“Reluctantly, the treasure hunter followed the natives’ orders in an effort to avoid the business ends of their spears. She wasn’t sure what was more aggravating: the fact that her disguise had failed so abysmally, or the knowledge that the locals probably would have given her what she wanted outright if she hadn’t tried to deceive them.”
Rarity, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy galloped to the empty field as fast as they could, intent on breaking up what was apparently either an argument that had somehow degenerated into a fight, or a public display of affection that had somehow degenerated into public indecency. When the three of them arrived, however, there was nopony to be seen, nor could they hear any noises that would indicate that they weren’t the only ones there. In fact, the only evidence to indicate that the Crusaders hadn’t been pulling an elaborate (and tasteless) prank was an empty cart off to the side of the road. Finding Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash, it seemed, wouldn’t be simple. Fortunately, Pinkie Pie was able to quickly improvise a solution to this dilemma.
The pink earth pony took a deep breath before hollering at the top of her lungs: “Twilight! Dashie! Are you guys out here?!” Granted, it wasn’t a very good solution, but it was a solution nonetheless.
Rarity shut her eyes as she massaged one of her temples. “Pinkie, darling, given what we suspect those two might be doing, it’s highly unlikely that one of them will actually answer you.”
“Oh... yeah, that would be a problem, wouldn’t it?”
The unicorn sighed and turned to Fluttershy, who’d been fidgeting nervously for the past few minutes. “Would you be a dear and fly over the field to make sure our friends aren’t hiding in the grass?”
“Oh, um, sure...” The pegasus rose into the air and began to make several slow, methodical passes over the field, searching for any signs of their friends. “Um... I think I found something.”
“Is it the two lovebirds?” Pinkie asked hopefully.
“N-No... um, I’m not sure what it is. Could you... um... could you come over and take a look at this?”
The two ponies trotted over to the area where Fluttershy was hovering. There, in a shallow depression, was what initially appeared to be a tangled mass of black straps, but as Rarity lifted it with her magic, it became easier to identify. “Is that... a saddle?” Pinkie asked.
“It would appear so... though it’s not like any saddle I’ve ever seen.”
“So, what, is this the latest fashion trend in Canterlot or something?”
“I’m going to pretend that that was an attempt at some sort of joke,” Rarity replied dully before examining the saddle more closely. “PommelHorse? I don’t believe I’m familiar with that particular line. Perhaps it’s from one of those more avant-garde designers in Las Pegasus—that city’s fashion scene has a bit of a reputation for flouting industry conventions. Still, the workhorseship on this piece is superb—the stitching is very well done, and if I’m not mistaken, the material itself is actually Nagahyde.”
“Um, I think there’s some reins over here,” Fluttershy added.
Rarity floated them over to the saddle, completing the “ensemble,” (which was a technically accurate term, even though the fashionista had to suppress a wave of nausea at the thought of one of her models wearing this monstrous getup). “Well, regardless of how it looks, the quality of the materials suggests that it’s expensive... which of course raises a rather obvious question.”
Pinkie Pie nodded in sage agreement. “Do universal moral absolutes exist, or is all morality necessarily relative?”
“Uh... that’s not quite what I had in mind...”
“Hmm.... Are earth ponies theoretically capable of channelling magic through their hooves the way unicorns do through their horns?”
“Not that one either, darling...”
The pink pony looked puzzled for a second or two, before making a third guess: “Poof! You’ve been transformed into a stallion. What do?”
“Pinkie!” Rarity was not in the mood for silliness at the moment. “The question I’m referring to is this: if Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle were using this... thing for Celestia knows what, why would they leave it out here in the open?”
“Are you sure the saddle’s going to be okay out there?”
Twilight sighed as she did her best to ease her friend’s worries, as there was little else she could do while riding on her back. “Don’t worry about it. You said that the weather was going to be fine for the next few days, and Ponyville isn’t the kind of place where you’ll have to worry about somepony stealing it if it’s found.”
“That’s not what worries me,” Rainbow Dash muttered under her breath.
“Did you say something?”
The pegasus chuckled nervously. “Uh, no... it’s, uh, nothing important. It just would have been more convenient to take the saddle back to my home, that’s all.”
“I’m not arguing with you there, but this attraction spell would have made getting it back on too cumbersome, and I’m too wiped out from the terminal velocity spell to have levitated it all the way back to Ponyville. Besides, somepony probably would have noticed it hovering next to a cloud and thought it was weird.”
Rainbow Dash had to admit her friend had a point there; the cloud they were currently concealing themselves in had to be small—while moving larger clouds around in the sky wasn’t really that difficult when you know what you were doing (which she did), manipulating the physical properties of clouds was an incredibly difficult task for a single pegasus, even one as awesome as she was. It had taken her several minutes to “hollow out” the cloud she’d settled on, and even with Twilight being able to pass through it, it was still a cramped experience. It was sort of like rolling around an empty sphere by walking along the inside, except that the cloud wasn’t spherical, nor was it really empty: it still had several water droplets floating around with a misty consistency. This was merely damp and annoying to a unicorn like Twilight Sparkle, but to a pegasus, moving through mist or fog was like hiking through a swamp—strenuous and time-consuming. The fact that she couldn’t really see where she was going didn’t make matters any easier, since it meant having to detour around Ponyville so she wouldn’t be spotted poking her head outside to check her bearings.
Fortunately, they were almost home free; Rainbow Dash’s cloud house was within sight. Once they were safely inside, the two could wait for Twilight Sparkle to recover, and then she’d teleport them directly to the library, where her formidable researching skills would doubtless find a solution to their predicament. Just a little bit more....
“Hey, Rainbow Dash!”
Rainbow Dash somehow managed to avoid jumping from the shock of hearing an unexpected voice behind her. She didn’t respond at first, hoping that whoever it was would just go away.
“What are you doing in that cloud?”
The pegasus sighed and poked her head through the clouds, where her mailmare was hovering with a smile on her face. “Oh, hey there, Derpy. How did you know I was in here?”
“Your tail is sticking out.”
“Oh, right,” Rainbow Dash confirmed with a nervous chuckle. How long has that been out there?, she thought to herself as she pulled the wayward appendage inside the puffy blob of water droplets. “So, uh, is there something I can do for you?”
“Not really. I just wanted to know what you were doing.”
“Uh... nothing, really.”
“Nothing? But couldn’t you do nothing outside of a cloud?”
“Well, uh, yeah... but this is, um, fun.”
“It is? Wow! Can I have a look?”
“No!” Rainbow Dash abruptly shouted, before she regained her composure and clarified: “I mean, no, you can’t. Um, this is a private cloud.”
“Oh... well, can you tell me how to find one of my own?”
Rainbow Dash would have answered, were it not for the impatient tapping she felt on her shoulder. Apparently, Twilight wanted her to wrap it up. “I, uh, can’t talk right now, actually. Maybe later?”
Derpy Hooves looked a bit dejected. “Oh... okay.” The mailmare fluttered away towards her next delivery.
“Whew... that was close.”
“Yeah, it was,” agreed the unicorn on Rainbow Dash’s back. “Let’s get inside before we end up with more problems.”
The three ponies were still talking about the strange saddle as they returned to Ponyville. “You... um... you don’t suppose that saddle is for... um... that kind of....” Fluttershy was blushing too hard to finish her sentence, but fortunately Rarity understood her general meaning.
“It’s possible, but unlikely. As I understand it, ponies with that particular quirk prefer their outfits to be a bit more... restrictive, shall we say, and despite appearances, that saddle would actually allow a pegasus to move around with relative ease.” The unicorn paused to motion towards the cart that Pinkie Pie was currently pulling, which had an unmarked cardboard box into which the saddle had fit too perfectly for anypony to assume that it was unrelated to the incident.
“Are you sure this isn’t stealing?” the earth pony asked. “Because it might make the party kind of awkward if we are.”
“Of course not. Both the cart and the saddle are almost certainly too valuable to be left alone for extended periods of time, even in a sleepy town like Ponyville. If it so happens that it belongs to neither Twilight nor Rainbow, we shall simply take out a classified ad in the Ponyville Express to let their rightful owner know that they’ve been found. But aside from that, I’m fairly certain that throwing a ‘coming out’ party for ponies who aren’t yet ready to come out would be in bad taste.”
“Oh,” Pinkie Pie said. She hadn’t actually thought of that. “Well... the party doesn’t have to be right now. I can still plan it, and then wait until they’re ready.” Having thus solved her dilemma, the earth pony proceeded to amuse herself with some cheerful, random humming.
“That’s a nice song.”
Pinkie looked up to see her friendly neighborhood mailmare hovering overhead. “Hey, Derpy! Thanks! I actually just made it up right now.”
“Oh, so it doesn’t have words yet?”
“No, not yet.”
“You should make some. You’re really good at that. I like the one about smiling.”
“Yeah, I like that one, too!” Pinkie replied with a grin.
“Well, it was nice talking to you—”
It was here that Rarity stepped in. “Actually, perhaps you could help us out.”
“Me? You really think so?”
“Er, well, yes. Have you seen Rainbow Dash or Twilight Sparkle around today?”
“Uh, I haven’t seen Twilight, but then again, there weren’t any deliveries for the library today. But I did see Rainbow Dash!”
“Is that so? Tell me, did you notice anything... unusual about her?”
“Not really—except for the part about not wanting to come out of her cloud.”
“I beg your pardon? ‘Come out of her cloud’?”
“Yeah. She was inside a cloud the whole time.”
“I see... and this cloud... might it have been large enough for two ponies?”
“Maybe... I don’t know. Rainbow Dash wouldn’t let me look inside. She said it was a private cloud. Do you think private clouds are expensive? I want one that looks like a muffin.”
“I’m... not quite sure how to answer that, Derpy,” Rarity said, repressing her wince as she said the pegasus’ name. Lazy eye notwithstanding, she’d always felt that the pony deserved a name that rolled off the tongue better than “Derpy Hooves,” but her efforts to get the mailmare to consider “Ditzy Doo” as an informal pseudonym had thus far met with mixed results. “In any case, do you know where she is?”
“Uh, we were pretty close to her house, so I’d guess that’s where she is. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?”
“Ah, no, not really.”
“Good, I’ve gotta get back to my deliveries. See you later!”
As the three mares waved goodbye to their acquaintance, Rarity was already busy dissecting the implications of the conversation. “Fluttershy, can you think of a reason why a pegasus would want to move around inside a cloud under normal circumstances?”
The demure mare absently ran a hoof through her pink mane as she considered this matter. “Um... no, not really....”
“Maybe she was hiding something,” Pinkie Pie suggested.
“Something... or somepony,” Rarity corrected. “Come on, we need to find those two and get to the bottom of this.”
As it turned out, finding Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle wasn’t particularly hard—thanks to Derpy, they were pretty sure that the former was at her house, and once they’d eliminated all of the latter’s usual haunts, it was likely that she was there as well. The problem was that they had no way to confront them about their recent escapades: Rarity didn’t know the cloudwalking spell, Pinkie Pie’s gyrocopter was out of commission thanks to an unfortunate encounter with the Cake twins, and Fluttershy simply didn’t have the nerve to talk to them without any support. Eventually, the three of them ended up sitting at the local cafe, nibbling at bluegrass and watercress sandwiches as they tried to determine their next course of action.
The three ponies looked up to see Applejack sauntering towards them with a mildly stressed look on her face. Without waiting to be invited, she dragged a chair over to the table and sat down, taking full advantage of the fact that their friendship was strong enough to let her get away with being blatantly impolite. “Y’all figure out what’s goin’ on yet?”
“Well, we know something’s going on,” Pinkie Pie said. “Specifically, the saddle in that box over there is going on somepony.”
“That’s all we know for certain, darling. Everything else is just speculation at this point.”
The farm pony sighed. “Darn. I was kinda hopin’ y’all would have enough evidence to rope those two into explainin’ the birds and the bees to Apple Bloom.”
Fluttershy found this to be somewhat confusing. “Why would you want that?”
“Because as of right now, Granny Smith wants Big Macintosh to do it when he explains his magazine collection to her, and given how goshdarn embarrassed he looked when I chewed him out about this whole mess in the first place, that probably means I gotta be there to make sure he goes into more detail than ‘Eeyup’ and ‘Nope.’”
Rarity winced; everypony knew how much the large draft pony disliked talking, and trying to imagine having to respond to all the questions he’d leave unanswered was not pleasant. “Well, in any case, we still need to speak with our friends. We know Dashie’s in her home, but we’re not certain if Twilight’s with her. We’ve checked nearly everywhere in town, but we haven’t found her yet.”
“Did y’all try the library?”
“Naturally, it was the first place we went to, but...”
“...but Twilight wasn’t there. Spike said she hadn’t been back all afternoon,” Fluttershy finished.
The farm pony sighed. “Makes as much sense as anythin’ else, I guess. Still, if Twilight’s out, that means Spike won’t be goin’ anywhere anytime soon, and if anyone’s gonna know somethin’ about this mess, it’s probably gonna be him. I mean, he’s Twilight’s assistant—knowin’ what she’s doin’ is practically half his job. I say we head over there, hang around til closin’ time, and then pump that dragon for some info.”
In theory, this, too should have been a good idea. But theory, it seemed, wasn’t playing nice with reality today. Applejack’s blunt questions didn’t get them anywhere, while Fluttershy couldn’t be convinced to use “The Stare” on such a good friend of hers. Of course, such scruples weren’t a problem for Pinkie Pie, who was able to get a full confession from Spike. The veracity of this information, however, was suspect, for two reasons: First, these were the same interrogation techniques she’d previously used to get the dragon to “admit” that her friends didn’t want to be her friends anymore, and second, the confession she’d ended up wringing out of him was a claim to be in love with Rainbow Dash, which everypony knew was patently ridiculous, since he only had eyes for Rarity.
But, as it turned out, even the fashionista’s patented “bat-your-eyelashes-and-pout-your-lips” technique failed to squeeze anything useful out of Spike, since for the simple reason that his boss had largely kept him in the dark about what she and her friend were up to. They even showed him the saddle that had been raising so many questions, but he had never seen it before.
“Look, all I know is that Twilight and Rainbow Dash have been meeting up every week to do something, and Twilight refuses to talk about it when she gets back.”
Applejack groaned in frustration. “Great. Sounds like this here’s been a waste of time. We musta spent an hour doin’ this, and we still didn’t learn nuthin’.”
Rarity, however, disagreed with this assessment. “On the contrary, Applejack, I would say that Twilight’s refusal to explain things to an assistant and confidante as trusted as Spike confirms that our friends are indeed trying to hide something. And given what the Crusaders claimed to have seen, and the rather... unusual evidence we found at the scene of the incident, I’d say we have a pretty good idea of what they’re hiding. All we have to do now is find them, so we can give them our support in their new relationship and a tongue-lashing for their indiscretions.”
Fortunately, this turned out to be a much simpler task than their previous efforts would have suggested, as the two elusive ponies suddenly appeared in a flash of light in their midst. “Great! My magic’s back to full strength! Now, I just need to do some research, and then everything... should be... fine....” Twilight Sparkle couldn’t help but notice that the rest of their friends were not only present in the library, but staring at them with rather irritated looks on their faces. “Uh... I guess you’re all wondering why I’m sitting on Rainbow Dash’s back.”
“Not really,” Applejack said. “If I had ta venture a guess, I’d say it’s got somethin’ ta do with the saddle.”
“Saddle? Um, what saddle?”
“This saddle,” Rarity said, levitating the equipment in question in front of her.
“Ah, ponyfeathers,” Rainbow Dash said with a groan.
“I’m going to assume from that reaction that this belongs to one of you.”
“It’s mine,” the pegasus said resignedly. “Twilight’s been helping me with some strength training, and we use that saddle as part of it.”
Rarity, however, was not an inquisitor to be trifled with. “Exercise? Really?”
“Yes, really. PommelHorse makes high-end fitness equipment,” Rainbow Dash explained. “When I carry the extra weight of another pony, my wings get stronger. The saddle’s designed to make sure the rider doesn’t fall off.”
The unicorn seemed skeptical of this, however. “You say it’s high-end, but we found it in the middle of a field.”
“Yeah... there was... uh...”
“...a complication,” Twilight said, completing her friend’s sentence. “One of my spells went haywire, and you know what that’s like.”
“And would this ‘haywire’ spell explain why the Crusaders found you in that field earlier today, drenched in sweat and pawing each other all over while making all sorts of interesting noises?” As laughable as Rarity’s penchant for melodrama could occasionally be, there were times when it served her purposes well.
Unfortunately for Twilight Sparkle, this was one of those times. “Huh? Well, uh, we never noticed them... but trust us, that’s really not what we’d normally do. We were just dealing with unexpected problems from the aftermath of the attraction spell I cast.”
“Attraction spell? What’s that?” Pinkie Pie asked.
“Well, it causes the two of us to be physically attracted towards each other, which is quite useful for keeping me in my place, but this time, I wasn’t able to remove it using normal means, so I was sliding all over Rainbow Dash in an effort to get off—”
“For the love of Celestia, please stop talking before you make this more embarrassing than it already is!”
The unicorn hadn’t really expected this sort of outburst from Rainbow Dash. “I’m just explaining what happened....”
“Yeah, but could you do it in a way that doesn’t make it sound like we were having sex?”
Twilight blushed an extremely bright red. “You mean... that’s what you guys thought we were doing?”
Four heads slowly nodded in response.
“That’s... that’s... n-no. We were just trying to physically separate ourselves from each other, but the spell I was using to pull my center of mass towards Rainbow Dash’s didn’t react well when we went into a Sonic Rainboom. We’ve been stuck together since this afternoon.”
Applejack pushed her hat back as she evaluated this explanation, and, coincidentally, came to a conclusion that was almost identical to that of the other ponies. “Uh, Twi, that there story sounds like a mighty lame excuse.”
“If it wasn’t true, don’t you think I would have climbed off of Rainbow Dash’s back by now?”
The farm pony didn’t have an answer to this, so she trotted over to the pair with a quizzical look on her face. Raising a hoof, she nudged Twilight Sparkle and was surprised to find the unicorn to be far more resistant to the pressure than she should have been. “What in Celestia’s mane...?”
About ten minutes later, the three of them were sprawled out on the library floor. Applejack had her forelegs wrapped tightly around Twilight Sparkle’s barrel as she attempted to use Bucky McGillicuddy and Kicks McGee to push Rainbow Dash away from the unicorn. To her credit, the farm pony’s renowned strength had managed to get them several feet apart, but it seemed that she had hit a wall. Her body was noticeably sweaty, and the strained grunts coming from her mouth were getting more animated as her hind legs started to shake. As it turned out, even Applejack lacked the wherewithal to counteract Twilight’s spell, and her legs eventually gave out, causing the unicorn to collide back against Rainbow Dash.
“Well,” Rarity said as diplomatically as she could, “I believe we can take two conclusions away from this demonstration. First, the spell Twilight described is most definitely not a mere excuse, and second, attempts to free oneself from that spell look an awful lot like... er, foreplay.”
Applejack’s eyes widened as a blush rose to her cheeks. “That’s seriously what it looked like?”
“Perhaps a better way to put it is that one can understand why somepony who didn’t have any context on the issue might believe that to be the case.”
Rainbow Dash sighed and rolled her eyes as she stood up (which is no easy task when you have a fully grown pony stuck to your back). “Well, that’s just super.”
As there was a lull in the conversation, Fluttershy was finally comfortable enough to ask a question of her own. “Um... if you don’t mind my asking... why were you keeping this secret if you aren’t in a relationship?”
“Well, part of it is because once we’re totally strapped into that saddle, we do look kind of silly,” Twilight answered.
“You say that as though it’s a bad thing,” Pinkie retorted.
“It is when you take aerobatics as seriously as Dash does.”
The earth pony didn’t sound convinced; how could silliness not make anything better? “What’s the other part?”
Twilight glanced downward. “You want to field this one, Dash?”
“Well, then we have a problem, because for me, ‘the other part’ is the fact that keeping it secret was really important to you, and I can’t read your mind.”
The pegasus sighed. “I wanted it to be a secret because...” She paused and took a deep breath before continuing: “...because I didn’t want anypony to know that I was getting help with my training.”
It took a few seconds for everypony to process this. Finally Applejack spoke up. “Uh, Sugarcube, why would that be a problem? Y’all have asked me to help ya out plenty of times before.”
“Not like this. When you help me, I’m still in charge, but for this... I have to let Twilight control pretty much everything, or else it’s too dangerous. I mean, I know that there’s nothing wrong with it; it’s just kind of embarrassing, that’s all.”
“And this little incident wasn’t?” Rarity asked rhetorically. “We thought the Crusaders had seen something obscene! If you’d told us about this, we could have at least come up with a plausible excuse for you.”
“Yeah... I guess the whole ‘secret’ thing wasn’t a good idea.” Upon stating something so blatantly obvious, Rainbow Dash brought the conversation to a halt.
“So, I guess this means you really aren’t special someponies,” Pinkie Pie finally said, the disappointment obvious in her voice.
“Nope,” Rainbow Dash said. “I wouldn’t have asked her to help me if I felt that way—I wouldn’t want to risk the temptation to do something... you know....”
“Something like what the Crusaders thought you were doing?” Spike offered.
The pegasus let out a frustrated puff of air. “Yeah, pretty much.”
“But you make such a cute couple!”
“Sorry to disappoint you, Pinkie,” Twilight said, “but that’s the way it is.”
“Aww... and I was gonna throw you guys a party, too.”
“Since when do you need a reason to throw a party?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“But this was going to be a special one.”
“Since when do you throw the ordinary kind?”
“Uh... actually, you’ve got a really good point there.” Pinkie Pie’s mood brightened almost immediately. “Alright, everypony! Who’s up for a ‘No Particular Reason’ party?”
“Not us,” Twilight Sparkle said. “At least, not tonight. Dash and I would really like to get this problem taken care of, so we’ll be researching all night.”
“You’ll be researching,” the pegasus corrected. “I’ll be bored out of my skull.”
Applejack sighed. “C’mon, everypony. Sounds to me like these two got a long night ahead of them.” The four ponies filed out of the library, leaving Spike to attend to the needs of the reseachers.
“Coffee, tea, or sugary energy drinks?”
Twilight opened her mouth to answer, but was interrupted by a yawn from the pegasus beneath her. “You’d better make it all three.”