The train station was larger in comparison to Ponyville’s train station, and it was always more busy whenever I visited Canterlot. It seemed there were always delegates from somewhere visiting on business. The big glass walls surrounding the train station made you feel like everypony was watching you at all times; there was no privacy within these walls. I hated it. All these pompous, highfalutin Canterlot snobs silently judging me as I walked by. They stared at my raggedy old hat, and my cracked, mud-stained hooves. I pulled my stetson down, and looked forward.
I was walking alongside my friends inside the train station. We ventured here after we went to the storage area and picked up our clothes, and after a short break, stuffed them in saddlebags. There was a big waiting floor made of blue tiles. All the ponies stood here while they waited for one of the four booths to open up. Twilight was talking with a mare at one of these booths. When she finished she turned towards us and began to speak.
“Okay, we’re all set. Applejack, do you think Braeburn would give us a place for the night? I don’t think we’ll be making it to Sanctuary by tonight,” she questioned.
“Ah’d reckon so. Braeburn’s always willin’ to lend a hoof,” I answered.
“Good, excellent, let's get on the train. No time to lose.” Twilight was the first onto the train, followed by the rest of us. We had our own private train car, without beds, but we should make it to Appleloosa before nightfall. The seats were made of polished wood with built in crimson cushions. The floor was made of light brown wooden planks with rugs covering most of the walkable area. There were crates in the far corner that I assumed was our supplies.
We made ourselves comfortable. It was a few hours to Appleloosa.
* * *
It was so peaceful outside, like nothing could disturb it. I was beginning to hope that we could make it without any sort of disturbance ourselves, but that dream was shattered about the time I saw Appleloosa come up over the ridge.
“Well, Twilight,” Rainbow started, “How useful was that trip? Now we know that the town did some shady business. So what? We already knew something was wrong. Now we've only wasted a day. The bad guy is already a day ahead of us.”
I sort of agreed with her. We didn’t really get anything that might help us. If whoever was behind this wanted to stop us, they would have just as easy a time. All we had now was some criminal activity that we could maybe blame on somepony.
“Now ahm not saying ah agree wholeheartedly with Rainbow, but ah do wonder what all this will help us with,” I said. Words and smarts won’t mean anything the moment ponies start throwing their hooves at our faces.
“Maybe it's not something we can use right now, but a few vague hints are better than nothing. I feel better knowing a bit more than having no clue. We also have a lay of the land, and a hint that escaped convicts may be involved, hardly a wasted trip.”
“But that’s all still worthless to us. We’re still gonna kick their butts just the same as if we did this yesterday. If anything, whoever’s the problem will just be stronger,” argued Rainbow Dash.
“Kick their butt?” Fluttershy repeated.
"Stop being such a pessimist Rainbow Dash. That information will no doubt come in handy. Besides, I highly doubt a day will make that much difference.” Twilight counter-argued.
“Look Twilight. Ever since you became the ‘Princess of Friendship’, you’ve turned into a high horse who can never do wrong. Your words are law in Equestria. What happened to that cool egghead I was friends with when Nightmare Moon attacked?”
“I didn’t ask for this, Rainbow Dash. Sometimes I wish I could go back, but… but I can't. I make do with what I’m given. The sooner you do the same, the happier both of us will be.
“Well said, Twilight.” Rarity encouraged.
“Fine, but you have to listen to what I have to say about this plan,” Rainbow said.
“Let's hear it,” Twilight agreed.
“We shouldn’t stop in Appleloosa. We've already wasted too much time. When we get off this train, we keep going to Sanctuary,” Rainbow suggested. It was a bold idea, even by Rainbow Dash standards. We would get there earlier for sure, but how tired was everypony else? I wondered.
“Through the night?” Fluttershy asked.
“Ooh I'll get the glow sticks!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed.
“No way, that is out the question. We need our rest, and the desert is deathly cold at night, not to mention the wind. It would just be better to wait till morning,” Twilight explained. The train ground to a halt. The conductor walked out of the front of the train, waved his hoof in the air, and all the doors on the train opened at once .
Rainbow was seething, “This is exactly what I mean. You think you’re the main character in a Daring Do book, but you’re not. I'm going to Sanctuary, whether you decide to follow me… or not.” Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth and flapped her wings with much intensity, and flew out the door in a huff.
Pinkie Pie looked out the window and started yelling, “RAINBOOOOOW DAAAAASH!”
“Pinkie, please hush down,” I begged.
“For Celestia’s sake Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said, “fine, she’ll have it her way. Everypony, put on your gear, we’re going to go on a little expedition tonight.”
“And miss my beauty rest?” Rarity complained while her shoulders sagged.
“Why do you need to be so difficult with each other?” I sneered. “Is it so bucking difficult t’ git somewhere without you two bickering like schoolponies?”
“I’m hearing a lot of problems, but not a lot of solutions from you lately, Applejack,” Twilight responded sternly.
“Ah don’t want to be here t’ babysit you two every hour of every wakin’ day! There’s no point ‘n arguin’. Let’s git our gear on, and look for Rainbow.” This was getting ridiculous. One time, okay. Two times, just a longer disagreement, but three times in less than two days! They needed to work this out one way or another.
“Fine, Alright, let’s hope these outfits will protect us from the desert cold as well as they do the heat,” Twilight said reluctantly. We put on our cotton tunics, each one covered our torso and the top part of both of our legs. Everypony else put on a straw hat that they customized to make it more “theirs”. Rarity’s hat looked like something she’d wear to the park, Pinkie’s was at least half confetti, Fluttershy’s had leaves, and vines stitched through it, Twilight opted not to wear her’s at all, and I of course, decided to stick with my good ol’ Stetson.
We walked out of the train, and a breeze rolled through. Our tunics and manes blew in the wind, making a whipping sound with each new gust. We blended in well with the rest of the Appleloosans, who wore similar garments as they walked to their houses to cash in for the evening. I didn’t know exactly what time it was, but the sun was almost below the horizon, close to dusk. I guessed somewhere between six and seven o’ clock.
I was unsure what to think of walking out into the desert after dark, but I knew once we started, there was no going back. We would risk losing Rainbow Dash if we quit early.
“Last chance t’ change yer mind, Twi,” I told her.
“Sometimes you have to jump to make it to the other side,” she answered.
“No more beating around the stump, let's hit that dusty trail.” I was the first to walk off the train platform, and instead of heading into town, I turned into the desert, accompanied by my four remaining friends from Ponyville.
* * *
“This is so much fun!” Pinkie said as she jumped along, still filled to the brim with energy. We had been walking for the good part of a few hours across long, barren desert. We hadn’t seen anything that told us Rainbow Dash had gone through here, but we followed the map to where Sanctuary should be. It was now almost pitch black. The sun went down, and along with it the heat we expected to find. It became very cold when the sun went down. My joints cracked every few steps, and I shivered more than a couple times. It wasn’t cold like Frozen North cold, but it was still much more chilly than you would expect for a desert. That sun sure makes a difference.
“Fun!? This is dreadful. All this sand in my make-up, and my eyelashes want to peel off with every gust,” Rarity complained. There had been strong winds ever since the sun set, and we saw nothing but dunes of sand, and the occasional cactus. The winds caused our tunics to thrash about every time the winds changed direction.
“I can barely see where I'm walking,” Fluttershy added.
“Where’s the moon, shouldn’t it be, like, in the sky?” Pinkie asked.
“You see that mountain to the east?” Twilight started, pointing to a mountain far in the distance, “I believe at this time of year, this far south, the moon should be about thirty-five degrees. Which would put it right behind that mountain. Maybe this will suffice.” Twilight’s horn glowed and then a small ball of light appeared. The ball was small, but it illuminated far enough to see a few paces in front of us.
“Ah hope Rainbow made it somewhere safe. Walking in this forsaken place at night is like using a knife bah the blade,” I said.
“She can be stubborn, but she’s a tough Pegasus,” Twilight reassured. The group kept walking, and the wind kept howling. Our tunics continued to flap in the wind. Rarity wore a travel blanket and it was whipping like a cape around her neck. Twilight still didn’t put on her hat, but Rarity offered her a red scarf and Twilight decided to wear that. It was like winter without snow.
“Wow, I always thought the desert was scorching hot all the time,” Pinkie Pie said.
“Yeah, jus’ the opposite it seems,” I said. The wind slowed down, and I could now look forward without getting sand in my eyes.
“Look! Over there!” Rarity yelled. We all looked where she was pointing. There was one lone cactus in the barren wasteland in front of us. Twilight’s ball of light lit it up well enough that I could see a blue feather trapped in one of needles. I ran over to it, and I could hear sand being thrown from the ground behind me as my friends galloped to catch up.
“That’s definitely a Rainbow Dash feather,” Pinkie Pie said.
“Yes-sir-eee, That means Rainbow’s already past us. Let's keep on movin’,” I rallied. The wind almost completely died down by this point, with only a slight breeze every once in a while.
“Thank Celestia, that wind is much stronger than I thought it would be. There’s no way Rainbow could have flown straight through all that.” Twilight said, lacking the confidence she had just moments earlier. “Fluttershy, could you fly up and see if you can see anything?”
“I can barely see anything down here. What if I get lost up there?” Fluttershy worried.
“Okay, I have an idea. I can cast a spell that will illuminate the desert for… well I'm not sure, I’ve never done it before, it will be a long way though.”
“It's always a delight when you cast a new spell, this outta be good,” I teased.
“Don’t worry, I got this… I think. Ready Fluttershy? I don’t know how long I’ll be able to hold it,” Twilight asked.
“I guess. Yeah, I’m ready,” Fluttershy responded. When there weren’t any winds, Fluttershy sped straight upwards. Twilight closed her eyes as a purple glow shone from her horn. She gritted her teeth. The glow from her ball of light disappeared, and Twilight’s horn grew brighter and brighter. After a few seconds of focusing, Twilight opened her eyes and they were glowing white. Shortly after, a huge blast of light came out of Twilight’s horn. It was so bright I had to shield my eyes from it. Even with my eyes closed, I could still see a white ball in the middle of my vision where the light was when I looked at it.
The back of my eyelids stayed a bright red for many seconds. When they darkened, I braved up and opened my eyes, still slightly blind from the previous blast.
“Twilight, warn us next time you do that,” Rarity said.
“Don’t go into the light Rarity! You have so much left to live for!” Pinkie Pie yelled.
“Sorry girls, I did tell you I’d never done it before,” Twilight said sheepishly. The area was dark again without any light. I may as well have been in a black room with no lights, because I still had that white ball in the middle of my vision. I couldn’t distinguish any shapes around me. So I just sat down in the sand, and waited until I regained my vision.
“Does anyone else feel like their eyes were gouged out?” Pinkie asked.
“Yes,” Rarity said.
“Least ahm not the only one,” I responded. I heard something flapping, and it wasn't my tunic, so I assumed Fluttershy had returned.
“Twilight, Twilight!” Fluttershy yelled, if you could even call it yelling.
“What is it Fluttershy?” Twilight asked.
“I saw something. It was a… a house or something,” she said.
“Or something, can't forget that part,” Pinkie said. My eyes started to adjust, and I could make out the rest of the group. Rarity and Pinkie Pie were also sitting down in the sand, but Twilight and Fluttershy were standing up, looking around at us.
“What ‘r you lookin’ at?” I said as I stood up.
“Was it really that bright?” Twilight asked.
“Oh yes,” Fluttershy said, “from up there, I could hardly see where the light stopped.”
“We’re so proud Twi. Now if it's okay with the rest of y’all, ah’d like to git movin’.” I saw everypony else stand up, and I assumed that meant they were ready, “Okay Fluttershy, which way is this ‘something.’”
“This way,” Fluttershy said as she took the lead. Twilight’s horn glowed, and we all cowered, but she was just conjuring that smaller ball of light. Fluttershy began walking.
Not a second after we started moving, the wind kicked up again. Our tunics started flapping, Rarity’s blanket started whipping, and my mind started jumping, as we made our way further into nowhere.