The Party Hasn't Ended Part 5 starring Rainbow Dash
Twilight looked out the window of her study at the swirling black clouds and she frowned. "That is by far the strangest storm I have ever seen."
She had spent the afternoon trying to find information about the history of unnatural storms hitting Ponyville and by unnatural, she of course meant storms that had originated over the Everfree Forest rather than in the Storm Factory in Cloudsdale. But try as she may to concentrate, the whole business between Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie was preoccupying her.
She slammed the tome in front of her closed in frustration. "I've read that same sentence TEN TIMES now!" she muttered. "Confound these ponies! They drive me to distraction..."
She stared out the window. The whole town had been plunged into an eerie darkness. The winds that had come up around an hour ago were growing in intensity. The leaves of the tree the library had been built into shivered and rustled and its boughs rubbed together with an alarming creaking sound that played bass to the shrill voice of the wind itself.
Suddenly Spike came running down the stairs. Gummy the alligator was in hot pursuit, his harmless jaws open wide and his pink eyes swivelling with mad intensity.
"Twiiiiiilllliiiiiiight!" cried Spike. "Get this little monster off of me!" The little dragon leapt onto the back of the sofa and scrambled to the far end as Gummy leapt up at him from the floor, snapping his gum-filled maw.
Twilight scowled at the little dragon. "Oh Spike not you too! Why is everypony and everything trying to keep me from finding out the source of this unusual weather?"
Twilight opened the front door of the Library. Wind suddenly filled the room, and dust and loose parchment fluttered about. "Go and play with Gummy outside for a while, Spike, before it starts to rain he needs a walk anyway. And some exercise will do you good those baked bads are making you pudgy!"
Gummy had cornered Spike on the back of the sofa now and the little dragon closed his eyes and jumped for his life, running as he hit the floor. "Anymore exercise like this and you'll be needing a new assistant!" he shouted as he raced out the door and into the stormy darkness with the tiny alligator snapping at his heels.
"Kids they're like this every rainy day," smiled Twilight. As soon as the door was closed she trotted upstairs. She'd had a sudden idea. Maybe the answers she was seeking weren't to be found in any book, but in observing the storm directly. She opened the window and pushed her telescope flush to it. The wind was thankfully not so bad on this side of the library. She tilted her telescope as steeply as she could and after floating over a notepad and pencil she sat down to make some observations.
Straight away the storm proved to be even stranger than she had initially thought. The thunderheads that made up the storm were not moving overhead, but were keeping a regular course circling Ponyville. And deep within the grey layers of vapour, something dark seemed to be moving around. At first she thought she'd imagined it maybe a darker layer of cloud higher up that became occasionally visible through breaks in the lower clouds. But there was definitely something there, moving within the storm a black, sinuous form that kept out of sight, almost as if it didn't want to be seen.
"That CANNOT be good," said Twilight. Suddenly a squall hit the library, and rain flew in through the window into her face. She quickly dropped the notes she had been making and closed the window telekinetically. "Is all of Ponyville starting to fall apart?"
She raced around the house shutting all the windows. "That Spike!" she muttered. "Trust him to be out having fun when there's work for him to do!"
She trotted into the kitchen and was in the middle of shutting the window over the sink when Spike somersaulted through it bodily, landing with a catastrophic clattering among the pots and pans stacked in front of the washing machine.
"Spike!" yelled Twilight. But then Gummy came careening through the window and the little dragon was ready for him. He'd hurriedly put a pot on his head for a helmet, and in one hand he held an egg-beater and in the other a fry-pan that he used as an impromptu shield to fend off the alligator's playful lunges and bites.
"Twilight! This alligator is crazy!" But Twilight didn't respond she was deep in thought about the thing she had seen in the storm. She remembered its shape from something she had read once but where in Equestria had she seen it?
"Spike! Stop making so much noise!" Gummy had got the better of the little dragon, who was desperately wrestling him among the wreckage of the kitchen. It sounded as if the crockery and the cutlery were at war, crashing and shattering and clattering all at once.
Twilight's annoyance finally boiled over. "I CAN'T STAND IT ANYMORE!" she yelled. "I just can't concentrate with all this racket! Spike, clean this up once you're done playing with Gummy. I'm going out!" She stormed into the living room.
"Out? Into that hurricane?" said Spike, incredulous. Gummy had been distracted by Twilight's angry shout and was watching her get ready with inquisitive pink eyes. "But Twilight don't leave me here with this
"Oh Spike," replied Twilight as she slipped into her raincoat and levitated an umbrella in front of her. "Gummy's not a monster! Just think of him as your little brother."
Spike stumbled out of the kitchen and slammed the door shut before Gummy had a chance to react. But soon there was a crash on the other side of the door as the alligator threw himself it, and Spike had to push with all his might to stop him from busting it down. The little dragon turned to beg Twilight for help one last time but she had already left.
"But I never wanted a little brother!" cried Spike as the door buckled and started to split under the onslaught. "And besides dragons and alligators aren't even related!"
When Cloudkicker had finally beaten her way through howling winds and driving sheets of rain that had flown into her face like frozen needles, she found Dash's little cloud-house. It sat in a strange area of calm, like the eye of a hurricane; but there was very little light here in the centre of the storm there were no blue skies like in the eye of a hurricane, just a dark expanse overhead. And something seemed to writhe around inside it or maybe it had just been her imagination.
The blonde-maned Pegasus pony wiped her flying goggles clear of rain-spots with a hoof as she drove the leading edge of her wings lower to bring her down into a short landing it was a daring manoeuvre, but a necessary one, since getting lost in the banks of blackness had meant she'd appeared over Dash's home much higher than she'd expected. And as she dived she looked for any sign of her commanding officer she was sure to be found asleep in her hammock as she often was when goofing off work.
As Cloudkicker had flown through the storm, anger had welled up in her and overcome her usually ever-sunny demeanour. Maybe she had just lost patience at last with Dash's prima-donna antics. This was no ordinary storm it was something far worse. It had settled above Ponyville and was showing no sign of moving off like a storm normally would. This was no time for Dash to be lazing around and dreaming of future fame and glory!
Rainbow Dash lay curled up in a corner of her cloud-home. As the clouds had rolled in and the thunder started to roar and Ponyville had been lit by lightning strike after lightning strike, she had wanted to get out there and help the rest of her squad. But again that dizzying terror had taken hold over her, and again her wings had frozen and threatened to drag her down to a terrible fate far below. And so she had remained there, helpless, curled up in the corner of her cloud-home, watching the storm-clouds circle Ponyville like monstrous black vultures.
Cloudkicker landed with a bounce and in moments, after tearing off her goggles, she was shaking Dash with her fore-hoofs.
"Dash, wake up! How on earth can you sleep with all of this going on around you?!" Cloudkicker lifted the other Pegasus pony's head up, expecting to see a blissfully unaware and dreaming face. But what she saw shocked her.
Dash's coat was pale and sickly, and her mane was listless and hung down from her shoulders and back like a flag where there was no wind. But worst of all were her eyes: they were red and swollen, and her cheeks and face were wet but from tears or rain, Cloudkicker couldn't tell.
She stepped back in alarm at the sight, and straight away she felt all of her angry resentment subside to be replaced with a desperate concern. She'd never seen Dash in such a state not even when she'd caught the flu after trying to beat the Equestrian record for the highest flight and had returned to base with icicles in her feathers and frost riming her coat.
"Are... are you ok, Dash?" Cloudkicker asked, and immediately the question seemed such a stupid one to be asking. "You... you look terrible!"
"Cloudkicker?" Dash's voice was barely a whisper. "I... I think I must be sick. I... I can't seem to fly anymore."
"You? You can't fly?" Cloudkicker looked over Dash's body, checking her wings and her coat for any injuries. "Where are you hurt?"
Dash chuckled but it was a humourless and hollow sound that chilled Cloudkicker's blood. "I'm not injured at least, not anywhere on the outside."
"We've got to get you to the hospital..." Cloudkicker said as she tried to lift the rainbow-maned Pegasus pony, but Dash felt so heavy as if some force was pressing down on her.
"This... this must be magic of some sort," Cloudkicker decided. She brought her face close to Dash's and said: "Just hang in there, Dash. I'm going to go and get help. Don't try and move, OK?"
Dash raised her head with difficulty, her eyes glittering with dark humour. "No problem," she said. And then, after hesitating for a moment, she asked: "Cloudkicker do you think I'm a good pony?"
Cloudkicker was taken aback by the question. It was simply one of the last things she could ever have imagined Dash asking her. "Of course you're a good pony, Dash," she replied. "Now, just wait for a..."
"Do you know what I did to my friend?" Dash continued. Her voice was soft and laden with pain. "I... I betrayed her."
"Your friend? Who, Pinkie?" Cloudkicker had had an inkling that this was all somehow connected to Pinkie Pie's disappearance. The story had already got around Ponyville. So was that what this was all about? "I'm sure Pinkie'll be back soon, Dash. I can't imagine her leaving for good, can you?"
Dash shook her head. "I didn't mean Pinkie Pie..." she said.
Cloudkicker realised that Dash must be delirious. There was no time to lose with talking. She quickly slipped on her flight goggles again. "I'll be back soon, Dash. Don't worry!" she said. "You'll be feeling like your old self again in no time!"
She turned and galloped straight off the side of the cloud and a few strong beats of her wings later she had returned to the swirling maelstrom and vanished from Dash's sight.
Dash exhaled and looked up at the sky. Behind the clouds that dark shape she'd seen earlier was boiling and writhing again. So it hadn't been her feverish imagination after all. Dash knew it was somehow connected to everything that was happening. And as she watched, it slowly started to emerge. It had been waiting for Cloudkicker to leave, she realised. And now it had her alone.
"C'mon y'all!" shouted Applejack, struggling to be heard over the screaming winds. "These here apple trees all need ta be staked down well or else th' entire orchard'll be blown away in this gale!"
Applejack had marshalled the troops at Sweet Apple Acres. The ploughing had been abandoned and now all the earth pony workers were hard at work staking and roping down the young trees whose roots weren't strong enough yet to survive the strong winds. It was a difficult and dangerous job as the winds howled, apples were knocked loose and they joined other debris in zipping through the air like bullets, while every few moments a weaker branch would sheer off from a tree and coming crashing along the ground. There'd already been more than a few injuries, but everypony had doggedly struggled on. If they lost all the new apple trees, Sweet Apple Acres might never recover.
"Ya gotta pull it tighter, Caramel!" With his back against a tree, Big Mac was acting as the anchor for the guy-rope that the smaller earth pony had dragged around it to shore it up. "Else that rope's gonna snap quicker than Granny Smith's knee-bones on a winter's day!"
"I'm pulling it as hard as I can!" replied Caramel. His voice was hardly audible over the shrieking gale. "The wind
it's just too strong! We're finished!" He buckled at his knees at one particularly violent gust, and the rope went suddenly slack.
"C'mon now!" shouted Big Mac. "Y'gotta have more faith in yerself! Ah can't do it on my own. Ah need ya, Caramel!"
The words pierced deep into Caramel's chest. His face straight away grew steely with determination and he struggled back onto his feet. Pulling the rope until it went taut and the tree had stopped its precarious bending, he hammered in the peg and then galloped back to where Big Mac was.
"Ah knew ya could do it, Caramel!" laughed the bigger stallion around the rope in his mouth. He let it slip out, and the tree bent but did not fall against the onslaught of the furious winds. "Nah c'mon! These other ponies're slackin' off and they need us ta show 'em how it's done!" But as Big Mac turned to go there was an ear-splitting snap as a rope that had been wound around a nearby tree suddenly broke, one end cracking out like a whip at the red-coated stallion.
"Mac!" Caramel leapt between them, receiving the full force of the rope in his side. He crumbled lifeless to the ground.
"Caramel! Caramel!' Big Mac was at his side in moments and knelt down beside the wounded pony. "Are ya OK buddy? Speak ta me, Caramel!"
The younger stallion groaned and slowly opened his eyes. "Uhhhhh
. Mac? Big Mac? You're OK? Oh, thank Celestia!"
"What're ya babbling about?" Big Mac's face was a confusion of anger and concern. "Why'dya hafta go an' do such a foal-hardy thing?"
" Because I love you Macintosh! "Because you're the strongest stallion here, Big Mac. AJ needs you. Anypony can replace me but nopony can replace you."
Big Mac shook his head, but when he looked at Caramel again he was smiling. "That's near the bravest thing Ah've ever seen a pony do," He started to nuzzle at Caramel's injury. "Nah where does it hurt?"
Caramel closed his eyes as he felt Big Mac's breath against his coat. There was no pain now just a sudden bliss that filled him from the tip of his tail to his ears.
pain," he said, a dopey smile plastered on his face.
"AaaaaaJaaayy!" shouted Big Mac in a panic. "Caramel's hurt real bad! He's slippin' into a coma or somethin'! We gotta get him ta th' hospital!" He looked down at the injured pony. "Hang in there, buddy!"
Caramel's smile deepened as the screaming of the wind, the splatter of the rain against his face and the rumbling hoof-falls of the ponies rushing to help him one by one vanished until he knew no more.
Cloudkicker? Can you check if I'm
wearing these right?"
Fluttershy had been fumbling with her flight goggles as she flew alongside Cloudkicker and the rest of the Weather Patrol. It had proven so hard to put them on with the wind whipping her pink mane everywhere! Her mane seemed to have a life of its own and kept getting tangled up in the strap.
Cloudkicker soared down beside her and helped her untangle the strap, and adjusted it so that it wasn't so loose. "There
that should do it!" the lavender-coated Pegasus pony said. She looked at Fluttershy. Here, flying through the centre of the clouds that were encircling Ponyville, she looked so different from the shy and gentle pony everypony knew. Her face was set with determination, and to Cloudkicker's eyes she looked even more beautiful than before.
"Thank you for volunteering to help us," said Cloudkicker, blushing at the thoughts she'd suddenly had. "We really did need every pony we could get!"
Fluttershy nodded. "It's my pleasure," she replied. "I mean, we've got to protect Ponyville and everypony we love," Rainbow Dash! Were you alright? Cloudkicker's account of her friend's condition had horrified Fluttershy when she had heard it. Oh, she did hope Ditzy Doo and Nurse Cross would reach her in time!
The clouds that had surrounded them suddenly cleared, and they were suddenly dazzled by the bright sun and blue sky overhead. Beneath them, the black clouds rumbled and flashed still. But Fluttersy's eyes were held upwards. She felt the soft, warm rays of the sun against her wind-burnt face and she prayed with all her heart.
"Oh Princess Celestia! Please give me strength! I'm so very, very afraid but I need to do this. Everypony I love is depending upon me."
The pink-maned Pegasus pony looked across at the mountainous thunderhead they were going to try to disperse. It was like a black tower, broiling with darkness and lit by vicious streaks of sheet lightning. Fluttershy gulped. She had to do this! Nopony else among her friends could fly and with her animal friends' homes being flooded and blown away far below, she had no other choice. She had to protect them.
Fluttershy adjusted her flight-goggles and flew on.
It was the same shape as a rainbow that thin arch brought to life by the rays of Celestia's holy light refracted through the million lenses of raindrops, the living embodiment of the powerful Rainbow Magic that lay underneath all of creation.
But this rainbow was not one of light. It was black, and colourless and yet it was more than merely dark. Darkness was the absence of light but this was rather the negation of light, a total absence of anything, a limitless void of emptiness that hurt Dash's eyes to look at. And it slid out of the cloud's underbelly like a snake and coiled about the Pegasus pony before she realised what was happening. But as she struggled to her feet and stumbled back, it suddenly jetted out in a parabola and, like ink being poured into a jar, it filled the invisible shape of a mighty equine form no farther than five feet away from her. It was a figure, tall and lank of leg, with a sharp and elongated muzzle behind which glowed two points of sickly purple light its eyes, shimmering like willow-wisps. It turned its head and considered the bedraggled Pegasus pony that lay not far away so frighteningly small against its towering form.
"Who... who are you?" Dash's sudden fear drove a desperate energy into her body, and she found she could move again. She scrambled backwards against the nearest of the pillars of cloud that held up the top story of her cloud-home and stood, her head raised high, ready for an attack. But the shadow made no move and began to speak.
"You'll find me where there's no laughter to be heard, and wherever despair has taken hold of a heart," said the black figure, and its voice seemed to echo in Dash's ears without physically travelling the distance between the two of them a thin and shimmering voice, like the rustling of tree-leaves before the advent of a storm. It was as if the air around her had been forced to take on the job of vocal chords where none existed. "I choose to call myself Nightmare."
"Nightmare... as in Nightmare Moon?" Dash knew she had heard something like this voice before in that battle with Nightmare Moon in the Temple of the Two Sisters deep within the Everfree Forest.
The shadow laughed. "That was my name once but just one among many. No, that was my name when I resided in the heart of that upstart Princess of the Moon. Oh how delicious the pain in HER heart was! But always, always that snivelling love for her sister held her and me back." The black form approached Dash, and as it walked it seemed that parts of it dissolved away into the dark clouds behind it, like dye soaking into cloth. "No, stripped of her personality I am again Nightmare the one who was here before the sun and the moon, the one who created this world. For you see, long before those two interlopers came, this world was shrouded in eternal darkness. Only the stars glared down upon the earth and even those tiny points of light from far off were scarcely visible on the surface of my world, for everywhere there grew the Forest MY forest, where I was free to roam as I wished. But today only a small part of it remains," said Nightmare. "And it is my prison or at least, it was until recently."
"Let me guess the Everfree Forest?" Dash said with a chuckle. "You don't need to be a braniac like Twilight to work THAT one out!" Somehow, now that the threat had taken a real form she felt her old feistiness returning. Shadow ponies from the beginning of time? Piece of cake! At least you could actually SEE these things. "So, do you want to go back to prison yourself, or am I going to have to send you back there myself? 'Cause I'm not gonna sit here and listen to your life story all day I've got laps to fly!"
Nightmare laughed, and the sound was a sudden storm of knives that hurt Dash's ears. "Your arrogance is by far your most endearing trait, Rainbow Dash!" The shadow's face seemed to smile. "I shall enjoy bending you to my will. Luna was so needy, so frightened and alone. But you! YOU are a far better choice to be my vessel. I will take a most singular delight in being Nightmare Dash!"
Dash refused to cower before the black figure's piercing eyes. "No dice, Nightmare. There's no way I'LL ever allow you to take control of me," She thumped a hoof against her chest. "There's room in here for one only, and that's the Dash."
"Truer words were never spoken!" And Nightmare laughed again but this time Dash felt a chill pass throughout her entire body, and she stepped back. "My little pony, YOU are the one who brought me here, who opened the way for me. The despair YOU created in the heart of one who loved you was like a beacon to me, and your guilt will be a gate for my spirit!"
"Pinkie? What have you done to Pinkie!?" Dash felt a desperate hot anger rising in her, and as she did she felt a tingling sensation along her wings. The thought of Pinkie, the sudden image of her face with its explosion of pink curls, those beautiful blue eyes and her beaming jackpot-smile had brought warmth and life back to them. Dash flapped them once, then twice, as she advanced on Nightmare and a third flap lifted her up from the ground and brought her furious face level to the shadow pony's own. She stared into the dull green points of smoky light that were its eyes and she thought she saw them blink. But the shadow held its ground.
At last Nightmare replied, with a chuckle like the crackling of dry leaves. "I find it darling that you're so concerned about one particular pony, while down below us hundreds of them are struggling to survive in a desperate situation they have YOU to thanks for."
"Wait, are you saying I did all this?" Dash looked about at the expanse of dark cloud that covered the town. The howling winds and the lightning that battered the town had she done that?
Nightmare cocked its head in amusement. "Let's just say you ALLOWED it to happen. But then, Rainbow Dash, you've always been most interested in looking out for yourself," Nightmare's black mane swirled and wherever it passed, the dark grey of the stormy night was plunged into utter nothingness as if it had been erased. "After all, what space is there left in your heart for anypony else? It was all used up long ago, wouldn't you agree? You... abandoned that part of you, did you not?"
Dash closed her eyes. The ice in the centre of her body turned her stomach, and she could no longer look Nightmare in those glowing pits it called its eyes. "How... how could you know that?" she managed to whisper at last.
"You mortal beings and your incomprehensible arrogance!" Nightmare's voice was tinged with indignant anger now. "Your primitive existences are like an open book to one who has existed from since the time the stars themselves were young. All your past is visible to me! Everything that has ever happened to you is still happening, although your sadly limited senses can only see it vaguely, as if staring through a smoking mirror. " Nightmare jerked its head towards Dash as if in accusation. "Oh no, Rainbow Dash. You will beg me BEG me! to take control of you after you see the places I'll take you! Nopony can face despair eternal and remain unmoved!"
"Where... where are you going to take me?" Dash whispered. Her brashness had sloughed off her now, and she felt frightened and suddenly, horribly alone.
"Why, just the most terrible place to be found anywhere in the universe..." Nightmare touched its head to the Pegasus pony's chest.
"No," whispered Dash. "Not there!"
"Yes," said Nightmare, and its eyes grew suddenly brighter with glee as it swirled and coiled once again into a rainbow of darkness that penetrated into Dash's chest and vanished. "There!"