There was a warmth on Ethan's right hind leg that he didn't feel when he went to sleep that night. Sitting up on the bed, Ethan saw a small bunny laying on the sheets, sleeping soundly. He couldn't help but let out an audible "Aww" at the sight of this, and thankfully, that didn't wake the bunny.
Ethan was still in Fluttershy's cottage, having decided to stay the night there. He originally suggested sleeping on the couch downstairs, but Fluttershy insisted Ethan take her bed, because he needs the comfort for his head. Her bed was indeed, very comfortable, and the fluffy layers of warm comforters draped on the full-size mattress didn't seem to bother Ethan too much, despite the summer-like weather outside.
Just as soon as Ethan had fully awoken, Fluttershy entered with a steaming cup of tea.
"Oh, goodness! I didn't know you would be awake so early..."
"Yeah, neither did I."
Fluttershy glanced at Ethan, then noticed the bunny on his leg. "Looks like Angel found a friend while you were sleeping."
"I guess so."
The yellow pegasus put the cup of tea down next to the bed. "How are you feeling?"
"A little better. My head doesn't hurt to much anymore. This bed is very comfy." Ethan said, bouncing a little.
"Oh, that's good."
"When are we leaving? Aren't we supposed to go on that adventure today?"
"Um, yes. I think so. We have to go to the library at seven, I think."
Ethan looked at the wooden clock on the bedroom wall, which read 6:32. That explained why the sun hadn't come up yet. Angel awoke with a start once Ethan moved his leg. The bunny quietly groaned, then ran downstairs. After a short pause, Fluttershy spoke up.
"Well, um, we should get going then, shouldn't we?"
"Sounds good. Let's go."
Walking in the early morning, Ethan noticed how quiet the town could get, compared to how loud it was when he was walking through the market the other day. The morning chill, coupled with the calm breeze that blew through the trees in the Everfree Forest next to Fluttershy's house, set the mood for things to come. Ethan thought of it as the calm before the storm, even though he had no idea what the storm would be, if any. Looking for Barry was one thing; they were lucky they didn't run into any creatures back there. This is different. They will be in the deepest part of the forest, where they will be sure to run into...Ethan had no idea, but he was sure it'd be dangerous.
Noticing how crushingly awkward Fluttershy looked walking next to him, Ethan attempted to start a conversation, "So, what do you think of the humans?"
"I think that th-the ones that are trying to, um, attack Equestria are very mean, and they sh-shouldn't be like that to us." Fluttershy responded, getting visibly more uncomfortable as she pictured this, "But you and Barry are very nice...I'm glad to have met you two."
"Well, thanks. I appreciate that." Ethan replied warmly, and Fluttershy blushed noticeably. Ethan didn't notice it, because he had turned away, realizing that they had already arrived at Twilight's library.
Remembering last time Fluttershy knocked on the door, Ethan decided to do so, firmly and loudly. Answering the door was Pinkie Pie, looking four times as awake as either of them combined.
"Hiya, you two! Glad to see you can make it!" Pinkie greeted the ponies, flashing a massive grin.
"Oh, good morning, Pinkie Pie..." Fluttershy responded kindly.
"Hi, Pinkie." Ethan said. He hadn't really gotten very well acquainted with the pink mare, and only remembers her a little, from when they were going to the ponification room. The voice was very recognizable, though.
"How’re ya doing, Ethan? It's great to see you all...ponied up! Hahahaa!" Pinkie said, laughing at her own joke as the two walked in, much more awake than when they were walking over there. Twilight was the only other pony inside, who was sitting at her reading desk as usual.
"Good morning, Ethan! Is your head okay?"
"Yes, much better, thanks."
"Great. We're leaving soon, but settle in while we wait for the others to arrive." And with that, Twilight returned to her reading, and the two ponies sat at the table in the corner.
Almost immediately after they had sat down, Applejack arrived, with a small yellow filly following eagerly behind her. AJ looked noticeably more awake than the others, but definitely not as awake as Pinkie Pie.
"G'morning, y'all. Hope ya don't mind, Twi, but Apple Bloom here said she wanted to come with us." Applejack said, gesturing toward the filly.
"Please, Twilight? Can I go? I wanna see if I can find my special talent in the forest!" Apple Bloom begged to the purple pony, giving the most irresistibly adorable puppy-dog eyes.
"Of course, Apple Bloom. Just don't get into too much trouble. The forest is very dangerous."
"I know. Don't worry none, Twilight. I'll be fine." Apple Bloom said confidently, sounding like she was trying to sound more mature than she was.
"Where's Rainbow Dash? Wasn't she with you at the Bureau yesterday?"
"Yeah, she said she might be a bit late, but I still figured she'd come by earlier than me. That's a might odd..." Applejack said, trailing off as she wondered where Dash might be.
"Okay. I just hope she doesn't take too long. We need to leave soon." Twilight replied as she closed the book on her desk and put it in the pile. "I need to wake up Spike and Barry, so I might be a bit."
Rarity arrived a few minutes later, donning an azure sun hat and matching saddle bags.
"Sorry I'm late, but I couldn't find the tiara that went with this bag. That's when I found this darling hat, and I thought 'I simply must wear this!'. So I did." Rarity explained quickly, almost sounding like Pinkie Pie with how excited she was.
"Fascinatin'." Applejack said dully, growing impatient waiting. "When's Dash gettin' here? I wanna get this over with."
As if on cue, Rainbow Dash flew in as fast as she could through the open upstairs window. After catching her breath, she touched down on the floor next to Applejack.
"Ms. Hooves kept me until late last night, so I overslept...I swear, she's out to get me sometimes!"
"She isn't out to get me!" Pinkie chirped, as she pranced up to Dash happily, "Well, maybe because I get her muffins every week, but I don't think that'd have anything to do with what I do at work! OH! One time, she called me down to her office, and she said 'Muffins!', and then I said 'Okay!', and then we..."
Losing track of the story, Ethan gave up trying to listen to Pinkie. Then, he turned his attention to Twilight, who was coming down from upstairs with a half-asleep Spike on her back, and a equally as half-asleep Barry coming down behind her. Spike mumbled something, and flopped down on the floor. Barry, for once, didn't say anything. He was probably too tired to care about anything right now.
"Good, good, everypony's here. Now we can go."
"Really? That's awfully blunt of you." Rarity asked, as surprised as the rest of the group at Twilight's sudden change of pace. "No lecture about what not to do in the forest? No silly presentation on the dreadful creatures we might encounter?"
"Nope. I think we've all frequented the forest enough to know where to go by now."
"Aw yeah! That's what I like to hear! Let's go!" Rainbow barked enthusiastically, and started for the door.
Walking down the same pathway as earlier bored Ethan, since they had to go past Fluttershy's house to get to the forest. Suddenly, Apple Bloom caught up with Ethan, now trotting side-by-side with him.
"So you used to be one a'those hoo-mans?" Apple Bloom asked nervously, as if she was talking to an alien.
"’Humans.’" Ethan corrected the filly, laughing, "And yeah, I was a human about a week ago."
"Wow! What's it like? Is it any different than bein' a pony?" The little pony queried, really interested in learning about his home species.
"Oh, definitely. It's way different." Ethan said, then thought about how to go about describing a human to a pony. It was much harder than he thought. "Well, you walk on two legs, first of all. And you have these weird thingies on the ends of your front hooves called 'fingers'. They help you grab stuff easier, but they look weird."
"I'd like to see a human close up. They must be a might big in person..." Apple Bloom said.
"Compared to ponies, yeah. I'm probably about half the height I was when I was a human."
"They must be pretty darn big then." She said, clearly intimidated.
Applejack trotted up next to her little sister. "I'm sorry, is my sis botherin' ya, Ethan?"
"No, no, not at all. I'm enjoying myself." Ethan replied.
"We're here, everypony!" Twilight called out from the front of the nine-pony cavalcade.
This entrance was different from the entrance they had used to look for Barry. Gone are the wide, spacious pathways of the main forest entryway, and the group was greeted by a slightly more tangled path to the temple. Instead of dirt and sand, the ponies were trotting on the forest floor, riddled with tangled grass and tree roots poking up at any chance they get, tripping up the non-fliers quite a few times. Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Ethan flew above the pack, but not too high, so they don't leave anypony behind. Rainbow had insisted on attempting to look above the trees to find the temple from above, but was only greeted with a dark cloud of smog, which blanketed the forest in a neverending night.
"It's a concentrated magical force field." Twilight explained to the others, "It's also the reason the plants and animals behave so strangely here."
"Well, it's not so strange to Ethan and I." Barry pointed out, "Plants always grow, and animals most of the time live on their own. The only animals we keep as pets are dogs and cats. Oh, and birds...and hamsters..."
As Barry continued rattling off the names of the aisles of the local pet shop, the group pressed on through the forest. Yet again, no dangerous creatures seemed to cross their path, and if any were seen, they ignored the group, and went about their business quietly. Ethan had never thought he'd see a manticore in person, let alone one that just sheepishly walked across the path, not noticing the tasty ponies trotting out in the open.
After crossing a wide, but shallow river, the ponies came across an old temple. Automatically assuming this was what they were looking for, Ethan inspected the ancient structure as he entered it with the others. The interior seemed just like the rest of the forest, mostly because the plantlife has made a home out of some of the less-traveled rooms, riddling former bedrooms with overgrown vines and trees. The main room upstairs consisted of six glowing gems of different shapes, each color-coded and sitting on a large, out-of-reach pedestal. Barry, Twilight and her friends seemed to recognize the gems, but Ethan and Apple Bloom were clueless.
"Here we are, everypony." Twilight announced after gazing at the gems, and capturing the group's attention. "We need to inspect every room we can, but be careful. This temple wasn't built yesterday. Remember, we're looking for an old spell book."
"Just think of an older version of any book Twilight would read." Spike explained, semi-jokingly. "Full of pictures and cool shapes and stuff."
"...right. We'll meet back here in an hour."
"BREAK!!" Pinkie belted out, like a football player before the big game, and with that, the ponies split up. Applejack, Apple Bloom, and Rainbow Dash went down the east hallway; Fluttershy, Twilight, and Rarity went down the west wing, and Ethan, Barry, Pinkie Pie, and Spike went downstairs.
"Thanks for letting me come with you guys. I was getting kind of tired of sticking to Twilight all day." Spike said to the three as they walked down the long stairway a second time.
"No probs, Spike." Ethan replied calmly, "You need to hang out with us more often. Us guys gotta stick together."
"Yeah!" Pinkie shouted from the back of the pack, cuing strange looks all around, then a huge laugh from them all that echoed through the cavernous hallway. Eventually, the gang went into the biggest, easiest-to-navigate room, and began to turn it upside down. Oddly enough, it was the pantry.
"Why would they need a pantry in a temple?" Spike asked the others.
"I thought you knew, Spike!" Barry replied from the other side of the room, laughing as he looked in a closet.
"Maybe the pony-monks get hungry, and go down here to bake their pineapple upside-down cake!" Pinkie chirped, licking her lips at the thought of the treat.
Then they heard a thud. It shook the temple, sending a few things in other rooms falling, and a table had almost collapsed underneath Spike, who was looking in a bread box.
"D-did you guys hear that bump?" Spike stammered.
"How that bump made me jump!" Pinkie replied, apparently not phased at all by the sudden noise.
"Let's go check it out." Ethan said, with a sudden confidence that even surprised himself. The gang began to run down the hall.
"HEY!" Spike called out to Ethan before he left the room, "A little help?"
"Oh. Sure, buddy." Ethan said, allowing Spike to hop on his back. The extra weight was a little hard to get used to, but he eventually caught up with Pinkie and Barry outside.
Scarily, nobody else was outside but the four of them. It was as if they were the only ones that heard the noise, but none of them could deny that it was a real thud. Moving objects and crumbling temple does not a fake noise make.
"What made that noise? It was coming from out here..." Spike questioned, but soon got his answer. A pitch-black unicorn with fire-truck red eyes came out from the shadows of the edge of the forest, and shot a spark of magic at the dragon, sending him to the ground a few feet away.
"Ethan and Pinkie Pie, go tend to Spike! I'll fend this thing off." Barry shouted, trying his best to sound like an action hero. Using his newly-taught magic, Barry shot off three medium-sized fireballs, which the black pony dodged seamlessly. The shadow-pony fired back with a purple lightning spell. It looked painless, but Barry dodged it anyway, not letting his guard down yet.
Ethan got to Spike first, with Pinkie following close behind. The dragon sat up on his feet, massaging a burn mark on the side of his head.
"Omigosh! Are you okay, Spikey?" Pinkie said, in a concerned manner, but still retaining her Pinkie-ness.
"Yeah, yeah. I just feel like I was kicked really hard in the head--OUCH!" Spike yelped in pain as he tried to stand, and sat back down on the ground.
"Just stay here and rest your head..." Ethan said, spacing out a little watching his best friend fight the dark pony.
Suddenly, as he was about to slip back into reality, Ethan felt something on his head. It hurt, but only a little. It felt like a human hand was grabbing onto his forehead, and giving him the Vulcan "mind-meld" from Star Trek. He couldn't move, but he could see the source of the "grabbing" was the dark pony, who had cast a purple lightning spell directed at him. Everything went in slow motion, and eventually, Ethan passed out. He didn't feel himself hit the cold forest floor, though. He felt soft, wet grass, and a cool summer breeze...