Merely a Mare Chapter 5

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Warnings and Disclaimers:

Characters in this work are property of their respective owners, I do not own any of them, and do not intend to make any sort of profit off of this work.

This is a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfiction.

And now, on with the show:

Merely a Mare, Chapter 5:


Rainbow Dash knocked on the library door. She was disappointed, but not surprised, when Spike opened it.

The dragonling sighed, shaking his head, "Sorry Dash, same as yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. And-,"

"I get it," the pegasus interjected, "She's still up there. Did she at least say anything?"

The response came in a dejected monotone, "Nope. Nothing. It's like..." Spike paused, turning to look at the stairs to Twilight's room, then stepped outside. He pulled the door closed behind him. "Look Dash, I'm scared. I think something might have happened with the princess. The first night she locked herself up there, I tried to write to the princess about it, but the reply was something like," Spike adopted a faux-regal tone, "'Twilight Sparkle deserves to decide her own fate. I've meddled enough.' And that's all! I sent a few other letters, but I haven't heard from Celestia since."

"Do you think Nightmare Moon got princess Celestia?" The pony asked, sounding almost hopeful. The dragon merely pointed a claw at the midday sun, his face set disapprovingly. Rainbow Dash deflated. "I know, I know. But I'd rather fight something that has a face to buck."

"Dash...," Spike looked hesitant to continue, but the words came regardless, "The others have been coming too. They told me a lot about what Luna's been doing, how she acts, that stuff. It just... it doesn't seem like she's bad. I don't think she's here for revenge. Maybe... maybe you and Twilight were wrong about her." He winced, awaiting her reply.

The pegasus just sighed. "I know, Spike. Luna does seem different. I can't imagine Nightmare Moon going all frou-frou at a spa with Rarity or eating apples on some bumpkin's farm." She paused, then blinked, "Don't tell Applejack I said that. Anyway. Even if that's how it is... I want to trust Twilight. She's the one that saved our rosswursts the last time Luna showed up. I'm just not so sure anymore."

"Me too, Dash. I just don't know how to help her." The dragon leaned his head against the door, looking toward the sky, then added in a whisper, "Sometimes, when I wake up in the middle of the night, I can hear her crying up there."

Feeling painfully awkward, Rainbow Dash patted Spike on the shoulder with a hoof. It wasn't generally in her nature to be comforting, but she was there, and nopony else was. She just hoped that there wasn't anypony looking. "It'll be okay, little dude. Twilight is a smart mare, and she has good friends looking out for her. Good friends like you and me. She'll get through this. I'll make sure she gets through."

"I really hope so, Dash. I really do."

* * *

Rainbow Dash's body lay under her cloud sheets, on her cloud bed, in her cloud house. Her head? Well, it was also in the clouds.

She considered, once again, the upcoming birthday. It was her only hope of breaking Twilight's solitude. Time spent with good friends. The party would help.

The party had to help.

Just one more day.

Luna was not a threat; she owed the alicorn an apology. Rainbow Dash was not a subtle pony, but it constantly surprised her how little attention the ground-based ponies paid to a stray cloud hovering above them. Even Luna rarely looked up, except at night. Two weeks of surveillance, and the princess hadn't done anything more evil than a harmless prank. Applejack was right, as much as she hated admitting it. That sort of thing always hit her right where it hurt most: in the pride.

The pegasus would make it up to them! Her friends had spent the past few days on two plans. The first, of course, was for the party, and other was for getting Twilight and her to meet with Luna on civil terms. They hadn't come up with much for that second one, of course. Rainbow Dash couldn't wait to see the looks on their faces when she crashed the party, Twilight in tow, ready to apologize and help convince the unicorn.


The only problem was getting the librarian to go. She could easily get into the upper floors of the library; what's a window between friends? The convincing, on the other hoof... Rainbow Dash had never been a particularly persuasive pony. She supposed that she could just tell the other mare that she was needed so that they could use the Elements against Luna. That would take advantage of the unicorn's pride. It was a bit of a risk, but that appealed to Rainbow Dash; what's life away from the edge?

By that time the next night, their group would be back together. No more having to take sides against one friend or another. Loyalty to one wouldn't feel like betrayal of the rest. They could all stick together. Just one... big... happy....

Rainbow Dash drifted off to sleep with a smile on her face.

* * *

Twilight Sparkle closed her book with a heavy sigh. She stared at the cover of The Journal of Heavens Sparkle; gilding in the shape of a rose shone, dominating the surface. It was as beautiful as the first time she'd laid eyes on it. If she were to flip the tome over, the librarian knew, there would be a five-pointed star of the same smooth gold. She studied the curving lines of the stylized flower; the sensory focus helped her avoid thinking about the next few pages of the Journal, the final section of the work.

But it didn't help much.

The passage she'd just read, the beginning of the end, had always been a favorite of hers. The first time she'd seen it, she had thought of it as a deep and beautiful metaphor for a meteor shower. It spoke of seeing the shimmering tears of the moon falling, a torrent of profound sorrow. Heavens Sparkle had asked the moon what it mourned, and received no answer. He had concluded that it was a pain too great for him to bear, else the moon would have shared its burden. She'd always found it to be a potent metaphor.

Twilight had thought of it as allegory. She'd only come to that conclusion because her father had told her that 'Luna' was what Heavens called the moon.

Now she knew better.

Taken literally, she would have expected the passage to come from just over a thousand years before, from the alicorn's fall toward Nightmare Moon. That could not be the case; her father considered it a point of pride that the Sparkle line traced its ancestry back five thousand years - to Heavens Sparkle's grandson, the first pony to receive his Journal. She wondered what that could mean; was Luna falling into despair four thousand years before her banishment? She wondered if the journal was younger than it seemed. She wondered if there were any other passages she'd misinterpreted. She wondered...

She wondered what that sound was. That tapping. It was coming from the glass doors to the balcony. She hoped that it wasn't Rainbow Dash again; it seemed unlikely, so late at night. She climbed the steps slowly as the noise continued. It had a quick, even rhythm.

The lantern light did not reach far, so the unicorn could only see a shadowy figure, through the glass. A figure nearly twice her height, with wings and a horn. Her eyes widened, and she dared to hope for a moment.

A light appeared above the figure's head, and made clear that it was not Celestia who had come. Twilight could see why she had been confused: the pony was an alicorn that matched the size and rough shape of the elder princess. Unfortunately, that was where the similarities ended.

The alicorn's square jaw and bulky frame marked him as male. He was red. Coat, mane, tail, feathers, horn, all the deep red of fresh blood. Where the princess had a long, thick mane that seemed to flow in an unceasing ethereal wind, he had a short-cropped mop, frayed and matted. His fetlocks were not maintained; they fell almost to the ground, over unshod hooves. His feathers stuck out at all angles, and his coat...

His coat was covered with scars, countless old wounds on every surface, from his flank to his face. Most looked very old, and some had almost healed, but there was one on a wing that seemed fresh. It shone with the most vibrant crimson of all.

Twilight's first reaction was fear. She spread her front legs, dropping into an instinctive position of defense as her horn's magic charged. The other pony merely stared at her with gold-irised eyes, and once more patiently tapped on the glass. His lips curled into a smirk. It somehow made the scars on his face look slightly less twisted.

She watched him and he watched her. Empty moments passed. He raised his hoof again, holding it near the window, and he winked at her.

Twilight supposed that he could have just bucked the glass in, if he wanted to do her harm.

The unicorn sighed and released her magic into levitation, undoing the clasp and opening the glass door to the balcony.  Cold night air rushed in. The alicorn spoke, and his pleasant voice and cheerful demeanor contrasted sharply with his rough appearance, "Good evening, madam. May I enter?"

The mares eyes narrowed, "Why are you here? Who are you?"

"A fair question! I am a friend to mortal ponies, and to the truth, and an enemy to those who deceive and betray. And you are Twilight Sparkle," the stallion looked her over. "Well met," he added with a bow.

"How do you know my name?" Twilight asked, wondering whether she was in some sort of strange dream.

"Ah, yes, well...," The intruder looked away, sheepish. "I must admit that I've been scrying on you."

"What!?" The unicorn yelled, indignant at the violation of her privacy. She'd heard of ponies with the power to scry, but such strength and talent was rare. "Why?"

The stallion sat on his haunches, the balcony creaking under his shifting weight. He raised a hoof to scratch his chin. "First of all, forgive me my long-winded speech. I don't get out much, so when I can talk to another pony, I relish the opportunity while I yet have it. Still, even in my seclusion, I have to keep up to date on news from around Equestria. Thus, I scry. As for how that applies to you.... Well, any powerful magic is of interest to me, so Luna's return from her extended absence and the accompanying theatrics drew my eye. At first I thought that one goddess would replace the other, and this land would have an empire of the night instead of an empire of the day," he said, speaking of both empires with equal disdain in his voice.

His countenance brightened as he continued, "But then, what did I witness? Six little incomplete mortals defying a goddess," a grin split the alicorn's face, and his voice filled with manic glee, "I thought you were madmares, but you did it! You cast her down and scoured a part of her being. Six little ponies overpowered one of those immortal, invulnerable, insufferable tyrants." He laughed, quick and sharp and cruel, before speaking again in a more restrained tone, "You couldn't have known that it wouldn't destroy her. You couldn't have known that it would only lead to her returning to her sister's side. No matter! I'm sure, in time, you will find a way to make that princess give back what she took from you."

"W-what?" Twilight asked, overwhelmed by the onslaught of speech. Had he called the princesses tyrants? "Make... Celestia... give back what? What did she take from me?"

The other pony shook his head, "Not Celestia. Luna. And not from you you, but from all of you. I believe we've strayed from the topic, though it is parallel, parallel. We will return to your birthright in time, but if I remember correctly, we were discussing why I was scrying on you. And I was going to apologize for it, however necessary the act was. I watched you because you have a part of the power to overcome the princesses. What's more, you have the will to use it. You know not to trust the princesses; that's good! But you don't know the whole story. Celestia had the records destroyed. But I can teach you the real story of the past of our race. History that only I, among living ponies, know."

The unicorn's brow furrowed, "What about Celestia and Luna? Don't they know?"

The stallion snorted dismissively. "Oh, they know, better even than I, but don't let their shells fool you. They aren't alive; everything living bleeds. The goddesses do not bleed. Not like you and me." He flexed his wing. The mutilated flesh of the most recent burn cracked, droplets of blood springing forth and running together.

Twilight shuddered and closed her eyes as she recoiled from the sight. Still, curiosity drove her on, "And how do you know? And how have I never heard of a third alicorn before?"

"You've never heard of me," he hissed, "Because it wouldn't have helped you carry out Celestia's will. I am not a third alicorn. I am one of a once-proud civilization that covered this world before Luna ended our lines on a whim. I don't know how many yet live. And as for how I know?" The stallion chuckled, "Well, I'm a bit of a librarian myself, Twilight Sparkle, but unlike your collection, mine is not Celestia-approved. My records go back five thousand years, and show that those sisters are enemies to you and I, not friends. You've seen how they can manipulate and plot, haven't you?"

The unicorn was hesitant, "...Yes. I have."

"Then let me educate you. You can learn the truth, if you come visit my library. Together we can show your friends the light, and then we can fight them. End their tyranny once and for all."

"How...," Twilight gathered her resolve, "How do I know I can trust you?"

The other pony smiled, "You don't know. But I'm not asking you to trust me. I'm asking you to listen to me, and then decide for yourself. Come with me, Twilight Sparkle, and we will read of things long forgotten."

The cold night air blew through the open window, and the mare thought. The alicorn merely waited; a subtle smile graced his mutilated face. Ancient books, lost knowledge, reassurance. Someone telling her that her course was right, was justified. It tempted Twilight. She tried to resist, a very strong part of her unwilling to betray her mentor even then. In the end, one idea decided her course: perhaps, with this newcomer, she could find a way to hurt Celestia as much as the princess had hurt her.

"Wait here for a moment," the unicorn said. She rushed down the stairs, levitating her saddlebags to her and filling it with a few of the books she had been working on and some other essentials. Once the bags were secured, she climbed back up, a piece of paper and quill in tow. Her uninvited guest had wandered inside, and was examining one of her bookshelves. Twilight gasped as she saw, for the first time, the stallion's side, "Your cutie mark!"

Where a normal pony would have their identifying symbol, the alicorn's flank was adorned only with charred flesh.

"Hmm?" He blinked at her, then followed her gaze, "Oh, that. I removed it. The purpose of a cutie mark is to let the goddesses identify you. I... opted out."

"What...," Twilight managed, still disturbed by the sight, "What do you mean? A cutie mark is a representation of your special talent."

"A unique representation. And that's what a cutie mark is, not its purpose. The purpose is to serve as a crutch for the sisters. One can't remember faces, the other can't remember names, but neither ever forgets a cutie mark. I marred my face and I changed my name and I got rid of their brand," He smiled, "I consider it well worth the price."

"And what is your name, now that it's changed?" Twilight asked, somehow dreading the answer.

"Ever Free."

* * *

The early-morning silence of the cloud-home broke with a sudden pop and a green flash. Rainbow Dash opened her eyes just in time to see the falling scroll in the instant before it landed on her face.

The mare groaned. It was perhaps the least pleasant wake-up call she'd endured since flight school. Blinking the sleep from her eyes, she rolled over onto her knees and began to undo the letter's seal with her teeth. If it wasn't important, somepony was going to pay dearly.

Dash spread out the sheets and read from the first:

'RD: URGENT! Twilight is gone! She went to the Everfree Forest. I tried sending a letter to Celestia, but she didn't respond. I think the post to Canterlot might not be working or something. I sent you the note she left. Please bring it to Celestia. Hurry!. -Spike'

The other page that Spike included merely said:

'Gone with Ever Free'

* * *

The graceful arch of a rainbow shone over Ponyville, a beautiful sight that brought joy to many. It sprang from one pony's rank desperation.

At one end was the library, where Rainbow Dash had reassured Spike that she would find Twilight and bring her back safely. At the other was the Everfree Forest. A hoof-delivery to Celestia would take hours; the unicorn might not have that much time. On her friends' last visit to the forest, they only had to deal with some lame flower curse, but Dash knew that more serious dangers waited in the dark depths of the woods. She wasn't about to let Twilight wander around in there longer than necessary. She was going in after the unicorn.

Success was not a certainty; she kept the the librarian's note clutched in her folded foreleg, ready for delivery should her search prove fruitless.

A quick scan of the treeline yielded no obvious point of entry. Old game paths entered, but none had seen recent use. Rainbow Dash took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She wished she'd studied forests as thoroughly as clouds.

Plan A was a bust, but she could still check places her friends had gone before. Only after that would she allow herself to panic.

The pegasus dove into the forest. She dodged back and forth, weaving among the trunks along a familiar path. She was sure to go around the patch of inviting blue flowers, this time. Soon, she found herself at Zecora's hut. Rainbow Dash doubted that Twilight had simply stepped out to pay their new zebra acquaintance a visit, but the shaman might know something. Anything.

She could hope.

Dash knocked on the door with a knee. After a moment, it opened, and Zecora peered out. When the zebra saw her guest, she smiled,

"Greetings pony, it's a surprise
To have your presence grace my eyes"

The pegasus blinked, parsing the rhyme. Why couldn't the other mare just talk normal? "Uh, yeah, hi Zecora. Have you seen Twilight?"

The zebra shook her head,

"She has not come to visit here
I've had no recent guests, I fear,
And she did not pass by this way;
No one has been around today."

Rainbow Dash sighed. "Darn. Well, she should be around here somewhere. She left this note about the forest, see?" She grabbed the edge of the paper with her teeth and showed it to the other mare.

Zecora read the message. Her eyes widened and scanned the page again. After a moment, she frowned and moved past the pegasus, looking left and right into the darkness of the forest. Finally, she turned and set her head against the other mare's flank and pushed as she spoke in a low voice,

"Inside now; none must hear or see
The things that you will learn from me.
Of this forest's name, be assured,
that Everfree is but one word
But on this note you've shown to me
It is two words that I can see.
This choice is no mere accident
She wrote precisely what she meant."

The zebra kicked the door closed behind her. She grabbed a long bamboo stalk between her forelegs and balanced awkwardly on her rear hooves. One by one, she closed the curtains of the hut with the implement, plunging the room into ever deeper shadows.

"Now you may call me paranoid,
But it's a fact I can't avoid
That Ever Free, written that way,
Is not a prudent thing to say.
It's known that he has magic ears
so all that's spoken of, he hears
And also far flung scrying eyes;
He watches all that lives and dies"

The room was pitch black; Zecora's voice seemed to come from all around Rainbow Dash, as though the darkness itself were chanting with a fevered rhythm. The pegasus could not bring herself to speak over the whispered words, though countless questions burned within her.

"Now this may be just a tall tale
But zebras know that without fail
In legend, myth, and folk story
There are some grains of truth to see
And I believe our friend has found
truth best left buried in the ground.
You need not blindly journey on
I think I know where she has gone."

There was a loud thunk as bamboo hit wood, and the pegasus blinked as one of the walls of the hut began to glow a sickly green. The light came from some sort of moss, and the zebra had used it to create a makeshift map. A line divided lights shaped like tiny, stylized trees from others shaped like tufts of grass; Rainbow Dash recognized the treeline of the Everfree Forest, as seen from above. Within the woods, symbols were drawn in chalk and charcoal, though the pegasus could not recognize many of them. One that stood out was a simple representation of the ruined castle where the Elements of Harmony had been found. Just beyond the familiar landmark was a drawing of a field of gravestones much larger than the image of the castle itself.

Zecora had abandoned the pole and gestured with a hoof to a winding line of blue pigment that met an azure pool at the far edge of the map. Near the junction, surrounded by the harsh charcoal lines of dead woods, she'd drawn a bone-white equine skull.

"At mouth of twisted river's flow,
A place where only fools will go,
Where desecrated woods surround
His cavern under barren ground.
Beneath gnarled branch and dead wood
There is no light or hope or good
A twisted master, you will see
The winged unicorn, Ever Free!

"Your prospects, thus, are very bleak
This place's sire you must seek.
So do not try to find your friend;
In doing so you'll meet your end."

Dash scoffed, "Buck that! I'm going after Twilight, and I dare Ever Free to stop me!"

Zecora frowned and whispered a harsh reply,

"Hush little pony, not so loud!
Such volume cannot be allowed.
To speak of him is dangerous;
To challenge him? preposterous!
You could not ever hope to face
a pony of the elder race.
To do so, Dash, is never wise,
For everything he touches, dies.

"The myths speak of his blinding speed,
More strength than any other steed,
Magic we can not understand,
A mind where brilliant schemes are planned,
But worst of all, his tongue of gold,
Makes creatures do as they are told.
I will be honest with you, Dash
You'd be defeated in a flash."

Rainbow Dash's eyes narrowed. Her heart pounded in her chest as adrenaline began to flood her system. If Zecora was right, there might be nothing she could do. If she was right....

The pegasus whispered, "How do you know all this? Have you seen this 'Ever -" she stopped, unable to continue her question through the hoof Zecora had thrust into her face.

"I think that's enough of his name,
Its danger is much of his fame.
I must admit, I have not met
The master of this forest yet,
But all who I have spoken to
Have sworn to me these things are true.
From weakest creature all the way
To those who rule both night and day,
Those who cannot be devoured,
Beings magically powered,
He was here before anyone;
He will remain when we are done.
So tribute to him all do pay
And we must stay out of his way;
Yes, solitary or in herds,
Even the ursas heed these words!
That's enough, Dash, of tempting fate,
I wish to live to see a mate,
so turn your tail and leave this room,
For mere mention may bring our doom!"

In one moment, Rainbow Dash was staring at the map as Zecora filled her head with fears and threats. In the next, she was outside, and the hut behind her was dark and silent. The pegasus tried to summon memories of the time between, but had no success.

She supposed that there was nothing for it; as much as she would have liked to be the big hero of the day, anything that ursas were afraid of probably outclassed her. Even if only by a little bit. Dash clutched the note and shot up through the canopy. Once she reached sunlight again, she leveled off and flew as hard as she could. There, on the horizon, was her goal: Canterlot.

* * *

Celestia sat alone in her empty throne room. The beaming midafternoon sun filled the grand hall with warmth as birds sang in the royal gardens below. To the princess, the cheerful tones sounded very far away, and the heat refused to approach.

Frost covered the alicorn's seat, a sheen of ice that crawled inch by inch down the dais.

No mortal pony remembered why this day was set aside, why no court was held. It did not seem to be a holiday. There was no feast, no festival, no celebration. There had not been for over a thousand years. Celestia wondered whether Luna was enjoying her birthday.

There was a brief scuffle outside, a blow to the door followed by raised voices. The alicorn did not pay them any mind. Her guard had standing orders not to interfere with anything more dangerous than an irate petitioner; the policy had saved their lives on many occasions. There was little reason to risk injury protecting a charge that could not be harmed by tooth, claw, or spell. Whatever the altercation might have been, she would receive a report. Even if she didn't particularly care.

A half hour later, the doors at the far wall of the room opened, and a pegasus guard walked in. He cut a noble figure in his shining gold armor and pristine white coat, and carried himself with the stiff grace of a veteran. The princess did not know whether she had ever seen him before.

He approached the throne and bowed deeply, a gruff voice ringing out, "Good afternoon, Your Grace." The stallion paused, waiting for acknowledgement. He waited a long time.

Eventually, Celestia spoke a curt, "Rise," and the guard returned to his hooves. "I asked not to be disturbed."

The pegasus maintained a stance of perfect attention as he spoke, eyes straight ahead, "Yes Princess, you asked but did not order. I have a report that I believe you should hear at once."

The alicorn sighed and waved a permissive hoof, "Very well, what is it?"

The stallion's throat moved as he swallowed, though no other part of him did, "Well, Your Grace, a petitioner came, and when we told her that court was not in session, she tried to rush past us and get in. She failed to open the door because she pushed instead of pulled, and then she tried to rush away. We apprehended her and held her for questioning."

Celestia's brow arched, "And why did you think that I need to know about this?"

"I would not have brought it to your attention, Princess, except that the pony we apprehended, one Rainbow Dash, claims that there is a matter requiring your personal attention," he paused and, just for an instant, his eyes flicked up to meet hers, before discipline returned them to their steady course, "A matter regarding the safety of Twilight Sparkle. Her life is in danger."

"And why," the princess snapped, "should I be concerned about that? There are many instances where my intervention could save a pony's life. I cannot save them all. I expect my wishes to be ignored when there are major disasters, not petty tragedies. You should not have brought this to my attention."

The muscles in the stallion's jaw tensed and his eyes narrowed. After a few seconds he spoke, "May I have permission to speak freely, Your Grace?"

Celestia frowned and shifted on her throne, "Very well. Rest."

The guard spread his legs, adopting a more comfortable position and looked up. His gaze met hers, and his voice shook as he said, "Princess, I am not nearly as wise as you. I've seen but a handful of years on this world when compared to the centuries you must have seen. For twelve generations, my family has served you in the Guard, and stories have been passed down, and we have learned what we can on our vigils. We know far less than you, but we do know more than nothing. The ponies of this palace are many things, but we are not blind. We have seen the way you've acted since the Summer Sun Celebration. Getting you to go to court and hear petitioners used to be more than half the trouble of this job. Now it's been two weeks since you left this room. It does not take ancient knowledge to see that you are troubled, that something is wrong.

"The consensus among the court is that there have been issues between you and your sister. The Guard knows that is not the case; after all, you've only spoken to her a few times, and always quite civilly, since this... irregularity... began. The Guard remembers that you were withdrawn even a few days before the Celebration.

"Prin- no. Celestia. Celestia, you underestimate the Royal Guard. We know that the customs and courtesies were designed by you. You prevent us from using names and ranks to hide the fact that you cannot tell us apart. We approve. All of us have served in border units; too many of us know the pain of losing a brother in arms. If we are incapable of protecting you from physical danger, we can at least protect you from that pain. It is well that you never grow close to any of us.

"But all of us have grown close to you.

"We saw the way you acted around Twilight Sparkle. We know the joy she brought you. But we do not know why she is gone, why you have sent your joy away. And I thought - I thought that you would want to save your joy, to avoid that pain of loss. Why, Celestia, why are you doing this to yourself?"

Celestia was silent, for a time. When she replied, it came in a whisper, "I did not know whether any of you suspected. Sometimes, it helps that I can pretend the pegasus telling me the latest joke is the same one who helped my sister play pranks on me three thousand years ago. Other times... other times it feels like I lose all of you at the end of every day. I did not have that motivation when I designed the uniforms, but I could not change it if I tried. Military tradition is sometimes stronger than any magic." She paused, then shook her head. "Tell Rainbow Dash that I will not help her. Send her back to Ponyville. That is my final word on the matter. Do not challenge it. You will only make things more painful. I appreciate what you have done, what you all have done for me, but you cannot save me from my own mistakes, my own misjudgements -"

"We can try," the guard cut in without hesitation.

The princess smiled, but it was an unsteady, sickly thing. "Go. Go and never mention this again. Lose yourself among the others so that I can delude myself. I want to believe that such loyalty never dies. Dismissed."

The stallion bowed. "As you wish, Your Grace."

* * *

A single blue pegasus streaked toward Ponyville, slowed only slightly by her exhaustion. Most of her day had been flight, but she did not let it weigh too heavily upon her; she had a friend to save.

Normally, Rainbow Dash would have been thrilled to meet one of her idols. She would have been even more thrilled to be chased and subsequently tackled by one. Tronenskjold, commander of the Royal Guard, combat veteran and former Wonderbolt, was essentially the height of awesome. The pegasus wished that they could have been introduced on better terms, and she wished that he hadn't hurried her out of the palace so quickly. She wished most of all that his last words to her had been anything other than what they were.

His message had been grim. Celestia would not help. He had seemed as disappointed by the news as her. She told him about Ever Free and the location Zecora said to avoid, and he had dispatched a few pegasi to scout. Rainbow Dash hoped that it wouldn't be too little too late.

With that, the mare was nearly out of plans. There was only one option, one hope left. As much as she hated to ruin one of Pinkie Pie's parties, it was a necessity.

Only Princess Luna could save Twilight Sparkle.
Editing by :iconpeppermint-roo:

Additional pre-reading by :iconsomethingverywitty:

So here's this. I'm relatively satisfied with how I handled Zecora's dialogue; I hate when people write her and stretch so obviously for rhymes and the dialog starts to seem very forced.

Hmm... What else to say? This might be the last one my main editor can look at for awhile, so if there's a sudden massive drop in quality, you'll know why.

I've done my best to write Merely a Mare as a whole unit, rather than a series of independently functioning chapters. Things mentioned early on mater late in the fic, things you didn't really understand when you first read them will make sense in light of things in the last few parts, and certain revelations will make you look at past events in a different light.

Of course, in ten days my cosmology probably gets blown to hell by season two's Discord, but that's okay, because I'll be able to console myself with new pony episodes.
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You really seem to have quite the low esteem for Celestia to make her into such a bitch she'd be willing to let Twilight die. Are you a member of the New Lunar Republic by any chance?