There was not a colder day in Manehatten than the day Big Macintosh decided to put the pipe down for good. You could say a lot of bad things about Pipe Hash: how it rot your lungs, how it blackened teeth, how it stung the eyes, but the thing about it was that in these cold, Winter months, with snow driving down your mane and the wind threatening to scoop you up, it kept you warm.
His office wasn’t much better, just a cold-cut freezer without the warm air to circulate through it. The force had been good to him before, a collection of medals and awards, complimenting his value as an officer, but tossed back into his face during one big screw-up. A few dead civilians did that to a record, no matter how long. Becoming a private detective was a step forward from the bars at least, but it couldn’t afford him any air conditioning.
Buried to the neck in bills with only enough paychecks to barely count as kindling, he needed a big case like a fish needed water, or he’d be belly up. That was why Big Macintosh was quick to his hooves when there was an overly polite nock on his office door. “Come in.” He called. His voice ruffed up from the smoke. He could hardly hide his energy when the door opened, and in walked a mare that deserved a spot in a pin-up calendar.
She had a body that flowed like silk when it moved, legs that went on, thick and tender near the top, a definite curve along the front of the body, but thinned into a tight, narrow flank. She had a sweet face and wide, curious eyes, the sort that melted your heart if they so much as moistened with sorrow. She was a soft blue color, with a dark blue mane, two stripes in it, one white, one gray. The horn on her head stuck out next to the gray stripe, and she came forward with tender care, like she was afraid to offend the detective. She could not have been more than twenty-four years old, mature, but that child-like softness still there.
“Are you detective Big Macintosh?” She asked, her voice all but a quiet whisper.
“I am.” Big Macintosh answered, staring her over as he invited her in with a wave of his strong hoof. She sat in the chair cautiously, and Big Macintosh waited for her to make the first move. She swung her lower hooves nervously, broken up about something.
“I need your help.” She stated simply, staring Big Macintosh in the eye. “My name is Daylight Star, and I have a big problem.”
He almost could not keep in his seat. He had to lock his legs together just to stay still. “Tell me.” He gruffed, his voice strong and deep. His voice had that effect on pretty mares, like the finest cologne money can buy. Her lower lip shook, and her big eyes sparkled with primal emotion.
“I,” her voice fell flat, and Big Macintosh knew she was feeling guilty about something, “I’m afraid I’d have no way to pay you. I could if you succeed, but only when it’s finished.”
He knew this scam well, but this girl was not a liar. She was looking for money from somepony or somewhere, but did not have any means to get it, not a bit to her name. But she was a pretty thing, “That might not be a problem, as long as there’s money at the end of the deal.”
“I would feel so terrible being unable to pay you though!” Her voice was full of grave emotions, and he realized just how honest this sort of mare was. He wanted to raise a hoof and tell her it was okay, that he would hear her out, but she went on, “I’m desperate, so please, I’m willing to do anything to get your help!” She said, as her legs, those lovely, thick thighs slowly spread, showing the sweet marehood hidden between.
“Ma’am…” His voice trailed off as he stared. She was good looking, but he could hardly believe she would offer him, a simple detective, that. “Ma’am, I don’t think that’s necessary.”
“Please,” she whispered, the tip of her hoof spreading herself just a little to let the honey-sweet scent reach his nose, “I need help, and I’ll do anything.”
Big Macintosh stood. He was a good colt, but it was rare a mare of such beauty gave such an offer. It had been so long though, he could stand to be a little selfish. “If you are willing to do anything, then maybe we should test what you mean by ‘anything’.” He walked around his desk, and Daytime Star did not even flinch when he leaned in. She leaned forward to meet his lips, and while their tongues danced, her exploratory hoof slipped between his own legs, rubbing the soft spot there until his sheath began to open and-
Big Macintosh’s ear twitched at the sound of the door opening, and he turned around to meet the eyes of his nurse. “Hey, Big Mac!” the nurse chimed from the hallway. She paused for a moment, before turning around and dragging a food cart into the room, rump wiggling in his direction as she backed up. Big Macintosh did not miss the unnecessary display, and it did not go unappreciated.
“I brought you your lunch. Oh, I hope I didn't interrupt anything...” Her gaze drifted over to the writing board resting on his blanketed legs and the unfinished manuscripts that lay on top.
“Just a bit o’ writin’, ma’am. Nothin’ big.” Macintosh sedately replied. He shifted his large bulk up to rest more easily on the pillows as the nurse levitated a tray of food over to him. Steamed carrots, a side of peas, and a cookie, Macintosh thought. Not a big meal today, but they're rationing for a reason... “Mighty fine lookin’ meal, ma’am.” This earned him a coquettish little smile from the nurse.
“Well this was prepared especially for you...” she told him, and snuck a bit of parsley onto the plate. Big Macintosh smiled a little at the silly little decoration while the nurse stood by the bed. “So, when are you going to let me read that little collection of stories you’ve been writing? You always look so focused and emotional when you're writing them...” she tilted her head, eyes sparkling with interest.
Big Mac grinned even wider at that as he took a carrot and bit into it, chewing slowly as he considered what she’d said. They were emotional alright, just not the touchy-feely sort.
Okay, maybe they were touchy-feely, but it was a completely different sort of touchy-feely. What could he say? He was bored and had a life-dream to test out here. “Tell y’all what. If I get the nerve ta try an’ get these published, y’all will be the first pony on my mailing list.” He hid a chuckle behind his strong resolve and swallowed.
That seemed to excite the pretty mare, and she waited contentedly for him to finish eating. Silence settled, and Big Mac turned to stare out the window of his room. Outside, there was a tree, and in that tree was a birds nest. He tried to entertain himself by watching the baby birds chirp whenever he wasn’t writing, but whenever he had even a moment of peace, his thoughts inevitably drifted to his sister.
She’d left a good while ago, and because of his intermittent bouts of unconsciousness and post-surgery nausea he had been unable to keep track of the days. All he knew was that it had been a good while since her departure. He knew better than to worry and fret though. She was with her friends, and they wouldn’t let anypony lay a hoof on her if they could help it. It was unlikely that they would even be able to get her into such a situation. He just wished there was a way to know for certain.
When he finished his meal, he let the nurse take the tray away. “Pardon, nurse.” He called as she began to leave, making her pause mid-step, her tail still raised high. “I was just a’wonderin’, did th' doc say anythin’ ‘bout when I’d be gettin’ out?”
He looked on hopefully as she smiled widely, “Ah, yes! The doctor probably wanted to deliver the news himself, but I simply can’t say no to you,” Big Macintosh’s heart began to beat a little harder at the promise of that statement. “After you pass your last physical evaluation today, you’ll be free to go and join the small encampment gathering at the base of Canterlot’s mountain.”
His mind snapped back to reality, and he quietly gestured to his own chest. “What about work?” He asked. The nurse touched her hoof to her chin and paused nervously before answering. This wasn’t the first injury he'd encountered that had kept him from working. Even if they’d said he was free to go around and do what he wanted. He wasn’t sure that he really liked his “vacation” days. If he wasn’t being productive, he felt useless. The last few days were a bit difficult in that aspect, but at least he got to try his hoof at writing.
“If I had to guess, you could probably get back to work in less than a week.” The nurse shrugged, and Big Mac sighed heavily. Thank Celestia for that, he thought. He had big plans. “If you don’t mind me prying, though, what exactly is it that you plan to work on? The farms have been picked clean by now, and all the food is stockpiled in Canterlot. And all of Canterlot’s farmlands are already full of workers.”
“Mm, true.” Big Mac nodded, and calmly pondered to himself. Being bedridden gave you plenty of time to think, and having stared death in the jaws as you jabbed a steel plow into its stomach gave you an unavoidable moment to reflect on your life. He had very few regrets, but he still had quite a few ponies to live for. One of whom visited him every day with a few apples in tow. He’d refused to make peace with death that day out of fear, but right now, the thing that frightened him most wasn’t that he would have been killed, but that he would have left behind his two precious sisters, his grandmother, and his friends.
He had argued with himself that he wouldn’t dare try and put himself in that sort of danger again unless he absolutely had to, and that if he had a choice in the matter he’d back down. However, a visit from a strange unicorn who’d wanted to discuss heroism had forced him to reconsider. Blueblood had been his name. It had been an odd confrontation. Blueblood was also abnormally tall, and was clearly not used to talking to other ponies on such a philosophical level. Big Mac was just as inexperienced with philosophy as Blueblood, so it eventually turned into a discussion about the war. This Blueblood fellow had decided to enlist, and right then Big Mac had to make a choice.“
At first he was against it. He’d had his brush with death on both ends of the stick already, and he wasn’t prepared to throw himself into another mouth or run another living thing through. But then he was left alone again, and he thought about it. He thought about it. What was more important to him: his own life or everypony else’s? It seemed like an easy question: he didn’t want to die. He could live with himself if somepony else went in his place, but then he thought about it… All of Equestria was in trouble, not just Ponyville, not just Canterlot, all of Equestria. That meant Applejack and Applebloom, Granny Smith, Caramel, Carrot Top, Derpy Hooves, even his distant family, Braeburn…
If there was any chance he could defend any one of them, he would. Then it occurred to him there were the Princesses as well. He had nearly been furious with himself for even being the littlest bit of a coward when his country, his Princesses, heck his entire way of life was being threatened. This Blueblood had imparted on him a small idea of what he thought about heroism: facing danger despite your fears. Big Macintosh didn’t show much outwards, but inwards, the idea of a war terrified him. The idea of dying, the thought of pain, of being back in this room, possibly worse for ware… But there was too much at stake. Sure he could let another pony take his place, but…
“Was just thinkin’, ma’am, that I might do my home a service and enlist.” He drummed his hooves on his legs, avoiding the nurse’s stare as he did. It was… Powerful stuff, a mare’s eyes on you. It was like being caught looking through a peephole, but without having done anything bad.
While he expected a lecture, he instead got a tiny touch to his foreleg from her snout. He glanced over to her, and regretted it immediately as she put on the big, pretty doe eyes. When she spoke, her voice quivered with powerful sorrow, and it made him groan in pain just to hear, “Are you sure?”
He rolled his head back and tried not to give a guilty smile as she nudged him, pressing for an answer as he tried to figure out a way to justify this to her. “Yes’m. Know it may sound strange, but it’s somethin’ I gotta do. Can’t just sit back and relax while dangerous happenin’s are sproutin’ up.”
The nurse looked conflicted. Internally, she felt just as she looked. She was definitely concerned about Big Mac’s health, especially out in the field where he’d be facing plenty of danger, but on the other hoof, with such a deep, handsome voice, how could she possibly say no to those honest, beautiful eyes? It made her back legs quiver just to think about the heroic deeds this magnificent colt would commit to. And that bright red coat in Equestrian golden armor? ~Swoon~ “I… Suppose you have a point.” She finally admitted, trying to sound hesitant, trying to make him worry and care about her opinion. He was looking guilty. Success! “But before you do anything dangerous, just think about poor little me having to mend your sick, broken body again. Please?” She pleaded, clapping her hooves together to beg.
Big Mac groaned, and closed his eyes as he rested his head on his pillow. “Gonna be hard tryin’a get myself out of here with that image. Y’all been a big help.” He winked at her, and the nurse squeaked in joy.
It had been a good, long while since this sort of thing had to happen. Actually, he reminded himself, he was fairly sure this sort of thing had never happened before, which was why it was taking place in an interrogation room that hadn’t been used in twenty years. The stone room was small, but brightly lit. There was a tiny table shoved in the corner of the room that was covered in donuts, but they’d been picked off one by one like a carrot patch next to a rabbit warren. Cursing the day they were born soft and doughy, covered in chocolate and sprinkles, slowly being gnashed between the jaws of-
Right, anyhow, the ponies inside the room weren’t being interrogated exactly. No, they had a better reason to figure out how to fit a five-foot-wide table through the doorway without breaking its legs. At least that’s what Night Brigade assumed. “-which is actually how we learned we can set hay on fire with friction alone. That was hard to explain to the Pear family, but it did have a happy ending.” Maize Picker finished by him.
“Babies ever after, eh?” Night Brigade smirked. It was boring waiting for the Captain. He used to be so prompt, but the moment he got Connie, he always was late trying to make sure she was comfortable without him. Not that that was a bad thing, but it really lowered some expectations.
“Yep. It was a good honeymoon.” Maize wrapped up, right as the door swung open. Captain Hero strode inside, a bored Silly Cupcakes in tow. “Ah! Captain.” The two colts stood and saluted smartly as Cupcakes designated a corner of the observation room her seat while Hero glanced into the interrogation room.
“My apologies for being late-”
“We know Captain, we know.” Night Brigade interrupted, and Hero bowed his head in thanks of their understanding before straightening up. He turned to glance beyond the one-way glass at the ponies assembled beyond, and then back to Maize and Night.
“I’d asked for seven ponies. I’m only counting six.” He looked them over for explanation, and Maize cleared his throat.
“The seventh is on his way, or should be soon. He is to be discharged from the hospital soon. For now we have the others assembled.” He explained, prompting an annoyed grunt from Cupcakes.
“And here I was hoping for something to go right today! We’re the Royal freaking Guard, I think we have the authority to discharge a pony early!” She paced in her spot for a few moments and glowered at a wall.
“Calm yourself Cupcakes, it’s important that he is fully recovered first, but I do agree, we need to be a bit more strict on picking up the slack. These are trying times and we can’t have anypony being lazy.” Hero nodded his head, and Cupcakes grew a worriedly excited look at the idea. “Yes Cupcakes, I’m giving you punishment duties.”
“Damn.” Night Brigade hung his head as Cupcakes silently congratulated herself and did a little dance to celebrate.
“Anyways, do they know what they’re being assembled for?” Hero asked, staring through the glass at the six ponies beyond.
“Nope. No word has escaped us to the lower ranks.” Night answered, and the three colts watched beyond the glass quietly.
“Ugh! The Great and Powerful Trixie is getting impatient! For an army, the Royal Guard certainly is slacking in keeping Trixie’s attention!” The blue mare paced the back of the room almost violently, her eyes boring a hole into the stone walls wherever they passed. She had many problems with what was going on. For one, almost nopony recognized her without her hat and cape. For two, they took away her hat and cape! For three, food and board had been meager at best: two dinner rolls, mixed vegetables, a block of cheese with a single cupcake for desert. Boarding consisted of a simple rock-hard mattress in one of the wooden apartments being set up rather than the fluffed specialty she was used to. For four, they had taken the costume she had used along with her moniker to gain the attentions, respect, and admiration of everypony that attended her show. They’d also taken her hat and her cape!
“I may have to agree with you.” Prince Blueblood yawned where he stood, trying to look at the dark window where they were no doubt being observed. His legs were getting sore from standing around for so long. What was taking these ponies? He didn’t dare dirty himself by lying on the floor. He’d spent an extra-special hour grooming his mane to perfection since he’d been given the instructions to come here last night. He needed to impress, and a dirty stomach or flank showed impatience and a lack of cleanliness. “If they’re going to insist on wasting our times, I don’t know why I bothered even signing up.”
“It’s like they’re out to waste an important pony’s valuable talents!” Trixie huffed, turning around to continue her pacing in the opposite direction.
Rather than watch the two unicorns agree with what amounted to themselves, Spitfire took her time to check her hooves again for chips or flaking, flexing her wings, closing them again, keeping herself from yawning. She was used to being more active, it came with the job, but this was a new job and it had new requirements. She supposed things would get more… Active soon, which, on reflection, was a somewhat scary thought. Her only consolation was Soarin going through donuts like tissues in cold weather next to her to fight his own nervousness. “Soarin, you’re going to be perfectly fine.” She assured him with a tiny smile as she reached over to gently wipe away the chocolate around his mouth.
Soarin let Spitfire tend to him as he tried very hard to relax himself. This was different, this was difficult, and just thinking about why they were doing and what they were about to be doing made his stomach spin. Eating calmed him some, but he was quickly getting sick of donuts… “If we’re going to be fine, why are they taking so long to get here?” He asked as her glanced to the black glass, and sighed heavily. “What are they making us wait for? We should be out on the grounds with the rest of the initiates. They’re doing actual stuff right now while we’re in here waiting around for no reason and-”
“Soarin, Soarin, c’mon. Calm down.” Spitfire smiled reassuringly, and Soarin took a moment to take a few deep breaths. They slowed down as they both turned their heads to face the pony that had approached them.
“Soarin and Spitfire?” The grey, blonde-maned Pegasus asked, her one good eyes focusing on them curiously. “You guys are the Wonderbolts!” Derpy Hooves said with a broad smile as she looked them over slowly. Spitfire was all smiles as she nodded. “You guys look a lot different without your outfits.” Her voice was ecstatic, somewhat awe-filled. She was standing next to two living legends!
“As we should. I’m not blue all the time.” Spitfire extended a hoof to the cock-eyed mare, who took it with a beaming look. “Can’t say the same for Soarin here, but that’s not entirely his fault.” She looked over to him. He had taken another donut, but Spitfire confiscated it quickly. “And what’s your name?” She asked, offering the mare the treat.
“Derpy.” Derpy answered before taking a grateful bite. “Derpy Hooves.”
“Nice to meet you.” Spitfire and Derpy both gave tiny nods as Soarin fidgeted nearby. Again, silence, other than the two unicorns in the room grumbling and growling about this or that. Derpy looked to the ceiling, then to the floor at her hooves before the last and most curious occupant approached.
In all their lives of flying in multiple cities for crowds of fans, shaking hooves, signing autographs, donating their time to charity events, neither of the two Wonderbolts had seen anything quite like Zecora. The older zebra mare had come over and sat down next to Derpy, but had not made a sign to speak up. The four glanced between each other. Somewhat awkwardly, a tiny smile formed on Soarin’s lips as he started to chuckle, and he slowly held up his own hoof. “Uh, hey there… Fellow soldier!” He nodded at that, and Zecora gave him a pleasant hoofshake.
“A fine hello to you too my new friend, but your assumption I must amend.” Zecora turned a little, revealing an old, brown pack that looked well-used, and smelled a little foul, “My name is Zecora, not a soldier but a medic, I mend cuts, cure diseases, reconfigure disfigurements, and for infections I carry antiseptic.” The zebra smiled proudly.
Soarin stared at her for a few seconds, while Spitfire gave a tiny clap. “She can also rhyme on a dime!” Derpy nodded her head rapidly, smiling at the piece of fact she presented.
“No kidding. How do you do that?” Soarin asked, and Zecora just smiled hugely.
“If I had to guess, several long years with a dictionary, a book of rhymes, and little else.” From across the room, Trixie had slowly gravitated her way towards the other four, looking a bit sour. Nopony made the Great and Powerful Trixie wait. “I’d assumed signing up for an army entailed less waiting!” She pouted heavily.
“I cannot speak for Equestria, but in my homeland it was common for a war to be called where you very stand.” Zecora rubbed her chin slowly as she thought, “You could be conscripted while you were busy cobbling a shoe or giving a customer a trim, but if you were called you would trudge on, no matter how grim.” She quietly seated herself, and even Prince Blueblood had moved closer to listen. “I was lucky that our leaders tried to remain non-violent after the first war, but the affects were lasting and skirmishes often happened; petty reasons, they were often for.”
“So,” Blueblood spoke up, and the zebra turned her head to face the Prince. “Call it a hunch, but you’re experienced with war then?” Zecora gave a brief nod. “Yet you’re troubled by it. Why join the Royal Guard then?” This was one of those situations he found interesting. There was nothing forcing this mare to join the efforts, and she seemingly did not like war at all… Yet here she was.
“When something you value is threatened, do you not want to keep is safe? My homeland is falling to harm, so I refuse to sit and watch like any other frightened waif.” Zecora’s voice was low, and as Blueblood noticed, a tad sorrowful. He doubted the others caught it but judging by her voice she very much did not want to be here.
“Tell it sister.” Spitfire smiled as she calmly rested a hoof on Zecora’s back, and the older mare couldn’t help but suppress a small smile. “It’s still really hard to believe though…
“Not really. Foreign ponies are attacking Equestria.” Trixie spoke up. She had a flat, self-assured expression, “It’s not that difficult.” She earned herself several glares from Spitfire, Zecora, and Soarin each.
“It’s not difficult to say, no.” Soarin snorted a little, making Trixie’s eyes narrow.
“Oh? And you believe you know more than the Great and Power Trixie?” The unicorn accused. Blueblood took a calm step back, having never heard of her before, and found himself bumping into the one Pegasus he didn’t recognize, the one with the odd eye.
“Oh, I thought I recognized that voice.” Spitfire mumbled, unimpressed and displeased with the company, but Trixie merely huffed the scorn away.
“I think I’m doing a pretty good job of grasping just how terrible the situation is.” Soarin pointed out with a small bite in his voice, and Trixie was quick to start growling.
“Stop that.” All heads in the room turned to face the newest mare, a female guard in full armor giving Trixie a narrow look from the open doorway. “Line up against the back wall, the Captain’s making his way in.”
Trixie turned back to glare straight into Soarin, both of them gritting their teeth. “Not until Trixie has a word with this-”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Cupcakes walked directly between the two, quite rudely in fact, and stared Trixie in the face. “I was under the impression you were interested in joining an army. If you want to go check in on Equestria’s precious debate club, I’d suggest tucking your tail between your legs and wobbling that bloated ass of yours to the buffet table and join the rest of your lazy bitch-party while the real ponies get the ball rolling.”
Cupcakes turned away and stared Soarin straight in the eyes, daring him to so much as move his lips as the entire room stopped to just stare, jaws dropped. Soarin gently raised a hoof, and pressed it over his mouth, making Cupcakes grunt in acceptance.
“You-…” Trixie took several shallow breaths, eyes wide, and fire entered them again as she took a step towards Cupcakes, who slowly, almost terrifyingly turned to meet Trixie’s stare. “You simply cannot-”
“Did I stutter?” Cupcakes hissed, pressing her snout to Trixie’s and filling up the startled unicorn’s eyes with her own vicious gaze. “If you want to talk bitch-shop, get. Out.” Cupcakes somehow managed to punctuate the final word with a hiss, and that made Trixie take a few steps back and sit next to the wall, her pupils contracted in shock as she trembled.
Cupcake’s eyes slowly softened and she nodded, but stiffened up again at a whistle. “Impressive job, I wish I had that sort of… Author… ity…?” Spitfire slowed down as Cupcakes turned to level that gaze on her. With a meek smile, Spitfire nudged Soarin and the two sat against the back wall. Zecora kept quiet and joined the rest as Derpy popped her head out from behind her to fearfully watch the almighty Second in Command.
Blueblood carefully glanced to the wall, then to Cupcakes. “So, the Captain is assuredly coming in?”
Cupcakes looked ready to say something, but caught herself and kept her voice level, “Of course Prince Blueblood. Whatever business you have with him may be settled when he enters.” Trixie and Spitfire both looked appalled at the calm statement she gave Blueblood, and the stallion smirked in pride at his success. At least until she raised an eyebrow, “What sort of business do you even have here? I’d figured you’d be busying yourself in the Gathering Hall.”
Blueblood’s prideful smile grew. “Ah, well you see, I figured that a colt of my standing would do little to help in Equestria’s struggle and I thought I may come and join in the standing army in an attempt to-… Are you okay?” He stared as Cupcake’s face broke out into an expression of complete glee as she suddenly sped to the door, grabbed another guard, a dark-coated colt, and fixed that glee on him.
“Night Brigade!” She spoke his name almost caressingly, which seemed to unnerve the poor guard. “Is it true? Is Prince Blueblood really joining the army?” She asked in a hot, sensual whisper that made more than a few hairs stand on end.
Cupcakes did another little dance of glee and without warning was in Blueblood’s face, her grin dripping with sadistic confidence. “Well soldier, I guess you should get yourself to the wall.”
“W-what the hay is wrong with you all of a-”
“NOW.” Blueblood backpedaled until he was pressing his flank into the brickwork. Cupcakes settled peacefully in the middle of the room, her face serene and relieved, as if a large burden had been pulled off her shoulders. The other guard just sat in the doorway, watching as the six recruits stared into the middle of the room as Cupcakes just basked in her own pleasure.
The awkward silence ended when a voice called to Night Brigade from the next room. The stallion poked his head through the door and spoke briefly with somepony, then pushed the door wide open to allow a new pony in. Derpy gasped happily, but shut her trap the instant Cupcakes glanced to her as Big Macintosh lumbered into the room.
He walked with a sort of slow limp. Zecora could tell he’d been lamed earlier, and knew the story, whereas Derpy was entirely unaware and only recognized it by knowing Big Macintosh personally. Big Mac and Blueblood looked to each other, recognizing the other, but saying nothing as the stallion turned to face Cupcakes and give her a short nod before moving to join the other six on the wall. He greeted Zecora and Derpy with a half nod and stood next to them.
Night Brigade then cleared his throat to get everypony’s attention, then sat by the doorway and saluted smartly as in walked a pony that held himself almost as regally as the Princesses. Large, only slightly smaller than Big Macintosh, blonde mane that was short and straight, chocolate coat that was groomed to perfection, a stare that was instantly judging though incredibly careful, and bulging muscles that even Trixie was having difficulties pulling her eyes from. To his side was a regular sized pony with an almost opposite color scheme, his coat sandy, his hair oaken-brown and teased into small curls, and unlike the larger stallion, was smiling brightly, but he was about as thick in muscle as the blonde pony. These were army-ponies.
The large, blonde-maned male silently inspected each of the recruits, before clearing his throat to make sure everypony’s attention was on him. The noise alone showed his was not the type of pony you disobeyed. “Cupcakes?” Captain Hero looked to the happy mare, who finally deflated with a sigh.
“I’d love some!” Derpy suddenly found herself in the middle of the room’s attention, and it took her a moment to blushingly slink back behind Zecora. “Um, may I please have some?” She asked, the rest of the recruits looking to Hero with confusion.
“… Ah.” Hero cleared his throat as Cupcakes good mood soured instantaneously. “Recruits, my name is Hero Skybreaker, captain of the Royal Guards of Equestria.” He said, his wings flaring a bit dramatically behind him. The seven of them hesitantly took a much better stance before him, and he nodded. “This,” he raised his leg and pointed to the scowling female, “Is my second in command, the formal trainer, armorer, and disciplinarian for the army, Silly Cupcakes.” There was a loud snort from the row of six, and Cupcake’s eyes tightened as she glanced up and down it. Nopony owed up to being the one to make the noise. “To my left here,” he nodded his head to the curly-maned colt, “Is our head field intelligence officer, my third in command, Maize Picker, and finally, the squad formation and squad tactics officer, my forth in command, Night Brigade.” The dark-maned pony waved idly from the back.
The six ponies against the wall continued to remain quiet and attentive, mostly because they were too busy glancing at Cupcakes to see if she was still glaring them down, so Maize stepped forward, “I am sure the lot of you have many questions to ask about why specifically you seven are in here. We know perfectly well that the standard army recruit training is happening, but we’ve come to realize that we have assets that would not be utilized properly if given a simple field job.” From the Captain’s side he read from the clipboard. “Each of you has earned special attention from me while going over your enlistment papers. Not because you are a celebrity or negatively unusual, but you have each shown exceptional qualities that we believe would best be put to use outside of the main force.”
“Ahem.” Now everypony was looking to Trixie, who had raised a single, delicate eyebrow. “While the Great and Powerful Trixie is no stranger to being exceptional, she is curious as to what her talents will be used for, and why the Great and Powerful Trixie is even in the same room with the rest of these ponies.” She missed quite a few flat stares as she glanced to Maize, who read the clipboard again.
“Among you are two of the most exceptional fliers Equestria has ever been blessed with, with the bonus of already having been trained to work as a team, as well as, as a whole group, you have one of the highest concentrations of magic and general knowledge of magic in and out of nature, and on top of that,” He seemed quite proud as he named the next one, “The seven of you together have the highest recorded kill count of the so-called ‘Anathemic’ Creatures.”
“Pardon?” Trixie raised the other eyebrow as the opposite lowered. Soarin leaned over and whispered to Spitfire, who just shook her head, but Big Mac finally spoke up.
“T’ain’t one to point out the problems much, but I ain’t that special. I’ve only been part of the, uh, slayin’ of one o’ them beasts…” He murmured. The other ponies on the wall gave him a curious look.
“Um, yeah, I’ve only helped k-kill one of those mean thingies. If you’re talking about the big flying snake thingy…” Derpy murmured, her one good eye lowering as she scraped at the floor gently with her hoof.
“Right.” Hero confirmed with a nod. “Among the seven of you, you have the highest confirmed kill count of the Anathemic creatures: two.” Trixie just began to sputter in disbelief as Zecora turned to stare at the two ponies she knew in the room with surprise.
“Congrats.” Cupcakes rolled her eyes.
“Hold up.” Soarin raised a hoof. “I haven’t heard much about these things. I haven’t seen one or met a pony who has seen one, and everything is in pretty hushed whispers. You’re saying because these two,” he pointed to Big Macintosh and then Derpy, “killed one of them each, that qualifies them as experienced?”
“It’s simple to explain, really.” Night Brigade smiled brightly. “We’re facing an unidentified enemy that comes in many shapes and sizes. They are not only amazingly large and powerful, but they are dedicated in their cause to eat things. Surviving one is an accomplishment, killing one? So far, we’ve only heard of this happening twice. Killing one requires guts, wit, and an impressive level of dedication. Big Macintosh here killed one with a field-plow, nearly got crushed while doing so, and spent several days here recovering. Derpy Hooves, however, willingly gotten herself swallowed, broke off one of its teeth, and killed it from the inside out. Now, who can admit to that?”
Soarin was silent, but obviously brooding as Spitfire quietly shook her head. “I have never heard such strange tales, I feel my own skills in comparison, pales…” Zecora mumbled, watching the way Big Mac and Derpy humbly just shuffled and avoided eye-contact.
“Do you expect us,” Trixie reared back, almost in disgust, “to regularly fight these pony-eating things? If that’s the case then-”
“No.” Maize interrupted, “We are in a war with Golding, not with these creatures, and they seem to loosely stay out of populated settlements until they find prey. Now as I was saying, there is exceptional talent among you. Prince Blueblood and the Great and Powerful Trixie, the two of you both have vast quantities and control of magic, as well as a large array of spells. Spitfire and Soarin, as Wonderbolts you two are already exceptionally talented Pegasi, and with a minor tweaking will be combat-ready. Zecora, you took some digging to learn about, but your knowledge of nature, of magic, ailments, and cures has given me reason to place you with the rest of these ponies. Each of you, separately, are powerful. Together, I have no doubt your talents will make you legendary.” His brief nod and simple smile revealed just how confident he was with his deduction, though Cupcakes had different ideas…
“Of course, that’s assuming you can get your lazy flanks off the ground. I’m seeing maybe three of you with any idea what actual work is.” Cupcakes began to pace back and forth in front of the seven, all whom watched a bit sourly, “which means if we want to turn you into a crack squad of specialists, I’m going to have to whip your hides into gear and rub some salt in the wounds.” She sat in front of them, front hooves pressed together. “I will be your physical trainer, and I have a few simple, easy rules: One, my word is law. Unless the Captain contradicts me, what I say goes. If I want you showing up in tu-tu’s and high-heels, by Celestia you’d better do it or I will start tanning your hides with how much you’ll be hitting the dirt.”
“This- this is completely-” Blueblood didn’t get to finish.
“Rule two,” Cupcakes interrupted with an very happy smile, “I am not unfair, I am, however, harsh. So keep in mind, whatever I have you ponies do has its reasons.” Nopony trusted that grin…
“Rule three!” Cupcakes paused and turned to face Night Brigade, who was now sporting an over-exaggerated glare. “I’m an over-compensating hard-ass! Get on your knees and stroke my ego some more. I can’t make it through the day without working a pony until they draw blood!”
The seven on the wall actually stared at Night with fear for his well-being as Cupcakes began to sport the most sadistic snarl anypony in the room had ever seen, even as Night Brigade snickered.
“Rule four.” Maize spoke up, making Cupcakes glance to him in surprised fury. “If you don’t show up with your own scrapes and bruises, I will be forcing them onto you during our work-out session. Pain builds character, and by character I mean I want to put you in a dish-washer set on ‘high’.”
“Maize!” Cupcakes barked, “I’d expect this sort of childishness from Night but you? I’d had you figured to be much more mature and-”
“Rule five.” Now everypony was staring as the Captain continued, “As fascinating as you three bantering over who has the biggest pair is,” Spitfire actually began to choke on her own spit to hide a laugh, “I have business I need to tend to and some shopping that needs to be done. Cupcakes, be harsh, but I like my recruits alive and happy.” They continued to stare at him, and he sighed. “Oh, right, sorry, ‘something something something Cupcakes is a big fat jerk’.” He walked out of the room.
“… Captain…” Cupcakes whimpered, chasing after him in a little trot that, in all of their years, neither Maize nor Night had ever seen her use before.
“Is it scary that I find her cute when she’s being a little girly?” Night asked, massaging his own chin with his hoof.
“Very, but I see what you mean.” Maize nodded, and turned back to face the seven ponies on the wall. “Now, with the sideshow over we can get down to business. Training won’t start immediately. We’re going to be issuing you armor first since we need to get you used to it and movement as soon as possible. That will take, at most, two hours, so I’ll be introducing you to your team’s quarters. That said, any questions?” Seven hooves went up, “Yes? Good! Then follow me.” He turned and began to walk out the room, Night following him.
The seven hooves slowly went down, and mostly grudgingly the ponies began to follow. “I hate this place.” Trixie sighed. Nopony argued.
“ - however, there’s a point when wearing clothes does become something a rich pony does, namely if you’re in a good position, like the Archmage and To’Ao’Coltriella wear clothes because they’re so prestigious.” Sabine gulped down the last of her whiskey and gave an enthused sigh of relief. “Clothes are an indication of a pony who works very hard, and while I can’t say much for To’Ao’Coltriella and his parties, it’s a sign that he, in his life, and his continuing life, is going to be at much harder work than the unclothed nobles.”
Across from her, from her left to her right, sat Rarity, who was calmly chewing an after-dinner mint, her atrociously expensive glass of water half-empty in front of her. Applejack had sat next to her, listening while still debating with herself over trying the shot of whiskey she’d gotten from Sabine’s bottle. Pinkie Pie, with an empty plate and an empty glass stared out the tall window they were seated next to, blinking rapidly. Fluttershy sat with an untouched shot-glass of wine, listening attentively. Twilight was seated next to her, all ears, with an empty glass in front of her. Dash at the end of the table downed the bottom half of her glass of whiskey while sporting some nice bandages on her face. She then pressed her cold-pack against her forehead once the glass was set down.
“I see.” Twilight nodded slowly as the waiter came by and began to refill cups. “Clothes really aren’t a big deal from where we come from. You wear them or you don’t, it all depends on where you live.”
“My home town in particular isn’t very large on clothes,” Rarity spoke up, “but I am the only fashion designer there, so I get frequented by outsiders, and inner-town ponies that have a special event coming up.”
“Ah, yeah, here? You would get visited a lot. I don’t know a thing about your skills, but you’d see all sorts of ponies. If you were more lower-tier-” Rarity huffed at the thought, “- you’d see a lot of ponies wanting sun-shading hats and coats, and if you were higher-tier, you could expect visits from musicians, mayors, even ponies from the palace.” That seemed to please the unicorn more as Sabine sipped at her whiskey some more. The waiter came by again to take the empty plates.
“So, out’a curiosity, we’ve been told that bright coats ‘n such ‘re signs of a rich pony.” Applejack pointed out, drawing a nod from the Coltriellan. “What about the lot of us? I noticed we were gettin’ some looks while we were out. Pinkie in particular.” Applejack nudged the other earth pony, who quickly turned to stare at her and blink a lot. “I dunno what ya fed ‘er though, she hasn’t been this quiet in ages.”
“Booze is fun like that.” Sabine smirked, and Twilight gave a confirming hiccup. “Anyhow, yeah, Pinkie is super unusual around these parts. Having your coat dyed pink is considered messy, since pink coat dyes are really really ugly, so it’s easy to tell she’s natural-born pink, and being any color other than brown, orange, or sandy is weird enough, pink is the strangest of them all.” She drank again, and smacked her lips, “Well not the strangest, but one of the more prestigious.”
“Now why is-”
“Looking at you six, the most ‘prestigious’ among you would probably be you, Rainbow Dash.” Dash lowered her cold pack to look at Sabine curiously. “You have a fantastic coat color, and a six-part mane-coloring is very expensive as well as difficult to manage through dyes but you pull it off beautifully. After you, it would probably be Pinkie Pie due to being pink,” Pinkie hiccupped, and began to giggle, “After that would be you, Rarity,” even though she was being placed third, the unicorn did look pleased with this, “most Coltriellans focus more on color rather than styling your mane, but purple is considered highly magical, and that you took the time to style it means you care just as much about how good you look alongside status.”
“Oh?” Rarity raised an eyebrow, and Sabine began to snicker.
“You should see some of the High-Ring ponies who first get their money. Colors everywhere, no sense of taste or style. They make clowns look beautiful.” Rarity nearly gagged at the thought. “You look like you want to show your status through your beauty, rather than the other way around. Next I’d say is you Fluttershy.” Fluttershy blushed the tiniest bit, “The pink mane is unusual, but well-cared for and very pretty, and of course there’s your grace and Taminka-personality.” This earned several curious stares, “Shy but approachably warm. Then there’s you Twilight. The multi-colored hair looks good, as does the coloration, but your mane is rather flat. It’s apparent you don’t really take care of it. And lastly,” Sabine turned to Applejack, “No offense meant-”
“- but orange and straw colors are the norm around here, and your hat would suit a lower-ring worker. The only thing really making you stand out is you showing your body so openly, as well as being slightly brighter coated than normal. Many will probably assume you’ve just gotten money and haven’t used it to go change colorations.”
“Eh, it don’t bother me none. I like how I look.” Applejack smiled proudly.
“It definitely suits you, you pull it off very nicely.” Rarity nodded to the farm pony, who beamed all the more. Rainbow Dash managed to hide a snort and a giggle in her cold pack. “Though if you’d let me at those loose ends in your mane-”
Applejack held up a hoof and gave Rarity a flat look. “They’d just get tangled up again while I work.”
“Well if you managed it regularly then you would always look fantastic and still be workable! It wouldn’t get in your way!” Rarity insisted as Applejack shook her head.
“It’s just time wasted when I could be out workin’ the fields or visitin’ y’all or bakin’!” Applejack crossed her forelegs obstinately.
“A waste of time!? I guess I shouldn’t expect you to understand the intricacies of the hard work that goes into true beauty! Split-ends are just the surface of what I could improve on you.”
Applejack turned to give Rarity a harsh glower. “Is that right? Well what about you miss ‘don’t expect any real hard work if it gets my hooves dirty’? There’s certainly some improvements I wouldn’ mind hammerin’ int’a ye’re prissy mind!”
By now, Twilight had to nudge Dash several times in the ribs to get her to stop laughing while Fluttershy tried to whisper about how she thought they were both perfectly fine. Before the fashionista could protest, Pinkie Pie downed Rarity’s water and shook her head clear of the dizziness. “Wowie, that stuff makes the room spin!” The party pony giggled, wobbling her way back to her chair to sit.
“The more you drink, the more you can handle. This stuff is easy compared to what I drink on my nights off.” Sabine grinned as she drained her glass for the second time. She then glanced over to Twilight, “Now, my turn to ask you a question. Where are you guys from?”
Twilight was downing the last of her drink and nearly spat it out at the question. She managed to hold her reflex and polish it off before wiping her mouth and glancing to Applejack, who gave her a look that said ‘no’. “Well, we aren’t really allowed to say. That secret ‘high-up’ royal stuff and all…” Twilight rubbed the back of her head. Okay, that sounded kind of lame…
“Hm.” Sabine inspected the bottom of her glass and then glanced back up to Twilight as the table went quiet. She didn’t appear to be buying it. “Okay then. Why are you in Coltriella miss mysterious foreigner?”
Again, another slight shake of her head from Applejack, and Twilight shrugged, “We came here to speak to the Princess is all. She’s supposed to be a powerful Unicorn, so we thought we’d ask her for help.”
“Help with what?” Sabine gave them a very curious look as she bridged her hooves in front of her and looked Twilight over with deep curiosity. Twilight smiled nervously.
“Ah, well, it’s-”
“Pardon.” The seven ponies turned as a waiter approached, balancing a serving tray on his back with a single, brown cup on it. He walked around the table until he stood next to Fluttershy.“ Excuse me ma’am, but a cup of our special cactus juice, courtesy of those gentlecolts.” He nodded his head in the direction of the bar. Fluttershy peaked up, and spied a pair of colts watching her, both of whom smiled and nodded to her. The shy mare blushed heavily as she shakily took her drink and smiled back.
The rest of the girls at the table watched this happen with curiosity and a bit of suspicion, especially from Rainbow Dash as Fluttershy leaned down to sniff her drink. “It smells odd.” She noted as she carefully took her cup and took a tiny sip. She shivered slightly.
“Any good?” Rainbow Dash asked as the colts at the bar watched carefully. Fluttershy gently took another sip.
“It’s not bad…” She began to drain it slowly, unknowingly making a show of it before setting the cup down, smacking her lips a little, and staring at the bottom of it. Describing the taste was hard. She’d never had anything related to cactus before. The rest of the girls watched her eyelids droop a little, but then she forced them open, blinked several times, and took a deep breath.
Noting the lapse in attention, Twilight took her chance, “So…” Sabine looked up as Twilight spoke with a smile, “We have some more questions to ask you.” Twilight smiled cheekily.
“… Alright, shoot.” Sabine crossed her forelegs and watched the six with scrutiny. It was a bit, well… They all felt like they were hiding secrets now, except Fluttershy.
“We were advised to learn the history behind Golding. It’s supposed to be really enlightening.” Twilight looked hopefully towards Sabine, who awkwardly began to rub the back of her head.
“Oooh, the history of Golding…” Sabine smiled, but they could see the shakiness behind it. “There’s a smoking barrel of black powder if there ever was one here. Alright, let me tell it to you straight: folks here don’t like Golding. Golding doesn’t like the folks here. We have our reasons, they have theirs. If you want to find somepony that’s neutral on the subject you’re gonna wanna look outta town…”
“Out of town?” Rarity asked, sighing softly, a frown coming to her face. They were in enough of a pickle being stuck in Coltriella as it was, waiting for the princess to recover. It was just luck that the Coltriellan leaders liked them more than the Golding ponies.
“You seem like you know a bit.” Dash pointed out, pointing to Sabine. The mare shrugged, and just frowned.
“I know some, I guess. I mean I did go through school and did research and stuff but, well, I mean… It’s kind of a boring story is all.” She tried to pass off. It was at this point, Dash realized Sabine may have been hiding a little as well.
“Is that right? Boring?” Dash shook her head and chuckled as Twilight sighed.
“We don’t need entertainment, just information. I mean, really, anything on Golding’s history would be great.” Twilight pointed out as Applejack waved for attention.
“We could go lookin’ for your library, Twi. We could just go poke around the palace, see if they got one on history, find Golding’s, and give it a good read if she ain’t gonna get help.” The farmer mare nodded. A candle flared up in Twilight’s head, and she began to nod rapidly.
“You guys know I’m still here…” Sabine almost sounded peeved, but the alcohol was making it difficult to be too angry.
“Well yeah, but you don’t want to tell us-”
“I never said I didn’t!” Sabine interrupted hastily. “I’m just saying I’m not a very good story-teller. I mean, I could tell you what I know and all…” She calmly tapped the tips of her front hooves together, her face looking a little flushed.
“And we can find out what you don’t know at the library.” Pinkie finished with a confident nod, making Sabine look up again.
“Hey! I know a lot about their history, I bet I can out-tell any book in any dumb old library!” The Coltriellan huffed, looking a bit offended that they were so intent on a library over her.
Rarity chuckled a little, “You don’t exactly sell yourself very well dear. If you want to be our informant you should take a little more charge rather than try and direct us out of town.”
“Well!” Sabine set her hooves on the table, “I just don’t want you asking the wrong ponies, you could get yourself hurt! I know a good bit about Golding. I know a good bit about Coltriella too! As soon as we find a less open place, I’ll tell you everything you ponies need to know.”
“Why not now?” Twilight asked with a tiny frown. She would have very much preferred to learn as much as she could as fast as possible. Being forced to wait more would just be frustrating.
“Well for one, the moment we start discussing Golding history, the whole bar is going to start offering their personal opinions.” She glanced around slowly, nopony was paying attention. “For two, some of us are kind of drunk, and it’s not good to do serious stuff drunk. I mean, it’s hilarious but not productive.”
“Just because some of us are drunk doesn’t mean the rest of us are though.” Dash pointed out, smirking a little. She had to admit, the whiskey was doing a number on her ability to stay serious, but she was focused enough to stay on the task at hoof. It also helped to dull the ache on her face.
“That still doesn’t solve us being in public.” Sabine rolled her eyes. “Besides the pony asking, your little girlfriend seems a bit distracted.” Sabine pointed to Twilight as Rainbow Dash began to sputter, possibly in fury.
“Th-that’s not true!” Dash shouted, a notably loud blush spreading across her face. Applejack, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie watched how Dash fretted, her clipped wings spread out as far as they possibly could extend. Twilight was busy watching Fluttershy stare at the table in awe, while moving her forelegs in a sort of dance. “Tell her Twilight!”
“Hm?” Twilight didn’t even look as Fluttershy leaned forward, eyes wide as she stared at absolutely nothing of interesting and gave a tiny gasp, and corrected her odd dance.
Sabine began to giggle as Dash frantically waved her hooves. “Tell this liar-liar hat’s-gonna-be-on-fire-when-I-get-done-with-you that we’re not girlfriends!” Dash ordered as Twilight slowly raised her forelegs and began to imitate Fluttershy’s dance. Those two refills may have been a bad idea…
“Nmhm.” Was Twilight’s answer as she smiled a bit, Fluttershy staring frantically around the table as she moved her legs more jerkily, as if trying to keep up with… something.
“Twilight!” Dash sighed in exasperation, grabbed Twilight’s shoulders, and tugged her back so she could whisper directly into her ear, the unicorn now resting against her side. Dash’s antics didn’t get past Sabine or the other three currently stifling grins or laughter. “Tell her we’re not girlfriends!”
Twilight snorted, rolled her eyes, and turned sharply to face Sabine. “Rainbow Dash and I are girlfriends.” She turned and stared into Dash’s stunned, nonsense-gibbering face, “Happy?” She turned back to watch Fluttershy as Sabine collapsed onto the table, laughing. Dash’s wings were so far out they looked like they must’ve hurt.
“You guys know better!” Dash turned to face Rarity, Applejack, and Pinkie as they just smiled as hugely as they could have. “Twilight and I aren’t girlfriends! You guys know that! We’ve never been girlfriends!” She shook her head. “Never-ever-ever! Not once!”
“This coming from the mare who just loves to read books with her.” Rarity began to snicker between her teeth.
“Dashie and Twilight, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-”
“Pinkie’s got a point. If there were trees around and about…” Pinkie continued her little song as Applejack hid her face behind her legs and Dash started to growl in warning…
They were interrupted when Fluttershy let out a loud, saddened wail and wrapped her head up in her forelegs and let out a loud sob. “I’m sorry-I’m sorry-I’m sorry!” She chanted between rolling tears, her chest rising and falling rapidly as panicked breaths escaped her. She opened her legs again and reached across the table, knocking Pinkie Pie to the floor.
“Fluttershy!” Dash slipped out of her seat without hesitation and was by the Pegasus in an instant as Pinkie recovered from the floor and got up to worriedly console the yellow Pegasus.
Fluttershy bawled her eyes out into her hooves. Twilight, oblivious, danced to a beat of her own. “The little dancing ponies left because I couldn’t keep up!” She wept, making Dash and Pinkie pause. They both turned to face Sabine as she just shrugged in amusement.
“What the hay did those colts feed her?” Dash mumbled as Fluttershy calmed down, turning to watch as Pinkie started to do a little dance next to her. Meekly the Pegasus began to imitate her, waving her forelegs around and shifting her body like Pinkie did.
“Cactus juice.” Sabine smiled brightly. “It’s good stuff.” The mare just grinned perkily. “Alright, so, how ‘bout this! We’ll head to your place, mine’s kinda small, and get your friend some bed rest until the juice wears off.” They glanced back to Fluttershy. Pinkie looked like she was having fun teaching Fluttershy a dance, while Fluttershy was all energetic glee in imitating her, even taking the front of the dance. Twilight imitated Fluttershy with a happy giggle. The three mares twisted and moved, while Sabine began to laugh again. “Then we can begin.”
Things settled down, sort of. Dash did a good job of keeping Fluttershy safe from the other ponies in the bar while Rarity took Twilight out back. The seamstress came back with a much more sober unicorn, who looked deeply confused. Applejack and Pinkie lead the way out of the door, conveniently completing the circle that surrounded Fluttershy. Applejack brought them to a stop in front of a large statue of the king in the middle of the road to face Sabine, “So where does this story start, exactly?” Sabine opened her mouth, but then glanced to a large clock up high on the wall, nodded, and turned back to Applejack.
“Not now, actually.” She snorted in amusement, glancing back at Twilight, “Lost track of time thanks to these two.” Next to her, Dash bat her eyes rapidly, and began to glare.
“Please tell me you’re kidding.” Dash groaned, while Sabine shrugged. Twilight bustled forward, eyes narrowed.
“You promised you’d tell us the history!”
“And I will! Just not right now. I promised CYU I’d be helping them tear down an old building in the sixth ring, need to put a playground there.” Sabine began to step away, eyes glancing upwards as she noticed the yellow Pegasus standing on top of the fountain statue of Ao, boogying her little flank off.
“CYU?” Dash asked dryly, clearly unaware of what was happening behind her.
“‘Coltriellan Youth United’?” Twilight asked with a blink, trying to remember exactly how she knew that. Sabine looked at her oddly, but nodded in confirmation. “Can’t you postpone it or something?”
“Nope, irresponsible. Not a lot of ponies around here are into the whole charity business, but I try to help out where I can. It has its perks, ponies tend to know me and like me.” Sabine gave a tiny shrug as most of the crowd around them began to notice the drunken pegasus dancing on their king’s head.
“Look,” Applejack approached, standing between Sabine and the others. “I think it’s sweet ‘n all you’re doin’ this, so go ahead with it. We can get ya directions later, we won’t be movin’ ‘round much. Do watcha gotta do, but come find us soon as ya can.” Applejack gave Sabine a very tense stare, and Sabine nodded quickly.
“You guys have my word, and a promise from Sabine is unbreakable.” She looked up again. Fluttershy was still shaking it happily on her perch, looking like she was having the time of her life. Around them, the crowd of foreign ponies was happily matching her movements.
“I told you this would happen.” The shadow of the speaking pony paced just on the edge of her vision, telling her he was behind her. She tried harder to focus the complicated spell to a point on the wall that wouldn’t immediately burst into flames when she ignited her magic. She bit her lip and ignored him as he continued his walk. “That mare,” his sigh was worshipful, and the deep breath he took foretold… Infatuation? “She’s so good at making friends. You’d think she embodied it or something.” The irony was thick in his voice.
“Shut up Cloppin.” Balla finally spoke up, her concentration having wavered just enough to miss the focal point, causing her to start again. She had never been so clumsy with magic to actually miss the first shot, least of all with a communication spell.
In front of her, the shadow paused in its movements for just a few seconds before continuing its long, gangly stride. “I bet she and Sul are chatting it up right now, chewing the good ol’ rag.” Balla began to quiver, but she froze as a clothed foreleg rested on her back. The snout of a skull entered her vision as the jester, deathly cold even through his clothing, kept speaking. “Maybe they’re learning magic together. I bet that sweet little mare is better than you at it too.”
Balla’s eyes glimmered with anger, her concentration shattered. She let out a gasp as the fireball hit the floor. Cursing loudly, a fire suppressant spell flashed from her sapphire circlet, coating the embers before it had a chance to spread. Cloppin’s chill grip still felt around her back from the cold he’d left there. The jester chuckled as he went back to pacing in the back of the room.
“It’s sweet that you thought so highly of Sul though.” Balla turned to glare at Cloppin as his hind-quarters, lacking any sort of hair to make a tail, shook and shifted ever so slightly in mirth. “I bet she was so agonized to tell you to screw off, to see her little friend whimper in betrayal when she gave the order for Golding ponies to be removed. Doesn’t that treaty mean anything to her? Don’t you mean anything to her?” He sighed deeply, pressing his head against the wall. “It’s sad, really it is, that she would choose to side with complete strangers, your enemies in fact, the greatest and grandest of your enemies, over you… because they’re nice.”
Cloppin twitched, his head jerked to the side after Balla’s hoof connected, but that grin never slid off his face as the unicorn twisted back to face the wall. “Shut up.” She said in breathless anger. Her eyes squeezed shut as she tried to compose herself. Behind her, she didn’t feel the flaring rage that had come after the hit, the gritting teeth, then harsh tenseness of the muscles, the manic desire to respond in kind…
It slipped away as easily as it came as Cloppin slowly approached her. His hooves pressed against her cheeks, surprising her as the coolness of his touch made her mind blank, her anger, her frustrations briefly forgotten. “Golding is by itself, dear Balla. We can’t expect ponies who pretend they’re our allies to help us. We can’t expect the Coltriellans to make our jobs easier. They aren’t worth mixing yourself up with, let Golding ponies take care of Golding problems…” Cloppin whispered into her ear, the Archmage twitching as a hoof ran down to her chin, “And let us annihilate any and every thing that dares stand in our way.” His voice was soft and sweet, dripping with seductive promise, and it made Balla seize up as those dark ideas slipped into her head. She shook it rapidly, and quietly wrest herself from his grip. “We have to do our own jobs.”
He chortled in amusement as Balla stared at the wall she’d been trying to magic at for the past ten minutes. “Leave me Cloppin.” She ordered, her voice soft. She did not even look to see if he was gone, but that perpetual chill running down her spine was gone, so she knew he’d left. She focused on the wall and closed her eyes again, her sapphire circlet flaring with magic as a spot of fire appeared on it, and focusing, spread it out in a circle.
In the middle of the flame she saw Shallom’s face, which eased from a look of annoyed impatience to relief. “I was worried.” He said, and Balla delicately hung her head. That would be two mentors she’s disappointed today. She wondered if she could possibly get on Galio’s bad side as well before the sun went down.
“I’m sorry.” She sighed. She truly was, she was never late, but with Cloppin, with her anger and disappointment, it had made the spell difficult to perform. She was supposed to be the Archmage, and here she was fumbling about. “My emotions have been running a little high. I’m sorry I didn’t contact you sooner.”
“That is fine.” Shallom watched her closely, making note of her body language. With a small, worried look he spoke. “You are troubled, Balla.” Balla didn’t answer immediately. Rather, she lowered her head. “Please tell me what’s the matter.”
Balla looked up at him, the one eye she wasn’t hiding wide and full of sorrow. Shallom stayed quiet, she couldn’t see the dark thoughts of revenge circling in his head. “Shallom… I have tracked the False One to Coltriella.” She said slowly, speaking around a thick tongue, “Sul…” She stared down at her hooves, “My good mentor has… She has betrayed me…” Balla closed her eye, and Shallom squirmed in impotent rage, his teeth grit tightly. How he wanted to fly into Coltriella and introduce that high and mighty wench to his back hooves. “She has chosen to protect the False One in Coltriella rather than give her over… I…” The unicorn hung her head in shame, “I don’t know what to do, Shallom! I’ve failed Lord Galio, I can never-”
“Balla.” The unicorn stopped, and Shallom calmed himself. It took every ounce of his willpower to do so. He took a deep breath, and kept speaking, “Balla, I want you to listen to me, listen to my words. Okay? Don’t cry, don’t break down, listen closely…” Shallom whispered softly. Nopony dared hurt Balla in any way. Golding’s Little Sister was one of those things you did not touch in or out of Golding, anypony that so much as made her frown was often subject to a very harsh retaliation… Maybe not physically, but the pony would regret it either way. On top of that she had been guarded by Shallom all her life until reaching her position as Archmage of Golding. She was one of the few ponies whom he would dare open up to, and be comfortable with it. She was not just Golding’s little sister, Shallom all but saw her as family as well. “You have not failed. You have merely exhausted an option. You can’t stop when you have had a single failure, you must keep pushing forward.” He whispered consolingly through the open communication.
“But what do I do, Shallom? I can’t go in there at all, and I don’t have the hoof power to take it down with one airship…” She sniffed, looking to him for advice. She had never been part of a battle, much less a war. Shallom knew this. Shallom knew she was far too inexperienced for such a job, but what she was… was intelligent, and an excellent problem solver. A smirk crept across his face. He just needed to push her down the right path.
“Well, Balla, you will merely have to muscle your way in some other way. You are not out of options. With your powerful magic, and with Golding nearby, there must be something you can do to crack Coltriella open…”
“…” Balla stared down at her hooves, then to Shallom, “Perhaps…” She whispered. She thought about it. She thought carefully about it. She closed her eyes and Shallom watched her mind go to work. He was correct, of course. She couldn’t be held back by a single failure. She couldn’t let the seven walls stand in her way. She couldn’t let one betrayal stop her march towards the False One. She had to keep going, and show her pride and tenacity with unstoppable will. She had to retrieve the False One. Between Golding and her magic, the magic that Coltriella barely knew about, there must be other options. “Perhaps…” Her eyes lit up when she opened them, and Shallom smiled as she stared into his eyes. “Yes… that would work.”
“Tell me.” Shallom ordered.
“Okay, I’ll be absolutely honest. When finding a proper room to designate at your barracks our options were limited to what’s around the Royal Guard’s quarters and the best we could do was an old, disused Janitor’s rec room.” Maize tried to smile reassuringly as he opened the door to the room. “We have refurbished it as much as we physically could in order to make it amiable to your needs and comforts bu~ut it’s kinda small for seven ponies.”
He stood aside as Spitfire walked inside the room slowly, and glanced around the room. It was… okay-sized. It had a small kitchen, a microwave, a stove and an oven combo, and a refrigerator. It also had two couches and a single comfy chair for the seven of them and a coffee table in-between them all. There were two doors on each of the side walls, each leading to a different bedroom. “It’s kind of…” Spitfire bit her bottom lip and smiled awkwardly at Maize.
“Yeah, I know, it’s not up to standards for a specialist squad but it’s the best we can do.” Maize said with a tiny sigh, the rest filing inside to stand around and stare. It barely so much as fit eight of them comfortably, and seven would still be pushing it. “But as we fall into order and get used to the motions, things will become more comfortable and-”
“There’s mold in here.” Seven heads turned to face Zecora, who was standing at the open fridge. “Non-edible, poisonous, I fear.” She shut the fridge with a look of disdain. Maize’s smile grew even more uncomfortable, if possible.
That may have been the last straw, unease was spreading across their faces. “We have been waiting hours to start our training.” Soarin pointed out, frowned unhappily.
“Not to mention these conditions are barbaric.” Blueblood sniffed in disgust at the kitchen area and the small room. “We are confined.”
“Surrounded by mold.” Trixie groaned, tapping a couch with her hoof, causing a small puff of dust to puff upwards.
“And have been told next to nothing.” Spitfire felt compelled to point out. So far, things had been less than what she expected. She had thought she’d be among a regiment of soldiers-in-training, learning side-by-side with ponies, becoming family with them through sweat and hard-work. So far, she’d done a lot of standing around.
Maize stood quiet and still in the middle of them, working his mouth slowly as they all watched him for some sort of excuse or explanation. Finally, with a defeated sigh, he visibly sagged. “We have no idea what we’re doing.” The room went quiet. “We don’t have a real strategy, any set of rules, or even standards to follow, we’re making this up as we go. We have the average ponies out there working hard right now, doing our regular routines because that seemed to make the most sense. You seven have showed skills and aptitude above average. We can’t just treat you like normal ponies. I won’t lie.” He moved in front of them all, letting them all see him. “The reason we’re doing this is because of how hard we’ll be working you and that includes getting you suited to your armor. Endurance, strength, tactics, you will be running the damned gamut. What we’re waiting on is your personal armors to all be completely hammered out, and we should be an hour or two from finishing. When it’s done, we’re going to suit you up and throw you head-first into the training. It will be rough, especially with Cupcakes acting as your trainer.”
He glanced around slowly. Each of their eyes wide, now worried, somewhat unsure now. They’d been promised hard work. They deserved to know exactly how hard it was going to be. The Captain had given Cupcakes free reign of their training schedule, and he had managed a quick look at it. By the end of this month, they’d either have no specialist squad or the specialist squad, two unicorns with magic normally seen in academy elders, two Pegasi who were at the peak of aeronautic skill, a healer who knew remedies and mixtures that confounded most doctors, and two ponies with the bravery and the wits to face down hellgates. If they could apply all their skills together and work as a team… he felt confident that this could work. He had felt confident when he’d pitched his idea to Hero, and confident when he had to defend it.
“But I know you all can do this. We’re getting some of the best teachers here: for combat magic, for combat flight, and anything else we can possibly muster up. We act relaxed and joke around but when we get started we won’t hold back on you. Good effort will be rewarded, using your wits will lighten your load, and working together will bring in exceptional results. All of this comes down to you seven though. You asked to enlist, that means you can ask to leave…” He closed his eyes and slowly met each and every one of their gazes. They understood the gravity in his voice, and were quiet. “I ask that you give it a try. The training will become easier, and you will find yourselves becoming stronger. That said, I have overstayed my welcome and must report to the armory. Your things will be delivered in short. There are four bedrooms, each with two beds, so that means one of you will have a bed to yourself. How you divide up your rooms is up to you.” He walked around the group and left the room.
Outside, he closed the door, sighed heavily, and high-hoofed Night Brigade. “See? Guilt trip: accomplished.” Night grinned, and the two merrily trotted down to the armory.
Back inside the room, the seven ponies carefully looked among each other, evaluating their… what? Their worth? Individually? As a group? They didn’t all know each other, two being loners, two knowing only each other thanks to their team, and three being in the same village. Maize’s words still hung about, and their confidence went both ways at once. They were all in the same boat, to save Equestria from a destructive force they were unfamiliar with, but they were promised a very difficult road ahead of them.
Quietly, Spitfire nudged Soarin. The two pegasi being the first to separate to gather in the makeshift living room. “So I’m thinking we divide it up by mares and stallions.” Spitfire nodded in agreement as she opened a door to her room. Regular, run of the mill mattress on springs, a small dresser for each bed, and that was it.
“Sounds about right. Who’ll room with who though?” Spitfire stuck her head out of the room to stare at the other six, who all looked among each other. It was a pleasant distraction. “And who gets a room to themselves?” Spitfire pointed to the smaller side room, which looked like it may have indeed been a closet.
Nopony spoke up, not right away. Shifting uncomfortably, one hoof slowly lifted up. “I… I- well…” Blueblood closed his mouth and looked to the ceiling with a tiny frown. “If we must, I certainly wouldn’t mind-”
“Neither would the Great and Powerful Trixie.” The showmare interrupted, her eyes fixed on Blueblood, who returned her stare. The rest of the group shifted uncomfortably as the tension began to suck the air out of the room.
“Um…” Derpy Hooves spoke up with a small whisper, “I wouldn’t mind having a roommate. Colt or mare doesn’t matter to me.” She smiled, and Spitfire nodded.
“Sounds good to me. You’re my roommate.” Spitfire watched the wall-eyed Pegasus’ face turn surprised for a moment, and then break into a huge grin.
“I’ll be the best roommate ever!” Derpy announced, flying through the open door with a little whirl. Spitfire smiled at her enthusiasm. “I’ll share my popcorn and let you touch my stuff and I’ll help you make the beds and I’m gonna be cleaner than ever!” She landed on a bed. While Blueblood and Trixie continued their stare down of epic proportions, Soarin glanced at Big Mac.
“Cool.” Soarin looked away with a tiny blink. Direct sort of colt. Big Mac walked to an empty room and stepped in. Soarin’s ears flatted against his head as Prince Blueblood and Trixie’s stare down turned into a heated argument. While the two were distracted, Zecora took herself to the room just beyond Derpy and Spitfire’s, leaving Soarin alone with the two feuding unicorns. He stared at them while thinking back to the first time he’d stepped into the Wonderbolts’ barracks.
Spitfire hadn’t been Captain yet, but she was most definitely next in line. Everypony there looked up to her for advice and she was more than willing to lead the team. Her capabilities had impressed young Soarin, and the fact that they’d hit it off so quickly… but the point was, when he first entered the barracks, he’d been told by the current Captain that the Wonderbolts shared everything, not just sleeping quarters, food, and chores. They shared each other’s pains when they flew, and more than that, they shared each other’s emotional troubles when they brewed. It was okay to compete with each other, but you had to remember that when one Wonderbolt was having difficulties, it was up to the other to help.
The question was: how?
“Fah!” He turned his head as Zecora stepped into the rec room, looking somewhat annoyed until he noticed that, in attempting to maneuver around the tightly packed living room, she’d banged her shin on the coffee table. “This room is too small for any pony to rest, even the bedrooms are larger by half at best!”
Soarin rubbed his chin as Spitfire walked out. “Yeah, I don’t see how we could all use the same room at once. Perhaps if we maneuvered it ourselves?” Spitfire offered.
“Doesn’t seem like we’d be able to make much of an improvement to the set-up…” Soarin mumbled as he looked around the small, cramped room slowly. Zecora, tired of squeezing between the chairs and coffee table, chose to stand on top of it.
“Anymore widening would be an improvement, though if we can’t afford the space I may consider a tent.” Zecora turned as Derpy and Big Mac stepped out of their rooms to join the cramped team.
“I may join you.” Spitfire admitted with a sigh, making Derpy’s eyes widen enormously in despair. “Not that I’d leave you behind. You could come join us. We could all fit in one tent.”
Soarin smirked a little at the thought of the three camping out rather than stay indoors because of a lack of room. Out of curiousity he poked his head into one of the bedrooms, took stock, and signaled to Big Mac to follow him. At the same time, he nudged Blueblood, who turned to give him a smoldering look of “how dare you touch me,” but it was ignored and Soarin beckoned him as well.
The three males entered one of the bedrooms as Soarin’s idea formed. He could think his way around this one. “Okay, so we need room for the couches and chairs and stuff, but there’s also the big ‘who gets the room to themselves’ debate.”
“It will be a dry day in hell before that upstart little foal-”
“I ain’t much fer solvin’ problems but perhaps we can knock out two trees in one kick?” Big Mac interrupted, Blueblood’s fuming slowly wilting.
“Pardon?” He glanced to Big Mac, who nodded slowly. “I don’t think I- wait.” Blueblood held up a hoof and looked around the room slowly, his lips tightening as a thought occurred to him. “You don’t mean the three of us share one room, do you?”
“I didn’t necessarily say it was the three of us.” Big Mac shrugged.
“But we’re dividing the rooms by colts and mares.”
“Mm. Yeah.” Big Mac nodded as Soarin started to lift a bed.
“These are nice and light. With some maneuvering-” Soarin squeaked and nearly dropped the bed as Blueblood lifted the object up with magic. Blueblood easily levitated it out of its original position as the other two watched him set it near the door. “Well let’s not go making this look easy for the rest of us.” Soarin watched, partially jealous at the casual ease Blueblood displayed carrying the bed.
“Please, I am a unicorn. I was born to make my own life easier.” The Prince grinned smugly, causing Soarin and Big Mac to look to each other with raised eyebrows. Soarin didn’t take it too personally, it wasn’t as if Blueblood was insulting them, and he was honestly expecting a little more gloating than that. Big Mac kept quiet as he helped turn the bed in mid-air to fit it through the doorway, the girls watching curiously as the bed was floated into a different room, Blueblood and Big Mac leading it there.
“Do I wanna know?” Soarin grinned as he heard Spitfire’s voice while tugging the other bed out with his bare hooves. He turned and heaved, pulled the bed through, and glanced to his friend.
“Just knocking out two trees with one kick. If you ladies don’t mind, I’m going to dispose of this, could you start moving the couches and stuff into this room?” Soarin gestured to the open doorway, ducking just in time before Trixie could clobber his head with the single pony-seat.
“Do be quick, you’re getting in the way of whatever you have planned.” Trixie carefully walked past him, oblivious to the glare Soarin was giving the unicorn. Spitfire patted his back and shook her head at him.
It was impressively quiet in the Gardet house. Rainbow Dash was pretty surprised. Normally when she hung out with Pinkie she couldn’t hear herself think. Right now, Pinkie was keeping things down to a dull roar.
“- and we’ll definitely need some sort of music.” Pinkie mused, moving a stool she’d found in one of the bathrooms rapidly between two corners. Rarity watched, hoof touched to her chin.
“Pinkie, sweetheart, if you’re going to be using a stool to hold the phonograph you should at least keep into consideration the design of the room.” Rarity nodded, about to lift the stool with her horn before sighing, deciding instead to push it away from the atrocious corner with her forehead. “A round stool does not belong in a sharp corner, it clashes!”
“But…” Pinkie took the stool. As she dragged it backwards she felt her hind hoof hit something. Applejack groaned and moved out of the way. “If it’s alongside the wall, then we have a much easier chance of bumping into it! A party requires Maximum. Available. Space.” Pinkie spoke each word as if she were biting into them.
“Yes, well how about this!” Rarity shoved the stool into the corner, which clattered as it struck the wall. She stared at it, Pinkie turning from Rarity to do the same, and they both watched it. Rarity’s face was rapidly squinting in disapproval. The room was then oddly silent.
It was then Rainbow Dash realized everypony was bored. No skies to clear or fly through… or now, she couldn’t practice her magic for fear of getting caught - by who she didn’t know. There were no apples to pick or sell, no dresses to be made, parties to be had, and conversation was little as the taxing day left them all to their thoughts. Nopony felt like leaving the house. The furthest anypony had gotten was-
“Okay everypony,” Twilight announced from the hallway, Fluttershy happily at her side. “Stock has been taken, bags have been separated and dispersed, what we don’t need is gone, and the only decision we have to make now is who rooms with who.” She had a small spring in her step. Of course she’d be happy, she had a chance to organize. Dash hid a small laugh. It was those little things that could keep Twilight happy. Dash mused that if she ever needed to cheer her up, she could just switch all the books in the library around if the unicorn was bored. Actually, no, that would just freak Twilight out. Oooh, the pranking possibilities…
“Well, as per usual, I suppose I shall board with Applejack.” Rarity spoke up, clearly glad to have a distraction from the outrageously atrocious game of a round stool in a sharp corner. Rarity hadn’t expected five stares she was now getting. Her confident smile slowly began to wilt.
“… Why?” Pinkie was the first one to ask. Rainbow Dash lifted her head to help join in on the stare. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t noticed it before. She found it amusing more than anything, and it let her take her mind off certain other mares whose feelings she was concerned with. Besides, if it really actually turned out the way she expected it to, she could rub so much into Applejack’s face.
“Well, I mean, no offense Pinkie but you snore…”
“Y’all realize I snore too?” Applejack raised an eyebrow, a smirk growing on her face.
“Well, yes…” Rarity nervously stared down at her hooves. “But you snore manageably.”
“Oh as if that makes sense!” Applejack snorted, grinning from ear to ear as Rarity fumbled with words, something the orange mare found irresistibly funny.
“I don’t snore Rarity.” Fluttershy reminded her gently, her cheeks turning a very slight red. “Why don’t I room with you? I know you like to fall asleep gossiping and I don’t mind listening.” Fluttershy slowly stepped forward, nodding her head.
“I-I guess that’s- yes that’s very true, but it’s… Well… Applejack has some very interesting things for us to talk about, and… Erm…” Rarity rolled her hoof slowly, her white coat slowly turning red as she heated up, and finally let out a deep sigh of defeat. “You know, maybe that’d be for the best. Let’s room together Flutter-”
“Hey.” Applejack grunted, grabbing their attention. “I never said no, or that I didn’t wanna!” A smirk crept upon her face as Rarity began to stutter, “C’mon Rare, I know what room I wanna get.” The farm pony trotted down one of the parallel hallways and picked out a room. Rarity stood still for a few moments, caught with the others watching her closely. She stumbled over herself, face heated, and rushed after Applejack.
Pinkie Pie snorted out a giggle, whistling to herself while walking off to their now stocked ice box. “Hey egghead.” Dash spoke up from the floor. Twilight looked over with a curious blink. Fluttershy opened her mouth as to say something, but after a moment, closed it and went to follow Pinkie. “You ‘n me? Same as always?” She asked. Twilight gave a bright nod and smile.
“Of course!” Twilight hopped excitedly. The two took to the back left room to settle on in. The two-bed rooms were actually fairly comfortable. They were big enough for two ponies each to settle in without spilling over onto each other, and to Twilight’s eternal delight, even came with a desk. Dash was more interested in the bed, which proved to be much softer than the floor.
Other than having belonged to a Golding pony, it was quite the comfortable place.
It was nice and peaceful for a good while, the sun slowly lowering in the sky, and the lazy feeling was just plain perfect. The six mare-friends were quick to their hooves though as a knock came from the front door. Fluttershy opened it a crack, peaking out into Sabine’s smiling face, and opened it wider for the mare. “Hello Sabine, come on in.” She welcomed her with a warm smile, and Sabine whistled quietly as she peaked past her. “I hope you didn’t get lost on the way here.” Fluttershy smiled invitingly before moving out of the way.
“Not even a little, been living in Coltriella too long.” Sabine trotted inside and paused. She couldn’t admit to knowing Rarity or Pinkie Pie very well, but she assumed there was a very good reason they were taking a carpenter saw to a stool. “Fancy digs. I live down in the fifth ring. You guys may motivate me to work my way up.” Sabine walked to a cushion and glanced to Fluttershy, who merely nodded for Sabine to lay down.
She looked around slowly and smiled to herself. Fluttershy went around the rooms to gather the rest of the ponies while Sabine quietly considered her surroundings. She couldn’t get the feeling out of her even as she was helping set up the play park. These mares were hiding something, but for the life of her it didn’t even feel a little malicious. They were obviously foreign but from where? They were bright and colorful, two of them had wings, and on top of that, she had never seen tattoos that detailed and unusual on anypony’s flank. Yet they spoke magnificently perfect Coltriellan, and they were even being supported by Sul of all ponies. They were cool, but they were also incredibly mysterious…
Which was just even more cool.
“Ah, good, Sabine’s here.” Twilight emerged from a hallway. Dash appeared moments later, looking rather crossed. “Just take a seat Dash, you can nap when she’s finished.” Twilight sat down across from Sabine. Dash followed, opting to sit next to Twilight. The Coltriellan gave them both a friendly smile. Twilight tried to return it, but it faded Rainbow Dash let her head fall to the table. Looking the sleepy pony over, Sabine realized she really did like that mare’s hair.
Moments later, Applejack emerged from her hallway. “Thought I heard ye’re name. Welcome to our home.” Applejack extended a hoof for Sabine to shake, and sat down a foot or so from Twilight. “Rarity, Pinkie, y’all comin’?” The farmpony turned her head. Rarity was holding a section of the stool seat as Pinkie’s forelegs rapidly moved back and forth, hold a large metal hoof file.
“Just a moment! We have a few finishing touches to make!” Rarity called back before turning back to supervise Pinkie’s work. Fluttershy, who had been quietly preparing tea, finally sat down. She snuggled between Applejack and Twilight, getting an affectionate smile from both as she pushed out a tray full of teacups. Everypony accepted one as Rarity and Pinkie finished with the now sharp-edged stool and joined the group. The six all watched Sabine expectantly as they drank.
“…” Sabine was quiet, humming to herself as the two sides observed each other. Finally she set her cup down. “So, I’m assuming you want me to go ahead and start?”
“We have been waitin’ patient-like.” Applejack nodded to Sabine.
“Alright, alright.” Sabine squirmed, getting herself comfortable as Twilight stood to put out a few candles to dim the lights. When she seated, Sabine spoke. “So I’m not going to immediately start with Golding, what you need to know interlocks with Coltriella’s history. The land of Coltriella wasn’t always a desert….”
At my editor's insistence, the chapter has been split into two parts! The history of Golding is right after this'n.