Twilight Sparkle slipped out as fast as she could. The deep purple of her uniform did well to hide her from the prying eyes of everypony. She felt guilty for picking off the shining thread but if she was seen, there would be no chance of her mission working. She would apologize to Rarity later when she had the chance. If I have the chance... she thought to herself trembling.
Each pony had to do their part, a mission that they alone could accomplish. Applejack and the earth ponies would clear the woods of monsters so she could pass unharmed. Rainbow Dash and the pegasus ponies would sweep the sky and make ready. Fluttershy, Rarity and Pinkie Pie roused their old acquaintance, the dragon, and convinced him to help clear the dark hollows with fire. That left the most important mission, Twilight would find the Princess and bring back the sunlight.
Carefully she picked her way through the forest, she needed a place with an extreme level of background magic to pull off what she had planned. The old castle where she defeated Nightmare Moon was the best place she could think of. No monsters were forthcoming this time, the pounding hooves of her warponies and the bellows of an enraged dragon at its center kept everything hidden away, goblins included.
There was no way to tell how much time had passed, the silver light of Luna’s moon unchanging in the now cloudless sky. When the stones of the old castle loomed, Twilight was unprepared for the feelings welling up inside her. This was too much, the spell was dangerous and hard to accomplish. Twilight Sparkle set her packs down and with care extracted an oiled scroll case, slowly she pulled the blank parchment and set her pen to work.
To whoever finds this letter,
My name is Twilight Sparkle, I came from Canterlot to Ponyville only a short time ago. It seems like so much longer. On the day I write this letter I’m not sure if I will be coming home to my friends. I miss my friends dearly already and I hope they will make it through this chaos if I can't. Please take this letter to Ponyville and find them. They need to know how I really feel.
Rainbow Dash, you've stood by me through all our trials without backing down. You're strong willed and at times I'm envious of your ability to rush towards any problem with the faith that it'll work out in the end.
Fluttershy, I can't think of anypony more kind or caring than you. I enjoy all the time we've spent together. Our long walks or quiet conversation over tea and cookies.
Applejack, I would never have gotten very far in Ponyville without the help of you and your family. You always tell me the truth, even if it's hard to swallow sometimes.
Rarity, without your generosity and helpful attitude, Ponyville just wouldn't be the same. I think every Piece of clothing I own you've had a hoof in making and that always makes me smile.
Pinkie Pie, I will never be able to look at a cupcake again without thinking of your smile, that or a bottle of hot sauce. You've shown me that you can always find time to laugh even when things are bleakest.
Spike, oh spike I never take the time to tell you how much I appreciate your help, it hurts me to think I hardly show it. Spike you're not really like my assistant, you're more like the little brother I never had.
When I first came to Ponyville I didn't want friends but now I can't dream of a day without each of you. I love each of you like the sisters I never had, except you spike, you're a little brother obviously. No turning back now, what I have to do, I do for Equestria and for all of you.
Always and forever, your friend
With tears in her eyes, she carefully set the letter in its case and wedged it into a space between two crumbling stones, using the rest of her ink to make a large circle around where the letter rested.
Satisfied with her work, Twilight crept into the temple and approached the smashed altar at the heart of the complex. Glittering balls of purple light danced two and fro between toppled walls and cracked pillars. Taking a long breath, she set her hooves and concentrated. Slowly her horn began to glow, it's piercing purple light casting long shadows in all directions. The motes of magic began to gradually swirl around her, her energy pulling power from the old stones.
The ground began to tremble as a beam erupted from her horn, the power centered on the empty ruins before her. With a great roar of raw magical power she tore a hole in the world. Without thinking she let her eyes fly open and in she charged, ducking through the glowing edges of reality and into the darkness beyond.
"Twilight... Twilight Sparkle..." a voice called out to her and her eyes tried to focus, she was floating in what felt like clouds but it was so dark she couldn't see a thing. "Why have you come Twilight Sparkle?" The voice was soft and gentle, flowing from all around her.
"W-who are you?" Twilight blinked and looked through the haze, the deep shadows punctuated by nothing but her own light, it was if she were the only bright object floating through endless shadow.
"I am ancient and forever... I was here before the world was formed and I shall be here long after the name of 'Equestria' has faded from every memory." The voice still soft as silk slipped around her, coming from every side at once. "No soul has come to my world of their own free will before... consider yourself honoured, Twilight Sparkle..."
"W-what do I call you?" she asked, her resolve beginning to slip at each mention of her name, the words like caresses between lovers.
"I have had many names since the beginning of time but... you may call me, Gloom." slowly a creature floated into view. Her coat was pale as bleached bone with thin lines like purple ivy winding themselves over her body, her eyes Pierced the deep indigo of a starless night sky and her dusky mane hung in long flowing curls over her shoulders. Twilight blinked and her heart pumped in her chest. This was not the darkness she was expecting.
"You're a pony? A pony did all this?" Half filled with anger the other with sadness, Twilight shook at Gloom's appearance. All thought drained from her however as the beautiful filly shook her long tresses and giggled high and pure like the twinkling of the first flakes of winter snow.
"Oh no, dear Twilight... I chose this form for you... a form you shall be comfortable with... a form from your own deepest dreams... a form you would find... beautiful..." Gloom stepped closer to Twilight and carefully nuzzled along Twilight's cheek.
"M-my dreams... but I'm not interested in... " Twilight stiffened as the dark pony drew back to give a soft nod, her eyes twinkling from the light of Twilight's own form. "I’ve never seen you before..." Twilight's heart beat faster and Gloom brought her lips closer to those of the trembling purple unicorn. Her breath was cool against the unicorn's growing blush.
"You can not remember but that does not mean you have not seen me... Twilight... even your name speaks volumes... Twilight Sparkle... you walk between night and day... between my world and the world of your dear teacher," The Gloomy pony gave a soft grin and carefully rested cool lips against Twilight's hot blush. The caress made Twilight shiver, but something was wrong, something didn't fit. "You have dreamed dreams of me, the creeping shadow beneath your little bed... you have feared me... you have sought me out, running from a party you never wanted to attend..."
Twilight's eyes shot open wide as the memories came back in a nauseating rush. "please don't..." she squeaked but Gloom simply nuzzled her cheek softly once more and talked as if she were the only pony in the swirling void.
"Your little hooves taking you away from those who laughed... who laughed at the awkward filly in the awkward glasses... the filly who kissed her friend... the filly who confessed her feelings and was pushed away... they all laughed at Twilight Sparkle..." Gloom spoke with her silken voice and ran a hoof reassuringly down Twilight's mane while the purple unicorn began to cry, the memories tearing a fresh wound in her heart. "But I didn't laugh... I was there when you needed me... I held you in my arms while you slept... I kept you safe..."
Twilight found herself leaning into the gentle affection and the soft words from this strange pony, her embrace was cold but it brought a little shred of comfort, like a breeze on her coat while she laid out beneath the stars with her telescope. Twilight found her head turning and her lips found those of her dark seductress, Twilight's nerves were strung tighter than they had ever been, tighter even that the ill fated party with friends where a little game of truth or dare had turned so very wrong for her. She trembled and quaked in the swirling shadows as her lips parted and Gloom's eyes twinkled. Something was nagging at the back of Twilight's mind, plucking at her thoughts like a kitten with a loose thread.
"You could be here with me forever, Twilight... there is so much I could show you, teach you... more than Celestia ever could..." Gloom whispered softly and soothingly.
"C-Celestia? Celestia!" Twilight's eyes shot open and Gloom retreated some distance. "I have to save the princess... I have to save my friends!"
The dark pony's eyes took on a murderous shade as dark clouds boiled up around her. "No! Forget the princess and forget about your friends! I have supported you long before they ever entered your little mortal existence!" Gloom's mane flared and fluttered as if being teased by invisible winds. The edges of her form beginning to blur and mix with the smoky clouds around her.
"I refuse!" Twilight puffed up before a clap of thunder rocked around her and shimmering ghostly images began to play along the clouds.
"I can kill each of them! Every one!" Gloom shouted, the silken softness of her voice tinged with fury as an image appeared before Twilight.
Rainbow Dash was surrounded, the rest of her squadron tried to reach her but the spears of lightning held them back, her left wing smoked slightly as she clung to the top of a turbulent cloud. The storms growing stronger than ever before.
The image flickered again and now it showed Applejack and big Macintosh. The huge pony lay with his back against a tree, blood seeping through his boiler-plate armor, while Applejack kept the monsters at bay, goblins closing about them from everywhere.
It flickered again and this time it showed Rarity, her flanks streaked with soot and blood she pulled the makeshift stretcher, Pinkie Pie lay unconscious while Fluttershy limped beside. This time they didn't notice the goblins creeping back into the world, crawling out of shadows around them. Spike desperately tried to get their attention but nopony dared look at the fate that might await them.
"I can call them off Twilight Sparkle... it is not too late to save your friend's lives... let go of your quest, let go of the idea of saving your beloved princess and they shall be spared." Gloom's voice was serious but the gentle tones had begun to creep back.
Twilight looked at each image as it played side by side this time, at all her friends fighting bravely or simply holding on to the hope that rested in Twilight and her mission. "N-no..." She breathed as a tear rolled down her cheek.
"What do you mean, no?" The spectre pony began to loose more of her form, her hooves disappearing into the smoke. "How could you let your friends die? Don't you love them!? Don't you care!?"
"Because this isn't about us, it's about the entire land of Equestria!" Twilight blushed brighter and advanced on Gloom. Her horn beginning to glow, making the clouds shy away. "They knew what the risks were, they knew how important it was for us to succeed... and every one of them is counting on me to do what I have to do... they might die... but if they do it won't be in vain!" the glow intensified, encircling the boiling clouds of Gloom's form until Gloom's form finally broke, only her bottomless eyes remaining, gazing at Twilight from within a cloud of darkness. "I will find Celestia and return her to Equestria even if it kills me!" Her voice raised to a shout and Twilight saw a point of light advancing from behind the wall of smoke that Gloom had become.
"You fool... you stupid little fool... I could have offered you so much power... so many experiences..." the voice rumbled from every direction as the point of light grew steadily brighter, Twilight's lip curled in a smile as she recognized the glow of a unicorn horn through the veil.
"Except love..." Twilight took a breath and leveled her horn between Gloom's eyes. "thank you for looking after me... over the years... but I think it's time to finish this..." Twilight's horn was glowing white now, twinkling brilliantly before her as the white light intensified and Celestia leapt through the wall of cloud to land at her student's side.
The cloud that was Gloom shrank back as both the goddess and the purple unicorn summoned all the light they could muster. "Back into the shadows!" Celestia spoke sternly and the world around them both shuddered and cracked open.
Sunlight shot like lances of fire through the dark clouds, wisps of dark being coalesced and collapsed upon themselves. Twilight grimaced as a scream pierced the dark world. She wasn't sure if Celestia heard it as well or saw the face swirling in the shadows. Dark eyes filled to overflowing with tears and gut wrenching terror. “I’m sorry, Gloom...” She breathed and she shut her eyes as tightly as she was able until it was over.
Ponyville was quiet, much quieter than it should have been on any other day. The sun shone again down upon the tired and war torn ponies but nopony was in the mood for celebration. Pinkie Pie was glad things had worked out so well but all the sadness was hard for the pink pony to fathom. Sure even she had days where she felt like there was a grumpy raincloud over her head but this was everypony all at once.
She tried not to look at the tents where the wounded were being tended or at the ponies who walked with a black sash around their forelegs. So many ponies had lost so many friends or family members. Rarity walked slowly up on her other side, bandages tied neatly over her scratches and cuts.
"Pinkie, darling!" she smiled broadly, "I’m so pleased you're alright!"
Pinkie laughed and tried to smile herself. "It'll take a lot more than a bump on the head to get the best of Pinkie Pie!" She put on her best bubbly voice. "did... you really pull me the entire way?" Pinkie's voice hinted a little sadness as Rarity nodded.
"I simply couldn't leave you out there and poor Fluttershy injured her leg, it was up to me to save my good friend." Rarity gave Pinkie a little nuzzle on the cheek and Pinkie giggled, beginning to feel better.
"Have you seen anypony else?" Pinkie asked and Rarity gave a soft shake of her head.
"Twilight hasn't been seen since last night but dear Spike received a message from Canterlot explaining that she is at the palace and safe. Everypony who can walk or fly is searching the forest for survivors..." Rarity spoke carefully, she knew that there wasn't a pony in Ponyville who hadn’t lost someone they had known. "I... I’m just certain that Applejack and Rainbow Dash will be just fine... just fine..." Her voice took on a brittle edge and the edge of her smile twitched just a little.
Pinkie touched her friend on the shoulder and did her best to smile. The pair parted without words and Pinkie slowly resumed her walk through town. Steeling herself with a broad smile, she approached the edge of the Everfree Forest and waited, slowly one pony after another from the charge crept back into town.
Blues and Caramel, two hard working farmponies, worked hard to support an armored shape, Big Macintosh was wobbling but he looked happy at least to see the town. Carefully peering past him Pinkie saw an approaching shape. Applejack looked like she'd been through a war, well she has been through a war Pinkie thought to herself and galloped up to her friend.
"Applejack I was so worried!" Pinkie gave the sore warhorse a huge hug until Applejack waved her away.
"Pinkie Pie! What in tarnation?! Git offa me fer a minute!" Applejack extracted herself from the tearful embrace and smiled, giving the pink pony a nuzzle on her cheek. "What's been happenin around here? D-did anypony else make it out?"
"O-only Rainbow Dash is still missing..." Pinkie began before helping support the cowgirl pony, Applejack about to grumble about not needing any help, but her aching body reminded her that walking on her own was a little on the difficult side.
"Aw I’m sorry, sugarcube..." Applejack spoke softly and leaned against Pinkie's support, nudging her cheek softly. "I know you two were real close..."
"Are..." Pinkie breathed
Applejack blushed brightly and looked away. "I’m sorry... are real close..."
"Rainbow is my bestest best friend ever..." She spoke gently and Applejack gave a soft nod, thinking about how life would be boring without the Rainbow maned pegasus and her constant pranks or stunts.
"I’m so sorry, darlin‘..." Applejack began and stopped Pinkie in her tracks, "I don't know how to tell ya but I wouldn't be the spirit of honesty unless I told my friends the honest truth...." Applejack looked down and wobbled as Pinkie backed away. "Mac and me were the last ponies still walkin‘... we were helpin‘ the nurses get ponies on their hooves... I... I’m sorry... I’m so sorry, sugarcube, but the only ponies left in there ain't movin‘ no more..."
Pinkie backed away and for the first time in Applejack's memory, Pinkie looked terrified. "No way... no way Applejack... Rainbow isn't gone..." Applejack took a couple wobbly steps towards the pink pony before she turned and charged off into the woods. Applejack didn't have the heart to follow.
Pinkie's eyes were stinging as she ran, it wasn't right. It just wasn't right for the world to take someone like Rainbow away from her. She was Pinkie Pie, she never asked for anything from anypony. She never yelled, never got into a fight. All she ever wanted was to make ponies happy and have fun. War wasn't fun, war was the opposite of fun. And now Pinkie shook with anger.
"Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash get out here right now!" Her gallop slowed to a trot and she looked at the faces of the nurses and volunteers, each working to shift the fallen ponies onto carts and sleds so they could be brought home.
Pinkie slumped down and looked at the dirt. "It's not fair... it's not fair at all... how come all this had to happen at all, but... Rainbow Dash never gives up on anything," A pair of dark emerald eyes watched the whole scene with great sadness. Pinkie was crying without pause now before a gentle touch on the back of her head caught her attention. She looked up and there was the soft smile of princess Luna.
"I'm sorry but I couldn't help but watch... you're Pinkie Pie right?" the princess settled down beside the pink pony who tried to stumble up to her hooves and bow. "Don't bow or anything... I... I’m never going to ask that of anypony again after today."
"We won, right princess?" Pinkie spoke softly and returned her gaze to the soft earth at her hooves. Luna nodded an affirmative and Pinkie trembled. "Then why does it feel like we lost? Why am I crying so much... I’m usually such a perky Pinkie but now I don't feel so good at all..."
Luna looked out over the forest, the sunlight beaming down and banishing the shadow and then back over her shoulder at the way she'd come. "We've all lost friends... tell me... what would you say to your friend if she could hear you right now?"
Pinkie trembled and smiled little by little. "I’d tell her I was so glad to see her... and tell her that she made me so very happy..." Pinkie sniffed as her energy began to return. "I’d tell her that I did mean what I said all those times, she always said I was joking... I’d tell her... tell her how I feel inside when she's around... and when she'd see I was being a super serious, serious pants... we'd have a party! And there'd be cake... and streamers... and balloons... and... and all her favorite food... cause I’d make sure I got everything just right..."
Luna nodded softly but her gaze looked still the way she'd come, and at the figure slowly approaching. "And what would you say... if you and that friend were alone..."
Pinkie's voice became a whisper. "I’d tell her I loved her... for real..."
"Who's this friend of yours, Pinkie Pie?" came the soft voice from behind the princess and the seated earth pony.
Pinkie's eyes opened wide and her whole body trembled before she jumped up and spun about. Standing with an unusual shy smile, mane and tail a mess, coat smudged with dirt, one wing singed and hanging at her side while the other unfurled to it's fullest extent, was Rainbow Dash. Pinkie blinked softly and looked at Luna who smiled innocently and looked away, getting back on her hooves.
Pinkie's words became a blur of everything she could think of to say, repeating over and over how happy she was that Dash was alright. Her tears going unnoticed as she nuzzled up tightly to the blue pegasus' cheek. She tried to hold onto Dash and bounce with joy but succeeded only in jostling her injured friend and making her laugh. "Pinkie.... Pinkie!" she finally called loudly and the pink pony giggled to a halt. "Pinkie..." Dash looked back to Luna who began to walk slowly towards Ponyville then carefully back and forth to make sure no other pony was within earshot. "what would you do if your friend said she loved you too?"
It took many days to organize and to mourn the loss of so many brave ponies. But Ponyville had stood at the center of the maelstrom and come out stronger than it had begun. The six ponies had mounted the greatest of defenses, fought the most valiantly and given their all to save the land they loved and had learned that friendship is a bond which can never be broken. There had been a speech by Celestia who related the story of how she came into being and the tale of the brave ponies who had done so much for the land. Each had been given an official title, though some protested.
"Sir Rainbow Dash..." she grinned, and relaxed back into the huge tub at the spa, the others rolling their eyes. "I like the sound of it..."
"It's just a title Dash..." Lady Twilight smiled and flipped to the next page in her book
"Well isn't it obvious? Rainbow Dash is simply not a lady..." Lady Rarity raised the mask covering her eyes while lotus did her best to mend a chipped hoof for her.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Dash tried to get up in anger while her friends chuckled before a pink hoof pressed down on her shoulder and a smiling face appeared and nosed her cheek, carefully depositing a chocolate covered cherry in Rainbow's still pouting mouth. "I just don't like to be called a lady is all..." She said between chews.
Pinkie smiled as everypony around her relaxed. Applejack nursing a bottle she liberated from Granny's secret stash, her cheeks warm and sunny as she basked in the steam room. Rarity being pampered and letting the power of her title help lift her spirits. Twilight with her head in a book from the royal library at Canterlot. Spike was entranced at Rarity's side as always and Fluttershy was sound asleep in a lounging chair. Pinkie looked over all her friends and the horrible events seemed to just fade away, it was back to normal.
"These quiet spa parties are really kinda nice..." She began, dropping another cherry for Rainbow Dash who couldn't help but blush still. "But... maybe just a few streamers?"
"Same old Pinkie Pie..." Dash laughed and everypony joined her. It was back to normal for sure.
The moonlight shone down onto the silvery grass beside the cool clear lake. A form lay sprawled there. Her dark tresses matted and her pearly coat blackened with grime. She had run, and run hard. Heart pounding in her chest and limbs quaking from exhaustion. She heard the ripple of water and crawled closer, looking down into her reflection upon the glassy surface. She was frightened, this wasn't supposed to happen this way at all. Real emotions burned in her chest before she lowered her face to the surface and drank her fill, her own tears dripping into the cool clear spring.
“There you are...” A voice called from behind her and a soft orange glow filtered through the trees. “You have a quite a talent at remaining unseen.”
“l-leave me alone!” The distraught pony wailed as she backed away and fell rump first into the cold water. “have you not tormented me enough!”
“My dear... this is not torment... this is benevolence...” The pony threw his hood back and knelt, offering her a hoof. “Celestia has dispatched me to find you, milady... and to return you home...”
“I won't go! You can not make me! Please... leave me to wither in peace...” The dark eyed pony trembled and shied further away.
“There are many mysteries surrounding you, Twilight's Gloom... and I would not be a true ranger if I did not pursue them fullest of my abilities. We rest here tonight and make for Canterlot come morning... I would prefer not place you in an... unladylike situation...” Lancer sat back on the grass himself and turned his gaze to the sky. Gloom trembled and sighed in defeat.