluttershy could see the creature clearly now, illuminated by moonstones. They denied it the solace of the dark to sanctify its mind. Fluttershy almost cried seeing this creature.

It was torture, outright torture and she was disgusted. It had a score of new bruises, some minor cuts and the garments on its arms and chest were all but torn to pieces. Fluttershy did not want to see this. She did not care if it was necessary or not. Luna gestured to the beast.

“It has earned its place, Fluttershy. Do not pity its pride.”

Looking at the princess, her tired eyes were apparent yet fixed in anger. She was another victim.

“I’m really sorry for asking, but when was the last time you slept, Princes?"

"I do not know. It is hard to keep track of time here. I have been introduced to a wonderful new beverage that has helped. It is called ‘coffee’ and it is most delicious with a little sugar and milk."

There were at least a dozen coffee pots on the nearby table. Scattered pieces of cake littered the empty plates.

"How many have you had Princess?"

"I do not keep track. All of them, lattes and cappuccinos are my favourite dusted with a little chocolate." The pungent aroma of these coffees on her breath only confirmed the quantity. Seeing her this way brought more sadness to Fluttershy, it was a coping strategy for distress. The Princess had tried her hardest to stop the monster from hurting Twilight. Coupled with exhaustion and upset her once regal conspire was barely noticeable.

Luna took a sip from a mug and neatly placed on the side, the mist rising reminded Fluttershy of the cold. Princess Luna moved closer to the creature ready for another strike. Fluttershy quickly grabbed her and pulled back. She did not care about the impertinence of the action or the repercussions. She simply had to hold her.

"Is thou half baked?!” Luna thundered. Fluttershy could not answer but held on, looking up at the angered gaze. The glassy stare and darkened eyes clearly displayed the pony’s fatigue. Fluttery released her hold. She wanted to speak but could only look down and wait for a scolding or punishment.

"I am …sorry, Fluttershy." The words she heard did not make sense. "You are right of course, there has been enough of this for one day. Please forgive my overzealousness.” Her heart leapt and she could feel herself smiling as she looked up. To her, at least somepony else understood.

Luna nodded and Fluttershy approached the monster. It hung in the brace staring to the ground. It was still dangerous here, a little voice in the back of her mind telling her this was not a safe place to be. Ignoring her instinct, she cleared her throat and the beast slowly raised its gaze to hers. Luna was by her side and it held its tongue as Fluttershy looked at the wrists. Its breath was sharp and rapid as each tuft of mist proceeded the next. Her eyes examined the damage and it was more severe. The kick to its head had done little, there was no swelling or splits to be seen. Strange.

"I am here to apply an ointment to help heal the wrists. If it works they they will keep applying the paste until you are better.”

The creature spoke slowly keeping its sights on Luna, "Why?" She did not want to answer and instead neatly set her bag in front of the creature. “I had my water. I need nothing else from you. Why don’t you return to your princess.” It spoke bitterly, each word hurt. She wished the monster could understand what they did to her. Fluttershy wanted it to stop but did not want to engage it in conversation any more than she needed to.

“You are a monster, but I promised my friends I would help you. I always keep my promises.” The creature opened its mouth to speak but she interrupted it, “Just don’t, please don’t say anything anymore.” Her sadness trickled down her cheek and to her relief the anger in the beast facing her faded. Fluttershy was too sad to care or be afraid. Her promise was the only thing that brought her to the monster. Seeing it now before her there were many ideas of what she could do opposing the only one she must do.

It growled but a quick rise in anger drove Fluttershy to do something reckless. She stepped forward no less than a hoofs breadth from the beast. It raised its head alarmed and lunged forward. She stood her ground, she wouldn't fail it or her friends. Either she helped now or it was going to get harder to do so. She did not move because she was not afraid, numbed by the pain.

Princess Luna made to step between them as the bolts in the stone floor shifted but Fluttershy held her hoof up sharply and not understanding why, the princess stopped. It was the look in the pony’s eyes, defiant to its very rage. The monster’s arms slowly closed in on her, fighting the chains. She didn't blink and stared it straight in the face. It's teeth were fully drawn, eyes wide with anger. The claws halted suddenly around her neck.

The bracket had proven to be too weak to hold it down but the new chains slowed and constrained the movement. Only the white chains held without complaint. There was no magic, nothing held it back yet it had stopped. Fluttershy’s eyes remained firm and unblinking under its shadow. It's misted, gruesome breath caressed her face. The beast roared but this only rooted her to the spot instead of forcing her away. Such a roar echoed across the room, the volume hurting her ears and tightening her stomach. It's face sunk from its sinister facade to that of confusion, then contempt. It dropped its head once more.

Luna could not believe what she saw. They had heard of this power of Fluttershy but never believed it.Was her stare that powerful? To halt such a beast so effortlessly.

Fluttershy let out a long sigh, watching her breath dance out. The clarity of what she had just done sunk in and the cold grew more invasive. The creature stubbornly looked away from her.

She spoke clearly as though this attempt on her had never happened, “Let me finish so I can leave. Then we will both be happy.”

A sharp grunt was all she needed.

“That was bold, Fluttershy. Most unwise but bold.”

“Could you loosen the chain please?”

“LOOSEN?! AFTER EVERYTHING….WE….umm…but this thing is…” That stare was powerful indeed. Luna glared at the beast.

“If it hurts me then it is my choice. I cannot treat it like this please.”

“Alright, bold Fluttershy.” With her magic, the Princess turned a crank and the white chains loosened their hold. It groaned and winced as the arms were allowed to be lowered.

Fluttershy reached into her pink bag and removed three containers of ingredients. She had decided on some Cloei Vera, Dandelion Roots, and an additional Ginseng Sprig to make sure all the infection was gone. Admittedly she left out a numbing agent because she could not convince herself to spare the monster a little sting. Earlier, while gathering them, there was a thought that kept creeping into her sanctum. It was a regret which had seen the many toxic and dangerous plants with their exceedingly beautiful blossoms. That thought had a little voice that kept encouraging her to take one of them. She had to refuse that desire with the reasoning she did not want to become as monstrous as this beast.

She mixed them together in a mortar from the castles botanical wing. As they meshed the monster watched her movements. She hated being here and herself for taking so long to leave. She could have mixed the ingredients outside of the cell then come in but in her haste she did not think of it. Pouring the resulting green paste into two wooden bowls, she closed her eyes and tried to compose herself to look on the cruel face again, instead speaking to the knees.

“It may sting a little. Okay?”

“I understand.”

Standing on its side she gingerly tilted the bowl and watched the viscous liquid seep through the light pelt. The creature suddenly shrieked, closing its eyes tearing at the chain. Fluttershy fell back as it struggled against the straining shackles. It bowed its head inwards with a gasp, groaning in agony. Its movements only allowed the remedy to seep further under the shackle.

Fluttershy was shocked seeing the effect of this harmless remedy. It violently writhed without any sign of relief. The wrist hissed as the mixture bubbled over the cut. Luna bolted out of the room, leaving her to watch this horrific display.

She had not expected this much pain and her heart ached seeing this suffering. It was not made to hurt the monster like this. She wanted so badly to save it. Never had she inflicted harm.

Without thinking, Fluttershy sprang forward and wrapped her forelegs around the monster’s head, closing her eyes and clasping as tight as she could. She was shaken by its struggle, but that subsided quickly. They slowed and she felt its weight move into burying its head in her coat. The cold sweat only compelled her to hold tighter.

That crackling still emanated from the wrist, no words could come to her. Tears began welling as she felt its panicking, rapid heart in the veins of its head but she could not cry.

A nurse and Luna rushed in with a pail of water each, she was gone for a moment yet it felt stretched into hours. The creature’s turbulence subsided as its wrist was doused. Fluttershy held on, tears finally streaming from her face. Finally peace.

The creature grunted a sigh but kept it head buried to seek refuge while it recovered composure. The head was steaming hot and damp. She still held on, as tight as she could hating what she had done, hating her own ignorance. They both breathed deeply trying to quell the turbulence. The nurse and Luna stared wide eyed at her with fully erect ears.

She could feel its hot breath on her chest, slowly easing and passing over her stomach. It felt bad inside her, the lack of a simple plant which caused so much pain. The missing plant that was left out on purpose. A little sting was all she wanted, not this. More than anything she wanted to take it back, make it go away. After all it did to them this was the least it deserved, but all that suffering would not make things better. This concept of revenge was wrong, there was enough pain.

“It’s okay. Everything is okay,” the creature whispered, exhausted from its ordeal. “I was not expecting that, forgive me please.”

Such words brought great confusion. She hurt it yet it was trying to soothe her. Luna stood anxiously with another pail and three ponies close by at the ready. One more pail was poured, splashing over the wrist and not the stone floor. Fluttershy pressed her cheek to its head, still holding tightly. Feeling the heat radiating. Looking upon Luna she could only feel shame as she glanced over the princess and her startled gaze.

The cuts had vanished. Pale streaks and stripes were left in their place. The remedy had worked, but the reaction was too violent. Maybe that one plant would not make a difference.

“Sor...sor...-” the words refused to form. She was only now remembering her breath.

“Don’t,” it spoke sharply, “be sorry later, there is still one more to go.” Those words filled her with dread. Luna examined the cuts closely, equally as surprised it had healed that effectively.

Fluttershy found feeling in her hooves again, and the texture of the creature’s gritty pelt in them. The gentle bobbing of its breathing eased, she felt Princess Luna’s hoof on her shoulder. There came a disturbing realisation; she was right next to it, no space between them. She folded her wings closer and pinned her ears. The grip tightened, holding on for fear. She was not sure of what may happen, if it would attack her or take her wings for causing it pain. She was not sure what she was afraid of at this point. Its hot breath eased under with each exhale.

“Please, pink one, be at ease. My mind is prepared for the second.” Its words did little to comfort her.

“No. I’ll find something else, I can add something to reduce the burn. Something better this time.”

“Don’t waste your sympathies. I said I was ready, get on with it.” Its insistence was confusing “Please loosen your grip. I will not struggle now. You have my word.” Fluttershy hesitantly did so and its head sagged lower for a moment before raising back up. One of the maids by Luna instinctively wiped its head off with a towel before jumping back. Its eyes would not meet Fluttershy’s.

Luna stood wide eyed at what they had done. Such a strong reaction to the simplest remedy was surprising. After all it did to them and her she could only muster a feeling of sadness instead of satisfaction. This was a clear weakness from its kind, she should have been happy instead of feeling as though she had lost something. The creature seemed less invulnerable after this, that brutal anger replaced by docile humility.

“Dost thou fear to cause harm m'lady?” it mocked her.

She narrowed her eyes and walked around it to the other hand, bucket still in teeth while Fluttershy hesitantly picked up the second bowl.

“I guess, pink hair, 10 seconds as before.”

She was disturbed it found the time to count. Her hooves were trembling too much, the bowl was there but it was she could not see that agony again. Luna, seeing her hesitation, placed her bucket down and nudged her resting a wing around the shocked pony.

“If you wish, Fluttershy, I shall do this on your behalf.” She merely said nothing and remained staring at the bowl. Luna took it slowly from her and poised it above the second wrist. The creature closed its eyes and lowered its head mouthing words she could not understand. It breathed deeply as Princess Luna slowly tilted the bowl.

“Wait,” Fluttershy pleaded. “Let me look around the gardens, maybe the moonflower, its less potent. With a clove substitute from the kitchen the burns will be neutralised and we can-”

“Fluttershy,” the creature sighed. She was taken aback hearing her name on its breath. She looked down to see its eyes raised to hers. “Why don’t you count with me?”

“I don’t-”

“10 seconds. Let us count them together.”

Fluttershy tried to hold back her tears but came closer to crying. She watched luna tilt the bowl.

“Not there, look here. Count with me, alright?” Fluttershy nodded as the gruff voice spoke soothingly to her. Its eyes caught hers with their focus. She did not know why but there was no longer a need to fear it. It was as though it was asking her to help it while that mixture would boil. They closed all of a sudden and the crackling noise returned. “One” It said through gritted teeth bending inwards and suppressing its pain with a deep inhale, sharp and quick.

“T...two,” she forced through her dry mouth. “Three.” She placed her forehead against the creatures without hesitation and felt it trembling trying to force back its howl. “Four.” The maids moved closer to the arm, now sounding like a crackling fire. “Five...six...seven...eight,” The creature let out a breath, now shivering but holding true to its word, still and calm.

“Nine...ten,” they counted in unison. The maids doused the wrist to reveal a fully healed one where the wounds were strewn. All exhaled with relief. Droplets of sweat and water tapping the stone floor. It looked up to meet her as the same made stole her courage to wipe the sweat.

“You’re shivering.” Fluttershy did not realise that she was the one shaking, not the monster. Her nerves were beyond control and she felt a cold numbness in her hooves. “Thank you for your help. I am better because of you. You are safe, nothing to fear.”

She did not want to leave it as the guilt sunk in, however she wanted to leave this place and forget what had happened. “Until next time, Fluttershy.” It had essentially dismissed her or given her permission to leave. She nodded to the floor and turned away, escorted out by one of the nurses who tried to ease her. She could not hear a word spoken. Leaving the cell she headed to the upper levels of the castle, and to her room with the intention of sleeping, losing her dinner, or fainting.

Luna stood by the creature but still maintained her distance, it took notice of this and smiled. “M’lady likes the taste of suffering, has this not quenched your appetite? Dost thou wish to taste my pain further?” It added spitefully.

With a flicker of her magic, she loosened the restraints so they no longer caused visible discomfort.

Luna scanned the uncertain faces of the nurses.

“Please dry our guest and organise a blanket. Enough of this pettiness.” They eyed each other.

“Princess Luna, where do the filigree lilies rest in the valley?”

“Pardon?”

“Where do the filigree lilies rest in the valley?” the nurse repeated. It was an old pony nursery rhyme.

“In the tree by the sea that is yet to be…. Explain yourself.”

“It is a control question Princess Celestia instructed us to ask you if there was any change in your behaviour. She suspects-” Luna and the monster both burst out laughing, but immediately halted.

“You think I can control minds? Oh, I needed that.”

“Do you honestly consider this foul beast has the intellect to capture mine?” The stallion hesitated to answer.

“Maybe I am controlling you now. It sounds like she speaks as one who is trying to hide-”

“Stop it.” The creature grinned as the ponies watched Luna. “Surely I would have released it should there have been control.”

“It is alright, Princess Luna.” A guard stood beside her. “Princess Celestia is being safe at the moment. You have had the longest exposure and she just wants to make sure you are alright.”

Luna sighed. “Fine. One changeling invasion and suddenly everypony can read minds. It was my next stop all the same.” Luna nodded to the monster. It was difficult to believe this was the same thing that tore off the wings of a pony right before her eyes. The same creature that had incapacitated her and and a score of soldiers. Luna decided she would review what it had told them and try to understand.

“Goodnight, Luna,” the creature growled with that cruel grin. She sauntered up to it without taking the trouble to tighten the restraints.

“All your words are but a facade,” she said in realisation. “Try as you may, monster, you can no longer fool this lady.”

Saying nothing else, Luna left the room with the keepers. The nurses followed and the door closed ominously behind them. It was the first time the creature had been left on its own since its discovery. As the princess looked in she could see it dumbstruck by what had happened, angered.

It shifted its weight to collapse on its back. The loud sigh of relief it made spread to Luna. With that, an eerie silence followed and its breathing levelled off becoming deeper. It had fallen almost immediately to sleep.

*

Fluttershy slowly climbed the stairs in a manner befitting an intoxicated pony. She had to rest on the steps ever more frequently as her nausea rose and fell. She had a legendary constitution yet this time was almost ill on the royal steps. The nurse was thankfully by her side every step, although it made her feel more like a bother.

A sickening realisation almost broke though as she stared down the steps; she had become another victim.

Forcing herself to remain composed she pushed up and climbed on towards her room. As she passed the door to Twilight’s room she hesitated to enter feeling it was too much for her friend. Twilight did not need another pony to be a victim.

“Are you alright dear?” the nurse had a soft soothing tone.

She nodded but pulled her hoof away from the handle to go and rest in her room. The door swung open however and Rarity welcomed the two. Twilight’s chamber was a little different to hers, there was a bookcase and a writing desk. They all kept the royal colours of Canterlot, the warm purples and violets.

The others looked over. Past Rarity, Fluttershy could see to her relief that Twilight had stopped crying and was sleeping in Applejacks lap. The farm pony stroked her sleeping friend’s mane to try bring sweeter dreams.

Pinkie Pie was not her usual bubbly self, instead becoming very solemn after a score of failed attempts. Twilight had spoken harshly about how parties cannot fix everything and she receded to a more passive role.

Spike took to his bed at the foot of Twilight’s, the poor guy had his feelings hurt as his attempts to help were drowned out by the chaos. At least he was growing up a little and understood that sometimes a mare just needed to be angry.

Rainbow Dash was surprisingly in the bed with Applejack trying to be close to her friends. The awkward shifting betraying her discomfort as she lay by Twilight. Sadly there was no sign of Princess Celestia.

Looking over Fluttershy, Rarity could immediately notice the trembling legs. Turning to her friends she feebly smiled and stepped out into the hallway incase they woke Twilight.

“Fluttershy?” Rainbow called.

“She’s alright, dear. Just a little clean up required.”

Rarity closed the door and kept her voice to a whisper. “What happened?”

The nurse spoke for Fluttershy, “Your friend has healed our guest. She demonstrated tremendous courage and compassion.” Fluttershy closed her eyes, it was not courageous to cry and let Luna do her dirty work.

“Did it touch her?”

“The experience was… It did not hurt her of course but we were all a little shaken from the salves reaction. Everything is fine tonight.” The nurse smiled warmly. “Is there anything I can do for you, dear?” Fluttershy slowly shook her head.

“I’ll call if there’s anything,” Rarity assured. The nurse smiled and sat down on a bench in the hallway. Rarity tried to protest but she dismissed them saying it was a normal duty for her to stand by for guests. It only worried Rarity even more.

Glancing around the darkened deserted corridor she took Fluttershy by the hoof and pulled her gently to the room they shared. She closed the door to the smiling nurse and sat Fluttershy down without a word, forcing a wide smile under tired eyes. Looking over to the adjacent bed she knew it would not be a beauty sleep night tonight.

It was not pleasant imaging what had happened. In truth she had tried to follow Fluttershy but the guards stopped her, Celestia was not taking any chances. All manner of gruesome imagery and unspeakable horrors took shape but she found solace from the fact that her friend was at least here now and unscathed. Clearing her throat, she held her friends hoof tenderly and mustered the energy to speak gently to ease their nerves.

“How did you fare?”

“Alright.”

“It doesn’t look like it. Did it hurt you?”

“No.”

“Did it try to hurt you.”

“Not really, it tried to…scare me. I did not move just like you did.”

“Big blowhard,” she scoffed. “Well done dear. I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks.” Her cheeks blushed as she smiled a little, although her focus remained on the floor.

Rarity noticed a patch on her coat and illuminated her horn it to reveal a mark that terrified her. Quickly placing her hoof to it she gently sifted through the blonde coat and sniffed. The odour was familiar and disturbing but no entry to the skin could be seen.

Fluttershy looked down at her chest and saw the stain her friend was concerned about. It was a mix of grime with the familiar smell of dirty iron. She realised the creature had taken more of a beating that she thought. The stain of its blood made her skin crawl. Fluttershy had her share of animal blood stains but this one felt different and she was sickened with herself for thinking that.

“Well no matter, you are going for a bath!” Rarity insisted, trotting off and dragging her to the bathroom. In what seemed like moments the tub was full and the salts were added. Fluttershy did not want to move but Rarity would not let her be idle as she wiped the grime off before the bath.

As the water seeped over into the coat she could feel the sadness and strain slowly melt into the warmth. The shivering subsided and she let Rarity be, rubbing shampoo into her mane while her friend gently coaxed the details of what happened. Fluttershy was happy she could be there for her and provide some direction. At this time her mind was numb and still shocked from the experience.

When the details of the ordeal had concluded there was a pause while Rarity formulated an appropriate response. At first, Fluttershy required coaxing and she had to ease every word out but when the description of the agonised howls began it poured out with alarming clarity. Although her friend was traumatised, Rarity could only smile.

“I’m so proud of you dear, you really helped it. Relax, you saw it was fine the second time. It just needed to prepare for the shock you see.”

“I’ve never hurt any animal like that before.”

“Oh come now. I have seen you reset bones and casts in many creatures without any fear. You know it is for the best and a little pain never hurt anypony.” Her joke was not met with the giggle she hoped. It was as if one of her best friends had lost something today. Another claim to the monster.

“It was in so much pain, Rarity. I wanted to cause a sting, but not that much. I don’t want to be angry anymore. Being angry is not helping anyone.” It was difficult to cultivate a sentence to heal the wound, yet she tried her best.

“Well if you ask me you did the rotten thing an enormous favour and it should be grateful you helped. A brute like that will not object to a little extra discomfort. As for your little slip, that monster should be thanking its lucky twinkling stars you went down instead of us. I don’t think I could see that arrogant grin without...well that’s not important now.”

“Thank you, Rarity.” Her bath finished in silence and they set about drying her properly to groom the coat and leave the smooth finish she adored. Feeling fresh she stepped out to the room to see Pinkie waiting patiently on the bed, keeping herself busy with a ball in the cup game.

The party pony was as tired as they were, her bouncy hair drooped over two strained eyes. Of all of them she had tried the hardest and only managed to make Twilight angry, suffice to say Rarity did not want to remind her of the outburst and all the hurtful things that were said. Ever the diligent though, Pinkie remained positive.

“Hey there! We were worried about you, Fluttershy! How did it go? Did you get it to smile?”

“Pinkie, would you be an absolute dear and grab my brush.”

“Okay but I don’t think combing the monster is going to fix anything. Especially with your good brush.”

“It’s for Fluttershy, Pinkie,” she giggled. Even now the pink pony could make her feel better. She saw Fluttershy give a feeble smile and led her to sit on the bed. Rarity eased the covers over Fluttershy’s lap and set to styling her friends mane to its original lustre. It was funny to think how it was always Fluttershy who did this for her. Rarity was happy to have a chance to repay that.

As Fluttershy began to relax, the aches of exhaustion crept their way up her legs. She was relieved the trembling had subsided and that bath was enough to warm her up again. Opening her eyes to a sharp bounce on her bed she saw Pinkie laying with her head in her fore hooves, looking like an eager filly.

“Sooooooooooooo...what happened? Tell me so I can tell the others.”

“How is she?” Fluttershy asked.

“Twilight will be fine! If anypony can feel better it’s her. I saw you were little dirty and was just checking up. Sooooooooooooooooooooo...?” she trailed off.

Her widening, eager eyes drew the story out. Rarity was the pony however who told it, omitting the desires of Fluttershy but keeping those of the creatures painful reaction. Fluttershy listened to the glamorous retelling. Hearing this version was more poetic than the memory. She was made out to be more composed and compassionate in this telling.

When they were were finished with the lighter tale Pinkie had a burning question that could not wait. “So...Princess Luna likes coffee?”

“She never tried it until today,” Fluttershy replied relieved not to go any further into the events.

“That’s funny...you’d think staying up all night all the time she would need a few cups.” Her playful smile encouraged them to giggle. Rarity was scarce able to believe how one pony could make them feel better in such a short time. Nevertheless that was the gift of Pinkie Pie.

“I think she sleeps during the day, Pinkie,” Fluttershy corrected her through the giggling.

“Oh? That must be annoying with all that sunlight shining in her eyes. Unless she draws the curtains...or maybe night time is like daytime to her? Do you think she dreams? I think She does. Dreaming about moons made from cheese I bet, that’s what I‘d be dreaming about. What kind of cheese would the moon be?” The ever famous train of thought ran completely off the rails and kept going. It was all an effort to keep them light hearted and from their frequent laughs Pinkie could see it was working. If there was one thing she could not stand it was seeing a frown, it was worse than an uneaten cake or a wrapped present, she impulsively had to fix it.

The story though seemed too convenient but the general idea could be gotten. Long story short the monster was fine and Twilight was still sad. Seeing her friends in so much pain she could only grow more determined to fix them. Twilight’s anger was nothing but pain, every word that came out was one less eating her up inside.

This entire day and evening had brought with it a new sensation. Although she did not know what it was. For the first time in her life she had met a creature she did not want to know about. Normally she enjoyed making friends with animals and ponies and minotaurs and geese and everything in general but that monster...she didn’t want to be its friend, she didn’t want to see it or be around it anymore. It was a monster, seeking to spread frowns throughout Equestria. A cunning and evil plan. She would not let it win though.

As they told their jokes amongst themselves the party pony eventually trotted next door with the good news. Almost instantly after hearing it the tired farm pony slept, still holding Twilight with Rainbow Dash using her belly as a pillow. They would not leave her alone, she needed her friends to be there with her and that is what they would do.

Pinkie had a thought; three and three. She would join Fluttershy for the night, keeping her company with Rarity after the ordeal she went through. It did not hurt that they were keeping the whole truth from her, they had a reason and she suspected that monster was more difficult. All she had to do was remind herself they were all alright now and could finally sleep. Her stomach growled but she did not feel like eating. Exhaustion was calling and she would answer as soon as her head hit that pillow, maybe Fluttershy’s tummy was as soft as Twilight’s, she could always try.

03 A King And Queen

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03

“Sister you must say something!”

“What must I say? What?!” Luna retreated as Celestia snapped at her. Immediately racked with remorse she came and hugged her sister. The turmoil momentarily subsiding. As she held on Luna awkwardly shifted to compensate. Despite Celestia’s objections she had to comfort her, leaving the monster to its isolation.

The day had been rough for everypony. She had watched in satisfaction seeing the turmoils in the beast as the new frame danced and winded around to hold it safely. She had been patient and loving but it had chosen to hurt them instead. Now it saw what it faced and was humbled by the experience, no threats or curses spoken when she eventually retired to her chamber.

Above all else she hated herself for not being able to comfort her pupil at this time. So many years but an alicorn was rare, she had few opportunities to explain their new abilities to them. Hardest of all was having placed her there to begin with. She had hoped the curiosity of Twilight would cause her to come across the idea on her own or research it in the archives. Now she had finally come to rest, Luna giving her the sweetest dreams she could fathom.

“It is alright sister, she will rise from this. Twilight Sparkle is strong of heart and spirit.”

“I know this but that fails to lessen the sting.” She faced out her chamber window in the early hours of the morning. The room was sadly not as welcoming and sleep eluded her despite Luna’s efforts.

Luna sat by her and placed a wing over the distraught princess, “She will in time. You must give her time.”

“You are right. Time-” she paused and squinted into the distance. Following her sisters direction, Luna could see what appeared to be a large black shadow moving towards the Canterlot kingdom. As it passed over the border there was a shattering sound that could be heard far away where they were and the dome of protection was broken. From this distance it seemed like a dream, yet as the shadow moved to the castle fires and dust were left in its wake.

“Luna. Go and guard the monster, let nothing through or out.”

“Yes sister.”

Celestia called her guard to assemble while donning her crown, the heart safely nestled under the engraved, solid steel from an ancient forge. She spread her wings thinking about her next command carefully. “Go and retrieve Princess Cadenza and the captain. Tell them to meet me at the front gate. The rest of you spread the word and gather the legion, Canterlot is under attack.” She dove out her window into the night and headed for the shadow.

*

Twilight’s eyes eased open, almost immediately burning to close again protesting her waking. Feeling thirsty and reaching over to get a drink of water, there was something unusually soft on her back. She looked over to see Applejack neatly tucked in under her. The familiar country fresh smell rising off with the warmth. Even stranger was Rainbow Dash sleeping on her belly. Then the memories came back of what had happened, the monster, the crying. It had not been an easy time for her.

She felt embarrassed but then saddened. The only thing left in her now was a numb emptiness. No longer could she find reason to carry herself out of bed.

Seeing the dark of the morning did little to coax her back to rest. Despite the need to she could only see her friends there with her and know they would not be there forever. All their comfort and attention served to illustrate what she would no longer have when their time came. Princess Celestia had been shockingly unhelpful. Whenever she asked her a direct question, a long answer in the form of a riddle was presented. Her haunting gaze and evasiveness did little to soothe these clouded emotions. Only the anger to the monster managed to dry her tears and drive her onwards. The intense pain in her had switched to hatred. She liked this feeling, it did not hurt her but energised her. Her thoughts erratically went through new ways to help the kingdom. The monster would not give its secrets willingly, so she would have to take them.

Old spells of stealing memories and diverting thoughts. Incantations and trickery designed to break the strongest or the most mad. An endless array of combinations could be performed with the creative devices in the cells alone. A warmth drew her eye up to her horn, it was glowing a dark red. Such a colour was new to her and she managed to force it back down with a quick guilt at allowing herself to be this weak. She would speak to Discord in the morning, he could break the monster for her instead. For once she enjoyed having The Spirit of Chaos in the castle with her.

There was a faint rumble of what sounded like metal being dragged across the ground. She rubbed her eyes and eased herself out from the sleeping mares to look through the window out to the castle courtyard. Her world shook seeing the pony legion lined up against a tide of black that shimmered under the moon. She pinched herself to be sure and the sting made it clear this was no dream. As she saw Princess Celestia and Princess Cadence leading the front line it became clear amidst the barrage of magic and light, Canterlot castle was under attack.

Twilight shook the others from their sleep, Rainbow Dash no longer complacent when hearing the sounds from below. Applejack galloped out to wake the other three, “Go. We’ll meet you at the entrance.”

“Alright. Rainbow Dash, try to see what we’re up against.”

“On it.” She flew out nearly breaking the window and dived below.

Spike woke to see his panicking friends face. The little dragon assistant was immediately as distraught as she was.

He was a fairly small, purple scaled infant with emerald green spines. Found as an egg he was hatched by Twilight and from that moment they were inseparable companions, him aiding her in her studies wherever he could. Last night had been terrible, he was eventually forced to retreat to his bed when Twilight snapped at him and Pinkie Pie. They had tried to cheer her up with a medley but instead received a barrage of cruel words. He had understood why she said those things, Pinkie Pie made that clear to him. It still hurt. Now though it did not matter, she needed him again.

“Spike! The castle is under attack, I’m going to help. You stay here.”

He leapt onto her back, now trying to avoid the new wings.

“Sorry Twi, I’m coming with!”

She hesitated for a moment, her friend was surprisingly positive despite her words from yesterday. He was always there for her and she never felt stronger, “Alright Spike, please be careful.”

As she made her way through the winding corridors, the fear of the monster returned with the terrifying thought that this attack and it were connected. It was no coincidence this was happening now. Darting down the stairway she was met by a force of Pony Guards standing to her attention. The shock was now sinking in of what was happening. The soldiers looked to her and she saw Spitfire, the leader of the Wonderbolts awaiting her. She did not have her uniform on, the scrapes along her battered body told a different story though.

The main doors had been sealed and the unicorn soldiers were holding it back against some force attempting entry. Twilight quickly came up and grabbed the weary pegasus.

“Where’s my sister and my brother? Are they coming?” the pony could not answer, “Where’s Celestia!?” she cried out.

Spitfire hesitated and looked away from the frantic princess. Despite this nagging feeling she had to hear the truth, they were meant to trust her now as they did Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, “They fell in the first wave.” Twilights hooves slid off the pegasus and her head dropped. She was startled as a hoof shot out to hit her across the cheek. “Understand this Princess, they are still alive and you are in command now! The enemy is tough, and does not appear to have any plans aside getting in here. We can only assume they are after that monster. Princess Luna remains below by Princess Celestia’s orders and stays standing guard over said monster. You are the only, I repeat, only one who can lead us now. What are your orders?!”

Twilight looked at the hopeful faces of the legions behind Spitfire. Each was a pony who was there to follow her, pegasus, earth pony and unicorn. Each were fully clad in golden armour carrying shield and spear, ready to stand by her. Spike was by her side and held her leg as the towering doors shook once more. He smiled up at her embarrassed by the shock and she turned to her friends galloping down the steps to her, equally ready.

“At your command Princess!” Applejack proudly spoke.

Shaking off the shock she felt an energy rise up in her. She summoned the Elements of Harmony, mythical artefacts entrusted to her and her companions for each embodying the true spirits of Friendship. Kindness: Fluttershy, Truth: Applejack, Generosity: Rarity, Loyalty: Rainbow, Laughter: Pinkie, Magic: Princess Twilight. They were as powerful as the Princesses when all six were together, only to be used as a last resort.

Rainbow Dash had still not joined them and Twilight began to fear the worst. Immediately a wave of guilt came over her thinking what could have happened. Fortunately Applejack’s hoof was quick to her shoulder, “She said she will be along in a moment.”

Twilight chose to accept her friend was safe, especially a pony as tough as her, and motioned to the legion pointing in a triangular pattern, catching her directions quickly they formed a wedge of soldiers, standing shield to shield to create a golden spearhead wall. Twilight was not an experienced commander, but she understood strategies and had played more than enough boardgames in her time to know how to stand against an overwhelming force. She set her friends a set distance apart from each other, their own formation at the tip of the wall. All their practice was about to be defined by whatever came through those doors. The Elements had burned the monster, it would burn the others too.

Spitfire donned a helm from a nearby guard, winking at his stifled objection as a shield from the line behind was passed to her. Even without the uniform she looked every part the leader of the Wonderbolts. As she stood now she did so for them, the fallen. “Show them how its done!”

The doors splintered and burst open, “Barrier!” Twilight threw a massive shield over the army with the unicorn soldiers to aid her. The scraps of wood sharply deflected from the bubble to land harmlessly at their hooves. The smoke and dust swirled high from the freshly gaping hole into the dark morning, obscure dark figures marching in. With each step forwards this wall grew louder and larger. Twilight’s mind raced to the monster now, this was most certainly its army come to reclaim it.

The shadows stepped into the light and Twilight was horrified to see what was illuminated by the castle chandeliers. It was a wall of golems; mythical creatures said to have used their surroundings to build their own bodies. Unmistakably so, precisely as described by Princess Celestia herself during her bedtime stories. The figures stood on two thick legs supporting a large upper body with a menacing head atop, two small yellow eyes peering out at her. The arms hung low with large fists. As they drew closer she felt the ground tremble under the marching rhythm. The bodies glinted with each movement bearing an exaggerated form compared to the monster, but larger. The hide appeared to be a moderately transparent black stone. Hesitating to admit it she had to conclude the obvious, it was the black crystal of King Sombra. A familiar contemptuous laugh accompanied the shadows as a deformed alicorn flew high above the force.

“Chrysalis!”

“Did you miss us?”

With no time to reply the golems took their cue to break forward into the ranks. They let their magic fly to hit the enemy at full force. All Twilight saw was a blackened blur followed by a sharp pain that catapulted her high and away. Forcing herself up trying to ignore the spinning and burning in her jaw she felt for her horn, it was still there to her relief. She did not understand why her spell did not work, it was a standard immobilising spell. Back in the fray she threw a shot at one currently decimating four guards with little effort, swinging those large arms to sweep them to the side and advance to those next. The spell reflected off it to bounce to a guard who was stunned and fell paralysed with a frozen expression of terror. Darn it Twilight!

She fired her element now but that had a similar result, thankfully the ricocheting blast removed a section of wall and not more guards. She remained calm as the fray grew smaller. The guards were trying their best but their weapons broke on the hide, their tactics were ineffective against the tide and force of their opponents. The front line was being broken quickly despite the formation, it seemed futile but the soldiers fought on. Running up to Applejack, Twilight turned up a section of the floor to tip over three golems going after her. She strained with the effort not expecting them to weigh that much. It was scary thinking how she was the only one who could help. She wished Princess Luna was here now, doubts began to surface over her abilities compared to Princess Celestia. Now though was not the time, she ignored those nagging voices and quaked the ground with a spell to topple more. Sadly they got back up unscathed. She darted to her friends staying close together watching each other and making a little headway.

“Where's Pinkie Pie and Rainbow?!”

“We don't know.” A swing missed Applejack, ducking under and kicking out as hard as she could against the body. It failed and the shock hit her system quickly causing her to stumble only to be met by a large palm opening and crushing her to the floor. As she tried to move she could feel it squeeze tighter and restrict her very breath. Fluttershy jumped on the golems head and pulled sharply back on the eyes, as she struck it each time her hooves hurt and her forelegs grew weak, but she would not stop.

Rarity was managing to trip the golems using the wreckage scattered about. As they hit the ground however they only learned and became more adept in their stance. As more of them set about on her a sense of dread settled in when she saw Fluttershy’s golem reach behind her to throw Rarity as an improvised projectile. It failed as the stunned pegasus was caught neatly to settle down at Rarity’s hooves.

Backing up Rarity bumped into something and spun round to see Twilight facing her prone. They nodded to each other and turned away to face the ring around them. The golems seemed at ease with the situation, almost strolling while approaching. Seeing the now scattered ranks being taken down Rarity could see this was not going as she had hoped. The force of the charge had dazed nearly all of them, Fluttershy had been hit hard, she could feel the impact from the sound as an arm came up to send her upwards into a pillar and spinning back to the floor. She was surprisingly resilient almost instantly regaining herself and charging to the Golem that pinned Applejack. She lay under her friend now, still unconscious. Thinking more clearly there was only one solution.

“Go Twilight, I'll hold them as long as I can.”

“What?”

“Please go, get help. Fly away quickly.”

“Rarity I won't -”

“Go!” She yelled, using her magic to throw Twilight away from the group as it closed on her. A furious blast echoed in the foyer and a section of golems were sent flying to collide with the walls. The force of it pushed the others back to clear some room for her. Although short lived it was enough time to secure a stance and hold her ground. Rarity pushed them with all she had, her eyelash falling out as she brushed past a closing arm. Her horn was smouldering and white hot. Forcing herself to go on she cut clean through a nearby pillar to let it drop on the advancing group. She was happy to have bought this much time for Twilight already, disheartened when they pushed up through the rubble she gathered her courage and remained in her place to face the next charge. As the eyes all drew to her she took solace in knowing they were no longer on Twilight.

Twilight forced herself to her hooves but could only see three golems pin Rarity down. She was conflicted needing to stay but wanting to run to regroup, and felt her wings opening. Turning sharply to the opened door she gasped seeing the deformed alicorn blocking her, she recognised the form of Queen Chrysalis; insect like wings, perforated body, serrated horn and twisted emerald green mane. For a moment she was stunned when next to her a dark cloud dissipated to reveal an old stallion with black mane and sharpened teeth, this was the form of the old King Sombra; an evil stain once responsible for oppressing an entire empire.

The moment she took to look upon the old king was enough for a golem to capitalise and grasp both her wings placing its heel on her. Her legs buckled instantly under the weight and her body hit the ground, the shock knocking the wind out and choking her. Although she tried to lessen it and make the heel slip off it only pressed down harder into the bone. The ensuing battle was short lived.
Applejack focused through the blurred motions and tried to lift herself up again. A great weight held her down, one of the golems towering over her, the large hand wrapping around her body. Its yellow eyes were focused on battle and the queen.
Looking out to the scene ,her heart sank watching Spitfire fight on. The pony was alone now. Using her skill and experience she could topple the brutes, cause them to stumble and trip. The impacts did little to the thick bodies, getting back up once more. She was tired, sweating and panting heavily through gritted teeth. The shield she had was now dented, her spear shattered. It only served to emphasise how hard the front line was hit. It felt like solid rock brought to their heads as she darted through the charge and made for the queen. Knocked abruptly back she had scrambled to her hooves to be pushed to the side by a guard only to receive the blow meant for her. The line was shattered instantly and the formation failed to retain their barricade, the force was simply too much. Trying to ignore the sharp burning in her shoulder, she tried to keep her shield high as it slumped to the floor. Realising the vain attempt she let it fall and spun around to see the golems behind her.

The floor was covered with splintered wood and crushed metal. The ponies atop all motionless as the enemy drew in around her slowly, as though to savour the moment. She quickly came to realise victory could not be had here. Looking past them there was no sign of a scratch on the queen. The Princess and the elements were all defeated, now being held down by the golems awaiting their queens instruction. She was alone now but a thought passed through her. She thought of all those who were not there now. All the destruction caused and those yet to fall. She would fight on, to her last breath she would fight. “I AM A WONDERBOLT!”

Seeing Spitfire being buried under the golems assault crushed Fluttershy’s hope. As she gazed over to her friends, she felt the cold stone of another golem close in and pick her up to place her in line with the others.

Queen Chrysalis peered around confidently at the surrounding scenery. To her the beauty was marred only by the lack of those six. Still the pink and blue one remained to be captured, the pink one chased around the castle by a horde of her army and the blue one missing. She assumed it had fallen in the wave when those Wonderbolts were torn from the sky by her Kings might, instantly encasing them all to fall as hail on the unsuspecting line. It had been a pleasure to finally silence the arrogant Princess Celestia, now being dragged close behind to soon be drained of her power.
Seeing the once mighty Twilight Sparkle at her mercy as well, she could only feel complete satisfaction in the efficiency of her take over. Using the moment she addressed the former nuisance, “Well...it seems the new alicorn princess is you little sister. Why didn't you tell me? No invitation or anything...I’m hurt.”

“I am not your sister,” she said bitterly.

“You could have been. You could have and all fighting would have been avoided. Seeing you here under my hoof, how does it feel to know your efforts merely slowed us? That they were all in vain?”

“How does it feel to know you are never going to win?”

“Oh but I already have. Perhaps it has not dawned on you yet but we are not in a negotiation. Your time is up and we have won. The new order will reign in this, a never ending tide!” She threw her hooves up in triumph as more golems marched up the stairs to the room. The guards in the courtyard nowhere to be seen.

She was interrupted when Spike spat his flame in the eye of the golem holding him. He dropped and it staggered blindly flailing to catch him, colliding with the one next to it. The others laughed as the brutes scrambled after the tiny dragon. Before he could make his triumphant escape though he was frozen in black crystal.

Chrysalis cleared her throat to turn to a golem approaching from behind. “And you...” It was carrying Shining Armor, his garments torn underneath the splintered plating. The golem threw the sagging body to the floor to his grunt of pain. “You have proven yourself quite worthy of being a nuisance. Perhaps instead of ending you I will savour your enslavement. Just another mindless beast.” As he struggled to rise a gesture brought the golems foot down on him. He was still fighting her even though his strength had faded. “Perhaps you are wondering how my King came to find me, his queen.” The shadow drifted over the captain and through the golem. The form was frightening, a madness in the wide eyes.

A crash of plates drew her attention, turning sharply to see a pink pony dart in the room and skid to a halt narrowly avoiding contact. As she looked down two lumbering golems came staggering after the pink blur but upon seeing their queen halted to stand at attention. Despite what was happening Applejack had to giggle looking at them now trying to wipe the cake and frosting they wore. The pink pony smiled sheepishly but it faded when they pulled her to the ground to pin her with the others.

Looking around Twilight felt relieved Rainbow Dash was still nowhere in sight, she must have been effecting a plan, something bold and daring. One thing she could always count on is that Rainbow would return.

Chrysalis cleared her throat again and continued. “After my less than graceful departure I found myself obsessed over how these two were able to push me and my entire army out with nothing more than their power of love. Disgraced to have been sent running by the very power I fed off. It was not until an explosion in the frozen wastelands drew me to my King. When I found what remained of him I used all my power to reconstitute his form. Imagine our surprise when we each had you to thank for our misery,” she paced about before the five, “It was not difficult to plot our revenge on you Twilight Sparkle. We realised when our strength returned, when we fell in love, that it had the effect of cancelling out your precious new sisters love. Together we are stronger and we have our minions here to testify to that.” Twilight looked up at one of the hulking beasts. “A magnificent infusion of my Darklings and Sombra’s crystal. Their bodies resist magic and their forms give them superior strength and force. My little darlings were only too happy to become these.”

“Not impressed. Get to the point!” The captains defiance clearly resounding despite the situation. It gave Twilight strength to see her brother still fighting. A sharp kick to the head saw him silenced.

“We will now drain you of your essence and energy much like my King did to those in the crystal kingdom. Without it you will most likely perish. No sense of love to ground you and no sense of spirits to raise you. Truly death would be more kind.”

“You can’t even come up with an original thought. That failed before and it will fail again.”

Chrysalis smirked at Twilights ignorance, “This time we have something special on our side little one,” she laughed.

Twilight tried to understand her reference, soon enough it hit her, “Is that why you sent your monster here?!” Twilight shouted, trying to free herself with a blast of light to the eyes of the golem pinning her. It only had the effect of blinding her with the reflected flash.

“Sent an army, or did you not notice?”

“What about the other one? A scout?”

“I need no scout, we did not concern ourselves with pathetic spying.”

“Do not hide it, that monster is immune just like your minions. You know why it is here!”

Queen Chrysalis suddenly looked startled, “What did you say?” She beckoned and the golem held Twilight up by the back of her neck, the hardened crystal pressing in on her throat. “What monster?” Chrysalis hissed again as Twilight shook to try loosen the painful pinch of the golem. “What do you mean ‘immune’?”

The queens concern sounded genuine and it dawned on them all that there was a link between the two. As Rarity lay on the floor watching her friend being interrogated she had an idea. In Chrysalis eyes there was a desire to locate the monster, as she battered Twilight to force her to speak it was obvious the monster was no friend of hers.

It was admittedly far too convenient to be true but if they were not allies perhaps it was wiser to employ their own monster. If even the princesses were stifled by these foes, surely that which already stifled them could be used to their benefit. She repeated the idea again trying to see if it was not as crazy as she thought. The only reason this came to her was because of Fluttershy’s confidence. All the details and the emotion she had been through was not an illusion. Seeing Princess Luna later in the morning confirmed her story, she had come to see if Fluttershy had recovered. She did not speak with Rarity for long but it was noticed then that as the Princess spoke of it she did not bear any bitterness,only sadness. It was confusing at first but having the night to sleep on it gave Rarity clarity to scale the events..

A sharp spark shot around Twilight and her body writhed in agony.

“Last time I made the mistake of underestimating you all. This time I will not!”

“Wait!” an energetic voice cried out, “I can tell you!” Turning from Twilight Chrysalis made for Pinkie, the suspended pony now being brought back to lay next to the others. Rarity seized the chance while Pinkie Pie’s ranting distracted the queen and king, whispering to the pinned alicorn next to her.

“Twilight, we could ask it to help us...”

“What?”

“The creature.”

“That monster?! What are we supposed to say? Excuse me, even though we imprisoned you, and you deserve it, we are going to ask you help us fight an invincible army. Even though after all the terrible things you’ve done-” They lowered their heads as a golem lumbered close, its gem hide cracking the floor as it walked by them. She could see in her friends eyes their desperation and hated herself for it, not being able to help. A thought came to her from an old historical text. Once a general form Cloudsdale befriended their enemy to protect their home. The monster was immune, or at least as resistant to magic as the Darklings, it was clearly still strong and it wanted to be free. The key was its freedom and how to convince it. If history had taught her anything they were right, it could help.

Rarity took her silence as confirmation, “Fluttershy, you go and set it free. Twilight will lower the barrier and we will hold them off.”

“Wh...why me?”

“You know why sweetie. Please, for us? You can do it.” Rarity knew what Fluttershy had been though. From what she understood that monster tried to hide its pain from her. Such an action while probably not intended as compassionate was enough to betray it. She hoped seeing the sweetness of Fluttershy again so distraught would coax it into doing the unthinkable and help them.

“I will try.” she said determined shaking off the nausea.

“Thank you. Now hold on minute, ready?”

“For what?”

She saw the Rarity’s horn alight and felt a sharp rush of warm tingling white run over her. The weight of the golem disappeared and the view changed in an instant to see the back of it. Twilights teleportation spell was difficult to perform, the sparks from a burnt out Rarity only indicating her strain.

The Queen and King spun around to the noise. Fluttershy let her instincts take hold and galloped away with all her might through the false wall and down the stairs.

“There! After her, bring me the monster and the interloper!” Chrysalis commanded. The group rushed forward but the floor lifted to throw them back. Twilight and Rarity transported and blocked the way as the golems charged down on them. A sudden crashing group of pegasus ponies met them from the side knocking the unaware party down. The line reformed and the wonderbolts stood by Twilight, Rainbow Dash heading the squad. It was not much however Twilight appreciated any help right now. As they all clambered back up Twilight saw the slumped form of princess Celestia being taken towards the entrance to her meditation room on the other side. She was being carried by a golem and the wicked smile of the Queen confirmed this was a bad turn.

“Sorry I’m late, had some trouble with traffic.”

“Rainbow you have the worst timing!”

“Relax Rare! Now show them what us wonderbolts can do!”

With Rainbow Dash in command of the squad they manoeuvred tightly around the bulks dodging and causing them to hit one another in the chaos. It appeared to work as one staggered back with a crack along the side of its head. Unfortunately Rarity saw that crack reseal very quickly.

A brilliant flash of light blinded them. Their eyes adjusted in time to see Princess Celestias horn spark as she slumped unconscious while the smile was removed from a distraught Chrysalis. An exhilarating rush filled the ponies as they saw to their amazement the once fallen legion was standing once more. The golems made to block the way to reach the princess as she was carried further to the room.

The scene seemed frozen as the factions stared at each other. It was as if the guards had never been harmed. Their armour was still intact and their bodies were clear of injury, this was the power of Princess Celestia. The calm was shattered by the familiar voice of Spitfire, who used her opportunity and energy to twist around and pivot the Darkling to send its head crashing to the floor.

“ATTACK!”

As the large doors parted to the meditation room Twilight seized her chance and raced after the Princess, spreading her wings and flying off to sidestep a golems fist as it was nearly brought down on her. The queen and King were almost strolling, easily thwarting any attempt to reach Celestia.

“Twilight?!” Rainbow Dash Could not withhold her shock seeing her instantly take off. However she quickly spiralled back towards the floor upon noticing she was using her wings. Darn it Twilight! She angled herself to the gap of the doors and dived through to collide with the golem carrying Celestia, sending the three of them to impact the far wall. The doors Swung shut to seal the five of them in. She did not understand how but almost as if guided she righted herself and searched for an exit, scarcely believing there was no pain after such a hit. Transporting away was not possible here, the walls of the room imbued with great power. She deduced this is how the queen was going to drain them, twisting the good magic around them to her needs. Sickeningly clever. Twilight projected a barrier as the queen threw a spell to her. She could not understand it but she felt fully revitalised, celestias power flowing through her. In this room she could harness the magic around to give her strength and beat back the King and Queen. The golem she had hit lay unconscious, the impact was more than enough to do so. It made them more vulnerable in her eyes, they were not as powerful as she thought. Princess Celestia lay behind her motionless. Twilight would fight on and either win or hold out until her mentor could join her.

*

Although she could not see it, the cracking of stone under the weight of the golems forced Fluttershy to gallop faster. Despite her friends efforts, some had broken past and were in pursuit. Almost falling after a stumble she spread her wings and scrambled to fly down faster visualising the golems arm reaching out to grab her.

She hated fleeing, leaving her friends there alone. Focusing on what Rarity said her wings flapped harder and her speed grew greater; for us. “I will do it for my friends!” She told herself, she would reach the monster and force it to help them. There was no time for doubt.

When she landed heavily at the base of the stairs the force from winding down the spiral had made her dizzy. All the scrapes from the narrow path on her wings ached and throbbed.

Hearing the stones behind her being crushed she galloped forwards trying to avoid falling over. Looking back one of the golems rolled down and landed face first, it had tripped. Pushing itself to get up the second came down harder to land on top. It would have been funny if they weren’t trying to hurt her.

As they scrambled to stand Fluttershy felt her spirit leap in her seeing Princess Luna waiting, now bearing the form of Nightmare Moon, her darker and more powerful self. The two guards on either side glowing with her magic. Another problem was now presented of how to convince the Princess. Before she could speak though the door to the cell swung open.

“Go Fluttershy, seek refuge with your monster.” Hearing the groundbreaking stride of the golems behind she did not wait to question and galloped to the dark. “Hold fast brothers, you are warriors of the Princess Of The Night! Hold fast my faithful, my strong! Show them the meaning of nightmares!” A pleasant shiver ran through Luna as she grinned, just like old times.

As Fluttershy galloped past Luna and her two guards, engulfed in the darkness, she did not know what to be afraid of anymore.

04 Libera Me

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04

Fluttershy darted to the centre of the cell, an abrupt realisation stopping her mere hooves away from the monster. It was startled, trying to see out the door as the wooden frame slammed behind her.

“Fluttershy...”

“Please...” she whispered though a dry mouth not knowing how to begin. Only the situation presently behind forced her to edge on, “The queen, monsters, darklings, help us please!”

The confusion apparent on its face. “Please. Monsters are attacking! We cannot beat them back. You are immune to magic, you can help us.” She turned around as Princess Luna laughed to the sound of crashing. “A lot has happened but now we are all in danger!” she cried, “Help my friends please!” She knew it would laugh at her, mock her and hurt her again, only forcing to question why this was even considered. If her friends were not the ones who were half baked. While the tears welled up she forced to look at it pleadingly, imagining them pinned down and helpless against the golems.

“Fluttershy...” it sighed, “It makes no difference who imprisons me, my situation does not change.”

Fluttershy thought hard and hesitated to give the creature what it wanted, she had no authority or ability to grant it. She understood she would have to let the creature out, but had hoped it would surrender afterwards and quietly return to the cell redeemed in their eyes. The dreams os a filly. She took a deep breath, swallowing her resentment at the monsters grin, “Alright.”

“Excuse me?”

“You will be free to leave if you help us.”

The sounds of combat had ceased behind the door and a loud thud emanated from it. The princess and her guards did not sound, and the hollow eyes staring through the top of the door at her did nothing to ease the fear, they were trying to break in.

“You must be more specific.”

“Save my friends and you can go wherever you want!” she yelled with anger at this feigned ignorance. A louder thud sounded and the door splintered. The creature raised its head and looked at her. She felt no chills now, it no longer frightened her. There were worse things to fear now, things right behind.

“I take it you lack the ability to loosen my shackles?” She stared blankly for a moment realising she did not have the keys or magic to free it. “Get behind me and stand at a distance.”

“You will help?”

“Behind me now!” it growled. Ducking under the arm to hide between the towers of the brace she galloped behind nervously. The splinter had turned into a gaping crack that the Darklings were furiously tearing through to get in. The doors thickness was buying them time, not much but hopefully enough. She somehow felt no safer than before, they’re so strong, what if it cannot win? They will get me... no Fluttershy, it will win, it will.

The writhing in front of her brought focus to the brace that twisted against the force. “Libera me” The monster slowly brought its left hind leg forward, the cracking of its joint and grunts showing off the strain from its detention. It flattened and rounded the right claw, leaning to the left to put tension on the chains that suspended it. The metal on its side pushed into the body. Taking two deep breaths the arm tightened and she could see the links at full extension. On the third inhale the claw shuddered as it slowly tugged with greater force, those brackets on its side groaning complacently.

Fluttershy had a quick realisation; if the creature was resistant to magic and the Princess had used magic to build the brace...she watched in alarm as a sickening pop resounded from the claw and the beast groaned in agony dragging it through the iron shackle, exposing the underlying bruised and worn wrist. The claw hung limp and she could hear it shouting through pursed lips, holding back that pain through its gritted teeth while breathing hard and shallow. Bringing the other hind leg forward and managing to stumble to a stand, the full height was now in perspective. She felt helpless at this display and cursed herself for forgetting to grab the keys from Princess Lunas guards. Turning to the other chain it twisted the shining white bonds around the shoulder, again placing tension on it, this time with full weight. As it twisted the body the brace around it clattered to the floor, it had compressed its torso.

The darklings were now almost through the door, the hole not yet large enough for one. With another growl the chains rang out to sing in protest as it forced them away with the weight. They held strong, but the wall itself gave in with a sudden jerk and the brackets secured to it fell free to the stone the floor in a dull thud, kicking up dirt and grime.

It was free now and she was terrified knowing that. Now lone she stood in a closed room behind a monster with the only exit blocked by Darkling golems. With a glimpse to her it cradled the limp claw, another sickening pop as it was returned to its original shape. It forced back a yelp, she could see faint tufts of mist already swirling off the head and back from the heat. It approached the door, the minions had almost succeeded, briefly caught trying to force their bulk through the gap. Seizing the chance it quickly charged towards them as the first broke free. The chains dragged the bracket behind, there was only a numb bewilderment to the outcome. She hoped it could hurt them, and that thought sickened her.

The beasts collided, the darkling swept its arm to the monster but it moved with alarming speed. Coming in under the arm close meeting it with a powerful uppercut to the stomach, the sound of splintering glass echoing around the cell. It seemed as if they froze, it paused but didn’t move the clenched claw from the Darklings gut.

Fluttershy saw its legs were not touching the ground, the blow left it winded and limp, suspended on the creatures unshackled arm, such strength made her shiver. It was a great deal smaller now compared to the golem yet somehow it was no less fearsome. The monster moved closer and roared as it pivoted the minion over the shoulder to smash it to pieces on the ground behind. The shock of the impact could be felt, the sharp vibration making its way through her as her eyes shut to the raining fragments.

The other minion was in now and without hesitation leapt upon it. It was met in kind with a shot to the centre of its chest, staggering it backwards to look down in confusion at the circular crack it now adorned. The golem shut its eyes as though trying to concentrate.

The monster did not move and watched the Darkling find its momentum again. She felt ill watching as it threw a fist straight and true to have it brushed to the side. The monsters leg passed behind it and a quick push toppled it to its back. The golem tried to force itself up and shake off what seemed to be dizziness. The monster stood back again and waited for it to stand. She knew now what it was doing, playing with it as though enjoying this cruelty. It was as sadistic as she had feared. The golem failed to rise and the monster slowly kneeled on the chest and craned its head closer.

“No?” The insincere consideration bitterly seeping out.

“Like glass...” with a roar it brought another blow on the same spot, shattering the body and leaving only large chunks behind. As it stood tall once more something rose from the pieces of dark crystal, black smoke that flowed across the floor.

Fluttershy stood in awe of what she had seen. These minions were invincible, Twilights magic merely reflected off them, yet they shattered under this creatures strength. It now stood before the door to the cell, effortlessly passing through the barriers and into the darkness. She was frozen listening for some indication of what it was doing.

A clang and rustling of chains followed. She wanted to remain in the cell where it was safe, here in the shadows. She could only imagine what was happening up there, out there. As her thoughts came on her friends she found the energy to push one of the numb forelegs forward. Her stomach tightened as the creatures claw gripped the gaping split and pulled the monster back into the cell, no longer bound by the shackle. It was visibly tired after the ordeal and as it approached her legs stepped back, pressing her against the cold wall. It steps were dull and heavy resounding to a steady beat. It came close and she shut her eyes with a tiny squeak, shaking now with thoughts of what a mistake this was to let it loose. She heard the creature stop next to her with another dull thud and felt the warmth from its body and breath.

“Why did it have to be you... Miss Fluttershy. I give you my word to fight to the best of my ability against this enemy. While I cannot promise victory, I will not falter until I draw my last breath.”

The words brought some comfort to her, at least it felt sincere.

“Okay,” she exhaled with relief. Fluttershy found her lungs and breathed deeply trying to calm herself, still keeping her head turned and eyes shut.

“In return I am free?”

“Okay.”

Her shallow breath prevented the screaming when one of the claws rested on her shoulder. She pressed harder against the wall feeling the strain on her hooves.

“I will not harm you. I know not where I am, you must guide me.” Fluttershy tried to calm herself but the fright was dominant. As the pointed digits gently squeezed she looked to the monster slowly. There was no grin, only a furrowed brow over sad sunken eyes. At that point she could not find a reason to be afraid anymore, only a drive to get to the upper level where they were needed. Feeling her legs again she galloped to the door, the claw lifting off.

“This way.” She wanted to save her friends now, she could save them. An icy touch to her flank made her gasp as the creatures claw rested there. Those pointed digits flat against her.

“My eyes are not meant for darkness, lead the way.”

Fluttershy saw the dark in front of them, there were no torches to illuminate the path up the stairs like there were in the chamber, she could see without difficulty, but it was apparently blind.

“How did you find the key then?”

“I watch and learn.”

She trotted forward and it followed her closely never removing the claw. It was very uncomfortable but it had to be done apparently. The monster could fight, it could help. She was surprised by the warmth as the other claw was placed on her side, it was hot, most likely the one first set free. She shuddered thinking about that pop again. They went to the fallen guards, still breathing to her relief. The keys to the shackles had been taken and the open shackles lay on top of them. “Thank you sirs.” She Pulled them over to rest on their sides and loosened the armour, a recovery position to help them hold on. There was always time to help those who needed it. She paused overlooking the damage, her only thought was that this was Princess Lunas greatest guard and they were broken so easily by those monsters. Now though, she had a monster of her own.

She noticed the claw was gone and turned to see the creature had copied her with Princess luna, feeling around clumsily. Its claw was on the side of her neck, two digits extended. Fluttershy wanted to scream thinking the worst but stifled it when she saw the claw stroke the mane to ease the waking princess, who was strangely smiling upon seeing the looming beast. It clambered to its feet ignoring her and replaced its claw on the flank. Although she was concerned about Luna, seeing her point to the stairs commandingly meant she was alright.

A warmth rushed over her as she gained momentum, cantering to and upwards, the creature following closely. They made their way up the spiral slowly with the it occasionally tripping on a step. The breathing was becoming erratic and she could hear the steps clumsily follow each other. she forced herself to ask, “Are you alright?”

“So many stairs,” it gasped. She could not help but smile a little as she thought about Rarity and how they were now going to help. It was a feeling of hope.

At the top, the creature passed through the wall unencumbered by the magic to a scene of her friends facing the Darklings. Twilight was nowhere in sight, Rainbow Dash had joined the ranks of the guard, Applejack and Pinkie were amidst the chaos surrounded by fallen soldiers and were trying to force a golem to let go of Rarity, a tight grip around her throat as it flailed her around trying to get the other two.

Fluttershy jumped as the creature thundered to the golem, Applejack and Pinkie seeing her wave her forelegs frantically stepped to the side. Its eyes were fixed on the brute they were attempting to face, not them.The golem tried to swing to meet the creature but its speed was too great, swaying under and wrapping its arm around the one holding Rarity, pulling it down to give her something beneath her hooves and regain her breath. Fluttershy winced as she heard a cracking sound, and the arm of the golem was cleanly broken free from the body, the fist being pulled apart by the creature to a gasping Rarity. The golem seemed winded, dazed by the action.

Fluttershy galloped to her friend for aid and saw the golem had regained its senses. The creature spun round and deflected its blow. Grabbing the arm and twisting it to break off effortlessly as though it was brittle. It held the golem by the shoulder and used its other arms elbow to send several savage shots to the head, each one cracking and splintering the structure until it finally broke, the body collapsing to the ground spilling more black mist. The nearby Darklings took notice of their fallen comrade and advanced on the creature, the majority remained focused with the group of soldiers still trying to break through to the princess.

Applejack watched in amazement as the creature danced around the golems, spinning them off their feet, pivoting them over its body to shatter to pieces wherever they landed. The five remaining fell disturbingly quickly. She had to look away when the monster picked the final one up in a smooth sweep to be suspended with its claw wrapped only half way around the Darklings neck. Cracking sounds resounded and when she looked back the headless body lay under it.

She saw the monster look away from the fight to the now open front door. It led into the courtyard, city, then to Equestria. Its gaze was fixed on the gap and she had a horrible feeling it was about to run, leaving them to the golems and their king and queen. A pony guard cried out in a sharp yelp as he was thrown to the wall on the far side. The creature turned its head and slowly marched to the fight, she did not know whether to feel relieved or frightened.

The remnants of the Wonderbolts had charged in and were trying to break through the golems to the princess’ chamber. Spitfire had organised the guards into a line trying to push them back, their spears broke on the gem skin yet they did not falter using the wall of their shields to gain whatever ground they could as they were impacted by the heavy fists. They were struggling to save their princess, their captain Shining armour now encased in black crystal, unable to continue the fight.

Cradling Rarity Fluttershy probed for breaks or collapses but only seemed to cause more pain. That, to her, was a good thing, no permanent damage. Her attentions turned to the whereabouts of the creature and she saw it staring at the destroyed entrance to the castle. It was almost certain to her it would abandon them now. Before she could speak it walked up past her and tapped the head, the digits running through her mane. Closing her eyes she saw it crush the neck of that golem again, to her relief the claw swept through. It raised its arms and stretched out rolling its shoulders and neck creating a symphony of cracks. She could still feel the lines where the digits touched her scalp.

“Thank you Miss Fluttershy.” The creature spoke with sincerity and slowly marched on the turned backs of the pony force. Spitfire turned to see this strange monster approach and felt terror as its pace quickened, eyes focused directly on her, gritting its teeth. Spitfire did not know what this bizarre thing was, but she knew it was not friendly. It broke into a charge and headed directly for the ponies.

“Second company about face!” She ordered and the line split into two rows now facing either side, the golems and the monster. She felt doubt rising at their chances but pushed them back down taking command of her soldiers. “Let nothing through!” She ordered. The monster was now at great speed, each step quaking the ground, it charged forward and the ponies stood ready for the impact. Spitfire braced herself ready to take it down. “BRACE!” she yelled. The monsters arms moved before it parting the shields blocking. Passing through the soldiers holding them and heading to spitfire. She dashed forward but it spun around and past her heading to the backs of the ponies facing the golems. Spitfire sharply turned to follow it but halted when she saw the creature run through the guards and send a crushing overhead blow to the top of a Golem, instantly pinning it to the ground. A quick second swing saw the golem behind it stagger back as the creature stood high, stepping down on the fallen one to crush the head under the wight. She never felt so relieved to be wrong. The soldiers around her shared the confusion blankly staring at what was now happening.

The creature fought wildly throwing the golems into one another. It ripped around them sending quick punches to the midsections and heads. It backed up against one tripping it over and crushing the hard as it forced it faster to the floor. The golems scattered and regrouped around the creature forming a semicircle. The ground was littered with their shards, their once invincible skin breaking like glass under the monster.

To its back the line had reformed and the ponies stood, shields raised. Spitfire was ready to charge but the monster did not wait. It threw itself at the Darklings shattering their defence. They fell back and it sent another crippling blow to the chest of a fallen one, again shattering it. The golems were striking the Monster but their blows seemed to have little effect. Spitfire could see from the strain though it was feeling it every time. She wanted to order her troops in but was forced to reconsider seeing the monster fight. It felt as though she would only be In the way. A golem connected with the creatures face but it did not falter, it pushed on and threw the would be assailant, catapulting it into the door behind to shatter.

They watched on as it seemingly swayed though each strike to reverse them on the thrower. The creature was fast but far from agile or prepared to face these odds. Spitfire knew a trained soldier when she saw one, this monster was not a soldier. The weariness of its captivity showing as it was repeatedly struck amidst the ripostes. Every time it was hit the only visible effect was that of causing greater anger and rage. Spitfire could not help be grateful but she was prepared for this monster to turn to them.

“All units face line.” Her legion did so tightening the wall again to prepare. She did not know what to do at this point. Each attack ended in failure, they could not scrape the golems yet here this thing could break them apart. It was the first time in her career she was truly lost on the net step. Watching her formation there was only one thing she could do.

“Alright, ready! Brace, Let nothing through THIS TIME! Keep them close to our friend. He’ll show you how its done! Pay attention!”

Rainbow, Rarity and Pinkie had regained their senses and blankly gaped at the creatures display of force.

“Where’s Twilight?” Fluttershy asked them panicked as she tended to Applejack. Pinkies concentration broke.

“She went in after Celestia and the queen,” pointing to the sealed doors. It became then apparent why the soldiers were trying to gain access. Twilight was alone with them, she needed help.

The creature picked up the final golem by the throat and roared with anger as it crushed the head with its claw. It turned and saw Fluttershy staring at the doors. Without waiting it ran forward to dig its claws in to pull at the structure, the door did not move.

“It’s sealed by magic. We can’t break it.” Spitfire called to the creature. It did not respond and kept pulling with all its might. There was an immense groaning sound and the door budged slightly. Spitfire smiled in satisfaction. “Don’t stand there growing old, help!” The soldiers ran forward grabbing every protruding decoration and bolt in the frame and pulled furiously to loosen it, the doors opened slowly and the creature reached in the gap parting them to create a wider space.

Twilight stood in front of Celestia. Casting a powerful shield protecting her. Lights and spells danced around the room and King Sombre laughed in satisfaction watching her struggle agains his Queen.

“Her power will be mine!” Chrysalis was firing a blast of energy at Twilight but she could not break the shield.

“Allow me my love,” King Sombre joined her and the shield began to crack.

“No...” Twilight said feebly, her strength was fading fast, she had fought hard to hold the tide for Fluttershy and hoped her friend got to the monster safely, or got away from it safely.

The doors creaked open to reveal a sliver of light shining into the darkened room. King Sombre stopped his assault and looked to the source of the noise. He could see them opening and the gap growing wider. He cast a spell to reseal it but his magic had no effect on them, falling short of the towering entrance. Confused by this he tried again to the same result, he could not understand. The doors tore open revealing an unfamiliar being parting them, from the silhouette it looked like a minotaur but he could not make out what it was. It charged forward and he sent a blast to encase it in his crystal. A sharp painful shock connected to his head and he staggered back but was drawn forward, pulled by his horn. An overwhelming exhaustion hit him and he struggled to remain standing. Motions were blurred but he felt a claw pin his head down, and writhed in agony as his horn was broken of, splintering to hang limply before his eyes.

This being was unaffected wrapping its claws around his throat, lifting him from the ground to send its fist careening into his face, its claw refusing to allow him to fall loose. Amidst his restricted breaths he fired a spell of ice trying to freeze it but the splintered mess protested as the fist came crashing into his face again. He could see his queen also firing a brilliant green light at the creature now, it hit but had no effect. The king was feeling weaker, scarce able to kick out, scream. He could not fight and despised his weakness for the first time. His regret was of all the creatures in Equestria, he had been defeated by this thing. It threw him to the ground, he waited for it to release but the claw tightened, the other gaining full momentum as he felt the impact crack his crystal body, he could not even flee as a spirit, trapped in the casing he wore. As he tired to speak the voice failed him, unable to lift his own head he stared into his Queens eyes as she faded with the world to black.

Twilight fell on her tutor in relief as the creature stormed in grabbing the king by the throat sending a flurry of blows to his head. She could see fury in its eyes, it was not stopping. It kept hitting the king. Twilight wanted to shout out but she could not call. left drained by the fight, only able to lay there watching in horror. It threw King Sombra to the ground, Chrysalis was trying to free him blasting the creature with all her power. It would not work. The creature raised its arm high and this time held it up a moment longer.

“NO!” Queen Chrysalis cried as the creature sent its fist into the ground, shattering the body. There was no smoke rising from the chunks, it lay motionless. Twilight was afraid, she was helpless to stop it as the creature grinned and rose to face the queen. There was something about that smile that sent painful shivers in her body, it looked hungry. Staring at the unconscious princess under her. She placed her hooves on the shoulder and shook gently unable to make anything but a faint moan. More than anytime she needed her to wake up now. No movements and a burnt out horn on top of her fatigue brought her to rest with her Celestia.

Chrysalis was stunned, she stared at the remains and back at this monster. Unconsciously she stepped back as its grin widened and eyes settled on her. Those eyes darted all around her body to take in every detail. Words failed as it charged her, she tried to fly but was too slow. It grabbed her front leg and she spun around, thrown into the far wall.

She hurled a large piece of rubble with her magic at the creature, the force of the impact was apparent and sent it back. When the dust parted the creature remained standing, one arm grabbing the other and twisting it back into place with a pop and crack extending both at the ready. It was still smiling.

“Minions!” She called out summoning all the golems to her. She could not understand how but there were fewer now and she knew that this monster, the one the alicorn spoke of, was to blame. They charged in to protect their queen. The battle was horrific as the monster met them, head butting the nearest in the stomach then throwing it over its body to impact on the ground as dust. The others tried to pile on it but the beasts speed ensured their failure, turning over one after the next, grappling and crushing them. Queen Chrysalis sent a mighty shockwave at it, tearing through her own minions. There was a dark cloud and only the creature remained standing over the pieces.

A golden glint drew her eye to the entrance, there was still a dozen legion soldiers marching in. The unpleasant reality sunk in with the immediate regret of not going after that pink maned pegasus herself. With bitter resentment she flew up quickly and darted out the door crack with the intact flyers giving chase with Spitfire and Rainbow Dash. The unicorns and Earth ponies remained to face the room. They halted their advance to the princesses as the monster turned to them.

It rushed to Princess Twilight and Princess Celestia, placing its claws around their necks feeling for something. It was breathing heavily, exhausted and dripping with sweat. Twilight lay still, the battle left her severely drained. She felt proud of herself for standing against both her foes. She saw the monsters face more closely now and it was adorned with a gash running across its right side. Her fears now shifted from the queen to it and she tried to kick out and scream as the warm claw caressed her throat.

“Back away slowly monster.” She turned her head with great effort to see a group of ponies rushing in the room. Shining Armour had regained his strength and stood in the front with his legion, the black crystal casing had crumbled around those trapped and all able soldiers were poised behind him. The monster hung its head and sighed heavily, her skin crawling as the heat swept over. It slowly rose, pushing off its knee for support. It took a step forward to stand over Twilight and Celestia. Twilight could not shake the feeling things were about to get a lot worse.

Fluttershy galloped in the room in time to the scene of dust. The creature was now faced by the pony guards and stood over the unconscious Celestia and Twilight. To her horror it was laden with wounds inflicted from the fight, the knuckles dripped with what she feared was its own blood, deformed and broken from the solid crystal of the Darklings. The garments were torn and stained, glittering from the gem fragments covering it. The face dripped with sweat, the odd trickle of red running down the features. One eye was shut, it appeared to be badly damaged.

She could not help but drink in the scene, its presence was remarkable. Even this badly hurt it could instil enough doubt to hold back the royal guard. The fight was over, Fluttershy was confused why they were not going to help them. The creature stood over the princesses that lay beneath it in a defensive stance with a bowed head, waiting for something. Seeing the faces of the guards, eyes narrowed and focused with Shining Armour at the front, a terrifying feeling hit her. The creature was using Twilight and Celestia exactly as it did Rainbow.

It was breathing heavily, raising his head it swallowed, fighting the pain it was feeling. Looking around cautiously moving over Celestia. The right leg was shuddering, she could see from the way it placed its weight it was painful to stand on it. The eyes settled on Fluttershy expectantly as the soldiers eased around to form a rough circle, searching for an opening to rescue their princesses. The intensity of its gaze brought back her trembling feeling, a warning clear and simple to those who dared approach, warding off their advance. They were afraid what it would do to their princesses. It placed a claw on Celestias throat, again two digits extended. The same to Twilight who lay over her. Shining Armour made to advance but halted as the creatures claw slid into his sisters mane, picking it up and running the hair through those digits with a cruel smile plastered to its face.

“Coward!” Shining Armour yelled out.

It slowly pulled its leg forwards over Celestia. Its movements were sluggish and dazed. It seemed the right leg had been scraped, explaining why it could not put full weight on it forcing a limp. The creature stepped forwards slowly to Fluttershy and the guards in front closed their formation ready for what would come. It clenched its claws with a crack and the dripping began once more while its eyes narrowed.

Twilight and Celestia were now free from the monsters shadow. The guards behind rushed in to the fallen princesses, raising their shields over to protect them from the monster. Two tended to Celestia and Twilight, trying to carefully move them away from it. Fluttershy saw it in the eyes, it was not going back to the cell, this creature was going to take its freedom. She was panicking, the soldiers were not prepared to fight it, they had not seen how far it could push itself, no pain nor wound would hold back that much anger. What it had said, ‘until I draw my last breath’.

It was closing in, the pace once more slowly quickening. The guards shifted and tightened their formation. Shining armour readied himself.

“Stop! Please stop! The fighting’s over, please!” she screamed. To her surprise the creature was the one that halted. It blinked rubbing its eye, leaving grime to stain the area. It raised itself and stood at full height, above all the guards, not by much but enough to force Shining Armour to reconsider their charge. The grin was finally gone and its mouth remained flat, the tongue licking some of the red trails clear.

“This lady has given me my freedom for my word to fight to the best of my ability against this enemy.” Fluttershy was surprised, the oath was correct word for word and she understood the severity of its pledge. Shining armour glanced at her and she gave a nervous nod. “I ask you stand aside.” He did not move. “Your loyalty is admir...admira-” it swallowed hard again wincing, “Valiant. You should know this captain, I will not be chained again. Stand aside before my patience fails.”

“After all you have done you will be lucky if we chain you.”

With a deep inhale the creature threw its head back and howled with all its might. Fluttershy could see the shifting of the uneasy soldiers. The noise was loud and booming, it felt as though the agonised wail tore through her repeatedly as it echoed. The creature jerked its figure around stretching each muscle and bone as it righted itself. She felt a shiver as it stepped forward, the leg no longer limping. Each time it struck the ground with its bulk the soldiers seemed to hold their spears and shields a little tighter. Shining Armour stood ready with his legion, proudly unwavering against the beast.

Fluttershy did not know what she could do. It was going to hurt them. She had to stop this monster, anything at this point must happen. As tears fell from the fear she remembered what it said; ‘Why did it have to be you’. She galloped before it to spread her forelegs out wide and high to face down that sadistic grin plastered on is jaw. Trying to ignore the pain she felt in her wings, she closed her eyes not knowing what to expect. Breathing heavily she felt the panic growing with every moment. She winced as the claw rested on her shoulder and the ponies behind stared on dumbstruck.

“It’s alright Miss. Please stand aside.”

“No,” she forced herself to stare at it, “You will hurt them, please stop hurting. Just stop!” As her final word reverberated about the chamber Princess Luna staggered in with Applejack supporting her. She forcefully spoke through constrained breath, “Lower your weapons! We need not stand against this monster today. Save your strength and focus yourselves in aid of the fallen. Your Princess commands it.” The guards hesitantly backed away obeying their orders, Shining armour finding it the most difficult of all.

The monster continued walking once more to the door, letting its claw run along the shoulder of the now relieved pegasus. It was limping again with pain but its face remained fixed and focused. The sweat dripped down, drawing lines in the dust on its features only emphasising its sinister facade. As it came by Luna it nodded in gratitude to her intervention, passing by without quarrel.

Applejack grew nervous as it lumbered by her, the eye looking to the princess as it carried itself out. It passed Rarity, being tended to by Pinkie. As it approached Pinkie was strangely not concerned. Seeing it free Rarity was shocking, and she had an awful thought of what would have happened if it did not intervene. As it lumbered past it slowed to stare at the unicorn laying there.

She did not know why, but Pinkie felt the need to speak to it, “She’s okay...” her words trailing off. It looked away and as it limped through the partition its pace quickened making for the broken doors to the light of the Canterlot dawn.

05 One Hoof In Front Of The Other

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05

Fluttershy hesitantly gave chase to the limping creature as it stepped out to the courtyard to feel the burning warmth finally engulf it. She wanted to stay and help but was wracked with dread imagining this thing lumbering through the Canterlot kingdom. It somehow was her responsibly now. She grabbed a bandage from a passing medical aid and followed the droplets that pointed the way. As the golden shade washed over it failed to stop and savour the sunlight, only pushing onwards. Treading over the fallen ponies and scrap it stopped over a pink one amongst the many littered forms. As Fluttershy pushed through the fray and scrambling trying not to be in the way a chorus of wailing sounded all around her. To her relief it did not appear anypony had been permanently harmed many lay whimpering, crying, complaining, cursing but as the forms regained their senses she could not see one without a pony to help it. The screams and moans echoing out into the dawn were a beautiful symphony compared to that of total silence.

The creature kneeled down over the pink pony, adorned with a piece of rubble over it. From the mark she could see it was Princess Cadence, Twilight’s sister in law. It appeared she had been hit hard and was now trapped underneath, her hoof reaching out to the creature as its claws hovered over her. Fluttershy wanted to race over and yell out as a claw rested on the neck and she saw its teeth bare as its head pulled sharply back as though looking to the sky. Fluttershy was confused as some scattered aids came along side it and with a collective groan it was clear what was happening. They hoisted a large piece of the door off the trapped princess, only now could Fluttershy see the size of it. As those around scrambled to recover her the creature held on, all its weight on one leg letting the other hang loosely above the ground. Next to it the ponies that held the frame up were seemingly larger, all standing on hind legs to lift the odd shape clear.

It appeared Princess Cadence could not be moved, one of the aids holding her head and feeling the neck. They looked to the creature in shock as it pushed the frame higher up and stepped over to pivot the piece to harmlessly fall on the other side. As they palpated and treated the princess the creature neatly slipped out and away, scanning the wreckage as it staggered past. A pony attempted to bandage the claw but he was quickly turned to another pony with a gash across her foreleg. It took advantage of its ambiguity to ease out of the courtyard, lost form focus.

Fluttershy had a funny thought, the ponies were not afraid of this odd looking thing. Despite the sinister appearance nopony recoiled in shock or fear. A few whispers were uttered as it passed but they left it alone to wonder out in peace.

She galloped after it still with the wrapped bandage packet in her mouth. She had little experience with treating ponies but she assumed it would be no different than looking after a bear, only less straightforward. It was moving very fast despite the limp, the distance between them only closed as it entered the main street of Canterlot.

“Wait please,” she called nearly dropping the pack. It did not halt, but quickened its pace. Fluttershy was now standing behind it but had to push herself to close the distance. “You need help.” She was met with cold silence. It continued to stagger, past the burned homes and smashed stalls, desperately trying to hold itself from collapsing as it used all manner of wall or post for extra balance. “Please let me look, I can help you.” She was becoming distressed, the creatures movements were more erratic with each heavy step, rocking side to side staggering down the stairs of the marketplace. Its breathing was becoming deeper and faster, occasionally spluttering for the spittle to catch the sunlight as it fell to the road.

The large open space of the main square offered little to hold itself on and as it pushed on the head bobbed up and down in exaggerated motions to keep weight off the leg. There were no guards at their normal posts. Instead she could see their golden armour glinting in the distance as they soared over and around the city aiding the ponies who had been caught in the fray. She was relieved there was no more fighting, all the golems had perished in the castle. It hit her then, all the golems had perished. It took a while to see it but the creature had single handedly turned the entire battle to their favour. She shuddered then thinking about it, there must have been at least a dozen or more golems in total. Their size had made it seem like more but she was not preoccupied at the time with counting. She wondered where the changelings were now. That black mist pouring out of each new pile as it ripped through. Focus Fluttershy. Despite the complacency of her body she still stayed behind it trying to think of a way to help the creature.

Fluttershy was afraid and she could not understand why, all was safe and the creature was leaving. She questioned if her fears were for the creature or for what it may do to anypony who got in its way. It grabbed a bottle from a merchant stall as it left the square and drank deeply from it tossing the empty shell to the Floor. Fluttershy picked it up and pushed it into a nearby trash can, feeling silly as she saw the wreckage lying about her hooves.

The residents remained in their homes, still terrified of the battle and the new figure lumbering past. Fluttershy found herself growing angry at this creatures stubbornness, she darted in front of it and stamped her hooves firmly, staring intensely at it with her secret weapon. The stare of Fluttershy was known amongst the citizens of her hometown, Ponyville. She did not know where it came from or why it worked but it had the power to halt a frenzied manticore instantly, her greatest accomplishment reducing a fully grown dragon to tears. She was secretly relieved though as it halted, placing a claw on a window sill to hold its weight off the damaged leg. She took the sterilised packet in her hooves, as if to offer it to the beast. “You need help. Let me help you.”

The creature looked at the ground and its knuckles, it grabbed a fallen banner from the jubilation, a small streamer with the words Princess and Welcome boldly drawn across. It proceeded to wrap the decoration expertly around its open claw, Fluttershy saw in the light the full extent of the injury. She was normally good with blood, but there was a lot of it running down the arm and dripping off the elbow. Both claws were split around the knuckles, skin lifting up and exposing the red of the torn layers under the light coat of hair. The elbow too was beginning to swell, she could see it pummelling the golem that had choked Rarity. The creature winced with the final tightening of the makeshift bandage. She only knew then how hard it had fought for its freedom. The eyes peered to her again, it did not seem her stare was working as she had hoped, and as it stared back she was forced to look away feeling those eyes pierce her. Its head lowered to hers, the arm being used as extra support. This close she could smell rusted metal from its dried blood, the sweat as it dripped off and the raw earth upturned under her hooves. A powerful odour came from the creatures mouth as it spoke, rancid and hot on her face, gently caressing it with its potent aroma.

“You have no need to.” Its words were confusing. She remained string at the floor, no longer able to look upon its stained face. “Your friends... and monarch are in need of you. Go to them. Forget me.” It spoke with clarity, the words chosen carefully to cause it less pain as it forced them through the bruising face.

“I-”

“Look around!” it barked though gritted teeth forcing her back with the shock, “I could not have done this. Learn whom you must fear and chain. Burden me no longer with your weakness. Go!”

It was staggeringly obvious this creature was far too stubborn to return. She did not look about her, nervously remaining focused on the visage she was confronted with. It was still the same as in the cell, seething with anger and tense in agony. Her silence urged it to speak further, “I cannot be near the Celestia one again, my strength will fail and I will succumb to my baser lust for revenge.” Only a blank blinking face met the comment, “If you had not been the one to grant my freedom, this would have had a different end.” She now understood. Trying to empathise with it, she could understand what it spoke of. After being imprisoned for who knows how long and subjected to sit in its own filth and squalor whilst enduring such hardship, the reason for it lay right under its claws not long ago. Princess Celestia, its captor, was directly under the digits, helpless and vulnerable. She was completely at its mercy as they hovered over her beating veins.

Fluttershy felt ill thinking about it, the Princess coming so close to loosing her life. She did not fully know if it was possible to take her life but the creature had been in a position to find out. It must have taken everything it had to step over her and place its trust in Fluttershy’s promise. The creature managed to stagger past her and continue on, leaving the bandage behind she followed more cautiously.

The chirping birds sounded their sweet melodies in the dawn over the carnage that once was a street of houses. As her eyes wondered after the limping beast she could only see how much damage Queen Chrysalis’ Army had done. To her relief there were no ponies amongst the rubble, most likely all still sleeping when the attack happened. There were upturned carts now flattened, entire buildings and corners ripped apart. The sounds of fire safety and law enforcement rang out over the screaming and weeping. Fluttershy had seen such sadness in her life but today was exceptional. She wanted to stop and help where she could but everypony she could see was digging through rubble and safely evacuating the wounded. Most of them had minor cuts and scrapes and as she looked around she became more terrified she would see a figure with a blanket over its head. Such a sight never came to her relief.

She could see the ponies around her now taking an interest in the creature, nudging those close to point out the oddity lumbering through. As the whispers grew and the eyes hardened Fluttershy quickly realised what was happening. The injured monster on two legs limping out of the city, covered in wounds and very clearly trying to flee. It looked incriminating. As a group of younger stallions took up improvised weapons while eyeing it an easy feeling came to her. This time she could do something, she was there right now and had to do anything to stop this.

A sharp cry took her attention and she saw the creature had fallen to its bad knee, staggering to get up again while holding its arm high to shield against stones being thrown at it. She darted to its side and to her relief the pelting stopped. Some more young stallions responsible for the idea. As she glared at them they took flight upon recognising her from the element on her head. Colts.

She looked behind her with alarm seeing the mass that gathered. They had gathered surprisingly fast, each brandishing their own tools. She turned to them, speaking to crowds was difficult, especially with all those eyes peering at her. Seeing the creature trying to force itself up gave her the strength to face them. There was somepony who needed her right now. As it looked away from her she cleared her throat and forced a smile to speak out to the crowd, “Hello everypony, is there a problem?”

A chestnut stallion stepped forwards carrying a large hammer, his size significantly trumped that of the creatures. Then again, he was exceptionally large for any pony, and so muscular... Focus Fluttershy! As he approached he brandished the weapon on his shoulder. It was not meant for combat, more demolition or smithing, she was not versed enough to know the difference.

“That’s one of those problems. We can solve it now!” The restless crowd cheered. Fluttershy had seen how drastic ponies would behave when in a large group and she was afraid for her safety and that of the creatures.

“Oh my no! This one helped us!”

“We are not blind, it walks on two legs and has claws like the others.”

“It is true they look similar, but this is not one of those monsters. I promise you.” She was forced to back up as the group drew closer. She could see the hungry look in the large stallions eye.

“Now there’s no need to be like that sir. I promise you it’s alright. Trust me.”

A mare on the side spoke out “Wait! You’re Fluttershy? The element of kindness?”

“Umm...yes,” she replied shyly. A whisper rippled over the group. The mare spoke again.

“What is that thing?”

“A friend.” she saw the large stallions eyes widen, “We would not have defeated the queen without it.”

“Defeated?” another pony called out, it was clear word had not yet spread.

“Thats right. The queen is gone and so is her army.”

A cheer resounded out but quickly returned to silence as the creature painfully pushed itself back up and tried to force itself around. The mass looked confused now as to their next action. The large stallion was still gripping the hammer grimacing at the monster now turned to face them. Fluttershy had a feeling she recognised this stallion but had to ignore the suspicion now.

Her attention went to a kindly looking earth pony who stepped forward and came closer to the creature. Fluttershy grew more nervous and approached it with her. She did not know the mare but she could see her youth and the concern on her face. As the distance closed the creature rose higher forcing her to stop as those eyes settled on the nervous pony. The face was in agony, that knee was trembling complacently as the weight bore down on it. The torn garments it wore draped over it but she could still see the swelling in the lower leg. The mare looked to Fluttershy for a cue and they both put one hoof before the other.

A deep growl resounded, deep enough to feel it in them. The agony had faded as an intense anger replaced it. Fluttershy expected resistance but now she had a chance to help the creature. She could finally end this nonsense. Mustering up her sweetest voice she tried to picture a large and grumpy rabbit in its place, “Its alright. You’re not so bad are you? Just stay calm. Thats it-”

“Miss Fluttershy. I tell you this for your own good. Come any closer and I will tear the pelt from your body while you still live. Don’t think it can’t be done.”

It was the way it spoke calmly than made her blood run cold. Such a violent thought did not help its case to the crowd. She could not understand how foolish it was being, lacking the tact and the eloquence it once had. Its voice was dazed and weakened but hose eyes did not falter. They told the story of what would happen if they approached. Her mind began playing the gruesome images and she felt lines being drawn on her, as to where the monster would most likely cut. It was disgusting to think about and she cursed her perfect imagination. Then she remembered this creature burying its head. Showing such vulnerability to her as a frightened filly, She could feel its warmth on her chest and the thick skull under her forelegs as it breathed on her belly. She smiled and its foreboding eyes grew wider in alarm as her fear faded. The mare next to her spoke.

“Don’t be stupid, where are you going to go?”

“Far enough.”

“Look, it’s clear you need help. I am a medical student, a doctor in training at GPUC, we can help you.”

“The statement stands, leave me be.” The gash on its cheek began running a fresh droplet to trace around the mouth but was not licked away only to fall on the garments below it. Upon consideration, Fluttershy could not blame it for being this way. Shining armour had made it clear after all what they were planning. Even though the creature stepped away from Celestia and Twilight he still held the line, ready to charge. He spoke from anger over his sisters suffering and she understood that, but the creature clearly did not, and was unwilling to risk the captains wrath.

The mare stepped closer despite the danger and Fluttershy felt relieved she did not have to approach. The creature flexed its muscles and bore its teeth clumsily stepping backwards trying to avoid limping.

“Its alright fella. I’m not going to hurt you.”

She darted back as the creature swung to her. “I will hurt you.” The gentle voice was frightening, the creature spoke with pleasure.

There were a few ponies gathering behind it now, seeing this it started to stumble on biting though its pain. The few ponies lost their nerve and quickly retreated to allow it to limp through, each step growling intensely. The mare that tried to help it sat where she stood holding her hoof to her cheek. Fluttershy took it to see what was wrong, to her relief it seemed like shock and nothing else. She smiled in gratitude and nodded, turning to give chase to the brute. This encounter only clarified one thing; the creature was not going back and would do anything to get away.

After what this thing had done to Twilight, and for Twilight, Fluttershy had mixed feelings. She knew it was wrong, but she knew it was right to worry about what was going to happen to this monster. Almost a kilometre later of limping she saw the ponies around gathering their own tools again. This would be a constant as long as it was insisting on this foolishness. There was something she could do, it was not smart but at this point intelligence was not going to sway the stubborn creature, lacking any of its own. Her pace increased and she drew close to it. Almost on cue it turned its head to her and brandished those teeth again. Speaking softly while smiling.

“You are not thinking. Leave me be!”

“No.” she was shocked by her own assertiveness.

“I will tear you apart!”

“No. You wont.” Its eyes widened with alarm again and she knew she was right. Coming in close now, a sadness urged her to reach out. She quickly pulled her hoof back as the claw swept out.

“I will not warn you again!”

She got angry and stomped her hoof. Almost fed up with this infantile behaviour. Her eyes followed the creatures as they darted around erratically. There were now a significant number of ponies looking at the new thing in the street, everyday ponies from Canterlot. They each brandished an improvised weapon, a sense of deja vu hitting Fluttershy. The creatures growl was deep and loud enough for her to feel it in her gullet as it shook her insides. Once again she had to stop it from fighting. What felt odd is that she saw the ponies as the oppressors now, not the monster.

She galloped forward and took the claw in her hoof nearly stumbling the creature. It turned sharply to her menacingly but it only made her hold tighter. “No.” she said firmly. The creature buckled on its good leg, trying to hold its free claw back now inches form her throat. She loosened her grip understanding she was hurting it and the claw clasped over her hoof as though to peel it off. Adjusting her balance she came closer and placed her hoof over the other claw, “Look around, they are afraid of you. Please be calm, I want to help.”

“You already have.”

“Please let me to walk by you, so they know you’re a friend. Please use me.”

The creature looked around to the ponies, seeing Fluttershy near it was enough for them to lower their weapons, some cooing mistaking her gesture for something more intimate as she looked down into the lowered face. The tension was leaving it, softening and revealing the hide under the cracked grime that was mingled in the fur. Both claws were incredibly hot to the touch, she wondered if it was her heartbeat she felt in her hooves or the throbbing of the claws themselves. “I will not return.”

“I understand.”

“Walk quickly.”

As it began to limp towards the border along the lines of destruction Fluttershy felt overwhelmingly relieved that it did not shake her hoof off. She wanted to support it in someway but it was not possible, she had taken a beating herself and was now feeling the extent of her bruises yet to show. The fact that she could feel this pain was good news to her, it meant it was finally over and the shock of the fight was subsiding.

The look it gave when she grabbed its claw was imprinted on her mind. The widened eyes and twisted brow, that must have been the last thing those golems saw before it crushed them. She didn’t want to think about it any more and squeezed tighter, quickly having the ease it because of the cracking sound. It helped her feel better, the fact that it could feel pain was enough to show it was not so immune. A little voice in the back of her mind kept telling her to leave it to the crowds, abandon her attempt and watch it fall under the tide of the Canterlot citizens. Maybe it was the shock of the battle and the fumes around her, but she did not see a monster limping there anymore. She did not want to cause it anymore pain.

*

The walk along Canterlot was strange, she began wishing it was not such a large place. The destruction drew a clear line out of the city and as they approached the main gate it became apparent why it had chosen to follow that path. The guards were now gone, moved away to a hospital she hoped or busy. The once mighty barricade now lay splintered and open, it looked abandoned. The defence had been moved to the inner walls, the fallback in case the outer ones fell. As they passed under the shattered arches and into the shadows that they cast she was relieved to have cleared the kingdom. Before her now was countryside and the Everfree Forest. A mass of trees untamed by anypony, stretching out far and wide into the expanse of Equestria. It touched many towns along its way, including her home of Ponyville. It was a place housing countless mysteries and monsters, giving birth to legends told at gatherings to entertain and thrill foals. She had only ever been in the border, a few kilometres deep in the forest. It stretched on for such a great distance she dared not go further in after her last time; securing the elements of harmony with her friends.

Seeing the creature looking relieved as its gaze glided over the tree line she was compelled to ask, “This is your home?”

“No.”

The creature loosened its grip and stepped forward but she held on and pulled back causing it to grunt in pain. Focus Fluttershy!

“Sorry sorry sorry.”

“You can release now.” She wanted to but was unable to. The claw loosened further and tried to slide away but eased its tension as the sharp pain returned. The warmth from it had caused her hoof to sweat and soak in the streamer, mingling with its blood in the enclosed palm. In the shade here its features were less sinister, the sun no longer emphasised the bizarre complexion and odd contours.

“Release me.” It voice had hardened again.

“I...” she did not know what to say. All this fear and pain would go if she would open her hoof and let it wander away. Almost certainly for the last time. As the birds sounded in the distance she looked to the claw her hoof was squeezing, mildly startled by the darkened trails that had crawled over her hoof to stain her coat.

She felt the other claw rest on her shoulder, now a familiar feeling, and looked to the sunken eyes.

“Miss Fluttershy... you love your friends don’t you?”

“What? ...Of course I do.”

“Then go to them and stop wasting my time.”

“Why are you so angry?”

“It would be better if I was happy?”

“Yes...but you’re not,” she admitted. The smile it gave her was both condescending and sarcastic with a raised brow and wide eyes, “So you’re just going to go out there like this?”

“Yes.”

“And you will not let me treat you, even here where nopony else is around?”

“Correct.”

“And there is nothing else you can say.”

“Incorrect. There is something I should say,” she shifted nervously tensing her muscles to prepare for more cruel words, “You have granted me my freedom. You can do nothing else now aside forgetting I was here. Leave me in peace, that is all I ask.”

“You can’t survive out there alone.”

“If it is the price for freedom, it is not a high cost.” The claw closed around her hoof and shook it firmly and slow, “Thank you Miss Fluttershy. Time is up.” As it finished she turned to the sounding of hoofsteps accompanying the group of guards galloping to them, there was no sight of Shining Armour. Before she could say anything to the creature, she felt the claw slip out of her loosened grip as it took flight down the road. The distance it covered was remarkable considering its injuries the leg no longer limping complacently but bearing the weight to carry it away.

Fluttershy was overwhelmingly annoyed and she turned to stare down the guards, halting the entire party. As they compacted into each other trying to avoid colliding with the pegasus. That legendary stare once again proving itself.

“What are you doing?” she said angrily.

“P...Princesses Celestias orders M’am. The monster is to be taken to the medical ward under escort.”

“Then why the weapons?” she glared at the halberds.

“Orders M’am. Please excuse us.” They edged around and regrouped their formation in pursuit of the creature. She knew they were only acting under orders, and admired their bravery for doing so, however she did resent them for being vigilant in their task. As it disappeared into the foliage of the forest, she followed its movements watching the lumbering form grow ever more obscure by the dense greenery and shadows. Then only movements of the branches of trees overhead, then the fluttering of birds as they took flight when it passed under them. Then silence. As the chase grew further away and the guards barrelled in after it, she caught herself in the act of hoping for something strange. She hoped it could get away. Having seen what it did this morning, there was a feeling it would.

“Thank you,” she muttered under her breath and returned to the castle to aid in any way she could. Her head hung low at the thought of explaining her actions to Princess Celestia, clearly she did not want to release the creature and once word reached her about how she helped it escape Canterlot, she would undoubtably be banished.

Her heart sank as she saw the drops on the cobblestone roads, they were dark red, certainly it was blood. It may not last much longer in the forest, maybe not even the night. She stood by her decision to free it and was grateful there was still a day to be enjoyed. Her friends were still there and they owed it to one individual, this creature whom they kept chained out of fear. Fluttershy was still afraid of it, the whole experience seemed so unreal now. Those eyes though, she could see something in them. It was the same something she felt in her own heart. A feeling she had struggled with all her life. The way they shuddered, that feeling of weakness she got seeing it suspended by those chains. This creature was just like her. Afraid.

*

Spike was there to eagerly greet Fluttershy when she returned. Seeing the little dragon so concerned she had to reach out and squeeze him. He groaned complacently but did not struggle, a sign he enjoyed it or needed it. He had been ordered to stay behind by Twilight and help out. Although he was not strong enough to lift rubble or carry ponies away, his observant eyes did not miss anything in the debris. Even recovering a small jewel for one of the wonderbolts that had fallen loose in the fray. His stomach growled complacently but he was too stressed to eat anyway.

The fight had been long and arduous, he had felt so helpless watching his friends pinned before him. It was a constant fear he had, his inadequacy in the physical. He had always received comments from the colts and stallions mocking his size, although he was always the centre of attention with the mares and they hated him for it. Never had he felt those unkind words like he did today. He wanted to be there for them but he had seen that was not enough now.

Princess Celestia still being able to raise the sun was an amazing sight, she had such determination despite her injuries and fatigue. With that final burst of light she had risen her army and brought light to the world. When Twilight was carried away in the aftermath it dampened her resolve, saddened as she looked at her student Spike could not help but wish it had been him, not that it was in his control. He had to keep his excitement to himself though as ponies around talked about what had happened. Unsurprisingly the monster was on all their lips. He thought it was the coolest thing he had ever seen. All those golems being thrown around. He knew it was a bad monster, it had hurt Twilight after all. Yet he found himself wishing he could be that tough one day.

After it had cleared away the golems attacking his friends he went to Rarities side with Pinkie Pie while Fluttershy ran onto the gaping doors. That was the hardest part for him. He was sure the mare he loved didn’t see it but he was crying trying to help her, wriggling in the golems grasp as she was thrown about. He had such anger and hatred building up that when the monster charged in and battered it to the ground he felt nothing but happiness seeing the head burst into a shower of glinting black dust.

He had stayed by Rarities side stroking her hoof and trying to help. She was struggling to breathe after the ordeal but Pinkie Pie knew what to do, supporting her friends neck and angling the head back she was able to open the airways and keep the neck immobilised incase it was broken. When asked about it she said she had the same injury a while ago being fired out of a cannon into a large jello mould for a stunt party. During which somepony made a mistake and switched the regular water for an industrial odourless resin making it harder than concrete. The imagery was funny at the time, he could always count on Pinkie to make them feel better.

When the monster staggered through the meditation doors Spike ran past to twilights side, the beast easing to the side to give him room. It was there he received his orders while eagerly running alongside her makeshift stretcher, one of the guards shields. He was to stick with the others and help organise the relief effort. Making a promise to Twilight he would while seeing the princess being carried away was more than he could bear, only seeing his weakness. When Rarity stood up again with the aid of Pinkie his spirits soared and he made his way to her, his relief drowning his upset.

Returning to the castle Fluttershy threw herself into helping anypony that she could. Princess Luna was in command and doing a proficient job of organising the shattered line. The soldiers that chased Chrysalis did not succeed in capturing her, claiming she had vanished shortly after taking flight. This was a concern now that the changeling queen had taken form amongst them. With Princess Cadence less than able to rebuild her spell there was no choice but to carry on and wait.

Shining Armour was organising platoons to patrol the walls and watch out for any signs of attack. When he learned about what happened to his wife, Princess Cadence, he quickly appointed a nearby elite legionnaire to act in his place and rushed to her side.

Fluttershy was trying to find a job for her to do as a blur of ponies rushed all around. It was difficult trying to figure out where to go but there was somepony missing and she remembered she hand’t seen him in the battle either. She looked for a soldier that wasn’t preoccupied and spied a stallion adorning a dented helm and carrying a bent shield. He was standing guard at the entrance observantly. She walked up to him, the intimidating poise less effective with the the odd shapes of the helmet.

“Excuse me Sir Knight. Would you happen to know where I might find my friend Discord, the Draconequus?”

“We haven’t seen him M’am. He went to the city during the first attack. The last we heard he was heading the rescue operation there.”

A quick realisation came to her, that stallion was Discord, after all their time together she somehow knew when it was him. She had to question why he was rallying the ponies to attack, he knew how dangerous this creature was and yet he was going to throw them at it despite... He was trying to protect her without revealing himself. She did not know whether to be angry or happy thinking about the stupid, yet sweet, gesture.

She thanked the guard to look into the room at a tired Applejack heading towards her. They met and hugged, both happy to see the other well. It was long and tight, betraying her upset. Applejack however was always able to remain calm, casually shrugging off the conflict.

“How’s Rarity?”

“She is most fine albeit in need of a serious spa day. I will thank you never to speak of it again.” The unicorn with the little dragon on her back next to Fluttershy rubbed the back of her neck and Fluttershy grabbed her, quickly releasing the hug at a yelp of pain.

“Sorry sorry sorry.”

Rarity cleared her throat attempting to regain composure, “That’s quite alright. It is a good pain.” She looked around the courtyard and carnage expectantly, “Where’s your brute?”

“It left for the Everfree Forest.”

“Did it come form there?”

“No.” Panic began to rise in her, “I’m sorry gals, there was no other way, those things were nearly in and it wouldn’t listen. I had to let it go.”

“Whoa whoa darling, relax. You did good.” That friendly smile helped relieve the guilt she had, “Hang on...what do you mean ‘let it go’?”

“I said it was free if it would help us. As you saw it did, so it is.”

“So that ghastly monster is free in Equestria right now?”

“Kind of.”

“It could barely stand, it just ran off like that?”

“Kind of.”

Princess Luna walked up an they bowed to the princess. She managed to carry herself well despite the sling, still as intimidating as true royalty always was. “Fluttershy. The question is if it will return.”

“No. It told me to forget about it and leave it in peace.”

“And you are sure we can safely assume it does not pose a threat to the ponies of Equestria?”

“I don’t think it wants to come back.” Luna looked to the still intact windows decorating the room, the beautiful cascade of colours pouring through with the sunlight. She hated staying up late but felt happy knowing she could now rest since the monster was gone. Celestias orders to her guards were strange, they were firm and cruel. Despite Lunas protests she had commanded they find it and detain it, her bitterness slipping through. Luna had to take her aside and explain the monster was responsible for their victory. Her sister however did not retract the orders, no further comment to give on the subject. She was escorted by her guard to the medical wing of the palace leaving Luna in charge. Although her foreleg hurt the princess saw her duties, and Celestias, through.

“Princess?” A hoof on her shoulder brought her back to the present.

“I am fine thank you Rarity.” The hoof slid off leaving Luna feeling awkward at being touched.

“Is there something wrong?” Fluttershy said

“I am sorry, my mind must have been elsewhere.”

“It’s alright. I said I am sorry for giving it freedom. That was not my place.”

“You acted with the forethought and compassion we all expected. Your decision shall be honoured, well done Fluttershy.”

She felt her cheeks becoming hotter, “You mean you’ll leave it alone out there?”

“It was the promise you made. We shall respect it considering it fulfilled its end of the bargain so...”, with all the destruction around she could only think of one adjective, “Completely. Well done indeed.” Luna went to oversee the rest of her duties. She hated not being able to sleep, ordering quick cappuccino to fix her fatigue. Staring out and issuing orders to the group she was plagued with thoughts over the monster. As disappointed as she was when Celestias soldiers returned empty handed she could not help but feel relieved. Relieved that she did not have to deal with it any further, and that she could rest sooner knowing it would no longer be a problem. Although she did have a passing idea, not a wise one yet maybe it was worth trying. At any rate it would come later, for now there was a kingdom to rebuild.

06 Nightmare Of My Eye

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06

No break, not dislocated, a torn muscle maybe. This leg is ready to come off! Why did you stop you fool. Should have run when you had the chance. Thought they could fool me! Ha! Free indeed, what a joke. That little...she did this to me. That Fluttershy. She made me...how did she do it? Alright, think. Priority is treatment, find water, food can wait. Have to rest. Too tired. The ground is so soft here, smells nice. Now...yet another shadow comes to me. It’s alone though, one of them.

“Keep back!”
What do you want with me, let me pass in peace. I wonder if...I should, it’s alone after all. Looks very different. Maybe... Who will miss it. Come then...closer.

*

Being back on the farm again brought indescribable solace to Applejack. Only a week had flown by since their return to Ponyville. Big Macintosh, her brother, a large dark red, non-talkative stallion, had injured himself again and she was keeping busy with her friends working on the farm. During the weekends though she chose to continue her work alone preferring the silence to allow thoughts to collect. As everypony else's, those thoughts were focused on the monster that had escaped. Even though Fluttershy had explained what happened down there, even though it left peacefully, she was still weary of the tree line. Her farm bordered the forest and after all, there were a lot of trees to hide behind. It was not a stretch of the imagination to see it walk amongst the trunks of her orchards stalking prey. Owing to her vivid imagination she was still afraid to sleep alone at night, laying with her brother or sister close by. It was impossible to sleep in the same room as Granny Smith, an apple green old mare with more wisdom that she could figure out what to do with. Her old sayings brought a great deal of comfort to her worries at this time. Applejack was one of the bravest yet she was plagued nightly by apparitions in her dreams of the monster.

In the daylight those fears always seemed belittled and silly, at night though they rose in her again only allowing her to sleep when she was too exhausted to stay awake. Her family had noticed the plight despite the front she tried to put on. Every time they asked she was always honest but in an obscure manner. Blaming her exhaustion on bad dreams but not mentioning what lurked in them. She felt like a silly foal afraid of the dark. Although when she thought this another quick reminder came to make her shudder. Foals are afraid of stories, what she was afraid of was real and she knew it was out there.

Cleanup and relief at the castle was difficult, the descriptions of what happened more exaggerated as they were told. The golems had swept through an a cloud of black smoke. It had only faded when they reached the castle keep. Princess Celestia and Princess Cadence awaited the first charge taking King Sombra and Queen Chrysalis head on with the legion. They were quickly subdues under the numbers they faced, their magic bouncing off the mirror surfaced bodies the darklings now wore. The after math had not been easy either. May soldiers had been injured, she helped as many as possible before finally resting at the entrance to talk to her friends. Rarity was, to her surprise alright despite the ordeal, Fluttershy was shaking from the shock, Rainbow was excited yet humbled by the encounter, Pinkie Pie however did not change to their relief. Twilight on the other hoof was profoundly impacted upon hearing news of the monsters escape. Applejack could see her friends eyes harden as the guard gave their report. She had questioned Fluttershy about its condition but was dissatisfied with the end. At least there was some relief when a frightened Spitfire limped up to the new princess, tripping over her words apologising to Twilight for striking her. Ever the benevolent there was no resentment held between them. Like Twilight though nopony believed the monster was gone, no body had been found yet.

The beginning of these dreams and thoughts that perforated her calm was from a late afternoon stroll around her farm, Apple Acres. During this stroll in the younger orchards bordering the Everfree forest she had found a strange marking on the tree, it was a triangular shape carved deep in. When she came closer to examine it though there was an unexplained gripping in her chest. She had an urge to turn and gallop away without looking back. As she drew closer the feeling became more intense until she had to succumb to it. Rushing away the emotion pushed her, carried her onwards until she returned to the farm locking the door behind her and watching around the house the entire night. It was as though she could feel something there without seeing it. Her imagination was unfortunately very apt and birthed a gruesome facsimile. The beast from the cell was always the form, the teeth somehow sharper every time, it's eyes more bright and piercing than when it lay the cell.

The incident in the castle had left them all shaken and confused. She still felt sore from the fight and less confident after what had happened. In her entire life there had never been a challenge such as that of the golem. How she had kicked hard enough to uproot a tree but it refused to budge. She had spent all her life bucking and was one of the strongest in all Equestria, with the medals to prove it, yet it still wasn't enough. She would never admit it to her friends but when that monster came to their aid she was more relieved than Granny smith when she thought she had eaten her good going out teeth.

That beast had hurt them very badly, more than any physical pain. Twilight was still reclusive, avoiding them to use her time researching spells. According to Spike, with a little encouragement from Rarity, Twilight was searching ancient spells and redesigning them for the creature if it came back. Although her fear could be justified there was still that problem it had revealed to them. Although they tried Twilight was difficult to talk to, always having random thoughts about things Applejack couldn't understand. They chose to allow their friend to work through her troubles in her own time. All they could do was be there when she was ready.

The thought in question did leave all her friends pondering an answer. Together they had many encouraging ideas but Twilight was able to pick them apart quickly. Optimism was not going to win her over. Applejack did not know why they had let it go, probably Fluttershy’s words or it's clear anger to them. It was clear however back then that forcing it to stay would not be a possibility. She caught herself wondering if it had the capacity to understand what distress it was causing.

Seeing the way it fought brought the word ruthless to mind, an horrible thought came as to what would have happened should the monster have fought them. The golems were enemies of course, yet she felt sad watching them struggle to fight. It was the first one it broke that scarred her. Each blow from the creature only splintering the face even until it finally collapsed. How it refused to let it fall to the ground ending its life there. There was still a chance that the changelings were alive and unharmed seeing the black smoke flutter from the remains. However that did not make the scene any less haunting. There were no remaining golems when the monster was done. It had executed all of them without mercy, the word execute being more appropriate. It's fighting was almost artful as it swayed between it's assailants every strike anticipated and every return decisive. When her nightmares came she could see it attacking them instead of the golems. The gruesome actions repeated but on ponies, each tear and hit as brutal.

There was one golem though that she kept seeing over. Before the brute finished it its eyes looked upon her pleadingly. The golems unsuccessful swing had left it crippled, breaking the arm off the elbow. The monster then stepped on the back knee of the golem forcing it down, then in a swift motion it grabbed he head and twisted it clear. Execute was more appropriate.

She had a conversation with Fluttershy where she confided in the simple Earth pony. Along with Rainbow Dash she had apparently visited the Pegasus with the missing wing. The outpouring of the cloudsdale community was prevalent and she was adjusting to her new life gradually. Speaking with her there we a lot of crying yet immense determination to recover. Apparently her condition had brought about many scientists keen to test their works and regain her flight, so far a glider was the best they could do. Financially she was secure now living off the risk fee Princess Celestia supplied. It was a token of her gratitude for her laying her life down for the good of the kingdom. The description had been parroted to Applejack; ‘I though it was going to to tear me in two’ my ribs had been broken but it kept pulling, laughing’, monster was too kind a description. Although her wings were lost to her, she was grateful to be alive. In her description the beast eyes were ever prevalent, the eyes that haunted Applejack now.

Of all of the things she had seen and heard that night, the ease with which it had escaped was one of the most shocking. It seemed that the monster was prepared to flee, only waiting for the opportunity. The pain it pushed through to do so, after the prolonged depravation and weakening it was more formidable than they could imagine.

When she was out in the orchards there was always a nagging voice in her mind indicating there was something not safe now, leave now and go home. It was difficult to explain but every time it grew too strong she listened to it without question. Such instinct she could not refute. The concern was great, however she chose to keep it to herself and not concern the others with useless ramblings of an insane mind. There were soldiers all over and she was safe, it was not a foolish monster and it would stay away or risk being captured.

The rumours around the beast in equestria had earned a staggering reputation, deserting the streets at night leaving only guards to patrol. The soldiers around did not help reassure the populace to the lingering threat of Queen Chrysalis or it. Seeing their heavy presence in ponyville only illustrated the concern Princess Celestia had for her student. They had not spoken with her since the attack, she had taken personal charge of the search for their enemies managing to clear Canterlot of any suspected changeling in disguise with incredibly efficiency. Princess Celestia And Princess Luna were not speaking to each other after their public disagreement over pursuing the creature. Every day a new patrol dug around the borders of the forest, searching for what they hoped were its remains. Applejack suspected Princess Celestia needed the closure, to know what happened to it and rest peacefully taking comfort it was gone.

Today though had been a good one, the sun was bright and the host of birds chirping around her to break the silence was comfortable. As she worked to move another basket of apples she felt the warmth of the sun on her face as it heated up every contour to soothe her tired body. It was rejuvenating. Placing the basket down she had a wonderful idea. If she could not sleep at night then why not during the day? Stealing every wink counted and here amongst the birds and open sunlit plain she felt safe. Alone and at peace she lay back under the shade of one of the larger trees, apples removed, looking up at the bark and seeing the fresh hoof indentations. As her fatigue settled and weighed down it pulled the body into the soft ground she let her mind free, focusing on the birds and repeating a phrase over in her head. I will not dream. I will not dream.

*

Applejack woke with a start from her sleep in time to see a beautiful sunset over the orchards. The sight that greeted her filled her being with comfort. At least now the rest was more restful, Princess Luna did not appear to calm her and she could let her shameful fears go. Of all the ponies in Equestria there were not many who knew of the Apple family fully and understood where their heritage had come from, and the circumstances brought about by it. Princess Luna was the one who had invaded her sleep to stumble on that terrible night. She pushed the thought down as she always did, ignoring it successfully for yet another day. Though she was in a different position and sweating profusely she could not remember the nightmare that caused her to wake. Her heart beat hard enough that she was afraid it would explode. Taking in deep breaths and laying on her back she covered her eyes again to savour the sweet feeling of waking up fresh. A tapping drew her attention to see Winona, her beloved pet dog wagging her tail ferociously and ready to play.

“Hey girl,” she sleepily greeted the enthusiastic animal, rolling not her side to rest her cheek on the foreleg. Upon hearing her Winona ran over and began licking her face. She tried to fight it back but had to play rough to get Winona tired so she would sleep well tonight.

After an exhausting scramble with her, it was getting late. Applejack would have to go home and get dinner ready for Big Mac and Applebloom, lest he try himself and burn another barn down. Although she did enjoy building them again with the family. The problem was he always wanted the meal very quickly and turned the heat too high, either burning or incinerating it each time. Then he would throw the flaming contents out the window and always hit the nearest barn. It was unavoidable. The last time he did an unbelievable bank shot off the first barn to have it land in an harvester and catapulted over the house to the adjacent side where the silo was. Granny smith could still cook but rarely did, it did her good to rest, they needed her for the harvest soon to come. And she grew tired quickly. Applejack wondered how it would be with Twilight when she grew as old.

As she reminisced each disaster she smiled and laughed seeing his childish face refusing to accept she could take care of herself. He was ever the big brother from dominating any colt who would court her to the way he still checked in before she went to sleep to provide a listening ear. They were especially close. Applebloom, her sister, a blonde coat with an apple red mane, was always a close second in his eyes although she did wish he would pay more attention to the little rascal, and less attention to the colts after her. Thanks to him she had never felt her first kiss, something she could only be angered yet flattered about. Then again neither had he. The nickname Big Mac had what Twilight might say, a paradox effect. While the colts were all afraid of him, the mares were all curious about him. He had put aside such ‘childish’ things for now until ‘both his special ladies were happy’. When he said it was alright of course.

Her thought was interrupted by that feeling. This time it grew although she held still. As she searched for Winona she saw her sitting before the grown hedge bordering the two year old orchards, her tail had stopped wagging and the ears stood tall. There was something wrong now and the invasive beast took shape, visualising the form prone and obscured by the foliage. The fear rose in her again as she felt the cold sink in with the ever fading sunlight. She listened carefully, ears twitching in all directions as her eyes darted from each corner every time searching for those sinister teeth or piercing eyes. There was complete silence now. She could not hear any birds or rustling, only her own heartbeat and breathing. She swallowed hard to relive her dry throat, feeling the wrinkling in her lip.

Winona growled and held her ears back snarling at the invisible threat. Applejack stopped breathing as a deeper growl came from the bushes sending Winona running away and yelping at the unseen threat. He growl was not like the monsters, very loud and deep enough to be felt in the ground she sat on. Immediately her thoughts ran all around again and more beasts took shape. Whatever it was it would not leave that bush. If it was a wolf turning and running would only encourage a chase. The tractor was too slow for an escape.

Her legs began to shake and could feel the draw of the safety of her home. She wished Big Mac was here now. Thoughts suddenly diverted to her family. This thing was stalking them too. It may be after the others and not her.

Amidst the fear that drowned her a revelation pushed though; the whole time she had been hiding from this monster she had never truly seen it. It was possible this was a prank, not a funny one but enough to make her question. Why else wouldn’t it attack? A creature of this nature, a predatory animal would attack once its position had been discovered. Yet it waited for something. Her anger boiled the fear away and she could no longer see the monster but a certain blue Pegasus sniggering to herself. All that fear was her fault.

“RAINBOW!” She gritted her teeth and charged for the bush. Diving through to pin the culprit. She fell on top of something hard yet soft with a hard thud. A large shadow in front of her with brilliant golden eyes spun around to kick dirt in her face. She did not panic though as she heard the shadows steps grow more quiet in its retreat. She was right, there was something stalking her. It was a relief knowing it ran away instead of attacking.

Rubbing the dirt clear and allowing the vision to return an odd bobbing sensation under her hooves drew her eyes down. There looking straight up at her was the monster. Her eyes were locked into its own, wide whit horror. She had it now under her. Pinned.
It was not as terrifying as the beasts she dreamt of. Now it was there, she had it under her, she would not let it escape. For her family, to stop the nightmares and the fear, end the madness to protect them all.

She pressed her hooves deeper into the claws as it tried to lift them, becoming more panic stricken with each moment that passed with it under her. She could only feel its incredible strength fighting back. Thanks to her industrious work ethic and extra hours she put in at the farm she enjoyed the reputation of one of the strongest in Ponyville, if not the strongest. Despite her best efforts she felt the claws slipping loose and opened her mouth to call out for help.

Her view darted downwards and a clump full or dirt was pushed into her mouth tasting the orchard floor. Spitting it out she looked up now bewildered, the monster had somehow switched their positions. It lay on her now seated on her belly with its tremendous weight, restricting her breathing. She only managed to exhale a silent call for help. She was terrified knowing what it could do and her nightmare was becoming real. The monster pushed its claw to her muzzle with its head darting around searching for something.

She gasped with relief for the air as it powered itself up to dash into the distance nearly tripping on an out-sticking root. It was not wise to do what she wanted to do. It was considerably dangerous and foolish yet seeing it panicked and afraid was empowering. To see the mighty monster have fear, the beast that haunted her run away. She did not want to have another night of suffering, another nightmare. She did not want to have it threaten her family any longer. So she darted forward after it tracking the clumsy movements with ease. She would stop this things hold on Equestria, for Twilight, for the wingless mare, she wasn’t afraid anymore.

*

Another failed visit brought Princess Luna form her sleep as the soothing sunlight shone on her bed. She was breathing heavily form her daymare, the irony of it sickened her. The first one she had since she returned to equestria. It was less a dream than a memory, seeing that brute again. She lay on the bed and curled up closing her eyes trying to avoid thinking about it by feeling the smooth linen stroke her. The anger and those terrible eyes focused on her. The image was sadly burned into her brain now. She rubbed her throat remembering what it had done, how it sought them that first night, and the horror she felt watching limp as it took that mares wings from her.

How her sister charged in and fought to save her. How it laughed at the attempt and dragged Luna up to be suspended by her throat, the air growing less with each moment. She could not understand why at that point she was crying, for the first time in her life she was genuinely afraid her lights would fade. Such ferocity and madness amidst the chaos and she felt was more alive than ever before. As she wiped the tears away she thought about the creature with fluttershy. How it had nestled in her chest like a frightened foal. She smiled seeing the dumbstruck look it had when she turned her tail and sauntered out.

The stories of the battle were incredible. Some more exaggerated than the others but it was truly a battle to behold. One she regretted missing. The descriptions from the others of how the monster had torn through the golems defeating the entire army, then the king and sending the queen running with her tail between her legs. And its benevolence in sparing the lives of Twilight and her sister. It was unlikely the battle had been as one sided as they specified, seeing the monster stagger out made that certain. Cadence had described its helping the ponies recover her in the aftermath, the iron frame seemingly weighing nothing for it.However exaggerated the stories were though its actions were always the same. It had done as they had hoped. As she had hoped.

Even with the light shining at its peak in her room she could still not return to sleep, the erratic fears returning quickly. Her heart was still beating quickly and she place a hoof on her chest to feel it shake with each pump.

She smiled thinking about the beast again, how it strolled out into the forest wondering where it was now, and what it was doing. It had survived but she kept that to herself for now. Every night she visited it but its resistance to her grew stronger. She had tried to visit its dreams but that was a disaster. The same animalistic rage forcing her to retreat as its twisted imagination spun images and scenes that would have made the most iron stomach turn. It was truly a tortured being, long so before them. Yet as she saw it in that cell each day, each time, she did not understand why it was resisting. All their efforts to gain its favour and trust ending up in regret and heartache for both sides.

She was fighting now with her sister over their conflicting decisions. Whereas Luna wished to leave it in peace her sister sought it out daily from either spite or fear. She had suffered much at its actions, extraordinarily overprotective of Luna and Twilight ever since she nearly succumbed to the beast. Her confided fears in Luna knowing the monster was above her and her student, gliding its talons over their throats as though toying with the ideas it had.

Again its eyes flashed before her and she had to look into the room again to drown the image. Thus beast was strange yet familiar to her. She remembered seeing the arms tense up as the second bowl had poured, such inner strength and hatred all channeled to resist the need to scream out. She always admired such resilience in any being regardless of their nature, is was truly strong. The tired eyes came to view again as she closed hers, this time they held over her and she could feel the gentle stoking of her mane as she tried to speak up. That was shortly after she had been overpowered by the golems. She was relieved seeing it, knowing it was with them. How she had dragged herself up those stairs to witness the fight, only to have Applejack carry her to it.

It was terrifying to hear that roar, agonising to feel the way the monster felt. As it drew nearer to the line of the captain there was a malevolence in the eyes, glinting against the dim room. Her relief became sadness, for she had hoped the monster would surrender and allow its actions to speak for itself.

As it had left the cell and nodded gratefully to her, she felt her heart beating faster and her breath become restricted.

“Perhaps I shall visit you again. I cannot say what compels me. I should abandon you...but I cannot.”

07 What Are You?

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07

Applejack halted a moment trying to catch her breath. She was exhausted and had no idea for how long she had been blindly galloping after the monster. To accompany her exhaustion was irritation at loosing her favourite hat. The monsters stamina was impressive, the ease of how it tore through the foliage was staggering. She had lost sight of it now and came upon a small clearing with tall trees and a steep rock face. The forest was unfamiliar to her, she could not recognise the scape or the trees and realised she was alone amidst the darkness with foreign sounds and shapes encroaching in on her. Now her mind was turning in on itself as her insides writhed with fear. She felt sick and an horrible truth became apparent; she was now in a living nightmare.

She could feel herself growing wilder, more aggressive, letting the madness flow around her as more monsters hid in the darkness, each more terrifying than the last. She stumbled with a shooting pain on her back hoof and screamed as it grew in intensity. Fighting to remain silent and see what was going on she tried to move away but the pain intensified. It was too dark to see clearly so she felt down with her hoof and something pricked it. She panicked and pulled again making the pain worse. Feeling cautiously further down she realised it was a wire with barbs, a trap. By the warmth on her hoof and the familiar smell she knew there was blood. As strong as she was, she could not break free. With nothing to cut with and her scent spreading further, a predator would be on her soon.

She wanted to call out to princess Luna, but the princess only helped ponies in their dreams. She was a long way from home, and she was sure that scream had helped every predator for miles located her.

Her breathing was becoming short and shallow. She was forcing herself to remain calm. Feeling the ground she saw there was no grass there, it had been dug up and the earthy smell was prevalent. She could dig the trap loose. As her hooves pulled more earth upwards, she cursed herself for being so foolish. A sound of glass clinking against itself made hold still. She looked up loosing her breath horrified to see two red eyes floating in the air. Her only action was to hold completely still and wait.

The moon came from out of the clouds to reveal a very large wolf made of glass, crystal or gem, she could not tell. Its gaze was fixed on her as it sat there, the brilliance of its eyes glowing as the moonlight shined through its transparent figure, the teeth perfectly visible although its mouth was closed.

It was clear it could see her and she tried to remain calm, ignoring the shooting pain in her leg. She tried to dig further but a growl halted her progress. She lowered her head feeling angry at herself and that monster, “I may be out for the count, but I will go down fighting.”

The wolf did not bear its teeth but looked at her. It did not move for a while and Applejack could feel her hooves growing colder. She could nit understand why it was waiting. Her thoughts were broken when the wolf turned its head to the side. Applejack could not scream, her breath leaving her as those eyes were formed in a dark shadow by the wolf. She knew it then as the monster emerged from the shadow, she was in trouble.

It had been hiding it in the forest blending seamlessly as if they were one. It was panting heavily from running. Applejack stared defiantly in anger at it screaming with rage, ”Now I’m here, what do you want!.”

She was still furiously tugging at the wire trying to break free and run. The creature now walked slowly to her, she could feel her heart racing as it drew nearer. A glimmer drew her eyes the side where its claw was and to her horror the shape of a blade danced to catch the beams of moonlight. In this moment she was now beyond fear, trapped as it floated closer. She tired to loosen the loop but a stinging in her fore hooves forced her to retreat and push back. Her muscles tensed, a cold sensation rushed over her stomach, this was her fighting reflex and she knew the monster was not going to retreat, she was ready to fight it.

It came in closer to her, something horrible happened. She tried to move but she couldn’t. Every muscle ready to explode and she could not move. A poison could be suspect but she could control her breathing. The monster spoke to her, a gentle tone that made her skin crawl, “You should not have followed Miss.” She wanted to shout something bitter back, curse it, make it run away. Sadly her mouth was met with the same resistance. She knew now what held her; the wide eyes, the dripping sweat and ice cold flow in her. She was paralysed with fear.

Its face was close to her, she wanted to strike out. It whispered softly and rested its claw on her hoof. The touch causing her vision to shake and her hear to beat faster, “You are in one of my traps, please do not struggle. I will not hurt you.” Applejack doubted this creature honestly believed she was that ignorant. Hearing its chilly voice brought her back to that dark cell, how violent it was, the story of the wingless mare. She could see its vision gliding over her body, a hunger lingering in those eyes. She needed to move or speak, her only thoughts on this beast. “Lets get your leg out before the damage gets worse.” It was now in her face and eased past her, still blank and staring into the empty darkness of the forest. Its arm brushed past her side, past her leg and she felt the cold grip slowly pull her towards it. Why can’t I move? Move! she yelled to herself but to no avail, she was stuck. Like a mindless animal she stepped forward with it, grateful for the relief, now focussing on the knife held only a whisper away. The relief encouraged her to move closer, the biting and stinging of the wire fading. She knew now it was a mistake to be here and cursed her luck. She had done something truly foolish and faced the monster on its own terms, she did not know where she was, what it could do and now what it was going to do. That hunger though sent her imagination flurrying.

The monster stuck the knife in the ground, and the other claw settled on her chest. It drew the claw up that had touched her injured hoof and sniffed it, a quick taste of the part of her that bled onto the digits. She found her muscles again and threw herself on the monster, powering it to the ground and kicking off to retrieve the knife in her teeth. She was waiting now for it to come to her, she had all night now and if she was going to go it would be on her terms with it. The large wolf kept watching her from its eating position, scanning the surrounding area, ears darting about at the sounds of the night, sniffing. To Applejack it was behaving as a watchdog.

The creature sat up and rested its arms on the bended knees, She could not make out its face as is spoke to her again, “Miss, before I free you we must speak earnestly.” Its words confused her and she tore her look away from the wolf to it, now sitting close enough for her to reach out and use the knife she held. The thought of it made her nauseous and the blade fell to the soft ground digging in.

She hated being this weak but the cost for her was too high, she had never taken a life, even now she couldn’t. The monster was going to take hers and still she couldn't fight it. Now she was going to be it food, the animal was going to eat her. She screwed up her courage, she would not let it. As long as the Applejack blood flowed in her she would fight it. The figure kneeling close startled her, the monster was quiet when it moved.

“You are bleeding, the barbs are hooked and have dug deep. You are very strong to have pulled that hard.” She stared blankly at it. ”I can smell what I fear is blood but I cannot see. Understand Miss if you run off after I have cut the wire you stand a good chance of attracting the attention of a predator.” She did not understand, the predator was the creature but it was warning her about predators. It sighed at her and continued, “Nod if you understand me!” it barked. The senses of her body returned and she nodded slowly. “Do you understand the danger you are in?” it asked and Applejack got her anger back, she remembered why she was here now, using it.

“The only danger here is you!” she said bitterly.

“This is true but untrue. There are far worse things than me here.”

“Do you always toy with your food like this you beast!”

“Food?” The response alone was enough to calm her while a hope flickered that it did not want to eat her. “There snares are not meant for your kind. I need to remove this properly but I cannot do it here. You need to come with me after I have freed you.” Applejack smelled a trap and kicked it in the face with her hoof sending it with a clumsy thud to the ground.

“Carry your food to you fire you lazy piece of manure! I am not going nowhere with you!” She failed to recoil her hoof when the the talon gently grabbed it and pressed it to the floor. “Do you feel that?” Sure enough there was a light trembling, she shook her foreleg as though it was her muscles fault yet the trembling did not subside, it resounded slowly and gently. “That is why we have to leave now. I am not going to eat you, although at his point it seems you want to be eaten. Am I wrong?”

The wolf started to growl and Applejacks eyes darted to it, she saw the wolf was not growling at her, but the darkness, its poised form warding off something, head lowered with ears pinned back, body ready to strike. The monster before her got up grunting complacently and spoke to her again.

“You are the friend of Miss Fluttershy. You need not fear me but what she growls at,” It pointed to the wolf, “I should leave you to them to spare me the risk. Walk away. However I know a lady as smart as you can see the downside in that course.”

Applejack looked on in horror as yellow eyes illuminated the darkness, moving around slowly weaving and focusing on her. She was now in her nightmare and full of fear, only the pain causing her to realise this was truly happening. The creature rested its claw on her shoulder. Applejack thought back to Fluttershy and what she said about this creature, et experience in the cell. She saw it fight the golems again and struggling against the wounds to limp free. At this point she used something Granny had taught her and followed the paths she could follow.

One hoof was to be with this creature although it could end badly. Another hoof had her gallop into the trees. There could be a place to hide for the night and escape tomorrow. However in her state she could barely manage a trot. She saw there was no choice but to follow the more secure path, at least this way if those things attacked the monster would go with her and this trip would not be in vain.

“Fine” she said grudgingly. The monster silently stood and approached the crystal wolf. It placed its claw on the rear leg and the it ceased the snarling, sitting down by it. Even now the height was greater than the monsters, it was the largest wolf Applejack had ever seen. The monster spoke again but its gaze remained on the darkness and the eyes grew larger. “We need to leave now, can you walk?” She looked back in surprise to see the wire had been cut and no longer pulled to bite in. She tried to put weight on her leg but stumbled with pain. Galloping away was clearly not an option. She forced herself up and to go on, the determination to survive taking over.

“I’ll try.”

“Not good enough.” The creature replied and she was angry at this arrogance but worried it would leave her. She wanted to force herself to run, thinking of an escape. A crack tuned her sight to the side, the eyes were circling now, the trapped feeling with the rock face on her left and the monsters all around. The shadow caught a beam of moonlight cutting through the trees and she saw the form of a wolf pass through it. Breath failed her now, she was reliving it. A tapping sound, such as that on glass, caught her attention. The monster tapped the shoulder of the wolf and pointed to Applejack, the eyes grew larger as it looked at her.

Applejack was normally a brave pony, strong and fearless in adversity. However this monster brought out the worst in her. The fear she had though was drowned by terror as something in that very instant changed. The creature did not turn around, but the wolves began to whimper and pull back. Her eyes could only remain focused on the silhouette of the beast. Something in it was different, like the wolves she could sense it but not see it or understand it. There was only the rising instinct to run away. Seeing it now defiant with its back faced on the pack she was in awe at what was happening. What are you?

The crystal wolf moved to her, lowering itself close. Applejack was hesitant thinking about it. The grunt of the beast urged her to action, it shook its head abruptly and turned to the whimpering wolves. It slowly subsided and the eyes regained their confidence drawing closer, that terror in Applejack fading. The monster growled and they halted. Applejack was shocked, to have such ferocity to hold back an entire pack alone. She glanced to the wolf by her now, even laying down it was nearly as tall as she was. The shooting pain in her leg called for relief, that relief was to be found on the back of this animal.

She hesitated until she remembered what Granny had said. ‘To survive a wild animal attack you must outrun the ponies with you, not the animals’. Of course this had been a joke but now the wisdom in it was surprisingly applicable. These wolves were not after the monster, but her. It truly did not need to stay and she could not believe it would fight this hard for a simple meal.

“You are lucky! She would never let me ride her!” it called jokingly. The humour coaxed Applejack on, the pain in her leg now throbbing, with each heartbeat growing worse. Only the snarling of the obscure figures gave her the energy to clamber onto the hard flat surface of the wolf, the edges sliding under her causing great discomfort. It slowly lifted her upwards, now higher than the creature. A warm feeling of security washed over her now, it was in feeling the wolf against her. The fear melted away knowing she was safer atop it now. Her shock slipped through as she felt the monsters eyes on her again.

As it turned its back to the eyes they approached once more. It whirled around bearing its teeth and widening it body, it looked more ridiculous than Appleblooms impression of her big brother but it worked. There was pure rage when it spoke, it was unlikely the figures could understand it but the tone accompanying these words sent a shiver up her own body. “Come on! Show me your teeth! Growl, bellow and snarl. Step into the light from where you hide. Earn your meals, do not take them. Come on!” It stepped sharply forward quaking the ground with the thud and several eyes disappeared. There was one set however that did not move, it barely blinked and rose high. Higher than that of the wolf that bore her now. The creature did not move, it held its ground as Applejack drew further away with her wolf. She wondered what would happen now, what manner of monster towered over the other monster, if it was another wolf then the biggest one she had ever seen moments ago paled in comparison.

The wolf barked and she nearly fell off with the shock of the sound, feeling on edge and tense. To her surprise as the monster turned to follow they towering eyes did the same, simultaneously leaving the points where they stood. The form under her eased onwards and the monster gained ground to them, walking by the side still clutching the glimmering blade.

Applejack looked at the creature now walking beside them with pleading eyes. She wanted to ask if they would be stalked, normally wolves did not give up that easily. As the monster looked up at her she was affixed with its complexion, the light hair on it nearly glowed under the light as it nervously glanced about her.

“They dare not approach Miss.” The words did little to soothe her as she watched the shadows move along with them, these eyes following her but maintaining their distance. The hardness of the body began to bite her but there was a comforting warmth through it which eased the strain. She shifted a little and nearly toppled off the smooth surface, an icy claw grabbing and righting her.

“Sorry.” She did not know why she said that.

“Concentrate, lay down if you can.” She obliged letting her belly and chest press on the warm flat surface. As they moved on the eyes still followed until they reached a wide field. It had short grass stretching far out into the expanse, glowing under the white light that bathed it. Applejack saw the eyes did not follow past the tree line. She exhaled deeply with relief at the same time as the creature, obviously as relieved as she was.

“They will not leave their territory, the field leaves them vulnerable.”

With the shock subsiding there was now new reason to be concerned. She was trapped with the monster and its pet. As the reasons to be afraid kept building she no longer felt afraid. It was an odd sensation but the warmth coupled with her exhaustion gave her reason to be calm. She remained silent but was too tired to speak. It was not clear where they were headed but she knew whatever happened would be better than the wolves...she hoped at least. It was easy to remain on the wolf underneath and she she let herself pass out. It was not wise, it may be for the last time but she was too tired and listened to that voice telling her it was alright to sleep.

*

Princess Luna flew to the next resident of Equestria; a young colt having a nightmare about his father. The father in question was on the front line during the assault. Luna made it her concern to know every pony in the legion and he was remarkable. From the description of his comrades the initial charge left their line broken and defence shattered however he held his ground, for behind him was her sister. She never understood why there were so many ponies willing to sacrifice themselves for them. Their task of raising the sun was ancient, spanning countless millennia. Always it had endure after the fall of Discord. If they would fall another would ensure it continued. Yet still they had loyal bodies for them, unwavering against any enemy. She was proud to stand by them.

Her guards numbers were less than her sisters. She did not mind for their abilities made them more vigilant, sharing her power they could simultaneously watch over the kingdom at night. It was no concern how few they had, for with the magic they were many. Despite her sister she only feigned the search for the monster. Unbeknownst to her she had found it many times already, the first night was the most harrowing though. She should not have intervened, allowed nature to take its course. It had brutalised many of their ponies, some more than others. The father being amongst the some. After the night with Fluttershy though she had seen a change, or she had seen the true monster. This coaxed her to frighten the wolves away from its unconscious form. That first night it had fought through the cold and the pain. That determination and strength is what she respected.

The colts nightmare was easily doused, a kind word and reassurance to let him know his father was soon able to return to them on obligatory leave. He had sweeter dreams then. One more comforted. Luna had the ability to occupy and manipulate dreams, something she always seemed to be able to do. She never could control a dream though. Some ponies she knew needed beautiful dreams. Again she felt the call of the mare she dreaded, the wingless one in cloudsdale.

Her nightmares were particularly gruesome, Luna’s constitution often failing under the torrent of imagery. Still they could not find a spell to bring her wings back. The gliders were a quaint substitute but no real replacement. It had been tried for a long time and the mare had remained strong. Yet another victim to it’s brutality.

Although she tried the bizarre beast always drew her curiosity. It was from a land where she had never been, the dreams it had providing a clear path to the beings that dwelled within. Masters of warfare and destruction. The monsters resilience to her invasions grew weaker by the day. Recently she was able to converse with it. The conversation in question a series of creatively worded threats, eventually forcing her to leave or risk being smothered by its twisted demons. A tortured mind was not a safe place for her to occupy.

Tonight she was happier though knowing the friend of Twilight, Applejack, no linger suffered from her nightmare. It would be the first night she slept well since her return home. Twilight on the other hoof did not show such promise. Luna was afraid to converse with her over the turmoil afraid it would be too much to bear. An alicorn was meant to journey along that path alone. It was their destiny to discover the wonders of their new forms. Twilight though was a needy filly. Luna often disagreed over Celestias interventions, although she was surprised with the news she would soon become one of them. For now the Alicorn needed to be with her thoughts alone, at least the anger she felt buried her sadness. Soon she would accept it, they always did.

After the mare she would go to it once more without the slightest idea as to why.

*

Applejack awoke to see her body covered by a simple blanket. She felt hot lifting it clear to let the cold wind momentarily cool her. She was illuminated by light from a nearby fire, the creature sitting by it, tending to its knife rinsing the blood off in a pot of water. The dripping of water from it was soothing. That pot and bucket she had lost three days ago, it seemed her suspicions about being stalked were not insane after all. She was relieved however that she was still around, that voice she listened to was right. Now though it had her here, for what reason she did not yet understand. She Held still for a moment feeling the breathing chest of a large animal next to her. Slowly turning she screamed scrambling away in shock seeing the wolfs head right by her, those horrible teeth visible through the transparent surface. The wolf jumped to its feet, bearing the teeth and searching around expectantly for the threat, not focused on Applejack. She heard the monster knock the bucket over and saw it standing prone, knife drawn and at the ready scanning the darkness. The flames dances on the blade, now she could see it was crudely fashioned from some type of stone or gem. It turned its back to the fire and eased towards her, facing away in the night. A sharp exhale from the wolf made her jump. The monster sheathed its blade with its own exhale. In that short moment the two had surrounded her, backs faced outwards protectively. This did little to comfort her seeing the two beasts this close. The wolf lay down complacently to return to her sleep and the monster turned to her. Glancing over her it laughed, deep and loud wheezing at the sight. She looked down at her hooves and saw she had torn the blanket that was gripped between them from the fright. She was embarrassed at being this jumpy tonight.

“Its not funny!”

“I laugh with relief my dear!”

The sounds of crickets echoed in the night, a soothing rhythm over the breeze gliding in the meadow grass. A cold nose rubbed against her, the wolf sniffing then returning to its slumber, by her once more. She slowly recalled the events of the day, remembering now she looked at her back leg, it was expertly bandaged. The agony had become a pleasant tingling sensation and she slowly put her weight on it, relived it did not cry out again. The creature returned to the bucket, placing it neatly by some saddle bags, most likely also stolen from another pony. She looked at the dressing again. The blood she had seen on the knife.

“Try to keep off it. It will need time to heal. The damage was nothing permanent and the risk of infection is gone.”

“How did you...?” she trails off unable to construct the question.

“Some herbs a friend of yours enlightened me with.”

“Fluttershy?”

“Good, I wasn’t mistaken. Not her but a bizarre stripped one who speaks only in cryptic rhyme. truth be told she is helpful but annoying.” Applejack thought about the mysterious stripped one and wondered how it knew her.

“Zecora?”

“I help with her ingredients and potions and she does my medicines in kind.” Applejack was amazed how well travelled this creature was in such a short time. To establish dominance in this dark place, ally itself with a crystal wolf, which she never thought possible, and strike a system with Zecora. Not to mention steal her property. “Before I forget I have prepared some answers. No doubt you have questions.” She was very confused but sat down a comfortable distance from the wolf and the monster. “You were asleep and the trap was easier to remove, less pain. The trap is mine, never meant for you and I am deeply sorry you were caught in it. I have not seen your kind this far out and I felt it was safe to lay them there. The wolf behind you is a friend, I trust her with my life and she does hers to me in kind. She is without a pack and we happened serendipitously across one another. Your leg will be better by morning, owing to the brew. I insist on escorting you as far as the orchards of your plantation to apologise for the distress I caused you, and the fact that my friends,” It waved its arm above it in a circle, “Are out there right now. They are some type of wolf, No match for us,” the wolf proudly raised its head, “Especially her. For tonight you are safe, you have my word. I think that covers it.” She was taken aback by the creatures clarity. It sounded nothing like it did in the cell. In the light she could see the grime was washed away leaving the features less sinister. It had healed nicely from the battle. It wore garments still, now more torn than she remembered. It was a great relief to not be its next meal.

“Just one question.”

“Oh?” the creature looked genuinely surprised

“Why for ponies sake have you been stalking me!”

“Oh...” it said again with realisation, “Forgot that one.” She awaited its response as it stared at the fire in thought.

“Well?”

“I wasn’t. She was.” Applejack turned to the wolf, she gave a yawn and returned her head to the legs ready to sleep but still glancing up at Applejack with apologetic eyes. The sight made her smile, a thumping noise drew her attention to the stump where its tail should be, it hit the ground repeatedly and she felt the need to reach out and stroke the smooth body. “She likes you. I myself do not understand it. Nor is it my place to. I followed her to your farm and all she did was simply watch you.” Applejack was very creeped out knowing they were both there the whole time and she had missed such a large beast prow;ing around.

“Why?” she was bewildered.

“My dear that wolf is ten fold more cryptic than the rhyming striped one. As I said I trust her. She does not hunt your kind-”

“Ponies,” she corrected it.

“Ponies, she was not searching for something, I have given up trying to understand.” She found herself gazing on a scar than ran across the monsters face, the hair it trekked through no longer grew, a deep wound. She did not remember seeing it in the cell. It turned its face to hide the scar, “Rest now. We will leave tomorrow when you’re ready. There are some fruits for you to eat should you feel peckish.”

“Umm...thank you?”

“I agree this is rather awkward. Not the first time mind you she has placed me in these situations.” The wolf had now gone to sleep, breathing deeply. “How are you feeling?” It spoke casually to her as though nothing had happened. Yet again Granny’s voice came; ‘make the best of every situation, even a rainy day can be a good one if you choose to like the pitter patter.’ With that she decided to follow the monsters lead. It was their enemy, it had caused a lot of turmoil, this may be some trick. For now though it had helped her, although it was its own snare that did this to her. At least it was warm here by the fire and she trusted her instinct. It told her there was no danger now.

“A little better thanks, you and your critter gave me a right good fright. Something does bug me...who are the traps for?

“If you truly want to know it may unnerve you. Those traps are for my food. Do you wish me to elaborate?” She paused to think for a moment. “It means expand on the description.”

“I know what it means!”

“Sorry.”

“You should be. Don’t go thinking I’m some silly filly! You got that?”

“Yes M’am.”

She smiled as it looked away guiltily, “Well it’s not that strange...every predator around these parts eats something. We just have to be careful and make sure its not us!”

“That’s good. I like that. You see my kind function better with such nutrition. It is the way we were built. What I eat is whatever can be eaten. You need not worry though, I prefer insects; better nutrition and far easier to prepare and cook. These fruit spiders however,” it pointed to the large body of one lying by the fire. She was shocked but then again she hated spiders, "They are very easy to snare, a little fight but it is not enough. One can last a while.”

“Well as long as you don’t go after us.”

“Don't flatter yourself!” A casual laugh was shared while they stared at the fire. The monster became very solemn, focussing on its claws.

“Hows the princess?”

“Not good. She has something special for you if you come back.”

“I’ll make a point of staying away now.”

“Good, we’ve got enough troubles without you scaring the apples out of us.”

“What about the mare who...” It trailed off unable to finish. The concern was strange for her. It was almost as if it cared. Most likely wanting to enjoy the news of her suffering. Applejack could feel that bitterness again, she would not give this beast the satisfaction.

“She is doing great. Everypony wants to help out and she is feeling worlds better.” She did not believe what she saw, a smile.

“That’s some good news.”

“What?”

“Miss. Can I ask you something? It’s a little important, something to do with one who lost her wings.”

“You can’t get her anymore.”

“I don’t want to. My question is...what happened back there when my friend here came to carry you?”

“Pardon?” Applejack was not gullible. She knew this was a ploy.

“I mean from the forest a few moments ago. Did anything odd happen?” A sickening grip held her stomach as she remembered that change and the terror she felt. She did not know what had happened then. Clearly it did not either. That was too elaborate to be a trick, for she had felt it instinctively.

“The wolves grew a might more afraid for a minute.”

“Did I say anything?”

“Just that she did not let you ride her.”

“ I see...alright, thank you.

She could not stop herself, now in a position to get some answers that Twilight desperately needed. “Why do you want to know?”

“One moment my friend here was next to me, the next she was next to you and those wolves were whimpering. I do not know what happened. I just don’t know.”

“Did you umm...black out?”

“I just don’t know miss. I just don’t know,” it repeated.

“What does that have to do with the mare you hurt?” she bitterly asked.

“It would explain why I cant remember...” it trailed off and the claw made circular motions.

“You really think I’m dumber than a colt in the middle of beauty pageant.”

“Excuse me?”

“How could you not remember that? Isn’t that a little too convenient! You ripped the wings from her body. Listen to that! FROM HER BODY! What’s wrong with you?” Her outburst did not fall on deaf ears. The creature hung its head, a long sigh passing over the claws.

“I just-”

“Don’t know!” she shouted in irritation. She could see the creature was confused but at last it was showing what she hoped was emotion. She wanted it to feel that sting and never forget it. That feeling of terror though, her instincts were never wrong. Something had changed. If this creature could black out it would explain one thing about its arrival and prove it had been truthful with them.

“I did not ask the question for you Miss. As long as you answered honestly I can use what I have learned.”

“You really expect me to believe you can’t remember that? I’m sorry but that’s one shiny cart with a heap of milage.” The creature turned sharply away from her holding its head with one claw. From the bag it pulled out a cloth and she could hear it sniff while it wiped the snout. Before her curiosity could coax her to go closer it returned the bunched up rag. She did not know what to make of it.

“No. I do not expect you to believe it Miss.” The sadness in the voice bore into her. She could not understand what was happening but it was strange. It was time to be gracious and coax a little more from it.

“How many have you had?”

“A few. I have kept myself far enough away that no creature has been harmed again. I’m fairly certain...”

“Do you think you will again, tonight?”

“You are quite safe Miss. You see that little lady behind you will keep me in check. She’s done it before.”

“Well thats good to know.”

“It’s probably late now. I suggest you get your sleep.”

“Alright,: she hesitate, "Goodnight then...what’s your name anyway?”

“I still will not say.”

“Why?”

“Ambiguity deepens my isolation.”

“Don’t tell me then. It’s not important.” She shifted away from the wolf but it rolled by her again. It was clear she could not avoid it so she gave in and leaned against her. The belly was strangely soft. Soft glass felt odd, a perfectly smooth pillow almost. “Goodnight then ambiguity.”

The creature chuckled. “No it isn’t.” The dull steps of the monster brought another blanket to rest over her. It was very comfortable, a little hot so she let it cover her back legs and flank. She felt strangely safe without a tent. One side was a tall fire, the other was the crystal wolf, it felt secure. She let the weariness set in and she nestled to sleep with a little home spun wisdom from Granny. ‘I’ll sleep on it, worry about it tomorrow.’

“Goodnight Miss.”

08 Dream

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08

Princess Luna passed through the dreamscape of the monster once again. Tonight there was an unexpected guest with it. She never believed in coincidence, it was fate these two found themselves here together on this night. The Apple family would be restored now, once and for all. This beast would be the one to do it, she could feel it.

She needed to stop its dream now and trigger that memory, something to encourage it. So she did.

The creature is flying with large wings under a night sky bathed in moonlight. soaring and happy. It sees a large shadow behind, burning embers from its mouth as it draws close to impact it suddenly disappears. Now it was sitting in that room again. It tried to wake yet it could not. It knew where it was, what was happening, this dream never faded. Its claw was grasping that of another. Unlike this creature this one was smaller, less severe in appearance. It is a bright day and the sunlight washes into the room. Luna could only watch on silently nearly brought tears having to witness this again, it needed to be done, for Applejack.

The small claw in its relaxed and the creature hung its head, holding tighter onto it. Luna decided that was enough and the scape faded to darkness with only her and the creature. She let its senses slowly return and upon seeing her she felt the anger in it boil.

“I thought I told you to stay out!”

“Please listen” she pleaded, the creature tried to reach for her but its claw passed through.

“Like before?! I have learned, it is clear you have not!” the creature soothed its tone and gained a delightfully wicked grin. “Perhaps M’lady would care for a repeat performance of the overture.” It closed its eyes forcing the most sadistic thoughts to the surface, luna begins to hear animals wailing, growling, fighting, voices screaming, some of them children.

“I beg of thee, for the sake of the one in thine company!” the horrors faded and the creature looked to her expectantly.

“Are we in danger now? Am I currently...walking?”

“No. The matter is more...sensitive.”

“Sensitive! That wasn’t sensitive enough for you!? Leave me be you terror,” anger rising again.

“Thou knowest of what I speak, hast thou not felt her pain? Does thine heart not weep for consoling from loves no longer there?”

“How dare you invade my sanctum!” it thundered throwing all the rage to Luna in a swift strike. To her shock it connected and she flew back with a stinging on her side. Luna was stunned she could not understand why it hurt, it should not have, not in this realm. It marched to her ready to bear its wrath down. “This will be most satisfying...M’lady.”

Luna rolled to her hooves, she would not let it intimidate her, she was granted an opportunity now to fix one of her most grievous mistakes. “I shall not leave monster. I care too much for her well being to leave. Thine burden is that of hers, this night does it threaten to engulf her.” The creature halted to her relief.

“Why do you think I care? Let her grieve! It will make her strong.”

“Thou carest enough to speak to me. Tis the longest I’ve held thine attentions.” She was relieved that it was listening and nothing else came on her. Its hesitation and resentment made her smile as the trembling fist held back the desires it harbored.

This wretched blue thing has invaded my sanctum once more. The desire to be left alone once more shattered. I do not understand why these creatures cannot leave me in peace. This is that wolfs fault! Next time she can go jump, I’m not following again.

“The pony with whom you rest, Applejack, she can be saved tonight. She needst thine help.” Playing on my guilt over what happened to her, clever. The poor kid was so terrified, I could hear her heartbeat, she barely breathed. I regret having to put her through that experience, more so she was endangered by that little lapse. She shares my pain apparently. What would you do if you were here?

If the monster agreed Luna would show it the nightmare of Applejack, for no words would be enough.

“I am listening.” The wings disappeared and it stood on an unseen surface. The moon sky backdrop returned and provided some perspective in the dream. Luna planted her hooves on a surface and paused to consider before speaking.

“There is much that must be said between us.” It looked on and folded the arms waiting her next words. “I ask for one night, for tonight. Please help me.”

“What is the help I can provide that a being of your invasiveness fails to?” Luna was not expecting such a quick answer.

“Thou ist resilient, the pain thine shoulders bear-”

“Don’t you presume to empathise with me!” Luna was startled for a moment but pushed on.

“Applejack suffers as thou does. She suffers by a pain deep in her. It has endured since she was young. I cannot guide her through this grief, not anymore. It is thou that must bear her burden.” hearing this the creature reflects a moment.

“Why me?” The question Luna was most disconcerted with.

“I have seen thine terrors, the horrors thou hast endured. I ask now not why I have chosen you, but why thou hast not abandoned her?”

“You know of that? Why didn’t you help!?”

“I have seen the memory in Applejack. Were I present I would have aided you.”

The creature was silent for a long time. In this realm time could stretch into eons but that did not make the wait any less bearable. It rubbed the chin in thought to itself, mumbling inaudibly to itself. As its pace slowed Luna knew it had made the decision and she prepared for what would be done.

This is a trap. It has to be. Her little trick will leave me comatose. Still...she did save me after that escape. That makes this choice more easy I suppose. I am bound to honour that action regardless of the consequence. Chivalry...how I hate thee.

“The debt to you is repaid tonight.” Luna was shocked.

“What dost thou-?”

“I was not asleep when you scared them off. I was not asleep when you tended to me. I was not asleep when you led her to me. Thou wast a fooleth to aid thyne enemy.” Its poor attempt to mimic her was laughable, however humour had no place here. Luna was embarrassed now, the things she said to it while it was supposedly unaware.

“If thou was not asleep, why did thine anger not bear against me?”

“M’lady many things happened on that night. I have decided to respect your actions and am bound to repay your kindness.”

“Tis not an answer.”

“Not the one you seek. No. Now, how may I ease her pain?” Luna could not meet the eyes with hers.

“Thou must bear witness to truly see...”

It is a trap, has to be. Why can’t she look at me. This little dance of hers is growing old. Look at her, she plays everything to perfection. The shallow slow breathing, the bent posture, her shuffling big eyes refusing meet mine, that wretched face showing such convincing sadness. I hate chivalry. Why would you lie? What motivations could you have to keep me alive only to end me later. I cannot explain it, but I honestly believe her. I will have to help, at the least I can say if she is being honest the risk is too great to walk away. I hate chivalry.

“Very well.” Luna looked up, a sad solemn expression on her face. She closed her eyes and the dreamscape was engulfed in darkness, only she and the monster remained standing. She could feel it growing more uneasy with every passing moment, Its focus intensely on Luna, ready for something. Her horn glowed and a new dreamscape came into view. It is a forest unfamiliar to the monster. It looked at luna, she could still not look on it.

“Wolf, wolf, wolf!” it whirled around to see a young pony run though the undergrowth, crying with fear as she raced past it through bushes and trees. The familiar padded steps sounded on their approach and it watched to see a pack of menacing wolves charge through after the frightened foal. The monster instinctively charged forwards sending a mighty blow to the midsection of one of them, stumbling to fall over as the claw passed through. It stared at Luna confused as she merely let her gaze linger on the ground silently. The creature remained silent, the cries grew fainter as did the dreamscape, fading. The monster understood why and raced in pursuit of the figures leaving Luna to wait. It passed through the trees and bushes as a ghost, the crying drawing it closer. It was to face the monsters in her dream to rid her of the nightmare. A spell task. Running through the dense undergrowth it broke to a clearing to see the foal Applejack surrounded, pressed against an incline as the wolves trapped her. There were only three of them, but nonetheless formidable. The monster leapt upon them swinging wildly channelling all it had to face the apparitions. The claw merely passed though again.

Think, bear her burden. See it for yourself. Saw her memory. This is a memory. She has to live now, what does this have to do with burdens? Its logic; she’s alive now so she will survive this encounter. I wonder how she’ll do it? These wolves look familiar. How long can one live I wonder.

The thoughts were shattered by a voice.

“Applejack!” The wolves snarled at the new sound in the distance.

“Applejack!” Another voice cried out, this time a male one. “Hang on sis!”

A sickening fear gripped the monster, it stumbles back and placed its claw on the stomach, wincing in pain. It refused to hear that twisted thought and watched on ready to prove itself wrong.

Suddenly three ponies came crashing down on the wolves, there was the large red one it had seen on the farm, the other two it did not recognise. From the way they fought it knew instantly who they were to Applejack. Such strength and determination it had only witnessed once before. The wolves were beaten back but they did not retreat and circled in that familiar pattern the monster had seen. These were the wolves it knew now, their tactics unchanging all these years. All the monster could do was watch and learn. The irony sickening to it.

The three ponies surround the frightened foal against the steep face, protecting her. She calls faintly to them, the female one reassured her as they stand defiantly down at the wolves, their bravery is impressive. This is more than bravery, love.

Their faces quickly fade to shock to a sight that fills them with dread. This dread is familiar as well.

Behind the three wolves in the darkness of the forest, eyes. So many eyes, gleaming and growing nearer. The two larger ponies look at each other. the red one up at them clearly worried and young Applejack sobbing behind them.

The realisation of what will now happen hits hard enough to stagger the monster. It calls to Luna. “I cannot see this!” despair weighing on the words, “Please, I cannot...” It hears the wolves simultaneous snarl, that sound enough to bring it back to that first night and relive that terror it felt. It turns to see the larger ponies face the red one.

“Mac, take your sister and get home now,” the female tells him.

“What?!” he says startled.

“Do as your mother says son,” the male commanded authoritatively.

The creature knew they were her family but hearing the words was s fresh sting.

“But-”

“Mac, you need to go now!” his mother ordered him, “We’ll clear a path, meet back at the barn alright?.”

“I cant leave you!” The creature now sees the wolves are though the brush, a stalking mass of more than a dozen sending a shiver up its spine. They creep over the foliage silently and grow closer.

“Macintosh, you look at your little sister now!” the male ordered. Mac did so, she is so afraid, so complete in her agony, “She needs you now Mac. She needs you to be a big brother! So you take her out of here now. We will see you at the barn!” Mac hesitates, his eyes wide with fear. “NOW!” the male yells. Mac whirls around and grabs Applejack, hoisting her on his back where she clings tightly to him. The male and female charge the wolves, their mass bearing down on them in response.

They give a simultaneous, immense kick that echoes across the plain like thunder to the largest one. It flies back with the force to impact those behind, sure enough clearing a path as they split to engage thee one to the sides. Mac rushes through the gap with Applejack and takes flight to the woods, darting left and right shaking any pursuers. There were none, the pack was only interested in the larger ones. This behaviour is unlike any pack the monster has seen, their behaviour doe not make sense to it. The younger and weaker should be the target, why risk injury against the strong?

The male and female stood to each others sides facing in opposite directions now while the remaining group encircled. The creature had tried to outrun these wolves, they are immeasurably fast. It knew what was happening and called to Luna once more unable to tear its eyes from what it was seeing, “I beg you, end this!” No answer comes.

The monster is angered at being unable to face these apparitions. It stands in awe at the scene. These wolves were a formidable force yet only two of these ponies had scattered their mass, many lay unmoving at their hooves, truly mighty opponents. The creatures heart sinks as it sees the stained patches on the mare, her loved one bleeding onto her, barely able to stand as she supports him. He stomps his hooves and roars forcing himself higher. The pack is regaining their confidence sensing his weakness. The two are laden with scars and wounds; the female is blinded in one eye and the males side bears a deep gash amongst may cuts. They do not weep but share an embrace, thundering forwards together as the pack advances.

Without warning the dreamscape faded into darkness once more and the creature stared blankly at the spot where the ponies once stood. The anguish seared into its soul, buckling its knees and bringing it to the surface that didn’t exist. It stared at the ground eyes shut tight, unable to maintain a straight back and bent over, forearms on the ground. It did not know if the blue mare was close but it spoke, the voice a trembling whisper.

“Why show me this? What purpose...?” it could not finish, engulfed by sadness. It could not understand why this had affected it in this manner, what tricks had been done to it.

Luna came to its side and rested her wing on the shoulder. It threw it off, pushing upwards and grabbing for her throat. The claw passed through, Luna had altered her state in that moment, expecting this reaction from the beast. The monster collapsed to its knees, she could feel the frustration. The despair with which it spoke to her carried great sadness, “Why do you not leave me in peace...” She reached out to it and pressed its head under hers, letting the wings wrap around. It did not fight this time.

The creature found its voice again, “And what can I do!?” it yelled angrily at her. luna remained silent and brought the image of the clearing back to it but the two ponies are no longer there, no wolves, no sound. It looked up at luna, her pain clearly trickling down. This was not appropriate for a princess, to touch this thing and show it such weakness. This monster could feel, she was happy it could feel something. All the lies of its memory were less farfetched now. She opened her wings and stepped back to allow it to soak in the area. It looked confused so she showed it her memory, witnessing life flow by her while banished on the moon. The trees around them grew fast into the sky, parts of the rock face falling in an instant, the seasons passing in moments until the growth slowed to a halt. It took a moment but the area was now familiar, it had been there this very night.

“This clearing...” it now knew instantly where they were, the place it trapped Applejack. Luna now faced it, wiping her eyes. She could only look at the image of the moon for comfort, letting its light bathe her.

“I was banished for a thousand years for my arrogance. All those years ago. If I were not...” The monster stood silently, “Her tale is but one of many that weigh upon me. Brought unto them by my absence. I ask you now, share the secret of thine fortitude with her.”

The monster rose slowly to stand, “You lied.” Luna found the strength to look at those cruel, tired eyes, “What she feels...much more than me. I understand..now get out.”

The dreamscape faded and they returned to the backdrop of the moonlight sky in the clouds. Luna remained a moment longer daring to hear it speak again. It saw this, speaking softly to her, “You have my word...M’lady. Now get out.” With that Luna nodded and the monster woke.

The fire remained strong, the fuel burned bright and steady. To the monsters surprise Applejack was now much closer. She had moved and was leaning on its side. The shock of the touch was stifled by how warm she felt in contrast to the hard rock it was leaning against. The wolf had moved closer again cradling Applejack from the cold. The monster could see the pony was distraught, still caught in that nightmare. She mumbled and pressed her face in its fur, the blanket wrapped around her messily from the moving. The creature wondered how it could remain sleeping as she came closer. It felt for the knife and found It was still there.

That was too close for comfort. It is difficult to stay awake after a brisk run for a few miles. You cannot fall asleep. Have to remain in control. The only way she couldn’t have woken me is if it came again. She is very lucky.

The large wolf noticed it moving and raised is head yawning. The monster fought back a yawn if its own, a realisation hitting home seeing the large wolf now, “It was you wasn’t it. You were there...” The wolfs sad eyes met the monsters, “No...your pack was.”

The large beast lowered its head to her front paws with a whimper. All the stalking made sense. Why she had chosen to do it now. This wolf was considerably more intelligent than the creature realised, leading it to question if it was not a pet of the one who plagued its dreams, guiding it to this one leaning on it now. The dream. It had a debt to repay.

It placed its free claw on the sleeping ponies shoulder and gently shook her. She stirred and looked up at the monster. It could feel her heart beating quickly with the fear of her dream. Her shocked expression turned to embarrassment and she pushed herself off it knocking the wind out.

“Sorry to disturb your sleep Miss.” She cleared her throat turning away from it, speaking quietly.

“Sorry about that, nightmares you know.”

“Would you mind indulging me a moment, I need to go check on that trap again.”

“What about your friends?”

“They will not be around anymore. Circulation is part of their routine. They will patrol the territory, must be long gone by now.”

“Can’t I just stay here? You need me to hold your hoof or something?” she laughed.

The monster did not smile, “This little lady here needs to accompany me. If you are left alone then you are more of a target for predators. You have bled after all.” It could see she was nervous, “Don’t worry, they are no match for us.” The creature secretly wished that was true.

It pushed itself off the rock to stand up with a crackling of bones, the wolf doing the same, and walked towards the clearing again rehearsing what would happen.

Applejack did not understand why she had shifted on top of the monster. She felt as though she was betraying her friends. The comfort felt though resting next to it was indescribable, the monster of her nightmares now there to ease her nerves. She had that nightmare again, relieved to have been woken by the claw.

It was not clear why it wanted her to accompany it yet there was no issue she could see in doing so. It was a preferable option in comparison to dreaming again. She was happy to walk with it to the clearing, learn how it hunted or something as interesting about these animals.

“I wonder what strange things happen when I’m not around here.”

“I don’t catch you.”

“Just thinking about what has passed through, what happens when we’re not around.”

“Natural stuff I guess.” The monster looked up at the sky, partly clouded.

“I could use some light here M’lady.” Applejack was confused at the comment but on cue the clouds parted and the moon shone proudly down on the landscape. The clearing they were in was brightly illuminated lighting each tree and rock. There was an odd felling about this place but she couldn’t put her hoof on it.

“How did yo do that?”

“You know maybe we need a change of perspective. Come.” She followed it to stand facing away from the rock face. It pointed out to the tree line. She did not know how to respond so she looked out. Nothing special about it.

“Look I don’t know what you’re afte-”

“Lower your height maybe.” She obliged, looking outwards an awful instinct began to set in. She felt trapped and confined, small. The clearing was not like the one in her dream but it was scarily close. The more she wondered the more she feared that she had been talking in her sleep again. That the monster had heard some of her ramblings. The stones around her were placed in a familiar way. It hit...this was the clearing.

Her heart stopped and she fell back with the shock. She tried to speak but nothing would come. This was the place she dreaded, she nearly lost her life here twice now.

Her mouth was dry but she managed to force something, “H-how-” She felt the digits rest on her shoulder, the coldness of them dwarfing the chilled night itself. She knew it was going to do something. Expecting some half hearted consoling. She tried to shrug off the extremity but it squeezed gently, almost massaging the muscle. It sickened her how good if felt for something to touch her, something strange enough to send a tingling feeling where it held.

The monster breathed deeply, “I have more than earned your kinds hatred, hostility and retribution. Tonight though we cannot be enemies, not when there is a higher conflict to resolve.” She awaited a ridiculous, strained wisdom to come forward as the monster cleared its throat. It would be as hollow as all the ones she had heard before it and grew more angered at its presumption to understand her. “Of all the beautiful things life brings to us, loss is the most painful. Especially when it is something so precious. We all have loss my little one. It is how we confront it that makes us strong.” The creature took a deep inhale. “Knowing what I do now, you are very strong, Miss Applejack.”

Her legs buckled and she fell. She could not stand, she was numb. The creature kneeled beside her, that pain inside. She wanted it to go but there was only one way it could now. Her efforts to push it back were failing. Nopony had ever called her strong on the inside. All this time it was still there kept away but this monster had made her feel it again. She wanted to let it out but fought it back. With all she had she fought it. The claw slowly and gently caressed her back. Those pointed digits trekked lines in her coat, tickling the skin underneath. “Tonight, nothing is here to see you my little one. Be free, please.”

Her resistance fell and she wept, the pain flowing out of her. She did not care about the shame, the weakness, she wanted it all gone, forever gone. She could not tell the right way up, whether she was awake or not. It all flowed out, numbing her, mind and body. The creature patted her and quietly stood to walk away to her privacy.

She saw herself grab it, pulling it down and closer to bury her face in the stomach. she pressed against the soft hide, the hard muscle, she held tight and let it all loose. Everything. While her pain was eased an arm came behind her back and pulled her close to it. The warm frame was welcoming from the cold night, it squeezed tighter as it took her weight into it. She felt completely ashamed, like a newborn filly but the pain was significantly duller. It was all going and her relief at its departure was truly bliss.

As she cried she felt something on the back of her head, she could not care less for rain. Let it rain, it could not harm her. The creature did not move, it supported her, leaning into her. Both claws were now holding onto her. It did not rain that night, the moonlight shone bright over the scene glimmering in the night sky. Applejack looked up at the sky, the creatures silhouetted head above her. There were no clouds, no rain. She could not see the eyes, but she knew then where those drops were coming from. Maybe it was the turmoil in her heart, the sickening nausea in her stomach coupled with the throbbing of her leg, but she no longer saw a monster holding her.

The creature accepted the pain. It sat silently with her in its lap, tying to avoid movement or speech. She could not understand why its eyes watered. Unless it knew what she felt, it was a safe assumption. The depth of that loss not being there anymore. She pushed harder against the warm belly and savoured the strokes of its digits. The tears were still flowing but she found she enjoyed it, it was liberating, all these years and a complete oddity such as this was the one in whom she had chosen to confide. Who was it going to tell after all.

The warmth was unbelievably welcoming to her, wiping her tears on the torn garments it wore, barely intact now. The smell was pleasant, it was from an old flower she recognised, like Zecoras home. The sadness she felt was empty now, as though that huge weight was gone and she could soar again. She pushed herself closer and nuzzled her nose under the creatures other arm to lay under it. She could not understand this, nor did she want to. They were there now and she needed somepony to hold now. More than she needed air to breathe she needed it to hold her.

Almost on cue the digits ran over her head and through her mane. She breathed deeply to regain composure from the exhaustion she felt. It was difficult to explain how it felt to have those claws caress her. It was gentle enough to make want to sleep where her head lay. Such a bizarre day and it was to be concluded here. She let her weight fall into the creatures. It reached around and stroked the head of the large wolf that was seated behind it. She did not notice how dazzling the glints were, and she thought of Rarity. To her friends she had never dared speak of this. It was confusing why this creature had become her choice.

Her head grew heavy and she let it lay in the lap now. Completely content her eyes closed and she sniffed to clear the nostrils, feeling herself smile. As the icy palm rested on her she felt only the warmth of the belly. And the touch.

One of the arms slid under her head to provide more support. She had an urge and she took it. She quickly stole one. It was her first, albeit on the arm it was her first.

Tomorrow was going to be a good day. With that she drifted into sleep.

09 To Smile Again

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09

The warmth of the morning sun stirred applejack from her sleep. She rubbed her nose on the pillow and felt the excess crusting on her eyes. Her ears picked up a sweet sound above her. A soft whisper that floated gently down. Looking up she had a quick fright seeing the monster above her. It was not a dream what had happened. The burning around her eyes told the story again. She let herself stay nuzzled against its belly and listened to the song it sung. It sounded very sad yet up lifting. She could not understand the words it spoke but the melody was slow and tender.

“Et cecidimus quasi in tenebris lucet;

Non timeo, quia opus factum est.”

The last note sounded out long and slow to fade away to the chirping of the morning birds around them. As the eyes of its bowed head opened they were startled to see her staring up.

“Morning,” she whispered gently to try ease the shock.

“Good morning Miss Applejack. How are you feeling?”

“A little tired.” she smiled and shut her eyes again feeling the claw stroke her mane to pull out something tangled there.

“It is understandable. I am sorry if I disturbed you, please return to your rest.”

She rubbed her eyes taking a deep breath, “That song sounds very sad. What's it mean?”

“The translation is difficult. Nothing interesting. I apologise but I had to do something to stay awake. A mere rambling that wouldn’t interest you.”

“I asked didn't I? Please.”

“They were words of peace to those departed. It is a sign of sorts, to respect the nature of life, to pay homage to those who are no longer with us and celebrate their fulfilment of that life. The gist is we will see each other again one day.”

“Thats nice.” She wondered if she should try to get some more information. In the light of day sensitive subjects were all the more embarrassing. “Did you cry too or was there a rainstorm?”

The creature sighed, “Loss. It is a burden no being escapes.” The claw was still stroking the mane, she let it glide through to surrender her safety to this brute she lay on top of. The contrast was difficult to believe, the monster they feared had shouldered her pain for the night, shared her suffering.

“Why are we afraid of you?”

“Because you are all smart.”

She stretched her hooves out and exhaled in its lap. “I could stay here forever.”

“Well you won’t. Soon enough it will be time to return home.”

She glanced around and saw the large wolf was gone. “Where's your little lady?”

“She disappears every now and then. I know not where and I do not want to. She needs privacy so I will accept it. We are quite safe from my friends now.”

“I’m not worried about them. Can we at least stay another forty winks?”

“Catch your extra rest Miss. I have nowhere else to be.” She let her sleep come to her again. It felt wonderful, the first touch she had truly shared. She reached up and grabbed the arm, bringing it under her muzzle to stoke the fur and drink in the scent.

“Thank you for last night.”

“I am not the one that should be thanked. Your blue mare with wings is the one who persuaded me.”

“Princess Luna?”

“I wouldn’t know her name.”

“It’s funny how things turned out. Would you...” she was not sure if she should ask so she left it. It was too cosy to scare it off. She kept quiet and let her second sleep settle in. The creature remained silent, a light pat on her shoulders before sleep came.

*

“Big Mac where's...not again!” Appleblooms brother was sitting on the table covered in soot drinking his morning oatmeal. The charred remains of the barn outside leaving little to the foals imagination.

“Sorry.”

“Its alright. Has Applejack come home yet?”

“Not yet sweetie. Don’t worry, she’s fine right now. I am sure we will see her sometime today when her journey is complete. Would you like something special for breakfast?” Fluttershy was as dirtied as the red stallion that hung his head next to her. She had sadly arrived too late and was left preparing some oatmeal over a charred stove. She didn’t mind though, it was sweet he tried.

It had been a strange night for everypony there. Lunas guards had begun their search for the missing pony that evening, no residents were allowed to venture into the dense undergrowth, not even Princess Twilight. After some hours Princess Luna herself arrived and the search was halted. Applebloom had been the most insistent to the whereabouts of her sister. ‘She rests now and will begin a journey years in the making. Have faith little filly, she is safe and will return tomorrow in the eve.’ The princess did not reveal anything else to them.

Fluttershy had stayed that night with Applebloom to make sure she did not try going after her sister. Rarity took to bed early, Twilight did not say anything before she left, Pinkie Pie was exhausted from her after party party but Rainbow Dash was easily the most disturbed about Applejacks absence.

The pegasus had taken extra hours with the Wonderbolts patrolling the area around Ponyville, clearly still carrying a grudge for the monster. Fluttershy tried to but she would not talk about it anymore, hiding behind her attitude and poor excuses.

It was difficult but eventually Applebloom settled to sleep, leaving her to tend to the nervous stallion. He was less than talkative with her but she found her presence did calm him. Every few minutes he would glance out a window for some time only to look back in feeling disappointed.

‘Everything alright Big Mac?’

‘Yeah.’

‘It doesn’t sound like it, do you miss her already? Don’t worry so much. You must listen to the Princess, she said Applejack will be back by this time tomorrow.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Can I make you some more tea?’

‘Yeah.’

Fluttershy knew of the stallions need to protect his sister. It was her own choice to be here for the big guy. She could imagine his difficulty, similar to the way she felt letting a baby bird fly away and trusting it would be safe. The tea she made was one to relax him and help him to drift into sleep. ‘She is safe with Princess Luna.’ He did not respond that time. ‘Yeah?’

‘She’s alone out there, I just know it.’

‘Aww, Applejack is tough. It’s so sweet to see her brother all worried.’ Her words did coax a slight smile so she went on, letting her soothing voice carry to him, ‘I promise you she is safe.’

‘I wish I could...’ he trailed off.

Fluttershy rested her hoof on his shoulder and he looked slowly up at her, a beaming smile to carry his spirits, ‘I can’t explain it Mac, but I know she’s fine.’ Fluttershy could only trust her feelings now.

Her animals had been spooked in the last two days describing a menacing monster and its pet walking the grounds of Ponyville. She had reported it but the guards dismissed her ramblings after a half hearted search to humour her. Although she had to admit she made a lot of reports that week. At first the monster was suspect until the dog was described. She had never heard of a dog that large but it scared her realising how much it had travelled around without being seeing.

When She and her friends first reported Applejack missing she could not forgive herself for her lack of action. That very evening she was going to spontaneously visit the Apple family and now Applejack was gone. When Princess Luna arrived with her good news she nearly fell over with relief. Twilight though did not share this and after a barrage of questions finally accepted Applejack was safe.

It was mainly guilt that kept her there with Mac. She knew the monsters were around the orchards but left it believing, as the guards did, there was nothing to be worried about.

To her relief his eyes had grown weary and he was forcing himself to stay awake.

‘It’s okay big guy, lets get you all warm and toasty to dream sweetly.’ He did sleep that night, Fluttershy caught him holding onto Twilights old toy for comfort. The contrast a heart melting picture she could never forget. The whole night though she had that horrible feeling the monster was responsible. Only the princesses words kept her calm enough o sleep, only to wake to the smell of smoke and fire as Big Mac Burned the barn down. It felt odd to her how much that explained about Applejacks frequent barn raising gatherings.

“How about waffles! Applejack loves waffles! Can I help?”

“Oh of course!” I can’t make Applejacks favourite waffles without her favourite little filly!” Fluttershy instantly regretted it as the filly darted around to pull out some ingredients and instantly covered herself in flour. It explained why Pinkie found it funny but it was a big mess to clean up. She had fun with them tidying the kitchen and making the waffles. They eventually ate at lunchtime but the whole morning was a special memory for her, Big mac had cheered up and could be very talkative when he wanted to be.

Twilight and the others had joined them in the afternoon worried about their friend, it was the first time the alicorn had been torn away from her work. As the lights grew fainter an enthusiastic scream from Pinkie Pie welcomed the orange pony in the distance, jumping on her enthusiastically.

Fluttershy had never been so relieved, yet something about Applejack was odd. Different in a good way.

*

Applejack woke to the sound of the creature mumbling. It was leaning back now on the wolf again, whispering to it. She decided to play possum and listen.

“...are clever. You are very clever. How did you know this was the one huh? You are truly an odd blessing my friend. Glad I found you.” There was a lingering silence only broken by the odd chirp of a bird. Applejack tried but her body did not want to move, it was too comfortable. The creature continued, “I tell you I feel bad for this one. Poor thing to have to live with that. Still last night was enlightening for me. You know? Of course you do, You’re my smart little giant monstrosity after all.” Applejack held a giggle back, her breath trembling as it left her. “She is quite sweet, poor thing just needed something to cuddle. Shame we have to eat her. Bet you though she’s as sweet as those apples. That hind leg looks particularly-”

“WHAT!?” Applejack threw herself up to roll away with shock. She shook her head as the creature quaked with laughter at her frightened face.

“Eavesdropping...really?”

“That’s not funny!” She sat down and brushed the leaves out of her coat, “How did you know?”

“You breathing changed.” The cheeky grin it had did little to calm her nerves, “Well since your up we’d better get going.” It pushed itself up clumsily with a stretch of more cracking bone. Before the first step though it halted abruptly and stared down at the legs. It Immediately fell back rigid to land on the ground grunting in agony.

Applejacks heart stopped with the fear this could be a blackout. A laugh from it though with the lack of terror she felt brought her to sit by the writhing beast. “Everything alright here sugar cube?”

“My legs have gone to sleep.”

“Beg pardon?”

“I need a minute,” it forced though gritted teeth. She laughed as the creature convulsed while the feeling returned. “This is not funny.”

“I’m laughing with relief” she teased, “You mean to tell me you never moved the entire night?”

“I hate chivalry.”

“Now come on, it can’t be that bad.” The creature breathed deeply with relief as the legs held still, unmoving. Applejack couldn’t resist, looking away and nudging them for that agony to return.

It shouted with the discomfort, “Don’t do that!”

“What? This?” Another bump and she felt the claw grab her hoof, the grip was strong but she did not pull away, laughing at its face pressed into the ground and eyes clenched riding out the return of blood flow.

“And this day started out so well.”

“Need me to hold your hoof huh?” The claw quickly released and the beast pushed itself up complacently. It cleared its throat, shouldered a small pack and began limping awkwardly away. She got up and followed it, the wolf yawning and joining them. “What about your campsite?”

“The fire is gone and I never camp in the same place twice. Besides the spider there will keep any predators off us for some time. Purely precaution.” She knew what it was doing. A spider could last a while as its food yet it had given that up now to ensure their safety, it had detailed foresight. This naturally brought up a question.

“What are you going to do if you’re spotted?”

“Take some medicine for it.” The creature chuckled, “It will not be a problem, the guards do not patrol around the border of the orchards. My friend here can avoid them with ease, hiding from the flyers under the more dense foliage. I merely follow the master.”

Some hours passed as they hiked though the forest, nothing in the daylight looked familiar anymore and she was glad to have some company. It was not a safe place but with this creature by her there was nothing to be afraid of, accept of it.

The walk back home had been disturbing. Where the forest once teemed with life and vibrant sound all fell silent in the wake of the creature. They were all afraid of the oddity, truly this was a trip her friends would never believe. The monster had been very calm the entire time. Peaceful. She remembered when it stared the eyes down, there was no fear. She believed now it wanted them to fight it, although she could not think of a reason.

It caught her staring at it on several occasions. She felt her cheeks blush when those tired eyes settled on hers. It was a strange feeling, but a pleasant one.

Applejack had not realised how far she had run last night. The distance covered was certainly the deepest anypony had ever gone. Her legs ached but the creatures pace was slow, not strenuous to keep up with.

She paused and sat by a tree growing on the bank of a small lake, enjoying the shade and the relief. To her disappointment she could not find her hat, having lost it during the chase. The creature stopped but did not join her, only holding completely still listening to the faint sounds around it. The wolf came up to it, after a quick brush of her head with a smile it walked into the shallow edge to drain some water into a hollowed out nut. It brought it, offering the container and landing heavily by her, leaning on the tree body with relief. She drank deeply savouring the cool water and quenched her thirst. A cracking noise startled her and she saw the wolf had taken the other container to break it open and enjoy what was meant to be their reserve. The creatures anger was funny as it wrestled the broken pieces free, disappointed at the failure to salvage them.

“I’m sorry for her. Normally she is not so difficult.”

“It's adorable.” The wolf craned the large head over the creatures Lap to almost eclipse it's lower half. Staring up with those big eyes between it and Applejack.

“Alright, you’re adorable. Happy?” The stump thudded the ground repeatedly coaxing a giggle from Applejack.

“Do you have a name for her?”

“No. Never needed it.”

“Try and think of one.”

“She's not my pet to name Miss Applejack. We are comrades.”

“I’m sure as sugar she’d like a name.”

It looked down to the wolf, “Well?” A whimper confirmed it. “It was your idea so you pick.”

“Are you sure?”

“Hey, you have to run the name by her.”

Applejack sat a moment in contemplation rubbing her muzzle, “Glassy?” A sharp growl quickly rejected that idea, “Vitrie?” yet another growl, “Alright, what’s she made of?”

“My assumption is crystal or diamond, really tough to scratch.”

“Well Crystal sounds nice.”

“Oh that’s terrible!”

“Really?” she pointed to the wagging stump.

The creature looked into those big eyes, “Are you sure girl?”

“If you don’t like it you should’ve named her yourself.”

“It’s her choice, not mine.” It sighed deeply, “Crystal it is then.”

“The wolf raised the large head and licked Applejack, her skin crawling as the rough glass tongue glided over her.”

“She likes you.”

“I got that, I think I’m going to need to wash up.”

“No problem, I will be here keeping watch.”

She waded out shoulder and flank deep in the lake to sit down and let the water cover her. It felt refreshing for it to flow around and clean off the sweat and tears in her coat. She dipped her head and let her mane float about casually. On a warm sunny day like this she enjoyed swimming, the sun could always dry the water quickly. She did not even care about the bandages. She felt the creatures eyes on her and sure enough glanced around to see it through her soaked mane standing on the edge. Strangely though it’s knife was drawn and the eyes darted about the surface around her. She looked around nervously.

“Your alright Miss, I’m being cautious that’s all. If Crystal growls then You need to panic,” Applejack could not help panicking already, “Nothing yet.” She decided that was enough for one day and quickly retreated from the water feeling as though there was something below the surface. As she was free she lay belly down on the grass to feel the sunlight bathe her.

“Hungry?” It dropped an apple by her head hovering over her damaged leg. It barely hurt now. It removed a red plant from the small bag and crushed it in the fist so the juices flowed into the wrapping. The bandage steamed for a moment but she felt nothing. “A numbing agent, dries out the cut.” She felt the bandage and to her shock it was dry. Smiling at the inventiveness she took her apple and quickly ate it. Not nearly enough for her appetite though. Her stomach now growled complacently, loud enough for the creature to raise an eyebrow. “Here,” it tossed another two from the pack it carried, “That’s it though. I’m not keen on foraging today.” She looked down at the two feeling a little guilty, that was its meal too. She tossed one back to it.

“We’ll share.” It took the apple gratefully and unsheathed the knife, sitting by her and facing the sunlight, the hairs no longer a black but a light brown under the rays.

“Where’d you get that knife?”

“Made it from a rock I found, very tough to form but it is sharp.” It proudly held up the apple and dragged the blade over it, neatly sliced in half under the knifes weight alone.

“Scary.” She took a bite from her apple this time savouring the juices, some being caught with a lick as they tried to run down her.

The creature turned sharply around startling Applejack, “It is too quiet. Are you dry yet?”

“We’re fine, like you said Crystal would growl if there was something.”

“Look at her,” Applejack did notice the large wolf was somewhat agitated, “Her ears listen and she can smell something. She doesn’t know what it is though, I don’t like this.” It pushed the remaining apple half in her mouth as she tried to speak, standing and grasping the blade to face downwards in the claw. “Make no mistake Miss, this forest is never a safe place to be. It might be nothing but I want to keep going please.” Its wide eyes and shallow breathing prompted her to speak.

“Hey. It’s alright.” It swallowed and straightened the arched back, “Most of the time the critters here are more scared of you. We’ll go but you must keep calm, alright?”

With a grunt the creature sheathed its blade never taking its eyes from the distant tree line. Applejack could only see how nervous it was and pitied it living in the forest, having to be like this all the time. She stood up and shook what water she could moving away calmly. Finally the creature followed tearing its gaze away. Crystal joining them without it having to call her.

The pace was quick and Applejack could feel the leg threatening to ache again. “Hang on a minute, slow down please.” The creature had become quiet again, something was different, it felt colder.

“We will remain silent for the duration now.”

“Everything alright?”

“Fine.” Applejack was old enough to know fine never meant fine.

“Sorry about the apples...” no response, “The naming?” it marched on. She was annoyed now and darted in front of it firmly planting her hoof, “For ponies sake what’s wrong!?”

The creature brought its face close to hers, the eyes had hardened again and now she saw the monster from the cell. “This little ruse of yours is not working.”

“I don’t-”

“The last time she did that I nearly got captured. We are too close to the town now for me to get comfy.” It walked past her continuing the steps.

“I thought the guards were easy,” she giggled. The creature turned sharply enough to stifle it instantly. It was no longer the playful thing that held her.

“let us not loose perspective here...Miss. You are the enemy, as am I to you. Do not forget what they will do to me if I am seen. If you have an ambush waiting for me, I suggest you call it off now or there will be more loss for others to grieve. I have enjoyed this little...whatever but it is over.” As it stood there prone to her Applejack slowly trotted over, gracefully moving in close. She looked to it, looking into those cruel eyes and leapt up to throw it to the ground under her front hooves. She was shocked it worked, and it was clearly as surprised she could do it.

“Now look here,” she began sternly, “You are this close to me seeing you differently. You have been nice, helpful and a true friend. I don’t care if it was you who trapped me back there. You came back and you cut me free. You treated my wounds and you...well. No monster would do that. Now you are going to stay calm because you are not thinking straight. How in the name of ponydom would I have organised an ambush? I didn’t even know you were there until I landed on you!”

“You are very brave all of a sudden. Forgotten about her?” Its claw gestured to Crystal now hooves away from Applejack, the large head and transparent hide exposing those sinister teeth. The beast dwarfed her, approaching with its head bowed and ears pinned back. Applejack never felt such satisfaction to see that smug grin wiped from the creature as Crystal licked her. “Oh come on!”

“She likes me remember? I don’t want to hurt you, I just want to go home. Now do I have your word you will stay like you were back there?” It faced away trying to lift her off. She forced it down and repeated herself, stressing each syllable, “Do I have your word?”

“If I lapse I cannot promise that.”

“Then promise you will try.”

A long pause followed before it finally spoke, “Fine.”

“That’ll do.” It pushed itself up dusting the garments. “How are we feeling?”

“Fine. Walk in silence.”

An hour or so passed with them trudging along the soft forest floor. Crystal was more relaxed now, no longer agitated by whatever it was at the lake. Applejack felt as though it was all a dream. The awkward situations, arguments, dangers. All that had happened was slowly drawing to a close. “Mind if I ask you something?”

“I thought we agreed silence.”

“Well...?”

“...alright.”

“ Who did you loose?” As soon as she said it the claws tensed and the hair stood on its body.

“I will not speak of it. It serves no purpose.”

“You know I haven’t talked to anypony about my folks.”

“Good. Keep it that way.”

She was beginning to understand this creature, so she carried on to tell it something more personal. Who was it going to tell after all. “My mother, she was a pony from the city. Her father sent her to work on the farm under Granny Smith as punishment.”

“You know predators cant find us if there’s silence.”

“My dad was a stubborn obnoxious pony and always after a new filly every week but he was off-putting because he thought he was the shiniest apple in the bunch. Mom was his first date. They met while he was cleaning out a beaten up wagon, it fell on him and mom had to go under to help him lift it. Granny smith said it was they only time he was speechless.”

“I think I hear something.”

“Then your knife would be out and Crystal there would be growling. Nice try. When they came back from the first date Granny swore dad was floating. He barely ate, he didn’t sleep, he was in love. Mom was a a little scared about it though. In the end Granny sat her down real nice and told her; ‘can you say you love him?’ then she replied no,” Applejack laughed, “Then Granny said, ‘Your in love then’ and mom nearly fainted realising it.”

“Amusing.”

She sighed, “I miss them. I always felt like it was my fault for that-”

“Do not do that to yourself!” Applejack was shocked but happy she had coaxed a reaction, even though she had to delve deeper into her own personal darkness, “Things pass on, your parents were heroes by the very definition. Do not think it was your fault. You could do nothing to save her-them,” it quickly corrected, “Respect their memory and never forget who they were to you.”

Applejack had heard it, “Her?”

“I would prefer not to discuss it.”

“So after last night I can't-”

“No. You can't.” She felt offended and hurt it could not give itself to her the way she had to it. “Your parents went out in a blaze of glory, fighting for their future, you. She did not. She fought and lost. Now I ask for the decency of this moment that we no longer speak of it.”

“Maybe if you try.”

“I am at peace Miss. There is no need to upturn it.”

“Sounds like you need to. I feel great now! All that time it just rotted away in me. My core was bad, I can understand now. It’s wonderful to have it gone.”

“Perhaps you can understand... Before the time came I swore to her to be free. Inside and out. Of course I never imagined it would literally be so. I will not go back to that cell Miss, at any cost.”

Applejack was grateful her coat was still a little damp, it managed to hide her reaction. “Thank you, I know that was hard to say.”

“I suppose you would.”

“Do you want to go back to your land?”

“Yes.”

“Why haven't you left yet?”

“The striped one who spoke in cryptic, she has explained much about this place. I am not from here, unable to fathom why exactly I am here but returning has eluded me so far.”

“You want me to ask Twilight?”

“The new princess...”

“She's still hurting something fierce after...well...”

“I know. Was it really not that obvious?”

“We don't know. Alicorns are so unique, not much is said about them. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are thousands of years old but thats all we really know. “

“Difficult to live with, being immortal.”

“How's that?”

“I assume of course. Will never know thank goodness. A question does come to mind though. What will you tell your friends?”

“I don't think any pony would believe me.”

“I hope you remember that when you are feeling emotional again. “

“Is there something I can do to lend a hoof?”

“No.” It's abruptness discouraged her from continuing, her ears sunk slowly as they walked on. “You need not worry miss. Leave me in peace, that's all I ask.”

“I wish you hadn't hurt her.”

“To tell you the truth miss I wish I hadn't survived.”

“That's a sad thing to say. So you do regret hurting her...”

“Not enough to risk recapture. Life is difficult here but the benefits of being free again...I cannot give that up.”

“I thought so. You’re stubborn as they come.” The creature grinned, “Did I ever say thank you?”

“You should not need to. My validation comes from your smile. Consider it repayment for my trap.”

“Well I’m glad it happened, Granny always says no accident is an accident.”

“How colloquial. Simple yet thought provoking.”

“That’s our Granny!” Applejack caught a smile on the creature. It was not the cruel grin but warmer, “Your not bad at all.”

“I am. You sound surprised.”

“I am after...you know...” it didn’t reply, lost for the correct answer, “Look, if you really have a problem let Twilight help, she’s real good with figuring things out.” Still it remained silent. “After last night-”

“Make no mistake,” the tone of the voice was now familiar, the refinement falling away to that growl from the cell, “We are still enemies. I escort you home to repay the damage I caused. Once you clear that orchard our mutual hatred can resume.”

“You know...its’s funny but I don’t hate you.”

“Clouded judgement based on last night. In time it will return.”

“No really. Twilight is still hurting but now I know you regret that.”

“I never said that.”

“So you enjoyed it?” The creature remained silent and she smiled knowing her victory. It was stubborn, “Well if you ever want to come talk to her I will vouch for you.”

“It will not happen but I appreciate the offer.”

“I know you regret it, you talk in your sleep. Must have some powerfully bad nightmares.”

“It was dangerous to approach me last night, I might have had a lapse.”

“Is that why you stayed awake?”

“When I sleep the risk is...greater.”

“Looks to me it can happen either way.”

“Awake they are minutes, asleep it can be an entire night. I thought you didn’t believe me?”

“Lets just say...a little mare convinced me to have an open mind.”

“The one who invades my dreams...”

“I’m not telling,” she winked and trotted ahead to hear the creature mumbling disgruntled.

“I hate chivalry.”

*

“I’m sure your parents would be proud of this.”

As they reached the border of the apple orchard the creature halted. Applejack saw that triangle carved on one of her trees, it did not strike fear anymore.

“Did you do that?”

It folded its arms and leaned against the tree staring out at her friends in the distance. It was too dark under the shade to be seen. “The mark means it is safe. An old trick I learned. An x is caution, a horizontal line is danger. It is how I find my way around when Crystal goes off. Basically I follow the triangles as a safe path to my next resting place. Makes it easier to return to my haven.” Applejack was unsure of what it had said.

“Did you just-?”

“I see you differently too Miss. If you want to find me again you need only head along the trees marked with that triangle. Bear in mind though, my friends are still out there and a large group of soldiers are an easy target for them.”

She was stunned, “I would never do that...thank you.”

“I am not always at my haven, it would have to be very important for anything to risk that trip.”

“Are you sure I can't convince you? I mean to come and say hi.”

“Certain.” A giggle in the distance drew her attention to Pinkie Pie. Her friends were helping out picking apples, “They must be worried. Go to them and leave me be.” She hesitated feeling there was something else that needed to be said. All she could do was look at those tired eyes. The creature seeing her doubt sighed deeply.

“Something wrong sugar cube?” it mocked her.

“It was nice to have somepony to talk to.”

“Yes it was.”

A soft whimper from Crystal and Applejack grabbed the big head, her forelegs could barely reach around it. The wolf shook wagging that stump and licked her one more time, defeating the purpose of her wash. “Bye, don’t be a stranger.” She released her squeeze on it.

“Goodbye Miss Applejack.” The creature unfolded the arms and walked away with its companion.

As she looked at the creature again, the torn garments, matted hair and the wolf by it, she smiled thinking about the change that had happened. It was a strange night and she was happy to be home.

*

Pinkie pie had a busy morning. She did not understand why everypony was so worried about Applejack. She had been disappointed as the search party she had been asked to join was nothing close to what the name implied. Unlike the others though, she could remain calm because her instinct gave no indication otherwise. She had an innate ability to detect happenings around her, dubbed her pinkie sense affectionately by her friends. There was no shuddering or shaking no tick knees, there was no need to be worried at all. Princess Luna had later arrived and confirmed her relief, clearly announcing that Applejack was on a journey and safe.

She felt her hoof shudder and looked to the distance to see a small orange dot creep out from the orchard brush.

“Found her! I win!” She raced to the smiling pony and leapt on her toppling the pair over as she stood triumphantly over the captive.

“Get off a me Pinkie!”

Her friends caught up and they all embraced Applejack, relieved she was alright. She was happy to see Twilight there just as worried as the others. They gave them some room and Twilights horn illuminated with a deep blue colour washing over Applejack. “She’s not a changeling girls!”

“Glad to hear it, Where were you AJ?! We were all worried.”

“Some more than others. Right Rainbow.”

“Same as every other pony.” Rainbow Dash was always bad at hiding her concern, shifting nervously and digging her hoof in the ground.

Twilight looked over Applejack, “She was the most worried for sure. Princess Luna told us you were undertaking some sort of journey. Where were you Applejack?” Twilight almost whispered to her now, “Did you see it?”

Applejack smiled. Her honesty was well known, she never lied. Owing to the creature though she had learned a few things about honesty and protection. “There was no monster Twilight.” She could see the glint in her friends eye leave hearing this news.

Pinkie pie dusted off Applejack and paused. Bringing her face closer she inspected the pony. It was a typically awkward thing for her to do. “You're smiling?”

“Umm...yes?”

“YOU’RE SMILING!” she screamed picking her up and shaking her vigorously as she danced about.

“Pinkie! Applejack always smiles!” laughed Rarity.

“Oh? Right, sorreeeee!”

“It's alright. Now put me down.” She gasped for air as the grip released.

“So tell us all about your journey, we’re simply on the tips of our hooves to hear about it!” Applejack had never been so relived for her stomach to interrupt Rarity with a growl, “First lets get that fixed up tout suite!”

“Where’s Big Mac and Applebloom?”

“He took her to town for some supplies to fix a wagon wheel that umm...”

“You broke!” Rainbow Dash laughed.

“Oh we don’t need to bore her with that!”a high pitched giggle feebly covering her mistake., Did you fall into a pond dear? You smell rather odd and you coat and mane! Oh this will require emergency work.”

“Now you keep them frills and curls out of my mane!”

As Rarity attempted to convince the pony, Fluttershy did notice there was something odd, “Did you hurt your leg Applejack?”

“Oh, this? A little scratch, nothing bad.”

“I’d better take a look when we get into the house, it might be infected.”

“I’d appreciate that Fluttershy.” As she looked closer Fluttershy realised what was strange, she had to hold back a gasp. It was not the cut that bothered her, not the mild swelling or faint red hue. The bandage looked familiar, at least the method in which it had been applied. She looked up to Applejack who's eyes were shifting around nervously. She could see something was not being said, but it was honest Applejack. She dismissed it as coincidence, it was properly done but that did not mean it was done by the creature. The suspicion would not leave though because that bandage was wrapped in the exact same manner that the creatures claw was in Canterlot, down to the knot it used to tighten it.

*

The creature spun around, blade drawn. It tapped the wolf and she darted off into the distance to apply its strategy. The orchard was very quiet and it remained perfectly still, not a breath was missed.

The movement of the enemy sounded and it charged to the tree embedding the knife deep on the other side. Nothing was caught under it. A giggle sounded out and it spun once more to see a pink pony facing away from it. It was lost for actions trying not to move or make a noise to attract its attention.

The pink figure turned its head slowly to it, the eyes were closed. The situation made it more nervous and the grip tightened on the blade. The pony spun suddenly throwing up leaves to blanket her. The creature charged at the fray but it was gone. Looking around it had vanished and it took its cue to run.

Darting through the orchard its heavy footsteps shook the trees as it ran. Its eyes were wide scanning each movement. A noise behind forced it to turn around to nothing. It was panting heavily and swallowed to relieve the dryness. A giggle behind made its blood run cold. That thing was close. It did not move and let every muscle tense before spinning around to strike. Nothing. It slowly stepped forward but its leg was violently pulled back forcing it to the knee. It kicked out and turned over to the cause. Nothing.

The knife had fallen and it threw up the leaves as it searched franticly. Nothing. Darting upwards its eyes were wide now wide with fear, convinced there were more than one. A pink one slowly pulled out from behind a tree and slowly trotted to it. The creature growled at it bearing claws and teeth but the pink apparition still slowly came closer, eyes closed. It barely made a sound stepping over the damp leaves. It stretched its forelegs out to the creature, the beast made to strike it but the pink thing opened its eyes then and the effect was hypnotic. Before the claw could connect the legs wrapped around with crushing force before quickly releasing with a giggle. The creature was frozen with shock as the apparition spoke.

“Thank you.” It found itself again and let the claw thunder to the ground missing the apparition with an echoing thud. It was gone again. It felt for the knife, replaced somehow in the makeshift bark sheath.

Clear the orchard now. It bolted to the dense foliage disappearing under the cover of the brush. The wolf joining it as it fled.

10 Look Before You Seep

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10

These things are so strange, that pink ghost, this Applejack, that dream invader Luna. I hope she is done playing with my mind, I wonder if she is the source. That display was weak, how could you be that weak. Loss indeed, ridiculous. Now they know of her, you had to say something, fool. The pack, they want more, they are becoming more confident. Have to change location again. ‘Follow the triangles’ what were you thinking?! Now if she does come you are responsible for her. Fool. I can still smell her on my...wait, if I can smell her...now what’s this wolf growling- looks like they followed me, clever. No good deed right. Better me than her I suppose, get blamed for that one too. Well then, lets hope the lights don’t fade yet.

“Come then! Growl, bellow and snarl! Show me your teeth! EARN YOUR MEAL!”

*

Rarity trotted up the path to the fresh spring of the glade. She could see the mist hanging over the pool and felt more excited to get there and rest in the soothing waters. This was her private sanctum of which nopony else knew, not even her friends. Here she could do, and think, as she pleased feeling completely free of all judgement and scandal. Today however she was more grateful for the time she would have to think. More than anything she needed time alone to think things out, aloud if necessary. She wanted to come up with a solution to Twilights problem. The answer was close but hidden, something needed to be done to help her friend adjust, at least that Applejack scare kept her busy a while and out of the library.

Twilight had been an emotional wreck ever since she met that monster under the castle, how Rarity hated what it had done to her. Forcing her to think about such disturbing things, torturing and warping her mind for its sick pleasure. Admittedly she had thought a lot about the beasts interference in Queen Chrysalis’ takeover, were it not for that help they would have lost. Help, she thought sarcastically, that was a strange way to phrase the brutality. Even now she could remember so clearly the events of last week, how it broke the Darklings like glass and scattered them with its might. What disturbed her most about how it fought, was the control. Never at one moment was it taken by surprise, it was as if it knew where every foe was, how they wanted to attack it, and where to hit them hardest. She thought to that moment when it toppled and crushed the head of the Darkling under its heel, truly merciless.

The path wound neatly between an outcrop and Rarity took a deep breath of the clouds of mist enjoying their soothing aroma. The smell came from the most beautiful golden flowers that decorated the pool, growing large and radiant from the nutrient filled water and warmth. The pool itself was a few hooves away from a cliff face and rose high above a beautiful view of the Everfree forest. This was one of the only reasons she would allow herself to sweat. A large towering rock formation provided much appreciated shade from the hot afternoon sun, stretching over the pools waters. The mist was thick though today and she minded her steps worried she would slip and fall in with her bag. She placed her belongings down and neatly arranged her exfoliant, eye drops and makeup in the order they would be used. She took her exfoliator angrily rubbing it in, thinking about that night. Taking a deep breath to calm down she tested the waters and gently slid in, the warmth slowly rising up and caressing her body better than any masseur. The tension seeped away under the blanket of comfort surrounding her. This is what I needed, she thought sitting on a submerged rock and leaning back on the pools edge.

Even here though the monster came to mind. In all her time Rarity had never truly thought so deeply. She was concerned for her friend and the emotional turmoil. As well as the monster who was now lurking in the Everfree Forest. She remembered Twilights face when she confessed her fears and how angry she was at herself for not finding the answers her friend so desperately needed. That brute was so arrogant! She wanted to scream at it for putting such cruel thoughts in their mind. How it merely chuckled as Twilight fell back with her realisation. Rarity had always been patient and composed but in that moment she very nearly taught that monster a lesson. Even though it was restrained with all the magic of the princesses it could still harm them so completely. She remembered stepping forward with the others to Twilights side trying to comfort her and that sickening grin plastered on its face, contempt in its small victory.

From Fluttershy's description the creature suffered gravely that night. Least it deserved. Despite what it had done Fluttershy still did not want to cause it harm. She was more traumatised by its pain that it was. Rarity closed her eyes and sank to her neck, engulfed in thought drinking in the odd smells, now an earthy rust prevalent in the mist. Why did you help us? The question seemed distant. It fought for its freedom promised to it by Fluttershy. The way it fought however was strange, its tactics were boorish and primitive, but all the while it fought it protected them, the guards, Princess Celestia, Twilight. Despite its wounds it did not falter, never slowing and driving forwards with all that rage. It fought like the beast it was to save them. So why didn’t you save yourself? She could see it again in the aftermath, standing over the unconscious Celestia, one eye swollen shut, bleeding onto the princess from countless wounds and barely able to support its own weight. It could have easily escaped when it stood at the torn entrance, leaving them to the Queen and King. It was doubtful to her that such a beast had honour. She remembered it staring down the guards demanding they stand aside, Luna ordering them to do so and the monster limping past them.

Fluttershy had told Rarity how it refused her help and went into the Everfree Forest carrying all those injuries. An incident involving a mob had led to her scolding discord for some odd reason. It was always heartwarmingly amusing to watch Fluttershy fight. Not a minute passed with Discord’s pouting before she gave him a hug and all was forgiven. Her friend truly was the kindest pony. Rarity took comfort in the knowledge that the monster would not be a problem for much longer, the forest after all was a dangerous place. She looked outwards to the scenery imagining the contrast. Up here it was peaceful and beautiful, down there a constant danger to anything that called it home.

There was the concern though that she had managed to enjoy this spot for many years without meeting any other pony. It was deep in the forest and the guards had not seen her leave for it. An unsettling idea came that if she could do it, so could the monster. Rarity quickly dismissed the sinister thought, after all Applejack had been in the forest recently and had no problems. Thankfully she did not see a trace of it. She had been strangely calm after the journey, that evening it was as though they were seated with a new pony, almost radiating her happiness to them. It was oddly pleasant to see her that happy, contagious.

The monster most likely tried to return home. She caught herself smiling about it, remembering the Darkling’s expressions when it thundered into them, their invincibility shattered like their glass bodies. That creatures fight was amazing to watch. After being imprisoned for so long, barely any comforts or time to heal it was still a savage monster tearing through that golem that choked her. Charging into their ranks battering heads and throwing them away as if they were flies being swatted, what a beast. The whole event felt like a page from her novel, the exciting final battle before the end. She shook her head trying to ignore the memory and focus on more important things, it was without a doubt the right decision to ask for its help and she would concern herself no longer with it.

Yet the concern came back. Those sad eyes and broken grimace were as haunting as she had remembered. How it quickly changed in the fight becoming a wall of focus and peace. She pressed her chest and throat feeling the bruises still left by the golem. Her heart raced thinking about it; the lack of air as she hung in its grasp broken and tired as the lights blurred around her, the relief to breathe as the creature tore the arm from her assailant and quickly meeting the remains turning them to dust. Such monstrosity was barbaric and cruel but she could not fault that for without it she would not have made it. There was a feeling though she wanted to hide from, it was gratitude to this monster for aiding them.

To her the action itself was as poetic as the novelised heroines she read about. The protagonist was tired and weak after being imprisoned, yet it rallied itself and mightily bore every hit to make it stronger. The fury and rage driving each step. There was an elegance to the way it fought, turning the opponents against their own bulk. She had noticed the whole time its focus was on them and not itself, each strike pushing the golems away from her and her friends. She had felt strangely safe when it towered above her and met the advancing monsters without hesitation.

Shaking her head she tried to brush away her thoughts and reminded herself about what it did to Twilight. She saw her reflection in the pool and the tired eyes that stained it. The guards in the town were difficult to deal with, leaving her strained from all the work it took avoiding them. She let her face dip to rinse off the now burning exfoliant. The warmth of the waters seeped over her closed eyes and she felt truly refreshed. Again that thought invaded the peace, Why didn’t you run?

“Ahem,” She was startled by the sound of somepony and she turned to see where it came from. Her blood ran cold and her body froze as beside her in the pool was the monster.

*

Fluttershy had slept very well yesterday night after Applejack had returned. Her big brother was overjoyed she was safe and her little sister as energetic as ever. She did not ask Applejack about the bandage, it did not seem to be a good idea. She appeared far too tired to withstand another interrogation after Twilight. At least her friend was out of that library, preoccupied with hearing about Applejack. She had cheered up a little, the absence of her friend worried her to the point where she halted her research to go after her. Fluttershy was grateful Applejack was alright, never running into any unsavoury creatures of the Everfree Forest. She wondered where it was now, if it was alright. She was worried about it but all her animal friends had not seen it. Animals were never very good at descriptions though, they were only able to identify familiar things through size and shape. One piece of good news though was that the two monsters prowling Ponyville were gone. Mr. Swallow had seen them rejoining with a larger pack, she knew then they were wolves. She could not tell the guards but she did mention it to the others, Twilight took great interest in this news planing on crating an effective barrier to keep the more aggressive animals out. She was happy Applejack agreed to dinner at her home. Tomorrow night everypony would come and they would sit together and enjoy the meal. Now she would have to focus on preparing the home for company. She hoped discord would be on his best behaviour but she knew he would not, always trying to make her laugh. Sweet but naughty Discord.

*

Applejack lay against the old tractor and looked into the afternoon sky enjoying the calm clarity she had now. Ever since that trip there was this unequivocal peace in her. The day today had felt like her first one. She had thanked Fluttershy for her help and scolded Big mac for burning yet another barn down. After s short recollection of her journey, omitting some details, they were happy and went on their way home. Big mac had been elated to see her again, holding on for a full five minutes before he let go. Applebloom had been more complex to handle, many questions posed over what had happened coming closer to the truth. With her newfound skill of evasion she had managed to barely satisfy the fillies curiosity. On this day though she could laugh more, work harder, be completely free. Tomorrow she could even look forward to dinner at Fluttershy’s home with her family, all of them. That weight was truly gone and she owed it to Princess Luna, and her monster. She wondered where it was at this time, glancing at the bush and thinking it was still hiding there with that giant puppy. The greater concern though was what it was up to. It was strange but last night after her friends left and she lay in her bed, there was a feeling something was missing. She did not want to admit it, but wished they could have one more night. She found she missed the touch of the beast, the digits through her mane and that gentle song. It was too dangerous to risk a trip so soon, although she wanted to go. This was wrong; it was a monster, it had hurt them, the Princesses, hiding behind a farfetched story of blackouts. The feeling she had for it though was not new, it was the best one to have yet it was tainted, scary, forbidden. The question was if it felt the same way, if it could truly be her friend. On that night she returned, the nearest solution was to hug the pillow to her and just pretend.

11 A Rose Coloured Spring

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11

Rarity was hysterical with fright at the looming figure next to her. She kicked out and threw water at it attempting to blind the monster so she could flee. Her shriek was deafening as it carried across the landscape.

She swam from it trying to clamber out but slipped on the edge falling back in. She clawed at the edge to escape and pulled herself free to run to the forest and try loose it there. Glancing behind to see how close it was her shriek faded, it had not moved. Her gallop slowed and she stood eye s wide watching it, breathing heavily, her heart beating fast and her head spinning with the shock. The monster merely sat in place, unmoving, its head held back not looking at her. She screamed again as a large head rose from the mist with terrible piercing eyes behind the monster. She would have fainted but the was too frightened even for that.

It was confusing and disturbing. Did you want me to run? Only its head and shoulders poked out the water and the ripples from the bubbles obscured its bulk underneath.

She began to question what was happening, it was strange that the monster did not attack her. She felt a little ridiculous having fled in such a manner, while all it did was nothing. She screwed up her courage, “He...Hello?” No response.

The large animal behind it turned its head at the sound of a bird, the sharp chirp echoed around the spring amidst the running water on the rock. Rarity allowed herself to breathe again as the beast rolled on its back and wriggled to scratch itself, the noise was akin to dragging glass across rock.

Rarity edged a little closer seeing her travel bag and unpacked beauty supplies. She knew it was very materialistic of her but the exfoliant was a gift...and very expensive. She kept her eyes wide and focused through the steam, finally reaching her supplies after an eternity. She slowly replaced her items barely taking her eyes off what was there, expecting it to tear its way to her any moment. With her shuffling she knocked a bottle in the spring only to see it float with the ripples to none other the monster.

Of course it was my exfoliant, why not. Her heart stopped as the monster picked up the object that bumped it, raising it to see but not moving the head. It craned its head away and winced tossing the bottle, her hooves fumbling the catch and nearly dropping it. It was slippery from the water but her fumble came from what was on it, some pink drops. This was quickly explained as she glanced through the steam to see a cut on the shoulder. If that was any other bottle she would have left it, instead she pinched the tip and shook it in the water completely disgusted.

As she returned the bottle an unwelcome thought occurred. She had been sitting in the same water that monster had bled into. It made her skin crawl and she cursed the fact that there was only one pool big enough to be used. As she looked herself over for any more traces she shook her coat free of the water.

“I have no blood infections,” a tired voice spoke to her. She held perfectly still seeing the monsters eyes on her. It looked without turning its head, the widened stare more terrifying every moment it lingered on her. There was no feeling, no breathing, only the instinct not to move. She did not know how long she held still, it felt like hours, “Oh my, where has it gone?” The sarcastic tone was insulting, “I do not see it anymore. Perhaps it left to call the soldiers?”

“She,” an irritated Rarity corrected it immediately regretting speaking.

“Run before I set my wolf on you, or maybe I shall eat you.” Despite the sarcasm she was not certain if it was serious or not. She swallowed hard and felt her eyes widen with the fright. The monster returned to laying back on the edge, its beast unmoving.

A sudden realisation sent a wave of anger over her, Twilight. Here was the brute who had hurt her friend with such malice, by the waters edge. It had not expired after the fight to her disappointment. The fight though, this thing here was the reason she could still be here, her most favourite place in all Equestria. She hated that. With mixed feelings she let herself be seated where she stood and watched quietly as the oddity breathed deeply in, doing the same and allowing the feeling of the steam in her to soothe. The warm moist air helped to calm the nerves and she closed her eyes inhaling it. A Splash of water made her jump with fright, the monster scratching its head. She nearly gasped seeing the forearm through the steam, a distinct scarring where the hair no longer grew.

She did not know why there was an urge to speak out, but there was a sense that something was wrong and she could not understand why, “Everything...umm...alright?” It did not answer her at first taking a long deep breath.

“Miss, I do not have the strength to deal with this nonsense today. Please leave, I am asking politely now.”

The anger faded and Rarity couldn’t help feeling a little proud, “Miss?”

“Am I mistaken?”

“Not at all but...you said Miss.”

“You are of a sound mind? Miss.”

“Of course I am! Don’t be rude. It’s just that I’m a little...you are employing my advice.” The monster did not respond, only taking another deep sigh.

“Advice...I don’t remember advice. Have we spoken?”

Rarity was a patient pony. She had learned much about tolerance and understanding over the past few months, especially after their encounter with the zebra Zecora. There was one thing she never could forgive, and that was being forgotten. It annoyed her how little this beast could actually remember. The real question was how it could forget all that happened.

“Rarity?! Stand up for me and I won’t move? When addressing a lady one must always say miss, m’lady or m’am? Saved me from...” she couldn’t finish.

“Ah Madame Charity!”

“Rarity.”

“I don’t remember things that are not important. Gallop or trot or whatever away. Why are you still here?” To Rarity that question had two meanings and the same answer.

“You.” She could not look at it anymore feeling deeply embarrassed. This was the first time she had admitted it to herself, it was that reason.

“I still do not recall. Please leave me in peace.”

“You know, it’s polite when addressing a lady, in the very least, to face her.”

“My apologies, I was enjoying the relaxation.” Its eyes turned towards her but its head remained in the same position. She did not feel as afraid now, the sarcasm while unpleasant put humour in the situation.

“You’re shy?” she laughed. The creature smiled and returned to staring upwards.

“Painfully.”

Rarity looked at the creature drinking in the odd new shapes on it. The real question was how she could have missed it. She had never seen it in clear light, or so calm. The contrast to the cell was drastic, no longer bearing its teeth and clenching its brow in anger. It had a soft expression, smooth features and tired eyes. Her gaze drew to the reflection in the water, the ripples in the surface obscured details but she noticed the reflection of the other side of the face was darker, it was out of place somehow.

She instinctively moved closer to it, drawn nearer by an unexplained feeling. From the sluggish motions to the way it tossed her bottle there was something out of place. As she moved closer the monster growled.

“Keep your distance creature,” it warned her. She hesitated, but remembered Fluttershy’s story when she was in the cell, and in the streets of Canterlot. It was time to be as brave as her friend was and she continued, “I’ll peel your hide.”

She took a page from Fluttershy, “No. You won’t.”

“The water here is deep in the centre. It can hide much. How long do you think it will take them to find your body? I’m certain you did not tell any of them you came out this far.” Rarities fear was growing and she could not understand why her hooves kept pulling her closer.

“I understand drowning is agony, one of the worst ways to-”

She slid in the water now only a meter from it, very satisfied to see it shaken by her action. She instantly regretted it seeing the scars on it again. The monsters blood was in the water, this was not an intelligent action yet her body continued for her. Peering to the side the large wolf behind it had not moved. She fought her fear edging closer, the warmth of the waters caressing her crawling skin. The creature pulled away in the process wincing.

“II will not warn you again, keep your distance!” it barked. She was overcome now with curiosity and was right beside it. It could not move further, trapped in a corner. She could hear its breathing growing heavier, and proceeded cautiously around it. Wise to what she was doing the creature turned its head away, keeping the left side of its face to her. It tried to turn its body around but failed to.

“Enough!” it roared raising its claw and grabbing her throat, Rarity shut her eyes fighting the urge to scream she could not show it her fear. The grip on her throat was warm, the pointed digits wrapping neatly around her windpipe. Despite this, the claw did not crush, it only held there.

“Go on then. Why do you hesitate?” She opened her eyes and smiled at it. All her fear instantly faded seeing that turned face. The mouth hung open with shock and the grip of the claw released to slide off. She took it in her hoof before it disappeared under the water, turning it over to look at it. She was holding its claw, a very unreal touch, as though she was dreaming. The gashes adorning the arm and knuckles appeared to be fresh.

She saw the tension in the arms fade and then realised, with relief, it would not hurt her. Had this monster truly wanted to, it would have already. She glanced at its right shoulder and to her surprise there were three deep gashes travelling down the side, they were fresh. Now she knew something was wrong and she had lost her patience. She brought her face close to the monster and it craned its neck backwards in an attempt to gain distance. Leaning even closer she inspected its features for a sign, more so to push it into facing her. As she hoped it looked directly at her. She shrieked and pushed back in shock, surprised by the sudden movement as well as the full face. It was gruesome; a large wound was under the eye travelling to the jaw. It was bruised and poorly stitched shut with threads the same colour as its garments, more likely from its garments. There was no bleeding, however the gash had not sealed itself. There was one other running along is snout starting in front of the eye and ending at the tip. She covered her gaping mouth with her hoof in shock and the creature turned away from her again.

“Satisfied?” it hissed.

“How?” Before she could stop herself she had already asked the question.

“Wolves.” A simple answer that required no further explanation. Rarity closed her mouth and swallowed her shock. She reached out and held the good part of its face, baffled as to how she could do this without fear, it felt that she was watching herself and could not control the actions.

“Let me see.” She looked in the creatures eye as it hesitated to move, gently holding its face, “Please.” It closed its eyes and sighed to let its head free as she turned it to inspect the wound. To her relief it was not infected, there was a bright green paste roughly applied to it. She could smell a sweet scent.

“May I enquire what this is you have put on?“

“Reduces pain.”

She looked again at the stitching and could see its crude work, the fix was poor and she shuddered when she saw its teeth moving through a gap.

“This wont do at all, did you do this yourself?”

“No. Crystal over there helped me.”

“There’s no need for that.” She could feel the creature shuddering in her hoof. It was small and vulnerable beneath her now, no longer the chained brute. She knew it was not right to feel pity for it, it deserved this for hurting Twilight. There was still the lingering memory of that stand in the castle. “It’s alright, I will not touch it. You know this needs proper attention.”

“I will treat it later.”

“It looks to me like you have already tried.”

The creatures claw grabbed her hoof and pushed it away. “This is no concern of yours little one, be off now to your home and leave me to be in peace.”

“Can you even stand?”

“Of course I can! I am not weak!” it snapped at her.

Rarity could feel herself growing angry at this stubbornness. “Look here, you are clearly incapable of fixing this on your own and your wolf will not be helping anytime soon. Let me help you!”

“Sending me back to that cell!? Do you really think me so foolish?”

Rarity remained silent but a familiar sound in the distance caught her attention, a whistling noise of the wind through...armour.

“Get down!”

The creature instinctively ducked under the water as two pegasus guards flew over the pool, the mist parting with their wings' gusts. They scanned the area for signs of trouble.

“Are you alright M'am? There was a scream.”

It was time to put her best acting face on, “Oh that, I was just rehearsing for a production. You took a long time to arrive.”

“We were searching the area, there was a rock slide at the base and we feared there was a civilian trapped.”

She stretched out her forelegs, “Well as you can see I am taking a day to relax out here in the pristine of nature.” A bubble broke the surface by her and all she could do was smile widely while her cheeks burned.

“We must insist you return immediately, normally no pony is allowed in the Everfree Forest without valid cause.”

Rarity held her hoof now on the creatures shoulder, She was thankful there was a lot of steam, still unable to believe the guards could not see it. “Thank you brave sir knights but this lady has had a long day.” The two looked at each other in hesitation. Rarity could feel the monster shaking under her hoof and rubbed gently to try to soothe it.

“Are those yours M’am?” The guard gestured to a pile of cloth on the side. The monsters garments.

“Is there a problem if they are Sirs?”

“No M’am.”

“Now if you don't mind I would love some privacy.

“We cannot leave you unprotected with that monster still unfound.”

Rarity playfully gestured to the large wolf on the waters edge, “Does it look like I require further protection?”

The guards were startled as they finally saw the wolf basking on the edge. It sprang to its feet bearing the teeth and growling deeply. They flew higher from it forcing Rarity to hold back a laugh.

“No-No M’am!”

She smiled cheekily at them waving her hoof, “Then off you go.”

“Yes M’am, sorry for the intrusion.”

Rarity watched them fly away in relief at having avoided a potentially dangerous situation. The creature shot from the water gasping for air, the face flushed. “Never again,” it gasped.

Rarity laughed but quickly removed her hoof seeing it was over the scar, “I’m so sorry.” Her hoof now had traces of its blood and she dunked it in the water to rinse it off. It was disturbing that her hoof tingled at the touch.

“You have excellent hearing.”

“Well one does try.” She had to look away as the paste was rinsed off, the extent of the damage was significantly worse, “To answer your question, no. I do not think it necessary to send you back there.”

It looked in confusion at her, “What’s your game?”

“Pardon?”

“What are you up to? I am no fool! Is there a larger ambush nearby, more magic spells and concoctions to burn my flesh?! I am not going back to that hole and definitely not going anywhere near you monsters!”

It never occurred to Rarity that they were the monsters and creatures to it, “Well you’re rather close one now,”she teased. The creature pushed her away gently and forced itself to try and stand but she pushed back to hold it to the edge of the pool.

“You are a fool.” she gently spoke.

“WHAT?!”

“YOU ARE A FOOL! What kind of dope refuses help when its being offered to them!”

“You have no reason to help me, that is why I am no fool.”

“I do,” she was hesitant, the monster was looking at her with curiousity. “When you saved us in the castle. That is my reason.”

“I only did that to earn my freedom.”

“But you did it. Let me ask you a question; If somepony helped you in your time of need would you not want to repay it.”

“That is one I cannot answer.”

“Why?”

“I would be suspicious as to why they helped me.”

“Should I be?”

“What do you think?”

“I do not know anymore.”

“Let me help you then. I’ve torn the wings from one of your flyers, nearly took the life of your princesses, all four I met, and nearly-”

“All hollow words. You helped at the castle, saved a lot of ponies from who knows what terrible fate. I know what you did that night with...Pink Hair?”

“I know who Miss Fluttershy is. I remember important names. Could you please get off.”

“We can figure out a way to help you, but please let me repay your service.”

“Oh so want to repay me?” There was now that cruel glint in its eye.

“Umm...yes...?” she answered nervously.

It whispered to her now,the icy tone sent shivers through the body, “I want you to go canter to the edge of the cliff, and jump.”

“You are a stubborn one.”

“So I am told, now get off.”

Rarity found herself in an unique position, she could try to coax this thing to trust her. Fluttershy had proven it was not unfeeling, now she could push a little and see how feeling it truly was.

“Alright. I will give you some space,” she moved away, “I am here though for the relaxing waters, not you. I have enough to worry about with Twilight and now Miss Fluttershy being so sick.” She turned away to hide her face and listened carefully. It felt as though a long time passed but eventually, to her satisfaction, it spoke.

“Miss Fluttershy is ill?”

She smiled but did not look at the creature, it was again time for a performance, “Yes!” she dramatically called out raising her hoof to her forehead, “She lies ill this very moment in her chamber. Besieged by a terrible ailment from where there is no cure. She is plagued with the kindest heart in all known ponydom and has had it shattered by a brute from unknown lands!” She finished and flashed a smile to the monster.

“If I had the strength I would clap. Is Miss Fluttershy alright then?”

“Why would one such as yourself care?” Now she enjoyed teasing it, seeing some emotion and concern.

“In all seriousness, a yes or a no?”

“And what could you do to help her?”

“Depends on what she needs, if am able then I will.”

“I do not think you would be of any use to her in your present state.”

“You would be surprised how far we can go. I take it she is alright then.”

Rarity chuckled, “She’s fine dear. Relax.”

“You ever heard the story of the...pony that cried wolf?”

“Why don’t you tell it to me?” she teased.

“Why are you not afraid of me?”

“Well you have done nothing so far. I am worried about that nasty cut though, would you let me look after it? I am no stranger to sewing after all.”

“Sewing is it? I do not require aid thank you. Once you leave I can be at rest, at long last some peace and quiet.” Rarity did not like the tone, it was tired and strained.

“I would find it very difficult to abandon something this damaged.”

“I am your enemy.”

“Are you? Do you want to hurt me? I think we have seen the answer already.”

The creature grunted, “No thank you Miss, I do not require aid as I made clear already.”

“Not so politely. Why don’t you wait here and I will get something to help.”

The laugh that mocked her was cold and cruel, it managed to take the smile away, “You really think I am that gullible? Next thing there will be an entire platoon ready for me.”

“Then why did I not turn you into those guards?”

“Please, two of them would not be enough. In your position I would have done the same.”

“In my position?”

“You are quite the tactician but I promise you this will not end well.”

“Alright, let us see. In your position I see a rather splendid mare offering a helping hoof. What do you see?”

“I see a...mare attempting to persuade her enemy to stroll into the bosom of an army.”

Rarity was growing weary of this nonsense and went to the edge to sit a comfortable distance from it. She did not want to leave, afforded a position to learn something about the monster. She leaned back in the same manner as the beast, only her head above the water, and let the soothing warmth seep into her bones. It no longer bothered her that the monsters blood was in the water, it should have yet it did not. It had survived the first time but now the wounds were significantly more grotesque. She closed her eyes, her mind focused on the presence of the thing next to her.

“Are you not you going to leave then monster?” She heard some small rippling of water and a restrained grunt, “You cannot, can you.”

“I need time to gather my strength,”

“We can talk about something else, maybe out here you feel more hospitable? You do not seem to be the violent bigot from the cell.”

“Bigot?!”

“It means you think your opinion is better than that of everypony else. Or am I wrong?” A stubborn grunt made her smile, yet another small victory.

“Captivity does not sit well with me.”

“I do not believe it sits well with any creature. I must say you are less scary out here. Your accent is particularly intriguing. Are you a nobel from your land?”

“Miss...that thing I was down there, it is what I will become to survive.”

She was annoyed it had avoided the question, “Your survival was never in danger.”

“In my position what was I meant to think?” It sighed, “I sincerely hope the new princess is feeling better.” Rarity felt that anger returning, seeing Twilight sobbing, the pain she was in holding to her friends for some comfort that was never enough, “The diagnosis is correct, I am a monster.” The tone with which it spoke managed to douse her rage. She opened her eyes to see it staring at its wavy reflection in the water. It was a sight that was too unreal to believe. “That’s what happens when we are backed into a corner, we fight to stay alive.”

Rarity cleared her throat, this subject was too sensitive for the moment. She needed it to trust her now, “Feeling any better in the forest?”

“What do you think?”

“Well I just love your pet there, made of diamond I take it?”

“She is not mine. We are companions, keep each other safe. I think she is made of Crystal.” Rarity was startled as the large looming head hung between them, “Alright girl, you are no use at all keeping pests away,” Rarity smiled as the monsters arm reached up and grasped it firmly, it was touching. She held her breath as the wolf brought its head to her, sniffing the coat and giving her a quick lick, it felt like a smooth gem was brushed against her, “She likes you.”

Rarity slowly reached out and let her hoof settle on the side of the head, the wolf brushed against it, the texture was unlike anything she had felt. It was rough yet smooth, similar to grooves on cut crystal glass but more robust, “Incredible...”

“We happened serendipitously across each other.”

“Do tell.”

“Not much to say, she’s the reason I survived this long. I am the reason she is still around. Helped me today after all.”

The wolf lay down to let its head rest by the edge and her hoof slid off. Rarity was stunned, “So this...encounter happened today?”

“Indeed, not pleasant as you might imagine.”

“Why didn’t you run?”

There was a disturbing silence, “We did.”

“Well at least your alright now...sort of. Can I ask something?”

“What?”

“Since you will not allow me to get help, could I invite you to get fixed up in my home?”

“In the heart of enemy territory? You must be joking.”

“Well, we’ll come back to that. I will be honest though, I have something thats simply being torturing me ever since we first saw you.”

“Do tell,” it mimicked her,

“One could say it is a pet peeve of mine, but your outfit is disgraceful.”

“Well I am sorry I was not able to get all prettied up for your majesty.”

“I am a designer you see. It’s an obsession I have to ensure all outfits are properly finished. Yours looks like it’s seen better days, if you don’t mind me saying.”

“It is the truth. I can see where this is going but I will be honest, it is a very bad idea. I have no currency or willingness.”

“I do not need bits from you, this is not some scheme for money. I want to help you. Plus your from is truly intriguing.”

“I’ve told you how you can help me.”

“I am most certainly not jumping.”

“Pity.”

“Brute.”

“Thespian.”

“Why must you wear them outside of social events? One would assume from your thick hide you needn’t concern yourself with something so trivial.”

“So you are in the nude?”

“But of course, it’s very bizarre to wear garments all the time.”

“I suppose from your perspective it makes sense. I need the garments though to improve my performance when hunting, my hide as you call it is not so durable.”

“Well after the beating you took in the castle one would have to disagree. Hunting?”

“Do not worry. It is not wise to provoke your monarchs any further. My nutrition comes form larger insects and vegetation. Some plants here do not enjoy having their fruit taken, defeats the purpose if you think about it but the flavour is too great to resist.”

“So you don’t eat...ponies?”

“I could don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to though.”

“Are we not good enough for your refined pallet?” she teased.

“Well. It would take too much resource of energy to capture, prepare and cook one of you. The fruit spiders though are easy.”

“That sounds absolutely disgusting.” The creature laughed,

“Well the hairy legs are-”

“I’m not listening!” she covered her ears trying to block it out. There was silence and she released her grip seeing it smiling up at the sky cheekily.

“A spider is not an insect dear.”

“Well excuse me. They are simply a quick source, very easy to prepare and can last a while.”

“Well I hope you do not get bored!” she chuckled. The creature laughed halfheartedly leaning back again to close it’s eyes.

“Miss...are there any others like me?”

“Princess Celestia has never seen anything like you before and she is thousands of years old.”

“That is not good news. Thousands?”

“Alicorns are relatively new to Equestria you see. Ever since the days of disharmony Princess Luna and Princess Celestia brought stability to the world, raising the sun and moon and watching over all ponies in Equestria.”

“They have power over the sun and moon?!”

“In a way, On this part of our world they have control, once it disappears from the horizon it is the task of the minotaur leaders to pull the world along to keep rotation, then the horses and the motion continues onwards. There is always something to help move along. Truth be told she doesn’t raise the sun but she moves our world around it, her and the others of course. Princess Celestia was the pony to discover this power of harmony and along with her sister they harnessed it to overthrow Discord and restore peace.”

“So they both have power over the rotation?”

“Well Princess Celestia has power over the world, Princess Luna over the moon. The motions you see hold our world together in complete balance and harmony.”

“Fascinating. You are rather knowledgeable. However it is unwise to allow your enemy to learn about you.”

“I hardly see how a little common knowledge would be dangerous...and I am more than just a beautiful face.”

The creature chuckled to itself.

“What?”

“Just a thought. Nothing interesting.”

“Oh come now, do you disagree?”

“Well...as you recall I had a little...shall we say bout with them when they discovered me.”

“Yes...”

“Now I am not proud of fighting them, but to think I could defeat them! They are the most powerful in this land-”

“You lost darling.”

“Only on the grounds of interference.”

“That pain in your head was it?”

“I see the monarchs have filled you in on all details. There was a stabbing pain in my mind, the body simply shut down.”

“What were you doing there?”

“I was honest when I told you I do not know.”

“That is an extraordinary claim, far too convenient”

“That is not the first time I heard that. You see I have these...lapses where I do not remember my actions. It has been recently confirmed by a source who shall remain anonymous.”

“Oh really, and what happens when you have these?”

The creatures voice was solemn, “I tear the wings from ponies.” Hearing it her vision shook. She wanted to speak but her mouth was dry and she could not find the words. “You are safe though Miss.” It tapped the head of the laying wolf between them, “She keeps me in check when it happens, no further casualties.”

“So if we assume I believe you, this is not normal?”

“No. It has never been documented. There’s too much direction, from what I understand of it at least. I’ve ruled out schizophrenia, a disease of the mind causing split personalities. While I suffer from the neurocognitive deficit of memory loss during these periods I do not experience any hallucinations, delusions, speech impediment or emotional stoicism outside of them.”

Rarity did not believe what she heard, the brute had a little bit of a brain, “That was...unexpected.”

“What?”

“That...” she gestured up and down along the creature, “I mean...that was...and you are...sort of-”

“I’m not just a pretty face,” it laughed. She however did not seeing the wound again. It turned away and rested on the edge.

“So why did it not happen in the castle?”

“I do not know, I have only recently been able to confirm it happens. The mechanism is still a mystery.”

“You will understand I cannot believe you without any evidence.”

“I do not expect you too. This is something I must fight alone, I am at peace with that.”

“You do suffer from delusions though.”

“Oh?”

“You think you could defeat the princesses on your own after all,” she teased.

“We have one symptom then!” it laughed.

“She is alright, the mare you...”

“Hurt. It is good news. I empathise with your criticism, this could always be an elaborate lie to trick you.”

“I had not considered that.”

“Now you have.”

“So you feel bad for doing that to her?”

“Miss it would be no different than me loosing my arms, a terrible fate. The only regret I have is being weak and not keeping control.”

Rarity felt her tension leaving her body. She was stunned by the creatures heartfelt words and the pain it had been through. She saw it leaning back, the large wolf behind it enjoying the steam. She noticed now the scar over its face, the wounds covering its arms and hands, burn marks and gashes but surprisingly well trimmed claws. Her eyes were drawn to its chest and a large bruise placed neatly around the shoulder with clumps of its pelt missing. The bruise itself was strange, a line travelling across and down the midsection. Its belly was slightly cut with a horizontal line and she pictured the disemboweling slash of a wolf. She remembered it being hit there by the Darkling that held Pinkie Pie, surprised that it still had not healed. The sides too were scraped, long shallow trails of torn hide, and the gash trekking lower-

“Eyes above the water.”

Rarity looked away, it was confusing why the creature did not want her to, possibly a bad scar. A sudden realisation caused her cheeks to burn recalling were she was moments ago. The creature remained relaxed with its head facing the sky.

“So which one do you want to know about?”

“Excuse me!?” she cried indignantly.

“The face, hands, arm. I have quite a bad one on my back but its healed up nicely.”

“Oh the scars!” she said relieved.

“And what exactly did you think I meant Miss?”

“Oh nothing, never mind...” she tried laughing off the misunderstanding, the creature chuckled in amusement. “That bruise across your shoulder is rather nasty.”

“That plant I mentioned with the irresistible fruit.”

“I see. And that one?” she pointed to the face now at the torn side.

“Well that one is from today, the pack has an alpha and it’s growing more confident. I was simply too slow. Imagine this was a miss, the claws dug in but the palm of the paw did not impact.”

“It sounds absolutely terrifying.”

“It was. I know when it is time to be afraid.”

“What are you anyway? I mean what does your...whatever call themselves?”

“Can she not use an ageing spell?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The new princess? Can she not use an ageing spell to resolve the immortality problem you are all faced with?”

Rarity was slightly annoyed by the obvious diversion however it was delving into something she had thought a lot about,“How do you know about that?”

“I watch and listen, plus I have an informant.”

“I am a tad skeptical.”

“A striped one of you creatures who speaks in cryptic Rhyme.”

“Zecora?”

“Second time I have hear that, looks like I can win our bet. She thought I couldn’t find out her name. Very insightful though, annoying but helpful. So what about the spell?”

“Right, she could in time but thats not a solution.”

“Oh really?”

“I do not know about you but living forever...theres so much pain involved. Loss.” The creature failed to reply and she turned to see it smiling through the gashes. “What?”

“I like you.”

“...excuse me?”

“I like you. It is genuinely stimulating to talk with you.”

“Oh. Well I do not-”

“Do you know how many would like to live forever? How many fools think life should never end?”

“A lot?”

“Too many. You are the first I have ever met to understand this. Truly you are wiser than I assumed.”

She began blushing despite her best efforts staring down at her reflection in the water. “I can’t say that.”

“Modest too!” it laughed, “What is your name?”

“You mean you don’t even know?”

“I only remember important things. Well?”

“I’m Rarity, its nice to meet you...” she trailed off expectantly.

“I didn’t say I would tell you my name.”

“Why not?”

“Ambiguity, deepens my isolation. Regardless,” a claw lifted out the water and extended to her. She looked down at the pointed digits and the grin behind it, an eerie feeling of calm. “It is a pleasure to talk with you Miss Rarity.”

“Umm...likewise.” As the claw rounded her hoof and shook it gently she became nervous feeling the tough palm press on her coat. It released and she sighed with relief. “Well what do you think? About passing I mean.”

“I could bore you with faith and superstition, case history and fraud, but here is what I think; when it is time for me to pass on, I will embrace the rest.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that if eternal darkness is all to expect, I won’t know any better! I will be relieved for the peace.”

“That is an awfully grim outlook.”

“I am tired Miss Rarity, so tired. Only a promise keeps me going.”

“A promise... I can understand. Would you like to tal-”

“No. The problem you see is those left behind, they must deal with the pain of loss. Your princess understands this.”

Rarity thought about Twilight again and looked up at the afternoon sky, “Why did you have to say it.”

“I’m a monster.”

“Why couldn’t you be more like you are now?”

“You prefer me this way?”

“Now you are quite civil and insightful. Not the brute that hurt her.”

“Civil? That’s the blood loss then.”

“I wish Twilight could be here now.”

“Twilight. How is she?”

“Not well. She can’t sleep and she hates you completely.”

“For pointing out the truth?”

“For hurting her. You did not see her crying all night, the sadness she had. Nothing we said could help. She would learn about it but when she was ready, you robbed her of that.” She could feel herself tearing up but dunked her face in the waters to wash it away.

The creatures voice was more quiet, “Well have you talked to her since?”

“I don’t know what to say anymore.”

“Let us try this, she will learn to cope with loss as the years grow on. She will suffer as her friends pass, but that is such a short moment, the wounds will heal, she should enjoy the time she has with you all.”

“We have tried that, it did not help.”

“How about...she is worrying about something that has not happened yet and-”

“Tried it.”

“Alright.” The creature stroked the hair on its face contemplating the question further. Rarity began to examine every detail a little closer, her greater interest though was what it would say. “Okay. She is afraid to loose you all eventually. One day it will happen, no doubt. Does she understand that as long as she remembers you all you are not truly dead?”

“I...think so.”

“Perhaps you need to make that clear. When I think of ‘dead’ I think gone. If she can always hold on to what you were in her memories you will never truly be dead, or gone.”

Rarity felt a fluttering sensation in her, “That might work.”

“It will still hurt when you all pass on but at least this way you won’t leave her.”

“I can try that. Thank you.”

“I am merely trying to fix the damage I caused.”

As Rarity looked into the pools surface under her she could not help feel content there was another path, a different perspective to add some insight to her thoughts. It was not the most complex of ideas but it sounded better than the eternal darkness one.

“Everything alright Miss?”

“Strangely...yes.”

“Good, now forget about me and leave me in peace. I wish you luck Miss Rarity.” With an aggressive grunt the creature reached behind and pulled its garments under the water. The leggings were torn now, holes perforating almost the entire cloth.

“Could I ask again?”

“I am not going with you.”

“Please let me help, for once let somepony help you.”

“You can try but there is nothing that would convince me.” It rose slowly on trembling arms, grunting with the effort. It stumbled to a stand and threw its vestment on. It was impressive that it could still stand.

Rarity needed to say something, she did not want to say it, to admit it but she had to let it know, for the sake of this monster. It would not survive if she let it walk off, “Alright!”

“... I’m sorry?”

“Alright you win. I’ll you why this is so important.”

“Miss, please don’t waste your time. I really am not going with you.”

“I don’t care, I need to tell you.” As she stared into the waters below she found she was scared to say it. The oddly shaped paws dunked in the pool again with a complacent grunt and she felt the claw gently rest on her shoulder as the monster sat on the edge of the pool.

“I think I know. If you want to talk about it then you have an ear. In this matter I can put aside our hostilities.”

“You think you know?” she repeatedly numbly.

“That thing that was choking you. I saw it in your eyes, I know that look. Before you broke free, you thought it was the end...” She was stunned only managing a nod as she gaped up at the creature. “Why else would passing on be so prevalent in your mind.”

“So you do remember me...”

“I...”

“Only remember important things. Why did you pretend not to?”

“...I...”

“It would seem you are not that eloquent after all,” she chuckled.

“It would seem so.” Rarity liked this monster, that was the first time she had used that phrase and received a likeminded response. Even the Canterlot elite were less eloquent. It was time for a push, to show it a level of trust. She had to force herself not to tremble when she spoke.

“I was just struggling and I couldn’t break free. I kicked out, tried to scream, tried to push the air out but it just would not come. Then it started flinging me about, hitting the floor and...oh I really thought that was it, you know? I thought this is where I would...” The claw gently rubbed her shoulder with a slight squeeze.

“Miss. There’s no need to dwell on it. It’s over now.”

“Then you came from nowhere and ripped its arm clean off.” She laughed through a sob holding her composure with more strain, “It looked so completely shocked when you hit it, and I felt safe. That is why I want to help you. You asked the reason why I was still here...you.” The claw released and she looked up to the creature. It was staring out into the scape of the forest over the pools edge, the claw suspended right by her face.

“You are serious...” it trailed off.

“I am. I know you hurt my friend but you saved her. You fought so hard even though we kept you locked up, you were kind to Fluttershy. Is that not worthy of repayment?”

“My payment was my freedom, she honoured that.”

“So let me honour your actions, please.”

“What do you want with me?”

“Come to my home, my safe place away from the wolves and dangers of this forest. Let me patch you up, I think you need it.”

“And the others?”

“What do you want?”

“No-”

“Pony else?”

“Correct.”

“What do you say then?”

“Miss,” it sighed, “It would appear you are the one who has won.” She smiled. “I can’t explain this...why do I trust you?”

“Because you are smart and I speak with sincerity. Will you accept my invitation?”

“I will take some advice and say yes. I caution, you must understand if this is some trick I will fight to be free.”

“I do. You have my word it is not.” The claw pressed on her shoulder, a tight grip. There was a disturbing emptiness in those tired eyes.

“I don’t think you do. Understand Miss Rarity, I will fight to be free.”

12 Suturing Seamstress

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12

It was not safe at night in the Everfree Forest. Rarity would not normally have waited this long but the monster had been insistent on the conditions of her invitation. Nopony was to know it was there or had been there, she was not allowed to leave its sight, she could not call out in any way that would attract attention and she would listen to every word while they trekked through the forest.

The more remarkable thing was how the monster moved, while its paw caught on a rock every now and then it did not stumble. Despite all the damage it kept light on those paws, moving with poise and precision over the floor. She could not help but think what these monsters could do and what they were capable of.

Each second for her was horrible, her eyes were wide yet she could not see much. Every hoofstep was foreboding, terrifying. She jumped as something under her hoof cracked, the monster was undisturbed. She could see it walked with its blade drawn, and she now worried what was happening, if it was going to hunt her. She continued to edge onwards feeling the presence of her two escorts, disturbingly silent as they made their way through. The monster and the wolf were both larger than her yet not a sound was made from either of them, she could only focus on the large wolf and where it was leading them.

“Everything alright?” she whispered to the monster.

“Be silent.” She froze watching its movements, it glanced to Crystal. Rarity never felt such fear then when two small yellow eyes emerged from the dense brush, it was horrific to witness an animal of such size, the enormous tusks and razor teeth. She edged closer to the monster unable to breathe properly. It sheathed the blade surprisingly undisturbed, holding her shoulders with those icy claws, “It’s alright Miss, see Crystal?” The wolf, while watching the large animal did not display any aggression, “We are safe, it does not want to fight us. What is that thing?”

“G...giant boar.”

“Oh come now, I find it quite interesting.” Rarity could not chuckle, a sharp exhale her only response, “If Crystal growls Miss Rarity, then you can be afraid.” It released and she started to feel the skin crawl, searching the area as the scape slowly grew dimmer. She whispered now to the creature.

“What happened to those wolves you ran from?”

“We are not in their territory and my cuts have been masked by the pain relief remedy,” She could still smell the sweet paste, “Do not be afraid Miss, you are quite safe.” A bird taking flight startled her and she spun around nearly tripping over the creature. She felt silly but she saw it had done the same, the blade drawn again and its claw grasping her firmly on the shoulder. It swallowed hard and sheathed it once more, “I would like to move a little bit faster please, this area is not familiar. Follow Crystal, I am right here.” Almost on cue the wolf slowly headed to Ponyville. Rarity followed wearily with the creature behind. She would normally never had waited this long. It was not safe at night in the Everfree forest.

*

Princess Luna arrived in Ponyville to relieve her sisters daytime guards with her own. There were no changes to be noted in the residents activity, to her relief. Admittedly the scare of the Queen had instilled greater panic in her than that monster ever could. Like any other population though all Equestria was focused on the novelty of the new monster and not on the true threat of Queen Chrysalis. Now the streets were deserted as she landed, sadly nopony wanted to be out enjoying her night. Any town bordering the forest had undergone a self imposed curfew where after the suns setting it was unsafe to be outside. No more night time celebrations or late dinner parties, any and all ponies wanted to be in their home when the lights faded. Even the well lit streets were devoid of life.

Luna had been relieved to tears when Applejack had returned. There were many reasons to be overjoyed. Applejack had not been eaten, the monster had eased her burden and pain, the most important reason though was that the monster had done it. She, Princess Luna of the night had persuaded that beast into an act of compassion. Of course Celestia would not believe her. Lately they were barely speaking, more fighting over the monster and the proper course of action to follow. It had been strange to see her so upset over what had happened. Normally Celestia was the mark of patience and compassion, that animal had sadly reminded her though of times long passed and reopened on old wound.

Princes Twilight Sparkle had been busy lately perfecting her spells. Luna could never say it aloud but it annoyed her that the young alicorn had so easily assimilated into her new routine while balancing the task of apprehending the monster. Her spells had grown more daring lately, she had forgone the notion of capturing it now and was looking at how she could prevent it from entering Ponyville. Despite the evidence she was certain the beast was still alive and well, correctly so. Her latest escapade was a specialised magical barrier that would let only ponies though. Her spell to uncover changelings though had proved invaluable, it was simple to learn and effective, now every unicorn in the kingdom was required to wield it. Luna was annoyed but at the same time proud her friend had risen so well to the challenge.

Tonight the routine would be the same, a quick inspection of each town to ease the minds of the residents then on to her nighttime duties. She did however want to stay focussed on Ponyville. It was beyond doubt the beast was interested in the town for an odd reason. After the night before though she did not fear it anymore.

*

“So once more Miss Rarity.”

“Fine. I will casually trot my way home and you will follow. If I see any chance you may be spotted I am to employ my talents as a ‘thespian’ and distract any and all ponies. Happy? Please don’t make me say it again.”

“Will your absence not be noticed?”

“Well Twilight is too busy so I don’t think so, I made it very clear I would be out late today. My parents know I can take some time on my retreats. Once I simply slept at the pool for an entire night.”

“Fascinating, you really like that place don’t you?”

“I do. It is not unusual for ponies to be out this late. In fact the day before yesterday I gave a little speech how we should not let one such as yourself scare us.”

“Well that worked out nicely, you were very brave screaming back there.”

“That was only surprise.”

“For me too, a deafening one.” Rarity laughed. There was one specific issuer she was yet to address.

“Please do not hurt anypony. My home is but a few minutes in. You can use the alleys and-”

“You keep your focus and I will mine. I hope I don’t regret this.”

Rarity was relieved to reach Ponyville once more, the familiar sight of Twilights barrier honing over the sleepy town. As she had hoped the streets were deserted and the only movement came from the guards patrolling the area. Princess Luna had fewer soldiers than Celestia, this made the terrifying task ahead less intimidating.

“I forgot about the magic-” The monsters arm passed effortlessly though, its companion as easily. Rarity was astounded and annoyed. Twilight was very proud of that spell, it had kept all manner of creatures out, even Fluttershy’s animal friends. She was happy Twilight could not see this. Passing through to the bridge around the main street, she saw the monster had taken cover in the trench, artfully clinging to the side. The wolf was especially terrifying. When it held still it was nearly invisible, the glimmering body under the light seamless as it lay on the surface. She lowered her head to the hanging monster and whispered quietly keeping an eye out for the guards.

“Well that was sorted out then. I don’t want you to do anything...”

“Brutish?”

“And I don’t want you using that knife.”

“I will not unless it is necessary.”

“No, not at all. Alright?” A stubborn grunt and she savoured the victory, “Thank you. Ready?”

“Do not forget Miss Rarity.”

“Fight to be free yes yes.”She slowly trotted up the path cautiously, trying to be as collected as possible. It was not forbidden for a pony to be out late but she was alone after all. She took a deep breath to calm herself and headed to her home. Glancing back the monster was gone, its wolf vanished along with it. Every slight movement caught her eye now, she knew they would not hurt her but to imagine those two beasts could hide this well. She did not know where they were.

She passed through to a smaller street connecting to her house, she had to hold back a scream when the monster surprised her. It gently lowered itself from the roof with a grunt to land on its knee clutching its side. Those wounds were having greater effect, she could see it by the strained face and by the dark droplets underneath it.

Now the soldiers of Luna were patrolling the night, they were unfortunately too late to capitalise on the changing of he guard. At least if they were seen there were half as many to concern herself with. The thought of it both terrifying and thrilling; being caught aiding the monster. Princess Celestia would most likely banish her for this if they were found out, at least it seemed so from Twilights description.

The creature followed closely behind Rarity as the guards passed by. She gracefully swayed past the lights sticking to the shadows avoiding all patrols. The monster lightly swept after her, the wolf still unseen. Rarity wanted to laugh at the odd bobbing motions it made to avoid the scattered obstacles but had to suppress it to maintain their cover. It suddenly paused and hugged the wall of a nearby building as two pegasus guards flew overhead. It was well hidden underneath the overhang of the roof, Rarity could not help feel disturbed at how well it hid. Blending in was not its gift, but the fact that its bulk could be so well concealed was disconcerting. It had complete control over its own body. It pulled to the shadows quickly as a pair of unicorn soldiers approached, disappearing into the darkness.

“Good evening M’am, wonderful night for a stroll. Where are you going?”

“Evening Sirs, I was just...visiting a friend quickly.”

“Be cautious Miss, keep away from the borders of the forest.” Rarities heart stopped beating as the light of the guard washed over the dark spot where the monster was. She sighed with relief though as it illuminated only the wall. Now she was worried where the monster was and what it was doing.

“Are you alright M’am? You appear a little-”

“Oh I’m simply fine darling!” she giggled. The soldiers exchanged looks, “Now if you don’t mind I am rather tired and simply at my end today.”

“Please allow us to escort you home, such would be our honour.”

“Oh that’s quite unnecessary assure you.”

A roar in the distance sounded followed by shouting and panicked calls. “Get home now M’am!” The soldiers galloped off to the sound and Rarity saw smoke being illuminated by a bright flickering glow. She made to follow them but a sight stopped her, Crystal was seated still proudly by the corner. Now that she knew the shape she could see the animal but it was scary how well hidden it was. That transparent body made sure it could not be seen no matter the background. Crystal looked at her and with a slight whimper stood up.

“Hurry now, that will not distract them for long.” She had to scream into her hoof with the shock, the monster was right beside her.

“Wha...wha...what did you do?”

“Some cherry stand went up in flames, really have to consider fireproofing around a town made of wood. They will put it out but they will need a lot of resource to do it. Hurry before any come back.”

As intended the chaos had diverted the attention of the soldiers, she galloped across the street to her home with the moonlight shining on them. Rarity was nervous of the fact that Princess Luna might be able to see them. She galloped faster and the monster quickened its pace in response, hearing the padded paws of the wolf beat with its companion. She was relieved to see her entrance to the workshop, the most stylish house on the street that nopony dared copy. She gently pushed open the door, the wolf darting past and nearly knocking her over. Rarity was grateful Opel was having an overnight stay at Fluttershy’s for a flea problem. The creature bowed its head slightly to pass in, even though the doorway was tall enough. It looked at the floor first and tried to wipe its odd paws on the mat. Rarity shut the door and locked it galloping to the back to do the same closing blinds and curtains wherever she could.

“You have a charming home Miss.”

“You like it?” she said enthusiastically, “I was going for a rustic comfort theme with a little style of mine thrown in and a dash or two of daring colours!”

“Better than stone walls. Charming,” it repeated bluntly. It made its way across the room to the fireplace and threw some of the logs on the side in. She went to it and helped light it with a simple bit of magic, she did however notice how quickly its arm recoiled from her when it saw her horn glowing. She was surprised to see a faint singe on the hide.

“I’m so sorry, let me look.”

“It’s fine, nothing at all.” It raised its head, “Are we the only ones here?”

“Pardon?”

The creature faced the doorway leading upstairs drawing its blade, “Are we the only ones here?”

“My sister is staying the night but thats all,” Rarity realised it as soon as she said it, Sweetie Belle was here tonight, what would she do if she saw Rarity with this beast? Her thoughts were interrupted when the door opened to reveal a sleepy filly. The creature quickly sheathed the knife and shuffled to the front door.

“Rarity?” she said sleepily, “Where have you been?”

“Oh Sweetie! I’m so sorry!” She galloped over and tied to hug the guilt away. “I forgot you were staying here tonight! Please forgive me! You must have been so worried!”

“No I wasn’t.”

Rarity felt a little hurt, “You weren’t? Not even a little?”

She shook her head, “Nope, princess Luna said...” Rarity had tried but the curious filly had seen past her to what stood at the entrance.

Now Sweetie Belle, it is time for good little fillies to go to sleep.”

The fillies mouth hung open and before Rarity knew it she darted towards the monster. “Wow Rarity! Is that a new pet? Its perfect!” her enthusiasm was unfounded as she rushed past Rarity, past the creature and hugged the crystal wolf, her short legs unable to reach around its neck. The wolf wagged its stub enthusiastically licking Sweetie Belle. Rarity stood with her mouth agape but laughed as she saw the creature had the same expression.

“Youth,” it sighed, “We can learn so much from them.”

Rarity was focussing on the wolf with her little sister, Sweetie Belle was petting it furiously jumping over and effectively torturing the poor thing. The contrast of the large beast and the little filly only emphasised the odd situation. She did not want to leave her alone with this creature and its pet wolf without anypony to supervise them. She was effectively hoping that this creature was genuine and not tricking her into something. After a few minutes thought she concluded two things to bring her solace; firstly if the creature had wanted to harm her it would have done so in the isolated springs. Secondly the creature did not stand to gain anything by harming her. From its perspective it had trusted her enough to walk into the heart of a town guarded by soldiers with orders to subdue it on sight because she offered to help it. She relaxed and went up her stairs to fetch some materials.

“Please wait a moment I’ll be there shortly.”

“Where are you going?”

“I will need my special needle for the...job.” She glanced at her sister then to the monster.

“Not a problem, I will enjoy a brief conversation with this little lady.” Rarity knew what it was doing, the monster was highly intelligent and despicable. It was using her sister, such an action reminded her why it was sought after by Princess Celestia. Sweetie Belle had always been a good judge of character though, if she was not afraid Rarity would accept it, “Miss Rarity? Everything alright?”

“Oh I’m fine...sort of.” The creatures eyes narrowed and it marched to her, each step shaking the house. It grabbed her foreleg and held her close, whispering angrily.

“Now you understand this. I draw the line at children. If you think me so sadistic as to harm anything that innocent then I will take my leave of you now.”

She was stunned, “I’m...sorry.”

“She is very safe with Crystal. That is a child, do not ever think me capable of something so vile, do you understand?” She nodded both relieved but afraid of that cruel stare.

“Rarity?”

“It’s alright Sweetie Belle. This is a friend.” She was released from the grip and stepped to her sister.

“Is that the monster everypony is so afraid of?”

“Yes little one, do I not frighten you?” It lowered itself to her for emphasis.

“You look really funny.”

“Sweetie Belle!”

“Hold on Miss Rarity. Do I?”

“Your muzzle is all weird and your face is scratched up. Did you save Rarity again?” Rarity could not help being embarrassed at her sisters comment.

“Not at all little one, Miss Rarity is actually about to save me.”

“How come?”

“That is because my outfit is a mess.”

The little filly looked over the torn garments, “That’s Rarity alright.” She glanced back to the wolf, “Is that your puppy?”

“Well she is my friend, her name is Crystal.”

“Can I...play with her?”

“Don’t hurt her alright, you have to play gentle.” Gentle, thought Rarity, it’s a rock solid giant wolf.

“Okay!”

The monster looked up at the lighting as it swayed under its steps, for its size it was deceptively heavy. She wondered if that might be what gave it such strength and resistance to magic. She dismissed this focussing on the true reason she dared bring it here; it had been badly hurt, perhaps with any luck she could help it and it would not be as hostile. The reality was she was trying to befriend it. The creature she saw today was not the same one in the castle cell. She had a lingering suspicion though that it was deceiving her. She would soon test that when she had to patch it up herself. No pony else could know it was here, at this time charm and subtlety was required.

She gracefully went up the stairs, dropped her bag in her room and grabbed her emergency sewing kit, it had everything she would need; tweezers, a needle and Nylon thread. Sometimes it was a good thing Rainbow Dash had so many accidents. She never had to treat the pony but watching the doctors fix her up was very educational. She took the first aid kit from her bathroom and headed downstairs. She reached the bottom to see Sweetie Belle was waiting eagerly for her with a huge grin. Rarity was shocked to see Crystal was sniffing around a sack of gems she had foraged the other day and the creature frantically trying to pull it free with little success. The wolf was far too strong for it. It saw her panic stricken face and looked around nervously, the wolf pulled free of the sack and did the same, they were searching out the windows as if expecting something to burst in any moment.

“Its alright.” she quickly spoke. The creature and the wolf eased and within seconds the wolf was trying to get in the sack again.

“I’m terribly sorry. Get back you beast!”

Rarity had to laugh at their ridiculous behaviour, “It’s quite alright darling. Let her play around if she wants to.”

“She’s trying to eat them. Let go!”

“No no please, theres more where they came from, plenty to go around.”

The creature pulled away from its battle and Crystal sat down tearing through the sack to get at the gems, crushing the hardened jewels in her teeth.

“Your lucky we have a patient host,” the creature scolded the wolf. Crystal simply looked up with a lowered head and the biggest, saddest eyes. The creature gave up up patted her on the head allowing the feast to continue in peace.

Sweetie Belle was giggling watching the two go at it. Rarity had to admit it was surreal, the contrast she now witnessed was almost impossible to believe.

“What did you need Sweetie?”

“Oh nothing, I just wanted to ask if we had anymore sacks of gems.”

“Lets not overfeed her alright?”

“Okay...” She was visibly disappointed.

“Why don’t you get your friend some water. I’m sure she’s thirsty after eating.” Rarity lowered her head to whisper, “And for pony’s sake put down some newspaper.” It was spooky that the wolf looked at her when she said it.

Her smile returned and she ran into the kitchen with a host of clattering to accompany the search for a large enough bowl.

Rarity gestured to her workshop entrance, a modest arch leading into her boutique where she designed her fashion. The room was adorned with many scrap sketches and colour combinations stapled together. She had a busy week.

The creature moved to the other room shaking the house with each step clattering plates and rocking the light fixtures that hung from the ceiling. It looked to Rarity and apparently noticed her concern, almost instantly treading more lightly, the front of its paws striking the surface first and absorbing the shock instead of the heel delivering it. She appreciated its thoughtful nature but couldn’t help giggle as it strode bizarrely as some deer through the doorway. Rarity followed it in and pointed to a couch she used to muse her own designs.

“Here if you please,” she patted a couch while placing the supplies down on the table nearby.

The creature lowered itself painfully slowly and flinched as the frame groaned under its weight. It sighed in relief as it sat down, rigid and ready in the event that the couch should collapse. Rarity opened the box and out came a brown bottle and gauze. It eyed her carefully as she placed it on the table and took out a pair of scissors. This was going to be difficult. In all her time stitching and weaving fabrics she never imagined she would have to use her skill on a living creature.

“So you’re a seamstress?” the monster asked. She nodded, wearing her glasses and fetching a blank thread. She neatly thread the needlewith her magic, the monster outwardly weary of the use of it. “Huh, I never would have imagined such insight from one so focussed on appearance.” The comment somehow felt insulting and complimentary at the same time, she did not know how to respond so chose to ignore it all together.

She reached out for her scissors but could not find them. Looking round she saw the creature was already cutting the fibres.

“Not yet.”

“I thought you wanted them out?”

“First we have to disinfect the cut.

Rarity shuddered thinking about Fluttershy’s description of that night she healed the worn wrists. Needless to say she felt apprehensive about it as this time the creature was not chained.

“You must promise me you will not struggle. I want your word.” The creature looked around and grabbed a small sewing cushion, removing the pins quickly and wrapping its claw around it.

“You have my word Miss. I will not struggle or shout.”

She tipped the bottle into the gauze and felt the cold disinfectant run though. Grabbing a towel and a fresh bottle of mineral water she sat by the creatures side. Magic was a bad idea with this thing, she would have to apply and clean it with her hooves.

“It will sting a little, ready?”

The creature nodded, the muscles in the arm tensed and she saw its claw grasp tighter around the ball it held. It closed its eyes and patiently awaited the sting. The gauze slowly came into contact with the cuts, to her relief there were no sizzling sounds. The creature exhaled sharply and she pulled away.

“Please continue, I am alright.” She pressed on dabbing the wound and the creature remained still as was promised. Its claw began to rotating the ball around in a quickening pace and she knew she should hurry. The cuts began to bleed out again, thankfully not heavily. There was still a lot of grime in the wound and she felt relieved today was the day she came upon it. When satisfied she leaned back and reached for the scissors artfully removing the thread in a swift swipe. The creature held tight onto the ball and she had to hold back a scream when the cheek fell open, partially exposing its teeth.They were a stained white flattening towards the back but sinister and sharp in front. She placed the towel around its shoulders and opened the water bottle, gently pouring it over the wound to clean it. The tongue moved to block the water from running in its mouth and spluttered slightly. Rarity began feeling slightly ill but her motivation to help kept her going.

“Maybe this will help.” The creature leaned back lowering its body to the couch, which groaned complacently. This made it surprisingly simple. It breathed deeply as she retrieved the needle, the thought of what was to come turning her stomach. It’s just like some thick suede she told herself as the needle tip hovered closer to it. Her hoof began shaking and she fought for control. The creature opened its eyes and took her hoof, its claw closing around it.

“Perhaps I should Miss, do you have a mirror I can use?”

“Umm...” she looked around and brought a small one. The creature remained laying down.

“Could you bend this needle into a semicircle please.” She did so with her magic and the creature took it from her gently pausing above its gash planning the pattern. Rarity thought back to the fibres in its face and how poorly sewn they were. She grabbed the claw feeling its muscles tighten underneath her hoof.

“No dear, I’ll do it.”

“I would prefer not, your...hooves are not steady enough.”

“I want to do it please.”

“Perhaps you should rest a moment. I don’t fancy you trying your best right now.” The creature sat up and held the towel to its face. Rarity tapped the sofa impatiently, “You see this? This is the finest silk in all Equestria, I spent days planning, ordering and upholstering this myself. It is my most favourite antique themed feinting couch and I will not have you staining it with your...umm-”

“Perhaps I should move then.”

Rarity pulled sharply down on its back sending it hurtling on the sofa with a crack. They held their breath, completely still waiting for it to collapse. It didn’t.

“I must do it,” she insisted. The creature relaxed in defeat and lay waiting for its stitching to begin. Rarity screwed up her courage, pinched the needle in her tweezer, and began intricately suturing the slit. Each suture had to be one to two millimetres from the edge and three millimetres apart, just like the doctors used. The creature did not move and she was grateful for it, astounded at the resilience. It had accepted her help eventually. Despite a wince or two interrupting she grew quickly accustomed to its skin and muscle. The hide was remarkably soft and easy to pierce, its blood was warm and tingled in her hooves, which made it that much more shocking.

When she was finished the creature sat up and stretched its mouth. To her relief the work held steady. She was proud of it, an intricate weave she only used for the toughest fix. She needed to place a dressing now but a light clunk on the table drew her eye to a small pot the creature had removed from its bag.

“What is this?”

“The stripped one shares many secrets with me. Including this,” The monster sighed, “Ten seconds. I do not have the strength to administer it myself. I am too...weak. I...” the creature failed to finish and looked away from her. A sickening realisation sunk in, this was the remedy that Fluttershy used.

“You want me to do it...” The creature could only nod, its breathing grew sharp and narrow. She reached out to stroke its head, “It’s alright, are you sure you want this?” It looked at the open claw.

“Would you...” once more the words failed it but Rarity rested her free hoof in it, letting it gently clasp around her.

“It’s alright,” she whispered in her most gentle voice, “I’m here.” She looked down and smiled at it. It drew its blade slowly to her horror but placed the hilt between the jaws, the cheek relaxed and was ready. The beast closed its eyes and braced for what was to come. Rarity began to gently hum a tune for it. A lullaby she often used for Sweetie Belle. It was terrifying for her but right now she needed to be brave. She tilted the small pot and the mixture slowly travelled on the cheek and over the cuts. The sound was similar to water hitting a hot pan, only the sizzling never died down. It crackled and she counted out the seconds as best she could, The concoction smouldered and smoked as she poised the water bottle over it. The noise it made was unlike any creature she had ever heard. This was the sound of the monsters agony, a scream and howl mangled into a muffled moan as it fought the urge to cry out. The claw on her hoof only held it, there was no crushing or tightening, and she felt it trembling under her as it convulsed with the pain. On the eighth second she was shocked as she heard a crack and the jaw shifted, it was breaking the hilt with the bite. It was more difficult to hold the tune watching this happen but she would.

The tenth second came and she gratefully doused it. The creature almost immediately sat up, nearly knocking her head to hold the cheek, bent over with the face tightened in the pain. It replaced the knife, the hilt did not appear damaged.

Rarity found her voice again, “So that’s what happened. Are you alright dear? Can I do something?” It took the towel and wiped its face down, still it had not released her hoof. She reached to it and stroked the top of the claw, it recoiled as soon as she touched it.

“Such weakness,” it said bitterly, “A weakling.”

“It’s over now, one is not weak to seek the help of others. Is there still pain?.”

“Careful, sounded like you actually cared that time.” Rarity laughed. The creature was sweating from the endeavour, she could feel the heat radiating from it. That experience was a pain she was grateful she never had to endure. The cut had healed nicely, the ashen white and grey residue fluttershy mentioned exposed neatly on the cheek.

“That looks much better, she reached up with the scissors and gently removed the stitch with a clean motion.” The monster looked to her, searching around to pass her a tissue from a box nearby.

“The rest of the cuts do not require the same level of attention. Thank you Miss. I can’t imagine how difficult that was for you. Thank you.”

She glanced down through the torn vestment at the gash on the shoulder. It did not need stitches, already sealed nicely and on the way to recovery. “You are not weak to ask for help or to show pain. Please do not be afraid with me.” It smiled slightly and nodded, “Good, let us go sit by the warm fire and discuss your outfit, I am feeling rather cold at the moment.” It nodded and rose, the couch groaning with the relief. Something had changed in her then, there was no more resentment for this monster for its actions. She only wanted to see her promise to it through.

13 What Are You?

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13

Princess Celestia lay in her bed after another exhausting day of searching. She pressed her face to the pillow but let the covers remain off, it was too hot tonight for them. Twilight's new spell to uncover Changelings was a blessing yet it had the problem of being limited to search one pony at a time. The barrier of her Captain, Shining Armour, was no longer as effective as she had hoped, queen Chrysalis had now proven she would not stop until their subjugation.

The destruction of the kingdom had been thankfully limited to the residences and not the residents. One week was a long time and all had been repaired, returning life to Canterlot Kingdom once more. There was growing concern in the populace however over that beast, that thing. The stories going around were mixed ones of heroism and monstrosities, the most exaggerated one claiming the monster wielded fire to save them all. Stories were not a good idea and she tasked herself in educating Equestria about the danger this animal posed. She never set curfews, her ponies were intelligent and did not require such a trivial law. They had implemented their own measures to keep each and every individual safe. Such was the reason she was proud of each and every one of them.

The normal calm of her life had been shattered by this brute. Celestia had to discover an awful truth, she hated it with all entirety. She had never hated something before, not like this. Even queen Chrysalis and king Sombra did not provoke her ire the way it had. She tried to ignore it but she could only tally the score. It nearly took the life of her sister, then her, then her pupil. Anypony was endangered by it and she was ill imaging in the scale of what it could hurt. Luna was strong but she knew her sister felt the same drain when in the beasts company, there was this aura that seemed to suck at their very power.

She and Luna had not spoken now for three days. She hated fighting with her over the monster but her claims were ridiculous.

‘It fought to save you!’

‘It fought for the right to run away! Promised to it by a pony too kind to realise the action.

‘It is in need of our help. We must see to it that-’

‘The only thing I will see to is the beast back where it came from.’

‘Sister...I have never seen this of you.’

‘You threaten my family and you will upset me, you harm my family and I will ensure you never can do so again.’

‘Sister...’

‘You will be late for the night. If you see it at any point, I warn you not to hesitate.’

Luna had left without another word, three days later still nothing was spoken. She could see it again in her nightmares, for even there the beast did torment her. The horrific screams of the wingless mare, the brutality with which it dispatched the patrol, the ruthlessness by which it dared to ransom her sister, the horror of watching and hearing the convulsed agony before it fell.

After the failed invasion she had awoken to discover that thing was their herald. In an artful twist of fate it gained the freedom it wanted, a status as a superior foe and the respect of many a pony from the kingdom.

Celestia had never felt hatred before, but she knew why she hated the monster this much. She hated how she had no power over it. She was heartbroken when it had first opened its eyes, there was such pain in them but she could not ease it. She was daring enough to sit alone before it, unchained in the cell, while they conversed.

‘You may know with whom you speak creature. I ask of you two things; What are you? What do you want?’ Normally she would not have entertained it in this manner but the immunity to her power was something that could not be ignored. The verbal threats during the fist encounter had demonstrated is derogatory verbal eloquence and a gruesome imagination, she knew it could speak with her.

The creature had slowly eased itself upwards to a stand, looked at its surroundings and bolted to her. With a sigh she elegantly danced around the animal, it movements dazed an sluggish. As she thought after some moments it tired itself and collapsed once more to one knee. She gestured to a maid to bring it some water, it was then the creature forever gained the status of monster. It drank deeply from the mug, replacing it on the tray and politely thanking the nervous mare. In one swift motion it repeated what it had done to her sister, grabbing the mares throat and suspending her with one arm, barking demands to know its whereabouts.

Celestia was a patient mare but her patience then was gone. She saw the beast, barely her height, defiantly threatening one of her subjects weeping in its colossal grip. She had slowly turned her flank to the monster and done something she never thought she would, kick.

The impact was tremendous and the monster had fallen instantly, unmoving. Her subject was safely escorted out before she spoke the words she had hoped not to; ‘Captain you are to place it in the strongest chains you can find, it is allowed minimal amounts of water and sustenance. You and I will stand at the ready when it wakes up, I want to see if these bonds are strong enough.’

They had not been, resulting in a never ending watch over the beast. All the questions she had were never answered, it refused to dignify her with even a name. Then Twilight had successfully fixed the spell of Starswirl and she knew she had an option for the monster. It did not have to expire in the cell. The claim to amnesia, although convenient, could not be ignored. It earned her full hatred though after it had torn her little filly’s heart out as punishment for her kindness. Even the writhing and twisting it made while her monolith brace was created did not pierce her sympathy.

Celestia was a patient pony, but it had run out. She hated the fact she was not strong enough to protect her sister when she was threatened, she hated how the beast pushed against her every time she felt a twinge of sadness for it, she hated how she believed her student could not be harmed by it, she hated being weak. Then a realisation sent a tear to the pillow, the first one in centuries. Celestia hated the monster, but more so she hated herself.

*

They returned to the warm embrace of the foyer to see a nervous young pony trying to hide the large wolf under a woollen blanket, which was far too small. The wide smile and uplifted brow did little to alleviate the guilty appearance

“Sweetie Belle.” Rarity did not want to imagine what she did to force her to hide it but it could not have been good. “Let’s see.”

“Oh there’s nothing to see Rarity, she’s tired and wants to go to sleep.” The wolfs head poked up under the blanket and Sweetie Belle forced herself on top. It slid off and the once clear crystal wolf was now a deep purple.

The monster burst out laughing holding its new cheek firmly.

“Sweetie Belle!”

“I just gave her a drink! Some mulbleberry juice.”

“Excellent colour!” the creature laughed. Rarity saw the wolf wagging the stump again tapping the carpet rhythmically. She noticed that Crystal and her monster were very in touch, sensing each others emotions and reacting as though they were one. It always seemed they knew what the other was thinking.

“I’m so terribly sorry about this.”

The creature wiped a tear away, “Don’t worry Miss, she does that, I’ve just never seen such a strong reaction!”

Rarity realised that this was the first time she heard the creature genuinely laughing, it was short and gruff, muffled now with the claw holding the side. She would never have imagined this beast in chains would be here in her home behaving with civility. It was not late, still enough time to complete an outfit. She brought out her sketchpad and sat on the one seater in her living room. The creature came over but sat on the floor, leaning against the couch. Sweetie Belle Yawned and went to sit next to the wolf and the warm fire.

“So tell me then, what are you looking for?”

“Pardon?”

“The outfit darling.”

“Oh. A top and bottom.”

“Be more specific please.”

“A black top and bottom?”

“Look, you have the best designer in all of Equestria here, surely you are joking when all you want are two items I could doll out in my sleep.”

“A quick and simple idea has the fewest problems.”

“Too bad. Now, I was thinking in black too, but we must have some longer leggings, denim perhaps with a pinstripe pattern and maybe it theres room we can throw in a full neck collar with a-”

“Miss?” the creature raised its claw to stop her.

“Whats wrong?”

The creature sighed and stared down at its torn garments. “I do not need a fashionable item, something dark, simple and durable will be more than enough.” It looked at the clock, “I do not want to keep you from your sleep.”

She was amused at the creatures sincerity. Clearly trying to get out as quickly as possible, it must have needed this outfit urgently to remain here. She began to sketch out a rough figure of the creature noting areas where dimensions were required. She was mindful of her magic now, as they had discovered some spells are more adverse to the creature than others. As she highlighted more key areas she began to notice the creatures pronounced regions, its larger posterior, wide shoulders, the odd manner in which its knees bent. It would be a challenge for her but she was excited to start. “How about something like this?” She had drawn a simple sketch and gave the creature wide leggings with a long top. She was trying to provoke it into taking a greater interest in its own design.

“I would prefer something not as loose please, it could easily get caught on branches and tear. She tried again not knowing where to go. The creature had an idea in mind but she needed to draw it out. Every client of hers knew what they wanted, sometimes it had worked out, others less than successful. With the clients vision specified she could then sculpt something magnificent to satisfy them.

“This?” This time it was a strange one, very tight around the body with odd areas on the shoulders and neck sticking out. She smiled cheekily at the creature as it looked on.

“It looks like I swallowed a dinner plate.” She giggled and continued, glancing over to see the creature was smiling staring at the fire, lost in thought. She thought something more drastic would push it over the edge and force it to take a more active approach. Rarity found herself enjoying the company of this creature and wished the others could be here to see this. She couldn't say anything to them about this though, however if her plan would work she wouldn’t need to. This farfetched escapade was hopefully going to end with a friendly hello between the monster and Twilight. After everything that had happened today nothing seemed impossible.

“Then this will be perfect!” She held up the pad grinning as she saw the creature visibly irritated. The sketch was of it in a lovely dress with sequins and feathers. It looked like strange bird.

“Now I’m a bird who’s swallowed a plate. It does make my posterior look rather large wouldn't you agree?” Rarity laughed. Sweetie Belle came for a closer look.

“It looks like a chicken wearing a dress,” she laughed.

“Maybe if I added a cape...”

“How about you let me have a go?” Rarity was delighted she had won. She used her magic to float the pad to the creature but it did not take it from the air. Its smile faded instantly and she dropped the pad without thinking.

“Sorry,” she blurted out.

“It’s...fine.” The creature reached out and picked up the pad, turning to the next free page. Sweetie Belle gave passed the quill and sat beside it watching the blank page. Rarity was proud of her little sister showing such sweetness to a stranger. She was surprised how Sweetie was not disturbed by the scarring or the stories going around Ponyville of the escaped monster. She genuinely was not afraid.

Rarity was surprised as the creatures claw danced over the page stroking smooth, long lines and small detailed dashes. She was too curious and went to sit behind it on the sofa looking over the shoulder seeing the form take shape. Unfortunately the creature still had an unpleasant odour of sweat and grime about it.

Its method was interesting, marking out points of movement and detailing fabrics with texture renderings. The concept was interesting, very detailed but ultimately simple. Over its paws it had sketched an outline of socks but the detail began in the main body where it panned out below the knees and remained fastened tightly around the lower legs. There were pouches at the bottom and two clearly marked pockets. There was a wide stripe in the centre passing halfway over each of the legs separating the leggings in three. In the middle the creature wrote ‘black and durable’ and on the outer stripes wrote patterned. Rarity was relieved that the writing was legible and happy that communication would be easier than she thought. The top followed a similar division with long sleeves, the sides partially in the patterned part and the middle being black and durable. The upper arms had patches as well The creature was able to clearly depict its figure and managed to illustrate both front and back with specifications to comfort and required strength of fabric. When it was done it held it back to examine the finish, adding a few adjustments to key areas.

“That should help.” she commented.

“It looks cool!” Sweetie Belle added.

“Do you think you can manage?”

“Please darling, this will be fun!”

She raced to her workshop and began selecting fabrics, she had a special fabric the soldiers used under their armour which would serve the durability purposes, it could breathe, trap and release heat, and was made to last a long time. The patterned she assumed meant camouflage and she set about finding something from her dragon spotting business boom. The camouflage had to be effective both night and day to work. From what she had seen the creature needed to hide more than fight.

A thought occurred, Was it wise to arm this monster? It had hurt ponies before and the chance was this would make it easier to do so. She thought about it for some minutes but a voice in her shattered the flurry of ideas. The spring, it is not going to hurt you. She let it be now and if she was honest with herself the prospect of a new body to work with was too enticing.

“Can I have you here a moment please.” She heard the creature grunt standing up and walk to the extension, it spoke to Sweetie Belle.

“Can you keep her out of trouble for me?”

“No problem!”

This was the first time she would have to perform her measurements without magic. It made her nervous thinking how close she would be to it, and how it could react. The creature was behind her and upon seeing the tape raised its arms to stretch out. She tried her best to be graceful but it was difficult without her spell. The creature eyed her as she fumbled around.

“Are you sure you know what your doing?” The question offended her but she could understand its concern.

“Of course I do, all theses dresses here were made by moi exclusively. It’s just hard to do this without magic you see.” The creature remained silent as she struggled to get the tape around it. Scanning the room seeing all her marvellous works and designs scattered about.

“You have talent Miss.”

“You think so?” she modestly replied.

“Indeed, a keen eye for such subtle features.”

“Why thank you, I have done this my whole life, nothing feels better than seeing a pony with a fresh smile as she sees how beautiful she looks in the mirror for the first time in her new dress.”

“So you only design for females?”

“Well the stallions are not as outspoken with their gratitude,” she sighed, “Most of my upscale clientele do not even try the outfit on first, just in and out.”

“From what I can see I am sure they are grateful.”

“Hopefully you will be too, customer satisfaction is my number one priority!” The creature had to spread its legs and she measured the lengths and required contours. “Would you mind if I inquired into your outfits?”

“I’ll do my best to answer.”

“You wear outfits all the time?”

“For the most part yes.”

“Why?”

“Is it so strange to want to look good all the time.”

“Not at all darling! That design of yours is particularly striking, have you had much experience?”

“Not at all, that outfit is a simplified version of what the...more accomplished...warriors wear. It is designed to last.”

“So it is not an original.”

“Not at all, I chose something safe and familiar, creativity can wait.” She dropped the tape again and it rolled out over the floor forcing her to ravel it again. “If it helps...you could try to use your magic. Slowly please, I would prefer to avoid any unpleasantness.”

Rarity knew her ploy was working, it was slowly trusting her more and more as the night grew longer. “That would be just wonderful.”

The creature suddenly lowered itself to one knee and she stepped back in surprise as its claw grabbed her shoulder tightly. “I am no fool.” Its face was serious now and she could see the cruel look in its eyes again, “And I am sure you care for your sister. So understand this, if this is a trap and you are trying to restrain me, you had better get her out of here now, because I will fight to be free. The only reason I dare risk this is because you have shown you can help me, and that is something I cannot ignore.”

The creatures words startled her. It was apparent it was still weary of the situation. Indeed it had a right to be nervous with all the strange things that had happened, she was disappointed after all that it still did not trust her. Clearly It would be harder to earn than once thought.

She knocked the claw away and spun around whacking it on the good side of its face with her tail, “You are a fool! How dare you accuse me of such deception! And threaten my own sister!”

“I did not threaten-”

“You most certainly did brute! To threaten the safety of such a sweet little filly is barbaric and unforgivable. You are a monster! Further more how dare you speak to a lady in such a manner after she has risked her home, friendship, family and herself to help a fugitive sought by all Equestria. Despite your heroism in saving us all from the attacking hordes of the evil queen. Its tragic!” She threw her head back and raised her hoof winking at it. The creature was confused so she giggled to show it she was not serious.

It smiled eventually, “Alright thespian. I take your point...and heroism is not the word,” it added.

She floated the tape towards it and it held out its arm still on bended knee. The mark where her fireplace magic had touched was a burn. She did not understand, that magic was not meant to hurt a living creature. “Let us try a test patch alright?”

The creature nodded and grasped its extended arm bracing for the worst, it was visibly nervous. She gently brought the tip slowly down and it touched the edge of its hide. To her relief there was no reaction. The creature too breathed a sigh of relief.

“Actually it feels rather pleasant, a mild and cold burning sensation.” It stood up again extending its arms ready to be measured. Rarity danced about noting all the lengths and circumferences she needed, the creature behaved and held perfectly still, shifting its weight every now and then for comfort. She playfully ravelled the tape through the digits of its claws and around its arms, successfully coaxing it into smiling.

“So was it not heroism?”

“A hero by definition has to give the ultimate sacrifice to successfully be called such. Hence there is no such thing as a living hero.”

“What if the hero was saved by chance.”

“Then said hero was lucky, it still does not make them a hero by definition.”

“So were you lucky? We thought we’d seen the last of you after you stumbled off. Very foolish not to stay, it made you look guilty.”

“I was lucky that I was found, or more specifically that she helped me.”

“Do tell.”

“A blue winged pest with a moon as her marking, a dream invader. Luna.”

“Really? I thought you only remembered important names.”

“I do.”

“So why did you turn help us then? And why didn’t you stay?”

“I don’t think this is important to discuss.”

“It’s important to me. After being kept down there for who knows how long you threw away the chance to abandon us. Surely you have a reason?”

“I was promised freedom if I fought. Judging by the fact that they are hunting me I made the right decision in leaving.”

Yet again it avoided the question, “But that’s not why you left.”

“No, I had done too much damage to simply walk away free.”

“The night you first arrived?”

“As I said it was mostly a blank.”

“But you still fought them, and hurt them. What you did to that poor mare.”

“The flyer. Yes. That weighs heavier than all. I don’t remember doing it. I remember but I don’t. Every time I think it hurts, a stabbing in my skull.”

Rarities mouth fell agape at what she was seeing. It was holding its head, the eyes went bloodshot instantly and it began trailing more of its blood through the snout. “What are you?” It took some deep breaths and the eyes subsided.

“Please excuse me, I did not mean to cause...distress.”

“Are you alright?”

“No,” it groaned, “I need a moment.” She did not know what to do seeing this, only handing a tissue to wipe up the mess. A minute or so passed as it held the head breathing deeply. To her relief it stood up once more, “That feels better.”

“You really cannot remember can you?”

“Whenever I try that happens, or of course I just made an elaborate hoax to trick you.”

“One cannot fake some things.” She took a fabric cutting and gave it as a gauze. It had not lost a lot, only a trickle. What was happening to it though, she could not tell.

“I wish I could help her.”

“Who?”

“The flyer. I regret being that weak, not having control.” The eyes dilated and it held the cloth to the snout again.

“Lets leave it dear, does your...whatever enjoy savouries or biscuits? It would be wise to replenish yourself after your ordeal.”

“No thank you Miss.” The creature was silent she could see it was pondering her words. “Why did the soldiers attack me in the library?”

“Because you attacked them first.”

“Why can’t I remember!?” It was frustrated that its memory was failing and she thought it best to leave the topic alone, to her surprise it continued. “I fought out of instinct, self defence. At least from what I can recall.”

“Where did you learn to fight like that? Are you a soldier ?”

“Ha! A soldier! No my dear I used to make shoes.”

Rarities face lit up brighter than ever. “SHOES!” she exclaimed with delight, “What kind? Were they pretty? Did you design anything? How long were you making shoes for? You must show me something from your works!”

Her eagerness startled the creature and it nervously retreated. “Its not like that Miss. I am no designer, please remain calm.”

She composed herself, “Sorry...but it’s so exciting! What kind of shoes did you make?” She was gazing at the creature eager to learn more.

“Well I used to...replace missing extremities with artificial ones. The shoes I made were designed to repair and correct problems that my clients had with their bodies, deformities and such.”

“You actually helped others? Surely you jest.”

“Very funny. I did enjoy it to an extent, very peaceful work. Gives you time to think about things.”

“Might I inquire as to what sort of things?”

“Nothing interesting Miss. Modifications to designs, whats for dinner, and so-” It stopped abruptly, “...Well done Miss Rarity.”

She quickly pulled back seeing the stunned look on its face, “Is everything alright?”

“You managed to coax some information out of me.”

“Or it could have been false,” she teased.

“Indeed.”

“Well your secret is safe with me, I promise complete discretion with all my customers.”

“Even though I cannot pay? That’s a poor business model.”

“Oh you have more than earned it.”

“I see you make shoes as well.”

Rarity resumed measuring the lower part of the body, so much simpler with magic. “Yes I make complete outfits you see. Every part has to match perfectly and I see it as necessary to make my own. That way I can be certain.”

“Good policy.”

“Perhaps we could make some for you? Assuming you need them of course”

The creature looked down at its cut paws, damaged and scarred from the forest. It had wrapped them in bandages, very resourceful but nowhere near efficient enough for the dense undergrowth.

“Let us see how long this takes first, I would prefer to be gone before first light.”

Rarity smiled, she had made significant progress with this monster and she knew it was trusting her, with enough coaxing she could get it to peacefully talk with the others and put aside their first encounter. A wonderful idea emerged. She hesitated but decided it would have to be proposed, yet another push, “You are aware that your odour is absolutely ghastly right?”

“I can’t help it, things are not so easy in the forest. What’s your point?”

“Well...you are here and you could...have a umm...bath while you wait.” To her surprise the creature did not give an answer immediately, it seemed to be considering it. “After all smelling like that every monster in the everfree forest would know where you are.” It had not yet replied, which for Rarity was a good thing.

“No perfumes right? That would be worse than stinking.”

Rarity felt delighted, “I could use salts and exfoliants to help reduce any buildup. Besides I don’t want my creation to be worn and immediately get smelly.”

“I will accept the very generous offer Miss.”

“Wonderful!” she set het tape and notes to the side, “If you will kindly follow me we’ll get you set up.”

They passed though the living room to see Sweetie Belle was now looking very tired. Rarity fetched a blanket draped over the sofa and threw a log on the fire. Sweetie Belle quickly drifted into sleep protesting her own exhaustion, she was nestled against the wolf who was attempting to remain alert but was loosing her battle against sleep.

Rarity felt very warm inside and had an urge to hug her sister and squeeze until she could not stand it. She managed to restrain herself and led the creature up the narrow stairs, its difficulty apparent in pulling itself through the space nearly knocking portraits off the wall.

The bath itself looked more than large enough to accommodate its bulk, poised ready on its claws and sturdy iron feet. She let the water run taking a moment to become hot before plugging in the stop and fetching her salts and a small pot. “I thought we could use an herbal remedy Zecora gave me, guaranteed to sooth aches and bruises from a busy day. None of the ingredients in the ten second remedy.”

“It sounds perfect.” The creature shut the taps when less than half the the tub was full.

“You can use more water.”

“I’ll get in first, let the water rise.”

“Alright. Remember please two pinches is more than enough. I’ll get working on your outfit and have it finished before you can say camouflage.” The monster looked at her but did not reply, she quickly glanced over her person then to the mirror, a quick fright realising she did not have any makeup on.

“Thank you Miss Rarity. For Everything.”

She left the room to her work station and could hear the creature settle in, its grunts amusing her. It was far from an elegant warrior, more along the lines of a bumbling oaf. She was still pleased that it had in the very least relaxed around her, as she had relaxed around it. To her surprise she was just as cautious of this beast as it was of her. To her shock though she had completely forgotten to apply her makeup after the spring. She thought about it but it was late now, there was an additional concern though that even a slight change in her appearance would unnerve the monster. For now it did not matter, she had a job to do and would put her best hoof forward to make sure it worked, her outfit if completed correctly would be the creatures second skin, it would have to perform, as well as aesthetically please, because after all she had to make it look good.

Trotting down the stairs she eagerly rushed into her workshop and began the cutting of the fabrics. It was nerve racking how often she had to reference the measurements loosing trust in her instincts every now and then, soon the piece began to take shape, a trembling from above every now and then halting her. This was going to be difficult, to convince it to talk with Twilight. Still if Princess Luna herself had saved this thing, it was certainly worth the effort.

14 Weakness

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14

Rarity worked quick and efficiently, all the fabrics neatly cut into their shapes and sizes. She enjoyed creating garments but this one was special to her. It was an end to the conflict, an end to Twilights pain. As she worked on she could construct more and more reasons that the creature would stay and talk to her friends. If they could sit down in a civil manner it might resolve everything, all the turbulence. It was a difficult beast to persuade, every action she did drew suspicion. It had in the very least allowed her to be near it, more than it did in the cell. The hatred she felt for this monster became less prominent in her mind. It stood to reason this creature was not an enemy to them. She caught herself thinking her highest hope that by the end of this night she would be able to be friends with it.

She could still smell its musk in the air and opened a window. The cool night air rushing in and refreshing her. It was a strange circumstance she stumbled across it that badly injured. After all she had seen it was invincible in her mind, seeing it like that however shattered that idea.

The fabrics merged neatly under the sewing machine becoming one piece, she went three times over the same stitches to give them extra strength. The needle was very temperamental today and had a tough time going through the thicker materials, the effort on her part was straining her. As the night was growing older and she could feel the fatigue setting on the muscles.

She went to the kitchen and fetched herself a cup of tea. Leaving the pot full so she could offer some to the creature when it came down. She was slowly becoming nervous it would leave, run out the window or disappear. Its form was truly like the monsters in her novels, demonised giants of tremendous girth rampaging across the land to be slain by the noble knight to save lady and kingdom. Yet it had managed to defy the description, bering the form of the antagonists while porting the person of the protagonists. Her memories of the battle kept intruding, she saw those terrible eyes choking her, the sense of relief that washed over her when the the golem knocked back by the creature. At that moment she did not feel afraid of it, did not question why it was free, she was happy at that point to see it. It was something the creature had about it, a fury burning in its eyes, a concern, no fear.

She turned around and jumped, the creature was standing behind her with two towels neatly wrapped about its bulk. It was a normal thing to be without an outfit in equestria but she could not help feel slightly embarrassed by its presence. All the contours on the body had been neatly hidden by the old garments, now the form was visible, the cuts and bruises, missing clumps of its light fur coat only illustrating its struggle.

“My apologies Miss, I did not mean to startle you.There were only two towels.”

“Oh no it’s quite alright, you are already done?

“Indeed. Much needed thank you.”

“Would you like some tea?”

“No thank you.”

“I’ll drink from the same pot, and I will even go first.”

“You are learning.”

“It is not difficult, you are after all very paranoid.”

“Plain please.” She poured out a cup and offered it to the creature. It did not take it. “Why don’t you sip from my cup first Miss.”

“Is that not unsanitary?”

“I am not worried. Are you?”

She smiled and took a sip large enough to notice and made extra effort for the creature to hear her swallow the beverage. Without another word it took the cup and raised it high, “To paranoia.” They drank deeply enjoying the beverage, she could see it’s face soften.

“How are you feeling?”

“Much better thank you Miss. That bath of yours was refreshing. The tea is excellent and from what I glimpsed the outfit looks marvellous.”

“Would you like to come sit down while I finish?” The creature nodded and Rarity took her cup into the workstation. The creature followed carrying its cup with the hot teapot by its base, unflinching to the heat. It was remarkable to her when it took her empty cup and saucer in its left claw, and filled it three quarters full. Normally a hostess or a friend would perform the task for a guest but this was an unusual situation.

“Would you like sugar, milk?”

“How would you know where they are?”

“I watch and learn.”

“Thank you but today I would enjoy a plain cup.” It handed her the cup, taking one for itself. The monster did not sit but stood on the opposing side of her desk watching. She felt her energy returning and began to work again, the creature following her process, its head darting around trying to observe her movements.

“Why are you doing this?” She stopped working and focused on the creature feeling nervous now to find an adequate explanation, “I know you said it was to repay my service but I find that hard to believe. You are going through a lot of effort and risk for such a simple reason.”

“It is also fun for me. I have never made an outfit for a whatever like yourself. What are you exactly?” She returned to her work knowing the creature would no doubt try to deflect her inquiry.

“A mistake, not meant to be here, take your pick. Species on the other hand, I will avoid mentioning, as I said my kind are truly not meant for this land.”

“Why is that?”

“We are too destructive, excelling in combat and war.”

“Is that why you can fight so well?”

“You think I can fight well?”

“Well yes, after what we saw at the castle you certainly can.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, a real warrior would have not been touched.”

“You are too hard on yourself, Rainbow Dash is still upset you showed up the Wonderbolts.”

“The faction with the shields?”

“No, those were the royal guards, The wonderbolts have-” She stopped herself hesitating to say it.

“Wings.”

“Yes. She cannot believe you single hoofedly beat the whole changeling army!”

“Well they were far tougher than me, they stood their ground in an hopeless battle. Such loyalty to their cause is commendable, but we still haven’t answered why you are doing this...”

Its observation was correct, Raritys attempt to redirect it’s thought had failed. She could only imagine one reason would satisfy its curiosity. “You helped Pink Hair too.”

“Miss Fluttershy? Are you referring to that incident with her remedy?”

“Was it really as painful as what I saw tonight?”

“Today was nothing, that day though it was surprising. That level of pain I have never felt before.”

“Why did you ask them to pour it on the second arm?”

“Honestly? I did it for Miss Fluttershy. Imagine the worry and concern I saved her brewing a new remedy. I also had to show her the pain was not that bad, that I could take it. Such a display of weakness though was pathetic on my part.”

“It is not weak to seek the comfort of somepony, it shows courage.”

“Is she alright?”

“She’s more than fine darling. Your actions left quite an impression on her. From what she confided in me you did your best to comfort her. It has been bothering me why you would do that, after what you did to Twilight why would you care what happened to her?”

The creature sat in silence and Rarity tossed the completed top half to the side beginning on the leggings. Her accurate cuts and preparations brought the outfit quickly together. The clasps and velcro were not temperamental today, being easy to stitch.“There was a familiarity in her, I did it because she needed it. I don’t know how much she told you but when she held my head to her I could hear her heart beating, her rapid breathing, I could feel her tears falling. Despite all my actions she still cared enough to feel remorse when she caused me harm. Looking back that is the first time I felt remorse for my actions. My enemy was nothing more than a frightened young lady with the sweetest heart.”

Rarity was stunned, “You are strange.”

“I know. She earned my respect for her love that day. Such a heart does not deserve to suffer. Was she that shaken up?”

“She did not sleep that night. I stayed up with her and tried to pass the time.”

“I am sorry to have caused so much...distress.”

“Oh she is perfectly fine. I could invite her over if you like?”

“No other individuals please. Let us savour the moment alone.”

“You still don’t trust me...”

“I never regretted not trusting an individual.”

“Well I trust you. Even after all you did I honestly feel safe with you.”

“Now we both know that is a lie. I saw your panic earlier with your sister.”

“Well I suppose. Now though I don’t think you are the monster I thought you were. Your softer and kind. Like a teddy bear!”

“I will admit the metaphor is intriguing but the symbolism is offensive.”

“You are too serious,” she giggled, “I would like to check the fit, please try this on.” The creature wore the top, it served only to enhance the build. Every muscle and contour neatly covered, from the large chest to its robust stomach. As it flexed them and stretched she paid close attention to the stitching to see if it would hold. “Very nice Miss.”

“Very nice indeed, the bottom is almost done.”

“Take your time.”

As she stitched away at the shapes she glanced to the creature, quickly looking away to her hoof.

“Something wrong dear?”

“I cannot understand you.”

“Why whatever do you mean...?”

“You are the first one to here leave me confused. Your motives are unknown, you refuse to be honest and above all you effectively have me trapped here and have made no efforts to capture or imprison me.”

“Why are you so convinced I want to trap you?”

“It is what I would do. My enemy would not survive long enough to recover. Time is the worst thing you can give an enemy. It allows them to get stronger.”

“So you are stronger?”

“At the moment not really, better than at the spring though.”

“Well shall we say...you are not my enemy?” No reply came, “Well then, leggings if you please.”

It donned the garment, neatly slipping it under the towel to let it fall to the floor. It was as amusing as the colts whose mothers brought them in for fittings. It stretched once more and she enjoyed seeing the fabric neatly glide with every movement. This thing was fascinating to watch. Glancing to the clock she took pride seeing only a few hours had passed. She gestured to a full mirror and the creature examined the reflection.

“Perfect fit Miss Rarity, you even managed to hide the hindquarters!”

“Are we not a satisfied customer?”

“Not at all, we are very satisfied.” It walked up to its tattered bag and removed the contents to slide them into the new pouches on the arms and legs. A particularly beautiful amber sphere caught her attention and she picked it up holding it to look through to the dim light.

“What is this thing?”

“That Miss Rarity is a last resort. I will not bore you with the details but the stripped one tells me it will frighten off any attacker. I have...modified the structure though. It is very volatile so please be careful.” She cautiously returned it to the table and it quickly disappeared in the pouch. It searched around to be sure nothing was forgotten and sealed them all neatly. “What would you like to do with the old clothing. That fire looks inviting.”

“Oh no, I want to study it a little first.”

“If you want but there is a lot of blood there.”

“Some sort of stick then is required.” The creature chuckled at her comment. She looked down to the paws now, “Would one such as yourself consider the manufacture of shoes?”

“One might, one will be requiring one cup of tea though. Could one interest one such as yourself to partake in another?”

She giggled, “Not at the moment thank you.”

It quickly took another portion of tea and went to Rarity's workbench, “The station here is very neatly laid out, it will be no problem. Please stand back.” She did so and sat down eagerly to get a good view. The creature pulled out its knife and rested it on the table. It felt around the materials sometimes biting it and pulling to test its strength. Rarity was over its shoulder examining what it was doing, trying to maintain a respectful distance. It turned and beckoned her close, She reluctantly approached and winced as its claw came close to her face. She felt her glasses being gently lifted off and she sighed with relief.

“What a lovely coincidence,” It sported the pair now on its own snout, they were a rough fit but they did the job, “You and I have the same visual defect.”

“Really?” Rarity was normally embarrassed about her glasses but seeing this monster wear them made them seem less ridiculous on her.

“Almost, very slight difference. I like coincidences like this, nice ones that work out.”

“I didn’t realise you had problems.”

“Hardly a problem, but now I need precision.”

“What if they did not work?”

“I would have made something less elaborate than what I will do now.” It raised the arms and stretched out the claws like a conductor. Grasping the knife it began to cut the fabrics and stretch them across. Rarity had never seen the strange patterns and as more pieces were cut she became lost on how they would fit together. The knife was very sharp, gently slicing through he strongest of materials. An unsettling thought came if the armour of a soldier could withstand the piercing, she hoped that curiosity would never be answered. She could see the initial shape to fit over the form but as more and more smaller and strange components formed the puzzle became a mess to decipher. They were all neatly spaced out and Rarity was anxious to see it come together.

“As far as adhesive goes, what would you have to offer?”

“Well normally I would use a spell if I needed to join something.”

“No, magic will not do. I have something...” out of the arm pouch the creature pulled out a bag of small seedling plants. Taking one in the digits it gently squeezed out the contents in neat line placing the adjoining component on. The smell was strong, fading in moments when the solution dried. It grasped both ends tightly and pulled, the seal was very strong and it smiled satisfied with the work. Pushing the glasses back up the snout with a sniff, it took another seedling and proceeded to construct the shoe. To her amazement she could see the pieces stuck together very easily and tight. The level of detail was astounding, these creatures were far more complex with footwear than any pony. The arches and paws digits needed to be supported, the bones and claws had to be worked around. Rarity was now in the middle of an event, this creature was modest about its skill and she felt overjoyed to be able to see this craft from other lands. She tried to follow the blurred motions as the claws danced around the table, not a single digit was without use. They weaved around another and the form grew more apparent. Each layer falling on and making it seem more like she imagined.

The first shoe came together and it placed it neatly to the side. There was no lacing or straps, the shoe would fit the paw without problems and all the intricate weaves and shapes gave it a strong appearance. It finished the second and placed it in the centre of the table. Removing two small stones it rubbed them together and a spark set fire to them instantly. When the flash died down Rarity was amazed to see the areas where the sap was were now melded together. She came closer and it offered a shoe for her to see, replacing the glasses on her muzzle. The shoe was strong and sturdy while flexible and well protected. Holding this strange new thing she wondered how the creature had managed without it this far.

“Amazing.”

“Thank you, I have had time to perfect it.”

“Perhaps one day you could make some for me.”

“I would like that Miss Rarity. I would try now but I do not understand enough about your...hoof wear?”

“Close enough,” she giggled, “I think we have both had our fill of work tonight.”

“Very wise.”

“Try them on then!” she enthusiastically encouraged it.

It stood proudly sporting the shoes it had made, they were simple but effective, tightly packed and strong. It shook each leg and stomped on them testing their craftsmanship, it seemed happy. She could feel the thuds travel through her floor and had to laugh inside at the weight of the creature.

“How about a twirl dear?” The creature bowed and obliged in slowly rotating around, the outfit was complete, it looked every inch the creation she had envisioned. Perhaps it was time for another push.

“Its the most perfect outfit yet! A marvellous suit for a true warrior knight of the highest caliber. Strong, bold, subtle and daring you will ride to battle proudly!” Her fawning only seemed to embarrass the creature and it chuckled at her performance. It motioned to bow again but fell backwards to land with a crash that reverberated around the house. Rarity tried to withhold her laughter as is righted itself. It had fallen over a basket of fabric flowers and was trying to brush them off with little luck, the velcro on them sticking to the outfit. She tried but failed and laughed long at hard at its attempts to neaten itself. After her laughter eventually subsided she came to help it, forcing it to sit down and gently pulling the flowers loose.

“Sometimes force is not required. Have a little finesse.”

The creature looked embarrassed at its ridiculous accident, a stubborn grunt its only response. As she pulled each flower away she admired her fabric and the design. Overall it was simple yet marvellously made, already proving already it could survive a fall. She began to notice the creatures form differently now. It was hard to believe this was the same beast responsible for defeating the dark crystal army. It had proven itself thoughtful, patient and skilled this evening, not the vicious monster she once imagined snarling and spitting away in the cell. She had grown to empathise with its difficulty being thrust in a strange land with strange creatures and forced to fight for its survival. It would not be an ideal way to first see Equestria. The creature turned to her.

“I said are you alright Miss?”

“Sorry?”

“You’ve been silent for a while.”

“Oh. My apologies. I was lost in thought.”

“Miss Twilight again?”

“No. We have sorted that one out hopefully. I was actually thinking you may enjoy a tour of Equestria one day.”

“Ha! That I fear is wishful thinking. As soon as I am able I’m heading back to my land and I’m going to try to forget.”

“It hasn’t been all that bad here has it?” She went to the creatures other side to tackle the flowers there.

“Oh no, I loved my accommodations, very spacious. The food was excellent, my favourite flavour of bland. Oh, and lets not forget the delightful exercise I have had, my figure never looked more trim!”

Rarity laughed at its sarcasm, “Depends on how you look at it. Try it this way; you had the underground castle suite to yourself with a team of maids to tend to your every whim, you sampled some of the finest dietary food made, specially crafted with the hooves of the Canterlot Castle Chefs, you saved some damsels and a kingdom, earned a brand new uniform, and probably upset those poor wolves’ stomachs.”

The creature laughed at her spin on its complacency. “Besides you are forgetting my kind is too strange for this land.”

“Really? I find we are quite similar.”

“Oh yes. I’m very colourful and good natured. See my flowing locks and velvet coat cascading over my deep, big eyes.”

“So you think our coats are velvety?”

“Well...”

“And you like our flowing locks and deep eyes?” She stood in front of the creature watching it grow more embarrassed as time went on.

“Not really no.”

She giggled, “You can be good when it suits you. However what I meant is the similarities. For example we both come from different lands as you say, yet we can speak the same languages and write in the same manner. We have two eyes, two ears, a mouth.” She hesitated a moment but decided she needed to push a little more to convince this creature to see the beauty in Equestria and look past the unfriendly welcome, “We both have families and friends,” she reached down and took its claw resting the palm on her chest, “We both have hearts.” The claw widened and pressed against her coat, it was cold and rough, she felt very nervous and her heart beat faster. The creature placed its other claw on its own neck and was counting the beats out with a look of shock.

“Incredible.”

Rarity smiled as its claw drew away. “It is easier to find differences than to find things in common.” Something changed in the creature, it was drawing away quickly from her trying to close off. She was afraid the push was too much.

“Maybe some day...” The creature was more solemn, the good nature fading. It stood up quickly and cleared its throat, “Thank you Miss Rarity for a wonderful evening.”

It stepped into the living room and looked over at Sweetie Belle tucked neatly up against the wolf like her own pup, sleeping peacefully.

Rarity trotted over the couch and took a seat, placing her glasses on the side table and patting the space next to her. The creature did not move, there was a serene calm around them that evening and it was with a heavy heart she realised it would not last forever. Here she was, sitting next to the creature who just yesterday she hated for hurting her friend. It had chosen her, for whatever reason, to try to make its peace with them. She gazed proudly again at her work, it was truly one of her best creations, strong and subtle. Perhaps she would design for other creatures in Equestria, more business and more fun. The creature moved to the wolf.

“You could stay.” She found herself speaking words without forethought.

The creature pulled up the blanket for Sweetie Belle, she nuzzled it enjoying the warmth. It did not face her but sighed.

“Miss Rarity. I am afraid I cannot.” It spoke gently so as not to wake the filly.

“Why?”

“When morning comes, and it will, I will loose the cover of darkness. I cannot remain here.”

It had mentioned this before and while there was truth in what it said Rarity could not help feel that it was hiding behind an excuse. After all it had negotiated the town with ease earlier, although in a less than subtle manner.

“Why not leave early morning then?”

“It would not be as simple.”

“The guards would change then, it would still be dark. You could make it without difficulty. Not to mention the dangerous animals in the forest that are out now.”

“Perhaps, but I prefer certainties.” It tapped the wolf on the head and the ears flickered, but the head remained lying. “Besides, I have Crystal here.” The large purple beast opened its eyes looking up out of the corner of them to the creature. Ignoring it she closed them again and drifted back to sleep.

“It looks like she wants to stay.” Observed Rarity, “It would be no trouble, the couch is very comfortable, covered with the finest satin. A little cushion here and there and it could fit even you. The forest is very dangerous as you said. Would it not be safer to wait until the nighttime predators are gone?”

The creature shuddered a moment looking at its worn claws, most likely remembering the wolves. It had not responded immediately, and Rarity knew it was considering. It spoke to her but could not face her.

“Miss Rarity...” it began, “Do you remember what I told you all about my memory? Cognitive lapses with extreme aggression and loss of control.” she could remember the creatures description and claim to amnesia.

“That was the truth...” she said realising it for herself.

“I appreciate what you have done for me, even more what you are trying to do. These lapses, blackouts, I don’t know what happens then but I loose control. I don’t expect you to believe me, but I cannot stay here.” It paused a moment and Rarity thought about how observant the creature was. It was insightful and intelligent yet it could not see the truth about this evening they had together. “If I fall asleep here, it could happen again.”

There was a dark truth in the creatures words. This whole time it was afraid to go to sleep, not to protect itself, but her and Sweetie Belle.

“If it does happen again, I could not allow it to hurt any...pony else. You and your sister have been kind to me today, I will not see it end...badly as long as I have that control. No...pony deserves that.” Rarity smiled as it tried to reference their language again. The monster from Canterlot castle was afraid of itself.

“I don’t believe it shall be a problem,” she said confidently. The creature looked at her confused and she knew she was close to reaching her goal. “Would it not be nice to sleep somewhere safe for just one night?”

“It is always safe for me. Not for those near me.”

“What about Crystal?”

“She can take care of herself.”

“Also you.” the monster looked at the wolf again, it had fallen back into sleep and was breathing deep and slow.

“She does.”

“I do not see a reason to not allow you to stay.” The creature clearly wanted to speak but it quickly pursed its lips to subdue whichever thought wanted to climb to the surface. “Besides, I have Crystal.” she teased and was happy to see the creature smile, even if it was slightly. It walked over growing larger with each step. It kneeled beside her place on the seat, so close to her she could smell the salts from her bath.

“May I have your...hoof please?” She hesitated but gently placed it in its extended claw. Now was the moment to show she trusted it enough. It pulled her gently closer, resting her hoof on the centre of its chest, to her horror there was no beat. It slid her hoof to her right and looked into her eyes. She was transfixed in them, now feeling the gentle rhythms of its own heart. Its gaze was hardened and there was no trace of a smile.

“Here,” it said flatly, “Remember where your hoof is.”

She glanced down at the place seeing its claw tightly wrapped around her hoof, squeezing it, trembling. It turned her hoof over so it was open and drew its blade. Rarity resisted the overwhelming temptation to scream and recoil. She was unprepared though as the creature rested the cracked hilt in it.

“I can’t explain why I trust you, but I am so tired. Listen very carefully, I do not care if you refuse to believe that I have lapses, I do not care what you are trying to achieve tonight. If I am to stay here, if Crystal at any point begins to growl at me, you will use this, for you will only get one chance. Do you understand?”

Rarity froze, it had just shared with her the weakness. With so few words it showed her where to strike to protect herself. Maybe it was the intoxicating aroma of the bath salts, the tea or the surreal night she had, but she could not see a monster kneeling before her anymore.

“You...must be joking.”

“If I stay you must be ready. Can I entrust you with this?”

“I cannot.”

“Then I cannot. Not if it means you or your sister will be hurt.”

The creature motioned to rise but Raritys other hoof clasped around its claw. She could not understand why she had moved, nor could she think of the right words to say. She nodded and took the knife slowly. It was very cold and heavy, the crude design strangely comfortable to hold. It rested on the side table and she hoped with all her heart it would stay there.

“Thank you my friend.” Rarity nearly teared up, she had won.

The creature rose and sat slowly on the other end of the couch, its bulk once again causing the furniture to groan complacently as it settled itself into a comfortable seating position. Rarity fetched some cushions and tossed them to the creature. It placed one behind its head and another under its knee. “Promotes circulation,” it explained answering Rarities confusion.

She shifted in her place on the couch, looking at the warm fire as it crackled gently in the eve. The creature exhaled a deep breath and rested its eyes. Its bizarre complexion softening. Rarity looked over at the knife again as the flames image danced around in the clear body. She felt the evening was incomplete in some way, missing a part she could not explain. Missing one more push. Operating on instinct, looking away from the creature, she quickly slid across the couch and leaned on the soft hide.

“Miss Rarity...what are you doing?”

“If I am going to watch you I would rather be here.”

“The knife is not in reach.”

“Do not worry about that, I am safe and so are you.”

She reached over and hugged it tightly squeezing it for all she could. It was too tired to fight back and slumped a little in its place. At this space the creature was less intimidating. It felt smaller without its full height, more inviting and friendly.

“Could you not do that please.”

“No.”

“Excuse me?”

“No.”

“Perhaps I haven’t made it clear-”

“You want me to watch you right?”

“...Right...”

“Well my teddy is upstairs. I cannot sleep without her, she is so soft and warm. Since you are too, you will have to do instead.”

She used her magic to bring a blanket over to cover herself and the creatures legs, tucking it smoothly around the edge. She allowed her cheek to sink against the smooth fabric of its new outfit smiling and nuzzling the soft belly. She wanted more than anything to tell this creature how it did not need to feel so sad all the time. She felt pride in having seen its confidence and perspective grow so quickly that night before her. Instead she chose to remain silent feeling one of its claws gently rest on her back. They sat in silence staring at the fire as it faded.

The creature chuckled and shook her slightly, “Warm and soft... I hate that.”

“I know.” she replied bluntly, closing her eyes. There was still a nagging question in her mind, something it said to her in the springs. She had pushed a lot today, another could be too much.

“Are you alright Miss Rarity?”

“Hmm?”

“Your breathing is a little erratic. Is it still disturbing you that I am here?”

“Not as such.”

“I am still having trouble believing it.”

She giggled and decided on one more push, “We have talked a lot today.”

“Sorry.”

“No. It was nice. Dare I ask my teddy one more question?”

“Please do not call me that, you have me pinned so go ahead.”

“At the spring you said you’ve seen that look before.”

“Which one?”

“The one I had before...well.”

“Miss Rarity you tread on very unstable ground now.”

“You would deny me any clarity?”

“Alright. Let me say this, then you can decide if you want to hear the whole thing. The last time I saw that look the individual was not as fortunate as you.”

She felt slightly guilty now, “Its okay then. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, they went out fighting.”

She felt fatigue settle on her with the warmth of the creature. Truly it had been a strange day. She felt hopeful for the future, for Twilight and the creature, entertaining the notion that she could convince it to stay longer and meet her friends. It could maybe talk to Twilight and help her as it had her. The thoughts became slurred and visions cavorted with sounds in her mind. The creature began to breathe deeply and she relaxed feeling the warm breath sweep over her. Then sleep came at long last.

15 Come Get Me

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15

Rarity was dreaming of laying atop a shaded cloud watching down over Ponyville, she could see her friends in their homes, feel the warmth of the could under her, hear the gentle rhythms of the town below. It was one of her more peaceful ones.

“I always do enjoy your dreams.” Rarity was startled by the midnight blue alicorn next to her. She wore the black crown and crest of the princess of the night, sported a semi moon cutie mark and a mane and tail that gently flowed with a life of its own.

“Princess Luna?” Rarity shot up rigid at the sight of her.

“Greetings to you Rarity, Element of Generosity, I trust you are enjoying your dream?” Luna did not stand but rolled to her back and closed her eyes.

“Umm...yes thank you. To what do I owe this honour Princess?”

“Can a princess not visit her subjects?”

“Not at all. How may I be of service?”

“Well your dream is what I take interest in...considering what you lay on in the real world.”

“Well one does require the finest of beds after all for her beauty sleep.” Luna stood up and shook her mane back holding her hoof to her height.

“Your bed about yay high, very aggressive, sweet disposition when it wants to have one, need I go on?” Luna raised her right brow and peered at the nervous Rarity, “Two legs, light fur coat, one would consider it a little difficult to miss. Hardly a suitable bed.”

“Oh, you mean Crystal? She’s a friend you see-”

“Rarity...you would not lie to your princess would you?”

“Well one must consider the pre tense of the lie, I find it...” she trailed off seeing luna grin sceptically, “I know it is wrong Princess...I just do not know. I ask for your forgiveness.” she bowed and dared not look up. She saw Lunas hooves stop in font of her.

“Rarity. The beast with whom you lay, I do not see it as an enemy. You ask forgiveness for nothing. Please,” she tapped Rarities chin and the nervous pony looked up.

“Princess, why did you save it? I mean after everything it did...”

“It suffers greatly Rarity. I know that suffering.”

“Does it speak the truth about its condition?”

“I believe if it does we cannot ignore the possibility. For now though I wanted to personally say how proud I am of you, truly the spirit of generosity.”

“Thank you Princess,” she bowed briefly. Rarity was hesitant now, she wanted to know what this ‘suffering’ was, this individual who was ‘not as fortunate’.

“I sense you want to know,” she chuckled seeing Rarities face, “You forget your princess is observant.”

“I do not know Princess. Is this something it should not tell me?”

Luna sighed, “Would you like to know what changed my mind about it?” Rarity nodded, “Fluttershy had shown me it was not as heartless as I thought. However it was that something, that it dreamt that very night, which altered my perspective. I tell you this Rarity because it will not. It will never speak of it, the wound is too fresh. The loss was but season before it came here,” Luna stared out into the expanse of the dreamworld they floated above, “It suffers...”

Rarity did not know what she should say to this, a season was not a long time. For her to imagine losing anypony, no amount of time could be enough. Her curiosity was edging onwards. If it wanted her to know, then it would surely say something. She usually loved peering into the hidden world of ponies, all the gossip and scandal kept behind closed doors. This time was different though, “Princess, I do not want anypony but it to tell me.”

Princess Luna seemed stunned, “That is...surprising.”

“It called me its friend Princess, I shall respect that. If it wants to say something then it will, but I must hear it from my friend.”

“You embarrass your princess,” Luna chuckled.

“It is your duty to see into the dreams of others, it is not mine Princess. Should I ever learn of it, then I will from my friend.”

Luna bowed to Rarity, the shocked mare could not believe it, “I am proud of you Rarity, I shall leave you to your sleep and your monster. Dream sweetly my little pony.”

*

Rarity slowly woke to a nudge from the creatures claw resting on her. She felt the tenderness as it gently run over her coat, the tips stroking at the shape. She was momentarily worried but a quick glance to Crystal belayed her suspicion. They had changed positions, now she was as in the dream. It had moved to lay its back on the couch with one leg raised and the other still on the floor, her atop it not disturbing the gentle breathing.

She was feeling very hot, looking up she saw the creatures head over hers, still resting but sweating. The smell of her salts seeped through and masked any unpleasant odours that might have come. She sat up as the claw pressed harder down, its breathing was erratic and rough as it tried to speak out to whatever phantom plagued its mind. She reached out with her hoof to its forehead but hesitated. She glimpsed back seeing the knife was untouched, the blade glinting in the moonlight. Sweetie Belle was still resting on the sleeping wolf, tucked around her now in a ball. The fire had extinguished and the moons rays drew her attention to Crystal and how she glimmered so beautifully in the eve, the purple hue now faded. A quick groan from the creature seemed to push her forward and she touched its head. Nothing as she expected happened, the breathing eased and the muscles relaxed from their tension.

As she stroked the hair back its breath became level, her bobbing up and down with the inhalations. What the creature had said made her nervous but she did not imagine it was as dangerous as it believed, Crystal would protect them if the story was true. The fur was remarkably soft owing to the bath and fell smoothly in place, short but not bristled. She caught herself stroking the cheek, still without any fur after the ten second remedy. She lay back to the creatures body adjusting the blanket to shield from the cold night, and its claw fell still again.

Seeing it under her now in the moonlight she could only smile. It was a monster but it was not, she wanted to believe its story now. Instead of sleeping in, she would wake up early and try to give it something more edible than those awful spiders. Her heart was beating quickly from the fright but eased as she nestled her cheek and slowly drifted off again.

*

“Hey gals, I said it’s awake!”

Opening its eyes to a familiar pink phantom darting away, the monster stirred from its sleep. To its surprise it was already standing. Now feeling the weight of yesterdays wounds and a pressure on its chest, it staggered for balance. It held the cheek, that was all real. All that had happened was real. It spun to the movement of the phantom slowly emerging from the workshop room. It was accompanied by a familiar sight, the same ones who challenged it in the cell. Absorbing the scene it quickly focused on the one in the middle, the alicorn it had supposedly hurt. She stood proudly bearing that crown with a scowl, it had fallen into the trap. It looked to the side table but the knife was gone, reaching to the sheath it was relieved to grasp the splintered hilt. A feeling of dread overcame it as it looked around the room. The floor had been badly scratched, there were scattered chunks of some sort of serving platter but there was no sign of the Miss Rarity. Closer inspection revealed no traces of her, no blood, nothing. It turned around to the couch where her sister was, the child was petrified. Now it did not care for the five behind it, nothing mattered aside her sister and her. It turned to the five.

“Where is she!?”

Applejack could not believe what she was seeing. The monster was in Rarity’s home, it was a contrast against the scale of the situation. She could not figure out how it got here, or what it was doing. Upon seeing her though its expression softened.

“Did I...walk?”

“No,” Applejack replied, “She’s alright.” It exhaled, breathing sharp and narrow as though it was in shock. The tension in its body faded but the eyes hardened.

“Applejack do not talk to it. It lies. It will trick you. Remember what Princess Celestia said.”

“Twilight you need to ease up a little, don’t go provoking it into a fight.”

“You are not going to escape this time. You will answer for the crimes against the Princesses. Your not so little dog may have escaped but you will not be so lucky. I ask you to surrender now and peacefully return to Canterlot.” Applejack saw it in her eyes, she did not want it to surrender.

“I implore you, do not fight it Twilight!” Rarity trotted up by Twilight, her mascara steaks still showing. Applejack did not understand why she had been crying, but when they arrived it was only in time to see the rear of Crystal smash through the back door.

Rarity had been standing by the monster, her trembling hooves holding its blade high. She collapsed seeing them and let it clatter to the floor. They rushed to her and took her into the next room while Pinkie Pie waited for it to move. She had found it hard to believe all the noise did not wake it. Rarity was in a dazed shock, she could barely speak. The unmoving beast to Applejack was terrifying, the blade did not show an signs that Rarity had used it but she came close.

“I don’t want to fight it.” From Twilight’s tone the truth was very different, “I don’t know what you did to Rarity but we will repair any damage you caused.”

The scene played out as it examined the room again. Crystal had tried to wake it, the pain on its chest was that of the pressure. She had failed and darted out the room through the back, the scarred flooring showing her path. It was a light sleeper and there was only one way this much could have happened without waking it. Miss Rarity was a fool to not use the knife. Crystal had not try to wake it, she tried to hold it down. There had been a close call only the day before yesterday with Applejack, for Crystal to have physically confronted it though, it had lost control moments ago. That was too close a call for comfort.

“I said surrender now monster, or don’t.”

The grimace that peered at them chilled their bones. As it drew its blade the beast moved to step back out into the dawn. Twilights horn immediately shot out a bolt of lightning. It was confusing as the monster stepped forward into its arc, taking the full force of the impact. Twilights confidence failed then as it appeared unharmed, no scaring no shaking, it seemed to roll of the monster to connect to a light fixture and short out the socket. It fell back against the frame holding its weight on the wall. It had not been hurt by the magic, she had not succeeded. It stood again taking a deep breath and buried the knife in the wall. Twilight shot another bolt out but it did not connect. an insulator under its paws and a ground, very clever.

“I surrender...please stop.”

She nearly froze as its eyes settled on her again, there was something new in them that chilled her soul. It moved to step forward but a mumble from Sweetie Belle halted its advance. “Teddy?”

Twilights heart stopped beating realising what had just happened. It was beyond luck the brute was in the way, on a normal pony that would have been a very different outcome. As the claw lumbered over the little face her anger rose. It had seen her shock, it knew it had the advantage. The little filly next to it looked at the blade it held before her. To Twilight’s confusion it sheathed it and stood tall once more. Rarity let out sigh of relief. The face sunk and all trace of hostility vanished as it pulled the blanket up a little and stroked the filly’s mane.

“It’s alright little one. Be still ad silent, okay?” The filly nodded looking up with her mouth hung open.

“Coward!” Twilight had to restrain herself seeing it by the filly.

“Well done Miss Rarity, that was an ingenious tactic.”

“I-”

“To lure me here! See me trapped as I feared. You took advantage of me, pretending to provide shelter, humouring me with this little outfit and your ridiculous stories. No doubt your ‘princess’ here orchestrated the entire thing. I do not know how you scared my hound away, but I am not helpless without it.”

“I didn’t-”

“Neither did I,” its aggression grew with each word, “Not one thing was sincere, I realise this now. As if you would truly be that foolish to risk your family and friendship over some beast.” It pointed to Twilight, “I saw the message you tried to send to her. My only regret was not tearing you apart and feeding you to the fire, as I did it.” Rarity was confused, there was no note, she would never do that. All her work was falling apart now, each push and careful weave unravelling before her.

“What note Rarity?”

The monster spoke, “Come quickly Twilight, have monster, bring help.” Rarity realised what it was doing, it was not a wise decision but the action was profoundly selfless. “Did you send more than one? How did they find me?”

“Lets be honest here, you don’t exactly blend in. I mean how long did you think it would take? Why didn’t you just wear a big sign?” Rainbow Dash mocked it.

“Such bravado Blue. This time I am not restrained.”

Twilight seemed stunned, “Good job Rarity, I knew you were savvy but this is impressive.”

“And now it would appear you have me trapped. Shame your little flicker did not work, were you pivoting your success on that display? Pathetic.” Twilight stomped her hoof and her crown glowed, “Ah yes, your little trinket. By all means, what is the life of a child to one such as yourself.” That wicked grin returned, that cruel toothed curl of its mouth. Rarity did not like this but she understood the point it was tying to make. It seemed to be working. She wanted to say something to stop this but she did not know where to begin.

“Now hold on just one apple picking minute here. We don’t want no filly getting hurt, so you just run along out the back now. You understand?”

“I’m afraid that would be difficult through you all. Now I will step out slowly, do not try anything or it will end...tragically.”

Twilight was clearly infuriated at its smug satisfaction. Rarity saw though that as it stepped out she, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie all smiled. It slowly retreated to the street keeping focus on the surroundings. Twilight gently cantered out through the doorway, wiping the monsters wicked grin away with her own and Raising her hoof high.

“Now!” As it turned to flee the monster was floored by a charging guard from nowhere who quickly wrapped a rope around the leg and dragged it down not allowing it to stand. More guards appeared from thin air wielding ropes and chains and they set about bonding the creature. It was a sight to see this beast struggle. One guard was too slow and it grasped the rope, a sharp tug forcing the soldier to release.

Rarity stood watching this, her body was numb. Moments ago she nearly was forced to strike, if not for Crystal...she did not want to think about it. It would fight now to be free, she had lost everything she worked for. Those cruel eyes held such malice as they saw her.

The scene was chaos with a host of pegasus soldiers surrounding the creature tying it down and holding on for all they were worth. “Don’t give it a moment to breathe!” the captain shouted as they threw rope after the next on top. It struggled furiously spitting and tearing at the bonds. It tried to lunge at them but the opposing side kept it in the middle. It reached for the blade but a shot from Twilights crown threw it to its back. This time it did hurt the creature, to her satisfaction. It rolled over and struggled to rise but she fired another at the leg buckling it instantly. It roared out in anger, the strength fighting the soldiers.

“Twilight, you must stop this!”

Twilight simply looked on past Rarity without a word between them, Rarity was shocked at the change in her. She looked to her friends for support and saw Sweetie Belle emerge to see the chaos. She galloped forward and took the filly inside, shielding her from the scene.

“What are they doing?!” screamed Sweetie Belle trying to see past her.

“Don’t look!”

“Their hurting it, make them stop! Tell them it’s not bad Rarity!”

Rarity tried so soothe the confused filly while the creatures screams grew more faint with every passing second. She could feel it hitting the ground through her hooves, its colossal form shaking the earth as it tried to break free. More guards had arrived and were throwing all manner of restraints on it, more bonds and straps to hold it. Some in the back had a chain with a large clasp, it was meant to hold its head. Applejack and Fluttershy looked to each other, they could not bear what was happening. The creature kicked up dirt and dust against the tide of guards but it was no match for them, they left no chance for it to reach them, pulling from all directions on arms and legs, crippling its stance and limiting its leverage. It powered itself upwards against all the force, an incredible sight to the ponies. Twilight fired on the same spot on its leg, again it fell. Applejack saw the fresh garment was burned open now, the light fur coat was gone and the underlying skin was bleeding from the impact.

“Twilight...”

“I wont let that monster hurt anypony else again Applejack.” Her tone was cold, she still felt the sting of the creatures words that night in the cell. Some of the nearby residents had come to see what the commotion was all about and watched the monster being subdued, cheering on the guards as they fought hard against it. It had fallen silent now, still under the layers of rope that held it. It did not seem tired. The guards with the chain motioned to it but hesitated when it pulled again loosening a rope. Its eyes were fixed on Rarity through the doorway who held Sweetie Belle tightly. On its knees now it called to her amidst a laughter that rang out silencing the cheers. It was cold and hollow.

“Well done!”

“Please don’t fight!” she called back trying to ease the fury, no longer knowing who she was trying to protect, the guards or the monster.

It fell still and the mist around it swirled in the air. The ground where it stood was torn from its struggles, the beautiful flowers and grass now deep gashes. It suddenly fell silent and lowered its head, the same position as it was in the cell. The smell of dew and fresh earth mingled with the chaos mocked Rarities hopes for what the day might have brought. It all became chaotic so quickly, she could scarce believe last night ever happened.

She had awoken to the morning chirping of the birds feeling fresh and happy. It was already daylight but she did not worry. This made convincing it to stay all the easier. She had taken a few minutes to quickly put her morning face on and set about preparing a quick feast for her guests and sister. As she brought the platter to allow the smell to wake them up, she was startled to see Crystal holding the monster down. It did not move but she was growling. Rarity had dropped the platter and reached for the knife. Crystal made no effort to stop her. She held it high, tearing up and ready to strike but her strength was failing. She couldn’t do it.

She laughed through a sob, relieved when Crystal stopped and licked the face. It did not wake up but it was no longer necessary to strike. Crystal looked to the front door and in as instant she spun about and crashed through the back, in time for Twilight and her friends to crash through the front door. She dropped the blade then and without a word they quickly took her to the back where she tried to regain her composure and tell them the wonderful news. She wanted to explain the previous night and what she had learned about this strange creature. Their moments where it laughed and told her the pain it had felt, the bleeding snout, the lapses. She could not begin however as Pinkie subtly observed the creature stirring from its sleep. She had felt terrified when it drew its blade no more than a few hoofs from Sweetie Belle, her sister paralysed with shock on the couch. This monster had seen the young pony and the terror she felt. She had not expected Twilight to fire on it, endangering the filly. From where she stood though she saw it step in front of Sweetie and take that impact. It was no monster. She was terrified now, not for her or the guards, but to loose this trust the creature had placed in her. It had left itself completely vulnerable to her, soul and body, sharing its secrets and self. Now here it was, held down as some wild animal.

The creature let out a long, loud howl which echoed across the town. All the cheers and shouts were silenced by the sound. It sent shivers up Raritys spine and she felt the hair in her mane and coat rise. Crystal.

“Hurry up and clamp it!” the captain barked and the guards moved forwards with the open shackle. Before they could secure it, a massive wolf broke into their ranks tearing the ropes on the left side. The creature smoothly unsheathed the small blade and sliced free of the bonds, each time moving more violently to be free again. The wolf danced around with agility knocking the guards over quickly and breaking off in a dash through the town nearby. The captain pony leapt high avoiding it only to see the creature was throwing off the loosened loops on it.

Twilight was shocked and could not react, the sight of the Crystal no doubt surprising her. Sieving its advantage, the creature spun around and ran after the wolf, the guards clambering to their hooves dazed from what had happened.

“After it!” The creature neatly sheathed its blade breaking into speed to get away from the pursuers. Rarity was relieved and thought she heard a combined sigh from Applejack and Fluttershy. Despite her relief she was worried, it was heading straight through Ponyville market, where the residents were fleeing.

“Not this time!” Rainbow dash chased after it and her friends tried to follow, unable to keep up with her speed. She threw her elements magic at the leg but the beam harmlessly rolled off. “What!? How come Twilights worked?” She flew higher to see the monster close behind the wolf, leading it in a straight line to the Everfree Forest through Ponyville. She scanned the area for something to halt its advance, even change its course and to her relief a cart of apples in the distance was being brought by Big Mac into town. It’ll have to do. She raced far in front of the monster and tipped the cart sending the apples rolling across the cobblestone surface.

“Hey!”

“Sorry Mac.” She waited for the monster but it was not slowing down. Its steps were as beating drums as the paw went straight down on one of the apples, crushing it to pulp. “Oh for ponies sake!” It charged to her and she flew up quickly to avoid it. She knew then she was still afraid, that grip never truly released from her that day. Such anger rose at that point seeing that arrogant stride as it charged away. It was not fast but it was a monster. She was tired of being afraid and she bolted to it, seeing her mark in the centre of its back. She flew faster to it, feeling the sonic rainboom nearly reach. The impact was painful for her, it felt as though she had hit a solid oak tree. All was blurred as she rolled with it to a halt, a great pressure around her neck. As her senses regained she was horrified to find herself in its grasp again, the exact same trick as the arm coiled around her neck. She felt its heated breath over her mane it is panted.

“Blue you are persistent. Cease this foolishness, you cannot win.” She was terrified now, it was going to take her wings. She wouldn’t let it. Many a time had she thought about this moment and what went wrong. A Wonderbolt needed to act and react, so she reacted. She forced her lower legs upwards with all her might and kicked it square in the face. It did not release but tightened so she did it again, on the third it released and she was proud to roll away to her hooves and see it grasp the face in pain. It slowly rose to her smiling and performed a slight bow. She waited for some witty taunt but it charged to her. She dived back as its fist thundered into the ground where she stood, the impact was loud and clear, echoing in the deserted street. It grinned and she felt her eyes widen with the shock. This was something she could not fight the normal way. It was time for, as Rarity would say, a little finesse.

“Rainbow!” her eyes did not avert from the monsters.

“I got this Twilight.” Her friends had caught up now but halted to the scene as the two faced off. She sized it up as it stood tall before her, the claw cracking as it stretched it out. She took in every shape and contour that it could use on her, anything that could strike or block. Minotaurs were slower than this thing, that would not work. Dragons were balanced differently. This was an adaptive situation, she would have to explore this body and see how it operated before she could subdue it. The grimace was no longer amused by this intervention. Its eyes were darting around her as well, paying special attention to her wings once more. The ponies around were hiding in homes or under their stands. She thought one thing to build her courage, I am a Wonderbolt.

With a jolt she dashed forward to it darting to the side to avoid an uppercut, it spun neatly around to meet her kick, grabbing the back hoof and pivoting her over its shoulder trying to send her to the ground. She twisted to let her three free legs take the impact. Her trapped leg was in pain from the torsion but she was still standing. She kicked out to pull it free and spun forward under an overhead throw to kick to the midsection. It grunted with the impact but quickly swung around forcing her to throw herself in a backward flip to safety.

“GO RAINBOW!” an enthusiastic Pinkie Pie called out, “KICK ITS BIG BUT!”

She smiled confidently as the monster growled in anger and came to her now, she danced around it and tried to send a shot to the head. This proved to be a bad idea as it spun to brush her hoof to the side and let the other arm swing around to roughly catch her throat in its claw. She could not reach it as the grip tightened. A flash of light and she felt the claw release. She looked to Twilight, who had used her element of magic again. There was a line of soldiers with her now, Rainbow was glad they were not down here. The monster thrived in a chaotic battle but apparently not as well in a controlled duel. It held it arm as steam lifted off the impacted area. Rainbow knew it by the way its eyes darted between her and Twilight, it was afraid. The monster pulled away into a run and she flew at the beast. It seemed to twist away but caught her as it spun into an uppercut. She felt the blow on her side but recovered to land on her hooves. The monster raised its arm and a light flew over her to throw back a few paces, steam rising from the area.

It appeared to hear something and stood tall, smiling. Rainbow’s confusion was quickly interrupted as a large object collided with her, she tried to move but a tremendous pressure on her chest held her down. Her heart stopped to see large glass teeth bearing at her, with the scent of stale mulbleberry. A flash of light to the wolf did nothing, as the golems it deflected the magic to have to take apart a newly built cherry stand nearby. Darn it Twilight!

Rainbow heard the creatures heavy steps pull away, with a quick call the wolf pushed off her and ran after the creature. She sat up and amazingly the wolf disappeared before her eyes. Twilight fired another magic bolt to the monster but it kicked off to push to the side and disappear in an alleyway, a chorus of screaming ponies as it ran past them.

Rainbow Saw Twilight fly after it with the soldiers and felt somepony’s hooves on her shoulders.

“You alright Rainbow?”

“Fine Applejack.” She took off again ignoring the ache on her chest, racing ahead to stop the rampage. Screams of panic sounded as ponies scattered about trying to hide wherever they could, in barrels, alleys, their homes. Rainbow was caught in the panic helping those who were nearly crushed by falling stands or loose carts. She saw the monster turn wide, not to avoid any obstacles but to shoulder charge a cart tipping over and in the process accidentally save the pony that would have otherwise been caught underneath.

The beasts pacing was sure and fast, dashing to the centre successfully dodging the guards as they swooped down trying to fell it. It made for a fountain and leapt clear past it dragging its paws in the waters and cleaning the apple residue from them. Grabbing a hanging sheet from a washing line it abruptly stopped and spun on its heel to let it blanket the three pegasus guards close after it. They tangled in a mess, flying straight into a stand of vegetables effectively ruining the white sheet.

It continued through an alley forcing the guards to fly higher, Twilight choosing to dive through after it. Rainbow Dash was impressed with her flying prowess, she was never this good during practice. Apparently all her friend needed was some motivation. It turned a sharp corner but Twilight pulled up expecting it to meet her there, it was not foolish. She rose to the rooftops to search for it on the corner. Sure enough it was ready for her. Seeing her having avoided the trap though, it broke into a run over the bridge to her barrier. Her smile of content instantly faded as it pulled through it unaffected. She had spent many hours creating that one, and it merely strolled though to be immersed by the forest foliage. The guards could not see past the dense foliage and were forced to fly under the tree line. They crashed through branches and leaves getting closer to the monster, but as the foliage grew denser they could not keep pace. Landing, they followed on hoof after it, Rainbow Dash and Twilight leading them.

Fluttershy had galloped along with her friends after the creature. As they passed though the town the damage was extensive, she couldn’t believe it done all this. She could see the birds taking flight in the forest trying to escape the creature as it barrelled through. Fluttershy was torn at this point, both happy see it was still alive but sad this was happening. It did not fight though, It had seen her concern and it did not hurt the soldiers. Rainbow Dash was tough but it was clearly trying to scare her off. If it wanted to fight her it would have crushed her the same way it did the golems head back on that day. At the moment she was surprised Applejack and Rarity were relived when it broke free. She knew Rarity very well though, her friend would never do something this sneaky. She would have to ask her about it later but for now they needed to get to the creature before something happened.

Something strange was going on with the soldiers, Twilight noticed the further they went the fewer there were. Some tripped on branches or were caught in vines, their force was dwindling in this pursuit. She could follow the monsters trail easily though with swaying leaves, torn plants and its unusually uniform paw print. They broke to a clearing and Rainbow Dash flew up to gain a better view. Twilight looked around, there were no more soldiers. This was not the forest, the monster had done something and she began to fear the worst. Fluttershy, Applejack, Rarity and Pinkie Pie emerged from the foliage to her relief.

“Where are the soldiers?”

“They’ve been caught up in some kind of netting Twilight.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t get it either, but they’re caught pretty good.” Applejack was not panicking with the news. This meant the soldiers were alright and Twilight exhaled with relief, looking to Rainbow Dash high up in the sky. She could not understand it, they had already searched this area but there was no sign of the monster, unless it came back after they were done, very clever. A gasp from Rarity made her look around to where her friend was staring,

“Rarity?” There was nothing there. A movement caught her eye and the the shape of the monster became clear, the new garments it wore hid it nicely amongst the trees and shadows. Twilight had to laugh to herself, Only Rarity could get this carried away to make such a perfect outfit.

“Go!” the monster yelled out turning sharply to avoid them. It ran through more dense foliage neatly tucking through, barely slowing. They all went after it, Twilight parting the brush with her magic. She was so close to getting her wish and Princess Celestia’s answers. The tree’s branches and plants seemed to grow thicker as if trying to slow their momentum. She pushed through, nothing would stop her.

They skidded abruptly to a halt at a break in the foliage. The monster now stood on the edge of a cliff face overlooking an expanse of the Everfree Forest. It turned slowly to them, Twilight could see it was breathing heavily and its head was glistening with sweat. Rarity looked at the outfit and saw no scratches or tearing from the trees and bushes, only the burnt parts from Twilights magic. She was proud of her creation for withstanding such abuse, it already proved better than those old rags it had. She was heartbroken though seeing her friend this badly injured and teetering on the edge of a fall. This area looked familiar to her but she could not remember why.

The creatures mouth was open breathing heavily, the pursuit had made it tired. It took a step back closer to the edge. Twilight had the idea to push, but she knew Princess Celestia would not want her pupil to do that. She would want to see her bring the monster back to Canterlot, to revel in the victory of banishing it back to where it came from. If not that then to place it back in that cell until they knew enough about it. A thought occurred to her though, Then what?

The monster stood straight and tall on the edge, its breathing returning to resting state. From here Twilight saw its expression change, it just had an idea.

“Hold on now,” Applejack called to it, “No need to go do something drastic.”

“Besides, in case you hadn’t noticed, we can fly!” Rainbow added hovering above Twilight and Fluttershy. The creature smiled and closed its eyes.

“Then come get me,” and it fell back off the cliff disappearing from view.

16 Wings And Whistling

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16

Time held still for the ponies, all seemed to be unreal at this moment. “NO!” Applejack and Rarity rushed to the edge while Rainbow Dash and Twilight sped over after the monster with Fluttershy close behind. Twilight could not see the monster, she did not realise they had held still for that long. She flew down, having trouble keeping up with Rainbow Dash. Something in her mind clicked at that moment. She had seen that smile before. It was the one the monster wore when it had broken Sombra, it was that look it gave Chrysalis before it...

“Rainbow, Fluttershy, WAIT!” Twilight spread her wings and held out her foreleg to halt Fluttershy with rough bump. Rainbow Dash however pushed on to catch the falling monster, she searched for any flicker desperately but could not see it past the-

“MOREROCK EEL!” She beat down her wings hard to pull up fast only to narrowly avoid the jaws of a second behind her. Its head crashed into her with a crack, the needle like teeth scraping past to send her flying. She tried to recover but pain shot through her wing and the most horrible feeling hit her, she could not fly. Another eel shot out grabbing her in its jaws, she stretched out with all her might to catch the pallet in her fore hooves and hold the mouth open. The large eel began flailing violently against the others, fighting to keep its catch. The world outside shook as violently as the snaps of more eels echoed about. She heard her friends screaming and saw flashed of light as she held on with all her strength. She could feel her legs begging to grow weak under the enormous pressure of the serpents jaw, the horrible smell from inside it making her dizzy and sick as she struggled to keep herself alive. She could not scream for help, afraid the drop in pressure would cause her to buckle.

“RAINBOW!” Twilight screamed as the eel that held her thrashed about. She was terrified it would pull back in and take Rainbow forever but the clumsy attempts of the others to steal its catch kept it distracted as it twisted around to keep her. Twilight could see it from here, Rainbow was caught holding open the jaws. She tried to cast a her element but it refused to function. A feeling of dread set in realising what a strain it had taken been used on the monster, she cursed that beast. Darn it twilight!

She was pulled quickly upwards by Fluttershy as more eels shot out to them, they littered the entire face. Twilight was starting to loose which one held Rainbow amidst the storm of teeth heading to her. She flew higher and concentrated a powerful electrified shield around her and Fluttershy. They were thrown back by the force of the monsters that collided against it, a quick spiral before they could recover. She made to charge with the shield at full strength but the eels did not stop, their colossal bodies of pure muscle throwing them about as they tried to breach the shield. Applejack fired her element at the eels trying to ease the storm around Twilight, it was not enough. The monsters were too large merely flinching at each shot. Rarity could only watch helplessly, Twilight had forgotten to conjure her element and she was left with her horn to repel the eels.

Rarity was not one trained in the art of magical combat. Her power was almost exclusively developed to craft and daily life. She had an idea to break apart the edge of the cliff, pulling Applejack and an angry Pinkie Pie back, Apparently Pinkie was fully ready to abseil in her spelunking gear. The pieces fell neatly but to her shock the eels with which they collided dove back into their holes. While it did ease the tide against Twilight she was begging for the debris to miss the one that had Rainbow. To her relief it did. Twilights shield exploded and she pulled up with Fluttershy.

“Applejack, Rarity, trap the base of Rainbow’s eel! Pinkie, get ready to incase. Fluttershy-”

“HANG ON RAINBOW!” Before she could finish Fluttershy had already flown down in order to gain the attention of some of the eels, as Twilight had wanted. Even though she squealed, squeaked and screamed Fluttershy was a very flexible evader. Twilight now used her power and sent powerful shocks to the eels causing them to pull in. As she peered down the drop to the expanse of trees obscured by eels, she became frightened that there was not enough time.

“TEDDY!”

“Oh for ponies sake!” A small red glint caught Twilight’s eye as it flew across to the middle of the ells swarm. A sudden bright flash accompanied by a roaring blinded her. Rarity had never felt as relieved to see the creature drop from the outcrop beneath the edge where it had hung to hide. She was relieved her rock slide did not break the edge where it stood, she was relieved her friend was alright and did not fall. She was mostly relieved though because although she could not explain why, she knew her friend was diving to Rainbow.

Applejack did not know why but she had to laugh with relief, the creature had hung there to hide. It dove past the first eels close to the wall, heading for the one that had Rainbow Dash in its jaws, the others were too far out and preoccupied with Fluttershy to notice it. Applejack saw what it was doing, Rarity was peering over the edge with her. As they looked to each other they smiled knowing they had the same idea. Focusing on the path it would take in the fall they fired to the cliff face to the base of Rainbow’s serpent, encasing it in rock to prevent it from retreating to its hole. The monster fell faster as it dove, spreading its arms and legs angling itself to the target. Rarity could see where it was headed and cried out to Fluttershy still dodging the others, “Keep them occupied!”

“HELP ME!” she screamed trying to fly higher. Twilight was still firing at the grouped ones slowly thinning their numbers, each one forcibly retreating to their hole. Applejack was at her elements end and the rock around the base of the serpent began to crack as it tried to pull in. She could see it though, the creature would make it in time, but what it would do was beyond her.

The creature rolled to angle its leg into a stomp and impacted the correct serpent with a tremendous crack. They could feel the shock where they stood moments later. The encasing rock shattered to a cloud of debris and dust and the eel pulled itself into the wall with great speed. Rarity smiled in content though as Teddy hung there waiting for it, one claw dug in the rock face with the other extended and at the ready. As Rainbow’s eel pulled closer, the dust built up obscuring the details and it vanished in the cloud.

A sharp shout followed by another violent tremor under their hooves and Applejack, Rarity and Pinkie Pie held her breath as the could settled. Although it became clear what had happened they were not sure how it had happened. The monster had somehow caught the head of the serpent and was holding the mouth open with the free leg and arm taking the strain. Although it tried to pull away from it, the strength of the creature gave no leverage for it to twist free. They could see it but it was nonetheless unbelievable.

Rainbow Dash was terrified, her legs were ready to give way. The eel tossed her about and she felt her hoof slip on the slimed pallet of the monster. She could not hold on this way, she tried moving her wing but it only stung with each violent shake. She tried to hold it in place but another jerk and it flopped around to swipe her face, it was broken beyond a doubt. The force of the jaw threatened to break her and she felt her abdominal muscles scream out under the pressure. Her spine cracked slightly as the jaws came lower. She hated this, this was close, she had to hold on for Twilight to come get her. It seemed doubtful though as she heard fluttershy scream for help. That brute had either been caught by one of these things or it had planned it. She felt like a fool, angry at herself for being played with such ease. Her hope held out though for Twilight, she soon would cleverly teleport in the mouth or something as creative. Something hit hard enough for the serpent to roar in agony, she saw the world pull away from her with alarming speed. This was it, if it got her in the hole this would be the end. She felt a surge of energy and pushed out against it but her hoof slipped again and that surge left as fast as it had come. The head stopped violently. The force shook her loose and she collapsed under the jaws, waiting for them to come down, they did not.

She looked in confusion staring down the throat of the eel. It was holding steady, no more violent jerking aside the odd tug. She scanned the teeth all around to see a claw and paw caught between the upper and lower row, wrapped around the side holding the jaw open. She had to blink to see it again, she could not forget the monsters claw. This seemed impossible but the ache flared up in her wing and she knew it was real. She did not understand why, but the gargle of the eels throat behind her brought her senses back. It was not the concern at the moment, she needed to get out and fast.

“JUMP BLUE!” the monsters voice ordered.

“I can’t fly!”

“I said jump, you’ll be fine!”

“What?!”

“DO IT!”

Seeing the claw slipping and hearing the monsters strain, she dived out into the fall. Whatever would happen at least she stood a better chance out there. She was relieved for the fresh air as she fell, but her wing was in too much pain to function. She tried to push through it but it swung around, buffeted by the currents. It was broken. There was a tremendous roar and the sound of cracking rock. Rainbow turned to see the monster was falling towards her.

At this point it seemed certain her moment was now, she would never get to see any of the things she wanted. The pony she never had the courage to tell, all the trials and tribulations that her friends would overcome, the answer to what this monster was. She took comfort in the knowledge though, that it was falling with her and the fact that she could be certain it would not harm anypony else again.

Rainbow could see it coming and was panicking. She stretched out her wing to try slow her speed but he imbalance caused her to spiral sharply out of control. She felt herself being spun around by a claw and she was now face to face with the monster. It reached out to her and she kicked hard, but it ignored the shots to grab her hoof and pull her closer into is front. Rainbow could not gain a secure place as she felt herself being pushed into its torso.

“Hold on to me!” She could not understand why but she wanted to, “Blue don’t you dare be difficult!” Holding tight around its neck she watched as it angled sharply using its arms and legs to the cliff face. As they drew closer she held tighter seeing what was soon to happen, this was going to hurt.

“Do not let go!” it ordered her as the arms and legs came up around to prepare. She placed her head to the side of the monsters and clamped her jaw on the shoulder, letting her wings pull in with the pain and her back legs twist around to hold onto one of the monsters. She held her breath and the world went silent as she waited for it, it was going to happen, she was genuinely afraid.

They hit the wall hard. The monster and her began to spin as she felt the fragmented sediment whipping at the face and the dust fill the muzzle. Another severe impact and the spin stopped to have them slide down the side. She could feel it heavier now and she knew they were slowing. There was relief but it was quickly stifled as she head felt the twisting of the muscle under her hoof and felt the agonised groan in the throat of the monster she clung to. She heard a snap but was oddly relieved to see the blade of the monster fall free, no longer in the hilt. A sudden tug and they spun to a halt, the monsters back hitting the wall and her now facing it. She could not speak or breathe, she felt the urge to cough but the reflex would not come.

Applejack was stunned, the creature had done it. She was as shocked as Pinkie Pie, whom she had to pin down to stop her diving after them. There were too many Eels that had pulled back in. Now if the courageous Pinkie went after them she would almost certainly be caught as Rainbow was, and they were fresh out of creatures. From where she peered she could see her friend was holding to the creature tightly, it was a great distance that they had fallen and there was still more to go. Rainbow Dash was no stranger to falling and crashing but this time she did not have her wings to break the speed before she landed. Most Pegasus ponies could take a plummet or two but this time it was more serious. This fall was simply too great.

Rainbow released her heads clamp to see what was happening. The monsters face was shut tight and she could hear it forcing a scream back. She looked up to see its claw firmly grasping a narrow outcrop, the arm was the one Twilight had fired at in the town. It was oddly twisted and from the way it hung she was certain something was wrong. She was happy though to be clear of the upper area where the Morerock Eels were. They shook slightly as the monster tried to gain a place to stand but the face was not going to be kind to them. She did not know what to do. Under her was a canopy of disturbingly familiar trees. Above, her friends flying wide to avoid the eels and in front of her, the monster in obvious agony. A jerk made her hold tighter again, she did not care at this point that the side of her face was pressed up against its.

“Can you grab something?” She tried to find a place but nothing came into view.

“No,” she gasped finding her breath again.

“Is Twilight close?”

“They’re trying, hold on.”

“My arm is failing, you need to find something quickly.”

“You’re too heavy.”

“Its for you not me! Hurry,” it groaned and she felt some pieces of stone crumble to her mane. With a growl it threw the other arm up but it only made them swing as it failed to grab anything, its breath trembling and the face convulsed in pain. “Blue, this is going to be very bad. No matter what, do not let go of me. Do you understand?” She nodded, even though the eyes were shut she knew it could feel her response on its face. It took a deep breath and she clamped her head back again ready for what was going to happen. She was frightened now and closed her eyes trying to hold on to that flicker of hope. They were not done yet. “Ready Blue?”

“Nope.” Her breath froze in her as she felt them drop. A sudden jerk as the monster kicked off the wall and she felt the pull she hated accelerate them down. On her back the monsters arm reached around and with a restrained shout she heard a familiar pop as the beast relocated the other. She felt herself turning, the gusts no longer hitting her as they were blocked by the monster. She felt its claw clasp down on her head to pull her under its own. The arm warped around her, she felt as though she was back to the day it had her in its choking coil. She tried to push away instinctively but the force was too great, it held too tight for her tired legs to fight back. The horrible uplifting of her insides grew worse as they flew faster. She shut her eyes and pressed herself against the body, this was the only chance, the monster was tough and could keep her from harm. She hated being saved.

Rarity was paralysed watching this display. Teddy had hit the wall hard and clung there for no more than a few moments before falling again to cradle Rainbow against it. She wanted to use her magic to reach down to them and repeat the teleporting spell but they were too far away. Back at the castle she only needed to move Fluttershy some aces away, this was a few hundred meters. She knew where this was going and it terrified her. “TWILIGHT! TELEPORT THEM NOW!”

“I can’t, theres not enough.” Twilights power was strained after using the shield, it was all but drained now. The exhausted Pegasus next to her was panting but at the ready, “Fluttershy, with me.” She saw what was happening below and tired to fly outwards to swoop under the section of eels safely. The average upper percentile length of a Morerock Eel is one hundred and thirty two meters, that means they can at the most reach out by approximately seventy five meters because of the heavy heads, we need to fly at a distance of eighty in case there are larger exceptions to be safe. We can reach Rainbow if we hurry. Twilight always could judge situations accurately when math was involved. Unfortunately the numbers told her they could not get there in time.

The two hit the trees and the light faded under the canopy, the cold hard claw of the monster pressed her head down and she felt its head lock down on hers. She pulled her hooves in to rest on the bulk of the body. The branches whipped and cracked as they plummeted further. She could not breathe waiting for it to happen. They were slowing down, she could not understand why they were slowing but they were. With no warning, they collided with the earth beneath. She heard a sickening crack and her world went dark.

Twilight shot down with Fluttershy as the two below were engulfed by the green of the tree canopy. She saw the tops twist and shake but as it spread they were forced to stop. This time Fluttershy had sone so with her, a nervous glance exchanged between the two. Below them were the Dionaea greggii, or the Whistling Snare Trees. These plants were infamous amongst the pegasus ponies. She had read a lot about them but her fear came from flight training with Rainbow Dash. These things were to be avoided at all costs. Legendary for their speed they could ensnare all manner of flying animals to pull them into the digestive trunks. They thankfully did not manage to catch Rainbow or the monster, most likely due to the speed with which they fell. Thinking fast she tried to peer under for a light blue of any kind, no signs showed themselves. She looked out to the expanse of the trees, they seemed to stretch endlessly to the horizon.

It was eerie how silent things had become. There were no birds flying over this area, the eels had fallen silent and no noise could be heard aside the beating of hers and Fluttershy’s wings. This place was a facade for a trap, every part of it was dangerous. Twilight wondered how so many eels and trees could exist, more to the point what their food source was.

“Do you see them!?” Pinkie Pie called out.

“No! We can’t get through, we need to go around!”

“Go! We’ll try to get a response from Rainbow. Be careful now!”

“Alright Applejack, those trees are dangerous! Do not-”

“We know sugar cube. Get along now!”

“Got it, Fluttershy?”

“Right behind you!” Twilight was impressed with her friends bravery, normally as yellow as her coat Fluttershy did not boast the bravest heart. When her friends were in trouble though she could be fearsome. They took off to what appeared to be the nearest edge of the trees hoping Rainbow was still alright. Twilight was terrified the monster was going to take away her friends wings, but she caught herself in a realisation; Did that thing just save Rainbow?

17 Blood, Sweat And Spittle

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17

Rainbow Dash opened her eyes to see a forest floor littered with dead leaves. The yellow brown hue contrasted the bright green canopy high above. It was dimmer down here as the sun failed to break through the thick foliage, only allowing some of its beams to cut through. A breeze over her mane and a wheeze made her look. She was stunned to see the monster lay under her now. She watched it carefully and saw with relief the slow breathing. Then she remembered what had happened. The fall, the serpents, the monster...saved her. She felt her heart beating steadily perched on its body, now sprawled on the ground. One claw was still holding tightly to her, the one with the damaged arm laying bak. The claw was badly worn, she winced seeing the damage it had taken in the fall. It tried to stop the fall. It had caught her.

“Umm... Hello?” she spoke to the monster. It was breathing but a whistling noise was prominent from the back of its throat. “Are you okay?” It remained motionless and Rainbow stood up from it, the arm around her slumped and fell off. She felt the pain in her wing again and she looked back at it to see it was limp. Normally she was used to falls and believed she was one of the toughest ponies around, but the serpent hit her very hard. Closer inspection revealed a cut in her wing between the feathers, the eels teeth had not missed her after all. Another pain came from the base of her wings, the damage seemed to be deeper. Her side joined the wing in its complacent aching, becoming apparent there was more damage than she could see. Surprisingly she felt fine though, despite what had happened she was happy to still be here.

Looking at the monster though it appeared to be in pretty bad shape. The garments it wore had held up against the drop but the body was not moving. She could see the leg was in terrible shape, these monsters could not take a fall as well as a pegasus.

“Rainbow!” Applejack’s voice faintly called out.

“Yeah!” She forced it out of her. The pain in her side only growing worse. She strained to hear what she said but the trees closed in around them blocking sound. “What?” She called, her head falling with the effort.

“ARE YOU OKAY?!” Pinkies voice ripped through the trees to Rainbow.

“Yeah! I cant fly!”

“STAY THERE, TWILIGHT AND FLUTTERSHY WILL YOU COME FOR YOU!” Pinkie called out, as though she would to a deaf pony. Rainbow was impressed at he vocal prowess to carry down the cliff and break through the canopy. She could hear mumbling but could not decipher it. “AND OUR FRIEND?!” Rainbow looked at the creature still lying there. It raised an arm, barely.

“Ouch,” it whispered.

“Breathing!”

“WHAT?” Rainbow took a deep breath

“BREATHING!”

“HOLD ON, THEY’LL BE THERE! WE’RE GOING TO GO AROUND!”

Rainbow was now faced with a somewhat dilemma. The monster, while stunned could get up at any moment. They way she felt now she could not repeat their excursion back in Ponyville. It coughed slightly and the face twisted as it tried to remain still. She knew pain when she saw it and it was in a lot of pain. It was not clear what it had tried to do up there, but she realised now she was still here because that monster had helped. She did not know where it came from but as she stared at it and drank in the new shapes of its form, she could only see something that needed help. She hesitantly approached the monster in case it needed her expertise, after all she was well versed with crash landings.

“Still breathing monster?” she hesitantly spoke. It breathed slowly though its mouth and swallowed, the eyes remained closed and the brow furrowed. Looking around it the landing had not been as bad as she thought, the ground where it lay was covered in a thin bed of dead, orange and yellow leaves. There was no upturned earth or bleeding, no apparent breakages or cuts to be seen aside the burns from Twilight. They had gone very deep, deep enough that they no longer bled, the hair was gone and the skin charred. It became clear then the extent the monster was willing to go just to escape. She sat a decent distance away from it, her body ready to kick back when it tried to strike.

“Luna...” its voice quietly whispered the name. Rainbow though she had misheard it.

“The Princess?”

It spoke slowly, “Are you alright blue?”

“Better than you, anything broken?”

“Probably.” The creature tried to move but it winced and sunk back down with a groan, “Well done.”

“Sorry?”

“It would appear you captured me.”

“Told you so,” she mocked it. It struggled a laugh and fell silent with the pain. She came closer to the body, it seemed immobile.

“Blue, I need you to do me a favour. Do you see on my lower right leg the satchel?” Rainbow saw it, an intricately sewn pouch that survived Twilights wrath.

“Yes...”

“If you would go in there and pull out a small blue seed.” Rainbow slowly drew the zipper back, taking out a range of strange seedlings and plants. Amongst them were the blue seeds. She held one up for the monster to see.

“Like this?”

“The water container as well if you please.”

“Wait wait. How do I know you wont run or that this stuff isn’t some kind of trick?”

“You have my word Blue. This is a pain killer of mine, it will help.”

“The thing is, I can’t trust you.”

“Such a fall is not natural for my body. Blue, the pain makes it difficult to breathe, I think my injuries are considerably worse. I know we are enemies but I admit defeat and I am asking you to accept your victory, please help me. I cannot do this alone.”

“Then let me have some of that stuff.”

“I am afraid much like your magic’s adverse effect on me, the toxins in here could stop your heart. However if you help, I have something for ponies.”

“Why would you carry that around?” she doubted the creature was this prepared.

“Experience.”

“Look, Fluttershy told me you keep your promises, I need you to promise me you won’t run.”

“Promises are for children, I give you my word I will not harm you, trick you or try to run.”

“...Alright, I would not even do this if you hadn’t just-” she stopped herself, she could not say it. A brief search revealed a small hollowed out nut that swished as she shook it and placed it in the creatures claw. “ The other arm please, that one is...useless.” She cautiously moved around it, watching where her hooves were and being mindful of her tail. Now she remembered the keepers it had and understood why they were so on edge, they must have felt as she did now. She placed the items in its claw and with great effort it managed to ingest one with some water, remaining laying down.

Once more her eyes went to the burns it had, “Why did you do that?”

“What?”

“That thing up there with the Morerock Eel?” She could not say that it had saved her. As much as she hated being saved she could see this injured monster and imagine herself in its place, most likely in the same or worse shape. She hated being saved, especially by this thing.

It exhaled with a wheeze, “I did not want any of you to get hurt. I wanted to scare you away.”

“That didn’t work.”

“Obviously.”

“Listen...umm...” she rubbed the back of her head but groaned as the side complained.

“There is a red plant, leaves are very large compared to the stem. Same satchel.”

She saw it, “What do you need with this?”

“I have had my pain killer, it is your turn.”

“No way I’m that dumb!”

“Sit with it then.” Almost on cue her side ached again. It was screaming for relief now that it knew there was something there. This was certainly another trick, as much as she wanted to believe it this brute was not as dull as it looked.

“What am I supposed to do anyway?”

“Crush it and let the juice flow over the cuts. It will seep in slowly and the pain will disappear. It is a toxin the plant uses to paralyse insects that eat the leaves, then it eats them.”

Rainbow Dash tried to turn her head over her wing for the drops to fall but the sting shot up with the change in posture. She shouted out and dropped the plant, feeling a tear run down her cheek. It was too much to push through.

“Miss...if you help me rest against the tree here I will help.”

“From you?! Now I’m insulted! I’m not going anywhere near you.”

It sighed, “I will be honest Miss, that plant you need was given to me by a Miss Zecora in exchange for my services.”

“Services?”

“That development at the castle.”

“We were wondering how you survived.”

“Force of will, a pest, and some...pony as stubborn as I.” There was some silence for a while and Rainbow noticed how quiet it was. Truly unnerving that there was no sound down here; no birds, no insects, only the wheezing of the monster and her shuffling. She had to close her eyes as the pain throbbed again.

Rainbow forced herself into a question, it was eating away and growing heavier with each passing second. She was only able to look at the ground she spoke, her speech becoming congested, “Are you going to...take my wings?” The monster did not respond. Eventually she had the courage to look up and she saw what appeared to be tears. “Hey, does it hurt that much?”

“The pain I feel...more than you can conceive. I give you my word I will never allow it to take anypony’s wings again.” Something about the way it spoke lifted a great weight from Rainbows stomach. There was such sincerity in those words. She still did not trust it though, the cost of her falling for a trick was too high. “I have an idea that might help you find the courage to let me help.”

“Hey! I’ve got buckets of courage! No...whatever is going to tell me I don’t have courage!”

“You got guts too?”

“You better believe it!”

“Good, you’re going to need them for what I will ask.” She did not like where this was going and stood up to slowly back away, “Ha! Courage indeed.”

“I’m just...keeping my distance is all.”

“Tell me then Blue, what do you know about dislocation? Is it a problem for you creatures?”

“What?”

“My arm is gone, thats twice now. I need help to put it back in.”

“So then you can-”

“Will you not enjoy inflicting pain on the monster, the beast, the animal, the brute!? Will it not bring joy to watch me convulse under your hoof!?” She could see the spittle break though the gritted teeth as its anger came out. “This arm needs to go back in anyway, why not be the one to do it? Why not taste that agony for yourself?! Savour-”

“Just stop it!” The monster exhaled a trembling breath, “I don’t want to hurt you, that won’t help this. Do you even understand what you did to her?”

The monster had calmed now, “From what I do I tore the wings from her body...I understand she is recovering. What about the others?”

“They are fine. Back on the job in no time. Disappointed?”

“Overwhelmingly relieved.”

“What?”

“Miss. You have lifted a burden from me. Thank you.” Rainbow was stunned, “I collapse in my home and the darkness takes me. When it lifts I hear screaming, such horrible screaming and a strange creature under me. I do not know how that happened but I wish this fall had taken me back to that darkness forever.”

“...What do you need?”

“Leave it now, I’ll sit with it.”

Rainbow could not understand why, but she began to doubt the monstrosity it had been branded with. She took a deep breath and went to sit by the laying beast, being sure to let her hoof gently touch the side of the good arm to let it know she was there. As her fur slowly touched the hide of the claw, she held her breath. No reaction. “Then you’ll help with my wing?”

“You have my word.”

“I know how to relocate a leg...arm but I’m not sure for mon...”

“Monsters, you can say it Miss. From what I can feel the shoulder is the source. No point in waiting now right?” It shifted slightly and the claw faced the palm upwards, “Slowly and gently. Don’t pull. Support the lower arm and bring it to the side so the elbow touches the torso.” Rainbow slowly touched the arm, being very careful to avoid the burn she used her back leg to nudge the arm against the side of its body. It showed no reaction to pain. “Now bend the elbow to a right angle, very slowly.” She did so, the arm was surprisingly heavier than she expected. She kept her abdomen tight to try move smoothly. “Well done Blue. Here comes the hard part. Rotate the arm outwards keeping the elbow at its angle until you feel some resistance, wait out any muscle spasms if they come. At this point it may pop back in so be ready for a jolt.” Rainbow slowly let the arm lean out but hesitated when the monster inhaled sharply and its claw reached up to press against its face. The movement startled her because she did not think it was that mobile.

“It hurts?”

“Please continue, I’ll feel very silly afterwards when the pain is gone.” She pressed on letting the arm fall lower, having to stop when it began to tremble to wait out the spasm. Holding the arm was getting difficult. Her side stung in this position but she could take it. She kept letting it lower until there was the resistance it spoke of. No pop.

“It didn’t work.”

“Now you must support the upper arm and lift slightly. After it is raised you will rotate the lower arm back towards the stomach. Is that clear?”

“Yup.” To lift the entire arm was a chore, she could feel the muscle under the top it wore. It was a heavy arm and as the muscle spasmed again she felt a little proud of being able to fight this thing one on one. Still no pop. As she tilted the lower arm back it felt as though she was waiting for the explosive thunder after a lightning bolt. With a pop and a shout the arm returned to it original way, to her relief.

“Well done Blue,” the monster gasped, “Now lets get you looked at, I will need some help sitting up please.” Rainbow moved behind the creature and it placed its free arm behind it trying to lift itself. She felt a cringe as she heard a crack resound from its back.

“Oh thats a rib,” it commented wincing. As it slowly got up she lowered her head under the space and pushed up against its back. The monster was very heavy now. As it got higher she turned to balance the weight on her good side. It rose up, sagging forward. The creature raised itself on both arms, edging to the tree behind it. The bad leg was limp, being dragged through the leaves.The smell of moist earth was prevalent as the floor was upturned. Rainbow kept herself close in case she needed to catch it, worried the arm would dislocate it again. To her relief it made it to find support on the tree.

“You okay?” it took some moments to regain its breath. As rainbow could see, the burns were not bleeding, they did need bandaging though. The bad leg had taken most of the force of the hits from Twilight, the other was still in one piece. Seeing it now she could not believe her friend had done that. It was epic.

“Bring the plant and your injured wing.” She looked at the monsters tired eyes and her wing, “You are safe. My word is unbreakable.” Handing it the plant, she brought her limp wing hesitantly closer. Her eyes never left the claws and every fibre was ready to kick out and escape. For a pegasus, to loose a wing was the loss of life. They could never fly, accidents had happened but never had there been a permanent injury. This monster could do it though, it could take them forever. She pulled away as the claw came closer.

“I don’t like ponies touching my wing,” she said trying to draw it back in, still hanging limply from the pain.

“I am not a pony. Am I? You can stay with your pain if you want.” She sincerely consider it but the nagging wing had other ideas. She edged closer.

“Please take it easy.” The creature held its claw out, gently brushing the pieces of earth from the area and pulling out a tangled leaf or two. The cuts were deep. It took the plant and held it above the spot. She closed her eyes now ready for the sting. She gasped as she felt the free claw rest on her shoulder.

“You are safe little one. Relax now please, let the juices flow without resistance, alright?” She nodded and held her breath as the first drops landed on her. She clenched her teeth ready for the stinging. To her surprise the area went almost immediately numb.

“It is still damaged, but this will make it bearable.”

A sense of relief washed over her as the pain became very dull, allowing the wing to be pulled back in again. She shuddered as the creature placed its claw on her side probing the area. She jumped back in fright feeling violated.

“What are you doing?!”

“Feeling for broken bones, sometimes shock can prevent you from realising how severe your injuries are.”

“Well don’t do that again!”

The creature pointed up, “You mean to tell me after that all you got was a broken wing and some scrapes?!”

She looked herself over, shaking her legs and twisting her neck. It was sore but not as bad as the wing, she had had a lot worse, “I think so...”

The creature nodded and looked rather pleased. “Hmm...not bad.” Rainbow sat down and the creature stared probing its own body. She shuddered when the bones inside the torso cracked. Its arms and legs seemed mostly unharmed, the outfit it wore had not torn under the stress.

“Umm...listen. Thanks for...well...saving me and all. That was really cool of you.” She was unaccustomed to being saved and it made her feel uncomfortable. The fall was not as far as some others she had taken. She could have probably survived it herself. The monster though did not have wings, it showed tremendous guts in risking itself like that to pull her free from the serpents mouth. That part she needed help with.

“Your friends will be here soon?”

“Eventually...they’re kind of slow without yours truly.” She puffed out her chest proudly but suddenly expected the pain to come back, it thankfully did not. She was grateful for the medication it gave her, numbing it a little.

“You are going to have to put that in a splint.”

“And where am I-”

The monster tossed a large bandage towards her. She looked up surprised, its response was to smile and sit patiently. She picked up the bandage looking around for a stick to use as a splint. Her luck was truly awful, next week they would cover survival training at the academy and now is when she needs it. The basics were there from the Junior Speedsters but she had no idea how she was going to do this by herself. There was a suitable branch and with some quick snaps she managed to get something useable. Trying to tie the cloth around her body was proving to be difficult, her forelegs could not reach that far around. Without some other pony she could not wrap the bandages properly.

It had noticed her difficulties. “Would you like some help?”

“It’s fine,” she said dropping the bandage bundle, “Shoot!”

“I could help.”

“You keep you claws to yourself.”

“Alright, I’ll be here if you reconsider.” After some minutes the best she could do was a loose sling. Getting annoyed trying to get the bandage on alone, she brought her tangled mess to the monster and planted herself down angrily by the good leg. It did not respond but instead slowly untangled her. As it leaned forward she could hear it breathing sharply with the effort.

“Sorry.” She moved closer to it to make its job easier, sitting now next to it. The whole time she was mindful of her wings and the monsters claws. It looked relieved at her gesture, leaning back against the tree and no longer having to stretch to bandage her up.

“So do you...need help to bandage yourself?”

“This is the only one I have Miss. Do not worry.” This monster kept surprising her. It firmly and expertly wrapped them around holding her wing close to the body. She could feel the claws wrap around each contour with great care feeling for anything that was damaged. Her discomfort was offset by the relief she felt when her wing hang loose.

“Umm...thanks.”

“Wise lady said; there is no shame in asking for help. It shows courage.”

“I don’t need to hear anything from you,” she bitterly retreating to a safe distance, the thought of its arm around her throat making her shiver.

“I can understand why you are afraid.”

“I’m not afraid of anything!”

“Then why fear me? Sit here and show me you are not.” It patted the ground next to it.

“Look, you did us a solid with those golems and that eel, but that doesn’t mean I trust you.” The monster silently took a dark red plant and winced as the sap dripped over the burns. Unlike, Rainbow, the plant had caused it pain. It did not lie about the different reactions they could have. It rested its head against the trunk and dug its claws under the leaves. Rainbow took a moment to drink in scene. The fall had done a significant number on the monster. Its face was clenched in the pain it bore, the face had received a nasty scrape form the cliff, the body was sagged against the tree and she could still hear that wheezing while it breathed. “What were you thinking anyway?”

“The plan was to let you all believe they had eaten me. You really need to look ahead Blue, that was truly foolish.”

“I...couldn’t just let you fall...” She had to look away realising what she had just said. As much as she hated this monster its actions had gained her respect. It was a true soldier and no matter what, they were connected through the single truth that the were both tough.

“I bet you could have beat me if our friends did not intervene.”

“Our friends?”

“Your Twilight and my wolf.”

“I got to admit you have some chops to take me on alone.”

“As though you are the poster horse for good decisions.”

“Poster pony,” she corrected it, “But yeah. I should have just let you fall,” she teased.

“The way I feel right now, my sentiments exactly,” she chuckled and quickly hated herself for it. This was the enemy, it had done horrible things.

“You are quite a fighter Miss, impressive the way you darted about those...golems was it? Making them stumble and fall over each other.” Its compliment was met with cold silence. “I particularly enjoyed it when you threw those apples down to make me trip, you have a quick mind.”

“Well...it was kind of cool of you to help that pony who nearly got crushed.”

“Oh, so you noticed that. How do you know it wasn’t an accident?”

“I just know. That was a pretty wide detour.”

“Thought I’d save the job of cleaning it up, imagine the mess!” It winced as it chuckled.

“You are a strange monster, you know that?”

“Oh yes.”

“What were you doing with Rarity anyway?”

“What do you think I was doing?”

“You don’t give straight answers, it’s really annoying. I thought you had hurt her.”

“After yesterday I could never harm Miss Rarity. Even though she ambushed me like this, she was very kind to look after me as much as she did. My wolf Crystal likes her too.”

“I didn’t know Rarity had it in her to do that. She really tried to send a note?”

“Yeah, some little spell that she thought I couldn’t see.”

“You don’t sound angry about it.”

“She is very inventive, I respect that.”

“Hold on...that wolf is called Crystal? Thats a dumb name, kind of obvious.” Rainbows humour did not make the creature laugh, it was gritting its teeth from the agony.

“Maybe I should look at that.”

“You cannot fix this, the injury is deep. It will be a while before I can walk properly again.” It sighed, “You truly have caught me.”

Rainbow smirked and enjoyed the fact that she was the one who brought the monster in, she would be rewarded by Princess Celestia herself, maybe even another medal for heroism for facing it one on one. The day was growing old and the suns light was sending beams across the forest. The trees were all very straight, nearly parallel with each other as they reached higher to the sky. There were no branches or out sticking areas. She was glad Twilight and Fluttershy were taking their time, these trees were not to be messes with. At least under them there was no danger. Rainbow Dash was eagerly waiting for her friends but a thought came that worried her.

“Umm...that wolf of yours...is it going to find us or what?”

“She probably will. Don’t worry though, that bandage you have has my scent and provided you behave she won’t attack you.” It paused but quickly added, “I don’t think I can run, even with her.”

“So when you shouted go...”

“It was to her. A basic trick.”

“Like when she went out the back door but returned to get you. That’s a clever tactic. She can disappear?”

“Actually I never knew that until today, I always thought she was a good hider. Frightening.”

“That overgrown ornament doesn't scare me.”

“She sure scares me sometimes.”

“Really?”

“Next time you get the chance, hear her sleep. Makes the most ghastly noises!”

Rainbow decided to seize this moment and say to the creature somethings that had bothered her for a while.

“You know, what you did to Twilight was pretty low. She’s not been the same, just hurting.”

“Didn’t she just go and ask the Celestia alicorn?”

“She tried but Princess Celestia was vague, and too busy trying to track you down, what did you do to her anyway?”

“The story encompasses my arrival, I will have to tell you someday. I don’t doubt she has omitted those details.

“Did you really have to do that to those guys though?”

“I regret having to do it, but it is how I survive. I regret what did to you when we first met.”

Rainbow dash could feel the anger rising in her now remembering the life being choked from her and how it was trying to bargain with her life. “What you did was sick! Only a coward would do that! How could you treat me like some...some....”

“Object?”

“Yeah. To be traded!”

“You were a way out.”

“That worked out really well didn’t it? How far did you think it would go?! What kind of bone head doesn’t think that through!”

The creature raised its good arm high, its eyes still closed and head backwards. The reaction confused her.

“What?”

“I will admit Miss I did not act with forethought, merely in an opportunity to escape. What you say is true. I wouldn’t have gotten very far even with you as my bargaining tool.”

“Then why do it?”

“Because when I get backed into a corner I push harder, the need for survival drives me. I more than think you got me back though with the crazy pink ballooned one.”

Rainbow Dash remembered the hilarious draping of colours on the creature and burst out laughing. “That was great! And you just let her!” Her anger had disappeared in the good nature and she found herself more at ease, “Theres something else that bothers me about that night you fought. Why didn’t you run? Applejack told me you took a good long look at the smashed entrance, but you still turned around to come help us out. It would have been a lot easier than fighting. Afterwards we thought you were a goner for sure.”

“You assumed this old coward would run?”

“Yes.”

“Miss. If theres one thing I will never do, it will be to go back on my word. I gave Miss Fluttershy that word to fight to the best of my ability for my freedom. The word was spoken and I am bound to it. It does not matter that your monarch will not honour it, for Miss Fluttershy did.”

Rainbow Dash sat in silence thinking about it. The creature was insane that night. She had never seen such brutality and force. It did save them, gave them an edge to face off against the queen. Her fondest moment was when all the soldiers stood gaping at it as it pried the doors open alone.

“Well thanks for your help. You were pretty useful.”

“Tell me. That night, did the soldiers actually need my help? It looked like they were doing alright, and those rock things broke like glass. How weak are you creatures?”

“Hey! We fought hard. For your information only you could break the golems, we don’t know how. Theres a pool going at the academy, I guessed strength.”

“Really? Hmm...you learn something new every day.”

“So you don’t know?”

“Maybe it was strength...I don’t know for sure.”

“Then it looks we all loose out to Spitfire and Soarin.” Rainbow Dash smiled when she remembered the looks on the golems faces when it charged them, “You know, it was pretty epic.”

“Nothing is epic about conflict.”

“Well the ‘conflict’,” she purposely imitated its gruff voice for emphasis, “I saw was.” “It was totally cool! Those clowns had no idea what hit them when you charged in and bashed their heads to dust. I mean they were all tough and invincible then you came along and they suddenly got all scared!”

“I seem to have that effect.” Rainbow Dash saw the creature was rubbing its side wincing. She caught herself becoming concerned for the creature. Twilight was taking a long time to get here.

“Well I give you my word I’ll be right here until help arrives”

“Oh Blue, you just trust-” The creature suddenly sat bolt upright, startling her.

“We have to leave now.”

“Why?”

“The wolves are coming.”

Rainbow Dash felt a sickening fear grip her. She sprang to her hooves looking around, unable see anything. She thought this was another ploy by the monster. The sounds of cracking guide her attention to see it was trying to push itself to its legs. Despite what had happened, the monster with all those injuries was getting up. It pushed itself up against the tree holding back a scream as she saw the lower leg pop into place, the plied weight and awkward twisting setting it in its place. “Libera me, libera me, libera me,...” It continued to chant as it rose higher, Rainbow came by its side and tried to help push it up. Tears fell freely from the enraged face, another crack and she winced, now feeling the vibration in it, “Please leave me, not another flyer. Please.”

“But Twilight and the others-”

“Are too far to help now, you do not know what’s coming Blue. They are relentless.”

“Whoa there! There’s no way you can-”

“You have to leave now.” It repeated, “I will hold their attention.” Rainbow could see the strain the creature was under, its eyes darting around and scanning the trees. She saw then the creature was deadly serious, beads of sweat on its forehead, widened eyes, rapid breathing. She could see it was afraid.

She cringed when she saw the creature fix itself. It placed both its claws around the knee and pulled it slowly, twisting the joint back in. It slammed it on the ground and a sickening crack resounded as it fought back a wail. She could see the muscles tighten and felt the fury from the creature. It was using the pain to keep it going.

“I can’t do that, I cant let you-”

“Was it not enough that I loved tearing those wings off, hurting your pathetic friend?! Do you truly think I gave the slightest care in harming them.”

“Yes! You did, why would you save me then?!” The monster was stunned, unable to answer. Rainbow knew now there was a terrible mistake, this thing was not her enemy. Her blood ran cold as she heard a howl in the distance, long and mournful it echoed out across the forest. It was terrifying how loud it was. More howls joined in, the chorus of wolves was enough to paralyse her. It made every part of her heavy, every fibre stand up. She regained her senses as the monster grabbed her shoulder.

“Blue, get out of here!” It was becoming frantic now.

“What?”

“They’re after me, they have my scent. Go!”

“But-”

“I swear I’ll end you myself and feed you to them, GO!” The monsters arm shot out pointing in the distance. “Stay straight and don’t stop, GET OUT OF HERE!” There was something about the creature that made her feel frightened. It seemed genuine but if this was a trick she would hate herself for falling for it. It might have been a pack of wolves like Crystal trying to scare her off. Despite that she had that feeling to run and never stop.

“NO! I’m sticking by you, I gave you my word!”

“There’s no time for this nonsense!”

“Like it or not pal, I owe you one!”

The creature suddenly had a pained look on its face and it spoke with great sadness dropping its arm in defeat, a heavy and dull padded gallop accompanying its words, “You should have run. It is too late now.” Rainbow felt fears icy grip as a large black wolf darted from behind to stand proudly before them. Its small eyes were a fearsome red and its body was unlike any timber wolf she had ever seen. Its was warped and mangled, covered in a strange black liquid that swirled around it. The wood underneath was white, the wolfs sleek figure made it look sinister yet elegant. The teeth that it bore were shining, they glinted like crystal as the beams of light touched them. More wolves came out of trees, they were slightly smaller with yellow eyes. Compared to the others the large one was particularly striking, the only one that the black liquid completely covered. Only its teeth and eyes were visible, black dust seemingly emanating around it. The other wolves only had veins of the liquid, nowhere near as intimidating as the large one they constantly glanced to, this was the alpha. She felt her heart stop beating as its eyes drifted to her, there was a hunger in them as the rest encircled the two.

“When did you say Crystal is getting here?”

She grabbed the creatures arm instinctively squeezing tight on its tense muscles. She looked up at it and she could see it was staring directly into her. The fear on its face changing to something else. Gritting its teeth it faced down the wolves and gave a mighty roar that shattered the snarls surrounding them. The wolves, to her shock, actually halted their advance. Pausing their enclosing march as if cautious of the monster. The roar sounded as if it was barely from a living creature and for a strange reason helped her to gain courage to see these beasts hesitate.

“Behind me now.” Its claw pressed her chest and it stepped in front of her. She could not fathom how it could still do this after the beating it took. It stepped as though nothing had happened, no limp, no sagging arm, only as proud and unwavering as the alpha it faced. Rainbow felt stronger now, the pain in her side was no longer a concern. This monster in between her and the pack made her feel the same way she did when holding a shield. “When you find an opening, you will make a run for it. Crystal will find you.”

“Hey! I said I’m not leaving.” She released the arm and stood her ground beside it, defiantly against the pack. “When we’re backed into a corner we fight harder! We push back! I will not go!”

“You will. In moments you will. Why should two expire when only one needs to?”

The pack had surrounded them now and she could hear their deep growls envelope her. There were a few behind the tree itself, it seemed more than a dozen all together. Rainbow Dash did not answer, she had no idea why she was still here, but it was too late to second guess herself now. She recited the pledge of the Wonderbolts in her mind, gaining strength with each word;

To soar to the stars,
To swoop to the depths,
To protect the helpless,
To uphold the weak,
To be a Wonderbolt.

I am a Wonderbolt.

As the words filled her so did strength and might. The world around seemed to slow to a crawl, she could sense every last wolf, the monster, every part of the forest around down to the leaves under her hooves. She stared into the eyes of the black wolf, its gaze did not frighten her anymore. She felt nothing but the spirit and harmony and her strength. The confidence with which was instilled in her. She did not care what this monster had done, where it had been or what purpose it would serve. It was willing to sacrifice itself for her moments ago, and she would be as willing for it. They would win, she was not afraid.

The wolves burst into a charge and she galloped at them, pulling under the black one to sweep her hind leg and knock it clear off its paws to the floor. Its body was tougher than petrified wood. She quickly jumped back and avoided another as it snapped right past her, rolling to her back to throw a sharp kick to the jaw and break the teeth as they scraped past each other. They were fast. She rolled to the side quickly to evade a charging wolf and stuck her hoof out tripping it to land face first. Each blow was a victory for her, each shot connecting was one fewer to throw. She saw a wolf just as its jaw circled her tail. Before the teeth sunk down another wolf flew into it, knocking the two to the ground. She looked across to the monster and was in awe at the sight. The wolves were piling on it but it kept its back to the tree, swinging at them, each powerful blow resounding through the snarling and growls. It tore at them savagely ripping jaws from the heads and slamming the teeth in the eyes. The wolves yelped in agony as its might connected sharply with each one.

Rainbow now realised it. The wolves were focused on the monster, there were no more on her. She could see it as Applejack had described; in the fray stood a creature that needed her. She did not need to stay, she could turn and run into the forest, leave it here as it had wanted. She now knew what the monster had thought that day, why it did not run. Neither would she.

Rainbow Dash charged in kicking out hard against the nearest beasts, staggering them, throwing them back, trying to force them to pull away to regain momentum. She was now caught in the storm, feeling her very blood racing, heat radiating, muscles screaming to be used. She was able to elegantly sway through the wolves as they snapped and clawed at her, dancing in the hailstorm of teeth. The monster was as fearsome as it was on that night. The wolves sunk their teeth in, their claws dug deep but it refused to go down. It tirelessly threw blow after blow, relentlessly hurling the wolves back. Rainbow kicked out harder than she ever had managing to knock the heads of two clear. The black wolf was by far the most fierce. It charged through its own pack and threw the monster back against the tree with shocking speed. It tried to bite down but the monster had its throat. Rainbow kicked the minor wolf pulling on its bad arm and with the release of its jaws, the claw thundered into the gut of the alpha with a horrible, gargled yelp. Amazingly it suspended it on the claw, the once dislocated arm bearing the weight of the beast. It pulled the alpha in close, pivoting it over the shoulder and throwing it sat three more. The panicked alpha landed on them but quickly recovered to tear its way across the floor to them again. Rainbow was trying to keep the lower order ones off the monster but there were too many to protect herself and it. They were not doing enough, it would not last. The creature released a mighty roar as it took another impact from the alpha and two minors, each taking a part of the exposed body. With a shout the monster powered them into the ground and tore at the beasts as they tried to recover. Rainbow jumped to kick away one that tried to sink its teeth in the back of the monster. The worst thing it could do was fall down, if it did that the fight would be in the favour of the wolves. She felt the splatter of the black liquid as the alpha was thrown high this time into a tree. It did not get up instantly and the pack retreated to it. They regained their footing and formed the circle again. The yellow eyes on the severed heads flashed and jerked around furiously snapping at nothing.

Rainbow wiped the spatter from her face but the colour of it shocked her. Seeing the monster her heart broke. It struggled to keep an eye open with the gash over it. The once proud garments it wore were shredded around the arms and shoulders, stained in the same dark red colour that she had wiped off. She could not understand how it could remain standing. The alpha lowered its head and bore its teeth, she knew what was coming, and more importantly where she would go next.

The crystal wolf burst from the trees and barrelled into the fray from behind, throwing the alpha and those close to it away to protect her master. Rainbow threw another shot to the alpha’s head as it landed by her, quickly darting back to the monster as the pack closed in again.

Rainbow Dash had never understood how this thing had outperformed the Wonderbolts, never until now at least. A wolf bit down on the leg where Twilight had fired, right over the burn. It did not flinch, only artfully twisting its other leg around and bringing the heel down on the attackers head. In an instant it splintered into fragments, deep gashes in the garment from where the teeth slid down. She saw this thing fighting and realised it did not feel any pain. In the heat of this battle it was a part of it, an entity that could feel everything around it. A wolf jumped on its back sinking the teeth in the shoulder. It powered backwards to the tree, a sickening crack and the wolf fell lifeless. This animal was very strong. Another bite in its arm and it swung the next into the trunk again, the teeth pushed deeper but it reached in and pried them apart. Swinging the fist to meet the next wolf in the centre of its leap to it. Every bite was planned, it wanted to be bitten there, to have them on it. It glanced constantly to Rainbow amidst the fray. The crystal wolf acting as both shield and spear agains the attackers. She never felt safer.

The pack pulled away to the watching alpha, its eyes now focused on Crystal as she snarled at them, blocking the way to the monster. Rainbow saw it sag against the tree, holding the leg that was bitten. Its eye was shut now as it leaked trails over it. With roar it stomped and stood tall again, it could overcome that pain. That unwavering fury that coursed through it every time it laid eyes on her. It drew its strength from her, a creature in need. Rainbow Dash had never understood it, until now. She forced herself to its side and Crystals, standing by them and ready for the next attempt.

“Push harder!” she was trying to keep the creature focussed, knowing from experience that much blood loss would make it dizzy. To her relief it did not weaken and they charged with Crystal to the wolves, meeting them head on. The creature grabbed the throats, driving them from midair to the ground to smash the heads under its strength. Rainbow Dash leapt high off its back to perform a midair kick to a wolf coming down on it. It was a heavy beast but she managed to change the direction so it would land to the side and not on the monster. It was quickly intercepted, the monsters stomp followed by a sickening splintering as it tore the head off the pinned body. Crystal was as bad as her master, ripping at the solid throats and tearing limbs free. It was chaos as they threw everything they had at them. Crystals hide was being damaged by the wolves’ claws, chipping and scratching the surface managing to let her blood. It was as clear as water, seeping from the gashes and glinting under the rays of light that shot though. Their number was decreasing and Rainbow Dash felt powerful knocking her foes to the ground. There was dust, flying leaves, earth and snarling all around her but she kept fighting, her strength felt limitless.

The black wolf collided with her, its claws digging deep as it pinned her to the ground under its weight. Before the alpha could finish her Crystal hit it hard, knocking it back. She tried to stand again but groaned as her legs failed to hold. The monster threw off another wolf to smash into the one closing on her. Crystal was grappling with the black one, the very earth around being torn apart as her teeth sunk in and violently shook to break it. The blurred jerking movements could not be followed as their teeth tore at one another. Their horrible snarling prevailing in the sounds of battle.

The monsters weird paw landed in front of her face, a quick slide away from it as it threw another away form them. She turned her head to look around the scape, to her horror the wolves were regenerating. The damage was significant yet the black liquid pooling around them seeped back in. Splintered fragments came slowly together and severed heads, teeth and jaws found their owners once more. She could feel herself growing weaker. She tried to push herself up but she was unable to stand, a hot burning sensation running along her side. It drained all her strength to look up at the monster towering over her. It collapsed to one knee and she could feel warm drops falling on her. A gash across its face exposed the oddly shaped teeth. It hung its head to look down to her, the rays of the sun through the canopy preventing her from seeing the eyes in the darkened silhouette.

“Not one...more,” it whispered through gritted teeth. It held back a scream as it forced itself up again, dripping with blood, sweat and spittle. This monster kept on surprising her, she felt her pride wounded at not being able to take one little hit. It dug the back of its oddly shaped shoes into the ground, through the dead leaves and held steady. It was a terrifying sight to behold as its body twisted and writhed with each assailant, meeting every wolf and throwing them away. Their weight was not enough against it, she felt the quaking ground with each step in her cheek, the drizzle of upturned earth as it fought on. It was shouting out with the effort it took to keep the beasts at bay. The lights were becoming blurred and she could only make out its silhouette dissecting the tangential beams of light falling on them. The wolves’ assault lost their momentum and they pulled back to circle the two. Crystal thundered by the monster and Rainbow Dash, snarling at the attackers with a black liquid dripping from her teeth. Rainbow could only smile inside seeing the unmoving form of the black wolf. Crystal though was heavily laden with wounds, one stretching across her right eye making it useless. The pack closed their circle on them, Rainbow looked up and her heart sank. There were many still standing. The creature collapsed to one knee above her, Crystal holding it up and the smell of iron rust filling Rainbow’s muzzle. The feel of the leaves on her cheek was oddly soothing and she let her eyes close in their soft, earthy embrace.

“DON’T YOU DARE BLUE!” Her eyes shot open to the concern on the creatures face, she saw such strength in its tired eyes. If she was to go now, this was truly the way to do it. They were now one in battle, no longer enemies but friends and this was a good friend to have. “You should have run!” it barked at her.

She forced herself to reply, through her fading strength, “Sorry...I couldn’t. I...owe you one,” she smiled.

The creature looked shocked at her words and surveyed the wolves surrounding them. It breathed heavily with that wheeze, the mouth hung open with the torn fragment that was the cheek. It forced itself painfully slowly to its feet. The wolves stayed their distance and readied, or waited for it to collapse permanently before they took their victory. Rainbow was shocked at its resilience, it was a fearsome creature. Even with all this it still stood strong against the monsters.

“It was never about survival. WAS IT?!” it yelled defiantly at them. “THEY DO NOT DESERVE THIS!” The creature sputtered and she saw it reach into a tight pouch on its other lower leg. “Appl...she did not deserve...,” it exhaled slowly with the whistling wind, “Burn...”

Rainbow Dash felt a shiver up her spine as it spoke. There was an emptiness in the way it said it, no longer did it hold its rage or anger. She could not hear what it shouted next . As her vision faded she saw the creature hold out its claws, and a brilliant fire burst from them.

18 Before My Eyes

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18

“Ohhhhhh we’re hunting down a monster! A monster so creepy!-

“PINKIE PIE!” Rarity and Applejack were at their wits end hearing it for the hundredth time. Pinkie, unshaken, smiled and cheerfully bounced ahead of them. They had been hiking for what felt like hours. Eventually they found a route down from the plateau, with Applejack noticing some familiar paw prints for a certain crystal wolf.

They had made their way down to meet Twilight and Fluttershy at the edge of the tree line, both looking very disturbed.

“Everything alright sugar cube?”

“Did you find them Twilight?”

Fluttershy swallowed, “Wolves...”

Rarity was horrified, imagining the torn body of the creature again, “Wh...what?”

“They were attacked by wolves.”

“Are they alright?” Rarity heard the distress in Applejacks voice.

Twilight spoke quietly, her eyes wide focussing on the ground, “There was no sign of the wolves, I think they scared them off with fire by burning some fallen trees.”

“Where are they then?”

Twilights eyes did not move from the ground.

Looking down Rarity nearly fainted. That familiar colour scattered about, the pattern of the shoes trekking a line away from the trees. Applejack slowly followed the marks to a tree, more of that familiar colour smearing it. She mumbled something to herself before facing the others, “This way everypony! Stop gawking!” They galloped after her to chase down the creature, all of them terrified what had happened to Rainbow. Four of them about what had happened to the creature. As Rarity galloped by the tree she noticed a triangular carving and underneath read a word scrolled out in the creatures blood; haven

*

“LUNA!” The monsters mournful cry woke Rainbow Dash to a searing pain in her side, she wailed and rolled but two claws grabbed and held her down.

“Do not move! Hang in there Blue.” She was laying on something soft, wrapped tightly in a cover of some kind. Rainbow could not understand it, but she was alive. The voice that spoke belonged to the monster. As her senses returned and her vision became more lucid, she could see the a familiar growth of trees bobbing up and down accompanying smell of marshland. The tough hide of the wolf, Crystal, as what she lay on, being carried on her back. Despite what Rainbow had seen the motions were smooth and elegant. The creature was draped over the side, trying to limp in pace with its bad leg suspended. She looked up and saw it was almost dark, much time had passed.

“Can you hear me Blue?”

She tried to glance at the creature, its speech was muffled as it spoke through its own claw. The smell of the rusted iron was still prevalent around her as flies irritatingly darted about. The creature tried to wave them off but nearly lost balance.

“We’re almost there girls, hold on.”

Rainbow could hear the heavy panting from Crystal and the complacent grunts from the creature. She wanted to ask what happened to the wolves but could not speak them. As they limped along the area grew darker and more humid, a mist along the ground. She thought she had been here before, the smells and sounds were very familiar, reminding her of somepony she knew.

The creature let out an exhausted shout to gain the attention of something in the distance. Crystal pushed further, her pace quickened and she lowered herself. There was a gasp as two hooves rested on her.

“Quick you must be and help me!” Hearing Zecoras voice was a great relief. She did not care how the creature knew her, she was happy to be somewhere safe. The arms wrapped around her and her cheek brushed against a pelt as she sagged. The fabric was gone, most likely torn away in the attack. The dark disappeared and she welcomed the embrace of Zecora’s warm, bright home. She felt weak, tired and nauseas. She hated it.

“Wolf attack, broken wing and wounds on the side.”

“She has been hurt, but it is your blood that spurts. Set her down in here my dear.”

Rainbow Dash could see the floor smoothly glide under her and felt a soft cushion as she was lowered to a comfy sofa. She closed her eyes and could only hear what they were saying.

“Can you help?”

“Of course I can young beast, your worrying can cease. I must insist you go first, lest death come satisfy his thirst.”

“I will be fine. Treat them first.”

“Crystal lies there licking her wounds, young Rainbow will be fine soon.”

“Blue?”

“Indeed. The one you call Blue is Rainbow Dash too.”

“Rainbow Dash...I will remember that.”

A clattering of pots sounded.

“Now drink this and hold still. Be warned, it will make you quite ill.”

She could hear the creature gag but it forced the drink down.

“That is the worst thing I have ever tasted.”

Zecora chuckled, “The strength it will give for you to live. Where are her friends? Were you running from them?”

“I took you advice, ambush, cliff, big snakes in the wall.”

“The explanation can wait, it is getting late.”

“Such a wonderful night, such a friendly lady, Rarity was her name. Look, new shoes.”

“Is that a smile I see or do my eyes deceive me? Came too close to your host.”

“Too close.”

“From your wounds I see the pack, how did you survive the attack?” The creature hesitated a moment but its answer made Rainbow Dash shudder.

“They burned.”

Rainbow remembered the flames that shot from its claws before she passed out, it was no dream or hallucination. At that moment she understood how far this thing would go to survive, and what it was capable of doing. She let sleep find her again, she was safe and would feel better when she woke up after a power nap.

Zecora was silent and could not reply to what she had heard. A great sadness was brought by the news. The pack was no more. She understood the necessity of the creatures actions, but it did not make its actions any less heartbreaking. Judging from what she could see though, it barely made it here.

“Your wounds are severe, to death you were very near.”

“Could you skip the cryptic rhyming please, I’m not a tourist.”

“I speak this way to keep your mind at play. Your concentration will help your determination.” She held up a paste to the creatures head, It was seated on a chair having great difficulty holding itself up. She set the head back and removed the claw from the face it held against. The coagulated fluids were causing the torn cheek to stick to it. She suspended the bowl above its face trying to hold the wound shut. As the liquid poured it sizzled but the creature did not react. Many of the deeper cuts and burns held the same reaction. She wanted to cause pain, to give it that fighting drive. Zecora was now scared and searched her memory for something to help. Its lack of reaction to the pain was not a good sign.

“Now her.” It pointed to Rainbow who lay wrapped in the torn remains of its vestment.

“Fine. I will help her monster.”

Zecora slowly turned Rainbow Dash over minding her side. The wrappings were tight and she was having difficulty trying to ease them out. Rainbow Dash herself had passed out again and was breathing lightly, the movements not disturbing her. Zecora was given a shock, but felt relieved when the creature moved past her and unwrapped its tight coverings, quickly exposing Rainbow. Zecora was relieved to see it fighting to help and she knew this was the way to keep it going. Fortunately she had managed to store a small surplus supply of its blood in cold storage, thanks to a little research. She fetched a cloth and soaked it in a hot liquid designed relieving a pony’s pain. A similar but watered down concoction to the one she had prepared for the creature earlier that week. She placed it in the creatures claw and gestured to the open cuts on Rainbow. “Clean the wound, I’ll return soon. Her life is in your claws so pluck her from deaths icy jaws.” The creature kneeled beside Rainbow Dash biting through pain and set about tending to her. Zecora went to fetch a powerful chemical she made that would help heal the pegasus, it was considerably easier to treat her than the creature. In truth she was no longer in danger but Zecora was using Rainbow Dash to force the creature to fight on. The side was swelling but the blood had stopped flowing a long time ago, pegasus ponies were remarkable healers. She picked up a pack of the creatures blood taking the tools she had acquired only three days ago. Bringing them over, she held its arm steady trying to find the vessel she needed to prick. Fortunately the creatures hide did not complicate finding it, the line clearly visible. She neatly stuck the needle in, taping it securely. She watched feeling proud of her work as the bag began to drain, paying close attention to the creatures breathing and feeling its neck for the heart rate. It raised its jaw to let her hoof ind its mark, slow but steady. She had done all she could, the rest was to close the remaining cuts and wait.

The creature was being very tender with Rainbow Dash, expending great effort to avoid causing her any more pain. As she applied the last of her trauma adhesive solution to the back of it, she turned now to Rainbow. Zecora did not have any pegasus blood, so every drop counted. Rainbow managed to glimpse the creature through strained vision. It was very attentive, holding her hoof tight between its claws, hunched over by her side while zecora applied her solutions over the wing and body.

“Luck was on her side, it barely pierced her hide. A broken bone in her wing or two, a brace and bandage is all I can do. You saved her from the pack? Courage you do not lack.” The creature did not answer and she had to nudge it. It was shivering from the cold blood but it meant it could still feel something. “I ask and you answer monster.”

“She saved me, refused to abandon me.” It inhaled deep and slow, “I told her to run but she did not, remarkable. Stood between me and the alpha, never blinking. Saw I was afraid and charged them herself. I would not be here had she listened to me.”

“A brave one she is my dear, with her on your side you have nothing to fear.”

The shivering became more severe, Zecora grabbed a thick blanket throwing it over the shoulders as best she could without disturbing the line. “She was prepared to expire with me, even though she had no reason to, she stood with me. It is different for her, unlike me the option to run was always there. She never took it.”

“As stubborn as you this Blue. She is loyal to the end, a truly great friend. What happened to you I do not know, but between you two a bond has grown.”

“Thank you Zecora. It looks like I owe you another one.”

Zecora smiled, “Ah, my name you have found, what a lovely sound. My job is not done young one, till you walk free you have full disposal of me.”

The creatures claws were loosening but it quickly regained its grip when Rainbow moaned back to life.

“Zecora?” her voice was strained but her senses were returning. Zecora raised a bowl to her lips, it contained the same foul liquid the creature had.

“Drink this for strength and you will feel better, beware the taste, it will last forever.” She tried to sit up but the pain of her side quickly made itself known.

“Easy Miss Dash...come.” The creatures voice was very gentle as its claws slid behind and brought the body upright. She drank deeply despite the bad taste, the warm liquid filling her nostrils and overpowering her lungs as it burned its way to her stomach. She coughed trying to get the smell out but it remained stubbornly hanging in her nostrils. “Tastes horrible, I think she does it on purpose.” Rainbow smiled, Zecora took the bowl and began applying a compound to her wing, it reduced the pain, she was too tired to worry about her personal space now.

“Do the friends of Blue follow you?”

“I left quite a trail, Miss Applejack will find us eventually.”

Rainbow was suddenly faced an uneasy thought, “What will you do?”

“I will stay for as long as possible Miss Dash, but I will not return to that cell.”

“But...your hurt.”

“I stand a greater chance out there.”

“No you don’t. I’ll...tell them what you did. We can help you.”

“Easy Miss,” it spoke softly, “Lay back and try to sleep, your friends will be here soon enough.”

Releasing her hoof the creature turned itself to sit on the floor, taking a bandage from Zecora and wrapping its knee, now badly swollen.

“The wolves...did you really...?”

The creature finished the bandaging grunting in pain as it tightened them. “I am sorry you had to see that Miss, that is a part of me I am not proud of.” It hung it’s head at the thought, great sadness on its expression.

“Did you loose control of your soul?”

“Not this time Zee, that was only me.”

She wanted to say something to the creature, to let it know it had no reason to be sad, “Why?”

The monster spoke gently to her, “Why...because now an entire pack of animals from this forest is gone. Think about it...an entire pack, all of them. They were attacking me, an intruder in their home. Then they all were gone. Horribly. I hate that, I hate how easy it was, how I revelled in their howls. Didn’t leave even one survivor. I hate myself for doing that.” Crystal came up and pushed herself under its free arm whining and resting her large head in its lap. “Thank you my friend, I’m so sorry I had to do that,” its words became more muffled and congested as it stroked her ears and brushed down the body with a fresh cloth, “Sorry.” Rainbow dash did not know what to say. Zecora stood by providing more potions and mixtures she could not understand. It was the way Zecora looked at this monster that was strange, she looked sad.

The creature inhaled deep and long, “You wanted to know what happened that first night I joined this nightmare? I do not know if you will believe me, maybe if you hear it, maybe you can understand. Then listen, I can only say it once.” The creature bowed its head to its knees, but it spoke clearly, “In my shop I had a late night, a little tired I return to my bed. It is a difficult week, there has been a great loss in my life. Now every day I wake up and I see her sitting there with a happy smile, she is not there anymore. No matter how many times I tell myself she is not there I can still see her. I still think I will turn around and see her. Before I could rest my head I felt sick, such a sickness I have never felt. The last thing I see is my own blood running from my eyes, then darkness. I wake then to an horrific scream of something under me. It squirmed and something spurts on my face. The smell and taste are instantly recognisable. My vision returns and I see more of you things clad in armour, staring at me in shock. I look to my...and they are holding severed wings, the source of the scream becomes obvious. There is much shaking from the limbs. I drop them and fall back with that shock. Her allies charge in and attack me, I cannot speak, not say a word. They are efficient, key areas being targeted as they try to beat me to submission. They speak words I know, monster, animal, you will pay for this. Then something snaps in me, an anger that says stand or you will die here. I no longer hold my sanity, facing these things with everything I thought I knew. The first I break the neck. The second I break two of the legs and send the head into the solid stone ground, but more come at me. It is a blur, grab, bite, tear at anything, nothing is my friend here, protect yourself, survive. Then a midnight blue flyer hits me with such force. I fly back to be pinned by her. She pulls away and throws black light at me, it burns but it does not burn me, my flesh does not burn but my head does. She tries again but now I am ready. A quick shot to the stomach, pull the black crown off, the source of the power, now it is powerless, no it’s not. Still it uses more light against me, It burns so much-”

“I don’t want to-”

“Hush Rainbow, the truth you must know. Listen well to the tale it tells. Every word is the truth you hear, listen well, please my dear.”

“I see the flyer right there, so I reach down and grab its throat, still it burns, the light stops but the burning in my head will not go away. It calls out something I do not recognise, it is a she. She’s there, she’s causing this pain, so I strike. I never let her fall, her body slumps, she tries to call out but I cannot stop. If she goes so will the pain. Then a white one like her flies in and throws white light to me, this time it feels like my head will explode. Release my sister now beast, I will not, she can help me be free. I scream out with the pain, it turns to a roar and I meet my attacker, treating her sister as I would a shield. She is furious now and holds her ground. I can feel the heartbeat, it is weak now. She tries to speak but nothing. I order for them to stand down and let me go for her sisters life. It did not work, she tries again and the pain feels as though it will kill me. So then I want it to, I want it to stop. The lights fade and I no longer see them, but I am in a circular room with the white one facing me. I try to hurt her, the one that has done this to me but I am too weak, exhausted in moments. Then she calls for some maid to bring me water. The white one is playing with me so I play with her maid. I hold her as I did her sister, this time the grip is tighter, I will not let her win. She slowly turns around, and all is dark once more. Then I wake to being in chains. They interrogate me but I will tell them nothing, I pull against them but they use more lights to hold me, the lights no longer burn but the room is so cold, I cannot breathe it is so cold. There is a princess of pink, she tells me lies of freedom and love, her power is not match, she fights until her lights fade. The captain is her lover, no, husband. He cares for her. Next some abomination of mangled animals comes in. He is powerful, he tries to break my sanity but I am already insane. He sees horrors that bend his will, provoke his ire. He fails and leaves. The food might be poisoned, do not eat, do not drink, do not let their kind faces deceive you. I pass out again, I wake then to see they have changed my keepers, much is spoken around me, I can learn I can listen. After time I no longer want to carry on, they try to force me but I will not drink, I will not eat, it might be poisoned and I will go out on my own terms, not on theirs. I will not tell them anything, nothing about me. They will use it against more like me, they will abuse the knowledge. I am at my end, not much longer now, one more outside the chamber, it is the new princess I hear so much about. My next interrogator. She speaks with me then leaves, only to return with more of them, so many colours. There is a blue, I feel the wind on my back, she is close, I can use her, it is my last chance. I reach up and feel her, pulling her to me. This is my last stand. I hold her close and threaten the worst if not freed. They do not listen, they know I cannot do it. One approaches, white grey and I see the defiance in her eyes, she means to break me. She does, pulls my last chance free pretending to be friendly. She then toys with me, a sick game. Then she plays another, stand for me and I will not move. I do so and true to her word she does not. She is terrified but tries to hide it, her terror fuels me, these things are afraid of me. I see you little one, I smell you and your fear. What a symphony of terror you parade before me. How you all stare and watch, never seeing or knowing. How you try to cage what you fear. I long to be free, to do unto you all what you have unto me. I will be free some day. Libera Me. Then I see it in her, there is concern, she worries for me when she sees my wrists. She offers her help and I let her pink haired friend look, I exchange this for water. I do not know why but now I want to live, I want to see where this will go. I cannot let the lost one down, I made a promise. I drink and then I see the new princess, she lies to me, she wants to break me, I feel clarity with the water. I have heard the discussions of the midnight blue mare like her, she is afraid what will happen when she discovers the truth of her immortality, it will break her. I will break her now. She will break. She does, tries to harm me but the taste of my victory is too sweet to be soured by pain, I am left to my darkness, at long last I am alone again. The white one returns, she is furious and I feel such pain as she entraps me further in twisted steel and chains of white. I struggle but it is not enough. She wants to hurt me so I will not show her how much it does. She finishes and the agony is absolute. She leaves me again to my darkness, the captain tries to mock me. I will show him I can still hurt you, now his once proud helm is no more. He leaves with wounded pride and only the midnight blue mare remains. She is not hurt after my beating, why Is she not hurt? Now she begins to work on me, every time I shift I receive a blow, I move to show her I am not afraid. Each time is worse, I loose track of time and then the frightened pink hair enters the chamber. She is so afraid, I am broken now. Why did I drink the water. Now I must remain here longer, I want to leave, any way I can.”

“Fluttershy.”

“The pink hair hates me too, but she stops the blue mare from hurting. She pours a poison to burn my flesh but something happens. In my agony she comes to me, she wants me to stay alive, she feels such sadness watching me in pain. Her chest is so warm, her tears are so warm, such warmth from the cold. Do not leave. I see her in the pink hair, I see the one lost to me. Not a month has passed since she left me to her eternal rest.”

Rainbow dash was horrified seeing this, the monster kept the tone but its voice trembled and she could see tears flowing freely. This was becoming terrifying to listen to but she did not know why. It was reliving the past few days, winding them down. Zecora was as entranced by the story as she was.

“Then I see her, she is here in this little thing, she wants to bring me comfort. After everything I have done she is there for me. So I speak, not the beast I had become but me, I can speak again. She hears me and I will be there for her, we seek our safety in each other. She is done now and leaves me. The night blue mare no longer fears me, she has seen my weakness. I sleep. Now I wake to the sound of war, she is back, Fluttershy came back, but she is in trouble. I need her to free me so I can help. She gives me that freedom, she allows me to be free. So I take it, get behind me now, she is behind me now, not just Fluttershy, this is the one I lost. She is behind me, this time I can do something, I will not let them take her, this time I have the power to stop it. You will not have her today. So I break the bonds and dispatch the monsters. It pains to strike them but I do not care. They seem dazed by me presence, each shot becomes easier. Am I killing them? I have never killed before. I step out to release the chains. I step in, she is so afraid of me, my heart pains. Do not be afraid little one. Please. She takes me out, the night blue mare and her soldiers are hurt, I turn her over, she is alive and she smiles seeing me. Me, the one who nearly took her life, why does she smile? I go up, so many stairs. There is the one, the white grey who forced me to live. She is in trouble, I will destroy that thing hurting her, I no longer care why. Finally there is something to bear my anger down on. I no longer am tired, these things are brittle, they break too easily. I will see them turned to nothing. She is safe now, that look in her eyes is haunting, I have seen before, it not long ago. The entrance is free, run. Just run, but no, she is still there, they are here, if you run they will perish. Who cares. They are monsters, no you are the monster. Go and be the monster, she is still here, do not let her go this time, you promised her, you must be free. I charge in, they all fall beneath me now, the doors will not open, let me open them. The new princess towers over the white one. She cannot hold much longer. There are two more now, one with pointed teeth and some insect thing. The nearest is the toothed one. I enjoy his struggles, he goes down, he is no longer a threat. A green light washed over now, there is no pain now, it is powerless. He is here, I will break him like the others, break. The enemy has fled, and they want to hurt me. The whit one is under me now, the lying new princess too. It will be so easy to reach down and take my revenge. I cannot, Fluttershy made my me promise, why did it have to be her. They will chain me, the captain. You will be lucky if we chain you. I will not let them, I will stand until the lights fade, I will break them, they will be forced to end me.”

“It’s alright. You don’t have to relive it, you can stop.”

“Young Rainbow, today you witness a great pain heal and a new being this shall reveal. Please listen carefully, lest it rest eternally.”

“Then Fluttershy comes here, she will not let me hurt them. The night blue mare stops them. They all part, it is time to run, run away. So one leg before the other it is time to run. It is a long journey, I must stay standing, the populace wants to hurt me. Again Fluttershy comes to protect me. I do not understand, leave little one, leave me to my rest. She walks with me until I run into the forest. I do not know how long I run for, the soldiers are after me, they will put me back there, I will not go back there. I cannot feel my legs, only the pain they hold. It is dark now, it is time to be at peace now. I collapse and I hear something, I cannot even lift my body, weakling. There are wolves so many wolves, here they are larger, more terrifying. I cannot fight them, I cannot fight anymore. This blue mare comes to me now, she does not know I know she is there, she scares away the monsters, she holds onto me and tries to help, her spell does nothing, and she is scared for me, why are you scared, why do you speak these things. Something joins her, a striped one, I cannot understand what she says. My lights fade then I wake up here exactly here, like this. She is a tough lady, she will not put up with my nonsense, within days she has rebuilt me. The brews she gives me restore my body, my blood. She takes some, why? I want there to be a reserve you see. I am stronger now. I have learned in these few days, make a knife from the toughest rock I find, it is very sharp. I know more about this place, I know I cannot return yet, she does not know how. There are none like me here, I am alone. I sleep that night and she sits with me...why?Then I learn I nearly took her life, the striped one, I went to sleep and woke with my new knife inches from her throat. I am loosing control of my body, the horrible screaming happened because I lost control, I am weak, pathetic. I leave her home, protect her. While fighting to survive I see the strange thing, it is a wolf, it hunts what I hunt, it wants to hunt me. I confront it, it is alone, the body is hard, my fists bleed. We are evenly matched.”

Rainbow glimpsed to Crystal, it was badly hurt and Zecora was doing her best patching up the wounds, by the door she saw scattered trail that shocked her, she did not realise she had lost that much.

“We befriend each other, share our hunt, spiders taste terrible but give so much energy. She lets me touch her, show her respect for her favour. I do and we are friends. Only days later an encounter leaves me transformed, I no longer am what I was. I do not know what I am. I help a pony who needs it. She is caught in my snare. Sorry, I did not mean it. Trust me or the wolves will get you. She does, I face the pack, they will not dare try it. She is grateful and very sweet, she hates me too. You tore the wings from her body, listen to theta, from her body...The words hurt me. The night blue mare comes in my dreams, help her, I beg of thee. I will, she shows me this ones pain, so much pain for one such as her to bear alone. The same pack that stalks me, responsible for taking her family away from her. The night blue mare asks me to take it away. She speaks strangely now, I will play along. You are strong, thou must bear it for her, lift it from her. I take it away and she sleeps in my arms, such a pain is now gone, I hold it for her. She cries it out, I cry with her. It feels good to cry at last, now I can cry for the one I lost. Her breath is warm, her body is warm against the cold night. The wolf feels so warm behind me. Do not sleep. You will regret it, do not loose control, do not hurt her. Morning comes, she smiles seeing me, that smile. We go home, I grow to enjoy her company, no, this is a trick. This is a trick, do not play into it. She will not out with me, I am this close to seeing you differently, don’t spoil it. Fine. I bring her home, she gives the wolf a name, Crystal. I don’t like it, but Crystal likes it, it is her choice. The future is bright now, but the pack has found me yet again. They attack, me and Crystal fight, but we must flee. I am hurt again, the wolves are strong, ruthless, they hunt me now and I must flee. The striped ones home is back through where they came from. I am tired and climb to a steamy spring. It is here I decide, here I will go to be at peace. I am so tired. Then I see the white grey mare again, she does not see me until ahem. She screams with the shock, I just want her to leave, she will not leave. Leave me alone to be in peace, at long last. She is that mare, concerned for me yet again. She comes close I threaten to choke her but she is not afraid she smiles at me, that smile, her touch is so tender, so gentle.”

The monster began to slump, the weight causing the thick couch to slide back slightly.

“She cares for me. You saved my life monster, no little one, the debt has just been repaid. She gives me reason to drive on, so I do, I want to see where this will go, I do not know where this strength to go on comes from anymore, but it is here. She takes me to her home, her little sister is sweet, she is kind and crystal loves her. The white grey is so intelligent, so wise. She repairs the damage the wolves have done, ten seconds, I cannot do it. I am here, you are safe. She allows me to take a bath. We share a drink and we talk. I am like her, a shop, a business of craft. Even...I am so much like her. She likes to watch me make my shoes, maybe you can make some for me? I would like that. She has shown me something, such a truth about where I am. The clothes she made me are marvellous, the texture is soft, weakling, she manages to hold everything together, hides my enormous hindquarters. We laugh together, I call her my friend, she smiles and nearly cries hearing this. I am honoured she holds such value in my friendship. We are friends. She wants me to stay the night, I do not want to. I warn her that I loose control. She knows it is dangerous, et offer still stands, somewhere safe to sleep, just for one night. I show her where to strike to protect herself, if I stay you must be ready. If Crystal growls you will strike. She will do it if she must, but she does not want to. Friend. She sleeps by me, she does not pry into my loss, she respects my privacy. It feels so good to be touched, to hold something so warm and velvety. Morning comes, the new princess has found me, she is angry she tries to chain me again, I will not let her. Do not let her know the white grey helped me, lie to protect her friendship with the princess. She nearly hit the child, her anger blinds her. I try to leave in peace, so many soldiers, they think they have me, Crystal.”

The monsters laughed, it was cruel.

“The fight is long, I flee but her talented flyer friend is too fast. We fight each other, she is tough, fast, an honour to fight her. I have her now but the princess burns me again. I have friends to help me too. I run to the forest as Crystal buys me time. The soldiers are captured by my traps, fools. The friends are smart, they follow me closely. Hide. The white grey sees me, she says nothing. The princess is sharp and sees me, go Crystal, I try to run but there is the cliff I hate. I see only one way now. I take it but that way endangers the flyer, she wants to catch me and does not see the danger. Her friends try but cannot help. Can I help if such power cannot. I hear the white grey scream teddy, she brands me with that now. No, not another flyer lost because of me. I will not see it happen again, I have control now. So I fall, the snake thing is strong, jump blue. I have her and we have stopped, I cannot hold in. This is going to be very bad. The pain of it is immeasurable. She is safe and we help each other but the pack has returned. I am finished, but she will not run away. Run away you fool, only one needs to go. I will not go, she fights to protect me, so I fight. There is no more pain, I will fight until she runs, until the lights fade. I weaken but Crystal comes, I must keep going. Must force the wolves to retreat. I will not break now, but she is hurt, not much time. Crystal is hurt, they will take us all now, this is about them, I will see these animals burn for what they did, for what they want to do. So they burn, I let the monster free again and I let them burn. Burn. They are gone now, I am a monster. The flyer under me needs help, I do not have the right to fail her now. I will not see another flyer lost. Crystal is still strong, not me girl, help her. I will carry myself for once. I call to the night mare, Luna, Luna. No answer, I cannot fade yet, Blue needs me. It is good to see the striped one again, she will look after her, I have succeeded. So here I will let my saga end, veterascet et cum lucernis, per tenebras venit, non timebo pro meus officium est. Libera me.”

Such a shock ran through the silence that followed. Rainbow Dash could see Zecora as stunned as her, she would not look away from the creature. Rainbow leaned over, the pain no longer as prevalent, trying to see the creatures face. It was hard to make out but it was badly wounded, the scratches on its shoulders dug deep into the hide, covered in the strange paste Zecora had rubbed on. It brushed its arm on its face, it was wet. The sniff confirmed it, it was crying. Her heart sank at the display. She could not believe this was the same monster that faced down the golems at the castle, fearlessly and ruthlessly dispatching the old king and sending the queen running. More than ever now she felt guilty for what had happened to it, for what it had been through. The sadness was crushing her. A single word could describe what this thing was, survivor. Its pain was more than physical and she wanted to show it there was no reason to feel regret for those animals that nearly ended her, for those monsters that nearly destroyed Equestria. As it sagged further her only thought was an action. Pulling herself closer she did the only thing she could, and wrapped her forelegs around its neck to hold it up. The weight only grew heavier.

“Zecora help.” She could barely speak. Zecora rushed to them, trying to hold it up. It did not move, did not respond. It merely sat there and she realised the wheezing noise had stopped, “No no no. Come on, not like this, not after that, you must be alright, please.” She squeezed gently and felt the creatures claw raise up to rest on her leg. She held to it and pressed her cheek to the back of its head. She could not let it go now. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “You tried to fight them, to force them to retreat. You would have rather tried something else than have to resort to that option, even if it meant loosing your life. If you hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be here. You had to do it. Nopony could blame you.”

“I’m sorry I hurt your friends, It tears me up inside knowing you were all exposed to that part of me, that monster. I’m sorry I hurt you.” Rainbow could feel herself tearing up, the lights grew longer and blurred but she blinked hard forcing it back down. Maybe it was the medicine or the fatigue, maybe it was this tale she had heard, but she could not see a monster sitting there anymore. She looked to Zecora for an answer.

“Speak from your heart, if from it you do not wish to part.”

As she held on something was beginning to frighten her, the heartbeat was growing weak. She did not understand why this much fear existed for the brute but she would not let it go. Rainbow pushed herself up and playfully knocked it on the bad shoulder, the pain forcing a response. With the grunt she saw Zecora smile, this was the way to go, “Stop apologising you wimp!”

“Wimp?”

“Yeah, after all that talk you’re no more dangerous than one of Fluttershy’s bunnies!” Except angel she thought, “What in the name of Celestia happened to the tough monster that would sooner tear me apart and feed me to the wolves? I miss that thing, I don’t want to see this weakling in front of me!”

“Weakling,” it growled.

“Yeah, weakling! Pathetic little scared crying weakling!”

“Not weak.”

“I’m sorry? I couldn’t hear you through all that self pity!”

“Not...weak!”

“Well it looks like you are! Some puppies play with you and you can’t even take that. You know what, you are really sad, I mean just look at you!”

The voice and body trembled as it spoke, “Not a weakling.”

“Then prove it, stop your crying and fight. You think I would let some wolves get the better of me like this? You won and they are still hurting you. Get over it! It’s sad that it happened but they left you no choice.” She pushed herself forward and tilted the monsters jaw to look on her. “You see this? This is still here because of you. I am still here because you never gave in. I don’t care what darkness you hide from or whatever, be one with it. That is what saved us!”

“Miss Dash...”

She felt her eyes burn but she kept going, it needed the fight, “I saw something awesome today, yesterday, whatever! Nothing could bring you down, you stayed on your...umm...paws? Never mind. I want you to keep fighting now soldier. No weakness, no cowardice, no pity party with frilly dresses. PONY UP, NOW!” The final word seemed to echo around the room. She saw it then in its tired eyes, that glint, the fire with which it drove itself. It will live.

A claw came up with a clean cloth and wiped at her face, she released the jaw as it dried her tears. Rainbow Dash had scares in her life, but that was too close. She fell back to the sofa embracing the dull sting. A sniffle from Zecora and she saw the zebra blowing her nose into a tissue, laughing.

A chuckle from the creature followed, she felt herself snigger. Their laughter grew, even the sting could not hold it back. It was a relief for her to see in throw its head back against her chest and release all that tension it held. The laugh was neither deep nor booming as she had expected. It rang out happily.

“Oh! Miss Dash you could give Miss Rarity a run for her money!” the life had returned to its voice and Rainbow was stunned at the difference. This creature kept surprising her, truly a new being.

Taking a few breaths to recover she felt the fatigue settle in again. Zecora handed her more of the foul tasting brew, she drank deeply letting it burn down again. “What do mean a run for her money?”

“As a thespian, as far as performances go that was astounding!”

Her cheeks began to blush, “Well it helped didn't it?”

“More than you realise my friend.”

“Hey! Let’s not get all buddy buddy here.”

“Oh really? Only a true friend would be that brutally honest.”

“It is true what it says, you are one who truly cares!”

“No I...don’t...”

“That’s just adorable!” it laughed.

“Come on! Adorable? Really?”

The monster eased and exhaled a long deep breath, “Thank you Blue, thank you Zee, for putting up with this fool.”

“It is our pleasure, your friendship we do treasure.”

“Well friendship is stretching it a little,” Rainbow commented.

“How about...not enemies?”

Rainbow smiled and let her head lay back. “You know you remind me of myself back before I became the best flyer in Equestria.”

The creature sniffed clearing its sinus, “A blue flying horse?”

“No!” she laughed, there was no need to hide anything for the monster. She had a story that could help it, “I used to be afraid to go fast. Imagine a pegasus afraid to go fast! The idea of loosing control at high speeds terrified me.”

“So how did you deal with that?”

“I didn’t. I just accepted it. The thing about fears is that they control you. You can’t hide from whats inside. If you make peace with your fears then you can control them. It’s not always a bad thing to be afraid.”

The creature chuckled, “Wise advice from a careless flyer.”

“Careless?!”

“I could smell those things for miles! How could you just dive after like that?”

“So I was supposed to let you fall?”

“You do care!”

“I...uh...well-”

“Thank you Miss Dash. Your words are appreciated. I must insist now you rest.”

She looked at Zecora replacing another blood pack.

“Is this all yours?”

“There is a a herb I can use in one of my multilayer brews, all it takes is but a drop and the concoction cannot stop. Its blood grows quickly when it drinks this brew so sweet and sickly.”

“Why did you help it?”

“I do not know Rainbow. I was asked as I passed and I chose to help it grow. A monster must be caged, but in choosing to do so, a monster you all made. We are never born with the beast inflated, it is something that can only be created.”

Rainbow took a deep breath and felt herself melt into the seater, the creatures warm head still resting on her belly. “Now grab your rest Blue.”

“I don’t...want to.”

“Miss Dash, I am fine. Please do not worry alright? I give you my word I am fine.”

She eased to rest against her will. At least she did something to help it. The weariness began to encapsulate her. She felt embarrassed for the creature and herself, such an outward expression of emotions was so uncool. She could take solace in the fact that her friends would be here soon, so she slept again.

*

Rainbow Dash was running from a beast she could not see, it moved fast enough to trump her speed. She tried to fly but her wings were gone, stumps in their place. She darted through a forest towards what in her mind was ponyville. As she pushed through the dense branches scratching her. She darted to a Fluttershy’s home but upon arrival to her horror is burned to the ground, the mysterious beast emerging from the ashes. She could see it better now, it was very large and every instinct told her to run. She headed for Twilight’s only to see the same fate had befallen it. All the buildings had fallen to dust before her. The beast growing larger with each that fell. The face was obscured, the body cornered by a black cloud silhouetted against the blood red sky. She tried to run but her hooves were sunken into the earth. Her heart beat faster as the monster turned to her, it had the same red eyes the wolves did, burning, a deep hunger in them. She could feel the darkness closing on her, shaking her.

“Rainbow Dash!”

She woke up to a relieved Fluttershy cradling her friend stroking her mane roundly to try calm her. Her sweating was profuse and breathing heavy. She could remember now what happened. It was only a crazy dream, that awful medicine must have been the cause. Never again. She smiled at Fluttershy as she was joined by her other friends. Pinkie Pie was hounding Zecora with questions about what had happened, in her detective hat, but stopped when she heard Rainbow Dash’s groans. Her pain had lessened and the sight of good friends made it bearable.

“Rainbow. Where is it?” What did it do to you?” Twilight was more abrasive and on edge now after her trek through the forest. Every step she had concerned herself with Rainbows well being and safety, trapped with the monster alone. The trail they followed to Zecoras had been frightening, red markings on the barks of trees ever fifty hooves or so apart. Applejack was able to follow then with ease, using sone strange carving on the trees to guide her to Zecoras.

Rainbow sat bolt upright, ignoring the sting and scanned the room. The creature and Crystal were gone.

“Shoot!” Her frustration was well founded for during her nap it had seized the opportunity to escape. The couch where its back rested was still warm, holding true to its word it left only at the last moment. She decided to leave it for now or risk the creature harming itself again, “I don’t know.”

“What did it do to you? Are you alright? I’m so sorry, next time it won’t be so lucky.”

“Silence!” Zecora stomped her hoof in rage at the young alicorn, “You know not that you speak lies, without that monster Rainbow wouldn’t have survived. Fought it did against wolves strong,” she threw the remains of its garments at Twilights hooves, “Its battle to survive was furious and long! You will not speak ill of your monsters will!” Rarity gasped and picked up the torn top examining the areas. She looked worried. “When your hoof steps it heard, left it did without another word.”

Her outburst had an effect and Twilight was noticeably stunned. Zecora looked at Rainbow Dash almost as if to encourage her to speak up. She took her cue, “We were ambushed by a group of wolves.”

“A pack?”

“Yes Twilight. It told me to run, I stayed and...fought with it.”

“It brought you here sugar cube?”

“Yeah. It was in pretty bad shape...”

“Then it couldn’t have gotten far. Spread out everypony! I want a full sweep of the area. Watch out for that dog its got with it and be careful, it may have the advantage but time is on our side.”

“Twilight! IT’S ENOUGH FOR ONE DAY!” Rainbow Dash had grown annoyed with the Alicorns obsession with the creature.

“Rainbow...”

“I’m tired and I want to go home. Leave it alone! Don’t you understand? It nearly died to keep me alive. I got scratched compared to what those monsters did to it!” Her friend stood back shocked but she didn’t care, they needed to hear this, “You didn’t see it, it fought with everything it had, it tried to protect me! If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here! That thing has been through enough, just leave it alone!” She returned to her blanket and could not face Twilight. She was ashamed for defending the creature that had hurt her friend but it had to be done. She could not ignore what it had done for her, what it had said.

“Well done young one.”

Twilight did not angry but what her friend had said, she was right. “Alright Rainbow...alright.” She sighed and turned to her friends. “Let’s get her home.”

“It looks like dinners off huh Fluttershy?”

“Oh please don’t apologise Rainbow, I’m sure we can meet another time.”

“Rainbow Dash recovery party!”

“Awesome Pinkie Pie, but let’s wait until I’m out of the hospital firs alright?”

“Oh okay...”

As they carried their friend out to the hospital, for what felt like the hundredth time, Rarity was noticeably quiet. She was still holding the torn top trying to understand what had happened. She made it with her strongest fabrics, her best materials, it had taken so much thought and planning, so much work and time. The creature had finally trusted her but it was all shattered, an entire night was shattered by Rainbow Dash’s vigilance. She was not upset with the pegasus, not anymore at least. It looked like she had come to respect the creature as Rarity did. It was clearly right to be concerned about the wolves. The tears were more like cuts, some of the threads were not even split the teeth and claws were that sharp. Zecora grabbed her as she followed after the makeshift stretcher, pulling her to the side whispering quickly. “It says to you Rarity, thank you for your charity.”

“What?”

“Keep you voice low and stay, if something to it you wish to say.”

“It’s here?” she whispered feeling anxious.

“It lies in the back with body weak, it cannot stand or properly speak.”

Hearing this news brought relief and fear to Rarity. She questioned why Zecora was telling her this, if Rainbow had lied to Twilight about not knowing its whereabouts, and what she could do to help it. She wanted to stay and see it through the injuries again, but doing so would be suspicious. She had to leave with them and come back later with a stronger outfit, something that could withstand a knifes cut. She remembered the special order hoof covers the grocer had asked for, that might do the trick.

“Will you answer, will you stay for your monster?”

“I will be back tomorrow morning.”

“This is good for these old ears, put at bay you have my fears.”

Rarity was too curious not to ask, “Why me?”

“In its state many things are spoken, upon hearing your voice, its eyes did open. It called your name with eyes so weary, for you it still trusts dearly.”

Rarity could feel nothing but joy hearing this, her work did not go to waste after all. As she darted after the others, who had not yet noticed her absence, she could only wonder what the creature did to change Rainbows view so quickly. She still had to talk to Twilight about what the creature and her discussed. With any luck it would help her to be at peace, hopefully so much as to let her forgive it.

19 Hostilities

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19

Rarity was exhausted, the previous night had been a living nightmare waiting for the word that Rainbow Dash was alright. As always she would make a full recovery. That however had been too close a call to her liking. She had not yet slept since the incident in question, the mangled remains of her once proud vestment only motivated her to build something stronger. She nearly went into metallurgy until she found out about the furnaces and the sweating, so much sweating.

Now she sat down in her home counting the final five minutes for Princess Celestia and Princess Twilight to visit. She was as prepared as she hoped to answer the needed questions.

As punctual to the perfection of a princess she entered with Twilight on the first strike of eleven pm. She stood to attention to her two royal guests already experiencing the anxiety she tried to avoid.

“Princess Celestia! Welcome welcome! Might I offer you something for your fancy? Anything at all!”

“No thank you Rarity. I hate to be abrupt my little pony, but Twilight here told me you had learned much about our guest.”

“Well not so much Princess.”

“Well I think we would all benefit from whatever you managed.”

“Alright princess.”

“Were we interrupting something?”

“Nothing could be more important Princess, do have a seat please!”

Celestia chuckled, it was nice to see her in good spirits again, “From what I understand this monster managed to save your friend Rainbow?”

“It would appear so Princess.”

“What do you think?”

Rarity was at a loss now. She could have told her everything but something interrupted her. If they were still searching to trap the monster, it would not be wise to tell them about it. She wanted to see it today, but if they were aware of her connection it could result in another fight. She decided to probe the situation with a question. “Princess, what if its claims to memory loss are true?”

“Do not trust its words. It will lie to get what it wants, I understand it nearly did have its next victim. That was very dangerous. Apparently when you were rescued you were moments away from...relieving us of our problem?”

“Well yes and no. You see it let me have the knife and told me if it acted strangely I was to use it to protect myself.”

“Which it did.”

“Again yes and no. It seemed to be strange ”

“Do you believe it shall return?”

“It is always possible Princess. I don’t think it would fall for the same umm...trick twice.”

“Very well, I must visit the archives now. Please excuse me.”

“Princess, what do we do?” Twilight was seeming more lost after their previous encounter with the monster.

“For now Princess Twilight you must resume your work to immobilise that thing. After what I have learned for Rainbow Dash and Rarity we have great reason to fear it...more than I suspected.”

As Princess Celestia and Twilight departed Rarity breathed a sigh of relief. She wiped her brow, only mildly startled to see the sweat there owing to the shock. She needed to clean up now, rest, be fresh to try and handle the monster soon. She was happy Fluttershy would be accompanying her.

*

Princess Luna slowly entered the dream of one that called to her.

“Luna” the voice echoed in the abyss, “Please.”

Luna was concerned for the monster. What she was witnessing now was an all too familiar sight. The very scape pulsated to the slow rhythms of its heart, glimmering white then dark repeatedly. The monster was fighting, but barely. She could not tell it of the condition, she was forbidden by personal conduct to do anything aside comfort the beast in this time. “Fear not. Thine heart doth linger.”

“Luna. I remember so little, but I saw it today. I saw what I did to you, Celestia. That was me, I needed that pain to stop. You have every right to hate me. Why do you still persist?”

“Twas the kinship I saw within thee.”

“You never spoke this way in the cell, why do you speak this way now? Some trick to play a clever game?”

Luna felt embarrassed not realising it until now, “I...shall speak as normal. My apologies, sometimes I forget myself monster.”

“How is Miss Rainbow Dash?”

“She is strong and well versed in injury, I foresee her full recuperation in time. I did pay witness to the memory of thine strength. Twas astounding.”

“Twas a nightmare. I don’t think you shall need to concern yourselves with me much longer. Tell me, how will you save the burden of Miss Twilight? I need to know before my rest.”

“Do you not rest now?”

“I sleep now, I am soon to rest.”

“Tis a pity.” She turned from it, “You have but two trials remaining to you.”

“Trials?” Her ploy was working. Something to give it fight.

“Yes. You have endured the trials of all the elements aside one, Princess Sparkle.”

“Then the final trial is Celestia...”

“I fear so. I have tried to dissuade her reproach, this however proves to be an errand in vain.”

“She has every right after what I did to her sister and daughter.”

Luna was stunned, “What?!”

“Twilight.”

She had to laugh, “No monster, Twilight is her protégé.”

“Oh. From her wrath I thought otherwise.”

“She is in a sense, family to us.”

“Luna, hear my words; I am sorry I have brought such disarray to you all.”

In this state Luna knew she could get an answer from it, “Were you not involved with Queen Chrysalis and King Sombra?”

“The black glass things? No. Although it would seem my arrival did coincide with the attack.”

“Indeed. How is the...walking?”

“None yet, nearly lost Miss Rarity though.”

“So I have seen. You are not our enemy, are you?”

“Only you all can answer that question.”

“We shall monster. I ask you fight now, fight to face the final trials and redeem thyself. You are not ready to leave yet.” The flashes of light faded but she could feel the increased heart rate. Whatever was happening to it, the monster was carrying on. “Well done Teddy.”

“Hate that name.”

“Care to tell me the real one? I cannot discern it.” No reply. “Very well, I shall see you again Teddy. I am sure if it.” With that she left it to its darkness.

*

Rarity wondered through the swamp with Fluttershy, she had opened up to her about last night feeling she could trust her friend after what happened to her in the creatures cell. Her talk with Twilight had not gone well, the alicorn ignoring her most of the time still immersed in her books searching for case histories of other alicorns and preparing the guards for the creature, she had learned a surprising amount about it, knowing its key weaknesses and shortcomings. Her obsession with its recapture was growing, there was a lot motivating her to do so. She wanted it caught so Celestia would be proud of her and they could put all this chaos behind them and talk about her immortality concerns.

Rarity yawned, she was tired, working through the night again constructing an outfit strong enough. She had done a lot of research into the wonderbolt uniforms and what gave them their durability. After some testing and experimentation she found an excellent combination more that strong enough to deal with mere wolves. She had listened eagerly to Rainbow Dash’s description of her fight, very enthusiastic imagery of gory details. Even if she was exaggerating about the creature the fight sounded ferocious, she could not understand what would posses it to do something so foolish.

Fluttershy was curiously relaxed about seeing this creature again. She was very supportive of Rarity’s decision to keep the secret of its whereabouts to the others. She even left her animal friends behind for the day to make sure nothing would set the creature off. Despite everything else it was still apparent its anger had not subsided and it was more than capable of defending itself.

As they honed into view Zecora stood outside with a concerned look as she fetched some plants from pots by the door. She eagerly rushed over to greet them inviting them in, this behaviour of hers was unusual, she seemed relieved that they came.

“Wake up sleepy, no time to be weary. Visitors you have, show them you are glad.”

He creatures claw emerged from the blanket it was under and grasping the top of the sofa, it pulled itself complacently to a seating position. It had to rub its eyes to regain its senses but it was moving around at least. Rarity and fluttershy smiled enthusiastically. “Teddy!”

She trotted over to hug it but its claw shot out holding her back. The blanket slid off and the extent of the wounds became apparent. It was as Rainbow had said, deep gashes littered the torso, neck and face, held shut by Zecora's adhesive. Large bruises of deep purple accompanied each cut and what appeared to be a piece of strange elongated bark fastened to the torso. It did not look pleased to see them.

“You had better make your explanation phenomenal Zee.”

Rarities smile faded and the sting of its mistrust returned. It was still weary of her, above everything else she was confused why she felt a sting at all. She tried to see its claw but it recoiled forming a fist and rising up quickly.

“Do not be rude , they are alone, lower your claws and make them feel at home.”

The creature closed its eyes still in its stance. Rarity could not believe it could still stand after the beating. Fluttershy shared her confusion and they waited to see what it would do next. As they watched its head slowly turn they realised it was listening, straining to hear something. What frightened them more was watching the muscles tense on it as it waited for something. It was a terrifying notion to imagine this creature was still prepared to fight after all it had been through. After it was satisfied with the ominous sounds of the backdrop it gestured to two single seaters across from it.

“Please make yourselves at home.”

Rarity was still noticeably disappointed by its rejection of her hug. Fluttershy was nervous about what to say next.

“Say something to her monster.”

“I am still waiting for an explanation.”

“Before they came, all you did was complain, we all need love if our wounds we are to rise above. Much damage had been done, not all you can see, so please try to be kind to these ladies.”

“Alright Zee. If you say I can trust them. Ladies, could I interest you in some tea? Miss Zecora here has a special recipe that is delightful with some honey.”

“Oh umm. No thanks. We were hoping you were alright.”

“I am fine thank you. How is Miss Dash?”

“She’s great, her description of what you did was umm...vivid.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, thank you for helping her.”

“I owe her more than she does me. A brave but foolish soldier.”

“She seems to like you now.”

“Then she really is a fool.”

“You can try to hide but we know you're nicer than that.”

“Indeed Teddy, be more friendly.”

“Zee! My name is not...never mind. Teddy will do for now. Miss Rarity, you are being very quiet. Please forgive me for wrecking your lovely outfit. I am sorry it did not hold as well as we had hoped. Shoes are salvageable though. Not sure about the outfit. Does Miss Fluttershy know about our night?” Rarity nodded, she was oddly quiet and stroked the parcel she brought with her. The creature stood up, groaning complacently and walked over. It kneeled with difficulty to rest its arm on the seat where she sat, “Can you both answer me one question?”

“A question for a question...” she replied.

“Very well. What happened yesterday, was that planned? Look at me when you answer please.”

Rarity looked up in the creatures eyes, they were still hard and cold.

“Not really,” Fluttershy replied, “Rainbow Dash discovered you and when she told Twilight we were rounded up to come and see if we could help,” she looked at Rarity and placed her hoof on her shoulder, “Rarity was trying to explain what had happened but before she could tell us much you woke up.”

“I see. So you did not plan on trapping me there Miss Rarity?” Rarity looked at it and shook her head. She still felt the sting and it would not go. All she could do was look at this creature with all those injuries and blame herself for not letting it leave when it wanted to, if she had done so it wouldn’t have ran, wouldn't have had to jump from the cliff, fight the wolves. It was her fault. The creature turned from her and picked up a fresh blanket resting on the side, opening it, it spread it wide and wrapped it around Rarity, she could feel its arms squeeze tighter around her, the claw went all the way around and held the back of her head. She let herself go and pressed her cheek into its shoulder, rubbing it on the smooth pelt and openly crying with the relief. She reached around and hugged its neck. The sting from her disappeared. “I did not want you to stain yourself. I really am a fool.”

“You are.” she spoke with a congested muzzle, “I’m so sorry.”

She heard Fluttershy squeak and felt her friend join in and the creatures arms lift to accommodate her.

“Couldn’t forget you Pink Hair.” the sensation was wonderful, it hadn’t lost its trust for her after all. She could see Zecora smiling and tapping her hooves together. The joy in that moment was unlike anything she had ever felt. She did not want to let go, her friend was safe, it was still there. She reached around to squeeze fluttershy too. She could have stayed here for hours.

“A note?”

“Not bad eh? Thought of it before I went to sleep, a backup.”

“That was so foolish.”

“ Yet you’re still friends with Twilight and the others.”

“Thank you, you did not have to do that. It was so scary,”

“Careful, sounded like you actually cared that time.” She managed to laugh through a sob. It set her down and pulled the blanket away examining her, then the blanket. There were small red lines now on it, she could understand its necessity.

“Did anything unusual happen?”

“Crystal did growl at one point.”

“Why did you not use it then!?” it was angered

“I had it but I just couldn’t. She stopped pretty quickly. By then Twilight had arrived and she ran. You two have quite the system.”

“A simple tactic we worked out a while back. Effective, one will distract, the other will pick their targets. So she pinned me?”

“How did you know? It looked like you were pretty out of it.”

“Pain on the chest I couldn’t explain.”

“Umm.. Excuse me. I hate to be a bother but why was your pet growling at you? And what did Rarity have to use?”

“I-”

“Teddy experiences blackouts Fluttershy, losing control of all action and becoming that thing that attacked the Princesses. I was told that if Crystal was to growl I was to protect myself with the knife.”

“So you believe me?”

“Let us say it is not so seemingly far fetched.”

“Oh my. That’s really scary.”

“Excuse me Teddy monster, where did all those traps come from back there. Do you umm...eat ponies?”

“No my dear. That was luck, The traps were pre-lain, I wanted to scare them from coming in deeper, instead they proved a nice distraction.” It lowered itself to the sofa with a complacent grunt, keeping its leg straight and wincing.

Fluttershy cleared her throat “How’s your knee?”

The creature cleared its throat, “Very fine thank you. Miss Zecora is a talented physician and herbalist. If anypony can fix me up, it is her.”

“It’s good to see you’re alright, we were worried after Rainbows description, is it true there were fifty wolves as big as Crystal?” Fluttershy was making a large effort to be civil with the creature. Rainbow Dash was vague with the details about how they escaped and she was enthusiastic to hear the story from the creature.

“There was a pack, a dozen or so. Miss Dash stayed by my side despite the risk to herself. We fought together and eventually Crystal joined us. Only one was as big as her, the alpha.”

“Where is she?”

“Now she is out on her own business, she always returns though. Very smart.”

“Aww, I was hoping to see the darling.”

“She will be along soon, no doubt your scent has interested her. You are quite safe though, she will not harm you.”

“How did you get out of there? The fight with the pack I mean.”

Zecora looked over from her brew, the bright light glinting on the surface.

“What did Miss Dash tell you?”

“She said you scared them off with fire.”

“They were indeed defeated by fire. It sounds like she enjoyed the fight!”

“She is looking forward to the telling the story to her fan club and showing them the stitches.”

“Fan club!” The creature laughed slapping its good knee, “My word she’s insane!”

Fluttershy and Rarity were laughing with it. She nudged Rarity as Zecora brought over some tea for them. Despite refusing earlier they were relaxed enough to accept a cup. Rarity placed the package on the creatures lap. “A little gift for you. I’m sorry my outfit was not strong enough. This will be better, you have my word.” The creature stared down at the package in its laps looking confused.

“You mean you made another one?”

“Not at all darling, this one is much better!”

“...Thank you Miss Rarity. I will try to be more careful, after I recover though, no point in staining it now.”

“Thats right. What in the name of Celestia possessed you to do that?”

“Which part?”

“All of it, you risked life and limb just to outrun us?”

“If I may...I risked life and limb to help your friend, if you recall I was very safe before she got herself into the tangle with that eel thing.”

“That was rather clever, hiding under the edge.”

“As I told you I like to deal in certainties.”

“Well we can all put that behind us.”

“Can we? Your friend Twilight still has resentment to me. Not that I blame her of course. How did you talk go with her?”

“She is...busy now and not able to listen. After yesterday she is more obsessed with you now instead of her problem.”

“I umm...I thought your solution was very sweet. Rarity told me about it.”

“Thank you, it didn’t work though, the damage is still there. She is distracted by my actions...that will take her mind from her worries.”

“Are you sure you can’t talk with her? Just come into town with us and we can sort this whole mess out.”

The creatures sighed, “Ladies do you recall the question you posed to me in the cell; if you were us would you release you. I will pose this; if you were me, would you walk back into town?”

“I...suppose not.”

“For now all I want to do is recover and get back to what I need to do. I will ponder this issue further, there is an answer I am missing.”

“What is that?”

“That is the question.”

“Quite, this tea is lovely Zecora. You must share your secret.”

“The secret you see, might make you queasy. An old trick I‘ve seen from this creature so mean.” The tea began to look less savoury imagining the spiders it ate.

“I did want to ask, if it’s alright, how are you dealing with food and water? If you want our friend makes delicious pastries. We could bring some for you.”

“I am quite comfortable thank you Miss.”

“Oh. Alright.”

“Here she is...” A large crystal wolf poked its head through the doorway looking at Fluttershy and Rarity. As it approached the creature went to stand between them, placing a claw on each of their heads. The wolf sniffed them both and sat down happily with a wagging stump. It was frightening for Fluttershy to see it up close. Its teeth were visible through the crystal mouth, even though it was sitting, it was still taller than the creature by at least a hoof. Its tail was missing, only a short stump tapping the floor. She was covered in scratches and chips from her fight, but she did not seem bothered by them. Fluttershy sat nervously with the creatures claw on her head, it felt cold and hard. When it was satisfied with Crystals reaction it finally released. “You can play with her now.”

Fluttershy let out a happy squeak and set about examining the wolf. Rarity could see the creature smile at her curiosity and tenderness, “Oh you poor dear, did those nasty wolves hurt you? You are very brave, yes you are! So beautiful.”

The creature returned to its resting spot and lay down, resting a claw on the floor. Rarity wanted to ask more questions but she could see it was tired for anything too tasking, “How did you two meet Zecora?”

“That is tale truly bizarre, I believe it was on the night of one star. A while ago I was strolling when out the bush Luna came rolling, they collapsed before my hooves, it’s life she was afraid to loose. We brought it home and cleaned it up, less the monster and more like a frightened pup. It learned from me a trick or two, it told me story of what happened to all of you. It is no monster here to destroy, no evil beast hatching a ploy, it was here not by choice, and with me it found it’s voice.”

“It’s voice?”

“Courage to speak about it’s pain , its loss and sorrow brought back again. In time I told it to try to be, with all of you more friendly. From what I hear it chose the right one, to try to make peace, at least some.”

“So you are the reason it’s still walking around?”

“I helped it stand and nothing else, it’s will to survive is the heart of its health.”

“I understand, thank you Zecora.”

“You were kind to it and true, for this I must say to you, thank you.”

Rarity blushed, she felt as though her plan had worked, despite everything else she had made friends with the creature. Fluttershy was also a welcomed sight, her sweetness never faltering to its abrasive behaviour. The days was peaceful now, all tension had gone and the chirping birds accompanied by swaying if the trees and the warm sun was very calming.

The creature jumped up and Crystal began to growl facing the doorway, she relaxed suddenly, wagging her stump and running out. The creature eased as she did so and went to the doorway to cautiously investigate. Fluttershy was stunned by the wolfs sudden reaction, she had felt very scared before it dashed off. Rarity on the other hand was nervous that they had been followed. They followed out the doorway, a little too prepared to stand by their friend in case the worst should come to pass.

“Consarn it! It’s good to see you too girl! Get off a me!” Applejack was pinned under the wolf as it licked her furiously. The creature called her back and she came, eventually.

“Applejack?! What are you doing here?” Rarity was nervous her friend was not alone, but Crystals reaction meant it knew her, or didn’t see her as a threat, meaning the creature wouldn’t either. Applejack trotted over to them looking happy at seeing her friends.

“What are y’all doing here?”

“We are...umm...visiting a friend. How’s Rainbow?”

“She’ll be fine. Really agitated in her room!”

“Thats our Rainbow, I imagine she’ll be doing harm to herself again in no time at all.”

“Got that right!” Applejack stopped some paces from the creature, nervous to approach. It smiled to return hers. Rarity could see she was as relieved as her and Fluttershy.

“Howdy stranger” she quietly spoke.

“Good day to you Miss Applejack, to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure.”

Rarity was shocked at this warm reception, “You two know each other?”

“Indeed we do, I helped her with a...problem.”

“A problem you caused!” she laughed

“Come in and get yourself a nice cup of tea.”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

As it turned around it groaned in the pain as Applejack grabbed it from behind to crush its abdomen.

“Don’t you ever do that again.” She released to see it grasping the sides and leaning on the doorway, in a lot of pain. “Oh! Sorry...I meant no-”

“Good pain MIss,” it growled, “This is a good pain.”

A confused Rarity and Fluttershy listened eagerly on as they told the story that night of what happened to Applejack. They omitted a certain detail that made the story less prevalent but did not reduce the impact of how the creature had helped her.

Fluttershy noticed the creature barely turned its head on its body, “Is your neck alright?”

“Same as the rest of me Miss Fluttershy.”

“You know Fluttershy here is a marvellous massage therapist for her animal friends. Perhaps you should let her have a look at what is bothering you.”

“That is unnecessary.”

“Oh please please please, I promise it wont hurt. Just a little harmless exploration to release tension in the joints.”

It sighed, “Miss Fluttershy-”

“Please!” she squeaked.

“She can’t stop partner, best get yourself comfy. Fluttershy here never left any critter in pain alone.”

“Alright,” it exhaled, “I ask you please mind the gashes.”

“Alright,” she sat beside the creature on the couch and turned to face it tapping her lap, “Please lay back.” The creature lowered itself slowly onto her, being cautious of its weight. After it eased and Fluttershy took the full strain she slowly felt around the neck, its eyes were focused on her and she felt tension, it was still not fully at ease around them. Her hooves slowly probed the jaw and neck, her paying close attention to the expression each time. She slid them towards the back and its halt in breathing signified a problem area. She had dealt with many creatures tying to hide their pain under a hard headed facade so she was certain this hard head here was no different.

“There is pain there, feels like a pulled muscle.”

“I will let you know but you must relax. You can trust me.”

“It suffers from paranoia, very suspicious of everypony.”

“Quite the sneaky varmint. Granny Smith used to say somepony who is nervous around others has something to hide. You have something to hide Eddy?”

“Teddy darling.”

“Right, well do you?”

The creature didn’t answer but took a deep breath relaxing its muscles, they could see its head sink into Fluttershy’s thigh, closing its eyes slowly as if trying to resist sleep.

“Thank you sweetie. Oh my you have hurt yourself really bad, a fall couldn't have done this. Was this from earlier?”

The creature spoke softly, the growl no longer present, “It was from the serpent on the cliff, those jaws are strong. Fall didn’t help either, had to grab some branches to slow down.”

“You mean when you held them open for Rainbow?”

“She really did tell you everything.”

“And our Rainbow she won’t quiet down about it! Honestly, one death defying leap and a daring escape and suddenly she’s Daring Do.” They laughed at the notion aside the creature who was now in pain around the neck. To fluttershy this pain was a good thing, it would feel better soon enough, she could speed up the healing process. Her hooves poked through the soft hide to pass over the hardened muscle, even relaxed the pulled muscle had a lot of tension, she tried her best avoiding the cuts, each one inhibiting her effective range. The back of its head was warm, very hard. It reminded her of the day she held it close to her chest. When finished, after some minutes, she stroked the creatures forehead to let it know it was over.

“There, all done, would you like me to take a look at your knee?” The creature pulled itself up rubbing the neck with a smile. It nodded gratefully and folded up the leggings of Rarity to exposing it, the hide was the same with the light fur coat. The knee was red and slightly swollen, a very bad gash of a bite drawn from it.

Fluttershy lowered herself to the floor and began to work tenderly in the knee. It was difficult, but it could be done. She learned a lot about its frame and how it was built. The bones were thick, supporting the body with ease, she had never seen anything like it before, it was as interesting for her as it was relieving for the creature. Applejack and Rarity did their best to take its mind off the discomfort with simple conversation. Still they learned nothing new aside its enjoyment of fruit.

The morning turned to afternoon then evening as they regaled each other with stories. The creature remained very private, keeping all details to itself. By the time they were ready to leave they had learned nothing new about it, aside the fact that it was genuinely happy to see them. Rarity had been the most invasive prying into all manner of the creatures habits, it did not hide information but it did not freely expose it either. Fluttershy had coaxed it into letting her look over the muscles and trying to reduce tension. Applejack made a lovely meal with some apples she brought an the creature ate gratefully, her appetite though trumped the creatures and it had to admit defeat, literally bowing before her gastronomic prowess. As they grew more tired they eventually had to return to their homes.

“Now you take care Teddy, we will back soon enough.” Rarity had called it that enough to cause it develop a twitch whenever it heard the nickname. They could only laugh as the creature refused to give its real name to them, choosing this as a fitting punishment.

“I look forward to it Miss Rarity. Tell your sister I say hello. Thank you for your lovely outfit.”

“You are once again welcome.”

Fluttershy had been very careful with the creature fixing all the problems it had from the fall, stiff joints and sprained tissue was on the road to resolution between hers and Zecoras skill. “Remember to keep stretching, and don’t forget to use the exercises I taught you every day, and also don’t forget to drink plenty of water, and eat lots of fruit, and-”

“I appreciate your efforts Miss,” it chuckled, “Take care and do not fret.”

“I’ll be round soon to help you get up and running on that leg of yours, like new.” Applejack had promised to help it with its rehabilitation. After some minutes of persuasion she broke its resilience.

“Thank you ladies for or all you’ve done, now go and rest you’ve more than earned earned some.”

As they cantered away there was a total confusion about the day they had, It was very surreal.

“Anypony find this a little...”

“Yes. Caught between the Princesses and the monster. I have to agree Applejack, anypony else finding it rather odd that is the same monster from the castle?”

“I’m not one bit. I think it's always been like that but was acting all mean and tough to be a stubborn mule.”

“And it doesn’t remember what happened to it on the night to attacked those guards.”

“Umm...sorry but...do you really believe that?”

“I believe I do, it is more frustrated than we are when the topic is discussed. Has frightening headaches when it tries to remember. I have seen the reaction first hoof.”

“I’ve seen it too. Whatever happens was enough to put the fear of Tartarus into those wolves.”

“Well until we can sort this whole mess out we will have to wait for Twilight to cool off. Do you guys have any idea how we are going to tell her?”

“Umm...let Rainbow Dash get better first then we will talk. It’s a little funny but Teddy has now met with each one of us in a really strange way.”

“True Fluttershy. Twilight needs to know, but she is our friend and takes full precedence over it. Meanwhile we should try to be as friendly as possible and...test the waters before jumping in...as it were.”

“Do you think it could be that risky if they sat down quietly?”

“After today she seemed a little disturbed by what had happened. Rainbow's account of her ordeal with it has hopefully put it in a new light. Either way this situation is rather precarious. Watch your steps girls.”

20 Pony Flavour

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20

Rarity lay back on the soft grass to stare up at the sunlight now easing its way through the mild cloud cover, a humid warmth blanketing her. It was days like this she lived for. Her eyes ached for rest and she obliged. The visits to Zecora were more frequent since that incident a week ago. Its injuries left it unable to escape from them and they exploited that to every wonderful detail. She had taken a shine to the creature now, it still remained reserved about telling her anything new yet she had decided this was not a bad thing. To Rarity it was not lying to them at least, just hiding the facts.

The past few days had been thankfully quiet in the kingdom. No new monsters and no new problems. No walking. Twilight had perfected a new spell in this time to use against the creature yet Rarity did notice that her enthusiasm in doing so was all but faded. Despite all her efforts she still did not have the moment to talk to Twilight about it yet.

Rainbow Dash was struggling to pull herself away from an odd short novel Rarity had lent her. ‘The Marionetter’ was certainly a steamy one, something to get her blood going in that drab, colourless place. It was initially meant to punish Rainbow for mocking her taste yet it ended up being a very nice way to pass time in the hospital. The doctors had grown accustomed to her remarkable healing seeing her active within three days after the event. An alarming number of stitches had to be made but the section they shaved would grow back eventually.

One thing Rarity noticed about the creature was that it had taken an unusual interest in Fluttershy’s wings. It would ask her to fly and seemed enraptured in the form. Fluttershy was true to her name about showing off but she did gain more confidence each time. While strange she could only remember its desire to help and chose to remain silent.

A sharp grunt sounded in the distance followed by Applejack barking orders. “What was that? My Granny can do better. Just for that I’m taking you through another one. Now up to it before I drag you up! No! Get off the ground, no time for sleeping. What are you- No Teddy! No! Put that down. I said put that down. Don’t you dare throw th-,” a scream followed and Rarity saw the very amusing sight of Applejack being hit neatly with a mud ball. She felt bad for the creature seeing Applejack smile and pick up a wad of her own, this was the wrong pony for mud slinging.

Applejack had made it her business to look after the creature. The rehabilitation was remarkably quick. Every day it seemed to grow stronger, back to its original self. Lately it was almost able to beat Applejack in several contests. Despite what they assumed it was not as strong as them. It seemed healthy yet it was no tougher or able than herself. Significantly less so than Applejack, who pointed it out on every occasion possible.

It now lay on the ground being pelted by Applejack mercilessly to lay still, from here Rarity to see a tiny grin. It was gruelling to watch her running it ragged. Slowly its performance was improving. A smile trickled to her face seeing the creature laying still as Applejack cautiously approached. Lately it rarely wore her new outfit, choosing to stay with a more simple ensemble she gave it for relaxing. Only when going out into the forest did it use her camouflage pattern, each trips purpose though was always confidential. After learning of its carnivorous nature, they all decided that was for the best.

A cry for help sounded as the creature reached around sharply to pin Applejack down. Amidst the laughter she fought to get free but had no chance to escape as it pretended to fall asleep on her. It was extremely heavy despite its size. According to it, there was no change in the way it felt yet a single stomp could quake the ground. It commented that this trait was unusual for it. Fluttershy was surprised that the damage was as little as it was. For her though the harder of the tasks was realigning the splintered ribs, a painkiller and Zecora’s potions helping to a near unbelievable extent. After speaking to Zecora about it she had concluded that the bones were more dense, after all the wolves never broke one wit their bites.

Of all of them she could not understand why the others could not be here. Twilight would enjoy talking to it, the insight and depth of thought were astounding for such a brute. Sometimes she felt a little silly around it. Its thoughts were provocative and detailed, her favourite being its logic behind Twilight. It believed she was still going through a mourning phase and was stuck on anger. Using her spells and studies as a coping strategy to repair the damage and channel the sadness. Something she did notice though is that how simple mentioning her distraught friend sobered up any moment. It clearly was still thinking about her, each time suggesting something new to help.

Applejack finally rolled it off her but it remained limp, stubbornly refusing to get back to its training. From what she saw it was not needed, however there was a lingering doubt the creature was in perfect condition. The wounds had sealed, the same burning ointment used. Each day they went around to patch up a little bit more, not an easy task with the pain. It was now laden with markings befitting a zebra. There were lines etched out all over the body, in some places the coat had simply stopped growing.

She closed her eyes as the sun now shone through, the warmth seeping into her tired legs. Rarity had wanted to help more but decided she would be there as moral support, although Zecora had sneakily persuaded her to pick up a chore every now and then. Todays were a lot of herbal retrieval chores. They had made her hooves ache but it was worth it to help out. They had formed a friendship with the creature now, though it did seem an uneasy one.

Since that morning Rarity could never get the feeling out of her head it may walk again. When Crystal was not around she was on the tips of her hooves with nerves. The past few days had seen no such behaviour though, if it was true at all. Applejacks account had been worrying.

The search for the creature had eased a little. Fewer patrols were focused on it now, being sent to the savannah regions after a sighting of Chrysalis, no further signs yet.

A sudden thud made her eyes open to see the creature next to her, collapsed to the ground and wincing as the pain in its body subsided.

“Hello.”

“She’s crazy.”

“Well it is for the best.”

“Do you know how many times she made me do that climbing thing? Agony.”

Rarity laughed as the creature stretched its claws open.

“You’ll feel better in no time.”

“Shame Miss Fluttershy isn’t here, I could use a fix up after today.”

“Where is Applejack?”

“She has concluded our day. Thankfully.”

“You are getting better though?”

“Yes thank you. How was the herbal hunt?”

“Shan’t complain. A little dirty.”

“Thank you for helping out.”

“Oh think nothing of it. It’s the least we can do after all this nonsense.”

A pause followed as they listened to the birds around them. “You know I was thinking about it, perhaps it is time I met Princess Twilight.”

“That would be delightful. Are you certain you want to?”

“No. But that won’t stop me.”

“Recent events would indicate very little actually can.”

“Oh stop it.” Her cheeky comment made it embarrassed and she laughed at its humility.

“You look tired. You certainly smell tired.”

“My apologies, let me go clean up.”

“Please rest dear. You needn’t concern yourself. I am not complaining.”

“Finally getting used to the odour? Impressive constitution, it makes me nauseas at times.” A brief chuckle shared between them ended abruptly as it stood up to stare out at the forest. Rarity hated it when the creature did this, the Applejack looked following its gaze so did she.

“Everything alright?”

“There’s something there, inside now.” She did not question and rose up to back slowly to Zecoras door, Applejack readying to close it in an instant. Zecora though seemed remarkably calm. She chuckled at their stunned expressions and pointed to the sleeping Crystal, not bothered by whatever the creature was staring at. They sighed collectively in relief.

“Something has told me of a certain pony, this way she comes, she is strange to some. Her heart of joy does hold a ploy, yet soon we shall see, the one known as...”

“Oh dear.” Rarity was shocked to see Pinkie casually trot up from behind the creature and sit to its side. What made this so odd is that nothing could normally get near it without it knowing. She made a mental note to ask Pinkie later how she did that. The pink pony looked to them and winked. Applejack had to clamp her muzzle shut with her hoof trying not to laugh. The creature was oblivious.

Pinkie followed the monsters gaze into the forest, tilting her head sideways at an exaggerated angle.

“Pssst.”

“Be silent, there’s something there.”

“Psssssssssst.” It was difficult not to laugh with this. Rarity nearly let out a snigger. She wished Fluttershy could see this.

“Go inside quickly, I will see to whatever it is.” The monster drew the new blade, the same template as the other. Pinkie stood on her hind legs and stretched her forelegs out to imitate it, puffing out to try to look bigger. Applejack had nearly lost it, Rarity not far behind. Pinkie sat down neatly composing herself.

“Pssssssssssssssssssst.”

“What!” The creature turned to the pony, stunned.

“BOO!” It jumped back with the shock nearly falling over.

“YOU!”

“Noooooooo. Pinkie!” Rarity, Applejack and Zecora lost it seeing the look on the monster. Their long hearty laughter bringing ease to the beast as it sheathed the knife trying to recover from the shock. After some moments they wiped their tears and came out again to them two.

“Teddy, this is Pinkie Pie, a friend of ours.”

“Was this planned?”

“Darling when Pinkie is around there are no plans.”

“Is she going to be a liability?”

“What’s liabilimity?”

“She’s fine Teddy, just let her get a good look at you and be sure not to make any sudden moves.” Pinkie was now enraptured in the oddity, twirling around it, biting the arms and sniffing its head. The whole time it remained still while she explored, showing remarkable patience.

“Pinkie, why don’t you give the poor dear a breather and tell us what you are up to.”

“One moment!” her enthusiastic energy breaking through for a moment. She quickly jumped up and reached around the head to squeeze tightly in a hug, it was pulled down sharply by the new weight. “OH MY GOSH! It does feel like a teddy!” It was stunned.

“Miss Rarity...Miss Applejack...what’s happening?”

“I think she likes you,” Applejack teased.

“OoOh you just want to squeeze until the head pops off!”

“Pinkie darling, would you be a dear and give Teddy a tad more space.” With a disappointed groan Pinkie slid off.

“Why do I smell banana?”

“Oh!” she bolted off to the bush where the monster had been staring, a scarecrow with a pie for a head.

“I wanted you to eat something besides ponies. I thought; put it on a scarecrow so you mistake it for prey. Oh hey! Scare crow, I just got that!”

“Pinkie,” Applejack chuckled, Teddy doesn’t eat ponies.

“Oh? Then pie?”

“Why don’t we just go in and start over please.”

“Teddy, there is no starting over with Pinkie. Just go with it and smile.”

“I don’t-”

“SMILE!” barked Pinkie. The creature did so nervously looking more terrifying than happy, “Great! Let’s go eat, gals.”

Taking their seats in Zecora’s home they awaited the conversation soon to follow. Pinkie’s reaction was always as unexpected as it could be yet this was a slight increase to the usual. Applejack was seated next to creature on couch, Rarity in one of the adjacent single seaters and Zecora was passing around some drinks to go with the mock prey pie. Upon completion she eagerly joined the silent group.

Pinkie pie felt strange sitting in front if the creature that had taken Twilight’s smile away. Not strange like a mystery but strange like not eating a cake when offered a slice. A kind of a funny mushy thing in her stomach. Not the cake. Without the cake the feeling was still there. She wondered if the monster ate cakes and what flavour they would be, pony flavour the more likely choice. The thought of pony flavoured cakes came to mind, they would taste sweet. Fluttershy would be a butterscotch because butter made her think of yellow, twilight a raspberry blackberry combo, rainbow a sweet vanilla with blue frosting, she didn't know why, vanilla seemed right.

“Is she alright?”

“She tends to voice her thoughts sometimes, all we can do is be patient. She’s rather energetic so do try to be patient with her.” A grunt from the creature and another small victory.

“I will have to. Miss Pinkie?”

“Yes?”

“Your behaviour is somewhat strange at the moment.”

“Oh?”

“Are you not in the least bit concerned about me?”

“Umm...” she put her hoof to her lip and looked up in thought, “Nope!” The stunned expressions encouraged her to continue, “Well you’re all alright with it, so why shouldn’t I be? I can’t wait to tell Twilight!”

“Pinkie...we all agreed we would wait for Rainbow to recuperate first.”

“Including the fact that I am not ready to meet Miss Twilight.”

“Why?” her head tilted to the side.

“I have to think of something with more substance before I can speak with her. To cure her of that immortal conundrum.”

“Oh...yeah.” Pinkie became glum alarmingly quickly, “You shouldn’t have taken her smile.”

“I know, that is why we must wait. I need some days more before I can try to bring her smile back, as you say.”

“Why did you take it away then? We were only trying to be nice so you could get out of there. It’s your own fault for being such a meanie!”

“No arguments here.”

“Teddy has undergone a bit of a change of late.”

“Uh huh... Oh well! New friend! Lets celebrate!” As she tucked into the pie the creature was shocked.

"Miss Pinkie?"

"Don't worry sugar, she does that."

"I just can't take my eyes off it. The whole pie in one bite. Can you creatures unhinge your jaws or something?"

"Not at all."

“You're certain I am safe here?”

“Well pinkie is surprising but she is a good friend.”

“How would one go about getting her attention?”

“Pinkie? You alright there sugar cube?”

“Hmm? Oh right. Sorry! I should have brought more pie!” She laughed with a tiny belch, her muzzle covered in the remains of the carnage.

“Not a problem Pinkie,” she giggled.

“It’s just sickening...”

“How so?”

“Look at her...she’s so cute it’s sickening.”

“Cute?”

“Forget it. Miss, could we discuss your presence here.”

“Hmm, okay.”

“How did you know I was still here?”

“Elementary! You're umm...red was dragged to the door back there. Also we are surrounded by swamp and marsh. The only real way to Zecora's was the way we came. It's really quite easy, I'm surprised Twilight didn't see it. I guess she was too worried about Rainbow being hurt and all. I wasn't! Knew she would be fine with you.”

All four of them looked stunned at Pinkie as she sipped from her cup noisily while trying to hold a posh pose. The monster whispered to Applejack unable to take its eyes of Pinkie.

“She's playing with our minds?”

“...I don't know...”

“How could I play with a mind? Unless it was one of those super bouncy balls ha ha you know, the ones that go boing when they bounce. Ha ha, boing sounds funny! Boing!”

The monster rubbed its eyes and shook its head as though coming out of a trance. Rarity giggled. She knew what it was trying to do, understand how pinkie thought. It had done it with her and the others, able to change its tone of speech and behaviour to be more friendly and comfortable to each of them. These creatures were oddly empathetic. Despite its ability, it had no chance with Pinkie.

“Alright, so you knew I never left, but why didn't you say anything?”

“Oh I know you're not bad. Knew it from the first day. A real monster would have eaten rainbow before we could rescued her. Not vanilla! Rainbow cake! That’s the flavour!”

“What?”

“Oh nothing.” They giggled along with her at the confused creature. “Then when Applejack came back I saw she was smiling! Then I saw your shadow move and decided to say thank you, you really have to work on your pony skills. It's not nice to try and hit others.”

“Alright then, what about this reaction? If you knew about me the whole time why not say anything.”

“Oh...I forgot.” The creature rubbed its eyes again to the laughter of the others. “I'm glad you ladies are enjoying this at least.”

“Oh don't be cranky already, you grumpy teddy.” Zecora was as amused at the antics.

“Regardless, thank you for your pie...and not revealing my location to Twilight.”

“Oh I think she'll figure it out eventually. Better idea to let her relax a little. If I were her I would want to give you a good but kicking for sure!”

“No arguments here Miss.”

“I think she likes you now, or she doesn't hate you more. That's good, she's learning. Twilights really smart, she will be fine. I feel it in my tail. That's what I wasn't afraid of you. My tail told me so!” The monster stared blankly onwards, “It's my pinkie sense!” The monster suddenly leaned back and smiled, Rarity found the reaction odd. “Well...”

“Well what Miss?”

“Do you wanna know?”

“About?”

“My pinkie sense! Everypony eventually asks.”

“Not really.”

“Come on” she whined. “Please...”

The smirk could be recognised, Rarity stared in amazement. It was impossible yet it seemed possible.

“I bet you would like me to guess.”

“Oh my gosh yes!”

“Alright, some sort of instinct you were born with.”

“Nope!”

“A keen eye for body language?”

“Nope!”

“How about a funny word to confuse me.”

“Mangoes.”

“Good one Miss Pinkie.”

It was astounding to watch, the monster became more at ease with each guess. It showed remarkable patience and after a considerable number of tries it finally gave up.

“Okay! When something is about to happen, I get these twitches and I know from the place what will happen. It works when I meet ponies too. My monster sense didn't go off so I know you are not a monster.”

“That's very interesting miss. I bet you would like to know something else about me, something involving our encounter in the castle.”

“Guess!”

“How did I get that clown makeup, that you covered me in, off? Extra strength no doubt.”

“Yup!” Although Pinkie did not seem stunned Rarity and Applejack nearly dropped their jaws together.

“Just wiped it off on my clothing, I guess your makeup was meant for ponies, and I am not a pony.”

“Ooooooh,” she realised tapping her head for feeling foolish, “Thanks, making mental note; more makeup adhesive.”

“You are not as insane as the initial appearance would lead one to believe Miss. Quite insightful.”

“And you are not as boneheaded, ill mannered and bad tempered as you acted like. Thank you though, that's four of my friends you have been nice to.”

“Four?”

“Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy and Rainbow.”

“Alright Miss. What is the standing between you and me.”

Pinkie took a deep sip of her drink, “Friends!”

“I have to say she is a lot easier that the rest of you to convince.”

“Oh, before I forget again...” she tossed it a bell, “Wear this for your nighttime problem then you can wake up if you move around.” Once again she had stunned the monster.

“How did you know?”

“Let's just say I know a mare. This might not work but it's all I could come up with. Unless you want to go back to the cell!” Pinkie was upset it didn't laugh, the face around her stopped smiling instantly. She had made a tiny mistake, then again she wasn't aware what a big mistake was. She began wondering if there was am arbitrary measurement system for mistakes. A cup of mistake, a pound of mistake, a pinch...

“She's doing it again...”

“Just let her be, you alright?”

Fine Miss Applejack. Perhaps we should end this little escapade, I am starting to feel tired.”

“Alright gals! You heard Teddy, it wants to sleep.”

“Probably for the best I dare say. I have an appointment to meet up with Fluttershy to go see Rainbow again.”

“Can I come?”

“I don’t-”

“Maybe I’ll stay here and cheer you up Teddy!” A long exhaust exhale followed from the creature. Rarity had to giggle.

“Actually I would love to have you join us. Rainbow has been a little down of late. Thank y ow Zecora and see you in two days.”

“You are welcome anytime friend of mine.” As they eased out Rarity caught the creature mouthing ‘I owe you one’. She managed to wink back to it before they left. It had been a strange day, at least strange in a pleasant manner.

“Alright Teddy, let’s get you resting nice and comfy.” Applejack grabbed the blanket in her teeth and eagerly awaited the creature to lay back.

“You need not bother with that Miss Applejack, it is too humid today for that.” Applejack quickly folded it back and rested it on the single seater, looking a little disappointed. “Thank you for your help today.”

“I doubt you needed it.”

“Oh don’t be modest. Wouldn’t be this tired without your help.” Applejack chuckled. She went to follow the others but stopped at the door. It had been a strange day in more than one moment. She looked to her hooves shuffling trying to find the right words to say. A sharp whipping sound with a shout from behind drew her attention. Zecora had for some reason hit the creature with her staff, its arms held out in defence and the weapon already recoiled over her head to strike again. Zecora looked very irritated with it, her bottom lip stuck out and a glare to match.

“Zee! You do that again and-”

“Ask her you foolish thing or the next one will really sting!”

“I don’t know-alright! Alright! Put it down, Please.” Applejack failed to hold back a laugh at the creature massaging its hindquarters where Zecora’s staff had struck. It sat up and cleared it’s throat, “Miss Applejack, is there something bothering you?”

Applejack had to breathe to stifle her giggles, the thought slowly making her more nervous. “I just wanted to say...thanks...for Rainbow...and Me.”

“You are most welcome. Satisfied you stripped-okay! Okay! Miss Applejack could you please come sit here.”

Applejack smiled and turned her head out the door to the waiting Rarity and Pinkie, “You gals go on ahead! I’ll be fine. Send Rainbow my love!”

“Alright darling, do be careful. There’s monsters out here!”

Applejack felt better. She closed the door and trotted over to sit by her friend, still glaring at Zecora and her staff. As she sat by it she saw it stick its tongue out at Zecora. A sharp thwack to the head silencing it.

“She is not big enough to protect all your stuff. Now be nice to Applejack or I’ll come back!” It was funny to see this monster put in its place by good old Zecora. The two shared a special friendship. She pulled away and lit a few lights around her home to stave off the encroaching darkness. She retracted her staff and went to her potions once more. Applejack noticed that she had been working a good part of the day, never complained or got tired trying to find that cure.

“Now tell me what is on your mind.”

“It’s nothing, really.” She funnelled her hooves still unable to choose her words.

The creature leaned back with a grunt, “Miss Applejack, would you like to know a little about my family? It only seems fair.”

“I...sure...” she was stunned by the sudden warmth. She smiled and leaned back, only to have its arm catch her and pull her in. Her breath caught with the shock but it soon eased feeling the shaking body.

“Is there something wrong?” it chuckled.

“Not at all,” she took of her hat and let it rest on the sofa’s back corner. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes to enjoy the moment. It was not what she was worried about but she had missed this ever since that night.

“So...father was a free spirit. Very wise, artistic, a little lung problem but it never stopped him for enjoying himself. He was quite the character, a...do you ponies have hair stylists here?”

“Well I never use them but yeah.”

“Doesn’t feel like you need to,” those sharpened digits ran through her mane again. She had admit though, her mane truly missed this. “Well he and my mother met when they were young, carved out a life from nothing. Very impressive work. We had a big family from all around the...land. Not well known but a bunch you would want to be caught in a snowstorm with. My mother was a tough lady, not a single obstacle would slow her down. Voice that could shatter stone.”

Applejack chuckled, “She sounds like your medicine alright. What about brothers and sisters?”

“I have no brothers or sisters. I miss them though. Really should have dropped by and said hello before starting this nonsense.”

“Did you know you were coming here?”

“No, but I should not have cancelled our meeting the week before. I’ll tell you a little secret, I get scared time passes differently here. I may return one day as old as them, or a long time after they are gone. They will never know what happened to me.”

“That’s kind of a scary thought. You miss them a lot I bet.”

“Oh I am sure I will see them soon. We will meet at our usual watering hole and have a nice evening soon enough. Watering hole is-”

“There you go again!” It grunted as she hit the stomach, “Oh sorry, I forgot about the ribs.”

“It’s alright.”

“Are you normally fast healers? You...whatevers?”

“Not really. Zee has the right stuff to get me back up.”

The door was pushed open and a large crystal wolf with a stump for a tail came in. It used its head to close it again and collapsed in front of the two, panting furiously.

“Hot today isn’t it girl. You’ve been gone awhile.” The eyes looked up through the softened brow and closed.

“I could stay like this forever.”

“I have nowhere to be for a while. I am guessing you’re as tired as I am.”

“You bet your boots I am.”

“I should clean up though.”

“A little dirt never hurt anypony. Just hold still and stay this soft.”

“Won’t your family be worried?”

“Well Big Mac knows now I can take care of myself. Applebloom is his new priority.”

“Applebloom?”

“My little sister.”

“Oh, you are a strong family Miss.”

“Soon enough I’m inviting you for breakfast with the Apples.”

There was a calm about the veining as the insects calls set in, the dull bubbling and clunks of Zecora's work, that claws digits running the full length of her mane. As sleep weighed in on her she decided to let go again, the toll of the work today being felt. After all, with Crystal here, she was safe.

*

Rarity and Pinkie were greeted in a well lit Ponyville by a nervous Twilight. Since the incident the barrier had been removed, no longer fulfilling it’s purpose, and the guards had been more prevalent. The search for the changelings remained steady in the other regions but the monsters presence entitled Ponyville to the elite guard itself.

“Where were you guys for ponies sake!”

“We were...umm...well you see-”

“Just doing some super sleuthing at Zecora’s for clues!”

“Ah. Good job girls.”

“We were just in our way to meet up with Fluttershy and go chat to Rainbow. Care to make our trio a quartet?” Twilight seemed hesitant, “Twilight darling, you can’t blame her for shouting. She did have a point.”

“Yeah but, it’s a monster Rarity! I mean you saw it!”

“True darling, what it did was bad but then it helped out Rainbow. I do not know, but I’m starting to have my doubts. I mean after all, I was alone with it for an entire night and I am just as stunning as always!”

“I know Rarity, but then why did it have to tell me that? Why do I care? Why can’t I just not care?”

“You know a friend of mine once told me the best way to fix a problem you are stuck on, is to take your mind off it for a while. We are all worried about you Twilight.”

“Yeah! This is the first time you’ve out of your home since Ted-” Rarities hoof shot out on instinct.

“Oh I’m sorry, thought I saw a fly.” Pinkie was wide eyed in shock realising it for herself.

“Thank...you...”

“You girls are right. It’s time I put it on the back burner for now and let the answers come to me. That is I’m sure that Princesses Celestia and Luna want me to. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is all actually some kind of initiation.” Twilight managed to smile. Rarity could not contain herself and grabbed her friend holding tightly, a squeaking Pinkie joining in. It was just as Teddy had described it, now into the bargaining stage of grief. Eventually they pulled away, “Lets go see Rainbow then before visiting hours are closed.”

“Oh I’m sure they will stay open for a princess.”

Rarity nearly screamed, “I knew you had it in you.”

“It is for a good cause, I don’t mind throwing a little royal muscle around.” Twilight did not see it, distracted by Pinkie, but Rarity had to dry a few tears. Everything seemed like it was all slowly falling into place.

*

Applejack was facing the door ready to head out home, she was sure by now Big Mac had burned something down. She still hadn’t talked about what had really been bothering her today.

“Everything alright Miss Applejack?”

She spoke to the floor, “Yeah. I’m fine thanks. The door suddenly shut, she did not even hear the creature move her mind was that lost.

“Everything alright Miss Applejack?”

“I’m fine!” she chuckled nervously, “Don’t go looking into nothing.” It brought its face up to hers now, she fell back to sit down.

“Everything alright Applejack?”

“I...”

“You worry too much, thank you for not saying anything to the others. I’m glad you are safe.”

“It was a really close one last time. It really does happen, doesn’t it?”

“It would seem so. I will have to be away from here for another night.”

“They are becoming more frequent.”

“How many today?”

“Three...I’m a little scared Teddy.”

“Really hate that name,” Applejack giggled, “there it is. Cheer up little one, Crystal will keep us all safe.”

“Teddy...the thing that’s been bothering me... When you say she will protect us, how far will she go?” It was worrying how the wolfs ears dropped and she rested her head to face away.

“She will protect you at any cost, as I expect her to. Do not worry.”

Applejack could not contain herself and jumped up to hold the creature. On her hind legs she was more than tall enough to reach comfortably. It sank to one knee with her. “We have to figure something out now.” Its arms came around to support her.

“Zecora is trying.”

“No, I mean we have to do something now.”

“Perhaps it would not be a bad idea to reconsider the incarceration then...”

“No, nothing like that. Just something.”

“Are you-”

“Look, it’s been bad enough this is all happening but now if that thing comes back and Crystal-”

“Applejack, you are concerning yourself with nothing...Applejack?”

She felt her self on the brink of tearing up, “Don’t let go. Please don’t go my friend. Look, you’re really sick. We can help you, please just come with us now.”

“I would but I’m not a fool. It’s too dangerous.”

“You still don’t trust us. Do you?”

“I want to. Stars above I want to.”

“Why don’t you?”

“I just don’t know...I’m sorry.”

“Then can I stay here? It should be safe right?”

“That’s too dangerous my friend. Miss Zecora is very tough, she can handle me. I don’t want to hurt anything else.” The creature sighed slowly, “I am so tired Applejack, so tired.”

“It’s alright, just hang on till Rainbow gets out and we’ll all go have a chat with Twilight, then Princess Celestia. We’ll get you all sorted out, sorry you have to go through this. I promise we will help you.” The creature remained silent fro a while. It was very calming to hold it close, truly it needed help. It squeezed tighter to her and she let her eyes close to let herself nuzzle the shoulder. Its grip felt securing, safe.

“Teddy, that’s a little tight there,” she chuckled. A scraping drew her attention and her heart stopped, Crystal was standing, ears back, teeth bearing and facing her. Zecora reached for a staff and slowly approached, her face addled with concern as she glanced between them and Crystal. The grip was still growing. “Teddy? Zecora... TEDDY!”

21 Walking

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21

Fluttershy had a busy day today. With all the work of her sick animal friends she had no time to fetch any groceries, visit Rainbow Dash or even see the creature. Thinking about it she felt the soreness in her forelegs from her work on it. It had a lot of tension in its stubborn muscles, she had worked long and hard on them though. At first it was surreal to have it that relaxed around her but now it was a normal day for her to treat it. The body healed remarkably quickly with Zecora’s tricks. She would divulge any secrets about her brews but the ingredients, from what she saw, would be very uncomfortable for anypony.

At least now she could rest easy with a cup of something warm and sweet while all her animal friends rested. It was unusual for them all to be this quiet for this long but it was a blessing the way she felt at the moment. She rested her cup on the table and picked up the book Rainbow had finished in the hospital. Apparently is was a very nice story. A little bit for the older fillies but Fluttershy couldn’t stay away from a little romance novel. With the humidity tonight it seemed like a perfect way to sleep, it was too much to be in a bed.

Her reading was disturbed though as the door flung open to see a distressed and muddies Applejack. Her hat was gone, eyes wide open in a state of shock, she was berthing heavily.

“Applejack! What happened?” She rushed over to bring her friend inside, instead Applejack pulled away to try dash back out with her. She had to speak while trying to regain her breath.

“Teddy...walking...Zecora got me out, she told me to run. I didn’t want to! That’s not Teddy anymore. I can’t find Pinkie.”

“She stayed with Rainbow, you’re really scaring me Applejack.”

“Look, that thing Teddy’s been talking about, it’s real.”

“What?! How do you-”

“Fluttershy I don’t know what we can do but it’s headed for the east side of Ponyville.”

“What can we do?”

“I don’t know but we need to slow it down and give Crystal help, where are the guards?”

Fluttershy poked her head out to see the usual soldiers that were assigned to her home were gone. Even more scary all her animal friends were gone, it was eerily silent, “I...don’t...know... Crystals in trouble?” Applejack merely nodded. Fluttershy felt an anger rise in her, “Lead the way!”

*

Rarity was having a strange yet enticing dream, she was aware what was happening yet she did not want it to stop. As soon as the good point had reached though, she was torn from him to a see Princess Luna standing before her. She questioned if it was part of the dream.

“You are not dreaming Rarity, Tis I.”

She quickly righted herself, “Princess! This is indeed an honour, I hope you won’t read too much into that, you know how dreams and all can be. It’s not like I wanted to dream that but it’s just so weird and I don’t even know if it’s a-”

“Rarity.” sang Luna, “Come back to me please.”

“Right, sorry Princess.” She took a low bow, lifting her head to see Lunas face right before hers with a smile.

“You needn’t be formal here, this is your dream. Here you are free.” She opened her wings for dramatic effect. She composed herself for a moment. “Tell me friend Rarity, what is it we know of this creature thus far?”

“Well...very little. Princess please forgive me but what if it’s not as bad as we thought?”

“Oh? What would lead you to that conclusion?”

“I don’t know...I mean after everything it’s done.”

“Well on one hoof we have a wild and insane beast that fought a group of my sisters soldiers when it was attacked. On the other hoof we have this Teddy effigy.”

“Which one do you think it is?”

“After what I have seen of it Rarity I know with certainty what our monster is. You must reach a choice though for what I am about to ask of you.”

“I am honoured to be requested for my service to the Princess Of The NIght.”

“Do you truly believe it walks without free will?”

“I...cannot say for sure, but I feel it’s the truth.”

“I do believe this to be true. Tonight, it does endanger the others, it walks once more. This time into Princess Twilight’s home.”

“What?! The guards?! Is Twilight alright? Are you sure?!”

“Be easy Rarity. Time moves slower in dreams, as ling as you want. We have some moments to discuss this. Princess Sparkle is safe for now, the thing does not seek her. I shall ensure she and Ponyville remains asleep as best I can for their safety, seeing the monster this way would not help anyponies perception of it.” Luna sighed, “Alas I dare not send the guards to help, they shall fall as the others did. I cannot send them to face their end Rarity, there will be much loss. At the moment they all chase a shadow out of the way. I dare not go again, I cannot face that again without either hurting it or myself...” She took a deep breath, “I am here to send you Rarity.”

“Me!? Princess what can I-”

“I cannot explain to you why you are my choice, use your strength and trust yourself to guide your friend. Go to it now, and wake that which slumbers.”

“Princess I-”

Rarity woke with a start. Her heart was beating rapidly while she tried to catch her breath. It was a terribly humid night. “Teddy” she threw off her covers and wiped her mask off in an instant to gallop to Twilights home. There was no time for makeup, no time.

She galloped through the deserted Ponyville to Twilight’s home. Every step told her this was not smart, but the princesses trust on her gave her the courage she needed. As she crossed into the high street, there were no soldiers to be seen. It was certainly not a dream, she needed to hurry.

Upon arriving on the street to Twilight’s home, her heart stopped seeing the limp form of Crystal. The ground was severely torn up with more than enough signs of struggle. She felt her breath again as the wolf whimpered seeing her. She rushed to it as her head tried to rise. She rested her hoof on the large head, “Stay here girl.” Whatever was happening she knew this was going to take everything she had. For her friend she needed to be strong.

*

Spike’s scales stood on end. He had to blink again to confirm it but sure enough, he was not imagining it. The still form of that thing from Canterlot was right there, focussed on him with seemingly glowing eyes. There were books scattered all ore the place, he knew he was going to have to clean that up. He felt his energy rise as he stood before the monster. It did not speak to him but the glare held him steady. The light was on its back but the eyes had a green glint. They looked familiar but he could not tell where he had seen that before. It approached him, the strides silent. This thing was after Twilight, he was sure of it. He would defend her, make as much noise as possible against the brute. He was not afraid of it.

Spike wanted it to pay for trying to hurt Rarity, for everything it was doing. He charged forwards and dove under its stomp to spin the tail and try to trip it. His tails spines dug in with the impact, but the monster did not feel it. He concentrated all he had and threw his fire at the beast as it swung about, the flames licked past the head only to be forcefully cut off and reveal it was untouched. He felt his limbs grow stiff at the sight, it was smiling. Spike tried to call out but there was no air as its claw pinned him by his neck, the force alone choking him.

He scratched at the arm as it drew a blade out, the sheen was unmistakable. It held the tip over his chest, he tried to struggle but the knee came down to pin the tail. He could not shout out. He glared in anger at it forcing himself to fight. Those eyes never blinked, they cut through him with their gaze.

The air returned to his lungs as the monster was hit violently to roll on the side. It quickly righted itself to the attacker, to Spikes gasping surprise it was Rarity. He had never been so happy yet so frightened to see her. He darted in front ready to protect her.

“Rarity, get out of here! TWILIGHT!”

Rarity spoke calmly to Spike, it was unreal, “Spike, I need you to trust me please. Let me talk with it.”

“Are you insane?!”

“Yes.”

The monster rose up now, the life in its eyes were gone, a bright emerald green glow. Rarity knew where this was heading and she was terrified. No fear, show no fear. Something caught its eye amongst the scattered texts, it lifted a book by the page, ignoring the two completely and smiling wide as it read. She couldn’t understand how it could read in the darkness. It shut the book and spoke a few words she could not understand, igniting the book and turning it to ash.

“That’s dragon...”

“Spike?”

“It knows how to speak dragon...Rarity, get out now.”

“NO! Teddy WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” she was screaming out of fear now, she hoped with all her being it would listen to her. Its eyes narrowed and held to hers as it turned the book to ash. The monster clenched the claw and advanced on her, each step resonating in her own hooves. Rarity knew it had what it wanted.

It spoke with an icy rumbling to her, “Element...generosity...”

“Teddy?” She felt such a shiver as the monster slowly shook its head and grinned. There was that glint she feared, this was not possible to her, she refused to believe it. The alternative was too painful. There was no comforting explanation for this. Her mind went wild trying to find something, two creatures, a split personality, some magic spell, a curse. Spike stood defiantly to it.

“Rarity, get back! I’ll protect you!”

“Spike...”

The monster chuckled, more of a twisted gurgling than a anything else. “Touching...die.” It bolted forward to them to crush Spike under its heel, fracturing the floor to carry its momentum to throw a shot at Rarity. She spun to the side as the claw narrowly sped past. The monster swung wildly around forcing her to pull back. A breath of fire from Spike managed to staggered it. Seeing this thing Rarity could not explain it, its eyes were wide and it bore its teeth in a sadistic smile that stretched to bizarre lengths. This was not Teddy, this was that evidence.

The monster grasped Spike and she fired out a stunning spell only to have it roll off the monster. Seeing Spike begin to choke she charged to it with her only weapon, letting her head impact the body. She could feel the warmth of the monster on her as it was pushed back, a pain in the base of her neck from hitting it. Spike was released and she felt its claws dig in her to lift her high. She kicked out but was thrown to the far wall to feel the shelves hit her. She yelped with the impact but before she could recover the claw careened to her. A pull to the side saw it narrowly scrape as it tore into the wooden bookcase. A followup throw for her to fall down, the hit was hard enough to hear it splintering the wood. The claw simply clenched, no pain, nothing.

Her body ached but she forced it to pull away as Spike shot more flames to its underside, scratching his claws against the lower legs. A stomp forced him back but a sharp spin was misinterpreted and the monster sent an uppercut to the dragon to send him neatly out the window. It slowly turned to the stunned Rarity. That grin and widened eyes laughing.

“What are you...”

“Hungry...” it exhaled.

“No, you’re that thing!”

“But it’s me darling, do you not see me right here? Do you not love me anymore?”

“Let Teddy go!”

“Oh my love, save me! Save me!” it laughed. It arched its back and ran for her. She tried to stagger it to have the arm coil around her neck, a crack with the increasing force as she tried to pry it open. She wanted to kick out, as Rainbow Dash had done, but her legs could not reach the head. The arm quickly pulled away as it shouted out to stumble back. Rarity coughed and found her stance to spin around. Spike was on top of the head, clawing at the face and breathing whatever fire he could muster. A sharp jerk and the monster sent its own head into the wall, Spike neatly sliding down the back.

“Ha ha! Missed me!”

With a roar it spun about to try catch the dragon, him quickly dodging and Rarity colliding with the side of the monster with all her strength. It was a tough hide to break. It ignored her and had her Spikey in its grip again. She kicked out but its claw anticipated, the grip holding tight as it twisted her sharply to meet more shelves. The claw did not let go and she felt another swing to let the soft rug cruelly hit. The claw released, she tied but failed to stand. She could see it throw Spike to the wall and barrage him with wildly executed strikes. Rarity had no idea Spike was that tough. Every hit did not falter him, the dragon scales held up as armour as he twisted to have them absorb the impact. The whole time clawing at the arms and breathing whatever fire he could. It did not burn, the strikes were enough to shake the ground her cheek was pressed against.

It was not enough though and he was violently thrown to the floor beside her, the monsters paw holding him down with all its weight. Spike bit hard into it, his teeth managing to break through the shoe. Rarity had hoped something would happen, to see Crystal, even Twilight come to the rescue. She realised they were on their own. With this a surge of energy came through her, enough to boil her blood and force her to stand. The garments it wore were Teddy’s, those shoes had the cuts she recognised. This thing was her friend, with this realisation came the worst idea she had ever had.

“COME ON!” She screamed, “HURT ME TEDDY! I DARE YOU TO TRY!” That cruel face came suspended before hers, the grin and eyes never grew less terrifying. With a sideways tilt of that head, the monster gripped her throat and she struggled to breathe as she rose higher. She looked into those cold, lifeless eyes and wicked grin but something amazing happened, she knew it had worked. Either she was hallucinating or that was a tear. The monster was tearing and she saw it, the glint of Teddy.

The smile began to fade and the pupils trembled. She felt the relief of air again as her hooves met the floor. The monster stumbled back over Twilights seater with a crash. Spike recovered, she had to step on his tail to hold him as he tried to charge for it again,

“Spike...look!” she choked out, pointing to the monster, it had fallen to one knee and was holding its head, bleeding profusely from the snout, eyes, ears and teeth. The sight was horrifying.

“Whats happening?”

“I don’t know Spike, but it’s fighting it. It’s fighting for control. Go and get Twilight now.” She needed to be alone with it.

“How did you-?”

“Princess Luna. Now Spike!”

“Be careful, TWILIGHT!” he rushed up to get her, astoundingly unscathed by the fight. Rarity slowly approached the monster as it tried to shout out through its gritted teeth.

“Hey there...its alright. Your safe, I promise.”

The blood was dripping freely now, almost raining as it grunted and fought. It sent it head into the wall it was propped up against. It looked at her with terrible emerald green eyes, they flickered.

“No...” it forced through gritted teeth pulling a second blade out from the shoe, holding it tightly. The arm was shaking violently now as it pulled it up, it was narrow, serrated, long, nothing like the other. The point held over that place Rarity dreaded, it was going to protect her. That was now Teddy.

She forced herself on it, kicking out at the arm and making the blade clatter to the floor. Every instinct in her said to run, but it made her fight harder, “You must do this!”

“Use it please!” it begged as its voice was failing. She looked up to the blade, so very close.

“No, you will fight! You are strong remember. You like me, miss Rarity, wise, thespian, your friend, FIGHT IT!”

The roar that followed nearly tore through her, the volume quaked vision and trembled the ground. It barely sounded as if it was from a living animal. She held herself there, on top of it. Only the fear kept her there for what would happen if she failed. The blood trickled still from it, she did not know what else to do. She could feel tears flowing. She was not afraid for herself, but afraid for the creature. She saw the blade again, picking it up quickly with an idea.

“Then you will start with me!” she shoved it back in its claw, clasping and holding it firmly shut, “Use it then! Start! You fool! Brute! Weakling!!” With a roar the blade swung around to embed itself in its own shoulder, it went deep. A sudden jerk pulled it free, a sputter to her eyes as the hand violently jerked to trek a jagged line back to the area she feared. It was still fighting.

She had enough, she would not let it be lost like this, not after everything that remained undone, all that they needed to say and see. Tears fell as she picked up the claw and twisted it with all her strength to face the tip of the knife to her own heart. She would make it fight, no fear. She stared wide eyed into its own as they sparked as violently as the claw shook. She gasped feeling the tip dig in. With a terrifying cry the claw was pried loose and the blade dug into the floor, the strength was enough to send it to the hilt.

“RARITY!”

“That’s it, fight that thing, don’t let it win! Don’t let it hurt Rarity!”

The creature hit its head on the floor with a mighty strike, shaking her. Relentlessly in sent hit after hit. She reached behind and did all she could do, hold it. She held on with all she head cradling the face to her chest, letting the heated breath thrash about her coat. It still tried, her forelegs had pain shoot through them ,she could not let it push her away. It was very hot as she lay atop the convulsing figure shutting her eyes and whispering repeatedly to it. “I’m here for you. I’m here for you...”

“Twilight’s not waking up! Rarity get off that thing!”

“Spike, go get Fluttershy!”

“Rarity what do you-”

“NOW SPIKE!” she screamed hysterically. The dragon scrambled out the door. The scream fell silent and the convulsions stopped. Rarity pulled away trying to wipe her tears, shocked to see this much colouring on her coat. She reached up to the throat. Nothing. The chest on the right, Nothing. She felt panic rising and pressed on the forehead and chin, tilting the head backwards to let her face hold over the open mouth. The chest did not move, there was no wind on her cheek She could not hear it. It was not breathing.

Fluttershy and Applejack darted in the room with Spike. She could only force some words through to the panicked friends “Not...breathing.”

Fluttershy took the head from Rarity, feeling for the breathing. Rarity pulled open the suit it wore and Fluttershy placed her hooves together in the centre of the frame. She pushed but it was too stiff, “Applejack, I need your strength.”

“Got you!” She held herself over the creature as Fluttershy had done, shoulders over hooves, straight forelegs.

“Don’t let it drop more than five centimetres, thirty compressions at one hundred a minute.”

“Got it,” She counted out the compressions one after the other minding her force. It was difficult to push against the chest, the hide was soft but the underlying muscle and bones were tough, barely yielding to her strength.

“Rarity, clear the furniture, get the lights.” She used her magic shifting furniture and tables to make a clear area, Applejack was more able to get the compressions going without the seater on her back, “Thirty,” Fluttershy tiled the head back and pinched the snout closed. She took a deep breath but halted seeing the trails of blood from the mouth, it had not pooled and the airway was clear, there’s no time, focus Fluttershy.

She cupped her mouth around the creatures pushing her air into it. It was difficult, with her tears and all the resistance. The chest rose and she inhaled, once more breathing with all her strength into it. She pulled away signalling a repeat to Applejack while catching her breath, “Spike, we need some water and a cloth.” She spat on the floor fighting the urge to be sick at the taste.

Applejack counted the beats out carefully again, sweating with the effort. Rarity was in a shock, her chest was smeared with the creatures blood, her hooves over her mouth with wide eyes.

“Rarity we may need to shock it.”

“W...what?”

“Your magic, shock it when I tell you alright?”

She nodded and held herself over the body. It was an eternity to wait for her cue but time was moving too fast. Spike came with the water wearing an expression of being absolutely lost. Fluttershy wiped the blood from the creature then herself, on cue. Breathing twice more into it.

“Okay, everypony stand back! Rarity, give a jolt quickly.”

“But its immune to-”

“TRY!”

She held her horn over the heart and concentrated. She knew the spell that was meant to be used and she let it fly. There was no twitch, no shock, it could not connect. Applejack resumed her compressions as Rarity stepped back. She had to think now. The spell was not working, there was no time. A little claw held out something for her, Spike’s with a very thin metal quill. It was new, never filled yet with her name beautifully shown on the feather. This was a quill made to be used for the finest flicker of a movement, a specialists writing tool for unicorns. “Happy Birthday, use this as a conductor. I’ll try wake Twilight again.”

“Spike?”

“Stick it near the heart if it has one.” He ran up again with an empty bucket.

“Thank you Spikey.” Another two breaths from Fluttershy and they looked to her now. She could not fail; it would have to touch the heart, not pierce it. She pushed the tip through the fur and skin, scraping past a rib until she felt it touch something rubbery. The heart. She stepped back now. “CLEAR!” All her energy focused into her, feeling it in her stomach. As a river it flowed up into her, through the legs and horn. She released a shock now and to her relief it connected. They could feel the static residue as it flowed around them. Rarity was brought to tears and laughed through a sob seeing the quill quiver in its place.

The creature gasped to turn on its side, wearing those tired eyes again. They were the dull grey green she knew, not the bright emerald she feared. Fluttershy held the face trying to check the condition through her murky vision. They took a collective breath of relief, each holding the body to support the creature while it regained its own.

“Did I...?”

“Yes,” whispered Rarity.

The creatures mouth hung open. It looked down to the quill and gently pulled it free reading the name tinted in its blood. It slowly pushed itself up and looked to the three.

“Did you just...?”

“We all did. What in the name of Granny’s dentures happened?”

“That was the closest one yet. Did I hurt any...pony?”

“Oh my gosh!” Fluttershy galloped out the door.

“That was scary.” Rarity sat behind it to support the back as it sagged downwards slowly. It was heavy but she would bear that weight after what it had just done.

“Well that’s a heaping pile of proof right there.” Applejacks shock apparent.

“Where am I?”

“You’re in Twilights home-”

“Searching through more books.” it finished for her.

“Why...yes.”

“I need to leave now.” It forced itself upwards but Rarity held on and it sunk back into her.

“You poor thing.”

“A foolish weakling. I owe you three a great debt.”

“No debts, you are our friend and we are happy you’re alright. You got that sugar cube?” The creature did not respond but nodded lightly. Rarity held tighter squeezing the big frame and letting her muzzle rest on its head, smelling the blood sweat and tears.

“You really scared us.” With tonights evidence it was clear the stories had been true. A great guilt had set in them all for knowing it was fighting this thing alone for that long.

“Friends. How strange. We need to leave now.”

“No, you will talk to Twilight now, we will be there with you.”

“I am not ready. If you want to help then tell me where Crystal is and lets clean this mess up.”

Looking out the door to the illuminated street, Applejack saw her friend hugging the big wolf, wagging that stump. “Crystal is fine.”

“And you are too...well done ladies. I need another day, I am so close to an answer now.”

“Alright, we trust you.”

“So do I, please help me get out of here.”

“Now I don’t know what’s happened here, but I know I’m gong to have to clean this up.” Spike had returned, unsuccessful in his attempts. He quickly rushed to Rarity and gave her a hug. She returned it, the creatures claw rested on the dragons shoulder.

“You are a tough one.”

“And don’t you forget it!”

“Me and Fluttershy’ll help you clean up Spike. Rarity, can you manage with her?”

“Her? Oh.” Crystal was standing once more, her head caught in the embrace of the creature, “That will be fine.”

Applejack and Fluttershy stood and set about clearing the papers and cleaning the mess. The creature motioned to join them but Rarity held tighter.

“It’s alright Miss Rarity,” it patted her hoof gently, “You can let me go now.”

“What if it happens again? What if the next time you...” she couldn’t finish.

“Relax you thespian. If it happens again I can count on you three. Besides, tonight you showed me what was there, I can fight it. It will be difficult for it to control me now. Thank you for fighting Miss, It is done for now.” She released and the creature staggered to it feet. Rarity repaired the crack in the floor and went to its side.

“Luna...she called you to me?”

“Yes. Now its alright, I insist you use me as well for support. We’re getting you out of here.”

“Oh sure, don’t mind us, had your fun and stick us with the cleanup.”

“Applejack!”

“Only joshing, get it out of here before another mess is made.”

“Wait!” shouted Spike, “What is going on here?!”

“It’s alright, I’ll explain it to him,”

“Explain what Fluttershy? What is going on!?”

They left the confused Spike behind, a lot had to be said but she knew after all that it was safe to let him know. Staggering through the town the monster, Crystal and Rarity made for her home.

“I cannot believe you were that foolish.”

“Now I couldn’t let my Teddy suffer alone.”

“Rarity. Thank you for giving me the strength to fight.”

“What do you mean?”

“I couldn't stop myself. I heard you then the veil faded, I could see my actions, I could fight. It was pain like I’ve never felt, but the consequences of failing were too great. With you there I could fight. There was this hatred for myself at being weak. A voice yelling at me.”

“Did you know you nearly-”

“I would rather that, than let any of you be hurt. You are my friends, right.” the creatures weight was getting heavier, it was supporting itself on her now. Her legs wanted to buckle but she would not allow them to. A March to Zecora's was too far.

“We need to get home.”

“I know, Zecora. I can make it.”

“Not this time. You will come with me to my home.”

“Rarity.”

“No, none of this will do. This is not an invitation, I am capturing you.”

“...thank you Miss Rarity.”

The beast staggered through her door and fell to one knee. The toll on its body had been severe. Rarity could understand why the monster had collapsed after it fought Celestia and Luna. This time it would not wake up in chains, the guards were all gone, Princess Luna had done this for the beast. She could not understand why. All the time she was with them, guiding them.

Crystal lay down with a whimper. The monster slumped and Rarity now felt the full weight of it, she buckled and collapsed. It was a heavy creature. She squeezed out from under the bulk and shut he door quickly. The dilemma that now came was moving this thing to a secluded spot, she would use her workshop and draw the blinds. If anypony asked she would say it was for the heat.

She looked at the beast on the floor and could only picture the knife over its heart, how far it would have gone to protect them. She would not leave its side tonight, not as long as it needed her. She nudged it with her hoof and it groaned.

“I cannot carry you dear, you are too heavy.”

“Then I will sleep here.” it spoke into the floor, unmoving and uncaring.

“I need you to try please, one more push and you can sleep, I want you in the back room where you will be safe. Teddy?”

“Stop calling me that.”

“Make me Teddy.”

“Miss Rarity...I don’t think I can.”

“Oh come now, I’ve seen you recover from far worse. You can do this. Please.”

“...I-”

“Won't have it, I can help you but you must try, until my legs break I will carry you.”

“Miss Thespian.” She laughed. Moving under the arm she dropped it on her shoulder. The creature raised itself up, the effort shaking the arm and legs as it pivoted to a stand. She led it into the room and directed it to her couch, despite the problems it lowered itself gently. No complacency.

“Can I get you something?”

“I need more cloth please, something to clean.”

She was shocked seeing another trickle from the nose, pulling the nearest fabric as a gauze. “Is there anything I can do?”

“No...yes, if I lose control again, do not try anything that foolish. It cannot work a second time, I feel it.”

“Then it looks like the next time will be my last.”

“I will not let it hurt you.”

“Good, remember that and fight it. I am not going anywhere, I’m here.”

“I’m so tired Rarity, I’m so tired.”

“It’s alright. I promise you are safe, please let go. Please be here and know you are safe with your friend.”

“You are my friend?”

“Of course I am. I am here for you always.”

“Why?”

She could see it on the creature, it had undergone significant trauma and was in a state of shock, dilated eyes that could not focus. She hated it. A thump drew her attention to see the whimpering crystal nudge her way through. She walked up by the creature and whimpered. “Hey there girl. You here to carry me off?” She leaned to it. It was remarkable watching this though, the large wolf then fetched something from the front lower pouch, a type of blue seed packet and dropped it by her. Rarity picked it up and crystal nudged the small water container it carried. Rarity followed the cue and took it up to mix the two mediums. Crystal pushed her head under the creatures body and lifted it up to allow Rarity to pour the drink to it.

“You really look after your friend don’t you?” A wagging tail stump was all she could see, “Well done you tough psychotic girl. Drink this dear. You will feel better alright?” It did not open its eyes but reached out to the drink. She saw it could barely hold the canister so she raised herself on her hind legs, supporting her upper body on the couch and held the drink there for it. It was agony watching this, she felt helpless to do something for her friend. It needed her.

It finished and she went to fill the container with more water. Crystal helping it sag back on the couch without any damage. Rarity smiled to see Fluttershy enter her home.

“How’s the patient?”

“Fine I think.”

“Alright, Ij’j just be here with Crystal. Are you okay Rarity?”

“Better now thank you.”

“It’s just umm...you’re kind of umm...well...crying.”

Rarity glanced to a mirror, she was. She saw they were still running and felt the soft coat of her friend embrace her. “That was so scary Fluttershy. Thank you for your help.”

“It’s my friend too.”

“I know.” She closed her eyes trying to hold them back. And felt Fluttershy;s muzzle on her shoulder. Clearly she was as shocked as Rarity.

“Now thats enough of that, I think we need a nice rest after that, but first things first, somepony needs a bath.”

Rarity smiled, she looked herself over and had to agree. Never in all her life had she been this unpresentable, she laughed with Fluttershy at this. They jumped as the creature threw itself to its feet and ran to the door.

“Teddy!?”

“Zecora!” it yelled to them.

Rarity gave pursuit to the creature, watching it move was unreal, after that pained stumbling to her home. It was racing, albeit clumsily, to the forest again. They could barely keep up as it charged through the brush with Crystal. For whatever reason a new energy had reached this creature and Rarity was growing more and more afraid of what was happening, or what had happened.

Arriving at Zecora's home there were no lights on, only a door fallen from the hinges. As they chased in after it there was a collective gasp. The room was silent in its damage.

“Zee? Where are you?! ZEE!” With a roar it tore at the wreckage around the home. It was a horrific mess, there was a large amount of scattered debris. This thing had used the body of the creature to an alarming degree of accuracy. Fluttershy saw the staff of Zecora without its owner. Still it upturned everything, staggering around blindly trying to find her. Rarity and Fluttershy stepped into the fray, one scanning the area from up high and the other lifting the larger objects with her magic. The lights were not working but the glow from the plants she kept gave a degree of visibility. The creature held a nostril and spurted out the blockage, sniffing wildly for her. “ZECORA!”

After a terrifying few moments Fluttershy saw Crystal paw at something, diving to it to pull up the plank. It was her, “HERE!” Before she had time to turn the creature was already on the spot tearing away at what remained of her shelving. Fluttershy tried to help but it was too fast. The way it looked was frightening, wild. All the complaints were still there, the loss from its eyes, ears and snout, the torn claws and the punctures in the side, the shoulders, the bite wounds from Crystal. There was nothing holding it back. Finally it reached the smiling Zecora and hoisted her clear of the wreckage, reaching in its pouch it began to work on her, lost what to do to help. Zecora seemed perfectly unharmed, eyes closed and still smiling.

“Zee?”

“You never learned the skill you must earn. A limp willow that bends in the wind often lives to flower again.” The creature held Zecora to it in a tear addled embrace, eyes shut and cradling the head. The four of them shared a laugh together, crystal pushing her head to join in.

Finally humid night came back into feeling. It was a relief to have this evening done. The creatures arm sagged as it lowered Zecora back down, a smile as it fell to the side. Fluttershy tried to catch it but it was far too heavy, colliding with the ground, she quickly felt the neck for a pulse, a dull rhythm thankfully still present. Once again the beast slumbered.

22 To Smile Inside

View Online

22

Twilight was having a very bad day. A strange doorway was reported in the town square with all citizens from Ponyville gathered around. They looked to her upon her arrival for guidance, a nerve racking experience. Of all the phenomena in the last few days, the monster, the fight, Rainbow, this was the strangest. Although that mess Spike made the other night was still pretty high up there, she was not aware dragons could sleepwalk. She let him get an early bed time today it was late after all.

Lately she had studied a great deal about bipeds from ancient texts. It was true that thing had never been seen before yet she wanted to know more about it. Leaving it on the back burner was proving to be a difficult task. She was happy at least to have the distraction of this door. She had already recognised it as a gateway of some nature. She was nevertheless at the ready to courteously greet whichever visitor was there. Judging by the shape it was from Canterlot and she was anxious to talk to Celestia again. Despite Twilight’s many questions she still had not replied to a single letter after their visit to speak with Rarity.

She awaited with her modestly sized guard before the opening, approximately ten meters across. She took a deep breath and smiled to her friends, each wearing their respective Element of Harmony. Twilight wanted to be presentable to whichever dignitary was soon enough to pass through. She we happy to see Rainbow Dash up and moving again.

Of late she had slowly noticed her friends were sharing her doubt about the monster, always acting very uneasy if she tired to discuss the topic. Yet here she was again, allowing herself to think about it. There was only one question that bothered her; what they were going to do after it got caught and sent back to the cell. She had to admit to herself this monster had not done anything the the citizens since it’s escape. No pony had been eaten or hurt, no buildings razed or dangerous encounters. It was that action that drew the most attention. It almost seemed like it stepped into her shot to protect Rarity’s sister. If it had not been there, she did not want to think about it. That monster was confusing for her. Since Rainbows account she had tried to search for fire spells that it could have used. There were simply too many to think of although she suspected it was some type of powder.

“Twilight...twitch a twitch!”

“What’s up Pinkie?”

“Something bad, something really bad!”

Almost in cue Princess Luna fell through the doorway. It took a moment for them to process the sight; she was weak, battered and still smouldering. Twilight rushed to her side, “Run Twilight Sparkle...” she forced out before passing out in her forelegs. Twilight looked up in time to see the looming creatures fist catch her in the head and throw her far from the fallen princess. Her head seared with pain as the sounds of panic surrounded. She could hear fighting but could not get up. Rarity came to her side projecting a shield with her element to block what looked like fire washing over them.

Applejack picked her up, looking around her friends were all by her. Rainbow Dash carrying princess Luna on her back. It was confusion all around, the pain in her head growing. She did not care how they had Luna, she cared only to beat that creature. Finally it had shown it’s true colours to them proving her right once more.

Fluttershy watched on as she saw the creature barrel through the doorway and hit Twilight hard on the head throwing her far back firm Luna. It did not slow and charged forward, light footed and fast it neatly dodged Rainbow Dash’s attempt to strike it. It carried forward to breathe a terrible fire but Rarity stepped in front of Twilight, projecting a shield. Applejack, Pinkie and herself joining her to block against the blaze. Rainbow Dash flew on to Luna and lifted her to her back, galloping behind the shield when the creatures blaze ceased.

A group of pegasus guards flew at the creature but were quickly scattered as it sent a strange shock through the air to knock them down. Its power had grown, its speed was now formidable. Rarity felt a stinging sensation on her, the pain of Teddy’s betrayal. Looking at it now though, it seemed smaller. She could not see it clearly through the barrier, but the form was different somehow.

More guards rushed to it, it spread its wings to take flight to them, neatly sweeping, breaking horns and wings alike. It’s skin glinted in the lights of the town from the houses, the glints showed a strange form. Landing elegantly, it loomed around to face them. They let their shield drop to stand together at this thing. Rarity could see the others were as disturbed ad she was by this. The residents had scattered to leave the area barren. Teddy looked different to her, a black crystal covering it only revealing that sadistic smile. Rarity was not mistaken, the creature had become smaller somehow, as it spoke the sting she felt was replaced by fright.

“Hello again element of generosity... Where is your pet now?” The voice was familiar, as though they had heard it before, not Teddy’s, different. “I will make it pay for what it did to my king!” There was no doubt now, this was Queen Chrysalis, she had adopted the form of the creature and was making good use of her magic to a terrifying degree.

“It is no pet!” barked Luna. Her voice still strong despite her injuries.

“I will make you regret your actions Luna. I will see you rot with your darling sister.”

“That’s not Teddy Twilight!”

“Who’s Teddy?”

“We must flee now Princess Sparkle. She is too strong.” Luna seemed as panicked as the rest.

“She? Where’s Celestia?”

“We need to flee!”

“She cannot beat the Elements Of Harmony!”

“You mean this?” the queen held up a crown, it looked like Twilights element. She felt her head but there was nothing there, in the hit the queen had taken it off her. She laughed, her revelling carrying around above the screaming residents. “Oh it’s just too precious, you thought that boorish animal could truly best me? Well I know a great detail about it now, it will not happen again.”

“Where’s Celestia?!”

“Oh...you will see her soon enough.” Behind her the black golems pushed through the doorway, a large group. They looked the same as the old ones aside the colour, now a darkened green silhouetted frame against the glowing doorway.

“Don’t let her scare us girls, we still have the other Elements, recover the Element of Magic and we will defeat her.”

“Touching...sister.” The golems charged forward trembling the earth with their bulk as they drew closer. The shield dropped and they darted around them firing their blasts. The golems did not react as the magic washed over them and their strikes met the ponies. The fight was quick and pained, each of them falling to be held down by a single one. They were stronger now, she could feel the icy grip on her back as one of them pressed her into the ground. The others were met with the same resistance, their elements were quickly pulled free and tossed to the queen.

She could see only one thing to do, concentrating Twilight felt her friends and the place behind them. She hated it but she had to run with them. Thankfully the royal guard was not yet done as another wave darted through the door led by Shining Armour and Princess Cadence.

“Listen to Luna Twilight!” he charged into the golems to knock them back with a deafening collision. One golem grabbed him by his head and slammed him to the ground. Now more golems came though after the guard, engulfing the remainders under the tide. Their weapons and magic were not strong enough, it was a repeat of the castle.

“Twilight...”

“Luna! What must I do?”

“Leave me, go get the monster.”

“But that’s the monster. Luna? Luna!” she lost consciousness, Twilight noticed now her midnight black crown was also gone. She could not fight it as the lights around them faded and the screams grew more silent.

A hoof on her shoulder woke her from her daze, “Leave now sis, we will buy you time.”

“Cadence!”

“Not now, we cannot hold her back forever. Get to safety, find that monster if you can, bring it back to help us.”

“Isn’t that-”

“Listen to Luna, go and get help!”

“There must be a solution, it will not help us!”

“Luna thinks otherwise, get out of here now!”

Twilight felt sick as the golems circled them neatly, the queen watching on in contempt. She did not want to leave, she wanted to stay with them, Cadence and Shining Armor were tired, she could see they were strained already. Cadence’s wings were singed, the feathers charred. A flash brought her to the edge of the Everfree forest she whirled to see the centre of Ponyville. Cadences horn sparked its final light as the golems enclosed and swallowed them in the mass. She felt a tug on her foreleg and turned to see a frightened Rarity pulling her to the forest.

For Rarity it had been a close call, she could feel her head being crushed under the weight of the golem, without the royal guards that staggered it she would not have been so fortunate. She pulled her friend to run into the forest, every fibre was screaming to flee. She had no idea where to go, Teddy was still in no condition to help them.

Twilight led her friends through the forest, her owl nowhere in sight. Spike had joined them and was on Applejack’s back trying to see the pursuing golems. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy were dodging the flyers. She was frightened, no idea which way to run, away from the queen certainly but no direction where to go. The trees blurred past the darkness as she ran on with Pinkie and Rarity close behind, Applejack darted past her taking the lead.

“This way! Hurry!”

Twilight and the others followed as Applejack led them deeper into the Everfree Forest. It felt as though hours past. They did not care what was out there, as long as it was away from the Golems. The dense brush grew thicker the further they ran forcing them to push through. Applejack knew where she was going, her footing sure and steady. They darted into a clearing with a large stone propped against a cliff face, it was too dark to see but there was writing on it.

Applejack paused a moment and looked around for something. She caught it and ran on beckoning her friends to follow. A golem reached out and grabbed her hoof hoisting her high. Before she could react spike leapt from her back to its head and shot his fire in the eyes blinding it. Applejack fell free and galloped on leaving her hat behind. Before he could leap free the golem grabbed Spike and slammed him to the ground.

“Go! I’ll be fine!” he clawed viscously at another Golem. Twilight was overwhelmed, she did not know why but her hooves carried her away. She wanted to stay but it was no longer up to her, as if she was watching herself. More golems shot out. Applejack grabbed her foreleg.

“Spike’s safe, get going!”

“What?”

“Now!”

Following Applejack into another clearing she was stunned to see the mare turn around and smile. Her friends seemed less disturbed by this action.

“Applejack, what are you doing?!”

She pointed at the Golems as they burst into the clearing forming a circle around them, “Notice something a might different?”

“Please, this is not the time, I’ll clear a path, you-” She stopped dead as she saw the Golems close in. Her stare did not fall on them, but on the shadow behind them. A large wolf, glimmering in the moonlight, its red eyes piercing the darkness. As it slowly stepped in the light the shine caught the Golems attention. The beast growled fierce and deep, her teeth bearing and head lowering.

A dull thud resounded behind them and she turned around to see the hulking form of the creature, its eyes peering through her. It kneeled down and gestured to Rarity, Th.e mare taking the winded Spike with a squeak. It came closer and she could feel her panic rising. She moved before her friends to stand in front of the creature, blocking it. Its expression softened and it bowed gracefully to her.

“Ladies.” Her confusion was apparent. Rarity came by her and grasped her foreleg. The creature walked past her slowly to stand before the Golems. It scanned the area, there were five, a fraction of the group that chased them. The creature was sweating profusely and breathing heavily, it’s breath carrying on the cold night air while mist danced from its head. The question of the pursuers reduced number was answered quickly by the Golem head it grasped in its claw, throwing it to the ground before the others. The monsters watched as it disintegrated under the heel if the creature and hesitantly stepped back. They were however reminded of the wolf when it snarled. Twilight saw what was about to happen. The Golems were trapped now, and they knew it.

The creature darted forward without warning, the wolf doing the same. It leapt on the back of a golem and grasped its head in the teeth They watched shocked as the jaw closed, shattering the head leaving the struggling body to crumble. The creature made short work of two, a single shot to the legs of one sending it crashing to the ground, the second one failing to connect and being thrown to the ground to have the creature crush its neck. The final two ceased a chance and fled into the forest, the creature and the wolf following. They were engulfed by darkness and the hollow groan of a single Golem resounded, peace once more being brought to the clearing.

Twilight could now feel Rarities foreleg around her and she shook it off, she could not imagine what was happening, if the creature had taken control of her friends and was now retuning for her. Its dull thudding steps sounded as it emerged from the bush once more, the fearsome wolf walking beside it, light of step almost without sound. It stepped over the fallen Golem, its breath washing over the form as it spoke. Without the legs it could not run, it tried to throw a punch but the creature brushed it away. It became more violent in its struggles, the creature crouched over it still whispering. Its struggled ceased as one smooth strike to the head connected, the form seeming to turn to dust.

It stood and turned to face the group, as it did it scanned their bodies thoroughly, extra attention paid to her. It stepped closer and she instinctively stepped back. She looked to her friends who were clearly concerned, exchanging looks of worry and uncertainty.

“Please Princess, now is not the time, there may be reinforcements soon. I ask you follow me to a safer location.”

She could feel her anger now, this creatures assumption of her naivety was offensive, “I am not going anywhere with you.”

“Twilight please, it’s not our enemy...”

“You too Applejack?! What have you done to them?!”

The creature still came closer and she felt the rock face against her flank. This was from out of a nightmare, she was surrounded now by her own friends, turned by this monster.

“Nothing sugar cube.”

“Please, it is our friend. They are-”

“No, stay back!” She shot a warning to them, the magic impacting the ground before them, “Stay back!” Her panic was rising, fear controlling her actions. This was now a fight to survive, to remain uncorrupted by the monster, if she fell all Equestria would be doomed to Chrysalis, she had to fight. Another blast sent her friends sprawling on the ground, the creature was unaffected. She fired that spell at it, the one that hurt it in the cell, it washed over it and blinded her to what was happening. She tried to scream as the creatures arms wrapped around her, kicking out, its grip tightening, pinning her to it, her legs could no longer kick out, she did not want it to end now. Refusing to she tried another spell, a fire washed over them, it did not burn her but the creatures face twisted as it seared the body. When the flame was done, expended from her she was weak. Her body was left barely conscious from the tight grip as it choked her. She tried to call to her friends for help but could not see what happened, as her vision faded and all went silent.

Rarity watched helplessly as Twilight struggled against the creature, a brilliant blue flame washing over them. She wanted to stop this but she was frozen, fear gripping her. When her friend was still she could finally speak. “What did you do?” Twilight slumped in its arms and it lowered her to the ground, beckoning fluttershy to it.

“Resuscitate her quickly.”

“What did you do?”

“Wait and see, follow Crystal now, I will join you shortly.”

“What about-”

“There is no time to waste Ladies. Move it now.” Twilight sputtered back to life and upon seeing the creature failed in an attempt to shout out, her weakened cry stifled by its claw on her mouth. The creature spoke, hard and cruel, it sent a shiver up her spine. “Listen here highness. There is no time for your nonsense. You will be quiet and come with me if you want your kingdom back again or I could just as easily leave you here.” Her eyes widened and the creature released standing above her, “Please help her up Miss Fluttershy. As I said, the rest of you follow Crystal.”

“You heard the boss girls, this way!” Pinkie Pies light hearted attitude rallied her friends and they followed with Twilight supported by Fluttershy. The creature pulled away and into the dark forest again to continue its hunt. Pinkie always followed her instincts, they were never wrong. The creature hoisted Luna on the wolf and the beast carried her smoothly.

The walk with the wolf was slow and quiet, its head was lowered the whole time, ears flailing around listening to the sounds of the forest. They dared not interfere with it, the arched body and drawn claws that scraped the ground with each step. Twilight hung over Fluttershy winded and tired, Rarity moved beside her to try and help, Applejack offering her a ride on her back. She remained silent trying not to feel the bruises around her side. It ached and breathing was painful, the creature had constricted her, her main concern was why the flame did not work that well. It used the same magic that could harm it, yet it washed off the monster without leaving a mark, not even the uniform it wore caught fire. She had worked tirelessly on that spell, crossing too many lines to breathe the fire of dragons. This creature was as dangerous as she thought.

“Twilight please say something.”

“I have nothing to say to traitors.”

“At least she’s talking.” This was especially hard for Rarity, the fight they had still fresh in her mind, “Please dear, we are not traitors.”

“That so called monster is actually very sweet. It wouldn’t hurt us.”

“It already did Fluttershy! Were you seeing what I saw? How it finished that Darkling? You’re trying to tell me that is not a threat.”

“Hey, like it or not that threat just helped us out!” The wolf growled at Rainbow Dash. She settled quickly on the ground lowering her voice, “Twilight, it’s not as bad as we thought, it wants to help, it’s sorry for hurting us.”

“It looks just like Chrysalis, they are working together. It is lying to you, just like Princess Celestia warned us. It is lying and waiting for the right moment.”

“To do what?”

“I don’t know okay!” Twilight was now crying, the shock of what had happened was setting in.

“And more importantly why does it even cares what happens to you ladies.” Fluttershy jumped at the creatures voice, it had joined their group silently, no longer making a sound as its paw steps swept over the surface, “My apologies Miss. This monster, young princess, is more concerned with silence now. There is a lot of damage to repair between us and it pains me to have caused it. For now we must be silent, I can hear you all from a great distance.” Fluttershy stumbled and supported Twilight. The run had made her tired, she was used to physical strain working with her animals, but the fear she had in her was now chipping away. The creature stepped before her and Twilight, lowering itself to one knee with its back facing them. “Get on now Princess, you are slowing your friends down.” Twilight stared at the back of the creature, dusted with glittering fragments of the Golems. She could not believe it thought she would, or that she wanted to.

Her mind was spinning and it was getting harder to remain standing. The creature sighed and turned to her, gesturing to her friends to walk on. It placed its claws on Twilights shoulders, she wanted to shake them off but could not find the right muscle to command. She was less afraid now seeing its pained expression, it had probably felt the fire more than she thought, this pleased her. “Please Miss Twilight, I am not that monster you met in the cell, look at me please,” the claw tilted her head up, if felt cold and hard, “Please Twilight, it’s enough fighting for now. Please, in the name of whatever it is here, just get on so we can get to safety.”

“I can walk thank you,” she said bitterly.

“You are the smartest one here I am led to believe. So think about it, the six of you are all that’s left now. You do not need to trust me, you need to use me now, I have a strong back, a safe place and and advantage over your enemy. Your friends there have done more for me than I can possibly repay. Please just get on, hold on and we can be enemies after this is over.”

Twilight looked away from the creature, it turned around and spread its arm supporting itself on the knee. She felt the pain in her sides it had caused, the exhausted feeling. The creature was right, she was smart, and would have to be smart around it. As long as she did, she could follow.

“Answer me one question first,”

“Make it quick,”

“What do you want here?”

It turned to face her, the tired eyes brought close to her face. “Miss Twilight, I want to help you. Not because I am applying some trick, not for money or even your friendship. I want to help because it is all that I can give to forgive myself for all the things I have done.”

It turned around once more, patting the back. Twilight felt tight inside, very confused. She saw the back and felt its warmth now. Princess Luna said to get the monster,she would have to trust her. She raised her forelegs over the shoulder, wrapped her hooves around its neck, fighting the temptation to tighten it as it did to her. She had hated it for so long and now hated herself for not yelling at it like she wanted to. In her mind she had rehearsed their encounter countless times, seeing its fury at her words, watching it feel the pain she did, yet now it felt like she was helpless. The creatures arms came around and supported her flank as it raised her up effortlessly. It moved forward at a faster pace now, closing the distance with the others and striding past them expending great effort to maintain a smooth walk. It did not say another word to her, she suddenly felt faint, fighting the temptation to pass out, she failed.

*

The group came silently through to a large tree, it was amongst many in this area that towered over the scape. It dug into a self made crater that stretched a decent distance in diameter, a mild slope angling to reach the centre composed of tightly packed soil. The creature climbed down a well hidden path to an opening at the base. The path was wide enough to be comfortable to traverse but looking down Fluttershy felt terrified. Luckily Pinkie was there to keep their spirits up and coax them further. The opening was a cave underground, as they entered following Crystal it became apparent this was the creatures second home.

Setting the sleeping Twilight down on a very makeshift bed, it lit a fire in the centre of the cave. Rarity settled Spike down beside her and took in the sight of the room while they tended to the pair. It was not a large space but could accommodate all of them without concern. Barrels were stacked neatly on the side with labels for food or water. The ground was neatly lined with large, thick, dried out leaves making it very soft, there was a makeshift table covered in strange looking devices, crudely built. Applejack shuddered as she saw the far wall, an assortment of strange and familiar weapons covering it; spears, axes and blades she had never seen before made from the same material as the creatures knife was. The smell of fresh earth hung in the air, not an unpleasant aroma.

“So this is what you were up to.”

“I apologise for the mess, please be seated, I will fetch supplies to treat you all.” The creature set about taking strange coloured liquids from around and offered the basic plants to each of them. There were a few bruises and scrapes but it knew which herb would treat what ailment. They quickly began applying the liquids to the burns and bruises. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy had the most experience about how to apply Zecora's mixtures after their recent adventures.

The creature stood up and waited at the entrance scanning the area. “Are one of you able to tell me what happened?” Applejack felt the most capable and moved closer to the creature seeing the scrapes it had on the claws. She took them in her hooves but it pulled away sharply with the shock of the pain. It took some of its own agent and gently applied it to the top of the claw. Applejack took the claw back and massaged it in, trying to avoid causing any more discomfort. “The queen is back, she has an entire army now and she...looks like you.”

“What? She is from my land?”

“She is a shapeshifter.”

“I see. What of the monarchs and their army?” Applejack summarised their ordeal in Ponyville. When she finished there was a long silence hanging in the air. “That is not good. I am sorry I was not there.”

“You didn’t know sugar cube, thank you for coming.”

“I will help you of course, we must effect a retaliation before she has a chance to build her forces.”

“Let us get gain our strength back first.”

“Alright, there is more than enough food and water, have to your hearts content. I need to think now, think of a plan.”

“A plan?”

“Is there an echo?”

“Look, we can figure this out but we need to just take a breather, we’re all a little shocked and you’re kind of trembling here.”

“I’m fine Miss Applejack.”

“No you’re not, it's alright to be scared. You can be scared.” She felt the arms reach around her and hold on. It squeezed her tightly, a good squeeze and she let her muzzle dig into the shoulder.

“It’s alright. You can be scared my friend. Why don’t you rest a moment, that was a really good job tracking the place. I need to check with the others now. Have a rest, try to eat something.”

“Thanks for coming.”

“Not done yet. What does this queen want with you all?”

“She takes love from ponies and turns them into changelings.”

“How long does this take?”

“A few days.”

“More than enough time.”

Rarity was torn up inside thinking about her sister and parents. In the fray they had not crossed her mind and now she was having to come to rems with the face that she had abandoned them. She felt that hardened claw wipe her tears away, seeing the creature sitting in front of her, “Miss Rarity, you did not run away from them, you came for help; which is what you found. They will be safe, from the sound of it the queen needs them for their love. You must stay strong alright?”

“I will...try.”

“We cannot have you break down now. I am going to need you for the plan tomorrow.”

“You have a plan?”

“Not yet.”

“Thank you for helping. Not just now of course but for planning and trying to-” She was stopped by the creatures arms around her, its embrace lingered a while. It felt good yet bad at the same time. It released.

“Ladies, could we all come in a little closer please.” They did so each feeling the shock still residing over the events. The creature sat with them all gathered in a tight circle. “So what are we looking at here?”

“What do you mean?”

“I need details of the area, the numbers and the captives.”

“We don’t know, we just kind of...well.”

“You know animals Miss Fluttershy, can we use them to get a picture of what is going on.”

“I think I can go and ask them, maybe with a little encouragement they will be safe.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I meant-”

“Hang in there Miss Fluttershy, they are alright I am sure. Please see if you can get any of them to help out. I need to know how many and where the queen is.”

“Okay.” She nervously stepped outside, Crystal accompanying her, to try effect the creatures request.

“I cant take this, I’m going back! They need me.” Rainbow Dash spread her wings, the creature moved to block her. “Move it now.”

“Theres nothing to do Blue. Be patient we can think of something.”

“What something?! They are out there fighting and I’m here hiding. Rainbow Dash does not abandon those who need her. Now move it!” It did not. “Fine.” She bolted forward and dove past with ease, as the slope to the outside drew closer she was thrown to the ground by an incredible weight. She forced herself up but the grip only served to inhibit her. The creature was on top of her now. “Get off you lummox!”

“That’s enough soldier!”

“You're not-”

“No! You are not leaving here. It is futile.”

“We have to go, every second-”

“They get stronger, but there’s a limit, we will go back, tomorrow evening but you must wait! You are too valuable to just be thrown away of a pointless errand. You will do nothing! Useless on your own! Get it together now! The outburst calmed down, the creature held onto Rainbow as she sniffed, it whispered silently to her. “Please stay calm my friend, I cannot do any of this without any of you. I need you to trust me, have I not earned that.”

“S...sorry.”

“Keep strong. I’m glad to see you are out of that hospital and back in fighting spirits.”

“It’s...good to see you too...sorry.” She felt the body hold tight to her and the fear melted away. She could not understand why they had faded this quickly. She felt the monster there and in its words there was certainty. It got up and dusted her off, returning to sit.

“The rest of you need to please try to understand this, there is much at stake but rushing back blind will result in a loss. There are still your loved ones back there I am sure. We will effect a plan tomorrow evening. Once Miss Fluttershy can provide a clear picture of what’s going on...what's wrong?” Rainbow looked around to see its confusion, they were all smiling at it, It looked behind in its confusion, “Is everything alright?”

“Just glad you’re here Teddy.”

“Don’t get used to it.”

Fluttershy reentered, “My bat friends will check on things in Ponyville, they sort of followed my...umm...screaming when we were running away. They were worried the poor dears.”

“We can think of something. We need to think this out carefully before anything can be done.” Pinkie Pie was poking around the creatures face, prodding the area. It was putting a champion effort to ignore her while she examined it closely.

“If the main force is still in your hometown...we can concentrate on dividing the numbers in the forest...then we can go to the queen...if we have any- would you stop that!”

“Would you stop that then?”

“What?”

She pointed to its face.

“That.”

“Will do. For now we must try to rest-what?!”

“Thaaaaaaaaaat,” she whined.

“... Miss, I am not sure what you're getting at but if this is some crack about the way I look, I promise you this shelter will have one pony less-” It was silenced as she reached up and pushed its cheeks higher. It made to smack the hooves down but she dodged the claw.

“That is very annoying,” it growled.

“Well so is that!” She pointed to its face again.

The creature saw the others holding their mouths closed trying to withhold laughter as they watched the two. Pinkie could see the creature understood what she was trying to do and she was ready to enjoy this.

“I’ll bite, what is on my face.” It raised its brow to her.

“That!” she mimed a frown. As it smiled Pinkie lit up and threw her forelegs about celebrating. “You are my witnesses! It smiled! It smiled!” A sarcastic cheer did little to better the disposition. “I think its a fake. Luckily theres one way I know to make a pony laugh.”

“I’m not a pony though.”

“Same difference! Behold! I will make you smile”. She pulled out a long feather and her friends all gasped playfully. “Dum dum dum! The motivator!” Edging closer with a wicked grin the creature backed away nervously.

“Stay back, I warn you...”

The others caught the cue, slowly drawing nearer. It was hilarious to them to see the monster now afraid. As it braced to run Pinkie darted in and neatly grabbed the head when it tried to dodge. Applejacks collision with its side sent it into the wall and Rainbow pushed against the legs to make it fall forward on Applejack. With outstretched arms it caught itself and avoided falling on top of her. Rolling over to its back it tried to fight off Pinkie but to no avail. Her motivator trickled around the neck and face, a quick snort only encouraging them as it tried to retain the laughter.

Fluttershy and Rarity joined in to pin its arms down while Pinkie worked on it, it was surprising how easy this was for them. The creature struggled but not violently, it was cautious of them and made no strikes or throws to free itself. They all laughed watching this and by the time they were done they lay there exhausted.

“That was unfair.”

“Oh you liked it.”

After a long pause it finally spoke smiling up at the ceiling “I will not deny that.” They all laid down there to gather their calm. Pinkie knew there was always a time and place to spread a little laughter, this was that place. After some minutes the creature stood, “Alright ladies, get to sleep and be refreshed, tomorrow will not be a good day.” They nervously glanced to Twilight who had now seated herself to stare out of the incline leading out. The creature whispered to them. “It is time I fixed the damage I caused. No matter what happens you are all to say nothing and let me work, alright?” They nodded collectively, “Get to bed, there are fresh blankets and a soft floor.”

“One quick question sugar cube, why do you have this place?”

The creature thought carefully for a moment, “I needed time to think here, there has been much happening this week. This place was meant to serve-”

“Be honest please.”

“It was a place to run to, at first. Then I set the markings for you Miss Applejack. After that walking incident I fully...trust you all.”

“Wait, what incident?”

“You ladies catch up then. I need to do this.”

They made to settle in but it was becoming more difficult to try and relax. Pinkie Pie was doing her best to carry their spirits. Although she was managing, the monster still had not gone to speak tot Twilight, it merely paced about them. She quickly pulled it to the weird table and sat down, the smile now gone from it.

“You know you need to be nice to her. Twilight likes nice ponies. Don’t be mean.”

“I had no plan to so so,” it leaned closer to whisper, “Nice work with that feather trick, sheered them right up.”

“A Pinkie Pie Guarantee. Are you alright?”

“Fine,”

“You’re still not smiling.”

“You say that a lot, while we’re talking; of all of them you trusted me instantly. Are you not cautious enough or simply foolish?”

“From what I’m told you're the foolish one.”

“I see Rarity has spoken with you.”

“Actually...if you really want to know...you made Applejack smile.”

“Come now I’m sure she smiles all the time.”

“You don’t need to be modest.” she placed her hoof to her chest, “You helped her smile inside.”

“I think I understand.”

“Oh good!” she made to trot off but the claw settled on her back to stop her.

“Umm. Actually I wouldn’t mind an elaboration.”

“Okay! To eleboramate, she likes you.”

“What?!” the flushed face and darting eyes made her laugh, “Oh relax silly, not that way.” she became very solemn and sat by the relieved creature, speaking softly, “You know, laughter and smiles are easy. The hard part is making somepony smile inside, to give them that feeling to spring their steps. That smile can last a very long time, she never could smile that way. But when she came back after that night she just could. Using my investigative skills I searched her trails and came across some unusual prints and scratches by her farm. That’s when I saw you.”

“I cover my tracks, I rarely leave any.”

“Well your claw print was neatly marked out behind some bushes where a tractor was parked. How do you explain that?”

“Oh...she knocked me down.”

“So you got surprised?”

“I suggest you ask her the story, she is truthful and given the circumstances she will most likely give all the details.”

“I knew she was hiding something! Please, how did you do it? Can I add it to my patented Pinkie Pie Party Planner Palooza?”

“Sure. I didn’t do anything. The journey was hers to make and I was appointed her guide by that funny thing we call coincidence...and that Luna. Is she alright?”

“Oh I think so, no twitching. It sounds like you can’t say what you did.”

“Very observant.”

“Well thank you. Applejack has been so happy lately.” She broke from her solemn gaze to hug the creature. Despite the awkwardness she squeezed tighter and felt the ribs struggling to breathe. Releasing it she instantly returned to that solemn stare into the floor.

“Warn me next time please.”

“No promises. Could I ask you one more thing?”

“You will anyway”

“Why did you hurt Twilight like that? Why did you take away her smile?”

A sigh from the creature brought a sadder mood. “You know that thing I did with Miss Applejack seems like a molehill compared to the mountain of Miss Twilight. Before she rests today I will fix my grievous error.”

“But why did you do it?”

“We fight using everything we have. Unfortunately we use our own greatest fears for we cannot imagine anything worse.”

“You’re like Princess Celestia?”

“How so?”

“Very, very, very...old...”

“No. But if you recall that was not what I yelled. ‘to watch them die’ that is what I said.”

“So you’re afraid to watch your friends die.”

“I’m afraid it will happen again Miss.”

“Oh.” She did not know what to say. A smile this broken she had never seen before. It hurt to watch.

“I am depressing to be around! For ponies sake Miss dry those eyes!”

“You wanna know a secret?”

“Not really, is it something personal?”

“Not really,” she teased.

“Alright.”

“I wish every day before I go to bed everypony in Equestria will smile the next day.”

“Why tell me this?”

“I don’t know, the others have all had something special with you. I guess I want to belong!” she laughed.

The creature reached out and drew her close, squeezing her. “How’s that?”

“Tight.”

“Oh sorry.”

“I didn’t say stop,” she felt the abrasive coat brush against hers and was immediately laughing at how ticklish it was.

“Oh that tickles does it?”

“Oh no!” she laughed as it rubbed the chin and cheeks against her, the prickling of its fur was horrendously powerful, each fibre dragging across only making the itch intensify. She tried to push away but it held tighter. She squirmed as much as she could but it could not be broken away from. It rocked back with her struggles and fell silent. She felt the grip loosen, but not release.

“What’s wrong? Your smiling.”

“Thank you Miss. I needed that.”

“A Pinkie Pie guarantee!”

“Your smile is contagious”

“But I know you don’t smile inside.”

There was something about the way it spoke that managed to quell her smile. It was not hopeful, it sounded as though it was mourning. “Soon I will. Soon.” It looked about, “Well I’m glad you’re all enjoying the show!”

“Sorry darling but it’s too funny!”

“Yeah! The big monster has a soft spot.”

“That I do. Now off the bed with the lot of you.”

Pinkie pulled it close and whispered, “Rainbow has wanted to say something important to you. Talk to her first. Twilight smiled a little just now. Go give her that smile back.”

“Very sneaky Miss, well done.”

“Oh my gosh! I get Crystal!” Pinkie bolted to a startled wolf and immediately lay down next to her. She finally could let go and rest, her job was done for the day.

“Oh my!” Fluttershy scrambled to hug the two bats that had flown in, “Mama’s so proud, did you see anything?” the bats nodded. The creature handed her a parchment and pencil. On it was a map of Ponyville, it was worrying how she was not surprised.

“Did you make this?”

“Oh no, Zecora had a copy or three. Numbers and locations if you can.”

“Okay!” The creature stood up to look to Twilight again. She still sat by the entrance staring up at the starry sky. It clenched it;s fist and turned away to sit by Rainbow Dash, now nestled a comfortable distance from all the other ponies.

“Umm... Thanks for...you know.”

“Feeling better?”

“Sort of. How do you do it?”

“Well you are fast but linear, it is easier to see where you will go so to grab you is not a challenge.”

“I didn’t mean that.”

“Then?”

“When we were fighting together. How did not stop? How are you still here? I was worried you were...gone.”

“Oh...” The creature turned to her, crossing its legs. She lay on her forelegs ready for another paragraph. It held up its claws to her and grasped them tightly, she flinched as the knuckles cracked and they tightened. “This. There are many things that define fight Miss Dash. My kind can go on when there is nothing left to draw on. We are unstoppable for as long as we want to be.”

“That sounds a little scary.”

“Not invincible of course, but it is amazing what we can do.”

“What do think of us?”

“What?”

“Of ponies.”

“You are all quite colourful. It would be chaos in a real battle. You are all very kind. Some more than others.”

Rainbow felt herself blushing as a question crossed her mind. She did not want to ask it but she really wanted to know. Why she needed to ask it was beyond her. Digging in the dirt in front of her she dared say it, “And...what about me?”

“Your kind as well Miss.”

“I meant...” she looked away to a wall, “What do you think about me?” There was enough silence now to dig into her. It was growing in pressure until she was relieved when it finally spoke, quickly rubbing her head playfully.

“You are the most insane thing I have ever met.”

“What?!”

“MIss Dash I have seen soldiers come and go but you. You are easily the toughest. It was an honour to fight by your side.”

“I never got to say thanks for that. You really scared me for a minute back there at Zecora’s, It was like your life was flashing...” she found it difficult to finish that sentence.

“It was Miss Dash.” She was stunned but the claw of the creature reached around and dragged her closer to rest by it. It was a warm creature and she stared into the small fire feeling very uncomfortable at the touch. “Miss Fluttershy pulled my from the abyss when she helped me in the cell. Miss Applejack pulled me from emptiness when I aided her. Miss Rarity pulled me from the icy waters when she aided me. You though my friend, you literally pulled me from the eternal sleep. All I said we true. Then I was ready to go, you however held me up. To hear the concern in your voice kept me going. If one flyer could forgive me for what I did, I wanted to go on to earn the others.”

“But that wasn’t you, Rarity told me there was some kind of...not you.”

“Doesn’t matter. You see that box there Miss Dash?”

There was a small box in the corner with what looked like leaves sticking out. They had beed draped over a frame but she could not make it out. “Yeah...”

“I used to replace arms and legs for a living where I came from, guess what I’ve been doing...” it smiled at her cheekily.

“No way!”

“It’s a start and there’s only one, but after studying Miss Fluttershy’s wings I am almost certain they will work.”

“That is totally cool!”

“I need you to deliver it, and the illustrated design, to her. Please make sure she reads the message I wrote. ” Rainbow dashed hugged it and there was complete silence. She released and cleared her throat, embarrassed.

“Why me?”

“A flyer can tell her I am sorry, it seems appropriate.”

“Why don’t you?” there was an eerie silence from the creature, “You’re scaring me now.”

“Miss Dash I am so tired. I do not think I will be unscathed after tomorrow night.”

“But you’ll be okay, wont you?”

“Course I will, I got you there after all! I simply can’t wait for it, so please deliver it to her asap!”

“You had me worried there!” she laughed.

“Do not worry about this old fool Miss Dash. Thank you for being there for me that night.”

“What are friends for?”

“Indeed feeling better?”

“Much.”

“How’s it going Miss Fluttershy?”

“Well...umm...not...you had better see for yourself.”

“What is it Fluttershy?” Rarity and the others drew in. “it seems she has some kind of umm...castle.”

Twilight spun around, “A what?”

“A castle?”

“You mean with moats, towers and walls.”

“My friends here say that it just popped out the ground.”

“Oh no, Queen Chrysalis has found the ancient archives.”

“Please explain Miss Twilight.”

“The magic she was using was ancient magic. Older than Celestia magic. She must have raided the archives and found the spells. She is too powerful without our Elements of Harmony.”

“Then it looks like you ladies need them back.”

“Right but where would she-” Twilight stopped and stared at the creature, it did not look at her but remained examining the marked out map. “I’ll think of something.” She stormed off and planted her flank back at the entrance. Rarity wanted to follow but the creatures claw caught her shoulder.

“Girls, no matter what happens, you are not to interfere. No reason.” They all nodded. The creature took a deep sigh, a sudden smile crossing its face, “I think I have a plan here. I will sleep on it and we shall run by in the morning. Meanwhile there is yet another trial to go. Life is truly funny, one great big joke. Sleep well my friends, wish me luck.”

23 Spirit

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23

So much has happened since then, at least you get the chance to fix this. Fix your mistakes. That is foolish though, you can't say that her. It's not going to work. You have a better idea, no? Then no choice. You rehearsed it enough. You're not far from the field. Just go and get this done.

“You still can't do it...”

“What's wrong with me Miss Rarity? I mean she's right there, I wanted this and now...it's so forced. I wanted to do this in a peaceful setting. At least it's night time so one chore is already done.”

“See here Teddy,” she giggled as it twitched, “I’ve known you a short time but you know as well as I do this either will be done or it won't be done, I think it's beautiful. She's waiting for you, unless you think you should probably not open that door...”

“Choice is a luxury Miss Rarity. It would be prudent to remain silent, however she needs to be lucid tomorrow if we are to succeed. I ask you as I have the others, no matter what you hear or see, you are not to intervene.”

Rarities cheeks burned as she quickly squeezed the creature and dared to kiss the cheek, “Just so adorable.” She retreated back to see the creatures jaw close again. It chuckled softly and held the cheek, “Thank you Miss Rarity, for everything.”

The creature went over to Twilight and Rarity smiled. It was a good thing it was trying to make peace before tomorrow. She shuddered at the thought, forcing herself to ignore her worries and rested her head in feigned sleep, trying to listen past Pinkie's horrendous snoring.

Twilight sat before the entrance covered by the darkness. She had not seen a patrol for a while now and wondered if they were searching the forests at all. The cold was distant to her, ignoring the senses of her body that wanted to rest by the warm fire in the cave. Her mind was racing trying to understand what had happened. She tried reasoning and chronologically reciting the events in an attempt to piece together the fractured reality where she found herself. First it attacked Celestia, then it hurt me, then it didn't hurt Fluttershy when she treated it, then it fought for us in the castle, it didn't hurt Rarity, saved Rainbow, saved us AGAIN from the golems, it didn't hurt Pinkie, what does it want? why am I the only one who has been hurt by it? That... monster.

“Princess?” a deep voice spoke from the shadows.

“What do you want, and don’t call me a princess.”

It hesitated a moment before stepping forward and kneeling beside her. She saw out of the corner of her eye it was looking out into the darkness surveying the area. “I doubt there will be more,” she remained silent, “They will rally at that fortress and gain strength before trying to come after us again.” Inside Twilight was swelling trying to hold her anger in. “Even if they sent a patrol now, Crystal would warn us. My wolf friend I mean.” Twilight was rehearsing what she would say, how she could make it understand how it hurt her, feel her pain. “Miss Twilight... That night I was wrong.” It was as though it knew what she was thinking, although her coldness would be pretty obvious to anypony by now.

“Do you have any idea what you have put me through?”

“I-”

“NO!” she yelled silencing the creature and knocking it to the ground under her hooves, “You do not get to talk, I have some things to tell you. It does not matter what we did to you or what you have done to us, you do not, DO NOT think for a moment I can forgive you for hurting me like that!” she could feel the tears pouring from her and she did not care, it was as if all she held in her was free to flow, all the pain and nightmares would flow out and onto this monster. “I have not slept, eaten, thought, or studied well ever since you hurt me! You've hurt Celestia, Luna, my brother, my sister! More than anything I want to see you back in that cell, locked away from all of us where your LIES and EVIL cannot hurt anypony else ever again!” The creature lay still, its arms were flat by its side and she could feel its heart beating harder under her hoof, it was working. Her sobbing was growing but she forced herself to speak with bitter clarity, “I hate you for this...this pain, it won't go away. I have tried everything and all I can do is think about what you said! About them rotting in the ground and me only being able to watch! You are sick and monstrous and I HATE YOU!” She could not resist any longer and she wept. Her tears fell on the creature and she tried to hit it with her hoof, but could not find the strength to. She felt numb all over and collapsed on top of it. “I hate you...”

The creature remained silent and still as she cried. She could not see if it even cared through her murky vision but she could not stop herself. She could feel the warmth of the creatures body and felt the cold of the night for the first time. She could feel a heavy burden inside lifted, and she was free.

Rarity and the others now watched as twilight wept over the creature, That sting of that night returning. The creatures arm raised but hovered before returning to the ground. Its hesitation was confusing but understandable.

At last it spoke in a gentle voice, “I do not seek forgiveness. You are angry at me for revealing the truth young one, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I am sorry that you learned this before the right time, that I have hurt you. It pains me every day knowing you were exposed to that part of me.”

Twilight had eased in to gentle sobbing, she was was stunned by this creatures composure. Her disbelief was deepened as she saw the creatures face, and the tears that marked it. It sat up straight suddenly wrapping its arms around her. She wanted to push away but found she lacked the strength to, instead allowing her cheek to press against its soft chest, the warmth of its body and smooth fabric from Rarity welcoming her from the cold night.

“You have suffered so much princess.” Its arms tightened and she felt its heart beating slow and heavy. The resonance of each one seemingly matching hers. “There is more than a single truth to what I said. To what you said. If you are willing, I would very much like to discuss it with you. Please allow me to repair the damage I caused you.”

Twilight turned her head, wiping the tears on the creatures top. She did not look up but nodded. The creature was being truthful. It had merely played the messenger in her unhappiness, yet it was trying to help her now, after all it had done for Rainbow Dash maybe it could.

It sat up lifting her to rest on the ground in front of it. “Please come with me Miss Sparkle. There is something you need to see.” As they walked out to the forests edge and an open field Twilight was feeling very nervous. This creature had done a lot for her friends and to her friends and after all they had been through all she could hear was Princess Celestia's warning; it will deceive and it will hurt you. She had not been wrong but it was amazing how she could bear to stand next to it.

She felt it move closer to her and rest its claw on her shoulder. It cleared its throat and stopped, looking out into a field with old oak trees scattered a good distance from one another, “I am afraid you are unable to function where key decisions will depend on your judgement. For this reason I will listen to you and all you have to say, please tell me what exactly bothers you.” Silence greeted it at this so it continued. “Perhaps an example would be best. You are no doubt able to listen.” she nodded still trying to compose herself. She felt shaken by her outburst, such a release of all her hate felt liberating, but now that sad feeling had returned, inside her it hung with a great weight. "Things are busy here.” It sat next to her bracing its bulk on the two arms and stretching out its legs. She remained silent, “I cannot speak from experience, but I can wholly empathise to your situation.

“You cannot understand it.”

“I believe we are in a situation at the moment that requires a little give and take. I will make you a deal, one that you should find most enticing. Instead of a question for a question all I ask is you listen. So I will talk about it and all you have to do is hear my words.” It looked at her and she nodded her muscles were tense and she hated being here with this monster. Inside she was hoping it could do something for her, only that hope allowed her to sit down. “Unfortunately you will be stuck with my awful smell until we have resolved this, some motivation.” She did not find its joke amusing.

“Can you get to the point please.”

“Oh no, it will not be that easy, for the answer, while there, is something you must find for yourself. We will take this in steps, what is your greatest fear at the moment? To help you I will tell you mine. I am afraid I will never return home, never see my family again. Every day that passes I miss them and think about how they are scared of worried about me. So to that I pose this question, am I happy here? The question itself poses more than it seeks to answer, for example; am I happy here? Or rather am I here to be here or for an ulterior reason? Perhaps we could ask a more personal question is do I miss my home in comparison to this new one?”

“I didn't know this was going to be a lecture.”

“From what I hear you enjoy lectures in all forms, especially giving them out,” The creature looked at her and gave a sheepish smile, she forced herself not to return it. “Continuing on, I am happy here to an extent. Well beside the unpleasant fighting parts my life was no different to the old one. I have to laugh to be honest. In all my time I made friends that were very true, however I can only count five who would be called true friends, and maybe one or two who would stand by me as a brother or sister. In my short time here I have made seven friends.”

“I am not your friend.”

“I was talking about your five compatriots, Crystal and Zecora. Now that I think maybe eight, sorry I trailed off. The point here is my greatest fear still has something very nice in it.”

“Mine doesn’t.”

“So what is it?”

Twilight decided to say something, it was trying to help, so she would push herself to say it out loud for the first time, “I am afraid to watch them rot in the ground,” she said bitterly quoting the creature and driving the point deeper of how its words had hurt her.

“I see. Heres how I deal with my fear, despite the deprivations here I do feel more comfortable. I miss some old concepts and there are things here that I will never get used to but there is no changing that. I choose to allow it to roll on and have faith that if I was meant to see them again it will happen.”

“I didn’t realise you had a family.”

“Have my dear. They are still my family even though we are apart. I get worried though that time passes differently. I hope it will be as though I never left, or it will be as though I was gone for a long time, they will have lived out their lives never knowing what happened to me and having to live with that loss of their children. It is painful to imagine and this is where I can empathise. Your fears are based on change. In truth you should never like things to change, it means you are enjoying your life to the full!”

“I suppose.” Twilight was feeling more talkative, she had not imagined this monster could think on that level, after all she had seen.

“I must say the concept of friendship here is far more enjoyable than where I was from.

“Is it?”

“Such a concept was based on strategy and gain, not...whatever you call it here. We used our friendships to gain status, favour, position, wealth, you name it our alliances could help us succeed in life. When it boiled down to it though there was no one whom you could rely on and trust.” She was shocked at the concept.

“But how do you survive by making friends? It sounds like an extreme reason to befriend somepony.”

“It is as simple as it sounds with all the complexities to garnish it. I first thought you were all friends for the purpose of the power and the wielding of it. A strange coincidence that you all should be around in the same area, united through chance and throughout time and space drawn together to fulfil a purpose which remains as of yet unrealised or at the very least has not lost its capacity to be useful.”

Twilight thought about it, how they were always together, their actions each affecting one another throughout their lives and the strange coincidence that they were all in Ponyville together. “Yet now you see my kinds greatest problem, we over think things in an endless search to see its full potential reached. To our wisdom understanding something in its entirety will open up new dimensions in which existence, and our manipulation of it, may progress. In truth it is a dual progression and degradation. To be seen as the facts that we readily accept are quickly demolished to the point where we no longer have a foundation to stand on. This results in a constant paranoia and aggression. Much of which you saw on the first day we met.”

“So you were angry because you didn't understand?”

“You're almost there!” it laughed, “Truth is I was afraid, intimidation, if you have not noticed is the cornerstone of my strategy in combat. If the enemy believes I can harm it, it stands to reason I am a threat and is more cautious. If it knows with certainty that I can harm it, it will keep its distance and not fight me.”

“All you did was give us a reason to imprison you, we could have tried to sort out what happened and welcomed you to Equestria.”

“Now I don’t believe that, after my fight it was already established I was a threat, they chose that safe option. My intimidation was based on something else. I kept you all at a distance so I could expire. The tactic was to starve or succumb to dehydration.” Twilight was shocked at this, it was trying to take its own life.

“So why did you ask for water?”

“That was when you all came. I can’t explain it but seeing you all there drew my curiosity. In short I wanted to see where it would go, I understood you were afraid. There was a faint hope you could free me. You saved my life that day Miss Sparkle. No doubt something you regretted.”

“Why did you say those horrible things?”

“I don’t know. That’s the sad part. I saw you leaving me there to rot and I only thought you failed me. I did not know you were ignorant to the idea of alicorns and immortality.”

“Ignorant?”

“You were not aware, ignorant is the correct word. I hear though that you are quite a brain, how could you not know that?”

“I never read about alicorns, I have tried to find information now but the only things I can find in books are about Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. They have lived more than a thousand years. I don’t want to be like that.”

“Interesting, let us continue. In all earnest, my initial question could be solved in a matter of moments with simply asking myself if I am satisfied with where I am, if the answer is no, then I can seek to answer the other questions to determine what else is wrong. If the answer is yes, then there is no reason to ask the questions.”

“How did we arrive on questions?” She was feeling frustrated with this creatures divergent nature, it was spouting nonsense about itself and nothing that could help her.

“I feel your problem can be answered with a question.” Twilight was now focused on the creature, in all likelihood it had an answer already for her, but as it said it wanted her to see it for herself. She glanced over the scars it bore as the moonlight came out from the clouds. It was heavily laden with them, compared to how it was in the cell. She found herself thinking about what this creature has been though to get here. She tried to think about a question to ask herself but could not fathom what she could say that she already has not thought about. It filled her every waking moment what to do and how to solve the problem.

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“What is the question?”

“Oh I am afraid you must decide that for yourself...but if you want a push... I can offer a thought.”

“Yes!” She was now leaning closer betraying her desperation.

“I feel you've blown this out of proportion. Simply put; you are supposedly immortal because you assume all like you are immortal. The two reigning monarchs are indeed apparently immortal, however there is another I know of who has not yet entered your reasoning.

“Princess Cadence?”

“Which one is that?”

“She’s my sister in law...she used to babysit me when She was little. We used to be the best of friends when we were little.”

“The pink alicorn with a naive perspective? I take it she was less than helpful in your crisis.”

“She was unconscious from the drain of keeping you in your restraints! I don’t blame her for not seeing me. She needed her rest.”

“What about the other two?”

“We never got that far, before Princess Celestia could talk with me Queen Chrysalis attacked. After you escaped she focused all her energy on finding you. We never got a chance to talk properly. She was so vague, I think she didn't want to tell me the truth. Princess Luna was always avoiding me, it made me imagine that worst.”

“Your white monarch, surely she exhibits some traits of age?”

“She never ages, she’s more than a thousand years old.”

“Surely you must have had some advice from her.”

“Well the day after my coronation she told me to wear a helmet and that she regretted never wearing one when she was a young alicorn. You see she wanted me to fly but I was distracted by it and I thought-"

“Beg your pardon?”

Twilight felt an urge to quote Celestia, “She said; ‘do not forget I was once a young alicorn myself’ when she talked to me...”

“Interesting, so she does age.”

“Wait...what?”

“She does age.”

“She used to be young but now she isn’t! She’s old, she’s old!” Twilights jubilation was met with the creature pouncing on her and clamping her mouth shut. She was startled but it was obvious why it had done that, scanning the area around them with it’s blade drawn.

“Remember not to tell her that, I’m informed by Miss Rarity that ladies do not like being called old.”

Twilight giggled, “Okay.” The creature returned to its seat. She was feeling better, the princesses do age.

“Very interesting...but based on your reasoning, your sister in law is supposedly immortal right? Or she will live more than a thousand years. After all she is the same as the others. Yet you describe her as smaller when she was your babysitter...”

“She has grown...”

“That doesn't mean she is mortal. Think my friend, what has she done recently that's major?”

“She became the Crystal princess”

“I was not aware of that. I meant involving that arrogant one who also imprisoned me. That upstart captain...”

“Marriage...”

“Your almost there...”

“Why would she get married to a mortal if she was going to live forever?”

“You got it, more definitely however, why would any immortal choose to marry? Somepony with that much love would surely feel unlimited pain if her one true love was destined to grow old and pass in front of her. It is a curse to exist in such a manner however she is either accustomed to change of such magnitude or....”

“She doesn't live forever.”

“Go on...”

“...if they don't live forever, then they live long, but she wanted to be with him, then he was definitely not immortal. Perhaps she gave up her immortality to be with him?”

“You are totally missing the point here, what is the one question you must ask yourself?”

“Do all of us live forever, or live long?”

“No.”

“Do we all have the ability to give up our immortality?”

“No.”

Twilight sat up and walked up to the sitting creature, she could feel herself crying again, her frustration pouring out, this creature was taunting her. It knew the answer, “Then tell me. Please just tell me...”

It looked at her and it smiled, “Why haven't I asked my sister yet?”

“I did!”

“I thought she was tired?”

“She was...but...we...”

“Did you ever ask her why she decided to marry your brother even though she is immortal?”

“...no.” Twilights world shook and she fell back to sit on the ground. She could not believe she missed that. The whole time she could have asked her sister, also a princess, also an alicorn.

“Bear in mind she may give you more questions than answers, but she will point you in the right direction.”

Twilight was still crying, her tears felt good now instead of painful, they soothed her as they fell. She was now crying from relief. Of course, Cadence! She felt the creatures claw rest on her shoulder it was smiling sincerely and trying to hold back tears of its own. It was right, she had a direction now, she could ask Cadence.

“You feel it now? That urge to find out?” She nodded smiling at it. “I want you to hold onto that when all seems lost. Please do that for me, for your kingdom.”

“Okay” she whispered.

“Don’t cry please. My goodness all you gals do is cry, do I bring that much pain?” She nodded while still smiling.

“It’s not pain this time.”

“Your highness. Would you entertain this old fool for but a moment longer. I have something to say that needs to be heard.” She nodded again. It stood up, took some steps forward and extended the arms out to the field. “When I first saw this meadow it was barren, I have no idea what the cause was. I came a while later and it was as you see now. Naturally I was curious as to how such splendour could arise within days. To this curiosity a lesson was learned. One which I hope to impart to you, for the answer came to me when I stopped looking at the big picture, and started to see the small details.”

The creature raised its arm to the sky, clenched its claw an sent a thundering blow to the ground. Twilight could feel the surface underneath her shake with the thud, surprised at this strange action. She opened her mouth to speak but it hung open as around them rose a curtain of lights. Small golden lights dancing around the night. The creature stood with a flower in its claw and brought it to Twilight. The smell was overpowering, sickly sweet. She blankly raised her hoof when the creature gave it to her.

“They like this.” The lights swarmed around the flower basking in the smell. they landed on Twilight and she looked closer to see they were small fireflies. She could not see the relevance to her problem and felt slightly irritated but mesmerised by the beautiful display.

“Your sister will give you the answers you seek.” Twilight looked at the creature through the fireflies, each shining spot waving over the figure. “However I thought to myself that maybe the answer will not be what you hope, but what you fear.” She saw the the truth in these words, she may be worrying for something or nothing, only Cadence could answer her question. “To that end of closure I wish to tell you my version of your dilemma.” A firefly darted in Twilights mouth and she coughed quickly spitting it out, feeling embarrassed. The creature chuckled at her mishap. “I wish to... yet I lack the eloquence to do so. After countless ideas and thoughts this is what I have come up with.” The creature raised its arm and some fireflies landed on it, smelling the nectar residue. “This insect lives for a such short time, yet its light shines so brightly.” Twilight could understand the simplicity of the words and their meaning, it was not complex to grasp.

She gasped as the fist closed tightly on some of them, their lights fading instantly. She could only watch as the creature lowered itself to the ground and let the remains settle on it. To her amazement the lights flickered back on and the pieces sunk into the ground to disappear. “When their cycle ends, there is new life, not only in their form, but in other forms of life we can scarcely scale.” The creature pointed to this meadow of beauty and Twilight gazed out into the expanse. She could not see what it pointed at. “They are what was responsible for the rebirth of this land.” It reached in the branches and pulled a handful of seeds free, “For they burn brightly for all to see. The warmth from them nurtures the soil, the minerals revitalise it, their light attracts new animals and therefore seeds. They do not know they do this, yet here we are.” It threw the seeds far and where they landed more lights came up, the entire field was full of fireflies.

Twilight felt a lifting sensation in her. The creatures words were oversimplified on this complex matter yet she did not want to complicate it. It was perfect the way it was. She felt like she wanted to soar and found to her shock her wings opened.

“It is a truth that with the passing of old life, new life may come.” Twilight felt comfort in this truth, and felt silly at her wanting to cling to the way things were. Eventually they would change in both wonderful and saddening ways. She could always be there for her friends, it was never truly over.

“We cannot stop change. Do you think they know how long they will live? No creature should, for even if they are aware their first day is their last, it doesn't stop them from shining so brightly. Life is beautiful it can be cut short but...”

“... It should never stop us from shining!” The creature smiled and lay in the grass. Twilight gave into her urge and joined it.

“Indeed everything changes, but change never changes. Change is a constant, ironically. It is everywhere from the world around us, to the worlds out there.” It gestured to the sky and Twilight looked up to see the night aglow with so many stars. She had always seen them in her studies and they were a great source of comfort to her in her childhood, but never had they been so beautiful. “Remember that love is never gone, we hold it within us, we pass it on to others. You should not stop the process of life, but they will have children, they will grow. When the lights fade and the darkness comes, I shall not fear for my job is done.”

“Thank you.” She rolled over and hugged it, the relief was too great to restrain herself.

“I am tired Miss, so tired. Should the end be the beginning or eternal peace, I know that when time comes tomorrow, I will welcome it and be at that peace. At long last.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Did I say tomorrow?”

“umm...Yes.”

“Oh sorry, mishap.”

Twilight felt a sickening feeling douse the splendour. Maybe it was the dancing lights or sweetest aromas, the odd speech and the confusing metaphors, but she couldn’t see a monster laying there anymore. “You don’t think that tomorrow you will-”

“You know your highness now that I have you here a wonderful thought just occurred!” It sat up smiling but she could not return the grin. It had evaded that question and she knew then it did expect the worst. Still she would let it be, it had a reason to avoid it and she would trust it.

“What would you like?”

“I know you are very intelligent.” She couldn't help blush and stare at the lights dancing on the petals while she twirled the flower, “I want to go over my plan with you.”

“Your plan?”

“You don’t think I’ve been chatting for fun do you?”

“I don’t know how you work.”

“Well lets give it a first draft review shall we?”

“Okay!” she said enthusiastically. As they spoke, her looking into those sunken, weary eyes, the creatures words remained haunting to her; ‘when it comes tomorrow, I will welcome it.’

*

The walk back was invigorating for Twilight, She bounced in her steps and her ears stood proudly high. The plan they had made together was brilliant. She knew it was going to work. All of it. The night was young, the day was over and she never felt better. Her spirits dampened however upon hearing the weary voice again.

“Princess, I had an ulterior motive to our discussion...”

“Please call me Twilight. Princess is so formal.”

“Alright Miss Twilight.”

“What do you mean by ulterior motive?”

“The plan we have made will involve you using that elements against me should it come to pass.”

“As a plan B.”

“As a plan B. However do you remember what it did to me in the cell?” She could see the burn wounds on its arm again. The elements were the only magic she knew that could successfully harm it. As plan B reviewed itself she suddenly felt uneasy.

“Yes...”

“Miss Twilight, let me show you something I learned. Please set fire to my palm.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Use your offensive magic and set fire to my palm.”

“I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You must see this to understand it. I will be fine.” Hesitating she threw a blaze out and was amazed as it danced around the claw, failing to even singe the hairs.

“Amazing. To see it up close.” Her eyes widened and the flame died, she took the claw in her hoof to examine it; it was cold.

“Now I want you set fire to it again, this time use the spell you would for a candle.”

“Thats a little simple.”

“Humour me.”

She set light to it not giving a second thought but watched on as the claw clasped shut and the hair burnt away, eventually being thrust into the ground to douse the blaze. As the smoke rose she looked to the face, it was now in discomfort. Taking the claw out she gasped seeing the split hide peeling away to reveal the flesh underneath. Her mouth was agape and she looked past the claw at those eyes, eerily calm sitting atop a grin.

“I have learned there is good magic and evil magic. Now which one do you think can hurt me?”

Although it was rhetorical she was compelled to answer, “...good...”

“Your Elements of Harmony are remarkable weapons. They are good magic, aren’t they?”

“Yes...”

“So if you remember the burns in the cell, that was when you were trying to immobilise me, not harm me. It was a defensive spell born of good magic. I'd wager that incident outside Rarities home was a similar spell?”

“it was the same one but in a projectile version I developed. Good defensive magic hurts you, thats why you were able to fight Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. They used offensive spells.”

“Those golems were made from offensive magic. Every time I hit them they were more brittle. The longer they spent close to me the weaker they got. Tonight I have confirmed with Crystal that it is my blood they cannot withstand, something within weakens the magic.”

“Blood?”

“Indeed, I fed crystal a small amount when we came to subdue your pursuers. Even that tiny portion is enough for her to break them as easily as I can. Since your Queen now has a crystal body like the golems, it stands to reason...”

“She will be affected...”

“Your monarchs...they weren’t using good magic?”

“You’re not exactly right. Magic is good or evil depending on the pony who uses it. But the type of magic used is base and advanced. Celestia and Luna were using advanced magic against you. The same for the king and queen. The elements though are ancient magic, they are made from the purest forms of magic itself.”

“Interesting.” The creature then held up the other claw to her and unwrapped the bandages. She gasped seeing the swelling and deformed digits. “Its broken Miss. My affect is not so strong anymore, I don’t think I can do what I did back at the castle. I have lost a lot of blood here.”

“What are you trying to-”

”So let me tell you something now. When the time comes for plan B, I expect you to use your elements without and hesitation. Burn both of us to ash if you must.”

She shook her head not believing what she was hearing, “I-”

“If it does come to a plan B, I do not want you to hesitate, for any unwelcomed thoughts to enter before you fire. We’ll get it out of the way now. I am very comfortable to expire should it mean the defeat of this enemy.”

“What?!”

“Don’t be surprised, the statement still stands. You will not hesitate, you will fire if the time comes, and forget I was ever here.” Twilight could not imagine how to respond to what she was hearing. It was asking her to sacrifice it.

“I...I can’t do that.”

The creature grabbed her and drew her close, its face right before hers. She could feel the hard, cold claws clasping down on her. “Listen here you weakling! One life is no cost at all. I do not belong here so correct the mistake when you get the chance. I am not asking. I am not afraid.” She let her hoofs reach around the body and pressed her cheek to it, the grip softened.

“You are worrying for nothing.”

It sighed, “Let us hope. We have a great planner after all. This is not a burden for you to carry, you will vanquish all your enemies in a single stroke. You will do this with pride knowing those you fell were threats to Equestria. I want your word, your most sacred promise you will not hesitate your highness.”

She nodded rubbing the tough fabric, “I give you my word. Thanks Teddy.”

“I hate that.”

“Rarity does have a point though, you really are like a teddy.”

“I am stuck with that name aren’t I?”

“Yup!” she replied cheerfully.

*

“So you and Rarity...”

“There is nothing to concern yourself with. I will keep to myself and on that you have my-”

“No wait, don’t say it. You know Rarity talked about you a lot. She tried to convince me you weren’t that bad. It nearly ruined our friendship.”

“To think she was prepared to risk that for your well being and peace of mind.”

“I think she did it for you.”

“Now you are having a laugh with me!”

“Do you not notice the way she looks at you.”
“I believe it is more than possible your friends have developed some strong feelings from my involvement. Miss Fluttershy and I shared a very private moment back in the cell, the poor thing was nearly traumatised. I understand Miss Dash was very proud of our stand in the forest. Miss Applejack and I share a deep bond, Miss Pie is...I don’t know how to describe it.”

“Nopony does.”

“No arguments here. You have just buried a deep resentment for me, I hope at least.”

“It is gone Teddy. Don’t worry so much. What about Rarity?”

“Miss Rarity is a tough one. She was by far the bravest of all of you.”

“Don’t tell Rainbow that!”

“She also helped me see clearly. When I spoke with her, when we talked, it was as if a deep anger flowed out of me. All my hate and anguish disappeared. When I hear her voice I have this feeling inside, it tells me to drive on, to stand tall. She is what motivates...but I am speaking out of turn.”

“Maybe you should say something to her...”

“And how selfish would that be. Even if you are correct in your intuition, I may not make it back tomorrow, then what, leave her in pain. If she even shares those feelings-”

“Now didn’t you just tell me to savour every moment you have.”

“Your paraphrasing.”

“Your running again. I know you two share something special. So why not just take a leap?”

“Let me pose this, is it not wrong to hurt somepony’s feelings?”

“Well yes but-”

“She will be hurt, she will be in pain. I will not let that happen. She has done a lot for me and this is one way I can repay her.”

“You know, it doesn’t matter what you do, if you don’t make it we will all be in pain...”

“All of you?”

“Yes.”

“Hmm. Thank you for your wasted concern. I will sleep on it and let the solution present itself in the morning. Thank you Princess for your help.”

She stopped and it halted above the incline heading down.

“Well if you have any question now is the last chance to ask it in private.”

Twilight could feel herself tearing up again, she wanted to ask something that had troubled her for a very long time, before the alicorn, before the creature. If there was any being she could ask, it was that one, “Are you...afraid to die?”

“Miss Twilight...”

“Just answer, are you afraid?” She could not look at the creature but felt it approach and kneel before her, reaching around to grasp her again. She cold not resist and let her cheek press into its shoulder. She had this sadness as the claw patted the back of her neck.

“Twilight...I am not afraid to die. I am terrified that I will never know how this chapter ends.”

“What do you mean?”

“I am not that old, but in my lifetime I have been able to make a difference in some...ponies lives. I am happy to share this with you. Twilight, I am tired, so tired. Why do the living fear going to the dark? What are they afraid of? I used to be scared, eternal darkness, but I won’t know the difference when it happens, there will be no pain. It is the living who need comfort. Time will take my name away, my actions will fade to dust, but those actions results will live on. I have a power now to change history for your kingdom, as do we all in such little ways. You ladies have given me so much with each action of tolerance and kindness. I will no longer fear the darkness knowing what I leave behind. Why are we afraid to leave this world to our children?”

She couldn't hold her composure, “...I don’t know.”

“That is the only thing I can never understand. Please put me out my misery if you get that chance.”

“I wish I had known...”

“Known what?”

“You.”

“Don’t dwell on it, we both made mistakes. I’ll tell you what though, as long as you remember those you care for they are never truly gone. Let's go Miss Twilight. We need our sleep.”

It released her with a smile. As it slowly stood up, the moonlight caught the creature perfectly, Twilight nearly gasped as its solemn face stared out into the night. There was a majesty to it. Such pain all there, held up by that frame. She wondered if it had tricked her into feeling this way, then that doubt was stifled. She would listen to her heart now, it told her this thing was no friend of Chrysalis, it did not want to bring them back to her, it was going to stand with them, fully prepared for every detail. It placed its claw on her face and she closed her eyes as it gently slid past to wipe the tears clear.

“Every time I speak to you ladies, you end up crying. I am sorry to cause such turmoil. Please remember Miss Twilight, I am sorry.”

“Alright.”

“Lets go get some rest alright?”

“Thanks. Can I know your real name at least?”

“What would you imagine it to be?”

“Something I cannot know.”

“Correct sweetheart. I have earned a new name here, albeit not to my choice.”

Twilight sniffed, “One thing please.” It waited expectantly, “I want to hear you sing.”

“Excuse me?”

“Applejack told me, when you were talking to Pinkie, that you could sing. It is supposedly something that must he heard, indescribable. As a scholar and avid listener I must document the new music.” She sat down expectantly and waited.

“Miss Twilight...” she smiled widely and nodded, “Alright, a soft one.”

As the gentle melody played out Twilight could feel her heart sink and raise. It was a wonderfully sad melody. The creature had no music to aid but the vocals were so constrained she felt only sadness at the words. When it finished it turned to her as she wiped the tears clear.

“Thank you.” It did not answer but proceeded to the hollow. She followed quietly.

24 The Seven Broken Chains

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24

Rarity and Applejack were unable to sleep owing to Pinkie Pie’s snoring. Fluttershy seemed to be having no trouble, her experience with noisy animals once more kicking in. They had snuck out and watched Twilight eagerly as they saw the two laying amidst the cloud of fireflies, laughing.

“If that don’t beat all.”

“We should have done this a lot earlier.”

“Right, earlier.”

“It really is a contrast.”

“Huh? What is?”

“You know, how it is such a teddy bear inside.”

“Yeah heh heh. Makes you wonder about what is happening to it.”

“Oh it can be much worse.” Rainbow Dash sat beside them yawning.

“Couldn’t sleep darling?” Rainbow pointed to the cave as Pinkie let out another rumbling snore.

“That Pinkie sure can take a nap!” Applejack laughed.

“I just wish we could too, it’s terrible for my complexion to stay up so late. Besides I was having the most delicious dream.”

“Me too.”

“All thanks to Princess Luna.” Applejack looked at her hooves lost in thought.

“Alright, this is seriously bugging me, I know what my damage is, how do you two know it?”

“It saved me from those nasty varmints in the Everfree Forest.”

“So it fought them off?”

“They wouldn’t attack it with Crystal there, it was terrifying. They tried to come closer but something in it changed. I could feel it too, an anger or some other such thing that kept them away.”

“That sounds pretty cool, wish we were that lucky. Oh so thats where you went... Hey! I thought you couldn’t lie?”

“I didn't, it argued that I could protect it by keeping all quiet about our encounter.”

“Sounds like it tricked you.”

“But I didn’t mind sugarcube.” Applejack smiled as she remembered her walk back through the orchards with it.

“What about you Rarity?”

“Oh...umm...me? It’s nothing interesting, I just made an outfit thats all,” she chuckled.

“Oh come on! It can’t be that boring.”

“No it wasn’t.”

“Did it save you from the wolves?”

“No.”

“Did it do anything cool?”

“Not really...”

“Then what?”

“We talked about...stuff and things.”

“Pfft, lame!”

“Hey Rainbow, somethings been bothering me about your stunt; why didn’t you run?”

“Run from what?”

“Umm...the wolves?”

“Hey, you didn’t see how badly hurt it was, that could have been me, maybe even worse. It really took a hit to keep me safe and I would not leave it to...well I couldn’t just run off and let it fight them alone.”

A sweet melody carried to them, they could not understand the words but it was softly sung, peering out and upwards it became apparent the creature was responsible. Applejack smiled recognising the tune. It was fitting she thought, such a sad song but at the same time carrying hope.

Rarity felt her heart gripped “That sounds so sad.”

“It is.That there is a song for the lost.”

“So that’s what it sang to you?”

Applejack still had not mentioned the incident of her parents. She had wanted to yet with all the things going on it could wait a little while longer, “Yes.”

“Very sweet. Between us girls, I hope it will be alright tomorrow.”

“I’m sure it will! Did you see the way it tossed those monsters aside like yesterdays empty manure sacks. It will be fine!” a half hearted laugh did little to soothe them. Applejack was starting to realise it for herself now, she did not want that. The sagging heads of her friends confirmed it. The way it stood up and was silhouetted against the moonlight, it looked unreal, as though it was a ghost already.

“Just look at them!” their attention diverted to the creature glaring with a mischievous smile. They scrambled to their beds, caught in their mischief and giggling uncontrollably. Pinkie and Fluttershy however remained sleeping.

“Do you think they are alright!” Applejack shouted trying to sound innocent, “I am going to try to get some more shuteye.”

“Same here,” Rainbow yawned even wider, “I’m catching my second snooze.”

Rarity silently joined them and a few minutes passed after they settled. She didn't want to say too much to them about what had happened, the scarring, the anger, the pain. It had all been so personal, she would not betray its confidence in her.

Twilight strolled in with the creature and Crystal close behind. She cast a spell over the entrance blocking out the cold night air to camouflage it neatly. Some muffled words were spoken that Rarity could not make out and Twilight came to lie in her makeshift bed next to Rarity, pulling the covers over and grabbing Spike as a teddy. Spike could really sleep. She saw Twilight smile at her, tired eyes and face. She was now happy, drifting into a sweet sleep with her smile never fading.

The creature took a less graceful approach kneeling next to Pinkie and pushing the motivator feather in her nose. It instantly stopped the snoring and she could hear Rainbow holding back a giggle. It then moved close to the entrance and leaned up against the wall, knife drawn in claw, settling on the floor. It took a deep breath and sighed. Rarity could not contain herself and trotted over to it grabbing her blanket and settling the warm cover on its cold body.

“You don’t have to do that Miss, the outfit is warm enough.” Rarity lifted the blanket again, neatly settling underneath it beside the creature. It felt very cold to her, almost as ice. This however only motivated her to move closer and lean on it, resting her head to the floor. She expected some response from the creature, objecting in its stubborn nature to her help. Instead she felt the icy digits rest on the back of her neck. She snuggled its side and felt them smoothly stroke a small area.

“You are very warm Miss Rarity.”

“And you are very soft. Thank you for helping.”

“No problem, I could hear her snoring from the fields below.”

“Well that and...Twilight.”

It sighed again, “Miss Rarity I merely fixed the damage I had caused. It would have not been necessary had I held my tongue in the first place.”

“You do have a big mouth. Brute.” The creature chuckled. Rarity closed her eyes and felt the thigh she rested on twitch as the creature shifted its weight to accommodate them both.

“Good night Teddy.”

“Good night Miss.” the creature sighed in defeat. It shifted in and drew the blade placing it next to her, “Almost forgot.”

Rarity placed the knife by her side and felt sleep draw closer as the creatures breathing grew more steady and deep. Her final thoughts were how sweet it was to her and her friends, to how much they had been through together, and how much they would be.

“Teddy...are you alright?”

“I am free my friend. I am free.”

She smiled and let herself sleep now, she needed her rest for tomorrow. It was going to be a big day.

*

Princess Luna tore though the dreamscape to an unsurprised creature.

“Please, there is no time. You must help us, the queen has returned and-”

“I already know.”

“What?”

“I have met with the six and we plan to effect a retaliation tomorrow night.”

“...What?”

“Everything is ready, tonight they need to rest.”

“That is surprising...but good. I’m glad they...umm...found you.”

“Truth be told I am at complete ease. The plan is flawless and your throne will be restored soon enough.”

“You assume I care for my power?”

“Why else?”

“For the oath we pledged to ourselves after Discord fell.”

“So you are bound by an oath then?”

“I do it for all pony kind, because I love them. What is this plan?”

“I will not say, indeed if you must know then go ask the others in their dreams.” She turned to leave but sensed the creatures thoughts wondering, she halted for a moment, “If I may ask a question...” She turned to face it, “Why do you still invade my nightmares. Despite all my anger and threats you always return.”

“That night in your cell when we healed your wounds. You were suffering yet comforted the mare called Fluttershy. I saw it then in you, you are not a monster. Such actions are not of a monster.”

“Yet you are still afraid of me. I understand why. A being you cannot control or protect yourselves against. You are effectively at my mercy, and that does not sit well with the royal patronage.”

“Why were you there that night?”

“I always spoke the truth. I genuinely do not know. My response was instinctive.”

“Even when you took that mares wings? When you broke those soldiers?”

“That was not my proudest moment, to let some entity parade around and abuse my body like that. After her though, that was me. The instinct to survive is a powerful one. I saw my life endangered and I fought back.”

Luna was angered at its words, after all it did it justifies it with survival. She had assumed it had been walking the entire time.

“I never did apologise did I?” she wanted to scream, to break its composure, to see it feel remorse for what it did; its cold claws around her neck, air cutting off, her sister furiously fighting to keep her alive, and it just laughed. With all her energy she restrained herself and remained silent. “It is understandable you still bare resentment. I would find it strange if you didn’t.” The creature took a deep breath and lowered to one knee, “M’lady. Wouldst thou deign thy favour upon this lowly knave. I shall not seek pardon for my actions, for they were those of cowardice.” Luna felt her tension easing, “For should I ride to face my final tourney, my heart would carry me, my arms would not weaken, my spirit would never falter, should thine blessing be beside me.” The creature rose and smiled sheepishly at Luna. She felt something in her drop, a relief. She laughed and the creature chuckled in response.

“You are truly the least eloquent speaker I know!” She regained composure, her eyes watering. She wiped them and cleared her throat, “Good knight. Thou hast presented great candour, indeed you have my blessing.” The creature bowed its head.

“Thank you M’lady.”

They stood in silence, Luna could see now the full form. It was not remarkable at all, plain and simple.

“So tomorrow you will effect your plan?”

“I will effect our plan. If it succeeds my plan will not be needed.”

“And that is?”

“It does not interest one such as yourself.”

“It may...”

“Tomorrow I will repay a great debt. To all of them.”

“I do not understand.” The creature walked up beside her and gestured to a patch of green grass that appeared in the scape behind her.

“It would seem I have learned enough to manipulate my own scape”

“Tis not remarkable, a common trait.”

“Please have a seat.” She did so and he joined her. “My actions were never clear to myself. They were all instinct. Had I used my mind they would have been very different.” Luna looked on at it, the eyes faced the darkness and she saw a strange peace inside it. “During my time here I have had the pleasure of knowing each one of these remarkable ladies. We have grown closer, each bond I formed with them was a great catalyst, in some cases that catalyst was you.” Luna smiled. “I will admit that these bonds were formed without expectation. They have made me stronger in ways I never believed. I only came to this conclusion before I slept today.” Luna remained politely silent as the creature chose its words. “There are beings who have great spiritual enlightenment in my land. Their teachings, while commonly learned and accepted, are never truly grasped. I was studying these teachings before I came here. A coincidence and a half to say the least.”

“You are enlightened then?”

“Before I began studying I would say no, after I would say yes. Now, I say I do not know. Each of your friends, without realising it, helped me to see the teachings.” Luna listened eagerly on, at last she would know what drove this being, its passion. “They teach us that there are parts to our souls that must be linked to gain inner peace. Each of these parts exists in all of us and must be freed for us to achieve this inner harmony.” Luna waited for the creature to speak but it was silent again, hesitating. Luna saw her role now as a listener. She would be there for it, as it was for her friends, for her.

“Are there many parts?” she encouraged it, edging closer.

“Seven,” it replied bluntly, “Survival, acceptance, willpower, wisdom, truth, love, and spirit.” The creature clumsily held out its claws, clumsily counting seven on its digits. Luna chuckled and the creature continued, “If each one of these are freed then we will be at piece and capable of so much more. It is a prize sought by all individuals who spend lifetimes trying to gain it. Each one of them have taught me about these seven.”

“But there are six.”

“Survival has always been with me...or at least I thought so until today.”

“A moment please,” Luna asked, “These seven, how do you know they are there?”

“We don’t see. It is an act to faith to follow, but I see it as an act of need. Those who have this freedom; you should see what they can do. You know I like to think we are similar in some ways, sans appearance.”

“I suppose.”

“Ill ask then, have you ever wanted to do something that felt so right but then something inside stopped you, a gripping feeling in your stomach or chest, perhaps your own thoughts telling you not to.” Luna was surprised at how the description came dangerously close to her inhibitions.

“I...suppose.”

“That right there is your piece not being free, pulling at the chains. If you really want to know, I can tell you. I do not want to bore you and time is precious now.” It was right, time was now going to stretch on forever, even in a dream. Luna lowered her head close to the creatures.
“We have time. I would very much like to hear.” The creature kept its head bowed and in front of them a hole in the darkness appeared. It was the creatures memories, an impressive manipulation for one not versed in the art of dream trotting. She could see the day Fluttershy came to the cell and held on during its pain.

“Fluttershy, Love. She wanted to free me of my pain that night. Despite my suffering she was willing to risk herself to take that away. She did so. For in her I saw something, when our eyes met. I saw some...pony I lost a long time ago.”

“She is the element of Kindness.” Luna could see the moment play out, its pain, Fluttershy hugging its head, helpless to stop what it felt, but still trying.

“That is the reason you helped me, forgave me for all my wickedness. You saw into my dreams to the one I lost.”

“I saw a soul who was forced here, not brought here. The walking of which you speak is something that I fear too. I have my own personal demons with which to grapple.”

“I like you Princess Luna. You see Love is chained by grief and loss. When I felt her trying to help, I accepted it. However it soon became apparent that she needed her pain to go as much as she wanted mine to. Truth be told Princess I wanted to feel the burn again, such pain was to cleanse myself of the agony. Such pain was to punish myself. Physical pain is nothing though compared to what we can feel inside ourselves, much like Fluttershy did. I know why you let her in the cell that day you were attacked.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“You can try but I know you let her in hoping she could convince me. It did not take much though, I would have said yes with or without my freedoms promise. When she looked at me my heart just melted. To think anything that sweet mare has to suffer like that.”

“But I was right.”

“That you were.”

The creature took a breath, “The one who you saw lost, she was my sister...” Luna felt her heart sink. “I will not go into details over the ailment. Suffice to say she was taken. It is painful seeing that. Every day she faded, never did her optimism fade, never did she weaken or falter. She was strong to the end. Such power was for me, to ease my burden and not hers. Would you like to know the last thing she said to me?” Luna nodded unable to speak. “She said, ‘Promise me you will be free.’ So I did, never would I allow myself to be chained, hence why I began to study the principle. I saw my sister that day in Fluttershy.” Luna rested her hoof on the creatures shoulder. It did not respond. “To free love we must see that the love is not gone. It is still within us, and we carry it on to others. We all have that power. In showing me her love, Fluttershy freed that piece of me.”

Luna felt her sadness well up but pushed it down. She kept her hoof on its shoulder, a lot of tension was there but she felt at ease. The creature was feeling her hoof. She understood it needed to speak about these things, to hear them for itself. The memory faded and a new one appeared. That night with Applejack where her parents fell.

“Applejack, Truth. By trusting me to bear her pain she felt the loss to its full depth for the first time in her life. I saw how happy she was on the farm, her heraldry was beautiful. Despite all she suffered she grew to be very strong in body and spirit.”

“Brave Applejack is the element of honesty”, she found herself completely fixed on the creatures words, such emotion in each detail. Luna had been around for sometime yet this philosophy, for lack of a better word, was unique.

“Truth is blocked by lies. Simple.” It took a deep breath and continued, “We tell ourselves lies and hide what we really are beneath facades. Applejack was no different. Such honesty, yet she could not be honest with herself. That night I felt my compassion, I wanted to be there to free her pain. I had forgotten about that part of myself. The creature you all saw chained in the cell was a facade. I was never that way. Intimidation is how I fight.” Applejack had now fallen asleep in its lap in the memory. Luna could see the creatures mouth moving but could not understand the words.

“What did you say?” she asked gently.

“They were words we speak to respect those who are no longer with us. Her parents never had that honour on the site where they fell.” The scape changed and luna saw the creature placing a large stone where they were. “I went back later and carved a memorial of sorts.” The stone had on it simple writing, bold and deep in the rock face; Mother and Father, lost to save their children. Luna was touched by the words, they reflected the creatures compassion for Applejack. “I no longer lied about who I was, I hid this part of me and Applejack showed me the peace of inner truth, and so the piece was free.”

The creature sat silently and the dreamscape faded again, now came a scene where Rarity was dressing it in the new ensemble she made. The creature stood proudly with shoulders back and head high in font of the mirror, Rarity smiling wide at her creation.

“Rarity, Wisdom. It is chained by ignorance and veils.” The creature paused for Luna to speak.

“She is the element of Charity.”

“I’m not sure charity fits the description of wisdom.”

“It does,” she contradicted, “The act of charity is a wise action. We give those in need what we can, it does not have to be material for it to have meaning. In helping them our own hearts see the blessings we have, and we appreciate the lack of need for them.”

“Wise words indeed. Her ability to match colours and design is remarkable, just look at her go, it still astounds me she hid my enormous hind quarters with such ease.” Luna could not help but glance at the memory and the creatures posterior. She restrained a laugh to be polite, a snigger leaking through. “This ability to connect such differences to see a greater beauty, extends beyond her craft, and has given her great insight. She was charitable to me, but it is what she said to me that broke the chains.”

The memory played out, Rarity laughing at the creature as it fell over her basket straight into the flowers scattering them and standing up with a mangled mess covering it, the clumsy manner in which it tried to pull the flowers from its ears and face, and Rarity trying to help while teasing it. They shared a laugh together and then it seemed they were friends and not enemies. “I, as many, suffered from the veil that things are different. We all look different, act different, think different, the list goes on. Rarity proved logically that we are more similar than I realised.”

Luna thought about this and the variety of life in Equestria, from the mighty minotaurs to the most gentle pony. “Her pursuits in life have trained her to be quite the philosopher, a pony after my own heart. She was so wrapped in thought once she did not even notice me right beside her!” The memory referenced the springs and Rarity sliding in the water beside the creature, how she was so absorbed in thought, oblivious to it. Luna laughed as the wolf next to it in the waters shrugged returning to its basking. The creature cleared its throat gaining Rarities attention, and her head slowly turned. The shock was clearly visible in her face as she stared at the form of the creature, breaking out into a deafening scream. Luna laughed heartily at the display.

“After the attack from the wolves it was my intention to pass on there, then that face dared to come closer to me and reach out. She drove me to survive, I owe her more than she realises. Sadly she is also a great thespian.” Luna was confused, an actor? Then the Rarity in the dream dived under the water swimming to the other side screaming with fright at the creature who merely sat there watching. “Oh... Thespian.” Luna laughed as the memory changed to Rarity fawning over her outfit and exaggerating its glory fit for a knight of the highest caliber. “By transcending my ignorance I could see the bonds we shared, the similarities. We all have hopes, fears, families, loved ones. In truth the differences between us are a veil that keeps us from seeing ourselves in others. There is no difference worth mentioning. Learning to see past this freed that piece.”

“She holds a special place in your heart. Does she not?”

“I do not know how to answer that. Live alone, die alone, she will be happier that way.”

“Surely you jest.”

“I am tired Luna, so tired.” It did not bother her that the creature stopped saying Princess. This was it’s dream after all and here it was free.

Again the scape faded and it moved to a memory of Rainbow Dash chasing after the creature. She was caught by the creature when she was hurt and fell, the creature furiously digging in the rock trying to slow the descent, it cradling her, absorbing the impact, breaking ribs and dislocating the arm.

“Rainbow Dash, Willpower.” The creature tilted its head to Luna. She could not see its face.

“She is that of Loyalty. A friend who will never abandon those in need.”

“Loyalty... I suppose it could be argued that her will allows her to persist in remaining loyal.”

“Her will, as you say, drives her to her friends sides, pushing them on when they are lost and tired.”

“Good way to look at it.” The memory showed them surrounded by the wolves. The creature ordering Rainbow to run and her refusing. Them facing down the pack. “She would not abandon me to face those monsters. She could have easily done so. It would not have made a difference at the time. Yet even when ordered to, she stayed by me. Such loyalty, as you say, I thought foolish but admirable.”

They charged the wolves and a gruesome scene unfolded as the creature and Rainbow fought, brutal blows and artful swipes. It suddenly turned very dark as Rainbow fell with a deep gash from the wolves, the creature towering over her, them circling. ‘You should have run!’ the creature barked at her. ‘I owe you one’ she faintly replied. Luna watched eagerly on. “Willpower,” The creature continued, “Is chained by shame. We deny ourselves parts which we fear. In this moment here I had to release a part which I truly was afraid of.”

Luna was horrified when the creature in the memory pulled out the flint and ignited a small sphere, hurling it on the wolves, exploding and spreading its embers. “After all, wood burns,” the creature quoted itself. “Those wolves had reason to harm me, not to hunt me. Such actions are unforgivable. I do not seek it. The part you see now is the sadistic nature that dwells within my kind. Our cruelty is truly without limits.”

Luna was grateful when the memory jumped forward, sparing her the scene of the burning, although the howling still echoed in her mind. “Nopony should have to see that.” The creature was now limping by Crystal, Rainbow on her back, limping complacently with each step. “She never told me why she stayed. I doubt I ever will understand it. Regardless, she showed me what willpower can do. I chose then not to fear my darkness, for fearing it gives it power over me. I embraced it and no longer denied it was there.” Luna was shocked by this action. She could not understand its reasoning.

“You choose to embrace such...cruelty?!”

“It is a part of me, and I am no longer ashamed of it. Blue explained this in her own clumsy way, and I understood. Doing so allowed me to break the chains...”

“... Freeing the piece...” Luna finished. She contemplated its words. They were heavy, for it was her truth, hiding from her own darkness.

The memory faded. A scene in the cave now came. Pinkie prodding the monster as to spoke to the girls to try to calm them. “Pinkie pie. Pleasure.” The creature leaned back and looked at Luna. she could see tear trails along its face, a smile under those tired eyes. “Tell me, is she a little...”

“More than a little.” Luna chuckled, “I am familiar with her...quirks.”

“Very polite way to describe it. I would say she is a few apples short of a basket.” Luna laughed at this and felt more at ease hitting the creatures arm playfully at its crudeness.

“She is the element of laughter!” The creature smiled and returned to its old position, the memory continuing.

“Pleasure. It is chained by guilt. I must admit all the things I've done here have brought me nothing but that. From when I first fought, hearing those soldiers, your sister, threatening you.” Lunas smile lessened at the memories as they danced before her. “I have caused so much pain in my time here. I felt as though my presence alone was an affront to this land. She has a lot of bliss. Pinkie. It radiates from her, spreading to every creature she meets. Such a simple pony who sees life in its full beauty without knowing she does so. She helped me understand that focusing on what had happened was a folly, but doing so on what will come is sensible.” The memory played on, Pinkie teasing it, her and the others trying to tickle it into submission forcing it to laugh. Luna could not help remember the darkling pile on the creature back at the castle and how it threw them off with ease. “If we accept what happens we can move past it. Learn from what went wrong if we can, move on and get over it. If that can be done, a great burden falls from us.”

Luna felt her guilt for forcing her own sister to banish her for a thousand years. “If we can forgive ourselves for what we have done, this part is freed.” Luna understood what the creature said, she could feel the words in her, coursing through her. She thought about Nightmare Moon and all she did as her, all the suffering she caused. She simply did as the creature said, accepting it to then let it go. A great weight lifted from her and she felt tears trailing down. “It seems you have much guilt my friend.” Luna opened her eyes and the creature had seen her tears.

“It is unbecoming for a princess of the night to cry.”

“And yet it is so liberating. Is it not?” she smiled and nodded. She did not wipe the tears, she didn’t feel the need to.

“Pinkie’s sheer radiance and ability to willingly spread tis happiness taught me that the time to change things is the present. She does not wait for approval to her actions, she simply does them. I learned to accept responsibility for my actions and carry the lessons onto the future. In doing so, the piece was free.”

The scape faded and brought Twilight into view. She was watching out into the night and the creature walked up to her. A fight ensued, Twilight releasing her rage and crying with the liberation, the creature taking her to the field.

“Princess Twilight Sparkle. Spirit.” Luna placed her wing around the creatures shoulder and she felt them ease at her touch. “She was deeply burdened indeed. I dare say more damaged than myself. Talking to her helped me gain clarity over spirit. She is the element of...?”

“Magic. She can create new magic, a feat which has not been done since Starswirl The Bearded.”

“Magic, mystery, the unexplained. That fits snugly into the theme.”

“This was my favourite part,” Luna watched again as the fireflies rose from the surface, the creature talking to Twilight, its message ringing clear in its own mind. “Her burden was fear, of immortality and watching those around her pass on while she was doomed to watch.”

“I know this is a sensitive subject.”

“It seems your words affected her quite deeply. She longs for an answer.”

“Let that drive her further, she will need it. Now you must hear the words to understand.” Luna watched the speech to the end. It was poetic in its own clumsy way. Twilight was deep in thought after it finished. The creature in the dream lay down in the grass and Twilight joined it, watching the stars in the sky akin to the fireflies around them.

“You thought about this a long time.” Luna remarked.

“I have for my entire life. This type of conversation requires planning.” Now it looked at the memory and saw Twilight lying in the grass smiling and at peace. “Spirit. It is the most complex of all. Difficult to discern and describe. Its chains are materialism, not that of greed or excess, but that of earthly attachment. It is a lesson that is very hard to understand, the need for things to die. A lesson I have learned tenfold in my existence.” The creatures hands griped tightly around one another. Luna wrapped her wings closer around the shoulders, now leaning into it. She thought about its sister and the suffering it has been though. Such a thought reminded her of the loss of her own sister for a thousand years, at least they were reunited. This was not that simple to resolve. “Explaining this concept of passing to her, I gained full perspective of it.” It was still focussed on Twilights smile. “I hope she finds the answers she wants.”

“She will.” Luna knew them herself but was unsure whether the creature wanted this answer. It seemed as if it did not want to know. So she remained silent. “If you have the strength, could you tell her the answer?” Luna was shocked, this creature was more intelligent than she thought.

“It is...not my place. She must find her own way, that is how it has always been done. As you said; she is in need of extra drive.” The creature smiled at this and the window now closed. It stood up slowly and took a few paces forward. Luna remained seated, waiting. “You forgot one.”

“Survival.” It looked into the darkness of the dreamscape but no window came. “I always thought I had this, the strength to go one, to live when all else told me not to.” Luna remembered the creatures fight, protecting her sister and charging fearlessly into the Golems. Then is strained walk through Canterlot, wounded denying help, only wanting freedom, to survive. She felt guilt and looked at the ground, thinking how they had pushed it into being that way.

“In truth, my concept of it was warped. Survival is chained by fear, and since I have been here, I felt that almost every day. Until I thought about my fears, fear of dying here. This was not the case, my fears were that I would die without cause.” Luna could not understand this reference. The creature still did not look at her but it went on, “My fear was that I would never find purpose. In my old world the fear was a constant plague, indeed many suffer from this where I am from. Our destinies do not appear to us when the time is right as your do.” Luna imagined such a world where everypony was so unsure of themselves, she shuddered at the thought. “Here I choose to find purpose, I learned that from Applejack. I have already played a role in some of their lives, and I am about to play an important role to your kingdom. You can be content knwing that we will win,” Luna was surprised that she believed it, the words it spoke were said with such certainty. “Tonight, seeing all this unfold, talking to you, I have had my final realisation. I am free of the fear to pass on, and for the first time in my life, I am truly at peace.”

Luna felt uneasy at its words, they did not sound optimistic. “Should the last day of mine dawn tomorrow Luna, when we charge into battle and fell our foe, when we free those enslaved and imprisoned, it will be with freedom,” The creature spread its arms wide, “For now I am free. I am free on this day, Libera Me.”

Luna jumped to her hooves. “Don’t speak such foolish words!” The creature lowered its arms and turned to face her, its face was eerily calm. “You speak as if you will pass tomorrow!” It walked up to her,

“Because in all likelihood, I will.” Its words cut into Luna. She could not understand why she felt this way.

“But you shall beat them! You shall secure the elements and defeat the queen! You shall!”

“Indeed we shall, but I must ask you, what if the elements fail again?” Luna was dumbstruck, it was true, they had placed all hope in the elements being powerful enough even though they were no match for the queen when she attacked the castle.
“We...” she tried to force an idea to come to her but it was hopeless.

“The queen stole the elements, it means they can be harnessed, but how do you think that can be done?” Luna could not answer. “I have a detrimental effect on your magic and hers. I will be close enough to her so when the elements are used they will have impact. I do not know what they are capable of, but it is safe to assume it will be powerful. Enough to erase her and myself.” Luna forced herself to speak.

“You do not know that will happen! You do not know that!”

“Then why are you worried?” She could not answer. “From what I have learned of the elements, they are base magic. You have seen what that can do to me.” Luna could see those burns that night in the cell. Her head hung, she could not fight it. It was right.

Feeling its grip on her cheek she looked up. “I always make you ladies cry. I hate that. I do not fear it Luna.”

“I don’t-”

“Luna you do not understand!” It began to cry through that smile, “I am free! Finally, there is nothing there, nothing holds me down! I am free Luna! At last I am free.” She tried to look away but the claw held her there, “May I ask you a question now?”

“You may...”

“How long do you live?”

“It is a question of how long I want to.”

“I see. Until you choose a successor...”

“Until one is chosen yes, by me no. That is not what bothers you is it?”

“You know what does your highness.”

“Please, today it is Luna. No more formalities.”

“What bothers me is what will happen. Facing an eternal darkness is not the greatest fear I have. Having to live forever and watching so much dying. Living forever is infinitely more terrifying. I don’t know how you do it.”

“It is not bad. We gain an appreciation for the need of new life and have a greater understanding in the way life works. Passing is in itself beautiful, it is a beginning of so much more.”

“Princess, would you grant me the true reason you helped. After all I did to you, you still chose to help. I would not be here, none of this would have happened without you. I appreciate that. I understand that.”

“I...”

“I do not know what is happening, but I cannot carry the secret on, I will not live long enough. Please tell me, let me see why.”

Luna closed her eyes and turned away, she could not look upon it. She felt the claws on her shoulders, “A wise mare once told me it is not weak to seek the comfort of others.”

“I am sorry, it is too painful.”

“Would you like to know more about my sister?”

“That will not convince me.”

“Well, how about another story to add to your knowledge?”

“If you wish it.”

“She was much better than me, the youngest of two she brought pride to me just to know she was trying. Artistic, creative, dedicated, mischievous. Everything one would expect. One day she feinted, a routine checkup confirmed it was an incurable illness. She fought so hard Luna, she really fought it. Even the strongest heart could not break the illness. The day before she passed we fought. I wanted her to go try an experimental treatment, she did not want to try anymore. She wanted to keep going without hope of cure. I stormed out and a few hours passed before I was notified she was fading fast. Luna, there was no closure, I got there just in time for her to make me promise. I promised her I would always be free, then her lights faded, her job was done. I cannot tell you how painful it is. Then a few weeks later, I am thrust into this waking nightmare. Tomorrow it shall end Luna, it shall end at long last. I would like to believe I will see her again but I do not know. Right now I am afraid we will fail. Not to die, not to be hurt, I am afraid to fail and leave here never having completed my job.”

“You are...” no words would come. She turned to the beast and it stretched its arms around her. Her eyes went wide, she did not know what to do. It had been so long since this happened. Only her sister could do this to her, this monster. She fell forwards into it, not daring to look at it as it spoke. Its story was not especially unique, but it was a tortured soul, one of the worst she had ever seen. It endured no matter what, it deserved to hear the story,

“The darkness you face...I have my own. I know the burden.” The scape faded and the creature was back in the palace with her, there was a strange mare facing the white one, it looked like her but the features were more pronounced, clad in armour. “This is Nightmare moon. She was my lapse, as you name it. All the jealousy and hatred I had, birthed the monster. I tried but I could not fell her. She overcame me and endangered my sister. She was forced to send us away, I took control with what little strength I had, and ordered her to banish us. She let me go then with so much pain. I cannot do that to her again.”

“That would explain why she hates me so completely.”

“We do not know where time will take us, but I hope I can earn her forgiveness for unleashing such a burden on Equestria.”

“I don’t think you need to. You protected her after all.”

“As you were prepared to do in the home of Twilight. Would you truly have done that?”

“Miss Luna I would have. I am not going to let it harm anything else.”

“Do you know the cause yet?”

“I suspect I do, it does not matter. One more night and we will end this madness.” Luna held tighter to it.

“Oh I am grateful to be able to talk now. To have said all this. You are very compassionate. Please would you grant me one last favour?”

“What must I do?”

“I want you give them all wonderful dreams.”

“That will be my pleasure.”

“Oh, and one more thing. Could you please offer my sincerest apologies to Bulwark, Buckler, Tiny and Nordh. They need to know I regret my actions.”
Luna was stunned, those were the names of the guards it hospitalised. “But... How did you-”

“I told you I have many regrets. I watch and I learn.” She was not ready to leave yet, there was something on its mind she needed to satisfy.

“The truth why I helped...”

“You needn’t bother Miss. In the grand scheme it doesn’t matter.”

“It does. When you broke free and I woke to see you holding me...I felt safe. Your tired eyes concerned for me. I knew then with certainty you were not the monster we thought. So gentle. I am so sorry. You will be alright my friend.”

“If I am not?”

“I will never forget you.”

“Then it looks like I am immortal.”

“I promise.” The creature released her and bowed gracefully.

“Goodbye Princess Luna of the night.”

“See you tomorrow my friend.” She left the scape, and let it be dark tonight, let it sleep deeply now, it deserved that. She could still do something for it before the dawn. Give it a reason to live.

*

Twilight stirred from her sleep, there was an unfamiliar noise and she turned around to see the creature was stepping out. She let it be tonight, there was nothing more to be said. As she lay her head and tried to drift to her dreams again she heard another set of hoofsteps. Twilight would have looked but it did not matter tonight, there was nothing more to fear.

25 What I See

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25

Morning came to Equestria in the Everfree Forest, the waking hours of it brought sunlight. The previous night was a dream to Applejack, who was up bright and early, readying a simple breakfast for her, soon to be, hungry friends. She was growing more concerned with each passing hour as Rarity and the creature were yet to return from their night time patrol. It had been a long and turbulent night but her dreams were beautiful and fulfilling. She woke up refreshed with an urge to get something done, her rumbling stomach giving her direction. The creature had an impressive supply of nutritious nuts and fruits to serve up to her friends to give them energy for the arduous day.

Rainbow Dash was up and out flying, keeping her sharp eyes open for any approaching patrols.

Pinkie Pie woke up surprisingly mellow saying she had some weird dreams about being buried by chickens in chocolate cotton candy. She had slept well and was trying to have a makeshift table set for them to add a homely feel to the cave.

Fluttershy was surprisingly vigilant, keeping constant contact with her animal friends for any important changes in Ponyville. There were none, the queen was still there.

Crystal was now sleeping next to Twilight every now and then stirring at a strange sound. Twilight and Spike rested soundly together.

Applejack was artistically chopping and carving the fruits to be more decorative adding all types of berries and nuts in the larger ones to add some presentation. The best part of the day already was seeing Twilight still sleeping with the biggest smile and all cosy in her makeshift bed. More than ever she was glad the creature still helped them.

Its cave was remarkable, not the clearing where it had camped with her but an area storing basic necessities like food and water. It took some doing but they made it comfortable. The knife she was using was a spare the creature had, during its time it had experimented with different styles of sharpening, lengthening and reinforcing but the best one for it was still the small knife it carried. It was disconcerting to see what it had taken to eating in the forest, more disturbing however to see it kept the skeletons of the fruit spiders for their applications such as frames for traps.

Last night was strange to her after they met up, it was as if the whole thing was a dream already. The morning sun however made them all feel better, Celestia was alright and still fighting. Her sister, Princess Luna was an unexpected welcome to her dreams. She spoke to her about the creature and her line of questioning was confusing. Still whatever she needed she got and that was all that mattered. She took in a deep breath and savoured in the sweet smells of the fruits.

“Alright everypony, its almost ready!”

“Finally! I’m wasting away here.”

“Hey Rainbow, didn’t hear you come in. It would be really nice to get Rarity and our friend so we can eat together.”

“Hey, more for us.”

“Rainbow...”

“Fine, I don’t see why.” She flew off to find them and the rest settled at the makeshift placings.

“WAIT!” Pinkie cried settling a single flower in a rock at the centre. “Done!”

“Girl, you are just crazy today!”

“Why wouldn’t I be, aren’t you excited!?”

“Well sure I am!”

“Me too!” Fluttershy Chided.

“Me three!” Twilight sat down next to Fluttershy grinning, “It smells wonderful Applejack, thank you!”

“My pleasure sugar cube, how’d you sleep?”

Twilight looked out the cave and into the fields where she was yesterday, “Like I’m ready to shine!”

“Yeah, that was mighty fancy with all those lights.”

“It really is a sweetheart, isn’t it?” Fluttershy thought aloud.

“A tad hard headed but Granny says the harder the nut, the better the contents.”

Rainbow dash flew in and sat quietly on the table.

“Everything alright?”

“Umm...yeah, sure, fine, no problem. They’ll be along shortly.”

True to her word the creature and Rarity ducked with a laugh. The were both grinning and it looked like they had a very pleasant patrol.

Twilight looked at Fluttershy as she was nudged by her, “See anything Teddy?”

“It looks like they do not know we are here, let’s keep a low profile until evening.” The creature looked at Rarity who had joined the table, seated with perfect posture by her fruit salad. She giggled and the creature chuckled a second.

“Teddy os sort of a weird name.”

“So is Rainbow.”

“No it’s not!” They laughed at her attempt to recover, “I just thought something tougher you know? Like Earthshaker or Thunderfoot.”

“Ha ha! I like both. For today though Teddy is perfect.” It helped Applejack set the remaining salads down and fetched a drink for each of them. “I must apologise foe the lack of matching utensils.” It brought a large jug of water and six cups for all uses.

“Oh you needn’t worry.” It remained silent and seated itself after Applejack.

“If you ladies don’t mind I would like to discuss the plan Miss Twilight has come up with.”

“Our plan Teddy.”

“Sure, now seems as good a time as any, at least we are comfy.”

“Thanks to Miss Fluttershy’s reconnaissance, the descriptions of the fortress and Princess Sparkles inventiveness, we have been able to assemble a sufficient map to come up with a plan. I want your input here, any flaws you might think you see you must identify.” The creature stood up and clumsily propped the map against a wall, one of its knives as a pin to keep it there. It took the small stick as a pointer and gestured around the cave. “We will begin our assault from here, Miss Sparkle will make use of her invisibility spell to assure you all get there in one piece. At no time are we to communicate on this trip. During the day you will learn how to move about effectively while under this spell.”

The creature dragged the stick in a straight line to the fortress symbol, “I will make my way directly to the fortress with Crystal and breach the gates using an old trick, it will work and that is all you have to worry about. Any enemies on the way will be dealt with swiftly. Before the gates are breached Miss sparkle will turn Crystal invisible as well.” The creature pointed to the fortress layout, “I will know when to breach when Miss Fluttershy will signal an all clear with a bird call. Under the cover of a smoke cloud, which Miss Pie will provide thanks to her party could in a bottle, you still have it?”

“Yup!”

“The seven of you will use its cover to move silently to this location.” It pointed towards a door leading to the underside of the fortress, “Miss Fluttershy’s animals have told her they are funnelling their catch into this area, the rats say it is some type of cell block or the area where they are being transformed into changelings. There is a heavy guard presence but that is all we know. They could no go in further for fear.”

“Umm...that sounds really bad.”

“You will wait for my distraction to let the enemy filter out of the area and into the central chamber at the entrance. Thanks to Princess Luna speaking with Twilight after she...fainted last night...we know the Elements Of Harmony are being held amongst the heavy guard presence below. You will search the entire fortress if you need to but do so as discretely as possible, for this reason Crystal will be with you and will aid in any fight, should it be necessary. Once you have recovered the elements you must engage the queen and defeat her.”

“How will you be distracting them?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“I will be fighting the queen. This will gain us an advantage assuming she considers me arrogant enough to face her alone.”

“Well I don’t think she’ll have any trouble assuming that.”

“True Miss Dash. From Miss Sparkles description she is ready for me this time and is significantly stronger. So you will need to hurry up it you want a piece of her!” They laughed at the light hearted joke, if all works out we will not be using plan B.”

“So why do we need a plan B? This one sounds right simple.”

“Plan B is simple enough, in two separate steps. Miss Sparkle will send me into the fortress using her magic and I will open the gates from the inside using the mechanism described. If I fail to open the gates you are to retreat without me and think of another plan.”

“We couldn’t leave you with her!”

“I can take care of myself Miss Rarity. My failure, should it come to pass, will be due to an unforeseen circumstance meaning you will all suffer the same fate. For a backup I suggest you consult Miss Zecora, she has an alternate plan that I would prefer not to use involving dragons.”

“Dragons?!” They all cried out.

“Is there an echo in here? Yes, dragons. She will explain everything should it come to that. Now as far as the second part to plan B; I will do my best to weaken the queen but we have to prepare for the fact that the elements will not work again.”

“What makes you think they will work this time?”

“Something Miss Dash told me. It is to my understanding that these gem creatures were invincible until I fought them. An experiment when I aided your escape proved the reason I can fight them is my blood.”

“Your what?” Fluttershy was very concerned about where this was going.

“Crystal here has been consuming small amounts of my blood. If the creatures are close enough to either of us their overall strength is compromised. I had the same effect on the king pony your queen was with. She is also weakened by my presence, I personally think its the smell.” They all giggled but Fluttershy, still was looking concerned, “The second part of plan B, is for me to grapple the queen while you throw your absolute best shot at her with all the elements, she will have been weakened enough for the magic to take full effect.” They all smiled and were happy with this plan until Fluttershy spoke.

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“What will happen to you when we use the elements?” The mood became heavy at the thought. They all remembered the night Twilight and the creature had their confrontation, how she dislocated its arm and singed its hide with her spell.

“I will be behind the queen and quite safe.”

“But you will still get burned, maybe worse.”

“That is not a concern for any of you. I have the best healer in all Equestria to help me. Our sole purpose is to defeat the queen.”

Rarity was already aware and could see the others were noticeably concerned for the creature. She wanted to speak and console them but she found herself feeling sad at the thought. It did not mention to them how bad those burns were, how deep they went. Only her and Fluttershy had learned of it. She looked at her friend and tried to speak. “Teddy...”

“Now do not waste your concern, this is purely a plan B. I will be fine after and that is all you need to know. Your worries should lie with that queen.” Its argument was less than convincing, “Should this fail then we retreat with whatever we can, the Princesses if possible. I will remain with the queen while you get the key soldiers out and regroup.” The creature looked over them and saw they all had the same worry in their eyes.

“Do not assume that!” It barked, “You are soldiers now, the last line of defence for your friends, family, and loved ones. Even if I go down it will be nothing compared to what you will gain! There are greater things to loose than this old fool.”

Rarity stood up and stomped her hoof, “Teddy is right! We must remember there are many ponies who need us now. Besides, after all we have seen I think we can safely assume you are too thick headed and stubborn to let that happen.” Saying It hurt her but the concern had shifted to the many ponies still trapped.

“Very wise Miss Rarity, a little mean but wise.”

She looked around to see her effort had regained her friends their courage, even Fluttershy.

“Now I expect to see you all out front in the groove where we will begin working on your invisibility training. Are there any thoughts or questions we should concern ourselves about?”

Rainbow Dash stood up, “Shouldn’t we try to free the others? Get a little more fight on our side.”

“A valid point but the odds of them being useful are minute, unless you want them as targets for the enemy.”

“So if we can find a pony to help, we can release them?”

“As long as it does not compromise yourselves or the plan.”

“Got it.”

“I have a question. Wy are you helping us after all that happened?” Rarity’s inquiry was forced but she wanted them all to hear it as she did. The creature smiled at her and she knew they thought the same.

“I gave my word to Miss Fluttershy that I would fight your enemies to the best of my ability. They are still here and I never go back on my word.”

“So it’s a just matter of pride then?”

“No Miss Rarity. Each of you in your own very special way has given me something. You have effectively helped me to be a better me and that debt can never be repaid. Understand this, I fight with you, not because I am bound by word or debt, but because I want to help you.”

“Glad to hear it!”

“I must say it feels rather pleasant to have a ‘plan of action’ as it were.”

“It seems like we could do more though.”

“The way this is set up, I will handle the golems, you will handle the queen. Sounds fair.”

“Wait wait, what about this dragon thing?”

“That my friends will have to wait for another time. I shall leave it as a pleasant surprise for later on. So we are all good?” They looked to each other and nodded. “Good. Miss Fluttershy and Miss Twilight shall remain monitoring any changes throughout the day. At the moment though, let us finish this lovely meal and get started. In this area we should be quite secluded. The trees above provide cover from sight, the floor is rigid, Crystal is here,” the wolf rolled over complacently to return to her sleep, “eventually,” it added, “We should be fine.”

The creature sat by Applejack again and resumed the meal. It was obvious it was taking pained steps to eat with composure. Seeing it though Rarity wanted to lighten the mood as they stared into the bowls.

“You know its funny but...” she hesitated feeling foolish at the notion.

“But...?” the creature coaxed her.

“You remind me of a knight.”

“A knight you say?” the creature stood up straight and proud, puffing its chest out, pulling up its now empty bowl, brandishing its small knife high in the air and striking an heroic pose, “Dost thou mean the knights of old? Adorned by magnificent armour gleaming under the golden sun?” It stomped its feet ceremoniously, “Marching proudly into battle to save kingdom, country and fair maiden?” It clumsily clonked the bowl on its head and grinned sheepishly while taking the watermelon chunks a proud brow, its two odd utensils as its teeth.

Rarity and the others burst out laughing at this ridiculous facsimile portrayed. Its grin softened to a smile and they calmed down after some moments.

Fluttershy covered her mouth with her hoof giggling uncontrollably.

“I will remember that forever!” Applejack chortled.

“I knew you had it in you!” Pinkie exclaimed with pride.

“You look Ridiculous! My Sides!” Rainbow rolled around still laughing.

Rarity took some breaths to recover and wiped her eyes. The laughter was a relief for them breaking the tension of the task. Truth be told they all laughed to find somme relief.

“Where would you come ip with such a ridiculous notion?” the creature asked.

“It’s hardly that ridiculous if one stops to consider it. A bold warrior with mysterious origins, noble heart, gallant stride saving us damsels from certain doom time and time again!” she raised her hoof to her head for extra dramatic license. The creature chuckled and glanced briefly to Twilight. Its smile lessened.

“I am hardly a gallant or honourable one. Besides, a knight Mis Rarity must be appointed by a monarch. Further might I add that you have been reading far too many stories!”

“I have... not,” she said embarrassed, looking away and fiddling with her mane.

“Please Rarity!” Rainbow retorted, “All those seedy novels with heroines, heroes, maidens and monsters! You’re worse than-”

“You?”

“Hey, I do not read seedy novels!”

“Did you not like ‘The Marionetter’ Miss criticise?”

“That was your book!”

“What about that chapter with Daring Do and Doctor Equin?” Rainbows smirk faded instantly, “When she was bitten by that snake and he had to-”

“THATS DIFFERENT!” Rainbows face had turned a light shade of red, “Daring Do is cool, knights are just ponies in clunky armour.”

“They are most certainly not!” she defended “They are so much more than the armour they wear. They are heroes, paragons of virtue and justice who seek out evil wherever it may lurk.”

“I think Rarity has a point sugar cube.” Applejack added.

“Not you too!”

“I agree.” Fluttershy chided in, “It’s exactly like the part before the final battle when all seems lost and the hero gallops in to save the day.”

“A knight would not have hurt those ponies, a hero by definition cannot be alive. They must give the ultimate sacrifice to be called a hero, ergo; there is no such thing as a living hero.”

The mood became heavy once more. Rarity refused to let the good nature end, “You are a more like a knight than any other pony I’ve met. You are strong but gentle,”

“Fearless and caring.” continued Applejack.

“Scary but loving.” listed Fluttershy

“Way too serious...and fun!” Pinkie laughed.

“Intelligent and wise,” Twilight added.

They all looked at Rainbow who sat with folded hooves stubbornly refusing to go along with them. Pinkie came closer to her and looked her straight in the eye smiling widely. “And...”

“Look, Miss Dash has a point, you are getting caught up by-”
“WAIT!” Pinkie interrupted, “What was that Dash?” Rainbow looked away and mumbled something that they couldn't make out, “Do I need the motivator?” Pinkie giggled holding up her special feather.

“Alright.” Rainbow did not look at them but smiled to herself, “Fierce and cool.”

“See the knight to battle once more,
Heart ablaze and courage true,
Armour does bathe in golden light,
Sword is wielded by...claws of might,
Weep not for the knight, the knight is old,
Weep not for the knight, the knight is free.
For when the light does fade and the nighttime comes,
The knight shall then rest
Their job is done.”

The verse echoed in the cave and silence prevailed once more. “It sounds better in the original language. These words were once spoken by true knights form my land. It is a rough translation. I wish I could say I was worthy. I am not.” The creature bowed to the friends. “You ladies flatter me, I thank you for your kind words. In kind I wish to say you are all beacons in my darkness here, guiding me to greener pasture. Your truth, wisdom, willpower, pleasure, spirit, and love have given me reason enough to stand beside you.” It raised itself and smiled.

“Can we hear the original?”

“You would not understand it though Miss Twilight.”

“I know but...”

“Twilights an egghead like that,” the all giggled at Rainbow’s joke while she blushed. The creature cleared its throat.

“Vide iterum eques armis,
Cor ardet et uirtute verum,
Ornatus facit lotus lux aurea,
Assur in gladio...unguibus fortitudo,
Nolite flere super miles, vetus miles,
Nolite flere super miles militis liber.
Et lux in tenebris Nam deficiant,
Miles non timeatis,
Operis eórum plena est. "

Twilight somehow did not like the way it sounded. The creature cleared it throat and smiled widely to them, it was eerie how it just stared; A long lingering gaze over the gathered group.

“Teddy?”

“Thank you my friends.” The atmosphere became very heavy, they all jumped as the creature clapped its claws together. “Do not worry about cleanup, lets get going for some much needed training.” On cue Crystal joined the creature and they stepped out into the day, their silhouette against the suns morning rays.

26 My Job Is done

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26

One more job, then I can rest.

*

The Everfree Forest had had a busy morning near the firefly meadows. The creature had managed to effect a plan, see a route and train the elementals Of Harmony to successfully carry themselves while under the invisibility spell of Twilight. She did not present any strain from having to hold it, according to her it was a trick she happily stumbled upon while pursuing greater spells. Spike had tried to be vigilant for them but he had sustained a serious breakage, now confined to the bed to sleep. He had never looked so happy.

The morning had been a long one, their rest in the shade finally providing relief. When asked, the creature confidently claimed Zecora was surely in perfect form. Yesterday night she had disappeared into the forest when her home was raided. That raid in question prompting a certain monster to retaliate and a certain wolf to seek them out. Twilight had tried to understand it, however the wolf was too great a mystery for her.

They lay back in the grass, the creature against a tree, massaging its claws again. Rarity could not help notice them as it removed the bandages. “That looks rather nasty.”

“It will get better in time.”

“I was not aware.”

“Doesn’t matter Miss Rarity. How is everypony?”

“They are resting now, we are pretty tired.”

“Are you alright?” She leaned into the body to nestle comfortably.

“As well as you are Teddy. We did not have the opportunity to sleep as much.”

“Still worth it. You look very tired.” Its claw pushed her mane back from her face. “You seem less of your normal self today. Rarity, are you alright?”

“What do you think?”

“I think somepony has to talk. You have an ear.”

She leaned onto the creature and closed her eyes. “Its not fair.”

“I thought we made a promise?”

“I hate this. Why can’t we think of something else.”

“Do you have another idea?”

“No.” she sighed.

“You see all of this?” it gestured to the open plain, “A wise lady told me there are families, loved ones all with these,” it held a claw to her chest, the beating heart steady under the palm. “As those hearts beat now, they are trapped, suffering, I could walk away, but I cannot.”

“Why not?” she led on.

“Would you walk away from the best thing to happen to you in our life?”

“Our?”

“Our.”

“Teddy...”

“You must be strong, they need you, all of them.”

“All...”

“I need to know you can be strong. What ever happens, I will try see you tomorrow. Remember?”

“I do.”

“Good. Lets continue please. I want to see you smile again.” She looked to it, “There it is.”

“After all, times not up yet.”

“Indeed.” She lay against it in silence for some time, a thought came; “How does your knights verse truly sound?”

“You are a wise one.”

“You are trying to avoid it. Tell me please. I want to hear the verse.”

“It is not very optimistic.”

“I want to hear it all the same.”

“See the broken knight,
The fire grows dim,
His shining flesh is old and torn,
His weapon of choice now blunt and worn,
Weep not for the knight, the knight is old,
Weep not for the knight, the knight is free.
As the lights fade and the darkness comes,
He shall not fear, for his job is done.”

“That sounds truly disheartening.”

“It is only sad for those who do not understand it. The knight will leave the world a memory of what he has done, the knight in question is happy to leave.”

“Did you wish to be a knight.”

“A knight... The meaning of?one here is different, more for honour and less for title. I do not think I am ready to be knight. You are my knight Rarity.”

“Sweet of you to say.”

“So was that what is bothering you?”

“No, this is,” she tucked herself under the head, enjoying the bristles of the hair.

“Why don’t you mind being this dirty and sweaty?” She looked to it feeling shocked and embarrassed, “I have learned that much about you, ” it grinned.

“I... Not a concern,” she pressed her face back to it, “My mind is with somepony else today.”

“Poor, poor lancer,” it teased. She responded with a sharp jab from her hoof. “Well we still have some training left.”

“Sadly true.” She closed her eyes and felt the urge to sleep, “Could we not stay here a few more minutes.”

“Later we will rest, now we must learn how to fell a monster.”

*

“WHERE’S MY WIFE?!”

“Oh my dear Shining, she is safe for the while, would you like to come see her with me?”

“You just wait! I swear I will get out of here and-”

“How does it feel captain? To be chained as your monster once was?” The question shocked him. He refused to answer, sickened by the irony. “I surmise you can imagine every detail of my pets fear when you twisted it to bend underhoof.”

“Your animal will never succeed.”

“I am worried it will captain. Lately my pet has grown more resilient, I shall see it return to me once more. It has to be removed from here before I can comfortably assume my victory.”

“Speak sense!”

“Oh my angry little captain. You shall be a nice edition to my army. I see the transformation is already taking hold of you. I long to see you at the front of the charge to the next kingdom,” she took his head in her claw, her tired to struggle but the grip was painfully firm, “Without a single weapon.” She left him to his darkness, and he knew then how that beast felt.

*

Rainbow Dash was still disturbed about what she had seen this morning, she lay back now after a gruelling afternoon of work. The sun shone high still,

“Everything alright Miss Dash?”

“Fine.”

“Well it doesn’t sound fine.”

“Look its fine! Now leave me alone.”

“Miss Dash...”

“No you listen! I thought... Never mind”

She spread her wings to take off but the creatures reaction was too fast. It quickly reached around and pinned her to the floor. She was stunned.

“You listen blue, I do not know why you are upset but you need to focus. We are not going to some evening gala for tea. We are going into a very dangerous area and I need you in perfect health.” she could not reply but could feel its claw pressed firmly on her chest, pinning her, “There has been enough lies and deceit Miss, it serves to divide us! Now either you tell me what is wrong so we can sort it out together or you stay behind, I do not need dead weight on the team!”

She tried to struggle and fly but the creatures grip was firm.

“I am waiting.” It stared at her, not moving. She looked away angry at it for being this stupid and oblivious, she hated herself for feeling close enough to actually tell it. Without thinking she said the words, “I think your cool!” she covered her face and turn but the creature did not move, it kept her pinned.

“Miss Dash...you are an outstanding fighter. A talented and pure lady with abilities some can only dream of. If theres something I can be sure of, it is that you have nothing to fear.” It released its grip and she felt confused as it sat there. “When we were fighting those wolves, I actually felt like we could win. Your determination was unbelievable. Even with your injury you still had your courage. The same I saw before you chased me off the cliff.” The creature sighed, “Rarity has done a lot for me, I truly did not expect to...well. Regardless, I am sure you will find an equal. Is it not weird to think a monster is cool? Surely there are some other males around more fitting? I understand there is a Soarin character, don’t worry, I will hold it in confidence, more so than Miss Rarity.”

“He’s alright I guess.”

“But not ‘cool’ enough?”

“Not even close”

“You flatter me. Give him time, males here sound no different from my kind. We are soft headed and immature. Wait for the fruit to ripen, then it is sweeter.”

“Your not like that. How old are you anyway?”

“I am an exception to the rule. That is not a good thing. Antisocial, scary, unfeeling, bad tempered. That is how I was when I have always been. Now I am not old mind you, by your standards I wager I am in a similar ballpark to Miss Applejack.”

“Then you are as old as we are.”

“Yes. Still young enough I hope.”

“Enough for what?”

“Well...tonight for example. I will need a lot of energy to manage. Miss Dash please do me a favour, one between only us alright?”

“What is it?”

“I need you to be there for the others. You are strong, fierce. Be that for them no matter what happens alright?”

“What will happen? You’re going to be fine! Pony up you...” she could not finish as the claw held her side.

“Pony up Miss Dash.” The creature stood and walked back to the group. It was not going to be a good day, in her gut she knew it.

*

“Luna?”

“Welcome back sister.”

“I am sorry, it is difficult to focus on the sun without seeing it.”

“We shall be free soon enough.”

“You keep saying this with such certainty.”

“I am certain, our friend will soon be here and we will be free once more.”

“Luna, you cannot expect me to forgive that monster-”

“Enough! I will not hear that spoken of it any further. I will not defend its actions. You shall witness them and know.”

“How can you forgive it? After all it did to you.”

“I am still here, it never intended to take me from you, it wanted freedom. I love you sister but you must be blind any further to the truths that are around you. It is not our enemy. I shall speak no further of it. Let us try to pass the time in ease.”

Celestia was silent for a few moments, Luna did not look at her, “This room seems strange upside down.”

“Strange laughter or strange Pinkie Pie?”

“Laughter, Chrysalis has chosen an interesting new shape.”

“True, she would appear to be very upset that she may not change back properly.”

“She should have read the texts more carefully. I wonder how she got the book, I could never find it after Twilight left for Ponyville. Luna?”

“Yes sister?”

“Do you think Twilight will be alright with...well.”

Luna chuckled, “She has found her way again thanks to your monster.”

“How?”

“I shall let you ask it. Soon enough we will be free sister. Have patience.”

*

“Quick break ladies. Next will be channel focusing, you shall see.” Twilight went to sit by the creature while Rarity and Applejack tried to carry an exhausted Rainbow to rest. She sat by it and felt the heat from the body, there were still some questions that had come up over the day.

“Teddy...”

“Yes?”

“I would like your thoughts on a few dilemmas.”

“But of course Miss Twilight.”

“Why did the queen attack right after we met you?”

“If you think about it...you had just celebrated. Everypony was tired and full of food or drink, it was the perfect time.”

“Okay. Why have there been no patrols back here yet?”

“I know Miss Zecora is doing something there, she is a tough one to figure out. I cannot explain it but I know she is the reason.”

“Okay. How old are you?”

“About MIss Applejack’s age.”

“You are really to wise for your age.”

“Wisdom eludes me Miss Twilight, I will not pretend to know everything.”

“Modest too,” she giggled.

“You could use something to protect yourself.”

“I will be fine Miss Sparkle, please worry about the others.”

“Maybe a shield or lance? Worthy weapons for a knight.”

“The only thing I need t this.” The creature took out a small package approximately two hooves long and one hoof wide. It was relatively flat but tied securely shut with large amount of string. It passed the item to Twilight. After examining it for a few minutes she was lost, her expression reflecting this to the creature. She gave it back and it replaced it in the lower pouch on its leg.

“What is it?”

“Do you know why I do not want to talk about my land? My kind or even my name?”

“Now that you mention it you have been kind of vague,” she sarcastically teased.

“Well this right here is the reason. You see my world is based on survival, Twisting the nature of our existence to fashion weaponry. I patched up a lot of individuals who succumbed to these creations. We called them bombs. Are you familiar with those?”

“Not really. It sounds funny. Bomb! Is it like when a joke goes badly?”

“Far from it I’m afraid. You do have fireworks though, I heard some go off for your coronation ball.”

“Yes...”

“Have you seen what happens when when one of those go off too early?”

“They never can, only the best unicorns are chosen to provide the light show to the castle.”

“So it’s more magic then... How does one describe this...thing. Have you every seen anypony injured by an explosion of any kind? Engines or something similar?”

“While brewing some potions I have had a few close calls, but I’ve never heard of anypony being hurt by one. Mostly they turn a different shade for a while but they do get better.”

“Oh dear. Let me try this; imagine your castle’s gates, large and powerful, probably immune to a host of spells to keep it safe. Now imagine there was something that could make it disappear in an instant,” the creature tapped the package, “This is that thing.”

“Where does it go?”

“Alright... Twilight, listen carefully; the explosion this device makes will tear anything apart into smaller pieces quickly and violently leaving very little left standing. It will kill anything alive, it will destroy anything solid. This is my kinds most talented ability, we can kill each other with almost anything.”

Twilight sat a moment trying to understand the creatures description. She had never heard of such a device nor such a race. “So...you used it to fight each other back in your land?”

“Exactly. We could create weaponry that could shake the entire world, block out the skies, decimate cities or continents with a single, well placed, well built bomb. Our greatest weapon ever detonated could be felt from all corners of the world.”

Twilight was noticeably disturbed by this, her head sunk at the thought of such things being brought to Equestria. “Many of you get hurt?”

“This bomb here was something I made in case it should need to be used to protect myself. A last resort constructed with all manner of materials lying around your forest here. There is a plant with very flammable sap, an edition of something I cannot pronounce and it makes a tidy explosion. Refine the mixture though a cloth, let it dry, compact and it becomes very volatile, yet very controlled. Please understand I never want this monstrosity to become available to anything. If all goes as planned we will never have to see one of these again.”

“These bombs...did they hurt your kind?” she repeated.

“Are you sure you want to know the answer Miss Twilight?”

“I don’t want to know but I need to know.”

“The worst one to my knowledge took millions.”

She felt her world rock when she heard this. Princess Celestia was right to be weary of these creatures They not only possessed a resistance to magic but also could build weapons that could damage Equestria. “Why tell me this?”

“To make you understand why I do not share much about myself. Please stop asking questions to which you never want to know the answer to.”

“Your not like that though.”

“When you have seen what this warfare can do, and you think about those affected. You change. You understand things on a different level. It was my job to see why it had done.”

“Thank you for sharing that.”

“Well it is better to satisfy your curiosity before it goes looking for things.”

“I must ask you one last question though. That night you first came here, what do you remember?”

“I remember working hard on a new set of legs for a customer who lost them in an excursion. For no valid reason I found it very difficult to stay awake. When I felt very tired.I tried to stand but I couldn’t, fell to the floor and passed out with blood dripping form my eyes, then woke up to a guard of your kind kicking me squarely in the face.”

“And you fought back...it was the truth wasn’t it?”

“Every word.”

“I am so sorry.”

“For what? Wanting to protect your world? Don’t be. The best we can do is get ready for this evening and when we are done, to let the dust settle. The creature motioned to get up but Twilight grabbed its arm.

“That plan B where you defeat the queen,” she swallowed hard trying to avoid looking scared, “Does it involve a bomb?”

“You are sharp Miss Twilight.” The creature patted itself on the lower leg, “It will be enough to either defeat her or weaken her for you. In all likelihood I will have to be close to use it.” Twilight was now scared, she could not imagine such an action it was willing to go through for them. She let her head sink but the creatures claw reached and pulled her chin up to look at it. It kneeled down to her face, very close. She could feel her heart race as she looked into those sunken, tired eyes, “So make sure those elements work the first time. Alright?”

She remained silent still worried about the concept. She felt the creature move her chin up and down in a nodding motion. She took her cue and nodded smiling, “It won’t come to that, I promise.”

“Good, might as well leave plan B here then right!” They laughed off the heavy mood. The creature stood and walked over to the table where its blades were set. “Today I will take two and this little beauty,” it hoisted a very large stick shaped from white wood and neatly adorned with solid fragments of gem. It was a club.

“So...a big stick?”

“Pretty much, I’ve imbued it with my own blood, a few drops had turned it into what I hope will be a quick weapon.”

“You could try to ride crystal there.”

“Then there will be more enemies at the gates, the objective is to spread them thinner, make it a little simpler.”

“You really have thought of everything...”

“We did your highness.”

“Sorry to interrupt you two but while you’re talking I would like to know how you can beat those monsters so easily.”

“Welcome Applejack, have a seat, coffee? Tea?”

“Hop to it Sir Teddy, I’m a little tired of dishonesty.”

“Twilight and I have figured out the longer the crystal is close to me, the more brittle it will become.”

“Teddy acts like a siphon, draining the energy that magic is made of. Or at least cancelling it out.”

“When I struck the golems the first time it was incredibly painful and hard. The longer they stayed around me the easier it became to break them.”

“So we figure Chrysalis will suffer from the same shock since she is now partially composed of crystal.”

“Wait an apple picking minute here. Crystal is made of crystal. You know what I mean.”

“Well...” Twilight did not understand it either.

“Perhaps,” the creature interjected, “Her form is not based on a magic. Or at least not one which I have an effect on. After all MIss Twilight here does not experience nausea when I am close. Anymore at least.” They chuckled to the comment. “That little lady right there is tenfold more cryptic that any of us could hope to understand. I am honoured to have her as my sister in this land.”

“Sister?”

“We share blood, we would give our lives for one another, we are the same mindset. That right there, being tortured by Miss Fluttershy, is my blood, my sister.”

“That’s kind of sweet...in a mildly creepy way. Kind of like seeing a wormhole in a sweet apple but no worm anymore.” The creature and Twilight laughed. It stood up and gestured for them all to join it in the centre, Crystal relieved of the others fawning.

“It is time I taught you how to channel your inner energy.”

“Ready to go Teddy!” Rainbow Dash was as enthusiastic as Pinkie Pie. She had seen what this could do and was eager to learn the trick.

“Good. Now ladies, how do you think I can drive myself forward when everything else tells me not to?”

“Are you fishing for compliments?”

“Not at all Miss Applejack. Have a seat, I’ll show you.”

They all sat down ”

In our bodies there is spirit, it is what we feel when embarrassed, sad happy. Normally that feeling is here,” the creature patted its stomach, “When we learn how to harness this spirit and let it flow in us without interruption it can be powerful. Unfortunately we do not have enough time to explore the fundamentals of it, so heres the basic concept. Stand please and close your eyes.” They did so, “Now I want you all to feel your stomachs, not the organ but to feel the essence of it, well and truly.”

“I think I can...” Twilight looked up astounded, her horn was glowing without any spell, on its own.

“That is your spirit, at least you have a visual aid, I never was certain until now. I want that essence to flow in and out of your bodies, every fibre, feel it like a river to fill every part of you.”

“I can’t”

“Concentrate Miss Dash, this spirit is not meant to be forced out. It must flow through you.”

“I can...”

“Well done Miss Applejack.” When we channel this in ourselves we can drive our bodies to incredible lengths.

“Umm...gals...” Applejack was beginning to glow with an orange hue. In her panic it dies down. The creature threw its arms up to point at the sky.

“KNEW IT!” They all stared dumbfounded at it.

“You’re elements are channellers! You do not need them!” They all gasped, “All the training was to hone your awareness, let it loose now, be one with your entirety and you do not need those trinkets anymore. Ha ha! I knew it!”

“Teddy...”

“Now we can revise our plan, You must still secure your elements, they will help. Channel through them now and they will amplify! I am too excited about this!”

“I still can’t do it!”

“Try Blue, focus on everything and nothing. En free inside and feel the energy flow.”

“Why don’t you show us then. I mean it’s easier to copy.”

“True. Very well, first understand pain is only information, it is your body telling you something is happening in that part of you. Concentrate on it and it becomes worse. I will not see pain, I will feel the pain but I will feel it as information.”

The creature stepped in front of a rock. It moved its claws over its stomach and they began to fluidly flow around. Rarity felt chills watching the frame elegantly sway, such control. It was over in moments ending with the creature stretching out as it had done on that first day before it charged the golems, its eyes closed. It stepped back and in one fluid motion impacted the boulder. It did not break, what made them gasp though was the sound, a sharp crack that echoed out. The force of the hit could be felt from where they were, a great tremor causing them to stumble.

“There is pain, my body is telling me my claw is hurt,” the creature stretched out the claw and tightened it not a fist with a crack, “I do not feel it as pain though.”

“That...was...awesome...”

“It actually explains a lot. I was wondering why you could laugh when you were hurt. I thought it was a faulty connection in you brain or a-”

“I think what princess is trying to say,” Applejack interrupted, “ Is that we all found it...enlightening.”

“Hey! I can do it!” Pinkie Pie had achieved the ability to use her power with remarkable speed. The others never could reach more than a basic glow. It was enough however to know this power was not limited to their Elements. They each felt stronger.

“Alright ladies! You have learned all I can teach you. Let me see you use it.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Me.”

“What?!”

“Don’t look so surprised, you all have learned how to take a being like me down. This queen has my body but not my ability. If you can take me down she will be just as easy. For effect I will be hitting you as hard as I can.”

“What if we hurt you?”

“I doubt it will be permanent or inhibiting. Besides, you are all so pathe-” The creature staggered forwards as Rainbow Dash caught it on the back of the head with a clump of earth. It spun to them with a smile.

“Charge!”

The creature whirled about as Applejack looped a rope around it’s leg and pulled, it was too strong but her distraction worked as Rainbow Swooped past its head and Twilight rammed the back leg to send it sprawling on the ground. It laughed and rolled to its feet cutting the loop free and darting to Twilight. It picked her up by the throat but she was ready and wrapped her hind legs around the arm and kicked out to its head. It released and she landed to dive to the side avoiding an overhead blow.

It spun to her but was thrown back by another clump of earth, Pinkie feeling very pleased with her throw. Fluttershy Neatly tossed a slippery paste across the ground before Pinkie, causing the creature to halt. It failed however as Rarity nudged it gently forwards to leave it skidding to a fall. It lay motionless as they all put a hoof on its body in triumph. While dumbstruck it managed to laugh.

The creature stood up at last holding its sides from that laughter and smiling, “That was fantastic! You ladies have made me proud! Well Done.”

“We had a great teacher.”

“Who is one thoroughly embarrassed.” The mood became heavy in a hurry, the training was complete, “Take a break now, we move out in a few hours.”

“What? What about, we still have to look at more drills! There must be something we missed!”

“You are all ready Miss Twilight, relax please.”

As the creature stretched itself out Rarity siezed the chance to signal the start of the plan they had effected in secrecy earlier. Twilight took a deep breath trying to shake off her nerves as Rarity began her trick.

Applejack cleared her throat, “Teddy, your shoe seems to have a little something stuck in there.”

“Really?” It looked down to see a scrap fragment embedded, “That looks bad.”

“Here darling, let me-”

“I got it please,” it did not see Rarity wink to Twilight as it kneeled. It slowly held the Claw over the object. Twilight stepped in front gracefully and lowered her horn to the shoulder.

“Sir Teddy of Equestria.” They all giggled as the fragment in the shoe faded in a puff of smoke. The creature did not move, it seemed paralysed, in shock. “That was my first one, how was it?”

It rose one more, “That was a sneaky trick.”

“What’s that Sir Teddy?

“It is a waste I am honoured by, thank you.” The creature chuckled briefly to itself. Twilight still found it hard to believe this was the monster she had hated only a night ago.

“I am exhausted now, it is time for a nap. We will then be off to the task. I shall take mine here.” The creature collapsed and laid back to see the late afternoon sun. Rarity lay by it, turning and resting her hoof over its heart. It was once for her to see it smiling in such content, it made her feel happy. The others came to lay by the two now. In moments the creature was asleep with Rarity following quickly.

Seeing her this dirty, Twilight felt proud she could put aside her nature to focus on what was important.

27 Pathetic Fallacy

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27

The creature woke to Rarity and remained her in silence overlooking the sunset. Twilight and the others were awake, lost in it. They all sat peacefully enjoying the red orange hue that covered the land in its glorious light. The creature sat up with Rarity and inhaled deeply. Rarity leaned against it, and it on her. Twilight and the others inhaled the evening air to follow the example, a fresh breeze gently passing by and carrying the scent of the forest. The evening was tainted to Rarity, the inescapable fact that their day was closing on them.

Pinkie Pie fell against Crystal on the other side of the creature. They all followed and gathered around, trying to make that moment all the sweeter. To Twilight, they all had the same thought, it was the least they could do with their new friend. As it said only the present is certain, and they were going to enjoy it.

Rarity cleared her throat pointing to the castle in the distance, “That is Canterlot. It is where you came from, a lot of ponies there. There is Ponyville, the Everfree forest. Can you see that large cloud there with the rainbows pouring out?”

“I think so.”

Rarity nudged Rainbow Dash. “Thats my home, cloudsdale, we make all the weather there, rainbows and rain, thunder and lightning for the storms. If you see the factories going there is sure to be a downpour somewhere in Equestria. Fluttershy is from there as well but she has decided to live closer to the ground.” She touched Fluttershy’s shoulder.

“Well..umm. There’s the Everfree Forest, but I guess you knew that already. There’s umm...my home...which we can’t see. Ah! The birds you see now are Cuckoonutters, they are a little eccentric sometimes. My favourite animal though is...oh I can’t choose. In the distance is Mount Kilimanjaro, a nice place to visit for ponies who like to ski...which I don’t so I umm...haven’t.” She tapped Pinkie’s foreleg.

“Ooh, my turn! Well I don’t know...I like to think about flavours when I am nervous, sad, scared, all of them. The sunset would be orange with dark chocolate! Celestia has outdone herself this time, that’s the orangiest one yet!” She bumped Applejack.

“Well that right there is a whole lot of forest. I think back there’s where we first met, one of my favourite nights. Sweet Apple Acres should be having a fresh harvest now, Granny Smith would be busy with Big Mac choosing the best ones. I can’t wait to bust them out and get that harvest started.” She bumped Twilight.

“All of it is here in Equestria. There are many different creatures that make up the wonderful world we see around us. Now we have one more to make it all the more magical.”

The creature exhaled a trembling breath, “Thank you ladies.”

“I know it’s not the tour we promised but-.”

“Perfect. It was perfect. Never had to get up.” They did not move until all the light had finally gone. “I don’t know about you ladies but I hate pathetic fallacy.”

As the sun disappeared the creature sighed and stood up. Heading back into the cave with Crystal it beckoned them to follow, their time was up.

“Gather your equipment ladies, make ready.”

It proceeded in retrieving the necessary components it required, the explosives, the shoes, and its knife. It did not carry anything else. Crystal took the pack of its blood and drank deeply. Clearly not enjoying the taste. Her clear body became a pale crimson and her eyes a bright red. Rainbow Dash shuddered at the sight. Twilight was readying her spell and the others gathered their ropes and tools to fight the golems. There was silence amongst them, a heavy and ominous feeling hung over the group. Applejack was disturbed when she saw the creature place a flat stone on the makeshift table, its own signature on it with a small rose carved in it.

"Will your little friend be alright?"

"He will! Dragons need to sleep to heal faster."

"Quite the tough one."

Rarity was by far the most quiet, she barely made a sound while she gathered her kit. Her thoughts were still dwindling on the night before, it made her heart race but soon sink. It was such a short time they had but she remembered its word and it brought comfort to her. She would use it to stay focussed for the good of all her friends.

Rainbow Dash attached her Wonderbolts pin. She was ready to storm the fortress with her friends and bring peace to all Equestria once again. She would stare down the hordes of the queen and not bat an eye, she was a Wonderbolt, and had faced far worse.

Pinkie Pie Was the most disturbing to them. Her usually full spirit attitude had mellowed after the sun set. Her smile was as big as ever and her spirit full but there were no antics, barely any talking. She was nervous about what might happen, but she laughed it off personalising her tools with some colourful ribbons she still had.

Fluttershy was eerily calm. She had her suit on the quickest and spared no effort communicating with animals to see if there was something else important they should know. To her disappointment there was no extra information, nothing to help it.

The creature sighed and beckoned them to the centre of the cave clearing its throat.

“Ladies. As you know we can have no contact after we leave this point, so if you have something to say to each other, for ponies sake do it now and not when we are ear deep in golems.” They looked around at each other confused as what they should say, to each other of the creature. “I would prefer to go first. Ahem. A lot has happened between each of us during my time here. I do not know how or why I came to be here, but I am grateful to have done so. Despite everything I am glad to have met each one of you very special ladies. You have helped me grow and changed my life. I will conclude by saying; it is an honour to stand by you and for you.” The creature bowed in half and raised itself smiling. It made them feel more comfortable.

Twilight spoke, “I think I speak for everypony here when I say we are glad to have met you Sir Teddy,” They giggled as its eye twitched hearing that name, “You have helped us through some difficult moments, and we are honoured to have you as our friend.”

“Definitely. It was awesome.”

“Thank you Teddy.”

“Look after the outfit now Darling.”

“We’ll be right behind you sugar cube.”

“See you at the after party!”

Twilight turned to her friends, “I’m sorry I didn’t listen earlier Rarity, you are always a good friend. I should have trusted your advice, just because you are not an alicorn, it doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have insight that could help.”

“Don’t worry darling!”

“One more thing...” the creature turned and lowered itself to its knees as Crystal pushed her head to its body, the arms coming around and holding tightly to her. Rarity had to force herself not to cry, as easy task when she saw Rainbow biting her hoof to stop herself. It closed its eyes and held on for some time to Crystal, finally managing to pull away. It kissed her large forehead. “I just figured it out sis. It’s good to see you again, I missed you. You look after them for me, alright?” The creature let its tears freely fall The wolf whimpered and pressed its transparent nose to the creatures bowed head. “Sorry I didn’t see it sooner, you know what a fool I am. I am free now, I did it. You take care of them. I love you.”

“Teddy...are you alright?”

The creature stood high, taking a deep breath. “Yes. I can feel them, they are close. Time to go.”

“Good luck everypony!”

“Good luck indeed... Ready your highness?” Twilight turned them all invisible for the final time, fading into the darkness of the cave, extinguishing the lights. The creature stretched and cracked its joints. It marched out with Crystal, the mighty wolf by her companion. “See you tomorrow.” It tapped the wolfs side and she burst into a run, they watched it disappear into the forest. The instantaneous sounds of crushing stone echoing off the trees.

*

The run through the forest had been scary for Fluttershy. The creatures strategy was flawless and they ran past the shattered, glinting remains of Golems as it thundered to the fortress back in Ponyville. With each step they grew closer to home, to save their fiends. It was difficult moving being invisible, fortunately the training they had that day helped. She listened for the signals of her friends as she darted through the treed, It was as though she was alone, they were right there but without seeing them it was very disconcerting. She felt nervous about the whole plan. It was simple enough but what if they could not find the elements and Teddy had to to fight the queen alone? She pushed herself faster as its roars drew more faint, following the sound of breaking glass. She was mindful of her steps trying not to slow the others down.

As they pulled closer to the towering gate they could see the creature had made quick work of the golems that were there. When they honed into view it was poised with the explosive waiting for Fluttershy to signal them. Crystal was standing beside it and it sent her to retreat into the forest for Twilight to turn her invisible. They had done as the creature instructed, no sounds at all, Twilights magic muffling their steps and keeping them all hidden from the golems. Fluttershy saw Crystal vanish into thin air and called her signal, the hoot of an owl.

The creature paused a moment as it had said so the queen would dismiss the sound and not see it as the signal it was. It rushed forward planting the explosive firmly on the sides and at the base lighting the fuse. It had been perfectly done and the creature ran to the side doors with just enough time before the explosion went off.

Twilights mouth stood agape at the carnage of the blast. The creature was right about keeping its kind out of Equestria. It was a small package but the force of the explosion splintered and tore the door clean open as if were paper. Shrapnel rained everywhere as the creature stepped through the smoke slowly. Fluttershy sounded another signal, this time her cricket impression. Pinkie’s cloud was releases, blending and enhancing the smoke. They all darted through to the right door. The thickness of the smoke in the area was fortunately as planned, spreading wide. Twilight used her magic to make it thick enough to inconspicuously obscure them as they swung the side door open and passed through to the dungeons. The creature was using the clouds to its advantage against the tide, neatly ducking and weaving to wait for the golems to become brittle enough tot break. Twilight was happy it was still working. The last thing she could see the creature stood defiantly in the centre as the queen landed with a tremendous blow to the floor.

I can see them now. Applejack, such a burden to bear alone, now it’s gone. Rainbow Dash, you are the bravest, biggest fool I have ever known. Pinkie, how I wish I had met you earlier, you psycho. Twilight, my dear I wish you luck on your journey. Sorry I cannot be there to see it. Fluttershy, you heart melting brave coward, I am glad you were there to help me. Luna, pest, you knew which way to guide me, never gave up. Celestia, if this doesn’t quell your anger, then nothing will. Rarity, such insight. Thank you for helping me see it all, for being there with me. I hate myself for hurting you now. Crystal, my sister, what a journey we have been on. I can see them at that table, together. Such good friends, my good friends. I miss them already.

Lets get going my friend, we are almost there. One more time. One more time.

As the lights fade and the darkness comes, I shall not fear for my job is done.

I promised you I will free one day, now I am, Libera Me.

*

Twilight hated closing that door, the queen looked more powerful than ever, to leave the creature, Teddy, to face her on it’s own. She could not help it now. Recovering the elements was her priority, then she could help.

They darted through the portal, her insides felt as if they were twisting and she arrived back at the castle, the cavernous hallway rounding the corner stretched before the the spiral stairs to the cells. As they galloped down she could only wonder where they were, her parents, Celestia, the Elements. She knew she would have to find them, the focus had to be here now, here it was needed. Passing each cell to her horror it was laden with the soldiers of Equestria. Wonderbolts and pegasus guards with their wings charred, unicorns with splintered horns, knights and soldiers strewn in the cells, either in chains or straps. They were all deliriums unable to recognise thy were here to help.

Fluttershy forced herself to look away from the cells, it was painful to move past them, ignoring the ponies that needed her help. She remembered what Teddy had said, she could help them more by defeating the queen. It did not make it easier, did not numb the pain from seeing their weakened faces, but it helped her concentrate and see a direction to go.

Rainbow Dash could only see the wonderbolts uniforms, she was angry for leaving them behind, but if she had stayed she would have burned with them’, Teddy was right. She was more useful here, to all of them. Focus Wonderbolt.

Applejack searched high and low but there was no sign of the Golems she had expected. It was heartache for her, all their preparations and they were here, hiding under a magic spell while Teddy was out there fighting the queen alone. She was ready to take on the whole army but instead they were all there. At least Pinkie was as cheerful as always. She would never admit it, to another pony at least, but her energy was contagious, if she was cheerful there was nothing to be afraid of. Rarity was determined, she could see it on her face, why can I see them?

“Twilight? Why aren’t we invisible?”

A large tail swept neatly across scattering them, Discord the culprit. He did not seem to be welcoming them. This was asserted when he struck the ground and smiled at them.

“Discord! It’s good to see-”

“Another test my Queen has sent me, I shall not loose, I shall not loose...”

“It’s me!”

“Nope, just another changeling my queen wants to test me with. You are not acting close enough. Try closer.”

“Discord please.”

“They are gone, they are gone, I will not be fooled again. I lost my one and only friend. They are gone...” he continued to chant.

“Fluttershy, look at the eyes.” They were that emerald green rarity had described. This was another walker, “Love can beat it, you must go!”

“I-”

“For your friend.”

“For my DISCORD!” Fluttershy bolted to him, the sudden action confusing the walker to be floored, a twist of the arm to force it to hold still. She could not hold back seeing him fight this thing. She felt the trembling claw slowly wrap around her throat. She did the last thing she could, forcing herself closer and letting her lips find his cheek. She did not remove them for fear of loosing her advantage. The struggling slowed and the limbs fell loose. She felt for breathing, she was happy to find it normal and in good speed. Discord opened his eyes to the mare holding him down. He smiled up at her, the terror instantly fading.

“Don’t you ever scare me like that again! Okay?”

“...Alright Fluttershy”

“Now you rest right here, we’ll be back to get you.”

“I can still help,” he said trying to force himself to stand. Fluttershy pinned him and stared sternly in his face. He reluctantly lay back, “Alright Fluttershy.”

“Good!” she said cheerfully, “Do you know where the Elements Of Harmony are?”

“No but you can call them yourselves. Feel the spirit in you and they will come.”

“You heard him!”

They let each of their elements work within them, Teddy’s lesson proved very useful to them. Sure enough there was a series of clattering and they entered. After some revolutions around the group they began to float away.

“NO! We need to help Teddy! Focus, focus for everything your worth.”
The elements descended to them once more, it was tough but they reached out nah held them. They had done it.

“Well that went well, let’s go dethrone us a Queen!”

The plan was working, they were filled with hope for their future, as Sir T eddy had instructed. Upon their arrival to the upper areas, they were in time to see the creature standing with two massive statues flying around it. The uniform had been burned, it staggered to stand upright and it was clearly in trouble. Twilight felt all the power build in her, it flowed from her friends through het and the Element of Magic, shooting forth a beam of Rainbow light.

28 Libera Me

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28

Luna hovered above the throne room surveying her sister and the others suspended in their cocoons. It was disturbing to see her own body, no longer awake with them. The queen below had not realised she could move with such freedom. Such a mistake would cost her dearly. Luna could see it now, the mighty creature charging the ranks of their enemy breaking foe after the next until only the queen stood before him and they grappled in an epic battle where she would loose. Luna became worried though thinking about her conversation the previous night with it. It had thought clearly, realistically about what may happen. She doubted the scenario would transpire, in her experience fortune always favoured the strong of heart. The queen sat content upon her throne sampling a wine she had plundered. Satisfied she waved the darkling away without a word and proceeded to her balcony once more to gaze upon her new land.

Queen Chrysalis had been searching furiously since her occupation through all of Twilights books and the Canterlot archives, after a vast array of books she finally came across what she had been looking for. It was a terrible spell Luna thought they had eliminated a long time ago. The queen had used it against a surprise retaliation from the remaining resistance. The power of a dragons fire was an ancient spell before even her time, its origin lost to time. It was a terrible display, the Wonderbolts had been hit hard, but Chrysalis refused to end their lives, she took delight in harvesting what she could from their broken and charred bodies.

Her victory in Canterlot was swift and terrible, the guards were swept aside as dust to wind, Cadence and shining armour encased in black crystal mere hooves apart from each other. Discord had fought very hard, but he too succumbed to her might. The new form was terrible, bringing with it all the might of the creature wielding her terrible magic. Unlike the creature however her form was more elegant and light, she was more agile and very fast. Luna could remember the fight against her and Celestia, the queen dodging and returning their own magic against them in fury. It had been a long time since she felt fear. The fear she had In her when Nightmares came to life. Staring down the creature and fighting the Golems did not fill her with fear. She had felt its full force when she saw her sister fall lifeless to the ground. Celestia fought with all her might and it still was no match for the queen, her power had grown since she adopted the creatures strange form.

Then Luna thought again of the creature and her heart soared. It would save them as it had on that night before, all would be well and she could welcome it to her kingdom instead of exiling it. Guilt had plagued her this night, a deep sorrow at what had happened. The creatures imprisonment, its illness, its burns, all could have been avoided had they chosen to believe it. At the time they had no reason to, yet its pleas were as sincere as they were on the first day. She smiled as she remembered their first meeting. The creatures sudden snap and taunting trying to free itself and sizing them up. It was amusing to her that this beast was only bearing its facade to them to protect itself. After all that had happened it would stand for them against their enemy, risking all it had earned to save them. She could not recall the last time she had met a being so stubborn, it infuriated her how its hostility and anger drove them to shackles. It was as much its fault as theirs. Regardless the time was past and her visit to the creatures dream cleared alto within her. Once again she found herself in that moment, watching it speak and seeing the wisdom it had. It was barely understandable how such a brute could posses such clarity. She could only hope her fears were unfounded and she waited for it, for the creature to appear and save them.

*

Queen Chrysalis dreamt a dream of glory and victory, her subjects cheering for her, all under her. The might of her new form the driving force behind her tide to conquer all the land. She felt overjoyed and content as foe after the next fell. Her dreams however were not so sweet, a cloud rolled in over her and she could see those terrible eyes staring at her, wanting her. She stirred from her slumber when a large explosion sounded in the front keep. She leapt to her feet and ran to the balcony. The scene was chaos, a host of Darklings lay piled on one another under her balcony, the mighty gates torn apart and a large cloud of smoke pouring into the courtyard. She felt a shiver and her hair rise as the silhouette of the creature stepped through, the lights from the moon cutting through the fog dissecting the figure. It stepped forth defiantly from the mists and smoke staring straight at her. It wore new clothing now with drab camouflage on arms anr legs with a black shirt and pants overlapping.

The queen felt her anger rise as this beast dared invade her sanctuary. She was still haunted by her loves blank expression when the creatures final blow cascaded into the ground, shattering him. It had come as a surprise, she had hoped it killed after its purpose was fullfilled. To her disappointment it survived and stood before her once more. Looking over at the lower area she saw the Darklings flying once more around the creature, theit attempts to fight easily brushed off with blow after the next shattering them. It seemed stronger to her , no longer dancing around its opponents but barrelling straight through them instead. She dived over and hit the courtyard with full force sending a shockwave across the area.

The creature had broken though half the Golems in a line to her but she had no fear of it. It would break under her hoof like all others who dared stand against her.She felt her hatred rise and raised her claw to it, with all her power a blast of emerald green light shot forward instantly blasting the Golems around it. In the smoke of the impact the creature stood, unharmed but steaming.

“I have grown stronger beast! Do not be so foolish as to presume your victory.” The creature did not answer but charged forward, its steps drumming the earth. Chrysalis smirked and inhaled speaking the words of the ancients the flame burst forward engulfing the creature, its roars drowned out by that of the fire. Without warning the creatures fist shot from the flame, powering into Chrysalis and sending her flying across the courtyard. The force of the impact echoed in the courtyard. The creature was burned to Lunas horror, but it did not react to it. Chrysalis picked herself up quickly stunned by the brute force.

“Looks like I will have to get my hooves dirty.” she smirked composing herself. More ancient words Luna could not understand and her hide became darker, the sheen of the dark crystal fading, being replaced by scales of emerald green. Luna recognised this spell, it made the skin as tough as a dragons. The queen charged forwards now to the creature bearing the same brutality it had. The creature shifted its stance waiting for her. With all her force Chrysalis sent a punch straight to its head, but she was thwarted as the creature swept it to the side, harmlessly flying sat its face and sending a brutal uppercut to her midsection halting her instantly. It flipped her over quickly pinning her to the ground. She kicked out and caught its forehead stunning it and rolling to her feet trying again to hit it. It sent another punch to her ignoring her might. She spun away to recover but the creature was on the assault now sending blow after blow and deflecting her own. Even of to missed it carried through to another attack.

Luna was disturbed by this creature, it was calculating in its strikes, as though trained. Every shot was precise to part of the queens body. She had made another mistake attempting to fight this creature with its own form, it had full knowledge of how to face its own kind.

“It’s a beautiful body,” the creature taunted her, “But you have no idea what we are truly capable of!” It grabbed her throat, lifting her from the ground and sent a mighty blow to her head. Chrysalis was thrown back to the floor, her head ringing and body aching. She thought quickly back to that day when it forced her to retreat. It had been badly wounded, injured by something. Its hide was tough now, resisting even her fire. There was something it could not withstand. Something... Chrysalis suddenly had an epiphany and searched the courtyard for what she would use. The creature drew closer, striding across the battle worn scape. Chrysalis saw the statue of herself behind it, made from the finest black marble, solid and heavy. She used her magic quickly pulling it towards the creature with incredible speed. The creature spun to meet it but was hit hard and knocked off its feet under the weight of the statue. Chrysalis did not cease and catapulted it into the wall, cracks forming along the crystal surface. She pulled it back and the creature fell forwards to its knees and arms sputtering with the impact.

Chrysalis smiled in satisfaction, “It looks like you are not as tough as we thought. Brave hero.” She held the statue above its body and as it looked up she sent it to the ground flattening the creature. It tried to roll away but was still stunned from the impact. She sent it down again pushing it further into the ground. Luna could see the cocoons overhead swaying with the force do the impact. Again and again the queen sent it down, pieces flying off as the statues form became a splintered mess.

“For my love! For my kingdom! For your betrayal!”

When the dust had settled the creature was still. It lay face down on the ground, its garments torn and hide scarred. Luna was trying to think of how she could help. Her sister and the others watched on in shock at what they had seen. Chrysalis had defeated the beast so simply. Luna however could see it still lived, its heart beat strong, and was growing faster. Chrysalis watched on at the fallen opponent cautious in her victory, she did not take delight in it, for she had seen it take far greater punishment.

It lay still for a while and she could make out no movement, not even breathing. Feeling more secure with each passing moment she drew closer to it, approaching the body. She could smell rusted iron to her bewilderment, and the foul odour of the creature. The night had become calm once more, its stillness settling on the scene. The creature groaned and Chrysalis stepped back gaining distance between herself and it. She could scarcely believe it was still alive fate such a beating. She would soon fix that.

To Lunas surprise the creature was trying to stand, dragging its legs underneath it and pushing of its thigh to stand tall once more. It’s alright, you can rest now, please. Cadence and Celestia were amazed at the strength it had. It was laughing.

“Such arrogance!” the queen hissed, “Do you truly believe you will win?” she charged forward and punched it in the midsection, it made no motion to block or dodge. It exclaimed in pain as the queen pulled back and sent another blow to the same location. It was still laughing. The queen was growing weary and threw all her might into another shot to the head, staggering it back, but not felling it. She felt the spatter of its fluids on her face but could only see her goal of killing it, she cared not for such trivial inconveniences when this beast was on the edge of life, barely able to support its own weight, broken and bruised soon to be nothing more than a lump of expired mass. A thought then occurred to her, why?

“Why do you stand for them? After all they have done. Why protect the weak? They have nothing to offer you.” The creature was smiling now, seemingly looking through her. “Answer me!”

It did not. She sent another blow to its midsection and heard the splintering of bone underneath, she kept her hoof pressed against the spot, inflicting as much suffering as she could. She wanted it to suffer, to see it break. It staggered back but she reached round and held it close, looking it in the eyes. “You stand alone. Why sacrifice yourself for them?”

The creature looked up at the cocoons on the ceiling to the suspended Celestia, Luna, the upstart captain beside his love, Twilights sister. He felt a warm sensation over his wounds, the strength of his body was fading. He looked at the queen seeing her breathing heavily onto it through folded brow and gritted teeth, the smell was horrendous. It could see in the other cocoons to the ponies inside them, watching on with mixed expressions of confusion and fear. Its thoughts went to Rarity and her words; families, loved ones, innocents, soldiers, a host of all different beings that inhabited this world. Each of them depending on its actions and a feeble plan, It would stay standing, it would hold on until it couldn’t anymore. It would set off the bomb before its world darkened and hope it would be enough to take her down. It could feel the legs buckle but it forced itself to stand, focussing on the pain and using it to drive it upwards, ever higher. The queen twisted her hoof and pain seared in its ribs. It felt like it should speak, say something profound and enlightened. Instead it could hear a distant treading of hooves, with the light thumps of Crystal, all it had to do was hold on until they could get there. It did not question why it did stand here for them, why be prepared to loose everything. It had grown to care for them and needed to make his peace. The queen met its weary gaze, anger filled them, it had not regretted killing her lover. They should not have chosen a fight they could not finish. A booming voice spoke out, it was the black moon one. “Because the knight is free!”. She was confused by her words but felt the abdomen shift on her claw. Facing the creature, its narrowed eyes met hers, there was nothing in them, no fear, no pain.

“Libera Me...” it stood taller as the strength grew, the muscles in arms and legs filling with energy. They pushed it upwards raising the bulk, the cracking of bone and joints unfeeling to the monster. It looked down at the queen who stepped back. The arm shot out grabbing her shoulder, stepping forward sending the other fist to her midsection with a thundering impact shaking her being. She was winded and exclaimed as her dragon scales broke off and clattered to the earth. The blood on her was working, it had weakened her magic.

Chrysalis’ hoof shot out across the creatures face digging deep in the hide trying to break its grip. She threw the arm off and leapt back. It was still smiling, the voices around her growing louder. Fear was with her now, she could not believe it could rally itself. She quickly lifted another statue with her power and sent it straight to the creature, this time however it darted to the side staggering under its injuries but twisting its body to land a claw to her head bringing her to her knees. She threw the statue back but it missed again, she summoned the remaining two and sent them spinning around the creature while she crawled back and pushed herself to her feet. It could not avoid them forever. She had forced it into a corner from where there was no escape, yet she still felt afraid. Something was nagging her about this. This creature was not stupid, it would not attack unless it could win. Had its plan failed, or was it trying to rally the others into breaking free and tip the odds against her. She dismissed this doubt and focused on what was important, ending it.

A beam of rainbow light burst forth, throwing her back against the fortress wall, pinning her. The large statues flying off in all directions to crash and roll on the ground. She reacted quickly, projecting a shield over her deflecting the beam. It dissipated and to her horror she saw the six element ponies poised to face off. She saw the creature standing tall and defiant, a large dog creature made from white crystal standing before it.

The creature roared as the six charged forward to the queen, throwing the statues at them. Applejack blasting apart one of the spinning statues, Pinkie shot the other turning it into bubbles popping harmlessly in the air. Another quick shot from Fluttershy disintegrated the final statue into flowers.

Twilights beam bathed Chrysalis in its glow, covering her completely while her shield caught it. She remembered fighting Teddy, what she had learned and pulled to the side quickly as a claw shot through the beam to her. It missed and she rolled to the side again as the second came down hard to crack the ground. Crystal leapt on the queen tearing and clawing furiously as the creature signalled to the others. Twilights beam had failed but she would try with everything again, plan B was not an option, she ignored the signal and rushed on as Crystal was flung to the far wall to hit it with a cracking sound, the force shaking the ground itself as she fell to the floor limp. She rushed to the wolfs side to aid her, Fluttershy jumped in front of Crystal to raise a shield to deflect the fire breath, Twilight joining their beams to strengthen it. She could feel it edging around as it grew stronger, hotter.

Rarity was by Teddy’s side, the body was weak and charred, the face and hair singed. It was still standing, she tried to cast her magic and heal it but a bright light behind her drew her attention, the queen was breathing some kind of fire. Before she could react Teddy ran past her sending all its weight to its claw into the queen, she spun and it grasped her savagely kicking the knee and coiling around the neck to lower her before it. The queen cal wed at the arm but it did not move, a splintering glass sound resonating. The queen changed to her original form surprising the creature and kicking it over her to land in the floor if front. Before her hoof struck down Rarities Element hit her pushing her back, she changed to her form and breathed deeply, Applejack threw up a barrier but the creature threw itself up to stand between them as the fire washed over it. They watched in horror and relief as the flame stopped to see Teddy lifting the queen by the head and throwing her against the wall, the claw did not release. It pulled back and with all the weight of the beast slammed her head back to the wall again. It pulled the clenched the free fist slamming it into the head as it drew the other free. The elbow shot out and caught her in the chin, she sunk her claws into the neck and shoulders trying to throw it away but the assault was relentless, every hit stringer than the last, breaking the armoured scales an her head and face, her body sagging but being lifted by each shot.

Rarity and Rainbow Dash galloped to Teddy while Applejack and Pinkie to Crystal, Twilight and Fluttershy were poised over her sealing the cracks, they ran deep into the body now, the red blood of Teddy seeping out. She tried to stand but Fluttershy held her down whispering to her, “You’ve done enough. Please.” The sounds of Teddy as it groaned with each punch drew her up, the wolf rolled up and darted through them to the queen again as Teddy pulled away and the wolf caught her again, more cautious now biting quickly and rejoining to Teddy. Rarity felt her hooves carry her to the queen as she saw the deep seeping gashes in Teddy, the pain on the face as the hide grew darker with what covered it.

She thew all her energy at the queen, still stunned form her bludgeoning. Five other lights joined her and pushed the queen back, her back legs digging into the ground as she tried to throw her fire again. Without taking a breath it was not possible to build up. Teddy Collapsed to its knees supported by Crystal, the body sagging over her head.

It tried to stand but the creatures legs were drained, its body could no longer move and it fell on Crystal, her massive head supporting it as the knees settled on the ground. It watched on as the queen was thrown back by the six lights perfectly hitting her, the vein attempt to throw her fire. Crystal was whining and the claw could feel the crack in her side.

“Not you too girl. Please not you.” It could see the queen digging in, her claws finding their footing. All theta chipping at her plating was no good, all that effort had no result, plan B was ready, plan C was armed. It could no longer feel its own legs or arms, its vision was blurred, the familiar taste of rust as its head slumped back as it tried to stand. Seeing all those faces of these strange creatures. Their fear and sadness. All those lives above rested on those six ladies. It glanced over to see the beams joined into one now, the queen was laughing at them her power was still strong. They made a mistake pushing her away for without the proximity to it her power would grow. It was as the creature knew, the blood only held a fragment of what caused her to weaken. The true reason was deeper, it was not important now what it was.

“Stand,” it sputtered clearing its mouth from the bleeding lip, “One more. Stand!” It looked to the ceiling, seeing the white alicorn, she was watching the six fight. The creature could feel it in her, it could see what she never had. It could never cause her to feel that, not in the cell, not when it was free. She was afraid, she had fear. “One more...” The legs were drawn forward as it pushed itself off Crystal staggering to its feet. The queen was now laughing and triumphantly mocking the Ladies, it felt that spark inside flow through it. That which drove all beings like it forward. The kind of this creature were strong, proud, tough, stubborn. At all ends they still stood for those that could not, they were strong enough to bare the weight of others and it would be strong enough to bear it’s own for those that could not. Crystal was laying on the floor now, she motioned to stand but the claw on her ear told her it was time to rest, “Good girl.”

I am a fool. She thrives off love. I could face her because I never felt that. Now she’s feeding off mine. So I am sorry my love, but we have to let go. Goodbye.

The queen dug in deep and laughed as the sparks flowed over her harmlessly. “How fitting it is for you to share the fate of your pet!”

“Keep firing!” Twilight yelled as the sparks grew brighter and fused together to form one large beam.

“It will not work Elementals. Do as your animal has and stand aside, fall to your knees before your new queen!”

“We will not fall!”

“Then you will perish with the beast.” She stood tall now above them, her form standing against the blast.

Twilight could feel it running low, her element was weakening becoming drained from the fight. They were never meant to last in a long term battle. It was still not working and she began to panic. She could feel the shaking of her hooves and saw the queens smile fade as her gaze moved behind them. She suddenly yelped and screamed as her hide cracked and her footing loosened. The beam was drained now and the queen was experiencing that same weakness. She collapsed under the weight of the hide she wore no longer able to bear it.

“You thought to sample my emotions?! How amusing!” The creature lumbered past them to the queen. “How does it feel? Do you taste it?”

“Your heart is black and cold.”

“Wrong. It is empty. I care not of them nor the ones they stand for.”

“Yet you still stand for them.” she smirked.

It lifted her by the throat, her legs unable to stand, “No. I wanted my prize. I wanted to watch the light fade from your eyes. You betrayed me after my loyalty to you, I fought for you as I promised, retrieved the power you wield and you would see me trapped in this nightmare for all eternity! I loved you and you threw it away! You spurned me.”

It brought immeasurable pain to say that falsehood because it could feel the one it loved weep at them. Her heart ached to the point that she fell to her knees with the shock, unable to breathe form the pain in her chest, only staring blankly at the queen in its grasp. The creature did not look at her, she did not know how to feel, it had used them and they were fools to play to its tune.

A slow rippling laugh came from the queen echoing around, “Love is amazing!” She grabbed the creatures throat and lifted it now, the ground where her hooves stood splintering under the focussed weight. It held her claw and tired to break the grip by impacting the elbow. The arm buckled but she threw it with across to the six, they did not move to help it.

“After all you said she still loves you. I was feeding off the wrong one, her love is tenfold yours for her. The purest of love itself, no doubts or fears, she gives her very being to you completely, delicious. See how they look at you now, you have no more allies.”

“Teddy...” Twilight began.

“She is feeding...off...” it could barely speak, a wheezing noise as it gasped for air. The eyes could barely stay open. Twilight did not know why but she darted in front of it laying there and projected her barrier, to her surprise Rarity, Applejack, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie had done the same, acting in unison.

“They still stand for you my ‘love’,” her words were cold, “They know you lie, they know you too well. Ah...there it is, I feel it rebuilding, shattered feelings for you. She cannot stop. You should have taught her your tricks monster. Let us rebuild further, you there, elemental. You were the one to save this thing. I could not take its body anymore after it fell in love with you. It was merely a tool to retrieve this power! All this