Rarity’s eyes widened. “Help... you?”
“Help you with what?” A holographic head with a multicolored mane flashed into existence in front of the two, causing Rarity to yelp and hop into the air. “Oh, sorry about that, Rarity.”
Rarity caught her breath upon landing. Looking up, she saw the hologram of Rainbow Dash’s head trying to hold back a snicker. Rarity could almost see tears of mirth in its eyes, but they couldn’t be -- it was just a hologram. Unable to do so any longer, the imprint burst into a peal of chortles that Firefly quickly joined. This only served to add confusion to Rarity’s rather unexpected surprise.
“How are you floating there?” Rarity inquired, cutting into the ghostly head’s guffaws. “Pinkie’s imprint could only manifest as an illusion in her office, and the rest of the time she had to make do with living in a portrait! Even Twilight was just a disembodied image… well, most of the time. I’d rather it have been all the time.” Rarity stared blankly at a far wall for a moment, before blinking hard and returning her gaze to the phantom head.
“So, Twi showed you her precious project, huh?” Rainbow laughed, a foreleg appearing to wipe the giant tear from her larger-than-life eye. Wow, the designers of Dash’s imprint sure had a keen eye for absurd detail.
“And how do you know about that?” Rarity asked pointedly, starving for answers.
“I’ll tell you in my office.” A transparent blue hoof pointed to a door at the other end of the light-lobby. “It’s on the top floor.”
Rarity complied, following the rather disconcerting giant floating head into the small room. She did not see how getting into this tiny space would possibly get them to the top floor, but she let the oddity go. There were too many to keep track of if she tried to think of them all at once.
All of a sudden there was a lurch, and the bottom of the room pressed up against Rarity’s hooves. Through the slightly transparent walls of the room, she could see the lobby falling away as her immediate environment shot upward. It was like a miniature version of the sky carriage they had all just been in, only this one had no visible means of propulsion.
Rarity needed to know what was going on. She knew it might bring more questions than answers, but she didn’t care. “What is this room?
“You’ve never been in an elevator?” Rainbow’s imprint gave her a look. “Oh, yeah, sorry. I guess they were invented after you went to sleep, but only just after. I thought you might have at least heard about them in your own time.”
Rarity shook her head.
“It’s a mobile room that is pulled up or lowered down on cables to bypass the need for stairs,” Daybreak explained.
“How convenient.” Rarity let out a sigh of relief. At least ONE thing in this new era was a simple harmless advancement and not something psychotic that would try to kill her… or worse.
The room stopped moving just as suddenly as it had started, the doors opening to reveal Rainbow’s office. Like every other CEO’s sanctum she’d seen, the place was massive. Unlike the rest of the factory and every other office Rarity had seen, though, this office was surprisingly a bit unexpectedly unimpressive. Instead of the light making up most of Rainbow Industries, there were fluffy white clouds. The floor glowed faintly from the lighted ceiling of the room below, pockets of bright color poking their way through the thick cloud, but for the most part, Rainbow Dash’s office was unassumingly blank.
“How, uh…” Rarity began as the others stepped out onto the spongy material. “Rustic.”
“I know what you’re thinking,” Rainbow’s imprint announced as it floated past the others and settled over the cloud-desk. “Why would somepony as awesome as Rainbow Dash working in a factory made of such awesome stuff as rainbow technology settle for an office made of clouds? To put it bluntly, Rainbow Dash was always a little homesick for her days as a weathermare in Ponyville. Sure, she loved being captain of The Wonderbolts, but she never forgot her cozy cloud-house on the outskirts of town, just a short flight away from all of her friends. Back before the companies took off and the old world began to fade away. Equestria was changing, and your friends were the ones changing it, but Rainbow Dash was always secretly a sucker for nostalgia.”
“I can understand why,” Rarity admitted. “I can’t tell you what I wouldn’t do to see my Carousel Boutique again, and I only woke up from that blasted sleep spell a little over a day ago.”
“I’ll take note of that,” Rainbow’s imprint proclaimed. “I’ll look up some architects and build you a perfect copy. It’s the least I could do for one of my original’s best friends.”
Rarity couldn’t hide the joy in her eyes nor the excited squeak that escaped her lips.
“But back to your earlier questions.” The imprint smiled at how Rarity’s face seemed to be lit up with a glow unrelated to the lights just below the floor.. “I can appear anywhere in the factory. All of the factory’s rainbow technology is interlaced with my magical signature, and since rainbow technology is light, I can project as a hologram anywhere I want.
“As for Twilight’s little project, all of the imprints know about that. She brags about it every time we have an inter-company meeting. She acts like we’re supposed to be intimidated by the brilliance of her plans and whatnot.”
“But if you know about that abomination, why doesn’t everypony know?” Rarity demanded, suddenly stern. “Surely you wouldn’t keep something that horrid a secret?”
“We’ve told Princess Cadance, but as you’ve already seen, there’s nothing she can do.” The multicolored ghost shook her enormous head, dissatisfied. “Besides, we all know her plan will never work. Equestria’s greatest strength has always been its common citizen, even if most ponies choose to ignore that fact. They’d never stand for the copy of a dead pony’s psyche trying to turn them into metal husks.”
Rarity supposed that did make sense, though she didn’t see why the imprint hadn’t taken further action. In her opinion, no company run by somepony planning something that dreadful, be it possible or not, should be allowed to exist at all. Rarity would certainly want to know if the company she was buying products from was planning on stuffing her into a walking metal casket.
Nevertheless, she held her tongue. If Twilight’s imprint had had a thousand years to work on her monstrous masterpiece and still wasn’t done, then Rarity didn’t think she would complete it anytime soon. That being said, there were more pressing matters at hoof than a crazy contraption that might never be finished.
“Now that we’ve covered the basics, I assume you’re here for some rainbow technology to help you in your search for the missing Disks, right?” Pseudo-Dash inquired before Rarity could ask her intended question. The unicorn shuddered at the thought of ever having to use one of the nightmarish weapons she’d seen on the promotional picture-show.
“Actually, we’re here because, according to our locator spell, the nearest Disk is somewhere in the sky,” Rarity specified. “At least, it was last night. Let me check again…” Her eyes slid closed, her horn lighting up. “Yes, we must be getting closer; the tug is harder. And it seems to be coming from… somewhere nearby…
“I’m guessing it’s actually in Cloudsdale,” Rarity finished, opening her eyes as her horn’s aura dimmed. “We were hoping you could help us locate it, since Daybreak thinks the being mostly likely to be in possession of the Disk is a pegasus.”
“Certainly!” Rainbow’s face lit up—literally. “I’ll offer a free light-house for whoever comes up with the Disk! No, maybe that won’t work… Hmm… If they know what it is, they won’t likely want to part with it. It’s either just been floating around aimlessly from one holder to another without anypony knowing its true worth, or the pony wielding it will try to keep their possession of it a secret at all costs. Announcing that we know they have it may—and this isn’t very likely, mind you, but still too much of a risk—alert them and prompt them to leave the city.”
“How could they know what it is?” Rarity asked. “Pinkie’s imprint claimed that the Disks were enchanted so that only I could play them.”
“They are,” Rainbow’s imprint assured. “But… let’s just say that it’s possible the current holder knows what it is they’ve got anyway. I just hope the pony we find it with really has no idea what they’ve got.”
“What would it matter?” Rarity questioned suspiciously. “If they can’t play the Disk, then who cares if they know what it is or why it was made? I mean, I don’t even know how they could know what it is anyway. From what I’ve gathered, my… predicament… and the Disks aren’t exactly common knowledge.”
“Not to most,” the multicolored shade sighed cryptically.
Rarity was about to question things further when Daybreak beat her to it.
“You mean… oh, dear,” the android voiced. “I thought they were all wiped out with the Fillydelphia Fire. Well, wiped out or captured.”
“That’s what we told the public to stop a panic,” the imprint told the robot. “But some of us have always had doubts about whether the Fire was the end of it, or only the beginning. But really, that’s an absolute worst case scenario. In all likelihood, even if the Seekers did have members who weren’t captured a thousand years ago, they’ve been washed away by the tides of time. Each of the Royal Sisters, the other CEOs, and myself are almost certain that those lunatics would’ve done something in a thousand years if there were any left.”
“The Seekers?” Rarity echoed. “What does that crazy stallion from the promotional material have to do with the Disks? And I know you told me not to look into the Fillydelphia Fire, Daybreak, but it’s rather hard not to be curious when you all talk about it in front of me.”
“You mean you haven’t told her?” Rainbow’s imprint raised an eyebrow at the android. “Even if it was horrible, I think she needs to know. Everypony needs to know. You, of all… beings, remembers that Twilight never shut up about how those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
“She’s just had everything she’s ever known ripped away in what to her is the blink of an eye,” Daybreak replied, eyes narrowing. “I really don’t think adding THAT onto her psychological pain will do her any good.”
“True as that may be,” Rainbow’s imprint admitted, “I think she should at least have a choice in the matter. Sure, it’ll make her throw up and have nightmares, but better that then she find out at an inopportune moment. I mean, even foals are taught this stuff in school! You shouldn’t keep her in the dark like this.”
“Foals are only taught a fraction of what happened!” Daybreak shot back. “They don’t learn the details until they’ve become mature enough not to suffer permanent psychological damage!”
Rarity watched the argument go back and forth like a tennis match. She was really beginning to become irked by how they talked as if she wasn’t there. And what could possibly be so bad about a simple fire that Daybreak was afraid of her even learning about it? Even if all of Fillydelphia had burned to the ground, it wouldn’t have been that hard to take in after learning a worldwide war had been waged by Princess Celestia. Sure, it would be horrible to hear, but it had happened a thousand years ago. The nation had certainly had time to heal by now, hadn’t it?
“I hardly think Rarity is too immature for the truth,” the imprint laughed humorlessly. “She is, after all, over a thousand.”
Rarity shot the ghostly floating head a dark look while Surprise giggled.
“On top of that, it just might have something to do with her search,” Rainbow’s shade finished. “So I think she deserves to know if she wants to.”
That settled it, then.
“I do want to know,” Rarity spoke up. “I’m sorry, Daybreak. I know you’re just trying to protect me from something you think I can’t handle, but like you said, I’ve had my entire world snatched away from me in what to me feels like the blink of an eye. I think I can take at least one more bit of frightening information about the Equestrian history I slept through.”
“Fine,” Daybreak sighed exasperatedly with defeat. “But don’t come crying to me when you start vomiting every time something reminds you of what you willingly chose to learn.”
“I’ve witnessed a lot in the past day or so that I never would have thought possible,” Rarity rebutted. “I hardly believe there’s much more that can truly terrify me about what happened to the world while I was asleep. I mean, what could be worse than a worldwide war?”
“Soldiers kill each other to acquire land or enforce their ideals. And they only kill other soldiers,” Daybreak spat. Rarity looked at her with unnerved quizzicality, but the android said nothing more. Instead, she actually turned away.
“I do have to agree with Daybreak on one thing,” Rainbow’s imprint warned. “This will scar you for life. There’s even a psychological condition named after ponies who couldn’t handle being told what happened that day: ‘FFF—Fillydelphia Fire Fear.’ But we don’t gloss over the facts, because we need to prevent this from ever happening again. Are you sure you still want to know?”
Rarity looked uncertain for a moment, but then nodded her head resolutely.
“Then I’ll tell you,” the imprint said. “No, I better show you. You wouldn’t believe me otherwise.”
The hologram of Rainbow’s head glowed brightly for a moment, and four panels of light rose out of the clouds surrounding Rarity, closing her in an even tinier room than the ‘elevator.’ A whoosh of energy crackled around her as a panel slid horizontally through her, rising up flat from her hooves to rest as a ceiling overhead. At last, a solid panel of light lifted up from beneath Rarity and formed the floor of a perfect cube of incandescence.
Rarity’s heart began to beat faster, though she didn’t know why. No matter what these ponies kept saying, nothing could be that horrific, could it?
“This is what they show to all ponies who are of age,” Rainbow called from outside the cube.
The white unicorn watched as the panels all around her glowed with sudden life, forming pictures as an increasingly familiar but still disconcerting voice from nowhere began narrating.
Rarity’s first view was of the Fillydelphia skyline, the viewpoint rushing up to the city on all sides to show ponies going about their daily business. Stallions and mares went off to work, children trotted to school, each for the most part wearing a smile.
“For the citizens of Fillydelphia, the most infamous day in Equestrian history started just like any other,” announced the voice from nowhere.
After a few minutes of the voice droning on about the population of Fillydelphia and other seemingly irrelevant tidbits, Rarity’s face scrunched up in confusion. What was so blaringly terrifying about all this? She kept searching for anything that was amiss in this seemingly idyllic urban day, but couldn’t find anything remotely unsettling.
“However, a secret society known only as ‘The Seekers’ wished to change the peaceful, innocent lives of Fillydelphia citizens by ending them in ways horrible beyond anything we had ever imagined possible for ponies,” the voice droned. The scene shifted to a warehouse filled with ponies of all types. The unicorns, though, were all sporting dark blue coats for some reason. Rarity spied that though each was an adult, they didn’t have visible cutie marks, meaning they must have all dyed their coats this way. Certainly rather unorthodox and unfashionable, but not evil.
But Rarity’s eyes grew wide, sensations she’d never experienced before and never wanted to experience again pelting her horn as she witnessed what the unicorns were lined up for. The earth ponies in the room each advanced with hacksaws in their mouths and… no… NO… why were they just sitting there?! Why would unicorns allow somepony to just steal the thing that made them unicorns?!
And then… Oh, Rarity couldn’t watch this anymore. Couldn’t bear it. But she found herself unable to close her eyes, either out of being paralyzed with fear or bound by some inert magic in the moving pictures themselves. The white unicorn wouldn’t have put it past the makers of this reel, if they really wanted to make sure nopony would have to watch it a second time.
The pegasi were up next… and they licked their lips as they advanced on the dripping, severed slivers of curled bone and…
WHY?! Why would anypony do THAT?!
“Turn it off!” Rarity shouted over the sound of the narrator’s voice. “Let me out of here!”
The earth ponies advanced again, taking out kegs of oil, which they gave to the pegasi to drink. Next came a meal of matches that were living up to their full potential. And then…
“The Seekers believed that the world we live in is a lie,” the narrator went on, sounding just as disgusted as Rarity felt but somehow still able to keep talking. “They think that, to live in what they call the ‘true world’, this world must be destroyed. They planned to start that destruction in Fillydelphia by performing spells that not even the darkest unicorns of old would even dream of casting.”
The pegasi were turning now. Their flesh boiled, their eyes melting as the blood oozing out of their rapidly expanding wounds turned to hot steam.
“LET ME OUT!” Rarity screamed, pounding her hooves against the panels. It was in vain.
“In their delusional ‘seeking’ of the ‘true world,’” the narrator continued, “The Seekers had chosen to become less than ponies by ending the lives of thousands of others through inducing a fate worse than death on themselves. They had become—”
Rarity screamed, and at long last broke free of whatever magic or shocked paralysis that had kept her watching as she blacked out. As the world faded away, the last words of the narrator rang in her ears as the images burned their way onto her eyes.
“It is ignorant disharmony that bred and empowered the windigos of legends old,” the narrator concluded as those… things… things that had once been ponies… burned their way out of the warehouse along with everypony and everything inside. The city was next, which they tore through like ravenous wolves, buildings and ponies alike. “But it was the malicious intent of purposefully harming other ponies that gave birth to an evil the likes of which Equestria had never seen. One that will forever scar our hearts and memories. It is this that brought upon us, for the first and last time, the aethon.”
. . .
“I warned you,” Daybreak’s voice whispered softly through the darkness, the first thing Rarity’s overworked mind heard after it lost contact with the world. A faint orange spark pierced the black cover of unconsciousness, growing into a warm glow of magic that further grew in intensity until it was almost a… flame…
“Get away from me!” Rarity screamed, lurching into the world of the wakeful. She shuffled as best she could across the clouds to get away from the FIRE around Daybreak’s horn.
“I was only waking you up with a simple spell,” Daybreak assured, her eyes soft. Well, as soft as cold, un-living eyes could be, anyway. “There is no fire. All the cinders were put out centuries ago.”
“Why?!” the white unicorn shouted, shooting an angry glare at the two sane ponies in the room. Well, sane imprints.
“We don’t know,” Rainbow’s shade told her. “Nopony who wasn’t in on the secret society ever really understood a lick of what they were trying to do. Most thought they were all completely insane.”
“That’s not insanity,” Rarity spat. “I’ve been stuck with insanity ever since I woke up! Look, she’s right there, bouncing up and down on the clouds like a lunatic! Sure, she’s dangerous, but she doesn’t destroy ponies for no reason! At least, not unless they do something to her first! And she doesn’t do it by destroying herself!
“No, that’s worse than insanity…” Rarity finished. “That’s evil. Not even Nightmare Moon, not even Discord would’ve done that!”
“Rather frightening, isn’t it?” Rainbow’s imprint agreed, a sad smile on her face. “To think that the worst thing to ever happen to ponies… was ponies.”
“But why?” Rarity inquired, shaking and barely able to keep her voice level, not out of fear but of rage. “Where would the convictions of these ‘Seekers’ come from? And wait a minute, how do The Seekers have anything to do with the Disks and myself?”
“Sadly enough, Pinkie Pie’s Party Supplies has always been indirectly responsible for the creation of The Seekers,” the imprint explained. “At least, that’s what we think. When we found the pony who we believed to be the mastermind behind the whole thing, he claimed to have ‘seen the truth’ after indulging in some ‘Pinkie-sense pills.’ According to his medical records, he had been released from a hospital a few months prior to the Fire for an overdose that had killed him. The doctors were able to restart his heart with some advanced medical magic, but when the stallion came to he was rambling about having seen something beyond this world.
“Further investigation led to the discovery that this secret society had been hoarding all manner of gimmicks,” the imprint finished. “They somehow believed that Pinkie’s products were pivotal to ‘lifting the veil in unreality,’ as their leader called it. That revelation broke the real Pinkie’s heart. So you see, in all likelihood this pegasus doesn’t know what they’ve got. But in case they do know that it came from Pinkie Pie’s Party Supplies, they might be holding onto it for reasons that are less curiosity and more… well, you get the idea.”
“Those monsters created flaming windigos because of Pinkie Pie?!” Rarity gasped.
“Not because of her directly,” Rainbow’s shade was quick to assure. “Their founder must have just snapped because of an overdose of a mind-altering drug. Gimmicks have been closely regulated ever since in terms of how much one pony can buy.”
Rarity was silent for a moment, not knowing what to think of all this. On the one hoof, one of Pinkie Pie’s products was responsible for that atrocity. On the other, though, Rarity knew the party pony would’ve NEVER made them if she’d known that they would be abused. Nevertheless, good intentions or not, it gave a frightening new dimension to the supplies currently within Rarity’s saddlebags.
“But now that you know what you might be up against, are you ready to go get that Disk?”
Snapped out of her thoughts, Rarity started to reply, but then held her tongue. There was no way in The ULE that she would ever want to face something that vile, but Rainbow’s imprint had made it clear that a surviving Seeker society was beyond unlikely. That meant that either they had died out long ago, or they were more powerful than anypony had ever anticipated to stay hidden for so long. Oh, what did it matter if they were still around? If such filth dared to exist in the world, then Rarity wanted to personally see to it that that dark flame was extinguished. Either way, this would be a win/win situation. She’d get her Disk back, but would also either find out that The Seekers really were dead and gone, or MAKE them dead and gone.
“Let us depart,” Rarity commanded, nodding her head with a determined smile. “I’ve waited long enough to hear some answers from my friends.”
“Excellent!” the rainbow shade pronounced gladly. “I’ll lend you a weapons harness and send Firefly along with you. She knows Cloudsdale like the back of her hoof.”
The floating head of Rainbow Dash glowed even more brightly again as weaves of light streamed out from her, forming around Rarity into a similar yet slightly updated model of the product she’d seen in the promotional picture show. Just like the real Rainbow Dash in the moving pictures, the harness felt like it wasn’t even there at all in terms of weight, allowing the white unicorn to move freely and comfortably.
Rarity looked over herself with a growing smile, admiring the beauty of the device. And this was rainbow technology when it was inactive; think of how useful it would be if, by some slight chance, a Seeker really was in possession of the Disk? Rarity started for a moment in shock, realizing how she was suddenly taking solace in wearing something so horrifically destructive. Just a short while ago she’d been horrified to see this kind of firepower used to casually bloat a pony until they exploded in a-... Okay, wiping that thought now. But, now she found herself thinking how appropriate a punishment this thing could really dish out.
She shuddered. Was really a little over a day in this frightening new era causing her to change that much? Sure, those horrid excuses for ponies deserved it, but the fact that such a shift in ideals was necessary now scared her. Rarity knew she wouldn’t hesitate to use the harness if she knew she would face a pony who had or was prepared to commit acts like what she’d recently witnessed, but the mere knowledge of it felt like a stain on her innocence, even if it was the right thing to do. Nopony should ever have to make that decision, be it just or not.
Then, a slightly less sinister but still rather annoying thought popped into Rarity’s head. Firefly was coming with them, and the new pegasus had already proven she could be just as confusing to interact with as she was to look at. Rarity prayed that she would be able to figure out what was going with Firefly if she could just talk to her when they went out searching. Rarity wasn’t sure she could stand it if this newcomer turned out to be as crazy as Surprise. One walking insanity was enough.
“Just chomp on the bit in front of you to fire,” Rainbow’s imprint explained. “The zap is attracted to bioelectricity, so you’re almost guaranteed to hit somepony if you have to use the weapons harness. The built-in magic also helps to encourage the zap to target the pony you’re looking at when you fire. Just try not to fire it around organisms large enough to have enough bioelectricity to attract the zap more than your target. Trying to shoot a weapons harness at a pony hiding in a flock of skywhales, for instance, is almost hopeless. Crowds are much easier, as most ponies have about the same amount of bioelectricity anyway and the zap will choose its magically targeted victim over other ponies.”
“Sounds safer than most products I’ve seen my friends create,” Rarity mused. “No offense to them or their imprints, of course, but they do seem more than a little responsible for this rather unsafe future, even if none of it was intentional.”
"Sadly enough, I’m sure they’d all agree with you,” Rainbow’s imprint admitted. “I’ll be waiting here for you when you get back with the Disk. Until then, Firefly, I entrust Rarity and her friends’ safety to you. Happy hunting!”
. . .