• Published 19th Sep 2013
  • 31,851 Views, 930 Comments

Wise Beyond Her Years - Pen Stroke



Twilight and her friends chase a conspiracy that has been affecting Equestria since the fall of Discord.

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Conspiracy

Image a commission from Jowybean

Wise Beyond Her Years

Preread, Edited, and Reviewed By

Batty Gloom, Illustrious Q, Obselescence, El Oso

Fangwarden, Kohta Izumi, Applejack-fan, Kirk Heller

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Chapter 1

Conspiracy

====================

A firm frown creased Twilight’s face as she looked over the library like a general would look over a fortress. She was a princess now. She had her wings, her title, and her oddly longer mane. She still wasn't too sure about how important the latter was to her ascension to royalty, but the cut of her mane was the least of Twilight’s concerns.

The library, her home, her metaphorical and possibly literal castle of learning and literature was about to be besieged. They would come with little warning and would swarm like parasprites. She and Spike had already secured every window and organized every shelf. They had done all they could to prepare, but still her nerves were high. This fight was going to be dirty. Some of her books would not survive to see sunset, but it was an attack they would have to endure.

“Spike, what about the card catalog?”

“Sorted and locked,” he replied with a snapped salute.

“And the key?”

Spike lowered his claw to his chest and grabbed the small key that hung from a string around his neck. “Got it right here.”

“Good. Now, we had better—”

A knock at the door made both Twilight and Spike tense. They leapt for an empty reading table, turned it over on its side, and shoved it against the wall before diving into cover. The knocking came again, and then again with greater urgency. Twilight and Spike poked their heads out from behind the overturned table, Spike wearing a pot as a combat helmet.

The pounding on the door became like a beast trying to knock down the whole library. Twilight and Spike hunkered down, braced themselves, and then the door burst open. The clatter of tiny hooves announced the horde’s entry into the library. The siege had begun, and already there were casualties. Books were being pulled from the shelves and dropped to the floor. Spines were getting bent, pages creased.

It was such a horrific sight, Twilight was on the verge of passing out.

Amidst the horde was its master, the mare responsible for bringing the plague upon the library. Yes, perhaps the mare’s intentions were pure. They were both scholars, after all: Twilight of higher magic and the horde’s master of ABC’s. What was happening was a necessary evil, done in the name of broadening young minds.

Still, her kinship with the horde’s master did little to ease Twilight of her pain. Each dropped book felt like a stab to her chest, each dog eared page like a knife to her back. There were bookmarks! She had a big stack of them she gave away free just to prevent the creasing of page corners. But it was all for naught. No matter how many bookmarks were taken, most of them never managed to fulfill their intended destiny of being used to mark a pony’s place in a book.

This was why she wasn't fond of when Cheerilee brought her class to her poor, innocent library.

“Twilight?”

Shaking her head, she slowly stood up from behind her cover and forced a smile. “Sorry, Cheerilee, just... a little distracted.” Twilight used her magic to set the table back upright. “So, what’s the assignment this time?”

“They need to do a short history report on a pony of their choice that they will present in class. Most of them already have somepony selected from a list I gave them earlier, so we’re just here so they can get started.”

Twilight’s smile widened. Reports on famous ponies were amongst some of her favorite to write! It was how she had learned so much about Starswirl the Bearded, like the kind and number of bells he wore on his hat and cape. “Sounds like fun. Who are they doing their reports on?”

“If I remember correctly, Scootaloo is doing her report on the founder of the Wonderbolts, Blue Blitz. Sweetie Belle is doing hers on Beethooven, and Twist is doing hers on the pony who made the first peppermint stick, Mint Mountain.”

“Are any of them doing their report on Star Swirl the Bearded or maybe Clover the Clever? What about Commander Hurricane? Oh, I have a lovely book about an earth pony mare named Quartz Movement. She invented numerous practices that are still used by modern clock makers.”

“Sorry, but none of the students picked any of those ponies.”

Twilight’s hopeful smile fell as she let her head hang to one side. “Of course. Well, Spike, you go help those students over there and I'll head to the other side. Try to keep the books off the floor and keep an eye on that colt with gum. You see one bubble, you do your duty to protect the books.”

“You got it, Twilight,” Spike saluted before jogging off. Twilight was going to do the same, but Cheerilee caught her by the shoulder.

“Actually, there is one student in particular I was hoping you’d help. Apple Bloom has something she wants to do with the report, and I approved it, but it means she needs help picking who to do her report on.”

The hopeful smile returned to Twilight’s face. She still had a chance to share the knowledge she had of unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies who had advanced the field of magic, timekeeping, and organization. “Of course, I’ll be happy to lend her a hoof. Oh Apple Bloom,” Twilight sang out.

She found the young farm filly sitting near the library’s encyclopedia. She was flipping through the last book in the sixteen volume collection, which contained information about things whose names started with X, Y, and Z. Still, Apple Bloom turned, smiled, and waved at Twilight as she set the book back on the shelf. She was a filly that knew how to take care of books.

She also knew how crazy Twilight could get if the library wasn't respected.

“Hey, Twilight.”

“Hello Apple Bloom. Cheerilee says you need a little help picking a pony to do your report on.”

“Well, yes and no,” Apple Bloom said as she climbed to her hooves. “I have an idea of the kind of historical figure I want to do the report on, but don’t know any that really fit the bill.”

“Are you looking for somepony famous in the field of Apple’s, or maybe an ancestor of yours? I have a genealogy book that I’m sure we could use to retrace your roots back to—”

“Actually, I kind of wanted to do my report about a zebra,” Apple Bloom explained.

Nonplussed, Twilight leaned in with a cocked eyebrow. “You want to do your report on a zebra?”

“Originally wanted to interview Zecora for my report. She knows more about potions than anypony else I know, and she helped us when that mean mare Trixie took over the town.”

Twilight nodded, recalling times she had been aided by the striped herbalist of the Everfree Forest. “She probably has some pretty interesting stories she could tell.”

“Yeah, but Cheerilee said I had to do it about a ‘historically significant’ figure,” Apple Bloom said, her voice echoing with the frustration of being forced to pick someone else for her report. “Basically, somepony that ain’t around no more. But she also said she’d love to hear a report on a famous zebra if I can find one.”

“Ah, so that’s what you need help with. You need to find a zebra.”

Apple Bloom nodded. “Eeyup”

“Well, I think I can help you out there.” Twilight turned and motioned with her head for Apple Bloom to follow. The pair stepped around the fillies and colts who had taken to reading on the floor. Twilight picked up a few discarded books and, with a careful teleportation spell, took the gum straight from one colt’s mouth and deposited it in the garbage can. Twilight then took a single book off the shelf as she and Apple Bloom continued towards the reading table.

“While zebras are a bit rare here in Equestria, they have their own kingdom that has its own very rich history and culture. They've had their great leaders, great thinkers, and the field of potion making wouldn't be anywhere near where it is today without some of the brilliant herbalists, biologists, and alchemists that came from Savannah.”

“What about zebras in Equestria?” Apple Bloom asked. “Were there any others like Zecora, who came here and helped ponies?”

“There are a few who came here, but there were some that weren’t so helpful,” Twilight answered as she cracked open the book she had picked off the shelves. She set it down on the reading table and helped Apple Bloom up onto a stool so they could both read with ease. “One of the most famous, or rather infamous, zebra figures from recent history is ‘The Phantom.’”

“How’d she pick up a name like that?”

“She was a sneak thief that plagued the eastern coast of Equestria about two hundred years ago, around 900 Anno Concordia.”

“Anno who now?” Applebloom asked.

“Anno Concordia. You know, 900 AC.”

“Oh! Is that what those two letters mean?”

“It is,” Twilight said as she flipped through the book, looking for the page she sought. “Anno Concordia roughly translates to the Year of Harmony, and the start of the calendar aligns with when Princess Celestia and Princess Luna defeated Discord for the first time,” Twilight answered as she flipped through the pages in the book. “Discord’s rule messed up all the old calendars, so a new one was established and was soon widely accepted. From what I heard, it was actually based on an old griffin calendar.”

Twilight abruptly ducked her head, using her hoof to pull down Apple Bloom with her as a book flew over their heads. Spike was already running after it, scowling as Cheerilee scolded the pair of colts who had been fighting over the tome. Still, Twilight kept her calm. She breathed in and out, using the technique Cadance had shown her, before pointing to a page in the open book, a page which bore a lithograph of a wanted poster.

“Still, getting back to the zebra, this is her, ‘The Phantom’. Or, at the very least, this is what police thought she looked like based on eyewitness descriptions. She stole numerous rare, valuable, and magically potent artifacts over her brief career and was never once close to getting caught. One of the items stolen was the Alicorn Amulet, which wasn't seen again until Trixie somehow got her hooves on it.”

“What happened to her?” Apple Bloom asked.

“After plundering Manehatten and other cities on the eastern coast for a decade she just vanished. Some historians believe it’s because Princess Celestia said she would personally join in the search for the thief. Others think she was finally caught and, instead of turning her over to the police, the family she was trying to steal from just... took care of her themselves.”

“Would somepony really do that!?” Apple Bloom asked, shocked by the mere prospect.

“I’m sure that’s just a rumor,” Twilight said with a reassuring smile. “Still, maybe you’d like to do your report on a zebra with a less... criminal history.”

Apple Bloom nodded her head, and Twilight flipped a few pages in the book before revealing another famous zebra. The picture accompanying the text was a photographic copy of an oil painting which, supposedly, was a portrait commissioned by the zebra in question, who was dressed in an equestrian naval uniform and was standing in front of a galleon.

“This is Nephthys, a well respected ship captain from the early 800’s. At the peak of her career, she captained the Lunar Wind on an impressive anti-piracy campaign.”

“She fought pirates!?” Apple Bloom put her hooves up on the table and smiled like she was about to head off on a grand sea adventure of her own.

“Yes, Nephthys was responsible for bringing over a dozen pirate captains to justice over her career during a time when Equestria’s trade ships were under constant assault. She was even going to be awarded a promotion to admiral of Equestria’s largest fleet. But, during her last deployment, her ship came across a violent storm. She was thrown overboard and never seen again.”

Apple Bloom’s enthusiasm died, her smile fading as she looked over at Twilight. “She disappeared too?”

“Well... yeah, I guess she did. Sorry, I didn’t remember that part of the story until now. Let’s see...” Twilight began flipping through the books she had selected, pulling up more historically significant zebras.

Twilight tried to tell Apple Bloom of a half dozen others. She even went as far back as she could, looking up a traveling sage named Wise Word who walked Equestria in the years immediately after Celestia and Luna defeated Discord. She spread her wisdom to help with the reconstruction of the nation. Her words were prized, and she was held as one of Equestria’s greatest philosophers from the era that marked the beginning of Celestia and Luna’s rule.

And yet Wise Word and all the others met a similar fate, disappearing in their youth.

~~~

“Twilight, you've been at it since Cheerilee’s class left. Don’t you think you should take a break and get some sleep? It’s almost midnight.”

“Can’t Spike, I need to figure this out.”

Sighing, Spike shook his head and walked back upstairs. Soon, Twilight’s ears could hear the distant, occasional sound of the dragon’s snore, but she paid it no mind as she continued to look over the numerous notes and books that were laid out before her.

There were of course some exceptions to the rule. A little more than two hundred famous zebras lived to ripe old ages and were properly buried. But, excluding those, there were approximately another hundred that lived and disappeared under similar circumstances. The zebra would show up and start to do good or bad, it changed depending on the situation. That zebra would begin to gain some fame or infamy and then would just disappear.

It all had the smell about it that something larger was going on, like some of the conspiracies Twilight had read about from her book A Centennial Collection of Conspiracies. Now there were some wild theories contained in those pages. Some ponies believed the sun and moon used to move on their own and that Discord appeared because ponies tried to put too much order in the world. Other theories spoke of the existence of large, hairless apes that had a super advanced society millions of years before ponies.

It was all largely nonsense.

And that’s how Twilight’s research had begun. She wanted to prove to herself that the connections she thought she saw were nothing more than coincidence. She had wanted to prove the conspiracy she thought she saw was just her own, overactive imagination getting the best of her logical mind.

Yet, her efforts were proving futile. The more she looked, the more she saw, and the more she saw, the more it seemed possible. Yes, some zebras that she thought were connected to the conspiracy fell away, but for each one she excluded she found two more that fit the criteria.

Rubbing her eyes, Twilight backed up from her desk and levitated a stack of paper into the air around her. Each page represented a zebra she had researched, possessing a name, dates, and facts she felt were important. Some of the pages were also marked in their corners with an X, a sign that Twilight had excluded that particular zebra from her theory.

“Okay, I need to step back and start from the beginning. There are the few hundred most famous zebras since the fall of Discord a little over a millennium ago. Of those few hundred, ninety six died or disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Of those ninety six, I can rule out a few dozen because of the circumstances surrounding the life of that zebra.” Twilight shuffled away all the pages that had been marked with an X on the upper right corner, stacking them on the table behind her.

“That leaves me with these,” she said, looking across the roughly sixty pieces of paper that still floated in the air before her. “All zebras who disappeared without a trace. They all just vanished or were presumed killed with no body found. They all did something in Equestria’s history. Some were thieves, some were in the army, some protested, and some were just renowned for their skills and talents.

“All were fairly young when they disappeared. All were female. Different builds but none were ever described as having truly abnormal height or weight.” Twilight continued to scan the pages, trying to notice any real similarities between the notes she had made. Then, a few words that existed on every page began to catch her eye.

“Celestia and Luna,” Twilight whispered to herself as her eyes began to dart around. “The Phantom disappeared soon after Princess Celestia announced she’d be aiding in the investigation personally. Nephthys, the ship captain, disappeared before she was to meet Princess Celestia for her promotion to admiral. Wise Word, the wandering sage, disappeared when Princess Luna began to search for her, seeking advice regarding Equestria’s new diarchy.”

Twilight could see a few exceptions, and those pages were each quickly marked with an X and set in the discard pile. Still, the sheer number that remained boggled her mind.

It was like these zebras were disappearing before they could meet with the princesses. Why would that be? Were they avoiding the princesses or being kept away? Were they afraid of the princesses? Were the princesses somehow involved, or maybe the lords and ladies of Equestria’s government? Was there something to be gained from keeping zebras away from the princesses?

Twilight didn't know, and she didn't like it when she didn't know something. Her escapades with Starswirl the Bearded’s time-travel spell was a testament to that. Yet, even thinking about those chaotic few days made Twilight realize she had to calm down. She brought her hoof to her chest and breathed out while doing the cleansing motion Cadance had taught her.

She was calm. She was collected. She would just go to sleep and think about this whole thing in the morning. She took a few steps towards the stairs, her determination to rest her mind and eyes resolute. She’d sleep, have breakfast, and only then would she allow herself to think about it.

Yep, she wouldn't even think about how all those zebras could be part of a grand conspiracy that had existed since Discord’s fall. How some organization could be targeting the zebra, or maybe how the zebra were disappearing intentionally to avoid detection by the princesses. No, she wouldn't think about how a group like that could completely overthrow Equestria’s government and take control if it wanted to.

She just... wouldn't... think... about...

No... she wouldn't...

She would not think about it.

She. Would. Not...

Twilight spun on her hooves before even reaching the first step of the staircase and stumbled right back to her work. She disappeared into the basement and came back with a few balls of yarn and some push pins. She then levitated her notes into the air, starting to link them together with the yarn and pins as her mind whirred.

She was going to figure this out!

~~~

“Twilight? Twilight, darling?” Rarity called out as she knocked at the library door. “I was on my way for a morning coffee when Spike ran by in such a tizzy. I couldn't make out what he was saying. It was something about running to get more yarn from the hobby store. Still, I just thought I’d stop by and see if you were okay.”

Rarity fell silent and strained her ears. She listened for any reply to come from the library. The exterior looked peaceful enough. The tree was intact, the birds were chirping, and there wasn't an angry mob outside. Those were all generally good signs everything was well, but Twilight also tended to be more prompt answering her door.

“Twilight? Are you home?” Rarity called out again, casting her magic on the door’s knob before slowly pushing it open. With the creak of the hinges, the visage of normalcy maintained by the library's exterior fell away. The interior was dark, gloomy, and was plastered with paper. White squares hung everywhere. They were pinned to the walls and suspended in the air. Magic and hoof scribbled notes filled each page, and amidst them were pictures copied magically from books.

And connecting it all, and making the library look like the nest of a giant spider, was yarn. Red, blue, yellow, orange, green, white, black... There was yarn of almost every color going every which way. They were connecting the pages, keeping them held aloft like flies caught in a grisly, yet colorful, web.

Rarity couldn't help but feel a pang of fear as she stepped inside. “Twilight? Twilight, are you in here? Please, do come out.”

Again, there was no reply, and Rarity was forced to squint the further she went. It was so dark. All the windows had been covered, the only light coming from very delicately placed candles. Harsh shadows were cast by the yarn and papers, and subtle movement of the strings seemed to always dance just outside the periphery of Rarity’s vision. “Twilight, if it’s alright with you, I’m going to open a window. I just want to let in a little light. I hope that’s—”

“No!”

Rarity yelped and quickly stumbled forward a few steps before spinning around. Twilight had snuck up behind her, yarn trailing from her back, wings, and horn as a ghastly dress. Her mane was a mess and the bags under her eyes were a clear sign she hadn't slept the night before. And those bloodshot eyes were focused on Rarity, twitching as they glared threateningly. “You’ll ruin the web.”

“Web? Darling, spiders weave webs, not ponies.”

“No, ponies don’t weave webs. But zebras do. Yes, zebras weave the webs. Webs of control. We can’t see it, but it’s there. Yes, the zebras weave a web.”

Rarity took a ginger step back from Twilight. “B-beg your pardon?”

“It’s a web, and a web has to be woven,” Twilight’s eyes began to wander, following different threads of yarn across the room. “It doesn't just happen. There are too many coincidences for it to have just happened. They’ve tried very hard to make it look like things just happen. They make it look like everything is entirely normal. But no, it’s like dominoes. One thing falls into another and into another and into another and into another until... until the truth is undeniable..

“They control everything,” Twilight said, her magic causing a few pieces of paper to light up with her magical aura. “They’ve fought injustice but have also stolen property. They've defended lives but at the same time openly protested the will of the princesses. And the moment any of these zebras are about to meet Princess Celestia or Princess Luna, they vanish without a trace. Yes, some disappeared before that. Some never drew the princesses’ attention. But others did, and they disappeared. There was no body to be found if they supposedly died. There was no trace left if the zebra just walked away. They just vanished—”

Twilight cast her teleportation spell, disappearing with a pop.

“—without a trace.”

Rarity yelped, her own horn glowing as she spun around to defend herself. Twilight had appeared behind her, had whispered her words, and now was smiling and twitching as her eyes darted about the web. In a moment she was to her wings, flying up towards the ceiling. The yarn that trailed from her slipped across Rarity like tiny tendrils, and the fashionista couldn't help but shiver and squirm. She glanced anxiously at the door, fighting the urge to run out screaming, but she instead shook her head and stood her ground.

“Twilight, darling, do you remember the little talk we had?” Rarity asked, watching as Twilight cast a spell upon herself. She stood on the ceiling, gravity inverted for herself, and scuttled about adjusting pieces of paper and threads Rarity had no hope of seeing. “The girls and I promised to take these kinds of things seriously, and you promised to tell us about them. Do you remember that?”

“Of course, but this isn't a problem with me. No, this is a problem with the world. There are zebras steering the course of Equestria’s fate, and it may not just be zebras! Ponies, griffins, buffalo... Anyone could be working with them. It could be a huge organization bent on making us feel like we have a choice in how we live our lives when really we have no choice at all! Did you know Fluttershy was given her cottage? It belonged to her aunt, but then her aunt won the lottery and said Fluttershy could just have it. She literally just gave Fluttershy the whole cottage so she could live on the ground. The odds of both of those things happening are astronomical!”

“What’s astronomical, Twilight, is how wound up you are,” Rarity said, using her magic to try and pull Twilight off the ceiling. “Now, we are going to go talk to the others this instant and you are going to have a proper breakfast.”

“No!” Twilight wrapped her hooves in magic, making them stick to the ceiling as if rooted like a giant tree. “I have to figure this out! These zebras, these ponies, this organization has been benevolent so far, but what if they turn on us?! What if they have Princess Celestia assassinated?! What if they help the changeling queen take over the whole country?!” Twilight gasped. “What if they are already working with the changelings?!”

“Twilight!” Rarity scolded, trying to sound as polite as possible though her voice still carried threatening volume. “If you don’t come down this instant, I promise you, I will take every piece of yarn in this library and sew it into a sweater!”

Twilight froze, turned around like a spider scuttling in her web, and eyed Rarity from the ceiling. “You wouldn't dare. You’d ruin it!”

“Oh, Twilight darling, I would dare. And don’t doubt my ability either.” Rarity lifted a hoof and gently plucked a taut length of yarn near her. “Yes, perhaps knitting is not my preferred medium, but it would take but minutes to make all of this wonderful material into a fashionable yet functional straitjacket. And, even if you managed to stop me from finishing, you won’t be able to stop me before I've done damage to your precious web.”

The pair stared each other down for several seconds, each trying to call the other’s bluff. Twilight began to call magic to her horn and spread her wings, but Rarity was quicker on the draw. In a flash of magic, she took hold of every sharp instrument she could find in the library’s main room. Scissors, keys, old dragon scales, and even a broken bottle from outside were brought to bear against Twilight’s delicate yarn.

It would take just a thought for Rarity to slice a dozen of the important threads.

“So, are you coming down, or do I need to break out my knitting needles?”

Twilight stared Rarity down for a few more seconds before sighing in defeat. She undid her gravity reversing spell, fluttered to the floor with her wings, and landed with her head hung low. “You win.”

Rarity smiled, lowering the sharp objects and moving up beside Twilight. “Now don’t act like that. All I’m asking is for you to take a break and come to the corner cafe with me. We’ll grab some brunch, maybe catch up with the rest of our friends, and you can tell us what all this is about. We’ll even splurge a little and get those cornbread muffins you like.”

~~~

“And... that’s it.”

Twilight looked across the table at her friends. Rarity had been right, getting away from the library and the maelstrom of research she had performed helped. She still thought something was up, that her theories were more than coincidence, but now she was thinking more clearly.

Still, from her friends’ faces, Twilight saw a lot of doubt. Rarity was looking at her like she was wearing some unseemly hat in public. Applejack looked like she had just admitted some great hate for apples. Fluttershy was focusing on her muffin, making short, concerned glances but never maintaining eye contact for long. Pinkie Pie was watching some birds in a tree. And Rainbow Dash...

“This is awesome!”

Rainbow Dash was being Rainbow Dash.

“I don’t know if ‘awesome’ is the word I’d use to describe this, Rainbow,” Twilight said.

“But it’s so cool! It’s just like ‘Daring Do and The Free Bakers’ Mystery!’” Rainbow Dash leapt out of her seat and hovered in the air as she punched, juked, and dodged imaginary enemies. “They probably have a secret hoofshake. And I bet they have friends in high places. They might even be listening to us right now. Yeah, they’ll probably come get us when we go to sleep tonight. They’ll try to kidnap us all, but I’ll get away. Then I’ll come to rescue the rest of you. There’ll be cart chases and explosions and then, when I’ve blown the cover on the whole organization, I’ll have my own book series like Daring Do!”

“Rainbow, did you get hit by lightning again?” Applejack asked. “Cause I swear you sound like you've lost your marbles.”

“That’s just what a Free Baker would say!” Rainbow accused as she landed beside Applejack, eyeing the farm mare with suspicion. “Admit it. That’s why I almost never get any of your family’s cider. It’s all part of the conspiracy!”

“The only thing I’ll admit is that you've got your head so turned around you’re flyin’ backwards.” Applejack deadpanned as she gave Rainbow a little shove, forcing the pegasus out of her personal space. “Just listen to yourselves. Zebras are out to get us? Really? Didn't we already go through this when we were all scared of Zecora and found out she was one of the nicest mares you could ever meet?”

“Well, truthfully, the more I think about it, the more I feel it can’t just be zebras,” Twilight said. “If I were to expand my search and include other famous figures, I’m almost sure I’d find ponies, griffins, horses, and other sentient species that are part of this group. The zebras are just the ones that stood out.”

“No offense, Twilight, but it’s still hard to swallow,” Applejack said.

Twilight sighed, unable to deny that her own theories were starting to seem like insane ramblings. She shifted her gaze to the other side of the table, focusing on Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy. “What about you two? You haven’t said anything yet. Do you think I’m crazy?”

Fluttershy began to fiddle with her mane. “Oh, well, I’d never say that, but... maybe just a little confused and, um... tired.”

“Well, I believe her,” Pinkie Pie said as she lost interest in the pair of birds in the nearby tree and focused back on her friends. Still, despite Pinkie Pie’s attentive inattentiveness, Twilight’s face brightened and her frown turned into a smile.

“Really?”

“Yep,” Pinkie Pie chirped, grabbing up what was left of her own breakfast muffin. She tossed it into the air, opened her mouth, and caught it expertly on her tongue. Then, as she chewed, she said, “After all, I’m not feeling anything.”

The five other friends glanced at one another before looking back at Pinkie Pie. “Darling,” Rarity asked, “would you mind elaborating a bit more? What do you mean you don’t feel anything?”

“Well, since Twilight moved to Ponyville, I started getting a few new combos from my Pinkie Sense. I didn't know what they were for a long time. There’s still some I haven’t figured out, but I do know most of them. Like my Doozie Combo, which is when something happens that I wouldn't believe could happen in a million, billion, trillion, quaddradradradrillion years!”

“And that relates to this how?” Rarity asked.

Pinkie Pie giggled, “Well, because I’m not feeling anything. If Twilight was totally wrong, then I’d have gotten my ‘Twilight-is-going-to-be-crazy-today’ combo.”

Twilight’s ears flattened against her head and she sank in her seat. “You have a combo for that?”

“Aw, don’t take it the wrong way, Sugarcube,” Applejack said as she offered a kind smile. “You just make life more interesting for us, that’s all.”

“And we wouldn't have it any other way,” Fluttershy added.

Twilight smiled and gave her friends a nod of silent thanks before focusing back on Pinkie Pie. “So, as you were saying?”

“I was just saying that if you were totally, completely wrong, then I’d have felt that combo already. So, you must at least be kind of right.”

“So there is a grain of truth to some part of Twilight’s theory,” Rarity said before taking a quick, polite drink from her glass of water. “That certainly puts an interesting perspective on things.”

“Yeah, I ain’t too fond of the idea that anyone, be them pony or zebra or whatever, driving Equestria like a cart to market,” Applejack said. “Well, except the princesses, but that’s their job.”

“Yeah, the only things ponies should be controlling are themselves and the weather.” A look of horror then crossed Rainbow Dash’s face. “What if these zebras are the reason why I haven’t gotten into the Wonderbolts yet? I wowed them at the flight camp. What other reason could there be?”

“Now we can’t jump to conclusions either. Pinkie’s ‘lack of sense,’” Rarity said just as Pinkie Pie began balancing her glass of water on her nose. “Or... perhaps I should say, her lack of intuition only tells us some part of Twilight’s theory is true. We, however, don’t know how much or what parts.”

“What should we do then?” Fluttershy asked.

“I say we should help Twilight with her theory,” Rarity proposed. “Help her get the evidence she needs to go to Princess Celestia. After all, if her theory is remotely correct, being exposed to the princesses seems to be the last thing this organization wants to happen.”

“And I know just how to do it!” Rainbow Dash said before quickly flying over to Twilight, paying no mind to the fact her wings were disturbing the napkins and muffin wrappers on the table. “Remember that other book series you got me reading, that one about a secret magic school for earth ponies? In that book, the bad guys all had that crazy snake and skull tattoo. What if this organization has a mark like that?”

“I don’t think it will be that easy, Rainbow,” Twilight said. “Sure, it would make sense. Even if it’s something subtle, members of an organization do usually have a way to identify one another at a glance, especially if it’s a large organization. It’s the same reason the royal guard and sports teams use uniforms. You always want to know who’s on your side. But I don’t know if it’s going to be something we’ll be able to easily spot if it exists at all.”

“Hey, we won’t know until we look. To The Library!” Rainbow Dash said. She fluttered her wings, preparing to sprint off, only to feel a tug on her tail.

“Wait, I don’t know how much the library is going to help,” Twilight said, her magic holding firmly to Rainbow’s tail. “I’ve already gone through most of my books that would have information on these zebras, and I haven’t been able to find much more than short encyclopedia entries. It’s part of the reason I was so wound up this morning. I was hitting up against a wall.”

“Well, your library really is teeny tiny, Twilight,” Pinkie Pie said as she gave her nose a bounce, still juggling her cup of water like a sea lion with a ball. “Maybe we should go look in a bigger one.”

“Yeah, like that fancy library in the Crystal Empire,” Applejack said. “That’s the biggest library I’ve ever seen and it’s one of the oldest on account of what happened with King Sombra and the empire’s disappearance.”

Rarity nodded. “Yes, and we could seek out some private collections as well. Fancy Pants knows several ponies in Canterlot who own dozens of artifacts and rare books that they keep solely for their personal enjoyment.”

“See, they got the right idea. We can’t find the answers here, we’ll go to the ends of the earth! We’ll leave no stone unturned. We’ll leave no secret underground lair unsearched! We will uncover The Mystery of the... of the...” Rainbow Dash stumbled a little, then smiled and struck a pose as she landed on the center of the table. “The Mystery of the Zebra Conspiracy.” She then chuckled and looked at the others. “Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”

Pinkie Pie eagerly nodded her head and Fluttershy giggled while Rarity and Applejack just rolled their eyes. Twilight, however, was smiling with unbridled confidence. “You girls are right! We’ll uncover this mystery together. We’ll expose this whole organization if it exists and then I’ll present our findings to the princess. And, if there isn’t an organization to be found, we’ll at least prove we have nothing to worry about.”

“So then, where should we start?” Fluttershy asked.

“I’ll need to compile some lists, but I think we need to investigate Equestria’s three biggest libraries. That would be the main libraries in Canterlot, the Crystal Empire, and Manehatten. And Rarity’s right, a lot of Canterlot’s elite have very impressive private collections. One of them may very well have something from one of the zebras we need to look at more closely.”

“Then I’ll write to Fancy Pants immediately, and see if he can’t lend us a hoof,” Rarity said.

“Okay, that leaves the libraries. Applejack, since you thought of it, you should go to the Crystal Empire. Rainbow Dash, you’d have the easiest time getting to Manehatten. Fluttershy, you can go with Rarity to Canterlot and check out the central library there.”

“Oh, what about me? What about me!?” Pinkie Pie asked as she excitedly waved her hoof like a school-age filly in class.

“Pinkie Pie, you... you should probably just go where you think is best. Knowing you, you’ll probably be able to find out a whole lot more if you just do your own thing. But let’s all try to be back here by the end of the week, okay, so we can gather together everything we’ve found.”

The five other mares nodded, and Twilight smiled as she returned their nods. “Yes, we can do this. This plan is perfect!”

“Well, no duh! Any plan is a perfect plan when it means we get to take a road trip!” Pinkie Pie cheered, throwing her hooves into the air. “Oh, I’ll need to bring lots of trail mix, candied fruits, and my harmonica. Oh, and I’ll need to wear my cart-puller hat.” Pinkie Pie reached behind her back and, from nowhere, pulled out a big, cart-puller hat. It was red and white, with a large front bill, mesh on the back, and the words “Convoy to Canterlot” written across the front.

“Breaker one nine two five applesauce pickle barrel, this is Party Pink. Better clear the lanes cause I got a convoy rolling with me. Me, Shy Fly, Rar, Rain, and Buck Jack are all hitting the road. We’re on a mission for Twi Spa. You copy, over?”

“Pinkie Pie, who are you talking to?” Rarity couldn’t help but ask.

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I do not own the intellectual properties this fan-fiction is based on.

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