Twilight was already on her way off of the train before it came to a complete stop at the Ponyville train station. She got a few complaints from some ponies, but she ignored them and quickly exited the train. Relief washed over her as she saw her friends, all waiting for her once she got off.
“Girls!” Twilight rushed up to them, and they all quickly embraced in a group hug. “Girls, I have something I need to tell you!”
“Us too!” Rainbow Dash said, causing Applejack and Rarity to nod their heads in agreement.
“Ooo, are you guys planning some kind of surprise for us? I like surprises!” Pinkie Pie jumped up and down in place in blissful glee.
“Rainbow Dash asked Pinkie and me to meet up here with you girls.” Fluttershy explained, hiding behind her mane when all eyes shifted to her. “I hope it’s not a surprise...I don’t like surprises…” she whimpered.
“Not quite.” Twilight sighed, closing her eyes for a moment to catch a breath. The events of the past day and a half had really taken its toll on her. “Girls, I think the Cutie Mark Crusaders and Spike have been...kidnapped.”
A collective gasp was voiced by Pinkie and Fluttershy, but Rainbow, Rarity, and Applejack just looked grim.
“We know sugarcube, that’s what we wanted to tell y’all.” Applejack had bags under her eyes, almost as if she hadn’t slept in a while. “We started a search and got everypony in town in on it. Ah didn’t even sleep last night, ah was so worried.”
“Me neither.” Rarity voiced. She was smiling, trying to remain strong for her friends but Twilight could see the sadness behind her eyes. “I can’t allow myself to rest while my little sister is in danger. We’ve been looking nonstop, but we haven’t found any leads. I can only hope that they are safe…”
“Don’t worry about it Rarity!” Rainbow Dash spoke, looking smug. “They’re tough, I’m sure whoever kidnapped them has their hooves full with them enough as it is!”
“That may very well be the case,” Twilight said, smiling a bit. “Because I think I may know who took them.”
A collective gasp came from the group, followed by a chorus saying, “You do?!”
“Yes.” Twilight looked back towards Canterlot. “Princess Luna told me that she feared something had happened to them, and I was going to come back here to help search, but then she told me of her dream walking abilities.” At the looks of confusion from her friends, Twilight explained. “It’s a spell that allows you to enter ponies dreams. Princess Luna makes it her job to dispel nightmares.” The group nodded.
“So what’s this you said about knowing who took them?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“I think… Well, Princess Luna thinks, that Ellura might have had something to do with it.”
A series of different reactions came from the group, ranging from, “Ellura?” “Oh no!” to, “Those dirty rotten…!”
“She also asked me, rather than coming back to help with the search for them, to go to their base in Manehattan and do some investigating.”
“Sugarcube, as much as I’d love to go teach those varmints a lesson or two if they are the one who took our sisters, we can’t just stop searchin’. What if they’re not in Manehattan?”
“Princess Luna addressed that too,” Twilight spoke, smiling a bit. “she’s coming to Ponyville to help with the search.”
The rest of the group seemed surprised, silent for a moment. “Wow, Princess Luna’s doing all of that for us?” Rarity asked, seeming genuinely surprised.
“That’s awful nice of her,” Applejack said, looking back at Twilight with a smile. “What about Princess Celestia? How is she helping us?”
Twilight grew silent before looking away. “I don’t think she knows that anypony was kidnapped...I originally went to Canterlot to ask her more about Nemesis, but...well… she told me to forget about it. To not ask any questions, because Nemesis is an enemy.”
“She seems mighty bent on bringing Nemesis down.” Applejack spoke, frowning deeply.
“Yeah...it’s strange, all throughout the time I’ve known her I’ve never seen her act this way. She seems so...consumed with the thought of catching him. It’s very unlike her.” Twilight looked to her friends with worry.
“What made you more curious about Nemesis all of a sudden?” Rarity asked, putting a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder.
“Well girls...two nights ago, Nemesis...he paid me a visit.”
A collective “WHAT?!” came from the group.
“Was that the same night ah walked you home?” Applejack stomped her hoof. “Consarn it sugarcube, why didn’t y’all say somethin’?!”
“If I had said anything, he would have just run away anyways,” Twilight said, looking a bit saddened by Applejack’s sudden attitude. “The strangest part about it was that he didn’t try to hurt me. He just wanted to ask me about Ellura. And when I asked him why he was doing the things he was doing, he told me to ask the Princesses.”
“Well, question asking or no, that uncouth ruffian is nothing but trouble.” Rarity turned her nose up in the air with an accompanying “Humph.”
“Yeah Twi, you should have just called us over, we could have come back with the elements lickety split and this would all be over!” Rainbow Dash said.
“But he wasn’t being aggressive!” Twilight stamped her hoof. “It’s so unlike what the Princesses told me he was like, I had to look into it!”
“Ooooh! Oooh! Maybe he just REALLY likes to bake! I wonder if there’s any kind of star-shaped candy…” Pinkie began mumbling to herself, her tongue stuck out one side of her mouth as she began to think.
“Uhm...maybe he’s nice deep down…?” Fluttershy hid further behind her mane. “Buthe’ssoscarylookingandthatthinghecarriesaroundmakesreallyloudnoisesandIdon’tlikeit…” she added quickly and almost inaudibly.
“I don’t know…” Rainbow Dash added, looking at Twilight with an unsure expression.
“Look y’all, either way the Cutie Mark Crusaders and Spike are our priority right now. Twilight, y’all said you had to go to Manehattan?”
Twilight nodded. “Princess Luna wants me to go there and look into them, and after I grab some things from my library that’s exactly where I’m going.”
“Oh! Can I come with you?!” Pinkie suddenly bounced at Twilight’s side.
“That’s actually not a bad idea darling.” Rarity spoke up, smiling. “I don’t think any of us like the idea of you going in there alone if they are the ones who kidnapped my sister and her friends. You should take two of us with you.”
Suddenly, much to everyone’s surprise, Fluttershy stepped up. “Uhm...I’ll..g-go.”
“Woohoo, Fluttershy!” Pinkie suddenly shot over to Fluttershy, embracing her in a gigantic bear hug.
“Wait. FLUTTERSHY, volunteering to go somewhere possibly dangerous?!” Rainbow Dash suddenly shot over to the yellow pegasus and came face to face with her. “Who are you and what have you done with our friend?!”
Fluttershy flailed in Pinkie’s grip for a minute before the two separated. “Uhm...well...everypony is working so hard to find them.” Fluttershy looked towards Ponyville. “And while I can get my animal friends to help, I myself can’t do much. And...well, I don’t want to just sit around while my friends are in danger.”
“That’s…” Rainbow Dash blinked, before landing and smiling at Fluttershy. “..actually really brave of you, Fluttershy.” Fluttershy smiled and turned her head away in her usual fashion.
“Do y’all know when Princess Luna is gettin’ here sugarcube?” Applejack spoke up to Twilight.
“Not for certain, but it shouldn’t be long now. It’s late morning here, but I’d say once she’s done raising the moon this evening she’ll be over, we’ll probably be halfway to Manehattan by then.”
“So, it’s goodbye for now then?” Rarity asked with a slight frown on her face. Twilight gave her a sad smile.
“Yes. For now.” The six friends came close and group hugged again before separating. “Stay safe, girls.”
“You too!” Rainbow Dash called after Twilight, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy as they rushed to get their things so they could catch the train to Manehattan.
It hadn’t taken long for nightfall to come. or at least, to Rainbow Dash it didn’t. She had led a group of pegasi on a fly-over of the Everfree Forest to see if they could find any more signs of the CMC or Spike, but to no avail. Once it got dark out, she flew back to the train station to join Rarity and Applejack.
“Anything?” Rainbow asked, landing and folding in her wing.
“Can’t say so,” Applejack said, frowning.
“My attempts have also proved fruitless.” Rarity said in her usual sophisticated tone.
“All of the pegasi flocks are coming up dry too,” Rainbow said, sitting down on her flank. “I don’t suppose any of the other ponies had any luck?”
At Rarity and Applejack’s shaking of their heads, Rainbow Dash sighed and looked at her hooves.
“I wonder when Princess Luna will get here.”
“We are already here.” Rainbow, Applejack, and Rarity looked up in surprise. The moon suddenly became brighter, and before their very eyes, Princess Luna descended to them in a ray of moonlight with such grace that it left the three friends in shock.
The midnight blue alicorn touched down onto the train station, giving the three ponies a warm smile. “Do not bother yourselves with me, Element Bearers. There is still a job we must do.”
Rainbow shook her head. “Right. Princess, I don’t suppose you know of a spell or some kind of a technique that will help us track down the Cutie Mark Crusaders, do you?”
Princess Luna looked deep in thought, before she asked, “It depends. What were you using to track them down before?”
“Oh!” Rarity spoke up, then dashed off for a moment. When she returned, she carried the CMC’s capes on her back. “I was using a spell similar to the one that helps me find diamonds,” Rarity explained, dropping the capes before Princess Luna. “Only, instead of gemstones I used it to find the fabric Sweetie Belle used to make these capes. I don’t suppose you…?”
Wordlessly, Luna lifted the capes in her magical gripped and closed her eyes. Her horn glowed brighter, and when she opened her eyes again, they were glowing a dark blue. She blinked, and her eyes returned to normal. Then she bore a look of determination on her face, before suddenly rising into the air.
“Come.” She spoke, flying off down the train tracks. The three friends exchanged a look before following the Princess of the Night.
It hadn’t taken them as long to reach Manehattan as it had for her to reach Canterlot. If Twilight had to guess, she’d say the ride lasted about two and a half hours. “Okay girls, we need to find the Ellura facility here in Manehattan. I can tell them I’m here on royal business and ask them to give me a tour.”
“Oooooh! I love tours! I wonder if they’ll have complimentary cupcakes?” Pinkie trotted off the train, quickly followed by Fluttershy.
“Uhm...maybe if we just ask them nicely—” The rest of what she said to Pinkie was lost to Twilight as the train blared its horn.
Before Twilight left, she gave a tip to the stallion who had let her aboard the train at least three times today. He had given her a discounted price the third time. “Thank you for putting up with me.” She smiled before following her friends.
Manehattan was big. Twilight had never been here herself, though she had indeed heard talk that it was the biggest city in Equestria, it escaped her just how ponies could build something so huge.
Stallion-pulled carriages whisked back and forth across the street, and ponies who looked like they were eager to get somewhere in a hurry trotted to and fro, paying the three no mind. Pinkie was busy saying “Hi!” to every pony that passed, while Fluttershy hid behind Twilight.
“Excuse me, if you could just—” she got a mean look.”If you could just point us in the direction of—” A huff. “If I could just have a moment of your time—” She turned to ask another pony, but instead came face to face with Pinkie Pie.
“Oh! Hi Twilight!” Twilight backed up a bit and huffed.
“No one here is going to give us directions. How do we—”
“Maybe if we check that map over there?” Pinkie pointed across the street. There, a map of Manehattan was posted on a large billboard, with the words “YOU ARE HERE” accompanied by an arrow pointing to their exact location in the city.
Twilight face hoofed. “How did I miss that…”
It just took a quick look at the map and an idea of where they were going to reach their destination. The facility was impressive, to say the least. A large, black dome-like building, the roof of which seemed just like a gigantic skylight. A long row of doors made up the front of the facility with large glowing letters that spelled out “Ellura Corp.” above the doors. Twilight could see that there were guards guarding the doors. Celestia must have taken Twilight’s story seriously.
“Just leave it to me, girls.” Twilight and her two friends approached the doors. Upon seeing Twilight, the guards stepped aside and let her pass. She found this a bit odd. Perhaps Princess Luna had talked to them?
When she stepped inside, she was greeted with an enormous room, fit with a tiled floor, several desks, and in the back she could see a set of drapes covering what looked like a laboratory. In front of her there was a large desk, behind which sat an earth pony with a light purple coat and a white mane, a pencil on her flank served as her cutie mark. When she noticed the three mares, she looked up at them, adjusting a set of glasses she had on her face.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes. You see, my name is Twilight Sparkle, and these are my friends Pinkie Pie,” as soon as she said the pink mare’s name, Pinkie Pie shot up to the desk.
“Hi! What’s your name? My name’s Pinkie Pie! Though I guess you already knew that. Anyhow, what’s your favorite color? What’s your favorite food? Do you l—” she was quickly hushed as Twilight put a hoof over her mouth and pushed her back, leaving a very surprised looking desk clerk.
“And this is my friend Fluttershy.” At the mention of her name, Fluttershy backed up a bit and hid behind her mane. “Uhm...nice to meet you…”
The desk clerk nodded and looked back to Twilight. “And how, Miss Sparkle, can the Ellura Corporation assist you today?”
“Well, you see I was actually hoping we could be given a tour.”
“A tour?” The mare opened a nearby notebook and began leafing through it, frowning. “We’re in our hours of operations right now, we usually don’t give tours around then. May I ask what this is for?”
Twilight stuck her chest out. “Princess Celestia has taken an interest in the methods that you use to develop the vaccines, and I’m rather interested in your company as a whole. I don’t suppose it would be too much trouble to ask to be given a tour of the facility while you are in the depth of your work, so we might see how it’s done?”
The mare looked nervous for a moment. Twilight hoped she believed her lie about Princess Celestia taking an interest, as that was about as far from the truth as she could get.
“I suppose that would explain why the guards let you in… let me see if I can get one of our assistants to help you.”
As she walked away, Fluttershy stepped up to Twilight’s side. “You really think this’ll work Twilight?”
“Yeah!” Pinkie spoke up, bouncing up to Twilight’s other side. “If they’ve got something to hide, they’re not just gonna show us all the super-secret secrets!”
“I don’t know girls, but I have to try.” Just then, a tan unicorn with a pair of glasses and an azure mane approached the three.
“I understand you three were looking for a tour?”
Twilight looked the pony over. He was dressed in a lab coat, his cutie mark covered up. He was tall, taller than any of the mares, and he had an aura of authority about him. Twilight had a feeling this was one of the ponies in charge. “Yes, we were mister…?”
“Tube. Test Tube.” The pony’s tone was cold, and uncaring, as if there were a million other things he’d rather be doing. “And as I understand it you are Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy, so if you’d be so kind, let’s not waste times with the formalities yes? I have a lot of work that needs to be done.” He stepped aside, motioning to the area they should go with a hoof. “This way, if you please?” The three mares began trotting towards the lab area obscured by the curtains. “Though it is at a rather inconvenient time, we do, of course, welcome our Princess’s curiosity with open arms, and are delighted that they would like to learn more about our work.” His tone sounded bored, and monotone, like he had repeated this same line a million times before. Twilight Sparkle had a sneaking suspicion that this pony meant absolutely none of what he was saying.
“In just a moment I will take you to our labs, where we can look at some of our most gifted researchers as they—” there was a sudden crash from behind the curtains, and Test Tube stopped cold.
“If you’ll excuse me for a moment,” He whispered, and darted behind the curtains. There was yelling, and several stallions talking though Twilight couldn’t make out any of it.
“Oh my… I hope they’re not hurting anyone!” Fluttershy held a hoof to her mouth.
“I hope not either…” Twilight mumbled, raising a hoof to push the curtain aside…
Just then, Test Tube re-emerged, his face the same unreadable expression he had worn before entering into the lab. “I apologize for the interruption, but would also most appreciate it if tour guests did not venture into areas without a tour guide.” Test Tube glared at Twilight’s outstretched hoof. She quickly lowered it, her face growing a little red.
“Noted. Now if you’ll be so kind as to follow me.”
The mares followed Test Tube into the lab. It wasn’t anything extraordinary Twilight noticed, white walls with researchers in similar white colors looking at some sort of tissue sample through a microscope, or tending to various machines around the room.
“Here is where we develop most of our products. Our researchers work day and night to develop cures for most of the things that ail pony-kind. From something as simple as the common cold to something far more serious, like cancer.”
Pinkie Pie bounced over to a row of multicolored test-tubes lined up in a rack against the wall. “Oooh...pretty…” she reached out a hoof to touch one. Suddenly, Test Tube slapped her hoof away and glared at her. “Don’t touch that! As a matter of fact, don’t touch anything in here. This is all very unstable equipment and many of the liquids in here are at a critical state. Even the slightest touch could spell disaster!”
Pinkie’s lower lip quivered as she stared at him. “I-I’m sorry…” Test Tube sighed deeply, before speaking again. “Whatever. Come.”
As they trotted through the labs, watching ponies flit to and fro, Twilight couldn’t help but notice some of the researchers casting them nervous glances and scooting a little closer to their work, as if they were afraid Twilight might try to sneak a peek at what they were working on.
“Mr. Tube, I have to ask—”
“Yes, what is it?” Test Tube’s patience sounded thin.
“Where exactly do you acquire samples to test the effects of your ‘vaccines’ on?”
Test Tube stopped, turning back to face her. His expression was, as usual, unreadable. But as he stared down the smaller unicorn, Twilight could have sworn she saw the tiniest flicker of fear in his eyes for a moment.
“Miss Sparkle, you understand when I tell you we are not allowed to disclose such information to visitors, however I can assure you that we are advocates of peace, and would never take something that is not willingly given to us.”
Twilight blinked at that response. She was about to ask more, but Test Tube was already trotting away.
Test Tube was explaining some of the different machinery and introducing different researchers, but Twilight’s mind was on how the researchers reacted, and Test Tube’s reaction when Pinkie almost touched a vial of some kind of strange liquid.
“Uhm...excuse me but, what’s back here?” Fluttershy pointed to a door that said “AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY, NO ACCESS WITHOUT PERMISSIONS”
“That,” Test Tube answered, quickly moving to block their view of the door. “Is the area where we test some of our more...unstable chemicals. It is very dangerous, and thus I don’t recommend we go back there. Moving on…” The rest of the tour went relatively quickly, in what Twilight could only describe as a practiced routine. It wasn’t long before she found herself and her friends being walked back to the front door.
“Do you have anymore questions?” Test Tube asked, sounding relieved.
“No, I think you’ve adequately sated our curiosity.”
“Good. In that case, have a lovely evening ladies.” And with that, he was gone, leaving the three mares to leave on their own.
“I don’t like him.” Pinkie spoke up suddenly, surprising even Twilight. Twilight though Pinkie liked every pony she came in contact with.
“He was...mean.” Fluttershy spoke, turning away as soon as the words left her mouth.
“Yes, they’re definitely hiding something. And I don’t think we’re going to find out what it is by playing by their rules.” Twilight walked forward a little bit, deep in thought.
“Whaddya mean Twilight?”
Pinkie asked, tilting her head to the side.
“Girls,” Twilight spoke, turning to face them with a frown. “Tonight, we’re going to sneak in there and find out what they’re hiding.”
Fluttershy and Pinkie gulped simultaneously.