Author's Note: This is a little something I'm writing for fun and hope that people have fun reading it. ^^ The following is dedicated to all of my friends, pony or otherwise. I'll be aiming to update this weekly... and if I fall behind, you all have the right to hunt me down and beat me with pinata bats.

I want to write this in kind of affectionate, episodic fashion, but there will also be an over-arching plot and the occasional multi-chapter arc. Please bear with me and if this actually has a significant readership your love will make me all the more energetic to write more! I will be taking your feedback very seriously, so please read and comment if you enjoy this fic!

All original content copyright me, all MLP:FiM copyright their respective owners.

Something Wicked This Way Trots , Part 1.

Equestria has faced dark days in the past. The threat of eternal night. But now a strange force seems to be brewing within the heart of the pony land. Our great ruler's wisdom has staved off eternal night and protected us from danger for ages past. But will she be able to guide us through this new, strange phenomena?

Aliens trot among us!

Aurora could not help but crack up at his own handiwork. The cream colored pony didn't mind the weird looks he got from the few that were gathered around the cloud. A tuft of his blue-green mane fell down against the paper and he brushed it out of the way. Three years of stone-faced editorial work and this was his masterpiece. His magnum opus. He settled his hands upon his camera, fondly, and smiled. His partner in crime. His long-time friend. It almost never left the strap around his neck.

The printers had even worked with him to ensure that day's Gracemareia Courier had been printed in black in white instead of color. He'd worked with a picture of a single errant gryphon above Equestria and fuzzed it until its form was indecipherable. He began to fold it up and tucked it into his saddlebag before walking towards the end of the cloud platform where his ride awaited.

Aurora's heart pounded as he trotted away. Soon he would be out of Gracemareia. He was getting away with it. His name would go down in infamy and everyone would fondly remember the name of the pony who-

"Aurora!"

The pegasus froze, one hoof barely above the red step of the carriage. The two driving ponies looked at him impatiently. He thought he'd try to bolt for it, but he flapped his wings and flailed uselessly against the massive hoof holding him in place. He knew that voice. And he would have to face it. He turned about and swallowed...

"Yes, sir?"

The editor-in-chief of the Courier was a massive beast of a pegasus, cinnamon shaded. He ate, lived, breathed news journalism. Even the mark on his flank was that of an unfolded newspaper. In a way he was Aurora's role model. On the other hand, he was ruthlessly strict.

The editor rolled up his own copy of the newspaper and thwopped Aurora square on the flank, pointing at his cutiemark: a bloomed flash of light. "When I let you start studying at the Courier, what did you tell me your cutiemark meant?"

Aurora's ears drooped. "That the truth can be illuminated in a single moment... a flash of light. That all the falsehoods in the world will be cast off with the power of my lens. And my fancy camera work."

The editor brought down the paper gently between his ears. Aurora made a little huff.

"Were you just pulling my tail, son?"

"No! I mean, I just wanted to take pictures." Aurora waggled the camera about his neck. "Come on! This stuff is great." He tugged the paper open to the second page and pointed out an article: Head Editor; Stud of the Year. And he did crack a bit of a smile.

"Well. I will just release a statement that we misprinted an April Foal's issue," he muttered. And then set Aurora down with firm resolve. "But none of these shenanigans on your exchange. I expect you to behave like a proper newspony and represent us to the best of your ability. We believed in you. That's why you were chosen."

Aurora shrunk down and hid behind his wings a bit. "I, uhm..."

"Promise me you'll do your best."

The young pegasus gulped, and nodded. "I promise."

The old stallion gave him a gentle buck onto the carriage. Aurora winced and settled down into place. "Best be sticking to your word, now, or don't you think I won't make sure you get properly disciplined." Then he gave a little salute to the two ponies braced to the front of the carriage. "Try not to let it be too bumpy, boys."

The two pegasi grinned knowingly and then abruptly left off of the cloud, tugging the carriage forward into a freefall. The editor chuckled and waved a hoof as Aurora clung to the edge and yelled out. The wind whisked by as they fell and not until they could see the full panorama of the fields of Equestria did they pull up and even out. The young pegasus had flown down before but somehow, seeing the world rush by felt like something new. Something magical.

And he knew that his own adventure was just beginning.

Aurora was barely awake by the time that his chariot had reached Ponyville. He had to admire the pilots, their rugged dedication in carrying him all the way across the countryside. One of them eased it open and he practically stumbled out.

A pair of purple ponies lifted a hoof to greet him. "You must be the last transfer!"

He had to rub his eyes until the two ponies formed a single one. He would have recognized her even if he'd never seen her before. After all, Twilight Sparkle and her friends had been building quite the reputation the last year.

Twilight practically glowed, continuing on in spite of his exhausted silence. "It's so wonderful that Princess Celestia is encouraging ponies to get to know each other's lands like this. Oh, if you need anything, please ask me or any of the other ponies here. I'm sure we'd all be happy to help you."

The pegasus smiled. "Thank you. Right now I'd-"

"You missed the tour earlier but I could probably take some time to show you around." Twilight held her head high and pointed her horn back down the road. "Down this way is Sugarcube Corner. It's a good place to start from if you get lost. Plus everypony is there at some point or another."

Aurora bobbed his head in agreement, though quickly found himself repeating the motion in an effort to stay awake. Twilight's voice was a haze as he trotted after her down the grassy roads. They were almost empty at night, and most ponies that were out were busy returning to their homes and shutting down shops.

Ponyville was far more sprawling than he expected it to be. Sure, it was a rural community, but so many ponies lived there! It must have been an hour before Twilight, still brimming with cheery enthusiasm, stopped abruptly in front of a large building built into a tree.

"... and this is the library. I'm pretty sure you know what one of those is." She laughed nervously. "This is where you can find me most of the time. The princess was kind enough to let me stay here when I first arrived, and now I'm practically running the place. Not that I mind, mind you! It's just that some ponies can cause quite a mess when..."

The pegasus lifted a hoof. "Uhm, Miss Twilight..."

"... pony decimal system! And do you know how hard it is to get applejuice out of..."

"Twilight Sparkle?" An older mare cut in with both gentleness and authority. Both ponies paused and looked up at the tawny Mayor as she adjusted her glasses. "I need to borrow this one for a little, if I may?"

Twilight opened her mouth and only then seem to realize how much she had been going on. "Oh! Of course, Mayor." She laughed. "Well then, if you'll excuse me..."

Twilight retreated with surprising speed, leaving Aurora with the mayor in a quick slam of the door. Aurora snapped awake long enough to realize that the older mare wanted him to walk with her.

"Things definitely have gotten more lively ever since that one arrived..." said the mayor, looking back at the library. "I assume you'll take a note not to cause too much ruckus for this poor town?"

"I promise~" Aurora chimed.

"Good. Now, just to make sure you know. You're more or less responsible for your own well being while you're here. There's a weekly stipend of bits as long as your work stays on track and you'll also be paid for any labor you get involved in. And you will be expected to work."

Aurora's ears and wings drooped visibly at this. "What kind of work?"

The mayor smiled, albeit in a stern way. "Now, every pony has their own job around here. It's not terribly much but you are expected to pitch in. As a pegasus you'll be helping out the weather teams. Oh, but don't worry. You'll be given a few days to settle in before they show you the ropes."

The pegasus sagged a little in relief. "That doesn't sound too bad. I've a little bit of practice..."

"As you should! Now, for your exchange I understand you'll be working with the Ponyville Chronicle." She leaned in and whispered. "If you ask me, our paper could use a little livening up. I know it will never be on the level of the Equestria Daily, but if somepony can kick some life into it, it'd make my day."

"Nothing but my best," Aurora said, smiling as if his old boss' hoof were hovering above his flank. Then he realized that they had stopped. He tilted his head curiously and did his best not to groan. What else could there be?

"This is where you'll be staying." The mayor laughed nervously and pushed her glasses up her snout. "The owners moved out after it was wrecked in a... rather unfortunate infestation. But, ah, we fixed it up good as new!"

Aurora scuffed his hoof against the dirt. "Thanks, um.."

The mayor shook her head. "Not at all. Only the best for our pony guests. Of course, I expect to see your most amazing work very soon!"

The pegasus nodded. They shook hooves and then the mayor departed, no doubt eager to be through one more of her duties. Aurora raised his hoof to knock on the door, then sheepishly realized that he was living there and tugged it open.

Twilight slumped down on the library floor as the door shut behind her. "Thank Celestia that's over. Now I can get back to practicing."

She approached a book sitting on one of the tables and flipped to the next page using her magic. This section was entitled 'Color Magic and You: A Simple Guide to All Things Red, Yellow, and Blue. (And all the rest, too)' A mishmash of magical instructions and confusing arrays of arrows and pictures of ectoplasmic goo sprinkled the page. Twilight was used to decoding these more confusing volumes, by now.

"Seems simple enough..." she said to herself. Then she pointed her horn at a chair and chanelled a little magic.. and pop! The brown wood turned bright pink.

"Yay, it worked!" Twilight clopped her hooves together in a moment of private victory. Lately she'd been mastering spells with more ease, less effort than before. And it left her feeling... pleasant. Full of warmth and energy. It was unusual, but she thought it may have just been a side-effect of using her magic so much.

She turned back and puzzled over the book. "It'll turn back to its original color in 24 hours... that's fine and all, but I wonder if it will work on living creatures?"

Twilight grinned, and looked upstairs to where Spike was sleeping. The dragonling was fast asleep after running around with her all day. And a little magic wouldn't hurt him terribly much.

"Oh, Spike~ care to help me with a little magical experiment?" Twilight whispered as she began to trot upstairs.

What greeted Aurora upon opening the door to his new home was a total mess. The common area of the house, devoid of anypony, had been almost totally trashed. There were streamers and loose balloons everywhere. Pastry wrappers and old cake plates and empty punch bowls lined tables and shelves. The floor was scuffed, items were out of place, and it was very obvious that the pegasus had missed some kind of party.

"Oh, hey. You must be Aurora."

He jumped up and then realized that he had mistaken his sense of aloneness. Two more ponies were lounging on a couch in the far end of the room. The first, the one that'd called his name, was a chocolate colored filly with an even darker mane and a cream-dipped cocoa bean on her flank.

"Wha- hey, you're a colt!" The other said, disappointment dripping from his voice. He was a workhorse of a unicorn and a rather large one at that. Tawny red and a gold mane; his cutiemark was particularly elaborate: a black and white mandolin being struck by lightning bolts.

Aurora flustered. "Yeah. You expected otherwise?"

The unicorn laughed, apparently relieved. "Apparently Aurora is a girl's name." She cast a devilish look at the other pony. "Told'ja he was a he. That'll be five bits."

Aurora cleared his throat while the other colt begrudgingly gave up his money. "While we're on that subject, I should mention. Everyone back home called me 'Flash.'"

"No they didn't," mused the filly, pocketing her change. "Besides, we've already come up with a nickname for you."

"And what would that be?" Aurora sighed. It was happening all over again.

"Rory," chuckled the older colt. "Be lucky she won the bet. I was going to call you 'Princess Rorapants."

Aurora raised an eyebrow and his mouth hung open. There were simply no words.

"I'm Cocoa Bean," explained the chocolate pony, "and this is oaf is Axel. You kind of missed the festivities. We saved you cake."

Axel tweaked his horn and floated out a single slice of the vanilla and strawberry cake that they'd been hiding in the corner. It settled down on a table in front of Aurora and he nibbled a bit. His reluctance washed away in a sudden sense of hunger and he made quick work of the cake. It was incredibly indescribably delicious.

"Too bad I wasn't here for the mane event..."

Cocoa rolled her eyes and leaned back against the couch. "You're not nearly as torn up about it as the pony who did all this! She kept us waiting and waiting for you to show up." And before Aurora could look too depressed, she sighed. "Of course, when it got to be too late, she was all, 'I know! I'll just throw another party tomorrow!'"

"I can't wait." Aurora said, licking the frosting off of his lips.

Axel pushed himself up from the couch and grinned. "So what's your story?"

The pegasus pondered this. With a full belly and a day's worth of chariot lag, it was hard to think at all. "My story is that I am one tuckered pony. Where we got to cast down around here?"

"Hey, cool," Axel sighed. "I guess we can get all cliquey tomorrow."

"Rooms are upstairs," said Cocoa. "Yours is at the end of the hallway."

"Thanks." Aurora waved a lazy hoof and then began to hover-flap his way up the stairs.

Cocoa gave a cheerful call after him. "Goodnight Rory~"

He could hear the two ponies laughing and chattering as he made his way to the upper hallway. A handful of doors. Three bedrooms, and his at the very end. A single window lit the way with moonlight. He made his way through it, the pearl light easing his eyes towards sleep.

He barely managed to make it it to his room and collapse into bed. For a moment he lamented how bare it looked, blank walls and only a handful of furniture. Something he would have to change. Tomorrow. When he was awake.

While most of the inhabitants of Ponyville slept, something on the road began to move. It had been there for a long time, in all places, slumbering. And it began as a ripple. A little sparkle like the first splash of rain. Then the shadows began to move like the tides, but only when no one could see or hear.

That night, everypony dreamed just a little bit. They dreamed of their world cast in shadow. The purple gumdrop haze of true evil. And the strange phantom spread like a disease, slipping between floorboards and into pastry shops. It tried to slip into the hearts of everypony while they were sleeping, but that was the one place it could not venture.

Not yet.

But the darkness had begun to move.

Aurora awakened to the sensation of something ruffling his nose, like a feather-duster. A weak sneeze escaped his snout before he rolled off of the bed and onto the floor.

"Oof!" he muttered, then winced. He hoped that he did not wake the others. He sat in the moonlight and tuned his ear to the house.

Silence. Too deep and too still. In the sky cities, you could always hear at least a little breeze beyond the cloud structures. Carefully, he crept to the window and opened it. It made a little squeak before giving way and letting in the cool night air.

Aurora sighed in relief, but it did not last long. Somehow he caught the glimpse of something moving in the shadows. At first he thought it was merely his eyes playing tricks on him, but he could track it darting between barrels and working its way down the road. A snake-like glob of purple, glowing energy. Without thinking, he lifted his camera and pressed the shutter.

The camera clicked and a bright FLASH illuminated the road, briefly, and the creature- or whatever it was- was gone. Then Aurora realized that his heart was pounding. He wouldn't get back to sleep now. Something sinister waslurking in the night. And he would get to the bottom of it.

Even if it did set his hooves to shaking.

Aurora flexed his wings and then launched out the window, into the night, hooves braced on his camera.

"Somepony! Come quick!"

Pinkie Pie's frantic voice echoed as she paced in front of Sugarcube Corner the very next morning, a single muffin balanced on her hoof. It wasn't long before Applejack answered her cries, galloping over and skidding to a halt. She stared at the pink pony and panted.

"What's got you all-a-jitter?" AJ wondered, staring. The pink pony now stood stock still, extending the baked good carefully out in front of her nose.

"It's evil! An evil muffin! I found it among the fresh batch this morning when I was making sure we had enough sweets for the party and I thought it'd gone bad but no, this is an eeeeeeevil muffin."

Applejack adjusted her hat and sighed. One of Pinkie's notorious pranks, probably, she thought. Still, the filly seemed rather upset. She leaned in and gave the muffin a scrutinizing look. It did look darker than a normal muffin, somehow. And the blueberry chunks were more like... purpleberry chunks. Definitely a baking mishap.

"Ah don't get it. What's so... evil about this here evil muffin?"

"It's eeeeeeeeevil!" Pinkie gasped, pointing at it dramatically. "Can't you see? What do we do? What do you do with an evil muffin?"

AJ tried not to chuckle at herself. Poor gal must have heard too many ghostie stories lately. Still, she had to put her friend at ease somehow. And she was feeling a mite famished.

"Maybe Twilight will know. There's probably a book on disposing evil muffins. Would that be under E, for evil? That doesn't sound pleasant..."

Applejack waited for Pinkie to become engrossed enough in her rambling that she wouldn't notice when she leaned forward and... OMF!

Pinkie stared at Applejack as she chewed the whole muffin.

"'s one way to get rid of an evil muffin..." she chuckled, and swallowed, wiping her face with the back of her hand. "Oof. Definitely tasted funny, yeah."

The pink pony gasped. "What have you done, Applejack! What if you get sick? What if.. what if you..."

Applejack wobbled on her feet. There was a cold pain in the pit of her stomach. "Ahh... now that ya mention it, I don't feel too well m'self..." She continued to sway until she fell on her side against a barrel. Her eyes became distant and dark and that cold feeling started to radiate out to her hooves.

"Oh no. Applejack!" Pinkie rushed over and tugged her up by the mane. "We need to get you to a doctor, quick!"

Applejack murmured and pushed herself up onto her feet again. Something about her seemed... different.

"What was that?" Pinkie asked.

"Ah said I reckon I'm feeling just fine, actually." Applejack grinned toothfully. There was something off about her smile. It was almost predatory. "That was actually a mighty good muffin... you should make a bunch'a those and give'm out to ponies for free. I can even help you make them..."

Pinkie shuddered. "No, no baking for you when you're all freaky deaky. It never goes right."

Applejack tried to shoulder past Pinkie but somehow the pink pony managed to keep her in place.

"I'll just do it myself, then!" laughed Applejack. "Yup. And then Sugarcube Corner will be filled with all the apple products they can handle... then when they least suspect it... we buy 'em out!"

By now ponies were beginning to gather to witness Applejack's ravings. Pinkie nearly lost hold on her before Rainbow Dash swooped down from the rooftop, adding a second set of hooves to keep her in place.

"Whoa, now," chuckled Applejack. "Ain't no fair ganging up on a filly like that. How about just you and me, Dash? I bet I could take you on."

The rainbow pegasus flailed her hooves and mooshed Applejack down. "Okay, this was funny at first, but what the heck did you do, Pinkie? All this talk about evil muffins and now Applejack is all CRAZY."

"I didn't do anything!" Pinkie squeaked. She looked around frantically and then produced a rope as if from nowhere. Dash blinked and reluctantly help restrain their friend who was, by now, putting up quite a fuss.

The two ponies dragged her into the pantry and propped her up against a couple of sacks of flour. At first she fought and hollered, straining her arms and legs against the rope. But when she found that even her earth pony strength could not break them, she became eerily still.

"Uh... would you ponies mind loosening those straps a bit?" she murmured.

Pinkie ignored her and sat down square in front of her. She looked imploringly to Dash. "Get Twilight! I'm sure she can figure out what's wrong with Applejack."

"Got it!" said Dash, lifting into the air. She cast a worried look over her shoulder. "Hang in there, AJ." And then she bolted through the door in a rainbow blur.

When Rainbow Dash got to the library, the windows were all open and the lights were still on inside. She peeked her head inside, then immediately ducked down as a bolt of magic zipped past her face! "Whoa!" She yelped, and then leered at Twilight. Then she noticed that the windowsill was now a bright snow-white.

"Sorry!" laughed Twilight. "I'm running out of things to change. I was practicing and I noticed my limit had gotten a lot higher... so far I haven't been able to push it. To be honest, I feel more awake than when I started last night."

The whole library had been turned a rainbow of colors that rivaled Dash's palette. The pegasus flew inside and nearly blended into one of the bookshelves while Twilight continued to pop her horn at things.

"Nevermind that. Applejack is in trouble!"

The unicorn immediately stopped her barrage of painting magic and twisted about, wide-eyed.

"Oh no! Did something happen in the orchard? Is she stuck in a fence? Did a tree fall on her? Is she stuck in an apple tree?"

Dash tapped her hoof against her forehead. "No, it's-"

"AAAAGH!"

Both ponies' manes frizzed as Spike's bellow of terror came from upstairs. Not a moment later did he come stomping down, his glorious former purple scales now pink. He stared dumbstruck at the changed colors and threw his arms out in despair, glowering at Twilight. "You did this to me!"

"Aw, Spike," Twilight giggled. "You let me practice my magic on you all the time!"

"But not like this," the dragon pouted. "You usually ask me first."

"And you hate it when I wake you up!"

"Can you change it back?"

Dash swooped in and gave Twilight a rather forceful nudge. "Come on. AJ? Evil muffin possession? Pinkified dragons later?"

Twilight puzzled over all of this for a moment. Then pointed her horn at Spike and let fly with another spell. It temporarily turned his scales purple, and then faded back to pink again.

"Sorry, Spike," she said. "I think you have to just wait for it to wear off!"

"N-no!" Spike flailed. "I can't go anywhere like this. What if someone sees me? Can't you just... unmagic me?"

The unicorn hmmed. The idea was absolutely preposterous. That kind of magic, once done, was usually done and gone somewhere, or the energy balanced out. Still, it wouldn't hurt to try. She concentrated and focused on Spike, on the pink in his scales, the pink that she put there... tried to imagine the spell working backwards. The energy flowing back through her, and then back... a little spark of magic and...

Foom! With a brief flicker of light, the magic sucked back into Twilight's horn. Spike was back to normal.

"Awesome! You did it!" Spike cheered.

"I can't believe I did it." Twilight giggled. She smiled apologetically at her scaled assistant. "I promise I won't use magic on you without asking first again."

By now, she was scooting across the floor for some reason. That reason was Dash pushing her head into her flank and flapping violently, trying to urge her towards the door.

"Right!" Twilight snapped back to the matter at hand. "Spike, grab all the books you can find on evil or possession or whatever and follow me!"

"She's at Sugarcube Corner," Dash said, exasperated. She could wait no longer, and zipped out of the door. Twilight hurried soon after, leaving Spike alone to browse through the miscolored books.

He drew his hand over a bright white cover with neon yellow text.

"E... is that an E? Jeez, Twilight... how am I supposed to read this?"

When Twilight arrived at Sugarcube Corner, the crowd still had not yet abated. There were some rumors trickling around about possessions and living shadows and even some whispering about the return of Nightmare Moon. That, of course, was preposterous, since Luna was still living peacefully under Celestia's care. Everypony knew that.

Still, the surge of magic and the weird happenings nearing the height of summer did make Twilight a little nervous. What happened on the Longest Night seemed all too fast. And the elements of harmony put to rest all too quickly.

A cacophony of tumbling and shouting broke Twilight's thoughts as she trotted into the bakery. She followed the sounds to the back and her eyes widened when she saw a near-black Applejack thrashing about between the oven and the taffy machine. Pinkie and Rainbow Dash together were barely enough to hold her in place as she yelled and bucked back and forth. And it didn't look like they were going to be able to hold on much longer.

"What happened to her?" Twilight asked, and applied a telekinetic force to help keep their friend in place.

"She ate a bad muffin," Rainbow Dash said, still having difficulty believing the words coming out of her mouth.

"An evil muffin!" Pinkie elaborated, waving her arms wildly. "I don't know how it got there! I was trying to find out what to do when Applejack decided to eat it and oh why would you eat an evil muffin? Now she's all bluuuuuuh-" The pink pony made a face and let her tongue hang out.

Twilight rubbed at her forehead. "Okay. Think, how could this have happened..."

Not soon after, Spike tumbled in with a stack of books. He frowned and set them down at Twilight's feet. "I found some things that might help, but you're not going to like it."

The unicorn strained to keep her friend still while she looked at the books. Exorcism for Foals. A Young Adventurer's Guide to All Things Evil. Several other titles she couldn't even make out in their color changes. As she flipped one open with a hoof, she realized that she couldn't read them, because the color had bled all the way through the pages.

"Uuugh. Great. We can't just leave her like this!" Twilight frowned. "She'll hurt herself. And goodness knows what else."

Applejack forced a toothy smile. "Ah promise I won't hurt nothing, if you just let me go... Ah'll be real nice, Twi'."

Twilight however wouldn't budge. She eased Applejack back. Dash let go and hovered, taking a long hard look at her friend.

"Why don't you just use your magic and get it out of her?" Dash suggested. "It's gotta be magic. I mean, what else can cause a good pony to go all loopy?"

It did feel like magic, Twilight thought. In a weird way she could sense it in Applejack. Like something in there that was distinctly not Applejack. Something that she could fight off, but... not nearly as well from the inside. Whatever was in the muffin was now...

And all she had to do was...

"Yes! Okay, I'm going to have to let her go. Hold her still." She frowned. "Sorry, Applejack. I'll do this as quick as I can."

"Ya'll will be doing no such thing!" Applejack flailed again as Dash and Pinkie held her hooves down. She was already straining the ropes.

Twilight braced her hooves and acted quickly. She began the process she did on Spike, when she removed the color magic. And she could feel it in Applejack. Strong. Dark. Evil. As she tugged the magic out of Applejack she let a little groan of pain. The earth pony writhed about as Twilight's magic began to tug the dark energy out through her mouth...

She couldn't absorb it. So she did the only thing she could thing to do- the element of magic's power was still with her. She forced herself to extend her will... fed her thoughts into it.

Then with a sparkle and a flash the evil magic dissipated. Purified, it sprinkled harmlessly to the ground.

Applejack groaned, now her fresh and orange and (mostly) healthy self again. She fell onto her hooves, still tangled in rope and peered blearily at Twilight. "What in tarnation happened...?"

"You had a bad muffin." Twilight smiled. All the ponies helped undo her ropes, though she seemed quite content trust lay on the floor for the time being.

"Thanks, Sugarcube..." she murmured to Twilight as she bucked her back legs free. "I feel like I've been off dreamin' somewhere..."

"That's all you have to say about that?" Dash exclaimed, and then flustered at the leering of her friends. "I mean.. it's good to have ya back."

The peace did not last too long. Soon, the back door flung open and Rarity burst in holding Opalescence at arm's length. The white cat's fur had turned a dark indigo and she was flailing her claws at everything she could reach. Rarity's hooves took most of the scratches and she was doing her best to remain calm.

"Oh, Twilight! Something is wrong with Opalescence! Please, help her..."

Not seconds after, Fluttershy followed after with a handful of dark, squirming woodland critters. "Something is wrong with these poor dears, too. I tried everything but they're still not getting any better. Please, Twilight..."

Even more ponies began to pile into the pantry. Twilight sighed and rubbed her hooves on her face. "How many are there?"

"Too many!" Pinkie flailed. "Ponyville is dooooomed! I guess I'll have to get used to baking evil things..."

Twilight sighed. "Alright. We can handle this. Dash, go around town and gather up all of the uhm... affected ponies and things you can find. Get help if you need to and bring everyone to the town square."

"Right!" Dash saluted, and then zipped off.

Twilight then turned to Pinkie. "You go get the mayor. Let her know what's going on."

"Gotcha!" Pinkie left, too. Twilight smiled at Applejack who was already stumbling to her feet.

"You should probably rest," she said. Applejack shook her head.

"Don't needta rest," she murmured, and looked down. "'sides, ah really don't wanna be by myself right now."

The unicorn smiled. "Alright. Then, maybe you can help me corral everyone up for me."

Applejacked chuckled. "Ah reckon ah probably could."

Almost everypony was gathered in the center of Ponyville. The actual number of ponies and things that the darkness had touched was not that great, but it was hard to ignore such a commotion. Aurora fluttered back against the crowd, ragged and tired, and finally returned to his house at the same time that Cocoa and Axel popped out.

"Where were you?" Cocoa wondered. "I went to check on you and you were gone."

Aurora blinked. "Check on me? I was out getting a look around... Gathering information..." he cast a glance over his shoulder. "I'll tell you later. Come on! Something big is going down and we shouldn't miss it."

None of them could quite argue, and soon the three were caught up in the tide of ponies drifting to the square. There, if one could squeeze in or hover high enough, they could witness Twilight Sparkle healing one pony at a time. Pony, or cat, or apple... so many things had been touched by the shadow. But she was freeing them with increasing ease. Aurora hovered a bit higher and began to snap more photographs, but nopony seemed to notice in all of the commotion.

It seemed then that things would settle, get back to normal. That life in Ponyville would continue on unhindered. But once things had begun to settle, a pony pointed and shouted.

"Something's coming from the Everfree Forest!"

Given what just happened, most ponies shrunk back instead of crowding forward to see what was going on. But Twilight Sparkle and her friends rushed towards the forest path to see what came from the trees.

A procession of ponies, many of whom they did not recognize. They were difficult to recognize at first, heads down, feet stumbling as if they'd recently come out of a long sleep.

Twilight, though, recognized the blue unicorn at the front.

Trixie.

When Trixie saw Twilight, she burst into a full gallop, breaking from the head of the line. She ran and ran until she found herself standing in front of Twilight and her friends, and their eyes met briefly. Confusion. Fear. Pain. Twilight opened her mouth to say something.

Trixie sobbed and threw her front legs around Twilight, trembling. "Oh, Twilight..." she said, voice hoarse. "I never thought I'd see you or anypony again."

All Twilight could do was hold onto the Trixie, somehow both uncomfortable and sympathetic at the same time. Had it really been so long?

"What happened?" Twilight wondered. But the other unicorn said nothing.

And more ponies were wandering from the forest. The sunlight seemed to be doing them some good, but they were arriving by the dozens. Most of the citizens of Ponyville were afraid to come near them. A select few began to spring forward, though, to meet other ponies- some just young fillies or colts- in tearful reunion.

Aurora swooped back down beside Axel and Cocoa and folded his wings back determinedly. "Alright. Somethin' fishy went down in those woods and we need to get to the bottom of it."

Axel, surprisingly, paled a little and leaned back. "Whoa. No. Even I know to stay away from that freaky place."

"Yeah. You sure you're not possessed or something crazy, Rory?"

The pegasus was still determined. He began to drift towards the forest anyway. "Fine, I'll just go it alone. But don't say I didn't give you the chance."

Axel tapped his hoof against his face. "You're serious, aren't you?"

Cocoa joined Aurora first, and Axel, not wanting to show any weakness, trotted after. The chocolate colored unicorn laughed blithely. "Well, what's the worst that happens. At least we'll get to do something together."

"Yeah," Axel muttered. "Liked get turned into stone. Or explode. Or explode and then turn into stone. Actually, that would be kind of metal..."

Either no one noticed the trio slipping back towards the forest or no one cared to chase after them. Twilight was too preoccupied consoling Trixie, who seemed to be regaining her composure. The other ponies laid down in the grass. Applejack and Pinkie were busy rushing to get apples and water and other supplies out to them. The others were hurrying about, talking to ponies and helping as they could.

"Many strange and terrible things have happened since we faced each other last," Trixie said, pulling herself back at last. She tugged her hat loose from her saddle and placed it between her ears. Already she was beginning to look like her old self. "It will take some time to tell you the story. And some of us are a little worse off than others. I... would not refuse a simple offer of water, myself."

Twilight nodded. "Okay. We'll make sure everyone gets tended to... and then I want to know everything."

"I can see youhaven't changed at all," jabbed Trixie, turning her nose up. They shared a little laugh in spite of themselves.

Ponies were still filing out of the forest, though, and Twilight knew that it was going to take some time to get them safe and comfortable.

TO BE CONTINUED, FOALS