“My lady, are you certain of this?”
Dash turned to Princess Iris, determination flashing in her eyes, as she pulled her armor on. “Beyond certain, Your Highness. If anyone can face the beast down, it’s me.”
The princess shook her head. “But surely, the danger–”
“Danger is my middle name,” Dash said, sliding her helmet onto her head. “Don’t worry, your highness, I’ll be back before you know it.”
“I hope so, my lady. My kingdom needs its champion, as do I.”
Dash simply accepted the statement and continued to prepare.
Dash stared as she rose above the edge of the plateau. On the far side, she knew, would be the fierce beast she had been sent to fight. Even here, she could hear its heavy breathing echoing out. Not that she was going to let that stop her, of course.
“I know you’re out there, you freak of nature. Are you pony enough to face me, or do I have to come after you?” After several minutes with no response, she shrugged. “Come in it is,” she said, taking flight.
“Sorry looking place, isn’t it.”
(I feel this one suffers a bit from time limit. Reach exceeded my grasp. Still, worth submitting I think.)
The night looked a lot… bigger, from here.
Princess Twilight Sparkle shook her head, figuratively, and tried to focus. This wasn’t easy. It was never easy, even theoretically, for a princess to push into another alicon’s sphere of influence. Even Twilight’s own boundless respect and adoration of Princess Celestia had been increased after trying to take on Luna’s dreamwalking. For Celestia to have moved the moon, all these years…
No, no, back to the point. Twilight found herself in an endless black void. All around her, millions upon millions of lights. All of Equestria must have fallen for this night by now, nearly everypony had a dream. Millions of tiny stars floating around her and there was no way to tell which was whose.
At the knocking on the library door, Twilight called out. “Spike, would you please go get that?”
“Sure thing, Twi.” From the second floor, Twilight could hear his footsteps as the baby dragon bounded across to greet their guest. “Welcome to the Golden Oa-oa-oa… ha. Ha. Ha-ha. Ha-ha-ha-hanh…”
Twilight looked up in confusion as Spike’s voice went from cheerful, to disbelieving, to a strange sad-sounding tone. “Spike, is everything okay?”
“T…Twilight, get down here - I think we’re being haunted.”
“Haunted?” Twilight bounded down the stairs. “Spike, what do you mean by…” She froze at the sight of the mare in the door. “Fl… Fluttershy? Fluttershy, is that really you?”
“Um, I think I’m really me. I remember being me, and I don’t recall being anypony else.” The butter-yellow pegasus shrugged. “Is there some reason I shouldn’t be me?”
Zecora’s hooves softly crunched against the dirt as she trekked through the Everfree Forest. She carried a pair of saddlebags with her as three sets of footsteps followed close behind her. Accompanying her were an orange pegasus, a white unicorn, and a yellow earth pony, all fillies and happily chatting with one another. Zecora smiled as she ducked under a branch.
“Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom, I must thank you three for accompanying me,” she said.
“No problem, Zecora,” Apple Bloom said. “We’re always willing to help you.”
“Yeah, and besides.” An excited smile grew on Scootaloo’s muzzle. “We could get our cutie marks in by the end of this. What reason would we have to say no?”
“How about the fact that we’re in a dangerous forest?” Sweetie Belle asked. “While having you as a guide does make this safer, I still feel uneasy.”
“I understand,” Zecora chuckled. “But with me here, you have nothing to fear.” The four passed through a series of bushes. “Speaking of here…” Zecora stopped in her place. The fillies stepped beside her, taking in their lack of surroundings. They had stopped in a perfectly circular open space with trees lining the edges. Save for a single stone podium the size of an average filly at the center of the space, nothing but grass could be seen. Zecora approached the podium while her companions looked around in confusion.
Applejack watched with narrowed eyes and gritted teeth as Rarity was struck down, her shrill cry of pain cut short the moment before she hit the deck with a loud thud. Ungraceful. Clumsy. No way for Rarity to go. She watched, heart hammering in her chest and angrier than a rattlesnake ready to strike, as the traitor turned away from the body to look straight at her, mouth curved into a lazy, mocking grin. It was an expression she was used to seeing on Rainbow Dash’s face, and it wasn’t the first time Applejack’d wanted to wipe it off her face – but it was the first time it’d sent a chill down her spine, or left her certain she was going to die.
Dash stood in the center of the ship, surrounded by the fallen shapes of so many friends. Twilight’d gone down first, of course – Rainbow wasn’t gonna win any awards for intelligence, but she knew all about taking the biggest threats by surprise and making sure they weren’t anymore. At least Twilight was still breathing, though with how hard Dash’d kicked her she’d have a heck of a headache whenever she opened her eyes. Rarity, though… she wasn’t sure if Rarity was alive or not. She hoped so.
“Oh, come on AJ – don’t gimme that look.” Dash spoke, laughter in her voice as she sauntered across the ship, that grin never leaving her face and her one visible eye sparkling with excitement. Applejack had to admit, she’d been right about the eyepatch making her more intimidating. “You have to have seen this coming. I mean, I’ve been talking about it all trip! ‘Oh boy Twilight, I hope somebody mutinies! I’ve really been itching for a fight!’ ‘Enjoy giving order while you can, cap’n, cause I’ll be in charge soon!’ ‘Hey AJ, switch beds with me and I won’t make you walk the plank when I take over the ship and take all the candy for myself.’”
Fluttershy’s breath came fast as she sprinted down the cold, dark corridor, necklace bouncing against her chest. Her hooves pounded against the stone, their echo the only sound that broke the silence. Ahead of her she could see a massive door, encrusted with black gemstones. “This is it… isn’t it?” she panted.
“It certainly is,” came a voice from behind her. Discord floated up by her side, no larger than a parasprite, his expression more serious than she’d ever seen it before. “The final showdown, as it were. The last battle to save your friends… and more importantly, to save me!” He held up his mismatched arms, displaying the black crystals clinging to his wrists, the ones that had sealed his power away and left him trapped in an undersized form. Fluttershy knew he wasn’t able to transform, but the teary puppy eyes he gave her still seemed far larger than they should be.
“I’ll do my best,” Fluttershy promised him, but she couldn’t keep the quaver out of her voice.
“I know you will,” Discord replied. “And as strange as it must sound coming out of my mouth… I believe in you, Fluttershy.”
She smiled weakly. “Thank you.” Only privately did she add, ‘I wish I did.’
The small unicorn stumbled over herself and the book she had been reading, flinging herself into a bow that wobbled and threatened to tip her onto her face in her rush to prostrate herself in front of her monarch. Princess Celestia did not look as amused as she usually did when Twilight’s over eagerness to please made her look ten years younger in the eyes of her teacher; the alicorn looked distracted and tense, and the change sent shivers down Twilight’s spine.
“Yes, your majesty?”
Princess Celestia tossed a scroll at Twilight’s hooves. “I have an assignment for you.”
Twilight grabbed the scroll in her magic and unrolled it, scanning it as fast as she could, her eye growing wider with each word. “P-princess! You can’t be serious!”
“I am deathly serious.”
Twilight searched for a hint of mischief on her mentor’s face, praying that this was another one of her unfortunate pranks, but she could find nothing but the barest hint of weariness pulling at the corners of her eyes.
“But I’ve never even been on a battlefield,” Twilight trained her gaze on the scroll, avoiding looking Princess Celestia in the eyes, “I have no qualifications. No training. This is ludicrous.”
Fluttershy’s chest ached. Her breath was rapid and shallow. She could feel her pulse pound in her ears, and her stomach twisted and churned. Her knees shook and her hooves trembled.
Fluttershy was in love.
Also, she was running for her life. The two tended to come hoof in hoof more often than she cared to admit. At least, they did when the object of her affections was the Princess of Magic.
“Left!” shouted Twilight. Her tail suddenly jerked to the side, no longer filling Fluttershy’s vision and allowing her to see the sheer wall directly ahead of her.
Fluttershy’s hooves skidded against the wet stone floor as she flared her wings to stop herself from ramming nose-first into the wall. If not for Twilight’s warning, she would have. She used what momentum she had left to dart off down the tunnel to the left.
There was a terrific crash as their pursuer was not so quick to change directions. The sewers shook with the impact, sending motes of dust drifting from the dark, arched ceiling.
The name “glow-worm” was a terribly unthreatening term for the monster behind them. The creature nearly filled the whole tunnel, a good two pony-lengths across. Its tripartite maw was filled with rows upon rows of razor-sharp teeth, and viscous green spittle erupted from it when the thing let out its ear-splitting roar. But what truly made the glow-worm dangerous was the glowing spines along its back from which it got its name. Those spines sucked all magic out of the area, making whole city blocks go dark and rendering unicorns helpless.
“Duck!” Twilight warned.
Twilight Sparkle ran through the darkness, her breathe fogging in the cold air before her. The snow crunched in her hooves as she moved. The wind whipped through her mane, and she chanced a glance behind her. A shiver ran through her body and she redoubled her efforts. She was still being chased by the timberwolves. Their green eyes bobbed in the darkness behind her like wisps waiting to lead an unwitting pony to their doom. Their howls and growls cut through the air, the sounds of a hunt.
It was not her day.
It had started out unusually, but not badly. She had woken to find that she had not returned from a party at Sugarcube Corner, and her friends had also stayed. What had shocked her was to realize that it was still dark at a time when sunlight should have been illuminating all of Equestria. Twilight had woken her friends and gathered the Elements of Harmony. She was extraordinarily glad that Princess Celestia had decided to entrust them to her after the changeling invasion in case something happened again. Fearing that Nightmare Moon had returned, the six ponies had boarded the train to Canterlot. They were only able to make half the trip before it had broken down, leaving them stranded in the wilderness.
They had set out on hoof, only to be chased by a hungry pack of timberwolves. And the luminous eyes of the timberwolves were getting larger.
Timberwolves howled, gathering their numbers for another hunt.
Keep running, Twilight Sparkle reminded herself. Those were the words she lived by.
So why did I stop after running so far? I did it when Nightmare Moon broke the Elements.
After I thought I was the Element of Magic.
The night, as always, kept her awake. Moonlight blinded her while the stars twinkled, jeering at her. Shimmering with disappointment.
Why can’t I run now? Do I want the timberwolves to eat me? That might be a good idea. A coward deserves that fate.
Twilight Sparkle pulled her legs to her body and dug her face inwards to avoid the light. She expected Princess Celestia to suddenly appear and tell her that everything would return to normal. Run away from everything.
Twilight Sparkle felt a hoof on her shoulder.
But she ran away with the coming of eternal night. So Twilight Sparkle followed her teacher’s instructions.
"Go away, Rainbow Dash," Twilight Sparkle mumbled, "I told you to leave."
"You’re our friend. Not timberwolf chow." Rainbow Dash said, "come on, you’re too heavy for a pegasus to drag around."
I don’t deserve your loyalty.
“Darlings, I know that you’re putting your all into it, and we really do appreciate your efforts,” Rarity said, steadying her element against her chest as a bump jostled everypony, “but if you could move just a little bit faster, we would all appreciate not being eaten by angry timberwolves.”
“If you wanna pull the wagon, be my guest,” Rainbow Dash growled through her harness. Next to her, Fluttershy simply whimpered as the rickety old apple-cart thundered along behind them down the dusty, unlit road. Snarls and howls sounded entirely too close behind the six ponies as they tore off into the unnatural night.
Applejack threw a rock, eliciting a yip from the pack of predators. “An’ whose fault is it, again, that they’re angry timberwolves instead of regular-type, give-up-on-chasin’-ya-after-a-mile ones?”
“Hey, how was I supposed to know that was their den?” Rainbow shot back defensively. “It just looked like a pile of sticks!”
“Um, you can tell by the coloration,” Fluttershy supplied. “A regular pile of sticks is usually dry and brown. If it’s made of green, living branches, it’s a timberwolf den.”
“This is a fascinating conversation,” Rarity said, gripping the side of the cart for dear life, “but may I reiterate my suggestion that we go faster now!”