by Donnys Boy

Chapter 1: Reprise


by Donny's Boy

Synopsis: Since when does Twilight Sparkle ever fail?

You were prepared to do your best,
Had what it takes to pass the test …

In a lonely gorge that lay in the outermost edges of Equestria, there dwelt a Shadow. None knew the Shadow’s name or even what the Shadow was. All that was known were rumors, terrible rumors, whispered in hushed tones and with wide eyes, about atrocities committed in the darkest depths of the night. Despite the rumors that enveloped the land like foul fog, few claimed to have ever seen the Shadow with their own eyes, however, and fewer still believed that it actually existed.

But Twilight Sparkle believed.

As the hulking black Shadow grabbed Rarity by the rear legs and slammed her into a nearby boulder, Twilight Sparkle watched and Twilight Sparkle had no choice but to believe. And as she watched, almost involuntarily she opened her mouth—to scream, to shout, to yell, to cry out to the very heavens. To say anything, to do anything, that might stop what was happening. Yet despite how hard she tried, she could not make a sound.

The Shadow smiled back at Twilight as it dashed Rarity against the rocks, again and again and again. By the time it had finished, Rarity lay motionless on the cold and barren ground, her formerly immaculate coat stained a rusty red. The only sign that she lived was the slight rise and fall of her chest, as tentative and fragile as a silk thread.

And still Twilight could not scream.

You clearly have just what it takes …

With a ferocious snarl that echoed throughout the gorge, Applejack rushed in. She reared up on her forelegs and kicked out with her powerful hind legs, but despite the strength of her buck, her legs simply went straight through the Shadow. As though it was nothing but air.

The Shadow chuckled in response, a low, rattling hiss.

“Pitiful ponies …”

Twilight slammed herself forward, against the magical restraints that burned her skin and held her fast in place, and she felt her teeth pull back from her lips. She strained as hard as she could, so hard that she felt the magic tear into her flesh, felt the blood come trickling down from the gashes she herself had caused. Over and over she struggled to free herself, so that she could join the battle, so that she could put an end to her friend’s pained cries, but the restraints gave not an inch.

“Pitiful ponies,” the Shadow repeated, as Applejack slumped to the dirt beside Rarity.

And still Twilight could not scream. For the black magic that bound her in place robbed her of her voice just as much as it robbed her of her magic.

Insult to injury.

The cold wind whistling through the narrow gorge was the only sound to be heard.

To pass a test with such high stakes …

“Hang on, Twilight! The cavalry’s coming!”

And there was Pinkie, bounding over with a grin as wide as the sky was blue, determination and faith shining in her eyes. Twilight swallowed nervously. A few yards away, Rainbow Dash was dive-bombing the Shadow, shouting insults, flying in tight loops. Providing a distraction.

As soon as Pinkie reached her, the earth pony began tentatively poking at the eerie black glow that surrounded Twilight from horn to hoof. Twilight winced in response, as each poke send a sharp stab of pain shooting through her body, but nodded for Pinkie to continue. Finally, after seconds that felt like hours, Pinkie let out a giggle as pure and sparkling as the gem around her neck.

“Twi, I think I figured out this meanie’s trick! I think I just gotta—”

Suddenly, the earth pony’s eyes went wide and terrifyingly blank, and Pinkie’s grin fell into a ghoulish, cavernous grimace. Twilight glanced down. She glanced down in time to see the black claw retract from a soft pink belly, in time to watch Pinkie Pie slowly begin to topple over.

And as her vision went blurry with tears, Twilight wished harder than she’d ever wished before that she could let out just one single scream.

We knew for sure you would prevail …

Rainbow Dash was fast—perhaps the fastest pony alive—but she was not faster than air itself. She darted and dodged the Shadow, circling, weaving in between its massive black limbs, but it didn’t last. It couldn't last. With a lightning quick snap of its wrist, the Shadow slammed the pegasus to the ground, where she lay stunned and groaning. Approaching its newest prey slowly, tauntingly, the Shadow licked its maw.

“You leave her alone!”

From out of nowhere Fluttershy was right there, standing over Rainbow’s prone body, an unlikely yet imposing sentinel. The pegasus’ pink-maned head was held low and dangerous, in fighting position. Even from a distance, Twilight could see the flash of pure, raw anger in Fluttershy’s eyes, and she shivered a little in response.

But the Shadow only grinned.

Fluttershy fought harder and longer than Twilight had ever seen her fight before. There was a moment, just a second or two suspended in time, in which it almost looked like Fluttershy might win. Just a second or two of pure courage and steel resolve. Just enough to provide the slightest twinge of hope, right before that hope was wiped away with a sweep of the Shadow's arm and the muffled thud of soft flesh against stone.

And Twilight did not scream, as she was forced to stand there and watch Fluttershy’s last stand. She did not scream, despite the fact that every fiber of her being desperately needed to.

Since when does Twilight Sparkle ever fail?

“You're ... gonna pay … for that …”

Rainbow Dash pushed herself back up onto her hooves, her face contorted in pain and her legs trembling like leaves in a thunderstorm. But Rainbow was nothing if not stubborn, and even as the Shadow’s oozing laughter swirled around her, she stumbled doggedly forward. Her eyes were hard, cold, glittering pink diamonds.

The Shadow slapped her down. Rainbow staggered back up, and then it slapped her down again.

And then Rainbow got back up.

Twilight shut her eyes and shook her head, sobbing silently as she listened to Dash’s snarls and to the Shadow’s echoing laughter. Silently she sobbed, and silently she prayed to anyone who might be out listening to give her back her power so that she might at last put an end to the living nightmare playing out right before her in this godforsaken gorge.

Finally, after a few more minutes, the snarling stopped but the laughter didn’t.

Twilight didn’t open her eyes.

“Cut off the head,” whispered the Shadow, its voice strangely wavering and terribly, perilously near, “and then the body dies.”

Twilight grit her teeth. It felt as though, if she did not scream, if she could not give voice to her pain and her rage, that she might tear apart right at the seams.

“And now that the body is dust … it’s time to deal with the head.”

Her jaw ached from how tightly she was clenching it.

These ponies she loved, these ponies she'd fought for and who'd fought for her, these ponies who were the best ponies she'd ever known ... dead? Gone? Finished? Impossible.

It was impossible that this was how things should end for these wonderful, amazing ponies who had always been there for her, who'd encouraged her and supported her and believed in her. Who had believed in her completely, faithfully, through thick and through thin.

Even over the sound of the Shadow's deathly soft chuckles, she could hear each and every one of their voices. If she listened very closely, it almost sounded like singing.

“Mmm, yes, the head. The head with its brain. Brains taste good. Your brain, little pony, will taste so very ...”

She ignored the Shadow's poisoned whisperings. Instead, she focused inward, and she listened to the voices of her friends, singing beautifully, singing triumphantly, singing a song meant just for her. She concentrated on all of her love and all of her defiance, condensing those feelings down, shaping them and sharpening them to a razor point. She squeezed shut her eyes, as hard as she could, and she pushed everything, all that she had and all that she was, into a tight, tiny ball.

Her friends believed in her, and her friends trusted her. She would not fail them. Not now.

Not ever.


Her voice tore through the gorge, echoing off the rocky walls, and ripping through the air. When Twilight finally opened her eyes, she found that the Shadow remained a few feet away, frozen in place, a look of utter shock in its malevolent black eyes. For the first time since the six of them had arrived in this wretched place, the monster seemed hesitant and unsure. Almost frightened.

Twilight Sparkle smiled. The Shadow was right to be afraid.

Quickly the unicorn reached out with her newly-freed magic, groping, searching, and guided by her magic she felt five gems gently glowing and five hearts barely beating. She felt five ponies who were broken wrecks, scattered along the gorge's barren ground like unimportant and forgotten seeds of grains. With her magic, she felt five ponies who were slowly, painfully dying.

“No,” whispered Twilight, and she meant it.

She meant it more than she’d meant anything before in her life.

All those doubts you can dismiss.
Trust yourself, and you cannot miss …

As soon as the cry went up in Canterlot that the bearers of the Elements of Harmony had returned, Princess Celestia flew through the castle faster than she’d moved in centuries. In an instant she was out the doors, past the guards, and heading toward the city gates so quickly that she could feel the wind rip the crown right from her head.

She couldn’t have cared less.

Once she’d reached the gates, the crowd of assembled ponies parted to give way and bowed low to their princess as she passed by. She ignored them, her eyes instead reaching forward, past the city and out toward the road. Five ponies, who were little more than five tiny dots silhouetted against the setting sun, came slowly walking down the road.

Celestia swallowed thickly. She counted and then recounted and then recounted again, but each time there were only five.

A hush fell over the crowd gathered at the gates.

“No,” whispered Celestia.

And though some part of her—some terrible, unspeakable part—wished that the missing sixth pony was Pinkie Pie or Fluttershy, she knew that wasn’t the case. She knew the truth. She could feel it in the tightening of her chest and in the sudden dryness in her mouth.

But it was not until the returning Elements of Harmony came into view, with a lifeless purple unicorn slung across Applejack’s back, that Princess Celestia actually screamed.

But I wasn't prepared for this.

Author's Notes:

This is a revised and somewhat expanded version of a story I wrote in response to the Thirty Minute Pony Stories prompt, "Her death was not in vain." (http://thirtyminuteponies.tumblr.com/post/40691848668/prompt-230-compilation-in-the-line-of-duty)

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