Luna’s Story 3: Long Live the Night
Part 6: Intermission
“Has everypony gotten their meal for this shift?” Twilight said, Spike dutifully following behind her. He nodded, checking the checklist. “And everypony has blankets, right?” The purple dragon nodded again, placing another check. “And all the foals have been moved to the deepest part of the caves right?”
“As far back as we could move them.” Spike said with all seriousness.
The entire population of Ponyville was less than four thousand, truth be told. It didn’t sound like much when it came to a town, but it was a lot of ponies to lead on a mass Exodus. Twilight Sparkle was only thankful that so many of them had heard that the princess had endowed her with the powers to lead them all to safety. Safety from what, they didn’t know. Not even Twilight knew. If she had access to her library, she would’ve looked up a scrying spell and tried to find out.
She and every other unicorn present had felt the ripple of magic, just minutes ago, though. It had come from the direction of Canterlot. It was like someone had tossed a massive stone in a pond, and they were feeling the ripples on the opposite shore. Foals that were magically sensitive whimpered and hid under their mothers, and Twilight had taken notice immediately. Her response was to move everypony deeper into the caves. If there was something so powerful in Canterlot that they could feel it miles and miles away, they needed to be as hidden as they possibly could be. No wonder Princess Luna didn’t want them to come help. If this was alicorn-grade magic or something, then mere mortal mares like herself would only get in the way. She only prayed Luna would meet with Celestia and they would take on whatever it was together. The sisters together would be neigh unstoppable.
“Everypony’s moved, Twilight. They’re takin’ up the deeper chambers now, and we got all the lights moved so everyone’s comfy.” Applejack came to report. Applebloom was on her back, looking as sweet and pathetic as a child could be. After settling Granny Smith safely near a cooking fire, the foal would not be parted from her older sister. “Has anypony else come?” the orange mare asked the purple one.
Twilight gave her a soft look. That was code for had anypony seen Big Macintosh. The answer was no. She shook her head a little, and the farmer deflated. Applebloom was not stupid, she knew what it meant too. She deflated sadly, looking at the ground.
Big Macintosh had gone to Canterlot for another produce meeting with the Princess. How and why he’d been chosen for such things when the stallion barely ever said a word was beyond them, but he seemed very happy whenever it was time to visit the big city. Three times a month, he would go and always return with empty apple baskets and a hoof-full of bits. Perhaps the princess and her royal kitchen staff were very picky about their apples, and wanted the best? But now, with some great threat looming over Canterlot, they feared for the stallion’s life. If Luna herself forbade the Elements of Harmony from facing down this foe, they couldn’t even begin to guess at what was happening.
“There you all are, lingering so close to the exit could spell trouble!” It was Rarity, Sweetie Belle walking alongside her. Sweetie Belle looked up at Applebloom hopefully, but the little filly shook her head. They both deflated, staring longingly at the cave’s entrance.
“I’ve got to keep guard in case anypony comes looking for shelter. Or to tell us its all clear and we can go home.” Twilight said with a sigh. “It’s okay if it’s just me.” Spike elbowed her with a frown. “Well, me an’ Spike.” She smiled apologetically.
Rainbow Dash suddenly came around the bend, Scootaloo trailing behind her. “Hey, any sign of Big Macintosh yet?” she trumpeted, flaring her wings up. All the grown mares winced and Applebloom suddenly burst into sobs, covering her face with her hooves. Rainbow Dash winced, and she was suddenly on the receiving end of half a dozen deadly glares. “W-what? What’d I say?”
“Rainbow Dash you… you ruffian.” Rarity huffed at her, cantering over and stroking Applebloom’s mane. “Can’t you see we’re all worried about him? His sisters especially!” Rainbow wilted a little, looking down at Scootaloo. She wasn’t related to the little filly who idolized her, but she could certainly understand how upset she might be if the little one went missing.
“S-sorry…” Rainbow Dash mumbled, wilting her wings down. A quartet of shadows suddenly cast themselves over the entrance of the cave, and every pony whirled around. Voices followed. Twilight’s horn lit up, and Applejack turned broadways to shield all three of the little fillies, who gathered under her undercarriage. Almost by instinct, the group of mares lined themselves up as the massive shadows grew and came closer. They crossed the threshold of the cave, revealing--!
“Big Macintosh!” They shouted as a group. It was, indeed, the missing red-furred stallion. Accompanied by three solar guards, he was walking on shaking hooves. His mane was sweaty and disheveled, and he was dressed in… in… Everypony stared.
Applejack’s hoof instantly came down to cover Applebloom’s eyes. Rarity’s hoof rushed to cover Sweetie Belle’s eyes. Rainbow Dash missed the cue and didn’t move. Scootaloo got her very first wingboner, right then and there. It was glorious. Rainbow Dash suddenly felt guilty and fought down a powerful laugh, face-hoofing at the little Pegasus filly. The grin plastered on her face was just adorable, in its own sick way. “Uhhhh—I think I’ll take them. C’mon Cutie Mark Crusaders! Let’s go check on Granny Smith!” Rainbow Dash scooted forward, using her muzzle and forehead to push the protesting fillies away. Applejack and Rarity made a very good wall to keep them from gawking at the now blushing stallion.
“Spike, go with them.” Twilight said. The baby dragon made to protest, but wilted under the unicorn’s glare. He sighed loudly, going after Rainbow and the Crusaders.
“What in the hay are you dressed at?!” Applejack exploded as soon as the fillies were gone. Big Mac stared at his hooves, scratching at the ground a little. “You look like you wandered outta one’a them colt-cuddlin’ bars in the city!” she walked in a slow circle around him, looking at all the straps and such all over him.
Rarity stepped forward, a little impressed with ensemble. Big Mac was wearing what basically amounted to stallion’s lingerie. Black and silver with a saddle. The criss-cross of straps across his barrel chest had a clip that was clearly meant for a leash or a chain of some kind. A twisted portion of metal told of a forceful extraction. “This is leather. Soft oiled leather and…” she leaned forward to inspect more closely. “Chaste virgin silver snaps? Expensive!” she said. Applejack glared at her and the white unicorn smiled nervously. “W-well, let’s get this thing off of him.”
Twilight turned to the trio of solar guards, bowing politely. “Thank you for bringing him to us. We were all really worried. Whatever’s going on in Canterlot must be awful.”
The solar guards chose their words carefully, looking at each other and then back to her. “We had to rescue him from a pretty risky location. Things may turn worse very soon. It’s best if you all stay deep in the caves for now.” Said the leader, saluting a little. “Until all this blows over, no citizen is safe.”
“What is going on in Canterlot?” Twilight asked a little desperately. “Are the princesses alright? Why has it been night for so long?”
“I’m sorry, we’re under orders not to answer.” The captain said in earnest. “We can’t spread panick among the masses by describing the threat. We’re sorry.” He did seem genuinely sorry, but Twilight was only frustrated.
“You want us to hide from some sort of massive threat in Canterlot without even telling us what it is?!” She shouted, upset and angry. All three guards nodded and she let out a feminine huff of frustration, stomping away.
Applejack appeared in her place, taking off her hat for a moment. “Thank ya’ll for bringing my brother back safe an’ sound. Ah can’t thank ya enough.” She smiled in earnest, and all three guards bowed.
“Doing our duty ma’am.” Said the Captain. “If you’ll excuse us, we have to get back to the front before it gets worse.” They turned and quickly exited the cave. Lifting their unicorn friend, they took to the skies rather than hoof it. Applejack stood there, cocking her head. The front? Like a battle? What the hay was going on in Canterlot.
Turning, Applejack went back to Big Macintosh only to find Rarity working in a very sensitive area with a pair of heavy fabric scissors. How she’d just conjured them up, nopony would ever know. But, she was coaxing Big Mac to stand very still if he didn’t want to lose anything important. The stallion gulped nervously, and after a few careful incisions they pulled the entire outfit off of him. Big Mac smiled, stretching back and forth. The whole silly thing had been so constraining. He flinched, though, when he found his elder sister Applejack leaning to stare at him closely. “You got some ‘splainin’ to do, Big Mac.” She said while the others gathered around. “What were you doin’ dressed like that, huh? Are you some prostitute in the city?!” she demanded, jabbing his chest. “Shamin’ our family for the extra bits?!” she was already going off the deep end.
“Nnope!” he said, scowling at her and lifting a hoof.
The orange mare suddenly threw her arms around her brother's neck, trying very hard not to cry. Every hour he'd been missing in Canterlot had been torturous on the whole Apple family. His scent was still there, the comforting smell of apple sugar and stallion sweat. She shuddered a little, thanking Celestia, Luna, Faust, and anypony else up there for looking out for her big brother. His massive leg came up to hook around her neck, and he embraced her back. "Ah'm so glad you're back." Applejack said, shuddering again. "Ah was afraid somethin' terrible had happened to you..."
"Eeyup." the stallion mumbled, relief flooding through him now that he was truly reunited with his family.
Rarity was turning the outfit over and over. “Odd.” She mumbled. “There’s no maker’s mark on this anywhere.” The unicorn zapped it with a quick spell. The leather and silver glowed, then went back to normal. “Not even a hidden one.” She said with a furrowed brow. “This can’t possibly be home made. It’s too professionally done!” Twilight looked over at the unicorn with questions in her eyes. “Er-well, not that I deal in lingerie, mind you, it’s just…” she held up the uniform for all to see. “If Big Macintosh had bought this somewhere, it would have a maker’s mark on it. A tag. A little logo. How to wash instructions. Something! But its blank.” She tossed it on the ground at last, puzzled.
“Eeyup.” Big Mac agreed, bobbing his head.
“So you weren’t out sellin’ yourself?” Applejack asked, only half-serious now, pulling away from him at last.
“Nnope.” He shook his head, smiling to reassure her.
“Big Mac, I know you don’t like to talk much, but you’ve gotta tell us.” Twilight actually reared up to use the stallion’s massive chest and make herself taller. She looked into his eyes with deepest concern. “What’s going on in Canterlot? What’re we hiding from?” Right away, she was trying to break the ‘eeyup/nnope’ rule. Maybe, just this once? The red stallion lowered his head glumly, saying nothing. Twilight sighed after a long few moments of silence.
Applejack eyed the strange leather outfit and saddle. She knew her brother could talk when he really, really wanted to. He wasn’t mute or deaf or anything. Furrowing her brow, she snatched up the stallion’s strange and embarrassing getup that Rarity had cut off of him. He eyed her nervously. “I ain’t above stickin’ this back on you, Big Brother.” She said lowly, approaching him with it. Big Macintosh was startled, slowly backing up until his butt hit the wall. Applejack’s shadow fell over him. “How many stitches you reckon it would take to repair it and get it back on him, Rarity?” she said over her shoulder.
The white unicorn caught on. “With the little cuts I made?” Rarity said with a haughty smile and a toss of her perfect mane. “Less than ten, I assure you.” The stallion’s face turned scarlet, and he tried backing up further even though he was already against the wall. His hooves scuffed the ground over and over, eyes terrified. Not that! Anything but that! He’d just gotten it off of himself!
“Big Mac?” Twilight said as the three mares closed in on him. “Sure you don’t feel like talking?” she said gently. The game was mean, very mean, but they had to know. The purple mare’s curiosity drove her. Big Macintosh gulped, sweating beads down his temples.
“Ah’ll let Rarity parade you through the caves in front’a everypony like she’s makin’ a fashion statement with you.” Applejack threatened. She was being a little cruel, but it had to be done. They couldn’t just be left in the dark. Her brother would forgive her eventually.
“What’s everypony so afraid of, Big Mac?” Twilight pressed as the stallion looked back and forth between them. “What’re we hiding from?” she repeated. Twilight lit her horn and took the outfit from Applejack, lifting it nice and close so he could see it properly.
The stallion’s will broke. “Suh-LESS-tia!” he suddenly belted, falling to his belly and covering his head with his hooves. “Dun put that thing on me! Suh-LESS-tia’s become a monster!” Two short sentences conjured themselves out of the normally silent stallion’s throat. Twilight’s jaw dropped, and the bizarre outfit hit the ground in a little heap. There was a deafening silence. Big Mac quickly got to his hooves and rather foalishly scampered away, deeper into the caves.
Twilight, Rarity, and Applejack looked at each other. “Princess Celestia?” Applejack whispered.
“Become a monster?” Rarity echoed.
“No…” Twilight whispered, sitting hard on her haunches. Her eyes filled with tears. She began to shake visibly. Turning quickly, she made for the exit. If she could get a high enough view she could teleport straight to Canterlot! Applejack panicked and tackled her, hard.The purple mare started screaming. “Let me go! Let me GO!” she shouted. “The Princess needs me! If something’s turned her into a monster she needs my help! Let me go!” she writhed and screamed like a foal throwing a tantrum. Flipping onto her back, she ignited her horn to knock Applejack off of her. Rarity’s horn lit just in time and deflected the spell. It ricocheted into the ceiling, blasting a few rocks free.
“Sorry, Twi!” Applejack grunted working her over until she was in a full pony nelson. Then, she simply sat on her. Entangled, the purple unicorn couldn’t escape. It didn’t keep her from shouting and squirming, though. “Princess Luna told us to look after everypony while she handled it, and she meant it!”
“Let! Me! Go!” Twilight fought and squirmed, but there was no escaping an Apple family full pony nelson. Especially with a mare that was mostly muscle laying down on her. A scholar was powerful in mind, not in body. She moaned, then broke down crying.
“Twilight, that’s no way for a lady to act.” Rarity came around to stroke her face. Twilight looked up at her with soft eyes, whimpering like a little filly. The Princess needed her, the eyes said. Surely her most faithful student could restore her back to normal? She could think of something! She could! “Applejack is right. If Princess Luna told us to flee and take care of everyone in Ponyville, then she did it for a reason.” The unicorn mare stroked her friend’s mane comfortingly. Twilight whimpered, her lip quivering. But… but the Princess… “If we went charging in there and got hurt or something, do you think either of the Princesses would be able to forgive themselves?” Twilight looked at the ground, knowing she was right. Rarity pulled a hoofkerchief, putting it on her muzzle. “Blow.” She said tenderly. Twilight did so, and she put it away again.
“I’m sorry.” Twilight croaked, turning her head to look at Applejack. “I won’t run, I promise.”
“S’alright, sugarcube.” Applejack said, smiling gently. “I know you care the world for Princess Celestia. I’d-uh worried more if you didn’t freak out a little bit.” She smiled apologetically. Slowly, the earth pony got off of her friend.
“We can’t tell anypony. No wonder Princess Luna kept it from me.” Twilight rose to her hooves, then sagged a little. “I just wish I could do something… anything…” she said glumly.
“Why, we are, darling!” Rarity chuckled, trying to cheer her up. “We’re protecting an entire town’s worth of ponies right now!” She smiled grandly, and Twilight smiled a little bit too. “C’mon, we should check on the others. I think I left Pinkie Pie with a group of senior citizens.” The white unicorn winced.
Suddenly, thunder without sound. As though the sky itself had shuddered. Applejack kept walking, but Rarity and Twilight Sparkle stopped. The farmer pony turned. “What?” she asked. Both unicorns were staring at the ceiling in awe, unmoving. “Hello?” she said, stamping a hoof a little. She looked where they were looking, but saw nothing.
“You feel that?” Rarity asked in a whisper.
“Yeah.” Twilight Sparkle said, her eyes wide with fear.
“Hello?! Somepony keep me in the loop!” Applejack said. “Us Earth ponies gotta be filled in now and then!” she said, her temper rising a little in her frustration. “What’re y’all sensing?”
“Solar magic.” Twilight whispered, shivering as the roll of silent thunder made its way past their cave and kept going. From deeper within the tunnels, she could suddenly hear the whimpering of unicorn foals and the upset murmuring of the adults. Even they could feel it, though Twilight doubted anypony in the cave other than herself and Rarity could identify solar magic by feeling it thus. They’d never been around the Princess of the sun like they had.
“Solar magic?” Applejack cocked her head. “You mean-- Celestia?”
“Yeah.” Twilight said, suddenly very glad she’d not left to go see her Princess. “C’mon, let’s go check on the others like Rarity said. I don’t even wanna be near the entrance anymore.” The purple unicorn gulped a little. Applejack had never seen her look so rattled. She tried to meet Rarity’s eyes, but the expression was the same. Something the unicorns felt had set them on edge. The Earth pony was suddenly glad she didn’t know any of that magic stuff.
End of Part 6