Darkness Descends

Part One

by:GearheartHound

        i promised i would dedicate this first story to a certain someone

i wouldn't have had the courage to post anything without you.

Love as Always, Sugarcube.

        Urgent.... Urgent... gotta go faster... the grey mail pegasus repeated over and over in her head, not wasting the breath to repeat herself out loud. Faster... faster... oh Celestia, must go faster. Her mind raced and her heart pounded as the nighttime landscape peeled away below her. The crack of thunder overhead took her back and slowly she circled to a place she could land. It was the Everfree Forest, not a place for the faint of heart but Ditzy had a mission and nothing was going to stop her.

        "Neither rain, nor snow, nor hundred headed hydras will stay this messenger from her appointed rounds!" she called up at the storm with a little grin and flick of her tail before continuing at a trot. She could pace herself, go all night if she had to. Celestia was counting on her, it had to be fast and it had to be secret. Keep low, don't fly in a straight line, keep to the trees, stay away from homes and farms. She repeated the princess' orders over and over again to drill them into her head. Sure she got lost often but not going in a straight line was her specialty. As she walked her mind wandered, hooves moving on their own while her eyes did their little drifting thing.

        The day had been interesting. Waking up early to tuck into a fresh muffin before her usual rounds when that little purple dragon had come running up with a scroll for one 'Ditzy Doo, Pegasus', a scroll with the royal seal.

        To Ms. Ditzy Doo,

        I, Princess Celestia, request your immediate presence at the palace of Canterlot for a matter of great importance. Please don't delay, the fate of all Equestria rests on your hooves.

        Your princess,

        Celestia

        Naturally she had coated the surface of the cafe's table with choked on muffin crumbs, as soon as her breath was back she quickly dropped her coins and left. No sense in keeping a princess waiting.

        In Canterlot, the princess had a lot to say. Celestia knew a thing or two about what was going on in Equestria but the information she gave the young pegasus was frightening to say the least. The princess penned a note and explained that her student, Twilight Sparkle, must be told about the oncoming evil and given an old book which would help her unravel this problem before it was too late. Celestia explained that it was too old and fragile to be sent via Spike the dragon and that the magic way might not be safe, it could only be delivered by hoof. It puffed Ditzy up with pride that the princess had chosen her. She never considered herself anything special but the princess pointed out that she had placed fourth in the 'Best Young Fliers' competition, she never lost a package and always managed to deliver on time. With that kind of ego boost, who wouldn't shoot for the stars.

        Ditzy's trot picked up just thinking about the importance of this particular mission. She could see the headlines. 'Dependable Mail Pony Saves Equestria' or 'Ditzy Doo Honored For Service To The Crown' i may never have to pay for a muffin again! She thought with excitement.

        She let out a giddy giggle and bounced on her hooves more than she had before but a long and drawn out and very evil chuckle made her freeze in her tracks. "I-interfering with the mail... i-is an arrestable offense..." she gulped as the laughter seemed to come from every side. A quick glance upwards and she could see the outline of a net in the trees. "Oh Muffins..." she managed to mumble before the net fell and the shadows closed in around her.

--

        Twilight Sparkle had paced back and forth in her study for hours now, it was beginning to worry her assistant. "Come on Twilight... take a break... I’m sure the princess-" Spike began but was sharply cut off by the purple unicorn.

        "I’m sure the princess didn't mean to send a letter with three lines about an ancient evil and the rest be a blot of spilled ink..." Twilight let out a long sigh. "I’m sorry Spike but I’m getting really worried... this isn't like the princess at all... should we tell the others?"

        Spike rolled his eyes. "I told you to do that right from the start..." A glare from Twilight sent the young dragon out the door with a grumble to collect everyone who might be able to figure this out.

        It was hours later and the conversations had turned into an argument as to whether or not it would be prudent to charge headlong into the problem. The argument mounted in pitch before the usually reserved Fluttershy gasped loud enough to catch everyone's attention.

        An all too familiar dark cloud swirled in beneath the door, starlight glinting in the inky blackness before it solidified and took shape.

        "P-princess Luna?" Twilight stood with her mouth open as everypony quickly bowed as best they could.

        "No! No please... don't bow!" She looked distraught, her crown on lopsided and her mane all in tangles. It was the most the moon princess had said to the group of ponies since her transformation from Nightmare Moon. "I need ponies I can trust... I’m just lost without Celestia..."

        it was Applejack who mustered her courage first. "somethin' happened to the princess?" She got to her hooves and grit her teeth in determination.

        "It was terrible...” Luna sniffed, tears brimming in her eyes.

        "What happened to the princess?" Twilight stepped forward and touched a hoof softly to Luna’s side.

        “They took her, little monsters! Celestia called them goblins. A cloud circled around the castle, the guards were thrown around like butterflies in the wind! These creatures jumped up from everywhere and grabbed her. There was a puff of smoke and they were gone... the castle is in an uproar... all Canterlot is close to rioting." She babbled between tears, the other ponies slowly looking to each other. "I don't know what to do... none of our messages are leaving the city now... Celestia dispatched a friend of yours with a package... but... she said it never arrived..."

        Rainbow Dash piped up, "Yeah... Ditzy asked Cloudkicker to take over her mail route today, something about it being urgent... she... hasn't checked into work since..." Dash looked at her friends and shrugged, “I only know because I’ve had to pick up Cloudkicker's shift on weather duty to make up for it.”

        Luna gave another nod and slumped back onto her haunches. "She had a book... sister said it was important it get to you, Twilight... but now it's lost... and... and we can see the smoke rising all over..." the princess shuddered and her gaze fell to the floor. "Equestria is burning..."

        Each pony raised her voice in support. From the meek Fluttershy to the uncontrollable ball of fury that was Rainbow Dash, who had to be held in place to stop her from surging off to battle overwhelming odds all on her own. The show of friendship made Luna smile little by little.

        "Oh thank you, thank you ponies..." The princess spoke warmly, relief flooding her still young face. “But what could we do?”

        "Sounds to me like y’all better raise the banner..." all eyes, even those of the princess turned to Applejack. "Granny Smith is always talkin about her Grandpappy and how he rode out with the old regiments to push the ogres back past our borders."

        "You mean fight? Equestria has been at peace for so long i doubt anypony could fight if they wanted to. how do you expect us to stop this invasion?" Rarity glanced between the princess and Applejack, her nervousness radiating all the more.

        "Everypony has to do their part!" Pinkie Pie gave a nod and crossed her hooves over her chest. "I don't like fighting, it's the total opposite of partying but if there's no Equestria then there won't be anypony left to party and that's not fun at all."

        "I agree!" came a firm reply before Fluttershy squeaked and tried to make herself look small. "These goblins don't sound friendly at all. If they could kidnap someone like Celestia, they could do all sorts of terrible things..."

        Twilight Sparkle looked to the princess and carefully offered her a hoof to help her stand again. "You can count on us, Princess Luna!"

        "Then i name you, Applejack, my top general here in Ponyville." Luna smiled more.

        Applejack looked down and blushed nervously. “Well that's mighty kind of ya Princess but I’m not what you would call an 'idea pony' I think Twilight here would be a better choice.”

        "Then it's settled, Twilight Sparkle I give you the rank of General. You are my sister's prized pupil, that has to count for something. Feel free to name your captains and do what you feel is necessary... Celestia has faith in you and your friends so I do too..."

        Twilight gulped and looked at her friends, the responsibility already starting to weigh on her shoulders but she took a breath and nodded. “Lets win this one for Celestia.”

--

        The next few days were hard, Twilight admired Rarity's work in the mirror it doesn't say anywhere that an officer must look shabby she had said, working all night to craft uniforms for everypony. Stunning emerald piped in gold with Celestia's crest upon one flank and her own cutie mark upon the other. But now it was all falling into place. She opened the door to her simple library and began the slow walk ahead of her.

        Nopony spoke as she walked down the street to the square. Every face was stern and worried. Twilight tried her best not to show that she was even more concerned. The princess had slipped back to the capitol to assemble her own guards and to muster what force could be managed after the hundred and fifty year long peace.

        "Yer lookin mighty regal there, sugarcube." Applejack came into step beside Twilight and winked, Twilight smiled just a little and spoke without turning her head, all eyes were still on her.

        "You're not too bad yourself... Captain." she added and Applejack puffed out her chest a little more. Her uniform shone out the same deep green though along her sides was an older crest in place of her cutie mark, it was a pair of swords crossed surrounded by small apples of every color, for my Grandpappy, she had explained. "Have any recruits yet?" Twilight prompted.

        "More than we can suit up, Twi... everypony wants to do this, for the princess..." the cowgirl pony couldn't help but beam with pride "Big Mac is drillin the troops with a bunch a kickin' dummies we set up out by the farm. Even Pinkie Pie baked up a few batches of these things she calls 'throwin' cupcakes' hard as a rock and just as heavy. I tells ya, when Equestria gets riled up, no pony is a coward... Rarity and her girls are gonna be sewing vests fer days."

        Twilight too let a little hope into her heart as overhead a flight of pegasus ponies practiced formation flying under the supervision of Captain Dash, each a streak of royal blue in the sky. "Pinkie baking food or weapons apparently, Rarity making uniforms, everypony pitching in in their own way... we just might be able to make a difference..."

        Twilight turned the final stretch towards the townhall when a strange pony stopped her in her path. He wore a long cloak and looked like he had been traveling. "General..." he gave a stiff bow before a soft orange glow circled the edge of his cloak and the unicorn revealed himself. A short cropped brown mane and deep rust orange hide crossed with a few old scars. He looked like the old etchings in Twilight's books of fighting ponies or knights of olden times. Applejack took a step forward, ready to get between Twi and the mysterious pony. "I am Lancer, ranger of the crown... at your humble service, Lady Twilight... and now I must ask you when you have last heard anything from your messenger."

--

        deep in the Everfree Forest a pony was waking, but for the first time in her life she wished she wasn't. Every part of her body ached and stung where the whips or rods of her captors had left their mark. Her eyes were dry and her throat worse. It had been two days since her last mouthful of stagnant water and the muffin she barely finished in Ponyville had long ago been thrown up. When she mentioned hunger to her captors she had received a mouthful of half cooked animal flesh with force. No pony could keep their breakfast down after the smell of that in their face.

        "Awake Pony?" Her captor spat the word and grabbed her cheeks, squeezing and splitting her bruised lip all the more. "Good we begin again..." It hissed at her and left Ditzy to tremble, and blink at her surroundings. Storm clouds blotted out the sun, it was so dark she didn't know if it was nighttime or somehow magical.

        "Why you have book pony!?" Her head snapped sharply to the side as she was struck, it was so hard to tell where pain came from now, she barely reacted. She had long ago sobbed her tears but nothing it could do would make her speak.

        "I’m just a mail pony..." she breathed, relaxing and letting her eyes drift again, hopefully the spiteful creature would just stop asking.

        "Book is magic! Book is special!" It spat at her and struck again, Ditzy felt it this time, the creatures were definitely getting angry. "Why no writings in book!?"

        the first time she had heard that the book was blank, it nearly broke her heart, had she been trusted as a decoy while the real book was given to an even better pegasus? She put her trust in Celestia and from where she was tied, it looked like she'd been betrayed.

        "I told you... I’m just a mail pony... I don't read the mail... I deliver..." she mumbled and the creature grit it's yellow teeth, it pulled back and struck, it's little claws digging against her cheek and drawing fresh blood.

        This time Ditzy let out a shriek and shut her eyes tight, her whole body trembled as the creature shook the life back into his clawed hand. "I come back later, pony, and pony talks or pony looses pretty feathers... one by one." it gave her a sick grin and shambled off towards the sound of their camp.

        Ditzy didn't know where she found the tears to start crying but it was nice to know she still felt something even if it was heart wrenching fear. Celestia, please let me live through this...

        Lancer picked his way carefully through the woods. He was a master of being quiet and unseen. Last in a long line of rangers, living on the edge of pony society and just watching the borders and dark places. It was he who first discovered the stirrings of Nightmare Moon at the ruined temple. This time however he missed all the signs, it had come so quickly. Now the woods seemed to harbor a goblin in every shadow, they crawled up from the cracks in the earth in limitless waves.

        The goblins must have had help, someone to direct them, someone to lead the charge. His eyes glanced at the thick clouds, obscuring even the stars. Earlier today the sun had sunk back into night before it had even become midday. It was so dim beneath the trees he almost missed the first goblin who stood guard, a short creature with warty black skin and darting red eyes. It's appearance was one of evil in two legged form, a twisted perversion of life itself.

        Lancer concentrated, holding back his disgust as he slowly lifted a sizable stone and with force let it fly at the goblin. It was practiced skill that let his blow land silently but brutally on his target. Leaving the effect of his work behind, he slipped past the perimeter and into the camp. They were busy at their crackling fire, the smell of roasting flesh made the stealthy pony sick to his stomach but he pressed on, slipping between trees and tents he made his way to the largest tent. He made sure that he wasn't followed before ducking within to retrieve what he came for.

        Celestia's tome rested on a broad stump along with the courier's saddlebag and both were snapped up quickly. It took a shriek of pain to draw the ranger's attention. Behind the tent someone was being subjected to intense suffering. He cringed and looked at the book he clutched, it was what he came for. The book and nothing else. A second scream pierced the night, accompanied by the goblins' perverse laughter. He whispered a soft apology to Celestia before he circled behind the tent and readied himself.

        Ditzy screamed as another flight feather was pulled from her wing. She was sure that by now she had proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she wasn't talking but it didn't matter anymore, they weren't even asking any questions. She was surprised that she was even still conscious but her eyes fluttered open gradually to see a figure creeping up behind her torturers. His eyes flashed with crackling magic and his horn began to glow. All Ditzy could do was smile broadly, "thank Celestia..." she croaked hoarsely and again slumped in her bindings.

        Everything was growing too dark to see but Ditzy flicked her tail in appreciation every time she heard hoofs meet flesh. She knew she was grinning and it wasn't right to feel this much enjoyment from the suffering of others but these things had it coming. "keep still as i cut the ropes... we have been silent, we should still be able to flee."

        the voice in her ear was dark and deep, his breath hot against her ear and it sent a shiver of new feeling down her spine. She never thought she'd live out the day let alone have a stallion whispering in her ear. Today is going to be a good day after all... she mused to herself before the last rope supporting her gave and she slumped onto her shaking hooves. "C-can't... walk..." She squeaked but it didn't matter, already a warm magical glow was swirling around her and she was lifted up atop his shoulders.

        "Hold best you can... I will not let you fall." His voice made her tremble again and she gripped him around the neck carefully, holding on before the stallion burst from the clearing. His hooves pounding the earth as trees whipped by on all sides. They were past the edge of the darkest part of the forest by the time a call was raised and it made Ditzy's smile broader, she had cheated the spectre of death and even got to press herself against a handsome stallion. She let her red rimmed eyes open again and smiled as they slowly drifted, mirroring the slow drifting of her thoughts to anyplace but the monster's camp.

--

        "She will not let it go, no matter who asks..." Lancer walked in step beside Twilight as the pair approached the now much expanded hospital. Nurses were preparing for the worst, lecturing ponies on how to tie bandages and set broken bones. The town would have a lot more doctors when this day was over. "as soon as she regained consciousness she grabbed the book... and she will not relinquish it."

        Lancer bowed and swept the tent's flap aside to reveal the makeshift bed with a sad sight upon it. "Oh Ditzy..." Twilight dropped the mantle of general and rushed to her friend's side. The mail pony looked up and smiled her usual little smile.

        "Special delivery... Rush package from Canterlot for Twilight Sparkle..." Twilight chuckled and carefully accepted the book. "Neither storms, nor blackest night... nor torture, nor spectre of death... shall keep me from my rounds..." She spoke soft and Twilight nudged her cheek with tears in her eyes. “But... looks like the book is blank... they were really mad they couldn't read it.”

        Twilight blinked some and looked at Lancer who seemed just as puzzled. The ranger carefully removed the princess' note from Ditzy's saddlebag which rested at her bedside. Carefully he unrolled it and stared puzzled at the scroll.

        “Blank as well... This is unlike the Princess... Why send this courier on a foal's errand?” Lancer looked down at the pegasus before Ditzy's eyes shot open wider.

        “The Princess! She said that the letter and book were for Twilight and no other pony and that I would know what that meant! Maybe... Maybe only she can read the note!” Ditzy looked expectantly as the blank parchment was carefully handed over to Twilight. The warm glow of Celestia's magic spread over the page and her writing floated into view.

        “My dear student, Twilight Sparkle,” Twilight cleared her throat and read on. “If you have possession of this letter and the accompanying book then we all owe a debt of gratitude to Ditzy Doo for her bravery. Please ensure her dedication to duty does not go unrewarded.” Twilight smiled at the grey pegasus who's eyes overflowed in tears. “The book is penned for the eyes of ponykind alone and will reveal its secrets to you Twilight. Make haste and use this knowledge to its fullest. We are all counting on you. Princess Celestia.”

        “It seems we all owe you thanks,” Lancer spoke with a little smile.

        "Thank you... Now rest, please... You've been through more than anypony should have to face..." Twilight smiled and carefully moved a pillow closer so Ditzy could rest her head, the mail pony finally letting go and slipping into a peaceful slumber.

        "She would not give in... Duty to one's friends... to one's homeland..." Lancer began as he stood at Twilight's side. "It is one thing to love your world and it's values... but it takes a true heart, a pure heart... to be willing to die for them... our dear courier, i believe, would have taken the book's secret to the grave had I not arrived."

        Twilight looked at the heavy bound tome and then back to the mysterious ranger. "Lancer... assemble my friends... This book nearly cost a pony's life for it to reach me and i have a lot of questions for you..."

--

        The library had become a safe spot to organize away from prying eyes and the ponies assembled didn't want what went on in this room to be seen by anypony.

        "What in tarnation does a ranger do?" Applejack let herself rest for the first time since she pulled together the regiment. "Beside watch stuff like y’all said earlier."

        Lancer looked at the assembled ponies, "The princess has need for information. Many dark things and dark places she can not see... What Celestia desires most is peace and so she has spread the borders of Equestria from the northern mountains to the southern plains... From the roaring coast in the west to the ancient forests in the east. Borders that broad need a special guard. A pony who is trained from birth to watch for the signs and do the little secret things which must be done in the name of peace. We are few and far between, I have not seen my brethren in many summers." Nopony dared ask what the secret things he did were. His hooves were shod in thick iron and he looked like he'd seen his fair share of fights.

        Twilight turned the heavy book towards her and used her magic to flip the cover open. Slowly like ivy crawling over a stone the words on the pages reappeared, bright and livid along the parchment. "Within this tome are tales for nopony who is faint of heart, the pages enchanted for the eyes of ponyfolk alone for it was ponyfolk who turned the tide and banished the evil back from whence it came." Twilight read aloud and her friends huddled in closer. She flipped to the first page and more images began to creep over the pages.

        "Long ago, before the coming of the sisters of sun and moon, before there was a land called Equestria. The world was ruled by darkness. A great powerful force which bred countless monsters. goblins and nameless horrors from the darkest places crawled under a cloud filled sky through which no sunlight shone. Earth ponies toiled under the lash, living and dying as beasts of burden." the group shuddered as Twilight read on. "Earth ponies grew strong for only those who were hardy, survived. Into the world of darkness was born a white foal who was brighter than her fellows though not as strong. She found she was able to see the ebb and flow of energies of the natural world. In secret, this pony worked to harness the magic of the world with her closest of friends. The goblins could neither see nor use the magic themselves so the pair was left alone. As she learned she discovered a horn had grown mighty from her forehead. She became the first unicorn and using her new found power freed the earth ponies who toiled unending in the dark." Everypony sat awestruck, this was a tale that nopony had heard before.

        "The first unicorn helped others discover their own magic, the power they held within but it was not enough to defeat the monsters that fought their way across the world. For years she crusaded to free ponies from their slavery always with her brash companion at her side. It was chance one day that their battle took them to the edge of the lands and there on the coast of the southern sea, as if sent by the heavens themselves, a single ray of golden sun shone through the mire in the clouds and the goblins they fought were rendered to dust."

        "That explains the clouds... and the capture of the princess... whoever controls these beasts seeks utter darkness..." Lancer spoke slowly before urging Twilight to read further.

        "Beings of shadow as they were, the pure light of the sun would destroy them. The unicorn used her power, every ounce of strength and blessed her best of friends with wings. She became the first pegasus, mistress of the sky with the ability to push back the clouds. Slowly from coast to coast the sunlight was restored to the world below. In a final confrontation over the cracked earth which would become the Everfree Forest, the last of the goblins were pushed back into the shadows of the earth to be sealed in darkness for all time. The land was freed and the two friends worked tirelessly to bring life where there was only death." Twilight's cheeks turned a little red as she stumbled over the next words in the old book. "The love between pegasus and unicorn was overshadowed only by the love of their land and the ponies they had fought to save. Realizing that the power they heald was too great for any two ponies to hold, they summoned the last of their power and gave themselves to the world, forming the tribes of pegasus and unicorn. From their love and sacrifice the stars blessed the world with a pair of foals, the culmination of all ponies, blessed with the horn of magic, the wings of the pegasus and the endurance of soul of the earth pony they had descended from. They would one day surpass the accomplishments of their parents and become the princesses of sun and moon, ensuring peace and tranquility for all the lands below them."

        it was Dash who broke the silence, "So... they were both girls?...." she trailed off, completely missing the point as usual, "Cool." she finally grinned. As the rest of the party rolled their eyes.

        "Dash, stop daydreaming... you and the rest of the air regiment need to clear the skies!" Rarity piped up, looking about at the still stunned ponies. "well what are you all waiting for?"

        "Let's do it!" Pinkie bounced in the air, all her enthusiasm focused on their victory.

        The reserved ranger cracked a smile and gave a slow nod. "Upon your order, General... It shall be done."

        Twilight looked at all her friends, despite the spectre of looming war and the possibility that they would not see each other again, each was smiling. Everypony was ready to do what had to be done, in the name of Equestria... in the name of peace... in the name of friendship and even of love... "I don't deserve to have friends like you..." She began softly. "I’m so scared, the responsibility is so heavy."

        "I’d be lyin if I told ya I wasn't scared senseless, Twi..." Applejack chuckled. "But this is about more than six ponies and a young dragon being scared of fightin'... the whole world is at stake..." All eyes turned to the cowgirl pony as she placed a hoof on the table. "I have a little sister who is gonna grow up to be a pretty filly one day and I’d rather be dead than see her grow up in a world as terrible as it says in that there book..."

        "I’d sooner chop off my name than see Sweetie Belle subjected to those horrors..." Rarity chimed in as well. Which earned a nod from each pony.

        Twilight gave a nod and took a breath. "Get everypony you can to the square, it's about time I addressed the troops..." She gave a weak smile and everypony slipped out to prepare.

        The speech would become the stuff of legend. Nopony forgot where they were on the day that Twilight Sparkle addressed the crowd gathered in the center of Ponyville.

        "We have a great task laid at our hooves, the fate of our homes and our very lives hangs in the balance. The goblins from ancient times have returned as vengeful as ever and seek nothing but to cover the lands in darkness forever and make every living pony their slave. Everypony has worked their hardest to prepare but now it's time. Tomorrow we march into the Everfree Forest to drive the menace back. The earth ponies and unicorns on the ground and the pegasus ponies pushing back the clouds and battling the magic storms which guard the monsters from above. Even the dragon who Fluttershy sent packing will be with us! We must win! We must stop this evil from covering our whole world!" a cheer came up from the braver ponies and it spurred Twilight onward. "For our Families! For our Friends! For Equestria! And for our FREEDOM!" she reared on her hind legs and the cheer rose again, nopony held their voices back and for a moment Twilight thought that perhaps she had overdone it but seeing the brave and determined faces of her friends and everypony from Ponyville, she realized that she had given them the spark they needed.