The voice startled the sleeping Rainbow Dash, causing her to fumble about for three seconds. When she regained her senses, she looked around, but didn’t see anypony. Was the voice just her imagination?
She looked at her alarm clock. 6:00 A.M., it said. Way too early to be up. Still, she was awake, and she doubted she could get back to sleep. Might as well get ready. She knew the Wonderbolts always got up early to train, so she figured she needed to get used to it. Maybe she’d be able to use the extra time to practice her new stunts. Maybe something involving the Buccaneer Blaze. She hadn’t done that in a while, and she wanted to make sure she could still do it.
Rainbow was just about to fix breakfast when she heard a quite knocking on the door (well, quieter then usual, for a cloud door). Fluttershy, she thought. What did she want at this hour?
Ignoring the empty feeling in her stomach for a moment, Rainbow went over to the door. Fluttershy, obviously expecting her to be asleep at this hour, was surprised when she opened the door to find her standing right in front of her.
“Oh! Hello, Rainbow Dash. Sorry to wake you up so early.”
Don’t worry about it,” Rainbow said. “I was already up, anyways.”
“Really?” Fluttershy knew her friend’s habits well. The only other time she could recall her being up this early was when there was a Wonderbolt performance in Fillydelphia.
“Weird, I know. I thought I heard somepony talking, but it must have just been my imagination.” Rainbow didn’t want to mention how real the voice sounded. Fluttershy was the type to worry too much about things like that.
“That’s strange,” Fluttershy said. “But, as long as you’re up, Twilight just got back today, and she said she wanted to talk about something. At Applejack’s place,” she added.
“Sure thing. Do you know when it is?”
“Right now... I think.”
“Well then, lets get going.”
The two of them flew at a leisurely pace, Rainbow Dash still trying to wake up her tired muscles. Twilight wasn’t the type to gather all her friends over just anything, and, judging from the tone of her voice, she guessed that Fluttershy was also curious as to just what Twilight wanted to talk about.
They arrived at Sweet Apple Acres at the same time as Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie. Twilight was surprised to know that Rainbow was already awake when Fluttershy got to Rainbow’s cloud house, but she didn’t ask. Applejack had seen them coming, and was at the gate, ready to greet them.
“Howdy, girls!” Applejack said. “How did Canterlot treat ‘yah, Twilight? ‘Trewnt expecting you to be back so soon, to be honest.”
“Same here, actually,” Twilight said. “I’m glad to be back, and all, but it would have been nice to stay a little longer, and see how things have changed.”
“I hear yah. So, what are y’all doing here? ‘Ah ain’t in need of any help, with Applebucking done.”
“Actually, I was hoping to tell you all about the trip. Spike should be here any moment now with Rarity, and I’m a bit eager to get it all off my chest.”
“Is this all about that councilpony that summoned yah there in the first place? What did he want to talk about with you so badly, anyways?”
“That’s what I want to talk about,” Twilight told Applejack. “I’ll be happy to tell you all about it, as soon as Rarity gets here.”
“Present!” Rarity said. She had rounded the last curve in the path to Sweet Apple Acres, followed by an infatuated-looking Spike, who was, defying all logic (even Rainbow Dash knew that it didn’t make any sense), hovering a few feet above the ground, propelled by a rapidly spinning tail. Twilight was used to this behavior in her assistant, however, and only blinked when she saw the absurd sight. Besides, she had already seen stranger things from Pinkie Pie. Everypony has.
“Perfect timing,” Twilight said.
“When I heard you were back, and wanted to talk, I just HAD to come,” Rarity said. “It’s not everyday that one gets summoned by a pony from the Canterlot High Council, after all. Tell me everything,” she said suddenly, zipping up right next to her. “What was he wearing? Where did you two meet? Did he treat you to anything? What did he talk about? Was anypony else there? Where there any other councilponies? Don’t spare any detail!”
“Calm down, Rarity,” Applejack interjected, putting her hoove on her Rarity’s shoulder. “‘A’hm sure she’ll tell you all about, so stop pressuring her.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Rarity said. “I just got ahead of myself. I just don’t see why a councilpony would take such a special interest in Twilight... No offense,” she added hastily.
“None taken,” Twilight responded.
“So,” Rainbow said, “Now that we’re all here, why don’t you tell us what happened?” Even she couldn’t help but be a little curious. The entire thing reeked of secrecy, and she wanted to know what it all meant.
“I’ll be happy to,” Twilight said. “I think it’s for the best that you all know this.”
Miles away, Barthandelus watched Twilight explain everything to her friends. Each of them listened without saying a word, absorbed in her tale.
Satisfied that they were listening, he walked over to one of the many papers on the wall. Every inch of it was covered in writing, though the language was unknown to most ponies. It posed no trouble for him, however.
A silver glow surrounded his horn. On the paper, all of the writing disappeared, to be replaced with a sketch of the six ponies in his crystal orb. It was incredibly detailed, even showing individual blades of grass and feathers on the wings of the two pegasi.
Barthandelus took the paper from the wall, and set purple fire to it. The magical flames would transport the ashes to his personal vault, where it would then reassemble, and be hid away from prying eyes.
Once again, he regretted having to manipulate the ponies like this. They could have had such bright futures, create wondrous marvels. But, he needed them to be ready. Dark times were ahead, he he needed them to be the perfect tools. What were six lives, compared to the world he loved?
The princesses would never approve of this kind of behavior from him, Barthandelus knew. They put such high value on free will, and hated the thought of such manipulation. If they only knew what he knew...
A sudden burst of noise from the crystal orb drew his attention. It appeared that the rainbow-maned pegasus, Rainbow Dash, had been somewhat angered by what she had learned. The other pegasus, Fluttershy, was trying to calm her down, to no avail. Twilight was standing her ground, to her benefit, while the other just watched in stunned interest.
Intrigued by this turn of events, Barthandelus watched patiently while events unfolded. He would need to learn everything he could, if he was to pull this off. Even the slightest detail could be crucial.
He was so tired of it all. He just wanted to rest...
“DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT YOU’RE SAYING? HOW CAN YOU BELIEVE ANY OF THIS?”
Rainbow Dash had taken Twilight’s tale rather badly. She didn’t want to believe anything she heard. It was too much for her.
She chose to vent her anger and confusion onto Twilight. To her credit, Twilight didn’t back down, and insisted on trying to calm Rainbow down, which, in turn, only made her angrier. Fluttershy, seeing the state her friend was in, was doing her best to help Twilight calm her down, but she was too quite and soft-spoken to be able to help, much to her dismay.
“Rainbow, I know this is hard to believe,” Twilight said, “But I promise I’m not lying to you. This isn’t something I made up. You have to trust me.”
“THE ENTIRE THING MAKES NO SENSE! WHY IN EQUESTRIA WOULD CELESTIA KEEP SOMETHING LIKE THIS A SECRET? AND YOU EXPECT ME TO THINK THIS IS ALL TRUE?”
“Rainbow-” Fluttershy all but whispered.
“THIS IS STUPID!” Rainbow shouted. “I DON’T HAVE TO LISTEN TO THIS! I’M OUT OF HERE!”
Rainbow Dash sped off, flying in a random direction. Fluttershy made as to try and catch up with her, but a hoove on her shoulder stopped her.
“Leave her be, sugarcube,” Applejack said. “She just needs some time alone.”
“But-” Fluttershy tried to say.
“No, Applejack’s right,” Twilight said. “I know how she feels. She’s just scared. Give her time to think, and she’ll be alright.”
“If- if you say so,” Fluttershy said. “I just- she must be feeling awful.”
In truth, they all felt bad. Twilight realized that some small part of herself had been denying everything she had learned. With the telling of her story, that last part finally had to acknowledge it all, and the full force of it hit her. Everything she had learned, everything she believed, everything she thought she knew... how much of it was a lie? How much was just some cover-up?
Fluttershy was just as scared as Rainbow Dash must be. To think that somepony like that was out there... that something so terrible could take place... and that something so big could be hidden for all these years. And yet, she understood. This pony, this Barthandelus... he must have seen some terrible things in his lifetime to have affected him so. And to be witness to the downfall of his people... The pain he must be feeling... if only she could do something about it.
Rarity couldn’t believe what she had heard. And yet, she knew that it had to be true. Nopony could fool Twilight, to say nothing of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. And yet, if it was true... and she thought she knew about the royal family. True, she acknowledged that there were some things about them that she wouldn’t know about, but this? And this weapon, this fail safe... that something so powerful could be out there... it had to be destroyed.
Applejack was the least affected of the bunch, but that’s not to say that she didn’t have her own troubles with it, not at all. While she didn’t put much stock in magic, she knew enough to know that this Barthandelus meant trouble. Between the knowledge he held and his own alicorn magic powers, he could be one heck of a problem. Heck, he even admitted that some of the things he knew should be forgotten. Anypony so ready to admit that had to be troubled. But, she couldn’t help but to feel sorry for him at the same time. Applejack knew the pain that came with seeing somepony close to you die. It could only be worse for him, to have seen so many pass on.
Pinkie Pie, too, was affected by what she had learned. She had always been one to see the best in everything, but she had never encountered a story as sad as this one. An entire race... nearly dead. She wanted to cry, cry for all the lives lost, cry for the fallen race, cry for those that live no more. No. She needed to be happy. Happy for her friends. Happy, so they could be happy. She could cry later. Right now, her friends needed her. And she would never let a friend in need down.
“Come on, girls,” Pinkie said. “Ain't no use in just moping around all day! Twilight still hasn’t gotten her ‘Welcome Back’ party! Come on, I’ll make us a huge cake!”
Everyone lightened up at the thought of a Pinkie Pie party. She was right, after all. No use in just standing there, thinking about had happened. Celestia’s day was still young, after all. Smiling, they followed Pinkie Pie to Sugarcube Corner.
Rainbow Dash was back home, pacing about. Of all the things she’s ever heard, this had to be the most stupid, ridiculous, far-fetched, feather-brained tale she had ever heard! Celestia would never keep something like that a secret. How could it even be possible, for somepony like this “Barthandelus”, to stay hidden? Surely somepony would have known about him. And, honestly, these “Keepers of History” sounded like some half-drunken fable. Did Twilight really think she could fool her like that?
These “Immortals”, they sounded too powerful to be real. Sure, there was Celestia and Luna, and they were supposedly two of these “Immortals”, but they couldn’t possibly be that powerful. Sure, it must take a lot of magic to raise the sun and moon, but for them to be powerful enough to threaten the entire world? Heck, such violence just didn’t sound like them in the first place. And not having any emotions? How was that even possible? How do you learn emotions? Not to mention this “gift of magic”. Unicorns have always had magic. And besides, if the “Immortals” were so powerful in the first place, how come there’s only three left? Why would they be afraid of us? Why ever need something like this fail safe? And, even as powerful as they supposedly are, how could they have made the Elements of Harmony?
As she calmed down, she realized that she was being too harsh about this. As crazy as it sounded to her, it made sense. Twilight wouldn’t lie to them, and she wasn’t so easily fooled. Either this “Barthandelus” character was a master liar, or it was all true. No, it couldn’t be the former. Twilight, maybe, but Celestia? Nopony could fool Celestia, not in her own palace, of all places. It had to be true. But how? How was something like this kept secret for so long? WHY was it kept a secret for so long?
Rainbow didn’t like it, but she had to face the fact that everything Twilight had told them had been true. She remembered how she had treated her, how she had shouted at her because she couldn’t face the truth that was presented to her. How could she have been so angry? Twilight had only been trying to help her understand. And Fluttershy... she had been trying to calm her down... but she had been too angry to listen. Oh, the two of them must be feeling terrible, and all because of her. She had to apologize, right away.
Rainbow sped out of her cloud house. She knew that Pinkie had wanted to throw Twilight a party when she got back. The others, including Fluttershy and Twilight, would most likely be at Sugarcube Corner. Sure enough, she saw Twilight and the others enter the building. She nearly flew in after them, but hesitated. How would she do it? She had been such a jerk to them, after all. Would they even want to see her again, so soon? Maybe she should just wait a while, catch up to them after the party. She certainly didn’t feel like a party right now. She should probably just wait...
Pony up, Rainbow Dash, she thought to herself. All you have to do is walk in there and apologize. How hard could that be? You only shouted at Twilight, calling her a liar. Even though she was probably just as troubled over this as you are. And you completely ignored Fluttershy, your best friend since fillyhood. No big deal, right? Ooh, how am I going to do this?
She decided that she needed to stop thinking about this, and get it over with. Rainbow Dash flew down until she was right in front of the door. With a final sigh, she steeled herself, and entered.
Pinkie Pie and Spike could be heard in the kitchen, baking any number of sweets and goodies. The scent coming form the kitchen was simply wonderful, and Rainbow had to suppress the desire to drool. Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Twilight could be seen sitting at one of the tables, talking. When she entered, they all turned to look at her. She nearly wimped out then and there, but she forced herself to approach them.
“Twilight, Fluttershy,” she said, doing her best not to tremble of run away. “I- I just wanted to say... to say that I’m-”
A gentle hoove to her mouth silenced her. Fluttershy was there, giving her the sweetest look she’d ever seen.
“It’s okay,” Fluttershy said. “We understand. We forgive you.”
“She’s right,” Twilight said. “You were scared, and you needed something to vent your fear and anger on. It’s completely okay. Everypony does it.”
A smile formed on Rainbow’s face, and her eyes shined with suppressed tears. “Thanks, girls,” she said, her voice shaking her relief and joy. “I was so worried you were going to be mad at me, and that you wouldn’t want to see me-”
“We’ll always be glad to have you as our friend,” Fluttershy said. “Even if you say mean things, we know you don’t mean any of it.”
“Thank you,” was all Rainbow could say before she embraced Fluttershy and Twilight in a fierce hug. The others joined in, and soon all of them, even Pinkie, who must have overheard them and took a break from her baking, were engaged in a group hug, smiling, happy to be together.
Soon, the sound of laughter could be heard from inside the building. Pinkie was all but inhaling the cake she had made (strawberry frosting, she had eventually decided on), while Applejack and Rainbow Dash were engaged in hoof-wrestling. Twilight and Spike were talking about something, though Rainbow couldn’t hear what they were saying, and Fluttershy was with Gummy, who was biting her in various places. Luckily for her, Gummy didn’t have any teeth, so it didn’t hurt at all.
At 9:00 A.M., they went their ways. Pinkie needed to get ready to open shop, and Rainbow had to get ready for weather duty, as Ponyville was due for a light shower. Rarity was nearly finished with the dresses she needed to make, but she still needed to be ready for anypony that wanted a new dress, or needed one repaired. Fluttershy had her animals to attend to, Twilight had her books, and Applejack was busy with whatever came up at her farm.
As they exited, Rainbow turned around to face Fluttershy and Twilight.
“Listen, girls,” she said, “I want to thank you for being so understanding. It was just so much to take in, and I guess I let my emotions take over me.”
“Not a problem at all,” Twilight said. “What are friends for?”
Rainbow smiled. “I am so lucky to have you two as my friends.”
“And we’re lucky to have you as ours,” Fluttershy said. “We’ll always be there for you.”
The three of them had one last hug, then Rainbow went to get ready for the shower. The smile never left her face, just as Fluttershy and Twilight kept theirs for the rest of the day.
Barthandelus had a sad smile on his face. It was so heartwarming, to see such good friends. If only he had such good friends.
Alas, his life was a lonely one, due in no small part to his own efforts. Between his work and the knowledge he had, he didn’t allow anypony to grow close to him, or vice versa. It was hard, to know what he knew, and to know so much about those he knew. He couldn’t allow himself to grow attached.
“Nusquam permaneo forever, nusquam subsisto idem eadem idem. Dico mihi it's non super, dico mihi it's non perfectus.”
Barthandelus chanted this to himself. As always, it lifted the pain and sorrow from his heart, allowing him to return to his work. He still had much to do, if his plan was going to work.