11:43 a.m. The Next Day
The train ride here was horrendous. I haven’t felt that awkward since my entrance exam to Celestia’s School for Talented Unicorns. The only ones who talked were Rarity and Pinkie Pie, and they talked about cake and how to make it beautiful, or something. This conflict has gone too far. I don’t want to look like the bad guy. I care about Rainbow Dash, truly, but I was completely honest with Applejack, she’s forcing my hand. As the Princess of Friendship, it's my job to fix this, and I'm just... lost. I couldn't just take away my alicornhood, but I feel like there is more to it then that. If only Applejack would have simply told me what.
I would have to figure it out later. We had just finished our meal at our favorite donut place in Canterlot. The donut place looked like any old fast food joint. It had tables in the middle of the room, each surrounded by four chairs. It had four-seater booths near the windows. There was a bar near the counter where you bought your donuts. I was pretty sure it just looked like a bar, and not actually functional. This was a family friendly establishment after all. We sat at one of the two corner booths that were a mixture of booths and tables, able to hold eight ponies. Business was slow, we were the only ones present. I got right to business when I saw everyone was finished.
“Okay, we need to split up. One group to the library, one group to the Princesses”, I said to the group at the table.
“Twilight dear, I’ve always felt the Princesses were more partial to you, perhaps you should go by yourself,” Rarity suggested.
“Ya, Princess Twilight, you have all these perks, why not use them?” Rainbow Dash said sarcastically. She returned to her soda after she said it.
“Rainbow Dash, why do you feel the need to stress my title and create conflict out of nowhere?” I asked. I was getting legitimately vexed that she had to exacerbate every situation we were in together.
“Oh really, I’m pretty you are the one who made fun of my suggestion back at the castle, ‘out of nowhere’” Rainbow dash reminded everyone. I had no way to defend myself, as she was right, maybe I got a little out of hand back there. It doesn’t matter anyway, she started it this time, and everypony knows it.
“Who agrees with Rarity?” I dropped the previous conversation without acknowledging it ending. Everyone raised their hooves, except for Rainbow Dash, who I figured did it more out of spite.
“Okay then, the rest of you head off to the library. The guard should recognize you. Look for anything about the geography, strategic positions, resources, anything about Palomino Desert, specifically the northern area the map showed. Any questions?” I asked, expecting Rainbow Dash to return it with another snarky comment that emphasized my princess status. To my surprise she didn’t, and instead shook her head like everypony else.
“Actually Twi, shouldn’t we prepare, non… mentally, for the trip as well, San Palomino aint exactly a paradise,” Applejack suggested. I had forgotten about equipment we would need to bring. I was glad she brought it up.
“Yes of course, good thinking Applejack. Rainbow Dash, you and Applejack are the most athletic, mind helping her carry the equipment and supplies?” I was afraid to ask.
“Of course not, your Majesty,” Rainbow Dash said. There it was, the remark I had expected. Applejack must’ve been worried about another potential fight, as she was jumping to leave.
“Alright then, ah wish you all luck in yer searchings” Applejack said, “Come on Rainbow Dash, Celestia knows how many stores we’ll need to go through to get everything. Rainbow Dash got up, threw out her empty soda cup, and left the restaurant with Applejack leading.
“Oh boy, what a mess,” I said out loud to nopony in particular.
“Maybe you are being a little, tiny bit harsh on her,” Fluttershy said.
“Really? So are you starting to forgive her then?” My head perked up at the thought. Fluttershy’s forgiveness was the first step to stopping this feud.
“Maybe, um, I don’t know, let's just get to the library,” she said, becoming more of a whisper as the sentence progressed.
“Sure, darling, no need to rush, you might come around later, that’s all,” Rarity said. She got up and tapped Pinkie Pie to get her attention. Fluttershy followed them out. She flapped her wings a bit while walking out, to stretch them probably. I could already see Rarity and Pinkie Pie chatting it up through the window. Those two seem to be the least affected by this needless conflict. I thanked the cashier for the food as I walked out, and started up a teleportation spell.
* * *
Being an alicorn made my powers much greater than when I was a unicorn. I could teleport almost hallway across Equestria if I really focused my energy. Once you know how to do it, it becomes very easy. The trouble is concentrating enough magic on a specific area. I need to think about every detail on where I will teleport. That is why it is so much harder to travel somewhere I haven't seen before. But once you have it down, the only thing holding you back is your own magic, which was hardly a problem for me anymore.
I had teleported to the entrance to the “Throne of the Sun Princess”, across Canterlot, which most ponies simply call “Celestia’s Throne.” Most ponies don’t even bother putting referring to her as Princess, if they aren’t in her presence that is.
Celestia was a very lenient and forgiving ruler, and many of her subjects appreciated that. The capital punishment for every known nation except for Equestria is public execution. Equestria almost never carries out the death sentence. The crime rate is so incredibly low, and the police presence is so sparse, that the worst criminals have to worry about is banishment. Under Celestia, there hasn’t been a full scale rebellion, war, or even major organized crime for over one thousand years.
I walked up the stairs to the throne room. The guards instantly crossed the spears they were holding.
“Excuse me, sirs,” I said. They looked down and their eyes went wide.
“Oh, we are terribly sorry, Princess, these helmets restrict much of our vision, you must understand,” the guard on the left pleaded as he and his buddy retracted their spears in a hurry.
“It's quite alright, don’t worry about it,” I insisted, but they kept standing stiff as trees. I walked closer to the door, and the guard on the right spoke.
“Allow me to get that for you, Princess,” he said as he pushed on the door with all his strength. He heaved and hoed, and the door swung open. He stood at the end of the opened door, so it wouldn’t close back up until I was in.
“Thank you,” I said. He barely nodded.
“What is the meaning... Oh, Twilight, how are you today? –she faced the guard who had let me in– You, you may leave now” she said as she shooed the guard back out the door by waving her hoof. She was sitting on her golden throne, but got up and started walking over to me. She walked on a red carpet with gold trim. It was exact length of her throne, continuing out the door, all the way to the front entrance. The rest of the room was mostly empty except, of course, for the stained glass windows showcasing Equestria’s history. The columns on the sides of the room were not too different from the ones in the castle at Ponyville. They had the same design, except the colorings were lighter, with golds and whites. They were also made of some rocky stone, instead of crystal, perhaps marble.
Celestia was almost to me, and I started walking to meet her quicker. When we were close enough, she was the first to speak.
“So, my protégé, I mean, my fellow princess,” she said with a smirk, “What brings you to Canterlot?
“Well, you know I would never disturb you if the matter wasn’t serious–”
“Why not? I used to love our little chats,” She grinned.
“—but the Cutie Map has activated, and it is pointing somewhere in San Palomino. Do you know of any settlements in the northern parts of the desert?” I continued.
“You mean besides Las Pegasus, or Appleloosa, or maybe Dodge Junction? I don't believe Dodge Junction is technically in Palomino Though.”
“Yes, further south, and a little east of Las Pegasus, south of Appleloosa”
“I'm sorry Twilight, but you seem to have me at a loss. I was not informed of any new towns in San Palomino. You should go check out the Land Directory here in Canterlot. They should have all latest developments in new Equestrian townships”
“Thank you Princess Celestia, I’ll go check it out now.” As I turned around, Celestia continued speaking.
“Come visit me when your not on a world shattering adventure.” I heard hoofsteps behind me and assumed that she went back to tend to whatever she was doing before I arrived.
I walked out the door as the guard opened it once again. I asked him where I could find the Land Directory Building. He said it was just down the road from the castle. Finally something easy to accomplish. As I walked out of the castle, I saw a wanted poster. I looked around , and it seemed the same poster was on many of the street lamps. I walked up to one and it read:
Wanted: Stallion in picture, name or alias unknown
Wanted for: Grand Theft on multiple accounts, Breaking and entering Government Buildings, Armed Assault, Espionage, Destruction of Government and Civilian Property, Prison Escape, other possible and likely crimes
Prize for capture: 10,000,000 bits
Warning: This criminal is highly skilled in martial arts and stealth, entire spec ops military units were found unconscious, with not one of them even seeing the stallion. Pursue at your own risk.
Under these words was a blurry picture of a black stallion with night-vision goggles on his head, and armor I did not recognize. It was very blurry, and I couldn’t make out many details beyond the dark green color, and non-metallic look of it. It looked to be some sort of layered cloth, but I couldn’t make out much at all. The background was almost black, further advancing my inability to connect the picture with anything. This stallion must be good if this is the best picture they have. I made a mental image of the poster, and continued on down the street towards my destination.
The streets were bustling. In front of the castle there was a kind of makeshift market area with mobile stalls scattered throughout the streets. It reminded me of Ponyville, except instead of Fruits and Vegetables, ponies were selling Jewelry and baubles. Their stalls were obviously commissioned by an artist. The designs were very intricate. On one stall was a very detailed picture of a red and yellow dragon. I could see the building I needed to go in the distance, over the many heads of tourist ponies. I cantered down the street and a few ponies stopped to look at me. A princess casually walking down the street might have seemed a little weird, but many of the ponies either didn't notice or weren't fazed by it. The front door were mere feet in front of me, and I took the final steps up a set of 4 stairs, until I used my magic to open the doors.
I was hit with a rush of cool air as I opened them. I closed the doors and it seemed like I shut myself off from outside. All the voices faded, and I was left in silence, with the mare at the front desk writing something down.
The room I was in was very plain. It had light wood floors, with only one dark red rug in the middle of the floors, besides the grey welcome mat at the front. There were two sets of double doors to the left and right of the main entrance, with the front desk backed up against the wall in the middle. The right door had a sign above it in plain black text Employee Offices. The left door read Directory, in the same boring black letters. That’s where I wanted to go, but I couldn’t just barge in there.
“Um, excuse me” I said when I made it to the front. The mare at the desk didn’t look up. She was wearing bifocals and a navy blue business outfit that had pants instead of the customary skirt. Her coat was a mixture of red and purple, a kind of grape, I guess. She was an earth pony with a navy blue mane matching her business outfit. Her mane was tied up in a bun, I couldn’t see her tail.
“State your business,” the mare at the desk finally responded, if a bit rudely.
“Oh, um, I need to get into the directory. I'm here to look for possible new or proposed townships in San Palomino.”
“I'm sorry ma'am, only employees with proper authorization may enter the directory.”
“Excuse me miss, could you look up for a second?”
"This is quite the inconvenience," She said then looked up at me. A look of shock crossed her face, complete with wide eyes and droopy ears. "Oh, I am so sorry, miss, I mean Princess Sparkle. Allow me to open that door for you." Her tail was put up in a bun like her mane. She placed a button on her desk that read press to call. She took out a key ring from one of her pockets, and quickly found the one she was looking for. She opened up the directory, and motioned for me to follow her as she entered the room, which was really more of a series of hallways with some tables in the middle.
The buisnessmare led me to the section Approved Townships. She walked until she unlocked and entered a small room which contained at least ten feet of small metal containers with various numbers. The containers seemed to go in numeric order, but they did not consistently increase. The first container at the top right was labeled as 123, but the one to the right of that one was 129, and the next was 367. I was confused, and it must have shown, because the mare began to talk.
“Allow me to help your highness, you said San Palomino, yes?”
“Thank you, and yes that’s correct,” I answered. She opened up the metal container 999 at the bottom right. In it contained a single scroll. She took out and opened up the scroll. It contained each of the metal files numbers on the left column. On the right column was either the name of a region of Equestria or an NYA, for “Not Yet Assigned.”
“It looks like all accepted townships for the San Palomino Desert are in cabinet 667,” she said to me. She put the scroll back in cabinet 999. Before I could respond, a short buzz sounded over the room.
“Sorry, princess, but I must get back to work”
“Thank you for your help miss.” She didn’t respond back, but it didn’t matter, I had what I came here for. I opened cabinet 667, and there were three folders in it. I lifted them out with my magic. One read Las Pegasus, another read Appleloosa. That wasn’t what I was looking for. I threw them back in the cabinet. The other one however, was much more interesting.
The other files, the Las Pegasus and Appleloosa files, were thick, overfilling with papers. They had stickers and stamps all over the front. This file, however, was blank, except for one name at the top: Sanctuary. I opened the folder, and only one page fell out. I used my magic to pick up the paper. It was a form. Most of the words weren’t anything special, but at a line on the bottom of the paper there was an official royal seal that read in bold green letters: APPROVED. How did this get past Celestia?
I thought I’d hit a dead end, I didn’t know what to do next. Why would an accepted township have so few files? Why has Celestia not heard of it? Why was the Cutie Map sending us there? I closed the cabinet and walked out the door with the Sanctuary file. I sat down at a table, and started to think. Then I noticed something on further inspection of the paper. The “d” in the Approved seal was chipping off the paper. The official seals are infused with magic that last hundreds of years. This was a cheap imitation. I kept chipping away at it, until what was left was even worse.
“Oh no,” I said out loud as I read what was left in spot I had just chipped. On the original piece of the paper, underneath the top layer, was another seal that read in big red letters: