"Twilight!" A pink alicorn rushed forward to greet her sister-in-law. Her husband followed, wanting to welcome his guests as well. "I'm so glad that you're coming for a visit."
"The pleasure's all mine, Cadence," The purple recently-turned alicorn replied before hugging her brother.
"It's great to see you again, Twily," Her older brother, a white male unicorn said.
"Great to see you too, BBBFF." Turning back to the pink alicorn, she said "And thanks for letting us stay for the night. I can't wait to study all about the Crystal Empire. It's an opportunity I won't miss."
"Are you sure, Twily?" Shining Armor teased. "Not because you wanted to use this chance to spend some quality time with your brother and sister-in-law?"
"Well..." Twilight replied cheekily. "Of course. We can have our bonding time together at the library doing some research."
"But Twilight, we just got here!" The little purple drake beside her whined, his stomach already protesting for lunch. "Could we take a break first and have some lunch?" The three ponies chuckled and began walking back to the Crystal Empire for a well-deserved rest.
On the way up the stairs up to their rooms, they chattered about what had happened since they last met after Twilight's first Princess Submit a few months ago. Well, mostly Twilight, Shining Armor and Cadence. Spike just sat on his sister's back munching on a gem, but once in a while he did give his input as well. Suddenly, an orange pegasus wearing golden-yellow armor ran up to them. "Captain Armor! Princess Cadence! I've come to inform you..." The guard began when he then saw the other two beside them and immediately realized his mistake. "My apologies, Princess Twilight. Spike the Assistant."
"Rise, Flash Sentry," Shining Armor said, "and state you report." The guard immediately did so. "Sir, the intruder is...coming around."
Shining Armor's expression immediately turned serious and began following the guard. "Twily, Spike," He said quickly. "Why don't you go with Cadence? I have...uh, some things to look into."
Twilight, not for a second buying that, instead followed him, demanding to know what was going on. For her brother to look this serious at just a vague report must mean that something bad had happened, and she wanted to know what it was. "What's going on, Shining Armor?" She demanded, keeping in step behind him.
"Come on Twilight," Spike persuaded, tugging at her tail. "Maybe it wasn't that important. Besides, we still have that whole 'research on the Crystal Empire', remember?" Cadence nodded in agreement, wishing Twilight not to be concerned in minor problems such as this one.
Twilight however would not be deterred that easily. Putting herself in front of her brother, she stopped him in his path. "Shining please, tell me." She pleaded, eyes flashing with determination. The unicorn sighed, knowing it was impossible to persuade her now. "Last night there was an intruder in the castle." He explained while the four followed the guard to their destination. "The guards who spotted him said that he fainted just as he was exiting a room. We had placed him in the hospital wing, but he hadn't woke up since then."
"So what's the problem then?" Spike asked.
"After we caught him, the Guards searched the entire castle for evidence of a break-in." Cadence answered. "We even scoured the room he was found in. But there was nothing: no rope ladders, no broken windows, nothing. The Guards even said that they didn't notice anything suspicious during their patrol."
"Then what about the room he was found in?"
"That's what got us baffled." Shining Armor replied. "The room has only one way in and that was the front door and the guards reported that he was trying to get out of the room. The only things in there were a few pots, pictures, statues, and a mirror. The only thing we could do now to get answers is to interrogate the intruder, but until he wakes up there's nothing we can do."
They finally arrived outside the hospital wing a few minutes later, but was shocked to hear loud screams of pain and orders barked across the room. Fearing the worst, they practically burst open the door to see the guards straining to pin down a struggling unicorn to his bed.
"Hold him down! Do not let him up from the bed!" One of the guard ponies ordered, pushing down with all of his might on one of the struggling legs. The other guards grunted in reply, barely able to restrain the other three legs that were fueled with desperation.
"What's going on?!" Twilight demanded, surprised to see this happening right in front of her. "What are you doing to him?!"
"Take me instead!" The tangerine-coloured pony cried, trying to break free of his bonds. Tears were flowing like rivers from his closed eyes, as if he was living through a nightmare. "I have what you wanted. Please leave them alone!"The struggling grew wilder and more desperate, accompanied with his anguish cries becoming more frantic. "Please, I'll do anything! Just let them go, I beg of you. PLEASE!"
Suddenly, the pony screamed out, each word louder than the one before. "Mom! Alice! Dad! DADDY!" At the last word, he gave a push so strong that the guards were thrown to the ground. At the same time he opened his eyes and sat up instantly, hyperventilating while covered in sweat.
"Stand down, you are surrounded!" Shining Armor's horn was already glowing, his stance tense and ready, prepared to take him down the minute he had shown any sign of trouble. "Who are you and why did you come here for?" The Guards, after a moment of confusion, stood ready as well. But there was no response; the pony just sat on the bed, his pupils shrank to the size of pinpricks as he trembled violently in fear, ignoring everything around him and stared at his blanket.
"Answer me!" Shining Armor ordered. Just as unexpected as when he woke up, the pony's eyes rolled back and he dropped back onto his bed once more. Dad, don't leave me..." he mumbled, squeezing a spare pillow.
With the danger passed, the guards heaved a sigh of relief and surrounded the pony again, this time with more caution. "Wow, he must have been really tired if he went back to sleep right after he woke up from a dream like that." Spike remarked.
"Yes," Cadence agreed. "But this only raises more questions than answers, so what are we going to do?"
Twilight rubbed her chin with a hoof, a habit that she did every time she encountered a puzzling problem. One of which she knew was extremely important. "We have to search the room again," Twilight finally decided. "It's our only lead."
"But Twily, there's nothing in that room," Shining Armor countered. "I had even checked it myself and found nothing out of the ordinary there."
"Still, it wouldn't hurt to do it one more time."
"But...but..." He hesitated before sighing. "Fine, follow me..."
The four reached the room where the stranger was said to be found in and entered. And true to his word, there was no signs of break in, and no other points of entry besides the front door. No windows, no back door. Not even a secret entrance, Twilight knew. She scanned for any with her magic and there was none.
Yet Twilight knew there was something more to this room than they realize, just that she didn't know what it was. To a pony's eye, it looked nothing more than another treasure room. Pictures on the wall, tapestries hanging from hooks and pots and other ceramics on pedestals encased in glass. But to Twilight, this room felt...familiar somehow. She just didn't know why, until...
"Um, Twilight?" Spike's voice broke through her thoughts.
"What's wrong, Spike?" She turned to see her Number One Assistant pointing at a large mirror. It had gems studded in its purple wooden frame with metal loops and curls around it, and it sat atop of a platform decorated with horseshoes. Her eyes widen in recognition and locked with Spike's. Could it be? The thought ran though both of their minds.
"What's wrong, Twilight?" Cadence asked. "You looked as if you had seen a ghost."
"Cadence, has it really been exactly four months since the Princess Submit?" The purple alicorn asked suddenly.
"Yes..." Cadence nodded, puzzled at the unrelated question. "But what does..." She then looked at the mirror and also recognized it as well. "Oh..."
Shining Armor looked back and forth between them. "Could somepony tell me what does that mirror got to do with the intruder?" He huffed irritably, feeling completely left out of the circle.
"Sweetie," Cadence said. "Remember the...time when Twilight came for the Princess Summit a few months ago?"
"Yeah," He replied. "But still, what does that..." His mind took a while to process that information until he too came to the same startling conclusion and its implications. "Oh..." That incident was still clear in everypony's mind, especially with Twilight and Spike.
It was just after Twilight's Princess Coronation, when she and her friends journeyed to the Crystal Empire for her first Summit. And it was then when another pony named Sunset Shimmer stole her crown, which embodied her Element of Magic and escaped into the other world through the mirror. Twilight and Spike followed her of course and eventually retrieved the crown back. It was a wonderful tale but this discovery had answered several questions. Still, there were a few more that needed answered.
"We are going back to the infirmary." Twilight stated. The others nodded in agreement and exited the room. "Spike, would you write a letter to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna? Tell them about what had happened here and of our findings." Spike nodded before taking out a quill- already dipped in ink- and a piece of paper and began writing down everything that had happened. "Please also add that we might need to have some arrangements for our...guest."
"But Twilight," Shining Armor interrupted. "Surely you are not thinking of taking him back to Ponyville?" She nodded. "But, why? We don't know who he is or why he came here. Why don't we hold him here and chuck him back through the mirror when the portal opens again?"
"No we won't, Shining Armor!" Twilight insisted. "He needs help. From what I know, he would probably be scared to be stuck in a different body in another world."
"Yeah, he would probably freak out." Spike agreed, his eyes momentarily lifted from his writing. "Just like Twilight when she realized her hooves were different, had a smaller muzzle and missing her horn."
"Shush!" She hissed at the giggling drake, then returned to the other two. "Besides, I think he might have went through some terrible things in the other world and he might need some peace away from all that. And I know me and my girls could assist him with that."
"If you say so..." The white unicorn sighed as they were in front of the infirmary doors once more. "But still...Guards!" The armored ponies guarding the doors immediately stood to attention.
"Yes, Your Highness?" They saluted in unison.
"I want all of you to watch him closely. As soon as Twilight wakes him up, be prepared for anything." The respond was a resounding "Yes, Your Highness!" and another salute. Turning to his sister, he asked. "Are you ready?"
"I am." With that the group and their guards entered the room. Twilight stood next to the sleeping unicorn while Shining Armor and his guards positioned themselves around the bed, horns glowing and wings flared for any signs of trouble. At Shining Armor's nod, Twilight's horn lit up with her magic and touched the pony's forehead. "Time to wake up..."
James was running, running away from the people who hunting him down. He turned a corner and hid behind a pillar. "Come on, this way!" He heard one of them shouted and soon a bunch of footstep rushed off towards nowhere, passing by James' hiding place. As soon as they disappeared, James came out stealthily and dashed away, running in the opposite direction of his pursuers- he hoped that is.
But fate was cruel to him that night. As soon as he stepped out into the moonlight, one of them spotted him. "There he is!" James bolted as fast as he could, turning at every corner until he reached a dead end. "No! NO!" He backed against the brick wall, crouching in fear of the menacing figures towering over him. "Nowhere to run, boy!"
Somebody, help me, he cried as the men dragged him roughly to a truck. One of them lifted him up by the collar while another opened the back doors, revealing the inky darkness inside. As soon it was opened, James felt the wind around him rushing into the truck, like a vaccum cleaner.
"The boss would want to meet you, boy. After all, he wanted to show you something." The captor gave him a toothy grin and without another word, he tossed James into the truck and slammed the doors shut.
"Aaaaahhhhh..." The boy screamed as he tumbled through the void. Above the laughter of his kidnappers faded into the distance and the end of his fall was rushing towards him. Smack! "Ow!" He rubbed his sore rump and looked around to find light coming out from afar. Crawling towards the light, James noticed he was locked behind a familiar-looking wooden door. Through it, he saw three people bounded to chairs with a man standing over them, holding a dripping knife up high. Sickly red liquid seeped from the three bound figures and crept slowly towards the door. No, NO! He pounded against the door and shouted with all his might."No, please NO! Mom! Dad! Alice! GET OUT OF THERE!"
It couldn't be! He was in the closet underneath the stairs once again. Let me THROUGH! He kicked against the door once more and to his shock, the knob broke. Without hesitation, he dashed forward, regardless of his life. Suddenly, two pairs of arms reached out and grabbed him. The arms then transformed into restraints, stopping him from moving on.
"Let me go, LET ME GO!" James struggled against his restraints, wanting to reach them before the accursed knife slashed them once more. But it was too late. The knife slashed downwards three times, scarlet blood spurted out of their mutilated bodies. His eyes widened as they dropped to the floor, free from their bonds. No, please no... He looked on in horror as the man laughed sadistically while pulling out a box of matches at the same time others walked forward and poured something over the three victims. He then struck a match and tossed it, lighting the oil-soaked room and walked away.
"Mom! Alice! Dad!" With each word he tugged, but the restraints still didn't relent, making it worse for the poor boy. The boy cried, begging to whoever above that was listening to him, to save his family. The room was alight in seconds, but James didn't care. He tugged even harder, he had to save them no matter what. He watched the merciless flames claimed his family's lives through teary eyes, and his hoarse throat screamed out, louder than ever before.
"DAD!" James pushed away the 'restraints' as he sat up abruptly, gulping in the cool, refreshing air. His headache pounded against the walls of his head as he moaned. "Uhhh...wha...what happened?"
He steadied himself with a hand, while he placed the other over his eyes, still giddy after jolting up from his nightmare. "Did...did I get away?" Opening his eyes, he looked around and saw blurry figures surrounding him. Rubbing his eyes, his vision cleared and the figures turned into ponies, ponies of many colours. He was lying on a bed and the room seemed to be one of those wards you see in a sickbay. "Great...whose big idea is it to have a hospital set up in a stable?" He moaned as he messaged his temples. Lifting his head, he called out. "Is there anyone out there?"
"Oh, uh...hello." The purple alicorn began. "My name is Twilight Spar..."
"Yeah, yeah. You are cute, I got it." James cut in, rubbing his temples again. "But seriously, is there anyone out there? Ow, my aching head. And where am I?"
"We are the ones asking the questions here." Shining Armor asserted, surprising James. This one was different, he noticed. He was one of those who were not wearing armor, just like the purple one who spoke earlier, and a pink one standing next to her. Only those two seemed to have horns and wings altogether. The others, including the white one, had either a horn, a pair of wings or none at all. "Who are you and why have you infiltrated the castle?" he questioned.
"Great, more horses." He moaned. "This is a really weird dream. And why would I dream of horses anyway?"
"Hey!" One of the armored ponies rushed forward and cuffed him in the head with a resounding smack. "How dare you show disrespect to the Prince like that!"
"Oww!" James rubbed the area where he was hit. "Hey, that hurts!"
"Stand down, soldier." Cadence ordered. The guard stepped back immediately. "We need him to be awake in order to answer our questions and he doesn't seem to be a threat. So unless he did become one, you are not to lay a hoof on him!"
The guard stepped back sheepishly. "Yes, Your Highness."
James glared at the reprimanded guard while rubbing his sore spot when something struck him. "Wait a minute," he muttered. Something, he knew, didn't make sense. How could I feel pain if this was a dream? He thought. But then if this wasn't a dream, that would mean... He stared at the ponies once more, eyes widened and breath quickening in realization. Twilight realized what was going to happen and hurried to calm the hyperventilating James down. "We won't hurt you, so please don't..."
"Aaaaaahhhhhh..." James screamed out in fright, backing as far into the bed as he could. "...scream." She finished, facehoofed and shook her head. She wondered if that was what Spike felt when they journeyed to the other world
"Talking horses!" He pointed at each of them as he called them out. "Pegasi! Unicorns! Unicorns with wings!" Then, he noticed something else that was wrong. What James was pointing with was not an arm anymore; it was covered with orange fur and where his hand was supposed to be, a hoof had taken its place. His mouth was threatening to scream once more.
"Hey!" A voice came from the ponies. Spike climbed down from Twilight's back and approached the scared pony. "That's rude!" He scolded. "You shouldn't have done that…" Seeing a talking dragon had officially broke the fear limit in his mind, he couldn't take it anymore.
"Aaaaaaahhhhh!" James screamed again before leaping over the stunned ponies. He landed awkwardly on his unfamiliar hoofs and tripped on the doors, opening them. Confused shouts rang out behind him as the guards regained their senses and began chasing after him. James panicked and quickly sprang to his hooves and started running, with the instinct of survival and mindless fear spurring him forward.
Beams of light shot past him, intending to bring him down. Yet it was the unmistakable clip-clop of hoofsteps that frightened him the most. I have to get away, he cried, I have to! To him, it was deja vu all over again, being chased down like a criminal. Tears were running down his already-moist cheeks, his breath was haggard and he was tired, both physically and mentally. And before long, he knew, he will be caught.
But I couldn't let myself get caught! He told himself. I just couldn't! His whole family was counting on him to take down an empire and he mustn't fail them, or else their deaths would be all for naught. Right now he must find a way to get back and finish this suicidal mission.
Rounding a tight corner, one of his newly-formed hooves caught a fold in the carpet floor, causing the poor pony to trip and stumble onto the cold crystal floor. Behind him, the guards were catching up to him with every step. Forcing his tired legs to get up, he started running again, with salty tears of desperation running down his new muzzle. Somebody, ANYBODY, help me. Please!
For the past two junctions, there was always a guard or two caught sight of him and joined the chase as well, forcing him to turn to run in the other direction. He turned around yet another corner and finally, straight ahead there was a way out. Light shone from the other end like a beacon of hope. Behind him, he was shocked to see the guards just rounding the corner as well. With one last burst of energy, he raced across the corridor and leaped across the doorway...
...only to find himself on a balcony. "What?!" He shouted. "No, NO!" He ran around, trying to find a way out of his precarious situation. But there wasn't any. The only way out was the doorway he came through and the nearest roof was out of reach.
"There's nowhere else left to run!" James turned around and saw the guards blocking he only way out, trapping him between them and the balcony rail. In front of them, not even panting heavily like James, were Shining Armor, his wife and his sister. Spike was sitting comfortably on Twilight, glaring at James as well. Horns were pointed at him, daring him to make a move while wings were flared, just in case an aerial advantage was needed. To further stress on his precarious situation, the front rank even leveled their spears at him.
Tears just kept on flowing no matter how much he tried to wipe them away. Surrounded between an impenetrable wall and a deep drop, he knew there would be no escape this time. It was a long way down, he might as well be handed a death warrant. It would be less messy that way. Suffocating fear overtook him as they came closer with every step. He looked around in a desperate attempt for a way out when he caught something in his peripheral view. He looked at it and gasped. The guards stopped, surprised by his sudden movement, looked around, trying to spot what he was looking.
There, in the clouds, his whole family was watching him, invisible to everyone but him. Though they seemed to be misty, but it was definitely them. His father squatted and reached out his hand as far as he could, as if inviting James to join them, to become a family like before. His smile told him that it was alright now, that it was okay to let go.
His breathing became heavier, eyes became glassy, seeing at what his heart desired to see. He couldn't take it anymore; he wanted to rest, to stop running, to stop fearing for his life. But most important of all, to be with his family once more. "Wait for me!" He cried, leaping from the rail with every last bit of energy he could muster into his legs. "I'm coming!" His forehoof reached out as far as he could, getting closer and closer to his hand when suddenly, his hoof passed through it. And with that, like a clock striking at midnight, the hallucinations disappeared into thin air.
In that brief moment he was stunned at first, then he smiled calmly. It doesn't matter anymore, he told himself, I'll be joining them soon anyway. Finally, he began to fall, his energy depleted. Wait for me...He muttered his last words to the people watching over him. He closed his eyes, waiting for the inevitable crash to happen...
...Only that it didn't happen. While he was falling, he suddenly stopped in midair. Curious, James opened his eyes and found that he was enveloped in a glowing aura. Then, he was lifted up, away from the ground and the gift that only death could grant him. No, NO!
"Just in time too." James turned around to see Twilight with her horn glowing. "No!" He screamed, trying to escape from whatever that she was doing to him, but it was futile. Caught in her power, he was well and truly caught. Bringing him back into the safety of the balcony and away from the rail, she released him from her spell. James tried to make a break for the railing again but he was brought down by the numerous guards tackling him. "Let me go!" He shrieked in desperation as he tugged and pulled to break free under their combined strength. It was futile, but he kept at it relentlessly. "They're waiting for me, I have to go to them! Please!"
"We have to bring him back to the infirmity and restrain him." Shining Armor said urgently. "Lest he would try to kill himself again."
"But how?" Cadence replied. "He would not let us do that so easily."
"Then allow me," Twilight offered, taking a step forward. "I know of a spell that might help."
The other two nodded while Spike slipped off her back, allowing Twilight to go through with her plan. She walked towards the pitiful pony, her horn glowing with magic. James was still trying to free himself from his captors, his throat hoarse from all the screaming. He stared at the spot where he saw the hallucinations of his dead family. "Let me go," he sobbed, "They are waiting for me. I have to go to them!"
"Give me some space." A voice spoke out. The guards jumped at the sound of Twilight's voice. It was gentle, but full of authority, as if assuring them that she knew what she was doing. The guards then shifted their weight, pinning only James' legs, effectively restricting all of his movements. (Except his head, of course.)
James looked up and was frightened once more. This was the one who stopped him from being with his family, and now she was going to take away his last hopes away as well. Fear and desperation overcame him once more as he thrashed at his captors once more "Mom! Dad! Alice!" He struggled, trying to get away from the alicorn. Her head leaned forward, horn glowing and mind resolute, ready to cast her magic.
"DAAAA...Hrrk!" His cry choked in his throat just as Twilight's spell hit him at the foot of his horn. "Relax, there is nothing to fear or will hurt you," She soothed the panicked pony while her spell was taking effect. "Sleep, and let go your fears and worries. Sleep..." His muscles relaxed, no longer having the strength to fight back, and his breathing became slow and rhythmic. His pupils dilated and his eyelids felt heavy as his head fell back and began to sleep. Seeing that there was no point in pinning a sleeping prisoner, the guards stepped back away from him.
"We must quickly bring him back to the infirmary," Shining Armor said. "Before he wakes up and resumes the chase." He nodded to the guards beside him and immediately some of the unicorn guards began levitating the limp pony and exited the balcony. James however, though sleeping, twisted and turned in the magical aura, mumbling the same words before he woke up about half an hour ago. Spike watched the pitiful figure floating in front, remembering the events that had transpired just a few minutes ago. In his heart, he felt...pity for him.
"I wonder what happened to him," Spike muttered. The other three looked at him intently, prompting him to continue. "I mean, for him to jump off like that, and then screaming his head off to let him do it again. No pony would be crazy enough to do that, unless he really is crazy..."
"I don't think so, Spike," Twilight said. "He looked...desperate, probably... for his family. I don't know why, but he seemed desperate enough to even to such a thing for them."
Cadence nuzzled Shining Armor, wiping her tears on his white coat. It was always terrible to see such a young colt reduced to a state like that, she had seen it in his eyes. Eyes that spoke volumes of loss and helplessness, of desperation and intense fear. Something had pushed him too close to the edge, she knew, something that...scarred the poor soul. And what made it worse was that there was nothing they could do to help him. Shining Armor draped a hoof over her, sharing her thoughts.
"No!" Twilight stomped, making those around her jumped. "There must be something we could do for him! We have to help him somehow."
"But Twilight," Spike said. "But what can we do?"
"I...I don't know. But we can't just leave him like that. We may not know what or who did this to him, but still..."
"I know what you mean, Twily," Shining Armor said, reassuring his little sister. "We will help him in any way we can, you can be sure of that. However there is so little we know of him, so we could only hope that he would tell us." They stopped at the door of the infirmary, watching the guards entering the room with their prisoner. "Come on, we have some preparations to make." And with that, the four of them entered the infirmary as well.
Finally finished! Studies and school had tried to slow me down and procrastination is still my worst enemy, but I finished this chapter. Victory!
EDIT: I made a few changes since I had decided it to happen after Season 4.