Twilight cocked her head to the side. "Applejack, you're absolutely sure of that?"
"'Course I am," the earth pony farmer said, "it was just one mare doin' all that. The flyin', the magic, everythin' was just the one pegasus."
The purple unicorn sighed. "Pegasi can't perform magic, Applejack. We've gone over this before. She has to have a partner. Some unicorn hiding behind the scenes and-"
"Ah know what ah saw, Twi!" The earth pony stamped her front hooves on the table, standing up and looking her right in the eyes. "She used magic, that blast came right out a' that headband a' hers!"
Twilight raised an eyebrow and was about to question that—the idea of a pegasus being able to use magic with a simple headband was utterly preposterous. But realization struck her and her eyes widened in sudden terror. "SPIKE!" she called, "I NEED A BOOK!"
The little purple dragon poked his head out of the kitchen, holding a scroll in one claw and a plate of biscuits with the other. "Gimme a second, Twi."
She watched him amble over to the table and carefully set the plate down
Pinkie Pie waved at him from across the table and said, "Could you pass the biscuits over here? I haven't eaten since I left home!"
The little dragon nodded and slid the plate over, then looked around the table. "So what's the occasion?" he asked, looking at the three mares sitting around the table in the front room.
"Mmh," Pinkie Pie said, a biscuit already halfway in her mouth, "wmm thmmkmm mm... hmmm hmmm!" The pink mare swallowed, then laughed at her own little faux pas. "Sorry, Spike. We're talking about mean old Ultramare. She's that bully who beat up ponies and started a big nasty storm today!"
"Right," Twilight said, keeping her eyes on her assistant, "and I need you to fetch me my copy of Ancient Artifacts and Lost Legends Volume II. If this pegasus can use magic, then she must be using-."
"The Horned Circlet of Star-Swirl the Bearded?"
"Yes Spike, the Horned-." She paused, raising an eyebrow. "How do you know about that?"
The dragon handed her the scroll. "Princess Celestia sent you a letter about that. I think you should read it."
Twilight unfurled the parchment and began reading. "'My faithful student...' hm... oh dear."
"What is it, Twi?" The blond mare looked at her, worry clear on her face.
"The Horned Circlet of Star-Swirl the Bearded was stolen from the royal palace in Canterlot this morning! Celestia's tasked us with retrieving it, too!"
The pink pony gasped. "So Ultramare's a bully and a thief?! That's terrible!"
Applejack seemed less surprised, but turned to the purple unicorn and asked, "Just what is this here... horned circlet?"
Twilight sighed, and was about to explain when the front door swung open. Standing in the doorway was a face she hadn't seen in two weeks. Her mane had been cropped short, but other than that there was no mistaking somepony else for Rainbow Dash.
Dash trudged into the front room, tracking mud on the wooden floor. On her back was Fluttershy, her legs dangling off the sides of the rainbow-maned pegasus's body, sleeping peacefully. "Sorry I'm late", she said as she cracked a smile, "but Fluttershy wanted me to carry her here. I would have flown in, but she kinda fell asleep."
Applejack chuckled. "Well take her upstairs an' come talk with us fer a bit. Ya got some catchin' up ta do, Rainbow."
Pinkie Pie leapt across the table, carrying a biscuit in her mouth. "Frr ymm!" She mumbled, poking it against the rainbow-maned pegasus's face.
That got a chuckle out of Dash. She grabbed it from her, then retreated up the staircase to Twilight's bedroom.
"... right," Twilight began, "like I was saying, the Horned Circlet is a device Star-Swirl the Bearded made a long, long time ago. He created it to allow unicorns whose horns had broken to perform magic once again. He'd planned on making more, but found that earth ponies and pegasi could also use it."
Applejack cocked her head to the side, seemingly annoyed by what she'd just said. "An' what's so wrong with that?" She asked.
Twilight sighed. "All ponies have their own inherent magic, which manifests in different ways. Unicorns are the only ones who can control and use magic directly, and our bodies are designed to channel it through our horns." The earth pony still didn't seem convinced, so she continued. "Sticking a functional horn on an earth pony or pegasus would seriously mess with their inherent magic, causing a severe case of Magic-Induced Sickness Disorder. The symptoms are-."
"Okay, okay," Applejack said, interrupting her, "sorry, s'just ah thought you meant somethin' else there fer a second. So what yer sayin' is this Ultramare's hurtin' herself tryin' ta... do whatever it is she wants done?"
"Precisely," Twilight said, nodding her head. "So we need to get the Horned Circlet back from her before she hurts somepony else, even herself."
Pinkie Pie looked up from the plate, dropping a half-eaten biscuit from her mouth.
"But if she can fly like Dashie, and use magic like you, Twi, how can we stop her?"
"Well," Applejack started, "she might be more'n a' match fer any one of us, but we're still six an' she's still one, right?"
Twilight nodded. "That's right. If we all work together we should be able to take the circlet from her. After that, it's just a matter of taking down one pegasus. But... just as a precaution, I'm going to request that Princess Celestia allow us to use the Elements of Harmony here."
From up above, she heard Dash say, "for one pegasus?! Jeez, Twi, talk about overkill."
The three mares turned to see Dash flying down the stairs. "Maybe", Twilight said, trying to gauge the apparent disapproval in Dash's tone, "but if she proves too difficult for the six of us to handle, then wouldn't you want an ace in the hole against her?"
Dash sighed as she landed by the bottom of the stairwell. "No, no... you're right, Twi. Have you girls gone over anything you plan on trying yet?"
"Not yet," Twilight said, barely stifling a yawn, "we're still waiting on-."
"I'm here, my friends!" Rarity called out as she strutted into the room, wearing her heavy raincoat and galoshes. "My apologies, but it took forever for me to find these and there was no way I'd come running in such a nasty storm after-." She paused, staring at the blue pegasus at the back of the room, then gasped. "Rainbow Dash, what manner of barbarian did that to your mane?!"
The pegasus stared at Rarity, then burst into laughter, much to the annoyance of everypony in the room. "Sorry," Dash said, trying to stifle her laughter, "but you said barbarian, and I... thought you said... barber... okay, so it wasn't that funny. I had my mane and tail cut short while I was in Canterlot. Now can we please get to planning? I've got naps to catch up on and a reputation to save."
The four mares looked at Dash incredulously. "Dash..." Twilight began, but cut herself short. "You're right. We're wasting time. Spike, go write a letter to-Spike?" She looked aside, spotting the baby dragon sleeping under the table. "... On second thought, I'll write the letter myself later. Let's get down to business, girls."
Dash yawned as she lied on her back in bed, staring at the ceiling. The meeting yesterday had gone well enough—they had some pretty well thought out plans to fight Ultramare. She especially liked the one that called for her to launch a surprise attack on the masked villain while the others distracted her. It'd be a shame if she didn't get to pull that one off, she thought.
Dash yawned again and stretched her legs. She'd been out and about town all day, keeping an ever vigilant eye out for any trouble. The whole ordeal had left her exhausted, but between then and now she'd only taken a single quick nap before she got home. She'd get some real rest now, then head back out for her night shift. It didn't take much to convince Mayor Mare to let her back on the weather patrol team; as sad as what happened to Ditzy Doo and Raindrops was, it still left them with a hole needing to be filled and Dash fit that hole perfectly, just as she always had. It wouldn't be long before she rose back to her old rank now, she knew. Then everypony in Ponyville would respect and love her again.
A rapid knocking on her front door stopped her from dozing off, and she flew over to the window, poking her head out to see who it was. "Hey Fluttershy!" She called out, waving to her friend. "You can just use the window, you know!"
The pink-maned mare turned to look up at her. "Dash, you have to hurry! Ultramare was spotted in town!"
Dash's eyes widened in terror. "What?! That's not-" She stopped. How could she have completely missed that?! Her eyes scanned the town below, zeroing in on Carousel Boutique. From what little she could tell from this distance, the building seemed to be aflame, smoke trailing up into the sky. "Oh no. Oh no! Rarity! Fluttershy, we have to move!"
Dash shook her head in despair as she landed near Carousel Boutique. The flames had long since gone out. Between the top three fliers in the weather patrol, there was no way Rarity's home and store would burn down. Still, that did nothing to appease the rainbow-maned mare's growing fears for her friends. She quickly scanned the surrounding area, looking for some sign of them, before spotting Twilight surrounded by a handful of ponies she recognized from the day before. "Fluttershy, can you find Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and Rarity for me?"
The yellow pegasus nodded. "Dash", she pleaded, "I'm sorry. I tried to find you as soon as possible, but I'm not the fastest flier around and-"
"It's fine," she said, trying her best to sound reassuring. "It's not your fault. I should have... I... should have... just go already!" She covered her mouth immediately as her friend fled away from her. She hadn't meant to yell, but the last thing she needed right now was Fluttershy's constant apologizing.
Dash flew over to the field medics surrounding Twilight. "Nurse Redheart," she asked, "how's she holding up?"
The earth pony smiled as she turned her head. "She's fine, just some bruising around her ribs and left shoulder. Ultramare could have done much worse."
Dash's ears flopped down. "I know... can I talk to her?"
The nurse looked over at Twilight, then back to Dash. "I don't see the problem." With that she backed off, allowing the rainbow-maned pegasus the space to draw nearer.
She lowered herself onto the ground, patting her friend on the head. "Hey Twi", she said, trying her best to sound calm, "how ya feeling?"
The unicorn rolled her eyes. "I'm fine. I just had nearly had my shoulder broken, that's all."
"Sorry, Twi..." Dash lowered her head further. If only she'd... if only they...
"How'd it go down?" She asked, trying to drive those thoughts away. The purple unicorn frowned, then began to recant the events to her.
It wasn't hard to discern Ultramare's target. The villainous mare had taken control of acloud, imbuing it with magic and lightning. The little storm cloud was clearly headed towards none other than Carousel Boutique. Nopony except the weather patrol dared to stop her, and even they gave up after their third go at her got Dizzy Twister a black eye and Thunder Cracker a shocking new hairstyle. Cloudkicker was the only one left to chase her, and after what seemed like an exchange between them, she simply let the villain go about her business in peace. She had half a mind to confront the lavender pegasus about that, but time was of the essence.
"Fluttershy," Twilight ordered, "I need you to go find Rainbow Dash. Pinkie Pie, Applejack, go help Rarity prepare. I'm going to try to slow her down."
The three nodded and left, Fluttershy taking off into the sky and the earth pony duo rushing off towards their friend's home and store.
Twilight waited until Ultramare and her cloud passed overhead, then followed after them, her horn glowing as she tried to wrestle the cloud from Ultramare's grip. It was surprisingly difficult—she knew the Horned Circlet was a potent artifact, but she never expected this level of resistance.
The cloud finally came down to her after much struggling, despite the will and booming protests of the costumed villain. Twilight heard the wind whistling as she neared, and stopped just a fair distance away from Carousel Boutique, ready to face down the pegasus.
"You're a fast one, aren't you, Twilight Sparkle?" The blue and gold-costumed mare landed a good ten yards away, her glowing white gaze locked with the unicorn's own.
"Give it up, Ultramare. I know you stole the Horned Circlet, and there's no way I'm letting you keep it for any longer!"
Ultramare laughed, her booming voice shaking the nearby buildings. "You think you can take this away from me, Teacher's Pet? When not even Celestia and Luna themselves could stop me? I'd like to see you try it. But first, I'm taking my friend back." Her metallic horn began glowing hot white, and Twilight found that despite her impressive hold on the storm cloud, she could do nothing to prevent Ultramare from ripping it away from her.
The cloud settled beside the villain, floating around freely as if it were... but that's silly, Twilight thought. There's no way she could cast a spell like that.
"What's the matter, Twilight? Can't take being second rate? Reality a bit too... shocking for you, maybe?"
Twilight raised an eyebrow, and was about to say that the comment made no sense when the cloud began to spark. Immediately she went into a defensive stance. Her first guess was right—she'd somehow cast a Come to Life spell on the cloud! A lightning bolt flashed straight out towards her, and she countered with a powerful barrier, attempting to force the bolt back or, at least, redirect it.
The lightning bolt struck the shield, and for several seconds it seemed as if Twilight had successfully stopped it. Then she glanced aside and noticed Ultramare was no longer beside the cloud. Her eyes widened in terror as she turned to see the hind legs of her enemy just as they buried themselves in her flank. She let out a loud yelp as she tumbled aside, hitting the ground with a heavy thud. As she tried to get up, a hoof thrust itself into her shoulder, doubling the pain and breaking her concentration entirely. She shut her eyes, waiting for the sound of the lightning bolt to crash into something.
All that ensued, however, was the villain's taunting. "Does it hurt, Twilight Sparkle? Don't worry—I'm done with you for now. Gonna do some redecorating at Carousel Boutique instead, see how Rarity likes it. Now unless you have any other pathetic attempts to delay me, I'll be going now."
Twilight opened her eyes, staring at the sinister mare. Circling above her was the lightning bolt, moving about all on its own. "But how did you..." She stopped herself—a Come to Life spell on both the lightning bolt and the cloud, of course! There was another question she had, and this was probably her only chance to get an answer. "Just how do you know who we all are?" She asked.
"To be honest", Ultramare began, frowning as if she were completely disinterested, "before yesterday afternoon, I didn't know or care who any of you were." She stopped, a devilish grin forming on her muzzle. "But then I found out everything. You and your friends, the weather Patrol, even Ponyville itself... all of you have become tools in my act, and my audience is Rainbow Dash."
"What?! But-but-but-" Dash stuttered. "That's not possible!"
The purple unicorn looked at her skeptically. "What do you mean, Dash?"
The pegasus looked about frantically, then blurted, "I'm sorry. I'll tell you later. I've gotta go. Bye!" and flew off towards Carousel Boutique.
Just as she was about to enter through a burnt hole in the roof, the three weathermares cut her off. She looked at them, cocking her head to the side. Cloudkicker floated in front, her front legs crossed over her chest. Dizzy Twister refused to make eye contact with her, and Thunder Cracker looked as if she were about to cry.
Her mind wandered for a bit, wondering just what had really gone on between the three and Ultramare, but there were more important matters at stake. "I need to get in there!" She demanded, trying to give off a tone of authority no matter how much it hurt her throat. "Rarity's probably inside, and-."
"Rarity and her two friends are already gone," Cloudkicker said, her tone even despite the disapproving look her eyes were showing. "You're not needed here, Dash."
"But I-" she began, but cut herself short. "What's wrong with you three? What did I do?"
The thee pegasi looked at each other with various levels of disgust, then Cloudkicker returned her weary gaze to the rainbow-maned mare. "For the safety of my team, I promised Ultramare that I'd only clean up her messes once she left. But that doesn't mean I'm going to make my girls put up with a self-absorbed jerk like you. You're off the team, Rainbow Dash. Go home."
Dash stood silently as the three weathermares flew off, leaving her alone. "So what..." she said, under her breath, "... was the point? Why did I even come back, if everything's going to go wrong again?!" She flew off towards her home, her tears leaving a trail behind her.
Applejack shook her head in dismay at the fuming unicorn pacing about the front room of Twilight's home. "Ah know it ain't right. But Ultramare ran off before we could even getcha out a' there, sugarcube."
"I know," Rarity groaned, "but still, the thought of that ruffian trying to destroy Carousel Boutique just burns me up!" The unicorn stamped her hooves in frustration.
"Please calm down," the Pinkie Pie pleaded, "I'm sure the Cakes won't mind helping you pay to have the place repaired!"
"No way no how", Applejack said, slamming a hoof on the table, "am ah lettin' one a' my best friends an' her family pay that off. Me an' Big Macintosh, we'll be over ey-sap ta fix it up."
"Thank you Applejack, Pinkie Pie," Rarity said, her frustration turning to sadness, "but I-."
The door to the library slammed open, and the white unicorn screamed in shock. In limped Twilight, one of her forward legs in a cast. Floating beside her was a small bejeweled box.
"Twilight," Rarity gasped, "do remember to knock in the future, would you?!"
"It's my house," the purple unicorn said. "I can slam any door I want."
Applejack raised an eyebrow as Twilight sat the little chest down on the round table before them. "All the way from Canterlot, ah reckin'?"
Twilight nodded, cracking open the chest.
The five mares all looked inside—sure enough, the Elements of Harmony were all safe and secure inside.
Twilight carefully removed them one by one, helping her friends put them on. Finally she stopped at the Element of Loyalty. Only then did something occur to her. She quietly said, "That's not right," cocking her head to the side in confusion.
Fluttershy peered over her shoulder, then let out an audible gasp. "What happened to the Element of Loyalty?"
Finally, Applejack grabbed the chest away, pulling it closer to get a good look. Inside was the Element of Loyalty alright, but the lightning bolt gem within no longer shown a brilliant red. In fact, the gem had lost all color and was now stark white. "What in the hay?" She said, trying to make sense of this. "This is... this remind you girls of anything?"
The five mares nodded in agreement. "Discord!"
"But, how?" Twilight asked. "We sealed away Discord in stone!"
Pinkie Pie put a hoof to her chin, rubbing it for a second or two. "Maybe it's not that meanie pants at all? Maybe it's got something to do with Dashie?"
Fluttershy laid her head upon the table, her eyes closing as she did so. "She has been acting strange today..."
Twilight rolled her head, looking up at the ceiling. "Then we'll need to find her and try to get some answers out of her soon. Until then, the Elements of Harmony won't be of any help here."
Applejack shook her head. "So no skippin' all the way ta Plan G, huh? An' she's more'n a match fer any one of us, so..."
"Right", the purple unicorn said, "We're going with Plan E then. Rarity, have you made the extra costumes like I asked?"
The white unicorn lowered her eyes to the floor, "Well of course, dear, not that I'm all that happy with them anymore. And with Rainbow Dash out of the picture for the moment, we won't be needing the sixth..."
Twilight looked about the table. "Any objections to the plan?" Each of them seemed nervous—after all the trouble Mare Do Well had brought about none of them were all too keen on bringing her back.
Finally Applejack spoke up. "Ah'll do it."
Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy nodded to each other in agreement, and Rarity lifted her head and smiled. "With the five of us as Mare Do Well, I'm sure Ultramare won't stand a chance!"
"Then it's settled," Twilight said. "Tonight, the five of us take on the mantle of Mare Do Well once again."
The front door of the cloud house buckled and snapped off from the force of Rainbow Dash's kick. In her anger and grief she'd completely forgotten her bedroom window was still open. Not that it mattered anymore—nothing she owned was worth stealing.
She flew up the stairs to her bedroom, ready to leap onto her bed and continue her crying, when a voice echoed in the room.
"Welcome home, Rainbow Dash."
"Stop it!" She shouted back, shutting her eyes and trying to ignore the voice.
"Stop what?" Ultramare asked. "I'm only carrying out my part of our plan. I go around causing little disasters around Ponyville, maybe give somepony their just deserts. You come in and save them after I leave, and get all the fame and recognition you deserve."
"You told them!" Dash cried. "You told them everything! And now they hate me too!" Hot tears streamed down from her closed eyes, the cloud floor beneath her absorbing them as they fell from her face.
"Oh, is that a problem? Did they steal your glory, Dashie? Maybe I should have broken them instead, would that have made you happy?"
Dash shook her head in frustration, her mane slapping against the sides of her neck as she did. "The deal's off, Ultramare! I'm not letting this go any further." She opened her eyes, and found herself staring face to face with the white-maned pegasus. Her rich violet eyes glared contemptuously back at her.
"You don't have a say in the matter anymore. But don't fret", she said, her light blue muzzle opening to reveal a cruel and malicious grin, "you'll come to love being my prisoner one of these days."