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“When Equestria was founded, all the races unified under one banner. After overcoming the blizzards, they became peaceful and collected as ponies are today. Eventually this led to the deciding of a principality that would govern all three of the pony races in a unified manner…”
Apple Bloom was tempted to slam her head repeatedly on the desk until she passed out, but decided against it. The Principal was certainly nicer than Plum but…
Snips and Snails slept in the back. Sweetie Belle was slowly nodding off. Silver Spoon was pretending to focus on her upright textbook in front of her while she secretly read some sort of fashion magazine. Scootaloo and Diamond Tiara were having a war, passing notes back and forth with increasingly nasty insults that had apparently escalated into entire paragraphs of text. At least they were improving their writing skills. Even Twist and Noi seemed to be having trouble keeping interest as the Principal went on… and on… and on… He barely even looked at them, focused entirely on what he was reading from and hardly took a breath, a change of pace, or even a question raised by Twist. How could five minutes seem like thirty?
Eventually though, the last bell finally rang and the only thing Apple Bloom was thankful for was that the Principal had never asked them to turn in the homework. In fact, even after Twist had asked about it, he had told them they had an extra day. It was really mixed news, since Apple Bloom still didn’t know how to finish it. She could get all the answers from Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle, but she wanted to know exactly how to do it, just so she could maybe survive the rest of the school year.
Scootaloo and Sweetie were going to Twilight’s so the lavender unicorn could teach them how to do the homework, so Apple Bloom tagged along. Her hopes were dashed however when they found the library’s only occupant was Spike, who claimed Twilight hadn’t come home yet. It didn’t seem to bother Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle much, since they had all the answers, but Apple Bloom’s nightmare of being looked at as the dumb kid in class still haunted her.
That avenue exhausted, Scootaloo excused herself since she had an appointment to keep. Continuing her war with Diamond Tiara in the only way they two fillies could fight without physical combat or otherwise getting in trouble. Ultimate checkers. Loser had to carry the other’s books for one month.
Sweetie Belle had promised her sister to help around the house with a few things so she separated too, leaving Apple Bloom to fend for herself for the rest of the afternoon until the three fillies had promised to meet up again later. The poor earth pony moped around town for a while, her homework burning hot in her saddlebag. Apple Bloom knew she couldn’t handle the homework and there was only one other pony she knew who could possibly help her. Walking up to a house she had rarely visited in the past, Apple Bloom knocked on the door, hoping somepony would be home.
Apple Bloom perked her ears when she heard loud hoofsteps galloping for the door and flinched when the door flew open seconds later. Cheerilee stuck her head out, smiling from ear to ear in the creepiest grin Apple Bloom had seen since Twilight tried to give her her old, beat-up Smarty Pants doll.
Cheerilee looked back and forth frantically until she finally laid her eyes on Apple Bloom. Her smile instantly crumbled. “Oh. I thought you were Twilight Sparkle.”
Apple Bloom opened her mouth to speak but before she could say a word, Cheerilee shut the door in her face. Apple Bloom stared at the door. What had just happened? Was Cheerilee angry about something? It took a few moments before Apple Bloom finally got up the courage to knock again. The door flew open after the first knock and Cheerilee stuck her head out the same as she had before.
She grimaced at Apple Bloom a second time. “You’re still not Twilight.”
“Yeah…,” Apple Bloom started, wondering what Twilight had to do with any of this. “Um… can I come in?”
“Oh… um… I guess.” Cheerilee’s voice sounded strangely empty compared to the way she always sounded at school. She didn’t look well either, her mane slightly disheveled as if she hadn’t bothered to brush it and her eyes sagging as if she hadn’t slept in days. She wore a plain white bathrobe hanging loosely over her back, the fabric belt dragging across the ground not even tied. Maybe Cheerilee wasn’t the right pony to ask for help.
Cheerilee’s house was kind of dark. Even the outside had a sort of dark cloud hanging over it. As Apple Bloom stepped inside, she was surprised to see another familiar face sitting in the living room.
“Twist? What are you doin’ here?”
Apple Bloom’s classmate waved and motioned for her to sit with her at the coffee table. A small dish of sweets sat on the table, uneaten so far. “I brought sweets to Cheerilee. I was kind of hoping to get a little extra lesson from her too.”
“Oh Twist, you’re so thoughtful bringing me sweets and asking for extra lessons. Just like you used to do,” Cheerilee said rather melancholy.
Twist looked at her with concern. “It’s only been two days.”
“Wait a minute, are you sayin’ you’ve been bribin’ the teacher and gettin’ extra help in school all this time?” Apple Bloom said in shock.
“She’s never bribed me, Apple Bloom. And it’s not really extra help. Twist is such a smart and curious student, so I’ve been giving her lessons in other subjects that we haven’t covered in class yet. Oops. There I go again, talking about the good old days when I was a simple schoolteacher. I sure miss those times.”
“What’s wrong with Cheerilee?” Apple Bloom whispered to Twist.
“I don’t think she’s taking her termination very well.”
“Have I ever shown you two my lovebirds?” Cheerilee walked over to a cage with two adorable green birds that looked sort of like miniature parrots. “They’re such precious little things. Always so happy. I was thinking about getting a few more from Fluttershy in order to spread the happiness.” Cheerilee nervously rubbed her chin. “Oh well, I guess it won’t be much longer before I become a crazy bird lady and my cutie mark changes to caged feathers.”
“Okay, she’s definitely not taking her termination well.”
“Yeah…,” Apple Bloom agreed slowly, wondering if she should just leave.
“We have to do something Apple Bloom. I’ve never seen Ms. Cheerilee so lackadaisical before.”
“So lackey-what? Twist, I don’t think Cheerilee is Lackenese.”
“I mean she’s really depressed.”
“Oh… Why didn’t you say that in the first place?” Apple Bloom had seen Cheerilee cheerful and even a little cross, but this was something entirely new. “I did have something I wanted to ask but maybe this isn’t the best time.”
At the sound of the word, ‘ask,’ Cheerilee’s ears shot up and she stared at her former pupil. “I’m sorry Apple Bloom, I didn’t mean to sound as if I wasn’t… I mean…” The corner of Cheerilee’s lip trembled slightly. “You wouldn’t possibly… have a question for me would you?”
Apple Bloom gulped. “Well… I sorta maybe… was kinda hopin’ you could help me with my homework?”
Cheerilee’s eyes widened. “You mean… you want me to… teach you?”
Sunshine rained down on the room, lifting the dark atmosphere to reveal a well-kept and tidy room. Cheerilee’s smile grew to such enormous proportions, an Ursa Major would have seemed small. Her hair magically moved back in place and her eyes sparkled the same way they always had back in the classroom, a single happy tear shinning on her face. Somewhere far away, the hallelujah chorus magically played.
“Absolutely, Apple Bloom. I would be delighted… no… I would be honored to help you with your homework.”
Apple Bloom let out a sigh of relief. “I’m glad cause this homework is as hard as the dickens.”
“I’m not entirely certain you used that euphemism correctly, but I’m sure we can learn the answer.” Cheerilee happily ditched her bathrobe and strode over to the table. “Come my little ponies, let’s finish that homework.”
Apple Bloom reached into her saddlebag and pulled out the dreaded sheet of homework. She passed it to Cheerilee who happily looked it over.
Over the course of several moments, Cheerilee’s smile slowly diminished as she all but stared at the paper.
“This is what you’re being taught right now?” Apple Bloom nodded. “Your teacher… must be a genius,” she said slowly as a thundercloud blocked out the sun outside. She gave the paper back to Apple Bloom and shook her head. “I think it would take a while for me to figure out a lot of these. To think that your teacher is so amazing that she has actually taught you college level math already. I’m afraid I may be far too… inferior to her brilliance to bring myself to try and use my outdated techniques to help you.”
Apple Bloom gaped. How could anypony call Ms. Plum amazing? “She’s not brilliant! She’s horrible! She’s the worst teacher ever!”
“Apple Bloom I know you’ve always had a difficult time with math, but that is not necessarily the fault of the teacher and certainly not grounds to say such awful things about one.”
“I can with Ms. Plum. She’s mean. She doesn’t even know Twist’s name. She calls her Mud. Right, Twist?”
At the sound of her new unofficial name, Twist had somehow found her way to a startlingly dark corner of the room, apparently reliving the nightmare of Ms. Plum’s classroom in her head as she slowly rocked back and forth. “I’m not Mud… I’m not Mud…,” she uttered quietly.
“I doubt she would do anything as terrible as that. She would be fired in an instant,” Cheerilee reasoned.
“I don’t think the Principal knows. And if he does, he doesn’t care. Even my sister talked to Plum, and she’s still teaching.”
“Well if Applejack thinks she is all right then there must be nothing wrong. I can hardly imagine Applejack not getting along with anypony.”
“Yeah but…,” Apple Bloom whimpered in frustration. “I still need help with my homework. Please, Ms. Cheerilee? It would mean a lot to me.”
Cheerilee sat down and looked at nothing. “I don’t know, Apple Bloom. I don’t think I’m qualified to be your teacher anymore.”
“Cheerilee!” Apple Bloom pleaded. “Come on, Twist. She can help both of us with the homework. Help me convince her.”
“I don’t really need help with it. It wasn’t that hard,” Twist said slowly, finally recovering from her dark memories.
Apple Bloom’s jaw nearly hit the floor. “Twist, you gotta be crazy. That homework had my whole family up last night and we couldn’t finish more than seven of em.”
“Really? I finished that after dinner.”
“Are you serious? If you’re that smart, then what are you even doin’ in school? You should be off creatin’ spaceships or somethin’. You really finished it?”
“Yeah. It was no big deal.”
“Excuse me you two, but what is this argument about?” Cheerilee asked, growing a bit concerned.
“Now I know you’re lyin’. There’s no way.” Apple Bloom thrust the paper in Twist’s face. “If you’re really so smart then what’s the answer to number one?”
Twist looked at the paper for a moment. “What’s this?”
“See! See! I caught your lie!”
“But… this isn’t yesterday’s homework.”
“Huh?” Apple Bloom stared at the paper. “Yeah it is. This is what she gave me.” For the first time ever, Twist gave her a very blank stare. “Isn’t it?”
“I’m sorry Apple Bloom, but I’m not even sure what that is. It’s definitely not the homework I got. She gave me the same stuff we went over in class.”
“Huh? But Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle got this too. They told me so.”
“Silver Spoon makes me help her with homework all the time and she has the same thing I have too. Besides, this is all math. How come you don’t have homework in any other subjects?”
That hadn’t even occurred to Apple Bloom. Why was the only subject math?
“Did she give you the wrong homework?” Cheerilee asked. “That should never happen. A teacher needs to be more responsible than that.” For a moment, Cheerilee recalled the last two days, remembering why she had lost all her new jobs and what she had been waiting for for the last twenty-four hours. “I need to be more responsible too. Apple Bloom, how about I help you sort out this homework mistake. Would that be all right?”
The wrong homework. That had to be it. Why would anypony give homework like that to kids? Apple Bloom silently rejoiced inside and loudly rejoiced on the outside as she danced in place, rather reminiscent of the way she had seen Twilight dance sometimes.
“Where does your new teacher live?”
Apple Bloom stopped dancing and looked at Cheerilee. “I have no idea.”
“Well, I suppose we can check at the school. In any case, perhaps she’s still there.”
“She was sick today. She went home just before class started,” Twist pointed out.
“On her second day of class?” Cheerilee scratched her head. “I guess it can happen to the best of us.” The two fillies cringed. The word best didn’t belong in the same sentence as Plum unless it described the best worst teacher ever. No, that still sounded too positive.
“Hmm… I should probably stop by the library and apologize to Twilight too. I acted quite… badly yesterday.”
“I wonder if she’s home yet?” Apple Bloom asked nopony in particular, but Cheerilee didn’t hear her.
“Come on you two. I’m off to the school.”
Apple Bloom and Twist went outside, happy to finally get at least something done about Ms. Plum. Cheerilee paused and took a deep breath before venturing out her door. It was almost strange going back to the school for the first time in two days. The fact that she was still fired loomed over her head, but it was something she was going to have to force herself to accept.
“Hey Cheerilee!” a voice called from above her home. “Are you feeling better yet?”
Cheerilee waved to a grey pegasus sitting on a storm cloud in the sky. “Yes. Thank you Derpy. I don’t need the dark cloud over my house anymore.”
Derpy waved back. “Sure thing.” The grey mare moved the cloud away as Cheerilee took another deep breath before moving along.
“Ms. Cheerilee, how come whenever a pony is sad, the pegasi move a dark cloud over them?” Twist asked.
“It’s a customary rule in Ponyville. It’s sort of a signal to other ponies to let them know that a pony may need cheering up… or that they just need to steer clear for a while…” Cheerilee blushed. There were a few ponies she needed to apologize to today. Hopefully, Twilight hadn’t gone to too much trouble.
“Hey, what’s that?” Twist asked.
“Hmm? That?” Cheerilee looked ahead of them and saw something approaching them. “It looks like a dust cloud.” But why would a dust cloud be headed their way? It didn’t take long to find out. The dust cloud quickly turned into a large red stallion, galloping at quite a pace.
“Big Macintosh?” Apple Bloom exclaimed as her older brother zoomed in on them.
“Apple Bloom, there you are!” Big Macintosh yelled as soon as he reached them.
“Hey big brother, what’s a matter?” Apple Bloom had never seen him with such a frightened look before.
“Have you seen your sister?”
“Not since last night. Why?”
“I ain’t seen her since then either, nor has any other pony I talked too. I can’t find her anywhere.”
“Applejack is missing?” Cheerilee said with a start.
“Are you sure she didn’t go to one of her friends?”
Macintosh nodded a second time. “I already talked to Pinkie Pie and she’s gettin’ the others to look for her too.”
“Oh my!” Cheerilee exclaimed, putting a hoof to her mouth. “Well, we can’t jump to conclusions just yet. Girls…,” Cheerilee turned to one filly and then the other. “Why don’t we postpone this school trip and help out?”
“Do you really need to ask?” Apple Bloom said hurriedly. Of course she didn’t care about the stupid homework if Applejack was in trouble. Speaking of homework, had Applejack even made it to Plum’s house?
Applejack wasn’t the only pony missing. Macintosh found a pony whom Applejack had talked too to find Plum’s house. But upon reaching the teacher’s not so humble abode, she wasn’t home and apparently hadn’t been since she left for the school that morning. Towards the evening, Spike revealed that he hadn’t seen Twilight all day and had no idea where she may have gone. Then, just before Apple Bloom was about to go to bed, Sweetie Belle made a surprise visit, crying her eyes out, telling her that she couldn’t find Rarity anywhere in Ponyville.
Big Macintosh, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Spike, Cheerilee, and the Mayor, convened at the Apple Family home shortly there after. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle listened through the door of Apple Bloom’s room as the adults talked.
“Nopony has seen Applejack since last night,” Pinkie Pie confirmed.
“Eeyup,” Big Macintosh miserably agreed.
“And Sweetie Belle said that she saw Twilight and Rarity leaving the school with the missing teacher just this morning,” Fluttershy added in.
“Remain calm everypony. They have not been missing twenty-four hours yet. For all we know, they’ve gone somewhere and just haven’t come back yet,” the Mayor said.
“These are our friends we’re talking about, Mayor. How can you say, be calm?” Rainbow said angrily.
“I’m trying to remain positive here. I’ve already organized the local police and they are scouring Ponyville for any leads as we speak.”
“I hope they’re all right,” Fluttershy said quietly.
Apple Bloom stepped away from the door. She felt bad for thinking poorly of the new teacher even if she was kind of evil… very evil… but it sure seemed weird that she would go missing just after Applejack did. What could have happened?
“Do you think my sister and the others are okay?” Sweetie Belle suddenly asked.
“You know our sisters’ are pretty tough. Twilight is too. I’m sure wherever they are is for a good reason or somethin’.” Who was she kidding? Apple Bloom was trying to convince herself more so than Sweetie Belle. No matter how tough Applejack was, she couldn’t help but be worried. Even the adults were on edge and that was never a good sign. Of course, the last time that had happened, everypony was freaked out over Zecora coming to town, which turned out to be for nothing. Apple Bloom just had to hope that this was another nothing too.
The four missing ponies had been gone for almost two full days and everypony in Ponyville and Cloudsdale was on the lookout. Big Macintosh and a small search party had gone to search in the Everfree Forest, which Zecora had already combed, but the large red stallion wouldn’t be satisfied until he looked himself.
In the meantime, Apple Bloom and her other classmates had all been forced to continue going to school instead of joining the search. What was worse was that the Principal was one of the most bungling teachers the students had ever known. He taught the exact same lesson all three times he stood in for Plum, and hardly acknowledge that the students were even there. Scootaloo and Diamond Tiara had come late to school since Scootaloo had apparently lost the ultimate checkers match but refused to make Diamond’s trip to school easy. The Principal hadn’t even noticed. He didn’t even bother to take role. Even worse, he didn’t seem to be in the loop about all the missing ponies. Everything was business, even if it was absolutely boring business. At least he didn’t ask for or assign any homework though.
As such, it was more than a relief when the bell finally rang and the class could escape, even more so for the Cutie Mark Crusaders who couldn’t wait to rejoin the search. Of course, since they were so young, even Pinkie and Fluttershy didn’t want them to get involved, especially since it could entail finding out some bad news. However, even the usually unfazable Pinkie Pie was looking stressed and actually seemed more worried than even Fluttershy who actually seemed more determined for once.
The one pony in their circle who seemed to remain the calmest was Cheerilee. With no job to hold her down, Cheerilee had taken the search more thoroughly than the others had, actually stopping to question ponies who had seen them the most recently. Through her efforts, they had confirmed that Twilight and Rarity had indeed been last seen walking with Plum. She had also discovered a further mystery about a train that had suddenly gone missing from the station the night the search had begun.
“Who cares about some train? What’s that have to do with anything?” Rainbow argued when Cheerilee informed her of the discovery.
“This missing train,” Cheerilee told her and the small gathering that consisted of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Spike, “It could be possible that Twilight and Rarity were on that train when it left.”
“Are you trying to say that they left just so they could steal a train?”
“Not them necessarily, but the theft could be related to why they would board it.”
“But weren’t we looking for them before the train was stolen?” Fluttershy asked.
“Like I said, it’s only a possibility. It could just be a coincidence.”
“So in other words you’re telling me that we aren’t any closer to finding them,” Rainbow said dejectedly.
“There is one other thing regarding the train,” Cheerilee added. “The morning after it was stolen, it was discovered abandoned about a mile away from Canterlot, facing in the direction of the city.”
“It’s elementary my dear Rainbow,” Pinkie said very seriously, blowing bubbles out of a toy pipe. “They could be in Canterlot or nearby.”
“Really? But why didn’t they tell us?” Spike wondered.
“I didn’t say they went there willingly,” Pinkie said, blowing one very large bubble from the pipe that exploded over Dash, soaking her in soap.
“In Canterlot huh?” Rainbow said furiously, shaking the suds off her. “Then we should do what we should have done two days ago. Write Princess Celestia.” She pounded her hooves together in emphasis.
“Good idea. The Princess will know what to do,” Pinkie said happily.
“Spike, take a letter,” Rainbow began as Spike pulled out a quill and scroll from somewhere. “Ahem. Dear Princess Celestia… uh… Spike?”
Spike’s cheeks puffed up until he looked like he was going to burst and then… belch! In a wisp of green fire, a scroll landed neatly on the ground.
“Wow. We didn’t even finish writing our letter yet. She’s good,” Pinkie commented.
“What does it say, Spike?” Fluttershy asked timidly.
Spike unraveled the scroll and cleared his throat before reading it. “Dear Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy, come to the castle immediately. Signed, Princess Celestia.”
“I’ll bet it’s about Twilight and the others. Maybe she knows where they are. Maybe they’ve been in Canterlot this whole time. Maybe they’ve become hostages to a horrible alien race that wants to dominate ponykind to use us for slave labor!” Pinkie exclaimed.
Rainbow guffawed the idea. “Oh please. Who would do that to ponies?”
“That’s the part you don’t find believable?” Cheerilee asked.
“Come on girls, we should go to Canterlot like the Princess requested. I think the next train leaves soon,” Fluttershy pointed out.
“I’ll come too. I want to help in any way I can,” Cheerilee told them.
“We wanna go too,” Scootaloo chimed in as Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle reared up in agreement.
“Don’t forget me!” Spike exclaimed.
“All right, everypony can come. Let’s go!” Rainbow pointed dramatically towards the train station before they all galloped for it.
Fortunately, the train happened to be an express and they arrived in Canterlot within an hour. The ponies wasted no time sprinting for the castle, with Rainbow ushering them along from the air. Even as busy as Canterlot was, the ponies made their way through the city quickly and with relatively little incident. Fluttershy only had to apologize for a shoved aside pony or trampled on hairpiece eight times.
Rainbow was in such a hurry to get to the castle, she almost slammed into the guards and the double doors that sat in the entrance to the castle. Fortunately, the guards were unicorns and they caught her before she did herself any real damage against said doors. They forcefully threw her back into the approaching ponies, knocking them all into a big pile.
“Halt! Who goes there?” the two guards demanded.
“That’s quite the cliché,” Cheerilee remarked from underneath Pinkie’s rear.
“Who do you think it is? We’re here to see the Princess,” Rainbow said angrily as she freed herself from the pile.
“No casual visitors today. We received strict orders that only the bearers of the Elements of Harmony are to be let in.”
“Oh! Oh! That’s us! We’re right here!” Pinkie exclaimed, waving her hoof in the air and wrapping her other one around both Fluttershy and Dash. “Laughter, Loyalty, and Kindness at your service.”
“Then please come in.” The two guards stepped aside and allowed the three of them entrance before stepping back in front of the double doors.
“What about us?” Cheerilee asked them.
“We already told you that we received strict orders not to let anyone but those three inside.”
“Even me? I used to live here,” Spike whined.
“Nope,” the guard answered bluntly.
“Don’t worry, we’ll talk to Princess Celestia and let you know what we find out,” Fluttershy assured them.
As the three ponies walked further inside, Cheerilee sat down and rubbed her leg. “Are you sure you can’t make an exception? We’re here concerning the missing ponies as well.”
“Sorry ma’am, but we don’t know anything about any missing ponies.”
“What? Then what did Princess Celestia want that was so urgent?” Spike argued.
“That’s on a need to know basis, little guy. It’s not for the general public to know.”
“But… but Twilight-”
“Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. Orders are orders.”
“It’s okay, Spike. Our friends will find out what’s going on,” Cheerilee sighed. “Well everyone, as long as we’re here, why don’t I treat you to some doughnuts? Twilight has told me that Canterlot has the best…,” Cheerilee glanced around but realized that the three Cutie Mark Crusaders were nowhere to be found. “Girls? Girls?!”
“They were just here a minute ago,” Spike said looking around.
“Girls!” Cheerilee called but she received no answer. Where in the world had those three fillies gone?
“Some guards those guys turned out to be,” Apple Bloom said.
“It’s just because we’re so sneaky,” Scootaloo confirmed. “Cutie Mark Crusaders, stealth ninjas.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t just because the guards were talking to Cheerilee and Spike?” Sweetie Belle asked.
“Naaa,” Scootaloo said. And of course, it wasn’t because they were so small either. The three fillies had managed to sneak past the guards while Cheerilee had them distracted. They were sure the Princess wouldn’t mind if they tagged along. After all, two of them were sisters to two of the Element of Harmony bearers. They could become bearers themselves someday.
“What happens if the guards find out we snuck in?” Sweetie Belle asked worriedly.
“Well… we just won’t let that happen,” Scootaloo concluded and walked steadily into the inner sanctum of the castle.
“Where is the Princess, anyway?” Apple Bloom asked.
“I think I saw Rainbow Dash go that way,” Scootaloo confirmed. However, the direction she pointed out had a shadow coming from around the corner.
“Guard! Hide!” Apple Bloom said as she and Scootaloo ran away.
“What?” Sweetie asked, only then realizing that the two of them had disappeared. “Girls, wait up- Oof!” Sweetie Belle tripped over a bucket of water that a servant had left out with the intention of mopping the hallways.
“Huh? What was that noise?” somepony’s voice echoed from down the hall.
“Come on!” Apple Bloom ushered Sweetie over to where she and Scootaloo had hidden behind an expensive looking vase. The little white unicorn dashed over just as a guard came around the corner. As soon as he spotted the bucket of water, he came over to inspect it.
“Shhhhh,” Apple Bloom hushed her friends as they listened for the guard to leave.
“Whose hoofprints are these?” the guard suddenly said aloud.
The Crusaders slowly looked down at Sweetie’s hooves. They were soggy from the spilt water.
“Sweetie Belle!” Scootaloo and Apple Bloom said in hushed tones.
“Oops…,” Sweetie shrugged and smiled apologetically.
The guard intently followed the wet prints towards the vase. The three fillies clinched their teeth as they slowly moved around to the other side of the vase. The guard poked his head behind it just as the three fillies stepped behind him.
“Hmm…,” the guard mumbled as he turned around. The Crusaders moved with him, managing to stay just under his tail. The guard raised his eyebrows, feeling like he was missing something. He slowly turned around again, but nothing but the vase was there. Again he turned, but he was almost certain he heard extra hoofsteps besides his own. Abruptly he whirled around, “I got you now!” But nothing was there.
The Crusaders shivered. They were standing directly underneath the guard. If he moved his foot so much as an inch, he would kick one of them. The guard scratched his head. “I knew I shouldn’t have eaten those funny looking flowers,” the guard mumbled to himself. He turned, just as the three fillies moved out from underneath him and back behind the vase. They all held their breaths as the guard moved along and disappeared down the hall.
“That was too close,” Apple Bloom remarked.
“Come on, I don’t want to lose Rainbow Dash,” Scootaloo said hurriedly.
“And you sure you saw them go-” Apple Bloom jumped when something crashed behind her. However, she glared when she realized it was Sweetie Belle tripping over the same bucket she had earlier.
“Oops…,” Sweetie apologized.
“If this was a real mission, you would have died five times already,” Scootaloo said. Groaning, she went the way she was sure she saw the other ponies headed earlier.
Along the way, the Crusaders had to hide three more times, and Sweetie tripped once more, forcing them to hide in a room that apparently belonged to an old sleeping dog who was almost as big as Big Macintosh. Based on its solid black color that seemed to eat all other color around it, perhaps this was Princess Luna’s pet?
After peeking inside several more rooms (one of which was a barracks for the guards that resulted in the Crusaders hiding in a suit of armor that was on display) they found their way to a double door that seemed far more ornate than the rest of the castle. Could it be the throne room? And if so, why weren’t there any guards?
They inched the door open and peeked inside. Their eyes instantly fell on Twilight Sparkle who was standing idly to the side of the room, not really paying attention to anything in particular. Before they could call out to her, their eyes stopped on something else. The fillies stared. “Ms. Plum?”
Plum was standing in the back of the room, a look of knowing arrogance on her face. Before her, Rainbow, Pinkie, and Fluttershy were standing between both Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. It looked as if the Princesses were holding them down with magic as Plum eyed each of them. But why would the Princesses do that? Moreover, what was Plum doing in Canterlot?
Then Plum slowly reached up to her ear with her hoof and something strange happened. Her eyes lit up in a rippling red light and Rainbow and the other two were engulfed in it. The three of them struggled for a moment but eventually stopped and held still. The Princesses dropped their magic and the three ponies between them stood obediently as if waiting for something.
Apple Bloom slowly backed out of the room, hoping nopony saw her. “Girls, I think we should go.”
“But what about Rainbow Dash?” Scootaloo whispered.
“I don’t know. I think we need to tell somepony about this.” The three of them quietly closed the door and walked back into the hallway. “Come on. Let’s get out of-” The three fillies stopped when they literally ran into a unicorn guard.
“Hey!” the guard yelled as soon as he looked down at them.
“Oh oh,” they all said.
The guard glared at them and then suddenly sighed. “Let me guess, you’re from the magic school, right?” he said, pointing at Sweetie Belle.
“Um… yes?” Sweetie answered slowly.
“And you thought it would be a great idea to show your friends around the palace, right?”
The guard shook his head. “You magic school kids are gonna be the death of me. How many times do I have to tell you that you can’t wander around the palace just because you’re gifted? I swear there’s like twenty of you that try this every year.” The three fillies looked at each other, clearly confused by the situation. “And you can’t just invite anypony you feel like into the palace either. If you want to do that there are all kinds of forms and stuff you have to sign, and you need to have guest passes…” He looked at Sweetie Belle sternly. “Look, promise me you won’t do this again and I won’t say anything to Princess Celestia, okay?”
“Good. Now skedaddle. The way back to the magic school dorm is over there. And tell your friends to go home. This isn’t a sightseeing area.”
The Crusaders turned around and marched stiffly to the indicated door as the guard watched them. Once out the door, they realized they were in the courtyard near a large building that must have served as the magic school dorm, just as the guard had said. Near that was an even larger building that must have been the school itself. Even though it might have been cool to check out the famed school, especially for Sweetie Belle, the Crusaders had other things to attend to first. There was a gate further out in the yard that led out onto the road back to Canterlot, guarded by two pegasus knights in their shiny golden armor. It was the only way out, so the three friends would have to hope the guards didn’t want to see some kind of ID.
They all smiled huge grins as they walked past the guards who eyed them closely as they left. However, one of them smiled and nodded back, giving them the courage to run away as fast as they could.
“We made it!” Scootaloo shouted as soon as they were a safe distance away.
“Forget stealth ninjas. Cutie Mark Crusaders, super spies!” Apple Bloom said happily. They all stopped to look at their flanks but… nothing…
“And I was so sure that was our special talent this time,” Scootaloo huffed.
“Never mind that. Let’s go find Cheerilee and Spike. I think we found out something important,” Apple Bloom said quickly as she raced back around to the front gate of the castle.