In Tooth And Mane

A My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Fan Fiction

by Aquaman52

All inherent names, characters, and locations © Lauren Faust & Hasbro, Inc.

Preface: In writing this work of fiction, I wish to clarify that I am in no way endorsing or opposing any specific religious denomination or set of spiritual beliefs. The physical representations of the Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are included in this work in order to create an engrossing and exciting narrative, and not to imply that the Catholic Christian view of sin and virtue is the correct (or incorrect) methodology for virtuous people and/or ponies to follow.

Read as: this isn't supposed to be a sermon, so don't start BAWWing about it being one. It isn't. Kthxbai~


Song Tags (Number in story text indicates where suggested song should be played; (~) indicates where song ends in story):

(#) - Song Title (Artist)

(main theme; no number) - United We Stand, Divided We Fall (Two Steps From Hell)

(1) - Black Blade (Two Steps From Hell)

(2) - Stone Cold Crazy (Queen)


In Tooth And Mane

Episode 1: Malice in Wonderland

Part 1

~In pace, ut sapiens, aptarit idonea bello.~

(1) He had always thought it ironic that his favorite time of day was night. Even before the Sickness, even before his Rose had wilted and the Princess had betrayed him, leaving him to this heavenly curse of a life lived in shadow, he had always loved the night. Always loved the freshness of the air, the breeze whispering in the trees bordering the paths in the Palace gardens; always loved the solitude of silence, the almost physical noiselessness that stretched taut across his ears and behind his eyes. Always loved the moonlight cresting over his back and making the coarse navy hair and silvery mane covering it sparkle like earthbound stars. The moonlight was his favorite part, actually. It had been his name, his calling. His identity.

There was no moon out tonight. It didn't matter, though: he hadn't been Moonlight for a long time now.

The cloaked figure moved quickly but silently, his deep blue horn giving off a dull glow just bright enough to keep the overgrown path beneath his hooves visible to him and him alone. There was no need to hurry, of course, but all the same he kept his pace swift. Even after dreaming of this day for years, even after imagining his final plan so many times that the image of his triumph was all he saw when he closed his eyes in the morning, he still felt a shimmering bubble of excitement floating around in his chest. Tonight was the night he would finally do it. Tonight would be the beginning of everyone else's end.

The path narrowed, and he forced himself back down to a walk. Uncontrollable anticipation wasn't a good enough excuse to risk breaking his neck reaching the place. In any case, it couldn't be more than a quarter mile off by now, assuming the map he'd taken from that decrepit old pegasus in Stalliongrad with the wooden eye and the missing wing was accurate. In truth, he felt he'd done her a great service in ending her life as painlessly as she did. Direct contact with the back of her skull, and a quick jolt sent straight from his horn to her central command center of her brain. Total annihilation of all electrical impulses in a single moment, and complete cerebral shutdown in the next. Like flipping the switch on a study lamp. She wouldn't have felt a thing. More than she deserved, considering the stories that had led him to her.

But that internal debate could be saved for later, when time itself would have no meaning to him. He had arrived.

The Fortress of the Four. The bastion of all things unknown and unsavory to the common colt or filly. The Palace of Malice, as some yokel had apparently called it long ago in a fashion that had caught on with far too many of the ponies he'd spoken with over the past eighteen years. Whatever you wanted to call it, the name itself didn't matter. Nothing outside those crumbling walls mattered. What was inside, what would be inside…that was what he had come for. That was where all his research and all his careful planning would finally come to fruition.

He had never felt so alive in his entire life.

The Fortress was deserted, as he had every reason to expect it would be, but despite that assurance he still entered slowly, mostly out of reverence for the colossal structure. The outer walls were thirty feet high and carved out of what appeared to be obsidian, and the towering castle beyond them seemed to reach up to the sky and then melt into it, the tip of the impossibly tall tower in the center piercing straight through the clouds and into whatever wonders lay above. It'd be quite a climb to reach the top, but it wouldn't even be close to the hardest part of his journey here. Without another thought to the matter, he continued forward and trotted into the cavernous main hall.

Once he was safely within the confines of the pitch-black foyer, the unicorn allowed a bit more power to seep into the tip of his horn. The growing light threw twitching shadows all over the black and white-speckled marble, each one shifting shapes a thousand times in the blink of an eye. He ignored them all, and kept moving onward, towards the back of the hall.

Twenty paces in, left at the pedestal, up onto the landing and through the first door on the right. The key is in my right front pocket.

The rusty hinges shrieked with complaint, but the shrouded unicorn showed no signs of sympathy. Pausing only to shut the door tightly behind him again, he jogged briskly up the steep and spiraling steps, absentmindedly counting each one while his heartbeat raced inside his throat. After two minutes, his count had reached three hundred steps. Fifty-eight steps later, he came to another door, this one very different from the first. It was a good deal thicker and braced with what had once been sturdy iron plates, and all across the dusty wood were carved ancient symbols and figures that the archaeological teams back at the University would've given their left hooves to get a gander at. Grimacing at the thought, he pushed the door open unceremoniously with his hoof, making a mental note to get rid of the door as soon as possible. The fewer reminders he had of those pretentious, nosy, infuriatingly close-minded scholars, the better. And the fewer reminders he had of the fact that he had once been one of them himself, the best of all.

He wasted no time in moving into the circular room, a distinct sense of intrusion upon something he was not meant to see permeating his nose and the back of his neck. As he reached the center of the tower, he shrugged off his hood, revealing a lengthy black mane that swept back majestically from his forehead and managed to give off a lustrous gleam even in the inconsequential light from the softly glowing horn poking out from inside it. The rest of the cloak fell to the ground a moment later, and he flicked his tail in appreciation of being freed from the unwieldy garment, his cutie mark—a rose of fading crimson with a single petal missing—shifting in tandem with the rest of his flank. The place was right. The time was perfect. Now all he had to do was cast the spell.

He had written down the incantation many years ago on a dog-eared scrap of paper torn out of his study planner—amazing, how diligently he had once maintained the thing—but he had read and reread the sixteen lines on it so many times since then that the proper words were burned into his memory as deeply as the new name he had chosen for himself upon his renouncing of his former life. He turned to face the door, brought himself up to his full height, and when he opened his mouth and channeled every ounce of power he possessed into the base of his horn, he didn't hesitate for even a fraction of a second.

O, ye devilish damn'd steeds

Of hateful blood and wicked creed,

Rise up from black eternity

And forward gather unto me

As soon as the first words left his lips, all motion in the surrounding forest seemed to stop. The air inside the room grew warm, and the crackling scent of ozone began to fill his nose. It was working. Something was stirring.

Sinful arrogance, unkempt fire,

bloody wrath and mad desire,

idleness and cravings dire:

'Neath thine hooves this world expires.

The stones in the walls hummed with energy, and the ceiling quivered with barely restrained power. Beneath his hooves, the floor of the lofty chamber began to glow, thin lines of light snaking out from the circle he was standing in towards the far edges of the room.

Seven names in whispers told,

Seven fearsome fiends of old;

Let thy broken wings unfold

So all colts thy strength behold.

A distant rumble set the tower shaking, ancient dust showering down from the girders and beams that had been keeping the roof of the tower aloft for thousands of years. In the back of his mind, he wondered whether the prehistoric spire could even handle the treatment he was putting it through, but the raw, nearly uncontrollable power coursing through his body was enough to whisk that concern away as quickly as it had come. There could be no stopping now. Not when the ceremony was almost complete. Not when he had almost succeeded.

He hunched his shoulders and steeled his legs, his head and horn throbbing with light. He finished the spell through gritted teeth.

Now come, O creatures fierce and fain,

Your vengeance o'er this land shall rain;

For command ye I, in tooth and mane:

In darkness ye shall rise again!

Abruptly, the rumbling stopped. For a long, terrifying moment, all was still.

And then, a deafening explosion rocked the tower and sent its lone occupant careening off into the far wall. When he dared to open his eyes again, he saw that he was still alive, and that the room around him was still intact. And what he also saw, in perfect accordance with the description of the spell's result he'd read about so long ago, was an ethereal golden ring extending outwards from the tower and spreading in all directions.

For the first time in twenty years, he allowed himself an unfettered smile. The spell had worked. The Call had been sent. Step One of his plan was complete.

Yes. Step One was complete. Next would be Step Two: The Collection. And then after that, Step Three: The Awakening. And after that…

After that…Step Four.

The Ascension.

The navy blue unicorn watched the golden ring fade off into the horizon. Yes. The Ascension. The End of Days. His moment of ultimate and everlasting glory.

His smile grew bigger. The Era of Celestia had ended, and the Era of Luna would never begin. This would be his era. His dominion. His world. The blue unicorn parted his lips, and the light from his horn faded away into nothing.

And in a deserted tower in the middle of an uninhabited, unexplored, and virtually unknown forest, he threw back his head and laughed. (~)

• • •

"Spiiii-ike…"

No answer. Of course there was no answer. Why would there be an answer? It wasn't like the pint-sized, purple-scaled little baby dragon had been living with her for, oh, roughly his entire life.

"Spike!"

A fuzzy blue lump on the floor beneath one of the bookshelves moaned and shifted away from her. A limp, scaly hand oozed out over the edge of the basket it had been contained in just a moment before, but didn't make any further motion beyond that.

"Spike!"

With a much louder groan this time, Spike yanked his limb back inside his basket and threw off his blanket with an impressively loud huff. "Maybe no one ever explained this to you, Twilight," he grumbled. "But the reason why they invented snooze buttons for alarm clocks was so you could actually snooze."

"The library's been open for an hour, Spike! You were supposed to be reshelving all the books we took out yesterday!"

Spike took a cursory glance at the teetering stack of books piled by the desk Twilight used for late-night reading sessions. The pile was at least three times as tall as he was. "Must've slipped my mind…" he muttered as he fumbled for the blanket he'd kicked off just a moment before. Twilight suppressed her groan by grinding her hoof against her forehead.

"Oh, just forget those! There's something more important we need to take care of!" she said, trotting forward to the messy shelves beneath their bedroom loft. "Do we have any books on theoretical physics?"

"On…what?" Spike replied groggily, his emerald eyes hidden behind tightly shut eyelids.

"You know, physics. How stuff moves?"

"Do I even want to know why you need a book on diacritical…whatever?"

The answer to that kind of question was usually "no", but that rarely stopped Twilight from telling Spike anyway. "Pinkie Pie accidentally put the wrong ingredients in this morning's cupcake batch, and now the cupcakes are bouncing all over Sugarcube Corner. And they bounce faster every time they hit something, so I need to figure out how to get them to slow down quick before…Spike!"

An exaggerated snore gave her all the explanation she needed as to why Spike was no longer paying attention. Allowing herself a small eye-roll this time, she decided it wasn't worth the trouble to get him up again and started searching by herself. Her horn glowed with bluish-purple light as she levitated book after book off the well-worn shelves, reading the titles to herself as they passed by her nose.

"Applied Chemistry, no. The Wild Wonders of Outer Space, no. Memory Disorders and How Not to Forget Them…" Her brow creased into a puzzled look. "Definitely no." A few more rejections were added to the growing heap behind her before a thick book with a silvery gray cover caught her attention.

"If It's Probable, It's Possible: Physical Science and The Principles Behind It," she read off the pristine spine. "Good enough," she conceded after a moment's deliberation, floating the book over to one of the few free spots on her desk.

She had just cracked the textbook open to the first chapter—Electrical Attraction: How Does It Work?—when she heard the distinct fluttering of approaching pegasus wings. She had just enough time to wonder what could've possibly inspired Rainbow Dash to be moving so quickly so early in the morning when the entire library shook with the impact of something heavy and fast against the stretch of wood to the left of the door.

"I'm innocent, officer!" Spike yelled in a panicked voice, bolting straight up in bed as the sudden noise brought him forcefully out of Dreamland.

"Ow…" a muffled voice groaned from behind the door. Twilight shut her eyes and heaved a sigh. No chance that she'd have time to get through this book now. Or be able to get anything productive done for the next half-hour. At a minimum.

There was a moment's pause while the pony outside collected herself, and then Twilight's visitor proceeded to knock politely on the door to announce her presence. Another quiet sigh escaped Twilight's lips. "Come in!" she called out.

"Package for Miss Twilight Sparkle!" came her visitor's immediate reply as she stepped inside. The voice belonged to a cloudy gray pegasus pony with a yellow mane and eyes to match, neither of which were pointed directly at Twilight like the rest of her face was. Her given name was Ditzy Doo, but the nickname around town for her was a bit less flattering, and one which Twilight had to constantly remind herself not to use in front of her. If she could've found the dictionary among all the clutter, Twilight was fairly certain that the definition for "clumsy" would have a picture of Ditzy right next to it. Same went for "spacey" and "bubbly"; her cutie mark even reflected the latter trait. As for her eyes, she had some kind of genetic condition that gave her that wall-eyed look, Twilight had been told, and as far as that went some days were apparently worse than others. Today was obviously one of those days.

"Please, Ditzy, just call me Twilight," Twilight said with a forced grin. She'd told Ditzy that at least a dozen other times. Ditzy's answer on the thirteenth was no different than the other twelve.

"But 'Miss Twilight Sparkle' sounds so much more professional!" Ditzy replied happily, as the package on her back slid off and hit the floor with a thud and what sounded like the tinkling of breaking glass. "And being professional is what I like best!"

"And that's very mature of you, Ditzy, but you really don't have to do that…every time you come in here," Twilight continued, her voice trailing off into a low tone near the end of her sentence. "After all, we are fr…neighbors." She forced another smile, though this one petered out quickly.

For some reason, Ditzy found Twilight's last statement hilarious. "Silly filly," she giggled, flapping somewhat erratically over to Twilight's side and leaning hard up against her. "We don't even live on the same street!"

"Oh, yeah…heh, heh…" Thank Celestia.

"But that's no biggie," Ditzy went on as she flipped over and rolled onto her back, her wings splayed out beneath her and her eyes pointed—well, sort of—up at Twilight's chin. "'Cause 'friend' is a much funner word than 'neighbor'." Ditzy's lips turned up into an innocent smile. "We are friends, right, Miss Twilight Sparkle?"

Twilight's face went blank. "Uh…" Subject change. Now. "What's in the box?"

Ditzy craned her neck back to look upside-down at the package she'd dropped a moment ago. "Oh yeah, that!" she said excitedly, completely forgetting about her previous train of thought and giving Twilight a chance to let her shoulders unwind from her narrow escape. "I don't know. Mail ponies aren't allowed to look inside the mail. Boss says that's illi…ille…against the rules, or something."

Twilight gazed at the box, particularly at the "THIS END UP" arrow that was now pointed towards the far wall. "It wouldn't, by any chance, be my special-order genuine crystal Ancient Legends of the Far East figurine set sent all the way from Bangkob, would it?" she asked with what she thought was a very impressive degree of composure.

Something shifted inside the box, and more clinking glass was heard. "Oh…" Ditzy mumbled, her grin more apologetic than cheerful this time. "Oops."

"Never mind," Twilight said brightly. "I'll just…order another set." She sighed, and gazed back resignedly at the physics book. "For fifty bits per model…"

"Hey, what'cha readin'?" Ditzy shouted much too close to Twilight's ear, looking curiously at the open book on her desk. It didn't seem like she had moved across the floor as much as just materialized right next to Twilight.

"Something I should really get back to," Twilight replied as she pushed her forehead into Ditzy's side and slid her on her still planted hooves towards the door.

"Ooh! Can I help?"

"That's very sweet of you, Ditzy, but this stuff is pretty advanced and I don't read very well when other ponies are in the room with me." Twilight cut Ditzy off at the head of her next exclamation. "So if you could just come back sometime later, I'm sure you could…"

Twilight was still trying to think of something that Ditzy could possibly help her with when she heard the explosion. It sounded too distant to have come from inside Ponyville, but even still it was powerful enough to rattle the windows of the library and send a few more loose books shivering off their shelves. For a long moment, even Ditzy was silent.

"What was that?" the gray filly finally said in tandem with a once-again awoken Spike.

"I don't know…" Twilight answered honestly. "But it didn't sound good." She turned to Spike. "Spike, keep an eye on the library for me," she said, to which she received a throaty grunt in reply. "Ditzy, have you seen Applejack or Fluttershy in town this morning? I want to go check this thing out."

"Um…" Ditzy said, screwing up her eyes and knocking a hoof against the side of her head in concentration. "I think Applejack's selling apples in the town square, and Fluttershy's with Rarity at the salon. And Pinkie Pie is…"

"With the cupcakes, yeah," Twilight finished. "I guess that'll just have to wait for later…what about Rainbow Dash?"

"She's…she took the morning off!" Ditzy remembered suddenly, to her own delight. "Yeah, she went out to that little clearing outside Whitetail Wood to practice flying or something. And I saw a buncha little fillies follow her out, those ones with the cool red capes!"

The Cutie Mark Crusaders, Twilight reasoned, her mind filling in the blank left by Ditzy's spotty memory. She wasn't too surprised that they were with Rainbow Dash; Scootaloo was Dash's biggest admirer, and made no secret of it to anyone who asked and most ponies who didn't. What did surprise her, though, was that Rainbow Dash was with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. She wasn't usually comfortable at all with younger fillies; most of the time, she either stuck with the ones her own age or, more often than not, flew solo. She must have taken a liking to the little orange speed demon.

"Well, she's probably in the middle of something out there," Twilight concluded with a shrug. "We'll fill her in later, I gue-"

A strangled cough cut through Twilight's organizational reverie and turned both her and Ditzy's attention to Spike, who was lying haphazardly in his basket as if he had just fallen into it. He glanced over at Twilight for a moment, then hiccupped and belched out a burst of green fire that soon condensed into a tightly rolled slip of paper sealed with the emblem of the Palace.

"A letter from the Princess?" Spike said quizzically as he picked the scroll up off the floor where it had fallen. "You think it's about that explosion a second ago?"

Twilight's better judgment told her that it was much too soon after the event for Princess Celestia to be writing to her about it and that it was much too far away from Canterlot for it to concern her, but despite that she still felt a certain sense of foreboding about the contents of the letter. Answering Spike's question with a noncommittal shrug, she levitated the scroll out of Spike's hands and unsealed it in midair, letting it hang in front of her eyes as she skimmed over the text inside.

"What's it say?" Ditzy asked, looking at the page from a dozen different angles in an attempt to see it past Twilight's head. "Was it aliens? A meteor?" She gasped ecstatically as another thought occurred to her. "An explosion at a muffin factory?"

Ditzy's jubilant mood gradually died away as Twilight remained silent, still engrossed in the Princess's letter. The paper was quivering ever so slightly now. "Twilight?" Ditzy said unsurely. "What does the letter say?"

Finally, Twilight lowered the page. She looked at neither Ditzy nor Spike, and the expression on her face was grim. Her eyes were wide, but it was a long time before either of her companions realized what it was that filled them.

"Twilight?" Spike said nervously. After far too long of a pause, Twilight looked up at Spike and locked her eyes in his.

"We need to find Rainbow Dash," she said. "Now."

• • •

"Puh-leeeeease, Rainbow Dash?"

Rainbow Dash tried desperately to hide the smirk tugging at the corners of her lips. "Hmm…I dunno," she said pensively. "I had a big training day yesterday and I got an awful lotta stuff to do later…"

Dash looked down and gave a playfully haughty look to the grinning orange-coated, purple-maned pegasus balancing on the fronts of her hooves beside her, the little filly's developing wings stretched taut with excitement. "Oh, fine," Dash said, finally letting out a grin to match the gaping one spreading across her fellow cloud-dweller's face. "But just this once."

"Awesome!" Scootaloo shouted, with considerably more excitement than her similarly sized companions. "Operation Cutie Mark Crusader Cloud Clobberers is a go!"

"Um, Scootaloo…" the smallest of the third young fillies, a pure white unicorn with a curly pink-and-purple striped mane, said nervously. "I don't know if this is such a good idea…"

"Aw, c'mon, Sweetie Belle!" Scootaloo pleaded. "She's just gonna show us a couple cool cloud-kicking techniques."

"But we can't even fly…" the third member of the crew, a cream-colored earth pony with a thick Southern accent and a red mane bright as a shined apple, pointed out.

"Well, we couldn't make candles either, Apple Bloom…" Scootaloo muttered under her breath.

"Hey!" Apple Bloom shouted. "You said you thought bein' Cutie Mark Crusader Candlestick Crafters was a great idea! And we got all that wax outta your mane anyway!"

Scootaloo turned around to glare to Apple Bloom. "Eventually…" Apple Bloom added meekly.

"Sounds like you fillies need a little bit'a inspiration," Rainbow Dash interjected. "And I know just the pony for the job…"

"Who?" Sweetie Belle asked, ignoring or most likely just not aware of Scootaloo's huffy groan and eyeroll.

"Well, if you really wanna know…" Dash began to say before snapping her wings open and bolting into the sky. "Just look up!"

As the Cutie Mark Crusaders watched in awe, Rainbow Dash ascended into the clouds at a fantastic speed, keeping her motion in a tight spiral to help give her climb an extra punch. She broke through one, two, three clouds before reaching the apex of her flight, right above a giant fluffy cumulus she'd been eyeing ever since she had come out here this morning and found Scootaloo and her friends waiting for her.

"So, they wanna see some cloud clobberin', huh?" she muttered to herself. Technically, she was on break this morning, but one of the best parts of weather patrol was keeping the sky free of clouds whenever and wherever anypony desired it. And if there was one thing that would get Rainbow Dash off her tail and out in the sky, it was the prospect of showing off for another pony. She knew it. Everypony knew it. And why?

(2) "Because I'm awesome, that's why," she said, flaring her wings and splitting her face into a maniacal grin. Not even a second later, she was diving at full speed towards the spot she'd just left, a straight vertical descent that brought tears to her eyes and blurred the woods around her into a jumbled soup of green and brown. She didn't have enough height for a Sonic Rainboom, but there were plenty of other things that she could do to blow these little ponies' minds. And the first thing on her list was what she was about to do now.

About fifty feet off the ground, close enough for her to see the looks of terror in Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle's eyes and the unbridled adoration in Scootaloo's, she tilted her wings ever so slightly and pulled up into a ten-G turn, her hooves skimming the grassy forest floor for the briefest of moments. She then used her momentum to rocket into a set of tight corkscrews and barrel rolls that ended with a Cobra roll back in the direction of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Sweetie Belle had to know where to look now; who wouldn't after that display?

Rainbow's eyes narrowed as she dove quickly down before pulling back up again, this time completing her motion with a hundred-foot-high aerial loop. In the distance, she heard a faint yell of amazement. That would be the Cutie Mark Crusaders, picking their jaws up off the ground. Dash's head was pounding with the force she had subjected herself to in the last minute, but she wasn't even close to being done yet. She couldn't finish her act on something as simple as that; anypony worth their wings could do a loop-de-loop. No, she needed something bigger, something a hundred and twenty percent cooler than anything these fillies had ever seen before. And suddenly, in mid-overbanked turn, it came to her.

The Buccaneer Blaze.

She'd been planning on saving it for the Grand Galloping Gala, but after going through that whole night without using it once, she needed to make sure she could still pull it off. Well…maybe that was an exaggeration. Of course she could pull it off. But better to just go ahead and check, right? Right. Piece'a cake.

Dash flapped up to one of the few clouds still hanging in the mid-morning sky after her routine and crested over it, brushing her hooves through it and sending a shimmering spray of rainwater flying out into the abyss of open air around it. With a freshly made rainbow glowing in the mist behind her, Dash pulled in her wings in and went into a steep dive, her eyes closed in concentration. This would require perfect timing, perfect control, perfect everything. The best tricks always did. She waited for three seconds, counting each one off in her head as the wind screeched beside her ears, then snapped her eyes open again. She stretched her legs out, unfurled her heated but still energized wings… (~)

And spun out into a freefall as a deafening explosion blew every thought in her head into grit.

Rainbow Dash's eyes buzzed back into focus just in time for her to see the canopy of the forest rushing up at her from less than thirty feet away. With a panicked yell, she threw her wings out as far as they would go and just barely managed to avoid what would have surely been a painful crash landing. Once she had gotten back up to a decent height and her heart had slowed back to its normal pace, she stopped in midair and turned towards where she thought the noise had come from, somewhere due east of her current position. There was no telltale column of smoke or dust anywhere in sight, but Dash's throbbing left ear was positive that the explosion had come from that direction. So where was it?

As Dash squinted into the dawning sun, she noticed a tiny black dot approaching from the air. No, wait, make that two dots. They were hardly close enough to even have shapes, but Dash thought they looked like pegasi. Whatever they were, they were fast. In the few seconds it took Dash to take a closer look and confirm that at least one of them had hooves and wings, they had covered at least a mile of airspace. They weren't just fast; they were insanely fast.

They must be tryin' to get away from that explosion, Dash realized. Whatever it was.

Dash blinked. Had they really already covered another mile? They were probably even within earshot now. "Hey!" Rainbow Dash yelled at the top of her lungs. "Where ya goin'?"

No answer. Maybe not quite within earshot yet.

"My name's Rainbow Dash," she continued. "What was that explo…"

They were close enough for Dash to get more specific with their descriptions by now. The one on the right, the one she'd been above to see a bit better before, was indeed a pegasus pony, one with a deep greenish-blue coat, a short, spiky gold-colored mane, and what looked like a stack of coins for a cutie mark. The other one was deep black in color, with…

Wait a second…

The pony on the left…wasn't even a pony. It was unlike anything she'd ever seen before: like a cloud, but one made of ugly black smoke. And one that undulated like a rippling pond. And one that was moving much, much fast than any normal cloud had any right to.

"Who are these guys?" Rainbow Dash muttered to herself. She had exactly two seconds to try to think of an answer for that question before the pegasus on the right saw her looking at him. She had another two to wonder why the pegasus wasn't moving to the side before he rammed straight into Dash without slowing down at all.

Dash had had the wind knocked out of her before, but this was the first time it had ever happened four hundred feet above the ground. Pushing past the horrible feeling of emptiness in her stomach, she pulled herself into a glide and managed to make a mostly clean landing in one of the taller trees in the forest. For a brief second, she wondered why the pegasus hadn't tried to dodge around her, but a second after that Dash realized that she already knew. Just before impact, the pegasus had shifted the feathers on his left wing and adjusted his path just a hair inward. Before that, he had been just a hair to Dash's right.

He had been aiming for her all along.

The black cloud passed over her head without stopping, and suddenly Rainbow Dash was furious. Who did he think he was, slamming through her like that like she was just a pony-shaped raincloud? And who did she think she was, letting him fly away like that without even trying to give him a piece of her mind? Scootaloo and her friends completely forgotten, Rainbow Dash took off again, her teeth clenched and her eyebrows crunched together in fury. This birdbrain was about to get a major wake-up call, Rainbow Dash style.

These ponies—or whatever the cloud was—were fast, but they didn't call her Rainbow Dash because she liked to break stuff in her free time. Or at least, that wasn't the only reason they called her Rainbow Dash. In any case, with a bit of effort she managed to catch up with the one that actually resembled a pony within twenty seconds of leaving the tree.

"Hey, jerkface!" she called out, her stomach boiling with rage even at such an extreme speed. "You coulda killed me back there!"

The mysterious pony didn't reply at first, but then without warning he stopped on a tenth-bit. Unprepared for the sudden and significant lack of Jerkface in front of her, Rainbow Dash overshot him by at least a quarter mile before spinning around in midair and zooming back to where the other pegasus had stopped. Dash couldn't help but notice that the other pony seemed to be floating effortlessly despite his wings not flapping nearly hard enough to keep him aloft. She also couldn't help but notice that he was at least twice her size. No wonder their collision had knocked her halfway senseless.

"Well?" Dash growled, staring down the other pony even as her mind began to work out how much weight he had on her. "You got somethin' to say, or should I just go ahead and introduce you to my good friend, Mr. Hoof to the Face?"

The greenish-blue pegasus stayed quiet for a few seconds, then blew out a sigh. "What were our orders, again?" he said to the cloud beside him in a somewhat scratchy, surprisingly high-pitched voice. Make that a she. "Come when we're called, go where we're told, and don't stop for anything along the way?"

Dash could've sworn she saw the cloud nod. "Right…" the other pony said as she turned back to face Dash, the most frightening glare the rainbow-maned pegasus had ever seen emanating from her icy silver eyes. "We're gonna have to make an exception to that."

Rainbow Dash had just enough time to throw her hooves up over her face before a vicious kick in the stomach sent her hurtling head-over-hooves four hundred feet straight down. This time, she had no chance of regaining control; it was only due to a conveniently placed tree with enough leaves to slow her fall that her new name wasn't Rainbow Mash. That didn't mean she was in any condition to go charging back into battle after she rolled to a stop beneath a gnarled old sycamore, though. Mostly, she was in a condition to lie crumpled up on her side and wait for the world to stop spinning so she could throw up.

Through ringing ears, Dash heard a flutter of wings approaching her. The next thing she knew, somepony's hoof was at her throat.

"Where do you live…" the silver-eyed pony said, pausing for a moment before adding, "…Rainbow Dash?"

"How do you…" Dash managed to cough out before an immense pressure in her temple silenced all thoughts within her head. When the throbbing stopped, the silver-eyed pony was smiling.

"Ponyville, huh?" she said with a smirk. "How quaint." She looked up at the ever-present cloud-pony-thing, which Dash had only just now noticed was hovering right above her head. "What d'you think, buddy?" the silver-eyed pony called out. "You feel like makin' a detour?" Another nod from the cloud turned Dash's heart to ice.

"Don't you dare…" she tried to hiss with what little air she had left.

"Or what? You'll give us another 'wake-up call'?" the silver-eyed pony sneered, pressing down even harder on Rainbow's throat. The instant Dash began to feel the strength ebbing out of her forelegs, her captor pulled her hoof back from her windpipe and let her slump back to the ground. Gasping for every breath she could fit into her aching lungs, Rainbow Dash was maddeningly helpless to do anything to stop the two monsters who had just attacked her and had now promised to do the same to her adopted home. As she tried desperately to get her hooves back under her, the silver-eyed pony leaned in close and steered Dash's head around with her hoof so she was facing right into those cold, malicious orbs.

"A word of advice from somepony who's been around a bit longer than you have," she said cheerfully. "Don't try to stop us. You won't win." She moved her hoof away again and stood tall. "I don't think I'll be forgetting you, Rainbow Dash," she continued. "You better pray I do."

Rainbow Dash stared as the silver-eyed pony looked around at the lush, fertile landscape of Whitetail Wood. She lifted her hoof, and a floating ball of white-hot flame appeared above the sole.

"I always hated forests," she said with a wicked-looking grin. She gazed at the flame for a moment longer, then threw it into a patch of ferns, where it burst apart into a viscous liquid that set everything it touched ablaze. With a final glance and a chuckle at Dash's expense, she spread her wings and took off, the black cloud following close behind her. Just before the smoke from the fire blotted out the impeccable blue sky, Rainbow Dash saw the pair of creatures rise back up to their previous height and take a sharp turn to the northwest.

They were headed straight for Ponyville.


A/N: For those of you who are fans of "The Pridelanders" and/or "Growing Down", I haven't quit on either of those stories. However, this story will be my priority for the next few months. I'm hoping I can get it done quickly or find time to multitask during the summer, but to be frank, this show has a complete monopoly on my creative inspiration right now. As in, the mood I've been in for two years with The Lion King, where every creative thought I had was tinted with some kind of possible story idea for a TLK fanfic, has now been entirely ponified. So consider those two stories to be on hiatus until further notice.

I can't sincerely apologize for my creative impulses, but I can apologize for not giving you more warning about them than this...so I'm sorry. That being said, I hope some of you end up giving this show a chance just by virtue of my writing about it. I know that's probably presumptuous of me to think I would have that much influence over you, seeing as you're probably unspeakably pissed at me right now (and rightfully so, if I'm being honest with myself), but you know what? There's something magic about this show, and hell if I know what it is. I just know that my mind wasn't going to let me forget about this idea until I started writing it. So, there you go.