An hour later, the group stood in front of Pinkie. They looked out of shape, confused and unready, and as far from military life as could be. Perfect. Marching up and down the line, she barked, “Okay, all of you have until tonight to study and practice everything on the documents that I gave you. It has to be perfect, the best you’ve ever done. Lives are on the line, and I don’t want any slipups, you got that?”
One of the ponies, a scrawny pegasus with huge cheeks, looked at the document. “You’re serious about this?” he asked, tapping the paper with his hoof. “This is just crazy, lady!”
Pinkie nodded. “Serious as a CMFIS. You have until sunset to practice, then to get into the outfits I provided. Then after that, Thundermane will get us into the restricted base, and like Red Five, we’re going in.”
Another pegasus, this time a mare, spoke up. “Um, what’s a ‘red five’?”
“Um, that’s not really important. What is important is that you’re all going to have to give it your all, and I mean your all! Can you do that for me?” The crowd murmured. “Aw, come on! Can you do it for everypony tonight?” A few more cheers. “Can you do it just to lay the biggest prank of all time straight on Solestra’s snout?” Suddenly, there was a huge cry from the small group gathered, and the cheer was enough to stir the emotions of everyone involved.
“Pinkie,” Tequila said, as she looked at the other pony, “I hope this works. I have faith in you, but you gotta admit: this is a huge longshot.”
“They won’t know what hit them,” the pink pony assured her. “After tonight, it’s going to be una gran aventura para ti y para mi!”
“What does that mean? I have no idea what you just said.”
“I’ll tell you when we’re back,” Pinkie said with a wink, “but when we’re done, they’re going to wish we didn’t.”
Hours later, night fell on Equestra. The sun had gone down as a red ball of flame, the sunset a deeper shade than anything that had been seen in years. Throughout the land, ponies who saw it would say years later that it was an omen, a portent, a harbinger of a grand event to come. The truth was, however, that Solestra simply had things on her mind when she lowered the sun and set the moon on its evening trek across the sky. But for now, things were, as the saying went, ahoof in Shantytown.
The restricted base on the far end of Shantytown was both a remote Incarcatoria and a Scientium base. With the recent betrayal of Dr. Burret Clamp, Solestra ordered Project Clarion moved to the facility. Though it was away from Hightown and thus closer to sabotage from EFRA, the plan was so close to completion that nopony could stop it now. However, just to be sure, the guards assigned to protect the facility were doubled, heavily armed and ready to face even the most battle-hardened of rebel troops should an attack come. Should the base be in imminent danger, Solestra herself would intervene and destroy any attacker, but the chances of that were so remote that there was no need. It was strong and ready for conflict, a monolith ready for anything and would not fall.
Silhouetted by the light of the moon, the guard walked up and down before the great gates of the base, a silent vigil with a heavy duty bolt-flinger. His orders had been simple: to anyone arriving, if they could not identify themselves within five seconds, the guard was to shoot to kill, regardless of who it was. He had been informed of this by his superiors, with the word that the order had come from the Queen herself. So it was that two cloaked figures strode up the hill, walking side by side.
“Halt in the Name of the Queen!” the sentry barked, aiming the bolt-flinger. “Identify yourselves!”
“I am Princess Sunmane,” came the reply, “and I approach on royal business.” As the two ponies approached, sure enough, it was the royal princess, escorted by the second in command of the Queen’s Own, Captain Shadowstar Haze. Both mares wore cloaks, but for a change, Sunmane wore her accoutrements as a princess, not the armor signifying her position as commandant of the guard.
“My apologies, your highness,” the guard said, saluting with his weapon. “Her majesty ordered me to guard the way and require identification for all who crossed the great gate, milady Commandant.”
“Ah, I see,” Sunmane said with an observant look. “Well then, carry on, guardspony. You do me proud.” As they walked away from the entrance into the gate proper, Sunmane let the arrogant look on her face drop. “I’m nervous, Shades. About tonight, I mean.”
“How so? You’re going to be helping your mother conduct an experiment, and you’ve done this hundreds of times. Moreso now than ever since she’s fired nearly all of her science staff after that incident with Dr. Clamp.”
“Tonight’s a little different,” Sunmane said hesitantly. “Truthfully, I wish Thundermane were here. I wanted to talk to him tonight.”
“Finally planning to tell him how you feel, Sunny? Can’t you just tell him tomorrow when he gets back from his day off?”
Sunmane shook her head. “After tonight…it might not be appropriate. It may never be appropriate again after tonight.” She sighed. “Would you do me a favor please?”
Shadowstar Haze grinned, the white of her teeth contrasting with her dark coat. “Just as long as it’s not going to get me into anything I have to explain my way around, sure. Have a rep to protect as the unit flank-buster, you know. And stop saying 'tonight' over and over again. It's redundant and I get the point: tonight's important.”
Sunmane produced a scroll from the folds of her cloak. “When you see him, give him this, and once he reads it, tell him how much I wish I were a normal pony that could love him the way he deserves.”
“You do know that this is really cheesy, Sunny. Grade-A cheddar, got that?” her friend said, taking the love letter and tucking it in her cloak pocket. “But I’ll tell him for you. Just…don’t expect me to pass on a kiss from you to him, okay? Not going there.”
“Thanks, Shades. You’re the best friend a mare could have.” As they reached the inner door to the base, she said, “Look, I need you to stay here and help the guards. I want you to see the surprise when we’re done.”
“Surprise? Hopefully it comes with chocolate,” she said with a saucy grin.
“I’ll get you some, but this is a bigger surprise,” the orange mare whispered. “I can’t wait to see the look on your face when I come back.”
“What, a new manecut?” Shadowstar jibed. “Ah, get going and say hello to your mother for me. See you when you get back.” Sunmane waved as she went into the facility proper, leaving the dark pony sitting by the door, waiting for what would come next.
“It’s getting dark…” a voice commented. “You sure this is going to work? Never done anything like this before.”
“Look, Brassy,” Pinkie told the unicorn with the large cheeks, “Everything will work out perfectly.”
“You sure these, um, uniforms are correct? These look, really, really weird.” Tequila looked in the mirror to make sure it fit. Truth be told, she kinda liked the look, but these didn’t look like any sort of uniform she’d seen before.
“Hey, it’s me, right?” Pinkie said, shrugging. “I got this.” Turning to one particular pegasus, she said, “Airy Strings, fix that a bit more…perfect. Now, is everybody ready?”
“Not at all!” several of them cried at once.
“Good, that means we are.” As Posey, Jadarite and Rummie approached, she said, “Okay, looks like Thunderbirds are Go!”
“I’m going to assume that means something on your world,” Posey said, completely unable to comprehend the reference. “But be careful: we just got a report that both Sunmane and Solestra have arrived at the facility, which means that Clarion is in its final stage. I don’t think I need to tell you how critical this is.”
Pinkie bowed. “I love performing before an important audience,” she snickered. “We’ll be back in a jiffy!”
“What’s a jiffy?” Jadarite asked.
“Oh, about four milliseconds.” Pulling a triangular-shaped gem out of nowhere, she said, “Okay, Thundermane, you ready on your end?”
There was silence on the other end before a squawking voice came from the other end as the crystal glowed. “Pinkie, this thing…um, what do you call them again?”
“It’s a medium crystal,” she spoke into the gem. “Also called a ‘chatterbox’.”
“Okay, I’ll have to remember that, these things are extremely useful – you’ll have to show our mages how to make them. Anyway, I’ll have the space ready in a moment. When I contact you again, then you can go.”
“Roger dodger! We’re ready to roll!”
The guard saw another figure coming up the hill. “Halt and identify yourself in the Name of the Queen!”
“Lieutenant Thundermane, Guard Technical Corps,” the stallion cried out. “I’m here as part of her majesty’s business.”
“Okay, welcome then, Lieutenant,” the guard said as Thundermane walked up.
“Busy night, Private?” Thundermane asked.
“Yes, sir. Both Princess Sunmane and her escort arrived not less than ten minutes ago, and her highness looked anxious. Something important must be going on, my guess.”
“It’s likely royal business and not for us to know unless we’re told,” the officer told the private. “As the old saying goes, ‘the business of alicorns is for the favored or the foolish.’” Thundermane checked the clock by the guard station and asked. “Hrm…8pm. Has your relief showed up yet?”
“No sir,” the guard muttered. “Lieutenant Stonehooves put us all on a double watch so the guard numbers could be expanded. I wish he’d set up a regular watch detail, I need to use the latrine.”
Thundermane smiled. “Tell you what, Private: I don’t have to be before her majesty for another fifteen minutes, so if you’d like, I’ll watch the post while you head to the little colt’s room.” When the guard gave him an odd look, the stallion added, “I know your lieutenant; he tends to forget the small but important details like these. If he gives you any trouble for it, I’ll have a chat with him personally.”
The worry washed away from the guard’s face as he gave Thundermane his bolt-flinger and sword. “Thank you, sir! I’ll be back shortly.” As he turned, he felt something sting him in the neck. As he turned to face the lieutenant, he barely had time to gurgle something incomprehensible before he fell to the floor unconscious.
Setting the weapons down, Thundermane wasted no time dragging the guard into the dark. The small knife he always carried with him was more than capable of killing the watchpony in a heartbeat, but Pinkie had insisted that no one was to die tonight, not even the enemy; hence, she had provided him with a small needle containing something that would knock out the guard for several hours. After throwing that away, he poured a canister of cider on him as suggested; anyone who found him in the morning would say he drank on the job – he would be severely punished but better that than killed.
As he set the “drunk” guard down, he heard the click of a bolt-cutter weapon being readied. “Forehooves on your head, no funny stuff.” Thundermane turned around and found himself staring at Captain Shadowstar Haze. “You do know you’ve committed treason by knocking out a critical guard under such a vital duty, correct? Under these circumstances, it does not look well for you.”
Caught, just at the moment. Well, in for a bit, in for two. “Go ahead and kill me, then – be Solestra’s gelding, Shades. You’re a friend of mine, and I’d hate to have to kill you.”
“Are you so sure you can? After all, I’m the one with the weapon pointed at you,” the mare commented drily. “And ‘Solestra’s gelding’, really? Geldings are male, Thundie. I thought you’d at least come up with a logical insult.”
Thundermane blinked. “‘Thundie’? Nobody’s called me that, except for—”
“Your cousin, Shady Days,” Shadowstar grinned. “You’d be surprised what a little coat and mane dye will do for a pinto coloring.”
Realization set in. “You’re the other spy?”
“Cynthra’s Bones, Posey said you could be clueless at times, but I didn’t think it was this bad.” She lowered the weapon and flashed him another grin. “Oh, and Hail to the EFRA, in case you really need to hear me say it.”
Thundermane was mortified. “All this time, my cousin was the other spy. You’ve seen me and Sunny all these years, and I never knew.”
“That’s because I’m just awesome that way.” Shady Days smiled again, this time warmly and genuine. “Thunder, she loves you like no mare has ever loved a stallion. Solestra has turned her into a monster, and now she’s about to die as a sacrificial lamb for the Queen’s schemes. You have to save her if you love her.” She produced the love letter, handing it to him. “She wrote this for you when she thought she’d never be able to tell you how she feels. And if you don’t save her, you’ll never hear it from her lips.”
“Are you sure you want me to save her?” Thundermane asked. “Posey’s against it, but Jadarite thinks we should. You know how I feel.”
“You’re forgetting who her best friend is. I’ve seen the sweet mare no one else has, her innocent side and pure heart. Solestra did this to her, and words have a powerful way of brainwashing a soul if that’s the only thing you hear.” Shady shook her head sadly and said, “I’m sure they told you that if you save her, she’ll probably spend the rest of her life in prison. But better that than to die for her adopted mother’s machinations.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “You’re her second-in-command.”
“Sure, I’m the second-in-command of the Queen’s Own, but in battle? I’ve actually never killed anypony, just lightly wounded my opponents and told them to play dead. Many of the soldiers with the EFRA are ones I ‘killed’ personally, quote unquote. After this is over, I’m going back to my real life: Shadowstar Haze is just as much a monster as the Butcher Princess, and my suggestion yesterday proved it.” She turned her eyes away from her cousin. “I never thought Sunny would take my suggestion regarding Station 12 seriously, and now innocents will die because I made a bad gamble.”
“I won’t let anything happen to you, and if it’s true, the others will speak out for you. You said Posey already knows, and my sister will do everything she can to ensure your safety.”
“Thanks, Thunder.” She hefted the bolt-flinger again, ready for action. “Well, lovercolt, don’t tell me you’re soloing this. You might be a good soldier, but you’re not that good, and we can’t count on the my squad: the ones loyal to me are defecting tonight and the other half are just as incapacitated as that guardspony.”
It was his turn to grin. “Nope, I’m bringing in the big bolt-flingers: got a powerful friend who might even be a match for Solestra herself.” At that, Shady’s eyes went wide, and that was just enough of a hint for Thundermane to speak into the chatterbox. “Okay, we’re ready on this end.”
Pinkie’s voice came back clear as a bell. “Okie dokie Loki! Go ahead and give the signal.”
“The signal? You mean the codewords? They don’t make any sense.”
“I need you to say the codewords so I can get a fix on your location.”
“Really?” Thundermane briefly did a facehoof; none of this plan made any sense to anyone but Pinkie. “Okay,” he muttered. “Shoop. Da. Woop.”
“Ima firin’ mah lazer!” the words on the other side said.
“Time to go, folks!” Pinkie said to the group. “Now hold on to your hats and horns, because we’re tele—”
“—porting!” she finished. The group stood in the large bay of the base, just before the main doors.
Thundermane grinned as they arrived, saying to his cousin, “She apparently knows how to make a grand entrance.”
Shady blinked her eyes to make sure she wasn’t seeing things, but recovered quickly. “You’re taking on a whole heavily armed base including an immortal, omnipotent alicorn and you brought in the clown brigade?”
“Actually, I’m just the backup band.” Thundermane shrugged, then pointed at the pink earth pony standing on two legs at the front of the group. “Pinkie, it’s your show now. I don’t need to tell you that all of Equestra’s hopes are on you.”
She waved it off. “No biggie. I’ve already saved my world twice, saving a different one just gets me the high score.”
Shady looked at Pinkie as if she were insane. “What is she chattering about?” she retorted to Thundermane.
“Long story. But suffice to say, she’s our best hope.”
Pinkie walked over to the large iron door. Despite the fact that it was controlled by a digital access lock that was currently in use, Pinkie just opened the door without touching the control pad. “Um…this door is ugly, Thunder. Somepony might want to paint it a color that matches the rest of this place.”
“She just opened a locked magically encrypted door,” Shady gasped, again not believing what she was seeing. The oddly-dressed pony just defeated a security system in seconds, one that usually took the best technicians hours to do…and certainly not with their bare hooves, as she had. Watching the pony continue to walk on her hind legs, Shady pinched herself to ensure she wasn’t imagining the whole thing.
Meanwhile, Pinkie made sure everyone in her team was ready to go. “Okay, ready, colts and fillies? Showtime! Thunder, you and your friend make sure no one gets in, and we’ll take care of the rest. And-a one, and-a two, and-a one, two, three, go!”
The inside of the facility was quiet and orderly, as befitting a military facility, one especially belonging to the Realm of Equestra under the rule of the Queen of Order. Machines hummed softly, guardsponies and scientists worked quietly as trained, and naught could be heard but the silent sounds of the realm at the verge of its finest moment. Of the final scientists kept on the project, strict orders ensured that they’d stick to Solesta’s commands, lest their lives be ended with a flick of her horn. From a location visible to those in the project space, dozens of unicorns were hooked up to the power system, the great machine ready to suck their magic and more until their bodies were spent, wasted husks devoid of life.
But at the moment, it was mother and daughter before what was being dubbed the mirror pool. The plan was that Sunmane would submerse herself completely in the pool, and when she came out, she would finally be worthy of calling herself Solestra’s daughter, a true alicorn in full. The pool was as described, a silvery, mercurial liquid that sat there, looking like a mirror. For both, it would be the finest moment in the history of Equestra.
Solestra looked at her daughter with pride. “Whenever you’re ready, Sunny.” She noticed her daughter standing at the edge of the pool, staring, but refusing to go in. “It’s always nerves, dear. But we shouldn’t dally much longer: we only have a small window of opportunity for this to work.”
As for Sunmane, she noticed her mother’s smile stayed on her face, but…something felt off. The earth pony couldn’t quite figure out what, but somehow, something felt wrong. She looked at the pool, but where her mother had described a mirror-like sheen, all she could see was a boiling pool of blood, and in the center of it the image of a very young alicorn filly mouthing something to her. The filly was dark blue, and she looked incredibly sad and worried as she continued to mouth something to Sunmane. It took the princess a few more tries before she could successfully read the other’s lips: Run, while you still can. Run, save your life!
Cynthra? Sunmane remembered the stories that her mother had told her about her younger sister, and how she’d longed that the would-be moon princess would have had a life of her own, but it was cut short by a weak birth; Sunmane felt a sort of kinship with the aunt she’d never known and wished she did. Solestra’s description of Cynthra fit the young foal crying out to her now. Run from what? Why? What’s going on?
Solestra, not seeing any of what her daughter was envisioning, looked at her daughter. “Sunny, it’s time. Enter the mirror pool.”
Sunmane looked back at her mother. “Mother, I feel…something’s wrong. Can we run another batch of diagnostics?”
“They were done five minutes ago, dear. This is wasting precious moments. Enter the pool.”
“Mother, don’t you see it? Something’s wrong with the pool.” Sunmane took a step away from the edge of the mirror pool.
“Sunny, you are wasting valuable time. As your mother and your Queen, I order you to get in the pool!”
“No!” Sunmane’s response was sharp enough to catch the attention of the few others present. “Something is wrong, I know it! As your heir, I’m asking you to look into it!” The response to that was the sudden carmine glow of Solestra’s horn, followed by Sunmane’s body being enveloped in a restricting, choking field of magic.
“You will get in now!” Solestra threatened.
“Mother – you’re hurting me!” Sunmane yelped; indeed, any attempt to step away from the pool resulted in a sharp spike of pain. Panic began to set into Sunmane’s eyes as she looked at her mother, crying, “Mother, what’s gotten into you?” A deep look into her mother’s eyes revealed the immediate answer of an alicorn, living alone for centuries, finally succumbing to her madness. Not knowing what to do now, Sunmane called out to the others present for immediate help, to no avail; dark stares from their ruler made it clear that any attempt to intervene would result in death, if not worse.
As she felt herself being pushed more towards the pool, she finally realized what was going on: her aunt somehow reached from beyond the grave to warn her, though it appeared to be too late. Inwardly, Sunmane sent a silent cry to Thundermane or Shadowstar Haze, hoping either of them would come rescue her – she’d even live with a unicorn coming to her aid at this point. But now, faced up against the fearsome power of her mother, it would take a miracle.
Enter one miracle.
“¡Hey! ¡Hey! ¡Hey! ¡Hey! ¡Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!”
From the entrance to the facility the loud, raucous shout came, accompanied by guitars, horns, violins and maracas. In strode eight musicians dressed in white with overly large, wide-brimmed hats of the same color; both outfits and hats were festooned in gold brocade. The musicians walked in on their hind legs, done so from long years of practice. Leading them was a pink pony, dressed in the same outfit but black in color with silver brocade, singing in a loud but beautiful voice.
As one, nearly everyone in the station stared at the visitors, completely oblivious to the fact that this group had just entered a highly secure facility without permission. Ready for an attack by any military force, the guards were prepared. But as they stood there, completely baffled, it was clear that they were no match for the might of…
…Pinkie’s impromptu mariachi band.
“¡Estes ‘La Mariachi Loca!’” the pink pony belted out, her voice reaching throughout the whole of the facility as the group played their hearts out. Buoyed by their mastery of the music, she let out a vociferous ranchera call as the mariachi band began their “invasion.” Stopping in the middle of the central room, the group played, no sign of worry on their faces that this was, by far and away, the gig of their lives. On one guitar, a particular blue-maned unicorn played and sang along, trying not to look at the faces of her parents and uncle as they recognized her guitarwork.
The eyes of the base on them now, the mariachis sang a tune that most of them had no idea what it meant:
“¡La Mariachi Loca quiere bailar!
¡La Mariachi Loca quiere bailar!
¡Quiere bailar pero no hay pareja,
Quiere bailar pero no hay pareja!”
Meanwhile the pink mariachi pony seemed to be everywhere, getting the band worked up even more and hopping amongst the various guards and trying to get them to dance. This, however, did not work, as they seemed to be too busy staring slack-jawed at the completely incomprehensible event occurring before them.
“¡La Mariachi Loca quiere tomar!
¡La Mariachi Loca quiere tomar!
¡Quiere tomar pero no hay sidra,
Quiere tomar pero no hay sidra!”
As one, the band continued to sing and play, somehow heedless of the fact there was enough ammunition in the room to blow them up several times over. However, as Pinkie had so wisely pointed out, they had to actually have the presence of mind to use said weapons. Needless to say, it was rather difficult for the guardsponies to have any presence of mind when they were being serenaded by festive music nowhere near native to their world and watching the rhythmic dancing and singing of the pink mare and her band.
“¡A ver, a ver, a mover la colita!
Si no se puede a mover la hermanita!
¡A ver, a ver, a mover la colita!
Si no se puede a mover la hermanita!”
Meanwhile, Pinkie was ready for the next step. Singing along in tune with the song as to seem as part of the lyrics, she sang, “¡Baila de la libertad, mis compadres!” punctuating it with a ranchera call that would have made any busker in San Caballo proud. As she did so, a second group of costumed performers came in, this time dancers. On cue, the band continued to sing their corrido. As they did, Pinkie danced around, shaking her flank as hard as she’d had during the last time she was at a dance club. Blue and yellow balloons on a field of pink swayed and shimmied as she used her tail to point directions for the dancers. Once they were in position, it was time for her big solo:
“Asi se mueven los violinistas,
Se mueven las trompetas,
Mover el guitarron,
Y tambien la vihuela”
Little Miss Mariachi then strode up to Solestra herself, while continuing to sing. With no effort, she carried off Sunmane as if the princess were a cardboard cutout, while the pink pony sarcastically added,
“La reina no entiende,
Su fuerza de algodon,
No siempre comprar a
El poder de la corazon”
And if that wasn’t enough to give everyone apoplectic fits, she then placed her somebero firmly on the queen’s head. Solestra, still somehow completely in shock from what was going on, did nothing to stop her daughter’s abduction…or wipe the drool forming on her mouth from being slack-jawed for so long.
As Pinkie had the queen completely distracted, the dancers raced to the power device and quickly undid the shackles on the prisoners. “Thanks for saving us,” Brandy said to the pegasus undoing his shackles.
“Don’t thank me, thank the weirdo pony who’s somehow managed to hold back Solestra herself with all this,” he replied, still not believing any of this was occurring. “I swear, when I joined the rebellion, dancing was not one of the skills I planned to use. Besides, we’re not out of it yet. We still need to get to safety.”
“How are we going to do that?” Bourbon said, fighting down the need to ask about her foals for the moment.
The pegasus shook his head. “I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but when I give the signal, chicken dance – chicken dance like you’ve never chicken danced before.” Turning to one of the other dancers, he said, “Signal that lunatic and let her know we’re ready.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the signal from one of the pegasi dancers. She grinned; time for the final act. Passing the pseudofrozen Sunmane to one of the dancers she’d brought forth with her, she brought a pair of maracas out of nowhere, ready to complete the song. As the band saw her move, they began the final stanza of their “attack”:
“¡Los pollitos dice ‘piyo, piyo, piyo’,
Los pollitos dice ‘piyo, piyo, piyo’!
¡Cuando tiene hambre, cuando tiene frio,
Cuando tiene hambre, cuando tiene frio!”
As the chicken dancers began, they began vanishing, one by one, leaving the band still playing. As the last dancer disappeared, the band began to march out of the facility, straight out the large iron door, with Pinkie in the rear. As the final one left, the music finished and she called out, “You’ve been a great audience! Thanks for listening and hasta luego!” And with that, they were gone.
The facility was silent enough to hear a pin drop. Soldiers and scientists suddenly came to, as if waking from a dream. As they did, there was the sudden mass shock of realizing that something had just hit them, but no one was quite sure what had done so. After a few seconds, the voice of one sole guard seemed to sum up the absurdity of the past few minutes: “What was that?”
Hearing that got Solestra’s attention. Not concerned with the fact that she, the most powerful thing on the planet, had just been humiliated, suddenly realized her daughter’s abrupt departure. “Signal the alert!” she roared. “Guards, get out there and capture those…those…freaks IMMEDIATELY!” Her horn lit with power once more and turned the sombrero on her head into charred ashes that flitted away into nothing. As the ashes blew away, however, a note fluttered down, and Solestra snatched it from the air. Holding it in front of her, the queen quickly scanned it before becoming so enraged, she blew a hole through the wall.
Dear Queen Solestra,
Being a monstrous tyrant has resulted in a penalty. You have been fined the following:
- several captives
- one daughter
- several members of the military, who were actually spying for us.
In addition, we’ve managed to ruin Project Clarion for you. We hope the cleanup won’t be too bad.
- “P”, Commander, EFRA
on behalf of free Equestra
Written below that, in sloppy penmanship was added:
PS – Don’t feel bad, because I added a recipe for cherrychangas! Hope you like! - PDP
PPS – Do they have cherries here? Haven’t seen one.
PPPS – I’m not the same P as P above, in case you didn’t notice
PPPPS – Maybe I should have written this on an entirely different letter
Enveloped in red, the note crumpled in on itself until it combusted under its own pressure. “Find them,” Solestra hissed to her soldiers. “Find them, or none of you will be long for this world.”
“Your majesty,” a guard called out from the door, “there’s nothing here. No evidence anything was ever here. Whoever did this used some seriously powerful magic. We’ll expand the search cone and catch them, don’t worry.”
An hour later, the alicorn departed the facility, headed back towards Hightown. The moon was high in the sky, but it was very bright out – the flames from the remains of the now-decommissioned-via-magic-blast base lighting up the sky. Tomorrow morning the Guard would report that several dozen guardsponies were slain in the attempt to protect the queen and princess from the separatist terrorists. It would mean the news of Sunmane’s disappearance would be made public, but enough weeping for the cameras would ensure that all the right blocks would fall in place once more. Besides, all things considered, Solestra did care for her adopted daughter; it wasn’t her fault that she could never be a true alicorn. But with her in rebel custody now, the Queen of Sorrows had centuries of planning ruined, and would have to begin the search anew for a new daughter to adopt and appoint as her successor.
Just wait, dearest sister, Solestra thought to herself as she approached her castle, you’ll be back to life in no time. Such a line of thought was interesting, because if one could pierce the veil between the living and the dead to ask the moon alicorn herself, she would have begged otherwise.
Later that night, there was a celebration back at New Ponyville. Everyone had come away without a scratch, even the “drunken” guard, who was taken with at the last moment; that turned out to be a bit of serendipity, as he turned out to be considering deserting but didn’t know how to contact the EFRA. The band members, having assured themselves a place in history by pulling off the most bizarre rescue known to ponykind, played the night away for the revelers. The newly freed unicorns, thrilled to not only have been rescued but brought to the free villages, immediately promised their know-how to the cause. All in all, it was a jubilant night for most.
But not all. The moment they arrived in the free zone, a dozen EFRA justiciars arrived to take Sunmane into custody. She was horrified by this, but even more disgusted to discover that two of the ponies she was closest to in the world were working for the enemy. “And I trusted both of you!” she snarled at Thundermane and Shady Days (who swore right after this, she was washing off the dye.) “How could you turn out to be rebel dogs?”
“Because your mother murdered my parents and his,” Shady replied, “and they did nothing other than to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – just like many of those ponies at Station 12.”
“Sunny,” Thunder admitted, “neither of us ever meant to hurt you.”
“That’s Princess Sunmane to you, gelding!” she roared imperiously.
“See?” Shady cracked at her cousin, poking him gently in the ribs. “That’s how you use that insult. You could really learn from her.” Turning back to the princess, she added, “And before you play Pretty Princess Pissed-Off Pony, you should know that we hadn’t done what we did, you’d be dead tonight.”
“That’s a lie!” she said, though there was an unsure undercurrent in her voice. “My mother was trying to tu—”
“Solestra was going to use you as a sacrifice to revive her sister from the dead. It would have been your body, but not your mind,” Shady interrupted as she held up the Clarion files. “Read it for yourself. Doubt it all you want, but the signature and seal at the end is your oh-so-saintly mother’s…and she’s the only one who has the ability to use the Seal of the Sun, and you know that.”
“Shall we take her away, Captain?” the justiciar asked.
“Yes. But I want constant guards on watch; someone might want to take revenge on her. And see that she gets proper accommodations…and I mean that. Enemy or not, she’s still the Princess.”
As they took her away, they hadn’t gotten farther than a hoofful of steps before Thundermane called out, “Wait!” Rushing up to them, he did something completely unexpected: he went and kissed her, breathing, “Even if you hate me until the end of time, Sunny, it won’t ever change how much I love you.”
As he looked at her, there seemed to be a brief war of emotions reflecting in her eyes, before she said in a soft voice, “Remember yesterday when I asked you if you ever wondered what it would have been like if our lives were different? Now more than ever, I wish they had been, so I could be with you.” Turning away from him sadly, she whispered to the guards as she choked back tears, “Please, take me away.”
As they walked away, he said, “Well, there’s the story of my life: finally admit it as soon as it’s too late to do anything about it.”
Naah, Thunder, don’t worry about it,” his cousin assured him. “Hope springs eternal: after all, didn’t we just hand Solestra her own flank? It might not be an easy relationship, but you have her heart. Now, c’mon, I need someone to help me wash off all this dye.”
Watching from a distance, Posey and Pinkie looked at the unfolding love. “I’ll do everything I can for her,” Posey promised. “Even if she was brainwashed all her life, she killed innocents, and that can’t be excused. But apparently even a monster can feel love, it seems.”
“There was a mare once,” Pinkie began, “that grew jealous of her sister to the point that she used black magic in a pointless display of attention. Unfortunately, the magic took over and possessed her, gaining a personality of its own. Trapped in the abomination she created, the mare was exiled from her home but eventually returned for revenge. But in the end, deep down who that mare was knew she was hurting her loved ones needlessly, and so she fought back against the black magic just enough to help those there to rescue her.”
“You sound like this story comes from experience.”
“Possibly kinda sorta maybe.”
Posey shook her head as the pair turned and headed back towards the celebration. “I don’t think someone like Solestra could ever be redeemed.”
Pinkie’s answer was to merely look at the night sky while she replied, “Luna would definitely tell you otherwise.”
“So, you saved the world and delivered a major victory for the rebellion. It’s fair to say we’re very grateful, and we could use a pony of your considerable skills.”
She shook her head. “Sorry, but you know I can’t stay. I did what I could, but there’s already a war raging back in my home. I need to find what I came here to look for, and I can’t do that if I stay.”
“But we need you! You’re the only one who’s ever been able to beat Solestra at her own game!”
“When I’m done with my mission and the war back on my world, I’ll come back with help. Pinkie Promise.”
Posey nodded; the pink pony had done more than anypony could have ever expected, but miracles on tap were anything but. “I’m saddened, but I understand. But will you at least stay the night before leaving? This celebration wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for you.”
Pinkie grinned. “What, me miss a party? Not happening, not this Pinkie. I’ll stay and head out first thing in the morning.”
“Then I’m going with you,” Tequila said as she approached, her family behind her. “I owe you, and after everything you’ve done, it’d be unfair for you to keep going by yourself.”
[I’m going too!] Rummie added.
“You can’t go,” Pinkie replied, with a twinge of sadness. “It’s too dangerous, Rummie. What I’m going through makes facing Solestra look like a cakewalk.”
“But you’re not going alone. I’m going with you, and you can’t talk me out of it,” Tequila insisted. “You’re stuck with me.”
“Are you sure?” Posey asked. “You have rather…um, unique skills that would be very much of value to the EFRA.”
“What I am, truth be told, is a failed guitarist but a very successful thief. I’m half-surprised that my cutie mark isn’t that of a robber’s mask,” she admitted. “If I stay here, eventually I’ll do something stupid and end up in a detentum, either by Solestra’s justiciars or your own. But if I go with Pinkie, maybe I can put my talents to use helping her. I’m very appreciative of your offer, Posey, but in the end I’d just be a thorn in your side.
“And while I’m at it,” Tequila continued as she turned to face Pinkie, “I owe you a huge apology, Pinkie. I was jealous of you. You’re everything my parents wanted me to be and I thought you were forcing me out of my own family. Since the very beginning, I’ve treated you like carb and you never deserved it. And despite all that, you did everything you could for my family: you rescued my parents and uncle from being killed, and it’s probably thanks to your food that Rummie was able to talk again.”
Bourbon gasped, turning to her younger daughter. “Is…is it true?”
[Posey asked the doctors to look at me yesterday and they said that magic’s starting to heal my larynx. It wouldn’t have happened unless I was getting extra nutrients from Pinkie’s food. It’ll take some time, but I’ll be able to speak again sometime in the near future.] Scribble, scribble, scribble. [Pinkie, I don’t want you to go!]
Pinkie mussed the filly’s mane. “I’ll come back, I promise. I said you’re welcome at my home, and you can’t get there unless I show you how, right?” Turning to Tequila, she asked, “Are you sure about this? I’ll be up front and tell you the same thing Celestia told me – there’s a chance you may never make it back and the trip will change you forever.”
“I said it: you’re not leaving me behind.” To both Pinkie’s surprise and her own, Tequila nuzzled the pink pony. “You’re the only friend I have, one of the few ponies I trust. You have my loyalty, one hundred percent.”
The world exploded in red, enough so that it blinded all present. Shielding their eyes, it was assumed initially that Solestra had somehow found them. Posey was about to scream for all personnel to get to battle stations when the light died down as quickly as it came. Several sets of eyes blinked repeatedly, ignoring the screaming sensoria that had briefly set in. When all eyes adjusted again to the moonlight, all eyes suddenly fell on Tequila…or rather, the new piece of jewelry she wore, a golden necklace with a huge glowing ruby in the shape of a thunderbolt embedded within.
“The Element of Loyalty!” Pinkie cried out in stunned surprise, even as Rummie furiously wrote [That’s the thing you were looking for! I can feel it!]
Tequila looked down and saw what she was now wearing, and nearly passed out. It had to be worth a billion bits at least, and…no, not getting into this again. Taking it off, she immediately handed it to her friend. “You might want to hold onto this.”
“Thanks!” Pinkie said, hugging her newfound friend and traveling companion. This had been the best night in a while: one of the Elements had been found and in the process, she’d found a new friend, someone who would ensure her travels wouldn’t be a solitary journey. Pinkie sighed contentedly; tomorrow would be a new stage on her desperate mission, but at least for now, there was a sliver of peace, a small bit of hope. She only wished Twilight and the rest could be there to enjoy it with her.
I’ll be back home soon. I’ve been gone too long already.
In the nearly-completed castle dubbed Bright Eyes’ Citadel, Rainbow Dash, the Queen of Magic, was not happy. Sure, she’d repelled attempts by the Caballan military to take Stalliongrad back, and even now was making inroads into the rest of the country proper. The polar bears of Arctica had sent assistance to their Caballan allies and field reports indicated that the supreme commander of the Caballan military, the prince consort himself, was sallying forth into the field to meet some of her forces. It was said that he was a brilliant solider and a supreme tactician; the chess game between herself and he would be a very bloody and brutal match, indeed.
“Rainbow? You’re being awfully quiet,” a heavily-armored mint-hued pony commented. At the moment, said pony sat at a table in the queen’s private chambers, sipping from a glass of wine and running a hoof through her rose-colored mane. “Always brooding in style?”
The Queen chuckled. “Always so direct, Minty.”
Minty shrugged as much as she could in the heavy armor and cloak. “I do what I can. So, I take it I have permission to start marching on Inverneighs?”
“Of course. You’re to drive north while Star Song continues her expedition towards Barceloneigh. Also, I’ve ordered Autumn Skye and Amberlocks to continue their incursion into Arctican and Qinlingese territories, respectively. Our numbers are steadily increasing, and the Trinity Cannon should be ready for another operation soon.”
“So, are you going to tell me why you’re being Her Moodiness today? We’re gaining successful ground on recapturing our homeworld, and meanwhile over in Equestria, Her Royal Stupidity can’t even find the courage to declare war. I’m glad her younger sister isn’t in charge; from the intelligence reports, Luna’s a bit feistier and battle-ready, but she’s loyal enough to her sister to let this all blow up in Celestia’s face.”
“Didn’t you feel it?”
“Feel what? Remember, I’ve been a bit busy as of late slaughtering our enemies, using the Affliction spell on those who survive, and planning full-scale war against every civilized being on this planet that isn’t on our side.”
Rainbow Dash chuckled. “You always had a way with words. No, I feel her.”
Minty narrowed her eyes. “I told you, you should have killed her. If Pinkie Pie can find a way to thwart us, she will – and believe me, she’ll do it. We may all have been friends once, but as far as I’m concerned, that ended the day she became the Hierophant and refused to help reclaim our home.”
“You’re right.” It was a rare admission of error from the Queen of Magic. “This morning, I felt one of the Elements of Harmony – the Equestrian royal jewels – removed from the dimension we placed it in. There’s only one pony who would dare thwart me in that manner.”
“Well, there is the chance that there’s somepony of gypsy blood here that we don’t know about. Our earliest scouts reported enough cases of some earth ponies having more than the average amount of preternatural abilities.”
“Yes, and I read those reports; for someone to be able to open a gypsy gate, it would have to be either one of their strongest unicorn mages, or somepony who inherited the full gypsy blood. The former is possible, but remote; our ally in the government has ensured that. The latter is impossible; the only gypsies that remained here back when sealed their power away permanently and forever; only traces of the power would pass on. Plus, even if you’re correct about a full-blooded gypsy being born here, well, would they even know how to cross the paries quartus?”
“Good point.” Minty finished her glass, then rose to her feet. “Well, it matters little in the end: the Elements are little more than pretty baubles for Celestia’s amusement. It’s not like they’re some sort of superweapon; our ally would have mentioned that. In any case, even if Pinkie recovers them all, she doesn’t know the way to get here from our old world, and she’s a gypsy – they’d already be prejudiced to her.”
“I hope so. I’d hate to see all our plans turned to dust because we left something out.”
Minty laughed. “Dear, dear Rainbow, I wouldn’t worry. Soon, I’ll crush all of Caballus under my hoof, and you’ll have your path to Equestria. And nothing Pinkie can do will stop us; she’s trapped in her own prison by her own design. And it’s not like she’d find someone to do her job for her. We have this world, as certain as the sun.”