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THE TWILIGHT OUT OF TIME The initial rush of panic gave way to an eerie shortness of breath. It felt like she was drowning in cold, thin air that pervaded the tenebrous emptiness she found herself in after the defeat. Twilight's perturbed mind was searching for lost memories in the muck of confusion. Was that a game they were playing? She furrowed her brow in a futile attempt to forcefully remember the events that led her to this place. "Hello there." A stranger's voice shattered the unfinished puzzle in her mind. She jumped. Her body felt sluggish, unresponsive. "Who's there?!" She managed to conjure a wavering glow on the very tip of her horn. It was not much help at illuminating the darkness. "Over here." Her head followed the whispers and spotted an otherworldly visage of a shadow pony. A jagged slit of emptiness appeared beneath two pale orbs: "Took you long enough." She yelped and fired her magic at the shadow. The blast dissolved into an unspectacular spurt of sparks that faded away before the creature's simple face. "Feisty, aren't we," he commented in an unbothered voice. It sounded patronizing. He was powerful. Or was she weakened? Perhaps both. She began backing off: "What do you want?" "For starters, you can stop embarrassing yourself with that magic peashooter of yours, then you can stop moving around with your butt cheeks first and listen to what I have to say." She stopped, perplexed. He was clearly mocking her, yet he didn't feel nearly as menacing as the Pony of Shadows. His speech was indeed distorted but it wasn't all that booming or scary, and his face did look a bit like a Nightmare Night pumpkin. She decided to hear him out, but kept her head close to the ground, ready to fight. A shadow was still a shadow. Was there a pony trapped inside? Could she free him on her own? "Who are you?" "Just your friendly underworld shadow pony." "Huh?" His grin eased into a smug smile: "You think I'm evil don't you. That I'm keeping some poor pony trapped inside their own nightmare." The shadow flickered and appeared looming before her, the wide grin once again adorning the pitch black of his pony features. A chilling, prickling sensation enveloped her body and made her magic shrink even further before the encroaching darkness. "Are you going to save me, Princess?!" he unleashed a facetious roar and burst into pale flames. Like a faltering candle in a breeze, her light went out. Panicked, she started running away from her hidden foe. Every move of her body felt like an eternity. Was she even moving? "Dear Twilight Sparkle, have you learned anything today? Care to write a letter?" His voice was coming from everywhere. It was a loud, hissing whisper full of glee. Twilight's horn suddenly reignited and revealed the shadow pony blocking her path. She tried to wink away but she could not muster enough magic. It took all of her will just to stop her unresponsive body to a halt. The shadow lowered his head, his void holes peering into her wide open eyes, and chuckled: "I will let you in on a little secret that's reserved for only the naughtiest of faithful students, but for that I'll need to tuck you in like a good little filly you are. I'm sure your big brother wouldn't mind." He raised his burning hoof and gently placed it on her muzzle: "Boop!" An unbearable cold overtook her as she sank out of consciousness. ... Twilight opened her eyes. She tried to move, but to no avail. She couldn't even feel her own body. Yet there was warmth coming from deep inside, its pulsating sensation dominated her confused senses. She tried to look around the twilight that was bathing in golden light. Her eyes would not obey her. She tried to focus and noticed an overwhelming collection of blurred images swirling around inside her head. She concentrated on something that looked like a lamp and an image revealed a transparent bean containing tendrils made out of light. Their glow was the only thing illuminating the vast darkness littered by giant orbs of pale fire. She found out that the tendrils were leading away from the strange bean and into an orifice of swirling shadows. Right as she has potted the exit it began to close. The contracting walls mashed all the tendrils together and cut them clean like a dark saw. They began to disintegrate into a flurry of tiny golden sparks. As they vanished, the cold returned along with the numbing fear. Once more she was drowning in a frigid, black sea, gasping for consciousness that was steadily fading away. Suddenly, the darkness retreated before the light of two opaque membranes. Beyond the left one, there was a storm of writhing tendrils pressing violently against the shadowy barrier. They were like worms seeking entry into a foreign body. The scene made her feel uneasy. Despite the warm light seeping through, she did not want that membrane to break. The right one was bordering on a formless space of light. With no warning, its membrane retreated and a single tendril sprouted into the gloom, inserted a shining seed inside the bean, and retreated back to its domain. Without a sound, the swirling tendrils came tearing through the left membrane. ... Twilight opened her eyes. The initial rush of panic left behind an eerie sensation of weight inside her chest. It felt like being suffocated under an invisible boulder. Her perturbed mind was searching for lost memories in the muck of confusion. Was that a game they were playing? She furrowed her brow in a futile attempt to forcefully remember the events that led her to this murky field of white flowers. --- The shadow pony was loitering inside the twilight of a barren dream. "She's gone. You can come out now." A platinum alicorn mare materialized beside him. Her flowing, honey mane was radiating light, yet her golden eyes seemed gloomy. "You think this'll work?" "Let's wait and see," she mumbled. He nodded. "This dream team thing could take a while. Wanna go grab something to eat?" "Joe's place?" "It's past midnight, so it'll be fine." "Your treat," she proclaimed and winked away. He grumbled into the aether: "I may have the bits but I'm not gonna let you freeload forever. I'm keeping tabs!" Then a mischievous smile gushing with balefire stretched across his muzzle. Everypony was asleep anyway so why not go and have something from the royal kitchen instead? And then there was also that secret cellar. Maybe he should spend the given time stealing stuff instead of filling the belly of his sparkly sloth of a partner. Exhilarated by the prospects of this new revelation he too left the dream to the devices of its puffed up hosts.