"TWILIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT!" The high-pitched scream threatened to shatter the windows of the tree library. Scowling and rubbing her sore, sleepy eyes, Twilight Sparkle rose from her disrupted slumber and trotted to the door.
Using her magic, the unicorn pulled the door open and simultaneously held Fluttershy's hoof in place to avoid being hit by her nervous knocking. "Fluttershy, it's two in the morning. What's the matter?!"
"Oh... I'm so sorry for waking you up, Twilight, but Skinny's gone missing and I didn't know who else to come to!" Fluttershy said quietly, her voice laden with distress.
Twilight frowned. "Again? You should really consider putting a cowbell on him." She walked back inside, letting the pegasus in. A small dragon hopped down the stairs, still clutching his blanket.
"Twilight? Fluttershy?" Spike mumbled. "What's all the ruckus about?"
"It's nothing to worry about, Spike." The unicorn said reassuringly. "Fluttershy just, errr... forgot to bring back her book before the due date! So you can go back to sleep."
Spike looked at the two suspiciously, but his desire for a good night's sleep soon won over his curiosity. Shaking his head, he turned around and went back upstairs, mumbling to himself. "It's only three bits! How cheap can you get..."
As soon as he was gone, Fluttershy grabbed onto Twilight's shoulders. "Oh, I'm so worried about him! What if his paws get hurt, or he freezes? It can get really cold outside, especially in the Everfree Forest!"
"It's summer." Twilight deadpanned. "And what makes you think he went to the Everfree Forest?"
"Well, we bought camping supplies during the day, and they were all gone when I woke up! I wake up sometimes at night to check over my animals, you see, I can't really help it... anyway, I was just going to tuck Skinny in when I noticed he wasn't in his bed! And none of his things were around either! I don't think there's any other place he'd go to. He really wanted to see the place he landed to when he first got here."
Twilight's ears drooped as she realised Fluttershy was probably right. "Well... then he's... gone to the Everfree Forest!" She exclaimed in a defeated tone.
"Wha-... don't you think we should try and find him?!"
"He has a bodyguard, Fluttershy. Besides, going after him in Cloudsdale was one thing... but if he went out on his own accord, with supplies and a tent, then I don't see why we should drag him back." Twilight explained. She stepped closer to the worried yellow pegasus and laid a comforting hoof on her. "Princess Luna wouldn't have sent Crimson Star here if she didn't have faith in him. So if anyone can keep Skinny safe in those woods, it'll be him."
I'm so gonna get fired for this. A particularly hairy bat pony thought in increasing despair as he glided between the houses and flitted between the streets erratically. A month ago, Crimson Star had accepted the assignment from his Princess with a certain amount of glee - indefinite stay in Ponyville, all expenses paid? And all he had to do was look after that cute, affectionate giant monkey with the scritchy toes? Considering he'd nearly been caught stealing blood from the hospital just a week or so before, Crimson Star had practically hit about three jackpots at once. Or so he thought.
Just about the only drawback of the assignment that he thought of was having to switch sleep schedules to fit with all the daytimers, thus having to endure the sun's scorching, blinding rays way more often than he liked. But hey, it's not like the monkey would wander off during the night or anything, right? Right?
Crimson Star landed on the top of the Carousel Boutique, his furry hoof weaving around the spire for balance. He rubbed his tired, red eyes. It was night! Any self-respecting bat pony(or thestral, as mother kept reminding him) would be in his element. He sighed and scratched his head in bafflement, not catching a single biped wandering around, nor even the distinctive, slightly milky scent that distinguished him from the earthy smell of the ponies. "Okay, Crimmy, I'd say we're in trouble. Mmm. Heh..." He mumbled nervously.
The bat pony released his hold on the spire to fly off, only to trip on the pointy ornaments circling the top of the Carousel Boutique. "Whuh-! Ow! OW!" Bouncing off of the roofs of the second and first floors, he made it to the ground a dizzy, scruffy mess. "Stupid house..." At least nobody saw that...
Horse-apples. Crimson Star winced and looked up at the owner of the Boutique as she daintily sipped from a floating cup, dressed in a fancy pink bathrobe and gazing down on the bat pony from her balcony with thinly veiled amusement.
Crimson Star burned red with embarrassment. "No, v-very kind of you, miss Rarity. Err... what're you doing up so late-ish? If you don't mind me asking, that is?"
"Oh, not at all." Rarity waved dismissively. "Simply couldn't sleep. What with all the stallions climbing over my roof..." She smirked.
The bat pony shrank a little. "Yeah, I am terribly sorry 'bout that. Was just lookin' around, tryin' to catch... err, nevermind."
The unicorn raised an eyebrow. "No, no, go on. Perhaps I might be able to help you. And I most certainly can keep a secret."
Crimson Star bit his lip. He really didn't want to let the fashionista in on him having lost track of Skinny, but she probably did know a lot more about the area than he did. Perhaps he really did have to take a bite out of the old humility pie today...
"Okay... well, Skinny's taken off and I just..." he sighed. "I can't find him anywhere. I don't even know where to begin looking."
Rarity pursed her lips. "Well, that is dreadful."
"Yes, miss." The bat pony lowered his head, looking so glum that it began to pull on the fashionista's heartstrings. Letting out an unhappy nicker, she shouted: "Oh, for Celestia's sake, will you please refrain from looking so downbeat! It does not suit those menacing red eyes of yours, not one bit!" Using her magic, she unlocked the door to the Boutique, and Crimson Star trotted in uncertainly.
Inside the Boutique, a light flashed on in the kitchen and Rarity levitated a cup of tea in front of the bat pony, and a map of Ponyville on the table. "Now then. Let us be reasonable adults and simply work this out, hmm?"
Crimson Star caught the steaming cup from mid-air with his hooves and blew on it before taking a sip. The sweet chamomile relaxed his nerves. "Thanks, miss. I was really losing it."
"Perfectly understandable. Where did you last see Skinny?" She asked. The bat pony scratched his red mane for a second. "Miss Fluttershy's cottage. I sleep on one of the branches. When the lights went out, I figured he'd gone to bed and, well, did the same, so to speak. But then about an hour ago, miss Fluttershy lit the place up and made quite a fuss. Heard her tell her rabbit that Skinny was AWOL, along with his things. After that, I scanned the surroundings and ran through the whole town, but I couldn't find hair nor hide of him so I climbed up your Boutique for a better look. And, er, lost my balance. And then, well, yeah..." Crimson Star's voice tapered off.
"We had our nighttime get-together under the cover of darkness." Rarity quipped. "But jokes aside, I do wonder why Skinny felt compelled to leave."
Crimson Star blinked, and shook his head free of distractions. "Huh?"
"Well, you said he left during the night. So the simple question is, where would he go and why? What place would he want to get to without anypony knowing?"
The bat pony wracked his head a little. "Someplace with valuables, maybe? I mean, night's usually the best time for thievery and the like."
Rarity rolled her eyes. "Skinny, a thief? Nonsense! Besides, he wouldn't take all his belongings and leave Fluttershy's money behind if he were a mere hooligan, would he?"
"... no, miss." That really made Crimson Star's gears grind. If the monkey had taken all of his things, he was planning on a longer trip. Where had he been? Cloudsdale? Impossible. Canterlot? Too far without a train. Where else...
"Oh no." The bat pony groaned, as realisation hit him.
Rarity hummed in agreement. "Ice cream for the road?"
Crimson Star set himself down at the edge of the Everfree Forest, a few miles away from Sweet Apple Acres. By this point, the sky had slowly begun to light up, bringing forth one of those incredibly early summer mornings. The chill of the dew caressed the bat pony's hooves as they touched the grass. He fiddled absent-mindedly with the medallion he wore as identification of his being a Lunar Guard. He owned a set of armor of course, but that was back in his barracks at Canterlot - the assignment hadn't warranted dragging it along.
"Oh come now, it's just a forest... what would mother say?" Crimson Star chastised himself. "A scared thestral's no thestral at all. You're going in there, so just... go in there!" He reared proudly and clenched his teeth, but still didn't move from the spot. Maybe Skinny did try to go to Canterlot... surely he could at least visit the train station and check up on the first train leaving in an hour and a half...
The bat pony's nerves had already convinced him to turn around when he noticed the grass parting a few feet away. He frowned, until he saw a cute ball of white fluff wiggling towards him. "Angel?" He asked. The bunny had a box cutter tied around his back with a rope like the sword of a knight and was running along with a fierce expression, but stopped at Crimson Star's call. The bat pony cocked his head to the side, curious. "Hello! Are you going on an adventure?"
Angel proudly nodded and pointed towards the forest before rearing up and walking on two paws slightly to imitate bipedal movement. "You're off to find Skinny?" The bunny nodded.
"Tsk-tsk-tsk. Does miss Fluttershy know that?"
The bunny shook his head with a slightly guilty expression, and brandished the box cutter in front of Crimson Star, who melodramatically hid behind his hoof. "Oh dear! No, please! Don't hurt me! I won't ever tell a soul!"
Satisfied, Angel returned the cutter to its original position and Crimson Star, smirking to himself, stepped closer to the bunny. "But I say, such a brave fella like you shouldn't go into battle without a squire, should he? We share a common interest in the monkey, so why not join forces and find him together? You can track, can't you?" Angel nodded rapidly. "Of course you can! You'll find him in no time! And Princess Luna won't skin me alive... I hope. So what do you say? Your wits, my wings... sir?"
He lowered a hoof towards the bunny, who grabbed it with his tiny white paw. "Lead on then."