"... That's... nice of you, Spike," Rainbow Dash said, "but I really wanna write this letter myself."
"Aww, come on!" The purple dragon rolled his eyes, showing the scroll to Dash as she landed beside him. "I-I wrote the whole thing already!"
The rainbow-maned pegasus smiled, a mischievous little idea forming in her head. "Okay, let's hear it."
After clearing his throat, Spike began to read from the letter. "Dear Princess Celes-."
"LOOK OUT!" Dash shouted, a look of sheer terror on her face as she pointed behind him. "It's a real ghost!"
The little dragon turned and screamed, running for the hills with Pinkie Pie.
Dash clutched at her gut and laughed—it might not have been a great prank, but it felt good to pull one after everything she'd gone through this week. She'd been slacking on that front. On many fronts, actually. The whole week had seen nothing but trouble around Ponyville, and between her hero antics and brooding over the Mysterious Mare Do Well, she'd been making less and less of an effort to keep up on everything else.
As she continued to laugh, a fresh scroll and feathered pen floated up beside her, courtesy of her friend Twilight.
She smiled and gave a knowing wink to her friends, grabbing the quill in her mouth. "Right", she muffled, then brought the quill to the paper. This was going to be easy. How could she have not learned her lesson? As she stared at the paper she gritted her teeth, first in determination, then in frustration. The words just wouldn't come to her. She'd heard her friends well enough, and it's not like she didn't remember agreeing with them...
"Is somethin' wrong, Rainbow?"
Rainbow Dash turned her attention to the blond earth pony, Applejack. "No, nothing's wrong. Just... give me a bit, okay?" She turned back to the paper, once again attempting to write something. Anything! Even one word! But nothing came to her, and her frustration grew into anger. Why couldn't she come up with something?! She lashed out at the paper, driving the quill straight through it. Only after her friends' shock became apparent to her did she snap out of it. She looked at them all sheepishly. "Heh, sorry about that. It's kinda hard to write when you're flying in the air like this. Why don't I just take the letter home and write it there?"
Her friends stared silently at her, various levels of confusion clear on their faces. Finally, Twilight spoke up. "It's okay," the purple unicorn started, "just remember to bring it to Spike when you're done."
"Got it!" Dash exclaimed, then jetted off into the sky, scroll and quill in her mouth
Fluttershy turned her head to the rest of her friends. "Do you think she's okay?"
The purple mare smiled. "She's probably just going to go take a nap. Let's go get Pinkie Pie. We're going to need to explain this whole Mare Do Well business to the mayor soon."
Rainbow Dash pounded on the writing desk in the corner of her bedroom. "Why can't I do this?!" The thing about not being able to write while flying was just an excuse—Twilight's magic made it easy enough to write without issue. What she'd really wanted to do was go somewhere to be alone, so she could think without having her friends worry about her. She stared at the paper sitting before her, reading what little she'd gotten down out loud. "Dear Princess Celestia, My friends... five words down. Come on Dash, you can do this!" She pressed her quill to the paper once again.
Nothing came to her. Why couldn't she do this? It wasn't as if-she'd heard them say it! She heard herself say it! The entire reason her friends went through with that Mare Do Well scheme was to teach her this lesson! So why couldn't she write it?! "It's okay, Dash..." she muffled, barely restraining her anger, "Just write it one word at a time. You can do this. It's not like you forgot it or anything..."
Once again she brought the quill to the paper lying before her. She could do this. So what if her friends had laughed at her? So what if they'd been avoiding her the rest of the week? Everything they'd done was to teach her this lesson. Everything. For. This. LESSON! Dash began to write furiously, stopping almost as soon as she began. Eight words now.
"Dear Princess Celestia, My friends are all-."
The rainbow-maned pegasus went pale. She crumpled up the paper, leaving it lie on the desk in a heap, then slid away, looking around her garbage dump of a bedroom. As she spotted the window, she unlatched it, letting the midday breeze sweep in. "I need to clear my head," she mumbled. "Maybe getting a head start on next week's weather will help." She flew from the cloud house, heading straight for Ponyville's Town Hall.
Fluttershy smiled nervously as she wandered the streets of Ponyville, trying not to make eye contact with anypony. Everyone she ran into had been greeting her, giving her a nudge here or there, winking, or worst, smiling knowingly. It was more than a little upsetting—they'd told the Mayor that the identity of the Mare Do Well was supposed to be a secret, but somehow it seemed like everypony in Ponyville was in the know now. She could only imagine what her friends were going through right now.
As she neared her destination, Ponyville's Town Hall, she spied massive crowds gathering around Sugarcube Corner. Far in the distance she could see Carousel Boutique, and there too was a crowd. "Oh, my!" She exclaimed, rushing to the crowd. Just outside of Sugar Cube Corner was a series of tables, arranged in a half-circle. Manning the table was none other than Pinkie Pie, wearing her own Mare Do Well costume with the cowl down.
"Pinkie Pie, what's going on?" she cried out, but her voice was lost in the crowd of noise before her. Still, it seemed like her friend noticed her, as the next thing she did was wave to her. The yellow pegasus flew up, fluttering over the crowd to reach her friend. "Pinkie Pie, why is this crowd here?"
The pink pony smiled enthusiastically. "Well, the mayor went and told everypony who Mare Do Well was, and all these ponies came here to show their appreciation for saving the town last week! I was kinda nervous at first, but then I realized I could help Mr. and Mrs. Cake sell all kinds of sweets and treats if it was Mare Do Well at the counter!"
Fluttershy cocked her head to the side, a worried expression growing on her face. "But... um... okay. Well, I hope everything goes well for you. Oh, and do you know what's going on at Carousel Boutique?"
Her friend nodded. "Same thing, really. Rarity's been selling Mare Do Well souvenirs to everypony in town! Even Applejack's been getting in on this, I think."
Fluttershy smiled nervously. "That's... nice. I need to head to town hall in a bit, there's somepony I need to talk to."
The pink pony's eyes lit up, more so than usual. She asked, "Tell the mayor I said 'hi' and 'thank you', okay?"
Fluttershy nodded, though she intended to do no such thing. With that she flew off, racing to the town hall. This wasn't how things were supposed to go. They were supposed to drop the Mare Do Well act and let her fade away, but all of her friends were using her fame around Ponyville now for their own profit. Well, except Twilight and Rainbow Dash, but the former was a librarian and the latter was Ponyville's weather captain, so it's not like either of them could sell anything...
Fluttershy shook her head. Her friends weren't doing anything wrong, they were just making the best of things and all of this would die down soon enough. The only pony to blame for any of this was whoever told everyone the identity of Mare Do Well. And other than her closest friends, only one pony knew their secret.
As she drew near the big double doors leading into the town hall, she saw a pair of carpenters, one an earth pony and the other a pegasus, repeatedly opening and closing them. "Good afternoon", Fluttershy started, "what seems to be trouble here?"
The pegasus looked down at her and groaned. "That loser friend of yours went and blew the doors to Town Hall clean off! Why don't you do something to keep her in line?"
The pink-maned mare cocked her head to the side, wondering just who they could be talking about. "Well, have you fixed the door yet?"
"'Course we did!" The earth pony shouted. "Just testin' the hinges to see if it won't fall off. Go on in."
As she entered the mayor's office, Fluttershy was quick to note that the mayor's desk had been upturned and papers had been scattered all around the office, as if a tornado had whipped through the room without warning. Standing next to the upturned desk was the mayor, diligently filling out paperwork. "Um, mayor?"
The gray-maned earth pony looked up and smiled at her. "Well if it isn't Mare Do Well! Oh, sorry, I mean Fluttershy. What can I do for you?"
The pink-maned pegasus looked at the ground sheepishly. "I'm sorry for troubling you, miss mayor, but... I wanted to, um, ask you a question or two."
"Well hurry up", the mayor said, "I have to finish with this paperwork and get to cleaning this room up soon."
"Well," the pegasus started, "I'd like to ask you how many people you told about Mare Do Well. I mean, it was supposed to be our secret, and-"
The mayor smiled. "You're still worried about that? You have my word that I would never tell a soul about that." The mayor turned to get back to her paperwork, but stopped mid-turn, one hoof still in the air. "Oh no. Oh no no no..."
"What's wrong?" Fluttershy asked, flying over to the mayor. Her face had turned ghastly, as if a terrified realization had struck her.
Frantically the mayor paced the room, brushing aside loose papers, searching for something. "That photo I had you girls take with me—it went missing earlier. One of the ponies who'd come into my office this morning must have stolen it! That's... oh dear... why did you come to ask me that question, again?"
"Well," Fluttershy started, with more than a hint of annoyance in her tone, "I haven't been able to go anywhere this afternoon without bumping into somepony wanting my autograph, or cheering for me, or saying I'm their hero, and my friends are out there in their costumes, using Mare Do Well to sell their goods to crowds of dozens of ponies."
The mayor sighed and shook her head. "I'm so sorry, Fluttershy. I guess Mare Do Well won't be fading into obscurity anytime soon. Maybe if things are uneventful around here for the next month or so..."
Fluttershy smiled. "It's okay, miss mayor. The girls and I should be able to handle this." She drew in closer, patting the distraught mare on the shoulder.
The mayor lifted her head and smiled. "Well, thank you, dear. So what other questions do you have for me?"
"Oh! Um..." Fluttershy began, moving away from the mayor, "I was wondering if you could tell me what happened to your office and the front door."
"Oh," the mayor said, her mood souring almost immediately, "that was the fine work of our ex-weather captain."
The yellow pegasus's eyes widened. "You mean..."
"I fired her. Should have done so a long time ago, but she was so good at keeping the weather on track and so popular around town that my hands were tied. After last week, though? She was never on the job and became... well, a jerk, so I hired Ditzy Doo and Raindrops in her place. I doubt anypony would raise a fuss about it now either. I mean, have you seen-"
Fluttershy fled the office, racing out of the building and into the skies. tears streamed from her eyes as she veered towards the cloud houses above Ponyville. "This was all a mistake!" She cried out, though nopony had heard her.
Fluttershy's legs sank into the cloudy surface beneath her as she landed outside Rainbow Dash's home. The manorly cloud house sitting before her was a mess—Dash had been neglecting to clean up ever since she saved that filly from a well more than a week ago. The pink-maned mare's legs felt practically leaden as she trotted to the front door. There was no way Dash could possibly be feeling well after all this had happened to her, and the meek pony dreaded trying to confront her, even if it was to apologize and comfort her in her time of need.
Her hoof rattled against the door, first gently, then frantically. "Rainbow Dash? Rainbow Dash!" She cried out. But no response came from beyond the door, and Fluttershy began to grow even more worried. She carefully tried to open the door with her front hooves, only to find it was locked.
"Dash! Please open the door! Please!" She pleaded, but once again there was no response. She looked frantically about, spying the open window above her—the window separating the outside world from the blue mare's bedroom. Without a moment to lose the pink-maned pegasus flew up, nearly crashing into the frame as she rounded the corner, landing in the bedroom with a thud. "Rainbow Dash!" She cried, but by now it was beginning to dawn on her that her friend wasn't at home. Searching for some answer to the whereabouts of her friend, she spied the crumpled letter lying on the writing desk in the corner. "She must've been having a hard time writing that letter after all... oh, Rainbow Dash..." She hurried over to the desk, carefully smoothing out the paper with her hooves so she could read it.
"Dear Princess Celestia, My friends are all-."
Fluttershy gasped, tears streaming down from her eyes. "She thinks we're jerks?!"
Twilight groaned as she slammed the door to Sugarcube Corner shut. "I've had it up to here with these crowds! Why can't anypony just let me go shopping in peace?!" From across the room, she heard the sound of Mrs. Cake clearing her throat.
"Good morning, dearie! I take it you're not feeling well?"
The purple unicorn sighed and lowered her head. "I haven't been able to sleep well in days. It seems like everywhere I go in Ponyville, there's a crowd following me asking for autographs, telling me to pose for them, wanting me to get their cats out of trees and... eugh! I'm sick of it!"
"Dearie", the older mare started, "please try to keep it down. Pinkie Pie is still asleep in her room. She just hasn't been the same since Dash ran away."
Twilight nodded. She didn't understand it—there was no way her plan could have gone wrong. But it did, and when it came time to write her letter, Dash fled Ponyville for parts unknown instead. That was nearly a week ago, and it seemed like she might never return. More than anything, Twilight wanted to know just what had gone wrong, but all she had to go on was a single harsh sentence.
"How has she been fairing? Pinkie, I mean."
Mrs. Cake smiled. "She's recovering well enough. Yesterday she came down before noon and helped with baking some cakes! They... didn't turn out well, but that's still progress, right?"
Twilight tried to smile, but couldn't find the strength to do so. Pinkie and Fluttershy had taken their friend's departure the hardest—the former lost her sunny and bubbly demeanor entirely and the latter had locked herself away in her cottage.
The older mare glanced up the stairs, then back down to her customer. "So, what are you here for?"
"Hm? Oh!" Twilight exclaimed. "The usual. Two muffins to go, please." She dug around in her bags, removing a few bits for the older mare. "I'm sure Spike will love it."
Mrs. Cake nodded, then raised an eyebrow. "Where is your little dragon friend, anyways?"
Twilight looked to her side, her reddened, bloodshot eyes widening in terror. "Oh no, he must have gotten caught in the crowd! Hold on Spike, I'm coming!" The purple mare raced to the front door, about to yank it open with her magic, when it swung open on its own. Clawing his way in, carrying a scroll in one hand, was none other than her faithful companion. "Thank Celestia you're safe, Spike! Are you okay?"
The dragon put a claw up to quiet her as he tried to catch his breath. "Twi... you've... gotta... read this! It's from Princess Luna!"
The unicorn took the scroll away from her assistant, then began to read over it. "To my sister's student, As you may already know, your friend Rainbow Dash has long since left her home in Ponyville. Fear not for her safety, for she came straight to Canterlot and has been staying with myself and my sister for the past few days. She should be returning to you shortly-"
Twilight stopped, unable to read any further as her vision blurred. She breathed a sigh of relief, and turned to Mrs. Cake, a smile forming on her face for the first time today. "On second thought, we'll be eating those muffins here, Mrs. Cake. Pinkie Pie really needs to hear this."
The older mare nodded. "We'll go check on her as soon as I get your treats." With that the blue earth pony vanished into the kitchen, returning shortly with a pair of chocolate chip muffins.
"That was fast," Twilight said as she raised an eyebrow.
Mrs. Cake chuckled, setting the tray on the counter. "Would you like me to go wake her up?"
The unicorn shook her head. "No thanks, I wouldn't want to trouble you with that when there might be a customer waiting. I'll go get her myself." With that Twilight trotted upstairs, leaving her assistant and Mrs. Cake behind. The last things she heard from below were Spike's stomach grumbling, and the voice of Mrs. Cake saying "They're already paid for, so dig in."
Twilight cracked open the bedroom door, poking her head inside. Lying in the bed across the room was Pinkie Pie. Her chin lied against the pillow, her curly mane flopping down on all sides of her head.
As Twilight neared, she rose up, looking at her friend with sore, but hopeful eyes. "Good morning, Twilight."
The unicorn's smile grew as she came face to face with the pink pony. "Good morning, Pinkie. I want you to read this."
"Thank ya kindleh, come again real soon!" Applejack smiled her best smile as the turquoise unicorn with the lyre cutie mark left her stall, carrying a sack full of apples. Two weeks had passed since the Mare Do Well incident, with the costumed hero having long since faded from memory. Every now and then somepony might recognize her as one of the five who'd taken on the cowl, but gone were the crowds of adoring fans, and they took their business with them. While she was a bit miffed that sales had dropped so much so quickly, if it meant nopony would be chasing her down the streets demanding autographs and pictures, she would just have to deal with it.
As she sat at her cart, waiting patiently for her next customer, an orange-maned earth pony moseyed on over to her, with a look on her face that said 'help me, please'. She'd seen and fallen for that look more often than she could count, and with a belabored sigh she knew she wouldn't be able to turn it away this time, either. Golden Harvest—Carrot to her friends—was her next door neighbor, and she knew well enough that all the business Mare Do Well had drummed up for Sweet Apple Acres came at the expense of every other farmer in Ponyville.
"Applejack", the orange-maned mare began, "I was wondering-"
Applejack cut her off with a knowing smile. "Something important came up?"
The mare nodded.
"Real important? An' ya need somepony ta watch yer stall fer ya?"
Again, she nodded.
"Git goin', then. Ah'd be more'n happy ta help ya out, Carrot."
As the young mare cantered off, Applejack pushed the carrot cart over side by side to her own apples. "Guess ah'm sellin' carrots today." She looked down at the little orange stalks and smiled. "Ah well. Fresh apples and carrots, only two bits apiece!"
As the minutes turned to hours, the earth pony farmer found business to be slower than usual. "Maybe ah oughta give the sales pitch another go." She looked around the makeshift marketplace, looking for somepony looking to buy some produce. A little way's away sat a blond unicorn filly and a young mare, probably her mother or sister, staring up into the sky. "Good afternoon, ma'am!" The earth pony beamed an inviting grin. "May I interest you in some of Sweet Apple Acres' finest selection... ma'am?" The unicorns sat still, their eyes still locked on the sky. "What's so amazin' up there, anyhow?" She craned her neck back, looking up at the cloudy sky to see what was going on.
Up in the sky the earth pony spied three pegasi—two of them the oddball mares who joined the weather team recently, the third a strange costumed pony with flowing white hair. The three were flying aggressively, the blond and teal-haired weathermares struggling to evade their pursuer. Something had to give, though, and before long the costumed pegasus collided with the other two, sending them hurtling towards the ground.
Applejack shouted out loud, "somepony help them!", and soon afterwords pegasi began to fly from out of the streets, ready to catch the falling duo. As the falling pair came into view, she finally got a better look at them. The two weathermares, Ditzy Doo and Raindrops, had taken a serious beating from the encounter. The earth pony turned to glare at the costumed pegasus, then gasped in horror. The attacker was dive bombing straight to her apple cart!
The blond earth pony rushed over to the two carts, pressing her hind-legs firmly against the wooden frame. She pushed with all her might, shoving the two carts away from the soon to be impact site. As she finished and fell to her gut, she turned her head skyward in triumph.
With a bright magical aura now surrounding her, the villainous pegasus had veered off, changing her course. "What in the hay? Oh no." Applejack leaped up and spun around just in time to see a bright flash as the mysterious villain crashed into her apple cart, utterly demolishing it. The earth pony winced, her eyes nearly sealing themselves shut to protect her from the white hot explosion. Her ears still worked quite well, however, and from within the diminish light came a booming voice.
"Hear me, citizens of Ponyville! Your days of frolicking without a care in the world are over, for today you and your kin shall face the wrath of the greatest pony to have ever lived!"
As the light fully faded, Applejack opened her eyes to get a good look at her assailant. The only discernible natural features of the pegasus before the earth pony were her stark white mane and tail, along with her light blue ears and snout. Her body was obscured in a deep blue and gold uniform, with a large 'U' resting on her chest, the ends of it touching the bases of her shoulders. Her cowl was similarly colored, and her eyes glowed an eerie white through the slits provided. There was one other feature of her costume that Applejack couldn't help but fixate on—a gold-colored metal band around her forehead, with a spiral-engraved spike protruding from the point at the center.
The pegasus turned her attention to Applejack and frowned. "You, peasant! kneel before Ultramare, or-."
"Excuse me?" Applejack snorted. "Ya got some nerve, feather brain. What the hay were you thinkin', wreckin' mah stall like that? An' what's the big idea, beatin' on the weather team? We need-."
"Silence!" The pegasus bellowed, lowering her head to point the tip of the horn at her. "I said kneel!"
Before Applejack could even react, a blast of white hot light emerged from the horn, blowing right into her and sending her reeling. She cried out in pain as she collided with the wall behind her. She tried to move, but the costumed mare was on her near-instantly, pinning her to the ground.
"Tell me, earth pony," Ultramare asked, "what is the weather supposed to be like tonight?"
The earth pony looked at her assailant in the eye, though it pained her to do so. "... just a little rain, but since ya went an' hurt those two pegasi there's nopony ta handle it right now."
Ultramare snickered, and Applejack couldn't help but notice that for the faintest of moments, she'd lost the booming power in her voice. She could swear she'd heard that voice before. "A little rain, hm? If the mayor wants it to rain today", the white-maned pegasus roared, "then I'd hate to disappoint her!"
Whatever good mood Rainbow Dash had been in before arriving in Ponyville, it had all been soured when she realized how bad the storm hanging above it was. Rain seemed to pour endlessly from within the thick, massive black clouds hanging overhead. Lightning burst relentlessly from within, as if some unseen entity were forcing it out. The dirt roads of Ponyville had turned to mud, and it wouldn't be long before flooding would happen. The last thing anypony needed was for this situation to get any uglier. She scanned the town quickly, looking for signs of anypony—it seemed that the only ones still outdoors were the pegasi, all of whom were trying their hardest to calm the storm overhead. Not one of them could even pierce their way through the storm clouds—whatever magic had conjured them seemed to prevent the winged ponies from touching it without being repelled.
Finally, the rainbow-maned mare spotted some ponies on the ground—an earth pony standing by the muddied wreckage of some kind of food stand, and not far from her were a group of field medics tending to and carrying off a pair of wounded pegasi. Even from this far away, she recognized those distinctive blond and blue-haired mares to be Ditzy Doo and Raindrops, the two ponies who'd taken her job two weeks ago. And the earth pony was none other than-
"Applejack!" Dash shouted at the top of her lungs. Almost immediately afterwards she coughed—she probably wasn't feeling too well, she thought, and had gotten a sore throat. Still, she succeeded in grabbing her earth pony friend's attention.
"Rainbow Dash?!" The blond mare called up from the ground, rushing to meet Dash as she landed a short distance away.
"Hey Applejack, long time no ACK!" Dash cried out as her friend wrapped her front hooves around her, nearly tackling her to the ground.
"Rainbow, yer okay! All of us were worried sick about ya an'... what happened ta yer mane? Looks like somepony took hedge clippers ta it!"
The rainbow-maned pegasus chuckled. "It's good to see you too, AJ. It's just a new haircut, that's all." She paused, trying to find the right words to say. "Thanks for greeting me. After everything that went down two weeks ago..."
The blond mare opened her mouth to speak, but before she could utter more than a word, a blue hoof pressed itself against her open mouth and shook her head. "Never mind, we'll talk about this later. Right now I need you to tell me what happened here."
Applejack nodded, and as Dash pulled her hoof away, began to speak. "Not more'n an hour ago, this freaky costumed pegasus beat the daylights outta Ditzy and Raindrops over there." She motioned to the two mares and the field team, Nurse Redheart included, treating them. "Then she came down from the sky an' blew up mah apple cart, like she'd been aimin' fer it all along. She beat me inta that wall over yonder, then flew back inta the sky an' summoned that storm up."
Dash looked up at the sky. "You said she's a pegasus, right? Pegasi can't do magic."
"Well", her friend started, "we both know that fer sure, but that mare had some kinda... magic helmet or somethin'."
The blue pegasus raised an eyebrow. "Magic... helmet?"
Her friend nodded. "Yep. Well, more a' headband or somethin'. Had a horn right on the end."
Dash cocked her head to the side, then smiled. "Well, whatever. I'll have those skies clear before you even know it."
Applejack gave her that look—that look she always used when she'd done something wrong. "Sugarcube, nearly everypony who can fly in Ponyville is up there, tryin' their hardest ta clear the sky. Heck, the only ones ah ain't seen flyin' away up there were the weathermares an' Fluttershy. Ah know yer good an' all, but-"
Again Dash's hoof found itself covering her friend's mouth. "Applejack, remind me who the weather team captain for Winter Wrap Up is every year, and who held the position of weather patrol leader for... how long have I lived in Ponyville, again?"
"Dash..." The blond mare muffled from beneath the hoof, obviously annoyed by what her friend had just said.
"Would you put some flower arranging earth pony in charge of bucking all the trees down at Sweet Apple Acres? Trust me, they didn't put me in charge because I talked myself up like an idiot or anything." The blond mare still seemed skeptical, but at this point Dash felt it wasn't worth wasting anymore time to reassure her. "When I get back, you're going to need to tell me what's going on with my friends, okay?" With that she took to the skies, leaving Applejack behind her.
"Oh great", a lavender pony with long blond hair groaned as Dash came up beside her, "It's Rainbow Dash. Have a nice vacation, Dash?"
She brushed the greeting off, focusing on the swirling black mass above them and the torrent of water pouring from within. "Cloudkicker", Dash said, assuming an authoritative tone, "I need Thunder Cracker and Dizzy Twister to cover me. I'm going in, and if things get too rough I'll need them to catch me on the way out."
The lavender pegasus's eyes widened. "Dash, you can't be serious! These clouds are practically impenetrable!"
The rainbow-maned pegasus grinned. "You're not trying hard enough! Watch me." She jammed her front hooves into the clouds. Sure enough, she could feel it—some unseen force within the storm was trying to shove her right back out. But judging from the gasps of the nearby pegasi, she suspected this was already further than any of them had gotten. "You think this is impressive? Just watch!" Dash rapidly began to flap her wings, pushing deeper and deeper into the storm. The resistance and tension continued to grow, and the rainbow-maned pegasus knew that something was going to give very soon.
All around her the pegasi stared in awe and shock. Dash had not only gotten further into the storm than any of them, but by the look of things she was about to break right through the surface. The rain ceased to flow from the area surrounding her, replaced by white streaks of electrical current.
Dash heard Cloudkicker shout something behind her, but couldn't make it out over the sparks licking at her ears. The power keeping the storm alive was familiar to her—she'd dealt with lightning hundreds of times in the past, though never to this extent. Whoever was responsible for this must have brought the lightning to life, she mused. And if it's the lightning keeping the storm going, then there's only one thing she could do to stop it.
"CLOUDKICKER!" Dash shouted, though she could barely even hear herself. "I NEED YOU TO TAKE SOME PEGASI UP AROUND THE STORM AND GIVE IT A GOOD KICK TOWARDS ME!" She heard the lavender pegasus shout something back. "JUST-" Dash sighed in disgust. She mustered up the strength in her gut, took a deep breath, and shouted at the height of her voice. "Just do it already!"
The lavender pegasus cocked her head to the side, then flew away with half a dozen other pegasi.
All Dash needed to do now was push a little further in, then hold her position. But the magic binding the storm pushed back harder than ever, and for a moment she found herself losing ground. "No. No no no, I am not... no!" With a surge of adrenaline, the mare's wings doubled their pace. Even as her body burned from the work and sparks from the storm nicked and burned her hooves and face, Rainbow Dash forced her way deeper into the black fluffy mass. She grinned, pleased with herself. Any second now, the other pegasi would give the storm a kick. Lightning would burst from within, funneled down the spot Dash cleared out. She looked down at the town below, confident that nopony would be harm when the storm finally discharged. An odd sensation flowed through her. Her mane and tail, cut short during her time spent in Canterlot, stood on end. At that moment, a dreadful thought occurred to her.
Dash flew from within the hole she'd pushed just in time to avoid a massive white bolt of lightning. It sheared its way through the sky, striking the center of Ponyville and leveling the fountain marking it as such, leaving nothing more than a smoldering crater.
Two pegasi, one icy with a blue mane and the other sandy with pink waves, flanked Dash. Their hooves pressed tightly against her as they descended, keeping the exhausted mare from plummeting to the ground.
"Thanks", she said, smiling at her two rescuers.
The icy white pegasus smiled back. "Dizzy Twister and I couldn't just float around and let you get hit by that thing, right?"
The pink-maned pegasus nodded vigorously in agreement. "Right! We can't let the weather captain get hurt by a big nasty lightning bolt!"
Dash lowered her head and closed her eyes. "You guys know I lost that job two weeks ago, right?"
The mares nodded. "Just 'cause Cloudkicker got promoted," the wavy-maned pegasus said cheerily as she beamed a big smile, "doesn't mean you're not-."
Dash rolled her eyes as she cut Dizzy off. "That's exactly what it means." She looked up at the clouds. Lightning still popped out from the bottom surface every few seconds, but, with the living lightning dealt with, there was nothing stopping them from beating the storm down until it died out. Still, she was beside herself. "So Cloudkicker's got the job now? I thought Ditzy Doo and Raindrops had been hired to take my place."
The icy white pegasus scoffed. "Dash, they're just new recruits! The two of them together could barely do your job of keeping the skies clear during the day. Heck, on some of the days us three had to step in and help when things got out of hand."
Somewhere deep down, Dash knew her friend meant well. But now she was annoyed. "Well, whatever. It's not like they'll have the job much longer either."
The mares gasped, dropping Dash in shock.
She flew back up to them, cocking her head to the side in confusion.
"Dash," Dizzy began, concern clearly showing through on her face, "don't say things like that! Those poor girls are seriously hurt!"
"I'm sorry! It's just-" Dash stopped, looking here and there for anypony to back her up. Not one of the few still remaining nearby would come to her defense. "I didn't mean-I mean... never mind. Sorry girls, I've gotta go."
"Dash", Thunder Cracker called out as the rainbow-maned mare flew off towards the ground below, "come back!"
Fluttershy rolled to her side in bed, staring at the cup of once hot chocolate, long since cooled, sitting on her book stand. She hadn't felt like drinking it when she made it this afternoon and had just let it sit there while she tended to her animal friends. None of them would leave her, since caring for them was what she did—she'd never be able to harm a single hair or feather on them, even by accident.
Just as she was about to fall back asleep, her previous dream having been interrupted when she awoke to the sound of monstrous thunder outside, the door to her bedroom swung open. Into the room hopped her little bunny companion.
"What is it, Angel?" She asked, lowering herself out of bed and meeting the little furry animal face to face.
It tapped at the floor with its front paw, then motioned as if it were opening a door.
"Yes, I know you woke me up, but-."
The bunny shook its head, then repeated the motion.
"Oh, is somepony here to see me?"
Her little friend nodded.
"Please send them away, I am not taking visitors tonight" She would have left it at that and have gone back to sleep, but just as she turned around, a familiar voice shouted from below, "IS SHE AWAKE YET?!" Her eyes widened and her heart nearly skipped a beat. Without a moment's hesitation Fluttershy spun around and galloped out of the room, nearly bowling over Angel as she did so.
"RAINBOW DASH!" She cried, tumbling into the blue pegasus as she came hurtling down the stairs. She buried her face in her friend's chest, her tears staining the soggy blue hair beneath them as she sobbed and sniffled. "I'm so-sorry! I-I'm s-s-so s-s-sorry!"
A cold, wet hoof patted her on the head. "It's fine." She said, though her tone seemed more than a little somber to the pink-maned mare. "I just needed some time alone. I'm back now. You don't have to worry about me."
She shook her head, trying her best to pull herself back together. "B-but D-d-dash..."
Dash gently rolled her off, then stood up and brushed herself off. "We don't have time for this, Fluttershy. Twilight needs you down by the library, and she sent me to come pick you up."
The yellow pegasus stood up, trying to stifle her tears. "O-okay. I..." She paused to take a deep breath, then continued, "I h-haven't been out away from my co-cottage since the day after you l-left, and..." As she raised her head, she saw her friend already leaving out the front door. "Dash, wait!" She shouted, her waterworks now in full motion again, "I never meant to hurt you! None of us did!"
The rainbow-maned pegasus stopped in her tracks, slowly turning to face her. Fluttershy couldn't remember the last time she saw her cry like that. "I know," Dash mumbled, practically choking on the words, "that's why it hurt."
Twilight cocked her head to the side. "Applejack, you're absolutely sure of that?"
"'Course I am," the earth pony farmer said, "it was just one mare doin' all that. The flyin', the magic, everythin' was just the one pegasus."
The purple unicorn sighed. "Pegasi can't perform magic, Applejack. We've gone over this before. She has to have a partner. Some unicorn hiding behind the scenes and-"
"Ah know what ah saw, Twi!" The earth pony stamped her front hooves on the table, standing up and looking her right in the eyes. "She used magic, that blast came right out a' that headband a' hers!"
Twilight raised an eyebrow and was about to question that—the idea of a pegasus being able to use magic with a simple headband was utterly preposterous. But realization struck her and her eyes widened in sudden terror. "SPIKE!" she called, "I NEED A BOOK!"
The little purple dragon poked his head out of the kitchen, holding a scroll in one claw and a plate of biscuits with the other. "Gimme a second, Twi."
She watched him amble over to the table and carefully set the plate down
Pinkie Pie waved at him from across the table and said, "Could you pass the biscuits over here? I haven't eaten since I left home!"
The little dragon nodded and slid the plate over, then looked around the table. "So what's the occasion?" he asked, looking at the three mares sitting around the table in the front room.
"Mmh," Pinkie Pie said, a biscuit already halfway in her mouth, "wmm thmmkmm mm... hmmm hmmm!" The pink mare swallowed, then laughed at her own little faux pas. "Sorry, Spike. We're talking about mean old Ultramare. She's that bully who beat up ponies and started a big nasty storm today!"
"Right," Twilight said, keeping her eyes on her assistant, "and I need you to fetch me my copy of Ancient Artifacts and Lost Legends Volume II. If this pegasus can use magic, then she must be using-."
"The Horned Circlet of Star-Swirl the Bearded?"
"Yes Spike, the Horned-." She paused, raising an eyebrow. "How do you know about that?"
The dragon handed her the scroll. "Princess Celestia sent you a letter about that. I think you should read it."
Twilight unfurled the parchment and began reading. "'My faithful student...' hm... oh dear."
"What is it, Twi?" The blond mare looked at her, worry clear on her face.
"The Horned Circlet of Star-Swirl the Bearded was stolen from the royal palace in Canterlot this morning! Celestia's tasked us with retrieving it, too!"
The pink pony gasped. "So Ultramare's a bully and a thief?! That's terrible!"
Applejack seemed less surprised, but turned to the purple unicorn and asked, "Just what is this here... horned circlet?"
Twilight sighed, and was about to explain when the front door swung open. Standing in the doorway was a face she hadn't seen in two weeks. Her mane had been cropped short, but other than that there was no mistaking somepony else for Rainbow Dash.
Dash trudged into the front room, tracking mud on the wooden floor. On her back was Fluttershy, her legs dangling off the sides of the rainbow-maned pegasus's body, sleeping peacefully. "Sorry I'm late", she said as she cracked a smile, "but Fluttershy wanted me to carry her here. I would have flown in, but she kinda fell asleep."
Applejack chuckled. "Well take her upstairs an' come talk with us fer a bit. Ya got some catchin' up ta do, Rainbow."
Pinkie Pie leapt across the table, carrying a biscuit in her mouth. "Frr ymm!" She mumbled, poking it against the rainbow-maned pegasus's face.
That got a chuckle out of Dash. She grabbed it from her, then retreated up the staircase to Twilight's bedroom.
"... right," Twilight began, "like I was saying, the Horned Circlet is a device Star-Swirl the Bearded made a long, long time ago. He created it to allow unicorns whose horns had broken to perform magic once again. He'd planned on making more, but found that earth ponies and pegasi could also use it."
Applejack cocked her head to the side, seemingly annoyed by what she'd just said. "An' what's so wrong with that?" She asked.
Twilight sighed. "All ponies have their own inherent magic, which manifests in different ways. Unicorns are the only ones who can control and use magic directly, and our bodies are designed to channel it through our horns." The earth pony still didn't seem convinced, so she continued. "Sticking a functional horn on an earth pony or pegasus would seriously mess with their inherent magic, causing a severe case of Magic-Induced Sickness Disorder. The symptoms are-."
"Okay, okay," Applejack said, interrupting her, "sorry, s'just ah thought you meant somethin' else there fer a second. So what yer sayin' is this Ultramare's hurtin' herself tryin' ta... do whatever it is she wants done?"
"Precisely," Twilight said, nodding her head. "So we need to get the Horned Circlet back from her before she hurts somepony else, even herself."
Pinkie Pie looked up from the plate, dropping a half-eaten biscuit from her mouth.
"But if she can fly like Dashie, and use magic like you, Twi, how can we stop her?"
"Well," Applejack started, "she might be more'n a' match fer any one of us, but we're still six an' she's still one, right?"
Twilight nodded. "That's right. If we all work together we should be able to take the circlet from her. After that, it's just a matter of taking down one pegasus. But... just as a precaution, I'm going to request that Princess Celestia allow us to use the Elements of Harmony here."
From up above, she heard Dash say, "for one pegasus?! Jeez, Twi, talk about overkill."
The three mares turned to see Dash flying down the stairs. "Maybe", Twilight said, trying to gauge the apparent disapproval in Dash's tone, "but if she proves too difficult for the six of us to handle, then wouldn't you want an ace in the hole against her?"
Dash sighed as she landed by the bottom of the stairwell. "No, no... you're right, Twi. Have you girls gone over anything you plan on trying yet?"
"Not yet," Twilight said, barely stifling a yawn, "we're still waiting on-."
"I'm here, my friends!" Rarity called out as she strutted into the room, wearing her heavy raincoat and galoshes. "My apologies, but it took forever for me to find these and there was no way I'd come running in such a nasty storm after-." She paused, staring at the blue pegasus at the back of the room, then gasped. "Rainbow Dash, what manner of barbarian did that to your mane?!"
The pegasus stared at Rarity, then burst into laughter, much to the annoyance of everypony in the room. "Sorry," Dash said, trying to stifle her laughter, "but you said barbarian, and I... thought you said... barber... okay, so it wasn't that funny. I had my mane and tail cut short while I was in Canterlot. Now can we please get to planning? I've got naps to catch up on and a reputation to save."
The four mares looked at Dash incredulously. "Dash..." Twilight began, but cut herself short. "You're right. We're wasting time. Spike, go write a letter to-Spike?" She looked aside, spotting the baby dragon sleeping under the table. "... On second thought, I'll write the letter myself later. Let's get down to business, girls."
Dash yawned as she lied on her back in bed, staring at the ceiling. The meeting yesterday had gone well enough—they had some pretty well thought out plans to fight Ultramare. She especially liked the one that called for her to launch a surprise attack on the masked villain while the others distracted her. It'd be a shame if she didn't get to pull that one off, she thought.
Dash yawned again and stretched her legs. She'd been out and about town all day, keeping an ever vigilant eye out for any trouble. The whole ordeal had left her exhausted, but between then and now she'd only taken a single quick nap before she got home. She'd get some real rest now, then head back out for her night shift. It didn't take much to convince Mayor Mare to let her back on the weather patrol team; as sad as what happened to Ditzy Doo and Raindrops was, it still left them with a hole needing to be filled and Dash fit that hole perfectly, just as she always had. It wouldn't be long before she rose back to her old rank now, she knew. Then everypony in Ponyville would respect and love her again.
A rapid knocking on her front door stopped her from dozing off, and she flew over to the window, poking her head out to see who it was. "Hey Fluttershy!" She called out, waving to her friend. "You can just use the window, you know!"
The pink-maned mare turned to look up at her. "Dash, you have to hurry! Ultramare was spotted in town!"
Dash's eyes widened in terror. "What?! That's not-" She stopped. How could she have completely missed that?! Her eyes scanned the town below, zeroing in on Carousel Boutique. From what little she could tell from this distance, the building seemed to be aflame, smoke trailing up into the sky. "Oh no. Oh no! Rarity! Fluttershy, we have to move!"
Dash shook her head in despair as she landed near Carousel Boutique. The flames had long since gone out. Between the top three fliers in the weather patrol, there was no way Rarity's home and store would burn down. Still, that did nothing to appease the rainbow-maned mare's growing fears for her friends. She quickly scanned the surrounding area, looking for some sign of them, before spotting Twilight surrounded by a handful of ponies she recognized from the day before. "Fluttershy, can you find Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and Rarity for me?"
The yellow pegasus nodded. "Dash", she pleaded, "I'm sorry. I tried to find you as soon as possible, but I'm not the fastest flier around and-"
"It's fine," she said, trying her best to sound reassuring. "It's not your fault. I should have... I... should have... just go already!" She covered her mouth immediately as her friend fled away from her. She hadn't meant to yell, but the last thing she needed right now was Fluttershy's constant apologizing.
Dash flew over to the field medics surrounding Twilight. "Nurse Redheart," she asked, "how's she holding up?"
The earth pony smiled as she turned her head. "She's fine, just some bruising around her ribs and left shoulder. Ultramare could have done much worse."
Dash's ears flopped down. "I know... can I talk to her?"
The nurse looked over at Twilight, then back to Dash. "I don't see the problem." With that she backed off, allowing the rainbow-maned pegasus the space to draw nearer.
She lowered herself onto the ground, patting her friend on the head. "Hey Twi", she said, trying her best to sound calm, "how ya feeling?"
The unicorn rolled her eyes. "I'm fine. I just had nearly had my shoulder broken, that's all."
"Sorry, Twi..." Dash lowered her head further. If only she'd... if only they...
"How'd it go down?" She asked, trying to drive those thoughts away. The purple unicorn frowned, then began to recant the events to her.
It wasn't hard to discern Ultramare's target. The villainous mare had taken control of acloud, imbuing it with magic and lightning. The little storm cloud was clearly headed towards none other than Carousel Boutique. Nopony except the weather patrol dared to stop her, and even they gave up after their third go at her got Dizzy Twister a black eye and Thunder Cracker a shocking new hairstyle. Cloudkicker was the only one left to chase her, and after what seemed like an exchange between them, she simply let the villain go about her business in peace. She had half a mind to confront the lavender pegasus about that, but time was of the essence.
"Fluttershy," Twilight ordered, "I need you to go find Rainbow Dash. Pinkie Pie, Applejack, go help Rarity prepare. I'm going to try to slow her down."
The three nodded and left, Fluttershy taking off into the sky and the earth pony duo rushing off towards their friend's home and store.
Twilight waited until Ultramare and her cloud passed overhead, then followed after them, her horn glowing as she tried to wrestle the cloud from Ultramare's grip. It was surprisingly difficult—she knew the Horned Circlet was a potent artifact, but she never expected this level of resistance.
The cloud finally came down to her after much struggling, despite the will and booming protests of the costumed villain. Twilight heard the wind whistling as she neared, and stopped just a fair distance away from Carousel Boutique, ready to face down the pegasus.
"You're a fast one, aren't you, Twilight Sparkle?" The blue and gold-costumed mare landed a good ten yards away, her glowing white gaze locked with the unicorn's own.
"Give it up, Ultramare. I know you stole the Horned Circlet, and there's no way I'm letting you keep it for any longer!"
Ultramare laughed, her booming voice shaking the nearby buildings. "You think you can take this away from me, Teacher's Pet? When not even Celestia and Luna themselves could stop me? I'd like to see you try it. But first, I'm taking my friend back." Her metallic horn began glowing hot white, and Twilight found that despite her impressive hold on the storm cloud, she could do nothing to prevent Ultramare from ripping it away from her.
The cloud settled beside the villain, floating around freely as if it were... but that's silly, Twilight thought. There's no way she could cast a spell like that.
"What's the matter, Twilight? Can't take being second rate? Reality a bit too... shocking for you, maybe?"
Twilight raised an eyebrow, and was about to say that the comment made no sense when the cloud began to spark. Immediately she went into a defensive stance. Her first guess was right—she'd somehow cast a Come to Life spell on the cloud! A lightning bolt flashed straight out towards her, and she countered with a powerful barrier, attempting to force the bolt back or, at least, redirect it.
The lightning bolt struck the shield, and for several seconds it seemed as if Twilight had successfully stopped it. Then she glanced aside and noticed Ultramare was no longer beside the cloud. Her eyes widened in terror as she turned to see the hind legs of her enemy just as they buried themselves in her flank. She let out a loud yelp as she tumbled aside, hitting the ground with a heavy thud. As she tried to get up, a hoof thrust itself into her shoulder, doubling the pain and breaking her concentration entirely. She shut her eyes, waiting for the sound of the lightning bolt to crash into something.
All that ensued, however, was the villain's taunting. "Does it hurt, Twilight Sparkle? Don't worry—I'm done with you for now. Gonna do some redecorating at Carousel Boutique instead, see how Rarity likes it. Now unless you have any other pathetic attempts to delay me, I'll be going now."
Twilight opened her eyes, staring at the sinister mare. Circling above her was the lightning bolt, moving about all on its own. "But how did you..." She stopped herself—a Come to Life spell on both the lightning bolt and the cloud, of course! There was another question she had, and this was probably her only chance to get an answer. "Just how do you know who we all are?" She asked.
"To be honest", Ultramare began, frowning as if she were completely disinterested, "before yesterday afternoon, I didn't know or care who any of you were." She stopped, a devilish grin forming on her muzzle. "But then I found out everything. You and your friends, the weather Patrol, even Ponyville itself... all of you have become tools in my act, and my audience is Rainbow Dash."
"What?! But-but-but-" Dash stuttered. "That's not possible!"
The purple unicorn looked at her skeptically. "What do you mean, Dash?"
The pegasus looked about frantically, then blurted, "I'm sorry. I'll tell you later. I've gotta go. Bye!" and flew off towards Carousel Boutique.
Just as she was about to enter through a burnt hole in the roof, the three weathermares cut her off. She looked at them, cocking her head to the side. Cloudkicker floated in front, her front legs crossed over her chest. Dizzy Twister refused to make eye contact with her, and Thunder Cracker looked as if she were about to cry.
Her mind wandered for a bit, wondering just what had really gone on between the three and Ultramare, but there were more important matters at stake. "I need to get in there!" She demanded, trying to give off a tone of authority no matter how much it hurt her throat. "Rarity's probably inside, and-."
"Rarity and her two friends are already gone," Cloudkicker said, her tone even despite the disapproving look her eyes were showing. "You're not needed here, Dash."
"But I-" she began, but cut herself short. "What's wrong with you three? What did I do?"
The thee pegasi looked at each other with various levels of disgust, then Cloudkicker returned her weary gaze to the rainbow-maned mare. "For the safety of my team, I promised Ultramare that I'd only clean up her messes once she left. But that doesn't mean I'm going to make my girls put up with a self-absorbed jerk like you. You're off the team, Rainbow Dash. Go home."
Dash stood silently as the three weathermares flew off, leaving her alone. "So what..." she said, under her breath, "... was the point? Why did I even come back, if everything's going to go wrong again?!" She flew off towards her home, her tears leaving a trail behind her.
Applejack shook her head in dismay at the fuming unicorn pacing about the front room of Twilight's home. "Ah know it ain't right. But Ultramare ran off before we could even getcha out a' there, sugarcube."
"I know," Rarity groaned, "but still, the thought of that ruffian trying to destroy Carousel Boutique just burns me up!" The unicorn stamped her hooves in frustration.
"Please calm down," the Pinkie Pie pleaded, "I'm sure the Cakes won't mind helping you pay to have the place repaired!"
"No way no how", Applejack said, slamming a hoof on the table, "am ah lettin' one a' my best friends an' her family pay that off. Me an' Big Macintosh, we'll be over ey-sap ta fix it up."
"Thank you Applejack, Pinkie Pie," Rarity said, her frustration turning to sadness, "but I-."
The door to the library slammed open, and the white unicorn screamed in shock. In limped Twilight, one of her forward legs in a cast. Floating beside her was a small bejeweled box.
"Twilight," Rarity gasped, "do remember to knock in the future, would you?!"
"It's my house," the purple unicorn said. "I can slam any door I want."
Applejack raised an eyebrow as Twilight sat the little chest down on the round table before them. "All the way from Canterlot, ah reckin'?"
Twilight nodded, cracking open the chest.
The five mares all looked inside—sure enough, the Elements of Harmony were all safe and secure inside.
Twilight carefully removed them one by one, helping her friends put them on. Finally she stopped at the Element of Loyalty. Only then did something occur to her. She quietly said, "That's not right," cocking her head to the side in confusion.
Fluttershy peered over her shoulder, then let out an audible gasp. "What happened to the Element of Loyalty?"
Finally, Applejack grabbed the chest away, pulling it closer to get a good look. Inside was the Element of Loyalty alright, but the lightning bolt gem within no longer shown a brilliant red. In fact, the gem had lost all color and was now stark white. "What in the hay?" She said, trying to make sense of this. "This is... this remind you girls of anything?"
The five mares nodded in agreement. "Discord!"
"But, how?" Twilight asked. "We sealed away Discord in stone!"
Pinkie Pie put a hoof to her chin, rubbing it for a second or two. "Maybe it's not that meanie pants at all? Maybe it's got something to do with Dashie?"
Fluttershy laid her head upon the table, her eyes closing as she did so. "She has been acting strange today..."
Twilight rolled her head, looking up at the ceiling. "Then we'll need to find her and try to get some answers out of her soon. Until then, the Elements of Harmony won't be of any help here."
Applejack shook her head. "So no skippin' all the way ta Plan G, huh? An' she's more'n a match fer any one of us, so..."
"Right", the purple unicorn said, "We're going with Plan E then. Rarity, have you made the extra costumes like I asked?"
The white unicorn lowered her eyes to the floor, "Well of course, dear, not that I'm all that happy with them anymore. And with Rainbow Dash out of the picture for the moment, we won't be needing the sixth..."
Twilight looked about the table. "Any objections to the plan?" Each of them seemed nervous—after all the trouble Mare Do Well had brought about none of them were all too keen on bringing her back.
Finally Applejack spoke up. "Ah'll do it."
Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy nodded to each other in agreement, and Rarity lifted her head and smiled. "With the five of us as Mare Do Well, I'm sure Ultramare won't stand a chance!"
"Then it's settled," Twilight said. "Tonight, the five of us take on the mantle of Mare Do Well once again."
The front door of the cloud house buckled and snapped off from the force of Rainbow Dash's kick. In her anger and grief she'd completely forgotten her bedroom window was still open. Not that it mattered anymore—nothing she owned was worth stealing.
She flew up the stairs to her bedroom, ready to leap onto her bed and continue her crying, when a voice echoed in the room.
"Welcome home, Rainbow Dash."
"Stop it!" She shouted back, shutting her eyes and trying to ignore the voice.
"Stop what?" Ultramare asked. "I'm only carrying out my part of our plan. I go around causing little disasters around Ponyville, maybe give somepony their just deserts. You come in and save them after I leave, and get all the fame and recognition you deserve."
"You told them!" Dash cried. "You told them everything! And now they hate me too!" Hot tears streamed down from her closed eyes, the cloud floor beneath her absorbing them as they fell from her face.
"Oh, is that a problem? Did they steal your glory, Dashie? Maybe I should have broken them instead, would that have made you happy?"
Dash shook her head in frustration, her mane slapping against the sides of her neck as she did. "The deal's off, Ultramare! I'm not letting this go any further." She opened her eyes, and found herself staring face to face with the white-maned pegasus. Her rich violet eyes glared contemptuously back at her.
"You don't have a say in the matter anymore. But don't fret", she said, her light blue muzzle opening to reveal a cruel and malicious grin, "you'll come to love being my prisoner one of these days."
Twilight sat impatiently on the roof of Sugarcube Corner, waiting into the night for any sign of Ultramare. There had been no word of the villainous pegasus at all the past two nights, nor had she been sighted today, for that matter. While she was thankful that nopony had gotten hurt and that they'd had time to set up their signal flare system with a few ponies in town—enough to give anyone who saw it an idea of where she would be attacking, Twilight couldn't help but feel as if their time was being deliberately wasted.
She sighed and pulled her mask back, then lied down on her belly. Just like she'd anticipated, Rainbow Dash was nowhere to be found when they needed her. That was the least alarming part about it, though.
When Fluttershy returned from her house in the sky the other day, she came back carrying two wigs: One for a mane, the other for a tail. Both were stark white.
She didn't want to believe it. She'd confronted Cloudkicker the day they found the wig, and her testimony held up with what they'd found. Ultramare had a "deal" with Rainbow Dash; the villain would arrive and cause havoc, then leave so Dash could save the day time and time again. Between that and the wigs Fluttershy had found, there was nothing left for her to do but inform those working the flares what to watch out for. Should they spot Ultramare or Rainbow Dash they were to set off their flare, giving away her position to Mare Do Well.
She hardly believed that anything would call for taking up the cowl and tights. Between the fallout with Rainbow Dash and the harassment they'd received the week after their identities were revealed, she wouldn't have minded never seeing the costume again. This whole mess started because of Mare Do Well.
'No,' Twilight thought. Maybe if they'd been a little more honest with Dash, none of this would've happened. She grabbed her hat in her mouth, staring at it until the very sight of it sickened her. Then she tossed it aside and shouted out in anger, "Stupid, stupid me! Why did I even think this was a good idea?!"
As if in response to her, a flare went up a fair distance away.
"That's... the library?! My home!" Twilight leapt from the building, using her magic to secure her cowl and hat in place. She raced off towards the giant tree house, intent on stopping Ultramare, no matter who she was under that mask.
Fluttershy sat in silence behind the tall tree house. Ultramare had gone inside not too long ago. She wanted to confront her, wanted to try to talk her out of making things worse than they already were, but couldn't find the strength to move. So when the flare went off, she was relieved to know that soon somepony else would be here to help. Then she heard Spike scream.
Before she even fully realized what she was doing, Fluttershy found herself face to face with the villainous pegasus. No longer did she wear her own mask, but still she stood cocksure and proud, her brilliant violet eyes piercing through the yellow mare's mask. Even with that long, stark white mane, there was no way anypony couldn't see the mare standing before them was Rainbow Dash. Around her neck sat the Element of Loyalty, every bit as white as her mane and tail.
Ultramare shook her head and chuckled. "Oh, you stupid, stupid foal. You have no idea how much I've been looking forward to this." Ultramare lowered her head, pointing the Horned Circlet at Fluttershy.
"Wait!" she cried, fumbling with the mask and hat until the latter fell to her side and the former was finally removed. "Rainbow Dash, please wait!"
The violet-eyed pegasus lifted her head, her eyes widening in surprise. "F-Fluttershy?"
Fluttershy smiled, drawing closer to her confused friend. "Please," she pleaded, the concern in her voice genuine, "let me help you, Dash. You've done so much these past few days, and I know you're hurting, but if you just talk with us, I'm sure-"
"You're sure of what?" Those violet eyes followed her carefully as Fluttershy circled around her.
Fluttershy finally settled beside her, snuggling her head underneath her friend's muzzle. "I'm sure," she said, trying to sound reassuring, "that everyone will find it in their hearts to forgive you."
The light blue pegasus looked at her, as if she were unsure whether or not to believe her. "You... you really think so, huh?"
"Oh, I know so." Fluttershy smiled, leading the way to the front door. "You just need to talk with the rest of our friends like you do with me. Even Spike might come around. You didn't hurt him too badly, did you?"
Ultramare shook her head. "No, he's just scared, that's all. And you're right, I've just gotta treat them the way I treat you."
Twilight could barely maintain her composure. The unconscious body of their friend Fluttershy sat in a heap not far from her. Across from her stood Ultramare... stood Rainbow Dash. She'd gone too far this time, Twilight thought. She wanted to chew her former friend out for this, to do... something horrible to her. But if she said even a word, the entire point of bringing back Mare Do Well would be defeated.
"Oh wow." Ultramare said, the scorn on her face painfully clear. "So there's two of you? Whatever shall I do? Let me guess, you're Applejack? No? Rarity? Well, it doesn't matter. I'm going to grind you into the dirt, just like your worthless-"
"Shut up you big stupid jerk!!"
Twilight jerked her neck to the side, staring in surprise at the sight of Mare Do Well on a nearby roof. The voice was clearly Pinkie Pie's, though confirming it that way was pointless as she soon threw off her hat and cowl.
The pink mare was absolutely livid with rage. "I can't believe you! How could you?! To her?!" She growled fiercely, then leapt from the rooftop, charging at Rainbow Dash. Sure enough, her Pinkie Sense told her what was coming, and she evaded the incoming kick, But her little victory was short lived, as a white hot bolt of light punched into her from the Horned Circlet, sending her flying through the air and landing near Fluttershy. The pink mare groaned, trying to stand up, but collapsed soon afterwards.
"Pinkie Pie!" Twilight gasped, then drew a hoof over her mouth. She'd blown her cover, just like her friends had.
"So this is your brilliant plan, egghead? You all come at me, disguised as the one pony I hate more than anyone else, and then one by one reveal yourselves?" The violet-eyed pegasus threw her head back and laughed as she casually walked forward.
Twilight sighed and lowered her head, removing her cowl and hat. "You've figured me out, Rainbow Dash."
The mare paused her movement, much to Twilight's surprise, then rapidly ascended to a gallop.
She tried to shield herself with a barrier, but her adversary was too quick—she'd closed the distance in what felt like an instant.
Twilight screamed as a white hot burst of magic crashed into her lower jaw, flipping her over and knocking her into the ground with a painful thud. She struggled to get up, but Dash's hoof found its mark on her chest, knocking the wind out of her. The last thing she saw and heard was Ultramare's enraged face as she shouted, "Stop saying that name!"
Twilight groaned as she came to. She tried to stand up on all fours, but as soon she rose only a few inches she felt a strong force jerk her back down. She turned her head to the side, trying to make sense of what had happened. To her right were the rest of her friends, each of whom had been bound to the stone floor beneath them by a short metal chain and collar. Applejack and Rarity were a bit of a surprise for her—she hadn't seen them when Ultramare had attacked. She was about to try and speak when a booming voice greeted them.
"So, you're all starting to awaken. Good. This place familiar, Twi? It's Ponyville's dam. Rather poorly built, if you ask me."
Twilight craned her head back, trying to find the source of the voice. Standing on a raised stone wall opposite the five mares was Ultramare. Her brilliant violet eyes glowered back at her. "Whatever you're planning, Dash-," Twilight said, only to receive a nasty shock as the horned circlet began glowing. The disgust on the villain's face grew into unbridled rage.
"Call me that name one more time, Twi!" Her voice boomed over the five. "Come on, do it! DO IT!" When nopony replied, she took a deep breath, then smiled. "Rainbow Dash is just as much my prisoner as you five are. She wouldn't listen to your protests or pleas anyways, not after everything you put her through. Now, what were you saying? You'd like to hear my plan for you? Do it now? Tick tock, sunshine. Tick. Tock."
Twilight glared at her captor, but let the comment go. If Ultramare was willing, she'd try to milk every last word and second from her that she could. "What's your plan here?" She asked. "Why go through the trouble of knocking us all out, then dragging us out here and letting us live?"
The villainous pegasus strutted about, then turned to face Applejack. "You're a smart, down to earth gal, AJ. What do you think?"
The blond earth pony turned her head to her unicorn friends, then closed her eyes. "Yer tryin' ta rub our failure in. We lost the war here, an' yer takin' yer sweet time ta twist the knife, so ta speak."
The white-maned pegasus laughed, using her magic to zap her.
The earth pony winced, fighting through the pain until she was finished. "Am... ah... wrong?"
"No", the evil mare confirmed, "I just like hurting you, that's all. Honest! So how about you, Hayseed? I bet you're just burning to-"
"What did you do with Rainbow Dash?!"
The blond earth pony turned her head to the side, glaring at Pinkie Pie. She whispered to her, "What in the hay are ya doin', ya silly filly?"
The pink pony turned to look at her too, briefly dropping her rage-filled visage to give a knowing wink. "I know exactly what I'm doing! This bully did something to hurt our Dashie and I'm gonna find out what!"
Ultramare smiled. "Hm. That's a tough one." The villainous pegasus paced back and forth alone the edge. "I suppose you could say I am your old friend, but that's not quite right. She made me for two reasons. To help her regain her lost status in Ponyville, and..." She leapt from the wall, landing beside Rarity. "So she could get a little personal revenge on everyone who wronged her without having to feel guilty about it. After all, it's not Rainbow Dash who broke the new weathermares, or tried to flood Ponyville, or went out of her way to try and break her dearest friends. It's Ultramare, right?"
Rarity protested, "You didn't answer her question!" and received a shock to her system for her efforts.
"I guess I didn't. Well, to make a long story short, once Dash tried to get rid of me, I took over. Of course," she said, this time stopping in front of Fluttershy, "by then any chance of her saving her own friendships, let alone her reputation, had been completely shot. She gave in willingly once that became clear. Why try futilely to be the hero when it's so much easier to be the villain?"
"Because..." Fluttershy said, mustering up the courage to speak, "that's not who Rainbow Dash is."
Ultramare turned her disgusted gaze to the little yellow pegasus. "What did you just say? You think you know Dash better than me?"
"No..." Fluttershy admitted. "I couldn't possibly know more about yourself than you do, Dash."
The white-maned pegasus stormed over to her, glaring her right in the eye.
"But I know enough, and I know my Rainbow Dash would never give up that easily. No matter how badly her friends screw up, she'd still try her hardest to forgive them."
"NO! No no no!" The villainous mare cleared her throat, then glared angrily at her adversary with tear-rimmed eyes. "Give up already! Dash is gone, you stupid foal! Done! She isn't coming back, no matter how much you beg and plead! The Element of Loyalty lies dead because of you and your friends!" Even as she spoke, the five mares' individual gazes all locked onto the Element of Loyalty.
It was flickering, as if the color were trying to return to it.
"I'm sorry," the yellow pegasus said, her apology every bit as sincere as the one she'd given several days ago. "None of us had any idea what to do when you ran away from us that day, when we first tried to tell you we were Mare Do Well. We just wanted to help you, and-"
The villainous mare stamped the ground before her, though Fluttershy refused to flinch. "All you did was brag about how great you five were at being heroes and how much of a failure she was! You made her the laughingstock of Ponyville!"
Still the yellow pegasus stood her ground. "I know... there's no excuse for how we handled that. I'm so sorry, Dash."
The villain pulled away, refusing to look at any of her prisoners. "You've ruined the mood, you s-stupid foal. Congratulations." As the horned circlet began to glow furiously, a large storm cloud began to form above the dam.
Twilight looked on in horror. Though she and Rarity had finally succeeded in undoing their own bonds, she had been hoping to have more time to free their friends as well. The five of them needed to work together to beat Ultramare, and their only opportunity to do so had been wasted by Fluttershy.
"The lightning within the cloud will continue to grow until it's ready to burst. When that happens, you and this entire dam will be destroyed! As for me, I've got a date with Sugarcube Corner." With that the villainous mare flew off, leaving the five of them to their fates.
Rarity stood up, shaking her head in exasperation as she fought with Applejack's bonds. "Fluttershy, what in Celestia's name were you thinking?!"
The yellow pegasus turned her apologetic face to her. "I was trying to bring Rainbow Dash back one more time, so we could apologize to her."
The white unicorn cocked her head to the side. "Applejack, what is she talking about?"
The blond earth pony shared an aside glance with her pink-maned counterpart, then smiled. "Ah think ah got it. Rainbow's still in there, still hurtin' 'cause a' what we did ta her. She ain't gone like Ultramare says at all, which means there's still hope."
Fluttershy nodded. "That's why I apologized so readily. If Rainbow Dash knows just how we feel, maybe she'll find it in herself to forgive us."
Pinkie Pie's eyes lit up. "And if she forgives us, then maybe we might be able to bring her back! And even if we can't... she deserves it, doesn't she?"
Twilight lowered her head and sighed. "You're right. This whole time she's been hurting herself over our own mistakes. If it weren't for my plan, none of this would have even happened."
"That ain't fair, Twi!"
She raised her head in confusion, looking at the blond earth pony as she rose from her bonds. "What do you mean, AJ?"
"Ah'm sayin' just 'cause you came up with the plan, doesn't mean we all didn't take part in it. You ain't the only one ta blame here."
Rarity sighed in agreement. "She's right, you know. All of us are to blame for this. We each played our own part in cutting Rainbow Dash down to size. If we're to apologize to her and try to make this better, then we should all do so together."
"Alright," Twilight agreed, freeing the last of her friends from the chains binding them to the dam's stone surface. "But first, we need to deal with that." She motioned to the glowing storm cloud above them. "If we don't act soon, the entire dam is going to blow!"
Pinkie Pie laughed. "Oh, that? That's easy to fix!"
Twilight looked at her friend with more than a little annoyance. "What?"
"Well", the earth pony said, "what kind of spells did Ultramare use before?"
Twilight turned her head to the sky, pondering the question. "She brought a cloud and a lightning bolt to life in order to fight me..."
"And when Rainbow Dash carried me to your place after the big storm," Fluttershy added, "she said she'd needed to deal with Living Lightning inside the storm cloud to get rid of it."
"Of course!" Twilight shouted. "The only two spells Ultramare ever cast were a Magic Burst and a Come to Life spell!"
She focused her horn in the direction of the cloud. If she was right, a simple Dispel would work to undo the storm. Her horn glowed a rich purple, as did the cloud. At first nothing happened, but soon the growing cloud began to shrink and dissipate.
"See!" Pinkie shouted, pulling her friend into a close hug and nearly throwing her concentration off. "I knew it! Dashie got lazy and kept using the same spells over and over again!"
Twilight chuckled nervously, trying to hide her embarrassment over not having caught on sooner. "Well, with that taken care of, we should get going. We'll need to stop by the library first, but we haven't much time to spare."
Ultramare winced as she landed just outside of Sugarcube Corner. This wasn't going the way she'd planned at all. She'd taken so many steps to ensure that Rainbow Dash would let herself be lost to the world, giving up her body and mind to the villain. But now she was fighting back, and though it was clear to the devious mare that her counterpart would still lose, their battle had begun to take its toll on her. Until she won, every move she made was a conscious effort just to get anything done.
She lowered her head, ready to blast open the front door. Nothing happened. "Huh? Oh come on!" She shouted, wearily stamping a hoof against the soft ground beneath her. "Why won't you just give up already?! I won! You can't keep fighting when I've already won!" But despite her protests, the Horned Circlet refused to work. Angrily, she tossed it aside. Somehow that seemed to lift some of the burden from her, and while her magic had failed she found herself more than able to kick open the door with her hind legs.
Standing just beyond the frame were Mr. and Mrs. Cake, the former armed with a skillet and the latter a rolling pin.
Ultramare grinned. "You really think those cooking implements are going to stop me from walking all over your precious shop?"
The married couple looked at each other briefly, then turned back to the villainous mare, refusing to budge.
The villain muttered in exasperation. "... Stupid... stupid! I guess I'll just have to-."
"Hold it right there, Ultramare!"
Ultramare spun on her heels, her eyes widening in confusion as she came face to face with the very five mares she thought she'd left for dead. Her confusion quickly turned to panic as she stumbled over to the Horned Circlet. Just as she was about to grab it, it flew into the air and settled in a saddlebag on the flank of Twilight Sparkle.
"Your reign of terror has gone on long enough", Twilight said, levitating the small bejeweled chest containing the other five Elements of Harmony from the same bag. "You no longer have the Horned Circlet of Star-Swirl the Bearded. There's no way you can defeat all five of us without it."
Ultramare knew this was true enough. She could probably take one or two of them on just through pure speed and strength, but without the Horned Circlet they could easily overpower her. "Fine", she said, crouching down just slightly, "I admit defeat. Go ahead and take me prisoner, I deserve nothing less." As the five ponies began to approach her, she laughed and tried to spread her wings, so that she could fly away and leave them far behind.
To her surprise, her wings refused to budge.
"Before we take you in," Twilight said, her voice near-perfectly even, though with a hint of sadness in the tone, "we all have one thing we want to say to you."
The villainous mare cocked her white-maned head in confusion.
"Rainbow Dash...," the purple unicorn began, "I just want to say... I'm sorry. The whole plan was a mistake right from the start. We should have tried talking with you from the beginning, to let you know just what was happening to you to begin with. Instead we plotted behind your back and, even though it wasn't our intention, we humiliated you and ruined everything you'd worked for in Ponyville. Again... I'm sorry, Dash."
The white-maned pegasus flinched, trying to fight the tears forming in her eyes. "You don't mean that. If you meant it you'd have said it a long time ago!"
Applejack stepped forward, shaking her head. "Just 'cause we didn't say it then, doesn't mean it ain't the truth, sugarcube. That whole time we plotted, not one of us ever thought to just talk with ya. We hid behind them capes an' cowls an' took pride in our little deception. No mincin' words here, it was just plain dishonesty on our parts. No friend deserves that sort a' treatment. Ah'm... so very sorry, Rainbow."
"No!" The villainous mare cried, hot tears running down the front of her face. "I... don't care! It's too late to go around apologizing for that!"
Rarity smiled. "Darling, it's only too late to apologize if you're gone. We still have you here, and every bit of grief we feel for your loss is genuine." The white unicorn then frowned, lowering her head as she continued. "For what it's worth, while I may not have been out there saving ponies' lives, I still helped create Mare Do Well in my own way. I took so much joy in providing our fair Ponyville with her that I never stopped to think of what harm I'd been bringing to anypony I held dear. For everything I've done to you, Rainbow Dash, I am truly... truly sorry."
"B-but," Ultramare stuttered, her body slowly walking its way over to the five of them against her better judgment, "if y-you guys are s-so sorry, w-why did you... luh... luh..."
"We laughed because it was like a prank, Dashie."
Ultramare turned her attention to Pinkie Pie this time. If there was any hope for her yet, this pink mare was giving it to her. "J-just a g-good natured prank, huh?"
The pink pony shook her head. "No, it was an awful one. We didn't think it through very much, we didn't bother to make sure you'd think it was funny, and we botched the execution completely! And then we all... laughed, and you didn't laugh with us, so..." She sighed, brushing her cotton candy mane against the villainous mare's neck. "I'm sorry we laughed at you, Dashie."
Ultramare closed her eyes and sniffed. "S-so you're all s-sorry then? You th-think all this is going to fix everything?" One by one she felt her old friends closing in around her, brushing up against her shaking body.
"No apology could fix what happened to you, Dash."
Ultramare recognized that voice—it was the one that tried to make amends in the first place. "Fluttershy? What are you-?"
A gentle yellow hoof placed itself over her mouth. "The only pony who can fix this is you. We're all sorry, Rainbow Dash, and we all want you to come home. But if you don't want to, then... that's fine too."
Ultramare opened her eyes and looked down at the mare lying in front of her. Between her tear-filled eyes and Fluttershy was a brilliant red glow. "But what about Ponyville?" She asked.
"Maybe they might never accept you again", Twilight said, "but we will, no matter what choice you make."
She closed her eyes again, hardly needing to see at all now, and smiled. "Let's do this, girls."
From every corner in Ponyville, the Rainbow of Light could be seen plain as day as it flew into the sky. It danced in the air, bending and twisting as it did, before coming down upon itself and the six mares who had summoned it. Soon afterwords the six touched down upon the grassy ground outside Sugarcube Corner.
"Thank you", whispered the rainbow-maned Pegasus, before she lied down upon the ground, having finally found peace with herself.
"21... 22... 23..."
Rainbow Dash huffed and heaved, pressing her body to the floor and lifting it back up. She needed this—her new living arrangements made it impossible for her to really fly about, so working those muscles any way she could would stop them from weakening.
The Royal Canterlot Dungeon wasn't nearly as big a deal as she'd expected it to be. Sure, the drab grey brick walls looked completely out of place in a colorful city like Canterlot, but she was expecting it to be darker, or danker, or filled with the worst ponies in history, maybe. Instead it was fairly well lit, remarkably clean, and as far as Dash could tell, her only company were the guards assigned to watch the empty cells.
"28... 29... 30..."
That suited her just fine, of course. A one-sided conversation with one of those stoic pegasi wasn't so bad. Boring at times, but just having somebody to talk to was still much better than being left alone. And while her sentence had only just started a while ago, her friends had promised to visit every two weeks to see her.
"34... 35... oh, forget it..."
Dash slumped down in a heap, her eyes directing themselves to the window to the fresh air beyond. She wanted to fly so badly right now. If she could squeeze through the bars of her barely furnished prison, she mused, she'd be out there soaring through Canterlot's skies that very instant. And nopony in the world could stop her. Not her friends, not the guards, not Celestia or even-
"Good afternoon, your highness."
Dash lifted her head in confusion at the sound of the guard's voice, turning it to see just who he'd addressed. Walking down the hallway was a tall winged and horned pony, her mane and tail shimmering like the night sky itself. Adorning her side was a fancy saddlebag, matching her mane.
"Good afternoon," Princess Luna said as the guard bowed his head low before her. "If you don't mind, I'd like to have a moment or two with this prisoner. If you'd be so kind, could you leave for a moment?"
The guard nodded and, without another word, left the area.
Dash raised her head as the alicorn princess turned towards her cell. "H... hi..." She muttered, then nearly smacked herself in the face. This was Princess Luna! What was she thinking, greeting her like that?
"... hello, Rainbow Dash," the towering mare said, her tone perfectly even. "It has been a while, hasn't it?"
The rainbow-maned pegasus gulped and nodded. "Y-yeah... I was kinda hoping you wouldn't find out about this." She paused, trying to gauge the stoic mare's reaction, then continued, lowering her head in shame as she did. "I'm sorry. Sorry for everything."
"Yes," the princess began, "I can see that. Rainbow Dash, what were you thinking? My sister and I took you in when you said your friends had mistreated you. Our home was your home, our kindness and advice was given freely. What posessed you to steal such a valuable artifact from us? From me?"
The blue pegasus took a deep breath, trying to organize her thoughts. "I didn't mean... I just thought I could use that circlet to get everyone to like me again. I'd go around as Ultramare and cause a little mischief, then show up as myself and save the day. Only... that didn't work out well." She stopped, trying once again to read the princess's face. The faintest hint of concern was present. "It was a horrible idea. Probably the worst I've ever come up with. And as it turned out, if I'd just talked things out with my friends... none of it would have happened."
Luna nodded. "I've heard a pony say something similar not too long ago. She believed her friends had to have had her best interests at heart, but because they had no faith in her and went behind her back, their actions hurt her in many ways." She sighed, patting the miserable little pegasus on the shoulder with a hoof. "If what you say is true... if you know now that your friends really would have listened to you, then am I to assume you've reconciled with them?"
Dash nodded. "They apologized, and... they forgave me for everything. I destroyed Applejack's cart and beat her up, and she forgave me. I tried to burn down Carousel Boutique, and Rarity forgave me, too. For a while Ultramare... all I wanted to do was hurt them until they couldn't stand me or... worse, but they still wanted to be my friends." She sniffled, pushing herself closer to the towering mare. Another hoof went up around her, pulling her into a gentle hug. "They're too good to me sometimes, y'know?"
For a while, Luna stood there, holding the sobbing pegasus on the other side of the bars lining her cell. Then she cleared her throat, setting her friend down. She opened her saddlebag and, with her unicorn magic, removed a blue and yellow costume from within. "I was wondering what you'd like me to do with this. I know it must have some terrible memories for you, but-"
Dash groaned, turning away from the princess. "Do whatever you want with it." Silently she cursed herself, wondering why she'd even thought it was a good idea in the first place.
"Well," Luna said, placing the costume back within her saddlebag, "I suppose I'll hold onto it, then. It was rather expensive, as I recall. How you talked me into taking you to the finest tailor in Canterlot for it will forever elude me."
That got a chuckle out of Dash. "Sorry, it's just... you wanted to do something nice for me, that was all. Thanks." She shuffled her hooves about, still wanting to move on to something else, though nothing immediately came to mind.
Luna cocked her head to the side, then nodded. "I need to leave soon. It's getting late, and the moon isn't about to raise itself. If you don't mind, may I visit you from time to time?"
The rainbow-maned pegasus smiled. "Well, why not? It's not like I have much else to do and... well, the guards aren't into the whole 'talking' thing." As the princess turned to leave, she added, "Thank you, Princess. Thanks for everything."
Raindrops raised her head and arched her back, licking her lips in anticipation. She raised one of her front hooves, then turned to look at her partner. The blond pegasus nodded in approval, and she was off. "One two, one two! One two, one two!" She shouted, rapidly stomping her hooves against the fluffy gray cloud underneath her. Rain drops poured out from the bottom, until at last the cloud had turned a nice white.
"Good job, Raindrops!" Ditzy Doo said, clapping her front hooves together excitedly. "At this rate, we'll have all the rain clouds cleaned out for the day by-." A voice came from behind the blond mare, saying "Midnight." She turned her head, gulping at the sight of one of the weather patrol's top fliers, Thunder Cracker.
"S-sorry, miss!" Raindrops said, lowering her head in shame. "We were just having a bit of fun."
Thunder Cracker shook her head. "Sunny skies today, girls. Cloudkicker's been having a rough time without her partner, and you two agreed to pick up the slack."
"Oh lighten up!" Dizzy Twister shouted, kicking an emptied cloud down at her friend. "Tell ya what, you go and help out Cloudkicker, and I'll take these two to do our share, okay?"
"But-" the blue-maned pegasus shouted back, but before she could even raise a complaint, another cloud was sent spinning after her. She let out a sigh and flew off, trying to find the weather patrol's captain.
Dizzy Twister smiled and flew down between the two new recruits. "Now that she's gone, whaddaya say we have some fun, girls?"
The two mares looked at each other quizzically, then back to their wavy-maned superior.
"You guys want to play around, right? So how about we make a game out of this? I'll keep time, and whoever stomps out the most clouds in the next thirty minutes wins. So how 'bout it?"
Ditzy smiled and nodded. "Sounds fun! You sure that's okay, though? Thunder Cracker said-"
"Thunder Cracker's a silly filly," the sandy pegasus said, rolling her eyes. "Trust me, she won't mind so long as we get some work done. Ready, you two?"
The two mares looked at each other again, then nodded.
"Then let's go!"
Cloudkicker sighed as she stomped away at a large cloud. She'd gotten the whole story from Dash and the rest of her friends not more than a week ago, before the rainbow-maned pegasus was incarcarated. The whole thing weighed too heavily on her for her own good—she'd been the final straw that broke the pony she'd considered her best friend. It wasn't as if she'd done anything wrong, either, but if she knew then what she knew now...
"Hey, 'sup boss."
The lavender pegasus turned her head towards her icy companion. "Hey there, Thunder Cracker."
The blue-maned pegasus patted her friend on the shoulder. "Why so down, Kicker?"
"Why do things have to be so hard, Thunder?" When the icy pegasus cocked her head to the side, as if she hadn't understood the question, Cloud Kicker continued. "I'm responsible for making sure nothing bad happens to my girls. And Dash went out of her way to hurt all of them, so..."
"You miss her," Thunder Cracker said, a knowing smile forming on her face. "We all do, Kicker. Even Ditzy and Raindrops couldn't stop talking about wanting to work with her, before and after what she did to them." She shook her head in disbelief and smiled. "I swear, someponies will forgive just about anything, won't they?"
"Yeah..." Cloudkicker turned away, watching her three other workmates fly about, clearing out the clouds in what seemed like record time compared to her own pace. "Right, we're falling behind. We can talk about welcoming Dash back later. Gonna need to set some ground rules for her, too. Come on, Thunder, we've got a sky to clear."
Thunder Cracker nodded, and the two were off, making their way across the cloudy skies above Ponyville.
The sun hung low on the horizon. Night would soon be upon the busy city of Canterlot, and for most ponies, this meant it was time to sleep and await the rising sun in the morning. Not so for Princess Luna. This was only the start of her day.
With a tired sigh she walked about the gardens outside the castle, waiting out the minutes until the sun had fully set. She had not slept well in weeks, though now that she'd reconciled with the young pegasus that had come to her, that would likely change soon. Still, there was one thing she needed to do before everything could be put to rest. Well, two things.
The sun sank below the sky, and with fluidity and grace the starry-maned alicorn flew into the air, the moon rising behind her as she did. She then slowly fell to the ground, a contented smile on her face. All that was left was the Horned Circlet, an artifact once crafted by an old friend.
With haste the alicorn princess fled to her private quarters, not stopping even to check with the castle's night watch.
"Sister! Wake up!"
Celestia yawned and rolled over on her side. "Not now, Luna... tell me in the morning..."
The starry-maned alicorn's horn glowed fiercely, and within moments the bed and all its coverings—save the elder princess herself—vanished, leaving her sister to fall to the hard tiled floor beneath her.
"Alright," Celestia groaned, rising up from the ground, "what is it?"
Luna took a deep breath, trying to find the best way to put this to her sister. She did not want to cause a disaster, after all, and after the events of the past month or so she would surely lose her cool if this was put poorly. "It... it seems that somepony has taken the Horned Circlet of Star-Swirl the Bearded again."
"Yes," the aurora-maned alicorn yawned, "I know. May I have my mattress back now?"
Luna cocked her head to the side in confusion. "You... what?"
Celestia yawned again. "I took it myself, and hid it somewhere safe. A vault, somewhere deep beneath the castle. I could show you where, if that would set your mind at ease. Now, about my mattress-."
Luna shook her head. "It must be destroyed, sister! You have read the medical reports, listened to Rainbow Dash's testimony. And certainly the history of the horned circlet was not lost to you."
"Luna, it's fine." Sensing that a simple dismissal hadn't set her sister at ease, Celestia continued. "The medical reports stated that Rainbow Dash is in perfect form, despite her prolonged usage of the horned circlet and the damage it should have inflicted on her body and mind. We have the Elements of Harmony to thank for that, I suspect."
"Yes, but-," Luna yelled, stopping herself once immediately. She just needed to convince her sister that she was right, there was no need to get dramatic about it. "What if they had not petitioned you for the Elements? Even if they had still talked Dash down, she would have died not long afterwards. How many more must suffer the effects of this infernal device before you realize how dangerous it is?"
The aurora-maned alicorn shook her head in disapproval. "It's a tool, Luna. It has no will of its own, and can not determine what is and is not proper usage of itself. That comes down to those in posession of it, and who is that?"
Luna sighed, lowering her head. "Us. So what do you plan on doing with it, then?"
"As I've said," Celestia began, "it is being kept in a safe location deep under the castle. Only one with magic on our level or greater can break through the wards in place, and if anyone tries to get through without our approval, we'll know before they even get close to the horned circlet." She paused, trying to clear her head. "If somepony in the future requires it, having it on hand is better than not having it at all. We just need to show some discretion in the future as to who we allow to see it. No young pegasi with emotional baggage and a need to prove themselves to their peers, for example."
The starry-maned alicorn gulped as her sister finished that last sentence. "You're right. You have my sincerest apologies for that. So... only unicorns, then?"
"Yes, sister." Celestia smiled, walking over to her counterpart and setting a hoof on her shoulder. "Do you have any other concerns?"
"No. Thank you, Tia." With that the starry-maned alicorn turned, leaving her sister to her sleep.
With a sigh of relief, Celestia turned to climb back into her bed. Realization struck her as she did. "Luna! Get back here and give me my mattress back!"