This place is HUGE! I’m already lost and we just went in a straight line! The ceiling was high enough that the pegasi messengers could fly around freely wherever they please. We walked below them on a really soft red carpet, passing by a bunch of windows with pictures made in them. I didn’t see the appeal in the designs, everything looked weird. Suddenly my eyes settled on a window that looked like Twilight and the others doing something I couldn’t make out.
“What’s this one?” I asked.
The Princess stopped and looked to the window I pointed out, “Ah, yes. This window is depicting Twilight and her friends using the Elements of Harmony to free my sister from the Nightmare a little over a year ago. It was through the power of their newfound friendship that they were able to harness the powers of the elements: Honesty, Kindness, Generosity, Laughter, Loyalty, and Magic.”
I looked over the window with newfound interest; unfortunately it quickly gave way to boredom as I got lost in the odd design choice. “It really shows all that?” I asked, to which she nodded, “I don’t see it. It’s all just a bunch of shapes and colors that vaguely resemble ponies.”
Rose looked at me a bit funny, “You really can’t see it?”
“Well I can see the shapes and the colors and if I look close I can make out the ponies but as a whole? It’s just a mess.” I remarked. I had to look away as I felt a headache coming on.
“We can figure out why that is later, but for now I suggest we have our tea.” The Princess said as she started leading us further down the hall.
We followed the long hall to a pair of very large doors and took a left, then traveled down even more halls and up like a gazillion stairs. My hooves were starting to ache there was so many, and all the while I kept seeing the exact same guard on a regular basis. At first I thought it was pretty neat but it got really annoying really fast, but my mind was blown when there were suddenly two of them on either side of a door marked with a sun.
“Okay stop, what the hell? Seriously!” I exclaimed. “How are you doing that?”
The guard looked to himself for a second before looking at me questionably. “Is there something bothering you, Beetle?” the Princess asked.
“That! Right there!” Can’t she see it!? “We passed the same guard a hundred times on the way here and now there’s two of him!”
Everyone, including Rose, looked at me funny. Celestia cleared her throat, “Lieutenants, please remove your helmets for a moment.” I watched as the guards nodded and undid the straps, pulling the helmets off. There was a slight shimmer of magic and suddenly I was looking at a brown coated stallion and a grey mare with a scar over her left eye.
“Thank you, as you were.” Celestia said. They put the helmets back on and the magic returned them to how they looked, exactly like the other. Celestia turned to me, “Better?”
I slowly nodded, “Just saying ‘magic’ would have sufficed I think. Anyway, let’s get some tea, I’m thirsty!” I trotted forward to the door.
The others followed behind as Celestia opened the door with her magic as I stepped inside. I was suddenly tackled in a hug by a blue beast.
“Oh Sister! It’s so good to see our old friends again, is it not?!” My assailant yelled.
“Luna, I’m over here.” I heard Celestia say with a chuckle.
I was released and fell to the floor weakly, gasping for air. “My word, dear Sigma! My most sincere apologies, I had assumed my sister was first to enter and acted without proper situational awareness.” Luna said as she patted my back. “You are much more firm than your dream-self had made you out to be.” She added.
I waved her off as my breathing returned to normal and pulled myself to my hooves, “It’s alright, I’m fine.”
“Mmm, lavender tea. Can’t go wrong with lavender.” Rose said, turning everyone’s attention towards her as she set about boiling the water in the fire. I trotted over to join her as Celestia closed the door behind her.
“Yes, well, I’d say it’s about time that we learn of the events over the past few days.” Celestia said, motioning for us to sit on a number of large pillows. I plopped down on the closest one.
“Where should I start?” I asked.
“From the beginning, if you please. This way I might make sense of all this.” She responded.
I nodded and took a deep breath, “Well, a few days ago the first thing I can remember is darkness and a whole lot of screaming…”
Twilight and Rainbow entered the bar of Dodge City. It was dimly lit with a live band playing various country songs, currently being heckled by a rowdy mare in a cloak between gulps of hard cider.
“Play something a mare can dance to, prick!” She yelled in a heavy accent. Her demands were unheeded as the band ignored her.
“Ya shut yer yap! These here are the best in town!” One earth pony stallion yelled at the mare.
“Ha! I was thinking the worst!” She goaded.
The earth pony stood and swayed side to side, “Wha… What did you say?!” He slurred.
“I said your mother is a drunk troll that mistook you as its kin!” She yelled back as she put her hind hooves on the stool next to her in a relaxed posture, casually drinking her cider.
“Why you little punk! Ah’m gonna come over there an… an…” The stallion proceeded to fall on his face as he passed out. There was a sudden silence as everyone looked to see if he was alright. The silence was broken by the mare who just burst out laughing.
“Ha! Little foal can’t hold his liquor! Getting drunk on this water? Laughable.” The mare trailed off and finished her drink, setting the mug down next to an impressive collection of other empty mugs.
Twilight turned to Rainbow, “Can’t we rest somewhere else? Like by the balloon?”
“Relax Twi, this is normal. Besides, she seems like a cool mare, we should get to know her.” Rainbow said with confidence as she walked up to the bar.
Twilight hurried to stay at her side, “What? Are you crazy?! You saw what she did! I don’t think we should associate with that type of pony!”
Rainbow looked at her as she waited for the bartender, “Oh, would you rather sit at any of the other tables?”
Twilight was about to nod her affirmation when she finally glanced around at the other patrons. Hillbillies and hicks dotted the bar, while others were simple farmers and other locals. None of them looked too friendly at the moment, and the only table with enough room for both of them happened to be with the mare. “Uh, on second thought, not so much. How did you determine this all so fast?”
“Experience, and I have a knack for this sort of thing.” She said as the bartender approached. “Hey there, a round of your finest cider for my friend here and that mare there.”
“Three fine ciders, coming up.” He said and a moment later three large foaming mugs were on the counter for them.
“Thanks!” Rainbow said as she scooped them up in her arms and flew to the table, Twilight right behind her.
She set the drinks down on the table, “Hey there, mind if we join you?” She asked, taking a seat without waiting for a reply.
“Sure! Drinking buddies are always welcome!” The mare declared loudly. She removed her hooves from the other stool so Twilight had a place to sit.
“Thanks! We’re just stopping by quick before heading out and could use the drink.” Rainbow said as she took a gulp of her cider.
“I thought the same, but this stuff is like water. Had to drink what, nine to start getting a good buzz going? Yea, nine.” The mare said, her features still hidden under the cloak.
Rainbow pondered the taste for a moment, “Yeah, compared to the black label my friend makes this stuff is pretty weak. About a glass of her cider and I might wake up in bed with some stranger.”
The mare laughed, “If you need company that badly you’re talking to the wrong mare!” She declared with great guffaws, soon joined by Rainbow as she realized what she said.
Rainbow wiped a tear from her eye, “Wow, nopony’s gotten me that good in a long time. Name’s Rainbow Dash, best young flier in Equestria.” She said proudly, extending a hoof to her.
She took the offered hoof, most of her foreleg was encased in a shiny gauntlet, and past her elbow was a dark blue fur. “Grand Faina Night-Steel, just call me Faina. So, who’s you’re marefriend? She the kinky type?”
Twilight, who had been sitting quietly, started sputtering nonsense at the implications this mare just proposed to her. Her and Rainbow? Together like that? She was open-minded but hardly considered entering a relationship yet, especially with a friend.
Luckily Rainbow was there to save her. “This is my good friend Twilight Sparkle, and she’s too much of an egghead to be my lover.” She teased.
Faina tilted her head, “Egghead?”
“Uh, yea. Like super smart and talks fast about stuff you can’t understand about science and magic and stuff.” Rainbow explained.
“Ah, then back home I know several eggheads.” She sighed and rested her head on the table like she was pouting, “I miss those goofballs already.”
Twilight broke free of Rainbow and decided to start asking her own questions. “So you’re not from around here then?” She shook her head, still on the table. “Where are you from? And why are you wearing a hood? It’s at least ninety degrees outside.”
She sat up with a sigh and pulled the hood down the back of her head. “I’m from way north, and the hood is because my ears are cold!” Rainbow and Twilight stared at her in sudden shock. Like her arm she had a dark blue coat, her mane was streaked with several shades of blue and she had soft yellow eyes. But her pupils were slit, like that of a cat’s, and her sharp fang caught the light of the candle, causing it to glint. And on top of her head was a pair of perky ears ending in long tufts of fluff.
“You’re a bat pony!” Twilight exclaimed.
“Bat… Pony?” She asked in confusion. “No, I’m a Thestral.”
“That’s what I said!” Twilight defended.
Faina furrowed her eyebrows in agitation, “My mom didn’t fuck a bat. I am not some weird bat-pony thing. I am a Thestral.”
If nothing else the crass language stunned Twilight, “I… I just… Sorry…”
“Sooo…” Rainbow broke the silence the fell upon them, “How exactly are you cold? It’s literally a desert out there.”
Faina’s expression softened, “My home is very hot, the commons is around a hundred and twenty while the forges can reach up to about two hundred, then the lower areas near the magma are even hotter. So yea, this place is really cold for what I’m used to.”
Rainbow nearly spit her cider, “What?! No way!”
Faina chuckled, “Is it really that strange?”
Twilight thought over her words and compared it with what she knew of the world’s geography, “But that doesn’t make any sense, the north is just a frozen wasteland, there aren’t even active volcanoes that far north.”
Rainbow deflated, “What? You made that up?”
“No, my home was very well hidden the last...” She put her other hoof to her chin in thought, this one also sporting a shiny gauntlet. “Fifteen hundred years by our count? Yea, give or take.”
Twilight openly gaped at her, “But ponies have explored and mapped out the entire region, even climbed to the top of Mt. Everhoof!”
Faina chuckled, “And got chased away by the frost trolls. That never got old. And nopony found the hidden entrance either, it’s actually really pretty. Security is pretty tight though, the mere presence of the guards was enough to send ponies fleeing in terror.”
“Wait, I’ve read about something like that, let me think…” Twilight said as she pondered. Faina finished her cider as Rainbow was only halfway through hers, and reached out and took Twilight’s mug and started drinking it.
Rainbow shot her a glare, “Be a shame if it went to waste.” Faina commented. Rainbow just shrugged it off and kept sipping her own drink.
“Aha! I remember! Various explorers over the last few hundred years have reported a dragon den guarded by two massive dragons in a certain area. The reports note that it’s odd how there is absolutely no indication of life there at all until suddenly they just burst out from the snow breathing fire on everything.”
“Sounds about right.” Faina said.
“So let me get this straight, somewhere up in the mountains there is a serene valley or den, guarded by a pair of fire breathing dragons, that acts as the entrance into a hidden city?” Twilight asked.
“No, that would be stupid.” Faina said casually. “The city is actually an incredibly large network of mines, tunnels, and chambers that covers about half the mountain range, obviously there are other entrances that are either hidden or guarded.”
They were silent for a moment until Rainbow burst out, “That’s so cool! It almost sounds like something out of a Daring Do novel!” Faina looked confused by that remark but Twilight had something to say.
“There’s been an entire civilization living underground there and nopony discovered it?! This is the discovery of the century!” She exclaimed. “You have to tell me, if your people stayed hidden for so long, then why are you just now coming out of hiding?”
Twilight waited with baited breath as Faina pondered her answer, “Before I answer, I would like a favor. Deal?”
“Yes, deal!” Twilight said quickly.
“I missed the capital, Canterlot. Our closest suggestion was straight south but I wound up east of here a few hours. I’ll answer your question if you help me get there.” Faina said.
“Really? We’re supposed to be going there once Rainbow rests up; I don’t see why you couldn’t come along.” Twilight said.
Faina finished Twilight’s mug of cider and looked at them seriously, “Alright, a deal’s a deal. The reason I’m out here trying to get to Canterlot is because our god told us we’d need the help of the two sisters, we’ve stayed in the shadows long enough. He’s warned of something coming and our inaction will be our demise. In other words, this impending doom not only threatens us, but Equestria as a whole, and I’ve been sent to set up diplomatic relations between our people and theirs. Also I’m one of the best fighters in the clan so I should be able to handle any dangers along the way.”
“Whoah…” Rainbow said in shock, her drink warming her cheeks.
“Wow, I don’t know what god you mean but it sounds serious if you’re willing to go so far for it.” Twilight remarked. “I’m Princess Celestia’s personal student; I can set up a meeting for you to talk with her once we get there.”
Faina looked confused again, “Who’s that?”
Twilight sighed and face-hoofed, it was going to be a long day.