First Lesson- Journey to Hoofkaido
"Alright, girls, let's get started!"
The six fillies were gathered in the throne room, seated in a circle around Princess Cadance. Twilight, Posey and Glory were listening with full attention, Firefly kept scratching her flank with her hoof, and Surprise kept making faces at Firefly. Applejack just stared off into space, not seeming to pay any attention to what was going on.
Cadance smiled at the ponies around her, hopeful that today would be the start of something grand. Levitating a book in front of the prospective harmony bearers, the alicorn began to speak.
"Since the dawn of ponykind, the great herds have always needed ponies who stood head-and-shoulders above the rest of the equine race. Ponies who knew the meaning of friendship and courage, and could serve as both heroines and inspiration to the rest of ponykind through the most troubled of times. These ponies are called the harmony bearers; six fillies from every generation, who wield the six mystical components of harmony."
She looked over towards Posey, who was smiling gently at the princess. "For the element of kindness, who always has a good word and tender gesture for ponies and creatures alike."
The alicorn turned towards Surprise, who hid a firecracker behind her back as she did. "For laughter, who will light up a room full of sadness with a clever joke."
The princess inclined her neck towards Firefly, who was currently picking her nose. "For loyalty, who will stand by her friends through thick and thin."
She then gestured at Glory, who kept glancing at her own reflection in the mirror. "For generosity, who would give another pony the saddle off her own back to aid them."
Finally, she turned her gaze towards Applejack. "And honesty, who can always be looked to for the unvarnished truth in any situation, no matter how difficult it will be for others to hear."
She then looked back towards the center, where Twilight Shine sat. "These five elements, standing united as friends, reveal the sixth element, magic, who makes them all complete, and holds the entire group together."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. We get that part, princess!" Firefly snorted. "But what exactly is it that harmony bearers do?"
"Firefly, please!" Glory snapped at her. "Show her highness some respect."
"No, she's right, Glory." Cadance closed the book, levitating it back over to her throne. "I believe it would be better to actually show you, rather than tell you, what would be expected of the wielders of the Elements of Harmony."
"Ohhhh, are we gonna go on a harmony school field trip?" Surprise asked excitedly. "I just love school field trips!"
"Indeed, fair Surprise!" Princess Cadenza replied with a smile. "After much consideration, I have decided to take the six of you with me on a journey to Hoofkaido!"
"Hoofkaido? Ohhhh!" Glory squealed with delight. "The elegance, the glamor! I would love to get one of those silk kimonos Hoofkaido mares wear for myself!"
"I'd love to see their zen gardens," Poesy said quietly, smiling. "So many pretty oriental flowers."
"Awesome!" Firefly exclaimed. "I always wanted to see an actual samurai pony duel!"
"Awww! We're just going back home." Surprise pouted. "I was hoping we would get to go someplace fun!"
"I am so pleased that you're so eager to go." The princess smiled. "And to guide you on our trip, I've invited three members of the royal guard along as escorts, along with a scholar.”
It was at that moment that three pony guard cadets; a unicorn, a pegasus, and an earth pony trotted into the room.
"Harmony bearers, these are cadets Fireball, Lightning, and Thundercloud," Princess Cadance introduced them.
"At your service, ladies!" The three saluted in unison.
"Well hello there" Firefly replied coyly, flapping up towards Thundercloud. "I remember you from the hallway!"
"A pleasure to see you again, ma'am." The young pegasus’ cheeks turned a deep shade of red. "I am at your service!"
"I'll keep that in mind" Firefly replied with a smirk, rubbing his cheek with her hoof.
"It is an honor to guard the harmony bearers, milady!" Fireball, the pink unicorn with a fireball cutie mark, kissed Glory's hoof tenderly. "I am yours to command."
"Oh-oh my!" Glory's face turned pink. "Such a gentleman!"
"Howdy, Miss Applejack" Lightning, the earth stallion with AJ's exact mane and coat colors, greeted her. "It is both an honor and a pleasure to be guarding such a lovely pony as yours-"
"Save the pick up lines for some silly filly, soldier boy!" The orange mare snapped back. "Just do your job, and we'll get along just fine."
"Your highness? I came as soon as you called for me!" Tornado trotted into the room, adjusting his glasses. "Are we ready to make our departure to Hoofkai- oh, my..."
She was a vision of sheer beauty to his eyes; those slender legs, that gorgeous mane and tail, the curve of that pink flank. It was as if a goddess had stepped out of the heavens, and stood before him.
"Oh, hello!" The unicorn filly said to the dumbstruck colt in front in front of her. "My name's Twilight Shine! And you are?"
"I-I-uh-uh-uhhhhhh...." Tornado replied, dumbfounded.
"The great scholar prodigy, struck speechless!" Cadance said, with a laugh. "Twilight Shine, this is Tornado Firehooves, our archivist in training. He'll be going along as your guide in etiquette and protocol."
"A pleasure to meet you!" Twilight grinned, shaking his hoof. "I'm sure you'll be a lot of help on our trip."
"I-I'll do my best..." Tornado replied, nervously.
"Well, looks like those four found something to distract them!" Surprise whispered to Posey, who simply giggled in response.
It wasn’t long before Cadance's golden chariot was soaring over Ponyland, carrying the four non-flying harmony bearers and colts. Cadance and the two pegasus fillies flew in formation around the chariot, while Thundercloud proceeded to pull it all by himself.
"Hey, you need help with that?" Firefly asked, flying beside the stubborn colt.
"Nope, I'm good. I got this!" He gasped out, sweat pouring from his mane. "I got this!"
"If you say so..." Firefly shook her mane and sighed, continuing to fly beside him.
"Wow, I can't believe how high up we are!" Glory whinnied, looking at the ground below in amazement. "I've never really flown anywhere before."
"It's quite a lovely view, isn't it?" Fireball added, looking down beside her. "But not as lovely as you are, my dear."
Glory giggled at his corny line while Twilight glanced around at the scenery below her. The pink unicorn looked back, and noticed Poesy had her eyes covered with her hooves, and was whimpering to herself. "Too high... too high..."
"Poesy, are you afraid of heights?" Twilight asked in a concerned tone.
"Uh-huh," the earth pony replied timidly. "I wish we were closer to the ground!"
"You have nothing to worry about, my good Poesy," Tornado whinnied reassuringly. "This used to be Princess Celestia's chariot, before Cadance inherited it after her death. There is no safer sky chariot in all of Ponyland!"
"Wow Tornado, you do seem to know a lot!" Twilight exclaimed. "I read more fantasy stories than history, so I only know a little."
"I-I would be happy to tell you anything you'd like to know, Miss Shine," the embarrassed Tornado replied, scratching the back of his neck with his hoof. "Just consider me an open book!"
As all of the ponies continued laughing, the princess' chariot soared over the great Crystal Sea. The endless glass-like sheet seemed to stretch out forever beneath them.
"Ohhhh, Look at that shiny!" Surprise squealed, watching the sunlight create rainbow patterns on the crystalline surface. "Twilight, what is all that pretty down there?"
"That's the Crystal Sea, site of the once-great Crystal Empire." Tornado replied solemnly. "It was the home of the Crystal Ponies, the most mysterious equines in old Equestria."
"Hey, I've heard about them before. They were what inspired unicorn mages to make twinkle-eyed gemstones for blind ponies," Twilight noted, looking over at the unicorn colt. "Whatever happened to them, Tornado?"
"The Crystal Ponies were exterminated, wiped out by the lava demons during the Grogar wars," Tornado replied. "Lava King Levan allied his people with the other evil invaders of Equestria, and they destroyed the Crystal Empire in a wash of molten fire. All that is left is the flowing crystal sea beneath us."
"Why, that's horrible!" Poesy whinnied sadly. "Aren't there any Crystal Ponies left?"
"The survivors fled to the Ice Ridge Mountains, where they became the ancestors of the Snow Pony tribes that dwell there now," Tornado snorted. "It is said they still sing sad songs by the lights of their fires, lamenting the memory of their lost empire."
As the chariot soared onward, Poesy had finally opened her eyes and noticed that Princess Cadance seemed to slump more and more as Tornado talked about the crystal civilization. A saddened expression crossed the alicorn's face, and Poesy decided she would have to talk to the princess about it later.
Soon, the golden chariot swung in over Hoofkaido, landing near the large torii gate at the entrance. As the ponies disembarked from the chariot, most of the newcomers looked at their surroundings in awe.
"Woah, look at those funny towers with the weird roofs!" Thundercloud whinnied, pointing to a pagoda.
"Oh! there's gotta be ninja earth ponies around here, I just know it!" Firefly snorted, looking around in all the bushes to find any hidden ones.
"Ah-ahem!" A pink earth pony daimyo came trotting out of the main gate, flanked by two pegasus samurai. The three of them trotted up to Princess Cadance, and bowed low before her.
"Your most honorable highness," the daimyo mare greeted her. "My name is Snowflake, and on behalf of our most esteemed Shogun, I humbly welcome you to Hoofkaido!"
"Thank you, good Snowflake," Cadance replied. "I trust the quarters I requested for my entourage are prepared?"
The daimyo nodded. "Right this way, please." The three oriental ponies trotted forward, followed by Cadance and her party.
"This is so EXCITING!" Glory whinnied with excitement. "I can't wait to see all the latest Hoofkaido fashions!"
"This is gonna be so totally boring, you'll see," Surprise said with a sigh. "I just hope I don't run into mom and dad here!"
As they trotted forward, Lightning saw a mud puddle in Applejack's path.
Time to be a gentlecolt! Lightning thought to himself.
"Right this way, Miss Applejack." The orange colt said politely, putting his guard cloak down over the puddle in front of AJ.
"I'll make my own way, thank you," the orange filly snapped. Trotting right into the puddle, she splashed the mud into Lightning's face. "I didn't ask for your chivalry, soldier boy, nor do I want it!"
"Twilight, um listen..." Tornado asked nervously, as they trotted inside. "Since we're here, w-would you care to go see the armor displays at the Hoofkaido museum with me?"
"What a wonderful idea, Tornado!" Twilight beamed. "That sounds like a lot of fun! I'll invite the other girls along, too!"
"Oh... yeah..." Tornado's face fell at her response. "Sounds great."
"She's completely clueless, isn't she?" Glory whispered to Firefly.
"Totally." The pink pegasus whispered back with a smirk.
"Now listen up, you two dimwits," the old witch's voice snapped, echoing through the Volcano of Gloom. "Here's what you're going to do!"
Of all the races that ponies had to deal with in old Equestria, none were as intelligent, cunning, or as devious as the race that had arrived in Ponyland after the fall of the kingdom. Humans, those strange, bipedal, hairless apes who came across the Rainbow Bridge four hundred years ago, had built a medieval society in the lands near Dream Valley. Most of the humans were the eternal friends of ponykind; among those few wicked ones who were not was the evil witch Hydia, and her two bumbling daughters, Reeka and Draggle.
"Follow that entourage from Misty Mountain to Hoofkaido, and wait until those foolish equines have moved away from the golden chariot," the old hag with missing teeth snarled. "I want you to steal that ancient relic of Celestia, and bring it back here to me!"
The two young women in front of her- a fat, disgusting glutton in a red dress, and a skinny beanpole with red hair- tried their best to comprehend her orders in their pea-sized brains. It was then that a thought formed in the skinny one's head.
"But we don't have any horses, Hydia!" Draggle pointed out, adjusting the rag tied in her hair. "How are we gonna pull it back?”
"Yeah, it's not like we can pull it back ourselves!" Reeka growled, catching a fly that was buzzing around her face and eating it. "Betcha didn't think about that one, mom!"
The old crone in the purple hooded cloak with horns glared at them. "What... did you just call me?"
The two sisters suddenly ran for the door. "Sorry, Hydia, we didn't mean-"
"DON’T. CALL. ME. MOTHERRRRRRRRRR!" Gesturing towards her cauldron, Hydia sent a stream of lightning bolts flying from the boiling brew, straight at her two daughters. The two women ran screaming into the night.
"Children these days," the old witch snapped "can't live with them, can't turn them into frogs and boil them in a stew!"
The old hag trotted down the steps into her dungeon, the cries of terror from the few ponies foolish enough to venture near her volcano ringing in her ears. From one cell came the desperate pleas of a little filly.
"Help me, please!" Sunset cried out, stretching out her hoof at the old hag as she passed by. "Please, I haven't had any water in days, and I'm thirsty!"
"Awwww, poor little thing, look at you there!" Turning to face the bloodshot-eyed pony, Hydia walked over to the cell bars. "Look at you there, with your dirty little pink coat, and filthy blonde mane. How sad that you decided to play so close to my home!"
"I-I didn't mean to! I lost track of where I was!" The little filly wailed. "Please, Miss Hydia, I didn't do anything to you! I just want to go home to my mom and dad!"
"I know, little one, I know." Hydia whispered tenderly, reaching through the bars and stroking the little filly's mane. "It's not your fault your kind ruined my life, casting me out of the only home I've ever known." She looked the terrified little filly straight in the eyes. "My family lived in the human kingdom once, their practice in the black arts undetected for generations. Until your dear Princess Cadance ratted us out to King Scorpan, and our own people turned against us!"
"B-but I don't even know Princess Cadance!" Sunset pleaded, tears streaming down her dirt-stained face.
"Thanks to your kind, my own dear husband was lynched, and I was cast out to raise my daughters on my own!" the old witch shrieked, squeezing the little filly's face in her hands. "All of your stinking, filthy race must pay for Cadance's sins!"
"No! Please!" the little filly wailed. "Please don't hurt me!"
"Oh, little one! I'm not going to hurt you!" The old witch's face turned to a dark scowl. "Where do you think I draw my dark power from?"
The witch suddenly yanked Baby Sunset's mouth open, causing the terrified little filly to struggle. Hydia began to chant a spell, and drew a wispy cloud forth from the little filly's mouth. The cloud took the shape of the little pony, wailing in Sunset's voice, as it was pulled upstairs and drawn into Hydia's large cauldron. There, it swirled around in the vapors, along with the souls of thousands of other little fillies and colts, crying out in their sorrow. Sunset's lifeless body toppled over, and collapsed on the cold dungeon floor.
"Pity I can't take the souls of the teen ponies and adults, their wills are too strong." Hydia shrugged. "Ah, well. I suppose I'll just have to settle for killing them!"
The witch’s hideous cackle echoed throughout the volcano.