“There, 60 gold gil. An adequate compensation for the ill-accommodated, yet swift voyage to an abandoned and derelict lighthouse, I’m quite certain,” said the woman dressed in blue robes as the bag of coins jingled, settling upon the table. A slight hint of apprehension coated her hushed tone, considering it was her first time traveling by sea and being the only female aboard. In the dimly lit room, the captain stood opposite from her across the table. They were negotiating a fair price for the sudden and unannounced commission, at risk of braving a maelstrom no less.
“Aye, it be lass. An’ mighty generous t’boot! If ah do say so me’self, aha,” the seaman spoke in a raspy, baritone voice.
The sun had just set on a cloudy 7th day into the month of Scorpio. Only the foolhardy and brazen would dare travel to the forgotten isle during this storm laden time of the year. Even more brazen was this seemingly unassuming maiden barely of age. For this unsanctioned expedition, she had spent her entire life’s savings, deciding to group herself among sell-swords and the rowdy crew of a merchant ship she had hired, something no lady her tender age would ever consider doing. But this was her final chance. She had prayed to the Almighty to calm the weather for smooth sailing, and He had done so benevolently, answering her prayer.
With a resolve steadfast and her ambition resolute like never before, she would brave adversity in all its forms to claim her place at the esteemed Lesalian Magick Institute for Exceptional Prodigies. And in her my mind, proving the existence of espers would easily gain her admission into the higher courses with scholarship, all fees paid for by taxes! Much more convincing and plausible than the laughing stock that was her previous attempt, a thesis on the ‘Feasibility and Applications of Spatiomancy.’ Then again, her fault lay in her wistful, naive daydreaming, but who could blame the youth’s courage for daring?
“Think nothing of it, good sir. We all fall on hard times and one mustn’t shy away from the responsibilities to their fellow man,” she responded in kind to his friendly and jovial tone.
“Then take this here, a small token of me gratitude,” said the captain in a thankful manner. Rummaging through a chest behind him, he took out a parcel wrapped in cloth and set it before her on the table. “Ah believe it would be of great value in yer expedition and yer studies.” Opening it, her eyes went wide with surprise.
“An Alchemic Truncheon!”
“Aye, one of fifty forged with lost technology from before the great cataclysm,” he explained as she took out a yellow stone from under her robes. She touched it to two distinct points on one end of the shaft, and the truncheon transfigured into an elegantly curved crystal blade with an elaborate guarded hilt.
“Oho! Seems ya be familiar with the workings of that artifact there. And ah see yav a Leestone on yerself, the rock that hardens over time, an extremely rare find that be. Fate must be favoring ya greatly, lassy,” the jovial man whistled with a hearty chuckle.
“Well good sir, as the first and only azure magus in over a millennium, I should be well-versed and competently efficient in any magick I can study,” she stated a matter-of-factly as she continued to inspect the gift.
“Introductions aside, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, thank you very much! I’ve only ever read of such items like this in books, but to even find one in still operable condition! Oh kind sir, I can’t thank you enough in one lifetime alone!” she exclaimed in wonder and gratitude.
The captain felt his heart melt a little at the sight of her, gawking in amazement like an innocent child receiving a present that seemed ill-deserved. In a country just out of civil war and still burdened by famine, malady and death, innocence was a rare thing to find, all the more was her charity. In addition to the donation she made to the captain and his crew of eleven hard working men, which when spent thriftily could easily keep all their families fed and full for over a year, she was so innocent that none of the crew would dare touch her for fear of tainting that purity as well as any remaining shred of chivalry and decency left in them. The same could not be said, however, for the five sell-swords currently in her company who already left to ‘scout’ the area under the cover of a starless, cloudy night.
Ponyville. The summer rays of the Sunday sun shone over from the east as it did with every glorious sunrise Princess Celestia made. Its warmth, which signaled the beginning of a new day, stirred the denizens of Equestria to wakefulness. The birds chirping their sing –song melody, the breeze blowing through the forests and meadows, the cold mountain streams glistening brilliantly in the morning light, and the ponies who got up from their beds to meet the morrow with confidence, everything was bursting to vigor.
All except one mare. Fluttershy.
She was in bed, awake since five, reading this month’s issue of ‘Flora and Fauna.’ The article that piqued her interest was about a strange plant growing in Dodge City. The peculiar bud that had seemed to appear out of nowhere on the town’s oldest tree after the last parasprite infestation had been garnering attention from a many botanist and plant enthusiast all over Equestria. The segment she was currently reading was an interview with the mayor:
“It was around a month after the infestation, people started noticing something growin’ on Ol’ Billy here. It was a weird lookin’ one and nopony ever seen it before, so I contacted M.A.P.A. (Manehatten Authority on Plants and Animals) to take a look. Turns out it’s some sort of new species never seen in Equestria so they been documenting its growth ever since. It’s been nearly eight months since that thing popped itself out of Billy and no branches, no leaves, no nothin’, still just a bud! Though it is kinda bigger looking than before so it must've been growing somehow. The M.A.P.A. people think it’s high time that pesky bulb there start flowerin’ or somethin’. Personally though, I’m just glad it’s doin’ good for the city’s tourism.”
After finishing that last bit, she set the magazine on the bedside table then settled beneath the comforters. ‘Oh, how I wish I could go and see it for myself, a plant like that, so small yet resilient for so many long months must grow into something lovely and beautiful,' she thought to herself. Poor Fluttershy, she hadn’t been feeling well for the past couple of days, so her sickly body forced her to go back to sleep, and forget all her troubles for the sake of rest. Deep in her heart, she hoped to get better not only to see this plant but her friends as well from beyond the confines of her lonely bedroom, provided that the icky syrup Zecora had made for her would work its charm and make her better.
About five hours later, there was an incessant and familiar thumping coming from beyond her soft and comfy sanctuary. “Ughh…. What time is it?” she demurely called out from underneath as she lingered in between consciousness and slumber. At first nothing, thinking it was a dream…….. And then more of that incessant thumping! ‘It’s probably Angel Bunny’ she thought to herself. The impetuous hare started to run up the covers, and proceeded to continue right on top of her face. She ignored it as the thumper went about his business for a few more minutes before he gave up. Then he opened a window and pulled the covers from over the tired mare. Bright sunbeams cast themselves onto her disheveled bed-mane as she continued to feign slumber in front of impatient rabbit, who, by the way, was not very happy at the sight of his mistress ignoring him.
“Angel Bunny, you know I’m not feeling well, I need to rest,” she told off the hare in a hushed nasally manner.
Not wanting to have any more of that, he readied his stance into a well practiced position, then leapt into air and landed squarely onto the mare’s sides with enough force to knock some wind out of her. Now, he had her attention.
“Angel, please! I still don’t feel any……” Fluttershy interrupted herself as she noticed her stuffy nose and wheezing had gone and that her breathing did not feel heavy anymore.
As the rabbit slid off her to the side of the bed, he pointed a paw at her and made a face as if to say ‘See? I told you so!’He hopped out of the bedroom and made his way down the stairs, all the while thumping his feet in the same incessant manner at a few stops, a gesture for his mistress to follow.
‘I suppose the medicine Zecora sent over did the trick. I’ll drop by for a visit some time and thank her’ she thought with a smile to herself, making a mental note of the matter, in addition to the fact she could now go see that strange bud in Dodge City.
She got out of bed and followed suit but didn’t see Angel upon reaching the first floor. She then walked into the kitchen, already knowing where he was. Angel was by the pantry pointing to the cabinet high above his head. He pointed a paw to it then gestured to his stomach several times with displeasure written all over his face.
Of course, Fluttershy loved all her animals with all her heart. She tended to them, fed them, even helped a lot of them raise their young with the most passionate of fervors anypony could have for their special talent. Aside from her best friends and actual blood relatives, these animals were practically family to her, especially Angel Bunny. But like anypony else though, Fluttershy gets sick from time to time, and got sick she did two days ago. She had been bed-ridden ever since, and Angel, being the smartest of all the animals in her care, proceeded to take charge of them in her stead. To tend to and feed them, maintain order where and when she cannot. He would ‘persuade’ his fellow rodents and rabbits to help him with the numerous chores of the household should such occasions present themselves, and being an animal himself certainly gives him an advantage over Fluttershy because he can actually understand what the others are saying. However, regardless of the intellect Angel possesses in spite of being, how Rainbow Dash would put it….. Ah, yes, a ’dumb animal’, he is still very much an overprotective, self-centered, grumpy-pants, mama’s boy….or in his case, a mama’s bunny.
He did not like being ignored when he wanted attention, especially when the attention he sought was Fluttershy’s. Not counting her best friends, many a pony in Ponyville who had some sort of business with her personal or not would often think twice about visiting, all because of the furry hellion that was her companion and charge; more like body guard to be precise, albeit a very mean, borderline intolerant and self-centered one. If love was a a drug, then Angel bunny was, without a doubt, addicted to the shower of affection Fluttershy spoils him with on a daily basis, and he would not sit idly by to any contest of his rightful place in the mare’s eyes, mind and heart!
Above all these, being personally fed by his mistress is the one show of affection he holds with the highest regard. And for two whole days, he had been denied this right! Although, Angel Bunny is a hardier hare than that, a tough little soldier, an even braver little trooper. He is more than smart and capable enough of taking care of himself. He could probably go for a month or even more without her and almost seemingly forget about her should she leave for an extended period of time, maybe even live out the rest of his life without her. But the moment Fluttershy steps back in to his sights, he relapses into this dependency for her love and affection. Regardless of how long a time ordeals like these take, should Fluttershy return from either errand or trip or recover from malady or trauma, he will not stand being starved of his ‘mana from Heaven’ any longer than necessary! Such is the infallibility of the absolute will with which he holds the leash that wrings his mistress’ neck and the immovable iron paw that binds and encompasses all in his vast and glorious kingdom! At least, that’s what he thinks.
Still, what Angel wants Angel gets, and who was Fluttershy to deny him of his rights and privileges? Being her ‘owner’ and all, it was her responsibility to take care of him. After all, she was feeling much better now. She had all the time in the world. Speaking of time, she felt like she was forgetting something very important. Was it important? She couldn’t remember.
Just then, she had some of the wind knocked out of here again as the fluffy bunny impacted her side once more.
She glanced over to the impatient rabbit, seeing he was at wits end. He was practically gritting his teeth in disapproval for being made to wait so long. The meek mare ascended to the level of the cabinet, and took a cook book out. Returning to Angel, he decided on something that wasn’t terribly difficult or lengthy to prepare, something she was thankful for. Though she didn’t show it nor did she like thinking about it, it annoyed her to no end when he got nit-picky about his food, so he must be really eager and hungry for both sustenance and her love to choose something simple to make. After about twenty minutes or so, his meal was done with all the fixings and had been laid in front of him. It relieved her greatly, seeing him starting to eat his brunch without so much of a fuss. So she got back to thinking about the thing that seemed to be so important. It had something to do with time but she just couldn’t remember what.
‘Oh, what was it, again?’ She wondered. ‘Was it a promise, or a reminder of something else important, something I need to pick up, or was it a favor someone asked me to do? Oh, dear, oh dear, oh dear. Which one is it?’
Before she could step away into the living room to ponder further on her sudden bout of forgetfulness, she felt a tug on her mane. Angel wanted his mistress to give him her full and undivided attention, and the unsatisfied look she saw plastered on his face combined with the glint of unbridled mischief in his beady little eyes meant he would do anything to keep her from neglecting her duty, which currently was to watch him eat lunch and feel happy for him. Sighing in forbearance, she resigned herself to her fate, continuing to watch him for about twenty more minutes as he took his sweet time finishing his meal, all the while basking in her attention.
Finally alone in the living room, Fluttershy could now concentrate on the problem at hoof. She did forget something very important and it had something to do with time. Looking over to the wall clock, she scrunched her brows in slight confusion, noticing that it was now a forty-five minutes past eleven.
‘Eleven….. ELEVEN!’ Teal eyes shot out wide open in realization of what that number meant. 'I'm supposed to meet up with the girls at the train station at eleven sharp and i'm nearly an hour late!'
As per routine when leaving her cottage and a brush in her mouth, she bade farewell to Angel Bunny after telling him be a good and well behaved little hare while she was gone, all done in a rush to the appointment that almost completely slip her mind. Angel let out a snort in response as the door shut behind Fluttershy, both for being denied once more his reservoir of love and affection, and as well as a sort of harsh goodbye for his mistress.
“Bloody serpents!” screamed Bryce in utter frustration and disappointment. “Ate my sword in one fell chomp! A thing of craftsmanship it was, being I was the bloke who forged it! I hope you choke on it!” he shouted to the darkness. “And you better make this all worth our time, you ungrateful wench!” wrathfully pointing an extra sword at the client as he threatened her.
She glared daggers at him but hadn’t responded beyond that. After all, having a silver tongue underneath that modest facade was both a blessing and a curse. Used properly and wisely, a lot of things can be made to go the speaker’s way, and on the other hand, fools who hadn’t given thought to govern it at most crucial and essential of moments often met their demise that same day they let it loose. And so knowing the full extent of how more powerful mere sentences can be than any of the monsters they’d encountered down the previous nine floors, how simple words can turn people against each other, she kept silent as the party descended the steps further into the inky darkness. She would not waste this opportunity. Though the council of institute saw fit in their kindness to give her a second chance, they did not, however, believe in a third. And if they knew she had commissioned an unsanctioned expedition to Midlight’s Deep…. She shuddered in contemplation of what her life would amount to, should she not find anything noteworthy at all.
A hand reached from behind Bryce. “Oi! Govern your tongue when around our client!” said Clifton, one of the other sell-swords. He seemed like their leader, acting like a big brother of sorts. He turned to face the young woman and said with repentance in his voice “Sorry about him there, miss! He’s just miffed about his sword getting gobbled, rusting away in a monster’s gut and what not. Completely not unlike any other respectable bloke who smiths their own blades and shields, he’s plainly venting justified anger but he don’t know how to go about venting it, that’s all. Hehe.” Content with the apology from his colleague and apparent superior, she straightened her gaze to shadows once more.
“Stick to the plan, will ya? If what’s down here ain’t worth pig skin then we’ll just slit her throat, take anything shiny and leave her for dead. So don’t blow it!” Clifton whispered to Bryce in a reprimanding and scheming tone.
“Aye.” answered Bryce as the duo looked back at their client, trying to discern whether she heard them or not. Fortunately for them, she was holding both hands to her ears which they thought she was stupid for doing. Not stupid. More like out naivety, as she was blocking out all the words the ruffian had said, trying to find her happy place while keeping the insults and criticisms down. Naive for not seeing her fault in hiring a band of deceitful brigands to aid her in this endeavor. They descended down further into the musty dungeon with cautious steps, wary of any more traps or beasts that may lie in wait. Then, off in the distance, as the stair case ended, she saw a door.
“Well, then, if your tempers have cooled enough, I think you’ll be quite please to know, this be that last door.” said their client.
The party rushed toward their goal, excitement in their gait as they ran closer to ‘only-Father-knows-what’ that awaited them past the stone gate*. With little effort, as seeing entrance open up without fuss, the party made their way into a large, unremarkable, cavernous chamber. ‘Strange’ she thought to herself, ‘The doors seemed to glide ajar, as though our steps be not the first to set foot here this century.’ Her assumptions proved true as she inspected the other sided of the door. The debris she found seemed to have been pushed aside from an earlier entry, one she estimated to be around a decade or so old.
Wiping a hand to the rubble in question revealed that much of dust on it compared to the other surfaces of the room seemed to have been disturbed. She then looked over to the floor, noticing more sets of foot prints among the dust than there should be, the ones other than her party's seeming faint and even unnoticeable to those without a discerning eye. ‘Even stranger’ she thought to herself. Before she could ponder further on the strangeness of the evidence that presented itself, her attention was caught by the shouts of complaint from the one called Bryce. Much to the dismay and dissatisfaction of the sell-swords and even more to Bryce’s, there was no treasure to be found and anything that seemed valuable enough to haul in for market was either too large or too heavy to lug back on a trip to the mainland.
“Goddamn it! This is all yer doin', wench! I’ll skin ya alive!” the knave threatened again with an angry and disappointed scowl. But then he slowed down his infuriated approach to the client, seeing she held her hand up in a gesture for him to stop.
“What’s this? Poppet got some last words!?”
“Not at all, my impatiently violent hire, just saying your gil's worth is over there, plastered on that wall.” she pointed out to some sort of hieroglyphics. “The Hero-King Mesa made mention of several of these glyphs in his journal long ago when he strove to bring back our fine nation out of the brink of despair and destruction from the aftereffects of the great cataclysm. You see before you your payment, gentlemen, bags of gold gil by the pound! And my guarantee into the esteemed Lesalian Magick Institute for Gifted Prodigies. At last!” explained the azure magus as she turned around to face the others with arms raised in glee. Though in hindsight, she should have made a better and more appropriate choice of words to give to a bunch of treasure-hungry cutthroats about their find.
Not a second later than she had finished that statement, a blunt and heavy blow had found the side of her head, knocking her out cleanly without hassle, wiping the joyful grin that punctuated the end of her statement off her face.
The feeling of disorientation and waste when waking up is never a pleasant experience. What’s even less pleasant is waking up bound, gagged and unable to move. That’s how the scholarly hopeful found herself when she woke up. Her hands and feet were tied up extremely well so that she couldn’t feel any sort of leeway in the knots. In addition to the dried blood on her temples from that blow to the head earlier, she also noticed her breathing felt heavy, surmising that her captors took the precaution of draining all magick from her, leaving her with the feeling of fatigue. That meant escape for now was impossible, so she decided to bide her time.
Looking around with blurry vision that slowly started to clear, the first thing she saw were two of the brigands rummaging through her courier pack and eating her provisions. While the duo went on to draw lots on who kept what as they eyed the spoils of their scheme, she noticed they were using her robes as a place mat to sit on the dusty and ancient floor.
‘I suffered countless a prick and cut and many more a sleepless eve tailoring and retailoring those robes. Even more aggravating were the harvesting of silk threads every full moon and the painstaking intrication of weaving the bilayered fabric that fairs twice as valuable as a pound of mythri in trade. The glyph itself, the tome I borrowed from the institute’s records, my leestone and the gift I received from the captain aside, nothing in this room possibly could hope to surpass it in value and these lack-wits use it to shield their rear ends from the dirty floor!?’ she angrily ranted to herself in thought.
One of the brigands, inspecting her copy of ‘The Tales of the Hero-King’, noticed she was awake. “Oi, Clifton! Our captive’s come to!” he called out.
She looked to the dim and murky direction the man was yelling out to and saw Clifton, Bryce and another one of the sellswords whose name she didn’t know, all on a make-shift scaffold. It stood against the wall where she recognized the glyph should be. Though there were sounds coming from the dim platform, she couldn’t tell what of, on account of the feeling of discombobulation still about her from that blow to the head earlier. Clifton and Bryce muttered something to the other guy then came down from it, the latter starring at her smugly all the while.
“Well, well, well. Did the lady have pleasant dreams? It must been nice restin’ yer head while the lowborn knaves break their backs and waste sweat, blood and breath doin’ hard work for ya, eh, princess? Especially when ya let that beast make a meal of my blade back there!” Bryce shouted into her ear as Clifton let loose the gag. Still feeling heavy and indisposed, she took a few moments to catch her breath before letting out a response.
“I am no aristocrat’s heir if that is the meaning of your words.” He didn’t seem to listen to the response from the magus, given he was still sore about the incident, but she continued with her retort anyway. “Only an inane son of a fool would assume that of someone who took time and effort to tailor their own attire, or any self-respecting human being for that matter!”
Still upset over the fact those other two men were getting wrinkles and further dirtying her robes with crumbs from her snacks, she decided to play a little mind game and let loose her silver tongue.
“Oh, and by the way. Those robes of mine your cohorts have in their possession over there? It’s fashioned from Fluttershy silk, harvested from a species of butterfly larvae near edge of extinction. Not even a pound’s worth of mythril can match the value of a single spool and your dimwit companions go about using it as a rug, you ignoramus of a foot-pad!” she haughtily countered.
Those last words felt like a hard and well-placed slap upon the knave’s cheek. Like anyone else with the skill, it was the little detail and effort one puts into each syllable of the words of the sentence, in response to the mood of the situation that was key, all done to amplify the impact of the statement. And it was her current choice of tone that left Bryce bewildered, aggravated and less satisfied with himself, all the more since it was he who suggested to using those robes that way in the first place. He looked to the duo sitting a ways off from the entrance, walked over to them and summarily yanked the impromptu carpet from underneath. They started to complain that he had done so without warning, but he didn’t mind at all. He cleaned the dust off the garment, looking at it with glints of gil in his eyes, then folded them neatly into his pack for safe keeping, which somewhat relieved their owner. She could always get them later when attempting escape, but that wasn’t what she was thinking of at the moment. So full of herself of the sleight of tongue she had accomplished, the captive magus went on with the witty criticisms which she would have normally decided against if she had been a little less impetuous and more level-headed.
“Oh, and if you’ve plans on maintaining its flawless hue, do remember to launder it using Moondew. I trust you’ve the whereabouts of the Moonbloom and the methods of handling said flora, assuming you’ve probably neither the gil to afford purchase nor the brains to synthesize your own stores. Then again, mayhap the robes would fetch a pretty gil on market. If so, it would be in your best interest to invest your earnings on a higher intellect, instead of a sultry damsel in some brothel!”
Again, more appropriate choice of words would have been better. Telling him he passed off a valuable silk garment for a carpet was bad enough, but salting the metaphoric wound that was his inadequate monetary circumstance and his seeming unintelligence earned her a heavy and powerful boot to the midsection, knocking the wind clean out of her lungs and her mind into unconsciousness once again.
The streets were bustling with commotion. Talks of excitement and glee prevalent throughout as the mayor, Ivory Scrolls, had just received an official announcement from Canterlot that the Summer Sun Celebration would be held in the humble rural town this year. Being granted this privilege once again when it hadn’t even been that long since that fateful night they last held the festival, the citizens of Ponyville felt very honored, because it usually took a decade before a town, village or city was put back on the list of venues for the festival.
Fluttershy could only hear the sounds of her hoof-steps in a gallop; however, as she made her way to the train station. Everything was a blur when she rushed by and the chatter seemed like echoes off in the distance drowning in thoughts of her own incompetency. She was so worried and preoccupied over being late she even forgot she had wings! At least she remembered the reason why the gang was meeting up at the station. Twilight had received a letter from Princess Celestia earlier in the week that she would be coming for a visit today by train which would be arriving around eleven in the morning, and requested for her most prized pupil including the rest of the bearers of Elements of Harmony to meet her there. It was quite strange though, seeing as the Princess could always take a chariot, teleport into the library, or, a less likely possibility, fly there herself instead. Then again, who was she to question the royal’s sensibilities? She must have had a good reason in spite of the strangeness of her choice.
But yet, even more strange was the fact that when she arrived, the staff hadn’t made any preparations to receive the Princess nor were there crowds of ponies clambering to get a view of her. No security, no paparazzi, no chariot escort for after she arrives, not even one single welcome banner. She quickly spotted her friends who were equally perturbed by the turn of events or rather seeming lack of event at the train station. Rarity was the first to notice, come up to and greet her.
“Fluttershy, dear, you’re looking well,” she said in relief. “Thank Luna for your speedy recovery. We were all beginning to think that you had come down with something much more severe and that you’d need to be admitted hastily into intensive care! In the off chance Princess Celestia couldn’t make it to our little appointment, we were going to come check on you right away.”
The seamstress called for the rest of the group to come over who all voiced out similar concerns over their friend’s condition.
“Fluttershy, darling, why were you sweating and breathing so heavily when you first arrived? And… is that a brush in your mane?” Rarity inquired worriedly. Rainbow Dash came over, inspected their meek friend and came to the conclusion, “Hmmm….. Looks like you came here in a gallop….. And that’s the first thing you do after you get better?” She had puzzled look over Fluttershy’s choice of action.
“Sort of, but it’s okay, girls. I’m fine now, see?” the mare quietly responded, flexing both her wings in a display of health. Though after another moment of thought, she resisted the urge to face-hoof and avoid further embarrassment, realizing she had forgotten something so obvious and inherent to all pegasi. Instead, she withdrew her wings and shrunk in shame as another thought of incompetency found a snug and cozy place in the shelf of her mind. The girls, ever caring and concerned for their friend, took notice of her reaction with Twilight making the first inquiry.
“Is something wrong, Fluttershy?”
“I forgot I had wings,” she responded in a volume so low, a pin dropping to the ground could have been louder.
“Come again there, sugarcube?” said Applejack.
“I kinda forgot I had wings,” This time, it was definitely softer than a pin drop.
“A little louder please, we can barely hear you.” Twilight replied.
“I kinda forgot I had wings, so I galloped from home,” Now the volume of her voice reached a whole new level of quiet.
“Fluttershy, dear, will you please speak up? If it weren’t for this crowd and all the noise coming from the town, we could probably hear the marching of those ants over your voice!” Rarity pointed out with slight annoyance as she gestured to an army of ants pillaging a nearby trash can.
She took a few moments to pluck up the courage to form a response and speak up “I.. I was so worried I was late, I came here in a hurry...... So I kinda forgot I had wings, and decided to gallop all the way here,” she finally explained at an audible volume, her face flushed yet hidden behind her pink mane. After a few seconds of taking in what the mare had just said, Rainbow keeled over in hilarity, with Twilight and Applejack just chuckling while Rarity, in addition to the two, face-hoofed for their demure friend.
“Ahahaha! You forgot you had wings again? Oh man! I… haha.. I …hahahaha!” the cyan mare couldn’t finish her sentence over her laughter.
When the mirth had settled down to a conversationable level, Rairty spoke, “Well, at least you remembered to brush your mane on the way. I would rather hide myself at home all day than be seen with bed-mane out in public!” She cringed at the mere thought of it.
“That’s our Fluttershy, alright! Looks like ta me that there all-cure Zecora brewed up really done the trick. Ah swear, that zebra gots more know-how in medicine than all those doctors in Ponyville General combined,” said the apple farmer.
“That wasn’t an ‘Allcure’, Applejack, because no such thing exists. And it wasn’t even that serious to begin with, just a simple case of hay fever. All of you were just overreacting,” Twilight added a matter-of-factly.
“Hey, it’s not our fault we’re not all eggheads like you, Twi,” she pointed out, derping both her eyes and brows to emphasize the ‘egghead’ comment.
Celestia’s most prized student held a upset scowl to the statement that Rainbow Dash had made as the others’ laughter settled into chuckles with that bout of friendly teasing except for one pink mare. Oddly enough, Pinkie Pie, usually the jovial and exuberant pony of the group, the one all for playful banter and friendly bickering, had remained silent throughout the entire exchange, watching them with an ever observant eye while wearing a smile. She was now staring at an even odder pegasus who approached them from behind, catching them unawares. She had an off white coat, a yellow poofy mane and tail, purple eyes and sported three yellow balloons with radiating rays for a cutie mark. She almost seemed an exact double for the party pony if it weren’t for her wings and the slightly different brand on her flank. It was very peculiar sight indeed to see the two of them beside each other. When she began her introduction, an awkward silence descended upon the group of friends as they alternated glances and dumbfound looks between the party pony and her apparent pegasus twin.
“Greetings, bearers of the Elements of Harmony. My name is Sunny Surprise. I am currently serving as her highness, Princess Celestia’s attendant for this visit to Ponyville. She had to come at an earlier time than expected, so I’ll be accompanying you all to her current location,” she said in a well rehearsed yet very patrician tone and graceful demeanor albeit in Pinkie Pie’s voice. Rainbow Dash was the first to break the awkward moment with an observation.
“A pony who almost looks and sounds like Pinkie but is a pegasus and acts all fru-fru and fancy like all those uptight hooves from Canterlot. One party pony's barely enough to deal with, but a second Pinkie with a snooty streak? Give me a break!” the cyan mare deadpanned which made Twilight cringe with embarrassment. She was just about to scold Rainbow for it when Rarity cut her off.
“Rainbow! Mind your manners in front of new company!” to which pegasus responded with a sheepish grin.
“Ahem. Please pardon her attitude, she tends to judge books by their cover, especially those hailing from high society but with all formalities aside, would you kindly guide us to her majesty, Princess Celestia, now? Oh, and thank you for the escort,” Rarity continued in an apologetic tone for the would-be-wonderbolt.
“Think nothing of it. Now if you will, please follow me to the Princess,” Sunny Surprise replied with a sly smirk.
When the scholarly hopeful came to a few hours later, she woke up to the same sight of debris and rubble from centuries of decay layered with dust and dirt. She felt sore all over, bruises aching in their tenderness as she noticed she was laid against a wall close to the scaffolding she saw earlier. The room was brighter than before, assuming the brigands had set up a few more torches to get a better look at the room in a fruitless attempt to find anything of worth to loot. After a couple of hours of futile searching, they had all decided to double their effort on whatever they were doing with the glyph and leave as soon as possible. Again, sounds could be heard from above and it made her worry that she couldn’t identify what exactly they were doing to the mural. Concluding that it was probably the effects of that blow to her head earlier that impaired her hearing, she pondered on living a life in partial deafness. That’s when Bryce, the one assigned to watch over the captive, came down from the platform with a resonant and foreboding stomp.
“Looks like yer up and about again, eh, poppet? Have ya anymore witty comebacks?” the tall and gruff man said condescendingly as he held their former client by the collar of her garb.
“…..” she remained silent while looking away disdainfully, not one for tolerance of physical pain as evidenced by that earlier scuffle.
“Not talking, eh? I’m sure you’ll love this, then, considerin' it’ll leave ya anything but speechless, poppet!”
Bryce brought her over to the front of the scaffold and then lifted her up by the arm which caused her to wince. But what she saw on top of the scaffold caused her more distress than the thought of tolerating any sort of physical pain she could imagine. Ever since they took her captive, the brigands had been working on the glyph with intent of removing it from the chamber wall. She was mortified by this choice of action as she struggled, in spite of the pain, to break free from Bryce’s iron clamp grasp. They were ruining her last chance to claim admission into the institute, her chance at leaving her mark in history and her only hope of making her mother proud.
“What in Father’s good earth are you fools doing to the glyph!?” said the outraged maiden.
“We’re carving it out from the wall, that’s what, to bid it off to the highest gil in the black market. You think we’ve not the brains for this sort being sellswords, but I know for a fact that the mural itself’ll fetch a higher price than word of its discovery,” Clifton said smugly as we worked on the excavation.
“You lack-wits!! You deface sacred writing and make it vulnerable to further deterioration! Your faith and respect for the ancients and Gods be blinded, spirits possessed by want for sordid coin!!” she chastised the brigands, disgusted at their audacity.
“Ha! Gods? Spirits? Sacred? Ain’t no such thing exists!” Clifton responded with an arrogant and seemingly all-knowing tone. “Sorry to burst your bubble, lassy but only one idea forever rings true in these godforsaken times, and that’s Value!”
“….” the captive went silent, still angry over the turn of events as well, she didn't want to grace his ignorant retort with an answer.
“And besides, I don’t see much of it on yerself either,” he continued raving. “So, have ya any clue, my little lassy, what you be as good as to us now?” the leader of the sellswords rhetorically questioned.
The magus gasped in dread as she frightfully anticipated his next words.
“Dead weight,” he deadpanned as a signal.
Bryce followed suit, taking his remaining sword and cleanly impaling their former client, the end of the blade bloodily sticking out from her back. The knave withdrew his bloody sword from her body then threw her off to one side of the dusty chamber with a satisfied grin on his face.
“No hard feelings, poppet! Ya got what ya deserved! Oh, and thanks for the robes!” Bryce hollered feeling satisfied as he climbed back onto the platform.
The sellswords were nearing the end of their excavation, and only one final strike to the crack they made around the glyph was needed to dislodge it completely. As the tip of the pick sunk into the ancient wall, an ominous spark surged across the glyph’s face, followed by black sphere that burst forth and billowed out from it. The brigands didn’t even notice what they had done as they were pulled into the void, crushed under the sheer weight and gravity of the energy they had unleashed. The chamber trembled as the void continued to expand swallowing everything it touched, slowly approaching the dying mage. She could only watch as the abysmal darkness went on unimpeded in its advance. Her limbs and senses failed her as her vision slowly blurred and faded to black, a sign of her impending and inevitable death. Tears of sorrow fell down onto the bloody ground as the red river of life drained out from her body. This was the end for her. Yet, she had so much to do, so much to accomplish. She would cry out in anguish and despair if she could, but in such dismal and hopeless circumstances there was nothing she could do at all.
There was only black silence.
Her eyes opened to nothing, a black and infinite expanse that felt inhospitable yet welcoming at the same time. She felt herself at peace, almost fading into the darkness while feeling cold yet blissful and carefree. ‘Is this it? Is this Father’s Keeping? This is eternal paradise? Why is it so desolate? Isn’t it supposed to be filled with light?’ After asking herself these questions for what felt like an eternity, she stopped caring because she didn’t want to leave anymore.
Then, something stirred off in the distance. It looked like somehow in the darkness, the fabric of reality became twisted and arced. Then from the center of current came a tiny dot, a single spec of light that started to twinkle faintly in the seemingly infinite void. A very strange sound came from its direction in sharp contrast to silence of the inky darkness she currently found herself in. She decided to ignore the indecipherable noise that came upon her metaphysical ears, but something about this calling felt familiar, felt warm, and felt so consoling. Just as these thoughts came to mind, the darkness bit down hard with frosty, unseen teeth that dug deep into the fiber of her very being. She would scream if she could, but only the feeling of insignificance came to mind, upon realizing with great awe and despair what had bitterly seized her soul. It was Death itself.
She struggled with all her might. Every fiber of her being was crying out for her to break free and escape. Never in her life had she ever experienced such hopelessness, as if everything she had done was a vain and fruitless attempt to flee. She felt her fear fading as she almost gave in. But even when she lost faith in Hope, Hope would not give up so easily on her. The tiny white dot off in the distance grew in size exponentially to the magnitude of a small star and from it burst forth rays of radiant pure light which cut her unseen bonds that stretched from the maw of the abysmal darkness. It reached out with a ray bending toward and around her, seeming to defying the natural law as it did. She was allowed to have Hope again. She held on tight, clinging to the blinding beams of hope as she let out a metaphoric waterfall of tears filled with raw emotion. She could not contain her fears and feelings that returned to her as she realized that she, a mere mortal, had stepped into Death’s domain past the point of no return, then had been graciously saved from the darkness by banishing rays of Hope.
After what seemed like an eternity of crying, the bright arms began to pull her back towards the star that shone in the distance. It brought her closer to its outer boundary, piecing her with other parts of her life force it rescued from oblivion brought together by other bright arms of light. Now, she felt whole again, so full of energy and vigor. But something still felt odd, as if something was still missing. Some part of her so important, vital, and essential that without it she would become dull, void and grey once more, putting herself at the mercy of Death again and forevermore, drifting in its infinite and absolute grasp as a broken spirit. It was her physical body. A deathly look had formed on her non-existant face, realizing what she had been missing all this time. How did this happen? Who did this to her? Was she really dead? But fortunately for her, this Hope was not false in leading her back to life. She saw the star swell up then open to reveal something definite and tangible. It was her own soulless vessel that floated from out of it.
She went over to meet it in a reminiscent embrace as if greeting an old friend. Her soul started to fade into it, as she felt unconsciousness grip her. Its familiar blackness that seem to ebb her into the home of her physical mind had welcomed her to where she rightfully belonged.
“Think nothing of it. Now if you will, please follow me to the Princess,” Sunny Surprise replied with a sly smirk.
They all left the train station and headed for the town hall. It was pretty much a straight forward route when all of a sudden, the pegasus veered off to Sugar Cube Corner, wanting to drop by for a meal first. Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes at the act of inconsideration for making the Princess wait, but tried not to mind, hoping the pegasus wouldn’t delay them any longer than neccessary. After all, she decided it was about time they all had lunch as well, as their tummies rumbled in hungry affirmation.
Unfortunately for her, Sunny Surprise had something else in mind. After the little lunch break, the pegasus went on gallivanting all over and about Ponyville, exploring every nook and cranny under ‘orders’ to survey the area for any insignificantly impossible and incredible threat to Princess Celestia’s visit to the humble, rural town. They went to the Ponyville schoolhouse, inspecting it for ‘contraband’, then over to Sweet Apple Acres’, checking for poison in the cider which rubbed the Apples, especially Granny Smith, the wrong way and earned the ‘guest’ a hind hoof off premises from the proud and angry grand-matron. Strangely though, Pinkie dove in to take the hit for their guide, shocking the ponies present. Granny Smith apologized to the party pony and the group for her outburst but was still firm in her disdain opinion of their rude escort.
Leaving the farm, they then came upon Books and Branches, searching the treebary for any subversive literature, in spite of the librarian and her assistant’s insistence that no such content existed in the collection. Sunny Surprise ignored this and continued her ‘investigation’, deshelving and placing all the books on the floor, much to Twilight’s and to a greater extent, Spike’s displeasure and exasperation. After that, the pegasus stopped by Quills and Sofas to buy a very expensive and ornate quill and a very plush and comfy sofa as well. Then lastly, they went back again to Sugar Cube Corner for a very late dinner. Not even the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ tree house was spared. Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle would be upset if they found out some upper-class pony had been snooping through their stuff. Not that there was anything of interest.
They had been taken on a wild goose chase which lasted well into the night. If not counting stars, the only remaining witnesses to their plight were Princess Luna’s moon, hanging in the night sky, and the occasional homeward-bound passerby who worked some sort of late shift in town. Poor ponies. It was now a late eleven thirty in the evening and if it weren’t for the love and tolerance everypony in Equestria held for each other, the fact she was a royal attendant, or that Princess Celestia wanted to see them, they would have handed her over to the authorities long ago for fraud. Everyone was visibly worn out and exasperated as Rarity started complaining about this not being good for her coat or something.
They had just about enough of their escort, while she began to make her way back to town hall, seeming unfazed by the half-day tour around town. All except Pinkie Pie, who was again being unusually level-headed about this which, unusually, her frustrated friends failed to notice. Another thing that escaped the group’s attention was a flash of light that came from the southeastern sky, in the direction of the Everfree Forest. It disappeared as mysteriously as it came, extremely brief to the point nopony noticed it at all. Nopony except for a certain pink mare, who made a glance in its direction as quickly as the flash faded.
They entered the building hesitantly following Sunny Surprise in, still wary of any tricks up their guide’s proverbial sleeves. Suddenly the doors slammed shut behind them and the lights went out.
The unwitting magus felt peaceful, knowing she was in a familiar space, her rightful vessel. But that tranquil moment ended abruptly when her senses came back in a rush, jostling her awake. She took a minute to collect herself, allowing the ringing in her ear to settle and her vision to stop spinning. This time, they were not lying in telling her she was on the ground. She felt the soft grass and thought it a pleasant thing to drift back into a deep and silent reprieve from the harsh reality once more as the smooth and verdant blades rustled around her.
‘That’s strange… Grass…. Instead of musty cobblestone?’ she thought to herself as she gripped the surface of the ground feeling something that shouldn’t be there.
Turning to lie on her back, she confirmed it was indeed grass, slightly wet with dew. Her eyes opened up to a nighttime sky beyond a canopy of coniferous trees. ‘Am I in a forest?’ she thought again as she looked up in bewilderment and with a slight headache. The lack of illumination confused her for in its place was a gathering of strange cloud formations. They looked like clouds but they weren’t. They didn’t seem as airy and uplifting like usual clouds appeared. These ones looked condensed and twisted, almost like they were unnatural and resembling smog. She knew only incessant and constant canon fire, combustion spells of the grandest scale, or a small town’s worth of razed buildings could deposit large amounts of smog and soot into the sky enough to blot out both the stars and the moon. This did not bode well. If there were battles raging on nearby, the magus certainly wouldn’t like to get caught in the chaos and become a statistic. There were more important things that needed her attention, like what exactly just happened back at Midlight’s Deep.
Thinking back to the incident, it made her shudder when she remembered the feeling of cold hard steel impaling her and the bloody gape it had left behind as well as the bruises that riddled her body. But something was amiss when she looked to check herself. There was neither a stain nor a smidge of crimson. Not even a blemish on her fair skin, as if she had never been harmed to begin with. Yet, further inspection underneath her clothes revealed that the gash, as well as her contusions, had been healed, so someone must have rescued her from those brigands back at the isle.
‘T’was no nightmare after all. Someone of great benevolence sought to fetch me from the brink,’ she thought to herself while getting up to stand, but not without great trouble. It felt as if she had gone a week without food or sleep, her pale and thin frame nearly depleted of energy as well as magick. ‘I should save that thought for some other time when I’m rested and have my bearings about me.’
“Meandering hither and thither when thou hast nary a notion to thy current whereabouts would be an unwise venture!” a rippling echo suddenly warned her, a voice which seemed to come from everywhere at once, startling the maiden out of her wits.
“Show yourself!” she called out after getting a hold of herself. There was something familiar about this voice that seemed amicable and consoling. She waited for a response.
“………..” But there was none nor was there anyone around to be seen.
“Suit yourself. I’ll just flush you out from your sanctuary, then,” the magus whispered as she charged up her magick for the purpose of exposing the would-be assailant. She didn’t forget that she had been drained of magick prior to waking up, but that didn’t mean she could scrape a meager trickle for one very basic spell, one even a child cast. She tried to stir a sliver of magick, but there nothing within, nothing to manipulate or shape to her will. Three more times the magus attempted to gather and concentrate magick, but she still got the same fruitless result. Of course, she had no magick. The brigands did drain her of it all earlier, but it seemed something else was preventing her from managing even the most simple of spells. Off in the distance, she could hear the same voice suppressing mirthful chuckles.
‘Were it a ghast of malevolent intent, it could have done me harm when I had been more vulnerable. It’d be best to ignore the impish phantom and find civilization,’ she told herself in thought as she got up and started looking around, hoping to find a town as soon as possible. ‘And as for my magick, I’ll have time to sort that out once I’m sheltered and properly nourished.’
After wandering about aimlessly for about an hour or so, she found a dirt path that seemed to lead out of the forest. The amount of trees started to thin out as she approached the end of it. Off in the distance, she saw a light. The forest seemed to be cut in two, and its verdant and woody lush gave way to gravel as she ventured toward the light.
Suddenly, the ground felt dense and uniform under her feet, having stepped on something metallic. Out of curiosity, she placed a hand to it and felt cold to her touch. It also seemed to be shaped into some sort of path. She had just barely inspected it when darkness suddenly became bright. The light had come to her, and the ground trembled in its stampede! Behind its glow was a large metal hulk of a carriage that ran towards her at alarming speed! A rush of adrenaline gave her energy and she leapt to the side, narrowly escaping the steel hull of the impending behemoth mere inches as it thundered down the metal track. Though out of danger, the sight of the monstrosity was enough to send the magus into a panic. She staggered back to the forest in a fright, unsure of what she saw.
The maiden stumbled into a clearing and stopped running when there were no more trees to catch her fall. In the middle of the clearing ran a stream of clear water. and its refreshing sound had seemed to clear her headache. She thought that she could finally catch a break and rest her weary body. Unbeknownst to her, fate had something else in store. As she began to walk over to the small stream to sate her thirst, the pressure in the air began to prick at her skin, and the sky cleared to reveal an endless starry canvas and the pale full moon as some sort unworldly presence made itself known, catching her unawares.
“Hast thou learnt what a foolish venture it be to disregard advice from scions, yet? Such pluck for even a youngling such as thee to tread unfamiliar ground at such a trying circumstance, if not foolhardy a choice.”
The disembodied voice had returned. Choosing to remain silent in her surprise, the magus felt she was in the presence of something great and ageless yet familiar all the while.
“Come forth to the mirror, youngling. For fear and uncertainty finds no welcome in my presence.” The stream running through the clearing started to glow at its command. The maiden complied, warily trudging to it in fatigue and apprehension. As soon as she made it to the edge and set her gaze upon it, she went slack-jawed. Reflected on the water was her face agape in awe and revere, not for her own haggard appearance, but for the invisible being that had made itself seen in the reflection.
Behind her was large and vast serpent of an opulent obsidian hue. It was bound by numerous wards to an ornate looming arch that, despite its purpose, only seemed to amplify its magnificence. The magus thought starvation and exhaustion had finally got to her, and had conjured these voices and this apparition. Then, it spoke again.
“Dreams and illusions be reserved for wanderers in slumber and souls in oblivion. Thou art neither of these, as well as I, neither dream nor illusion. What your eyes gaze upon beest genuine as the pang in thy belly or the warmth of thy baited breath.”
Awestruck and speechless, she turned around to face the source of the echo. It truly was there in all its eminence and splendor and it had revealed itself to her. At the sight of the grand being, the magus knew exactly what it was. It was the being in the glyph, her guarantee. She wanted to skip about in joy of her discovery, for the esper that searched for and proven to exist. Now, her place in the esteemed Lesalian Magick Institute for Exceptional Prodigies was assured, and she could finally make her mother proud. But she kept a still silence, respecting of the deity so as not to displease it. Then, it spoke again, with the same voice that seemed to come from everywhere at once.
“I say once more that fear and uncertainty finds no welcome in my presence. Speak thy mind now, youngling or forever be left in the dark,” The serpent said with an ethereal rasp in its voice.
“…….” She chose to remain silent once more, out of fear this time, that her meager mortal mannerisms might miff the magnanimous deity who would smite her in its magnificently divine fury, if she did not show respect.
“Dost mine grand and hallowed visage and exalted contenance intimidate thee to utter speechlessness, youngling?” the deity inquired inquisitively. The maiden barely nodded in response to affirm its suspicions.
“One moment,” it said right after, and in a flash of bright light, the divine serpent was gone without a trace.
It all seemed unreal, like she imagined the apparition out of thin air. The magus thought that it must have been the after-effects of the healing magick. Some spells tend to cause illusions, this almost always occurring when recipient is revived shortly before death. But the air was still stifling her breath, condensed with pressure as if reality was struggling to hold together in the presence of a god. Then, the pressure lightened up to a now bearable level and the stream began glowing brightly again.
“Well, then. How does this fair to your liking? I find this facade to be a ways less intimidating than the usual opulent scales and godly mien, don’t you?” the disembodied voice spoke in a manner and sound almost human save for the rasp and ripple in it. Walking over to the pond, she was amazed to see the face of an amber eyed, young man dressed in similar blue robes, one at around her age, reflected on its surface standing left of her. She felt confused. ‘Am I talking to a scion or a mischievous trickster?’ she thought to herself as turned from the reflection to the young man beside her and stepped back in apprehension, wary of whatever scheme he may had planned, if he had any.
“Is that how humes show gratitude to their savior nowadays? They’ve certainly fallen in their reverence for the divine,” the peculiar young man stated in a know-it-all manner.
“Just who in High Heaven are you? Where am I? And what has become o-“
“Become of those knaves who dare desecrate my home and disturb my rest?” the young man interrupted in an intense and austere voice different from his earlier tone, a voice that only spoke truth.
“They deserved their untimely demise, for they knew not their place in this world, much less before me.”
She felt terrified of this being that looked to her with condescending eyes, knowing it had taken care of the five men that schemed against her with relative ease. Then, came the sudden return of her memory of that vast black abyss that crushed the sell-swords and dissipated their corpses into mist, which scared her immensely. Despite being exhausted, she tried to turn tail and run. But before she could even move, the young man held the top of her head to stop her. His touch was calming and soothing like that of an elder consoling an impatient youth. Then, another memory came back to her. The memory of the bright rays that banished Death and saved her from its cold clutches. Without a doubt, this was the very same being that had rescued her twice. And both these memories attested to the divine power of the deity that humbled himself before her.
“What are you?” the magus asked anxiously.
“I am the strongest to ever exist. They feared me and my potential greatly, and so kept me a child,” he began as he took his hand off her head, the air becoming even more stifling than before as he continued. “So indomitable is my strength that all things by me are twisted and pressed into nothingness. It was I who made basis the very laws of our realm, favoring your world's existence, as well as yours. So am I the Keeper of Precepts, whose authority is infallible and absolute.” When he finished, the pressure receded once more.
“Serpentarius,” she soundlessly lipped to herself.
“Is that the title I go by nowadays? I find it suits me much more than the last, though I've not the slightest of what it was,” he responded in nonchalance, surprising and confusing the maiden with a change of expression and demeanor. Realizing that being of equal strength to a god stood before her, she began to lay herself prostrate on the ground as if praying for his mercy for when she had been disrespectful. But the deity in human form stopped her halfway.
“B.. But, but you are a god! A being of immense and awesome power! I cannot be brought to your level for my rightful place be beneath the very ground you tread!” she fearfully said in her half kneel, her head in a low bow to show respect and avoid eye contact.
He brought her up and said “I care not for worshippers or sacrifice, for such trivialities are unnecessary. What I require now the most is a friend. Was that not your intent upon deciding to study your find? To befriend the being chained by glyph?” He held his hand out to greet her. She wondered for a second how exactly did he find that out.
‘Oh… Of course, it is well within the capabilities of a deity to ascertain the intents of mere mortals, as well as many other things such as omniscience.....’ She thought of other things an entity such as him might be capable of, forgetting him for awhile as her face became contorted by great curiosity and losing herself in a brief mental tangent. This was what interested the god-being so, this character that piqued his fancy.
Most mortal men would come to him seeking power, the kind great enough to tear lands asunder and annihilate legions in a single blow. A righteous heretic, who, not too long ago, had defeated him in combat, only sought his aid to cleanse the land pure and make correct the mistakes of the selfish few, nothing more. Even his fellow scions thought themselves past and superior to ideas such as love and friendship. Not once had he been considered a being that could be befriended. That is what made this unassuming maiden different, what separated her from the rest. Her innocent naivety. Now with his first friend in sight, he would not let this mortal drown herself in the mindless worship and unfound fear of unknowns that he had come to expect of others like her.
“What’s wrong? Mog got your tongue?” the entity with a now mortal visage said in an openly amicable tone.
The magus cringed that she had actually made the immortal being wait on her, a deity no less! But she didn’t notice his shift in demeanor. “A- a thousand pardons, your Grace. Contemplation had me better than myself and I veered to a tangent in thought. It is my hope a bow in reverence will suffice, lest a miracle come and grant me a gift to offer thee, for I have none at the moment,” she said, again in a low bow to avoid eye contact, for she thought herself less than worthy to stand before him. Nearly half a minute passed by in silence as she waited in vain for his reply. So, when she took a quick glance up, he had an unamused look about him. She thought back for a moment, and then it came back to her. “Oh! A pardon for forgetting myself again and the words you had just spoken. It never occurred to me that I would befriend a being such as yourself.”
He was happy with her change of tone and that she took the hint to stop being so formal. “Now with the misgivings put to rest, let us start with introductions. And as the higher power, etiquette dictates that I begin, though the title I go by is known to you already, correct?”
“Yes, I do, your Grace, so I shall give you mine in return. My given name is… is…is….” Her headache had come back with a vengeance as she tried to recall her name.
“This is strange.. And embarrassing… I can’t…can’t seem to recall my own name!” she said distressingly, her right hand clutching her head and the left in a pounding motion. “I know but I can’t seem to reach it. I-I apologize for my incompetence, your Grace.”
“Honorifics are unnecessary, and your incompetence is not the reason you forget yourself,” he said all-knowingly.
“Um.. I.. beg your pardon?”
“The Laws of this realm are to blame for it is the price they have exacted upon you,” the young man started to explain, pacing back and forth.
“One does not simply go about traveling dimension all willy-nilly. Though, they be different, each world be governed by a similar set of precepts and principles. A common misconception mortals hold over my abilities is that I have the power to fashion these very Laws. To the contrary, I haven’t the power to do so, I merely discover them.” He glanced to her briefly to check if she had paid attention which she did.
“But you-“ Her query was abruptly cut by his response.
“Hehe, one of my faults. The word ‘made’ vastly inspires more awe than ‘discover’, don’t you think so too? The ‘gods’ themselves, in fact, are beings far from perfection as well,” he said with a sheepish smirk.
“Now, returning to the topic at hand, recent findings lead me to conclude that these Laws of the realm exacts a price upon each and every individual who take part in interdimensional travel. The Laws do not take kindly to beings who disregard them.”
“Another dimension!?” she almost shouted.
“ And- and the toll I have paid for my interloping is my name?” the magus said, seeming unconvinced. Then again, she was talking to the Keeper of Precepts, so who was she to doubt him? But still, this was all too much to take in one sitting. She had plans for her life and to her, and this strange twist of fate was ways more impeding than the any setback hardship had thrown at her in the past. ‘What of the Institute? Of my career and my bright future? Were all my strivings simply for naught? How will mother fair without me?’ she deprecatingly wondered to herself, trying to hide her shock as she questioned him further.
“Does that not seem too light a consequence for an offense as grave as this, your Grace? And what of you? Surely, these Laws have not the authority to enact penalty upon you?”
He sighed in slight annoyance, seeing she had stopped all formalities but the titles and then responded. “Even I, in your words, a being of immense and awesome power cannot bend them to my will. Do not forget in my mentioning that I only discover these Laws, not fashion them. And even now, I am still not privy to what payment they have demanded of me,” the god-being said with a hint of uncertainty, to the contrary of his earlier statement. “Mayhap some be taken over time, which may very well be in our particular case, this being my very first experience in another dimension.”
'Your first!?' she exclaimed in thought. His last statement had the maiden confused even further. “But your Grace! Was it not by your doing that we are thrust to this strange land?”
“Oh.. That little squall earlier? That was just a tantrum…. albeit one capable of bending time and space, hehe. But nothing beyond the Laws themselves, mind you! Should it happen, they obviously condone it as well.” he said jokingly with a chuckle. “I myself do not take well to such disturbances especially by those belligerent riffraff and the atrocities they committed in my presence, all for want of common coin. Just deserts, I say!” A disgusted scowl formed on his face as he recalled the event.
“And with regards to your situation, it only felt right in my being that I only undo their misdeed and restore you to life, so please feel free to shower me in your gratuitous praise anytime,” he finished haughtily.
“Your Gra-“ She didn’t finish that sentence when he shot her another unamused glare.“Oh, the hono- er, titles… Yes, dropping them.”
“If it be well within your power to bring us both to another world, shouldn’t the same apply to the reverse?”
“Well, yes, it should.”
“It should?” she was still unconvinced.
“ Lest of the Laws of this particular realm anathematize the use of magick, which unfortunately for us is very much an undeniable fact as evidenced by your most recent demonstration of magickal prowess as well as considering this little parlor trick here be the most I can manage. Any other form of magick aside from my own seems inaccessible,” he finished his statement matter-of-factly.
She would have wondered how a transformation from a godly serpentine visage to that of humble human mortal would qualify as a parlor trick if it weren’t for the gravity in the words he spoke. She couldn’t use magick, and more or less, neither could he. She was trapped in a strange land with almost no chance of returning home, stuck with an unhelpful, if not insensible, immortal being no less. To her, being trapped here was as good as abandoning her responsibilities and everything that she built up to this point. There was no going back and here, in this strange land, she had nothing. Again, it was just all too much for her to take in one sitting. She knew this esper was her only credible source of knowledge and that benevolent deities never likely tend to lie. There was no denying it, and in her inability to see the silver lining, she started to fall into despair again, just as she did back at Death’s domain. She just couldn’t help it anymore, and broke down into tears.
The deity in human form had predicted this reaction, and after an hour's worth of sobs, readied consoling words to reverse the mood. He placed a hand on her back then held her chin up as he sincerely conveyed his response.“It’s as you mortals say, youngling. We drift afloat on one boat, am I right? I myself do not savor the idea of lingering in a world where the Laws themselves tax me for mere existence, for I too wish to return back to whence we came."
Holding her chin up to gaze in her eyes, he made a genuine, heartfelt promise. "No matter how long till we see this through, I shall offer all in my knowledge and ability to endeavor to that end. This I swear to you, my first friend.”
She had judged him too quickly. This esper was honestly willing to help her, and the mere thought, that a deity would oblige himself to her cause, gave her hope that she could return home and see her mother again. “The correct term is ‘on the same boat,’ you silly serpent," she replied while she wiped the tears off her face, "and I greatly appreciate you lifting my spirits. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, milady,” he replied as he jokingly bowed in a chivalrous manner with a hand outstretched to help her up, making her cheeks flush red. “Well now, seeing as you’ve your emotions sorted out, let’s resume introductions shall we?”
“Let’s...... Then again, how can I? I can’t seem to recall my own name after all,” she pointed out.
"That and the fact the title ‘Serpentarius’ ill-suits an august and dapper face such as this in consideration, why not we assigned ourselves new names?” he suggested.
“I see no reason to object,” she said, giggling at his self flattery.
After giving each other a moment to pick out names, they turned to resume their introductions.“Then I shall begin..... Ahem…. A pleasure to make your acquaintance, my fair maiden. My name is Zacheus, but you may call me Zach for short,” the young man, now named Zach, said chivalrously as he bowed again, following up with a wink.
“Likewise, I’m certain, Zacheus. My name is Parnella, and it shall be my pleasure to adventure about in this strange land with you,” she replied with a smile, deciding to finish her introduction with a bow in kind. It relieved her greatly that she was now in the good company of a selfless esper who had pledged to her his assistance in this difficult journey to home. But in spite of this respite from the hopeless circumstance she had haplessly stumbled into, this small comfort could not allay the effects of fatigue and magickal depletion. As soon as she had reached the bottom of her curtsy, Parnella lost consciousness and predictably fell into the young man’s waiting arms.
The deity in human form sat silently in thought with the maiden sleeping soundly in his embrace. As the nearby stream of cool spring water continued its tireless cascade through the clearing, the sun began to peek out from behind the horizon, signaling the beginning of a new day. Zach looked to the dawning sky, wondering what the Laws of this realm had in store for him and his companion. How long would they be stuck here before they could return home? What challenges would they face along the way? And what exactly did he pay for his arrival into this world? He did not know.
He could only wait for these question to be explained in due time.
They entered the building, hesitantly following Sunny Surprise in while keeping wary of any tricks up their guide’s proverbial sleeves. Suddenly, the doors slammed shut behind them and the lights went out.
“That’s it! I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ve had enough! Wait till I get my hooves on you.You’re gonna be in for it, you fancy-faker!” shouted Rainbow Dash, raring to go with wings flared in frustration. While the others were panicking and fumbling over each other in the darkness, Applejack somehow managed to restrain the aspiring wonderbolt.
“Now, hold on thar, Rainbow! Don’t be goin’ all out hooves a blazin’ in here. If ya do, yer definitely gonna hurt somepony, and that likely won’t be that varmint here, now will it?” As the Pegasus realized the logic in the apple farmer’s words, a hearty laugh made itself heard as a spotlight from up the rafters cut through the darkness and shone down on the ponies.
“Pinkie Pie’s missing!” pointed out Twilight in a quick head count.
And without pause after the purple unicorn’s mention of the missing party pony, Rainbow Dash looked to the rafters and bawled in outrage, “Where is she and what have you done to her, you fraud!?” she demanded as she tried to make out the silhouette behind the spotlight. Just then, another voice erupted into jovial laughter that border-lined maniacal, bewildering the five mares who were kept in the dark.
“Oh my GOSH!! Hahaha, you guys should see the look on you faces! Absolutely priceless! Hahahaha,” the jovial voice managed in its giggle fit.
“Say what?” the cyan mare deadpanned unamusingly in recognition of that voice.
Its owner made her way from behind the spotlight and glided down the rafters to their level, then stepped into the light to reveal herself as her laughs died down. It was the pegasus who introduced herself as Sunny Surprise and her off-white face was almost purple from the hilarity. She paced her way to the group while trying to not fall over and burst out laughing again. This further confused the ponies because this pegasus, who started off acting high-classed and well-mannered, was now acting a lot like their rambunctious pink friend.
“What in tarnation is going on here!? Who are you exactly, and where’s Pinkie?” Applejack demanded while gritting her teeth in frustration.
“Silly Applejack. This isn’t Tar-Nation. We’re in the great land of Equestria! Tee-hee,” the white pegasus chuckled. This response definitely sounded like the party pony.
“Pinkie Pie, is…. Is that you?” Rainbow Dash questioned in disbelief.
“Of course it’s me, good ol’ Pinkie Pie! Who else would it be, Dashie?”
Upon confirmation of the mare in question’s identity, the five ponies trotted up to the now pegasus party pony giving her looks of displeasure. Rarity in particular began to scold her before the others could voice out similar complaints. She was feeling outraged at the antic which, in her opinion, had gone too far. “Pinkie! That was simply uncalled for!” Rarity rebuked in aggravation. “You planned everything? This entire escapade? You drag us down every known street, alley and dirt path in Ponyville for nearly half a day, potentially ruining the perfect sheen of my coat for the rest for the week, all for the sake of tomfoolery!?”
“W-Why, Pinkie? It was a very mean prank, and um.. n-not nice of you to do,” murmured Fluttershy at a volume the party pony almost couldn’t hear. She was almost on the verge of tears, trembling in the back while the others had a look of confusion and resentment of what the party pony had done.
“Ehehe… I’m really sorry, girls. It wasn’t my idea… Haha...honest but I just had to go along with it. This was the prank of the century after all,” she replied as she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. She then turned to face the darkness. From it, a pink mare trotted up to the group whose Pinkie Pie voice still echoed in laughter. The party minus the now pegasus Pinkie Pie went slack-jawed at the sight of two party ponies together in one place. They had forgotten that the pony they thought was Pinkie Pie went missing in the first place when the lights went out.
“Just… Just wait one gosh darn minute! Lemme get this straight,” Applejack confusingly demanded with a hoof to the head. “You’re Pinkie Pie, but now ya’ll got feathers now… So who’s this?”
“Pinkie, just who exactly is this pony?” asked Twilight of the white pegasus, expecting her to answer.
"I think it's about time we drop the disguises, don't you, Princess?" the party pegasus suggested.
"Ehehe.. Yes, Pinkie Pie. I think so, too," the pink earth pony agreed.
'Princess!?' the five mares who were not in the know collectively exclaimed in thought while going slack-jawed once more.
“Applejack, my little ponies and my most faithful student. I’m sorry, but this was a chance I just couldn’t pass up,” said the pink earth pony as a white light enveloped the white pegasus and the pink mare’s body to reveal their true forms. From dimming glow came Pinkie Pie, who once again, was a pink coated, pink poofy-maned, bubbly earth pony. The pony beside her, however, came as a shock to the Element bearers, causing them to nearly forget the upset disposition the prank had put them in. Next to the pink mare stood a tall, slender, and graceful pony of a coat purer than white snow with a multihued mane that flowed and swayed in an invisible, ethereal current and lovely magenta eyes that shone with solar brilliance. She had a long, alabaster horn and flawless majestic wings but none of the jewel-encrusted regalia she usually wore.
“Princess Celestia!” everypony exclaimed in surprise except for Pinkie Pie.
They all curtsied in reverence, then continued to stand in speechlessness, awestruck and puzzled as to what had just taken place while Pinkie had another fit of giggles. Before Twilight Sparkle could say anything, the princess raised a hoof to instruct them to hold off questions while she explained herself first.
“Again, I must apologize for that prank, but like I said, I just couldn’t resist,” she clarified with a face that ached from laughter. “Pinkie Pie here found me out as I was surveying the town earlier, mapping out a route for the lark. She promised to keep it a secret in exchange for letting her in on this little prank.”
The party pony impetuously stepped in to interrupt her by saying “Oh my gosh! I still can't believe it worked out so well! That definitely was the prank of the century, and I can't wait to plan the next one!"
"Um, Pinkie?" Twilight tried to cut off.
"Oh! And Nightmare Night with the Princess is gonna be an absolute blast! It'll be just you and me, Tia, scaring up flanks and pulling pranks!" the pink mare ambitiously envisioned with one hoof to the alicorn's shoulder and the other in the air as if grasping the vision in hoof.
"Pinkie Pie!" Twilight yelled annoyingly for being ignored.
"Shouldn't you be explaining how in Equestria you just happen to stumble upon Princess Celestia?"
"Oh, that? Well, it was all really so sudden, out of the blue, came out of nowhere and was completely unexpected like the time you gave up trying to figure out my Pinkie Sense!” she stated in comparison of the two events, much to the chagrin of the purple unicorn. She was getting ready for one of her long winded dialogues, the ones she could perform seemingly without a single pause for breath.
“I was up early this morning to make a special batch of sweets just for little ol’ me and couldn’t decide between vanilla, blueberry, or pistachio filling! I tried lots of things to help me decide: magic eight balls, fortune cookies, lottery, pin the tail on the pony, eenie-meenie-mienie-moe, even my crystal ball didn’t work! When the sun started to rise, I pleaded for Princess Celestia to help me make up my mind! Then, all of a sudden, my hooves got all numb and jittery, and my mane stood on end which meant someone was in disguise planning a really, really, really, really,really, really, really, really, really, really, really,really, really, really, really, really, really,"
In the middle of the one word reiteration, Twilight, upon hearing the words 'jittery' and 'stood on end,' realized it ultimately meant that this was another case of Pinkie Pie's Pinkie Sense coincidentally acting up again. So she face-hoofed for not sparing herself, and the others of Pinkie's long-winded dialogue as the party pony continued her well-intended verbal assault on their ears.
"really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY juicy prank, and I love pranks! You all know how much I love pranks. So when I got the feeling back in my hooves and my mane was all poofy again, I saw Princess Celestia snooping around and I was like ‘Oh my gosh, it’s the Princess!’ So I went over to her to ask her to help me decide, but when I got a second look at her, she had that pegasus disguise I had her put on me. So now, you must be thinking 'She was in diguise! How did you find out it was the Princess?' Well duhh!!! No magic can completely change a pony's cutie mark, not even the Princess's magic! Even when I was in disguise, I still had three balloons for a cutie mark. So when I ran into Princess Celestia this morning, she had her cutie mark covered by two clouds on the sides, so it just had to be her! That and she forgot to change her eye color. Yeppity yuppers! No two ponies ever have the same eye color inside the visible spectrum, and someponies would be missing a few gears in their heads if they actually mistook Princess Celestia's very unique shade of magenta for anypony else's."
Meanwhile, the mentioned alicorn almost lost composure, nearly grinning sheepishly at the thought of overlooking such a simple mistake. Inside, she felt humbled that this hyperactive yet keen earth pony was the first to take notice of such a miniscule yet significantly tell-tale detail as her student glanced over, catching her mouth in a brief twitch, which confirmed that Pinkie's story checked in with the princess.
"So I figured she must have been the one who was planning the really juicy prank because she was being all ninja-ee and non-princess-like and I got her to tell me what’s up. So, when she told me about her plan, I was all ‘Oh my gosh! You gotta let me in on this, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, PLEASE!’ cause I knew this really great prank I tried on Inkie and Blinkie where I got them to believe that foals came from cabbage! It was hilarious, and they really did believe it for a whole week! Hahaha!... I also have this other awesome prank I did on my pegasus friend, Surprise, where I hid a mmfmfffmffff…..”
Twilight had put a hoof on chatty mare’s mouth with a sheepish grin facing Princess Celestia, just as she was about to veer into a tangent.
“Sorry, Pinkie, but you can tell us all about that after we hear what the Princess has to say to us,” the purple unicorn suggested as she took her hoof out of the party pony’s mouth.
With her friend’s hoof off, she replied, “Okie dokie, Loki!” in her usual Pinkie Pie vigor.
“Thank you, Twilight. As you all know, running a country can be very boring, and often times, I never have enough time for any fun. Not to mention, the council, those selfish, high class, pencil pushers, were secretly planning on making a profit from the upcoming Summer Sun Celebration by charging admission to the viewing of the sunrise! The nerve of them. So, I took over preparations and decided that we should hold the festival here in Ponyville instead.”
“Here!?” Fluttershy squeaked in dismay and at a volume so low, the Princess and her friends almost didn’t hear it.
“Why yes, Fluttershy. Since we couldn’t completely see the festivities through last time on account of my sister’s return, I thought why not have it here again? So, I’ve arranged for a well known catering service to come and assist Pinkie Pie and Applejack with the food and other……………“
This bit of news had the yellow pegasus disappointed. It wasn’t like she was opposed to the idea, and attendance to the celebration wasn’t mandatory either. If it was and everypony just dropped whatever they were doing at the time to attend the ceremony, there’d be wide spread mayhem and disorder, the kind Discord would just love to be at the center of even if it were natural and not chaotically induced. Since she had come in a hurry to their little meeting earlier, Fluttershy didn’t pick up on the news that the festivities would be held here in Ponyville instead of Canterlot. Now that she was feeling better, Fluttershy hoped that she could see that strange plant in Dodge City before it blossomed and catch it in the process of revealing its magnificent splendor. Those hopes were fading fast in light of Celestia’s change of mind. And because she was an element bearer, she guessed it was highly likely for her to be assigned to some sort of position or responsibility pivotal to the success of the Celebrations.
“And Fluttershy will once again be in charge of providing the music in the grand culmination at dawn. You, my dear, will be in charge of Feather Flock Harmonics as well, a group of song birds I hoof-picked from the Canterlot Aviary that will sing in conjunction with your feathered friends from last time.” And she was right.
“So, any questions?” Princess Celestia finished. Applejack raised her hoof with a sheepish look. “Yes, Applejack?” The Apple farmer took a deep sigh before speaking.
“Princess….. I.. um” She hesitated.
“Yes, what is it?”
“Ummm… B-back in the farm, you were all lookin’ like Pinkie for the prank… so.”
“Yes, my little pony, I took that buck from your grandmother for Pinkie Pie,” interrupted the alicorn.
“…….” The apple pony was silent as an even more sheepish grin formed on her face.
“That bit was my fault on account of a minor oversight.” Princess Celestia smiled in nonchalance as she went on to explain. “I had originally planned to don that pegasus disguise and act as the escort, solely leading you all meandering about and around town for this prank... that is, until Pinkie Pie took notice of my plans and insisted that we switch places, since she wanted to spearhead, as she put it, 'the prank of the century.' She convinced me to add the visit to our itinerary because she said it would be more hilarious to pull at the leg of the bearer of the Element of Honesty, but she assured me that out of pure hospitality, you wouldn't dare buck a guest out the premises."
Applejack had made a quick glare to the party pony in light of this, the latter sheepishly smiling in response. "I had completely forgotten about your grandmother, Granny Smith, however. Luckily, I remembered that not only does she make the best apple pies around...” the statement made Apple pony smile ear to ear with pride, hearing those words from the Princess herself as she listened to her explanation. “...she was also an efficient apple tree bucker back in her day. My flank is still sort of sore which a testament to her skill in old age. I just hope she doesn’t dislike me for defaming her cider with unfounded speculation.”
“Ehehe. Don’t ya worry about none, Princess; she won’t. And ah don’t think ah should tell Granny right now for fear she could keel over n’ faint, and ah don’t wanna do that to her.”
“Again, I apologize for the lack of foresight,” Princess Celestia finished while noticing at two more hooves raised by Rainbow Dash and Twilight.
“Ah, about Pinkie’s wings, I take it.” The duo nodded in response to this.
“An ancient transmogrification spell only Luna and I know….. And perhaps Discord as well, to a much greater and grander extent.”
After the Element bearers cringed for a moment at the mention of that name, Rainbow spoke up. “So, Princess, how come Pinkie knew how to glide real well when she wasn’t a Pegasus for even a day?”
“A good question, my aspiring wonderbolt. It was another spell I cast on her called Insight. It’s a high level spell that infuses magick into the transmogrified form gives the body a sort of intelligence that allows it to read the mind of the being and respond accordingly.”
“A fascinating spell, indeed, Princess. Could you maybe teach me that some time?” wondered Twilight with stars in her eyes and an eager grin, ever the inquisitive spell seeker.
“Ahahahaha………… no,” the alicorn joked with a deadpan tone, earning a pout of resigned disappointment from her faithful student and a chuckle from the others, except Fluttershy. She was still sad over the fact this newly appointed responsibility would bar her from possibly seeing the strange bud in Dodge City before it bloomed. Rarity took notice of the meek mare’s depressed look and called the Princess’ attention to this.
“Pardon the intrusion to the mirth, my Princess, but I think something has our soft-spoken friend here upset.”
“Yes, Fluttershy. Is something the matter?” the Princess wondered.
“I sort of had plans already to go travel somewhere awhile,” she responed in a volume once again quieter than an army of marching ants.
Rarity wouldn’t have the demure pegasus make the Princess ask again. “Fluttershy, dear, this is the Princess you’re talking to. Will you please speak louder? I’m sure she’ll listen to your troubles,” the seamstress requested of her with a blunt yet concerned tone.
After a few seconds, the yellow Pegasus, spoke. “Umm.. okay,” she started then hesitantly continued. “W-While I was sick, I read this article about a strange plant found growing in Dodge City after a parasprite infestation, and I was sort of looking forward to going there and watching it bloom now that I’m feeling better.”
“Are you confident you will be able to handle the preparations for the celebration by the time you return? A round trip to Dodge City takes about two days, if I’m not mistaken.” Though Princess Celestia had also arranged for back-ups in case any of the Element bearers somehow could not accept or fulfill their assignments, she was looking so forward as well to hearing Fluttershy’s song bird symphony in tandem with the birds from Canterlot.
“Arranging the symphony won’t be too much of a problem, Princess. I think. After all, I am good with animals. I’m sure that even if I get back by Saturday or Sunday, three days worth of practice will be more than enough…i-if the birds from Canterlot would be kind enough to cooperate with me…that is..” reasoned Fluttershy with a tinge of confidence in her voice, eager to gain the royal pony’s approval for the trip.
“Hmm… well,... I don’t see how that could be a problem. After all, I am, in a sense, imposing this responsibility on you, on all of you in fact,” Princess Celestia pointed out after a moment taking the meek pony’s wishes into consideration. “Well then, I’ll be sure to remind the Feather Flock to pay close attention to you and such. In any case, I hope…. Yes, Twilight?” said the Princess, seeing her student raise a hoof.
“But Princess! Fluttershy! It’s the Summer Sun Celebration, the most imp…” the unicorn stopped as her mentor interrupted with a hoof to the muzzle.
“Twilight, I know exactly what you’re going to say.”
Yes, I do, and quite frankly, I don’t care.”
“What?” The unicorn felt confuzzled by her mentor’s words as Princess Celestia began to explain herself.
“What I mean to say is that I don’t really understand why most ponies make such a big deal about this one single day that just happens to be longer than all the other days of the year.” Princess Celestia stopped for a moment with a sigh, this being the first time she ever told anypony aside from her sister, Luna, that she thought the festivities unnecessary.
“Starswirl the Bearded was the pony who originally proposed the idea of turning it into a celebration after, by chance, seeing me raise the sun one particular dawn during one of his all-nighters all those centuries ago. He was extremely insistent that I declare it an official Equestrian holiday because everypony should be able to, as how he put it, ‘witness how magnificent and brilliant you are when you raise you glorious sun during the summer solstice," she said while doing her best impression of the mentioned historical figure, making Pinkie Pie giggle.
“Anyway, I’m trotting off topic here. The lesson here, my faithful student, is that every new day begins with a sunrise, which I have not and will never fail to do. But there are a lot more important things that need attending to than watching me raise the sun. A lot of things in this world are so far and few in between, and even the most important things only come once in a lifetime. Things like Foalbirth, birthday parties, earning a cutie mark, business oppurtunities, finding your special somepony, matrimony, the death of a loved one……..and…consoling a beloved before things take a turn for the worse. The list goes on.” The alicorn went somber for a moment when she mentioned that last part.
“If you don’t pay close attention, then you will have let these irreplaceable moment and opportunities pass you by or maybe not even notice them at all. Always remember that, my faithful student. I hope the same goes for the rest of you, my little ponies.”
“We understand, Princess,” resigned Twilight at the new life lesson as the rest nodded in agreement.
Happy in knowing that her student always took her words to heart, the alicorn turned back to the demure pegasus to ask “So, dear Fluttershy, when will you be leaving for Dodge City?”
“Oh! U-umm… let’s see. The article mentioned that it’s expected to flower within this week, most likely Wednesday to Friday. So, if I leave tomorrow……” The meek mare trailed off into thought to count the days in her head. It meant a lot to her that Princess Celestia let her take this trip to see the strange bud bloom, but this also made her feel indebted to her. So when she came back, Fluttershy would make it up to the Princess in return, by arranging a symphony at least twice as good as the last.
“Then I’ll be back this coming Saturday.”
“Well then, you better prepare for your trip, and make sure you’re well rested. As I recall, the first train to Dodge City will be leaving at seven thirty tomorrow in the morning,” Princess Celestia suggested, not knowing if Fluttershy was informed of the next day’s train schedule.
“Oh my! That’s a bit too early. I just hope I can get everything ready on time!”
“Don’t worry, Flutters! We’ll help you get ready in no time,” Rainbow Dash assured.
“And with my organizing skills, we should have everything ready in less than an hour,” Twilight added in confidence. The others chimed in agreement as well, all willing to lend a hoof to their friend in a pinch.
“Oh, thank you all so very much! I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have such wonderful friends!” the demure pony exclaimed in hushed voice. They all huddled together in a group hug that made the alabaster alicorn smile, her heart melting inside at the sight. After that, they continued to chat for awhile with their princess. As Twilight urged Pinkie Pie to apologize for having Princess Celestia take a hit on the flank in her place, and to Applejack as well, for suggesting that part of the prank, Fluttershy thanked the alicorn for this kind consideration and looked forward to the next day. After a few more pleasantries with her beloved ponies and restoring the sheen to Rarity's coat, the alicorn bade them a farewell and disappeared in a flash of light. They then made way for the library to pick up a quill, some ink, and a roll of parchment.
When the group had arrived, Twilight found Spike at the foot of the stairs, who had fallen asleep waiting for her. She levitated him upstairs and tucked him in his basket. With the aforementioned items in hoof, they went over to the cottage to begin the preparations for her trip. When they arrived there, Fluttershy noticed that Angel Bunny had also gone to sleep ahead of her, so she instructed her friends to be extra quiet as to not wake the irritable rabbit and warrant the consequences of doing so.
Rarity started sprucing the place up and attended to fix a few torn bed sheets and tablecloths. Applejack listened attentively to the yellow pegasus’s instructions on how to approach her animals as well as their feeding schedules, while Twilight jotted down a reminder for the Apple pony in addition to making a checklist for all the things their demure friend might need. The diligent unicorn also dictated to Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash what to assemble for the trip and had them perform other tasks and chores Rarity wouldn’t consider doing. As the clock chimed, announcing that it was one o’clock in the morning, Twilight felt satisfied in the fact that they finished as scheduled. Then, the girls partook of the snacks that Fluttershy had made to show her gratitude in the help they offered. After finishing, they all said their goodbyes and each of them made way for their respective homes for well-deserved rest.
When they left, Fluttershy went straight to her bedroom, thankful for the fact she had nothing to worry about tomorrow, her belongings readied and home taken care of by her friends in her absence. As she tucked herself in bed trying to get into a comfortable position, she wondered in drowsy enthusiasm of the strange plant she was about to travel a long distance to see. What color would it be? What sort of aroma would come from it and dance in the air around it? What sort of beautiful and magnificent animals would be attracted by scent? In her eagerness to find out, she fell asleep and dreamt of the flower in bloom.
On a lazy afternoon of the midsummer month of June, a little girl ran home with hands held to her eyes, ready to burst into tears. She had just come from the playground with her verdant dress all scuffled and dirty. The little girl hastily made her way to a two-story hazel colored house with an orange picket fence and roof which stood out amongst the other hues of mostly blues, whites and grays that colored similarly built houses in the subdivision.
The house was situated on the left corner of a T-shaped fork with the playground well in view from the backyard and kitchen, which was around a hundred meters or so in between. Inside the kitchen, a young woman, clothed in a pink sleeveless blouse, a long indigo skirt, and an apron was preparing dinner with the aroma of her success permeating the air. Though she delighted at the sight and smell of a job well done, the young woman opened a window to let the fumes waft out and a get a breath of fresh air, but instead was distressed to see the little girl crying as she ran from the playground.
The crying lass entered from the back gate and made a beeline for the door which opened to let out the concerned woman. They met each other midway in an embrace more consoling than welcoming. The woman combed the little girl’s hair neat with her hands and wiped her face which was dirty and drenched in tears.
“What happened!? Was it those bullies from school again?” the concerned woman asked.
“Y-y-yes! Th-they threw rocks and dirtat me!” the little girl managed when her wails settled to loud sniffles.
“Why did this happened?” the woman asked while dusting the dirt off the crying girl’s clothes.
“I fell down from the swing and scraped my arm and tore my sleeve. I didn’t want to bother you, so I closed them up but they must’ve been nearby because they threw stones at me and called me a freak.” She had expected a scolding after saying those last words, but felt the young woman’s embrace tighten in response instead.
“Never you mind them. This will all be over after tonight, and everything will go back to the way it was, like in your dreams,” the young woman consoled, shedding a few tears of her own in relief. “Tonight we’re finally going home.”
The little girl kept silent in her sniffles, the truth of those words comforting her and settling her troubled mind. After she had stopped crying, she let out a yawn and laid her tired little body against the woman who lifted her up and brought her inside.
“Like in my dreams?” she asked drowsily when feeling the steps of the stairs under her carrier’s feet.
“Yes, just like in your dreams,” the woman assured as she opened the door to the little girl’s room. “We’ll be ready to go when you wake up from your nap.” She tucked the little girl snugly into bed and kissed her forehead after closing the blinds and turning on a night light and a ceiling fan. Before the young woman closed the door, she looked to her charge with melancholy in her smile as she bade the little girl a good night.
“Pleasant dreams, Zach.”
Princess Luna looked down as she approached Ponyville under the cover of night, gliding to the humble, rural town all the way from her home in the high perched castle of Canterlot. The night was silent and uneventful as usual, even in this day and age as most ponies rarely had a reason to remain awake at such an early morning hour.
It almost seemed like nothing had changed in the thousand years the alicorn of the Night was banished to the moon. Ponies would work and play in the warmth of the sun, basking in its rays that filled them with vigor and life, then sleep through the eternal and vast canvas that was the black sky and the gallery of shimmering stars their Princess of the Night had so thoughtfully arranged for them to gaze at in all its splendor and magnificence. Indeed, very little had changed in her absence, and were Luna the same pony she was from back then, the alicorn would have struck at her subjects with vengeful and unbridled fury for still failing to acknowledge the beauty of her night. But that didn’t matter anymore. She had become a more understanding and reasonable pony ever since she had been saved from the malevolent shackles of her alter ego, Nightmare Moon. Luna knew that she was no longer alone in her appreciation of the night. It didn’t worry her they alone were so few in comparison to the great number of ponies that lived in Equestria. What did matter was that there were others that did understand her now.
Tonight, she had set off to pay a certain mare a visit. In addition to being the Ruler of the Night, Princess Luna also had great influence over the realms of dream and slumber. Her beloved sister, Princess Celestia, upon her return from her visit to Ponyville, requested a favor of her: to bring pleasant dreams and restful sleep to the Element of Kindness in preparation for her journey to Dodge City. With a great magickal reservoir inherent to alicorns and her unrivaled knowledge over the realm of dreams and slumber, she could have easily done something like this even from all the way in Canterlot, but she deemed a personal visit would be more deserving of one of the six ponies who bravely ventured forth and risked the unknown to free Luna from herself.
With near-silent wing flaps, the midnight alicorn hovered awhile over her destination, Fluttershy’s verdant and lush cottage, as the other Element bearers left for their own homes, yawning in satisfaction of a job well done.
After a few more minutes of waiting, Luna transformed into a cloud of dark mist and silently entered the sleeping mare’s bedroom, so as not to wake her. Thoughts of gratitude, humility and happiness filled the alicorn’s mind as she looked to the demure pony’s slumbering form, at this unassuming mare of bashful grace and extremely mild temperament who had overcome her own faults and fears to save Equestria, time and time again. There were so many others like her who in all their numbers could scarcely begin to measure up to the potential the midnight alicorn once held as Nightmare Moon. But this unassuming pony along with her friends and through the Elements of Harmony wielded the ability to purge Luna of that arcane abomination. Such was the unrivaled power of the Magic of Friendship, and it humbled the alicorn greatly that even the simplest of ponies could find the courage to stand up against evil.
As Princess Luna channeled magick through her horn into Fluttershy, the pegasus’s body briefly shone a subtle yet brilliant azure blue as a wishful smile formed on her face, a sign the enchantment had been successfully cast.
“Pleasant dreams, my little pony. May the new day favor you in your endeavors,” said the midnight alicorn. She then once again dissipated into a cloud of indigo mist, leaving Ponyville to rejoin her sister in Canterlot, but not before noticing a minute ethereal rasp that tickled her arcane sense.
Midflight, she took a moment to look at the canopy of the night sky and her pale moon that hung amidst the twinkling array of stars before descending to her quarters. She pondered her own plans and preparations for the evening prior to the ‘Raising of the Sun Ceremony’, as an apology to the citizens of Ponyville for disrupting the festivities upon her untimely return that fateful night. Luna almost lost her train of thought, however, when Celestia, who had been waiting for her on the balcony, called out.
“Luna, is something the matter?” spoke the alabaster alicorn in a sisterly tone she usually addressed her sister with.
“No, all is well for tonight, and you needn’t worry about the Element of Kindness. She will find herself most invigorated upon waking up.” Luna responded confidently.
“Thanks again for doing this small favor.”
“Think nothing of it, as I myself have yet to show the due gratitude to your student and her friends for all they have done for me,” the midnight alicorn said sincerely, proceeding to shift to a serious and contemplative tone as she continued, “but we do not think that is all you have sent us to Ponyville for…is it, sister?”
Celestia paused for a moment with a slightly troubled look about her, sighing before she spoke, “Your suspicions prove true. I’m sure that you felt it too. Though as faint as it may have been, there definitely was a surge of energy that briefly radiated from the Everfree forest which continues to linger about, one I was barely able to discern yet proves undetectable to even my most faithful student.” Luna nodded in agreement as she recalled that tiny sliver of magick she had sensed before leaving Ponyville.
“A marginal remnant of Discord’s magick, we assume, for only his energies have such affinities to withstand even the test of time,” the midnight alicorn postulated to which her sister affirmed with a nod herself. Even his magick alone was a force to be reckoned with, as the entirety of the Everfree forest itself stood as a looming testament to the incredible feats it could perform by itself.
“An extremely insignificant amount to the point it may as well be considered negligible,” Celestia said as she crane her head down in thought.
She fully knew what chaos and pandemonium the cunning draconequus was capable of, and even if it was just a tiny residue, it was still his magick. The Princess of the Day could only imagine what might happen if said residue was left to its own machinations, and the lives of the ponies it could potentially derail and spiral into irredeemable madness.
“But this is still Discord’s magick,” Celestia reiterated as she looked to her sister with austerity in her eyes before she finished her sentence, the gravity of what she and Luna would be dealing with setting in, “And I shall see to it that by sunrise, this small remnant of his chaotic will is dispelled and whatever fiend it may have conjured will be cast into stone along with its master.”
“We shall join thee and make for certain that this be dealt with once and for all,” the midnight alicorn added, bringing confidence to her sister. So stoic was their determination to rid Equestria of this age old evil that the air seemed to thicken around them, for they would not let Discord get another chance to plunge their land into chaos once again.
Meanwhile back in Ponyville, Fluttershy lay on her bed fast asleep, still with that wishful smile on her face. She dreamt of herself walking through a dreamscape version of her beloved town, unaware of the sudden clarity with which she envisioned this dream or the alarming lack of ponies therein. She knew it was a dream, and that she should’ve been lying in bed and getting some much needed rest for the day ahead, but at the same time, she didn’t notice she was dreaming at all. It felt like it was as natural as breathing, not a single heed given to the process itself, and it was all thanks to Princess Luna’s spell. With the alicorn’s guarantee, no matter what time she would awake that early Monday morning, the shy pegasus would without a doubt be feeling more chipper and energetic than a foal on the first day of spring. She would need that all that strength in this solitary trip to Dodge City for this one peculiar plant that had piqued her interest in refusing to blossom for nearly nine long months since it first appeared.
The meek mare lost herself in contemplation of aspects concerning her impending journey like train fare, actual travel time, delays, lodgings, and meals as she came to a stop a stone’s throw distance off from Sugar Cube Corner with a solitary yet contently happy Pinkie Pie waving at her. One particular train of thought she seemed to be focused on at the moment was that this trip would be the first one she would embark on alone since leaving Cloudsdale for permanent residence in Ponyville all those years ago. She didn’t give a thought to ask the others, but she was sure that any one of her friends would have accompanied her on this trip. Then again, they also had their own responsibilities the Princess had assigned them in addition to prior engagements that needed their attention, and with the amount of tourists the town would be receiving prior to and during the coming celebration, most of them would definitely have their hooves full with their businesses.
Rarity was in the middle of completing an order of several costumes for a play in Manehatten and Baltimare scheduled to take place the day before the ceremony while simultaneously designing a stunning backdrop for town hall and fabulous decorations that would be strewn all over and about the town for the event.
Applejack’s attention was focused on the production and storage of an ample supply of cider, not only for the Ponyvillians, but for the tourist who would come to visit and join in on the celebration as well. She needed to fill at least two hundred fifty barrels to accommodate both the visitors and the residents themselves, and she greatly appreciated all the help she could get, thinking that now with the newly assigned responsibility of catering for the Summer Sun Banquet to further burden her, she had been served more than she could stomach.
In contrast to the norm, Rainbow Dash would also be busy in the coming week, her hooves full with weather team duties, rescheduling rain showers and cloudy days to make way for flawless skies on the days of the festivities. She had also caught wind of Spitfire and Soarin’ possibly attending the festivities, so the Wonderbolt-to-be wouldn’t want to miss another chance to hang out with and impress her frequently busy-bodied idols.
For all it was worth, Twilight was vaguely intrigued but nonetheless interested in this strange bud herself. Because hardly anypony would want to visit the library during the Summer Sun Celebration, she wanted to find something better to do than just sit in the library all week when there were others who could use her help, and Fluttershy’s need for companionship in her upcoming trip had definitely fit the bill. The purple unicorn would have hooves-down accompanied Fluttershy on this short trip if it weren’t for the fact that the Princess made mention of the mayor, Ivory Scrolls, requesting that Celestia’s protégé personally handle the organization of the whole affair, all in an effort to avoid another Winter Wrap Up scenario.
And lastly, Pinkie Pie had……..had………..hmm……… In all honesty, she didn’t actually know if the party pony had any responsibilities to take care of the week before the celebration, aside from the catering itself.
Pies, cakes, cupcakes, muffin, donuts, crumpets, pretzels, tea, soda, cookies, bean buns, chocolate fountains, and all other manner of confectionaries and baked goods were usually preferred fresh or pipin’ hot, so she surely wouldn’t be busy in the in the foreseeable future. Of course, she’d have to help the Cakes who would be busy with the bakery, and Pumpkin and Pound would be a hoofful to baby sit in the meantime. In spite of all this, Fluttershy thought her friend was so good at baking now that the party pony might as well have had a second cutie mark attesting to her dedication and commitment to the craft. On the other hoof, the twins definitely wouldn’t give her any sort of trouble she couldn’t handle. After all, they loved the party pony and all the hyperactive boundlessness that allowed her to keep up with them and their foalish antics to the point where they practically counted her a big sister. After everything the party pony had done for the Cakes, they wouldn’t deny their best and only employee a little vacation time. After all, they did manage the bakery pretty well by themselves before Pinkie Pie came.
All these factors considered, Pinkie Pie surely wouldn’t be immediately busy before the celebration. All these things Fluttershy pondered on for a good five minutes when she stopped nearby Sugar Cube Corner. Well, it felt like five minutes, but it also seemed that a lot more time had actually passed by.
‘Well, I am nearby, so I might as well ask Pinkie Pie if she can come with me,’ she thought to herself when she realized where she was, but in the deep recesses of her subconscious, she wondered how relevant would this Pinkie Pie’s answer be to the real party pony. ‘After all, this is just a dream.’
Or wasn’t it?
There was no way for her to tell the difference. She didn’t think to do so, nor did anything else matter at the moment. In the end, whether this was just a side effect of Princess Luna’s enchantment or something else entirely, she was none the wiser. The meek mare started to trot over to the party pony to ask her the question she had in mind earlier, her hooves sounding off against the cobblestone with each step.
Again, as she continued to trot her way to Pinkie Pie, the flow of time seemed to bend and curve around Fluttershy’s senses with neither the slightest notice from the meek mare nor permission of natural law. Not only did time seem to pass by much faster, but the short distance she had to cover to get to her rambunctious friend seemed to stretch on infinitely like a conveyer belt, as if something was preventing her from reaching her destination. She wasn’t even twenty meters away from the bakery when she had stopped to ponder her predicament, but it seemed like an eternity had gone by in this ostensibly short stroll to the party pony.
‘This certainly is taking a longer time than usual. I wonder why?’ she demurely thought to herself.
Just then, the sky dimmed to a dull bluish grey as far overhead, at the terminus of the seemingly infinite heavens, she could hear loud and muffled banging noises that seemed to strike at an invisible barrier. The meek mare ignored these noises, not wanting to forget her inquiry for the pink pony, passing the sounds off as thunder rolling in the distance. She then thought the non-existent weather team seemed to turn fickle and inconsistent as they chose to cast upon her a sudden downpour of the strange sort. The water itself seemed to be coming down like hail as it rained cats and dogs all over Ponyville, but what was peculiar about this was that nothing it touched seemed to get even mildly soaked.
Curiosity finally got the better of her as Fluttershy stopped in her tracks and put an observing hoof in front of herself, trying in vain to catch even a single drop of rain. It simply went through without the slightest sense of touch, which perturbed her with slight apprehension. Then, the banging noises intensified into muffled booms as the phantom downpour turned into a darkening storm that circled around the town, but still failed to sweep anything up into its tempest gales as Fluttershy’s curiosity slowly turned into fear with the increasingly darkening day. Expecting to see either the end of the world with the roof of the skies crashing down over her head or a certain draconequus with a sinister grin across his face out for revenge, she trepidly looked up. But she saw neither.
What she did see, however, turned all her anxieties into bewilderment.
It was an immense black mass that stretched endlessly to either side of the sky. The modest mare just stood there, speechless with the most profound sense of awe she had ever felt, her eyes solely on the great behemoth looming over anything and everything like it was the heavens, making the ways off Canterlot and the mountain it was precariously perched upon seem insignificant under its gigas of a shadow. It writhed and coiled restlessly as it lay there suspended on the roof of the world, but what had confused the pegasus even more was when it opened its eyes. They were orbs of colossal size, each seemingly devoid of blemish or imperfection. Mystic auroras danced with peerless grace on its irises of the most brilliant emerald hue as it pierced her very being with its intense stare. But these magnificent eyes did not look upon her with condescendence or malicious intent. They were sorrowful and desperate as if they were pleading to her, beseeching her for aid as tears continued to well up and run down its snout, forming the rain that fell over Ponyville.
‘Its tears are the rain?’ Fluttershy thought. She wondered why in Equestria such a boundless being would be looking to her with such a forlorn gaze unbefitting of its immense visage.
Just as the demure pony began to entertain the thought, the vast being was ripped from the sky and disappeared out of her sights, whisked away into non-existence by forces unseen, along with the peculiar anomaly that came with it.
‘Did all that just happen?’ the meek mare wondered with a dumbfound expression, staring with awe and confusion to the formerly somber and tempest sky, looking for any sign of it that may still be lingering. ‘What in Equestria was that poor creature? It looked so sad and lonely.’ She drowned herself in more thoughts of worry for the weeping colossus, the image of its magnificent, emerald eyes drenched in sorrowful tears starting to etch into her memory and pull on her heartstrings.
“Heya, Flutters! What’cha doooin?” the party pony chimed in inquisitively as she bounced up to the mare in question.
“……………..” The pegasus didn’t respond. She didn’t even notice the pink mare come up to her as she held herself still and silent, lost in complete bewilderment of what had just happened.
“You were kinda just standing there, and I was wondering if you sort of stared yourself stiff! Hahaha,” Pinkie Pie joked as she went over to the side of the meek mare.
“……………..” Again, there was no response.
“Fluttershy, is something wrong?” the party pony worriedly inquired, placing a hoof to the pegasus’ withers which got the meek mare’s attention.
“O-oh, ummm….. hi there, Pinkie. What brings you to the Sugar Cube Corner?” said Fluttershy upon finally noticing the party pony next to her. She was struggling to keep memory of what had just happened clear as darkening clouds loomed over the mental image, forcing it into the deep recesses of her mind.
“Uhh…. I work and live there?” replied the party pony, tilting her head in slight confusion.
“Oh…. Oh! I’m sorry, I was…just… thinking about what…..just happened,” she explained with a worried expression. ‘There?’ the demure pony wondered, thinking that the pink mare’s sense of direction may have been confuzzled in the storm.
“Oh, oh, oh, oh! Were you looking at some Flutter Ponies telling you the secret of how to get to the mystical Dream Valley!? Is that why you were looking up?” the pink mare tried to guess, bouncing in excitement at the thought of tiny equines with magickal powers in their gossamer wings.
“No, Pinkie that’s just an old mare’s tale,” Fluttershy responded with an incredulous look before continuing, “but didn’t you notice that….that………that…………” By now, the whole memory of it was completely obscured, forced down into her subconscious by wills unknown. “Hmm….. What was it again that I noticed exactly?”
“Oh, I get it now. Sometimes, I think about things really, really, really hard and forget about it when I do something else! Like that time we helped Twilight help the Crystal ponies get rid of pointy-smoky-meany-pants, and she told us to gather information, right? I was all covert and sneaky and all stealthy for this big mission!” Pinkie Pie exaggerated with a tense look and a matching striking pose.
“I kept on getting found out by the locals, so I made this less conspicuous disguise in a jiffy!”
She then giddily took out a yellow jump suit with a pink mane from seemingly out of nowhere, stretching its muzzle mask for her friend to see. Fluttershy's reaction however, was more shocked that surprised.
“Yeppity yuppers, it’s you! Flutterskin mark one!” the party pony proudly stated.
“After I put on this disguise, nopony could tell it was me all along! But the thing was a lot of the Crystal ponies kind of caught on that you and I were looking for information, and they were too frowny-faced and all gloomy-mc’sighing-pants to even start talking! So they avoided me the whole time we went snooping around…. I mean you, hehe,” the pink mare cheekily finished with a hoof pointed to her friend.
“So that’s why everypony avoided me even though I was being polite!” Fluttershy exclaimed in slight indignation.
“And when we all came back to the castle, this was that creepy fur-lined costume I stepped on. I thought it was some poor creature’s skin!” the meek mare added holding up the costume to get a better look. It did sort of look realistic and well made, up close. Pinkie even got the shade of her eyes right.
“Sorry there, Flutters. You know me, right? Always out for a good laugh, eheh,” the party pony sheepishly tried to apologize.
“Well, I guess it doesn’t matter since the Crystal Empire is safe and everything,” Fluttershy concluded, content with Pinkie Pie’s sort of apology. “Oh, yes! That reminds me, speaking of far off places; this’ll be the first time I’d be going off all by myself since I first came here to Ponyville. It wouldn’t bother you so much to come with me to Dodge City, would it? I’m sure I could handle myself on the train, but I’d feel better if somepony I knew came along with me.”
The party pony scrunched her brows in consideration of the meek mare’s proposition with an audible ‘hmm’ punctuating the start of thoughts blending in her Pinkie Pie brain. Once more it felt like an eternity as the sun and moon repeatedly raced across the sky in a comical fashion. Fluttershy didn’t even notice the bird leaving its crumbling nest that had sprung on her head in the ‘week’ she had been waiting when meek mare finally heard her friend clear her throat to respond. It was visibly high noon now.
“Um..well, you see, I’ll be kind of busy myself this week. When I woke up awhile ago, I felt my teeth get all jittery, my eyelids all itchy and both ears-a-twitchy. After that, I fell to the ceiling.”
“You…. You fell to the ceiling?” the demure Pegasus skeptically asked to clarify as she titled her head in slight confusion. ‘She said ‘awhile ago’ even though I’ve been standing here, waiting on her answer for seven days,’ the meek mare thought with slight annoyance, but chalked it up to another one of Pinkie’s quirks.
“Nearly a dozen times in fact.”
“But then how did y-” Then her friend interrupted her before she could finish.
“Well of course, silly. I didn’t keep on falling to the ceiling for very long. Gravity even won’t let me do that!” she stated matter-of-factly as if it were obvious to every pony that knew Pinkie Pie. “I would if I could!” the party pony confided in a whisper, weary of wandering ears for which statement she might’ve not wanted them to hear. After a few moments of awkward silence, Fluttershy inquisitively continued.
“So what does it mean in Pinkie sense?”
“It means something big is going to happen! Maybe a real doozie even!” she exclaimed in an upright form with raised forelegs, not so sure herself as to what this doozie might even be.
“So, you’ll be busy the whole week watching out for this doozie?” the meek mare wondered.
“No, silly Fluttershy! I’ll also be setting up a welcoming party!!” the party pony giddily countered in all her love for partying. “That’s what the jittery teeth, itchy eyelids and twitchy ears means, duh!” she stated matter-of-factly, again as if it were obvious to everypony that knew her.
“But for whom exactly?” the demure pony replied.
“Oh, that… I’m not really sure who, but my Pinkie Sense told me it’s gonna be somepony real important,” Pinkie Pie responded back.
That was it, Pinkie Sense had cemented it. The meek mare trusted her friend’s sixth sense completely, even if she didn’t religiously keep catalogue of all the Pinkie Sense signs and what every single one and each combination meant. Fluttershy would go about this short journey alone and that was final. It would be quite rude of her to press on a decided issue any further. She then chalked up another concern to the steadily growing list of worries in her mind, namely approaches from strange stallions and fans who would recognize her from her stint as a model.
“Oh…….. I see…. Well then, I guess I better get going myself and start preparing for the trip,” the meek mare despondently declared as she turned to the direction of the route leading to her cottage. But then her friend had stopped her in her tracks with a quick hoof to her shoulder as she began to trot off. The whole of Ponyville…….no, the whole land of Equestria seemed to shake at this sudden act.
Suddenly, there was sharp crashing noise high above. Fluttershy looked up to the cause of the clamor and was shocked by what she saw.
An ominous crack had formed on the sky itself, branching out like arcs of lightning that multiplied in its advance. The echoes in the wind howled tempestuously once more as their zephyrs whirled and twisted violently, uprooting trees and pony-made structures alike from their very foundations. Then the crack extended downwards to the off-distant Canterlot as the heavens gave in and shattered with a resounding and almost deafening blast, revealing a black void that gradually siphoned light from the crumbling reality.
The mountain on which the capital of Equestria was perched couldn’t hope to fare any better. With a mere touch from the impending fissure, the great landmark, which was both the seat of power and home to the Royal Pony Sisters, Princess Celestia, Keeper of the Sun, and Princess Luna, Guardian of the Moon, was torn asunder like a common brick wall. Large chunks of castle and boulders of the former mountain that had remained intact were swept into the uproar of the tumultuous and unforgiving storm, tossed around and about like pebbles.
Then the fissure opened up into a chasm that lead to the same endless dark abyss that pulled the debris in without relenting pause as the cracks of the chasm’s tapering end extended down from where the proud mountain once stood. It stretched out and crossed miles of Equestrian countryside in mere seconds, reaching Ponyville and passing under the now and completely terrified pegasus whose wings were locked in their own bout of intense fright, failing her in this most calamitous of moments. The crack flashed under her and went past her as fast as sound, marking anything and everything misfortunate enough to witness its relentless approach, a target to the absolute destruction it heralded. Not that it would spare anything if it could, as other cracks formed and branched out, proliferating again and again as numerously as it did with the sky, expanding over the landscape like a swarm of parasprites. The terror-stricken pony tried moving away from the apocalypse as it continued to unfurl around her in all its disastrous glory, clinging to the small hope that, somehow, she could escape all this and survive….. but she couldn’t.
A hoof to her shoulder held her down firmly, sapping her of all the trepidated strength she possessed. She slowly and anxiously inched her gaze to the side once again, fearful of what ghastly specter she might see when she did. And much to her expectation and great horror, Pinkie Pie was there.
She was Pinkie Pie, the same party pony who had been standing beside her all along as the catastrophe unfolded around them. But at the same time, she wasn’t. The cracks had spread from the ground onto her hooves, then up her dull, grey body fanning out like cob webs, turning white as they raced across her sinister, ebony-shaded grin and the unworldly black whites of her menacingly piercing amber eyes that glowed brightly behind her completely snow-white and straightened mane in the ever darkening day. She was a frighteningly pale shadow of her former self with no trace of her Element or the love of parties and festivities she was well-renowned for, left in her, or on her harrowing visage. Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any more terrifying, the shell of her former friend began to slowly unlock its face from the death grin, cracks forming anew in process.
The sight of it sent a cold spell down her spine, causing what already stiff muscles she could still feel, trying to struggle desperately for movement, to become completely and utterly petrified. But what had set a whole new league of fear far beyond her wildest nightmare was the cold and eerie voice that came from the husk. The chills in her spine intensified into blizzards as the apparition crept ever closer to her, hissing with a raspy, ethereal voice as it went, puffs of its freezing breath feeling numb on her stiff ears. By now, Fluttershy was edging the final eclipse of her sanity, skirting at the brink of falling apart, and about to break at the seams.
Then the cruel reality of it all dawned upon her: there was no chance of her getting away. There was no ray of hope to tell her she could escape. This was the end for her, and the fates would not have it any other way. So she just stood there and simply gave into her fear, eyes closed in anticipation of the final message the deathly ghost of the party pony was about to deliver to her.
“Now that’s just plain silly, Fluttershy. Did you forget? We all helped you pack and everything last night, remember? Now get up, sleepy-mc’flutter-pony! It’s time to go!”
The Everfree Forest: a maze-like patch of woodland within Equestria that was an entirely different and bizarre place on its own.
As viewed by ponykind, it was a place devoid of the order and harmony that had come to define their great land. In the sanctuary of its dim and misty weald, beasts of the wildest and most savage kind roamed about their untrellised territory, fending for themselves and preying upon hapless wanderers and their fellow forest denizens alike. Strange and dangerous flora of varying size, shape and hazard grew unimpeded underneath the protective shade of the ancient trees that towered over them like the very sky. The untamed climate willed its own clouds and storms to their pleasing, yielding to no mortal master without power and pride equal to its own. In the eyes of the ponies who lived and thrived in the land beyond the reach of its canopy and sky, the entire forest was indeed a desolate, chaotic and unrestricted Eden of the lost. It needed no being to care for its proud and stalwart trees, its ferocious animals or its formidable weather; it was its own master.
It was and always will be the Everfree.
This was not the way of things, however, in times olden and lost to legend.
In such an era long forgotten and only existing in the past, what sparse number of ponies who lived in the then snow swept tundra tended to this verdurous oasis with much diligence and ardor, for it was the only haven of warmth and respite from the scorn and frosty magicks of the wicked Windigoes that plagued the region at the time. Even after the founding of Equestria and the banishment of these frosty spirits that terrorized the new found nation, many a creature, both civil and feral, still frequented this haven for its bountiful fruit-bearing trees, its cool, invigorating spring waters, and the safety of its expansive awning. No plea or cry for aid was denied by the caring and compassionate woodland, nor were there any tales of vehement clash between the guest and the residing wildlife. But that was all before a certain draconequus, who on a fickle whim, warped the very soil into madness past redemption.
From then on, no longer would its branches and grottoes shield the tired and weary from the merciless elements, nor the misshapen flora cater to even their most basic of needs, and just as the color of the land dulled to a dark paranoiac grey from his chaotic touch, the animals themselves who dwelled within its verdant expanse turned vicious and wary of outsiders, who, either by happenstance or choice, wandered into their woods, falling prey to the numerous jagged claws and many a powerful maw ready to tear flesh from bone. Both the land and its bounty, as well as the beasts that called it home, were twisted beyond recognition, their visage no longer caring, tolerant and nurturing, but now stuff of legends, ghost stories and nightmares.
And so, it was for this enchanted woodland the Royal Pony Sisters made way in this sleepy Monday morrow. Earlier that night, in the company of her most faithful student and her friends, Princess Celestia alone had detected an incredible sliver of magick, possibly a remnant of chaotic will belonging to the scion of chaos, Discord, radiating from deep within the wood. She had informed Princess Luna of her unfortunate discovery and then made a beeline for the Everfree with her sister in tow, intent on dispelling this last vestige of malevolence.
The chilly morning air sieved past their majestic wings as they approached the forest, then descending downward into a clearing, chary that magickally blinking in will cause an influx of energy which may activate the remnant should it be within the immediate area. Poisonjoke grew at the fringes of the hush glade, the larger and more potent of the blue foliage trailing into the shade where the pure, unfiltered light of the sun or moon did not reach. With her horn emanating a subtle yet brilliant golden aura, Celestia made a swift survey of the area, attempting to pinpoint the origin of the stifled surge of magick. The nightscape started to shimmer in an equally subtle golden aura and the Poisonjoke seemed to cringe in displeasure as the discreet solar radiance of the alabaster alicorn’s spell passed over and went on its brief inspection.
“It’s faint, but there is definitely something over at the far end of the clearing,” said Celestia in conclusion of her quick scan, pointing a hoof over to a lone hollowed tree that barely stood out from the rest of the forest.
“We shall peer on ahead for any sort of veils of deception that may lie in wait for us, dear sister,” replied Luna in confidence that whatever mischief this remnant may have planned for them hidden in the dark she would easily take notice of.
The midnight alicorn closed her eyes and with a soft azure glow from her horn, her vision became one with the shadows. This ability allowed her see everything under the cover of night, albeit in limited sense; it did not give her an omniscient eye but it did permit her sight to leave her body and be projected at a certain area from a specific point of view, all within reason, of course. It also allowed Luna to view the specific area in both the physical and magickal plane as clear as polished silver, and, having honed this skill to a fine point prior to her banishment, she was sure that nothing of either sorts in that area could escape her sight if it wanted to.
Her vision left her body and flew over the moonlit terrain in a matter of seconds and rested over a branch of a tree behind the area in question. As it settled on its rickety wooden limb, Luna felt perplexed by what her disembodied eyes saw unhindered by darkness.
Under normal circumstances, were the culprit of the anomaly any impish vagabond with access to magick such as a horn or a magicked seal of some sort, the second highly unlikely being a lost art, she would have perceived its form surrounded by a faint aura resonating the strongest at the point where arcane energies would be channeled. On the other hoof, had their suspicions been true, the remnant of Discord’s chaotic magick would have stood out as whirling spiral of twisted energies, radiating and vibrating in and out of different spectrums and wavelengths of reality in its fervency to fulfill its purpose of causing havoc and turmoil.
To her surprise, it was neither of the cases.
At the base of the tree was a patch of nothing. This nothing, however, was not the usual absence expected of normalcy such as a missing tooth, an item left at home, or a book out of place; what Luna had seen was void of complete and absolute nothingness. It was a vacuum leading into the most intense and pure shade of black the alicorn had ever seen. Then it dissipated without warning, leaving something behind as it did.
“Tia, something is ahoof! We must make haste!” exclaimed Luna urgently as she unfurled her wings and took off for the other end of the clearing.
“What is it, Luna?” the alabaster alicorn inquired anxiously as she followed.
Arriving at the designated spot, Celestia wondered if what her sister had seen was something that posed an immediate threat to Equestria. However, her fears were put aside upon noticing the unremarkably dull, green crystal no bigger than a chicken egg that barely reflected Luna’s hazy azure silhouette on its surface in what meager illumination that had managed to reach them.
“Is this it?” Celestia questioned anticlimactically.
“We are certain, dear sister; this is the source of the remnant. Some sort of esoteric void of the deepest black vanished from mine senses, leaving the stone in its place thereafter,” the midnight alicorn explained, having seen things transpire as they did before she arrived there herself.
“Had there been any other source of arcane energy that may have trailed off over yonder, we surely would not have let it go unnoticed so easily,” Luna concluded.
As she studied the features of the unimpressive rock, the Princess of the Sun was slightly skeptical on whether this was truly the origin of remnant she had detected earlier, thinking that her sister’s attention may have been diverted from the actual remnant bidding to escape.
Had Celestia’s latter assumption true, then they would have been in for a wild goose chase all night since this sort of shenanigan did fit her dubious image of Discord’s attempt at petty revenge; if not, then the alabaster alicorn would be sorely disappointed that she wasted an evening’s worth of rest to search for a dumb-looking rock. Things like this weren’t uncommon in a forest tainted by the draconequus’s magick and this was not the first time it happened after all, so whether this was all the machinations of Discord’s mischievous remnant or just the twisted inconsistencies of the forest itself, it was near impossible to tell the difference, the extremely fine line between either being hazy at best.
Then again, there was the off-chance that karma had somehow caught up to her and set up this elaborate ruse as a counterbalance to the little prank she pulled on her faithful student and her friends earlier.
After these mental considerations and moment’s pondering over the next course of action, Celestia spoke, “I shall bring this back to Canterlot and keep watch over it should anything else develop. In the meantime, I’m counting on you to do the same with the forest for the next week. I hope this won’t trouble you too much with your own plans for the celebration.”
“T’was quite troublesome indeed to secure arrangements for the early morrow immediately preceding the Raising of the Sun Ceremony, so it shan’t burden us even in the nariest, Tia,” Luna reassured in her reply. “Your worries on that aspect are unfounded. In the end, we hope the same can be said this peculiar of a nugget.”
Placing the mysterious stone in a saddlebag they had brought along, the alicorn sisters took flight and headed for home. Seemingly right after taking leave, the entirety of the enchanted forest seemed to howl eerily at their find, ever the voiceless and fateful herald of things to come, fortuitous or otherwise.
Later that morning, the bright rays of the sun cast themselves over the sleepy town of Ponyville as the radiant orb began to peek over the horizon. At its twilit outskirts where Fluttershy’s verdant cottage stood, the sleepy atmosphere that lingered in the air bustled into wakefulness as woodland animals left their nests and burrows to start the day in their own wild way. Meanwhile, the resident mare herself had woken up in a fright from possibly the scariest dream she ever had in her life, and oh, what a nightmare it was!
She was gasping for air as sweat broke through her fur and inched down her face with nothing but the memory of that surreal armageddon of a dream still fresh in her mind. The crumbling landscape, the blackening skies, and the utter hopelessness of it all felt so very real. Even more so was the vivid image of the phantasmal shell that was the hyperactive party pony. The disturbingly lifeless colors of its coat and straightened mane and the crack that had formed on its dark, wicked grin sent chills down her spine while its piercing amber stare that could shatter thinking beings into insanity terrified her to the very core. The demure pegasus held herself and sighed in relief as she felt the sweat run down her muzzle, the sensation of it and the panting of her breath telling her she was wide awake and safe in her cottage.
When she got up from bed to begin her morning routine though, Fluttershy saw a shadowy figure standing at the side of the room, looking at her with what she thought was a face contorted in concern as her eyes adjusted to the dim twilight. One scare coming right after another was too much for her fragile wits to take all in the same night, and after such a harrowing reverie, she would have screamed her lungs to exhaustion had the meek mare not taken a brief moment to realize it was her friend, Pinkie Pie.
“Pinkie Pie, is that you?” she timidly asked for a confirmation.
“Of course it’s me, Fluttershy. Who else would it be, silly?” the party pony replied as she turned on the lights.
“Oh, right… so, what are you doing here so early in the morning anyway?” asked the meek pony as another sigh of relief escaped her lips.
“Well, before we left, Applejack made me Pinkie promise to make it up to everypony for pulling that prank on all of you,” Pinkie said in a peppy yet apologetic tone as she began her explanation.
“So she’s having me come over to help at the farm on Sunday and with her chores here tomorrow. Rarity told me I didn’t have to do anything for her because the Princess did that spell to help manage her coat and some other stuff. Rainbow Dash said the same thing saying she thought it was cool how I pranked everyone and that she’d get me back on Nightmare Night. Twilight decided that I’d be watching the library for her when she’d get too busy with helping the mayor, but just plain walking you to the station would be the least I can do on such short notice, so I’ll Pinkie Promise to finish the rest of the favor when you come back,” she finished deftly in one breath, following up with the appropriate gestures of said promise.
“Oh, you don’t have to do anything for me. That little joke’s water und-”
“Flutters, I saw you were on the verge of tears back at town hall, so I’m doing this to make up for that frowny-face. I want to do this for you as your friend, okay?” the party pony sincerely interrupted.
“Well, okay, if you insist.”
The two ponies briefly locked each other in a hug of pure, comforting friendship after that friendly compromise. When the embrace broke, Fluttershy asked “So…since you’re doing me a favor, won’t there be even the slightest chance of you accompanying me to Dodge City, even if you head back ahead of me?”
“Afraid I can’t, Flutters. Didn’t I tell you why earlier?” Pinkie Pie countered.
“Huh? U-um I’m sorry, I don’t-”
“It’s my Pinkie Sense! It told me somepony really important is coming to town! I’ve got to be ready with a welcome party since I have no idea when they’ll get here!” the party pony reminded with vigilant anxiety.
“Wait… wasn’t that all-” But Fluttershy stopped herself as she felt some sort of weird rug rustle underneath her hooves. The pegasus looked down and saw a familiar face with a pink flowing mane flat on the floor, which caused her to frantically stumble back onto bed, then promptly fall over to the other side face first with a resounding thump.
“Ouch, that must have hurt,” her friend commented as she winced upon witnessing the unintended feat of incoordination.
“What is that thing!?” the demure and panicked mare demanded as she had her bearings, in a shout almost at a normal volume and with a hoof holding her aching muzzle.
“It’s the Flutterskin I made,” the pink mare reiterated as she put it back into only Celestia-knows-where.
“Flutter-what?” said the meek pony, sticking her head up from behind the bed.
“Gosh Fluttershy, we had this conversation a minute ago, so how could you have forgotten by now?” Pinkie quizzically pointed out.
“But wasn’t that all just a dream?”
“A dream? I thought you were awake... hmm… I guess you weren’t then. Hope it wasn’t too much of a bad dream. You were kinda fidgety there when you woke up,” the party pony mentioned with another look of concern.
“It’s about five minutes past six, so I’ll be downstairs if you need me. Twilight gave me a checklist of your belongings and other stuff so you won’t miss anything before you leave. I also brought a stroller cart Rarity lent you for you to use on the trip. The one you brought out last night was kinda worn out after all. Too small to fit a party cannon If you ask me.” Pinkie told her friend as she went out the door and descended down the stairs, leaving her friend to collect her startled wits and aching nose as her hoof-steps beat against the hard wood of the oaken floor.
‘So that conversation really did happen, and I was sleep-talking with Pinkie,’ Fluttershy thought while turning around to make her bed.
‘Let’s see. Back in the dream, I was thinking about my friends who couldn’t possibly come with me, then I asked Pinkie Pie if she could, but then she said there was some very important party planning that couldn’t be put aside,’ she recounted with a hoof to head that somewhat ached in the middle of that thought.
‘I’m sure there was something else…… but what was it? Oh, I hope this isn’t some sort of condition,’ the meek mare worried when she finished and descended down the stair to follow Pinkie Pie. She went on filling her head with other sort of illnesses this apparent symptom could possibly indicate but the thought, however, was set aside when she felt a tug on her mane, and that meant Angel Bunny was hungry.
“Oh, good morning there, Angel, I’ll have your breakfast done in a jiffy. I just hope you’re not too particularly picky today,” Fluttershy said as she greeted her charge.
Having been given the same cookbook from yesterday, the little rabbit held it back to his mistress with the same request he made before: a big serving of Ceasar salad laced with carrots, cucumbers and a side of garlic bread. The meek mare felt happy that Angel understood that this trip meant a lot to her, that he didn’t want to give her trouble and right before she left at that. After prepping up her Angel’s meal, Fluttershy went out to attend to the rest of breakfast for the animals in her care. Laying the bowls and pouring the feed for each and every kind of critter, including Mr. Bear’s rescheduled weekly ‘back massage’, would take her about close to an hour to complete. That would leave her with less than forty minutes to trot all the way to the station. Quite reasonable she thought since it took her ten to get there yesterday and she could have her own quick breakfast at Sugar Cube Corner along the way.
When she finished the middle-aged ursidae’s backrub, the demure pony thought it would be a pity as much as a challenge that this journey would be a lonely one for her.
“Back massage for Mr. G. Bear: check, and with your things out in the front, that means we’re good to go, Flutters,” Pinkie Pie announced as she popped her head through a window.
“So, is everything on the list done?” the meek pony asked to confirm.
“Yuppity-yeppers, every one of thirty-two items checked. All the way from Angel’s breakfast to Zoning and Flagging fence points for that new rabbit burrow Applejack has to build,” the party chimed while humming a catchy tune.
She looked down to the mentioned hare who had finished his meal and gave him a hug as she bade him farewell, “Now, watch out for the others, and be especially nice to Applejack and my other friends while I’m gone. She’s going to help you take care of the house."
"I'll be back by Sunday morning the latest, so be a good bunny while I'm gone.” Angel simply responded with an snobbish eye-roll in resignation that he’d be playing second banana to a farm pony for potentially a week in his domain. His mistress took that gesture as a yes and waved good bye as she went over to the front.
With every chore taken care of and every loose end accounted for, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie then made their way to Sugar Cube Corner for some much needed breakfast, the latter chattering on about dreams, the unbelievable mess left in the wake of her Pinkie Sense going off earlier, and other party-related stuff. She hardly heard anything the party pony said though, as she diligently went over the checklist with a zeal Twilight would have been proud of. After a few stops to recheck the checklist, the pair arrived at the bakery. Oddly enough, the meek mare didn’t feel too hungry this morning and only had two muffins and a glass of orange juice; her hyperactive friend, on the other hoof, hastily savored a large serving of hay fries, nearly two-thirds of a dozen of cupcakes, two muffins, and the rest of the orange juice carton they had opened.
As they then took off at a light trot for the train station, the demure pegasus took notice of the slight spring missing in her friend’s bounce and chalked it up to the lack of sleep. She thought it strange that she felt as fit as a fiddle while the one and only party pony had eye bags starting to show on her after only five hours of sleep.
It was seven twenty-five when they arrived, and the train staff was nearly ready to depart themselves. They only had a few more sacks of coal to load to last the transit.
“Thanks again for helping me with my morning chores. I hope it didn’t bother you so much to wake up after getting so little sleep yourself,” said Fluttershy when saw the party pony mellow down to walking.
“It’s no biggie, Flutters. After all, I’d do anything to make my friends smile,” the pink mare managed past a yawn.
“Well, it’s almost time to go, so I’ll see you again in at least 3 days. Goodbye, Pinkie Pie. Take care,” the meek pony bade as she boarded the train, waving to her friend as she did. The party pony said nothing and simply waved back as she turned around to head home, her mind and body starting to set into a drowsy stupor which could only be remedied with slumber’s reprieve. She nearly left the station when her pink mare felt another bout of Pinkie Sense come at her with an unbelievably achy neck. Pinkie Pie then made swift U-turn to impart this new information to her gentle friend, but unfortunately for her when she reached the loading platform, the conductor had sounded his whistle for the train to depart. Nonetheless, she ran up to the side of the Fluttershy’s cart and knocked on her window as she approached the end of the rostrum.
“Fluttershy!” she desperately called out.
The pegasus past the glass saw her friend frantically trying to keep up, so she opened her window just in time to hear the party pony shout a strange farewell as the train left the station completely.
“Watch out for snakes!”
‘Watch out for snakes…..hmm,’ Fluttershy wondered as she stood at the end of the caboose, looking at the now distant Ponyville partially obscured by the smoke trailing from the engine. That strange warning she received at the last minute from her party pony friend left her uncertain of what lay ahead. It had befuddled her so.
‘I wonder what it really means,’ she thought to herself in her motions to return to her cabin.
Back then, the muffled sound of the steel running on steel echoing past her only seemed to further the vagueness of the warning, urging her to take off for the end of the train as fast as she could in the hope of getting even a vague answer from Pinkie Pie if any at all. Unfortunately for her, the train had already covered a sizable distance by the time she got there, and it was obvious Pinkie couldn’t possibly catch up to the train on hoof in her exhausted state, even if she wanted to. And so the meek pegasus resigned herself to deciphering the meaning of this ambiguous message alone. She sat in silence and looked to her suitcase beside her, hoping the hyperactive party pony would undo its hinges from within and burst forth with a flurry of an explanation. Though that hope was largely unfounded, it didn’t stop her from considering her own speculations.
‘Fluttershy, there are snakes on that train and all of them are poisonous! It’s not safe there!’ the meek mare assumed the complete message might have been had the party pony been able to catch up to the train in thought.
‘It’s alright Pinkie, I’m sure I can handle a few snakes. It is part of my special talent after all,’ she thought in reply while entertaining the assumption.
‘But what if they bite you? Those nasty scaly things could coil down and spring up at you when you least expect it!’ the imagination Pinkie Pie exclaimed as her own tail wound up and propelled her from one side of the carriage to the other and back again. She tirelessly kept up with the locomotive with her friend’s eyes following her bouncing spectral form. ‘I hear their bites are even more painful than the shots they give at Ponyville General!’
‘All the more reason I’m needed here. Snakes only defend themselves when they’re cornered,’ the meek mare countered in her love for animals. ‘Oh, the poor dears, they’re not supposed to be kept in crowded crates. After all, it gets them nervous, and they could hurt themselves if they try to bite through the wood. Their fangs could break and, oh my, they wouldn’t be able to hunt anymore! Even if they reach somewhere safe, without their precious fang-’ Fluttershy worriedly thought to herself as she started to believe her own assumption only to be interrupted by an outside voice.
“Um... Excuse me miss, but may I see your ticket?” the bespectacled conductor in uniform repeated himself as his first and second attempts to get the meek mare’s attention had fallen on distractedly deaf ears.
“I’m sorry sir, I didn’t mean to ignore you. I must’ve dozed off,” she shyly whispered to the stallion in a hushed tone.
“What was that? Can’t hear you if you don’t talk loud enough there, missy,” he bluntly replied.
“O-oh, I’m sorry sir. Let me check on my ticket for a second,” the pegasus shyly excused herself again at an audible volume as she reached a hoof to the cart holding her things. The second she unlatched the suitcase, however, all her belongings sprung out at once since they had been tightly packed. She didn’t see the ticket flutter down to the cabin floor as she struggled to make sense of the unfamiliar order with which Twilight and Rarity arranged her belongings, thinking with great worry that it may have been misplaced in the mishap or even lost. The middle-aged conductor on the other hoof noticed this and took a hold of the ticket with his magic, a rustic gold in color.
“Is this your ticket, miss?” the pale azure stallion asked, holding it up for her to see.
“O-oh, I’m sorry. How clumsy of me. It must’ve fallen down while I was looking through my things,” confirmed the flustered mare in sheepish embarrassment.
“Nothing to be ashamed of here, little missy; it happens to everyone, so it’s not like anyone is going to think ill of you,” the conductor replied, noting that they were the only two in the carriage. He turned around to continue his business, but seeing a worried look on the mare’s face compelled him to stop and question on.
“But it looks like that isn’t the only thing troubling you. There aren’t many passengers for me to attend to this morning, so I’ve a bit of time to squander. Would you like to talk about it? I can be pretty darn good with advice considering the number of greenhorns I’ve met in my time,” he frankly stated. The mare in question simply nodded, surprised and at the same time relieved that she would be allowed to voice out these insecurities.
“I-i-it’s just,” she started once again in a whisper too low for the middle-aged stallion to hear.
“Speak up, little miss. No one else is in this carriage, so your secret’s safe with me,” the conductor assured.
“Umm…t-this is the first time I’m going somewhere completely unknown to me in a long time,” the meek pony stutteringly began.
“It’s kind of similar to when I first moved to Ponyville, but also different because a friend of mine already had settled in and helped me with the move,” she further explained, losing the nervous stutters. “So how do I not feel scared about going somewhere all by myself. How can I be brave?”
The conductor grinned nostalgically at the question as if he’d heard the exact same one before. “In my entire life, I can’t remember exactly how many times I’ve been asked that. All I can do is tell you the exact same thing I told everyone before you,” said the pale azure stallion with a seasoned look about him. He combed his greying ebon mane with a hoof as he then imparted ageless words of wisdom to the young pegasus.
“The concept of courage and bravery is neither about leaving your fears behind nor racing into the fray all willy-nilly,” the conductor started in a voice that was both prudent and worldly, garnering the mare’s close and undivided attention as he continued.
“It’s about accepting all your flaws and inhibitions as a part of you, but do not let them hinder you in doing what needs to be done. Face every challenge knowing that your imperfections drive you to succeed. Do you understand?” he asked to which the meek pony nodded.
“Honestly, I thought you’d know all this after that fiasco with Princess Celestia’s pet phoenix AND so many friendship reports from your librarian friend,” he strictly lectured, his lecture’s recipient looking sheepishly repentant.
“Now then, I’ve other passengers to attend to. Have a good trip, little miss,” the conductor bade.
“Thank you for the advice, kind sir,” the meek mare replied with sincerity to the stallion as he went to leave, eying him with gratitude in her heart for the time he took to lend an ear her plight. He stopped by the door in the direction of the caboose, though. He turned his head back to tell her something else.
“Though I’m not sure how things are in this region of the world, I’m quite certain it is still inappropriate to leave your belongings unkempt and out in the open, even if you are the only passenger in the carriage…hmm?” he mentioned with a jovial smirk, staring at the mare and the mess behind her through warm amber eyes.
Fluttershy let out a nervous squeal when she turned to realize that she had completely forgotten about her things. The unorganized pile of cloths, hats, scarves, and accessories as well as other toiletries Rarity thought to pack for her had been laid around her stroller cart in a clutter, and this made the meek mare flush with even more embarrassment. She was about to turn around and apologize to the conductor for the slight misconduct, but he was already gone; the pegasus didn’t even hear the sound of the door opening and closing when he left.
A half hour later, she was finding difficult to fit everything inside the suitcase , and it puzzled her greatly how the fashionista packed all those things so tightly and neatly before in such a short time. As Fluttershy tended to her belongings, she thought about that kind, middle-aged stallion and what he had told her.
‘Accept my fears and insecurities,’ the pegasus pondered as she finished securing her things in the suitcase.
‘And he refers to others as ‘one’ instead of ’pony’. Strange enough, but it was still considerate of him to hear me out. I do hope we meet again som-’
But as she was about to finish that thought, the meek mare stopped herself when she realized even something stranger.
‘How did he know about Twilight writing friendship reports and that incident with Philomena? Now that I think about it, wasn’t he using magick witho-’
Just as she began to ponder further on the peculiar idea, her thoughts were interrupted once again, this time, by the door from the direction of the engine room, which opened to let an elderly unicorn into the cabin.
“Good morning, young miss. May I see your ticket?” the wrinkled stallion greeted as he tried to focus in past the thick lens of his glasses with wizened eyes.
“U-um…..I’m sorry but…somepony…else took it already,” she nervously explained.
“Are you sure? I’m supposed to be the only one doing rounds this morning on account of there’s only a hoofful of you taking the train this early,” the elderly unicorn countered with a slight rasp and cackle, hinting to his age.
“What!? B-but he was in uniform and I-”
“Don’t you worry, little missy,” he eagerly interrupted. “I didn’t see anypony else like me in the carriages before this one, so the perp’s probably hiding in the last three. The boys and I will find him.”
“Finally, some action!” he whispered to himself as he made for front of the train.
When he left, Fluttershy felt more confused than frustrated about the mysterious pony whom she just found out had pilfered her ticket. No matter how far and few between his kind was, how credible were his words of advice now that he was revealed to be a thief and a fraud? She would not get her answer unless the train staff could catch him.
The light of the full moon shone through the cloudless, starry Sunday eve onto the sleepy subdivision of Palm Brinks as all of the home owners who made residence therein peacefully slept through the night. Each of them would have some matter of normalcy to busy themselves in the following normal morning; children would get up early to attend class at a normal school, and their guardians would have their normal job or some other business to deal with throughout the normal day. Everything about the five acre suburb exuded an atmosphere of normal, and nothing was out of place….all except for the Chandler household.
As the pale moon rose ever higher to its peak in the night sky, an ebon vortex of arcane energies that blended into the black canvas of the evening gathered and whirled silently overhead, its purpose privy only to its caster. Inside the house on the second floor was Parnella, who had been lying in bed wide awake for a while with a hand on the snooze button of her beside alarm clock that she set to go off at nine forty-five. She had been trying to recall that blissful feeling she felt during the last moments of that ever-recurring reverie.
Tears fell down her cheeks in relief that these painful yet precious memories had not been taken yet as part of her payment for continued and tolerated existence in this realm, and what relieved her most was that she could still remember her mother’s name as well as her face. She was the only person to ever show her kindness in that desolate time of her life, and merely entertaining the thought that it could be taken away without a moment’s notice was enough to make her shudder with anxiety.
The former scholar rose from bed and stepped off to the balcony with her emerald eyes gazing out at the open evening air, eyes that concealed decades of determination and longing. Never had their owner made so wistful a gaze into the midsummer night before, as the final steps of a protractedly long journey drew in closer. Parnella leaned on the railings and sighed in contemplation as she continued to stare forlornly to the warm houses and neatly paved roads, thinking back to the once verdant groves and the tranquil stream that they had been built to replace.
“A hundred years……has it really been that long?” she said to herself nostalgically, much to the contrary of the youth her countenance and figure had shown. She owed this to the fact her life thread originated from the other plane which allowed her to live independent of this world’s flow of time.
Quiet stillness dominated the atmosphere of her home, cut only by the rustling of the leaves in the nearby trees jostled by the magickal spiral above and ever present ticking of a wall clock which indicated that it was now ten o’ seven in the evening. After the short breath of fresh air, Parnella headed for the kitchen to prepare a simple, late dinner, one which she assumed would be hers and her companion's last in this world. Past the heat of the stove and sizzling of oil, the faint sound of footsteps churned the silent hallways and rooms of the house, telling her that said companion had awoken to the affable aroma of cooked food and that she would be joining her shortly for the meal.
“So, any pleasant dreams tonight?” Parnella asked the little one as she entered the kitchen.
“Just the usual ones,” the sleepy youngster replied, “except the bullies were there, and they were making fun of me. Then big sister Shemzy showed up and turned them into rickety, old trees, and we chopped them into firewood!” she managed past a yawn with a satisfied grin following.
“Then, I’m sure Shemzy will be happy to see you again once we get back, Zalmina,” she uneasily chuckled as she reminisced of the childhood taken from her which she was now able to provide to the child who was inadvertently thrust into her life.
“Mom, I told to use my nickname!” the annoyed lass protested past another yawn.
“But isn’t that half the reason they pick on you at school?” the elder countered.
“I told you: Zach’s way cooler than Zalmina. I don’t want be called by a name that sounds like a prissy princess!” the perturbed child argued as she washed her hands. “Anyway, we won’t be coming back, will we?”
“No we won’t, it’s a one way trip… Now, let’s finish up dinner before we go, okay Zach?” she politely requested of her charge after the affirmation of their itinerary. She then lay three pieces of French toast, some bacon, a bowl of fries and pitcher of apple juice on the table, to which Zach eagerly dug in.
The little girl let out a satisfied burp when she finished, and joined her mother in washing the dishes, humming a catchy tune together as they went about the chore. The melodies of their wordless carol echoed throughout the completely empty house, furniture and other such possessions the pair wouldn’t or couldn’t bring along with them having been sold off.
After freshening up and gathering the belongings they chose bring with them, they then made their way down to the basement. It was lit by numerous, dimly glowing, green crystals seemingly strewn about in a pattern of two arcing lines that intersected at two points. Zach clasped one hand in the other as if praying, and her body went aglow for a moment to which the crystals responded, beaming with greater intensity. There lay on the floor and walls of the illuminated room numerous patterns and circles of ritualistic nature all over drawn in chalk. Some were smeared and written over, while others had large red X’s and notes to the side as reminder of past mistakes. Quite a strange and foreboding sight one would find in an age of modernity and science.
“Are you sure you want to leave now? We could stay a bit longer and wait for those new cartoons you like so much,” the elder sarcastically suggested at the last minute.
“I wanted to before…..but I could always make my own when we get home,” the little girl replied in ambitious honesty, eyes looking to the future.
“I’ll write some real good stories that’ll make people smile.”
The poignant statement took Parnella by surprise and had reminded her of how much this little girl, in her playful insight and defiant knack for magick in a world devoid and intolerant of any, greatly resembled the one who came before her, as well as herself to a lesser degree. A somber expression took hold of her as she thought of what might happen to Zach’s current state should they succeed in this final attempt to open a rift to home. What would happen once they returned to their world? Would she be assimilated into her former and more dominant self or simply fade away? Parnella had no idea how it would affect her once they would cross over. She could only put her faith in the deity who had guided her by hand for this entire trial.
Four hours had past and still no sign of the thief. By then, the meek mare had practically resigned herself to being kicked off the train. But the staff ponies were reasonable enough to check the ticket count that morning and had confirmed that Fluttershy paid for hers since it was the only one they weren’t able to account for. Right now, she was heading back to her carriage from the engine room after thanking the staff for their hospitality by treating them to lunch with some of the muffins Pinkie Pie packed for her last night. As the meek mare made her way back though, the train seemed to slow down in its pace, and by the time she returned, the train had come to a complete stop well past Ghastly Gorge, just a ways off from the fork to either Appleloosa or Dodge Junction. Shortly after, an announcement was made on the P.A. system that they had run out of coal, and the staff would be out for a while to gather some firewood.
After the announcement, she thought that now might be a good time to take lunch herself, reaching a hoof to the picnic basket in her cart. However, the lack of muffins therein replaced by a smooth and scaly texture took her by surprise. After flinching back from the sensation, she slowly lifted the lid and found a greyish-green snake in place of her food.
“Why, hello there, little one. Are you hungry?” Fluttershy greeted the reptile with doting eyes as she lifted it out with a hoof to get a better look. It seemed friendly enough when it yawned and started to coil around her foreleg, not showing any hostility.
“Silly snake, you could have just asked for som-”
She didn’t finish that sentence, shocked from discovering a good portion of the long animal had been cut off, the severed end still bleeding. Before she could even ask herself how and why something so horrible would happen to such a darling snake, it nipped her at the wing without her noticing and sprung out through the open window behind her.
“Wait, come back! I need to treat your wounds!” she called out to it, paying no mind to the moment’s discomfort in her anxious worrying. It hastily slithered its way into the woods, completely unlike a snake or any animal with a mortal injury for that matter.
‘This must be what Pinkie was trying to tell me. I have to go save that poor snake’s life!’ Fluttershy decidedly thought in her leap after the scaly runaway. So fervent was her desire to rescue and nurse the reptile back to health that she even didn’t think of the consequences of leaving her things on the train, nor did she realize the canopy of the Everfree Forest looming over her as she disappeared into its blackened woodland.
“Then let’s begin,” announced Parnella as she tightly held the little girl’s hand.
Energies from the surrounding crystals channeled into Zach then transferred over to the former scholar as the resounding thrum from the chunks of emerald stone filled the room. The entire building subtly shook at its foundation as the arcane cloud outside funneled into the house through the open windows and down to the basement. Then the cloud mass twisted and condensed into a fine point that floated before the pair who attempted to break natural law. The air began to stifle and thicken as the singularity stretched into a pure white halo that radiated around a tiny rift in space that was slowly but surely opening. Beads of sweat formed on her brows, running down her face as she felt a massive amount of mana surge into her from her companion, reciting the necessary incantations with deep mental focus. Then her teal eyes shot out bright amber as she spoke the final words of the spell, demanding the rift to open.
“Alta Oron Sondus Kameela!”
The white halo rimming the tiny portal responded and extended the rift into a gateway, whose light briefly blinded the pair as it turned a royal gold in hue. Parnella took an exhausted step forward to examine her work as she smiled in satisfied accomplishment of the spell she was finally able to perform without fail. She then looked back to the little girl with hope brimming in her eyes that watered at the thought of seeing her mother again.
“We finally did it, Zach! Now after so many failures, we can-”
Her eyes shot out wide open when the sensation of pain radiated throughout her body. Something tainted and malicious reached out from the now abysmal portal. It lashed out at her and pierced her abdomen wholly, the monstrosity of a limb writhing and slithering through her as it did. Its terrifying body had one disfigured crimson head, the remaining muscles on its grim face contorted in an eternally locked expression of pure wrath as it barely hung out of an opening that had been lined with countless rows of large, backward facing, serrated teeth. The skeletal maw that held the dagger-sized fangs quivered, twitched, and salivated in delight when the abomination let out a despicable snicker that sent chills down Zach’s spine, leaving the little girl utterly dumbfounded, frightened and immobilized.
"Ello there, poppet. Fancy chancing this final meeting with ya, one I’ve been waiting for ages!” the monster spoke in a familiar yet infernal gurgle of a voice.
“It’s you!” Parnella painfully and alarmingly exclaimed as blood leaked from her body in ounces, bathing the floor in its deep crimson hue, “But…how di-”
“Never gave a care to think about it. No point in starting now, so long as ya get what’s been coming to ya!” the fiend wickedly interrupted.
At its word, a foul and vile black liquid began oozing out of its skin that corroded anything it touched, including the victim that struggled in its deathly grasp. The former scholar let out a scream in agony as she felt her internal organs beginning to liquefy into a haphazard mesh of rotten flesh, to which the cretin took pleasure in as he tormented his prey. The snickers had now evolved into outright maniacal laughter.
Yet, in the midst of the torment the malevolent being dealt upon her all for the sake of revenge, she could only think of the untold destruction that would follow and innocents who would suffer if the rift was allowed to remain open. Despite being merely a few steps away from finishing this life-long ordeal, fate seemed to cruelly conspire against her as if she were destined to live and die in discontented sorrow in the place of all who were happy and fulfilled. But the magus would not let it end this way. With grit the likes of which would leave heroes in awe, she endured the pain in her gut and held out a hand to the scared little girl in front of her while feeling contrite for the promise she was about to break.
“Zach,” she called out with difficulty to the youngster locked in a bout of fright. “Zach,” Parnella cried out again as the black limb began to inch its way to her neck in a fruitless effort to make contact.
“Zach!” she called out once more, struggling in a step away from her assailant to grasp the youngster’s hand, managing to get her attention. The hellion who held her life by a thread ignored her shouts as it savored the bliss of sweet revenge.
“I’m sorry…but I’m going to have to break my promise,” the former scholar painfully apologized. “We won’t be…seeing Shemzy today.”
The little girl simply nodded in understanding upon recovering from her daze and, taking in the gravity of the situation, she channeled what magick still permeated in the cold basement air to the magus. Parnella had to let go when the monstrosity pulled at her innards and tightly wrung her neck, barely remaining conscious as she lost her footing and fell to the concrete floor soaked in her own blood. But this sliver of magick she had received was more than enough, and, even as she struggled to turn and face the demon, a glimmer of steely resolve shone in her eyes as she took hold of the dark rim of the rift and spoke her final words to the fiend, ones that echoed age old wisdom in their simplicity.
“Mother…always taught me to put others before…one’s self. Let it never be said that my actions today…were anything but just!”
And with the last vestiges of her waning strength and magick, she tugged at rift’s rim, disrupting the flow of energies that stabilized the shift and bend in reality, and with a deafening sound, the portal collapsed into itself. The resulting implosion consumed the entire house and the property around it, leaving nothing but a seared, gaping concavity, charred black in color, and a shift in pressure that roared throughout the entire subdivision.
Many of the residents who woke up that night startled by the shock-wave discovered that every window in the direction of where the quaint hazel house with orange roof once stood had been shattered. As the buzzing of police, ambulance and fire truck sirens as well as the anti-theft alarms of cars echoed in the chilly night air, the playground clock tower fortuitously and ominously chimed at the sudden conclusion of the events that it alone had seemed to witness.
The time was now eleven thirty, and things were very uncertain.
Fluttershy had been walking for hours through the thick brambles and twisted vines that relentlessly impeded her efforts to rescue that one injured animal. Countless cruel thorns pierced her coat and struck at the delicate skin underneath as she went past, and the distant howls of the Timberwolves made the pony tremble in anticipation of the many predatory dangers that called the Everfree home.
The pegasus herself was visibly debilitated both in stamina and in spirit, as if the forest itself was feeding off her strength. Never in her life had she felt so drained that it made her body seem to weigh lighter. Even the sensation in her wings had gone so numb that they felt almost nonexistent. She didn’t even bother to check on herself, though; with Celestia’ sun setting, the absolute darkness that now prevailed below the sky-like awning wouldn’t even allow her a hazy glance to the rear. Uncertain of what lay before her, she steadily inched herself across the unseen terrain, hoping to avoid both hazardous flora and the nocturnally active, carnivorous fauna.
However, wandering blindly through the darkness had seldom been an endeavor without risk. Eventually, she tripped over a stray root and fell down a small cliff, crashing into a thorn bush that painfully cushioned the impact with the hard, forest ground. Thoughts of pessimism and dejection clouded her weary mind as she recovered.
‘Stupid Fluttershy,’ the pegasus exhaustingly belittled herself as she achingly propped her body up against a nearby boulder. ‘You’re tired, cold, and alone. If only you were fast like Rainbow Dash, you could’ve caught that poor snake before it got into the Everfree forest. It’s probably lost and scared right now, and so are you. How can you possibly hope to find it in your pathetic state?’
“It’s simple really; keep calm and flutter on,” a familiar voice unexpectedly and suddenly echoed out of nowhere as if replying to her thoughts, taking the worn-out mare by surprise.
“Whose there!?” she frantically called out through the dark, stumbling onto her flank as she did.
“Stop fidgeting and turn around, will you? I don’t have all night,” it haughtily demanded as if the voice had eyes to witness her slip of a hoof.
Fluttershy felt the slab she had been leaning on roll over to the side, revealing a large hole underneath. It gave off a faint teal glow that illuminated the dark forest as the pony looked down the pit in confused apprehension, thinking it an invitation of misfortune to listen to strangers in the middle of the Everfree forest.
“Well then, what’s keeping you? Jump in!” the voice demanded impatiently from within. The exhausted mare in question hesitated, thinking whatever was down there had been impolite and unreasonable with its requests if it wasn’t simply some talkative monster wanting to have her for a snack. Nonetheless, she cautiously chose her words and said her reply to the stranger at a volume surprisingly near normal.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know exactly who you are, and I’m a little bit tired right no-”
“Fine, be that way,” it rudely interrupted. “I guess being devoured by the hungry beasts stalking you in yonder woods won’t bother you one bit.”
The bark on nearby trees split open with a foreboding snap into malevolent, green eyes, and one look at the collection of malicious glares was enough to send the meek mare tumbling back and down into the mysterious pit. She had expected another painfully hard landing and braced herself for the impact but was surprised as well as relieved to see that a veil of magick had broken her fall. Shortly afterwards, the boulder once again slid over the hole, blocking any further entry by unwanted company.
As the veil dissipated, Fluttershy was confronted by a strange being that stood on two legs, much like the diamond dogs or a young dragon. It wore lavish blue robes that fit tightly against its slim form, and, from what she could tell by its need for tight clothing, was practically hairless, save for the top of its head. Had it not been for the lack of a tail, the meek mare would have assumed it to be a fancy, well-trained monkey. While the lack of better knowledge had her think of it to be such, the intense amber stare with which it regarded her as well as the austere expression on its face told her otherwise. It took a step forward which prompted the intimidated mare to take one back in apprehension. It noticed this and dropped the serious demeanor, choosing to don a smile as it spoke to calm her.
“Really now, do I really look that scary to you?” it queried in the same familiar voice with its forelimbs out slightly from its side. Fluttershy opted to nod in response, afraid that her inaudible whispers might anger it.
“One moment,” it said right after, and, in a bright flash of light, the bipedal being had changed into a stallion, surprising the exhausted pegasus with the sudden yet distingue transformation. The endlessly free, cerulean sky shimmered peerlessly on his perfectly clean and neatly trimmed coat, his short-cut and informally styled mane and tail had been dyed a hue of the deepest and purest ebon black, and mystic tides mesmerizingly ebbed and twisted on his sharp irises of the most brilliant amber hue as it pierced her very being with the intense shade and intimidating shape. He had a cutie mark on only his right flank, which was made up of two arcing, black lines that twice intersected into a symbol that made no sense to the pony, but what surprised her most was the being’s hornless head, which contradicted what the meek mare knew as common knowledge. Past his familiar visage, Fluttershy presumed she had been graced by some being of extreme significance and moved to bow in respect and humility. However, the being, now in the form of an earth pony, stopped her half-way with a hint of annoyance in his voice.
“Oh please! Not this again. No more bows for I am past such trivialities.” The meek mare, upon hearing his complaint, tried to stand back up, but her worn out limbs had decided otherwise and gave out.
“Can’t even stand, huh? Looks like I underestimated the amount of magick this world appears to be swimming in,” the stallion said to himself out loud as he turned around and ventured down the winding tunnel ahead. “Come, little Fluttershy, walk with me.”
Despite the unreasonable request, the way of things seemed to give in to his command as warmth radiated throughout the pegasus, and the feeling of pain and weariness receded. Though the feeling of utter numbness remained in her wings, she had forgone checking them again, not wanting the stranger to wait on her further. She followed suit and asked the earth pony a question when she caught up.
“Thank you for saving me from those dreadful Timberwolves, kind sir,” Fluttershy thankfully began, avoiding a hush tone as she spoke. “But who exactly are you and how do you know my name? Now that I think about it, you look awfully similar to somepony I met recently.”
“So your name’s Fluttershy, eh little pony?” he responded to which the mare returned a nod in affirmation.
“It’s quite peculiar you creatures have actual words for names rather than unique identifiers such as Marche, Frimelda, Ramza, or Agrias, just to mention a few. I only called you that because the color of your coat and mane reminded me of a species of butterfly I’m familiar with. Anyway, as per naming customs of you ponies, I dub myself Ebon Eclipse. You may call me Ebony for short,” he haughtily rambled, almost forgetting the mare’s other query.
“And to answer your second question," he nonchalantly admitted before she could reply, “Yes, I am that same pony who pilfered your ticket earlier today, as was I the snake that led you here and the one responsible for the train’s unexpected standstill.”
Disbelief washed over the mare in waves as she followed the stallion who had apparently deceived her and lead her astray, this earth pony who could perform magick without need of a horn. “But why in Equestria would you do that? Why would such a kind stallion like you resort to lying and stopping an entire train just to get my attention?” Fluttershy meekly demanded, more perturbed and concerned that the amazing ability had been abused as a means of deception as well as disturbing the peace rather than awed by the skill itself.
“I needed help, your help, to be precise. Frankly, I wasn’t quite sure you’d help me or even listen to me at all, hence my decision to mislead you the way I did,” the earth pony, now dubbed Ebony, answered without pause as the echoes of his voice bounced off the walls of the large chamber they had just entered.
The cool, humid air greeted them as it brushed off and dampened their coats. Grey moss and strange, flowering ferns, as well as numerous purple mushrooms, dotted several patches of the cave’s surface, sprouting out of whatever nook or cranny their spores and seeds managed to find and settle in. Several stalactites and stalagmites accompanied the foliage in decorating the cavern, their length and drab discoloration a testament to the structure’s long-lived existence. The only source of light, a solitary, giant crystal formation glowing pure white, hung precariously high above a crystal clear pool that occupied the middle of the chamber. As the pair descended down to the edge of the pond, the meek mare went speechless, marveling at the natural beauty before and around her.
With a giddy smile on her face, her earlier frustrations were forgotten as she lost herself in amazement of it all, ears now alert and all too eager to pick up the sounds of whatever undiscovered animal dwelled within. Her expectations, however, were met by complete silence, cut only by the occasional drop of water impacting the mysterious pool below. Unsatisfied with the stillness, she tried her hardest to tune in to even the faintest of sounds and became too preoccupied to notice the approaching body of water. The pegasus would have fallen right in if it weren’t for her companion who caught the mare by the withers.
“Careful, Flutters… This pond has mysterious magickal properties that can either manifold or cripple beings who enter it,” Ebony warned with caution as his reflection shone on the water’s surface.
“You wouldn’t want to become doubly tired than before, now would you?” The meek mare shook her head in agreement, relieved he had been there to stop her.
“Good. I wouldn’t want the only pony who could help me with my problem getting tired right before I actually needed her,” he stated with a confident smirk as he turned to face her. Reaching to the back of his head with magick, he produced a dull, green crystal seemingly out of nowhere.
“Um…if you don’t mind me asking, what is it exactly you want me to do?” the mare politely inquired, noticing the unremarkable rock he held.
“What you see before you is a key that can unlock portals to other dimensions,” he explained as he set the nugget in between them. “It acts as a reservoir for magickal energies and also as a conduit with which one can grasp, bend and twist reality, opening a portal through spatial dimension, but….”
Seeing the simplified description of the mechanics of interdimensional travel was enough to confuse the meek mare, Ebony decided to skip the technicalities and get to the main point. He lifted and charged the crystal with magick, the symbol on his right flank glowing a royal gold as he did, then lobbed it into the middle of the pond. The rock itself came to a standstill, hovering in midair just before it began its descent, a few inches shy of the water’s surface. Then it opened into a large, black rift that lead into an inky, silent darkness. Magick was siphoned from the crystal clear pond below to the quavering aperture, and it swirled at its outer fringes, creating a golden halo that rimmed and stabilized the gateway.
“Unfortunately, my companion has gotten stuck on the other side of the portal, and for some reason…” the stallion further explained as he reached a hoof towards the rift. This small action was met by a swift bolt of lightning that thundered out from the void and impacted the outstretched forelimb, as if barring even his slightest advance in its direction. Though the burst of energy obviously contained enough power to knock a normal pony out of consciousness and possibly put them in a coma, Ebon seemed unphased and nonchalantly returned his singed hoof to the ground, planting it down firmly without the even slightest sign of difficulty or discomfort showing on his face.
“It won’t let me any nearer than this. That’s where you come in; I need you to go inside there and fetch her for me. Simple, really,” he confidently finished, looking to the mare who hid close behind him, clinging to a stalagmite and whimpering in horror at the sight of the arcane demonstration.
“I-I-I-I can’t do it! I-it’s way too scary!” Fluttershy shakily exclaimed in a peek from behind the stalagmite.
“Come now, Fluttershy. You’re the only one with remotely enough magickal power to pull this off,” he calmly argued on his approach to the frightened pegasus. She was confused at what he had said, but didn’t think to ponder further as her fears began flooding in.
“B-but I’m a pegasus. My friend, Twilight, is a unicorn,” the mare nervously excused as she made way for the exit. “She can handle magick better than any other unicorn I know! We should go g-”
“The portal is already open, and there are no do-overs once it closes; it will not last long! You must do this!” the earth pony insistently countered.
“But we cou-”
“If you leave now, she will die.”
The argument was over; for Fluttershy at least. A mortal life was on the line. It would weigh heavily on her conscience and haunt her the rest of her days if she let a living, breathing, thinking being die on account of her meager inadequacies. But the mere thought of venturing into utter bleakness of the strange and unknown world sent chills down her spine. The intense black that coated the realm past the magickal aperture came to her as a hopeless and inescapable abyss that could devour her at a moment’s notice, while the sudden discharge that leapt at the magickally-capable ‘earth pony’ earlier terrified her wits to no end. The uncertainty of things frightened her immensely.
Regardless, she had uneasily made up her mind, and, in spite of her trepidation, she approached the portal unsteadily and slowly but surely on trembling hooves.
“Ebony, I’m…I’m afraid,” the pegasus weakly expressed in acceptance of what had to be done, what only she could do.
“Remember what I told you back then; accept your flaws and inhibitions as a part of you, but do not let them hinder you in doing what needs to be done. Face every challenge in knowing that your imperfections drive you to succeed,” Ebony encouraged with a consoling grin as she passed him by, relieved in choosing one so benevolent and selfless to take up this task.
“And thank you for saving her.”
Fluttershy simply smiled upon hearing these final words before she entered, taking humble pride in the fact she would brave the unknown to bring a life back from the brink. She apprehensively held a hoof to the rift, and was quickly whisked away in a blur, all but a lone yellow feather disappearing to a world unseen.
Then the rift promptly closed itself but not before spitting out its ‘key’ which landed in front of the azure stallion, both the typical manner with which it rebounded the floor and its dull color and lackluster appearance illuding to its true purpose. He looked down to it in satisfaction of one of many hidden agendas fulfilled as he made a passing comment he was certain no one else would hear.
“Indeed, I am glad I chose her.”
When Parnella awoke, there was nothing all around; it was a great abyss of emptiness.
The awesomely vast canvas of black oblivion laid itself before her as she stood in the stillness of the reality that surrounded. She looked to the sides and the rear, then above and below, and expectantly saw nothing as the seemingly invisible floor held her upright, thankful in her uncertainty that what twisted natural law residing in this domain and dictated happenings therein enabled her to stand at all.
Then the indifferent eternity started its countdown to the unknown when the sound of her first step to the ebon frontier surged forth only to be muffled by the nothing with the subsequent staccato of her hesitant gait following its predecessor to a silent end. It seemed like the eternity ended and had started anew in the time she spent aimlessly searching a way out of the void with the fruitlessness of the endeavor completely slipping her mind. Yet Parnella trepidly pressed on, deeper towards the darkness that could have come alive and swallowed her whole into intense and utter despair, any trace of her existence snuffed out like a candlelight flickering forlornly in the wind.
Then she felt her body becoming smaller as the abyssal darkness of the ground gave way to snowswept tundra, and the ebon hue of the sky above turned grey with the smell of sulfur and smoldering debris thick in the biting frost of the wind that blew over and around her.
As the scent of burning rubble tingled her young, little nose, she waded and trudged through the bitter cold snow that surrounded her and the crumbling fortress she took leave of. The pure and pristine yet severe white landscape stretched as far as her squinting eyes could see; for all she knew, it might as well as have covered lands far beyond the horizon her petite vision barely managed to discern. She knew one thing and one thing alone; the elements would be merciless to her as it was with any other soul that chanced the privilege of ever breathing for that matter. It was the start of a long-suffering purgatory fraught with peril that would tear her mettle and virtue in half should she give it a moment of vulnerability. But she had to struggle, to survive. She had to make it somewhere safe no matter how desolate and forsaken it might have become amidst the turmoil. She just had to; it was the only thing she thought to do.
Clutching herself through her soot-laden shoal in phantom pain as she made way through the pale and packed snow, her thoughts dwelled on moments past of her father’s last words to her as he held himself in agony with a poisoned crossbow bolt painfully embedded into his chest and blood trickling from his mouth. For certain, his demise was nigh, and, with every one of his a comrades slain in battle, there was nary a thing that could be done but impart these final words of wisdom and last wills to the child who began to weep before him, his child who would face the harsh and cruel world without a father.
“Tears, eh? You were raised…to stifle such emotions that hinder the mind,” he coughed in a harsh tone as the vile liquid coursed through his veins. The little girl held said tears back in anticipation of his final message as she watched his blood which turned into a dull brick hue seep out from his skin like a fatal miasma, denying the pair a last moment’s intimate embrace.
“The world…beyond the only haven you’ve ever known under my care…is harsh, selfish and cruel; you know better to than to show it weakness.” She held back a river of tears as he uttered this reminder.
“Nonetheless, I am… truly sorry from the bottom of my heart. I have failed you as… as a father and as your warden,” he sorrowfully went on as his body felt numb and cold with every word spoken.
“In my zealous haste… and impatience to claim rightful dues that were denied from us by the… corrupt crown, to bring high held heads down from lofty perches, so have I denied you, as well, years of your rightful childhood. Cloaked in darkness and living in the shadow…. of antipathy and bigotry is no proper way for anyone to come of age, especially you…my dear.”
Sermons such as this that dealt with such serious and mature concepts weren’t ideas hard for her to comprehend despite her young age, having been taught all these ever since she first learned to speak and listen. Kidnap and ransom were the ways of the desperate; no other word could best describe the broken brigade her father chose to side with.
“Alas….there is nothing left for one hanging on their last strand to life, one scarce to either Father’s keeping…. or the fiery pits of judgement. I am beyond any hope…of salvation now, but you yet have yours. Cast the torch down the pit, and purge yourself of this sorrow. Weave your life anew, and live it free from chains of hate….and regret.” The little girl looked to her dying father as he struggled to finish his last sentence.
“Grant me…..this one solace that you….become the one proof…. I did not live a…..meaningless…..life.”
The continuing clash of steel and hot-blooded wills outside seemed to be deafened by the final breath of his mortal life that escaped him in a hush sigh.
It had been a good hour since she broke into her sobs. Outside, the clatter of blade meeting blade and buzz of arcane bolts whirring through the air began to die down just as she was about to run out of tears.
The waxing silence of it all meant there was a chance for her to escape, but there was no way of knowing for certain. But now was not the time for indecisiveness. Having lit the fuse leading to the powder room and with a spell cast on her feet, she made herself scarce in a hasty dash towards the exit, running for dear life faster than her little legs could take her by their tiny selves.
When she did reach it, however, the orphaned girl froze in trepidation of the person she saw standing in front of her: A Knight of the White Lion! Just as she was about to escape, the order blocked her, an innocent child at that! She thought the men of the order were borne of inhumane heretics at the idea that they would resort to slaughtering everyone in the resistance, even one so young such as herself. But past this ivory emblem which she had come to fear, she took notice of the man’s attire which identified him to be a mere squire and a commoner, no less, by the looks.
Cradled in the cold embrace of light snowfall between them was the woman who had recently been in her father’s custody, a bargaining chip used in a last, desperate bid to parley with the order. But she didn’t stop to think anything past that as she flew down the edge of the bridge that preceded the main gate with the man paying her no mind, eyes only to the beloved that lay dead before him. Owing a soft landing to deep snow and the spell she cast earlier, she rose up and continued to flee the inevitable explosion. The little girl thought she would die in the infernal purging of the winter wasteland when she felt the powder in the storeroom beneath her feet burst to life, its crackling symphony and fireworks eagerly searching for a way out. But thank Father in High Heaven! She had cleared the premises on time; far and safe enough to witness the crescendo of the light show unfurl and tear the fortress asunder.
After taking a moment to catch her breath, she turned to brave the cold snowscape.
The skin on her face began to numb as her thoughts turned from the recent memory to the frigid winds that blew over, trying to force her down into a wintery grave. In the corner of her eye, another lost soul wandered through the blizzard off in the distance. She paid him no heed as his noble yet weary and despondent visage drifted out of sight, both their footprints swallowed by the snow.
Then, in a blur, the smell of rubble and gunpowder faded, and the cold gave way to the warmth of summer.
The poor orphan had spent the past two years a vagrant, aimlessly following the sun as if it were a ray of hope that shone through looming storm clouds circling around her. By this point in time, she had endured many a hardship one her age should scarcely experience or even begin to imagine.
Roaming barefoot through muddy wealds, rain-sodden wind-flats, and scorching, arid deserts for shelter and meager comfort; stealing morsels from bandits and cutthroats that littered the countryside when rummaging through thorn bushes and trees proved fruitless; and running in fear from all manner of hungry beasts whose claws and teeth could easily tear the flesh from bone as well as break the bone itself into pieces, she endured all these as well as many other things that would have left countless others her age bitter and impotent.
Then fate seemed to grant her a miracle in the form of a speck of a city atop a hill amidst the bright, setting sun that made itself known with a shadow cast over her from a distance. As the orphan reached and walked past its gate, entering the city proper, she hoped its occupants would be different from all the others who had paid her no mind and that they would listen to this young and fragile soul who desperately sought a better life before she lost herself to despair.
Her hopes, however, were proven to be unfounded as they were dashed into pieces upon leaving the once prosperous trade city, now an unforgiving and derelict shell of its former glory. Victims of war begged and idled in its street corners; its alleyways were rife with the belligerent, the destitute, and the ailing; and what fortunate business that remained therein wouldn’t even grant her a sideways glance as she cried out to them, her pleas for shelter and sustenance in exchange for any sort labor, be it meager, demeaning, or downright appalling falling on deaf ears. They had turned her down just like the rest.
It was then the cruel reality that she had tried to deny with all her might finally dawned on her; there was no point in beseeching for help at all because the citizen of this war-torn country never had any to spare. Thinking back to those past two years of struggling, it all started to seem foolish and futile. Then again, it was a miracle she had even made it this far, nearly covering the entire expanse of the nation in her arduously long journey. But in spite of all the endurance, strength and fortitude she built up to protect herself from her miserable world, cracks of hopelessness and desolation began to web intricate patterns on the aegis of her mind. She was still a child, after all. Having exhausted practically everything she could muster in her bid for something better, there was nothing left for her to do but to resign to her fate.
She would die miserable, alone, and forgotten.
Outside the city, the little girl stopped in the middle of a meadow and started to cry, her spirits lain in defeat as the sun began to dip behind the horizon. The youth’s plight-filled wails soon garnered the attention of a passerby, her steps through the flora muffled by sobs on her approach.
“Why, hello there, miss. What’s a fair little lass doin’ out here all by her lonesome?” the stranger spoke, trying to sound friendly.
She said nothing as her gaze shifted in apprehension of the stranger that bent down to get a better look of her. The woman was dressed in drab brown clothing, ones as drab as the healthy, brown locks of hair on her head and enough to distinguish her as a chemist. She had a basket filled with flowers on her person, as well as several potions, antidotes, and fenix downs in a side pack like any chemist worth their salt would have. The only thing that seemed out of place on her current countenance was the graceful smile that appeared content and happy, sharp in contrast to what anyone living in a tumultuous nation would casually care to admit. Most of all, she had deep emerald eyes that seemed to regard her with neither prejudice nor indifference, eyes that didn’t seem falter in a life spent through a harsh and chaotic nation.
“What’s a matter, cat got yer tongue?” the woman asked, but, again, the orphan had remained silent. The chemist lady sighed in slight resignation and turned around.
“Well, I’ll be around awhile should trouble find you,” she stated in an airy yet foreboding tone, one adults usually employ in telling children of the Boogie man or the like.
“Were I in your place, I’d not be meandering about here in th’eve. The Darkening Cloud might come and take you, to marinate in his ewer he will! And then he’ll cook your bloated shell in some savory stew!” she ominously said as she turned back to the youth, punctuating that last statement with a menacingly goofy stance and a mouth agape feigning the likeness of said monster. She looked silly, though the little girl definitely didn’t think so. Would this complete stranger be different from all the others who had passed her off? Would she hold out a hand in mercy and hopefully offer a home to the drifting urchin? She would never know if she would not even try at all. Plucking up any and all remaining courage, she began to form sentences in her mind.
“Have you some lodgings and any food at all? I’d willingly work for it,” the little girl begged through loud sobs uneasily which took the chemist by surprise.
“Please don’t leave me here to die. I don’t want this hopeless vagabond life any longer.” Concern struck the woman’s face as she heard these words uttered by a child, a little girl for that matter. She half expected the response, among other minor possibilities but never gave a thought to how heart-breaking it would really be to hear someone so young actually say it. The woman fell from her stance and then broke into tears as she knelt down again and held out welcoming arms. The urchin gladly ran up to meet her in the first consoling embrace she’d felt in years.
“I’m so sorry, child. I didn’t know life had you done in this low,” said the chemist lady as she held the orphan who bawled a river’s worth of tears into her blouse. After crying for a while in each other’s arms, the two sat there in the meadow, idly talking of things like dreams and aspirations while barely avoiding sensitive and touchy subjects.
When the sun had completely set, they made their way out of the meadow, back to the unforgiving and derelict city, which started to seem oddly welcoming to the little girl, as streetlamps and candle lights illuminated the dimming nightscape.
“Now, have you a proper name? I can’t keep calling you ‘little girl’ if you’re going to lodge with me, now can I?” the woman inquired as they walked past the dull and rotten gates of the city.
“No, ma’am, it wouldn’t seem appropriate at all,” the little girl giggled in response before continuing in a somber voice “But I don’t remember my name; everyone I knew just called me ‘Little Lady.’ They said names were a dangerous thing for a daughter of outlaws. Is that bad? I’m not a bad or worthless girl am I, ma’am, to be of such lowborn blood that I can’t even remember my name?” the little girl wonderingly asked. She shook her head, knelt down and pulled the youth into an embrace.
“No, you are not worthless, and as far as I can tell, you’re as innocent as the white virgin snow. And it matters not if you be highborn or low, my dear,” she caringly consoled. The woman could only imagine ‘Father-knows-what’ she had seen. She had been raised in a war zone, all to the point where she hadn’t even been given a proper name. “Well then, would you like a new and proper name?” she said wiping a tear from her eye.
“Yes, I would, but I’ve not the slightest what I’d like in one,” the little girl stated indecisively.
“How about ********, will that do?” the chemist politely suggested. The sound of it tickled her with nostalgia as the call of her new name seemed to be muffled in static.
“It sounds lovely, ma’am, but… m-may I ask what it means?” she stuttering slightly in response.
“Let’s see…. In the old country, it meant unwavering. We gave that name to girls who were beautiful yet felt strong and hearty by th’looks. Not only do you look pretty, but you look so strong it’s as though you survived a cataclysm. It’s showing in your skin!” the woman said with a poke to the little one’s nose, emphasizing the flattery in her compliment.
“Thank you, ma’am. I think that’ll do swimmingly,” the little girl responded after giggling at the jovial explanation of her new name.
“Well then, my dear, it’s a pleasure to meet you. My name’s Aerith Gainsborough. And, please, call me mum.”
With blackened clouds abound and all-encompassing, this particular early Sunday morrow had truly become the darkest of most mornings.
Countless, cold drops of the heavy downpour danced and stirred haplessly in the restless howls of the wind. Flashes of lightning, whose thunderous booms roared unchallenged through the misty atmosphere, briefly lit the unshifting land beneath the blustery brume.
As they slept, the creatures that dwelled therein waited on the tempest’s passing, agog in their dream-filled respite to move about freely and bask in the bright, sunny atmosphere and warm, invigorating weather of the normal Equestrian day; none more so than the ponies especially, for they themselves had orchestrated this disturbance in anticipation of their beloved Summer Sun Celebration. As intended and scheduled, this cloudy weather would later be broken apart in the afternoon and dissipate to reveal the glorious azure sky once more.
Nonetheless, in addition to prior assignments, Princess Luna dutifully kept to her stewardship of the night sky.
Above the veil of gloom that brought deluge and chilly gale, where the moon cast its soft glow onto feathery white billows, the Alicorn of the Night looked to her work with discerning eyes. Earlier that evening, by her practiced and finely-honed skill, the stars dotted the canvas of the dark sky in twinkling patterns that were breathtaking and magnificent, glistening like polished gems scattered across a vast and eternal yet unreachable indigo sea. Immensely proud of what she saw, a half-smile crept upon her face in spite of some thoughts still lingering on the utter shame of the fact that nopony could appreciate this most recent and devoted attempt to decorate her night. Their guiding starlight and the accompanying moon’s soft glow would all but filter past the overshadowing haze to continue its descent to the sleepy nation below.
Taking the thought to heart, the night-loft pony carefully assessed the detail of her work with the hope of recreating it another evening.
At the end of hours of self-scrutinization punctuated by a sigh of resigned satisfaction, Luna gracefully fell back into the nimbus below; its heavy, damp fog sifted past her feathers and soaked every inch of her fur. She then broke through to the other side and headed for Canterlot, but not before briefly gazing to the blackened canopy of the Everfree forest, suspicious of what secrets lay hidden within. With its twisted branches and darkened leaves swaying in the heavy gust and rain that blew past, the woodland appeared to only shrug at her distrustful glance.
After that brief moment, she took off for the horizon as quick as a shadow.
With the wind still restlessly moaning into the waning night sky, the midnight alicorn gracefully maneuvered through its shifting currents and strong drafts as she closed in and began her descent to the mountainous, castled city. Its peerless, ivory towers and magnificent, gilded turrets seemed to pierce through the black morning even as the storm slightly abated into heavy showers. Far below her, dim candlelight scarcely shone through the wooden window crevices of the working class’s humble abodes as well as past the glossy and expensive panes of the better-off aristocrats and socialites. The flickering tongues disappeared from view as swiftly as she flew past, and the Princess of the Night found herself touching down to the balcony outside her chambers.
Once inside, the alicorn unceremoniously set her regalia to the dresser and hastily magicked herself dry, getting into bed for some well-deserved rest. However, sleep did not come as quickly as she would have wanted. Her anxious mind continued to mull over the fact that not only did the impending festivities cause storm clouds to loom and obscure the beauty of her night sky; as they did every year for the sake of the holiday, the incessant lot of the Canterlot nobility had pestered and succeeded in compelling her beloved sister, Princess Celestia, to take an excessively proactive stance in the preparation, promotion and planning that came with its approach. They consigned so many of their own responsibilities to the elder alicorn that she had no choice but to pass own charge to her lone sibling, a matter privy to nopony but the two of them.
“Selfishly incompetent whelps,” Luna muttered.
‘Clinging to Tia’s primaries at an insignificant furor’s advent. Over a thousand years of experience and wisdom, yet they’ve not learned to manage even the simplest of delegations themselves and have passed their duty’s rightful burden onto my sister’s already heavy yolk...the sheer absurdity of it all.’
She tossed and turned beneath the covers, wishing that her loving sister had been there to greet her as she arrived home, even for a just moment.
‘Tia busies herself attending to patrician agendas while the Elements themselves have undertakings of their own sanctioned by sister dearest.’
Circumstance sadly sought for the opposite of what she hoped and had now included a dull, green crystal to her vigilant watch, though she honestly felt she could hardly keep that vigilance up without any sort of support. For most of the time in the coming celebrations, she would be alone.
‘Not even my Night Guards...would dare speak...to me so casually out of their........impressively reverent respect…...’
A mighty yawn escaped her midthought as the twilit horizon turned black clouds grey.
‘Oh, how I wish…there was somepony…'
'for me to…'
That was her final, languid thought before slumber tightened its grip on her consciousness and lulled her to sleep. Over to the pedestal by the dresser, incased in magick-sensitive glass, the emerald stone entrusted to her watch glinted to life in the dark chambers of the royal pony. As an esoteric mist seeped out of its cracking form and enveloped the entire room, some unascertained scheme had begun to unfold, and the Princess of the Night was unknowingly none the wiser.
Drowsy eyes struggled to stay open against the fresh sting of the openly sober air; after all, they and the rest of the pony these cerulean orbs were attached to had good reason to be tired.
Ever since she had seen Fluttershy off nearly a week ago, Pinkamena Diane Pie, Ponyville’s premier party planner, had been rambunctiously and immensely helpful around town all the while keeping up with her own responsibilities to Sugarcube Corner and her meek friend’s cottage. It meant a lot to everypony in town that the normally scatterbrained mare did her best to not mess anything up, so the Cakes decided to give her a day-off for her most appreciated and surprisingly fruitful efforts.
Today was that day, and, as Pinkie Promised, she would go to Sweet Apple Acres to lend a helping hoof to Applejack and her family as an apology for that little prank a week back. After stretching out a bit in bed, she got up and looked out her window. The dazed party mare saw that the sky had turned a light shade of grey with a hint of orange in the far-off horizon. Down to the cobblestone streets, eager Ponyvillians, who wished to make the most of the opportunity the celebration would bring them, were already up and about their ways in spite of the fading drizzle, attending to what concerned them the most that morning.
‘Uh-oh.’ She panicked as her tired eyes shot out.
A clock didn’t have to tell her. Ever since she moved to Ponyville, the party pony had taken note that, at such a cloud-laden time before the Summer Sun, bustling streets and the orange-tinted horizon together usually meant that it was well past six in the morning, and she was expected to be at the farm by five! The frantic party planner hastily freshened herself up, hurried down the stairs, and took a couple of cookies for her hunger before making her way out. In front of the confectionary establishment, however, she was met by the town’s resident dragon, who, by the looks of his haggard face, would have rather been sleeping in his comfy basket than be out so early in the morning.
“Morning, Pinkie,” he managed past a yawn. “Twilight sent me t-”
“Morning, Spike. Sorry I can’t talk. Gotta hurry!” the party pony interrupted as she nearly blurred past. She stopped though when the young drake caught her by the tail and continued to speak his piece.
“Whoa there, Pinkie! Hold your haunches! Good thing I came prepared. Here, take this,” Spike said as he held out a folded piece of paper which undoubtedly contained Twilight’s message. He was glad to have made the reminder beforehoof so he could quickly resume his retreat in the bliss of slumber.
“Thanks, Spike,” said the pink mare as she took the note and went on her way straight to Sweet Apple Acres.
“Wow, even Pinkie’s in a rush this morning... Guess the Summer Sun does that to everypony,” the purple dragon drowsily commented as he trudged back to Books & Branches.
Once at the farm’s gate, the party pony stopped momentarily to catch a breath as she was greeted by the Apple family pet, Winona, who proceeded to greet the panting mare by rearing on her hind legs and giving her a lick on the face. With her bearings about her, she patted the canine on the head and made her way to the back of the barn. There she found a relaxed Big McIntosh sitting by an empty pitcher.
“Hey there...Big Mac... Sorry I’m late... Is Applejack still...expecting me?” the panting mare uneasily greeted as she wiped off sweat from her face.
“Eeyup,” the red, Apple stallion simply answered.
“Is she mad I’m late?” the pink mare almost whimpered with pleading eyes and anxiously clasped hooves.
“Hmm…don’t think so. Pretty much done with mah breakfast, so let’s go ‘n find out.”
The pair headed into the orchard and soon found the honest Apple loading a basket of Autumn Glory cultivars onto one of the nearby carts that still had room. However as she was about ready to haul the batch back to barn for storage, the apologetic party pony cut her off and unleashed upon her a flurry of incoherent ramble while flailing her fore hooves about. Applejack had to forcefully rein in her frenetic friend before she could get her to calm down.
“Hold on there, Pinkie Pie! Settle down, will ya?” she demanded, holding the party pony down prone by her withers.
“Oh Applejack, I’m so, so, so, so, so sorry for being late!” Pinkie Pie tearily apologized as the cowpony eased up and helped her to her hooves. “I even Pinkie Promised to come in extra early! Please don’t be mad at me!” Big McIntosh, who in his leisurely gait had just caught up to the mares, lightly smirked at the sight.
“Sugarcube, ah only wanted you to come over ‘n help for the day. Imposing that part of the promise on yerself was all you, remember?” Applejack recounted.
“B-but it was still a Pi—“
“But nothin’,” she interrupted. “Pinkie Promise or not, ya still gone ‘n done more than yer fair share of work ‘round town to deserve a good night’s rest and the benefit of the doubt. A good load’s off everypony’s withers with you goin’ all about town, lendin’ a hoof in even a mite helpful way.”
“AhI said but nothin,” she interrupted again with a hint of annoyance escaping in a sigh.
“If it means that much, ah completely forgive ya for comin’ in late. Now if ya don’t mind, could ya help me ‘n Mac tow these carts here back to the barn?” the cowpony mellowly concluded. Her proposition was met with a tight embrace of gratitude accompanied by an even faster battery of ‘thank you’s” from the relieved party pony.
“...thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you so much, Applejack!” she expressed as she loosened her Pinkie grip and took to the rein of one of the nearby carts. “Now I won’t have to put a cupcake in my eye, and, not to mention it being a complete waste of a perfectly good treat, believe me that it would hurt a lot!” That last made the Apple ponies scrunch their brows in bewilderment, but they chuckled in response and shrugged it off to just her being Pinkie Pie.
As the afternoon sun reached its steady peak in the newly cleared, blue sky, the two Apple ponies thanked the party planner for her hard work by treating her to a generous serving of pies, fritters and apple juice for lunch. Feeling invigorated once more after her meager breakfast, Pinkie kindly insisted to offer more of her time to help around.
About an hour or so later, the pink mare had called it quits so she could check on Fluttershy’s cottage, and the Apple farmers bade farewell to the temporary farmhoof. Having familiarized themselves with their mistress’s friends, the animals around the verdant patch of property eagerly scampered off to meet the slightly less energetic housekeeper as she closed in from a distance.
“Golly, you little critters must be really hungry to come all the way out just to meet me!” Pinkie happily commented as several of them urged her to come inside.
She found herself in an abyss and her entity silently floated in the in the middle of it for what seemed like a maddening eternity.
For in this darkened void, absence reigned supreme.
There was nothing to perceive, no light that would shine, no surface to touch, nor gravity to be felt. Neither were there any traces of her wings, her horn nor her hooves; not even the merest sensation of breath to fill her non-existent lungs. She panicked and tried to look around, but her efforts had failed her as she had forgotten there was no vessel to possess her vision. She was helpless, unshifting, and utterly unable to sense anything or react to the barren stillness that surrounded. She was simply something that was aware in a world that had nothing to offer, and the bleakness of it all threatened to consume her sanity as chilling despair made itself known in the essence of her soul.
For the first time in her long-lived life, Princess Luna, the Goddess of the Night, felt an immaculately unbridled sense of fear. She was fragile and vulnerable in a crippling unknown, and this frightened her immensely.
And then, there was a stirring, an unsteady ripple in the darkness in front of her that parted horizontally and receded to reveal……..more of the frighteningly endless darkness.
‘How is that any different from before!?’ she anxiously called out, but she had no voice to be heard with, and her panicked pleas dejectedly echoed throughout the confines of her vessel-less mind, further bewildering her. Then the tear closed in on itself and twisted its fabric to mend the schism. Unseen tears began to well at the sight of the event, and she cried out in forlorn desperation.
‘No, wait! Stop! Tia! Somepony! Anypony! Please, help me!!’ she mutely pleaded as the rift disappeared.
There was no response.
The Sunday afternoon had only just begun, and the brilliant blue of the sky had returned, heralded by a pleasantly warm breeze, all courtesy of Ponyville's excellent weather team. Such an atmosphere would be the most perfect kind of setting to take a stroll in; to appreciate the simple and meager sights and sounds; to gallop, tumble and play out in the open; and to enjoy a relaxing picnic with friends and loved ones.
That is, if you weren’t a certain impatient, orange, pegasus filly.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders had all been gathered at the clubhouse, and Scootaloo looked to the ceiling lying opposite to the thinking spot in unwanted boredom while the others tended to the crusading list. Her mind began to wander back to recent events as she caught sight of a distinct polychromatic trail dashing off into a far distant cloud for a nap, wondering why exactly she was stuck here in the boring clubhouse doing nothing.
Earlier that season, summer break had just begun, and she, of all fillies, had suggested that they do away with their homework right from the very start so they could go on crusading to their heart’s content. Applebloom and Sweetie Belle had already prepared a sizable list of ‘excitingly safe’ ideas on their free time while the pegasus filly had come up with hers during the time she whittled away the mundane hours of school or suffered a lack of inspiration for new scooter tricks.
Though being the instigator of said course of action, the pegasus filly apparently lacked the motivation to actually come up with something worth calling progress. Instead, she’d often fantasized about how awesome her cutie mark would look or being high up in the marshmallow clouds with her idol, Rainbow Dash, and flying as well as she did; such daydreams would usually follow up with a nap with the filly hoping to enter said fantasies. Other times, she’d scribble and doodle of new tricks as her friends diligently kept to their work, scoffing at the lethargic member of the club for being just that. Her process was slow to nonexistent at best, and, in six days’ time, the two others had managed to finish both their assignments before Scootaloo had even approached the second half of the first subject.
Just as the other two had finished their parts, Babs Seed had come over from Manehatten to partake in the festivities with her favorite cousin, having finished her own summer assignments beforehoof. Seeing the state of her fellow crusader, she decided to pitch in with the rest to help the unenthused pegasus with her share of work. With three additional minds to the task, Scootaloo managed to finish everything in nearly half the time it took her friends. Staring at the compiled stack of homework, the quartet bumped hooves in relief of their accomplishment which now freed them for the rest of the summer.
But unfortunately for them, the idle pegasus had been given charge of the notepad containing all their ideas and unintentionally used every single sheet of paper as doodle parchment, any vestiges of which were all thrown away long before Babs had arrived to help, never to be seen again. Being the only member of the branch and still awaiting on the two others who might consider joining, the Manehattenite herself didn’t have much of a list to get on, and the only solution was to come up with another list of crusading ventures.
Right now, they had been in the clubhouse for the better part of the morning, and the weather team had finished clearing out nearly all of the Ponyville's airspace. “Is it done yet?” the orange pegasus impassively asked as she rested on the floor.
“Nearly there. But maybe if you helped us, we would’ve finished this earlier,” Sweetie Belle argued with her head up from the trio’s huddle.
“Hey, it’s not my fault you want to try out safe things. If you ask me, my ideas were much cooler and twenty percent more awesome,” the orange filly countered, smirking that she quoted her idol in that response.
“We wouldn’t ‘av tried most of ‘em anyway. Sweetie ‘n ah promised our sisters t’lay off the more reckless stuff after our last crusade,” the Apple filly reasoned.
“So what were you’z guys up to last time dat Applejack had t’step in?” Babs wondered as she looked up from the list.
“Umm…” Sweetie Belle hesitated. Apple Bloom intervened and sheepishly answered for her.
“Last month, we fancied ourselves gettin’ ‘dam engineer’ cutie marks and snuck into the town’s dam. We kind of messed up some sorta doohickey and cut the power for about an hour. Applejack and Sweetie’s sister, Rarity, grounded us till the end of school after that. Scoots here only got off with half that time.”
“Yikes, no wonder we’re only puttin’ down the safe stuff,” the Manehatten filly thought out loudly.
Thirty minutes later, the list was finished and the fillies were en route back to the farm.
“So, what’s first on the list?” said Scootaloo as she tried to fidget it from Applebloom’s saddle bag.
“It’s synchronized swimmin' by the river,” answered the Apple filly.
“What!? That doesn’t sound awesome in the least. More like dainty if you ask me,” she protested, halting her trot in annoyed surprise.
“Well, think about it this way,” the level-headed unicorn of the group suggested as she looked to the miffed pegasus. “Not only is it safe because it’s the water, it’ll be fun and refreshing. I also heard that it’s supposed to be a physically demanding and challenging sport that--”
“Physically demanding and challenging?” The winged filly interruptingly perked. “Why didn’t you say so? Let’s get moving, pronto!” she eagerly exclaimed, running past and ahead. The rest of the group shared a chuckle at the sight before they rushed to catch up to their excited friend.
It didn’t take long for Pinkie Pie to feed all of Fluttershy’s animals and perform a little sprucing up to the ponyless home. But when she finished the all chores of the household, instead of her happy-go-lucky bouncing gait, she strode out into town in a slightly unsteady trot with eyes fidgeting from side to side and a very convincing façade of a smile. Something had happened in the cottage, and if it was serious enough to cause the normally jovial mare to act this way, then it was definitely bad.
The party planner rushed to her home and workplace, the Sugarcube Corner, but was unexpectedly met again by Twilight’s assistant, Spike.
“Hey there, Pinkie. I’m here for th—“
The dragon once again stalled the impatient party pony as she passed him by, grabbing her tail to get her attention. The mare in question stopped in her tracks to look back at the annoyed drake.
“Sorry, Spike. I’m in a bit of another hurry here. Could you make it fast?” she excused.
“Huh… Pinkie Pie still in a hurry…well, that’s another thing that’s new,” he passively commented as he let go of her tail.
“Oh Yeah! Sorry about that. I’m here to pick up the gift.”
“Huh?” the pink mare responded, having no idea what he was talking about.
“I take it you didn’t read the note?” Spike deadpanned with a facepalm.
“Oh, that! Give me a second.” The party pony then reached into her mane and pulled the piece of parchment out to read it.
Twilight needs you to whip up a large batch of Nana Pie’s special secret recipe cookies to give to Zecora as thanks for the medicine she mixed up for Fluttershy. She said to make it extra sweet and have more than one kind since Zecora only ever eats plants she forages from the Everfree. Twilight will pay you later.
“Have you even started making any yet?” Spike deadpanned once more with arms crossed and a foot tapping an impatient staccato.
“Don’t worry, Spike. Just give me a minute,” Pinkie assured as she entered the bakery. Five minutes later, she came back out to give Spike a large jar filled with the afforementioned confections.
“Wow, are these it? How’d you make them so quick?” the purple drake asked as he lifted the lid to inspect the jar’s contents, noting that the treats smelled refreshingly familiar.
“I was expecting a new pony to come into town earlier in the week, and I wanted to give them an extra-special Pinkie Pie-approved warm welcome by serving them these, but they never came. So, I asked Twilight to cast a preservation spell on the whole batch and gave her some.”
“So that’s where Twilight got those cookies,” he recalled. “Wait a second, how’d you know somepony would be coming into town?”
“Pinkie Sense, silly,” the party planner explained, as if it were completely obvious to everypony she knew; which it wasn’t. She had put on a genuine smile upon answering his question, looking happy and forgetting the problem at hoof for the moment.
“Right… And this somepony is?” the young dragon continued.
“I don’t know exactly who, but my Pinkie sense told me it was somepony really important. Probably as important as the Princesses themselves even.”
“Really? Somepony as important as the Princesses?” Spike skeptically questioned.
“Yeppity yeppers!” Pinkie bluntly exclaimed with a grin. She lost that grin however as the problem she had almost forgotten came back to mind from the verge of negligence.
“Don’t you think that’s a bit too farfetched? I’m me—“
“Sorry, can’t talk anymore! In a rush!” The pink mare had zoomed to her room too quickly for the message to echo out to the business’ first floor and, more importantly, the receiver of the message himself. So Spike, who had his eyes closed that whole time, had been abruptly and impolitely left at the store’s entrance to finish his theory of the instance of Pinkie Sense.
“--an somepony as important as the Princesses coming here to Ponyville? I mean, come on. There’s nopony as important as them. They raise the sun and the moon after all. Maybe it was actually the Princesses themselves who were about to come here, and they just had some important meeting that had come up su…dden…ly?” he trailed off at that last bit.
His eyes were open and the party pony was no longer there. He looked to the left, then the right; then up and down; then, finally, his rear. In punctuation of the conclusion he came to, he uttered two words before making his way back to the library with the sweets:
Meanwhile in her room, the rude party pony had her head stuck in a closet, rummaging for something that wasn’t there.
“Oh, I knew it was a bad idea to skip out on restocking my emergency stash of carrots,” she said to nopony in particular as belongings and party supplies were haphazardly tossed out of their rightful places. Then the party mare knocked a hoof softly to the side of her head in silliness of forgetting something so obvious.
“The kitchen! Why didn’t I think of that in the first place?”
Heading down to first floor, she sifted past the light crowd of consumers and Mr. Cake who was handling the counter to enter the kitchen, greeting him as she did. There, she found Mrs. Cake attending to the many stoves that were set with goods still baking inside.
“Mrs. Cake, is it okay if I ask for some carrots?” she asked looking into the business fridge, not to be mistaken with that of the household’s to its left.
“Go right ahead, deary. So long as whatever you take, you restock later, okay?” she passingly permitted as her attention was more focused to the timers before her. “Also, you better get a good night’s rest. Tomorrow, things’ll start getting real hectic, what with all the tourists flooding in.”
“Sure thing, and thanks for the favor! See you later,” said Pinkie as she took what she needed and left the kitchen. Weaving past the same light crowd and out of the establishment, she checked the saddle bag she brought with her from her room for the inventory needed for the endeavor ahead.
“Let’s see here; Butterfly net? Check. Spare net weave? Check. Capture sack? Check. Spare sack? Check. Cardboard box and a spool of brown yarn? Check. A dozen carrots? Check. Everything’s set,” she confirmed, munching on a carrot before taking off to town in a determined gallop.
“Time to find Angel.”
Several more maddening eternities passed, and the so-called Princess and Goddess of the Night lay there in the stagnant and unshifting abyss; within that agonizingly long period of time, she grew infinitely frightened and disoriented.
One moment, she lay in bed, having just come home from attending to the night, and then the next had her trammeled in an insufferably lightless prison. She could not conjure stars to illuminate the darkness because there were none to evoke; neither was she able to control or manipulate the fabric of space because it was not a dream. In that immeasurable span, she struggled, shouted, lashed out, kicked, screamed, and sobbed. Now, the hopelessness of the situation had taken hold off her, and insanity was not far behind; she’d only need to invite it.
Then suddenly, there was another stirring, that familiar ripple that signaled a horizontal tear in the void to her front. The alicorn looked to it dejectedly and merely heckled it as it developed like before.
'Thou mockest us with thine apathetic instance for our inability to act towards thee!?' Luna vehemently cracked. The echoes of her message reverberated back into her, and she stifled an imaginary tear in her next hateful response.
'Such efforts art utterly futile now for mine insanity hath donned upon us centuries ago!!'
Again, there was no response. She hung her head low in defeat and let loose a river of anguish in the form of a sobbed uproar that would shatter those that heard it.
But the rift did not close in on itself as it had done before. As if to answer her long forgotten hopes, the blackened roof of the world beyond the tear turned ever so slightly an almost imperceptible shade lighter over the days. As time unheedingly unfurled, a faint image of something to the left corner of the tear sluggishly began to appear. Once the waterfall of her sorrows had run dry as it always did before, Luna took notice of the object. Quizzically and skeptically taken aback by its meager appearance, against all odds, hope began to fight against the puissant force of despair, and she allowed logic to reign over her once more.
In the following years, the captive awareness relentlessly observed the speck as it unhurriedly progressed and enlarged by the most miniscule of amounts, evolving into the shape of a small, sharp protrusion by the end of the decade. Overcome by impatient curiosity, she trained herself to decelerate her temporal senses to match its level. It had taken another half-decade, but her efforts were rewarded, and it started to move faster.
The protrusion had become a clawed limb of sorts, soaked in blood. To the right of the schism, another limb had come into vision. The rift alternated focus between the two arms at which the extremities seemed to flex and shudder in emotion. Then the rift closed shut as the limbs were drawn closer, and its force pressed against her awareness followed by a stretching sensation and the rush of warm breath beneath from where the tear had appeared.
‘What manner of creature be this?’ the alicorn wondered as events silently unfolded. ‘Am I…seeing and feeling as it does?’
As the pressure lifted, she felt a gripping sensation to the region below which she assumed to be its waist and the neck of it arching backward. As she felt its breath intensify and tears run down its face, the rift had opened once again to the sight of countless, suspended, dim, white marbles fluttering in the air above. Its lungs began to ache and the pearls of sorrow were felt impacting its folded legs. Even without sound, Luna could tell it was crying, and she felt empathic toward this vessel, the first living soul she had seen in a span of time at least a thousand times greater than her own life.
Luna wished to speak out, to learn of this creature’s troubles and lend a helping hoof, but current circumstance would not let her do so, and being in such a deafeningly inadequate and helpless state did not sit well with her. Irregardless, nothing was all that she could do, and the alicorn begrudgingly abided to her silence, knowing her intentions would only echo back cruelly and remain unconveyed.
Then the being’s vision shot open, and its gaze swept the immediate area, stopping at the notice of a sight most gruesome and blood curdling. It would have made even her sister, Princess Celestia, shudder in complete distress. Her vessel painfully staggered to its feet and steadily closed the distance to get a better look. Drenched in its own blood, there lay in front another creature that had been mortally injured, its throat ripped open and its left arm and lower half missing. Her vessel knelt down to it and simply stared in disbelief.
The dying figure’s eyes flittered to life and struggled to move its head. The alicorn’s vessel went closer and their gazes met for a final moment, teal eyes to emerald. A forlorn smile crept upon its pale face, but the grin quickly faded as it peaked, and its eyes went dim as life left its mangled body.
There was nothing left but a corpse.
It was a veritable mountain of paperwork that nearly approached the height of her chest plate.
Stacks upon stacks of parchment all lay neatly on her royally ornate office table of modest length with a dozen or so binded envelopes and several wax-sealed scrolls lying on top. To her magenta eyes that wandered around the room in search for something equally interesting, the varying heights of the piles of paper formed a miniature landscape of sorts on which the drifting dust motes had bedded down upon and decided to lay claim for their swarm. A uniformly thin layer of dust coated the vellum terrain like a light cover of snow, and the monarch who stood before it would have rather left the trifling matters of the Canterlot nobility unattended than disturb what fine work the motes had amounted in a short span of time.
But alas, it was not to be.
With a wave of golden aura, the flecks of dust were roused from their squatter state and ushered out an open window into the morning air once more, returning them to their former, lofty, nomadic lifestyle. Her ponies were more important than them, even though they did the most trivial of things just to spite her, like a meal left sloppily and largely unfinished meant to irk either the cook or the dishwasher.
“I swear those highborn snobs keep stock of these somewhere and send them over when I don’t pay them enough attention,” Celestia mumbled in annoyance as warm light from her sun shimmered on her pearl white coat.
As per their request, the more active royal sister of the Equestrian diarchy heeded the nobility to take part in the Summer Sun’s preparation. With an active hoof set upon the upcoming festival’s workings, a diligent week of her attendance in that matter had ensured it to be the best Summer Sun Celebration amongst those of at least the two half-decades that preceded and would follow. However, it still meant that her attention had also been averted from pesky patricians who saw fit to pass their own work to the alicorn in addition to the usual petty concerns. For as far back as she could remember, this had been the most common of consequences that befell upon her when she did something the majority of them did not approve. Even before her beloved sister’s untimely rebellion, though at the time they had generously juggled the burden together to give each other a leeway for other things.
However, Luna had obliged herself to catching up to recent events, and in spite of reading for a good part of the two years it had barely been since her return, she had only managed to cover a half-third of a thousand years’ worth of historical, political and cultural literature. Another two years of nonstop reading would see her half way through, and even then, her responsibilities to the crown would see to it that she not have her way.
Celestia brooded over these facts as she took her seat and looked to her work with determination. ‘We’ve hardly done anything together since she came back,’ the alicorn moped with a lamentful sigh.
‘Let’s finish this quickly so there’ll be time to see her before bed.’
Through the greying wickers of the dying and decaying undergrowth, beneath the meager canopy of thorny bramble that paled in comparison to the sky-like shroud of leaves and branches that loomed over, tiny lungs huffed and puffed with all their might as the sound of snapping twigs and bushes parting and giving way echoed behind.
He wasn’t used to running around for so long, and exhaustion had taken its toll on his unexercised frame. As he continued his mad dash for dearest life, a stray root met his left hind leg, spraining it and causing him to tumble into the foul sludge-like soil. Realizing the thicket would not stall his pursuers for long nor would outrunning them be even remotely achievable any longer, he begrudgingly rolled in the mud, sullying his snow white fur in its earthy browns. After squeezing past an equally tiny opening underneath a nearby titled stump, he laid there in its dusty confines and waited with bated breath for rickety legs to scramble by.
Not long afterwards, a rhythmic beat of wooden paws sounded against the soft, wet dirt. As the staccato began to recede, he stole a glance at the pack of Timberwolves that raced past. A quiet sigh of relief was let loose as the last of the predators left his view and disappeared into the darkening hinterland.
Indeed, the Everfree forest was no place for coddled animals such as Angel.
In this brief moment of respite, his thoughts pondered back to the apparition that came to him and spurred on such a brash decision.
She was supposed to have come home in the morning. He specifically remembered Fluttershy promising him that the day she left for wherever that gosh-darned bud was sprouting up from. It was already past lunchtime, and still, the expected pegasus was nowhere to be found. Angel was starting to get worried, but all the other animals at the verdant abode plainly brushed his fits of worry off nonchalantly, apparently content that others had come to stand in for their mistress in her take of leave. It disgusted him greatly that they would readily forget about her, the one who took care of them all year round, so long as somepony else was there to take her place.
Or was he simply overreacting?
It seemed to be the indubitable case of the matter, though the spoiled bunny would not willingly admit that in front of all of his friends on account of his pride.
He attempted voicing these concerns to one of the mares his mistress entrusted the cottage to, the colorful one who came in the morning, but she too brushed it aside, assuming it to be grumblings of fickle hunger and distaste for the meek pony’s absence.
There seemed to be no point in going to them. If one wouldn’t listen, surely the rest would not as well. They’re all the same. They’d think that he was just a pet, some animal that needed and wanted to be take care of. In the end, there was nothing else for him to do but be a good bunny like she asked of him and wait for the mare of the house to come home. And so, the impatient hare kept to his lonesome by the window on the second floor, overlooking the walkway to the cottage.
Bright rays shone through the clear pane of glass to warm his small, plush body, and the cool contrast provided by the breeze that furtively snuck in past the slightly open window slowly but surely lulled him into a hazy daydream. He drowsily thought it was annoyingly rare for him to be forced into compromise once again instead of usually getting his way, and with an torpid squeak of a yawn, he laid his head against his soft paws and let slumber overtake him.
Then there was a sound, the creaking of hinges and the scratching of wood grazing wood. He looked up from his prone form and rubbed the gathering sand from his face as a timid voice resonated throughout the household.
“I’m so very sorry that I’ve taken such a long time just to get back here,” the voice started in a familiarly apologetic tone.
It was her!
It was definitely her voice, which meant Fluttershy was finally home! But something was amiss.
Though she had returned from her week-long trip, the cottage had remained eerily silent. Where were the others and why weren’t they there to greet her? The little nests and lairs that had been situated throughout the interior of the household were very rarely empty all at once, and knowing that their mistress would be arriving very soon, some critter inside the household aside from the lone hare surely would be waiting for her too.
Then he realized he wanted to be the very first animal she saw as well as the first one to welcome her back, and the lack of commotion on the floor below told him that this was his chance. He would welcome her home and hog all that love and attention to himself, and to make her feel extra special, Angel would have her make a simple meal for him without fussing over complicated recipes as usual.
After taking a brief second to stretch his legs, he eagerly scurried off to meet the pegasus, completely ignoring the drastically aphotic change of his surroundings.
The surface of the floorboards, the entirety of furniture, the stitch and lace of drapes and cloths, the thatch in the nests, the water in the lazy stream, the rocks jutting out from the ground, and the leaves and bark of the trees around, everything had turned a muted and lifeless grey. Not even the sky itself was spared, as it had lost its glorious azure tint. The light of the sun too had dimmed in intensity, and in the darkening shadows, the ash-like hue of all things turned a somber, near black shade.
Yet still, the impetuous rabbit went on, undeterred by both the discoloration of the world and the steps of the stairs that suddenly seemed to stretch on in front of him.
That was when the very atmosphere began to condense and ripple, and another voice chimed throughout the cottage to speak its piece to the meek pegasus in such a reverberating, rasping sensation that could only be described as mortally chilling.
“I should be the one apologizing,” the second voice sniffled in the same apologetic manner.
Who was this strange pony she had brought with her? Though the ghastly tinge of the echo sent a cold spell down his spine, the thought of seeing Fluttershy again and basking in her heaven-sent affection was his foremost priority right now. So the rabbit stifled what remained of his instinct that urged him to turn around and flee. The short flight continued to stretch on into a stairwell of what felt like several stories of steps, and though the rabbit speedily pressed onwards unrelented, his stamina seemed to wane the more ground he covered. But he couldn’t stop now, for the last step was fast approaching.
“I’ve been sulking and crying like a child the whole time since you’ve found me. It must have been extremely dull and annoying for you,” the visitor, who now sounded much like a mare to the hurried hare, sheepishly continued.
With a foot finally and firmly down on the first floor, crossed hare set his crosshairs on Fluttershy and launched himself towards the unsuspecting mare. His view of her grew closer as he flew from the foot of the stairs to idle pegasus, and an imaginary chorus melodiously jubilated in the back of his mind, as if to exalt the reward of his patience.
But the feeling of soft, delicate, cream fur evaded him as he went through the pony and crashed into the hard wood of the door behind her. As he collected himself, his mistress continued to talk with the visitor without even noticing him, much less his little accident, and he was going to give her such an earful for her negligence in failing to catch him as well as bringing a very strange pony home without his consent.
“It’s no problem, really. Talking to somepo—err...someone after being alone for so long is nice. This place is so quiet and d-dark and empty, not to mention d-downright scary, I still can’t completely believe I’m actually here… I-it almost feels like…like a—”
The sound of his mistress’ stutters and her demure demeanor annoyed the rabbit that she still spoke like some bashful foal. So when he turned around to scold her for her meekness, he, in turn, saw her visitor as well. Whatever he saw, it wasn’t a pony.
“A nightmare turned real perhaps?”
What stood there between him and the cream pegasus was a grimly pale spectre of a creature, and the entire look of it made everything single hair on his coat stand on end.
The phantasm floated ominously in midair, and the lower half of its body and its left forelimb were nowhere to be seen, replaced by a twisted obsidian mass that had cracked and broken off at the fringes. Cold wisp seeped out from its teal eyes and dispersed into the air, lending the atmosphere a feeling of frost that amplified his chills. A crimson dye that turned a dull scarlet stained the torn and trailing edges of its lavish yet time-worn garb, and what drops of blood that had managed to escape the fabric’s grasp lay suspended around the black, scale-like accretions that protruded from where its missing body parts were supposed to be. With its hairless, flat face in a solemn bow and its long, faded amber mane bobbing in an unmoving breeze, it regarded his mistress in warm sympathetic gaze.
The meek mare looked to her companion anxiously as if she had read her mind. Angel simply stood there, at first with a face contorted in pure shock and awe which then evolved to one of fear. Frozen in his stupefied terror, he curled into a ball with what stamina he had left and covered his eyes with his ears in assumption of his impending end.
It never came.
In its stead did Fluttershy answer the spectre’s rhetoric with a query of her own. As they continued their conversation, the bout of fright that came over the horrified hare only served to translate their conversation into a distant, muffled gibberish.
“I-i-is that really what this all is?” the pony gulped as her stance staggered at the thought of some otherworldly monster bursting into their sanctuary without a moment’s notice.
“That’s about it. Everything here is real, but at the same time, it isn’t. As a friend of mine had once said;
‘Dreams and illusions be reserved for wanderers in slumber and souls in oblivion.’
And the latter being exactly what and where we are right now. Best not think about this anymore. It was quite confusing the first time he explained it to me too.”
The pony’s ears perked up at the spectre’s mention of a friend, completely ignoring the bleakness of the rest of the statement.
“By friend, do you mean Ebony?”
“I’m not exactly sure who you mean by that... I’ll need a description.”
“Let me see… Oh!” exclaimed the meek mare as she knelt down on her forehooves and started scribbling on the floor.
“Umm…the first time I saw him…he used to stand on two…legs like you, but I got scared,” she had explained with slight blush before continuing. Her phantasmal companion only giggled at the pony’s efforts as she took her time in desperately trying to carve out a symbol on the wooden floor with her hooves. What she produced with some difficulty was a crude, shallow and nearly imperceptible etching of an upturned, horseshoe intersected by a curved line at two points.
“So he turned into a pony, and this was his cutie mark,” the meek mare explained in finality, hoping her scribble and description were enough.
“Do you mean a bit like the one on your rear?” the spectre asked to clarify.
The meek pegasus lifted her wings as she looked to her right and then startled herself midsentence when she turned to the other side.
“What do you—eep!”
What she saw imprinted on her left flank was not the image of three aquamarine butterflies with pink wings, but rather the very symbol she had scratched onto the floorboard, albeit one neater yet missing the curving line that ran across.
“Wha-what happened to my cutie mark!?” Fluttershy distressingly expressed as she almost keeled over.
“It’s that what those marks on your flank are called? A bit weird if you ask me," the phantasm curiously remarked, eying it at certain details the cream pegasus could not perceive. The passing comment did not help to relieve her anxiety, yet she patiently waited for the spectre to finish briefly examining the image on her rear. "You could say that’d be his cutie mark too. Well, half of it anyway, kind of a blessing if you will.
“He had told me before that under normal circumstance, this space would be filled with all manner of malicious creature that lurked about this desolate world. He must have given that to you for your protection.”
The demure pony gulped a second time at the mention of monsters over the same, lingering thought.
“T-that sounds dreadful. Although I’m still glad he sent me here to meet you even if he did go about things the wrong way to get my attention. If he didn’t, I would have met such a nice…um…uhh,” the mare trailed as she struggled to find the right word to end her statement, and her companion smiled a wistful grin as she looked to the innocent pony.
“‘Ghost?’ ‘Spirit?’ ‘Dead animal?’ I honestly think ‘person’ would sound much better, wouldn’t you say?” she wittingly quipped.
Her demure host giggled as her own grin half shown past the pink mane that obscured her face.
“Umm… Yes. ‘Person’ sounds nice too,” Fluttershy coyly returned as the under-utilized word rolled strangely off her tounge.
“Now, as much as I’d like to continue our little chat, we best get going soon. I wouldn’t want any of the more bolder beasts to catch wind of us moving around,” said the spectre as it transformed into a soft glimmer of amber light that disappeared into the mare, turning her wings a shade of blackest night. She nodded in agreement and made way for the other end of the house.
With her leave of the room, the cold and choking atmosphere drew back to let neutrality reign once again. The calm that followed quickly thawed Angel out of his fear-filled stupor, and the bunny followed his mistress suit. Peering through the open door that led to the backyard, he saw the meek mare standing at the edge of the property, no longer trembling as she looked to the Everfree like she used to.
“Um… Parnella?” the cream mare spoke to the apparition within her.
“…” Angel heard no voice responding to the call, yet his mistress continued to speak.
“Will I remember any of this when we arrive?”
“Oh… I see… Well then, I’ll help you remember,” she replied in a cheerfully meek tone.
“And when we get back, I’ll introduce to all of my friends,” the pony declared in a trot into the forest.
“Pinkie Pie throws the nicest welcome parties for everyone who’s new in town. You’ll be staying over ay my cottage, won’t you? I have a lot of cute animal friends that live there, though Angel—come again?”
At the sound of his name, the love-deprived bunny attempted to take off after her but had been blinded by an exceedingly bright radiance that cut through the somber reality and halted him in his tracks.
“Sorry for what?” were the last words he heard her speak as the light abated, and he fell down to the floor in a thump.
His beady little eyes flickered open to the sight of the brown ceiling and the windowsill he fell from slightly off to the side. Every muscle in his pampered body ached to some degree from his little tumble but none more so than his head with that harrowing memory of that reverie rushing back, telling him that his mistress was in danger. The rabbit got up, scampered down the steps, and was greeted by a stampede of his fellow animals rushing out the front door. Not having the time to pay them mind, he recklessly dove into the crowd and deftly maneuvered through it in the opposite direction. When the charge thinned out and completely passed him, he crossed the empty backyard and ventured off to the boscage.
All these recent happenings he contemplated as the hampered hare left his sanctuary under the stump and hobbled to a nearby boulder. Leaning against its cold surface, Angel wishfully imagined the plush fur of his mistress in its place. He fancied even eating the common viands she usually fed all the others so long as she was there to watch him fill his face. The thought caused his tummy to whine at its apparent emptiness, and a bush over yonder shook at the growling sound of hunger.
The rabbit attempted to flee, but his sprained leg on top of his exhausted condition was too great a handicap to overcome. His eyes dilated in anticipation, and the rabbit could do nothing but watch as the thicket began to part and reveal what predator would feast on his entrails.
“Um, guyz? I don’t think this is workin’ out too good, and I’m kinda gettin’ hungry. Let’s go get somethin’ t’eat,” a soaked Babs Seed suggested as she rested on the shore by a neat stack of towels and the group’s saddle bags.
The sun casted an orange glow from its position in waning the afternoon, and the rest of the Cutie Mark Crusaders continued to wade in the shallows, hesitant to approach the flowing body of water’s deep end. Though they had meant to earn cutie marks on synchronized swimming, the resolved intentions quickly devolved into spontaneous desire for riverside hoopla as soon as Scootaloo first started up with her antics when they set hoof in the water. Their stint had certainly been refreshing and fun, but they plum tuckered themselves out before actually trying anything physically resembling the sport. By the time they realized this, they were simply too tired to brave the river’s now rapid current caused by the influx of rain water in addition to its depth.
“Babs is right. We’ve been here for three hours straight, and none of us has a cu—“
“What!! What’s this supposed to mean!?” Scootaloo complained, garnering the attention of the others as the uncool image of a brown leaf now emblazoned itself on her rear. The unicorn filly she interrupted looked unamused. She plodded to the pegasus’ side and pealed the rubbish off her flank, leaving the sheepishly smiling, orange filly feeling a mixture of disappointment and absurdity.
“What are you guys doing?”
The trio in the water plus the neophyte on the shore swerved their heads to the source of the sound; a purple dragon no taller than the fillies themselves approached the posse from the nearby bridge. He carried with him a jar in his right claw, a small wooden sign in his left, and wore a purple wooden necklace. The trinket seemingly at home on his person went unnoticed amongst the fillies.
“Hey, Cuz. It’s dat dragon again,” Babs unfamiliarly whispered to her cousin who had joined her on the shore as she dried herself.
“Oh yeah. Ah never introduce ya t’him back at the reunion,” the farm filly recounted, taking a towel for herself as she chuckled at the memory of him standing in for a lighter at the end of the Apple family affair.
“Hey there, Spike. This here’s mah cousin, Babs Seed. She’s from Manehatten, n’ she’s here for the Summer Sun.”
“Nice to meet you,” the dragon greeted with a claw shake to the Manehattenite's hoof. He then set down his things to rest and returned to his question for the group, asking them, “so, what are you fillies up to anyway?”
“We’re trying to earn our synchronized swimming cutie marks, but it’s not working out too good,” said Scootaloo as she and Sweetie Belle opted to join the conversation on the shore.
The statement would have spoiled the mood too and caused the others to frown were it not for the pegasus filly’s rambunctious shakes and wing flaps spraying a shower all over the group and making the unicorn behind her to tumble back into the shallows.
“Err… Sorry,” she apologized as her peers shot miffed looks at her, causing a diffident smile to form on her muzzle for a second time today.
“Don’t you all know you’re not supposed to swim here?” Spike asked, wiping the moisture off his face. The quartet looked to him, having absolutely no idea what he meant. Sighing at their convenient ignorance, he reached for the sign to his side and showed it to them. It was a picture of pony silhouette diving head first into the waves. A bright red ‘no’ symbol ran across and barred the entirety of the image, and the message it bore was obvious to all who saw it.
“That’s no fair!” Scootaloo started off, sounding agitated.
“Yeah, we never seen that sign b’fore today!” the farm filly protested in the group’s defense with the others nodding in tandem of their innocence.
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised you don’t know about it, what with the Summer Sun coming along. The storm blew the first sign away, and Twilight asked me to put this new one up. And everypony’s busy helping out with the preparations, so not a lot would know about this yet.”
“Just get to the point already!” the winged filly sassed at the dragon as she began drying herself further.
“All right, sheesh. I was just getting to that… So there’s this serpent living along the river that cuts through the Everfree forest, goes by the name of Steven Magnet,” Spike said, pointing to the left turn at the fork of the river just behind them. “He came by four days ago looking for the mayor, complaining about a ton of rubbish that’s drifted into his home, and that he wants something done about it.”
“What’s that got to do with us?” Sweetie Bell interposed, grabbing a towel.
“I’m leading up to that. Anyway for starters, the mayor’s going to have a word with waste management, something about not stopping in the middle of the bridge for breaks. He also said that the water’s starting to smell like ponies, and that it isn’t good for his complexion, his hair or his mustache.
“I do have to admit though, his mustache did look pretty cool and suave,” the young dragon enviously recalled, taking the sign in claw and ascending the bank to place it.
“Spike, focus,” the unicorn filly stressed as he stared to wander into a tangent.
“Oops, my bad. Now where was I? Oh yeah… He and the Mayor agreed that nopony’s allowed to swim between here to the lake until they install some kind of filter over there at the left of the fork.”
“That’s not fair either!” Scootaloo grumbled, looking to the structure that was a stone's throw away. “The river’s too deep for fillies or colts past the bridge.”
“Well, it’s…a good thing…the Summer…Sun’s just around the corner,” the purple dragon grunted between breaks, pegging the sign down till it was secure. He then returned to collect the jar on the grassy bank and turned to the direction of the forest.
“You’re lucky I was the only one passing by. Like I said, everypony’s just too busy with the preparations to notice.”
In the face of yet another dead-end attempt to earn their cutie marks, Apple Bloom inwardly thanked the drake for passing by to warn them instead of mulling over the failure with the other crusaders as usual. The gears slowly turned in her head at the drake’s unusual choice of heading, giving her an idea for one last crusade to squeeze in for the day, and the Apple filly opted to voice out a query as to where he was going.
“What about yerself then? Where ya headed with that?” Applebloom wondered with a hoof pointed at the jar.
“I’m going to Zecora’s to drop off these cookies. She mixed something up to help Fluttershy get better when she was sick a week back,” Spike responded, turning back to see that she had called the others to gather in a huddle.
“We aven’t been to Zecora’s place b’fore, ‘ave we?”
“No… Well, at least not together. Your sister and Twilight came in and stopped us before we even set hoof in the forest,” Sweetie Belle answered.
“So who’z this Zecora anywayz?” the Manehattenite questioned for the umpteenth time since she arrived.
“She’s a zebra who lives in the Everfree forest n’ makes different potions fer all sorts of occasions,” the Apple filly informed her unknowing relative. “On mah way to her place b’fore ah got the Cutie pox, ah fell over chipped mah tooth, but she fixed it in a jiffy.”
“What’z Cutie pox!?” Babs vexingly inquired once again. Her face contorted in exasperation told the others she was getting tired of asking all these question, but it was expected since she was practically new to town.
“Ah’ll tell ya all ‘bout it when we get back to the farm… It’s kinda embarrassin’ for me to say, but that’s not the poin—“
“Hey, Apple Bloom,” Scootaloo interjected with a mischievous smile in place of the flusttered two that came before, “I know I’m not the thinking type and all, but are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“If it’s ‘bout gettin’ potion makin’ cutie marks, then…” the farm filly stuck her hoof out as a rush of second wind came to her in the form of a glint in her eye before it caught the other three in its breeze. They eagerly responded to the gesture with a clop resounding through the air, and then broke the huddle to gather beside the purple dragon.
“Hey Spike, we were kinda wonderin’ if you could use some company going off to Zeco—“
“Potion making?” Spike guessed correctly without a second thought.
“How’d ya find out!?”
“I was there, remember? Applejack and Twilight herded you three back after you took off for the forest. Don’t you remember writing a Friendship report to the Princess that day? Well, technically I wrote it down, and you tol—”
“So can we come with?” the orange filly eagerly buzzed in, wings flittering at the thought of adventure.
“Sure, why not? It’s n—“
“CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS POTION MIXERS!”
When the fillies had finished their war cry, the dragon whelp unplugged his ears and continued to speak his piece.
“As I was saying, it’s not like we’ll bump into any beasties with this baby on,” the dragon whelp assured, showcasing the necklace they hadn’t notice him wearing earlier as they started walking.
“What’z that little thingamajig?” Babs wondered, genuine curiosity taking precedence over her earlier botheration of asking questions all day.
“It’s a charm from Zecora that keeps the monsters that live in the Everfree away. She gave it to Twilight after her run-in with that Cockatrice. Now let’s get going, I wouldn’t want to be around these wood at night, even with this around my neck.”
With the warning’s final utterance, the group disappeared beneath the thick awning’s shade, and their distant chatters of cutie marks and cookies soon faded as the group gambled a stroll through the foreboding unknown of the enchanted wood.
The carefree morning had greeted her with six thousand one hundred fifty three pages worth of paperwork, not counting the all envelopes and scrolls, and the new afternoon saw her finish only nine pages shy of the three hundred fifty.
At least a third of it all had to be sorted out before Wednesday when she would preside over the Raising of the Sun ceremony, so even Celestia thought that the arduous task would be too much for her to do alone. Normally by now, she would have been able to do at least twice as much, but an unexpected report from her Royal Guard had caught her by surprise at brunch.
“What!?” the alabaster alicorn surprisingly expressed as the words of the message started to sink in.
“I apologize, Your Majesty, but that is the truth of the matter. Both teams sent to clandestinely escort the bearer of the Element of Kindness on her round trip to Dodge Junction have been intercepted aboard the train,” the leader of Team Beta nervously reaffirmed.
“And how, pray tell, in Equestria did six of the finest unicorns and pegasi in the Solar and Lunar guard mess up a single escort assignment?” the royal asked to clarify in slight irritation.
“We don’t exactly know, but…” the winged solar guard took a moment to gather his thoughts in front of the Princess of Equestria, feeling her stare boring into him as the pressure he felt told of her growing concern and disappointment.
“According to the reports made by the medical staff at Dust Dodger’s Hospital, all six of us were found in our respective carriages completely frozen in some kind of magickally-induced comatose.”
“For an entire week?” the Princess of the Sun skeptically interjected.
“Apparently, yes. Though testing for any known equine disease or disorder came back negative, our muscles and joints became stiff and immovable for the entire ordeal. After two days of inconclusive medical test, they sent the whole lot of us over to Royal Magicks Academy here in Canterlot for further study. It was later revealed that the cause of our ‘status ailment,’ as the researchers have insistingly penned, to be of a magickal signature generated by a non-unicorn entity,” the pegasus wearily recounted as the feeling of the most nauseating vertigo crept back from memory.
“When us pegasi first recovered this morning, we all felt completely disoriented, as if time itself stood still around us before abruptly throwing us back into the loop like some rag doll. It felt absolutely horrible experiencing a whole week’s worth of sensation within an hour.”
The solar diarch’s eyes remained stalwart despite the gravity of the suggestion and focused on what exactly had intercepted the escort.
‘A magickal signature of non-unicorn entity,’ Celestia thought, with only one particular being coming to mind. “What of the unicorn team?”
“They have yet to recover, Your Highness. Thought they're expected to come to sometime tomorrow.”
“And the bearer of the Element of Kindness?”
“Only her luggage has been recovered by the Lost and Found committee at the town of destination.”
“Why hadn’t the escort team’s status been reported until today nor were there any follow-up investigations conducted prior to this debriefing?” Celestia further debriefed with vexation evident in her tone. A moment later, the guard opened his mouth to speak but found the Princess’ hoof gesturing him to stop as she took her own calculated guess.
“Is it because of the Summer Sun Celebration?” The pegasus only nodded in affirmation then cast a regretful look to the floor for their shameful ineptitude.
“That’ll be all, my little pony. Now go get some rest. You all deserve it.”
The alicorn dismissed the guard, and after a respectful bow, he disappeared behind the door, leaving her to catch up on her paperwork as well as the meal on the tableside that was starting to get cold. With a golden hold over a quill and an ink well, she went on thinking about this most misfortunate of mishaps as she continued signing papers. Though she doubted being able to meet her quota of at least one thousand five hundred pages by the end of the day.
Yet she couldn’t fault them entirely for their blunder. Peace was a luxury that seldom lasted long. To have maintained that calm for so long was nothing short of a miracle in itself. Like every other free being living in this world, especially those under and within Equestria’s banner and borders, the soldiers of the Royal Guard had every right to enjoy the peace too.
Then again, it was that exact lack of strife and hardship that robbed them greatly of their vigilance. When would they know to be vigilant if they had hardly seen conflict at all? How would they ready themselves should chaos come knocking on their gates once more? Would they be able to endure and move on should hardship come and take everything they hold dear away from them? As the saying goes, the billet does not become the blade without suffering the furnace and the anvil, and even then it doesn’t stay as sharp for long. As evidenced by their incompetence to keep everypony safe at the return of Nightmare Moon and the Changing Invasion led by Queen Chrysalis, they were hardly capable of doing their jobs.
All her ponies took for granted the joys of life for such a long time, and without knowing hardship and strife to the realest sense, they had become stagnant and dull. The peace and tranquility she had sought to bring to her nation all those centuries ago started to work against her, turning the citizenry largely docile and dependent on her and the harmony she so painstakingly provided. Celestia knew that by extension, this was her fault too, for she loved her ponies too much.
Hours later, her sun began to set as it nearly completed its course across the blue sky for the day, telling her it was time to quit. Then she made way for her sister’s room to ask her dear sister for assistance in dealing with royal affairs.
Her slightly ruffled countenance and the uneasiness of her downcast eyes betrayed the composure of her steady gait as she walked the halls to Luna’s chambers, anxious over the week old information that had only recently come to light. A sight like this was a rare and ominous thing for most castle staff to see, and it was fortunate that no other pony currently walked the same corridors as her to see it.
“Lulu, it’s me. I need to ask you of a favor,” the alabaster alicorn started upon reaching the Lunar quarters. There was no answer.
“Lulu?” she called again to then same silent response. The sun was about ready to set, appearing as a small fragment of a brilliant, golden orange disc that shone above the darkened horizon. Now would’ve been a time as good as any other to raise the moon.
“Lulu? You’re going to raise the moon, aren’t you?” alicorn concernedly voiced as the echoes of her plea bounded off the cold, furnished onyx of the crescent embellished door. Still, there was only silence.
That was it.
Celestia could wait no longer. She headed to the nearest window and tapped into her magickal reservoir, gathering all the remaining energy she could muster to attempt this feat. After setting the sun down and taking a moment to establish a link with the unseen celestial body, her eyes gleamed a bright white, and the moon began to move on her behalf once more. Once it, like the sun before it, had been set on its course, the Princess of the Sun trudged back to the Lunar quarters, fuming and gritting her teeth in tired agitation of her sister’s slovenliness.
“Princess Luna, you better have a good explanation for neglecting to raise the moon!!” the solar sibling loudly berated with an impatient hoof tapping on the floor. Eyes closed in frustration of her sister’s seeming insolence, she bowed her head to restrain herself from breaking the silence with something hateful and regretful.
When she opened them again, ready to attempt a calm and understanding approach of the issue at hoof, a pair of serpent eyes met her gaze, staring at her from the black shadows of the hallway that had merged together into an darkly inumbration that encompassed the floor on which she stood. The intensity of its unblemished, brilliant, emerald hue dazzled her into stupefaction, while the realization that this fiend had ambushed her without warning and could have easily killed her turned this amazement into an unbridled sense of fear.
It had be a very long time since the bona fide Goddess of the Sun felt utterly terrifed like some foal, and it was as unpleasant as she remembered. Yet she didn’t scream nor did she move. She simply stood there with a dumbfounded look on her face as the creature shrouded in shadow studied her with its judging gaze. Then, as quick as the shroud protecting it, the fiend slipped underneath the tight crevice of the lavish, onyx door and into the Lunar chambers.
It was in there with her.