It was a beautiful sunset and the city's night life was slowly beginning to open up. Though the night life didn't quite reach the park bench we sat on in the central park, I didn't mind too much. Looking at the sunset through the treeline and city skyline in front of us, cane in one hand, Twilight in the other, it was a normal evening we shared. Twi was almost curled up in a ball next to me. Her head had apparently found a soft spot on my shoulder. It wasn't a cold evening but I didn't mind her warmth in the least. The street lamps were beginning to flicker on, casting their glow along the park's paths. I could feel one of her hands gingerly rub up and down my arm, bringing a small smile to my face. It was peaceful, a feeling I hadn't experienced in awhile. I glance down at Twilight on my shoulder, the lavender scent of her hair was intoxicating. I felt her every heartbeat, her every breath, and she felt mine.
"Hey, Twi," I spoke quietly, careful not to break the mood. "What's going on in that head of yours?"
"I don't know," she shrugged.
"Well, that’s a first," I mused. "Ms. Twilight doesn't know what she's thinking about."
She lightly punched my arm. "Well then, Mr. Thinker, my philosopher, what's going on in your head?"
"Well, I was thinking-"
"That's normally what most people do with their brain," she interrupted.
"Shush," I said, trying to keep my serious face on. It wasn't working. "I'm just thinking about a few things."
"Which would be.... what?"
"Just the magical sight before us," I replied, taking a sigh of happiness, "and then us."
"What are you getting at?"
"Well," I started to laugh, "if you wait a second, maybe I can get to it." She turned to face me, giving an adorable look of innocence with those purple eyes. "Alright, I just had a random thought."
"Which most of your thoughts are." A comical smile appeared on her face, while a look of mock annoyance was placed firmly on mine. She gave me a quick kiss on the check. "Sorry, continue."
"Okay," pausing in case of another interruption. "Right, so. Here we sit, looking upon the achievements of man, standing tall above the horizon. We've disconnected ourselves from our roots. Like trees, if we lose our roots, we fall, unable to stand. Even the simplest sight, such as these trees in the sunset, do not require interference from man to create beauty. It's just the way nature made it." I took a deep breath, finishing my train of thought.
Twilight stared at me for a few moments, only shaking her head. "What?" I finally ask.
"You are such a nerd." She playfully pushed me.
"Me?" I announced in mock shock. "You're one to talk, bookworm!"
She rolled her eyes, "I haven't the slightest idea of what you are talking about." She smiled as her head found its place back on my shoulder. "But what does that have to do with us?"
I pulled her close and looked her in the eyes. "When I figure it out, I'll be sure to tell you."
She jabbed my chest with a finger. "Say it."
"Do I have to?" I sighed in mock annoyance.
"Yes," She jabbed again. "Say it."
"Ugh, fine." I sat up a bit and took breath. "Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye." Going through the motions, following with an "OW" as I poked my eye, gently. "Is that better?"
"Yes," She wrapped her arms around me and placed a soft kiss on my lips. "Much better."
"Hey," a voice called out, waking me from my sleep. "Trixie would like you to get up!" Slowly, the light began to flood my eyes.When my eyes finally adjusting, I was surprised to be staring into the blue unicorn's eyes. "Wake up, you sleepy head. Trixie has some plans for you today. But first, Trixie must ask if you dreamed of her?"
Remembering the past dream, a memory from a different life, I simply answered, "No."
"Strange," the unicorn pondered. "Trixie thought your dreams would be run amuck with thoughts of her."
I shook my head. "I didn't dream at all," I lied. "Even if I did, it wouldn't be about you."
Trixie jumped off the bed, and began to pace. "Trixie is shocked! After all she's done, you should at least be grateful."
I stared her down in annoyance. Can't a pony take a freaking hint? I thought. "Well Trixie," I pulled at my restraints, "You've got me on the ropes on what I should say about you."
"Trixie is flattered with your puns and is feeling quite generous, so she will let you out of your restraints for once." That's a good start, I thought. Maybe a chance to get out of this second circle of hell. "Trixie needs you to help her with some of cleaning. Also, she maybe have you help Trixie make a cake."
I could only stare in complete pessimism. "I bet there's a catch, because I know you won't have me running free in your home."
"Oh, of course!" A coy smile began to work it's way onto her face. "You remember the leash Trixie mentioned earlier?"
My face switched from pessimism to disdain and disgust. "Aw, buck."
I should at least be grateful that the princess let me stay in the palace, Twilight thought as she paced the spacious room. Even if it does bring me closer to... she let out a half-pained sigh, Swift. Her continued pacing was to the annoyance of Spike, who tried desperately to get some sleep. I mean, it's only been one day, four hours, and 17 minutes since his reported disappearance.
"Twilight?" Spike spoke from under the pillow that covered his head. "Could you please get some sleep, you've been at this for hours."
"I can't, Spike!" He's still got a promise to keep. "We've been separated before, yes, but now he’s gotten lost in a world he doesn't know and it's all my fault!"
"Are you even listening to yourself, Twilight?" The dragon peeked his head out from under the pillow. "He's here on his own free will... well, actually, he's here for you. Yes, he may have got tricked into serving in the Guard, but he trying to make the most of it because," Spike sat up in his bed, "he loves you, Twilight. And love works in mysterious ways, yet is completely natural."
"Spike, that's very mature of you. Where did you learn that from?"
The dragon beamed, "A very smart pony told me that, you might know him."
"Hmm," Twilight grinned. "I bet I do."
"Anyways, Twi," Spike questioned. "What are you going to do about it? Swift has got us under a watchful eye and he’s clearly up to something. He hasn't even told us where Mr. Toby is! How do you expect to do anything?"
The pony flopped herself on the bed, staring at the ceiling. "Ugh, I don't know, Spike. At this point, it's all wishful thinking." She lay there for a few moments, gathering her thoughts, but she couldn't remain still. A knock at the door drove her into motion. Maybe it's Princess Celestia, or... Swift. She shuddered at that option. No, maybe it's Rarity coming to show me how Toby's suit is coming along, or maybe it's... Twilight opened the door and her smile dropped to a look of unexpected surprise. "Um, can I help you two?"
"Yes," the white unicorn began. "In a manner of speaking, Ms. Sparkle, you can."
"By which we mean," The pegasus next to him spoke up, "it's how we're going to help you."
I sighed, tied up like a dog, sitting in the kitchen like a dog, be ordered around like a dog. All that’s missing is Trixie telling me to roll over and play dead. If it gets to that, I thought, the pony afterlife better ready itself for one blue, pain in the ass unicorn. Though the wounds on my legs were still fresh, at least they were starting to scab over. It was tough to walk as it was, but the leash around my neck only gave me so much freedom to stretch my legs. Attached to one corner of the room, the rope was long enough to let me to halfway across the room.
"Pass the flour, would you?" Trixie called out. "Trixie can't bake a cake without flour."
And you can't make an omelet without cracking a few heads. I thought to myself, carrying the flour over to Trixie. Or was it eggs? I set the flour down next to her. "Can you please tell me why you are baking a cake?"
"Trixie is only showing her guest a good time, so Trixie thought to bake him a cake. Trixie's cakes are one in a million." A smile appeared on her face, proud of what she was doing.
"Whatever," I spoke in annoyance. I gingerly trotted back to my corner, careful not to excite any pain in my legs. I pulled at the rope and latch connecting me to the wall for the umpteenth time this hour, hoping it would budge, but I ended up disappointed again like all the other times. I sighed, I'm never going to get out of here, am I? I thought to myself.
"Trixie would ask for you to stop," the unicorn mused, stirring the milk into the flour, "but your struggling amuses Trixie."
"Well," I spoke in anger, trying to pull at the rope with my hooves to no avail. I could already feel it cutting into my skin. "If you hadn't tied this dang rope so tight around my neck, we would have less of a problem."
"Trixie doesn't want you missing out on her cake." She put the cake batter into a pan and then slid it into the open oven, unnecessarily bending over and showing me her flank. "Well then," she spoke coyly, walking towards me. "It seems that you and Trixie have thirty minutes until the cake is done. How about we play a game?"
"No." I replied with a straight face. Standing my ground, stepping a few feet out of the corner.
"No?" Trixie asked, adding a smile to her face. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," Looking her straight in the eyes, my face showing little emotion, while my soul burned with anger. "I do not want to play a game."
She sighed. "Trixie suspected you would be difficult." Her horn lit up and I was tossed into the corner; each of my legs pinned to the wall. "Luckily, Trixie has magic, which will prove difficult for you to resist." She approached, sitting down in front of me, her face mere inches away from mine. "Trixie only wants for you to have a good time. Why must you fight it?"
Remain calm, Toby, I thought, feeling her hooves move up and down my chest, her eyes try to stare into my soul.You are not letting this happen again. You've got to think on your feet! Well, hooves. Think, Toby! Use the head that your mother gave you and think of a way out of here! Then it struck me, the simplest idea of them all.
Taking a deep breath, I leaned my head back to the wall, and slammed it into her face, sending her to the floor. She didn't move, apparently knocked out cold. Her magic ended and my legs were released. I sat there dazed for a few moments, until the pain began to register.
"OOOOOOOW!" My forelegs shot up to my head, rubbing my forehead with my hooves, trying to ease the pain. "OW OW OW, I can't believe that worked!" I staggered back up on my hooves, still rubbing my head with one. "Okay... now that one problem is solved." I turned my attention to the latch holding me to the wall. I sighed and turned around, picked up my hind legs, and simply bucked the latch. Pain shot through my body like a bullet. Apparently, I hit the latch wrong. "ARGH! BRILLIANT MOVE, TOBY! Let's kick something stuck to the wall and metal! GAAAAH!" I stumbled around, hitting the ground, but at least the latch was broken and I was free, save for the rope still around my neck.
"You know," I glance at Trixie's unconscious body, "I should probably throw out some zippy one-liner about eating cake or using my head in a tough situation." I thought about this for a moment, then shrugged. "Nah, dumb mare shouldn't have gotten in my face." Hobbling to the door, I open it into the bright afternoon sun. Then I stumbled out into the forest as fast as my four injured legs would carry me.
The three of them were galloping as fast as they could to the Everfree Forest. Well, two of them were galloping, the third was flying a few feet above the pair.
"Who did you say you were again?" Twilight asked.
"I'm Painter, he's Player, and Philosopher is our LT." The unicorn responded next to her. "We wanted to help you get him back. No pony left behind, you know."
"How did you know to come and get me?" The purple pony questioned again.
"Well," Player answered matter-of-factly. "It was an easy guess that you were somehow connected with Lord Swift and his recent bouts of anger. Trust us, he likes to yell names."
"But he's your commanding-," Twilight started.
"Yeah, he's still an asshole," Painter interrupted.
"Point taken," She merely responded.
The mid-afternoon sun hung over the three heads when they arrived at the entrance to the Everfree Forest. They stood at the entrance, staring at it. Not as shadowy as it once was, but still as foreboding.
"Alright then. Ms. Sparkle, please stay close to me," Painter began. "Player, you stay close as well, I really don't want us being split up again."
"Will do, Painter," Player responded. "Let's go get the LT back."
With that, the three entered. Painter on the left, Twilight in the middle, and Player hovering slightly above and to the right. Painter traced the path in front of them with a beam of light from his horn. Twilight did the same, careful not to miss a single inch of path or treeline on either side of the path.
"Painter," Twilight spoke, careful not to break the other unicorn's concentration. "What exactly are we looking for?"
"That," Painter calmly responded. "Is an excellent question. At this point, anything that will help lead us to the Lieutenant."
"Oh, well..." Twilight began to respond, but a rustle in the bushes behind stopped her train of thought. The three ponies turned quickly at the sound. Two beams of light shone on the spot of the sound. From the spotlight, one bruised and bloody pony stumbled into the path.
"Oh, hey there, you guys know the way out by chance?" I managed to say before collapsing into the dirt. The group rushed to the downed pony.
"Lieutenant! Don't worry, we’ll get you out of here!" Painter started. "Goodness, I hope this isn't your blood all over your face. How are you doing, talk to me."
"I got a small headache," I started, "but I think I'll manage. Hey, Twi," turning my attention to the worried looking purple pony next to me. "You remember that promise I gave you?"
"I do," she spoke softly.
"The headache makes the facts a bit fuzzy," I rambled. "All I know is it had something to do with how beautiful you look and how I can stand to look at your natural beauty some more," I shrugged. "Not as poetic as I thought it would be, but I'll remember the rest eventually."
She giggled lightly, "Promise?"
"Yes ma'am, I can promise that."
"Come on, LT," Player spoke up, "before you promise anything else. Let's get you home."