• Published 12th Mar 2014
  • 348 Views, 28 Comments

The Tainted Renaissance - Red B



For centuries Equestria has existed as a beacon of order and harmony. However, not all things are meant to last. A storm of change is rising on the horizon. One that will shake the very foundations of Equestria.

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Unpleasant Visitors

“A broken horn... That is pretty strange. And he didn't say how it happened?” Twilight said and slowly stretched out her wings. She groaned quietly when the sore feeling increased threefold.

“No, he said it was a personal issue and he didn't want to talk about it.” Rarity watched her friend spread out and fold her wings several times in an obvious attempt to make them feel better. “That did not stop me from wondering about what happened to him. As far as I know, our horns do not break easily.”

Twilight nodded in agreement. “You're right. They are durable. Obviously, there are limits to that durability, but in most cases it takes a lot to break one. And even if it does happen, they grow back rather quickly. Though it looks like Lumberjack is an exception, since you said it has been several years after that horn was broken.”

“Just an assumption, my dear. He didn't mention anything about how much time has passed. I merely made a guess. I could be wrong.” Rarity replied and gave Spike a warm smile when he offered to refill her glass of iced tea. The purple dragon returned the smile with a blush before proceeding to refill other glasses as well. The whole group of close friends were enjoying a peaceful picnic in Ponyville's park. Though, in truth, calling it a picnic wasn't entirely accurate. It was more like a training session with an audience, where Rainbow Dash was working Twilight to the bone while others got to observe it in peace and comfort.

Three days had passed since Rarity had returned from the forest. Almost immediately she had started working on bringing her appearance back up to her usual standards. A long bath, coupled with a pair of refreshing spa sessions, as well as a quick trip to the clinic, had done wonders in making her feel better. Not only that, but she had managed to finish her dress as well. Therefore, with all of her immediate problems taken care of, Rarity was more than able to attend the picnic Pinkie Pie had put together so that all of them could enjoy a pleasant afternoon after Twilight's flying lessons were over. And it was during the picnic that Rarity had told them about the recent incident.

Unsurprisingly, her friends had reacted to the news in various ways. Rainbow Dash and Applejack had more or less shrugged at the whole story, Fluttershy had been concerned about Rarity and later Lumberjack, Pinkie Pie had nearly darted off into the forest in order to befriend the new pony, prevented from doing so only by Rarity's explanation that Lumberjack was very uncomfortable around others and was about to leave anyway. Twilight had expressed interest about Lumberjack's horn and his obsession with history.

“I see. Well, in either case, this is very interesting. I ought to look into this and figure out what is wrong with his horn. I think some late evening research will turn up some results.” Twilight took a large gulp from her glass and started coughing when she swallowed it too quickly.

“Whoa! What do you mean, late evening research?” Rainbow Dash perked up from her corner of the picnic blanket where she and Applejack had been discussing potential plans for the upcoming Nightmare Night festival, which was supposed to take place tomorrow. “You don't have time for that. We've got training this evening, remember? You need the exercise in order to get your stamina up. Lots of exercise.”

Twilight shot the cyan pegasus a dark look, every part of her body groaning in desperation. “More? I thought we were done for today. I already feel exhausted.”

“And that is why we need to work on your stamina. You lack endurance, Twilight. Every single time we train, we have to take numerous breaks for you to recover. That is inefficient. You will never become a good flier at this rate.” Rainbow Dash replied a bit more harshly as intended as she subconsciously mimicked her flight instructors at the Wonderbolt Academy. “You might as well give up your wings.”

“Hey! I can fly! I flew at my crowning ceremony last month!” Twilight snapped back. Intellectually she knew that Rainbow Dash was right. However, she didn't enjoy having her lack of progress pointed out like that. No pony did. “And I do have endurance. Need I remind you about that time when I beat you at the Running of the Leaves Race? I know how to pace myself. That, and I have read plenty of books about flying.”

“Yes, you did fly. But there is a difference between flying and flying good. That and you started flying in the worst possible way … a running start.” Rainbow Dash shivered in disgust. “No self-respecting pegasus performs a running start. It's just so sad to watch. I mean, even Fluttershy here doesn't do running starts.” She gestured at Fluttershy who gave a tiny, apologetic smile to Twilight. Rainbow Dash was about to say more, but then she saw the look on Twilight's face and sighed. “Look, Twilight. I know this sounds harsh, but that's just how it is. Flying is not something you master just by reading a few books. In fact, all those books you showed me are wrong for you. They are written for pegasi by pegasi, with the assumption that you already have the basics down, which you don't. You will just mess up all the work we have done. Flying is only ten percent reading and ninety percent, well … flying. Theory only gets you so far.” Rainbow Dash ignored the surprised looks everypony was giving her as they had never seen Rainbow go into lecture mode.

“As for that race, yes, you might have won, due to an oversight on my part, but that that doesn't mean anything. Pacing only gets you so far. Once you're up and have to fly for prolonged periods of time, you have to keep working with your wings, non-stop. You can't slow down or pause for a short rest in midair. And landing won't help as well, since you'll have to waste time to regain your altitude. Not to mention that there might not be a suitable place to land.”

Applejack cleared her throat in order to interrupt the cyan pegasus. “I think you're overdoin' it a little. We're here to encourage and help Twilight to fly, not ground her permanently.”

Rainbow Dash fell silent for a moment as she considered Applejack's words. When she spoke up again, her voice had a slight touch of softness to it. “I guess you're right. I just got carried away. Thing is, it's hard to explain and especially teach the basics of flying. Most pegasi know how to fly mere hours after they're born. It is instinctual. All those flight camps back up in Cloudsdale merely teach you how to fly better, because every pegasus knows how to fly. There are no flightless pegasi. Telling somepony how to fly is like explaining how to use your eyes.” She took a deep breath and a large sip from her glass. “That is what we're doing in all these exercises. Yes, you do know how to fly, it's just that I want you to have the very best foundation upon which to build the remaining skills. You've made good progress so far and you're a good student. It's just that I would love to see you become a good flier not a “good enough” one.”

“Thank you, Rainbow. You know, I didn't know you were so concerned about...”

“That and I do have a reputation to maintain. After all, I can't be seen together with ponies who can barely fly.” Rainbow suddenly spoke up with a cocky grin, cutting Twilight off and earning a series of laughs from everypony else while Twilight shook her head. “Just make sure to exercise like I told you to. It's not that hard and you'll start noticing results very soon. I did those exercises myself in order to regain my form after I had to spend that month in Fluttershy's...” Rainbow's voice died down with a choke, a look of terror frozen on her face as her mind caught up to what she had said. The merry mood disappeared instantly, giving way for eerie silence as they all shared horrified looks with each other, pained expressions on their faces as relatively fresh scars were ripped open again. “Sorry … I didn't … sorry.” Rainbow hung her head and whispered in a silent voice.

Fluttershy, fighting down an unpleasant shiver, immediately moved to give the cyan pegsus a warm, comforting hug. “We know … we know.” She said quietly while tightening the hug, which Rainbow Dash returned. Usually the athletic mare wasn't one for displaying her soft side in public, but this time it was different. This time it was serious. An uncomfortable silence settled between them.

“Umm, Pinkie Pie? What's this?” Spike spoke up suddenly, when the silence had grown almost unbearable, his voice a mixture of genuine curiosity and forced nonchalance. He was holding up what looked like a piece of glass. Something he had found in the small bowl of candy.

“Oh, that? That's a Glass Shard.”

“Glass?” And just like that, the discomfort was gone, replaced by confusion as all ponies stared at Pinkie and Spike, as well as the object the purple dragon was holding in his claw. Spike raised it up for a closer inspection. “Why is there glass in the candy bowl?”

“No, no, no. It's not glass, it's a Glass Shard. Me and Bon Bon made a small experiment. She is very good at making candy. With her experience and my advice, we tried to create candy that would never melt. Sweetness that would last forever and ever, and ever. The special prize for the best candy hunter on Nightmare Night, which I am bound to win. However, something didn't go as expected and the end result was the Glass Shard. Candy that doesn't melt. It also can't be broken, cut, smashed, crushed, dissolved, tasted, smelled, affected by magic, destroyed or even damaged in ay way.” She leaned in and poked the candy angrily with her hoof. “It is indestructible. And tasteless as well. I decided to throw them out eventually. However, it seems that one of these things has ended up among the other candy.”

Spike eyed the mysterious candy with a hungry look in his eyes. In a way, the candy looked a lot like a gem. A crystal clear, colorless gem. Innocent and pure in every shape. Before anypony could say anything, Spike opened his mouth and bit down on the candy. Much to his surprise, his teeth stopped cold the moment they encountered the surface. For the very first time in his life, there was something he couldn't chew. He strained his jaw, which was powerful enough to bite through the hardest gems in existence like they were nothing more than a crunchy apple, but to no avail. He tried it again, but it only resulted in him nearly biting off his own tongue when his teeth slipped on the smooth surface of the candy and slammed shut.

Everypony studied him with curiosity plain on their faces as Spike slowly opened his mouth and fished out the piece of candy, which wasn't sporting even a single scratch. “Soooooo, looks like even a dragon can't do anything to it.” Pinkie tilted her head slightly and chuckled. “I guess you could call it the ultimate hard candy.” Her chuckles became louder when Spike tossed the indestructible piece of candy aside and emptied the entire candy bowl in his mouth, shrugging off the few glares with a sheepish look on his face as he ate the more conventional pieces of candy.

“Ahem … I … Twilight. About Nightmare Night. Will Princess Luna also grace us with her presence? She seemed to enjoy the festival last year and I was hoping she would come to Ponyville again.” Rarity spoke up in order to steer the conversation further away from the unpleasant memories. Spike's attempt to distract them had been brilliant, but, unless they continued talking, memories would surface again. “It would make the celebration all that greater.”

It's all my fault! Twilight shook her head to rid herself of the still lingering thought. “No, Rarity, unfortunately Luna won't be able to make it. As you know … Celestia, has left Canterlot in order to deal with some sort of an issue South of Baltimare, which means that Luna has been very busy these last two weeks. She is simply too busy to attend. She does send us her greetings and she also promised a little surprise for the festival.”

“What kind of a surprise? Will it be a scary surprise? Or will it be a nice one? Oh, I just love surprises! I can't wait to find out what it is.” Pinkie couldn't hold in her excitement when she heard Twilight's words. “Do you know anything about it? Anything at all? Perhaps a hint? Or a small clue as to what might happen? No! Wait! Don't tell me! It won't be a surprise anymore! Or, you could tell me, and I could pretend to act surprised! Perhaps I could even prepare a very good response! No, no, no. That won't do. Luna will know that I'm not surprised for real and that will make ruin the festival fer her, and that will ruin the festival for me as well. Perhaps it will even ruin the festival for all the ponies in Ponyville. And if Ponyville is sad, then there is the chance of the entire Equestria becoming sad as well. No, Twilight! You absolutely must not tell me anything about the secret! Not even a single word! Not even a half of a single word. Not even...”

“Pinkie, don't worry. I don't know anything about the surprise either.” Twilight cut off the rambling pony before Pinkie's speculations could go way out of hoof. “There is nothing for you to worry about. Just focus on enjoying the Nightmare Night and everything will be fine.”

“Yeah and I'm sure you'll forget about it anyway. There will be all sorts of other things for everypony to enjoy.” Applejack added in a reassuring voice. That seemed to put Pinkie's concerns to rest, though she still shot an occasional concerned glance in Twilight's direction now and then.

“That reminds me, Fluttershy, what about you? Will you be joining us this year?” Rarity gave an encouraging smile to the light yellow pegasus. “You have been spending the festival hiding in your cottage every time. Don't you think it's time to give it a chance?”

Fluttershy merely shook her head in refusal. “I'm sorry, Rarity, but I just can't do it. All those costumes everypony wears are just too scary. I know they are supposed to be just for fun, but they are too much for me. They look like the real thing.” She sighed quietly. “I appreciate the offer, but I will be spending Nightmare Night in my cottage.”

“I, on the other hoof, have no intention of doing that. My new costume is ready and I am determined to enjoy the night to its fullest.” Rainbow announced proudly, something which drew knowing smiles from Applejack, Rarity and Twilight. “What?” Rainbow noticed their grins.

The three mares shared a quick look amongst themselves before Applejack decided to speak up. “You sure it's all about the festival, sugarcube? Because some of us have heard some interestin' things. For example, a certain long time Wonderbolt is comin' to Ponyville tomorrow.”

“Ah, I think I know the stallion you're talking about, darling. Good flier, athletic build, looks absolutely dashing in his flight suit.”

“Goes by the name of Soarin, if I'm not mistaken.” Twilight continued from where Rarity left, a wide grin plastered on her face as she watched the most adorable blush creep up Rainbow's face.

Rainbow Dash glared at them, but the look didn't have any anger in it. She merely sighed and rubbed the back of her head. “Okay, yes, so I am excited about Soarin coming to Ponyville so we could spend some time together. I fail to see what the big deal is.”

Rarity covered her mouth with her hooves in order to hide her gasp. “Rainbow, darling, we were just teasing you a little. We were not poking fun at you for your relationship with him. We are happy for you. It is wonderful to know that you have found a pony who is close to your heart.”

“Rarity is right, Rainbow. It is a wonderful thing to hear. Perhaps you could introduce us to him? I would love to meet the stallion who managed to … tame the wild Rainbow Dash!” Twilight needled her friend, enjoying one of the rare chances to do so.

Tame? … Oh, so you want to play it that way, huh? Fine, I can do that. Rainbow's glare turned contemplative for a moment, before a grin, which was just as wide as Tilight's settled on her face. “Heh, I guess you're right about that. Soarin is definitely a cut above the rest. After all, I am not interested in average stallions. Certainly not enough to let them take some degree of control over my life. Soarin's special like that. Unfortunately, I doubt there will be time for introductions. You see, we don't get that many chances to be together. Plenty of responsibilities for both of us. Therefore, whenever we do get the chance, we tend to … catch up on lots of things. And it's funny you mention him taming me. He is very good at that. Like that one time when he tied wings so I couldn't use them, pinned me to the ground, grabbed my mane with his teeth and then rammed his...”

“Rainbow Dash!” Twilight hissed through her teeth, flicking her eyes at Spike and back. Meanwhile Rainbow was sporting a smug grin on her face as she took in her friends' reactions. Pinkie was giggling quietly, while Applejack settled for merely rolling her eyes. Rarity had an understanding smile on her lips, while Twilight was blushing like crazy. Strangely, Fluttershy had a dreamy look on her face.

Spike, however, looked very confused, his gaze traveling from one mare to another. “Umm, huh? Is there something I've missed?”

“No! You're not missing anything. Everything is perfectly fine and completely normal. We are having a completely normal conversation, without any age inappropriate content, thus suited for everypony nearby, thus making it age appropriate. It is not polluted in any way, shape or form.” Twilight quickly replied while maintaining her gaze with Rainbow Dash.

“Polluted?” Rainbow Dash narrowed her eyes at the lavender alicorn. She was about to say more, but with Pinkie, Applejack, Rarity and Fluttershy breaking out in laughter, the intention died down.

“Heh, you two are so funny whenever you spend some time together. Just a few sentences and it's entertainment guaranteed.” Applejack chuckled as she slowly stood up and stretched herself. “Unfortunately, I got to go. There's plenty of things to take care of at the farm in order to prepare for the festival. Wouldn't want to let Ponyville down.”

Almost immediately, Pinkie shot up to her hooves with a determined and at the same time, cheerful look on her face. “Oh, oh. I'll go with you. Can’t let you do all those super-duper preparations alone.”

“I appreciate the offer, but there's really no need. I can take care of them myself...” Applejack's voice trailed off when Pinkie gave her the pleading eyes look. “Oh, okay. If you really want to, I'll let you help. It would be a darn shame to turn down a helping hoof. Besides, Apple Bloom will be happy to see you.”

“Please, don't mind us, there's not much to pack. I will take care of it in a flash. You don't have to stay and help.” Rarity urged them when she saw the questioning look on their faces. Concerns alleviated, Applejack gave Rarity a brief nod and set off with Pinkie accompanying her with her usual bounce.

“Yeah, um, I got to go as well. Soarin's coming tomorrow so I have to make preparations, such as...”

“Rainbow.” Twilight warned the pegasus, not liking that small grin on her face.

“Such as cleaning my house, you perv.” Rainbow chuckled briefly and took off. “Just don't forget about the evening's exercise. I'll come get you so I can make sure you don't skip it.”

Twilight watched her leave and shook her head. “What have I gotten myself into...” She muttered and proceeded to help Rarity, Fluttershy and Spike gather up the plates. It didn't take long, especially when magic was involved. Just a few moments and everything was placed neatly inside the basket, while the blanket, folded by Rarity, rested on top of it. One it was done, they all parted ways. Rarity and Fluttershy were heading to the spa center for their weekly session, while Twilight and Spike walked back to the library, where Twilight was determined to do a little research on unicorn horns.

xxxx

“Tell me you're not thinking about what happened at the picnic, Twilight.” Spike spoke up after they had left the park and were walking down the street.

Twilight spared him a confused look before realization struck. “What? Oh … that. No. I wasn't. I was thinking about that unicorn Rarity met. I'm curious about what happened to his horn.”

“What a relief.” Spike let out a breath that felt like it was taking off an immense weight from his shoulders. “I was worried that you were still blaming yourself for... well, you know.”

“I wasn't thinking about that. However, my thoughts remain unchanged. What happened to our friends was all my fault. I never should have cast that … thing. It was irresponsible of me to do so without any precautions. I did something stupid and my friends paid the price.”

Smooth move. Spike mentally kicked himself. He should have known better than to bring up that spell. It summoned all sorts of unpleasant memories. Not just for Twilight, but for everypony else. Just like Rainbow's verbal blunder had shown, the scars were still there, buried beneath the surface as they tried to move on with their lives. However, stupid move or not, he couldn't let Twilight continue to blame herself for causing it. “But Twilight...”

“Spike! Don't try to make me feel better. I know what I did and there is no sugarcoating it. No matter how you look at it, I am responsible for what they had to go through. You were there with me, you saw the whole thing. Every last part of it. And no matter how much I would love to pretend that everything is in the past, we know the truth. We saw it today. The memories are still fresh, even though they're doing their best to hide it. Nothing is over.” Twilight's voice became exasperated as she unknowingly increased her pace.

Next to her, Spike rolled his eyes in frustration. It was the same thing all over again. No matter how much he tried to reason with her and point out the flaw in Twilight's opinion, all of his attempts were met with failure. Always. Twilight was dead set on blaming herself for the mess she had unknowingly created when Princess Celestia had sent her that test in the form of an unfinished spell. “Fine. Whatever. Forget I said anything.” He said with a tired sigh.

“Spike?” Twilight stopped and turned around. The annoyance in Spike's words was impossible to miss.

“Nothing. I am just tired of all this. Your blame game, that is. Even though you won't admit it loudly, we both know the truth. It was not your fault. Despite that you are hurting yourself more than anypony else. You have cut off all contact with Princess Celestia for a month now and you still haven't told our friends that the entire Cutie Mark spell was just a test.” He replied pitifully, staring into Twilight's violet eyes and sounding many years older than he actually was. “It is painful to watch. Why can't you tell them the truth?”

Twilight looked back at him in silence for a long time before sitting down on her haunches and hanging down her head, as if ashamed to look him in the eyes. “You know very well why I can't do that. You were there in Canterlot and you also saw what happened when I returned to Ponyville. You know how much both Princess Celestia and my friends mean to me … That is the reason why I can't bring myself to talk to Celestia or tell the truth to my friends … I am just not strong enough to do that. I don't want to hurt them any more than I already have. And if I have to suffer for my indecisiveness, then that's for the best.” Twilight lifted up her head. “Please understand.”

Spike slowly rubbed his forehead and sighed. “So it's fear that's bothering you, huh? You're afraid to cause more damage... You could have just said so before … I understand. Sort of. Though you'll still have to reveal the truth eventually. It's not something you can keep to yourself forever.”

“I know, Spike. I know. But not right now. Not when things are so fragile.” Twilight managed a weak smile and released Spike. “Thanks.”

“Yeah, don't mention it. There is one thing though. I know how much you can get worked up about these things. I know that there are times when the pressure can make you … crack.” He held up his claw in order to forestall Twilight's objections. “My point is, while I will play along with your idea, I will also be keeping my eye on you, Twilight. The moment I see that things are too much for you to handle, I will... what was the term … pull the plug on the entire thing and tell your friends everything. I don't know what will happen, most likely it will be ugly, perhaps it will even cause permanent damage in some form, but that is a risk I am willing to take. You are the only family I have and I will not allow this wound to fester into something worse than it already is.”

A thousand replies exploded into Twilight's mind as she mulled over what Spike had just said. There were reassurances in her mind that told her that nothing like that would ever happen, beliefs that she would be able to keep herself together, hope that Spike was bluffing and even a few angry replies that Spike shouldn't be sticking his nose where it didn't belong. In the end, Twilight settled for a quiet nod. Spike was only looking out for her. He was worried. Besides, it wasn't like he hadn't given her a fair chance to solve things at her own pace. “Very well. I will keep that in mind.”

“Excellent. For a moment I was worried that you would overreact again and start to protest. Nopony likes it when others give them such an ultimatum. I know I don't. But as we both know, this is not your usual situation. This is critical.” Spike's face brightened up and he started walking down the street, taking the lead. “C'mon, let's go to the market before we head back to the library. We're running low on carrots and onions. Knowing you, you'll probably start doing research on that horn thing the moment we get back, so I would prefer if we took care of the shopping right now, so I don't have to carry everything myself.”

“Good idea, Spike.” Twilight replied and followed him to the town's market square. “Just one thing, I don't overreact.”

xxxx

Rarity was a happy pony. The lightness in her step, the dazzling radiance of her coat, the rejuvenating sensation all over her body, she felt absolutely divine. Going to the spa for the second time in a week had allowed her to discover a level of serenity and relaxation she hadn't been previously aware of. Aloe and Lotus Blossom were truly masters of their craft. A small part of her wondered perhaps she could make her spa visits a bi-weekly thing. However, after a moment's consideration, Rarity decided against it. Too much of a good thing was bad. Besides, as much as Rarity loved to visit the spa, it wasn't that enjoyable when she went by herself. Fluttershy made for a very enjoyable company, but a single trip per week was most the animal caretaker could afford. She was far too busy for that.

Decision made, Rarity opened the front door of the Carousel Boutique and went inside. “Sweetie Belle, I have returned. I will start working on dinner in half an hour, so please let me know if you are hungry.” Rarity said just loud enough to be heard as she moved the grocery basket to the kitchen. After her visit to the spa, Rarity had made a short trip to the market in order to pick up a few things to eat.

“Sweetie Belle?” Rarity placed the basket on a nearby counter, next to the picnic basket she had dropped off earlier and perked up her ears, listening for a reply. There was none. In fact, it seemed that Sweetie Belle wasn't even home. Not that it was anything unusual, but after the worried greeting Rarity had received after returning home from the forest, she had half-expected her little sister to spend more time at home for a while. Apparently, Rarity was wrong. Her sister's attention span was just too short for something like that. Most likely she was together with her friends doing their best to earn their Cutie Marks.

Shrugging, Rarity quickly emptied the grocery basket and then followed up with the picnic basket, stacking the dishes into the sink and putting away the leftovers. As for the blanket itself, Rarity decided to take it to the laundry room. On her way there, she passed a ponnequin, upon which her latest masterpiece was displayed. She gave it a quick check, smiling fondly at the sight before her and moved on, sneaking a few glances as she went.

Rarity was proud of her work. The dress was, to put it simply, amazing. She had done it, despite the unfortunate experience. There was just one problem with it. She didn't know what to do with it. She didn't have any special orders at the moment and neither was she expecting a visit from her usual customers. Rarity supposed she could wear it herself, the dress would certainly look good on her, but there wasn't a single event, important enough for the dress, in the near future. Nightmare Night was not even slightly suited for it, the Hearth's Warming Eve was in the winter, when it was too cold. She could wear it to the Grand Galloping Gala, but after that last fiasco, Rarity had no desire to attend the event in the foreseeable future. Oh well, I guess I will just have to wait for the opportunity. One always comes along. Rarity shrugged and put her mind at ease.

Just as she was placing the picnic blanket in the laundry basket, Rarity heard the front doors of her workshop open and close a moment later. Initially, she thought it was Sweetie Belle, but the sounds of two stallion voices convinced her otherwise. Customers? But I thought I left the “closed” sign up. Hmm... must have forgotten to do that. Rarity frowned a little and made her way towards the main work room where she could greet the customers.

Two stallions were standing in the middle of the room and observing the various designs around them. One was a beige pegasus with a very short white mane, while the other one was a copper brown earth pony with a spiky sky blue mane. The earth pony was also sporting an olive green trench coat, which made him look like a detective, just like ones in some romance novels Rarity loved to read. Both of them instantly heard the sound of her hoofsteps and turned to face her. In response, Rarity put on her usual welcoming smile. “Greetings, my name is Rarity and welcome to Carousel Boutique, where every garment is is chic, uni...”

“Save it, lady. We're not here for your rags.” The pegasus interrupted her while nodding at the ponnequin with Rarity's recent masterpiece. “We're here for a much different purpose. One that actually matters.”

Rarity's smile turned a few millimeters narrower. On the outside, that was the only reaction she had for the insult. Inwardly, she gritted her teeth in anger. “And what purpose would be that?” She addressed the earth pony, hoping that he would be the civilized one of the two.

Much to her relief, her hopes were fulfilled, the earth pony gave the pegasus a tired look and heaved a heavy sight. “My name is Persistent Tracker and this is Storm Chaser. We are from Section 9. Our organization is tasked with hunting down and capturing extremely dangerous criminals.”

“I see.” Rarity frowned in mild confusion. Initially she wondered what did these two ponies wanted from her. However, as she gave it some thought, Rarity had a feeling she knew what the visit was about.

“Don't worry, we are not here for you.” Persistent Tracker misinterpreted her frown. “We are here because there have been reports that a very dangerous criminal has been sighted in Ponyville. Not only that, but you have been spotted in his company.”

“A criminal in Ponyville? That is quite unusual. We rarely have ponies breaking any laws here and even then those are very minor offenses.”

The beige pegasus let out a derisive snort and shook his head. “Figures. You small town yokels have been living under Celestia's teats safe and sound. You have absolutely no fucking idea what a cesspit the outside world is.”

Rarity ignored Storm Chaser. The presence of the vulgar pegasus wasn't worth acknowledging. It was beneath her. Unfortunately, it seemed that Persistent Tracker had a similar mindset. “Well, as my colleague said, Ponyville doesn't see any of the serious criminals due to its location … Anyway, this is the pony we are looking for.” He reached into his coat and fished out a small photo. When Rarity saw the image, she nearly let out a gasp. The pony in the picture was definitely Lumberjack. The gray coat and that dark blue mane were exactly the same. The only difference was that he seemed to be a bit younger and he still had his horn. “His name is Stardust. Though he often uses a fake name like Lumberjack, Average Joe or Glitter Hooves. He is wanted for several accounts of murder, sexual assault, extortion, theft and several other major offenses. He is mentally unstable and extremely dangerous.”

“Yeah. Killed more than thirty ponies from Manehattan to Fillydelphia. All of them mares. Raped them and then cut them to pieces. Or killed them and raped them afterward. He's one sick fuck who will attack you the moment he sets his eyes on you.” Storm Chaser added with a dark smirk. He stepped closer to Rarity and continued in a low voice. “You don't want that to happen to you, don't you? You don't want him to break into this place, beat you up, bend you over that table over there and then fuck you until you scream and moan like a whorish mare in heat before he slits your throat, right?”

Rarity couldn't suppress a shiver. The way Storm Chaser had said all those nasty things, made it sound like he was threatening to do all that if she didn't cooperate. Still doing her best to ignore the pegasus, Rarity stared at the photo, considering the words she had just heard. It didn't feel right. It didn't sound like the Lumberjack she knew. Granted, she had know him only for a single night, but she had seen his eyes, his face, his entire posture when he was talking to her. He didn't feel like an insane killer. A pony with a few secrets, sure, but not the merciless killer these two detectives claimed him to be. Upon further reflection, Rarity realized that she had spent the night in his house where she had been dead tired, exhausted and unable to use magic, yet Lumberjack hadn't done anything. He had been helpful to the point of selflessness. Perhaps he was very good at hiding his true intentions? Or maybe there was something else going on?

“Yes, I did meet him a few days ago, but he didn't strike me as an insane killer. Quite the opposite, he was friendly and very helpful.” Rarity slowly replied as she recalled the time she spent with Lumberjack. “Yes, he was definitely friendly.”

Unfortunately Storm Chaser wasn't satisfied with the answer. He leaned in, invading Rarity's personal space until his face was just centimeters from hers and yelled. “Didn't you hear what we said, ya dumb bitch!? Stardust is a fucking monster who should be put down like an animal he is. So, tell us all you know about him, unless you want him to fuck you up.” His voice trailed off and a genuinely sickening grin settled on his face. “Hell... you know, I bet you want him to rape you. You're probably one of those ponies who gets off from that. If that's the case and you really want that to happen to you, then think about your friends. I think you don't want that to happen to them.” The pegasus finished, accentuating his words by poking Rarity's chest with his hoof.

Rarity glared down at the hoof, her self defense instincts flaring. “I think...” I could dislocate that hoof in three different ways. “... that you should leave this place, sir. Your intimidation tactics are cheap, uncouth, and quite frankly I find them extremely offensive. I am a lady and I would prefer to be treated as such. And if you think that I am concerned about the potential consequences for refusing to assist in your investigation, you are sadly mistaken. You are free to take this issue to your superiors, all the way up to the Princesses if you have to, however, considering the circumstances, I am confident they will see the reasons for my refusal as thoroughly justified.” Rarity forced herself to remain calm and collected. She had no desire to stoop down to Storm Chaser's level or let him provoke an unladylike reaction from her.

“What did you say?” Storm Chaser growled through gritted teeth.

“Storm Chaser, outside.” Persistent Tracker said in a tired voice while giving Rarity an apologetic look. “I said, go outside! Your presence is only making things worse.” He repeated when Storm Chaser glared at him. Both ponies stared at each other for a few seconds before the pegasus backed down and stomped towards the exit. He gave Rarity a meaningful glare before slamming the doors.

Rarity didn't look away from him, even as he left the building. She kept staring at the doors for a few more seconds, silently seething in anger at the stallion's uncouth behavior. He had done an excellent job at ruining her mood. She was about to turn her attention to Persistent Tracker when she noticed a small detail. The sign on the door. Words “open” could be clearly seen on it. This mean that she hadn't forgotten to flip the sign in order to let everypony know that the workshop was closed. Something that hadn't bothered these two at all. They had barged in without a single care or respect for her privacy. Usually it wouldn't bother her that much. Rarity had a lot of customers who had arrived at off-business hours. But at least they made an effort to warn her in time. Not this time. Not these two. And while their urgency was a good reason for breaking the rules, their words and actions were not. One did not barge into a pony's home and start harassing them.

“I apologize for his actions. Storm Chaser is a decent pony, but he tends to get carried away. We have been on this case for a long time now and it has hit him rather hard. It is not often we get cases like this one.” Persistent Tracker rubbed the side of his head and sat down.

“The severity of the case is irrelevant. There is a limit to how rude you can be and your colleague broke them the moment he opened his mouth. If this is how you usually operate, I am starting to doubt your competence in the matter.”

“Hey, I said I was sorry, okay! No need to rub it in.” Persistent Tracker retorted in a flash of annoyance. He took a few breaths to calm down. “Look. Just tell me what you know about Stardust and I'll be out of your mane in a flash. Any little thing can help.”

Rarity considered refusing the request as a way to get back at the impolite ponies, but she decided otherwise, despite her anger. She could hardly claim the moral high ground if she let anger cloud her decision. “There is not much to tell. I was out on a trip for gems and met him in the forest. He asked me for directions to Ponyville and I agreed to show him the way. That is it.” Okay, perhaps she was letting her anger influence her a little bit.

Persistent Tracker frowned in disappointment when he heard the response. “That's it? I was expecting a lot more information. Where is he hiding? Why is he here? What are his plans? Does he have any collaborators in Ponyville?”

“I do not know an answer to any of those questions. I merely met him in the forest and he accompanied me to the town. We parted ways afterwards and I haven't seen him since.” Rarity said, knowing full well that she was leaving some details unsaid. She knew where Lumberjack was staying, at least for now, yet somehow, she didn't want to reveal the location to the detectives. Something just didn't feel right about this whole situation. The almost desperate attempts to intimidate her and make her afraid of Lumberjack were setting off a lot of red flags in her mind. Rarity understood that by withholding information she was, potentially, endangering other ponies if all those accusations were true. But somehow, she still had doubts. She remembered the look on his face, the way he talked about himself and how Lumberjack generally behaved around her and none of it made her nervous. She was almost fully certain that Lumberjack was not a threat to others. Still, there was that tiny possibility of him being an excellent liar. “All I know is that he mentioned he was staying somewhere in the forest. That is all I know.” Rarity added after a brief consideration. She wasn't certain about Lumberjack's fault, so she decided to give an uncertain answer. Enough to give the detectives some sort of a lead, but not enough to sell out Lumberjack.

“I see. Looks like this was a waste of time.” Persistent Tracker studied her face. “I guess we will have to do some more searching around. Perhaps somepony else has some information on the matter.” He sighed and slowly got up to his hooves in order to leave. Just as he was about to open the doors, he looked back at Rarity. “Thank you for your assistance, such as it was. Me and my colleagues will be staying in this town for a while, so if you learn anything new, make sure to inform us.”

Rarity didn't reply, she merely nodded and watched the stallion leave her workshop, glaring a the doors well after they closed behind him. Rarity slowly worked through the emotions boiling inside her, taking slow breaths to calm herself down. Once she felt a bit relaxed, Rarity used her magic to lock the front doors of her workshop. Unless it was a life or death issue, she wasn't in the mood for any visitors and Sweetie Belle could always use the back door to get inside.

Once the potential distractions were taken care of, Rarity trotted towards the kitchen, where she could use a sharp knife to vent her frustration on the groceries.

xxxx

“Yes! Yes! Yes! I think I finally found it! After all that searching, I think this is exactly what Rarity was talking about!” Twilight squealed in joy as she once more checked the book in front of her just to make sure. “Yep, sounds just like she described. Mana Burn. A potential side effect of a Magic Rebound.”

Spike put away a large pile of books and gave Twilight a confused look. “Magic Rebound? You mean like the ones you tend to have?” He gave a sheepish grin when Twilight glared at him.

“No Spike. Rebound is a different thing from a misfire, which, I'll admit, I have … experienced. Granted, it happens very rarely and mostly because an unforeseen variable entered the equation. Misfire is when you get the spell wrong, thus causing a different result. Rebound is when the energy of the spell, magic, rebounds into you. Roughly speaking it's like accidentally hitting yourself with your own spell.” Twilight read the explanation out loud. At the same time she levitated a huge pile of books towards Spike as a way to get some revenge for the small dig at her.

Spike caught the pile and nearly dropped it, it was too heavy. Fortunately, his shaky grip resulted in some of the books falling to the floor, thus making the pile easier for him to carry. The purple dragon gritted his teeth and started making his way towards a nearby bookshelf, carefully maneuvering around the small stacks of books Twilight had gone through during her research. “Meh, so he tried to break off somepony's horn and got hit by his own spell big deal … On a second thought, if he was trying to do that to somepony, I'd say he got what he deserved.”

Twilight shook her head. “No, Spike, you don't understand, Rebound doesn't inflict the same spell you were trying to achieve. It is a surge of raw magical energy and is the result of a powerful spell gone wrong. The book says the amount of damage depends on the strength of the spell, the strength of the unicorn casting it as well as many other factors that aren't fully understood. Damage can vary from something like headache or unconsciousness to death, complete loss of magic or … loss of the horn, among other injuries. So my theory is that Lumberjack tried to cast a powerful spell but something went wrong, causing a Magic Rebound, which destroyed his horn.” She explained, tapping her lower lip thoughtfully.

“And he also suffered Mana Burn, which more or less cauterized his horn, preventing it from regroing. Like how ponies tended to cauterize bad wounds in the past when healing magic and proper medicine were hard to come by.” Spike continued with a shrug as he continued Twilight's train of thought and added a historical fact he had picked up from spending most of his life around books.

Twilight stared at him for a moment, considering the possibility. “Sounds about right. That's a very good theory. Of course, the question is, how does one cure something like that and what kind of a spell Lumberjack was casting? I guess I could take my chances and try to find him in order to ask a few questions. Or, I could do a bit more digging and...” A series of loud knocks on the front door stopped her musings.

“Hey, Twilight! Open up!” Twilight heard Rainbow's voice. For some reason, she sounded angry.

“Yeah, sure. Just a moment.” The lavender alicorn replied and, with a flash of her magic, opened the door, revealing a clearly annoyed pegasus. “What's wrong? Is it some sort of an emergency? It is getting late and...”

“You're late! I can't believe you forgot... Wait, scratch that. I knew you'd forget, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.” Rainbow said mostly to herself before shaking her head and glaring at Twilight. “Your flying lessons, remember? We were supposed to meet ten minutes ago!”

Twilight stared at her, confusion evident on her face before realization dawned and made her jump to her hooves. “Oh... OH! Right! Yes! The lessons! How could I forget?! I promised that... oh, my … umm... yes... wait...” The realization that she was late for a lesson completely derailed her thoughts. She glanced around, looking for reference materials before realizing that there were none for what Rainbow had in mind. She then tried to grab the closest piece of paper in order to use it as a bookmark so that she could close the book in front of her. Unfortunately, she failed to notice that half of the paper sheet was trapped under a stack of books, which resulted in the stack being knocked down when Twilight pulled the piece of paper towards her. Of course, then her OCD kicked in and she just had to stack the books back up again, sorting them by alphabet, obviously. Problem was, the bookmarks she had placed inside the books were now on the floor, which meant that she had to find the correct pages again and mark them. It would only take a few...

“ENOUGH!” Spike yelled, tearing a book from Twilight's telekinetic grip. “I'll take care of this! Just... go!”

Twilight blinked a few times, breaking her momentary panic attack, and took a few deep breaths to calm herself. “Okay, okay. I'm calm now. I'm calm.” She took another deep breath. “Sorry about that.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Spike gestured in her direction while trying to figure out where to start. “Just go and let me work.” Twilight made a tiny, apologetic smile and headed towards the door, where Rainbow was waiting for her.

“Are you done?” Irritation was dripping from Rainbow's voice. Even the brief show hadn't been enough to lighten her mood.

“Sorry about that. I just got so absorbed in my research I forgot all about it.” Twilight made a quick apology as she closed the door behind her. She glanced at the skies, noting that it was already evening. “I didn't even notice how quickly time flew. To me it was barely after midday just a few moments ago.”

Rainbow shook her head in frustration. “What else is new? At least we still have enough time for a few laps around Ponyville. C'mon, let's go.” She said and took off with hardly any effort at all. Behind her, Twilight stretched her wings a few times in order to warm them up and, with a grunt of effort, took off as well, taking joy in the fact that she didn't require running starts anymore. Both mares slowly gained altitude until they were flying several meters above the buildings and headed towards the edge of the town. Twilight used the chance to observe the preparations that were taking place all over Ponyville. While most of the decorations would be set up in the next day, there were some that required more work. The outdoor stage as well as some of the larger stalls were some examples.

While most things were proceeding as expected, Twilight noticed that something wasn't quite right. She couldn't point her hoof at it, but for some reason the general atmosphere seemed a bit... off. At first she just wrote it off as general stress due to the oncoming festival. Considering the amount of effort ponies usually put in for the Nightmare Night, that was to be expected. However, as she continued to fly, Twilight noticed that it wasn't the usual anxiety, that enjoyable impatience one always had when preparing for something great. Instead, the general mood was that of concern. Ponies sporting nervous expressions, quietly discussing something in small groups, occasionally casting worried looks at their surroundings and so on. It was as if most of the town was expecting something bad to happen at any moment.

“Umm, Rainbow Dash. What's wrong with everypony?” Twilight asked during one of their several laps along the outer edge of Ponyville. “Everypony is acting so strange. As if they're scared.”

Rainbow glanced towards the middle of the town, taking note of several concerned looking ponies, before looking at Twilight who was flying close behind her. She slowed down a little, so they were flying side by side. “Wait, haven't you heard? There is a psycho killer hiding in the woods. A whole bunch of detectives arrived today and have been going around, asking questions, since somepony spotted the guy a few days ago.”

“What?” Twilight nearly forgot to use her wings. “A killer? Here? In Ponyville?”

“If the detectives can be trusted, then yes. They did seem scared out of their minds when they talked to me. Kept coming up with all sorts of crimes he has committed. Like he has killed more than thirty mares and then chopped them to pieces. Stuff like that. Felt a bit over the top to me. Oh, and they also gave me his description. And guess what, it was disturbingly familiar because...”

“Because Rarity described him this morning, right.? Twilight quickly put two and tow together, gasping in horror when Rainbow replied with an expressionless nod. “Does that mean Rarity spent the night under the same roof with a serial killer?”

Rainbow nodded again. “Yep. But this is where it gets weird. According to the detectives, this guy is supposed to be mentally unstable. Extremely easy to provoke and basically unable to resist his urges. Yet Rarity returned safe and sound. Even more, she had nothing but positive things to say about him and you know how good she is when it comes to getting a feel for other ponies.”

“So, you think that the detectives are lying. Or at least not telling the whole truth?”

“That or this Stardust guy, that's his real name apparently, is an amazing actor, easily able to fool even Rarity.”

“You know, I think I would like to have a few words with those det... detectives.” Twilight cringed when a sudden pang struck her between the wings and made her realize that she was growing tired. She was nearing her limit, which, while slightly better than her previous one, was nowhere near good enough for a prolonged flight. By comparison, Rainbow wasn't even breathing hard. Her wing strokes were slow and lazy, yet still able to keep her next to Twilight. “I think I'm getting near my limit. Perhaps we should stop for tonight?”

“Not yet, Twilight. Soreness means your muscles are working outside their comfort zone. This is the best time to push your limits, even a little. You make them work a little bit extra and that additional effort will become part of your new limit.” Rainbow flipped around so that she was flying backwards and on her back. Twilight recognized the taunt for what it was and glared at the pegasus. When Rainbow merely replied by giving her a challenging, smug grin, Twilight began flapping her wings with extra effort, fighting through the increasing tiredness. Still, it wasn't enough to catch Rainbow, but at least the pace quickened.

Rainbow observed Twilight's efforts and nodded approvingly. “Good. Very good. That's what I'm talking about. You won't find your limits without pushing yourself and you won't push your limits without challenging yourself.” Her words seemed to encourage Twilight and the alicorn managed to make a few more laps around the town. Twilight didn't talk during those laps as all of her strength was focused on her wings and using them to remain airborne.

Eventually, Rainbow decided to call it a day and end the lesson. While it was good to see Twilight push her physical limits, Rainbow knew it from experience that there was a limit to the amount of exercise a pony should go through in one day. Too much of a good thing was still bad and considering all the exercises Twilight had gone throughout the entire day, she was nearing the limit. Otherwise, the strain would start causing damage. “Okay, Twilight. I think that's enough flying for today. Time to slow down.” She said and turned her flight into more of a glide, with the occasional flap just to control her course. Behind her, Twilight did the same, though she still had to correct herself a lot more often than Rainbow did.

They were slowly losing altitude and making a wide pass over the edge of the forest when Twilight spotted something on the ground. “Rainbow, look over there! Where the road enters the forest … Is … is that a pony?” She pointed her hoof towards the figure. A wasted effort, since Rainbow couldn't see her pointing and had spotted the pony before Twilight had finished her sentence. “Looks like she is hurt.”

“Let's go.” Rainbow replied and shifted into a dive towards the obviously injured mare who was slowly making her way towards Ponyville. Twilight followed at a more controlled pace, not wanting to risk crashing into the ground. A few moments later, she landed on the ground with a slight stumble, her legs protesting at the sudden impact. Thankfully, Twilight quickly recovered and hurried over to Rainbow who was already standing next to the earth pony.

“Are you alright? What happened?” Twilight asked the moment she was within easy speaking distance. When her eyes fell on the purple mare's injuries, she winced. Large, nasty looking bruises covered most of the mare's body, some of them were even bleeding, leaving dark marks into the fur. The left eye was swollen shut, while the right one seemed to have problems focusing on her and Rainbow. Probably a concussion. Twilight's mind noted when she saw the questing gaze. However, all thoughts were banished from her mind when Twilight traced the mare's arm where it was pressed against the side of her neck, which was covered by a particularly thick mixture of fresh and clotted blood. A crossbow bolt! Twilight and Rainbow both gasped when they saw a half of the projectile protruding from the purple pony's neck. The end of the bolt had been snapped off at some point, but the tip and more than half of it still remained.

The mare managed to gather enough strength to finally focus her sight on the two ponies. She took a shaky step towards them, muttered something inaudible, which was more of a wheeze than anything else, and collapsed on the ground. Her hoof was still pressed against the wound and her sides were heaving with the effort of drawing air into the lungs. Almost immediately Rainbow and Twilight were next to her and looking for a way to help.

“Hurry! We have to get this thing out of her!” Rainbow indicated the bolt and reached with her mouth towards it.

“Don't! Leave it there!” Twilight stopped her friend, while her mind was running over the vast amounts of knowledge she had memorized over the years. “It acts like a cork while it is inside and helps block the blood flow, to some degree. Pulling it out will cause a lot of tissue damage and increase the bleeding.”

Rainbow shot her a worried look, but decided to follow her advice. “Okay, what can we do then? Can't you use your magic to help her?”

Twilight didn't reply, instead she channeled some magic through her horn and cast a healing spell in order to stop the bleeding. The blood flow slowed down noticeably, though it was still going on. When she saw the results, Twilight bit her lower lip. “I can only make it easier. Take the edge off. I don't have the experience with healing magic and her wounds look very severe. She needs professional help. Rainbow Dash, please head to the town and get some help. I'll stay here and do what I can.” Rainbow nodded in agreement and took off. A rainbow colored streak trailed her as the pegasus shot off like an arrow. Twilight watched her leave, before a sound from the injured mare claimed her attention.

“He … there … here.” The mare wheezed through bloodstained lips, her voice barely audible.

“Huh? Who? … The one who attacked you? Who did this to you? Where is he?” Twilight asked one question after another, eager to get some information, but the mare didn't reply. She couldn't. The effort of staying alive seemed to claim most of her strength, leaving her unable to hold a proper conversation. She merely repeated the words a few more times before falling silent. “Don't worry. Just hold on. Help is on the way.” Twilight reassured her and brushed out the light green mane out of the mare's eyes. “Help is coming.” She repeated and glanced around, hoping to see Rainbow returning with the town's doctor close by. Nothing. They were completely alone for now.

Twilight cast a few more spells in order to further reduce the bleeding and treat some of the worst looking bruises. She was having mixed results. Some bruises were too much for her to handle and didn't respond to her treatments to the degree Twilight expected. Others were thankfully healed by her magic. They closed up and stopped bleeding, thus easing the burden the mare had to endure. Still, there were a lot of them remaining and Twilight could only shake her head. There was so much damage.

The thunder of hooves in the distance made her look up and Twilight was relieved to see Rainbow, followed by a pair of earth ponies and a unicorn, running at full gallop. She didn't know who they were, but she was glad to see some help arrive. One of the ponies, an earth pony stallion, wearing a trench coat, was running right next to Rainbow. The moment he spotted the mare on the ground, his face twisted into an expression of horror. “Shit, shit, shit... Damn it! Not her! Hurry up!” He ordered his fellow ponies with a shout.

Twilight quickly moved away from the injured mare as the three ponies she didn't know, skidded to a halt next to her. The unicorn, a mare with a blue coat and a messy, dark blue mane, quickly started treating the wounds with healing magic and Twilight was impressed to see the skill at display. The healing magic not only looked, it felt magnitudes stronger than her attempts. The bruises were quickly closing up and disappearing before her eyes. Even the crossbow bolt injury in the neck was treated almost immediately. The bolt was teleported out of the wound, which was closed up a moment later, leaving only a pale scar. Meanwhile the pony with the trench coat was having a silent conversation with the purple mare. Now that her wounds were being treated, she was able to gather enough strength to provide answers, though her voice was so quiet neither Twilight, nor Rainbow could hear her.

“What the fuck's going on here!” A loud voice came from above the small group of ponies, where a beige pegasus was coming in for a landing. He landed with a heavy thump and surveyed the scene. “Is that Amethyst Jewel? Did that fucker messed her up?” He shifted his gaze towards Rainbow and Twilight. “Who the fuck are you two nags supposed to be?”

“Nags?” Rainbow arched her eyebrow with a low growl, while Twilight merely frowned at the insult. “We're the ones who found your friend, asshole.” The pegasus glared at Rainbow and took a threatening step towards her.

“What did you call me you bitch?” He was about to say more when the earth pony, now done with his conversation, intervened.

“Stand down Storm Chaser. If it weren't for them, Amethyst jewel would be dead now. So do us all a favor and be quiet.” He barked out an order in harsh voice, causing Storm Chaser to move away, though the glares he and Rainbow were exchanging were a clear sign that it wasn't over. One problem solved, the stallion looked at the unicorn, who was done treating the Amethyst's wounds. “She needs some rest. Get her out of here.” The unicorn stood up, but hesitated a moment. She traced a questioning look from Amethyst, to Twilight and to the leader. When the stallion replied with a short nod, the mare cast a teleportation spell, causing her and the injured pony to disappear.

“What the...” Twilight gasped when she felt the discharge of magic wash over her and she noticed how powerful it was. It was almost like a physical force, nearly pushing her away. Clearly, the mare was not an ordinary unicorn. “High level healing spells and teleportation. Who are you?” There was no reaction to her words. The three ponies ignored her and started moving towards the forest. It was only when Twilight teleported in front of them and repeated her question, did she receive a reply.

The earth pony stallion gritted his teeth and glared at her in a mixture of anger and uneasiness. “We're detectives. As you may or may not know, we're from Section 9, we were sent here from Canterlot to capture a particularly dangerous criminal. I'll have to ask you to leave, since this is no place for civilians.”

Twilight frowned at the reply. “A dangerous criminal? Here?” She recalled what Rainbow had told her and quickly connected the dots. “You know, if he is really that dangerous, perhaps Rainbow and I could help you capture him? I am sure, we can handle him.”

“You are mistaken. Stardust is no ordinary criminal.” The stallion shook his head. “You cannot handle him. You saw what he did to our colleague and she was a trained operative. Please, for your own safety, go home. Leave it to us.”

Twilight tried to object, but was forced to take a step back when Storm Chaser moved in front of her, blatantly invading her personal space. “Yeah, you heard him. This is no place for you. So get the fuck lost!” He snarled and shoved Twilight away. The alicorn was caught completely off guard by the sudden movement and, as a result, was sent sprawling to the ground by the immense force the pegasus had used.

Even before she was fully on the ground Rainbow sprung into action. Storm Chaser blinked in surprise when, in a flash, a cyan pegasus practically materialized in front of him from thin air and smacked him in the face with solid hoof. Rainbow was a very athletic pony, most of her daily activities were physically demanding, which meant she was in an excellent shape. Not only that, but she also had studied martial arts and knew how to hit another pony. However, much to her, and Twilight's surprise, Storm Chaser barely reacted to the strike. A hit, which would have sent most ponies if not straight to the ground then at least staggering, was barely enough to turn his head.

A wide grin settled on Storm Chaser's face when Rainbow stared at him in surprise. “Oooh, this one's feisty. You think you're hot shit? C'mere! I'll show you what a stallion does to a mare who acts up!”

“STORM CHASER! STAND THE HELL DOWN! NOW!” A loud voice cut through the air before Storm Chaser could take a single step. The earth pony pushed himself between the two pegasi and shot the beige pegasus a death glare. “I HAVE HAD IT WITH YOUR CRAP! ONE MORE TIME AND I WILL MAKE SURE YOU REGRET THE DAY YOU WERE BORN!” He screamed in his face, anger and, to Twilight's surprise, terror, filling his voice. For a moment, it looked like Storm Chaser had no intention of listening, but after a few tense moments, he backed down.

Rainbow was about to taunt the whipped pegasus, but Twilight's gentle hoof on her withers, convinced her to remain calm. Not a single word was spoken as the detectives moved into the forest, while Twilight and Rainbow followed them with their eyes. They remained standing for a while even after the three ponies had disappeared from their sight, their minds digesting what had just happened. “Detectives, yeah, right. What a bunch of assholes.” Rainbow eventually commented. “If these are supposed to be the good guys, I would like to see the guy they're after.”

“Let's go.” Twilight said eventually and started moving towards Ponyville in a quick trot.

Rainbow gave her a surprised look and glanced back at the forest before following her. “Umm, Twilight, aren't we going to follow them? Every single feather in my wings is telling me that there's something weird going on. We have to find out what's going on!”

“We will. Don't worry. But not by following them. We'll start from the other end. They said they're from Canterlot and I know a pony who could fill us in on this matter. Especially since this is the first time I've heard of an organization by that name.”

“You're going to write a letter, aren't you?”

“Precisely. All government organizations, based in Canterlot, are under the oversight of Princess Celestia or Princess Luna. One letter will be enough to provide us with some answers. And then we will get to the bottom of this.”

xxxxx

“Spike! Spike, where are you! I need you to take a letter for me.” Twilight called as she entered the library later that evening. She had parted ways with Rainbow soon after entering the town and had decided not to waste a single second. “It is very important!”

“I'm here. In the kitchen.” Spike's voice answered her. “I wanted to make myself an evening snack.”

Twilight entered the kitchen and him preparing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As always, the dragon was making a huge mess of things. Twilight opened her mouth to point that out, but decided to let it go. There were other, more pressing matters. “No time for that, now. Time is of the essence. Please, Spike...”

“Yeah, yeah.” Spike sighed and, with a forlorn cast on his sandwiches, left the counter in order to fetch a quill, an inkwell and a blank scroll. He returned a few minutes later, carrying the items in his claws. He placed them on the table, made himself comfortable and, after raising his claw with the quill, cast a meaningful look at Twilight.

“Thank you.” Twilight cleared her throat and took a deep breath before starting to dictate the letter. “Dear Princess Luna. I apologize for bothering you so suddenly, but it seems that something very wrong is going on. Today I learned that there is a very dangerous criminal, hiding in the forest near Ponyville. A mentally unstable pony who attacks others without provocation. At least that is what the detectives told me. However, there are few things that doesn't make sense. The detectives told me that they're from Canterlot, a unit called Section 9. And they were sent here to capture this criminal. Thing is, I have studied the organizations in Canterlot. Extensively, I might add. And there is no such organization. I am certain of it. Even if it was a secret organization, I would have found some sort of information on them, yet there is nothing. Nothing at all. Clearly, they are hiding something. I can't quite place my hoof on it, but it's there.” She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts and give Spike a moment to flex his claw.

“Furthermore, regarding the criminal they are after. His description perfectly matches the pony Rarity met in the forest and...” She heard Spike take a deep breath at the last sentence. “Don't worry Spike. You know very well that nothing happened to her and Rarity can take care of herself in an emergency.” Twilight said in a reassuring voice, glad to see Spike calm down after considering her words. After that, she continued the letter.

“...and Rarity described him as a kindhearted pony. A pony with some problems, sure, but nothing that indicated him as a mentally unstable serial killer. I trust Rarity in this matter, since she is very good at reading other ponies and it is difficult to fool her. As a result, there are two opinions on the matter. Rarity's and that of the detectives. Strange. The reason I am writing this letter is because I need to have some answers. If there is truly an organization like Section 9, you must know something about it. Or, perhaps you have heard about the criminal they are chasing? His name is Stardust. I understand that this could be a covert operation that is best resolved quickly and in secrecy. However, a lot of ponies over here are getting nervous, so I would appreciate any information you can divulge on the matter. Please, reply as soon as you can. Your friend, Twilight Sparkle.” Twilight finished dictating the letter and waited for Spike to finish writing it. “Wonderful. Please send it immediately, Spike. There is not a moment to lose.”

“Got it.” Spike started rolling up the scroll for easier transportation when he saw Twilight trotting towards the kitchen door. “Wait, what are you going to do?”

“That's simple, Spike. I will check my books for any information on Section 9. I know we just asked Luna in the letter, but, hopefully I can find something before she replies. That or we find some information in case Luna doesn't know anything.”

“Research, huh? Why do I get the feeling it will end up all over the floor again?” Spike made a heavy sigh and prepared himself to do another cleanup that was sure to follow a few hours later. Hopefully, the Princess would reply before Twilight managed to make too big a mess of things.