Chapter I - Something lurks in the forest.
“And we do have enough bunting, right? And if not, why not?!” Twilight asked. “Oh! What about the flags, we definitely have those, right?”
Spike yawned to himself loudly and grumbled, watching as the lavender alicorn paced frantically back and forth in the library.
“Twilight… it’s like, three thirty. I know you’re are a princess and all, but can’t we do this later?” he asked wearily.
Twilight snapped her head to look at him, sending a chill down the drakes body as her left eye twitched, “No we can’t, Spike! I need to be sure that everything is going to go smoothly today!”
“But you’ve gone over the list, like, twenty times now,” the dragon grumbled. “All that’s left to do is wait till everyone else gets up.”
“I know, Spike,” Twilight groaned. “But I want the Summer Solstice Celebration to go well, remember what happened when Ponyville held the Summer Sun Celebration’?”
Spike cringed, he didn’t really need to be reminded of the chaos that happened the last time. He could still hear the screams of ponies as the parasprites devoured everything in sight despite the events happening a couple of years prior.
“Good point…” he replied. “But we can’t just demand everyone wake up now and get to work, they’ll be too tired and unable to focus properly.”
“Maybe… but I just want everything to go correctly.”
“What’s the difference anyway?” Spike yawned. “Isn’t the Summer Sun the same as the Summer Solstice?”
Twilight shook her head, “Not quite. The Summer Sun celebration is the celebration for when Princess Celestia defeated Nightmare Moon, and restored the sun. The Summer Solstice is the celebration of the longest day of the year. Furthermore—”
Twilight was interrupted by a loud knock on the door. Spike waddled over to it whilst yawning to open it and revealed a very excited and grinning pink mare.
“Morning, Spike!” Pinkie all but shouted.
Spike winced and held his head, a soft throbbing forming as he watched the pink mare bounce into the library, “Yeah, yeah…”
“Morning, Twilight!” Pinkie grinned as she saw the alicorn.
“Hey, Pinkie,” Twilight smiled. “What brings you here this early?”
“Well, I got up early to make a start on the food for the celebration when my pinkie sense started to go all funny and I thought I’d tell you—”
“OH DEAR CELESTIA, PLEASE DON’T TELL ME SOMETHING BAD’S GOING TO HAPPEN?!” Twilight screamed as she grabbed the mare, shaking her violently.
Pinkie simply giggled, “Of course not.”
“Really?” Twilight asked. “You’re not just… trying to prank me, right?”
“Why would I do that?” Pinkie tilted her head.
Twilight sighed, “Sorry, Pinkie. I’m just nervous, I really want today to go off without a hitch.”
“I know, but just incase I have all my instruments ready. You never know!” Pinkie beamed.
“Right… so what was the thing you had a twitchy over?” Twilight asked.
“Well… I don't know. First, my legs shook, then my head and tail, then I jumped into the air and my whole body flailed. Then my eyes twitched and I started to make weird noises like ‘humina humina!’ and then I just stopped.”
“That… doesn’t help in the slightest,” Twilight deadpanned.
“I’ve never had one like it before, but it didn’t feel like something bad was going to happen, just the complete opposite.”
“Really?” Twilight blinked a smile starting to grow on her face.
“Mhm, I mean, I think something bad might happen at first but that won’t last to long,” the pink mare said.
Twilight didn’t hear her, she had let out a sigh of relief that everything was going to be fine. Pinkie noticed that the alicorn was seemingly staring off into space with a dopey smile on her face and shrugged.
“Well, I’d better get back to the bakery. Those cupcakes won’t bake themselves! See you later, Twilight.”
Pinkie bounced away and out of the door which was soon closed by Spike. The dragon walked over to the still distant Twilight and prodded her side.
“Now that we now everything will be fine, can we please go back to bed for a bit?”
“Hmm?” Twilight said as she shook her head. “Oh, okay, I guess we can. The Princess’ won’t arrive for a while.”
Twilight watched the drake walk upstairs to his bed as she followed suit, the weight of getting everything ready practically melting away as she ascended the stairs.
“Come on, Luna. Where are you?” Celestia muttered.
The solar princess sighed for what seemed like the seventieth time that hour as she sat in the large open top carriage. Luna, for whatever reason, was running late. The Summer Solstice Celebration was due to start in an hour or so time and could only be started when she herself arrived to announce its start.
Blueblood, who had asked to join them this year, sat beside his aunt, yawning and tapping his hoof on the edge of the carriage clearly bored out of his mind.
“Does Auntie Luna always run this late?” he asked Celestia.
Celestia looked up at the castle to where Luna’s room was, “Not usually, I do wonder what—”
She stopped when Luna came rushing out of the palace followed by two of her guard.
“S-sorry, Tia,” the lunar princess panted. “I… was pre-occupied.”
Blueblood snickered softly as Celestia shook her head and sighed. Again.
“You were playing that infernal games contraption again, weren’t you?”
“I was not!” Luna protested, “I was… looking over some… reports.”
“Uhuh,” Celestia replied, clearly not buying it. “I make sure I’m up for when we hold the New Moon Celebration.”
“I know, I know!” Luna replied. “But I can't help it! This technology we have is so fascinating, we just have to keep researching it!”
Celestia giggled and shook her head, “Just get in the carriage, you silly thing.”
Luna huffed as she clambered in between her and Blueblood, her guard taking their spots beside Celestia’s. After a nod from Celestia, the group of guards opened their wings and took to the skies, pulling the carriage behind them and made their way towards Ponyville.
“So, why did you ask to join us again this year, Blueblood?” Luna asked.
“Auntie Celestia says I should try to interact more with the subjects,” Blueblood started. “And I figures the Summer Solstice Celebration is a good place to start, Ponyville is a small town after all. That, and I’ve never actually seen Aunty raise the sun, especially on the longest day of the year.”
“That does sound like a good plan, nephew,” Luna replied. “But you are aware of who lives in that town, yes?”
“Who?” he asked.
“Rarity, the element of generosity,” Luna said.
“That’s interesting, I believe getting to know the elements would be a good—”
“She was the mare that was hit by the cake at the Gala a couple of years ago, nephew. The one who spent the evening with you,” Celestia interrupted.
“Oh…” Blueblood muttered. “I never did apologise for that, did I?”
Celestia shook her head, “No, you didn’t.”
“I suppose that’s where I should start,” he sighed.
He looked over the edge of the carriage to see the town coming closer into view and sighed again. He felt that today was going to be, ironically, a long day.
Twilight, for once in her life, was relaxed.
Everything was going according to her plan. The town was decorated nicely, the tables and chairs were set up, the podium from where Celestia would raise the sun and the festivities would commence was standing proud.
“So,” Spike said, now more awake. “You finally calm?”
Twilight smiled down at the little dragon and nodded, “I am, nothing has gone wrong so far. We’re on schedule and the Princess’ will be here any moment. Nothing can ruin my spirits!”
“Good, can I go back to bed?” Spike grumbled, receiving a scowl from Twilight. “What? As much as I want to see the raising of the sun, which I totally haven’t seen a dozen times already, you woke me up at three o’clock… I’m still tired.”
Twilight was about to kick up a fuss, but he was right. She sighed and nuzzled him affectionately.
“Alright, Spike…” Twilight started as the dragon headed back to the library. “But I did hear Rarity had a new dress that she specifically designed for today, it would be a shame if you were to miss out on it. I hear she really outdid herself with it,” she said with a mock sigh.
“Who, what, where?” Spike said, blinking as he stopped suddenly.
“Not to mention, she would be all on her own during the party… no one except some stallions around the town to keep her company.”
Spike suddenly vanished in a puff of smoke as he darted for the tree house. In a few seconds, he came rushing back out. His scales glistened and he looked wide awake and alert. A small red bowtie adorned his neck and a bouquet of flowers firmly in his claw.
“Well, if you put it that way, Twilight,” Spike said as he briskly made his way to the boutique.
Twilight simply giggled as she watched the dragon walk off, she decided to do another inspection round, smiling happily to herself as she trotted towards the nearest building where a few ponies were setting up their decorations.
Deep within the Everfree forest not too far from the old castle of the royal siblings, the soft glow of the moonlight filled a small ruined tower. The once tall, proud building that would have loomed over the trees was now being consumed by the forest, with vines covering nearly all of its walls. Large bushes and other vegetation all but hid it from a casual glance, birds that had now taken residence inside of the cracks and other crevices of the tower.
Suddenly, a low rumble echoed from beneath the tower which shook the crumbling foundations slight followed by a thunderous crash as if something had landed hard on the ground. In alarm, birds shot out of their homes and into the sky, startling other birds which followed suit creating a wave of feathers that launched high above the trees.
Then, there was silence again. But this was short lived.
A low groan echoed from where the rumble had occurred followed by a loud hiss. Something was moving within the tower. Heavy, thudding footsteps rang out in slow succession and were getting louder and louder, indicating movement on stairs.
Something within the ruins of the tower, had awoken.
Zecora hummed quietly to herself as she made her way down the path. She was carrying two saddlebags on her back and was looking forward to the day ahead, having been invited to the Summer Solstice Celebration. She had headed off earlier than she normally would have in order to offer any assistance in setting up. As she walked, she couldn’t help feel more and more that she was being watched in the shadows of the trees. She decided to not stop and try to see what it was if anything, but did decide to stop humming and keep her ears up and alert.
Carrying on down the path for a few more minutes, she thought she heard something in the distance and out of instinct she spun her head around to where she thought the sound had come from. Squinting her eyes, she scanned the forest for any sign of life. Once she was satisfied that she couldn’t see anything she began to go about on her way.
Then, she heard it.
Slow, heavy, thumping footsteps in the distant accompanied by a soft hiss. She froze, the sounds were foreign to her, even for the forest. The zebra frantically tried to find the source but couldn’t see anything. Then, just as it came, it stopped abruptly. Swallowing a lump that had formed in her throat, she nervously made her way onwards.
Zecora wasn’t afraid of the forest, having grown accustomed to the sounds. She could easily distinguish the sounds of a timberwolf or manticore to a harmless rabbit and for the former she had precautions, various tools in her saddlebag that could help her in a jam should a predator make itself known.
However this new noise had her slightly on edge. She’d never heard anything like it before and it concerned her greatly.
Zecora had spent so much time fixating on the noise that she hadn’t been fully paying attention to her surroundings, and what was lurking in them. As she past a tree, she heard a low growl and immediately snapped her head in the direction of the growl and her eyes went wide, coming face to face with a large timberwolf.
Almost immediately, she went for her saddlebag and pulled out a vial with a glowing orange liquid inside it.
“I warning you right now, if you don’t leave, I’ll put you down,” she threatened the timberwolf.
The hulking wooden creature snorted, taking a step forward. The zebra stood her ground, raising the vial threateningly at the wolf.
“I tell no joke, this vials contents will reduce you to ash and smoke!” she said, putting as much confidence and intimidation into her voice as she could.
Again, the timberwolf showed no signs of backing down. Zecora decided enough was enough and hurled the vialt at the wooden creature as hard as she could. It smashed and coated the timberwolf in the liquid, but instead of doing what it should have done, which was to engulf the wolf in a special fire that affected only timberwolves, it merely coated the beast and did nothing.
The zebra’s eyes shot open in alarm as the wolf seemingly smirked at her, knowing her plan had failed. Zecora saw no other option but to try and outrun the timberwolf and immediately turned and fled as fast as she could, the timberwolf following close behind her.
She panted as she ran through the thick foliage of the forest, ducking and jumping over thick tree branches with the timberwolf right behind her snapping at her hooves. Eventually, zecora was able to use her smaller size and managed to put some distance between the two, finding herself in a large clearing and hid behind a tree, keeping her breathing as low as she could as to be able to determine the whereabouts of the wolf. The zebra leant against a small tree to catch her breath.
But something… didn’t feel right.
She looked at the tree she noticed it seemed, rusty? She touched it gently with her hoof again and felt a mixture of cold form the touch but a warmth coming from within.
As she was examining it, she heard a low growl and spun around to see the wooden beast closing in on her, it’s teeth bared and eyes fixed upon her. Zecora backed up till she was resting against the tree, the timberwolf being too close for her to make an easy escape.
Just as she was trying to think of something, the wolf stopped in its tracks and looked up. It growled loudly as it took a defensive stance and kept its attention locked on the tree. Zecora then heard a hiss coming from behind her and yelped in fright, spinning around as she looked up at the tree.
Except, it was no tree.
Her eyes went wide as the ‘tree’ suddenly lurched forwards, its eyes a fierce red and the clanking of metal and the hissing of steam escaping it as the wolf pounced for it. The ‘tree’ caught the wolf and roared, smoke pouring from its back as it punched the large timberwolf in the stomach making it howl in pain. Zecora watched, frozen in fear, as the metal ‘tree’ delivered blow upon blow to the wolf whilst seemingly not even being hurt in the process. As it grabbed the wolf from both ends and brought it up then down violently over its knee, snapping the wolf’s spine, the zebra saw this as the opportune moment to run and scarpered as fast as she could.
To Ponyville I must flee, before that creature catches me, she thought as she ran.
Had she turned around, she would have seen the metal creature watching her go with a look of confusion on its face, its metal fingers scratching its head.