After the unpleasant encounters they had on their journey both the guards and the group of travellers were looking forward to the moment when they could use the Elements of Harmony to beat Discord and everyone could just go home and relax for a few days. Unfortunately for the moment they were still in the Everfree Forest on a quest to find the most powerful sources of magic in not just Equestria but the entire world. They had no idea how their journey would turn out but they were all certain that by the end of it the princesses would pull through and they would be rid of Discord by the end of the year.
Cheerilee let out a giggle, Doctor Hooves turned to her curiously "Is there something funny about the situation?" he asked.
"Not the situation," she said "you. It's just that you acted so grumpy when we first met you but as it turns out you're just an old softy aren't you?"
He scowled at that "Young Cheerilee, look at the first part of my name. Doctor. Now why do you think I'm called that if it's not a job title?"
She thought for a moment "I'm not sure."
"It's a metaphor for the kind of person I try to be. A doctor makes people better. I wish to go into bad situations and make them better, just like a doctor. The cold reception I gave you when we first met was because I was worried about you finding out about time travel before the correct point in time, I wasn't intentionally being cruel I was just trying to prevent a situation that could change the course of history."
"And then you kidnapped us so that we wouldn't tell." she finished for him.
"Precisely, I had hoped that the experience would deter you from telling others. The plan was to drop you off back in Ponyville during your time period when I was absolutely sure that you would keep quiet about all of this."
They continued walking for quite a while longer until the silence was once again broken, this time by one of the guards "I've got a bad feeling about this."
No one paid him any heed but then they heard a growl, if they could read each others minds they would all hear Oh damn more Timber Wolves from everyone. They were all wrong. Out of the bushes leapt a creature that they assumed was a lion at first but then they saw that it couldn't possibly be an ordinary lion, for a start it was absolutely massive, towering over even the Timber Wolves. The other two features that gave it away were its scorpion tale, full of poison just like the ordinary one and then there was the fact that it had wings, it was too big for these wings to lift it up but it had them and they bore an uncanny resemblance to the wings of a dragon.
It let out a blood curdling raw as the poisoned sharp end of its tail flew towards the Unicorn guard that had saved Big Mac from the Pack Leader. The Unicorn attempted to dodge out of the way but the creature had the reflexes of the lion that was part of its body and it managed to move the sting on his tail to where the Unicorn attempted to dodge and stung him on the back of his neck. The Unicorn let out a cry of pain as the poison took affect, burning his insides as it made him feel the agony of a thousand knives digging into your body all at once.
While the monster was distracted by the Unicorn the others hid in the shrubbery around them, hoping that the creature had not seen. "What in Celestia's name is that thing?" an Earth Pony guard asked.
"That creature is a Manticore," Doctor Hooves explained "not normally that nasty as long as you don't threaten it, I wonder why it chose to attack."
"Maybe its food left the forest because of the corruption grandfather." Sugar suggested, still clinging to her grandfather's back. She was terrified.
Doctor Hooves turned his head and nuzzled her comfortingly "That's my clever girl." he said. "Now then," he turned back to the others "I have a plan but we need that thing to not notice me for a few minutes, do you fine fellows think you could distract it for a while?"
"How in the hell do you expect us to live through distracting that thing?" a guard asked.
"All of you do it at once, it isn't that smart so you should be able to aggravate it so that it doesn't know who to attack." he turned back to Sugar "You stay here."
She nodded, appearing grateful to not have to face that Manticore again. Doctor Hooves turned back to the guards again "Now." he said.
With that everyone other than Doctor Hooves and Sugar burst out of the bushes and began taunting the Manticore, shouting at it and kicking things towards it. It had the desired effect, the Manticore was constantly turning around and roaring at them, not knowing which of them it should attack. While all of this was going on Doctor Hooves was using his magic to gather vines off of the trees
This went on for quite a while before Doctor Hooves burst out from behind the bushes and shouted "Here kitty, kitty," he produced a huge ball of vines resembling a ball of yarn. The Manticore immediately changed its tone, now it had its tongue sticking out and it was staring at the ball. Doctor Hooves then threw the ball into the direction that they had come from and shouted "Go get the ball."
The Manticore then ran off immediately into the forest and they quickly ran in the direction specified by Princess Celestia, they were close to the Tree of Harmony now.
It took them longer than expected but with no more danger along the way the last part of the walk seemed to fly by compared to the rest of it. They found themselves fighting to get through some especially thick bushes, they were all tired and irritated by the long journey. "We'd better be real close." Big Mac said.
Doctor Hooves sighed, he was tired of the complaining "If my history is right then the tree should be just through these bushes, now shut up and keep pushing."
Big Mac scowled at him but was obedient, they kept pushing and pushing and pushing until the they had torn right through the bush. What they were greeted by on the other side was a welcome sight, the princesses were already there as they said they would be but the tree itself was beautiful. It was glowing a glorious blue, it's five branches showing pictures of a gem, an apple, a lightening bolt, a butterfly and a balloon.
The stand out was at the centre, the picture that glowed brightest was that of a star. They all noticed something else that stood out to them, at the bottom of this marvellous tree were two images, one of the sun and one of the moon, the images at the bottom of the tree showed the cutie marks of both princesses.
They all looked at the princesses, wondering if they knew what this meant, Celestia and Luna looked at each other with expressions that told everyone that they were equally confused. Cheerilee noticed that Doctor Hooves was the only one to keep the same facial expression, she came to the conclusion that he knew what was going on and decided to ask about it later. For now they had work to do.
"Okay," Princess Celestia sighed, deciding to figure it out later "now all we need to do is extract the elements. You see those images, those are the Elements of Harmony. It's going to take the combined strength of me and Luna to extract them, we cannot be disturbed so you shall have to protect us if danger arises."
Her six remaining guards saluted with their hooves and they set about walking around the area to set up a perimeter, the horns of both Celestia and Luna began to glow with power and magical beams shot out towards the tree and splitting to cover all of the elements. They appeared to be in a trance during all of this and it became clear why they could not defend themselves. Doctor Hooves turned around when he heard a rather peculiar sound, it was like steam coming off of a burning hot object that had been dropped into water that bubbling up.
He turned to where this sound was coming from and what he saw was strange, it appeared that there was a black bubbling liquid coming from the ground, curious he thought. Out of the black liquid rose a pony, an Earth Pony to be exact, its coat was as black as the night sky and its eyes were glowing a bright green. This Shadow Earth Pony looked at them for a while and then there was a ball of dark energy to its left.
When this dark energy was gone in its place was a similarly black Unicorn with eyes that glowed a bright blue instead of the green eyes sported by its brother. Finally out of the sky dropped a black Pegasus with glowing red eyes, it took its place to the right of its Shadow Pony brethren. They all stood staring a moment more, they seemed placid enough but the guards weren't taking chances and were prepared to attack at a moments notice, unbeknownst to them the Shadow Ponies were analysing the situation and were forming a battle plan telepathically with each other.
The three Shadow Ponies separated, the Shadow Earth Pony heading towards Big Mac, the Shadow Pegasus flapping its wings and flying towards the guards and the Shadow Unicorn stalking towards Doctor Hooves. Doctor Hooves puts Sugar down and gestures for Cheerilee to come to him "You two hide," he told them "I'll be fine, go behind the bushes." Sugar was resistant but ultimately went with Cheerilee to hide.
The Shadow Unicorn just slowly walked forwards, not caring for those two by the time we're done master Discord will want to play with them anyway it thought.
Meanwhile Big Mac was fighting off the Shadow Earth Pony, it had charged him and they were now locked head to head, each one trying to knock the other down. The Shadow Earth Pony managed to use its front legs to hit Big Mac in the nose, he clutched at his nose as blood began to trickle from it and the Shadow Earth Pony turned around and bucked Big Mac in the chest, sending him flying onto his back.
Doctor Hooves was still face to face with the stalking Shadow Unicorn as they both thought of how to outsmart each other, Doctor Hooves noticed that the Unicorn was using the same tactic and he decided to take action. He removed his hat; which had miraculously stayed on his head throughout all of this, and dropped it on the floor. The Shadow Unicorn had sensed he was a Unicorn before this and was not surprised in the slightest, only curious as to what in the world he was doing.
Doctor Hooves' horn began to glow, and it glowed brightly. The Shadow Unicorn saw this and at first was amused, thinking what the heck is this old bat doing I'm too powerful for his tricks and he stood his ground and watched, just what Doctor Hooves wanted. A blast came out of Doctor Hooves' horn but not an ordinary blast of magic, it was a blast of pure light aimed at a creature that was made of shadows. The Shadow Unicorn was too late to react by the time it realised what was happening and the blast of light hit it on its side sending it flying backwards and falling down.
Seeing for sure that its weakness is the light, Doctor Hooves looks up and sees that they were completely engulfed in shadow because all of the trees had leaves over the top of them, letting in very little light. A problem easily remedied he thought, his horn glowed again, this time not glowing so brightly and he aimed it at the leaves directly above the Shadow Unicorn which was struggling to stand now. He sent a blast of magic at the leaves and light poured in onto the Unicorn and it began to writhe in pain, its skin beginning to glow a bright flame-like yellow as it began to grow smaller, disintegrating until there was nothing left but ashes.
Big Mac stood up and began the head to head confrontation again, after a while it became apparent to him that this wasn't working and then he saw what Doctor Hooves had done from the corner of his eye. With all his strength he managed to get his hoof up and hit the Shadow Earth Pony directly in the eye. The Shadow Earth Pony reached its hooves up to cover its eye and Big Mac turned around, buck kicking it into the beam of light which Doctor Hooves had created, with exactly the same results, leaving only ashes.
Their eyes meet, Doctor Hooves and Big Mac nod at each other and then rush off to help the guards with the Shadow Pegasus. When they get over to where the guards are they see that the Pegasus has not killed any of them, in fact it doesn't appear even remotely fazed by the guards' attacks, it just flew around them and looked amused. Big Mac used the shrubbery, snuck up behind it and jumped at it, knocking it into the beam of light coming through the trees...
... nothing happened.
There was a moment of confusion which was broken when the princesses snapped back into reality, a necklace on each of them and a new crown on Celestia, Luna's necklace had the symbols of the apple, the lightening bolt and the balloon. Celestia had the symbols of the butterfly and the gem, her crown held the shining image of the star. These features vanished quickly but everyone could tell that their presence was still there.
Before anyone could react there was a flash of light and Discord appeared before them, this didn't last long as Discord clicked his fingers, there was a second flash of light and everyone except for Discord and the Shadow Pegasus vanished. Discord laughed maniacally, he was pleased that they didn't realise the Shadow Pegasus' immortality and he was also pleased about sending those meddlers to his old friend King Sombra.