“Now you’re sure this will give Twilight the biggest start of her life?”
“Absolutely! As the sign says, full satisfaction or your money back.”
“Okie-dokie mister!” Pinkie Pie slid her bits across the counter. The owner of the funny looking wagon that had rolled into Ponyville earlier in the day deposited them in the register. “Say…have you ever had anything returned?” Pinkie asked, accepting the box labeled ‘snake dispenser’ and her receipt.
“Only the tactical nuclear stink bombs, and that was because they were duds. I’ve gotten that cleared up with the company though. Anything else I can get for you?”
“No, that should do it. Are you going to be in town long? Some of this stuff looks really neat.”
“Oh I’ll be around for quite some time I think.” The pony behind the counter looked at the bustling street. “Quite some time indeed.”
“OK! Well see you later!”
Pinkie bounced down the street, holding the package in her mouth. She giggled as the library grew closer, the thought of Twilight’s reaction and subsequent laughter they would share filling her with glee. After all, a good scare was part of the fun of life right? And what luck that a new joke seller would roll into town. As soon as she had seen the wagon with its big sign proclaiming ‘Pranks to die for’ she knew it would be a good day. Pinkie leapt behind a bush a few feet away from the library, trying to stifle the laugh that threatened to give away her plans. The box was inspected until she found the instructions.
“For those with a fear of…yes, that’s the idea…place in desired location, pull string to arm, get away within 30 seconds. When victim comes within five feet they get a scaly surprise!” Pinkie giggled again, the look on Twilight’s face as the fake snakes burst out filling her mind. She blinked and continued reading. “Warning: Not for use indoors. Manufacturer not liable for heart attacks caused by this product. Do not handle if you are allergic to…what is latex anyway? Meh.”
Pinkie crept to the front door of the library, her stifled laughs coming out as little snorts of amusement. She placed the box on the step and pulled the green string hanging from the image of the serpent on the side. With a mental count toward thirty starting up she knocked on the door of the library. As quietly as she could she dashed back towards her hiding place. 18…19…
Twilight’s muffled voice came out of the library, accompanied by the sound of hooves approaching the door. 24…25… Pinkie Pie tensed, her eyes widening with expectation. The door swung inward slowly. 28…29…30… Twilight stepped out of the tree. The box disappeared with a low whumpf and the entry to the library was concealed by a large cloud of green smoke. Somewhere in the smoke a pony screamed in fright.
“Ah’ can’t believe you need mah help with this Rarity. You sure another pony won’t be bettah suited to watchoo got in mind?”
“Oh Applejack, I know how you dislike fancy dresses and high fashion but this next piece requires your skills. How else could I see if my line of dresses for athletic ponies would stand up to the kind of stress they’ll put them under?”
“Yeah well I just feel kinda foolish is all.”
“Don’t be ridiculous dear. You look simply amazing.”
“If you say so.” Applejack said, staring glumly at her reflection in the mirror. Sure, it was a nice enough dress, if that was what she was into. It was form fitting without being tight, designed to move and breathe with the wearer. Ideally, it would be as durable as its own as well. Ideally. And Rarity had said it would resist stains. “Just tell me what you want me to do again.”
“I just want you to go about your normal business for the day. Work around the farm. Buck some apples. Put the dress through its paces. When you’re done, bring it back to me and tell me what you think. It’s easy darling.”
“OK…I guess. But just so you know I ain’t wearin’ it about town where ever’pony can gawk and stare.”
“I didn’t expect you to. Now, off you-“ Rarity was interrupted by an ominous rumble from the ground. The two friends looked at each other.
“What in tarnation was that?”
“I have no idea.”
The ground began shaking in earnest. The Carousel Boutique was filled with the clatter of objects rattling off their shelves and hitting the floor. Both ponies dove towards the center of the room, away from the small avalanche of dress forms, fabric bolts, and other sewing equipment. With a loud crash the sewing machine fell off its table. The sound of ponies in the street screaming in fear and confusion filtered in through the windows. A few moments later the windows themselves shattered as the frame of the building twisted under the stress. Jagged lines of glass tinkled to the floor, and Applejack briefly wondered who was screaming so loudly. The noise of something massive shifting soon drowned out everything else. Something hit the sturdy earth pony on top of the head and she collapsed.
It was, Fluttershy decided, going to be a good day. All her little animal friends were fat, sleek, and happy. She hummed softly as she puttered about the chicken pen, spreading feed over the ground from her saddlebags. It was quiet and peaceful around her cottage, with only the soft clucking of the chickens and the breeze soughing softly in the trees. Angel bunny stood with his paws resting on top of the chicken fence, nose twitching, patiently waiting to for some time with his mistress. The scampering of something small made him turn his head. A field mouse was running as fast as its little legs could carry it across the yard. It bumped into Fluttershy’s hoof and began squeaking insistently.
“Calm down little one.” The gentle Pegasus leaned down and touched her nose to its quivering sides. “I can barely understand what you’re saying.”
The mouse continued to chatter frantically, gesturing towards the trees behind it. Angel bunny’s ears pricked up, swiveling towards something only he could hear. He hopped away from the fence and stared towards the source of the sound.
“What do you mean there’s a monster? You weren’t in the Everfree forest were you?” Fluttershy cocked her head to one side as the mouse at her feet related its story. “No? But there are no monsters in Equestria besides the forest.”
“Help us…help us Fluttershy…” The sound of a dozen small creatures filled the yellow pony’s ear.
“HA HA!” Pinkie launched herself out of the bush, pointing towards the library door. “Gotcha Twilight!” She started to laugh when the scream came again, a scream not of surprise, but of mortal terror.
“Twilight?” Pinkie Pie peered into the cloud of thick smoke. “Twilight?”
No answer greeted her query. Realizing that she might have gone a bit overboard, the pink filly took a deep breath and ran through the black haze into her friend’s home. She let out a startled gasp and froze at the sight of Twilight Sparkle, one of her best friends in the whole wide world, wrapped inside the constricting coils of an enormous serpent so green it was almost black. The bookish pony was frantically pawing at the coil of scaled muscle wrapped around her throat, eyes bulging as she struggled to draw breath. With the sound of twigs snapping the snake constricted tighter. Twilight’s head arched backwards as jagged ends of broken ribs pushed through her hide. Rivulets of blood began to flow from her nostrils, trailing down over the monster’s gleaming scales. With a sick splutch the skin of her lower body split open, pale coils of intestine spilling out amidst a new torrent of dark lifeblood. The serpent kept crushing until the weakening efforts of its prey stopped completely.
“No…” Pinkie Pie managed to find her voice, horror flooding her mind as the light in her friend’s eyes died. “No…nonononononoNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
Fluttershy jerked her head up with a little meep of alarm, looking around her empty yard.
“Help us Fluttershy…you have to help us…” The voices pleaded, more joining the chorus.
“Who’s there? Please come out, I can’t see you.”
“Fluttershy help us, it has us and it won’t let us go…” The voices sounded scared and in pain.
“Please…I can’t…what do you want me to do?” Fluttershy took a step backwards, head swiveling from side to side to try and see the source of the voices.
“It took us…it took us and made us part of it…” The chorus grew with each word, deepening in tone.
“It” Angel bunny’s nose twitched once, the fur on his back starting to rise as the ground started to tremble.
“Took” The field mouse jerked away from the gentle filly and fled as fast as it could go. Cracks began to appear in the earth of the chicken pen.
“Us” Angel bunny wheeled around and followed the field mouse, ears laid back in a panic, a shrill scream of distress bursting from his throat. The cracks widened, a strange purple light shining out of them.
“And now it wants you.” The ground in front of Fluttershy heaved and burst. The poor pegasi stood frozen in fear, watching helplessly as something massive and wrong clawed its way out of the earth. The monstrosity rose to its full height, shaking dirt off its frame, widely spaced eyes glowing with the same sinister light. The falling clods of soil revealed it, a misshapen amalgam of twisted bone and blood slicked fur.
“What’s the matter Fluttershy? Don’t you recognize us?” The thing’s tone was mocking. It came back onto all fours with a thump that shook the ground. “Don’t you want to be friends with us anymore?”
“I…I…I…” All Fluttershy could do was stare in speechless horror at the thing before her. The stench of rotting carrion and fresh blood filled the air around her. She felt her gorge rising and a small part of her hoped she would vomit, if only so she would choke on it and die.
“You didn’t save us Fluttershy. You let it get us. You let it get us and make us part of it.”
“And we’re still alive Fluttershy…” Almost as one a thousand animals began to scream in pain and fear. Fluttershy winced at the sound, her own tiny wail of fear overwhelmed by the noise.
“And it knows what we want. We want revenge. We want you to suffer as we suffer.” The multitude of voices rose above the screams of the mangled creatures that made up the abomination. “JOIN US!”
The thing reached out with a clawed appendage. The timid filly felt it wrap around her. Hot blood streaked her side, partially from the monster, partially from the punctures in her sides where protruding pieces of sharp bone dug into her. It pulled her towards its too wide maw, rows of razor sharp teeth glinting in the morning sun. As the thing’s jaws began to close around her neck Fluttershy finally found the strength to scream.
“Ugh…what happened?” Applejack opened her eyes to complete ruin. It looked like the shop had fallen in on itself. She stood up and felt at her head. A lance of pain shot through her body and her hoof came away slick with blood. “Rarity?”
The only answer was a small whimper of pain behind her. Applejack turned towards a pile of rubble topped by a large support beam.
“Rarity? That you sugarcube?”
“Help…” The muffled, pain filled voice of her friend jerked Applejack out of her reverie. “Please help…”
“Hold on Rarity!” Applejack said, rising. Her legs shook under her as if they wouldn’t bear her weight. She set her jaws firmly and willed herself to remain steady. Tottering towards the pile she surveyed what had happened. Somehow the ground had moved. Screams filled the town. Somewhere near the edge of Ponyville a fire burned, filling the air with the sharp tang of wood smoke.
“Applejack…please…hurry…” The words were strained and full of hurt. “I…can…barely…breathe…”
“Just you hold on! Ah’ll have this cleared in no time!” Applejack slumped against the fallen ceiling beam, drawing deep breaths to steady herself. With a grunt of effort she wriggled underneath it, wincing as small splinters drove themselves into her back.
“Come on…” The stout earth pony strained to rise, ignoring her protesting back and knees.
“Come on you…” Was it her or had the beam risen an inch? “Hold on Rarity…hold on…”
It was a mighty struggle for the orange filly. Every muscle in her lean form strained as hard as it could. Slowly, agonizingly, the beam rose a little higher. The tip of a horn and a lock of purple mane appeared from under the rubble near her forelegs.
“Can you pull yourself out?” The words were drawn through gritted teeth.
“I can’t…I can’t feel my legs…please help me…” A note of panic had crept into the unicorn’s voice.
“Just a little higher…there…we…” Applejack mustered every ounce of strength she had, not caring at the hot stabs of pain ripping up her flanks. “GO!” With a final grunt of effort she locked her knees, the beam resting on her back. Small crashes sounded as some of the lighter pieces of the shop slid away from the center of the heavy support.
It was a pathetic sight that met her. Rarity’s immaculate mane had become coated with plaster dust. Small pieces of glass glittered like gems, rubies where her flanks had been cut, diamonds where they had not. The white filly’s back legs were twisted and broken. Blood oozed slowly from a dozen places where the shattered bone had punched through the skin. Rarity’s sapphire eyes were glazed with shock but she still drew breath. She blinked dully at Applejack.
“Take mah hoof…”
Applejack grunted as she extended the hoof closest to the fallen mare. Her frame screamed with fresh agony as the weight of the load was redistributed. Constant trickles of sweat stung her eyes as she stretched as far as she could towards her stricken friend. Rarity reached out with one pedicured hoof and gripped tightly.
“Now this is probably going to hurt like the dickens…” Applejack pulled her friend forward a few inches. Rarity let out a garbled shriek of agony as her broken body was moved.
It was a slow, torturous process for both. After a few pulls Rarity stopped screaming altogether, her cries of pain subsiding to muffled whimpers and gibbering whines. Applejack could feel her legs beginning to buckle under the strain of keeping the pillar off the ground. She closed her eyes and willed the pain and weakness away, concentrating on her breathing. A quick glance showed Rarity almost free of the pile, her head almost directly beneath the large wooden beam. A few more pulls and the load could be rolled off onto the pile. Just a few more…Applejack’s eyes shot open as the ground under her hooves grumbled warningly.
“No…no…not now…no…” Applejack kept a tight grip on Rarity’s hoof, her eyes widening in fear. “Please Rarity ya gotta listen to me. Ya gotta help me. Pull yourself forward. Ah’ know it hurts sugar but ya just gotta. Please…just…”
It seemed like Rarity got the message. She dug in with her free hoof and began to push. Applejack could feel her legs shaking, or was that the ground? With her friend’s help the next pull was easier. Rarity’s head was halfway clear of the beam. Trembling with strain, Applejack drew in a breath for the next pull when the floor bucked violently. Something in the pile shifted and the weight of the beam doubled. Her knees buckled under her and she collapsed. The heavy beam across her back drove her to the ground. She didn’t notice the pain of her back breaking. The sensation of blood filling her lungs didn’t register. The only thing that mattered was the image of her friend’s head collapsing like a ripe pumpkin under a kick from Big Macintosh. The only thing in the world that existed was the broken horn resting on the floor. The only thing real was the gore and brains of the generous, lovely pony now spattered all over her own face. The choked, bubbling scream forcing its way out of her throat brought merciful darkness.
Screams of fear echoed across Ponyville that night. Light sleepers shot up in their beds with cold sweat running down their muzzles. Heavy sleepers struggled to free themselves from the tangle of covers they had wrapped themselves in. Something in the Everfree forest felt its terrible hunger slacken for a moment. Deep inside the ancient prison it opened long shuttered eyes. A long, pointed tongue shot forth from its corkscrew filled mouth, tasting the horror…relishing it. Thought flickered across the thing’s mind for the first time in millennia. It would have its revenge on the world.
The rising sun was a relief to every resident of Ponyville. It seemed that the weather patrol had been at their duties half the night as the sky was a perfect, cloudless blue. Bleary eyed equines staggered from their homes and began their daily routine. Some of the residents of the town seemed a bit jumpier than usual. Others were lost in their own thoughts, distractedly offering apologies to anypony they bumped into. In the library six friends gathered to discuss their dreams.
Pinkie Pie, being the closest, arrived first. Her usual bounce was rather subdued and she hesitated before entering. She swallowed hard when she saw Twilight Sparkle. A nervous giggle escaped her lips and she quickly clamped her hooves over her mouth. Her eyes, often filled with unrevealed mischief, darted about the room as if she were afraid to meet the gaze of her friend.
“Hi Pinkie Pie.” Twilight’s red rimmed eyes and own subdued manner gave a hint as to the night she had experienced.
The sound of the door swinging open made both ponies flinch. They turned towards the sound as a bedraggled Rarity stepped through, her mane limp and tousled. She sidled up to her friends with less poise than normal.
“Hi Rarity.” The other two chorused.
Over the next fifteen minutes the rest of the group filed in. Applejack had a decided slump to her normally confident frame. When she saw Rarity she opened her mouth as if to speak and then shut it again with a little sigh. Fluttershy was obviously in a state of severe distress, shooting nervous looks in all directions, her flanks trembling as if she was ready to bolt. When Twilight touched her on the flank the little yellow filly started and managed to run three steps before freezing in place. Rainbow Dash appeared to be her normal, brash self. Yet she seemed touchier than usual and snapped at Fluttershy when she asked how she was. It took the effort of the whole group several minutes before the timid pegasi could be calmed down.
“So…I take it everypony else had nightmares?” Twilight ventured after the group was settled.
“You…you could say that.” Rarity gazed determinedly at the nearest book as if it held an answer to some difficult question.
“Ah’ did.” Applejack glanced towards Rarity again and then fixed her eyes on the floor.
“It was…it was awful.” Pinkie Pie looked towards Twilight and the glimmer of tears appeared in her eyes.
A slight nod and a quiet mew was all that could be coaxed out of Fluttershy.
“Nightmares? Really? Aren’t we all a bit old for that?” Rainbow Dash looked at the group with a smug expression on her face. Twilight fixed her with a level stare and the bold flier dropped her eyes. “Yeah. You could say that I had kind of a bad dream.”
“A bad dream? That’s what you want to call it?” Pinkie looked at Dash. “It wasn’t just a bad dream it was the worst dream I’ve ever had!”
Twilight sensed an argument might be brewing and interjected before the two began venting their elevated feelings.
“It was the worst dream I’ve ever had too. I think it would be for the best if everypony here took a turn and explained what they saw.” She drew a slow breath and let it out in a sigh. “It might help us deal with what happened. I’ll…I’ll go first.”
The other ponies arranged themselves in a semi-circle around their unofficial leader.
“I was…I was here. In the library. Somepony, I’m pretty sure it was Pinkie Pie,” At the sound of her name Pinkie gave a start and seemed ready to burst into tears. Twilight furrowed her brow for a second then continued.
“Pinkie Pie came to get me. Something had happened and they needed my magic to clear it up. I ran to…it was the center of town. Somehow the rest of you had gotten tangled up in some big gummy thing and I was supposed to separate you from it. It was kind of funny at first but…”
Twilight paused again and stared fixedly at the shelved books, her voice taking on a monotone.
“I started to separate you from the stuff. Pinkie Pie thought it looked fun so she jumped in the pile as well. I…it…” Twilight swallowed hard, a tear trickling down her muzzle. “I lost control. Somehow…I separated everypony alright. I separated them into what made them up.”
“What do you mean? What made us up?” Applejack said, confusion etching her face.
“Your…parts. Skeletons. Skin. Organs. Blood. I separated you all into different categories and…and…thankfully what was left didn’t live long.” Twilight swallowed again, turning away from the group. “I…I wanted to die. All I could do was scream.”
The purple unicorn hiccupped a few times, her sides heaving. As one her friends stepped forward and wrapped her in their comforting embrace. After a few moments of quiet sobs she sniffled and shook her head.
“But it was just a dream. That’s all it was. A dream.” She took a shuddering breath and let it out. “Let’s…let’s hear what happened to everyone else.”
“I’ll go next.” Rarity said. “What happened to me can’t be nearly as disturbing as that. I had just finished a dress ordered by Princess Celestia. It was one of the greatest things I’ve ever made, and the princess was going to come by to pick it up by herself. To my surprise she had her nephew with her. They entered my shop and I showed them the dress. Princess Celestia…she…she said it was horrible. One of the worst things she had ever seen. She doubted whether I should even be a designer. Her nephew…he…he…he said that I was ugly as the thing I had made and that it was the most hideous thing he had ever seen.
“I wanted to die. I wanted the princess to strike me down. I begged her forgiveness, pleaded for her to banish me or something. She said that she had a better punishment in mind. She would let all of Equestria know how ugly and horrible I, and everything I had ever done, was. She touched my horn with hers and I felt the mark of shame being burned into me. I screamed so hard I thought I would tear out my own throat.”
“That’s…awful. Princess Celestia would never do a thing like that.” Twilight placed a hoof on her elegant friend’s shoulder.
“And if she did, she’d be wrong. You design the best…coolest stuff I’ve ever seen.” Rainbow Dash looked uncomfortable at making the admission, but she too placed a supportive hoof on her friend. “If she ever said that I’d…I’d tell her what an uncool loser she was.”
“Thank you both. I know it was just a silly dream but it rocked me to my core.” Rarity closed her eyes and sniffed. “I had to go check in the mirror to see if I had the mark burned into me.”
“Who wants to go next?” Twilight looked at the group.
Applejack just stared at the floor. Fluttershy let out another scared mewling cry and shrank back. Pinkie Pie half opened her mouth but Rainbow Dash stepped forward.
“I will. It was just some dumb nightmare anyway. I was out practicing my tricks and Fluttershy and Pinkie were acting as my cheering section. I was on top of my game when out of nowhere Gilda showed up. She challenged me to a stunt show and bet I couldn’t beat her. I asked her what the terms were. She said if I won she’d go across Equestria and tell everyone in the world that I was the best flier ever. I asked what she wanted.
“She said if she won she got to prove how lame all my friends were. I was going to say no, cause her opinion doesn’t really matter, but Pinkie and Fluttershy cheered me on. We started the competition. She went first. She put out some pretty cool stuff, but it was foal’s play. I mean really, like a double loop the loop and triple barrel roll. It was going to be a cake walk.
“I took off and…and my moves just failed me. I couldn’t pull them off. No matter what I tried it didn’t work. I was making a fool of myself. I tried to do a sonic rainboom and I just ended up bounced into a cloud. She laughed at me, said I was seriously uncool. And that since I lost the bet she got to prove how lame my friends were.” Dash finished, lapsing into silence.
“And that was it?” Twilight asked.
“Really. That was it?”
“Okay, there might have been a little bit more.”
“Which was? Please Rainbow Dash you have to finish. It won’t help if we don’t know the end.”
“She swooped down and tore Pinkie and Fluttershy apart OK! She ripped them to pieces and laughed about it and I tried to stop her but I just crashed into the ground and she said it was all proof that I was always a loser and I should thank her for proving just how truly lame my friends were and for getting rid of them!”
“Yeah well it was just a stupid dream.” Rainbow Dash crossed her legs over her chest defiantly. “That’s all it was. Some stupid dream. And I’m done talking about it.”
“OK then…who’s next?”
Pinkie Pie began to relate her nightmare. When she got to the end she broke down crying and threw her hooves around Twilight’s neck, begging forgiveness. After being repeatedly reassured that she hadn’t done anything wrong, that dreams weren’t real, she began to settle down. Applejack’s story was related in a flat monotone while she stared straight ahead. She barely blinked during the telling. When she was finished she simply lay down and put her nose on her hooves.
It took quite some time to coax Fluttershy into talking about her dream.
The group began to collectively calm down after a good breakfast and some more time together. Pinkie Pie started cracking jokes halfway through the meal. Rarity remarked on how dreadful she must look as they were finishing up. Applejack’s monotone finally broke and the faithful pony spent more energy trying to shore up her friend’s spirits. Rainbow Dash urged everyone out into the sunshine and spent ten minutes showing off moves as if to prove the dream wrong. Fluttershy even found the courage to utter a few words of quiet encouragement to her acrobatic friend.
“Hey…where’s Spike?” Pinkie Pie asked as the group headed back into the library.
“Spike? Why he’s upstairs…I think. He seemed pretty miffed when I woke up in the middle of the night screaming my head off.” Twilight said, chuckling slightly at the image of the indignant baby dragon carrying off his basket into another part of the building.
“Well, let’s go find him and see if he had any dreams.”
“That’s a pretty good idea.”
The group spread out through the building, checking each nook and cranny to try and find the little dragon. When he was located, sound asleep in his basket, the friends gathered around him in amazement. Twilight prodded him with a hoof and he grumbled and rolled away. She gave him another gentle nudge and he made a mumbled comment about gems. With a sigh of exasperation she tipped his basket up and he spilled out of it with a shout of complaint.
“What’d you do that for?!” He asked, dusting himself off. “What, I’m not allowed to sleep?”
“How can you sleep after all those horrible nightmares?” Pinkie asked. “Weren’t they just the most terrible scary things you ever experienced?”
“Nightmares? What? Twilight is this some sort of joke?”
“It’s not a joke Spike. We all had nightmares. We need you to tell us what yours was about.” The unicorn said.
“The only nightmare I had was when you screamed and woke me out of that awesome dream I was having.”
“Yeah. I was dreaming that I was at an all you could eat gem buffet.”
“Like the one I’ll never get living around here.”
“Wait…so you had a good dream?”
“I had lots of good dreams. I was having one just now when you decided to wake me up.”
“How did you have good dreams when all of us, everyone in town in fact, had the most terrifying dreams they can remember.”
“Beats me.” The little dragon said as he finished rubbing his eyes. He looked towards the assembled group and let out a gasp.
“What? What do you see?”
“Twilight…I don’t know much about dreams but,” He asked, pointing at her flank, “Are scary ones supposed to make your cutie mark fade?”
“What are you-”
Twilight broke off midsentence, craning her neck back to look at her cutie mark. As one the other friends did the same. Startled gasps and exclamations of surprise came from all the ponies as they realized that their cutie marks had indeed faded slightly. They galloped out of the room, leaving a very confused dragon to climb back into bed.
The thing in the cavern lay curled in the darkness as the small dot of sunlight tracked its slow way across the wall. It’s long, floppy ears heard something scurrying about its domain. It lunged silently, backwards jointed legs placing it directly in front of the offending creature. With a sudden dip of its head the unfortunate noise maker was impaled on the twisted teeth of the monster. It savored the taste of the panic emanating from its victim almost as much as it savored the fear. Soon, very soon, the cavern would cool again. Soon the world would lie down to sleep. Soon it would feed properly again and grow strong enough to break the bonds of its prison. Soon it would emerge. When it did...it gave a little snorting wheeze of amusement. When it did the world would know true terror.
The moon had risen and set five times since the nightmares first began. Five nights punctuated by cries of fear. Five long stretches of darkness where everypony huddled in their beds with the lights on, too afraid to lay down and return to sleep. The days should have brought relief. Should have given the residents of Ponyville a chance to reassure themselves and catch up on lost sleep. Dreams lost power under the penetrating glare of the sun after all. Yet the nightmares persisted. Those who lay down to nap and recover soon became entangled in the horror of the dreamscape. The lack of sleep was accentuated by worry over fading cutie marks. The town grew brittle. Small disagreements that should have been politely resolved festered into bitter arguments. Arguments escalated into confrontations.
For six days the library had been a bustle of activity. Every book even remotely relating to cutie marks was examined front to back. Tomes of history were dusted off and studied. Books on the nature of magic, the mind, and even a foal’s stories were read in detail. Twilight had lost no time in writing to princess Celestia asking for help. She had received a reply within minutes. It had been examined by the entire group until they could all recite it almost verbatim.
My faithful student,
It grieves me that I cannot come to you personally in your time of need. If the situation at Canterlot were any different I assure that this reply would have been delivered in person. Unfortunately it seems that the malady that has befallen you, your friends, and the whole town of Ponyville has also taken my sister. I cannot leave her side. Do not despair though. I have ordered the scholars to scour every document in the royal library. I have also commissioned professors of every kind to set aside their own work and devote themselves to discovering what is happening. As soon as they discover any possible lead I will let you know.
Nothing further had been heard for five days. The friends continued to suffer each night, fears that seemed specially tailored for each filling their minds if they so much as nodded off. Their cutie marks had faded a little more after each occasion and now bore a resemblance to a painting left out in the sun. They had all taken to staying in the library so that they could support each other after each dream. For Applejack and Rainbow Dash it was relatively easy. Once they had verified that none of their friends had perished, they found it simple to calm down. Pinkie Pie, Twilight, and Rarity all took a little more persuasion. They needed either forgiveness or reassurance and a hot cup of tea. Fluttershy took the worst of it. Every time the gentle filly woke screaming it took almost an hour to start to settle her. Twilight, despairing of her friend’s suffering, located a spell to stave off sleep. Spike had grumbled at first about being constantly awoken by one scared pony or another. The severity of the situation soon dawned on him and he devoted himself to assisting in whatever ways he could.
The friends studied and prayed for word from Canterlot.
“There you go Fluttershy…that should last you another…” Twilight Sparkle looked at the clock on the wall and groaned. “Hour or so.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry to be such a bother but the dreams-”
“We understand. It’s fine.” Twilight said, drawing her friend into a hug. “They just affect you more than anyone else, that’s all.”
As the gentle pegasi went back to studying a text about hallucinogenic plants Twilight let out a sigh and slumped forward. She accepted a cup of tea from Spike with a soft thank you. Why was the magic so hard? True, she had never gone on so little sleep before. Also true, she had never been more afraid to lose control. Every time she had reached inside herself to cast a spell she had felt a twinge of fear. What if this was the spell that went horribly wrong? Even the simple alertness spell seemed to be extremely difficult to cast, almost as if she had lost some of her talent. The teacup fell from her hoof, forgotten in the severity of the thought that had struck her. Her cutie mark was fading. Her powers were weakening.
“Girls.” She said. “Girls I need you all to stop what you’re doing.”
Her friends looked at her with a mixture of confusion and exhaustion. Rainbow Dash shrugged at Applejack.
“Girls, what are cutie marks?”
“Uh…you feelin’ alright there Twilight? Cutie marks are them things ya’ got on yer flank. Ya’ know, the ones that’re disappearin’?”
“No, I mean what are they? What do they represent.”
“Oooh! I know the answer! Oh pick me!” Pinkie Pie said, a hint of her normal self shining through the almost humorless mask that had taken her over. She gave a little giggle and a satisfied bounce. “Cutie marks represent our special talent! What we’re best at!”
“Exactly.” Twilight said. She couldn’t believe how simple the answer was. Their cutie marks were tied to their abilities, what they were best suited at. “I need everypony here to do what they’re best at.”
“What we’re best at?” Rainbow Dash said, flying off the floor and hovering. “How’s that going to help us?”
“I have an idea, but I need to test it out first. Everyone, outside.”
It was, Twilight decided, one of the greatest deductions she had ever made. It was also one of the most terrifying. In turn, every member of the group had attempted to do what they were most suited to. While it hadn’t been disastrous, it hadn’t been very pretty either. Rainbow Dash managed a passable aerial routine, gaining confidence with each successful basic maneuver. When she attempted to start doing more advanced stunts something went wrong. The agility that was evident just a few seconds before disappeared. She had landed in disgust, saying that it was lack of sleep. Twilight had ventured the opinion that it was the skills not of the young flier champion, but that of merely a competent weather pony. That had almost led to an argument but Spike interjected himself as the voice of reason. For everypony it was the same. Their skills and talents had degraded.
“Ah’ still don’t understand Twilight. What’s going on?” Applejack said after they had regrouped in the library.
“Whatever is making our cutie marks disappear isn’t just giving us nightmares. It’s stealing who we are.”
Your Royal Highness Princess Celestia,
We have uncovered an extremely disturbing fact concerning the recent turn of events. It seems that not only are cutie marks disappearing but the associated talents that go with them. While initially only a theory, repeated tests and inquiries through town have shown that everypony has lost a measure of skill they once possessed. Personalities, which should be unaffected by this, are being severely distorted by the plague of nightmares gripping the area. Upon further study it has also been discovered that ponies without a strong support network have suffered more than those with close friends and family. Indeed, my friends and I still have the clearest cutie marks and retain the most skill. With your permission I would like to utilize the elements of harmony in an attempt to drive off whatever is besieging us. Please respond quickly, as we don’t know how much time we have left.
Your faithful student,
“Send it Spike.”
The little dragon ignited the letter and the friends watched it curl into wisps of magical smoke.
“What do we do now? Surely we don’t just sit around and wait?” Rarity asked as the last fragment of smoke had dissipated.
“No. Until we hear from Princess-” Twilight began.
“Incoming!” Spike said right before unleashing a belch of flame.
A furled scroll with the royal seal appeared in the air. Twilight lunged for it and caught it before it was halfway to the ground. She unrolled it and began reading out loud.
My faithful student,
You have permission to take any needed measures to battle this threat. I trust your judgment completely.
The first line was crammed in between the greeting and the rest of the text, as if it were added while someone was already in the process of finishing a letter.
The librarians at the Muskoxatonic University in Arkhoof have managed to locate a tome that might contain valuable information. The scholars were hesitant to part with the book, claiming extreme risk to the world. Once the situation was explained they set about preparing it for transport immediately. Its advanced age and extremely powerful nature prevent magical delivery unfortunately. I have already dispatched the Thunderbolts to retrieve it. You should be receiving it within a few hours of this letter.
“OK girls, we know what we need to do.” Twilight said as she laid the scroll aside.
“Hold on a sec sugar. The Princess didn’t say Muskoxatonic University did she?” Applejack asked, a note of concern in her voice.
“That’s what it sounded like.”
“Well…ah’ don’ know if that’s such a good idea.”
“And why not?”
“Because…well…it…” Applejack trailed off, kicking at the floor.
“Because they might be sending us the Equinomicon!” Dash said, shooting Twilight a look of concern.
“The Equinomicon? Seriously?”
“What’s the Equinomicon?” Rarity asked.
“Only the most evil book ever written! It contains powerful spells and speaks of monsters from beyond time and space!” Rainbow Dash responded. She looked at Applejack for support and the orange filly nodded. “They say that you can go mad just by looking at it!”
“That’s a load of-”
“It’s true! I read all about it.” Pinkie Pie said. “It has stuff like Ayah Ayah Cultpooloo Futagin and all kinds of weird stories about places that don’t exist!”
“Exactly, it’s all made up now if you’ll just-”
“I heard that if you use the spells in it you can unlock the doorways to alternate dimensions.”
“Still not clear on what this Equinomicon thing is.”
“Eugh. Girls. Calm down.” Twilight held up her hooves. She turned to Rarity. “The Equinomicon is the journal of Abdul Alhazard, the mad Arabian. It’s supposed to be this tome to ultimate power and describes a number of elder gods that will supposedly rise again to reclaim the world for themselves. It was MADE UP,” She shot a meaningful glance towards her other friends with these words, “by a horror writer around a hundred years ago. It is fiction.”
“But what about-”
“Fiction, Rainbow Dash.” Twilight said. She took a deep breath and let it out. “Now we have serious matters at hoof here. I need you all to gather your elements. Meet back here as fast as you can. Got it?”
“But what if-”
“Fiction. Not real. Go.”
It took longer than expected to gather the elements of harmony: Rainbow Dash’s reduced flying skills; Rarity’s inability to recall exactly where she had hidden the book; Pinkie Pie setting off the multiple layers of “traps” she had set up around hers; Fluttershy having a hard time getting past the nervous crowd of animals in and around her home; and Applejack running out of breath halfway back to Sweet Apple Acres, Twilight was nearly beside herself when her friends returned. They settled into formation, each wearing their respective element.
“Ready?” Twilight asked.
The answers all came in affirmative. The group reached deep within themselves, willing their element to come forth. The elements began to emerge and strength began to flow between each member of the group. It reinforced them, steadied them, and allowed them to draw deeper on their inner power. White light flooded the room. It cast every object into sharp relief before driving out any hint of shadow, except for one patch. Something crouched in the patch, something twisted and revolting. It swung its eyes towards the group, gibbering with hate, and pushed back. The light dimmed for a moment and then swelled, revealing the creature.
“We do not fear you.” The ponies spoke as one.
“Our strength is greater than yours. Together we are one. You have no power over us.” The six voices rolled into one sound, mighty and terrible.
“You cannot harm us.”
The shadow thing swung its gaze towards each pony in turn, feeding back the fear it had fed on, trying to get one to break. Whenever the strength of one wavered, the others reinforced it.
“You will leave us. You will leave this place. You will return from whence you came.”
The thing shrank before the light, growing smaller, less frightening. It gave one last wailing cry, although it was hard to tell if it was fear or frustration. The group stepped forward and let out a single shout of laughter. As it burst into a million wisps of shadow the monster seemed to fill the room with a presence more ancient and powerful than even the strongest pony magic. The group pressed forward again. The will of the thing finally broke and it retreated into the darkness.
“Yay! We did it!” Pinkie Pie said, bouncing around the room. “We did it, we did it, we showed meany-mcnightmare…whatever it was that we were stronger! Wheeeee!”
“Yeah, alright!” Rainbow Dash slapped hooves with Applejack.
“Girls…” Twilight said, a note of apprehension in her voice.
“Oh yes we were incredible. Oh, oh Rarity did you see how we beat it?”
Rarity gave no response, her eyes fixed on her cutie mark.
“Girls.” Twilight was staring in horror at her own cutie mark.
“What?” The three celebrating ponies asked as one.
Twilight turned towards them, showing the starburst on her flank. It had become more vivid, clearer than it was earlier, but it was still slightly faded.
“What…but we…how…but the laugh…that don’t make no sense…” The trio said, words spilling over each other. Fluttershy looked closely at her own side and gave a meep of fear before dropping to the floor.
“Twilight…we did win right?” Rarity asked, her gaze still fixed on her faded diamonds.
“I…we banished it…but…”
“Then why aren’t our cutie marks restored?”
It hurt. It hurt in ways it hadn’t hurt since it’s banishment. Whatever had been unleashed against it, whatever power the ponies had mustered, it had been old magic. Powerful magic. If not for the fear from the town the thing probably would have been destroyed. And it was weakened. Oh yes, it was certainly weakened. It could feel itself being dragged back down into the deeper reaches of the cavern. Clawing at the stone, wailing and writhing, it watched the slim crescent of star filled sky above it disappear. Rock, long worn smooth by its endless pacing, replaced it.
But no matter. It had learned. In that brief instant before it had been banished from the presence of the six it had seen where they drew their strength. Fear alone would not be enough to subdue them. It began to pace around the circular corridor, feet sliding into familiar grooves in the rock. It was old, powerful magic, yes. But it was not quite as old, not quite as powerful as it. It would adapt. It would marshal it’s strength. When the time was right, it would destroy all who wore the mark.
“Ah’ don’t understand. What happened?” Applejack asked.
“It should have worked.” Rainbow Dash said, looking at her friends. “I mean the elements of harmony…they kicked Nightmare Moon’s butt and she was like the most evil thing to ever hit Equestria!”
“I don’t know.” Twilight said. “We…maybe we need to face it directly? Maybe the elements are more powerful when they’re right up against the thing we’re fighting.”
“Twilight, I don’t know if you noticed or not but…we were right up against an enemy.” Rarity said, pointing to the spot on the floor that the shadow beast had occupied. “It was here, in the room with us. We all saw it. We saw it destroyed.”
“Wolves.” Pinkie Pie said.
The rest of the group turned to look at her.
“It’s like wolves. You can drive them away with fire but you still have a problem.”
“Pinkie Pie, I love it when you’re random but I don’t think now is the right time.” Rainbow Dash said.
“I’m not being random silly. What happens if you’re in the woods and surrounded by wolves? You build a fire. Well that’s all well and good but they’ll still be out there, waiting for the fire to die down. And you can’t go out and get more wood because of the wolves.”
“So we make sure we have plenty of wood?”
“It’s not about wood! I’m talking about whatever we just fought.”
“So you’re saying we just fought…a wolf?”
“I see where she’s going with this.” Twilight said. “The fire only buys you more time. You still have to drive the wolves away.”
“How do we do that?”
“I don’t know.”
“And the thing about wolves…when the sun comes up fire doesn’t scare them anymore.” Fluttershy said.
“Exactly. So what happens when you have to face them?” Twilight asked.
“Ya either run an’ hope yer fast enough, or fight an’ hope yer strong enough.” Applejack said. “They’s yer only two real options.”
“No. There’s a third. You get eaten.”
The ponies looked at each other as the grim statement sunk in. Each of them wondered how long they had until this particular foe stopped being afraid of the fire.
“If nothing else…if nothing else we’ve managed to buy ourselves some time. Right now, it’ll have to do.” Twilight said.
The promised book arrived shortly after. The flying stunt team stayed long enough to see that it was received before winging their way back to Canterlot. Rainbow Dash looked a bit disappointed that her heroes had left in such a hurry until Rarity suggested Princess Celestia might need their services. The group gathered around the table where the book lay. Magic, old magic, magic that seemed barely constrained by its pages emanated from it. A small note was adhered to the cover.
By special order of Princess Celestia this copy of the Hyracotherium has been released from our archives. Any knowledge found within is to be considered secret. It would be unwise to attempt any of the magic that lies herein. We also don’t recommend trying to read the gibberish in the back. If it says something should not be spoken aloud, trust us, don’t speak it aloud. Good luck.
Muskoxatonic University staff
Twilight opened the cover and turned to the table of contents. She looked down until she saw a chapter entitled cutie marks. The friends leaned in as she turned to the correct page and began to read.
“The cutie mark is a magic that is considered to be as old as ponykind itself. At first, only those who possessed extraordinary talents would earn a cutie mark. Those who did became marked as a step above their fellows. Theirs was the place to rule, to weave spells of incredible power, to act as champions. In a time when the world was wild those with a marked flank led and protected everypony.
“While most ponies were satisfied with the way things worked, as cutie marks were not passed down lineage but rather appeared on the truly gifted, a few sought power and recognition for themselves. Some of them…ew, that’s disgusting.” Twilight said, turning the page away from the graphic illustration.
“Others sought pacts with demonic forces and ancient beasts. At the time of this writing all had been slain, excepting one. One monster, as old as the world itself perhaps, had become such a threat to every living creature that a greater defense was needed.”
“Does it say what this thing is called?” Applejack asked.
“Not yet. Let me keep reading.”
“The most powerful magicians of the world gathered and with the blessing of the rulers of Eohippia-”
“Where? I’ve never heard of such a place.” Rarity said. Twilight shot her a look and continued in the text.
“-rulers of Eohippia cast a spell to give every pony a cutie mark. In this way all those living might enjoy a measure of protection against the foe, as the discovery of the special talent signifying a cutie mark…yes we know that already,” She skipped past the paragraphs on how cutie marks worked, “This knowledge of self acts a buffer against the ability of the monster to spread fear.”
“Doesn’t seem like it’s working very well.” Rainbow Dash said.
“Hush. Despite the great magic of the cutie mark it was known at the time of the casting that it could only act as a temporary measure. Eohippia’s six greatest champions assembled to go forth and end the menace. Thus ends the history of the cutie mark. Well that was useful.”
Twilight sighed and laid her head on the table. She shoved the open book away.
“Ah’ think it was.” Applejack said.
The unicorn lifted her eyes towards her friend.
“Ah’ mean think about it. Six champions, six elements of harmony right? See if there’s anythin’ in there about them.”
Twilight’s eyes lit up and she pulled the book back towards herself. She flipped back to the table of contents and was soon reading again.
“The elements of harmony, the most powerful magic known to ponykind, are more than just simple crystals signifying the spirits of friendship. Each element is a magical conduit to the soul of the Eohippian champion that created it.”
“So…we’re channeling the souls of dead ponies? Creepy.” Pinkie said. Twilight ignored her.
“When the Eohippians faced the Knacker-” Twilight held up a hoof to forestall interruption “-in the field they did so with the knowledge that they could not destroy it entirely. To drive it from the world altogether would require greater magic than the champions themselves possessed. However, after the battle had been fought a way was found to imprison it. Knowing that in the course of time the Knacker might recoup its strength and return to menace the world once more, each champion bound their soul to an element. The modern words for honesty, loyalty, generosity, kindness, laughter, and magic are all descended from the names of the original champions. This was done so that if future generations ever had need of their power the champions could act through the elements and renew the bonds that held the demon.”
Twilight wasted no time in finding the entry on the Knacker. She gasped when she turned the page, the rough sketch at the top bearing a strong similarity to the creature they had seen. The picture wasn’t as disturbing as what they had seen but it was impossible to deny the malevolence of the thing.
“That’s it…that’s the Knacker.”
“The Knacker. Of all the enemies of life it is perhaps the deadliest and most directed in its evil. Some entities earned their reputations for their mindless destruction or simple brutality. The Knacker is intelligent, cunning, and manipulative. It twists the minds of its victims to produce the most fear possible, working its way into its victim until the soul itself is corrupted. Once it has accomplished this the victim is then used as a puppet to assist in its cause. Because of the nature of the monster the only suitable way to free those who have fallen under its influence is-” Twilight paused, and reread the last word. “-death. According to legends passed down from the long extinct elder beings to the first ancestors of the dragons, the Knacker cannot attack the living directly unless it has a host body. The legends spoke of one so corrupted they rejected self entirely, thus leaving a void for the monster to occupy. The Knacker was imprisoned by the champions of Eohippia after it reappeared sometime towards the middle of the third dynasty. In the two months it was active the magic of the cutie mark was given to everypony, and had the champions not managed to stop it life itself may have been wiped from the world.”
The ponies looked at each other as Twilight finished reading. The impact of the faded words felt like an overloaded set of saddlebags settling on their backs. The purple unicorn closed the book and pushed it into the center of the table. The gaze of each went to their respective element. A soul, a living soul, bound within for all time, to be used as a weapon against an ultimate evil. And it wasn’t even lethal. It was sobering knowledge.
“So…what now?” Rainbow Dash broke the silence.
“We try to contact the souls of the creators. If anyone can tell us how to fight this thing they can.” Twilight said.
White light filled the room. Each pony shared each other’s presence. It was comforting. The group again felt the strength and peace of their bond.
“Now go deeper.” It might have been Twilight who said it.
As one the friends willed the power that flowed between them to increase. The library started to twist, the books slowly disappearing one by one. And old pony walked backwards through the door, chatting with a young stallion. The books continued to pop out of being until the shelves were completely emptied. The interior shifted, furniture being carried out by stout ponies. Walls smoothed themselves, the shelves carved into them reverting to natural form. The tree itself started to regrow from the center of the room, carpenters undoing their work. The wood that encased them began to shrink, layers unwinding like an onion growing in reverse. When the tree had shrank to the point where the group could see more than bare wood they found themselves watching settler ponies moving away from some kind of official looking platform being taken down.
The sun and the moon sped in reverse above them until day and night blurred together. Civilizations rebuilt themselves and rapidly dwindled away into scattered tribes. The movement of the stars overhead slowed…slowed…stopped. The group found themselves in a small clearing in a dense forest. Six stallions made of light and clad in antiquated armor stood before them.
“We bid welcome to the bearers of the elements.” They chorused. The words didn’t sound like they had come from their exact location. It seemed as if the trees around them were speaking in one unified, slightly distorted voice.
“Are you the Eohippian champions?” Twilight asked.
“Can you tell us-”
“We can tell you many things bearer of magic. We can tell you that our gift to the world has been used in ways it was not intended for. We can tell you the deepest secrets of your God Empress. We can tell you all that we have seen from within our crystalline prisons.”
“What do you mean misused? We had to use you…I mean the elements…I mean…whatever! We had to, in order to stop Nightmare Moon!” Rainbow Dash said.
“Did you?” The stallions swung their empty eyes towards the rainbow pegasus. They stared as she shrank before their gaze. “And why is that, element of loyalty? Because your Celestia did so before?”
“Because there weren’t no other way!” Applejack stepped between the glowing forms and her chagrined friend. “What was we supposed to do, just let that crazy mare turn all of Equestria dark forever?”
“Eternal night is preferable to eternal darkness.” The stallions said as one.
“Please…please we’re sorry but you were the only way we knew how to stop Nightmare Moon.” Twilight said. She laid a hoof on her orange friend’s shoulder. “We didn’t know at the time that the elements of harmony contained your souls. All we knew was that it was the most powerful magic in Equestria.”
“Magic made to fight another. Celestia knew this when she gathered the elements from our original resting place. She had read the histories. And yet when she asked us we came. We came and we banished her wayward sister. All that we asked was that she return us to where we belonged. She did not.”
“But…why? I mean the Hyracotherium said-”
“Because she feared the return of her sister more than the return of an old legend. Surely, after twenty thousand years, such a thing would be long dead. Yet when she locked us in our last resting place to fight against the inevitable return of the one called Nightmare Moon she unmade her own world.”
“We…” Twilight said. She looked at her friends, an expression of confusion on each of their faces. “What are you talking about?”
“We were the gates to the prison of the Knacker. One by one we were removed. Do you think the place you call Everfree has always been wild? It was once tame and wonderful. Without us to contain the demon the land began to twist and spawn monsters. If we had been returned our light would have held it where it belonged.”
“What if we put you back?”
“It is too late. It has worked its way from the deepest reaches of its cell until it could touch the minds of the living.”
“But we saw it…a part of it at least, driven back.”
“Yes, you did. You purified a small area of your world and yourselves. You and any others with you when you called us forth will be protected from its corruption there, for a time.”
“Excuse me!” Pinkie Pie said, waving a hoof in the air. “Excuse me glowy ghost pony thingies!” She giggled a little bit as the souls turned towards her. “You sound all blah and down for being…anyway. So, how do we fight it?”
“The same way we did.”
“And that waaaaaasss….”
“We faced the beast itself. It promised oblivion. We accepted.”
“So you let it kill you?” Twilight said. She held up a hoof as Pinkie Pie opened her mouth. The energetic pony sat down with a little harrumph. “Sorry Pinkie.”
“We did not die. We accepted an eternity of non-being. Without fear, without despair, without hesitation we threw our own essence at it. Our sacrifice allowed us to move beyond where it could touch us. We had become incorruptible. That was our strength. It fled back towards the bowels of the earth with us chasing it. When it retreated into the lair it rose from we bound ourselves to the very land itself.”
“What if we went to this prison or lair or whatever you want to call it and used the elements?”
“It is possible.”
“That it would imprison it again?”
“That your own sacrifice would be powerful enough to forge the bonds anew.”
“You would have to bind yourselves as we did. To accept an eternity of guardianship without hesitation or doubt.”
“That’s the only way?” Twilight looked at her friends. “I don’t know if we can do that.”
“Then your world is lost.”
“Can we have a minute to talk about it?” She asked. The champions nodded in unison. The bookish unicorn gestured for a huddle and the friends formed into a circle. “OK so…thoughts?”
“I don’t know about the rest of you but spending an eternity doing…whatever it is these champions or whatever they call themselves have been doing sounds pretty lame.” Dash said. The other ponies looked at her. “What? That’s just my opinion. I mean stopping this knacker thing is pretty important and all but there must be another way.”
“Ah’m guessin’ if them Eohippoans…Eohippies…whatever they’re called say it’s the only way, an’ it seems like they’d know havin’ done it first, chances are we’ll have to do it.” Applejack said. She looked at her brash blue friend with a hangdog expression. “Even if it means we get to spend the rest of time like them. Ah don’t like it much more than you but somepony’s gotta do it.”
“If they say it’s the only way, I’m willing to do it.” Rarity said. The orange earth pony swung her gaze from Dash towards the unicorn with a look of surprise. “What? Why are looking at me like that? If this thing is truly as powerful and dangerous as the history books and the ponies that imprisoned it in the first place say, and it certainly seems like it is, then isn’t giving ourselves to save the world a small price to pay?”
“If it makes the nightmares stop I’ll do it. If that’s okay with everyone else.”
“Fine. I can’t let the rest of you spend eternity without me.” Dash said. “But don’t think for a minute that I won’t remind everyone of how boring standing around as a bunch of light is.”
“I think we can live with that.” Twilight said with a smile. She turned towards Pinkie Pie. “Are you in Pinkie?”
“Hmmm…the end of all light and laughter in the world or getting to spend eternity partying with my best friends while some creepy darkness monster has to sit in the dark by itself?” Pinkie tapped her chin with her hoof, big blue eyes looking up towards the stars in an expression of thought. “This is a tough one. Can there be a song involved?”
“As long as it doesn’t start another stampede.” Twilight said. The friends laughed as the silly earth pony blew a raspberry at the reminder of her failed song. Still giggling slightly they all turned towards the champions. “We accept.”
“Then we will you show you where you must go.” Each champion stepped towards a different pony. “We felt the thing’s strength when you called upon us to fight it. You have a few days left in which to prepare. Rest well and make your peace with the world.”
The glowing forms touched their noses to their counterparts. An image of a tunnel slanting away into the darkness of the earth appeared inside the minds of the group, a narrow and long overgrown path winding away from the spot into the trees burning with a strange darkness. The view rose to an aerial perspective, the path pulsing like a malignant vein across the Everfree forest. The map took on greater prominence as the clearing faded out until it was the only thing visible. The connection of the elements broke and the six friends found themselves lying in the library. They shared a look of understanding and set out to gathering bedding. In a few minutes they were fast asleep.