Princess Luna slowly took a breath as she flew, her wings flapping at an even pace as she followed close behind her sister. At this point, they had to be halfway to Canterlot, both princesses doing quite well despite how long it had been since either of them had had to fly such a long distance on their own. Magic obviously would have provided a faster means of travel, but with time and space messed up as they were, neither one wanted to risk their teleportation magic misfiring at the moment, so flying was the only other option if they wanted to get to Canterlot first.
Hearing a faint sound somewhere behind her, Luna looked back over her shoulder. She gasped as she came to a stop, hovering in the air, and said, “Celestia, look!” The Sun Princess slowed down and looked back in Luna’s direction, soon seeing what had caught the Lunar Princess’ attention. Looking back across the distance they had flown, both sisters could see space distorting in multiple places, the distortions quickly forming into new portals. Facing forward, Celestia could see more opening up ahead of them, though there appeared to be less in front of them than behind them. Luna looked at Celestia and asked, “What do you suppose is happening?”
Celestia spoke, “If I were to guess, that creature, wherever it is right now, is beginning to accelerate the degradation of time and space between our world and Sonic’s world. All these portals that are forming have to be due to its power.” She narrowed her eyes, “Is it trying to break down the harmony that has been maintained within this rift up until now? Are we running out of time…?”
Luna asked, “Should we go back? Try to seal some of these portals in order to maintain stability?”
Celestia shook her head, “No. We must continue onward towards Canterlot. I am certain the answer to undoing all of this lies there somewhere. We simply have to proceed with caution from here on out; we don’t want to go through one of these portals by accident.” She resumed flying forward after she finished speaking, though she now went at a slightly slower speed in order to have enough time to react in case a portal opened directly in front of her.
Luna flew after Celestia, though she asked, “But what about Twilight Sparkle, Sonic, and the others?”
Celestia was silent a moment before she replied, “I see no reason to change our current plan. We will arrive in Canterlot first to investigate the city to determine if there is any danger present within and keep our little ponies as safe as we can. From there, we will determine the best course of action to follow when they arrive with the Elements of Harmony and the Chaos Emeralds.”
Luna persisted, “But the portals, Celestia… They will not be able to avoid all of them while they are traveling aboard a train.”
Celestia answered, “I am certain they will run into no complications, as long as they remain calm, think about the situation, and listen to each other.”
Rainbow hovered over Tails’ head, looking down at the top screen of his radar and the number of blinking dots it displayed. The amount of dots seemed to have stopped climbing a second ago, but there still seemed to be a sizable number of them and, perhaps due to how many there were, the radar couldn’t display the exact location of them all in its current view. “That monster must be going all out to keep us from reaching Canterlot,” Sonic commented.
“Sure looks that way. You think it was responsible for making that cavern collapse the way it did too?” Shining asked.
Tails looked up at him and said, “I have no idea what caused that, and I’m not sure I want to know. I will say Vector was probably right, though. Someone or something has to be controlling that creature, and whoever it is knows we’re coming.”
Applejack deadpanned, “Really? What makes ya think this ain’t that creature doin’ all this by itself, Tails? It had ta know we’d be takin’ the train or it wouldn’t have reappeared, and this does look like the kinda thing it’s been doin’ so far.”
Tails replied, “That’s the thing, though. Up until now, only one portal has appeared at any one time, and occasionally two have shown up. Now all of a sudden, we’re seeing a whole bunch of portals appear. If this was just that creature, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t change its strategy so suddenly. There has to be at least one other mind that’s responsible for all this.”
Applejack looked like she was about to offer a retort, but Rainbow spoke up first, “Who cares about that? That thing’s messing up time, and we’ve got to get to Canterlot and meet up with Princess Celestia and Princess Luna to stop it!” With that, she shot off from where she was hovering over Tails back towards the train, flying in through the engine’s side window.
Sonic and Applejack looked at each other and then ran over to the train themselves, Sonic placing his hands against the side of the engine and bending forward, allowing Applejack to climb on his back so she could jump up and grab onto the inside of the window. Sonic then leapt up himself, hanging to the earth pony’s right as they both looked in to see Rainbow Dash flapping her wings to stay up while she tried to get the train started. “Rainbow, what do ya think you’re doin’?” Applejack asked after a moment.
The cyan pegasus stopped flapping around at the sound of the apple pony’s voice and turned to look at her and Sonic before saying, “What does it look like I’m doing, AJ? I’m getting the train started because we have to get to Canterlot!”
Sonic asked, “I can see that, but haven’t Tails and Pinkie already taken on that job?”
Rainbow fluttered over and landed in front of him and Applejack, saying, “Well, yeah, but we’ve gotta get moving! I can get us moving twenty percent faster than Tails can, especially since he’d probably want to check everything before starting the train and a whole bunch of other boring stuff too that would keep us from going anywhere. Actually, scratch that; I could get us moving WAY faster than just twenty percent.”
Sonic gave her an odd look as he said, “Yeah, maybe you could, but that totally doesn’t sound like the Tails I know, especially considering how soon we left Ponyville. Even if he did do a safety check and whatnot, he knows how to stay focused on the task at hand; he’ll do what he thinks is necessary at the start and do the rest later. Plus he probably felt doing the full check wasn’t necessary with Pinkie Pie around to help.”
Rainbow shrugged, “So? He’s still a worrywart, Sonic, just like Twilight can be!”
Sonic replied, “Sounds to me like you’re judging Tails based on what you think Twilight might do rather than because you actually know what he’s like.”
Applejack smirked, “He’s got ya there, Dash.”
Before Rainbow could respond, Pinkie Pie suddenly popped out from behind the cyan pegasus and hugged her, saying, “Yeah, Dashie! Tails isn’t silly like that! He’s so quick and focused!”
Rainbow looked back at the pink pony as she let go and stepped back, muttering, “Pinkie Pie, you are so random.”
Sonic looked at Pinkie, seeming a bit confused. “How did you get back there, Pinkie?” he asked.
“Dunno!” the pink pony giggled. A second later, she stood at attention as her ears twitched, her mane and tail shook, and she blew a raspberry. She then gasped, “Something’s about to happen!”
Applejack gulped, “Uh, what kinda somethin’ would that be, Pinkie?” She soon got her answer when the train’s whistle blew on its own, the whistle somehow sounding suspiciously similar to nails on a chalkboard, causing everyone to wince in pain. While the whistle was blowing, everything started to shift into place on its own, as if being manipulated by some unseen magic.
Outside, everyone recovered from the sound of the train whistle and looked up to see the train suddenly starting to move! It began to move forward, picking up speed as though the throttle had been opened too much. Tails, Spike, and the ponies dashed towards the engine as it started to pass them by, Tails slipping his radar into his right tail while Spike grabbed tightly onto his left tail as he ran.
Sonic and Applejack were still hanging from the window and, at this point, could only watch as the others tried to catch up. When Tails got close enough, Applejack took her right hoof off of the window edge, twisting around slightly and holding her hoof out towards him, saying, “C’mon, Tails, grab on!” The fox made a jump for the hoof, barely managing to grab it with his right hand. Applejack quickly swung him towards Sonic, who used his left hand to push both Tails and Spike inside. Once they were fully inside, Applejack and Sonic looked back at the others, the former calling, “Hurry up, y’all!”
Shining Armor, thanks to his training when he joined the Royal Guard, was the first pony to catch up. Sonic held out his left hand to him; Shining held up his hoof as he leapt up towards it, but he fell short, forcing Sonic to grab him by his hair. The white stallion let out a shout, almost a scream, at feeling his hair being pulled so roughly. “Sorry!” Sonic grunted, swinging him back towards Applejack so she could grab him and they could reposition him.
Cadance could see they were having some difficulty with this, so she spread her wings and took off, flying forward and landing in the cupcake car behind the engine. She then hurried into the engine and poked her head out the right window, using her hooves and magic to help her husband up. She stepped to the side as he fell onto the floor of the engine and sprawled out. “Thank you, Cadance…” he breathed out.
Sonic and Applejack, meanwhile, caught their breaths before looking back at Twilight, Fluttershy, and Rarity. Fluttershy was the first to catch up and, after using her wings to help her off the ground, was helped by Applejack while Twilight ran for Sonic. He grabbed her hoof when she jumped and hoisted her up to the window. Looking inside, she saw Tails, Pinkie, and Rainbow Dash trying to get the train to stop while Shining, Spike, and Cadance stood back. The lavender unicorn, while panting, asked, “What’s going on? What happened?”
Rainbow Dash, while trying to pull what Pinkie and Tails had identified as the reverse bar back, called to her, “I didn’t do it, I swear!”
Sonic nodded, “Yeah, she didn’t.” He then helped Twilight the rest of the way in and then looked back at Rarity, the fashionista beginning to fall behind. “Come on, Rarity, just a little longer! You can do it!” he cheered, the white mare finding a burst of stamina at his words.
Rarity managed to catch up and leapt up towards Applejack and Sonic, both of them reaching down and grabbing her hooves. As she and Sonic started pulling the fashionista up, Applejack said, “All right, here we go, Rarity. Up ya go ‘n’ then…” She was cut off before she could finish speaking by the engine suddenly shaking, the train rattling as it moved. “Whoa!” Applejack exclaimed as she was forced to use both of her hooves to hang on. Rarity did the same thing after Sonic used his free hand to press her up against the side of the engine, the hedgehog then following suit, the three of them dangling there as something continued to shake the train.
Twilight, Cadance, Shining, and Spike moved to help them while the others kept working to slow the train down, the three ponies holding their hooves down for their friends to grab onto, Spike looking between the three and trying to determine who needed his help more. Because of their situation, no one had yet noticed that a portal had appeared on the tracks in front of the train, not even when the train passed through it and their surroundings changed to what looked like a jungle or forested area with some sunlight streaming down through the canopy, though they did, occasionally, faintly hear the sound of rustling leaves and snapping branches.
After about a minute, Rainbow managed to get the reverser bar unstuck and got ready to pull it back, Pinkie already ready to yank the lever in front of her back while Tails closed the throttle carefully. “Okay, guys! Once we slow down a little more, it should be safe to come inside!” the fox called back, the train’s momentum already starting to decrease.
However, once the train reached a safe speed, something unexpected happened. As Shining was pulling Sonic up, and Cadance and Twilight were doing the same for Rarity and Applejack respectively, the train drove past a sizable tree branch. It had been pushed off to the side slightly, perhaps by the front of the engine, but as the right window reached it, it suddenly snapped back, striking Sonic in the side and knocking him into Rarity and Applejack! The smack was so sudden and so forceful that the three of them lost their grips and went flying towards the back of the train! “NO! Sonic, Applejack, Rarity!” Twilight cried while Shining and Cadance stared in horror as the three of them disappeared from their sight.
Sonic, Applejack, and Rarity immediately started bouncing and rolling as soon as they hit the ground, the Friendship Express’ cars rumbling beside them as they were sent rolling backwards uncontrollably, picking up loose bits of grass, dirt, and stains as they went. Thankfully, none of them ended up going underneath any of the train cars while they were moving, but once they were out of that danger, Sonic came to a stop when he collided with a tree while Rarity and Applejack went a little past the tree, stopping after they crashed through a large bush and landed on some soft but wet moss.
Sonic lay against the tree, groaning slightly as some leaves and something small and pink floated down from it and landed on his head. A moment later, he heard Rarity’s cries and perked up, leaning forward and pressing his hands against the ground to help him stand up quicker. He then walked over to where he could hear Rarity’s wails, walking around the bush she and Applejack had crashed through and going a little past where it was before finding the two mares together. Rarity was sitting up and looking at her hair, running her front hooves through it to try to get the leaves, dirt, and sap out of it, and Applejack was lying down on her front, her right hoof rubbing her neck as she tilted her head from side to side.
After a moment, Applejack sat up, still rubbing her neck as she opened her eyes and let out a soft groan. She soon glanced to her left and saw Sonic coming towards her, stopping a short distance away. She turned her head towards him and said, “Hey, Sugar-hog. Ya feel okay?”
The blue hedgehog replied, “Yeah. I’d say you two were fine, but it looks like that’s not entirely the case.” He glanced over at Rarity as he finished speaking, noticing that the white mare had gotten the leaves out of her mane and was now trying to (unsuccessfully) get the dirt and sap out of it.
Applejack looked over at the fashionista and, after a moment, scooted over to her and raised her hooves, placing them on Rarity’s hooves and lowering them before saying, “Rarity, calm down. You’re just gettin’ yer hooves dirty and sticky, and Ah know how much you don’t like either one. Don’t worry; we’ll get ya cleaned up once we figure out where in the Sam Hill we are.”
Rarity calmed down a little at the earth pony’s words and said, “Okay, Applejack. I just… wish I knew why all this happened so suddenly. You don’t suppose…?”
Applejack sighed and said, “Maybe Tails was right when he said that that monster’s bein’ controlled by somepony or something.”
While Applejack was speaking, Sonic was running his left hand across his head, having just noticed that something had landed on it. He brushed off the leaves, but when his hand touched the pink object, he paused for a moment before grabbing it between his thumb and his index finger and bringing it down in front of his face. It was a small card, similar to the business cards that lawyers had. Written on this particular card were four words: ‘Enjoying the scenic route?’
Sonic rolled his eyes before tucking the card in his spines and saying, “Yeah, no doubt about that, Applejack. Come on, we’d better get moving, as long as you two are feeling up to it.”
Applejack spoke, “Ah’m fine. Ya don’t get ta be a good apple farmer by bein’ easy ta knock down, after all!” She looked at Rarity and asked, “How ‘bout you, Rarity?”
The white unicorn moved her limbs a little before standing up and replying, “I believe I will be fine as well, Applejack.” She stepped off the moss and walked towards Sonic, looking around a bit while Applejack stood up and stretched a bit. She looked back at Sonic after a moment and asked, “Do you have any idea where we are, Sonic?”
The blue hedgehog shrugged, “Not right now, Rarity. That’s why I think we should get going. We might be able to figure out where we ended up and where the others are.” He noticed one strand of Rarity’s hair sticking out and tapped it with his right index finger as he said, “And hopefully, we’ll find some clean water too.”
Rarity sighed, “That would be just lovely right now.”
Applejack stepped towards the two and said, “Well, let’s go, then! …Any ideas where we should go?”
Sonic jerked his left thumb behind him as he replied, “We should be able to find the train tracks if we head back that way. Then we can just follow them out of here.” As he turned around and started walking, he added, “It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out where we are and where to go once we get out of this forest.” Applejack agreed with that and both she and Rarity trotted after him, going around the bush the two mares had crashed through and heading back the way they rolled.
As they walked, it didn’t take long for Sonic, Rarity, and Applejack to notice that the train tracks had seemingly disappeared, as not only could they not find them, but there was nothing to indicate that they had ever been there in the first place. With no other ideas, they kept walking in a straight line, as the look of the forest suggested that it was unlikely that the train would have had a lot of places to make turns at.
After a short while of walking, the forest started to get lighter, inspiring them to pick up the pace slightly. It didn’t take long afterwards for the three of them to come to the end of the forest. At the end of the line of trees, they stepped out of the green onto brown soil that was alternated between light and dark brown in a checkerboard pattern. They could also see blue flowers, palm trees, and what appeared to be a mole digging a hole nearby.
“Where are we?” Applejack asked.
While glancing around, Sonic answered, “This looks like the Green Grove on Flicky Island. It’s a good place to hang out.” Before either mare could ask him about the area, he added, “I know where to find some water if anyone wants to wash up.”
Almost immediately, Rarity grabbed onto him with her hooves and desperately said, “Yes, yes please! I really must splash some water on my mane! Please show me where there’s water?” Sonic grinned a little nervously at the way Rarity was clinging onto him, but he couldn’t say no to someone who wanted to take care of their appearance; he did take the time to take good care of his shoes after all. So he got out of the white mare’s grip and began showing her the way, Applejack shaking her head with a slight smirk before following after them.
A few minutes later, Sonic and Applejack were gathered around a small pond, throwing water on their stains while Rarity stood in the pond as she washed her coat, mane, and tail. Applejack finished cleaning what she could, years of growing up on Sweet Apple Acres having taught her to try to use as little water as possible when washing, and looked over at Sonic, the hedgehog kneeling down as he splashed some water on his face with some of it running down the back of his head. After a few seconds, she saw something pink fall down behind him. She called to him, “Hey Sonic, what’s that thing behind ya?”
Sonic looked up at her in confusion for a moment before turning his head to look back over his shoulder, his eyes soon spotting the pink object. He reached back and grabbed it with his left hand and held it up to his face to examine it. He quickly deduced that it was a sponge, although it had some familiar words printed on it. “It’s a sponge, Applejack. But when it landed on my head earlier, it was a card…” he said with a raised eyebrow.
Applejack also raised an eyebrow. “That was a card? Are you sure?” she asked.
Sonic looked up at her, “A sponge wouldn’t land as gently as a leaf. And I know it was a lot thinner than this sponge is.”
Rarity asked, “I don’t suppose you’d allow me to use it for a moment? I still have a little left to do here, and I have a feeling it would be quite helpful.”
Sonic looked at her for a moment before holding it out towards her, “Sure, go ahead.” Rarity took it in her magic and used it to scrub herself, Sonic turning his head to the side and holding up his hand to give her as much privacy as he could.
About a minute later, Rarity released her magical grip on the sponge and struck a pose, saying, “Much better.”
Applejack asked, “Y’all done, Rarity?”
The fashionista looked at her and replied, “Almost, Applejack. I just need to fix my mane.” Applejack let out a small groan at that.
Sonic looked back at her and said, “Well, do what you can. We don’t have any brushes and the nearest beauty parlor is miles away.” He glanced down at the water and, after a moment, asked, “Hey, where’d that sponge go?”
Rarity started to look down as she said, “I dropped it right…” She stopped herself as she realized she could no longer see the cleaning tool. “It… disappeared?” she asked, as if she couldn’t believe what she said either.
“That’s weird. Then again, the fact that it showed up in a forest of all places is weird,” Sonic commented. He then shrugged, “Well, we’ll worry about it later. You said you needed to put your mane in order?”
Rarity looked back at him and said, “Oh, yes. This will just take a minute.” She walked to the edge of the pond and stepped out. She then began to use her magic to make the adjustments to her mane and tail, as well as remove as much water as she could.
While she was doing that, Applejack walked around the pond to Sonic and, when he was looking at her, asked him, “So what’s the deal with this place? Why’s it called ‘Flicky Island’?”
Sonic replied, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s the home of a species of birds called the Flickies. I don’t know if you have them back in Equestria, but they’re kind of special birds here, especially the ones that live on this island since they hail from another dimension.”
Applejack raised an eyebrow, “Another dimension? Are you kiddin’ me?”
Sonic answered, “‘Fraid not. That’s why Eggman got real interested in them this one time. He captured them with some kind of machine and put them in his Badniks to help him find the Chaos Emeralds. I found out what he was doing when I paid a visit to the island around that time and Tails, Knuckles, and I freed the Flickies and got the Chaos Emeralds before he could and sent him packing. As far as I know, he hasn’t come back here since then.”
Rarity sighed as she continued to work on her mane and tail, “That Eggman really sounds like quite a cur. I’m quite amazed that Fluttershy didn’t get angrier when you were talking about him and what he does with the animals of your world, Sonic.”
Applejack looked back at Sonic and said, “Well, ya answered mah question. Now…” She stopped short when she heard what sounded like tweeting nearby. “What’s that?” she wondered.
Sonic looked around until he spotted the source: four Flickies, one blue, one red, one pink, and one green, sitting in a nearby tree. He pointed, “Look! Flickies!” He waved up at them, the birds soon noticing him and flying down towards him, the blue and pink Flickies flying normally while the red one dropped down and seemingly bounced towards him and the green one was the slowest one to fly towards Sonic.
Rarity walked over to Sonic and Applejack and looked the birds over. “My, they certainly are cute, aren’t they?” she asked.
Sonic nodded, “Yep. And maybe they can help us find the others.”
Applejack shrugged, “Ah guess it’s worth a shot.” She cleared her throat and looked at the birds, “Uh, hi there, y’all.” The four Flickies looked at her curiously. “Hey, y’all haven’t seen any other ponies on this here island now, have ya?” she asked. The Flickies chirped together in confusion. “Ya know, like me ‘n’ Rarity right here? Or a dragon or a fox?” Again, the Flickies voiced their confusion.
Sonic thought for a moment before snapping his fingers. “I’ve got an idea. Hang on,” he said before suddenly taking off. Applejack, Rarity, and the Flickies waited about a minute before Sonic came back, carrying what appeared to be sand in his arms. He dropped it on the ground in front of the Flickies.
Rarity was quick to notice the bits of sand that still clung to him and exclaimed, “Sonic! Now you need another bath!”
Sonic looked at her and said, “Relax, Rarity. It’s just sand; it’ll come off nicely.” He then crouched down in front of the sand and began to draw in it with his right index finger, making crude sketches of Tails, Spike, and a pony. He then looked at the Flickies and asked, “Have you guys seen any of these?” The birds looked at his pictures and shook their heads. “What about this?” Sonic asked as he brushed away his drawings and started a new one, this one of the Friendship Express. This time, the Flickies nodded and began to point their heads to the west. They then waved with their wings before flying in that direction, Sonic, Rarity, and Applejack following them as they assumed that was what they were telling them.
As they ran through the Green Grove after the Flickies, the three of them saw more of the island’s Flickies. Some looked like they were lazing about, others appeared as though they were busy with something, and others looked a bit upset (they were probably the ones who were most disturbed by a train passing through the area). Soon, the Flickies came to a stop and turned back to the trio, the four of them hovering above a giant floating ring with a swirling blue vortex in its opening. Applejack, Rarity, and Sonic came to a stop in front of it, Rarity asking, “Isn’t this the Warp Ring?”
Sonic replied, “Not quite. It’s one of the rings the Flickies use to travel between dimensions. We should be able to use it, though, to get across the island quicker. That’s probably why they led us here.”
Applejack looked at the ring and said, “If that’s the case, let’s go, then!” Sonic nodded and ran towards the ring, jumping into it with Applejack and Rarity following behind him. Once they were all through, the Flickies flew to the front of the ring and looked at the vortex within it, all of them hoping that the three of them would find what they were looking for.
After traveling through the vortex for what seemed like seconds, Sonic, Applejack, and Rarity reached the end of the path and were deposited onto solid ground by another giant ring. Looking at the ground, they saw that it still had a checkerboard pattern to it, but now it was blue and yellow and appeared to be made of stone. Looking around, they saw that the area they were in looked like ancient ruins, plants growing on or out of the stonework in some places. “Now where are we?” Applejack asked.
Sonic answered, “Not sure what it’s called; I think I heard Eggman say Rusty Ruin at one point. It’s some kind of ancient ruin that he pulled up out of the ocean, probably as part of his search for the Chaos Emeralds.”
Rarity looked at one of the kelp plants growing on the wall as she said, “It certainly looks like it was underwater at some point. I hope he at least drained it when he brought it up.”
Sonic looked at her as he replied, “I didn’t get any unwelcome surprises of that nature when I followed him here.” Looking back towards the ruins, he said, “If the Flickies saw the train go through the ring leading here, then the others must be around here somewhere. We’ll have to watch our step, though; Eggman made sure to fix up all the old traps in this place.”
Applejack sarcastically commented, “Well, ain’t that sweet o’ him?” Sonic and Rarity shared a look before the three of them started walking, searching for any sign of their friends.
After a while of searching the Rusty Ruin, during which the three of them had to dodge several swinging mace balls and hidden flamethrowers, they were walking through a flat section of the ruins when they heard what sounded like talking nearby, which caused them to stop and listen. Rarity spoke after a moment, “It sounds like… Tails! And Twilight! And Spikey-Wikey! But where are they?”
Sonic turned his head to the left, looking at a row of broken columns past some fans in the ground. “I’m gonna say… over there!” he said before running over to the fans and jumping on one, spinning around on top of it and being sent in the direction of the broken columns. He ended up smashing right through them.
Applejack and Rarity jumped over the fans and ran after him, the latter saying, “Wait for us, Sonic!” When they got past the remains of the destroyed pillars, they found Sonic standing with Tails, Twilight, Spike, Shining Armor, and Cadance near a large broken pillar. The now-found friends quickly noticed the two ponies approaching, especially when Rarity exclaimed, “Tails! Spike! Twilight! Princess Cadance and Shining Armor! You’re all safe!”
Twilight said, “Applejack, Rarity! You’re both all right too!”
The two ponies stopped next to Sonic, Applejack saying, “We were so worried about y’all!”
Shining Armor chuckled, “Well, WE were worried about YOU! I mean, falling off of a moving train? That’s rough! Like, really rough!”
Applejack smiled, but then it faded as she asked, “Where’s everypony else?”
Sonic nodded, “I was wondering that too.”
Tails started, “Well, see what happened was, after you guys fell off the train, I ended up letting go of the throttle and ran over to the window. I managed to look out the window, but I didn’t see any of you. I thought the throttle would’ve stayed where it was, but it must’ve opened somehow since the train started going faster. And that’s when things really got weird.”
Sonic cocked his head to the side, “What do you mean?”
Twilight explained, “When Tails tried to go back and help Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie, the train started acting like a spell had actually been cast on it. The shaking was bad before, but it got worse at that moment, and not long after we got out of that forest, the tracks suddenly turned. It was so sharp it nearly threw all of us off too.”
Shining nodded and continued for her, “But we managed to stay on the train, at least somewhat, and after we passed through to these ruins, it started bumping into the stones scattered around here. Eventually, it managed to throw us all off and we hit the ground. Pretty hard, I might add. After we recovered from that, we had to take shelter in an alcove since it started raining for a little while and because Cadance wanted to make sure we were all okay.”
Cadance rolled her eyes, saying, “Shining, now I’m fairly certain your parents taught you and Twilight to not go running around when you’re hurt without getting it looked at first.” The white stallion blushed a bit, noticing the motherly tone Cadance used when she said that. The pink alicorn then said, “After the rain stopped, we started looking to see if we could find the train, but we haven’t found any tracks yet.”
Sonic grunted, “Same thing happened with us.”
Rarity nodded, “Yes. We tried to find the train tracks too, but we didn’t have any more success.”
Spike groaned, “So someone IS messing with us now.”
Applejack looked at Tails and said, “Guess you were right after all, Tails.”
Tails rubbed the back of his head as he replied, “Well, I don’t think that would have helped us avoid this anyway, Applejack. I just hope the train hasn’t been derailed yet.”
Rarity sighed as she looked around, “So where do we go now? We haven’t seen very many of those Flicky birds around here.”
Twilight murmured, “Oh yeah, Tails called them Flickies too.”
Sonic thought out loud, “I wonder if those tracks are really gone or if they’re just hidden?”
Spike asked, “What, you mean like with magic? Because Twilight could make an illusion like that in her sleep. What was happening with the train though, that’s a totally different story.”
Tails raised his right hand to his chin as he heard them talking. “Hmm… I have an idea.” He reached into his right tail and pulled out his radar. The others watched him as he dragged the stylus he’d made for it across its lower screen for a minute. He muttered to himself as he worked, “If I just change this, reverse that, and make an alteration here…” A few moments later, something began to appear on the otherwise blank top screen. “Yes! I’ve got something!” he exclaimed.
Everybody crowded around to see what it was. “What is that?” Shining asked as he looked at what appeared to be a greenish-yellow cloud making a trail across the screen.
Tails explained, “It’s a magic trail. Sonic and Spike were right; those tracks were made up of magic, probably not very complex magic, but there’s another kind of magic, probably from whatever spell was cast on the train. That and the magic in those train tracks are making up this trail. We should be able to follow it to the others!”
Sonic smiled, “Well, you’ve got the radar, Tails. Lead the way!” With that, the combined group started moving through the ruins again, everyone following behind Tails while the fox alternated between looking where he was going and down at his radar. The lack of a map made the path a little confusing at times, but considering what they were tracking, there weren’t a lot of surprises in terms of where they had to go to stay on the trail.
Eventually, after dodging more traps in the ruins and running past the area containing the remains of the statue that Eggman fought Sonic with, the group came across another one of the island’s giant rings. According to Tails’ radar, the trail stopped at the ring, so they figured that meant it had gone through the ring. They quickly did the same, leaping into the ring’s vortex and leaving the Rusty Ruin behind.
At the other end of their trip through the ring, the group landed in a colorful area that was clearly not a natural creation. The floor they were standing on had a green and blue checkerboard pattern like the other locations, but it almost looked like it might be shiny. The rest of the area had a variety of colors, particularly red, orange, white, and yellow. “What is this place?” Shining Armor asked.
“It’s the Spring Stadium, Shining. Eggman built it,” Tails said, pointing down at a nearby deflated balloon that had Eggman’s face on it.
“Yeah. No idea why he built it, though,” Sonic added.
“Maybe to help him catch Flickies?” Twilight suggested. She looked down at the ground, “This pattern does look like the other areas of the island we’ve seen.”
Applejack spoke up, “Yeah, that’s somethin’ Ah’ve been wonderin’ about. What is it with this checkerboard pattern? Here Ah can see it, but how does the soil in the Green Grove turn out like that? And the ground in that ruin? It all looks like somethin’ Discord would make.”
While configuring his radar, Tails responded, “I don’t know, Applejack. The ground in the Rusty Ruin could’ve been tiled like that by the ancient civilization that lived there before, but there could be a lot of reasons for the Green Grove’s soil looking like that.” He messed about with his radar a little more before saying, “Okay, I’ve got a lock on the magic trail again. Although the traces of magic are getting weaker, I can definitely say that the train passed through here.”
Rarity asked, “Is there enough left to form a trail?”
Tails replied, “It looks like it.”
Spike, who was sitting on Twilight’s back, smiled, “So we should be able to keep moving like this, right?”
Sonic nodded, “Yep. But we’ll still have to watch our step. There are some traps that poke up out of the ground around here, and there are also springs hidden in the floor in some places.” With that warning in mind, Tails once again walked in front of the group, leading the way into the Spring Stadium.
As they wandered through the Eggman-built facility, they had to keep an eye out as they walked since, like Sonic said, the floor wasn’t entirely safe in places. They had to skip around in areas where there were several holes in the floor to avoid being poked by spikes, avoid areas where there were bigger holes in the floor to avoid spears, and each of them had at least one amusing incident with the bumpers and/or springs set up in places. Eventually, though, the magic trail they were tracking on Tails’ radar began to thin out before being lost entirely.
When Tails pointed this out to the others, Twilight asked, “Now what do we do? I thought that trail would’ve led us straight to Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy.”
Cadance spoke, “There has to be something around here that can point us in the direction we need to go. We just have to find it.”
Shining looked off to his left and saw something in the distance. “Hey, are those rainbows over there?” he asked. Everyone followed his gaze to see that there appeared to be flashes of rainbows appearing and disappearing somewhere up ahead.
“Eggman would never willingly put a rainbow anywhere in or on one of his bases,” Sonic noted.
“Then that’s gotta be Rainbow Dash! We’d better see what she’s up to!” Applejack said. Everyone agreed and started making their way towards the rainbows, going down a winding slide and leaping around more traps as they went.
They soon reached the spot where Shining had seen the rainbows, and sure enough, they found that it was Rainbow Dash making them. However, they saw that Pinkie was there as well, and she was being her normal self, bouncing on (or rather off) the bumpers and saying, “Boingy, boingy, boingy!” And all the while, Rainbow Dash was flying around, trying to catch her and just failing each time she came close to grabbing her.
A couple of seconds after the group arrived on the scene, Rainbow let out a loud groan and said, “Come ON, Pinkie! We gotta go!”
The pink pony bounced up and wrapped herself around a blue balloon, the balloon somehow still floating even with Pinkie holding onto it. “Aw, but this is so much fun, Dashie! All these balloons and bouncy things and everything! Except for those balloons that have that meanie Eggman on them! Those aren’t fun!”
Rainbow persisted, “Pinkie, this isn’t the time! Fluttershy’s all by herself, and we still don’t know what happened to Sonic and the others! We need to find them!” She heard a throat clearing nearby and turned her head to find the group standing there. “Uh, okay… That’s… Never mind.”
Pinkie, who was hanging onto the balloon from the bottom of it now, turned her head to look too and grinned, “Hey guys!” She let go suddenly and fell to the ground, flipping around in mid-fall to land on her hooves. She then said, “You see, Dash? Some things DO come to you if you just wait!”
Sonic and Tails looked at her oddly while Spike and the ponies just looked at each other knowingly for a moment. Applejack then looked at Rainbow Dash and asked, “Glad to see both o’ y’all are okay, but where’s Fluttershy?”
Pinkie quickly interjected, “She’s still on the train!”
Rainbow sighed, “And we would still be too, if it wasn’t for Pinkie jumping out of the window. After she got the throttle closed, she went over to the window while I took care of the rest of the whole train-stopping thing and she got really excited when she saw this… place. I barely turned my back for a second, but the next thing I knew, she was gone! I figured she must’ve fallen off since we went over a hill in that time, so I finished what I was doing and went after her, but she… well, you must’ve seen what she was doing just now. I’ve been chasing her around ever since!”
Sonic asked, “What happened to the train?”
Rainbow shrugged, “It must not have come to a stop or started acting weird again, because it kept going after I flew off of it and, when I stopped trying to catch Pinkie for a second and looked for it, I couldn’t find it! It must be somewhere else now, and hopefully it’s stopped there, wherever it is.”
Tails spoke up, “Well, if it kept going the way it’s been going so far, I think I know where it went.”
Rainbow looked up at that, getting up in his face as she asked, “You do?! Where?! We’ve gotta get there right away!”
Tails pulled back from the cyan mare, saying, “T-Take it easy, Rainbow. I’m sure Fluttershy is okay, but we’ll know soon enough.” He looked at Sonic and asked, “Do you remember where the next ring is?”
Sonic replied, “I think so. Let’s go!” With that, he took the lead, the others, including Pinkie Pie, following behind him through the Spring Stadium. After a few minutes, they came across another giant ring and went through it, Rainbow flying into it and Pinkie bouncing into it while everyone else jumped into it.
The group soon exited the ring’s vortex, finding themselves in a land full of snow. Thankfully, they landed on dry ground that was in a checkerboard pattern, this one being light blue and gray. Looking around, it didn’t appear Fluttershy was in the immediate vicinity. “Fluttershy! Fluttershy, darling! Can you hear me?” Rarity called.
“She must not be close by. With as quiet as this place is, she should’ve heard that,” Tails noted.
Sonic looked at Twilight and asked, “She wouldn’t go far from the train, would she?”
Twilight shook her head, “Not unless she had a really good reason too. Unless there’s something here that could give her that reason, she’s probably still with the train.”
Shining rubbed his left hoof against his right foreleg as he said, “Then we’d better get moving. It’s not too cold out here, but we shouldn’t stay here too long.”
Rainbow spoke up, “Hold up, dudes! I’ll fly up and see if I can spot the train from the sky!” Without waiting for a response, she flew up high above the winter wonderland and started looking down below, searching for the train. She soon saw what she was looking for and flew back down to the ground and said, “I saw it! There’s a big pine tree in the center of this place! It stopped there!” She then took off again, wanting to make sure Fluttershy was okay while the others started heading where she had directed them.
It took crossing an ice river and sliding down a few ice-covered slopes in addition to all the running, but the group made it to the center of the wintery area in a relatively short time. There they saw the pine tree Rainbow had mentioned, bigger than the other trees they had seen so far and sitting in the middle of a snow-covered area, which looked similar to the area where Sonic and Eggman fought on this part of Flicky Island, at least in terms of size. And there, behind the trees on the ledge overlooking the clearing was the train they had been searching for.
As they got closer, they saw more Flickies flying around the tree as well as Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy standing in the clearing near the tree. When they were closer, they could the two of them talking. “But Rainbow Dash, this is really important to the Flickies,” Fluttershy was saying.
“Yeah, well, none of it is going to matter if we don’t stop that monster that’s messed everything up! We gotta leave, Fluttershy!” Rainbow replied.
“I can’t just abandon little birdies when they’re asking for help,” Fluttershy murmured.
Rainbow’s response was cut off by Rarity suddenly exclaiming, “Fluttershy!” The two pegasi turned to look at the fashionista as she rushed towards them and wrapped the timid pegasus in a hug. “Thank goodness you’re all right!” she said.
Fluttershy, while surprised, managed to say, “H-Hello, Rarity. Yes, I’m okay.”
Rainbow looked at the others as they approached and said, “Hey, you guys made it!”
Sonic replied as they stopped near the three ponies, “Yep. So what’s going on here?”
Rainbow answered, “Fluttershy doesn’t want to leave yet. She says these birds need help with this tree and she wants to help them.”
Fluttershy, having been released from Rarity’s hug, explained, “The Flickies want to decorate this tree and make it look really pretty. They’re saying that it’s something they do at this time of year and it will bring back the one thing that’s missing.”
Twilight tilted her head to the side, “What are they missing?”
Fluttershy answered, “They’re saying it’s supposed to be snowing here, but it isn’t and they’re worried.”
Sonic glanced up as he said, “Come to think of it, it WAS snowing last time Tails and I were here. Like, the whole time we were here.”
Fluttershy nodded, “They said that, if they decorate the tree, they’ll be able to bring the snow back.”
Tails asked, “And they need help getting the decorations up?”
Fluttershy shook her head, “No. They’re saying that some bad robots came and took their decorations. They were really upset about it, so I was trying to calm them down. I don’t know how else to help them.”
Applejack looked at Sonic and asked, “Sonic, didn’t you say that Eggman would put animals like the Flickies in his robots to power ‘em? Ah thought you saved all the Flickies when Eggman was here?”
Sonic answered, “I did, Applejack, but the robots patrolling Eggman’s base here didn’t have any animals powering them. Some of them must’ve survived the destruction of Eggman’s base. Those are the only Badniks I can think of that could still be working here.”
Fluttershy flew over to him and asked, “Can we get the decorations they stole from the Flickies back?”
Sonic replied, “Sure, it’s no problem.” He looked at Tails and Twilight and asked, “Right?”
Tails quickly nodded while Twilight thought for a moment before replying, “Sure.”
Rainbow exclaimed, “What?! Sonic, Twilight, we don’t have time for this! We’ve got a monster to stop, remember?!”
Sonic looked at her and said, “Dash, relax. This won’t take long.”
Rainbow retorted, “Yeah, that’s what we thought about that cave too, and look how that turned out! So they need help getting some decorations back for a tree. It can wait until we’re done! This is more important!”
Sonic retorted, “Really? Because I beg to differ.”
Rainbow raised an eyebrow, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Sonic answered, “Look, I realize we have bigger things to worry about right now,” he raised his left hand to gesture at the Flickies hovering around, “but the Flickies are my friends, you know, and Fluttershy wants to help them bring the snow back. That’s enough, isn’t it? Just because it seems like it’s a minor thing doesn’t mean we can just turn a blind eye to them.”
Twilight glanced off to the side as she thought, “That’s true. But even so, I’ve seen it happen before.”
Cadance spoke up, “I would have to agree with Sonic, Rainbow Dash. The Flickies would like our help so that they can do something special they, as Fluttershy mentioned, do often. We’re here now, so we can spare some time to help them now. It’s the sort of thing a friend would do for someone else.”
Rainbow groaned, “Ugh, fine. But we’re leaving right away after we’re done helping them!”
Pinkie piped up, “Great! So let’s split up and get the goodies back and save the Flickies’ special time of the year!”
Shining spoke up, “Listen, before we get started, let’s try to work as efficiently as possible. If anyone finds anything, bring it back here right away. We won’t start decorating the tree until the Flickies confirm we’ve found everything.” He looked at Fluttershy and said, “I hope you’ll be able to help us with that, Fluttershy.”
The shy pegasus smiled, “I’ll do my best.”
Once everyone was clear on what to do, Rainbow Dash flew off to start searching while the others began to fan out and search. Before he left, Sonic looked at Pinkie, the pink pony beginning to bounce off to go searching, and called, “Hey, Pinkie, wait a second!”
The party pony stopped in mid-bounce and, after landing, trotted over to him and Tails and asked, “Yes, Sonic?”
Sonic replied, “Listen, can you and Tails go check the train and try to get it ready while the rest of us search? Rainbow seems irritated enough about this whole thing already; I’d like to not make it worse, if that’s possible.”
Tails sighed, “I can’t argue with that. Don’t worry; we’ll have it ready in time.” Pinkie nodded in agreement.
Sonic smiled, “Thanks, you two. We’ll be back soon!” With that, he took off to do his part in the search while Tails and Pinkie headed up to the engine to get to work.
A short while later…
Everyone met up back at the large pine tree, a total of five different decoration pieces having been collected. As Sonic had thought, the Badniks that had stolen the Flickies’ decorations had come from Eggman’s main base, and they had been in a sorry condition, with cracked exteriors, exposed wiring, and not functioning as well as they used to; it was a miracle they had made it as far as they had from the old base, though it seemed they were just wandering around aimlessly at that point. Two of the four-legged robots had run off with the ornaments, which were recovered by Twilight, Spike, and Rarity, and three of the blue flying robots had stolen the ribbons, garland, and bells, which were respectively retrieved by Cadance and Shining Armor, Sonic and Applejack, and Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy.
As they gathered around the tree, Tails and Pinkie Pie came down from the train and Fluttershy talked to the Flickies, who told her they had found everything. Thus, with quite a bit of help from Tails, Cadance, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash, the group helped the Flickies decorate the tree, wrapping the garland and ribbon around it and hanging the ornaments on the branches. Once done, they all stepped back to admire their work.
“The Flickies certainly seem pleased,” Rarity noted, looking at all the birds fluttering around the tree.
“Oh yes, they seem very happy now,” Fluttershy nodded.
Rainbow looked up and asked, “So… when is this snow they mentioned going to start?”
Tails looked up at the tree and held his left hand up to his chin. “Hmm… it almost seems like it’s missing something,” he said after a moment.
Spike looked up at him and asked, “Like what?”
Sonic looked at the top of the tree for a second and then his eyes trailed down to his left to Twilight’s cutie mark. “I know what it is,” he said. He pointed at the six-pronged star, “It needs one of these on top.”
Twilight looked down at her flank for a moment before turning and looking up at the tree. She couldn’t deny it looked a bit empty up on the top. She charged her magic into her horn and, after a moment, a lavender six-pronged star floated up out of it and up towards the tree, coming to rest on the very top. There it pulsed for a few seconds before it glowed brightly and released a wave of energy. A second later, snow, or to be more accurate diamond dust, began to fall from the sky!
Everyone was amazed by this display of magic, the kind that only the holidays can bring to others. Even the Flickies could feel it since they seemed even happier now, flying around the group and chirping happily. After playing with the Flickies and enjoying the scene for a minute, Cadance spoke up, “After everything we went through on this island, to be able to see this wonderful scene… it makes being separated and having to go through trap-filled areas all worthwhile. I only wish we could be a part of it longer.”
Twilight looked at her and said, “I do too, Cadance, because you’re right. This really was worth all the trouble that happened up to this point. But we still have a job to do.”
Sonic walked over and nodded, “Right. We made it happen; now we’ve gotta make sure it lasts for the Flickies.” He turned to Tails and Pinkie Pie and asked, “Are we all ready to go?”
Tails smiled, “Of course! Pinkie and I did our part while you guys were gone. We checked everything, set it all up, and got a fire going.” He gestured with his left hand towards the train, indicating the steam coming from the engine’s stack.
Pinkie grinned, “We are good to go!”
Shining said, “Then we should go. To preserve this moment along with every other moment we’ve ever had.” With that, the group made their way to the train, Tails carrying Pinkie with him up to the engine and Rainbow Dash flying up behind him. Everyone else made their way up a nearby slope to reach the train. They all climbed aboard the engine, Tails doing one last check on everything before getting the train going.
As the train started to move and follow the tracks in front of it, Sonic and a few of the ponies looked out the windows towards the back to see the magically created tracks fading away as the caboose followed behind the rest of the cars. The tracks led them up to the side of the island’s volcano and, thankfully, around it before straightening out and going to a portal.
As they approached their exit, Tails and some of the ponies went to the left window while Sonic, Spike, and the rest of the ponies went to the adjacent cupcake car and looked out the left side. As they took one last look at the tree they helped decorate, they all waved to the Flickies, the birds hovering as they waved back to them. They continued waving for a short while even after the train had gone through the portal, the last of the tracks fading after it had gone through, before returning to their tree. This time of the year was always special for them, but this year it was all the more special. Not only had they reunited with old friends and made some new ones, but this year they had their own star of night.
A star with royal beauty bright.