Diving straight down, Cadence reached speeds of which she had never felt before. Wind rushed past her feathers, and her eyes were watering from the air blowing into them. In her mind, she repeated her mission over and over, knowing full well the fate of Equestria was solely in her hooves.
"Where does Twilight and her friends live?" she thought to herself. She thought back to her wedding, trying to remember anything that was said to her. Suddenly, it came to her.
"That white pony who made my dress said her shop was in Ponyville. Maybe that's where they are!" she monologued. She slowed herself to a stop, and saw in the distance, past the mountain range Canterlot sat on, a small town surrounded by fields of green. Diving once again, she flew towards to settlement, which was hopefully where the elements of harmony were.
Meanwhile, back at Twilight's library, Mario and Applebloom were preparing to carry out their plan to chase down the ponynappers. Their bags were packed to the brim with supplies, such as mushrooms and flowers. Applebloom was had decided that they needed to be prepared for any occasion. She also had made the decision to make her companion carry the load, much to his annoyance.
"I shall escort you to the edge of town, my little ponies, but I have decided to remain here to continue my investigation into the break ins". Luna was standing tall next to the two. She seemed almost excited for the prospect of carrying out forensics on a real crime scene.
"What if we run into any troubles? Having you around will be really useful in a scrap" said Mario. "After all, if there were going to be anymore ponies such as the nutjobs at the farm, we need to be able to protect ourselves".
"You managed to survive your run in with those 'nutjobs', didn’t you? Also, no, I'm not much of a fighter. Celly is better at combat, and besides, every team needs someone at base, researching for intelligence and barking commands" the princess reasoned, with a wink. Mario sighed. He couldn't argue with her, but at least he had Applebloom for company on his trek.
"Hold on, what's that?" the filly said, indicating to a pink pony rapidly approaching their location. She flew faster and faster, descending rapidly, until she landed on the ground in front of the trio.
"Princess Luna, why am I glad to see you!" said the pink pony, who was out of breath and very ragged. Her hair was strewn all over the place, and her makeup had run down her face. "I bring a message for you from Celestia".
"It is good to see you safe Cadence. May I ask, what is the message that my sister has sent?" replied Luna. She seemed to return to her regular formalities when talking to the other princess, noted Mario.
"She requested to know your condition, and the whereabouts of the element bearers". She had a serious look on her face, standing to alert. Many ponies had begun to gather around, looking on at the meeting between the royals.
"I am perfectly fine. However, the same cannot be said for the others. It would appear that they have been attacked, and their current location is unknown. I have managed to ascertain the possible position of where our culprits may have returned to. Also, I have enlisted the help of Mario here, who has promised to help the rescue efforts." Luna was equally serious, standing in a similar position to the mare opposite her.
"Such news is sad to hear. I shall return to the castle in order to inform Celestia our situation." She had spread her pink wings wide, ready for takeoff. The blue mare held out her hoof towards her fellow princess.
"Wait. How are you able to return to the surface and no-one else is?" Luna had scepticism in her eyes looking at Cadence.
"Something about barriers negating each other. Unfortunately, Shining Armour is in no fit state to cast his barriers on the rest of the prisoners, so at the moment, I am the only one able to leave the castle. I shall return to you with any further news from the princess". She launched herself into the sky, and began flapping high into the clouds. Soon, she was out of sight of all of the ponies on the ground.
"That certainly is a piece of good news. Shall we begin our journey?" said the remaining princess, standing near Mario and Applebloom. "We aren't going to solve these mysteries by sitting around".
Together, the trio walked towards the eastern exit of Ponyville. They were flanked by many guards, who were seemingly keeping eyes on the crowds, searching for suspicious individuals. Mario was deep in thought, wondering if the princess was worried about his welfare after being ejected from her castle. Shaking his head, he decided to keep his mind on the job at hoof. Applebloom seemed equally determined. Whether this was to get her siblings back, or to please the princesses, it was a mystery. The red stallion didn't care though. He was just glad to have a companion on his journey. It was a shame Luigi wasn't here to join him on his adventure, he mused to himself.
After a short walk they arrived at another footpath. In the distance, another town could be seen, lurking in the shadows of a menacing tower behind it. In front of the trio, however, stood two royal guards.
"Halt!" cried one. His voice was raspy and seemed unponylike.
"By order of the princesses, we are preventing access to Trottingham. Please turn around and try again never." The female guard, of which there are few in the force, had a similarly sinister tone of voice.
"What is the meaning of this?" shouted Luna, "I am a princess, now stand down!"
"No can do, these are orders from the top. Celestia herself has ordered us to allow no passage to anyone, especially her sister". The male guard had a smirk on his face as he said those words.
Suddenly shouting very loudly, the blue pony bellowed "IF YOU DO NOT STAND DOWN, I SHALL ARREST YOU FOR TREASON!"
The two guards just stood there and smiled at the angry princess in front of them.
"Fine. As you wish," said Luna. She turned her backs on the two and closed her eyes. Suddenly, a cluster of clouds formed above the two guards. Several bolts of lightning rained down on the hapless duo, as shrieks of pain came from the area of the attack. Mario stood there with a shocked look on his face.
"How could she be so nonchalant in her court martialling?" he thought. As the smoke cleared, there were two figures lying on the ground.
Before all of the shocked onlookers, laid two insect like creatures. They had black bodies, pale blue wings which were full of holes, much like their legs. The princess of the night prodded one with her hoof, jabbing it in the place where its ribs should be.
"As I thought," she said, "they were Changelings. It would appear they may have something to do with Discords return. You may want to excise caution on your journey, and be vigilant for these blighters." She indicated to some guards, who arrested the two imposters and took them to a wagon with thick metal bars on it. "I wish the best of luck to you two," she said, turning away again and walking back towards the town. Mario turned towards Applebloom and asked, "are you ready for this?" The young filly was noticeably shaken by the events of what just happened, and took a big gulp. "I gotta stay strong for Applejack and Big Macintosh. No matter what Mario, I'm coming with you" she said, with a glint of determination in her eyes. Together, they galloped off towards the far away town, past all off the fields of green.
Back up at the castle, Cadence had managed to elude the guards that had defected, either by their own lack of guts, or by Discord's magic. She returned to the balcony at the princess' room. She tapped lightly on the window, and saw Celestia's silhouette approaching the window.
"Welcome back, my dear. I hope you bring good news" said Celestia, ushering in her guest.
"I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I have found Luna safe and sound. She is in Ponyville at the moment" replied Cadence.
"And the bad news?" said Celestia, with fear in her voice.
"It would appear that the elements have been attacked, and they have not been seen for the last two days". The younger pony bowed her head when saying these words, sad at their loss too.
"Darn" said the sun princess. She was never one to swear, and she wasn't about to start now. "It would appear that this plot has been well formulated."
"Despite this, it would appear that your sister has a plan. She is currently investigating the crime scenes left by the attackers in Ponyville, and has enlisted the help of a stallion named Mario".
As soon as his name was mentioned, Celestia seemingly cheered up a bit. "Mario is safe?" she asked. Her mind was covered in guilt for not being able to save him from his apparent death, and hearing about this was a relief for her.
"Indeed he is. He has begun to track down the possible location of the attackers. Luna is also staying in Ponyville to continue her investigation." Cadence had also cheered up, with their situation not looking as bleak as it originally was.
"We mustn't let them do all of the work though. We must help in any way that we can." The pink princess nodded in agreement, and they sat and began to think deeply about how they can help.
Later, on the surface, Mario and Applebloom had arrived at Trottingham. On the journey, she had read to him what her encyclopaedia had to say about Changelings. From what he had learned, Mario had decided that they were vile creatures. They thought they had seen a couple on their journey, in their peripheral vision, but they were sure they was just imagining it. The red stallion couldn't shift the feeling that he was being watched though.
As they walked under the main arch to the town, there was something wrong about the town. "Does this feel a little deserted to you?" asked Applebloom. Mario nodded, and began to slowly walk into the settlement. It felt like a ghost town, with the occasional gust blowing dust around behind them, causing the duo to jump.
"I'm not scared, I'm not scared…" Mario repeated under his breath. He glanced at his assistant, who seemed to be taking this better than him. As they walked through the town, there were increasingly more signs of a struggle in the streets. Rubbish was strewn across the roads, and many brick walls were damaged, with chunks missing from them. Standing high above the town was a large stone tower. It had steep walls, and many cannons adorning the sides. Mario also thought he could see something moving around at the top of the tower.
The deeper into the town they went, the more damaged the town looked. "This is horrible. Usually it's such a bright and nice town here" said Applebloom, searching for any sign of a survivor in the town. "What do you think could have caused this?" she asked Mario.
"I don’t know, but something tells me it was something to do with those bugs back in Ponyville" he replied. Part of him didn't want to know what happened here, but another wanted to solve this mystery.
"Applebloom!" called out a quiet voice. She perked her ears up, and Mario turned his head towards the source of the voice.
"I think it came from in there" he whispered, indicating to a particularly dilapidated house. Applebloom nodded and together they approached with caution.
"Quick, get inside before they see you!". The voice sounded like it was from a panicked filly, which was understandable. A door opened a bit, as Mario opened it slowly. It creaked loudly, and revealed a room cloaked in darkness.
"Over here!" called the voice, but still in a hushed tone. A candle was lit, and it illuminated it's holder, which was an orange pegasus filly, with a purple mane.
"SCOOTALOO!" Applebloom called out, running to see her friend. Mario closed the door again, and approached the two fillies. "Be quiet, or they'll find us!" the orange pegasus hissed at her friend.
"Sorry. Why are you in this ghost town, anyways?" the yellow filly asked.
"I was staying with my aunt and uncle for the weekend, but then those icky bugs arrived" Scootaloo explained.
"Called it" said Mario, who was looking around the room. The purple maned filly shot him a dirty look and said "Who's the guy you've dragged along?"
"Oh, he's just on some mission from the princesses to rescue the elements of harmony who have been attacked and we need them to defeat discord, or else the whole world will go loopy" Applebloom said in one breath. She took a couple of breaths and said "So what have these bugs done?"
"Every now and then, they would swoop down and kidnap a few villagers. Sometimes they even disguise themselves as one of us, and attempt to infiltrate our houses. For a while now, everyone's just hid inside their houses" explained the orange pony.
"So where are your aunt and uncle then?" the stallion asked. He would need information about the area if he was going to do anything about this situation.
"They've been taken too. I saw them being flown up to the tower, like everyone else they take." she explained, looking out of the window at the tower.
Applebloom gasped and ran over to Mario. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" she asked him.
"You think that our culprits are up in that tower, and they also took the element bearers there?" he replied. "It's worth a shot. Thanks for your hospitality young lady, and try to stay safe" he said to Scootaloo.
She stomped her hoof down and said "I'm coming with you guys. I want to rescue people too. Maybe we can be cutie mark crusader rescue workers!" She and her friend cheered at this, but the yellow filly noticed something and said "I wonder what happened to Sweetie Belle, she was staying with Rarity that night." The orange girl replied with "If they did kidnap her, we'll find her in the tower!" She turned to Mario and said "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go!", as she grabbed her scooter and opened the door to the town.
Mario smiled. The more, the merrier, after all, and a few more hooves wouldn't hurt to have around. He followed the fillies out of the door, and gazed up at the tower. At the top, it appeared that there were Changelings staring back. He let out an audible gulp, as bugs began to take off from the top.