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The Night that Never Ended p17

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In the silence of the Everfree Forest, near a dry patch of ground that barely counted as a path, a low rumbling began. With relative smoothness despite it's girth, a slab of stone as wide as two ponies and half again as tall began to swing outwards. From the darkness inside came the sound of cranks and levers creaking, as well as the soft clop of hooves on stone. The cold night air carried with it the stench of rot, but the captain still found it welcoming. Beneath the decay and decomposition, there lay the rosy scent of freedom.

"This doesn't mean I forgive you, you know." The captain didn't know why she said it, maybe just because it all seemed too good to be true.

"I don't expect you too," came the lilting voice from behind her. Soft hoofsteps brought Rarity up to her side, both ponies gazing at the darkened skeletons of trees before them.

The captain felt like she was pushing her own luck, but she had lived her life by having an explanation for every action. There just had to be a reason. "Why, then?" she broke down, "why let me go?"

When no answer came immediately, the captain turned to look at the pony next to her. With the moon hanging low and orange on the horizon behind her, Rarity was little more than a shadowy silhouette. "I don't know," she finally admitted. "I'm tired of having an answer to every problem, of needing a reason for every action. For so long now, I've been ignoring pony's lives for their happiness." She turned her head away from the captain, but her voice remained steady, "I don't even know if that makes sense anymore. It's all gotten very complicated, you understand, and maybe I just wanted to give somepony their life back."

"So you feel guilty." The captain answered her own question, turning her gaze back to the forest. There she had it, a reason. An explanation. An excuse. She could deal with excuses, they were all too normal to her. Her curiosity sated, the captain gave her wings an experimental flap, working out the cramps from lounging in a bed for so long.

"I suppose so," Rarity added, ignoring the captain's motions of departure, "at least in part. But that wasn't the only reason. Tell me Rainbow, do you know about Trixie's spell that took away our unicorn magic?"

The captain leaned forward, stretching her back legs out. Glancing to her right, she could see the blackened eyes of the unicorn. They took up nearly all of her eyes, drinking in what little light the night had to offer. "Yea, they were getting set to execute me when Trixie cast it. Why?"

"I don't understand exactly why it happened, but for some reason every unicorn in our town fell unconscious when that spell hit us. Every single one of us, without exception, were beset by nightmares of the most horrendous sort." The captain paused in her stretching to look at her companion, who she now noticed had begun to shiver slightly. "I dreamt of you, Rainbow Dash."

The captain winced at the use of her name. Only one pony ever called her that anymore, and to hear it come out of her enemy's mouth... it was a familiarity that she could do without.

There was silence as the captain waited for her to elaborate, but Rarity only offered a lilting laugh. "Why release you? Why not torture you information or use you as a bargaining chip? Because Rainbow, for better or for worse, I've stepped down from that stage. Even if it kills me- no, especially if it kills me, I'm not throwing another life into that mob." She squared her shoulders as the last of the shivers passed through her, "I thought that the generous thing to do would be to give the ponies what they wanted, no matter the cost to me. But I was wrong, Celestia I was so wrong. Generosity isn't just giving, it's helping others. Giving them what they need instead of what they want, if you will."

The captain brought a hoof to her chin, brow furrowed. "I don't understand," she admitted.

The wind whistled through the trees as the unicorn gathered her thoughts. "What I mean to say, Rainbow Dash, is that not everypony wants to survive by any means necessary. Sometimes, perhaps, it is better to live briefly and well than survive forever in squalor and fear."

"And what about the ponies who would rather live than die?"

"I'm not making the choice for them, I'm only giving them the choice. That's the most generous thing I can do, I think. But if we win this fight, it will be by our convictions, not our compromises."

The captain realized that the mare next to her was standing taller than even she herself was. Behind her, the darkness of day had begun covering the moon, making the sky seem sideways with an off-angled gibbous. "And what if you don't win?" She asked, cutting the silence.

For the first time, Rarity smiled. "Then I will die with what pride I have left."

______________________

    "I'm really not sure about this, Rainbow Dash"

    Twilight walked down the street, her head swinging from side to side to look at the quiet houses around her. Ahead, the town center stood empty and silent. She swallowed hard, but the lump in her throat refused to go away.

    "Look Twi, I know it sucks to be wrong, but there's a lot at stake here." Rainbow Dash landed softly beside her friend, folding her wings in at her side. "After all we've been through, apologizing should be a snap."

    Twilight nodded, fixing her gaze ahead and forcing her hooves to keep moving. She's right, she admonished herself, I've apologized to my friends back home plenty of times. I certainly have no trouble admitting my own faults, so why is this so hard?

    The obvious answer arose in Twilight's mind, just as it had the last time she asked herself the same question, as well as the time before that and the time before that. She wasn't wrong, Applejack was, and she was still going to have to apologize for it.

    Fine, she told herself for the hundredth time, Dash is right. There are more important things than being right, and keeping everypony alive is one of them. Plus, she added with a sigh, we need all the Elements of Harmony if this plan is to work.

    Twilight slowly came to halt in front of the office, gulping again. For all the logical sense that her plan made, her reassurances weren't doing her much good. What if Applejack didn't listen to reason? What if they hadn't saved their Elements of Harmony? How would they find them?

    And even if Applejack and Rarity had theirs, what about Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy? What did the captain do with hers? What about mine?! Twilight panicked, casting another glance over her shoulder. Oh Celestia, where do we even begin?

    A noise from in front of her made Twilight's head whip around, only to catch a glimpse of Rainbow Dash as she disappeared through the door. Sighing, Twilight forced herself to place one hoof in front of the other. I guess we begin here. I just wish the first step wasn't so difficult.

    The inside of the office was still a mess from the chaos of Trixie's spell. The table that had had its leg broken off still lay upturned in a corner, irreparable without any spare wood. Much of the furniture that ponies would lounge in while awaiting an audience had been righted hastily but not moved back into its proper place, forcing Twilight to weave around a few chairs and a dark-stained couch. If Twilight hadn't known better, she'd have though the building was abandoned.

    Her ears perked as she heard the sound of a voice coming from the stairwell, and though she couldn't make out words she found the tone immediately familiar. Applejack was talking to somepony upstairs, and with the lobby empty it was clear where Rainbow Dash had gone. Taking a few deep breaths to calm her heart, Twilight ascended the stairway.

    "... in jail for what you did! But I reckon you'd like it there anyway, with your damn traitor friend for company."

    "Hey! We're just here to talk-"

    "We're? We're?! Don't tell me you brought that rabble rousing-"

    The floor beneath Twilight creaked as she came up the last step, making Applejack's head swing around. Twilight locked eyes with the orange face, and for just an instant she could see her friend's eyes widen as her features softened. A moment later, however, the earth pony's brow was knitted as she stamped on the ground. "Great. Just great. The two ponies I didn't need banging on my barn door today. I reckon you've worked on another half baked plan to get two more of our few guardponies killed? Or were you just stopping by to let me know how wrong and pathetic I was for trying to help everypony?"

    Dash stamped her own hoof, her wings flaring out. "Hey! I nearly got killed trying to fight for your town, I think you oughta be thanking me!"

    In a moment, Applejack had whirled and butted heads with the pegasus. "What I oughta do is arrest the both of ya for treason, seein' as you let the damn captain of the Shadowbolts nearly kill Rarity and then tried to incite a riot."

    "Girls, please!" Twilight yelled. Both mares turned to her, and instantly the lump in her throat had returned. "Applejack, I'm... I'm sorry."

    "Well isn't that just dandy," Applejack replied instantly. "You're sorry, I'm sorry, the whole damn town is sorry. Don't fix a darn thing sugarcube, and I don't have time to waste on this nonsense." She turned away from the other mares, making her way towards Rarity's desk. "Why don't you make yourself useful and make good on your promise to stay out of this here office."

    "I didn't promise-" Twilight caught herself, refusing to bite on the earth pony's bait. Shaking her head, she walked further into the room to stand next to Dash. "Look Applejack, when I said those things I was really angry, and I didn't really mean them."

    "Oh, like hell you didn't! Now who's the liar? I know a big head when I see it, sugarcube, and yours was never bigger than when you gave me that lecture."

    Twilight winced. She had thought apologizing would be the hardest part, but she should have known that getting Applejack to accept would be a challenge in and of itself. She's right though, she was quick to remind herself, I don't believe what I'm saying. Applejack's lie was wrong, and I'm sticking to it.

    With a groan, Twilight realized the hypocrisy of her own thoughts. "Fine," she admitted with a exasperated breath, "You're right. I still think you were wrong to lie to the townsponies, and I honestly don't think you are fit to lead anypony, much less an entire town." Twilight reeled her temper in before she went to far, noting that Applejack's face was no longer bristling with indignation. "But under the circumstances, I can see why you would have lied." Twilight bit her cheek as Applejack remained silent. "I don't like it at all, but I know you were just trying to help and I guess I can't hold that against you," Twilight continued to fill the silence. "Honestly."

    Twilight kept her gaze locked with Applejack, refusing to be the first to avert her eyes. It has Applejack who finally snorted, pawing the ground as she looked away. "I'm still not sure I like what I'm hearin', sugarcube," she admitted, "but I do believe you."

    "Then you forgive me?" Twilight brightened, unable to keep the excitement out of her voice.

    "'Course not." Applejack stated flatly, making Twilight's ears droop, "But like I said, I got more important things to worry about. If you're serious about helping, and I mean actually helping," she glared at Rainbow Dash for a moment, "then I guess I ain't gonna turn you away."

    Twilight bit her lip as she weighed her options. "Good enough," she settled, "Now we can get started on finding the elements."

    "Do the what now?" Applejack questioned with obvious disdain.

    "Allow me to explain," Twilight offered. Taking a deep breath, Twilight mentally pictured her plan laid out in a simple, orderly list. "The Elements of Harmony didn't work in this world because your Rainbow Dash wasn't loyal, causing the spark to never appear which caused the Element of Magic to never appear which, through a long and vague but directly related series of events, caused the world that we're in now as opposed to the one that Dash and I are from. Rainbow Dash raised the point that with the two of us here, the roles of Magic and Loyalty are once again filled and that the original solution of gathering the elements is again possible. If you, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie still have your elements, we can defeat Nightmare Moon!"

    Twilight finished with the last of her breath, leaving her panting. Applejack hadn't moved a muscle since she began, but her eyes shifted from the panting Twilight to the excitedly hovering Rainbow Dash.

    "You mean them glowy necklaces?" She finally replied, waving her hoof in a small circle.

    "Those are the ones!" Rainbow Dash cheered.

    "You're going to use glowy necklaces to defeat Nightmare Moon." It was more of a statement than a question, as if Applejack couldn't believe what she was hearing.

    "Well yea, when you put it like that it sounds bad." Dash admitted, letting herself fall back to the ground. "But it totally worked for us, so it's gotta work here, too!"

    "It didn't work the first time," Applejack pointed out, crossing her hooves as she leaned on the desk.

    "Er, well, yea..." Dash faltered, "But like Twilight said, you've got the captain to thank for that. The elements themselves worked fine."

    Applejack glanced at both ponies, her eyebrows raised. "Alright," she offered tentatively, "let's say I bought into this plan of yours. What would I have to do?"

    "Well, you'd need to embody the spirit of honesty," Twilight began, stammering as she realized she'd hit a sore note, "a-and we'd need the necklace that you got.

    Applejack put a hoof to her chin as she gazed at the ceiling. "I don't know about Rarity," she pondered, "but I haven't seen mine in months."

    Twilight's gut dropped, and she could see Dash's shoulders immediately droop. For Celestia's sake, she cursed, why can't we catch one break? Why must every plan fail before it even begins?

    "Well, do you know where it is?" Dash asked, making Twilight blink.

     Applejack kept her hoof to her chin. "I reckon it's still in my barn at Sweet Apple Acres where I left it. It was the only place I really stopped moving between that night and the attack."

    On the one hoof, Twilight felt bad for dredging up painful memories. On the other, she wanted to leap for joy at restored hope. "This is perfect!" She exclaimed, unable to hold herself back. "We've already got three ponies and know where one element is, and we only just started!" She looked around as the next obvious question came to mind, prompting her to quickly scan the room. "Er, Applejack? Where's Rarity?"

________________________

    There were a lot of things that Big Macintosh never did. He slowly brought the glass to his mouth, because he never hurried. Discipline was an essential part of working a farm, and even more so for leading a police force. Plus, it had been his experience that when things got done, they got done in their own time and not a moment sooner. As the burning faded from his throat, he cracked a grin at the red earth pony sitting across the table from him. Though he rarely ever laughed, smiling was hardly out of the question.

    For his own part, the other pony was in stitches. He thumped his thick hoof on the desk, making the bottle of brandy shake. Wiping a tear from his eye, he collected his breath enough to form words. "Oh Celestia, so when she said 'plot', what she really meant was... ?"

"Eeyup," Bug Mac finished for him, pouring himself another cup.

The pony had to place a hoof on the chair beneath him to keep himself from falling off, collapsing into another fit of bellowing laughter. Big Mac just held his drink, waiting for the urge for another sip to come. With just one other pony in his office and plenty of brandy, there was no need to rush things.

As the other pony's laughter faded again, he took an appreciative look around the office. "Oh boy, Big Macintosh, let me just thank you right now for the drinks and the company. I haven't laughed like that in months."

"I figured I owed you a drink for watching my back earlier was all. Got more booze than I rightly know what to do with, to tell you the truth." Big Mac drained his glass, savoring the flavor of fine apple brandy. Pouring himself and his companion another glass, he leaned back in his chair. "And by the way Forepony, Big Mac is fine by me."

The Forepony scoffed. "Heh, as if that job has any meaning anymore. Just call me Red." Red reached forward to grab his glass, swirling the liquid in the bottom pensively. "And I think I owe you more than you owe me, to be fair."

"Well then, how bout you help me get through this here bottle, and we'll call it even?" Big Mac grabbed his glass, raising it in the air.

"Don't worry, I've got your back there." Red cracked his own grin as he raised his glass, clinking them together.

Red's hit the table long before Big Mac's, giving him time to look around the office. It was sparse, to be sure. The chair Red sat in had been dragged over from the only other table in the room, which was placed by the fire. Though the fire now burned low, Red suspected that it never got very big to begin with. More than likely, he mused, it was used for more practical purposes than mere lighting or heating.

His gaze swung to the opposite wall, where the silhouettes of the two workhorses were thrown by the light of the fire. Most of the wall was bear, but just slightly off center were over a dozen pictures of ponies, none of which Red recognized. By the time Big Mac lowered his glass, Red's gaze was locked inquisitively on the collage.

"Fine ponies," Big Mac supplied, his gaze only lingering briefly on the wall. "Fine ponies every one of them." The room was silent as the Forepony looked back at his glass, staring at the empty bottom.

Red opened his mouth to ask what his companion meant, but stopped as his eyes caught one of the pictures. Leaning in slightly for a better look, the photo of two uniformed pegasus guards tickled his memory.

And then the memory hit. A charred body and a dismembered wing. Folding black sheets over one of those faces as he limped back into New Ponyville, Big Mac holding the other slung over his back, the rainbow pegasus being led in on a stretcher.

Red jumped slightly as a thud brought him back to reality, listening as Big Mac poured himself another glass.

    "I... I don't know what to say, to be honest."

    "Nothing left to say, I reckon." Big Mac turned his own gaze towards the collage, his face unreadable. "They all knew the risks."

    "I'm sorry," Red said automatically, not sure what he was apologizing for.

    "Nah, it ain't like that." This time Big Mac did look at the wall, studying the photographs. Though the fire against the far wall was only dimly lighting the photos, he could remember every line and hue by heart. "Those ponies wanted to fight," he continued methodically, "but Shadowbolts and Royal Guards ain't the only thing to worry about. For some of them, helping to defend the town gives them a purpose, something to wake up for every day. For some ponies though, it's just not enough." His gaze dropped to his own glass, the liquid withing sitting still as a lake. His own reflection shone vaguely in the bottom, his heavy jaw frowning slightly.

    "I know what you mean. I- I mean, I don't know about fighting and all that, but about the purpose thing..." The Forepony collected himself, placing his glass down on the table. "My colts have been processing wood, food, and raw material since we got here. Now, most of that stuff is completely gone. I've told my boys to stop calling out roll calls since most ponies don't bother showing up anymore and those that do don't need the reminder." He shook his head, making a clicking noise with his mouth. "That's why I said my job doesn't mean anything anymore. We've got nothing to do but wait around all day for shipments we know aren't coming. Hell, I could play hookey tomorrow and it wouldn't affect a damn thing.

    "I ain't all that worried about tomorrow," Big Mac shrugged, "It's today I'm concerned with. That Trixie filly is coming with who knows how many ponies, and I honestly don't know how we're gonna stop her with the forces we got.

    "You taking recruits?" Red asked, his ears perking slightly.

    "I suppose," Big Mac continued without missing a beat, "But that's not what I mean. Sooner or later, everypony is gonna be fighting if they get into the main cavern."

    "And you think that they will?"

    "I know they will, yea."

    Both ponies remained silent as Big Mac refilled their drinks, casting a longing look at the dying fire. Red coughed politely, dragging his attention back. "So," he asked with shoulders slumped, "you got a plan?"

    Big Mac shrugged, taking a final sip of his glass. A long time ago, ponies would poke fun at him for only ever sipping his drinks. Months later, Big Mac would spare a smile for them as he pointed to his well stocked liquor cabinet where theirs had run dry. "I leave the plannin' to my sister, mostly." He drained the rest of his cup, putting the glass down a little harder than he meant to. "We just gotta hold out as long as possible is what I reckon."

    "Sounds like as good of a plan as any, to me," Red answered.

    "If you're serious about recruits though," Big Mac said, "I'm sure I can find a use for a brick house like yourself."

    Red shrugged, his massive shoulders heaving nonchalantly. "Heh, well, five years of Hayball will do that to a colt. But yea, I'm serious about it. It's not like I've got anything left to lose, right?"

    "I'll drink to that," Big Mac almost chuckled.

    "No you won't," Red pointed a hoof at the empty bottle, raising his eyebrows questioningly after a moment.

    Big Mac stared at the empty bottle for a moment. On the one hoof, the brandy he had was the only brandy he was going to have for awhile. On the other, there was no sense in saving what he was never going to spend.

    Finally, he pushed his chair out from behind him as he stood. "Plan for the worst," he advised as he made his way to the liquor cabinet.

    "That way, all your surprises will be pleasant ones," Red finished, smiling genuinely as he held out his glass for a refill.

    A few moments later and both colts were seated at the desk again, Big Mac's glass replaced by a far larger mug. The chime of clinking glassware split the silence as both ponies made a silent toast, deliberately not worrying about tomorrow.

______________

    The warrant officer stood still as a lamp post outside of Trixie's tent, his chin raised uncharacteristically high. Around him, unicorns rushed too and fro as preparations were made for battle. Helmets were donned, plumes were preened, fires were snuffed, and tents were taken down as the warrant officer stood stock still. None of them had the rank to make him act, of course, but even The Great and Powerful Trixie herself couldn't have moved him from that spot.

    I guess that's just it, he reflected. Everypony could feel the change in the air, the lingering hum of magic even after Her Majesty's departure. Something powerful remained behind. Somepony, he corrected himself. Something soft and dormant, but terrifying in it's latency. Standing outside of Trixie's tent was like watching an ursa sleep, knowing full well that the peace of it's slumber could become mortal danger in mere moments.

    And yet, the warrant officer felt strangely at peace. Perhaps the stark terror that had gripped him earlier had simply drained even his vast allotment of fear, or perhaps because even life-threatening calm was a vacation in comparison. His body remained rigid as ever, but mentally he shook his head. If anypony knows fear, it's me, he admitted in equal parts shame and reassurance. But that's just it. I know fear.

    After Her Majesty's spell had ended, the warrant officer had stood as still as he was now. He could only stare in astonishment at the duo in front of him, incapable of listening as they exchanged words. It was a vague blur to his shell shocked mind, but he remembered that Nightmare Moon had cast another spell, Trixie had said something in return, and just like that the Queen had vanished.

    The space of several minutes was a blur, to be sure, but the warrant officer remembered one particular moment. I know fear, he reminded itself as he let the picture crystallize. Trixie had kept her eyes locked on the spot where Nightmare Moon had vanished, her mouth slowly splitting into a grin. She had begun laughing, as the warrant officer had learned to expect, as her gaze stared unbelieving at the spot where her leader had vanished.

The warrant officer also stared unbelieving. Unlike Trixie, however, he had never spared a glance for the alicorn. Instead, his gaze was locked on his own beautiful leader. She didn't show it then, and maybe never would again, but he had seen it. I know fear, he told himself again. There was no doubt about it. For a moment, as small as that seemed, Trixie had been terrified.

There was something fundamentally wrong about this, the warrant officer knew. Fear was for ponies like him, ponies who were beneath the greatness that was Trixie. Fear kept him in line when he may have otherwise fled, kept him loyal when he may have deserted. Those who were too foolhardy or too stupid to listen to their fears found themselves made examples of, a lesson the warrant officer knew all too well.

The Great and Powerful Trixie was above such things as fear. The warrant officer knew this as surely as he knew the lowliness of his own place. But he also knew fear, and right now the two were in direct opposition.

Warrant officer...

Without willing himself too, the warrant officer turned towards the sound of the voice. No, not the sound exactly, more like the emanation. Any unicorn nearby surely sensed the being inside the tent he guarded, a glass so full to the brim with water that even the slightest ripple threatened to spill it all. The smoldering destruction of a volcano was mere yards away from him, and it was calling his name.

His horn flickered dimly as he swatted the tent flap aside, striding inside. He wasn't sure what to expect, but it certainly wasn't what he saw. Trixie was standing in her normal Royal Guard uniform, still staring at the spot where Nightmare Moon had vanished. To a normal observer, nothing seemed to have changed.

"Warrant Officer," she said out loud this time, "It occurs to me that, like our good queen, I have underestimated my inferiors." She turned her head slowly to face him, and now the warrant officer could see a difference. Chills ran down his spine, bringing the familiar feeling of fear almost within reach, as he looked into her entirely white eyes.

"Somehow, my little officer, you managed to evade Nightmare Moon's lie detection. In so doing, you performed your role in my plan far beyond my expectation." Trixie advanced a step, but the warrant officer didn't retreat. It's all so disjointed, he rambled to himself, like this isn't really happening. This can't be happening.

"Such service, as our most esteemed ruler put it, deserves due reward." Her horn began to glow as the reached down, tapping his forehead lightly. "You've come a long way from the sniveling brat I found you as."

Fear does that to a pony. Fear when I hear my name called, dread in the silences between.

Her horn began to glow faintly, but the warrant officer still wasn't scared. Fear is for ponies like me.

"Nightmare Moon has been granting me her power, drop by drop, for months now. A small request here, an earned reward there, and I have grown. But now this?" The warrant officer was once again reminded of how dangerous his situation was, how unstable Trixie's power felt. Even still, he found it almost difficult to worry. "My greatest plan to date, and I am so close..."

"I want to show you," Trixie continued slowly, "and you deserve to be rewarded. I know you didn't kill the captain; it was the only way you could have 'fooled' Nightmare Moon. Still, you adapted to the situation better than I could have dreamed. For your acts of service and by my good graces, I insist of sharing some of my wealth. A small taste, if you will. You've earned it, my little officer."

The warrant officer's eyes crossed as he focused on the horn touching his head,  his mind blank except for disjointed thoughts. As it began to glow, his eyes finally began to widen.

"Congratulations on your promotion, General," Trixie cooed as her horn began to shine.
-------------------------------

    Time was a funny thing. Twilight had read books by ponies that had been trapped in caves or locked in a cell for a long time, and after just a few hours of not seeing the sun their sense of time all but disappeared. Twilight couldn't help but consider those claims validated as she looked longingly at the broken clock in Rarity's bedroom. "How long has it been?" She asked nobody in particular.

    "Half an hour?" Applejack muttered around her hooves, her face planted downwards as she sat on the edge of Rarity's bed.

    "A couple hours," Rainbow Dash said at the same time, laying on her back across the same bed.

    Twilight sighed, walking over to the clock. Upon reaching it, she turned back towards the door, falling into a quick pace. Time was a very funny thing, how ponies measured it out like drops of sand from an hourglass. Take away the sand, however, and all you were left with was a series of events. At some point in the past, they had apologized to Applejack. At some point after that, they had decided to wait for Rarity's return to ask her about her Element of Harmony. Now, at some point in time indistinguishable from the others except that it was "now", they were still waiting. And at some point, now would become then, and Rarity would return.

    The moment came with a soft creak, making three sets of ears perk in unison. Twilight turned from the clock, her hooves aching slightly from the constant motion of her pacing. Rarity stood in the doorway, her eyes wide and darting to each pony. Dash had sat up in bed while Applejack had lifted her face from her hooves, and for some amount of time each pony just stared at the others.

    "I'm sorry," Twilight broke the silence.

    "I forgive you, my dear."

    "No, I- wait, just like that?"

    "We have more important things to do than fight amongst ourselves, Twilight. And keeping everypony alive is one of them."

    Twilight resisted the urge to shoot a smile in Applejack's direction, instead trying to figure out what to say next. I hadn't really expected that to go so easily, she thought. Hopefully my luck will hold today.

    "Rarity," She began, "we have a plan to stop Nightmare Moon. We need to reassemble the Elements of Harmony and their bearers, and use the magic of Friendship to drain her powers like we did in my world."

    Twilight bit her lip, knowing that it sounded hopelessly naive in their current situation. Rarity continued to stare wide-eyed at the other unicorn, and a nagging thought began in the back of Twilight's head. Pushing it aside for now, she focused on the task at hand.

    "Applejack, have they explained this plan to you?"

    "Yes they have, Rarity."

    "And what do you think?"

    "I think it's a whole lot of nonsense, personally." Applejack was avoiding Twilight's gaze, keeping her eyes fixed on Rarity's. "And if we face Nightmare Moon head on and them pretty rocks don't work, then we're cooked as sure as apple pie." Applejack sighed, plopping her head back into her hooves. "But we're as good as cooked just sitting here too, so I don't see why we can't try."

    "Come on, Rarity!" Dash, who had been silent up to that point, was suddenly in the air right in front of the white unicorn. "We know that they can work, and like AJ said, it's the best chance we've got!"

    Rarity, who had lifted a hoof across her chest defensively, relaxed and let out a sigh. Nudging her way past the pegasus, she walked slowly to Applejack's side. Confused, Applejack looked up at the mayor, but Rarity had already ducked her head down and was pulling at the drawer to the bed stand next to her.

    The three other ponies watched in silence as Rarity fished about inside, finally reemerging with something held in her mouth. Laying it down on the bed quickly and rubbing her mouth disdainfully with her hooves, Rarity gestured with her horn. "I grabbed it as we fled because of how beautiful I thought it was. Sadly, even for my fabulosity, priorities change, and it's been locked away collecting gross, foul tasting dust for quite some time." Giving her tongue one final brush off, Rarity shook out her mane and regained her composure. "You are welcome to it, if you think it will help. However, Applejack and I must remain here to defend the town while you look for whatever else you need."

    Rainbow Dash walked over to examine to object, which to Twilight just seemed like an ordinary box. With a prod from Dash's hoof, however, the box opened to reveal a glimmering brooch adorned with three diamonds, the light from their facets glittering in Twilight's slowly widening eyes.

    "Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!" Twilight found herself wrapped around Rarity in a hug, which the other unicorn gently returned with one hoof. "We've already got four bearers and now an actual element! We can do this, I know we can!"

    "Not to cut things short, Twi," Dash interrupted, scooping the box up in one hoof, "but we can all thank each other after we've defeated Nightmare Moon. We've got what we waited for, now lets go find the others!"

    "She's right," came a voice from above Twilight. The purple unicorn looked up into Rarity's gentle smile, the first she had seen in weeks. "If this plan has any hope of success, time is of the essence."

    Twilight detangled herself from Rarity, looking into her eyes gratefully. Again, in the back of her head, a thought began nagging at her, and this time she took a moment to address it. "Rarity, your eyes... "

    The smile faltered, a little of Rarity's old self coming back. "My eyes? What about them? Is something wrong with them?"

    "No, no, they just aren't as black."

    For a moment nopony moved, then the room was suddenly filled with frantic motion. With barely enough time to yelp in surprise, Dash and AJ had picked up Rarity and lain her down on the bed, hovering over her.

    "I reckon I do see more white 'round the edges after all."

    "Wow, you're right! Her eyes are going back to normal! Well, a little bit anyway."

    Twilight had barely taken a step towards the distressed unicorn when her vision was filled with a purple orb. Backing up in surprise, she realized that it was Rainbow Dash's eye peering into her own.

    "Y'know Twi, I think your eyes are going back to normal, too!"

    "But what does it mean!?" Rarity cried in distress, struggling under AJ's pinning hooves.

    Twilight could only smile in relief, giggling slightly to herself. "It means that whatever Trixie did is starting to wear off. It's just wearing off really slowly."

    AJ sat up, releasing the captive Rarity. "If we have unicorn magic for the battle, we might be able to hold them off... "

    "Will it return that fast?" Rarity asked, pausing in fixing her mane.

    Twilight walked over to the unicorn, finally getting a good look at her eyes. "I don't know for sure," Twilight admitted, "but Trixie wouldn't have used this spell if it was going to wear off right as she attacked. Not unless something else held her up."

    "Still, it's better than nothing." AJ supplied. Twilight was glad to see that at least somepony else was intent on keeping the mood up. "But it ain't gonna come back any faster by us sitting around talking about it. Magic or no, we've all got a whole lot of work to do."

    Twilight nodded as Dash murmured agreement, and Rarity finally extricated herself from the bed. Leaving her mane slightly disheveled, she stopped fixing herself long enough to give Twilight a tentative hug. "Good luck, my dear," She said softly. "I fear we'll all need it."

    "We'll see you guys soon!" Dash called from the doorway before zipping out of sight.

    "Good luck to y'all," AJ waved as Twilight made her way out of the door.

    Time was a funny thing, Twilight knew. The goodbye lasted only seconds, but it seemed to stretch into hours. Her last image before the door closed was of Applejack waving, her smile seeming almost bashful. For just a moment, all the stress and anger of reality had vanished, and Twilight had seen her friends again.

    Time was a funny thing, but as she and Dash made their way downstairs that moment kept lasting in her head. Just a moment, Twilight knew, but without clocks or the sun to keep track of time, who was to say how long a moment really lasted?

    "Now what?"

    Twilight snapped out of her thoughts, realizing she was standing in front of Rarity's office. "Now," she grinned. "We begin again at the beginning. It's time to return to Ponyville."

---------------------------------------

    Inside Rarity's office, Rarity and Applejack stayed silent as they stared at the closed door.

    "They're gone," Applejack helpfully supplied.

    "Yes," Rarity responded, her voice quiet.

    "Now what?"

    "Now," Rarity stated as she drew her chin up, "we must make absolutely sure that there is a New Ponyville for them to return to."
GDocs: [link]

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Merry xmas all (or whatever your preferred holiday is, I suppose)

Many forces conspired to delay this chapter, the greatest of which were finals and Skyrim. It's actually been "done" for about a week now, but I decided to sit on it to make some final edits and finally decide when and how to wrap up TNTNE. I don't think you'll see this coming :P

It's been too long since the last update, I know. Now I've got a job five days a week and yadda yadda excuses excuses. Next time I write a multi-chapter fanfic, I'm going to COMPLETE IT ENTIRELY before I release even the first chapter. That way, I can make regular updates without killing myself with stress or losing readers (understandably) from waiting over a month between updates.

Also, for those of you who prefer reading this only when it's posted to EqD, you might have to wait a couple days. I have no idea if Seth is taking the day of or not tomorrow (despite the rest of the staff's insistence that he do so).

I think that about wraps up everything I wanted to say. If you see typos, hit me up. Don't be afraid to post your theories, I love reading those :D
© 2011 - 2022 BronyCray
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DolphinBuster's avatar
YES, thing are getting better ^________________^