Twilight paced back and forth at the edge of the Everfree Forest, watching the shadows lengthen as the sun blended the edges of the sky with fiery oranges and reds. She scanned the borders of the woods, hoping to catch a glimpse of something that would signal the approach of her friend Pinkie Pie. She'd been waiting for about fifteen minutes and hadn’t seen any sign of her.
It had taken all of them by surprise when they had learned that Pinkie had taken an interest in the crafts of the hermit Zecora, whom Twilight had encountered only a week after moving to Ponyville. What motivated Pinkie to seek apprenticeship, none of them knew. But what was even more surprising was that the zebra had happily accepted her as a pupil. Ever since then, Pinkie had been visiting Zecora three times a week at her home, deep in the Everfree.
Twilight suppressed a yawn and cracked her neck. I’m going to have to head back soon. I hope Pinkie’s all right. She’s not normally one t—
A loud, happy voice from directly behind caused her to jump ten feet in the air, limbs splayed out and hair standing on end. She fell to the ground with a loud THUD.
Twilight dazedly looked behind her to behold a pink mare with a poofy fuschia mane, wearing a pair of clinking saddlebags and on the verge of collapsing with laughter.
“T-Too easy!” she choked.
“How… do you do that?!”
Pinkie recovered from her fit as she helped Twilight to her hooves. “Do what? Scare you? Oh, that’s easy. Especially when you’re in think-think-think mode because then you’re not paying attention to anything. I can always tell when you are, because you make a face like this.” Pinkie assumed a serious look and scrunched up her eyebrows.
Twilight was going to reply, but then stopped. Do I really do that? I can’t possibly be that easy to read! I don’t zone out all the—
”See! See! You’re doing it again! You were just getting all worried and started doing a monologue in your head!” She gave a devilish smile. “That’s when you’re a prime target for spooking!”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Okay, okay, I get it. I’ll have to keep that in mind from now on.”
“Oh, I’m suuuuuure you will,” Pinkie said playfully as the two walked away from the forest. “So whatcha doin’ out here huh? You went to Canterlot today right? Oooh, how’d your thing go?! Did they love you? I know they loved you!”
“They… didn’t not love me,” Twilight dodged. She turned her attention to the passing houses on their right.
Pinkie’s eyes went wide. “Double negatives! Those are always fun. Let’s see, so that means they were either neutral about you or they loved you. Which was it?”
“Probably closer to that first one.”
Pinkie was unabashed. “At least that’s not a bad thing! I’m sure that you’ll find a way to show them what they want, and then you’ll have your shiny degree in no time. After all, you’re only the smartest, most wonderfully magically gifted unicorn I know! And believe me, I know a lot of unicorns. Actually, I know a lot of ponies in general!”
Pinkie’s optimism was infectious. Despite her best efforts, Twilight found the annoyance that she’d been feeling about the presentation melting away. She’s right. It’s not like they denied my proposal or anything. They just want more reports. It’s a pain, but I suppose it could be worse.
As the two walked, Twilight noticed a soft clinking noise that emanated from her friend's bags. “How’s your training with Zecora going?”
“Great!” Pinkie reached into her saddlebags and pulled out a bottle of tiny vial of electric-blue liquid. “Today she showed me how to make this!”
Twilight took the small bottle in her magic and held it up to her eyes, inspecting it. “What is it?”
“It’s called Elder’s Elixir. It’s an ultra-mega-strong medicine that gets rid of the pain from… from…” Pinkie closed her eyes and stamped a hoof. “Shoot, I forgot the word. It’s long and I can’t believe she used it in a rhyme. Rooma-something.”
Twilight thought for a moment. “Rheumatism?”
“That’s it!” Pinkie jumped up a few inches in the air, wiggling all four of her legs. “Anyway, you don’t see this stuff much because it’s tricky to make, and the plant you use for it is suuuuuuuuper-duper rare. Zecora said that in her homeland, people pay hundreds of bits just for one dose of this stuff! Can you believe that?”
Twilight stared at the vial, now aware that she was holding something expensive. She secured her magical grip on the bottle. “What plant is it?”
“Derroleaf. Isn’t that a funny word to say? Derro-derro-derro-derro-derro!" Pinkie twitched her head back and forth as she played with the word. "It probably means something in another language. We were herb-foraging last week when we found a teeeeeeny-tiny patch of it in a ravine.” Pinkie giggled. “You should have seen how excited Zecora was. She started talking in Zhevari and I couldn’t understand her for almost an hour!”
Twilight chuckled as she pictured the zebra machine-gunning in her native tongue. She returned the vial to Pinkie. “It really must have been a small patch if this was all you could make from it.”
“Oh, this is only half of what we made.” She carefully placed the bottle back in her bags. “Zecora kept the other half since we found it together.” Pinkie then turned back to Twilight and gave her a giant, toothy grin. “But don’t tell anyone that I have this yet, okay? It’s going to be a surpriiiiiiise!”
“Surprise for what?”
Pinkie stopped and looked to see if anyone was around. The two of them were now standing in the main square of Ponyville, just in front of Town Hall. There were only a few ponies milling about, and none of them were in earshot. She leaned in close to Twilight and lowered her sugary voice.
“Applejack’s grandmother’s seventy-third birthday is coming up soon,” Pinkie whispered. “I’m helping to organize the party. As a present to her, I’m going to have Applejack slip this in her morning tea. Her hip has gotten bad in the last few years, and I've seen how hard it is for her to walk.” She gave a high-pitched titter. “This medicine will be enough for her to have an amazing fun-filled day of pain-free celebration!”
Twilight leaned back from her friend. “Pinkie, that is quite possibly the nicest thing I have ever heard of anyone doing for anypony else. I didn’t even know you were friends with Granny Smith.”
Pinkie gave her a patronizing look. “Of course I am! I’m friends with everyone, silly! And besides, the Pie and Apple families have always been clo—”
Pinkie's face fell as she seemed to remember something. She pursed her lips and shifted her eyes, looking at something in the edge of her vision.
Twilight blinked. “Pinkie?”
Pinkie lowered her head and gave a wistful smile. “I keep forgetting that you’ve only lived in Ponyville a few months. They’ve been such great, great, fun-filled months, but still, only a few. For some reason, it feels like you’ve always been with us. Like you were meant to be here.”
Twilight said nothing, but deep down she felt the same way. I don't know why, but I feel at home here, more than I ever did in Canterlot. Even when I was at the Castle, I wasn't as happy as I am now. Something about this place just... clicks.
“You probably haven’t even heard about how Applejack’s parents died.”
Twilight’s brain did a painful one-eighty as it processed the new information. A chill went down her spine. I didn’t even realize—well, where else would they be, stupid?! What kind of a friend are you if can’t even realize that a rather crucial portion of their family is missing?
“You should ask her sometime,” Pinkie said earnestly as she watched Twilight go back into 'think-think-think' mode. “I think she'd want you to know, but I don’t think it’s my place to say anything until you do. All you need to know is that it’s part of the reason why I’m doing this for Granny Smith.”
Twilight nodded. Maybe I can ask her tonight… no, that’s a terrible idea. I don’t want to be dredging up painful memories when she’s going to be upset enough about the guard—
Oh yeah. That.
Pinkie had resumed her usual merry demeanor and was bouncing towards her house. She stopped and turned. “Yeah? What’s up?”
“Something else happened while I was in Canterlot,” Twilight said for the third time today. “It concerns all six of us. The others are meeting me at the library real soon so I can tell everypony. Can you drop off your bags and come too?”
“Sure! I love surprises.”
I'll bet a cauldron full of Elder's Elixir you won't love this one. Twilight nodded. “Great.”
“Be there in a few minutes!” Pinkie skipped away.
Twilight started to walk back to the library, before she remembered something else and called after her. “Do you think you could bring over some kind of food? I don’t think Rainbow’s had dinner yet.”
Twilight stood in the center of the library, her gaze being returned by Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie, Rainbow, and Rarity. Pinkie had arrived last, bearing a slightly-stale assortment of desserts. The sun had set, the moon and stars were out, and the inside of her tree home was now lit by magical heatless lanterns. Twilight chewed on both a cupcake and her thoughts as everypony got settled.
“All right Twilight,” Applejack began as the five of them sat in a half-circle around her. “No sense tryin' to beat around the bush. Rainbow said you got somethin' mighty important to tell all of us, lickety-split. And from what I can gather, it’s nothin' we're gonna take kindly to. So what's wrong?”
Here goes. Twilight sighed and put down the pastry. “Okay. You all obviously remember what happened two months ago with the Elements of Harmony.”
“Called it.” Rainbow pointed at Applejack and Fluttershy. “You both owe me two bits.”
Fluttershy's face matched her mane and looked away. Applejack narrowed her eyes, but said nothing.
Twilight tried to ignore that her friends had taken bets on what this was about. “There are a couple of… issues... that’ve resulted from that. The first is that we’re now the only ones who can use the Elements.”
“The only ones?” Rarity echoed. “Not even Princess Celestia can use them?”
Twilight shook her head. “Just us.”
“Why would that be?” Fluttershy wondered.
“I don’t… actually… know?” Twilight said with an embarrassed shrug. “That’s just the way it is.”
Her five friends exchanged confused glances, muttering to themselves.
“Well, what’s the big deal about that?” Applejack asked after a time. “So we’re the only ones who can use the Elements. The Princess knows we wouldn’t use ‘em for anythin’ bad.”
“And even if we somehow all went evil and crazy like Nightmare Moon, we gave the Elements to her for safekeeping, and she locked them away!” Pinkie pointed out. “We’d have to like, fight her or something to get them back.”
“Pinkie!” Rarity admonished. “We’d never do such a thing!”
Pinkie rolled her eyes. “Well, duh. Of course we wouldn’t. We’re the good guys! I mean, gals.”
“The big deal is that the Elements are very, very, very old magical relics,” Twilight said. ”Just on their own, their power is on par with spells of the highest level. And when used together like we did two months ago, they’re capable of unbelievable things.”
”Like purifying a fallen Princess,” Fluttershy whispered.
Twilight nodded. “Both Celestia and Luna are worried that because it’s common knowledge that we're the ones who defeated Nightmare Moon with the Elements of Harmony, we might be in danger from—” she remembered a particular snippet from her mentor’s letter. “Forces that conspire against the crowns.”
She stopped to pause, reading her friends expressions before continuing on. They were all staring at her with rapt attention. Twilight took a deep breath.
“And so, for our safety, they’re sending a squad of Royal Guards to Ponyville to protect and watch us all the time.”
Twilight had been expecting an outburst, but that didn’t prepare her for what she received. She was blown off her feet by the combined verbal assault, crashing into a bookcase on the far wall and buried under a hail of literature.
She poked her head up out of the mess of fallen tomes, the room spinning. “I suppose that’s an appropriate reaction.”
Her friends were all talking at once. Fluttershy and Rarity were apologizing. Applejack and Rainbow were shouting their defiance. Pinkie was yammering excitedly about new ponies coming to town. Twilight walked back over, rubbing her head. She waited until they all settled down before continuing.
“You should know that I’ve been fighting against this ever since I moved here.”
“You have?” Rainbow said. “What made you give in now?”
“A few things,” Twilight began. “First off, the guards aren’t going to be in uniform; they’ll be passing themselves off as civilians. If nothing goes wrong, I doubt you’ll even know they’re there.”
“Maybe for you gals in town,” Applejack grumbled. “Lots of places to blend in and watch somepony ‘round here. What’re they gonna do while I’m out in the fields?”
“And unless they’re pegasi, how are they gonna ‘protect’ me thousands of feet up in the air when I’m at work?” Rainbow pointed up to the ceiling. “Or when I’m training? Because I’m telling you right now, I am not slowing myself down for anypony, and I don’t appreciate an audience, either.”
“My little animal friends are very skittish, and don’t take well to strangers,” Fluttershy protested. “And often times I have to take care of larger animals that only let me approach if I’m alone. I won’t be able to take care of them if I have others with me.”
“My greatest moments of genius are only when I am in solitude!” Rarty put a dramatic hoof to her face. “How can I bring forth the creative spark if I am stifled by the presence of ruffians?”
There was a silence. Everyone turned to Pinkie. She was sitting on her haunches, gently swaying back and forth to a tune only she could hear. She stopped as she noticed she was the center of attention.
“Aren’t you going to throw in your list of grievances as well?” Twilight asked.
Pinkie chortled and shook her head. “Why would I? I love meeting new ponies! It’ll be weird, sure, having them follow me all the time. And yeah, they might have some trouble coming with me through the Everfree, but I’m sure we’ll work something out! That’s what makes it fun!”
Twilight was suddenly grateful she hadn’t made the bet she had considered earlier. That’s one down, at least.
“I don’t know how they’re going to monitor you exactly,” Twilight admitted, returning to the other four. “Although I know that they’ve already split up their platoon and assigned themselves to each of us, so I imagi—”
“Wait, we don’t even get a say in this?” Rainbow said. “When are they coming?!”
“Seven a.m. tomorrow,” Twilight whispered. “That’s why I needed to tell you tonight.”
Rainbow flattened her ears and folded her hooves, looking towards the door. “This isn’t fair.”
Twilight felt the spark of annoyance rekindled by her friend's complaints. She glared at Rainbow. “You want to talk about not fair? All of you just have two guards that’ll watch you from afar. On top of that, I get to have an additional bodyguard that has to actually live with me.”
Twilight looked at the ground, trying to push down her anger. As she did, she could feel five sets of eyes boring holes into the top of her head.
“Why would you need an additional bodyguard?” Rarity asked.
“Because I’m also the Princess’s personal protégée,” she spat out the words as if they had a vile taste. “And apparently, a lot of ponies outside of Ponyville think I have authority close to, or on par with, the Princesses themselves. So that makes me even more of a target.” She gave a harsh laugh. “Luna called it ‘The price to pay for having Power,’ or something.”
“Wait,” Rarity said. “You spoke with Princess Luna?”
“Sort of,” Twilight said. From above, the indigo scroll floated down from her loft, encased in her magenta aura. “She sent me this. You should all read it, too. It’s the other reason why I finally agreed.”
Twilight patiently waited while her friends passed the note around, reading it one by one. She watched their reactions. Rarity's eyes were wide. Fluttershy had a hoof to her mouth. Rainbow was still staring out the window. Applejack was sucking on her teeth, and Pinkie was tilting her head from side to side.
“Well, that was a lot of fancy frou-frou talk,” Applejack observed, the last to read the letter. “What I gather from it though is that Princess Luna isn’t in the best of shape after our little tussle.”
“No wonder we haven’t seen her,” Pinkie said. “I had so many party ideas, too. I mean for one, she’s got a thousand birthdays to catch up on! I imagine there wasn’t much cake on the moon… or much of anything at all...”
“I had no idea that she was in such a fragile state.” Rarity took the note in her magic and handed it back to Twilight. “I never thought that the Elements would have lingering effects.”
“I doubt any of us did,” Twilight said.
“The poor dear,” Fluttershy murmured. “I wish there was something we could do for her.”
They all turned to Rainbow, who looked like she was trying to swallow something unpleasant. “We can cooperate.”
Twilight tried not to show surprise at her change of heart. “Really? You’re okay with this?”
“Of course I’m not!” Rainbow stamped a hoof and kicked at the ground. “But you all just read it. The Princess is weak because of what we did to her.”
“It was necessary, Rainbow,” Twilight said in a firm tone. “And she’s grateful to us for it.”
Rainbow ran a hoof through her mane and knitted her brows. “I’m not good at this. Look, we saved her, but we also weakened her. And now because of that, she’s not in a state where she can control herself. She cares about us, and if we get in trouble, she might... get really, really angry or something, and that might push her over the edge. And if that happens, can we save her again? I mean, the Elements made her this weak when she was at full strength in her crazy-evil mode. What would they do if she—”
Rainbow jerked her head. She sighed and reluctantly looked at all of them. “She just got back from her banishment, and is probably scared to death of anything that might make her change back into Nightmare Moon. This is the least we can do.”
Everyone was silent after she finished, save for Pinkie, who was applauding.
“That was great, Dashie! Super-duper cool and stuff!” She stopped and grinned teasingly. “By the way, how did it taste?”
Rainbow cocked her head. “How did what taste?”
“Your pride!” Pinkie said with an impish laugh. “By the look on your face, I’d say it was awful!”
The others did their best to hide their amusement as Rainbow gave an irritated sigh. She looked back to Twilight. “I’m still not happy about all this.”
“I’m not asking you to be. But you’ll go along with it?”
Rainbow begrudgingly nodded. “Until Luna's better. After that, I wanna talk to her and Celestia.”
The others murmured agreement at this.
“If it’ll keep Luna safe, I’ll do it,” Fluttershy said. “I wouldn’t want to do anything that could make her worse.”
“I suppose ‘the price to pay for having Power’ is as accurate a statement as any,” Rarity sniffed. “It may be unfortunate, but a proper Lady never abandons those in need. I’ll do my part.”
“I reckon I can tolerate some supervision for a time.” Applejack raised a hoof to her chin.
“Actually, havin’ some extra hooves around might come in handy. We’ve been havin’ a mite of trouble with some Rust Beetles lately.”
Twilight’s ears twitched at the sound of the unknown. She looked at Applejack. “Rust Beetles?”
“Big ol’ yellow varmints that come down from the mountains from time to time.” She looked to the window to the west and curled her lip. “Sometimes they sneak into the barn to munch on our tools.”
“They eat metal?” Pinkie stuck out her tongue. “That can’t taste very good!”
“They seem to like it,” Applejack said with a shrug. “But I can’t be having some overgrown lumpy bugs taking bites outta my plows. They get a thumpin’ every time, but they keep coming back.”
“Why didn’t you say something earlier?” Rainbow said as she eyed her. “I would’ve come and helped you fight them off!”
“Because they ain’t that big a problem.” She turned and bucked the air with a sly grin. “One swift kick with these babies sends ‘em running to the hills.”
Rainbow lowered her head. “No fair. That sounds like fun.”
Applejack snickered as she turned to Twilight. “I’ll need to tell my family about all of this. About the guards, mind you, not the Princess bein’ sick. I reckon Celestia wouldn't like us spreadin' that particular bit of information.”
“Yeah, if you could,” Twilight said, addressing all of them. “Don’t tell anypony else about Luna. She has a lot of guards right now protecting her at Canterlot, but the fewer ponies that know, the better.”
“And what about you, Twilight?” Rainbow asked. “Are you okay with some strange pony living here with you and Spike?”
Twilight barked out a harsh laugh. “No, I’m not. But seeing as I don’t have much of a choice, I’ll have to make the best of it.” She looked out the window into the night sky beyond. “I just hope he doesn’t bother me when I’m studying.”
She turned back to her friends, who still seemed annoyed, but now there was a look of acceptance, as well.
“Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”
Blair stepped outside Canterlot Castle into the cool night air and the gardens beyond, heading for the briefing rooms on the other side of the grounds. He wore a saddlebag on his side which carried a thick scroll. As he walked along the main path, reviewing the fresh knowledge Celestia gave him, a familiar sardonic voice met his ears.
“Finally, our fearless leader deigns to grace us with his presence.”
Blair turned right to see a thin maroon unicorn in the armor of the Royal Guard leaning against a hedge, eyeing him with a half-smirk.
“Piro?” Blair said. “What're you doing here?”
“Waiting for you.” Piro walked up to him. “I saw you coming down the mezzanine.”
Blair nodded and continued forward on the path. Piro fell into step beside him. Neither of them said anything for a time, and the warm evening air became thick with uncomfortable tension.
“You had her cast the Stasis spell,” Piro said at last.
Wastes no time, does he? Blair nodded.
Piro rolled his eyes and looked away, staring at a nearby sculpture. “Great. Just great! So now we know exactly how much time we have left. That’ll help me sleep at night.”
Blair glanced at him through the corner of his eye. “It was the only option. She said that the barrier was going to fall apart in a week or so.”
“And I take it she still refuses to use the Elements.”
Piro sighed as he raised his head to the night sky. “Did you tell her my suggestion about Luna?”
“I did,” Blair said, “but we all knew what Celestia would say to that. I saw her earlier today, Piro, she’s in no state to be performing high-level spells right now.”
“How does she look?” he asked curiously. “I haven’t seen in her in weeks. Stupid Night Guard doesn’t let anypony within a hundred yards of her tower unless it's an emergency.”
“Healthier. Not skin and bones like when she got back.”
Piro nodded and gave a small smile. “Celestia’s been spending a lot of time with her lately.”
Blair wrinkled his brow as he looked to Piro. “Do you blame her?”
“Hardly,” he said with a harsh note of amusement. “If I just recovered a sibling from the clutches of insanity, I’d be clingy too.”
“Thin ice, Piro,” Blair warned.
Piro gave him another half-smirk. “Haven’t fallen in yet.”
How can someone do something so simple and be so aggravating… one of these days I am going to smack the left side of his head so that he learns how to smile with his whole face like the rest of the world. Blair quickened his pace by a step.
The two of them passed the motionless sculptures and art pieces that populated the grounds. The sound of trickling water could be heard from a nearby fountain that stood in the center of the gardens. The wind shifted, and the two guards caught the strong, sweet scent of tiger lilies.
“So she’s fully cured?” Piro asked.
Blair smiled as he remembered Luna complaining about modern speaking styles. “Celestia seems to think so. And I’m not going to argue about who knows her better.”
Piro’s voice dropped as his face went hard. “That is, if Celestia’s not lying to herself.”
Blair stopped and turned to him, a hint of challenge in his voice. “You doubt her judgment?”
Piro regarded Blair with his blood-red eyes. “She’s not all-knowing. And you have to admit she’s hesitating in a situation where thirteen lives hang in the balance. Who’s to say she isn’t mistaken in other matters?”
Blair pushed his face in closer to Piro’s. “You’re the one who’s lying to himself. Only one life is in danger.”
Piro’s tone gained a snide edge. “The old argument rears its ugly head. Do you really want to do this here?”
Blair pursed his lips and stared at him. How can he be so stubborn? We all know tha—he’s right, public place. We’ll wind up shouting like we always do. Blair scoffed and looked away. “Waste of time.”
“Too bad we can’t agree on much else,” Piro said with a stiff nod. “But in regards to our dear host, don’t you think she'd be doing more if his well-being was her top priority?”
“You’re not fooling anypony, Piro.” Blair gave a short, derisive laugh. “Least of all me. I know you don’t give a buck about Horizon.”
Piro’s eyes narrowed. “That’s not true. And even if it was, taking a page or two out of my book might do you some good.”
Blair cocked his head as he backed away. “There’s a lot of ways I could interpret that.”
Piro meandered down the path. “Let me know which one you decide on.”
The two of them exited the gardens and entered the narrow stone corridors of the Royal Barracks, their hoofsteps muted by the threadbare carpet.
“I got the summons,” Piro said dryly. “What's our next, and possibly last mission?”
Blair looked straight ahead. “We’re being reassigned to Ponyville. We leave in the morning.”
He jerked his head to him. “Ponyville? What’s our objective?”
“To protect six mares from hostile threats.”
Piro furrowed his eyebrows. “Why would we—ah, so this is the game. Are these six mares well known, by chance?”
Blair nodded with a small grin. “You could say that. You could also say that the magic they used had some lingering effects.”
Piro’s face fell at these words. His ears flattened against his skull as he looked away and spoke in a soft, bitter voice. “I suppose you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?”
Blair heaved a loud, forced sigh as he beheld Piro’s abrupt change. He stopped and turned to him. “Enough. I—he did what he had to do, all right? There was no other way, and forbidden or not, that power came in handy. He said he was sorry, I’ve said I’m sorry, but you still keep brooding. Get over it. ”
He opened his mouth in retort, but then slammed it shut as he pursed his lips. “I think we’ll both agree,” he said through clenched teeth, “that that is another discussion we don’t want to have right now.”
You’re right, because like always, you won’t listen to a word I say. Why do I even bother? You want to sit in your dark corner and be bitter about something I didn’t even do? Fine. I don’t care anymore. Blair sighed. “You're right, we don't.”
“Tell me more about the assignment,” Piro demanded.
Blair now felt like he was walking next to a furnace. “We're going to pass ourselves off as civilians and monitor the Bearers from a distance. I'll be giving reports of our observations.”
“And how long will this assignment last?”
“Well, three months at most,” Blair said morbidly. “But more likely until all of the Bearers are ready.”
Piro looked at him in interest. His eyes were still flashing, but his face and voice had relaxed. “And we’ll know that… how?”
“We’ll be splitting ourselves up into pairs,” Blair said. “Each pair will have different things to watch for. Celestia said that the Bearer’s recovery will be in stages. There’s more to it than that, but there’s a lot to go over. I’ll explain it all in the briefing.”
Piro gave a stiff nod. “So what happens when all the Bearers are recovered?”
“We let Celestia know.”
“And she takes it from there.”
They stopped in front of a wooden door with a latch and handle made of iron. They could hear several ponies talking inside.
Piro’s gaze was devoted to his own hooves before looking up at Blair, his expression unsure. “What I don't get is why she hasn't told the Bearers about us. Does she think they're not going to help?”
Blair shook his head. “Other way around. She's worried that if we told them, they'd try to use the Elements right now. And if they do, they'll get hurt.”
Piro slowly shook his head. “Perfect! So they need time, which we now have a finite amount of.”
“It was always finite,” Blair said. “Borrowed, even.”
He gritted his teeth. “We’ve never even been sure the Elements will work at all. They might flat out destroy us for all we know. I’m getting sick of Celestia’s gambling, Blair. When does it end?”
“We’ve always known there wasn’t going to be an easy fix for this.”
Piro reached up to open the door. “That doesn’t mean I like having our fate being left up to chance.”
“There’s no other choice.” Blair looked up to the towers of Canterlot Castle, then up to the stars in the sky. “We have to trust the Princess.”
Piro hesitated with his hoof on the handle, his voice clipped and dark. “Then let’s hope that this time, our trust isn’t misplaced.”
He opened the door of the room to find ten other ponies of different colors, sizes and types all sitting around a long oak table. Their eyes turned to meet them as one. Piro went to the last remaining chair and sat down as Blair walked to the front of the room and cleared his throat.
“By order of Her Majesty…”