"Will you be careful, Rainbow Dash?! I just finished pitchin' that tent!!"
"Oops. My bad, Applejack…"
Applejack sighed and trotted over to the tent that Dash had carelessly knocked over. The sun was shining brightly in the sky overhead, halfway in its journey across the sky. The group had stopped to set up temporary camp as exhaustion began to set in. None of them had gotten a full sleep the previous night and everypony's stamina was beginning to run out.
"How am I supposed to get to sleep in the middle of the day?" Rarity protested.
"It's better than waiting until nightfall when we're all so tired that we can't move." Twilight responded.
The decision to get a few hours of sleep at this time of the day had been debated earlier. In the end, everypony's growing fatigue had convinced them that they would prefer to sleep now rather than later.
"We're not going to rest for too long, remember," Twilight said.
"I'm probably not going to rest at all! Oh, this is going to throw off my whole sleep schedule!" Rarity retorted.
"Ya gotta adapt when yer on the road," Applejack said as she finished setting up the tent that Dash had ruined.
"I probably won't sleep anyway," Dash said, casually flying around the campsite, "I'm too pumped!"
"Well try to get some rest," Twilight said, "We need your strength most of all, Dash. We need you to be able to keep flying like you've been doing."
"Pssh," Dash scoffed, "This is nothin'! I could follow Spike's fire in my sleep."
"Well you will be if you don't get some sleep now. Meaning you'll fall asleep while chasing it. And that would be bad."
"Twilight, quit worrying! I didn't mean that I'd be up all night flyin' around or whatever. I just said that I'm too excited to get to sleep."
"And it's completely the wrong time for me to get to sleep," Rarity interjected.
"Yeah, I dunno if I'll be able ta sleep either," Applejack said, "Us farm folks get ta sleep early in the night, so I've already gotten plenty-a rest."
Twilight sighed. "Just…try. Please? Trust me, if we keep going until nightfall, it's going to do us more harm than good."
"Well, I ain't arguin' with that," Applejack responded, "This is the most logical time ta take a snooze, all things considered. It's just that our bodies ain't exactly logical."
"You guys!" Pinkie whispered, suddenly appearing between the group, "Shhhh!!!"
The four gave her an inquisitive look. Pinkie said nothing and pointed behind her. The group followed her gaze and found Fluttershy passed out on the ground, sound asleep.
The five let out a collective "Awww…"
"Poor thing," Pinkie whispered, "She was so exhausted when we woke her up last night."
"She was probably too shy to tell us she was getting tired," Twilight said.
"Well come on then," Rarity said, walking over to the slumbering pegasus, "let's get her to bed."
Twilight nodded and moved to help Rarity. Working together, the two unicorns carefully lifted Fluttershy with their magic and delicately moved her into one of the tents. They moved slowly to ensure that she wouldn't wake up and before long Fluttershy was snoring softly in her warm sleeping bag.
Twilight and Rarity stepped back outside. "Well, that officially settles it," Twilight said, "We're napping."
"All right…" Dash muttered before flying into one of the adjacent tents. The other four exchanged goodnights before heading into their tents as well.
Rainbow Dash took a moment to admire the tent she was standing in. "Wow…they really don't let in a lot of light, do they?"
"Nope!" Applejack responded, stepping in behind her.
"Ugh," Dash moaned, "Do we really have to share tents?"
"Hey, s'cuse me!" Applejack said, indignant, "Carryin' three whole tents is plenty o' work for just one pony. I can't be expected ta carry six. The others had full loads as well and you can't carry anythin' 'cus yer chasin' Spike's flame!"
"All right, all right!" Dash relented, holding up her hooves, "I get your point!"
Dash and Applejack spent the next few minutes climbing into their sleeping bags and getting comfortable. With the flap of the tent closed, the lighting inside was close to evening's light. Not bright, but not quite dark either.
"G'night, RD" Applejack said, laying her head down.
"It's the middle of the day," Dash deadpanned.
"Whatever. It's an expression."
"Yeah…for ponies going to bed at night."
"Look, do y'all wanna argue, or d'ya wanna get some sleep?"
"I want to keep going, but that's not gonna happen."
Applejack chuckled. "Just get ta sleep, Dash."
The pegasus sighed. A few minutes of silence passed before she spoke up again. "What do you think's going on?"
"Mm?" Applejack muttered, slightly annoyed that Dash was still making noise.
"I mean…" Dash paused, trying to choose her words. Eventually she gave up and asked, "Do you think she's alive?"
Applejack sighed. "I dunno, sugarcube," she said softly, "I'm a down home, hard workin' earth pony. I don't know much about this magic stuff. I'm still tryin' to wrap mah head around what y'all found up at Canterlot."
"Yeah…" Dash muttered quietly, "I don't know a lot about magic either. And this is dragon's flame, something even Twilight doesn't completely understand."
"Think about it like this, Dash; Twilight found somethin'. Whatever it is, it's prob'ly in our best interest ta go check it out. So we might as well enjoy the journey."
Dash smiled. "I guess you're right, AJ." Another moment of silence passed before Dash whispered, "I hope we find her…"
Applejack closed her eyes and said nothing.
Meanwhile, in the third tent, Twilight, Spike and Rarity were also getting settled. Twilight was already laying in her sleeping bag, but Rarity was still standing.
"Aren't you going to get some sleep?" Twilight asked.
"Really, Twilight, do you expect me to go to bed with my makeup on? Or without my sleeping gown. Honestly, I have a million things to do before I can even consider going to sleep."
Twilight chuckled. "Well, don't take to long. We'll be up and moving fairly soon."
"Yes, I suppose you're right," Rarity responded, "I should get some sleep."
Rarity manoeuvred her way through the cramped quarters of the tent to make her way to her sleeping bag. However, her hind hoof ended up knocking Twilight's saddlebags over, spilling scrolls all over the floor.
"Oh no!" Rarity exclaimed, "Oh, Twilight, I'm terribly sorry! I am so clumsy!"
"Don't worry about it," Spike said, standing up, "I'll get 'em."
Twilight smiled gratefully. "Thanks, number one assistant!"
Spike grinned. "You know it!"
"Well, all right, thank you Spike," Rarity said, "When we're out travelling like this, help is always appreciated."
Twilight frowned. "I wonder what we're going to find when this is all over."
"Oh, don't fret, Twilight! I'm sure everything will turn out fine."
Twilight was about to respond, but she was interrupted when a flash of blue flame shot past her and out the tent's flap, nearly singeing her nose.
"Sorry," the dragon sheepishly responded, "I sneezed."
"You almost got me…" she muttered, rubbing her nose.
"It's okay, Spike. Let's just get some rest."
Within the next five minutes, the six ponies and their young dragon friend had all settled into their sleeping bags. The sun above was bright and the area was occasionally filled with the sounds of the waking world. The group laid their heads down nonetheless and attempted to fall asleep. Some where more successful than others, but they all ended up falling asleep eventually.
Outside, a pegasus flew by the camp, barely giving it a passing glance.
Luna's ear twitched.
It was the sound of the door to the prison block being opened. A moment later, the ceiling light was illuminated. Luna shielded her eyes from the sudden brightness.
Once her vision had adjusted, she looked up and through the bars. The yellow unicorn, High Noon, stood before her cell levitating a small plate with his magic. Sitting on the plate was something grey and mushy, looking absolutely nothing like what one would call 'food'.
"Eat," High said, using his magic to phase the plate and its contents through the bars and place it before her.
Luna stared at her captor coldly. High stared back in much the same way. A smothering silence filled the room as neither pony said anything or made a move.
Finally, Luna wordlessly bent down and ate the disgusting substance on her plate. It was gross, slimy and hard to chew. Luna wasn't sure what it was and she wasn't sure her captors did either. It tasted like soap if soap could go bad like milk.
High was taken aback. "What, that's it?" he said in surprise.
"You're not even going to say anything this time?"
Luna finished chewing her mouthful of 'food' and swallowed, wincing. She gazed back up at the unicorn on the other side of the bars. "Why should I bother?" she mused, "I've tried being logical. I've tried pleading for my life. I've tried being angry and aggressive. None of it has worked, so why waste my energy? There's obviously no swaying you." With that, she returned to her meal.
High was silent for a few seconds, at a loss for words. "Well…good," he said slowly, "Good that you know your place. You're absolutely correct. Nothing you say will convince us to let you go, so why try?"
Luna said nothing.
High paused. "Makes our job a hell of a lot easier…"
"And boring…" Luna muttered. She heard him begin to respond but stop himself. Smirking she looked up. High was glaring at her. "What?"
"You're an enigma, Nightmare Moon…" he said slowly.
"I wish you would stop calling me that."
The two stared at each other again. The feeble light made shadows dance all over the unicorn's body. Half of his face was shrouded in darkness and his eyes seemed to glow yellow from the nearby bulb.
"Just let me out," Luna said smoothly, "You've made a mistake. Don't make it worse. I can even make sure you don't get punished for this."
"We have not made any kind of mistake. We are saving Equestria."
"Everypony has faults. Everypony makes mistakes."
High smirked. "You are right about that. Everypony does have faults. Even the glorious Princess Celestia. Her fault is that she fell for your ruse and trusted you. Ponies before us have tried to convince her of who you really are, but she is blinded by the love she had for her dear sister.
"You are a twisted, evil being, Nightmare Moon. You are taking advantage of Her Highness' emotions to further your own devious goals. You deserve everything that's coming."
Luna was silent a moment. She did not get angry or upset. She kept a calm expression throughout the entire conversation.
"Tell me," she spoke, "what exactly does this old book say?"
"Why should I tell you?"
"Call it a last request."
High contemplated this for a moment. Then he spoke. "It is an ancient tome written by a powerful unicorn from a thousand years ago. When you and Celestia were battling, he was studying you, Nightmare Moon. He was measuring your strengths and abilities.
"When Celestia sealed you in the moon, he was afraid that you would return one day. And rightly so. He used all of the knowledge he'd gained from studying you and he put it into that book. It was he who made the discovery that your hold over Luna could never be broken, and it was he who discovered the way to truly defeat you."
Luna scoffed. "That was a thousand years ago! Ponykind wasn't as far advanced as it is today. Despite how tirelessly he must have worked, the proper resources simply weren't available to him. He couldn't properly study and he couldn't check his work."
"You wouldn't say that if you had read the book," High retorted, "His reasoning is sound, his logic is foolproof. There is no reason for him to be wrong. He said that one day Nightmare Moon would break free from her prison. And you did just that during the Summer Sun Celebration."
"Yes, but Twilight Sparkle and her friends-"
"Shut up!" High cut her off, "How many times must you repeat the same lie?"
Luna was about to retort, but she heard the sound of hooves entering the doorway down the hall.
"Noon?" the voice called in. It was Comet.
"Yeah?" High called back.
"Get out here. We've got company."
"Really?" High was incredulous.
"Just get out here."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm comin'…"
High returned his gaze to Luna. "Well, I would love to stay here and poke holes in your poorly constructed logic, but it seems I'm otherwise engaged. But don't fret! You won't be down here for much longer. Heh heh…"
Without awaiting a response, High turned and departed from the room. Luna heard the door close tightly followed by the muffled hoofsteps as he ascended the stairs on the other side.
"Dumbass forgot to turn off the light…" she muttered sourly, turning and laying down on the cold stone floor of her prison cell. She sighed heavily.
Well, this is fantastic…I've got about 30 hours to live.
Though she could not see it, Luna could tell what phase the moon was in. She knew that the coming night would be the last night before the New Moon.
There's no way I can get myself out of here…
Luna had tried everything. She'd tried to break her chains and she'd tried to damage the device around her horn. Neither would yield to her efforts. She'd even tried different kinds of magic, but the damned device blocked all of it, delivering painful results. She'd even tried digging out, but to no avail.
Those three are too deluded to ever let me free…
Her captors seemed to enjoy taunting her and egotistically showing their superiority whenever they came down to deliver her food. As she had said to High, she'd tried every approach, but not even a glimmer of doubt could be seen in their eyes. They were dedicated to their cause and would not give in.
I've been down here for nearly a month…If anypony was coming to save me, they'd be here by now…
Despair was growing inside of Luna. During the first few days of her imprisonment, she had been scared and angry at herself. Then, as time went on, she became determined and hopeful that she'd find a way out.
Now, however, she was beginning to resign herself to her fate. Hopelessness was threatening to consume her. She was growing increasingly depressed at the dark situation that she found herself in.
She stared at the walls that surrounded her. Somehow, they seemed closer than they usually were. Though the light was still on, her environment seemed dark and constricting. The air seemed thin and even gravity seemed to be stronger.
Every single night Luna spent imprisoned in here involved much tossing and turning. Restful sleep did not come to her and it was beginning to take its toll. In her dreams she saw Celestia shaking her head. "I told you," she would speak softly. Other times, she saw Celestia utterly depressed and in despair; a broken mare. Luna couldn't bear to imagine how her 'death' must be utterly tearing her sister apart.
Luna shivered. The underground cell block was cold, especially at night. The food was terrible and minimal, and the bed was a disaster. The floor, quite frankly, was cleaner. Luna shuddered to think what the bed's previous occupant had put it through.
I promise…I promise I'll never go anywhere without guards or Tia ever again. Just please…get me out of here.
Luna was still beating herself up for her mistakes. She knew doing so wasn't helping matters and just made her feel worse, but she couldn't stop. She couldn't get past the terrible errors she'd made and where she'd ended up because of them. She couldn't ignore how foalishly she had ignored her sister's warnings.
Luna knew now. She realized that Celestia was only looking out for her safety. Her sister cared so deeply for her that she couldn't imagine being without her. Celestia had been taking every precaution to keep her safe because she couldn't bear to lose her little sister again.
A teardrop splattered to the floor.
No! Don't cry! You have to be stronger than that, Luna! Don't let them see weakness!
Luna sniffled and tried to stop the tears from flowing.
You have to be brave, Luna, she told herself earnestly, You have to be strong! Celestia's probably so depressed. She misses you, and you're going to see her again. She's probably tearing herself up for how she left you.
Luna thought back to the last time they had interacted. The fight was still fresh in her mind, but Luna was no longer angry. Her sister had been completely justified and she had only been irrational. Luna couldn't imagine the pain that Celestia must be feeling believing that the last thing she'd done with her sister was argue with her.
Just imagine her face when she sees you again. Think of how happy she'll be. You can't deny her that happiness. You will see her again. You will!!
Luna glanced back at the decrepit bed in the corner of her dismal cell. She got up and stepped over to it, her chains clinking noisily on the cold stone floor.
Just have hope.
Glancing back to make sure that none of her captors were around, she reached underneath the bed with her hoof.
Just believe, Luna!
Carefully, Luna used her hoof to pull out from under the bed four scrolls, neatly tied with red ribbon. They were a stark contrast to everything else in the cell; they were absolutely pristine and new. They looked like they hadn't even been used.
The first scroll to arrive had given her an incredible surprise. The logical part of her mind told her that there could be any number of reasons that somepony would send her a scroll. A dragon could've used the wrong flame by accident, or perhaps somepony just couldn't come to grips with her 'departure'.
This logic was still eating away at her, refusing to let her believe otherwise at point blank.
Luna lifted up the scrolls and gazed at them.
One of the scrolls was untied. Luna carefully unfurled it and regarded the blank parchment within.
A smile graced her lips.
Her ears twitched. She looked at the wall to her left just in time to see blue flame phase through it unexpectedly. It swirled through the air before condensing in front of her and revealing another fresh scroll, tied up neatly with a red ribbon.
"Everypony up! That means you, Rainbow Dash!" Twilight's voice rang out over the campsite.
"Ugghhh…" Dash moaned.
"C'mon, lazy!" Applejack jested, lightly jabbing Dash in the side.
"What time is it…?" Dash groaned.
"Sunset," Twilight answered, "We should get moving as soon as we can. Applejack, can you take down the tents?"
"Sure thing, Twi!"
Fluttershy stepped out of her tent, yawning widely. She leaned forward, sighing contentedly as she stretched her legs and neck. Then she opened her wings and stretched them as well. "Mmm…morning…" she muttered.
Twilight chuckled. "Good morning, Fluttershy. It's almost 8pm."
"Oh, really?" she responded absentmindedly, her mind lagging behind her momentarily, "I had a really nice sleep and I- 8pm?!"
"Darling, you fell asleep when the sun was just rising," Rarity said, also exiting her tent.
"Oh my goodness. I don't even remember falling asleep…"
"You were pretty plum tuckered out," Applejack said, trotting over.
"I'm sorry…" she said meekly.
"Oh Fluttershy," Twilight said, smiling, "it's not your fault. We were all tired."
"Dash wasn't," Applejack muttered, "I thought she'd never get to sleep." She looked over her shoulder at the tent she had exited from. "And now I think she ain't ever gonna get up!"
Twilight sighed and trotted over to the tent that Dash was occupying. "Up, Dash. We need you flying!"
"Fiiiine…" Dash moaned, sitting up and stretching her wings.
About five minutes later, everypony was up, camp was packed away, and the group was planning their next move. Fatigue was gone from everypony's face except for Dash's.
"Okay, here's what I'm thinking," Twilight said, addressing the group, "Dash, why don't you fly up first and get a good look at our surroundings. Then we'll try lighting another scroll."
Dash yawned. "Mm…Okay. Flying'll wake me up."
Twilight chuckled good-naturedly. "Great."
With a few powerful wing beats, Dash took to the air and ascended rapidly. She continued to rise into the air for some time before levelling out and beginning to fly in a circle formation. The earth-bound ponies below her waited patiently.
Eventually, Dash rejoined them on the ground. As she had predicted, the sleepiness had been erased from her features and she was noticeably more upbeat. "Okay," she said to her attentive audience, "here's how it looks…"
She scanned the ground for a few seconds before spying a stick laying not too far away. Dash trotted over and picked it up with her mouth. "So, w'rr n'rr the f'rrest," she said, the stick impeding her ability to speak clearly.
"Th's's th'edge" she said, angling her head and using the stick to draw a straight line in the dirt. "But up th'rr…" she said before extending the line outwards in a large bump before evening out the line again. "It does dis…"
"Oh," Twilight said, studying the diagram, "So the treeline extends outwards?"
"Yhhh!" Dash responded, "S'lik a bg prmpr rtrrz."
Twilight could only tilt her head and say, "Umm…what?"
Dash spit out the stick. "I said it's like a big pimple of trees."
Rarity scoffed. "Dash, what an absolutely vulgar description!"
"I know, but I couldn't think of any other way to describe it."
"How far out does it go?" Twilight asked.
"Oh, pretty far out, but it's not very wide."
"I guess you're saying it would be faster if we went straight through it."
Dash nodded. "If last night was any indication, then the dragon flame will go right over it, and it could take us hours just to go around this part."
"Hmm…" Twilight pondered the situation. She looked to her friends, who were all slightly nervous, but not overly so. They had all been into the Everfree Forest many times. Usually it led to danger, but not every time, and they always managed to come out on top.
"Does anypony have any objections to that?" she asked to the group.
"The more speed, the better!" Pinkie piped up.
"Ah'm with ya on this one. It's the smart thing ta do," Applejack said.
"I suppose it is the logical choice," Rarity agreed.
The five then turned to look at a very silent Fluttershy. She let out an "eep" at the sudden attention. "Um…yes? I guess? I mean, if Dash thinks it's too big to go around, then we don't really have a choice…"
"Don't be nervous, Fluttershy!" Twilight said reassuringly, "We'll stick together and we'll be out before you know it."
"Oh, um…I'm not nervous." Fluttershy lied.
Applejack chuckled and patted Fluttershy on the back. "S'all right, sugarcube. We look out for each other. Tha's what friends do!"
"Right then!" Twilight said, stepping back and addressing her assembled group of friends, "Let's get going then! No time to waste!"
"Right!" four of her friends chimed back.
"Um…right…" said the other meekly.
High shut the door leading to the room with the hidden trap door behind him and walked out into the main room of the house. "Company you say?" he said quietly to Comet, who was standing silently beside the front door.
Comet nodded. "I caught a glimpse of somepony approaching the house, but I couldn't see who it was. I'm waiting for them to knock." Comet's mind was already working, coming up with responses and plans of action for every possibility. High joined him at the doorway.
The two rested in silence at the door. After a moment, the unicorns could hear the clopping of a single pony approaching the doorway. A second later, powerful knocks resounded on the door.
Comet counted to five before calling out, "Who is it?"
"Saturday and another," the pony responded in a powerful, commanding voice.
The two unicorns glanced at each other. High shrugged. That was the password after all. Cautiously, Comet unlocked the door and inched it open a small amount, gazing out.
He was met with the sight of Navy Shield, the royal pegasus guard, glaring at him.
Comet stifled an exclamation of surprise and stopped himself from hastily slamming the door in the visitor's face. He cleared his throat. "Um…may we help you?"
High joined his companion and looked over his shoulder at the pegasus standing outside. He gulped nervously.
The guard outside narrowed his gaze. "What exactly do you think you're doing?"
Comet's gaze wandered nervously. He looked behind the pegasus, seeing that there were no other guards outside. This pony was most definitely alone. "I…don't understand the question, sir."
"Let me in."
Comet bristled. He fought off momentary panic. No, he mentally told himself, calm down. It's just one guard. The operation isn't blown yet.
"Sir, I'm afraid you aren't going to be able to just enter my house unless you have a warrant," he said smoothly, letting absolutely no trace of his fallacy slip through.
The guard studied them for a moment, seeing their confused and aversive faces. Finally, he raised an eyebrow. "Are you two really that thick?"
Comet's mind skipped a gear.
The guard took off his helmet, letting all of his dark blue mane hang free. "It's me, you idiots! I'm Navy Shield!"
Comet stared for a few minutes, then shook his head. "Oh whoa! Boss, it's you! How'd you…how are you…?"
Navy sighed. "It must be this new armour," he grumbled, "It uses a different spell to change our coats to white and our manes to blue so that we all look the same. I guess it masks perception too. I'll have to bring that up with somepony…"
"Whoa," Comet muttered, then regained his composure, "Erm, sorry boss! Come inside before somepony sees you."
Navy stepped inside as High closed the door behind him. He regarded the two unicorns critically. The two stood tall and gave him their full attention, both giving him a quick salute.
"Comet Tail, High Noon…" he said in a low, even voice, "I trust there have been no problems."
"No sir," Comet responded promptly, "Capture was successful with zero third-party sightings and negligible injuries. Subject has been kept under lock and key as well as magical restraint non-stop since then."
Navy nodded, but did not smile. His face remained serious and emotionless. "Good. She is still alive now?"
"I assume she's been very vocal about her situation."
"Yes sir. She has been very adamant about not being Nightmare Moon, and is still utilizing her disguise as Luna. We are not fooled, sir. We have not fallen for her deceit."
"Excellent…" Navy shifted his gaze to High. "You have not received any intrusions during your stay here?"
Navy paused and arched an eyebrow, but continued. "I see…and Ray has been doing his job as well?"
Navy narrowed his eyes. High had a nonchalant expression on his face. He almost looked bored with the conversation.
"High Noon, despite what we are doing here, I am still a high-ranking member of the Equestrian Royal guard and you will give me the respect and proper responses that such a position entails."
High stared at Navy for a minute before saying, "Very well." After a pause, he added, "…sir."
Navy glared at the yellow unicorn standing before him. "High Noon," he said after a pause, "do you have some sort of issue with my leadership?"
High gave no response.
"Speak freely," he said with a look that dared the unicorn to make a move.
High was silent for another few moments. "No, I do not…" he finally said, "…sir."
"Then explain your lack of respect, hm?"
"Navy, I know this whole escapade was your idea. It's a great idea, and we all fully support you in it. But it was Ray who deciphered the book, and Ray who came up with most of the logistics. It's thanks to Ray that this whole thing went without a hitch."
Navy narrowed his eyes.
"I'm just wondering," High continued, "why you're the leader."
The two stared at each other for an extended period of absolute silence. Navy's gaze was unbroken as he studied the unicorn who stood before him. Comet looked on from the sidelines nervously.
It took less than a second for Navy to reach under his wing with his mouth, remove his pistol from its holster, and point it to High's head. The firearm clicked as Navy cocked the weapon and High's eyes widened in surprise. Comet gasped.
"I could end you right now," Navy said smoothly, not raising his voice. Instead, he spoke in a calm, almost conversational tone. Despite the weapon that was held in his mouth, his speech was barely impeded. "If I have even the slightest inclination that you are doing anything or behaving in such a way that hinders our operation in any way, I will kill you. This operation is far too important for your simple life to have any significant value. Is that clear?"
High was silent for a moment, but then nodded.
"I said, Is that clear?!" Navy prodded, raising his voice a little.
"Good," Navy continued, not moving the firearm, "I was placed in the leadership position because not only am I the highest-ranking and most educated among us when it comes to missions such as this, but I am also the closest to Celestia and all of the foalish ponies who have been fooled by this demon's ruse."
Comet's gaze shifted nervously between the two ponies.
"Perhaps if the stakes weren't as high, I would indulge your petty complaints and relinquish my leadership…just to show you what would go wrong." He paused, still holding the gun to High's head, "But this is a matter of the security, integrity and longevity of our glorious nation. Chances cannot be taken.
"Do I make myself clear?!"
Throughout the entire conversation, Navy's tone had slowly grown from quiet to forceful. High simply stared at the pony who was threatening to kill him with no trace of fear in his expression.
"I understand," he replied, "…sir. You make valid points, and you are correct. This is an extremely important mission."
Navy paused to consider the unicorn that stood in the sights of his weapon before lowering the gun and returning it to its holster. "Good," he said, stepping back from the unicorn. High breathed a silent sigh of relief.
"Now, then," Navy continued as if nothing had happened, "we should begin preparations and make sure everything is in order." He paused and gazed out the window at the sun, which was mere minutes away from disappearing beneath the horizon completely. "Tomorrow night, the Nightmare will end…"
The six friends found themselves standing before a row of strange, twisting trees. Just as Dash had said, the Everfree's treeline suddenly jutted out from its usual straight course, thrusting the forest before them to block their path.
Twilight gazed up at the sky, which was growing darker every minute. She lit up her horn with a bright flash, illuminating the surrounding area.
"Twilight, are you certain we should be entering this forest at night?" Rarity asked, not taking her eyes off the forest before her.
"Yeaahhh…" Twilight muttered, "I know what you mean. But we gotta."
Dash approached and hovered between the two mares. "I saw it from above. If we keep up a good pace, we'll be through there in about 15 minutes."
Twilight nodded, her resolve renewed. "Right! And this section of the forest is so skinny that there probably won't even be any animals here. They'll all be deeper in the forest. Right, Fluttershy?"
Twilight turned to gaze at the yellow pegasus beside her, who was staring into the forest nervously.
"R-r-right…" she said with a shiver.
"Don't worry, Fluttershy," Twilight said, stepping next to the nervous pony and placing a hoof on her back, "We'll all look out for one another. We'll be fine! It'll take no time. We'll be in and then we'll be out. Even if some animal was in this part of the forest, it's probably sleeping now."
Fluttershy nodded meekly.
"And if we don't go through, we've got to go aalllllll the way around."
She nodded again.
Twilight smiled. "All right then! Let's get cracking."
Dash hovered to the front of the pack. "Great. Just follow me and I'll lead you to the other side."
"Uhh, Twilight?" Spike piped up from Applejack's back, "Don't you need me to fire another scroll?"
Twilight shook her head. "No, Spike. Not until we're on the other side. It'll be too hard to see and too hard to follow."
"All right, girls!" Dash turned and announced, "Let's go!" Without waiting for a response, she took off into the forest at a brisk gallop. The other five were not far behind her.
In the late evening night, the forest was more mysterious and frightening than usual. However, the group usually ventured into the forest at night time anyway so it wasn't anything new to them.
It was still unnerving. Trees grew out at strange angles, seeming to reach out with their branches to attempt to pick up passers by. Dash had entered the forest at a rather quick pace, but was almost immediately required to slow to less than half her speed. The group tried to move as quickly as they could but the uneven ground and twisting flora was impeding their progress.
Near the back of the pack, Fluttershy gulped. No matter how many times she entered the Everfree, it always made her extremely nervous. If she was helping animals relocate, like she often did with the frogs to Froggy Bottom Bog, her mind was distracted and she wasn't as nervous. Right now, however, she was terrified.
As she moved through the undergrowth, her gaze drifted to the trees. In the dimming light, shadows danced across them in incredibly eerie ways. The trees were moving. She was absolutely sure of it.
She shook her head and ignored that ridiculous notion and continued forward. Ahead, Twilight and Applejack were talking about something. Dash was blazing the trail, trying to find the quickest way through.
Her head swivelled to the right. She'd heard a noise. Her eyes scanned the landscape to her side, but she saw nothing apart from the unnerving trees. Shuddering slightly, she returned her gaze forward and stifled a whine.
More light disappeared from above. Night was beginning to overtake the landscape, and the trees disappeared back into the growing darkness. The branches began to look like reaching claws in the dimness. The moon above gave off an abysmal amount of light in it's current waned state. Everything began to look like a vague black haze.
Fluttershy gulped nervously.
"Twilight!" Rarity called from behind the purple unicorn, "Are you sure this was a good idea?"
"We'll be fine," she responded, "Dash! How much further?"
"We're almost there," the pegasus called back.
"There, see? We've almost made it through. Nothing bad happened!"
Twilight smiled to Rarity, who smiled nervously in return. Their smiles disappeared when they heard the piercing cry of the yellow pegasus behind them.