First Lesson- Kimonos and Katanas
"Wow, this place is so huge!" Twilight Shine commented, looking at the massive towers and giant stone walls all around her.
The six fillies were following Princess Cadance as she led them through the maze of dwellings towards the walls of Hoofkaido's inner citadel. The colt soldiers had gone ahead with another samurai to check on their accommodations in the city. The young ponies could not help but admire the well-maintained gardens and modest houses that lay along the carefully-planned streets.
"I am pleased that you think so highly of our community," Snowflake replied, leading the group of visitors towards the citadel. "It took four decades after the fall of Equestria to build this place. And in their honor, we uphold its traditions still."
"Yeah, yeah, traditions and boring stuff," Surprise muttered, rolling her eyes. "It's why I was glad ta leave here in the first place!"
"And we of Hoofkaido are pleased to have you as our harmony representative at Misty Mountain, noble Surprise." The daimyo earth pony with the snowflake cutie mark frowned. "Though I am saddened to hear of the pain growing up in Hoofkaido has caused you."
"Oh, surely it couldn't have been that bad, Surprise," Glory whinnied, taking in her surroundings. "All of this oriental splendor is quite amazing!"
As Glory admired the mares walking by in kimonos of blue and red, Firefly flew up to one of the samurai flanking the daimyo and started pestering them with questions.
"Hey there! Are you a real samurai? How sharp is that katana you're carrying? Have you ever dueled with one of the Hoofkaido ninja? Have you been in many battles?"
"You certainly are the inquisitive one, aren't you?" The samurai asked in a sarcastic, feminine voice.
"Hey, you're a mare!" the pink pegasus exclaimed. "It's rare that a girl becomes a soldier, that's so cool! How did you-"
"Look," the female samurai spun around to face Firefly, her red and gold armor glinting in the sun. "I appreciate all of the praise, but could you please let me concentrate on my work?"
Firefly failed to hear her, and continued prattling on and on. "Are you originally from Hoofkaido? Can any pony become a samurai, or just a pegasus? Where is-EEP!"
FZASH! The Samurai's body emitted a blinding light, which immediately stunned the pegasus and left her extremely dizzy.
"Wh-whoah..." Firefly groaned, stumbling around. Her eyes were spinning in their sockets. "W-what happened?"
"I warned you," The samurai replied, shaking her mane. "I hope that you will take a warrior's words more seriously from now on."
"Woah! You're a Glow 'n Show Pony!" Twilight exclaimed, recognizing the star and planet cutie mark that covered her entire body. "I've read about your kind in a book, but I never thought I'd get the chance to see one of you in person."
"My name is Starglow, most honorable Twilight " The blue glowing Pegasus bowed to her, smiling. "It is my honor to be one of your escorts through Hoofkaido during your stay here."
"Starglow is one of my most loyal samurai, using her kind's ability to emit a powerful bioluminescent glow as a battlefield advantage," Snowflake whinnied, complimenting her loyal servant.
"Thank you, good Starglow." Cadance bowed to the pegasus samurai. "It is truly a pleasure to have you with us!"
As they passed under the massive torii gate at the citadel entrance, Poesy spotted a large grotto off to the side, filled with flowers and trees.
"O-oh my..." The timid pony muttered, staring at all of the plants in front of her. "So lovely..."
She looked towards the large, pagoda-styled keep with its walls of wood and stone, and back towards the lovely sea of green. "Well, I can always catch up with them later..."
None of the other ponies even noticed as the quiet filly trotted towards the peaceful zen garden and away from the group.
"Your Excellency, Princess Cadance and her entourage have arrived!"
The group had trotted into the Hoofkaido keep and were standing in the main hall. Up on the dais, sitting upright in a cross-legged position, was the shogun, clad in a kimono of gold and black. The yellow mare with the butterflies cutie mark was sipping tea and staring down at the ponies before her.
"Girls, this is Dancing Butterflies, Shogun and ruler of all Hoofkaido," Cadance told the fillies. All five of the fillies present bowed with respect.
"Ah, welcome, most noble fillies, you have arrived at our domain at a most auspicious time," she replied, dismissing Snowflake.
"We have prepared things as Cadance instructed, so that the task before you will not be as difficult as it would have been."
"Our...task?" Applejack asked nervously, fearing the worst.
"As you may or may not know, we share our valley with the elves- they built their capital over the ruins of Fillydelphia," Dancing Butterflies explained, opening a paper fan and cooling herself with it. "For the past few centuries, we have lived in peace with these neighbors of ours. But now, a dispute has arisen over the croplands in the valley's center, which has long served as the border between the lands of our two races."
"So you want us to go in, and try ta talk to 'em," Applejack snorted, guessing pretty easily what their role in things would be.
"Correct, honorable Applejack," the Shogun whinnied, surprised that she had guessed their request. "We are truly saddened that we must ask this of you, but tensions between our races have already grown to the breaking point. If a settlement isn't negotiated soon..."
"Say no more, my good Shogun!" Glory preened, bowing before Dancing Butterflies. "We, as the prospective heirs to the harmony bearers, shall see to this problem of yours as soon as possible."
"You have our eternal gratitude, good harmony bearers." The shogun bowed, smiling gracefully. "We shall honor the actions of you five brave souls for generations to come."
"Five of us?" Cadance asked, puzzled. "Honorable Shogun, what are you--" The alicorn then looked around, and suddenly noticed one of her precious 'students' was missing. "Oh no! Girls, where's Poesy?"
"She's usually so quiet, I never noticed she was gone!" Firefly whinnied, zipping all over the room, searching for the lost earth filly.
"Oh, no! We gotta find her," Surprise yelped in a panic. "Who knows where she coulda wandered off to!"
"Oh my, these flowers are soooo lovely!" Poesy exclaimed, sniffing the flowers.
The garden around her was one of the most magnificent she had ever seen, and was filled with daffodils and tiger lilies, roses and petunias. A peaceful pond sat in the middle of the garden, with two koi swimming in it, and a small arching bridge running over the top. Poesy was just admiring the cherry blossoms on the trees, when a voice spoke up behind her.
"Yes, they are lovely, aren't they?" a blue pony with a brown mane asked, stepping out from behind a cherry tree. "I often come to Hoofkaido to see the cherry blossoms, myself."
"Ooooh my!" Poesy stumbled back in surprise. "I didn't see you there!"
"I'm so terribly sorry," the blue pony with the opening flower cutie mark replied. "My name's Morning Glory, and it is a pleasure to meet you."
"Oh, hello! My name's Poesy." The yellow filly replied timidly, pawing at the ground with her hoof. "I came over to see the garden... because I love flowers."
"Really? So do I," Morning Glory replied excitedly, nodding back towards her morning glory cutie mark. "I take care of the gardens where I come from. They're so lovely, and smell so nice!"
"That's so wonderful!" Poesy replied. "I rarely meet other ponies who like plants as much as I do."
"You wouldn't have happened to come here with Princess Cadance's entourage, would you?" The blue mare looked the timid earth pony over. "Because you greatly resemble one of the ancient harmony bearers..."
"Yes, I came here with her highness, she's really a wonderful teacher!" Poesy exclaimed, shaking her mane. "But I'm really worried about her, I think she's upset right now."
"Really?" Morning Glory asked, puzzled. "And why is that?"
"Oh, I saw her looking very unhappy, when another pony was talking about the Crystal Empire," Poesy whinnied sadly. "I don't know why it upset her so, but I hope she's going to be okay."
"It's really nice of you to have concern for the princess like that, Miss Poesy," Morning Glory replied, deeply touched. "But the reason Cadance is so upset about the Crystal Empire is that she was once its ruler."
"W-what?" Poesy asked in shock. "How did you-"
"Princess Cadance and Shining Armor were once the fair and just rulers of the Crystal Ponies," The blue mare replied in a somber tone, staring at her hoof. "When Equestria fell, the two failed to save their subjects from annihilation, and the Crystal Empire was destroyed."
"And Princess Luna gave them Misty Mountain to rule in its place," Poesy finished, remembering her mother's stories from her foalhood. "That's why Cadance acts the way she does; she's afraid she'll fail ponykind again!"
"POESY!" The earth filly heard Glory calling out her name, galloping towards the garden. "Poesy, where are you?"
"Oh dear, they're looking for me!" Poesy exclaimed. "I’m sorry, I had a wonderful time talking to you, but I really have to-"
But when the pink maned filly looked around for the mare she had been talking to, she was gone.
"M-morning Glory?" Poesy asked timidly, looking around for her new friend.
"YO! POESY!" Firefly yelled out, soaring overhead. After hesitating for only a few seconds, Poesy took off in the direction of the others.
After she was gone, Morning Glory emerged from her hiding spot in the bushes.
I knew it, she's the descendant of Harmony bearer Fluttershy. She thought to herself. A pair of insect-like wings, hidden until this moment, uncoiled from Morning Glory's back. I need to get back to Flutter Valley, Queen Rosedust will be pleased to hear of this!
As she took off into the skies above Hoofkaido, the blue flutter pony looked back. She is such a kind pony, she shouldn’t be among inferior beings. Morning Glory flew away, leaving a trail of flutter dust behind her.
Don't worry, Poesy. We'll come back for you, I promise!
"S-so we have to make peace with the elves for them?"
"Yep, that's about the size of it, Poesy!"
After they had recovered their lost member from the zen garden, the six fillies had retired to their rooms to prepare for the cherry blossom festival that evening. It would be there, the alicorn had told them, that they would get their first chance to speak with the elves.
"So this is what it means ta be a harmony bearer, huh?" Firefly snorted, pulling on her brown kimono. "Stepping in and solving everybody else's problems?"
"It's considered that those who have the talent and ability to help others should use their skills and talents to do so," Twilight Shine whinnied as Poesy tied the sash on her dark green robe. "We really shouldn't be thinking about ourselves here."
"Yes, and you've been nothing but unhelpful this whole time, Firefly!" Glory snapped, putting her mane up in a bun. "And with the way you fool around with that guard trainee, Thundercloud, you should be ashamed!"
"With how you barely show any life in reacting to Fireball's flirting, you should be embalmed!" Firefly snapped back.
"Leave her alone, ya two screwy unicorns!" Applejack snapped at them, pulling on her blue kimono. "Don't you two ever think that there is only so much a pony can give to others, before she's worn out?" Twilight and Glory looked back at the orange earth pony, puzzled by the sight of world-weariness in her eyes. How could such a young pony, with so little experience in life, sound so old and burned out?
"I don't need your help, apple picker," Firefly snapped. "And if I were you, I'd be treating that colt Lightning better than ya currently seem ta be doing! It's not that often a male takes an interest in ya, get what I'm saying?"
"Firefly, there are other things in this world besides boys!" Twilight retorted, as she helped Poesy pull her violet-colored kimono. "We really should try to think about what lesson Princess Cadance is trying to convey to us by assigning us this task."
"I don’t need your advice, hornhead!" Firefly snapped. "Why don't you put us all out of your misery, and go teleport yourself off a cliff!"
"STOP IT!" Poesy finally screamed, tears streaming from her eyes. "Can't you all just stop it? We're supposed to be making friends, and all any of you do is fight! Why to you all have to be such bullies?"
Poesy started to bawl, and Glory went over to comfort her. She wrapped her hooves around the distraught filly, not worrying about the tear stains on her black kimono.
"Look...Firefly, Applejack, why can't we just put aside our petty arguments, and at least try to get along?" Twilight pleaded to the two obstinate fillies. "Even if you two absolutely refuse to make friends with the rest of us, can't you at least be civil?"
Applejack looked over at the sobbing form of Poesy... and she remembered, from long ago, another yellow filly with a pink mane. The sight of the weeping filly stabbed AJ straight through the heart.
"Poesy, honey... I'm sorry I was so harsh." The orange earth mare bit her lip, and tried to hold back tears. "I didn't mean to treat you... any of you... so poorly."
"Yeah.. I'm sorry, too." Firefly looked down. "I didn't mean to hurt anybody's feelings... it's just where I'm from, ya normally gotta be tough ta get by."
"Girls, couldn't we all at least try to be friends?" Twilight Shine asked, looking around the room at all five of them. "If Princess Cadance sees something in us, why can't all of you?"
Firefly and AJ looked at one another, then slowly nodded in agreement.
"We'll agree ta stop fighting from here on out," Firefly replied with a smirk.
"After that, Twi, we’ll see how things go from there," AJ finished.
"Well... at least that's a start!" Twilight replied, with a nervous laugh.
The five girls then started to laugh and giggle as the mood in the room began to lighten up. It was then that Twilight looked up and noticed Surprise sitting on a beam over their heads, a sad look on her face.
"Surprise? Are you alright?" Twilight asked. "You haven't said anything this whole time, and you didn't say a word during our audience with the shogun."
Surprise said nothing, and merely let out a sigh in response.
"Leave her be, Twilight," Glory advised the pink unicorn. "She's dealing with the fact that a dangerous, unpredictable force will be at the festival tonight, and it has her feeling anxious."
"Wait, what?" Twilight Shine asked in shock. "What is it, a dragon? A swarm of gryphons? What should we do?"
"Worse than any of those," Firefly replied, rolling her eyes. "The Shogun invited her parents!"
"Come on dude, you're giving up waaaay too easily!"
"Easy for you to say... at least Glory likes you! Twilight doesn't even seem to notice I'm there."
"You need to be a little more aggressive, my friend! Why, Firefly and I-"
"You and Firefly need to get a freakin stable! I've never seen a colt and filly get so hot to trot in the middle of-"
"Could we stay on topic, please? We need to help these two with their girl troubles, that's what best buds do!"
"I don't know if you can help me, man. Applejack keeps treating me like I just crawled out of the trough!"
"Give her some time, dude. Just be nice, and be patient."
"That's not gonna be enough. We're gonna have to be clever about this. Okay, when we move on to Fort Rainbow Dash, here's what we're gonna do..."
As the chatting colts trotted away, the forms of Reeka and Draggle emerged from the shadows, approaching the golden chariot they had been guarding.
"We gotta hurry, those ponies will be back any minute," Draggle whined. "How are we gonna get this thing outta here?"
"I have a plan for that!" Reeka pulled out a large spell book, and flipped it open. "Since we don't have a pony to pull it, we'll have to make one!"
"Wait, where will we-" The spindly young witch looked at the particular spell in the book, and her eyes went wide. "Aw, no... don't you dare!"
"Shapicus unicornious equinous!" Reeka chanted, pointing her finger at her sister. The red-haired girl began to glow.
"Reeka you idiot! AIEEEEEEEEEE!" There was a puff of smoke, and the human form of Draggle was replaced by a blue unicorn with a red mane.
"Draggle?" Reeka asked, approaching the unicorn mare cautiously. "That you in there, sis?"
"Did I ever tell you how much I hate you?" Draggle growled back, glaring at her still-human sister.
"Save it for later," Reeka replied, fastening her sister up to the chariot, and climbing into the driver's seat. "That invisibility spell I cast on us is about to wear off, and expanding it to the chariot drained my mana for the day."
"Hey, why do I have to pull your fat flank?" Draggle snorted, putting her hoof up to her mouth. "D-did I just say flank?"
"Just get moving!" Reeka cracked a whip on her rear, and Draggle took off in a gallop.
"Okay, okay, I'm going!" the blue unicorn whined, as she galloped towards the main gate. As they passed by a samurai stallion, the pony noticed the sound of the chariot wheels and galloping hooves, and an unusual mix of scents... but saw nothing. As the chariot zoomed past him, Draggle found herself staring at his flank.
"Hmmm, he's kind of cute, maybe I could come back, and-" Her eyes went wide. "REEKA! I GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS FORM!"
"Don't yell, you idiot," Reeka hissed. "They'll hear you!"
"Intruders! An invisibility spell!" the samurai cried out, putting the pieces together quickly. "They've stolen Cadance's chariot! GUARDS!"
"Nice going, moron!" Draggle howled, galloping faster.
"Oh, shut up! It's not my fault!" Reeka whined back, as the chariot rumbled along through the countryside.